Derek's sister had been the alpha, born to lead the pack in Beacon Hills once she'd reached whatever maturity was necessary to have that kind of power. Their parents had taught her everything and Derek had learned only by proxy, and only what Laura was willing to share. Sometimes, coming from the basement after lessons, she'd looked at him with a sadness that seemed entirely too raw to be anything their parents could have said.
He knew, of course, that his place in the pack was mostly forfeit if that day ever came. A male who'd never vie for the attentions of the female alpha, who couldn't stay because she loved him too much not to bring discordance into the ranks. Suitable unmated males were rare enough in California that his sister couldn't afford to refuse a guy she actually liked to spare her brother a lifetime of submission.
And then everything changed. They didn't think of pack as something that would be again, in those years after the fire, only as a thing lost and buried. Pack was the hole in their hearts, the shape of a burned house, the smell of scorched flesh.
“I'm going back,” Laura said one day, a look of fierce determination on her face. She'd run like the wind and sniff out whatever secrets she thought she needed to know. At first, Derek had let her go, trying to pretend that his heart didn't still beat to the sound of vengeance. He'd wanted to put it all behind him, had even started making connections with a few wolves who'd never heard of Beacon Hills.
But Laura called him twice, voice low and a little hollow, like whatever she'd found just made the burnt out shell of her heart finally crumble into dust. “I need you,” she'd said. And, “please.”
That was the last time he'd ever heard his sister's voice. The next time he'd seen anything of Laura Hale was the body. When he remembered her, when someone said her name, it was that last, quiet word that came to mind.
With the blood of the alpha still fresh on his claws, Derek knew two things: that nothing was more deserved, no death more satisfying, that Laura would be proud. And he knew with sudden, painful clarity, that he was utterly and completely fucked. No one had taught him what he needed to know, and he was about to make a series of mistakes that would probably destroy more than just his own life. He saw it coming and all he could do was greet it with fangs bared and the memory of his sister as a guiding light.
Some wolves were highly migratory, claiming huge, empty tracts of land, following their favorite prey across countries if necessary. Werewolves though, their prey had turned from deer and rabbit to microwave dinner and take out. Mostly. They settled where they could, hiding from humans in plain sight, living among them as neighbors and friends.
Those who would still travel hundreds of miles, thousands, sometimes aimless, sometimes with purpose, were often those who couldn't stay in one place too long, who killed blindly and left messy corpses, who made no difference between sheep and shepherd.
A few strays were easy to handle, and after Helen, an old alpha without a pack, and Josh and Gerald, two pups who could best be described as tourists, they all thought they knew how to handle whatever came to Beacon Hills, but they'd never had to deal with a migratory pack. They didn't know about war. None of them were prepared for what they would lose.
Derek sighed and handed Stiles an ice pack for his head. For some reason, Stiles managed to get himself hurt more than any of the others, and he didn't have the benefit of magical healing powers or Allison's preternatural luck. Everything stuck to Stiles like some kind of sticky stuff.
“You have to stop,” Derek said under his breath. He meant it to come out authoritative, but it detoured somewhere around worried and kind of broke down in the middle of the road.
Stiles, of course, never made things easy. “Stop what? Stop trying to save your life, because hey, I think I can do that, I don't really care all that much. I could totally stop doing that. Any time.”
Derek was exhausted, they all were. They'd been trying to find and stop the crazy wolf, or wolves, that had come in their territory and slaughtered their way through life stock and neighborhood pets. It was only a matter of time until they would branch to humans and the hunters knew it, too. So between the interlopers and the Argents, Derek's new family had been fighting tooth and claw for nigh on two weeks, fraying at the edges.
“I don't want you out there with us,” Derek said. It was the truth but he knew Stiles would take it the wrong way, would deduce the wrong reasons. That was the plan anyway. Get Stiles to stay safe by triggering his self-esteem issues. He'd sort of promised Scott to keep the kid safe, but that wasn't the reason for that, wasn't why he stared with something like fear and anger at the fingers pressing the ice pack to Stiles' head where a rather spectacular bump had already formed.
Stiles huffed, tucked his knees closer to his chest. He wasn't usually the kind to go for protective body language, always expansive, always in motion. It was working. Derek hated himself a little. “Look,” Stiles said, “I can pull my weight. Next time some asshole swings at me with the barrel of a gun, I'll duck, promise.”
Derek growled. “It's too dangerous for a human.”
Stiles head shoots up, an outraged fire in his eyes. “You let Allison fight for you. You even let Danny come along three nights ago, remember? He tracked that red-furred little bastard with his iPhone.”
True, but then those two were different. “Allison stays out of the way and she can shoot a moving target from a hundred paces.” And Danny wasn't pack, didn't make Derek want to kill with extreme prejudice if he was threatened. He liked the boy fine and would protect him, but he wasn't his responsibility, not like Stiles was. As much as Derek disliked that thought, he knew Stiles would hate it more.
“I can do... stuff.” Stiles had to know how pathetic he sounded, because he winced as he said it. “I just worry, okay? I can't not be there, I can't sit at home waiting to get a call about how my best friend got ripped to shreds by a rival wolf or shot in the head by rogue hunters. I have to be there.”
