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(Sacred) In the Ordinary

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=October=

Six months after the Pack returns to Beacon Hills, Stiles pulls up to his Dad's house for the monthly family dinner. None of the others are there yet, and Dad's car isn't in the drive, but Chris Argent is lurking in the shadows of the porch.

“I know what you’re doing,” Chris says. There's something vaguely ominous in his tone.

Stiles grins. “I'm here for dinner, after spending the day toiling in the bowels of hell, which in this case is teaching high school History.” Chris is extremely unimpressed. Stiles grins wider and leans forward. “I know what you’re doing, too—you’re waiting for me like a creeper.” He claps his hands together, like the world's loudest exclamation point. “And now that we both know what the other is doing, I’m going to head inside and grade tests while I wait for everyone else.”

Chris’ face clenches in annoyance. “Jackson is running for Mayor, and Allison is Sheriff. Danny’s turned his company into the cornerstone of employment in the county, and Lydia is using her talents to lift BH College into the ranks of mathematical infamy.”

All true, though the last part is a huge underestimation of Lydia’s work for the Pack. Not that Stiles is going to tell that to Chris.

Stiles shakes his head sadly. “I know, it’s sickening how overachieving they are. I feel like a lazy slacker in comparison. But, hey, what can you do, right?”

“I’m not an idiot, Stiles,” Chris snaps. He stands up straight, back tense. “You have a presence in the high school, and Scott is head nurse for ER triage and assistant to the coroner.” He grimaces in disbelief. “And Derek has fashioned himself into some kind of avant garde artiste--”

“That was actually a hysterical accident,” Stiles says, because it's the truth, and it will never stop being funny. Ever.

“--which makes his erratic and antisocial behavior acceptably eccentric. You’re insinuating yourselves into vital areas of the town, and you’ve done it for a reason.”

Stiles laughs. Loudly. And a lot. “Yeah, I'm sure you think it's all sinister or something. You know what your problem is? All your years of dealing with werewolves, of dealing with us, and you still don’t get it. We have the same needs you do, man.”

Chris’ breath whistles through clenched teeth. “You’re not a werewolf, Stiles. You’re human.

Stiles waves his hands dismissively. “The point, man, you’re totally missing it.”

Dad's car pulls up then, and Stiles and Chris go silent to watch him park and exit. He strides up the walk, in the casual clothes of his retirement, and pulls Stiles' into a one-armed hug.

“How's it going, kid? Where's the rest of the Pack?”

“I'm good, and you know how it is, they'll be here thirty seconds before dinner's served.”

Dad pulls a face that speaks to the awkwardness of these dinners, and lets go of Stiles with a parting squeeze. He steps up to Chris and gives him a light kiss on the lips in greeting, and then all three of them enter Stiles' childhood home, which Dad shares with Chris, his husband of two years.

The weirdness never really stopped coming after Stiles learned about werewolves.

*

Stiles has seen, done and been subjected to some horrifyingly violent and bloody things over the years, and he'd rather relive any one of them than keep attending these dinners. Sadly, that's not an option.

Stiles told his father about werewolves in his freshman year of college, when the Pack was gone from Beacon Hills, Stiles was a legal adult, and Derek promised to help pay for college if Dad cut him off or something. It went about how one would expect a revelation like that to go, meaning that after a roller coaster of emotional reactions—which included talk of having Stiles literally committed—his dad grudgingly accepted it as truth. Things between them were tense for a long while after that, until his father eventually processed all of it and came to grips with the fact that Stiles' involvement wasn't going to end.

When the Pack returned to Beacon Hills, his father immediately instituted the dinners. Stiles thinks that, at some point, Dad recognized the significance of family situations in the formation of the Pack. There's not much Stiles can do to ease his misplaced guilt over working so many hours after Mom died, but he can show up every month, and get the others to come, too, so he does it.

The dinners are stone cold proof that Stiles comes by his tenacity honestly. Anyone else would have given up and stopped after the first two, but not Dad, despite how nightmarishly awful they are.

Derek won't let them discuss Pack business, which includes so much more than Chris suspects, and Dad won't let Chris talk about Hunting, which is a blessing because Stiles thinks he wouldn't be able to help himself from jumping across the table and stabbing Chris with a spoon, and that reduces the conversational topics to almost nothing.

Beyond that, there's also the fact that Derek goes mute the moment he walks through the door and doesn't regain the ability to speak until he's out of it, Lydia won't drop her pseudo vapid persona for even a second, and Scott is still upset at the fact that Dad chose Chris over Scott's mom, like, five years ago.

Fortunately, Stiles has no problem talking about absolutely nothing at all, though tonight he focuses on work, which offers an endless supply of adolescent ridiculousness guaranteed to draw everyone's interest, if not their participation. Dad spends a full half hour sharing Sheriffy wisdom with Allison, which she eats up with a spoon, and which distracts his Dad from the way everyone else is staring at their plates and eating as fast as they can. Allison is also the only one who speaks to Chris, and Stiles is grateful for that because it soothes the lines of tension around his dad's eyes.

As soon as Stiles and Allison emerge from the kitchen, having helped the parents clean up, the Pack is on their feet and ready to go. Stiles hugs his dad, tries to make it say a lot of things, mostly apologies about how Stiles' life choices have affected Dad.

Dad pulls back, hands on Stiles shoulders, and smiles tiredly. “Same time next month, Stiles.”

Stiles thinks that's his dad's way of telling him it's okay, and he loves Stiles anyway.

*

Outside, Lydia goes directly to Stiles' car, which makes him arch a brow because she rode over with Allison.

“I'm spending the night at yours,” she tells him.

Stiles nods his agreement and tosses her his keys. “Take my car, and I'll meet you there in a bit.”

Derek looks a question at him when he slides into the passenger seat, but Stiles shakes his head. They go to Derek's apartment, a small one bedroom he's staying in temporarily until he actually buys a house like the rest of them did in the first two months they were back.

Stiles looks around at the bare walls, the bland and sparse furniture that came with the place, and burned out bulb in the kitchen. He makes a conscious choice not to say, I love what you haven't done with the place.

“What happened?” Derek asks.

Stiles sighs and drops onto Derek's too-hard sofa. “Nothing unexpected, just Chris starting to get a clue.”

“How much of one?”

That's the question, isn't it, because Chris is not stupid, and that he chose to confront Stiles about it so early on is worrying. “More than we anticipated at this point, but...I don't know, maybe I'm just being paranoid.”

The fact that Derek plants himself on the sofa, right next to Stiles, and tips his head so that his cheek is pressed against the ball of Stiles' shoulder, isn't reassuring.

“Maybe we shouldn't have come back.”

Stiles shifts so that he can shove Derek's face into the crook of his neck. “That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard you say, and I'm counting that time you got high on werewolf-nip.”

Derek backhands Stiles in the ribs for the reminder of The Time When Derek Hale Giggled and Loved Everyone and Everything and Asked for Belly Scritches, then jerks the battered coffee table close so that they can prop their feet on it.

They sit like that for an hour, Derek mostly silent except for occasional grunts in response to Stiles' rambling monologue about Jackson's latest douchey hair cut. Eventually, Derek sits up and stretches. He kicks at Stiles' ankle. “I'll drive you home. Lydia's waiting.”

“She can keep waiting. It'll be a good growth experience or something.”

Derek cups the nape of Stiles' neck and shakes him gently. “She smelled anxious all through dinner.”

“Please, like we weren't all leaking horrible scents,” Stiles counters, but gets to his feet.

Stiles uses the bathroom before he goes, and he passes by Derek's bedroom on the way. The bed is made, mounds of decorative pillows covering half of the California king's surface in the same exact arrangement Lydia and Allison set them up in. He almost says something to Derek about it, but doesn't.

*

Lydia is lounging on the sofa in yoga pants and a loose t-shirt when Stiles gets home. Her face is free of make-up, her hair is damp and pulled back, and her hands are covered in ink stains. She puts aside a notebook filled with equations when he leans over the back of the sofa.

“What are you working on, Dr. Martin?”

“My next paper. It's on that algorithm I used to predict the probability of us getting into specific colleges. I'm going to clean it up, tweak some messy parts, and refine it.”

“That was pretty awesome,” Stiles says, because it was. She was 98% accurate in her outcomes, and that 2% was mostly because Scott and Allison broke up for a while in senior year and Scott's already poor grades tanked. Lydia accounted for the possibility of the breakup but seriously underestimated Scott's resulting sulk.

Without her work, Stiles isn't sure how they would have been able to only split the Pack into two groups for their college years. Especially since Lydia herself refused to attend any school but MIT.

Lydia sniffs, nostrils flaring, and eyes him. “What's wrong?”

“Huh? I'm fine.”

“Then what's wrong with Derek?”

Stiles tugs on her sloppy ponytail. “What makes you think something's wrong with Derek?”

“Oh, please, Stiles. His scent is all over you. If you're okay, then you didn't pile on him, which means he piled on you, and he never does that without a reason.”

Stiles waits, but she doesn't say anything else. He shrugs and climbs over the sofa back. “Maybe I'm just very cuddle-able.”

“You are,” she agrees, letting him get away with his non-answer, and then wraps herself around him like a monkey, face buried in his chest.

Stiles rubs one hand up and down her back, and tangles the fingers of his other one in her curls. “Want to tell me what's going on, Lyds?”

“Unlike Derek, I don't need a reason to cuddle you, Stiles.”

That's true enough, for sure. During the college Pack split, Derek moved near Stanford with Scott, Allison and Jackson, while Stiles went to Boston with Lydia and Danny. It was rough at first, because Derek made it clear that Stiles was in charge of the wolves, but they eventually settled really well into the new dynamic, and that included a lot of cuddling because, hey, werewolves live for that kind of thing.

“No, but I heard you had an odor of anxiety going on tonight, so this is me checking in on my Beta.”

Lydia's arms tighten around him. “You hardly ever call me that anymore. Yours.”

That's also true, and there's a lot of reasons for it, the main one being that, after undergrad, Stiles stepped down from his role of human-sort-of-Alpha to Lydia and Danny.

Despite that, there's a part of Stiles that sometimes still considers Lydia and Danny his, just like a small part of them will sometimes look to Stiles before Derek. Stiles rubs his cheek against her hair. “Come on, tell Alpha Lite what's up.”

“I want a baby.”

It takes a minute for Stiles to take that in and think it through, and then he falls into a headlong panic that he desperately tries to will himself out of because he doesn't want to be, like, rude, or hurt Lydia's feelings. She's pretty much his best friend nowadays, has been since Boston, and he knows better than anyone what her soft spots are.

“I'm not asking you to do it, so stop hyperventilating.”

“Oh thank Jesus,” Stiles gasps, then hurriedly squeezes her tight. “I didn't mean that the way it sounded, sorry.”

Lydia pushes away from him and favors him with a fond smile. “Dork. I know.” She looks away and bites her lip. “I mean, I did consider it, but--”

She doesn't have to say anything further, because her reasons for deciding not to are the same ones that were causing Stiles to freak out.

“No, yeah, I know. But, hey, look at me, would you?” She does, and she's nervous and shy in a way Stiles isn't used to seeing. He takes her face in his hands and touches their foreheads together. “This is awesome news. You're going to be the best mom ever, and we're going to be the best Pack Family ever, and your kid will be the best and smartest kid ever.”

Lydia's eyes gets shiny with a hint of unshed tears, but her mouth stretches into a beaming smile, so Stiles pulls her up and dances her around the room, chanting, “Baby wolf, baby wolf, baby wolf!”

Later, when they're settling down in Stiles' bed for the night, he asks her who's going to father her baby. “I'm not sure. At first, I thought about using a sperm bank, but that felt like a bad way to go.”

Stiles imagines Derek's reaction to the idea of some stranger contributing half of a Pack kid's DNA, and cringes. Bless Lydia for going with her gut, because Stiles never wants to deal with that kind of nuclear fall out. Ever.

“It would be best if it was someone from the Pack.” Stiles nods his agreement. “There's a lot to take into consideration, though.”

It'll be Danny, Stiles knows, but all he says is, “Whatever you decide, I'm in your corner.”

Chapter Text

= November =

Jackson is elected mayor, which is no surprise to anyone in the Pack, since Lydia planned his campaign and platform after careful calculations. The post-results celebration is raucous and joyous. Stiles maybe drinks more than he should in his happiness, and his desire to blur the sight of Chris Argent's suspicious and somewhat threatening face.

When it comes time to leave, the Pack, minus Derek, who fled with a scowl after being cornered by a group of people who wanted to talk art with him, try to figure out what to do with Stiles. He just grins stupidly at them, content to let them sort it out.

They end up deciding that Scott will bring Stiles home with him, since there's some concern that Stiles might choke on his own vomit and die if left by himself, and Scott is actually medically qualified to help him.

Scott and Allison's terminally on-again, off-again relationship is currently on, so she comes with them.

While Allison takes a turn in the bathroom, Scott strips Stiles down to his boxers. Scott and Allison trade places, and Allison puts a bucket on the floor by the bed and helps Stiles get under the covers before climbing over him. Scott slips in behind her and he and Allison tangle around Stiles' drunkenly leaden self.

Unfortunately, it's a school night, so Stiles has to actually wake up the next morning rather than huddle next to Allison's still sleeping form and wait to die a merciful death.

“Let's go, Stiles,” Scott says, too loud and cheerful, and hauls Stiles into the bathroom. Stiles can barely stand, so Scott gets them both naked and into the shower.

“You know, once upon a time, this would have been weird,” Stiles says.

Scott snorts, spins Stiles around so that his back is facing the showerhead, and squirts a blob of shampoo on Stiles' head. “Yeah, I remember those days. Back when we didn't know about werewolves, sat on the bench, and only had each other.”

Stiles halfheartedly works the shampoo into a sad lather. “Remember how much it sucked, when things first changed? I mean, wow, epic suckiness, right?”

Scott looks at him, face serious, and licks his lips. “Yeah, but it was exciting, too,” he says slowly. “It was pretty bipolar, you know, how things felt great, then awful.”

They switch positions after Stiles rinses his hair, and Stiles blames the hangover for asking the one question he's made it a point never to ask Scott. He's not sure if it's because he doesn't want to know the answer, or that it makes him sad that he doesn't already know it. Scott and he grew apart during college, when they were across the country from one another and living different lives that were mostly only connected through Stiles and Derek's daily phone calls, and the friendship never really returned to what it once was.

“Hey, do you still wish it'd happened another way? That you never got bit, or maybe that you killed Peter and it was undone?”

Scott freezes, water running across his face, then leans out of the spray. “No. Not for years. I—I have a lot. It's brought me a lot to be grateful for.”

Stiles wishes he'd been around when Scott's worldview stopped being so wholly focused on Allison and expanded to include the other people in his life in a real, honest way.

“What about you?” Scott asks, holding his eyes. “Do you wish you'd never gotten involved?”

Towards the end of high school, after two years of chaos and danger, Stiles had wished that almost every damn night while simultaneously being incapable of walking away from his friends.

“Not for years.”

Scott gives him a lopsided grin, his face a map of the history they share, the present they inhabit, and the future they'll walk together. Even if there's a gap in the middle of all of that, those years when Lydia became Stiles' best friend, and Jackson became Scott's, it doesn't lessen the friendship they share now. Because, really, fuck hiding bodies, real friendship is helping your hungover friend wash himself in the shower.

*

A week later, Lydia and Danny crawl into Stiles' bed at three in the morning. Lydia presses her face against his neck, and Danny lays in the vee of Stiles’ legs, head resting on his stomach. Stiles rouses himself enough to make a questioning noise.

“I'm gonna be a baby daddy,” Danny says into Stiles' t-shirt.

Stiles blinks, gives Danny a hug with his legs, Lydia a kiss on the cheek, mumbles, “Best dad ever,” and falls back to sleep.

In the morning, while Lydia's showering, and Stiles is finishing loading the dishwasher, Danny clears his throat. “This is going to hurt a few people,” he says, so quietly that Stiles has to scoot closer and make him repeat himself. “What if—what if we just go ahead with it, and don't tell them who the father is?”

Danny's usually the most relaxed of all of them, but right now he's tense and freaked. Stiles moves so he can hug him and lets Danny bury his face on Stiles' shoulder. “You know, as much as I hate to admit it sometimes, we are actual grown-the-fuck-up adults, dude. Anyone who has a problem needs to put their big kid pants on and remember the world doesn't revolve around them.”

“What about Derek?” Lydia asks, suddenly next to them.

“I think he already wears his big boy pants on a regular basis.”

Danny's back goes rigid with tension again, and Lydia's jaw clenches. “I mean it, Stiles,” she insists. “He still gets twitchy about the three of us, what if--”

Stiles pulls Lydia into the hug. “Stop worrying.”

*

There are four people in The Den when Stiles walks into the store/gallery a few days later. Derek is behind the counter, glaring at them while they flitter around the small space. Stiles waves a greeting and heads right for the coffee pot along the wall. It's an antiquated percolator model that Stiles found in his dad's attic, and it produces scalded coffee that tastes vaguely of vinegar. The pot is surrounded by a jar of powdered creamer, an open container of old, lumpy sugar, and waxen cups. There aren't any stirrers, just a grungy coffee-stained spoon sitting on the bare metal cabinet. Derek likes to make things as unwelcoming as possible for visitors.

Stiles fills his travel mug, dumps some creamer and sugar in, and uses the spoon, which he has to pry from the surface, to stir it.

“You're disgusting,” Derek tells him, completely ignoring the fact that a middle-aged woman—who Stiles thinks he's seen on some reality show about super wealthy socialite families—is in the middle of asking him a question.

Stiles toasts him with the mug and says, “I'm a high school history teacher,” like that explains anything. It actually explains everything, but only to someone with the misfortune to teach a really boring subject to scathingly uninterested teenagers. It's sort of akin to teaching obnoxious teenagers about being werewolves and Pack, which is why Derek should get it.

Derek goes back to ignoring the customers, so Stiles makes his way over to an armchair near the counter. It's half-burned and smells like charred polyester, even this many years after the fire at Hale House, and is sadly bereft of stuffing but defiantly in possession of springs. Stiles arranges himself in the only position that won't result in him being gouged bloody and sips his coffee.

Another customer, some guy this time, is appalled. “You're sitting on art!”

Stiles glances over in time to see both of Derek's eyes twitch simultaneously, and his short supply of patience come to an abrupt and inevitable end. He vaults over the counter, sneers at the customers, and barks, “Get out.”

Forget everything else, the greatest tragedy of Derek Hale's life is accidentally becoming an infamous and surprisingly sought-after metal working artist.

The woman from before gestures at a small twisted wire thing. “If I could just buy--”

Derek snatches it from the display shelf and tosses it carelessly into a corner, eliciting a round of flinches from the customers. Stiles thinks it has more to do with the handling of the wire thing than with them being intimidated. Derek points stridently at the door. “Go. Now.”

They move a little too slowly for Derek's comfort, so he uses his whole body to herd them together and out of the store. Stiles grins and waggles his fingers at them when Derek closes the door in their faces and locks it. The sad part, Stiles knows, is that shit like this only makes Derek more talked about and serves to bring more collectors of avant garde art to his doorstep.

Derek relaxes the tiniest bit when they're gone, enough, at least, to throw himself on the other chair, which was also rescued from his family home. That one is a sagging mess of cushioning without any springs whatsoever, and the one time Stiles sat there, it took him five minutes to get out of its clutches.

“The Pack meeting isn't for another two hours.”

Stiles pulls a folder out of his messenger bag and waves it in Derek's direction. “Essays to grade.”

Derek's favorite hobby, besides making things that he resents people for wanting to buy, is staring silently into space while scowling. Stiles' favorite hobby is still, always, and ever, talking. Somehow, over the years, each of them have come to terms with the others' annoyingly opposite penchants. Stiles works his way through essays with mutters and outright rants, and Derek stares at a point in the distance and drifts in and out of naps.

Not long before the others are due to arrive, Derek gives him a look from under half-lidded, nap-heavy eyes. “What's with your smell?”

Stiles makes a face. “Those words do not constitute an actual, understandable question.”

“Deflection.”

“So much deflection, yes.”

Derek props his chin on his fist, and Stiles tracks the movement of his eyes as he casts an assessing glance from the top of Stiles' head, to the tips of his toes. “Okay.”

Stiles smiles, relieved, and then the others start arriving. They gather around a table in the back room of the store/gallery, even though they originally were meeting at Derek's apartment.

Pack meetings, anymore, are less about training and control, and more about the mundane details of their plans for security and protection.

“Lydia, how many shell companies do you have set up already?” Derek starts off asking.

“Just the same ones we used in Stanford, Pasadena and Boston.” She eyes him warily. “Why?”

Derek's brows lower. “We need to start on the land purchases.”

“Wasn't that slated for next year?” Scott looks around the table, where everyone is nodding and frowning.

A light goes on in Stiles' head. “Oh!”

“Does someone want to share with the class?” Allison drawls.

Stiles and Derek look at one another, communicating silently, before Derek grimaces and turns to Allison. “Your father.”

The face Allison makes is resigned and tired. Stiles feels for her, especially now that Chris is his stepfather. Not that Stiles actually gives a damn about Chris himself, the way Allison does, but he does care about his own father, and there's no getting around the fact that Dad really, truly loves Chris.

Lydia drums her fingers on the table, eyes distant as she thinks. “I'll readjust the timetables, we can make it work.”

Stiles opens his mouth to say something, hesitates, then goes ahead and speaks when Derek gives him a curious look. “It might be best if we can do it all at once. People talk, and I don't know about you guys, but I don't want anyone interfering.”

“That would draw more than just Argent's suspicion,” Jackson replies. “We can do it in short, overlapping stages, though. By the time anyone realizes what's happening, we'll be ready to close on all of them.” He squints, licking his lips. “If Danny's company gets the contract to take over the County's network and software maintenance, and if we can time it right, we can hide it better.”

Everyone looks to Danny, who shrugs. “It's down to three companies and they're making the decision next month. I can't bid any lower without drawing attention, and I'm not sure if we can get away with creating another scandal to remove a competitor.”

Before they came back to Beacon Hills, Danny, Jackson and Lydia planted the seeds for the eventual firing of the company maintaining the County's systems, in order to open it up for Danny's company well before the end of the fiscal year.

“It doesn't really matter that much, though.” Danny smirks and does the typing version of jazz hands. “Magic hacking skills. I'll hide it, no matter what.”

Derek nods. “Jackson, Lydia, get on the planning and give me a timeline as soon as you have it. Don't wait for the next meeting if it's done sooner.”

They move on to back up for Allison in worst case scenarios—i.e. Rogue wolves and other nasties—setting up an on-call schedule and compiling a host of ready-made excuses for why one of them might happen to be out somewhere they shouldn't really be. Mostly, they want to avoid her Deputies getting a clue, since with Allison as Sheriff and Jackson as Mayor, official questions will be pretty much nil.

When they're about to wrap up, Derek leans back in his chair and looks around the table meaningfully. “What else?”

Stiles takes a deliberate sip of his coffee, Danny twitches in his seat, and Lydia folds her hands on the table in front of her before lifting her chin in the air and addressing Derek. “I want a baby and Danny has agreed to impregnate me.”

There's a really funny moment where everyone goes absolutely gobsmacked. Stiles memorizes and treasures it, because he knows, despite what he told Danny and Lydia, that few people around the table actually wear their big kid pants.

Sure enough, after thirty seconds, all sorts of hell breaks loose. Scott, Jackson and Allison start talking at the same time, loud and vehement: Scott is confused and angry on Stiles' behalf; Jackson is betrayed and conflicted on his own behalf; and Allison's entire face gets pinched and she keeps throwing bitter glares and heated words in Scott's direction.

Stiles himself is silent. When Danny and Lydia look at him, distressed, he quirks his lips and nods in Derek's direction.

Derek is smiling. It's actually small and faint, but it makes his eyes gleam, and it's so very obvious that he's happy. Ignoring everyone else, Derek gets to his feet and gestures at Lydia and Danny, who circle the table in a blur and pile on him so enthusiastically that the three of them fall to the floor.

The others go mutinously silent because, with Derek's blessing, this is now a done deal, and Derek will pin them to the floor by their throats if they keep it up. Stiles has both seen and experienced that more than once over the years, and like everyone else he's learned that it's only funny when it's happening to someone other than you.

Lydia and Danny are practically rolling on the floor, sometimes over Derek, and other times taking him along for the ride. It's sort of the cutest thing Stiles has seen in ever and he laughs, face splitting with a wide grin.

The laughter fades into a sigh, and Stiles turns away to give Jackson, Allison and Scott his most disappointed look. Their regretful expressions would carry more weight if they weren't concurrently pissed off, so Stiles just shakes his head and waves them off. “Time to go. Think on it.”

Stiles doesn't follow the three who leave by the back door. Instead, he goes into the store/gallery, where he left his messenger bag. He's turned out the lights, set the alarm, and is using the sink behind the counter to rinse out his mug when Derek comes out. He steps up behind Stiles, hands curling on the edge of the sink on either side of Stiles' hips, and hooks his chin over Stiles' shoulder so that their cheeks are touching.

“We're having a baby,” Stiles says, quietly happy.

Stiles can feel Derek's face stretch into another smile. “Yeah, we are.” Finished with the mug, Stiles snakes out an arm for some paper towels to dry it. Derek turns so that his nose is brushing Stiles' skin. “You still have that smell.”

A firm elbow to Derek's gut has him backing off enough that Stiles can shift to the side of the sink, and hop up on the counter, heels braced on a partly open drawer beneath him. “It's—things, you know? Lydia couldn't ask me, and if she had, I couldn't have said yes, because I fucked up.”

Derek's brows do a confusing dance on his face, then he pulls over a tall stool. He sits, facing Stiles, and close enough that their knees knock together. “Do you want it to be you?”

Stiles shrugs, hands fluttering abstractly for a brief moment. “No, not the way things stand. My head's just twisted around. The relationship with Lydia—it was messed up and unhealthy, and in case I haven't said it, I'm so glad you unfucked my mistake. But if I hadn't made such a colossal mess of it, she probably would have asked me to do this for her and I probably would have done it.”

“You need to stop beating yourself up,” Derek huffs, frustrated.

“Forget history, doomed to repeat it, and all that shit.”

“You weren't the only one to blame. Lydia was right there with you in it.” Derek takes a deep breath, not like he's scenting, but like he's bolstering himself. “Most of the blame's on me, though.”

Stiles thinks about the end of his undergrad years, when Lydia had a falling out with MIT and chose to get her doctorate at Cal Tech, and Danny decided he was starting his business instead of getting a graduate degree. Stiles spent a week giddy at the idea of them reuniting with the rest of the Pack in California, who were going to move from Stanford to Pasadena, only to get a call from Derek telling him that Jackson was accepted into the MBA program at Harvard.

Stiles stayed so that Jackson would have someone there with him, and it shouldn't have been that huge of a deal. But Stiles wasn't expecting how hard it would be to lose Lydia and Danny, to suddenly go from being their human-sort-of-Alpha to having no say or presence in their lives. He was possessive and protective of them, resentful that Derek had given them to him only to take them back like it was nothing.

So when Lydia showed up in Boston unexpectedly, five months after starting Cal Tech, and kissed him, Stiles let it happen, fell into it as only someone equally desperate and codependent could have. Because if Lydia couldn't be his, in a Pack sense, any longer, she could be his in this way, and he could be hers, too.

That was the start of an ill-advised and massively damaged long-distance relationship that lasted three months. It ended when Derek dragged Lydia to Boston and sat the two of them down for some really painful truths.

“You tried,” Stiles reminds Derek. He sets a sneaker clad foot on Derek's thigh, shoves at it until Derek grips his ankle and stills him. “Don't go retconning things, because you made a huge effort to keep it from getting as far as it did and, again, you're the one who finally talked sense into us.”

“I didn't prepare you for the emotional impact of being their Alpha, which is what led to the whole thing.”

“First of all,” Stiles says, amused despite himself, “you were still way too emotionally stupid in the beginning to even try that.” Derek growls lightly and jostles his ankle. Stiles smirks briefly. “Second of all, the only reason I needed emotional preparation was because I responded to it more like a wolf than a human, and you couldn't have seen that coming.”

“Yeah, that was a surprise,” Derek murmurs, looking away. When he looks back, his gaze is intense, bright red from emotion, and Stiles almost wants to close his eyes against it. “Stop holding onto this so hard. Don't cling to a mistake like it's more important than all the things you did right with them, like what you and Lydia have now isn't worth anything.”

Stiles blinks compulsively, presses into the grip Derek has on his ankle, and swallows. “Yeah, okay.”

*

The full moon is the next night, and everyone is uncomfortable when they meet up at Hale House, which is even more decrepit than ever. Allison is conspicuously absent, having agreed to cover an open shift in an effort to not to see Scott, since those two went from on- to off- again after last night's meeting.

Derek does a lot of glaring, and touches Lydia and Danny more than usual, before the wolves shift and take off into the woods. Stiles has the feeling that a lot of the human emotions are going to be worked out in wolfie ways, under Derek's unsubtle hand, over the course of the night.

Once the wolves are gone, Stiles doesn't think twice before trundling into the woods in their wake, not necessarily following them, but taking his own meandering path to the clearing they'll congregate in at some point. After so many years, the werewolves have solid control, even on the full moon, and he's not worried that one of them will go nuts and hurt him. He also knows that, if any of them catch a hint of another predator in the woods, they'll call out an alarm and one or more will race to him while the others take care of the threat.

They have this down to an art now.

It's near to four in the morning before the wolves show. Stiles is stretched out on the forest floor, back propped up on a log that Scott carried clear across the forest for him two months ago. The Betas arrive first, in a flurry of awkward four-limbed running. They're covered in scratch and bite marks, probably inflicted by one another, and their mouths are bloody from each other and the prey they took down.

Stiles studies their interactions and, sure enough, the dynamic has stabilized again: Jackson nips at Lydia's jaw before tackling Scott in a playful tumble; Danny dives in and instigates a game of tag that Lydia joins. They're happy, content to have the tension dealt with, and Stiles can't help but grin at their antics.

The crackling of leaves and snapping of twigs behind Stiles alerts him to Derek's presence before he comes around on Stiles' side, in full Alpha form, and sits on his haunches. Stiles pushes himself up to sit on the log, elbows on his thighs and hands hanging down and loosely clasped.

Stiles can't run and hunt with them, can't even tussle with them playfully at times like this, no matter how much he sometimes wants to, and Derek will often end the night by Stiles' side.

Derek has never tried to get Allison or Stiles to take the bite, has always maintained that he's perfectly fine with them being human. It's not that Stiles thinks he's lying, but he does think that sometimes Derek wishes they could run, and hunt, and tussle with the rest of the Pack, with him.

Stiles leans to the side and, with his nose and closed mouth, nuzzles Derek's chin, his lips, his snout. Derek's head lifts regally, a pleased rumble sounding in his throat that cuts off abruptly when Stiles drops to the forest floor, belly up, head turned to bare his neck, and his legs curled awkwardly.

Nothing happens at first, then Derek chuffs and bends down to sniff and lick at Stiles face and throat, at the vulnerable swell of his abdomen, his jeans-covered crotch. When he's done, he shoves his head against Stiles' side until he sits up again, and they watch over the Betas until they tire themselves out.

Stiles can, and always does, join the end of night wolf piles, a tangle of warm limbs and fur, with carefully curled claws and entwined legs. Derek, as usual, is at the center, his form too different to curl up in the same way as the Betas and humans, but everyone is touching him in some manner.

In the morning, Stiles will wake up with a bunch of naked or half naked people, and they'll loot the duffel bag of wet wipes and clothing Stiles brought with him, and head to a breakfast buffet to sate their hunger. They'll be calm, languid, and secure, even all-too-human Stiles.

Chapter Text

= December =

A body is found in the woods the first week of December.

“Human, killed by a werewolf,” Scott tells them grimly at an emergency Pack meeting.

“Who was this guy?” Lydia wants to know.

Allison pushes her hair back with weariness. “Just someone passing through on his way home after spending the holiday up North with his family. I've got my people looking for his car.”

A muscle is ticking in Derek's jaw. “What's the coroner say?”

Scott shrugs; he's still in his scrubs, and even Stiles can smell the antiseptic and formaldehyde wafting from him. “Animal attack. He's doing the full autopsy tomorrow.”

“There was a bear attack a few hours from here last week,” Jackson tells them. “Didn't get a lot of notice outside of where it happened, but the Park Rangers mentioned it at a meeting the other day.”

Derek jerks his head at Scott, who nods. They have fur and saliva samples from a number of different large animals, including several specifies of bears, cougars and coyote. Scott will plant some on the body to keep the findings mundane, while also checking to make sure no unusual substances are present. If they are, he'll get rid of them.

“I want all the wolves in the woods tonight, tracking the victim, and searching for any foreign scent trails.” Derek swings his gaze to Allison. “Tell us when you take over minding the scene, we'll start then. Stiles, talk to Argent, see what he knows.”

“Maybe I should be the one to do that?” Allison asks, hesitant.

Derek shakes his head. “Stiles will ask him.”

“It'll be cool, no worries,” Stiles assures Allison with a grin.

“Get some sleep, if you can,” Derek tells them, standing up. “It's going to be a long night.”

*

Stiles knocks a jaunty beat on the front door of Dad and Chris' house later that evening, then lets himself in.

“Greetings and salutations,” he calls out.

Dad comes out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a dishtowel, a frown creasing his face. “I thought we might see you here tonight.” He eyes the overnight bag Stiles is holding. “Wasn't expecting a sleepover, though.”

“Yeah, well, they don't want me on my own, and I wanted to touch base with Chris. Plus: time with my dad. It's a three-for-one visitation, and if you make pancakes in the morning, I'll upgrade it to a four-for-one.”

Dad rolls his eyes. “Dream on, kid. You'll insist on those disgusting whole wheat ones, then throw out the syrup and butter and make me eat them dry.”

“J'accuse!” Stiles gasps, pointing at him. “You shouldn't even have syrup and butter for me to throw out!”

“It's that smart health butter-like substitute, and low calorie less fat syrup,” Chris drawls as he comes down the stairs. He looks about as surprised at Stiles' presence as Dad was. “Food actually tastes better without them.”

“We were about to watch a movie,” Dad says, looking between Stiles and Chris. “Interested?”

“Hell yeah, just let me take my stuff upstairs.”

When Stiles comes back down, Dad and Chris are in the living room, title screen of an action movie looping on the television. Dad mutes it and waves at them to get it over with.

“There's been odd activity in Eldorado National Forest,” Chris offers. “Started about a month ago, in Nevada, crossed into California near Sacramento. Then, a few incidents heading north. Get the feeling there's more than one.”

Stiles swallows down his first four replies to the information and focuses on the most immediate concerns. “What kind of odd activity?”

Chris shrugs. “A lot of slaughtered animals, from small prey to big game and large predators.”

“Hunters on the trail?”

“You know I'm not going to answer that,” Chris says stonily.

Stiles opens his mouth, glances at his father, and shuts it. “So, time for that movie, right?”

*

Around midnight, Stiles goes upstairs to shower before lying down for the night and waiting obsessively for word from the others. Chris is waiting for him when he gets out of the bathroom, which is even less surprising than Stiles showing up here tonight.

He follows Stiles into his bedroom. “What action is the Pack taking?”

Stiles widens his eyes. “You know I'm not going to answer that,” he mocks, a sickly sweet smile on his face.

The way Chris pushes into his personal space and glares down was intimidating when Stiles was sixteen. Not so much now, though, after Stiles has spent the last nine years dealing with Derek Hale, and a variety of socio-- and psychopaths of both the human and werewolf sort.

“My daughter is out there in the thick of it, Stiles,” he hisses. “I think you can break Derek's policy of not sharing information just this once.”

“You're such a hypocrite, seriously, it's so gross.” Stiles takes a step forward, bringing them so close that their chests brush when they breathe. “That is your daughter out there, yes, so how about you let me know if we need to protect her from being skewered by Hunters who don't give a shit who they hurt in pursuit of the 'monsters'.”

Chris stays obstinately silent and Stiles sneers at him.

“Yeah, that's what I thought. Out, I'm going to bed.”

Stiles closes the door behind Chris, takes a deep breath, and then crosses the room to unlock the window. “Get in here,” he says to Derek, who's crouched on the roof.

Derek slips inside, listens with his head cocked for a moment, then relaxes and turns to Stiles. “How did you know I was there?”

“I saw your Cylon eyes reflected in the mirror. What's the word?”

Derek rolls his shoulders and sighs. “Jackson and I found some scent trails that match the one on the body, over a day old, but nothing fresh. Lydia caught something, a second scent, but she said it smelled weird. Werewolf, definitely, but there was something different about it.”

“Yeah, I can't do anything researchy with that unhelpful description, sorry,” Stiles tells him. Derek just shrugs. “Any sign of Hunters?”

“No, but this only broke today. What did you get from Chris?” Stiles goes over what Chris saw fit to tell him. Derek studies Stiles' face, then frowns deeply. “You think Hunters are tracking them.”

“Yeah,” Stiles answers, even though it wasn't a question. “Interstate activity? That gets attention. Not to mention how much Chris knew—he got that from somewhere. Even if I'm wrong, it can't hurt to act like I'm right.”

Derek nods. “Patrols and buddy system until further notice. Danny sent out the rotation, so check your email.” He pins Stiles with a fierce stare. “I want you armed for werewolf at all times.”

Stiles scrubs his face with both hands and nods. “Yeah, okay. I was thinking, though...”

“What?”

“Lydia might be able to work her mathy magic with what we have.” He waves his hand. “You know, analyzing the route they're taking to figure out where they're going. That kind of thing. Danny'll need to get us what the Forest Service has on file, but it might be useful.”

“I'll get them on it. I need to meet Scott for patrol.” He cuffs Stiles on the back of the head. “Lock the window after me.”

*

Four days later, Derek calls a Pack meeting at Danny's house. Stiles and Scott drive over and find everyone except Allison and, ironically, Danny, already waiting.

“What's going on?” Scott asks Derek.

Stiles only vaguely hears Derek tell Scott about the Hunters who've shown up in town, because he's distracted by Lydia. She's sitting at the smart table in the massive technology hub that is Danny's dining room, spine rigid and face pale. “Hey, are you all right?”

She jerks, blinks at him like she didn't realize he was there until just then. “When I have a baby, it's going to be a werewolf, right, Derek?”

Everyone stares at her because, wow, had that come out of nowhere. Derek scowls. “This isn't the time--”

“Because Danny and I are both werewolves, the baby will be one, too,” Lydia presses.

“Lydia!” Derek snaps.

“But it won't shift right away, that's what you told me. Not even on the full moon. Not until it's around twelve.”

It's becoming obvious to the others in the room that something is wrong. Derek has his head cocked, brows lowered, considering Lydia and her randomly off-subject conversational topic. “Right. Why--”

“What will it smell like?” Lydia's voice is oddly intent; Stiles has a horrible, horrible feeling. “Before it can shift to wolf form, will it smell human?”

Derek licks his lips, hesitates, then responds. “It won't smell human, no, but it'll smell like Pack.”

Lydia narrows her eyes and clenches her fists on the tabletop. “And like wolf, too, right?”

“Sort of.”

Stiles feels a tide of bile rush up his throat, and chokes on it before swallowing it down. “Like a werewolf, but weird, different.”

Jackson and Scott's faces fall in horror when they put together Lydia's questions with her description of what she smelled in the woods, and Derek freezes, eyes burning red. “Lydia,” he says carefully, “is Stiles right?”

Lydia heaves in a breath, then covers her face with her hands and nods.

Stiles fumbles blindly behinds himself to grab one of the multitude of rolling chairs in the room, and sinks down on it.

“Please,” Jackson says, sounding sick, “please tell me there isn't a little kid being tracked by Hunters.”

Scott whimpers. “Oh my god.”

Lydia—Lydia sobs and it takes everything in Stiles to let Derek handle it, handle her. Derek walks slowly across the room, crouches next to her and cups the back of her head. He says, unbearably gentle, “Tell me what you found.”

With another sob, Lydia tips off of the chair, falls onto Derek, and clings to him.

“Get out,” Derek tells the rest of them.

*

When Derek comes into the living room an hour later, Danny and Allison having arrived and been updated with the little that was known, they are a quiet mess. Allison is crying silently, wrapped up with Scott. Jackson and Danny are holding hands so hard Stiles wouldn't be surprised if bones are, or were, broken, and Stiles is standing by the window, arms wrapped around himself and staring at the carpet.

“Come on,” Derek rasps, standing aside so they can go back into the tech room.

Lydia is still pale, but more collected, despite her bloodshot eyes. She's standing at the head of the table, just to the side of the large wall-mounted monitor, and once they're all seated she takes a breath and starts.

“Six weeks ago, a family was killed in a town in Nevada bordering Eldorado National Forest,” she says, her voice cracked and raw. She taps the table and a series of crime scene photos comes up on the monitor.

They're gruesome, familiarly so.

“They were werewolves, weren't they?” Scott says tightly.

Lydia nods. “And they were killed by one, too.”

No one has to ask how she knows that because it's easy enough to figure out with autopsy records and crime scene photos, both of which Danny probably hacked for her.

“A husband and wife, and three children ages fourteen, six, and two.” She taps the table again, bringing up a family portrait. “But they had four children total. James, eight years old, is missing.”

The kid is adorable, with wide dark brown eyes and fair blonde hair, and a bright, gap-toothed grin. Stiles' heart breaks in his chest.

“I found this out by tracking the forest activity backwards to determine a point of origin,” Lydia goes on, her voice steadying as she treads comfortable ground. “My analysis of the path taken from there to here is indicative of a pursuit curve.” Scott opens his mouth, but Lydia glares him silent. “One person running—James—and one person chasing—the werewolf that killed the rest of his family.”

Before anyone can ask any of the questions that are plastered all over their faces—Stiles knows better and just waits—Lydia brings up a flow chart of information, helpfully color coded.

“The forest was practically in the Harper's backyard,” she tells them. “I think that James ran, probably while the rest of the family was being killed, and kept running all the way into California via Eldorado. When he hit the border of Eldorado, he moved north, to the next closest forest, and eventually ended up here.”

Scott looks baffled. “How can you be sure of this? I don't understand.”

Lydia slaps her fingers on the table top, bringing up photos alongside the flow chart. “The small prey remains found resemble werewolf kills, but they're not. It's a case of mimicry. James has seen werewolves take down prey, but he can't shift and doesn't have the physical ability to do it in the same way. So he does what he can to achieve similar results, with animals small enough for him to handle.”

The photos change to ones of the remains of the larger animals, prey and predator, that have been found. “These are werewolf kills, an adult one. They follow the same path as the smaller kills, but they come after. At first, there was a large time gap between them, but it's grown smaller and smaller.”

“He's gaining on the kid,” Derek rumbles. “Catching up.”

Lydia inhales. “Caught up,” she corrects him. “They're both here, in our territory. It's just a matter of tracking, now.” She toggles the screen back to the family portrait and stares at it. “James pretty much grew up in a forest He's very good at navigating them, hiding in them. He's eluding the pursuer, and us, but he can't do it forever. He's an eight year old boy, scared and living off the land.”

“And how many Hunters have shown up in town?” Stiles asks bitterly.

“At least seven,” Danny answers, and the barely constrained fury in his voice is both understandable and alarming. “They're using cash and camping out in the Preserve, but I caught them on Wifi security cameras in and around town.”

He leans over the table and slides a series of stills from the security cameras on the screen. Stiles glances over the first half dozen, and stops at one showing Chris Argent speaking with two of them.

Allison makes a surprised sound. “Goddamn it.”

Jackson's hands shift into claws. “Do they know? Do the Hunters know about James?”

Lydia frowns uncertainly. “If we trust Argent's information, they picked up on this a month ago. I have no idea if they would have bothered backtracking to find a point of origin. If we don't trust the information, the question still remains.”

*

When night falls, Scott and Jackson head out to try to track James or the adult werewolf. Derek, concerned about the larger-than-expected number of Hunters in town, has confined the rest of the Pack to Danny's house for the night.

Lydia goes back to work in the hub, this time focusing on finding a pattern in James' movements in the forest that they can use to locate him. Lydia is brilliant, recipient of a Fields Medal while she was an undergrad, but Stiles isn't sure if it's even possible to predict how a terrified eight-year-old is going to tear through a forest.

Allison keeps throwing Stiles looks, and whenever Lydia and Danny leave the hub for food or to use the bathroom, they do the same thing. Eventually, after a few hours of staring at a marathon of a train wreck reality show on VH1, in a futile effort to shut his brain off, Stiles tosses the remote aside and gets to his feet.

Derek's in the basement, beating the hell out of a structurally anchored and seriously reinforced punching bag. Stiles walks around him in a wide arc, Derek's eyes tracking him warily, to slide down a paneled wall onto his ass, legs pulled up to his chest.

Ten minutes pass.

“I don't want to talk,” Derek grunts between punches.

What a shocker. Really. Stiles rolls his eyes. For all that Derek is way less emotionally stupid nowadays, he's still not an open, sharing kind of guy. Especially when it comes to his own messed up, tragic life, on which he's probably dwelling thanks to the parallels between what happened to his family and what happened to the Harpers.

Stiles isn't brave or stupid enough to try to push Derek about it. There be dragons, and all that, and he likes this brave new world of theirs where Derek no longer throws him into walls. It was a long time coming.

“Am I trying to get you to talk?”

“Shut up, Stiles.”

Another fifteen minutes minutes pass.

“Go back upstairs.”

“Nope, they'll just silently nag me into coming back down.”

Five more minutes. Derek unleashes a flurry of powerful hits, so fast that his hands are a blur to Stiles, before driving two full sets of claws into the bag. He leans his forehead against it, breathing heavily.

“Drink,” Stiles tells him, holding out a water.

Derek stomps over, ill-tempered, his hands still shifted, and snatches the bottle. There's sand pouring out of the gashes in the punching bag, and Stiles watches it fall while Derek drinks the water in one long swallow. When he's done, Derek crushes the bottle and throws it across the room. Then he stands there, the lines of his body tense, but with small tremors jerking his muscles, before his knees buckle under him.

Stiles looks at him, the clenched fists pressing down on his thighs, the lips tightened until they're white from strain, the wild flaring of his nostrils, and the wretchedness in his eyes.

Stiles closes the two feet between them on his knees. His hand slips on the sweaty skin of Derek's shirtless side before he gains purchase. “Come here,” he croaks, tugging.

Derek doesn't respond, at first, doesn't seem to even hear the words, but then he moves, tumbling them to to the floor on their sides, arranging them so that he's wrapped around Stiles from behind, face buried between Stiles' shoulder blades. His arms are like vices around Stiles' chest, and he has both of Stiles' thighs trapped between his own. There are going to be bruises, and the concrete floor is cold and uncomfortable, but Stiles just grips Derek's forearms as tightly as he can and tries to absorb the vibrations from Derek's trembling body with his own.

