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Phase 3

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Stiles Stilinski tapped a rhythm on his desk, hiding a smirk when his seminar leader, Mr. Harris, shot him a venomous glare. Harris was standing at the side of the room, leaning against the wall and alternating between faked looks of confidence and death stares at students. Stiles wasn’t the first one to get the thunderous look of promised retribution, but it was the last day and, with the wolfy audience in the room, any consequences would be slow coming, if they came at all. This made everyone dangerously bolder.

But now wasn’t the time for that, not for Stiles, so he ducked his head and made a big show of focusing on the presenter.

Not that focusing was hard. At the front of the room, the glorious and beautiful Lydia Martin was presenting her final project, a review of the history of the Human Preservation Act. She was as lovely, precise and factual as always, reciting the story everyone had memorized by the time they were eight.

She looked bored to tears.

Stiles didn’t blame her. He knew, that she’d had a far more explosive project in the works originally—a proper send off to their last day of seminar. But when Harris learned that the representatives from Beacon Hills, the closest supecity to Beacon Dome, wanted to sit in on the seminar’s final presentations, everyone’s projects got nixed.

Stiles was pretty peeved about it, to be honest. He’d had half a report on the shift of old world memory technology from bulky physical mediums to single atom-based systems finished. It was fascinating. It was thorough. It was interactive. Minds were going to be blown.

But now? Now everyone had a sanitized and werewolf-friendly project to present.

Well, almost everyone. Stiles’ mouth split into a sharp, bright grin.

Scott eyed him warily from a desk over. “Dude, tell me you’re not doing the thing,” he whispered.

“I’m not doing the thing,” Stiles lied instantly.

Scott, smart boy, didn’t believe him. “Harris will straight up murder you if you do the thing,” he warned, brow furrowed.

Stiles’ glee dimmed. Forget Harris. Lydia was glaring at him from the front of the room, not a single hitch in her speech as her eyes promised slow de-skinning and disembowelment if he said another word.

Actually cowed this time, Stiles nodded once, sliding deep in his chair.

“…the act, of course, followed on the heels of the Event, which followed the 2025 World War,” Lydia was saying, clear voice echoing through the room. “As we all know, the Event has never been explained to the satisfaction of anyone involved, but the prevailing theory is that the war itself was the cause.” She shifted to the next notecard in her hand. Not that she ever looked down… “The Event is another name for the respiratory disease that spread globally during the war. Werewolves and other supernaturals, aka “supes”, all of whom went public in 2015, seemed entirely immune while humans died in the millions.”

Harris cleared his throat at the faintest hint of negativity in Lydia’s tone. Normally a fan of pleasing anyone who had an influence on her seminar score, Lydia’s smile turned distinctly acidic as she glanced back down at her notes. She wet her lips, and then, voice thinly pleasant, started again.

“Due to the Event, governments broke down all over the world. Werewolves came to the forefront of politics at the time and turned who they could.” She changed slides and an upward trending graph replaced the picture in the hologram. “The global werewolf population in 2025 jumped from 1 in 100, 000 to 1 in 1000. Seventy years later, they remain the majority global population.”

On cue, Harris smiled at the werewolves at the back of the room. Stiles followed his gaze, glancing over his shoulder at the three people huddled around a table, looking distinctly out of place. His glance turned into a rather long gaze after a moment, then into a shameless stare as his perpetual irritation with the wolf subspecies was overpowered by pure curiosity.

His attention was captured by the one in the middle; an intimidatingly beautiful older woman with long dark hair had her chin propped up in the heel of her hand. Compared to her magnetic presence, the other two werewolves, male and good looking in their pressed business suits, might as well have been wall fixtures. Attractive wall fixtures, but wall fixtures all the same.

The wolf lady wore a dark red and almost black jacket. It was well fitted, as was the collared white shirt that poked up over it. Her long legs were stretched out and crossed in front of her, giving all the semblance of relaxation. But her focus revealed it to be a lie. She watched Lydia with unblinking eyes, thick claw tips pressing bluntly and gently into the skin of her cheek.

Lydia was unbothered by the attention and shifted smoothly into her next topic. “The compounds, known colloquially as ‘The Domes’, were established in 2034 by the Preservation of Humanity Council, which pushed forward the Human Preservation Act five years earlier.”

Light shifted behind Stiles, like Lydia had changed slides again, but he didn’t turn to look, too busy staring at the woman.

“The domes’ force fields, which are powered by a series of…” Lydia’s voice started going in one ear and out the other as Stiles’ attention drifted.

The wolf tensed slightly under his gaze. Then, without any warning, her eyes shifted to Stiles, narrowing on him like a snake fixating on a mouse.

Stiles turned back to the front, seeing that the graphic behind Lydia had shifted into a table of various external shots of the electric blue force fields that inspired the name ‘dome’. His heart hammered in his chest.

“These domes provided a clean, controlled environment for the remaining members of humanity. Once placed in a dome and provided with a Lupa Shot, a revolutionary advancement in medical technology derived from werewolf blood, a human’s life expectancy raised about sixty years—but dome life and entry procedures are a topic for another presenter.”

Still a little jumpy, Stiles reacted to the cue and winked at her obnoxiously. But Lydia completely missed it, absorbed by her notes. She paused, clearly reading the page in front of her. Stiles frowned at that, because Lydia Martin never needed presentation notes.

“The Human Preservation Act has three phases,” Lydia said, starting again a little unsteadily. “Phase 1 involved moving humans from the infected regions to the domes. Phase 2 involves pooling resources towards finding a cure. Phase 2 is the phase we are currently in.” She seemed uncharacteristically uncomfortable, her mouth set into a grim line. Then, abruptly, she pulled on a fake smile. “And that’s the Human Preservation Act!” Stiles tipped his head slowly at the obvious hole in her presentation, confused. “If we all work together, we can find a cure and beat the Event. Thanks for listening.”

She stepped off the podium to a chorus of scattered applause, spinning around and sitting in her front row seat with a flare of her skirt. Allison leaned over, face pulled into a frown. Whatever Allison said made Lydia shake her head, but before Stiles could lean over and try to eavesdrop, Jared stumbled to the front of the room and touched his data chip to the podium.

The cool blue tones of Lydia’s presentation shifted to orange, and Jared started talking quickly about medical technology advancements since the 2025 World War. He stuttered and stumbled through most of it, forehead slick and shiny with sweat. The guy had a notoriously weak stomach, and, on this fateful day, Jackson and his goons in the second row were swaying back and forth in tandem, trying to mess with him.

Jared powered through it though. After discussing several wins in medical technology advancement, he paused, clearly trying to find a way to gently say that Phase 2 was a bust that wouldn’t have Harris gunning for him. “L-like Lydia so astutely mentioned, the Lupa Shot was an amazing achievement! One of the best products of Phase 2, hands down. Synthesized from a werewolf’s blood, it temporarily accelerates your healing—human healing, I mean,” he said, abruptly correcting himself as all of his focus went to the back of the room. A flush was crawling over his face. “It, uh, accelerates human healing without turning us into, well, you.” Jared gestured awkwardly to their guests.

Harris closed his eyes. He looked like he was praying for patience.

Jared’s presentation didn’t improve much from that point on. Though it was thorough and technically interesting, it had no flow or structure and thus petered out awkwardly—so awkwardly that applause came only after Jared had sat back down.

Now it was Stiles’ turn. Grinning, he clapped a quick little rhythm on his thighs excitedly before popping out of his desk, thumbing his data chip. More than one person groaned or rolled their eyes when he bounded up to the front, knowing he was up to something.

Stiles hated being so predictable, but, eh. Whatever.

