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Help Me Count My Fingers and Maybe My Toes (Can't Get Away From This Dream)

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”So, you’re telling them tonight?” Derek asked.

Stiles nodded, and then said, “Yeah,” in case there was some kind of delay with the camera on his laptop. He didn’t want Derek to think he was ignoring him – especially since that wasn’t even a possibility, at this point. He had developed a tendency to hyper-focus any time he spoke to Derek, because obviously Derek was the most important thing in the room – or on his laptop screen.

In spite of evidence to the contrary in the vision from which he had woken two months ago, Stiles now knew that Derek was perfectly capable of using current technology. He had first discovered this the night after Derek flew back to New York, when a message popped up inviting him to Skype. Naturally, he accepted, and then Derek’s face had been there, on his laptop screen. It was not nearly as satisfying as seeing him in person, but it would do for now.

Besides, the miles between them were able to provide them with the chance to get to know each other better without pesky things like hormones and life-threatening situations getting in the way. Not that there had been any of those in Beacon Hills for the last two months (The life-threatening situations, not the hormones. Stiles and most of his friends were sophomores in high school. They were basically walking, talking hormones the majority of the time.), but since Stiles and Laura were finally planning on telling the rest of the gang about werewolves (and other such beings that went bump in the night) later on in the evening, and Laura was going to offer each of them the bite, he figured that was about to change.

It seemed strange that giving someone something that would allow them to heal faster and be stronger would actually endanger their lives, but then, they lived in a strange world.

Derek peered at him, looking concerned. “Are you okay?”

Stiles let out a heavy breath. “No.”

“What are you so worried about?”

“That they won’t want to be part of the pack. That they will want to. That they’ll decide to get the bite, and it’ll kill some of them even though, from what I’ve seen, it shouldn’t.”

”So, basically, everything,” Derek concluded.

“Basically.”

”Has anyone ever told you that you worry too much?”

Stiles barked a brief laugh. “Yeah. Your sister. Multiple times.”

”And have you ever stopped to consider that she might be right?”

“Not even once.”

Derek nodded, looking both chagrined and unsurprised. ”Well, for what it’s worth, I think it’s going to be fine.”

Swallowing, Stiles told him, “It’s worth a lot, actually.”

He watched Derek’s lips quirk up in a small smile before Derek ducked his head. It was both odd and gratifying to see Derek act so shy, since the man he remembered from his vision had been so abrupt and never seemed to have any time for social awkwardness. Then again, maybe all of those times he had been so brusque in the vision, it had been because he was shy, and didn’t feel like he could afford show it in the middle of a supernatural crisis – which was the only time Derek had even been around, that Stiles had seen. It did help that, over the last month, the two of them had been able to talk like this fairly frequently, in addition to the almost three weeks Derek had spent camping out in the living room of the Stilinski house.

Initially, Laura had tried to talk to Derek at the same time as Stiles, the two of them sharing his laptop, but she quickly got tired of watching her brother and her best friend mooning over each other, so she let them do their thing on their own in the evenings, and she spoke to Derek in the mornings, when Stiles was at school.

Speaking of Laura:

“Are you two losers done yet?”

She liked to take advantage of the fact that Stiles was a human, and therefore had human hearing, frequently using it as an excuse to be as loud and obnoxious as she wanted, because, in her words, ‘I don’t know what you can hear and what you can’t. What if I needed you right that second, and I wasn’t loud enough?’ Which was complete and utter crap, because she had human relatives back before the fire, but Stiles let her get away with it. She was, after all, the alpha.

“Yeah, we’re almost done,” Stiles called, keeping his voice much softer in order to avoid deafening Derek. “I’ll be down in a minute.” He looked back at the screen, meeting Derek’s gaze. “I guess I’ll talk to you later.”

”You can let me know how it goes,” Derek agreed.

Snorting, Stiles retorted, “Like Laura won’t tell you first thing tomorrow morning, anyway.”

Derek shrugged. ”Maybe I’d like to hear it from you.”

“Oh,” Stiles blinked. “Sure, okay. Tomorrow?”

”Tomorrow.”

They weren’t quite to the point where they argued back and forth about who would sign off first (And Stiles had a feeling they would never get there. They had their pride, after all.), but it was a near thing. He logged out before he could say anything too ridiculous, though, and headed downstairs. He took a seat beside Laura on the couch, and he didn’t realize his leg was jiggling until she put a hand on it and made him stop.

“Would you relax? Nothing bad is going to happen. You like these people, remember?”

Stiles huffed. “Why do you think I can’t relax?”

She shot him a look, but the doorbell rang, and Stiles sprang up to answer it.

Scott was at the door, with Boyd, Erica, and Isaac behind him. It was a testament to their friendship that he had agreed to skip going to his own lacrosse game in order to come over, no questions asked. Granted, Scott still didn't ever see any time on the field, so it wasn't as though he was actually missing all that much, but it was still important to him, and he still liked to go in the hopes that Coach Finstock might one day see fit to put him in play. Stepping to the side, Stiles invited them to come in and make themselves comfortable. “We won’t be having snacks until later, so for now we’re just going to wait until our last two people get here.” It offended his deep-seeded need to take care of people that he wasn’t setting at least some sort of food in front of them, but he didn’t want anyone panicking and knocking things over in the living room that he would have to clean up later.

He followed the four of them into the living room, blatantly hovering. Erica glanced at him curiously and demanded, “What’s gotten into you?”

“I’ve been asking myself the same thing all evening,” Laura replied, before waving at each of their guests. “Hey, guys.” She tilted her head while they all returned her greeting comfortably, since they all knew her from the times she would come to watch Boyd and Stiles’s baseball games, along with the occasional lacrosse game, and then she said, “You might want to go ahead and open the door, Stiles. Lydia sounds impatient.”

That comment earned her some strange looks, but she ignored them with ease, choosing to focus on Stiles as he went back to the front door. He opened it before Lydia and Allison could ring the bell or knock, and Lydia did, in fact, appear rather irked. “What’s this all about, Stilinski? You said this was important enough to miss a lacrosse game, so why are we here?”

