The boundary of the werewolf territory was clearly marked. There were warning signs along the edge of the road advising all humans not to go any further. A few metres beyond that was the boundary itself, with yet more warning signs explaining the danger of death. Carved into the trees were other markers, strange symbols of mystical power that were part of the town’s defence. If a werewolf crossed the boundary, it would trigger an alert down in Beacon Hills and bring force the full weight of the hunters, the police force, and the volunteer defenders. But a human could cross freely.
The only consequence would be his death.
Stiles walked past the first warning signs without hesitation but at the main boundary line he froze. He stared at the carved symbols. Once he crossed into werewolf territory, nobody would be coming to save him. It wasn’t like his dad would be running to the rescue. In a few hours he would probably be dead, or transformed into the enemy by the bite.
That was what he feared more than anything else, more than the high probability of death. He was afraid that he’d turn into one of those monsters and that he’d attack his dad himself. But all of those fears meant nothing if his dad died. Assuming he wasn’t already dead.
Knowing how slim his chances of success were, knowing all the consequences of this act, Stiles still stepped across the boundary line.
Nothing happened. No werewolves leapt out of the trees to disembowel him. The wind moved through the woods in a chill breeze, rustling the leaves, but there was no sound that anyone had heard his act of trespass. He could still run. He could still step back across that line and go back to his jeep and he’d be safe.
He pulled out of his pocket the white flag he’d made by taping a piece of paper to a stick. He hoped werewolves would acknowledge its meaning. He waved it at the trees as he walked forward, listening out for anything that might be a sign of attack. It was possible they’d attack him before he even knew they were there and then all of this would be for nothing.
“Is anyone out there?” he called. “I’d like to talk to the alpha. Preferably without getting clawed or bitten or mutilated in any way. I’m unarmed. I just want to talk. And right now I’m talking to trees so if anyone’s there, please come out and talk back. All I want to do is talk.”
“What makes you think the alpha will see you?” a voice asked from behind him. Stiles yelped and spun round, tripping a little on the uneven ground and nearly dropping his white flag. He tightened his grip on the stick and held it in front of him like a shield. The owner of the voice smirked a little.
She was hot. Ridiculously hot, wearing pants and t-shirt so tight as to emphasize every curve of her body, a few tears in the fabric showing pale skin beneath, but Stiles forced his eyes to stay on her face because gawping at a werewolf would not help in anyway. She looked about his age and her current form was impossible to distinguish from a human. There was something strangely familiar about her.
“I’m Sheriff Stilinski’s son,” Stiles said, “and I’d like to talk to the alpha and make him an offer.”
She stepped closer to Stiles. He forced his feet to stay rooted on the ground even though his every instinct was to run far and fast.
“That’s for the alpha to hear,” Stiles said. She was right in front of him now, looming into his personal space. Stiles kept his eyes on her face, trying not to think about either how hot she was or how she could rip him in half in a heartbeat if she wanted to.
“I’ll take you to him,” she said. “But if he doesn’t like your offer, it won’t be pretty for you.”
She clamped a hand of his shoulder, fingers pinching tightly into his flesh.
“You can loosen the grip just a little,” Stiles suggested. She started walking, towing Stiles along beside her. He had no choice but to follow because he didn’t think he’d be able to break her grip on his shoulder if he had a blow torch, and all he was armed with was his little white flag. So he walked quickly through the trees, weaving between patches of undergrowth and stumbling over roots and uneven ground. The werewolf never once slowed her pace and his sense of direction was quickly shot to hell as they dodged the barriers nature threw in their path. Stiles realised he probably wouldn’t stand a chance of getting back to his jeep even if he could get away from her.
After a few minutes, she shoved him into a clearing and let go of his shoulder. Stiles rubbed at the sore points her fingers had left, but he was too busy staring around at the heart of the werewolf territory.
There was a large old house taking up most of the clearing, the ground in front of the house turned into neatly ordered vegetable plots. It wasn’t what he’d pictured for the home of the monsters who lurked on the edge of town. There were a couple of people working in the vegetable plots, but now their eyes were locked on him. Stiles looked around further and saw what he was hoping for and dreading at the same time.