*

By dawn, Lydia has narrowed down probable movements by James, extrapolated from the data they have on his previous patterns and preferences, and Scott and Jackson call to say that they've found a fresh scent trail on the adult.

Derek decides not to wait until dark to move, in the hopes that the Hunters Scott and Jackson sensed in the woods earlier will be pulling back for the day and removing that complication. Allison goes out to dispatch her deputies to strategic trails with orders to contact her if they come across anything at all. After that, she has to bring their evidence to Chris in the hopes he'll step in with the Hunters.

The rest of them meet up with Scott and Jackson, then split up. Derek, Lydia and Danny take off as soon as they arrive, on the trail of the adult werewolf. Stiles, Jackson and Scott head off to check out Lydia's list of likely areas James might be.

Stiles' eyes are gritty from lack of sleep, his muscles sore from the hours spent on the basement floor, but he imagines he's still better off than Scott and Jackson, who were in the woods the whole night.

“Nothing,” Jackson says when they've worked their way in overlapping circles, out to in, at the second area Lydia provided.

Stiles texts the others with the news that it's a bust, and they start for the next search zone, a mile to the northeast.

They're halfway there when Jackson freezes and throws out an arm to stop Stiles in place. He cocks his head and frowns. “Scott?”

Scott turns in a circle on his heels, head lifted and nostrils flaring. “I'm picking up two. What about you?”

“Two,” Jackson confirms, then, for Stiles' benefit, says, “Hunters. Moving this way.”

“Shit, okay, how fast? Do we have time to search this location, or do we need to bolt?”

Scott and Jackson look at one another, and Stiles doesn't even try to read what they're saying with their faces. “On our own, we'd have time,” Scott says reluctantly.

Stiles fires off another text and waves them away. “Do it. I'm going to very obviously meander...southeast is probably best. It'll lead the Hunters from you, and it's nowhere near the adult's scent trail.”

They hesitate, clearly not wanting to leave Stiles on his own. But, for a very brief time, Stiles was Jackson's human-sort-of-Alpha, too, so when Stiles stares him down, lifts his chin, and says, “Go,” Jackson goes, pulling Scott with him. They leave barely a hint of a trail in their wake.

*

Stiles has meandered about two miles when the Hunters catch up to him. They're nearby, moving so quietly through the silent forest that most people wouldn't hear them. But Stiles isn't most people. The Pack spent more hours than he really cares to remember training in these very woods, and the humans weren't exempt from lessons on tracking and evading. Derek, in fact, drilled Stiles and Allison more relentlessly than the wolves, pushing them to hone their skills and senses as much as possible.

Pretending he's completely unaware, Stiles slips his phone out of his pocket, sends a message and his coordinates to the others, and keeps his pace slow while the Hunters, according to Stiles' practiced ear, speed up.

The Hunters split up after another half a mile, and that's when Stiles realizes there are three, not two. He's not sure if both Scott and Jackson missed one, or if the third joined the others along the way. It doesn't matter. What matters is the way Stiles is being boxed in from three damn sides.

It's not like this wasn't Stiles' plan—leading them off to distract them from the search for James—but something about the situation is suddenly making the hairs on his neck stand at attention.

When the first Hunter steps out of a thicket of trees in front of him, Stiles waves. “Hey, how's it going? Kind of cold to be out here, man.” He makes a show of noticing the rifle the guy's carrying. “And really off season for that kind of thing.”

The guy, who's gruff looking and built to medium proportions all around, doesn't say anything. The second Hunter appears from behind a tree on Stiles' right, and he's very slight in stature, but he's got a matching rifle.

“Oh, hey, you've got a friend with you. That's good, dude, safety first and always have a buddy. Smart of you.”

“Cut the crap, kid,” the second guy advises, and really, he's ten years older than Stiles, at most, there's no call for that crack, even if Stiles does look younger than his literal and metaphorical years. “We know you're part of the Hale Pack.”

Both Hunters shoulder their rifles and point them in Stiles' direction.

Stiles rocks on his heels, ears straining to listen for the approach of the third Hunter. “I'm completely human. Not that there haven't been opportunities to get the Bite; I just like who I am, know what I mean?” He grins, wide and disarming. “I'm a pretty amazing guy, if I do say so myself.”

The Hunters cock their rifles simultaneously.

Stiles arches his brows. “Really? Don't you guys have a strict werewolf-only policy when it comes to killing and maiming? I sort of distinctly remember my stepfather—Chris Argent, do you know him? Anyway—telling me about that.”

“We know exactly who you are, Stilinski,” Hunter Number Two says flatly. “How many years have you been in Hale's Pack? How long were you in charge of half of it? Figure you're more wolf than human, now; it's all relative.”

Stiles does not like the sound of that. It's too 'justifiable homicide is justified' for his taste. “In charge?” he says, making a face and shaking his head. “More like a glorified nanny. Some might say manny, but I'm not down with masculine-izing words for distinction because it's--”

“Still a silver-tongued liar, I see.” That's the third Hunter, and Stiles knows that hoarse, insane voice, and he can feel the blood drain from his face, feel how wide and freaked his eyes get at the sound of it. The first two Hunters smirk, smug and mocking. “Get those hands up, Stiles. I know better than to trust your poor defenseless human routine; the Devil's hand need not be impressive, just dedicated to evil.”

Slowly, Stiles lifts his shaking hands, holding them palm out. “Maguire?” he asks incredulously, swallowing harshly.

Maguire sidles around Stiles, the other two Hunters moving to keep Stiles covered from three equidistant points, and comes into view, Stiles watches them move while eying the now open spot to his right, the sloping incline blanketed in dry frost-covered leaves.

Maguire's built like a damn tank, all height and bulging muscles, which hasn't changed since the last time Stiles saw him, the second year in Boston. Then, however, Maguire's face, throat, arms and hands weren't covered in ropes of thick white scar tissue. They curl under his short sleeves, and beneath his collar, and Stiles sickly wonders how far down they go, how much of his skin they spider across.

“I'm sure this is a surprise,” Maguire says and gives Stiles a blindingly crazy grin that makes his pale gray eyes fucking twinkle with insanity. That's not new, either. “Probably figured I was good as dead when you threw me in the path of that rabid beast, but God favors the righteous.”

Stiles has nothing to say to that. Or, rather, he has a lot to say, but Maguire has a loaded, cocked rifle and a low tolerance for Stiles' existence, so he presses his lips together.

Maguire laughs and tosses a set of zip ties at Stiles. “Ankles first, then wrists. And, Stilinski? Move real slow.”

There are times when Stiles pushes, when he aggravates situations and people, turns everything up to eleven; it's an almost pathological part of his personality, and it's gotten him out of more scrapes than it's gotten him into, no matter what anyone says.

This is not one of those times.

Maguire is a religious zealot, believes it is his literal God-given mission to exterminate every werewolf in existence because they're evil unclean things, aspects of Satan made flesh. That calling put Lydia and Danny in his cross-hairs in Boston. By all rights, they should have been dead before anyone realized he was after them, just like the dozens of other werewolves Maguire murdered after the face of God appeared to him in the surface of the full moon and informed him of his sacred duty.

But at some point during his assassination preparation, Maguire's divine wrath shifted to Stiles, a human who knowingly and purposely consorted with the beasts, a traitor to God and man and all that was right and holy. Maguire started by attempting to enlighten Stiles of his sins, encouraging him to repent and be forgiven, and when that failed he became obsessed with, fixated on, Stiles. For three weeks, Maguire stalked him, his intent progressing from steering Stiles back onto the righteous path, to a plan to make Stiles watch him carve the evil from Danny and Lydia's skin before flaying Stiles himself.

Stiles still remembers the way his heart sank to his feet, how the only thought left in his head when Maguire kidnapped Lydia and Danny, then called Stiles with an address, was No, emphatic and certain. Maguire gave Stiles an hour to get there. It was was more than enough time to bait the rogue wolf the Pack was in the process of tracking before Maguire showed up, lead her to the address, and, yes, throw Maguire in her path.

The last time Stiles saw Maguire, he was being slice to ribbons by the rogue, and Stiles was dragging his wolves out of a condemned house in Cambridge.

So, no, Stiles is not pushing this guy, not when he still has nightmares about Lydia and Danny drugged and chained up, implements straight out of a torture porn sitting at the ready, and Stiles the reason for it all.

Stiles lowers himself to the forest floor, hands still up, so slowly that his muscles protest and struggle to hold his weight. He carefully threads a strip tie around his ankles, tightens it, then does the same for his wrists.

When he's done, Maguire gestures him up with the rifle. It's tricky, trying to stand when his ankles are strapped together and he can't use his arms for balance. He's falling to his knees for the second time when he hears the bird call the Pack uses as an alert signal. Stiles doesn’t hesitate, just drops all the way back down and rolls himself towards the incline, an extra push with his bound hands sending him tumbling over it.

The Hunters start firing at his first sudden movement, running towards him, and bullets impact the ground Stiles has just barely left, is about to touch. Stiles’ trip down the hill is a barrel roll of kamikaze flailing, his trajectory affected unpredictably by forest debris, making it hard for them to get a clear shot.

Until one gets lucky. The bullet tears into Stiles’ left side when he’s halfway down the incline, and he grunts in surprised pain, would scream but he doesn’t have enough breath and Jesus God it fucking hurts, and he’s bleeding like crazy, and he has no idea how he’s going to be able to move when he lands at the bottom of the incline.

The last part turns out to not be an issue. Stiles is still mid-roll, about to level out on flat ground, when his ankles are grabbed. Scott uses Stiles’ momentum, and his own preternatural strength, to swing Stiles around and send him into a skittering slide between two trees, out of the path of the Hunters coming down the slope.

Stiles gasps for breath, presses his bound hands to his bleeding side, and starts shaking when he realizes there’s literally a giant hole in his body, fuck, oh fuck.

A sharp, stinging pain in his face, less agonizing than the bullet wound but sharper and newer, gets his attention, and he realizes dumbly that bullets are still flying in his direction and that he’s been sliced by bark that was sheered from a tree right next to his head.

“Take cover, Stiles,” Jackson growls from somewhere behind.

The forest is thicker down here, with more trees that are older and wider around. He doesn’t even try to get up, just drags himself towards a tree, belly down, and thinks about the leaves and twigs that are probably working their way into the bullet hole, which is all kinds of unsanitary and horrifying, but he doesn’t have much of a choice.

When Stiles gets to the tree, he hooks his fingers into the bark and pulls himself around it, legs jerking awkwardly against the ground. He lies there, gasping wetly, and contemplates remaining exactly as is, but his legs are still hanging out in the wind; he’s still too exposed with all the shooting, snarling and growling going on back there.

Getting to his hands and knees makes him cry out, brings tears to his eyes, and causes his vision to go dark around the edges. He shuffles, uncoordinated from pain and the zip ties, and puts his back to the tree. His legs are folded under him, uncomfortable and trapped, and—oh god—there’s so much blood, pouring out of him in sluggish pulses in time with his heart beat.

This is bad, so bad.

Stiles fumbles his hands, grabs the end of the scarf hanging from his neck, and tugs it off. It takes forever, like his lightweight scarf of normal length is suddenly heavier than steel and as long as that one Doctor’s scarf was. He balls it in his hands as best he can and presses it to the ugly hole in his body that shouldn’t be there. He tries to push hard but his muscles feel like marshmallow and he’s shaking so hard his teeth are chattering.

In his pocket, his phone vibrates. Stiles chokes on a laugh because, no, there’s no way he can get his stupid, tied hands into the blood soaked pocket of his jeans, it’s just not happening.

Stiles is getting hazy from blood loss and shock, so at first he thinks he’s hallucinating when someone—James, the kid—falls out of a tree in front of, and to the right, of Stiles. He blinks, but no, that actually happened, and it's not that freaky, because Stiles has been treed by the Pack for protection before; it's a favorite trick of theirs.

James is crouched, frozen, in front of the tree, face slack and pale with fright, and Maguire screams, “Over there! Get it!”

There’s nothing Stiles can do, even as he hears the shot. He’s too far away, and even if he wasn’t, he’s not capable of moving no matter how much adrenaline has just been dumped into his system. And James, the poor little kid whose family was slaughtered, and who’s spent weeks running for his life, stares in the direction of Maguire’s voice and gun, and screams a howl of terror.

Stiles refuses to look away, refuses to let this kid die alone, but then two things happen at the same time: Jackson flies into view, mouth frothing in rage, and takes the bullet meant for James right in his back; and Stiles hears Derek join the fray with a roaring snarl that is more suited to a giant cat than a wolf.

Jackson doesn’t stop moving when he hits the forest floor and uses the momentum to throw himself on top of James, shielding his small body from harm. His arms only hold him for a second before he collapses on James, angling himself at the last minute so that he doesn't crush the boy.

Stiles tilts his head back, stares up through the canopy of leaves at the weak December sunlight, and listens to the fight happening out of his view. He recognizes Lydia and Danny's feral sounds, just like he recognized Derek's, just like he knows Scott and Jackson's. Maguire is screaming, shouting invectives and damnation, and probably firing one of the many shots that are ringing through the forest. The other two Hunters are just yelling curses, scared and anxious.

It's all really loud, but it comes at more and more of a distance to Stiles' ears, which he thinks is a bad sign.

He's unbearably grateful when, between one breath and the next, Maguire's voice is abruptly cut off. There's a fraught stillness then, a silence that hangs heavy, only to be broken by half the Beacon Hills police force converging on the scene from every direction at once.

Allison is front and center of the group coming Jackson and Stiles' way, and the angle of her approach gets her to Jackson first. Stiles watches, numb, as she stoops to check on him and James, and is waved away with some muttered words. Allison stands quickly and whips around. When she sees Stiles, she sucks in a breath and starts running, screaming, “Scott! Scott, get over here!”

Stiles starts losing time, then.

...Allison is next to him, crying...

...Scott is there, bare-chested, pushing something too hard against Stiles' bloody wound...

...Someone is slapping his cheek—Derek, it's Derek. “Stay with me, Stiles,” Derek shouts...

He's flat on his back, the sky racing quickly above him. He's in an ambulance crowded with too many people. There's a ceiling above him, too many hands on his body. Something warm is sliding through his veins, pulling him beneath the surface. He lets it.

*

Stiles is in surgery for four hours, and in the hospital for nine days after that. The first few days are a blur, with him swimming in and out of consciousness for brief moments to find a sea of faces peering down at him.

Allison sends everyone out of the room when he's finally functionally awake on day four to “take his statement,” which involves reading his portion of the story the Pack has come up with and helping him sign it. The story is boring, a retread of covers they've used in the past: hiking in the woods, crazy guys with guns, and a bonus chapter covering unexpectedly finding a missing kid.

Stiles asks Allison about what really happened, but she tightens her lips, shakes her head. The only thing she'll say is everyone, including James and Jackson, are fine. Stiles stares at her, tired and in pain despite the meds. “Send Derek back in,” he says, and she leaves with a kiss to his cheek.

Derek sits on the bed, on Stiles' uninjured side, and looks down at him. Stiles takes the time to study him in return, and he doesn't like what he sees. Derek looks awful, like he hasn't slept in days, vestiges of anger and fear clinging to the lines around his face and mouth.

Stiles quirks his lips, knows there's no humor in the gesture; Derek reaches out, wraps his hand around the side of Stiles' neck, and closes his eyes.

*

Eventually, Derek tells Stiles the full, ugly story. Most if it, including Scott and Jackson finding James, then tracking down Stiles only to discover what was happening and call in reinforcements, Stiles already put together for himself. Some of it he didn't know at all, like the fact that Derek bashed Maguire's skull in with his own rifle, killing him instantly.

Given what Maguire did back in Boston, and how badly hurt Jackson and Stiles were this time, Stiles knows that Derek would have preferred to use tooth and claw, to kill the bastard his own hands and mouth. He's sort of amazed that Derek restrained himself to an action that didn't bring up awkward questions about wild animals.

Then there are the parts that Stiles didn't know but is completely unsurprised about, like the other group of Hunters, including Chris Argent, that Derek, Danny and Lydia ran into while tracking the rogue, who was killed and buried despite the Hunters' attempts to interfere.

Allison is furious with her father. Stiles doesn't blame her for that, not when Chris brushed off their information about James, saying it was a ridiculous theory; refused to confirm if there were more Hunters in town than they identified; went into the woods with clear intent to kill a wolf in Hale territory; and aided and abetted the Hunters, including Maguire.

Stiles is exhausted when Derek finishes talking, weary to the bone and weighted down with sad resignation that feels like a continent sitting on his chest. Derek climbs onto the bed, curls himself around Stiles' body, and Stiles cries against the stubbled skin of his throat.

*

In a Christmas miracle, Stiles gets to leave the hospital on the twenty-third.

“You can come home with me, Stiles,” Dad says.

Stiles doesn't look up from helping Derek help him into a pair of actual pants, which actually cover his ass completely, halleluiah. It's the fifth or so time his Dad has offered, and it's getting uncomfortably close to begging, but there is no way in Hell that Stiles is going home with him.

“How about you come home with me, instead?”

Dad's mouth turns down at the corners and he shifts on his feet. “I'm not sure I'd be welcome.” His eyes cut quickly in Derek's direction.

“You're family,” Derek says, shrugging. He props Stiles against the bed, hands lingering until Stiles nods that he won't fall over, and reaches for the button-down shirt Danny brought over.

Dad's face twists bitterly. “You say that like it means something.”

Stiles flinches, stung. Derek spins around, his face a black cloud of doom, hand clenching in a fist around the material of Stiles' shirt. “It means everything to Stiles,” Derek grinds out.

Dad looks at Stiles and regret washes over his face. “Son, I'm sorry. I didn't mean...”

“It's fine, it's okay, I know, don't worry.” Dad gets more upset looking; Stiles tries to smile again. “Just, yeah, you can come. You know, if you want. I mean, you don't have to, it's okay if you don't, I--”

Derek cuts off Stiles' increasingly desperate rambling by way sliding one of Stiles' arms into a shirt sleeve. “Lean forward a bit.”

Dad doesn't say anything while Derek maneuvers Stiles into the shirt and buttons it. Stiles can't really bring himself to look at him, so he stares at how nimble Derek's blunt fingers are with the tiny buttons.

Derek's shoving Stiles' foot into a shoe before Dad breaks the silence with a pained voice. “I'll come. Of course I'll come.”

*

The Pack is waiting at Stiles' house. They've rearranged the living room furniture to accommodate a nest of mattresses, pillows and blankets large enough to fit all of them, including little James, whose attachment to Jackson—who saved and protected him—hasn't waned.

Stiles is beat, the conversation at the hospital, and the exertion of the trip home, weakening him. He's passed carefully from person to person, nuzzled and hugged gently, and then Scott settles him in the center of the nest. Stiles is asleep almost instantly, unsure which two warm bodies tuck in next to him.

*

Scott wakes Stiles sometime later to check his bandages.

The pain killers Stiles took before leaving the hospital still have him groggy, more so than he’s comfortable with, and he struggles to make his mouth work. “Okay?”

“Yeah, it's looking good.”

Stiles closes his eyes, floating on Vicodin. Around him, the Pack shifts and he hears the television turn off. Allison mentions changing, and Stiles must drift off briefly because she's back as soon as she leaves.

“Do you want to join us?”

Stiles has no idea who she’s talking to until he hears Dad’s voice. “I—this isn’t appropriate. Especially for the boy.”

Under him, around him, Stiles can feel various muscles tensing. A silence falls for several beats too long before Allison replies. “It isn’t about sex, or anything like that.”

“Maybe not right now, but—“

Allison’s voice is completely without inflection. “No. Not ever. James’ family was his Pack, and they did this, too. It wasn’t creepy or bad, and it’s not some lead up to an orgy. It’s comfort and security. Reassurance and love.”

It’s exactly that, Stiles thinks, easing back into sleep.

*

Pain wakes Stiles in the morning. His father is already up, or maybe never went to sleep, and looks haggard and deeply troubled on the couch.

“Getting up,” Stiles mumbles and space is cleared for him in the nest.

“Need help?” Jackson slurs.

Stiles looks at his Dad, holds out his hands. “Nah, keep sleeping.”

The staples pull when Dad helps him to his feet, and Stiles hisses, closes his eyes and breathes until it passes. “I’ll get your pills,” Dad says.

Stiles shakes his head. “Food first, because I really don’t want to puke. I think that might hurt. A lot.”

The silence isn’t tense in the kitchen as Dad goes through Stiles’ cupboards and fridge to pull out bagels and juice, but it is uncomfortable. Stiles recalls the conversation between Dad and Allison like a half-remembered fever dream, which is pretty apt all things considered.

“You seem like a man with a lot on his mind.” He nods in the direction of the living room. “They’re sacked out, we’re here, so it’s the perfect time. Lay it on me.”

Dad sighs. “It’s just a lot to take in, Stiles.”

“Yeah, I can totally see that.” Stiles laboriously lifts a bagel slathered in cream cheese from the plate his father sets in front of him. “Which part, exactly?”

“They come off as regular people. At the dinners, when they visit, and when I run into any of them in town. Theoretically, I knew. Chris told me—” He cuts himself off with a wince, and Stiles wonders just what's transpired between Dad and Chris in the aftermath of this awful clusterfuck. He can't imagine it's anything good.

But no way is Stiles going to broach that subject right now. He leans forward to sip his orange juice through a straw, and tries to figure out where to start with what his father actually said. “Dad, I say this with unfathomable amounts of respect for your marriage to Chris, but he doesn’t know half as much as he thinks he does about us.”

Stiles infuses the words with all the kindness and seriousness he can, because no matter what his feelings about Dad marrying Chris Freaking Argent are, Stiles would never spit on something that means so much to his father, that brings him happiness.

Dad gives him a look that he can’t quite define. It’s a bit sad, a bit tired, and more than a little confounded. “Stiles, you’re not a werewolf, but you always say ‘us’ and ‘we’.”

And Dad, Stiles realizes in that moment, always makes a distinction between the human and wolf members of the Pack. He just did it, in fact.

“That's because it's not about being a werewolf, it's about being Pack.” Dad seems even more confused, and Stiles struggles to find a way to explain it that makes sense to someone outside of it. “It's family,” he finally says, thinking back to Allison's words the previous night. “We didn't choose each other—Derek pretty much got saddled with most of us, and Jackson wasn't someone me or Scott wanted to be tied to—and we don't always get along, but we're in it together.” Stiles shrugs, a halting, careful motion. “Whatever 'it' means on any given day. Mostly it's the same life stuff everyone deals with, but sometimes it's werewolf stuff, and on the really bad days, it's stuff like what just happened.”

“I get that much.” Dad rubs his red-rimmed eyes with one hand, blindly reaches out to clasp Stiles' forearm in his other. “It's the other things. The sniffing, and touching, and rubbing, and growling. It's very...not human, Stiles, and I have to admit that it's a bit off-putting.”

Oh. That makes a lot of sense, when Stiles thinks about how all of Dad's interaction with the Pack has taken place in front of Chris. Stiles picks his words with deliberate care. “We restrain ourselves in public. It would attract attention. But in private, when we're comfortable, we let our guard down.”

There's a lot to be read between the lines, and Dad's expression tells Stiles he's aware of all of it. “I would think I'm public.”

Even though it's a single short sentence, his dad still somehow leaves a great deal between the lines for Stiles to read, too. “You're not. You're my father, and when you found out about us, you accepted us.”

He thinks they've both given each other enough to think on for now, so he asks for a pain pill and then his father helps him back to the nest, where Jackson helps ease him down and then pulls him close.

*

Christmas is a quiet affair for Stiles. The Pack always splinters off to spend the day with blood family, out of obligation or desire, and since Dad is already staying with Stiles, the day is like any other since Stiles got out of the hospital.

If Stiles doesn't count the tree and other decorations Danny insisted on putting up, that is, or the stacks of presents the Pack put under the tree for their eventual return later that night.

Derek is there with them, which isn't different from the preceding days, since Derek always hovers over an injured member of the Pack until full recovery, but it is different from every other Christmas. That might be the only good thing to come of this whole mess, Derek not disappearing himself to spend the holiday alone the way he normally does.

They watch movies on the couch for most of the day, Stiles and his father reciting their favorite lines from each, and having their yearly debate about whether Die Hard qualifies as a holiday movie (Stiles thinks so, his father does not, and Derek refuses to break their fifteen years and counting tie with an opinion).

Derek doesn't talk much but he's relaxed and loose, and more tactile than he usually is, pulling Stiles into him, against him, on top of him. Stiles thinks it's one part reassurance for both Stiles and Derek that Stiles is alive and safe, and one part an attempt to acclimate Dad to the Pack's touchy-feely ways. Either way, Stiles isn't complaining. He's still hurting physically, still reeling emotionally and psychologically, and even if being draped all over Derek doesn't fix any of that, it makes it easier to deal and cope.

They have a simple dinner, prepared by Dad and Derek under Stiles' drugged out direction, which they seem to find amusing. Stiles does, too, in a vague, warped way. Then they go back to the sofa, eschewing the television for low volume holiday music and quiet conversation between Dad and Stiles, with the occasional comment from Derek.

It's nice. It's easy.

Toward the end of the evening, when Stiles hisses in discomfort because being in one position for too long makes him stiff and brings the pain, Derek rearranges them. Derek sits with his back to the arm of the sofa, one leg on the floor and the other drawn up. He pulls Stiles into the v of his legs, back against Derek's chest. Stiles sighs and fits the palm of his hand to the shape of Derek's kneecap.

Dad doesn't miss a beat, hasn't missed a beat since the day before, but he does reach out this time. He settles Stiles' legs over his own thighs, lays his hands on Stiles' shins, and asks Derek if Stiles nags him about his red meat consumption, too.

Later, when the Pack returns to finish out the holiday together, they take Dad's peripheral piling with Stiles and Derek for tacit approval to include him in the touching. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but the Pack is careful, Dad doesn't flinch away or say anything, and James seems at ease for the first time since Jackson brought him out of the woods. When Dad actually cat naps, half the Pack brushing against him in some small manner, Stiles thinks that maybe it's good for Dad, too.

Chapter Text

= January =

Stiles toasts goodbye to a pretty horrible December on New Year's, and attends Jackson's swearing in ceremony on the first. Chris is not there, and thank god for that because Stiles can't drink on the pain pills and he can only take so many of them.

On the second, Dad finally goes back home. Before he leaves, he and Stiles have a non-conversation wherein Stiles doesn't ask about Chris but implies he has Dad's back no matter what happens.

Stiles returns to work a week later, where he fields morbid and highly inappropriate requests to see his gunshot wound from hoards of teenagers who've never heard of boundaries (and, sweet lord, he has so much sympathy for Derek during those early years, now, because teenagers are the most annoying thing in the world when you're not one, no lie). He also sits a lot and assigns his least favorite students to write on the boards for him because it's possible he should have taken a bit more time off, but there's only so much of Doing Nothing that Stiles can deal with before going insane.

Life goes on, and if Stiles wasn't already used to that happening after near death experiences, he'd have something to say about it.

*

During their graduate years—Stiles enrolled at Northeastern to get his M.A. in History since he had to do something while Jackson was at Harvard—Jackson and Stiles got over the enmity of high school. Not that there was much left at that point. Being connected by the Pack, and the secrecy, took care of a lot of it. The rest faded away with time and maturity.

Jackson didn't put up much fuss about Stiles being in charge, but the two of them didn't become as close as Stiles was with Lydia and Danny. Mostly because Jackson didn't need much in the way of help with control of his wolf by then. Really, Stiles' role was more of a technicality with Jackson, and unlike Danny and Lydia, he doesn't seek reassurance from Stiles on a regular basis.

So Stiles is a bit surprised to come from work in the second week of January to find Jackson waiting for him. James, as is usual since the situation in the woods, is with him, though he's made progress and doesn't need to be within touching range of Jackson at all times.

“Hey, kiddo,” Stiles says, grinning and waving at James, on the sofa watching cartoons. James gives him a solemn wave in return; he barely speaks, and then only to Jackson. Stiles looks at Jackson. “What's with the visit?”

He shrugs. “I need to talk to you.”

They go out to the back porch, sitting on the top step, thighs brushing.

“Derek found some family,” Jackson says, clasping and unclasping his hands.

Stiles wipes a hand down his face, then slings his arm around Jackson's shoulders. “Shit, man.” James' attachment to Jackson has only been surpassed by Jackson's attachment to James. It's been a recipe for disaster from the beginning, but Jackson hasn't wanted to hear it, and no one's really pushed because they were maybe all hoping that there wouldn't be any family and Jackson could keep James.

Stiles doesn't say anything else because despite maturity and years, Jackson's still a prickly little shit. Stiles has learned it's better to wait to see where Jackson's head is at than try to address where Stiles thinks it's at.

“It's a Pack out in Colorado. James' parents were born werewolves, and his mother's mother is Alpha.”

Stiles nods, secretly glad that the family isn't human. That would have been a hell of a complication. “I'm sorry,” he offers after Jackson falls silent for too long.

Jackson turns his head, giving Stiles his profile, which is drawn tight with pain and uncertainty. “How did you do it? How did you give Lydia and Danny back?” He looks out at the yard again, unlacing his fingers to curl his hands into fists. “Because I don't know how to. I don't know if I can.”

A rush of air expels from Stiles' chest against his will, like he's just been punched. It feels like he has. “Jackson, I don't...”

Jackson jumps to his feet, glares down at Stiles, a live wire of raw emotion. “Fuck you, Stiles. You can talk until you're blue in the face, when no one wants to hear a word you're saying, but you can't tell me this? You can't help me?”

“Jesus, would you give a guy a minute to get with the program?” He elbows the backs of Jackson's knees. “Sit down. The situations are different, but I'll give you what I've got.”

Jackson sits, reluctant and angry, and Stiles braces himself.

“Okay, so, the thing is, a lot of stuff went down in Boston the first three years,” Stiles begins, because while it might seem irrelevant, it's important. Undergrad was not a bucolic idyll no matter how much Stiles doesn't dwell on that part of it. “Maguire was the worst, but I swear, there was crazy in the water and some magnetic pull for unbalanced werewolves and deranged Hunters.”

Jackson's head snaps around, eyes wide and brow furrowed. “What? Derek never—”

Stiles snorts and gives Jackson a look of fond exasperation. “He didn't want the rest of you revolting and flying out half-cocked to try to help.” He shakes his head, remembering the simultaneous, instant migraines Stiles and Derek contracted at just the idea of Scott and Jackson, never good with planning to begin with and really bad at it when emotionally riled, trying to ride to the rescue. “Anyway, my point is: it was a bad scene. That's why we bonded so much, but it's also why I knew I couldn't keep them.”

There's no point in mentioning how all three of them thought about sticking together, making the Pack divide permanent, even if they never spoke a word aloud about it. Jackson doesn't need to know that part, just the reasons why they all knew it was a bad idea.

“I'm not a werewolf,” Stiles says quietly. “And I'm damn sure not an Alpha werewolf.”

Most of what's out there about werewolf Packs is complete bullshit and really fucking disturbing on many, many levels. There are some things that are true, though. The Alpha does have a slight metaphysical connection to the Pack. Scott experienced a twisted form of it with Peter Hale, but it's meant to be a comfort, a way of bonding the Pack to the Alpha and one another. Derek uses it to check in with his wolves, to share information by way of emotion, and to provide support and control when needed.

The bond has distance limits, though, and Danny and Lydia were effectively cut out of the Pack connection in Boston. Stiles, no matter how well he did—and he's not entirely sure he did that great a job in his role as acting Alpha—couldn't provide them with that. Hell, the only reason Danny and Lydia didn't go off the deep end at the loss of that connection was because Derek made them join the rest of the Pack during holidays and summers.

But the Pack structure is also important to werewolves. Like natural wolves, they respond to dominance; it's as natural as breathing to them, the give and take of power. They do better overall when they're led by someone who is more dominant, in personality and body, because that's how things are supposed to be. Danny and Lydia were ordered by Derek to treat Stiles as Alpha, to mind him as they would Derek himself, and eventually they did it of their own volition. Stiles developed the ability to hold his ground, to push them with the force of his personality, but no werewolf will ever see a human as physically dominant, Danny and Lydia included.

And that was another thing: Stiles was not strong enough physically to protect them. He worked around it, used cunning and improvisation to compensate, but he thinks they got lucky a lot and it was only by the grace of God or whoever that Stiles found ways to work around his inherent, relative weakness of body.

They muddled through, as best they could, but it wasn't ideal, it wasn't what Danny and Lydia needed to be truly happy and content. Just like it wasn't what Jackson needed, that year and a half he was away from the Pack, under Stiles' care.

“There was a lot I couldn't do or be for them.” Stiles takes a tired, sad breath. “I let them go because it was the best thing for them. That doesn't mean it wasn't one of the hardest things I've ever done, and I obviously didn't handle it very well. But part of thinking of them as mine was knowing I had a responsibility to do the right thing for them.”

“I am a werewolf,” Jackson says, but the tone of his voice doesn't match the insistence of his words. “And I don't need to be James' Alpha. I could keep him. I could.”

“You could, yeah. But will you smell like family the way his grandparents will? Can you tell him stories about his mom and dad when they were kids? Do you know how his parents got together, or what made them fall in love?” Jackson is shaking, now, and Stiles pulls him in close. “When my mother died, I needed that, and my dad gave it to me. Derek got it from Laura until he lost her, too.”

Stiles licks his lips, closes his eyes briefly, then takes this to its inevitable and heart-breaking conclusion. "And you...you've spent your entire life wishing you had something, anything, that connected you to your birth parents like that.”

Jackson collapses forward, folding himself nearly in half over his own lap. He's not crying, but Stiles thinks the whimpered dry sobs might be worse. Stiles holds him as best he can, fumbling his phone out to call Derek, which turns out to be unnecessary because Derek walks around the side of the house right then.

Derek picks Jackson up, holding him like a child, and Stiles leads the way inside, to his bedroom, opening doors and turning down the covers on his bed. Derek is murmuring too quietly for Stiles to hear when he closes the door softly on his way out.

*

The whole pack is waiting at Jackson's when James' grandparents and aunt arrive that weekend. They are wretchedly relieved to see him, their bodies going slack when they set eyes on him. James looks up at Jackson, who gives him a shaky smile and a nod, and then James is running across the room, throwing himself at them.

There are formalities after that, handled by Derek and the Boulder Alpha, who cradles James in her arms and calms him like only family, only Pack, can. The Boulder wolves are staying only long enough to get James in their car to take him home, but they express their gratitude, offer an open-ended favor in return for rescuing and caring for him, and talk of a possible alliance.

The Beacon Hills Pack say their goodbyes to James, careful not to lay hands on the kid now that he's being scent-marked by his own. The exception is Jackson, because James reaches out for him and the Alpha nods her assent to a parting hug.

It only takes twenty minutes from start to finish before they're gone. Stiles knows that it's better this way, fast and surgically precise. He wishes, though, that they'd lingered for a day or so, for Jackson's sake.

Because Jackson is wrecked, splintered and made fragile in ways he hasn't been in years, and there's very little Stiles wouldn't do to make that go away.

They nest in the cavernous master bedroom, Jackson in the center with Scott and Derek on either side of him. Stiles curls up against Scott's back, stretching an arm across him to take Jackson's hand. Derek cradles Jackson much like the Boulder Alpha did James, and with his free arm he presses both Danny and Lydia to his chest.

*

Dad calls two nights later, right when Stiles is in the middle of trying to decide what to do about the series of annoyed voicemails from Derek's realtor complaining about Derek's inability to answer his phone, return messages, or keep appointments to look at houses. Lovely.

“Just want to remind you about dinner tomorrow.”

Stiles blinks. “So I guess that means...”

“...no, but he wants to talk to you. About what happened.”

“Oh, okay.”

Dad clears his throat. “I know you have every reason to be angry at Chris.” Stiles makes a non-committal noise. “Hell, I'm furious with him still. But it would mean a lot if you could hear him out.”

Stiles hasn't thought of life as easy or fair or simple since his mother died. He envies people who can draw lines in the sand and have them mean something, who can make distinctions between black and white as though everything isn't a shade of gray.

“Dinner tomorrow,” Stiles says. “I'll let the others know. See you then.”

There's no way anyone is going to want to come, but Stiles sends out a mass text anyway and instantly regrets it. No one is happy that Stiles is going to the house, and they feel the need to tell him so. Derek is conspicuously quiet on the entire subject; Stiles isn't sure if he should be grateful or worried about that.

By the time Stiles leaves to go to his Dad's the next evening, he's stopped taking calls from the Pack for the sake of his sanity and temper. It's not like Stiles is looking forward to dinner. It's not like he even particularly wants to go. He doesn't need them forcibly reminding him of all the reasons why this is going to be a terrible awful no good night.

“How are you doing, son?” Dad asks when Stiles wanders into the house after a perfunctory knock.

Stiles grins, trying to ignore the awkward tension that's replaced the relatively comfortable state of affairs that existed between them when Dad was staying at Stiles'. “Staples are out and the pain is mostly gone. The doctor said I'm still not allowed to fight in cage matches, though, which sucks.”

Dad rolls his eyes and snorts, but it's overdone, he's trying too hard, just like Stiles is. “If you want to get your ass kicked that badly, I'm sure someone in your Pack will step up to the plate. Speaking of...”

Stiles shakes his head just as Chris comes in from the kitchen. Stiles freezes, he can't help it.

Chris nods stiffly. “Stiles. Thanks for coming.”

Dad scratches the side of his face and looks between them. “I'll just--”

When Dad isn't around, both Chris and Stiles tend to give the dislike between them full reign. Stiles thinks the only chance he has of making it through this is if they can bite their tongues and hold their tempers. “No!” Dad and Chris flinch at the vehemence in Stiles' voice. He takes a breath. “Stay,” he says, calmer, softer.

They move into the living room, Stiles sitting on the couch and Chris in a chair. Dad's hovering somewhere to the side, wary and tense.

“I'm sorry you and Jackson were hurt,” Chris tells Stiles. His expression is steady and resolute, but his eyes are guarded. “That was never my intention.”

When he stops speaking, Stiles waits, figuring there has to be more. There isn't, and when Stiles realizes that, he wants very badly to punch Chris Argent in the goddamn face. He jumps to his feet, shaking and seething.

“That's what you're giving me?!” So much for hoping this wouldn't escalate into what it's becoming; wow, that didn't take long at all. “There is something really wrong with you, there has to be for you to be this much of an asshole.” He steps forward, looming over Chris, who rears back in his chair before standing up. “I can't—no, you know what, I can believe it. This is you all over, same as ever.”

Chris' eyes flare and his lips curl. “I apologized; what more do you want?”

“Fuck your apology, because you're not sorry about the right shit.” Stiles jerks around, kicks the coffee table over, and tears at his hair. “There's a list of reasons why Jackson and I almost died, why an innocent child almost died, and they're what you should be apologizing for.”

“I made the best choices I could based on what I knew at the time.” Chris steels his jaw. “That's all anyone can do.”

Stiles comes to a sudden halt, hands buried in his hair still, and laughs, bitter and cynical. “You knew more. We gave you more. You just decided you knew better than the monsters.”

Dad steps between them then, his face like a thundercloud. “Someone needs to explain what happened, in great detail, because it seems that some things were lost in translation,” he says, overly calm, his furious gaze shifting between Stiles and Chris.

Stiles looks away, jaw working, and breathes through his nose. Chris doesn't say anything.

Derek's voice sounds, then, out of nowhere. “That's probably an understatement.” All three of them turn their heads in the direction it came from; Derek's standing in the doorway, leaning against the jamb, eyes shining red. Stiles has no idea when the hell he got here. “I think we could all do with a bit of clarity.”

Eyes wide, Stiles turns fully towards Derek, desperate and pissed off. “No. Don't do this.”

Derek doesn't even acknowledge Stiles, and when he speaks his voice is creepily level. “Last month, Chris ignored us when we told him there was a kid running for his life in those woods.”

Dad's face has gone frighteningly pale and Chris is physically bracing himself, expression resigned.

“Goddamn it, Derek!” Stiles shouts, just as Chris interjects with, “It was a guess!”

“Dam good guess,” Dad says faintly, and stumbles in the direction of the sofa and basically falls onto it. When Dad was Sheriff, Stiles knows, he didn't ignore any leads, no matter how outrageous or weird, especially when there were kids involved.

Derek arches a brow and pushes away from the doorjamb. Stiles can't help but noticing that his eyes are still red, his muscles still tensed, like he's poised to spring. “Lydia is one of the top twenty mathematicians in the world; she doesn't--” Derek makes a face of great disgust. “--guess. She extrapolates based on hard facts and data.”

The look Dad gives Chris...it makes Stiles lightheaded it's so hurt and betrayed. And, just, no, Stiles can't see that look on his face, can't see the looks that will follow, broken and beat down like after Mom died. Just, he can't. “Okay, see, even our own government took a while to trust that she--”

He startles badly when Derek barks, “Get over here.” When Stiles opens his mouth again, defiant, Derek bares his teeth. “Now.”

Stiles thrums in place, looking between his dad and Derek. His Dad, who lost one partner already and almost drowned in the grief, but somehow managed to find someone else to care about, to be cared for by. And Derek, who's suffered more at the hands of Argents than Stiles can even comprehend; who really shouldn't have survived the losses heaped on him; who's sane and functioning through sheer force of will.

Derek flicks a quick glance at Chris, his tension increasing, but his voice gets softer. “Come here, Stiles.”

Oh. Stiles gets it, then. In the last few years, with Chris' retirement and relationship with Dad, Chris has been categorized as, well, not an enemy. No one really thought that would continue in the long run once they came back, and it seems like tonight is the night when Chris is recategorized. Which means that Derek's not trying to get Stiles to choose between him and Dad. No, he just wants Stiles as far away from Chris—from a threat—as possible.

Stiles goes. He crosses the room and, after cataloging Derek's face on the way, doesn't stop next to him as originally planned. Instead, he puts himself at Derek's back. A good half of Derek's coiled tension eases away when Stiles is safely behind him.

Derek's looking at Chris, but when he speaks next it's to Dad. “One of the Hunters he let in town, that he helped, was planning to torture Stiles after killing the child.”

Stiles twists his fingers in the back of Derek's jacket, strangling the leather, and struggles not to hyperventilate. Dad covers his face with his hands and shakes.

Chris inhales sharply and jerks his head in denial. “What are—no, that's not true.”

“Eric Maguire stalked Stiles in Boston,” Derek says flatly, still talking to Dad. “He tried to skin Stiles alive, and he was going to try again; his two partners said as much to Allison after she arrested them.”

Dad drops his hands and looks at Stiles. Stiles isn't sure what Dad sees on his face, but whatever it is makes his expression swell with horror before he drags his gaze away to focus on Chris. He's on his feet in a shot, and his voice gets progressively louder, until he's shouting with so much force that spittle flies from his mouth. “You helped him? You helped someone who tried to do that to my son?”

Stiles makes a small, quiet sound of distress, and is suddenly on the verge of hyperventilating; Derek takes a subtle, half-step back to bring his body into more contact with Stiles', and starts breathing deeply and evenly. Gratefully, Stiles leans against him, mimics Derek's breaths, and calms more with each exhalation.

Chris falters, eyes closing for a moment, then turns to Dad, pleading and sincere and genuine. “I didn't know. I swear to God, I didn't know.”

That's a cold comfort, would have been even colder if Maguire actually succeeded, and that sentiment passes over Dad's face, clear as day to anyone looking at him.

It makes Dad too furious to say anything; Stiles has only seen him this mad twice, and once was when Mom's nurses weren't staying on top of caring for her. Soon enough, though, Dad will marshal his ire and let it loose, and it will be vicious and terrible. It hurts Stiles' soul to know that he's had a hand in doing this to his father, because who wants to be that kind of kid, who wants to do that to their father?

Derek addresses Chris directly for the first time, steady and inexorable. “All you had to do was tell us who you were letting into my territory when we asked. But you didn't, and that's where we have a problem. You're mostly decent, for a Hunter, but your priorities aren't mine, and they're not in the best interests of my Pack.”

Stiles flinches, hard, because Derek recited a variation of this priorities speech a while back, before they even returned, and one of the reason he's given Chris the leeway he has so far is because Stiles freaked out about the impasse it would have put him at with his father. Before the guilt really settles in, Derek's back vibrates slightly in a sub-vocal sound of reassurance that Stiles feels rather than hears, and recognizes from a number of other moments like this, when they've faced down rival Packs and other threats.

The look Derek levels on Chris has made big bad Alphas literally take an anxious step back. The smart ones, at least, who knew a thing or two about Derek and the Hale Pack. “Jackson and Stiles almost died,” Derek goes on. “If James had been killed in my territory by Hunters it would have started a war between us and his family's Pack.”

Chris' eyes narrow, the vague suspicion of the last few months coalescing into full out wariness. “Seems like you're making your way to a point.”

Derek nods, just once, quick and sharp. “I'm not a young, new Alpha trying to find his feet, anymore. My Pack are no longer a bunch of kids who'll put up with you pushing them around just because you're an adult and they're not. We're established. Strong. Smart.”

Derek shrugs a shoulder, nudging Stiles, and that's his cue. They've known this was coming, they planned for it, so even though Stiles wasn't expecting this confrontation, he's prepared. He straightens his back, raises his chin, and meets Chris' eyes dead on. “Beacon Hills isn't going to be a very welcoming place for Hunters from now on. The Pack will defend and protect the territory from any and all threats. No help needed, wanted, or allowed from you and yours.”

Eyes flinty, Chris arches a brow. “Or what?” His voice is simultaneously condescending and threatening, an odd combination that Stiles doesn't think anyone else could pull off.

The growl Derek issues makes Dad jump and Chris' hand twitch.

Stiles' cheerful smile, on the other hand, has both of them frowning. “Or we'll deal with them. All nice and legal and proper. Because, you know, we can. We've made sure we can.”

There's no need to iterate the steps they've taken. Some are pretty obvious, and Chris already noticed them. Others, though, are hidden and quieter—like buying up all the woodlands in the area that aren't part of the Preserve; like purchasing real estate, and assuming the mortgages and liens for as many residences and business as possible—and they'd rather those remain a secret. A few aces up their sleeve, so to speak.

Chris seems like he wants to argue, a lot and loudly, but he looks at Dad, who's situated on the sofa like a rag doll. Dad is wearing an expression that Stiles doesn't know what to do with, can't really identify and maybe doesn't want to.

Chris says nothing. There's no guarantee he won't push them on this, even if he's holding his peace right now, even though it might cost him Allison for good this time.