The two of them had definitely started becoming something in the neighborhood of friends, but that did not mean that she was ready to come whenever he called. Or at least, she would come, but she wouldn’t be happy about it. Then again, in the times that he had needed her in the vision, she hadn’t been all that thrilled either. That could have more to do with the dead bodies she kept finding, though. How would he know?

“Hey, Lydia. How are you? I’m fine, thanks for asking. And Allison, hi. Nice to see you, too. You’re looking particularly lovely this evening.”

“Hmmph.” Lydia flipped her hair over one shoulder and flounced past him into the living room, managing to miss the way that he smirked at how easily he had gotten under her skin. Being an asshole was good for the nerves.

Allison rolled her eyes in Lydia’s wake, giving him a small smile. “Hi, Stiles.”

He nodded towards the living room, and told her, “Come on in. Everyone else is already in there.”

Her brow furrowing, Allison asked, “Are we late?”

“Oh, no. You’re right on time, actually. Scott probably only got here before you ‘cause he didn’t know how long it would take him to pick up so many people.”

She brightened at the sound of Scott’s name, and Stiles bit his lip against a fond grin. The two of them were completely gone on each other, and without all of the werewolf drama intruding on their budding relationship, it was adorable. He hoped what they discussed tonight wouldn’t put a strain on things for them.

He shut the door and locked it, following Allison after she began walking toward the living room.

In the time that he had been gone, Stiles’s spot on the couch had been usurped by Erica and Boyd. Lydia was in his dad’s easy chair, and Allison decided to perch on one of the arms. Together, Scott and Isaac sat on the floor, leaving Stiles to either choose the same fate or remain standing.

Since he didn’t feel all that much like sitting anyway, he crossed his arms over his chest and stood in front of the entertainment center. He cleared his throat and said, “You’re probably wondering why I asked you all to come here tonight. And the truth is, you’re all here because you need to know something. Something that could change your lives completely.”

“Stilinski,” Lydia snapped, probably still sore from his earlier teasing, which he wouldn’t have dared to do two months ago, “stop stalling and get to the point.”

“The point,” he repeated. “Right, okay. The point. Here we go.” He looked at each of them in turn, and then told them, “The point is, everything you think you know about the world is wrong. Now, Laura is going to show you something, and it would be really great if all of you could avoid freaking out.”

Openly skeptical, they all turned to look at Laura. Once she had all of their eyes focused on her, she shifted into her beta form, doing it slowly, so that they could watch each stage of the transformation as it happened.

The girls all shrieked, and so did Scott and Isaac. The latter two scooted back from the couch, while Erica grabbed Boyd’s arm in a death grip. “Stiles, what the hell?” Scott demanded shrilly.

“So, uh, what do you guys know about werewolves?”

Rolling her eyes, which looked pretty strange while she was shifted, and completely ruined the whole ‘vicious creature of the night’ effect, Laura lisped, “Really, Stiles?” through her fangs.

Throwing up his hands, Stiles told her, “You’re the one who decided I should do the talking! Don’t blame me if I’m not doing it to your satisfaction.”

“Surely, out of everything you could have said, you could have come up with something better than, ‘What do you know about werewolves.’”

“Okay, then. What would you have gone with? Give me an example.”

Laura opened her mouth, tilted her head, and then closed her mouth again.

“Uhuh, see? You can’t think of anything either.” He tried to remember if they had argued like this when they told his dad. He was pretty sure the shock of seeing Derek in the flesh and having to explain everything to his dad way before he was ready had rendered him much less contrary than normal. Regardless, as he glanced around the room, he thought that seeing the two of them bicker like they usually did was doing more to reassure the others than anything else they could have done.

Underneath the extra facial hair, the fangs, and the red eyes, Laura was still there, and Stiles wasn’t a bit afraid of her. The easy, familiar way that he interacted with her let everyone else know that they didn’t have to feel afraid of her either.

It worked so well, in fact, that Lydia recovered enough to stand up and walk away from the easy chair, coming to stand in front of Laura. She reached out her small hands, asking, “May I?” When Laura merely raised an eyebrow and then nodded, Lydia took her face in her hands, running her fingers gently over her shifted features. She turned her head this way and that, examining Laura’s shifted features from every angle, and then she ‘hmmed’ under her breath. “I assume whatever genetic quirk in your DNA allows for this also gives you accelerated healing?”

Laura smiled, unintentionally displaying her fangs even more. “What makes you say that?”

“If you didn’t heal almost instantly, the pain from changing your body so rapidly would be excruciating, and where is the evolutionary advantage in that?”

Snorting, Laura remarked, “Only you would rationalize this with science.”

“Well,” Lydia said pertly, “you know what they say about magic.”

“That it’s only science we don’t understand yet?”

“Exactly.”

“You’re being surprisingly candid tonight, Lydia,” Stiles noted curiously.

She kept looking at Laura, ultimately only sparing him a brief glance before saying, “If we’re going to talk seriously about something as fantastical as the existence of werewolves, I might as well be myself, don’t you think?”

“Absolutely.”

At his easy acceptance, Lydia nodded once and then thanked Laura for her allowing to take a few liberties with her person. After that, she released her and strode back to her seat, where she promptly crossed her legs and demanded, “Tell us everything.”

So Stiles began with a sanitized version of how he and Laura met. He ran into her unexpectedly and found out that she was staying in the motel where angels feared to tread. Deeming that unacceptable, he basically ordered her to pack her things and come stay with him and his dad while she worked on getting her family’s home rebuilt. Considering that they were living together, it was only a matter of time before the truth of her lycanthropy came out, especially because there was a rogue werewolf killing animals in the woods and drawing the attention of hunters to their territory. He touched a little more on the advanced healing of werewolves, their ability to take physical pain from others, their advanced senses of smell, sight, and hearing. He mentioned their sensitivity to wolfsbane, mistletoe, and mountain ash. He talked about pack dynamics, and what it meant to have a rogue werewolf in Laura’s territory.

“Long story short,” he concluded, “we took care of the rogue werewolf, I became Laura’s emissary, which is pretty much tantamount to being the advisor to a king, and now we’re looking to expand our pack.”

“When you say ‘took care of,’” Allison started nervously, “do you mean-“

“That we had to put him down?” Laura said. “Yes. Once a werewolf goes rabid and starts killing animals like that, it’s only a short time before they start killing humans.”