Derek understood that better than he had words to express. If he'd gone with Laura, if he'd been at home the day of the fire, maybe things would have been different. He might be dead, sure, but there was the faint chance that his presence could have changed things enough to-
“Hey, who came up with the plan the trap our new friends in that abandoned mine, huh? Me, that's right. I'm useful.” Stiles looked not quite sure himself, but he said it with the same cock-sure bravado that got him into trouble and out of it on a daily basis.
Derek closed his eyes to keep the headache at bay that inevitably crept up on him whenever he tried to understand the way Stiles' mind worked. He rubbed his knuckle over his temple, hoping the pressure would make this conversation less painful. Yeah, right. “The mine that half the pack was stuck in for the better part of a day? Yes, I do remember.”
“So it didn't work,” Stiles allowed. “That's hardly my fault, now is it? Trust Scott and Jackson to completely fail at basic physics.”
If Derek hadn't been afraid that Stiles might have a concussion, he might have slapped the back of his head. “You don't need to be out there with us to make plans.”
Stiles reacted as if Derek had slapped him anyway. “Yes, I do. Don't you get it? I haven't got anything else. Maybe I should have taken your uncle's offer, maybe being a wolf would have made me good enough to be a part of this little group, but I didn't and now if I'm not out there doing my part I might as well... aside from my dad, everyone I ever cared about who's still alive is in the living room right now planning how to bait a wolf pack. I need to be here, Derek, you can't take them away from me.”
Stiles agitated little speech would normally have brought out the worst in Derek. They seemed to always do this to each other, poking at little wounds and testing the limits of their frustration. But Derek only blinked, mind looping over the words “your uncle's offer” like sounding them out in his head would make them make sense.
“My uncle... he offered...”
At least Derek's confusion derailed whatever argument Stiles had been about to work himself up to next. “I- what? I thought you knew? When he made me track you down, just before he let me go, he offered to make me a part of his pack, all creepy and- and- like, seductive. Trying to get into my head or whatever.”
Bile gathered at the back of his throat and Derek heard his own blood rushing through his veins. “He offered you the bite, which you refused, and then he let you go?”
Stiles cocked his head, suspicion replacing the self-pity from before. “Why is this important? He said he liked me, maybe it was even true, since he didn't kill me on the spot. Probably he kept me around to make sure Scott wouldn't bail on him. I'm sure it made sense in his fucked up brain.”
Derek's hand shot out to grab Stiles' wrist almost of its own volition. “Why?” Derek pressed out, unable to specify whether he meant “why did my uncle ask you”, or “why did you refuse”, or even “why did he let you go”, mostly because he couldn't figure out which one he most wanted to know or whether he wanted an answer to any of them.
Stiles tugged at his wrist, but didn't break the hold. Testing. “Why what? Why would I refuse such a generous gift and then moan about how I can't keep up? I thought about it, I really did. And he was right, you know, some part of me, some small ridiculous part really wants it. I want to be stronger and faster, I want to smell and see and hear things that no one else can, because maybe, just maybe, the next time my dad has a gun in his face or- or- maybe if I'm strong enough or fast enough, no one else I love ever has to die.”
Stiles unfolded himself, no longer defensive. There was anger in the line of his body and the fear Derek could smell did nothing to deter the teen. “Stiles-”
“No,” Stiles said, close enough to breathe the same air. He smelled like the cold pizza they'd all eaten for lunch. “You listen to me, because this is a life or death thing and you need to stop thinking about it like you just need to wear down my defenses. I can't be a werewolf. I've seen what it does to Scott, how much concentration it takes. I can't do that. I've been on Adderall as long as I can remember and on a good day my mind goes three ways at once, drifting off to weird places I can't control. I might get withdrawal symptoms or panic attacks and what then? I'll kill someone, I kill my dad? That can't happen, ever. I'll claw my own throat out if I have to.”
Knowing exactly what that's like, unable to trust himself, wanting to die rather than hurt anyone he loved, coming out the other side having lost everything and gained nothing, Derek nodded. “Okay.”
Stiles flailed a bit, wind taken out of his sails. “I- okay? Just like that?”
“I can swear if you want. I won't turn you or let any of the others do it.”
Stiles swallowed. “Alright, okay. Yeah. That's- that's good. That's great.”
But Derek wasn't finished quite yet. “If you insist on coming with us, you need to learn to defend yourself.”
Hand to hand training with Derek was brutal and Stiles kept asking himself how he had come to make these life choices, how he'd ended up being pounded into floors and slammed into walls and kind of liking it. But he got better at it, learned to duck and weave out of the way, learned to turn the strength and momentum of his enemies against them.
It was a crash course, both literally – the walls of Derek's house would never recover – and figuratively. They didn't have much time until the rival alpha would try again and this time it would be the decisive strike. One more fight, one more chance to shine or really make an ass of himself. So far, Stiles had helped mostly by being bait and distracting the right people at the right time. Maybe now things could be different.
“I think I'm really getting good at this,” Stiles said, from the floor, where Derek had just dropped him for the third time in a row, with the same damn move.
