Cover art by mari-mcsly
The thing was, Stiles really liked Massachusetts. He liked the buzz and the craziness of living in a city. He liked that he could have complete anonymity while he wandered from neighborhood to neighborhood, he liked that for the most part, people were friendly... if a bit nosy. He’d also discovered a hitherto unknown addiction to fried chicken and waffles for breakfast, which was why he had been out and about on a busy Saturday morning. The restaurant was owned by a little old Southern lady, who just happened to be the Alpha in the greater Mass area. Her name was Ethel and Stiles would be willing to swear that she had the hand of Jesus when it came to waffles and fried chicken. When Stiles had first been introduced to the pack, there had been a rival territory dispute. He’d seen her rip out the throat of three younger, burlier wolves then calmly sit down for pecan pie and sweet tea.
The neighborhood he lived in Somerville was pretty nice. He could afford it, and it kind of reminded him a little bit of Beacon Hills with the perfectly spaced trees and super friendly neighbors. The area pack knew about him of course, but let Stiles keep to himself, which he appreciated. Stiles hadn’t tried to hide what he was. That would have been suicidal, especially when his heat came around. Stiles never really was one to look a gift horse in the mouth (or in this case a gift wolf) so he was content enough to roll with it.
His life was weird. It was kind of a thing.
Still, it was a pretty sweet place to live.
Until it wasn’t.
If it had just been him, Stiles could probably have ignored it. If there was anything he’d learned from... well. From everything that had happened, it was that he was a hell of a lot stronger than he thought he was.
He’d just been walking, pushing the stroller. Zoe seemed to enjoy the day just as much as her dad, pointing out birds and trees with a solemn little jut of her jaw that never failed to make Stiles’ heart hurt a little.
“Tweet! Tweet, daddy!”
Stiles obligingly tweeted at the bird, feeling the same helpless clench of love that he always did when she smiled up at him, clapping delightedly. Stiles was so busy grinning down at his daughter that tripped over his own feet when the lace of his Converse came undone. He snorted and Zoe laughed again when her stroller did an unexpected wheelie while Stiles used it to catch his balance. It was nice to see her laugh. She was just getting over a bit of extremely nasty flu, and it was the first time that either of them had gotten outside in several days.
The bird flew off. Zoe waved bye-bye (this was a skill she’d just picked up and practiced at everything from saying goodbye to her babysitter to saying goodbye to the contents of potty chair when Stiles dumped it), her attention caught by the doll in her stroller. Stiles stopped at a crosswalk with a small crowd of people, waiting for the Saturday shopping traffic. He had just bent over to quickly tie his shoe when it happened.
The shove to the upper part of his back sent him sprawling. Stiles had already been off balance, and when he landed on the asphalt he scraped his hands and knees.
He also barely was able to move in time to avoid the oncoming car.
Stiles threw himself to the left and to his shock the car actually swerved towards him, almost coming up onto the sidewalk. He heard the scream of a lady in the crowd, but Stiles was still seeing stars from slamming the back of his head against the pavement. He heard his own high-pitched whine, heard the squeal of the tires as the driver whipped the car back into traffic, speeding off down the busy street.
The wheel had come close enough to Stiles that it had run over the long, white string of his shoelace.
Stiles blinked, his bloody hand pressing into his chest as he had tried to get his breath back. Between one heartbeat and the next he swung his terrified gaze back to the curb. In one heartbeat to the next he had jumped up, ignoring the way his ankle twinged. He hadn’t even noticed that he’d twisted it.
“Zoe!” His scream caused the onlookers to look around, confused. But the bright pink stroller with his tiny daughter was missing.
The thing about Omegas was that they were pretty much the lowest of the low when it came to werewolf hierarchy. Werewolves were strong, proud creatures. They tended to despise weakness, and the idea that an Omega could literally be a slave to his or her body usually caused the rest of the pack to look down upon them. Nowadays, they even had hormone suppressants for when Omegas went into heat. They were pretty much pack law, unless the Alpha was looking to breed.
Stiles wasn’t a very strong Omega. As the child of an Omega-human bond, Stiles was what he jokingly referred to as ‘Omega lite,’. He was faster than a human, and his healing rate was much quicker, but still not like that of a full-blooded werewolf. He didn’t change during the full moon. In his twenty-one years of life, Stiles had only the eyes and the teeth manifest on him once, and that had been under some really fucking stressful circumstances. Mostly, he had thought that he was fully human until...