When he got to the podium and turned around, he saw that Scott had sunk down in his seat, hiding so low behind his folded arms that only his eyes were visible. Allison was already frowning at him, as if asking him if this was really the way he wanted to end his education. Harris had straightened at his approach, eyes narrowing suspiciously at Stiles’ wide Cheshire grin.

Humming softly, Stiles tapped his data chip against the podium, blinking away white spots as orange shifted to green and yellow and blue and red and- yeah, okay. He’d maybe been a little too enthusiastic about colors there.

“So,” Stiles chirped, rubbing his eyes. “Domes.” Still a little blinded, he grinned at his captive audience.

Harris audibly groaned, hiding his face. In the way back, the wolves looked very dubious.

Stiles cleared his throat, adopting a serious face. “Domes. Like the lovely Lydia Martin said”—Lydia rolled her eyes—“they were established by the Human Preservation Act in an attempt to, you know. Preserve humanity. Domes.” Stiles spread his arms out. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”

He leaned forward on the podium, smile taking a bitter edge. “Let me tell you about domes, okay. They were written in as a temporary housing situation until the Event was resolved. They were completely optional! Can you believe that? Then, two years later, they’re suddenly mandatory. And now, seventy some years later, they’re permanent mandatory housing, and you have next to no choice about whether or not you can stay in one. And god forbid you get exiled from one.”

Stiles paused. A few people glanced at Allison when he did and he felt a little bit of belated guilt. She stared back at him and only him, expression neutral. Feeling bad about dragging her into this, he hurried to his next point.

He gestured to the room around them. “This? This was not what humanity agreed to.” He tipped his chin up to the quiet werewolves in the back, projecting his voice to them. “Seventy years! We’ve been waiting seventy years for you guys to find a cure. That’s a lifetime for the most of us. And you wolves have prospered off of our impending extinction. You’ve become top dog, you’ve won the world from us-”

Harris stepped forward. “That’s enough. Your presentation is over.”

Stiles ignored him and kept talking. Real anger started bleeding into his voice as he thought about everyone they lost over the years. “Seventy years, we’ve been trapped in these domes with our hands tied as you take our smartest and brightest and turn them. Seventy years, we’ve been stuck here as you use us as a workforce indiscriminately. Seventy years, and what did we get in return? A handful of lousy domes and a couple of supes invading even that. You couldn’t even let us humans have our little final projects to ourselves.” One of the male wolves flinched, but the woman looked unmoved, so Stiles directed his next point to her. “Seventy years of imprisonment disguised as charity, lady. Where the hell’s our cure?”

A second later, Stiles was dodging under Harris’ arm and the room was erupting into chaos.

-

The dismissal Harris barked out was probably just for him, but everyone leapt to their feet at his words, eager to leave the tension building up in the room. And Harris, not wanting to lose any more face in front of the supes, had to let them go.

Before Harris could corner him behind the podium, Stiles scooted out, and then hopped over a few rows of chairs to grab his things, hoping to be lost in a crowd of students hurrying out of the room. He’d lost sight of the supes in the mess too—oh well. Out of sight, out of mind

Like a true friend, Scott waited for him to pack up. But it was probably Scott’s sigh and disappointed face that distracted Stiles just long enough for Stiles to be caught.

Seething with rage, Harris shoved at Scott, cornering Stiles against the wall. “You’re dismissed, McCall!” he spat. His eyes said that Stiles would soon have a shallow grave at the edge of their fields, if he had any say about it.

But Scott didn’t shove well. He was only nineteen and was shorter than Stiles by half a foot, but he was still pretty bulky from helping out with harvest and the healer’s wing. He stood still, blocking Harris’ access to Stiles and ignoring him completely.

“You can go,” Stiles said, answering the question on Scott’s face. Stiles sighed, rubbing at the bridge of his nose.

With an understanding but unsympathetic look on his face, Scott left Stiles with a blisteringly furious teacher. Stiles tried to follow him out. Harris didn’t stop him, but rather followed, like a small yappy dog.

“I can’t believe you,” Harris snarled out, purpling. “Are you so stupid and incompetent that you can’t think about simple consequences?” When Stiles just hummed and tipped his head, Harris grabbed his arm, forcing him around to face him in the main aisle of the room. “Not only did you make me look like a complete fool, that presentation in the presence of those people-”

“One,” Stiles interrupted quickly, “I presented, so I’m entitled to half credit, according to Education Regulation 17.51B.” He shook off Harris’ grip. “Two, even if you illegally gave me a zero, I would still pass the seminar with 550 points. So I’m really not seeing any consequences.” Stiles swung his backpack over his shoulder and shot him a winning smile.

Harris stared at him, disbelief and genuine horror battling it out on his face. “Oh my god. You have no idea what you’ve done, do you.”

“Oh,” Stiles said, drawing the word out. He stood up a little straighter, making his best contrite face. “Well, I’m sorry I made you look stupid in front of the alpha species. My bad.”

Harris’ expression twisted and turned hateful. “That wasn’t just any werewolf, you waste of resources. That was Talia Hale.”

Stiles froze at that. Oh, shit.

Seeing his surprise, Harris did a one eighty, donning a nasty smirk. “Oh yeah. That’s right. Your very own Alpha Prime.” He opened his mouth, like he was going to detail, in bullet points, how screwed Stiles was for publically humiliating the most powerful person in the west, but a voice cut in from behind Stiles.

“Thank you, Adrian, but I’ll take it from here.” Before Stiles could run, a hand tipped with black claws fell on his shoulder, anchoring him. Trapping him.

-

Talia Hale ran a hand over Harris’ desk musingly. His office was small and cramped, filled with more old world books and tablets than anything else, but there was still a faintly earthy pungent scent, like an old plant that hadn’t been taken care of in a while.

Harris had led them into his office just a few minutes before. For all his vitriol and anger from before, he seemed oddly reluctant to push anything, do anything. After a few awkward moments, he finally just turned around to leave.

“If you want to kill him, I’ll help you clean up the mess.” Stiles could barely hear him past the roaring in his ears, but flinched when Harris closed the door, leaving him alone in that cramped space with the woman he’d publically humiliated.

“Oddly vicious, for a human.”

Talia kept her back to him, sorting through the various odds and ends on Harris’ desk. Even though handwriting was considered old fashioned, the guy had a ton of pens, pencils, and other various writing utensils spread all over his desk. It was too bad Harris was such a dick. Stiles knew a whole bunch of people who would have liked to debate the merits of handwriting over typing as a primary source of communication.

Talia lifted a mechanical pencil, shaking it curiously. “It’s strange that you didn’t recognize me,” she said eventually. “Do you not have adequate access to our electronic libraries?”

Despite his dread, Stiles made a face at the blatant reference at the imbalance of power here.

The libraries were not theirs, like most things in life. No, access was a free service, a courtesy—a gift—from their wolfy overlords. And they should never forget it.

“It’s been a while since I looked at your picture. I assumed you were older now.”

Talia laughed softly, turning to face him. “Supernaturals age differently than humans,” she said, a smile playing around her lips. She leaned on the edge of the desk, looking at him, and, despite everything he’d learned about werewolves, both real and gossip, he met her gaze.

The Alpha Prime of the West wasn’t shifted, so it wasn’t a remarkable one. She was beautiful, sure. Stiles wasn’t going to argue against that. She had dark hair and a long straight nose with a charming splash of freckles over the top. As he stared at her, her thin mouth hooked up in a smile, and Stiles had a sudden thought that this? This could be a kind face. This could be a caring face. Then he focused on her eyes, warm and brown, and-

-then they were deep empty pits of darkness, a yawning cracking void, screams echoing and echoing and-

Stiles blinked, shaking away the after image.