Derek grunted. It wasn't much of an answer, but Stiles would take what he could get. As long as he wasn't being obviously threatened with dismemberment, they were probably doing well. His werewolf communication skills were getting more awesome by the hour.
“No, seriously,” Stiles said as he clambered to his feet. “I think I've gotten the hang of this.” He made the Matrix “come and get this” gesture because it felt appropriate and awesome in equal parts. Derek lunged at him, not wolfing out, but not holding back much either. Stiles let it happen, let the movements flow around him, for once not trying too hard. Derek went for the throat and Stiles dodged sideways, grabbing hold of the outstretched arm and pivoted further to slam his elbow into Derek's face. The resulting crunch was incredibly satisfying and Stiles let go, jumping with glee, before Derek even tumbled to the floor, looking dazed.
“Hah! I told you I could do it! I am so awesome, sometimes I surprise myself.”
Stiles was still in the middle of a celebratory air punch when his cheek hit the hard, dirty floor and Derek breathed above him, Stiles' arm turned painfully against his back. “You need to pay attention.”
Grumbling, Stiles tried to shake Derek off, but the werewolf was heavy and unmoving, his entire body like a huge vise. “I pay attention,” Stiles said, his words disturbing old dust. “I do, it's just, I get distracted.”
Derek's growl went bone deep, making Stiles shiver despite his plan to be less of a wimp when it came to this. He had no idea why he reacted more to Derek's threats than Peter Hale's or a hunter with a gun in his face, it simply happened.
“You get distracted out there, it's not just your own life on the line. We can't afford that. Do you understand?”
Stiles nodded, scraping his cheek along the coarse wood. That would hurt for a while, stubble burn without any of the fun that should come with it. Not that he thought about the fun potential of stubble burn much. It was just that on a scale from one to awesome, stubble burn had to be better than getting rubbed raw by the floor of a not-quite-abandoned house.
The irony, of course, was that this time, Stiles did everything right.
When the other alpha called them out, the pack was ready, or ready as they could hope to be. They were armed with fire grenades (thank you, Lydia) and Allison's bow, even Stiles and Danny each had a stick to beat people with if necessary. They were using Stiles' jeep as a mobile platform for the humans and the wolves kept pace with it as they entered enemy territory in the warehouse district.
Derek had been offended on behalf of his kind when it became clear that the rival pack was operating from the depths of the town, with not a tree in sight, but everyone else saw the sense in it. The warehouses and abandoned factories made for a labyrinth of walls and dead ends. Lighting was inadequate for humans, but werewolves would have a lot of shadows to hide in.
“It's unnatural,” Derek grumbled as they stood in front of the chain link fence that divided the industrial parts of town from the residential area right beside it.
Stiles rolled his eyes. “Welcome to the twenty-first century, Mr. Sourwolf. I bet they even have iPads.”
They invaded the enemy's territory with a lot less stealth than perhaps they should have, but Derek projected a certain injured pride about the fact that another pack was getting cozy in his town. It didn't sit right and subtle was not the way to deal with that kind of usurper. They burst into the deserted district with howls and the screech of tires.
Waiting for them were five snarling dogs, dressed up in biker leathers, with chains wrapped around their chests or arms for extra bad-ass points. Stiles couldn't help but laugh, it was just so ridiculous. These guys, these five vagabonds, had dared to come into their town and tried to stir up shit like it was a bad western. He laughed because these creepers had killed to draw out Derek, to draw out the pack, but in the light of orange street lamps, they were pathetic.
Even so, when the fighting started, Stiles knew better than to do anything but duck and run. He'd caught the attention of one of the little ones, a runt like him, but faster and stronger for being a wolf. He couldn't hope to get away, but that wasn't the plan. All he needed were fifteen seconds and a corner to slip around. The wolf at his heels, Stiles felt better than he had for days, he felt like finally things were working out in his favor. The hunt was exhilarating, prey or not. He stumbled past the alley where he knew Danny had laid their trap and cursed, scrambled backwards and almost fell right into the taut wire.
He vaulted over the line and slowed, walking into the dead end. He didn't need to act afraid, his instincts were taking care of that for him just fine.
The wolf laughed behind him. He sounded like the demented hyena from the first Lion King. “Come out, little mouse.”
Stiles laughed, too, nervous and high on adrenaline. “You know what your problem is? You wolves all live in the past, like some kind of medieval throwback. You think with your claws and your teeth and your frankly impressive muscles you are somehow better than us, but here's a hint, dude, we humans? We invented the freaking atomic bomb and the internet.”
The wolf did not seem impressed. Framed in the mouth of the alley, he looked like a comic book villain, one of the ones the Midnighter tore apart on the way to his little girl's kindergarten. Stiles grinned and waited for the trap to snap shut and snap shut it did. Magnificently. The nets were industrial strength fishing equipment Stiles had ordered online and they were worth every penny of Derek's mysterious money. The wolf made a strangled, whining sound, and while he was dazed Stiles jumped forward to catch his wrists in the handcuffs Stiles had stolen from his dad. Borrowed. Whatever.