But Stiles didn’t like to think about that.
Seeing the empty spot where his daughter’s stroller had sat had him whining in fear. Stiles had limped over the few steps, still looking around for her. He had spied the stroller pushed back against some shrubbery, half-hidden by the leaves of an overhanging tree. Stiles had sprinted over, feeling his eyes bleed to the bright green never found in nature, his adrenaline turning to terror when he had seen that the stroller was empty. Stiles had staggered, feeling like his whole world had dimmed.
Stiles head had snapped around so quickly that he popped vertebrae in his neck, only to see Zoe holding hands with a teenage girl who looked completely baffled when Stiles snatched up his daughter, burying his nose in her hair and clutching her to him. He hadn’t even realized that he was whispering her name over and over, almost crying until the girl said, “Mister? You need to watch your kid better. I saw her about to pet Mr. Henderson’s dog, and he bites!”
Stiles was completely freaked out; being pushed into the street, seeing Zoe gone, then finding her again had pretty much killed any chance of him being coherent. He just remembered nodding, then sinking down to the sidewalk, still clutching Zoe to his chest.
But he hadn’t known real fear until he made it back to the stroller. Pinned to the back of Zoe’s doll was a note. There was no handwriting. It looked like someone had just printed off onto a sheet of paper, but it was no less menacing for all that it looked completely benign, neatly pinned to the back of the doll:
IT WILL BE HER
IF YOU DON’T GIVE ME
WHAT I WANT
Stiles had always been grateful for what his dad gave him. Even when mom had died, and all the trauma that went along with losing a parent when you were so young had been so raw, money had never been something that they’d really had to worry about.
Until Stiles had caused his dad lose his job, that is.
Then... well. Money was tight. His dad had done his best. His dad had always done his best. But things were strained. Mr. Stilinski had managed to get a job working as a private investigator, but the jobs in the small town of Beacon Hills hadn't exactly kept them rolling in it. It had just been luck that Mr. Stilinski had paid for the house with his wife’s life insurance money, or they would have had to move. Stiles had of course gotten a job, but...
Scholarships had become more of a necessity than ever. By Stiles’ Junior year, he had narrowed it down to two schools. Stanford was an amazing school. It was close, he had like five different things that he could study... it was amazing. Allison and Lydia had already been accepted. It was close enough to come home on weekends. He’d even gotten a partial scholarship, so everything about it seemed perfect. The other school Stiles had applied to was more of a whim. He didn’t really think he’d get in, but he’d seen Good Will Hunting so many times, that he couldn’t stop himself from applying to MIT.
During the end of his Senior year, everything had changed. Everything.
When Stiles finally left for college, he never dreamed that something would happen that would make it so he never, ever wanted to go back to Beacon Hills again.
And he hadn’t. Until Derek Hale showed up at his door.
“Stiles?! Stiles heard a thump, a not-so muffled curse, and then all of the sudden his dad’s voice was a lot clearer. “Where are you? Are you okay? What’s happened?”
Stiles had to shut his eyes, relief making the terror still keeping his heartbeat thudding in his chest slow. His dad had never let him down. His dad was the only person who had never let him down, and even though it had been almost two years since he’d heard the sound of his voice, it brought him right back to being young and feeling safe when his dad was around.
After what had happened earlier he wasn’t able to let Zoe go completely. She was asleep, wrapped in her pink blanket, and Stiles had curled around her, his hand on her chest. Her breathing was slow and deep as she dreamed, and it made Stiles feel grounded, less panicked with every heartbeat of his little girl.
Stiles didn’t remember how he got home. It literally seemed like within one eyeblink and the next he and Zoe were in the small house, behind three different locked doors. Stiles recognized the way his chest felt too small, like the oxygen wasn’t good enough. He hadn’t had a panic attack in years, and was only able to talk himself down by the fact that Zoe needed him. He couldn’t fall apart and leave her helpless.
“Oh, shit... dad.” Stiles gulped, pressing the phone to his forehead for a second as he fought to keep himself from completely losing it.
He heard his dad take a deep breath. “Stiles Stilinski. You will not even think about hanging up on me. Let me hear you breathe, Stiles. One.”
