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i. I know a time is coming

It's widely accepted that reality television is stupid - the new opiate of the masses, one of the mid-level comptrollers says on the late night projection, and everyone laughs but they know it's true. It's easy to film, easy to cut, easy to produce, and there are always people willing to compete for money, or love, or fame. Just fifteen minutes to get their name out, so people will follow them on twitter or their vlog, to raise their Klout score high enough to brag about, to use as a pickup line in a bar or print on their business cards. Isn't it pathetic, everyone murmurs, glued to the vidscreens, wishing it was them instead.

It was starting to get boring, though, interchangeable, derivative, everything on the tenth cycle, the twentieth, the fortieth, always defined by something else - you know, it's kind of like The X-Factor meets The Bachelor, but for paraplegics! - no new ideas under the sun. Been done, has-been, seen before, who cares.

Until some motherfucker finally realized: you know what's really interesting?



ii. all words will lose their meaning

Stiles doesn't get it. He gets too caught up in the horror of it, mostly. Maybe it's because he's never had something like that happen to him. Well, yeah, his mom died, and that - that's pretty much the definition of a horrible event, as an understatement, and it's not the kind of thing you ever get over, but Stiles just doesn't see how killing someone else is going to make it any better. He doesn't understand the people who do it, much less the people who watch. He can't escape it. There are too many vidscreens and it's all anyone talks about as it happens; gossiping, and taking bets like any other sporting event.

Stiles was young when the first cycle came on. Only seven, maybe, but he remembers the front page all the news channels used for their links: Erik Lehnsherr with a bloodied shark's grin, and Sebastian Shaw's head split open. Stiles doesn't consider himself squeamish, in particular, but that was the day he found his limits. A number of limits.

So, no, he doesn't get it. He doesn't get it at all.


iii. please show me something

The producers call it 'Retribution' and It takes off like a rocket, better than anyone ever thought it would. It's smart, and sexy, and violent - part of doing your civic duty, really, with the justice system so backed up it's years 'til anyone is sentenced, if it happens at all. The Districts don't like to cooperate with one another - still too fractured, too used to taking care of their own to give them up even when it might be better for everyone - and Retribution opens doors, opens whole borders. Gives you money and resources and carte blanche from the Head Comptroller himself, and at the end of the cycle, if the viewers think you did right - if you were bloodthirsty enough, if you fucked those who fucked you, if you avenged whatever wrong was done a hundred times wronger - hell, you could be famous.

It premieres to rave reviews, great ratings, but it doesn't take off until the third cycle. Until Keegan Argent kills James Hale for an old family grudge he speaks of only occasionally, with gritted teeth. James Hale dies appallingly easy, which sparks an online debate over what he could have done to deserve it - Sebastian Shaw and Marcus Commodus had been hardened, skilled, dangerous. Difficult to kill. James Hale begged for his life on his knees, swearing up and down he'd done nothing wrong.

Two cycles later James Hale's son kills Keegan Argent's wife. Another two cycles and it's the Argents again. Hales. Argents. Hales. Over and over, cycle after cycle, real Hatfield and McCoy shit. There are always good shows in between - no sense losing the viewership, after all, and the Mindy McCready cycle was ratings gold - but the public lives for the Argent-Hale cycles. They pick sides, deadlier and firmer than any sports team that ever was, more steadfast than any patriot to the Republic has ever been. The wolves in District 4 are hunted almost to extinction for their pelts until the Comptroller puts a stop to it, and the demand for silver skyrockets - District 23 hauls it out of the mines as fast as District 24 can hammer it into pendents.

It's good entertainment, but it's even better business.


iv. that isn’t mine

Most kids Stiles age don't remember life before the Republic, don't have any inkling what justice looked like before it became public spectacle. Stiles doesn't remember any different either, technically speaking, but his Dad talks about it when he's drunk. When the laws were the same wherever you went, and crossing into another District meant more trouble, not less. Even being Sheriff meant something different then - he used to do the same job as the Comptrollers and the cams. And the Sheriff used to be elected - voted on, like they do on vids. Can you imagine?

"It was a different time," his Dad says - slurs, a little. Part exhaustion and part bourbon. The vidscreens are off for the day, and the house is quiet now that they've finished eating. No scraping of fork tines, no chewing. "DIfferent priorities."

"But is it... better?" Stiles says, even though he knows it's a dangerous question to even ask. Especially because he knows his dad won't lie to him - even if that would be the safer thing to do.

He watches his dad suck on his teeth. "I understand it," John says, finally. "After your mother died - there might have been a time something like that would have appealed to me."

It goes unsaid that the drunk driver who killed Stiles's mother is still out there somewhere. Maybe leading a normal life. Maybe with a family of his own. They'll never know, really, because he had friends in District 20, the largest on the West Coast, the richest, and no one from District 16, not even a Sheriff, was going to be able to drag him back to the Hall.

"And the cynical part of me," John continues, "sees the value in people getting justice for what's been done to them. Not perfect justice, by any means - not impartial, not fair - but it's a sight more than a lot of people ever get. Before," and that's definitely slurred, and definitely a Capital-B Before," "Before, the system was about victimless crimes. The letter of the law. At least this - you feel like something is being done, don't you?"

"Yeah," Stiles says, but it's bloody, not even eye for an eye anymore, and there's no reason to forgive. You can be resentful, or vengeful, but rarely forgiving.

"Any dessert?" John asks, after the moment stretches on too long.

"Dessert? Dad, seriously, I just made you dinner. Do you think I have a bakery tucked away in the kitchen? Haven't I done enough?"

"Always," John says, smile gone sideways on his face. Threatening to slide right off.


v. but mine is the only kind

In real life, Stiles is kind of invisible. He's okay with this. He realizes this is his place in life - not with the beautiful people. His eyes are pretty, if you like that sort of thing on guys, and he's fit enough, but his face doesn't go together just the way it should. He's also not quite grotesque enough to apply for one of the makeover type shows. He's not like Jackson, who seems to skate by entirely on being pretty and popular; or like Lydia, who plays on the seeming oddity of a beautiful, popular girl who is also the smartest in the District. There's never going to be twenty-four nubile young things vying for his attention while the nation watches raptly, is all he's saying.

Luckily he's got other ways to make up for it. He's smart, which is good; and he's witty, which is better; and he's funny, which is best of all; two of his more popular posts have been a satirical love poem for Professor Harris, and a complex treatise on the history of circumcision, no small feat for one person alone. He has a pretty good Klout score for Beacon Hills, and the occasional tendril of influence beyond the sub-District. There are a few people who listen when he's got something to say. Stiles's writing isn't exactly critical - certainly a step right of sedition - but he's also not necessarily singing the praises of the Republic. His status as the child of a Sheriff gives him a bit more leeway than he'd ever admit to using.

