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It's after the fourteenth werewolf dies that Stiles gets the call. An alpha this time, her betas unaccounted for but presumed dead. The call has him arriving at HQ with a duffel packed and his passport in hand. He's ushered into a briefing room and a thick file is dropped onto the table before him.

"Everything the NSA has on the dead lycanthropes," says Director Martin, stalking around the table to sit in the chair at the head of the table. Stiles flips the file open and begins reading before pausing again.

"Wait," he says, looking at her. "Did I walk into the wrong building? I was sure I walked into CIA headquarters."

"You're in the correct building, Agent Stilinski," she says. "Your new assignment is in. You'll be working undercover with a member of the NSA's specialist teams. Agent Hale, I believe."

"Hale?" Stiles echoes; Martin's eyes narrow and she pushes her hair back over her shoulder. Oh, boy. His follow-up question of which Hale it is dies on his tongue.

"I surmise that won't be a problem, Agent," she says.

Stiles fights the urge to curl his lip in distaste and instead directs his attention back to the file in lieu of answering. Director Martin sits back in her chair, satisfied with his choice. The question of which Hale he'll be working with still circles around his head; he could handle Laura - the mission might even be fun with Laura - and perhaps even Cora, but--

The door bangs open and Stiles doesn't flinch, sensing two people enter the room before the door slams shut again. He keeps his eyes on the file, idly turning a page and picking out a particularly gruesome photograph to take a closer look at.

"Stilinski?" a voice grits out, incredulous. Stiles doesn't look up, as much as the temptation is there. He knows the voice and knows its owners' reputation. Lieutenant Stick-In-The-Mud. Great. "You put Stilinski on my case?"

"Agent Stilinski is our finest," Director Martin says, voice so sharp Stiles wonders if she doesn't cut diamonds just by commanding them.

"God help us all," Hale grunts and Stiles looks up, placid as can be.

"Lieutenant Hale, General Deaton," Stiles says, nodding to them. "Director, all of this is terribly tragic, but what does the CIA have to do with it? The deaths are all from California - looks like a Fed job to me."

"Agent Stilinski," Deaton says. "Nice to see you're back in the field."

Stiles inclines his head and lifts a shoulder, not feeling up to talking about Istanbul. Deaton continues. "Tests that have come back from the first six victims suggest a particular strand of aconite grown in Russia - we have reason to believe the killer may be working with multiple others. We need to uproot their organisation and find out how it's ending up in our victims. These files are your given identities, identification and any other bits and pieces of information you need to know about your covers. There are teams setting up your new apartment as we speak. Your flight leaves in six hours. A car will pick you up from the airport and take you to an undisclosed location where you will find your new means of transport and everything else you'll need. As soon as you reach the location, you are to assume your new identities."

"Copy that," Stiles says, reaching for his file. Hale drops down into the seat beside him and drags his own over the desk.

"You have got to be kidding me," says Hale, throwing his file onto the desk; Stiles turns, craning his neck to look at it. "Why do I get a name when Stilinski gets a full one, and a job?"

Curiosity piqued, Stiles reaches for the file and picks it up when his hand doesn't get slapped away. He skims the few pages that are there and can't help the grin that's sliding across his face.

"Well," Stiles says, spinning to look at Martin and Deaton. "I kind of love this assignment already - an apartment in Downtown and I always wanted a dog."

"I'm not a dog," Hale snaps, snatching his file and standing up. "General, this is unacceptable--I didn't join the NSA just to be handed off on babysitting duty, and I certainly did not sign up to be kept as a pet."

"I resent the implication that I'm incapable of doing my job," Stiles says, swinging back and forth in his chair. "But by all means, go on and quit. It's only a matter of national - perhaps international - security and the continued wellbeing of lycanthropes, no biggie."

Hale directs his furious glare at Stiles, who gives him nothing but a cocked eyebrow and lopsided grin in return. Hale smacks his file down onto the desk in front of Stiles and snatches Stiles' out of his hand, turning on his heel and storming out of the room.

"Does he know he's not allowed to leave the premises with one of these?" Stiles asks after a moment, watching Hale's retreating back through the thick glass door.

Director Martin rolls her eyes. "This should prove a fruitful venture," she says. Deaton looks back at her with a slight quirk to his mouth, which could mean amusement, trepidation or pretty much anything else. Stiles has met the General a handful of times and has never been able to get a read on Deaton -- and considering it's an area he's had full training and excellent results in, that's more than a little disconcerting at times.

"Agent Stilinski," Martin says. "Part of your job is going to be working closely with Lieutenant Hale as a team, relying on one another for intel and back up. This assignment is not a walk in the park - we're putting our best agents on it for a reason, do you understand me?"

"Yes, ma'am," Stiles says. "Hale won't be spending all of his time lupine-inclined, will he? I know that's bad for them, with the possibilities of getting stuck, going feral...?"

"Lieutenant Hale will do whatever is necessary," General Deaton says. "Don't worry about him getting stuck. If he wasn't aware of the risks and prepared to take them, he wouldn't be partaking in this operation."

"Doesn't seem like you gave him much choice," Stiles says, waving Hale's file. "I'll take your word for it, sir, but if I'm to trust him to have my back, I need to know he's not going to eat me."

"Hale has proven himself to be an invaluable asset to the National Security," Deaton says. "This is not his first field mission and will not be his last. Now, as I'm led to believe this is your first time working with the Specialist Lycanthropic Division, do you have any questions concerning lycanthropy?"

Stiles looks at the Director, who arches an eyebrow but says nothing, and then back at Deaton. "No, sir," he says. "I'm intimately familiar with how it all works. Grew up on the Preserves in Northern California."

"Agent Stilinski's background was one of many reasons he was selected for this assignment. He works to the letter of the law, albeit in occasionally unorthodox ways, and without prejudice; Agent Hale will suffer no maltreatment at his hands," Director Martin says, inclining her head at Stiles and clasping her hands together on the desk before her. "Now, if your little test is over, could you call Hale back in so that we may continue on with the briefing?"

Deaton nods and presses a button on his watch. "Lieutenant Hale," he says. Hale appears at the door and pushes through, resuming his position beside Stiles. He places Stiles' file on the table and turns his attention to their superiors; Stiles follows suit.

"Fourteen lycanthropes, at our current official count, have been murdered across the southern California area in the past month," Deaton says. "As far as our limited investigations show, they appear to be murdered in small groups - pockets of three or four. The majority of the victims -- the first thirteen -- have all been beta wolves, parts of packs, but no alphas. However, the most recent victim was an alpha, murdered on her own with no pack around her; the only reason we're treating this death as linked with the thirteen betas is that she was killed in the same way. No signs of struggle other than contusion and ligature marks around the wrists, indicating that the victims were being strung up before being severed in half. The marks are present on all of the corpses, suggesting that the victims are kept hanging until well after death. The bodies are discovered in woodland, typically early morning by joggers or dog walkers. Each victim has been found loaded with aconite believed to have been imported from Russia, which is where your teams at the CIA come in."

Martin nods and takes over. "Intel suggests one of the frontrunners in the smuggling, if not the murders, may be a cop within the LAPD," she says. "The decision to have you go undercover as a Detective was much due to this. The implicated is a Detective Katherine Argent, who at present moment, has no idea there are eyes on her.

"Ms. Argent is part of the Robbery-Homicide Division, specialising in homicide. Once you're set up in Los Angeles, you will receive access keys to the system and will be given access to her file. As far as we've been able to dig, Ms. Argent is a US citizen to a Russian mother and a French father; she has old family ties to the KGB as well as French militia. Ms. Argent has had many aliases, most of which are derived from her actual name. Her apartment is leased to a Kate de Plata, for example; multiple bank accounts in the names Silfur, Sylvia, Arghent, Zylberman -- she's not particularly difficult to keep track of, except for when it comes to trying to link her to the aconite smuggling."

"Which is where you come in, Agent Stilinski," Deaton says. "Derek will be able to track her as soon as he knows her scent, but you must ensure she doesn't suspect a thing, and you'll be there to ensure nothing happens to him - we've lost too many lycanthropes this month already, and if Ms. Argent is indeed involved in the murders as well as the smuggling, she doesn't strike me as the type to hesitate to load a common police dog up with aconite just to be sure he's not a lycanthrope. Neither of you goes out without the other, neither of you follows up a lead alone - as far as our killers are concerned, we have no idea how they're discerning lycanthropes from humans, so she may even test you, Stilinski. You both have to be on guard at all times. Learn to like, or at least tolerate, one another because if you don't, we could lose one or both of you."

"Any questions?" asks Director Martin.

Stiles clears his throat and lifts the bug he'd noticed being stuck to the underside of the table before Hale had stormed out earlier. "Is this going to become an occupational hazard?"

Martin's lips settle in an amused little quirk and Deaton says nothing; Hale huffs and grabs the bug from Stiles' hand. "If you've got nothing to hide, it shouldn't be a problem," he says, clicking it and tucking it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. "Are we done here?"

Martin and Deaton nod, turning to speak to one another in hushed tones. Hale strides from the room once more and Stiles goes back to poring over the files, figuring he has time to kill before his flight.

*

Hale drops, as is seemingly becoming a habit, into the seat beside Stiles. He doesn't say anything or do anything to indicate acknowledgement of Stiles' presence, merely pulls out a book, cracks the spine, and begins to read. Stiles twitches, turning his attention to the window and gazing out at the concourse for a few moments before turning back to Hale.

"You'd think they'd at least spring for first class," he says. "This is like, a six hour flight."

Hale huffs. "Longer if you continue to state the obvious," he says. "Aren't you supposed to be used to long haul flights?"

Stiles shrugs. "Yeah, but I usually get first class - I travel alone, mostly," he says. "What the hell is the deal with the leg room back here? I'm going to be in so much pain when we get out of here."

"More, if you don't stop fidgeting," Hale says. "Didn't you bring something to do?"

At Stiles' shrug, Hale rolls his eyes so hard Stiles wonders if it hurt him to do it and shoves his book at Stiles' chest, pulling another out of his bag.

"If I have to sit for the next six hours listening to you complaining and fidgeting, I will open the door and push you out," Hale says, and then settles in with his book.

*

Stiles lets out a low whistle when he sees the car waiting for him at the undisclosed location -- it turns out to be an unused parking lot in a run down part of the city. Hale shoves his duffel at Stiles and begins peeling off his clothing as soon as the car that dropped them off disappears around the corner.

"What--?"

"I'm not going to shift with my clothes on," Hale says, folding his suit jacket and shirt. "I expect these to be dry cleaned and hung up."

He folds his pants and even pairs his socks together, piling his shoes on top of everything in Stiles' arms and soon, Hale is left in nothing but a pair of snug grey boxer briefs that are leaving almost nothing to Stiles' already overactive imagination.

"Do you mind?"

Stiles blinks and then his mouth drops open in realisation; he spins on his heel, busying himself with blipping open the car and stowing their bags and Hale's discarded clothing in the trunk. He circles around the car, out of Hale's view to hurriedly strip out of his own shirt and blazer, tugs on a plain v-neck. He shucks out of his suit pants at a more leisurely pace and pulls on some jeans from his own duffel bag. He trades his work shoes for sneakers and runs a hand through his hair. By the time he's done and returns to the trunk, there's a giant dark brown wolf at his hip, front paws braced on the ledge of the trunk as he cranes his neck to place his underwear with the rest of his clothing.

Stiles grins at Hale, who gives him the lupine equivalent of a glare in response and pushes away from the car to go and wait by the passenger door, which Stiles goes to open for him, shutting it the second Hale's fluffy tail is tucked safely within the car.

"You do realise that because you're playing the part of a dog, you have to be friendly and loving?" Stiles says; Hale wrinkles his muzzle, baring his teeth in a silent snarl to broadcast his distaste. "And, I'm just saying, you can't tell me to shut up in that form, either, so I can talk as much as I like..."

Hale's teeth close around his wrist when it goes down to pull the handbrake, not applying any pressure, but pointedly enough that his message is received.

Stiles turns the radio on, keeping it low -- Hale huffs in what Stiles is taking to be appreciation when he reaches out to turn it down -- but still just loud enough to supply background noise. He's memorised the way to his new apartment already, took his time back in the briefing room to look into every building within a ten block radius, but he takes his time getting there, to familiarise himself with the roads.

"We officially start work on Monday," Stiles says. "I think we'll need to make a show of moving in, get to know at least one or two others in our building this weekend, give us a chance to get used to this... set up before we actually go into work. We'll check in with Martin and Deaton when we get there. Hey, do you get your own apartment or are we roomies? It's gonna be kind of difficult to explain that my dog has his own apartment. Man, I hope the apartment has two bedrooms. Easier to explain my room mate is a reclusive, aggressively antisocial hermit than my dog having his own apartment."

Stiles has never seen a dog roll it's eyes, but the expression Hale's wearing is probably the closest he'll ever come.

"I mean, I assume you'll turn back for meal times and sleeping," Stiles continues. "I'll buy dog food for appearances, but I refuse to actually go as far as feeding it to you, so you could give me some credit towards not trying to make your life as uncomfortable as possible. I know it's dangerous for you guys to go around too long unshifted, so you should be safe to walk around in your human form when we're inside the apartment. I know it's not totally ideal, but have you ever been on a mission that was?"

Hale snorts and Stiles finds himself smiling.

*

Out of good old fashioned paranoia, Stiles circles the block a few times before pulling off the street and into the Residents Only parking garage. He takes his time mapping the area out before parking up. He lets Hale out of the car before going to retrieve their stuff from the trunk, shouldering both bags and locking up. Hale trots at his side, ears perked and head swinging this way and that, telling Stiles he's getting to grips with his surroundings, too.

They get into an elevator to take them to the lobby, getting acquainted with it, and from there, Stiles switches to stairs, pulling out a key he'd found in the glove compartment - unlabelled, but he figures it's for his new apartment. Hale bounds up the stairs - Stiles knows full well they're probably going to be on the top floor, because he's pretty certain all but one of the apartments in the building are one or two bedrooms, whereas the penthouse has three, meaning they'll have space to work - and is sitting primly at the top by the time Stiles gets there, only moderately out of breath.

Hale manages to look smug as Stiles approaches and he pulls a face in return. Hale noses at the door at the top of the landing.

"Gonna have to break the mechanism on that so you can use it if you need an escape in this form," Stiles says. "You can use the elevator for getting up; it didn't look like there were any doors you'd have particular difficulty with down there."

Hale huffs at him and Stiles rolls his eyes, pulling the door open and following Hale to the only door on this floor. "Home sweet home," he says, slotting the key in and twisting - mercifully, it unlocks and he lets them in, dropping their bags once the door swings shut behind them.

"I take back every complaint about flying economy," Stiles says, reaching back out of habit to lock the door before beginning to explore -- it's a loft style apartment with three floors, laid out with as few doors as possible, probably to make access easy for Hale, whose bedroom door is hung on a swinging hinge instead of the standard one-way that Stiles' is.

They make their way to the final room behind a heavy door that unlocks when Stiles taps a code into a panel hidden under a light switch. Stiles wonders how Hale's supposed to get in and Hale seems to echo his sentiment, looking between the light switch and his own paws.

"We'll figure something out," he says, pushing the door open for Hale to go ahead of him. He hears the locking mechanism slide back into place once they're inside. The room is kind of sparse considering the no-expenses-spared decoration and furnishing of the rest of the apartment and Stiles watches Hale cross the room to begin sniffing at a bare expanse of wall - wood panelling; very classy, if bland. The rest of the room is furnished to look like an office; there's a desk with a computer on it and shelving with various useless knick-knacks along the same wall the door's set into. Dominating the middle of the room, there's a table with a couple of chairs around it, seemingly serving no real purpose -- who puts a dining table in the middle of a study?

The CIA, apparently. Stiles isn't quite sure what Hale does, but suddenly the panelling is splitting into sections and sliding to the far ends of the walls; the wall has multiple screens fixed to it, the central one of which is prompting a password; Stiles blinks and crosses to the computer desk and tries the one he'd used to get into the room, but it's rejected.

"Any ideas?" he asks, looking at Hale, who sighs and lets out a soft yip, looking pointedly at the keyboard and then back at Stiles. Stiles' hand hovers over it and then he shifts his body, curling his fingers so that only his index is extended. Hale seems to deem this an acceptable solution and sets his teeth around Stiles' wrist, guiding his finger to each required digit.

He commits the code to memory and drags one of the chairs from the large table over to the desk to start pulling up Kate Argent's file and all of the gathered intelligence on the case so far.

"Next time, you should probably change into your human form when we come up here," Stiles says to Hale, who grunts at him, trotting over to the table and hopping up onto it, parking himself in the middle and beginning to study the screens. Stiles wanders over to perch on the edge, taking his time to read over the information.

The central screen flashes up with an image of Director Martin and General Deaton; Stiles stares at it and Hale shifts closer to the end of the table.

"Agents," says Director Martin. "I trust you've found everything to your liking."

"We have," Stiles says. "Bit of a trick to get the password out of Hale, here, but we got there. We should probably install a dog door to this room, though."

Hale grunts his disapproval. Stiles snorts. Martin frowns and Stiles straightens attentively.

"The only difficulty we may run into is trying to explain how a lowly public servant and his dog manage to afford a downtown LA penthouse," he says. "But we'll handle it."

"Lieutenant Hale," General Deaton says; Hale looks up. "Your police badge will be on a collar, like a normal service dogs'. The collar is fitted with the same technology as Agent Stilinski's watch. It will not harm you if you shift without having it taken off and can be broken if need be. Twist the pendant to switch on recording and tracking."

Hale inclines his head, though he doesn't look happy about it.

"Distress signals are in the same places as usual," Director Martin says. "You have access to all surveillance footage in your building and you can check who's at the door from almost any room in the apartment. You can contact us via your usual methods but otherwise are not expected to report in unless anything significant changes. Should anything befall either of you or a situation arise that you can't deal with on your own, back up will be available through the usual channels."

Stiles resists the urge to roll his eyes - had he been on his own, the Director wouldn't have bothered rehashing details he's heard a thousand times, but he surmises it's for Hale's benefit - she'll expect Stiles to fill Hale in on what all of the usual procedures are, no doubt.

Deaton and Martin go over a few other details before signing off. Stiles hums, pushing off the table and heading for the door. "I'm gonna make food," he decides, which has Hale hopping off the table and following. "And when I say 'make', I mean I'm ordering in. Thai?"

Hale headbutts the back of his thigh, making him stumble.

"That's a no on Thai food, then," Stiles says. "How about good old fashioned burgers?"

Hale doesn't headbutt him, so Stiles takes it for approval and goes to find his laptop while Hale disappears into his bedroom. Stiles sets himself up on the couch, browsing for nearby takeout. Out of nowhere, Hale leans over his shoulder, forearms bracing on the back of the couch. Stiles absolutely does not jump out of his skin.

"Don't make me put a bell on you," Stiles grumps; Hale reaches over, knocking Stiles' hand away from the keyboard so that he can commandeer the trackpad and select what he wants. While he's doing so, Stiles' eyes automatically follow the bare arm to its source, unable to help himself from noticing that Hale's wearing nothing but his boxers again.

"Shower," Hale says, and as abruptly as he'd appeared, he's gone. To shower, Stiles presumes.

*

Stiles is already awake and sitting at the breakfast bar with a bowl of cereal - if anyone asks, he'll remain adamant that he found the cereal and milk in the kitchen and absolutely did not venture out on his own an entire two blocks to a convenience store to pick up basic provisions - by the time Hale emerges from his room the following morning. He watches Hale, human and wearing a pair of comfy looking, worn sweats -- still no shirt; Stiles wonders if he's allergic to them -- pick through the groceries Stiles hasn't gotten around to putting away yet.

"Yours?" Hale asks.

Stiles peels his eyes away from the tattoo in the middle of Hale's back to focus on answering. "Help yourself," he says. "What's mine is yours, food-wise, unless otherwise stated. I don't share my Reese's unless I really like you."

"Noted," Hale says, and Stiles has to turn away to face the large window in the opposite wall to keep himself from outright staring at Hale stretching for a bowl, pottering around the kitchen. He comes to sit at the stool next to Stiles and says nothing as he eats. Stiles chases his last few Cheerio's around the bowl, feeling safe to turn back towards the counter now that Hale isn't flexing his way about the room.

"Gonna go for a run," Stiles says. "Map out the neighbourhood."

"Good idea," Hale says. "I'll go change."

Stiles is already in his running gear so he spins idly back and forth on his stool until Hale's hand shoots out to keep him still. He takes the hint and stops; Hale goes back to scarfing down his breakfast. Stiles is a little astonished at how neat he manages to be for someone who eats like he's starving.

Stiles locates the collar Hale's meant to wear in his wolf form and is given the single most disdainful look he's ever been witness to when Hale emerges from his room, shaking out his fur.

"Sorry, dude," Stiles says. "Believe me, I like treating you like an animal just as much as you like being treated like one, but orders are orders."

Hale sits and lifts his chin, sighing heavily; Stiles sighs right back at him, letting out a quiet laugh when Hale smacks him in the side of the head with his muzzle while he's securing the collar.

"Let me know if it gets too tight," Stiles says. Hale huffs and nudges his shoulder; Stiles pushes himself onto his feet and grabs his key as they leave the apartment, locking up and heading for the elevator.

*

Though he doesn't let his guard down, Stiles finds himself enjoying the run - and he knows Hale does, too because as they keep pace with one another and come across other runners and dog walkers, Hale indulges him and goes to investigate other dogs, not taking any interest in sniffing anywhere intimate, but Stiles watches as Hale bounds around, tongue lolling as he nips and plays with other dogs, running circles around them, taunting them into chasing him and then chasing them in return.

At some point, every dog he meets and chases ends up rolling over and showing him their bellies; Hale will trot back over to Stiles looking pleased with himself each time.

Hale pointedly ignores the knowing looks Stiles gives him the entire way back to the apartment.