It was a familiar technique they’d used when Stiles’ panic attacks had been so sudden that Stiles would just collapse. Even in middle school, he’d had permission to call his dad whenever one would strike so that his dad could talk him down. Stiles tried to force his lungs to take a breath.
“Good. Let me hear another. Two.”
Another breath, this one a little less shaky.
“Even better. One more. Three.”
On ‘three,’ Stiles forced himself to hiss out the bad air, and breathe deeply, taking in a calming breath. There was a few beats of silence, then his dad’s voice came across the phone, the shakiness only slightly apparent.
“I.” Stiles tried to focus his thoughts, but absolutely, honestly didn’t know where to begin. “Dad, it’s so fucked up... they almost hurt....” He stopped. No. He couldn’t tell his dad this way. “Me. Someone...” Stiles winced at his dad’s sharp breath.
“Are you okay? Are you safe now? Stiles, talk to me. Take another breath, son. Talk to me.”
It was like he’d never left.
Stiles hadn’t let himself miss his dad. What he’d done, well. It had been the only way. By the time he’d really started to want to go back, he’d had Zoe and that had been impossible anyway. But Stiles hadn’t realized how much he missed being called ‘son’ until he teared up, then he was crying, sucking in great, gasping sobs. He tried to muffle it, not wanting to wake Zoe, but it was hard. From very far away, he could hear his dad talking, sounding equal parts scared to death, and about two seconds away from crying himself.
“D-d-d” Stiles sniffed, wiped his nose on his sleeve. Stiles meant to say,’“Dad, I missed you,’ but blurted “Dad, I want to come home,” instead.
His dad sucked in a long, shuddering breath. Cleared his throat. “I think you’d better tell me what kind of trouble you’re in, son. Then we’ll see what we can do to get you out of it.”
Stiles turned onto his back, still wiping his eyes as he stared at the ceiling. Shit. This was going to be tricky. Stiles had done what he’d been forced to do. He didn’t really regret it, because he and Zoe had each other, but this could really, really have the potential to fuck up the very careful life he’d built for himself and his little girl.
“Are you comfortable? This might take awhile.”
His dad’s snort was loud, and it made Stiles smile. He heard his dad cover the mouthpiece, heard the muffled sound of him talking to someone else, then the clearer, “Yeah, no shit. Let’s start with the ‘someone wants to hurt you’ part and go from there.”
How could he do this without giving everything away? Stiles took his hand off of Zoe, rubbing his hand over his short hair.
“Uh. Well, My ... job... is kind of hard to explain. I guess that.. I have made some people really pissed off. Or a person. I don’t really know. And they... well. I didn’t realize that everything was connected until today. Today they went after someone... very special. Someone that I--”his voice broke again. It was Stiles’ turn to clear his throat. “--love. God, dad, I love her so much and they want to hurt her!”
“Her?” His dad sounded shocked. “Her who?”
“Her name is Zoe.” Stiles knew he was smiling as he looked down at his sleeping girl. She was a restless sleeper and she’d kicked off the little pink blanket and had balled herself up so that her butt was sticking straight up in the air. Her mouth was open just a little, and the little whisper of a snore was just as calming as her heartbeat. “She’s amazing, dad. I can’t wait for you to meet her.”
There was a strange silence. Stiles winced, imagining what his dad must be thinking. Still, ‘hey dad! I had a kid with that guy you hate!’ was more of a conversation Stiles owed his dad in person. Fuck, he still couldn’t hear Papa Don’t Preach without cringing.
“So, okay. Where are you, Stiles?”
“I’m in Massachusetts. Somerville, actually.”
There was the muffled sound of talking again, then his voice was back. “Look, Stiles. Have you told ... whoever? Your Alpha?”
There was a muffled crash on the other side of the phone. “Dad?”
“Sorry- I... dropped something. Continue.”
“No. I haven’t told anyone but you. Dad, it could be the Alpha for all I know.” The fact that his dad even had thought to ask sent Stiles’ heart thudding in his chest again. “You always told me that once was an incident. Twice was a coincidence. Three...”
“... is a pattern.”
“Yeah, well we left ‘pattern’ behind a long time ago.”
“Stiles, son. You know I’m not... judging you. But does this trouble have to do with those envelopes that I’ve gotten over the last few years?”
