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Stiles hates inevitability.

Inevitability was seen in every shaky breath his mother took, in every firm and concise beep that filled the hospital room like a death chime; inevitability fluttered in her closed eyes, lost in her coma, her body fighting her every step of the way. Inevitability was a diet of coffee and cafeteria food; inevitability was watching as his father fell further into depression and drink, and his mother fell further toward death. Inevitability was watching the doctor call it, dropping his mother’s hand onto the cold white sheets. Inevitability is how Stiles still wakes up screaming most nights.

But inevitability taught him a valuable lesson: no matter how much you wish for it to back off and take a seat in another room, it will always be lurking, ready to pounce at the most inopportune moment. It’s why he still struggles with the concepts of belief. Inevitability, his belief will fail him.

It doesn’t stop him from being optimistic at times. Which is why he’s still trying to concentrate in class even though he’s surrounded by werewolves on all sides, and there is a high probability that Derek is outside lurking around the lacrosse field. He has to talk to him about his stalkerish tendencies.

Stiles drags out a large binder when the teacher’s back is turned, flipping through until he finds his stack of wards. The belief is still strong inside, pulsing like his heartbeat, and he sketches out ideas for possible training exercises for the pack. There is a very high chance that Derek won’t let him try again after the disaster that was hide and seek, but he enjoys thinking about it. Besides, Deaton hasn’t been very forthcoming about the creative aspects of certain magics, so Stiles has had a lot of free time. He’s spent most of it carving wards into the panelling of his house, into the floorboard of his father’s cruiser, into the sole of his shoe. Wards are easy to place. It’s the belief inside that makes them tricky.

“Are you training us today?” Erica asks, jabbing him in the side. Isaac and Boyd are watching him.

“If Derek lets me. You know how he is with his control,” Stiles whispers. Erica taps her pencil against the desk.

“He’ll let you if you ask. He likes your ideas,” Isaac pipes up. Stiles rolls his eyes.

“He does not. He thinks I’m being a nuisance.”

Boyd snorts. “Yes, that’s why he let you stage hide and seek last week. Because you’re a nuisance. Come on, Stiles, it’s always more interesting when you train us. We don’t get beat up then.”

“I’ve trained you a grand total of, what, twice?” Stiles says. “And the first time was a complete fluke because Peter stole away your alpha. We spent the day eating pudding and watching Buffy. Twice is no where near enough experience.”

“Mr. Stilinski,” the teacher calls. Stiles waves a hand at her in acknowledgement and glares at the pack. They twiddle their thumbs innocently.

“I’ll think about it,” Stiles mutters out of the corner of his mouth. Erica beams at him.

When the bell rings, he closes the binder, mulling over possible ideas. The trio follow him out, where he bumps into Scott waiting for him outside. “Erica said you’re training us today?”

“Really, Erica? Really?” Stiles sighs, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. Erica looks off to the side, grinning. “I will only if Derek says I can. He gets so grumpy if we do things without his permission.”

“Can I catch a ride with you?” Scott asks. “Allison has some training to do with her father.”

“I should be far more terrified of that sentence than I am,” Stiles says, leading the way outside. Erica, Boyd, and Isaac bound away from them at the sight of Derek’s car. “And I should definitely not be used to seeing Derek’s car picking up our favourite pack every day.”

“Derek never offers to give me a ride,” Scott says. Stiles rolls his eyes.

“So I’m the second choice, yet again?” Stiles says. Scott hits him with wounded eyes. “Oh, stop it, you know what I mean. Get in, loser.”

As they make their way up the familiar sprawl of road that leads to the Hale house, Stiles presses a finger against the small carved in ward on the side of his door. He focuses, just for a split second, and puts his hand back on the wheel. Scott frowns at him before drawing him into a conversation centered around Allison and what he should get her for their six month not-anniversary. Stiles does the usual hums and has and when the Hale house comes into sight, he sighs out in relief. He loves Scott, but sometimes he’s a one track record.

The rest of the pack is already there, Erica shoving leaves in Isaac’s face and Boyd showing Jackson how to flip someone using minimal strength. Derek comes down the steps when Stiles closes his door. “All right, we’re working on stealth again. Mainly because Scott still hasn’t grasped the fundamental concept of actually moving silently.”

