Derek glanced over at him, then turned his eyes back to the road. “I'm sorry. None of this should have happened.” Isaac whimpered miserably from the backseat and Derek glared through the rearview mirror. The painful sound ceased instantly.
“This is all my fault,” Derek muttered to himself. “I haven't trained them well enough, I haven't had the time. They're still too young to face what's out there, and now this – this was all a misunderstanding.”
“A misunderstanding?” Matt asked, incredulous. “What, some sort of werewolf inter-office memo went awry and now my – my – because of it, now Danny might die? What kind of a misunderstanding is that?”
“The kind that happens when Betas don't listen to what their Alpha tells them,” Derek growled, his eyes once again on the back seat. “Shit, you're not even a Beta yet, you're just a pup. What the hell were you thinking?”
Isaac started to form a whimpering mass of words from the corner of the backseat, but Derek interrupted him. “Don't answer that. I don't want to know.”
“What I want from you,” he directed at Matt, “is everything you know. How long you've been working for the Argents, and why.” Matt gestured to the messenger bag he'd managed to retrieve from the parking lot before they sped off.
“It's all in here.” he promised. “You can have it. Believe me, I'm done.” He shuddered, leaning his head against the window for a moment. “But what I want in return -” he almost stopped at Derek's warning growl, but found the balls to continue. “Is everything you know about the kanima.”
Derek swerved just over the line and Matt gripped at the door handle. “What do you know about the kanima?” Derek asked, pushing down on the gas.
“I believe that was what I just asked you,” Matt replied coolly, wondering what in the hell he was doing arguing with a freaking werewolf. Derek growled again, his fangs beginning to show and Matt was slowly beginning to work out just why this guy could call himself an Alpha.
“All right,” Matt agreed. “I know it looks like a giant-ass lizard with really spikey teeth and it almost killed us last night. After it was finished breaking into my apartment and making off with my hard-drives,” he muttered.
“It left you alone?” Derek questioned, his eyes leaving the road for another brief glance.
“Yeah, after Danny beat the shit out of it with a lead pipe,” Matt answered. “He was convinced, though, some legend we found – said that it only went after murderers. He didn't think it would actually kill us.” Derek grunted. “Me though? I thought I was going to shit my pants trying to get away from that thing.”
“He took your research,” Derek commented thoughtfully, steering them ungently around a sharp curve. Matt strengthened his grip on the leather handle and stared.
“It's a he? You know what this thing is?”
“I know who it is,” Derek announced. “What is a little more complicated.”
“So who is it?” Matt asked, voice nearly cracking with frustration. “You can't just say something like that and then not follow through.”
“The hell I can't,” Derek answered, turning down a dark city block not that far from Matt's own apartment.
“Once I know Danny's ok,” Matt started, turning his face to the window. “Once I know that, for certain, you are telling me everything.” Derek hissed out his annoyance between his teeth, low pitched and something like furious. “I'm involved in this now, whether you like it or not. And so help me, if Danny isn't ok?” Matt curled his hand into a fist in his lap, at a loss for suitable objects to punch.
“It's Jackson,” Derek said, unexpectedly, pulling his car into an underground garage and parking behind two large, empty trash bins.
Matt's fists uncurled. “Jackson Wittemore?” he asked, incredulous. “Danny's best friend?”
“Yes,” Derek confirmed. “I probably shouldn't have told you that, but you're not going to get any less persistent and my patience is running pretty goddamn low at the moment. Do NOT tell Danny. Not right now.”
“No,” Matt shook his head. “No, I wouldn't. I can't.”
Derek hauled Isaac out of the car and Matt followed as they wound their way through a series of low ceilinged hallways. Probably maintenance routes, he thought, in an out of the abandoned building. He pushed aside a manhole cover and shoved Isaac down it feet first, gesturing for Matt to follow. He heard Isaac's feet descending against something metal and hoped to god there was a ladder into that pit. He took a deep breath and followed suit, climbing down into a warm, wet darkness. Derek landed with a dry thud and led the way once more, winding through several tunnels before opening a doorway to a staircase.