The Panopticon, Stiles wrote once, is a ruthlessly efficient method of keeping an entire society in line. If you never know when you're being watched, and listened to - if by turning a blind eye to your neighbor's indiscretions you are in turn made guilty - what choice is there but to simultaneously be the watcher and the watched?

(This is faint praise, damning praise - the Comptrollers are efficient, the system flows smoothly - and there's an edge Stiles knows shines through. There's plenty more he doesn't write, about discipline, and normalization, about the difference between observation and surveillance, about public and private space, but he knows when there are lines he can't cross. Or won't cross, yet. For all his seditious thoughts, Stiles doesn't know if what he wants is revolution. Uprisings. Another war. The Republic is just getting into the swing of prosperity again, the pieces knitting themselves back together, and if the shape is a little different, well, isn't that what usually happens after governments get overthrown? What's the point in fighting for something if you're going to let it crumble at your feet straight away? It will get easier, he thinks sometimes. Laxer. If it doesn't - that's a bridge he crosses later.)

So Stiles rocks his invisibility. Plods through school mostly uninterrupted by the drama that flows around him, thinks about taking the Entrance Exams in the Capital, maybe - he's no Lydia, but he's also not Scott - and it would make his father proud, Stiles thinks, if he went to university like his mother, though he worries about leaving his dad alone. Maybe if he found someone for his dad to date; plenty of people like the whole 'wounded soul' thing, right? And being the partner of a Sheriff isn't exactly small potatoes.

Instead, his life changes on Thursday. He and Scott manage to piss Professor Harris off enough for an extra long reeducation session, which means Instructor Finstock is going to be pissed at them for missing lacrosse practice, and Stiles is looking forward to picking up an extra-large pizza on the way home and writing the whole day off.

That plan is derailed when they go out to the parking lot and are confronted with a guy pointing a gun at them.

At first, Stiles doesn't know what the hell is happening. Who would be stupid enough to do anything illegal in a school zone? It's one of the places you're practically guaranteed to be watched. That someone hasn't been dispatched to investigate Tall, Dark, and Really Scary's (TDRS) loitering is weird enough.

"Car," TDRS snaps - growls, practically. And Stiles kind of shivers? He's not going to lie. Inappropriate reaction time, apparently.

"We don't have one," Scott says quickly, "we're waiting for my mom to pick us up." Which, sure, great lie, very quick, well done Scott, all that lying about what you and Lydia have been up to is really paying off, but Stiles is already holding his keychain in his hands so it doesn't quite ring true.

TDRS knows. He knows that Stiles knows, from the quirk in his eyebrow, and Stiles sighs. Holds out the keychain.

"No," TDRS says. "You're coming with me," and when he turns his head the light catches across his face, which - holy shit. Holy shit. It's been about five years since Stiles saw him on a vidscreen, and he's put on a good twenty pounds of muscle, but TDRS is definitely Derek freaking Hale.

"Look--" Scott starts, wretched brave little jackass of a best friend that he is, obviously completely ignorant as to who this is and what he could do to them, so Stiles takes a careful step in between them.

"Scott," he says, as evenly as he can. "Go back inside."

He can practically feel Scott's eyes boring into the back of his head. Perplexed puppy eyes, like a pet who doesn't know what he's done wrong. Hale knows that Stiles knows - there is a lot of knowing going on, he is a master of all-knowing, his eyebrows say so, and when Scott doesn't move Hale tilts his gun towards Stiles.

"Listen to your friend," he tells Scott, and Stiles doesn't bother hiding his eye-roll.

"Go inside," Stiles grits out through his teeth, because sometimes the only way information gets through Scott's head is a lot of repetition. Like, a lot, Stiles feels perfectly qualified to handle two year olds. "He's not gonna do anything. He just wants a ride, okay? He's not stupid." Murderous, but probably not stupid.

It's another thirty tense seconds, but Scott backs up towards the building, step after laborious step, before turning around and running full-tilt to the entrance.

"He'll be back soon," Stiles says wearily. With Instructor Finstock and Professor Harris, and god knows who else. There is really no point in turning this into a giant bloodbath. If this stays quiet, Stiles might even come out of it alive. You never know with a Hale. "My car's in the back, okay? There's not even a biolock on it," like maybe that's the reason Derek is keeping him around.

"Which one?" Hale asks, only not a question, really, more like an order - very stern, the hurry up or get hurt very heavily implied. Stiles is definitely going along for some kind of ride.

"God, fine, the Jeep," Stiles says, irritated, and this time Hale's grunt sounds more like approval. Which - yeah, it might not be Jackson's Porsche, but the Jeep's a good car to have if you're planning on driving cross-District for a murder spree.

"Cell," Hale demands, and Stiles hands it over. Watches Hale crush it in his fist.

Ah, shit. It just hits him - Stiles is going to be on the vidscreens.


vi. that I relate to

Because the thing is, Stiles is fucked. His screen debut is going to be a snuff film, okay, he doesn't exactly like his odds of getting out of this alive. It's not uncommon to take someone along for the ride on Retribution - sometimes a sidekick, or even partners, like when Nikita recruited Alex Udinov in cycle twelve - but Stiles falls into the much lesser used "hostage-slash-indentured-gopher" category. A hostage has their obvious uses, particularly when someone manages to snag a family member or a lover, but the indentured gopher is a little less subtle, much more recent thing. Sometimes they're used as decoys, or bait, or just for the Retributioner - is there a better word for that? Like, Retributer? Whatever - to keep a low profile. When Derek Hale walks into a grocery store, people notice. Stiles Stilinski? Not so much.

So Stiles figures its about a fifty-fifty chance that he ends up dead somewhere along the line. The Argents aren't exactly known for their humanitarianism - the official family saying is "we hunt those who hunt us," but it's something of an interscreen joke that "family first" might be more appropriate. Or, you know, inappropriate, considering their marriages all seem to be arranged to first cousins. Very utilitarian. Either way, if Hale is thinking of wounding him, or killing him, just to smoke out the Argents? Probably not going to end well for anyone. Stiles would hate for his death to be in vain, seriously, how is that any way to go? Immortalized forever as meat in a trap is not the height of his ambition.

He tries not to think he'll be lucky if his father gets his body back before it starts to rot. The cycles air months after all the murdering and mayhem occurs. People trade rumors like wildfire on the interscreens, but it's difficult to verify anything from another district - just last night someone was saying Derek Hale had firebombed one of the Argent safehouses in District 4, which... obviously not, unless he's suddenly invented teleportation, in which case he wouldn't really need Stiles's car. Stiles doesn't care - okay, fuck, Stiles cares if he ends up dead, obviously, but mostly his father doesn't deserve it. He doesn't know what his father would do.

