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You're Not Who I Thought You Were

Chapter Text

- Sunday, January 9th, 2011 -

Stiles is holed up in his room, sitting on his bed with his legs crossed and his back leaning against the pillows. His computer is on his lap, a crappy B-grade horror movie playing on the screen. It follows a group of high and horny high schoolers as they take a trip up to the mountains and encounter a serial killer. Of course.

He'd been in need of something to while away the remaining hours of the evening and it was the first thing he came across after spending all of two minutes looking. He can't even remember its title. He watches, unenthused, as the boyfriend of one of the main characters is killed mid heavy-petting session and the girl runs out of the snowy cabin in which they had been staying. Her partially unbuttoned shirt is conveniently ripped off when it snags on a tree branch, exposing a bright-red lacy bra which can barely contain her breasts.

Typical. No one keeps their clothes on in these movies.

There has been absolutely no development to endear him to the characters—not that he was really expecting any—so he doesn't feel bad at all when she trips. The masked killer catches up to her a second later and the sound of his machete as it cuts through the air brings about the end of her terrified and badly acted screams.

His attention not really held, Stiles is instantly alert when he hears his dad's bedroom door open and footsteps heading down the stairs. He yanks out his earphones and walks out into the hall to listen.

It's a habit he's yet to break himself out of, much to his dad's annoyance.

"Do we know who it is?"

Stiles almost misses the hushed question, so he steps closer to the top of the stairs to hear better and tries to keep out of sight. He's desperate for something to save him from the dullness that is his everyday life. Being the son of the sheriff isn't without its perks, and one of them is that he's usually the first person besides the victims and the force itself to know if a crime has taken place. Stiles can tell that this one must be bad from the anxiousness in his dad's voice. He listens all the more closely.

"The preserve. Got it. On my way."

Stiles retreats into the shadows just as his dad appears at the bottom of the stairs.

"Stiles!" the sheriff shouts, seemingly oblivious to the eavesdropping.

After taking a couple of seconds to respond, Stiles clears his throat and acts like he's only just come out of his room when he steps back into the dim light that shines up from the foyer. "Yeah, dad?" he answers, rubbing at his eyes to really drive home his deception.

"I've just had a call, so I'm going out. Please go to bed at a reasonable time, okay? It's a school night," the sheriff reminds, knowing very well that his son didn't conk out until at least 3 a.m. the previous night, no matter how quiet the boy had tried to be. There isn't really anything he can do about it but ask because he's usually out for work. It looks like tonight will be no exception. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay, dad, stay safe!" Stiles calls as he watches the man slip on his coat and walk outside to his cruiser. Once the door is shut, Stiles storms back into his bedroom and grabs his phone.

Hey, Scotty, you still awake?

The text is short and sweet. He bites his thumbnail impatiently as he stares down at the small screen, waiting for a reply. After a few minutes he still hasn't received one, but that doesn't really give him an answer. Sure, Scott could actually be in bed already, but the more likely explanation is that the crooked-jawed boy simply forgot to keep his phone charged again or something. It would be just like him.

Sighing, Stiles pockets his phone and peers through the gap in his curtains to make sure his dad is gone. After confirming that he's really alone, he grabs his hoodie, dashes down the stairs and drives to the McCalls'.

He see that Scott's light is on when he arrives and Melissa McCall's car isn't in the driveway, so he goes right up to the front door. It's not locked, so he doesn't bother to knock and just walks right on in and up to Scott's bedroom. The door is ajar. He pushes it open and finds his best friend sitting at his desk, watching something on his computer.

Scott has headphones on and doesn't hear Stiles come in. When Stiles gets closer, he wrinkles his nose at the abundance of naked skin currently bouncing up and down on the computer screen. Luckily, he got there before Scott actually got started doing anything—his jeans are still on and zipped up, thank God—and he decides to interrupt the other boy before that has a chance to change.

Stiles reaches out and taps Scott on the shoulder, grinning widely when the crooked-jawed boy leaps from his chair with a squawk. His headphones are ripped off of his head with the movement. They bang loudly against the wood of Scott's desk on their way to the floor.

"Hey, buddy-boy!" Stiles greets, cackling when his friend stares at him in shock and holds a hand over the front of his jeans. He watches, amused, as Scott's eyes flick back over to his computer screen before he scrabbles to turn it off. Stiles can't resist a little cheek. "This a bad time?" he teases.

"Fucking hell, Stiles!" Scott whines, embarrassed.

"I'll take that as a yes."

"Yes!"

"Well, tough," Stiles smirks, sitting down on the foot of Scott's bed. He winks when the other boy stays standing awkwardly. "I know how we can have a little fun before school starts back up tomorrow," he singsongs.

Scott looks apprehensive. "Do I even want to know?" he asks, flopping back down in his desk chair with a tired sigh. "It's going to get us in trouble, isn't it? I don't want to get grounded again, Stiles!"

"I'm not gonna lie to you, Scotty—that's a possibility, but only if we're not careful," Stiles concedes, already trying to put a positive spin on his plan so that Scott is more amenable to joining him. "My dad got a call like, twenty minutes ago, about someone finding half a dead girl in the woods. We should totally go check it out. It'd be stupid cool, don't you think?" He grins, leaning back on his arms.

"Not really..." Scott mumbles as he turns back to his computer.

Rolling his eyes, Stiles gets up from the bed and spins the chair back around so that Scott is facing him again. "C'mon, one more adventure before the monotony of school consumes all our time again!" he pleads, gesticulating wildly and almost giving himself a black eye. Scott is close to giving in, Stiles can tell, but he needs one last thing to push him over the edge. Stiles knows just what to say to give his best friend that.

"Please? It'll be like the good ol' days," he needles. "Scott and Stiles, causing mischief again, only this time we can be more cautious if that makes you feel better. Now, are you gonna be cool and come with me or are you gonna make me go to the preserve all by myself, at night, while you stay here and be boring?"

* * *

Ten minutes later and Scott is sitting in the passenger seat of Stiles' Jeep, looking like he'd rather be anywhere else. The radio is on, playing quietly in the background as Stiles taps along to the current song with his fingers on the steering wheel. His excitement is palpable but not contagious.