After lunch -- which Stiles makes -- and after Stiles gets around to filling Hale in on what all of the 'usual' procedures are regarding contact, Stiles watches Hale parade around the apartment, sweeping for bugs. He's torn between being dismayed and relieved that Hale has finally deemed it necessary to wear a shirt.

"Do you really think the CIA would spy on us?" Stiles asks, propping his chin up on a hand as he watches Hale root around under the couch. In answer, Hale pushes up onto his knees and holds up a small, round listening device. Stiles frowns; he's never had an assignment where his bosses haven't trusted him implicitly - he has a stellar record for case closure.

"NSA and CIA working together," Hale says with an eye roll, as though that explains everything. He shoves the device into his jeans pocket and keeps looking, using the gadget in his hand to lead him.

Thirty minutes later, Hale appears at Stiles' side and drops a fistful of bugs onto the counter.

"Not all of those are CIA," Stiles remarks after a moment. Hale gives him a patient look. "The NSA are keeping an eye on me, and the CIA are keeping an eye on you?"

"Basic training," Hale says. "Always look for bugs."

Stiles frowns. "If they knew you'd find them, why would your superiors bother planting them? More to the point, aren't they listening to us right now? On multiple channels?"

Hale pulls another device out of his pocket. "Signals are scrambled," he says, but he points at two - one CIA issue and one evidently NSA, probably signifying that those two are live, Stiles figures. "It's likely the NSA and SLD want to know what the CIA are doing, and vice versa. You should always check for bugs. Weekly, at least. You can switch off the listening devices on your watch and my collar, but they'll always try to get one up."

"But--there'd be nothing to hide," Stiles says. "I've never been bugged on an assignment, or if I have, nobody's protested my methods before."

"And they don't get to protest these methods, either," Hale says, idly crushing one of the bugs under his thumb. "Or they'd compromise our cover. They may continue to try and plant them, but I don't feel like being supervised. As much as it pains me to say, you weren't picked for this operation because you're bad at your job. I've lost one case in ten years of service, and I surmise your record is more or less the same. I'll do a weekly sweep, but by all means, I can leave the NSA ones."

"That's okay," Stiles says, frowning. "I'm just not used to not being trusted to do my job."

Hale shrugs. "My employers plant a couple at the start of each job, and a few over the course of it, to keep us sharp," he says. Hale turns the signal scrambler off and scoops up all of the bugs, filling the sink with water and dropping them all in. He strides back over to Stiles to pick up his scanner and scrambler. "I'll show you how to sweep properly next time."

"Question," Stiles says; Hale pauses, looking over his shoulder with a raised eyebrow. "Am I going to be stumbling over some of your bugs? I remember your less than subtle bugging of the conference room."

Hale smirks. "Who says that was meant to be subtle?" he asks, and Stiles isn't given a chance to respond before there's a rapping at the door. Stiles glances at his laptop, pulling up the camera feed from outside the door. There's a young blonde woman holding a plate at the door, so he swings off his stool, shuts the laptop, knocks a chopping board into the sink to cover the bugs, and goes to answer the door.

"Hi," the woman chirps. "I'm Heather. My roommate and I noticed you guys moving in."

Hale appears then, in his furry guise, butting his head against Stiles' thigh to investigate. Stiles lets himself be shoved aside. Heather's face lights up.

"Hi, buddy!" she says, reaching down to scratch Hale's ears. "Wow, he's huge. He looks like a big wolf!"

Stiles leans against the door jamb, smirking at Hale. "We have no idea what breed he is," he says. "Our best guess was somewhere between a Husky and a St. Bernard. I'm Steve, by the way, and this is... Hooch."

Stiles covers up a wince by grinning as Hale turns to look at him, glaring. Stiles looks at Heather instead. "Would you like to come in? We don't have much in the way of coffee or anything, yet, but I can make a mean glass of water."

Heather looks up to smile at him, tucking her hair behind her ear. Hale huffs at her when she straightens to give Stiles her full attention; Stiles' hand automatically goes to the ruff of Hale's neck, burying his fingers in thick fur. "I actually have to run," she says, offering him the plate in her hand. "I promised my room mate we'd go shopping once I brought these up to welcome you to the building."

"Oh, sure," Stiles says, accepting the plate. "I'll see you around, then, maybe?"

"Definitely," she says, nodding. She takes a small step back. "I've gotta go, but--I'll definitely see you around."

Stiles smiles and watches her go, only closing the door once she's in the elevator. He looks down at Hale. "That went well," he says. "I think she likes me."

Hale snorts and struts away. Stiles follows. "Hey! Don't huff at me in that tone of voice - I'll have you know that gangly, awkward looking dudes like me have our appeal! It's not all about Tall, Dark and Exceedingly Climbable."

If a wolf's facial structure allowed for single raised eyebrows, Stiles is fairly sure Hale would be in danger of losing one of his to the stratosphere. Stiles turns away and busies himself with investigating the plate Heather had handed him, pulling off the foil covering.

"I think I love her," Stiles says - Hale's disappeared up the stairs, but Stiles is pretty sure he can still hear. "She baked us -- me, because she thinks you're a dog, but I may be inclined to share -- cookies."

Hale doesn't so much as come back down the stairs as jump from the top to the bottom, landing with no more than a soft thump. He crowds close to the cookies (and therefore Stiles), reaching for one. He gives it a cautious sniff, looking suspicious before snapping a piece off and popping into his mouth. Stiles can't help but watch, telling himself he's waiting for Hale to give him a verdict and not because there's something hypnotic about Hale's deceptively cute front teeth.

"They're good," Hale says, grabs another cookie in addition to the one he still has in his hand, and wanders across the kitchen to the sink, fishing the chopping board out of the water and prodding at the shorted bugs with his free hand. He waits until Stiles has one crammed into his mouth before glancing over his shoulder. "She's a wolf, by the way. Very well disciplined for an omega."

Stiles blinks, tries not to choke, ultimately fails. Hale reaches for a glass and fills it with water, sliding it over the counter.

"Did she--you--?"

Hale rolls his eyes. "I'd be useless to the SLD if I couldn't disguise my scent," he says. "We're not amateurs."

Stiles makes a face at the back of his head, schooling his expression as soon as Hale glances up. "I know jack about the SLD," he says. "I know plenty about werewolves, but I'm not sure anyone really knows anything about the NSA, let alone their secret werewolf divisions."

Hale turns to regard him, head cocked slightly to one side. "You use the word 'werewolf'," he says.

"The wolves I grew up preferred it to being called lycanthropes," Stiles says. "Said it was like being called humans instead of homo sapiens."

"It is," Hale says. "Most of us prefer it; it's just strange to hear a human using the word. We use it among ourselves, but humans tend to feel it doesn't sound serious enough. Specialist Werewolf Division sounds so much less authoritative than Specialist Lycanthrope Division."

"Not that anyone outside of the government knows what the SLD actually is," Stiles points out. "You could call it the Brigade of Fearsome Man-Wolves and nobody would know the difference."

Hale's mouth twitches in what Stiles is choosing to take as amusement. "I think the goal of giving us a title is to make us feel useful or important, rather than patronised."

Stiles can't help but grin in return. "So you think Heather's an omega?"

"She doesn't smell like alpha," Hale says. "If she was an alpha, she'd have known I was a werewolf and she'd have been able to block her scent. There's no residual alpha scent on her to hint towards her being a beta - it's possible she's a beta on her own, but she didn't feel centred enough. Omega is my best educated guess."

"What about her room mate?" Stiles asks. "Could you get a read off the scent on Heather, maybe?"

"Human, as far as I can tell," Hale says. "Female. Nothing suspect or particularly interesting. Heather's either a very good actress or she's completely genuine and figures we're exactly as we appear."

"She seemed sweet," Stiles says; Hale rolls his eyes. "What?"

"Keep your dick in your pants and your mind on the case, Stilinski."

Stiles stares after him as Hale saunters away, wondering if Hale will ever manage to exit a conversation without ensuring he has the last word.

*

The following morning as Stiles steps out of the stairwell, Hale at his heels, he's confronted by Heather wearing yoga pants and an oversized hoody, her hair pulled up into a messy ponytail.

"Hi," she says, smiling up at him and Stiles is somewhat charmed by how petite she is; she'd been wearing heels the previous afternoon, but in trainers she's somehow more--not delicate, but softer somehow.

"Hey," Stiles says; Hale huffs pointedly and leans against Stiles' legs. Heather laughs, a delighted, tinkling thing.

"Someone wants to go walkies," she says, reaching over to scrub Hale's ears which brings her half a step closer to Stiles. Hale looks long suffering and Heather laughs. "Grumpy today, huh?"

"He's always a little cranky in the mornings. We're actually just going for a run - you want to join us?" Stiles asks. "We could grab some coffee or something after."

Heather beams and nods, ponytail bobbing. She tucks her iPod headphones into her arm strap. "Sure, if you two don't mind the company."

"Not at all," Stiles says, nudging Hale with his knee. "We love new people. Right, Hooch?"

Hale grunts at him. Heather laughs and scratches his ear again. Hale shakes himself and trots off towards the exit; Stiles falls into step behind him, sharing an amused look with Heather as they set off.

Over the course of their run, Hale sticks closer than he had the previous day; he runs off to chase a couple of other dogs but for the most part, he stays by Stiles' side and keeps pace. Stiles assures himself he's just keeping an eye on Heather.

"So, when you said 'we'..." Heather says. They're sitting outside a coffee shop not too far from their apartment building. Hale is sprawled in the shade under the table on top of Stiles' feet, hiding from the late morning sun.

"Hm?" Stiles says.

Heather gives him a coy little smile. "When we were talking about Hooch yesterday, you said 'we' when you said you didn't know what breed he is," she says. "Is there...?"

"Oh! No! I mean, no -- there's, uh, nobody in the picture at the moment," Stiles says. "I'm a cop - Hooch is a police dog. He was trained with other police dogs, looked just like a Shepherd until he was suddenly twice the size of the others, and by then he was firmly under my care, so I meant 'we' like my colleagues."

Heather's smile becomes a little less shy. She goes to reach over the table - towards Stiles' arm folded across the surface, Stiles assumes, but Hale sits up and bumps the bottom of the table with his head. Stiles is under no illusions about it being an accident. He pushes his seat back abruptly - Hale hasn't upended the table, so nothing goes flying, for which Stiles is grateful.

"Really?" Stiles hisses at Hale, who blinks owlishly back at him and rests his chin on Stiles' thigh, gazing up at him, the very picture of a doting dog.

Heather coos. "Look at him! He's so sweet," she says, reaching to stroke Hale's back.

"Practically saccharine," Stiles says; Hale lifts his head to allow his mouth to drop open, tongue lolling. Stiles places a hand over his face and shoves him away. Hale huffs and wriggles out from under the table, standing.

"We should probably be heading back, anyway," Heather says, gathering up her iPod and phone. "Danielle's going to be wondering if I've fallen into a ditch somewhere on my run. I was only going for a quick jog this morning."

Stiles grins at her. "Apologies for stealing you away, then," he says.

"I had fun," Heather says. "No apologies necessary. I'm kind of recovering from something that's sort of kept me shut in for a long time and you make it seem easy to just come right back out into the world. It was Danielle who suggested I make some cookies and bring them up, said something about starting things afresh, meeting a complete stranger..."

Stiles hums, shoving Hale when the wolf nudges him purposefully. "Your cookies were great," he says. "I'm shameless enough to admit that they've been suitably demolished and I have absolutely no regrets other than the fact there are no more."

Heather laughs. "Maybe I'll make some more some time," she says as they reach the apartment building. "You should come over for dinner, maybe."

Stiles watches her as she bites her lip, picking at her nails once they're standing in the elevator. He gives Hale a pointed look, who appears to roll his eyes before parking himself more or less on Stiles' feet, nosing at Heather's fingers, attracting her attention and giving her something to do with her hands.

"Dinner would be nice," Stiles says. "I start work tomorrow, so this week may be a little crazy, but maybe we can arrange something for next week."

Heather nods, fidgeting with one of Hale's ears before smoothing it down and running her fingers through the fur on the back of his neck. She smiles when Hale shakes his head vigorously, and then looks back at Stiles. "I'll drop by some time? Or you could come by our apartment, I guess? I mean..."

"Hey," Stiles says. "If you're uncomfortable, don't tell me where you live, okay? You can turn up at my door whenever, until you're comfortable. Maybe you can bring your room mate around instead and you don't have to stress yourself out about me coming to your place."

Heather's face floods with colour and relief. She presses the back of one hand to her cheek, laughing self consciously. "I'm sorry -- I used to be a lot less easily freaked out," she says.

Stiles shrugs, pushing his hands into the pockets of his shorts. "Hey, no apologies necessary, right? You're the first person I've met in this city, so you're doing okay so far," he says. "Even Hooch likes you."

Hale actually manages a groan, which makes Heather release a bark of laughter, her shoulders relaxing. The elevator stops and Heather releases Hale, moving around him. "Thanks," she says. "I'll see you around?"

"Definitely," says Stiles and smiles at her until the doors close. Hale's glaring at him - he can feel the heat of it burning into the side of his head but he refuses to acknowledge it, keeping his eyes fixed on the changing numbers taking them to their floor. Hale heads to his room as soon as they get into the apartment and Stiles goes to shower.

Hale's sprawled out on his stomach on the couch with a laptop when Stiles comes back downstairs. He settles himself into an armchair and curls up with a tablet.

"It can't go anywhere, you know," Hale says without looking up. Stiles pulls a face at the back of his head, directing his attention back to the tablet without answering. "Stilinski."

"Yeah, I heard," Stiles says. "It's harmless. Drop it."

"You're going to end up hurting her," says Hale, turning his head slightly to the side. Stiles sighs.

"Why do you care, dude?" Stiles snaps. "You're playing the part of the dog - I actually have to interact with other human beings and blend it. If that means screwing around, it means screwing around. I know how to do my damn job, Hale, so drop it."

Hale rolls over, hauling his laptop around onto his stomach and half propping himself against the arm of the couch. Stiles can feel his eyes on him but doesn't look up, keeping his attention on the tablet, though he's not really doing anything on it, just flicking between various pages of a blank search engine.

"We start work tomorrow," Stiles says after a few minutes of pregnant silence. "If we're working cop shifts, we need to figure out how you're gonna eat. I'm not feeding you dog food."

Hale shrugs. "We do what we have to do," he says.

Stiles clutches the tablet, frowning. "You're not eating dog food, dude," he says.

"I can handle it," Hale says, scratching the centre of his chest and frowning at his screen. Stiles stares at him until Hale heaves a - melodramatic - sigh and looks up. "If the jobs requires me to be a dog, I'm a dog, Stilinski."

Stiles stands up abruptly and heads to the kitchen, beginning to open and close cupboards, pulling out ingredients. After a few minutes of clattering around, switching the oven and hob on, bringing rice to the boil and shoving a joint of beef in, Hale trots over to sit at the breakfast bar, settling there with his laptop, though Stiles can feel he's being watched from time to time.

Hale eventually gives up any pretense of working when Stiles begins putting everything into the blender along with a healthy portion of gravy. Once cooked, he dices the meat up separately and stirs it all together before packing it all into small tupperware boxes.

"No dog food," Stiles says, decisive, and stacks everything into the fridge. "Remind me to pick up more groceries after work."

He strides back to his armchair and plonks down, grabbing his tablet, almost missing the soft, kind of stunned, "Thanks," from Hale.

*

Stiles meanders into the precinct with Hale at his side. The officer at the reception desk gives him a curious once-over and Hale a slightly more worried one.

"Hey, man. I'm Steve Turner - new transfer? I was told I'd be meeting with Captain Boyd?"

The officer - Lahey, reads the name stitched onto his pocket - nods and looks down at his desk, reaching for the phone. "Sir, there's a Turner here to see you," he says. "Yes, Sir. He'll be right in. Er--he has a dog? Yes, Sir."

Lahey puts the receiver down and steps out from the desk, gesturing. "This way."

He leads them through the bullpen to an office; the door's propped open but Lahey indicates they should enter after rapping twice on the glass.

Captain Boyd reminds Stiles of Deaton in stature and mannerism - in some ways, he actually seems more imposing. "Detective Turner," he says, holding a hand out from where he's standing by his desk. Stiles reaches for it and shakes it firmly. "I've heard good things from your superiors."

"I'd hope so, Captain," Stiles says as Hale sits at his feet, ears flicked forward. "I'm looking forward to working here. This is my partner, Hooch."

"Hooch," Boyd says, eyebrows rising. Stiles gives him a hapless grin and a shrug.

"Give a cop named Turner a dog and dare him not to take the bait," Stiles says. "The name on his papers is Arnie, which is just cruel if you ask me, so we renamed him."

Boyd looks sceptical but doesn't question it. "You two will be on filing and desk duty until we have a case for you. It'll get you acquainted with the precinct and everyone in it."

"Yes, Sir," Stiles says.

"Your desk is the only empty one," Boyd says, pushing a hand into a drawer and drawing out two pieces of metal and leather. "Your badges. Your piece will be assigned to you when you qualify - all of our staff qualify upon starting here, regardless of previously held rank or stature. Your uniform and other gear, should you require it, is in a locker with your name on it. The combination is your birth date until you reset it on your own. The same with your log in to the computer system, your username being your surname followed by your forename. There is no other Steven Turner in the department."

Stiles nods. "Sounds good, Sir."

Boyd inclines his head and gestures toward the door. Stiles turns, clicking his tongue - Hale follows, the picture of studious obedience.

*

Stiles gets his desk set up and is sorting through a stack of files brought to him by Lahey when a couple of detectives walk in. Stiles recognises the woman from the photos, absently reaching out to touch the top of Hale's head from where he's sprawled out under the desk, acknowledging their mark. Hale lets out a low grumble of agreement but otherwise doesn't move. Stiles looks back to the files, sorting them by name and date.

The detectives duck into Boyd's office and Hale sits up; he looks at Stiles, but one ear is cocked so Stiles surmises he's listening in to the conversation. Stiles drops a hand to the ruff of his neck so that to anyone looking at them, nothing seems to be off.

Hale huffs and rests his chin on Stiles' knee, only to lift his head abruptly a second later; Stiles takes that as his cue to look up and sure enough, both of the detectives are making a beeline for him. He sits back in his chair, offering a polite smile until they reach him.

"Detective Steve Turner," Stiles says, standing and offering a hand to the first.

"Detective Kate Argent," she says, taking his hand in a firm grip and shaking it. Something itches against his skin and when she pulls away, Argent has a curious little smile on her face. "Welcome to our humble team."

"Thanks. I'm really looking forward to getting some actual work done," he says, gesturing at the files on his desk. "I'm on desk duty to get familiar with the place."

Argent gives him a slow smile and an assessing look. "The Captain says you've had good reports," she says. "So I'm sure you won't be grounded for long. I look forward to working with you."

Stiles gives as modest a shrug as he can but he's stopped from responding by the other detective's exclamation. "Christ, shouldn't that thing be on a leash? Or in a kennel?"

Stiles looks down at Hale, who's blinking at the detective, head tipped to one side. "Who, Hooch? He's every bit a detective as I am, man, don't call him a thing - he has just as many arrests as I do. And in any case, a well trained dog won't bite, and Hooch is about as well trained as they come. Aren't you, boy?"

Hale looks up and indulges him, giving a soft whuff of acknowledgement, a thump of his tail. Stiles grins and scratches his ears. He doesn't miss the bemused look both detectives are giving him at Hale's cover name.

"I mean, don't get me wrong, you don't wanna piss him off," Stiles says, mock thoughtful. "His bite is definitely worse than his bark, but he won't sic unless he's told to. Best damn partner I've ever had on the force."

The detective frowns at Hale, and Hale appears to frown right back. Stiles bites back a snicker. "Detective Matt Daehler," he says, holding out a hand. Something about him strikes Stiles as off and he makes a mental note to look him up when he gets back to the apartment, but for the time being he shakes the offered hand.

*

"Hey, Turner," says Kate, perching on the edge of Stiles' desk. Stiles looks up at her, leaning back in his chair with a questioning look. "A few of us are going for a couple drinks. It'd be good for you to meet the rest of the gang. You in?"

"Uh, sure," Stiles says, looking at the clock on his desktop. It's nearly six. "I'll have to take Hooch home, but if you give me the address, I'll meet you guys there?"

Kate hums and leans over Stiles' desk to grab his sticky pad and a pen from his desk tidy - he's momentarily pleased he decided to move his chair back, because his nose would be about level with her cleavage had he not. She writes down an address -- Stiles fully intends on Googling it first -- before hopping off his desk.

"See you soon," she says with the barest shadow of a wink. She sashays off, Daehler and another few officers, including Lahey, in tow. Stiles uses his sleeve to knock the sticky pad and pen into an evidence baggie once they're clear of the bullpen.

*

Hale bolts for his room as soon as they get into the apartment and Stiles takes his time getting ready to go back out, changing into a fresh shirt and heading down to the kitchen to make himself a sandwich while he waits.

Hale returns with his toothbrush jammed into his mouth and his hair wet, Henley shirt clinging to still-damp skin in places. Stiles silently laments to the universe at large about how unfair his life is. He doesn't say anything, pushing a plate with another sandwich over the counter. Hale crosses the kitchen and spits, rinsing his mouth before grabbing for the sandwich and - lame pun intended - wolfing it down. Hale pours himself a cup of coffee from the fresh pot Stiles put on and lifts himself to perch on the kitchen counter, turning his frank gaze on Stiles.

"Verdict?" Stiles asks, mostly to distract himself from how strangely vulnerable Hale's bare feet make him look.