They make it about three miles down the road before Stiles can't take it anymore.

"So," he asks, "is there a reason you kidnapped me?

Hale doesn't even look up. "Keep driving."

Stiles bites on the inside of his cheek for a minute. "Any particular direction?"


"We'll hit the border in an hour," Stiles says, and then wants to slap himself, because - "Duh," he mutters. "Never mind." One of the perks of Retribution are the open borders. Derek must have a GPChip.

"We'll pass," is all Hale says, and they enter District 17 with less hassle than Stiles gets walking into school.


vii. I walked down to the ocean

It's another two hours before Hale has him pull over for the night, past two perfectly good motels and into a small L-shaped one that looks like a scene from a horror vid. Stiles has spent most of the two hours talking to himself in his head, more or less; probably a little less than he'd like, given the strange looks Hale sometimes gives him. Which, whatever - Stiles was just kidnapped by a member of the Hale family and transported to another District, okay, that is practically the definition of a situation you do not want to find yourself in.

"Here," Hale says, and shoves - Stiles flinches, involuntarily - shoves a handful of notes into his hand. Actual notes. Swear to God.

"Are you sure they're gonna take these?" Stiles asks, and flips through them skeptically. They're not even paper, what even.

"Does this look like the kind of place that worries about credit lines?" Hale snaps back, and he's got a point. It doesn't even look like the type of place to care that Stiles is obviously not in his majority.

Stiles gets about as far as the door handle before he swings back around. "Why wouldn't I just tell the clerk you kidnapped me?" he asks. Apparently he has no self-preservation instincts. The things you learn about yourself under stress.

Hale gives him a sickly sweet smile that isn't really sweet at all. "I'm sure there are people back home you care about," and Stiles's stomach drops to his shoes.

"Two twins?" he says brightly around the lump in his throat, and he imagines the millions of people who are going to watch this moment and laugh. Place bets on his long he lasts. If he's going to last at all.


viii. after waking from a nightmare

"My dad's the Sheriff of District 16, you know," Stiles says later, and Hale grunts into his Chinese food. He'd had half the menu delivered to their hotel room earlier and made Stiles answer the door. In case the Chinese food guy was some kind of Argent assassin? Who knows. Stiles is full of fried rice and sweet-and-sour chicken, so he's willing to let it slide. Frankly, it's difficult to be freaked out for hours at a time. It can't be good for his blood sugar.

"Really," Stiles insists. "I mean, hello, someone has to be the Sheriff's kid, right? Statistically speaking. This time it just happens to be me.

"Kid -"


This time the pause feels really long. "Stiles," Hale repeats. "Shut up," and since it's not exactly a request, Stiles doesn't really feel the need to honor it.

"You're not just going to have the Argents on your tail, is all I'm saying."

"Stiles," Hale says, one short and very precise syllable, "if you don't shut up, I will gag you," and wow, that is definitely a conversation stopper. Closer. Killer.

Or would be, if Stiles didn't have that whole impulse control problem.

"I'm going to need my meds. Like - one in the morning, but also a refill. Soon."

The look Hale sends him is wracked with disbelief. Which - yeah, 'I need my meds' is probably not the most original gambit in the world. Sue Stiles for actually needing them.

"Seriously. Look in my bag. There's a pharmaco bottle."

It's another minute before Hale picks Stiles' bookbag off the floor, pulling the bottle out of one of the front pockets and snorting. "ADHD meds."

"Oh believe me, you'll want them too," Stiles fires back, and Hale pauses. Obviously considering. Stiles is already plenty hyped up with them. "The comedown is not pretty," Stiles adds, and that seems to be the final nail in the coffin. Metaphorically speaking. Probably.

"We'll stop in the next sub-District."

Another five minutes of silence.

"Are we going to get new clothes?" Stiles asks. He's in his t-shirt and boxers, jeans and plaid button-up on the floor. He'd dove into the bed as quickly as he could without making it seem like an actual panicked run-and-jump. "Don't get me wrong, that whole tight tee thing is working for you, but I'm -"


"Fine! I'm being quiet!"

Hales makes a huffing noise. Not totally unlike Stiles's dad, actually. "Maybe I should have taken your friend," he says, and Stiles laughs.

"Scott? Man, you have no idea what hell I saved you from." Scott's his friend and all, but he probably would have tried to do something brave and stupid. Stiles is more cowardly and smart. Everyone has their strengths. "Can I go to sleep, or are you going to stare at me some more?"

"Can you shut up long enough to go to sleep?"

"So that's a 'yes' to the staring, then," Stiles can't resist adding.


"Yes, Sir," Stiles says, and gives Hale a sloppy salute.

"Weird kid," he thinks Hale might say, but being kidnapped is both emotionally and physically draining, and Stiles is already unconscious.


ix. no moon

"I want pancakes," Stiles says the next morning. He's been held at gunpoint, and kidnapped, and he is now part of the world's most dangerous reality show. He's a sixteen year old boy, and goddamn it, he wants some carbs. "And bacon," he adds, because why not?

Hale runs one hand over his hair and gives him a few notes. Gun tucked under his pillow. "Half an hour. And twice as much as you think we need," he says, and he actually does eat that many. Like, a gigantic stack of pancakes. Stiles takes a mental note for later - eats like a pig, goddamn.

It's strange, maybe, how quickly Stiles's Kidnapped Life falls into a pattern. That pattern is mostly him driving and picking up food, while Hale meets shady people in shady places, steals them new cars - Stiles mourns his Jeep until Hale starts giving him strange looks - and spends his nights brooding. It's not a picnic or anything. Hale swings between tolerating Stiles in neutral silence and shoving him into things - walls, mostly, but sometimes the steering wheel, or the side of the car. Sometimes Hale forgets to eat, which means Stiles doesn't eat, and he doesn't care much for creature comforts, which means Stiles doesn't get any either. And there's also the weird habit of staring he has. Like, the first time Stiles wakes up to Hale staring at him he freaks, but then it keeps happening, so he gets kind of used to it? It doesn't give him the heebie-jeebies the same way Professor Harris does, so he'll write it off to Hale's obviously disturbed and antisocial upbringing.

Stiles thinks about leaving sometimes. He'd like to; he thinks he'd get pretty far before Hale caught up to him, but Hale seems like the type who likes the hunt. Stiles has a very vivid daymare where Hale rips him limb from limb; some where he goes for Stiles's dad too.