And, fuck. That right there was where shit was going to bite him in the ass. The thing was, Stiles had come a long way from the broke, scared kid that had left Beacon Hills. It seemed crazy to him that people liked to play the little game that he invented so much that they were willing to pay him to do so, but facts were facts. Stiles wasn’t exactly a contender on Forbes, but he did very well for himself. Extremely well for himself.
And someone wanted to kill him because of it.
Fuck, he would give away all of his money if it meant that he and Zoe would be safe. And the fact of the matter was, as much as he loved his little house, and the life that he’d built here, he would give it up in a second if it meant he could go home and everything just be the way it used to be.
But how to explain that he had someone trying to kill him, when his dad didn’t even know his son was wealthy?
“Yeah.” Stiles had started sending money to his dad, always a money order (from different states because Stiles wasn’t stupid), always in a plain envelope. He sent it on his mom’s birthday, on his dad’s birthday, on Stiles’ birthday, and on Zoe’s birthday. He always included a short note of a heavily edited version of what was going on in his life. Stiles always wrote to his dad, making sure to mention that he loved him. He sent him a picture (never with Zoe), so that his dad knew he was okay. It had been luck that their four birthdays had fallen roughly three months apart, so that the money was regular. Stiles had made sure it was like clockwork.
But now...? Sending your dad, the former cop, unmarked amounts of money throughout the past two years after pulling up stakes and running might have been a poorly executed idea. Possibly.
His dad made a harumphing sound, low in the back of his throat that Stiles recognized from every single time he’d been caught telling a lie and winced, feeling sixteen again.
“So, let’s just cover the highlights here. You’ve been threatened. You were hurt?”
Stiles nodded, then realized that his dad couldn’t see him nod, and spoke up. “Yeah. It was just a few scratches, but someone pushed me out in front of a car. Before that... just some notes. Some stuff missing. Pranks, that sort of thing. Look, is...” He huffed out a breath. “Is it okay if I come back? I don’t have to... stay there. I can get a hotel room or something.” Stiles couldn’t help how small his voice was.
“Son.” There was a pause while his dad cleared his throat. “I ... don’t know why you left. God knows I’ve asked myself enough times. But you are always. Always. Welcome here. But if you don’t know what’s going on... you shouldn’t leave. Give me your address. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Stiles felt like an idiot at the way his own throat tightened. “Dad...”
“No, Stiles. Just... don’t disappear again, okay? I’ll be there soon. We can talk then. Promise that you’re not going to run again. Promise.”
“Okay.” It was a whisper, but it was all Stiles could manage. “I promise.” Guilt swarmed him, and Stiles felt his eyes tear up again. He opened his mouth to tell his dad that he loved him, but the click of the phone call ended stole his chance. Jesus. His dad. His dad was coming. He’d help Stiles fix this. If anyone could, it would be him. For the first time since that morning, Stiles felt relaxed enough to sleep. Things weren’t perfect... but they were better.
And, really...? Given everything that happened? That was all Stiles could really hope for.
The pounding on his door sent Stiles jackknifing up out of bed. He vaguely remembered waking when Zoe did, feeding her lunch and the two of them going back to sleep. It was dark now, though. Stiles had the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing whether it was morning or night, or which day it was. He yawned, his heart beating in his chest like a small, trapped thing. The power must have gone off, because the red numbers on his clock just flashed 12:00 over and over.
Zoe must have really been tired from being sick, because she usually didn’t sleep the entire night through, especially after taking a nap as she’d done. Stiles yawned again and stretched, wincing guiltily when Zoe shifted on the bed, a tiny frown between her eyebrows as the pounding on the door came again.
Stiles jumped up off his bed and jogged to his front door. It must be his dad! Shit, it had only been about -he checked his phone- six hours since his dad had promised to come. Stiles hadn’t expected him so soon, but he couldn’t help the huge grin that split his face as he flipped on the kitchen light on his way to the front door. He was so happy at the thought of seeing his dad that he jerked the door open without even looking through the knothole.
He should have of course.
Stiles felt it like he’d been punched. He met Derek’s angry green gaze with his own horrified one. Two years. Two fucking years that he’d managed to ... well, not forget. Nothing could make him ever forget. But he’d stayed away.
He’d stayed away!
“No...” Stiles’ choked whisper made Derek flinch. No. No fucking way. This couldn’t be happening.
Stiles slammed the door shut right in Derek’s face. He slammed it so loudly that it shook in its frame.