“Kind of like how serial killers tend to start by mistreating and killing animals, and then they graduate to people,” Stiles added. “And with situations involving werewolves, it’s difficult to apply human laws, because they’re inherently difficult to contain, and while they’re people just like us, they’re not completely human, either.” Taking a deep breath, he said, “Which brings us to the next part of our discussion. You all heard me mention the hunters?” He waited for everyone to nod or otherwise acknowledge him, and then he said, “Well, thanks to our rogue werewolf, they’re here, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be leaving any time soon. Supposedly, they have a code. ‘We hunt those who hunt us.’ I’ve only heard of one hunter who actually tries to follow it.” He looked at Allison, feeling vaguely apologetic for what he was about to say, and the fact that it would change the way she thought about her family irrevocably. “His name is Chris Argent.”

That sparked an uproar. Scott lept up to defend Allison’s family’s honor. The others wanted him to provide proof the way that he and Laura had regarding werewolves. Through it all, Lydia sat with a thoughtful expression on her face, murmuring to herself.

When things seemed to reach a fevered pitch, Lydia looked at Laura and said, “Do something about this, please.”

Laura raised an eyebrow at her – which looked to be becoming a theme – but went ahead and did what Lydia asked. She took a deep breath and then let out a roar, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. Then, she shifted back to her human form and settled into the couch comfortably. “I think Lydia has something to say.”

Giving Laura a grateful nod, Lydia said, “Argent. Originally a French surname, pronounced ‘Argent’, and meaning ‘silver’ in English. If I had to guess, I would say that the Argent family is part of the original werewolf legends, and is the reason the lore commonly dictates that werewolves are vulnerable to silver. It would also explain the long history of residences the Argents have had, if they tend to go where the werewolves are, along with the reason that Chris Argent is an arms dealer. Also, Allison, as impressive as your archery skills are, it’s not exactly a normal hobby for your average American teenager.”

At this, Allison collapsed back onto the arm of the easy chair as though her strings had been cut, and everyone else gradually subsided as well. When everyone remained silent for a time, Stiles smiled cautiously at Lydia and told them, “She’s right. About all of it. Which, you know, no surprise there. Sorry to drop the bomb on you like that Allison, but, I mean, how exactly does someone tell his friend that her entire family is made up of people who hunt supposedly mythological creatures?”

“I don’t,” she cleared her throat when her voice came out sounding a little too hoarse, then started again. “I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” Laura told her. “Not unless you want to.” She, more than anyone, knew what it was like to be born into a legacy. The only difference was that she had never questioned who she was. Her family had always been honest about who and what they were.

Stiles and Laura had debated including Allison in their pack, because Laura liked her as a person, but she wasn’t sure how to feel about having an Argent so close. Stiles argued that that was exactly why they needed to include her, and that having someone who might be able to bridge the gap between their pack and the hunters would be more of a blessing than a curse. (“Someday, we’re going to need to work with them, whether we want to or not, and then we’ll be glad we have her.” “This is all assuming that she even wants to join us. She could decide that werewolves are horrible creatures, and her family has the right idea after all.” Stiles had shaken his head. “That’s why we need to win over Scott and Lydia. If they’re with us, there’s no way Allison will be able to walk away.”)

The room was silent for time, as everyone contemplated what this new information meant. Then, Erica asked, “You said that you were wanting to expand your pack. That’s why you’re telling us all of this, isn’t it?”

“Exactly,” Stiles nodded, glad someone had put it together on their own.

“And if we become werewolves, we’ll have the same healing ability, won’t we?”

“Yep.” He hoped she was planning on taking this where he thought she was. It was the Friday after the most recent full moon, which would give those of Stiles’s friends who took the bite the entire weekend to get used to the change before heading back to school, and most of the month to learn to control their new instincts before the moon became full once again. So, if she or any of the others asked for it tonight, it would be as close to ideal as possible.

 

She took a deep breath, looking as though she wasn’t entirely sure she was awake, and then began to ask, “So if I did this, my Epilepsy would be gone?” She went on, saying, “No more meds, no more seizures in front of half my class, no more trips to the hospital?”

He nodded, feeling hope begin to take root, but cautioned her, “Werewovles can get hurt though, and under extreme duress, their healing can be suppressed. For instance, hunters can use a certain amount of electricity to not only keep them from healing, but keep them from shifting, and if you took the bite and they got hold of you somehow, you might have another seizure. But yeah, in almost every other instance, your seizures would stop.”

She looked at Laura as soon as he was done speaking and told her, “I want it. I don’t care about ‘maybes’ and ‘somehows’ and ‘what-ifs’. If I keep going the way I am now, I could be dead before I reach twenty anyway. Stiles mentioned taking the bite? Go ahead. Bite me.” Huffing at herself, she added, “And I didn’t mean that to sound so rude. I really would like the bite. Please.”

Laura eyed her carefully, weighing her sincerity, and then she said, “I’m going to do it. But you should be completely, one hundred percent sure about this before it happens, because once the bite takes, there is no going back. You’ll be part of my pack.” Her lips quirked briefly. “’For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.’ I have to know that you won’t run with the chips are down, Erica, and they will be down sometimes, because that’s just a part of life.”

“I can handle the bad times,” Erica insisted. “That’s pretty much all I do.”

“Okay, everyone just hold up,” Scott said, holding his hands up demonstratively. “Shouldn’t we maybe take some time to think about this? And, like, talk it over with our parents? I mean, this isn’t like getting a piercing or a tattoo. This is becoming a completely different species.”

Giving him a disdainful look, Erica told him, “You can sit around and twiddle your thumbs all you want, McCall. I’m doing this. Today. Now, in fact.” She glanced at Laura and asked, “Does that work for you?”

“That’s fine. Although, Scott brings up a good point.” She looked at each of the teenagers gathered around her in turn. “If any of you want the bite, I will gladly give it to you. If you don’t want it, that’s okay, too. Or,” she said, glancing at Scott, “if you’re feeling uncertain, and you want to take some time to think about it, please do so. This is an important decision – one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make – and it should be treated that way. All I really ask is that you keep this quiet. We can’t afford for the hunters to start feeling antsy, which they will if they hear that I’ve started recruiting. We stay safer by keeping our heads down and blending in. Can you all do that for me?”