"Argent stinks," Hale says, burying his nose in his coffee cup; his eyes close in bliss as he inhales and it does things to Stiles' gut. He reigns it in and settles for crossing his arms and frowning at Hale, who seems to sense his scrutiny and opens his eyes again. "Of wolfsbane. Daehler may be involved, seems to follow her like an orphaned puppy. Boyd's clean - a good man, honest, as far as I could tell. Lahey smells like blood - his own, I think - and only agreed to come out tonight because Argent intimidates him. Someone from the weekend shift left an egg sandwich in a desk drawer three away from yours. Argent and Daehler are on the lycanthrope murder cases; Boyd's frustrated at how little progress they're making, though nobody appears to think they're anything but wholly human victims of a serial killer."

Stiles hums thoughtfully. "Sounds about what I figured," he says. "I'll keep an eye on Lahey. Are you coming?"

Hale blinks at him.

"I'll take a bag of your clothes around to an alley. Change and then come to the bar," Stiles says. "I can't bring a dog to a bar, but if we're not supposed to go anywhere without each other, you can keep an eye on me. Also, you can get me out of there if things get weird."

Hale nods and hops off the counter, disappearing back upstairs. He returns a few minutes later in his wolf form carrying a backpack in his mouth. Stiles accepts it, pulling it over one shoulder and leading the way back out of the apartment.

Heather's just stepping into the elevator with another young woman when Stiles and Hale are exiting. She gives them both a big grin while -- who Stiles assumes to be her room mate -- gives them a sceptical look.

"Hi guys," Heather says. "This is Danielle. Dani, these are Steve and Hooch."

Stiles gives Danielle a warm smile. "It's nice to finally meet you - Heather's said some pretty awesome things about you," he says. Hale whuffs; Stiles takes it as agreement.

"Pleasure," Danielle says. Stiles gets the impression she and Hale would get along famously.

"Bye Steve," Heather says as he and Hale head for the door; he raises a hand in a wave and Hale knocks into his legs once they're out on the sidewalk. Stiles just smiles.

*

Stiles walks into the bar and locates his new colleagues with relative ease. He orders a drink and then crosses the room to get to them, sliding into the booth next to Argent so that he can see the door out of the corner of his eye.

"Hey, newbie," Argent purrs, leaning right into his space. Only Stiles' rigorous training prevents him from jerking away. He offers a grin instead, turning his attention onto Lahey, who's managing to look uncomfortable and irritated, sandwiched between Daehler and the wall.

By the time there are murmurings of calling for cabs, Stiles is sitting next to Lahey who looks considerably more relaxed, and Kate's across the table tonguing the straw in her drink. Lahey's the first to get up to leave and the others begin to follow, leaving Stiles at the table with Argent and Daehler, who's still trying and failing to flirt with one of the women at the table beside theirs.

Argent turns to Stiles, leaning forward over the table so that he'd have a spectacular eyeful of cleavage were he to actually look; he keeps his eyes on hers, leaning back just a little. Let her think he's uncomfortable, let her think she has the upper hand, give her room to push to see if she will. Sure enough, she shifts in her seat, her ankle sliding up the side of his calf under the table.

"So, how are you getting home?" Argent asks, a glint in her eye.

"Depends if you have something more interesting than a cab ride to offer," Stiles says. "A gondola, perhaps?"

Argent smirks, but she's interrupted before she can say anything by one of the barmaids appearing. She sets down a drink in front of Stiles, who blinks up at her, genuinely thrown.

"From the man at the bar," she says, managing to look harassed, amused and embarrassed all at once. Stiles' curiosity piques and he looks around. "In the green shirt. He--I'm not going to repeat what he said, but he was very specific this was for you."

Stiles curls his fingers around the glass, meeting Hale's eyes across the room; Hale lifts his bottle in a slight toast, a flirtatious little smirk flitting across his lips that makes Stiles' insides do something funny, despite knowing it's as false as smiles can get.

The barmaid rocks on the balls of her feet. "He said if I didn't tell you what he said, he'd be happy to."

She walks away, her tray under her arm. Stiles slides along to the edge of the booth; Argent's hand snaps out and grabs his arm. "Are you crazy? He could be a serial killer or a date rapist or something."

She ruins the sentiment by looking more irritated than concerned; Stiles grins and gives a loose shrug, picking up his drink. "Relax," he says. "I'm a cop. We're all cops - you know who to put the APB out on if I don't turn up at work tomorrow. Besides, I'm curious, and have you seen that jaw line? I'm pretty sure I've seen duller glass cutters. I'm gonna go find out if he'll let me bite it. Goodnight Argent, Daehler."

Stiles turns and wanders over to Hale. He slides up onto the stool beside him. "Don't look so smug - now you have to actually pretend to hit on me," he says, keeping his glass between Argent and his mouth so that if she's looking, she can't tell what he's saying. Hale, to his credit, keeps his eyes on Stiles, turning to face him.

"And you have to at least look interested," Hale says.

"I can do interested," Stiles says, tipping his head and grinning, running his fingertips around the rim of his glass. "But I'm not throwing myself at you - I'm not that kind of man."

Hale is obvious about watching Stiles' fingers. "Didn't you have a question you wanted to ask?"

Stiles blinks.

"I heard something about a jaw," Hale says idly, and it's only years of training that keep Stiles from flushing; he barks out a laugh instead and shoves Hale's shoulder.

"Only if you tell me what got the barmaid so flustered," Stiles says and forces himself to stay still when Hale leans close, sliding off his stool after draining his bottle and bracketing Stiles against the bar with arms either side, plastering his front all along Stiles' back, nose brushing the shell of Stiles' ear.

It takes a few moments for him to realise Hale's speaking, but Stiles is pretty sure he's justified in his reaction.

"I told her to say I'd been watching you talk all night, and could think of a couple more interesting things for you to do with your pretty mouth," Hale murmurs, staying put for just a second, long enough for Stiles' brain to go into overdrive with the mental images, before stalking towards the door. Stiles abandons his drink and hastens after him, shooting a wave at a mildly thunderous Argent and a curious looking Daehler.

As soon as he exits the bar, he's pulled to one side and pushed against a wall, Hale's body solid against his.

"Argent was about to send Daehler over to lure you back," Hale murmurs, and Stiles can feel his breath against his mouth; their lips have an uncrossable chasm between them; Stiles tamps down the temptation to close it and damn the consequences, but it's then that the brisk click of heels follow them out.

Stiles grabs for Hale's shoulders, sliding a hand up into his hair because he's pretty sure he'd have to be dead to not take advantage of the situation, sue him. He fists his other hand in Hale's shirt, eyes flicking up to Hale's before closing; Hale's hands feel huge and warm curling around his waist, nose brushing Stiles'.

"Still watching?" Stiles breathes, arching towards Hale as he feels a hand run up his back, lifting his shirt slightly.

"They're about to get into a cab," Hale replies, mouth brushing his cheek achingly close to his own. "Arguing. Argent's saying she wanted to show you the ropes, Daehler's saying… something about testing you, you being clean, let you have fun after your first day on the job."

Stiles is holding his breath, and by the time he realises he's doing so, it'd be strange to just exhale in Hale's face, so he continues holding it until Hale's moving away, his head turned to the side to watch the cab disappear around a corner. Stiles lets his head drop back against the concrete wall, sighing and letting his hands drop from Hale, trying not to look too upset about it.

"You know, I think she was going to invite me home with her," he says once they're walking along the sidewalk together and an acceptable amount of silence has passed. "We could have been wrapping this case up and flying home tomorrow morning."

Hale arches an eyebrow. "You got truth serum in those pants or something?"

Stiles snorts. "Okay, we could have at least been starting to make progress," he says.

"What progress would you have made by sleeping with her? Do you sleep with all of your marks?"

"Only the pretty ones," Stiles deadpans. "You'd be surprise how much intelligence you can gather in an intimate setting. They don't even know what they're saying half the time. Seduction is a tried and true method of gathering intel, and this is hardly my first rodeo, dude. I know what I'm doing. Trust me."

"Trust you," Hale repeats, no inflection in his voice.

"Yeah, dude, it's what partners do," Stiles says. "I trust you to know what you're doing when you say you can handle being shifted all day without losing your head, trust you to do your job and do it well. But whatever, man; I don't need your say-so to do anything - you can take this as your fair warning. If the situation comes about again, I'm gonna do what I need to do. If that means literal under cover espionage, then so be it. Argent's hardly the most repulsive creature I've had to get up close and intimate with."

Hale stays silent for a while after that. They're nearing the alley where Hale's bag is stowed when he finally does speak up. "Trust is difficult when you're relying on a relatively small group of humans to survive - we learn pretty quickly that many humans, even the ones we work with, still just treat us like dogs, like we're animals and nothing more," he says. "You're good at your job. I read your file. Unparalleled case resolution, cracked an NSA firewall for kicks and were only discovered because you left a note on the General's computer highlighting it. They gave you a desk job until you corrected the translation of a Russian spy; you took two day's holiday and flew to Moscow, stopped the assassination of a US politician without shedding blood, were back at your desk the following morning."

Stiles smiles, shoving his hands into his pockets. He's not even a little surprised to find out Hale's done his homework. "Those were the days."

Hale looks at him. "My point is, I know you're good at what you do; you're good at what you're not supposed to be doing, too. But I don't know you. I don't get close to anyone. For my own safety as much as everyone else's."

"You know I grew up in the werewolf colony of Beacon Hills," Stiles says, and recognition flickers in Hale's eyes. "If you've read my file, you know about Istanbul."

"The report is redacted," Hale says, folding his shirt and shoving it into his bag. "I couldn't access the original."

In answer, Stiles turns his back and pulls up his shirt. There's a beat and a soft thump as Hale's bag slides to the floor, and an air of hesitancy; Stiles can feel the heat of Hale's hovering hand.

"You can touch them," Stiles says. "The wolf that made them is long gone and there's no residual power. He had no intent to turn me, just wanted to see how long I'd stay set in my convictions that I knew nothing and had no idea what he was talking about."

Hale's fingertips brush the scar tissue. "How long? The Turkish alpha was found dead in his home three months after I figure you turned up in Istanbul - I heard about it through a couple of contacts. On the news, too, but he was just listed as a political leader there, not a werewolf."

"I was in Istanbul for four and a half months," Stiles says. "I was captured four months in. By the time I was located and rescued, seven wolves were dead and I was passed out in a running shower. I don't remember much of it - just that there was a lot of blood. They're not even sure how I did it. None of the kills were on camera and I managed to keep my face concealed in all of the footage whenever I had to walk past one. It's definitely me, though. My back is kind of hard to mistake for anyone else."

Hale traces one of the scars that runs horizontal between his shoulder blades. "You withstood potentially two weeks of torture and took out over half a dozen werewolves," he says. "How is that supposed to help me trust you?"

Stiles shrugs and steps away, pulling his shirt back down. "I can handle your kind of trouble," he says. "But mostly in the interest of honesty. That's about the scariest skeleton in my closet, and I chose to tell you in full knowledge that I have seven werewolves' blood on my hands, only one of which I can coherently recall harming me. The rest, I suspect, were protecting him.

"I feel like you're still treating this like mom and dad have gone and volunteered you for babysitting your neighbour's kid, and that's not what this is. We're partnered because this is too dangerous to do alone; we're the best the government could send and they're still worried. Stop treating me like I'm some oblivious human who doesn't know what it means to you that wolves are being systematically murdered. You might be of their blood, but they're my people, too."

Hale's silent, and by the time Stiles turns around, he's standing on four paws in a puddle of jeans and underwear.

Stiles sighs, rolling his eyes. "Good chat," he says, giving Hale a firm shove and picking up his discarded clothing, deliberately crumpling them before slinging the bag over his back. Hale trots along at his heels, massive shoulder bumping against Stiles' hip in a way he's taking to be an apology.

*

A few days later, Stiles is sitting at his desk having finished all of the filing and organising he'd been given for the day and then some. He's read through several of Argent and Daehler's cases and reports, but hasn't managed to get his hands on any of the lycanthrope murder files.

Hale perks up around lunch time, ears flicking as he pushes to his feet and wags his tail; Stiles spins in his chair to follow his line of vision and spots Heather at the front desk with a plate in her hands; she says something and Lahey nods, gesturing to Stiles. Heather looks around before her eyes settle on him and her face lights with a shy little smile. Lahey gives her a grin and jerks his head towards Stiles so she starts walking towards him.

Hale whines lowly and noses at his leg, swinging his head toward the break room, where Argent and Daehler are.

Stiles hums in acknowledgement and stands, hastening towards Heather. Hale follows, subtly slinking around to block her from getting further into the building.

"Hi, Steve," she says. "Or is it Officer Turner?"

Stiles smiles. "Detective, actually, but Steve is fine with me," he says. "What brings you here?"

"I made some more cookies," Heather says, holding up the plate. "I figured maybe you could share some around? There are even a few dog friendly ones for Hooch."

"That's so sweet of you, thank you" Stiles says, accepting the plate and setting it down on the nearest desk. Hale noses at Heather's hands, sniffing and licking at her fingertips. Stiles casts around for something to say to try and get her back outside. "Hey, I know we agreed on next week, but if you and Danielle want to come up for a drink or something tonight? I can't promise great cookies, but I make some pretty kick ass nachos. I feel terrible accepting all of these cookies and not repaying you in some way."

Heather's smile blooms, eyes creasing at the sides. "That would be nice," she says. "I'll ask Dani. If not, maybe we could go running instead?"

"Sure," Stiles says, with a casual gesture back towards the door as he begins walking, hand hovering over the middle of her back, gently guiding her back out of the bullpen. "I finish at six, so give me a knock around eight to give me a chance to shower?"

"Great," Heather says. "I'll let you know either way."

Stiles gives her the warmest, most sincere smile he can muster, given that Hale's muzzle is firmly pressed against the back of his knee, urging him on. He's about to breathe a sigh of relief at getting her out of the building without running into Argent when the woman in question strides over, a curious glimmer in her eyes.

"And who's this?" Argent asks, cradling an LAPD coffee mug.

"I'm Heather," Heather says and Stiles shoves at the urge to scrunch his face up at how friendly she is. It's probably what got her bitten, if he thinks about it. "I know Steve and I knew he was getting settled into a new job, so I brought some cookies by for everyone."

"Detective Kate Argent," Argent says, holding a hand out to shake Heather's. Something in Stiles' gut nags at him so he watches the way Argent's fingers wrap around Heather's palm; the flesh of Heather's wrist reddens like there's a rash, but fades quickly. He's not sure if Argent catches it - has the sinking feeling she does - but Heather's wearing long sleeves so it's totally possible it could be played off as a trick of the light.

Stiles hopes. Hale presses close to him and Stiles automatically drops a hand to the top of his head.

"Anyway," Stiles says cheerily. "Thank you for the cookies - I promise to do my very best to try and share them."

Heather grins up at him, rubbing her wrist in an absent manner. He wills her to stop, not liking the way Kate's watching her. "See you tonight."

He watches her leave, palm still flat between Hale's ears. Stiles feels sick all of a sudden but he hides it, pushing what will pass for a delighted smile onto his face and heads for the cookies. He takes off the cling wrap and grabs about six of them, offering one to Hale as he heads back to his chair. Hale takes it in his teeth and curls up under the desk.

"So," Argent purrs, sliding into a chair and wheeling it over to Stiles'. Stiles glances at her, clicking around his desktop aimlessly. "Hot date?"

"Her and her room mate are joining Hooch and I for dinner," Stiles says, shrugging. "She's nice."

"What about the cute guy you left with the other night?"

Stiles shrugs again. "He was nice, too," he says, and at her curious expression, he spins to look at her. "Several times, in several different positions."

Hale makes a strange hacking noise and Stiles fights down a grin, wheeling his chair back. "You okay, buddy? Did I give you real chocolate by mistake? My bad, man - here, let's get you a nice chocolate-free one, huh?"

By the time he's gone to get another cookie - there are three, individually wrapped, with 'Hooch' piped onto each one in what appears to be buttercream - Hale is giving him an unimpressed glare and Kate's nibbling a piece of the cookie Stiles had been eating. He hands Hale one of the cookies with his fake name on it and picks up a fresh one.

"How come Turner here has been in town all of five minutes and has already been laid more than I have in a month?" Daehler asks, wandering over.

"If you stopped hitting on married women, you might have a chance," Argent drawls. "And even then, you're not gonna convince anybody into bed by telling them you only just moved out of your mom's house this year."

"I haven't slept with Heather," Stiles says after a moment. "We're not sleeping together. She bakes me cookies, we run together on occasion, I invite her and her room mate to my place for nachos. It's a sexless but wholly mutually beneficial arrangement."

"You blind, man?" Daehler asks. "That girl was thirsting all over you."

"What does that even mean?" Stiles asks, then waves a hand. "I don't even want to know. I'm not sleeping with Heather, and I didn't even take the guy from the bar's number."

"Still more than Daehler gets laid in a month," Argent muses, making Daehler scowl.

*

Hale spends the hour and a half before Heather and Danielle arrive wandering around the apartment in just his boxers which means Stiles spends the time showering, organising books, making nachos, typing up a report for the day, rearranging the spice rack, and basically doing anything to keep his hands busy and his eyes from wandering.

When the door goes, Stiles heads to answer it and when he glances over his shoulder, Hale's got his back turned and is shoving his boxers down his thighs. Stiles fights off the flash of unadulterated want and turns back to the door, exhaling hard before pulling it open.

Heather beams at him and even Danielle offers a small smile. Stiles returns it, gesturing for them to come in. He closes the door behind them and heads around into the kitchen area. "Good evening, ladies. Help yourself to the TV and stuff, give Hooch a shove off the sofa if he's on it. The nachos will be ready in a moment. Anyone want something to drink?"

When he walks back out into the living area, Hale's sprawled on the couch with his head in Heather's lap, Danielle by his hindquarters, fingers scratching through the fur on his ribs.

"He looked comfy," Heather says, shrugging as he places their requested glasses of water on the coffee table. "He's so well mannered."

Stiles looks down at Hale, who gazes up at him with the most smug expression he's ever seen a canine wear. "He's just showing off," he says. "As soon as you guys go home, he'll go back to strutting around the place like he owns it and I'm just the lowly slave he keeps around to feed him."

Hale huffs at him and closes his eyes, shoving his head into Heather's hand when she curls her fingers behind his ears, rumbling his contentment. Stiles rolls his eyes and goes back to the kitchen to take the nachos out.

He returns again to find Danielle has switched the TV on and it's showing a baseball game, volume high enough to hear but low enough not to be a distraction while they're talking.

Because talking is what they all end up doing. By the time the game is over, Heather's on the same couch as Stiles and Hale's half in Danielle's lap because she's been sneaking him tortilla chips and salsa while Stiles is pretending to not be paying attention.

Danielle has warmed to Stiles considerably, though Hale probably plays a large part in that; he watches as, realising all the nachos have been eaten, Hale squirms around onto his back, paws waving in the air and tongue lolling, making Danielle laugh and scratch his belly; he kicks a leg idly and his tail swishes over the surface of the couch.

"I think your dog likes Dani better than she likes you," Heather says and wow, when did she get so close?

Stiles smiles and tries to subtly edge away from her. "That's just because she's been feeding him," he says. "He'll remember his loyalties when he's next hungry and realises he doesn't have opposable thumbs."

Heather laughs and Stiles pushes himself to his feet, grabbing for their empty glasses, his own empty beer bottle. He potters around, cleaning up, and returns to ask if anyone else wants another drink.

Danielle stands, earning a grumpy sound from Hale. "I'm gonna head back," she says. "Some of us have jobs to get to in the morning. This was fun, though. You're not bad, Turner."

Stiles gives her his most winning, saccharine grin and she rolls her eyes as they walk to the door together.

"Don't get me wrong," Danielle says. "If you hurt her, I won't hesitate to rip your balls off and feed them to you."

Stiles blinks. "Wait, what? I'm not going to--isn't she leaving with you?"

Danielle just gives him an assessing look and a knowing smirk before turning and leaving. Stiles stares at the back of the closed door for a few moments,. He turns and walks back to the living area just in time to see Hale's tail disappearing around the banister at the top of the stairs. Stiles scowls after him but pushes the expression off his face as he makes his way back to the couch and sinks down onto it.

Heather curls up against his side, fingertips tracing along the seam of his shirt on his shoulder, nearing his neck, brushing over his collarbone. Stiles's mind goes blank as he stares at the TV; he can't remember the last time he was this conflicted about having sex.

"I didn't get you a drink--did you want a--?"

Heather slides her fingers up and then along, turning his head to look at her with a finger on his jaw. Her eyes are warm and amused, gentle and playful. "I don't want a drink," she says, lifting her chin and glancing at his mouth, making her intentions known.

She pecks his lips and Stiles isn't sure why he'd been feeling so conflicted all of a sudden. She leans in and he meets her halfway this time, kissing her; her mouth curls into a small smile against his and she pulls him closer, hands curling around the back of his neck. She makes an impatient noise when he doesn't move his hands more than placing one on her knee and the other curled around her arm, just resting there.

She pulls back, eyes dark and calculating. Without warning, she pushes up onto her knees and swings a leg over both of his, sitting back down on his thighs. She smiles down at him, satisfied, tossing her hair back. "Better," she declares, pulling his hands around her waist before leaning back down to kiss him again.

They kiss for a while longer before Heather slides further into his lap so that there's no real space between their bodies; her kisses have gotten more urgent, her blunt teeth sinking into the skin of his neck, her hands sliding down his chest to pull up his shirt.

To his dismay, once his shirt is yanked up and out of the way, her nimble hands are curling around his belt buckle. He jerks, brought back to reality. He takes his hands out from just under the hem back of her shirt and wraps his fingers around her wrists as gently as he can, breathing hard. She lifts her head, frowning.

"This is--nice, and all, but don't you think it's a little fast?" Stiles asks, trying to tell himself he can't feel the way her hips are pressing down against his, the heat of them emanating through layers of denim, every minute shift of her hips driving him a little crazier than the last. The fact that he knows Hale has the entire apartment bugged, could be listening to what they're doing even without the bugs, could be smelling it--it works wonders to bring his focus back to the present.

"We're both adults," Heather says. "Both sober, both able to make decisions on our own. We both want this."