"Don't look so miserable, Scotty, my boy!" Stiles cheers, grinning.

Scott rolls his eyes and continues pouting.

"Suit yourself."

Stiles turns the music up louder and makes a show of really getting into it, mouthing along to the lyrics and acting like a fool in an attempt to raise his friend's spirits. It goes on for a couple of minutes before he gives up. When he sees that they're approaching the preserve, he turns the music off so that neither his dad nor any deputy will hear it should they be in the area. It looks clear, but appearances can be deceiving, Stiles knows. Someone from the force could have parked a distance away and walked to where he and Scott sit in his Jeep.

He turns off the engine and opens the glovebox. "Here."

Tearing his eyes away from where he'd been staring out the window, Scott looks to his left and takes one of the torches that Stiles has in his hand. "I can't believe you talked me into this..."

"Yeah, well, it's too late to back out now, so keep your voice down so we don't get caught and let's get this show on the road!" Stiles responds enthusiastically. He shoves his door open and climbs out. Dead leaves crunch under his shoes as he walks and holds his torch at the ready. The moon provides just enough light for him to see for the moment, but he knows that as soon as they walk between the trees that this will no longer be the case.

The two teenage boys walk in silence for half an hour, neither one of them really knowing where to go. Scott is shivering by the time Stiles is close to admitting that coming to the preserve in the dead of night wasn't such a good idea, especially when he didn't overhear where the bisected dead woman actually is.

Scott finally puts his foot down when Stiles still suggests they keep looking. "No!" he refuses, throwing his arms in the air. "I'm done!"

"What?" Stiles whispers hoarsely, pointing his torch at Scott's retreating back.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Stiles."

"But I'm your ride, you doofus!"

"I'll walk!"

A few seconds later and Scott is out of sight.

Stiles is left standing on his own. He gapes like an imbecile for a while before snapping his mouth shut and turning back in the direction in which he'd been about to venture. The darkness seems more oppressive without company, so he pulls his bright-red hoodie closer to his skinny torso and speeds up his gait. He points his torch at the ground to preclude himself from stumbling; it wouldn't be good to come out of this with a broken nose.

The preserve is quiet. His theory that there might be others in the area, deputies still looking for the body, are proven wrong when all that he hears are his own heavy footsteps and laboured breathing.

"Fuck, it's cold..." Stiles mumbles, whiteness puffing out from his open mouth. He pauses in his tracks and sticks his torch between his thighs so that he can rub his palms together, but it does little to improve his predicament. He still feels the cold keenly and his stubbornness that this was a good idea is wearing thin.

A twig snaps loudly a short distance away.

Stiles whips his head around and stares into the blackness, trying to see what caused it. He doesn't hear anything else, no matter how long he stands there, still as a statue. Eventually he shakes his mounting fright off as much as he is able to, takes his touch back in hand and carries on.

"It was just a squirrel or something, Stiles. Don't freak over nothing," he whispers, trying to reassure himself that he's still alone and that no one is going to suddenly jump out and gut him.

What a way to go, he thinks, freezing again when the twig and the dead body connect in his head—what if there is a killer out there somewhere?

He doesn't want to be their second victim. He couldn't do that to his dad, no matter how stilted things are between them now. Resolving to forget about the dead woman, return to his Jeep and go back to the safety of his home, Stiles turns and finds that he can't remember which way he came from. Everything looks the same. He spins in place, looking for anything familiar.

Nothing stands out. There aren't even any discernible footprints to follow.

I'm so fucked. God damn it.

Picking a direction and walking in it, Stiles hopes for the best and thinks disparaging thoughts about Scott's intelligence to shift the blame for his current predicament off of himself. It doesn't really work and he just ends up making himself feel worse.

He trudges along, the muscles of his legs protesting the many inclines he tackles seemingly nonstop. His phone is no help—even if he could get a signal to try to find his location, the bar at the top of the screen flashes red and tells him that he has just four percent of his battery life left. Sure enough, a few seconds after unlocking it, his phone beeps once before going dead. He sighs and returns it to his back pocket before pointing his torch ahead again. He thanks his past self for at least having the good sense to put some fresh batteries in this device before he left the house earlier.

The best case scenario is that he has picked the right direction and he finds his Jeep again in a few minutes. The worst is that he runs into his dad and gets found outside after curfew. He shudders at the thought of the telling off he'd get if that came to pass. Or there's the possibility that he comes out the other side of the preserve and has to follow the road back around to his Jeep. He doesn't think his legs could take that much walking so late.

Sooner than Stiles was expecting, the trees break to reveal a fourth option he hadn't thought of.

The old Hale house looms before him, large and intimidating in its size, like a great black mass that threatens to suck him up. Stiles remembers that night, the night of the fire. He remembers how frantic his dad had been when he got the call and how, later on at the hospital, he'd seen what little was left of the Hales when it was all over.

The Hale family were respected—revered, even—so it came as a shock to everyone in town and in the next few towns over that most of them were wiped out in the course of a couple of hours. Stiles wasn't supposed to be there, but Melissa was working and he was too young to be left home alone, so his dad had been forced to bring him along. The stricken and pale faces of Laura and Derek Hale had come as no surprise to him when he'd glimpsed them being treated for shock. After that night, Stiles never saw the siblings again.

They were always just acquaintances, really, familiar faces around town and nothing more. He recalls Laura being incredibly sassy and generally friendly, while Derek was usually standoffish and surly. One incident in particular comes back to him:

One day, when Scott was sick and he was by himself, Stiles was minding his own business outside school, waiting for his dad to come pick him up, when he was suddenly shoved from behind and sent sprawling to the ground. He went down hard, resulting in a bloody nose and his books sliding a great distance away. While he was always loud-mouthed, he never really had the strength to back it up and this resulted in him getting on the wrong side of a bully named Jackson Whittemore.

As Stiles was busy trying to scramble to his feet, all the while clutching his nose to stop more blood from spilling onto his T-shirt, he was saved from further torment by someone he never saw coming: Derek Hale. The older boy appeared from nowhere and hissed something at Jackson that had his eyes widening in fear. The bully ran away screaming.