Which, yeah, not a surprise. Chris considers Beacon Hills his territory, under his dominion, and that's not an easy thing to let go of, as Stiles well knows.

But Derek is right: they're not the same Pack who left Beacon Hills years ago. They're not even the same Pack that came back for visits now and then, or who all attended Dad and Chris' wedding.

It only took half the Pack, just out of high school and under the leadership of a human, to bring the insanity of Boston under control. The other half of the Pack brought order to the rebellious, transient supernatural population of Stanford. And in Pasadena, united, older and wiser, they toppled a terrifyingly large old-school werewolf Pack that had ruled with an iron, violent fist for decades.

They're more than capable of defending Beacon Hills, of handling Hunters.

When Chris walks to the chair to sit again, moving like he's ancient and crippled, Stiles looks over Derek’s shoulder at Dad. He's still wearing that same face, and Stiles knows he has to say something, anything. “I'm—I didn't want—I'm sor--”

Derek drags him out before he can finish.

*

They drive. Rather, Derek drives Stiles' car and Stiles sits in the passenger seat, one hand covering half of his face, and his temple pressed to the window. Derek's hands are white knuckled on the steering wheel and gear shift, his foot heavier on the gas pedal than is warranted.

They drive for two hours, through and around town, into and out of the Preserve, and Stiles watches the scenery pass like a montage, memories overlaying the present, the playback like an old 8mm film.

Stiles says, “I know.”

Derek cuts a glance in his direction. “Know what?”

“Everything you're saying.”

“I'm not saying anything.” Derek's hand flexes on the wheel and when Stiles shifts in his seat, he sees that Derek's lips are pressed tightly closed, the way they have been since Stiles accepted Dad's first dinner offer, holding in warnings and cautions and anger and a host of other truths Stiles hasn't wanted to face.

“Not out loud, no.”

Derek steers them off the road and to an overlook, then turns off the car and gets out. Stiles follows after him, coming around the car just as Derek slides onto the hood. When Stiles is in reaching distance, Derek snags him by the shirt and pulls Stiles up to six next to him. Stiles leans against Derek, from shoulder to thigh, and lets Derek's heat steal the chill of the January night from his body.

It doesn't take long before Stiles is once again about to gasp himself into hyperventilating. Derek shifts back on the hood, moves Stiles in front of him, and holds one large hand to Stiles' chest. “Breathe with me,” Derek murmurs, and Stiles does.

*

There's a Pack meeting two days later. Stiles is marking homework assignments in his chair at The Den, as has become his habit, while Derek subjects a pair of customers to his own special brand of customer service.

“No, we really adore it,” one of them says. “It's intriguing and I love the statement you've made about our culture of consumerism and apathy.”

Stiles stares at what, if he didn't know better, he would think is a large, mangled whisk. Painted puce. For all Stiles knows, he doesn't know better. It's not a far cry to imagine that Derek got pissed and contrary enough to re-purpose some junk store find just to stick it to the pretentious assholes who like his stuff. Either way, Stiles stares.

“This seems like a fair price,” the other says, slipping a piece of paper across the counter to Derek.

Without looking at the paper, Derek flips it over, grabs a pen and scribbles something.

The customers exchange confused looks. “That's actually higher than the original price,” the first guy says. “Like double. We were hoping to reduce it a bit.”

Derek wields the pen again, no doubt increasing the price further, if the customers' gormless expressions are anything to go by.

“I'm not sure you under--” the first guy starts to say, but the second guy literally grabs his arm to shut him up when Derek lifts the pen again.

“We'll take it!” the second guy spits out.

Derek smirks, swipes their Black Amex and, when the transaction is done, turns his back on them.

The looks on their faces when they leave are confused and dazed, like they're not sure just what happened here. Stiles locks the door behind them and tips a metaphorical hat in Derek's direction. “Jackson will be pleased at how plush you're making our accounts with your charming manner.”

Since halfway through undergrad, Jackson has been managing their finances, everything from individual accounts to the Pack accounts they all contribute to, and he's actually really damn good at it. Of course, he's also a micromanaging tyrant, and Stiles has to live off an honest-to-god allowance because Jackson thinks he doesn't manage his money well enough, but whatever. Stiles will be able to retire at forty, if he wants, and the Pack has enough money for everything they need to do, so it's all good.

Derek flips Stiles off. “I hate this. Can't we hire someone else to sit here all the time and deal with them?”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “All the time? You're open for six hours a week, at most. No one even asks you to be nice to anyone, and you out-earn the rest of us combined. Suck it up, buttercup.”

“Don't call me that.” Derek smacks the back of Stiles' head, hard, his hand lingering to soothe the spot he just hit.

Stiles grins and pokes him in the stomach. “Hey, what do you think about ordering some food? I think it's going to be a long meeting.”

“Barbecue.” Derek hands his wallet to Stiles. “A lot of it.”

This close to the full moon, the wolves crave meat, so Stiles orders enough to feed an army of ravenous teenagers, then tacks another few items on just to be sure. He gives Derek's wallet back and picks up where he left off with grading. Derek does something or other behind the counter before taking up his usual seat.

The food arrives just as the Pack is coming in the back. Scott actually drools when Stiles and Derek walk in with it, but the others aren't any less enthused. They gorge themselves while discussing their progress in land acquisitions—they'll start closing on the first of them in two weeks, and will own the last of them within six weeks.

Lydia brings their attention to the next items they're meant to be working on. The Park Ranger situation is far easier than any of them thought it would be. With budget cuts at the federal level, there's only one Ranger assigned to the entire Preserve, and he splits his time between it and a huge tract of assigned area in another national forest. They expected and relied on that, frankly. What comes as a surprise is that the Ranger, Eddles, is in the know about werewolves.

Derek gives Jackson an intent look. “How sure are you?”

“He told me to thank Alpha Hale for taking care of the situation last month,” Jackson says wryly, “so I'm pretty confident.”

Derek grunts. Lydia swipes her finger on the screen of her tablet, smiling happily. “Next up is media.”

They've gone round and round about this before, and they do it again tonight. On the one hand, Derek thinks they should just assist the Beacon Hills Gazette in their fatal slide into bankruptcy, thereby getting rid of something that could be a threat. On the other hand, Jackson and Allison are in favor of using the Gazette to the Pack's advantage. Scott has no opinion, and Lydia seems conflicted.

Stiles finally speaks up. “My degrees have worth besides teaching stubborn, idiotic teenagers who are more interested in the travesty that is the next generation of Jersey Shore than History, and get that look off your face, Derek, I've already acknowledged that you were a saint for not slaughtering us all in high school, okay?”

Derek smirks and laces his fingers behind his head. Stiles restrains himself from flinging a cup of barbecue sauce in his face.

“Anyway, there's a long and distinguished history in this country of owning the press, is what I'm saying. Or using it for your own ends, whatever they are. And do you know why?” he asks, ignoring their eye-rolls. “Because it works. Even if people know you're doing it, it works. So, that's my vote for saving the paper from going out of business, being deemed heroes of the community, and then subtly manipulating it to cover our asses.”

Allison pulls thoughtfully on a lock of hair, brow furrowed. “The editor of the Gazette and the local news anchor are joined at the hip, and they work together most of the time. If we take the paper, we get the news station as a value added.”

Even Derek can't argue with that and, with his nod, Lydia crosses another item off their agenda.

Jackson leans over and claps Stiles on the back. “Congratulations, you're about to become the majority shareholder of the Beacon Hills Gazette.”

Stiles gapes at him. “What? Why the hell would a high school History teacher want to buy a newspaper?”

“To keep the reporting of Beacon Hills news in the hands of locals, thereby preserving the town's history for future generations.” Jackson flashes a smarmy politician grin. “You care deeply about the issue; it's been close to your heart since graduate school. The town is fortunate that you're willing to take this step. It will save jobs and maintain Beacon Hills' pride in journalism.”

Stiles looks to Derek for help, because the paper thing is going to be a time suck, which is one of the reasons they were undecided about it to begin with. Derek just gives him the most vindictive smile he's ever seen and says, “Suck it up, buttercup.”

“You're a dick,” Stiles hisses. Derek arches a brow and drops half a pulled pork sandwich on Stiles' plate before leaning back, full. Stiles takes a petulant bite out of it. “No, really, I hate you.”

He stews through the rest of the meeting, which covers the gossip network in town and the best ways to infiltrate it to stay informed and keep a low profile.

“--I'll send out the notes later this week,” Allison is saying when Stiles tunes in again, and the meeting breaks up.

Allison hangs back, eyes on Stiles, when everyone else starts leaving. Scott squeezes her hand, gives her a soft smile, and goes without her. Derek shrugs his coat on and tells Stiles to lock up when they're done.

Overall, Stiles is the least close with Allison out of all of the Pack, despite being step siblings. They’ve never even talked about the fact that they’re step siblings, mostly because their Dads marrying created a very complicated situation that neither of them really wanted to tackle. Which is ninety-percent of the reason for the situation they’ve found themselves in, Stiles has to admit.

“How was dinner?” Allison asks, uncomfortable and strained, and hopping up to perch on the table.

Stiles scratches the corner of his eye and shrugs. “Yeah, it was pretty terrible with the whole, you know, putting our foot down.”

“I’m sorry. That sucks.” She tucks her hair behind her ears, eyes troubled. “This is such a mess.”

It makes Stiles sigh and slump down in his seat. “Yeah, I'm right there with you. I thought—I don't know. It was easier when we weren't here. I just closed my eyes really tight and hoped it would stay the same when we moved back. Which, dumb, I know.”

“No, I did the same thing,” Allison confesses. She pulls her legs up and pretzels them. “Especially because Dad retired. Except it's only a partial retirement, I guess. I'm not sure if we can work through the philosophical differences.”

Stiles does not like Chris Argent. At all. He would actually hate the man if it were possible for him to hate someone who loves his father, and who his father loves. But, the thing is, Chris is all Allison has left anymore. Chris and Victoria divorced three years after the Pack left Beacon Hills, when he decided he was done with active Hunting and she decided that she wasn't. Victoria visited Allison once, just after the divorce was final, on her way out of state. She wanted Allison to leave the Pack but Allison refused.

Two months later, Victoria Argent was killed when she went riding into Illinois to police the monsters and put herself in the middle of a territory war between two Packs.

So while it literally hurts him to say what he does next, he says it because he only has his father left, too. “You should try.”

Allison bites her lip. “Can I run something past you?” When Stiles nods, she says, “Maybe we can sit down and come up with a list of...boundaries that we think might help. Things we need and can do to make it work. Then we can maybe talk to them about it and see if it can happen. Derek said he's okay with it, if you are.”

Stiles freezes. “I don't know how comfortable I am with thinking rationally enough to assess things how they stand now and come up with expectations that could lead to arguing or refusal or the realization that this is not gong to work and I'll lose my dad.”

Allison just stares at him. Stiles sucks in a huge gulp of air and covers his face with his hands. “Oh my god, Stiles.”

He makes a truly pathetic sound behind his hands. “Denial. It's a thing that...well, it doesn't work but it allows me to ignore the fact that it won't work.”

“How do you function like this?” Allison sounds awed, but not in the good way.

“Mostly, I exist in a state of denial about the denial. My head is a complex place, okay?”

*

Of course—of course—Stiles would come home after being bullied into agreeing to come up with expectations for Dad and Chris to find his dad on his front porch, drunk off his ass.

Stiles scurries to where Dad is listing sideways on the steps. “Oh, geez, Dad. Did you drive like this?”

Dad gives him a bleary smile and waves a nearly empty bottle unsteadily. “Hey, son.”

“Come on, let's get you inside,” Stiles says, leaning down to slide one of Dad's arms across his shoulders, then haul him to his feet. “You can crash here.”

It's been years since Dad has hit the whiskey this hard, but Stiles still knows how to lead him, heavy and uncoordinated, to a soft place.

“Your mom would have handled this so much better,” Dad slurs. Stiles' jaw clenches and lets Dad drop to the sofa a bit harder than he normally would. “She was better. Should've been me to go, not her. She wouldn't have made things worse.”

Stiles closes his eyes, swallows, and tries to find a state of mind that will keep him from screaming. “No, hey, don't say that, Dad, okay. You're the best. It's okay, everything's great.”

Dad pats him clumsily on the leg. “Love you, kiddo.”

“Love you too, Dad.”

Stiles gets his father comfortable, sets some water and painkillers on the coffee table, and then palms his keys and leaves.

Derek isn't at his apartment. Stiles lets himself in and finds that his bed is still showroom perfect like it was when Allison and Lydia set it up, because the damn thing hasn't been slept on even once. He takes vindictive, angry pleasure in tossing the pillows around the room.

When the alarm on his phone goes off in the morning, Derek still hasn't shown. Stiles digs through Derek's dresser and closet for clothes, irritation building up in him when he realizes only about a quarter of Derek's wardrobe is actually here. He gets ready for work and bumps Derek up on the list of shit he has to sort out.

Chapter Text

=February=

“I'm pregnant!”

Stiles comes to a halt mid-step in the high school parking lot, stares at Lydia, leaning against his car, for the space of two blinks, then grins widely and swings her into his arms. “Baby! This is epicness of epic proportions!”

In the car, Stiles can barely contain his excitement. “Tell me everything. I want all the news, Lydia.” They're heading out to meet Danny and Derek for dinner to celebrate the news, and sate Lydia's craving for cheesecake.

She laughs at him. “You're such a freak. I'm three months along.” Stiles does the math and realizes she and Danny must have gone forward pretty much immediately after the announcement and gotten lucky very fast. Also, he's not going to think about the fact that she was out fighting werewolves and Hunters in the woods last month, holy fuck. “Scott did a check up this morning, and he says everything looks good.”

“You told Scott before me?” Stiles gasps. “What happened to hos before bros, Lyds?”

Lydia doesn't stop smiling, or even look at him, but she lands a punch to Stiles' arm that is going to leave a monster bruise. “Don't ever again imply I'm a ho, Stiles, or they'll be finding pieces of you all over the county.”

“I'm pretty sure I was the ho in that scenario.” Stiles sticks his tongue out at her, which is not easy considering how hard he's still grinning. “Seriously though—I'm freaking tap dancing on clouds. I want the baby here right now, so I can buy it all sorts of amazing things, like tiny novelty baby t's, and no, forget waiting, I'm going to start buying stuff now.”

Lydia's laughter is bright and happy, and it rings through the car like cliché metaphorical bells. “You're definitely going to be the favorite uncle.”

“Of course I am! I'm going to be the cool uncle, the one the kid runs away to stay with when you start infringing on its rights as a teenager. It's going to be awesome!”

Derek and Danny are waiting for them at the restaurant, and Stiles puts his back into it, lifts Danny off the floor a couple of inches when they hug. “I commend your rampaging virility, my friend!”

Danny laughs. “You are so freaking weird.” Then he gets his feet back under him only to lift Stiles in return.

When Danny puts him down and beams at Lydia, Stiles looks at Derek, whose eyes are fiercely bright with pride, with happiness. Stiles can't help but go to where he's sitting, drape himself over the back of Derek's chair and wrap his arms across Derek's chest.

“No, really, how awesome is this?”

Derek huffs out a laugh and reaches up and back, hand folding around the nape of Stiles' neck and squeezing hard. “The most.”

*

The second week in February, with the Pack rejoicing in the news of the baby and a new chapter starting in their lives, Stiles decides enough is enough in regards to Derek. The Pack is one part grateful, and about five parts insufferable about how long Stiles has let this go on. Which, whatever. Derek is Derek and most of the time nowadays he recognizes his shit and figures out how to deal. That's never a quick process, though, because Derek tends to internalize everything so much that it takes him a while to get outside of his own head enough to sort it out.

But Stiles has given him months already, and Derek doesn't seem to even be trying. So, yeah, time is totally up, and now Stiles is going to forcibly remove Derek's head from his ass.

At midnight, he digs out some long johns he's had since Boston, grabs his sleeping bag, and drives out to the deathtrap that is the Hale house. Stiles isn't sure how the hell the house is still even standing—though standing is a generous description of what the structure is actually doing, which is sort of sagging and leaning and tilting and collapsing.

Derek bought the house and property back from the county well before the Pack left Beacon Hills. The county sold it gratefully, hoping that Derek would do something with it. They were disappointed, because the only thing Derek did was reopen the full network of old tunnels running under the property, and he didn't actually tell the county about that.

After the Pack left, Stiles' dad did a lot of fancy footwork to keep the county from seizing the property back and demolishing it. And in the less than two months since Jackson's been Mayor, he's quashed another three motions for the same.

The county calls it a blight. They're not wrong. Fortunately, it's secluded enough that the only people offended by it are those who go looking, which is the only reason Dad and Jackson have been successful so far in preserving the ruins of Hale House.

Stiles wishes, often and fervently, that they would fail.

Tonight, he carries his sleeping bag about a mile south of the house, and is completely unsurprised by the shiny new grate he finds under a layer of fallen leaves.

With a small flashlight clamped between his teeth, and his sleeping bag strapped to his back, Stiles descends the ladder beneath the grate. The tunnels are just as awful as Stiles remembers from those early days: pitch black, damp, and smelling overwhelmingly of earth. The roots of the trees above-ground are gnarled across the ceiling of the tunnel, casting eery shadows when Stiles shines the light up.

When he shines it down, he finds tracks on the dirt ground. One set. Many, many trips. All of them recent.

There goes Stiles' hope that he might have been wrong, despite the new grate, the fact that Derek is not actually living at his apartment, and that he hasn't looked at even a single house in all the time they've been back. Jesus Christ.

He follows the tracks and doesn't bother wondering how far they go, where they end, because he already knows they'll take him directly under Hale House, to the very same place where Kate tortured Derek.

In some ways, about some things, Derek is as fucked up as ever, and it makes Stiles want to kill things, people, circumstances.

The hinges of the hidden door leading into the basement screech when Stiles shoves it open. Derek looks shocked and guilty when Stiles finally locates him with the flashlight, sadistically shining it right in Derek's eyes and causing him to throw up a hand and step to the side.

Stiles swings the light around the room, finding a thin blanket and flattened pillow off to the side. There's several trash bags with neatly folded clothing in them, and some discarded fast food wrappers scattered nearby.

Derek takes a halting step forward. “Stiles--”

“Shut. Up.” Stiles' glare could strip paint right now. He unrolls the double-wide sleeping bag onto the ground, then crouches down to unzip it. He's kicking off his shoes when he hears Derek suck in a breath.

“You are not--”

You are,” Stiles hisses furiously, then climbs into the sleeping bag and turns the flashlight off.

Derek is growling lowly but not moving, and that quickly they're locked in an unspoken but recognizable stalemate. Stiles won't be threatened into backing down on this, and even if Derek carries Stiles out of here right now, he will just come back. Derek knows this. Just like Stiles knows that Derek isn't going to give in tonight, won't have done it willingly when it finally happens.

Most of the time, Stiles can easily accommodate or circumvent Derek's issues. He knows what they are, has learned when to push, when to pull, and when to stay far, far away. He even knows how and when to come at them from the side. This right here is a case of Stiles coming at them head on, and that's always the hardest way, due to Derek's defensiveness and aggression. What Stiles is doing here won't be quick and painless, won't leave scars and scabs untouched.

Stiles doesn't sleep that night. It's cold and uncomfortable down here, even with the sleeping bag, and every time he closes his eyes he remembers being here during high school. Derek doesn't sleep either, and Stiles passes the night stewing in a riot of conflicting emotions, accompanied by Derek's angry steps and continued growls.

Despite the pain and sleeplessness, which hits him harder than stuff like that used to, Stiles goes back the next night. Derek frowns deeply, sits against a wall directly opposite of the sleeping bag and crosses his arms. The complete lack of sleep from the night before catches up with Stiles after an hour or so and he falls into a restless slumber.

The third night, Derek is agitated, pacing the room's confines, his arms jerking with aborted movements. Stiles ignores him, just like he did the previous night, shuts off the flashlight, and pulls the cover of the sleeping bag over his shoulder. In the morning, Derek's face is worn and upset.

“Stiles,” he says, voice dry with emotion and fatigue. “You—you're having nightmares.”

Stiles feels a muscle in his jaw twitch. He doesn't remember the details, just vague and lingering feelings of terror, anxiety and pain. His subconscious is on fire with awful crap it's unloading in his head at night, apparently. “Look at where we are, Derek. It'd be more of a shock if I wasn't having nightmares.”

“You scream, and you sound—you can't keep staying here.”

Derek's voice is so small, so lost, that something clenches in Stiles' chest. He wants nothing more than to wrap his arms around Derek and agree to anything if only Derek will stop sounding like that, but he can't do that. This whole thing—Derek being here, what Stiles is doing—is bigger than this moment.

“I'm going home to shower and get ready for work. I'll see you tonight.”

On the fourth night, Stiles isn't sure that Derek's left the basement room all day. He's dressed in the same ratty jeans as earlier, and his socks and shoes are in the exact spot they were the last time Stiles saw them.

“What do you want, Stiles?” Derek snarls. “You want me to sleep at the apartment? Fine, I will. You can check every night. I'll sleep there.”

Like sleeping in a place Derek can't even claim as his, doesn't consider a home, solves anything. As if the horrible specter of Hale House will just go away if Derek isn't sleeping in this hole.

“This isn't who you are anymore!” Stiles throws the flashlight at his head; Derek bats it out of the way and it lands on the floor. He can't see Derek's body now, but his eyes are shining bright red, so Stiles glares at them. “What do I want? I want you to stop this bullshit regression.” He closes his eyes briefly, pained. “I want you to ask for what you need.”

Derek's silence is expected but still infuriating. Stiles gets into the sleeping bag and stares up at where the ceiling would be if it wasn't darker than pitch black down here. Eventually, some indeterminable amount of time later, Derek moves, nearly soundlessly. He turns off the flashlight, then comes over to sit on the free side of the sleeping bag.

“I don't know what I need.”

Turning his head, Stiles scowls in the direction Derek's voice is coming from. “Liar.”

The sleeping bag rustles as Derek shifts. “I can't--”

“Can't what?” Stiles interrupts, voice low. “Need things? That's garbage. You didn't let me get away with that crap in Boston, and I'm not letting you get away with it now.” He flails out a hand blindly, finally connecting with what feels like Derek's denim-covered thigh. Stiles holds on hard, trying to press the import of his words into Derek's flesh through the material. “You're not alone anymore. You haven't been for a long time. Before we came back here, you knew that.”

That's most of the problem, though, Stiles knows. Pasadena, post-grad, was the bucolic idyll Boston never was. The Pack lived in a massive duplex with a door between the two multi-story units, and they came and went without regard for which side any of them actually lived in. Pasadena was bonding and closeness in the form of cookouts, movie nights and Pack piles. Stiles doesn't think any of them slept alone the entire time they were there.

Beacon Hills is too small and their intentions too large to get away with that here, so they all have separate houses in different neighborhoods. It was a very hard adjustment and the first two months were like musical houses, with everyone crashing with someone else and slowly getting used to having to sleep and live alone.

Everyone except Derek, who's only done it when someone else needs him there. Moron.

Stiles unzips the bag and flips back the cover. “Get in here, would you?”

There's movement and cool air, then Derek is on the other side of the bag. Stiles zips it closed again and tugs at Derek, pulling his head to Stiles' chest. Derek lies there, stiff, for long moments, then makes a noise and climbs on top of Stiles, pressing his face to Stiles' sternum and shoving his arms under Stiles' back, wrapping him in a hug that's just this side of too hard.

Stiles slides one hand down Derek's back in long, sweeping motions, and holds Derek's head to his chest with the other, thumb tracing patterns on his scalp. “Whatever you need, man,” Stiles whispers. “Always. Remember that.”

Derek shuffles up, until his face is pressed against the side of Stiles' neck. Stiles doesn't move his hands away, doesn't stop stroking and petting, just turns his head so that Derek can bury his nose there and breathe.

*

The next day, Derek is at Stiles' house when he gets home from work.

So is all of his stuff, including his massive bed, sans pillows, which is taking up half the floor space in the spare bedroom, leaving barely a path between the foot board and Derek's dresser, which is filled with clothes, just like the closet.

Something in Stiles that's been anxious and worried for months, now, calms down. He drops his messenger bag on the floor, kicks off his shoes, and throws himself onto the couch next to Derek, then squirms around so that his head is on Derek's thigh. He takes one of Derek's hands, holds it to the side of his neck, and smiles. “You're helping with the laundry, just so you know.”

Derek glares down at him. “I'm not washing your sweaty underwear,” he says, annoyed and sharp, but his fingers are brushing rhythmically on Stiles' neck, and he doesn't argue when Stiles puts on a History Channel documentary about the Middle East.

The rest of the Pack shows up in dribs and drabs. Stiles isn't part of the magic that links the wolves together, but even he can feel the contentment radiating through the bond now that the Alpha is settled again.

*

Stiles officially buys the paper out of debt the next week. Jackson is there, in his capacity as Mayor, and there are millions of pictures taken of the whole process.

“Didn't I tell you to wear something nice?” Jackson asks through a fixed smile.

Stiles leans back in his chair in the conference room at the Gazette and shrugs. “Yeah, I'm a high school History teacher, doing this out of altruistic, not ambitious, motivations. I figured this worked better.”

Jackson makes a face, like Stiles has a valid point but he's not going to admit to that he finds baggy dockers and layers in any way acceptable attire. Some things never change.

They do an official round of photos once all the signing is finished, most of which will probably end up on the online version of the Gazette, and then Jackson gives a few soundbites to the local news crew while Stiles tries to look suitably respectable and adult-like.

Stiles doesn't get home until after nine in the evening, and Dad's car is out front when he pulls up. Stiles' mouth thins out but he forces it to relax as he opens the front door. “I'm home,” he calls out.

Derek's voice sounds from the kitchen, tightly controlled and with a subtle hint of a rumble to it. “Living room.”

Stiles feels a knot of tension forming between his shoulder blades, which only gets tighter when he sees Dad passed out on the sofa. He opens a drawer on an end table, pulls out the Advil he stashed there after the second time this happened, drops it on the top of the table, and spins on his heel.

Derek is waiting in the hallway, jacket on and keys dangling from his hand. He plucks the messenger bag from Stiles' shoulder and sets it on the floor, then ushers Stiles out of the house.

They go to the warehouse space that Derek uses as a workshop. Derek flips on the lights and Stiles looks around, noticing the thick layer of dust coating the surfaces, and the piece in progress that is unchanged from when Stiles was last here in August.

Derek shrugs off his jacket and heads right for a small fridge off to the side. The beer he takes out makes Stiles frown. “Really, man? You think I have any desire to go there given--”

“Sit.” Derek gestures to a table near his work area. It's actually an old wooden patio table, surface splintered and sun-faded, and Stiles recognizes it from the backyard of the Pasadena duplex. He didn't know that Derek brought it with him. “Stiles.”

Stiles blinks. “Right, sorry.” Derek sets the six pack on the table once Stiles is sitting. “No, I mean it, I don't--”

Derek shoves an open bottle of beer in his hand. “Shut up and drink.”

He wanders off, then, to the workbench in the center of the room. There's a thick cylinder of aluminum standing upright, rivets of metal carved out, the remnants scattered on the table in ribbons of curly-cues. Derek twists the cylinder, examining the patterns and eying it critically, before picking up some kind of tool—Stiles has no idea what it is; Derek makes his tools himself, most of which would be useless to anyone else since humans don't have the strength needed to gouge through metal with hand held tools—and taking it to the aluminum.

Stiles forgot how calming it is to watch Derek work, the way he meticulously plans each move he's about to make, does it, then stops to consider what to do next. In Pasadena, Derek's workshop was in the detached garage on the property and Stiles used to spend hours in there just watching Derek warp and wend metal to fit whatever was in his head at any given time, to vent it in a way that he couldn't do with words even after so many years and so much progress.

The sculpture work started when Danny brought home some industrial strength metal shelving after a server upgrade at work. He asked Derek for help in resizing and customizing it for use in his home office, but Danny isn't very good with power tools—that's probably an understatement given that just thinking about Danny and power tools makes Stiles cringe and panic because, the blood, oh, God the blood--so Derek kicked him out and worked on the project himself.

Within a week the shelving unit was done, but Derek was still retreating to the garage everyday. After another six days, Stiles was silently nagged by the Pack into checking out what was going on. What he found was Derek twisting lengths of wire shelving into shapes and coating sections with spray paint of various colors. The look on Derek's face made it clear that he wasn't sure what he was doing, or why, so Stiles didn't ask any questions, just touched his forehead to Derek's temple and left him to it.

That first sculpture was finished not long after that, and then Derek rented a truck, went to a local DIY superstore, and came home with tools and supplies and a profound glint in his eyes that gave Stiles butterflies in his stomach for what it meant for Derek.

In the beginning, everything Derek made was large, mangled and evoked dark imagery. Most of those pieces ended up in junk yards as soon as they were done, though the Pack claimed one or two against his wishes. As time went on, though, Derek began making things that were smaller and less intense in their vast swell of emotion. He didn't do anything with them; they just sat on shelves in his garage workshop, lining the walls from floor to ceiling, like a literal Roman Room of Derek's personal tragedies and pain.

Stiles isn't sure what happened, why Derek one day came out with an armful of pieces and doled them out to the Pack, but he thinks that Derek stopped looking back, finally concentrated on the present and was surprised at what resulted.

Everything he gave them was significant to the individual. No one could really glean what the significance was, true, but when Stiles looked at his, they felt like his, and when he looked at the others', they felt like theirs. And Stiles knows he isn't the only one who is drawn to certain of his pieces in certain moods.

Things got interesting when Jackson took a few to his office to display them. A client came in and had a squealing freak out at the sight of them. That's when they found out that the junk yard pieces had been rescued by some hipster douche out of San Francisco and that the unknown artist had become something of a cult sensation in the art community.

Needless to say, Derek was not pleased. Especially when word got out that the artist now had a name—poor Jackson; it's not like he knew about the cult sensation thing when he told his client who the “artist” was—and people were literally showing up at their house and begging for the privilege of giving Derek large sums of money in exchange for his sculptures.

After that, there wasn't much choice but for Derek to get an agent and properly put pieces up for sale. Not if they didn't want obnoxious art collectors staking out their house or, more than once, attempting to break into the garage.

Stiles finishes his beer and Derek tells him to start another. Stiles hasn't drank since Jackson's post-election party, and hadn't drank in seven months before that. His tolerance is absolute crap so he's pretty well buzzed when Derek puts down his tools, turns, and leans back against his workbench just as Stiles finishes beer number four.

Stiles studies his posture and expression, and groans. “No.”

“Yes.”

“No, no, no,” Stiles insists. “Denial, Derek. It's gorgeous. It's perfect. It's--”

“When did he start showing up like that?” Derek asks, voice sharp and merciless.

Stiles talks all the time, everyone knows that, but the people closest to him know that the big stuff, the hurtful stuff, that's what Stiles doesn't talk about. Not unless his defenses have been worn down just enough by, say, alcohol and ninety-minutes of meditatively watching Derek work. Derek has had years to work the kinks out of this strategy, and it's his version of camping out in an underground hellhole.

Stiles folds his arms on the table and lays his head on them. “After that thing with Chris.”

There's a pause. “How many times?”

“Six or seven. Maybe more. I'm not sure if he showed up when I was down in the tunnels with you.”

“Damn it, Stiles.” There's a banging sound; Stiles doesn't look up to see what Derek did to cause it. “Tell me.”

There's no mystical connection between them that Derek can use to push Stiles to answer, but he's been trained to listen to that commanding tone in Derek's voice because his life sometimes literally depends on it.

“There's not much to tell,” Stiles sighs, sitting up. He shuffles a hand through his short hair and shrugs. “He's drunk and he, I don't know, he talks about how life would be a song if he'd died instead of Mom, tells me he loves me. That kind of stuff.” He stares down at the table, finding patterns in the wood grain. “I don't really stick around to listen.”

Derek is breathing so loudly that Stiles can hear every inhale and exhale from all the way over here. It's as predictable as a metronome, which means Derek's having to work very hard at controlling himself. “Chris?” he bites out.

Stiles snorts tiredly. “I have absolutely no idea what's going on with them. Dad never really gets around to mentioning him before he passes out or I get the hell out of Dodge.”

“What about when he's sober?”

“The last time I talked to him sober was that night. He's, uh, kind of not answering my calls. Or returning them. It's not that he's ignoring me, I don't think, more like he's avoiding me.”

Derek growls, a rumbling, stuttering sound that makes Stiles shiver. “That is completely unacceptable.” His words are misshapen; if Stiles were to look up he's sure he'd find that Derek was partially shifted, his fangs out and distorting his words. “You never cut him off, not even after he married the bastard who made our lives a living hell more than once.”

At that, Stiles curls in on himself, eyes squeezing shut. “I never told him.”

After a long, drawn out silence that is full of disbelief, there's another crash, louder this time. Stiles looks up. The aluminum cylinder is rolling on the floor after having apparently been thrown against a wall. Derek's chest is heaving, the forced steadiness of his breathing a thing of the past, and he's working his jaw like he's grinding his teeth.

Despite the four-beer-buzz Stiles has going, which has made him lax, his heart rate kicks up a notch. It's a learned response because when Derek is like this, chances are shit's just gotten real.

You never told him,” Derek repeats, the words almost ground to powder before they leave his mouth. Then he rolls his eyes heavenwards before scowling at Stiles. ”No, of course you didn’t. I’m not even surprised by that stupidity, even though I specifically told you to tell him and you promised you would.”

Stiles’ hands twitch before he fists them on the material of his jeans. “I don’t--it didn’t seem to matter. I mean, Chris was mostly retired, and they were here, and we were...not here. I didn’t know we’d come back!”

Derek’s mouth slants in annoyed disapproval. “That’s all beside the point, and you know it. He deserved to know.”

“But he was happy,” Stiles says, voice small. “Derek, he was so happy and I couldn’t--I couldn’t ruin that for him. After Mom died, it was like he was broken, but then when he got with Chris, it was like he was fixed, a little. What kind of son would take that away from his dad, huh?”

Derek stares at him. “You do know that's completely ridiculous, right? If your positions were reversed, you'd want to know, and you wouldn't blame him for anything.”

“Logically, yeah, I get that, I really do.” Stiles shrugs, uncomfortable. “Emotionally, not so much.” The look on Derek's face is resigned, annoyed and exasperated. “You're, uh, not going to try to get me to tell him now, are you?”

“No.” Derek sighs. “After so long, it would do more harm than good all around.”

Stiles is enormously relieved that he's not going to be forced into pretty much destroying the foundation of Dad's relationship with Chris, even if the status is up in the air. Unfortunately, Derek doesn't leave it there.

“But you are going to stop conveniently forgetting to put together the list Allison talked to you about.” Sometimes Stiles wishes that Derek knew him a little less well than he does, or that he maybe wouldn't call him on the carpet on his avoidance. “Then you and Allison are going to sit your father and Chris down and go over that list with them.”

That's a bit unexpected, and Stiles pauses as he thinks it through. They've laid down the law with Chris, effectively, and cut him out of anything supernatural. But like Stiles recognized at the time, that doesn't mean Chris will abide, doesn't mean anything really. By making “concessions” they can appease Chris, and that's of the good. Not just because of Stiles' dad, either.

Having an Argent in Beacon Hills keeps other Hunters from settling here to keep an eye on them, and Chris is probably one of the few Hunters out there who actually tries to abide by the code. Never mind Stiles' feelings on that damn code, or how Chris has justified minor infractions of it. He still follows it more than most, more than his own damn family ever has.

It's in the Pack's best interests to find a way to find a workable solution to the situation with Chris.

Still. “There's no reason for Dad to be there for--”

“You're going to let him make an informed decision this time,” Derek snaps. Stiles winces because, ouch, way to shove a shank in a soft spot, Derek. “And transparency with your father might help Chris meet us halfway, and actually follow through on whatever he agrees to.”

Stiles could argue, but Derek makes excellent points, the same ones Stiles would make if he wasn't the one in the middle of it. As much as this is going to suck, Stiles will do it. He's done harder, worse things for the Pack, though few have had such potential for wrecking him emotionally.

“Okay, fine, I'll get on that. Good talk.” Stiles stands up, but Derek's voice stops him.

“We're not finished.”

“I think we are.”

Derek's eyebrows lower in a manner that indicates he's not going to put up with any of Stiles' bullshit. Damn it. Stiles is intimately familiar with that look. Back in the day, he could hear that look over the phone, from across the country.

Stiles sits back down and slumps his shoulders. “God, what now?”

“You're angry.”

Oh, hell no. They are not doing this. Not this time. “I am,” Stiles agrees readily. He puts an extra shot of chipper into his voice for good measure. “Angry and annoyed that this conversation is not over.”

“It's...okay to be angry.”

It's almost a consolation that Derek sounds incredibly uncomfortable. Almost, but not quite. “Thank you, Dr. Hale. I'll write that in my diary. Can we be done now?”

Derek's mouth turns down at the corners. “You're angry,” he says again, a stern insistence in his tone that makes Stiles twitchy.

“Look, you can't help who you fall in love with, okay? I know that, I'm not--”

“It's okay to be angry.”

“Yes, you said that already. Are you just going to repeat the same two sentences over and over again?”

Derek cocks his head. “Maybe. If that's what it takes to get you to stop apologizing to your father like you're the one who's done something wrong. If it'll get you to stop brushing everything aside like it's okay.”

The thing is, Derek's talking to him like he used to, like when Stiles was a teenager and Derek was an emotionally fucked up teenager-in-a-twenty-something's body. Like when they were still practically strangers, and Derek threatened Stiles, and Stiles was an insensitive asshole to Derek. That tone annoys the fuck out of Stiles because they are past this, they're friends, family, Pack, and he never wants them to go back to how it used to be.

Derek knows what talking to Stiles like this does to him. He's using it deliberately, and Stiles is fully aware of that, but it still sparks enough irritation in him that it ignites the anger he's buried beneath the surface, left alone in the hopes that it would go away if left unacknowledged long enough.

“Stop being such an asshole!” Stiles says loudly, pushing to his feet again. “My dad is on the verge of alcoholism again, okay, I'm not going to fling more crap his way that'll drive him further into the bottle. And, I hate to break this to you, but my being in the Pack makes his life harder, and I'll apologize for it if I want, fuck you.”

Derek is suddenly very close. Stiles blinks, at first thinking that Derek crossed the room. But, no, Stiles is the one who moved, completely without realizing it, and now there's only a foot or two of distance between them.

“Stop justifying everything he does,” Derek says flatly. “Him marrying Chris Argent makes your life harder. The difference is that he knew it when he did it, but you didn't know being in the Pack would affect him.” He lowers his brows. “And you've been sober and aware for the hundreds of apologies you've given him.”

Stiles sees red then, a haze descending over his vision, because as protective of the Pack as Stiles is, he's even more protective of his father. “You don't get to say that, any of that, you don't get to--”

“I get to say that and more.” Derek's hand snaps out, faster than Stiles can track, and curls in the front of Stiles' shirts. He jerks Stiles towards him, lifts him up on tiptoes, and stares him down, fury and determination painting his face. “Anyone else, Stiles. Anyone else and I would put them through a wall for what this is doing to you.” He brings their faces closer together. “Anyone else, and you wouldn't take it, either.”

Stiles' feet scrabble for purchase on the concrete floor, his hands coming up to grip Derek's forearm for balance.

“You're angry,” Derek says a third time.

“Of course I'm angry!” Stiles explodes. “Even if Dad didn't know details, I dropped hints, I made references, and he still started dating him, still married him. Chris' life's work has been killing werewolves, and Dad married him! Anyone would be furious about that, Derek!”

Derek lets him go and Stiles teeters on his feet, fury racing through his veins, barreling under his skin. With a satisfied nod, Derek spins him in the direction of the back doors. “Let's go.”

They go outside, Derek snagging a recycling bin full of glass bottles and jars along the way. Twenty feet from the building, Derek stops, reaches into the bin, and hands Stiles an empty mason jar. He shoves a pair of safety glasses onto Stiles' face, then points at the building. “Go.”

This is as familiar as Derek push push pushing Stiles into unearthing his anger, as familiar as the way Stiles is panting for breath as though he's run miles in the woods. Derek has taken him to junkyards and handed him baseball bats. He's brought Stiles to scrap yards and given him crow bars. He's put sledgehammers in Stiles' hands and pointed him at walls made of concrete and brick.

Tonight, Stiles takes the jar and flings it at the concrete back wall of the warehouse. It shatters, loud and explosive and so very satisfying. He throws another. And another. He throws until the waist high bin is empty and his arm is sore and his anger is wrung out of him.

Stiles stumbles, leaning hard against Derek, who's stood at his side the entire time. Derek cups the side of Stiles' jaw in one hand and brings his face around. “You can love him and still be angry, still be hurt. It's not mutually exclusive.”

Stiles nods, tired and empty, then Derek reels him in and hugs him tightly.

At home, they bypass the living room without looking in. In Derek's room, he strips Stiles down to his boxers before doing the same, and they crawl into Derek's massive bed to lie facing each other on their sides, Stiles' forehead nestled just under Derek's throat.

For the first time in longer than Stiles can actually remember right now, the low thrum of anger he's been carrying around is gone. It feels good to not have it eating at him in the background, constant and exhausting.

“You know,” Derek says into the darkness, “it's not fair that I'm the one everyone calls emotionally stupid. You're just as bad.”

Stiles barks out a surprised laugh and feels Derek's grin against the top of his head. “No, you know what's not fair? That everyone calls me the dork when you're just as dorky.”

Derek’s chest rumbles with silent laughter. “Go to sleep.”

When their breathing evens out and the room is hushed and quiet, Stiles murmurs, “Thanks.”

The hand Derek has on Stiles' hip tightens momentarily. “Always.”

Chapter Text

=March=

By the second week of March, Stiles is going to Derek's warehouse workshop every day after work. It's not because of the soothing factor—though it is soothing, Stiles isn't gonna lie—but because of the same reason he originally sat in Derek's garage workshop in Pasadena: some alone time.

Stiles forgot, in the missing of the Pasadena duplex, that the joys of having one big Pack house went hand in hand with a complete and utter lack of privacy or, more importantly, solitude.

He remembers now, though, since with Derek and Stiles in one house, there are between two and three Pack members crashing with them every night. Normally, visits wouldn't be an issue, but there are reasons people are there, which makes it all very annoying.

Scott and Allison are fighting, which has nothing directly to do with the house since both Stiles and Derek shut the two of them down from bringing relationship problems to them unless they decided to start listening to advice. However, Danny and Jackson have reached critical mass with the pair and are avoiding them by, yeah, hiding at Stiles' house and lying about where they are.

Then there's Lydia, who is barreling towards a control freak breakdown about the pregnancy and is compensating by designing the most perfect nursery ever, which will be replicated in all of the Pack houses. Stiles is starting to dream about fabric and paint swatches, and he doesn't like it one bit.

So Derek's workshop it is, since Stiles' job doesn't end when he leaves work, especially now that he also has sixty to seventy emails per night to deal with for the Gazette.

When Stiles arrives today, Derek is already there, though he's not at his workbench the way he usually is. Instead, he's standing by the wooden patio table, which he refinished after the first week, when Stiles needed him to dig half a dozen splinters out of his palm.

Stiles slings his messenger bag onto the table and slouches in a chair, also refinished, though the splinters didn't make it through his pants to his ass, thank god. “Out of inspiration?”

Derek shakes his head, then reaches out to the table. He pushes over a piece of paper Stiles didn't notice.

With a questioning look, Stiles picks it up and goes still with surprise. He lifts his brows at Derek. “Huh. When did this happen? Because last I heard, it was dead in the water.”

“We picked up negotiations a few days ago. They agreed today.”

“And why am I going? Not that I'm complaining, or refusing. Just curious.”

“They asked for you.” Derek looks slightly troubled; Stiles doesn't blame him. “It was the best compromise we could come up with, because they really didn't want an actual Alpha coming into their territory.”

Stiles looks at him. “That's a bit weird. I mean, you've gone into other territories before for exactly this reason. Packs usually insist on you coming personally.”

“Their Alpha's getting up in years,” Derek says bluntly. “I think they're in flux and it's making them wary.”

“I'm not going on my own, am I?”

Derek gives him a look. “Don't be an idiot. Who do you want with you?”

Stiles thinks it over. Lydia is not an option. She won't leave her territory because she's pregnant, and they don't want her in harm's way. Scott—well, Scott's their best fighter, but he's shit when it comes to Pack politics and always takes affront at the wrong things, in an extreme manner. Allison is out, because Stiles needs an actual werewolf at his side, no matter that Allison is equally as dangerous as the wolves are.

Jackson would normally be first on Stiles' list for something like this. He's got control, but he's also smart enough to know when to let loose with a little wolf action. Unfortunately, being Mayor doesn't allow him to duck out of town with no notice. Also, one of the reasons for this trip to Boulder is to try to get him some visits with James, and he can't actually be there for that.

That leaves Danny, who is actually a really great choice. He's not as good a fighter as Scott, and he's not as savvy as Jackson, but he can read Stiles impossibly well and, better yet, knows when to respond to Stiles' emotions and when to ignore them and let things play out.

“Danny,” Stiles says, just as Derek holds out another piece of paper, this one an identical e-ticket to the one Stiles is holding, but with Danny's name on it. He huffs and Derek smirks. “Yeah, yeah, I'm predictable.”

Derek grabs Stiles' wrist when he moves to take the e-ticket. “No. Not predictable. Smart. He's the best option.”

With a last, hard squeeze, Derek lets go, then pulls out his phone to call Danny over. They wait at the table, Stiles marking the lackluster pre-Spring Break homework assignments that were turned in today, and Derek spending time with a sketchbook, something he normally doesn't do but has been doing a lot lately.

When Danny arrives an hour later, he makes a big show of being awed. “I'm actually in the secret Alpha hideout, this is a momentous occasion.”

Derek and Stiles roll their eyes simultaneously, then put away their busywork. Derek hands over the e-ticket. “The two of you are leaving tomorrow after school lets out.”

Danny frowns. “Is this about an alliance or James?”

“Both.”

Danny smiles, relieved. “Good. Jackson's been breaking my heart.”

Stiles', too, and Derek's, even if Derek won’t admit that under threat of dismemberment. “But we're not telling the others anything until we get back,” Stiles says to Danny.

“What—they're going to know we're not in town.”

Derek shakes his head. “I’ll take care of that.” When Danny starts to argue again, Derek silences him by way of lowering his brows. “We don’t want Jackson’s hopes getting raised because there’s no guarantee.”

Stiles watches Danny flinch at the reminder and nod. “Yeah, okay.”

“Good, now get out,” Derek says over his shoulder, on his way to his workbench.