“Did you find Isaac?” Erica asked nervously, jumping up from a crate. “We looked, we looked everywhere, but -” she stopped as she saw his cringing form sliding down the stairs ahead of Derek.
“Oh god, Isaac,” she whispered, rushing to his side. “What did you do?” She stroked his hair and he collapsed against her, tears falling on the sleeves of her jacket.
“I'm sorry,” he whispered. “I was just trying to help the pack.”
Boyd stepped forward into the light. “What's he doing here,” he addressed Derek, nodding at Matt.
“That's kind of a long story,” Derek answered. “And not our immediate problem.”
As if on cue, the back door slammed open, and Scott and Stiles piled through it, carrying Danny's writhing, bleeding body between them. He was moaning, making terrifying sounds as he twisted and fought against them. Boyd loped over to take Danny from them, looking to Derek for guidance. Matt followed, running one hand through Danny's hair when he caught up. “It's ok,” he whispered. “I know it hurts but it's going to be ok.” Danny groaned, but pushed his head back against Matt's hand as his eyelids fluttered shut.
“Put him on one of the benches in there,” Derek ordered. “Erica, Isaac, see if you can find some blankets. Scott -” he stopped, raising his hands in surrender. “I don't know. Find something useful to do.”
“What about me?” Stiles asked, shifting nervously from foot to foot.
“Go through Matt's information, see if there's anything we can use.” Stiles nodded, and looked to where Matt lingered by the entrance to the rail car. The others had disappeared inside and were hastily putting together a field bed for a dying man. Erica sopped up a constant stream of blood with a towel that had seen better days, while Isaac folded a blanket and slid it beneath Danny's head.
“I'm so, so sorry,” he begged in apology. “I didn't know. I thought I could – I thought it would work.”
Stiles walked up beside Matt, nearly making him jump with surprise. “There's nothing you can do for him right now, man.”
“I could be there for him. With him.”
“He wouldn't know you. Give him an hour or two, that's usually how long the toxin takes to – work, if it's going to.”
Matt closed his eyes. “Small comfort you are,” he muttered, resting his head against the cool metal frame. “Yeah,” Stiles agreed, giving him the moment to himself.
Derek sat on the crate by the entrance to the rail car, hands clasped between his knees, staring at the floor. Stiles put a tentative hand on his shoulder, but Derek didn't look up, didn't even move. “This is not your fault,” Stiles said gently. “None of it is. You're doing the best you can with what you've got.”
Derek reached up and briefly covered Stiles' hand with his own before withdrawing it gently. He looked up, something so raw and genuine in his eyes that Stiles found himself at a rare loss for words. They stayed like that for a moment, but when no other response seemed forthcoming, Stiles nodded, still a bit stunned, and headed back to where Matt crouched, digging through his bag.
“Hey,” Derek said, pitched just low enough enough for Stiles to hear. He stopped and turned halfway around. “Thank you,” Derek said, his voice deep and gruff. “I mean it.” Stiles shot him a wry sort of grin before turning back to the work waiting for him.
“C'mon,” Stiles said, nodding at Matt. “Let's see what you've got for us.”
Stiles cradled the portable hard drive in his hands, now dented and scraped from its skid across the pavement. “I don't know how much data you're going to be able to pull off of this,” he admitted. “But honestly, if anyone could do it, it would be Danny.”
“I know,” Matt answered, looking anxiously toward the rail car which had gone suspiciously silent.
“Hey,” Stiles offered. “One problem at a time.” Matt nodded and handed him a thick sheaf of folders, several bursting with hard copies of photographs. Stiles whistled as he glanced through their contents. “So you've really known about us, all this time?”
“No,” Matt shook his head. “At first, it was just the odd lens flares whenever I took a picture of Scott. I thought it was just a mistake, you know, something wrong with the camera. I took it apart twice, but never found any malfunction. And then one day I caught it from Boyd, too.” Stiles nodded. “The real kicker though,” Matt admitted, shuffling through the pile, “was this one.”
He handed Stiles an enlarged photograph of the old Hale house, Derek and Scott loitering on the porch. Derek was fully wolfed out, four legged and red eyed, as if ready to bolt. Scott's eyes gleamed yellow in the dark, even slightly downcast and hidden beneath his thick shock of wild fur. Stiles' low pitched whistle was more of an exhalation with an after-echo in the concrete station.