Stiles was at a loss. Derek had reached down to help him up from his knees, dusted him off and handed him a tissue for his nose. He retrieved Stiles' books from down the sidewalk and waited with him until he was picked up. Derek did all of this without uttering a single word. Only when the sheriff arrived did he break his silence; he was quick to explain what happened to Stiles' dad, brushing off any thanks he was given with a wave of his hand before walking away like nothing happened.

Stiles had stared at Derek's back until the older boy was out of sight.

On that day, Stiles' opinion of Derek changed for the better. They still never interacted again, but where Stiles had once been unsure, he was now certain that Derek had a good heart to match his sister's. Plus, Jackson didn't pick on him for quite a while afterward, not until the last two Hales left town a year later.

Stiles wonders what happened to the siblings. All he knows for sure is that they were gone a week after the fire. It was probably too difficult to keep living in the place their family died so horrifically, something Stiles empathises with.

As much as he understands, it doesn't stop him from wanting to know more. He had almost forgotten that the remains of the house are still standing. The find wipes from his mind all thoughts of finding his way back to his Jeep and back home. His curiosity grows and he steps slowly closer to the blackened and partially caved-in building for a better look. The harsh beam of light from his torch highlights the destruction more than the moon ever could.

The most he'd seen of it in its current state came from newspaper articles. Standing in front of it now makes what happened to it seem more real somehow. If he tries, he can almost put himself at the scene, like he was inside during the fire. Having an active imagination isn't always all it's cracked up to be, and he shudders as he walks up the steps. After pushing gently on the front door, he watches it swing open and points his torch inside, running it over everything that's still there. The stairs are the first thing he sees. Even he isn't stupid enough to try going up them when they look like they'll collapse under the smallest weight.

His bravery growing, Stiles walks into the foyer. The air is still, heavy, oppressive. It's like he can taste the memories of that night.

"Weird..." he breathes.

Of course, this doesn't stop him from exploring some more. He turns right and enters what he guesses was the dining room, the table that somehow still stands in the middle giving it away. There's what looks like a china cabinet standing by the far wall, though it is empty. Perhaps the glass was enough to protect whatever was inside, keeping it all intact, and either Laura or Derek took it with them. Storage seems like the most likely option, though.

Venturing further into the house, Stiles runs his hands over some of surfaces and rubs his thumb and index finger together, peering intently at the dust and ash on his skin as if it will yield answers to the questions that are forming in his head. He feels so very curious. He wants to know exactly what happened in explicit detail, all the events that lead up to such devastation. An accident, they said, some problem with the wiring, an electrical fire—he remembers reading that much from the papers when his dad wasn't looking.

It makes him sad.

He's about to turn back and explore the other side of the house when a noise stops him. A low growl, loud and definitely menacing. It bounces off the walls and makes all the hairs on his arms stand on end. A dog? A wolf? But there aren't any wolves in California, he's sure. A dog, then, and an angry one at that.

Time to leave, he thinks frantically, backing away from the source of the sound and tripping on a loose floorboard.

Falling flat on his ass, Stiles cries out as the impact sends a painful jolt up his spine. He groans and hisses, "Son of a bitch!" before he hears the growling again. It comes from the other direction this time, from the living room. It's no less frightening. It's more so, in fact.

Finding his feet, Stiles practically runs for the front door, but he has to sneak a glance.

He sees a duffel bag, unzipped.

A flash of electric blue, two pinpricks of light in a dark corner.

The growl turns into a roar, and he can't get out of there fast enough. He throws caution to the wind and dashes outside, across the clearing that probably served as the Hales' front garden and into the trees, heedless of how much noise he's making. Running from what might be a wild and wound-up animal isn't the best thing to do, but he can't help it; his fight-or-flight instinct has kicked in and he doesn't think logically as he runs, the pounding of his feet on the ground, his rapid heartbeat and the labour of his breathing seeming to deafen him.

Stiles is so caught up in just trying to get away from whatever roared back in the Hale house that he doesn't see someone in his path until it's too late to stop. He crashes into them and sends them both to the ground.

"God damn it, Stiles!"

Oh fuck...

Stiles knows that voice. Sure enough, when he raises his torch he sees his dad staring back at him, a deep frown on his face, his lips thin as he tries to control his anger.

"What the hell are you doing out here?!" the sheriff demands. He gets to his feet and fists a hand in the back of his son's shirt, pulling him up as well. He shouts something to his deputies, who are still searching a short distance away, before dragging Stiles in the direction of the closest road. "You're supposed to be in bed! You were listening, weren't you, before I left? I swear, I don't know what to do with you sometimes..."

Stiles lets himself be pulled along until the trees break. He doesn't even ask how his dad knew just where he'd parked his Jeep; he just gets in when the man yanks open the driver's door, flinching when he is settled behind the wheel and the door is slammed shut again.

Faintly, over the blood still rushing in his ears, he hears his dad tell him to go home and go to sleep, that they'll be talking about this in more detail in the morning. Not wanting to do anything to make his future punishment worse, Stiles obeys his dad without question. He revs up the engine and drives off in the direction of home, wondering whether or not Scott also got caught before deciding he shouldn't worry about it. He'll find out tomorrow.

Still feeling keyed up, like he has too much energy that needs to expended, Stiles takes the long way home, through the quiet of town. There are a few people still out even though the hour is so late. Stiles watches them as he idles at a red light, tapping his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. Then something reaches his ears, something just as out of place as the growling and roaring had seemed. He looks around in confusion. It's a sad, almost mournful sound, one that makes him shiver.

The howling of a wolf.

Chapter Text

- Monday, January 10th, 2011 -

After finally making it home, Stiles had fallen right into bed without first bothering to remove his clothes. He proceeded to spend most of the night lying awake, plagued by the howling he'd heard on the drive home. He couldn't quiet his mind enough to sleep even if he wanted to, the howl playing over and over again in his head. It was a tragically beautiful sound, holding so much emotion that he could almost feel it himself, no matter how little sense it made.

He had eventually fallen asleep at just after four in the morning. Before closing his eyes, he'd wondered whether it was even real, whether he had imagined it or not.