After a beat, Talia cocked her head to the side. Her expression changed minutely, but Stiles got the feeling that he graduated from amusing diversion to person of interest.

He was rattled by what he’d seen, what he’d felt, but he set it aside, sterning his jaw and trying to look impassive. Stiles didn’t want to be interesting—especially not to her.

The world was run now on a confusing mix of democracy and globalism and pack dynamics—not that you said pack anymore, god. It was considered a slur, a hold over from when supernaturals came out of the woodwork, outing themselves to the human-dominated world of 2015. Back then, werewolves were especially fixated on divorcing their kind from any attachment to animals, establishing themselves as merely ‘humans with a little extra’.

Now that humans were in the minority, they were less concerned about appealing to similarities. You rarely saw a wolf without claws or fangs or even pointed ears, even when they were doing something mundane.

Talia tipped her head down slightly before huffing out a small laugh. Then she looked up at him steadily before saying, “Your presentation was very interesting to me.”

“Was it?” Stiles asked, stalling.

“Yes. Interesting and familiar.”

“Familiar how?”

There was a long pause. “It sounds,” she said gently, “like you have sympathies with the human separatists.”

His hackles raised and his heart started beating a little bit faster. There was rumors and whispers of a human-only region where Arizona used to be before the war. They were led by a mysterious figure known only as the Darach and their mission was to free humanity from the domes.

They were in a war with the wolves and supes of the Western Region—Talia’s region. It was still considered a civil war, since Darach-controlled territory was, legally, still under Talia’s dominion, but it was a bloody one. Casualties were swelling with every year, and all the media streamed into the domes (all Western, of course) made sure to pin the blame for these deaths on the Darach herself.

Being associated with an enemy was just about the worst thing that could come out of an Alpha Prime’s mouth, especially right after he’d just pissed her off. Nevertheless, he couldn’t help but rise to the challenge.

“Having no sympathy for my fellow human beings is, by definition, inhumane,” he said flatly, not addressing her accusation. After a beat, he tipped his head towards her. “Not that you’d understand.”

She stared at him for a moment, mouth lax. Then she let out a soft laugh, running a hand through her hair. There was no true joy or warmth in it.

Then she stood, pulling away from the table she had been leaning on, and that was terrifying.

As she moved towards him, every muscle in Stiles’ body seized up. With death suddenly an option in front of him, he had a sudden and harshly clear understanding of how rash, stupid, and childish he’d been that day. He had planned on lashing out, throwing some negativity at the feet of whatever stupid werewolf had lowered themselves to come to one of their little presentations—never mind it was their last one, their most important one. But he hadn’t planned on being murdered for it. And, honestly, who planned on being murdered? Seriously. Not Stiles.

But, instead of hurting him, she bypassed him completely, going for the door. She opened it before saying, in a neutral tone, “This yours?”

At that, Stiles whipped around, seeing none other than…

Than his dad, looking stunned and furious all at once. Shit.

He was so busted.

-

His encounter with the Alpha Prime ended like that—anti-climatically. He wasn’t sure if it had really been such a close shave with death, but it sure felt like it. And, naturally, that’s how he presented it to everyone else involved, including his dad. Stilinski wasn’t impressed.

In the end, though, Stiles was only grounded for a week. Half-way through the week, Stilinski wasn’t mad anymore, just tired, which was worse. Most of his seminar-mates were exasperated with him, but not overly concerned, while the people closest to him (Scott, his mom, their other assorted friends) were angry, but resigned.

Stiles wanted to piss people off with his project, but, now that they were pissed, he was left feeling uncomfortable and unhappy and not sure what to do about all that.

But life went on. Shaken by the confrontation with the most powerful person on this side of the continent, Stiles kept his head down and focused on his placement exams.

Dome children were presented with the materials on the exam when they were about three years old. Nothing was kept secret. Everyone knew what job they wanted by the time they were ten. All they had to do was put the right answers in the right spaces, and they were golden.

That being said, there was still a good deal of memorizing and studying to do. And then, even if you did all that and made it into the career, where you went and how high depended entirely on you and your range of skills.

Stilinski often liked to say that he knew too many people who went into Order Maintenance to become Dome Leader only to spend fifteen plus years as a glorified paper boy.

“Don’t be complacent and think your job is secure,” he always lectured. “Go above and beyond. Try to better yourself.”

That was the plan. Stiles had a very strict plan, actually, one that hadn’t changed since he made it, since…

Since his mother died.

There were four categories of jobs that you could qualify for: Resource Management, Order Maintenance, Liaison Development, and Medical Wellness.

Resource Management was everything from their farmers to their scientists to their teachers. There wasn’t a lot of upward mobility there, and good will toward you depended on the output of your labor, but it was a nice career path. Steady. Dependable. Teaching apparently wasn’t so bad either, no matter what Harris said about it, and Stiles’ own mother had been an incredible early childhood development expert.

Scientists, on the other hand, were always under the microscope by the Hales in charge. They wanted a cure as much as anyone, but the job was stressful. And, besides, control issues or not, good scientists were rarely allowed to stay human. You could say no, but you were under a whole lot of pressure to say yes.

And, once they noticed you, well… you were screwed. It didn’t matter how old you were either. Danny Mahealani got turned almost as soon as they found out he had an almost preternatural talent with computers. He had only been 12 years old. Hadn’t even grown into his teeth yet. He was now nineteen and in the GreaterSanFran Dome, making and improving software.

After that happened, Lydia spent five solid years acting like she had her brain removed, just to get the heat off her. At the time, Stiles hadn’t understood where his smarty pants friend went, but she did. It was a hell of the thing for a child to have to do, just to protect the sanctity of their own humanity.

Anyway, shitty supe behavior aside, the career path Stiles was aiming for was Order Maintenance. Order Maintenance was their leaders and their peace keepers. They shaped and enforced policies for basic morality, health, and sanitation. His dad was the head of the peace keepers and made sure the rules were followed. He had a different title (“Executive Crowd Control Officer”), but anyone who’d devoured a lick of old world media called him Sheriff.

Also part of Order Maintenance was the Consequence Review Board. Once rules were broken, they had to assemble and discuss what reparations had to be made or what privileges had to be withheld. In the most extreme circumstances, they also had to decide if a call to the supecity Beacon Hills had to be made. While they tried to handle everything internally, they still had to check with the Alpha Prime when they wanted to kick someone out of the dome.

Exile was rare and, for the most part, the Hale representative came in with the intent to dissuade the process. But of the seven times Stilinski had to call them, all seven of them had been warranted and all seven of them had been exiled. Even so, those decisions weighed on his dad a lot. Everyone knew exile was basically a death sentence when you were human.

Medical Wellness was where Scott’s mom worked. When Stiles and the rest of his peer group were sixteen and in need of internships, Medical Wellness was where Scott went. He still had strong ties there and would go help out, even though it was no longer required by their curriculum.

Medical Wellness workers worked all over the place. They worked with farmers to grow basic plants with medicinal properties. They also worked with scientists with new medical findings and planned how to best implement these things in their localized area. They worked with teachers, peace keepers, supes—damn near about everyone, actually.

Melissa herself tended to focus more on people and their injuries and sicknesses. Alan Deaton, on the other hand, tended to focus on the turned shifters under the dome. When he was interning, Scott worked with both of them and had a particularly friendly rapport with Deaton, who wasn’t the most openly amiable person in the world. Stiles knew this was true—he met the guy.

