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Prologue – 2011

Stiles was 16 when the Visitors came. He’d only recently learned that werewolves were real, and now he had to deal with the fact that aliens also existed. At first they’d managed to pass themselves off as human in form, and friendly. They’d turned out to be neither.

Beacon Hills was small and off the beaten track, so they were spared most of the decimation that larger cities like New York and LA faced – first leaders being taken, then scientists and law enforcement officials, anyone who might post a threat to their “benign” takeover, and then, well, anyone as the Visitors stopped pretending that they hadn’t come to Earth to steal their resources, including water and people.

Keeping peace became more difficult as people acted out in fear. Stiles had always kept track of his dad’s calls, and now he kept a pilfered radio on him at all times. The Visitors took over the major television stations and got control of the internet, but there were still ways to keep in touch and hear what was happening in the rest of the country if you had a neighbor with a CB radio or Danny, who could create magic with a computer.

The residents of Beacon Hills celebrated just as hard as anyone else when the resistence came up with a way to defeat the Visitors by dispersing red dust, a substance toxic to the reptilian Visitors, into the atmosphere. The observation of the first annual Liberation Day, however, was to be their last.

 

Two Years Later – 2013

Stiles remained motionless, hidden in the brush at the side of the road as the convoy approached. He waited patiently, something he wouldn’t have been able to do a couple years ago, his breathing slow and even.

“One mile,” a voice in his ear said.

Stiles didn’t react, other than to shift his grip on the handle of the knife slotted between his fingers.

“They’re approaching the bend,” the same voice announced.

Stiles watched as the lead Jeep rounded the bend in the road, momentarily out of sight of the rest of the convoy. He went to his knees and threw his knife, just as another was thrown from the other side of the road. Stiles’ knife embedded itself in the driver’s throat, while the other stuck out of the gunner’s chest. There was movement on the other side of the Jeep and two soft pops confirmed the kills.

The two transport vehicles rounded the curve and slowed to a stop as they came upon the stopped Jeeps. Stiles couldn’t hear them, but he could see the confusion on their faces. They needed to act before the lizards had a chance to radio in their location and request backup. Soft pops of gunfire took out the drivers and their security detail, and then the two Visitors that leapt from the back of the transport vehicles with their guns already firing.

Stiles couldn’t see what was happening around the bend, but he could picture the others in their resistence cell taking out the lizards and commandeering the vehicles just as they’d done here. He only paid attention to what his teammates were doing in the periphery of his vision as he shot up from his spot in the brush and rushed over to one of the transport vehicles. Stiles threw back the canvas and he and Carson brought their weapons up to sweep the back, making sure the Visitors hadn’t stationed any more soldiers in the back.

“Clear,” Carson said into the comms, and Stiles gestured towards the shell-shocked captives. “Let’s go,” he said.

The moment one person recovered and started moving, it was like a stampede as they all tried to get out of the back fo the transport at once. They were all guided off the road and into the trees as quickly as they could move. All it would take was one ship flying over and spotting them, or someone trying to contact the convoy and realizing something was wrong, and this rescue would turn into a battle, which they hadn’t come prepared for.

“Alright, everyone, let’s move out,” said the voice in Stiles’ ear. He’d met David, the leader of their cell, the day he’d joined up, but didn’t generally have much to do with him or Kim, his second. Stiles had stopped wanting to make decisions the day he’d gotten his dad killed. Now he was just a cog in the wheel of the resistence, happy to follow the orders passed down to him, and was glad of the opportunity to pay the Visitors back for all the people they’d taken.

Stiles was reaching for the canvas, ready to close the truck back up so it could be moved out with the rest of the convoy, when he heard a whimper. Startled, he brought up his flashlight and shone it into the back of the truck. He lit up the metal bars of a cage and a pair of yellow eyes before he made out the dog held captive. No, not a dog, he amended when his eyes adjusted. A wolf.

“Let’s go,” David said again, and the truck started up.

The convoy would continue south towards LA for as long as they could keep up the ruse, and then be disposed of as far away as they could manage to disguise the actual location of the ambush and keep the lizards off their trail as long as possible.

“Sorry, boy,” Stiles said, wondering briefly what the Visitors wanted with a wolf as he once more reached for the canvas.

The wolf shivered, and suddenly it wasn’t a wolf at all, but a boy of about 12 years of age crouched inside the cage. He didn’t say, “Please,” or “Help me,” didn’t speak at all, just started at Stiles with those eyes. Part of Stiles said to leave him, that it was too late to save him, that he risked his teammates if the delayed any longer; another part heard his dad’s voice telling Stiles that every person they saved served as a big Fuck You to the Visitors, and reinforced their own humanity.

Stiles wasn’t concerned with his own humanity, not anymore, but he liked to serve up as big a Fuck You to the lizards as he could. “Fuck,” he muttered, ignoring the, “Stilinski!” shouted in his ear as he hoisted himself up into the back of the truck.

“Move out,” David said, half disgusted, half resigned, and the truck lurched forward, causing Stiles to lose his balance.

The boy still didn’t speak, just watched Stiles approach the cage. Stiles knelt down and shone his light on the front of the cage where a padlock held it closed. Still, it should’ve taken no effort for a werewolf to break it.

“Can’t you break it?” Stiles said.

“Drugged,” the boy said, and from the slurred way the word came out of his mouth, there was still some of the drug in his system.

“Get back,” Stiles said as he withdrew his sidearm from the holster at his thigh. The boy made himself as small as possible and Stiles aimed his weapon at the lock, fired.

The lock shattered and the boy was already reaching through the bars to remove what remained of it as Stiles reholstered his gun. Stiles swung the door of the cage open and helped the boy stand after he crawled out.

Once Stiles was certain the boy wasn’t going to keel over, he released his arm and moved towards the back of the truck. The convoy had started moving and Paul gave Stiles a wave from the driver’s seat of the second truck. Stiles acknowledged the wave with a jerk of his head, then turned his attention to the matter at hand.

“We need to jump,” Stiles told the boy.

They’d need to jump to the side so they didn’t get run over by the second transport, but they were moving slow enough that it should be easy enough to do without either of them getting hurt. They’d have to leave the canvas flap open, which might attract attention, but there was no help for it.

“Go,” Stiles said, hoping that the drugs were out of the boy’s system enough that he wasn’t hindered. They didn’t have time for him to heal a twisted ankle, much less a broken leg.

The boy jumped, landing on his feet and then rolling more nimbly with drugs in his system than Stiles could even after months of practice without. Once Stiles was sure the boy was clear, he jumped, bending his knees to absorb the shock, tucking and rolling as he’d been taught. Stiles came to his feet just as the last Jeep passed him. He looked back for the boy, almost expecting him to have disappeared into the woods. Instead he was already jogging towards Stiles.

“Are you alright?” the boy asked.

“Yeah,” Stiles said, giving himself a mental once over as he dusted himself off. “You?”

The boy shrugged, but Stiles could see small traces of blood on his arms and hip.

“You’re bleeding,” Stiles pointed out.

The boy held up his hands, brushed gravel off his palms. “I’ll heal.”

“Why didn’t you change when you jumped?”

“Wasn’t sure if I could,” the boy said.

Stiles nodded, then jumped at the loud, “Stilinski, get your ass in gear!” in his ear.

“Coming,” Stiles replied, then said to the boy, “Let’s get out of sight.”

Stiles threw a glance up at the sky as they crossed the road and ducked into the trees. “Wait,” he said as soon as they were hidden from view of any patrols that might fly over.

Stiles had a t-shirt on under his jacket, so he gave the jacket to the boy. “Here.”

The boy blushed. “I can just change.”

“Can you change now?”

The boy hesitated.

“Wear this until you can.”

“I’ll get it dirty,” the boy protested.

“It’s seen worse than a little dirt,” Stiles said as he brushed some of the dust from the side of the road off the boy’s shoulder.

“Thanks,” the boy said shyly. “Where are we going?” he asked as he followed Stiles.

“Somewhere safe,” Stiles said.

The boy snorted, and Stiles couldn’t disagree with him. He wasn’t sure there was anyplace on Earth that was safe, especially with the red dust no longer being effective.

“Safer than a transport headed to LA,” Stiles amended, and heard no disagreement to that.

~*~*~*~

“David wants to see you,” Kim said the moment she saw Stiles.

Of course he did, Stiles thought, but he didn’t say it out loud. Instead he nodded, then pointed to the boy. “Can you check supplies, see if we’ve got a pair of boots for him, maybe a pair of pants?”

“Sure,” Kim said. “Come on. We’ll get you something to eat and drink, too.”

Stiles left the boy in Kim’s care and crossed the temporary camp to where David stood off to the side with Jenna, looking at maps and going over the latest intel on Visitor positions. Stiles waited while David finished up his conversation with Jenna, under no illusion that David wasn’t aware he was standing there. They wrapped things up and Jenna nodded at Stiles as she left.

“Walk with me,” David said. Stiles followed David as he walked a few steps further away from the temporary camp.

“What happened back there?”

“There was still someone on the truck,” Stiles said.

David just looked at him, waiting for more.

“A boy,” Stiles said, hesitating a moment before adding, “In a cage.” It wasn’t as if none of the other freed captives had seen him.

“A werewolf,” David said.

The existence of werewolves had become public knowledge once the Visitors came, especially among the rebellion. The Visitors had been both intrigued and fearful of werewolves. Some wanted them captured as pets, some thought of them as a delicacy. Others had put a bounty on their heads.

“Yes,” Stiles said. “He’s a 12-year old boy.”

David studied Stiles for a long minute, then said, “Okay, but he’s your responsibility.”

Stiles didn’t let David see the cold tendrils of dread that curled around his spine. Stiles didn’t want to be responsible for anyone but himself. He nodded his head so David would leave him alone.

Stiles just stood there and listened to the muted sounds of the camp as the people they’d rescued from the transport were checked over for injuries, and given food and water.

“You okay?” the boy said.

Stiles didn’t jump, but only because he’d gotten used to things sneaking up on him and you never wanted the Visitors to know they’d managed to surprise you. “Fine,” he said.

“I brought you a . . . granola bar,” the boy said, his tone making it clear that he wasn’t impressed with the offering. Probably preferred a rabbit.

Stiles turned to take the proffered granola bar from the boy and only the practice he’d had keeping his emotions from showing on his face kept him from smiling when he saw the boy wearing a pair of pants several sizes too big, cinched at the waist and rolled up at the bottom.

“I see they found you a pair of pants,” Stiles said as he tore open the package.

The boy gave Stiles a look, as if he knew he was being laughed at, but he didn’t say anything about it.

“Where are we going?” the boy asked instead. “I need to get home. My parents are probably going to kill me.”

“North,” Stiles said.

When it got darker they’d finish the trek down to the river and load the refugees onto boats that would travel North up the Russian River under cover of night.

“You got a name?” Stiles said. He didn’t want to know anything more about the boy than he had to, but he couldn’t keep calling him ‘the boy’ in his head.

“Derek,” the boy said.

~*~*~*~

Stiles packed up his backpack and shouldered it. He nodded at David as he did a walk through the camp to make sure everyone was ready to move out.

“Where’s your boy?”

“He’s not my boy,” Stiles said. “And he has a name. Derek.”

David nodded. “He’s still your responsibility.”

Stiles waited until David moved on before rolling his eyes.

“Hey.”

Stiles didn’t jump, but he glared at Derek anyway. Derek grinned.

“Thanks for the use of your jacket.”

Stiles was confused, but he took the jacket Derek held out anyway. “Won’t you need it?”

Derek shook his head. “Not in my other form.”

Before Stiles could say anything, Derek disappeared behind a tree. Soon after a pair of pants came flying out and hit Stiles in the face. “Hold those for me, will you?” Derek said, and moments later a small black wolf cub came trotting out from behind the tree. He sniffed Stiles’ boots and his pants leg. Stiles reached down and buried his fingers in the wolf’s fur, then pushed his head away.

“Go on, get out of here.”

The wolf woofed, and then took off down the line of refugees that had started moving out towards the river. There were some shouts of consternation as Derek passed, but he ignored them. Stiles shook his head, rolled up the pants and stuffed them into his pack, and then followed the others, bringing up the rear with Stan.

It took them an hour to make it down to the river where the boats waited, and another half hour to get everyone settled on board. Derek had circled back to Stiles a couple times during the trek, as if to make sure he was still there and to let him know that everything was clear.

At the river Derek changed back. “I swim better in this form,” he told Stiles.

The boat ride was silent, save for the muted sounds of people moving about to get more comfortable, since sound carried over the water, and dark. Four hours later they reached their next transfer point. They all moved from the boats to camouflaged trucks and drove until the sun came up.

Stiles closed his eyes and managed to get some rest despite the rocking of the truck. He’d been alert – watching the sky and listening for the sound of approaching engines during the boat ride, and when they stopped he’d taken first watch. No one said anything about Derek’s presence among them, though some shifted away nervously when he walked past. Stiles didn’t comment when Derek stayed close to his side.

Once they made camp, watches were set, food and water passed around, and people settled down to sleep. After the refugees had some time to rest and the fact that they’d been moved to safety had sunk in, they’d be questioned – where they’d been taken from, what they might have overheard. Stiles didn’t need to be there for that. He’d learn anything he needed to know when David told them.

Derek had changed the moment the trucks stopped moving. He’d shaken his head and sneezed three times when the scents of so many people in an enclosed space filled his nostrils, and then he’d wandered off to sniff everything. When Stiles headed out for his watch, Derek went with him. Stiles thought of making him stay behind, but Derek was probably better suited to keeping an eye (or ear, or nose) out for the Visitors than anyone else there.

Derek sniffed around Stiles’ hidden position, and then, apparently satisfied, trotted off into the nearest patch of woods. Fifteen minutes later Derek returned with blood on his muzzle and a dead rabbit hanging from his mouth. He dropped his bounty triumphantly on the ground in front of Stiles and looked at him expectantly.

Stiles studied the rabbit, turned it over with the toe of his boot. It was plump, and would probably taste nice and juicy roasted over a fire.

“Nice,” Stiles told Derek, who looked pleased. “No fires, though,” he reminded the wolf. “And I’m not a fan of raw rabbit. Thank you, though,” Stiles said, trying to remember the manners his mom had taught him. “You take this one.”

Derek shrugged – Stiles had never seen a wolf shrug before – and then dropped to the ground beside Stiles and tore into his meal. Stiles blocked out the wet sound of meat being torn apart and the crunch of bones breaking and listened for the sounds that might herald the approach of Visitors from land or sky.

After he ate, Derek fell asleep. Stiles glanced down at Derek when he snored, and shook his head. When Stiles was replaced on watch, Derek followed him back to camp. David saw them coming.

“Derek,” David said, speaking to the wolf as if he were a man. It made Stiles wonder if he was familiar with werewolves before the arrival of the Visitors exposed them. “We need to ask you some questions.”

The fur along Derek’s back shivered, and a moment later he stood naked before them. Stiles rolled his eyes when someone tittered. He dug Derek’s borrowed pants out of his pack and tossed them at Derek’s head. Derek pulled the pants off his head and gave Stiles a look that said he didn’t know what the big deal was.

David waited until Derek had the pants fastened, a small smile curving the corner of his lips before asking him any questions. “Can you tell us where you were taken from?” David asked.

“Outside of Beacon Hills,” Derek said.

Derek Hale, Stiles thought, and felt as if the ground had given out beneath him. Derek looked at him, worried.

“You okay?”

Stiles didn’t know if it was his heart racing or the way his breaths had sped up, or how the blood had rushed away from his face that had alerted Derek. “Fine,” he said, willing both David and Derek to accept, if not believe, the lie.

David nodded, but Derek looked at him a little longer before returning to answering David’s questions about the Visitors. The more they learned about their methods, their movements, the better able they’d be to fight them.

Derek looked a little bit chagrined when he explained how he’d been captured. That he’d wandered away from home, where he was helping his uncle watch over his younger siblings and cousins when he’d caught a scent. He’d thought he could move closer and get a better look without being spotted, but he’d been wrong. They’d captured him almost immediately.

Stiles and David shared a look over Derek’s head. It sounded to both of them as if the Visitors had been lying in wait for Derek. The fact that they just happened to have a cage and tranq darts strong enough to keep a werewolf down backed up their theory. Instead of voicing their suspicions out loud, David continued with his usual line of questions, asking Derek if he’d heard or seen (or smelled) anything that might be helpful. Unfortunately, the one person who had the best chance of gaining intel had been knocked out most of the time he’d been held captive so he couldn’t escape.

“Can I look at your maps?” Derek asked when David had finished trying to coax every last scrap of information out of him.

“Sure,” David said slowly. “Can I ask why?”

“Because I’m going home,” Derek said. “Tonight when you leave, I won’t be going with you. I just need to get a better sense of where we are so I know which direction to head.”

Stiles’ stomach twisted as he imagined all the horrors that could befall Derek on his own. Yes, Derek was a werewolf, but he was also a 12-year old boy. He might think he understood everything that could happen to him, but he had no idea.

“Going off on your own, it’ll be dangerous,” David said, voicing Stiles’ concern.

“I need to get back to my family,” Derek said, determined.

“Alright,” David said as he got out the map and showed Derek where they were.

Stiles watched as Derek found Beacon Hills on the map and traced a line from where they were currently located to his home.

“You can’t seriously be thinking of allowing him to go off by himself,” Stiles said to David, even as part of him was eager to have his responsibility to Derek discharged.

“We can’t hold them against their will just because we save them,” David said. “Besides, he’s a werewolf, he’ll be fine.”

“He’s a 12-year old boy,” Stiles said.

“Hmm,” David said, as if Stiles had just told him something he didn’t know. “Maybe we should send someone with him.”

“I don’t need a babysitter,” Derek said, flushing, as much from anger as embarrassment, Stiles thought.

“Of course not,” David agreed, “but it wouldn’t hurt to have someone along to have your back.”

“I can move faster alone,” Derek said. “Anyone you send with me would only slow me down.”

Derek turned to leave, his thin shoulders straight. He turned back. “Thank you. For getting me off that truck. But I’ll be fine now.”

“It was a trap,” Stiles said after they’d both watched Derek walk away.

“Yep,” David said. “It sure sounds that way. And he’s walking right back into it.”

“You’re letting him!” Stiles said.

“He might also give away some information about the resistence to the wrong person, and it wouldn’t hurt to have someone nosing around if we have a traitor. Someone whose return they wouldn’t question.”

Stiles knew what David was suggesting, what he was asking, but, “I can’t go back there,” Stiles said.

“Understood,” David said. “Choose someone else to go with him, then. We’ll need to brief whoever you choose before they leave.”

Stiles looked at his hands. There was dirt in his knuckles and beneath his nails, but all he saw was the blood that covered them. His dad’s blood. Scott’s blood. He couldn’t be responsible for anyone else again.

Stiles closed his eyes and saw Scott’s wide brown eyes, so earnest and trusting, heard him say, “We have to help them,” watched him crumple lifeless to the ground when the Visitors turned their pulse weapons on him.

When Stiles opened his eyes, he was resigned to the fact that he’d be returning to Beacon Hills.

~*~*~*~

It took them a day and a half to reach Beacon Hills. David had given Stiles a dirt bike and a knowing look with orders to report back what he found in Beacon Hills. They traveled as far as they could that first night, under the cover of darkness. Derek stayed in wolf form for the first half of the trip, then changed and rode behind Stiles on the bike. The machine wasn’t really built for two, but Derek was small (and flexible) enough that he managed to make himself comfortable on Stiles’ pack and clung to Stiles like a little monkey, his heat bleeding into Stiles’ skin, and more frighteningly, his heart.

They stopped to rest before dawn. Derek changed into his wolf form so he could scout out the best spot for them to stay, and then curled up at Stiles’ back while they slept. Derek had another rabbit for breakfast, while Stiles satisfied himself with an energy bar. He didn’t mind, he’d gotten used to cold meals while they were on the road, since campfires would only attract the attention of the lizards.

They slept for the better part of the day, getting back on the road a couple hours before the sun set, staying close to the edge of the road, and on back roads so they could disappear into the woods should they hear the sound of approaching engines. Derek stayed in wolf form because he could hear, see and smell better. He took a couple of breaks and rode on the back of the bike so he didn’t tire.

They stopped to rest well outside the Beacon Hills patrol boundary because Stiles didn’t want to surprise anyone in the dark. They rested until the sun came up, and then they drove right up to the boundary. Derek sat on his haunches and howled. When there was no response, he howled again. Moments later, howls filled the air, both eery and beautiful. Derek’s butt shifted excitedly and Stiles thought he saw his tail sweep across the grass. He howled in response, and then he laid down next to Stiles to wait, his muzzle pointed at the direction he expected his family to come from.

Stiles closed his eyes and tried not to think about the fact that he’d be back in Beacon Hills in moments.

Derek whined beside Stiles, and he looked like barely contained energy. Stiles followed Derek’s gaze, but he couldn’t see anything with his human eyes. It took a few seconds, but finally Stiles saw the black form moving majestically over the ground in the early morning light. Derek lifted his butt off the ground as if he was getting ready for a race.

“Go,” Stiles said, trying not to smile.

Derek butted his head into Stiles’ leg, and then he took off. Stiles watched as Derek greeted the larger wolf, jumping on her and in turn being wrestled to the ground and sniffed to within an inch of his life to make sure he was alright. Stiles didn’t need heightened senses to know he was being watched.

“I know you’re there,” he said softly.

The wolf behind him huffed softly before stepping out from the trees. The wolf didn’t move any closer, and Stiles didn’t take his eyes off Derek, who was clearly ecstatic to be reunited with his family. Stiles was happy as well – not, he told himself, because he enjoyed watching as Derek nipped at the larger wolf’s flanks, got smacked down, then stood up and shook himself before doing it again, but because it meant that he’d discharged his responsibility to the boy. The only thing left was to fulfill his responsibility to the resistence, Stiles thought, letting his gaze turn towards the town he knew lay nestled in the nearby hills.

When Stiles looked back, the large black wolf was almost upon him. Derek left her side and ran up to Stiles. Instead of stopping, Derek barreled into Stiles, knocking him back, then sat next to him and laughed as Stiles sat back up and dusted himself off. Derek changed and stood unashamedly naked.

“Mother, this is Stiles,” Derek said. “He saved my life.”

Stiles turned back to see that Talia Hale had also changed her form. Stiles made sure to keep his eyes on her face.

“Alpha Hale,” Stiles said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“We’ve met before,” Talia said. “I’m not surprised you don’t remember, you were young. Welcome back to Beacon Hills.”

Stiles tried to keep his feelings about returning to Beacon Hills off his face and concentrate on the intent behind her words. “Thank you.”

“I was sorry to hear about your father. He was a good man.”

“Yes,” Stiles said, feeling the guilt over his dad’s death like a punch to the chest.

“He is missed. So are you.”

Stiles had nothing to say to the first, and no idea what to say to the second.

“Speaking of, would you be willing to send word I’m coming so I don’t get shot when I approach?” Stiles said.

Talia’s lips curved up in a slight smile as she motioned to a light brown wolf Stiles hadn’t noticed. It ran off towards town. Stiles wondered if the other one was going to catch shit later for being spotted. Stiles mentally kicked himself for thinking there’d only been the one scout. He’d let Derek’s reunion with his mother, and the fact that he was so close to home, make him complacent. He knew better than to think that anyplace was safe, especially Beacon Hills. Derek had been taken from there. His dad and Scott had both died there.

“We need to talk,” Stiles said. Talia had to know the danger they were in from the Visitors, and from someone inside Beacon Hills.

“Yes,” Talia said, studying Stiles closely. “Come out to the house after you’ve let your friends know you’re back.”

Stiles nodded. He figured that was a dismissal, so he rose to his feet and brushed the grass off his pants.

“Stiles,” Talia said as he turned towards the dirt bike. “Thank you. For returning my son to me.”

“Mom!” Derek groaned, embarrassed.

Stiles had to duck his head to hide his smile. It felt strange on his face, and that was enough to wipe it away.

“You’re welcome,” Stiles said, the words leaving a sour taste on his tongue.

He’d helped to save so many, denying them to the Visitors. He didn’t begrudge Derek, or any of the others he’d helped rescue, their lives. He just wondered why he hadn’t been able to save Scott, to save his dad. The bitterness of their loss was his constant companion.

As he walked to the bike, Stiles heard Talia say, “And you, young man. You and I need to have a talk about not going off on your own.”

Stiles started the bike and put it on the road towards Beacon Hills. No matter how much he wanted to, or maybe because of it, Stiles didn’t look back.

~*~*~*~

“Stiles!”

Stiles looked up to see Allison bearing down on him. The wolf Talia had sent ahead had been waiting for Stiles when he reached the first lookout post outside of town. Beacon Hills wasn’t locked down – at least it hadn’t been when Stiles left – but they’d learned the hard way that being a small town off the beaten track wouldn’t save them from being visited by the lizards, and so they’d set up an early warning system with people watching the roads into town and the sky for approaching vehicles.

They had a militia as well as a sort-of intelligence division, people who gathered and analyzed data on troop and supply movements. That had been Stiles’ job until his mistake had gotten some good men killed, including his father.