The blaring of his alarm wakes Stiles up about three hours later, far too early for his liking. He really feels the consequences of being up so late as he tries to get himself out of bed. It's a real fight to force his limbs to move the way he wants them to as he shambles across the hall to the bathroom.

"Ugh, why?" he groans tiredly to his reflection in the mirror.

This day is gonna suck some serious balls.

There are large bags beneath his eyes, which themselves look bloodshot, and his skin is even paler than usual, adopting a sickly pallor that makes him look ill. Red lines run up the right side of his face, impressions made by wrinkles in his pillowcase that look similar to forks of lightning. He turns away from his reflection and hopes that the lines will fade to the point of being unnoticeable before he arrives at school.

He takes his time getting ready, indulging in a long shower—complete with a quick masturbatory session in which long strawberry-blonde hair and red-painted lips play starring roles—in hopes of waking himself up more so that he's better prepared for the long day ahead. Once he's made use of the facilities and gotten dressed in a pair of orange chinos, a black T-shirt and an old brown flannel overshirt, Stiles is pleased to find that the shower worked for the most part. He feels sufficiently refreshed.

He grabs his phone, jogs down the stairs and enters the kitchen in search of breakfast, his stomach rumbling with anticipation. He pauses in the doorway when he finds the room empty. He was expecting his dad to be waiting for him there to yell at him some more, so it is unexpected and makes him worry. Almost like they have a psychic connection, Stiles' phone vibrates in his pocket as soon as he gets over his surprise. He gets it out to find a new message from the sheriff:

Stiles, this is taking a lot longer than I expected so I won't be home until late this evening. I'll see you then. PLEASE stay out of trouble. Don't forget about our talk.

With a sigh, Stiles texts back his acknowledgement.

When his stomach is filled with Cheerios and a couple of slices of toast, Stiles checks his phone again and is alarmed to find that it's later than he thought.

This realisation gets him moving. Rushing out the front door, his backpack swings wildly behind him as he moves swiftly to his Jeep and hops in. The bag is tossed onto the passenger seat as he sticks his keys in the ignition and brings the engine to life in a loud purr, the familiarity of which would be soothing under different circumstances. As it is, it does nothing but agitate him as he reverses out of the driveway and slams his foot down on the accelerator, shooting the vehicle forward with a rough jolt that presses him tightly back against his seat.

Stiles makes the trip in record time. He is somehow pulling up the parking brake again with five minutes to spare. This gives him some breathing room, so he moves at a normal pace as he walks up the steps to the double doors that serve as the school's main entrance, wondering where Scott is.

He gets his answer a minute later when he reaches his locker.

The crooked-jawed boy is leaning against it, unaware of Stiles' arrival as he prods delicately at the left side of his abdomen with a series of winces. He jumps in fright when Stiles announces his presence, his head snapping up and his eyes wide. He stares for a second before relaxing again.

"Bit jumpy there, buddy," Stiles observes when Scott moves out of the way to allow him access to his locker. "Any particular reason?"

"No, just wasn't paying attention," Scott replies shortly.

Stiles glances back over his shoulder and frowns when he sees his friend resume his inspection.

"What's wrong?" he enquires, frown deepening and voice turning serious.

"It's nothing."

"C'mon, I know you better than that. Tell me."

Scott glances around, checking to see whether anyone is watching, before he reaches for the hem of his shirt and pulls it up. A large bandage is revealed, taped to his side just below his ribs. There are a few small patches of blood on it that stand out in stark contrast to the crisp whiteness surrounding them. Before Stiles can ask any more questions, Scott peels back the bandage at one corner, just enough to allow the other boy to see the deep set of bite marks that run in a circle in his tanned skin. They still bleed sluggishly through the quick and shoddy stitch job he'd given himself at around one o'clock that morning.

He says nothing when Stiles gasps, just nods solemnly as he smooths the tape back in place and drops his shirt again.

"Dude, how the hell did that happen?!" Stiles hisses, shutting his locker with a slam and hoisting his bag back over his shoulder. "Did you get jumped on the way home or something?"

"Something like that..." Scott mumbles, wincing again when he picks his own bag up off the floor. He leads the way to the closest boys' bathroom, looking for more privacy because Stiles seems set on having this conversation now instead of later. From the look on Stiles' face, that's obviously the case. He pushes open the door and, after a quick check under the stall doors, is glad to find that no one else is in there to overhear them. Flipping the lock, he knows they have to make this quick because they have precious little time until the bell will ring to tell them to get to their first classes.

"It happened a little after I left you and began walking home," Scott begins explaining. "I didn't see what did it. I lost my inhaler when this huge load of deer almost flattened me into a pancake, and when I bent down to look for it there was this growling sound. I couldn't see anything but the next thing I know, something runs into me and sends me flying and then it fucking bites me! I dunno why it let me go instead of eating me but it did. After stumbling around for a bit, I went to the clinic and patched myself up."

Stiles frowns in confusion, so Scott adds, "There was no way I was gonna let my mom know I was out after curfew—she'd kill me! Besides, I disinfected it and everything. Just gotta be careful until it heals."

Stiles still looks dubious. "I don't know... I still think you should get it checked out by someone, just in case," he insists.

"I'll live."

Sighing deeply, Stiles has to let the subject drop when the bell rings. He knows there's no point in trying to convince Scott any more, so he obediently follows when the other boy unlocks the door and steps back out into the hall. He acts nonchalant so as to not draw any attention from their fellow students.

They walk together in silence toward their first class of the day and take seats side by side near the front of the room. The last few students trickle in just before the teacher arrives and then the lesson begins. Stiles sits and listens inattentively, his gaze staying fixed out the large windows the run along the entirety of the wall to his left.

Right as the next bell rings, a thought strikes him, one he can't believe he didn't have before.

The growling and roaring he'd heard the night before.

Scott's bite.

The more he thinks about it, the more certain Stiles is that the two are linked. He turns excitedly to his right to tell Scott his theory, but Scott is nowhere to be found.

