The wolf is too thin, his belly shrunken and concave, no fat between his thin skin and his brittle bones. He has forgotten how to hunt. He is hunted instead, by the spectre of death. He knows. He doesn’t care. Instead of sticking to the woods where instinct tells the wolf he would be safer—shelter, water, prey—the wolf winds closer and closer into the streets of the human town, and picks through dumpsters and gutters for food.
Here tires screech on asphalt. Cars backfire. The street is hard underneath the pads of the wolf’s paws. Everything is loud and harsh and too, too bright.
The wolf limps down the alleyways, death silently following.
Winter is here. The wolf knows he will not see another one.
The wolf follows his nose. He picks up heady scents above the stink of exhaust fumes and oil and rancid things. The wolf rattles around the trashcans at the back of a cheap diner, and fills his belly with the sick-slickness of greasy burgers. Warmth fills the wolf, and his old friend death steps back for just a moment.
Nose in the air, the wolf continues to explore the alleyway. His claws dig into a pile of damp cardboard as he sidesteps the icy-cold puddle of rain, oil-slicked, in the gutter.
“Hey!” someone says, and the cardboard shifts.
The wolf skitters back, and then remembers that he is a predator. He stops, and turns, and growls.
A boy’s face appears from underneath a layer of the cardboard. It is pale. His eyes are bloodshot and his lips are blue. He has a spray of moles across his face like an unfamiliar constellation. The boy freezes when he sees the wolf. “Holy shit.”
The wolf and death stare back at the boy.
The wolf has forgotten how to mark time.
He has no idea how long it is he stands there.
The boy’s bones are as brittle as the wolf’s, his skin as thin. When he curls his fingers through the wolf’s ruff, they are like icicles. His breath though, is hot. It tickles the wolf’s fur when he buries his face against it. His tears taste like salt.
Death circles them, in the little den the boy has made behind the cardboard in an alleyway in the cold, cold town.
The wolf tugs himself from the boy’s grip, and slinks back down the alley to the trashcans. His boy is too cold, too weak to crawl this far, so the wolf picks up a discarded burger in his jaws and carries it back to him.
The boy eats it, crying.
The wolf curls around him when they sleep.
Death steps closer, its black mouth open in hunger.
The wolf growls at it, the sound rumbling through his thin ribcage.
Maybe not this winter at all.
The wolf has a den now, and a heartbeat to share it with.
When the boy is strong again they will go into the woods and build a shelter there, and the wolf will remember his instincts, and the boy will learn his, and they will be packmates there, where the ground is soft underneath their feet and the stars are visible at night.
The boy is sick for days, and shivers and cries into the wolf’s fur. The wolf curls around him to keep him warm, and licks his tears away.
Death loosens its grip on them both.
Two nights pass before the boy clambers to his feet again, legs shaking like a baby deer’s. He leans against the wall of the alley for a long time, his breath puffing mist into the cold morning air.
Then, when he’s finally caught his breath, he turns his head and looks at the wolf and says, “Holy shit.”
The wolf tilts his head and stares back at the boy, ears pricking.
Perhaps that’s the only thing his boy can say?
The wolf’s boy is smart. His eyes are the color of tree sap that has hardened into resin. They flash almost beta gold if the lights from the passing cars hits them just right. The boy makes short trips from the alleyway to the diner. He sometimes pays a dollar for a scalding cup of cheap coffee, just to use their restroom and soak up a few minutes of warmth inside before the staff chases him out again. Then he will sit down with the wolf again, and they will both watch the trashcans to see when the kitchen hands dump the newest bag. Sometimes it is a race between the boy and the wolf and the rats. The boy grimaces when the wolf catches the rats and eats them, and he doesn’t take the rats the wolf leaves for him.
In the woods, he will have to learn to eat fresh prey. Squirrels, the wolf thinks, might be more palatable to him although they taste much the same.
The boy doesn’t like to leave the alleyway during the day. His heartbeat quickens and he tugs the strings of his threadbare red hoodie anxiously.
“Stay,” he tells the wolf. “Stay.”
The wolf watches from the cover of the alley.
The boy has a nervous smile when he asks people for money. He’s lost his wallet. He needs some bus fare to get home, or some quarters to make a call to his parents, and oh, wow, thanks, thank you, you’re a lifesaver, really.
He has an awkward, clumsy charm that vanishes the moment he turns away again.
The boy has nightmares at night. He twitches and jerks and digs his thin fingers into the wolf’s pelt. The wolf licks his tears away and whines when the boy cries out. Sometimes the boy’s heart beats so rabbit-fast the wolf thinks it might explode in his chest. Those are the nights the boy wakes gasping, eyes rolling in his skull, crying out a name.
And, sometimes, Daddy.
In his dreams, the wolf thinks, he is a much younger boy.
And the wolf whines and lays his heavy head on the boy’s shoulder, and tries to tell him without words that they are pack now. They are pack.
They are pack, and they are a step ahead of death now.
The wolf’s boy does not appear to see death, but death sees the boy. Death, the wolf thinks, has already marked him. He needs to get his boy out of the town, out of the alley, and into the woods. But something is binding the boy here. There’s a look in his amber eyes, a stubborn way he sets his jaw. The boy has a butterfly knife. He keeps it in the back pocket of his thin jeans. He takes it out and flips it open sometimes, his dexterous fingers manipulating it with practiced ease. The boy carries something dark in his heart, and the wolf can see it clearly when the boy’s gaze is fixed on the blade of the knife. His gaze is a predator’s gaze in these moments, and the wolf curls his lip to show his teeth, and scrapes his claws on the concrete.
The wolf is a predator too.
He can’t be sure what prey his boy is seeking, but the wolf will help him hunt it. Then they will go into the woods, and never come back here again.
The diner is open all day and all night. At night, there are drunks around. They come from the club a few blocks away, to eat greasy burgers and then be sick in the street. Sometimes the boy approaches some of the patrons as they enter or leave the diner, before the staff chases him away. At night he needs no cover story.
“Homeless,” he says, and holds out his hand. “Can you help me?”
The drunks either tell him to fuck off, or they are generous with their spare change.
At night, the cops come to the diner as well. The deputies eat at odd hours, their cars parked in the lot out the front.
The boy doesn’t approach them. He stays in the shadows, and stares narrow-eyed at the entrance of the diner. One night he takes his butterfly knife and slips into the parking lot. The wolf shadows him as he scours the blade of the knife through the paint job on the side of the cruiser, through the shield and the words: BEACON COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT. The scrape of the blade on metal makes the wolf flatten his ears back against his skull.
“Fuckers,” the boy says and spits on the ground. The wolf can taste his anger, his hatred. “Fuckers.”
The wolf and his boy watch from the shadows when the bewildered deputy finishes his meal and finds the damage. He is young, with a boyish face. He calls it in to dispatch, his radio crackling.
“Parrish to dispatch,” he says and then, when waiting for them to answer, shakes his head and sighs. “Goddamn.”
That night the wolf’s boy has more nightmares.
The wolf doesn’t like the town. He doesn’t like the way death watches them. He wants to take the boy away. He wants to make them a den in the woods. He wants to show his boy how to hunt for fresh prey, and how sweet the cold water tastes straight from the streams he knows. He wants to sleep without the wail of sirens or the screech of brakes. He wants to lift his nose and smell the spring when it comes.
But mostly he doesn’t like the town because he knows that whatever it is the boy wants from this place, it will hurt him. It will let death breathe him in.
Whatever it is, the boy is so fixated on it that he is insensible to other dangers.
“We need money,” the boy says, flipping his butterfly knife open and closed again. “I need to buy a gun.”
The wolf flickers his ears back in disapproval.
Death steps a little closer.
The wolf closes his jaws around the boy’s thin wrist, and the boy tugs it free again.
“We need money,” he says, and crawls out of their cardboard shelter and climbs to his feet.
The night is cold and dark.
There is no moon.
The man is narrow-eyed when the boy lures him into the alley.
“Fifty bucks, right?” he asks. “You’ll blow me for fifty bucks?”
“Yeah,” the boy says, and one hand slides around to the back pocket of his jeans where he keeps his knife.
The wolf watches from the cardboard shelter, a silent growl vibrating through him. His boy is not smart tonight. Not smart at all.
But he is desperate.
And he is weak and clumsy too. When the man tries to push the boy to his knees, the boy produces the knife. The man catches his wrists, and spins the boy face-first into the wall of the alley. The boy is winded, and the knife clatters to the street. The man holds him against the wall.
“You trying to rob me, you little prick?”
The boy shakes his head, and sobs.
The wolf steps forward then, his growl audible this time. He bares his fangs at the man.
“What the fuck is that?” the man exclaims. He releases the boy, and pushes him to the ground in front of the wolf as though he expects the wolf to tear the boy to shreds to buy himself some time.
Thrown to the wolves, death laughs.
The wolf steps over his boy.
The man runs.
The wolf chases.
He is a predator.
He will kill the man who tried to hurt his boy.
He is alive.
Tires screech on asphalt and the wolf is blinded by the headlights a moment before impact. He is flung into the air, and then he is in the gutter, and the boy is crouching over him, and he is crying, and the wolf licks at his cold, thin fingers and whines.
“No,” his boy whispers. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please don’t die.”
There is a corona of light behind his boy’s head. A dirty halo from a street light. It throws a soft golden glow onto the face of death when she steps forward too. The wolf growls because death is standing too close to his boy. His growl fades when he realizes death is reaching for him, and not his boy.
“Oh, Derek,” death says.
The wolf closes his eyes.
It always hurt the most that death has Laura’s face.
The dog is still breathing when Stiles clambers out of the back of the SUV that hit it. The driver is in shock, and has been apologizing profusely ever since it happened. And Stiles knows it’s not the guy’s fault. The dog was going for the man who’d hurt Stiles in the alley, and ran out in front of the SUV. Which makes this Stiles’s fault, doesn’t it?
The animal clinic isn’t open, but there’s a light on inside and someone moving around, so Stiles bangs on the door. It’s opened by a dark-haired boy who looks no older than him.
“My dog,” is all Stiles manages to get out before he’s crying again.
The boy and the driver carry the dog inside on a picnic blanket from the back of the driver’s SUV, and into the examination room. Stiles curls his fingers through the dog’s ruff, and leans down close to his ear to whisper to him again how sorry he is.
The driver slips toward the door, and Stiles thinks about chasing after him for a second and demanding he pay the bill for whatever this is going to cost, but what if the guy refuses? Then the dark-haired boy will know Stiles has no money.
“It’s okay,” he whispers to the dog instead. “You’ll be okay.”
The dark-haired boy checks for a heartbeat. “His heart sounds good,” he says. He runs his hands though the dog’s fur. “I think maybe his leg is broken, and some ribs?” His forehead wrinkles with a frown as he carefully manipulates the dog’s hind leg. “Actually, maybe it’s not a break. I should really call my boss in. I just work here after school.”
“Vet school?” Stiles asks, still sniffling.
“High school,” the boy answers. He wrinkles his nose as he presses his knuckles gently against the dog’s ribcage. “I could have sworn I felt a break a second ago. He really needs an x-ray.”
Stiles nods, despite the jolt of worry that goes through him. He can’t afford that. He’s got three dollars and seventy cents in the pocket of his jeans. He’s got nothing. And, when the boy turns his worried gaze from the dog to Stiles, and rakes it down his body, he knows he can tell.
It doesn’t matter how clean Stiles tries to keep himself. It doesn’t matter if he washes his spare shirt under the faucet in the diner bathroom every few days. He’s still filthy. He can’t remember the last time he showered, or washed his hair. He can’t remember the last time he ate something that wasn’t greasy or half-rotten. He knows he looks like shit. He knows he probably stinks like shit too, and so does the dog.
The boy runs his fingers through the dog’s fur again. “Is this a wolf hybrid?”
“I don’t…I don’t know.”
The boy casts him a worried look. “You’re not supposed to own them in California.”
Stiles feels a sudden flash of panic. He moves forward and nudges the boy out of the way. “We’ll go. We’ll just go.”
The dog blinks his eyes open and fixes his gaze on Stiles.
“Dude,” the boy says, sounding reproachful and regretful all at once, “I’m not going to report you. Just, if anyone finds out, he might get seized and put down.”
The dog rumbles out a growl.
“He’s fine,” Stiles says, his voice catching. “He’s fine, right?”
“Um… I guess?” The boy looks puzzled. “He looked pretty bad when you got him here though. I really should call my boss.”
“No!” Stiles tugs at the dog’s ruff. “Come on. Come on, boy. Please get up. Come on.”
The dog rumbles again.
The boy puts a hand on Stiles’s shoulder. “Dude, don’t freak out, okay? I won’t call my boss if you don’t want me to. I won’t…” He chews his bottom lip for a moment. “You’re homeless, right?”
Stiles feels stripped bare, cold and naked. His breath hitches, and he jerks his chin in a nod.
“Look,” the boy says, squaring his shoulders. “I’m gonna give your dog some fluids, no charge, because I can really use the practice, and my mom packed me some dinner that I haven’t eaten yet. You want some?”
Stiles blinks at him for a moment. “What?”
“Homemade tamales,” the boy says, and wrinkles his nose. “I’m Scott, by the way.”
“St-Stiles,” Stiles says, his heart thumping loudly.
The wolf’s boy is called Stiles.
The wolf huffs at that.
What is a Stiles?
A Stiles is pack. A Stiles is salt tears and smiles. A Stiles is skinny fingers that taste like the grease from burgers, and clothes that smell of stale sweat. A Stiles is feet that fall into step with the wolf’s own. A Stiles is amber eyes and pale skin and moles. A Stiles is a tug on the wolf’s instincts, on his aching heart. A Stiles is pack.
Stiles sits on the floor of the surgery, pressed up against the wolf’s side, and shares his tamales with the wolf while Scott cleans up. Scott has shaved a tiny patch of fur on the wolf’s foreleg. There’s a canula taped to the pale skin underneath, and a tube attached to a bag of some liquid that’s feeding slowly into the wolf. It smells strange, but it doesn’t make the wolf feel sick. If anything, it seems to speed his healing.
“I work here on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays after school,” Scott says as he works. “Mostly I just clean out the cages and feed the animals after my boss finishes up for the day. I also call him in if any emergencies turn up. I’m usually here until about nine. I’m here on Sunday afternoons as well, to walk the dogs that need walking, and feed whoever needs feeding.”
The wolf rests his chin on the floor and watches Scott through narrow eyes.
“So, you know,” Scott says to Stiles, “if you wanted to stop by, I could check out how your dog’s going. What’s his name, by the way?”
The wolf and his boy exchange a look.
“He, um, he doesn’t really have a name,” Stiles says at last. “I don’t own him or anything. We look after each other.”
Scott pauses with a bottle of antiseptic spray in his hand. “Oh.”
“He found me when I was sick,” Stiles says, “and brought me food.”
Scott’s jaw drops and his eyes widen. “Seriously? That’s amazing.”
The wolf huffs.
Stiles smiles at him. “Yeah, he’s pretty amazing.”
The wolf growls softly, and Stiles shares another tamale with him.
The wolf distrusts Scott McCall, even though he smells like the truth. The wolf distrusts everyone, and hot jealousy burns in his belly when he sees the way that his boy unfolds in Scott’s presence, the hard lines and angles of his body relaxing into something softer, something sweeter, the way he does when he’s sprawled out asleep beside the wolf. The wolf doesn’t like that Scott McCall can inspire that same instinctive trust in his boy.
His boy—his Stiles—is pack.
Scott is not pack.
The wolf is a simple creature who makes simple calculations.
He doesn’t like Scott. He doesn’t want his boy to make connections here in the town. He and the boy need to go into the woods where it is safer. They need to build a den there and hunt for prey and never come into the oil-grease-smoke-stench of the town again. Nothing grows in the town. Nothing thrives here. Death stalks them both in the town.
In the woods there will be no talk of money or guns.
In the woods there will be no deputies peering into the dark after them.
In the woods there will be no narrow-eyed men who try to push Stiles to his knees.
In the woods they will be safe.
The wolf growls when Scott removes the canula from his foreleg, and bares his teeth when the boy runs his hands over him, unasked and unwelcome, feeling for damage that has long since healed.
“I should call him Mr. Cranky Pants,” Stiles says, and Scott laughs.
The wolf turns his face away.
“Hey.” Stiles kneels on the floor in front of him, and presses their foreheads together. “I was just teasing. Just teasing.” His breath is hot against the wolf’s fur. He lays a trembling hand against the wolf’s shoulder. “You saved me. You saved me, okay? Tonight, and every night, you save me.”
The wolf closes his eyes and sighs, content.
It’s late when they get back to their alley, and Stiles has a belly full of food, a hoodie that Scott promised he didn’t need, and a bundle of sample packs of dog treats that he and the dog are totally going to share. It’s less gross than eating out of a trashcan. Slightly less gross, anyway.
He and the dog curl up behind their cardboard shelter, and lean into one another. It’s another cold night. Stiles wears Scott’s hoodie over his own and tugs the sleeves down to cover his hands.
It’s been three months, give or take, since he ran from his last placement. There’s a weird sort of hierarchy in foster home placements that Stiles has become intimately familiar with over the past four years. Get a reputation as a troublemaker, as a habitual runaway, and the good families aren’t interested. Or the case workers don’t want to punish them or scare them off by sending them the worst kids, at least. His last few homes, Stiles figures he would have run from anyway, even if he didn’t have something to run toward. It would have been enough to just get the fuck out.
And so he’d run.
He’d made it all the way back to Beacon Hills this time. He had no money, and not much of a plan, but it was this or stay in that fucking house and flinch every time he heard the floorboards creak outside his bedroom at night.
It wasn’t…it wasn’t bad. It never came to anything, but no fucking question that’s where it was headed. Stiles had woken up twice to find his foster mother’s boyfriend standing naked in his doorway, dick in hand, and what? He was going to wait around to see how that turned out? Fuck that. He’d take his chances on the streets, thanks.
He swallows around the lump in his throat.
Except how well is that going for him? He’d almost got the dog killed tonight. And the dog saved his life when he was sick, and saved him again tonight. The dog is his best friend. The dog is his only friend.
The dog is the only creature who has made Stiles feel safe in four long years, since he was dragged screaming out of his dad’s arms by a court orderly.
His eyes sting at the memory.
“Stiles. Stiles, kiddo. It’ll be okay. You’ll be okay.”
Such a lie. Such a dirty fucking lie. The last thing his dad ever said to him, and it was a lie. It’s not the sort of lie Stiles can hate him for though. Not when he knows it killed his dad to say it as much as it killed Stiles to hear it.
He closes his eyes and hot tears slide down his cheeks.
The dog licks them away.
“It was supposed to be easy,” Stiles says at last, opening his eyes. The dog cocks his ears and looks at him intently. “Coming back to Beacon Hills.” He sighs. “But everything looks really different than I remember. It’s been so long. How am I supposed to figure it out?” He shivers, and curls closer to the dog. “How am I supposed to make it right?”
Death and the wolf have walked in step for years now. Death wears Laura’s face, and smells of the fire. Laura lived for three days after the fire. Just three days. And then she died, and the alpha spark went with her. The wolf doesn’t know where it went. Maybe the moon holds it now. Sometimes the wolf looks at the moon and the moon whispers soft words of consolation to him. Sometimes he looks at the moon and it is cold and silent. He howls for the moon some nights, and some nights it listens. When he was a cub, the wolf believed the moon guided his paws through the woods at night, and lit the way home always. The moon saw everything, knew everything, and the moon loved the wolf and his pack. After the fire he turned his back on the moon so that he didn’t have to see her turn her back on him first.
Now, in the narrow, cold alleyway, the wolf stares up at the sky and wonders if the moon still knows him. He wonders if the moon still has a plan for him. He wonders if the moon brought him to Stiles for a reason.
Stiles wants to find home.
The wolf’s heart aches at the word.
Stiles wants to fix something, to make it right. The wolf knows that feeling as well. The frustration, the devastation. The hopelessness.
Death is silent tonight. Her face is pale and beautiful. More somber than Laura’s ever was in life.
Beside him, tucked in between the wolf’s back and the scant shelter the cardboard boxes provide, Stiles sleeps fitfully. He twitches in his sleep like a pup dreaming of rabbits. He makes odd little noises that prick the wolf’s ears, and digs his fingers into the wolf’s ruff for warmth.
All this time the wolf thought he needed to get his boy out into the woods so they could be safe, but perhaps that’s not what the moon intended at all when she led the wolf to Stiles.
Maybe Stiles is not a beginning, but an ending.
Whatever Stiles is here in Beacon Hills to do, then perhaps the wolf is meant to help him. Perhaps they’re not supposed to shake death after all, but to walk with her. Perhaps the moon will guide them both to a new home, in a place where it isn’t cold anymore, and there is no such thing as hunger and the world doesn’t smell like ashes.
Perhaps death’s embrace will be kind.
Stiles watches the deputies who come to the diner with the same narrow-eyed stare the wolf reserves for rats and squirrels. And the wolf watches Stiles. Watches his narrow frame thrum with restless energy. Watches his mouth compress into a thin, angry line. Watches his long fingers twitch by the pocket he keeps his butterfly knife in. Stiles carries as much hate in him as he does misery, and the wolf whines in the back of his throat in sympathy.
It’s dangerous for Stiles to hold that much anger inside him. It pushes him to do reckless things, like the night he used his knife to scour the deputy’s car. The wolf knows that Stiles is still a boy. He knows that if the police catch him, they’ll send him away to some place the wolf cannot follow, but Stiles is drawn to the deputies, drawn out of the shadows toward the danger.
The wolf closes his teeth around the hem of Stiles’s hoodie and tugs him back into the alleyway each time, and watches closely while Stiles kicks at the gutter and swears, and flips his butterfly knife open and closer, open and closed, open and closed.
The wolf doesn’t know yet where his boy is leading them, but he knows that he is compelled to follow.
Death smiles sadly at him from the darkness. “Oh, Derek.”
Scott said that he worked on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sunday afternoons. The problem is, sometimes Stiles doesn’t have a good handle on what day it is. He can pick a weekday from a weekend, sure, but during the week he sometimes loses track. When every single day is like the day before, and when he sleeps fitfully whenever he can, it’s hard. He hopes it’s a Wednesday when he finally makes his way back to the animal clinic—a journey that takes at least thirty minutes on foot—and not still Tuesday. He pushes that worry aside though, and concentrates on finding his way there. He thinks he remembers it from when he was crying in the back of the stranger’s SUV, convinced the dog was dying, but he gets turned around once in the street behind the big CVS and the dog has to tug on his sleeve to get him going the right way again.
The dog is pretty fucking amazing.
He’s smart, and he listens attentively to all of Stiles’s rambling like he knows exactly what he’s saying. Like he understands.
Stiles wonders how much of that is projection. How much of it is his own loneliness and sheer desperation for a friend that’s coloring his perceptions of the dog. He doesn’t want to over-think it though. It might be a delusion at worst and a dumb fantasy at best, but Stiles would like to keep it alive, thanks. It’s pretty much all he’s got going for him right now.
It’s terrifying how much he doesn’t recognize Beacon Hills. It’s only been four years, but Stiles was twelve then, and he wasn’t roaming the streets. His world was the bus route from school to home again, with the Sherriff’s Department and the grocery store and the pizza place thrown in. He could probably find his way home from the Sheriff’s Department, except he’s been reluctant to get too close in case he’s recognized. He’s not sure how much he’s changed in four years, but if anyone did recognize him he’d be sent straight back into the system.
And he’s never doing that again.
They lied to him there.
They fucking lied.
It’s already dark by the time Stiles and the dog reach the animal clinic. That’s good. Stiles approaches the door. It’s locked, but there’s a light on inside. He knocks on the door and waits, his heart in his throat, until a figure darts out from behind the counter and peers through the window at him.
It’s Scott. He smiles when he sees Stiles, and opens the door. “Dude! You came back!”
Stiles shuffles his feet. “Um, yeah. I was hoping you could take a look at the dog?”
He nudges the dog with his knee to get him through the doorway. The dog huffs and moves inside.
Scott closes and locks the door behind them. He sees the way Stiles flinches when he turns the deadbolt. “Sorry. I have to keep it locked because there’s drugs on the premises.”
“S’okay,” Stiles says, and what sort of person is Scott McCall that he’s admitting that to the homeless kid he just let inside? For all Scott knows, Stiles might knock him on the head and steal the drugs.
He won’t. That’s not who he is. He pushes away the memory of the guy he tried to rob. That doesn’t count. If the guy hadn’t been trying to buy a blowjob of an obviously underage kid, Stiles never would have tried to mug him. It was practically a community service. The only thing Stiles regrets, apart from not getting any money, is that the dog got hurt.
He shoves his hands into the pockets of the hoodie Scott gave him last time he was here, and tries to ignore the way his stomach growls. He didn’t actually come here to get the dog checked. The dog is fine, miraculously. Mostly he came because he’s hungry, and he really hopes Scott is in a generous mood and offers him something to eat before Stiles has to swallow the scant remains of his pride and ask.
Scott checks the dog over, running his fingers through his fur and manipulating each of his limbs. “Wow. He really seems okay. He’s eating okay? And, um, pooping okay?”
“Yeah.” He’s eating better than Stiles, since Stiles won’t touch the rats the dog catches.
“He’s still really thin,” Scott says, a hint of censure in his voice. “You should make sure you feed him more.”
Stiles’s stomach twists.
It seems to take Scott a moment to realize what he’s said. He straightens up, flushing. “Shit. Sorry. That was dumb.” He wrinkles his nose. “Hey, I’ve got my dinner out back. You want some?”
“Y-yeah,” Stiles manages. “Thanks.” And then he clears his throat. “Is… is there a computer I can use?”
They leave the animal hospital an hour later. Stiles has ten dollars and a printed map of Beacon Hills in his pocket. They both have food in their bellies, courtesy of Scott’s packed dinner. When they’re back in the alley behind the diner, Stiles folds the ten dollar bill up and puts it in his shoe for safe keeping and then studies the map under the dull light cast by the flickering streetlamp on the corner.
The wolf watches curiously as Stiles traces an uncertain path from the centre of town out toward the outer edges, where the streets are further apart.
“I think my house is here,” he says. “Maple Street. I think this is the right block.”
The wolf rests his head on Stiles’s knee and blinks at the map.
He knows there are things Stiles isn’t telling him or, rather, things that Stiles isn’t saying. It’s a narrow distinction, but an important one. Stiles isn’t hiding things from him. He’s not practicing any deceit. He just doesn’t know that the wolf can understand. He doesn’t know that the wolf has questions.
The wolf’s boy is clever, but he’s not that clever.
Stiles moves his finger along the map, tracing routes that the wolf blinks at lazily.
“Here’s my old elementary school,” Stiles says, and sighs. He drops his hand briefly to the wolf’s head and gives him scritches behind his ears. “I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how it all went so wrong.”
The wolf rumbles.
“I miss my mom and dad,” Stiles whispers, his voice raw. Tears shine in his eyes. He blinks, and one slides down his cheek. He doesn’t bother rub it away.
The wolf whines and presses closer to his boy. They’re pack, but a pack of two is very small and very lonely still.
“It’s not fair,” Stiles says, but there’s no childish petulance in his tone. No complaint. His word are just a simple statement of fact, of a truth that the wolf knows bone deep already.
It’s not fair.
Here they are living in a cardboard shelter in an alleyway, a pack of two, and it’s not fair.
Stiles sniffs and looks at the map again. “Here’s the park at the end of our street. There’s nothing much there, only a slide and a swing set, but my mom used to take me when I was little. We’d pack a picnic lunch and everything, even though it was only five minutes from home.”
The wolf likes the way his boy’s mouth curves in a smile. It seems so slight, so fragile, as beautiful and ephemeral as a shooting star in the night sky.
Make a wish, Derek, his mom used to say. Make a wish.
The wolf closes his eyes and makes a wish on his boy’s smile.
Stay with me.
Stiles huddles closer to the wolf for warmth. His finger traces out another route on the map, this time slipping away from the grid of the streets in the town, and following the curve of a road through a block of green.
When Stiles speaks, his voice is quiet and solemn.
“And this,” he says, a shiver running through him that reverberates through the wolf as well, “is where the Hale house burned down and all those people died.”
The wolf’s heart howls, and he skitters away from his boy and makes a break for the entrance to the alley.
“Wait!” his boy calls. “Come back, please!”
He sounds as though his heart is breaking too.
The wolf runs.
The wolf wants to run deep into the woods and lose himself there, but his boy is pack and pack tugs on his instincts harder than his fear. The wolf takes up a position at the end of the alley, sitting outside the puddle of light cast by the streetlamp, in the shelter between a set of rough steps that lead to a chained door of some business that fronts onto the other street, and the back door of the diner. He runs, but he does not abandon his boy. He will not.
He can still hear his boy’s frantic heartbeat from here.
It’s late when the back door of the diner opens and the young man in the grease-splattered steps outside and turns the corner into the alley to put the garbage in the trashcans. When he goes back inside the diner, the alley is quiet for a few minutes and then the wolf hears the squeal of a trashcan lid as Stiles opens it up and hauls the bag out.
The wolf’s stomach growls, and he pads around the corner into the alley.
His heart aches when Stiles sags to the ground when he sees him.
“I thought you left.”
The wolf whines out an apology and moves forward into Stiles’s space. Stiles wraps his arms around him tightly, fingers digging in and twisting in his ruff as though he will never let go.
“Please,” he whispers. “Please don’t ever leave me.”
The leaves crunch under the thin soles of Stiles’s shoes as he and the dog walk into the Preserve. It’s colder under the cover of the trees, and Stiles tugs his hood up. The air is damp and smells of petrichor and loam. Strange, how the smell of dirt can smell cleaner than the air in town. Stiles finds the walk relaxing, but the dog is skittish and on edge.
When they reach the clearing where the Hale house once stood, Stiles sucks in a shaking breath.
It all started here.
The frame of the house is still standing. The front walls are in place, but they’re blackened and charred. The windows have long since gone. Stiles imagines the glass exploded on the night the fire took hold. The front door is still there. It’s open, and hanging at a strange angle. Stiles creeps closer to the house. The dog doesn’t come with him. He lowers himself onto his belly at the overgrown edge of what must have been the driveway once, and whines plaintively.
“It’s okay,” Stiles tells him. He wonders if animals can sense the bad energy in places like this. A lot of people died here, afraid and in pain.
That’s what never made sense.
It wasn’t smoke inhalation that got the Hales when they were sleeping. They were found in the basement. Who the fuck shelters in the basement when their house is burning down?
It never made sense.
Dad knew that.
“If there’s a fire, what do you do?” he mumbled one night, flicking through all the papers spread out on his desk.
“You get down low and you crawl!” Stiles announced proudly, and his dad had jerked as though he hadn’t realized Stiles was there.
“That’s right,” he said, and stacked the papers up again. “That’s right, kiddo. Let’s go watch some TV, huh?”
Stiles was ten when the Hale house burned down with the Hales inside it. It took two years for the ripple that started that night to turn into the wave that swept his entire life away.
He closes his eyes and breathes in the cool air. It’s awful. It’s awful to stand here and know that all those people died. It’s awful that whatever happened here that night didn’t just end here. That once, six years ago, a person stood here and did this, and then they destroyed Stiles’s life as well.
He just wants to step back in time. He just wants to see their face. And then he wants to track them down wherever they are now and drive his knife into their heart.
Tears swell in his throat and burn his eyes.
It’s not fair.
Stiles starts and opens his eyes when he feels the press of a damp nose against his palm. He curls his hand around the dog’s muzzle.
“I just want to know,” he tells the dog. “I just want to know what happened.”
The dog whines and presses against his legs.
They watch the house together.
“Hi, Stiles,” Scott says when he opens the door of the animal clinic to him.
Stiles and the dog step inside. Scott’s not alone. There’s a pretty dark-haired girl with him. When she smiles, she has dimples.
“This is Allison,” Scott says. “She just started at my school.”
“Hi,” Stiles mumbles.
“Hi,” Allison says. “Wow. Your dog is amazing. He looks just like a wolf.”
“I think he’s a hybrid,” Scott says. “Hey, listen. Allison is coming to my place to do some homework. My mom is working a late shift. Do you, um, do you want to come over? Like, um, no offense or stuff, but you could have a shower and wash your clothes and stuff?”
A part of Stiles wants to curl up and cry at the reminder of how filthy he is, but he’s not proud enough to refuse, or stupid enough.
“Okay,” he mumbles instead.
Allison has a car. She puts the windows down when Stiles and the dog get into the back seat, so Stiles figures that yeah, okay, they both stink. Allison talks to him about moving here, and about some band she likes, and she doesn’t ask about Stiles and who he is and why he’s homeless. He likes that.
Scott leads the way on his dirt bike.
Scott lives in a small house on North Sycamore Street. It’s nice. It’s actually really weird to be inside a house again after so long. Stiles breathes in deep so that he doesn’t panic. This could be really stupid, going to some place he doesn’t know with some people who are pretty much strangers, but he’s got his knife, and he’s got the dog, and also this is Scott. Scott, who never charged him a thing for the consultation, or for the dog treats. Scott, who gave Stiles his dinner and his hoodie and ten dollars.
Scott shows him upstairs. “Okay, so here’s the bathroom. I’ll get you some clothes you can borrow, okay, so I can put yours in the washing machine.”
Stiles is pretty sure a spin cycle will destroy his jeans and underwear, but he nods.
Scott produces a bottle of dog wash from behind his back.
Stiles looks dubious.
“Dude, he’s got fleas,” Scott says in a low voice.