The fourth and final career field was Liaison Development. No one wanted to be in Liaison Development, not if they had half a brain. As far as Stiles was concerned, Liaison Development was a fancy way of saying “werewolf chewtoy”. Officially, though, the career was centered on establishing and maintaining a strong connection between the species. While no entry level position was glamorous, the entry Liaison Development position was cleaning out bitten were cells while they were sedated.

Thing is, the sedatives didn’t always work and even the kindest bitten shifter didn’t like people invading their den. Accordingly, this field had the highest mortality rate and least stability.

The only draw of the field that Stiles could think of came with advancement. Once you went up a few ranks, you got to go out and visit other supecities and domes and discuss the various issues surrounding the bitten shifter’s transition into society.

Once, a long long time ago, Stiles might have been drawn by that, but… not anymore.

See, Order Maintenance was tethered, anchored to the dome. Once you were in, you were in. You didn’t move, you didn’t get taken. You stayed. And Stiles really needed that right now.

Stilinski wasn’t that old, but Stiles could start to see him slow down. Things had gotten rough after his mom died (a wall fell, no one could have predicted it). Stiles was very aware that, after that rough patch, he’d become his dad’s reason to be in life.

How could he go gallivanting around the continent—and, god, maybe even the wide empty world—when his dad needed him so much? Sure, Stiles could send in a request, stretching out the amount of time he had until he was expected to start working—or, better yet, when his work expected him to leave. He could even stretch it into bereavement leave, if he worded it right, but the fact of the matter is that they expected him to work at some point.

No, the best solution was to stay local, stayed tethered. He was invested in keeping his father alive for a long, long time.

-

Stiles had been studying his butt off for the last four years for this one placement exam. He knew exactly how many he needed to get wrong, how many he needed to get right, and which questions required crucial answers. There was absolutely no way he was bombing this test.

And, because he was an awesome friend, he also learned and fed Scott all the answers he needed to slam dunk Medical Wellness—answers that, for reasons beyond Stiles, seemed elusive to Scott at that very moment.

Stiles was trying to lead Scott through a study session. They only had a few days before exams, but Scott’s mind seemed a million miles away.

After his fourth missed question, Stiles slapped his hand against the study room table. “Come on, man! It’s C! It’s always C.” Stiles was met with a chorus of shushing noises all around the room.

Scott looked miserable. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m just distracted.”

“Are you kidding me? What is more important than the test that will define the rest of your life?”

They weren’t even considered adults until they took the test. Stiles may have been approaching twenty, but his dad was still signing everything for him, still legally the boss of him, something that wouldn’t change until he’d been placed in his career.

Scott pulled on his hair, an anxious gesture Stiles hadn’t seen in years. Then, abruptly, he was blurting out, “They’re not letting Allison take it!”

What?

-

On top of being Lydia’s best friend, Allison Argent was Scott’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. They were more off than on these last two years, but they didn’t stop being close, being friendly.

And, of course, Allison was Stiles’ friend too. How could she not be? Allison was awesome. While their relationship wasn’t like her and Scott’s or her and Lydia’s, it was pretty good. Calm. Easy. Friendly with a lot of give and take.

That was how he knew she’d forgive him with the way he started their next conversation.

You’re on probation?”

Allison paused mid-chew. She was sitting in one of the common areas between their living units, a book on one knee and a sack lunch on the other. She finished the bite of the sandwich and swallowed before saying, “Yes? So?”

Stiles stared down at her in disbelief. Then, with a groan, he collapsed into the chair next to her.

“I’ve been on probation since I was fifteen,” she said mildly, flipping a page. “This is not news.”

“But that wasn’t even you,” he mumbled at his chest, agitated.

Probation wasn’t something the Consequences Review Board put you on. No, the only way you got on probation was if some higher up supe put a big x mark on your record. You had to do something pretty heinous to get put on probation, and probation usually meant you were on the cusp of being exiled.

Stiles sunk lower in his chair, scowl deepening. Those bastards up in the supecity let an ax like that hang over Allison’s head for four freaking years. And it wasn’t even her fault.

Five years ago, one of Allison’s relatives did something so bad and so awful that all of the Argents were kicked out of all the domes. No one knew the details, but they did know that Allison had been kicked out of the GreaterSanFran dome with her mother and father.

Because of the Event, she soon became deathly ill. Her father petitioned the nearest supecity, Beacon Hills, for months on end, begging them to let Allison back in. Finally, they relented, bringing her to the Beacon Dome.

She made quite a sight when she was carried in—pale, unconscious, and thin as a rake. It was only when she was given a series of Lupa Shots that she regained a little of her health.

Once she could stand, the first thing she tried to do was dig a hole under the force field. Naturally, Scott fell in love at first sight.

Love, right? Love was weird. But he guessed it was always weird when you were the one looking in.

In any case, Allison and Scott still felt very strongly about each other. Stiles didn’t know if Scott was in love with her anymore or if he just plain loved her, but his loyalty to her had no equal. He’d follow her to the edge of the earth—and over, if needed.

There were times where Stiles was jealous of that, where he wished he was the one with that kind of relationship, but it never seemed to materialize. He’d had that crush on Lydia, of course, but she pulverized him when they were fifteen—which was probably good for them in the long run.

Then the Tates transferred to their dome with Malia. Stiles and Malia had a brief heated thing going on before it was suddenly revealed that Malia wasn’t human. They knew she was adopted and knew who the mother was, but apparently the identity of the father wasn’t made clear until an eighteen year old Malia sprouted fur and fangs in the middle of an argument.

Jackson liked to make fun of Stiles for not knowing his one serious girlfriend was a werecoyote, but Stiles couldn’t even bring himself to react, negatively or positively. He was just sort of numb, still shocked in a way. All he could remember was Malia’s angry, twisted face as she fought off the three supe representatives sent to collect her—her last angry shout.

“Why can’t you just leave us alone?!”

That was the last time he ever saw her.

Stiles’ jaw tightened at the memory, a rush of anger making his skin flush.

Danny. Lydia. Malia. And now Allison. Damnit.

Stiles covered his eyes. “What are you going to do?” he asked dully, because there was no point asking. You did whatever the Alpha Prime wanted you to do, be it good for you or bad.

Allison hummed softly, turning another page. “I guess I could just… leave?”

She phrased it so flippantly, Stiles had to look at her for a moment. She was looking at her book, but her lips were pursued in a casual considering way, like she was trying to decide between a green apple and a red one.

There was a long pause. Then, slowly, Stiles said, “No, you can’t. It’s impossible.”

“Is not,” she sang softly. “Do you know the love story of the boy and the fox?”

Stiles made a face. It was an urban legend. Twenty years ago, a teenage boy stood on one side of the GreaterSanFran dome, looking out past the protective force field at the world he would never touch. On the other side, a fox stopped walking and looked back at him. They stared and stared at each other until the boy’s friends called him back.

Afraid for him, his parents forbade him to go there ever again, but the boy couldn’t stop thinking about her. And she apparently couldn’t stop thinking about him, because each night after, the boy and fox came to the same spot on opposite sides of a glowing blue force field, just to see one another.

They met each other in secret for weeks, sharing dreams and secrets deep into the night. Then, one day, the boy never came back. Everyone scoured the dome up and down, but he was nowhere to be found. It was thought that he found a weak spot in the force field and escaped outside to join his fox. Or that she found it and led her human out.

The story traveled, like most stories do. Parents shared it to talk about the dangers of wandering too close to the outside world and of the bad things that happened when you didn’t follow the rules and stay away from the force field. They tried to spin it like a horror story—this evil fox creature that preyed on a good natured teenage boy—but most people thought it was romantic—two very different beings refusing to let laws and advanced technology to stand in the way of their bond.