When Stiles looks around the room, he sees that most of the other students, who just moments ago filled every desk, have already left for their next classes. Scott must have been among them. As he hastens to follow suit, Stiles mumbles and berates himself for not seeing the connection before. It seems so obvious now that he has made it. Whatever bit Scott must have been the same thing he encountered in the old Hale house. He wonders what happened first. Probably the bite, he muses as he enters the classroom in which he'll spend the next hour. He doesn't share this class with Scott, so his theory will have to wait.

* * *

For reasons unknown to him, Stiles doesn't manage to get Scott alone until the end of the day. After all of his classes are over, he finds the other boy standing next to his bike, looking across the parking lot with his helmet clutched in his frozen hands.

"What are you doing?" Stiles asks as he walks up to his best friend. He recoils backward when his voice causes Scott to startle again.

"You have to stop doing that!" Scott exclaims, bending down with a grimace to retrieve his dropped helmet from the ground. He only makes it halfway before the pain in his side becomes too much and he has to stop, so Stiles picks the helmet up and hands it to him with a crooked smile. Stiles' appearance has caused Scott to lose track of what he was doing. He looks to his right again, back across the parking lot, to find that the car he had been watching so attentively is now gone.

"Sorry," Stiles apologises.

Not knowing what to make of the frown currently worn by Scott, Stiles is quick to offer a suggestion. "Hey, how 'bout we continue that little talk we were having earlier, huh? We can go see if we can find your inhaler, too, now that it's daylight," he proposes in a hopeful tone. "Two birds with one stone, as the saying goes."

He resists the urge to thrust his fist into the air in triumph when, after taking an age to tear his gaze away from where it has been fixed for almost a full minute, Scott nods absentmindedly. Offering to drive them both to the preserve in his Jeep, Stiles leads the way to the vehicle in question and slides in behind the wheel. It's stop and start as they wait for all the other straggling students to leave with them, but eventually they're clear and racing along the roads.

As he drives, Stiles runs through what he had speculated at the end of first period. He tells Scott about his discovery of the Hale house and about the threatening noises that drove him out again.

"Sounds scary," Scott offers.

"It was! I thought I was either gonna die as a meal or from a heart attack!"

Scott scoffs at Stiles' dramatics. "Who knows? Maybe you're right."

"Hmm?"

"About whatever bit me being the same thing that scared you off. You know, that thing you were just babbling on about for almost five minutes?" Scott reminds his friend, chuckling at how easily Stiles seems to have forgotten the whole point of his story. He grins when Stiles tells him to shut up as they arrive at the preserve. "There's something else I need to tell you, but it's gonna sound weird."

Parking in the exact same spot as he had the previous night, Stiles opens his door and gets out.

"Lay it on me,” he orders as they both set off in what he's pretty sure is the same direction they had the night before. He wonders idly whether or not the dead body was ever found before refocusing on Scott.

"Well, it's about what I was doing outside school, when you made me jump like an inconsiderate asshole," Scott begins, bringing a hand up to his mouth and nibbling anxiously on his fingernails. "Ever since last night I've been feeling weird. Really weird. And it's not just the bite, so don't start. It's everything. I swear I could hear someone talking all the way on the other side of the parking lot, some girl called Allison and her dad. I think she's new and starting tomorrow because I heard her dad ask her if she was nervous. She was just there today to explore and get used to it or something. I know it sounds crazy..."

Stiles stops walking next to him, so Scott turns and meets his friend's dubious gaze. He can't blame Stiles for looking at him that way. Honestly, saying it all out loud now has made him start to doubt himself. He wonders if he really is just going crazy and imagining everything. It felt real to him, though, so he sticks to his story.

"I'm serious!" Scott insists. "She was worried about fitting in and everything. I saw her, too, sitting with her dad in his car..." He thinks back to that moment and can't help but smile goofily. He recalls how Allison had looked unsure at first, but then her dad had said something to cheer her up and he'd seen her cheeks dimple adorably. He's brought back to the present when Stiles coughs pointedly.

They both start walking again.

"I didn't even know there was a new girl," Stiles muses. He ponders just how new she actually is, since there haven't been any rumours circulating the halls recently.

"Yeah, Allison," Scott reaffirms.

"You like her already, don't you?" Stiles asks, grinning when Scott immediately looks away, flustered, his hair flopping down into his eyes. "Yeah, you totally like her. That's cute! My little Scotty has a crush! You'll have to point her out to me at school sometime... Anyway, back to your whole 'superpowers' thing. Are you sure you're not just tired or something? I mean, we were out pretty late last night, and I know you said it's not but you are injured pretty bad. Maybe it's whatever painkillers you're on making you hallucinate."

"I'm not on any painkillers, Stiles..." Scott refutes.

"Really?"

"Really. Deaton would notice if some went missing like that."

Shaking his head, Stiles doesn't say anything else as they continue to walk. Scott doesn't say anything either, not until they reach the location where he was bitten and almost trampled to death. The ground is disturbed, hoof-prints clearly visible in daylight, and there are small traces of dried blood in the dirt.

"This is the spot," Scott says, holding a hand out to stop Stiles from walking on any farther. He looks around with narrowed eyes, knowing that there's quite a large area in which he could have dropped his inhaler. Starting at the top of the steep slope he'd fallen down the previous night, he scans the ground carefully in search of a flash of grey amongst the dull brown and green.

Shrugging, Stiles goes to help, jogging down the slope and starting his search at the bottom, just inside of where the hoof-prints end. He hopes for Scott's sake that they find his inhaler—even though the woman is generally nothing but loving, Stiles is one-hundred percent sure that Scott will receive one hell of an ass-whooping if he has to tell his mother that he lost his inhaler. They're not cheap and from phone conversations he's overheard in the past when he was getting a snack or something from the McCalls' kitchen, he's aware that the money Melissa McCall brings home from her nursing job isn't enough to enable her to afford replacement after replacement.

"You think they ever found that dead body?" Stiles asks after a while, when they're close to meeting up on the middle of the slope.

Scott's head snaps up. "Oh, that... I don't know about your dad and the rest of the force, but...I found it," he mumbles, trying to act nonchalant as he searches the same stretch of ground.