His dad was at the edge of the clearing. He was strung up by the wrists, the rope stretching to the branch of one of the trees. His body was strained and stretched, forced up onto his toes by the ropes. There was blood on his shirt, his jacket gone. But he was alive. A cloth gag filled his mouth, but Stiles didn’t need to hear to know his dad was basically screaming at him to get out of there. His eyes were vocal enough, looking at Stiles in terror.
Stiles started towards him, but the werewolf girl grabbed his arm and held him in place.
“You said you were here to speak to the alpha,” she said. “You see him first.”
The door of the house opened and two men walked out onto the front porch and then down the steps. Neither of them looked like a hideous monster bent on destroying the town, but Stiles knew better than to judge by appearances. One was probably younger than Stiles’ dad, maybe in his thirties, the other was probably in his twenties and droolably hot. Not that Stiles was going to think about things like that when these people had his dad strung up to a tree and bleeding.
The older of the two men walked up to Stiles, other waiting a few feet away. The man, who had to be the alpha, reached out. Stiles flinched away, but the guy just snatched the white flag from Stiles’ fingers. He held it up, looked at it closely, and smirked.
“It’s not often a human walks into our territory wanting to talk,” the alpha said.
Stiles swallowed and the spoke in a hurried rush of words, spilling out the sentences he’d carefully planned.
“Hello. My name is Stiles Stilinski. I’m here to offer myself in exchange for my father’s life.”
“Exchange?” the alpha asked. He still seemed amused.
“Yes. I will give myself over to the pack willingly, to serve you however you want, if you agree to let my father go.”
“But you’re already here, in our territory. In our power.”
“Yes, but I came under a flag of truce,” Stiles words sounded high and strangled. The werewolves could probably smell how terrified he was right now. “Most peoples would respect that. Don’t shoot the messenger, and all that. Or claw, as the case might be.”
“You are invoking the protected status of a messenger?” the alpha asked. “Does your offer come from the people of Beacon Hills?”
“No. Just from me. Just this person.”
“Then it doesn’t count. You’d only be a messenger if you were delivering a message for someone else. You should probably study protocol a little more before you attempt to invoke its protection.”
Stiles hadn’t intent to invoke any protocol. He’d just been talking, words spilling out in a nervous flow. He didn’t know what to say to make the werewolves listen and he had a feeling they were just toying with him, making a game of his pleas. But he had to go through with this because his dad was captive and bleeding. This might be his only chance to get his dad out of here alive.
“I’ll bear that in mind,” Stiles said. “Of course, for your advice to be of any use, you’ll have to let me out of this situation alive. I’m just saying.”
The alpha smirked again.
“Even considering that,” he said, “why would I accept your deal? Your father is the sheriff. A valuable hostage.”
“Not really because if people think he’s dead or that you’ve bitten him, there’ll be an election and there’ll be a new sheriff to deal with. But if you keep me here and send him back, then there’ll be a sheriff in Beacon Hills who will have a good reason not to hurt the pack.”
“Good logic, but if the sheriff is compromised, his superiors will probably remove him from his position and hold a new election anyway. At the very least, he would probably not make it into office again the next time there was an election. So try again. Why would I want to trade him for a useless kid?”
“I could find a use for him,” said the other werewolf. There words were said quietly, without any inflection that Stiles could interpret in a useful way. Still he swallowed, seeing the intensity of the way the guy was looking at him. Hot or not, he didn’t want to guess what kind of use the werewolf would have for him.
The alpha looked at the other werewolf, then back at Stiles, then over at Stiles’ dad. After a moment, he turned to the werewolf beside him.
“Very well,” he said, “but he’s your responsibility and this better not end up like the last time you were given a pet.”
“I was six years old,” said the younger werewolf. “Besides, mice don’t live very long anyway.”
“Actually with proper diet and care they can live for up to five years,” Stiles said. He found himself pinned by two werewolf stares. “I should just shut up now.”
“You should say goodbye to your dad,” the alpha said. “Erica, cut the sheriff down. Derek.” The alpha turned to the younger werewolf, the one who was apparently now responsible for Stiles. He said something too quietly for Stiles to hear. Derek nodded and walked quickly towards the house.
The alpha swept his hand towards Stiles’ dad. Stiles hurried over. The werewolf girl was already there. She jumped into the air and slashed her claws sideways. The ropes snapped in an instant and Stiles’ dad crumpled to the ground.