Revenge is a messy business. Just because Hale is after the Argents doesn't mean there won't be other bodies on the way. Peter Hale went through about three times as many bystanders as he did Argents. Not that it didn't help him in the end; Crazy Pete still ranks as an all-time fan favorite, and as far as Stiles knows he's still alive, so. There's something to be said for a high body count. He just doesn't want to be part of it. He'd like to stay on Hale's good side, insomuch as he has one.

Stiles lasts a week before he sort of loses it.

"Look," he starts. "Can I - can I send a message to my dad? He's gonna be worried, okay, he's probably losing his mind."

"The Comptroller knows you're with me," Hale says, totally missing the fucking point, Jesus.

"Uh, yeah, that would be why he's probably losing his mind. You remember what show you're on? You remember the average body count?" and at that at least Hale actually flinches. "Seriously. I need to send him a message. It's just me and him," Stiles continues, and he hates the way his voice wavers on the word 'him'. "It's just us, okay, and you know they didn't tell him anything, not really, he doesn't know I'm still alive-" for now, Stiles thinks, alive for now, whatever hope I can give him, "I don't want him to worry, okay? I can made a brand new account, you can read the message before I send it, whatever. Please," and yeah, his voice definitely breaks there, and he hates it. He hates this, hates not knowing what's going to happen, or where they're going, or what anyone back home is doing. He misses school for God's sake, he misses enjoying his invisibility.

Hale doesn't say anything for the rest of the drive. When they reach that night's hotel, he taps down to the log-in screen. There's an alt-route there Stiles doesn't recognize. An unfiltered system?

"It's an old subsystem," Hale says, like that's any kind of explanation. When Stiles looks at him blankly, he adds, "it's not traceable," which, okay, maybe it is.

"Can I-?" he asks, because he can barely get his hope up for even this, couldn't take the disappointment after two weeks of not letting himself hope for anything.

"You need a password to send," is all Hale says, "manual access," and Stiles practically launches himself at the screen.

"No problem," Stiles says. "I mean - thank you, thanks, really," and then he throws himself on the keyboard.

Tell Scott it's not his fault. Stiles starts, because he would never forgive himself if Scott went around shouldering blame for doing exactly what Stiles told him to do. Tell him it was better him than me, or whatever. He didn't recognize Derek Hale at all, do you believe it? Moron. I'm never going to have to stop taking care of him.

Stiles spends five minutes spewing out everything he can think of, and then spends another five minutes structuring it into something he can send his dad that won't freak him out. It's like - he can't lie, not really, because if he pretends it's all kittens and rainbows there's no way his dad is going to believe it. But it has to be reassuring, it has to, because his dad is already on the verge of a heart attack, and after all this probably a nervous breakdown as well.

Are you eating your vegetables? he finishes. Because I'm totally not. I suppose I should have assumed life on the run involved a lot of takeout. If I never see a pizza again it will actually be too soon.

He deletes a sentence about the weather, and adds that he has his meds. He signs it totally fine, really, I promise, when I get home I actually want a salad, so you better keep the fridge well-stocked" and steps back so Derek can read it. Granted, Stiles is pretty sure Derek had already been reading every sentence over his shoulder, but whatever.

"Fine," Hale says shortly, and shoves him out of the way. One of his gentler shoves, and Stiles is willing to see the bright side of it anyway. "Go take a shower," he says, and punches in a five-digit password. Stiles can't see what, but he tucks it away for later just in case.


x. no pale reflection

"Really?" Stiles says when they pull up to the new address Hale gave him. "This is where you're going to do your crazy Argent-hunting thing? This looks like a place to be stabbed by a hobo."

"If you're trying to annoy me into letting you go," Hale says, "you're going to have to try harder."

Somehow Stiles doesn't think this is an actual invitation to try harder so much as an invitation to shut up.

"Stay in the car," Hale adds, and Stiles honestly has every intention of doing just that. He turns the engine off. Puts the musicCast onto some local previous hits mix, so at least he'll have something to sing along to.

Hale isn't long this time. Probably a half hour, tops - when he gets in the car. Looking a little paler than usual, which is an accomplishment for a guy who looks like he should be playing the not-quite-teenage vampire heartthrob in a some preteen drama.



"Just drive," Hale growls, and Stiles heads north, towards District 15. They probably won't make it by the time Hale feels like stopping, but the main road always has food and a place to stay the night.

"So what is it this time?" Stiles says. Really good news or none at all, judging by the set of Hale's jaw.

"This time?"

"The whole Hale-Argent thing," Stiles continues, and waves a hand in the air. "I mean, it's been a few cycles, I figured it was about time for the whole thing to flair up again, but what is it this time? Do you even keep track anymore? Is there a family lottery? Do you draw straws? And is there a reason you're flying solo? I mean, with your people skills, perhaps not totally surprising -"

"Shut up," Hale says, and Stiles almost slams on the breaks because fuck, that is not normal Stiles-shut-up-you-annoy-me tone. There's something darker there, and angrier, and he is suddenly aware that Derek's presence in the car has doubled - shoulders bunched up, and jaw clenched, like all the hair on his body is standing on edge, and oh shit, Stiles thinks, oh shit he is going to die.

"For Laura," Derek grits out, so low that Stiles stains to hear it, because if he's going to die, he'd really like to hear his murderer's last words, is that weird?

"Laura?" he repeats, dumbly. Like he doesn't know who Laura Hale is. Like everyone with a vidscreen doesn't know who Laura Hale is, and how she died, and what the Argents did to her afterward.

"I wouldn't talk anymore today," Hale growls, and Stiles nods dumbly, because - Jesus, yes, absolutely.


xi. shot by a security camera

Stiles really doesn't say anything for the rest of the day. Silence is the better part of valor, or some shit, and he's taking that one to heart. There was a moment there where he actually feared for his life a little.

It's hard to get a good read on Derek Hale. Stiles has come to realize he's not a total sociopath - Stiles doesn't worry that Derek is going to smother him in his sleep or wear his skin as a suit or anything like that, but there are very clearly some emotionally disturbed anger management issues that Stiles had better learn to avoid, or the hits are just going to keep coming. Stiles doesn't have a lot of body fat, okay, there isn't any cushioning when he gets shoved into things, and he's tired of feeling like his bones are going to snap.

Speaking of bones - heh.

"What's wrong with your arm?" he asks, and knows he's right just by the way Hale's shoulders stiffen.


"You're favoring your left arm," Stiles sing-songs, "and since you're not actually left-handed, I'm guessing you did something to it. Or whoever you visited did something to it. Either-or."

Silence. What a shocker.