"What?!" Stiles squawks. "And you didn't think it was a good idea to mention this little tidbit of information when you were talking my ear off about your wacky new powers?! I'm disappointed in you, buddy, I have to say..." He shakes his head, crossing his arms like a parent chiding their misbehaving child.

"They're real, Stiles."

"Sure they are. I totally don't think you're pulling my leg or anything."

Getting a little annoyed, Scott unfolds his body and stands at his full height. His gums and nails itch and his eyes burn but not from tears. He ignores it all to spit out his insistence. "They. Are. Real! I can smell the old stick of gum you have in your shirt pocket from all the way over here!" he exclaims, thinking that it's unusual for him to get so easily worked up.

He doesn't know where the emotion comes from, but luckily for both of them it disappears just as quickly as it had come.

Frowning in confusion, Stiles reaches into his shirt pocket and gapes when he discovers the aforementioned gum. He hasn't worn this shirt in a while, so he wonders how long it's been in there for.

"How did you...?" he breathes, flicking his eyes between the gum and his friend. He notes the smug look on Scott's face and pockets the old gum again, trying to seem unimpressed. "Okay, that proves nothing. I maintain that this is all an elaborate joke and I refuse to give you the opportunity to make fun of me." He sticks his nose up in the air with feigned superiority before resuming his search in silence.

He doesn't get very far.

"What are you doing here?! This is private property!"

The third voice comes out of nowhere and nearly makes Stiles leap ten feet into the air. He breathes heavily as he turns in the direction of the voice, his eyes widening when he sees its owner.

He knows that face. He'd recognise it anywhere.

It's Derek Hale.

There is such anger in the man's hazel eyes that Stiles actually takes a step back. No one has looked at him like that in a long time and being confronted with it now is startling, makes his heart beat faster. It doesn't seem like Derek is going to come any closer, though, so Stiles makes himself relax again so he can better take in how Derek looks now.

Though obviously older, for the most part Derek looks the same as the last time Stiles saw him, just without the washed-out and ash-covered face and the seemingly permanent expression of horror. There are some differences, which Stiles makes a list of in his head:

Derek is taller, more filled out, with large muscles that seem ready to burst from his clothes at any second. He sports facial hair that is neatly trimmed and frames his face perfectly. His dark hair looks expertly styled, ruffled just enough to look like it hasn't been touched at all. He wears a pair of dark-blue jeans and a white t-shirt and completes the simple ensemble with a leather jacket. It looks well worn yet still taken care of, like it's a treasured hand-me-down.

If Stiles ignores the scathing fire in Derek's eyes, he can objectively say that time has been good to him. Very good. In fact, Stiles would go so far as to say that Derek is the epitome of Tall, Dark and Handsome. The rapid beating of his heart isn't just caused by surprise anymore.

Hello, sexual identity crisis.

"I asked you a question," Derek seethes impatiently.

Stiles realises that he's been staring for an unreasonable amount of time and clears his throat awkwardly. "Sorry, man," he croaks, cursing himself for how easily he can lose track of time. "We didn't know. We're just looking for Scott's inhaler." He jabs his thumb in the direction of the crooked-jawed boy. "He dropped it somewhere around here last night."

His eyes flicking over to Scott, Derek narrows them and tilts his head to the side speculatively before reaching for the pocket of his jacket. He pulls something out and throws it none too gently in the direction of the two boys, not caring whether either of them catches it.

"There. Now get out of here," Derek orders. When he turns his back and stalks off, Stiles can hear him mumble to himself about annoying teenagers.

When the thing Derek threw comes flying at his face, Scott goes to dodge out of the way so that it doesn't make contact but is shocked to find his body moving differently. His hand comes up instinctively and easily closes around the object when it hits his palm. He stares down at it in wonder when he sees that it's his inhaler. He doesn't know who the strange man was, but he does know that he doesn't want to enrage him any further. Something tells him that the leather-clad stranger wouldn't be above using force.

As soon as Derek is out of sight, Stiles turns to Scott. "Dude, do you know who that was?!" he whispers conspiratorially, rushing to catch up to the other boy when he starts walking fast in the other direction.

"No, and I don't really want to find out..." Scott replies.

"That was Derek Hale! You know, as in The Hale Fire, Derek Hale?" Stiles insists, fumbling to keep up with Scott. He sees a spark of recognition in his friend's eyes, but he doesn't receive a verbal reply. "I wonder what he's doing back in town. He hasn't been here in years."

"No offence to him, but I don't really care."

"Sure you do."

"Nope. I just wanna go home, Stiles, so let's get back to school so I can get my bike."

Stiles rolls his eyes but goes along with it anyway. They both complete their expeditious trek back to his Jeep in uncomfortable silence, which Stiles attributes to his reluctance to believe in Scott's new 'abilities'. Once they're both inside the vehicle, he starts it up and drives with his fingers tapping nervously on the wheel. There's something he is missing, he's sure, but he can't quite figure out what that thing is. Pieces want to fit together in his head but he can't quite make them fit right, can't line them up correctly so that they make sense. He gets lost in thought, driving on autopilot, and doesn't snap out of it until he's idling in the school parking lot and Scott is bidding him goodbye.

He mumbles his own farewell.

There have been times when Stiles has felt like this before. Thanks to his dad, he has always been good at seeing patterns or connections between things that others would ignore, but every now and then he hits a wall that prevents him from working his magic. From past experience he knows that there is nothing he can do but stop trying and let it come naturally. It'll never happen otherwise.

Sighing, Stiles watches as Scott races off on his bike without looking back. He'll apologise tomorrow, he thinks.

Chapter Text

- Monday, January 10th, 2011 -

When Stiles arrives home, he is confused to find an empty driveway, no trace of his dad's cruiser or any lights on in the house. In fact, there are no signs that the sheriff has been there at all since he left to look for the body in the preserve. Stiles frowns as he finishes his search, completing a lap of the ground floor and coming to a stop in the kitchen.

He leans against the counter and bites his bottom lip as he stares out the window at the back garden. From his dad's text he supposes he should have anticipated this—it did explicitly state that the man wouldn't be home until late, and it's only just gone six p.m. After thinking it over, Stiles decides that this could actually be a blessing in disguise. He hatches a plan to use the time he has until his dad gets home to catch up on his chores. He hopes that doing them to the highest standard and acting like the model son will butter his dad up a bit and result in his punishment being less severe.