The wolf turned when it spotted Stiles and loped into town. Stiles followed. Some people stopped and stared when Stiles went past, others continued on about their business, unconcerned with one man on a dirt bike and the by now familiar sight of a wolf wandering the streets.

The wolf led Stiles to the old warehouse that they’d turned into their militia headquarters, otherwise known as the Beacon Hills Safety Commission, then gave him an undecipherable look down its muzzle and disappeared. Stiles found a place to park his bike, and then took his time getting off it. He took his jacket off just to have something to do, and studied the building. Finally he took a deep breath and walked towards the door. It opened before he could get there and a woman stepped out.

“Stiles Stilinski!” the woman said.

It took Stiles a moment for his brain to kick into gear. “Tara?”

Tara laughed and grabbed Stiles up in a hug before he knew what she was doing. “If you aren’t a sight for sore eyes!” she said.

Before Stiles could tell himself that he was supposed to return the hug, Tara loosened her grip and stepped back, keeping hold of Stiles’ arms. “Heard you brought the Hale boy back.”

“Uh, yeah,” Stiles said, not really surprised that word had traveled so fast, but still a little taken aback by it.

“We’re all grateful for that,” Tara said. “It’s awful to lose anyone,” she said her mind elsewhere for a moment, and then she turned a glare on Stiles that he remembered from evenings spent under her watchful eye doing homework. “Even when they leave of their own accord. Maybe especially then.”

Stiles didn’t know what to say to that – if he’d thought about what anyone back in Beacon Hills thought about him leaving, it would’ve been along the lines of ‘good riddance’ – but she apparently didn’t require a response.

“I’ve got to get back to the Sheriff’s Department,” Tara said, and Stiles noticed her uniform.

“Chris hasn’t snatched you up yet?” Stiles said. It was a long-standing argument between the Sheriff Department and the Safety Commission that one was always trying to poach from the other, no matter that both kept Beacon Hills safe.

“He tried.” Tara grinned. “I floated the idea of a liaison to him, instead.”

“And he went for it?”

“He saw the benefit,” Tara said. “Now, I really do have to be going, but don’t you be a stranger.” She tilted her head towards the door she’d just exited. “You go on inside and wait. I heard someone say that Allison was coming back in to see you.”

“Great,” Stiles said, managing to keep most of the dread out of his voice. He wondered if he would have enough time to explain his mission in Beacon Hills before Allison killed him.

“Hey,” Tara said softly, giving Stiles the same disappointed look she’d given him a decade ago when he’d gotten an answer wrong because he just couldn’t be bothered to give a damn, rather than because he hadn’t known how to do the work. “She missed you, too.”

Tara gave Stiles a long look to make sure he wasn’t going to blow off her comment, then nodded. She gave Stiles a quick hug and a kiss to the side of his head, and then climbed into the Jeep that had been painted a gray camouflage and had ‘Beacon Hills Safety Commission’ stenciled on the side.

Stiles watched Tara drive off, and then turned back to the door that would take him back to the past. He considered getting back on his bike and riding out of town, but he remembered the dazed and scared look in Derek’s eyes when he’d looked at Stiles from inside the cage, heard Scott saying, “We’ve got to help them!”

Stiles took a deep breath and steeled himself as he reached for the door. He had to do this for the resistence. If there was a traitor in Beacon Hills, they needed to know about it.

Lydia was waiting for Stiles when he stepped inside the Beacon Hills Safety building, otherwise known as Militia HQ. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she was rocking a pair of jeans and combat boots, which she was tapping impatiently on the floor.

“Took you long enough to get in here,” Lydia said, and then she enveloped Stiles in a hug before Stiles could get a word out in his defense. Not that he had much of one.

“You’re an idiot,” Lydia said when she released Stiles and stepped back. “Allison called dibs on yelling at you first, but when she’s done with you, you are all mine, Stilinski.”

Once upon a time Stiles would have been in heaven hearing those words from Lydia’s lips, but hearing them now, he had honestly never been more terrified in his life, not even when he’d been surprised that one time by a Visitor loaded for bear when all he’d had was a knife hidden in his boot.

“Sit.”

Lydia pointed to a chair along the wall, and Stiles sat. Lydia turned on her heel and flounced away, ponytail bouncing against her back. Stiles knew he’d only been sitting there for about ten minutes before Allison arrived, but it felt like ten hours. Stiles stood up when he heard her voice. He’d rather face his impending death on his feet.

Allison set her crossbow on the reception counter (behind which sat a woman who had pretended to not listen in when Lydia was berating him, which Stiles appreciated), and advanced on Stiles with a pissed expression on her face. Stiles didn’t think he could be faulted for thinking that running the fuck away might be a valid option.

“I’m going to yell at you,” Allison informed him. “I’m going to yell at you long and hard,” she clarified before throwing herself at Stiles and hugging him.

Stiles jerked back, convinced she was going to punch him, and his arms came up reflexively to catch her. Other than Derek riding the dirt bike at Stiles’ back, the hugs he’d received since returning home were the most human contact he’d allowed himself over the past six months. As tempted as he was to melt into Allison’s hug, Stiles knew he didn’t deserve it.

Finally Allison released Stiles and stood back. There were tears in her eyes. Stiles knew his own were dry. He didn’t have any tears left.

“Come on.”

Allison took Stiles’ hand and dragged him back towards the office, grabbing her crossbow off the counter on the way. When she pushed open the door, Stiles wasn’t surprised to see Chris Argent standing behind the desk waiting for them.

“Stiles,” Chris greeted.

“Mr. Argent,” Stiles greeted in return.

“Cup of coffee?” Chris offered.

“Please,” Stiles said. He hadn’t had a cup of coffee since his cell had set out on their latest rescue, and before that it wasn’t what Stiles would call good coffee.

“I’ll get it,” Allison said, probably needing to keep busy if she was still anything like the girl he remembered. “You, sit.”

Allison pushed Stiles towards a chair, and as much as Stiles wanted to remain standing and take whatever punishment they doled out like a man, his legs gave out and he sank into the chair.

“I spoke with Talia,” Chris said. “She’s very grateful to you.”

Stiles didn’t think now was the time to tell them how close he’d come to walking away and leaving Derek there because taking the extra time to save him would endanger the greater mission. Instead he just nodded to acknowledge the comment.

“That’s not the only reason I’m here,” Stiles said as he took the cup of coffee from Allison.

“Are you staying?” Allison asked.

“Why don’t we let Stiles tell us why he’s here,” Chris said as he settled into the chair behind the desk.

Stiles was grateful for the reprieve. He took a sip of the coffee before speaking.

“I came back because it’s possible that Derek’s capture wasn’t merely chance,” Stiles said, carefully watching Chris’ reaction.

Chris had shown himself to be perfect for leading the BHSC because of his experience as a werewolf hunter. He’d always followed the Code, and his family had had a treaty with the Hale pack for years, but things changed. It was possible that Chris had found a way to ensure the safety of Beacon Hills by offering up the werewolves instead. Stiles didn’t think that Chris was that short-sighted – the safety of Beacon Hills would last only as long as the werewolves did – but it didn’t hurt to be certain. Stiles had learned the hard way to not take anything at face value.

“What?” Allison said, but Chris’ reaction was a much more calmly spoken, “Why do you think that?”

“Because the Visitors that took Derek had a cage, and more importantly, they had access to the tranquilizer.”

It took one hell of a tranq to knock out a werewolf long enough to transport it and keep it from escaping without killing it outright.

“They knew they were going to capture a werewolf,” Chris said, understanding at once what that meant.

“Yes,” Stiles said.

“But who would do that?” Allison said.

“Someone who thought they could buy the safety of Beacon Hills,” Chris said gravely.

“Or someone who hated werewolves,” Stiles said, looking between them as they realized the import of his words.

“Us?” Allison said, sounding more hurt than angry. “You think we’d . . . ?”

“No,” Stiles said. “But I had to be sure. Your family has hunted werewolves for generations. It might not seem like such a big deal to think of them as less than human, and to buy the safety of Beacon Hills with their lives. If I’d really thought it was either of you, I wouldn’t have brought my concerns to you. But, except for Talia Hale, it can’t go outside this room,” Stiles said. “Not until we know who, and why, and possibly how.”

“Agreed,” Chris said. “How do you think we should do that?”

Stiles started to shrug, but the sight of Derek in that cage, so tiny and helpless, filled his mind. “Start with the people who work most closely with the Hales,” he said. “It’s easier to betray someone if they trust you.”

“Good idea,” Chris said, rising to his feet. “We’ll leave this in your hands, then.”

“Wait, what?” Stiles said.

“You returned Derek to the Hales, Talia is indebted to you. Out of anyone, you have the most reason to be around the Hales right now. No one would suspect that you’re there for anything other than the accolades.

Stiles knew that was true, “But . . . .”

“Well, I have to be somewhere, uh, else,” Chris said. “Keep us informed.” He gave Stiles a long look. “It’s good to have you back, Stiles.”

Stiles bit his tongue on telling Chris he wasn’t sure he was back. “Wait, uh . . . . “

“Sorry,” Chris said, “but Allison’s going to start yelling, and I don’t want to be here for that.”

Stiles looked at Allison, who stood with her arms crossed over her chest and pinned Stiles to the chair with her gaze. “Um, I don’t want to be here for that, either,” he said.

Chris’ grin showed all his teeth. “It’s like a band aid, son,” he said, and gave Stiles’ shoulder a squeeze before leaving him alone with Allison.

Allison waited until the door closed behind her father before speaking. “I am so mad at you,” she said.

Stiles ducked his head and accepted Allison’s ire. She had every right to be mad at him after what had happened.

“You left us!”

Stiles’ head came up. That wasn’t what he’d been expecting. He’d had to leave. “I was a liability.”

Allison stared at Stiles as if she couldn’t believe him. “You really are an idiot,” she said.

“Hey,” Stiles said weakly. He couldn’t work up too much of a defense because it was his idiocy that had gotten his dad, along with Allison’s grandfather, killed.

“What happened was awful,” Allison said, and Stiles could hear the grief in her voice. Allison had lost her mother during the first war, and then Scott and her grandfather during the second invasion, so she was well acquainted with loss. “But it wasn’t your fault.”

“It was,” Stiles said.

Allison sat down in the chair beside Stiles’ and took his hand. “Where did you go?”

When Stiles left Beacon Hills he hadn’t had a destination, or a purpose, in mind. He’d only needed to get away from Beacon Hills so his incompetence didn’t hurt anyone else he cared about. It had been pure happenstance that David had found him and taken him in. From then on he’d only cared about doing whatever he could to hurt the Visitors. He’d taken the most dangerous assignments until David had realized that Stiles didn’t care if he came back from them.

“I met some people,” Stiles said. “We did some good stuff.”

He couldn’t really say more than that without jeopardizing that cell of the resistence. Not that he didn’t trust Allison, because he did, but the necessity of secrecy had been hammered home on more than one occasion when they unexpectedly ran into Visitor patrols.

Allison nodded. She understood.

“Come over for dinner,” she said.

“I will,” Stiles said.

“The Hales are expecting you,” Allison said. “But go see Melissa first. She’s probably already heard that you’re back. She’s at the hospital today.”

Allison gave Stiles another hug and ushered him out. “Dinner. Tomorrow night,” she reminded him before stepping back inside BHS and leaving Stiles on the other side of the door.

~*~*~*~

If Stiles thought his reunions with Lydia and Allison had been difficult, and had made him want to turn tail and run away, they didn’t hold a candle to how much the idea of seeing Melissa again filled him with dread. With his own mom dead, Melissa was the closest thing to family Stiles had in Beacon Hills. And after Scott . . . . Well, Stiles was probably the closest thing to family that Melissa had left, as well.

Stiles got on the bike, and if he took his time getting to the hospital, well, it was important for his mission to catalogue all the changes in the town. That was his story, and he was sticking to it.

At the front desk, Stiles was directed to the second floor nurse’s station and told that, “She’s expecting you.”

Stiles’ stomach twisted with nerves, but when he stepped through the stairwell door (the elevators were reserved for emergencies to conserve energy) and approached the nurse’s station, he had a few moments to observe Melissa without her knowing he was there.

The lines around her eyes were a little deeper, and Stiles had a pang of guilt for having been any part of causing Melissa more worry. But other than that, she looked wonderful to Stiles. When Melissa finally glanced up from the clipboard she was going over with another nurse and saw Stiles standing there, she looked astounded. They’d said downstairs that she was expecting him, but from the expression on Melissa’s face, Stiles wondered if she thought she might never see him again.

“Stiles,” Melissa said. She handed off the clipboard to the other nurse, who hadn’t been expecting the move and so fumbled it. Melissa didn’t even look back when the clipboard and the pen she’d thrown after it, both clattered to the floor.

Melissa took one halting step towards Stiles, and then ran at him. Stiles met her in the middle and they came together hard. Melissa’s arms went around Stiles and held him tight, as if she’d never let him go. Stiles, to his surprise, held onto Melissa just as tightly.

It had been so long since he’d touched anyone other than to give them a hand out of one transport vehicle and into another. Even though his brain told Stiles that he shouldn’t let himself feel anything, his touch-starved body soaked up the hug.

Melissa pushed Stiles away from her long enough to give him a little shake as if he was still ten and he and Scott had just trampled her freshly planted flower bed. “I am so mad at you!” she said before jerking Stiles back into a hug as fierce as the first had been.

Her words said one thing, but her hug said another – I missed you, I was worried about you, I love you. Stiles felt himself melting into her, felt the burn of tears behind his eyes.

Melissa finally let go of Stiles and swiped at the tears filling her own eyes. “You’re such an idiot,” Melissa said, the heat of the words tempered by the quaver in her voice.

“So I’ve heard,” Stiles said, blinking his eyes quickly so the tears he felt building there didn’t fall.

“Are you staying?” Melissa asked.

“I . . . .” No one else had asked. Maybe they just presumed he was staying, or weren’t going to give him the chance to say he wasn’t. Melissa, however, was going to make Stiles say it. “For a little while, anyway,” he said.

Stiles hadn’t wanted to come back to Beacon Hills, hadn’t planned on staying past getting Derek home safely and passing on their concerns about a possible traitor, but circumstances had changed. Stiles knew he’d be there at least until he uncovered the traitor. After that, well, who knew?

“What are you doing tonight?” Melissa asked, reaching out to stroke Stiles’ arm as if she couldn’t believe he was really there.

“I don’t know,” Stiles said. He had no idea what he was doing – it felt like he’d been thrown into the deep end without knowing how to swim. “I have to go out to the Hale place.”

“Yes, that’s right, they’ll want to thank you. I’m sure they’re all very grateful, especially Talia.”

“Why does everyone say that as if she’d going to give me the keys to the kingdom, or knight me, or something?” Stiles said.

Melissa gave Stiles a look. “Because you rescued the little prince,” she said. “Not to mention, everyone’s favorite Hale.”

Stiles snorted. “Little prince? Is that what they call him?”

“Well, no, but that’s what he is,” Melissa said. “The heir apparent,” she added when Stiles looked confused. “Next in line to be Alpha.”

“Holy crap!” Stiles said, his lessons about not swearing coming back to him now that he was standing right in front of Melissa.

Whoever had engineered Derek’s capture hadn’t just gotten rid of a werewolf, but the werewolf slated to be the next Alpha. That would’ve been a huge blow to the pack. And unfortunately it opened up a whole slew of other suspects. Jealousy was an ugly emotion, but it wasn’t limited to your enemies. Loved ones could feel it, too. Maybe Derek wasn’t well loved by everyone.

Stiles sighed. He had a huge task in front of him. If the perpetrator was another werewolf, a Hale, then Stiles might never be able to weed them out. “I should probably get going,” he told Melissa. Get this over with, is what he was thinking.

Melissa smiled as if she knew Stiles wasn’t looking forward to his meeting with the Hales. “You should enjoy their gratitude, you deserve it.”

“I didn’t do anything special,” Stiles said.

“Maybe not,” Melissa allowed. “Maybe you’d have done the same for anyone. But for them, what you did was very special. You not only saved Derek, you brought him back to them. They’re indebted to you. They’ll want to repay that debt.”

“A thank you would’ve been enough,” Stiles grumbled.

Melissa laughed. “Oh, I wish I could be there to hear you tell that to Talia Hale.”

“You could,” Stiles said, forgetting his discomfort at seeing Melissa again in the greater discomfort of dealing with the Hale’s gratitude. “Come with me.”

“I would, if I didn’t have to work,” Melissa said. “Go, have fun. Come back to the house, I’ll make up a bed for you.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Stiles said.

“No arguments, kid, you’re staying with me while you’re here.”

“I don’t want to put you out,” Stiles said.

“You won’t be. And I’ll enjoy the company.”

There was no hidden meaning in the statement, Melissa wasn’t like that, but Stiles couldn’t help remembering that Scott wouldn’t have been killed if not for Stiles seeing the ship fly overhead and insisting that they go check it out. We have to help them!

“Alright,” Stiles said. “Thank you.”

~*~*~*~

Stiles walked out to the Hale place. He’d been riding the bike everywhere for the past couple of days and his body wasn’t used to that. Besides, the bike was low on gas and Stiles didn’t want to go back to BHS to ask them for some gas out of their probably limited supply. Also, walking would take longer, and it would give him time to think.

Stiles went through the Preserve, testing his memory of the area as well as his abilities to track and use a compass. He also wanted to see if he could find any evidence that someone had been spying on the Hales.

By the time Stiles had passed from the Preserve to the Hale woods, he hadn’t found anything suspicious. He didn’t really expect to. With the amount of time the Hales spent roaming the woods (their own and the Preserve) in wolf form, they’d have noticed something out of place, and whoever had betrayed Derek to the Visitors would know that.

The hair on the back of Stiles’ neck stood up and Stiles knew he was being watched. “Derek?”

There was no answer, but a moment later a wolf pounced onto Stiles. He went down, then rolled, dislodging the wolf from his back. Stiles finished the roll and came up on his knees, face to muzzle with a small brown wolf.

“You’re not Derek,” Stiles said.

Stiles was pretty sure the wolf was laughing at him. A black wolf slightly larger than the brown leapt between them and barked. When the brown wolf didn’t look the slightest bit impressed, the black issued a warning growl. The brown shook its head, which brought to mind a girl tossing her hair, and Stiles wasn’t altogether sure he imagined the roll of its eyes, and then flounced off.

Derek stuck his nose against Stiles’ cheek and made a small sound that Stiles figured was an apology as well as a groan of ‘why me?’

“Sister, huh?” Stiles said.

The closest Stiles had to a brother was Scott, and they’d been best friends, but he’d heard that siblings could, on occasion, be pains in the butt.

Derek gave what sounded to Stiles like a whine of acknowledgment. He butted his head into Stiles’ hand, then against his leg, before trotting off. When Stiles didn’t follow him right away, Derek stopped and looked back.

“I’m coming,” Stiles said.

A five minute walk later, Stiles stepped out of the woods into the clearing where the Hale house stood. Had stood. Stiles stumbled to a halt when he caught sight of the burned out shell of the once magnificent home.

“Oh my god,” Stiles said. “What happened?”

Derek whined and licked Stiles’ hand, as if he sensed Stiles’ distress and wanted to comfort him. Which was ironic in the extreme, because . . . their house.

“Stiles.”

Stiles had been so absorbed by the state of the house that he hadn’t noticed Talia’s approach. “Mrs. Hale,” he said, at a loss.

“Talia, please. Mrs. Hale makes me feel like my grandmother,” Talia said with a smile.

“Talia,” Stiles said, still feeling shell-shocked. “Your house,” he blurted.

“Yes,” Talia said, turning back to study the house. “It might not look like much, but it’s a monument.”

“To what?” Stiles said, and then realized how that might sound. “Sorry, I just . . . .”

“To survival,” Talia said. “And perseverance. After we kick Visitor ass and send them packing, again, we’re going to rebuild. But right now, when they fly over and see . . . this.” She indicated what was left of her home. “They think they’ve won. They don’t realize that we’re getting on with living right under their noses.”

“When . . . ?”

“The night they came six months ago,” Talia said gently, as if she was trying to spare Stiles’ feelings.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles said. So many people had been hurt by his mistake. “Was anyone . . . .” Killed. “Hurt?”

“We all made it out,” Talia said. “Some got a little singed, but we healed. Some of us,” she went on pointedly, “went back inside for their comic book collection.”

“Mom,” Derek groaned.

Stiles tried to smile, but his face felt frozen. He was glad none of the Hales had been badly hurt. He’d been so devastated over his dad’s death, and his part in it, that he hadn’t given much thought to the overall ramifications of that night. He’d hoped that by leaving he’d be protecting the town, but he’d already caused more damage than he’d realized.

“Come,” Talia said. “Let me introduce you to the rest of the family.”

Stiles let himself be led towards the house. He could smell the charred wood, even after six months, and he wondered how the Hales, with their werewolf senses, could stand it. A young girl with brown hair joined them, and Talia introduced her as Laura.

“Derek thought you were an angel,” Laura announced to Stiles. She squealed with glee when Derek jumped her.

“It’s moments like this that I pretend they’re not mine,” Talia told Stiles as they walked past Derek and Laura rolling around on the ground.

Derek caught up with them before they reached the others. He had grass in his hair and the tips of his ears were red. “I was drugged,” he said.

Stiles had to tamp down on the urge to ruffle Derek’s hair and get the grass out of it. “You’d have to have been drugged if you thought this ugly mug belonged to an angel,” he said.

Derek gave Stiles the side eye. “You’re not . . . ,” he said, and then he went down under Laura’s sneak attack.

“She missed him,” Talia said as Derek squealed when a group of children piled on top of him and Laura.

“I can see that,” Stiles said, glad for the fact that he’d been an only child.

Talia introduced Stiles to her husband Matt and her brother Peter, to her mother Candice and her Uncle James, and Stiles accepted their thanks for saving Derek from the Visitors and returning him to his family. It was difficult for him to stand there and pretend that he deserved their gratitude, especially seeing what his mistake had cost them.

“I’ll introduce you to all the rugrats later,” she said, and then offered to show Stiles the house.

“Um,” Stiles said, eyeing the fallen timbers.

“Not there,” Talia said, and led Stiles to the Bilco doors that had been propped open.

Stiles followed Talia down the steps to an area that had stone walls and a bare dirt floor. There was another door that Stiles could barely make out until Talia pushed it open, and stepping through it was like stepping into another world.

This portion of the basement had been finished, though not to the standards of the day. For example, most finished basements had big screen televisions and pool tables, not barred cells that appeared to be used as bedrooms given the piles of blankets.

“You live down here?” Stiles said, glancing nervously at the ceiling when it groaned ominously.

“Yes,” Talia said. “Don’t worry, we’ve reinforced the ceiling. Also, we cleared out some of the debris. We just needed it to look bad at a glance from the air.”

“If anything happened you’d be trapped down here,” Stiles said.

“Trust me,” Talia said. “We’re never trapped.”

Stiles felt like an imposter as the Hales included him in their celebration of Derek’s return. He’d spoken with James while Matt was busy with the fire, Talia and Peter off doing a patrol, and Candice keeping an eye on the children. He’d stuck it out in San Diego during the first invasion, but had decided that there was strength in numbers when the Visitors returned, and had come home. Two of the children, James Jr. and Sarah, were his. He’d lost his wife and a son seven years ago, when the twins were three.

“I’m sorry, that sucks,” Stiles said, because what else could you say?

James shrugged. “It doesn’t hurt as much as it used too, but there’s still a huge hole in my heart where they used to be, you know?”

Stiles did.

“If there’s any consolation, it’s that she’s not here to see this,” James said with a glance towards the sky.

“What’s up with Peter?” Stiles asked.

James laughed. “Peter likes to make people feel uncomfortable. He thinks he learns more about them that way.”

“Hmm,” Stiles said. He didn’t know what the line of succession for the Alpha powers was, he wondered who was next in line if anything happened to Derek.

Stiles found himself distracted by the children’s play. They were in wolf form as much as human, changing easily from one to the other, usually remembering belatedly that they had company and needed to put clothes on when they changed back to their human form. One time the children changed into their human form and played keep away with Derek’s shorts. Derek switched from wolf to human and back again almost too quickly for Stiles to see in an attempt to get his shorts back.

Peter and Talia returned and Peter trotted over to Derek. He changed into his human form and stood beside Derek, unselfconscious in his nudity. Peter placed his hand on Derek’s shoulder. “Are they being mean to you, nephew?”

“They won’t give me my shorts,” Derek said.

“Children,” Peter said, sounding disappointed, and all of them looked chagrined.

The young girl that James had told Stiles was Cora emerged from the crowd and placed the shorts into Peter’s outstretched hand.

“Thank you,” Peter said.

Instead of handing the shorts to Derek, Peter tossed them into the air. He changed into his wolf form and caught the shorts in his mouth and took off for the woods. Derek’s squawk of protest was almost covered by the sound of the other children cheering Peter on. Derek took off after Peter, human form flowing seamlessly into the wolf as he ran.