"My dad really is a Sheriff. If you've gone something stupid, I can help. He dated a nurse for a while." Stiles pauses. "Kind of serial dates nurses, actually. Doesn't really get a chance to meet anyone else on the job, I suppose. You think they'd stop going out with him." At least he'd never gone out with Scott's mom. Not that he and Scott aren't already like brothers, but that would have made Stiles's adolescence just that much more awkward...


"Shutting up," he says automatically.

"No, just -" and that's when Stiles realizes Hale is trying to peel off his jacket. Stiles gives the sleeve a tug, and hisses at the blood and bruises that appear.

"Did you get shot?"

"I took the bullet out," Hale grunts, which - wow, Stiles totally still stands by the emotionally disturbed assessment.

"Okay, uh. Well, we passed a pharmacy a while back?" he says dubiously, and Hale snorts.

"There's a liquor store across the street. Help me back into my jacket."

"The blood is much less noticeable," Stiles agrees. "You sure you don't want -"

"Just help me clean it."

"Ten minutes," Stiles says. "Then I'm gonna come looking for you."

"Hah hah," Hale returns, deadpan. "I'm sure the underage boy looking for me won't draw any attention at all."

"Sure, now you're worried about traveling with an underage boy. Here, take your - for fuck's sake, take the sunglasses," Stiles says, and tries to shove them on Hale's face while he bats them away with his good hand. "You look like some kind of Neuroin addict, but at least he probably won't recognize you." Hale still doesn't let Stiles anywhere near an interscreen, but he keeps track of his own press - the rumors around the beatings and the deaths abound.

Stiles watches him stumble out the door.

"Ten minutes," he repeats, and figures he might as well take a stab at cracking the lock on the interscreen.

It's handily tucked away when Hale gets back - for being such a creeper, sometimes he lumbers around like a bear - and Stiles is tearing a shirt up into wide strips.

"Is that my shirt?"

"Please. There was already blood on it. You gotta stop wearing this stuff in public." Stiles looks up. "Big bottle." The cheap stuff, and oh, how does it pain Stiles that he's cleaned up enough of the cheap stuff for a lifetime.

"Some for my arm, and the rest -"

"For your liver, right, good call."

"Still easier to get than pain pills," Hale mutters, and takes a swig.

"I could probably find you some Neuroin," Stiles offers, and Hale's hand comes down so hard on his wrist he flinches.

"No." Hale's eyes are - really dark this close, wow. "You think they'd buy you as a Neuro-user even for a second? Dumb little kid like you?"

"Hey!" Stiles says, affronted. "I'm very pretty, you know, for a certain audience."

"That audience wouldn't be interested in your notes," Hale says, succinct, and Stiles feels his face heat because - yeah, that is probably not a situation he wants a part of.

"Fine," he says. "Gimme the bottle," and the amount of swearing and teeth-gritting Hale does when Stiles douses his arm makes him feel a bit better. "Now drink your stupid vodka," which Hale obediently does - shocker - while Stiles wraps up his arm.

"Thanks," Hale says, when it's all done, and Stiles tries not to fall over in amazement.

"You're welcome. Can I choose a movie?"


Business as usual, then.


xii. you can’t watch your own image

Hale spends the next day mostly sleeping - which, he's probably got the hangover from hell, on top of his arm, so Stiles doesn't wake him until it's time for checkout.

And by wake he means kicks.

"Yo," he says, when Hale looks blearily up at him. "It's nearly noon. Stay or...?"

"Move," Hale says, and lurches up looking like something risen from the grave. "Get our stuff. We need a new car."

Stiles throws off another sarcastic salute, because in truth he's actually sort of relieved Hale isn't dying of gangrene or whatever. There's no way Derek Hale can just walk into one of the District clinics, and Stiles would have a really difficult time getting back across the Districts if Hale were dead.

Hale hotwires them a mini-van and spends the better part of two days stretched out in the back while Stiles drives aimlessly - through District 12, over to District 10, down to District 13, and then across the corner of 12 again. He stops at the orgo-vegan places for green shakes with, like, bee pollen and ginger, and tries not to make gleeful faces at Hale in the mirror while he chomps down on burgers.

At the end of the third day Hale pulls himself into the front seat.

"West," he says, and Stiles isn't sure if it's good or bad that they're backtracking; heading back towards District 16. Home.

Hale dozes on and off for the rest of day, and even after that it never quite goes back to the way it was before. There was a moment in the hotel where Stiles thought maybe - who knows. Not that they could be friends, or anything, but that it might get a little easier between them. Maybe this is Stockholm Syndrome, Stiles thinks desperately. Maybe Stiles is slowly sinking into madness. It certainly feels like it. Hale doesn't even talk to him anymore, not at all. Just reverts back to the stage where he stares at Stiles, like, all the time, like he's some kind of bug under a microscope, and it really isn't any wonder that after the fifth day of talking to himself Stiles finally snaps.

"Can you just - talk to me?" he asks, frustrated. "I mean, even a 'yes' or a 'no' or a grunt, okay, so I don't go crazy. I should probably just, like, stop talking to you, I know, because it's like talking to a wall that hates everything you say, but you're kind of the only person I even get to talk to, besides the disturbingly familiar hotel clerks who seems to be ubiquitously watching pornvids, which - everything about my life has hit new levels of disturbing, okay, the least you could do is not drive me crazy while that's happening. For fuck's sake!" He's blinking away tears, and really, he doesn't even care, because this has been a really fucking stressful situation, okay, he's been kidnapped by a murderer and just because he's State-sanctioned doesn't make it any less murderous and dangerous and likely to end in his fucking death, Jesus Christ.

"Pull over," Hale says, and Stiles tries, he does, but his hands have gone a little numb. He can hear Hale swearing next to him. Shoving him over until his foot slides off the gas and Hale can put the car in park.

"Sorry," he says, "shit, shit," maybe Hale is going to kill him now - not much use in a gopher who is losing his fucking mind, right? He actually almost forgot what a panic attack felt like.

"Breathe," Hale orders, one hand on the back of Stiles's neck. Solid. Grounding. "Just breathe for me, all right?"

"Yep," Stiles gasps out, "no problem, definitely breathing," because even when he's having a panic attack, why would Stiles be short on words? "Just... breathing."

"That's it. Stiles. Uh - you're fine," and Stiles would be laughing if he weren't a razor's edge from passing out. Derek Hale trying to comfort him while he has a panic attack is pretty much the last thing he thought would happen today. Well, maybe not the last, but pretty fucking far down on the list.

He doesn't know how long it takes for his breathing to even out, but his face is wet. Hale's hand is still on the back of his neck, his thumb making little circles just under his hairline, and Stiles is too tired to freak out.