Danny snorts, waves at Stiles, and then leaves. Stiles, meanwhile, settles in for another forty five minutes until Derek is ready to go. He’s glad he did when they get home and find Lydia waiting with her decorating binder of doom and a craving for comfort food in the form of Stiles’ lasagna, and Jackson and Danny playing XBox in the living room.

Stiles makes Derek stay in the kitchen with him because if he has to spend the hour it takes prepping lasagna looking at Lydia’s book, and listening to Danny and Jackson complain about Scott and Allison, then so does Derek.

*

Derek is waiting at the high school when Stiles gets out of work the next day. It’s a Friday, and the start of Spring Break, so the kids are tearing out of the building and parking lot like their asses are on fire.

As soon as Stiles gets in the car, Derek shoves Stiles' own tablet—conveniently “forgotten” at home—at him. “The list for Argent. Work on it. I want it when you get back.”

Stiles makes a face. “Yeah, yeah, okay.”

They pick up Danny and then Derek turns the car to Sacramento, the nearest large airport. By the time they arrive, Stiles still hasn't managed to put even a single item on the list. He tries to hide it by closing out the empty Word document, but Derek must catch sight of it—or just knows Stiles that well—because he gives Stiles an unyielding, disappointed look.

Stiles scrubs at his eyes with his hands. “I know. I know. I'll get it done, I swear.”

Danny pokes his head between the seats and twists awkwardly to offer his neck to Derek, who nuzzles at it, scenting and marking. “Remember what I said,” Derek tells Danny.

Danny nods. “See you Sunday.” He gets out of the car and Derek pops the trunk for him.

Stiles tucks the tablet in the carry on bag at his feet and turns in his seat. Derek is staring out of the windshield, a pensive look on his face.

“I've done this before.”

Derek shrugs one shoulder. “Doesn't mean this will be a cakewalk.”

It doesn't, no, and when these things go bad they tend to go very bad. Stiles would feel better if the rest of the Pack were going to be closer, just in case, but he'll work with what he's got.

“I'll be careful.”

Derek whips his head around, eyes gleaming the slightest bit red. “You better be. I don't want to hear about you doing anything stupid.”

Stiles makes a noise. “If you feel that way...”

“You know I trust you. But you tend to throw yourself in between us and trouble.”

Stiles tilts his head. “Well, yeah.”

The sound Derek makes is a mixture of tired resignation, annoyed exasperation, and deep concern. “Just...let Danny do his job.” He touches Stiles' side, right over the scar that's still angry and red. “Please.”

Stiles doesn't need all of his fingers to count the number of times Derek has said please in that quiet, sincere tone. “No, hey, it'll be fine, you'll see, it's going to be--”

“Don't do that with me.”

Stiles swallows down the rest of the useless, desperate platitudes lined up on his tongue, then laces his fingers through Derek's on his side. A burst of warmth spreads through his chest and he breathes deeply for a moment. “I will. I'll let him be the muscle, and I won't put myself in danger unless there's no other resort.”

It's the best Stiles can offer, given who he is and what his place in the Pack is. Derek closes his eyes briefly, lips twisting, then tugs at Stiles until their faces are buried in each others' necks. Like with Danny, it's scenting and marking, but it's something else, too.

“Three calls a day,” Derek murmurs.

Stiles nods. “And texts in between.”

Derek pulls back, watching Stiles intently. “Go on.”

*

The flight to Denver is relatively quick. Danny spends it on his laptop, because even if he can work from home and take time off with little-to-no notice, he still has obligations. Stiles stares at the blinking cursor on his tablet and pokes at it every once in a while.

During the descent into Denver they go over how they're going to play the visit into Boulder territory. That involves Stiles saying, “Like Springfield, I think,” and Danny saying, “Oh my god, seriously?!” and Stiles telling him, “Yeah, I've got a feeling.”

The Boulder Pack house is a sprawling split level ranch that's also sort of a mansion that's built halfway up a very large hill that Stiles thinks might be a small mountain. It's surrounded by rough wilderness, untamed and raw in its beauty. Stiles would be jealous except he hasn't missed snowy winters in the least, so he'll take Beacon Hills' somewhat anemic forests over this.

Their escorts, who picked them up at the airport, lead them through the house to a formal sitting room at the back. James' grandparents are waiting for them, sitting comfortably sprawled on rugged sofas in front of a roaring fire. Both are in their early sixties, fit and athletic looking, with sharp, smart eyes. Stiles can see James' mother in the Alpha's chin and her husband's eyes.

Behind them stand two wolves. The first is James' aunt, the one who came with his grandparents to pick him up. Given the strong family resemblance, Stiles thinks the guy next to her is her brother; he's giving Stiles a confused and disdainful look.

Spread along the perimeter are ten or so other Pack members. The Boulder Pack is on the large side, with a total of twenty or so adult members, and the number in attendance is typical for a meeting like this.

Stiles leads Danny in front of the sofas, their backs to the fire, and nods at the Alpha and her husband. There are tiresome formal greetings and protocols that some Packs like to partake in, but Hale Pack eschews not only adopting them, but participating in them with other Packs. Mostly. Sometimes they make exceptions, like if someone's life is on the line, but Derek isn't that kind of Alpha typically.

“Alpha and Mr. Edwards, it's a pleasure to see you again, and under better circumstances,” Stiles says by way of a greeting.

The Alpha gives him an enigmatic smile. “Alpha Stilinski, I'm glad to see that you've fully recovered.

Stiles holds her eyes and gives her a hard smile. “I'm not Alpha of the Hale Pack.”

Mr. Edwards cocks his head to the side. “We've heard otherwise.” His tone is full of idle curiosity, like he's asking about the weather. Behind him, his son looks like he just sucked on a lemon, and his daughter is watching Stiles with interest.

Stiles shrugs. “Our Alpha is and always has been Derek Hale. You've met him.”

The Alpha nods. “Indeed we have.” She gestures behind her. “And you've met my daughter, Evelyn.”

“Briefly, yeah.” Stiles waggles a hand at her. “Are you comfortable with my calling you Evelyn? Or something else?”

“Just Evelyn is fine.”

The Alpha waves to Evelyn's brother. “And my son, Joe.”

“Hey, nice to meet you. Can I call you Joe?”

“No. You will call me Joseph.”

“Joseph it is then.” Stiles bobs his head and pretends he doesn't see the expression on Joseph's face. He looks to the Alpha again. “You can all call me Stiles. That's Danny behind me. Thanks for agreeing to this meeting and for hosting us.”

Danny passes him the courtesy gift, and Stiles brings it to the sofa and hands it to Mr. Edwards. Stiles hates werewolf gifts. They're always creepy and bizarre. This one is no exception.

As they open it, Stiles tells them, “We also have something for James, but we'll keep that to ourselves unless you say otherwise.”

Mr. Edwards' head snaps up from the box he's just unwrapped. “Is this--”

Stiles nods. “It is. After you left, we dug up the body and ground the bones to dust.”

There's a stirring among the wolves in the room: various eyes glow and a rumble of multiple satisfied growls sound. The Alpha and her husband trade a look then turn to Stiles, faces somber.

“Thank you, Stiles,” Mr. Edwards says, then makes a sharp motion with his hand. The people on the perimeter of the room file out, one by one, leaving only the four on and by the sofa, as well as Stiles and Danny. Mr. Edwards nods at a loveseat, set catty-corner to the sofa he and the Alpha are on. “Please, sit.”

Stiles does. Danny stands behind him, which has the Alpha arching a brow. “What?”

She shrugs. “For someone who claims not to be an Alpha...” She trails off, then glances pointedly over her shoulder, where Evelyn and Joseph are standing with her just as Danny is with Stiles.

Joseph makes an annoyed noise. “He can't be an Alpha. He's human, and he's an insult. Hale's pissed you wouldn't let him come, so he sends this instead of his Second.”

Stiles opens his mouth, then pauses and looks from Joseph to the Alpha. Her expression is exceptionally bland. Instead of telling Joseph that he was specifically requested by the Alpha, Stiles leans back. “He did send his Second.” When Joseph's gaze moves to Danny, Stiles shakes his head. “Nope. That would be me. I have the second highest rank in our Pack, above all the wolves except for our Alpha.”

It's only through long experience with werewolves, and with Pack to Pack interactions such as this, that Stiles knows to look for the tensing of Joseph's muscles that signals he's about to pounce.

It’s all posturing and intimidation, a way of seeking out dominance and creating submission. Stiles doesn’t move—he doesn’t even blink—when Joseph vaults over the sofa holding his parents to land right in front of Stiles. At least, it’s meant to be in front of Stiles, but Danny has moved, faster than Stiles can process, and is barring the way.

Joseph roars, half wolfed out, right in Danny’s face.

Stiles stretches his arms along the back of the loveseat. He meets Joseph's eyes across the top of Danny's shoulder, holds the gaze, and lifts his chin. “Don't shift,” he tells Danny.

The claws that were just starting to come out on Danny's hands retract immediately, and the hair on the side of his face sinks back beneath the surface. Danny bares his teeth in a wordless snarl at Joseph, holding his ground easily, head up and eyes no doubt flaring aqua.

Stiles arches his brows and keeps Joseph's amber gaze, but speaks to the Alpha. “You should contain your wolf.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the Alpha smirk. Ah. So it's going to be like this, then.

Stiles whips his left arm from the sofa back and flexes his wrist. A short, sharpened hunk of ashwood flies out from under his cuff, from a spring loaded launcher designed by Allison, and heads right towards Joseph.

Danny doesn't need to look back to know to duck, which he does gracefully. Joseph roars again, using his sleeved covered forearm to knock the projectile off target. He staggers back immediately after, hands going to his face to paw at his eyes, which are streaming from the diluted aconite solution Stiles slipped out of his right cuff and flung at him.

Stiles says Danny's name, and with a quick pounce, Danny takes Joseph to the floor, pinning him on his back, one hand set firmly on his forehead to keep his head down, and the other holding his wrists pressed to the floor over his head. He's got a leg thrown over the tops of Joseph's thighs to keep him from kicking up.

Stiles stands up slowly and walks over to them, cracking his neck along the way. He plants one foot against Joseph's throat and then crouches down. Joseph twists and growls, feet scrabbling against the floor, jaws snapping at the air. Danny's containing most of Joseph's movements, so Stiles doesn't have to struggle to keep his balance in the awkward position.

Looking down at Joseph, Stiles pulls his lips back from his teeth and snarls as best he can in Joseph's face, unblinking and hard-eyed. Joseph growls back at him, so Stiles leans more and more of his weight on his right foot, the one on Joseph's throat, until Joseph eventually can't get enough air to make a sound. Still, Joseph meets his eyes for a another minute or so, until he realizes that neither Stiles nor Danny have any intention of moving. Stiles watches the panic seep into his gaze and knows that, if he had a wolf's sense of smell, he'd be able to smell the acrid stench of fear wafting off of Joseph.

But Stiles doesn't need werewolf abilities to notice Joseph's inevitable submission. It's textbook: he lowers his eyes and turns his head to bare his throat. Stiles remains still for several long drawn out moments, then shifts his weight off of Joseph's throat in graduated increments.

Stiles reaches out with his left hand and takes hold of Joseph's chin. “Look at the ceiling.” From his right cuff, he takes out a small, plastic packet of liquid, holds it over Joseph's eyes, and punctures it with a hard squeeze. The clear liquid splashes into Joseph's eyes, neutralizing the diluted aconite. Stiles watches the bloodshot lines in the whites of Joseph's eyes recede, and then nods.

He stands up and takes his place on the loveseat again. Stiles says Danny's name once more, and Danny releases Joseph and moves behind Stiles. On the sofa, the Alpha is blinking slowly, her husband is blank faced, and Evelyn is wide-eyed. Stiles focuses on the Alpha. “You get one—one single act to test the human—and then it's real, Alpha Edwards.”

The Alpha nods. “So noted.” She looks to her son on the floor and lets loose one of those special Alpha werewolf roars that shoots right through a werewolf in every metaphysical manner possible. Trembling to the verge of almost cowering, Joseph clambers awkwardly to his feet and moves behind the sofa again. She's taken Joseph back from Stiles, reasserted her dominance over him. Good. She can have him. “And you may call me Mary.”

Mr. Edwards gets to his feet and smiles at Stiles. “I'm Len. We've got a small spread of food out in the kitchen. Come on, you can eat, we can let you know the schedule for the rest of this, and then you can take a look around the property or retire to your rooms.”

Danny speaks up for the first time. “Room. We'll be sharing.”

Len goes with the flow and nods immediately. “Of course.”

*

In the guestroom later, Danny deals with their bags while Stiles texts Derek with an update. A half hour goes by and there's no response. Rather than waiting for their scheduled time, Stiles calls him.

Derek doesn't say anything when he answers. Stiles sighs. “It's good. I can handle it.” Derek issues a short, irate snarl; Stiles rolls his eyes. “Granted, I would have preferred full disclosure, but I get it. And so do you.” Derek grunts. “We've done this before, just as purposefully.” Derek is petulantly silent. “Good, I'll call you before we turn in.”

*

Both Evelyn and Joseph are at the meeting the next day. In fact, Mary and Len—he's her Second, Stiles knows—sit away from the table, don't say a single word, and leave things in their hands.

It's probably the most disorganized and headachy negotiation Stiles has been in since they were still in high school. Seriously. The two of them keep making outrageous and ridiculous demands, then arguing with one another about the details of the demands. They list one thing after another that they absolutely refuse to do/provide, most of which wouldn't even be subject for discussion during a negotiation, and the rest of which are actually standard trade points.

Four and a half miserable, disorienting hours in, after the third time Joseph demands to know what the Hale Pack finances are like (for what reason, Stiles has no clue), Stiles lowers the hand he covered his face with an hour before.

“This is like a new-found circle of Hell,” Stiles says loudly. Joseph and Evelyn pause mid-argument and turn their heads simultaneously to look at him. “I'm taking over because I've been very patient but I'm about to contemplate suicide to bring this to an end.”

Stiles wakes his tablet and hands it over to Danny, who doesn't react outwardly to the notes he was taking, which includes such gems as when will the torture end, holy god and emoticon depictions of Stiles' torment and tragedy.

He starts with the last item first. “We won't contribute or accept tithes into Pack financial accounts. What's yours is yours, what's ours is ours.” He shrugs. “If you run into a crisis and need financial assistance, we won't be obligated to help you out, but you can ask.”

Joseph scowls at him. “Do you expect us to provide you with the same consideration?”

Stiles grins, wry and amused. “Trust me, we won't need it. Also, point of reference? Alliance and treaty negotiations never, ever contain financial elements.” He looks between the siblings. “In the future, you should leave it off the agenda because most Packs consider it tacky and rude.”

Evelyn leans forward. “But--”

Stiles is so done letting either one of these two speak. “Next up: territory considerations. Again, what's yours is yours, what's ours is ours. Trading maps of territory lines is standard SOP. You can ask your parents why that is, if you don't know. Defense of territory is limited. If you antagonize another Pack or entity into coming at you, we reserve the right to tell you to clean up your own mess. If you're attacked unprovoked, we'll send help if you need it. We expect the same in return.”

“Your Pack is smaller than ours--” Joseph starts.

“Hale Pack has alliances and treaties with werewolf Packs and other entities worldwide.” That sounds very impressive but the truth is that ninety-nine percent of their allies are in the States. The ones outside of the U.S. are scattered and small in number, and mostly a result of international students they befriended in Boston, Stanford and Pasadena. Still, the whole “worldwide” thing packs a punch. “Before you ask, if we end up coming out of this interminable negotiation with an alliance, we'll provide a limited list of our allies—not everyone wants their allegiances known.”

“We also want--” Joseph says.

“Hunters,” Stiles says, as though there's been no interruption. “We won't do anything about the ones who follow the Code.” He shows his teeth in a poor imitation of a smile. “If they're breaking it, though, we'll be happy to stand with you, and we expect the same in return.”

Evelyn perks up. “We heard you have Argents--”

“We don't.” Stiles' voice is cold and hard. “The Argent in our Pack disowned, and was disowned by, her family. We currently have no treaty in place with the senior-most Argent.” He moves on. “Sanctuary. We'll offer it to any of your wolves who come through our territory, so long as they're in good standing with your Alpha. We'd want you to do the same.”

Stiles rolls his shoulders and sighs. “Finally, there's what I like to call the friend-of-a-friend codicil. If you've got another ally in trouble and want our help, we'll decide that on a case by case basis.” He gestures between himself and the siblings. “Expected in return, yadda yadda.”

Stiles gets to his feet then, stretching and moving his gaze steadily between Joseph and Evelyn. Given the tone of this negotiation, Stiles pulls on his teacher persona, because these two might as well be a couple of his adolescent students

“So, Danny is gong to send you what I just outlined, and then he and I are going to take a drive and see some sights, get a late lunch.” He looks at them the way he looks at his juniors, who seem to think homework is optional. “While we're gone, you should gather your thoughts and organize them coherently and succinctly. We'll discuss them when we get back. But, seriously, I'm warning you, if it even looks to be going the way it did earlier, I'm so done. You really have to get your shit together here, okay? Great, see you in a few hours.”

*

Boulder's actually a really gorgeous area, even given the snow and the cold. Danny drives the borrowed SUV and Stiles uses the GPS on his phone to navigate them through and around the city. They stop in a park to romp in the snow like they did when they were in undergrad, Stiles flopping down to make a series of snow angels linked at the wing like a string of paper dolls, and Danny diving headfirst into huge snow drifts (the one time Stiles tried that, he shattered a hidden beer bottle with his hand and needed ten stitches, so he sticks with the angels no matter how much fun it looks).

Stiles calls Derek during their trek to bring him down to a reasonable DEFCON threat level and vent about Joseph and Evelyn's atrocious negotiation skills. Derek relaxes minutely. He'll remain on alert until Stiles and Danny are back home, but at least it won't be a high, anxious alert.

They return to the Boulder Pack's house about an hour before dinner and meet in the Alpha's study once again. Joseph and Evelyn have this look on their faces that speak to wolves who have been duly chastised by their Alpha. They also have stapled packets ready for Stiles, and he could weep from relief when he sees an ordered list of discussion items. Granted, there's eight pages of them, but, still, it's progress.

Stiles has really, really done this a lot over the years. Boston proper is just one part of the Boston metropolitan area, and during his time there Stiles met with what felt like every werewolf Pack in a hundred and fifty mile radius.

He uses that knowledge and experience, combined with his methods for dealing with teenage students, and gets them through all eight pages in thirty six minutes. He rejects about a quarter of the proposed requests outright because they're things that Hale Pack never agrees to. Another quarter of them are shelved for several years into a positive alliance scenario, if one occurs.

The rest Stiles goes through one by one and either a) explains how it's already covered by what he laid out earlier, b) dismisses for being completely out of bounds for an alliance (Stiles would love to know their obsession with his Pack's net worth, he really would) or, rarely, c) agrees to with limitations.

Danny taps at the tablet and prints out the document. This is the first time Stiles has ever had an agreement put on paper but he's happy to do it just so he can make sure they're all quite literally on the same page after the hours of torture it took to get here.

When Stiles has been handed a copy of the single page document, he looks at Mary and Len, who once again stood on the sidelines and just watched. “Are you on board and in agreement with all of this?” he asks Mary.

She nods. “I am. Consider it...” She narrows her eyes and tucks her lips in for a second, then continues in a carefully controlled voice that is so obviously trying not to sound amused. “...ratified.”

Stiles snorts. “Excellent. I'm glad we could get this set up. We look forward to being friends with the Edwards Boulder Pack.”

Joseph looks surprised when Stiles stands up, signaling that the meeting is over. “Don't you have to get your Alpha's approval?”

“Nope.”

He frowns. “But you asked our Alpha for her approval.”

“Yep.”

“Why didn't you ask yours, then?”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Because I know my Alpha and, unlike you two, this isn't my first rodeo.”

*

Dinner is a relaxed meal, an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other in a casual setting. Stiles focuses mostly on talking with Mary. She's smart, tough and has a wicked sly sense of humor. She's also, Stiles decides, not nearly old or weak enough to need to be replaced for at least another decade, no matter what she implied to Derek during their pre-visit discussions.

Werewolves age in line with humans but with less deterioration thanks to their healing, and Stiles once saw an eighty year old werewolf slam Derek face first down on a floor and force submission out of him—it's one of about a million secrets between him and Derek that the Pack knows nothing about, though. Mary isn't as strong as that eighty-year old was, or Derek is, but she's certainly still as strong as she probably was fifteen years ago.

When dinner is over, Mary looks at her kids. “Clear the house for the next two hours.”

Mary takes them into the sitting room from the night before. This time, Stiles has Danny sit next to him. He studies Mary, her barely lined face and her steel gray hair, and scratches at the side of his neck. “For the record, I don't appreciate being used to test your kids' mettle.”

Her expression goes wry and—not apologetic; she's an Alpha, after all—but acknowledging of her transgression. “I'm sure you don't, but I appreciate that you let it play out. Our Pack has historically been very insular, but given recent events we've realized that we need to change that, and quickly.” Stiles shrugs, and says nothing. “And it was just as much to test your mettle. There are a lot of wild stories out there about you.”

Stiles knows, even if he tries his hardest not to hear any of the specifics of them. They tend to horrify or mortify him in turns so he avoids them as much as possible. “It was maybe only five percent the second part,” he says, because he wants her to know that he's well aware of what happened here.

She gives a carefree shrug and a fleeting smile before getting serious again. “We should talk about James.”

Stiles leans forward, elbows propped on his thighs and his hands loosely clasped. “Yeah, we should.”

*

The visitation negotiation is about as opposite of the alliance one as is possible. It’s brutal, and for good reason. No Pack in its right mind would be happy as shit to send one of their young ones off to another territory, or even allow a wolf into their own territory for the express purpose of seeing the young one. Kids are precious to Packs. They’re fiercely protected and Packs close ranks around them instinctively. The situation with James is even more precarious: his siblings and parents have died, and he was chased across an entire state by someone trying to kill him as well. Not to mention that he’s the Alpha’s grandson.

Stiles hasn’t seen James, won’t see him at all during this trip as part of the agreement Derek made prior, but Stiles thinks the only reason the request is being entertained at all is because James bonded so much with Jackson that he probably feels the loss like another death.

It takes hours of careful, precise and thoughtfully prepared arguments on Stiles’ part to get Mary and Len to cautiously agree to let Jackson see James. Stiles has to concede to a few things that normally his Pack adamantly refuses, but all he has to do is think of Jackson’s face when James left, think of the way something’s been missing from Jackson since then, to make an exception.

What Mary agrees to is short and limited, and not nearly ideal, but if things go well there’s the potential to increase the visit frequency and duration. It’s far more than Stiles could have hoped for, though, and he’ll take whatever they can get.

“I forgot,” Danny says when they've turned in for the night. He's draped over Stiles' chest, nose tucked up near his armpit. Stiles makes a questioning noise. “It's been a while since I've seen you in action like that. I forgot how good you are at it.”

*

On the flight home, Stiles calls Derek. “Can we do it today?” he asks, apropos of nothing, when Derek answers.

Derek grunts. “It's already set up. Allison's coming with me to pick you up, then I'm dropping you two at your Dad's and taking Danny over to Jackson's.”

Stiles leans his head against the window and smiles. “Cool.”

*

When they land in Sacramento, Jackson and Allison are with Derek. Jackson nearly tackles Stiles to the ground with an exuberant and grateful hug. Derek obviously filled him in on the visitation agreement Stiles managed to set up. Then Allison pushes him away and gives Stiles her own hug, though it's less exuberant and more worried. “It's gonna be fine,” Stiles says, lifting her up and twirling her a bit.

She gets in the car with Danny and Jackson after Stiles puts her down. Stiles looks at Derek, then. He's watching Stiles with narrowed eyes and his hands are clenching. Stiles moves over to him, smiling tiredly, and wraps his arms around Derek's torso, under his ever-present leather jacket.

Derek's nose settles against the side of Stiles' neck. He issues a near-silent, displeased rumble, no doubt at the stink of another Pack and airplane air tainting Stiles' scent. Stiles makes a low shushing noise, tips his head further to the side, and slides his hands up the back of Derek's t-shirt.

Derek swipes at the skin of Stiles' neck with his tongue, licking a stripe from where his shoulder meets his neck, all the way up to the skin behind Stiles' ear. At Stiles' sides, Derek's hands fumble with his layers of shirts, jerking at them until he can get to Stiles' skin.

Stiles closes his eyes, inhales deeply to capture the strong scent of musk, forest and leather that clings to Derek, that's unique to him alone. “Better?”

Derek nods, exhales against Stiles' skin once more, then steps back. “Come on. You'll be late if we don't leave now.”

*

At Dad's house, things are tense when Stiles and Allison get there. Chris and Dad are both in the living room, stiff and awkward. Dad is looking everywhere but at Chris, who's staring intently at Dad. At least, until they walk in, at which point Chris redirects his gaze to Allison.

Dad looks at Stiles, face drawn with fatigue and regret. “Stiles. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have...”

Stiles isn't stupid. He knows it's not a coincidence that Dad's drunken visits to the house stopped right after Derek found out about them, and that Dad stopped avoiding him enough that they've been exchanging texts.

Stiles opens his mouth, and he's about to let loose another torrent of desperate reassurances, but the thing is—the thing is that Derek made him confront all those feelings he's been ignoring for so long and once something like that happens, it's impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.

So instead Stiles takes a breath, looks his father right in the eye, and says, “No, you really shouldn't have.” Dad flinches and Stiles swallows another swell of words. “But we'll get past it. Okay?”

Dad drags a hand down his face and sighs. Then he straightens up, determined. “I—yeah, we will. We will.”

Stiles nods, then shakes himself and claps his hands together. This isn’t any different than the other negotiations Stiles has done. Not really. “Right. So. We've got business.”

In the dining room, Chris and Stiles sit across from each other at the table. After a pause, Allison nods to herself and stands just behind Stiles. Chris’ face sours with hurt and annoyance; Stiles reaches back to squeeze her hand.

Dad starts to come to their side of the table but Stiles stops him. “No, Dad.” He points to the head of the table. “There, please.”

Dad folds his arms and stares at Stiles stubbornly. “I want to stand with you.”

“That’s nice, and I appreciate it, but you’re here as a witness not a participant. So, over there.”

Dad startles in surprise, hesitates briefly, then concedes after he looks between Stiles and Allison, expression considering and only marginally understanding of the significance of the positioning.

“You've had a free hand in town for a long while,” Stiles says to Chris. “We've demanded no hand whatsoever.”

“Yes. You expect me to the let the foxes guard the hen house.”

Stiles reminds himself that this is negotiation and that he can’t lose his temper the way he normally would at Chris for a comment like that. He can, however, put a few hard truths on the table between them. ”Our Pack has never willfully attacked or murdered an innocent being. In fact, over and over, we’ve gone after rogues or other beasties that do target humans. In my experience, over and over, the same can't be said for Hunters.”

“You've spent too much time with wolves, Stiles.” Chris scrubs at his eyes. “You've lost the human perspective and have a wolf bias.”

“Well, duh,” Stiles says immediately, much to Chris' surprise. “Maybe if things had been different, if my best friend hadn't been Turned against his will when we were sixteen, if it hadn't been another wolf that helped and saved us, if Hunters hadn't given me more nightmares than Peter Hale did, I'd see werewolves as monsters.”

There is more Stiles could say, reminders of just what Hunters did, or tried to do, to Scott and Stiles, to the others, just during high school alone. But the only reason to do that would be to smack Chris down, and that wouldn't help this meeting in the least.

Instead, Stiles gives Chris a serious look. “The question is, do you have a counter offer for us?”

Chris' glances flickers from Stiles, to Allison, to Dad, then back. “Why are you asking for one?”

Arching a brow, Stiles makes a point of recreating the looks at Dad and Allison that Chris gave. Chris scowls skeptically. Stiles shrugs. “Us at odds, even a little, has the potential to lead to blood in the streets and teenagers caught in the middle.” The unsaid again rings loud and clear between them. “We'd like to avoid that.”

Chris remains silent for so long that Stiles starts to think, for the first time, that Chris is going to tell him to fuck off, then bring two dozen Hunters into town to try to take out the Pack. Just as Stiles is about to walk out, find Derek, and start putting their Worst Case Scenario plan into action, Chris finally speaks. “I should be dealing with Derek on this.”

“Derek?” Stiles snorts. “He doesn't just want to cut you out of supernatural business in town, he wants you out of town. I can guarantee that the first time you pissed him off during talks, he'd shut you down and move you on. So, basically, you deal with me, or we don't deal at all.”

Chris stares at him thoughtfully, and Stiles isn't sure he likes the look in Chris' eyes right now, the one that says he understands something he shouldn't. In the next second, Chris expression grows wary. “And Allison? What's her role here?”

Allison steps forward and sets her hand on Stiles' shoulder. “I'm invested in the outcome,” she tells Chris. “This is just as much a family thing as a Pack thing.”

“It's an emotional blackmail thing.” Allison flinches at the accusation; Stiles covers her hand with one of his own. “That's beneath you, Allison.”

Stiles raps on the table with the knuckles of his other hand, drawing Chris' attention. “Don't be a dick. This whole meeting thing was actually her idea. She loves you and she's really hoping we can come to some kind of agreement that won't have you two at odds all the time, so work with us, here.”

A few expressions chase themselves across Chris' face, and Stiles isn't familiar enough with Chris to know what they are. Then Chris sighs heavily, shoulders slumping before straightening almost immediately. The whole thing must be significant to Allison, because she exhales with relief and lets go of Stiles. “I can't be cut out of what happens in town. Despite what you think, it's not solely because I want to be involved.”

Stiles nods. “We get that. Trust me, we don't want your compatriots to come tearing through town because they think you're not doing your job.”

The Argent name carries a lot of weight in the Hunting community, in some cases because of, and not despite, Chris' sister and father. But Hunters are kind of like wolves in sensing weakness, and if the community starts to question Chris, it won't matter what his last name is. At best, a contingent will come here against his wishes. At worst, they'll come here to try to kill him, and the Pack.

“I want full disclosure and participation,” Chris says.

“That's way too much.” Stiles shakes his head and counters immediately. “We’ll inform you of issues within the territory and how we’re handling them, so that you’re aware of what’s happening. That doesn’t mean you get to stick your nose in.”

Chris frowns, unhappy. “That's not going to work, for a number of reasons, the least of which is that as strong as your Pack is, it's small.” His lips twist. “And unless Lydia's just gained a lot of weight quite suddenly, I'm guessing she's pregnant, which is not only going to put you a wolf down in the near future, but will divert your precious resources down the line.”

Both of those observations are true. They might not have told Lydia yet, but she's benched as far as dangerous situations go for the time being. And, yes, once the baby is born, if something happens they'll have to devote bodies to watching over it during trouble.

“If we can’t do it alone, if we need more manpower, we’ll tag you in. But you’ll participate with us, and you and your people will be with one of us at all times.” Stiles puts his hands flat on the table and leans forward, eyes hard and sharp. “I will not have groups of armed Hunters trolling through Beacon Hills and pulling the kind of shit they’re notorious for, you hear me? That won’t happen. I won’t let it.”

Dad is startled by Stiles’ vehemency, but Chris looks resigned more than anything else. Given the shit that Argents have pulled in Beacon Hills--some of which was in fact headed up by Chris himself, and acted out on Stiles himself--he probably expects nothing less. Jesus, if a fucking mountain lion were to be set loose on Stiles’ students, he would go off the rails. How anyone thought stunts like that were a good idea is beyond him.

Chris nods. “Agreed.”

“Good. We also want the names of any Hunter who you know is planning to come to town, or any you become aware of once they get to town.”

“Absolutely not. I'm not giving you what you need to build a database of targets.”

Stiles boggles at him. “...seriously? I—that is what you seriously think we do? Go around finding Hunters and preemptively killing them?”

Chris opens his mouth, but shuts it again before he says a word. “No, actually,” he admits. “I know you don't do that. But I can't give their names up like that. I just can't.”

This, Stiles understands. In a way. It's not like he would be willing to provide the names of werewolves to Chris or anyone else. But it's a problem. “Okay, okay, we need to find a work around, because there are some people—like Maguire—that we don't want within a hundred mile radius of us.”

Allison clears her throat. Stiles shifts to look back at her. “Black list.”

Stiles blinks. “Huh. That could work.” He faces Chris again. “If we give you a list of Hunters who are persona non grata, would you be willing to deny them access?”

Chris thinks it over, eventually nodding and shaking his head in a confusing response. “Maybe. I'd like reasons, so that I can be sure it's not just the Pack trying to avoid someone who has a legitimate issue with you.”

“We can do that.”

“There's one other thing. You've got to know there are some people I don't have the...authority to deny.”

“No, yeah, we know.” Stiles shrugs. “But, if they're on the list, we want you to let us know they're coming. We can do our thing to run them out of town, through all sorts of proper channels, and nothing will come back on you.”

Chris nods slowly. “There are some that I'd personally prefer not to have in town, to be honest, even if they're not on your list.”

That's not a surprise at all, because following the Code is becoming less common among Hunters, including families as long-standing and respected as the Argents, not to mention that the Argents as a whole have their own enemies within the community. “Give us a list of your own, with reasons, and we can help with that.” When Chris starts with surprise, Stiles lifts his brows. “This alliance is a two way street. That's the only way it's going to work.”

Another undecipherable look passes over Chris' face. Stiles thinks it might be recognition that this could be an actual solution to the tension between them, that they could be allies and not enemies, or even just not-enemies. Stiles hopes that turns out to be the case, for his Dad and Allison's sakes.

They run through some more details, each of them drawing lines for the other, until eventually they've ironed out what they can. Stiles hesitates, then pulls out his tablet and types it up, prints it, has Chris sign it, then scans it back in on a hidden server Danny maintains. The original he shreds in his Dad's office so there's no literal paper trail.

When they're done, Chris looks at Allison. “Do you need a ride home.”

She bites her lip. “I'm actually going to Stiles', so--”

“Catch a ride with your dad,” Stiles tells her. “I'll grab one with mine and meet you there.”

She gives him a grateful look, as well as a hug and kiss on the cheek, then she and Chris leave. Chris sends several intense looks at Dad, who pretends not to notice. When they're gone, Stiles quirks his lips at his father. “Come on. We can take the long way and talk while you drive.”

*

“I want to know.”

Stiles raises a brow. “No, you don't.”

Dad smacks his hands on the steering wheel and glares at Stiles. “Don't tell me what I want to know, Stiles. There's history between you and Chris. It's important. I want you to--”

“Stop. Just stop.” Stiles takes a breath, remembers Derek's words about anger and love not being mutually exclusive, and his chastisement of Stiles' silence, and let's that guide him. “If you really wanted to know, you would have asked five years ago.”

Dad jerks so badly that the car swerves into the opposite lane. Stiles is too used to Derek's driving for it to even faze him, though Dad curses and over-corrects in mild panic.

“Why did you even have me sit in on that, then? Why let me hear all the crap you mentioned if you aren't going to tell me?”

“Mainly, we hoped having you there would convince Chris to work with us.” Dad actually slows down and turns his head to stare at Stiles, who shrugs and lifts his hands in recognition of how blatantly manipulative it was. “But also...yeah, okay, we have a past with Chris. It's sort of a shitty one, and I'm man enough to admit that most of that has more to do with his batshit family than with him.” Stiles waves that away. “Anyway, it doesn't matter. Not really. Not if what we did today holds. If it does, then we're allies and we go forward, in the spirit of what we worked out, and Allison can let him back into her life. And maybe you can, too.”

Dad clenches his jaw so hard that Stiles can hear his teeth grinding. “You almost died because of him.”

“Dad.” Stiles makes his voice as gentle as he can. “I've almost died more times than I can remember. After a while, it ceases to be a big deal.”

Dad pauses, foot coming off of the accelerator and the car creeping to a slow crawl. “Jesus Christ, Stiles. Jesus Christ.”

“I'm alive. That's the important part. That's the part that matters.” It's the truth that Stiles clings to as tightly as he can because it's either do that or suffer from a terminal case of PTSD and paralyzing fear that would keep him housebound. Possibly barricaded behind literal walls of ashwood and wolfsbane, and doped up on ridiculous amounts of Xanax. “And, as angry as I was, and am, with Chris for his part in what happened, he's not actually the one who shot me, and he really didn't know about Maguire.”

“I can't believe you're trying to convince me to get back with him!”

Stiles shrugs, too exhausted to be playing marriage counselor after two plane rides and three different rounds of negotiations in less than three days. “I'm not trying to do anything,” he says, a bit more sharply than he intended. “Whatever happens with you and him is between the two of you. But, you know, I wasn't a consideration when you got with him, so it's kind of hypocritical for me to be one now.”

Dad actually has to pull over then because he's shaking too badly to drive safely. Stiles tips his head against the headrest and wishes he could take that last sentence back because there's honesty and then there's cruelty and he just bounded carelessly across that line.

“That was really unfair of me,” Stiles says into the shocked, hurt silence between them.

Dad turns off the engine and leans his head on the steering wheel. “I know I screwed up, Stiles. Badly. I've become painfully aware of that recently.” He turns his head, face wracked with pain and guilt, lines furrowed deep into his skin. “I'm trying to make it right but I'm even messing that up.”

Stiles shakes his head. “If you think making yourself miserable by leaving him puts things right between us, then we've got a problem. Because I've spent years pasting a smile on my face for the sake of your happiness, it's that important to me.” He shifts and leans forward so that he can meet his father's eyes. “All I ever really wanted was for you to stop being so willfully ignorant of the situation, of the position it put me in.”

“Yeah, well, my eyes have been opened fully.”

Stiles takes a minute to think, purposefully, about what he wants and needs from his father now. What can make this better. “You’re my dad. I love you. That--that’s not something that changes. Ever. I don’t want us not being...us. So just, think about whether you want Chris--” Which, god, five years and Stiles still doesn’t understand the appeal there. “--and if the answer’s yes, then think about the fact that even though we hammered out an agreement today, there’s no guarantee my Pack and Chris won’t end up on opposing sides sometime in the future.”

Dad takes several heaving breaths before pushing himself upright. “When did you become such an adult, kiddo?”

Stiles laughs. “It’s the werewolves. They age you quick.”

Dad chokes out a snort of laughter, then gets serious again. “I’ll do that. You’ve gotta do something for me, though.”

“Name it.”

“We’re terrible at communication. We always have been.” Stiles doesn’t argue that. A bolt of lightning would probably strike him down if he tried. “I’m trying to be better at that. I need you to try, too. I need you to be honest.”

“Ask for the world, why don’t you?” Dad gives him a very unimpressed look. Stiles scratches the side of his neck and nods. “Okay. I can do that. I’ll even put Derek on alert to call me on being an idiot.”

Dad starts the car. “No better help than that.”

*

Allison is already as Stiles’ house when he gives his Dad a hug and gets out of the car. The rest of the Pack is there, too, and normally Stiles would find it a comfort after two days away with strangers, but not today. He’s so, so, so tired. Still, he hugs Scott and Lydia, the only two he hasn’t seen already today, with a smile on his face, and doesn’t groan when he spots the nest in his living room.

Derek comes to his rescue, though, after studying him with a grimace. Before Stiles knows it, they’re in Derek’s room and Derek is closing the door behind them. Stiles is a bit surprised, because in the Pack, a closed door is the equivalent of a do not disturb sign. Everyone respects it; that’s the only way to actually sleep alone thanks to werewolves and their need for cuddles all the time. Of course, Scott and Allison have often used the closed door for different reasons.

Jackson’s always been the one to utilize the policy the most. Stiles, on the other hand, has only done it on three memorable occasions that everyone has agreed to never mention again. Derek, though, has never done it. It’s part of being an Alpha, his availability to the Pack no matter what.

Derek makes a face, like he’s smelling something offensive. “Out of those clothes.”

Stiles changes into a pair of Derek’s track pants, not bothering with a shirt, and rolls his eyes when Derek tosses Stiles’ clothes into the hall. “You are such a drama llama.”

Derek cuffs him on the back of the head when he passes by to climb onto the bed. “Get in. You’re exhausted.”

“I’m not that kind of tired.” Despite that, Stiles sprawls on the bed, starfishing out and doing his best to knock into Derek with every joint, until Derek growls lightly and flips around to literally sit on Stiles’ back. “Some welcome home.” But he’s laughing the words out, and Derek’s huffing lightly with his own understated laughter.

“You did good,” Derek tells him, petting the back of his head, blunt tipped nails scritching at his scalp. “With the Boulder alliance, with the James negotiation, and with Chris.”

“I knew you were creeping around listening during that.”

He can feel Derek shrug. “I snuck in through your bedroom window.”

For the next few hours, they lounge on the bed watching awful television. Derek is more handsy than usual in an effort to scentmark him. Stiles, used to this sort of thing by now, suffers through it indulgently, but not without a few snarky comments. Every once in a while someone will come to the door and talk through it, but neither Derek nor Stiles responds. The unspoken rule is that if you engage someone through the closed door, it’s an invitation to open it, no matter what you’re saying.

After the fourth visit, Stiles pokes Derek’s side. “We’re joining them for dinner. They’re getting kind of pathetic and needy. It’s breaking my heart.”

Derek grunts. “This is why they’re spoiled.”

Stiles laughs, loud and long, suddenly less tired and a lot more hopeful.

*

The last day of March, their contact at the Park Rangers calls them about a slew of slaughtered animals in a remote part of the Preserve.

The Pack finds indications that an unknown wolf has been using that part of the Preserve for months.

They also find remains of a human body.

It's been partially eaten.

Chapter Text

=April=

It takes almost three days for the Pack to comb through the area around where the animal remains and body were discovered. After the last sweep, they all gather at the edge of the clearing by the bones, angry, wary and concerned.

“We need to meet with my dad,” Allison says. Her voice is quiet, her lips pulled in tight. She chances a quick glance to the right where Derek is standing separate to the Pack, struggling to control himself. He doesn't respond.

After a few minutes pass, Jackson nudges Stiles in Derek's direction, a pointed look on his face. Stiles scrubs at his eyes with the palms of his hands, physically exhausted from working, dealing with the Gazette, and searching the woods. He's so glad it's Friday that he could cry. He gives himself a shake, squares his shoulders, and goes for Derek.

Stiles ignores Derek's warning growl and moves closer. Derek's control has always been an interesting thing. Being a born werewolf, Stiles knows he's never considered the wolf separate to his human side, the way the others did in the beginning before they fully integrated the two halves. After first becoming Alpha, Derek had to relearn himself because it changed him: made him stronger, gave him different abilities. Once he understood the changes, his control was just as steady as it was when he was a Beta.

It takes a lot to strip Derek's control nowadays, even if someone on the outside might not realize it. Derek will allow his eyes to bleed red, will let claws and hair sprout in response to emotion, when it's safe to do so, because letting loose here and there allows him to maintain overall control.

What's happening now is not a bit of letting loose. It's a full out struggle not to give in to the animal aspect of himself. His back is hunching, muscles and bones moving in an attempt to shift to his Alpha form, which Derek is fighting as hard as he can.

Stiles understands why Derek is so upset. What they've found here is unsettling, to say the least, and it's occurring in their territory, in which they have a pregnant female.

Stiles drops to the forest floor a mere two feet from Derek's hunched form, and sits cross legged. Derek's got one hand braced against a tree, claws dug into the bark, and his eyes are squeezed shut. “Derek. Look at me, please, okay? Please.”

Derek's nostrils flare, and his lips pull back from his teeth, as he opens his eyes. They're red, no surprise there, and wild with a frantic combination of emotions.

“What's going on in your head, Derek?”

Derek's teeth are elongated—all of them, not just the fangs he can drop in human form—and he sounds more animal than man when he speaks. “Instincts.” His entire body undulates, seemingly painfully, as it tries to shift, and Stiles counts the long seconds it takes Derek to rein it in. It takes almost a full minute, far longer than it normally would. “Stiles.” There's a plea, and panic, in that word.

“I need one of you to stay here tonight with Allison,” Stiles calls out.

There's brief muttering, then Jackson says, “I'll do it.”

Stiles nods, not looking away from Derek. “Someone empty out a pack and toss it to me.” Danny calls out that he's got it, and the pack lands neatly at Stiles' hip. “Okay, Jackson, take Allison to the other side of the clearing. Now. The rest of you, go home. Use the trail that'll take you right to where we left the cars. I'm staying with Derek.”

Scott makes a noise. “Stiles, I don't think this is a good idea; let one of us stick with him.”

It actually might be a horrible idea. Stiles should probably test it before it's too late. He uncrosses his legs and scoots closer to Derek, until he's sitting at Derek's feet, forehead resting against his leg. One of Derek's hands settles heavily on Stiles' head, claws pressing into the skin of his scalp but not at all trying to break skin. Stiles rubs the back of Derek's calf and feels the muscles stop jerking so much.

“It's fine,” Stiles tells Scott and the others. “Get out of here, all of you.”

When they're gone, and enough time has passed for everyone to get out of range, Stiles reaches for the laces of one of Derek's boots. “I need you to hang in a little bit longer, okay?” He takes the odd growly gurgle Derek makes as agreement and quickly strips him from the waist down.

When Stiles sets Derek's pants and briefs to the side, Derek's claws dig a little harder into his scalp; he forces himself to look up. Derek has gone still and unblinking, and is staring down at Stiles with red eyes that, as Stiles watches, become more pupil than iris as they dilate.

Stiles has one hand braced on Derek's thigh and he's suddenly aware of the rough crinkle of hair against his palm, juxtaposed by the soft skin against his fingertips. They stay in that tableau for a bit, Stiles isn't sure how long, until it's broken by Derek's back bowing as the wolf fights to get out.

Shit, shit. Stiles takes a breath to clear his head and pats Derek's leg. “Is it okay if I stand? I want to get you out of the jacket and shirt so you don't ruin them.” Derek rumbles his assent, so Stiles gets cautiously to his feet, moving slowly and ready to drop back down if Derek sees it as a challenge to his dominance. When nothing happens, Stiles works the jacket down Derek's shoulders, fighting against the rippling of his bones and muscles.

Once the jacket is gone, Derek rips his t-shirt off, shredding the material and tossing it aside. Stiles takes several large steps back, puts Derek's clothes in the pack, and then straps the it on. He looks at Derek, who is bent at the waist, arms wrapped around his mid section, and moves to the very edge of the clearing.

“Hey.” Derek's gaze is weighted when he looks up. Stiles means to say something along the lines of okay, you can let go now, or relax and let it happen, but what comes out of his mouth, instead, is, “Chase me.” Derek pauses mid-spasm, attention focused on Stiles like a dog on point, head cocked in a question. Stiles grins widely. “If you think you can catch me, that is,” he adds, then turns and bolts into the woods.

