Peter Hale was ready to murder somebody. Not literally. His literal murdering days were largely behind him. Not that he wouldn’t consider a little murdering if it were really called for… Peter caught Derek looking at him side-eyed, as though Derek could read his thoughts.
Peter scoffed and rolled his eyes. “What? Like you never think about it…”
Peter sighed and set his mug of hot chocolate down, and really, Stiles? Hot Chocolate? Apparently the kid loved a cliché, because this whole trip was straight out of a romance novel. And not the good, smutty kind either- the kind that used euphemisms drawn from botany, with unfurling buds and dripping nectar. Yeah, he was surrounded by clichés, from the (admittedly delicious) hot chocolate, to the snow on the ground, to the house in the mountains that everyone insisted on calling “the cabin.” Peter mentally grimaced. What a joke. No cabin, cottage, hut, or shack had ever had more than two bedrooms, and Peter wasn’t about to bow to convention set by a bunch of melodramatic kids wearing enough leather for a BDSM conference (clearly Derek was a bad influence). Frankly, he was just counting himself lucky that there hadn’t been a horse-drawn sleigh involved. Yet.
Of course if there had been that would at least have gotten the throng of pack-puppies out of the damned house for an hour instead of leaving them piled up on the rug giggling and watching movies from Peter’s misspent adolescence, which Scott insisted on referring to as “classic old movies.” Not to disparage the genius of the immortal Keanu Reeves, but watching Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure was not exactly how he’d been hoping to spend his evening. Not that he’d had any expectation of getting to do what he’d have preferred to do. Which was soak in the bath with a book until about an hour before last call, and then prowl the bars looking for someone who’d usually be way too smart to go near him. Peter enjoyed being other people’s bad decision. But nope, no chance of that, not while Alpha Derek Hale was on his pack togetherness power-trip.
These days there was a minimum of one mandatory pack meet per week, plus training, a study group to keep the pups on top of their school work, and some big event every full moon to encourage pack bonding. He got that the kid had been orphaned and everything, but jeez, sometimes Peter just wanted to tell him to go to therapy or take up finger-painting or whatever and stop inflicting his abandonment issues on everyone else. Because as far as Peter was concerned, a life that included mandatory cuddling was not a life worth living.
And now he was stuck out here in the middle of the fucking Puppy Posse Slumber Party with no end in sight. He was in hell, and it was his own damn fault. He’d just been trying to make it up to Derek, since he knew how inconvenienced he’d been by that whole murder suspect/Argent Clan War-on-Werewolves thing and he actually felt kind of bad about it in retrospect. So when Derek said that he wanted to take the pack out of town for the next full moon and needed a way to get the kids out of school for a couple of days… well, Peter may have recruited Erica and taken the opportunity to set a small fire in the art room of the high school. Just a little one… Clearly karma was an actual thing though, because here he was being punished. And Derek, that devious bastard, had somehow managed to silently flee sometime in the last ten minutes, leaving Peter here as chaperone.
He was just contemplating trying to slip away for a walk to escape the howling laughter that was really not merited in a scene with no George Carlin, when Erica dumped herself abruptly into his lap, blonde curls swinging against his face, and hipbone narrowly missing crushing a testicle as she settled in. Peter growled softly.
“Hey, Uncle Pete, having fun yet?”
Peter’s hands dangled limply over the sides of his armchair. He raised an eyebrow, deadpan.
Peter had no idea what he’d done to deserve Erica’s attention, but she’d been all over him for weeks. She was stunning and feisty, and Peter liked her a lot, or he would once she got over this whole Lolita braggadocio thing, but this was a little uncomfortable. He suspected she enjoyed being known as the type of girl who liked bad boys, and was trying to prove something to someone. It was a bit ridiculous because she was obviously head over heels for Boyd, the quintessential reliable, trustworthy guy, and Peter was pretty sure if he ever showed even the slightest interest in return she’d run screaming.
Not that he doubted that she found him attractive, because hey, a guy doesn’t spend twenty-plus years oozing animal magnetism and charisma without a healthy self-image, but he did have that whole murderer backstory baggage. Not everyone was into that, especially not teenagers puffed up with false bravado. Hell, he’d make a move just to confirm his hunch if he wasn’t sure that Derek would try to rip his throat out for it.
No, if he was going to go after anyone in the pack (and with the way Derek was running things, it’d have to be someone in the pack or a lifelong regime of wrist calisthenics), he’d be more likely to look at Lydia or Stiles. Except, that was a terrible idea. If he so much as looked at Stiles, Derek wouldn’t just try to rip his throat out, he’d probably set him on fire first. Again. And if he went after Lydia, Stiles would probably murder him in his sleep before Derek could touch him. Peter was better off holding out for Derek to bite someone over the age of 25.