Scott glares and Stiles deposits his backpack on the porch. He wanders around the side of the house as the pack gets settled. He searches for the faint black lines, and sure enough they’re still intact. He passes a hand over the mountain ash surrounding the Hale house, very carefully constructing his belief, and feels the renewed pulse of power. He stands and wipes off his hoodie. He should carve some wards into the house itself when he gets a chance.

Heading back, he skirts around the old cellar and past the blown out windows. He can hear the pack training in the front yard and ducks under the broken railing to hop up on the porch. Grabbing his backpack, he settles down cross-legged and digs for his binder and text. Within minutes, he’s lost in the stream of information about the wards. He flicks back and forth between the wards he’s already sketched out and the multitude of ones that he has yet to learn. He settles on a repulsion ward and studies up on its use and abilities. It all falls back on belief.

He starts sketching without realizing, dropping his belief into ward after ward until he’s learned the easy scrawl of it under his fingers. When he looks up again, it’s been just a little over half an hour and Scott’s flat on his back, staring unhappily at the sky.

“So, can I randomly hijack the training session?” Stiles asks on a whim. Derek glances at him, eyebrow raised. The rest of the pack halt their attack. “Well, I mean, I’m sure all of you enjoy being tossed around like sacks of flour, but I was thinking maybe we should try the whole tracking thing again.”

“Oh?” Derek asks.

“Yeah. I think it’s kind of unfair of you to train all of them while I’m sitting here twiddling my thumbs,” Stiles says. He grabs the binder as he hops off the porch, grinning. “Not that I was just twiddling my thumbs. I drew up some tests.”

“I’m interested,” Erica says, bounding forward. “Do we get to chase you down again?”

Stiles laughs. “My wards are masterpieces, Erica Reyes, and you couldn’t catch me if you had a map.” Erica punches him light in the arm. Derek rolls his eyes. “So, oh great alpha, am I allowed to take command?”

“I don’t think I can stop you,” Derek says, his lips quirking. Stiles’ eyes flick down but then away. Not going there. 

Turning to the pack, he gestures wide. “Okay, kiddies, here’s the deal. I’ve been playing around with creativity, because I’m naturally inclined toward such thoughts, and I’ve been practicing possible defense wards that’ll work against the supernatural. However, as I don’t want you lovely pups to get caught up in it, I thought we could have a training session dedicated to sensing magic.”

Stiles flips open the binder to the wards he was working on and unclips them. He drops the binder on the ground and balances the stack in his hands. The pack stares curiously at him. Stiles realizes they can’t actually see the paper he’s holding. “Does it look like I’m playing a really strange game of charades?”

“Shut up, Stilinski,” Jackson says. Stiles flaps the papers at him.

“What I have here are sheets marked with a repulsion ward and instilled with my belief. I’m going to toss a few out and about, and see if you can navigate around them to make your way to me on the porch. Scott, come here for a second.”

Scott steps forward, curious, and Stiles drops one of the papers on the ground. He walks backwards and Scott follows, brow furrowed. The second his shoe makes contact with the paper, he’s fired straight back into the air, hitting the ground with a yelp. Stiles grins giddily. “That’s for making me take the fall last week.”

“Dude!” Scott whines, indignant. Isaac helps him up and Stiles drops more papers around him.

“As you can see, if you step on one, you’ll be blasted back. So, use your senses.” Stiles turns to Derek, who’s lounging in Stiles’ usual spot. “Oi, sourwolf, get your butt over here. When I’m the teacher, I don’t leave students out.”

Derek eyes him but does as he asks, sitting up and wandering over to join the pack. Stiles starts walking back and forth, dropping papers wherever he can. The pack can’t see the exact location and it’s endlessly amusing as he drops the papers to lie wherever. He starts walking, leaving papers in his wake, and when he hits the porch, he has a single page left. He jams it in his pocket. Turning, he smiles at the pack and waves a hand.

“And, go!”

Jackson is the first out and the first fired back. Stiles practically collapses in laughter as Jackson goes tumbling toward the treeline. The rest of the pack watches with varied expressions of glee. Erica is the next to step forward, but she takes her time. The others follow at a sedated pace.