They each nodded, and Allison went so far as to declare, “I won’t say anything to my parents, Laura. I promise.” She looked down at her lap and then then said, “But I don’t think I want to become a werewolf.” Looking up, she asked, “Does that mean I can’t be part of your pack?”

Unnoticed by the others, Stiles let out a quiet sigh of relief. One of his biggest concerns going into this conversation was that Allison would decide that she wanted the bite, and to this day, she was the great unknown among them. Would the bite turn her? Would it kill her? Or would she be one of those rare people who reacted to the bite in a way that went against the lore? The fact that she wanted to remain human took an enormous weight off of him, and left him feeling more optimistic about this meeting than he had for all of the weeks leading up to it.

“Absolutely not. Stiles is completely human, and he’s been part of my pack since we first met. That goes for all of you,” Laura announced. “If some of you want to be part of the pack, but you want to stay human, you’re every bit as welcome as those of you who want to take the bite.” She looked at Erica, and then offered, “Do you want to go do this in the upstairs bathroom? There’s antiseptic in there, and we can bandage you up when we’re done.”

Erica, looking eager yet apprehensive, nodded and told her, “Works for me.”

“I’m coming, too,” Boyd interjected, standing up. When the two women looked at him, he shrugged and said, “Might as well do both of us at once, right?”

Isaac looked up at them and said, “Uh, can I come, too?”

Running a hand through her hair, Laura shrugged and then nodded. “Sure. The more the merrier, I guess.” A little more seriously, she asked, “You two are sure about this? I know why Erica wants it, but neither of you have her medical history.” Stiles had told her about their reasons for taking the bite in his vision, but it could not hurt to stop and be sure that they had taken the time to fully consider their choices.

“I’m sure,” Isaac confirmed.

Boyd shrugged and said plainly, “Where she goes, I go.”

Erica looked at him sharply, startled. The two of them had been dating casually for a few weeks, starting when Boyd asked her to be his date for the Winter Formal. Up until now, though, neither of them had made any serious declarations. Taking the bite because Erica wanted to was a pretty big step. “Boyd,” she mumbled, touched but not sure what to say.

He walked over and laced their fingers together, which was as physically demonstrative as he ever got in public.

Laura examined the two of them as though she was figuring something out, and then she said, “Come on, then.” She turned to head upstairs, and the three who wanted the bite trailed after her like little ducklings trailing after their mother.

This left the other four to sit around and look at each other awkwardly, not sure what to talk about now that half of their group had migrated to the upstairs bathroom. Eventually, though, Scott asked, “What do you think I should do?” looking at Stiles.

“Whatever you want to do, Scotty. I mean, it’s your life.” On the one hand, it would be great to no longer have to worry about Scott’s asthma attacks, because each time, Stiles wondered if they would be able to get him taken care of fast enough. If he would recover fully. He got nervous every time a respiratory disease made its way through their area, afraid that Scott would catch it and it would turn into bronchitis or worse, pneumonia. On the other hand, he was still anxious about Scott’s potential as a true alpha, and he wondered whether it would crop up at an inopportune time, as most things were wont to do.

Resting his elbows on his knees and cupping his chin in his hands, Scott mumbled, “Yeah.”

“Look, dude, you don’t have to do anything about this right now, all right? There’s no time limit on this thing – although teenagers, as a rule, are more receptive to the bite, so maybe make a decision before we reach twenty? But yeah, other than that, take your time. This whole thing is crazy and huge, and, like, completely mind-boggling, and no one expects you to make this choice right now.”

“The others did,” Scott pointed out, sounding mulish.

“And that’s great for them,” Stiles said calmly, “but they’re not you. You need to think about what you want, and do it in your own time.”

“What I want,” Scott muttered. “What do I want?” He looked over at Allison, who was looking right back at him. She smiled weakly and shrugged, equally as unmoored by all of this – or more-so, given her rather unique circumstances.

Stiles had a feeling his best friend would not figure that one out for a long time.

“Stilinski,” Lydia said abruptly, “I’d like a word, please. Alone.”

“Oh,” Stiles blinked. “Okay, yeah. Um – would you like to step outside, or do you want to talk in the kitchen?”

“The kitchen is fine.”

He motioned for Lydia to proceed him, and then he followed her curiously. Once inside, Stiles asked, “What did you want to talk about?”

Her hands on her hips, she informed him, “There are some holes in your story. Such as where you ran into Laura, and why she agreed to stay with you. An alpha werewolf, taking orders from a human? Unlikely, unless there was something else going on. And who was this rogue werewolf? I find it hard to believe that Laura coming back around the time this werewolf started killing things was a coincidence. What aren’t you telling us?”

Stiles let out an explosive breath, and then scrubbed his hands over his face. “All right. I’ll tell you, but you have to promise that this stays between the two of us.”

“Why?”

“Because what I’m about to tell you is extremely sensitive information, and out of everyone, you’re the one I trust to be able to handle it.” He glanced toward the living room, and then held out his hand, muttering “Come on.”

She took his hand, and he led her out the back door, not wanting to chance Scott and Allison overhearing anything if either of them got excited at some point and started to raise their voice.

He closed the door once they were both outside, and then he turned and grabbed her other hand, as well. “What I’m about to tell you is going to sound crazy. I mean, totally and completely, certifiably insane. But I swear every single word is the truth. If you don’t believe me, you can go talk to Dr. Deaton, or to Laura, and they’ll tell you I’m not lying.”

Lydia shook her head, looking at once irritated and unsurprised. “Dr. Deaton? As in Dr. Alan Deaton, the vet who gives my dog her vaccines and checks her for worms?”

“Yes, that Dr. Deaton,” Stiles said, bobbing his head impatiently, “but that’s not really the point, here.”

“And what is the point, exactly?”

Stiles took a deep breath. It had been a while since he had needed to explain this to anyone, and Lydia was the most daunting person of all, immediately after his dad, given her propensity to question everything, as well as the information that pertained directly to her. “Two months ago, I had this dream.”