The dog rumbles unhappily.
“Actually,” Scott says, “we should probably wash him first.”
The dog is not happy to be manhandled into the bath, but his eyes close in what seems like pleasure when Stiles lathers him up and massages his fingers through his coarse fur. He doesn’t like it when Scott tries to help, so Scott stands back and leans in the doorway and lets Stiles do it. Then he gets his mom’s hairdryer and Stiles dries the dog off as best as he can. He’s pretty sure the dog’s belly is still dripping when he finally decides he’s had enough and leaps out of the tub though.
The dog growls when Scott tries to haul him out of the bathroom so Stiles can shower. In the end he curls up on the bathmat while Stiles undresses and hops into the shower.
The hot water is incredible.
Stiles uses what he thinks is Scott’s mom’s body wash. It smells like something soft and floral. He doesn’t care though, because he’s clean for the first time in months. It’s gross how quickly he turns the white washcloth gray. He basically has dirt ingrained in the creases in his body.
Sleeping in the alley is going to be horrible tonight.
Stiles stays in the shower until the water begins to run cold, and then feels guilty for using all the hot. He twists the taps off and grabs the towel that Scott left him. The mirror is fogged up, so he wipes a section clean and stares at the clean, thin kid the glass reveals.
He can count his ribs.
He runs his tongue over his fuzzy teeth, and wishes he had a toothbrush too. He thinks about checking underneath the cabinet for a spare, but that feels rude. He wipes himself down and pulls on the sweatpants and t-shirt Scott set on top of the counter for him.
When he leaves the bathroom and treads downstairs, the dog follows him.
He finds Scott and Allison in the living room, their textbooks spread out on the floor around them and a pile of sandwiches stacked on the coffee table.
“Hey,” Scott says. “Your stuff is in the washing machine. Grab a seat. Have a sandwich.”
Stiles sits down awkwardly on the floor beside them. The dog presses against his side. They eat the sandwiches. There’s a thin silver laptop on the coffee table.
“Can I use your computer?” Stiles asks Scott.
“That’s mine,” Allison says. “And sure.”
Stiles opens it and looks up a few articles, trying to refresh his memory about the Hale fire. There’s not really much online. Just newspaper articles. One on the fire, one on the funerals, and one quoting the fire investigator’s report that it was a gas line explosion.
You don’t hide in the basement from a gas line explosion.
He falters when he sees a picture from the scene. His dad is there, his sheriff’s badge shiny and new. The picture isn’t posed. His dad is caught in mid conversation, talking to one of his deputies. They both look haunted by whatever it is they’ve seen that night, faces drawn and grave. There are lines around his dad’s mouth.
Stiles’s heart skips a beat, and the dog nudges his hand with his muzzle.
Stiles goes to another article. No pictures this time.
It’s barely eight, but Stiles is already fighting sleep. It doesn’t help that Scott and Allison are talking about trigonometry.
He drifts off leaning up against the couch, with the dog’s head in his lap.
When Stiles wakes up, it’s dark and he doesn’t know where he is. He flails, and the dog rumbles comfortingly. Stiles jerks more fully awake, blinking in the darkness. He’s in Scott McCall’s living room. The lights are out, but there’s a faint glow coming from elsewhere in the house. And Stiles can hear voices.
He climbs to his feet and slips slowly toward the light.
It’s the kitchen light. Stiles can see Scott standing by the sink, wearing a worried frown. There’s a woman with him. She’s wearing pastel scrubs.
Adults mean the authorities, and Stiles can’t have that. He fights the urge to run. He’s also barefoot, and wearing Scott’s clothes.
“Are my clothes dry?” he asks instead, stepping into the kitchen.
Scott looks imploringly toward his mom.
“Stiles, right?” she asks. She has dark hair and a caring expression that Stiles desperately wants to warm to. He can’t though. She’ll want to help. She’ll want to call the police, or child services. “How old are you, Stiles?”
“Mom!” Scott exclaims.
“Scott, I’m not an idiot,” Scott’s mom says. “Stiles, look me in the eye and tell me you have a home to go to.”
“I just want my stuff,” Stiles says, his voice hitching, “and then I’ll go.”
Stiles’s mom purses her lips.
“I just want my stuff,” Stiles says, glancing at Scott. Scott’s expression tells him everything he needs to know. “I’m sure you’re a really nice person, Mrs. McCall, and I’m sure you only want to do the right thing, but I’m not hanging around while you call the cops.”
“Honey,” Mrs. McCall says, stepping forward, “it’s not safe for you to be sleeping on the streets.”
“I’m not going back into care,” Stiles says. “Scott, please, I just want my stuff.”
The dog steps between him and Mrs. McCall, hackles up. Her hand flies to her throat.
“He won’t bite,” Stiles promises her. “But you can’t call anyone. Please don’t call anyone.”
“I’ll get your clothes.” Scott moves past him.
Stiles stares at Mrs. McCall warily.
“Stiles, please, it isn’t safe,” she says. “We can work something out. I know some people who work with Child Services and—”
“No!” Stiles’s eyes sting. “I’m not going back! I can’t!”
“Mom,” Scott says, reappearing and bundling Stiles’s clean, dryer-warm clothes into his arms. “Mom, please don’t.” He takes Stiles by the shoulder and draws him back down the hallway to the living room.
The dog stays in the kitchen, watching Mrs. McCall.
“I said you were a friend from school, but I guess she didn’t buy it.” Scott’s eyes are wide. “I’m sorry, dude.”
Stiles begins to strip. “It’s okay. It’s a mom thing, right? I mean, she’s trying to do the right thing. It’s nice.” His voice cracks on the word.
“You can still come by the clinic,” Scott tells him. “Promise you will.”
“Yeah.” Stiles sniffs, and sits down on the couch to pull his shoes on. His ten dollars is still in his right shoe. He doesn’t know yet if it’s a lie or not. “I will. Thanks.”
He tugs on Scott’s old hoodie and zips it up tight.
The dog meets him at the front door, and they slip out into the night.
The wolf knows the way back to the alley. He curls up beside his boy when they reach their cardboard shelter.
“I miss my mom,” Stiles tells him in a broken whisper.
The wolf whines.
Death still wears Laura’s face. She watches them both silently, but keeps her distance tonight.
The wolf’s boy is cautious for the next few days. He avoids contact with people, even the drunks he usually asks for change, afraid that any one of them might turn him in to the authorities. He also keeps his distance from the deputies who frequent the diner. He no longer walks by their cars, the blade of his knife digging into the paint.
The wolf is glad.
The boy’s recklessness has taken a back foot for once, and no longer feeds his anger in the same hot bursts it did. Anger, wild and misdirected, is dangerous.
The wolf is not as glad when the boy’s newfound cautiousness manifests itself in a sort of quiet moroseness that has them trekking into the Preserve to stand and stare at the remains of the Hale house. Death accompanies them, her face pale and solemn. The wolf can feel her breath fluttering his whiskers and the sensitive tufts around his ears. He can hear her voice on the chill wind.
The wolf does not approach the house, even when his boy does.
Stiles is a thin, narrow figure, his breath rising like mist around him as he carefully treads back and forth on the blackened porch. The boards creak and groan under his scant weight. If it weren’t for the noise, he would look as insubstantial as a wraith. The house is a fitting place to find one. The wolf is surprised there aren’t more ghosts here, mouths open in silent screams, rolling eyes turned toward him.
Why, Derek? Why? How could you?
The wolf does not approach the house.
They walk back toward town, following the road that winds through the Preserve. It’s almost night, and it’s getting colder. Stiles shivers in his hoodie. He doesn’t remember winters in Beacon Hills being this cold, but he supposes that a bed and a house make all the difference. And warm showers, and socks fresh from the dryer, and hot meals.
Stiles shoves his hands in his pockets and picks up his pace, the dog at his side.
There’s a sudden dry snap of a branch from nearby.
Stiles turns, his heart racing. On the other side of the road, a man steps out of the line of trees. He’s… Stiles doesn’t know what he is. He’s wearing all black, and he’s carrying some sort of assault rifle, and Stiles feels sour fear twist in the pit of his stomach.
The man looks at him, and looks at the dog, and then steps back into the trees.
The dog is frozen where he stands, hackles up, lip curled, body taut and quivering.
Stiles curls his fingers in the dog’s ruff and tugs him forward.
Just a hunter.
Not some massacre waiting to happen.
Just a hunter.
This is the country. People hunt here.
Okay, so the guy was dressed more like some sort of special ops black helicopter what-the-fuck-ever rather than some guy called Ricky with a beer gut and a flannel shirt, but so what? Stiles is pretty sure you can buy all that ammosexual bullshit on Amazon. Night vision goggles and thigh holsters and pieces of hardware that will make you think your dick is twice as big as it really is.
Just some fucking try-hard who’s watched too many Jack Reacher movies.
His scorn isn’t enough to kill his fear.
Stiles breaks into a run when they reach the next bend in the road, and the dog keeps pace with him.
“Entropy,” Stiles announces in the middle of the night when they’re huddled together in the cardboard shelter in the alley. “What we have here is a case of entropy.”
The wolf flicks his ear enquiringly.
“It’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics,” his boy says. “Everything is in a state of decay. This alleyway. These boxes. The food we get from the garbage, obviously. You. Me.” His expression hardens. “Life.”
The wolf lifts his gaze and looks for the moon. She’s hidden from him tonight.
“Living on the streets like this,” Stiles says again, after a while, “it’s not sustainable, you know? I get dirty, and you get fleas, and we’re both going to get cold and sick and weak. My clothes are wearing out. We have less and less money. We’re coming apart at the seams. Entropy.”
The wolf looks at the boy’s face. Stiles’s eyes are lit with the same angry determination that seems to drive him on those occasions he doesn’t let his misery overtake him. They shine almost beta-gold.
“We sit,” Stiles says. “We decay. We need to act.”
The wolf turns his head to look for death. He is unsurprised to discover that she’s stepped closer to them. Her mouth is open in hunger.
The wolf has no doubt his boy will bring ruin on them both.
It doesn’t matter.
The wolf will stand by him until the end.
That’s what pack is.
Before his life went entirely to shit, Stiles remembers the phone call. For the past four years he’s held the memory of it in his heart. There was a phone in his dad’s study and an extension in the kitchen, and sometimes Stiles liked to sneak into the kitchen and carefully pick the extension up and listen to whatever the station was calling his dad about. He always hoped it was something exciting, but mostly it wasn’t.
Except that night.
He still remembers the woman’s voice. Sweet and sickly like molasses, her tone a complete mismatch for the message she was relaying.
“Who is this?” his dad asked gruffly.
“Drop the investigation into the Hale fire, Sheriff,” the woman said. “Or you’ll regret it.”
“Who is this?” his dad asked again, outrage creeping into his voice.
The woman ended the call.
So did Stiles, carefully, his heart thumping hard in his chest.
It was like something out of a movie, and Stiles had been almost giddy with excitement. His dad was like a real life hero! He was gonna go up against the evil faceless conspiracy, and untangle it, and it would be awesome! Everyone would be jealous of Stiles because his dad was the best.
It was hard to remember that in the following months, when the lines on his dad’s face deepened, and the bags under his eyes got blacker.
It was hard to remember that when they were leading his dad out of the house in handcuffs, carrying evidence bags with them.
It was hard to remember that when Stiles was the only person in the world who believed his dad when he told the court he’d been set up, when the phone records only showed a telemarketer’s number.
It was hard to remember his dad was a hero when everyone thought he was a dirty cop.
But Stiles has never forgotten the sound of the woman’s voice.
Drop the investigation into the Hale fire, Sheriff. Or you’ll regret it.
His dad must have been close to the truth. It must have been in his reports somewhere. Stiles needs to get a look at them. He can’t just sit here in this alley and wait to decay. He needs to act.
He needs to break into the Sheriff’s Department.
The wolf’s ears prick as the SUV drives slowly around the block. There’s a slight whine in the transmission. It’s the same SUV that’s already driven past twice tonight.
There might be a hundred reasons that SUV is driving slowly around the center of town tonight, but the wolf’s instinct knows only one: hunters.
Death takes a step closer, her dark eyes narrow.
Stiles leans on the counter of the diner, his ten dollar bill in his hand so that they see it and don’t throw him straight out. He’s anxious, jittery, and nervous about leaving the dog alone in the alley while he does this. He plants himself on a stool, and nods at the deputy sitting beside him.
“Just a black coffee, thanks,” he says to the waitress.
The deputy turns back to whatever it is he’s reading on his phone.
He’s young. He hardly looks old enough to be out of high school, but he must at least be in his early twenties. Stiles doesn’t know him, which is good. Hopefully that means he won’t know Stiles. Stiles’s last placement was in San Diego, so even though he’s sure he’s listed as a missing person there’s no reason anyone should be distributing his picture this far north. He’s hardly Amber Alert material, not with his history. Stiles thinks he’s the cop whose car he vandalized a few nights ago. The guy might have an honest face, but fuck that. Stiles isn’t going to feel guilty. He’d burn the entire fucking station down if he could.
The waitress sets Stiles’s coffee down and gives him a sour look.
Stiles takes a sip, and wonders how the fuck he’s going to do this.
There’s a bundle of keys on the deputy’s belt, hanging there like a bunch of ripe fruit just waiting to get plucked. Except they’re right by his gun, and Stiles knows better than to go for a cop’s gun. He steals another glance at the deputy, and wonders if he’s the sort of guy who would be enticed to let Stiles at his belt for other reasons. Except what are the chances that the cop is not only gay, but also into jailbait, and dumb enough to let a strange kid near his weapons?
Probably pretty fucking slim.
Stiles’s stomach clenches.
He’s stupid. He’s so fucking stupid. What? He really thought he could walk into the diner and somehow walk out again with the deputy’s keys? Like, how was that even going to end in less than his arrest? Stiles doesn’t have any fucking leverage. None at all. He’s a sixteen-year-old kid with a butterfly knife, an awesome dog, and no fucking plan.
He’s a mess.
He just… he wants his dad.
He wants his dad.
His eyes sting.
“You okay?” the deputy asks, eyes crinkling with concern.
“Yeah.” Stiles manages a grin. “Coffee’s hotter than I thought.”
The deputy returns his smile, and then hesitates, his expression sharpening, and oh great, Stiles was supposed to be flying under the radar and now he’s gone and caught the guy’s attention. He could not be fucking this up more.
The irritating bells on the door ring as someone else enters the diner.
“There he is!” the woman exclaims.
Stiles glances around. Another deputy. Fan-fucking-tastic. At least this one doesn’t seem to give a damn about him. She is striding up to the guy with a bright smile on her face.
“Parrish, you owe me a milkshake, remember?”
The first deputy laughs. “Right. I remember.”
There’s a strange itch at the base of Stiles’s skull, and his skin is prickling. The cheap coffee churns in his gut, and bile burns the back of his throat.
“Good,” the woman says. “If you welsh on a bet, I’ll make sure you’ll regret it!”
You’ll regret it.
You’ll regret it.
Drop the investigation into the Hale fire, Sheriff. Or you’ll regret it.
Stiles slides off his stool, and slaps the ten dollar bill on the counter. He doesn’t wait for change. He doesn’t… he doesn’t even know how he forces himself to move. He glances at the female deputy. Reads her name badge.
It means nothing and everything at once.
Kate Argent is the woman who phoned his house and threatened his dad. Kate Argent is the one who set him up. And Stiles has never heard of her before in his life.
Stiles leaves the diner on shaky legs and barely makes it back to the alley before he stumbles. The dog is at his side immediately, pressing his nose into his face.
“Oh, god,” Stiles mumbles, flinging his arms around the dog and burying his face in his ruff. “It’s her. I found her. I fucking found her.”
He’s dizzy, giddy, and for once it’s not from lack of food or sleep.
“I have to be sure,” he tells the dog, because look at him. Look at his life right now. He has a dog whose understanding and cooperation borders on the magical—who also got hit by a car but somehow came back from that without a single graze—and today he saw a creepy black ops guy with a gun in the woods, and now he’s just overheard a woman say the same words he heard in a telephone conversation four years ago. It’s entirely possible that Stiles isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders here, right? He’s tired and hungry and he hasn’t had any Adderall in weeks, since it ran out. And his mom…
His mom saw things and heard things that weren’t real.
Stiles needs to be sure. He can’t be certain it’s the same woman. Memory isn’t as precise as people believe. Stiles knows that. And that’s before any of those other factors come into play.
He climbs to his feet and creeps to the entrance of the alleyway. He can see over to the edge of the parking lot from here, where the two police cruisers are parked.
The dog nudges his hand with his cold nose, and Stiles turns back into the alley.
He has a name now.
It’s a start.
The wolf doesn’t sleep that night.
He watches the entrance to the alleyway instead, while Stiles curls up beside him and snuffles.
The wolf imagines he can smell wolfsbane on the cold night air.
He hears the whining transmission of the same SUV four more times in the night.
The animal clinic is closed when Stiles sidles up to the door the next night. He knocks, and shoves his hands in his pockets while he waits. Scott opens the door a few minutes later, a grin splitting his face.
“Stiles! I’m really glad you came back, dude!” His expression falls. “I’m sorry about last time, with my mom.”
Scott lets him and the dog in, and locks the door behind them. That’s when Stiles realizes they aren’t Scott’s only visitors. Allison appears from behind the counter.
“Hey,” he says, and raises his eyebrows. “Am I interrupting something?”
They both go interesting shades of red.
“Uh, no,” Scott says at last. “Allison and I are working on a project, and we figured we could throw some ideas around while I cleaned up and fed the animals.”
“I also wanted to see the kittens,” Allison says, dimples appearing when she smiles. Stiles tries to picture her holding kittens, and figures his brain would melt with how fucking adorable that would be. A part of him wants to tell her that, to make a joke of it, but he doesn’t know her or Scott. Not really. He’s not their friend. He’s a kid who lives on the street. He’s a charity case, which is probably the best he can hope for.
“Can I use the computer?” he asks, nodding at the one on the front counter.
“You can use mine again.” Allison offers, and tugs her slim laptop out of her bag.
Stiles sets up in the waiting room, sitting on the floor and using one of the chairs as a table. The dog flops down beside him and puts his head on his knee.
Allison and Scott leave them to it. Stiles is aware of them talking and laughing in the background. It’s nice, not to have to jump at every sound. It’s nice to be around people he’s not scared of. Scott reappears once and sets down a Tupperware container. Chicken sandwiches.
“Thanks, man,” Stiles says. “You’re a lifesaver.”
Scott’s answering smile falters a little, and Stiles figures he’s not used to that phrase being as literal as it is.
Stiles goes to the Beacon Herald website. He skims the front page story about some animal attack in the Preserve where some guy has been ripped apart by a mountain lion—Stiles will not be wandering out there again—and goes to their search function. Luckily the Herald isn’t one of those newspapers where everything online is behind a paywall. He gets four hits on Kate Argent’s name. Two are related to some incidents she attended—a big traffic crash last year, and the evacuation of the Beacon Hills mall because of a smoke hazard that turned out to be a malfunctioning air conditioner unit. The third hit is one of those soft community stories, where she went to the Kindergarten and gave the kids a talk about stranger danger. The fourth hit is talking about the four new officers employed by the Sheriff’s Department, after what the paper calls the recent corruption scandal.
The article is three years old.
Kate wasn’t a deputy when Stiles’s dad was Sheriff.
Okay. So that explains why he didn’t know her voice.
It doesn’t explain how someone planted those drugs in his office.
Stiles closes his eyes and breathes deep for a moment.
There were drugs found in his dad’s office, and drugs and money found at the house. The house would have been easy enough to break into, Stiles supposes. But his office at the Sheriff’s station? It had to be an inside job. One of the men or women that his dad worked with for years did that to him.
And apparently it wasn’t Kate Argent.
Or Jordan Parrish either. Stiles recognizes him as the earnest fresh-faced deputy from the diner. According to his smiling photograph in the Herald, he was hired at the same time as Kate Argent.
He opens another page and Googles Kate Argent. The links to the Herald are the top hits, and there’s not much in the rest. There’s no listing for her under the white pages or anything. Of course there isn’t. Cops don’t publish their addresses or phone numbers online.
There is a G. Argent in Beacon Hills though, and a C. & V. Argent. Stiles gets a piece of paper from the front desk and writes down their addresses and phone numbers. There’s also a Christopher Argent, probably the same person as C. Argent, who owns something called Argent Tactical Solutions.
From the back room, a ringtone blares out. A moment later, Stiles hears Allison.
“Oh my god, Dad, no! You don’t need to come in and meet Scott! I’ll come out when you get here, okay?” She steps out into the foyer, and rolls her eyes at Stiles. “Because we’re project partners, that’s all! Fine. I’ll see you then. Fine.” She ends the call. “My dad is being a total jerk lately.”
Stiles’s smile wavers, and his heart aches. My dad, he thinks, and wishes those words could fall from his mouth without somehow tearing a gaping hole in the universe. He wants a dad who is a jerk sometimes. He wants a dad who calls him on the phone. He wants a dad who sticks his nose into his business.
He wants a dad.
The dog nips at his fingertips gently.
“He’s coming to pick me up because my mom borrowed my car today, and apparently some guy gets eaten by a mountain lion in the middle of the woods, and my dad suddenly thinks the town is overrun with them.” She sighs. “Ugh.”
Stiles closes her laptop, and climbs to his feet. “It also sounds like he thinks you and Scott aren’t just study buddies.”
Allison gives him a cheeky smile, and lowers her voice. “Right? And if he scares him off too soon, there’s no way we’ll ever be anything more than study buddies!”
Stiles smiles, but he’s out of step with this conversation. He doesn’t remember what it’s like to play the part of a friend or a confidant. Of an equal. This is what this is, right? A confidence? An overture of friendship? Stiles has been to a lot of schools in the past four years, and met a lot of kids, but he’s always been the newcomer, the outsider, the kid who’s there one week and gone the next, forgotten.
Allison’s encouraging smile falters.
Stiles is out of step with friendship. He drops his gaze. He gives Allison her laptop back, and folds his piece of paper up and slips it into his shoe for safekeeping.
The wolf pads back and forth in the waiting room of the clinic while Stiles finishes the sandwiches. The wolf is hungry too, but there are rats in the alley that will fill his belly later. His boy should eat now, if he won’t eat the rats later. The wolf wants his boy to be strong. He doesn’t want him to be sick again.
He pads back and forth, listening to his boy talking with Allison and Scott.
Listening to his boy’s heartbeat.
His ears prick when he hears a car outside.
It has a whine in the transmission.
The headlights from the car arc across the walls of the waiting room.
“It’s my dad!” Allison announces. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Scott! See you, Stiles!”
She lets herself out the front door.
Scott waves at her. He’s wearing a goofy smile, as endearing at it is awkward, and Stiles thinks it’s lucky that Allison knows what she wants, because Scott is way too awkward to actually make a move.
The dog tugs at Stiles’s sleeve, growling as it tries to tug him away from the open door.
Stiles sees a black SUV parked outside. A man gets out of the driver’s side door as Allison approaches.
He’s in his forties, maybe, but he’s in good shape. Better shape than Stiles, probably. He’s wearing jeans and a black t-shirt that pulls tight across his chest as he moves. He has graying hair and a stern expression.
Stiles’s heart clenches.
It’s the man from the Preserve. The one with the tactical gear and the guns. The one who saw Stiles and the dog, and stared at them, before he stepped back into the line of trees.
It’s Allison’s dad.
At the moment his focus in on Allison. He’s watching her approach with a frown, like he doesn’t know what the hell she’s been up to tonight, but he doesn’t approve on principle.
Stiles steps back from the door before the man sees him.
“How do I know I’m not going crazy?” his boy asks as they walk back toward the alley behind the diner. “That’s a thing. Going crazy.”
The wolf’s ears flick as he listens for the hunter’s SUV, but he can’t pick the sound of it from the rest of the distant traffic noise. He and the boy stick to the back streets. A dog barks at them from behind a fence. A cat streaks across the road in front of them. The night smells like cars and people and decay.
“Once is an incident. Twice is a coincidence.” His boy exhales heavily and scrubs his knuckles over his head. “It’s twice. Just twice. Coincidence. Synchronicity. It doesn’t have to mean anything.”
The wolf whines.
It means hunter.
But also, I might be going crazy.” His boy chews at the strings of his hoodie. “Might be making connections that aren’t there. Like with the phone call. What if it wasn’t her voice? What if it was just that she happened to say the same thing? It’s not a smoking gun, is it?”
The wolf huffs.
“But also, I shouldn’t ignore instinct, should I?” His boy spits the strings out. “I just need some proof first. Or a confession.” His expression darkens. “But also, she’s a cop. The chances of fucking this up and getting shot are, like, higher than I’d prefer.” He laughs, but the sound is sour.
The wolf growls low in his throat.
“I wish I could call him, you know?” His tone wavers, and his throat clicks as he swallows.
The wolf looks up into the sky. The moon is a tiny sliver of light, riding high above the gray wisps of cloud that trail across the sky. Death is walking with them, silent and pale-faced. She smells of ashes. She has walked so long beside him wearing Laura’s face that the wolf thinks he would mourn her if she left.
But he sees the path that he and his boy are on.
Death will not leave them.
“I have to act,” the wolf’s boy says. “ I have to act.”
The wolf nudges into his side as they walk.
“They lied to me.” His voice belongs to a younger boy now. To a child. “They said he could call me. They said I could visit. They said if I was good, then I could see him.” His mouth twists up. “But then they said, no, you got in a fight at school. No, your counselor says it’s not the right time. No, it will be too upsetting for you. So fuck them, right? Fuck them.”
The wolf whines.
“I just want my dad,” Stiles whispers, and his voice dissolves into tears.
The wolf walks beside him, head hanging.
He and the boy are pack, but they cannot fill all the spaces that their losses have left behind. The wolf’s loss, and the boy’s, has been made by a piercing wound in his heart. It will never heal. It will always ache. Both the wolf and the boy have learned how to breathe through the pain, but it is still there. It is as present as the moon, as the whisper of the wind, as death.
The wolf isn’t sure whose injury is worse. His pack is dead. Dead is gone forever. But his boy’s father? Alive, but kept away from the boy? The wolf understands the light in the boy’s eyes now. He understands the boy’s need to rend and tear, to burn the world down. All that rage, just waiting for a target.
And, he thinks, the boy is very close to finding one.
He will need a wolf at his side then.
The moon was right to lead the wolf to his boy.
The wolf, and death.
There’s no way Stiles can just walk into the Sheriff’s Department with some cock and bull story about a lost wallet or a stolen iPod and just hope that Kate Argent is on the counter to take his complaint. Firstly, he looks homeless and that’s going to ring some alarm bells. Secondly, he’s pretty sure it’d be just his luck to be recognized the second he stepped inside. Which means he’d be back in the custody of Child Services before he could even blink.
Stiles stakes out the diner instead, lurking right on the corner where he can watch the deputies’ cruisers pull in, day or night. He doesn’t see Kate Argent the next day, which isn’t unusual. She’s probably on a day off or something. He sees Parrish again, and Tara too.
When Stiles was twelve he had a massive crush on Tara. She was gorgeous—she still is—and it twists him up in ways that are difficult to explain, even to himself, to see her again. Because he wants to believe she’s still his Tara. He wants to believe her gorgeous smile was never hiding anything. He wants to run from the alley and fling himself at her with all the enthusiasm of twelve-year-old Stiles, but twelve-year-old Stiles doesn’t exist anymore. He’s gone, and left this pale, thin, vengeful wraith in his place.
Tara’s is the first familiar face he sees, but not the last. He sees Ramirez too, and Haigh, and tears burn his eyes when he thinks of the barbeques his dad used to host, and how the guys used to throw footballs for him and piggyback him around the yard.
It’s in the early hours of what is possibly Friday morning when he checks the parking lot for cruisers, and realizes he’s slept through someone arriving. He checks his pocket for coins. He’s got enough for a cup of coffee, which also means he can use the bathroom before the waitress tosses him out. He looks through the front windows of the diner and his heart races when he sees the blonde female deputy sitting in a booth.
“Stay,” he tells the dog, and the dog growls his displeasure. “They’re not going to let you inside, big guy.”
The dog tries to clamp his jaws around his wrist. Stiles tugs himself free, wipes the drool on his hoodie, and sidesteps the dog to enter the diner.
It’s warm inside. It seeps into Stiles’s skin. God, it’s so much nicer than outside. He walks up to the counter and sits at one of the stools.
“Black coffee,” he says to the waitress, then angles himself slightly so he can watch Kate Argent. She looks like she’s just sitting on a single black coffee too, but Stiles bets the staff doesn’t give her the same attitude they give him. Which is fair enough probably. She’s not stinking the place up just by being in here, right?
Stiles wonders if he can engage her in conversation, or if he’ll be better off trying to ask the staff about her when she leaves. He doesn’t think he’s dexterous enough to attempt to steal her wallet. Or maybe he just needs to hear her voice again, to see if it really does match the one in his memory.
He downs his cheap coffee and walks over to her booth, his heart in his throat. “Hey,” he says.
She looks up, and then looks him up and down. “Can I help you?”
You can tell me why you threatened my dad.
“Um.” Stiles tries for an easy smile. “Sorry, this is weird and stuff. But I wanted to say thanks. For you doing your job, I mean. The serving, and the protecting. All that.”
She raises her eyebrows. “Okaaaay.”
“And I don’t really want to bother you in your break,” Stiles says, pushing on, “but nobody ever remembers to thank the police, right? So, um, that’s what this is.”
She smiles at him like he’s slightly slow. Which, to be fair, is the vibe he’s giving off right now. “Well, I appreciate that. Thank you very much.”
Stiles shifts his weight from foot to foot.
He’s sure it’s her.
It’s that same saccharine tone. Too sweet to ring entirely true, with barbed malice hiding just behind it.
“Okay.” he says, because he knows he’s worn out his welcome. “Thanks. Have a good night, deputy.”
Her gaze follows him toward the door. “You too, sweetie.”
The wolf’s boy is jittery when he returns to the alley. He takes his knife out of his pocket and unfolds it. SIts down on the cardboard and stabs the knife into it, over and over again. He jiggles his leg.
He is like the electricity in the sky before a storm.
He is energy and motion and anticipation.
He is the thunder before it rolls, and the lightning before it cracks.
He is a force of nature, building, building, building.
His eyes are hooded. His mouth is set in a thin line. He stabs the cardboard over and over again.
“It’s her,” he tells the wolf. “It’s her. I know it is.” He laughs, breathless, raw. “God. I wish I could just kill her, you know? I could. I bet I could.”
The wolf doesn’t doubt his boy’s viciousness at all.
“But if I do, how will that help my dad?” He scowls and chews on his bottom lip. “I only get one chance at this. I can’t fuck it up.”
His boy smells sharp and acrid. He smells of fear.
“But I have to… I have to act.”
There is another smell now. Sweet perfume and skin. The wolf knows it even before he hears her footfalls, the crunch of her boot on broken glass.
Her scent hits the wolf in the gut. It’s visceral. Vicious. The flood of memories threatens to tear him apart, to rend his skin and flesh from his bones and leave nothing behind but his anguished howl.
She was his everything once.
And then she betrayed him.
The wolf lifts his head and steps between his boy and the woman whose blood he needs to taste.
The dog growls suddenly, and Stiles freezes.
Still on his ass, he shuffles around so that he’s facing the entrance to the alleyway. The only entrance.
The deputy, Kate Argent, is standing there, lit by the dim light of the street lamp.
“You hustled out of there like your ass was on fire, didn’t you, sweetie?” she asks. She points her firearm at him. “I guess I know why now, don’t I?” She smirks. “Hello again, Derek. You don’t look so good.”
What? Stiles blinks. That’s not his name.
She starts to laugh.
Stiles is frozen.
The dog isn’t.
He launches himself at her, fangs snapping.
Stiles’s face is pressed into the asphalt, and Kate Argent’s knees are pressed into his back. His arms are wrenched so far up that he thinks his shoulders are about to pop. Pain flares white in his vision. He can’t breathe, and through his tears he can see the dog lying in the alleyway, blood matting his fur. He’s not moving.
“What did he tell you, kid?” Kate asks, leaning over him.
Stiles can’t breathe.
“What did he tell you?”
Is she talking about his dad? Abut the phone call? Stiles tries to shake his head. He blinks, and tears blind him. A fraction of a second later, headlights blind him as a police cruiser pulls into the entrance of the alleyway.
Boots thump over the asphalt.
“Kate?” someone calls, and it’s the other deputy, the one with the earnest face. Parrish. “What the hell happened?”
“This kid set his dog on me,” Kate tells him. “I had to shoot it.”
Stiles tries to suck in a breath, and fails. He starts to choke instead.
“Okay,” Parrish says. “Okay, get him up.”
Stiles is sliding into a total panic attack when the deputies haul him to his feet. He barely registers the snap of the cuffs around his wrists. His cheek is bleeding from being scraped against the asphalt. He barely notices that either. He can’t breathe. The pressure on his chest is growing and growing, like his ribs are in a vise, squeezing his lungs flat. His vision is already going gray at the edges.
Why would she just shoot the dog like that?
Stiles can’t see through his tears.
“Kid?” Parrish asks. “Kid, are you with me?”
Stiles can’t breathe. He tries to suck a breath into his useless lungs, and chokes on it instead. Panic claws at his throat, and he tries to pull away from the deputy.
Nothing makes sense.
What just happened?
He can’t breathe.
“Kid?” Parrish again. “Hey, kid?”
Stiles pitches forward and lands on his knees. He jars every bone in his body. The flash of pain is white.