“The other thing you need to know about Peter is that he never quite grew up,” James said with fondness in his voice.

Talia huffed her agreement as she flopped down onto the ground beside them. Then she rolled to her back and tried to get James to give her a belly rub.

~*~*~*~

“We need to talk,” Stiles told Talia after they’d eaten and almost everyone had fallen into a food coma.

“That doesn’t sound ominous at all,” Talia joked. She grew serious when Stiles didn’t contradict her. “Did something happen to Derek while he was held captive?”

“What?” Stiles said. “Oh,” he said when he realized that Talia was talking about torture, possibly rape. “No. At least, I don’t think so. I just . . . .” Stiles glanced at the sleeping children piled together so that it was impossible to tell which arm or leg belonged to which child. “I don’t want to scare them.”

Talia glanced over at them as well. “Alright, let’s walk,” she said.

Talia led Stiles into the woods. She silenced him when he started to speak, and so Stiles followed her and used his training to attempt to figure out where they were headed. They were moving east, so further away from the Preserve (and town), and deeper into Hale territory.

Stiles heard the sound of running water before he saw it. I didn’t know there was a creek out here,” he said.

Talia smiled. “There isn’t. That’s a natural spring; it feeds a small pond.”

They had their own water source in case anything catastrophic happened, like an alien invasion, Stiles thought with a humorless laugh. “You shouldn’t show me this,” he said.

“Why?” Talia said as she chose a spot on the grassy bank to sit, and patted the spot next to her for Stiles. “Are you going to betray us?”

“No, but,” Stiles said, then hesitated.

“You may speak freely here,” Talia said, indicating the stream. “This should cover the sounds of our voices.”

“Unless someone followed us,” Stiles said, then waited.

Talia sighed. “Peter, you might as well come out. He knows you’re there.”

Peter stepped out of the trees, looking as chagrined as the children had earlier.

“You’re losing your touch,” Talia teased, and Peter gave her an irritated scowl. “Stiles,” Talia said, ignoring Peter, “you may speak freely in front of Peter.”

Stiles, for his part, didn’t know whether he should be insulted or amused that Peter had followed them in order to protect Talia from Stiles when Peter might very well end up on his short list of suspects.

“We . . . I,” Stiles corrected. “I believe that someone has betrayed you.”

“What do you mean?” Talia calmly asked, while Peter growled beside her.

“I don’t think that Derek’s capture was a fortuitous accident. I think it was planned. They were prepared for a werewolf. They had a cage to hold him, and the tranquilizer.”

“Who would’ve done that?” Talia said, horrified.

“I think the better question is, who wouldn’t have?” Peter said with banked anger.

“Someone who hates werewolves,” Stiles answered Talia, “or who was willing to perpetrate a ‘necessary evil’ to keep Beacon Hills safe.”

Stiles said nothing about his suspicions that it could be someone in the family.

“They’d sell my son for the illusion of safety?” Talia said.

“Possibly,” Stiles said. “We need to figure out who it is, because until we do, you’re all still in danger.”

“Is that why you brought Derek back yourself?” Talia asked.

Stiles shrugged. “I only intended to pass on the warning, but Chris decided that I would be in the unique position of infiltrating the humans who work most closely with your family. Because of your . . . .”

“Gratitude,” Peter filled in.

“Yes. They wouldn’t suspect I was a plant. If you’re alright with that.”

“I would do anything to catch the person who put my son in danger,” Talia said fiercely.

“I don’t think it’ll be any problem explaining Stiles’ presence,” Peter said. “Besides, Derek seems quite taken with him.”

“He thinks I saved his life,” Stiles said evenly.

“Yes,” Peter said. “I’m sure that’s it.”

Stiles decided that the best way to deal with Peter was to ignore him. “There’s another thing. It’s impossible to know how far up the Visitor chain of command knowledge of werewolves in Beacon Hills goes. The only Visitor who knew might have died in the tragic accident the convoy met, or . . . .”

“Or they could return and try again,” Talia said.

“Yes.”

“Over my dead body,” Peter snarled.

“I’ll talk to Deaton about tightening up security,” Talia said.

“The vet?” Stiles said.

“And I’ll talk to Chris about increasing patrols,” Peter said.

“Yes,” Talia said dryly. “Why don’t you do that. Don’t forget to actually talk this time.”

“Bite me, sister,” Peter said. “If you think I would put more value on sex than our family’s safety . . . .”

“Oh god,” Stiles said. He closed his eyes, but that only made it worse. Top on the list of things he never knew he didn’t want to know, right behind the thought of his parents (or Scott’s parents) having sex, was the image of Chris Argent and Peter Hale having sex.

“Peter,” Talia said, cutting off his rant as she rose gracefully to her feet. “I don’t.” She set her hand against Peter’s face, and then rested her forehead against his.

Stiles didn’t know what kind of communication passed between them, but they were both calmer when they parted. Peter walked back with them most of the way, then took off into the Preserve. Stiles looked warily at the pile of clothes Peter had left behind.

“He’s gonna be naked when he gets there,” Stiles announced, as if that would be news to Talia.

Talia gave Stiles an amused look. “We have caches of clothes in various places. Though I’m sure showing up naked has served Peter well at times,” she added wryly.

“Oh my god,” Stiles groaned. “Why did you have to say that?”

Talia laughed.

~*~*~*~

“Do you really think they’re coming back?” Derek asked Stiles.

Talia had told Matt, Candice and James what Stiles had told her, and they’d questioned him quite thoroughly. Even better than one of David’s debriefings after a mission. Then they’d given the children a watered-down version that would ensure they take precautions without scaring them too much.

“Did you see who shot you with the tranquilizer?” Stiles asked. “And do you know if they were in the convoy?”

Derek shook his head.

“Then we have to err on the side of caution and prepare for someone to try again.”

“Those Visitors are dead, right?” Cora said.

She was, Stiles had learned, the most bloodthirsty of the Hale children. She would be a terror when she grew up. If she grew up.

“Yes,” Stiles told her. “Very dead.”

“Good,” Cora said as she pushed in closer to Derek, who put an arm around her without even thinking about it.

“Are you Derek’s bodyguard?” Ben, who’d climbed into Stiles’ lap (and remained there only because Stiles didn’t know what to do with him), asked.

“Ben!” Derek said.

“Laura said you were,” Ben went on, oblivious to the deep embarrassment he was causing Derek. “Like that movie.”

Derek looked like he wanted to crawl into a hole. After killing Laura. And maybe himself. Stiles remembered the crush he’d had on Lydia for years and didn’t even crack a smile at Derek’s pain.

“I think, of the two of us, Derek is better suited to be the bodyguard,” Stiles said, deflecting the question.

“Do you need a bodyguard?” Cora asked.

“If you ask my father,” Stiles said, then stopped when he remembered. He cleared his throat. “I was a bit of a klutz growing up.”

“Still are,” Derek said, lightening the mood, and pressing his shoulder into Stiles’.

~*~*~*~

Allison was waiting for Stiles outside Melissa’s house the next morning. He hesitated when he saw her, and didn’t even try to fool himself into thinking that Allison hadn’t noticed.

“What’s up?” Stiles said when he reached Allison.

“Come on,” Allison said, and began walking.

Stiles fell into step beside her, wondering if she was taking him some place where he might meet with an unfortunate accident. Where they ended up was the Beacon Hills Sheriff Department shooting range, which was now maintained equally between the Sheriff Department and the new BHS. There were other people there, so Allison probably wasn’t going to kill him. Yet.

They signed in and Allison led Stiles to a table that already had several weapons lined up on it. She handed Stiles the crossbow. “We need to know what you can do before we set you loose on an unsuspecting public,” she said with a smile to soften the words.

Stiles wasn’t surprised. You weren’t much good to the militia if you couldn’t handle at least one weapon, and Stiles had been strictly information gathering before . . . well, before he’d left. His dad had taught him how to shoot a gun, but Stiles hadn’t had much reason to keep up with it until he’d joined the resistence. But he’d never quite gotten the hang of the crossbow even though he’d thought it would be cool.

Stiles raised the crossbow and sighted in the target the way Allison had once tried to teach him. He released the arrow and they both watched as it flew in a reasonably straight line and completely missed the 3D target.

“You’re getting better,” Allison said.

Stiles had improved with the weapon, if only slightly. David had insisted that they have experience using the various weapons available to them in case that’s all they had at hand one day. Still, “I didn’t even hit the target,” Stiles said.

“Yeah, but you came much closer this time,” Allison said.

Stiles gave a hum of agreement. There had been a time when Allison despaired of Stiles coming anywhere near the pater target.

“Try it again.”

Allison didn’t offer to reload the crossbow for him, so Stiles did it himself. He wasn’t as quick as Allison was at it, his fingers feeling fat and clumsy, but he finally got the fresh arrow loaded. Allison made him shoot a dozen arrows before they moved on to the next weapon.

Stiles was used to handling a .40S&W since that’s what David had been supplied with, but he was familiar with the Glock 23 because it was the same service weapon his dad had used. The first gun Stiles had ever held. Stiles didn’t think about that as he reached out to pick up the pistol. He checked the magazine – it held seventeen cartridges and was full. He pushed it back home and thumbed off the safety.

Stiles aimed at the paper target and softly pulled back the trigger. Thirteen of the seventeen shots hit the target, though none dead center. Still, as far as Allison was concerned, the fact that he could hit his target nearly eight shots out of ten would be good enough to ‘release him on the unsuspecting public’, as she’d put it.

They moved onto the Remington Model 870 pump action shotgun, and then the SIG Sauer SSG 3000 bolt action sniper rifle, which made Stiles laugh. Allison pointed out the tripod if Stiles wanted to use it, but he never had before so he figured it would be more trouble than it was worth. Stiles was so far off with the sniper rifle that Allison gently removed it from Stiles’ hands and set it aside.

Next up was the cleaning station. Allison handed the Glock he’d just fired to Stiles and watched as he disassembled it, cleaned the individual parts with the soft cloth and gun oil, and then reassembled it. Stiles didn’t try to rush, just moved slowly and surely through the process. He looked up to see what Allison’s reaction was when he’d finished, and she gave him a small smile.

“How’d he do?” Chris said from behind Stiles.

Stiles was not ashamed to admit that there was a squeal of surprise and that the gun slipped out of his fingers. Allison caught it and set it on the table.

“Oh my god!” Stiles said. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

“Be aware of your surroundings at all times,” Chris said with a twitch of his lips, then turned to Allison for her report.

“He’s better on the crossbow than he was, but not good; pretty good on the Glock, but needs more practice; could be okay with more practice on the shotgun; but should never, ever be allowed near a sniper rifle. Ever,” she said again with finality when Stiles opened his mouth to offer up some defense.

Chris nodded. “Assign him a Glock and set him up for more time at the range.”

Allison nodded, and then turned back to Stiles as Chris walked off. “That one’s yours. Don’t lose it.”

Allison scheduled Stiles for training everyday for the next week, then took him to supply and signed out the Glock to him, as well as a holster to wear on his belt.

“Are you planning to stay with Melissa?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said.

It was weird, sleeping in a guest room and seeing Scott everywhere he looked, even though the door to his bedroom was closed, and Stiles hadn’t been inside the room since the day Scott died. He wondered if it looked the same as the last time he and Scott had been in there, but he was too afraid to push the door open to see.

When Stiles had made noises about finding somewhere else to stay, since he was going to be in town longer than he’d originally thought, Melissa had protested. She’d admitted that she liked knowing the house wasn’t empty, and it wasn’t as if Stiles had any burning desire to step back inside the house he’d shared with his dad, so Stiles had dropped it.

~*~*~*~

Allison dropped Stiles off at Chris’ office. “I’d go in with you,” she told him, “but I’ve got a meeting with Lydia. You can come see us when you’re done here.”

Stiles thought he’d rather be werewolf kibble, but he just nodded. He knocked on Chris’ door and entered when Chris’ voice responded immediately. Chris wasn’t alone; a woman sat in the same chair Stiles had sat in the day before.

“Stiles,” Chris said. “Thanks for coming. This is my sister, Kate.”

“Hi,” Stiles said politely, even though the way Kate was looking at him, as if she’d eat him up before any werewolf had a chance to, gave him the heebie jeebies, but he’d been raised to be polite (and could usually manage it), and also not to spook the wild animals.

“So you’re the big damn hero,” Kate said, though it didn’t sound like she held him in such high esteem.

“Not really,” Stiles said. He didn’t like other people thinking that of him, (not that Kate actually did), because he knew how little he deserved it.

“Don’t be so modest,” Kate said with an edge. “The Hales haven’t been able to talk about anything else since the little prince was returned home.”

The nickname wasn’t spoken affectionately, as Melissa had done, but mockingly.

“Kate,” Chris said warningly.

“What?” Kate said. “I’m just joking.”

Chris ignored the lie. “I wanted the two of you to meet because Stiles is being assigned to Unit 7.”

“Of course he is,” Kate said. “Wolf patrol,” she told Stiles.

“Kate,” Chris said again. He sounded resigned, like it was an old argument.

Kate raised her hands in mock surrender. “You know how to use that?” she said, indicating the Glock sitting heavy on Stiles’ hip.

“Do you think Allison would’ve let me have it if I couldn’t?” Stiles counter.

“Point,” Kate said. She studied Stiles for a moment. “You’ve got fire. I think I’m going to like you.” She turned to Chris. “We done here?”

“Yes,” Chris said. “Add him to the patrol rotation and get me the revised schedule.”

“Of course,” Kate said as she rose. She ran her fingers along Stiles’ neck as she walked past him. “We’ll talk later.”

Stiles held in the shudder until she’d left, shutting the door behind her. When he looked up, Chris’ head was bowed. Stiles hadn’t seen Chris look so defeated since that time they’d gotten the report that their men had been taken out by Visitor patrol.

Before Stiles could ask what was wrong, a door he hadn’t noticed previously opened and Peter stepped into the room. He acknowledged Stiles with a look, but stepped up beside Chris and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. Chris reached up and squeezed Peter’s hand, then took a breath and straightened his shoulders. Peter let his hand fall away.

“There’s something you need to know before you go out on patrol,” Chris said. “Kate handpicked everyone who serves in Unit 7.”

There was a moment of silence as they let Stiles digest that.

“Which means,” Peter said, “if she’s not involved . . . .”

Chris made an involuntary sound of protest, but he didn’t speak.

“. . . she may very well know who is.”

“You think your sister’s involved,” Stiles said. He needed to speak the words out loud because they banged around in his head creating a cacophony.

“A couple years ago I would’ve said ‘no way’,” Chris said. “But she’s changed since the Visitors came. Especially after . . . .”

Chris didn’t need to speak the last out loud. Stiles knew. He’d changed a lot that day, too.

“So I’m going to be the only person on her team she didn’t handpick,” Stiles said. That wouldn’t be suspicious at all.

“Correct,” Peter answered. “But since she thinks we requested you because you saved ‘the little prince’ . . . .” Peter’s claws came out when he spoke the words in Kate’s mocking tone. “. . . you should be perfectly safe.”

Chris put a comforting (or restraining) hand on Peter’s arm and the claws retracted.

“Plus, at least one werewolf accompanies each patrol,” Chris said. “Talia determines how they’re scheduled, so you’ll always have backup.” He gave Stiles a long look. “I think that’s everything. Do you have any questions?”

Stiles shook his head. The truth was, he had too many questions, and he didn’t know what to ask first.

“Alright,” Chris said. “I think Allison’s waiting for you.”

At that point Stiles would be happy to let Allison and Lydia gang up on him. It was scary when they were the safer bet. Stiles nodded at Chris and Peter, and then left the room. He heard what sounded like something falling off the desk and quickened his footsteps.

~*~*~*~

Kate was waiting for Stiles the next morning when he stepped outside Melissa’s house. That gave him more pause than seeing Allison had, and that was saying something.

“Come on,” Kate said. “I want to introduce you to the rest of the Unit.”

“I’m scheduled to be at the shooting range,” Stiles said.

“This won’t take long,” Kate said in a tone that brooked no argument.

It didn’t take long. Everyone was gathered in Kate’s office. When they entered the room, Kate said, “Everyone, this is Stiles. He’s been assigned to our Unit.”

None of the men and women assembled in the room said anything, but they all looked at him, considering, judging. The point had been made – Stiles hadn’t been handpicked by Kate; he might be part of their Unit, but he wasn’t one of them. When Kate began speaking again, everyone turned their eyes to her, but one blonde woman studied Stiles a little longer before turning her attention to Kate.

“The schedule remains the same for the next few weeks. I’m going to send Stiles out with each of you at some point so he gets to meet everyone and can learn each patrol route. After that, if things go well, we’ll add Stiles to the patrols, which means the rest of us will get a little bit of a break.”

Kate turned to Stiles. “No offense meant,” she said, “but there’s a reason this Unit is small and handpicked by me. We all work well together. Don’t screw that up.”

“I won’t,” Stiles said, but Kate had already dismissed him from her mind.

~*~

As Stiles was leaving the BHSC building he ran into Allison. She gave him a hug that he was slow to respond to. He’d gotten hugged way more in the past few days than he was comfortable with, but he didn’t know how to ask them to stop without sounding like a complete jerk.

“What are you doing here?” Allison said when she released him, kindly not commenting on Stiles’ sorry excuse for a hug.

“Kate wanted to introduce me to the rest of the Unit,” Stiles said.

Allison’s expression went tight. She dragged Stiles away from the building. “I can’t . . . .” She paused to regroup. “I don’t want to believe that Kate’s a part of this. But if she is, you need to be careful.”

“I will be,” Stiles said.

~*~

After a session at the shooting range, Stiles walked through town, getting a feel for the changes, the atmosphere. Some people scurried away when they saw him walking by, as if they didn’t want to be reminded of the war, while others offered a wave in greeting before going on about their business.

Kate was waiting for Stiles when he got back to Melissa’s house. “Come on, let’s get a drink,” she said, and then started walking without waiting for Stiles to reply.

As he hurried to catch up with her, Stiles got the feeling that she liked the idea of throwing him off balance. “I’m not old enough to drink,” he reminded Kate.

“In my book, you’re old enough to carry a gun and fight the Visitors, you’re old enough to drink. And do other things,” she added in a tone that sent a shudder through Stiles.

When he didn’t respond to that, Kate said, “Where’ve you been?”

“Just walking through town,” Stiles said.

“Has it changed much?” Kate asked.

“Some,” Stiles said. The biggest changes had been the closed up store fronts and abandoned houses that gave the impression that he’d been walking through a ghost town.

Kate carried the conversation as she led Stiles to a bar and grill. It was just after noon, but there was already about ten people sitting at the bar. Stiles wondered how many people drank to forget what was happening around them.

“What do you want?” Kate said as she stepped up to the bar.

Stiles shook his head. “Just water.” He didn’t have any money, and every time he’d had a drink in the past year, it had reminded him of the times he and Scott had stolen a bottle of his dad’s scotch and gone out to the woods to get drunk.

Kate ignored Stiles’ request and ordered them both a scotch on the rocks. They got a table and Stiles just played with the glass. The smell of stale beer alone was working on his memories, and he couldn’t stomach the thought of tasting the liquor on his tongue.

Just when Stiles realized he should probably be working to ingratiate himself with Kate, she spoke. “You don’t seem very happy to be back in Beacon Hills.”

Stiles shrugged. “I never planned on coming back,” he said without really answering the question.

“Until you rescued the Hale Prince,” Kate said, unable to keep all the mockery out of her tone.

“Something like that,” Stiles said.

Kate leaned forward. “Did he get under your skin?”

“Excuse me?”

“He’s a cutie. He’ll probably grow up nice in all the right places.”

“He’s 12-years old,” Stiles said, sickened by what Kate was implying.

Kate shrugged, and Stiles got the feeling that she wasn’t fazed by that, but she said, “He won’t always be 12. Besides, werewolves grow up faster than humans.”

Stiles didn’t think the words matched what she was really thinking, but he’d never find out what that was unless he could somehow get Kate to trust him. He took a sip of the scotch to wash the taste of bile out of his mouth.

“My best friend was bitten by a rogue Alpha,” Stiles confided.

“Did the Hales kill him?” Kate asked, and the question made Stiles jerk his head up.

“Scott?”

“The rogue,” Kate said.

“Yeah, I think they did,” Stiles said. He tried to remember back to when his best friend being bitten by a werewolf could be considered a simpler time. Someone had hunted down the rogue, but Stiles couldn’t remember now if it had been the Argents, or the Hales, or some combination of both working together. At the time, figuring out what had happened to Scott, and getting him through his first full moon, had taken up most of Stiles’ thoughts. He hadn’t know that werewolves existed, much less that the Hales were werewolves. That didn’t come until after they’d learned that the rogue Alpha had bitten Scott and offered to teach him how to control himself.

“What happened to your friend?” Kate asked.

On the surface it sounded like an innocent question, but Stiles couldn’t shake the feeling that Kate was keeping a tally of local werewolves.

I got him killed, Stiles thought, but out loud he said, “The Visitors killed him.”

“Understandable that you’d take a liking to Derek, then,” Kate said, as if she could understand anything about Stiles.

Stiles shook his head. “I don’t get close to anyone.” He told himself that it was for their own benefit – everyone close to him got killed – and that was true as far as it went, but it also hurt too much to lose people he cared about. He carried enough guilt and hurt already. “No offense,” he added.

“None taken,” Kate said, and then she smiled at Stiles as if she’d decided to make him her own personal pet project.

After Kate stopped trying to dig information out of him, she went over the patrol schedule with Stiles and told him who he’d be going out with, and when. There was an all-human patrol that Chris was in charge of, and he and Kate coordinated so they weren’t covering the same ground. (The Beacon Hills Sheriff Department was responsible for patrolling the town itself, unless a Visitor threat presented itself, at which time the Sheriff Department and the BHSC worked together.)

Stiles first patrol was going to be the midnight run. “Get some rest,” Kate said with a smirk before she left Stiles sitting there.

Stiles checked with the bartender before leaving – he didn’t have any cash on him and wasn’t sure if they used the bartering system in town, but he didn’t want to leave the guy in the lurch.

“They run a tab,” the bored bartender told Stiles.

“BHS?” Stiles asked, surprised.

“Kate’s group,” Stiles was told.

Stiles didn’t waste time worrying about whether Kate was misusing her authority for free drinks. He had other things to worry about, like making it through his first patrol without meeting with an accident.

Stiles made it through without incident. He met Eddie and Cole at HQ and they drove out to the area they’d be patrolling. They were joined by the light brown wolf Stiles recognized as having run into town to let them know Stiles was coming. He thought it might be Candice.

“Ma’am,” Stiles greeted her.

Stiles didn’t miss the eye roll Eddie and Cole shared, but only because he was looking for it.

They set out on foot, looking for signs on the ground that Visitors were in the area, and keeping one eye on the sky. The entire time Stiles felt like he was being watched, and once he caught a glimpse of another wolf following them. Peter, Stiles thought, and knew that the silver wolf had only been spotted because Peter wanted to be.

As much as Peter confused Stiles and made his body go on alert, he was glad to have backup that neither Eddie nor Cole were aware of. If they tranq’d Candice, it would be a quick matter of taking out Stiles, and the Hales probably realized that as well.

They came across nothing and parted ways with Candice at the Jeep. Back at HQ they made Stiles fill out the report under the guise of learning. Stiles didn’t mind the paperwork, and it gave him the idea to check the reports of the night Derek was taken, if he could get a hold of them without anyone in the Unit being the wiser.

~*~*~*~

A week later Stiles pulled Allison aside. “Think you can get me some stuff without raising any eyebrows?”

Allison raised her eyebrows. “Like what?”

“A map, and some patrol reports,” Stiles said.

Allison looked like she’d been backed into a corner and was going to come out fighting, but then her shoulders slumped in resignation. “Unit 7?” she said.

“Yes.”

“You know we already read all the reports, when we realized that Derek was missing,” Allison told him.

“But you weren’t looking for this,” Stiles said as gently as he could.

Allison turned away and worried her bottom lip. “No,” she agreed softly. “We weren’t. What time frame?”

“A month before and everything since then,” Stiles said, not needing to specify before what. “And a copy of the schedules.”

Allison sighed. “Okay. Come to the house for dinner. It’ll look less suspicious than holing up here,” she added when Stiles opened his mouth to . . . say something.

“Okay,” Stiles agreed without arguing. She was right, and it wasn’t her fault that Stiles still carried a boatload of guilt that made him feel uncomfortable around her.

“Good,” Allison said. “I’ll see you later, then. Oh, Stiles,” she said as Stiles turned away to make his escape. “Since you’re here, go see Danny.”

“I . . . what?”

But Allison was already gone. Stiles glanced at the hallway that would take him to the door behind which communication and intel was secured in the reinforced basement just in case the Visitors flew over and dropped some bombs. He considered leaving without seeing Danny, but Stiles knew that Allison would find out and give him her disappointed face, which no one wanted to be on the receiving end of, and that was before she’d started carrying a crossbow with her everywhere she went.