Hah, not a chance in hell of that one happening, though. Derek’s entire recruitment strategy seemed to consist of Bite Young, Bite Sexy, and Invest in Leather. Peter wasn’t going to complain about the eye candy, but if it were up to him, he might have recruited based on useful practical skills. Also, it would have been nice to have at least one other Pack member around who could remember the early 90’s. These kids made him feel so Old. Of course, age was just a number, and not particularly relevant to people who’d beaten death…
A wriggling in his lap brought his attention back to the problem at hand. So to speak. Peter huffed and looked at Erica, disinterestedly.
“What can I do for you, kiddo?”
“Oh, I’ll tell you what you can do for me… in detail, if you’d like,” she purred.
Peter affected a pained expression. It wasn’t hard. His gaze fixed coolly on hers, pinioning her as he grasped Erica gently by the shoulders, stroking his thumbs over the soft exposed skin at the base of her neck. The entire room seemed to quiet and tense, waiting for him to speak.
“Darling, you are magnificent. You’re savagely beautiful, and shrewd, and tougher than anyone your age has any right to be. I honestly enjoy your company. But I need you to stop this game you’ve got going, because I am a sexually frustrated werewolf, and this little psychodrama we’re playing out will not end well for anyone. So let’s just take it as read that although you’re lovely I’m not interested, because honestly, I’m not.”
He dropped his hands from her shoulders and stood abruptly, dumping Erica on her pert little ass. Her eyes flashed gold and her jaw clenched, as she scrambled to her feet, predatory smile replaced with a furious glare.
“Erica.” Boyd’s voice rumbled through the room, quiet and deep and calm. Erica’s head whipped towards the sound, the glow in her eyes receding. She froze for a moment, then reached a hand tentatively towards him and he took it, drawing her back down to sit on the floor next to him. Peter smiled ruefully, and felt the tension in the room ease marginally. He turned to leave.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Derek asked mildly from where he was lurking on the landing of the stairs. Peter stopped and turned to face the Alpha, head cocked sardonically.
Before he could generate some kind of sassy comeback, Derek addressed the group. “We’re going for a run in ten minutes. Participation is mandatory.”
Peter rolled his eyes, and slipped past Derek, leaving behind an excited furor more suited to a roadtrip to Vegas than a command to take a night-hike in sub-freezing weather. Stiles’ sigh was lost among the chorus of excited squeals and cheers from the wolves as they raced upstairs to get ready. He turned to look at Allison, who positively beamed.
“You too? Come on…” he groaned.
“I happen to be very outdoorsy, I’ll have you know.” Allison chirped.
“Yeah, so Scott tells me.” Stiles muttered. Allison didn’t blush, didn’t even blink.
“That you like to have sex outdoors,” he clarified, nodding emphatically.
“… and you think that’s going to embarrass me?” Allison smiled sweetly, and patted Stiles patronizingly on the head. “Scott tells me just as much about you as he tells you about me. Which means I know about the video.”
“Stiles!” Derek snarled from the stairs.
Stiles flushed, glaring after Allison as she bounced up the stairs to get changed.
The night was bright and cold as the pack trekked into the woods to Derek’s chosen clearing. Back home sometimes they just changed out on the front porch, but Derek hadn’t wanted the pack to be so exposed in unfamiliar territory, and he also didn’t want them shedding clothes all over the forest and leaving concentrated scent pockets where someone’s shoes or underpants fell. So they’d prepared a spot to change out in the forest.
The pack had spread out a bit over the course of the hike. Peter trailed sullenly behind the pack, rolling his eyes and muttering. Derek led the way, with Isaac shadowing him, and behind them Scott and Allison were whooping and shouting like kids at a playground and running around in circles, catching and tackling each other in the snow. A little ways off to the east Jackson and Danny were walking together and talking in low, serious voices. Erica was riding piggyback on Boyd and singing softly in his ear, as he marched steadily and serenely through the woods.
Behind them, Lydia took her time, picking her way deftly, walking with Stiles who ambled clumsily and chattered and made her laugh a delicate little gurgle of a laugh. They were at ease with each other these days, brushing against one another as their footing slid over the uneven ground, Stiles grabbing Lydia’s sleeve for balance. Two years ago Stiles had been good-natured about Lydia’s renewed relationship with Jackson, but it had clearly hurt him. There had been no resentment towards Lydia, and he eventually got over his grudge against Jackson, but he’d felt isolated, alienated.