“He’s hyperventilating,” Parrish says, but that can’t be right because Stiles isn’t breathing enough. “Slow it down, kid. Slow it down.”
Stiles sobs, and tries to wrench away, but with his hands cuffed behind his back he’s not going anywhere. He shuffles forward on his stinging knees, trying to get to the dog, but Parrish stops him easily.
Kate is standing over the dog, a strange half-smile on her face.
Stiles is in the middle of a panic attack, oxygen-deprived and close to blacking out, and in that strange place between the conscious and the unconscious, he has one clear, startling thought: Kate Argent is a monster. She’s a demon. She’s every cruel thought Stiles has ever had, every bad choice he’s ever made. She’s every black stain that tarnished his soul, personified, and she wants to destroy everything that Stiles has ever loved.
She crushes him like he’s an insect underfoot.
His dad, his home, his whole life, and now the dog.
And she couldn’t even get his fucking name right.
Stiles chokes on his sobs.
The wolf watches through half-closed eyes as his boy is dragged away by the male deputy and placed in the back of the cruiser. A moment later it drives away with his boy inside. The wolf watches as death stalks nearer. At first she is a black shape in his periphery, but she winds closer and closer. Her mouth is open.
Death is always hungry.
Kate stands above him. She presses the toe of her boot into his belly, pushing hard against one of the bullet wounds. The wolf is too weak to even whine. Kate’s mouth curves into a smile. “It is you, isn’t it, Derek? Look at you, you dirty fucking mutt.”
The wolf sighs as death kneels by him.
“You tried to attack me, Derek,” Kate says, her eyes bright with barely-contained laughter. “I’d be well within the bounds of the code to pump you full of wolfsbane and watch you die.” She tilts her head. “I think a part of you would like that, wouldn’t you?”
The wolf tries to growl.
No. He has his boy now. He needs to live, to protect his boy.
“But I think I can do better than that, don’t you, sweetie?” Kate asks me. “I think I’d like to see that pretty face of yours again before you die.”
Death inches closer. Her breath is cold.
Kate pulls her phone out of her pocket. She dials a number and, smiling down at the wolf, waits for an answer. “Dad? You’ll never guess who I’ve just run into after all these years.”
The wolf closes his eyes as death reaches out and runs her thin fingers through his fur. Her touch is like ice.
In the distance, he thinks he hears someone howling.
Stiles blinks his eyes open and finds himself gazing up at a series of beige ceiling panels. He feels his usual burst of fear at being in an unfamiliar place, and tries to move. Metal clinks, and his arm catches. Stiles turns his head to discover that he’s handcuffed to a bed.
He blinks again.
He’s in a hospital room. The air is cold and smells of antiseptic. There are sticky tabs stuck to his chest, and one of those clip things on the end of his finger. The heart monitor next to the bed starts to blip excitedly as Stiles’s fear rises.
He’s still wearing his jeans and his socks, but where are his shirt and his hoodie? His shoes? And his knife? And—
And his dog.
Stiles claps his free hand over his mouth to muffle the sob that tries to escape him. He twists as the door to the room opens, and the cuff rattles along the rail of the bed.
It’s Scott’s mom.
She shows him a small smile as she crosses toward his bed, and that’s enough to end him. His sobs grow louder, and he tries to roll onto his side and pull his knees up. To preserve what little dignity he’s got left, or something.
Mrs. McCall is having none of that. She leans over him and puts her arms around him. “It’s okay, Stiles. You had a panic attack and you were pretty out of it there for a while, but you’re safe here, and it’s going to be okay.”
She smells a little of the hospital, but mostly of warmth and safety, and the body wash Stiles used in the McCalls’ shower. Stiles returns the hug with his one free arm and cries into her shoulder.
“She killed my dog!”
Mrs. McCall flinches, and Stiles remembers that her interaction with the dog hadn’t been exactly positive. She’s too nice to mention that though. “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”
"He protected me,” Stiles cries. “He saved me. When I was sick he brought me food.”
“Oh.” She tightens her hold on him. “Oh, Stiles.”
Behind her, the door opens again.
Mrs. McCall straightens up, her expression hardening as she turns on the man entering the room. “You’d better be here to take this child’s handcuffs off, Jordan.”
Her sudden fierce protectiveness amplifies the ache inside Stiles’s chest. It’s like an echo inside an otherwise empty cavern, all that space carved out where the people he loved used to be. His mom. His dad. The dog.
Parrish steps forward, fumbling for his keys. “I had to use the bathroom, Melissa, and I didn’t want him giving me the slip.”
“Am I under arrest?” Stiles asks.
Parrish hesitates, then stands beside Melissa and unlocks the cuff from Stiles’s wrist. “Yeah.”
Melissa juts her chin out. “What for?”
“Assault with a deadly weapon,” Parrish says.
“But I didn’t—” Stiles thinks of his knife, but of course that’s not what Parrish means. “I didn’t tell the dog to attack.”
“That’s not what Deputy Argent says,” Parrish tells him.
Of course it’s not, because Kate Argent is a fucking liar.
Parrish takes the cuffs back and puts them back on his belt. He sighs. “Look, I’m pretty sure she’ll be happy not to file the charges if you help us out some.”
“She shot my dog,” Stiles says. “Why the fuck should I help her out?”
“You want to ride that attitude all the way to juvie?” Parrish asks. His expression is more concerned than angry. “And it would be juvie, right? You are a minor. So why not start with telling me your name, so we can get you back home where you belong?”
“Jamie Williams,” Stiles says. It’s a common name. It’s as common as John Smith probably, but not so obviously a lie. Stiles bets there are a shit ton of teenagers called James Williams in the system, and he’s willing to let the cops wade through every single one.
He catches Mrs. McCall’s gaze. Her mouth is a thin line, but she doesn’t speak up.
“Where are you from, Jamie?” Parrish asks.
Stiles just shrugs.
Parrish has that same patient look his dad always did when he was dealing with what he called difficult customers. Dad always said one of the signs of a good cop was them not taking it personally when someone was yanking their chain. Parrish seems like that sort of cop. Fair-minded, and slow to anger.
“Any reason you don’t want to answer that question?” he asks. His gaze is shrewd. “Trouble at home?”
“Nope,” Stiles says.
Parrish nods slowly. “Because if there was, then I could put you in touch with people who could help you out.”
Yeah no. Child Protective Services has been helping Stiles out for four years, thanks. He’s never going to be one of their success stories. And he knows that there are good foster families out there. Of course there are. Just that Stiles has always had shit luck, hasn’t he? He’s nobody’s shiny new son. Not with all the baggage he’s dragging along behind him like a crippled limb.
“No,” he says.
“Okay,” Parrish says. “Then I guess we’re going to talk about this at the station.”
“I guess we are,” Stiles says.
“Jordan,” Mrs. McCall says. “He’s clearly dehydrated and malnourished. The doctor wants to keep him here for observation until morning at least. I don’t care if you get a chair and sit outside, but I’m going to need you to leave him alone to sleep, okay?”
Parrish sighs again.
“Go,” Mrs. McCall tells him. “Outside. Sit.”
He retreats, and the door closes behind him.
“You bully cops a lot?” Stiles asks her softly.
“Only when they deserve it.” She wrinkles her brow. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t tell him your name, Stiles.”
“If they send me back to care, they’ll just lie to me again,” he says. The machine by the bed beeps faster as his heart rate rises. “They’ll put my back in some shitty placement where some shitty guy stands in my bedroom door and stares at me while he jerks off.” He drops his gaze so he doesn’t have to see the horror and disgust on her face. “You know what the real kicker is though? I wouldn’t have cared what happened as long as they let me visit my dad.”
Mrs. McCall curls her fingers through his.
“I would have been the best behaved kid in the world if they’d let me see my dad,” he says. It’s the truth. He would have let his foster mother’s boyfriend do whatever the hell he wanted if the right payoff had been on offer. “But either they’re punishing me or they’re punishing him, but they always came up with some reason I couldn’t go.” He swallows around the lump in his throat. “I made it as far as Fresno once before they told me the visit got canceled.”
He sees the realization flash through Mrs. McCall’s eyes even before she asks the question. “Stiles, where is your dad?”
“Mendota.” Stiles swallows again. “Doing thirty-eight to forty-three years.”
“Oh my god,” Mrs. McCall says, and a hand flies to her mouth. No, it wasn’t realization. It was recognition. “Oh my god. Your real name isn’t Stiles, is it? You’re Claudia Stilinski’s little boy! You’re her Mischief!”
There was a time when Stiles’s face was known by most of the nurses at Beacon Hills Memorial. He was eight then. Mischief by name, they used to say, and Mischief by nature.
Memory is a funny thing.
It takes dribs and drabs and shakes them up and stitches them together and looks for the patterns they make.
At one time, Mieczyslaw Stilinski must have done something to stick in Melissa McCall’s memory. He was a fixture around the hospital for a few months, and then he must have been a footnote—that poor boy. First losing his mother, and now his father—but enough to snag in her mind.
And now the pieces have fallen back into place.
“My dad didn’t do it,” Stiles says, his voice quiet. “He didn’t. I came back here to prove it. Please don’t tell them who I am. Please.”
Mrs. McCall is silent for a long while. She keeps a firm grip on Stiles’s hand, and rubs her thumb over and over his knuckles. Stiles has no idea what she’s thinking. He has no idea what she’s going to tell Parrish.
She leans in close, an errant curl of her dark hair brushing Stiles’s cheek. “In twenty minutes there’s going to be a disturbance on another ward. I’ll get Parrish to go and help. Go out the back entrance.”
She leans back again, and Stiles stares at her blankly.
“Did you get that?” she asks. She reaches down and picks up a bag from the floor. “Your clothes and your shoes. Stiles, do you understand what I’m telling you?”
“Y-yeah,” he said, even though it seems too impossible to be real. “I understand.”
She squeezes his hand. “Don’t make me regret this, Mischief.”
Stiles nods, and uses his spare hand to wipe his eyes. “I won’t.”
“I can’t believe my mom did that,” Scott says an hour later. He’s been saying it ever since he picked Stiles up from the hospital parking lot, in varying tones of disbelief tinged with admiration.
He lugs a pillow and a comforter down the basement stairs.
The McCalls’ basement is kind of a mess, but there’s an old pullout couch amid the stacks of boxes and assorted detritus, and it looks a hell of a lot more comfortable than anything Stiles has slept on for months.
“I’m really sorry about your dog,” he says.
Stiles hasn’t told him much about what happened, except that he had a run in with the police and the dog was shot. He doesn’t feel capable of saying much, actually. He’s still in shock, and he knows if he thinks for a second about everything the dog meant to him—
He pushes the thought away. He doesn’t want to cry in front of Scott.
He’s been at the house long enough to shower and change into warm clothes. His own clothes are in the washing machine. He watches as Scott makes up a bed on the foldout couch.
Stiles has put his shoes back on. He can feel the hard wedge of the folded paper under the arch of his foot. Luckily whoever took his shoes off him at the hospital didn’t check them. It must’ve been a nurse, not Parrish.
His knife, of course, is gone.
He hopes Scott hasn’t noticed he’s still wearing his shoes.
Because, fuck, he wants to stay here. It’s warm and it’s comfortable, and he’s pretty fucking sure that neither of the McCalls will turn him in now they’ve both made themselves accessories. But also…
But also the police aren’t stupid. It won’t take them long to figure out exactly who was behind Stiles’s disappearance from the hospital. Stiles is expecting a knock on the door any second now.
“Do you want to watch a movie or something?” Scott asks, his expression hopeful. “We can make popcorn.”
Stiles follows him back up the stairs. “Sure,” he says. “Popcorn sounds great.”
“So,” Scott throws over his shoulder, “Allison said she was checking her history on her laptop, and she wants to know why you were Googling her aunt?”
Stiles almost misses a step. “What?”
“Her aunt,” Scott says. “Kate Argent.”
Stiles’s blood turns to ice.
“Do you want plain butter popcorn, or caramel?”
“Um, plain butter?” Stiles isn’t sure he can hear his own voice over the roar of blood in his skull.
“Cool.” Scott heads for the kitchen. “So, Allison’s aunt?”
Stiles runs for the front door.
There’s a park on Jefferson Street. It’s quiet. Stiles isn’t stupid enough to sleep on one of the benches. Instead, he crawls behind the hedge of manzanitas that look like they were planted in an effort to beautify the maintenance shed, and curls up in the dirt to sleep.
It’s cold, and Stiles feels smaller and more alone than he has in a long time.
Stiles can’t go to the Sheriff’s Department, but he needs to track down Kate Argent. He doesn’t know where she lives, but C. & V. Argent, according to the address that Stiles jotted down on his piece of paper last time he was using Allison’s computer, live over on Parkview Street. It’s a newer area. Stiles doesn’t know it very well. The houses here are big, the lawns uniformly neat and tidy. It’s not the best place to try to walk down the street without being noticed. Stiles imagines he can feel curtains flicking as he passes. He imagines narrow-eyed suburbanites reaching for their Neighborhood Watch information and their telephones. Stiles walks like he has a purpose, like he’s a kid visiting a friend. It’s just on dusk when he arrives at the Argents’ house.
The black SUV and the car he recognizes as Allison’s are parked in the driveway. So C. & V. Argent are her parents.
At least it’s not a common surname.
The house directly across the street from the Argents’ house has no lights turned on. It also has a screen of shrubs planted along the property line which, going by the rest of the neighborhood, are probably against the rules or something, but thank God for rebels. Stiles slips into the yard and hunkers down behind the shrubs. He’s hidden from view now, but has a perfect line of sight to the Argents’ house.
He sits and waits, and feels the phantom press of the dog’s nose against his cold fingers.
Stiles hates Kate Argent for what she did to his dad, but he hates her for killing the dog as well. That hatred is more immediate, less controlled, and the viciousness behind it scares Stiles just a little. She deserves terrible things, and Stiles is afraid he’s capable of them. Not sorry, but afraid. He’ll still do whatever he has to do. He’ll become whatever he has to become.
A few cars drift slowly up and down the street.
Stiles feels a stab of panic when the lights in the house behind him flicker on, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone home. They’re probably away or something, and have them set on a timer. There are at least three newspapers on the front porch that back that theory up. Should probably have stopped their service too.
Stiles wonders if the house is alarmed. He wonders if he could actually break in. He bets it’s warm inside.
When Stiles was a kid he thought the idea of stakeouts was fun. Like sleepovers, except you were supposed to stay awake and eat junk food all night. So, yeah, exactly like sleepovers. Dad always laughed and said there was nothing fun about sitting around in a car all night.
Stiles is willing to bet it was nicer that sitting around on the damp, cold ground all night. He’s hungry too. He hasn’t eaten today.
That break and enter plan is starting to look better and better. There’d be food in the house somewhere. Food, and hot water, and a change of clothes… and an arrest for all his trouble. So it’s tempting, but Stiles isn’t that stupid, and not quite that desperate.
He chews on the strings of his hoodie and ignores his growling stomach.
Dusk darkens slowly into night. Stiles is joined briefly by an inquisitive cat, but it runs away when he tries to coax it nearer.
Stiles watches the Argents’ house.
He dozes, probably, and startles awake when the front door to the house bursts open and Allison strides out, tugging her coat on.
“I’m going to study with Scott!” she yells. “What are you going to do? Ground me?”
Her dad, who has followed her outside, looks ready to do just that, but then a woman with short red hair—Allison’s mom?—comes out and puts a hand on his shoulder, and wow, she’s wearing an expression that would wither Stiles’s balls at a thousand paces.
Allison storms over to her car, and climbs in and drives off.
Stiles is surprised she doesn’t do a burnout just for effect.
Her parents go back inside.
The night gets colder.
The cat doesn’t come back.
Stiles is terrible at stakeouts. He wakes up close to dawn, shivering. He has a sore throat and a headache from the cold. Allison’s car is back, and he slept through that, and her dad’s black SUV is just pulling back into the driveway. Stiles didn’t even hear it leave. The sky is softening from darkness into dawn. Faint touches of pink and orange precede the sun.
Stiles shoves his cold hands under his armpits, and watches as Allison’s dad pulls a couple of black bags out of the back of the SUV. He’s wearing all black again, and looks like a one man special ops team. Was he in the Preserve again? How long was he out there? And what the hell is he even looking for?
Stiles remembers that Allison said her dad was paranoid about the mountain lion. It’s almost funny. The guy’s dressed like he can take out ISIS singled handed, but one large kitty is proving elusive? Apparently Mr. Argent is all talk—or, in this case, all dress—but no action. He’s probably compensating for something.
Stiles watches him go inside the house. A moment later a light is turned on inside, and then off again, and then one comes on upstairs and stays on.
If Allison has only recently moved to Beacon Hills, then presumably her parents have too. So there’s a chance they’re not involved in setting up Stiles’s dad, like Kate is. Kate, Stiles reminds himself, and some as yet unknown person from the station. But clearly Allison’s dad is still super shady.
Stiles hunches over and chews on the strings of his hoodie in the vain hope it will convince his stomach he’s eating something.
Scary red-headed Mrs. Argent leaves for work at the same time Allison leaves for school. The black SUV stays in the driveway. Either Mr. Argent doesn’t have a job, or he works from home. Stiles remembers that business name he found online: Argent Tactical Solutions. That has Allison’s dad written all over it.
Stiles really wants to break into their house and see if there’s something there with Kate’s address on it. It’s probably down to all the Encyclopedia Brown books he read when he was a kid, but he’s pretty sure people just leave useful information lying around, right?
That might be his low blood sugar talking.
Okay, because it’s not unreasonable that maybe there’s an address book or something in the house—probably in the study, or by the phone or something—but also Stiles’s luck hasn’t exactly been great so far, has it? Like, there isn’t a step he hadn’t somehow fucked up.
He closes his eyes as he sees Kate raise her firearm. Hears the shots. Hears the dog yelp and hit the asphalt.
His throat aches and his eyes sting.
What the fuck is he doing? Staking out Allison’s parents isn’t going to get him any closer to Kate Argent. For all he knows they don’t even talk.
This is stupid.
Stiles is stupid.
He climbs to his feet, his cold body aching, and heads back to the park.
The trash can in the park gifts Stiles with a half-eaten burger. He picks the ants off it, pretends he can’t smell the way the mayonnaise is already turning, and eats as much as he can. Then he spends the next twenty minutes trying not to vomit it up again.
That night Stiles is woken up by some tweaker yelling at him. When the guy pulls a knife, Stiles runs. He goes back to the house across from the Argents’ place, because, at this point, where else has he got to go?
He’s woken some time before dawn by Mr. Argent’s SUV pulling into the driveway. This time, he’s not alone. A deputy’s cruiser pulls up on the road, and Kate Argent gets out and swaggers over to Allison’s dad.
“Chris,” she calls out, the smirk evident in your tone. “Been hunting?”
It’s too dark to see his expression, and his voice is pitched too low to hear a response.
“You’ve lost your touch, big brother!” Kate responds with a laugh as she closes the space between them.
“Haven’t you got work to do, Kate?” His voice is louder this time, and Stiles thinks he’s trying to hide his irritation. He’s not doing a great job of it.
“It’s a ghost town tonight,” Kate tells him. “Besides, I told Dad I’d check and see if you’d had any luck bringing down the alpha. Clearly you haven’t.”
“Clearly,” Chris echoes, his voice flat.
Kate laughs again. “I’ll catch you around, Chris.”
He doesn’t answer. He just nods curtly and watches as she walks back to her cruiser.
When she drives away, he stares after her for a very long while before he grabs his gear out of the SUV and goes inside.
Stiles tries his luck with another trashcan burger later that day. He vomits it up immediately, and doesn’t stop vomiting. He drinks water from the tap beside the maintenance shed in the park, ignoring the sign that warns it’s non-potable, and vomits that up as well. After that he starts shivering which is weird because he isn’t cold. He’s burning up instead.
He doesn’t remember walking to Scott’s house. He’s pretty sure his brain is boiling. He has a vague idea that he’s very, very sick, but food poisoning shouldn’t make him that sick though? Right? What if he’s got meningitis or something instead? He doesn’t remember walking to Scott’s house, but that’s where he wakes up. He’s in the bath, and Melissa McCall is placing a damp cloth on his head, and he flails so much when he wakes up that he saturates them both.
“You have a fever,” she tells him in that no-nonsense way. “I thought I told you to stay here, Mischief.”
This is probably a hallucination, right? Some sort of comforting near-death experience to ease him into oblivion without panicking. It’s nice, but he wishes it was his mom here instead of Melissa. Fuck realism.
“Scott?” Melissa calls out, and the bathroom door opens.
There are too many people looking at his junk, Stiles thinks, but he’s really too weak to care.
“I’m going to get him some more Tylenol. Make sure he doesn’t drown in the meantime.”
“Okay.” Scott takes his mom’s place beside the tub. “Hey, Stiles.”
Stiles’s mouth moves, but he’s not sure the word actually makes it out or not. He stares at the ceiling for a little while instead. The paint is peeling in one corner. It makes it seem more like a home, Stiles thinks, these little bits of wear and tear.
“I’m really dirty, huh?” he mumbles at last.
“What?” Scott asks, his forehead wrinkling. “No, dude. You have a really high temperature. That’s why you’re in the bath.”
“Oh.” Stiles fights the urge to close his eyes. There’s a towel wadded up behind his neck, and it is possibly the most comfortable pillow ever invented. “I was pretty sick.”
“Yeah, you were,” Scott agrees.
“How…” Stiles wrinkles his nose. “How did I even get here? Like, how did I find my way? How did I walk?”
“You didn’t,” Scott says, looking worried all of a sudden.
“I found you,” Scott says. “In the park.”
That’s impossible. Beacon Hills isn’t a large town, but Scott found him? In a random park in a random street curled up behind a random bush? No fucking way. That’s impossible.
Stiles squints up at him. “How… how’d you do that?”
“This is going to sound really, really weird, dude,” Scott says. He chews his bottom lip for a moment. “I, um, I smelled you?”
Yeah, Stiles is definitely having some sort of near-death experience.
The bath is very nice though.
He closes his eyes and dozes.
When Stiles wakes up, it’s evening. He’s lying on the fold-out couch in the McCalls’ basement, almost smothered in soft, warm blankets. He can’t remember the last time he felt this comfortable, but comfort doesn’t equate to safety. He shoves the blankets off him, wonders fleetingly who dressed him in flannel pajamas, and then swings his legs over the side of the fold-out couch and sits up. He closes his eyes against the wave of dizziness, holding onto the sides of the frame of the thin mattress while it passes. Then he hauls himself to his feet, and climbs the basement stairs.
He doesn’t think he makes much noise, but Scott is suddenly right there at the top of the steps. “Stiles! How are you feeling?”
“Okay,” Stiles says, because it’s all relative, right?
“Mom’s making you some soup,” Scott tells him.
Stiles swallows down his anxiety and follows Scott into the kitchen.
“Sit,” Melissa McCall says in the exact same tone she used on Deputy Parrish at the hospital, and points to the small kitchen table. “Both of you.”
Stiles sits. “Mrs. McCall, I—”
“No,” she says sternly. “First, you eat.” She ladles soup from the pot on the stove into a bowl, and crosses the floor to set it down in front of him. Chicken noodle. It smells better than anything Stiles has eaten in forever. She hands him a spoon. “Take it slowly,” she cautions.
She sits down at the table with them, and watches Stiles closely while he eats.
Stiles manages to finish half the bowl before his stomach hurts.
“The police have already looked for you here,” Melissa says. She raises her eyebrows. “Jordan Parrish is a smart guy. So running away like you did the other night? That was probably a good idea.”
Stiles nods cautiously.
“But right now,” Melissa continues, “it’s a very dumb idea. It’s unnecessary. There’s no reason for them to search here again and you, Stiles, are in no fit condition to be going anywhere.”
Stiles wonders if he imagined her calling him Mischief in the bath. He wonders if it should rankle, but it doesn’t. It’s his parents’ name for him, his mom’s especially, but he doesn’t mind if Melissa borrows it too. She makes him feel small, but in a good way. She makes him feel like there’s someone looking out for him.
“I want you to promise me you’ll stay,” Melissa says. “And if you do have to run, that you’ll find some way to contact me or Scott, so that we can help you out with food and warm clothes.”
“O-okay,” Stiles says.
“That’s only as a last resort,” Melissa tells him firmly. “Because you’re not going to run, are you?”
Scott kicks him gently in the ankle. “Dude, say it like you mean it.”
“I’m not going to run,” Stiles says.
Scott’s smile is infectious.
“Why are you helping me?” Stiles asks, meeting Melissa’s gaze. “It’s not just because you remember my mom?”
“I remember your dad too,” Melissa says. “My ex-husband is in the FBI.”
Stiles’s entire body tenses.
“He wasn’t on the team that investigated your father,” Melissa says. “But he told me he never felt right about the investigation. He just said he had a feeling that it was all too easy.” She looks to Scott, and smiles a little sadly. “Rafa and I have plenty of differences of opinion, but he’s a good agent.”
Stiles’s brain ticks over with the possibilities. The FBI ran the investigation, because corruption charges against a sheriff? That falls within federal jurisdiction. And a potentially sympathetic FBI agent? Rafa McCall could be the key to unraveling the entire mess, if there’s a way for Stiles to point him in Kate Argent’s direction without giving himself up. Since he’s a wanted person at the moment.
At the same time, he’s cautious. He’s very aware that he has no proof. He’s very aware that the testimony of a kid with his history—trauma, ADD, psychologists’ reports from his time in care, running away and committing numerous misdemeanors while on the streets—probably isn’t enough to get Kate Argent investigated. Stiles overheard a phone call four years ago. It’s not a smoking gun. It’s less than nothing, probably. Just the paranoid ramblings of a mentally disturbed kid.
“Can…” Stiles furrows his brow. “Can he help me?”
“Stiles, do you know something about your father’s case?” Melissa asks gently.
Stiles considers the question for a moment. To say yes means bringing an FBI agent in, which only works if Stiles has enough to convince him to investigate. If he doesn’t have enough, then he’s asking a federal agent to overlook the fact he’s a missing person currently wanted by the Beacon Hills’ Sheriff’s Department.
The odds aren’t with him.
But they will be.
“No,” he says. “No, I don’t.”
Melissa reaches out and puts her hand on his shoulder. She squeezes gently. “Then let’s just concentrate on getting you healthy for now, okay?”
“Okay,” Stiles says, and reaches for the rest of his soup.
Melissa is on night shift. She leaves the house at nine. Before she goes she makes sure Stiles knows when to take more Tylenol, and makes Scott promise to be in bed at a reasonable hour. It’s a school night.
“And you too, Stiles,” she says. “You’d better be here in the morning because I’m making pancakes for breakfast.”
When she’s gone, Scott locks the door behind her. He and Stiles retreat to the living room. Scott puts on a DVD and they sit on the couch to watch it. They only make it as far as the menu before Scott turns to regard Stiles. “Dude, you lied to my mom.”
“I did not!” Stiles protests. “I’m not going to run!”
“Not about that,” Scott says. “About not knowing anything about your dad’s case.” He furrows his brow. “Is that about Kate Argent?”
“Okay, so.” Scott draws a deep breath. “When you went missing again, me and Allison decided to go looking for you, right?”
“Right,” Stiles agrees warily.
“So we checked out the things you’d looked up on Allison’s laptop,” Scott says. “And it was her aunt, and the Hale fire.”
Stiles nods, and rubs his sternum to ease the tightening in his chest.
“So then Allison wanted to know what the Hale fire had to do with anything. I said I didn’t know, and we figured that maybe we’d go and look at the ruins.” Scott looks guilty. “I mean, not in a creepy way or anything, like kids do on Halloween. But we thought if you were so interested in the place, maybe that’s where you would have gone. Like you had some connection to the place?”
“My dad investigated the fire,” Stiles says.
“I know that now,” Scott says. “But I didn’t then. So we went out there, the night after you ran away, except suddenly there were all these deer running around like something spooked them, and we got separated, and something bit me!”
“What?” Stiles asks, wide-eyed.
“I don’t know,” Scott says. “I only saw the deer. But it was like a big bite, you know? I was bleeding and everything. Allison had to help me put a bandage on.” He rubs the side of his torso. “We didn’t want to go to the hospital or anything, because then Mom would know we’d been out in the woods. My rabies shots are up to date from working at the animal clinic and stuff, so that wasn’t a big deal. Anyway, in the morning, the bite was gone.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Stiles tells him.
“I know!” Scott’s eyebrows vanish under his floppy bangs. “I spent like half the day on Reddit checking out Glitch in the Matrix stories, just in case. But it definitely happened, because Allison took a picture of the bite on her phone. Just in case, you know, it didn’t stop bleeding and we had to suck it up and go to the hospital. Allison keeps asking me if it’s still hurting. I freaked out too much to show her it was gone.”
“That’s weird,” Stiles says.
“No, what’s the weirdest thing is that I can hear things really well now,” Scott says. “And smell them. Like when I was looking for you. I suddenly thought, I bet I can smell where Stiles is! And I could! I just like concentrated on what you smelled like—you’re kind of funky from living rough, no offence—and then I just walked right into that park and found you.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Stiles repeats, slowly this time.
“I know!” Scott exclaims. “I had to tell Mom that you turned up at the clinic. But, dude, guess how I could tell you were lying to Mom?”
“How?” The word escapes him on a breath.
Scott’s eyes are wide and a little frightened. “I can hear your heartbeat! It gets really fast when you lie or you get scared!”
“Yeah,” Scott says, and shakes his head. “I think I’m going crazy!”
That makes two of them.
Maybe Stiles knocked his head, or the fever fried his brain, or maybe the same disease that killed his mom is manifesting in him too, but right now Stiles doesn’t care. He has a bed in the basement of the McCalls’ house, and a toothbrush in their bathroom, and when Melissa gets home from work in the morning she makes pancakes like she promised.
“Don’t tell Mom about the whole weird smelling thing and the heartbeats,” Scott whispers to him as they dig into their pancakes.
That’s okay. Stiles can keep secrets.
He helps wash the dishes after breakfast, because apparently the dishwasher is broken.
“This!” Melissa yells at Scott’s retreating back. “This is what a helpful teenager looks like, Scott!”
But she’s smiling when she says it.
She stands beside Stiles at the sink. “I called a friend of mine today who works for Child Protective Services. I didn’t mention your name. I talked to her about the steps I’d need to take to become a foster carer. Everything would still need to go through the courts, so I can’t make any promises, Stiles, but is that something that you would want me to do?”
Stiles swallows around the ache in his throat. He nods.
Melissa’s eyes are dark with worry. “The process can take a few months, although there’s a chance I could get a lawyer to advocate for you and maybe speed the process up.”
A lawyer? Stiles can’t help glancing at the broken dishwasher. Melissa’s a single mom. How is she going to afford a lawyer?
She follows his gaze with a knowing smile. “That’s where Rafa steps up, whether he wants to or not.” Her smile fades. “So you need to be very careful that nobody finds out you’re living here in the meantime, okay? Scott won’t say anything to anyone at school, and you need to keep out of sight of the neighbors.”
Stiles nods. “What about, um, what about the police?”
“The police are looking for Jamie Williams right now,” Melissa says. “Stiles Stilinski is only a missing person, right?” She raises her eyebrows. “Right?”
Stiles nods hastily. “Yes!”
Melissa nods. “Then once we get your placement sorted out, we explain what happened to your lawyer, and take their advice on how to proceed.”
It’s a lot riding on hope, and it’s frightening. What’s even more frightening is the risk that Melissa is taking on him, on a kid she doesn’t even know. Jesus. No wonder Scott let him into the animal clinic that night, and gave him food and a hoodie. He inherited his selflessness straight from his mom. His selflessness and his faith in strangers.
“Do you want to try, Stiles?” Melissa asks. “I know it’s a big ask, and it might not work and you could end up exactly where you started, but you can’t just live in my basement until you’re an adult. You should be in school. You should be having a normal life.”
Stiles hasn’t had a normal life in as long as he can remember.
But being in Melissa’s care? In Beacon Hills? With a tenuous connection to an FBI agent who might be able to help? Stiles knows from experience that the universe isn’t going to give him an offer any better than this one.
“Yeah,” he says. “I really want to try.”
Scott heads off to school with strict instructions not to say anything to anyone about his new houseguest, and Stiles spends the day on his laptop while Melissa sleeps. He misses the heavy, warm weight of the dog leaning up against him, and pushes the sadness away. He transforms it into anger instead, a low, steady burn in his gut.
Kate Argent put his dad in prison and killed his dog.
Stiles is going to find a way to make her pay for all that.
In the meantime, he’s safe and he’s warm and he’s got Scott and Melissa on his side. He closes the several tabs he’s got open to articles on the Hale fire, and opens a new one. He types in: enhanced hearing, enhanced smell.
Scott’s probably not pregnant, right?
He adds wound healed overnight to the search.
He’s also probably not a werewolf.
Stiles snorts, and goes to Reddit instead to see what Star Wars memes he’s missed while he’s been offline.
Stiles is surprised at how easily he fits in with Scott and Melissa. He doesn’t have that same feeling he did at the foster homes they put him in. Like he had to ask to use the bathroom, and was afraid to help himself to food out of the refrigerator, and he always felt like he was a guest in someone else’s house, always careful of what he said and did, and itching under his skin because he couldn’t just be him. He doesn’t get any of that here. The McCalls’ house is comfortable. It feels like it could be a home. He’s not treated like a guest here. He’s treated like he fits.
He misses his dad.
He misses the dog.
He cries himself to sleep more than once, but it’s okay. It’s grief. It’s not helplessness. His tears are cathartic, not desperate.