Erica takes a tumble three times before she even hits half way. Scott can’t get past two steps without hitting a ward, and Boyd and Isaac are using each other as pinpoints for where the wards have blown them back. Jackson is sitting at the edge, glaring daggers in Stiles’ direction. Stiles laughs at every fall, claps at every near miss, wiggles when Erica finally gets halfway. But it’s Derek he can’t look away from. Derek hasn’t once been blown back. The alpha is more than halfway to him, striding easy through the mess of papers. Stiles stares at him and Derek stares back, adjusting his footing at the last second when he almost steps on a ward.

And then Stiles realizes that Derek isn’t watching the ground, he’s watching Stiles. Every step Derek takes is based on the reaction Stiles gives him. When his shoe comes a little too close to one of the wards, Stiles flinches. When he keeps moving without any wards in front, Stiles is calm. When he’s about to step on one of the wards, Stiles bites his lip. Derek is using his body language to navigate the playing field.

“Oh, you cheater,” Stiles breathes, scrambling backwards when Derek hits the porch steps.  There’s a cheer from further down as Derek catches him around the waist, crowding him further back until they’re against the door.

“I win.”

Stiles blinks at him, face heating. He can feel the erratic beat of his heart echoed back at him by Derek’s chest pressing up against his. He has no idea what to do with his hands, so he settles them uncertainly on Derek’s biceps. Thoughts bumble around in his head and instead of something logical, Stiles just laughs; it sounds depressingly hysterical. “You cheated and you know it. The point of the exercise was to sense magic.”

“You said to use your senses, you didn’t specify which ones,” Derek says. He’s incredibly close. “So, I just watched you instead.”

“That’s not expanding on your abilities, now is it?” Stiles says. His eyes keep flicking down to Derek’s mouth, completely against the express command of his brain. Derek is like a line of heat up his front, his fingers warm even through the fabric of his hoodie. He smells really good.

Derek dips his head just enough to brush their noses together. Stiles leans into it and he can feel Derek’s breath on his mouth, so close. Derek’s fingers tighten in his hoodie, drawing him closer, and –

“I did it!” Erica calls. Derek steps back with a startled blink, and then full on retreats until he’s down the porch steps and on the grass. Erica is doing a little shimmy in front of the house, grinning bright. Stiles can’t seem to shut his heart up. “I can sense where they are now! That’s right, boys, I beat out all of you except for our alpha.”

“Look at you,” Stiles says, voice thick. He coughs, ignoring the sharp look Derek sends him. “All right, make your way back to Jackson without being blown back.”

“Done and done,” Erica says, taking off. She stops every few steps, nose wrinkling up as though trying to scent the papers of all things, but she easily navigates her way back to the beginning. Turning, she puts her hands on her hips and sticks her tongue out. “See?”

“You are my new favourite, Erica,” Stiles laughs. Erica grins at the praise, nudging at Jackson with her boot. Stiles makes his way down the steps, hyperaware of how close Derek is. He can still feel the heat of his body. “So, uh, Erica figured it out. Wouldn’t you like to try and see if you can sense magic?”

“It’s much easier to watch the caster,” Derek mutters, words so soft Stiles barely catches them.  Just then, Scott goes flying by, yelping when he hits the ground. Stiles covers his mouth with his hand to stifle a laugh. Derek does the same.

They spend the rest of training wandering through the wards, but Derek doesn’t participate again. At various moments Stiles realizes that he’s keeping an eye on Derek, regardless of where he’s located. He flushes every time, resolutely not thinking about the moment on the porch. It was fluke. Completely. By the time the hour’s up, the pack is giddy with excitement, Erica able to dance circles through the wards, and Boyd and Isaac a close second. Jackson refused to participate, but Scott tells him he can sense the general area where a ward is placed.

Stiles grins at them all, picking up the scattered papers. “I’ll have to think up more interesting ways to test this out. It makes battle plans a bit easier.”

“I like it. You should work with Derek to make new training exercises,” Isaac says, smiling eager. Stiles pointedly does not look at where Derek is lounging on the porch steps with Jackson.

“Yeah, perhaps. Scott, come on, we need to go!” Stiles shouts. Scott bounds over to him, excited grin on his face, and they wave as they leave the pack. Scott talks the entire way back to his house about the wards, and how he was able to sense them, and at one point did you know they actually smelt like you? Stiles drops him off with a promise to think up other exercises.  