Stiles took a deep breath and started walking down the hallway. He pressed the buzzer beside the steel door that had replaced the old wooden one and looked up at the camera so Danny could see who was at the door. A moment later a click signaled the unlocking of the door and Stiles’ heart thumped inside his chest as he reached out and turned the handle.

Stiles’ throat closed up and he struggled to keep breathing. Danny glanced up from the screen he was studying, then did a double-take and came up out of his chair. With a snap of his fingers Danny had someone else sliding into the seat he’d just vacated as he hurried over to grab Stiles when he reached the bottom of the staircase.

“Jesus Christ, Stilinski, what the hell,” Danny said worriedly.

“Panic . . . ‘tack,” Stiles got out. He would’ve been embarrassed, but this wasn’t the first time Danny had seen Stiles have a panic attack, and he wasn’t even counting the night he’d realized he’d sent his dad into a Visitor ambush.

Danny got Stiles into a chair and knelt before him. “Breathe,” Danny said soothingly as he rubbed his hands up and down Stiles’ legs, having learned that touch, having something else to focus on, helped pull Stiles out of an attack. “Just concentrate on my voice and breathe. Everything’s going to be alright.”

After a few minutes that felt like hours Stiles got his breathing under control. He gratefully took the cup of water Danny handed him and drank it. Stiles kept his head down as he handed the empty cup back, very carefully not looking over at the console where he used to sit.

“Thanks,” Stiles said. “Allison said you wanted to see me.”

Danny snorted. “Yeah. I didn’t think it’d engender a panic attack, though. Come on, let’s go outside.”

Danny helped Stiles stand, and then walked behind him up the stairs as he called over to a woman named Sam that he’d be right back and to call him if anything happened. Stiles put one foot in front of the other and went where Danny led him until they were sitting at one of the picnic tables out back where people could sit and eat their lunch if they wanted to.

The edge of the table cut into Stiles’ back and he stared at the cracked pavement. “What did you want?” Stiles said, forestalling any discussion about his panic attack.

Danny huffed a humorless laugh. “I was going to tell you that we’d love to have you back, but I’m guessing that’s off the table if just walking into the room sets off a panic attack.”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, “that’s not . . . what I do anymore.”

“You like being part of the action?”

“Something like that.” Stiles liked not having to make the decisions that got people killed.

“Okay,” Danny said. “What are you doing tonight?”

“Dinner with Allison,” Stiles said.

Danny nodded. “Some other time, then. Don’t make me come looking for you,” he warned with mock seriousness.

“Why?” Stiles said, confused. “I mean, we weren’t friends . . . before, why would you want to . . . ?”

“Before what?” Danny said.

“Before I left,” Stiles said.

“You’re an idiot,” Danny said. “Let me know when you’re free.” He squeezed Stiles’ arm before getting up and heading back inside.

~*~*~*~

Stiles stayed sitting at the picnic table and stared at the scuffed toes of his boots. It had been easy staying away when he imagined that all his friends blamed him. It was harder returning knowing that they didn’t, because he couldn’t understand why they didn’t.

Stiles stood and started walking. He’d just gotten off the early morning patrol when he’d run into Allison, and he wasn’t scheduled for anything until his dinner-cum-meeting with Allison later that evening. He should probably go back to Melissa’s and have another bowl of oatmeal (Melissa had left some apples on the counter to flavor it with) and get some rest.

Stiles walked down the residential streets, once more noting the number of closed up houses, the stickers on the front doors indicating that the cupboards had been cleaned out and the contents added to the community pantry. Other signs stuck in the ground directed refugees and travelers passing through to a shelter where they could get a hot meal, a shower, and a night’s sleep before they continued on to their journey. (In return, they got as much information out of them as they could in order to give them a more clear picture of Visitor movement.)

Stiles bypassed what had once been the well-to-do part of Beacon Hills. No one lived there anymore. Some of the families, like the Whittemores, fled north to Canada when the Visitors returned, and others were forced to move into smaller homes because the town refused to waste energy powering mansions where only a few people resided. The Visitor invasion had been a great, if unwelcome by most, equalizer.

Before long Stiles found himself standing outside the house he’d grown up in. It was empty, just like Stiles felt much of the time, a red sticker on the front door. Even as he told himself what a bad idea it was, his feet carried him up the driveway. He jumped the locked gate to the backyard rather than breaking the lock, and found the spare key they’d kept under the ugliest garden gnome Stiles had ever seen. His mother had loved it so they’d left it there.

Stiles unlocked the back door and stepped inside. The house was quiet, no sounds of voices or footsteps, the shower running or clattering in the kitchen. Not even the hum of electricity. Stiles flipped a light switch to be sure, but nothing happened.

Stiles walked through the downstairs, poking his head into rooms devoid of life. In the living room, sheets had been thrown over the chairs and couch, dust had built up on the end table and entertainment center. Stiles swiped his finger across the bookshelf. It was amazing how little dust was created when no one lived in a house for a while.

After poking his head into the kitchen, Stiles went upstairs. He stood outside his parents’ bedroom for a while, but moved on to his own room without looking inside. Everything looked the same as it had the day he’d hurriedly packed his backpack and left Beacon Hills.

Melissa had been expecting Stiles to grab some things to go back to her house after the funeral. Instead he’d disappeared without a word to her, only leaving behind a note that said, I’m sorry. I need some time.

Stiles looked at the empty space on his desk where his laptop, once such an important part of his life that he could be found sitting in front of it at 3am when his dad made his nightly trip to the bathroom, used to sit. Now he couldn’t imagine touching it again.

Stiles glanced at the book lying on his night stand, noted the wax residue from the candle he’d used to read when the electric went out. His bed was covered with a sheet, and when he sat down, dust motes filled the air. Stiles sneezed.

He looked around the room, at the detritus of his life Before. Sneakers lying haphazardly where he’d kicked them off, just waiting for the opportunity to trip Stiles up as he stumbled to the bathroom in a darkness not even broken by the LED display from his radio alarm. A t-shirt tossed over the back of his computer chair. A pair of socks that had missed the hamper.

Stiles’ gaze fell on the dresser. Now that he was back in Beacon Hills, at least for a while, and didn’t have to live out of a backpack, he could probably expand his wardrobe some. He by-passed his Batman and ‘I’m Your Father, Luke’ t-shirts and chose something plain, the better to blend in. Some of the shirts were like new because Stiles had been partial to his graphic t-shirts, and it took him a couple tries to find a few shirts that still fit.

Stiles grabbed a couple of hoodies out of the closet without trying them on – they’d once been large on him so he figured they should fit now – and his eyes fell on the box that held his comic book collection. He thought of Derek and the comic books he’d lost in the fire despite the effort he’d made to save them.

Stiles draped the hoodies over the back of the computer chair and bent to pick up the box. He flipped through the plastic protectors, glancing at the titles of each comic book, and remembered the excitement he’d felt with each new comic, how he’d carefully turn each page so he wouldn’t crease it, how he’d made Scott pinky swear not to damage them before he’d let him look at one.

Stiles closed the box, grabbed the hoodies and t-shirts off the chair, and hurried down the stairs and out the back door, only pausing long enough to make sure the back door was locked and shoving the key into the front pocket of his jeans.

Stiles snuck through the hedge into the neighbor’s yard so he didn’t have to climb back over the gate with his load, and started walking once more. About a mile into his walk, a Jeep pulled up next to him.

“Where are you headed?”

Stiles would never get used to Lydia with her hair in a braid and boots on her feet.

“The Hale place,” Stiles said, unable to bring himself to call it a house.

Lydia nodded. “Get in, I’ll give you a ride.”

Lydia’s expression quelled any protest Stiles might have made. He got in without a word other than, “Thank you.”

“You stopped by the house?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said.

Lydia nodded, but didn’t say anything else.

When the silence grew too heavy to bear, Stiles said, “Do you ever wonder if Jackson’s okay?”

“No,” Lydia said, but Stiles knew it for the lie it was.

A moment later Lydia slammed on the brakes and said, “Out.”

It took Stiles a moment to realize they’d reached the driveway that led into the Hale property, and that Lydia wasn’t throwing him out of the Jeep on the side of the road. Stiles fumbled with the door handle and finally got out without dropping clothes or box.

“I’ll be back in a couple hours if you want a ride back,” Lydia said, and then took off before Stiles could answer.

~*~*~*~

Stiles was not surprised when a pack of small wolves came tearing down the driveway at him. He stopped walking to let them all sniff at him and jump on him until Derek growled at them and sent them scampering back towards the house.

Derek walked back at Stiles’ side, only getting distracted once by a rabbit in the grass at the side of the driveway, and once by Stiles’ shoelaces. Stiles couldn’t help smiling when he saw the other pups waiting for them at the end of the driveway like some sort of canine honor guard.

“Stiles!” Talia said as Derek pounced on his siblings and cousins.

“Mrs. Hale,” Stiles greeted her.

“Talia, please,” Talia reminded him. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit today?”

“I brought something out for Derek,” Stiles told her. “If that’s alright.”

Derek forgot his battle with Laura, as the others had wandered off, and bounded over at the sound of his name.

“Clothes?” Talia said as she took in the bundle in Stiles’ arms.

“No, sorry, those are mine. The box.” Stiles tried to show her the box hidden beneath the hoodies and t-shirts.

Talia raised the lid and glanced at the contents of the box. Stiles ignored the way she blinked her eyes and fumbled the cover back onto the box.

“That’s fine,” Talia said. “Thank you, Stiles.” She squeezed Stiles arm before turning and walking away to where Matt was stirring something in a pot set over the fire. Matt glanced over at Stiles before wrapping an arm around Talia’s shoulder and lowering his head to her.

“What did you bring me?” Derek asked excitedly.

“What makes you think I brought you anything?” Stiles said, keeping his eyes above Derek’s shoulders until he could be sure Derek had remembered to put on a pair of shorts after he’d changed form.

Derek gave Stiles a look. “I heard you.”

“Maybe you heard wrong,” Stiles said.

“I didn’t,” Derek said. “I’ve got really good hearing. Especially when presents are involved.”

Stiles laughed. “Here, take the box. Be careful with it.”

“I will,” Derek said as he gently took the box from Stiles’ arms. Derek set the box on the ground and sat himself cross-legged beside it.

“Go ahead,” Stiles said as he dropped to the ground across from Derek. “Open it.”

Derek took off the lid and Stiles watched his eyes go wide. “These are for me?” he said, gaze moving momentarily to Stiles before going back to the comic books.

“Yes, they’re for you,” Stiles said. “I remember you said you’d lost yours in the fire.”

“I did,” Derek said distractedly as he pulled out each plastic-covered comic book and studied the cover. “Where did you get these?”

“They were mine,” Stiles said. “But I haven’t read them in a long time. I want you to have them.”

“Are you sure?” Derek said, sounding like he might cry if Stiles changed his mind and said no.

“I’m positive,” Stiles said.

They sat in silence, Stiles folding the hoodies and t-shirts he’d taken from the house while Derek went through the rest of the box. When he got to the last t-shirt, Stiles realized that he’d accidentally picked up the Captain America t-shirt off the back of his desk chair. Stiles folded it and placed it on top of the pile of folded clothes and watched Derek very carefully replace all of the comic books into the box.

“What’s that?” Derek asked.

“My old Captain America t-shirt. I was running low on clean shirts,” Stiles told Derek. “So I stopped by the house for some. I grabbed this one by accident.”

Stiles watched the way Derek’s eyes followed his hand when he reached out and poked at the t-shirt. Stiles picked it up and held it out to Derek. “Would you like it?”

“I couldn’t . . . ,” Derek said.

“It’s too small for me,” Stiles said, casually dropping the shirt onto the box of comics.

“Are you sure?” Derek said.

“Positive,” Stiles said. “You’d be doing me a favor, actually,” he went on, but Derek was already pulling the t-shirt on over his head.

Stiles hid a smile as Derek looked down at the design on the front of the t-shirt and lightly brushed his hand over it. An expression Stiles didn’t recognize crossed Derek’s face and he lifted the t-shirt to his face and sniffed it.

“Sorry,” Stiles said. “It’s probably kind of dusty.”

Derek looked at Stiles as if he’d been caught out. “No, it’s fine,” Derek said, the tips of his ears going red. Derek ducked his head. “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome,” Stiles said.

“Derek!” Candice called. “Time for training.”

Derek groaned. “We’ve got company!” he called back.

“Stiles is welcome to join us,” Candice said placidly.

“I’d love to,” Stiles said honestly. He was very interested in seeing what werewolf training consisted of. “But my ride’s coming soon and I have, uh, dinner tonight with Allison.”

Candice nodded her understanding. “You had the morning patrol, as well, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Then you need to get some rest before dinner,” Candice told Stiles, making it sound like an order.

“I will.”

Candice nodded again, and then roused Derek with a poke of her bare toes.

“Someone should keep watch over Stiles until his ride gets here,” Derek said.

“I’ll do it,” Peter said from right behind Stiles, making him jump. “I’ve already gotten some sleep. Some of us need our beauty rest,” he told Stiles, who very pointedly wasn’t looking at him.

“Fine,” Derek huffed. “Let me just put these somewhere safe.”

“Thank you,” Candice said to Stiles as Derek trudged away with the box. “Maybe now we don’t have to listen to Derek whine about the comic books he lost to the fire.”

“Oh my god!” Derek said, sounding mortified. “I wasn’t whining!”

Stiles had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. “You’re welcome,” he told Candice. “It was nothing. Someone should enjoy them.”

“Uh huh. Well, I need to gather up the munchkins. I’ll leave you in Peter’s care.”

“Awesome,” Stiles said. He didn’t think the shaking of her shoulders as she turned away was his imagination.

“So,” Peter said, clapping his hands together. “Alone at last.”

Stiles groaned. “Don’t you want to put on some clothes?”

“Who needs clothes when you have fur?”

“Then get furry, fuzzball,” Stiles said.

“Oh my,” Peter said. “You really are just a big geek.”

“Geeks rule!” Derek called from somewhere.

Stiles turned his head to locate Derek and saw his bare butt disappear into the woods. “Oh god,” he groaned.

Peter laughed. “Just think of us as you would your teammates in the locker room.”

“Yeah, that’ll work,” Stiles said as he stood and picked up the pile of clothes.

Stiles waved goodbye to James, but everyone else had disappeared. Except for Peter, who, back in wolf form, trotted towards the driveway. Stiles sighed and followed him. When they reached the road, Stiles sat on the ground to wait for Lydia. Peter terrorized small woodland creatures and returned to Stiles’ side with fur stuck to his muzzle.

Stiles pointed to his own chin. “You’ve got . . . .”

Peter licked his muzzle, and then sneezed. He flopped down onto the ground near Stiles and Stiles would’ve sworn that he heard snores. Stiles felt his eyes drifting shut, but he didn’t want to fall asleep until he was in his bed at Melissa’s. He plucked at the grass and built up a pile of it.

“I make you uncomfortable, don’t I?” Peter said.

Stiles tried not to jump in surprise at the sound of Peter’s voice, but he was sure he’d failed. “It would be rude to say no, since you try so hard,” he said.

Peter laughed. “I like you, Stiles, I really do.”

“Fantastic,” Stiles said.

“Your ride’s coming.”

Stiles listened, but he didn’t hear anything. Peter, in wolf form once again, nudged his head against Stiles’ shoulder, then licked his cheek.

“Oh, gross,” Stiles said, wiping off Peter’s saliva as Peter disappeared into the trees.

A moment later Stiles heard the Jeep approaching.

~*~*~*~

Stiles shouldn’t have been surprised when he arrived at Allison’s and found both Chris and Peter there, as well. Allison gave Stiles an apologetic look, but just drew him past the dining room, where the maps and reports were already spread out over the table, into the kitchen. Chris and Peter followed them, and Peter and Stiles were told to seat themselves while Chris and Allison dished up chili and cornbread, still warm from the oven.

“I’d like to say I made it myself,” Allison said, “but I smelled it while it was cooking so I got it from the community kitchen.”

Since both electricity and food stuffs were rationed, a lot of people preferred to spend their food credits at the community kitchen, where it was actually cheaper to feed a family of six than if you made it at home. It was one way the leaders, the mayor, the Sheriff, and the head of the Safety Commission, decided early on to foster community closeness and encourage a spirit of sharing.

“We already reviewed all the reports from that night after Derek was reported missing,” Chris said after they’d slaked the worst of their hunger.

“I’m not 100% sure what I’ll find,” Stiles said after swallowing a suddenly dry bite of cornbread, “but I’m hoping to see a pattern in the patrols, in the scheduling, see who was on patrol that night, and who had the night off.”

“What are your thoughts about Kate, now that you’ve worked with her?” Chris asked in a failed attempt at casual.

Stiles took a sip of water before answering, searching for a way to phrase his response so it wouldn’t be insulting. “She doesn’t like werewolves,” Stiles said.

“That doesn’t mean . . . .”

“You didn’t think it at all strange that she requested to work with the Hales?”

Chris sighed. “I thought she’d feel better if she thought she was keeping an eye on them, and I hoped that once she got to know them she’d realize they weren’t all the monsters we’d been taught.”

“What about you?” Stiles turned to Peter. “You knew she’d been raised to be a hunter. Did the sex blind you to the threat she might pose?”

Allison choked on a sip of water, Chris glared at Stiles, but Peter just laughed.

“I like him.” Peter elbowed Chris.

“Why?” Chris said, but Peter ignored it.

“You know what they say about keeping your friends close,” Peter told Stiles.

And your enemies closer, Stiles finished silently. “You knew she might be a threat, then,” he said.

“We had a truce,” Chris said to Peter, meaning the long-standing truce between the Hale pack and the Argents. “We follow the Code.”

“Some people don’t,” Peter told Chris. “And she never smelled quite right.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” Chris said.

“Because you wanted so badly to believe in her,” Peter said. He reached out and laid his hand over Chris’. “And I wanted her to live up to your hopes for her. But I still kept an eye on her.”

Stiles almost felt like he was witness to a private moment he shouldn’t see. He cleared his throat to bring everyone back to the matter at hand.

“Where were you that night?” Stiles asked Peter.

Peter raised his eyebrows. “You think I had something to do with Derek’s capture?” Peter sounded intrigued, rather than insulted.

“I considered that it could be an inside job when I found out that Derek would be the next Alpha, but no, I don’t think you had anything to do with it.”

“What, you don’t think I’m capable?” Peter said.

“Oh, no, I think you’re capable, I just think you like manipulating from the wings rather than being center stage. It gives you more of a thrill.”

Peter laughed again. “You’d better be careful,” he told Chris, somehow managing to give him a once over even though they were sitting down. “He’s very attractive to me right now.”

“Euww,” Stiles said.

Allison snorted.

Chris shook his head. “I don’t even know what I like about you.”

“Would you like me to give you a list?”

“No!” Stiles said before Chris could answer. “Please, god, no.”

“Later, then,” Peter told Chris, who actually blushed a little bit.

“Okay, then,” Allison said. “I cooked, so you two do the dishes. Stiles and I are going to go look at the reports.”

“Is it safe to leave them in there alone together?” Stiles said as he followed Allison out to the dining room.

“They need to get it out of their systems,” Allison said, “and better in there than out here.”

“There is not enough brain bleach,” Stiles said, eliciting a smile from Allison.

Stiles looked at the reports for the night Derek was taken first. He noticed that there were more patrols than they’d been doing for the past week, so he asked Allison about it.

“The werewolves caught sent of Visitors,” Allison said, “so we doubled up on patrols.”

“And Derek still got taken,” Stiles mused.

“Yeah,” Allison said, sounding like she bore the weight of it.

“Not your fault,” Stiles said.

“It will be if Kate’s behind it,” Allison said.

“Not even then,” Stiles told her, but he could tell that Allison didn’t believe him. It would be hypocritical of him to hold it against her. How many people had tried to tell Stiles that it hadn’t been his fault?

Together they went through the reports Kate’s Unit had filed, starting with the earliest Stiles had asked for, looking for patterns and anomalies. Finally Peter and Chris emerged from the kitchen to join them. Stiles manfully ignored the flush in Chris’ cheeks and the red marks on Peter’s neck that hadn’t quite faded yet.

“We got off track,” Stiles told Peter. “You never told me where you were the night Derek was taken.”

Peter glanced at the reports with a raised eyebrow, most likely having heard Stiles and Allison discussing it, but he said, “I was on patrol. As you well know.”

“I know what the report says, but I want to know what you remember.”

Peter took a breath and looked up towards the ceiling. “I was on patrol. It wasn’t my scheduled patrol, but we were doubling up on patrols because of the threat of Visitors in the area. Two of us went with each patrol instead of just one.”

“Which left the children with only one adult to watch over them, and keep track of them.”

Peter looked at Stiles for a long moment. “Yes.”

“Who stayed behind?”

“You don’t think . . . ?”

Stiles shook his head. “I just want a clear picture.”

“Uncle James,” Peter said.

“Which team did you go with?”

“Kate,” Peter said. “Talia and I both did.”

“The teams patrolled here, and here,” Stiles said, pointing to the map. “And Derek was taken from here, correct?” He pointed to another spot on the map.

“Yes,” Peter said, leaning over the table to study the map.

“Why were the patrols concentrated over here?”

“That’s where we’d found the scent of the Visitor the day before,” Peter said.

“You think it was planted,” Chris said tonelessly.

Stiles shrugged. “It’s an idea.”

“Why would she do this?” Allison said.

“I think we can rule out a misguided attempt to protect Beacon Hills,” Stiles said. By letting them know that werewolves were here, Kate had brought the Visitors’ attention squarely on Beacon Hills.

“Alright,” Chris said, shaking off his personal feelings about what they were doing. “Let’s finish going through these reports.”

When the last report had been reviewed, they had a pattern. Kate was very good about mixing up the teams she sent out, but there were two people besides herself that she scheduled with each patrol. They never patrolled together, each being separately scheduled to every patrol that went out. As if they were her eyes and ears.

Only on two occasions were neither of them scheduled with any of the patrols, and one of those was the night Derek was taken. What if Kate was hiding her followers in plain sight? What if Kate had lured the adult werewolves in one direction, while her to cohorts took Derek from the other?

Stiles told the others his thoughts. “Did you do a background check on everyone in Kate’s Unit?”

“No,” Chris admitted. “Things were pretty hectic those first few weeks when the Visitors returned.”

“I remember,” Stiles said. “Have Danny do it. Start with these two.” He pointed to the other instance those two had been off patrol at the same time. “Can you remember what happened this night?”

The three of them studied the date, about three weeks before Derek was taken.

“Was that the night James . . . ?” Chris said.

“It could be,” Peter said.

“What?” Stiles asked.

“James has lost a lot. Sometimes being around everyone gets to be too much for him and he needs to go off on his own for a bit,” Peter said. “This particular time he managed to just barely drag himself back. He’d healed by the time we found him, but he was still out of it. Even when his head cleared he couldn’t remember what had happened. We searched, but there were no unusual scents.”

“You think that was their first attempt,” Chris said.

“It’s possible,” Stiles said. They’d failed that night, so they’d honed their plan just a little bit and caught Derek in their trap. He’d be on a Visitor ship now, or dead, if Stiles hadn’t seen him at the very back of the transport. And they’d try again, if Stiles and the others couldn’t figure out what they were doing and stop them.

It was an awful lot of pressure for someone who didn’t want any kind of responsibility for the lives of others.

~*~*~*~

Kate invited Stiles to join them for a drink the next evening. His first thought was that he’d been found out, but if that was the case she’d take care of it (take care of him) someplace private. Stiles went because he couldn’t afford to make Kate any more suspicious than his presence in Beacon Hills, and assignment to her Unit, had already made her. Besides, it was possible that he might be able to learn something himself.

Everyone was already there when Stiles arrived, sitting around two round tables pulled together. They dragged over another chair when they saw Stiles arrive.

“I didn’t think you’d show,” Kate said. She licked the whiskey off her lips and looked up at Stiles through her lashes, her expression what Stiles could only describe as sultry.

If she was aiming it at Stiles, she was wasting her time.

“Water,” Stiles said when the bartender came over to see if they wanted anything else.

“No one in my Unit drinks water,” Kate said. “Bring him a whiskey.”

“I’m not so far out of high school that I don’t remember what peer pressure is. Water,” Stiles repeated to the bartender.

“If he can’t handle his whiskey, let him have water,” Sully said. His full name was Everett Stanley Sullivan, and Stiles had learned the first time they’d patrolled together that he only answered to Sully.

Stiles knew they were testing him because he was new. He couldn’t just ignore it, or they’d never respect him, or, more importantly, trust him enough to let him get close, but he couldn’t come on too strong, either, and risk alienating them.

Stiles looked at Sully through his lashes, which he’d been told were unfairly long, and said, “You don’t know what I can handle.” He winked.

Sully glared, but Pam’s burst of laughter cut into the tension. “I win,” she said. “Pay up.”

“Night’s still young,” Kate said.

“Oh, please,” Pam scoffed. “He didn’t fall for your smokey bedroom eyes or order the whiskey. Besides, I saw him eyeing up Danny from communications the other day.”

Stiles spit out the water he’d just taken a sip of. “What? I . . . .”