*

Of course Derek can catch him. That wasn't ever really a question and they both know it. The woods are dark, and even though the moon above them is the nearest thing to full without being full, and provides Stiles with a lot of light so he doesn't trip, he's got nothing on an Alpha werewolf. Maybe—just maybe—if Stiles had time to prepare, to lay traps and stash tools and supplies, he could evade Derek.

But he hasn't, so he can't, and he doesn't actually want to evade him, anyway. That would defeat the purpose of this, which is to let Derek do what his instincts are screaming at him to do in the face of evidence that something very bad has come into their territory.

Stiles is barely into the woods proper before he hears a howl signifying that Derek's fully shifted, is ready to run and track and hunt. It takes hardly any time at all for Derek to catch up to Stiles. He skitters behind Stiles, slowing down, and shoves at the back of Stiles' legs. Stiles tips forward, arms windmilling, but Derek somehow manages to get in front of him that quickly, so Stiles doesn't fall to the ground. Instead, he gets a mouthful of werewolf fur when he faceplants into Derek's side.

Stiles rights himself and looks at Derek, whose eyes shine with instincts that Stiles doesn't know from personal experience but has learned from a distance. The silence feels particularly cloying, with Derek incapable of speech in this form, and Stiles wants to fill it, but before he can utter a syllable, Derek howls again, head lifted to the sky, and then runs off. He stops a short distance away, looking at Stiles expectantly, and Stiles nods.

They run, Derek circling around Stiles, then bolting off far ahead before repeating the circling. It's nothing at all like what the Pack does on full moon nights. It doesn't even resemble what they do on other nights when they shift and romp in the woods. Stiles isn't sure what it is, even though he instigated it with some vague idea of helping settle Derek's rampaging instincts, but he goes with it because it seems to be doing Derek some good.

After a while, Derek pushes Stiles to the ground and skulks off to hunt down a deer. He comes back coated in blood, with a satisfied look on his supernaturally lupine face, and a hunk of muscle meat held carefully in his jaws. Stiles snorts and starts a fire, roasting what he thinks is a piece of thigh. “Thank you for doing that out of sight. My gag reflex is still pretty violent when it comes to that kind of shit.”

Derek chuffs and stands at attention on the other side of the fire, ears pricked forward and eyes scanning the forest for threats.

They take off again after Stiles eats, slower this time. Derek's gait shifts to something less frenzied, like he's dialed down to normal levels of alertness. Stiles reaches out whenever Derek circles him closely, brushing a hand across the rough fur of Derek's back, the layered scruff of his neck, and Derek licks at Stiles' wrist before loping off again to scout ahead.

The routine breaks an hour later, when, instead of trotting back, Derek bursts from a clump of trees full tilt. Stiles doesn't have time to react before Derek's mouth clamps to the pack on his back. Derek picks him up by it and skitters up a tree in that freakish manner Alphas have of, like, scaling the sides of buildings, deposits him on a tree branch, and leaps away.

Stiles scrambles for handholds and ends up hugging the center trunk of the tree as best he can. A quick glance down tells him he's really freaking far up. Farther up than any of the others have ever treed Stiles before, in fact. Stiles sees why a moment later, when a cougar tears into sight.

Derek launches himself at it—from what direction, Stiles isn't sure; for all that Derek's eyes are glowing red headlights in the darkness, he can be surprisingly and terrifyingly stealthy when necessary—and takes it down in a clean, neat move, snapping its neck with his massive jaws. The cougar slumps down, dead eyes still reflecting light eerily, and Derek releases its neck cautiously. He pokes at it with a paw, snuffs at it, howls in victory, then does this little trot around the carcass that Stiles would categorize as a prance if he had a death wish.

In the tree, Stiles rolls his eyes. “Yes, yes, you're an awesome and mighty hunter and protector,” he calls down. Derek howls again, then comes to the base of the tree and sits on his haunches, jerking his head at Stiles. “Oh, for—seriously? I'm like a mile up, Derek! There's no way I'm getting down on my own.”

Derek makes another one of those amused chuffing noises, then skitters up the tree to Stiles in about one point five seconds. Clinging to the tree with his claws, Derek studies Stiles' position, then shifts, presenting his back. Stiles doesn't get it at first, then he groans. “I'm not riding your back like some kind of howler monkey, dude! Just get me down the same way you got me up.”

Derek gives a warning snarl and snap in Stiles' direction, and Stiles would argue further but Derek in this form is even more stubborn than usual. He grabs two handfuls of neck scruff and swings himself onto Derek's back. He's barely settled before Derek launches them out of the tree and into one nearby, but closer to the ground. He does this four times, moving them in a circle, until he can land them on the ground.

Stiles slides off Derek's back, stomach somewhere up in his throat, and his vision still swimming alarmingly, and curls on his side. He thinks he might vomit deer thigh. “Let's never, ever do that again.” He whimpers and swallows convulsively. “Ever.”

Being an amazing creature of compassion, Derek lets him recover for all of ten seconds before shoving him to his feet and leading him deeper into the forest. Stiles follows on unsteady legs, the dizzying trip down the trees flashing behind his eyes.

“Stream, please. There's bile at the back of my throat and I need it gone.”

Derek takes them east, and it's not long before they come to the stream Stiles has come across a few times in the last few days. Stiles sucks down several handfuls of water, then digs in his pack for Derek's shredded shirt. He wets it down and waves Derek over.

“Come here, let me clean you up. You're covered in deer blood and guts, dude.” Derek suffers patiently through Stiles scrubbing at his muzzle with the damp shirt, until the worst of the blood is gone. “There. All predatorily majestic once again.”

Derek nips at his thigh in retaliation and they head off again, a slow and lazy pace this time. Eventually, Derek leads to a moss covered area under the branches of a bunch of trees. He lays down and tugs Stiles down to join him. Stiles uses his pack as a pillow, and Derek curls up around him to keep him warm.

*

When Stiles wakes, flat on his back with very weak sunlight coming down through the canopy of the trees, he knows he's hardly slept at all. He feels as though he's taken an extended nap, instead of sleeping for a full cycle. Given the sun, he thinks it's about five in the morning, which makes sense, since they bunked down at around three thirty. Ugh.

His pack is no longer under his head, replaced instead with Derek's arm. Stiles turns his head to the left and Derek is there, human again, stretched out on his side, dressed in his jeans, and his arm extended to play pillow for Stiles. His other hand is on Stiles' hip.

Stiles blinks because Derek's face is sort of just right there, and he's awake, watching Stiles with an unnerving gaze. Stiles looks back at him, soaking up the warmth bleeding from Derek's body. He's not sure why he doesn't say anything, because Stiles doesn't take Derek's silences as his own; he fills them with his own thoughts, with tangents and randomness.

But there's something about this that's different from normal, and for some reason Stiles finds himself letting it be.

Around them, the forest is just waking up, birds calling out songs, and small critters scurrying through the brush, but they stay quiet and unmoving, the sunlight getting stronger and brighter.

Stiles' phone rings some indeterminable amount of time later, and he winces when he tries to take it out of his pocket, pain flaring in his finger. Derek's hand brushes his aside, and he plucks it out wordlessly, passes it over.

It's Allison. “You guys okay?”

“We're good. What about you? Jackson's still there, right?”

“Yep. We need to get back into town though, and we don't want to leave without you.”

Stiles pulls the phone away to check the time. It's almost seven, now. “Okay, we just got up, we'll head back your way.”

“How far out are you?”

Stiles arches a brow at Derek, who holds up three fingers. “Four miles out,” Stiles tells Allison. “See you when we get back.”

Derek takes the phone, slips it back into Stiles' pocket, then examines Stiles' hand, tilting it so Stiles can see what he found. There's a sliver of wood coming out of the tip of his index finger; he probably got it when Derek treed him. Stiles hisses when Derek frowns and pokes at it.

When Derek removed the splinters Stiles got from the table in the workshop, he did it with his claws, using them like tweezers. This time, he brings Stiles' hand to his mouth, moving slowly, and sets his teeth around the tip of the splinter. Stiles sucks in a breath and holds it as Derek draws his head back, pulling the wood out as he goes.

Derek spits the splinter out, then presses his finger against the resulting wound, the pressure holding back the tiny swell of pain that kicked in once the wood was removed.

Stiles exhales, and he feels it should be unsteady and rattling, but it's even and calm. Derek lays his head back down, Stiles' hand still in his, and they stay like that, neither of them speaking, until the time it would take them to trek a mile passes. Then, they separate and get to their feet, Stiles groaning and stretching to crack his back.

Derek leans against a tree, lifting a foot to put his socks and boots on. Which reminds Stiles that Derek is lacking a shirt. He strips his coat and button down off, then wriggles out of his t-shirt. He's just finished re-buttoning his over shirt and getting his coat back on when Derek strides over, both boots on.

Stiles offers him the t-shirt. Derek takes it, but Stiles doesn't let go right away. Derek's eyes meet his, and they hold for a moment before Stiles unwraps his fingers, one by one, from the material. Derek threads his arms through it, then pulls it over his head, pausing to inhale deeply when the material is stretched across his face.

They walk back towards the clearing. When they're still a ways out, Derek breaks the silence. “You ran with me.” He's looking ahead, at the trees and the scant path they're following.

Stiles swallows. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess I did.”

Derek's hand ghosts across the back of his neck and they continue walking.

Jackson and Allison aren't alone when they arrive. Scott and Danny have returned, bearing thermoses of coffee and bags of pastries, which they've already broken out. They're all talking softly but they go quiet when Stiles and Derek approach.

Stiles snags a thermos, downs the lukewarm coffee in one gulp, then digs a muffin out of the bag Scott holds out. Derek ignores the food and stares into the clearing, where the neat piles of bones are gathered. He nods to himself, then spins on his heel and starts issuing orders.

*

Three hours later, they're at Dad's house. There was a whole thing about where to meet Chris, and finally Stiles just called his father to see if he'd host them all. He agreed, with the condition that he could stick around. Derek shrugged so Stiles agreed.

“You all look like shit,” Dad says when Stiles, Allison and Derek trundle in. “Is everyone okay? Was someone hurt?”

Stiles gives him a strained smile, then a hug. “No one's hurt. Just a long night. Chris here?”

Dad motions at the dining room.

Chris furrows his brow when he gets a look at them. Allison pecks his cheek and hugs him. Derek sits directly across from Chris and pulls Stiles in a chair next to him. He nods at Allison, who takes out a tablet and props it up on the table. She taps the screen and a slideshow of pictures from the clearing begins.

Dad scoots his chair to see the screen, curious. Chris' face grows grimmer with each picture, while Dad looks confused and horrified at turns. When the screen fades to black, Dad moves his chair back and Chris rubs at his temples.

“I guess we'll be testing this little alliance of ours,” Chris says to Derek, sighing heavily. “I'm pretty sure of the answer, but I need to ask: is it one of yours? Or one of your Bites?” Derek's snarling growl is as unequivocal a no as you can get. Dad jerks in his seat at the sound, but Chris just nods. “Like I said, I had to ask. Any idea who it might be?”

Stiles glances at Derek's clenched jaw and decides to do the talking. “No. The scent's unfamiliar and we haven't gotten any other sign of this. The scent trails all lead to the road, so we're not even sure if it's coming from Beacon Hills or the next county over.”

“There's been nothing on the network about this,” Chris tells them. “You know what that means.”

Stiles nods. “Yeah. It's homegrown. Just, like I said, we're not sure where home is.”

Dad's voice is thick with sarcasm. “I know I'm just providing the location, and maybe acting as witness--”

Stiles stares at him. “Really, Dad? With the tone and the insinuations?”

“--but could someone fill me in? Because I saw a bunch of animal bones, and part of a body, which isn't good, but it's got you all spooked. I'd like to know why.”

Chris and Stiles both look at Derek. He gives Dad a piercing look, then nods. “Tell him.”

Chris beats Stiles to it. “There's a rabid werewolf on the loose. What we saw in those photos was a bone yard. It's killing just to kill, collecting bones like trophies, and it's decided to move up the food chain to humans.”

Dad doesn't even glance in Chris' direction. “I thought werewolves were immune to disease.”

Allison sighs. “He doesn't mean rabid as in infected with rabies. Rabid's just a way of describing a werewolf that's gone, well, crazy.”

“That looks like a serial killer's work,” Dad says.

Derek nods. “That's exactly what it is.”

Between the three of them they pass on the other information they have, the tentative timeframe Lydia, Allison and the Park Ranger put together based on the age of the bones, and their plan to move the human remains to another location within the Preserve—in another county, in fact—so that it can be identified and buried properly but not tied to their territory.

Dad strongly disapproves of moving the body. “That never works. There's always evidence that shows it's been moved.”

Allison smiles at him, confident and conniving all at once. “Trust me, we have it covered.”

Dad doesn't seem convinced, but he holds up his hands in surrender. Stiles shares a look with Allison, because they really do have it covered. This isn't the first time they've had to do this, and between her, Scott and Eddles, the Ranger, they know all they need to in order to find a new location and get the body there without raising suspicions.

Also, they have what they need to pin it on a mountain lion, which will help keep the authorities out of the loop.

Derek starts outlining his plan, then, and Stiles zones out, having heard it already. He's kind of curious about Chris' thoughts about it, and whether he'll agree to have his Hunters work with the Pack, but ends up missing that part when he dozes off sitting up in his chair. He wakes when Derek nudges his knee.

Stiles' only consolation is that Allison is literally slumped sideways against Derek, snoring lightly, and that Derek, for all his werewolf endurance, looks pretty close to dropping, too. It was a long night in the woods for everyone; Allison and Jackson stuck it out the whole night at the clearing rather than calling Danny and Scott in to relieve them.

Stiles looks up, blearily. “What'd I miss?”

Allison wakes with a jerky start, blinking slowly with incomprehension, when Derek shrugs his shoulder.

Dad shakes his head. “I'm not letting any of you drive. I'll get blankets; you can do your nesting thing in the living room.”

Stiles winces. His back is still complaining about the forest floor. “We'll use my room.”

“That bed's not big enough for the three of you.”

“Yes, it is.” Stiles and Allison say it at the same time, much to the displeasure and suspicion of their fathers.

Allison stumbles when she gets up. Derek swings her into his arms, jutting out an elbow in Stiles' direction. He uses it to haul himself to the feet, then hangs most of his weight from it as they leave the dining room. Derek carts them both up the stairs, Dad and Chris following, with more of Chris staring at Dad, and Dad pretending Chris doesn't exist.

Derek puts Allison on the edge by the door, shoves Stiles in the middle, and puts himself on the side by the window. Allison is already snoring again before Derek's in the bed.

Dad shakes his head at them, like they're a tragedy or something, and then Stiles feels his shoes being tugged off. Dad takes Allison and Derek's off, too, then pulls a blanket out of the closet and drapes it over them. “Get some sleep. I'll let Lydia know you're here.”

*

They nap for several hours and then go back to Stiles and Derek's house. Lydia is waiting for them and she's furious about being benched. It's not unexpected. She was pissed that Derek told her to stay behind while the rest of them went into the woods to investigate, and Derek had to pull out an Alpha trick or two to keep her here. Since Derek stayed in the woods the entire time, the rest of them coming and going around other obligations and a need for rest, this is the first chance she's had to argue her case.

“I'm not going to stay home, barefoot in the kitchen, while the men go off to do dangerous work!” Lydia literally growls, eyes glowing.

Allison opens her mouth but Stiles frantically shakes his head at her. Logic doesn't work when Lydia's like this. It just makes her angrier, and she's already angry enough.

Derek glares at Lydia. “You'll do what I say.”

Stiles grimaces; that wasn't a good play. Lydia half wolfs out. “I am perfectly capable of deciding what's too dangerous.”

“This isn't a discussion. You're benched. End of story.”

Lydia spins to the side and looks at Stiles. “Stiles--”

He holds up his hands and says, “Leave me out of this,” just as Derek snarls, “Don't look at him--I'm your Alpha!”

At that point, Stiles decides retreat is the best option. He drags Allison out to the garage with him and they sit on some unpacked boxes that Derek moved in but hasn't dealt with yet, and play Go Fish with a random pack of cards they find.

It takes an hour for the screaming and snarling to die down, and another one after that before Derek comes in. He stands by the door leading in from the house, arms folded, and a tired glower painted on his face.

Allison looks between Derek and Stiles, then sets her cards down and gets to her feet. “I'll go order food for the meeting.”

“Lydia's out getting it now,” Derek tells her.

Allison keeps walking. “I'll go do something else, then.”

Stiles gathers up the cards and starts to absently shuffle them. “Got it sorted out with Lydia?”

“No.” Derek's mouth twists unpleasantly. “She thinks I'm being unreasonable.”

“Did she at least agree to keep her ass on the bench?”

Derek shrugs. “I don't know. You know the two of us.”

Yeah, the two of them. Ninety-nine percent of the time, Derek and Lydia are on the same page and in agreement. It's not surprising when you consider how fiercely protective of the Pack and their territory Derek is, and how ambitious and capable Lydia is. If it will keep them safe, improve their standing, or do anything that will benefit the Pack in any way, the two of them see eye to eye.

Then there's the other one percent of the time. When Derek and Lydia are on opposing sides of something serious, it tends to be amazingly explosive because they're each convinced they're the right one and that the others' actions will be detrimental to the Pack. Neither one of them can tolerate the idea of that.

“Stiles--”

“No.” Stiles shakes his head, adamant. “We both agreed I couldn't keep running between you and fixing things, because it confuses shit. And when things get confused, you get pissed and scream at her about how you're her Alpha, not me.”

Derek actually looks sort of sheepish at that last bit. At least, as sheepish as Derek is capable of seeming, which isn't all that much. “I know. But nothing I try works.”

Stiles looks at him incredulously. “Really? You're going to stand there and imply you've actually tried different methods?”

Derek's upper lip lifts in a silent snarl and he doesn't dispute Stiles' accusation. He wouldn't have a leg to stand on, because the other thing about Derek and Lydia when they're at each others throats is that both of them get so angry and wound up that they default to reactionary behaviors. So Derek barks out commands, and then Lydia makes bloody use of her sharp tongue, which gets Derek commanding more, which gets Lydia snapping more, and eventually they just run out of steam and go to their separate corners to regroup before starting it all again.

“Just tell me what you would do.”

If Stiles was the one running this show, this never would have happened. The minute Lydia announced she wanted a baby, he would have put it on the table that she'd be benched; there's nothing Lydia hates more than being unpleasantly surprised.

That's not going to help Derek right now, though. “Look, what I would do is beside the point, because this is you, not me. Just--” Stiles shrugs, waves his hands, and shakes his head at the same time. “--stop ordering her around like she's a brainless minion, and don't make her feel like you're trying to steal her agency over her body or her baby.”

Derek sighs and rolls his head against the wall behind him.

Stiles gets to his feet. “Let's get back in there. The others are going to be here soon for the meeting.” Then, because Derek still looks frustrated and clueless, Stiles says, “You know, that baby has a father, too.”

Derek's eyes widen. Stiles shakes his head and leans against Derek as he passes him on the way to the door.

*

The meeting is interesting. Lydia sits defiantly at the head of Stiles' dining room table, directly across from where Derek sits when the meetings are held here, and she's knitting.

Knitting is a bad sign. Lydia normally has no use for it, or for anything that even remotely resembles crafts of any sort. She only actually learned how to knit in order to create mathematical concepts in three dimensions. However, when she's in a massive snit, she knits like a fiend and wields those pointy needles at whoever approaches her.

Tonight, she's knitting so fast that Stiles thinks she's in danger of igniting the bamboo needles she's using.

“Um, nice booties?” Scott says just as Stiles comes into the room.

Lydia gives him a scathing look but doesn't respond.

Stiles pats Scott's shoulder. “Dude, that's totally not a booty. That's a prospective plane.” He takes a seat to Lydia's right and doesn't even look at her. “It makes parallel lines bend or something.”

A knitting needle snaps and Stiles starts a countdown in his head—it's almost a compulsion for Lydia to correct false information, especially when it comes to math. He's on four when Lydia grits out, “It's a hyperbolic surface, not a projective plane, and projective planes do not bend parallel lines, Stiles!” She whips out another needle and, fast as hell, replaces it in her project. “And thanks for the backup, traitor.”

Stiles snaps his head around and stares her down. “Don't. You know you can't put me in the middle of you and Derek.”

A half-second long expression of regret flashes across her features, then disappears. Stiles nods, accepting the apology, and leans to the side to kiss her cheek.

Derek comes in then, having left the garage at last. They finalize the plan to move the body, Derek updates them on the outcome of the meeting with Chris—he agreed to himself and several other Hunters in town working with them to patrol the area around the clearing—and brainstorm ideas for identifying the werwolf.

That last one is going to be hard unless their discovery of the clearing spooks the wolf enough to force it into the open, given that it could be from Beacon Hills, or any one of the towns bordering the Preserve on the other side of the county line.

“You need to keep the discovery of the body out of the paper,” Jackson tells Stiles. “If it hits the news, it'll bring trouble.”

Stiles blows out a breath. He's had a plan for something like this percolating in the back of his head for a while. Trouble is, Derek's going to hate it. “There's probably no way to keep it out altogether, but I can get it buried pretty deep, if that's good enough?”

Derek nods. “Chris is going to run interference as best he can within the Hunter community. Every little bit will help.”

After that, Derek puts them on a buddy system. Only sort of, though, because essentially Scott and Allison are the only ones that have been on their own lately. Jackson and Danny look resigned and morose at the news because, of course, Scott and Allison will latch on to them for buddy times, and there goes their avoidance of the drama.

However, Lydia throws a wrench in the works. She gets to her feet as soon as the meeting is done, her math knitting in a bag slung over her shoulder. “I'm going home. Danny, with me.”

Derek smiles serenely. Everyone sort of freezes momentarily because when Derek smiles like that someone is about to get fucked over. “I'll drive you both.” His voice is disturbingly pleasant.

Lydia blinks about six times and begins to look very concerned.

Stiles clears his throat, which gets everyone moving again. He wraps Lydia into a hug and pretends she's not clinging to him for dear life.

“Can I say goodbye to baby wolf?” She gives a distracted shrug, so Stiles spreads his hands across her swelling abdomen and brings his mouth close. “Catch you later, Moon Pie. You stay snug as a bug in a rug in there, you hear me?” He devolves into incomprehensible baby talk, then, and Lydia shoves him off with a glare. He nudges her to where Derek and Danny are waiting. “Have a fun trip!”

Stiles is asleep when Derek gets back but wakes up when the bed dips as he climbs in. Stiles shoves Allison's hair out of his face and rolls over. “How'd it go?”

“It's sorted.”

Stiles figures that Derek probably just laid out Lydia's objections and left it to Danny to make her come around. It's not ideal, and Stiles is going to have to be a bit proactive in the future in making sure Derek doesn't let things get this far again with Lydia, but at least the problem is solved.

He pats Derek's thigh and tips to the side, face mashed against Derek's chest. “Excellent.”

*

Two days later, Stiles takes a day off work and goes to The Den. Derek is already there; a reporter and photographer from the Gazette, and a reporter and cameraman from the local news station, are due any minute.

“I hate this plan.”

Unsurprisingly, Derek doesn't do interviews. The closest he's come was early on, when he still attended art events and had a semi-conversation with a person who turned out to be a contributor to The New Yorker. Since then, Derek's pretty much eschewed both art events and talking about art to anyone.

Stiles nods. “I know. It was the best option, though.”

It really was. Jenny at the Gazette, and Wendy at the local CBS affiliate, have been hounding Stiles incessantly to get them an interview with Derek, who is now considered a bona fide hometown celebrity. It was pretty easy to get them to agree to give Derek the front page and the feature time slot, and it's highly doubtful that a dead hiker in the next county over is going to bump him.

Derek sighs. “I don't like talking about--” He waves his hand at the pieces displayed.

Derek has never, not even once, called what he does art because, to him, it's not.

“It's okay.” Stiles rubs his shoulder, fingers digging into the tense muscles. “Be yourself. Just, you know, smile every once in a while.”

Jenny and Wendy are not easily deterred, Stiles discovers later, which works out well for the Pack because Derek's really not giving them much to work with in the way of words. The journalists seem to find it fascinating and not off putting. That's might be because of the smiles, which Derek is offering up every eight and a half minutes like clockwork (literally. Stiles has timed them).

Though, to be fair, Stiles knows it's actually due to the fact that the little Derek's giving them is still more than even the New York Times has gotten, and it's probably going to get the Gazette and the CBS affiliate on the AP wire.

When it's over and everyone else has cleared out, Stiles locks the door and goes over to where Derek has collapsed in his preferred chair. “Gold star, buttercup.”

When Derek doesn't even bitch him out about the nickname, Stiles sighs and nudges him over. The springless chair is actually pretty wide, with room enough for Stiles to wedge himself in next to Derek, a leg thrown over one of Derek's.

Well, kind of. Derek huffs when Stiles elbows him accidentally, and slides an arm behind Stiles' back to settle them better.

“You know that, anytime you want, you can stage a spectacular exit from the art world, right?” Stiles pauses. “Just give me a heads up. If I time it right, I can probably leverage a piece or two for good money and buy a boat before Jackson realizes.”

Derek turns his head and buries his face in the side of Stiles' neck. “You hate boats; you get seasick.”

“Keep your logic out of my unrealistic fantasies.” He tugs at Derek's hair, ignoring his annoyed noises. “But, you know, right? That you can walk away from it?”

Derek nods, and the hand of the arm he has behind Stiles' back creeps forward, fingers edging under the hems of Stiles' shirts, slow and careful.

Stiles rubs his cheek against Derek's hair. Derek slips his hand under the shirt, then across Stiles' abdomen, fingers splayed wide and the touch feather light against his bare skin.

Stiles closes his eyes, breathes steadily, and cups the side of Derek's throat with his own hand. Derek freezes, every single one of his muscles tensing up simultaneously, instincts flaring. Stiles waits. Waits Derek out, or waits for him to push Stiles' hand away from such a vulnerable location. Just waits.

A dozen long seconds later, Derek exhales wetly against Stiles' neck and relaxes.

*

They run themselves ragged patrolling the forest in the next two and a half weeks, circling out from the bone yard clearing, small groups of Hunters paired with at least one of the Pack. Stiles and Allison are not allowed a single step in the woods without a wolf with them, something neither of them argued about because they know a losing battle when they see one, especially when its fueled by werewolves whose instincts are on overdrive.

Lydia coordinates the search grids, though there’s nothing for her to use to narrow anything down, so initially she's mainly utilizing fugitive search methodology. Then they find the first newer, smaller bone yard, this time in the heart of their territory and not on the outer edges. She changes their search areas and they find a half dozen more, all with fresh kills.

“This kind of escalation is worrisome,” Chris says.

The Pack doesn’t disagree. Even Derek hasn’t heard of escalation to this scale with a wolf like this before.

Dad, who is still hosting the meetings between the Pack and Chris, and now only mostly ignoring Chris, sets a pot of coffee on the table and looks at Derek. “There haven’t been any other human kills. Any idea why that is?”

“She was an opportunity kill. Her family said she liked going deep into the Preserve, off the beaten trails, when she camped. It was bad timing, her going to that area.” Derek cracks his neck and blows out a breath. “Since she was killed, and we found the bone yard, the kill count has increased. A lot. We’re talking six to seven animals a night, larger and larger prey. It’s only a matter of time before it seeks out another human kill.”

Allison make a noise of agreement as she pours herself some coffee. Her undergrad degree was in criminal psychology and she’s been disturbed as hell by what the wolf’s actions are telling her. “Killing her was intense for the wolf. The early kills were clean and neat, but after it killed her, they changed. It’s playing with its kills, torturing them, and for now that’s providing enough pleasure to sate its need, but pretty soon it won’t be enough. First it'll start getting extremely sexually aroused by what it's doing. Then, it’ll start seeking out humans.”

Chris nods tiredly. “Beyond that, the news has drawn some interest from outside of town.”

Stiles slumps in his seat. The Pack didn’t discover all of the new kill sights, unfortunately, and though Stiles shoved Danny, Jackson and even Lydia—to talk about the upcoming elevation of Beacon Hills College to a full University—at the Gazette, Hunters know how to read between the lines. Or, in this case, to read what’s on page twenty-five today, and put it together with what was on page nineteen last week.

Derek takes a breath and looks at Chris. “Let any ten you trust in, as long as they follow the Code and they’re not on the list.”

“Ten?” Chris’ wariness is as obvious as a neon sign. “You don’t have enough wolves to pair up with that many.”

They don’t have enough to pair up with the ones already in town, either, which has been a headache to deal with, especially since the new kill sites are closer to town and indicate the werewolf is, in fact, in Beacon Hills.

“We’re bringing in more resources of our own.”

Stiles and Derek spent hours going back and forth on this in the last week. They knew they needed more bodies, but neither of them were all that keen on bringing outside werewolves into town right now. Between the threat of the wolf, and Lydia's pregnancy, the wolves in the Pack are already on edge and freaked. Having non-Pack wolves in town is going to add to their stress all over.

Given that, they decided to make the best of what they had, but then Danny fell asleep at the wheel of his car the other night, the exhaustion getting the best of him, and ran off the road. His car was totaled, and if he was human he would have died. As it was, it took him hours longer to heal than it should have, another byproduct of the stress and exhaustion. That’s when Derek started making calls.

Chris’ eyes go wide with shock. “Well. Fuck.”

Stiles couldn’t say it better himself.

“They’ll be here in a little under a week,” Derek tells Chris. “Until then, we’re pulling back to give everyone a rest. We’ll keep the sweeps to the town, and switch out teams every four hours.”

Allison covers a yawn with her hand. “I'm instituting a town wide curfew to try to keep people off the streets, and Eddles got the okay to shut down the Preserve.”

“For the best. My people are close to dropping.” Chris scratches at the corner of his eye with one hand, fingers of his other hand tapping at the table. “We might need to exchange lists.” Derek arches a brow; Chris shrugs. “There could be history between who we’re letting in.”

Derek has gone still, one hand clenching into a fist on top of his thigh. Stiles covers his face with his hands. They hadn't thought of that, and they should have. They are too damn tired right now, all across the board.

“Double-blind comparison,” Dad says, like he’s taking pity on them. “Ask the werewolves if there are any Hunters on their shit list. As the Hunters the same. No one has to reveal anything.”

Derek and Chris both nod agreement, and then Chris studies Allison’s tired face. “You’re not working tonight, are you?”

She shakes her head. “No, off for the next day and a half.”

“What about you?” Dad asks Stiles.

“I’m not so lucky. I need to deal with Gazette emails and then grade some tests before going in bright and early tomorrow.”

Dad shoves a paper and pen at him. “Write down where to go and your login information. I’ll deal with the emails.”

“No, come on, it’s--”

Derek pulls out his phone, lowering his head and texting someone. “Let him. Most of it is nonsense.” He glances at Dad. “You’ll let us know if there’s something important.”

“I will. At the very least, I can clear it down to manageable levels for you, kiddo.”

“Thanks, Dad.” He hands over the information, folding the sheet in half so that Chris can’t see it. Dad flicks a look at Chris, then nods, eyes steady, at Stiles. “But, I’m warning you, they’re a pain. Lots of whining, and a whole bunch of FYIs, and other assorted crap.”

“Son, I’ve been dealing with assorted crap for—how old are you again?”

Stiles narrows his eyes. “Oh, ha ha.”

Derek puts his phone aside and they finish up the meeting in less than an hour. Jackson picks them up, drops them at Stiles and Derek's, then drives off with Scott for the first evening's patrol through town.

As soon as they get home, Allison ducks into Stiles' home office to check in at the Sheriff's station, and Derek follows her down the hall, taking a call from one of the wolves coming to town to help them.

Lydia comes in from having a shower, hair dripping down the robe. She's essentially moved in for the time being, along with Allison. The others are pretty much living here half time, as well.

Stiles kisses her cheek, then leans down so that his face is level with her belly. “Hey, Moon Pie, did you and mommy have a good day?”

Lydia whacks him on the back of the head. “Talk to the one with a working mouth if you have questions about our day.” Stiles stands upright, rubbing his head, and Lydia hands him a folder. “You're welcome.”

“What?” Stiles opens it and finds all of his tests, graded and with comments.

“Go to sleep. I'm driving you to work in the morning.” She huffs out a breath and sweeps her index finger under one of his eyes.

“I love you so much right now.” He sweeps her into a hug, then crouches down again. “Moon Pie, your mommy is an amazing goddess who can make grown men weep in joy and terror. Often at the same time. Do yourself a favor and try to be just like her.”

When Stiles starts making kissy faces and noises at her belly, Lydia rolls her eyes and leaves for the kitchen. Stiles drags himself down the hall to his room long enough to change, then goes straight to Derek's, where everyone's been sleeping.

Allison must still be on the phone because only Derek is there, stretched out on his back in just a thin pair of black sleep pants. Stiles faceplants at the foot of the bed, then worms his way up to the pillows.

“Did you text Lydia and ask her to grade my tests?” His voice is muffled because his face is pressed against a pillow.

Derek tips to the side so that he's draped over Stiles' back, mouth pressed against the top of Stiles' shoulder. “Maybe.”

“You're my favorite.” Stiles slides one of his legs back so that his calf is between both of Derek's.

Derek tucks a hand under Stiles' stomach and lays his head on the pillow Stiles is using. They're asleep before Allison or Lydia come in for the night.

*

They’re still on reduced patrols the day that Stiles gets off of work and finds Derek sitting in his car. “This brings back memories, you skulking in my vehicle. Ah, high school.” Derek is staring out of the passenger side window, face hidden. His fingers are digging into his thighs. “Hey. Hey, what’s up? Is someone hurt or--”

“No. Everyone’s fine.”

Stiles nods. “Okay, good.” Derek doesn’t say anything in response. Stiles starts the car and pulls out, driving with no destination for about half an hour before Derek speaks again.

“Turn in here.”

Stiles frowns. He’s taken this route to Hale House before, back in the day. “I’m going along with this, but if it gets weird and regress-y again, I’m putting my foot down.”

Derek doesn’t even make a sound, and Stiles has a bad feeling about this. Still, he takes the rough, winding path through the woods, eventually meeting up with the main road leading to the house. Stiles slows when he sees the demolition vehicles parked in the yard, the workers milling around. Jesus Christ. Jesus fucking Christ. There's no way a demolition permit didn't cross the Mayor's path, and Stiles is going to kill Jackson for not giving him a heads up about this.

Derek gets out of the car as soon as Stiles stops. Stiles taps his head against the steering wheel a few times and follows him after a minute.

He wants to tell Derek he doesn't have to do this, but going by the look on Derek's face, he already knows that. He wants to tell Derek he shouldn't do this, but that would be a lie. He wants to tell Derek a lot of things, but for as much as Stiles talks without care for what's coming out of his mouth, he can't do that this time.

Derek looks about as sure and steady as Hale House right now, and Stiles is sort of afraid that he'll collapse along with the rest of the house if Stiles says the wrong thing.

So he says nothing, and instead moves to stand next to Derek, their shoulders brushing. The workers have been waiting on them, it seems, because as soon as Derek signs a form the foreman holds out on a clipboard, the call is given to take it down.

Stiles doesn't have much history with the building—the land surrounding it, yes, and the horror tunnels underneath, unfortunately—and was never even near it when it was whole and beautiful, but it's still heartbreaking to watch the bulldozer tear into it.

Derek's hands are curled into fists, his jaw clenched tight to hold in more than Stiles can even guess at, and the pain in his eyes is terrible to see. Stiles wraps his hand around Derek's clenched fist and squeezes as hard as he can.

They watch the demolition from start to finish, until there's nothing but a pile of broken rubble where a house once stood, where a nightmare half-leaned.

“We'll start removal tomorrow at nine sharp,” the foreman says before leaving.

Stiles pulls Derek into the backseat of his car. He sits with his back against the door, and manhandles Derek in front of him, so that his back is leaning on Stiles' chest. Stiles slides his hands up and down Derek's arms, across Derek's chest, still not sure what to say and still defaulting to saying nothing.

After a few minutes, Derek grabs one of Stiles' hands. Stiles pauses, unsure if Derek wants him to stop, but Derek just moves Stiles' hand to the side of his throat. Stiles swallows thickly, his hand spasming around Derek's neck, and breathes, “I'm here.”

*

For all that Chris has often lorded his vast experience with werewolves over Stiles' head, Stiles knows them better than Chris does, because he knows them up close, not at a killing distance.

Stiles knows werewolves. He's been part of a Pack for over a decade and has interacted with them on a daily basis. He's seen them angsty, self-loathing, enraged, vengeful, insane and despairing; he's seen them happy, content, joyful and at ease; he's seen them smile, laugh, cry and scream.

He's interacted with other Packs, and with the random sane lone wolf who wants nothing more than to be left alone. He's confronted or been confronted by more than his fair share of fucked up crazy ones, too. Stiles has even known more than one in the biblical sense, though the only one from his Pack has been Lydia.

The point here is that Stiles knows a werewolf when he comes across one. It's not sensory perception; it's knowledge of, experience with, and exposure to so many werewolves that he's learned how to identify them from subconsciously demonstrated traits.

“Kyle's always been a bit off putting, but he's become downright creepy this semester,” Mrs. Pullman, an English teacher, tells Stiles the next day at lunch. Stiles is covering cafeteria monitoring for one of his fellow History teachers, who proctored a test for him last week so that he could leave early.

Stiles follows Mrs. Pullman's line of sight and sees a scrawny kid sitting by himself, eyes on Mrs. Pullman, head cocked. “He has a very disturbing smirk.” Kyle's lips stretch, slow and predatory. “There, that's the one.” She actually shivers; Stiles sort of gets it, because the smirk is freaky weird.

Stiles spends the rest of lunch listlessly looking around the cafeteria, trying to at least appear to be doing his job as monitor, while Mrs. Pullman continues bemoaning Kyle's creep factor.

“He's, what, fourteen?” Stiles rolls his eyes. “Most of them are freaky weird. I mean, have you seen Becca Everly lately? With the hair and the sneer and the clothes?” Kyle's gaze shifts from his plate to Becca Everly. Stiles sniffs at his sandwich and holds it out to Mrs. Pullman. “Does this smell off to you? I think the mayo's gone bad.” Across the room, Barnes' nostrils flare at his plate, where the same kind of sandwich sits.

It's easiest with the young ones, the new ones, because they haven't learned to control the more obvious tells.

*

Stiles plans to tell Derek and the others about Kyle that night, but he walks into what could be a bloody murder scene. He stops, frozen, in the entryway to the living room. There's blood on the floor, the furniture and the walls. There's blood covering both Derek and Lydia, who are on the couch, Derek restraining a fully transformed and struggling Lydia.

“What the hell!” Stiles gasps.

Lydia struggles harder, eyes glowing and trained on Stiles. Derek's fangs descend and he roars, but it doesn't seem to have any affect.

“Your bedroom. Go.”

Stiles goes, skirting the edge of the room and trying to stay out of Lydia's sight. When he gets into his bedroom, he freezes again. Allison is laid out, stomach down, in the middle of Stiles' bed, and her back is torn up. Four claw marks stretch diagonally from her right shoulder to the left side of her lower back. Scott is sitting next to her, a first aid kit open and latex gloves covering his hands.

Allison makes a pained noise when Scott prods the injuries, and Stiles bursts into motion again. “What happened? Who did this to you? What's wrong with Lydia?”

“Lydia did it,” Scott answers. His voice is thick with a growl but he maintains enough control not to transform and compromise the gloves. “She just went crazy. Slashed at Allison and attacked me and Derek.”

Stiles sits as gingerly as he can next to Allison, wincing when she whimpers. He brushes her hair from her face and takes her hand. “Hey, pretty lady, you're going to owe me a new bed.” Allison sort of smiles. Stiles looks at Scott. “Hospital?”

Scott shakes his head. “No. They're not too deep. No muscles or tendons were torn. I do need to stitch them up, though.”

Allison makes another noise. Scott closes his eyes, struggling to breathe evenly. Stiles brings his and Allison's joined hands to his mouth and kisses her knuckles. Just because they're not as close to each other as they are to others in the Pack doesn't mean that they don't love one another, wouldn't give their lives for one another, don't consider each other family.

“Relax. You know we stock only the best illegally obtained pharmaceuticals here at Stilinski Hospital. I'm sure Scott's going to numb you up and then drug you to the gills.”

“Oh, ow, don't make me laugh,” Allison says, weak and breathless. “Hurts.”

“It's going to hurt a bit more.” Scott's face is grim. “I need to flush these out before I inject the local anesthetic.”

Stiles jiggles their joined hands. “Feel free to squeeze my hand to death. It's okay.”

Allison does. Holy god, she does. Not that Stiles begrudges her; he’s been clawed open like this in the past and he knows how much it fucking hurts. So he lets her squeeze his hand to the point of breaking, he makes Lamaze jokes to keep her breathing through the pain, and he strokes her hair because he knows that always comforts her.

Danny comes in halfway through the suturing. Allison's back is numb, but Stiles knows from experience that she can still feel the pressure and tugging of the needle going in and out of her skin, and she's freaked out about that. Danny sits on the floor and lays his head on the bed next to Allison's, murmuring to her.

As soon as Scott's done with the stitches, he goes to Stiles' walk in closet, half of which is a medical station, and comes back out with an IV stand and everything he needs to dose Allison. He runs two lines into her: pain killers and antibiotics. Allison's eyes are dazed within a minute and she falls asleep in another three.

Scott strips the gloves off and then bends at the waist, breathing ragged, and his features shifting from human to wolf and back again. Stiles has never been safe approaching Scott when he's like this, even when they were each others' only friends in the world.

“Is Jackson here?” he asks Danny, who nods. Stiles slides his abused hand out of Allison's now lax one and goes to the door. “Jackson? Scott needs you in here.”

Jackson appears pretty quickly, his eyes scanning the room and his face twisting in a frown. He heads immediately to Scott, telling Stiles over his shoulder, “Derek wants to talk to you.”

Stiles arches a brow, then nods. “Danny, get Allison cleaned up. Then we'll move her into Derek's room. I don't want her sleeping on a blood soaked mattress.”

In the living room, Lydia and Derek are on the floor. She's on her side, Derek behind her with his arms and legs trapping hers. She's unconscious and there's a bruise on the side of her face.

“How's Allison?”

“Not bad, considering. Scott stitched her up and drugged her. She'll be fine.” Derek slumps a bit in relief. “What's going on with Lydia?” Stiles asks, quietly.

A muscle in Derek's jaw ticks. “The hormone changes are messing with her control. Badly.”

Stiles goes to drag a hand down his face, but pulls it back when he realizes it's covered in Allison's blood. “Shit. Is this normal?”

Derek shrugs awkwardly. “Not normal, but not unheard of. My father's cousin went through it at the start of her second trimester.” That's where Lydia is right now. “She should stabilize in a week or two, but for now she can't be around you or Allison.”

“Not just me and Allison,” Stiles says. “She's a better fighter and stronger than both Jackson and Danny.” Derek nods tiredly. “You're going to have to be the one staying with her.”

“Yeah. I think she'll do better in her own den space. I'll take her home and set up house in the safe room.” All of their houses have a room set up to contain a werewolf, including Lydia's. Stiles' is under a trap door in the garage. “I'm going to need help getting her there.”

“Give us a few to get Allison settled, then I'll send Danny and Jackson out. Between the three of you, I think you can get her there.” He pauses. “Is she—is she okay?”

“She is. Feral and aggressive as hell, but it's not dangerous to her or the baby.” Derek's somber, worried eyes catch his. “I need you to take care of Allison. Scott, too. He's not going to leave her side.”

“I will. You know I will.”

Derek's expression goes dark with intensity. “Yeah.”

Stiles gets back to his room in time to help the others move Allison to Derek's bed. The rest of them divide themselves between the the two bathrooms to wash up. Scott goes immediately to Allison, curling up around her on the bed protectively.

Stiles doesn't need to explain what's going on with Lydia, because he knows they all heard Derek tell him. “You can split your time between Lydia's and here, if you want, but backing up Derek comes first,” Stiles tells Danny and Jackson.

They nuzzle Allison gently, and hug Stiles, before going. Once they've left the house with Derek and Lydia, Stiles calls in sick to work for the second time in a month. Then he digs out the cleaning supplies and spends three hours cleaning up blood as best he can. The mattress and sofa are lost causes, as is the area rug in the living room, but he'll deal with those tomorrow, when he'll also have to let Chris know about Allison and deal with Chris' inevitably irate reaction.

But that's tomorrow. For now, he goes back into Derek's bedroom and curls up on Allison's other side and tries very hard not to think about how much more damage an out of control Lydia could have done to her.

Chapter Text

=May=

The night before the outside wolves arrive in town, Derek comes home for the first time in five days. It's three in the morning. Stiles is working on his laptop in the dining room and Derek is suddenly at the table, leaning heavily on a chair-back to Stiles' right.

He's wearing the same clothes he left in the night he took Lydia home; they're torn and slashed in a number of places, smears of dark, dried blood outlining the edges of tears and splattered elsewhere.

They've spoken every day since Derek's been gone, most recently this morning before Stiles went to work. Derek didn't say anything then about coming over. “Lydia?” Stiles asks, in case something has gone wrong since then and now.

“Same as earlier.”

Lydia's better than she was the night she attacked Allison, mostly due to some awful thick, sloppy tea that Dr. Deaton—now living on the East Coast—suggested when Scott called to ask for advice. It's giving her some brief bouts of coherency and control, and has lessened the issue overall, but she's still not stabilized.

Derek has been taking the brunt of it, and obviously not changing clothes or showering. Or sleeping or eating, going by the gray cast of his face. Stiles hasn't seen him look this bad since he was trying to get Stiles to cut his damn arm off.

Derek tilts his head and inhales. “Allison's apparently still doing well.”

Allison's been getting better every day and Scott's going to remove the stitches in a few days. There probably won't even be much of a scar thanks to the neat work Scott did. Since about the second night after Allison was hurt, the two of them have turned the relationship dial back to on. They've also taken to locking themselves in the room that is eventually going to be Moon Pie's nursery; Lydia is going to have a fit when she's finally in her right mind again and realizes what they've been doing in there.

Stiles pushes himself to his feet and Derek's focus turns away from whatever he was hearing or smelling from the back of the house. Stiles can’t look away from the rips in Derek's clothes. He can see glimpses of whole, unmarked skin through them, everything healed with no hint that it was ever any different.

“Hey.” In Stiles’ periphery, he sees Derek’s hand, stretched out. “Come here.” When Stiles doesn't move, attention caught by a series of tears in Derek's shirt that run across his chest, Derek comes to him. “Look at me.”

Up close, Derek looks even worse, the lines of his face deepened worryingly by exhaustion. His eyes, though, are alert and sharp, pulling and holding Stiles' own gaze like something magnetic, inevitable.