“Dad!” Stiles hurried over. He quickly eased the gag out of his dad’s mouth and then checked the shirt, seeing the torn fabric and the gashes beneath, no doubt caused by claws.
“Don’t do this,” Stiles’ dad said. “It’s not worth it. Just get out of here. Don’t do this.”
“It’s done,” the alpha said. “Say your goodbyes.”
“Dad, I had to do this. I couldn’t let them... I love you. I love you.”
“I love you,” his dad said. “I’ll find a way to get you home and I’ll make these bastards pay.”
“No,” said the alpha. “You won’t. Because this is how it’s going to work. Your son’s life is contingent on your behaviour. If you harm any of my pack in any way, your son will suffer the exact same harm. If you act in a way that threatens the safety of my pack, your son will pay for it. And if either of you try to break this arrangement, you will both die for it.”
He crouched down beside them, extending the claws on his hand, holding them up for Stiles to see. When he slashed out, Stiles gave a cry of fear, but the alpha simply cut through the fabric of Stiles’ father’s shirt, pulling away a blood-stained piece. He beckoned the other werewolf, Derek, forward. He’d returned from the house with some ziplock bags. The alpha put the blood-soaked shirt into one of the bags. Then he lifted up Stiles’ dad’s arms and slashed another bit of cloth from beneath his armpit, where the fabric was dark with old sweat. That went in another bag. Derek sealed them both up. Stiles realised then what this was about. The werewolves were trying to preserve his scent so they could track him down.
The alpha looked at Stiles now.
“Your father’s life is protected by your deal,” he said. “If you try to run away or if you hurt one of my pack, we will track your father down and kill him in the most agonising way we can manage. Do you understand?”
“Good.” The alpha stood. “Erica, take the sheriff to the edge of our territory. Derek, see to your new pet.”
He walked into the house.
Erica put her arm round Stiles’ dad and lifted him to his feet, half carrying him out of the clearing. He didn’t even have the strength to try and fight her grip.
“Stiles, I love you,” he called back. “Be careful. Don’t do anything reckless. I love you.”
“I love you,” Stiles yelled after him, knowing that this was probably the last time he’d see his dad. He fought to keep from crying. He didn’t want these werewolves to see him broken before he’d even discovered what it meant to be a werewolf’s pet.
Derek was staring at Stiles.
“Did you bring anything with you?” he asked.
“Empty your pockets.”
Stiles pulled out everything he had on him: his phone, his wallet, his car keys, and of course the small stash of Adderall he carried everywhere in case of emergencies. He kept them in the paper prescription bag because he was aware how suspicious it was to carry a bunch of pills around everywhere. Derek took the bag from his hands now and looked inside. He raised an eyebrow.
“It’s my medication,” Stiles said.
Derek handed the bag back, but he took the rest of Stiles’ things from him. Stiles didn’t even try to argue because not having his phone was probably the least of his problems right now.
“You didn’t bring anything else?” Derek asked. “Food? Supplies? A change of underwear?”
“Naturally. Right, follow me.”
Stiles had a feeling he’d done something wrong already. He didn’t think this was a guy to argue with. He looked like he could snap Stiles in two without even trying. So he walked along behind him. If nothing else, he probably should wait until his dad had got out of the werewolf territory and getting medical treatment before he did anything to anger these guys too much.
Inside the house, Derek took him through the kitchen, where a couple of people were working on food. They looked at Stiles with curiosity, neither of them saying anything. Stiles wondered how many people were out here. Derek didn’t stop, he went to another door and opened it to reveal a set of stairs down into a basement. Stiles hesitated at the top step, imagining the horrors that probably lay below. His mind filled with images of chains and cages and torture implements.
“Hurry up,” Derek snapped. Stiles followed down the steps. His dad’s last request to him had been for him not to be reckless. Ignoring a direct order when he’d been here three seconds probably counted as reckless.
The basement was full of boxes. They were stacked in piles that nearly reached the ceiling, positioned in rows of two that left narrow spaces between the box towers to get around the basement. In some places, the boxes were replaced with crates, just to make things interesting. Stiles really hoped these weren’t full of torture implements.
Stiles lost sight of Derek amid the boxes and wove between piles until he saw him again. Stiles’ belongings were nowhere in sight. Stiles didn’t know if Derek had pocketed them or if they were in one of the ridiculous number of boxes. Derek grabbed a box off the top of a pile and lifted it down. He opened the flaps to reveal a mass of fabric inside.