Stiles didn’t know which interpretation to believe.

All he knew was that, if some lovesick boy accidentally found a way out, then sweet, smart, cunning Allison would have no trouble doing the same. Compared to the bitter sick child that tried to escape, she was older, smarter, and more motivated now than ever.

“Don’t drag Scott with you,” Stiles said at length.

“I would never,” Allison said hushed, protective. She shot him a reproachful look. Stiles smiled dimly, reaching out and patting her arm. Allison was good people. There was a lot of loyalty there, a lot of love for Scott.

There was no such thing as love for him. There was Scott. There was his dad. That was it.

And that was okay.

-

Two days after every qualifying nineteen and twenty year old took the Career Placement Exam, the results came in.

“I’m going to be an awesome adult, just you wait!” Stiles called out to his dad, excited. He shoved his feet into his shoes and made a beeline for their living unit’s front door.

“I’m still waiting,” was the dry response from the couch. Stiles came by his sarcasm honestly.

He stepped outside, rubbing his hands together. Now, see, the results were directly uploaded to their user accounts. They could access their accounts through the computation station in their living room, if they wanted, but most people preferred to make these sorts of things social events, huddling together in front of the large touch screen in the Home Union Building.

The HUB, as it was called, was usually a place of parties, get togethers, and celebrations. Weddings, naming days, birthdays, anniversaries—that sort of thing. Happy things, generally. But once every year and a half, it was swarmed by people displaying a whole lot of emotion—pride, despair, disappointment, happiness, hopelessness. Some people talked about prospects loudly and with strain. Other people laughed and clapped hands with everyone around them.

Stiles inched his way through the lively mob already present in the HUB, pushing his way to the screen. He looked around, trying to see where Scott was. Oh well.

Too impatient to wait for his friend, Stiles quickly scrawled out his family name in his patch of the touch screen, swaying with the rough shoves of shoulders of other would-be adults.

In front of his nose, his family’s account popped up, listing family members. With years of experience, Stiles forced himself to look over his mother’s grayed out name and picture until he found his own profile and clicked it open.

After inputting his passcode, he scrolled through the old files. Behavior assessment, blah, public documents, double blah. Health reports were stacked with grade reports and grade reports with teacher comments. All were organized by year. Then, at the very bottom, under the current year, a file called “Career Placement Assessment – Results” rested under a baker’s dozen of teacher complaints about his disruptive behavior, intermittent motivation, and, strangely enough, “his annoying need to prove himself, even if only as an idiot.” Three guesses who that came from.

Ignoring the complaints—for now—Stiles tapped on the new file twice quickly, waiting for the results to load.

When they did, Stiles grinned wildly, silently pumping his fist in the air.

ORDER MAINTENANCE – PROJECTED COMPETENCE: 99%

He hadn’t doubted it, but he had feared it. Career heads could influence these scores a little and, while he didn’t think his dad would deliberately sabotage him, he knew more than a handful of people were groaning right now, realizing they had to work with him. Pleased with himself, Stiles scrolled around, checking out his scores for the other fields (medical, 15%; resource, 63%; liaison, less than 0.1%, ha!), knowing that all was right with the world.

Stiles was distracted by his amazing and totally earned score by a loud sound of confused dismay in his right ear. Greenberg was next to him, staring up at his own scores, his profile lighting up his face. Naturally nosy, Stiles leaned back sneakily, looked at Greenberg’s profile.

The guy had somehow scored a solid 55 across the board. He’d gotten Resource Management in the end. Greenberg clapped his hands against his cheek and leaned in, staring at his results with his nose pressed up against the screen.

Stiles didn’t know why he was being so dramatic about it. You could petition your field choice if your score was low enough. Sure enough, a moment later, one of his friends was patting Greenberg on the back.

“Any field you want, you got. The world is your oyster!” his friend enthused. The reality was that the people in the field had more of a bearing on that final petition decision than anything else, but the white lie cheered Greenberg up.

Stiles got jostled again as more people tried to get access to the screen, so he closed his window, about ready to leave. Then, on an impulse, he swayed back to the screen and scribbled Scott’s family name over the surface.

The screen threw up Scott, Melissa, and, ugh, Rafael’s faces and names in response. Stiles tapped once on Scott’s goofy, shy expression, dancing from foot to foot as the picture resized and loaded a drop down password prompt. Pfft, security.

Stiles typed in Scott’s code and was let in. He quickly scrolled down until he found the results, double tapping to open them up.

The grin fell off of Stiles’ face.

LIASION DEVELOPMENT—PROJECTED COMPETENCE: 87%

-

“How the hell did you do so well on the answers I never gave you?” Stiles demanded angrily, hands on his hips.

Scott was lounging on the couch in his living unit, somber but not overly distressed. He was flipping his asthma medicine back and forth between his hands. “I don’t know. It was just common sense stuff. Do you prefer interspecies harmony, yes or no? Rate your empathy for supernaturals, one being the lowest and ten being the highest.” He shook his head. “I mean, how was I supposed to answer that?”

By pretending you don’t have a heart!” Stiles bellowed, infuriated.

Scott just sighed, rolling his eyes. Breathing hard through his nostrils, Stiles paused, gritted his teeth. Then he tried a different tactic.

He lifted a hand, gesturing to the adjoining living unit. “Your mom is in there, crying. Why can’t you at least act like this worries you?”

That at least made Scott wince, a guilty look passing over his face. Still, though, he said, “It sounds like you two are worrying enough for me.”

Stiles covered his face with his hands. “God, I hate you.”

A thread of strain appeared in Scott’s voice. “You know, I did talk to Deaton about this. It’ll be fine. If I get on the right track, I can be sort of like him: one foot in Liaison Development, one foot in Medical Wellness.” Scott brightened. “He says I have the right skills and temperament. He’s even willing to mentor me!”

“Yeah, that’s if you even get past your first year without getting chomped on by some subhuman trash,” Stiles spat, starting to pace. How dare Deaton encourage this…

Scott was frowning again. “It’s not that bad. I’ve been over at the north wing, I’ve been through the rehabilitation center. Most of the people there are generally okay…”

“They’re there for a reason, Scott,” Stiles said impatiently, trying to rack his brain for a way out of this. “They’re bitten and they have zero control. One moment, they shaking your hand, the next they’re ripping it off.

Scott scowled at him in a rare show of temper. “Knock it off, Stiles.”

Stiles stopped, surprised. “I’m just-“

“No!” Scott’s voice was sharp, brooking no argument. He was actually mad at Stiles this time.

There was a pause. At a loss, Stiles found himself worrying at the hem of his plaid shirt. His shoes were ratty and his jeans had big holes in knees and ankles. When he started work, he would have to throw these away, switch out his kid clothes for the Order Maintenance beige.

Scott wouldn’t have to switch his clothes out at all. Liaison Development didn’t enforce a dress code. Why have uniforms for dead men?

“It’s about time we grew up,” Scott murmured, “don’t you think?”

Flustered, Stiles couldn’t think of anything to say and just flapped a hand wordlessly in his direction.

Scott pressed his advantage ruthlessly. “We live in a world where something in the air is actively trying to kill us. We’re an endangered species. We can’t-“ He swallowed audibly, throat clicking. “We can’t pretend that we can be safe, that the people we love won’t get hurt.”

Why not, Stiles thought. Why the hell not. But he couldn’t give voice to that thought, not when it was as effective as digging up a mountain with your bare hands.

Scott’s expression shifted, a soft smile pairing with the sad look in his eyes. “But, with this, I can do something good with my life, however long or short it may be. I can help the people that humans don’t like and werewolves don’t want to deal with.”