He has a pile of clothes that Scott has given him. It’s mostly stuff that Scott is growing out of. Stiles is skinny enough thanks to living on the streets that he fits them. He’s a little taller than Scott so the jeans aren’t quite the right length, but Stiles doesn’t care. Who’s he got to impress anyway?
He does a few chores around the house while Melissa is working and Scott is at school. He wonders how long it will be until it feels like the walls are closing in on him. A while yet, probably. The house is warm and safe. During the day he researches his dad’s case, and wonders if it will raise any red flags anywhere if he tries to order a copy of the transcripts online. Then he figures they’re not really what he needs anyway. He needs the notes from the initial investigation, not the prosecutor’s polished presentation. For that, he needs Rafa McCall. And for Rafa McCall to even think of giving them to him, he needs evidence.
He takes one of Scott’s unused school notebooks and makes a list of what he already knows. Which isn’t much apart from Kate Argent’s name, her brother’s address, G. Argent’s address—are they even related?—and how she shot his dog.
He thinks back to that, trying to divorce himself from the impending panic.
“Hello again, Derek. You don’t look so good.”
Except Stiles’s name isn’t Derek, and as far as he remembers he’s never met Kate Argent before in his life.
The name snags in the threads of his memory like a hook, but Stiles can’t quite tug the memory free. He pushes it aside for now.
Stiles makes himself a cup of coffee—the caffeine helps settle the more annoying symptoms of his ADD—and takes it into the living room. He sits down on the couch and reaches for his notebook.
Scott’s laptop is open. Stiles was searching the Herald earlier. The elusive mountain lion still hasn’t been caught.
Stiles taps his pen against his chin, and thinks of Kate Argent again, and the exchange she had with Allison’s dad outside his house a few nights ago.
“I told Dad I’d check and see if you’d had any luck bringing down the alpha. Clearly you haven’t.”
Alpha. What is the alpha? First letter of the Greek alphabet. Term co-opted by asshole meninist PUAs. An episode from season six of The X-Files. And, in hunting terms, the foremost animal in a pack, right? Except that mountain lions aren’t pack animals. So what exactly is Chris Argent hunting?
Stiles sips his coffee.
What the hell is going on out there in the Preserve? Chris Argent is hunting something, and Scott got bitten by something, and all of it, every fucking thing, comes right back to those blackened ruins in the clearing, doesn’t it? Everything comes back to the Hale fire.
Maybe Stiles has been coming at this the wrong way.
Maybe he doesn’t need to prove Kate Argent framed his dad.
Maybe he needs to prove she had something to do with the Hale fire.
Stiles likes helping Scott with his homework. He’s missed school. Not the other students or the teachers or whatever, but he’s missing learning. Stiles has always been wired a little differently than a lot of kids. Scott is basically failing Biology, and even though it’s been months since Stiles cracked open a textbook he falls easily back into the rhythm of studying.
“All I know is the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell!” Scott says. “And I learned that from a meme!”
He looks so miserable that Stiles can’t help laughing at him. “It’s okay, Scotty. We’ll make sure you pass!”
“Thanks, dude. I need all the help I can get.”
Stiles chews his bottom lip for a moment. “Are you still hanging with Allison?”
“Yeah.” Scott flushes. “It really sucks that I can’t tell her about you, you know? She said that she keeps driving around town hoping she’ll spot you somewhere.”
Stiles’s breath catches. He tries to smile. “Hopefully not to hand me over to her aunt the cop, right?”
“No.” Scott holds his gaze. “Stiles, she says she hasn’t said anything to her aunt about even knowing you. I believe her.”
“Kate Argent set my dad up,” Stiles says. “Or at least helped whoever did.”
“What?” Scott’s jaw drops. “Seriously?”
“I don’t have any proof,” Stiles says. “But I heard her on the phone to my dad, warning him to drop the investigation into the Hale fire. So I’m guessing that she had something to do with the fire as well.”
“But that was an accident…” Scott trails off. “Wasn’t it?”
“My dad didn’t think so.” Stiles twists his hands together. The knot of anxiety in his gut is growing larger.
“Holy shit.” Scott’s gaze grows distant. “Cora Hale was the year above me in elementary school.”
“I didn’t know them,” Stiles says. “I went to Stuart, not Beacon Hills.”
“Ooh,” Scott teases. “A private school kid! Very swanky!”
“My mom taught there.” He looks down at the open Biology textbook. “We paid reduced fees. It was a Montessori school, which turned out to be a good fit for a kid with ADD plus zero social skills.”
When he looks up again, Scott shows him an encouraging smile.
“Anyway.” Stiles closes the textbook. “I never met the Hales.”
“Cora was kind of scary,” Scott says. “I heard they never found her body.”
Just another thing that never added up about the Hale fire. Why would the Hales hide in the basement after a gas line explosion? And the fire investigator had said that the fire burned at such a high temperature that there was simply nothing to find of some of the bodies. Cora had never been found. Neither had one of the adults. And another one of the kids too. The teenage boy. The brother.
Stiles scrambles for Scott’s laptop.
Derek Hale. Sixteen years old.
Stiles finds a picture online of a guy in a Beacon Hills High basketball uniform. A guy who looks absolutely nothing like Stiles.
“Hello again, Derek. You don’t look so good.”
Kate Argent must be crazy, or that’s her guilty conscience speaking.
He wonders, when she has people over, if she can hear a telltale heart beating from under the floorboards.
If she does, it serves her right.
They order pizza because it helps with homework. That’s a scientific fact. They eat the pizza in front of the TV, which doesn’t help at all with homework.
“So you think Allison’s aunt had something to do with the Hales?” Scott asks.
“Yeah.” Stiles picks off a piece of pepperoni and eats it. “That’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“We should really tell my mom,” Scott says. “And my dad.”
“Not without proof! If we tell your dad, then he’s obligated to do something about me being a missing person. And, you know, wanted by the police.”
Scott sumps back against the couch. “I can’t believe she shot your dog.”
Stiles feels the customary low burn of anger in his gut flare for a moment.
Yeah. It really, really does.
They talk for a while about whether or not to tell Allison what’s going on. If her aunt has links to the Hale fire, than surely Allison is in the best place to try and discover some proof of that? Scott is sure that she can be trusted. Stiles isn’t willing to risk his freedom on that. Scott agrees that it’s Stiles’s call.
Stiles goes to bed just before midnight. He curls up under his comforter and thinks of all the times he sat in the alley with the dog.
He has to act.
At the same time, he’s afraid. Everything is already so precarious that he’s terrified to make any move at all.
He tosses and turns for a while. He maybe dozes.
The basement has windows set high in the walls, at ground-level outside. The moon is a half-moon tonight, but bright enough that faint light filters through the windows. It fills the basement with a gentle glow.
Melissa says that if Stiles is allowed to stay, he can have the room next to Scott’s. But for now he shares the basement with the washing machine and dryer, and a shelf full of old board games, Christmas decorations, and assorted junk. He doesn’t mind that everything smells like fabric softener.
Stiles doesn’t think he’s asleep when the basement door opens, but he seems to jerk awake all the same.
“Stiles?” Scott whispers in the darkness. “Are you awake?”
“Yeah,” Stiles whispers back.
Scott’s footsteps creak down the steps.
Stiles sits up. Scott stands in front of the sofa bed. He’s shifting his weight from foot to foot, and even in the dim light he looks pale and wide-eyed.
“What’s wrong?” Stiles asks.
“Can you hear that?” Scott shakes his head like a dog after a bath under the hose.
Stiles listens in the silence for a moment. “Hear what?”
Scott wrinkles his nose, and tilts his head. “Howling?”
Stiles listens again. “Dude, I can’t hear anything.”
“It woke me up.” Scott’s breath is coming in short panicked gasps.
Stiles remembers Melissa checking with him before she went to work that he knew where his inhaler was. “Do you need your inhaler?”
“N-no.” The question seems to distract him from his rising anxiety. He sucks in a deep, uninhibited breath. “No, I think I’m okay.” Then his forehead wrinkles. “How am I okay?”
“Lets…let’s go up stairs and get your inhaler, okay?”
Scott nods. “I think there’s something wrong with me. Really wrong.”
“There’s nothing wrong,” Stiles tells him.
Scott’s huffs out a laugh that sounds as though it’s bordering hysteria. “I can hear you lying!”
Stiles puts his hand over his fast-thumping heart. “That sounds really impossible, Scott.”
“I know.” Scott drags his fingers through his hair. “I know it does.” He freezes suddenly, and turns to stare up at one of the windows.
Stiles follows his gaze.
A shadow passes in front of the window.
“Did you—” he whispers.
Did you see that?
But the words don’t come.
Because when Stiles turns his head to look at Scott again, Scott’s eyes are glowing gold.
Except Stiles knows in the pit of his stomach that whatever is happening now is a hundred times more terrifying than any nightmare, because he knows it’s real.
From outside, a howl tears through the night. It’s loud enough and close enough that Stiles feels the echo of it reverberating through his bones. The sound is big enough to swallow the world, and Stiles knows instinctively that he’s powerless in the face of this, whatever this is.
And then it’s gone again.
The shadow passes in front of the window.
Scott’s eyes are no longer glowing.
“It’s gone,” Scott whispers. “Holy shit. What was that?”
And Stiles stares back at him and thinks: What are you, Scotty?
Stiles and Scott set up camp in the living room and queue up Netflix. Stiles knows what this is. This is denial. This is a desperate attempt to flood their brains with something normal—Parks and Rec, and popcorn, and soda—to drown out the fact that something just happened that makes no sense. Stiles and his dad were experts at this, when his mom was sick and then when she was gone. Stiles still can’t watch Night at the Museum without trying to push down a rising sense of dread. He still can’t remember his dad’s laugh without also remembering all those times it was so, so close to breaking. But that was what they did. They pushed on. They pretended things were normal, until they almost were again. The new normal, anyway. Then that was ripped away too.
All those nights in front of the TV with his dad, both of them pretending that as long as they kept looking at the screen and laughing at the jokes then they didn’t have to notice that their universe was crumbling.
Scott’s eyes changed color and glowed.
He can hear heartbeats.
He tracked Stiles by scent from clear across town.
There was something outside the house and it howled.
Denial isn’t going to be able to hold this dam back for long, is it?
Stiles sticks his hand into the bowl of popcorn. “Scott?”
Scott looks at him worriedly, like he knows Stiles is about to totally annihilate their fragile peace. “What?”
It’s strange how the human brain rationalizes the things it doesn’t want to believe. It’s strange how hard it works to push away the things it can’t explain.
Scott isn’t some kind of monster.
Stiles’s mom wasn’t dying.
Everything is going to be okay.
Stiles crunches on his popcorn. “We should watch the Li’l Sebastian episode.”
Scott flashes him a grateful smile and navigates to the Netflix menu.
Stiles watches, but doesn’t take it in.
Some things are crumbling, but some things are also falling into place.
The night creeps slowly on toward dawn.
“Do not tell me you two have been sitting there all night,” Melissa McCall says when she gets home from work in the morning, and Stiles and Scott exchange a guilty look. Melissa narrows her eyes at the pair of them. “You’d better just have woken up early and decided to watch some TV before school, Scott.”
“That’s exactly what happened,” Scott says, but he’s a terrible liar. Stiles has only known him a few weeks at most, and he already knows his tells. The fact that he turns bright red is probably the biggest.
“Hurry up or you’ll be late for school,” Melissa says.
Scott almost flies upstairs to get dressed.
Melissa then turns her guilt-inducing stare on Stiles. “Try and stay diurnal, Stiles, please.” She sighs. “You might not have school to worry about, but your health is fragile right now. You’re underweight, and you’re still recovering from your fever. All night movie marathons and popcorn are not going to help you. Make better choices, Stiles.”
Stiles knows this is supposed to be a lecture, but he can’t help the way he warms to her words. He can’t help the way he relaxes, and his mouth quirks at one side.
“What?” Melissa asks. “Stiles?”
“Sorry,” he says. He meets her gaze and quickly looks down again. “You’re being such a mom right now.”
“Well…” She sits down beside him. “That’s kind of my job around here.”
“It’s been a while,” Stiles murmurs.
Melissa reaches out and takes his hand. She squeezes it. “Is it okay if I do that for you?”
He loves this woman. He really loves her.
“Yeah,” he says, not daring to lift his gaze still. Like, she’s already seen him at his worst, probably, when he was crying on her shoulder in the hospital, but that doesn’t mean he wants to break down in front of her every day, right? A guy has to maintain some sort of dignity, and Stiles thinks what he loves about Melissa the most is that she lets him do that. She asks if it’s okay for her to be his mom when he needs it.
She squeezes his hand again. “Good.”
They sit together on the couch for a long time.
Stiles pulls Scott aside on his way to school. “Tell Allison I’m here,” he says.
“What?” Scott’s brows draw together sharply. “Are you sure?”
He’s not. He’s really not.
“Yes,” he says.
Scott’s gaze drops to his chest. No, Stiles thinks, to his beating heart.
“I’m not sure of anything,” Stiles admits. “But even when we think we’re standing still, we’re really losing ground.”
He spends the day sitting in the living room, staring out the gap in the curtains, while Melissa sleeps upstairs.
Has Scott had a class with Allison yet? Has he spoken to her yet? Has he told her yet? Has she told Kate?
Stiles’s heart seizes with every car that passes. He expects the police to knock on the door at any moment.
But nobody comes.
By the time Scott gets home from school, Stiles feels like he’s held his breath all day.
Allison comes over after Melissa goes to work. She hugs Stiles so tightly that he thinks he hears his ribs creak.
“I was so worried about you!” she says.
“What’s your dad hunting in the Preserve?” Stiles asks her.
She releases him, her brow crinkled. “What?”
“Sorry. Total non sequitur,” Stiles says. “But also a really important question. What’s your dad hunting in the Preserve?”
Allison raises her eyebrows. “Um… a mountain lion?”
No, Stiles thinks, an alpha.
Allison tilts her head. “What has that got to do with anything?”
“I don’t know,” Stiles says. He holds her gaze and tries to read her expression. He’s aware of Scott hovering anxiously close by. He’s aware of how very wrong this can go. “Allison, I think your aunt had something to do with the Hale fire.”
A hundred emotions cross her face before her expression shutters. “What?” she asks flatly.
“I heard her on the phone to my dad,” Stiles says. “Telling him to drop the investigation or he’d regret it.”
“Oh.” Allison steps back. She smiles tightly. “Sure.”
Stiles watches her warily.
“You don’t want your dad to be a dirty cop, so you pick my aunt instead, right?” She presses her mouth into a thin line.
“It’s not like that,” Stiles says, but of course there’s the possibility that it is like that. Exactly like that. That Stiles is misremembering, that he’s delusional, that the electrical activity that should be lighting up his brain is flickering into darkness patch by patch, like a string of broken Christmas lights.
Allison’s expression softens. “I’m sorry about your dog, Stiles.”
“It’s not about him.” His eyes are stinging. “There’s more going on here than that. This isn’t just some revenge fantasy for my dog. This is—”
The sudden knock at the door startles all of them.
There’s silence for a moment and then:
“Beacon Hill’s Sheriff’s Department. Open the door.”
Jordan Parrish actually looks regretful as he puts the cuffs on Stiles. Stiles figures that’s probably for Melissa McCall’s sake more than his. Melissa’s going to be a lot of trouble.
“I didn’t tell!” Allison says, her face streaked with tears as Parrish leads Stiles toward the car. “I didn’t tell!”
It really doesn’t matter who told, does it? The end result is the same.
“I’m calling Mom!” Scott promises him. “And my dad! Don’t say anything until you get a lawyer!”
“Watch your head,” Parrish says, and helps him into the back of the cruiser.
The door slams. Moments later, Parrish sits in the driver’s seat and starts the engine. He regards Stiles in the rearview.
“Hey, Jamie. It’s not as bad as you think, okay?” He smiles slightly. “The sooner we sort all this out, the sooner you can put it all behind you.”
Stiles swallows, and turns his head to watch Scott’s street slide past the window. He blinks, and tears blur his vision. Coronas burst from the streetlights. He blinks again, and looks at the rearview.
“Who told you where I was?” he asks, his voice rasping.
“Got an anonymous tip.”
“Is Mrs. McCall going to get in trouble?”
“Don’t you worry about Melissa.”
That’s not an answer, is it? Stiles looks out the window again.
They’re getting closer to downtown now, driving though a street of warehouses. Stiles thinks he remembers this area from when his dad sometimes took him on patrols. Stiles felt very grown up whenever that happened. Sometimes his dad even let him wear his hat, and they’d buy takeout and eat it in the car. Stiles always looked forward to times like that, like they were special treats instead of nights when his sitter had to cancel. Stiles practically grew up in his dad’s cruiser, and the station.
Sudden headlights blind him, and he flinches away from the window.
“What the hell?” Parrish mutters.
The truck is coming up on them fast. Too fast. And then it’s colliding with them, the force of the impact sending the cruiser spinning off the road and into a fence. Stiles slams into the cage and bounces back onto the seat.
Not… not an accident? A pit maneuver.
Parrish grabs for his radio. His face is pale in the glare of the truck’s headlights, and there’s a bright thread of crimson blood running down the side of his face.
The truck backs up, and the engine roars.
The second impacts throws them around like pebbles in a tin.
Parrish tries to push his door open, but it’s stuck fast.
People approach the car. They’re silhouettes at first, but then they resolve themselves into people. Stiles sees two men he doesn’t know, both dressed in black combat gear. And he sees Kate Argent.
One of the men wrenches Stiles’s door open and drags him out.
“Kate?” Parrish asks. He sounds dozy. Concussed. “Kate, what’s going on?”
Kate ignores him.
“Hello again, Jamie,” she says. “I’m so happy to see you again.”
Stiles pushes back against the guy holding him, but he’s already cuffed, and the guy is as solid as a brick wall. The guy hauls him over to the truck and shoves him in the back. Then the guy gets into the driver’s seat and backs the truck up. Metal crunches as it disengages from the police cruiser.
Stiles struggles to sit up.
“Kate?” Parrish calls. “Jesus Christ! Kate!”
Stiles slumps against the door of the truck, forcing himself up so he can see out the window.
There’s a sudden flash of light and a rolling wave of heat.
Stiles’s mouth opens on a scream he can’t get out.
Parrish’s cruiser is on fire, and Parrish is still inside. He’s trying to kick the window out. And then… and then Stiles can’t see him anymore.
Kate’s holding a can of gasoline, and she’s watching with no expression as the flames take hold.
Stiles squeezes his eyes shut.
Kate smells of gasoline and burned flesh. She sits in the back of the truck with Stiles and keeps one hand on the back of his neck, pressing his face into the seat. Stiles can’t breathe. He doesn’t know if it’s the position he’s in, or his impending panic attack. He whimpers.
“Shhh, sweetie,” Kate croons, rubbing her thumb against the knot at the top of his spine. “Shhh. Be a brave boy for me, hmm?” He can hear the smile in her voice. “There’ll be plenty of time for tears later.”
The wolf is blind without the moon. He has no way of knowing how much time has passed. He is in a place that is made of concrete and metal and cold, cracked tiles that his blood has turned the color of rust. There are rivets in the walls that stare at him like eyes in the darkness. There are metal rings and loops of chains that hang like open mouths.
The wolf knows pain.
Death cards her cold fingers through his hair and he whimpers at her. She looks at him with Laura’s eyes and echoes back the sounds he makes.
The heels of Kate’s boots make clicking sounds across the floor.
“Derek,” she says to the wolf. “Derek.”
He whines when she presses the probes of the taser into his soft unprotected belly.
The electricity arcs through him. It is a sharper pain than the wolf can understand. His body cannot take this pain and process it. It is too fast, too much. It doesn’t escalate. It hits at a level that is already so far past the wolf’s threshold for pain that he can barely even whine. The pain is too much for the wolf’s body to contain. It snaps his bones into different shapes, retracts his claws into blunt, grasping fingers, and forces a human scream from his reformed larynx.
“Derek,” Kate sing-songs. “I see you.”
Afterward, the wolf lies panting on the tiles, his nose buried under his paws, and his tail tucked between his legs.
The place smells of blood and bleach and urine and, overlaying all of that is the sweet floral scene of Kate’s perfume. Too sweet, like flowers on the point of decay.
The wolf misses his boy. He misses his salt-sharp scent, his clever fingers and his shining eyes. He misses his boy’s whispered words and secrets, and his bursts of hot rage that came on like sudden summer showers. He misses his boy’s touch, and the way he curled his thin, shivering frame around the wolf’s body. He misses the way he and his boy shared warmth and food in their little cardboard shelter in an alley.
Stiles is pack.
The wolf needs pack.
The wolf wants to curl up with his boy, and lick his tears away and chase his scent over his skin and press his nose against the soft skin of the boy’s throat where his pulse thumps. He wants to lay his head on the boy’s chest and feel the rise and fall of it as he sleeps. He wants to follow the sweat-sour dampness of the hair at the nape of his boy’s neck, and feel it tickle his nose. He wants to rest with the boy safely curled against him, under the light of the moon.
He wants to howl for his boy, to tell the moon and the sky and the stars that he hasn’t forgotten him, but there is no moon in this place and the wolf has no way of telling how much time has passed.
The wolf doesn’t like when Kate touches him.
He prefers to feel death’s hand on him, her cold fingers curling around his muzzle. At least death isn’t cruel.
“Here’s how it is, Derek,” Kate says, leaning close to the curve of his human ear. Things sound different. Distorted. Distant. He’s unused to this. The constant thrum of electricity keeps his body in its beta shift for now, and the wolf wants to howl, wants to twist back into his natural state and run. This body, these senses, they are unfamiliar to him. The wolf is trapped in a machine of flesh and muscle and sinew that he does not remember how to operate.
Sight is wrong. Sound is flat. Smell is…
Everything smells like blood.
“Here’s how it is, Derek,” Kate says, and the blade of her knife pierces his human skin. “You came back to Beacon Hill, didn’t you? You should have stayed away, Derek. But you’ve got yourself a little human bitch, don’t you? Does he roll over for you, sweetie, the way you used to do for me?”
A growl sounds so weak when it’s formed by a human larynx.
“What did you tell him, huh?” Kate teases the blade in further. There’s no real force behind it. She’s playful today. “Did you tell your street kid all about the fire?”
He can’t remember how to form the word.
No. Anything Stiles has figured out about the fire is because he’s smart. The wolf’s boy is smart.
“Who the hell is this kid, huh?” Kate asks. She twists her fingers in the wolf’s hair, and lifts his head enough just to slam it back down onto the tiles again. “Does he know you put a target on his skinny little ass?”
That’s not what happened.
The moon brought them together.
The moon and death.
And Stiles has a target on Kate Argent long before she had one on him.
The wolf’s boy is smart.
The old man has a voice that sounds as though it’s trying to be a growl. “What the hell are you doing, Katie? That’s not the alpha.”
“That’s Derek Hale.”
The old man is silent for a long moment, and then he grunts. “Don’t tell your brother.”
They want something. The wolf isn’t sure what it is. It’s hard to catch the words that filter through his pain, and harder still to make sense of them. There is an alpha in Beacon Hills, and they want it.
The alpha is killing people.
Hunters, the wolf thinks. He hopes the alpha kills every last one of them. He hopes they die screaming.
There are claw marks on the concrete, tiles ripped up, and tooth marks on the chains that do not belong to the wolf. Whatever this place is, another wolf has been held here out of the sight of the moon. There is no scent left behind, but the marks of their torture remain as scars in the skin of the room.
There is a place in the wolf’s mind where he is free. Where he and his boy have made a den in the Preserve. The air is clean. The sun is bright. A stream runs close by, the water crisp and clear. The boy cooks rabbits over the fire he builds, because the boy does not eat his meat raw. His clever fingers are stained with blackberry juice. His smile is wide, and the sunlight shines in his eyes. He touches the wolf’s ears and laughs when the wolf flicks them back to try and avoid him. The wolf nips his fingertips, and his boy’s laughter rises until it breaks, breathless.
The wolf wants to live with him here forever. He can. He will.
Just as long as he doesn’t open his eyes.
Electricity pulls him awake.
Buckets of ice-cold water do.
The sting of wolfsbane, transforming into an acid burn, tears him from the solace of his dreams.
He cowers in the corner, the chain tight around his throat, and whimpers.
The old man is different than Kate. His cruelty isn’t as sharp, although it runs just as deep. He watches the wolf with a calculation behind his cold gaze.
“What are your plans for it, Kate?” he asks. “What’s the point in keeping it alive?”
Death presses a kiss to the wolf’s muzzle, and his heart aches.
“You’re the one who wanted a wolf on a leash,” Kate says.
The old man huffs. “Not some weak beta.”
There is silence between them that feels tense, and then Kate says, “Chris wants to know why you want the alpha alive.”
“That’s none of Chris’s business.”
“And if he figures it out?”
“If he figures it out, I’ll take care of him,” the old man says.
The wolf watches them through half-closed eyes, conserving his energy for when they decide to hurt him again.
“Where’s the kid?” Kate asks. “Where’s Jamie? What did you tell him? What does he know?”
The wolf stares at his human hands. His fingers are twisted, broken, but the pain feels oddly distant. He is divorced from it. He is divorced from this body, and he doesn’t know anyone called Jamie.
“Don’t play games, Derek,” Kate says, her smile twisting into something jagged. “You’re not smart enough to play games with me.”
The wolf wonders if she means Stiles. There is fear underneath Kate’s cruelty. She is afraid of what Stiles knows, and of who Stiles might tell. She is afraid of the skinny boy who cries more than he laughs, who the wolf found shivering and sick in the cold. She is afraid of him because she has sensed the same things in him the wolf has seen: he is weak and he is pale and he is fragile and brittle as the first green shoots in Spring, but he has a core of steel. She is afraid of him in a way she’s never been afraid of wolves, because he is an unknown quality. He is an outlier. He is beyond her understanding. He is a voice on the wind and a shadow in the rain. He is driven by a force that Kate cannot comprehend.
His boy is not just anger and pain and bursts of frantic energy.
His boy is love.
Everything Stiles has done is because of his love for his father, and the wolf is proud to call him pack.
He hopes that his boy is running now. He hopes that he never stops. He hopes that he fuels his anger, his rage, and hones them into a weapon. He hopes that he frees his father, and that he destroys Kate Argent by doing it. It’s been so long since the wolf had any hope at all.
“I will find him,” Kate tells the wolf, “and I will make you watch him die.”
Run, the wolf thinks. Run, Stiles, and don’t stop running.
The wolf blinks awake halfway through a conversation.
“Allison thinks I’m the worst person in the world for shooting some poor homeless kid’s dog,” Kate says with a laugh. “She knows more than she’s saying.”
“Allison’s a smart girl,” the old man says, a hint of pride in his warning tone.
“She’s been driving around a lot,” Kate says. “I think she’s looking for the kid.”
The old man grunts.
“I’m keeping an eye on her,” Kate says. “If she finds him, I’ll know.”
“What then?” the old man asks. “He’s going to have some accident in custody? You’re supposed to keep your hands clean, Katie. Wasn’t that part of the deal with Haigh?”
“Sheriff Haigh can go fuck himself,” Kate says. “He knows he can’t touch me. But no, if I find the kid, he won’t make it to a cell.”
“Good,” the old man says. “I don’t like loose ends.”
He leaves the room, slamming the door shut behind him.
“I don’t like loose ends,” Kate mutters, and rolls her eyes. “Coming from the man who let the alpha slip through his fingers.” She selects a knife from the table and holds it up so that the light gleams on the blade. “Are you ready for another round, sweetie?”
The wolf whines.
When Stiles is pulled out of the truck nobody bothers catch him, and he stumbles to his knees on a gravel driveway. He looks around quickly. It’s dark, but he can make out trees. They might be on the other side of a chain-link fence, but Stiles can’t be sure. There are no streetlights here. The headlights of the truck illuminate a squat, ugly building. One of the men hauls Stiles to his feet and pulls him toward the building. Stiles struggles to keep pace with the man.
What was it his dad always said? You co-operate to make it easier on you, not on them. Don’t ever be an accomplice in your own murder. Stiles is a cop’s kid. His and his dad’s conversations over dinner would have raised a lot of questions in any other household, but mostly his dad was trying to set him straight after Stiles watched too many shoot-em-up action movies and thought that all it took to escape an entire cabal of armed terrorists was a single handgun and a couple of wisecracks. Which was not, his dad said, the way to survive a hostage situation at all.
Stiles doesn’t think either of them ever would have thought he’d actually need to know this stuff.
The first step is to open a dialog, right? To show them that he’s a person too, with thoughts and feelings and a life as valuable as any other.
“What is this place?” Stiles asks, forcing the words out against his panic.
“Shut your mouth,” the guy says.
So much for building a rapport. Stiles jerks his head in a nod to shows he understands, and concentrates on not stumbling again.
The guy unlocks the padlock on the door and pushes the door open.
It’s a metal door, and it opens inward on a clean but rundown room. The walls appear to be concrete. There are no apparent windows, just a series of ventilation ducts running across the ceiling, with grills to allow the air to circulate. The floors are tiled. There’s a table, an old fridge, shelves. On the opposite wall there’s another metal door. It’s painted red.
The place feels old, like Cold War old. Stiles wonders if it’s some sort of disused bomb shelter or bunker.
“Sit,” the guy says, and shoves Stiles toward a metal chair.
Stiles sits. He leans forward a little to try to take some of the strain off his shoulders. The cuffs are starting to get uncomfortable. Stiles decides to focus on that, instead of the fact that the man who put them on him was just incinerated by a colleague he thought he could trust.
He stares at his shoes, poking out of the ends of his too-short borrowed jeans. He doesn’t look up as Kate and the men move around the place. He keeps his gaze fixed down. Keeps his mouth shut like the guy said.
“You need us for anything else tonight, Kate?” one of the men asks, his tone gruff, and Stiles wonders wildly who the hell these people even are? Just set a cop on fire and abducted a kid, but all in a day’s work, huh? What sort of people are they if the idea of what they just did doesn’t freak them the fuck out?
“You guys are good to go,” Kate tells them. “Watch yourselves out there.”
The two men mutter their goodnights.
The metal door slams shut behind them, leaving Stiles alone with Kate Argent.
The air hisses in the vents.
The heels of Kate’s boots click across the floor.
She leans back against the table, and folds her arms over her chest. “I have to say, string bean, you don’t look like much.”
Stiles meets her gaze warily, and wishes he could say the same. Unfortunately, Kate Argent looks like she eats babies for breakfast.
She tilts her head to look at him. A smirk tugs at the corners of her mouth. “I’m going to be nice to you and take those cuffs off. Are you going to be nice to me in return?”
His skin crawls, but he nods. “Yes.”
Kate straightens up. She moves around behind him. She jostles the cuffs for a moment, and then they open. Stiles carefully moves his hands around to his lap, and sits back. He knows better than to make any sudden moves when Kate’s carrying enough weaponry to start her own militia.
Kate moves back to the table and leans against it again. “Take your shoes and socks off.”
Stiles blinks at her.
“Shoes and socks,” Kate says.
Stiles toes his shoes off, and then leans down to pull his socks off. The dusty tiles are cold against his bare feet. “I’m not a suicide risk.”
“That’s not the point of this exercise at all,” Kate says. Her smirk grows. “Stand up.”
“Take your clothes off,” Kate says.
“Wh-why?” Stiles asks, his heart freezing.
“Take them off.” Still smirking, she drops her hand to her side and unclips the holster on her belt.
Stiles has the feeling that there is nothing idle about one of Kate Argent’s threats. He pulls his hoodie off. The shirt he’s wearing is Scott’s too. It’s advertising some breakfast radio duo that Stiles has never heard of. He tugs the shirt over his head and drops it on the floor with his hoodie.
His shaking hands pause at the button on the fly of his jeans.
Kate cocks an eyebrows.
Stiles tries not to shiver as he pushes his jeans and underwear down and steps out of them.
Her gaze rakes down him, and Stiles is suddenly deathly afraid.
Strange how this fear hits him some place different that the fear that she’s going to kill him. Why should it matter to Stiles why the hell she wants him naked? At this point, when Stiles is staring his imminent death in the face—he saw her kill her partner, he’s not walking away from this—what the hell does anything matter? Except then he thinks about what the autopsy report will say, and how, one day, his dad will read it and it will break his heart, and he wants someone to be able to say to him, “It happened quickly. Stiles wouldn’t have felt a thing.” That’s what he wants. He wants his dad to be able to hold onto that.
He doesn’t want him to know that he was hurt first. That he was humiliated.
“Arms out,” Kate says. “Turn around for me. Slowly.”
Stiles fights the urge to close his eyes as if that will protect him from her scrutiny. Protect him from whatever she’s got planned for him now.
“Huh,” she says when Stiles has shuffled in a full circle. She nods at his clothes. “Put them back on.”
Stiles is too shocked to move.
“You can get dressed again,” Kate tells him slowly, raising her eyebrows. “Unless you’re enjoying putting on a show?”
Stiles scrambles for his clothes and allows himself to breathe again, just for the moment. She was checking him for weapons.
“No offence, string bean,” Kate says, “but I prefer my boys with a little more muscle. A little more meat on their bones. And in other places too.”
Stiles doesn’t take the bait. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and ducks his head.
“Jesus,” Kate says after a while. “You know, Jamie, I just can’t quite figure you out. Why you, huh? What’s so special about you?”
“Nothing,” Stiles rasps out. “Nothing special.”
“Oh, sweetie,” Kate says, “I really, really hope that’s a lie. I really hope you’re someone, Jamie.” She sighs. “I mean, I liked Parrish, dammit.”