Pam winked at Stiles. “It’s alright. We don’t judge.”

Stiles realized that Pam, intentionally or not, had given him an out and he’d be stupid not to take it.

“Aren’t I a little young for you, anyway?” Stiles asked Kate.

“I like ‘em young,” Kate said.

“And malleable,” someone, Stiles thought it might’ve been Cole, said.

Stiles snorted. “If you’re looking for malleable, you’ve got the wrong guy. Just ask . . . anyone,” he finished weakly when he remembered that the two people he’d have named were both gone.

Maybe he should’ve gotten the whiskey, but no, that was a crutch he couldn’t afford.

“We should’ve seen if Sully could’ve gotten further,” Eddie said, earning a glare from Sully.

“I’d like to think I have some standards,” Stiles said.

“Fuck all of you,” Sully muttered, and finished off his whiskey before pouring another from the bottle the bartender had left.

“Don’t pout, Sully, just because your milkshake brings all the boys and girls to the yard,” Pam said.

“I hate all of you,” Sully said, but he laughed.

The conversation turned away from sex, thankfully. They talked about the next movie night, and the last time they’d had a steak that hadn’t been ground up into hamburger and mixed into goulash or meatloaf to make it go further.

When it got late, the only other female at the table (and in Kate’s Unit – she seemed to favor men, maybe because they were more easily manipulated by her feminine wiles) spoke up. “Stiles and I should probably take this patrol, since you’ve all been drinking.”

“You’ve been drinking, too,” Stiles pointed out, not terribly upset that he was getting an extra patrol without any notice.

“Not as much as the others,” the woman, Erica, Stiles finally remembered her name, said. “Besides, I metabolize it quickly. It’s a gift,” she added wryly.

“I could just ask Talia to assign a second werewolf,” Stiles said, not sure he wanted to be on patrol with someone who’d been drinking, even a little bit. He knew how easily your reflexes could be impaired.

Everyone at the table laughed.

“What?” Stiles said, wondering what he was missing.

“Nothing,” Kate said, giving everyone at the table a look that silenced them. “That’s a good idea,” she told Erica. “You and Stiles should get to know each other better.”

Even without the wolfish grin Erica sent Stiles, he wasn’t sure he wanted to get to know her better.

“Sure thing, boss,” Erica said meekly, but she dragged her nails across Kate’s throat when she walked behind her as she made her way around the table.

Kate tipped her head back to encourage the touch. Her eyes glittered with lust and avarice. Stiles shuddered, but he followed Erica out of the bar after finishing his water and giving everyone a nod.

~*~

The trip to the BHSC building had been made in silence, Stiles wondering what he’d gotten himself into.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” Erica said while they were checking additional weapons out of the armory.

“No,” Stiles said as he checked the shotgun they handed him, since he hadn’t yet been cleared on the assault weapons. “Sorry,” he said when he caught the slight grimace on her face. “Should I?”

“We went to high school together,” Erica said.

“We did?”

“I had the worst crush on you.”

“You did?”

“Why do you sound so surprised?” Erica said as she led Stiles out to the motor pool for the Jeep that was assigned to Unit 7.

“Because I can’t believe anyone had a crush on me. I was kind of a geek.”

Erica raised her eyebrows. “Was?”

“Touche,” Stiles said.

“I liked that about you,” Erica said.

Stiles tripped as he was getting into the Jeep and fell across the seat, his face coming awfully close to Erica’s boobs.

“Uh . . . .”

Erica placed her hand against Stiles’ face and pushed him back. “It’s nice to see that some things haven’t changed,” she said, smirking.

“Right,” Stiles said as he got himself settled into the seat, shotgun held between his legs. It was quiet as the Jeep pulled out onto the road and was turned towards the edge of town where they’d met up with one of the werewolves.

Unable to bear the silence, Stiles said, “I guess your taste has changed.”

Erica laughed. “Not really.”

Stiles had no idea what that meant, but Erica didn’t say anything else and Stiles wasn’t going to ask.

Erica didn’t appear to be much of a talker, for which Stiles was grateful. Some people were curious where he’d been, which inevitably led to questions about why he’d left. The former he couldn’t talk about, and the latter he didn’t want to.

Erica pulled the Jeep off the road and hid it just beyond the tree line. She left the keys in the ignition and slipped gracefully out of the Jeep. Stiles got out a little less gracefully and walked around the Jeep to wait with Erica. She had her face raised to the sky and she was smiling.

Stiles glanced at the stars, and then back at Erica when she moved. She was staring intently into the trees and Stiles followed her gaze. It wasn’t long before the shadows coalesced into the form of a regal black wolf and Stiles recognized Talia even before she changed and stood before them in her human form.

Stiles averted his eyes, but Erica stepped forward into a hug.

“Erica,” Talia said. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You, too, Alpha,” Erica said.

Stiles thought that greeting was odd, so he glanced back over. Erica turned her head to meet Stiles’ gaze and her eyes flashed blue. Stiles breath caught in surprised, but Erica turned back to Talia when she spoke again.

“How are your parents?”

“They’re doing well, thank you.”

Now Talia turned the intensity of her gaze onto Stiles and he felt pinned to the ground where he stood.

“Stiles,” Talia said, smiling her welcome, but thankfully not moving to hug him, which would’ve been beyond awkward.

“Mrs. Hale,” Stiles said, changing it to, “Talia,” at the look she gave him.

“We’re trusting you with another of our secrets,” Talia said.

Stiles nodded. “You already had someone inside.”

“We did,” Talia said, “but not because we had any proof that Kate took Derek. Erica was recruited early on, and she joined up so she could keep an eye on Kate.”

“Recruited?”

“Kate knows I’m a werewolf,” Erica said, “but she thinks I was bitten by a rogue, and that I’d rather have died than been turned. She believes that I hate all werewolves because of what happened to me.”

“So you’re a double agent,” Stiles said. “That’s very James Bond of you.”

Erica grinned. She brought her nails – claws, Stiles amended – to her mouth and huffed a breath on them.

Stiles brought his mind back to the matter at hand. “Why did you think Kate needed watching, even then? Because she was a hunter?”

“Yes, but not just,” Talia said. “Because she had a reputation of being more like her father than her brother.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Stiles said, shaking his head a little bit.

“Some hunters live the Code,” Talia said. “Others merely pay it lip service.”

Talia turned to Erica. “It’s been a while since you’ve run with us.”

Erica looked tempted, but she said, “I shouldn’t leave Stiles alone.”

“I’ll keep him company,” Peter said, making Stiles jump.

“Don’t do that,” Stiles said when Peter materialized fully from the shadows and stood beside Talia.

Peter barely spared Stiles a smirk before turning all his attention to Erica. “Erica, dear, it’s lovely to see you again.”

“You, too, Peter,” Erica said, giving Peter what Stiles could only classify as bedroom eyes.

“Oh my god,” Stiles said. “Please don’t do that in front of me, I beg you.”

Erica laughed, and even though it was at his expense, Stiles smiled. Without warning, Erica started stripping right there in front of them. Blushing, Stiles turned his head away, which is why he didn’t see the pair of jeans flying at him until they landed on his head.

By the time Stiles dragged the jeans off his head and turned his glare onto Erica, she was a tawny colored wolf nuzzling at Talia, who’d returned to her wolf form while Stiles hadn’t been looking. Erica went to Peter for pets, and then stuck her nose in Stiles’ crotch.

“Oh my god!” Stiles said. “Stop that!”

Erica made a sound that had to be her wolf version of a laugh, and then she leapt at Talia before taking off into the trees with Talia right on her tail. When Stiles looked back at Peter he was picking up the clothes Erica had left on a neat pile, except for her jeans, which Stiles still held.

“What are you doing?” Stiles said.

“Picking up Erica’s clothes,” Peter said with a raised eyebrow that wondered at Stiles’ intelligence level at such a question.

“I know that, I mean why?”

“Because they can’t stay on the ground, they’ll get damp.” Peter set the pile on the driver’s seat, then took the jeans out of Stiles’ hand and folded them on top.

“Is it okay to leave them here?”

“They all know she’s a werewolf,” Peter said, reading Stiles’ actual question.

“But do they think she’d reveal herself to me?”

“Kate probably told her to,” Peter said as he started into the woods, following Talia and Erica’s trail.

“Why?”

Peter looked at Stiles and waited for him to answer his own question.

“Because if I was assigned to the Unit at Talia’s request, then I might be less suspicious if I know they’ve got a werewolf on their team already,” Stiles said. “And she also might be able to turn me against werewolves with her story of how she was bitten without permission by a rogue wolf.”

Peter didn’t speak, but he looked pleased at Stiles’ deductive reasoning.

“Does Chris know?”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “Would I hide something like that from the leader of our little militia. And my lover?”

“Probably,” Stiles said, ignoring Peter’s attempt to embarrass him and derail the conversation.

Peter shrugged, unaffected. “Alright, I would, if I had to, but I didn’t. Chris knows about Erica.”

“What about Allison?”

“It’s need to know,” Peter said.

“So that’s a yes about Allison then?”

Peter’s silence was answer enough.

“And now I need to know?”

“Don’t you?” Peter said.

Stiles sighed, because he really couldn’t argue with that.

~*~*~*~

“So, how did you like Erica?” Kate said.

Stiles jumped and raised his gaze from the patrol report he was filling out to glare at Kate. “Why do people keep doing that?”

Kate smiled and took a seat across the desk from Stiles. She put her feet up on the desk and her hands behind her head, emphasizing her chest.

 

“Maybe because it’s fun,” Kate said.

“What is?” Stiles said, distracted, though not for the reason Kate thought if her smirk was any indication.

“Watching you jump,” Kate clarified.

“Haha,” Stiles said as he signed the report before sliding it across the desk for Kate to read and sign-off on since she was there.

“What are you doing up so late?” Stiles asked.

Kate lowered one arm to pick up the report, but didn’t look at it. “I wanted to check and see how patrol went.”

“It went fine,” Stiles said. “You could’ve warned me about the werewolf on the team,” he added, having determined that Kate had wanted Erica to reveal herself, and was now fishing for Stiles’ reaction.

“What would’ve been the fun in that?” Kate said.

“I’ve never seen her before,” Stiles said. At Kate’s look he clarified. “Well, of course I’ve seen her before, but I meant out at the Hales.”

“Didn’t Erica explain that she was bitten by a rogue?” Kate said casually.

“Yeah, but aren’t the Hales the only pack in the area?”

“Yeah,” Kate said snidely. “If you’re a Hale.”

“They wouldn’t take her in?” Stiles said, trying to sound surprised and a little bit doubtful without overplaying it.

“Doesn’t sound like them, does it?”

“No,” Stiles said.

Kate dropped her feet to the floor and stood. “There’s a lot you don’t know about the Hale pack,” she said as she flicked the unread report into her in-box. “Be careful.”

“I will,” Stiles said faintly.

“Come on, I’ll walk you out.”

Stiles had gotten used to falling asleep anywhere, getting sleep when he could no matter the situation, but he laid awake for a couple hours trying to figure out just what kind of game Kate was playing. The easy answer was that she was trying to turn him so she’d have another person inside the Hale pack to pass her information.

Stiles didn’t like easy answers. He wondered how likely it was that she knew Stiles was a plant, that not only Talia Hale, but her own brother suspected her in Derek’s abduction. If that was the case, anything she said or did was suspect. Actually, in any case, anything she said or did was suspect. Stiles was out of practice trying to decipher her intent.

A week later the double patrols were reduced back to normal.

“You have a problem with that?” Kate said when she saw Stiles’ frown.

“The Visitors could still come back,” Stiles said.

“They probably will,” Kate agreed, “but we can’t keep up double patrols without bringing in more people, and there’s a reason we keep this Unit small.”

Stiles wondered what that reason was, but he didn’t allow himself any outward show of interest in the comment.

“We’re going to have to rely on intel and other patrols to let us know if there’s trouble.”

Stiles couldn’t really argue with that logic. Nearly a month had passed, and with it the urgency of making sure they were ready if the Visitors returned. He nodded his understanding, if not complete agreement.

“Anyone else have a question?” Kate said, her tone clearly indicating that no one else better question her orders.

When everyone wisely held their tongues, Kate held up the schedule for the next week, then dropped it in Stiles’ lap. Stiles met Kate’s gaze as he caught the paper before it slipped off and onto the floor, then dropped his eyes to study the schedule.

Stiles had been put on the mid-afternoon patrol that week. The team around him changed, with the others moving around so they didn’t get complacent. Stiles passed the schedule on without comment, though his mind was whirring at the possibilities. Did Kate want him out of the woods at night when they made their next attempt? Putting Stiles on night patrol would let her know exactly where he was, though, and Kate wasn’t one to make mistakes. He couldn’t get a read on Kate, so he had no other choice but to keep his eyes and ears open and be careful.

Stiles stood outside BHS and wondered how he could contact Chris or Allison without raising red flags in Kate’s mind. Assuming red flags hadn’t already been raised.

“Do you have a death wish?” Erica said.

Stiles didn’t jump at the unexpected voice behind him, but it was a near thing. He raised his eyebrows at her as Erica moved up to stand next to him.

“Questioning Kate?”

Stiles shrugged. He didn’t have a death wish, exactly, he’d just never been able to keep his mouth shut, especially when he didn’t agree with someone.

“You doing anything now?” Erica asked.

Stiles couldn’t very well tell Erica that he was trying to work out a meeting with Chris or Allison, so he shook his head.

“Come with me,” Erica said, her tone leaving no room for argument.

Erica started walking and Stiles fell into step beside her. After a few blocks traversed in silence, Stiles said, “Where are we going?”

“My place,” Erica said.

“Uh . . . ,” Stiles said.

Erica laughed, a bright tinkly sound that seemed almost out of place in a town trying to pretend that their world hadn’t been taken over by aliens. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’m not going to jump you. My boyfriend’s the jealous type.”

Stiles was surprised to hear that Erica had a boyfriend given the way she’d touched Kate at the bar that night a week ago, but he was smart enough to not say anything.

“I just thought you could use a friend,” Erica said.

“I got my last friend killed,” Stiles said. He hadn’t meant to say it, but the words had somehow leapt from his brain to his tongue.

“Wow,” Erica said softly. “This isn’t awkward at all.”

“I should go home,” Stiles said, but before he could match action to word, Erica grabbed the sleeve of his jacket.

“I’m kind of resilient,” Erica said.

“So was he,” Stiles said. And he really had no idea why he was spilling his guts to Erica right now.

“I’m not a hugger,” Erica said, and then she moved in and hugged Stiles. It was over quickly, Erica stepping back before Stiles could wrap his mind around what was even happening. Stiles stood there with his arms hanging in the air where they hadn’t had a chance to make it around Erica.

“Put your arms down, you look foolish.”

Stiles dropped his arms.

“Now come on,” Erica said.

If asked later, Stiles couldn’t say why he’d followed her. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. “Did Kate . . . ?”

Erica shuddered. “Can we not talk about her?”

“Yeah, sure, sorry,” Stiles said.

Erica shrugged it off, then said, “It’s just that she . . . .”

“Makes your skin crawl?” Stiles guessed.

Erica huffed a humorless laugh. “Yeah.” She glanced at Stiles. “You, too?”

“Just being in the same room with her makes me want a shower,” Stiles admitted.

“Water rationing must suck, then,” Erica said.

“Yeah.”

They walked in silence a little further before Erica spoke again. “I’ve let her touch me.”

Stiles didn’t stumble over a crack in the sidewalk, but it might have looked that way. To people who had heightened senses and really quick reflexes. Erica’s hand shot out to grab Stiles’ arm. He didn’t follow his first impulse and shake off her hand, which would’ve given her the wrong idea.

“That must’ve sucked,” Stiles said, wincing at the lameness of it.

Erica made a sound of agreement. “Understatement.”

The silence that fell after that bombshell was more uncomfortable than the others, mainly because Stiles had no idea what to say.

“She really hates werewolves,” Erica said into the silence. “Even those she thinks are on her side. You can see it in her eyes. She likes to hurt me.”

“Jesus!” Stiles said, horrified, and not a little confused that Erica was confiding in him.

Erica shrugged. “I heal.”

“That’s not the fucking point,” Stiles said. “Want me to kill her?”

Erica smiled. “Nah. I’ve already called dibs on it.”

Stiles snorted. “Well, let me know if you need help.”

Erica held up her hands and clicked her claws together. “I won’t. But thanks for the offer.”

~*~*~*~

“Peter tells me you already knew about Erica,” Stiles said.

The shooting range was the best place to catch Allison. Everyone wore ear protection, so it was unlikely that they’d overhear, and since Stiles needed to practice anyway, it wouldn’t seem odd for them to run into each other. He waited until Allison shot her last arrow into the 3D straw target that someone had spray painted green to resemble the Visitors, had laid down her bow and removed her ear muffs to speak.

To his disappointment, Allison didn’t jump, just turned around and looked at Stiles before speaking evenly. “Yes.”

“Nobody thought it might be important to tell me this?”

“Erica’s been under for a while,” Allison said. “We didn’t want to chance blowing her cover until we were sure.”

“Sure of what?” Stiles said. “Me?”

Allison shrugged, looking both apologetic and resolute. “You left.”

The words were like a punch to the chest. “You know why I had to leave.”

“No,” Allison said. “I really don’t.”

Stiles didn’t know how to explain – he couldn’t understand why he had to explain. Surely Allison and the others also blamed him for the deaths that night. Still, something about being here, back in Beacon Hills, made him want to try.

“My dad . . . ,” Stiles said, and then he couldn’t speak.

Allison laid a gentle hand on Stiles’ arm. “I know that hurt,” she said, “but Stiles, we’ve all lost someone in this damned war.”

“No,” Stiles said, shaking his head. “That’s not, you don’t . . . it was my fault,” he admitted, voice unsteady.

“What are you talking about?” Allison said.

“My calculations,” Stiles said. “I sent them right into an ambush.”

“There was nothing you could’ve done about that,” Allison said softly.

“I made a mistake!” Stiles said. “A mistake that got my dad killed.”

“No,” Allison said. “Stiles, no. Your calculations were right.”

Stiles shook his head. “Then why . . . ?”

“Someone fed us bad intel,” Allison said.

“What?”

“Someone made a mistake, but it wasn’t you.”

“But why . . . ?”

“We don’t know,” Allison said, “but we’ve reviewed everything, and we don’t think it was an accident. Whoever was responsible for the bad intel, they sent that patrol into an ambush on purpose.”

Stiles’ legs gave out and he stumbled back until he had the wall for support. Allison gave him a worried look and spoke his name, but all Stiles could think about was that it wasn’t his fault his dad had been killed. Which meant it was someone else’s fault. Someone who’d sent his dad’s patrol into that ambush on purpose. Stiles’ dad and the rest of his team hadn’t died because of some stupid mistake that Stiles couldn’t take back, they’d been murdered.

“Who?” Stiles asked.

“We’re not sure,” Allison said.

“Who do you think it is?” Stiles pushed.

Allison hesitated. “We think my grandfather was involved.”

“But . . . he was killed, too,” Stiles said.

“We never found his body,” Allison reminded him.

“Because he was taken,” Stiles said.

“That’s what we thought at the time,” Allison agreed.

“And now?”

“It’s possible we were wrong about that assumption,” Allison told him.

“Jesus,” Stiles said, rubbing his hands over his face. “Your family is fucked up.”

Allison gave a weak, watery laugh. “Tell me about it.” She sank against the wall next to Stiles. “I never realized,” Allison said, “that you blamed yourself.”

Stiles shrugged. Knowing he hadn’t been responsible for getting his dad killed was a relief, but his dad was still dead, and it wasn’t as if Stiles didn’t have at least one other death on his conscience.

“You probably blame yourself for Scott’s death, too,” Allison said as if she could read his mind.

Stiles didn’t respond.

“Oh my god, you do,” Allison said.

“He wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for me,” Stiles said.

“He wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else,” Allison said. “Stiles, Scott died trying to save people.”

“I kept waiting for him to heal,” Stiles said.

Allison slipped her hand into Stiles’ and they stood there silently for a few minutes until Allison stirred. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Stiles waited while Allison retrieved her arrows from the target. She picked up her crossbow and led the way out to where the sun was shining weakly through the cloud cover. She started walking and Stiles kept pace.

“So,” Allison said. “What do you think of Erica?”

“She seems nice,” Stiles said. “In a really intense ‘I could kill you with my pinky’ way.”

Allison laughed. “Good summation. Did she tell you why she accepted the bite?”

“No,” Stiles said, and waited. “Are you gonna tell me?”

“It’s not my place,” Allison said. “What about the others?”

“Others?” Stiles said innocently. Not very successfully if the look Allison gave him was any indication.

“Boyd and Isaac,” Allison said.

“Oh, them,” Stiles said. “Is Boyd mute?”

That startled a laugh out of Allison. “No. But he doesn’t talk much.”

“For such a big guy, and also a werewolf, he’s pretty mellow.”

Allison hummed her agreement. “And Isaac?”

“Isaac,” Stiles said. “He reminds me of a baby-faced serial killer.”

This time Allison laughed so hard she had to stop walking. Stiles watched in bemusement, glad he’d been able to make her laugh, but unsure why what he’d said had been deemed so funny.

When Allison finally got herself under control, she said, “I’m going to tell Isaac you said that.”

“Please don’t,” Stiles begged, which set Allison off again.

“He’d actually be kind of flattered,” Allison said between giggles.

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Stiles said. “Because that’s kind of disturbing.”

They started walking again, Allison letting out a little huff of laughter once in a while that Stiles tried manfully to ignore. He didn’t want to ruin Allison’s apparent good mood, even if it was at Stiles’ expense, but he did want to alert her to the change in patrols for Unit 7.

“Have you seen Kate’s latest schedule?” Stiles finally made himself ask.

“Yeah,” Allison said. “She talked to dad about reducing the patrols back to normal. You think it’s a problem?”

Stiles shrugged. “I think it could be.”

“Yeah.” Allison sighed. “So do we.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Come over for dinner and I’ll tell you,” Allison tempted.

“Is Peter going to be there?”

Allison snorted. “What do you think?”

~*~*~*~

The werewolves’ answer to Kate reducing patrols was to increase their own.

“Isn’t that going to spread you awfully thin?” Stiles said.

“Boyd and Isaac are going to help,” Peter said.

“Oh,” Stiles said. “So now it’s okay to just toss their names into conversation.”

“Yes,” Peter said, ignoring Stiles’ sarcasm.

“Allison told you why we couldn’t lay all our cards on the table when you first returned,” Chris said.

“Yes,” Stiles said. He didn’t know why it was bothering him so much that they hadn’t automatically trusted him. He hadn’t wanted them to trust him. He didn’t even trust himself. And he didn’t want to be someone they relied on because he didn’t want to be the one to let them down. And yet.

“What about Erica?” Stiles asked.

“She can’t be seen siding with the pack,” Peter said. “She’s still pretending to be a loner, an outsider.”

Peter actually looked pained when he said that.

“But it’s safe for Boyd and Isaac to side with the pack?”

“They make a show of doing so unwillingly,” Peter said, “but they don’t pretend to hate being werewolves as much as Erica makes Kate believe she does. Only that they don’t like someone else telling them what to do,” he added wryly.

“Does Kate know about them?”

“Of course,” Peter said. “Erica gave them up early on to maintain her cover.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Stiles said.

Peter gave him a look.

“Right, of course it’s dangerous. I’ll help, too,” Stiles said, only surprising himself a little bit.

“What if Kate finds out?” Chris said.

“She’d probably be more suspicious if I didn’t,” Stiles said. “I may have questioned her when she told us about the reduced patrols in the meeting today.”

“In front of the rest of the Unit?” Allison said.

“Yeah,” Stiles said.

“I can’t believe you’re still alive,” Allison said.

“Yeah.”

Stiles couldn’t sleep that night. With the meeting with Kate, and Erica telling him about Boyd and Isaac, and his conversation with Allison, and then the meeting with Chris and Peter, he had a lot to think about. He didn’t have to worry about waking Melissa when he got up because she was working the late shift at the hospital.

Stiles checked his weapons and pulled on a hoodie and went out. There was a curfew, so all of the streetlights were out this late so as not to make them a target for the Visitors. The stars were bright, though, without all the electric lights competing for attention, so it didn’t take Stiles’ eyes long to adjust. Once they did, he started walking.

Without thinking about it, Stiles headed in the direction of the Hale property. Stiles stayed off the main roads, crossing the creek and going through the woods, and wasn’t challenged once. He’d have to mention that to Chris.

Stiles hadn’t yet reached the edge of the Preserve that bumped up against the Hale property when the hair on the back of his neck stood up. He hadn’t heard anything, but he was pretty sure that someone, or something, was watching him. Stiles couldn’t pull his gun without giving himself away, but he bent his wrist and the knife hidden up his sleeve slipped relatively smoothly into his hand, getting caught up a little bit by the elastic at the cuffs.

By the time Stiles heard anything, a whisper of a foot on the leaves littering his path, he was down on the ground with the weight of a small wolf knocking the air out of his lungs.