“I don’t know what I was expecting, but that wasn’t it,” Stiles said. Derek threw a couple of t-shirts at him. He fumbled a bit but managed to catch them.
“Huh?” Stiles asked. He took a closer look and made a face. One had a hideous design in lurid colours, the other was apparently advertising a second hand car dealership. He made a face.
“You should have brought supplies,” Derek said. He went into a few more boxes, and pretty soon Stiles was holding a spare pair of pants, a handful of pairs of socks, and a pack of five pairs of underwear. Thankfully the packet was unopened, but everything else was clearly second-hand.
“You should probably write your name in the underwear,” Derek advised as he replaced the boxes. “If you lose anything, you will not get replacements. Come with me.”
Stiles followed him out of the basement and then up to the second storey. Derek paused to grab a pillow from a hall closet and then showed Stiles into a bedroom. A double bed was in the centre of the room, but an air mattress took up most of the rest of the floor space. The room had the messy feel of a lived-in space with the bed and mattress both unmade, a worn book on a bedside table, and some dirty bits of clothing scattered on the floor.
“You can share the bed with me or you can take the air mattress,” Derek said.
Stiles swallowed. So this was when he found out Derek’s use for him.
“Air mattress,” he said. The words came out in a squeak.
“OK,” Derek said.
He put the pillow down on the air mattress and picked up the one that was there already. That pillow he placed at the foot of the bed, over to one side. He pushed the pillow at the head of the bed across to the opposite side, so two people could lie in the bed head to toe. Maybe Stiles had been wrong in his assumption.
“How many people live here?” Stiles asked.
“More than we have beds for,” Derek answered. “Put your stuff in the bottom drawer over there.” He gestured to a set of drawers, the bottom of which was half empty. Stiles shove the contents to one side and put his collection of clothes in the other half.
“Now to make you useful,” Derek said. “Do you know anything about installing solar panels?”
“What? No, but if you give me twenty minutes and an internet connection I can find out anything you need to know. I am the Google King.”
“We don’t have the internet.”
“Right. Of course you don’t.”
“We did, but our ISP cancelled our service shortly after the war broke out.”
“That sucks,” Stiles said.
Derek glared at him. “Thousands of people died, we were banished from all human towns and cities, the government stole our assets, and we’re attacked wherever we go, but you’re right. Losing the ability to watch cute cat videos on YouTube is what sucks.”
Stiles decided to shut up before he lost a limb.
“Do you have any knowledge about architecture or construction?” Derek asked.
“Not a thing.”
Derek nodded like he’d expected that answer. Stiles found it odd that Derek was trying to uncover his skills given his comment earlier about having a use for Stiles.
“You any good at cooking?” Derek asked.
“Decent, I guess. I cook for my dad sometimes when he’s working late. I’ve never poisoned anyone.”
“Know much about gardening?”
“Any good at sewing?”
“I once sewed Scott’s hand to his pants. You probably don’t want to know the details about that.”
Derek raised an eyebrow and agreed, “Probably not. What are your skills?”
“Well, I’m pretty smart and there’s the whole research thing, which I guess is not all that useful in the middle of the woods so...” Stiles shrugged.
“Right,” Derek said. “Come with me.”
They walked downstairs, Stiles trailing along behind Derek again. This wasn’t turning out like he’d expected. He’d expected considerably more pain than this. And possibly being bent over hard surfaces and being turned into a werewolf’s bitch. He wasn’t going to complain that none of that was happening, but he was still confused.
Down in the kitchen, there were now three people working on food including...
“Oh my god!” Stiles turned around and put a hand over his mouth in the hope of keeping the vomit from coming.
There were dead things on the table. Fluffy dead things that were now covered in blood because a werewolf was skinning them with his claws. That was a lot of blood.
“Seriously?” Derek asked. “Do you faint at the sight of blood or something?”
Stiles didn’t take his hand away from his mouth to answer because doing so would probably induce vomiting. Derek sighed and grabbed him by the arm, towing him out of the kitchen and out of the house. Stiles stumbled down the steps of the porch and then just stood there for a minute, his hands on his knees, drawing in deep breaths of clean air that didn’t remotely smell of blood.
“You are going to struggle here,” Derek commented.