“That's when I started doing my own research,” Matt explained. “I couldn't believe any of it at first – I mean, come on, lycanthropy? Really?”
“I've been there man,” Stiles confirmed. “Right there with you.”
“Then I found this guy, a Dr. Fenris, if you can believe that.” Stiles held back a snicker and silently gave himself an Academy Award. “Turns out he used to lecture on this stuff. Believed it with an almost religious zeal. I tracked him down and tried to talk to him about his research, but he just called me a 'goddamn bloodthirsty journalist' and slammed the door in my face.” Stiles' chest swelled with pride. Score one for the old Stilinski charm.
They spent a while going through the pictures Matt had somehow managed to catch of the pack, before Stiles stopped on one in particular. “The Argents,” he asked warily, staring down at a group of men and women armed to the teeth. “You know about them, too?”
“Yeah,” Matt grimaced. “My investigation into them -” he nodded towards Derek and the other wolves - “led me directly to this batshit crazy family of – of hunters, I guess. They've got a great cover, I mean, come on, how much more perfect can you get? A team of hunters that own one of the largest weapons manufacturing facilities in the country?” He shook his head. “Everyone knows about Argent rifles. Not everyone knows what they're really designed to do.”
“In the beginning, I thought I was working for a small, private investigation group that wanted me to look into how a supposedly wild animal caused so many deaths around Beacon Hills high last year. It was to be kept extremely low profile, hush-hush, so as not to offend the local P.D. I bought that for a while, until I tracked 'Aconite Investigations' back to the Argents, and as it turns out, aconite is another word for -”
“Wolfsbane,” Stiles finished for him. “Yeah, subtle.” Matt shrugged, handing him a copy of an internal memo with a familiar logo at the top of the page. A stylized wolf ringed with leaves, the sun shining over its shoulder. “The Argent family crest,” Stiles remarked, somehow unsurprised.
“Then I began to suspect they actually wanted me to find them out, wanted to see how easy it would be for someone like me to track their moments, discover their secrets. I played along for a while, but I knew it was only a matter of time before they took my research and eliminated the evidence. Including me.”
Stiles looked up sharply. “You think they would have taken you out?”
“No one would look for me,” Matt said, leafing through the pictures. “I live on my own, I've been taking pictures and reporting since I was fourteen, and I was really, really looking to get out of L.A. I'm sure I seemed like the perfect mark.”
Stiles winced in sympathy. “Lucky for me,” Matt continued, a bitter edge creeping into his voice, “I've always been better at looking out for myself than anyone else.”
“That reporter is going to be a problem,” Victoria complained, settling on the edge of Gerard's desk.
“Oh, he replied congenially. “You mean that no-name upstart you brought in from the city to investigate your own family, without clearing it with the Council?”
Victoria's nostril's flared. “After that business with Kate fucked everything up, it was imperative our names stay out of the papers as much as possible. I needed to ascertain if we had any security leaks before they blew up in our faces.” She blew out a deep breath, nearly a snort. “It was my decision to make, how dare you imply otherwise?”
“Well, my dear,” he said rising from his desk and patting her firmly on her injured shoulder. “I'm sure you did what you thought was best. But let me assure you, he's your problem now, not ours. I'm certain you can handle one small boy with a camera.” He leaned in lowering his voice. “One adage I've never forgotten in all my life in business is that shit can always be depended upon to roll downhill.” He turned to leave, pausing in the doorway. “You'd do well to remember that.”
“Ok,” Matt said as the night wore on, dropping the file in his hand. “The rest of them? I get.” He squinted at Stiles, taking a closer look. “But why are you here?”
Stiles glanced around the room; first, at the train car, where Erica, Isaac and Boyd were doing their best to help an unexpected new recruit through the transition. Then to Derek on the stairs, his head in his hands, trying to work out what in the world he was going to do with the multiple weights riding his shoulders. And lastly to Scott, his best friend, his only friend for so long, who he'd helped figure this out as best he could and who would never left him behind in the dust.