Stiles sputtered, protesting, “So you’re going to risk your life for subhuman-“

“Stop calling them that,” Scott said firmly. Stiles flinched, unused to being censored by Scott. Unused to criticism or unhappiness from Scott. Unused to… this, them standing on two different sides of an argument and being angry about it. “They’re people. I’m risking my life for people, and I can make their lives better. And I’m happy to do so.” After a beat, Scott looked down at his hands, mouth twisting grimly. “I just wish you were a little happier for me, that’s all.”

-

All the newly crowned adults of Beacon Dome now had careers and were set on their path to greatness—or so Dome Leader Thomas claimed during their advancement ceremonies. Whether or not that was true was yet to be seen. All any of them cared about was the break.

They were given the span of four weeks to officially “adjust” to adult life before moving into their career. Except no one was actually treating it like a transition period. Instead, they were treating it like a vacation—the last “hoorah”, as Stilinski liked to call it. People with extended families were petitioning to go to supecities or other domes. Some were planning parties right at the Beacon Dome. Some people were wrapping up extracurricular projects and yet others wasted the vacation away by sleeping all day. The older adults looked on fondly, remembering their own last hoorah.

Even with all the festivities around him, Stiles just couldn’t relax, and he couldn’t blame that on Scott. Well, not all of it. He was trying to be more supportive of Scott, but it was hard when Scott did stupid things like forgo his vacation to start early at his job. But then again, each day, Scott would come home, happy and enthused and full of stories and awe for people.

And, with each day that Scott came home, whole and content, Stiles let himself think that maybe, just maybe, this whole shitty situation would be better than he thought.

Not that everything was turning out okay in the end. Allison still hadn’t been allowed to take the exam, for example, and that was really frustrating for everyone involved. Stiles’ dad tried to talk to some supes in the government to get the probation taken off, but even he was stonewalled.

She’d had a little hope that Stilinski could fix it—just a smidge. When he too failed, Allison tried to take it in stride. She talked big, but her disappointment was as clear as day.

Then, one day, her upset, as subtle and hidden as it was, disappeared into smooth even serenity.

He wasn’t the only one who noticed. Lydia drifted away from her usual crowd to Stiles and Scott, lingering near the people who were around her best friend the most. With sharp intelligent eyes, the woman destined to rise to the top of the Order Maintenance career started watching Allison very, very carefully.

“She accepted it,” Stiles tried one day when the furrow between Lydia’s eyebrows reached new depths. “She’s calm.”

Lydia didn’t say anything. For a moment, Stiles thought she was going to do the thing where she pretended she couldn’t hear him. But then she tipped her head to the side. “Calm is what worries me,” she said at length.

Heart heavy with the memory of his conversation with Allison, Stiles started watching Allison too.

-

Thing is? He really should have been watching Scott.

-

Stiles heard Scott’s scream before he saw him. He burst into the medical wing three steps behind his dad, heart pounding and terrified. Stilinski had started running as soon as he saw the team of healers burst out of the north wing, and Stiles, who could only think of one person, chased after him.

Stiles was shaking and a bed was being pushed rapidly down the hallway. Scott was on it, half sitting and resisting the hands that tried to gentle him, to hold him down. His clothes were shredded. His expression was wild. He was drenched in blood—it was on his hands, his arms, his chest…

Scott was still screaming.

Stiles choked out a sob and tried to follow. Stilinski caught him around the waist, keeping him still.

“Not everyone who’s bitten turns,” his dad said, trying to reassure him. “Not everyone who’s bitten-“

Scott’s scream broke, then his eyes blazed gold.

The last thing Stiles heard before the doors swung close was an angry monstrous roar.

-

The next day, a series of announcements were broadcasted to the dome during breakfast. The harvest was coming along nicely. Due to the water shortage, they were cutting back everyone’s water rations. Scott McCall was injured last night and was currently recovering in the east medical wing. Allison Argent was missing.

Lydia was ashen faced and tight lipped, like her worst nightmares were coming true. She kept looking at Stiles, as if trying to find answers in his face, but Stiles just couldn’t…

He just couldn’t care. He liked Allison, he did, but her absence, once such a consuming thing, was no longer even a blip on his radar.

She chose to leave. She’d been planning to leave since she was a kid and he didn’t blame her. If there was one thing he could say, it was that it was lucky that she chose that day to leave. She wouldn’t have gone if Scott had gotten bitten just a few hours earlier. She would have stayed for him, escape itch or not. That wouldn’t have been fair to her. Not that anything was fair in this life, in this dome, in this cramped little world the wolves shoved them.

As whispers broke out across the six long tables that made up the communal dining room, Stiles grimly finished chewing through his eggs. He ignored the looks and most of the whispers, forcing himself to blur it all together into one indistinguishable lump.

He wasn’t successful. One voice refused to meld with the rest of the whispers—mainly because the owner didn’t bother with a whisper at all.

The owner was Jackson Whittemore. The guy was his age and pretty—like, really pretty. He had these ridiculously symmetrical looks, the kind usually only seen on statues. Problem is, he looked good and he knew it, and, although his arrogance had died down a lot in the last few years, he was still a complete and utter ass. Stiles couldn’t think of anyone less suited for the Medical Wellness field, but there he was.

“Yeah, well, I heard they’re going to put him on the frontlines,” Jackson was saying to his table. “Turn him into one of those mindless killing berserkers—can you believe we know a guy who’s going to be one of those?”

Stiles froze mid-bite, mind racing. Where did he hear that? Like Scott, Jackson had skipped the break and went straight to work. Did he-

Did he hear that while he was-

With weak legs, Stiles shoved away from his table, taking shaky strides to Jackson’s table. Everyone there was listening to Jackson with keen interest as Jackson told all how injured Scott was, how quickly Scott turned and injured others.

“What did you say?” Stiles said the second he reached the table. He felt ill.

Jackson stopped smiling when he saw Stiles. A complicated set of emotions flickered across his face before Stiles was stonewalled. “That wasn’t for you,” Jackson said gruffly, focusing on his cereal. “Stop eavesdropping, you mouth breather.”

One of his friends laughed, repeating ‘mouth breather’, but everyone went quiet when Stiles swiped Jackson’s tray right off the table. It hit the ground with a resounding clang, sending milk and grainy bits of cereal all over the floor.

“It’s not eavesdropping when you’re shouting it across the room,” Stiles said, his ears buzzing. “What. Did. You. Say.”

A deep flush was forming over Jackson’s face. He looked humiliated and angry and guilty at the same time, and the longer people stared at him, the more the humiliation grew. Finally, he snapped, “I said they’re going to put your precious McCall on the front lines! That’s what they do to all the bitten. It’s the only use for a bitten werewolf that can’t control itself. Subhuman trash!”

Stiles stumbled back a step, his chest tight and his head pounding. His vision started to gray around the edges.

Jackson looked everywhere but at Stiles, ears bright red. Then, with forced casualness, he turned to the person next to him and said in an undertone, “Can you just imagine McCall on the front lines? He’d be all-“ He started clutching his chest and gasping, pretending to have an asthma attack.

Stiles lifted his gaze, head pounding with people’s laughter. Laughing, laughing, everyone was laughing. And who was in the middle of it? Who was soaking in the ill-gotten attention?

“And he’d- and he’d- he’d probably fight with his elbows-” Jackson said, demonstrating to the glee of his friends. “And then apologize afterwards. Really, he’s going to be so pathetic-”

Stiles went straight for Jackson’s throat.