Stiles gives her wrists a gentle tug so that he can release them somewhere nowhere near his crotch. "I'd be crazy not to," he says, because maybe he is a little crazy, because he has a beautiful woman in his lap and all he can think about it Hale sitting upstairs with his bugs, probably in just his underwear, probably frowning or scowling or some combination of the two. "But I--I mean, I wasn't expecting anything to happen tonight. I, uh, don't have any condoms."

He does - three boxes; two in his bedroom and there's one in a drawer in the kitchen, even has a couple of single ones shoved into his wallet in the interest of playing to stereotypes - but if growing up on a werewolf colony hadn't taught him to lie to older and more experienced wolves than Heather, he'd have never survived as long as he has.

Heather looks disappointed and Stiles takes a moment to really look at her; she's beautiful, she really is, with her lips a little swollen and her hair in disarray, her skin flushed, her body a pleasant weight but--it's not the right one, Stiles realises. Quite without his consent, his mind flashes back to being pressed against a bar, pushed up against a wall, hot breath ghosting over his neck, the side of his face.

Heather brings him back to reality. "I have some," she says, slowly sliding off his lap in a sinuous move that he knows he should find alluring. "Or--Dani does, in the apartment. I'll be back in five minutes."

He lets her bend down and kiss him before she's hurrying out of the apartment, her heels still on his living room floor. Stiles lets his head drop onto the back of the couch, letting out a long sigh.

Hale, on two legs and wearing a shirt, finds him thirty minutes later still sitting in the same position, staring at the ceiling.

"I think there's something wrong with me," Stiles says. Hale snorts.

"I could have told you that," he says. "Tea?"

"I feel like I should take you up on that because I'm pretty sure it'll be the first time you've ever made me something," Stiles says. "But I think I'm gonna go to bed. A beautiful woman wanted to have sex with me and I refused her - I even lied about not having condoms. Who does that?"

Hale shrugs. "I made you toast the other morning," he says, and that's apparently all he has to say. "'Night."

"Doesn't count if you made it for yourself and then I stole it," Stiles says, pushing himself to his feet and heading for the stairs. "See you in the morning, Hale."

*

Stiles is awoken just as the sky's beginning to lighten - Stiles knows because of the silhouette of Hale standing in his doorway frowning.

Stiles doesn't even flinch; he rolls over mumbling about how creepy it is to lurk in bedrooms and watch people sleep. He's given about ten seconds of thinking he can go back to sleep before Hale's crossing the room to shake him.

"Someone's coming," he says. "A lot of voices in the stairwell. Can't hear what they're saying, but they're knocking on doors. Not particularly making an effort to be quiet. Cameras show cops."

Stiles yawns and gazes up at him, bleary eyed. Hale looks soft, somehow, in the foggy haze surrounding Stiles' brain. The tousled hair, tank top and sweatpants make him look approachable, almost like he'd be willing to cuddle. A sharp knock resounds through the apartment and Stiles sighs, resigning himself to let go of the fantasy.

"Go get the door, Hooch," he mutters. Hale glowers at him but strides from the room, stripping off on his way. Stiles sighs again, gustily, and forces himself to roll out of bed, glad he'd opted to sleep in a pair of sweats. He grabs a zip-up and pulls it on, kicking Hale's discarded clothing into his room as he leaves it, closing the door and jogging down the stairs as he pulls up the zip on his hoody.

Hale manages to get the door open - Stiles is begrudgingly impressed - to reveal Lahey standing on the other side looking worried and just as half asleep as Stiles feels.

"You might want to go put clothes on," Lahey says, a thermos cupped in his hands; he's rocking back and forth on his feet as Stiles busies himself fastening Hale's collar around his neck. "Early start this morning, it's gonna be a long day. You're needed at the station."

"Come in," Stiles says, walking away from the door and to the kitchen, finding a mug of coffee already waiting for him. It's black, which means it's for him. He shoots Hale a grateful look; Hale inclines his head and then curls up on the floor. "What's going on?"

"How did you have coffee ready already?" Lahey asks.

"Timer," Stiles says, shrugging and plucking the mug from under the coffee machine. "What's happening?"

"I've been asked to bring you to the station - Captain's request," Lahey says. "But another halved body was discovered in the woods early this morning by a drunk, so I figure you're getting your first case."

A sickening weight settles in Stiles' stomach and he puts down his mug without having taken a sip. He turns, slowly, to look at Lahey. Even Hale's gone on full alert. "Who?"

Lahey shrugs. "Young woman," he says. "I don't know - Boyd just ordered us to canvas this building and asked me to bring you to the station."

Stiles runs. He takes the stairs three at a time and bursts into his room. Hale follows, playing the part of concerned dog right up until he's in Stiles' room and the door's closed, and he's suddenly human again, pulling his sweatpants up to preserve his modesty, his collar loose around his neck.

"Stilinski," Hale says; Stiles ignores him, yanking his clothing off and pulling on boxers and jeans, rifling through his dresser to pull out a Henley shirt. "Stilinski. Stiles!"

Stiles whirls around, shirt hanging from his hand, to find Hale closer than he expected. Hale curls a hand around Stiles' elbow and squeezes, hard.

"Breathe. Think," he says. "We need to deal with this clinically. We don't know it was her."

"How many other wolves are in this building?" Stiles asks. "How many, Hale? It's either you or Heather, and you're standing in front of me. Argent saw her yesterday, did something to her--I can't just--"

Hale pushes him, hand moving from Stiles' elbow to his chest; Stiles struggles to push back but Hale keeps going, keeps pushing him until Stiles is against the wall and he's dropped his shirt in order to try and squirm free.

"Your emotions are clouding your judgement," Hale says. "Making you weak. You can't get free because you're panicking, not even trying. You're the one who took out half a dozen wolves without even being conscious of it - I shouldn't be this much of an obstacle. Think, Stilinski. Focus."

Stiles stares at him, feels Hale's hand planted in the middle of his sternum, his heart thrashes wildly in his chest for another reason and abruptly, the panic begins to recede and all he feels is bile in his throat and the emptiness of his stomach.

"You're okay," Hale says, dropping his hand away. "You can do this, and you will. You're not a rookie, so prove it. You're so fond of telling me you're a damn good agent, so prove it. I can't help you, can't bring you back when I'm shifted, but I'm going to be right there with you, all right? Because we're partners."

Stiles wants to scream, wants to kiss him, wants to throw himself to the floor and never get up because this is his fault - he could have prevented this from happening; he could have stopped himself from lying to her, stopped her from leaving the apartment.

Stiles presses the heels of his palms into his eyes and nods, feeling his shoulders relax just a fraction. Hale nods and turns back around, dropping his sweats and shifting in what appears to be one movement. Stiles grabs his shirt from the floor and pulls it on, grabbing his jacket and badge from the top of his dresser. He jogs back downstairs, shoving his feet into his shoes and hunting through a cupboard for a thermos.

Stiles pours his coffee into the thermos when he finds it, slapping the lid on and seizing his keys from the side. He runs a hand through his slightly matted hair and follows Lahey from the apartment.

*

The office has a determinedly calm atmosphere. Stiles feels it settle around him like a brittle mantle and it's almost stifling; none of the normal chatter around the bullpen is present, not even the phones seem to be ringing. Lahey gestures for Stiles to head into the Captain's office so he does, with Hale at his heels, knocking once before pushing the door open.

Boyd looks stressed, and it's the most emotion he's ever seen on the Captain's face. He stands to sweep a hand towards the unoccupied chair opposite him. Stiles sits and Hale parks himself at his side.

"Lahey's no doubt already told you," Boyd says. "We found another body, cut clean in half and dumped in the woods - I'm not naive, I know you'll have heard the whisperings, maybe even read a few reports on it. The victim was one of your neighbours - a Heather Ellis. I believe you knew her."

Stiles closes his eyes; Hale rests his chin on Stiles' thigh, letting out a low whine. Stiles pets one of his ears, nodding and looking back at the Captain.

"Your case record is outstanding," Boyd says. "I want you on this case. Can you handle it?"

"I can, Sir," Stiles says. "Heather was a good person. Her killer should be found and brought to justice."

"Good," Boyd says. "Now, people are looking at us. We're gonna need to know if you were with Heather before she died - a couple of the guys heard you talking yesterday. Understand, I don't believe you had anything to do with her death, because you weren't even in the state for the first fourteen, but formalities..."

"I understand," says Stiles. "I was with Heather last night - her and her room mate. Heather brought cookies in yesterday afternoon and I arranged to make her and Danielle some nachos. We watched the game and hung out like teenagers. Danielle went home around ten, ten thirty, and Heather stayed for a while. She--we, uh. I've only known Heather since I moved into my apartment and she told me she was recovering from some fairly heavy stuff, so last night when things were getting very heated very quickly, I pushed her away and--fuck--I lied to her. I told her we should stop, because I didn't have any condoms. She told me she had some at her apartment so she left, said she'd be back in five.

"When she didn't come back, I figured she'd just changed her mind - she did that a few times. She'd say something and then, I mean, you could tell she'd made herself uncomfortable," Stiles says, sighing and shoving his fingers through his hair. "I should have known something was up. Is there any security - did she leave with someone?"

Boyd looks grave. "Tech are going through the tapes now," he says. "As far as we can figure, nobody coerced her into leaving - she took the elevator to the third floor and two minutes later was getting back into it and taking it to the lobby, She was alone when she left the building."

"Where do I start?" Stiles asks.

"Uniforms are canvassing your building," Boyd says. "Argent and Daehler are contacting next of kin; CSU have been over the crime scene but Lahey can give you directions. Heather's body is at the morgue until the Feds come in and run off with it. You might want to head down there, see if Hooch can pick up a scent."

"Yes, sir," Stiles says, standing up again.

"Argent is aware that if she doesn't make a significant move by the end of the week, her case becomes your case. I want you running front on this, Turner. Fourteen people in a month, all murdered the same way. There has to be something we're missing."

"I'll do my best," Stiles says. Boyd nods and waves a hand towards the door. Stiles takes the dismissal and leaves, Hale at his heels. Stiles makes a beeline for Lahey, who still looks half asleep.

"Lahey," he says; Lahey jumps and spins to look at him. "I've been put on Argent's case. Can you do me a massive favour and if you see her and Daehler following me, just call me to give me a heads up? I want to build my case from the ground up and I can't do that if the original detective is dogging my footsteps."

Lahey shrugs, frowning. Stiles takes it as enthusiastic agreement.

"Thanks, man," Stiles says. "I owe you one."

He claps Lahey's shoulder and then heads out of the building; he opens his car door and Hale hops it, clambering across the centre console to sit in the passenger seat. Stiles slides in after him and heads for the morgue.

*

The medical examiner is a bright thing. She looks almost out of place in such a sterile environment with her lips painted scarlet, her wild curls barely restrained by a hair tie. She gives Stiles a curious look when he first walks in with Hale.

"Dogs aren't allowed in the morgue," she says, though she doesn't actually try to stop them when he and Hale pass through the doors. Stiles shows his badge and twists Hale's collar around to show his. "Well, then. Good morning, Detectives."

"Hey," Stiles says. "Captain Boyd sent me - I'm apparently doing something of a hostile takeover of Detective Argent's case with the half bodies found it the woods. Boyd suggested bringing my partner to see if he could pick up anything from the most recent body."

"Erica Reyes," she says, sliding off the stool she'd been perched on to hold out a hand. Stiles shakes it, notices her black pumps are probably inappropriate for the workplace but doesn't question it. "In for Heather Ellis, then, I presume? She's the only one the Feds haven't stolen from me, so you probably got here just in time."

Stiles nods, accepting the latex gloves she hands him. She watches Hale for a moment before shrugging and leading them to the only table with a body on it. She snaps on her own gloves and pulls back the white sheet.

Stiles' stomach protests but he forces himself to look, to be clinical and removed. He remembers how warm her body had felt against his the previous evening, the way she'd smiled against his mouth, the way her hair had bounced when she threw it back over her shoulder; he remembers it all and pushes it down; Hale knocks his massive shoulder against Stiles' leg and he nods, turning his attention to Erica.

"Anything interesting, maybe that sets her apart from the last few?"

Erica hums, shaking her head. "She's the same M.O. as the previous fourteen, down to the letter," she says. "Wrists show signs of struggle, spine severed in the middle of her lumbar curve. Clean through, too - I'd say the cut was done with surgical precision, but I don't have a scalpel big enough. Our -- my -- best guess is still a sword. I'd say probably something similar to a medieval longsword, slightly tapered, maybe. You'd need someone huge, or at least trained to wield a big-ass sword, to be able to heft that kind of thing, though, and make this kind of cut."

Stiles blinks at her, then looks back at Heather, regretting the decision almost immediately.

"Now, here's a little test I've been running on my own," Erica says, and Stiles' interest is piqued straight away. "I haven't even told Argent about this one because she hasn't seemed interested in the bodies at all. Has a cursory look and any time I give her a theory, she tells me to leave the police work to the police. And Daehler's a creepy asshole."

Stiles hums in agreement, watching her raid a drawer. She pads back over with a laptop and a pile of Petri dishes, each labelled with a number from one to fifteen.

"I took swabs, as we do, of each victim," Erica says, leading him over to a table where there are no bodies; Stiles leaves Hale by Heather to get a better sniff. Erica smacks the space bar on her laptop to wake the screen. "I thought it was strange that all of the victims were apparently strung up but showed no signs of struggle elsewhere. All of them have been perfectly healthy young adults, and all tox screens have come back negative for the fifty or so most common drugs I could think of. Here's what's interesting, though - these have been driving me crazy for weeks, so I was browsing the Internet trying to figure out what could cause death among these healthy people without them struggling. I narrowed it down to a list of around ten poisons which can be used raw but also made airborne - because I imagine it's kind of difficult to poison someone without them drinking, eating or being shot with it, and those sorts of things would leave tell-tale signs, you know? Anyway. I tested specifically for each of the poisons, and I got a match."

Stiles leans in. In each of the Petri dishes, there's a small amount of purplish powder. "What is it?"

"Aconitum," Erica says. "It's strange, it doesn't match any samples I could find growing in the USA. The closest I could find was through a botanist who has a collection of samples from western Europe, specifically the south east of France where she was based for a long time. Aconitum is definitely the genius, but the species is up in the air. I'm not sure why anyone would pick aconite as a poison, though. There are dozens of poisons that are more effective - easier to get hold of, too."

Stiles stares at her for a few moments, wondering if she knows how brilliant she is. Brilliant, and terrifying. "This has been really helpful, actually," he says. "We were wondering what could incapacitate the victims, too. Isn't aconite the queen of poisons, or something?"

"Aconitine, technically - it's the name of the toxin given off by aconitum," Erica says. "But yes, you're correct. Historically, it goes back as far as being associated with Cerberus in Greek mythology. Strange, considering aconite's other names are wolf's bane and dog's bane, among many others. It's antiquated, a strange way to kill people, though."

"As antiquated as using a longsword to chop someone in half?" Stiles says. Erica tips her head to one side as though to say good point. Stiles pulls a white card out of his wallet with his alias and number on it. "Thank you, Erica. Keep me updated if you come across anything else weird, all right? I mean it when I say this has been really helpful. And--uh, would you mind keeping this just between us right now? Just until I figure out what to do with the information."

She nods, grins and tucks her hair behind her ear. Stiles doesn't need to turn to know Hale is rolling his eyes. "Sure, and here - this is my number, so you'll know who's calling if I think of anything."

Stiles accepts the card she hands him and returns to Hale's side while Erica clears up her laptop and Petri dishes, stowing them away again. Erica walks them out, disposing of their gloves in a bio-waste bin and shoving her hands into her lab coat pockets as she walks them out.

*

After checking out the body dump site, checking back in with the Captain and driving around aimlessly for what feels like hours, Stiles finds himself slumped on his sofa with a bottle of beer and a pounding headache. Hale settles in the armchair with his laptop and a carton of leftovers.

"Moping doesn't become you, Stilinski," Hale says after nearly an hour of complete silence. Stiles turns his head to frown at him. "It's not like she was the love of your life. You're acting Shakespearian about this."

Stiles takes a long pull from his bottle, weighing his responses. "She was a human being," he says. "It doesn't matter if she was practically a stranger - I knew her, I knew what she was, I know what Argent is -- I knew she was in danger and I did nothing. Jesus, if I'd just--"

"Fucked her?" Hale suggests. "Let her quietly regret it in the morning, chip away at the confidence she's built for herself since she was bitten? Neither of us knew her well, but you said it yourself in Boyd's office - she had a habit of speaking before she thought about it. Would you rather have slept with her and destroyed everything she'd worked hard to build for herself?"

"If it meant she'd be alive!" Stiles bursts, irritated. "If it made the difference between life and death, yeah. At least then she'd have been alive to rebuild it. Maybe she'd have ended up resenting me for it, but I could have handled that. I could have handled her hating me if she was alive, but now it's my fucking fault she's dead, don't you get that? I lied to her; I let her leave the apartment knowing there was danger. I as good as killed her."

Hale snorts. "You have a very inflated sense of your own importance," he says. "She died because she made a decision, and she died because Argent is a homicidal maniac with some kind of affiliation with a cult who has an agenda against werewolves. Heather didn't die because of you. The choice you made was to give her time to think on her own, without feeling like she was being influenced, and now you're ruining it by saying you wish you'd just swallowed your respect for her and fucked her? Do you realise how much of a pig that makes you sound?"

Stiles opens his mouth to protest, but finds no argument waiting on his tongue. He gives a quiet, mirthless little laugh and tips forward, elbows on his knees and hands in his hair, empty bottle dropping to the floor and rolling away.

"We can't save all of them, even if we really like them," Hale says and his voice has a different kind of timbre to it. "You know this - I refuse to believe the CIA doesn't teach you idiots to realise that even the people we care about are mortal. We'll get Argent, but I need you at the top of your game. You can't lose it when we've only just -- officially -- gotten started on the case. That's what she's hoping will happen."

"You're an asshole," Stiles grunts. "But you're right."

"Usually am," Hale says, shrugging. "Go eat. You haven't eaten all day - the leftover cookies in your desk drawer and the sixteen cups of coffee don't count."

Stiles sighs but clambers to his feet. He feels like he's walking through jelly but he reaches the kitchen after what feels like an age. He potters around on autopilot, and despite the fact he's aware Hale just ate, he finds himself making enough for two.

*

Danielle turns up at his door. Hale climbs from his chair and makes sure to stow his empty plate in the dishwasher. By the time Stiles is opening the door, Hale's shoving his clothing into a cupboard and transforming. His collar's on the breakfast bar but Stiles figures it doesn't matter if he's wearing it at the moment - he knows it irritates Hale, because it's the first thing he takes off when he's human again.

Stiles doesn't know what to say when he's greeted with a frowning Danielle; her eyes are bloodshot but she looks determined, her jaw clenched.

"What happened?" she asks. "The cops won't tell me a damn thing. They say she was found in two pieces."

"She was," Stiles says. "Do you want to come in?"

"I want to know what happened," Danielle says, but she walks in when he steps back. He closes the door and follows her to the living room. She chooses the couch next to where Hale's curled up himself. Hale squirms around until he's lying with his head resting on Danielle's thigh. She pets his muzzle and then looks up at Stiles, who sits on the arm of the other couch. "What happened?"

"She--we--God, there's no way of explaining this without it sounding crass. We were going to sleep together, but given her history of saying things and then feeling obligated to fulfil them, even in the short time I've known her, I told her I didn't have any condoms, so she said she'd get some from your apartment. She didn't come back - I figured she'd just changed her mind."

Danielle's silent for a few moments, nodding her head. "You did the right thing," she says. "As much as saying that makes me want to throw up, it's true. You have to get whoever's doing this, Steve. They can't get away with this--I don't know what I'll do if she--if it's not solved, if the killer stays out there--"

"I'm gonna get them," Stiles says - promises, really. "I am. The Captain put me on the case today and I promise you, Hooch and I are gonna take this sicko down."

She looks up at him and nods, face firm. "Heather was--she recently went through some big changes in her life," she says. "She was happy - excited and nervous about you, you know? Just do her proud. You can have anything you need - her cell phone and laptop are in the apartment if you think they'll help find a clue."

Stiles nods. "I'll keep that in mind, thank you."

Danielle shifts Hale's head from her leg and stands up, holding her hand out; Stiles shakes it, at a loss for what else to do or say. She seems to have the same trouble and so simply gives him a long, searching look before leaving.

"Well, I think that went well," Stiles says, raking his fingers through his hair. "Do you want to go for a run? I feel like I'm going to crawl out of my skin. I hate having to wait around for evidence to present itself. I'm a go-in-and-get-it kind of guy."

Hale huffs at him but slinks off of the sofa and stretches. Stiles goes to change into his running clothes. "So," he says, coming back down the stairs to find Hale sitting with his collar in his mouth. Stiles stops, taking and fastening it around his neck. "How do you suppose the best way of smuggling aconite into California would be? Land, sea or air?"

Hale yips twice.

"I thought so, too," he says. "Easier to dock a boat than to take off and land an aircraft, unless you have private air fields and fuel supplies everywhere, and transporting it by land would just be a pain in the ass. Borders, potential random stop and searches; too messy. Boats are the least suspicious and therefore the most likely. What do you say we change our running route to head down to the marina?"

Hale bobs his head in agreement and leads the way. Stiles grabs his wallet on the way out - he's pretty sure they're around ten miles from the marina, so he may consider a cab back.

*

They reach the marina just under an hour later and Stiles' lungs are burning pleasantly. He stops at a twenty-four hour convenience store and buys two bottles of water, guzzling half of one before he's even back out onto the street. He unscrews the cap of the other bottle and cups his hand, pouring water into it for Hale, who looks sceptical but ultimately crowds close to drink.

"Next time I want to run ten miles, slap me," Stiles says; Hale grunts. "Don't grunt at me. Ten miles in fifty minutes is great for a puny human. Do you guys even have a limit? Or can you, like, run forever?"