---

When Stiles had told Lydia everything, from start to finish, including the truth about her banshee heritage, and answered all of her questions to her satisfaction, she looked at him and said earnestly, “Thank you for trusting me with this.”

“I kind of had to. You’re sort of terrifyingly brilliant. But I also think that underneath the little act you like to put on for everyone else, you’re one of the best people I know, and I don’t think I can do this without you. I mean, come on,” he scoffed. “Me, an emissary? Someone’s gotta stick around and make sure I don’t screw that up.”

She smiled slightly and squeezed his hands. “I don’t know. I think you’ve been doing a pretty good job so far. Although,” she allowed, her smile becoming a cheeky grin, “there is always room for improvement.”

“There, you see? I need you.”

It was a testament to how much his crush on her had diminished in recent months that Lydia was able to take that as anything other than yet another pathetic romantic overture on his part. He cared about her still, and he always would, but he also cared about Derek in a way that was more realistic and mature than any fanciful feelings he had once harbored for her.

“Then let’s go see how the others are doing and then make this official.” She tugged one of her hands free, turning to open the door and let them both back inside. Then, she led Stiles back through the kitchen and into the living room, where Boyd, Erica, and Isaac were all squished together around Laura like so many sardines.

Erica raised an eyebrow at their joined hands, hooting and then asking, “Get any action out there, Stiles?” Either she was completely over her own unrequited crush, or she was feeling sore about it and wanted to give him a little grief. Considering how happy she was with Boyd, Stiles had a feeling it was the former, rather than that latter.

He rolled his eyes. ”No.” Looking at Laura, he said, “Lydia has something she would like to ask you,” though he had a feeling Laura had probably heard at least some of their conversation in between the times when she needed to talk to the others.

Laura turned to look at her and waited expectantly.

Squaring her shoulders, Lydia tossed her head, making her hair ripple in waves around her back and shoulders like living fire. “I would like for you to bite me and make me a part of your pack.”

Her smile had a little more teeth in it than normal when Laura asked, “Would you?” When Lydia merely gazed back implacably, Laura nodded. “All right, then.” She leaned toward each of her new betas, running her nose along their necks, and then she disentangled herself from the bundle of limbs.

The two women went upstairs, Stiles watching them the whole way. They had talked about how they would handle it if Lydia chose to take the bite. There were towels laid out in the guest room, where Laura slept. She would take Lydia there and ask her to lay down. Then, she would disinfect the skin between her ribs and her hip, and give her the bite, after which she would cover the open wound with antibiotic cream and medical gauze. Then, she would take Lydia’s pain if she was somehow still conscious, though Laura and Stiles both expected her to fall unconscious.

If, in a few hours, Lydia was still out, they would take her to the hospital and have her admitted, saying she was bitten by a mountain lion while she was out in the forest with her friends, and they thought the trauma had sent her into shock.

In order to distract himself from worrying about Lydia, Stiles looked at the three new betas snuggled up on the couch. “How are you guys doing?”

Isaac shrugged. “Well, it’s not comfortable, but I’ve felt worse. Besides, I think it might already be healing.”

“What do you mean, you’ve felt worse?” Erica muttered mutinously. “This thing hurts like a-“

Boyd cut Erica off softly, saying, “We talked about this, remember?”

She looked at Isaac like he was a wounded puppy, and muttered, “Oh. Right.”

“Talked about what?” Scott asked, glancing between the three of them.

“Nothing, Scott,” Stiles told him. “If Isaac hasn’t said anything to you about it, then it’s none of your business.”

“But Boyd and Erica know,” Scott pointed out, trying to sound reasonable, and only succeeding in coming across as petulant. Then again, he was a teenager. Petulance was one of their age group’s defining characteristics. “And, wait, you know about it, too.”

“Yeah, well, some of us are a little more observant than others,” Stiles sighed. Scott was a lot brighter than most people gave him credit for, but his social awareness was somewhat limited, which might have been why people considered him a bit stunted in other areas, as well.

Stiles hadn’t wanted to get into Isaac’s history of abuse tonight. Until now, he hadn’t even realized that Boyd and Erica were aware. Granted, now that they all spent so much more time together, eating lunch together, going to each other’s games, and hanging out on the weekends, he supposed it was only natural that someone would be able to put the pieces together. Isaac was the only one who still routinely begged off of hanging out beyond school and lacrosse, he had a tendency to flinch at sudden movements and loud noises, and he hated feeling confined.

He was actually amazed that Isaac was willing to sit so closely to Boyd and Erica, but then, some of that was probably the werewolf instincts already coming into play. Stiles and Lydia had been out in his backyard for a few hours, at least, which would have given Erica, Isaac, and Boyd’s bites plenty of time to start taking hold. They might even have begun to heal by this point.

The sound of a key turning in the lock of the front door drew everyone’s attention, and Stiles settled somewhat. His dad had traded shifts with someone, going in around noon. It was a little past ten o’clock now, which meant that he had decided to stay late, probably to work on some paperwork.

Getting up, Stiles went to throw some leftover broccoli rice casserole into the microwave, and put a chicken breast that had managed to survive last night’s dinner in the oven to reheat. He walked back into the living room in time to watch his dad take his gun out of its holster and unload it before putting it in the safe where he kept it when he was off duty. “Hey, dad.”

“Son. I hear that Lydia is upstairs with Laura right now?”

“Yeah, actually. They should be down soon. I’ve got some leftovers heating for you in the kitchen, if you want to eat before you head to bed.”

His dad finished putting away his service weapon and then walked toward Stiles, patting him on the shoulder. “Thanks, Stiles.” Then he went into the kitchen, his own shoulders looking heavy with fatigue, and also, Stiles thought, in part from age. It was the kind of thought that kept him up late at night, when he wasn’t busy worrying about hunters and how every little decision could affect the course of his pack’s future.

It was no wonder most emissaries remained fairly withdrawn from their packs, only giving vague, barely helpful advice when things looked dire, and avoiding them the rest of the time. Feeling so attached to everyone and constantly stressing over what might happen to them was difficult, at best, and nerve-wracking at worst. Even so, he couldn’t imagine handling things the way Morrell did, and the way Deaton had in the past. It simply wasn’t in him to be aloof and dispassionate.