“Hah,” Stiles said, fists pumping, “that's for calling me a mouse, Snoopy.”
As he crept out the alley, Stiles could see that the rest of the plan was going a little lopsided. Derek, facing off against the other alpha, had a nasty gash across his face and his skin was flapping in the wind. Yeah, uh, not good. Worse was the way Danny and Allison stood back to back, being circled by the two largest wolves, while neither Scott nor Jackson where anywhere in sight. Lydia had the last beta where he was supposed to be, but she hadn't managed to get the upper hand yet.
Stiles didn't have any weapons, other than the short, blunt stick they'd allowed him to have. Between him and Allison they should have had access to assault rifles and shotguns, but somehow the adults in their lives, other than Derek, were reluctant to let them anywhere near the heavy weaponry. Considering his freaking stick of mediocrity, maybe even Derek considered them too young to handle M4s responsibly.
So Stiles did what any teenager in his situation would – he hopped into his jeep and hit the gas, aiming vaguely for one of the betas circling his two most vulnerable friends. The standoff scattered and Stiles grinned as he came to a stop.
“Come with me if you want to live,” he said as Danny rolled his eyes.
With Allison and Danny marginally safer, the betas were going to pick a new target. Lydia had finally overcome the Billy Idol wannabe she'd been fighting, so now it was just the three biggest and baddest of the wolves. Great.
Both Derek and the rival alpha had shifted into their animal forms, a sleek black almost-wolf facing against a brutish, mottled monster that looked about as wolfish as Peter Hale had before his death. There was something wrong with the other alpha, something that made him more into the physical manifestation of evil rather than an animal. Derek, for all his lean muscle and speed, looked small and insignificant compared to his opponent.
Jackson and Scott had come back from whatever hit they'd taken before, a little roughed up but more angry for it, feral and dangerous. All three of them charged the alpha, barking out their anger and frustration. The alpha batted them away like flies, throwing them out of the cone of orange light and into the shadows.
Stiles felt his heart race, but for once his mind was clear, calm. His fingers tightened on the steering wheel, his knuckles showing white. “It's time,” he said, voice rough as if he hadn't used it in days.
In the rear view mirror he could see Danny shaking his head. “It's still a terrible idea. Derek is going to kill you.”
Stiles shrugged, watching as the alpha threw Derek and Lydia into a row of barrels, listening as they landed with a sickening thump. “Yeah, well, that's the risk we have to take. At least he'll be alive to try it.”
He looked to Allison, ready to defend his choices, to beg for her help if necessary, but her mouth was set in a thin line, determination written all across her face. “Allison?”
She gave him a horrid, brittle smile. “No worries,” she said, “I've got your back.”
While their pack was nipping at the alpha, the two remaining rival wolves circled the fight, waiting. The arrogance of their alpha was, perhaps, the only reason this was even still a fight at all. Even four against one, Derek and his pack were going to lose. Stiles could see it in the easy confidence of the two thugs, could see it in the way the alpha stood like a mountain.
Well, he'd told the alpha's little friend, brute strength wasn't all there was. They'd discussed the nets with Derek, even the grenades, but between him and Danny and Allison, they'd kept one small yet significant secret. Wolfsbane pellets. Amazingly potent, but really only a last resort. The thing to have in hand when a wolf was breathing right into your face. He and Danny had thrown them together in the chem lab after hours, coating them with anise to cover the scent of death. And when Scott kept trying to lick Stiles' hands afterward, they'd decided to seal them air tight until they were needed. Wouldn't do to get their own wolves killed by accident.
“Okay,” Stiles said, breathing ragged. He felt like he was about to do something seriously stupid again, something that would earn him that look from Derek that usually ended with a spot of manhandling or a slap to the back of his head. “Let's do this.”
He stepped out of the car, his gloved hand reaching into his jacket.
It was Derek's fault.
The fighting had worn him down, made him depend on his animal instinct more than human logic. He kept up their attacks against the alpha, but he knew deep down that this was going badly. He should get the kids to leave, hold these thugs off for as long as he could, give his pack a chance to escape. He should do a lot of things, but the animal rage in his veins made him slow and stupid, if not his body then certainly his mind. He noticed when the tide of the battle changed though, noticed when the smell of fear spiked not in his pack but in the alpha in front of him, a pungent, sour scent. The whining howls from the two betas made his fur prickle.
He looked around, confused, and found that Stiles' arm was stuck in a werewolf's muzzle up to his elbow. Enough blood dripped slowly down those off-white teeth that Derek felt something in his chest constrict with fear and a primal undirected rage. The look on Stiles' face though, that was something else, something unexpected. He looked triumphant, almost gleeful despite the pain. And then the wolf fell away, muscles going slack before convulsing on the ground, his jaw dripping pink foam and a terrible yelp coming from the depths of his chest. The sound of death.
Stiles grinned, vicious and entirely human.
Derek just stared. For too long a second he was rooted in place, both fear and a strange kind of arousal warring for dominance and leaving him breathless. They stared at each other, Stiles with a dying werewolf at his feet, Derek with an enemy at his back. Something happened between them, something odd and not quite good, but not bad either. A pack thing, a wolf thing, something he had no real framework for, no words to describe, because he'd never been meant to know.