They are running low on most groceries, so first thing on the short checklist Stiles quickly makes in his head is to restock the kitchen. Grabbing his keys again, he rushes outside and drives quickly to the store. He leans on his cart with one arm and stares down at his phone in his hand, on which he has his newly made shopping list.

The store isn't very busy at this hour, so it doesn't take too long for him to gather everything he needs and steer his cart to the closest checkout line. Once the money is handed over and the bags are loaded into the back of his Jeep, he returns home and puts it all away while humming quietly to himself.

Second on his list is to clean. Stiles gathers all the supplies he needs and wipes down all the countertops and the table and dusts everything in the living and dining rooms.

There. All clean and sparkling, he thinks happily. I'm a Disney princess.

Next, Stiles cooks a dinner of spaghetti bolognese with grated cheese on top. Using tinfoil, he covers his dad's plate and sticks it in the oven to stay warm.

Now there is only one thing left on his checklist: to catch up on his homework. He doesn't have that much to do because the holidays have only just ended, but there are a couple of small assignments that he was previously thinking of putting off until the day before they are due. He sets these out on the coffee table in the living room. A minute later, he takes a seat in the middle of the sofa with a cold can of Red Bull from the fridge and makes a start, intermittently checking the clock on the wall to see how much time is passing. He guesses that his dad will be home at around eleven o'clock, so he has a couple of hours to while away until they can talk and he can pack it in for the night.

The time passes slowly.

"Where the hell is he...?" Stiles wonders aloud as he puts his pen down.

His last assignment is done and he has nothing left he can do to keep himself occupied. He slumps back into the sofa and channel-surfs aimlessly as he continues to wait. Nothing holds his interest, not even his usual favourites. He sighs every few minutes until the sound of the front door opening finally reaches his ears.

Looking over the back of the sofa, Stiles watches with a frown as his dad slams the door and walks right on past him, not even glancing his way.

He gets up to follow, curious. "Dad?"

The sheriff doesn't respond and just walks over to the liquor cabinet that stands in one corner of the dining room. The bottle of whiskey that is always kept inside is pulled out, along with an old tumbler. Stiles watches without saying another word as his dad downs the first glass in one go, seemingly unaware of his audience. Stiles determines that no punishment will be doled out tonight and backs slowly out of the room. He doesn't want to draw his dad's attention now that it looks like he'll be drowning himself in drink for a while.

"Go to bed, Stiles."

Too late.

Stiles hurries to obey so that he doesn't exacerbate the sheriff's apparent bad mood.

As he gathers his things from the coffee table and stuffs it all in its home inside his backpack, he ponders just how bad the case of the body in the preserve must be if it is sending his dad back to his old crutch of alcohol. Past experience has taught Stiles that the best possible thing he can do for both of them now is to stay out of the way until his dad drinks himself to sleep, however late into the night that ends up being.

Stiles is tired himself now. After brushing his teeth he switches off his bedroom light and slides beneath his bedsheets. He rests his head on his arm and stares off into the darkness. He still hasn't figured out what is bothering him about the craziness of the last couple of days, about Scott's strange behaviour and Derek Hale's sudden reappearance. He tries to stop thinking about it and get some much-needed rest, but he fails miserably.

* * *

- Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 -

Stiles gets to school bright and early the following morning, ready to tackle the second day of the week. He meets Scott outside their first shared class and frowns when he sees that the other boy is holding a hand over his ears and wincing every so often. Each wince seems to coincide with the slamming of a locker or a sharp bark of laughter.

"What's wrong?" Stiles asks his friend.

"Everything's so fucking loud," Scott bites out, tentatively lowering his hands as Stiles leads the way inside the classroom. "I don't know what's wrong with me but I wish it would stop..."

Nodding sympathetically, Stiles pats Scott a couple of times on the shoulder before taking his seat and getting out the things he'll need for this period—his notebook, textbook and a pen. He arranges them neatly on his desk and drops his backpack to the floor, next to his feet. "I take it this is because of your 'new abilities' or whatever?" he enquires quietly, a minute later when other students have begun trickling into the room and filling up the other seats with inane chatter. "I'm sorry for not believing you yesterday, by the way. That was pretty shitty of me. If you're really serious about them, then I believe you."

"Thanks," Scott responds.

Then, a flash of long, silky hair catches Stiles' eye and draws his attention away from Scott. Lydia Martin—the air in his lungs, love of his life, future bride and so on—enters the room, flicking her luxurious hair back over her shoulders. She saunters across the room and lowers herself demurely into the leftmost desk in the front row.

If there has ever been a more perfect specimen of feminine beauty, Stiles hasn't seen it. It's a shame she has yet to give him the time of day. That—and the fact that her boyfriend is his lifelong bully, Jackson Whittemore—is enough to prevent him from trying harder to get her attention. Like always, Jackson, who has taken the desk next to Lydia, catches him staring and flips him the bird. Stiles looks down at his desk with reddening cheeks, embarrassed. He knows being caught like that is going to come back to bite him in the ass at some point later on.

Probably during lacrosse practice, he thinks sadly, wishing he could skip it.

That'll be the day.

The teacher enters the room then, bringing all talking to a halt.

She doesn't dive right into teaching. It's almost like she's stalling and, as he watches her move about the front of the classroom, Stiles is curious what for. A glance to his right tells him that Scott hasn't noticed anything is amiss—the crooked-jawed boy is too busy staring at the wall to their right, his expression unreadable.

Stiles is about to raise a hand and ask his teacher what is going on when the classroom door opens and the principal enters, giving him his answer. With the man is a girl with long dark hair, who shifts uncomfortably in place because Stiles isn't the only person staring at her, sizing her up. Every other student in the room is doing the exact same thing, whispering to each other about the new girl and sharing theories as to who she could be.

A glance to his right tells Stiles that Scott is already enamoured. Could she be Allison? he ponders, remembering their conversation in the preserve the previous day. If she is, then Stiles can empathise with his best friend. He had a similar reaction to Lydia, after all. Objectively, he can see that the brunette is pretty. She's not a patch on Lydia but, then again, no one is in his eyes. She has a strong jaw that still reads as feminine, porcelain skin and a modest dress sense.