“Right,” Stiles says, because sometimes he just can’t help himself. “Sorry for your loss.”
Kate’s laugh is horrifying in its sheer brightness.
“I like you, Jamie,” she says, tilting her head to look at him. “You are going to make this interesting, aren’t you?”
And just like that his blood runs cold.
“Sit,” Kate says.
He twists his fingers together on his lap. Counts them. Twists them again.
He forces himself not to think of the things that matter.
Not to think about Parrish. Not to think about the McCalls.
Not to think about his dad.
It could be minutes, it could be hours. Tremors run through him; his fear and agitation working underneath his skin even though he’s trying so hard to stay still. Some Adderall would be really great right about now. It’s getting colder too, the longer he sits. And as much as Stiles hates the growing tension, he’s not dumb enough to break it intentionally and kick start the next phase in his abduction, whatever it is.
He glances up once to find Kate watching him carefully.
“What’s your name?” she asks him. “It’s not Jamie Williams, is it? You don’t match any missing person reports.”
“Maybe they didn’t report me,” Stiles suggests.
Kate laughs. “Oh, sweetie! Do you really think that Parrish didn’t try to track down every damn Jamie Williams between fourteen and eighteen on the west coast?” Whatever sob story you told him, it got him right here.” She puts her hand over her heart. “Whereas I know you’re a liar. So why not save yourself some pain, and tell me the truth?”
How can she not know who he is? How can this woman who has ruined his entire life not even know who he is?
“My name is Mieczyslaw,” Stiles tells her, because he wants to see the look on her face. “Mieczyslaw Stilinski.”
The moment doesn’t feel as momentous as it should.
Stiles watches Kate’s face. He sees the moment realization dawns. The moment she places the name Stilinski. The moment the penny drops. And then the moment she shakes it off.
“The sheriff’s kid,” she says, as though somehow this isn’t the revelation she’s expecting. She looks at him curiously. “Huh.”
“You framed my dad.”
“That was a team effort, string bean,” Kate says. She shrugs. “You dad should have done what he was told.”
There’s an ache in Stiles’s chest. He doesn’t know what he expected here, but not this. He expected this to mean something. He expected this moment to have gravity.
“Is that all you’ve got?” Kate asks, and reads his expression with a rueful laugh. “Holy shit. I don’t believe it. You are nothing.”
Kate hauls him to his feet, and keeps a hand on his shoulder as she steers him toward the door on the other side of the room. “Now, I’ll be honest with you, cutie pie, I don’t know what’s on the other side of that door right now, but I’ll bet he’s glad to see you.”
Kate wrenches the door open and pushes Stiles inside.
The door slams shut behind him.
The only light in here is coming from a flickering bulb set high in the corner of the ceiling. The floor is tiled, like the other room. The concrete walls are painted a kind of pale green. There are chains bolted into the walls.
Stiles’s stomach roils.
There’s a naked man curled up on the floor, with a chain around his throat. His eyes are half-open, but Stiles can’t tell if he’s even awake or not. He might not even be alive. Stiles steps toward him, breathing heavily. His heart thumps loudly.
He looks… familiar?
Stiles kneels down on the floor, half afraid to reach out and touch the man, and half afraid not to. Just because Kate’s a monster doesn’t mean this guy isn’t crazy or something too, right? Just because he’s clearly being held against his will doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous. What if Kate threw Stiles in here just to see what the guy would do to him?
But also, what if he’s not a psycho?
He reaches out, his fingers hovering over the guy’s throat.
The guy is pale. He’s thin. Stiles can count his ribs. He can also count his muscles though, so he’s in better shape than Stiles. Which isn’t saying much, probably. He looks…
Stiles reaches closer.
He looks like the boy Stiles saw in the photo from the Beacon Herald. The boy wearing a basketball uniform and a smile. Add six years and a hell of a lot of hard living to that boy and—
“Derek?” Stiles whispers, his cold fingers finding a faint pulse in the man’s throat.
The man’s eyes open fully. His brow furrows as he turns his head to look at Stiles. His eyes widen in something like horror, and his mouth opens and closes a few times but he doesn’t seem to be able to push any words out.
The man’s mouth moves again. “St…Stiles.”
Stiles rears back, his heart pounding. He lands on his ass on the filthy tiles. “How do you know my name?”
Derek Hale stares at him. He blinks, and tears spill from his eyes. “My Stiles.”
The wolf’s boy smells of fear and confusion and adrenaline. His heart is beating fast, his blood rushing in his veins, and the wolf wants to hold him close and press his nose into his hairline where his scent is strong. Hold him until his tremors pass and he grows calm in his wolf’s embrace. The wolf lurches forward—his boy flails backward in response—and the chain pulls tight, bringing the wolf up short.
“H-how do you know my name?” his boy asks again, voice pitched high. There’s a tremor in it that’s close to breaking.
The wolf reaches out with a hand instead of a paw, and then pulls it back.
He is scaring his boy.
Stiles doesn’t know him like this. His senses aren’t the same as the wolf’s. He relies too much on sight, like all humans. He doesn’t know they are pack.
The wolf moves back to the wall to give the chain some slack. He rests there on his side, his legs drawn up to shield his naked parts from the boy’s gaze. Humans have different ideas of modesty than wolves. He remembers knowing that.
His boy stares at him wide-eyed.
The wolf lifts his nose to take in more of his scent.
Under the stink of fear he smells better than he did in their alleyway. He smells clean. His breath isn’t sour from being hungry all the time. He smells of soap and shampoo. Someone has been taking care of him in ways the wolf never could. The wolf is jealous of that, and at the same time glad. And yet, his boy is here. Stiles was supposed to run, and stay free, and yet he’s here. That was never supposed to happen. Kate was never supposed to touch Stiles. The wolf’s boy was supposed to live.
“How do you know who I am?” Stiles asks, his voice stronger this time. He shuffles forward a few inches. “Derek? How do you know who I am?”
“Found you,” the wolf says. “I found you.”
There’s something very wrong with Derek Hale, and it’s not just the way he’s chained up naked in this place. He doesn’t seem…right. Stiles’s first guess would be trauma, because clearly there’s a hell of a lot of trauma happening here—both the mental and the physical sort, but it’s not quite what he’d call a sure thing. Because Derek Hale and all his wrongness is another ill-fitting piece in the incomprehensible puzzle that is everything about Beacon Hills. There is so much more going on here than Stiles knows. He’s glimpsed that often enough, hasn’t he? The things that don’t make sense. The weird things. The things that he’d be too scared to tell a doctor in case they tried to admit him to a psych ward.
But either Stiles is crazy, or the whole world is.
He wonders if this is how his mom felt when the disease first took hold of her mind. How terrifying it is to suddenly live in a world where nothing makes sense. How at first she clung to the things she could trust—
“John? There’s a man standing in the door. Do you see him too?”
“There’s nobody there, Claude.”
—but by the end she didn’t even trust Stiles’s dad.
“He’s trying to kill me! Help me, John! Please help me!”
“Claudia, he’s our son.”
Sometimes Stiles thinks those words tore a hole in him that’s even bigger than the one her death made. It’s never healed, not really. He knows it wasn’t his fault. He knows that, and he’s always known it. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
When Stiles was eleven he went on a class trip to the local museum. Afterwards, they ate their lunch in the park. There was a homeless man there who was walking around in short, abortive circles, muttering and swatting at things that weren’t there. The other kids thought it was funny. Stiles thought it was terrifying.
He opens his eyes and looks at Derek.
Who’s crazier? Stiles or the world?
“You found me.” He holds Derek’s gaze. “Where did you find me, Derek?”
Derek opens his mouth, but no words come out. His forehead creases. He moves away from the wall again, and the chain around his throat clinks as the links knock against one another. “Found you. Hungry. Burger.”
Stiles doesn’t dare breathe.
It turns out those puzzle pieces do fit together, as long as Stiles is willing to accept that the finished product looks nothing like the picture on the box.
“You’re him,” Stiles whispers. “You’re the dog.”
Derek makes a sound in his throat that sounds almost like a growl.
“A wolf,” Stiles corrects. A sense of wonder seizes him, and he almost wants to laugh it’s so ridiculous. Jesus. It’s so ridiculous, but at the same time it makes perfect sense. “A werewolf.”
“Smart,” Derek says, his voice hardly more than a whisper. “Smart boy.”
“Can you…” Stiles moves closer. “Can you show me?”
The wolf is tired. There’s too much wolfsbane in his system at the moment for him to not be in pain. He needs sleep. He needs time to heal. But this is Stiles. This is his boy, and the wolf aches for a touch he knows won’t come unless he’s in a form Stiles is more comfortable with. Stiles won’t want to touch him in this form, and that’s good. The wolf doesn’t like this shape either. It’s strange and foreign still, and Kate delights in running her hands over it before she finds new ways to make him flinch in pain. The wolf feels safer on four paws.
He sniffs the air.
Stiles’s scent is piquant with anticipation. His blood is thrumming underneath his skin. His fear is still there, a baseline scent in this place, but he’s not afraid of the wolf.
The wolf closes his eyes and summons his shift. It’s hard. He thinks of the moon, and the Preserve, and all the things that call to the wilder nature of his animal form. He used to be able to shift easily, almost seamlessly, years ago, but that was when he was safe, and when he was surrounded by pack, and when he was free.
The shift begins as a warm itch in his core. His fangs and claws come first—Stiles gasps—and then his bones shift and snap, and pain flares bright for a fraction of a second before it’s gone again. The wolf snaps his jaws, pleased, and stretches. His claws scrape along the tiles as he bows his spine.
He doesn’t even need to reach the end of the chain before his boy’s arms are around his neck, and his boy’s face is pressed against his.
“I thought you were dead!”
The wolf chuffs, and knocks his head gently against the boy, dislodging him. The boy sits back, eyes bright with tears. His smile is shaky. The wolf presses his nose against the boy’s cheek. And follows the trail of a tear up. The boy squeezes his eyes shut, and his lashes tickle the wolf’s nose. The wolf sniffs up to his temple, to where his scent clings to the soft prickles of his hair. He drags his tongue against his boy’s temple—salt and skin and sweat—and Stiles makes a high-pitched sound of surprise.
The wolf draws back and looks at him.
Stiles’s eyes are wide. “You licked me!”
The wolf snorts.
“Okay,” Stiles says. “But every other time you licked me I didn’t know you were a naked man underneath!”
The wolf wags his tail to show the boy he’s amused. It’s a dog trait, not a wolf one, but it’s body language Stiles will understand.
Stiles’s cheeks pink up. His smile fades and he scrubs his eyes with the balls of his hands. “I thought you were dead.”
The wolf moves forward again.
Stiles fingers dig into his ruff, following familiar trails through the thick hair there. He keeps one hand anchored there. He tugs the wolf’s ears gently with his other hand. They take a while to relearn one another, Stiles with his clever fingers and the wolf with his nose and tongue.
“You saved my life,” Stiles whispers at last. “You did that, Derek.”
The wolf leans against him and closes his eyes. He sighs deeply.
“Yeah,” Stiles whispers. “We’re kind of fucked now though, aren’t we?”
“I should be terrified right now,” Stiles says.
The dog—wait, the wolf, wait, Derek—lifts his head from Stiles’s lap and looks up at him.
“Not of you.” Stiles rubs his thumb up Derek’s muzzle. “Of everything else but you. I’m not though. I’m not. How crazy is that?”
He’s probably going to die here. Chances are that’s a thing that will happen. But right now, in this moment, Stiles isn’t scared. He’s got Derek back, and he doesn’t feel afraid with Derek by his side.
“You looked after me,” he whispers. “You made sure I was fed, and I was warm, and nobody hurt me. You’re my best friend.”
Derek licks his fingertips.
“I’ve missed this,” Stiles says. “I’ve missed you. But at some point, I guess, I need to talk to naked Derek again.”
“Because I need to know what’s going on,” Stiles tells him. “I need to know about the fire, and about Kate, because it wasn’t just you she fucked over, Derek, and shit—” He clears his throat and regroups. “I mean, my dad is alive, so I know this can’t even compare, but I’m caught up in all this too now, and so is Scott, and—”
Derek whines. It sounds a little like a question.
“Scott got bitten,” Stiles says. “By an alpha?”
Derek lays his ears back flat against his skull and growls.
“See?” Stiles chews his bottom lip. “This is why we need to talk, Derek. We need to share information, and try to figure out if there’s any way to actually get the hell out of this mess.”
Derek whines again.
“Maybe we can’t,” Stiles says, and tugs the wolf’s ears. “But I still want to know. I don’t want to die without knowing what I’m dying for.”
Derek sighs and drops his head into Stiles’s lap again.
“I need to know, Derek,” Stiles whispers. He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the cold wall. “I want it to mean something. I want to mean something.”
Because this will probably be his last chance, right?
Death watches them from the corner, her pale face drawn. Her eyes are dark. Her smile is sad. She looks more like Laura now than she ever has before.
“Derek,” she says.
The wolf stares at her.
Me, he wants to tell her. Me, but not my boy. Not my pack. Not again.
But death is like moonlight, he knows. She can’t help where she appears, and who her gaze falls upon. Death is not the monster here. She never has been. She is called by forces beyond her control. Death has never been the wolf’s enemy. The wolf is not afraid of her. He has walked too long beside her for fear. He thinks, sometimes, that she is as tired of his company as he is of hers.
Me, but not my boy.
But the wolf knows that death doesn’t make the choices in this place.
Kate Argent does.
And Kate is far crueler to the wolf than death has ever been.
Time passes strangely in the tiled room. There are no windows, and no way to gauge the position of the sun. After a while it gets a little colder, and Stiles thinks that maybe it’s that strange hour before dawn when most of yesterday’s heat has been lost, and not yet replenished by today’s sun. But maybe it’s not the external temperature he’s noticing at all. Maybe he’s just colder because his fear has leached all the way down to his bones.
Stiles uncurls himself, and gets up onto his knees. He rubs his hand against the wolf’s flank. “Derek? Wake up, Derek.”
The wolf blinks awake.
“We have to talk now,” Stiles says.
Derek stretches, and climbs to his paws. He presses his cold nose against Stiles’s cheek. Stiles reaches a hand up and holds him there, and then turns his face quickly and presses his lips to the side of Derek’s muzzle.
“Okay,” he says, heat rising in his cheeks. “Okay, you can change back now.”
He moves backward, and watches the transformation. It’s less frightening than watching Derek transform from human into wolf, or maybe it’s just because this time Stiles knows what’s happening. It’s only a few moments before Derek is crouching on the floor in human form.
Stiles flushes, and begins to unzip his hoodie.
Derek shakes his head. “I’m hotter.”
Yeah you are, Stiles thinks. He doesn’t say it aloud, but he has a horrible feeling his red face says it for him anyway.
Derek’s eyes widen. “Wolves. We…” He seems to struggle for the words. “Body temperature is higher.”
Stiles nods, and stares at the floor. He’s sure that it’s true, but he’s also sure Derek is still feeling the cold, he just doesn’t want Stiles to go without his hoodie. Stiles’s eyes might be telling him he doesn’t know this man, but he does. He does. Derek has been looking after him for weeks. Stiles might not recognize him in this form, but this is the same Derek who curled around him for warmth, who brought him food, who always put himself between Stiles and any threat.
He knows Derek.
“Do you live most of the time as a wolf?” Stiles asks quietly, thinking of the picture he saw of Derek in the newspaper. Derek had gone to school once. He must have lived like a normal kid once.
“Since the fire.” Derek drops his gaze.
“That’s a long time without using your words,” Stiles says. He wants to reach out and touch Derek, but it feels weird somehow. It feels like there’s a world of difference between petting Derek the wolf and petting Derek the naked guy.
But then maybe there isn’t for Derek?
Stiles compromises by shuffling closer so that he’s sitting right beside Derek and their shoulders are touching.
“Long time,” Derek agrees softly.
“Did Kate start the fire?” Stiles asks.
A shiver runs through Derek. “Yes.”
Stiles leans into him.
Derek clenches and unclenches his fingers. “Argents hunt our kind. Supposed to be a code. Supposed to not hurt us if we don’t hurt anyone.”
“They broke the code,” Stiles says, and Derek nods. “Your family never hurt anyone.”
“Never,” Derek echoes. “My fault.”
“How is it your fault?” Stiles asks.
“Kate.” Derek closes his eyes briefly. When he opens them again, they’re shining with unshed tears. “Said she loved me. Asked me questions. I talked a lot back then. I told her about the tunnels under the house.”
The Hales were in the basement because there was another way out of the house? That makes sense. Stiles’s dad had always wondered why the Hales had gone into the basement. It was a fire, he’d muttered to himself as he’d gone through the case file while Stiles played with his Lego on the floor, not a goddamn tornado.
“Doors were blocked with mountain ash,” Derek says. “Tunnels too. They burned.”
Stiles reaches out and takes Derek’s hand in his own. “I’m so sorry, Derek.”
Derek was how old at the time of the fire? Fifteen, maybe sixteen. Stiles has never in his life wanted someone to die as much as he does Kate Argent. It burns with an intensity beyond anger. It’s a clear, bright flame.
“What’s an alpha?” Stiles asks at last.
“Head of a pack. My mom.” Derek’s brow creases as he draws his eyebrows together. “Laura…”
Stiles squeezes his hand.
“I was out.” Derek’s breath shudders out of him. “Fire was burning when I got back. Laura… don’t know how she got out. Her eyes were red. Alpha spark. That’s when I knew Mom was dead. There were…” He shakes his head. “Hunters. There were hunters. I took her into the Preserve. Carried her. When she died the spark went with her.”
Stiles’s tears are hot tracks down his cold cheeks. “I’m so sorry, Derek. I’m so sorry.”
Derek closes his eyes and leans against Stiles. He rests his head on Stiles’s shoulder, and Stiles puts an arm around him.
“Alphas are the head of the pack,” Stiles murmurs. “Is it only alphas that can bite and change people?”
Derek nods. “The alpha. They’re hunting the alpha. Had it here, I think, but it got away. They want it alive.”
Derek lifts his head and stares at the metal door leading into the main room. “Kate’s father. Gerard. He smells like death.”
If death takes two steps forward and one step back when it comes to the wolf and his boy, then she walks with one hand curled around Gerard Argent’s throat. The wolf smelled the sickness in him the first time. Sickness, overlaid with some sort of alkaline scent. He smells like cancer.
“A terminal illness,” his boy muses, eyes bright. “Something that werewolves don’t get? Because you guys heal so fast. That time you got hit by the car… You were better by the time Scott saw you.”
“I thought I was going crazy,” his boy says. “Still am, possibly.”
“Not crazy.” The wolf growls to make his point.
“Okay.” His boy’s mouth quirks. “Not crazy, because the werewolf says so.”
The wolf snorts.
When the door to the room opens, Stiles scoots away from Derek. Kate steps inside. She’s followed by an old man. Her father? Gerard?
“Heads up, string bean.” She tosses something toward him.
Stiles catches it against his chest. A bottle of water. He sets it down beside himself warily. “I need the bathroom.”
“That’s a shame,” Kate says.
“Please,” Stiles tries.
“Not my problem,” Kate says with a smirk.
“Come on,” Stiles says. “Please.”
“You can piss in the corner like Derek does,” Kate tells him.
Stiles opens his mouth, but the old man beats him to it.
“He talks too much,” the old man says. “Why the hell is he still alive?”
The words settle like ice against Stiles’s skin. Why the hell is he still alive? Like he’s a minor irritant, a bug to be swatted. Like he’s nothing.
“I thought we could use him to keep Derek nice and co-operative.”
“That’s what the chains are for,” Gerard scoffs. “The kid is a liability. Get rid of him.”
“No!” Derek exclaims, pulling forward on his chain. “I can get the alpha. I can hunt the alpha for you!”
“That’s more words than you’ve said since you arrived,” Kate says. Even Gerard looks taken aback. Kate shakes her head. “But no, sweetie. That’s never going to happen.”
“Get rid of the kid,” Gerard grunts and walks back into the main room.
Kate stares at Stiles for a moment and then follows her father out.
“Escape is probably very much out of the question,” the wolf’s boy says, pacing the room for the seventh or eighth time, running his hands over the tiles. He stops to inspect the vent in the rusted duct in the ceiling. He can’t reach it, even on tiptoes, and it’s too small for a person to fit through anyway. “I mean, you’re chained up, and we’re in a locked room with only one exit. And even if we could get through that exit, there are people with guns on the other side.”
The wolf curls his fingers around the chain around his neck. The metal burns a little. Wolfsbane. He tugs, but the links are solid.
“So, escape is not looking like an option,” his boy says. He sits down on the floor, out of reach of the wolf. He’s shaking, despite the bravado in his words. “In an ideal world…” His voice falters. He clears his throat. “In an ideal world there would be some sort of code to break or key to find, right? Then it’s battle the boss, and level up.”
“That’s a video game,” the wolf tells him.
“I like video games,” his boy says. “If you die, you get to start over.”
He stinks of fear.
“Come here,” the wolf says. “Stiles.”
His boy shifts closer, slowly at first, and then he’s diving into the wolf’s embrace. His thin body shakes with barely-suppressed terror. His breathing is shallow and fast. The wolf rubs his hands up and down his back, the way Mom used to do for him when he was small and afraid.
“If you make it out of here,” his boy begins.
“Just…just pretend, okay?” Stiles digs his fingers into the wolf’s shoulder. “Just pretend.”
The wolf nods.
“If you make it out of here, my dad is in Mendota prison. Tell him…” His breath catches. He presses his face into the wolf’s throat. When he speaks, his voice is thready. “Dad, I tried to come and see you, but they wouldn’t let me. I never forgot you. Never. I know you didn’t do anything wrong. I know it wasn’t your fault.”
The wolf’s eyes sting.
“I miss you, Dad.” Stiles’s breath is hot and damp against the wolf’s skin. “I don’t really believe in heaven, or anything that comes after this, but I’m gonna try. I’m gonna try and believe that Mom’s waiting for me—” He sucks in a shuddering breath. “We’re both gonna wait for you, okay, Dad? Don’t be sad. We’re both waiting for you.”
The wolf rubs his boy’s back as his voice dissolves into tears, and stares over his shoulder.
Death is watching.
Her tears shine like moonlight.
“Oh god,” Stiles says when the door opens again.
Derek tightens his arms around him.
“Don’t make me drag you out of there, string bean,” Kate says, levelling what looks like a taser at them.
“Okay,” Stiles mumbles. “Okay okay okay.”
He braces his hands on Derek’s shoulders and lifts himself up. For a fraction of a second their faces are level, and tilts his head to quickly brush their mouths together. It’s too brief to call a kiss, he thinks.
“My Stiles,” Derek whispers.
Stiles doesn’t know how he finds the strength to stand, to move toward the door. He stops halfway there and tugs his hoodie off. He balls it up and tosses it toward Derek. Derek catches it, and brings it up to his face.
Stiles quirks his mouth in a shaky smile, and moves toward Kate.
“No!” Derek roars, lunching forward suddenly. The chain pulls him to stop. “Kate, please!”
Kate ignores him. She steps out of the doorway and back into the main room.
Stiles follows her numbly.
Kate slams the door behind them.
There’s another hunter in the room. A man, middle-aged. He’s got a scar running down his cheek. It tugs one side of his mouth down like a grimace. He has a patchy red beard.
“Outside, huh?” the man asks, looking Stiles up and down. “Less mess.”
Kate opens the door to the outside, and Stiles is surprised to see that it’s daylight. It seems strange that they’re going to do this in daylight. This seems like the sort of thing that should be done under the cover of darkness, right? But at least he’ll get to feel the sunlight on his skin one last time.
There’s a sudden blast of music, and Redbeard grunts and pulls his phone out of his pocket. He answers it. “Yeah?” A lengthy pause. “Hold on.” He looks over to Kate. “That’s Leon. Says Chris is at the gate.”
“Chris? Who the hell told Chris about this place?” Kate asks with a scowl.
“Says he’s caught the alpha, and he’s on his way up here now.”
Kate looks to Stiles, and then back to the hunter. “Shit.” She steps forward and grabs Stiles by the arm. She marches him back toward the door into the other room, and unlocks it. She wrenches it open and, abruptly, laughs. “Okay, string bean. I guess you just got bumped down on the to-do list, didn’t you? And sweetie, you’re going to shut your mouth when my brother gets here, aren’t you?”
Stiles stares at her.
“Oh, I know,” Kate tells him. “I know. Why the hell should you, when I’m going to kill you anyway, right? Well, your co-operation is the difference between making it quick, or making it last for days. It’s up to you. Why don’t you ask Derek just how much I can make things hurt? Just something to think about.”
She shoves him back through the door and slams it shut behind him.
Derek is in wolf form.
Stiles stumbles over to him, and wraps his arms around him.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” he whispers into the wolf’s ruff. “I don’t know.”
Derek whines and nuzzles against him.
“I think…I think they’ve caught the alpha!”
Derek tenses underneath him, and then a low growl begins as a rumble in his throat and gets louder and louder and louder. Stiles lets go of him and sits back.
“Derek?” he asks. “Der?”
Derek throws his head back and howls.
The sound echoes in the close confines of the room, bouncing off the walls, the noise rising to an almost painful level. Stiles claps his hands over his ears. The sound reverberates through him.
And then it’s gone again, fading away into nothing.
And from somewhere outside, from what sounds like a great distance away, Stiles hears the alpha’s answering howl.
Derek’s eyes flash blue and he bares his fangs in a growl.
Stiles is wedged between Derek’s wolf form and the wall when the door squeals open.
“No guns in the cell,” Kate says as a looming shadow falls across the doorway.
“You’re still wearing yours,” a man answers.
Stiles doesn’t need to see her to imagine her smirk. “My house, my rules.”
The looming shadow lengthens and grows, and—
The alpha enters the room at the end of a long pole fastened to a collar around its neck.
Stiles presses back against the wall, his heart pounding. The alpha isn’t a man, or a wolf. The alpha is some grotesque thing caught somewhere between the two. It’s hulking. It has a bowed spine as though it can’t stand upright. It’s covered in a thick pelt of dark hair. It has a heavy skull. Its jaw is hanging open, its fangs gleaming. Its eyes are shining red. Its clawed hands are held by its side like weapons. It stares at Derek and Stiles, eyes flashing, and growls when it’s shoved further into the room.
The man at the end of the pole is Chris Argent. Allison’s dad. He’s got a scratch down his cheek oozing blood into his stubbly beard, smears of dirt and blood over his arms, and he’s walking with a limp. He pays no mind to Stiles and Derek as he maneuvers the alpha up against the side wall where another set of chains are hanging.
There’s a second man with Chris Argent. Stiles doesn’t know who he is, but he’s dressed like he fell out of the same issue of Guns and Ammo and looks just as banged up as Chris. He’s middle-aged. He has strong features, a sharp gaze, and raven-black hair. He’s the one who moves forward and dodges the swipe of the alpha’s claws to chain it to the wall.
Stiles hunkers down behind Derek and tries to calculate how much range the chains give the alpha. Will it be able to reach him and Derek? Because it looks like those claws could tear though both of them like they’re made of butter.
Only when the alpha is secured does Chris Argent turn his gaze to Derek and Stiles. In the flickering light Stiles can’t decide if his eyes are grey or blue. There’s no readable expression on his face.
“Kate?” he calls out. “What the hell is this?”
Kate steps into the room. “This is not your problem, Chris. Dad and I are dealing with it.”
“Dealing with it.” Chris Argent levels a stare at her. “The kid looks human, Kate.”
“Yeah.” She folds her arms over her chest. “And you’re fine, aren’t you, string bean?”
Stiles jerks his chin in a nod.
“What the hell is a kid doing here?” Chris asks.
Kate smiles at him. “He’s just here to keep his puppy calm.”
Chris Argent stares at Stiles a moment longer, and then sighs and shakes his head. When he turns his back on Stiles, it feels almost like the slamming of a door. He fixated back on the alpha now. What is it about the Argents that they can so effortlessly make Stiles feel like nothing? He thinks of Allison’s dimpled smile. She sure as shit didn’t inherit it from her dad, did she?
Stiles cards his shaking fingers through Derek’s ruff. His hackles are up, his lip curled up in a silent snarl. His eyes flash blue, and the alpha’s eyes flash red, like some complex system of colored signals that Stiles doesn’t know how to read. Harbor lights or railway signals, or something. They’re communicating something, but Stiles has no idea what.
The raven-haired hunter with Chris glances at Stiles, and then away again.
“Who’s this?” Kate asks, nodding at the raven-haired hunter.
“A friend,” Chris says.
The raven-headed hunter nods curtly.
“I’ve never seen you around before.” Kate’s gaze is narrow.
“I knew him in Tacoma,” Chris says dismissively. He’s still staring at the alpha. “You want to tell me what’s so special about this alpha, Katie? Besides the fact I’ve never seen one that looks anything like that before.”
Kate takes a step closer to the alpha, and it gnashes its teeth. “It’s feral.”
“That’s not feral,” Chris says. “That’s something else.”
The alpha lunges, chains pulling tight.
Stiles shrinks back against the wall, and Derek crowds in front of him.
“Yeah, it is,” Kate agrees. “Which is why Dad wants to study it. We need to know exactly what we’re dealing with here, Chris.”
“We’re hunters, Kate,” Chris says. “We’re not zookeepers.”
“You never did learn how to think outside the box.” Kate raises her eyebrows, and Stiles doesn’t know if she’s teasing him or challenging him.
“I never saw the need.” Chris’s expression doesn’t change. “If a thing needs putting down, I put it down. If it doesn’t, then I let it walk away.”
He glances at Stiles quickly, and Stiles flashes back to that day in the Preserve. He hasn’t thought of it since he’s been reunited with Derek. Since he learned about werewolves and hunters. He remembers Chris stepping out of the tree line looking like something out of Call of Duty: Black Ops. He remembers Chris looking at him and Derek, and letting them walk away.
Stiles hadn’t known what he was seeing that day, but Chris must have.
And Chris let them walk away.
Stiles draws a breath and holds it. Tries to force his skittering thought processes to slow down for a second, to stop jumping tracks. Tries to force himself to focus, because this is life and death. He needs to read this situation right—
His gaze drops to Chris’s thigh, and the empty holster strapped there.
“No guns in the cell.”
Kate is the only one armed.
“What’s the kid doing here, Kate?” Chris asks. “I don’t like it.”
“I told you, it’s not your problem.” Kate presses her mouth into a thin line. “It’s all under control. If you’ve got a problem you can call Dad.”
Chris’s fingers sweep over the empty air above his holster. “Maybe I’ll do that.”
He takes a step back toward the door.
“No!” Stiles exclaims.
Fuck Kate Argent. Stiles isn’t going to be complicit in his own murder. Stiles isn’t going to be silent.
“I’m human,” he says suddenly, and every head in the place turns toward him. “I’m human, and I’m sixteen, and I’ve never hurt anyone, and neither did Derek. I’m human and she’s going to kill me!”
Kate wastes no time on emotion. She must have known when she’d told him to shut his mouth that there was a damn good chance he wouldn’t. She’s not angry. She’s adaptable. She’s fast as well. She has her gun drawn and trained on Stiles before he can even blink.
She’s the only armed person in the room.
Derek stands, trying to shield Stiles with his body.
“Nobody fucking move,” Kate says. “Nobody.”
Two of them move at once.
Chris moves first, flinging an arm out to slam the door to the other room shut, which makes no sense, because he’s just locked himself in a room without a weapon and—
The alpha moves next.
Stiles’s breath catches in his throat.
The alpha is fast. He reaches the extent of his chains, and they pull tight. And then… and then they’re falling off him, links puddling on the floor and the alpha is free.
No, Stiles thinks. No, the alpha was never really chained in the first place.
The alpha stands between Kate and the hunters, and Derek and Stiles, and he lifts his head and roars. And then he steps forward to meet Kate.
Don’t ever be an accomplice in your own murder, his dad said during one of those idle dinner time hypotheticals, and there’s a gun in the room and Stiles needs it. He clambers forward, and suddenly jaws are snapping by his ear, and a large paw is slamming down onto his back leaving him face-first on the tiles with all the breath knocked out of him.
And then the snapping jaws are a soft mouth and ragged breath instead, and Derek says, “No. Not my Stiles.”
Derek holds him down.
A flash of memory.
“It’s okay. Stiles,” Dad says. “It’s going to be okay.”
It’s not though. It’s not. His dad is wearing orange coveralls with a black number stamped on them, and that’s wrong. And Stiles is going to be sent to live with strangers, and that’s wrong too. He wants to scream and yell and use his fingers and teeth to rend holes in the universe. He wants to bite and kick and make himself bleed. He wants to die. He wants to die.
“Stiles!” His dad puts his arms around him. “It’s okay, kiddo.”
Stiles screams and thrashes when the guards and social workers circle around them like predators.
“I love you,” his dad says. “I love you, kiddo. I love you more than anything.”
“Dad!” he yells when he feels his father’s arms loosen. “Dad! Daddy!”
He howls like a wounded animal when they take his dad away.
That’s the first time he’s sedated.
It isn’t the last.
Stiles never does learn when to stop fighting.
Stiles doesn’t see. There are human arms around him, and Derek’s human body shielding him. There is gunfire—so loud in the close confines of the room—and then Derek is clambering forward, the chain holding him to the wall rattling as he reaches its end. Stiles crawls forward too, instinct telling him to stick close to Derek’s side.
“Stay down,” the raven-haired guy says. “Stay down, Stiles.”
And how the hell does everyone always know Stiles’s name when he never has any idea what the hell is happening?