The alpha barked his hatred into the night. Derek knew in that moment that he had made a mistake, had forgotten the lessons of his kind. Never turn your back on an enemy, not even a beaten one, not even for a second. Stiles' eyes widened, seeing what Derek could not, and then everything happened in stunning 3D technicolor slow motion.
Stiles barreled into Derek with enough force to push him out of the way, enough force to make him roll over his shoulder and land awkwardly on his hind legs, slightly dazed. The alpha snapped his jaws shut where Derek's throat would have been and bit down on Stiles' raised arm. Claws dug deep into the unprotected human torso as the two of them crashed to the ground, and why in hell hadn't they stolen vests along with the handcuffs?
Someone screamed, a sound that made Derek's blood freeze in his veins. An arrow hit the alpha in the shoulder. The magnificent beast raised his head from where he had been about to tear Stiles' face off. Pulling his claws from soft flesh with a wet pop, the alpha opened his jaws to howl revenge or premature victory. Derek tensed to launch himself at the alpha, tear him to pieces, but then Stiles yelled something garbled and threw a small object right into the open maw.
The alpha died with a look of surprise on his face.
Derek felt rooted, paralyzed, his animal nature not yet sure of their victory. Slowly, time seemed to pick up again, flow more freely around him, and the first thing he heard was Lydia.
“Oh fuck, his lips are going blue, we have to get him to a hospital right now.”
The reality of Stiles lying still and quiet in a pool of blood filtered into Derek's consciousness. The pack crowded around him, fluttering like butterflies. Scott, of course, Scott with a mother who was a nurse and a job at the vet's – Scott yelled and pushed and growled them into submission. Lydia brought out her phone from some hidden pocket and Danny ran toward the jeep.
Derek shook the fog from his brain, shook the wolf out of his skin, and took a deep breath. “Jackson,” he yelled, “you and Allison take my car, take the wolves to the house and lock them up. Meet us at the animal clinic.”
Scott looked at him, nodded, and lifted his best friend off the ground. His eyes never left Derek's as he spoke, not a hint of a question in his voice. “We'll call Dr. Deaton on the way. He should still be there but I'm not taking chances. Not with Stiles.”
Derek shivered and pulled the wolf back around him like a cloak, would call it modesty and lie. With Danny driving, the jeep was a cramped tin can of death, but they got where they needed to be fast enough to make a difference. All Derek would remember from that drive was Stiles' thready voice.
“This is it, isn't it? Good day to die and all that bullshit.” Wet coughs interrupted Stiles' train of thought, made him unfocused and more fragmented than normal. “Someone's got to tell my dad. Oh god, I'm going to die and he's going to be alone.” Then his eyes focused, for a too short moment, focused on Derek and for once there was no surrender to the wolf in their depths. “You'll take care of him and don't you dare argue. I die because you're an idiot, you got a life debt- huh, death debt? Some kind of debt.”
Stiles faded in and out through the rest of the ride, talking about his mother and the last time she'd made him french toast for dinner, because Stiles had always been weird about food, even as a child. And then, just as they were trying to maneuver him out of the jeep without jostling him too much, Stiles whimpered and said, “I want my dad,” before passing out completely.
Derek knew, even as he punched in the number on Scott's mobile, that this was another mistake, but not one he'd ever regret.
Years as Sheriff had taught him one thing: when the dispatcher was trying to spare is feelings shit was about to get rough. Even after the accident and with Stiles' behavioral issues, this was the call he never thought he'd get. Not because he had any illusions about the fairness of the universe, because that stopped being anything but a dream when the drunk driver, not a scratch on him, walked away from the crash that killed his wife. No, he never thought he would get this call, because it was goddamned surreal.
Dispatch gave him the address of the animal clinic, again, like he hadn't heard the first time. “It was that Hale kid; Derek. If you ask me, he's probably got something to do with it, whatever it is.”
But he didn't ask. He didn't need to ask. He still remembered how his son had admitted to maybe knowing Derek better than they'd let on, while Lydia Martin lay in a coma six feet away. Derek Hale had been at the center of everything bad that had happened in this town for the last six months, starting with the death of Derek's sister.
He rubbed his temple, speeding along the deserted road. Hale hadn't related much more than the basic necessities – that it involved Stiles and that the Sheriff's presence was needed immediately, no questions.
The vagueness of the information made his mind jump to the worst possibilities. His imagination provided all the ways Stiles could have gotten himself seriously hurt or killed, everything in a neat, clinical evaluation of horror. He couldn't stop, because if he stopped thinking he would have to start feeling and that would be worse.
Someone was waiting outside the clinic. As he brought his patrol car to a screeching halt, he recognized the Martin girl, Lydia. She looked exhausted, like she'd been crying. Dread crept up his spine and for a moment he wanted nothing more than to turn around, flee and never face whatever was hidden within those walls.
Lydia took his arm when he reached the door, not to lead or steady. She was holding him back. “Stiles is in there,” she said, her voice cracking a little. “He's alive, but he's been hurt. There is a reason why we're here and not at the hospital. Please, try to stay calm. Whatever you do, try to stay calm, all right? Do it for Stiles.”