Still, he’d resisted the pull of pack connection for months, despite Scott’s pleading. Then Lydia’s wolf had started manifesting, and Stiles couldn’t refuse to help. Ultimately he was the one who had puzzled through her unique progression, had realized what was happening, had coached her through her first difficult transformation. She shifted easily now, to a sleek cream-colored wolf with startling green eyes. She turned those eyes on him now.
“So I thought maybe we should sign up for some kind of volunteer project this summer, maybe a summer camp or something. It’ll look good on our CVs, and admissions committees love that stuff…”
“Lyds, we’ve already applied. You’re going to get into Stanford and do a double major in math and physics, and I’m going to get a rejection letter and a job at the truck stop. This is the plan.”
Lydia heaved a sigh. “First of all, you are getting in, you giant doofus. Secondly, I was talking about grad school admissions- we can’t just have a gaping four-year long hole in our extracurriculars just because we’re in college. And thirdly, I hardly think your boyfriend would allow you to work at a truck stop without a full-time security team defending your virtue.”
She smirked smugly.
“Okay, I don’t need Derek’s permission to do anything, thank you very much. We are, like… equal partners in… stuff. Okay?” Stiles huffed agitatedly, before plowing forward, his voice accelerating.
“And also, you are insane. Can we just focus on getting accepted to college before we start worrying about grad school? I don’t even know what I’m going to major in! And also also, it’s January. There is no reason for us to be thinking about our plans for the summer when I can’t feel my toes. And also also also, this is potentially our last summer as a pack with us all at home in Beacon Hills for a long time. I don’t want to spend half of it away gluing popsicle sticks together and getting poison ivy. I want to be with my dad and with Derek and with the pack. So can we please just all do close to home stuff?”
Stiles panted a little, puffs of breath visible in the night air. Lydia just sniffed, and regarded Stiles surprisingly mildly.
“You have no sense of long-term planning.”
Lydia had been less high strung since finding her wolf. She was still working on shifting to her beta form, but she seemed easier in herself now that she knew she could change. She and Stiles had worked out some of the theory, and had since taught most of the rest of the pack to transform to full wolf form (which Stiles called Gamma form, or when he being ridiculous the “‘What big teeth you have, Gamma’ form”) as well.
It had seemed impossible at first, but since the research all seemed to indicate that it was plausible with sufficient focus and dedication they had pressed on. Derek had been the first to find his wolf, a huge shaggy black thing, but then he’d seen both Laura and his mother do it hundreds of times. Since then Scott, Isaac, Boyd, and Peter had all come through, and Erica and Jackson were competing not to be last. Stiles suspected that the rivalry was probably counterproductive.
Derek was the other thing that had cemented Stiles as pack. Their antagonistic, mocking, cajoling friendship had slowly transformed over the course of a few tumultuous weeks to a bizarre, fierce loyalty. It was when the smoky, musky smell of arousal between them had started to shift subtly, to sweeten, that the pack recognized what was happening. Of course it was Lydia who noticed first, Stiles had thought at the time. It would have to be Lydia.
There had been confusion and anxiety for a few weeks, while the betas worried about what it would mean for the pack. Honestly, Stiles had had limited sympathy for that, given how confusing the whole transition was for him. The big brooding werewolf who liked to glower at him and slam him into walls had suddenly transformed into a big brooding werewolf who… well, still liked to glower at him and slam him into walls, but now he liked to do it naked. And to snuggle afterwards.
Still, Erica had gotten mean again, and Boyd had alternated between even more laconic than usual and being viciously sarcastic, and Isaac was a jumpy mess until he basically moved into Scott’s house. That was when Scott sat Stiles down and explained that he and Derek had to do something to reassure everyone that they were permanent. And Stiles had choked on his Red Bull, and said that permanent implied a kind of… you know, permanence, and Scott looked confused. And then three days later, when Stiles told Derek about the conversation (while blushing and stammering), Derek had done the angry eyebrows thing and called a pack meet which made Stiles blush purple and actually made everything worse.
Ultimately though, seeing Derek and Stiles settle into each other, watching Stiles scold Derek to be more careful, watching Derek shove Stiles away from danger, watching them carefully and silently check one another for injuries after the first real fight with the Alpha pack, had settled most of their concerns. The wolves calmed down and the humans stopped gossiping and even Stiles’ dad came around after an incredibly awkward “What are your intentions?” talk. Their relationship had eventually seemed to strengthen the pack, to stabilize it. These days they had to be careful not to bicker in front of the pack, or they’d get such a severe case of concerned puppy dog eyes that Stiles worried that one morning he and Derek would wake up with Isaac curled up between them in footie pajamas.