Hale gives him the canine - lupine, whatever - equivalent of the stink eye, water dripping from his muzzle when he lifts his head. Stiles snorts and wipes his hand on his shorts, recapping the bottle and beginning to walk towards the marina; there are the sounds of what's no doubt a party, the lights from around the bay glittering on the inky water.

"Smell anything interesting?" Stiles asks. "Please smell something interesting. Do you know how long it takes to walk from Malibu to Laguna Beach along the coast? Neither do I, but it's gonna take forever if we have to patrol the entire coastline and wait for something to turn up."

Hale rumbles and trots off. Stiles follows, falling silent.

*

They don't find anything. Stiles can't say he's surprised, but he is a little disappointed. Hale does, however, discover a food truck with one of the best hot dogs Stiles has ever tasted.

They get back to the apartment - Stiles had to pay the driver double to allow Hale into the car - and Stiles is practically sleepwalking by the time he toes off his shoes. He takes one look at the stairs and makes a beeline for the couch instead. Hale snuffles at his ear; Stiles swats at him and rolls over, cuddling close to the back of the couch.

He wakes up and it's full daylight; he's sprawled out on his front in his own bed wearing nothing but his boxers. He jerks almost fully upright before relaxing back into his sheets, reminding himself Hale's already seen the scars on his back.

Speak of the devil. "You all right?" Hale asks, appearing in the doorway; Stiles pushes himself to sit upright, blinking blearily at him. "I heard your heart rate spike."

"Panic reaction at waking up almost naked with no recollection of it," Stiles says, shrugging.

"You crashed pretty hard," Hale says. "Your running clothes smelled like something had died in them, and I've carried heavier grocery bags up steeper stairs."

"Shit--what time is it? I am so late for work," he says, scrambling across his bed. Hale leans against the door jamb, watching him.

"You texted Lahey, said you'd be late in," Hale says. "Lahey told the Captain, and Boyd said it's fine."

"I did?" Stiles asks, pausing in the action of trying to pull a sock on. "My phone is downstairs--oh, you mean you texted Lahey from my phone. I get it."

Hale rolls his eyes, shaking his head as he walks away.

*

The day doesn't improve from there. Argent and Daehler start skulking around his desk as soon as he arrives and boy, is he glad he decided to take half his work home and lock the other half up. Hale runs interference a couple of times before lumbering over to take a sniff around Argent's desk, which inspires something of an immediate reaction from Argent to chase him away.

Now that he's gotten his hands on them, Stiles takes his time looking through each of the reports for the dead wolves. He makes a copy of the whole file and shoves it into his bag while nobody's watching - Hale's causing havoc for Daehler and Argent, running around their desks with Argent's stapler in his mouth.

"Hooch," Stiles calls after a while. "Heel."

Hale skids to a stop and trots over looking immensely pleased with himself. Stiles snorts and holds out a hand for the stapler, grimacing when it's dropped into his palm. He spins in his seat and hands it to Argent with what he can muster up into an apologetic grin. "Sorry," he says, not sorry at all. "We've been all work and no play for the past few days."

On cue, Hale drops to the floor and rolls onto his back, squirming around. Stiles has to bite back a bark of laughter. If he didn't know better, he'd say Hale was thoroughly enjoying himself.

"I could walk him for you," Lahey says. "I was gonna go over and grab a sub or something, if you want him out of your hair for a little while."

Stiles shrugs, spinning his chair back around to look at Hale, who's sitting up again, head cocked. "I don't pretend to be the boss," he says. "It always ends in disaster when I do. What do you say, boy? Walk or stay?"

Hale pushes up to stand, wagging his tail. Lahey actually smiles at that, holding a hand out for Hale to sniff before scratching his ears. Lahey looks at Stiles. "Does he have a lead or anything?"

"He has one," Stiles says. "But we don't use it. He goes a little loopy if he thinks he's being restrained. He won't go running off into traffic or anything; he'll follow you, don't worry."

Lahey looks sceptical but he begins walking; Hale makes a show of staying put for a second before Stiles encourages him; Hale's mouth drops open in a doggy grin and he bounds off in pursuit of Lahey.

*

Hale orders take out for dinner while Stiles pores over the case files; the copies he took from the station are spread across the huge table in their secret room, and all of the files from the CIA are open on the multitude of screens. Stiles looks up, taking his glasses off when Hale saunters in through the propped-open door with a bag of noodle boxes. He sits beside Stiles and hands him a pair of chopsticks.

"Any particular one mine?" Stiles asks.

"Help yourself," Hale shrugs and picks one out seemingly at random. "If you don't like it, pick another. I'll eat any of them."

"Yeah, but which one are you hoping I won't pick?" Stiles asks, picking out a box. Hale holds up the one he's holding and then opens it up, staking his claim by sticking his chopsticks into it.

"Any progress?" Hale asks, nodding at the table.

"Still can't tie Argent to any smuggling," he says. "And when I was on filing duty, I couldn't find anything to do with there being an open narcotics case. It's possible that if there is one, they'll be in another office. All I have to go on is your nose, and that won't stand up anywhere. I need evidence hard enough to nail the whole operation. Like, not even a smoking gun - I need a smoking cannon, at this point. An entire smoking armada, even."

"I got a couple of scents from her when she was running around after me this afternoon," Hale says, and if he looks a little smug, Stiles isn't going to be the one to ruin it. He shoves a wonton into his mouth and waits. "The aconite's definitely being smuggled in on a boat. There were faint traces of salt water and motor oil, almost like it's a dock yard instead of out in a bay? The egg sandwich I mentioned, too, is in Daehler's drawer. I think it's covering the scent of aconite."

Stiles frowns. "Why would they need to disguise the smell of aconite?" Stiles asks. "There are no other wolves in the precinct, right? And they don't know you're not actually a dog."

Hale shrugs. "The off chance a narcotics dog paid them a visit? Your guess is as good as mine on that," he says. "Considering the smell was there at least a few days before we even got there, so it's not for us."

"I guess that's at least a relief," he says. Silence reigns for a while as they eat; Hale nudges a second box towards him when Stiles' chopsticks scrape at the bottom of his current carton and Stiles opts not to ruin it by making fun of it - see? He can exercise self control.

"Hand gel," Hale says, so suddenly that it's almost a whole minute before Stiles realises he'd spoken. He makes what he hopes comes out as a politely inquiring noise. "I think she's using hand gel - the regulation antibacterial stuff you all have in your desk drawers - what if they've dumped a load of aconite into it and use that to test werewolves? When she shook Heather's hand in the bullpen, she ended up with a rash for a few seconds and she kept scratching her wrist."

Stiles' mouth falls open. "She tested me, too," he says. "I remember when I first shook Argent's hand on my first day, something stung - which makes sense, because aconite's poisonous to humans too, but didn't linger, which it wouldn't -- you guys are super sensitive to it, whereas it doesn't do anything to human skin, just kills us if we eat it or it gets into our blood."

Hale sits back in his chair looking satisfied, like he's just managed to scratch an itch he's had for a long time. Stiles grins and leans over, knocking their shoulders together.

"Not just a pretty face, huh, Lieutenant Hale?" he says, his voice coming out in more of a purr than he'd anticipated. He clears his throat and shoves a forkful of food into his mouth to keep from speaking again.

The centre screen flickers to life and Stiles absolutely does not jump, yelping through a mouthful of noodles; Hale thumps him on the back which allows him to at least swallow properly. Eyes watering, he offers Hale a nod of thanks and turns his attention to the Director and General on the screen.

"Good evening, Agents," Director Martin says, looking as unflappable as ever.

"Director," Hale says, inclining his head. "General."

Stiles offers a wave.

"Progress report?"

"Not much - we're verifying a lot of the facts we started with, for the most part. We're sure Argent's at the centre of the smuggling; Hale's got a couple of ideas of how the smuggling might be taking place, so we're going to follow up those leads," Stiles says. "We suspect Argent is also a key player in the lycanthrope murders; Hale caught her scent on the most recent victim and when we went to check out the dump site, he was able to pick out maybe half a dozen other scents."

Hale grunts. "None of them were Argent," he says. "But that just means she didn't actually have anything to do with ditching the body. It's impossible to tell which scents are which - the scene had been contaminated by CSU. No one has been able to locate the scene of the murder. Not even myself."

Quite unconsciously, Stiles shifts in his chair as though to turn and look at Hale; he manages to catch himself halfway, however. "Captain Boyd has given Argent a deadline on her case," he says. "If she doesn't make significant tracks, the whole investigation goes to me before it goes cold."

"Good," Martin says. "We're further forward than we have been. Keep it up."

Stiles gazes at the screen for a few moments after the transmission winks out, before spinning in his chair to look at Hale. "You couldn't catch Heather's scent in the lobby?" he asks. "We have the footage of her leaving the building that way."

Hale raises an eyebrow. "I know we do," he says. "She disappears. I can follow her scent to the sidewalk and then it disappears, like she got into a car. There are no chemosignals - I can't sense any distress or panic. She was calm, maybe sedated, and my best guess is she was guided into a waiting car."

"Except traffic cams show no vehicles pulling away from the building," Stiles says, pushing a hand through his hair. "You're sure she disappeared right outside the building, couldn't have walked along at all?"

Hale shrugs. "It was a pretty clear day and foot traffic was light," he says. "I'm as sure as I can be. None of it makes sense; my instincts are usually right on, but nothing's adding up. I can't even get a sense on the car, no residual scent left from anyone perhaps leading her. From what I can make out, she got into a car and drove away. It can't have been a whistle or a frequency transmitter, because I'd have felt it - or at the very least, the dogs in the building would have gone crazy and I'd have heard them."

Stiles rubs a hand over his face. "Is it possible she could have gone down into the parking garage? Gotten outside and realised her destination would be quicker achieved if she drove?"

"Possible," Hale says, reaching with his chopsticks to steal a clump of noodles from Stiles' carton. "Not likely. The scent would have been thicker if she'd doubled back."

Stiles stares at the array of photos and case notes on the table before them, picking out a cashew with his chopsticks. "Is there anything a human - a hunter - can use to disguise or disperse a scent?" he asks. "Say, for example, if Heather was followed? Maybe she did walk, and someone followed her, and they had something that entirely erased their scent?"

Hale actually pauses at that. "It might be," he says. "It's nigh impossible to disguise a scent so entirely that it doesn't exist, but there are things that can be done to confuse a scent - things hunters have been doing for centuries to keep from being noticed when they're tracking and following."

Abruptly, Hale puts down his carton and stands up; Stiles flails and leaps out of his chair to grab for his arm, ignoring the almost offended look Hale gives him in response. "Where are you going?"

"To see if I can pick up the scent of vinegar or lemon," Hale says. still glancing between Stiles' face and his hand around Hale's forearm. Stiles ignores it.

"Like that? No," Stiles says. "You're not going down and sniffing walls in your human form. Heather got caught, do you get that? The last wolf I knew was led away and cut in half - I'm not going to lose you the same way. You might be a big infallible NSA agent in your head, but you're still a werewolf; you have the same weaknesses Heather did, and you're gonna have to go through me if you think I'm going to let you just waltz off and get yourself wolfnapped, buddy. Not on my watch."

Hale's facing him fully now and Stiles only realises how close they are once he's finished his little rant. He's so used to thinking of Hale as a big hulking mountain of a man that it takes him a second to realise he's looking directly into Hale's eyes; they're the same height. Hale's perfectly still except for the slow rise and fall of his chest and his eyes, which are calculating, seeming to catalogue every detail of Stiles.

"Then come with me," Hale says. "If I'm a wolf, I can't tell you what I find."

"This might be the Land of the Free, but it's not normal for a dude to go around sniffing the sidewalk," Stiles says, finally releasing his hold on Hale's arm but not moving away. "Not even by Los Angeles standards. The scents aren't going anywhere, so we'll finish eating and then go for a run. I'll follow you, dude - I don't know how many times I'm gonna have to say it, but I trust you and your instincts. If you think you can follow a hidden scent, I'm going to follow you - it's not like I'm better qualified to tell."

Hale stares at him for a moment longer before nodding, just barely, before brushing past Stiles to sit back down. Stiles closes his eyes and lets out a breath, turning and following suit.

*

Hale doesn't manage to find anything that might hide a scent - he finds a ratty old mattress soaked with vinegar, which he explains is a trick used to confuse a scent, but he can't find another scent to follow.

"Is there a smell, maybe a specific strain of aconite, that would compel you to follow it instead of repelling you?" Stiles asks, trying to take Hale's mind off of his frustration at not being able to find anything. Hale looks up, frowning.

"Not that I've experienced, but that doesn't mean it isn't possible," Hale says, and a thoughtful look appears on his face like clouds shifting to reveal the sun. "Do we have the security footage?"

Stiles nods and sits forward on the couch, pulling his laptop off of the coffee table to balance it on his knees. Hale lumbers over to join him as Stiles navigates his way to the files. Hale commandeers the trackpad, taking the footage right back to around the time Heather and Danielle had left their apartment to come upstairs and pressing fastforward. They watch the hallway stay still for a long time before, around nine, a hooded figure wanders along; the person's head stays tipped away from the camera but Stiles recognises the sway of those hips from how she struts around the bullpen; their suspect is Argent. Stiles feels Hale stiffen beside him, telling Stiles he's figured it out, too.

Argent does something to her hand and then touches her fingers to the apartment door, slowly trailing them back along the wall. She pauses periodically and it looks like she's pricking her fingers as she walks back down the hallway towards the elevator. Stiles uses the timestamps to move between cameras, following Argent into the elevator, down to the lobby and out. He sits back, letting out a long, slow breath.

Hale shifts and is across the apartment like a shot, pawing at the door. Stiles follows without question. Hale leads him down to Danielle and Heather's floor and Stiles waits at the end by the elevator while Hale retraces Argent's footsteps, sniffing at the wallpaper. Despite being in wolf form, Stiles can tell he gets more and more agitated as time goes on. After ten minutes, Stiles buries a hand in Hale's fur and urges him back to their own apartment.

"Vinegar," Hale grunts when they're back in the living room and he's wearing sweatpants. "There's a vague sense of blood, but it's washed out and any possible other scent has been covered up with vinegar. My best guess is Heather got to the door and smelled blood leading away from it, so she followed it into the alley with the mattress and was abducted there."

He looks frustrated and Stiles casts around for something to take his mind off of it. He stands, drawing Hale's attention.

"Let's go follow up another lead, then," Stiles says. "We've pretty much figured out how they got Heather and it's a dead end, so let's head down to the dockyards, see if we can find us some aconite smugglers."

*

As soon as they're out of the car, Hale's nose is pressed to the asphalt. His tail lifts and he glances back to check Stiles is following, then he begins following a trail invisible to Stiles but apparently clear as day to Hale.

They end up in a dark yard around twenty minutes from the car. Hale stops and crowds Stiles until he's crouched behind a crate. Hale then sits down with barely an inch between them, ears at full alert and nose in the air.

"Someone here?"

Hale's thumps his tail once. Yes.

"Argent? Anyone we know?"

Twice, and then once. No, yes.

Suddenly, Hale's whirling around to face him and just as suddenly, there's a whole lot of smooth, warm, naked skin pressed up against him.

"Get back to the car," Hale says, so soft he has to lean close, mouth almost brushing Stiles' ear. He reaches up and Stiles can't help but follow his hand when it curls around the pendant of his collar, twisting it until it clicks, pulling off the K-9 badge and pressing it into Stiles' hand. "I have my collar and it's now recording. You need to get back to the car and listen."

"I can't send you in there alone. These people hunt werewolves, Hale! They're smuggling a plant specifically to kill werewolves. It's going to be better if I go - they'll realise I'm not a wolf and it's more likely they'll let me go."

Hale shakes his head, and Stiles has to pinch himself to keep from inhaling sharply when Hale draws his nose along Stiles' cheek. Hale leans further into his space and Stiles fights not to get distracted, glaring at him. "You can't stop me," Hale murmurs. "And between both of us, I have a better chance of getting in and out undetected. I know which boat it is. Get back to the car - I'll meet you there in half an hour."

"If you don't come back--"

"You leave," Hale says firmly. "You get out. Don't compromise your cover. My GPS and mic are on - you can track everything and hear it all from the car. Keep it running. Thirty minutes, and then you leave."

"I'm not leaving you, you gigantic ass," Stiles hisses. "I thought you were finally getting it, that we're partners in this. You don't do stupid shit, I don't do stupid shit. If you get yourself caught, killed or worse, I'm gonna have nobody to keep me from doing something even more stupid."

Hale gives him a grin and Stiles knows he's being manipulated. "I'd be counting on it," he says, drawing back just enough that he's looking straight into Stiles' eyes, their noses mere millimetres apart. "I won't get caught, but if I do, we'll use it to our advantage. My collar will tell you where I am and how I am - that's all you need. Thirty minutes. Go back to the car. Leave if I don't come back. Wait for the opportunity. Trust me."

Stiles scowls and goes to protest, but Hale's lips are soft against his, hand warm where it cups his jaw. Stiles isn't given any time to return it before Hale's pulling away with a smile and all of a sudden, he's sprouting fur, jaw elongating, shoulders shrinking. Hale headbutts his forehead gently before turning and disappearing into the dark.

"If you don't come back, I will hunt you down and kill you myself," Stiles whispers and he thinks he hears a snort. Left with no other choice, Stiles turns and all but sprints back the way they came, cursing Hale the entire way.

He slings himself into the car and yanks the modified netbook out of the glove compartment, drumming his fingers impatiently as it boots up. He logs into it as soon as the option appears, finding Hale has the software for his collar and Stiles' watch on the desktop. He clicks into Hale's and it's with relief that he receives the sound of Hale's claws clicking in a slow rhythm through the earpiece he's connected up to.

He watches the clock, frowning at it as thirty minutes tick by and Hale still isn't back. Trust, he thinks. He has to trust Hale to know what he's doing.

"Stiles," Hale says; Stiles jerks, looking around for a second before realising Hale's GPS signal hasn't left the boat yard and he must have shifted. "You need to get out of here. Don't argue with me, I can't hear you. Get out, go back to the apartment and wait for me. I can get away, but not without attracting attention. Go home. I'll meet you there soon."

"This is a bad idea," Stiles says to the screen. "A really, really bad idea. If I get written up for abandoning you, I'm going to kick your ass, Derek Hale."

He shoves the netbook into the passenger seat, keeping the earpiece connected as he guns the engine and begins making his way back to the apartment, telling himself to trust Hale, because isn't that what he's been demanding Hale do for him?

Stiles takes his time leaving the car and getting into the elevator at the apartment, netbook tucked under his arm, listening to Hale moving around - the steady, quiet click of claws on various surfaces is a comforting rhythm.

He lets himself into the apartment and finds himself gripping the netbook, glaring at it as he seats himself at the breakfast bar.

"I'm on the boat," he says. "I got on easily, but the guys who were hanging around apparently decided it was time to come back from their smoke break. I could go over the side, but they'd definitely hear that. Argent isn't here, but I can smell Daehler and there's no way he won't recognise me, so I'm going to have to run. My only hope of not being recognised is being too quick for them. There are maybe six men."

"Bad idea," Stiles says and he's standing up, grabbing a pair of sweats and a hoody from the fresh laundry pile. He's decided he's had enough of Hale thinking he's full of good plans and is grumbling to himself as he sweeps the netbook back off the counter and leaves the apartment again. "Better idea would have been for me to create a diversion. Idiot."

"You should be home by now," Hale says. "See you on the other side."

Stiles frowns at the netbook as he leaves the elevator, thinking he's just lost signal - hoping that he's only lost signal, because it's silent for a long few moments. He listens to Hale shift, the soft scuff of paws on wood. He quickens his pace, sliding into the car and starting it up, heart in his throat.

He hears Hale's clicking claws quicken in rhythm and then nothing for a few heart stopping seconds before there's a yell of confusion and a thud followed by the sound of Hale running again.

There's a loud, echoing bang and a pained yelp that's nothing near human in quality. Stiles swears explosively and roars out of the garage.

"Shit, it's just a dog," says a faint voice. "Motherfucker - I thought it was a were for sure."

"Should have changed back by now if it was," says another. "Fuckin' killed a dog, you sick son of a bitch. Come on, let's get out of here before Argent shows up and finds out you're wasting the good aconite on shipyard strays."

After a few seconds of silence, Stiles hears a sickening cough, too close to the microphone to be anyone but Hale.

"Focus on the road," Hale's voice sounds thready and pained. "I'll meet you near the diner we were parked at earlier. Yell at me later. Fuck, this stuff is strong."

Stiles listens to Hale's painful sounding but measured breaths, lulling himself into thinking he's only been driving a couple of minutes. He hears a couple of groans and by the time he's pulling into a parking space at the farthest, darkest corner of the lot, Hale's hissing through his teeth on his inhales and swearing on his exhales.

"I can hear you," Hale grunts. "The car - I'm behind the diner. Shit."

"Shut up," Stiles says, getting out of the car. There's an amused huff through the earpiece and he breathes just a little easier with the knowledge he's close enough to hear Stiles speaking at normal volume. Stiles seizes the clothing he grabbed on his way out of the apartment and starts running.

Hale's crouched behind a dumpster, a hole just above his left hip and a small labyrinth of black veins spiderwebbing outwards from it. There's obvious relief in his eyes when Stiles sinks to his knees before him.

"I don't have anything to burn it out with," Stiles says, hand hovering over the wound. "I don't carry wolfsbane around with me."

"Help me back to the apartment," he says, holding up what looks to be a wooden box wrapped in a piece of cloth. "I'm probably gonna need to be restrained."

Stiles hands over the sweatpants and takes the box, offering his hands to pull Hale to his feet. He studiously ignores how Hale presses close when he's standing, how heavily he leans on Stiles as he struggles into the sweatpants. His breathing is harsh and his brow, jammed into the juncture of Stiles' neck and shoulder, is damp with sweat.