Letting go of his arm, she opened the door and gestured him inside. She didn't follow.
He heard voices from the surgery, angry hisses and the yelps of a scared dog. Maybe, he thought, maybe Stiles was perfectly fine and this was all just a silly misunderstanding. He wouldn't even yell very much at them for freaking him out. Everything was going to be-
He noted the blood almost clinically, the way it pooled under the exam table before running down the drain. Stiles' wrist looked small and pale under the bright lights. A huge black dog sat in the far corner, almost invisible in the shadows. And Scott was-
“What the hell is going on here?”
Dr. Deaton, completely undisturbed in his work, gave Scott a short nod that released the teen from where he was holding on to-
Those insane fingernails left red marks on pale skin.
“Mr. Stilinski,” Scott said, and his voice sounded rough and deep and not entirely human. “Sir, please, you need to calm down.”
Calm, right. Because Scott didn't look like a dog in a mullet, and his son wasn't bleeding out on a vet's table.
He felt his heart thrum in his chest and the panic made him reach for his gun, not to draw, but for the knowledge it was there. The holster was empty and suddenly he felt stuck in a nightmare, sure that when he woke up Stiles would be okay and everything would feel utterly silly instead of this bone-deep horror.
Lydia's voice, distorted with the same animal filter as Scott's, came from somewhere behind him. “I may have taken a precaution. I apologize for that.” He didn't need to turn around to know that she had taken his gun.
He couldn't run. His escape was cut off and where would he go? Stiles was all he had. Stiles, who looked so pale. Stiles, who didn't move at all.
“Sir, he's going to be okay.” Danny, at least, seemed to be perfectly normal, no strange rumbling in his voice, no bad hair and teeth out of a dark fairy tale. Just a kid who was somehow involved in nearly getting his son killed.
Stiles. Fuck. This couldn't be happening.
“Someone better explain to me right now, or I swear to god I will not rest until every last one of you has paid for-”
Dr. Deaton, the man whose hands were still drenched in his son's blood, calmly walked up to him and punched him in the mouth. “Stop yelling, you fool. Your panicked shrieking isn't going to fix this any more than these idiots will.”
From his vantage point hunched against the doorjamb, the Sheriff could finally see clearly. He saw the rage in the doctor's eyes, the guilt and pain in the set of Scott's shoulders. He could smell the metallic tang of blood.
“Please,” he said, because there was nothing else, nothing to demand or offer.
Deaton's glare lasted too long to be comfortable, the silence more dagger than shield. No one else moved, except for Scott, who'd made his way back to Stiles and seemed to be touching him for reassurance, running his claws – goddamn claws, that's what they were – over every bit of unbroken skin he could reach.
“You're here,” Deaton said, voice hard and unforgiving, “because Stiles asked for you to be here. What happened is that your kid and his friends are all really fucking stupid, taking on things they don't understand and getting burned.” The doctor turned to glare at the big black thing in the corner. “It's what happens when children play at adult things.”
Shaking his head, one hand pinching the bridge of his nose hard, rubbing the skin raw, the Sheriff tried to get a grip on a rapidly dwindling reality. “Could you just stop with the bullshit and tell me?”
Deaton laughed, a sound that was more brittle than angry. “You might not believe it, despite the evidence right before your eyes.”
Under the bright lights, everything looked surreal, impossible, but he made a gesture for Deaton to continue. He'd make his own choices about what to believe when he had all the necessary information.
“As far as I can tell,” Deaton said, starting to scrub his hands in the basin by the door, “these idiots went and tried to take out a gang of werewolves hanging around the warehouses.” Deaton checked for his reaction, but what was there to say? Werewolves. His son bleeding out under fluorescent lights. He could believe just about anything. “Right, werewolves. They're real. They're stronger and faster than humans, especially the ones we call alphas.” Gaze flickering to the corner again, Deaton shook his head minutely. “Werewolves are very territorial, they don't like it when another pack is encroaching on what they think is theirs. Delusional, the lot of them, but what can you do against nature, right?”
The Sheriff's mind was still stuck on werewolves. “Scott?”
Scott looked up from Stiles' prone form, but Deaton was the one who answered. “Yes.”
“And the lovely lady behind you, as well as Jackson Whittemore and Derek Hale. Which is as good an explanation as any why the rest of them, who are quite human, were stupid enough to get in a territorial pissing contest with werewolves. It's a failure of leadership if you ask me.” That, like many of the harshest words, was directed at the creature in the shadows, a creature that no longer remotely reminded him of a dog.
“But more than anything, you need to know that there is nothing we can do for Stiles but wait.”
The Sheriff swallowed the worst of his mindless anger and fear. There wasn't any point. He had no control here, no way to make a difference. “What's going to happen to him?”
Deaton sighed and placed a damp hand on his shoulder. “He was bitten tonight. His injuries aside, that alone could still kill him. Not everyone reacts the same way, but if he gets through the night, he will be one of them.”