There was a tarpaulin spread out in the clearing which allowed each non-human pack member to strip down and leave their clothes in a dry spot before changing. During summer the pack would usually all shift together, occasionally accompanied by a rousing pep-talk from Derek (something like “Watch out for hunters,” “First person back puts on the kettle,” or “Howl if you get lost”). Tonight it was too cold to hang around doing nothing as humans, so everyone had been given their instructions in advance (“We meet back at the clearing twenty minutes after my signal, don’t be late”) and just changed as they reached the clearing, trying to keep tender human feet on the plastic sheeting until they were better outfitted for snow.
By the time Lydia and Stiles got to the clearing it was deserted, and a series of faint growls and yips disappearing into the forest told them that most of the pack was already running in the usual pattern. By now they were ranging out, circling back, stalking and ambushing one another, and then striking out again, running just to feel the joy of wind ruffling their coats, of paws flying over the earth. Next to the tarp there were a couple of folding lawn chairs, a first aid kit, and a large thermos of coffee. Stiles picked up the thermos, and cleared his throat.
“Uh, see you out there?”
Lydia’s eyes were already closed in anticipation as she stood on the tarp, pulling off her gloves and unzipping her winter coat, her breathing deep and slow. All of the pack had seen each other naked by now, several times over. Nobody seemed to mind much. When you woke up in a sweaty, puppy-pile from a long night of running there were usually more pressing issues at hand than modesty- things like who got the first shower and what was for breakfast. Still, given his history with her, Stiles tried not to spend too much time with Lydia alone during naked-times. He didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. So he nodded to himself and headed into the woods to catch up to Derek and the pack as she spread her coat out on the tarp, and then sat on it to unlace her boots.
When she had her boots paired and her socks rolled up inside them, she stepped barefoot onto her coat and swiftly stripped off her sweater, which she folded and placed carefully next to her boots. Lydia was the only one in the pack who bothered with folding her clothes on full moon runs, but she was also the one least likely to lose her watch, or to find ants or dead leaves in her underpants in the morning.
Stiles trudged through the woods, listening to the grunts and yelps in the distance. He’d never been particularly athletic, and he much preferred a nice warm couch to a long hard slog through the snow, but being out in the woods with the pack, his pack, was almost enough to make him enjoy hiking through the wintry forest, despite the dampening socks, and the freezing fingers, and the air so cold it made his teeth hurt to take a deep breath. Okay, well, almost.
A cloud closed over the moon, and Stiles paused in cataloguing his coldest body parts (in order of predicted dropping off) to listen. The forest was strangely quiet, except for the intermittent rattle of underbrush behind him.
Stiles spun to face the enormous black blur that sprung from the shadows, throwing itself against his chest and knocking him flat into the snow with a muted whump. He could feel his jeans starting to soak through already, and he shrieked as he felt an icy brush against his neck as Derek nosed under his scarf, huge front paws planted on Stiles’ shoulders.
“Hey! Not cool, man! I’m freezing out here!”
The wolf pulled back and cocked its head, voicing a low whine. Stiles laced his fingers through the dark ruff of fur at Derek’s neck, the corner of his mouth quirked up in a smile.
“Nah, I’m fine. Your nose is just cold. My jeans are getting soaked, though. Lemme up.”
As Stiles scrambled to his feet and brushed the snow off of his ass, Derek circled him, butting against his hip and nipping at his jacket.
“Yes, yes, okay… I’m putting them on right now.”
Stiles batted the wolf away and reached into his pocket to pull out a pair of rainbow striped wooly mittens. He pulled them on clumsily and dropped a hand to rest heavily between Derek’s shoulders.
“There. See? I’m good. Nice, warm Stiles. We can stay out all night.”
Derek chuffed happily and bounced forward, clearly ready to get back to his run. He had just broken through the first line of trees around their clearing when he paused, hackles rising, tail dropping, ears swiveling as though he was hearing something. Stiles froze, not wanting to make any noise that might distract Derek, in case someone was in trouble.
Derek must have heard something, because he turned abruptly, tearing off into the woods to his left. Stiles took off after him, feet slipping on the snowy ground.