-

They both went in front of the Consequences Review Board that afternoon—Stiles with a black eye, Jackson with a split lip and a bruised throat. It wasn’t the first time he’d been in front of them, far from it, but those were for childhood offenses, the ones that didn’t go on his record.

This was definitely going on his record.

They had both violated ordinances of their position. Jackson violated a specific one regarding patient’s right to privacy while Stiles violated a general one regarding disrupting the public’s peace. And because violence was involved, they were both being charged with five days suspension from their respective positions.

Stiles hadn’t even started work yet and he was already in trouble.

The board was seated at a table, five people strong. In front of them was Stiles and Jackson, both on separate chairs ten feet away from each other.

Lorraine Martin read out the preliminary punishments for the both of them based off of the objective evidence obtained—5 days suspension, one black mark each. She sat down, then looked to the left.

Myers cleared his throat, looking ill at ease, as usual. “Would you like to argue your case?” He tapped an impatient anxious beat on the side of his table.

There was a wrath inside of Stiles that kept mounting higher and growing bitterer and bitterer. Stiles knew he should argue his case, try to talk down the punishment so it wouldn’t look as bad on his record, but rage made his jaw wire shut. Stiles hated all of them at that moment, even Lydia’s grandmother.

Scott was a great guy. The best of guys. Sweet, open hearted, good natured, and just so freaking… good. And yet everyone was just sitting around with their hands in their lap as his best friend was being sacrificed as cannon fodder for a war that no one really seemed to understand. Yeah, Stiles hated them all.

“Guess not,” Myers said. “Alrighty then. The punishment for Jackson J Whittemore and, uh, Stiles Stilinski are-”

“Wait,” Jackson said suddenly. “I want to argue.”

Of course he did. Stiles rolled his eyes, sighing as loudly as possible before slouching in his chair. Jackson glared at him, standing, before turning back to the board.

“In private.”

After brief hushed conference with each other, the board acceded to his request.

-

Fifteen minutes later, Lorraine poked her head out the door and quietly asked him to come back inside.

Jackson was still sitting in his seat, but now he had an elbow on his knee and his face in his hand. Argument couldn’t have gone well, Stiles figured.

As soon as Stiles took his seat, Myers cleared his throat and started again. “So. Jackson J Whittemore, the punishment for you is five days suspension and a mark on your record. As usual, during these five days, you will be expected to report to Dome Leader Thomas to complete five days of wageless community service. Also, as you know, that mark will be counted against you when it comes to promotion time.”

Jackson ducked his head, his jaw tightening.

“And you, Stiles Stilinski, the punishment for you is three days suspension. Please report to Dome Leader Thomas to complete your three days of wageless community service. Dismissed.”

Stiles stood up immediately. “Wait, what?” he demanded. Jackson was already out the door.

“Three days,” Lorraine said. “Community service. Wageless.”

“I don’t understand,” Stiles said, approaching their table.

“The case Jackson wanted to argue was yours, not his,” she said, eyebrows rising. “You’re dismissed, Stiles.”

-

Stiles looked at his account later, reading the uploaded case document, scouring the brief summary for any clues to what the hell Jackson must have said to them in those fifteen minutes Stiles was out of the room.

Jackson had gotten two days and the black mark off his record by arguing that it was a grief-related incidence, but how he did so was not included in the file. And Jackson was avoiding him like the plague.

It was probably best that he did.

-

As soon as they gave him the green light, Stiles went to go see Scott.

Scott was on the third floor of the north wing, Beacon Dome’s very own rehabilitation center for new shifters. He was the seventh cell down.

“Jeez, don’t call it that,” Scott said sheepishly. He looked clean and settled, not an injury in sight. He was wearing his own clothes (for scent purposes, Stiles’d learned), so the rest of his surroundings—sterile and white—seemed odd in comparison to the familiar threads.

“Well, what else am I supposed to call it, dude?” Stiles replied, gesturing at the surroundings behind Scott. “I mean, bright lights, shitty narrow bed, toilet, and a sink, all within… what are the dimensions? Ten inches by ten inches?”

“You’re hilarious,” Scott said flatly.

“Not to mention whatever the hell this is,” Stiles continued, approaching the cell. He lifted a hand, reaching towards Scott. Before he could fully extend his arm, his palm hit invisible resistance. The harder he pressed, the more visible it became, showing up as faintly blue masses with spider-web etching. Stiles pulled his hand back, frowning, and all sign of the barrier disappeared.

“It’s a force field. It’s actually cool,” Scott said with a smile. “There’s this machine that catches the waste energy from the dome force fields and rechannels it inside this building.” He knocked on the barrier, sending flashing blue bursts out with every touch. “It’s werewolf-proof.” His smile dimmed a little. “It’s also a contained environment.”

“Contained? Like the dome?” Stiles didn’t understand that. The air here was already clean and pathogen free.

“Except it keeps the bad air in,” Scott said, shrugging. “It’s Aconite 352. It’s a synthetic strain of wolfsbane. It’s mildly poisonous to humans in small doses, but it keeps werewolves… calm.”

“Look at you. Dropping all these facts.”

Scott ducked his head shyly, rubbing the back of his head. “Well, these things are important to know,” he deflected.

Stiles dropped his gaze. “You would have been so good at your job,” he muttered, then looked up again, wondering if he had crossed a line.

“Yeah,” Scott said bleakly. He brightened up a fraction. “But, um, if I find control, I can still do it. At least from the other side. Limits the tracks I can join, but I- I can still be useful.”

There was a hopeful note at the end of that sentence, one Stiles couldn’t bear to snuff out. So he nodded reassuringly, remembering what Jackson said and biting down on his cheek. There was only one use for Scott.

Scott… Scott was not a fighter. Scott was gentle and sweet and… he’d fight if he had to, but he wasn’t made for war. War would kill him. Becoming a berserker would kill him. There had to be a way around this. Stiles just needed to find it.

Scott clapped his hands. “So. How is everyone? Did they let Allison take the test yet?”

Stiles was momentarily speechless. “I, uh. No?”

Scott cocked his head to the side. “Is that a question or a statement?”

Stiles blew air out of his lips, lifting one shoulder awkward. “Well, see, it’s like this-” But Stiles stopped mid-sentence. How the hell were you supposed to tell your locked up best friend that his close friend/ex-girlfriend jumped ship into the wild and the lethal unknown?

Scott’s face suddenly was very still. “Why hasn’t she visited me?” he asked, voice faint.

Stiles rubbed the back of his neck, uncomfortable and staring at his shoes. “I… well. It’s kind of-”

“What. Happened,” Scott rumbled. Stiles looked up to see Scott’s face was flushed, his blood pressure rising. “I know how many people are in this dome. Why aren’t there enough heartbeats?” His eyes narrowed further. “And why is yours racing?”

“Scott…” Stiles said slowly, dread tightening his throat. Then he leapt back on instinct as Scott slammed his fists against the force field, forcing it to bend.

WHERE IS SHE.

For the first time, Stiles saw the monster lurking under his friend’s face.

-

Stiles hid like a coward for the next few days, playing and replaying that lightning fast shift in his head. His nights were tormented, too. He snapped out of bad dreams more than once, heart pounding as he tried to erase the image of Scott at the end of his bed, claws digging in Stiles’ thighs, nightmare face contorted in so much rage.

Why are you lying to me?” He’d snarl, and then there would be pain—so much pain.

He received a letter from Scott a day after the encounter—a written one, mostly because it wasn’t a good idea to have a delicate computation device in the same room as a wolfy rage monster. He’d gotten through one line of Scott’s shaky writing, apologizing and pleading for him to come back, before he had to set it aside and put his head between his knees. He couldn’t breathe and he felt sick to his stomach. Scott hadn’t done a damn thing to him, but he was still so, so scared.