"Sorry. I, uh, might have been holding some stuff in, there."

"Get a lot of panic attacks?" Hale asks, and it's the mildest he's sounded in a while. Note to self: act emotionally unstable. Brings all the sociopathic boys to the yard.

"After my mom died," Stiles says. Concentrates on keeping his breathing even. "Not so much recently."

"Sorry," Hale says, and looks away. Hand dropping to his side. "I never meant - Laura was the talker. Not me. And if - if I don't say anything there's that much less for them to broadcast," he says finally, and Stiles tries to pretend his mouth doesn't fall open a little. "I don't - " Hale clenches his jaw a few times. "I'm not here to entertain anybody," he continues even as they both realize that soundbite is going to be everywhere - gritty, dark. Tortured. Exactly the type of thing viewers like to see.

Stiles shuts his mouth again, slowly. He can't say he ever thought of it that way. Never thought that Hale didn't want the fame, that the show might actually only be a means to an end. And now that he's spelled it out, his method is clever, too - there are really only so many brooding montages the broadcasters will be able to pull together before it gets boring. He'll make them work for it.

Stiles has said before that he would never be this person - the Derek Hale, or the Kate Argent, or whoever. He doesn't have it in him. But he understands it, in the end, so maybe he can make this easier on both of them.

"Want me to shut up?" is what he asks. "I mean, it's going to be physically painful for me, but if you let me put on the musicCast I could at least sing along to that."

Hale's mouth quirks into something that might have been the beginning of a smile. "You can talk. Better you than me, anyway."

Stiles doesn't examine it too much, but that's roughly the moment 'Hale' becomes 'Derek'. It just makes sense, right? Kinda weird to be calling someone you sort of live with by their last name, especially after you've sort of cried in front of them. And there are dozens of Hales, but there's only one Derek.

"You can message your dad when we get to the hotel," Derek says. "Just one-way."

"Okay," Stiles says. "Thanks," and pulls the car back onto the road.


xiii. and also look yourself in the eye

After that, Derek starts talking. Letting little pieces of himself slip. For Stiles's benefit, he knows, and he can't help the little pinpricks of guilt that he gets now and again for making Derek share himself with the world. It's not uncommon for people to spill their guts, to try and titillate or amuse or entertain, but that's not Derek. He's only doing it for Stiles.

"It's been just me and Laura since we were kids," Derek says. "Since the Compound burned down. And we - we didn't want any part of it, the show. The killing. Laura wanted to move to the First District. Take the Entrance Exams."

Stiles doesn't say anything. They both know how Laura Hale's story ends. Stiles's doesn't know Derek's, though.

"Maybe if they'd left her alone," Derek continues. "If they hadn't -"

"Hey," Stiles breaks in, because that sentence ends with 'cut her body in half' or something even worse, and no one - no one needs to say that shit out loud. "You don't have to, okay? You don't have to justify it to me, or yourself, or anyone," he says, and thinks of the millions of people who are probably going to see this. Jesus. "As far as I'm concerned - you're gold, okay. I don't - I'd never be able to do it, I know I wouldn't, but if you can? I'm not going to tell you that you can't, or you shouldn't."

"I just - Peter would have known what to do," Derek mutters, and how has Stiles never realized that Derek talks about Peter in the past tense?

"Is Peter... is he dead?" and something in Derek's face twists.

"He's insane," Derek says flatly. "The man on the vidscreens - that was never the Peter I knew. If the Argents ever get to him it'll be a mercy."

"You're not going to end up like that," Stiles says instead. "I won't let you," and the weird thing is how much he means it.

"You can't-"

"I will," Stiles says. "Don't tell me what to do!" and Derek grins a little. Or looks a little less grim, which is par for the course.


xiv. knows no reflection

"Sometimes I wish they'd kill me," Derek tells him, another day, "when they killed Laura. That was always their biggest mistake, leaving me behind." he pauses. "I don't know why she thought one Hale would be any less dangerous than twenty."

"She," Stiles says, and then repeats it once more - "she" - because there is really only one possible 'she' in this scenario. "You're going for Kate," he says, slack-jawed, because - Jesus, Derek would have a better chance of killing the Head Comptroller. Kate isn't the oldest Argent, or the richest, or maybe even the best of them, come down to it, but she was clever. The world had watched her seduce a high school science teacher in a bar - all of eighteen, shiny brown hair and big blue eyes, sweet as pie - and then she'd killed eleven Hales while they slept. The world barely knew her name before that - one of the younger Argents, Chris Argent's baby sister, nothing else, and afterwards she was a star. No one had seen her coming.

"Are you insane?" he squeaks. "Wait, you know what, I just answered my own question. But I guess I should have asked do you have a death wish? because that seems to be the more relevant problem."

"There's nothing else I want to live for," Derek says seriously, and as depressing as it sounds its a damn good answer.


xv. knows not pride or vanity

Stiles saves Derek's life on a Tuesday.

That was definitely not on the original agenda. The original agenda was: shitty continental breakfast, driving, shitty diner food, more driving, Derek stopping somewhere creepy to kick ass and take names, followed by more driving. Somehow, this time, Derek got a little caught up in the kicking ass business. Stiles hears something that might be screaming, and something that is definitely gunshots, and when Derek doesn't appear in the thirty seconds following, Stiles breaks Rule Number One - he leaves the car. He takes a tire iron, and he's pretty sure he breaks a guy's arm with it. He definitely fucks up the knee of the guy who has a gun pointed at Derek's head.

"Jesus Allah Baby Buddha," Stiles breathes, and tries not to faint, because now is really not a good time, and he concentrates on evening out his breathing when Derek grabs his arm and drags him outside.

"Is there a reason you didn't stay in the car?" Derek asks. "Idiot," and Stiles would make a comment about Derek bleeding all over the upholstery except he is bleeding all over the upholstery.

"Actually not my blood," Derek says, and - oh, great, Stiles has been leaking all his thoughts out through his mouth again, fuck.

Derek doesn't let Stiles stop driving until they're crossed the entire District, and most of another. Nearly dawn, and another shitty motel, and Stiles cannot believe how pissed off he is six hours later.

"You're a dick," he says, and throws the duffle bag of their stuff against the back of the door just to prove his point.

"And you're an idiot," Derek says again, and that is one time too many to someone who just saved his life.

Stiles only realizes he yelled that aloud when his ears start ringing.

Derek stares at him.

"I take it back," Stiles says, but then quickly readjusts, because - "actually, you know what? I don't. I don't take it back. You're the idiot in this situation. You. Not me. I am the smartest person in this room. I am not the one who went into a bloodbath without any backup. That was you."