“Because they're my family, too.” Stiles said, glancing back down at the paper work.
Derek raised his head, glancing over at Stiles. Matt continued to press, sliding a sheet of paper out of Stiles' hands. “But you're not – you're not like them.”
Derek's growl sounded from directly behind, making Matt jump. He hadn't even heard Derek move from the steps. “Because he's pack,” Derek said gruffly, looming over them. Stiles looked up, meeting Derek's eyes in silent gratitude before glancing back down at the photos, a quiet smile on his lips. “And that's all that needs to be said,” Derek added, before stalking over to the car to check on Danny.
Matt spent the rest of the night crouched by Danny's side, the floor of the rail car cold and uninviting. He leaned back against Danny's shoulder, feverishly warm. He didn't even know he'd managed to sleep at all until he opened his eyes to feel Danny struggling to sit up, calling out for him.
“Matt?” he questioned, panic evident in his voice.
“Shh,” Matt whispered, crawling up to wrap his arms around him. “Oh god,” he whispered, catatonic with relief. “Oh dear god,” he repeated. “You're all right.”
Danny squeezed him hard – nearly hard enough to break bone and Matt pulled back. He stared down at Danny's torso in disbelief. Two small scars remained, one at the shoulder and a long, wicked looking tear in his forearm, but the chunk Derek had taken out of his abdomen was entirely gone.
“You're covered in blood,” Danny exclaimed, his hands reaching out to inspect every inch of Matt. His eyes glowed yellow in the darkness and Matt shivered, struggling not to pull away. “Are you all right? Tell me you're all right!”
“I'm fine,” Matt lied. No reason to confuse Danny further with his own fears.
“What happened?” Danny continued in a panic. “There was something there in the dark, and then I think it – I think it -”
“It bit you,” Matt said softly.
“It bit me?” Danny asked, incredulous, examining his own body. He touched the scar on his arm, looking at least several months healed. “I don't understand. What bit me?”
Matt bit his lip, trying to find the words. “Matt?” Danny questioned again.
“A werewolf,” he said, finally, shrugging his shoulders and glancing down at the floor.
“A werewolf,” Danny repeated numbly.
“It was – it was kind of an accident, in a way,” Matt explained, or tried to. “But Derek Hale saved your life. He said the bite would either kill you or – or turn you. And you're not dead,” Matt finished, waiting for the words to sink in.
“What are you saying,” Danny whispered, leaning in close.
“Your eyes are glowing,” Matt said, more evenly than he thought he could manage. “And that's a fierce set of claws you've got going on.”
Danny glanced down at his hands and yelped, holding them out away from his body. He glanced around the interior of the car, blinking, suddenly realizing he could see every detail in the darkness. He looked back at Matt, crouched on the floor beside him, his expression lost between wonder and fear.
“Are you telling me I'm a -”
“Werewolf,” Scott said from the doorway. “Yeah. And you're among friends.” He twisted his neck to the right, eyes glowing brilliant gold as his features shifted.
“Oh my god,” Danny breathed. Matt could see the gears turning in his head as he worked out the implications. “If you had told me last week that this would explain everything, I would have laughed in your face.”
“Yeah,” Scott agreed, scratching his head. “It was pretty hard for me to believe too, at first.”
Danny glanced down at Matt, still eyeing him warily, but inching closer. “All that blood,” Danny said, reaching out to touch his shirt. “That's from me?”
Matt nodded, eyes closed. “I thought your insides were going to fall out,” he said, choking on the words.
“I'm so sorry,” Danny said, dumbstruck. He took Matt's face in his hands, claws suddenly retracted, and Scott took a respectful step back out of the car.
“Matt says you saved my life,” he addressed Derek somewhat warily. Derek shrugged, then nodded.
“You could look at it that way,” he admitted. “I also could have killed you, but I didn't really see that I had much choice.” He glanced carefully at Matt, staring down at the impressions left by blood soaked sneakers in the concrete, and looked away.
“Why didn't you have a choice?” Danny asked, aware that he was walking a razor's edge. Derek clenched his jaw and didn't answer. Isaac stepped forward.