Stiles lifts his gaze.
The alpha has been shot. Black blood is pouring out of a wound in his chest, but he’s still standing. Still standing, and he’s got one clawed hand wrapped around Kate’s throat. Her gun is on the floor.
Chris Argent is standing at the alpha’s side. His face is a tense mask. “Don’t,” he says.
The alpha growls, and his grip tightens. Kate struggles in his grasp. Her eyes roll in the skull.
Chris turns his face away.
Derek stretches out a human hand toward the alpha. He can’t reach him. “Peter?” he asks, his voice soft. “Uncle Peter?”
The alpha turns its monstrous face toward him, and digs his claws into Kate Argent’s trachea. There’s a horrible rasping sound, and Kate drops to the floor. The alpha looks down at her, looks at the bloody trachea he’s still holding in his clawed hand, and shrugs its massive hairy shoulders.
He steps back, and seems to stagger suddenly.
A moment later he’s a naked man, leaning against the wall for balance, with a gaping wound in his chest and a vital internal organ in his hand.
“Six fucking years, you bitch,” he says to Kate Argent’s corpse. Black blood wells out of his wound and slides down his skin like oil. “”But I promised you, didn’t I? I promised you I’d rip your fucking throat out.”
He slumps against the wall and laughs.
From outside, someone batters frantically against the door.
“Clear the room,” Stiles murmurs. “Fight the boss. Level up.”
Six years ago
Everything burns. Peter Hale has no idea how he got out of the house. He was running on panic and instinct, and it pushed him far enough to make it to the creek that winds through the Preserve a little way from the house. The water is ice cold, but Peter still burns.
He lies there and waits to die.
It is night, and then day, and then night again.
Rescue doesn’t come. Neither does death.
He lies there, clothes and hair and skin burned from him. The cold water laps around him, and still he burns.
Maybe that’s why he doesn’t feel it at first: the alpha spark. It burns too, in a different way. It burns like a flame deep inside his core.
Laura, he thinks, because he saw Talia die, and the spark should have gone to Laura then. And now? Is there anyone left at all if it’s come to Peter? He can’t feel his pack, but how much of that is because he is in agony, unable to reach beyond his own pain?
It’s the hunters who find him. The Argents. When Kate raises her gun to shoot him, Peter can’t even flinch.
His eyes flash red.
“Wait,” Gerard says, and puts his hand out to push Kate’s firearm down. His mouth twists into a grotesque smile. “An alpha.”
Peter very much wishes he died in that creek.
Four years ago
John Stilinski has been working too many hours lately. The guilt tugs at him when he walks back into his office and sees Stiles asleep on the couch. His homework is scattered on the floor around him. He’s using John’s spare jacket as a pillow.
John sighs, and checks his watch. It’s ten thirty. He was supposed to finish at six. He promised Stiles they’d watch a movie tonight, but it’s too late for that now. Where the hell has the evening gone?
John sits down at his desk and slides the Hale file into his briefcase. Just in case he wakes up in the middle of the night and needs to check some detail.
It’s an obsession. John chases down every detail in the file as avidly as he once chased down the last gulp of whiskey in the bottle. He’s exchanged one addiction for another, probably, and he’s honestly not sure that this one is much healthier. He should take some leave. Take Stiles to Disneyland or something. John grimaces at the thought of Stiles surrounded by all that color and movement and stimulation. He’d be bouncing off the walls in minutes, and take days to come down again. No. Not Disneyland.
Maybe they should hire a cabin for a week or something. Get some fishing gear. Play some board games and try and run off Stiles’s excess energy hiking and swimming. That’s the sort of vacation that memories are made of, John thinks. Spending quality time together, listening to Stiles chatter about anything and everything. Not hemorrhaging money at a theme park.
John looks up as Stiles yawns and stretches awake. “Dad?” he asks blearily.
Stiles yawns again. “We going home now, Dad?”
“Yeah.” John looks down at his open briefcase. He takes the Hale file out, and slides it into his desk drawer instead. “Let’s go home, son.”
Stiles smiles sleepily.
Five weeks ago
“Aunt Kate!” Allison exclaims, leaping down the last steps and into her aunt’s laughing embrace.
“Less of the aunt stuff, hey?” Kate teases. “You’ll make me feel old.”
“Now, take me up and show me your room, and we can talk about clothes and boys!”
Allison grabs Kate’s hand and pulls her toward the stairs. She catches a glimpse of her parents over Kate’s shoulder. Her dad isn’t smiling, and her mom touches his shoulder and says something in an undertone.
God. Families. Such stupid drama, and of course nobody will even tell Allison what it’s about. Her dad can be such a hardass though, and Kate’s wild and fun, so that’s probably most of it right there. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine they’re even related. It’s going to be so good to have Kate to talk to about stuff. It’s not like Allison can talk to her parents about that cute boy in her English class. Mom will just shut that right down, and Dad will want to go over to Scott’s place and give him the third degree, and ugh, Allison is seventeen now. She doesn’t even know if she wants a boyfriend, but she wants the option, without her parents being weird about it.
It’s been years since she’s seen Kate, but her aunt is definitely the least sucky thing about moving to small town Beacon Hills. Kate has always felt more like a big sister to Allison than an aunt.
“We’re not talking about boys,” Allison insists.
“Oh!” Kate exclaims, a delighted smile spreading across her face. “Just one boy, huh? Tell me everything!”
Laughing, Allison pulls her up the stairs.
Two weeks ago
There’s so much wolfsbane coursing through his system that the alpha can’t think. He needs strength. He needs to heal. He needs pack. There’s a vague scent of it here in the woods, in the trees and the underbrush and the whisper of the wind in the moonlight. A vague scent of it.
Mostly he can just smell blood.
He’s not sure how he escaped.
One of the hunters made a mistake, and the alpha… the alpha did not make a mistake. There was blood back there, and blood here now, because he knows their scents. They’ve spent years torturing him—treating him as a lab rat instead of a wolf—but while they documented every single reaction to every single bullet and weapon and drug and toxin, twisting his alpha form into something poisonous, something monstrous—the alpha has been documenting them as well.
He has their scents.
And he’s killing them, one by one.
There are hunters in the woods tonight. More, perhaps, than the alpha can fight. He needs pack.
And the moonlight hears him, and sends a boy stumbling into his path. A human boy who smells of sweat and cheap deodorant and unwashed socks and locker rooms and albuterol.
The alpha follows, chases, bites.
One night ago
Melissa McCall has just started checking Mrs. McKinley’s blood pressure when Gloria leans into the doorway. “Melissa? Scott’s on the phone. He says it’s urgent.”
Melissa freezes for a moment, still grasping the end of the cuff around Mrs. McKinley’s wrinkled arm.
“I’ll take over here,” Gloria offers.
“Thanks.” Melissa straightens up, offers Mrs. McKinley an apologetic smile, and hurries outside to the nurses’ station at the end of the hall. The black phone behind the counter is blinking. Melissa picks up the handset, dread settling cold in the pit of her stomach, and presses the button to take the call off hold.
“Mom?” Scott sounds upset, on the verge of an asthma attack. “Mom! Deputy Parrish just came here and took Stiles away!”
Almost twenty years of nursing has taught Melissa how to stay calm in a crisis. “Do you know where your inhaler is?”
“Yes, but Mom—”
“Go and get it now,” Melissa says, her tone firm. “I’m coming home. I’m coming home and we’ll sort this out.”
“Okay,” Scott says, but before he hangs up she hears another voice in the background. A girl’s voice, asking some question that Melissa can’t quite hear.
She sets the phone down and forces herself to take a deep breath.
She specifically told Scott not to tell anyone about Stiles, but there’s some girl at the house at—Melissa checks her watch—at ten-thirty at night? What are the chances that has nothing to do with Stiles being found? Scott’s too trusting. He’s also at the age where he’s thinking entirely with his dick. Melissa hopes it’s something he’ll grow out of, but his father never did, did he?
Melissa tracks down Elaine, her supervisor, in the staff meal room.
“Elaine? Scott just called. I have to go.”
“Oh, of course!” Elaine waves her out. “Go, go!”
Scott’s history of asthma attacks means that no explanation is necessary, and Melissa doesn’t correct the assumption. She fetches her handbag from her locker, and digs through it for her car keys and her cell phone.
She takes the elevator down, and dials Rafa.
He answers after the fifth ring. “Melissa? Is everything okay?”
“There is a very good chance that I’m going to be arrested tonight,” she says, her voice shockingly calm. “So I’m going to need you to come up here and take Scott for a while.”
There’s dead silence on the end of the line, and then: “You’re going to be what now? Why the hell would you be arrested, Melissa? You don’t even get parking tickets!”
Melissa feels a stab of strange satisfaction at that. Guess what, Rafa? It turns out I’m not as boring as you always thought. “To cut a very long story short, I helped a homeless kid who was under arrest escape the hospital, and hid him in my basement.”
“Jesus, Mel,” Rafa says. “Why would you do that?”
That’s the million dollar question, Melissa supposes. Because he was Claudia’s Mischief. Because she’s never seen a kid so miserable, back then and now, and she’d just wanted to wrap him up in a hug and make it all better. Because she has a son herself, and it breaks her heart to think that one day, God forbid, Scott might find himself alone in a very cold, very unfair world, with nobody to protect him. Because Stiles looked her in the eye and said, “They’ll put me back in some shitty placement where some shitty guy stands in my bedroom door and stares at me while he jerks off.” And then he said, “You know what the real kicker is though? I wouldn’t have cared what happened as long as they let me visit my dad.” Because Stiles is a child, and no child should have to make a choice like that. No adult should. And Melissa wouldn’t have been able to sleep if she’d played any part at all in putting Stiles back into that sort of situation. Even if her part had just been to ignore what he’d said and let the authorities take him back.
“He’s Scott’s age, Rafa,” she says as the elevator doors ping open. She walks down the hall toward the exit. “He’s also John Stilinski’s son.”
“Shit,” Rafa says. He exhales slowly. “Okay. Okay, if I leave now I’ll be there in a few hours. Don’t answer any questions until you get a lawyer.”
Melissa steps outside into the cool night air. A fire engine races past on the main road, lights flashing and siren blaring. A police cruiser follows close behind. Melissa hopes there’s not some major accident or anything tonight. She’s already left the ward short staffed.
God. Is she even going to have a job this time tomorrow?
“It’ll be okay, Mel,” Rafa says. “It’ll be okay.”
Melissa reaches her car and opens it. She sinks into the driver’s seat and closes her eyes briefly. There was a point where she didn’t believe a damned thing that came out of Rafa’s mouth—hard won experience indeed—but somehow they’re past that now. Not friends exactly, not after everything, but Rafa’s a different man than the one she married when she was young and stupid. She knows she can count on him for this.
“Okay,” she says at last. “Okay, I’ll see you in a few hours.”
“I’ll call you when I get there.”
He ends the call, and Melissa opens her eyes just in time to see a man lurching into her field of vision. She flicks on her headlights.
The man is naked and covered in burns. He turns his head toward the light, and his eyes shine gold. He stumbles, and plants both hands on the hood of Melissa’s car.
Melissa’s heart skips a beat. “Jordan?” She shoves the car door open. “Jordan!”
One night ago
Melissa knows when she’s seeing something impossible. She saw it eight months ago when the young deputy looked at her in her stained scrubs, with bags under her eyes and a scowl on her face that was the result of a fourteen-hour shift from hell, and he smiled at her.
She sees something impossible now as well.
She sees Parrish’s burns healing as she watches.
They’re third degree burns, and they cover almost his entire body. And yet they’re healing. Burned flesh knits, and turns from black to red to pink.
He’s still bracing his weight on the hood of her car. The headlights are illuminating him. He turns his head toward her when she reaches out for him. He looks as terrified as she feels.
“Melissa,” he says. “Mel, what’s happening to me?”
“Jordan, you need to get inside,” she says. “You need a doctor.”
Except, does he?
But how can he not?
Melissa doesn’t think of herself as an especially spiritual person, but if this isn’t a miracle, what is it?
Parrish straightens up at last. “No,” he says. “No, I need to call Sheriff Haigh. I was…” He shakes his head as though trying to clear it. “Kate. Kate Argent. She rammed my cruiser off the road. She took Jamie, and then she—” His brown creases. “She set me on fire.”
“What do you mean she took Stiles?” Melissa demands.
“Jamie!” Melissa grabs Parrish by the arm—the flesh is healed—and moves him out of the headlights before someone spots him. “His name is Stiles.”
“Of course you know his real name,” Parrish says with a snort, as though he’s pleased to have proven his suspicions right at last, even while he knows it means next to nothing compared to everything else the universe is throwing at him right now. He shakes his head. “Mel, I need to call the sheriff.”
“You’re naked,” Melissa tells him. “And you should probably be dead. How are you not dead?”
“I don’t know.” Parrish is wide-eyed. “Mel, I don’t know!”
Another cruiser races past on the main road, siren wailing and strobes flashing.
Melissa makes a snap decision. Whatever is happening here, it’s nothing a doctor can help with. “Get in the car, Jordan. I’m taking you home.”
“Why is he here?” Scott demands frantically when Melissa ushers Parrish inside. “Oh my god! Why is he naked?”
Melissa doesn’t mention just exactly how many times Parrish has been naked in their house before, while Scott was at school or working at the animal clinic. She ushers Parrish into the living room, and digs through the ironing basket on the end of the couch. She finds him a pair of Scott’s sweat pants and a t-shirt. Parrish pulls the clothes on quickly.
“Mom, what’s going on?” Scott asks.
A girl appears beside him. She’s pretty and dark-haired.
Scott catches Melissa’s expression, and looks suddenly guilty. “Mom, this is Allison. From school.”
“Allison Argent,” Parrish says suddenly, his chin jerking up. “Kate’s niece.”
“Did you call her?” Parrish asks. “Did you tell her I’d arrested that kid?”
No,” Allison says. “Why would I—”
“She set me on fire tonight,” Parrish says. His voice is strained, as though he’s barely repressing his horror and his disbelief. “And she took Stiles.”
“Oh my god,” Allison whispers, color draining from her face. “Stiles was right about her!”
“What?” Melissa asks. “What did Stiles say about her?”
Allison presses a hand to her mouth.
Scott looks at her worriedly, and then back to Parrish and Melissa. “Stiles said that Kate had something to do with the Hale fire.”
“The Hale fire?” Parrish asks. His forehead creases. “Wasn’t that like four or five years ago?”
“Six,” Scott says. He steps forward and picks up a notebook off the coffee table. He hands it to Parrish. “Stiles said his dad was innocent. He was making notes.”
“John Stilinski,” Melissa tells him. “The previous sheriff.”
Parrish holds her gaze for a long moment. “He’s a cop’s kid?”
Melissa hates the implication in that question. “Yes, Jordan. He’s a cop’s kid. A white middle-class cop’s kid. Isn’t it just awful when those kids fall through the cracks?”
“Not what I meant, Mel,” Parrish says. His tone is even but she knows him well enough to hear the hurt in it. And Melissa knows exactly what he meant, exactly where his thoughts were drawing him, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to pretend she doesn’t. That’s a talk they’re saving for another day.
“You’re twenty-six. I’m forty.”
“You know that’s not an issue, Mel, but I’ll support whatever decision you make.”
“Damn right you will.”
Melissa looks away before Scott notices the laden silence and reads too much into it. Or reads into it exactly what’s there.
“Kate wasn’t a deputy six years ago,” Parrish says, flicking though the notebook. “We started at the same time. A civilian wouldn’t have been able to frame the sheriff. There were drugs found in his office.”
Allison shakes her head, wide-eyed. “Stiles never said Kate was the only one who framed him.”
Parrish’s forehead creases as he reaches a new page. “What’s all this about monsters?”
Allison shrugs. Scott shifts his weight from foot to foot.
Parrish is silent for a long while. Then he sets the notebook down again, and rubs his forehead. It leaves a streak of soot across his skin. “I wouldn’t have even begun to consider any of this before tonight.”
“Where’s Stiles?” Scott asks.
Melissa’s heart aches for him, and for Stiles.
“I don’t know.” Parrish swallows. “Shit. If I can’t trust anyone at work, who the hell am I supposed to report this to?”
“To Rafa,” Melissa says. She reaches out and squeezes his shoulder. “He’ll be here in a few hours.”
“You feeling okay?” Melissa asks him.
“Yeah,” he says, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth. “How is that possible though? I was burning. I could… I couldn’t get out. I was a dead man. I should—” He shakes his head. “I should be dead.” He stares down at Stiles’s notebook. “Heightened sense of smell. Wounds healing overnight. What does this all mean?”
Melissa has no answer for that.
“Um, the monsters?” Scott asks, looking nervously at Parrish. “Has this got something to do with the thing that bit me?”
“What bit you?” Melissa demands. “When did this happen?”
“Um,” Scott says, and exchanges a guilty look with Allison. “Stiles wanted to know what Ally’s dad was hunting in the woods, because it’s not a mountain lion. That thing that’s killed those people? I think maybe it bit me. Stiles was asking about it too.”
“Where did it bite you?” Melissa asks. “Show me.”
Scott’s hand flies to his side, and he tugs his shirt up to show his unblemished skin. “It kind of disappeared?”
There’s a lot of that going around, apparently. Impossible healing and disappearing wounds. What the hell is going on in Beacon Hills? Melissa opens her mouth as ask just that, when light suddenly arcs against the living room windows. A car is pulling into the driveway.
“Who the hell is that?” Parrish asks warily.
It’s too soon to be Rafa. It’s hours too soon.
“It’s my dad,” Allison says. “I’m sorry. I called him to pick me up before you got here. I didn’t know… my dad’s a good man. I’m sure he is.” Except she doesn’t sound sure. She doesn’t sound sure at all.
A car door slams outside.
“Did you hear that?” Scott asks suddenly, tilting his head on an angle. He holds his hand up to forestall any response. “Not the door. Something else.” His brows draw together. “Can you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Allison asks, her voice small.
“Like, something running?” Scott says. “Like an animal?”
Melissa listens. “I can’t hear anything.”
There’s a knock at the door.
“What do we do?” Melissa asks Parrish.
Parrish draws a deep breath. “Time to get some answers, I think.”
Melissa nods, and moves towards the front door.
Scott reaches out and grabs her by the arm. “Mom?”
“I can still hear it,” he says. His eyes are wide. “Mom, it’s getting closer.”
The knock sounds at the door again.
Melissa goes to answer it.
One crisis at a time.
“Werewolves,” Chris Argent says when he hears the whole story, spilled in various panicky tones by various panicky narrators, Melissa included.
Once he says it, Melissa realizes that it’s not the word she was expecting to hear out of the man’s mouth. He doesn’t look like the type of person prone to wild theories or flights of fancy. A part of Melissa was hoping that he’d announce they were all delusional, there has probably been a massive chemical leak, and that someone should notify the CDC. Melissa doesn’t know the man, but at this point she’s willing to take as an authority anyone who can come up with a better explanation than werewolves. She’d been hoping that someone would turn up who could make all of this make sense. Instead, here he is standing in her living room looking as serious as a doctor delivering a diagnosis of a terminal illness.
“Werewolves?” Melissa asks. “My son is a werewolf?”
The man nods.
“That actually…” Scott wrinkles his nose. “That actually explains a lot?”
“And Jordan is a…” Melissa waves her hand at him.
“I don’t know,” Chris Argent says, his unflinching gaze fixed on Parrish. “Nothing I’m familiar with.”
Parrish presses his mouth into a thin, anxious line.
“Oh my god,” Allison breathes. “How is everything so crazy?”
An actual emotion flashes over Chris’s face. It looks a lot like guilt. “Your mother and I tried to keep you out of all this, Ally.”
“Mom knows too?” Allison looks like she doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Oh my god.”
Scott edges closer to her, and reaches out to take her hand.
Chris looks very hard at that.
Melissa juts her chin out. “So your entire family kills werewolves?”
He clenches his jaw. “We hunt those who hunt others.”
“Stiles is just a kid,” Melissa says, and then looks around. “He is just a kid, right?”
“I think so,” Scott says, but he doesn’t sound sure. Melissa can’t blame him. Then Scott squares his shoulders. “Stiles is our friend.”
Melissa feels a burst of pride warm her.
Allison nods staunchly. “Dad, he’s our friend.”
Chris raises his hand and scrubs it across his stubbled jaw. He looks to Parrish again, and for a moment Melissa catches a glimpse of desperation in his eyes. “You said Kate tried to kill you?”
“She trapped me in my cruiser and set it alight. If I wasn’t…” Parrish shrugs. “If I wasn’t whatever the hell I am, I’d be dead right now.”
Chris nods curtly. “Then we’re going to need a way in.”
“How do we do that?” Melissa asks.
“She wants the alpha,” Chris says. “Guess we’re gonna have to catch it.”
“No offence, Dad,” Allison says, “but you’ve been trying to find it for ages now!”
Chris presses his mouth into a tight line.
“I don’t think…” Scott begins. “Um, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”
“What do you mean?” Chris asks.
Scott doesn’t have to answer.
There’s the sound of footfalls outside, and a dark shadow passes across the living room window.
“What the hell?” Parrish murmurs.
And then the shadow is back. A chill runs through Melissa as she hears the sudden scrape of a claw on glass.
“It’s here,” Scott says, his voice hardly more than a whisper. “Oh, shit. It’s here.”
Kate Argent’s blonde hair is spread around her like a blood-soaked halo. Her dead, glassy eyes stare at Stiles. It’s not pleasure that spreads through him warmly, but it’s something close enough that it frightens him. Because there should be a line, right? She was going to put a bullet in his head, but there should still be a line. Stiles is afraid that if he crosses it, it he takes delight in this moment, then he’ll be no better than her.
Then again, maybe it’s okay to be happy about it, just for now. Maybe it’s okay to be pleased that the bitch is dead. She wouldn’t have spared a thought for him, would she?
Maybe it’s okay to feel whatever he feels now, and to worry about his conscience tomorrow.
If there’s a tomorrow.
The hunters are still banging on the door.
This isn’t over yet.
And right on cue, Peter Hale slides down onto the floor, black blood pumping out of his chest.
“Gun,” Chris Argent says, his voice terse, going down onto his knees beside Peter.
Stiles blinks at Kate’s gun.
Stiles scrambles free of Derek to reach forward and grab it. He tries not to look at Kate. Tries not to knock her with his knees when he shuffles over toward Chris. The raven-haired hunter is by the door, one hand braced against it as though that can stop the guys on the other side from forcing it open. Stiles can see his hand shaking as the door vibrates underneath it.
Stiles holds the gun out toward Chris.
He takes it, pulls the clip out, and then he’s digging a small pair of pliers out of one of the million pockets in his black cargo pants and… and cracking open a bullet? He tips the gunpowder out into his cupped hand, and then digs around in another pocket and produces a lighter. Then, still on his knees, he raises himself up a little, sets fire to the gunpowder, and slams the burning mess right into Peter Hale’s chest wound.
Stiles rears back when Peter roars. Peter’s wolf face appears again—a muzzle and fangs—and his claws dig into the tiles.
Derek grabs Stiles and drags him back.
Stiles watches, breathless, as Peter writhes and bucks on the floor. And then, as quickly as it began, it’s over. Peter’s claws retract and his face reforms into human. He slumps back onto the tiles, and he isn’t bleeding anymore. There’s no bullet hole.
“Holy shit,” Stiles whispers.
Chris rests a hand on Peter’s chest, right above his heart, and closes his eyes briefly. Peter gazes up at him, his eyes no longer alpha red.
Stiles, watching them, feels suddenly like a voyeur.
One night ago
Chris has never seen an alpha that looks like this one. This one looks like something out of the B-grade horror movies that Kate used to laugh at when she watched them as a kid. Chris didn’t laugh. Nothing funny about werewolves being reduced to cheesy special effects. Not after seeing the real thing.
This alpha is monstrous.
It approaches the front door of the McCalls’ house—Chris hopes all the neighbors are tucked up in bed—and Chris watches. He’s hasn’t had time to retrieve his arsenal from his SUV, but he’s got a Glock under his jacket, complete with wolfsbane bullets. Although it looks like it might take more than a full clip to put this alpha down. He’s got a knife in his boot as well, but he’d really prefer not to get that close.
The alpha is at his front, and Scott McCall is at his back.
The kid’s a werewolf too. He hasn’t fully shifted yet, if he can be believed, but Chris knows the proximity of the alpha will be tugging at his new instincts. It’s sickening. Turning an unsuspecting kid. And that’s a whole other problem right around the corner, isn’t it? The kid will be an omega by the end of the night, if this goes to plan. And what the hell will happen to him then? He’ll go feral, he’ll kill an innocent, and Chris will have to put him down.
It’s as inevitable as the dawn.
Chris steps back from the door as the alpha approaches.
“What the hell are you doing?” Melissa McCall hisses.
“You’d rather we did this in the street?” Chris asks in an undertone.
“You’re using my son as bait!”
“I’m using all of us as bait,” Chris tells her, and reaches under his jacket for his Glock.
The alpha steps inside the house, muzzle swinging from side to side as it chases the scent of its beta. It’s brazen, Chris will give it that. Or too crazy to be afraid, when Chris must smell so obviously of wolfsbane and gun oil, the signature scent of a professional hunter.
Chris moves back, keeping his gaze fixed on it and the Glock leveled at it. He steps back into the living room.
The alpha follows him in, like a dog on the scent of a treat.
Chris risks a glance at Scott. The kid’s eyes are shining beta gold, and he’s clenching and unclenching his hands as though he’s trying to fight the shift.
“Ally,” Chris says in a low voice. “Move away from Scott.”
Allison—as stubborn as her mother—reaches out and grabs Scott’s hand tightly instead.
“Ally, he could attack you.”
Scott gold eyes widen in horror at the thought.
Melissa and Parrish are standing beside the kids. Parrish has moved in front of Melissa. Chris has no idea what the hell Parrish is or if the alpha can influence him or not. He hopes not, or otherwise he’s severely outnumbered right now.
The alpha growls, a low rumble that sounds like an engine being revved somewhere in the distance. It tilts its massive head and steps forward toward Scott.
“Oh, wow,” Scott says. He tugs his hand free of Allison. “It’s okay. I think? I think it’s okay. He’s not going to hurt me.”
It’s not Scott that Chris is worried about.
He watches as Scott steps forward. There’s a tingling at the base of Chris’s spine, a sharpening of his nerves that means danger. Scott is stepping straight into the range of the alpha’s claws and teeth. Chris has never known of an alpha that would deliberately kill his own betas—that’s the stuff of true horror stories—but this alpha isn’t like any alpha he’s ever seen before.
Scott wrinkles his nose and squeezes his eyes shut as he steps forward, and tilts his head exposing his throat to the alpha.
Chris watches, heart in his mouth, as the alpha reaches out a clawed hand and curls his fingers around the boy’s shoulder, dragging him closer. Scott might be a werewolf now, but he looks so very small and human in this moment. So very fragile. The alpha makes a rumbling sound and presses its muzzle to Scott’s neck.
It scents him, and then—
Chris begins to apply pressure to the trigger.
—the alpha releases Scott, and steps away from him. He swings around to face Chris, his monstrous features melting away as he shifts back to his human form.
Chris lowers his arm as recognition hits him like a wall of ice water. His blood runs cold with it. “Peter?”
Nineteen years ago
Peter likes Chris’s hands. They’re big hands. Strong and capable. They’re rough with calluses. The knuckles are scarred. The tendons stand out the like the frets on a guitar when he moves his fingers. Peter likes to feel Chris’s hands on his skin. He likes to feel Chris’s fingers tighten in his hair when he sucks him off.
Peter’s a wolf. He responds to scent, to instinct, to shows of strength. The wolf is a simple creature. It knows what feels right.
Peter’s also a man, and Chris is a hunter. It’s a mess. It’s a disaster. Peter tumbles into it willingly.
Sixteen years ago
“I can’t keep doing this, Peter.” Guilt has etched new lines on Chris’s brow. “To Victoria. To Ally.” He exhales. “To myself.”
It was never going to last forever. How could it?
This isn’t even the first time Chris has tried to break things off. He tried the day they met. He tried again the day his father pushed him toward Victoria. And again before the wedding. He tried when she fell pregnant, and again when Allison was born. And here he is now, trying again the day after his daughter took her first steps.
He’s already showed Peter the photographs, and for a moment Peter had stared at them uncomprehendingly. Chris never means to be cruel, but he has to know, doesn’t he? He has to know how much it hurts Peter to see that. To see the side of Chris he’s not allowed to have. The part of his life where all the doors are closed on Peter. In the end though, it’s not intentional cruelty. Chris is just a man who loves his daughter and wants to tell the world.
“We’re moving,” Chris says. “I’ve got a job up in Tacoma. We’re leaving at the end of the month.”
Peter nods, and turns the hotel room key over and over in his hand. The sheets are rumpled and stink of sex.
“I’m sorry,” Chris says.
Peter shrugs and says nothing.
What is there to say?
One night ago
“I thought you were dead,” Chris says, his stomach clenching. “I thought you died in the fire.”
The alpha—Peter—turns his face toward Chris. His blue eyes blaze, and somehow manage to look more terrifying that his alpha-red gaze, because this is Peter. This isn’t some nameless predator, or some typical hunt. This is Peter, and Chris had mourned him, if mourning is sitting alone at night with a bottle of Jack, staring into the darkness and remembering the feel of the man’s mouth on his skin.
Peter Hale wasn’t the sort of person who had friends. He was too unapologetically smart, too sarcastic, too smug, too vicious, and not just in wolf form. Chris was never sure exactly what happened that Peter allowed him to see beyond that. It wasn’t until it was over that Chris even began to suspect it was a gift. A gift he’d squandered.
“I didn’t die in the fire,” Peter says. He moves his head from side to side, still scenting the air. “I was born in the fire.”
He steps toward Chris.
“Peter,” Chris says, and lowers his Glock.
“Look what they did to me, Chris,” Peter says, his blue eyes shining. “Your sister. Your father. They killed everyone, and they made me a monster.”
Chris has known since he heard the entire garbled story from the McCalls and Allison and Parrish that Kate—and Kate never acts without their father—and Gerard have to be stopped. But it’s not until he hears it from Peter that he realizes that they have to die.
Stiles’s jaw drops when Peter climbs to his feet. He looks just like a man, but he carries himself like a wolf as he walks over toward Stiles and Derek. He’s also way too naked, and maybe Stiles’s shock is wearing off at last, or maybe he’s just looking around for all the things to panic about, but yeah, there’s a dick, right there, and Stiles was barely dealing with Derek’s dick thanks.
Peter kneels down beside them. “Hello. You must be Stiles.”
Stiles jerks his head in a nod.
Peter reaches out and puts his hands on either side of Derek’s face. A series of complicated emotions cross over his features. “Nephew.”
Derek whines like a wolf.
“Let’s get this chain off you.”
Stiles shifts away quickly, and watches as Derek and Peter wrench at the chain around Derek’s neck. It does something to them. Turns their palms red like it’s burning them, and they both grunt in pain as they work. But two wolves are stronger than one, and the chain snaps. Peter flings it away.
Derek’s neck is red and raw.
“Hale!” the raven-haired man calls from the door. “This isn’t going to hold.”
Peter rises to his feet and holds a hand down for Derek. “Are you ready, nephew?”
Derek lets Peter haul him up. He glances at Stiles, and his eyes flash blue. Then he looks back to his uncle, and nods. “Ready.”
Stiles reaches down and picks up the discarded chain. He wraps it around his fist, leaving one end hanging.
Derek cocks at eyebrow at him.
Stiles squares his shoulders. “I’m ready too.”
The wolf can hear three heartbeats outside the door. The wolf likes those odds. He has his alpha to lead him and his human pack mate by his side, and the two other humans as well. The two others are not pack, but also not enemies. The wolf is confused by them, but his alpha trusts them, and the wolf trusts his alpha.
The wolf is wearing his human skin now, but he is pushing away his human thoughts. They are waiting like the hunters behind the door, ready to burst in and try to overwhelm the wolf. It is easier, for now, to think in the wolf’s terms. His alpha is here. That is all the wolf needs to know. The human clambering in the back of the wolf’s mind is to be ignored for now. That human, Derek, that boy, who wants to hug Uncle Peter and cry and demand the answers to a hundred questions there is no time to answer. That boy who thought his uncle was dead along with the rest of them. That boy who thought he was the last surviving Hale. That boy retreated long ago and left the world to the wolf. And the wolf is ready to fight.
Beside him, his Stiles is armed with a piece of chain.
The wolf feels a growl begin to rumble in his chest. It is a sound that signifies a hundred different things: a warning to his boy to be careful, a warning to the hunters that his boy is deadly, a signal to his alpha that he and his boy have his back, a reminder to the moon that he knows she is watching him, and an acknowledgement that he will soon be tasting blood.
The wolf is proud of his boy right now. Stiles has been so small and so scared, but here at last is the anger he has honed to a sharp edge. Here at last are his teeth and claws. Here at last is his chance to fight. Here at last is the measure of him, and the wolf knows he will be magnificent. Stiles has the heart of a wolf.
The heart, yes.
Not the muscle though.
The wolf won’t only be guarding his alpha’s back out there.
His boy catches his eye and nods.
The door bursts open.
Stiles has never been in a fight in his life. He’s not even counting that one time he spent a week in a group home waiting for a new placement and that kid stabbed him in the arm with a pencil, because that was an ambush, and Stiles didn’t even have time to retaliate. He was twelve and Lewis didn’t like crybabies. As though stabbing Stiles in the arm with a pencil would make him cry less. Physical confrontation has never been Stiles’s thing. He prefers to be a safe distance away before he detonates a few verbal bombs, but that’s not how things are going to work here. Stiles thinks he has the stomach for violence, he’s just afraid he doesn’t have the skill.