"Hoody on and we can go," Stiles says; one of Hale's hands is holding Stiles' shoulder, fingertips human and blunt but likely to draw blood if they don't start moving. He makes quiet, soothing nonsense sounds and shakes out the hoody, pulling it around Hale's shoulders; he guides Hale's free arm into a sleeve and then wraps that arm around both of his own shoulders, gently prising Hale's vice grip free. "I'm surprised you managed to get this far, Jesus, you're a mess."

"Adrenaline," Hale grunts. "Helps, you being here. Safe."

"Be still my fluttering heart," Stiles says drily, finally managing to get Hale's other arm into the sleeve. He zips the hoody up and wraps his own arm around Hale's waist, tugging the hood up over his head. "Come on, back to the car. I hope you know I'm ignoring you next time you suggest a plan."

Hale makes a low sound that could mean anything, really. They stagger back around the diner and Stiles manoeuvres Hale into the passenger seat. He picks the netbook up from the footwell and shoves it at Hale, telling him to keep himself busy and order take out to be delivered to the apartment.

By the time they're in the elevator, Hale's chest is heaving and he's leaning more of his weight than ever on Stiles, his body all but curled into Stiles' side. The second they're through the door, Stiles slams the deadbolt closed and he's practically carrying Hale up the stairs to his room.

"We don't have restraints," Stiles says. "So I hope you know I'm leaving my life in your hands."

Stiles helps Hale onto his bed, stripping the bedding off while Hale struggles out of the hoody - one of Stiles', he realises as he fumbles for the wooden box. He's careful not to touch anything, using the cloth to open it up and pull out a bullet. He uses a knife from his shoe, popping the casing off with more brute strength than anything. Hale hisses when he smells the pure aconite, writhing on the bed. His eyes are glowing blue when Stiles looks at him.

"Smell right?" Stiles asks, though he's dumping the aconite on the bedside table and fumbling for his Zippo. Hale grunts and he takes it for agreement, lighting the powder. It crackles and sparks, purple-blue smoke beginning to spiral up from it. Gritting his teeth, Stiles scoops the burning substance into his hand and looks at Hale, pivoting and slapping his hand, powder et al, directly onto Hale's wound. Hale snarls, and it's testament to his self control that he doesn't outright howl; this isn't the first wolfsbane wound Stiles has had to heal.

Hale kicks but he doesn't ever try to grab for Stiles or hurt him; he arches and bucks, writhes and groans, sweat running in rivulets along his skin; his teeth are too big for his mouth, his eyes flicker between electric blue and placid green, and there are divots in the mattress, holes in the sheet, where Hale digs his hands in and doesn't let go, body rigid and white with tension.

It feels like an hour but it's probably not even five minutes before Hale goes limp, the only movement he makes is his heaving chest as he begins to breathe fully again. Stiles removes his hand from Hale's hip and stands up, brushing his hands off on his jeans. Hale looks up at him, mouth slack and eyes heavy with exhaustion.

"Get some sleep," Stiles says. "I'll shout when the food's here. At least it's our day off tomorrow, so you'll have time to recover properly."

Hale nods and Stiles is almost out of the room before he hears the bed shift as Hale rolls over onto his side. "Thank you," he says; Stiles pauses, nods, and then continues walking.

*

They don't talk about it. They run the following morning - not as far as usual - and then Stiles goes back to poring over the case files and Hale spends most of the afternoon as a wolf, basking in the sun rays spilling through the large living room windows.

Stiles resurfaces to make lunch and goes straight back to his files, plate of food in hand. He makes the trip downstairs again when it's time for dinner to find Hale - shirtless, which isn't even a surprise anymore - at the stove. Stiles stands, gazing at him until he glances over his shoulder, raising an eyebrow.

"You're in the kitchen doing something other than foraging for leftovers or making coffee," Stiles says. Hale's eyebrow climbs higher. "I wasn't even aware you knew how to switch a cooker on."

"The oven, too," Hale says, deadpan. "I'm a man of many hidden talents."

I'll bet, Stiles doesn't say. He bites his tongue and sits down, opting to watch the spectacle. Despite the slight worry in the back of his mind, Hale doesn't burn the place down - he turns out two omelettes packed with vegetables and pulls a tray of sweet potato wedges out of the oven - he even uses the wolf mitt Stiles bought because it had amused him. He stays quiet as Hale gives him a fork and an inquisitive look. Stiles takes a bite and can't help the soft sound of surprise that escapes him. Hale's expression only gets more smug as he lifts his own plate and goes to settle on the couch, folding his legs under himself.

"So, we've been on this mission a couple of weeks, now," Stiles says. Hale hums in acknowledgement. "And I'm only just finding out you can cook? Like, actually cook. You've just been letting me do all of the cooking and never thought to tell me?"

Hale shrugs. "You seemed to enjoy it," he says. "Gave you something you could control. And I like your food. Did you think I just lived on take out on previous missions? Of course I can cook."

"Kind of, yeah," Stiles says. "You never even once volunteered."

"You enjoyed cooking, I enjoyed eating your cooking. Win-win," Hale says. "I'll cook more - you only had to ask."

Irritated already, Stiles picks up his plate and heads back upstairs, making sure not to grumble aloud to himself until the door of the study is fully closed. "Asshole," he says venomously to the door. "Only had to ask? I shouldn't have to ask, douchebag - this is a partnership, not a--a monarchy! Begging your pretty pardon, Your Royal Dickishness, I'm afraid we're fresh out of pigtails to pull - could I interest you in a steaming pile of kiss my ass?"

Stiles drops into his chair, groaning. "Just had to ask," he repeats again, with just a touch more disbelief and hysteria. He sighs. "Do I look like your fucking husband? Jesus, I--there's a bug in here, isn't there?"

He stands up and peers around himself before looking down at the plate. Taking a deep, calming breath, Stiles slides his fingers under the plate and finds it - a thumbnail sized bump on the underside. He unsticks it and brings it out to examine it. Instead of squishing it, which would be so easy, he simply slips it into his pocket and turns his focus onto his work, saying nothing more.

When he leaves the room, it's to find Hale outside, frowning at the keypad. "You never gave me the code to get in."

Stiles hums and shrugs. "You never asked, big guy," he says, and then continues down the hall.

"Stilinski, what's the code?"

"Two-four-one-one-zero-eight," Stiles says. "You won't find your precious bug in there."

Hale's silent for a few moments. "I'm not sure you have any idea how a monarchy works," he says and Stiles scowls at the reminder Hale heard his whole half hysterical rant. "But you could definitely interest me, if your offer still stands."

Stiles freezes, but he doesn't have time to respond before Hale's slipping into the study and the door's clicking shut. Stiles continues down to the kitchen to put away his dish and stands staring blankly out the window opposite the breakfast bar without really seeing anything.

Making a frustrated sound, he drags a hand over his face. He forces himself to relax, idly wondering how long Hale's going to be shut up in the study. There's one sure fire way he can think of to release all tension and by the time he's taking the stairs to his room two at a time, he's decided he doesn't much care if Hale leaves the study - it would serve him right.

Stiles hovers on the threshold of his room as he debates with himself; since starting with the CIA, Stiles hasn't been able to use his laptop for porn - upon the realisation that Director Martin could access his computer should the urge or need to contact him strike her, he'd made the decision not to use his laptop during any kind of personal time, and stuck to it, finding himself increasingly grateful for his own overactive imagination.

Stepping out of his jeans and shutting his bedroom door with perhaps a little more force than strictly necessary, he's shirtless by the time he hits the bed, curling a hand over the front of his boxers and pressing his palm down firmly when his dick twitches, interested. It's not even like he has to try too hard to think of something to get him started, either: Hale's body has become something of a fixture in his life and he'd be lying if he said he'd never thought about how it would feel under his hands, its weight pressing him down. The entire reason he's considering it is Hale's fault, anyway; his mind falls back to the image, the feeling, of Hale's front plastered up against Stiles' back, gently pushing him against the bar.

That's the image that does it, coupled with the memory of Hale's breath, warm against his ear and neck; breath all leaving him in a rough exhale, Stiles shoves his underwear down his hips, grabbing the lube from his bedside drawer where he hasn't had much chance to use it. He curls his barely slicked hand around his cock, twisting his wrist around the base and thumbing the ridge just before the head.

He calls up the memory of Hale catching his arm and pulling him close only to press him back against the wall of the bar, mouth mere millimetres from his, the feel of Hale's hands spanning his sides, travelling up his back, warm and large and so sure; he remembers how his lips had felt, how Hale had looked crouched close, intent and warm, a little amused, as he pressed them to Stiles', firm but too brief. Stiles imagines how it would have felt had he been given time to react, to return the kiss and lead it into something more.

Stiles lets out a soft, barely there groan, teasing himself, twisting his wrist on the upstroke. He lets his head fall back onto his pillow as he imagines Hale's chest under his hands, the smooth skin of his shoulder between Stiles' teeth. He pictures a hand, broad and firm but deceptively soft, curling around his cock, jerking him in place of his own spindly fingers; imagines kissing hard, sex drunk and intense, teeth biting, sucking at his lips.

He tells himself it's no longer Hale he's picturing, with his straight, uneven teeth and his strong, gentle hands, but his fantasy has a head of wild dark hair and a bright smile Stiles is pretty sure he'd do a variety of stupid things for. He squeezes himself, fucking up into his fist, unable to concentrate on keeping his hips still as a phantom mouth travels down his torso.

It's the thought of that mouth continuing downwards that makes him do it; Stiles slides a slicked finger back, behind his balls and teases at his rim, circling it firmly and feeling the breath rush out of him, his heart thundering in anticipation before he pushes his finger into himself, letting out a quiet, wounded sound he'll never admit to making. He's going too fast but he can't seem to be able to stop; it's been too long since he did this last. Panting lightly, he pulls both of his hands away to twist over and grab for the lube, getting it pretty much everywhere but his hand in his haste. He manages it after a pained second and rolls onto his back again, spreading his legs in the same movement, planting his feet on the mattress and lifting his hips as he reaches down, forcing himself to take his time, tugging at balls, rolling them in his palm before slowly beginning to press his finger into himself, easier this time, letting himself adjust to the once familiar feeling.

He hears a low whine and it takes him a second to realise that it's coming from him as he twists his finger, corkscrewing it as best he can until he's brushing the back of his balls with his thumb. He wraps his free hand around his cock again, jerking in an unsteady rhythm, already feeling too big for his skin, ready to shake apart at a moment's notice. Stiles bites down hard on his lip, as he swipes his thumb around the head of his dick and pushes a second finger in, heat coiling low in his belly, electricity racing up his spine as he finds his prostate and presses, not letting up, breath catching in his throat as his other hand quickens, pressing his head back into his pillow, baring his throat for the image of Hale's teeth sinking into his neck, the thought of Hale's thicker fingers replacing his own, unable to help the consequent picture of Hale's cock; the idea alone makes Stiles moan and clench around his fingers - three, now, curled at the right angle to nail his prostate as he arches and bucks down onto them.

Stiles's breaths are quick, gasping as he can feel the edge approaching like a subway train rumbling under his feet, like it's something tangible he can grab and hold onto. He gives a savage twist of his hand around his cock on the upstroke and drags his fingers hard over his prostate and suddenly he's weightless, slung into freefall, orgasm wrenching through him and he's pretty sure he cries out but he's sticky and warm and too content to care.

*

Stiles knows it's childish that, even post-orgasm and blissed out, he's still kind of pissed at Hale. He knows - well, he doesn't know, but he's telling himself - that Hale kissing him was just another means of manipulation, ensuring Stiles would be off kilter long enough for him to slip away, but it would be nice to get some confirmation of motive. His resolve solidifies and he promises himself he'll bite the bullet and demand answers from Hale next time they're sitting down together.

*

There's an explosion at the police station. One moment, Stiles had been handing Lahey a file he'd been looking for, Hale lazily sprawled out under Stiles' desk across the bullpen, and the next thing he knows, he's curled over Lahey, having forced his head down as soon as he heard the bang.

The place is in chaos and there's a lot of smoke but no fire. Stiles pulls the neck of his t-shirt over his nose and mouth.

"Lahey, cover your face, make sure everyone gets out of here. I'm gonna try and find the source."

Lahey nods, staring up at him with wide eyes. Stiles staggers into the bullpen, eyes streaming. The smoke is acrid and tinged with something sickly sweet, distinctly floral and Stiles' heart is in his throat as he turns toward his desk to find it overturned and Hale gone. He stumbles onward a few steps to find the source of the explosion. It looks like a stun grenade, but he's willing to bet it's heavily modified and he curses himself for not investigating sooner.

The source is in what's left of Daehler's desk drawer, next to what had probably once been an egg sandwich.

"Aconite," Stiles yells. "Don't breathe it in - get out of the building or find a gas mask."

As though summoned by his words, someone shoves a mask over his face. He looks up to see the Captain, who nods at him before moving on.

Nobody is injured - apart from the poison, the grenade's explosion had been about as lethal as a birthday candle - and Stiles and his colleagues end up spending most of the afternoon in a diner across the road while a team goes in to air the whole place out. Stiles does his level best to appear calm and collected but he's a shaking mess inside. Hale's gone; the aconite smoke grenade would have knocked his senses for a loop. Bile rises in his throat when he thinks about how the next time he could see Hale, he might be cut in two.

"Turner," Boyd says, bringing him back to reality; Stiles looks up, realising he's clutching his badge so hard, the edges are almost cutting into his hand. He releases it slowly, flexing his fingers to get the blood flowing again. "You acted quick in there. Where's your partner?"

"I don't know," Stiles says, and he's not even sure he has to force the worried frown on his face. "He wasn't in there when I got to my desk. I don't know where he went - I hope he got out."

Boyd's face is considering and it's at that moment another officer comes up and informs the Captain that neither Daehler nor Argent had reported in for work this morning, though Argent's car had been spotted outside the precinct around the time the grenade went off. Boyd's expression hardens and he nods before looking at Stiles.

"The aconite case is yours, Turner. Solve it before anyone else gets hurt; I don't want to have to go to the Feds and hand all our work over," he says; Stiles stands from the chair he's been in, grabbing his jacket from the back and swinging it around his shoulders. "Although," Boyd says, and Stiles pauses beside him because Boyd's voice has dropped to a murmur. "I have the feeling they're already closer than I usually like them."

Stiles, feeling a little reckless, only gives a tight smile and a shrug. "I'm not FBI," he says; Boyd looks thoughtful and waves him off, though he grasps Stiles' wrist just before he does leave.

"I've heard mentions of a wolfsbane case being worked on by Narcotics," Boyd says. "McCall is good people. Least subtle were I've ever met and it's a wonder he's survived this long, but he's trustworthy and he'll help. Don't go in alone; your partner needs you alive, and their kind needs this case closed."

Stiles has so many questions, but Boyd's finished speaking and gives him a pointed look. Stiles opts to file his curiosity away for later and all but trips out of the diner towards his car. He grabs for the netbook as soon as he's belted in, putting in his earpiece and logging into Hale's collar. There's silence, which settles like a weight in Stiles' stomach; it's a static filled silence, though, so the line is definitely active, which means - Stiles hopes - that whoever has Hale hasn't realised the collar isn't more than what it appears to be.

Stiles heads to the apartment, pulling out his cell phone and dialling what he knows is the interdepartmental number for the Narcotics division. He asks for McCall and arranges to meet at Stiles' apartment - he's going to get Hale back, in one piece and preferably alive; Stiles has too much unfinished business with the guy to let him get away that easy.

At least that's what he tells himself, because it's easier to be angry and feel stubborn about the whole thing, and probably a better idea overall than giving in to the ocean of panic trying to ebb up and engulf him.

McCall turns up with his partner in tow looking more like friendly neighbours in their plain clothes than cops, and they're over the threshold of the apartment before they introduce themselves, warily watching the way Stiles' spine stiffens when McCall utters his partner's last name.

"Allison Argent," the young woman repeats, her chin lifted in a way that dares him to dismiss her. When he doesn't, she tips her head to one side. "My aunt's actions are not mine. Scott and I have been on the aconite smuggling case for three months. We're here to share what we have, to stop werewolves being murdered."

Stiles nods, looks at McCall. "Boyd said you're trustworthy; I'm inclined to believe him. You vouch for her?"

"She's had plenty of opportunities to kill me," says McCall, and the warm smile on his face tells Stiles everything he needs - and doesn't need - to know. "Allison was the one who brought it all to me. She began to suspect her family and started her own investigation, brought it to me when she felt she had enough to open a case."

Stiles nods. He crosses the apartment and locks the door before grabbing his netbook from the coffee table and leading the pair of them up to the study, which, in the short time between him arriving home and Argent--Allison, he tells himself--and McCall arriving, has been turned into a three-sixty degree crime board; all of Stiles' case notes are pinned to the walls, and the screens are displaying what he doesn't have in hard copy. McCall lets out a low whistle, first when Stiles had pushed up the light switch to key in the code to unlock the study door, and again upon taking the room in.

"Special Agent Stiles Stilinski, CIA," Stiles says, reaching into a duffel bag under the table and tossing his badge - his real one - at them. He's not supposed to reveal his real identity, not even if he were to run into another CIA agent, but Stiles was never one to adhere to the rule books, and in his experience, the truth is the quickest way to gain trust. At least, that's what he's telling himself because the truth - that the thought of Hale chained up, dying or dead, makes Stiles' throat seize up and he's probably not thinking straight - is too much to handle.

"Told you he wasn't a Fed," McCall says to Allison, who gives him a fond eye roll. "Boyd hates Feds. Wouldn't send one to me."

Stiles watches them and something about their ease around one another makes him ache to get Hale back. He pushes the feeling away. "Earlier, there was a minor explosion at the station; a modified M84 with a side of aconite infused smoke. It temporarily incapacitated everyone in the vicinity and my partner went missing. I can handle the infiltration and extraction, but I need all the information you have on the layout or whereabouts of the operation's headquarters."

Argent rolls her eyes, though it's distinctly less fond than it had been when directed at Scott. "You're not going in alone," she says. "Scott and I are going with you. The house is crawling with hunters and if they can incapacitate your partner, who I'm surmising is a werewolf, they'll make short work of you. We're going in and all four of us are coming out alive, so we need a plan. I'm not going to lose more innocent lives to these people."

He doesn't point out that these people are her family. Stiles simply nods and Scott approaches, pulling files out of a briefcase and laying them out across the empty table - Stiles' files are all up on the walls for this express purpose.

"The house is more like a compound," Allison says, coming to stand by Stiles as Scott arranges everything. "It's a veritable fortress. Scott and I can get in under the guise of visiting my family - Scott and I have been involved for a long time and they accept him and play nice because they think they can convince me to turn on him; we can even play up to that if it comes to it. The difficulty will be that we can't take weapons with us. I could probably get away with wearing a wire - I won't risk putting one on Scott. They'd kill him quicker than they'd kill me if it was discovered -- at least I'd be given a chance to explain. These are the blueprints of the house - I grew up there; I had them made when I was younger, before I moved out. There may be small modifications or additions, but the core of the house will be the same.

"There are four levels, including the basement which is likely where your partner is being held. From the few times I managed to sneak down there as a teenager, I know it's soundproof and reinforced against pretty much anything. There'll be no blowing it up and hoping for a quick escape. Removing your partner from the place means we're going to have to walk him right back out the front door. The only entry to or exit from the basement is the stairs in the kitchen. There was once a tunnel that fed out into the middle of the woods, but as far as I'm aware, it caved in years ago. Even if the wreckage was cleared and it hadn't been sealed up, the woods are too isolated - your partner is going to need medical attention and fast. If they've captured him from a police station, they know he's some form of undercover and they'll be trying to get answers out of him."

Allison plants her hands on the table, looking down at the assembled paperwork. "The only positive thing we have going for us about the basement is that there's no security in the way of cameras - paranoid bunch, don't want there to be a even a hint of a video evidence about what they're doing down there."

Stiles feels cold and the nausea in his stomach is threatening to overwhelm him. Resolute, he clenches his jaw and forces it back down, studying the blueprints.

*

Allison's SUV gets past the gates without problem - the guy in charge offers a wave and opens them right up without stopping them. Stiles stays crouched in the footwell of the back seats until they round a bend; he flings the door open and grabs his gear. Allison leans through the window and hands him a set of keys; he trades her, handing her a bug - wires are overrated, and Hale had plenty of the damn things lying around the apartment. Allison reaches under her hair and presses it behind her ear; Stiles leans in to fix an earpiece so that he'll be able to contact her if he needs to, activating the bug at the same time.

"It's set to record, so everything you say and have said to you is going to be on tape," Stiles says. "I'll be able to contact you if I need to, but mostly I'm going to be listening. I need to know when the kitchen is clear. Once I'm in the basement, if it is as soundproof as you say, then I can deal with whatever is down there. Do not come after me unless I say so; run if I tell you to get out of there. I understand and appreciate that you're helping me, but ultimately, this is my operation, and I'm the one trained to handle situations like these - I've handled worse alone, so I mean it - run if I tell you to, and don't worry about me. If you make it out and you haven't heard from Der--my partner or I, you can contact my superiors by accessing the study in my apartment -- I know Scott saw me put the code in; the emergency code is the one I put in, but backwards."

He knows, from the look on both of their faces, that they won't run should the worst happen - they're cops, taught to be tactical and work as a team, not agents, taught to fend for themselves and run if compromised.

Allison nods and then pulls away; Stiles slips into the wooded area and keeps low, making his way in a spiral around the house, getting closer to it until he's crouched in shrubbery nearest the back door. He switches his earpiece on; Allison had warned him that it may take a while to get everyone out of the kitchen, so he settles in with a tablet, having transferred Hale's tracking program onto it for ease. He turns down the volume on Allison's channel, still able to hear a faint murmur, and puts his earpiece in that links him to Hale; he can hear laboured breathing which assures him that at least Hale's still alive, though he's shifted to human at some point. There's the clink of chains and occasionally a sick sounding cough.