“Jesus, Derek,” Stiles wheezed. “I could’ve hurt you.”

Derek just wolf-laughed at him. Stiles gave him a shove and Derek rolled off Stiles and through the leaves as if they were playing a game. Stiles got to his feet and secreted the knife up his sleeve before trying to brush off the leaves with Derek leaping at him, butting his shoulder with his head, and on one occasion licking his face.

“What are you doing out here, anyway?” Stiles said as he wiped his hand over his chin and then onto his jeans.

Derek darted away from Stiles, then stopped and waited for him. When Stiles didn’t move right away, Derek rushed back, grabbed a mouthful of Stiles’ hoodie and gave it a tug before darting away again. Stiles sighed and followed him.

Stiles didn’t talk. He had questions, but Derek couldn’t answer them anyway, and Stiles liked the silence. Stiles blinked and suddenly there was a large black wolf blocking the path before them. Derek yipped and leapt at her while Stiles worked to get his heart back under control.

Talia batted Derek to the ground, and then held him down with one paw while she sniffed him over.

“We wondered where he’d run off to,” Peter said from behind Stiles, a hint of the concern he’d felt still coloring his tone. “I should’ve known it was you.”

Stiles wasn’t surprised to discover that Derek had run off, he’d done it before, and he really wanted to ask Peter what he’d meant about knowing it was Stiles, but more importantly right that second was, “Please tell me you’re wearing clothes.”

Peter chuckled. “Look and see.”

“A world of no,” Stiles said emphatically.

Turned out Peter hadn’t been wearing clothes, and Stiles was beyond relieved that he hadn’t taken Peter’s dare to look when Peter’s silver wolf brushed past him to join Talia in checking over Derek. Once they were both satisfied, they all headed back to the Hale place. Stiles had tried to beg off, but even in wolf form Talia made it clear that she’d like it if Stiles accompanied them. Which meant that Stiles got to be there when Talia changed into her (naked! why did they do that?) human form and very calmly yelled at Derek for running off. And then grounded him for two weeks.

That wasn’t awkward at all.

Thankfully Talia pulled on a pair of sweat pants and a sweatshirt before addressing Stiles. Derek had slunk off after his reprimand, but Stiles could tell that he hadn’t gone far.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Stiles said when Talia asked him what he’d been doing out by himself. “Figured I’d . . . .” He gestured with his hand.

“Did you see anything?” Talia asked, as if this was a regular debrief.

Stiles shook his head. “But I did discover just how easy it is to slip in and out of town as long as you don’t mind going off-road.”

“Which is why we patrol the woods,” Peter said.

Stiles tried to pretend that he hadn’t been startled by Peter’s sudden reappearance.

“Would you like to spend the night?” Talia asked.

“No, thank you, but I should get back before Melissa gets home.” It was strange to once again have someone who noticed if you didn’t come home.

Stiles found Derek before he left. Derek pretended he didn’t know Stiles was coming, but Stiles knew that was impossible.

“Hey,” Stiles said as he threw himself down beside Derek. “You know she was just worried, right? They always yell the loudest when we’ve scared them.”

“How do you know?”

“Trust me, I scared my dad a lot,” Stiles said wryly.

“You did?” Derek said.

“Yeah,” Stiles said. “Scott and I . . . .” His throat started to close up, but he pushed through. “We did a lot of stupid stuff when we were younger.”

“Like what?” Derek asked.

“Well, there was the time we were playing with plastic soldiers and we wanted the battle to be more realistic, so we started a small fire that eventually took out my mom’s swing,” Stiles said.

Derek’s eyes were wide, and his hand covered his mouth to hide his grin. “Really?”

“Really,” Stiles said.

“Did you get into trouble?”

“So much trouble,” Stiles said.

~*~*~*~

Nothing happened that first week, or even the second, and Stiles began to second guess himself. He wondered if he’d been wrong about Kate being behind Derek’s capture. Whether, if she had been, she’d realized it wouldn’t work and no further attempts against the Hales would be made. If she knew that Stiles was looking into her and she was stringing him along until she could take him out with no one the wiser.

Stiles was, not jumpy, exactly, but tense, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He kept up his solo patrols, even when Kate moved him to night patrol. It wasn’t just that he couldn’t sleep, but that he had nothing else to do, no other assignments when he wasn’t scheduled for patrol. Given the choice between seeking out Allison, Lydia or Danny, or walking another patrol, Stiles would take patrol any day.

Though he couldn’t really call his patrols solo, since he’d been joined by one of the adult werewolves on each excursion, no matter what part of town Stiles headed for. Usually it was Peter, though sometimes Talia, Matt or James, and on one very memorable occasion, Candice. She might be a grandmother, but she was still pretty damned spry.

Still, the longer they went with nothing happening, the more tense Stiles grew, until he felt as if he was stretched taut as a bowstring.

Once his grounding was over, Derek started joining Stiles on his patrols. The first time he saw Derek, Stiles said, “Does your mother know you’re out here?”

Derek had barked and bumped his shoulder into Stiles’ leg hard enough to knock him off balance, and then stuck his nose in a pile of leaves that had gathered at the base of a tree and promptly sneezed.

Stiles got used to having Derek’s company on his walks. It had been a long time since Stiles touched anyone he wasn’t helping out of a transport or dragging bloodied away from a fight, but Derek snuck in under Stiles’ defenses. It helped that Derek usually appeared in wolf form, which made it easier for Stiles to sink his fingers into the think fur at the back of his neck in warning, which became a pat hello, or a rub down his back when Derek leaned against his leg.

It wasn’t that Stiles forgot that Derek was a 12-year old boy, it was just easier to be with Derek when Stiles wasn’t expected to make mindless conversation. It didn’t hurt that Derek hadn’t known Stiles Before. He didn’t have any expectations of how Stiles should or shouldn’t act. He also didn’t seem to mind the silence, for which Stiles was pathetically grateful.

One night Erica stepped out of the shadows in her human form, scaring the crap out of Stiles. “Jesus Christ!” Stiles gasped, clutching his chest as Derek enthusiastically greeted Erica by leaping on her and licking her face.

“Hey, little guy,” Erica said, getting Derek in a headlock and giving him a noogie that made him yelp and take her to the ground where they wrestled until they both had leaves and twigs in their hair and fur respectively.

“What are you doing here?” Stiles asked as Erica brushed herself off.

“Kate wanted me to keep an eye on you.”

Stiles raised an eyebrow. “Were you supposed to tell me that?”

“What do you think?”

Stiles watched as Derek trotted between the trees, sniffing the ground, then raised his muzzle and cocked his head as he listened to something Stiles couldn’t hear.

“What is it?” Stiles said softly, tension tightening his shoulders. He looked around, as if he might also be able to sense whatever it was Derek has sensed.

“Rabbit,” Erica said wryly as Derek pounced on something hidden in the underbrush.

“Seriously?” Stiles said, afraid to relax his guard.

The scream of small woodland creature dying broke the silence that had grown around them. Soon after, Derek came trotting over, head held high, a limp rabbit hanging from his jaws. Derek dropped the rabbit at Stiles’ feet and sat on his haunches, looking up at Stiles as if he was expecting a pat on the head. Stiles reached out and ran his hand over the top of Derek’s head, and Derek pushed into his hand.

“Uh, good boy,” Stiles said. “Impressive hunting.”

Derek whined a little bit as he stood and leaned against Stiles’ legs. Stiles stroked his hand down Derek’s back and glanced up at Erica, who was studying them with a strange look on her face.

“What?”

“He likes you,” Erica said.

“Yeah, well, I like him, too, I guess,” Stiles said, the admission only causing him a small pang of worry because Derek was the first person he’d let in since his dad had been killed.

Erica gave Stiles a look he couldn’t decipher, but only said, “We should probably keep going.”

The rest of the patrol was done in near silence, Erica only commenting once in a while to tell Stiles what had caught Derek’s attention. Without discussing it, they turned their steps towards the Preserve and Hale property so they could walk Derek home. Peter and Matt slunk out of the trees as they stepped into the clearing around the house, and Talia met them when they rounded the remains of the house. She looked neither sleep rumpled, as if they’d woken her with their approach, nor as if she’d been kept awake by Derek being out with Stiles.

Derek greeted Talia with a soft yip in deference to his sleeping pack mates, and she gave him a rough scratch that Derek pushed into.

“Off to bed with you now,” Talia said, and Derek gave both Stiles and Erica a chance to pet him before he ran off to join his siblings and cousins where they were already lying in a puppy pile.

“I see you found them,” Talia said to Erica.

“I thought you said Kate sent you,” Stiles said.

“Two birds, one stone,” Erica said. She waited until Derek’s attention was elsewhere before holding up the rabbit she’d carried back on Derek’s behalf. “Derek caught it,” she said.

Talia sighed and shook her head. “His distraction is going to be the death of me,” she said, her voice tight.

“He gave it to Stiles,” Erica went on, her lips twitching.

Talia’s hand paused in her reach for the rabbit. “Did he,” she said, glancing at Stiles.

Stiles suddenly felt like a bug under a microscope. “Uh, yeah, I guess?”

“Hmm,” Talia said. “Well, then, you’ll have to come share it with us.”

Stiles gave the single rabbit a doubtful look. “Um, okay,” he said.

“Good,” Talia said. “We’ll see you for dinner.”

Talia carried the rabbit over to Matt, who now stood in human form. He was naked, so Stiles looked away quickly, but not before he saw the considering look Matt gave him.

“What is going on?” Stiles asked Erica as they made their way back into the forest.

“I told you,” Erica said, and refused to expand on that the entire way back to Melissa’s house, where she left him with a knowing smirk.

~*~*~*~

Dinner later that day was actually nice. Stiles took Melissa with him because she had the time off and he felt bad that he hadn’t seen her much the past few weeks. He’d been a little bit worried that the Hales would think he was rude, but he couldn’t just call them up and ask. His concern was unfounded because Talia’s face lit up when she saw them.

“Melissa,” Talia said.

“Talia,” Melissa returned the greeting.

And then they were hugging.

“It’s been too long,” Talia said, and Melissa agreed.

“I hope it’s okay that we . . . ,” Melissa began when they broke the hug.

“Of course it’s okay,” Talia said. “Matt, look who’s here!”

Melissa was immediately passed around for hugs, and Stiles felt a little foolish that he hadn’t realized, of course she’d know the Hales. When he looked back at her, Talia was studying Stiles.

“Everything okay?” Talia asked softly.

Stiles swallowed hard. “Yeah, of course, it’s just, she’s the only family I have left.”

“Not anymore,” Talia said, giving Stiles’ arm a squeeze before rubbing it. “What have you got there?” She indicated the bundles in his arms.

“Oh,” Stiles said, having forgotten about them. “Bread. For dinner. I didn’t . . . . Melissa helped out at the community kitchen this afternoon.” And roped Stiles into helping, though his aid leaned more towards making sandwiches than baking bread.

“Thank you,” Talia said, taking the bread from Stiles. “And that?”

“T-shirts. For Derek.” Stiles had returned to his bedroom and went through the drawers. Most of the clothes he couldn’t wear and he figured someone should be using them. “Or whoever needs them,” Stiles went on when Talia just stared at him. “Or not.”

“You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” Talia said gently.

“Um, no?” Stiles said, earning himself a twitch of her lips as she tried to suppress a smile.

“I’m sure Derek will love them. He’s watching the stew, so you’ll have to go to him.”

“Okay,” Stiles said, glancing over to where Derek stood by the fire, a wooden spoon in one hand, feet shifting as if he had ants in his pants.

“Hi,” Derek said as Stiles drew near to him.

“Hi.”

“You came.”

“Of course I came,” Stiles said as he came to a stop, the scent of rabbit stew making him salivate. The invitation had sounded more like an order, but Stiles couldn’t tell Derek that. “You caught me a rabbit.”

Derek flushed with pleasure. “What’s that?” he said, though he had to have heard Stiles tell Talia.

“T-shirts,” Stiles said. “For you. If you want them. I mean, I know you prefer running around naked,” he added wryly.

Derek looked shyly at Stiles through his lashes. “Can I see them?”

“Of course,” Stiles said. He handed over the pile of t-shirts and somehow ended up with the spoon. He dipped it into the pot and stirred absently as he watched Derek settle on the ground and set the pile on his lap before unfolding each t-shirt and looking at it. He stroked his hand over the material and buried his face in them before giving Stiles a sheepish look.

Dinner was good, except for the considering looks the adults kept throwing him. The stew was good and Stiles had a second helping. He offered to help with the dishes, but Talia refused and set the children to the task. It was warm near the cooking fire and Stiles found his eyes drifting shut a few times.

When Peter woke Stiles for his scheduled patrol, he was lying on a blanket with tiny werewolves plastered to his front and back. It was surprisingly comfortable, and Stiles was reluctant to leave the warm cocoon. Peter gave Stiles a hand and pulled him out of the pile. The wolves that had been closest to him – Derek at his back, Ben at his front – let out a whine of protest and shifted in their sleep until they’d closed the gap.

“I feel asleep,” Stiles said.

“Indeed,” Peter said, then gave Stiles a serious look. “You needed it. Have you been sleeping at all?”

Stiles shrugged. “Some. It’s hard.”

“Yes,” Peter said thoughtfully. “I suppose it is.”

~*~*~*~

A few nights later they encountered Kate while on patrol. Stiles didn’t believe it was a coincidence since Erica had reported the extra patrols back to Kate. She hadn’t hidden her approach, but Stiles had still tensed up, uncertain if now was the time she’d kill Stiles and try to take Derek again.

“Well, isn’t this cozy,” Kate said when they met up.

“Hey,” Stiles said, ignoring her insinuation. “What’s up?”

“A little birdie told me you might be out here,” Kate said.

“Is that a problem?” Stiles said.

“If you’re asking whether I’m going to tell you to stop,” Kate said, “the answer’s no. I will remind you, however, that it’s dangerous to be out here without backup.”

Derek barked.

Kate laughed. “Oh my god, that’s adorable.” She reached out to touch Derek’s head, but he ducked behind Stiles’ legs. “So brave,” Kate mocked.

“Looks like Derek’s got a crush,” Kate said to Stiles. To Derek she said, “Remember when you used to follow me around like a little puppy?”

Derek pushed his shoulder into Stiles’ leg. Less denial than embarrassment.

“Well,” Kate said. “I’m going back. I’d rather be in a warm bed than traipsing around the woods. Even with someone as cute as Derek.”

“See you tomorrow,” Stiles said, since Kate was usually at the BHS building to see the teams off even when she wasn’t scheduled for patrol. He waited until Kate had moved off far enough that he was sure she wasn’t going to double back and take them out, then turned to Derek.

“Really? Do you have any idea how old she is?”

Derek ducked his head and curled his tail between his legs. Stiles felt bad. He sighed and went to his knees, burying his hands in Derek’s fur.

“Hey. You know she’s dangerous, right? Stay away from her.”

Derek butted his head into Stiles’ shoulder and then licked his face.

“I hope that was a yes,” Stiles said as he wiped his hand across his cheek.

Derek’s answer was to push Stiles over and step on his stomach as he walked over him.

~*~*~*~

Stiles had told Chris that Kate was now aware of his solo patrols, but he’d refused to stop them in case it made her suspicious. Plus, they needed to encourage her to make a move, and if Stiles out on his own was the only way to do it, then he was willing to take that risk.

It shouldn’t have surprised him, then, that Derek showed up as usual, despite the danger he could be in.

“I thought you were going to stay home,” Stiles said when he saw Derek.

Derek turned his back on Stiles and preceded him down the path.

“Seriously, you’re giving me the cold shoulder?”

Nothing.

“I was trying to protect you,” Stiles said.

That got a response. Derek turned and growled at Stiles, his eyes flashing yellow, and Stiles had to bite his lip to keep from grinning at the display.

“Okay, got it,” Stiles said to Derek’s back when he’d turned away again. “You can take care of yourself.”

Stiles didn’t say anything else because he figured if Talia hadn’t been able to keep Derek home, he didn’t stand a chance. Besides, he figured it would take Kate some time to set up any attempt to capture Derek.

He was wrong.

A couple miles into their patrol, Derek went on alert. Stiles bit his tongue on asking what it was, since Derek couldn’t answer him anyway. Instead he stopped walking, closed his eyes, and listened. Stiles stepped back into the trees so they had some cover, dragging Derek with him.

A moment later Eddie and Cole came into view, with James slinking through the shadows. Stiles sighed in relief and stepped out of the trees with his hands out.

“Hey,” Stiles said as their guns went up. “Just me. What are you guys doing here? I thought you were patrolling the third quadrant tonight.”

“Change of plans,” Cole said. “Kate sent us out here.”

Stiles didn’t know what, but something drew his attention to Eddie. He wasn’t looking at Stiles, but behind him, a frown furrowing his forehead. When he saw Derek, the frown cleared. He raised the rifle in his hands and shot James.

“What the hell!” Stiles said as James growled.

James turned and tried to lunge at Eddie, but his legs didn’t appear to be working. He stumbled and went down before he reached Eddie. Stiles, though taken by surprise at the sudden attack, was already reaching for the gun at his waist. Stiles fired before Eddie could turn the tranq gun on Derek and in turn felt a burn at the side of his head as Derek latched his teeth into Cole’s arm and deflected the shot he’d just aimed at Stiles.

Stiles couldn’t get a clear shot at Cole with Derek in the way, and he wasn’t sure if Eddie was down for good. He kicked the tranq gun away from Eddie and leaned down to check his pulse. He was still alive, but blood was spreading across his chest. Stiles checked him for additional weapons because he was sure he wouldn’t have gone out on patrol with just the tranq gun.

Derek’s yelp of pain made Stiles jerk his head up just in time to see Cole bringing the butt of the rifle down for a second blow to Derek’s shoulder. Stiles brought the Glock up and shot without taking the time to aim carefully, too worried about Derek. Cole screamed in pain, dropping the rifle and cradling his hand to his chest.

Pain exploded in Stiles’ right shoulder and he lost his grip on the gun in his hand.

“Jesus Christ,” Kate said as she stepped out of the threes. “One boy and his god damned dog, and you both get shot.”

Kate stepped around Stiles and glanced at James’ still form. “At least you managed to get one of them.”

Kate gave her partners in crime a disgusted look. “Drop your weapon,” she told Stiles.

Stiles didn’t have much choice, since he couldn’t close his fingers around the grip to fire it anyway. Stiles relaxed his fingers and let the gun tumble free of them to the ground.

“How the hell did you manage to hit both of my men?” Kate said. “Allison told me you couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.”

“My dad was the Sheriff,” Stiles said, glad now that he’d hadn’t show his hand at the shooting range. “Did you really think he hadn’t taught me how to shoot a gun?”

“Get up,” Kate snarled.

Stiles staggered to his feet and Derek let out a whimper.

“Don’t move,” Kate told Derek, “or I’ll shoot you with something worse than a tranquilizer dart.”

Which meant she probably had wolfsbane bullets in at least one of her guns. Still, the moment of distraction was all Stiles needed. He flexed the wrist of his left hand and felt the knife slide into his palm.

“This didn’t go according to plan, did it?” Stiles said. “How are you going to explain this?”

“I’ve got the perfect scapegoat,” Kate said. “The prodigal son. Everyone welcomed him back with open arms and he stabbed them in the back.”

Derek made a sound. The gun aimed at Stiles didn’t waver, but Kate’s eyes slid towards Derek. Her threat to shoot Derek was probably moot, since the Visitors would want him alive, but Stiles wasn’t willing to take any chances. He threw the knife, but his aim was off and it lodged in Kate’s thigh rather than her chest.

“Shit,” Stiles said as Kate angrily turned her attention back to him.

“That was stupid,” Kate said, but a silver blur leapt at her before she could shoot Stiles in retaliation.

It only took Stiles a moment to recognize Peter, but he couldn’t relax even then. Stiles picked his gun up with his left hand and forced himself to watch as Peter clamped his jaws around Kate’s throat and tore it out. As gross as it was, he had to make sure she was really dead.

Movement caught Stiles’ eye and he saw Cole trying to draw his weapon. Stiles fired. The first shot missed, but the second hit Cole in the arm.

“Hands away from your body,” Stiles told Cole. He’d prefer to take him in alive so they could question him, but it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

Cole groaned and tried to move his hands.

“Are you alright?” Peter said.

“Yeah,” Stiles said, keeping his eyes front and center so he didn’t see the blood staining Peter’s mouth, or his nakedness. “How’s Derek?”

Peter bent down to check on Derek. “He’s going to be fine,” Peter said.

“Good,” Stiles said, and then everything went dark.

~*~*~*~

Stiles woke to the soft murmur of voices and heat along his left side. A voice he knew, but couldn’t place, said, “He’s waking up,” and the heat along his side shifted.

“Stiles,” Melissa said gently. “Can you wake up for me?”

Stiles blinked his eyes against the light. Everything was hazy and blurry, and he thought there were two of Melissa until the other familiar voice, Talia Hale, Stiles remembered now, said, “Derek, give Melissa room to work,” and the second face pulled away.

“Whoa,” Stiles said, and even to his own ears he sounded stoned. “Thank god,” he slurred. “Thought there were two of you.”

“And that would be a bad thing?” Melissa said as she pressed her fingers to the pulse in Stiles’ wrist.

“Uh, no?” Stiles said.

“Uh huh. How’s your head feel?”

“Hurts,” Stiles said, reflexively raising his arm to bring his hand to his head and letting out a yelp of pain.

“Yeah,” Melissa said as she gently placed Stiles’ arm back down at his side. “Maybe don’t do that.”

“Wha’ happ’?” Stiles said, or tried to say.

“You were shot!” Derek said, sounding equal parts worried and impressed.

“Derek,” Stiles said, as everything came back with a rush – Eddie and Cole, James being shot, Kate. He tried to move, to get a look at Derek, but the pain in his shoulder reminded him that it wasn’t a good idea. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Derek said. “I heal, you don’t.”

Derek sounded really upset about that.

“He had a broken collarbone and only the fact that he’s hard-headed kept him from a cracked skull, but he’s fine now,” Talia assured Stiles.

“Kate?” Stiles asked. He’d seen Peter rip out her throat, but he had to be certain.

“She’s dead,” Talia said evenly. “Thank you for saving my son. Again,” she said, her tone holding a bit of humor.

Derek huffed in annoyance.

“James?” Stiles asked, trying not to laugh at Derek’s reaction because that shit hurt.

“The tranquilizer hasn’t quite worn off fully,” Melissa said, “but he appears to be doing fine.”

“He’s a little bit annoyed with himself that they managed to get the jump on him, so his body will probably heal more quickly than his pride.”

“Would you like to know what happened to you?” Melissa said.

“I know what happened to me,” Stiles said. “I got shot in the shoulder and in the head.”

“The head wound was just a graze,” Melissa pointed out.

“Tell that to my head,” Stiles said. “Why don’t you have me on the good drugs?”

“Because I like to hear you complain,” Melissa said wryly. “Plus, we wanted you to wake up.”

“Do I get the good drugs now?”

“Go back to sleep, Stiles,” Melissa said as she adjusted something on his IV.

The room was quiet except for the beeping of the monitors next to his bed when Stiles woke the second time. He slowly turned his head to see Allison sitting in the chair beside the bed. Her arms were crossed over her chest, almost as if she was hugging herself, her head bowed.

Stiles tried to say something, but his throat was too dry for him to get anything out. Allison’s head came up anyway. She looked relieved to see him awake.

“Stiles.”

“Wa’r,” Stiles said, remembering just in time not to gesture with his right hand.

Allison jumped up and filled a cup with water, peeled the wrapper off the straw and stuck it in the cup before holding it to Stiles’ mouth.

“Thank you,” Stiles said after he’d wet his mouth and taken a few sips.

“How are you feeling?” Allison asked as she set the cup aside.

“Alright,” Stiles said after taking a moment to assess. His head no longer ached, and his shoulder gave him no pain. At least until he tried to move. So he wasn’t going to do that. “How are you?”

Allison turned wide eyes on Stiles. “How can you . . . ?”

“No matter what she did, she was still your aunt,” Stiles said.

“I feel like I never really knew her.”

Stiles didn’t know what to say to that; he’d never been that good at comforting people. He was too sarcastic and blunt. He turned his hand over, careful not to aggravate his shoulder, and wiggled his fingers. Allison looked at Stiles’ hand for a moment, then took it.

“When are they gonna let you out of here?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles said. “I don’t even know what day it is.”

Allison told him. Turned out it was only the next afternoon, which meant that it had been less than 24 hours since he and Derek had been ambushed by Kate and her goons.

“How’s your dad?”

Allison shrugged. “He didn’t want to believe it, even when we knew there was no other explanation. Peter’s with him now.”

“Say no more,” Stiles said. He didn’t want to imagine how Peter was comforting Chris. Allison managed a weak smile.

“Will there be a funeral?”

Allison shook her head. “Just a small service at the cemetery. Family only.”

“What about Cole and Eddie?” Stiles asked.

“Eddie died of his wounds,” Allison said. “Cole’s got a guard on his room. We’re investigating the entire Unit. Whatever we find out, they’re going to be separated, absorbed into other Units.