"I'm fine," Derek says, gently, and what the fuck kind of scenario is that that Derek is the calm one and Stiles is losing it? "Stiles, look, I'm fine."

"You are - you have a pretty fucked up definition of fine, okay," is what Stiles finally chokes out, "you homicidal, emotionally disturbed, stupid, stupid -"

And Derek cuts him off with a kiss - actually kissing him, lips on lips, and that one method of shutting up no one has ever tried to use on Stiles before.

"Oh," Stiles says, all the fight gone out of him, because he usually is actually smarter than this. "Did I reverse Stockholm Syndrome you?" and Derek snorts.

"l wouldn't write it off."

"That could be a fun show. I mean, psychologically damaging, obviously, but doesn't that just make it more fun?"

"Stiles," Derek interrupts, his stupid Very Serious Face on, the one with the lowered eyebrows and his gigantic forehead on full display. He's got his hand on Stiles's face - cupping his cheek, running his thumb just under Stiles's eye. "Okay?" he asks, and there are a lot of questions buried in that one word. Stiles knows - he knows, intellectually, he knows that the Comptroller's office has vidcapture everywhere, that Stiles could be watched any second of any day. He knows that he's definitely been watched every moment he's spent with Derek, and that if they do this, everyone will know. Stiles is still only sixteen, so it won't end up being broadcast - the Justice system might be in tatters, but the SCC is not - but people will know. The producers will try to get away with whatever they can - kisses, or anything over clothes, or Stiles staring at himself in the bathroom mirror the next morning, the skin around his neck scraped raw; Derek and Stiles have nothing to themselves. Derek is asking Stiles to share himself with the world, and the weird thing is that Stiles doesn't give a damn about that.

What might be more important is that Derek is asking Stiles to make himself a target. Stiles is marking himself for death, for future retribution, and he's risking everyone he loves in the bargain - his dad, Scott, Lydia, Danny. And Stiles is asking Derek to tear off a little bit of his heart and give it to Stiles for a lark. They're binding themselves together, they're throwing themselves in the Argents' faces. Derek knows, and he still asked. Not because he was oblivious to the risk, or he thought Stiles was. But because he was taking a risk himself.

"I - am I even legal, here?" is what comes out. "Where the hell are we? District 11?" He thinks they're in one of the mid-region Districts, which means they might have really low thresholds. Or premarital clauses. "You might have to marry me first," and why is Stiles still talking.

"Special dispensation," is what Derek says, Stiles's eyes tracking the quirk of his lip like there's nothing else he's ever wanted to do.

"Right, right. Might as well get all the underaged tail you can - "

"Stiles," and Derek kisses him again, deeper and sweeter and darker all at once, and Stiles has to press his hands to his face, after. Shaking.

"We can wait," Derek says, and Stiles doesn't know if he means until Stiles stops freaking out, or until after they kill Kate, or --

"Fuck that," Stiles says, and he doesn't care how nervous he is. He's not scared, and there's a pretty distinct difference. "You don't think the Argents took enough from you?" and it's probably not exactly in Stiles's best interests to bring up the A-word during a moment like this, but he means it. And if they're going up against Kate - Jesus. That doesn't leave them with the best chances, does it? A), Stiles is not going to die a virgin, and B), he's not going to turn away from Derek. "I want this," he says, "I wantyou," and from the way Derek's hands are digging in, branding him, under his clothes and under his skin, Stiles knows Derek wants him too.


xvi. cares not about your dreams

The uncensored footage ends up out on the interscreens, if you're clever enough to know where to look - and, as always, anything is available for the right price. John Stilinski calls in a few favors, loans out a few more, and watches it for himself. Just long enough to see the scars on Hale's torso, that Hale leaves Stiles's hands and mouth free, that Stiles calls Hale 'Derek' - John shuts it off, then, and sits back. The bourbon glass in his hand shaking.


xvii. cares not for your pyramid schemes

"You should go," Derek says one morning. "You're only going to end up getting hurt."

And, see, most people interpret this as Derek telling Stiles he's useless, to get gone, that Derek is a lone wolf kind of guy. That Stiles has outstayed his welcome. And with most people, Stiles might believe that: he's loud, he doesn't think before he speaks, he knows a little about everything and a lot about nothing, he can't shoot a gun or a crossbow, and he's not exactly easy on the eyes. If you were going to pick someone to watch your back when you take on your worst enemy, someone to bide your time with when you're not thinking murderous thoughts, you could do a lot better than Stiles.

But it's not about that. It's not about what Stiles brings to the table. Derek isn't doing it for himself. What Derek means is that it's always been dangerous but it's getting worse, that he's trying to give Stiles an out - that maybe the Argents will think Derek got what he wanted from Stiles; that he was nothing but a young piece of ass; that he's not worth going after, not now, not ever.

"Never been much of a quitter," Stiles says, and shovels another muffin into his mouth. Never has been. Not gonna start now.


xviii. names are never spoken

"When I find her," Derek says one morning, and Stiles always knows exactly who 'her' refers to. Not a very large female presence in his life lately. "I don't suppose there's any chance you're going to stay in the car."

For once Stiles actually lets the look on his face do the talking.

Derek snorts a little, the same way he does when he's trying to pretend he doesn't actually have feelings. Stiles is getting pretty familiar with it. "Right."

"I can shoot a gun," Stiles offers after a minute. "I mean, not particularly well, but whatever. My dad taught me how."

This time Derek gives him a look.

"Seriously! My dad is the Sheriff! Are you ever going to believe me about that?"


Stiles huffs. "You are in so much trouble when we get back to District 16, dude, you don't even know."

Cue awkward silence.

Because Stiles never really thought that maybe they weren't going back. Or that Derek wasn't going back. Which - he doesn't know if the awkward pause is because Derek doesn't expect them to come out of this alive, or because Derek was never going back with him. Maybe Stiles is just some stupid kid for thinking this forever. Or even, like, beyond next month.

"I mean -" he starts, because the quickest way to cover up words is with more words. If you say the right ones, even, people forget all about what you were talking about before.

"What are the chances your dad is going to shoot me?" Derek interrupts, hands shoved into the pockets of his jacket. Staring down at his boots like a kid on the playground.

Stiles scrunches up his face in mock-thought, because otherwise he's going to start grinning like an idiot, and he has it on pretty good authority - Lydia and Scott - that it makes him look like a serial killer. "Well, uh, let's see. You kidnapped me. You stole my innocence" - and Derek looks like a deer in headlights, oh man, Stiles should not be so cruel - "you're about to get me a totally illegal firearm..."

"Stop talking."

"...and I'm going to help you kill some people."