Getting home, Stiles sighs and drums his fingers on the wheel. It’s a nice sentiment, training with the pack, but he’s not sure how far he can go before his learning might actively harm them. And he would never harm the pack. But staying with strictly defensive spells when there’s a good chance that he’ll have to explode someone in the very near future just isn’t practical.

That's not to mention the prickle of heat that twists up his spine at the thought of a certain wolf. He shakes his head and slaps his hands against his face. He has things to focus on now, things like wards and magic and belief, not red edged eyes and a lopsided smile and stubble that he wants to rub his face against. Nope. Not thinking about it. He turns and grabs his backpack and his bat before hopping out. His dad’s cruiser isn’t in the lot.

Stiles spends a few moments trailing around the front of their property, following the unbroken line of mountain ash until he’s back at the front porch. The wards he’s carved into the soft wood are still visible, but only to those that willingly look. He passes a hand over it and then goes to head inside. The key jams, just like always, and he thumps his head against the door until the lock clicks open.

Stumbling inside, he presses a hand over the ward under the light switch, instilling more of his belief in it, and tosses his bag and bat on the couch in the living room. Trekking upstairs, he strips off his hoodie and tugs on a soft, black long sleeved shirt with the highly ironic word ‘red’ across the front. Hopping on the banister, he slides down and makes his way into the kitchen.

There’s a note on the counter, scrawled out in his dad’s messy script, ‘At the station till midnight. Don’t worry, I took the sandwich you made. When did we get cucumbers? Love – Dad

Stiles grins and crumples up the note, digging out his phone and scrolling down his very carefully chosen ‘Werewolf’ playlist. He’s on his own for dinner, which is fine. He picks a song, turning up the music as he sashays his way over to the fridge, planning on making himself the best damn sandwich he can think of. Grabbing the left over roast beef from last night, he piles mustard, cheese, peppers, and onions into his arms before depositing them on the counter beside the oven.

He digs in the cupboards until he finds the frying pan, turning on the heat over the stove. The song switches and he laughs, thumb turning up the volume until it’s echoing in the kitchen. He hums out the lyrics as he grabs the butter and bread, musing silently at other ingredients. Garlic for sure. Salt and pepper for taste. Fresh buttered garlic on the bread would be delicious.

Sliding across the kitchen, he totally doesn’t do the moves from the music video, and misses grabbing the counter on his way by. Straightening, he yanks open the pantry and digs for the garlic. Successful, he returns to his ingredients and bends to find the cutting board.

The song changes again and he scrambles to change it back one. Thumbing it onto repeat, he reaches over and grabs a knife, sets up all his veggies, and starts with the garlic. At the first slice, something bangs outside.

Freezing, Stiles looks over at the backdoor. The sun is still up, shining through the window and onto the welcome mat. Stiles turns his music off, straining to hear. Another bang, and it sounds like rocks being lobbed at his window. Stiles puts the knife down.

A third bang and Stiles goes looking for his bat. The noises are occurring closer together and he edges toward the backdoor, fingers curled around the grip. Another bang and then eerie silence.

Stiles opens the door, eyes catching on the ward carved into the frame. “Hello?” The bang comes from further out in the backyard, toward the forest. He swallows and grips the bat, fingers nervous. He repeats, “Hello? Who’s out here?”

There’s nothing for a few short moments, and Stiles strains to hear. He steps out onto the back porch, licking his lips. The bat hums at his side. He stalls at the steps that lead down, scrubbing a hand furiously over his hair. “You’ve watched enough horror movies to know how this goes, Stilinski. Don’t go down there. Just don’t. Go back inside and lock the doors and windows.”

But the bang comes one more time and he has to know. He takes a few short steps down onto the grass, tense and hyperaware of every minute shift in the air. He didn't bother warding the backyard, assuming that if he was to be attacked, the front yard would be better, defensively. But now he's second guessing that decision. Breathing through his nose, he walks toward the forest, juggling the bat in his hand. He’s about halfway there when the air shifts, menacing and dangerous, and Stiles freezes like a hare caught. 

“And there’s my favourite fairy tale cliché,” someone says. Stiles whirls, bat up and ready, and a familiar face walks out from the other side of the house. The female alpha, the werequeen as Stiles has started calling her, tilts her head at him. She’s wearing a soft purple hoodie and jeans. Her eyes are already alpha crimson. “You lost, Red?”