And that was it. That was the whole of it, the horrific, unbelievable truth. His son was either dying or turning into a monster and there was nothing he could do. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because,” and holy shit, that was Derek Hale in the corner, naked and as feral as Scott despite his entirely human appearance, maybe more so for the memory of the beast that had occupied the space just moments ago, “he needs you to be here. He asked for you.”
As a father, the Sheriff had not always known what to do, had not always been able to do right by Stiles. If all he had left were a few hours then he could damn well make them count.
He'd thought the kids would drift away. Stiles had never had many friends, there had only been Scott and the people playing his internet games. Deaton had cleaned Stiles up a little more, careful of the large, angry stitching and Lydia had covered him in clean sheets and a blanket that smelled like wet dog. And they waited. Jackson and Allison came and everyone silently joined the vigil. There were no tears, not yet, not when there was still hope.
Perhaps. Hope that his son would wake up a monster.
The kids took turns huddling in the waiting area, keeping up meaningless conversation in hushed whispers, except for Derek Hale - now thankfully clothed in someone's faded t-shirt and track pants - who lurked around the table like some kind of guard dog.
An hour after midnight the convulsions began. Derek had hold of Stiles' legs and Scott and Lydia were holding down his arms to keep him from catapulting off the table. Someone, maybe the Sheriff himself, was telling Stiles that everything would be okay. It felt like a lie carved into the painful grimace on Stiles' face.
Then the wounds began to fade.
It was a hollow victory, but the tension in the room noticeably shifted from the edge of despair to something like anticipation. Sitting in a chair next to the exam table, head pillowed on his arm where it crowded into Stiles' shoulder, the Sheriff began to doze off.
On Stiles' personal scale of awful shit that happened to him, waking up on a cold slab of metal with his father and Doc Deaton looking down at him with equally terrifying and terrified expressions ranked just below getting abducted and nearly molested by Peter Hale. Depending on the amount of pain that was about to hit and how much he'd fucked up to get himself here, it might just jump to the runner-up spot. (Nothing could ever be as bad as losing his mom; that just wasn't a competition.)
“Hey,” he said, trying for an innocent smile. “What's going on?”
Play stupid, play stupid and everything would turn out okay. It was a shitty thing to do, but what other option was there? He couldn't quite remember what had happened last night, though he suspected it had to do with their awesome plan to boot that other pack out of Beacon Hills for good. It had to be done and he knew Derek liked the fish nets. Heh.
Focus, Stiles. Grown ups were talking.
Wait a minute. “What?”
His dad looked at the Doc, one of those looks that were more like a negotiation. The Doc sighed and caught Stiles' attention. “You were bitten by a werewolf.”
Stiles swallowed. Right, sure. He didn't feel like a furry super villain, but sure, it made sense considering the whole memory loss thing and, well, he was apparently lying half-naked on an exam table at the animal clinic, so why not. He should be freaking out, but all he felt was numb and tired.
He was probably dreaming. He'd had nightmares like this, although frankly there was usually more blood. “Sure,” he said, nodding a little. “Is this the part where you tell me I've killed someone? Because that- that would really suck.”
“Stiles,” his dad said, “it's okay. You haven't killed anyone.” But he sounded kind of cagey about that. Kind of shifty. Like maybe that wasn't the whole truth.
And then, finally, Stiles felt his heart beat hard in his chest, loud and out of control. His blood rushed in his ears, blocking out the sounds of traffic and the damn chirping of early birds. Two things became very clear – he was not dreaming and he was working himself into a genuine panic attack. He was shaking, his teeth clacking with the tremors. He couldn't breathe.
“Dammit,” he heard through the fog of his anxiety. “Do something!”
The sharp sting of a needle - nothing compared to the burn in his chest - brought him back down. Sedative. Something that made him feel fuzzy; cotton padded and warm like fur. “Did you seriously just drug me? What kind of doctor are you? I could have an allergy or a reaction with my other meds. This is so unprofessional. Huh. I... feel kind of sleepy. That's... really not okay.”
He tried to tuck his hands under his head, tried to turn on his side to sleep the sleep of the righteous curled up in a ball when he realized that he was strapped to the table. Were those handcuffs? Fuck, they were handcuffs. His legs were tied down as well, and how in god's name had he not noticed that, like, at all?
Okay, so he was tied up like an animal, or one of those psychiatric patients in those crazy-girl-sploitation movies. He was Angelina Jolie, hell yeah. Except for the part where he was also most likely Wolverine.
Wait, that had to be at least a ten on the cool scale.
Cool. Like Derek's scowl, Derek who really should be here and stare at him disapprovingly. Or maybe he had that backwards because he was pretty sure he'd told that fucker not to turn him. And where was his best friend when he needed him? Stiles had been there from the start with the whole wolf thing, nearly getting killed and doing all that awesome research. Why wasn't Scott here, looking like a big, sad, guilty puppy?
“Dad,” he said, slurring the word like the last, sludgy spoonful of ice cream in the tub. “Where's Scott?”
The silence that followed was so thick even the ever present white noise in his head got dulled. He forced his eyes open, a little surprised that they'd been closed in the first place. When had that happened? “Dad?”