"Please stop talking," Derek says, desperately, and Stiles has to bite down on the corners of his lips to keep from snickering.


xix. curse is never broken

They're up the next morning at the crack of dawn, the literal crack - it's a bit dark and then all of a sudden it's unbearably, unbearably bright, and Stiles has to steal Derek's sunglasses. "Where are we going?" he asks.

"East," is all Derek says, and Stiles doesn't take that to mean Derek doesn't trust him so much as Derek doesn't trust anyone else - the producers, the Comptrollers, anyone else who might be listening in or watching. The Argents still live in the coastal Districts; the Hales used to, but they spread to the middle and western regions after the feud erupted. Willing to let sleeping dogs lie, to a point, but in the end always pushed a little too far. So they head east, stopping every few hours to grab something to eat, and for target practice. Derek gets Stiles a Beretta 9000S - a good gun, and one he can handle. No bullshit, and it's maybe weird how much Stiles appreciates that.

"Well," Derek says slowly, just after their first attempt, "at least you can hit the broad side of the barn."

Stiles grins back at him. "Seen better, huh?"

"Seen worse," he sighs, and puts one hand on Stiles's hip. "Try not jumping every time you pull the trigger, okay?"

"I'll be all right," Stiles says. He's not planning on killing anyone. He realizes that doesn't mean it won't happen, but he's really only headed into this in a support capacity. Derek: badass killer with ninja skills. Stiles: the ability to hit the broad side of a barn. He snickers, and Derek presses a quick kiss to the tip of his ear. Doesn’t ask.


xx. le miroir casse

Stiles doesn't know where they're going. He doesn't know how close they are. He doesn't know the game plan, or if Derek even has one. This is Derek's thing; the killing thing, the hunting Argents thing. He trusts Derek to tell him what's important, whatever he can afford to say when everyone in the world might be watching.

They're curled together under the covers, after all the fun sweaty sex business, and Derek rolls the two of them over. Pushes his mouth just under the cut of Stiles's jaw and breathes.

Kind of wetly, actually.

"Stop breathing down my neck, you creep."

Derek bites him. Sets his teeth in the line of Stiles's neck until he shivers, pleasantly. "Last chance," Derek whispers, last chance to run, and Stiles shrugs. Nearly hits Derek in the nose with his shoulder.

"Let's get pancakes for breakfast," he says instead. "Or waffles. Ooh, waffles. Like pancakes, but with prebuilt syrup traps."

"Bacon," Derek grunts. "None of that tofu crap."

"Nag nag nag." Like Derek doesn't get bad enough heartburn already.

In the morning Stiles sends his dad a message. He says that he's fine - he's great, actually, for being on a homicidal road trip. He's kind of in love. And maybe it's Stockholm Syndrome, or maybe Stiles's type is Tall, Dark, and Emotionally Damaged, but he's happy. He's coming home, and he's bringing Derek with him.

Let's at least get through dinner before you pull out the shotgun, he writes. In light of this restraint, I will even let you eat curly fries. Possibly pie.

I love you.

He hits send. The passcode screen pops up. Five waiting spaces.

Laura, of course. Stiles still can't believe how long it took him to figure out.


xxi. mirror, mirror on the wall

They're in District 6, parked outside a house in the suburbs, when Derek asks Stiles if he has his gun.

Derek never asks that.

"Yeah," Stiles says slowly, and there's something in in Derek's face - desperate, and grasping, and whatever he has to say - "It can wait," Stiles says. He grabs the collar of Derek's jacket and tugs. "Tell me later, okay?"

Derek nods. "Okay." Rests his forehead against Stiles. "Stay behind me. Watch my back."

"I might watch your ass," Stiles confesses, and Derek can't quite stifle his snort.

"Close enough." Stiles kisses him then, quick and frantic. Trying not to think of it as their last kiss, as the last anything. "If I die -"

"You - "

"If I die," Derek repeats, "you run. You get in the car, and you run. You said before, you don't understand why I'm doing this. You could run now -"

"I won't."

" - so run then." He digs his fingers into Stiles's arms, hard enough to bruise. "Promise me."

So Stiles promises.


xxii show me where them bombs will fall

The weird part is how easy it is.

Stiles isn't an expert, or anything. He doesn't know if Derek is really good or the Argents are really sloppy, or maybe Kate is that confident, but there aren't nearly enough people in the house to be a threat. Derek takes them down, one or two at a time, and the world's biggest, shiniest arsenal doesn't mean a thing if everyone's dead.

And when they get to the basement, the guards downstairs are gone - just two piles of guns - and the door's fucking open.

It's edited out later, of course - the scene skips right to the gun slinging, the sassy backtalk. The way Derek nearly rips Kate's head from her neck. Stiles vomits, in the background, and there's a slow fade-to-black that leaves Derek's eyes light an unnaturally long time. Like something burns in them. Stiles isn't entirely surprised it's Retribution's most popular finale yet.

"It's done," Derek says. Sagging against Stiles like all the weights gone out of him. "It's done," and his face damp against Stiles's neck.

And it's a perfect, beautiful, cathartic moment, except -

Jesus, Stiles thinks. This whole thing is so far from done.


xxiii black mirror

It's two stolen cars later when Stiles feels safe enough to even try and say something. "The door," he says, low, and looking around guiltily. Kate's dead and Derek and Stiles are well on their way back to District 16. Out of the reach of the Argents, until it's their turn on Retribution again. "I mean - it was open, wide open, who the fuck locks themselves up in a bulletproof fortress and leaves the final door wide fucking open!"

Derek isn't saying anything. Not a thinking silence, or a listening silence, either. Something that might be satisfaction.

Holy shit.

"How did you -"

"Not me," Derek says, and smiles. Thinly. "There's no Hale-Argent feud if there aren't any Hales left."

"So they--" The producers. The Comptrollers, Jesus. "So you're safe?" Stiles says. Repeats it twice over, just for the shape of it in his mouth. "Just like that?"

"Safe might be going too far."

"But you're the only Hale!"

"Sure," Derek says agreeably, and rubs the knuckles of their hands together. "I'm definitely the only Hale. Right."

"Did you just - did you just propose to me? In a hotel?" Stiles squawks. "Forget the Argents, my dad is going to kill you!"

(When their proposal, such as it is, doesn't end up playing on the vidscreens, Stiles thinks that maybe it will go in the preview for the next Argent cycle. He wonders who it will be this time - Chris Argent, maybe, but he's already had his time in the spotlight and Retribution isn't big on repeaters; Kate's niece is only a little older than Stiles. Pretty.)

"I like our odds," Derek says, and maybe it's naive, or stupid, or completely insane to think this will ever end well, but Stiles can't help smiling.