He spent a lot of the time he and Derek Skyped with each other talking about this very thing. It was nice to be able to talk to somebody who knew about everything but wasn’t directly involved in the current goings-on, because it allowed Derek to have some perspective that Stiles lacked. So far, Derek had given him some pretty good advice, and when he couldn’t do that, he simply told him to go with his gut. If he felt like he should do things differently, then that was how he needed to do it. It was nice knowing that Derek had so much faith in him. He hoped all of that faith was well founded.

Laura walked down the stairs, her footsteps not making a sound. Her face was troubled, and Stiles wondered how much of it was genuine, and how much of it was to keep the others from realizing that she and Stiles had known what would happen with she gave Lydia the bite.

“Where’s Lydia?” he asked, though what he wanted to ask was, ‘Will we be making a trip to the hospital in a few hours?’

Pressing her lips together, she said, “She passed out. It may have been from the pain, but I’ve never seen someone react to the bite that way before.”

“Is she going to be okay?” Allison demanded, clearly fearing for her best friend.

“I think so. We’ll just have to keep an eye on her. I’ve got her laying down in my room, in case any of you want to go check on her.”

At this, Allison promptly stood up from the easy chair, which she had borrowed once it was clear Stiles and Lydia were going to talk for a while. She headed upstairs, and Scott glanced at Stiles and Laura uneasily before following after her.

“So what do we do now?” Isaac asked nervously.

Laura looked at him and said, “You probably need to go home. You’ve got a curfew, don’t you?”

“Yeah, uh, I’m actually already late.”

She blinked, for a moment looking alarmed. Isaac’s healing might have started to accelerate already, but that didn’t mean she wanted him to need it. Gathering herself quickly, she said, “All right, then. I’ll take you home and tell your father it was our fault. We got caught up playing board games and lost track of the time.”

He swallowed, looking at everyone uneasily and then asked, “Does everyone know?”

“Oh, Isaac. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to invade your privacy. It’s kind of hard to keep secrets in a werewolf pack.”

“Are you going to tell anyone?”

“No,” she told him honestly. “But I think you should.” She held out a hand and told him, “Come on. Let’s talk about your options while we drive.”

She and Stiles had looked into what they could do for Isaac in the two months they had waited to offer him and the others the bite. Hopefully, Isaac would accept their help in dealing with his father. He was part of the pack now, which would encourage him to listen to Laura, and to some extent, to Stiles, but ultimately, he was still free to make his own decisions. He was a free agent before he got the bite, and he would remain so now. It was something Laura felt strongly about. That was the way her mother had run her pack, unless there was a threat to the pack’s safety, and that was how Laura wanted to run her own pack. Stiles agreed with her, but that still made it difficult to predict how pack members would react in certain situations, the problems with Isaac’s father among them.

As she and Isaac passed Stiles on the way to the front door, she leaned over to whisper in his hear, “If Lydia gets any worse, don’t wait for me, all right? Take her to the hospital and call me when you get there.”

“Got it.”

---

Stiles would not say that Lydia got worse, but she certainly didn’t get better.

He passed the time while Laura was gone checking on Lydia periodically and making finger foods like pigs in a blanket and deviled eggs for the others still staying at his house to snack on. Boyd, Erica, and Scott ate, but Allison and Stiles were too stressed out to actually do anything with all of the food he made. He wound up putting a lot of food in Tupperware containers to have as leftovers at a later date.

Around the three-hour mark, he made the call, asking Allison and Scott to help him get Lydia to the hospital. They agreed instantly, both sending texts to their parents to let them know why they would be out later than expected. After that, they brought Lydia downstairs and out to Allison’s car, since it had the biggest backseat. Stiles hopped in the back, and Scott and Allison laid Lydia across his lap before getting into the front. They left the other three at the house, not wanting to expose them to a place with so many people and so many different sights and scents that could overload their increasingly sharp senses.

They got Lydia checked in and situated in a room, and while Stiles called Laura, Allison called Mr. and Mrs. Martin's cell phones. She got their voicemail, and left them each messages telling them there was an incident in the woods, just like Stiles and Laura had planned. The doctors hooked Lydia up with an intravenous line and gave her a rabies shot to be on the safe side. After that, there was a whole lot of time spent waiting in uncomfortable hospital chairs in too-bright hallways that reeked of antiseptic and bleach.

Laura came striding in a few hours later, surprisingly with Isaac in tow. He looked subdued and rather shell-shocked, trailing after her on autopilot.

According to Laura, she had tried to do what she had said she would, and take all of the blame for Isaac coming home past his curfew. Mr. Lahey had acted as though he accepted her version of events, and would grant the according lenience, but before she was even thirty seconds away from the house, she had heard him begin verbally and physically abusing his son. Naturally, as an alpha with a brand new beta, her instincts had kicked in with extreme prejudice. She’d gone bursting back into the Lahey residence, fangs dropping and eyes flashing, and terrorized him into giving her temporary guardianship of Isaac.

It was one of the options Laura and Stiles had looked into when they were trying to figure out what to do about Isaac’s volatile home life. It would allow either Laura or the sheriff, depending upon which of them asked, to act as Isaac’s guardian for whatever length of time Mr. Lahey specified, under California law. They had found the forms online, but decided to make that Plan B, as it required Mr. Lahey’s cooperation, as well as for the forms to be notarized. Where Laura had managed to get something notarized after ten thirty on a Friday night, Stiles didn’t know, and he was too grateful everything had worked out to ask.

In the end, all he said was, “We need to get an air mattress.”

Laura dragged a hand through her hair, which was looking rather wild. It always got a little unkempt when she was stressed about something, since she wasn’t anywhere near as fastidious as her brother was when it came to personal appearance. She dressed nicely enough, and she was good about hygiene; it simply wasn’t a priority that she look perfect at all times. “Okay. Why?”

“Because Derek has to have some place to sleep when he comes home on spring break.” It was the end of February, and Derek would be coming to stay with them for a week starting the third Saturday of March.

“Maybe I should get a job.”

Stiles blinked. “What makes you say that?”