Chris Argent sidesteps a guy, then spins around and cracks him in the face with his elbow. The guy drops to the floor, blood pouring out of his busted nose, and Stiles feels a stab of envy.
Peter takes two bullets as he launches himself at the second hunter through the door, and slashes the guy’s throat with his claws. Stiles is standing close enough that he’s hit in the face with a spray of blood like hot rain.
Derek goes for the third guy—Readbeard—and Stiles watches in horror as he’s jerked back as the guy fires a taser at him, the probes hook into his chest, and Redbeard lights him up.
“Hey!” Stiles yells, and swings the chain.
He’s not expecting the effect to be so dramatic. He doesn’t know what he’s expecting, really, but the end of the chain catches Redbeard right across the face, right across the eyes, and it opens his skin up like it’s a piece of ripe fruit.
Redbeard goes down fast. The bloody chain is still arcing wildly through the air when he hits the ground.
Derek pulls the taser probes out of his chest by the wires. His eyes are flashing blue, and he’s in a type of shift that Stiles hasn’t seen before. He’s standing upright like a man, but his face isn’t human anymore. He has fangs, and his ears are pointed, and Stiles wants to reach out and touch his sudden wild sideburns. His lips are pulled back in a feral snarl. It should be terrifying. Maybe it is. Derek and Peter are objectively terrifying, but isn’t it about time Stiles had something scary on his side?
Derek doesn’t make Stiles cringe and cower. Derek makes him stand taller.
He reaches out and puts his hand on Derek’s shoulder. Slight tremors are still running through Derek, but he growls, more pissed off than hurt. Stiles squeezes his shoulder.
Derek meets his gaze steadily.
The hunter that Peter dropped is dead, but the other two are still breathing. And bleeding. There’s a lot of bleeding going on. The raven-haired guy produces a bundle of zip ties from one of his pockets and sets about restraining both of the survivors.
Peter Hale leans back against the wall and roars as Chris does his lighter-and-gunpowder trick. It’s…wow. If Stiles’s body could do that, he’d probably have built up a sideline in liquor store robberies by now.
“The situation is this,” Chris says while jamming burning ash into Peter’s sucking chest wound. “This place is fenced. We’re half a mile from the gate. There are infrared cameras and motion detectors set up everywhere outside, and since there aren’t any monitors here, I’m guessing some sort of remote access. Probably with cell phone alerts. There were two other guys on the gate to the south when we arrived, and the fact they’re not here right now tells me that they’re waiting for reinforcements. So we arm up as best we can, and we head north.”
Peter unpeels himself from the wall, inspecting his now-unblemished skin.
“What’s north?” Stiles asks.
“North is where the rest of the McCalls are waiting with wire cutters and my truck,” Chris says.
The rest of the McCalls… Stiles stares down at the raven-haired guy.
“Rafael McCall,” he says, grunting as he pushes a zip-tied Redbeard into the recovery position. “Nice to meet you, Stiles.”
Stiles’s heart skips a beat. “You’re…you’re FBI?”
“Can you help me get my dad out?”
McCall climbs to his feet. “Let’s get ourselves out first, Stiles.”
Stiles nods, and uses his hoodie to wipe the blood off his face.
The outer room yields a few weapons, but none the wolf is interested in. He has claws and fangs, and knows how to use them better than any firearm. He growls when Stiles’s clever fingers reach for some sort of gun, and Stiles levels him with a stare and shoves the gun into the pocket of his hoodie.
“Let’s move!” Chris says.
The wolf shifts back into his favorite form as he steps outside into the darkness. It’s past dawn; it’s cool and it smells of heavy dew. The day is fresh and new. The chill in the air reminds the wolf that the winter he thought he would never survive is still waiting, teeth not quite bared yet. The grass is cold on his paws.
The alpha is shifted into wolf form too. He is rangier than the wolf remembers. More angular. Sharper. The wolf lifts his nose to catch his familiar scent, and falls into step on his flank. His boy follows him. The wolf hears his boy’s breath rasping, and the rattle in his chest.
Too thin. Too cold. Too weak. His boy has a lot of anger in him, but he is not as strong as he should be.
The alpha hears the rattle too, and slows.
His boy might not feel it with his dull human senses, but the alpha does. The alpha slows his steps for the boy. Glances back to make sure the boy is keeping up.
The alpha hasn’t scented the boy yet, hasn’t asked him to bare his throat, but he’s already making room for him. He’s already accepting him.
And the wolf will tear apart anyone who tries to hurt them.
They’re somewhere in the Preserve, Stiles thinks. Must be. There are trees everywhere. He keeps pace with the shifted wolves—one brown and one black—looking back every few moments to check that Chris and McCall are still with them. His mind runs faster than his body. He’s suddenly convinced that Rafael McCall is going to cop a bullet in the back, because Stiles needs him. He’s an FBI agent. He’s going to be the one to get Stiles’s dad out of prison. And the way Stiles’s luck has been going lately? He expects to hear a shot any second now.
Instead he sees a fence.
“Cut it!” Chris yells.
Figures dart forward from the trees. Scott and Allison. Allison stands there with a compound bow raised, while Scott works on the fence with a pair of wire cutters. The fence must be electrified: Stiles can hear popping and hissing sounds, and Scott does that weird half-shift thing that Derek did before. He keeps cutting though, and stands back and peels the fence open as they reach it.
Peter and Derek wait to each side.
“Come on, Stiles!” Scott says, wincing as he holds the chain link.
Stiles dives through, gets zapped when he moved wrong and bumps up against the fence, but Scott uses his free hand to grab him by the back of the hoodie and pull him all the way through.
Stiles lies on the ground, and watches his fingers twitch. At least he didn’t pee himself, right? It takes a moment to get his motor functions back, and by that time Derek is standing over him. He presses his cold nose against Stiles’s cheek, and then licks a stripe up his face with his rough tongue.
“Let’s move!” Chris and Scott’s dad are bringing up the rear.
“We have to get out of here,” Scott says, hauling Stiles to his feet.
The wolves lead the way through the woods.
Stiles is getting out of breath by the time they stumble onto what looks like a fire trail. Chris Argent’s black SUV—with a layer of dust over it now—is parked on the dirt road.
Melissa McCall is standing by it, and so is some guy with a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder. He looks just like—
Stiles stumbles. “Deputy Parrish?” Stiles’s brain must have got fried. "I saw him die!”
Is Stiles going to have to re-evaluate his entire understanding of the universe thanks to Beacon Hills? If werewolves are real, why not something fire resistant? Like a dragon? Or a phoenix? Or a charizard?
No, probably not the last one.
Would be cool though.
“Let’s go!” Chris Argent calls from behind them.
It’s a squeeze getting everyone into the SUV. Rafael McCall and Chris Argent take the front. Parrish and Melissa and Allison take the back seat. Stiles and Scott and the wolves clamber into the cargo space, and Scott pulls the door down behind them.
Stiles has a lapful of wolf. He puts his arms around Derek’s neck, and leans over to bury his face in his warm fur. His lungs ache from the cold air. He really, really wants this to be over now.
“Shit,” Rafael McCall says from the front, and Chris Argent slams on the brakes.
Dread and fear tighten in Stiles’s gut. He looks up, and cranes his head to see.
There’s a police car blocking the dirt road in front of them, strobes flashing, and a group of men standing in front of it. One of them is in uniform. The others aren’t. Behind them there’s a couple of dark SUVs.
“It’s Sheriff Haigh,” Parrish says.
Stiles looks past the sheriff to the old man standing next to him, and his blood runs cold.
It’s Gerard Argent.
Stiles doesn’t know where the clouds came from, but a few drops of rain spatter against the windshield of Chris’s SUV, and slide down the glass like tears.
The road is blocked by cars, and by six heavily armed men.
“If you get the chance to run,” Chris Argent says to nobody in particular, or maybe to all of them, “you take it.”
He opens the driver’s side door and steps out onto the road. Stiles hears the crunch of his boots hitting the dirt. He still has Kate’s firearm in his hand, but Stiles has no idea how many rounds he has left. And he’s massively outgunned.
The hunters walk toward the SUV, fanning out as they move.
“Rafa,” Melissa says, a soft warning.
Rafael McCall opens the front passenger door and steps out onto the road as well. He’s joined a moment later by Parrish with his rifle and Allison with her bow.
Stiles stares through the windshield at Haigh. Sheriff Haigh. He was a deputy back when Stiles knew him, and his expression when he looks at Parrish tells Stiles everything he needs to know: someone told Haigh that Parrish was supposed to be a dead man. He hasn’t just been turning a blind eye to Kate and Gerard. He’s in this up to his fucking neck.
“You brought Ally?” Gerard calls, his voice arch with disbelief, with disgust. “Did he tell you what those animals did to your aunt, Allison?”
Allison turns her head to look at Chris, and then raises her bow. “I don’t care.”
“They killed her!” Gerard shouts, the noise rising and cutting through the quiet of the morning. “They ripped her throat out!”
Across from Stiles, Peter gives a chuff that sounds very satisfied.
“Give us the wolves, Christopher, and at least let Allison walk away from here.” Gerard steps closer. “That’s what you always wanted, wasn’t it? For Allison to not be involved?”
Chris doesn’t answer. He doesn’t lower his firearm either.
“Allison.” Gerard’s tone is cajoling. “Come over here to me.”
“Let my friends go,” Allison says.
Gerard’s expression sours.
Stiles inches toward the back door of the SUV. He opens it with a soft click. “You can run,” he whispers. “When I push it open, you and Peter can run.”
Derek growls at him.
Outside, Gerard raises his voice. “Give me the fucking wolves!”
Melissa twists around in her seat. “Stiles, no! Don’t open it!”
Stiles pushes the door open, and climbs down onto the road. Scott’s shoes land in the dirt beside him.
“Stiles!” Melissa hisses. “Scott!”
The wolves leap down beside them. Derek bumps his head against Stiles’s hip.
“They’re not running, are they?” Stiles asks in a low voice.
Scott shows him a lopsided smile. “No.”
They round the back of the SUV and join the others on the road.
Stiles lifts his chin and stares at Haigh.
Remember me. Remember me, you fucking asshole.
He feels a stab of bitter joy when he sees the recognition flash over Haigh’s heavy features. It’s been four years, but Haigh hasn’t aged well. Stiles guesses that some people just aren’t up to the job of Sheriff. Haigh stole a job he couldn’t even fucking handle. Stiles hopes he hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in years.
Because Stiles sure as fuck hasn’t, has he? And his dad…
His dad probably hasn’t either.
“What?” Gerard asks suddenly. “What now, Christopher?”
It isn’t Chris who answers. It’s Rafael McCall. “FBI. Put your weapons on the ground.”
A ripple of unease goes through the hunters, and through Haigh. It unsettles them, but it doesn’t budge them. How can it? Agent McCall’s badge doesn’t mean anything here, just like Stiles’s dad’s badge didn’t mean anything four years ago, and Parrish’s didn’t last night. Gerard Argent and his men crossed that line years ago.
“You’re not the authority here,” Gerard growls. “I’m the authority here!”
“I’m not giving you the wolves,” Chris says, his voice steady. “I’m not giving you the boy, and I’m not giving you my daughter.”
“Give me the wolves!” Gerard bellows, his face turning red.
There’s a sudden roar of tires spinning on dirt, Stiles is knocked to the ground by Derek, and he twists his neck just in time to see Chris Argent’s black SUV barreling into the hunters, and crashing up against Haigh’s cruiser.
Metal crunches, and radiator steam rises like smoke.
Melissa! he thinks wildly. Holy shit!
The wolves launch themselves toward Gerard and the hunters, with Chris and Rafael and Parrish on their heels. Stiles hauls himself to his feet. He sees Scott flinch back as a hunter gets a shot off. Scott clamps his hand over his bicep, and roars, dropping to his haunches as his fangs and claws appear. Allison put a bolt in the hunter’s throat.
Steam is still rising from the radiator of the SUV. Stiles heads toward it. He needs to get Melissa out.
The thin soles of his shoes skid in the dirt as he reaches the twisted mass of metal. His stomach churns when he sees the hunter trapped in the crush of the vehicles. He’s trapped from the waist down. He’s got blood coming out of his mouth. Stiles doesn’t need to be a doctor to tell he’s a dead man. Maybe not now, but give it a minute or two.
Stiles wrenches the driver’s door of the SUV open.
Melissa is in the front seat, hands clenched tightly on the steering wheel. She’s pale. Her gaze is fixed on the dying hunter and her expression is one of horror.
“Are you okay?” Stiles asks, flinching as he hears one of the wolves roaring behind him, and a garbled scream.
Melissa turns her face toward him. “Stiles! Look out!”
Stiles feels the press of a barrel against the side of his neck a moment before someone gets an arm around his throat. A hairy arm in a khaki sleeve. Haigh.
Haigh drags him backward.
Stiles sees everything in flashes.
Chris is on the ground, one of the hunters on top of him. The hunter is brandishing a knife.
Peter roars, and launches himself at the hunter.
Scott is bleeding. He’s hunkered down, his face twisted with pain. Allison is standing in front of him, her bow keeping the hunters at bay.
Rafael McCall slams a hunter’s head into the ground, lifts it up again by the hair, and slams it down again.
Gerard is pointing a gun at Derek. Derek, growling, looks ready to pounce.
Parrish is running for them.
Stiles’s heart is in his mouth as Haigh drags him off into the line of trees at the side of the road.
“You shouldn’t have come back here, Stiles.” He tightens his arm, and Stiles struggles for breath. “You should have left it alone!”
Stiles claws at his arm desperately. His eyes sting with tears. His lungs burn.
Once, in another universe, Haigh worked on the candyfloss stall at the Beacon Hills’ Sheriff’s Department Family Fun Day. He hadn’t done it before, and he didn’t know when to stop, and Stiles had been delighted when Haigh had presented him with a stick full of candy floss as big as a beach ball.
“Don’t tell your dad,” Haigh had warned him with a laugh.
It had been totally worth the sugar high followed by the sugar crash and the stomach ache.
Stiles doesn’t have many good memories from the dark months following the death of his mom, but that was one. That was such a bright one, and now Haigh has poisoned it.
Stiles struggles, and Haigh adjusts his grip.
“Don’t ever be an accomplice in your own murder.”
Stiles drops his chin while he can. Still gripping Haigh’s arm, he steps to the right. He lets go of Haigh’s wrist with his left hand and drives his fist behind him into the man’s groin. Haigh doubles over, and Stiles brings his elbow up sharply and slams it into his chin.
Haigh rears back, and Stiles breaks free.
Those dinner time hypotheticals with his dad?
They’d sometimes turned into practicals.
Stiles hasn’t got time to celebrate yet though. Not with a firearm in the mix. He has no idea how far away anyone else is. He has no idea if they can even see what’s happening. He turns quickly, dropping into a crouch as he scoops up a handful of dirt and leaf litter and flings it in Haigh’s face. Okay, so his dad never taught him that move. Indiana Jones did, in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Haigh splutters and waves his gun around wildly.
Stiles launches himself at him, knocking him onto the ground and straddling him while they struggle for the gun. One of them isn’t going to get up from this. Stiles really hopes it’s Haigh.
And then, just when he’s sure he’s wrong, there’s a slavering wolf beside him, growling and snarling, and snapping its jaws.
Haigh goes limp.
“Yeah,” Stiles gasps, wrenching the gun from the man’s fingers. “My friends are scarier than yours, aren’t they?”
Derek growls, his eyes flashing blue.
Stiles presses the barrel of the gun into Haigh’s chest, and watches the man’s eyes widen. The gun barrel clinks against the metal of the sheriff’s badge that this fucker has no right to be wearing, and it would be so easy to just kill him right now.
So easy, and so deserved.
“You framed my dad,” Stiles says. “You ruined my fucking life!”
And a small insidious voice in the back of Stiles’s mind whispers back that now’s his chance to ruin Haigh’s life too.
The wolf’s boy is bristling with anger. His tears smell close to the surface. The wolf wants nothing more than to rip the throat out of this man who hurt his boy. He wants to tear him into tiny pieces. He wants to help the boy taste his enemy’s blood.
But then the human is back, and he is forcing the change, and the wolf’s claws retract, and he reaches out his hand to curl it over Stiles’s. To draw the gun away.
“No,” he says, his voice quiet. “No, Stiles, he needs to tell the police what he did.”
Stiles is wide-eyed. Wild-eyed. “Will he? Will he though?”
Derek stares down at the man. “He will,” he says, “or Peter and I will tear him apart.”
The fear flashes in Haigh’s eyes.
“My friends are scarier,” Stiles whispers, his breath shuddering out of him. “Der, are we winning?”
A man like Gerard Argent doesn’t let himself get taken alive. Stiles knows, as soon as he stumbles back toward the road, how it’s going to play out. The other hunters are either dead or lying bleeding on the road, but Gerard Argent is holding a gun to Allison’s head.
He’s not using her as a shield though. He’s left Chris a clear shot.
“What are you, Christopher?” he taunts. “A coward?”
Except he’s the one not man enough to end it himself, isn’t he?
Chris’s face is as expressionless as always. There’s a crimson line of blood running from his temple down his cheek. His gun is raised.
Gerald lifts his chin. “Katie wouldn’t have hesitated. She knew what had to be done. She was always better than—”
The wolf—the man? He doesn’t know—watches as death picks her way among the wounded and the dying. She catches him watching, and smiles. Her face is pale in the sunlight. Her hair is dark. Her smile, today, is all Laura’s.
“Der,” Laura had said before she died. “I’ll always be with you.”
But when he opened his mouth to respond she was already gone and death was in her place.
Guilt and culpability and self-recrimination were too complex for the wolf to untangle, and so he let them walk beside him. He let death wear his sister’s face.
And now, he thinks, death is no longer hungry.
Now, he thinks, she has had her fill.
She doesn’t need to wear Laura’s face.
She doesn’t need to be his shadow anymore.
Stiles falls to his knees beside him. He exhales slowly and leans into him.
The man, the wolf—Derek—reaches out and laces his fingers with his boy’s.
His boy. Pack. Stiles.
When he looks up again, death is gone.
By the afternoon, the McCalls’ house is full of FBI agents, because apparently Gerard Argent was in the drug trade and Sheriff Haigh was involved, and absolutely nothing happened that has anything to do with werewolves. Rafael McCall suggests to his colleagues that Gerard at one time was operating out of the old bunker in the Preserve, and that one of the Hale kids must have seen something. And just like that the motive for the fire is neatly explained away.
Stiles worries about the fact that the investigation is going to turn up a distinct lack of drugs, but Chris seems to think that a search of his father’s properties will uncover enough money and weapons that the drug angle will be the only one that will play. Because the alternative? The alternative is werewolves, and nobody is going to go for that.
Stiles worries that Haigh and the surviving hunters won’t go along with it, despite Derek’s threats.
“How can you be sure?” he asked Chris Argent on the way back to the house from the woods, when Rafael McCall and Jordan Parrish were making arrests and calling in outside backup from the scene.
“Because they’re going to prison anyway, and they’ll want to do their time in general population, not the psych ward,” Chris told him. His mouth quirked in the first smile Stiles thought he’d seen from him, and it was bitter. “Because the reason we’ve been able to fight this war in secret for centuries is that nobody would believe the truth anyway. And they know they’re better off in prison that dealing with the fallout from breaking the code.”
And Stiles had shuddered, because the thought of prison is one that never fails to make him feel sick to the stomach.
Back at the house, Stiles gets a shower and Melissa makes pancakes. She forces Allison and Scott and Stiles to sit on the couch and refuses to let them move. Stiles fidgets and worries about Derek and Peter. Chris said something about taking them to a hotel to keep them out of the way.
They’re keeping their story simple.
Stiles came back to Beacon Hills because he was unhappy in care, and it was his home. Kate recognized him, leapt to the paranoid assumption he knew something about her involvement in his dad’s set up, and kidnapped him from Parrish’s custody. Parrish, who somehow managed to escape his burning cruiser, approached Chris Argent to question him about Kate’s whereabouts, and he nominated the bunker in the woods. Parrish called in a friend of a friend, Agent McCall.
Everything else happened pretty much the way it did.
Except for werewolves.
Except for Scott and Melissa and Allison.
They’re keeping it simple.
Stiles wishes he could say he feels uncomfortable about the idea of law enforcement officers lying under oath—given the whole Haigh thing—but it turns out his sense of morality isn’t so black and white. Stiles couldn’t be happier that Agent McCall and Deputy Parrish are lying through their teeth. The means really do justify the ends. But also, motive matters. McCall and Parrish aren’t framing an innocent man.
Stiles discovers he can live with that.
Stiles’s lawyer is called David Whittemore. He reminds the agents that Stiles is traumatized and in shock, and produces an emergency placement order that says Stiles can stay with Melissa McCall. He pretends he doesn’t notice when Stiles cries.
“Are you going to get my dad out?” Stiles asks Agent Kim after they go through what happened. Again. Stiles is tired and every time he blinks he sees Gerard Argent’s skull explode behind him as the bullet exits, but he’s a good liar. Always has been. The trick to lying is not to add any extra embellishments that might trip him up later. And the trick to dealing with police and other law enforcement is to just let the silences go. They’re trained to leave gaps, pauses, like lacunas in an orchestral piece, laden with anticipation. Stiles knows better than to try to fill those silences they’ve left. It’s human nature to want to talk, to mistake a friendly interrogation for a conversation and keep the rhythm going.
Stiles knows better.
He jiggles his legs and chews his nails and tells Agent Kim and David Whittemore how long it’s been since he had Adderall.
It’s just hard to sit back and do nothing knowing that his dad is still in prison.
“When can my dad come home?” he asks.
Agent Kim looks grave and serious. “There’s a process, Stiles. These things take time. You—”
“No, listen,” Stiles says. “My dad is a cop, who is in prison. You think about that. Please. Please just think about that. He needs to come home. He needs to be safe.”
This is supposed to be the end of the story. This is supposed to be the easy part. Stiles has faced the bad guys. He’s fought the fight. It’s ridiculous that the thing keeping them apart now is petty bureaucracy. That’s not fair. That’s not right.
“I want my dad,” he says, and stares at his knees so he doesn’t start crying again. “I just want my dad.”
“We’re done here,” Mr. Whittemore says. “Stiles isn’t answering any more questions today.”
Stiles flees downstairs to the basement.
Stiles is curled up into a ball underneath the comforter when he hears footsteps on the basement stairs. It’s late afternoon and getting comfortably gloomy in the basement. The little windows don’t let in a lot of sunlight, but Stiles can’t be bothered get up and turn a light on.
He wants his dad. The ache of it is impossibly sharp now that it’s so close. He’s terrified that something will happen and it will be torn away from him at the last minute. He hates that he’s too afraid, even now, to believe in a happy ending. That he’d rather be this person, cynical and pessimistic and bitter, than to nurture fragile hope into faith in case the universe destroys it.
Once upon a time he had faith his mom would get better.
Once upon a time he had faith no court would convict an innocent man.
Faith and Stiles parted ways a long time ago.
Footsteps tread slowly down the stairs, and a moment later weight dips the mattress.
“Remember how I asked you if sometimes it would be okay if I did the mom stuff for you?” Melissa asks quietly.
Stiles nods, the comforter still pulled up to his chin.
“I think this might be one of those times, huh?” Melissa puts her hand on his back, and rubs small circles there.
Stiles squeezes his stinging eyes shut.
“I know this is hard for you right now,” Melissa says. “You haven’t been able to rely on the adults in your life for the past four years, and now here they are telling you to sit back and wait. Why the hell should you listen to anything we tell you, right?”
Stiles hugs his aching stomach, and manages a nod.
“All I can tell you is we have to get this part right, Stiles,” Melissa says, still rubbing those comforting circles into his back.
It reminds him of what his mom and dad did for him when he was little and sick. What his dad did after she was gone. He’s missed simple touch like this.
Melissa exhales slowly. “We have to trust that Rafa and Jordan know what they’re doing here, because this is their territory now, okay? This is what they do.” She pauses for a moment, her hand against the knot in the top of his spine. “Well, I hope they don’t usually lie and cover things up, but you get my point.”
A smile tugs at the corner of Stiles’s mouth despite himself. He opens his eyes and stares into the gloom. He can’t bring himself to turn and look at Melissa.
“I’m scared,” he says at last.
“I know,” she says. “It’s okay to be scared. I’m scared too, and today? Stiles, when you boys got out of the car, I thought my heart was going to give out.” She draws a shaking breath. “I have never been more terrified in my life than when I thought you were going to get hurt.”
“You were a total badass today.”
“And so were you,” Melissa tells him. “Being scared doesn’t mean you can’t be brave at the same time.”
“I don’t feel brave.”
“But you are,” she says. “You’ve one of the bravest people I know.”
Stiles scrubs at his damp cheeks with the ball of his hand.
“I know it’s not easy, Stiles, but you’re almost there, okay?” She brushes her hand over his hair. “And you’re not alone anymore.”
“Okay,” he whispers.
Stiles can’t sleep that night. It’s late when he hears the basement door open and then the click of claws on the steps. A moment later the springs of the foldout couch squeal as a heavy weight lands on them, and then there’s a huff of hot breath on Stiles’s face as a wolf settles down beside him.
“It’s really dark,” Stiles murmurs. “You’d better be Derek.”
The wolf chuffs.
Stiles rolls onto his side and throws an arm over the wolf’s shoulders. He presses his face against the fur of the wolf’s ruff and inhales. Derek rumbles underneath him.
“You can change back if you want,” Stiles whispers to him.
The wolf stretches, his weight shifts, and Stiles’s hand is suddenly resting on the smooth skin of Derek’s hip. It should feel more uncomfortable than it does.
“I’ll bet your hotel is nicer than this.”
“You’re not there,” Derek says, his voice low. He rolls over to that he’s facing Stiles.
Stiles’s hand finds its way to his hip again. And maybe it’s the fact that its dark now and he doesn’t have to see, but it’s very easy to move his hand back and forth, to rub more warmth into Derek’s skin without it being weird. Well, too weird. He touches Derek all the time when Derek is in wolf form. Skin-to-skin makes him feel a little breathless though.
“Can I scent you?” Derek asks. “Like this?”
In his human form.
Stiles suppresses a shiver. “Okay.”
Derek surges closer, closing the scant distance between them. He presses his cheek gently to Stiles’s, and Stiles closes his eyes at the scrape of Derek’s stubble. Then Derek’s nose is nudging his jaw up, and it’s such a familiar gesture—such a wolf gesture—that Stiles smiles as he tilts his head. Back in the alley, back when Stiles thought he had a really cool big dog, this is how Derek built their closeness. With a curious nose and a lack of understanding about personal space. Not that Stiles had wanted personal space. He’d needed someone to lean against, to curl up with, to hold, and that’s exactly what Derek had given him, and more.
Stiles reaches up and drags his fingers through Derek’s hair. It’s soft, and smells of whatever shampoo his hotel room provided him with. It’s okay. It’s not too weird. Derek is still outside the comforter, and Stiles is underneath. That’s several layers of fabric plus Stiles’s pajamas keeping this situation G-rated.
“Are you going to stay?” Stiles whispers.
Derek drags his nose up Stiles’s throat. “Yes.”
Stiles closes his eyes and sighs. “I didn’t just mean tonight.”
Derek’s breath is hot against his skin. “I know.”
Stiles tilts his head back further, and tries not to think about how much he wants to roll onto his back and feel Derek’s weight on him. How it wouldn’t be just for comfort. But maybe he’d pretend it was, because he’s only known Derek’s human form for such a short time that it feels skeevy and shallow to take the feelings he has for Derek—safety and comfort and protection—and add sex to them.
He loves Derek.
That’s been true since the alley.
All the other stuff feels too complicated to unpack right now.
But he loves Derek, and he’s loved in return.
“Say it,” he whispers as he cards his fingers through Derek’s hair and Derek’s mouth settles over the pulse point in his throat.
“Stiles,” Derek whispers. “My Stiles.”
“My Derek,” Stiles whispers back, and holds him close.
It takes nine days.
Behind the scenes, Rafael McCall and Jordan Parrish work their magic, and spin a cohesive, credible story to both the FBI and the Beacon Hills’ Sheriff’s Department. Stiles thinks the FBI is the harder sell. The Sheriff’s Department is in a mess since the news of Sheriff’s Haigh’s arrest, and the news that he framed John Stilinski. The mayor calls in some woman from out of state to run things in the meantime.
“They’re even auditing all the speeding tickets we ever gave out,” Parrish tells everyone one night over pizza. “It’s gonna be a while until things settle down.”
“Do you think anyone else was in on it?” Stiles asks him, his mood darkening. “Apart from Haigh and Kate?”
Parrish is silent for a moment, and then he shakes his head slightly. “I don’t know. I hope not, but I don’t know.”
Derek bumps Stiles gently with his shoulder, and Stiles forces himself to relax.
“I think we’re almost done on our end,” Rafael McCall says. “I’m heading back to Sacramento at the end of the week. Maybe I’ll get lucky with a nice relaxing serial killer.”
“Rafa!” Melissa exclaims.
He raises his eyebrows and steals a piece of pepperoni. “I’m just saying, I’d sleep a lot easier at night knowing it was just the Sacramento Slasher out there, you know?”
The world has gotten much bigger than he ever expected. Much deeper and darker. But also, he hasn’t felt this safe in years. He has wolves by his side.
Peter Hale has rented some loft space in town. After six years in that bunker, he wanted somewhere with a lot of windows. The place is huge, and a haven for spiders, but the light is incredible. So far Peter and Derek are just sleeping on mattresses on the floor, but they’ve got a refrigerator now and, weirdly, a coffee maker, so they’re making slow progress. Neither of them likes the idea of going shopping where there might be crowds, and Peter also refuses to buy furniture without physically inspecting it first, so it’s going to be a slow process.
Everything feels like a slow process.
Peter’s not here tonight.
Neither is Chris.
And from the look on Allison’s face when she arrived, Stiles isn’t dumb enough to point that out. Scott had whispered once, horrified, that they smelled like each other. Smelled like each other like Stiles and Derek, who gravitate toward one another whenever they’re in the same room, or smell like each other in more of an ew way? Scott had refused to expand on that.
Actually, Stiles doesn’t know what would be weirder. The thought of Chris and Peter fucking like bunnies, or cuddling? He thinks cuddling might be craziest.
Also, nobody’s mentioned the fact that Parrish has pretty much moved in over the last week. Not even Rafa. So maybe that’s another thing everyone’s avoiding talking about.
This little group of people with all their petty divisions and alliances and grievances… they’re starting to feel like a real family. There’s someone missing still, and Stiles is doing his best to be patient, his best not to panic about what might still go wrong, and it’s so hard. But he has Derek and Scott and Melissa and everyone, and they distract him when he needs to be distracted, and they leave him alone when he needs to be left alone, and he can do this.
With their help, he can do this.
Melissa starts to clear away the pizza boxes. She moves around behind Stiles and reaches out to grip his shoulder gently. “Early night tonight. It’s a school night, remember?”
Stiles nods, sudden butterflies in his stomach.
“You too, Scott,” Melissa says.
Scott nods, distracted.
It’s only a few days to his first full moon, and even though Peter and Derek have promised to be there for him—even though Chris has, although Stiles suspects that’s more for his own peace of mind than Scott’s—he’s anxious. He’s frightened of losing control and hurting people, which Stiles gets, but also, it’s Scott. He’s like the sweetest guy Stiles has ever met. Scott’s got this.
Between them all, they can handle whatever the universe throws at them, right?
It’s easy to fall into Derek’s embrace, to tilt his head back and let Derek scent him. It’s easy to close his eyes when Derek presses his nose, and then his mouth, and then his tongue against the pulse point in his throat. It’s easy to find himself nuzzling back blindly, his breath hot and his heartbeat racing, searching for skin to touch with his lips.
It’s easy to pretend it’s all about the scenting, and the wolves, and something animals do that Stiles barely understands. Animals don’t kiss though.
Derek’s lips brush against Stiles’s, and then his tongue is gently tracing the seam of them, and Stiles’s mouth is opening like it’s the simplest thing in the world. It starts off soft and warm, and then Stiles’s legs fall open and Derek is shifting into the space Stiles makes for him.
Stiles is hard in his jeans, and a jolt runs through him when he rocks his hips and discovers that Derek is too. A part of him—the part that’s never done this before—wants to push Derek away. The rest of him wants to wraps his legs around him and drag him closer, so that’s what he does.
Derek moans, and the sound sends a spark of pleasure right to Stiles’s dick.
Derek pulls back. “You okay?”
“Keep going,” Stiles says. “Jesus. Keep going.”
His boy is eager and smells of arousal. His blood is hot, and pumping close to the surface of his skin. Derek wants to taste him. He nuzzles his way down Stiles’s chest, plucking his shirt up so that he can press his face against that pale mole-dotted skin. Stiles is still too thin, but not sickly with it anymore. His boy is getting strong again, and Derek rewards him by dipping his tongue inside his belly button and making him shake with laughter.
Stiles’s dick is straining in his jeans, and Derek rubs his thumb across the button on the fly.
“Keep going,” Stiles whispers. His amber eyes are wide.
Derek pops the button and slides the zip down. He presses his nose into Stiles’s boxers, into the seam between Stiles’s thigh and his groin, and inhales. Stiles shudders, his fingers scrabbling in Derek’s hair.
Derek peels down the elastic of his boxers.