“What are you doing here?” he asks. The other alphas slink out of the shadows, grinning loose. Stiles swallows and focuses on the main woman.

He has to think fast. His eyes scan the yard, cataloguing escape routes and possibilities, but there’s nothing he can use. His only defense is the house, wards and lines marking up the wood like a barricade. But he’s too far away to run back. They’d be on him in seconds. But maybe…

“Get off my yard,” Stiles says, ignoring the hammering of his heart.

The woman practically purrs, “Oh, Red, come on now. We just want to talk.” The alphas spread out around her, completely eradicating his escape route. Stiles points the bat at her, breathing out heavy. She strides toward him, all sharp teeth and feral promises. “I’ll drop you right on Alpha Derek’s doorstep, with a little red bow tied around your slashed throat. Do you think he’ll get the message then?”

“I wouldn’t take another step,” Stiles sing-songs. The woman pauses with her booted heel inches from the grass. “The best thing about magic is you can ingrain it in anything. The yard is booby-trapped, werequeen. You never know when you’re gonna blow up.”

“You lie,” she growls. Stiles shifts so he can keep all the alphas in view.

“Maybe, maybe not. You can’t tell right now, can you? My heart is already ratcheted up from fear. I could be lying through my goddamn teeth, but then you step down. Then you feel that magic run through you and you explode from the inside out. Do you really want to take that risk?”

She looks down at the grass, completely innocuous, and Stiles sees the others hesitate as well. He starts edging back, trying to calm the wild beat of his heart. The woman looks up and laughs. “You’re simply adorable, Red. There are no traps. You didn’t think that far ahead. You just charmed your house.”

Fuck. “Your self-preservation instincts are off, queen. Take another step and you’ll go boom.”

“So, if I do this?” And she steps forward, each placement of her foot swinging her hips. She throws back her head and laughs, making Stiles’ skin crawl. “Oh, you are a delight. Maybe I’ll keep you for my own. Teach you obedience. And then you can be my little red and we’ll paint the towns.”

“Yeah, no, that’s all right, I’m pretty happy right where I am. Thanks for the offer though.”

“Too bad,” she says, gesturing. The alphas tighten ranks around him and he swallows hard. “You would’ve made a lovely surprise.”

He can’t beat them back, not like this. His belief is strong, but as long as they keep his escape route cut off, as long as his phone is inside the house, he has no choice but to stand and fight. And he won’t last. He flexes his fingers on the grip and licks his lips, tasting fear and salt on his tongue. There is a high probability that he’s about to die.

He could really use some backup.

“What am I even thinking,” Stiles says. “I hope you guys can hear this.” He takes a deep breath, throws back his head, and howls.

The alphas startle, many of them snarling at him in fury. He tries to be as loud as he can, tries for volume instead of quality. Save me, he howls. Protect me, he calls. Derek, he begs. He’s cut off half way through as a male alpha jumps for him, claws reaching for his face. He gets the bat up just in time, gritting his teeth at the jarring impact. He feels something give in his left shoulder but pushes through it as the man tries to grab the bat and yank it away from him. The magic pulses in response to his belief, forcing the alpha back a pace, and Stiles smacks him fast across his fingers. Angry tendrils of poisonous smoke burn off his skin. He jumps back with a yelp.  

“Calling for backup, Red? Do you really think they’ll react to a human howl?”

“In all honesty, I have no idea. I’m hoping some of my neighbours will find the fact that I’m howling in my backyard strange enough to call the sheriff. Hell, if I started screaming, I bet they’d be here that much faster,” Stiles says. Keep the belief strong. “And then what would you do?”

“Oh, Red, you just don’t seem to understand,” she says. “We would kill him. Because it would hurt you. It would tear you right apart, wouldn’t it, knowing you helped kill your own father?”

Stiles grits his teeth, willing his mind not to wander. His father is fine. Deaton outfitted the sheriff’s office with mountain ash. Stiles put wards in his cruiser. He had replaced all of his bullets with ones laced with wolfsbane. His father is fine. Believe.

“Take him,” the woman snarls. The alpha's howl in unison and launch forward to attack.