Derek takes Stiles' hand and brings it to his chest, pushing Stiles' fingers through the gaping material to rest against his skin, like he's telling Stiles that he's fine.

Stiles doesn't say, Yeah, sure, now, or You weren't. He wants to, but his mouth doesn't seem to be working. He curls his fingers against Derek's chest, wishing he could fist Derek's flesh in his hand, hold on tightly.

Derek's hand moves to wrap around the back of Stiles' neck, and his free hand drags across Stiles' hip and then slides to the small of his back. He brings Stiles in closer, then lowers his head so that their cheeks touch, stubble catching like Velcro, Derek's nose tipped down towards Stiles' neck. Stiles can hear Derek's long slow inhalations and rushed exhalations, can feel Derek's warm breath down the side of his neck.

Stiles makes a noise and wraps an arm around Derek, tangling his fingers in the material of his tattered shirt, clenching it in a shaking hand. Derek's hands start moving, and it takes a minute for Stiles to realize that the random touches, fleeting and so soft that Stiles feels the shift of his own clothes against his skin rather than the touches themselves, aren't so random at all. It clicks when Derek gets to Stiles' left side.

Stiles has scars. More than he'd like, but less than one might assume of a human who's been part of a werewolf pack for so long. Some are so pale they can't be seen unless you know to look for them. A couple are pretty terrible looking.

When Derek's hands start at the beginning again, Stiles makes a sound of annoyance. “Stop it.”

You stop it.”

Stiles isn't sure that he can. If every wound Derek has ever incurred had left evidence on his skin, Stiles doesn't think he could look at him without breaking. Sometimes, though, Stiles thinks it's worse that Derek doesn't have any scars, that every injury disappears like it never happened. Because they did happen, will happen again.

“Stiles.” Derek’s voice is ragged, tired, but soft with concern.

“Okay. Yeah.” Stiles takes a deep breath to steady himself. He pauses. “You reek. Like, really badly.”

Derek tilts his face against the side of Stiles'. “I'll shower.” He doesn't move.

Eventually, Derek steps back and they both head down the hall, Derek for the bathroom and Stiles for Derek's room. Stiles still hasn't replaced the sofa or his mattress so he's been sleeping in Derek's bed. Allison and Scott were with him the first two nights.

After stripping down to his boxers, Stiles sits at the foot of the bed and falls backwards on it. He's still half-laying like that when Derek comes in, dressed in a pair of black boxer briefs, his hair wet and flat against his head.

Stiles marshals his scant energy enough to get to his feet. “Be right back.”

Derek wraps a hand around Stiles' wrist when he passes. “Don't shower.” His thumb traces the tendons under the fragile skin of Stiles' inner wrist.

Stiles drops his forehead to Derek's bare shoulder, rubs his cheek there, and says, “I won't,” against Derek's damp skin.

When Stiles comes back from brushing his teeth, Derek is sitting on the side of the bed. Stiles closes the door behind him and walks to Derek, until he's standing between Derek's thighs.

Derek tips his head back, eyes narrowed on Stiles' face. “You haven't been sleeping.”

There's been a lot keeping Stiles up, some of which he should, but hasn't, shared. He snorts. “Like you have?”

Derek sighs and slides back to lie on the bed. Stiles falls in next to him, and Derek arranges them on their sides, facing each other, bare legs tangled, foreheads touching. Derek's hand goes to the small of Stiles' back again, the fleshy base of the palm of his hand fitted into the divot there.

Stiles shifts a bit, sets his hand at the nape of Derek's neck and then moves it down until he reaches the top of the triskelion on Derek's back, the only mark he bears. Stiles traces it blindly, over and over, with idle fingers, feels Derek get more boneless with each pass, and falls asleep in the middle of the fifteenth.

*

Stiles wakes up to a mouthful of Allison's hair in the morning. They both have their heads pillowed on Derek's chest, with Allison curled stomach down across Scott's body like he's a living mattress. Derek has one arm wrapped around Stiles' back; his other is stretched out under Scott's head.

Stiles gets out of bed and goes to the bathroom. He's only had five hours of sleep but it's more than he's gotten in one night in the last week or so. It doesn't do much to make him look less like the walking dead but it's cleared his head enough that he needs to take a moment to hunch over the counter and fight off a panic attack.

When he's got himself under control again he raises his head and sees Derek's reflection behind him.

Derek puts his hands on Stiles' shoulders and meets his eyes in the mirror. “What's wrong?”

It's not impossible to lie to a werewolf, even an Alpha like Derek who happens to know Stiles very well. There are tricks to it, like having multiple reasons to explain a reaction so that the real one doesn't even register, or burying something so deeply under a heap of denial that the only lie you're telling is to yourself.

It also helps to not actually say anything at all.

Stiles grimaces, leans back into Derek's hands, and makes an all-encompassing gesture.

“Yeah.” Derek smooths his hands down Stiles' arms and steps back. “Come on.”

They camp out in the living room on the loveseat, Stiles sitting properly, and Derek with his back against the arm, legs stretched out over Stiles' lap.

Stiles watches television and Derek focuses on the sketch pad that's been making more and more appearances. Stiles nudges Derek with his elbow and pokes at the back of the pad. “What's up with this?

Derek looks up at him without lifting his head. “Just something.” He shrugs. “Maybe.”

“I'm feeling very enlightened by all the sharing.”

Derek kicks Stiles' thigh and they fall silent until Allison and Scott finally get up an hour later. After Derek inspects Allison's back, the four of them have breakfast. Derek handles all of them more than usual, scent marking them in preparation of all the non-Pack wolves that are coming into town.

After breakfast, when Allison is off checking in at work, Scott keeps Stiles and Derek at the table. “I want to marry Allison.”

Stiles and Derek both freeze, Stiles in the middle of reaching up to scratch his neck, and Derek in the process of wiping syrup from his fingers with a napkin. They exchange a look that basically amounts to, You've got to be fucking kidding me and I know, right.

Stiles' hand resumes movement but he changes direction to cover half his face. Derek crosses his arms. They stare flatly at Scott.

“I've got the ring already. I mean, I'm not going to ask her now because there's too much going on, but, yeah.”

Stiles exchanges another look with Derek, this one a silent argument about which of them is going to deal with this crap once everything else dies down. They settle on pawning it off on Jackson.

Scott looks at them expectantly. “Guys! Come on, what do you think?”

“You're an idiot,” is all Derek says.

Stiles just shakes his head. If anything could possibly be worse than Scott and Allison's dizzying revolving door relationship, it's the two of them marrying. Stiles has no idea what's been behind the latest rounds of their break ups, but he doesn't need to. The problem with Scott and Allison is that they fell in love when they were sophomores in high school. Stiles doesn't think that people who meet at that age can't make it the long term; he just knows that Scott and Allison aren't those people.

Too much has happened, to each of them individually, to both of them as a couple, to the Pack as a whole. It's been a long time since either of them were the teenagers they fell in love with, and neither one of them seems to want to recognize that all the ways in which they lined up just right back then are all the ways in which they don't now.

Stiles thinks that they don't want to own up to that because they think it would mean losing each other. If anything, the opposite is true. The Pack ties them all together, no matter what's happening between any of them on an individual level. Scott and Allison will always be part of each other's lives, and Stiles thinks they'll both finally be happy again if they could accept that and bask in the friendship that would result.

That's for Jackson to address, though. Stiles just gets to his feet, and claps Scott on the shoulder. “What Derek said.”

*

At noon, the four of them drive a few miles away to two of the houses the Pack owns. They're right next door to each other, and are uninhabited but furnished. It's where the out of town wolves will be staying.

Dad is waiting outside when they get there. He's become something of a liaison between the Pack and the Hunters in the last week or so, after volunteering to be the one to compare the lists that the incoming werewolves and Hunters provided. Stiles wasn't entirely happy about it, but Derek and, surprisingly, Chris had been on board.

“You look like you finally got some sleep,” Dad says to Stiles.

Stiles nods. “Yeah.”

Dad looks at Derek. “What should I be doing during this meeting? Witnessing again?”

Derek shrugs. “Mostly. We just need them to know your face and scent.”

Dad's face twists uncomfortably. “They don't need to--” He gives an exaggerated sniff and gestures at his neck. “--do they.”

Stiles snorts. “No. In fact, they shouldn't touch you at all. It's kind of a rule.”

Inside one of the houses, the visiting wolves are gathered in the living room. Stiles looks around, recognizing all but two of the ten they invited. Derek and Stiles picked wolves from territories they once held—the Boston, Stanford and Pasadena areas—and tried to make sure both of them knew everyone invited. However, there were a few roster changes on both the werewolf and Hunter side after Dad compared lists; there are three that Derek's never met before here, too.

Surprisingly, Evelyn from Boulder is here. They had to call to cancel James' scheduled visit due to the rabid wolf, and Alpha Edwards offered to send someone anyway.

Derek and Stiles stand next to each other at the front of the room, Scott and Allison at their backs, and gesture Dad to stand in the doorway leading into the hallway, separate and apart from them and the visiting wolves.

Stiles looks around the room, making eye contact with each wolf. A few grin or wave at him, some nod. Though Stiles can't see, he knows the others are making the same perusal of the room.

There's one wolf, a guy, that Stiles doesn't know, who has attitude all over his face. The other wolves have left a cleared space around him and have clumped together in small groups—most of them know each other, or know of each other, through Hale Pack.

Derek introduces himself and the Pack members to the room; the wolves send curious glances at Dad, but don't push.

“Did your Alphas fill you all in on the situation?” Derek asks the room at large. There are nods and murmurs of assent. “Good.”

Derek runs down how the tracking will work, and how the wolves will be paired with Hunters or Pack. There are a few questions, mostly about how trustworthy the Hunters are.

“Consider it a guarded, shaky truce.”

Stiles quirks his lips. “Like that thing in Montreal.” A few of the wolves snort and shake their heads in recognition.

Derek smirks. “Or Los Mochis.” Another few wolves make faces. A couple haven't recognized either reference, but Stiles knows they'll all fill each other in once the Pack is gone.

Then, Derek goes over the rules for them being in Hale territory, including instructions for what do do in various scenarios, and ends with, “If you run into a problem of any kind, you call me or Stiles, and you do what we tell you. Problems with Hunters, with the law, with anything—call us.” He looks around the room, eyes flashing red, and all but one of the wolves turns their head to bare their throat. “If any of you act outside of the parameters I just gave you, I'll tear your fucking throat out.”

The wolves go carefully still. Derek nods in satisfaction, then points at Dad. “This is your emergency contact. Call him or scent him down as a last resort, and only if you can't get hold of us.” Derek arches his brows. “You should be very, very careful with him. If something happens to him because of you, you'll be dealing with Stiles.”

A few of the wolves actually rear back. Off to the side, Dad makes a shocked noise. Stiles just stares down every wolf in the room.

Derek nods at Allison and Scott, who hand out pre-paid, untraceable mobile devices with the necessary numbers programmed in, and maps of the town and surrounding land. There's also a schedule for patrols loaded on there, which took Stiles hours to create because he's not Lydia, or Danny, and has to do this crap without the aid of math or complex programming.

There are a few more questions and then it happens. That one wolf with the attitude, who didn't bare his throat, who rolled his eyes at the warning threats, who Stiles figures has to be Paul, the new werewolf the Pasadena Alpha let into the Pack there, mouths off.

“Derek Hale working with Hunters. Thought that notion would've been burned out of you.”

The entire room goes still and silent. Stiles thinks that they're all doing the same thing he himself is, which is processing the fact that Paul actually went there right to Derek's face. Then, the visiting wolves scurry into action, self-preservation moving them as far away from Paul as they can get.

Stiles takes a step forward, intending to get between Derek and Paul, visions of taking a sledgehammer to this bastard's face dancing in his head. Derek throws up an arm and stops Stiles from moving further. When Stiles looks at Derek, his face is blank, eyes trained on Paul.

Scott and Allison take up position to block the exits from the room, bodies tense, murderous glares on their faces. Stiles knows that Allison is armed, just like Stiles is, and he sees the slight flex of her hand signaling that she's readied the mini-crossbow under her sleeve.

Stiles isn't wearing his, but he does have a gun loaded with wolfsbane bullets, and outfitted with a silencer, in a holster at the small of his back. He doesn't reach for it, though. Derek is Alpha, and despite Stiles' initial and instinctive move, he knows that Derek has to be the one to deal with this. Not only because it's so very fucking terribly personal in nature, but because he needs to maintain dominance in the eyes of every wolf here.

Derek's arm is still stretched across Stiles' mid-section, barring forward movement. Stiles steps back, instead, subtly smoothing a hand across Derek's back and moving towards Dad.

Dad's wide-eyed with wariness and confusion; Stiles gives a quick shake of his head and puts himself between Dad and the rest of the room. Paul is still standing in the center of the room, lips curled in a sneer, eyes locked on Derek.

Derek cracks his neck, rolls his shoulders, rotates his wrists, and stalks casually forward until half the distance between them is closed. It takes almost a full minute, he does it so slowly and drawn out. His voice, when he finally speaks, is an easy drawl. “Caroline told me about you, Paul.”

Caroline is the Alpha they put in place in Pasadena. She's a tiny woman—Stiles thinks she's only barely five feet tall—and looks all sweet and darling. But she was a gymnast and competitive martial arts participant before she was Turned, so looks are really deceiving in her case.

“Told me she put you down.” Derek smirks and scratches his chin idly. “She said you almost pissed yourself.”

Paul's face goes red. Having an Alpha dominate you to the point of urination is a humiliation. Shitty Alphas do it for kicks. Smart Alphas do it when the wolf on the receiving end is acting out in a way that's a threat to the Alpha's position.

“I didn't.” Paul's claws come out and his eyes start glowing.

Derek smiles and leans forward. “Not yet.”

Paul fully wolfs out, then, and drops into an aggressive crouch.

There's a lot of bodily throwing around when werewolves fight. They especially like to throw each other into, and slam each other against, walls. The visiting wolves are currently pressed against the walls of the room. They exchange looks and then slink around the perimeter to stand in the double wide doorway leading into the dining room.

Allison and Scott come over to where Stiles and Dad are, Allison standing next to Stiles and Scott in front of all three of them.

“Should I be worried?” Dad asks in an undertone.

Stiles shakes his head, eyes focused on Derek. He and Paul are circling each other, Paul with a lot of snarly noises and aggressive posturing, Derek with smug amusement.

Allison elbows Stiles lightly. “What's this guy's deal?”

Paul gets fed up with Derek's lack of response and darts forward suddenly, trying to startle him. Derek looks extremely unimpressed.

“At a glance,” Stiles answers Allison, “I'd go with stupid, weak, and has a death wish. Gotta say, I'd be happy to help him with that last one.”

Allison makes a noise of agreement, Scott says, “Oh, hell yeah,” and half the wolves hovering in the doorway call out some variation of, “Me too.” Dad sighs heavily.

Paul lets loose a howl and jumps towards a wall, bouncing off it feet first to fling himself in a different direction. He flies at Derek so fast that Stiles only processes what happened after the fact, when Derek's caught him claw first by the neck, Paul's momentum having driven Derek's nails deep into his throat.

“Bastard's faster than ever,” someone in the doorway comments.

She means Derek, who Stiles didn't even see move. One second he was facing where Paul had been standing, and the next he was five feet over and Paul was impaled on his claws. Stiles figures he moved, pivoted with his arm out, and just let Paul skewer himself. Stiles approves of the resulting pain, blood and gurgling.

Allison nods. “Nice.

Scott shrugs. “I wanted some broken bones.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Stiles sees his Dad actually put a hand over his face and shake his head. Whatever. Maybe some other time, over some other thing, Stiles might feel uncomfortable at the blood thirstiness he and the others are exhibiting, but not this time. Not with what that asshole said.

Derek wheels around, hand still at Paul's throat, and shoves Paul so hard into a wall that he sinks three inches into the drywall. At the last moment, Derek retracts his claws, so that it's only his human hand pinning Paul.

Then, Derek pulls him out of the dent in the wall. He throws Paul face down on the floor, putting a dent in the hardwood floor to match the one on the wall. His hand twists and moves to the back of Paul's neck to pin him down.

Dad gasps. “I think you got your broken bones,” he says faintly to Scott.

Scott's, “Yeah,” is deeply satisfied.

Paul is limp and disoriented, bloody and broken. He cries out when Derek replaces the hand at his nape with teeth. Derek's fangs are long, backed by muscle strength that can snap bone with ease. Derek is merciless with them, clamping down hard enough that new blood joins what's already flowing from the front.

Stiles has seen Derek do this before, has watched him assert his dominance over wolves stronger and fiercer than Paul could ever hope to be. All of the others tensed, then conceded after just a few seconds of those teeth.

Not Paul. He goes from limp due to pain and shock, to full out thrashing, and he doesn't stop even when it makes Derek's teeth tear raggedly through his flesh and muscle.

Scott cocks his head. “Stiles.”

Stiles pushes by him and walks a large circle around where Derek has Paul pinned. He drops to his haunches when he's by Derek's lowered head. Derek looks up with his eyes only, one hand coming up to muffle the furious sounds Paul is making. Stiles studies the look in Derek's eyes, the desperate expression and tears on Paul's face, and nods.

“Everyone out.” Stiles stands up and looks from his Packmates, to the visiting wolves. “We're going—” Derek's free hand, the one that was buried in Paul's throat, latches onto Stiles' calf, and Stiles corrects himself. “You're all going next door.”

Some of the wolves bolt, but others move slowly, seemingly fascinated by what's happening. Scott and Allison frown at Stiles. “You guys, too.” He gestures at Dad. “Take him with you.”

Stiles doesn't need to be asked to call Caroline once everyone's gone. Derek doesn't need Stiles' help with dealing with Paul, not enough to separate Stiles from his Dad when other wolves are around. What Derek needs is a free mouth to get information.

Caroline answers the phone before the first ring finishes. “Hey, Stiles.” She sounds resigned and guilty. Derek growls around Paul's neck. Stiles' jaw tightens momentarily. That is the voice of someone who knew the wolf they sent into Hale territory was going to be trouble.

“I need to know what the hell is going on with Paul. Derek almost tore his throat out, and has him pinned down with his teeth, and he's still fighting. You said you got him to submit.”

“He submitted.”

Derek's hand clenches on Stiles' leg. Yeah, there's a difference between what Caroline said and what Stiles said, and it's more than semantics. The dominance hierarchy is necessary for werewolves to be stable. Most of them understand that instinctively and give and take as a matter of course. Sure, some are stubborn and can make a dominant wolf work for it, force it, but that's less about resistance and more about making others prove themselves.

Then there are the wolves who outright refuse to submit. Paul's one of those. Stiles is sure that he bared his throat to Caroline when pushed, but that he was only going through the motions and didn't really submit. Caroline would have known that, and she sent him here anyway.

“My father was in the same room as a goddamn unstable werewolf because of you,” Stiles says flatly. Caroline inhales in surprise, a noise like a whine coming from her throat. “Derek will deal with you later. Right now, he has to clean up your mess, so I need you to tell me what Paul's damage is.”

“Stiles, I didn't mean--”

“Tell me. Now.”

She does, and it's an ugly story featuring Paul's former Alpha, who reminds Stiles far too much of Peter Hale. When she's done, Stiles hangs up without saying anything else. He looks down at Derek, who still has his jaws around the back of Paul's neck, for all the good it's doing. Paul hasn't stopped thrashing, despite the injuries that are hardly healing due to being inflicted by an Alpha, and Stiles thinks that if his throat was in working order he'd be making a hell of a lot of noise despite Derek's hand over his mouth.

Derek's eyes are dark with anger, but there's something old and pained at the center, and a question hanging over everything.

Stiles scrubs a hand down his face. There are two ways Derek can break Paul. One of them will truly break him; the other will split him open enough for Derek to take his submission and connect Paul to him. If Derek does the latter, the question will then become whether to keep Paul or turn him over to another Alpha once he's more settled.

“You're the Alpha, it's up to you,” Stiles says. Derek glares and digs human fingertips into Stiles leg. Stiles rolls his eyes, then sobers and holds Derek's gaze. ”It's up to you,” he repeats, softer and firmer.

Stiles isn't at all surprised that Derek flips Paul onto his back, kneels next to him, and cracks him right down the metaphysical center with a howling growl full of teeth, eyes and power. Derek splits Paul open wide until he's sobbing and shaking from emotion, his expression lost and scared like a child's. Then, Derek puts a hand right over Paul's heart, shifts his hand, and punctures the flesh with his claws while he roars again.

Paul's eyes fill with wonder, with connection, with the natural order of things, and he passes out under the weight of it. Derek must have put a little something extra in that second part, because Paul's wounds start healing, flesh knitting together and bones mending.

Derek sits back on his heels, shoulders slumped. Stiles moves next to him and pulls Derek's head against his thigh; Derek leans heavily against him.

“We've got enough going on. I shouldn't have done this.”

Stiles wouldn't have done it. Tragic story or not, this guy is nothing to him, and it really is a bad time for something like this. Stiles probably would have broken him and sent him back to Caroline to put out of his misery. But Derek isn't Stiles, and for all that Derek would tear apart the world with his hands for Pack, his instincts sometimes also extend beyond it.

Back in the day, Stiles begrudged him that, especially because it often made their lives more complicated or dangerous. Stiles is older now, though, and he's learned to accept the differences between himself and the people he cares about, to recognize that his way is a personal choice and not a mandate to be forced on others.

Stiles runs his hand through Derek's hair. “We'll deal.”

Derek's moves Stiles in front of him, folds his hands around the just of Stiles' hips, and tugs him down on top of Derek's thighs. When Derek lays his head on Stiles' shoulder and shudders, Stiles mutters a few curses. That connection Derek forced into Paul, it was a two way street.

“You got something from him.” Derek nods. “How bad?”

“The worst. The fucking worst, Stiles.”

Son of a bitch. Given Derek's history, given what the Pack has seen, that's saying something. “Okay. Okay, let's just—we'll take a minute, then we'll work out a plan. Sound good?”

Derek's arms come around Stiles' back, holding on hard and tight. Stiles lowers his head and breathes against the side of Derek's neck.

*

A little over an hour later, Scott and Allison come back from next door. Dad's with them, even though Stiles told Scott to have him go home.

Dad stares Stiles down. “Like you would have gone home in my place.”

Stiles looks away. There really isn't much of a counterargument for that; Stiles is starting to regret the fact that his dad is getting so comfortable with werewolf business.

Scott tosses a bundle of clothes on the sofa and rounds on Derek. “What the hell? Why would you do that? I can't even--”

“Shut up,” Derek says, just as Stiles says, “Back off.”

Scott snaps his mouth shut but Stiles knows that doesn't mean they've heard the last of it.

Derek crouches down to check on Paul's healing, then nods and looks at Scott. “He's going home with you. I need you to handle him.” Scott opens his mouth, but Derek doesn't let him get a word out. “Scott, he needs someone dominant to him, and that's you.”

Scott's face goes mulish. “What about Stiles?”

“He's got too much to focus on as it is.”

“Can I help?” Allison asks.

Derek shrugs. “That's Scott's call to make once Paul wakes up and he figures out where his head's at.” He points at the clothes. “Grab those and follow us upstairs. We need to get this blood off before we go anywhere.”

Paul, Derek and Stiles are all covered in Paul's blood. Paul and Derek from the fight, and Stiles from Derek. Stiles leads the way upstairs, Derek following with Paul slung over his shoulders, and Allison bringing up the rear with the clothing she and Scott picked up from Stiles and Derek’s' house.

Washing five feet, ten inches of deadweight is not something Stiles ever wants to do again. Derek and Stiles strip down to underwear, then Derek tears Paul's clothing so that he can just lift him out of the remnants. Derek does most of the heavy lifting and holding, which leaves Stiles to hose the two of them down with the removable shower head while inside the tub with them. It's awkward and a little precarious, but in the end they're all blood free.

They dress and take Paul back downstairs, where Dad, Scott and Allison are finishing cleaning up of the bloody mess in the living room.

“--can't he do that for this killer wolf?” Stiles hears his Dad say as they come in.

“It's not the same thing,” Allison tells him. “Derek basically pushed past Paul's human hang ups to get to his wolf instincts. The werewolf we're looking for...it does the things it does because the wolf's instincts are wrong. There's nothing to appeal to.”

Dad looks to Derek for confirmation, which Derek gives, then asks, “So what happens with this guy now?”

“It depends. We'll see.”

Dad seems to find that most uninformative, if the annoyed look on his face is anything to go by. Stiles has a flashback to dealing with Derek in high school.

Scott dumps the last of the bloody cleaning rags in a plastic bag with their discarded clothes. He'll take them to work and discard them in biohazard containers just to be on the safe side.

They sort a few other things and then Scott pulls into the garage so that Derek can load Paul into the backseat for Scott to take him home. Dad offers Allison a ride to the station since she's working a half day today, and they leave right after Scott.

Derek and Stiles go next door. The visiting wolves are strewn throughout the first floor, but they congregate in the dining room when Derek and Stiles head that way. Derek does his version of making nice, which goes over pretty well with this group, because they're familiar enough with him to know what it means that he makes the effort.

They're almost at Derek's car when someone calls out for them to wait up. Bobby, a wolf from Cambridge, jogs down the walk. He's the Second to the handpicked Alpha that Stiles turned over the keys to the kingdom to, as it were.

“What's up?” Stiles asks.

Bobby sighs and looks between the two of them. “We got a transplant from Pasadena a couple months back. Heard through the grapevine that a few more than that have gone elsewhere recently.”

Derek narrows his eyes. “Why?”

“From what I'm hearing, Caroline's overwhelmed. She's got some strong personalities in that Pack, and there's that free border policy with L.A. I think it's more than she can handle. My Alpha thought you should know, and given what just happened, I figured I'd bring it up now.”

Derek and Stiles both thank him, then get in the car. They've got a few hours to kill, and Lydia is in Danny's capable hands, so Stiles steers them in the opposite direction of every place at which they have obligations.

Five minutes into the drive, Derek tips his head back on the headrest. “Don't say it.”

Stiles shifts gears and shakes his head. “I'm not.”

Caroline was Derek's choice to take over Pasadena, and Stiles had a lot of doubts about whether she'd be able to do the job. She had the potential to be great, but suffered a lack of leadership roles that would have proven her merit and provided a solid foundation of confidence.

Derek pauses. “You were right, though.”

“I could have just as easily been wrong.” Stiles shrugs. “She could have been awesome, I admitted that. I just knew that Erica was a sure thing.”

“Think she'll still do it?” Derek's voice is strained. The whole situation with Erica, Boyd and Isaac is touchy for him, for a lot of reasons. Personally, Stiles tries not to think about it much, either; it makes him heartsick.

“You'll have to stroke her ego a bit, but, yeah. As long as she can bring Isaac, Boyd and the rest of her Pack, she'll go for it happily. She's chaffing in Long Beach.” He slants a look at Derek. “Paul would probably do really well under her, too. She's got experience with that kind of shit from Isaac.”

Derek hums agreeably. “I'll call her when this is done.”

“Speaking of this,” Stiles says. “Was Allison right? About rabids?”

“Maybe.” Stiles can hear the thoughtful frown on Derek's face. “No one's sure what causes rabid wolves, so her theory's as valid as any.” Stiles could testify to this. He currently has an entire small binder filled with conflicting and contradictory theories on the subject. “But I've never heard of an Alpha being able to fix one.”

Stiles thinks about that. “Have you heard of an Alpha trying that before?”

“No, but if it worked, I think it would have made the rounds.”

"You'd think so,” Stiles says.

They pull into the parking lot behind Derek's warehouse space a few minutes later, and spend the time until the meeting with the Hunters in a silence punctuated by Derek taking a ball-peen hammer to a length of thick sheet metal.

*

Stiles and Derek meet with the Hunters late that afternoon at the former Argent reisdence. The market was terrible right after Chris and Victoria divorced, so Chris just closed it up and didn't bother trying to sell it. After Victoria died, Chris kept it in case Allison might want it one day. Stiles isn't sure why he still has it, given that Allison bought her own house rather than live in this one, and that Chris himself didn't even go back there after moving out of Dad's house.

There are only nine, not ten, Hunters when they get there. Stiles wonders what happened. It had to have been something, given that Chris sent number ten out of town with a request for Allison to find a reason to sic the State police on him.

Despite himself, Stiles feels like this whole teaming up thing might not going horribly, terminally awry. When Derek purposely looses the red eyes—positioned deliberately in front of Stiles—only a couple of the Hunters even startle, and just one makes an aborted reach for his gun.

Not only that, but Chris actually convinced them all to provide samples of their ammunition for use in the event of a friendly fire incident. The bullets are packed up in a container that Dad is charged with holding onto for the duration of the Hunters' stay in town, and will be returned if unused.

Stiles thinks a lot of it has to do with who Chris chose: they're all contemporaries, seasoned Hunters who've stuck to the Code for decades and believe that actions and not lycanthropy are what matters. Mostly. Stiles' opinions on Hunters in general, and that Code in particular, are well known to anyone even remotely informed on the subject, with the exception of his father, of course.

Regardless of his feelings of positivity—and that's all relative, because the bar was set depressingly low—about the situation, Stiles still memorizes the faces and names of the Hunters who spooked, and the one who automatically went for his weapon. Just in case.

Then they traipse back to the houses the wolves are staying in, so that Chris can meet them just like Stiles and Derek met the Hunters. That meeting goes off without a hitch, since all the hitches were had earlier in the day in a most bloody manner.

Dad and Chris go to their separate cars when they leave and trade disturbingly longing glances from across the street from one another. Stiles is so freaked out that Derek takes the keys from him and pushes him into the passenger seat.

Stiles manages to hold his tongue for five minutes. “They're totally going to get back together, aren't they?”

Derek turns his head briefly. “Are you asking me if they smell--”

“Stop that! You promised you'd never share what you smelled about them.” Stiles waves his hands. “An informed opinion, with no scent evidence spoken of, will suffice.”

“Probably.”

“Crap.”

Derek huffs out a laugh and turns into Lydia's driveway. He shifts into park, but doesn't turn off the engine, since Stiles is going to drive himself home once Derek goes inside.

Stiles undoes his seatbelt and turns to Derek, only to find Derek's eyes already on him. Derek stretches out a hand, fingers curled lightly, and brushes his thumb along the hinge of Stiles' jaw. “Try to sleep.”

“I'm fine,” Stiles says, voice quiet. He covers Derek's hand with his own, moves it down to the side of his neck. “Don't be such a worrywart.”

Derek's lips twitch in a faint smile. He takes Stiles' free hand and brings it to his own neck, holds it there with firm pressure. “I'm the Alpha. It's my job.”

It is, yes. But it's Stiles' job to worry about Derek. “I'll sleep if you will.” He's not adverse to blackmail. It's actually a preferred tactic of his when trying to get Derek to take care of himself.

Derek leans forward, draws Stiles in with the hand at his neck, and touches their foreheads together. “Deal.” After a minute or so, Derek draws back. “I'm sending Danny home with you.”

“I'll send Jackson over.”

Derek shakes his head in amusement, scratches Stiles' skin lightly with his thumb, and slips his hand from Stiles' neck in a long, slow glide. Stiles mirrors the movement, extending it so that he ends with his hand on the door handle.

*

Danny looks only slightly better than Derek did last night. Stiles actually buckles him into the passenger seat because Danny's too clumsy with exhaustion to manage it. Stiles is ecstatically glad that Lydia is recovering quicker than expected, and that the reinforcements have arrived, because the lack of sleep some of them are dealing with is ridiculous.

Before they drive off, Stiles texts Jackson to come by and back up Derek.

Danny manages to get out of the car on his own when they get home. Then, he stumbles into the house, down the hall, and climbs into Derek's bed completely clothed.

He's already asleep when Stiles starts tugging off his shoes, and doesn't wake up even when Stiles manhandles him out of his jeans. Danny flails an arm out, hand grasping at the air, but Stiles ducks out of the way in favor of taking care of a few more things.

Stiles spends the next few hours with Danny's head on his lap, face against his abdomen, while he starts a new line of research on his tablet. Just because Derek hasn't heard of something working, doesn't mean it can't or won't. The Pack has pulled off the impossible and unthinkable more than once.

*

The next few days pass in a chaotic blur for Stiles. Dad is still handling about ninety-nine percent of the Gazette's emails, for which Stiles is so grateful he could cry. But that still leaves Stiles with teaching all day and grading homework after work; managing the search schedules and grids; participating in his own assigned searches, though those are restricted to town at Derek's insistence; being on call for the visiting werewolves; and checking in on Paul at Scott's house, which he alternates with Derek.

Those are all official tasks. Unofficially, Stiles is also tearing through every bit of literature and lore he can get his hands on regarding both Alpha powers and rabids. The Pack uses yet another house they own as a library in which they store every book and resource they've collected over the years. It's a lot. So much so that they've only had a chance to digitize a quarter of it; their priority is always translation first, which is helpful because Stiles' archaic Latin is still only barely passable, and don't even get him started on his ancient Greek.

Stiles pours through indexes and tables of contents like a madman, and carts armloads of books back to the house. He finds every reference online that even remotely relates to the subject areas and goes back for books that don't have handy built in cheat sheets but which might have a shred of useful information.

Once he has everything that might be useful, he starts going through it in detail, spreadsheets open on his laptop to store, compare and correlate data.

Three days in, he's only through six of the books, and the Principle interrupts his third period class with a substitute in tow. Apparently Derek called in with a family emergency.

Stiles grabs his stuff and bolts from his classroom. When he turns his phone on, the first thing he sees is a text from Derek. Calm down. Lydia's back and she wants you here. Stiles goes light-headed with relief and needs to take a minute to prop himself up against a bank of lockers.

He drives like a crazy person and literally screeches to a halt in Lydia's driveway. Inside the house, Lydia and Derek are in her bedroom, both of them damp and clean from recent showers. Lydia's eyes are puffy and red, her face splotchy, and she has a white-knuckled grip on Derek's arm. Stiles kicks off his shoes and scrambles into the bed. Lydia keeps her hold on Derek, but still manages to burrow into Stiles and sob against his neck.

This whole feral hormonal thing would have been awful for anyone to go through, but for someone like Lydia, who strives to exert control over as much of her existence as possible, in ways small and large, it's something out of a nightmare.

Stiles lets her cry, soothes her with his hands down her back, through her wet hair, across the bulge of Moon Pie's own personal nest, and if he cries a little along the way, he doesn't give a damn. He managed not to lose his shit about Lydia for eight days, and he's always been a sympathetic crier.

Lydia pulls on Derek's arm, draws him in, and the two of them blanket her on either side, so that she can fly apart in reaction without worrying that parts of her will be lost.

They wind up lying down eventually. Derek spoons Lydia from behind and simultaneously scents and marks the back of her neck; it eases some of her trembling. Stiles shapes himself around Moon Pie and draws Lydia's head to his chest. Three sets of hands wander over the curve of her stomach, overlapping and far reaching.

*

Lydia doesn't want to stay at her house. Stiles thinks that, in the coming weeks, she'll either own that shit so hard that she'll defiantly spend every night there, no matter what, or she'll sell it and never go back. With Lydia it's hard to tell, and both options will signal an exertion of control so they're both just as likely.

Stiles fills a suitcase of clothes for her while she lounges on the bed, snuggled up with Derek, and tells him what to put in it, how to fold it, and the best way to place the shoes for maximum packing efficiency. They take pretty much half her closet and three quarters of her shoe collection, and bring her home to Stiles and Derek's.

When she sees the continued lack of sofa and mattress, she pins Stiles with determined eyes. “Stop living like a squatter, Stiles.” She flips her hair over her shoulder. “It's so high school.”

Derek glowers at the dig at him, but Stiles sees the amusement and relief in his eyes.

Stiles holds a hand to his chest and promises, “I'll get on it tomorrow.”

Derek calls the Pack and Stiles pulls out the search schedule to stare at it in painful concentration in order to figure out how to rearrange everything to compensate for all of them being off duty for the night. Lydia takes pity on him, but only after silently mocking him for ten minutes. It takes her six minutes and twelve seconds to do what would have taken Stiles an hour, and if she were anyone else he'd hate for her for that.

When she sees the search grids, she's appalled. She tries to pull her out laptop, but Derek swipes it from her with a neat move as he comes by with a stack of bedding. “Not tonight, Lydia.”

Stiles and Derek are in the middle of setting up the nest in the living room when they hear Lydia actually squawk from the back of the house. Stiles assumes she got a whiff of Moon Pie's future nursery and is now busy planning how she's going to torture Scott for it.

Scott arrives first, and he brings Paul, who's doing really well now that his wolf isn't being denied what it needs. Allison, Jackson and Danny file in not long after, and Lydia returns everyone's hugs, and suffers through their groping of her stomach. She's not pleased that everyone else has picked up Stiles' pet name for the baby and glares at him every time someone says Moon Pie. He grins back winningly because, whatever, that's the best nickname ever for tiny female baby werewolf.

They fill Lydia in on what's been happening at her insistence. They keep it superficial and light, because tonight's about welcoming Lydia back, about all of them being together for the first time in weeks.

Lydia pulls Allison into the kitchen for a bit and they both come out smiling and hugging. It's not the first time one of the wolves has accidentally hurt one of the humans, and it won't be the last. It's a hazard of their life and they all came to terms with it years ago.

Danny doesn't leave Lydia's side once he arrives, going so far as squirming under her when she ends up in the middle of the nest between Stiles and Derek.

Despite the physical and emotional comfort of the Pack, it still takes Stiles ages to fall asleep. His mind is distracted by the books stacked in the office down the hall.

*

The next day is a Saturday, and Stiles leaves Danny, Lydia and Derek to strategize and rework search grids in order to go furniture shopping. He takes his Dad.

“Tell me again why your super strong friends aren't hauling this two ton couch into a truck,” Dad wheezes. “I meant the other left, Stiles.”

“Sorry, sorry!” Stiles struggles to shove his end in the correct direction. “And I told you, I wanted some father-son bonding time. I swear, it's like you don't love—crap. My bad!”

Dad hisses at the pinch to his fingers from where Stiles shoved a bit too hard. “None of them were available, were they?”

“Nope. But I did want to see you outside of wacky supernatural shenanigans, so it works out well.”

They finally get the sofa into the truck that Stiles rented. The store offered delivery, but it takes a week and Stiles knows Lydia would not have stood for that, so the truck it is. At least the mattress store had same day delivery.

Dad wipes sweat from his forehead. “How about lunch?”

Stiles insists on a vegan place downtown. Dad gripes about it but gives in because he actually likes their baked sweet potato fries and special veggie burger sauce. Stiles spends a while talking about school, and then listening to Dad bemoan his lack of golfing time. The latter is actually preferable to listening to him recount his golf games, which is like taking the boringness of golf on its own and multiplying it by a factor of fifty.

“How's Lydia doing?”

Stiles shrugs. They've been closed mouthed about what was happening to Lydia, not wanting any of the Hunters to decide a feral pregnant werewolf should be put down. “She's good. Peeing all the time and complaining about her ankles, but good.”

“And the--” Dad gestures at his stomach.

“Moon Pie's fine. She's kicking like crazy, though. Lydia swears her spleen is going to have a permanent foot print in it.”

Dad laughs. “You were the same way. We were tragically unsurprised by your hyperactivity.”

Stiles grins, not only at the anecdote, but by the way they can finally talk about Mom with a thick patina of grief covering everything.

“Why do you always do this--” Stiles gestures at his own stomach. “--whenever you ask about Moon Pie?”

“Ah, well.” Dad gets a little flushed and awkward. “I'm just not sure how to refer to—do you guys call—I mean, with wolves, it's pup or cub, and I don't--”

Stiles chokes on his water and laughs so hard he actually falls off his chair, drawing the attention of the entire restaurant.

Dad peers over the table at him. Stiles has an arm wrapped around his waist and he's kicking his legs in the air. “You know, that's kind of what we figured you were doing when your mom was pregnant, that right there.” Stiles laughs harder.

“Babies,” Stiles says when he finally gets himself under control and in his seat again. “We call them babies, Dad. But I will be give you anything you want if you refer to Moon Pie as a pup or cub in front of Lydia.”

It's Dad's turn to choke. He levels a wry look at Stiles. “Son, I like my balls attached to my body. Call me crazy that way.”

Stiles laughs, but he's also thinking of all the little ways in which his dad has become more comfortable and accepting of the Pack, of how he's gotten involved in even a limited way.

“Thanks, Dad.” When Dad arches a brow in question, Stiles shrugs and smiles. “Just, you've been really great lately. I mean, you're always great, but you've been even greater. With all the shenanigans. I know it's got to be weird and possibly alarming—sorry again about the whole thing with Paul and the, you know, blood.”

Dad looks thoughtful as he finishes the last few fries. “I knew you were in a Pack, and I knew Chris was a Hunter, but you both worked pretty hard to pretend you weren't. And I let you both get away with it, for a lot of reasons.” He meets Stiles' eyes, and Stiles suddenly realizes just how many years the two of them looked at one another guardedly, carefully. Now, though, there's just honesty and openness. “I think all three of us did ourselves and each other a disservice.”

Stiles isn't sure about anything to do with Chris Argent, but he agrees with that as far as he and his father go, so he nods. “Speaking of Chris...”

“I don't know. We're talking. It's complicated and difficult, and I'm not sure what's going to happen.”

Stiles nods. “Fair enough. Now, come on, if we leave now, we can make Derek unload the sofa before he makes his glorious return to terrorizing customers and fans at the gallery.”

“Is it true he once took a pair of wire cutters to a sculpture someone wanted to buy because the guy looked at him wrong?”

“No, that's ridiculous.” Stiles pauses. “It was because the guy was wearing a pair of eyeglass frames with no lenses in them.”

Dad snorts and signals for the bill.

At home, Derek does, in fact, unload the sofa. He essentially balances it on one shoulder at its center point, and stretches his arm out under it to bear the lopsided weight. Dad looks sour faced and aggrieved. To add insult to injury, Lydia—six months pregnant Lydia—assists by way of using the tips of her fingers to compensate for Derek's arm not reaching far enough out to keep the thing entirely balanced. They both shoot smug looks at Stiles and Dad as they pass.

“Werewolves are assholes,” Dad sighs, but his eyes are twinkling.

Stiles laughs. “They really are.”

*

The next ten days pass in a routine that's easier to manage now that Derek, Danny and Lydia are all available instead of holed up in Lydia's house. Especially because they've been sorely missing Lydia's mathematical insight and Danny's computer skills.

Once Lydia is caught up on where they've searched, what new horrors they've found (and there've been a lot, though all of them were in the woods so Stiles hasn't personally had to come face-to-face with a pile of rabbits), and how they're teamed up, she changes everything. Stiles tunes out her scathing diatribe on his sloppy methodology and is just glad that she's back.

Whatever guilt Stiles feels at keeping his mouth shut about Kyle Barnes is mitigated by the results of his new line of research. According to everything he's finding about Alpha abilities, such as how they work, and their apparent purpose, it should be possible for Derek to crack Kyle open and fix him. Stiles is compiling everything he finds, but there are a couple of more sources he needs, and someone he needs to talk to.

The book sources arrive on a Tuesday. Stiles calls Allison and asks her to switch search teams since Stiles is on tonight; she agrees so he goes straight home with the intention of rifling through them for the next to last bit of evidence he can get.

He's really not expecting to walk in on Danny and Ranger Eddles going at it on the sofa. It's not full out sex, but it's bare-crotch frottage, which is close enough. Eddles flails in embarrassment, but Danny and Stiles are immune to that now. The number of times Danny. Stiles and Lydia walked in on each other having sex in Boston was in the double digits by the time undergrad was over.

“That's a brand new couch,” is all Stiles says, because that's really all he cares about.

Danny's hips don't stop moving. “Go away Stiles,” he says, the words muffled because he's apparently trying to kiss Eddles' embarrassment away.

Stiles rolls his eyes and goes down the hall. He makes a note to ask Danny what the Ranger's first name is, because for the life of him Stiles can't remember.

Two hours later—Danny has stamina, which Stiles remembers from the too thin walls in Boston—Danny taps on the door of Stiles' office and comes in. He looks sated and sex dumb, and Stiles is not at all jealous.

Not that he wants Danny that way, or Eddles either. It's just been a long while since Stiles has had sex.

“I cleaned the sofa.”

“Thank you for that.”

It turns out that Eddles is actually named Ray, and Danny's been teamed up with him more often than not in the last week, to their mutual appreciation. Today was the first time it actually got physical, and Stiles can tell from Danny's expression, from the tone of his voice, that the attraction is more than physical.

“You want to date him,” Stiles says. It comes out sounding accusatory, but that's only because Stiles is caught off guard.

Dating is, unsurprisingly, complicated when you're in a werewolf Pack. When they were younger, they all dated a fair amount, but in every relationship with a human there would inevitably come the point when they'd have to decide whether or not to tell them about werewolves and the Pack.

It sucked all around. Mostly because it often made them realize that they didn't actually trust that person enough to tell him or her. More relationships fell apart at that juncture, to the bemusement of the other person, than are worth remembering. But then there were the times when they decided, yes, they loved and trusted this person, and they were going to tell him or her. Sometimes it went...not terribly, but more often than not it went poorly.

As for dating werewolves, that brings its own complications, namely the fact that one or the other would have to leave their Pack and relocate if things get serious. Stiles knows he's not alone in never wanting to leave his Pack. Though, there was actually a time when Stiles thought they were going to lose Danny to a Pack out in Chicago, but in the end Danny broke it off with the werewolf in question and stayed with them.

The thing about all the complications is that, over the years, it's made them choosier about dating because they don't want to waste their own time, or anyone else. The fact is, with the exception of Scott and Allison, none of them have dated since coming back to Beacon Hills, or in the year leading up to their return when they were busy planning, plotting, and packing up to go.

It'd be a lot more depressing if they were alone in the suckfest.

“Yeah,” Danny admits. “I do. He's—he's great, and I really like him, and he knows about us already.” He exhales. “I think I want to try.”

Stiles gets to his feet and opens his arms. Danny rolls his eyes, but comes in for the hug. He stinks of come, even to Stiles' human nose, but Stiles suffers through it because Danny's hold is a little freaked out and panicked. Danny's gone the longest without dating than all of them because of how much it hurt to end that last relationship.

“This is good,” Stiles tells him. “Enjoy it, okay? It's supposed to be fun.”

“The timing sucks. With Lydia and Moon Pie...”

Stiles scoffs. “If you wait for the right time, you'll wait forever. And it's not like this guy doesn't have full disclosure about Moon Pie. Just relax and try.” Stiles pulls back and gives Danny a smacking kiss on the forehead. “Don't you have a video conference soon? Get out of here and take care of business. Real business, not sexy business. You already took care of that one.”