“It was me,” he said. “I'm the one that bit you, this is all my fault.” His eyes were red and swollen, tear stains still evident on his cheeks. He looked to Danny like a puppy that had been kicked one too many times. “I just thought, you're big and strong, and if the pack was larger, you could have helped us against the -” Derek growled, and Isaac shut his jaw with a whimper.
Danny turned toward Isaac, his expression surprisingly gentle. “Don't you think you should have asked if I wanted this?” Isaac nodded, clearly miserable.
“Would you have said yes?” Derek asked, turning Danny's attention back to the center of the room.
“No,” Danny said decisively. “I would have turned you down cold. I don't need this – whatever it is.”
Derek nodded slowly. “I understand, but there's no going back now. If you stay with us, we can help you survive. There are people out there, very dangerous people that hunt us down like animals. You'd most likely die out there alone.”
“Wait,” Scott said, stepping forward. “What do you mean, if he stays? Danny, you have to stay. You're pack now. The pack makes us strong.” Derek and Stiles both looked at him in surprise. “I...had to learn that the hard way. Don't make the same mistakes I did.”
“Wow,” Stiles whispered, and Derek glanced over at him, one eyebrow raised. Stiles thought he caught the tiniest hint of amusement hidden behind his usual glare.
“I don't know,” Danny answered. “I just – I need some time, to adjust to all of this.”
“I wish I could give you that time,” Derek answered. “But Matt says the kanima's already come after you once. What if it seeks you out again?”
“Why would it do that?” Danny argued slyly. “I'm not a murderer. Besides, if that thing's part of your little pack, here -”
“No!” Everyone chorused, and Danny took a step back.
“We're trying to stop it,” Derek explained, at the same time Scott chimed in with, “We're trying to fix him.”
“Wait,” Danny argued, looking back and forth between them. “Stop it or fix...him. Which is it?”
Derek and Scott shared and uncomfortable glance. “It's sort of – both?” Scott explained uselessly.
“Was the kanima a mistake?” Matt asked, stepping forward. “An 'accident,' like Danny?”
Derek studied the concrete before heavily taking a seat on a crate. “Yeah. Yeah, he was. Sometimes the change can mutate, take on a shape that reflects what's in a person's heart and mind. That's the legend, anyway, I'd never actually seen it before, myself. That on its own wouldn't be so rough, but now we think someone's controlling him. If we can find out who, then we can stop him, help bring him back.”
“He's still killed a lot of people,” Stiles argued.
“You're not helping!” Derek retorted.
“Who is he?” Danny asked, looking back and forth between them all. “You know who it is, you're just not telling me, and that makes me wonder why.”
“Derek,” Scott said urgently. “You've got to tell him.”
“Derek,” Danny demanded.
Derek raised his head, the wolf fully visible in tooth and claw. His eyes flashed red as he howled out his answer, “You will learn not to question my decisions!” Danny stepped back, astonished and Matt clasped his arm. The rest of the pack lowered their heads, even Scott, while Stiles shuffled back and forth uncomfortably.
Derek closed his eyes and sighed, retracting his claws and clenching his fists. “But you're right, both of you. You deserve to know, Danny.” Danny looked up, bracing himself for Derek's next words, but nothing could have prepared him for the answer he received. “It's Jackson.”
He collapsed back against Matt, who stumbled, trying to hold him up. “Jackson Wittemore?” he asked, incredulous. “You're telling me that my Jackson – my best fucking friend – is that creature?”
“I'm sorry, man,” Stiles offered. “We couldn't believe it either when we found out, but we're sure.”
“You've seen him turn into that thing?” Danny questioned.
“Yes,” Stiles answered emphatically, echoed by Erica and Isaac from across the room.
“You bit him,” Danny accused, advancing toward Derek. “You bit him and it went wrong.” Derek bared his fangs and stood his ground.
“It wasn't his fault!” Stiles and Scott shouted, nearly in unison. “Jackson asked for the bite. And you heard what Derek said,” Stiles added. “Sometimes the bite takes the form of – of whatever's already inside.” He looked away, unable to meet Danny's eyes.