Stiles’s dick is hard and hot under his tongue. It tastes of salt and sweat and Stiles. Derek licks a stripe up it, and Stiles arches off the bed.
“Oh! God, Derek!” Stiles is breathy, frantic, as Derek sucks the tip of his dick into his mouth. “I’m not going to last!”
Derek doesn’t care. He’s greedy for this. For his boy. For his Stiles.
Stiles shudders and thrashes underneath him, panting hard as he comes. Derek swallows him down, and then kisses his way back up his body toward his flushed face.
Stiles stares at him wildly for a moment, and then pulls him close for a breathless kiss.
Derek holds him tight.
“Derek,” Melissa McCall says as he sneaks upstairs later. “I’m sure I said it was a school night?”
Derek flushes and escapes.
Stiles has had a lot of first days at different schools. After a while all schools look the same. Same tired lockers. Same scuff-marked halls. Same lunches. Same smells and sounds. Same kids, same cliques, same old same old. Beacon Hills High isn’t any different on the surface, except it’s a lot easier to walk inside flanked by Scott and Allison.
A few of the teachers look twice at his name, and not just his first name either, but most of the kids don’t seem to immediately associate him with the former sheriff. They either don’t remember the scandal or they don’t care.
The exception appears to be the terrifying and beautiful Lydia Martin.
“Stilinski,” she says, looking him up and down when he sets his tray down at her table at lunch time. “Huh.”
Stiles doesn’t know if there’s a judgment there or not. Lydia looks like the sort of girl who has a scathing judgment for every occasion, but she’s also friends with Allison and Scott, so… Stiles figures he’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Particularly when he sees her sliding a calculus textbook under her copy of Marie Claire when she catches him looking.
Stiles eats his lunch and listens into to the conversation, casting half-furtive glances around occasionally, and wondering if one day these people might be his friends too.
As first days go, Stiles has had worse. He’s most anxious about History, since he doesn’t have either Scott or Allison in that class with him, but one of the guys from lunch, Danny, saves him a seat beside him.
Maybe this is the last first day Stiles will have to have.
He likes the sounds of that.
“How’d it go today?” Melissa asks that evening as Stiles is helping set the table. Melissa is on a day off.
“Okay,” Stiles says. He doesn’t want to get too enthusiastic in case it doesn’t work out. Story of his life.
“Did you get much homework?” Melissa asks him. “I talked to the school about how you’ve got some gaps, and Ms. Morrell said something about tailoring a study plan for you?”
“I’ve got an appointment with her on Friday,” Stiles says. He looks down at the stack of plates Melissa handed him. There are only three. “Is Jordan working tonight?”
“He’ll be by after dinner,” Melissa says, and checks her watch. “Scott!” she yells up the stairs. “If you’re supposed to be doing homework, why can I hear you shooting aliens from down here?”
Melissa doesn’t need any damn werewolf hearing.
“Can I invite Derek over?” Stiles asks.
He’s done his homework. He’s trying to be the good kid. Which, when it comes to academics, is actually kind of easy compared with Scott. It’s the other stuff that Scott outstrips him at. Like being effortlessly kind and helpful. That’s the stuff Stiles has to work at. And he’s trying, for Melissa. Hence setting the table.
Melissa gives him a look he can’t quite read. “Not tonight, hmm?”
“Okay.” Stiles swallows down his disappointment, even though he was kind of expecting this. Melissa has already given him the talk about how she’s taking her role of foster carer seriously, and she doesn’t want either of them to do anything that will risk Stiles getting sent away. She didn’t explicitly spell it out, but Stiles figures having underage sex in her house is probably a really fast way to fuck things up if anyone finds out.
Melissa gives him a small smile.
Scott clatters down the stairs in time to get the meatloaf out of the oven. Stiles heads into the kitchen to help him. When he gets there, Scott has the meatloaf sitting on the counter and is rattling through the cabinets. “Do we have any more ketchup? Mom, are we out of ketchup?”
“I don’t know, Scott!” she calls back from the dining room. “Did you look?”
“I’m looking!” And then he reels back, a small plastic container in his hand. “Mom!”
Scott looks like a confused puppy as he stares down at the container. “Why do we have pre-natal vitamins?”
There’s a sudden crash of cutlery from the dining room.
Dinner is kind of awkward.
“You and Deputy Parrish?” Scott asks, jaw hanging open. “Aren’t you kind of…”
“Say it, Scott,” Melissa says, arching her brows. “I dare you.”
Scott snaps his mouth shut.
Dinner is also kind of hilarious.
Afterward, when Stiles is chilling in front of the TV and Scott is having an existential crisis about being a big brother at sixteen, a car rolls into the driveway. The headlights flash up against the living room window for a moment, before the engine cuts out and the lights turn off.
“Stiles,” Melissa says, appearing in the living room doorway. There’s a shaky smile on her face like she doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “You’re going to want to get the door.”
Stiles bolts off the couch, his sudden rush of hope battling with every other part of him that screams not to trust this, not to believe it, it can’t be what it thinks. He hurries to the front door and flings it open.
Parrish’s car is in the driveway and Parrish is climbing out of the driver’s seat.
The passenger’s door swings open and a man gets out.
He’s older than Stiles remembers. A little thinner. There’s more gray in his hair now, more wrinkles around his eyes. But it’s him. It’s him.
—and then stumbles forward into an embrace he’s needed for the past four years.
“Stiles,” Dad says, and it sounds almost like the answer to a prayer. “Oh, Stiles, kiddo. Stiles.”
Stiles bursts into tears.
Bonus chapter today since my roster changes enough to tomorrow to screw my posting schedule, and I didn't want to make you wait.
There are a thousand things Stiles wants to say to his dad, a million things, but he’s too overwhelmed right now for words. He pulls his dad inside to the couch, and buries himself in his embrace again, and he feels like he’s twelve years old and someone’s going to come and drag him screaming from his dad’s arms any second now. He feels like he’s spiraling on the edge of a panic attack.
“It’s okay,” his dad says, his voice breaking a little. “It’s okay, kiddo. Breathe with me.”
“John?” Melissa’s voice sounds like it comes from far away. “Help yourself to anything you need. We’ll be upstairs.”
“Thank you,” his dad says. “Thank you for everything.”
“Give me a call when you’re ready to go,” Parrish says quietly.
Stiles jerks upright. “What?” He twists his neck in time to see Parrish and Melissa retreating, Scott trailing after them, and then looks at his dad. “What does he mean, go?”
“Breathe,” his dad reminds him. His eyes shine with tears. “It’s just a formality, kiddo, but I don’t have custody of you back yet. I won’t, until it’s all sorted out. I’m going to get a court date for us, okay, but it might be a week or two. Until then I’m supposed to be staying in a halfway house , and you’re supposed to be staying here.”
Four years in prison must have relaxed his dad’s tolerance for bad language, because he only nods. “Yeah, it is, kid, but I’m going to visit you every day, okay? Every damn day.”
“That’s not fair.” Stiles can feel his tears running down his face.
His dad pulls his sleeve over his hand and reaches up to wipe Stiles’s tears away. “I know, Stiles. I know.” And then he smiles suddenly.
“Jesus, kid, you got tall.” His smile wavers and tears brim in his eyes, and he pulls Stiles into another hug. “You got so tall, and I missed it. I missed you.”
“I missed you too, Dad.” Stiles squeezes his eyes shut and presses his face into his dad’s shoulder. “So much. I wrote to you, and I tried to come and see you!”
“I know. I know you did.” His dad curls his fingers around the back of Stiles’s neck. It’s a comforting gesture that Stiles hasn’t felt in four years and he chokes out another sob. “Shh. Just breathe. Just breathe for me.”
It takes a while for Stiles’s wrenching sobs to calm, for his tears to stop. When they do, he’s still leaning into his dad’s embrace, his ear pressed to his chest so he can hear his heartbeat. He’s wanted this for so long, and fought for this so hard, but a part of him never really believed it would happen. Even now he can hardly believe it’s real.
His dad rubs his back. “So, Parrish told me a hell of a story on the ride back. Pretty crazy stuff.”
“Yeah.” Stiles sniffles. “It’s pretty crazy. But also, um, true?”
His dad exhales slowly. “Parrish said he was something, but seemed pretty lacking on the details. We pulled over at a rest stop just out of Woodland and he showed me that weird thing his eyes do.”
Stiles shifts back so he can see his dad’s expression. “Yeah?”
“Well, lucky we were already at a rest stop, because I almost pissed myself.” His dad snorts. “He seems like a good guy though.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “He arrested me once.”
“He mentioned that too.” His dad’s expression is caught somewhere between sorrow and anger. “God, Stiles. I can’t believe you were living on the street, kiddo.”
“It was, um, it was the better alternative at the time.”
“God,” his dad says again, releasing the word on a breath. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here for you, Mieczyslaw. I’m so sorry.”
His parents are the only people who’ve ever been able to say his real name right. It warms Stiles to his core. “Derek looked after me.”
“Derek Hale.” His dad shakes his head, incredulous. “Who is a werewolf.”
“It’s a lot to take in,” Stiles says.
“It is. It really is.” His dad is staring at him like he’s trying to commit every detail of his face to memory. Then he shakes his head again. “It also makes a stupid amount of sense. Just… werewolves? Really?”
“Really,” Stiles says, a smile tugging at his mouth.
“At this point I don’t care if Derek Hale is a mermaid,” his dad says. His forehead wrinkles. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“I am,” Stiles says, and dives into another hug. “I am okay, Dad.”
“I’m so proud of you, kiddo,” his dad tells him, voice muffled against the top of Stiles’s head. “If even half of what Parrish told me was true…” His voice hitches. “I’m so proud of you, Stiles, so proud, but also, as soon as I get custody of you, you’re never leaving my sight again because you’re grounded until you’re forty.”
Stiles laughs against his dad’s chest. “Okay,” he says. “Okay, Dad. That sounds awesome.”
Stiles doesn’t want to go to school the next day—he wants to go and hang out with his dad—but Melissa gives him a mom look and before he knows it he’s walking into school with his backpack slung over his shoulder.
He sits with Scott and Allison at lunch, and Lydia casts them some suspicious looks while she collects her lunch. Stiles knows she’s just trying to figure out what the son of the former sheriff and the granddaughter of a supposed drug king pin have in common. He won’t be surprised if she figures it out at some point, and probably sooner rather than later.
“How’s your dad?” Allison asks him in a low voice over a shared stack of tater tots.
“Good.” Stiles feels a flutter in his gut whenever he says that, like a small child telling a lie. He wonders if one day he’ll be able to believe the answer he gives. He distracts himself with a ketchup-dipped tater tot. “How’s yours?”
Allison cocks an eyebrow.
“Um,” Stiles says. “I meant generally, like emotionally.”
“Fine,” Allison says. How can someone with those dimples look thunderous? Then she huffs out a breath, and her eyes widen. “He’s not talking about it, and Mom’s not talking about it, so now it’s just this big thing we’re not talking about. And a part of me gets that Dad is messed up right now, and he still has to bury his father and his sister, but shouldn’t my mom be angry? I would be angry!” She buries her face in her hands. “Wouldn’t I?”
Stiles pats her on the back while Scott looks on worriedly.
“How am I supposed to ask my parents about their sex life?” she asks, her voice muffled by her hands.
“Oh, god, don’t,” Scott says. “Or the next thing you know you’re trying to have a shovel talk with a deputy.”
“You did that?” Stiles asks. “How’d it go?”
“Really, really awkwardly,” Scott says.
“Parents, hey?” Stiles offers, but he knows his attempt at solidarity falls flat because he can’t actually wipe the smile off his face when he thinks of his dad. Of the fact his dad is part of his life again.
Allison sighs and keeps her face hidden in her hands. “But,” she continues, “at least my dad can’t get upset with me having a werewolf boyfriend if he’s got one too, right?”
Stiles pats her again. “That’s a very good point.”
Lydia slides her tray onto the table and levels them all with an imperious glare. “Whatever you’re talking about, stop it immediately. I need you all to make suggestions for the winter formal, or we’re going to be stuck with the same tired Winter Wonderland theme as last year.” She sits down next to Scott. “And clearly I can’t let that happen.”
There’s no more talk of werewolves at the table after that.
Derek hears Stiles’s footsteps and the thump-thump-thump of his heart minutes before he knocks on the door of the loft. Derek pads to the door and opens it. His boy is twitchy today and smells of anxiety and anticipation. A lot of that, Derek knows, has to do with the man standing beside him.
“Hi,” Stiles breathes, eyes wide. “Dad, this is Derek. Derek, this is my dad.”
Derek remembers to put his hand out first. Human gestures aren’t quite second nature to him yet, but he’s working on it. The wolf might want to pounce on John Stilinski and scent him and drag him right into the pack, but that’s not how humans are, and Derek needs to make a good impression. He’s terrified John won’t like him. He’s terrified John won’t accept him in his son’s life.
John has a firm handshake. “Derek. I’ve heard a lot about you.” He seems to be holding himself stiffly, and Derek’s fear sharpens, but then John pulls him into an unexpected hug. “Thank you. Thank you for looking after my son.”
Derek looks to Stiles, and finds his boy grinning back.
Maybe it shouldn’t surprise him that the father is as tactile as the son.
Maybe it shouldn’t surprise him that John feels like he could belong too.
The moon knew what she was doing when she led the wolf to Stiles.
They sit around on mattresses on the floor, Stiles and his dad and Derek and Peter and Chris. They talk for hours, about the Argents and the Hales and the fire and a hundred years of antagonism that had culminated in smoke and flames that night.
Stiles holds Derek’s hand when Derek struggles to find the words to explain what Kate Argent did.
Chris looks away, jaw clenched tight.
When Peter talks about the fire, about the pack that was lost, he excuses himself and goes upstairs. Minutes later a howl echoes through the night, and sends a shiver down Stiles’s spine.
When Peter comes back, nobody comments.
Stiles notes the way his dad’s gaze is drawn back to his and Derek’s interlaced fingers time and time again.
“You and Derek,” his dad says hours later when they’re walking down the steps from the loft again.
Stiles looks at him warily. He was twelve when his dad was taken away from him, and before that there was his work, and his drinking, and his grief. They never really had the talk. Stiles has never come out to him.
“He’s older than you,” his dad says.
Stiles jerks his head in a nod, but something unknots inside him. “He, um, he’s also spent the last six years as a wolf, so…” He shrugs.
“That’s not how it works, kiddo,” his dad says. “I know that nothing here exactly falls under the normal rules. I also know that Derek saved you, but I need you to understand there are no obligations there. You don’t owe—”
“Dad! I know! I know I don’t owe him. I—” Stiles wrinkles his nose. “I love him.”
His dad is silent for a long moment, and then he nods. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Stiles echoes, because that can’t be right.
“I’ve missed a lot of years with you, kiddo,” his dad says, his voice wavering a little. “On one hand, you’re always going to be my little boy.” His mouth quirks. “But I look at you, and you got so tall, and I think about everything you went through, and I trust you, Stiles. I trust you to know your own mind. I trust you to be smart about this, to be safe about this. So yes, okay.”
Stiles waits a moment for a but that doesn’t come.
“Don’t make Parrish arrest him, kid,” is all his dad says, and they continue on down the stairs.
The full moon rises over the Preserve, and Derek closes his eyes as its silver light washes over him. There’s a pull to the moon, a compulsion to lift his face and bathe in her light, and Derek doesn’t fight it. It’s been so long since he gazed at the moon with his human eyes, but she still recognizes him. She still watches over him. Now more than ever, he thinks.
The moon led him to Stiles.
Derek glances across the clearing, to where Stiles is standing. His breath hangs like mist on every exhale into the cold air. He’s wearing his hood pulled up, and he’s shifting his weight from foot too foot in anticipation. His eyes are bright.
John is standing beside him, watchful, but Derek can’t smell any fear coming off him.
The Stilinskis are pack. Derek knows it, and Peter knows it and, Derek suspects, both Stiles and John know it too. The instinct is there, even in humans.
It feels strange to be about to shift in front of all these curious gazes. Melissa is here too, and Parrish, and Scott of course. Allison and Chris are here, and so is Victoria Argent. She is gazing steadily at Peter, and he’s staring back, and the woman might not be a wolf at all but she has the steely composure of any alpha.
Derek can’t tell if Peter is amused or angered by Victoria’s challenging gaze. He doubts Peter can either. Even before he was feral, Peter was wild. Peter carries his wolf close to the surface, and snarls just as well with his human larynx as with his wolf’s. He always has. He flashes a grin at Derek now, and pulls his shirt off. He rolls his shoulders, and turns to look at the Argents again. If he was in wolf form right now his tail would be up, his ears pricked, and he’d be preening.
Derek cuts him a narrow look, and Peter’s smirk grows.
“Alpha,” Derek murmurs pointedly. Peter’s posturing can wait.
Peter relents and beckons Scott over. Derek watches as Peter puts an arm around Scott’s shoulders, and leans in close to talk to him quietly. Scott’s forehead furrows anxiously and he nods as he listens.
“What’s your anchor?” Peter asks him.
“Um, Allison,” Scott says, swallowing. “And my mom. And you guys, and Stiles—”
“Pack,” Peter says, slapping him on the back to cut him off before he can name every person he knows. “Your anchor is pack. That’s a good anchor, Scott. That’s a good choice.”
Scott looks over toward Allison and her parents, and then to Melissa. Derek can feel Scott’s anxiety rising. And he can feel Peter’s amusement. Scott is terrified losing control, of hurting the people he loves, but Derek and Peter are strong enough to corral their newest beta if required. Also, this is Scott.
“If he were a starving fox I’d still trust him to guard my henhouse,” Peter had said back at the loft, and Derek is inclined to agree.
Derek didn’t like Scott at first. He didn’t like the way Scott gave Stiles a hoodie and food when it was Derek’s job to provide for his boy. He knows now that it was never a challenge. Scott was never trying to steal Stiles away. Altruism isn’t unknown to wolves, but it rarely occurs outside of packs. Altruism isn’t unknown to humans either, but Derek knows the world is built on quid pro quo.
Not Scott McCall’s world.
Scott McCall is a welcome addition to any pack, and Peter is right: he will handle his first full moon better then he knows.
Peter claps Scott on the back again, and then squeezes his shoulder. “Listen to the moon, Scott. She’ll guide us home again.”
Derek closes his eyes briefly and thinks of his pack, both old and new. He thinks of the twins, and of Cora. Of aunts and uncles and cousins. He thinks of Laura, who tried so hard to hold on.
He feels Stiles’s hands slide around him from behind, and then Stiles’s warm body presses against him. Stiles keeps one hand over Derek’s abdomen, and slides the other one up to his chest. He splays his fingers over Derek’s heart.
Derek opens his eyes to the moonlight. He turns his head on an angle, enough to catch the flash of Stiles’s smile.
“This is incredible,” Stiles says, almost bouncing again with excitement. “You guys are incredible.”
Derek arches his brows.
“But mostly you,” Stiles says, his grin widening. “You’re my favorite.” He presses a kiss to Derek’s cheek. “Obviously.”
The wolves run.
For a moment Stiles is frozen, staring after them.
Then he lets out a laugh, breathless with delight, and runs after them.
The moon guides them.
She guides Peter past his grotesque half shift and into the sleek form of his full wolf. Derek falls into step beside him, his paws thumping against the forest floor. Scott is not a born wolf. He can’t do a full shift. He stays on two legs, his heavy brow furrowed, his face bristling with fur, and his fangs protruding.
Derek feels the pack bond connecting him to his alpha and his fellow beta, as certain as the pull of the moon. There are others in his periphery. Other scents, other heartbeats, other pack mates.
And there is Stiles, who is at the core of him, in a place that even Peter cannot touch. Because a beta may one day challenge his alpha, but Stiles’s position in his heart is unassailable. Stiles is his mate.
Peter casts him a knowing look as they lope through the trees, and chuffs at him.
Derek basks for a moment in his alpha’s approval, and then slows to let Scott pass him. He circles back for Stiles.
Stiles digs a cheese stick out of the pocket of his hoodie and peels the plastic off. He breaks it in two and holds half out for Derek. Derek takes the end delicately in his teeth and eats it.
Stiles crouches down beside him, shoving the wrapper in his pocket. The moonlight makes his eyes gleam. “I think I’m lost.” He eats his cheese stick, unconcerned. “You’ll lead me back to my dad, won’t you, Der?”
Derek rumbles agreeably.
They sit in silence for a moment, watching the wind shift the leaves in the trees. Watching the moon. And then Stiles stands up again, and pinches Derek’s ear gently between his cold thumb and forefinger.
Derek huffs and flicks it free, and nips at Stiles’s fingertips when he tries to reach for the other ear. Stiles gives up and settles for carding his fingers through Derek’s ruff instead.
Stiles doesn’t speak.
He doesn’t need to.
Derek remembers when the moon first led him to his boy. He remembers how he told himself he was going to take his boy into the Preserve and built a den for them, and they would hunt for rabbits and forage for berries and nuts and grasses and never go into the town again. He remembers how he told himself he was going to save his boy, and protect his boy, and that he and his boy would be pack.
Together they would be pack.
He wasn’t right about everything.
Stiles curls his fingers in his ruff.
But he was right about the important things.
It’s late when they get home. It’s later still when Stiles sees the shadow fall across the basement windows. He climbs out of bed and sneaks upstairs, and treads into the kitchen to unlatch the back door. Derek slips inside soundlessly, and Stiles takes him by the hand and leads him downstairs again.
“My dad says I’m not allowed to give Parrish a reason to arrest you,” he whispers as he sits, and then shifts back on the foldout couch. He drags Derek down by the shirt. “So you’d better not howl or anything.”
Derek smiles, the moonlight illuminating his face. “I can be quiet.”
“Me too,” Stiles says. “I hope.”
He tugs Derek’s shirt off.
Stiles is a jumble of contradictions. He has been since the moment the wolf found him: fearful, angry, breathless with either laugher or tears. Tonight he is shy and demanding at the same time. Nervous and bold in the space of a single heartbeat. He squirms when Derek licks his skin, and chases his scent along his throat, his collarbone, to his armpit, and stifles his giggle in his pillow. Then he hits Derek with it, eyes bright with mischief.
Minutes later he’s pliant, sighing, his eyes fluttering closed as Derek licks and kisses a path back down his body. His skin shines almost silver in the moonlight as Derek lays him out like an offering, and strips his clothes from him. It feels like a sacred unveiling with the moon as their witness.
And then suddenly Derek has a face full of Stiles’s naked white ass as he turns over and reaches down beside the foldout couch and scrabbles in his backpack. “I have lube!”
“Shhh!” Derek can’t stop the smile spreading over his face.
“Right,” Stiles says, turning back. Derek can smell the sudden spike in his anxiety. “Also, I had like a really intense shower earlier, but then we were running around in the woods, so I’m like, clean, but also maybe a little stinky.”
“You smell good.” Derek leans down and licks his hip. “Going to make you smell like mine.”
“Oh,” Stiles says on a breath, and relaxes back down onto the mattress. “Okay then.”
Derek slides his hands under Stiles’s thighs and lifts them out and open.
“Oh, wow,” Stiles whispers, and squeezes his eyes shut. A flush paints his skin darker from his face down his throat and chest.
Strong and fragile. Graceful and awkward. Nervous and courageous.
A jumble of contradictions.
His heart beats in perfect counterpoint to Derek’s. They are different, but they fit.
Derek opens his boy first with his fingers, and then with his tongue, and Stiles writhes and gasps, tiny huffs of surprise bursting from him as though every second brings a new revelation. His shaking fingers card through Derek’s hair, tug at it, and he smells of heat and sweat and desire.
When Derek moves up his body to kiss him, Stiles is wide-eyed and breathless.
“Please,” he whispers. “Now, please.”
Derek settles back into the cradle of Stiles’s thighs, presses the hot head of his dick up against Stiles’s entrance, and pushes in.
He doesn’t howl, but every instinct in his body wants to.
He kisses Stiles instead, and begins to rock them into a gentle rhythm.
“I love you,” Stiles whispers in his ear, his voice ragged. “Derek, I love you!”
“My Stiles,” Derek says on a moan. “I love you.”
Stiles tightens around him as he comes.
“That wasn’t cool,” Stiles whispers later, swallowing.
Derek gives him a worried look.
“What I said,” Stiles says, anxious to clarify. He snuggles closer to Derek, splaying a hand over his chest. “You’re not supposed to say things like that in the middle of sex.”
Derek’s brow creases, his eyebrows tugging together.
“I do love you,” Stiles says.
“Good,” Derek says. “I love you too.”
“Good.” Stiles wrinkles his nose and grins. “Good.”
They lie there together in the darkness for a while, and Derek suddenly tenses, his eyes widening.
“What?” Stiles whispers. “What?”
The basement door squeaks open, and Melissa’s voice drifts down the stairs. “Lock the door on your way out, Derek.”
Stiles almost flails onto the floor.
“Y-yes?” he calls.
“Me and you are going to have a talk in the morning.” The door closes again.
Derek leaps out of bed, dragging his clothes back on, and Stiles muffles his hysterical giggles into his pillow.
Just the epilogue to come!
Five months later
The house still smells of fresh paint. It’s not the same house Stiles grew up in. That rankles, if he lets himself think about it, but there’s another family living in the old house now, another kid sleeping in Stiles’s childhood bedroom, and it’s stupid to get upset about it. It’s stupid, but sometimes Stiles finds himself driving down his old street just to take a look at the place. Just to feel the low burn of grief and anger inside him that he doesn’t think will ever truly fade. Stiles tries to channel that anger into healthy coping mechanisms, but more than once his dad has found him in the back yard smashing packing boxes with his baseball bat.
Derek takes him running a lot. Stiles doesn’t know if it’s the pace Derek sets or the fact they stop to make out under the trees, but he usually comes home feeling a hell of a lot better.
“Your boyfriend is Derek Hale,” Lydia announces one day at school, narrowing her eyes at him like he’s a puzzle she’s on the brink of solving. “Derek Hale who was apparently in witness protection, or in hiding, or raising alpacas in Oregon with his uncle all these years?”
Stiles has heard a lot of rumors around town about Derek and Peter. So has Lydia, clearly.
“Yep,” Stiles says.
He gives her another month tops before she figures out the whole werewolf thing.
Scott and Allison are still going strong. Allison is still refusing to talk about what the hell is going on with Chris and Peter, and Stiles respects that level of denial. Victoria and Peter haven’t murdered one another yet, so who knows? Maybe they have some sort of timeshare arrangement. He’s too smart to ask any of them, though. That’s a death wish he doesn’t have.
Parrish has moved in with Melissa, and the spare room has been painted yellow in anticipation of the baby’s arrival. Scott is still pretending to be horrified about the whole baby thing, but Stiles did catch him buying a wolf plushie once, and he was super careful with the egg he had to look after during that dumb project for health class.
Stiles left his egg in the exhaust pipe of Jackson Whittemore’s silver Porsche.
It’s a decision he stands by.
School is good.
One afternoon, Stiles finds himself craving curly fries—nothing new there—and stops at the diner on the way home from school. He parks in the lot out the front, and then, instead of going inside, finds himself walking around the corner into the alley that was his home for so many weeks.
The memories hit him all at once.
It’s a feeling not unlike vertigo.
The alley stinks. The trashcans are filthy, and crawling with flies. The cardboard boxes are still nearby, rain damaged and spotted with mildew, and the thought of actually sitting down on the filthy ground makes Stiles sick. He remembers eating from the trash cans, and bile rises in his throat.
He doesn’t get curly fries. He goes straight home instead, and showers.
The new house is on Ferguson Street. It’s a typical California bungalow. It’s nice. Stiles and his dad spent a week painting the inside before they moved in, and picked out all their new furniture themselves. It’s new and clean in a way that doesn’t quite feel like home yet. It needs to be lived in some more, but they’re getting there.
They take comfort in different things.
His dad likes to sit outside on the back porch at night and look at the stars.
Stiles likes to crawl into a proper bed and stare at the ceiling.
Money is a bit of an issue for now, but David Whittemore promises there will be a compensation payout coming their way. He’s confident it will be a big one. There has been media attention, just like there was the first time around. It’s not every day that a sheriff gets sent to prison, and it’s certainly not every day that it turns out he was framed. Stiles’s dad is working as a security guard at some factory outside of town at the moment, but that’s only until he gets his payout. Stiles teases him about becoming a gentleman of leisure, but he notices when a few of his dad’s old deputies visit, and a few people from the city council, and even the deputy mayor.
“They’d probably vote for you again,” Stiles offers one morning over breakfast, shoveling his cereal in. “If you decided to do it.”
His dad snorts and reaches for the milk. “Maybe. But who even says I want to be the sheriff again?”
Stiles shrugs, and leaves it at that, but he won’t be surprised if his dad decides to run for election in the end.
Derek visits every day. He stays over some nights as well, if Stiles’s dad is working, because Stiles doesn’t like to be alone. It’s not always about sex, but it is always about closeness and comfort, and it’s such a weird thing to be in love, and to be so, so sure of something. Stiles only knows that it’s possible to stare into Derek’s eyes and to be completely unafraid.
Stiles doesn’t know what the future will bring, but he knows that Derek will be there with him every step of the way.
Derek says the moon brought them together, and Stiles—cynical, skeptical Stiles—looks into his eyes and makes the decision to believe it wholeheartedly.
Derek spends more time on two feet these days instead of four. He relearns the way his human body moves. He remembers how to curl his mouth into a smile instead of a snarl. He remembers how it feels to be alive.
“You’re over thinking this, kid,” his dad says mildly when Stiles opens the top drawer of the new dresser to check the contents. A toothbrush, some toothpaste, a razor, and an assorted bunch of toiletries. A set of fresh towels.
“I’m not,” Stiles says, jittery with nerves. “It has to be just right. Like, it has to be right.”
Stiles closes the drawer and inspects the shelf by the bed. There’s a good selection of books there, most of them from the second hand place in town. There are comic books too, because not everyone likes novels.
“Stiles, it’s fine.”
Stiles gives his dad a distracted nod, and begins to straighten the bed. Again.
His dad sighs and peels himself off the doorjamb. “Derek?” he calls. “Come and take Stiles outside, please, before he wears a hole in the floor with his pacing.”
Seconds later Derek is beside him, arms around Stiles’s waist, dragging him outside.
Stiles laughs despite himself. “Derek! Dad!”
He dad points sternly toward the back of the house. “Outside.”
Derek hoists Stiles up, and heads for the back door. They almost make it when the doorbell rings. Derek sets Stiles down again, and Stiles shifts nervously from foot to foot as his dad goes to answer the door.
Then, unable to stand the wait, he hurries along to join him.
“…get settled in,” the woman is saying.
Stiles looks straight past her.
There’s a kid standing a few paces behind her. He’s about Stiles’s age, and his face is pinched into a wary expression that Stiles is way too familiar with. He’s trying for nonchalance, but everything in him is radiating anxiety.
“Hi,” Stiles says. “I’m Stiles. Come in and I’ll show you around.”
The kid steps inside.
Stiles leaves his dad to deal with the social worker.
“Living room,” Stiles tells the kid, waving vaguely. “And the kitchen’s down there. You can help yourself to whatever, whenever.” He leads the way to the spare room. “This is your room. There’s a toothbrush and stuff in the top drawer, but if there’s anything else you need just let me or Dad know. Like, um, whatever it is.”
The kid sets his duffel bag down on the floor and looks around. Stiles hopes he’s not imagining the loosening of tension in the kid’s shoulders. Stiles knows exactly what it feels like to be in his shoes.
He has to do this right, because he knows exactly how the kid is feeling now, and because nobody did it right when it was Stiles standing there, lost and afraid.
“We don’t really have a lot of house rules,” Stiles says. “Like, there aren’t any lists of chores or anything. Dad has got this thing about getting homework done though.”
The kid nods.
“Okay,” says Stiles, too brightly. “I’ll just, um, I’ll let you unpack and stuff, and—”
“Stiles.” Derek is suddenly standing behind him.
“Jesus Christ, Derek! You’re like a freaking ninja!” Stiles elbows him, and then looks back to the kid. “This is Derek, my boyfriend. Derek, this is Isaac. It’s Isaac, right?”
The kid nods again. “Yeah. Uh, nice to meet you.”
He makes it sound like a question.
Derek raises his eyebrows. “Stiles talks too much. You get used to it.”
The faintest hint of a smile flickers around Isaac’s mouth. Stiles can see the moment he forces it away with another curt nod.
Stiles doesn’t want to overwhelm him with his awesomeness on his first day.
“Also, we’re getting pizza for dinner,” Stiles says. “So tell me now if there’s anything you don’t like.”
Isaac seems taken aback to be asked. “Um, I don’t really like anchovies?”
“Gross. Who does?” Stiles agrees. “So I’ll let you unpack. I’ve gotta go and kick Derek’s ass at Mario Kart, so if you want to come and join us when you’re done, that’s be cool.”
“Cool,” Isaac says, and Stiles doesn’t know if he’s just echoing back the word or agreeing he’ll play.
It takes a while to get the lay of the land in a new foster home. Stiles knows that.
It’ll work out.
He flashes Isaac another smile, and lets Derek draw him away.
It’ll all work out in the end.
Later that night Stiles and Derek drive out to the Preserve. Derek takes Stiles’s hand and leads him into the trees where they can be alone, bathed in moonlight. The night is quiet and cool and soft. Their hands are warm. They slip amongst the trees, shadows entangled, the wolf and his boy.
The moon will guide them safely back again.
Thanks to everyone who joined me on yet another crazy ride into the unknown with this fic. Your comments kept me motivated the whole way through! See you next time!