Stiles is hyperaware of the time passing; he keeps his eyes on the house but the sun shifts significantly in the time he spends waiting, and his heart is in his throat the entire time.

"Stiles," says Allison, and Stiles is caught off guard for a second, worried that they're blown already. "Don't -- I'm in the bathroom. Scott's keeping everyone busy. I don't know where Kate is; her car is in the garage, and Matt's here. My grandfather, parents and a couple of my grandfather's men are in the living room. I'll be in the kitchen, alone, in five minutes. Come to the back door and I'll let you in - the lock has been changed since I was last here."

Stiles switches his own bug on, murmurs, "Copy," and then clicks it back off. He shuts the netbook and shoves it and Hale's earpiece into his bag. He watches the house through binoculars; he can see Scott in what appears to be a sitting room with a severe looking woman and a tired looking man - Allison's parents, he presumes. Scott looks perfectly relaxed, and he finds himself wondering how many times they've done this. He sees Allison enter the room with a warm smile, hears her teasing her parents about how the décor hasn't changed a bit; he listens to her father explaining that his father -- Allison's grandfather -- coming to visit, and consequently stay, threw a spanner in the works as far as revamping the house was concerned.

He waits and watches, listening. Allison stands and offers to make coffee; Scott offers to help before anyone else can and she knocks him back. Stiles has to commend them for that - Scott offering and being rejected means it won't look suspicious if someone else had offered and she'd said no to them. He watches her leave the room and then sees her at the kitchen window, so he checks his surroundings before sprinting for the door, making a beeline instead of trying to skulk around, not interested in wasting time.

The door swings open without a sound; Allison has the coffee machine running, so it covers the noise the door makes when it clicks closed and Stiles' boots on the tile.

"I think Kate may be down there," she murmurs, nodding at the door next to the refrigerator, fussing with mugs. "Maximum of two to three other men, usually, so plus her means you'll have to incapacitate four. Are you sure you can do this alone?"

"Positive," Stiles whispers, and squeezes her upper arm, grateful. "Thank you."

He slips through the door, waiting until he's out of sight to pull his gun from its shoulder holster; he checks it over, makes sure he's ready to go, screws the silencer into place - not because he's under any illusions that it'll make anything quieter, but he's hoping for less mess. Stiles makes his way down the stone steps slowly, ears straining.

He reaches the bottom step and peers around; he keeps his back to the wall as he leaves the stairwell, taking silent, measured steps. There's a man with his back to Stiles and one who's too close to a fire alarm for Stiles' comfort. He's a little uncomfortable with the fact he doesn't have an exact number for how many men should be down here, but he's worked against worse odds.

He shoots the fire alarm guy in the chest, downing him before he can reach for it, and has slunk up behind the other, yanking his jaw around before he even knows what happened to his buddy. Slowly, he lowers the guy to the floor, frowning all the while. He hates killing when the other hasn't had a chance to defend themselves, but these people are murdering werewolves - they'd kill him without a second thought, too, he's sure.

Still, although he doesn't allow himself any remorse, he doesn't get any satisfaction from their lifeless bodies, either. He checks the one near the fire alarm to make sure he's definitely dead before hefting him over to his friend - colleague, probably - and hiding them both under the desk as best he can.

Stiles continues on, reaching a set of thick doors with a panel beside them. He doubles back to find a swipe card on one of the bodies, and lets himself through. The doors close behind him and there's faint beeping coming from somewhere, the whir of machines. Keeping his back to the wall, he continues along the hall. He reaches a door at the end of it and checks around himself again before pushing the door wide, pinning himself to the wall outside of it for a moment before ducking inside, eyes straining to adjust to the dim setting. He lets the door swing closed.

He swallows down a hitched breath; Hale's strung up like a puppet on the other side of the room behind a set of bars. He doesn't look conscious, and his collar is the only thing he's wearing, still around his throat - there are abrasions around his wrists, ankles, his neck where the collar looks to have been yanked around; there's blood at his temple, there's something fixed to his waist and what look to be needles taped into his arm. Stiles forces his eyes away, forces his mind away from why Hale isn't healing, forces the horror down. He knows better than to go rushing over and abandoning all of his training: Hale's survived this long - he can handle a few more minutes.

His gaze zeroes in on a laptop sitting open on a metal workbench loaded with tools; it's showing a camera feed of the kitchen.

"Allison," he murmurs, clicking his bug on. "Allison, get out. Whoever's down here with me knows you let me in. Get Scott and get out."

At that moment, a couple of things happen - he hears Allison yelling, gunfire, and a yelp of pain that sounds like Scott, and Stiles hears heels on concrete. He follows the sound with his eyes and his gun, shrinking back closer to the wall.

Kate Argent materialises from the shadows, her own gun held aloft, trained on him.

"Well, well," she says. "I wondered when I'd be seeing you. Quicker than expected, kid, so kudos for that."

"I like to exceed expectations," Stiles says. "Keeps things interesting."

He doesn't feel like wasting time, so he shoots her. Her gun goes off, too; probably clenching her hand in response to the pain in her thigh, but the bullet hits the wall several feet from Stiles. In the time it takes for Kate to hit the floor, Stiles has crossed the room and is stepping on her wrist, kicking the gun away before stepping back, because she probably has several weapons concealed on her person and he'd quite like to steer clear of any potential sharp objects. There's nothing to secure her hands to - he doesn't plan on cuffing her to the cage until he knows Derek's okay, so he makes do with glowering at her, gun pointed at her head.

"Stiles?" Allison asks, frantic in his earpiece.

"I'm fine. Met your aunt. Also fine," he adds. "Are you and Scott out?"

"Matt shot him," Allison says. "So my dad shot him and my mom got pissed there's blood on the carpet. She left - I heard the door - I don't know where she went. My grandfather's gone, too; he cleared out with a couple of guys as soon as Matt pulled out his gun. Not into the basement - I heard them leave. I don't know where Matt went. Everything's a mess."

"Stay out of the basement," Stiles says. "Allison, listen to me - your family's going to go down hard as soon as it comes out that Kate and Gerard were at the centre of the aconite smuggling and lycanthrope murders. There are teams waiting at the docks to intercept anyone who tries to escape. Between your narcotic case and all the evidence against your grandfather, and the case I put together against Kate and Daehler for the murders of over a dozen innocent people, your surname is going to be everywhere and it may not be safe for you."

"Are you going to kill her?"

Stiles swallows down the guilt. "I haven't decided yet," he tells her. "I'm sorry, Allison, but it might be necessary. I need to get Derek out of here alive, and if Kate's going to be difficult about it -- she's already incapacitated, but I'm here for my partner, who's showing signs of being tortured."

"I--Scott and I are coming down. My dad, too," she says. "My dad wasn't involved in anything. He gave me a lot of my information; he won't let Kate get away. He can help - with your partner."

He wants to argue, wants to tell them to get out, knows there are two potentially avoidable dead bodies in the basement, but more than anything, he desperately wants to get over and free Hale.

"Hurry up," he snaps into the bug and then clicks it off. He swings the chair away from the desk and sits down on it, looking down at Kate; Hale hasn't stirred, his head hanging, chin on his chest, but breathing. Stiles keeps his gun trained on Kate's forehead, warning her not to make any sudden movements. "What did you do to him?"

"Why would I tell you?" Kate asks in her usual cocky tone, but she's sweating and pale - afraid. Stiles almost pities her.

"Because I'll shoot your other leg if you don't," Stiles says with a shrug. "Don't need your limbs to confess to multiple counts of murder and drug smuggling. What did you do to my partner?"

"He's filth," Kate spits. "Not even human; doesn't deserve to live. His kind are meant to kill us, to overrun us all. And you're... involved with him -- he's no better than an animal."

Stiles blinks. "To be honest, if it's the werewolf mission statement to get rid of zealots like you, I'll sign myself up right now," he says. "My partner is a better human being than you could ever be. What did werewolves do to you to deserve being hunted and murdered? Taken from their own homes where they were just trying to live a normal life? None of your victims had hurt anyone."

"You don't know that," Kate says. "They all do - rabid dogs, running around biting everyone; infecting everyone - good men; my uncle..."

"A werewolf bit your uncle so you're running around killing them?" Stiles says. "That's a little crazy."

"They don't deserve to live," she seethes, but it's weak -- the puddle of blood under her leg is expanding and Stiles isn't feeling particularly charitable enough to help her staunch it. The door swings open and Allison spills into the room; she's holding an honest-to-God mini crossbow. She spots Stiles sitting chatting to Kate and lowers it, padding further into the room; her eyes widen when they find Hale strung up. Stiles doesn't move until Scott reaches him, doesn't holster his gun until Scott pulls his own out; there's blood all up the front of his shirt and a puncture in his shirt but he appears to be moving fine, so he must have already healed.

Allison's father is a stoic looking man and Stiles isn't sure he trusts him at all, but if Scott and Allison, who have been helpful so far, do, then he has no choice but to go with what they say. He trips over to the cage, catching the set of keys Allison takes from her aunt's neck and tosses to him. Stiles shoves it into his pocket after unlocking the door and he takes in the full reality of what's happening to Derek; there's a patch attached to his side with cables linked to what appears to be a car battery, and there are needles taped to his inner arm.

"Aconite solution - diluted; not enough to kill him, but enough to keep him... fragile," says Allison's father, barely concealed horror in his expression. Stiles nods.

"You should probably be on the other side of these bars when I wake him up," he says. "He's not usually particularly friendly to begin with, isn't going to react well when I tell him there's more than one Argent in the room."

"He's a werewolf - nobody should be near him when he wakes up," Mr. Argent says, frowning and looking at Stiles. Stiles looks at Derek, shrugging.

"He won't hurt me," he says. "He trusts me."

"If you're sure," Allison's father says and Stiles nods. "Remove the electricity first, and then the IV. Manacles last. Safest."

Mr. Argent retreats to the other side of the bars; he, Allison and Scott are standing in a loose triangle around Kate; Allison's crossbow and Scott's gun trained on her. Mr. Argent doesn't appear to be armed, but Stiles isn't quite sure he wholly believes that.

Despite his general mistrust, Stiles follows Mr. Argent's directions, unplugging the cables from the battery before peeling the patch from Derek's skin; his entire side looks like a massive bruise, blood pooling just under the surface. Stiles curls his hand under Derek's jaw, lifting his head and tugging his collar off with a twist of his wrist, not even bothering with the buckle.

"Derek?" he calls, and he's not sure when he stopped thinking of him as Hale, but it has a feeling of inevitability about it. "Dude, you've got to wake up. I'm gonna take this shit out of your arm; do me a favour and don't bite me."

He keeps up a quiet, steady monologue as he slides the needles free of Derek's skin; Derek shudders, brow creasing in a frown, and Stiles presses a palm to his chest, reassuring him, reaching up to cup his jaw again when Derek's eyes move behind their lids, the whites of his eyes briefly visible.

"Stiles?" Derek murmurs drowsily and Stiles feels weak with relief.

"Yeah, big guy, it's me," Stiles says. "I'm gonna free your ankles first, all right? The electric and the needles are all gone, but I'm going to free your arms last in case you're feeling a little delicate. Give me just a second. I'm right here and we're going to get you out. It's over, okay? It's over."

Derek makes a quiet, confused sound, eyelids looking heavy but irises beginning to actually focus. Stiles rifles through the key ring for the right one to unlock the manacles around his ankles. Derek's eyes are open and he's lifting his head on his own by the time Stiles stands, but his eyes are still sunken and he's covered in a light sheen of sweat, his complexion waxy. His eyes drift to the others outside the cage.

"One thing at a time," Stiles says when Derek frowns. He reaches for Derek's left hand, unlocking the cuff and gently bringing his arm down. "You with me, buddy?"

Derek nods, forearm resting on Stiles' shoulder. Stiles curls an arm around Derek's back, reaching up with his free hand to unlock the final restraint. Derek's weight tips forward, but Stiles had braced for it and catches him, staggering only a little. He stays there, both of his arms around Derek's waist, head turned towards Derek's, whose forehead is resting on Stiles' collarbone, arms limp and heavy over Stiles' shoulders.

"Hey," Stiles says. "You good? I've got a couple of things to fill you in on and they're probably best said while you're not at full strength, so I'm gonna send someone to get you some pants so we can talk, okay? And by 'we can talk', I mean 'I'm going to talk and you're probably going to be pissed'."

Derek's breath leaves him in a puff Stiles is choosing to take as amused agreement, so Stiles cranes around. "Hey, Mister... Allison's dad, can you go find some pants?"

"Chris," says Allison's dad. "I'm Chris."

He turns and leaves. Hopefully to get pants. Stiles then looks at Scott. "Can you bring that chair in here? Don't get too close; I don't know how he's going to react to another wolf while he's feeling vulnerable, so just bring it in and I'll do the rest - and someone shut Kate up."

He can hear her, muttering and murmuring about werewolf filth, probably in shock from the blood loss. Scott picks up the chair one-handed and brings it to the cage door; he keeps his feet on the floor outside of it and pushes the chair in as far as he can; Stiles gives him a grateful look.

"You wouldn't shoot your auntie Kate, Allison," says Kate. "Allison, Ally - help me. They don't deserve to be alive; they killed your great uncle - they've killed so many of us."

Allison frowns down at her. "Great uncle Alex killed himself," she says. "We hunt those who hunt us, and none of the werewolves you've killed were hunting us. You killed them all in cold blood - there were children."

Kate snarls and Derek, still pressed against Stiles, growls in response; Stiles buries a hand in his hair and knows he's made the right choice when Derek sags further against him. Kate, meanwhile, is ranting. "They'd have grown up to be killers! We can't just leave them out because they haven't killed someone yet!"

Stiles hefts Derek into the chair, nodding his thanks when Chris returns with not only a pair of sweatpants, but socks and a t-shirt, too. Stiles kneels and manages to get the pants halfway up Hale's thighs. He has to stand and pull Hale to his feet again to get them the rest of the way up, but Hale goes where he's put, almost like a mannequin under Stiles' hands. He gets the t-shirt and socks on and then crouches in front of Derek.

"Hey, big guy," he says, careful to keep touching Derek, giving him something to focus on. "Man, it must be bad if you still aren't rolling your eyes and telling me you can handle yourself yet, huh?"

Derek's eyes clear for a second and he gazes down at Stiles, before they flutter closed. "You're here. Why are--am I still dreaming?"

"As flattered as I am that I'm in your dreams, no," Stiles says. "I'm really here - this is real. I came to get you. You really need to stop getting hurt and winding up naked and half conscious; you'll give me a complex."

"I'm not naked."

"Very astute, buddy," he says. "The clothes aren't yours or mine, so don't freak out at the unfamiliar scent. I got you into those and once was challenging enough."

Derek nods his head, eyes flickering closed. "Usually the opposite's happening. Definitely not dreaming."

And Stiles--well, he's not really sure how to respond to that. There are a few seconds of silence before Derek inhales sharply, eyes flying wide as he jerks upright.

"There you are," Stiles breathes. "Derek? You with me now?"

"You keep calling me Derek," he says, frowning at Stiles; he's still looking a little peaky, but his eyes are sharp and fully open now. "You--I never--"

"Because it's your name," Stiles says. "We can talk about why it made you think you were dreaming later, but I need to call Martin and Deaton to extract our friend Kate over there."

Derek swivels around and all but falls to the floor between Stiles and Kate. Stiles curls a hand over his shoulder and pulls him back.

"It's okay," Stiles says. "I'm okay. Kate's bleeding out very slowly, so I need to call this in. Come on, let's get you back in your chair."

Derek refuses to budge, eyes locked on Kate, who's baring her teeth right back at him, whispering things Stiles can't hear but Derek probably can; Derek's muscles are tensing, coiling, ready to launch himself at her as though he thinks the bars will give way to him. Stiles doesn't want to find out if they would and digs his fingertips into Hale's shoulder, feeling the way the shirt is clinging to his skin with sweat.

"Derek, please," Stiles says. "She's not going anywhere and whatever she's saying isn't true. I need you to stay in control - you've had your veins pumped full of aconite and I don't know what damage it's doing. Come here, let me call HQ and then we can go home."

Derek's tense for a few seconds longer before he melts into Stiles' side.

"You're just a little bitch, aren't you? Obeying everything he tells you to do," Kate says. "Does he make you feel special? You're not - you're an animal, a pet. He doesn't want you and never will. He was all but throwing himself at the pretty little blonde girl he had in your apartment; would have gone home with me and fucked me if you hadn't stepped in. You're nothing but an obstacle, wolf; nothing more than a pet to come to heel on command."

Derek growls and Stiles pushes between Derek and the bars of the cage. "Derek, look at me," he says quietly. "Please, look at me. You know she's lying, she's trying to get into your head, make you lash out and prove yourself too dangerous to be allowed to live. You know I don't think you're an animal, that I value your life as much as I value my own - if not more, seeing as I'm sitting right here in front of you. I came to get you, Derek, when all of my training told me to leave you behind. I told you, if you got yourself caught, I'd end up doing something stupid, and here I am, risking my life for you, risking the lives of two officers of the law - for you, Derek; to make sure you're safe and alive."

Derek's mouth is slightly open, the edges of his front teeth on display and making him look young and unsure. His eyes are clear but he's still pale and clammy; Stiles reaches out, slowly, and takes his hand, pulling it up and pressing Derek's palm over his throat, lifting his jaw.

"We're partners, Derek," Stiles says. "This is the only thing I can think to do to convince you I trust you. I want you to trust me--I'm willing to work for that and I don't expect it to come easy, but I need you to know that I trust you. Your people are my people too, remember? You have never been an animal to me. Listen to me, Derek: you are not an animal, you are not a pet; you are my equal, you are my partner."

Stiles lets his hand fall away, leaving Derek's curled around his throat; Derek's thumb brushes back and forth over Stiles' pulse point, gaze dropping to it and flicking back to Stiles' eyes. Stiles lifts his chin further, hands resting out of the way on his own knees, limp. Derek lets out a long, shuddering breath and nods, hand dropping to curl around one of Stiles' for the barest second before he's hauling himself backwards onto the chair again.

"Call Martin and Deaton," he says, voice rough. Stiles pushes himself to his feet and pulls out his phone, tapping in the emergency code to take him straight to the Director's personal line.

"Stilinski," she greets.

"Kate Argent has been apprehended," he says, leaving the cage to watch Kate - she's given up on Derek and is staring at Stiles, now. "Bullet wound to the leg, potentially shattered femur. Alive and pretty chatty."

"What is Agent Hale's status?"

Stiles hesitates, glancing at Derek, who's watching him curiously. "The Lieutenant was instrumental in the suspect's capture," he says, clearing his throat. "We have at least two witnesses willing to testify against Kate and Gerard Argent on counts of drug smuggling and at least conspiracy to commit murder. Matt Daehler has been shot, potentially fatally wounded, and escaped amidst the confusion; he is believed to have played a key role in the killings and potentially the smuggling."

"We have your coordinates. There will be an extraction team with you within the next ten minutes. Another job well done, Stilinski."

"Thank you, Director. You'll pass this on to the General?"

"I will," she says. "He's on his way in. We'll expect your reports on Monday."

It's Wednesday. Stiles could kiss her. He pushes the urge to grin down. "Yes, Ma'am," he says and hangs up.

*

The cleanup team arrives. Kate makes a token effort at trying to escape, getting as far as stabbing one of Derek's colleagues in the leg before seeming to realise she's not going to get very far on a shattered leg. Stiles stands beside the cage while Kate's slipped something to make her compliant,watching as she's carried away. One of Stiles' colleagues rounds Scott, Allison and Chris up and leads them away - Allison glances over her shoulder and Stiles nods at her.

Eventually, it's just him and Derek. He pads over and offers a hand, which Derek takes, letting go as soon as he's on his own two feet again. Stiles isn't given much opportunity to miss the contact, however, because Derek immediately leans on him - so much so that Stiles slides an arm across his back and Derek's only response is to drape an arm over Stiles' shoulders.

"We should probably get a medic to check you over," Stiles says as he leads Derek back along the stone corridor - Derek twitches when they get to the antechamber, lifting his head to scent the air and Stiles knows it must smell of blood and death, but the bodies have been cleared away from under the desk and Derek doesn't question it. Stiles knows he can smell what happened in the room, can probably even tell how many bullets were fired and where each person was standing.

"No medic," Derek says instead. "Just get me out of here. I can handle the rest."

"If you die, I'm gonna be pissed," Stiles says instead of arguing, more or less pouring Derek into the car, having managed to duck past various members of each of their organisations. They don't really talk for the entire duration of the drive back into central LA; Stiles drums on the steering wheel and Derek rests his head against the window, eyes closed and fingers curled into fists in his lap. Stiles parks up and half supports half carries Derek into the elevator and then into the apartment, opting to guide him to the couch rather than attempting the stairs.

"Thanks," says Derek, and he's already struggling out of the shirt given to him by Allison's dad, shoulders relaxing as he tugs the socks off as well. Stiles stares at him, more than a little nonplussed. "Smell wrong. Like gun oil and aconite."

Stiles wordlessly goes to the laundry basket and pulls out the first of their apparently inexhaustible sweatpants supply that he can grab and a clean t-shirt, tossing them at Derek's head without looking when he notices Chris Argent's donated pants over the back of the couch.

After a full two minutes of pottering around not actually doing anything, Stiles deems it safe to turn and look at Derek, who's stretched out on the couch with his eyes closed wearing his own shirt and Stiles' sweats.

"Come here."

It takes a moment for Stiles to realise Derek's spoken, and even then, he's half sure he only notices because Hale's propped up on his elbows and looking at him over the back of the couch. Stiles circles around to stand awkwardly in front of him, musing about how small Derek seems, looking tired and wan, a far cry from his usual immaculate composure.

"Said you had stuff to tell me," Derek says, lying back down. Stiles perches on the coffee table.