Danny leans in to nuzzle at his neck. “Thanks.”

Stiles is halfway through the second source when he gets the call he's been waiting for. Thomas is the Alpha of the entire state of Rhode Island. He's also the octogenarian who dominated the hell out of Derek about two years back.

“That's an interesting question,” Thomas says, when Stiles asks about using Alpha powers to rein in a rabid. “Theoretically, there's no reason it shouldn't work.” Stiles is in the middle of a celebratory fist pump when Thomas speaks again. “Of course, that's assuming the problem is with the wolf.”

Stiles hesitates. “What do you mean? Everything I've read--”

“Things are rarely so singularly occurring in our world.” Thomas' words comes slowly, thoughtfully. “A werewolf, for example, can be born, or it can be made. In the end, both are werewolves. But, if you assume that werewolves are only born, or only made, you're making a mistake. Possibly a deadly one.” Thomas lets that sink in, which it does in a manner that knocks the breath from Stiles' lungs. “I'm simply saying that you need to recognize the possibility exists that a rabid can result from the human side.”

Stiles hangs up on him. It's rude, and he'll have to remember to apologize at a later date, but he can't help it, because it's either hang up or have a full blown panic attack in his ear.

*

That night, Stiles sleeps in his own bed, even though Derek, Lydia and Allison are in Derek's room. The women look at him oddly, and Derek seems upset, but Stiles can't. Because he may have fucked up very, very badly, and if he goes in there he'd be wrapped around Derek, freaking out, and Derek would be comforting him, and that would just be like kicking Derek in the fucking face.

*

Stiles learned about young, teenage werewolves during his own high school years. He knows that, for as much as Scott struggled with control early on, especially during full contact lacrosse practices, he had his best control at school. Simply being there and doing something so intrinsically human gave his human side a stronger presence. After Jackson and Lydia changed, the same was true of them, as well.

The next day, Stiles desperately lays some flimsy, bullshit groundwork to get an excuse to pull Kyle Barnes out of a late afternoon class without it seeming odd to anyone. Stiles waits until five minutes before the class ends, then pops his head in and asks to speak to Kyle in the hall.

Kyle is a tall kid, gangly and awkward in a way that even Stiles never was, with an under bite and skin that Stiles remembers from random, brief glances in passing used to be riddled with acne.

Stiles holds the door open for him, making sure not to come into any sort of physical contact with the kid. Once they’re in the hall, Stiles leads them away from the door, to a space between two classrooms, which is out of view of any windows or doors through which someone might look. The cameras are still there, but they don’t pick up on sound, and all anyone will see is Kyle and Stiles standing a good eight feet apart and having a brief conversation.

Stiles rubs his hands together and grins, quirky and harmless. “So, Kyle. How long ago were you bitten?” Kyle stares at him blankly for a moment. Before the panic can wash across his expression, Stiles holds out his hands, calming. “Relax. It’s okay; I’m werewolf friendly. I just couldn’t help but notice, is all. I thought I’d check in. Make sure you’re okay. See if you need help.”

Kyle’s record shows that he’s intelligent. Not Lydia levels, but definitely above average by a few levels. He studies Stiles for a long moment, eyes narrowed, and Stiles can almost see the thoughts flying through his mind.

“Um, over break.” Jesus, the kid’s voice is cracking, vacillating between a high croak and deep bass. “Winter break, I mean.”

That’s what Stiles figured. The rogue from December, the one that killed James’ family, was an Alpha, and Mrs. Pullman mentioned Kyle had changed after the holidays. Stiles nods and rocks back on his heels. “Must’ve been terrifying. Getting attacked, realizing you were something else.”

Kyle blinks, and then smiles the creepiest, eeriest smile Stiles has ever seen on anyone or anything. It’s a slow stretch of his lips that bares his teeth, and it slides into his eyes like something dark and foreboding. And human. So very, very human that, at first, Stiles can’t parse it, can’t accept the fact that every shred of evidence points at Kyle’s wolf being under the surface and sleeping right now while that horrific smile is on his face, that cold dead look is in his eyes.

“I can smell prey now,” Kyle says. There’s such utter, impossible delight in his words that Stiles shivers. “I’m strong enough now.” Kyle sways the slightest bit towards Stiles. His eyes flicker from bland brown to electric green for a moment as his nostrils flare. The wolf goes back to sleep, then, just that fast, and Kyle gives Stiles a look of calculated curiosity. “Why don’t you smell like prey? Everyone else does.”

The only thing keeping Stiles from letting his reactions show on his face, or from bolting as far from Kyle as he can get, is self-preservation. When dealing with werewolves and psychopaths, he’s found that freaking out in response to their awful displays just gets their blood pumping.

“That’s a story for another time,” Stiles tells him steadily, just as the bell rings and the halls become mobbed with students.

*

Stiles not only closes, he locks, the door to his home office when he gets home from work.

The Pack has a back way into the Sheriff department’s computer systems, thanks to Danny’s company gaining the County's IT maintenance contract. Using it leaves no traces of access behind, which makes it preferable to using Allison’s log in for things Pack related.

Stiles combs through police reports going back over a year from both the Sheriff’s department and the State Police. He uses a few more hacks installed on the computer to track Kyle’s movements through the GPS in his cell phone.

By the time he’s done, three hours later, he has an electronic map on his screen, pinned all to hell with one disturbing occurrence after another, dating back well before Kyle Barnes was Turned, and browsers open to psychology texts. Allison is the one with the psych degree, but Stiles knows enough to recognize what the dozens of reports of mutilated and missing house pets in Kyle's neighborhood, and the random and frequent small fires in the same area, mean. Stiles is certain that if bed wetting was something that could be discovered electronically, he'd have evidence of that, too.

Stiles saves everything to a flash drive and calls Derek. He's at the workshop, and Stiles tells him to stay put.

Derek's setting another huge piece of sheet metal against a wall with five others when Stiles arrives. Derek takes one look at his face, drops the sheet metal carelessly, and starts across the room.

Stiles holds up a hand. “Don't.”

Derek's face creases in concern and he takes another step forward. “What is it?”

“I know who the rabid werewolf is.”

Derek freezes. Stiles doesn't say anything else. He doesn't have to. Derek—Derek really does know Stiles that well. Stiles watches the emotions that cross Derek's face, starting with surprised pleasure, easing into confusion, then falling into flat, hard anger.

“How long?”

Stiles swallows. “Since the day Lydia attacked Allison.”

Derek spins on his heel, stalks to his work bench, and grips the edges hard enough that Stiles can hear the four inch thick wood surface crack under his hands. “You knew. You knew, and you let us bring in outside wolves and a cadre of Hunters. You let us drive ourselves into the ground looking for it and caring for Lydia. You let it run loose to kill people if it wanted.”

Stiles could justify his actions, but those justifications are weak at best, arrogant at worst, and don't do a damn thing to change the truths Derek just spit at him.

Derek turns his head. His eyes are gleaming red, and his face is filled with so much resigned betrayal that Stiles' heart stutters in his chest. “You knew and you lied to me, over and over, didn't you?”

“I did,” Stiles says faintly. He lied every second of the day with his silence, with his words, with his scent. “Derek--”

“I don't want to hear it. I'll call Chris. We'll meet at your Dad's house at six. Bring everything you have.” He takes a breath. “For now, get out.”

“Derek--”

“Get the fuck out, Stiles. If you stay--” The wood gives way completely under his hands, a huge piece tearing away from the rest. Derek stares down at it, chest heaving. “Leave,” he says and throws it across the room.

*

Stiles gets to his dad's house five minutes after six. There are several more cars there than usual, and when he gets inside he finds out it's because the entire Pack has come. Judging by the expressions on their faces, Derek obviously told them the whole story. Dad and Chris, on the other hand, seem unaware that Stiles has known the identity of the rabid for weeks.

“Is that the information?” Chris asks, eying the flash drive in Stiles' hand. Stiles nods. “Good. Hopefully we can send a group out tonight to put it down.”

Stiles' jaw clamps shut. He exhales twice through clenched teeth, turns the flash drive over in his hand, and then walks very carefully to the dining room table. He sets the drive down in front of Chris, precise and deliberate. “Should be just like old times,” Stiles says quietly enough that his dad won't hear, and even to himself his voice is empty and devoid of emotion.

Before Chris even seems to process what Stiles has said, Stiles spins on his heel and walks out of the room. He drops his phone on the table by the door, then walks out of the house altogether.

Stiles is at the high school, sitting on the first row of bleachers by the lacrosse field two hours later when Scott shows up. He sits next to Stiles and doesn't say anything for a long while.

“He's not me, you know,” Scott says, quietly and to the field.

“No. He's not anything like you at all.” Stiles' laugh is choked off and bitter. “I thought he was, though. At first.”

Scott nods. “I know.” He turns his head and gives Stiles a bittersweet smile. “You always looked out for me. Tried to protect me.”

Stiles drops his head into his hands, struggles to find breath. “He's fourteen. He's younger than you were, than any of us were, Scott.”

At the time, Stiles barely understood how awful it was that they were teenagers and dealing with all the crap they dealt with. He knew it wasn't normal to be worrying all the time about being killed, or seeing your friends killed. He knew it wasn't a good thing that the Argents, all of whom were adults, were targeting and threatening teenagers. But he was a kid, then, and he thought he was mostly mature enough to handle it all.

Stiles looks back now, as an adult, as someone who teaches kids the same age he was then and has a responsibility for them as a result, and he gets sick to his stomach. He understands how unacceptable it was that they were in that position, knows that they were still just children for all that they felt so adult-like.

All Stiles wanted, all he was trying for, was to keep one more child from going through what they did.

“I thought—I kept thinking about us and the Argents—I couldn't just--”

“I know. You should have trusted Derek with it, though.”

Stiles trusts Derek with everything in him, but he also knows Derek. Just like Derek's instincts pushed him to fix Paul, they were pushing him to eliminate the threat of the rabid. Rabids are anathema to werewolves, and with Lydia pregnant, Derek wouldn't have had it in him to give Stiles the time needed to find justification in the research.

If Stiles had gone to him right away, it would have ended just as ugly, but in a different way.

Of course, in retrospect, Stiles wishes things had gone that different ugly route, because he managed to sucker punch Derek right in his massive trust issues, and that...that makes him want to die.

“What happened after I left?” Stiles asks.

“We looked at the flash drive. Your dad freaked pretty badly, and Allison refused to be involved.” Scott rubs the back of his neck. “Everyone else was just really unhappy.”

Stiles is sure they were. “Are they doing it now?”

“Yeah. Derek, Jackson, Danny, Chris, and a bunch of other wolves and Hunters.”

“Not you?”

Scott shakes his head. “Derek told me to find you. He was worried.”

Jesus Christ, Stiles feels like he's been fucking gutted. He slides off the bleacher seat onto the ground, legs pulled tight to his chest, and his head pressed to his knees. He wraps his arms around his legs and grabs each wrist with the opposite hand to try to control his shaking.

Scott's hand comes down on his back, and Stiles flinches badly. Scott pulls his hand back. “Okay, but you have to calm down.”

Scott says more, but Stiles can't hear him over the rush of blood in his head, the rasping sound of his gasping breaths, the frantic beating of his heart. He's starting to get dizzy when Scott manhandles him off the ground. Despite Stiles cringing away and, when Scott doesn't let go, struggling, Scott gets Stiles back on the bleacher set and pushes at him until he's leaning over his own lap with his head between his legs. He's got one hand at the back of Stiles' head and the other in the middle of his back, holding him there.

“--down, your heart sounds like it's about to beat right out of your chest!” Then, the hand at Stiles' back moves, and Scott's saying, “This isn't—what do you mean he got away? How the—yeah, it is. He's freaking out, I can't get him to—at the lacrosse—hello?”

Scott's hand returns to his back. Stiles flails out an arm and smacks at any part of Scott he can reach. “Get off.”

“Fine, but you need to breathe normally. If you don't, I'll cart you home and sedate you. I mean it.”

Stiles makes a noise that Scott apparently takes for agreement, and Scott's hands are finally gone. Stiles keeps his head between his legs but his breathing isn't getting any better. It's not getting worse, though, and that's probably why Scott doesn't follow through on his threat.

“Derek, thank god,” Scott says a few minutes later, voice lace with relief.

Stiles jerks upright on the seat. Derek is a few feet away. He's breathing heavily and he's looking Stiles dead in the eye. “Go home, Scott. I've got him.”

Stiles doesn't see Scott leave because he can't look away from Derek, whose face is a mess of twisted, conflicting emotions, the foremost of which is concern. Stiles starts shaking again, and it gets to be too much, seeing that on Derek's face, so he squeezes his eyes shut.

“You lied to me, and you put everyone in town in danger,” Derek says tightly. “What am I supposed to do here, Stiles? Tell me, because I don't know.”

Stiles wants to apologize, wants to say it over and over again, but his throat is locked tight, his breath is missing, and words are cheap and not enough in comparison to what he did. So he turns his head to the side, bares his throat, and sways, on the verge of passing out.

Stiles only knows that Derek's moved when his hand fists the front of Stiles' shirt. Then Derek's voice is in his ear, his mouth close enough that Stiles can feel his breath. “This can never happen again. Promise me, Stiles.” Derek sounds desperate and pleading. “Never again. I can't—not from you.” His hand tightens in Stiles' shirt. “So promise.”

It takes Stiles four tries to get his voice to work. “I promise,” he rasps. Derek makes a noise that sounds like it's ripped from the pit of his stomach and filled with everything aching and terrible. “On Dad's life, Derek, I swear.”

Derek's head falls to Stiles' shoulder and then he turns and presses his lips to the front of Stiles' throat, forgiveness and acceptance all at once. Stiles wants to reach out to him, but for the first time in years he's unsure of his welcome, so his hand falls back to his side with a twitch. Derek grabs for it and brings it to the side of his neck, a gesture that's so very new to them but which has become the shorthand for every complicated thing between them.

“Okay.” The word vibrates against Stiles' hand, along and into his flesh, and sinks under his skin. Derek brings Stiles' other hand to Derek's stomach and laces their fingers together. “Breathe with me.”

*

At home, the house is quiet and dark. Stiles isn't sure where everyone else is, and he doesn't have the energy to ask. He just takes Derek's hand and leads him through the house, to Derek's room, and closes the door.

Stiles undresses Derek with great and gentle care, because that's how you're supposed to treat things and people that are fragile and important to you. Stiles lost sight of that, was pulled under a miasma of memories that held more sway over him than he realized, but he remembers now. He can't go back in time and never have damaged Derek, as much as he would like to be able to, but maybe he can fix the unseen spiderweb of cracks he inflicted. Maybe he can heat the edges with the friction of touch and seal them whole again with his hands.

Derek lets Stiles remove his shoes and socks, his shirt, and his jeans, and leans into the long sweeps of Stiles' hands as he goes. He follows the pressure of Stiles touches until they're in bed, Derek sprawled on top of Stiles, as heavy and hard as he is simultaneously delicate and vulnerable.

Stiles drags his hands down the length of Derek's back, follows the path of his arms from the balls of his shoulders to the tips of his fingers. Stiles cradles Derek between his legs and locks him in place because for a while today, Stiles wasn't sure if Derek would let him close again.

Derek is accepting and receptive in his passiveness, and he breathes, open-mouthed and wet, into the skin right over Stiles' heart.

False dawn is shining through the window when Derek breaks the silence they've held for hours. He pushes himself up on his elbows and looks down at Stiles with clear eyes that are whole again. That doesn't mean that they weren't once, and Stiles isn't going to forget that. Not ever.

“You get in my face, Stiles. When you think I'm wrong, you argue and challenge and push me, even if everyone else is on my side.” Derek smiles, fleeting and soft. “You've always done it, and I used to ignore you, or tell you to shut up. ” He shifts his weight to one hand and fits his palm to the underside of Stiles' cheekbone, his fingers resting against Stiles' temple. “I think sometimes you forget that I've been listening to you for years, now.”

Stiles apparently healed a bit, too, in the last few hours, because he doesn't completely lose his shit over Derek basically telling him that he put them both through this for no damn reason. He does flinch and suck in a shaky breath, though.

Derek jostles his head lightly. “No. Pay attention. You gave me a promise earlier. I'm giving you one now: I'll always listen.”

It's a nice sentiment, but entirely impractical and impossible to deliver on. “That's not a promise you can keep, Derek.”

“Yes, it is.” His voice gets self-deprecating and wry. “You're not the only one that gets stuck back then, Stiles. Sometimes I forget that you trust me now. You don't argue me on every single thing anymore; you save it for important things.”

Stiles thinks about Paul, and how he left the choice of what to do in Derek's hands even if it wasn't one he would have made, even though he didn't actually think it was the best choice given the situation. With a start, Stiles realizes that Derek sought his opinion before he did it, gave Stiles a chance to talk him around in case it was something that would be more than just inconvenient.

“Exactly.” Derek says it like it's settled, like that's that.

Stiles thinks maybe that's the case. He takes promises seriously, especially ones to Derek, and the one he made on the lacrosse field will be burned into his being for how badly Derek needed it from him. And Derek...in all the years Stiles has known him, Derek has made exactly two promises, both of which he kept, and refused to make dozens of others.

Nothing like this will ever happen again, because neither of them will let it.

Derek settles on his chest again and Stiles resumes the endless stroking of his hands.

Later, when real dawn breaks, Derek tells him about how Kyle Barnes spooked when they were closing in on his house, how he managed to run and elude the entire group of them, and about Lydia and Danny holing up at Danny's with the massive amount of data Stiles collected on Kyle and his pre- and post-werewolf habits.

“Are you going to be okay with how we're handling Barnes?” Derek asks.

“I don't think I could ever be okay with killing a fourteen year old kid, but I know it has to be done.”

Derek sighs a weary, “Me too,” against his chest, and then slips out of bed to open the door because the Pack is on their way.

Chapter Text

=June=

Kyle has been in the wind since the night he escaped the hunting party. After the first three days, his parents called in a missing person's report. Allison made sure to thoroughly search his room and found enough evidence to implicate him in the grisly animal mutilations and area fires. The Pack didn't have to manufacture any of it, though they were ready to do so if needed, and Kyle's currently wanted by the authorities as a person of interest.

“Lydia, how is it we don't have anything?” Derek asks at the latest Pack meeting.

Lydia rubs her lower back and glowers; Scott shifts next to her and brushes her hands away to take over. “He spooked, Derek. Which means he's acting outside of his previous parameters, both before and after he was Turned. I can't predict what I don't know.”

“We know he's still in the area.” Jackson looks annoyed; he's been getting a lot of crap about this as Mayor, as has Allison as Sheriff. “We keep catching hints of him.”

“I know. I'm mapping out every fresh scent trail everyone finds and follows, but I need more data to define probable paths and actions.” Lydia looks at Derek. “I think we need to extend the search area further outside of the town limits. The preliminary conclusions I've drawn indicate we're missing large portions of each scent trail.”

“Because he's going deeper into the woods,” Derek finishes. He nods. “Do it. Hopefully it'll get us something more to work with.” He looks at Danny. “Do we need to put more search groups in play?”

Danny shakes his head. “Not right now. We'll give two of them new grids and see what we get.”

Stiles leans around Scott to look at Danny. “Hey, you forgot to to bump me up in the rotation now that I'm off for the summer.”

“Sorry.” Danny doesn't look sorry. He's also subtly angling his head in Derek's direction. “I'll get on that.”

Stiles manfully does not roll his eyes at that fact that Derek is sidelining him. It's not entirely unexpected that Derek's still restricting Stiles' participation to town during the daylight only.

Derek wraps the meeting up after talking through the new search grids in detail with Danny and Lydia, and then the Pack scatters. Both Jackson and Allison are on search detail; Danny and Lydia are going to be mining the data again at Danny's; and Scott has a shift in the ER.

“I get being cautious,” Stiles tells Derek later. “But at least put me on the roster to fill out a team when we're in a crunch, even if it's after sundown.”

Stiles is sprawled on Derek's bed with his head resting on Derek's thigh. Stiles' laptop is open and sitting on his own abdomen, situated so that Derek, who has his back to the headboard, can see. Stiles put on a movie a while ago, but he doesn't think either of them have been paying all that much attention.

“I mean, Allison's out there in the thick of it,” Stiles continues. “I shouldn't have more field restrictions than Allison.” When Derek doesn't say anything, Stiles smacks at his ribs. “Are you paying attention?”

Derek captures Stiles' hand in one of his own. “Yes.”

At the extended silence, Stiles rolls his eyes. “And? So? Whatever? Give me something, here.”

“Allison's out there because her job makes it necessary. I'd have her on the same restrictions otherwise.”

Stiles doesn't doubt that. Stiles and Allison might be smart, clever and deadly in their own rights, but they are decidedly human. Still, there are other considerations. “We've got non-Pack werewolves here, Derek. I don't want word getting around that your human Second is getting coddled.”

“I won't take chances with your life.” Derek traces the lines on Stiles' palm with his thumb. “Serial killers are smart—Barnes is smart—and he's got physical capabilities that you don't.” Before Stiles can tear that last bit of reasoning to pieces by reminding Derek of how many werewolves, both Beta and Alpha, Stiles has handled despite the strength gap, Derek says, “I know you can hold your own, Stiles. I just don't want you to have to.”

Derek slides down the headboard until he's lying on the bed. Stiles is tucked under his arm now, head pillowed on Derek's chest. Derek slides a hand, heavy and slow, across the front of Stiles' throat to cup the side of his neck.

Stiles leans into the touch and sighs. “You don't play fair anymore.”

“Neither one of us has ever played fair,” Derek says, fond, indulgent and amused all at once.

Stiles thinks about the very early days, and how they each somehow managed, even in the midst of seething dislike, to get the other to do things he didn't really want to do. They threatened, they lied, they guilted, and they pushed just the right (or wrong) buttons, and none of it was what anyone would call clean fighting.

And once they finally became more than tentative, grudging allies, they turned those same skills away from one another, focused them outwardly from the Pack, because they too often found themselves outgunned and outmanned. It's how their tiny Pack not only survived but thrived against odds that were stacked heavily against them.

“No.” Stiles grins and tucks his chin down to trap Derek's hand. “We really haven't.”

“I won't take chances with your life,” Derek says again. “But you have a point. Limited evening searches not more than five miles outside of town, and one of ours has to be with you.”

Stiles makes a sound of agreement, then closes the laptop and sets it aside, careful not to dislodge Derek's hand. He settles into a more comfortable position and closes his eyes. Under his head, Derek's breathing falls into the slow, steady rhythm of pre-sleep, and Stiles feels himself sinking there with him.

*

The following day, Stiles is antsy and bored. There's always an adjustment period that comes with having his days, and evenings, free of school and grading once summer comes. Clearly he isn't there yet. He's wandering around the house mindlessly for a third time when Derek hooks a hand in the back waistband of his jeans and drags him down the hall to Moon Pie's new room.

Lydia really was unhappy about Scott and Allison screwing around in the future nursery, so Stiles agreed to some juggling: he moved his home office to the room they defiled, and Moon Pie's nursery is now going to be in the former office space.

Stiles and Derek have been making inroads into the room in the last ten days, having painted it, put up a border, torn up the carpeting, and refinished the floor. Currently, there are stacks of boxes in the room, all pieces of furniture that need to be assembled. They're high quality because it's Lydia they're talking about, but apparently even expensive as hell cribs and changing tables don't come pre-assembled.

Derek drops a toolbox on the floor and they get to work. Stiles talks to fill the silence, bragging about how they're ahead of the curve, since the only other house with a finished nursery is Jackson's, and that's because he paid someone to come in and do it.

They're in the middle of screwing in the last piece of the crib when Stiles catches sight of the quiet smile on Derek's face. Moon Pie's imminent arrival has been overshadowed a lot by a recent events, but it's definitely a joyful thing, something that, back in the beginning, none of them would have imagined for themselves, each other, or the Pack.

The thing is though, Moon Pie is so much more than just a baby, just an event. She signifies the natural expansion of a healthy, stable Pack.

There have been others who've come through their small Pack over the years, in the aftermath of Erica, Boyd and Isaac. None of them stayed, though. A big reason for that is how tight knit the Pack is. It's not easy for someone to find room within it when they don't have the shared history, or the decades long friendships that pre-date the Pack altogether.

Honestly, sometimes they've actively closed ranks against newcomers because they didn't want to make room. It wasn't the smartest choice, and at times it spoke to an unhealthy codependency, or an overwrought insularity, but Stiles doesn't think they can be blamed for that. Not after all they've been through, and all they've lost.

But Moon Pie—she's the start of something else. Something that will take them outside of their comfortable and impenetrable circle. It's time for that, and they're ready for that. They've come home and they've made themselves safer than ever before, as safe as a Pack of werewolves can be in this world. They can breathe in ways they've never been able to in the past, and they know and are comfortable with themselves now.

The past is always there, sure, and it will always rear its head and bite them on the asses when they least expect it, but it doesn't define them anymore. It doesn't hold any of them back, not even Derek, not for long.

Stiles startles when Derek flicks his ear. The last piece is attached to the crib and Stiles is still holding it in place. Derek has moved closer and is looking down at him with an arched brow.

Stiles blinks. “What?”

“You went quiet.” Derek strokes Stiles' temple with two fingers. “What's on your mind?”

“Nothing—no, a lot.” He studies the relaxed set of Derek's features, the easy peace he wears readily now, and the aura of content that surrounds him if you know where to look. “I was just thinking that things are good.” He says it slowly and with surety, and then, because the words feel true and right on his tongue, he says it again. “They're good.”

Derek tilts his head and looks around the room at the crib, the rocking chair, and the changing table; the pastel walls and the custom made border of frolicking cartoon wolves near the ceiling; the bags of things Stiles has already bought for a baby that hasn't even been born yet. His eyes come back to Stiles and he nods. “Yeah. They are.”

Later, after dinner, Derek takes Stiles into his room and pulls out the mysterious sketchbook. He holds it out to Stiles like an offering, head averted and eyes hidden. Stiles leans against the headboard and opens it.

“Oh,” he says, not when he sees what's inside, but when he realizes what it is.

Derek hasn't done anything with the Hale property since the house came down. Stiles sort of expected that he would leave it as is, let the wilderness reclaim the clearing where it once stood, because there's no chance in hell that Derek would ever rebuild on the site.

Given enough time and thought, Stiles would have anticipated something like what he's looking at, though; Derek was unsentimental back in the day as a matter of self-protection rather than by nature.

The figures look like stick figures, but Stiles reads the measurements scribbled in the margins and knows that they'll be life sized and made of thick ropes of metal that Derek will, in all likelihood, braid together and then twist into shape with his bare hands. Each figure has its own page, and each is different in appearance, distinguished by height, size and shape, some with jointed chains representing long hair. Every one of them seems to be caught mid-motion in a unique action.

The next to last page is a sketch of the Hale House clearing, done to scale, showing the planned placement of the figures. The last page is the same thing, but after some time has passed. And here, here is where Derek will let nature creep in, will let wildflowers twine around legs, ivy crawl up torsos, trees rise up in the spaces in between representations of his family, and it would be depressing and heart wrenching, except for how the encroachment of nature will tie all of the figures together, connect them in a Gordian knot of root systems, branches, and vines; except for how they won't be swallowed up by the wilderness and will instead be embraced by it, welcomed by it, protected by it.

Stiles closes the book carefully, leans over Derek to return it to the drawer of the bedside table, and sits back. Derek is watching him now, all hunched shoulders and aching vulnerability. Stiles slides his hand against Derek's, lines them up so that their palms are touching; he can feel the steady beat of Derek's pulse against the base of his thumb.

“It's incredible,” Stiles says. He laces their fingers together. “You're incredible.”

Derek's hand clenches around Stiles', and his pulse pounds against Stiles' unsteadily.

*

Later in the week, Danny and Paul, the Beta from Pasadena, drop Stiles off at The Den after a morning search grid assignment. Derek is in his favorite springless chair, legs stretched out in front of him, arms crossed at his chest, and eyes closed. Stiles would think he was sleeping except there are three people in the store and Derek doesn't sleep in front of strangers. Not unless he's been injured or drugged.

The patrons seem really confused about what to do in a mini-gallery when the artist/proprietor is apparently sleeping. Stiles hears a whisper or two about art installations and rolls his eyes. He heads right for Derek, whose lips curl at the corners at his approach. Stiles pushes at Derek's leaden body to make room for himself on the chair.

After a few moments of fruitless pushing, Derek pulls Stiles down on his lap. It's not very comfortable because Derek's legs are inclined in a gentle slope due to the way he's slumped in the chair, and Derek has to actually hold Stiles in place with an arm around his waist to keep him from sliding to the floor.

Stiles elbows Derek. “No, I am not lap sitting.” He tries to push himself to his feet but Derek's arm tightens. “Dude, I'm not four years old!”

Derek makes a put-upon sound and rearranges them so that they're both angled a bit sideways, each against one chair arm, Derek's left leg and Stiles' right tangled up.

The patrons watch them with avid interest until Derek glares menacingly at them, at which point they turn away quickly. Stiles snorts and then tells Derek about the latest batch of tiny novelty onesies he bought for Moon Pie and the awesome series of plush microbes he got. Stiles has a feeling that Lydia will appreciate them.

“The fat cell one totally looks like those things from Doctor Who,” Stiles says, excited. Derek's eyebrows lift in an expression of flat dispassion. “Don't front, I know you thought they were adorable. It's okay, I got you one, too.”

Stiles' phone rings, then. It's Evelyn Edwards and she's not happy. Stiles is having a hard time figuring out why, exactly, because taking the long and winding path to the point isn't a trait she reserves just for negotiations. Stiles has learned, in the last few weeks, that Evelyn doesn't just set the stage when telling you something, she builds the entire freaking world.

Stiles is listening with half an ear, waiting for the moment when she gets to the point, when one of the customers calls out to Derek.

“How much is this?”

Derek stares blankly at the guy. “It's not for sale.”

For the next ten minutes, Stiles half-listens to both Evelyn—he thinks the issue is Jackson, given how often, and the tone in which, she she says his name—and the exchange between the customer and Derek—the guy really thinks Derek can be persuaded to sell the thing on the counter.

When the customer pulls out his phone and turns away for a minute, Stiles tucks his own phone away from his mouth, looks at Derek, and gestures at the counter. To Stiles, it looks like two squares of inch-thick steel plate that have been stacked crookedly. The same kind of plates that Derek buys pretty regularly to use in his work. “Is that even anything?”

Derek shakes his head, his expression both baffled and angry. “Just some material I picked up earlier.” Stiles leans forward and tries to muffle his laughter in Derek's shoulder. Derek jabs him in the side. “It's not funny!”

Stiles thumps Derek on the chest while trying to only subtly flail from laughter. “No, it is, Derek, it is.”

Stiles tunes in momentarily to Evelyn, who is definitely unhappy with Jackson and will probably get to why in a year or so, and continues laughing.

Then the customer calls out, “I'll give you ten thousand for it,” and Stiles' laughter comes to a sudden halt.

He lifts his head from Derek's shoulder and they stare at one another, Stiles with wide-eyed shock and Derek with an expression that says he wonders if everyone in the world is doing a bunch of drugs. Or maybe questions why Derek himself doesn't do a whole bunch of drugs. Then Derek's lip stretch in what Stiles knows to be a parody of a real smile, but which most others assume is genuine.

“Fifteen,” he counters in the most pleasant voice Stiles has ever heard him use when in the gallery.

The customer smirks. “Done.”

Stiles gapes at Derek's sheer gall. Because, holy god, those plates cost a couple of hundred dollars each, that's all, and Derek has parlayed stacking two of them on top of one another into a small fortune.

Sometimes Stiles really gets why Derek is filled with so much hate for these people.

“--listening, Stiles?”

Crap. Stiles fumbles his phone back into place. “I am, Evelyn.” He gives an overdone sigh and says, “Jackson.”

“Exactly!”

Derek rolls his eyes at Stiles and the phone, then gets up to put the sale through, his hand trailing across the back of Stiles' neck. By the time Derek's done bilking a stranger out of a whole lot of money, Stiles is finished on the phone. He taps it against his chin, frowning.

“What?” Derek asks. He sits with Stiles again, pulling one of Stiles legs into his lap this time.

“Jackson's being a complete douche to Evelyn. Like, we're talking high school douchebaggery levels.”

Jackson has outgrown his high school personality for the most part, only bringing it out at times when it might come in handy—it's actually been very useful for him as a politician, just like it was as a businessman in Pasadena. But the thing is, Jackson never really outgrew school yard pigtail pulling, so the other time his former dickery comes out to play is when he's really into someone.

Derek's mouth pinches slightly. “She reeks of arousal around him.”

Well. That's a potential headache, no doubt about it, especially if things get serious.

“So, best case scenario, there's a chance that Evelyn might end up asking to join the Pack at some point in the future. I guess we need to figure out how we're going to handle that, just in case.” Derek looks past Stiles, expression stoic. Stiles kicks out at him, drawing his attention. “Stop that, right now. Jackson isn't going anywhere; even if we wanted to, we couldn't get rid of him.”

Derek's expression holds for a few seconds, then relaxes.

The two remaining customers in the gallery move to the door. When they open it, Derek's nostrils flare and he tenses before throwing himself out of the chair at a run and bolting through it. Stiles scrambles to his feet in his wake and pushes the frozen customers out of the door, throwing the latch behind them.

Stiles calls Lydia as he heads for the back room. “Derek smelled Kyle nearby. Get a group over here.”

“On it,” Lydia says immediately. “You're armed, right?”

“Yeah, and I'm shutting myself in the back room as we speak.”

“Good. Stay there until you hear from one of us.”

Stiles sits on the table, takes out both his gun and the packets of aconite solution he's carrying, and sets them on either side of his thighs.

An hour later, Derek returns. He looks frustrated and pissed. “He went right for the food festival on Euclid and I lost him.” He steps between Stiles' legs, hands settling hard on the outsides of his thighs, and glares down at him. “I'm getting really tired of this.”

Stiles nods. “I know.” He curls his hands around Derek's straining forearms, thumbs circling gently; Derek closes his eyes and drops his head to Stiles' shoulder. Stiles scratches Derek lightly with his thumbnails and turns his face into Derek's hair.

Derek inhales Stiles' scent almost compulsively, moves his hands to the table to dig his claws into the wood, and leans most of his weight on Stiles.

A few minutes later, Derek cocks his head at the door and his face twists in disbelief. “Jackson and Evelyn are here.”

Lydia is an evil mastermind and she's long since wanted Jackson to just be happy, so Stiles is not at all surprised that she's tossed them together for this. Actually, given just how much Evelyn had to complain about, Stiles thinks Lydia's been doing it for a while now.

“Come on, we need to go.”

When Derek lifts his head, his lips drag across the side of Stiles' neck, rough and dry. “Yeah, let's go.” He pauses. “Your father and Chris were part of the group Lydia sent over. They're out there, too.”

They go into the gallery, where Dad, Chris, Jackson and Evelyn are waiting. Dad's face is lined with tension. They've been doing their best to keep Dad out of searches or anything that might bring him into contact with Barnes, or get him further entangled with either the Hunters or the werewolves. This is the first time Dad's been called on like this, and Stiles knows it only happened because he was having lunch with Chris a few blocks over when Lydia called Chris.

Stiles goes over to him and hugs him. “Hey Dad, how's it going? You doing all right?”

Dad crushes Stiles to his chest. “Yeah, kiddo, I'm good.” He pulls back. “I'm going home with you for a bit.” He smiles, and Stiles gives him an A+ for effort, but a C- for execution. “Just to spend some time with my second favorite son.”

“Your words hurt, Dad.” Stiles holds a hand to his chest and grins. “Right here, they hurt.”

They split up for the drive home: Dad and Chris take Chris' latest SUV monstrosity, while Stiles and the werewolves take Derek's car. Derek gives Jackson the keys and pulls Stiles into the backseat with him.

*

The trip home is like reliving sophomore year of high school, what with the way Jackson's acting like he still really believes he's everyone's type. Evelyn isn't just falling down in awe of Jackson's face and body, though. No, she rips into him with scathing rejoinders that actually have Stiles squirming in embarrassment on Jackson's behalf, but which make Jackson smirk cockily.

When Derek leans forward to threaten their spinal columns if they don't shut the fuck up, the trip down memory lane is full and complete. At least Stiles isn't the one being threatened with bodily injury anymore. No, now Stiles is the one confined in a too-small back seat with a werewolf who is nearly vibrating with barely constrained frustration.

Unfortunately, things go from bad to worse. They're approaching the house when Derek goes freezes and goes on alert. His face is tipped towards the open window next to him, nostrils flaring, but his eyes, narrowed and intent, are directed towards the front windshield.

When Jackson growls from up front, Stiles reaches behind himself to move his t-shirt out of the way so that he can get to his gun quickly if need be. “What? What's going on?”

“I can smell Barnes,” Derek says.

“Lydia's out front and something's wrong,” Jackson says at the same time.

Stiles fumbles his phone out while Jackson slows the car to a crawl. Derek cocks his head, probably listening to something Lydia is saying. Stiles calls his dad. “Stay behind us and don't stop or get out unless we do.” He hangs up before Dad can say anything.

The car moves at a snail's pace for a few dozen more feet, then Jackson accelerates to the house and turns in the driveway.

Stiles scrambles out of the car. Jackson curses and throws open his door to get out before Stiles does, and Derek doesn't bother using the door on his side, just slides across the seat and follows after Stiles.

Lydia is standing to the side of the driveway, still in a way that only predators can be, and her eyes are savage. “Back porch,” she says, looking from Derek to Stiles. Her voice is sharp and clear. “Done before he showed up at the gallery. He didn't go inside.”

Derek nods and starts for the side gate that will take them around the back of the house. Dad and Chris are bringing up the rear and Stiles doesn't need preternatural senses to hear Dad asking someone to tell him what the hell is going on, or Lydia hushing him.

Everything about this is bringing a sick, cold feeling to Stiles' gut, which magnifies when Derek jerks to a stop and goes rigid. Stiles walks around him, into the yard, and looks in the direction Derek's staring. There's something on the back porch. Something big. Stiles edges closer, feet dragging, and comes to a stop once he realizes what it is.

Or, what they are. A small doe. A mountain lion. Both are dead and both have been...Stiles isn't sure exactly what all's been done to them, but he knows it wasn't good. Just his cursory view shows that the carcasses have been torn up, gutted and burned. That's as close as Stiles will examine, for the sake of his mental health.

Evelyn moves to Stiles' side, choking on every inhalation. “He—there's--”

Stiles sighs. “I know.”

There's semen on both carcasses, just like there was on the animals at the most recent dump sites found before Kyle fell off the radar.

“I've never seen anything like this before.”

The admission is both shaking and shamed. Stiles has learned, in the last few weeks, that the Edwards Pack is even more sheltered than he realized at first. Stiles wants to tell her that she should feel grateful that she's never come across this kind of thing, that he would give limbs to have had his and the others' lives not include so damn much of this.

Stiles looks at Derek, who's moved further into the yard and is scowling with fury and disgust. Wolves kill to protect or for sustenance and, in essence, the wolves in werewolves are the same, albeit informed by the human side. The sexual component that's cropped up with Kyle is twistedly human, something the wolf parts don't understand and the human parts are sickened by.

Derek stalks to Stiles, displacing Evelyn with just his intent. In Stiles' periphery, he sees Jackson and Lydia running interference to keep Dad and Chris from coming over just yet.

“Lydia!” Derek barks. “Call Allison. We need this officially reported.”

“Derek.” Stiles licks his lips, turns himself so that he's not looking at the porch dead on. “Derek, what the fuck is this?”

Derek shrugs and shakes his head at the same time. Stiles is a little shocked that he can make either movement, given the way his muscles are tight and stiff in reaction to this horror show. “I'm not sure. It—it reads like a challenge. Sort of.”

“What? That doesn't make any sense. What kind of call out is--” Stiles stops talking, mouth hanging open, and snaps his head around to look at the porch again. A deer and a cougar, the same two animals Derek killed that night Stiles ran with him.

A muscle in Derek's jaw ticks. “Yeah.”

Stiles scrubs his face with his hands. Derek didn't bother burying the kills he made that night in the woods because there wasn't a need to. He killed as a wolf—granted, a really large wolf—and nothing about them would have seemed suspicious to any humans who might stumble upon them.

A werewolf, on the other hand, would recognize another werewolf kill, not just by the slight differences that result from the size differential between regular wolves and Alpha werewolf forms, but by scent. Kyle must have returned to the original bone yard site once they stopped patrolling it and found those kills nearby.

“You said he didn't see you as prey,” Derek says.

Stiles nods. “Yeah. I stared him down, controlled my reactions, the usual.” He pauses, eyes closing briefly, as a thought occurs to him. “Shit. No, he said I didn't smell like prey.” One day, they'll all have enough experience to not miss any important or significant detail. They'll never have to wait for hindsight to clarify something. “It's because I smell like Pack. That's what he meant. I reek of werewolves.”

“Stiles.” Derek shakes his head, eyes gleaming red. “You reek of me.” He steps forward, chest heaving as he inhales. “Overwhelmingly.

Stiles doesn't doubt that. Not with the fact that he and Derek live with each other, practically on top of one another most of the time. Not with the way Derek scent marks him almost constantly. He's sure that Derek reeks just as overwhelmingly of him, too.

“We need to talk to Allison,” Stiles says. “I think that it doesn't read exactly as a challenge because it's not just wolf stuff at the heart of it. It's serial killer stuff.”

Derek narrows his eyes thoughtfully, then nods sharply, just once. “Okay.”

They fall silent, and the werewolves finally let Dad and Chris move further into the yard. Dad goes pale when he sees the carcasses on the porch. Chris just looks grim.

Dad runs a shaking hand through his hair. “Stiles, this is—what--” He takes a breath, marshals himself, and then slings a barrage of questions at Stiles and Derek that he doesn't give them a chance to answer. Chris steps up to him and puts a hand on his shoulder; Stiles pretends he doesn't see the way Chris' thumb is rubbing Dad's neck.

Dad is just winding down and probably about to demand answers when Allison arrives with two squad cars of deputies. Her eyes widen when she takes in the scene, and she directs her deputies to secure the area, then continues right to Stiles and Derek.

“Dad, we have to talk to Allison, okay?” Stiles says. “Just, hold it for now. Please.”

“Fine.” Dad's lips are white with pressure and tension. “You're coming to my house after this. No arguments.”

Stiles exchanges a look with Derek, who doesn't protest even though he doesn't look all that enthused. “Yeah, we'll go there. Give us a minute, though.”

Derek runs Allison through their thoughts, leaving out the personal significance of the cougar and doe. She bites her lip and frowns. “Barnes is the type of serial killer who kills to feel powerful. The more challenging the kill, the bigger the rush.” She grimaces apologetically. “If he considers Derek a predator, not prey, then Derek presents a serious challenge, a phenomenal rush.”

Stiles blows out a breath. “Derek's not just a predator—he's like the predator's predator. That's a whole lot of challenge for a fourteen year old.”

Allison arches a brow. “You're looking at it rationally, Stiles, and he's not rational. Not in a way we can relate to from a human or werewolf perspective.”

Well. There is that, yeah. Understanding werewolves is pretty much second nature to Stiles after so long, even the ones who aren't anywhere near the vicinity of sane. Serial killers? Not so much.

“Wrap this up and finish your shift,” Derek tells Allison. “We're having a Pack meeting at Stiles' dad's house. Danny will fill you in after.”

Allison nods, then steps in for a hug. Derek tucks his face into the side of her neck and breathes in. Stiles can see a portion of Derek's tension ease away at the closeness of a Pack member. Derek kisses her forehead when they pull apart. Stiles hugs her, too, before she moves away to talk to her deputies and pass on their “statement.”

Then Derek strides out of the yard. Stiles follows behind, gesturing at Jackson and Lydia to go with Dad and Chris, and telling Evelyn to head back to the werewolf houses.

*

Stiles drives because Derek is in no shape to do so without putting the fear of death into Stiles. After just two blocks, Stiles makes a turn that will take them the long way to Dad's house, and sets a hand on his thigh. Derek covers it, grip strong in a way that's desperate.

“You have to chill, just a little bit,” Stiles says.

Derek's head whips around. Stiles chances a quick look and finds a glare that could eviscerate someone from a distance.

“You have to. We need to talk about what Kyle did--”

Derek snarls.

“--using our words, because we don't want to go in there and look weak in front of Chris Argent, okay?”

That gets through to Derek and he takes several deep breaths. “He came to our house, Stiles.”

“I know.”

“He made a sick macabre mockery of--” Derek breaks off; he's breathing through his teeth.

“I know,” Stiles says again.

Derek's early days as Alpha aren't something any of them like to dwell on. He had his head up his ass in the beginning and made a lot of dumb choices, or took actions without being prepared or able to see them through meaningfully. Which isn't to say that the rest of them were all that better—because they weren't at all—but they also weren't the ones proclaiming their Alpha status like that was all it took to be a leader at all, much less a good one.

Derek got over that though, and he grew into the kind of Alpha who knows how to look out for his Pack, and does. Stiles can't remember the last time he doubted that Derek would come through for any and all of them, no matter what it took, or when he wondered whether Derek had their best interests at heart. It's something all of them, broken and cracked long before they even met Derek, needed.

Stiles has also lost count of the number of times Derek has protected him in some way, or gone out of his way to give Stiles what he needed even when it wasn't what Stiles thought he wanted. But that night in the woods, when Stiles ran with Derek in his Alpha form, that was the first time that the wolf in Derek got to protect and provide outside of a situation of immediate danger.

Derek hunted a stag and shared the meat; he took down a cougar that came too close and showed too much interest in them and was a potential threat to Stiles. As an Alpha, protecting and providing are the two most important things you can do for your Pack.

What Kyle Barnes did, on the other hand, is neither of those things. He killed to make a statement, to offer a challenge to Derek. Worse, he desecrated the carcasses in ways that would never even occur to a wolf, turning a demonstration of natural instinct into something twisted and perverted. And he did it right on Derek's doorstep.

Stiles takes another long-route turn. Beside him, in gradual increments, Derek's breathing evens out and calms down. Stiles waits a few minutes after he can no longer actually hear Derek seething, then says, “We need a plan.”

“We already have a plan.” Derek's voice isn't gentle, but there's something in his tone that's reminiscent of pulling a punch.

Stiles' jaw clenches. Bait. The Pack has a long history of baiting those after them. It's a proactive step, one that gives them some semblance of control over a situation, and it's been successful for them more often than not.

If Stiles wasn't driving right this second, he'd close his eyes and cover his face with his hands. He settles for clamping down on Derek's thigh hard enough that it pulls a minute wince from Derek.