They found Jackson in a dense copse of fir trees, whimpering, hunched over on the ground with his shirt off. He was drenched in sweat and shivering, no convulsing, body wracked by spasms, and when Stiles circled around to get a look at his face, his eyes were glowing blue and fixed on some point in the middle distance. And something about his face was wrong.
Stiles had seen Jackson’s beta form enough times to know what it was supposed to look like, and this wasn’t it. The angles were wrong, sharper, and he looked gaunt and wrecked. The hollows of his cheeks and under his eyes were cavernous and his jaw was too narrow, extended too far forward. Oh shit.
Stiles carefully placed himself in Jackson’s field of vision, out of reach.
“Jackson!” he called sharply.
There was no response. Derek moved closer to Jackson and growled softly. There was no response. Stiles was never going to get used to the way that dominance displays worked with wolves, to how a dominant Alpha made Betas feel secure. Derek moved closer and snarled. Jackson’s heavy-lidded eyes blinked. Good. Stiles reached out for Derek, and he circled back, pressing himself against Stiles’ side as he knelt in the snow, staring intently at Jackson’s prone form. Jackson was Stuck. Deaton had warned Stiles about this when they’d first figured out what was going on with Lydia, but none of the pack members had run up against it yet. Still, the threat of it was why Derek had implemented a buddy system for practicing changes. But then, Jackson was Jackson. No surprise there.
“Buddy, can you hear me?”
The eyes blinked again, and Stiles could hear Jackson’s breathing start to come shallower as his eyes seemed to veer towards focus.
“It’s gonna be okay. I’m here, Derek’s here, and you’re gonna get through this…”
Jackson’s head bobbed infinitesimally in a nod. Stiles focused on relaxing his face, his hands, his shoulders. Deaton had told him that the most important thing if a wolf got Stuck in the shift was to calm them down. Of course he’d also told him that if a wolf stayed Stuck for too long they’d die from the overload of adrenaline and hormones flooding their system, which frankly was not helpful in maintaining a convincingly calm façade. But Stiles had experience with panic attacks, and that was basically what being Stuck was- a panic attack with fun bonus body distortion and disfigurement, now with fifty percent more fatalities. Stiles blew a deep breath out through his mouth, and held Jackson’s gaze.
“Okay, the first thing you need to do is breathe. Deep and slow, okay? Because you need oxygen for your muscles to work, and for your body to function, and… good. Good.” Stiles nodded his head.
Jackson’s eyes started to look less panicked, less intense. A tear slid down the side of his nose, and his convulsions seemed to ebb.
“Good. Now I want you to feel your toes. Can you feel them?”
Another bare hint of a nod.
“I need you to focus on relaxing them, okay? Curl them up tight and then relax them.”
Jackson’s breath hitched for a second, and then evened out.
“Okay, now your feet… tense… relax… and your ankles… Good. Now your calves…” Stiles kept up his murmured instructions, watching as Jackson’s shuddering breaths seemed to come slower, and less shaky as a slow wave of relaxation crept up his body. It seemed to be helping, but how long had Jackson been here before Derek heard him? How long did he have left?
“Okay, now try to relax the muscles in your face, okay? This is going to be hard, because they’re not all where they usually are, but just take a deep breath and tense them all up… Good. Now relax them…”
The lines of Jackson’s face softened slightly, which was… good right? So what was wrong? Something seemed off, and Derek was pressing harder against Stiles’ side, huffing breaths into his ear. Jackson’s eyes seemed… duller somehow. They slipped shut.
“Jackson.” Stiles commanded, and Jackson’s eyelashes fluttered against his cheek. Fuck. Beside him, Derek tensed, then launched himself at Jackson, snarling and snapping his teeth inches away from the boy’s face. Jackson’s eyes startled open blearily, and Derek backed off slightly, staying close.
“Jackson, I need you to stay with me, okay?” Stiles said loudly, clearly. “Can you do that?”
Jackson’s head nodded, almost imperceptibly.
“You’re almost through this, you just have one more thing you have to do, okay? I know you can do it.”
He seemed to perk up a little, his face lifting off the ground slightly.
“Good. Okay, you’re an athlete Jackson, you’re the best player on lacrosse team, you’re the captain of the swim team. You know how to listen to your body. That’s what I need you to do now, okay, buddy? I need you to listen to your body, and just go with what it says. It’s all instinct now. Trust it. Can you do that?”