"Allison and Chris, the people who helped detain Kate, are Argents," Stiles says. "I think Boyd knew you were a werewolf somehow, and Scott's one, too. I made some pretty rash decisions to get you back, trusted some people with stuff I probably shouldn't have told them, so if my trust was misplaced, I'm kind of fucked. I didn't tell them anything about you, though."

Derek frowns at him and Stiles finds himself wearing a fond smile in response.

"If they expose you, I'll deal with them," Derek says eventually, and Stiles snorts.

"No offense, dude, but you're not very imposing right now. I've seen scarier kittens," he says. Derek huffs. "But thanks. The gesture - or was that supposed to be a threat? - is appreciated. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside."

"Stiles, I -- you shouldn't have -- I would..."

He drifts off looking irritated with himself. Stiles rolls his eyes. "You're probably still delusional because of the aconite, so I'll fill in the blanks for you, shall I? Thank you, Stiles, for coming to get me. I'm a big surly werewolf so I'm gonna continue to tell myself I could have gotten myself out of there and you're so awesome and gracious that you're gonna let that slide even if it's a little insulting to the fact you kind of jeopardised your career and identity for me. Was that what you were going to say?"

Derek looks about to protest but after a moment, his eyebrows tilt and his expression pretty much softens. "Yeah," he says with a sigh, apparently giving up arguing before even really starting. He reaches out and rests his fingertips on Stiles' knee.

Stiles gives him a tight smile and makes to stand; Derek's hand folds around one of his. "If you had died because of me..."

"If I had died down there, it would have been because I made the decision to take on a case that involved me partnering up with a werewolf. I knew - know - the risks, and went through with it anyway. I would have died because of a decision I made entirely independent of you," Stiles says. "Had I died, my decision would have still been my own. I could have called in, waited for back up, stormed the whole compound but although that infinitely and exponentially increased my chances of walking out alive, it would have cut yours down to pretty much nothing. Going in alone was a risk I took because I deemed it the more likely option to get my desired outcome, which was both of us out of there and alive."

Derek stares some more, mouth slightly agape, looking very much like the proverbial fish out of water. Stiles shrugs at him, but he doesn't take his hand away.

"You're strange," he says. Stiles' eyebrows pop up and Derek has the grace to look apologetic. "I mean, humans aren't usually - even when you knew my reputation, you still respected me. You never questioned me, even when I bugged the apartment."

Stiles shrugs. "At the end of the day, we're both agents of the United States government; we both made it this far because we want to protect people and catch bad guys. Anyone who makes it as far as we do, human or werewolf, or anything else really, is all right by my figuring. You deserve all of the same respect I give to Martin and Deaton. You seem to keep forgetting I'm a werewolf in all but biology."

"Do you want the bite?" Derek asks after a moment. Stiles blinks. "You'd make a good wolf. Loyal, smart, resilient. Intuitive, resourceful."

"Stubborn," Stiles counters. "Too independant, contrary, asks too many questions to follow orders. I'd be a terrible werewolf."

"You'd be a terrible beta," Derek says, looking up. Stiles frowns, but Derek's apparently bored of that topic. "How did you end up a human in a werewolf colony? The werewolf allele is dominant."

"My mom was a runaway," Stiles says. "When she was a teenager, she was abducted from her family home in Poland and brought to the USA. She escaped and ran as far as she could. Made it to the tiny town of Beacon Hills where she begged sanctuary or a swift death - she was human; she might not have known about werewolves, per se, but she knew the urban legends about the town. The deputy she met took her in. They married four years later, had a son a year after that. My parents knew I was human - mom always said she just knew, you know? Because of werewolf powers not necessarily manifesting until puberty, I didn't really have much trouble until I was in high school. It didn't take long for the people in my classes to notice I wasn't like them, no matter how long I spent wrapped up in my dad's scent. Dad tried to pull me out of school; mom started taking me to martial arts lessons, told me if I stuck in at them, I could keep going to school.

"I trained, I grew, I survived," Stiles says. "I got suspended from school for breaking a kid's nose - not that you could tell by the time the principal got there because it had healed. My parents took me to In-N-Out. I worked hard and won the respect that others just had handed to them. Mom got sick when I was thirteen years old - dementia. She told me, when she first got sick, that she didn't want the bite, that I had to remember that, remind her of it on bad days."

Derek's hand tightens around his before shifting, moving to lace their fingers instead. He says nothing, all of his attention on Stiles.

"She died. I was fifteen, didn't take it well. I was with her, you know? At home - she refused to die in the hospital. There was an alpha there, willing to bite her. I told him no. I killed her, because I told him no. I didn't even let him try. My dad was at work, couldn't make it back from some car crash he was called to."

"You spared her what could have been days of further agony," Derek says, and he says it in such a way that it doesn't sound like he's trying to contradict Stiles or argue with him. "The bite wouldn't have taken. Dementia is a progressive disease - even if the bite had happened to be successful, it wouldn't have cured the dementia. The bite wouldn't cure anything autoimmune, either, because it can't fight what isn't there."

Stiles shrugs. "Grief is a funny thing," he says. "I don't think those facts would have been a comfort even if I'd known them at the time. She still died because I refused to try."

"Stiles, you didn't kill your mom," Derek says quietly. "But I get it."

Stiles nods, looking down at their joined hands. "It was meant to be sexier than this."

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees one of Derek's eyebrows rise. Stiles feels his mouth curling into a tiny, involuntary smirk as he lifts his head to meet Derek's eyes. "The moment I finally actually gathered the guts to jump your bones. I kind of figured it'd be sexier. Rougher, maybe more frantic - manhandling, maybe. I was definitely looking forward to beard burn in awkward places."

Derek gives his hand a tug and Stiles obliges, sitting on the couch by Derek's hip. Derek doesn't so much push himself upright as just sit up, reaching with his free hand to turn Stiles' face toward him with a couple of fingers on his jaw.

Derek waits. Stiles' breathing suddenly seems too loud and he feels like he's in high school waiting for his first kiss before he realises Derek's giving him the chance to take it himself. Derek's waiting for Stiles to kiss him.

As soon as the realisation hits, Stiles all but melts into him, curling his free hand around Derek's neck as their mouths touch. It's chaste just long enough for Derek to let out a low sound and that's all the encouragement Stiles needs, letting go of Derek's hand to fist his own in the material of Derek's shirt, hauling him closer, licking at his mouth. Derek responds, his freed hand curling around Stiles' knee.

Stiles probably makes a sound when Derek allows his mouth to fall open at the first brush of tongue, but he swallows Derek's chuckle and will forever deny any noises he may have made.

Derek's the one who makes the next move, both hands travelling to the hem of Stiles' shirt to tug at it; Stiles flushes all over because this is really happening. He shifts away just far and long enough to help yank the shirt up and off, tossing it somewhere before Derek reels him back in with a hand around the back of his neck, biting at Stiles' lower lip. Stiles squirms for a second before moving away just to swing a leg over Derek's hips and lower himself back down, licking back into his mouth. Derek grabs at his hips and arches his body up, grinding against Stiles.

"We--shit, you're sick--"

Stiles breaks away, panting; Derek's eyes are slow to open, heavy lidded with his pupils looking like they're trying to absorb his irises. His forehead creases a little, mouth red and soft and so inviting that Stiles can't help himself from reaching up and running his thumb along Derek's lower lip; Derek's tongue flits out just for a second, his gaze searching.

"I'm not sick," Derek says, hands travelling from Stiles' hips to his back and Stiles automatically freezes when he feels Derek tracing his scars. Derek leans up and kisses his chin, his jaw, his ear, working his way down Stiles' neck, and he's nipping at his collarbone by the time Stiles' stature relaxes again, Derek's hands still sweeping up and down his back.

"You were poisoned," Stiles says. "We don't know what by or how much, and we don't know if there are going to be any side effect. We're not sure if--"

Derek kisses him. And when Stiles continues trying to talk, he kisses him again. "My name is Lieutenant Derek Andrew Hale, I was born on December 25th, 1988. I'm an agent for the NSA's Specialist Lycanthrope Division. I have two sisters, Laura and Cora. The rest of my family died in a house fire when I was sixteen years old. We were recruited into the SLD two years later after that. I've spent the past few weeks following an insufferably stubborn CIA agent around and now that we're finally both getting what we want, he's sitting in my lap trying to talk himself into believing I'm incapacitated. These are the things I know."

"You--what? You want this? What do you mean, finally? Could we have been banging this whole time?"

"No," says Derek. "We had a job to do. Job's over. Changing my mind about wanting this, though, if you continue to call it 'banging'. Are you a college frat boy or something?"

Stiles watches, mouth feeling dry as Derek tugs his shirt off in one sinuous ripple. He grinds his hips up and Stiles can't contain his whine of want. Derek draws him into another kiss, flicking his tongue across Stiles' lips as soon as Stiles doesn't start talking or moving away; he wraps his hands back around Stiles' hips and hauls him as close as he can, their torsos pressed together.

"If you end up getting hurt--"

"Stiles," Derek says. "Trust me when I say the only thing I'm in danger of dying of right now is blue balls. Now take your pants off. I've been desperate for this since I had to listen to you jerking yourself off--the bug was still in your pocket--the sounds you make--"

Stiles would feel embarrassed - he'd completely forgotten about the bug once he'd decided that angrily jerking off would be the solution to his problems - but that--that's Derek's hand curling around his crotch, rubbing him through his jeans, grinding his own hips upward; the sweatpants are doing less to hide how Derek feels than Derek himself and that's probably what tips the scales. Scrambling to his feet, Stiles flicks open his fly and shoves his jeans down, stepping on them to pull his legs out so that they take his socks with them. By the time he's done, Derek's wriggled out of his sweatpants and his expression turns smug when all Stiles can do is stare.

"Lube," Stiles says suddenly. "We're gonna need lube. Stay there."

He bolts for his room, taking the stairs two at a time, pulse thundering in his ears as he rifles through his bedside table, grabbing the lube and a fistful of condoms, half hysterically wondering if he should take to stashing them in places around the apartment.

Derek's jerking himself lazily when Stiles pinwheels back into the vicinity and he has to stop to appreciate the view, feeling a rush of heat when Derek's eyes dart up to meet his and don't stray away, head lolling back against the arm of the couch. After a long moment in which Stiles can't seem to find his breath, Derek swings his legs off the couch to stand up, walking over to take the lube and condoms out of Stiles' hands - he lifts an eyebrow at the number of condoms Stiles has brought, but doesn't comment. This close, Stiles can't decide if he's more interested in Derek's mouth or his dick and he twitches all over, trying to go every direction at once; Derek kisses him, drawing him in and taking Stiles' hand to pour something slick into his palm. Derek kisses him again and hooks his fingers under Stiles' waistband, pushing his boxers down and off before cupping Stiles' neck, guiding him as he walks backwards, lowering himself back onto the couch and pulling Stiles with him.

Stiles' breathing rattles out of him as he finally wraps a hand around Derek; Derek's eyelids flicker before fluttering closed, head falling back against the arm of the couch. "Stiles," he murmurs - moans. Something in Stiles' chest burns at the sound and he chases it, nosing at Derek's jaw until he can get to his neck, nipping at the skin, licking a path up the tendon that stands out when Derek strains, arching, pushing his hips up into Stiles' fist, hands curling into the material of the couch, mouth falling open. Stiles can't resist the pull of it, craning up to kiss his jaw, prompting him to lower his chin, letting Stiles bite at his lower lip, tease at it, lick into his mouth. Derek grunts; his lips clasp Stiles' before his mouth goes slack, his legs falling open, lifting his legs to plant his feet on the couch, arching up.

"You," Derek says. "You too -- Stiles, please."

Stiles presses a kiss to Derek's shoulder. "'Me too', what?" he asks. "What do you want?"

Derek lets out a whine; Stiles feels on edge, exhilarated, because Derek doesn't stop him from sinking his teeth into his collarbone, doesn't protest when Stiles runs his nose up the column of Derek's throat, doesn't do anything but reach up and curl his hands around Stiles' waist, squeezing him, pulling him closer, tighter, grinding up so that Stiles' own hand brushes against his own cock.

"Touch yourself," says Derek, mouth travelling along Stiles' jaw when Stiles moves away to breathe; he bites at Stiles' jaw, sucks at the skin under his ear. Stiles shudders and opens his hand to stretch it around his cock, spreading the lube as best he can. It's not perfect and the angle is awkward as hell but it's happening and it's real and Stiles doesn't really care, planting a hand on Derek's chest to push himself upright, jerking both of them. Derek lets out a guttural moan and there are suddenly slick fingers sliding under Stiles, tracing down to press at his hole. Stiles has long since lost track of the noises he's making though they only seem to spur Derek on, encouraging him.

"Do it," Stiles murmurs, rolling his hips, slowing his hand. "Derek--Derek, do it."

Derek groans and drops his head back, pushing a finger in. Stiles cranes forward, rests his forehead against Derek's collarbone, mouth dropping open. Derek turns his head, pressing his face into Stiles' hair, working his finger in, pressing at his rim with another finger, coaxing Stiles, teasing him.

"More," Stiles says - pants, more like. "More -- Derek, give me another--"

Derek slides his mouth over the shell of Stiles' ear, nipping at the lobe. He adds another finger and the groan Stiles releases feels like it's ripped out of him. Both of his hands are planted on the couch each side of Derek's neck, unable to resist rocking down onto Derek's fingers as they open him up.

Derek seeks out his mouth again, ducking in to kiss him while Stiles can feel a third finger being pushed into him and it feels nice, feels good, but it's not enough - not nearly enough. Stiles makes an impatient sound, can't help an involuntary shudder when Derek's fingers finally brush over his prostate; the pleased smirk on Derek's face is instant when he finds it. Stiles pushes back against Derek's hand, grabbing for one of the condoms on the coffee table.

Stiles gets the condom in place with minimal fumbling, slicking up Derek's dick and pushing up onto his knees; Derek follows, sitting up and kissing him, curling a hand around Stiles' cock and jerking him just to take the edge off, biting at Stiles' lower lip as he slips his fingers out - Stiles whines at the loss but refuses to break away from the kiss. It's not long before he can feel Derek lining up, taking his hand away from Stiles to grip his hip, his other guiding himself into place.

Derek moves back from the kiss, just enough to part their mouths, whispers, "Ride me."

And it's suddenly like an action scene in a movie going from slow motion to regular time; Stiles sinks down, letting his thighs take the strain until he's fully seated, tipping his head back, arching his spine. Derek latches on to a spot just below Stiles' collarbone, biting, kissing, licking any and all of the skin he can get his mouth on, hands spanning over Stiles' back, digging his fingers in hard enough that Stiles just knows he's going to have bruises.

Stiles rolls his hips, pushing past the slight burn, and is rewarded with Derek making a sound like he's been suckerpunched; Stiles grins, pushing himself up just to slam himself back down onto Derek's cock; Derek's hand travels up to tangle in Stiles' hair and drag him in for a hard kiss that's more teeth than anything, his hand finding Stiles' cock to start jerking him again.

There's a sheen of sweat covering Derek's chest and Stiles is pretty sure he looks similarly wrecked; his mouth feels bruised, his legs are shaking every time he lifts himself, he'd run his hands through his own hair and tugged at it several times before deciding Derek's was a better alternative, his torso has several points of dull throbbing where he's been bitten or sucked, or both, and Stiles knows his body's going to look like a battlefield in the morning. Somehow, that thought only serves to twist his hips slightly as he presses down; Derek groans into Stiles' neck.

Stiles sets a punishing pace, his hands traveling everywhere, unable - perhaps unwilling - to stop touching Derek. His skin feels like it's burning up and the slow heat building at the base of his spine is spreading through him and out of nowhere, Derek's wrist twists and he slides his thumb firmly along the thick vein on the underside of Stiles' dick, rubbing over the tip coaxingly; Stiles feels like he's been blindsided and his orgasm consumes him before he can recover, crying out - probably Derek's name, which will be more embarrassing when he doesn't feel so weightless.

Derek's still hard inside him and so he forces himself to keep going, riding his own orgasm out as best he can; Derek grabs his hips and flips them, driving into Stiles with a new vigour. Boneless and satiated, Stiles is more than happy to take it, clinging to Derek with what strength he has left until Derek tenses all over before he's coming, too, hips still moving frantically until he can't, collapsing next to Stiles, rolling over onto his back and pulling Stiles against his side, turning his head to press his face into Stiles' hair again.

Stiles hums, idly tracing a fingertip through the stripes of his come and cooling sweat painting Derek's abdomen. Derek grunts in response and wraps an arm around Stiles' back. Feeling sleepy but unwilling to wake up and have to relive his teenage years by scrubbing dried come off of his skin, Stiles shifts so that he can get rid of the condom, tying it before slipping off of the couch; he catches himself on the coffee table, trying to regain feeling in his legs. Derek makes a quiet sound halfway between protest and amusement.

"Shut up," Stiles says, crossing to the kitchen to dispose of the condom and retrieve a washcloth. He pads back over and takes his time going over every inch of Derek he can reach, not protesting when Derek sits up and seizes the cloth from him and does the same, spending more time than strictly necessary on his ass.

"So we should probably actually head upstairs," Stiles says once he's wrestled control of the washcloth back and tossed it aside, inviting himself to sit on Derek's lap. Derek doesn't protest - actually curls an arm around Stiles' waist and closes his eyes, lying back and pulling Stiles with him. Stiles waits, tucks his head under Derek's chin, lets Derek run his hands all over Stiles' skin, letting him spread his scent around - Stiles isn't one for possessive behaviour, and he doesn't belong to anyone, but he's willing to put up with it on occasion if it means the tension lines around Derek's eyes and mouth smooth out for a while.

"I don't know how this is going to work," Derek says after a while; he turns his head and Stiles shifts to look up at him. "You're always overseas with your missions, undercover with no way of contacting you, and I'm always going to be at home; NSA agents rarely go out into the field like this. I don't know how this can be more than a one time thing."

"But you want it to be?" Stiles asks; Derek rolls his eyes. "Hey, I'm just asking: I'm brilliant, not psychic."

"Yes, Stiles, I want this to be more than a one time thing."

Stiles grins at him, and so what if it's a little sappy? No one else is there to see it. "Then we'll find a way to make it work," he says. "We'll talk to Deaton and Martin, convince them it might be beneficial to have the CIA and NSA work together, or that the CIA having a werewolf division might be advantageous. I think having someone to come home to and be honest with might be nice."

Derek runs his hand down Stiles' back, resting it at the base of his spine. "What about sex?"

Stiles blinks. "With you? Exemplary, would bang again, would not recommend to a friend simply because I'd like to keep it to myself, would brag about to friends."

"You know what I mean," Derek says, but his eye roll is fond and his lips are curled at the edges.

"I'm a spy," Stiles says slowly, waiting until Derek actually looks at him before speaking. "I can't guarantee that I'll never have to extract information using the oldest perfected method of espionage, but I'll exhaust every avenue beforehand. I still think our best shot is talking Martin and Deaton into it. I mean -- I know partners in the CIA who go undercover as couples, and things, you know? Maybe suggest a pilot and we'll run it, just you and I; we can share information for the good of our country, put it to them that the sharing of information can only be a good thing between government agencies."

Derek nods, and then he's shifting, getting off the couch to stretch - Stiles takes his time admiring the view before he thinks to protest, sitting up. Derek glances back at him and snorts. "Bed?"

Stiles not-so-subtly picks up the lube and lets Derek pull him to his feet. "Best idea you've had in the past five minutes," he says, letting Derek drag him upstairs to his bed.

*

They arrive back in Virginia together late Sunday evening and after visiting a drive-thru, Derek drives Stiles home to his own apartment and leaves after a lingering kiss that makes Stiles want. Stiles is still standing on the sidewalk when Derek pulls up again, having circled the block indecisively twice. They arrive at the CIA headquarters the following morning together, refreshed and only a little disheveled.

They debrief and deliver their respective reports before Stiles pulls Director Martin to one side, suggesting to her that having a partner from the SLD might be a good idea. She agrees to take it on board and discuss it with Deaton. She doesn't promise anything, but there's a warm little glint in her eye that reassures Stiles.

*

Kate's lawyers plead insanity, citing her wild ravings about werewolves; Gerard Argent is caught trying to escape on a boat with a sword that matches the murder weapon for the lycanthrope murders; Matt Daehler's body is found not far from the Argent house having succumbed to his wounds; Chris Argent is allowed a pass on the grounds of self defence and Victoria Argent is in the wind.

There's a piece, a month or two later once the trials are over, that runs in a couple of Los Angeles newspapers about a memorial being held for the victims.

"Hey, look at this," says Stiles, dropping the unfolded paper onto the table and reaching over for the coffee pot, refilling the cup already on the table and filling up his own.

Derek hums, lifts his head to let Stiles kiss his cheek. He picks up the paper to examine the article while Stiles leans over to wrap his arms around Derek's bare shoulders, tucking his chin into Derek's neck.

"Danielle," he says. "She's the one who's putting it together, organised a fundraiser for the families."

"You want to go?" Derek asks. "We can go."

"No," Stiles says. "I'm not sure it'd be right for me to be there - I only knew Heather, and not for very long. Maybe we should send something, though. Besides, I'm heading to Belarus in four days, I don't want to spend any more time flying, and therefore not in bed, than absolutely necessary."

Derek huffs out a laugh and scoots his chair out so that Stiles can slink around and sit in his lap, straddling him. Derek runs his hands up Stiles' sides. "Well, what do you know," he says, and Stiles makes a curious sound in his throat, rolling his hips. "I'm heading to Belarus too."

Stiles grins as Derek toys with the waistband of his underwear, nipping at his jaw. "Crazy coincidence," he says. "Imagine that. It's like we're the same team, or something."

Derek's grin is sudden, brilliant - blinding, and more than a little predatory. Stiles only manages to bark out a laugh before Derek's hauling him up and away from the breakfast table by his thighs.