“Who’s going to question them?” Stiles asked.

“Because of Kate’s involvement, the Sheriff Department is going to take lead, but my dad insisted on a joint investigation, and Peter is representing the Hale pack.

“Has he been cleared?” Stiles asked.

“He will be, presuming your statement supports his,” Allison said.

“Should we do that now?” Stiles said.

“If you feel up to it,” Allison said.

Tara came in to take Stiles’ statement to avoid any claims of conflict of interest, and also because the Sheriff Department still considered murder and attempted kidnapping to be their purview, even if the perpetrators were collaborating with the Visitors. Stiles told the story twice and answered questions about their suspicions and his subsequent stint on Kate’s Unit as a spy. By the time Tara ended the interview and informed Stiles that they’d be in touch if they had any further questions for him and to let him know when he could come in to sign his typed statement, Stiles was fading fast, his energy waning.

The last thing Stiles remembered was Tara squeezing his hand and telling him to get well soon. He was woken a few times after that, once for supper, and a couple times during the night when the nurses came in to check on him. When he woke to the morning sun shining into his room, Peter sat beside the bed, hands folded together as he stared intently at Stiles.

“Creepy,” Stiles said roughly.

Peter smirked at Stiles’ reaction even as he reached for the cup of water and pressed the straw to Stiles’ mouth. The water was cold, so someone had freshened the cup recently.

“How’s Derek?” Stiles asked as he settled back onto the pillow.

“Waiting impatiently for you to get out of here,” Peter said.

“James?”

“Fully recovered from the tranquilizer now, but embarrassed at being caught flat-footed.”

“I’m sure you don’t rub it in at all,” Stiles said.

“Would I do that?”

“Yes. How’s Chris?”

Peter looked like he wanted to say something smart, but he only said, “Upset, and not doing a good job of hiding it.”

“What Kate did, that wasn’t his fault.”

“He’s in charge of the BHSC, and he gave her some leeway because she was his sister. He’s second guessing every decision he ever made with respect to putting her in charge of a Unit, letting her pick her own team. Pairing her Unit with the werewolves.”

“Where better to keep an eye on her?” Stiles said.

“Exactly,” Peter agreed. “But you try telling that to Chris.”

“Telling me what?” Chris said.

Peter’s lips curled up into a smile that he wiped off his face before turning his head to greet Chris. “Good morning. Fancy meeting you here.”

Chris rolled his eyes. “I told you I was going to stop by.”

“Did you? I don’t recall.” Peter rose from the chair. “Here, enjoy your visit with young Mr. Stilinski.”

As they passed each other, Peter leaned in for a quick kiss.

“Euww,” Stiles muttered. “I’m still recovering from being shot, here.”

Chris and Peter both gave Stiles an unapologetic look. Peter headed for the door and Chris took the seat he’d just vacated.

“Was Peter bothering you?” Chris said.

“Peter always bothers me,” Stiles replied.

Stiles snorted when Peter ignored hospital etiquette and called back down the hall, “I can hear you, as you both bloody well know!”

“Melissa tells me that they’re going to keep you here for at least another day,” Chris said, ignoring Peter.

“They are?” Stiles said.

Chris nodded. “How do you feel?”

Stiles thought about that. He wasn’t as groggy as he had been yesterday, though he wouldn’t be able to run any races. “Better,” he said.

Chris nodded. “I’m glad. I’m sorry about . . .”

“Not your fault, man,” Stiles said. “I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to infiltrate her Unit.”

“Still,” Chris said, “I shouldn’t have put her in a position where she could do so much damage.”

“You trusted her,” Stiles said.

Chris didn’t reply to that. “I’d like to talk to you in a couple of days when you’re feeling better.”

“I’m feeling better now,” Stiles insisted.

“And when your mind isn’t clouded by the heavy duty drugs,” Chris clarified.

“Why do I get the feeling that I’m not going to like it?” Stiles said.

Chris smiled and left.

~*~*~*~

“No,” Stiles said.

Chris and Allison had shown up together a week into Stiles’ at-home recovery, which let Stiles know that it was more than a friendly visit. Right now, neither Chris nor Allison looked fazed by Stiles’ declaration.

“Talia Hale personally requested you herself,” Chris told Stiles.

They weren’t going to reinstate Kate’s old Unit, or form a new Unit to pair human and werewolf patrols. Instead, the Hale family was going to take lead on patrolling the Beacon Hills boundary as well as the Preserve. And they wanted Stiles on their . . . team, for lack of a better word.

“They don’t need me,” Stiles said. In addition to the Hales, Erica, Isaac and Boyd, as fully acknowledged members of the Hale pack now that Kate was no longer an issue, would also be part of the team. “They’ve got their wolf-y senses, which is better than anything I could offer.”

“They trust you,” Allison said.

And that was their first mistake, Stiles thought. Besides, he’d already stayed in Beacon Hills much longer than he’d originally planned. If nothing else, he had to return to his cell to fill David in on what he’d discovered about Derek’s abduction and the extent to which humans in Beacon Hills had been collaborating with the Visitors.

“Well, think about it,” Chris said. “It’ll be a little while before you can travel, anyway.”

“The answer will still be no,” Stiles said as Chris and Allison left him alone with a pile of books to keep him company.

 

Four Years Later – 2017

Stiles and Erica stopped by the Hale house on their way back to town. They were going to report to Talia and Chris, and then Erica was going to find Boyd and do things Stiles didn’t want to think about, even though Erica had no compunction telling him about it in excruciating detail. You’d think after four years Stiles would’ve stopped blushing whenever Erica brought up her sex life, but to Erica’s delight that hadn’t happened yet.

Peter was with Talia when Stiles and Erica found her. They both listened attentively as Stiles and Erica gave their report. It had been quiet around Beacon Hills for the last four months, since the last group of refugees had decided to settle in Beacon Hills instead of continuing to wander further, but they kept up with the thrice daily perimeter patrols and making sure the Preserve remained clear of Visitors or predators of the human variety that took advantage of the chaos and confusion caused by the Visitor invasion to prey on their fellow humans.

The report to Talia was a formality – if they’d run into any trouble they would’ve radioed for help and Erica would’ve let loose a howl that would’ve brought the other wolves to their aid. Stiles preferred the days he returned without a cut or bruise and could report that they’d run into no one. He especially liked the times he could bring Derek back in one piece. The boy’s injuries seemed to bother Stiles more than anyone else, and both Talia and Peter would give Stiles knowing looks as he fussed and complained about Derek jumping into the fray when Stiles could’ve handled it himself. Stiles had no idea what those looks meant. At least, that’s what he told himself, and the Hales allowed him the fiction.

When they left Talia and Peter, Stiles spotted Derek. He was talking to Malia, a werecoyote whose family had been on the run until they’d reached Beacon Hills and been taken in by the Hale pack. Derek had been moody and irritable for the past three weeks, but he was smiling now as he spoke with Malia. Stiles automatically took a step towards Derek when Derek turned his head and looked right at him. Derek’s smile widened when he saw Stiles and his eyes flashed blue.

Stiles froze in place when he noticed the change in Derek’s eye color. His heart felt like it might beat its way out of his chest and his throat had closed up, making it difficult to swallow.

“Aww,” Erica said. “Looks like our little boy’s all grown up.”

Stiles knew what blue eyes meant, had known since Scott’s eyes turned blue two weeks after meeting Allison Argent. And it wasn’t as if Stiles had put any stock in the way Derek looked at him sometimes, or thought any crush he might have would last into adulthood. Not that Stiles wanted it to. Stiles didn’t miss the hurt that flashed across Derek’s face when he turned away instead of continuing over to Derek, but he just couldn’t face him right now and pretend to be happy for him.

“Where are you going?” Erica said sharply.

“Gonna head into town and report to Chris,” Stiles said.

“Aren’t you even going to say hi to Derek?”

“He looks busy,” Stiles said.

“Wow,” Erica said. “Men really are idiots.”

“You can stay if you want,” Stiles said. “I’ll make the report.”

“Boyd’s waiting for me,” Erica said, and the fact that she didn’t make any lewd comment should’ve had the warning bells ringing in Stiles’ head.

Erica was silent for the first mile, a record, Stiles thought. “You know he likes you,” she finally said.

“He’s just a kid,” Stiles said. The same thing he’d been saying for the past four years whenever anyone brought up Derek’s crush. “Besides,” he went on, “I think it’s pretty clear now that he doesn’t.”

Not that Stiles cared.

~*~*~*~

Stiles managed to avoid Derek for a week. He should’ve known that his good fortune couldn’t last long, but he was still surprised to step out of the communal showers at the BHSC building to see Derek waiting for him, seated on the bench beside his locker.

“Derek,” Stiles said, unable to keep the surprise (and maybe a little bit of trepidation) out of his voice.

Derek didn’t look up until Stiles spoke, though he had to have heard him coming. His gaze went to Stiles’ chest before rising to meet his eyes, and his cheeks pinked up.

“What are you doing here?” Stiles said.

Derek crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Stiles’ stupid question, but he answered it anyway. “I wanted to talk to you, and since you’ve been avoiding me I figured I’d come to you.”

“I haven’t been avoiding you,” Stiles began as he opened his locker. Which was strangely empty. “Where are my clothes?”

Derek shrugged. “What makes you think I know?”

“Derek,” Stiles growled.

“Okay, fine,” Derek said. “I hid your clothes, but only because we need to talk and you’d have run out of here as soon as you could.”

“I would not . . .”

“You can’t even stand to be in the same room with me,” Derek said, turning his face away as if that might hide the way his voice cracked with emotion at the words.

Stiles sighed and sat on the bench beside Derek, making sure his towel was secured around his waist. “You’re right,” he said. “I have been avoiding you, and I’m sorry. I was just . . .” Stiles made a gesture towards Derek’s face. “Caught off guard. I . . . congratulations,” he said, trying not to sound like he was dying a little bit inside. “Malia seems like a nice girl.”

The tentative smile that had been curling up the corners of Derek’s lips froze and he frowned. “What?”

“Malia,” Stiles said again, getting the word out even though his tongue didn’t want to cooperate.
“She seems like a nice girl.”

Derek just stared at Stiles a few seconds before saying, “Now I know what Erica meant when she said boys are stupid.”

“Hey,” Stiles said, because somehow he knew that was directed at him.

“My eyes didn’t change because of Malia,” Derek said. “They changed because of you.”

Yes! part of Stiles cheered. “No,” Stiles said.

Derek rolled said eyes.

“No,” Stiles said again. “You were, you were all moody, for weeks, and then, with Malia, you were smiling.”

“Yeah,” Derek said, and it sounded a lot like ‘duh.’ “Because I turned sixteen and I thought my eyes would change then, but they didn’t, and every day they didn’t change I got more frustrated because I knew . . .”

“No.” Stiles shook his head.

“I’ve been in love with you since I was twelve,” Derek pointed out with no trace of embarrassment, no hesitation.

“You’ve had a crush on me since you were twelve,” Stiles clarified, even though he’d previously done his best to ignore the existence of said crush, writing it off as hero worship.

“For four years?” Derek said.

Stiles thought about his years-long crush on Lydia. “Yes.”

“After prolonged exposure?”

Stiles hesitated, once again reminded of his crush on Lydia, which had faded to a nice friendship (despite the fact that she’d been dating Jackson Douchemore at the time) when they’d begun to hang out together after the Visitors came, and got to know each other better. They’d created Students Against Visitor Incursions (proudly calling it SAVI), and Scott had made them let Greenberg join.

“I’ve seen you at your worst. More than once,” Derek said. “Running on no sleep, hurt, angry . . . after you’ve eaten onions.”

“I like onions,” Stiles said.

“Trust me, they don’t like you,” Derek said so seriously that it made Stiles smile.

“I can’t believe we’re talking about onions.”

“If I was going to decide that you weren’t the man for me,” Derek said so matter-of-factly that Stiles felt a flush start at his nipples and spread upward, “it would be because of my very sensitive nose.”

“Derek,” Stiles said, and then couldn’t continue because he didn’t know what to say.

“I don’t even know why we’re arguing about this!” Derek threw his arms up. “First you’re mad at me because you thought my eyes changed because of Malia, and now you’re telling me how it can’t be because of you! You’re very aggravating!”

“I wasn’t mad at you,” Stiles denied. “I told you . . .”

“Oh my god,” Derek said.

“What?” Stiles said, not sure he really wanted to know.

“You were jealous.”

“I was not . . .”

“You totally were. I mean, I’ve always known that you weren’t indifferent to me,” Derek went on before Stiles could deny it again. “I could smell it on you.”

“Oh god.”

“I could climb you like a tree right now and you’d let me,” Derek said casually, an observation.

“I’d really like my clothes now,” Stiles said. Not that the extra layer would be much protection, but it would at least make him feel less exposed.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Derek said. “I won’t. I’m not going to rush you.”

“Rush me?” Stiles said, and then realized that might not be the message he wanted to send here.

Derek just smiled and pointed to the locker where he’d hidden Stiles’ clothes. He gave Stiles’ body one last look, then said, “I can wait for you to be ready.”

Stiles’ mouth hung open as he watched Derek leave the locker room. The irony was that Stiles had been the one waiting – not for Derek to grow up, but for his crush to run its course. For it to no longer be a threat. Stiles didn’t think he was ever going to be ready for Derek.

~*~*~*~

Things went back to normal – Stiles went on patrol, took his turn at the community kitchen, spent at least two evenings a week with Melissa, stopped avoiding Derek, and didn’t bother to argue when Erica told him they were going out.

“I see you’re not avoiding Derek anymore,” Erica said.

Stiles didn’t reply, trying to pretend it wasn’t a question that required him to.

“When did you figure it out?” she asked.

“Figure what out?” Stiles said, knowing that he was going to regret engaging her, but also knowing that Erica would give him no choice.

“That Derek’s eyes changed because of you, not sweet young Malia?”

“I think the real question is, who told him,” Isaac commented lazily.

“Hey,” Stiles said. “I can have you reassigned so you only get to see your girlfriend once a month.”

Isaac blushed at the mention of Allison being his girlfriend, but didn’t retract his observation.

“And I don’t need anyone to tell me . . . things. I can figure them out just fine on my own.”

“Derek told him,” Allison said.

“It doesn’t matter how I found out,” Stiles said, “because nothing is going to happen.”

“It was Derek,” Allison repeated more firmly. “Pay up, Boyd.”

Boyd shook his head at Stiles, but reached down and set a part of some sort on the table. Allison looked it over happily, and then set it on the floor beneath her chair.

“What is it?” Stiles asked.

“A part for the motorcycle my dad’s rebuilding,” Allison said.

“Sorry, Boyd,” Stiles said, “but I appreciate that you had faith in me.”

“I didn’t,” Boyd said. “I figured Talia had to set your ass straight.”

“What did I miss?” Lydia said as she pulled up a chair and joined them.

“We just confirmed that Derek told Stiles about his eyes,” Erica informed her.

“I could’ve told you that,” Lydia said. “I made sure that no one entered the locker room while they were having their little chat.”

“Et tu, Lydia?” Stiles said.

“You could do worse than the next Alpha of the Hale pack,” Lydia said.

“Yes,” Erica said, “and while we’re on the topic . . .”

“We’re only on the topic because you brought it up!”

Erica shrugged. “What did you mean, it’s never gonna happen?”

“I mean, it’s never gonna happen,” Stiles repeated slowly.

“Why not?” Erica growled. “He not good enough?”

“He’s sixteen years old!” Stiles said. “Am I the only one who sees a problem with that?”

“I was sixteen when I lost my virginity,” Allison pointed out.

“Fifteen,” Lydia said.

“Oh my god,” Stiles said. “Why are you people even my friends?”

“We wonder some days,” Lydia said with a smile to take the sting out of it.

“I’m twenty-two years old, and Derek is sixteen years old. There are laws against that. And for very good reason.”

“I’m not sure they apply here,” Erica said.

“I am not going to take advantage of a sixteen year old boy,” Stiles said. “Not that I’m interested in a relationship anyway,” he added feebly.

“Is it taking advantage when Derek’s the one pursuing you?” Lydia said.

“Yes!” Stiles said adamantly.

“Well, my money’s on Derek,” Erica said. “Literally. Anyone want to put money on Stiles?”

No one, apparently, did.

“Why are you doing this to me?” Stiles bemoaned.

“Because we love you, and we want you to be happy,” Allison said.

“And we know Derek,” Erica added.

“That, too,” Allison said.

“You think I can’t hold firm?” Stiles said, insulted even though he’d worried the very same thing himself.

“If you had to use one word to describe Derek, what would it be?” Erica said. “I’ll give you a hint, it begins with ‘p’.”

“Pain in my ass?” Stiles said.

“Not one word,” Lydia said.

“And also not true. Yet,” Boyd said.

Stiles’ mouth dropped open. “I can’t believe you said that.”

“That’s my baby,” Erica said, giving Boyd a kiss before turning back to Stiles. “But the word I was thinking of is ‘persistent.’ Whose idea was it that Derek accompany us when you reported in to your old cell?”

“Derek’s,” Stiles said.

“And did you want him to go?”

“No, of course not.”

“Why not?”

“Because he was twelve years old and it was too dangerous,” Stiles said, remembering the fight they’d had about it.

“Did he go?”

Stiles sighed. “Yes.”

“And whose idea was it that Derek join the patrols?”

“Derek’s,” Stiles said resignedly.

“Did you want him to?”

“No.”

“Because?”

“He was twelve years old and it was too dangerous,” Stiles repeated his earlier answer.

“Remind me, did Derek join the patrols?”

“Yes.”

“Are we seeing a pattern here?”

Stiles didn’t answer.

“What did Derek say when you told him?” Lydia said. “That it wasn’t going to happen.”

“He said he’d wait for me to be ready,” Stiles said.

Allison laughed so hard she fell off her chair.

“I hate all of you,” Stiles muttered.

~*~*~*~

“We should talk,” Talia said.

“I . . . thought we were talking,” Stiles said warily.

“Not about the patrols.”

“Oh. I would just like to state for the record that I have not touched Derek inappropriately.”

“Not for Derek’s lack of trying,” Peter said from behind Stiles.

Stiles jumped in his seat and swore. “One day I’m going to shoot you,” he informed Peter.

Peter’s smirk said, I’d like to see you try.

“You’ve seen Derek’s blue eyes,” Talia said.

“Yes,” Stiles said, even though it wasn’t really a question.

“You know what it means,” Talia continued, “when a werewolf’s eyes change color.”

“Yes,” Stiles said, swallowing hard. He wasn’t sure he was going to like the direction this conversation took.

“Is there a reason you’re ignoring the situation?” Peter asked.

“I’m not ignoring it, exactly,” Stiles said.

“You know that my son is in love with you,” Talia said, unperturbed.

“I know that Derek had a crush on me,” Stiles said.

“Do you really believe that his eyes would’ve changed because of a mere crush?” Talia said, her eyes flashing red.

Before Stiles could answer, Peter said, “What are you afraid of?”

“I’m not . . . afraid,” Stiles said, starting strong out of sheer pride and finishing weakly.

“Then what is your objection?” Talia said while Peter leaned back in his chair and studied Stiles.

“My objection,” Stiles said, trying not to feel wrong-footed when he was totally in the right here, “is that Derek is sixteen years old, and I am not going to take advantage of him.”

Talia tilted her head and studied Stiles, and in that moment she and Peter looked so much alike it was scary.

“He’s not afraid that Derek’s ‘crush’ will fade away with time,” Peter said conversationally to Talia, as if they weren’t discussing Stiles right in front of him. “He’s afraid that it won’t.”

“Ah,” Talia said. “Mother was right, boys are stupid.”

“Mmm,” Peter agreed.

“If you’re done trying to pimp out your son to me . . . ,” Stiles said, trying to regain control of the situation.

Talia snorted. It was very un-Alpha like and reminded Stiles very much of Derek. “We’re not pimping out Derek. I just wanted to know why you were being so stubborn and making both of you miserable.”

“I’m not . . . ,” Stiles said, then broke off because he didn’t know whether he meant to say that he wasn’t being stubborn, or that he wasn’t making anyone miserable, neither of which he could say and mean whole-heartedly. He was hiding behind Derek’s age because he was afraid of what might happen if he accepted what Derek’s blue eyes were telling him. He’d already lost too many people he loved.

“Besides,” Peter said. “If money needs to change hands we wouldn’t need to pimp out Derek since he’s already fully on board. We’d just buy you and gift you to him.”

“I . . . that doesn’t even make any sense,” Stiles said. “And it’s more than a little bit disturbing.”

“Very little of this conversation does make sense,” Peter said, and Stiles didn’t think Peter was talking about his and Talia’s end of it.

“Is this why you asked me to stay?” Stiles asked.

“You saved my son’s life twice,” Talia said. “Why wouldn’t I want you to stay? But if you think I . . . we . . . are the only ones, then you’re being willfully blind.”

“It’s a painful thing to find the other half of your soul and have to watch them walk away and be reminded that they didn’t want you every time you look in the mirror,” Peter said.

With that, Talia and Peter both stood and walked out, leaving Stiles alone with his own thoughts.

~*~*~*~

Four months after Stiles made the decision to remain in Beacon Hills, they got word that the war with the Visitors might be over. Apparently the Visitor Leader had shown up and ordered his troops to stand down, and was currently discussing peace with a Human-Visitor hybrid known only to them as the Star Child. (Stiles wasn’t one hundred percent certain this person even existed.) Patrols had continued because neither Chris nor Talia had been willing to put too much trust in the Visitor Leader. Nothing had changed in Beacon Hills as they waited for further word from the resistence, but Stiles couldn’t help thinking about what kind of future he might have once the war ended and the Visitors left.

Normality wouldn’t return for a very long time, if ever. Not even counting all the repairs that would need to be made to government and infrastructure, people’s lives had been irreparably changed. Even when he no longer had to carry a gun 24/7, Stiles’ dad would still be dead. Going to college didn’t hold the same draw that it had when Stiles was sixteen and dreaming about keg parties and getting laid.

He’d spent most of the last three years fighting against the Visitors, peace, if it ever came, wouldn’t give him back the pieces of himself that the war had taken. Once upon a time his biggest concern had been passing Chemistry, making first line, and keeping Betty in gas. Now he worried every day that he’d lose someone else, and he spent his time doing everything in his power to prevent that.

A month after they’d received the news that peace might be a possibility, the war resumed. There’d been no word from the Visitor Leader, or Earth’s envoy, and the Visitors on ships still orbiting the Earth had decided that, without further contact from their absent leader, the invasion should continue. Or perhaps they’d decided that it didn’t matter either way – that Earth’s resources were too precious to just leave behind.

The first indication they had of it had been when a Visitor space shuttle had flown overhead. Stiles didn’t know if they were doing recon, or were there to harvest ‘food’ in the guise of Beacon Hills residents. Stiles had radioed in his position and the sighting, then pulled his Glock and shot ineffectually at the craft. He didn’t need to bring down the ship, he only needed to get their attention and slow them down.

Which he did. As soon as he was certain, Stiles ran for the tree line, which would only offer him minimal protection from the ship’s guns, but was better than nothing. “Stay down!” Stiles called to Derek.

It was the first time they’d patrolled together since Derek had insisted on being part of the patrols (and Talia, wanting her heir to learn all aspects of being a good leader, had allowed it). Stiles had purposely scheduled the patrols so he and Derek hadn’t been on the same teams, punishing himself as much as Derek because he always worried until he received word that Derek’s team had returned unscathed.

Stiles hadn’t said anything that morning when Derek showed up in Erica’s place because he was tired of being angry, and what could happen while they were under a truce and involved in peace talks? Fucking Visitors, Stiles thought as he rolled into a ditch.

Over the sound of the ship’s engine and gunfire, Stiles heard Derek howl. The werewolves would be able to get there faster than anyone from base, though Stiles didn’t know what help unarmed werewolves would be against an armed space ship. Still, he would be happy to have some back up. Stiles wished that grenade launchers were standard patrol equipment, but he’d have to make due with his pistol and Derek’s claws until back up arrived.

Stiles watched through the tree tops as the ship hovered, probably trying to decide whether it was safe to move on to the town without making sure they’d eliminated this unknown threat at their rear. Just as it looked like the craft was going to move off, a silver wolf darted out of the trees and into the clearing. The ship’s guns fired and Peter went down as if he’d hit a brick wall.

Derek screamed, but Talia was there before he could run out and place himself in danger. A moment later Erica showed up beside Stiles. Erica shifted, and Stiles made sure to keep his eyes on the shuttle once he removed the rifle that had been strapped to her back. According to Erica, Boyd and Clarice, and James and Matt were also out there somewhere, Isaac having drawn the short straw of remaining behind with Laura to protect the children.

They all watched as the ship landed in the clearing, unable to resist the temptation of capturing a werewolf. Erica took the rifle from Stiles. A glance towards Derek’s position showed Stiles that Talia had done the same. They waited while the ramp was lowered. Several Visitor soldiers appeared, cautiously sweeping their surroundings as they descended the ramp. Stiles wondered what they were waiting for, and then Boyd and James stepped into the clearing in wolf form. The Visitors turned towards them immediately, having learned how dangerous a werewolf could be.