Derek's hold on Stiles' hand gentles, his fingers stroking the back of Stiles' hand, his tension-white knuckles, the fragile bones at the jut of his wrist. “I can take him. He's new, weak.”

Stiles pulls the car over, pressing down on the break with a too-hard foot, and then reaches across himself awkwardly to put the car into park with his left hand. He stares through the windshield at the dark street stretching in front of them. “He doesn't have to be strong. Just smart. Or lucky.”

Stiles isn't sure what Derek hears in his voice. Whatever it is, it prompts Derek to undo both of their seat belts with his free hand, then tug at Stiles and pull him over the console between them until he's on Derek's lap. Stiles is too suddenly tight with anxiety to complain about the lap sitting, especially when Derek brackets Stiles' face with his hands, his thumbs meeting just under Stiles' mouth.

“Stiles,” Derek says. That's all. Just his name as an entire sentence, with no leading inflection. Just Stiles' name, like it's a long known fact, a whole truth.

Stiles' hands are shaking when he lifts them and cups both sides of Derek's neck, and his eyes are squeezed shut when he touches his forehead to Derek's. He wants nothing more than to keep Derek trapped here, safe and whole. It's ridiculous, Stiles knows. Their life doesn't lend itself to guarantees of safety, and they've had to send each other into the shit more than once. This shouldn't be different than any other time.

It can't be different—can never be different—than any other time.

Stiles sucks in a stuttering breath that he forces steady on the exhale. He relaxes his fingers, one by one, until they're no longer digging into Derek's neck but are resting there easily. They're shaking slightly but Stiles can't help that.

Derek brushes his thumbs against the skin under Stiles' mouth, catching on the underside of his lower lip. “You want me to drive?”

Stiles rolls his forehead against Derek's, the closest he can get to a negative head shake when he refuses to lean back just yet. “I'll do it. Just—I need a minute.”

*

Everyone else has beaten them to Dad's house. Stiles thinks he and Derek made it there with about ten seconds to spare until a barrage of worried phone calls and texts would have started. The Pack glare at them when they come in, annoyed relief in their expressions, and Stiles offers a grimace of apology.

Dad looks aggravated beyond belief. Stiles blinks at that, then takes a closer look around the room. Oh. All of the Pack, except for Allison, are here, and their postures and reserve are reminiscent of the family dinners. They've probably sat here silently waiting for their Alpha and Second to arrive, while Dad was desperate for information.

“What the hell was that?” Dad says. Actually, he yells it. Loudly. “Was that a threat? A warning? Is Barnes going to come after you now, Stiles?”

Stiles is about to explain the importance of what Kyle left on the porch when Chris opens his mouth and proves that, despite a lifetime of experience with werewolves and collections of bestiaries, he knows nothing. “Barnes is courting Stiles.”

The Pack flat out gape incredulously at Chris, shocked silent at the incredible stupidity of that statement.

Dad goes wide eyed, then pales alarmingly and looks like he wants to throw up. “Courting?”

“He’s not courting me.” Stiles scowls at Chris for good measure.

“Then what is he doing?” Dad demands to know.

Stiles looks to Derek because it's for him to explain.

Derek makes a face back at him, mouth twisting, and sighs. “It's not about Stiles, it's about me.” Jackson and Lydia had to have overheard them at the house, so they're expressionless. Danny and Scott, though, look at Derek with the same curiosity that's on Dad and Chris' faces. “Barnes thinks I'm a challenging kill; this was him declaring his intent.”

Derek lets that hang in the air. Danny and Scott's expressions flatten out to match Lydia and Jackson's. Dad looks relieved as hell, and slightly guilty for feeling relieved.

Chris, on the other hand, has a bright interest in his gaze that Stiles doesn't like at all. “What's the significance of how he chose to do it?”

That’s not Chris’ business, or Dad’s, and the Pack already knows how Alphas prove themselves to their Packs. What even the Pack doesn't need to know is why Kyle chose those particular animals.

Derek wouldn't be comfortable with it, and Stiles isn't either. It's theirs, and no one else's, that night in the woods, that night when Derek demonstrated his ability and willingness to provide for and protect Stiles, in a manner that was both practical and symbolic.

Derek and Stiles exchange a look, then stare blankly at Chris, who sighs when he figures out he's not getting an answer.

“The question is what are you--” Dad starts to say, then cuts off abruptly, realization making his face fall. “You're going to be bait, Derek?”

The Pack all look between Stiles and Derek. Stiles meets Derek's eyes and gives him a faint, sad smile. “Yeah,” Stiles says, not looking away. “He's going to be bait.”

Dad sighs. “Of course. What's the plan, then?”

Derek shrugs. “We'll hold a full Pack meeting tomorrow to decide.”

Dad rubs a weary hand down his face. “Fair enough. For now, who's hungry?”

They're a group of werewolves, one of whom is pregnant, and Stiles, who still has a bottomless pit of a stomach, so the answer is everyone. Dad calls for take out and once it comes they obliterate even the last crumb. Allison calls just as they're finishing, to let them know the department's done at Stiles and Derek's house. That starts a raging debate about where the two of them are going to stay the night.

Derek wants to go back home and everyone else is resistant, especially Dad. Stiles settles it by getting to his feet and clearing his throat. “We're going home; the rest of you, including Allison, are staying at Danny's.”

*

When they get home, Stiles waits until they've gotten ready for bed to break the news to Derek.

“We're sleeping in the panic room.” Because while Stiles understands Derek's fury at having what equates to his den invaded and defiled, and knows that Derek needs to reclaim it, Stiles will be damned if they're going to just hang out in the open, vulnerable, when some serial killing werewolf has decided Derek would make a great target. That's just not going to happen. There's still fucking police tape and blood on the back porch, and even Stiles' human nose can smell the stench of semen out there.

Derek opens his mouth, then closes it without saying anything. “Fine.”

While all the Pack have panic rooms, the werewolves have rooms that can contain them if something goes wrong with their control; they're bare, with concrete floors and padded walls. Stiles and Allison, however, have rooms that are designed to keep werewolves out and are fitted with enough supplies that they could stay in there for days if need be.

Stiles thinks that they need to renovate, to add another room for Derek since this is his house now, too.

The bed in the room under Stiles and Derek's garage is smaller than Derek's custom made beast. It's big enough to fit both of them, but only just barely. That's fine with Stiles, who pushes Derek down and then climbs on top of him. He buries his face in Derek's neck so that he can feel Derek's pulse against his lips.

There are demands Stiles wants to voice, hopeless promises he wants Derek to make, pleas he wants to whisper into the dark. It's only Derek's heartbeat thrumming against his mouth that holds them in.

One of Derek's hands settles on the small of Stiles' back, bearing him down and keeping him in place. Derek's other hand brings one of Stiles' wrists to his face. He inhales, then lays it against his open mouth and holds it there. It bends Stiles' arm awkwardly, in a way that's not entirely comfortable, but Stiles doesn't care, would contort himself into impossible shapes for Derek if need be.

*

Two days later they have a plan and a timeframe for implementing it. Stiles' role, unsurprisingly, is going to be in a support position: he and Lydia will be working out of Danny's house to coordinate everyone's movements.

They have a plan. It's a good one, set to spring the following day, so of course it all goes to shit.

Stiles and Lydia are on their way out of the hospital, after Scott having done a surreptitious check up that involved hijacking a sonogram machine and taking vials of blood that he'll process on his own, when Derek calls him.

“We've got fresh scent trails. Minutes old. Where are you?”

Lydia goes on alert and they quicken their pace through the parking lot.

“Just leaving the hospital.” Derek makes an annoyed sound. It's just gotten dark and both Stiles and Lydia should have been off the streets. But it's sort of difficult to perform sneaky check ups in a busy hospital without being caught; they have to time it just right not to draw attention. “We'll go straight to Danny's. Where are the scent trails?”

“They run through my grid and the one next to it. I'm using both groups to set up a net.”

Stiles unlocks the car and he and Lydia get in. “Okay, we'll let you know when we get to Danny's.”

“I can do some basic coordination from here on my phone,” Lydia says. She already has her phone out, two maps coming up with flags dotting them. “Call Stiles' phone if you need anything before we get to Danny's. Who should we call with info?”

“Jackson.”

Lydia taps at her screen. “Got it.”

They're halfway home when Jackson calls, frantic. “We didn't get him.”

Stiles curses. “He got through the net?”

“He played us, Stiles,” Jackson growls. “He attached clothing scraps to half a dozen fucking deer and spooked them to run like hell in three different directions. He was never in the net.”

Holy shit. That's...that's freaking genius and not at all something they've encountered before.

Something occurs to Stiles, then. “Wait. Why are you calling? Where's Derek?”

There's a heavy pause. “He was watching us from the eastern border of Derek's grid.”

Beside him, Lydia sucks in a breath, but Stiles doesn't get it. “What does that mean?”

“We're driving past the eastern border of Derek's grid right now,” Lydia tells him, just as something slams into the side of the car like a goddamn freight train.

Stiles fights for control of the car, straining to steer it into a slide that won't tip them or send them into one of the trees they're headed right for. He manages to angle them so that it's the back right quarter panel that takes the brunt of the collision. Lydia cries out when the seat belt tightens and Stiles tries not to think about that as the car comes to a skidding stop and the driver's side door is ripped off. Then, Kyle Barnes tears Stiles' seatbelt undone and yanks him from the car by the back of his neck. His other hand gropes at Stiles' holster and jerks his gun out.

Kyle throws Stiles is one direction and the gun another. Stiles lands painfully on his back, jarred and dizzy. He shakes his head and sits up, ready to push himself to his feet, but stops. Kyle has Lydia out of the car. He has one hand wrapped tightly in her hair and the other digging his claws into her belly. Into Moon Pie's nest.

It's not too deep, not yet, Stiles notes, but he knows how sharp werewolf claws are, how easy it is for them to drive into flesh. It paralyzes Stiles, the threat to Lydia, to Moon Pie.

Lydia though...Lydia told him years ago, when they were in high school, that she wasn't ever going to be a passive victim again. Brave, strong, amazing, determined Lydia is not paralyzed. Oh, no. Because she swore she'd go down fighting, even if it was hopeless, and maybe Kyle Barnes—fourteen and life ignorant despite whatever messed up wiring in his brain has made him a savant at savagery—thinks that the press of his claws against her pregnant belly is enough to cower her, but Stiles knows better.

Lydia moves with a speed that Kyle obviously isn't expecting, a speed that Derek relentlessly drilled into the Betas, a speed that Stiles can't see clearly. She gets her hand around his wrist, shoves it away from her and wrenches it; Stiles can hear the long-familiar sound of breaking bones. At the same time, Lydia drives her head back, catching Kyle's entire face with her skull and crunching bones with the force of it.

Kyle snarls, furious, and uses the hold on Lydia's hair to fling her away. She's on a trajectory for the car, which she hits head first on account of twisting herself at the last possible second to protect Moon Pie.

She crumples to the ground, blood pooling around her head. Stiles isn't sure if she's unconscious, stunned, or playing possum, and he doesn't think about that, either, just yet, because he reads Kyle's intent instantaneously. He knows that Kyle's about to launch himself at Lydia agian.

“You're pathetic,” Stiles says in the most condescending and disgusted voice he can manage.

Kyle's spins around and he's focused solely on Stiles now, which is exactly how Stiles wants it.

Stiles' world used to be small, populated by his parents and Scott. Later, it was just his Dad and Scott, with Lydia sort of included, abstractly and from a distance. Stiles once advocated killing Derek, killing Jackson, to protect his tiny world of people, the only people that mattered to him. But Stiles' world is larger now; it includes the whole Pack, and Lydia is no longer an abstract and distant presence.

“Seriously,” Stiles goes on, getting to his feet. “You can't even handle a pregnant Beta, and you think you can take an Alpha?” He laughs, mocking and disdainful, and curls his lips. “Big bad killer, that's what you think you are. You killed a bunch of defenseless animals, and a single human that you snuck up on.”

Stiles takes two steps back, large and deliberate, and grins when Kyle's prey drive kicks in, keeping his attention locked on Stiles. “You think you're something scary? You think you're impressive? You're not. You're a weak, pathetic, bed wetter, that's all.”

Kyle's face is a mess of rage and fury, and when Stiles turns his back and runs, Kyle howls, loud and long.

Stiles' plan, what little there is of it, is to get Kyle away from Lydia. The vague second part involves coming up with a clever way to put him down. Along the way, Stiles would like to not die, which isn't looking all that likely, given that his gun is gone and all he has is a pocket full of aconite packets that burst when he was slammed against the driver's side door.

It doesn't take more than a half dozen strides before Stiles can practically feel Kyle breathing down his neck. Stiles ducks down, pivots to the right and then runs across the road, hoping to get closer to where his gun landed.

Kyle hasn't been trained by anyone, but he's been hunting prey in the woods for months, so it takes him only a second to correct for Stiles' dodge. Stiles knows that little trick won't work again, and he's scanning the ground for any sight of the gun, hoping like hell it'll suddenly just be right there when an SUV comes roaring out of the woods on the side of the road, lights off, at incredibly high speeds.

Stiles freezes, then dives to the side. Kyle, with his supernatural reflexes should be able to do the same, but his freeze reflex lasts just a bit too long. The SUV slams into him and sends him flying back across the road. Unfortunately, he practically bounces back to his feet, even as he cradles his ribs and spits blood, and the impact has the undesirable effect of jump starting his healing. Stiles can already see the bones in his wrist and face mending, knows the ribs will be healed within minutes.

Stiles huffs out a breath when Chris Argent gets out of the SUV with a gun in his hand, firing before his feet are even on the ground. Kyle's eyes go wide and he leaps to the side to avoid the bullets, then circles to the side of the SUV and leaps over it.

Fucking werewolves. Even with crushed goddamn ribs the little bastard can still pull the move off, can still tackle Chris to the ground. They go rolling into the middle of the street, a backroad that's almost always deserted, but more so once it's dark. Stiles glances from them, to Lydia—who is still in the same position by the car, and who they're rolling towards—to Chris' gun, which he dropped when Kyle landed on him.

“Give me a shot,” Stiles yells. He moves without making a conscious decision to do so, scurrying the few feet to Chris' gun and leaning down to pick it up. He keeps his eyes on Chris and Kyle, sees Chris disentangle himself from the werewolf and gain a precious foot of distance from him, sees Kyle rear upright again.

Stiles has fired guns before. Derek made him learn how to shoot before Boston; he paid for the lessons, license and permits, and bought the guns. Then he had Allison sit down with Stiles and show him how to create anti-werewolf ammunition.

Stiles has shot werewolves before. No one made him do that. He did it because it had to be done, because there was no other option to save someone’s life, or to protect the Pack.

Stiles has killed werewolves in cold blood before. He doesn’t like thinking about it—he has random nightmares about it—but he’s done it.

But Stiles has never killed a kid. Until now.

All it takes are six small caliber bullets, packed with the most deadly form of wolfsbane, right to Kyle Barnes' chest. Right to his heart, where they lodge and poison him so quickly, so aggressively, that he's on his knees after the first shot, blood is pouring from his mouth at the last, and he gasps his final breath by the time Stiles' arm falls to his side, the gun still clasped in his hand.

Stiles feels unreal, fake, distanced from his own skin and the world around him, as if everything in him has shrunk and curled into a ball in center of him, far away from what he just did, even as he can’t look away from Kyle Barnes, from Kyle Barnes’ body.

“--to Lydia, Stiles.” Stiles blinks. Chris is in front of him, calm but urgent. He pries the gun from Stiles’ hand and wipes it with a cloth. “Go to Lydia. I'm calling Alison. When the police arrive, don't say anything.”

Stiles abruptly snaps back into his right mind. Lydia. He runs across the street to her and drops to his knees. Her head is bleeding sluggishly, what used to be a large amount of damage now mostly healed. When Stiles prods at her stomach she doesn't flinch the way she did when he checked her head wound, and he shakes with relief.

“How is she?” Chris asks, coming to his side.

“Not sure. I need your phone. I have to call Derek.”

Chris arches a brow and looks down the road. “Don't think you do.”

Stiles turns his head. Derek is running down the road on all fours in his Beta form, fast as hell, eyes shining like the Devil himself. Stiles has never been happier to see him.

“I'm fine,” Stiles says when Derek gets to them. He gestures at Lydia. “I think it's just her head, but--”

Derek checks over every inch of Lydia and he gives Stiles a reassuring nod. “Just the head.” He covers her stomach with both hands, leans down to press an ear above them, closes his eyes, and stills for a moment. “Moon Pie's fine,” he says, relief coloring his words, and strokes Lydia's face, comfort and reassurance.

Chris hand comes into view, offering his car keys to Derek. “Take her and go.”

Derek looks at Stiles.

Lydia's healing, bloody head will bring questions they can't answer. “Go. I'll have Allison bring me home.”

“Stiles...”

Stiles can't deal with the look on Derek's face. He can't even deal with his own face right now, for whatever sense that makes. “Get her out of here. Please.”

Derek tosses him a bundle of cloth from his pocket, then gets to his feet, Lydia in his arms. He gives Stiles another long look, then crosses the street to Chris' SUV.

Stiles unwraps the bundle and pulls out the sets of handmade bone claws and customized cougar fangs that Allison and Danny made. Scott is the one who planted the trace evidence from a number of the animal kills on them. Stiles straps the claws to Kyle's knuckles and adjusts them snugly, then takes a breath and fits the teeth, designed to spec and based on dental records, into Kyle's mouth. Chris offers him a rag to clean his hands with. Stiles shoves it in his pocket when he's done.

It's just in time, too. Stiles can hear the sirens approaching.

*

Chris weaves a good story, Stiles will give him that. There's no mention of Lydia, Derek, or Chris' SUV. Just Stiles and Chris in Stiles' car, with Kyle jumping into the street and forcing Stiles off the road to avoid him. Just Kyle attacking them, and Chris shooting him in self-defense.

It's a neat, clean story, with enough details included to account for almost everything. It has the added bonus of not pinning Stiles as the shooter, which is good. If Stiles was on record as having killed a student, for whatever reason, he'd never teach again.

“Thanks,” Stiles says when they have a moment relatively alone on the side of the road. Practically every member of the Beacon Hills Sheriff's Department is on scene, along with half of their emergency services vehicles. Stiles has been wrapped in a foil blanket for some reason. He's not sure why because even though tonight has sucked, he isn't actually in shock.

Chris nods. “Things like this, they're never easy,” he tells Stiles.

It's the look of respect in Chris' eyes, not anything else that's happened tonight, that has Stiles leaning to the side and puking.

*

Eventually, Allison comes over and gives him a rundown on where the Pack is: Lydia is at Stiles and Derek's, apparently fully recovered, with Danny, Scott, and Stiles' dad; Derek is over at the werewolf houses thanking everyone for their help and telling them to go the fuck home; and Jackson is dealing with the fallout of Kyle Barnes' death.

Chris is being escorted to the station, since he's supposedly the one who killed Kyle. It's a formality that Allison has to adhere to in order to avoid accusations of preferential treatment.

Stiles nods at everything she says, doesn't speak a single word in return, and dodges her when she goes in for a hug. He walks to a patrol car with his arms wrapped around his stomach and sits in the backseat for the ride home.

At home, Stiles lets his dad hug him, though he doesn't return it, and avoids Danny and Scott's reaching hands. Lydia is sleeping in Derek's bed, her head wound completely healed. There's a portable sonogram machine in the corner of the room; Stiles hopes whoever stole it from the hospital covered their tracks.

Stiles smooths Lydia's hair, leans down to press a kiss to her forehead, and then goes right to the shower. When he gets out, everyone, including Dad, is in Derek's room. Stiles can hear Lydia, her voice slightly thick with sleep, talking with them. Stiles gets dressed in his room, snags Scott's keys from the table by the front door, and just...goes.

*

Derek finds him at a scenic rest stop near Sacramento.

Stiles has been sitting on a picnic table for hours, paralyzed by what he’s done and by not knowing what it makes him. Despite Stiles not liking lines in the sand, Kyle became one for him, even after Stiles realized that the kid was broken in ways that couldn't be fixed.

Derek’s hand is large and warm on Stiles’ nape, comfortable and heavy, and Stiles feels some of his terrifying numbness start to recede.

“Scott said you ran away.”

That’s exactly what Stiles did. He leans his head back until Derek is forced to slide his hand up and palm the back of Stiles’ skull. “Just for a little while. I needed some space.”

The tip of Derek’s thumb presses into the tender skin behind Stiles’ ear, not hurtful, but making itself known. He sits next to Stiles and slides an arm across the top of Stiles’ shoulders, pulling him in close. Stiles feels like his muscles are melting into Derek, entirely against his conscious will but with his absolute subconscious agreement.

Stiles laughs, helpless and wry and hysterical all at once.

“You saved Lydia and the baby,” Derek says, voice quiet but steadfast and strong; Stiles is not at all surprised that he doesn't bother mentioning Chris. “He didn’t give you a choice, and you did what you had to do.”

“Does any of that matter?”

Derek’s grip gets tight, too tight; he crushes Stiles to his chest and his fingers curl in on the handholds he has on Stiles’ back, his side. “Don't be stupid, Stiles. That's all that matters.”

“When we were in high school, the Argents—ow, holy god, ease up, what the hell--”

“Don't compare yourself to them,” Derek literally snarls. His breath blows hot and wet across Stiles' scalp, and his eyes are glowing red when he leans back to glare down at him. “You're nothing like them. You spent weeks trying to find an alternative. You tried, and that's more than the Argents ever did.”

Stiles clings to Derek's words, brings them deep inside and lets himself believe them. Ever since Derek sent Stiles off to Boston with Danny and Lydia, Derek has been brutally honest with him. Even when Stiles wished otherwise, even when it figuratively gutted him and left him bleeding out on a floor. Derek doesn't offer lies at time like this, so this must be truth. Still. Even if Stiles isn't like the Argents, he's...something.

“I feel like I'm not the person I thought I was.”

There isn't a response for a long while, and the silence as Derek formulates a reply is nerve-wracking. “You're exactly who you've always been.”

That makes Stiles want to throw up again, because what Derek's saying isn't so much this hasn't changed you as it is you've always been the guy who could do this. How could he have been this—a potential child murderer—and not known it?

“Fuck,” Stiles rasps. “Fucking fuck.”

“Stiles, I—there's a lot I've never said. At first it was because I couldn't. Later it was because I got so used to you knowing it anyway.” Derek inhales and then rearranges them until Stiles is sitting up again and they're both turned towards each other.

His hands, holding the sides of Stiles' face, are strong and comforting despite how lethal they can be. But Stiles hasn't feared Derek in years, has become secure in the knowledge that Derek would never hurt him, would even always protect him.

“I wasn't sure if it would work, splitting the Pack like I did,” Derek says quietly. “Lydia had the best control, and Danny was the most laid-back, but that didn't mean it would work.”

Stiles licks his lips. “Then, why?”

Derek shrugs. “I owed it to everyone to try, and you—I knew if anyone could pull it off, you could. And you did. You didn't just make it work, you made it thrive.” Derek smiles faintly, brows drawn together. “The first time I saw them put themselves at your back, instead of stepping in front of you, it was the angriest and proudest I've ever been as Alpha.”

“I don't understand.”

Stiles doesn't mean that he doesn't understand why Derek was angry and proud, because werewolves are only complicated until you get to know them. The Alpha in Derek would have been pissed that his wolves were deferring to someone else, but also smug at the fact that his human Packmate was so strong.

No, what Stiles doesn't understand is what any of that has to do with him being the kind of person that can kill a fourteen year old kid without hesitation.

“They trusted you to lead them because they knew, Stiles. They knew you'd do anything to protect them, and that you were capable enough to do so. I knew it, too.” Derek tilts Stiles' head up, looks at him with a determined earnestness that has Stiles' breath catching in his throat. “It puts you in no win situations and leads to having to do things you wouldn't ordinarily do, but it doesn't make you bad.” Derek's eyes flare red again, not with anger this time, but with determined ferocity. “And you'll never be alone in it.”

Because Derek is right there with him, making the same hard decisions, acting within the same difficult circumstances. He always will be. He has been, since the Pack solidified and Derek began grooming Stiles to take two of his werewolves across the country. Actually, for years, Derek was making the brunt of those decisions, and enacting them, on his own. Stiles can't imagine shouldering that burden alone, not even sharing the internal fallout with anyone.

Stiles covers Derek's hands on his face and nods. Derek draws Stiles' face forward, brushes his lips against Stiles' temple, and then lowers his hands and sits back again.

There are going to be nightmares, Stiles knows. New ones to add to those that spring up every now and then to remind him of the things he's done in the name of Pack, in the name of family. He wonders if the Argents have ever had nightmares like that, and thinks probably the only one who possibly might have is Chris. Stiles isn't even sure about that, though, because Chris allows the Code to grant him absolution and quiet sleep even when he shouldn't.

The thing is, though, Stiles would do it again, and if it had been Derek who killed Kyle, it wouldn't even occur to Stiles to question whether it made him evil, or like the Argents. Stiles knows who Derek is, knows him better than even anyone else in the Pack does. Sometimes, he knows Derek better than Derek himself does. Just like Derek knows him.

If there's any way to examine one's actions with true objectivity, Stiles hasn't heard of it. There's just subjectivity, and Stiles can only look inside himself, and outwards to those he trusts, to guide his choice and actions, to judge them. Maybe he's wrong, in someone else's eyes. Maybe one day he'll be wrong to his own eyes. Today is not that day.

This time when Stiles leans sideways into Derek, it's consciously. He rubs his cheek against Derek's shoulder and closes his eyes, letting this horrible night wind down into something manageable.

Stiles isn't sure how much more time passes with the two of them sitting on a picnic table in the middle of nowhere. It's sort of quiet out here, the freeway far enough away that the sound of cars isn't intrusive. At some point, Derek shifts so that his arm is wrapped around the small of Stiles' back, his hand curling around the front of Stiles' hip.

“You want to head back?” Derek asks sometime later. His voice is low and quiet in the soft night.

Stiles nods slowly. “Yeah. Just--”

“I'll send them home.”

They walk to Scott's car, which is the only one in the parking area. He looks a question at Derek.

“Jackson drove me out.” Derek takes Scott's keys and gets behind the wheel.

In the car, Stiles feels like something is cresting inside of him, unexpected but expected just the same. They're almost home when he recognizes what it is.

It's a moment, falling somewhere on the scale between large and small, and Stiles takes it into himself to join the string of countless other moments with Derek that drift inside of him, like so much flotsam and jetsam, the import of which has always remained unnamed and unacknowledged.

Stiles isn't sure why this moment marks a change. It could be that there's so many now that they've gained a combined presence that has become impossible to ignore. It could be that they're just ready for it, now that so much else has been sorted and resolved, now that things are good and steady.

The only thing Stiles knows for sure is that this has been a long time coming, that it wasn't a terrifying fall so much as a long slow easy slide.

There's a thick silence hanging in the air when they arrive home. Stiles moves through it like molasses, into a dark house that started out as his but became theirs, down the hall to a bedroom he spends more time in than his own, next to the bed that comes to mind when he thinks of safe sleep, with Derek right next to him, a steady consistent presence that he feels even when Derek isn't there.

So much of Stiles' life is intertwined with Derek's, in ways it isn't with the rest of the Pack. They carry each other's secrets and lies; their hidden fears and buried worries; their flaws and cracks.

They've both just stripped down for bed when Stiles steps up to Derek. He sets his palm on Derek's cheek with care and precision, because Derek is something precious and singular. “Hey,” he says. Derek watches him, quiet and patient, expression open in a way that Stiles once thought was impossible but now accepts as a matter of fact. “I'm ridiculously in love with you.”

Derek blinks once and then smiles softly, eyes warm and crinkled at the corners. He reaches out and traces a path down the side of Stiles' face with the tips of his fingers, so very gently, but Stiles feels the touch in his bones. “Yeah, me too.”

Stiles' own face lifts in a grin. He rubs the pads of his fingers against he grain of Derek's stubble and nudges Derek's foot with his own. “Is that all I get?” he says. He's not serious, because he knows that he wasn't on this trip alone; they took it together, him and Derek, one moment, gesture, word at a time.

Derek's smiles falls away to leave his expression serious and fond. “No. It's not.” Derek deliberately drops his chin and lowers his eyes, and then he turns his head to the side, slow and sure, until his neck is bared to Stiles.

Stiles' breath catches in his chest. He swallows and then leans down to press an kiss to the front of Derek's throat. He moves his mouth to the side, and licks a path from Derek's collar bone, all the way up to behind his ear. His cheek comes to rest against Derek's, and Derek nuzzles him.

“I love you,” Derek says into Stiles' ear.

Stiles knew, knows, will always know that, but it still sends a shot of exhilaration rushing through him to hear it.

Then, because Derek just gave him so much, with his actions and his words, and Stiles needs to give him something in return, Stiles reaches far back into one of the hidden, dusty corners of his mind for what he's kept locked away for so long.

The attraction has been there for years, since the days when Derek was a creeping creepster and still scared the fuck out of Stiles just by existing. But attraction isn't important. It's nothing, meaningless. Stiles has felt attraction for faces on pages, for strangers in the street, for bodies in centerfolds. There's nothing special about it, while at the same time it can wreak so much damage with its mere existence

It was the latter that had Stiles locking away his attraction to Derek when he was still in high school. Early on, it was because he thought Derek might notice and react badly, in a variety of ways. Later, because it might ruin the friendship that had sprung up between them. Finally, because of how it could damage the Pack they were both devoted to.

So Stiles did what he does best: denial. He ignored it, because it was insignificant in comparison to everything else. That doesn't mean it wasn't there, every single day. Because it was and, like those other moments, these were collected, too.

Stiles opens everything he's locked away and looks at Derek, a once over that starts at his feet and ends at his face. He feels the impact of Derek's strong hirsute legs, the cant of his hips, the rippling of his abdomen, the chiaroscuro of his muscled arms.

Stiles feels everything he's been denying for so long.

Derek's nostrils flare as he inhales, and then his eyes go wide with an expression that seems stunned. Stiles lets out a laugh that peters off when Derek's pupils dilate and a flush creeps up his neck. Derek, he knows, isn't one for denial. He's a great fan of repression, though, of stomping something down and holding it at bay. For Derek, nothing has to be unlocked and unpacked, just permitted and unleashed.

The lean into each other and their first kiss is a dry brush of lips, something almost chaste, but it's not, and it makes Stiles shudder, almost convulsively, and Derek squeezes his eyes shut. Stiles steadies himself by latching onto Derek's biceps, and he's touched Derek a million times, across almost every inch of his skin, but it's different now, there's intent now.

Steadying becomes stroking, fingers traveling up Derek's arms, over the balls of his shoulders, to the jut of his clavicle. Stiles' fingers are tingling, his pulse throbbing in the palm of his hand. Derek makes a wordless sound, full of need and want, and brings their lips together again.

This kiss, this second kiss, is hotter and wetter, and Stiles gasps into it, hitched breaths like he's on the verge of hyperventilating, but it's not that at all. Just a kiss and he feels overcome, not physically, but every other way.

“Oh my god,” he says into Derek's mouth. His words shake with the rest of him, come out sounding replete with wonder and awe. If he'd ever let himself imagine what it could be like between them, he never would have imagined this—this overwhelming tide of sensation, fueled by so much more than attraction, that makes a simple kiss more sexually charged than most of the actual sex Stiles has had in the past.

Stiles lets Derek lick into his mouth, lets him taste the roof of Stiles' mouth, the backs of his teeth, then dips his own tongue into Derek's mouth and does the same. Derek makes another noise, this one all banked pleasure, and then hauls Stiles in by the hips. Derek presses them together and, oh. Oh, that's Derek's cock, hard and hot against his hip.

Stiles' hands scramble to Derek's back, clutching and trying to find handholds in hard muscle covered with soft skin, his nails digging in for purchase.

Derek tears his mouth from Stiles' and goes for his neck with teeth and tongue. Stiles fights for air and tilts his head to give Derek better access, more skin, and Derek rakes his teeth down the tendon on the side of Stiles' neck, sucks marks on the underside of his jaw.

It's so good, so fucking good, that it take Stiles a moment to remember he should be doing something more than hanging from Derek's grip and groaning out curse words. Stiles' hands move down to Derek's ass, firm and taut and fitting perfectly into Stiles' palms, and then he rolls his hips, giving their dicks friction and pressure.

“Stiles,” Derek says, then kisses him again. “Jesus, Stiles, you--” Derek breaks off to turn them to the bed, to push Stiles back onto it and nudge him up. Derek climbs on after him; Stiles' legs fall open and Derek kneels between them, peels Stiles' boxers off and then tears his own boxer briefs from his body with two quick jerks.

Derek's eyes are roving over Stiles, stripping him even more bare than he already is, and Stiles arches under the look, his mouth parting. Derek lowers his head and nudges the crease of Stiles' thigh with his nose. The sound Derek makes, it's like drugged appreciation.

“Derek.” Stiles combs his fingers through Derek's hair, then tugs at it. “Come up here. Come on.”

Derek's mouth leads the way, from the base of Stiles' cock, all the way up to his neck, and finally to his mouth.

Stiles wraps his legs around Derek's hips, grinds against him, and Derek smothers a strangled growl against the top of Stiles' shoulder and moves his hips in counterpoint.

It's not fancy or even everything Stiles wants from Derek, but it's all he can manage now, all he thinks either of them can manage, in the first flush of giving in after such a long time of denying and repressing. And it's good, better than good, to be pressed into the mattress by Derek's bulk, to rut against one another in a way that's graceless in their desperation, their dicks aligned and touching, their bodies adding friction.

Stiles clings to Derek with his arms and legs, muscles and joints straining, and when the endorphins wear off he's going to be sore and he's going to hurt, but he doesn't care right now, and after he's only going to enjoy the reminders.

Derek's mouth is still at Stiles' shoulder, sucking and biting a mark into his skin, mouthing at the rising bruise momentarily before imprinting it deeper and harder. That, that is going to ache later, throb in time with Stiles' pulse.

Stiles gasps and shoves his hips desperately against Derek's, and he hasn't come this fast in years, in so long, but it's inevitable and unavoidable. “I'm gonna--”

Derek rears his head back and looks down between their bodies, like he can't help himself, like he has to see, and it's too much to bear. Stiles comes, body curling and hunching, breath stalling in his lungs, and it feels like he's been on the cusp of this orgasm for years, since Pasadena, since Boston, since high school, and when his breath finally makes its way to his mouth, it escapes in a shuddering cry that lets go of everything he was afraid of.

Above him, Derek doesn't stop moving, not even when his dick brushes against Stiles' too sensitive one and Stiles twitches. Derek just adjusts the angle of his thrusts and slides through the mess of come on Stiles' stomach, nostrils flaring and mouth open. His eyes, Stiles sees, are wide and shocky, like he can't believe this is real.

Stiles draws Derek's head back down to his shoulder, encourages him to work at the bruise there some more, and drags his nails sharply from the small of Derek's back to the span of his shoulders. Derek's teeth dig in painfully hard, and humanly blunt, and he comes between them with a wrecked groan.

Panting and out of breath, Stiles unwraps his legs from Derek's waist and then gentles his hands on Derek's back. Derek's teeth ease off his shoulder until he's just resting them there against the bruise. Then Derek starts snuffling into Stiles' neck, across the tops of both shoulders, his tongue slipping out to taste the skin he can reach.

Between them, Derek is still half hard, even when he comes down from the orgasm entirely. Stiles drops his arms from Derek's back, then nudges Derek's head with his chin until Derek raises his head to look at him. Stiles flings his arms out to the side and settles in comfortably. “I'm sort of done for the moment.” His voice is more of a destroyed croak; it makes Derek's eyes glitter. “But have at it.”

Derek stares at him, body gone still, then falls on Stiles like a starving man. He noses the creases under Stiles' arms, inhaling deeply, then moves on to their combined come on Stiles' stomach, then Stiles' balls and the skin behind them. Then he licks and sucks almost every inch of Stiles' skin, leaving marks in his wake that litter Stiles' torso, his thighs, his neck, his nipples.

Stiles gasps out a laugh. “Of course you have a marking kink.” That's not a werewolf thing, no matter what someone might think. No, it's a Derek thing.

Derek looks up from where he's licking a patch of skin on Stiles' hip that feels like it's connected right to his dick. “Problem?”

Stiles shakes his head and pushes Derek's mouth against that patch of skin. He holds it there, even when Derek starts sucking and it makes Stiles try to involuntarily writhe away.

Stiles is hard by the time Derek finishes the mark; Derek licks his lips and focuses on Stiles' dick. Stiles pushes up on one elbow and gestures with his hand at Derek. “Swing up this way.”

Derek does, turning them on their sides along the way, and Stiles breathes Derek's scent before opening his mouth and taking the head of Derek's dick into his mouth. Later, when they're not so impatient, when Derek isn't straining with need after being hard for so long, Stiles will take his time, will find out whether Derek likes a bit of teeth, how much suction it takes to make him lose his mind, will see if deep throating really is a skill that you never forget.

For now, Stiles keeps it simple and wet, so very wet, because he can't help himself. It's Derek's cock, and it tastes like Derek smells, but stronger and better, and it feels like weighted silk on Stiles' tongue. It's almost enough to distract him from Derek's mouth on Stiles' own cock. Almost, but not quite. Because Derek's mouth is hot and wet, slick and tight, and his tongue is sinful on the head when he pulls back and works Stiles' slit.

Derek comes first this time, a rush of fluid that's too much for Stiles to swallow, and Stiles works him through it with his hand, with his mouth, until Derek jerks back in overstimulation. Before Stiles can feel the loss of Derek's mouth, which fell away when he started coming, Derek repositions them with Stiles on his back once more, and Derek between his legs.

Derek's hands slide under Stiles' ass and lift him, driving Stiles' cock into his mouth, then down his throat. Stiles chokes and trembles at the intensity of it, nerves firing sensations he's not sure he can identify. Derek swallows around him once, twice, three time, and Stiles comes entirely against his will, without realizing he's about to. Derek makes this noise, this sound of sensual contentment, and draws his mouth away. He comes up to Stiles, smears their mouths together, and collapses next to him.

They come down together, hands petting and stroking, mouths touching, legs tangled.

“No, really, a marking thing,” Stiles says later. They're sharing a pillow, watching each other from too close, with small smiles on their faces. “You're such a cliché.”

Derek huffs out a laugh and nips at Stiles' cheek. “It's a thing for now.” When Stiles makes a questioning noise, Derek shrugs. “All the times we shared beds, mostly naked, you were all...” He traces a finger around the mark on the inside of Stiles' wrist; there's a corresponding one on the opposite hand, and matching sets in the hollows of his elbows, the backs of his knees. “...unmarked.”

Oh. Stiles supposes that it might take a bit of time for both of them to realize that they've truly gotten here, that it's real. That might also explain why he keeps touching Derek's ass and pressing a thigh to Derek's soft cock, both no-go zones prior to now for all the touching that they did.

Stiles smiles again and watches Derek's eyes crinkle in return. “No, really, ridiculously in love with you.”

Derek's smile grows on his face, spreading into a grin that, even after all these years, isn't a common expression, and which he buries against Stiles chest. They fall asleep with Derek half-draped over Stiles, and one of Stiles' legs slung over both of Derek's.

*

At first, Stiles thinks it's Derek that's woken him up because when he opens his eyes, Derek is propped up on an elbow, watching Stiles with warm eyes, and tracing lines between the suck marks on his torso, frowning over the seatbelt shaped bruise that came up during the night sometime; Stiles can feel more on his back, from where he landed when Kyle threw him.

Then Stiles hears the voices and realizes they're what woke him. The entire Pack is apparently just on the other side of the closed door. Stiles pulls a pillow over his face. His voice is muffled when he asks Derek, “Do I even want to know what they've been saying?”

Derek doesn't get a chance to answer before Scott's voice sounds. “You stole my car!”

“And sexiled us!” Danny adds.

“You left before I woke up,” Lydia says. “We will have words about that, Stiles. Words.”

Jackson makes an annoyed noise. “The entire hallways is filled with your sex stench. I don't need to be smelling that.”

Stiles flings the pillow away and is about to tell Jackson to deal with it or go, but Derek slaps a hand across his mouth. Thank god for that, because the last thing Stiles wants is for all of them to come traipsing in here when he and Derek are naked and covered in sex fluids and bruises. And they would. They totally would, because they're all horrible people and Stiles has done it to all of them at one time or another. God, he loves them so fucking much.

“Are they just camped out in the hall?” Stiles asks Derek.

“Since I woke up an hour ago, yeah.”

Stiles wriggles into his side and presses his ass against Derek's hardening cock. “Let's make them scurry like roaches.”

Derek laughs into the back of Stiles neck and tips them over, so that Stiles is face down on the bed. “You really want to traumatize the kids like this?” Derek asks, while leaning over Stiles to paw at the bedside table.

Stiles shudders in horror. “Oh my god, they are not our kids. Don't ever call them that again. That's terrible and—“ Derek's slick cock moves between his thighs just as his lube covered fingers close around Stiles' cock. “Fuck!” Stiles gets his hands under him, then tightens his thighs and moans when Derek's cock rubs against the skin behind Stiles' balls. He thrusts helplessly into Derek's hand and drops his head.

Derek mouths at Stiles' nape. “Later, I'm going to fuck you for real.”

Stiles' arms just give out and he collapses down to his elbows.

“Oh my god!” Scott says from the other side of the door and makes a noise like an indignant squawk, and then there's the sound of feet hurrying everyone out of the hall.

Stiles urges Derek on with his hips and his words, fucks into Derek's hand mindlessly but with purpose, and they come within a few strokes of one another, Derek's teeth around the back of Stiles' neck, and Stiles' nails digging into Derek's wrist.

*

Stiles thinks that everyone's left when they emerge from the shower two hours later, but he catches sight of Allison through the kitchen window. Derek comes up behind him and sighs. “She's angry.”

Stiles makes a face. “Crap.” He turns and presses a kiss to Derek's lips, taking a selfish moment to lean against him. “I'll talk to her.”

Out back, the porch has been cleaned by a special crew that deals with crime scenes, but Stiles knows from the werewolves that they can still smell traces of what Kyle Barnes left there. Danny and Scott hauled bundles of eucalyptus out the day before yesterday to deal with the last of it, and that scent is overpowering when Stiles steps outside.

Allison is sitting on the grass in the middle of the yard, knees pulled up to her chest. Stiles sits next to her, knowing that the evidence of Derek's mouth is visible even with the t-shirt and boxers he's wearing. “What's going on? You okay?”

Allison glares out at the yard and doesn't look at him. “Have you even thought about what will happen if you two break up? You can't come back from this, Stiles!”

Stiles doesn't tell her that it's not going to happen. Not because it would be a lie—he doesn't think it is, even if there's never a guarantee—but because it wouldn't address the heart of her question. “Of course we've thought of that.”

That makes Allison look at him, gaze questioning. Stiles isn't sure how much the Pack has known about what's been going on between him and Derek. The drawback to denial is that it doesn't allow you to assess things like that, because it would mean acknowledgment. But none of them are dumb, or naïve, and Stiles figures they all had some idea, whether it was the right idea or not.

“Derek and I, we've pretty much been in this relationship for years already.” Allison's eyes go wide with realization; Stiles can almost see her mind connecting dots and finding the truth of that as she thinks back. “We're letting this happen now because we're pretty sure it's going to last, and we're damn sure of the fact that if it doesn't, we'll be okay and so will the Pack.”

Allison looks down. “You think you can go back to just being friends, just being Pack, if things fall apart? You think it's that easy?”

“I think,” Stiles says slowly, “that this isn't about me and Derek.” Allison's head snaps up; she's scowling. “And if we're talking about you and Scott, then I think that you two are already just friends, just Pack, and you'll both be a lot happier if you accept that and move on.”

For a second, Allison is still, and then her face crumples and she's crying. Stiles wraps an arm around her shoulders and lets her sob against his chest. He's not surprised when Derek appears almost immediately to settle on her other side and rub her back soothingly. Stiles meets Derek's eyes over the top of her head and sees in Derek's expression that she's finally letting go of something that was gone a while ago.

When she's done, Derek picks her up and Stiles leads the way into the house. She refuses to go into Derek's room—their room, now, Stiles thinks—on account of the unchanged sheets, so they settle down in Stiles' old bedroom—now the Pack bedroom, probably—with Allison in the middle. She falls asleep on Derek's chest after a while, and doesn't wake even when Lydia comes into the room.

Stiles untangles himself from the clutch of Allison's arm, pushing her hair out of his face as he goes, and slides off the bed. Lydia's face is tense with anger and worry, but her eyes are wide and vulnerable.

“Don't ever do that again,” she says. Her voice is trembling. “They said you were okay, but I—you left before I could see for myself.”

Stiles wraps his arms around her and hugs her as tight and close as he can with Moon Pie between them. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry.” Lydia hugs him back, hard enough that he feels his ribs creak. Eventually, Stiles pulls back. He cups her face in his hands and looks at her steadily. “You did so good, Lydia.”

Her eyes shore up, strength and resilience locking in to place once again. “Damn right I did.”

Stiles grins and leans down. “Your mommy will always keep you safe, Moon Pie, and we'll be right there helping her.” For once, Lydia doesn't swat him away, just shakes her head fondly. “Come on.” Stiles ushers her to the bed, where Derek is watching them calmly, one hand stroking through Allison's hair. “Let's nest.”

“Get in here, Danny,” Derek says to the open door, and Danny appears at once.

Stiles rolls his eyes and gestures him to the bed, as well. Lydia takes the edge, so that she can get out easily when she inevitably has to use the bathroom in ten minutes. It doesn't take much time after that for Scott and Jackson to show up. Jackson scans the arrangement of bodies on the bed, eyes narrowing on Allison, and sets it up so that Scott is two people away from her.

Derek's head cocks to the side as everyone's settling; he blinks in surprise then looks at the door. Stiles turns his head and sees Dad standing there, dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of soft, worn track pants.

“So I hear you had an interesting night,” Dad drawls, gaze moving between Stiles and Derek, and the marks on Stiles' wrists and elbows and neck. Stiles sort of wants to die of embarrassment, but he forgets to when Dad comes to the foot of the bed and stretches out, nudging everyone's feet out of the way to make room.

Danny curls his legs up and pokes at Stiles. “If you're using Derek's bed for sex now, you need a larger one in here for nesting.”

Dad snorts out a laugh and Stiles kicks him in the leg, but he's laughing, and so is everyone else.

Derek and Stiles look at each other across Allison, Jackson, Danny and Scott, rueful and amused. And it's okay, because they have so much time now, time for everything they never let themselves admit they wanted, or allowed themselves to act on, and they built it all around this right here, these people between and next to them, who are more important to them than anything else in the world, even each other.

.End