“I've always known,” Danny said quietly, glancing down at his feet. “Even when we were kids, he would lie, cheat his way through things. Steal when he had no reason to; he never needed the money, or the test scores. I always – I always stood by him because he was my friend, and when it comes right down to it, he's really –“ He broke off, trying to explain. “Jackson's really not so bad. At heart, I mean. He's a good guy, I promise.”
“And that's why we want to help him,” Scott emphasized. “Not kill him, like the Argents are going to.”
“Yeah,” Stiles drawled, speaking up. “I'm not so sure about that.”
“What?” Danny asked, Derek looking at him strangely.
“The kanima broke into Matt's apartment to steal his research, right? Research mainly on the Argents, their family structure, their hidden corporations. Who would have more reason to keep that secret than them?”
“But we've seen them trying to take him out,” Derek argued. “You weren't there, Stiles, but Chris was deadly serious that night. If he could have killed Jackson, he would have, believe me.”
“Right,” Scott said slowly. “Chris Argent would have, but what about Gerard? He just showed up in town out of the blue, took over operations, and the one time he confronted the kanima, it just circled him, almost like – like some kind of pet.”
“If anyone's a murderer,” Stiles chimed in. “And he said – that night at the club, Jackson totally wasn't himself but – god, it was so creepy – he said, 'you murdered me.' What if he's talking about the hunters wolves could have taken out in retaliation over the years?” Derek nodded slowly.
“Stiles,” he said. “I think you may have just given us exactly what we needed.” Stiles beamed, rocking back and forth in his sneakers.
“Wow, give the puppy a treat,” Matt whispered from beside and slightly behind Danny, and he shushed Matt with a grin. Derek glared in their direction, an 'I heard that' plainly visible on his face.
“It still doesn't explain the group of former students he's been taking out, though,” Stiles muttered, his face scrunching up into a ball of tangled thoughts, following arrows across an imaginary board. “Maybe he's doing some freelancing?” he suggested shrugging his shoulders.
“That doesn't seem right,” Derek muttered. “But what else have we got to go on?”
“Alright, so,” Scott began. “Where do we go from here?”
“Well,” Matt offered, still standing slightly behind Danny. “The Argents have already threatened to kill me once, which I think puts me right out of whatever you're planning, thanks.” Danny clasped his hand in his, squeezing it tight. “I gave you my information, I'm done.”
Derek nodded. “We're not holding you here. You can help us or not, it's your call, but it's going to be dangerous.”
“I want you safe,” Danny whispered. “You should go to my place, I don't think any of the Argents ever saw us together. Besides, at this point I think it's safe to say my mom's worried sick.” Matt looked down at his clothes and grimaced. “I didn't really picture meeting your mom covered in blood,” he muttered.
“All right, so we'll go back to your place, grab some fresh clothes, and then head over to my mom's. I, ah, seem to have misplaced my shirt as well.” He blushed a little, rubbing absently at the flawless patch of skin where only hours before, a bite had torn through his flesh. “Do we have either of our cars,” he questioned, glancing up at the pack.
“Yeah,” Matt answered, dejectedly. “That's a no. They're still back at the school.”
“I could drive you,” Stiles offered, glancing curiously at Derek. “To Matt's place, I mean. The police were on their way to the scene last night when we bolted, and they might still have the area roped off, since it's Saturday and no one needs it. I still haven't had a chance to see the local news, but man, that was a lot of blood. It probably wouldn't go over too well if you two showed up at a crime scene looking like that.”
Matt winced. “Thanks Stiles,” he said, almost keeping the sarcasm from his voice.
“Any time,” he replied, a fake smile plastered across his face. Derek nodded his approval.
“Go ahead,” he allowed. “You two keep yourselves off the radar, and Stiles, come back here when you're finished.” He returned Stiles' curious look, but Danny's back was to them, pawing anxiously at the stains on Matt's clothes. Matt glanced cautiously between them, but kept his mouth shut. If they had a plan – and he wasn't certain they did – then maybe all of this would be over a lot faster than he had anticipated. He wanted nothing more than the Argents off his back, and his boyfriend in his bed – werewolf or not.