“Because as nice as it has been for me to stay with you and your dad, I can’t just take over your house. I should really look into getting an apartment until the house is finished. Give you two some breathing room.”

“Dude, are you kidding?” Stiles exclaimed softly. Speaking any louder than a whisper always seemed a bit blasphemous in hospital waiting rooms. “Dad and I love having you there. You know that. You make the house seem less – empty. More alive.”

“Well, it’s gonna get a whole lot livelier with five people living under one roof,” Laura pointed out dryly.

Stiles cooed. “Aw, look at you, Laura. You’re almost worrying.”

Blithely, she ordered, “Respect your alpha,” not even batting an eye at the mangled Footloose reference.

“Uh-uh. You’re gonna get plenty of that from your betas from now on. Someone around here’s gotta keep you humble.”

“You know what, squirt? You’re a pill and a half, and I don’t think I like you at all.” Squirt, unfortunately, had stuck after the first time Laura used it, and she liked to toss it out there every now and then to see how he would react.

“Lies,” Stiles said promptly, choosing to ignore his epithet this time. “You adore me. You wouldn’t know what to do without me in your life.”

“Uh, guys?” Scott started.

Still looking at Laura, Stiles asked, “What, Scotty? You agree with me, right?”

“What?” Scott barked. “No, seriously, guys.”

Turning towards Scott, Stiles enquired more seriously, “What is it? Is something wrong?”

Nodding towards the double doors of the waiting room, Scott said, “I don’t know, man. You tell me.”

Stiles and Laura both followed his gaze, and together they blanched. Striding through the doors was Chris Argent, and he looked like a man on a mission. “Aw, crap.”

A few seats down, Allison winced, looking slightly guilty.

“Allison, what did you say to him?” Stiles whispered frantically.

She shrugged, wide-eyed and apologetic. “Only that Lydia had been bitten by a mountain lion, and she wasn’t waking up.”

Stiles swore colorfully, jumping up out of his chair. Following him, Allison said in a low tone, “I thought you said my dad followed the code.”

“I said he tries to follow the code, not that he always succeeds.” He hesitated, and then added, “Some of that might have more to do with your mother, though.”

“My mother? Stiles, I don’t understand. What does that mean?”

Shaking his head, Stiles scrubbed a hand over his buzzed hair and told her, “Not now,” because Chris was less than ten feet away.

The first thing he did when he finally reached them was grasp his only child by the shoulders, looking her over from the top of her beautiful head, all the way down to her black leather boot-covered toes. Then he gathered her close and let out a huge sigh, pressing a grateful kiss to her forehead. “You’re okay,” he breathed. “You’re not hurt.”

Stiles heard the unspoken, ‘You’re not bitten,’ and tried not to judge the man for it. He may not have tried all that hard.

 

“I’m okay,” Allison agreed. “But Lydia, dad. Lydia’s not okay.”

“I know, sweetheart. I’m sorry.” He pulled back a little so that he could look at her, and then said, “You said it was a mountain lion?”

“Uh, yeah,” Allison confirmed, sounding a bit flustered. They’d have to work on her acting skills at some point. The Allison that Stiles remembered towards the end of his vision had been able to lie as coolly and convincingly as Mata Hari. Come to think of it, that might have been Chris’s doing. Hunter families had the strangest bonding exercises. “We were just hanging out in the woods-“

“What were you doing out in the woods?" Chris asked sharply. "You told me you were going to watch Scott's game. Were you drinking?”

“What? No! Daddy, of course not.”

“Doing drugs?”

”No. We were just spending time together, exploring, and all of a sudden, this huge mountain lion came charging at us. I guess we must have gotten too close to its den. Anyway, the rest of us were able to get out of its way, but it attacked Lydia, and now she won’t wake up.”

“Listen to me,” Chris ordered firmly. “I want you to stay out of the woods from now on. Do you understand?”

“Yeah. Yes,” Allison said, nodding quickly. “I understand.”

He breathed another sigh of relief and pulled her close again, resting his chin on her dark crown. “Good.” Then his eyes fell on Laura, and they hardened. He straightened up, pulling his daughter back behind him so that he could stand between Allison and Laura. “Hale.” The name sounded flat and blatantly suspicious on his tongue.

It didn’t help that his suspicions were true, at least to some extent.

“Hey, Chris. It’s been a while.”

“What are you doing here?”

“She’s a friend of my family, Mr. Argent,” Stiles said, trying to speak levelly. “She’s the one I call when my dad’s needed elsewhere – which happens a lot, seeing as he’s the sheriff – and I find myself needing an adult.”

Chris examined him, his gaze clearing slightly. “Stiles, isn’t it? I’ve been to a few of your ballgames. You’ve got a pretty mean right arm, son.”

Shrugging, Stiles told him, “I do what I can.”

He watched Chris’s eyes flash in understanding of the message he was trying to send. Not all of the people who got close to Laura were werewolves. Even so, Chris turned to face Allison and said, “Why don’t I go in with you so that you can check on Lydia one more time before we go home?”

“Oh,” Allison said softly, surprised. “No, dad, I drove most of them here, and I really wanted to stay in case Lydia wakes up.”

“I understand, sweetheart, but if she hasn’t woken up already, it’ll probably be a while, and you should be able to go home and sleep in your own bed tonight. You can come back and see her again tomorrow.”

“But dad-“

“No arguing,” he insisted, his tone quiet but firm. “Not tonight.”

Her lips tightened, and then she stood tall, her chin tilted up in the air. “Fine. But I want to see Lydia alone.”

Shaking his head, Chris said, “If you go in there by yourself, you’ll only try to drag this out longer.” He started moving toward the hospital room with the paper label reading ‘MARTIN’ by the door, but stopped when Scott, of all people, stepped in front of the door.

“I think it would be best if you waited until Lydia’s parents give you permission to see her, Mr. Argent.” His arms were crossed, and his mouth was a thin line, and on anyone else, it would have been imposing. Unfortunately, for Scott, of the perpetually floppy hair and the uneven jawline and the big brown puppy dog eyes, it merely looked precocious and a little too close to adorable for any teenage boy’s comfort.