“Son,” his dad said in the same voice that had once uttered the words, “I'm sorry, but she won't be coming back.” Well, shit. He'd killed Scott. Oh god, fuck. “Calm down, son. He's fine. They're all... fine. You didn't hurt them.”
Stiles' heart fluttered, beat out of sync, harder than it had any right to when he was tranq'd up to his eyeballs. “But I tried to, didn't I? I went all crazy wolfboy on everyone and now they hate me forever.” The words came slowly. He felt sluggish, like the worst mornings, between waking from vivid, beautiful, terrible dreams and finding his way to the bathroom, where control could be had in a tiny orange bottle.
Doc Deaton coughed to draw attention back to his seriously pissed off face. Stiles didn't know what he'd done, but most likely he was going to pay the Doc back with his allowance until he was thirty for whatever damage he'd caused. “As I said, you were bitten. Unfortunately there were some complications.”
“Complications like chopping off important bits of my anatomy complications? Or the kind where I go into a murderous rage and kill everyone I care about?”
Deaton crossed his arms and scowled. Wow, okay, that guy could totally give Derek a run for his money. “You killed an alpha werewolf after he bit you. We don't know if that's why or if you just have the natural predilection for it, but you didn't wake up as a normal beta.”
“I... didn't?” He blinked. Maybe he was like one of those omegas he'd read about, but that didn't explain why the pack wasn't here, why he felt like they'd never been further from him.
“Stiles,” his dad began gently, like a man trying to soothe a wild animal. “Hale... Derek, he said- he said you'd be like him. Very powerful. And dangerous. They wanted to be here, but they couldn't. We were afraid you'd hurt yourself trying to get at them.”
Oh. Well, fuck his life.
Everyone stay at house after, slumped on the old couch and spread out over the sagging mattresses that were his excuse for furniture. Derek stared at the new wallpaper and waited for some kind of revelation. There had been a fireplace here once; it would have been a much better distraction. There were little wolves on this wallpaper, invisible from further away, and that had to have been Stiles' idea. No one else would dare.
“Maybe there is a drug, a plant, something we can give him?” Scott sounded unsure and agitated. He'd be the first to break, the first to try and engineer a meeting. It would not end well.
Derek turned to glare at the boy. “A drug to do what? He's a rival alpha now, just like the monster we took down.”
“But that's not what's going to happen,” Allison began, disbelief in every line of her. “Is it? We're not going to kill Stiles.”
Scott yelped, jumping to his feet in agitation. “Of course not. No one is killing Stiles.”
Stiles might. If it came down to him or everyone he loved, Stiles would have no idea how to choose himself. He'd set himself on fire or shoot himself in the head. He'd find a way. Derek clenched his fists, forcing the wolf under control.
“You can't be near him,” Derek said, looking at each of them in turn. “Even more than trying to create a new pack, he'll feel the urge to kill you. This is his territory as much as it is ours. He'll see you as trespassers. There can't be two packs in one place and he won't know how to control himself.”
“Then you have to teach him, Derek.” Scott got into his face, not backing down, not about this.
Derek sighed. “I'm not even sure how. This whole thing, it's just as new to me.” Everyone fell silent at that particular revelation. He hadn't meant to say it, exactly, but- “I'm only alpha because my entire family died. My sister was always meant to be it, she was born that way. She could turn into a fluffy cub before she could talk. But even she should have had two, maybe three decades to learn everything important, the history and the politics and the biology.”
“So,” said Lydia, suddenly commanding everyone's rapt attention with nothing more than the sound of her voice. If he didn't know better, he'd wonder if she was an alpha, too. She had the presence for it. “What you're really saying here is that there are different sorts of alphas.”
Derek swallowed his first instinct of snapping at her and nodded slightly. “I suppose-”
“No shut up for a minute, I'm thinking.” They all knew by now that Lydia never joked about that and never came up empty. She began to pace the room, her hair flowing hypnotically behind her. “Helen wasn't a threat because she'd given up the notion of her own pack. She just wanted a quiet place to die. And children aren't a threat because they're family, the same pack by default- kind of like proto-alphas. Spouses, too.” The look she gave him was so full of pity, Derek wanted to rip something, tear something to shreds. He waited for her to continue, but she seemed hesitant. “There may not be room for a second pack in Beacon Hills, but there is room for more than one alpha in a pack, isn't there?”
Crossing his arms defensively was a terrible life choice, and yet. Derek closed his eyes, tried to tune out every distraction. He knew what she was thinking, knew what she was asking of him, but it was impossible. “No,” he said, quiet but without doubt. “I know what you're thinking, but it wouldn't work. We can't just pretend to be... that.” Their eyes were on him know, judgmental and oddly disappointed. He shrugged the weight off and rolled his shoulders. “We'll see about teaching him what he needs to know. Maybe none of this speculation is even necessary.”
But in his heart he knew that things would never be okay unless they could somehow find a way to fill the Stiles-shaped hole in their pack. There would be no substitutes.
“Right,” Lydia said, pouting a little. “Then the first thing you'll need is a new laptop. Werewolf aggression is based mostly on body language and pheromones; there is no law against skyping, is there?”
Derek could only shake his head and wonder what his life had become.