The moment they were distracted, Talia and Erica stepped out of cover and fired. When the Visitors turned back, Clarice and Matt, naked and holding rifles of their own, stepped out and fired. The Visitors went down and Boyd and James bounded forward to finish them off. The armor piercing bullets necessary to kill a Visitor were a rare commodity, so they didn’t waste them when they had werewolves that could do the job as easily, if a bit more messily.

Stiles sighed in relief when Peter rose to his feet (all four of them, thankfully) and joined Boyd and James in their rush towards the ship. The rest of them joined the race, as well, because they had to take out any other soldiers that might be on the ship, and the pilot before they could get word back to the mothership or take off. The werewolves slashed their claws across the Visitors’ throats. Peter’s blow was so vicious that he nearly severed the head from its neck. Probably in retaliation for the wound in his hip, the red of his blood stark against the silver of his coat.

Inside the ship two more solders were killed and the pilot captured. Peter wanted to kill him, and Stiles couldn’t help but agree that the only good lizard was a dead lizard, but Talia insisted that they could get some information from him, and at the very least they should wait for Chris before making a decision. The bodies were removed and were just being searched for anything they could use against the Visitors – weapons or a map of their mothership or a conveniently discovered flash drive holding a breakdown of their plans – when several Jeeps pulled up.

Most of their attention was drawn to the approaching back up, which was when the captured Visitor made his move. Stiles didn’t know about it until Derek pulled his gun and fired, the bullet passing by Stiles’ head close enough for his ears to ring for the next half hour. The Visitor, who had managed to cut his restraints was subdued and restrained once more. His non-fatal injury was left to ooze green blood onto his white uniform. A more thorough search of the soldier showed where he’d hidden the knife he’d used to free himself, and which had been aimed at Stiles’ back when Derek shot him, beneath the covering of synthetic human skin at his wrist.

When Stiles looked back at Derek he was staring at the Visitor, pistol hanging loosely in his fingers. “Hey,” Stiles said.

Derek’s gaze moved to Stiles and he seemed to snap out of it. “You’re not allowed to die,” Derek said as he reholstered his weapon.

Before Stiles could respond, he heard Lydia say, “You guys got me a ship! I hope you didn’t shoot it up too badly inside.”

~*~*~*~

“Werewolves are different from us,” Chris said from behind him.

Stiles nearly dropped the earmuffs he’d just removed with one hand, the other already pressing the button to retrieve the target he’d been shooting at. “Seriously?” Stiles said, turning a glare on Chris. “Are you taking lessons from Peter on how to creep up on people? And why does everyone have a vested interest in my love life?”

“I have a vested interest in keeping Peter happy,” Chris said.

“Oh my god, please don’t tell me anymore,” Stiles begged.

Chris bit his lip to keep from smiling, but then he turned sober. “We don’t talk about the past,” Chris said, and Stiles knew he wasn’t talking about the two of them. “Peter and I . . . we knew each other in high school.”

“You lived in Beacon Hills?” Stiles said.

“For a time. Peter was seventeen when his eyes changed. When I was eighteen my father sent me away.”

“To get you away from Peter?”

“He never said, but I’m sure it was high on his list.”

“You went?” Stiles said, Peter’s earlier comment now making more sense.

“I never even considered disobeying Gerard,” Chris said. “Not back then. Peter didn’t ask me to stay. I don’t think I would’ve. I didn’t understand then . . . I met Victoria, we had Allison. I never expected to return to Beacon Hills, but fate had other ideas. They don’t love lightly,” Chris added after a pause.

“He’s only sixteen years old,” Stiles said calmly, even though he felt like a broken record.

“All I’m saying,” Chris said, then hesitated a moment. “If you’re not interested, that’s one thing, but if you’re stepping back because of some misguided notion that you’re protecting Derek, well, take it from me, you’re not doing him any favors.”

Chris waited and watched Stiles, probably wanting to make sure that Stiles absorbed what he’d said.

“What happened to Peter after you left?” Stiles asked.

“I’ll do you one better,” Chris said. “What happened to your dad after your mom died?”

It hurt to remember his dad in the days and years following his mom’s death. Neither one of them had handled it well.

“Neither Derek nor the Hale pack would force you into something you don’t want, but if you reject Derek, a piece of him will always be missing.”

“Are you saying that I complete him?” Stiles said, trying to have it come out light and failing. When Chris didn’t respond, Stiles spoke just to fill the silence. “Did Peter tell you that’s how he felt?”

Chris shook his head. “That’s how I felt. Be honest with yourself, when you imagine leaving Beacon Hills and Derek behind, how do you feel?”

Stiles would be lying if he said he hadn’t thought about it a couple times over the past four years, leaving Beacon Hills and the responsibility and the fear of letting down the people who relied on him. When it came right down to it, he couldn’t do it.

Instead of answering the question, though, Stiles said, “Does everyone know? About me and Derek, I mean.”

“That his eyes changed because of you?” Chris said. “Or that he’s been head over tail for you since you saved his life and brought him home?”

“Um, the eye thing,” Stiles said, pretending that he wasn’t blushing.

Chris just grinned, showing Stiles all his teeth, and walked away.

“No, seriously!” Stiles called after him.

~*~*~*~

“What’s wrong?” Melissa said.

Stiles didn’t jump, but only because he’d heard her come in despite being lost in thought. “Nothing’s wrong,” Stiles said.

“Uh huh,” Melissa said. “Which is why you’re sitting here in the dark.”

“Sorry,” Stiles said when he realized that the sun had gone down and he hadn’t lit even one candle for Melissa to see by when she came in.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Melissa said, “and luckily, I know where they keep the lanterns around here.” She indicated the kerosene lantern she carried, the wick burning brightly. “But if you need to talk about anything, I’m always available.”

Stiles snorted. “Like you don’t already know what I’m thinking about.”

“Derek?” Melissa said as she set the lantern on the coffee table and sat beside him on the couch.

“Everyone makes it sound so simple,” Stiles said. “Like I should just . . .” He waved his hand.

“Love is never simple,” Melissa said.

“It’s not love,” Stiles insisted.

“No?”

“Melissa . . . ,” Stiles began, then stopped. “I wasn’t going to stay, when I brought Derek back.”

“I know,” Melissa said gently.

“I didn’t trust myself.” Stiles couldn’t look at Melissa when he asked, “Why didn’t you blame me when Scott died?”

“Oh, sweetheart,” Melissa said, reaching out and taking Stiles’ hand. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“We wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for me,” Stiles said.

“I think you’re giving yourself too much credit,” Melissa said sharply enough to bring Stiles’ head up. “Scott might not have challenged Lydia Martin for Valedictorian, but he wasn’t dumb.”

“I know that . . .”

“You were the instigator of most of the stupid stunts the two of you pulled, I’ll give you that, but Scott didn’t follow you blindly. Every time he did, he knew exactly what he was getting into.”

“He didn’t know he was going to die,” Stiles said.

“No,” Melissa said. “But he didn’t die for nothing, and to believe otherwise diminishes who Scott was.”

Stiles leaned forward and buried his face in his hands, shook his head. “We shouldn’t have even been there.”

“Do you really think Scott wouldn’t have wanted to find out why the ship was here? Do you really believe that Scott didn’t know what was at stake when he confronted those soldiers?”

We have to save them!

“What do you think they’re doing here?” Scott had said when they’d first spotted the shuttle craft.

“Let’s go find out,” Stiles said, and took off, but Scott, with his stupid werewolf speed, soon out-paced him.

Stiles was breathing hard by the time he caught up with Scott, who was peering around the corner of St. Luke’s at where the ship had come down in the middle of the intersection, the Visitor soldiers gathering up people on the sidewalk, indiscriminately herding women, children, and men onto the ship while others ran away screaming, some falling to the Visitors’ energy weapons. One of the Visitors violently grabbed a child by the arm and Scott growled.

Stiles grabbed Scott by the arm before he could dart out from their hiding place. “What are you doing?” Stiles hissed.

“We have to help them!” Scott said.

“What can we do?” Stiles said.

“I don’t know!” Scott said. “But something!”

“We can’t do this by ourselves,” Stiles argued, and for a moment he thought he’d convinced Scott, but then a child cried out and Scott gave Stiles a look.

“Stay here,” Scott said. “Call your dad.”

Scott raced out and Stiles only took a moment to curse his own curiosity before following him. Scott reached the first Visitor before they saw him coming and shoved his claws through the lizard nearest him before tossing him away, the Visitor sliding off Scott’s claws with a sickening slurp.

Scott’s speed worked in his favor and he was able to disable two more Visitors before the others, busy herding people onto their ship, could react. Scott threw a child at Stiles, who freaked out and caught her, but before he could grab another, took a shot from the Visitors’ energy weapon. Scott shook it off and broke another prisoner free, but then his body jerked as he was hit again, and again. Stiles set down the girl behind a bush and then ran back towards Scott. Stiles screamed as a Visitor soldier slashed out at Scott. Blood spurted from Scott’s throat and he dropped where he stood.

The ship’s engines started up, and the ramp began to close. Stiles screamed Scott’s name. Scott’s finger twitched and he looked right at Stiles as the blood gurgled from his torn throat. The ramp raised Scott’s body away from Stiles, and he watched the light go out of Scott’s eyes just before his body disappeared into the enemy ship.

“No!” Stiles screamed. “Scott, no, no!”

“No,” Stiles said now, answering Melissa. “I just . . . I miss him.”

“I miss him, too,” Melissa said. “But please don’t turn away from love because you’re afraid of losing someone else.”

“I’m not doing that,” Stiles assured her.

“No? Good.” Melissa hesitated, then said, “You know, your dad asked me out once.”

“What?”

“Yeah,” Melissa said with a small smile. “It was after the first invasion, we were all busy trying to rebuild. I liked your dad, I enjoyed his company. We’d sit together at lacrosse games, and have coffee together so we could talk about the latest shenanigans you two boys had gotten up to.”

“I didn’t know you two dated,” Stiles said.

“We didn’t,” Melissa said. “I said no.”

“Why?” Stiles said.

Melissa shook her head. “I don’t know. I thought I was too busy, I was afraid of change. After your dad died, it was my one regret.” Melissa smiled sadly. “Do what feels right to you,” she urged, “but do it for the right reasons. Don’t look back and think ‘what if’.”

“I won’t,” Stiles promised.

“Good,” Melissa said. She pushed her fingers through Stiles’ hair, brushed it back from his face. “Let yourself be happy.”

“Okay.”

Melissa smiled at him, then her eyes widened. “Oh! Before I forget, Heidi, at the hospital, gave me something to give to you.” Melissa riffled through the bag she carried to work and pulled out a magazine that she laid on Stiles’ lap.

“Oh, that’s . . . awesome,” Stiles said as he read the name of the magazine – Bridal Guide.

“She offered to help, too,” Melissa said with a grin. “She offers the two daughters she’s married off as references.”

“I appreciate that,” Stiles said wryly. “You’ll have to thank her for me.”

“I already did,” Melissa said. “Listen, kiddo, I’m exhausted, so . . .”

“Yeah. Good night.”

Stiles looked down at the magazine. “I’m not wearing white!” he called out, closing his eyes and smiling when he heard Melissa’s laughter in response.

~*~*~*~

Three days later, Stiles was on patrol with Derek, having split off from Boyd and Erica with plans to rendezvous at an abandoned barn after they each finished their leg of the patrol, and then head back to the Hale house together. Which left Stiles and Derek alone for at least an hour.

Stiles hadn’t been avoiding Derek, even after his talk with Melissa, but he had been ignoring the blue elephant in the room. It was more difficult to do that when they were alone. Even though Stiles was supposed to be keeping his eyes open for signs of Visitor patrols, his mind was spinning with the idea that Derek thought Stiles was his mate, believed it to the very core of himself to the extent that his eyes had changed from yellow to blue because of it.

Derek had been happy about it, had expected Stiles to be happy about it, but now he rarely flashed his eyes, at least not in Stiles’ presence. It was as if he was hiding this part of himself, afraid to make Stiles uncomfortable, and it made Stiles feel guilty. He didn’t know how to tell Derek that it really was ‘me not you.’

Derek sighed. “Please stop thinking so loudly, it’s giving me a headache.”

“Sorry,” Stiles said.

“I know you think I’m too young,” Derek said. “Or that this isn’t real for me. But you’re wrong. It’s always been real for me.”

“Derek . . .”

“And I know you care about me, too,” Derek went on, not letting Stiles interrupt him.

Stiles raised his eyebrows. “What makes you think that?” It wasn’t a denial, and the look Derek gave him said he’d noticed.

“You returned to Beacon Hills for me, and then when you had the chance to leave, you stayed.”

“I stayed for a lot of reasons,” Stiles said.

“One of which being how awesome I am,” Derek said.

“I had to make sure you took good care of my comic books,” Stiles said.

“I’ll always take good care of anything you give me,” Derek said, sounding so serious that Stiles stumbled over a non-existent clump of dirt in the path.

“Derek, Jesus,” Stiles said. “Look, it’s not you I don’t trust, it’s me.”

Derek stopped walking and looked at Stiles. “Why?”

Stiles closed his eyes and tried to speak, but it was so difficult to say the words. “Because everyone I care about gets hurt.”

Derek touched Stiles’ arm. “You’re gonna have a tough time getting rid of me.”

I thought the same thing about Scott, Stiles thought, but he didn’t have a chance to voice it because Derek’s head went back as he scented the air when the wind shifted.

“What is it?” Stiles asked quietly, looking around even as he un-clipped the holster at his waist so he could pull the Glock.

“Someone’s . . . ,” Derek began, breaking off when a gun shot sounded and a look of confusion filled his face.

“Derek?” Stiles said, reaching for him.

“Shit,” Derek said as he dropped to one knee. “That fucking hurts.”

“Derek,” Stiles said again, trying not to panic when Derek started to topple over.

Stiles pulled his Glock and looked around them as he shoved Derek’s jacket aside so he could see the spot of red blooming across the front of his t-shirt. There was no sign of whoever had shot Derek. Stiles pressed his hand against Derek’s stomach to stem the bleeding and punched the radio with the heel of the hand holding the Glock.

“Derek’s been shot,” Stiles said, trying to remain calm, telling himself that Derek would be fine, he’d heal. “Unknown number of hostiles. Repeat, Derek’s been shot.”

“Is he alright?” Erica’s voice came over the radio.

“No, I’m not fucking alright,” Derek muttered as he pulled his own weapon, his other hand pressing over Stiles’.

“I think he’s going to be fine,” Stiles said wryly, “but we could use some back up.”

“Already on our way,” Boyd said.

“Movement, your eleven o’clock.” Derek’s eyes shifted to the side. “And three o’clock.”

“I’ll take eleven o’clock,” Stiles said softly. “Now.”

They both moved. Stiles twisted his head even as he raised his arm to take the shot. He didn’t see anything, but the lizards could be hiding behind the trees or in the underbrush. Stiles fired to draw them out and when he caught movement, fired again. Someone returned fire and Stiles emptied his clip in that direction, even as he tried to drag Derek behind a tree, because they were sitting ducks in the open like they were.

“Cease fire!” someone ordered, and the forest fell silent except for the echo of gun shots ringing in Stiles’ ears.

Stiles tried to reload his gun, but his other hand was slippery with Derek’s blood and it was difficult to do one-handed. Half a dozen men stepped out of the trees and surrounded them.

“Drop your weapons,” one of the men said.

Stiles glanced at Derek, gave a slight nod of his head. They couldn’t do anything until Derek healed and their back up arrived. As the men stepped closer, Stiles noticed a splotch of red on one of their shoulders.

“You’re human,” Stiles said, surprised. “Why are you shooting at us? We’re friendlies.”

An old man stepped through the ring of men circling them. “You’re no friends of mine,” he said in a raspy voice.

Gerard Argent, Stiles’ brain supplied.

“So it’s true,” Stiles said, feeling the burn of bile in his throat. “You survived the ambush.” You killed my dad. “Why are you doing this?” he asked.

“I wanted to avenge my daughter before I die,” Gerard said. He coughed just then, emphasizing his point.

“We didn’t kill Kate,” Stiles said.

“It doesn’t matter whose claws dealt the killing blow,” Gerard said, spittle flying from his lips, “they’re all guilty. And you had a hand in it, as well.”

“No,” Stiles said, trying to stall.

“String him up,” Gerard said, and three of his men moved towards Derek.

“No!” Stiles said, and rose to his feet to stand over Derek.

One of the men slammed the butt of his rifle into Stiles’ stomach, and when he doubled over, another hit him in the head. Stiles fell to the ground, but he didn’t black out completely. Still, by the time he regained his senses, his hands had been secured behind his back and Derek was hanging by his wrists from a rope thrown over the branch of a tree. Stiles shook his head in an attempt to clear it, which was a mistake.

Several of the men surrounded Derek, while two stood guard over Stiles. “What are you doing?” Stiles said as one of the men slashed a knife at Derek, leaving shallow cuts that didn’t appear to be healing.

“Wolfsbane,” Derek gritted out.

“Stop it!” Stiles yelled as he struggled to his knees.

The men mostly ignored him, taking great enjoyment in witnessing Derek’s pain. Stiles tested the restraints on his wrists, which felt like a zip tie rather than rope. It was too tight for him to slip out of, but in their hurry to get to the torture, they hadn’t bothered to search Stiles for other weapons before tying him up. Stiles released one of the knives from his wrist sheath. It slid into his hand, but because of the drying blood he was unable to get a good grip on it, and it slipped to the ground. Stiles swore silently, then bent his other wrist.

“Bring me the sword,” Gerard ordered.

Stiles’ heart raced. “What’s that for?” he asked as the other knife slipped cleanly into his palm. Gerard ignored him, for which Stiles was grateful as he pressed the blade against the plastic tie and began to saw.

“I’m getting old and weak,” Gerard said with faux compassion, “so it will probably take me a couple of tries to sever your body in half.”

“No!” Stiles said as he sawed frantically, wondering how they could all be so caught up in the tableau before them that no one noticed. “Teeth! It was teeth!” Stiles yelled, grasping at any straw that would allow him to stall Gerard.

“What are you talking about?” Gerard snarled at Stiles.

“He didn’t use his claws to tear out Kate’s throat,” Stiles said, speaking slowly as he continued to saw at the tie. “He tore out her throat with his teeth.”

Gerard roared his anger and madness, and arms still strong from years of hunting despite his illness raised the sword. Stiles’ heart thudded against his rib cage like a panicked bird trying to escape its cage as Gerard swung the sword. Stiles reared up, uncaring that he hadn’t yet cut through the tie. Yelling out a battle cry, Stiles rushed the nearest hunter, using his shoulder as a battering ram to knock the man off balance. Stiles strained at the zip tie, and finally it had become stressed enough to break. He turned and threw the knife he still held at the other hunter who had been standing guard over him before that man could bring up his rifle and take a shot.

Stiles turned back to Derek with dread, wondering just how badly he’d been injured by Gerard’s sword before Stiles could get to him, but Derek bore no new cuts or bloody slashes. Instead, he had managed to get a grip on the rope and use it for leverage to pull himself up and kick out at Gerard, catching him the head. Gerard had fallen to his knees, but he still retained his grip on the sword.

Howls from the forest reached their ears and the hunters still standing took up a defensive stance in face of the new attackers, which left Stiles with only one hunter between him and Derek. Stiles wasn’t the best at hand-to-hand, but he was fueled by the adrenaline coursing through his body. He ducked under the hunter’s rifle, grabbled the stock, and slammed the butt of the hunter’s own rifle into his face. The hunter went down with a bloody nose and Stiles wrenched the rifle from his hands. He used the butt against the back of Gerard’s head before he could fully regain his feet, watching the man fall to the ground with a satisfying thud.

Stiles quickly looked around, but Erica and Boyd seemed to have the other hunters well in hand, so Stiles could give his full attention to Derek. He grabbed Derek’s legs and raised him, taking the weight off his wrists so Derek didn’t have to maintain his grip on the rope. A moment later Derek had slashed the rope with his claws, and Stiles gently lowered him to the ground. The smell of freshly spilled blood was heavy in Stiles’ nostrils, but he only had eyes for Derek and couldn’t spare any attention for the carnage around him.

“Wow, their timing really sucks,” Derek said.

“Oh my god, shut up!” Stiles said.

“Is he alright?” Erica asked over Stiles’ shoulder as he tore Derek’s t-shirt open so he could assess the full extent of Derek’s injuries. They weren’t healing, and black lines were starting to spread out like veins from each of the small cuts.

“We need Deaton,” Stiles said. “He’s been poisoned.”

Stiles ignored Erica as she stepped away and radioed in the request. He slapped Derek’s hand away from where he was poking at the bullet wound in his belly. “What are you doing?”

“Need to get the bullet out,” Derek said.

“What?” Stiles said dumbly.

“I need you to get the bullet out,” Derek repeated. “I can’t get a grip on it.”

“You’re kidding,” Stiles said, hoping, though knowing it was futile.

Derek shook his head, and Stiles felt an hysterical laugh bubbling up in his throat.

“What do you expect me to do?” Stiles said, voice going a little high.

“Stick your finger in there and dig it out,” Derek said.

“My finger,” Stiles said.

“I can do it if you want,” Erica offered.

“No, I . . . I’ve got it,” Stiles said, steeling himself. Oh god, Stiles thought as he put his finger inside the wound and felt around for the bullet, if he was willing to do this, it must be love.

When he glanced up at Derek, instead of the grimace of pain he expected, Derek was smiling.

“What are you smiling about?” Stiles said, sounding a bit frantic that maybe Derek was dying.

“Nothing,” Derek said, still smiling.

“What the hell is wrong with him?” Stiles asked Erica, but she was smiling, too. “Werewolves,” Stiles muttered disgustedly, and tried not to think about where his finger was and what he was currently doing.

It took Stiles longer than he liked to dig out the bullet. He used Derek’s already torn shirt to staunch the blood still flowing from the wound. As he pressed down, Derek still smiling despite the paleness of his skin, Stiles wished he could shoot each of the hunters in the stomach and leave them to die a slow, painful death. Unfortunately, they’d all been taken care of with extreme prejudice by Erica and Boyd.

Just then Gerard moaned as he slowly regained consciousness. Erica turned towards him with a snarl.

“Wait,” Derek commanded, and Erica immediately stopped in her tracks, though she whined, unhappy about being called off.

“Help me up,” Derek told Stiles.

Stiles knew better than to argue with Derek when he was in Alpha-in-training mode, so he helped Derek to his feet and let Derek lean on him as they walked the few feet to stand over Gerard. Derek waited until Gerard had come to his senses enough to notice Derek standing on his own two feet, if with a little help from Stiles.

“Let’s save him for the Alpha to decide his fate,” Derek proclaimed. “Perhaps she’ll show you the same mercy you would’ve shown me,” he told Gerard.

Gerard started spewing hatred and insults. Stiles turned Derek away and led him over to sit up against a tree – not the same one he’d recently been hanging from.

“Tie him up and gag him,” Stiles told Erica. He watched as she carried out the order with relish, and if she was a little bit too exuberant in her methods, Stiles didn’t mention it.

Not long after, the trees around them were crowded with people. Talia and Deaton took Derek out of Stiles’ arms to tend to him; Chris and Allison questioned Boyd and Erica and then made arrangements for the transport of the hunter’s bodies. Peter wandered over to stand beside Gerard and stare down at him. Gerard glared at Peter with hatred in his eyes, but Peter didn’t appear fazed by it. Stiles didn’t even consider calling Peter off, not even when he squatted beside Gerard and began speaking.

A little mental torture from Peter was the least Gerard deserved for what he’d done to Derek, what he’d planned to do to him, and what he’d done to Stiles’ dad and the other men and women who’d died that day over four years ago. Stiles stepped closer in time to hear Peter say, “You know what they say about the best revenge.” He looked over at Chris as he finished, “It’s in loving well.”

“I thought it was ‘living well.’ The best revenge,” Stiles clarified when Peter raised a questioning eyebrow at him.

Peter grinned, and Stiles thought he saw some of the boy Chris had fallen in love with shining through. “That, too,” Peter said, startling a laugh out of Stiles.

Peter was right, Stiles thought as he looked over to where Derek was being loaded onto the back of an ATV that would carry him to the Animal Clinic where Deaton could determine which form of wolfsbane he’d been poisoned with and treat him. Loving well would be the best revenge. Erica raised her hand and waved to Stiles, saying something that Stiles couldn’t hear.

“Derek wants you to go with him,” Peter translated.

Stiles walked over to Derek without hesitating, not sparing another glance for Gerard. He climbed onto the ATV behind Derek and cradled him in his arms to try and brace him against too much jostling. Stiles bent his head and rested his forehead against Derek’s shoulder.

“Hey,” Derek said, laying his hand over Stiles’. “I’m gonna be alright.”

“I know you are,” Stiles said. He threaded his fingers between Derek’s. “And so am I.”

The End