Things changed when Laura slipped in to stand beside Scott, placing a hand on his shoulder. The movement was as protective as it was possessive, which might not be such a good thing for Scott in the long run, but for now, it was enough to make Chris back down. He looked at Allison and told her, “Two minutes.”

She nodded, looking stunned at the proof that there was more to her family than she had ever been led to believe. Then she squeezed past Laura and Scott, pressing her boyfriend’s hand with her own briefly before making her way into her best friend’s hospital room.

While she was gone, Chris leaned close to Laura and murmured, “If I hear so much as a hint that you’ve bitten another teenager after this, Hale, I will-“

“You’ll, what?” Laura demanded hotly. “Burn my family’s house to the ground? Oh, wait. Too late. Your sister got there first. Or maybe you’d like to agree to peace talks between the local packs and your family, and then ambush us when we get to the meeting place. But no, that’s been done already, too. I do wonder how Deucalion is doing these days.”

He paused for a moment, shocked. “What are you talking about? My family had nothing to with the fire.” Though he had nothing to say about the accusations regarding the failed peace summit.

Laura gave him an ugly smile. “That’s not what my little brother, Derek – you know, the one she sexually abused while she was getting information about our pack – told me.” She waited a beat to let that sink in, and then she told him, “You might want to look into doing a little housekeeping of your own family before you start trying to do it for mine.”

He backed away from her slowly, looking numb. By the time Allison came out of Lydia’s hospital room, he had mostly pulled himself together, but Stiles could see that Laura’s words had shaken his faith in his family somewhat. Whether or not he would actually do anything on the word of a werewolf was unknown at this point, and it would have been nice to save that information for a more opportune moment, but it was out there, now, and there was nothing Stiles could do about it.

As he watched Chris leading Allison away, he reflected on a similar scene between himself and Chris, and felt a shot of dread. Lydia had been unconscious in the hospital then, too. At least Derek wasn’t chained up in the basement of his old house right now, wondering whether anyone would come and get him out.

It seemed as though the more things changed from the vision Stiles had seen, the more they stayed the same.

---

A short while later, Lydia’s parents arrived in a frantic flurry of questions – and a few muttered arguments – and together, Laura and Stiles tried to calm them down before the doctor could come see them and tell them what they wanted to hear. Apparently they had taken so long to get there because they had been discussing the custody situation once again, and they had both turned their phones off in an attempt to appear civil with one another. The discussion had gotten them nowhere, and by the time several frustrating hours had passed, Lydia had already been admitted for a good while.

Meanwhile, Scott sat by Isaac, keeping him focused on virtually anything other than the excessive stimuli of the hospital. So-far, Isaac was handling everything okay, but there was plenty of time for that to change.

At last, the doctor came by and spoke to the Martins, telling them a bunch of medical jargon that basically meant he didn’t know why Lydia had reacted to the bite the way that she had, but he and the hospital staff were doing everything they could to help her recover while they tried to figure it out. The Martins, who were not members of the medical community, accepted the doctor’s words because they had no other option available, nor any reason to suspect that they needed one.

They went in to Lydia’s room, though not before taking pity on her friends and telling them to go home and get some sleep. They never even tried to tell them not to come back in the morning, as the stubborn looks on each of their faces said that they would be back no matter what.

Slowly, Stiles and the others made their way out to the hospital parking lot. They followed Laura to the Camaro, and piled into it one by one. Scott and Stiles had to get rather cozy with each other in the back, but they had done plenty of more awkward things over the course of their friendship, including sharing a bed, which they planned to do when they got back to the Stilinski house.

Scott texted his mom once again, first to give her an update on Lydia’s condition (No change.), and second to let her know that he was going to sleep over at Stiles’s place, since he was officially too tired to drive. Melissa, used to years of unplanned sleepovers between her son and the sheriff’s, and a nurse who had dealt with too many survivors of fatigue-induced car accidents to want her own child on the road in such a state, sent back a text letting him know that it was fine, and to make sure he brought the car back in time for her to get to the hospital for her shift in the morning.

When they finally reached the house, they each trouped tiredly into the house. Isaac made a beeline for the living room, where Boyd and Erica had long-since fallen asleep. He settled in the easy chair and fell asleep before the other three had even finished making it to the stairs. Scott and Stiles parted ways with Laura in the upstairs hallway, going into Stiles’s bedroom. They kicked off their shoes and shrugged out of their jackets and then curled up together under the covers like they had when they were younger, after they finished watching a scary movie and they didn’t want to sleep alone.

His best friend fell asleep a few minutes after laying down, but Stiles stayed awake, staring up at the ceiling and thinking about all of the ways things had gone wrong today, and how they could have been even worse. The fear over his pack’s future kept him up for another few hours, and when he finally fell asleep, it was in between one worry and the next.

---

It was the feeling of his best friend squirming out of bed that roused Stiles the next morning. The sun was already high in the sky, streaming in brilliantly through the gaps in his blinds. He squeezed his eyes shut and turned to press his face more deeply into his pillow, until he remembered the events of the night before with a start and sat up quickly enough that he swayed, his sight going a bit wobbly around the edges.

Scott reached out to steady him, and then he sat down beside him on the bed. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said distractedly. “Lydia?”

“I don’t know, man. I just woke up. But hey,” he added nervously, “there’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”

Stiles rubbed at his eyes, trying to get rid of the remnants of his restless night. “What is it, buddy?”

Swallowing, Scott confessed, “I was terrified last night when I stood up to Allison’s dad. I knew I had to try to keep him away from Lydia, but I didn’t know if I even had the power the stop him. And then Laura was there, and she got him to leave, which was great and all, but it made me think. I don’t want to have to depend on anyone else to step in when our friends are in danger. I want to be able to protect them all on my own.”

He had a feeling he knew where this was going, but he asked anyway. Though he liked to claim that he was always right, there was always the chance that he could be wrong. “So, what does that mean?”

“I think I’m gonna ask Laura to give me the bite.”

Stiles closed his eyes. At this point, there was nothing he could do. Though Scott had phrased it as a choice he was in the process of making, Stiles knew that it had already been made. His best friend was going to become a werewolf, and based on his reasons for doing it, he was already starting on his road to becoming a true alpha.

He could only hope that this wouldn’t be the thing that ultimately ripped the pack apart.