And he hated himself for it.

He’d harbored a general mix of irritation and mild fear towards shifters—and werewolves in particular—for his entire life, but never such a specific fear. Never such a gut wrenching one either, because Scott? Scott was his brother, man. And Scott needed him now more than ever.

But every time Stiles tried to go to the north wing and the center, he would break out in cold sweat, dizziness making him take a knee.

He tried every day. He failed every day.

Today was different. Today, he saw a man making his way towards the rehabilitation center, too much deadly predator grace in his stride for him to be a mere human. He wore a jacket with Hale insignia sewn boldly on the back.

There was only one reason for someone like that to be here. There was only one reason for someone like that to be going there.

A bolt of adrenaline shot through him and suddenly he found himself sprinting at the man, panicking and desperate.

The wolf, of course, noticed and paused just outside the door to the center, one eyebrow raised. He had cool blue eyes and light brown hair. While not all that tall, the man was nevertheless powerfully built with a thick neck and way of walking that suggested that he was used to people looking down at the floor when he was around.

“Yes?” the man intoned with dark humor.

Stiles hunched over, lost for breath. He lifted a quelling hand, trying to catch it.

“You’re- You’re-” Stiles swallowed around the dry lump in his throat. “You’re Peter Hale.”

After Talia mocked him for not knowing what she looked like, Stiles made sure to make himself familiar with the unfairly attractive mugs of their wolfy overlords—overlords who were surprisingly cagey about photographs, mind you. For example, everyone and their mother knew that Talia Hale had three children, but two of them were never named or photographed.

Only Laura was named and only Laura was photographed—once as a bright eyed young adult, perpetually smiling, and once as a sleek, thin faced hunter with shadows in her soul. The war had ripped the smile off of her face in three short years, the same years she’d risen to the top of the region’s hunting parties. She was the second most powerful person in the west.

And if she was the leader of all the region’s hunting parties, then Peter was the supplier of both bodies and supplies. There were plenty of pictures about Peter. Plenty of stories, too. Peter came across as the kind of guy who liked to run things from the sidelines. He was a puppeteer, a manipulator. There were a lot of rumors and gossip and speculation about what he was up to, but, so far, nothing seemed to stick.

“Well?” Peter seemed less amused now and more impatient.

Stiles stared him down, straightening to his full height. “I will do anything to keep Scott McCall out of the war and off of the front line.”

After a beat, Peter cocked his head. “What on earth are you talking about?” He said softly, brows pulled together in confusion. When Stiles just sputtered at him, Peter rolled his eyes. “Humans are so oblivious.” He started walking again, waving a dismissive hand at Stiles. “Go home, kid.”

“I’m serious!” Stiles hurried after him, irritation mounting. “What do you want in exchange? What will keep him safe?” Peter ignored him. Stiles stopped mid-stride, outraged. “Hey, I’m talking to you, you mangy mutt!”

Peter stopped so quickly, he almost stumbled. Then he was ducking his head, huffing out a small laugh.

When he turned around, his eyes were red and his teeth seemed twice the size. Stiles froze, breath caught up in his throat. He didn’t move, even when Peter strode back towards him, every step measured and aimed to intimidate.

Peter stopped in front of him, brushing off an imaginary bit of fluff off of Stiles’ shoulders, taking his time. Stiles was hyperaware of the prickle of claws against his arm, the open vulnerability of his neck, stomach, chest—his everything.

“Why do you even care?” Peter murmured at length, his voice so, so soft and so sure. “He’s not one of yours anymore. He’s one of mine.”

Stiles had never hated someone so much in his entire life.

“Funny, didn’t think I had to explain pack to a werewolf.”

Peter blinked once, slow. And then, to Stiles’ relief, he pocketed those lethal, lethal claws, leaning back on his heels. “You’re an isolated, coddled little child of a species that is no longer relevant,” he commented lightly. Despite this dismissal, he still sounded like he was humoring Stiles, somehow. “What makes you think you know what I need right now?”

“I think you’re in a war you can’t sustain against people you can’t take out, and your allies are just waiting for you to crash and burn.” Stiles swallowed past the lump in his throat. “The last thing you need is another uncontrolled shifter on the front lines.”

Peter’s small smile winged into something dangerous. “That sounds…” He trailed off, menace bleeding out of his face. “That sounds vaguely like an argument I’ve made this week.” After a beat, he cocked his head to the side, looking at the building with a calculating expression. He seemed conflicted.

A few moments later, he looked back at Stiles with new eyes. “Anything, you said?”

-

Peter Hale left the dome without Scott that day.

“On my mother’s grave,” he said with a little too much relish, “I will make sure we never assign Scott to the front lines.”

There was a loophole there somewhere, some way Stiles was getting screwed over, some path that they were going down that benefited Peter somehow. That was the only explanation for Peter’s smirk. But, whatever it was, Stiles couldn’t find it and, at the moment, he couldn’t care less.

Scott wasn’t going to be tossed in the middle of a war. He wasn’t going to become one of Talia Hale’s berserkers. Stiles won this round.

But his triumph dimmed as the day went on. He wandered around his and his dad’s living unit, eyeing the computation station, revolving around it, hovering over it. Finally, he just gave up and sat in front of it, pulling up his profile and staring at it, chin in hands, waiting for that shift in his orders—away from the career he wanted and to the career he needed.

He sat there for a long time, refreshing his profile over and over. Once the letters rearranged, it hit him like a fist to the gut.

Stiles left the computation station to go try and remember how to breathe. He was now in Liaison Development, and he was assigned to the supecity Beacon Hills. He was expected to report for duty in two days.

Stiles stuck his head under the kitchen faucet, trying to drown out the roaring in his ears.

When he returned, Stilinski was sitting in his abandoned chair, staring at Stiles’ new orders with a bleak expression. Stiles froze. He hadn’t even heard his dad come in. But Stilinski was flushed, like he’d ran over the second the dome’s network of gossip hit his ears.

Stiles felt sick and guilty, knowing he’d left his dad on the lurch and left him learning the truth the worst way possible. Stiles hadn’t been the only one to want him to stick with an anchored career.

Stilinski noticed him then and tried to smile. “They don’t usually assign people so quickly to places,” he said before his eyes flicked back to the computation station. “Then again, Peter Hale rarely takes interest in humans.” Peter’s unique authorization code was in a blazing red, blinking like an accusation.

“Dad-“ Stiles started to say, but stopped. He had nothing to add.

There was a long pause. Then, strangely, his dad smiled, albeit sadly.

“You used to love the idea of magic and shifters,” he said at length. “You spent all of your sixth year pretending to be a dragon.” His gaze became troubled. “Then when that wolf refused to bite your mom-“

“She let her die,” Stiles snapped, the wound still fresh. If his dad was going to talk about his mom, he’d better say it like it was.

“It’s not that she wouldn’t, it’s that she couldn’t,” Stilinski said tiredly, rattling off an oft said sentence that meant little to Stiles anymore. He must have seen that, seen the rising anger in Stiles’ face, because he just sighed, rubbing a hand over his scalp. “I’m not sure this is the right decision for you, Stiles.” He looked back at the screen, jaw tight. “Unfortunately, it looks like I have no input on that matter.”

Stiles softened. He closed the space between them, resting a hand on his dad’s shoulder. “All I have to do is survive the first year. Then I’ll ask to come back.”

“It’s your life, son,” Stilinski said neutrally, still trying to smile.

No, it wasn’t. It was Scott’s.