Jackson’s eyes closed again, but scrunched closed this time, like he was concentrating. His breathing deepened, and sweat beaded on his forehead as his brow furrowed. Slowly, Jackson’s body began to writhe, and a high-pitched whine was wrung out of him. His back arched, then curved in the opposite direction, his hands flexing and clenching. Then his face… rippled, lengthened, and the shadows that moved across his face seemed to deepen, but when his face turned back towards Stiles it was covered in greyish fur. Stiles held his breath, heart feeling like it would burst.
And then Jackson surged up and he was standing unsteadily, pale green eyes blinking, ears swiveling, fur ruffled and shaggy. He stumbled towards Stiles, nosed his face once, and then collapsed into a trembling bundle of fur against Stiles’ knees, panting and exhausted. Derek sniffed at Jackson’s form contentedly, and then nuzzled against Stiles’ cheek, huffing warm breath against the tear-tracks that marked Stiles’ face.
The full moon, almost spent, shone into the clearing, illuminating the lawn chairs, the tarpaulin, the oddly foreign human detritus that clogged the woods. Stiles, Derek, and Jackson were the first back, and Derek howled to call the pack, as Stiles collapsed in a shivering, boneless heap onto the pseudo-shelter of the tarp, Jackson’s discarded clothes balled up under his arm. Derek curled up next to him, laying his head on Stiles’ thigh and chuffing against the cold, wet denim, and Stiles pulled a hand free from its mitten and scratched idly under the wolf’s jaw. Jackson had made it as far as the edge of the clearing before collapsing again, and was now a snoring puddle of grey-brown fur, half-buried in the snow, next to one of the lawn chairs.
It wasn’t long before Allison stumbled back, cheeks flushed from the cold, trailed by a sleek white and brown wolf. Oblivious to everyone, she fell face-first onto the tarp, using Lydia’s sweater as a pillow, and Scott wriggled, burrowing his head under her arm. Not much later, a stocky grey wolf emerged, sniffed in Jackson’s general direction, and then circled wide around him, to curl up on the far side of the clearing in the snow. Stiles cracked open one eye to watch Peter, and to make sure he wasn’t planning to bother Jackson.
Five minutes later, a laughing Danny tripped into the clearing, herded by an insistent tawny wolf. Both stopped short at the greyish-brown heap. Lydia yelped, and then circled Jackson, sniffing, ears pinned back in concern. Jackson lifted his head enough to snap at a foreleg before dropping back down and closing his eyes. Lydia lay down next to him, leaning her head back until it lay against his, and Danny settled into the lawn chair next to them, insinuating a foot under Jackson’s hip, a tranquil smile on his face.
Just as Danny finished settling in, two wolves raced into the clearing, stopping short at the sight of the rest of the pack already sprawled across the space. The bigger wolf, dark brown with huge amber-brown eyes, canted its head to the side, and walked to where Peter lay on the edge of the clearing. He flopped over half on top of Peter, and placidly ignored the quiet growl that reverberated from the wolf he was pillowed on. The slimmer, tawnier wolf followed, and lay half against Boyd, half against Peter. Peter huffed at Isaac, but didn’t object any further.
Throaty, breathless laughter rang through the clearing as the crunching of snow under boots heralded the arrival of Erica. The laughing faded as she saw the shape of a wolf curled up next to Lydia and Danny, and stopped short, eyes wet and shiny. Uh oh. Stiles should have known that this was going to be hard for Erica. She couldn’t stand to be last at anything, not after a lifetime of being left out of things and treated differently and pitied. Even without the epilepsy she felt like she needed to prove herself, to be better and faster than others. Now she looked a breath away from unspooling.
Erica’s blonde curls bounced as she pivoted to face Stiles, sprawled on the ground. He waved her over, patted the space next to him. Erica picked her way over Allison’s boots and the plume of Scott’s tail, and lay carefully down, head pillowed on Stiles’ chest. A pouty puff of breath escaped her lips and she let out a shaky sigh.
The rest of the pack was sleeping, breathing quiet and even, and Stiles could feel Erica’s shoulders tensing and hunching as she closed in on herself. Stiles’ tongue worriedly traced the corner of his mouth. His hand reached up to stroke her hair. Her head craned back as she searched his face, and he smiled at her, a little wryly.
“Don’t worry about it, Catwoman. We’ll work on it tomorrow.”
Erica bit her lip and snuggled deeper into Stiles, fingers clutching at his jacket. She wasn’t relaxed, maybe, but Stiles knew she was safe, and that whatever she was feeling would only be helped by time, and by sleep, and by being close to her pack. He smiled a little sadly. Stiles pressed a gentle kiss to the top of her head, and closed his eyes, falling leisurely into sleep and silently wishing Erica dreams of warm fur and family.