Once the principal has left, the teacher clears her throat, silencing the whispers.

"Class, this is Allison Argent," she announces.

Bingo.

Stiles glances at Scott again and smirks. The other boy is still staring obviously at Allison, his mouth hanging open. It's kind of adorable.

Their teacher shakes her head exasperatedly as the excited murmurs break out once more. She waits dutifully for them to die down on their own. "Her family is new in town. Allison, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?" she asks, unfazed when Allison immediately shakes her head with vehemence. "Alright. Why don't you take that empty seat there, in front of Mr. McCall, and we'll get started."

Allison does just that. Stiles keeps watching as she fumbles with the various items in her bag, apparently looking for something. From the way she curses under her breath, he guesses she can't find it.

A moment later, Scott leans forward in his chair and taps her on the shoulder. Allison turns, startled, and blinks at him. She looks a little frightened, but after flicking her eyes down to look at what Scott holds in his hand, a smile breaks out on her face. She takes the pen tentatively, as if Scott might rip it back out of her grip.

"How did you know?" she questions.

"Just a guess," Scott replies, returning her smile with a goofy one of his own.

Stiles shakes his head exasperatedly.

* * *

After first period is over, Allison is swept up in the flow of other students before Scott can talk to her again. He falls in step next to Stiles instead, already looking lovesick. Stiles knows this can't mean anything good for him, but he keeps his thoughts to himself as Scott predictably begins to prattle on about how beautiful and amazing he thinks Allison is.

This goes on until the last bell rings. Stiles is redistributing his things between his locker and his backpack when Scott finally stops talking.

At the sudden silence, Stiles withdraws his head from his locker and follows the other boy's gaze. A bit farther down the hall, he spots Allison standing with Lydia and Jackson. The two girls are deep in conversation, while Jackson stares over their heads and looks like he would rather be anywhere else. Stiles can't hear what is being said because the distance between he and Scott and the two girls is too great, so he settles for simply watching, his gaze flicking back and forth between Scott and Allison. He stifles a laugh when the girl glances in their direction, probably sensing their eyes, and Scott suddenly becomes flustered. The crooked-jawed boy breaks out into a coughing fit, so Stiles thumps him a couple of times on the back before allowing his laughter to burst free.

"Smooth," he quips, grinning. "You'll definitely land yourself a date if you keep acting just like that. You'll be a shoe-in!" He keeps his grin and meets Scott's eyes unrepentantly when the other boy glares at him.

"You're not as funny as you think you are," Scott jabs.

"Lies!"

"Whatever, Stiles. I'm going home."

Scott walks away without another word, down the hall, past Allison, Lydia and Jackson and out of sight. Stiles doesn't know what is happening between them lately.

They used to be a lot closer than they are now. Stiles worries that their friendship is slowly disintegrating right before his eyes without there being anything he can do to stop it. He doesn't want that—Scott has basically been his only friend for as long as he can remember. His loud mouth and fidgety body turn most people off of him. These traits are usually seen as bad and very few take the time to look past them to the good qualities Stiles possesses. Intelligence, humour—at least he thinks he's funny—friendliness, loyalty, willingness to help. None of that seems to matter at all.

No, Stiles must hold on to Scott and do whatever he can to repair their relationship.

A good place to start comes swiftly to Stiles, after he closes his locker. Perhaps hunting down more information about what is happening to Scott will ingratiate him to the other boy again. Rough plan made, Stiles hoists his backpack over his shoulder and marches outside to the rapidly emptying parking lot. He locates his Jeep, screeches out of the place and drives in the direction of home, thankful that the roads are strangely quiet for this time of day.

It doesn't take Stiles long to arrive at his destination. He goes right up to his bedroom without bothering to check for his dad. He is on a very important mission and won't let anything distract him from completing it, not even the possibility that his dad drank so much last night that he stayed home.

His laptop is waiting for him on his desk, like always. Stiles throws himself into his chair with a spin, pushes the power button and, when the screen lights up, clicks right on through to his Internet browser.

"Let's see... How do I do this?" he asks himself, tapping his index finger against his chin. "Let's start with symptoms."

In the search bar he types in everything he remembers Scott telling him.

"Sensitive hearing. Sensitive nose. Bitten..." he lists off, filling the silence with his voice and the clicking of the keys. A multitude of results pop up, none of which are from legitimate medical websites. From just a quick scroll down the webpage, Stiles finds that most of the results will lead him to supernatural or mythological sites, which is not what he wants at all. He is about to try rephrasing his search when a word stands out to him: Werewolf.

This word is what finally connects all the strings in his head. He gasps at what is revealed. "No way... It can't be."

A click of his trackpad later and Stiles is staring at a page entitled 'Werewolves: Lore, Legend & Lycanthropy'. It presents all of its information in a detailed article, pulling from multiple sources and describing all the different iterations of werewolves that exist in modern times and in the not-too-distant past. True Blood, An American Werewolf in London, the Underworld series, The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural.

There's not really anything presented that he doesn't already know, but it all serves as a reminder. The growling and flash of blue he'd heard and seen in the old Hale house. The creature Scott said had tackled and bitten him in the preserve. The howling Stiles had heard, even though there are no wolves in California.

Werewolves are real.

They must be. It's the only explanation that makes any sense to him now.

Stiles slumps back in his chair, in disbelief. Scott must have run into a werewolf on his way home and gotten himself bitten, which makes him a werewolf now, too.

"Holy fucking shit..." Stiles breathes.

Swiftly sliding his phone out of his jeans pocket, Stiles dials Scott's number and holds the device up to his ear. He taps his fingers on his desk and impatiently repeats, "Come on, come on, come on," under his breath. When Scott's voicemail message starts playing, Stiles ends the call and tries again, smiling with relief when his call is this time picked up.

"Scott, finally, there you are. You have to get over here now!" he exclaims. "I just figured something out and I need to tell you about it in person!"

Scott protests and claims that he's too busy, but Stiles insists anyway and doesn't stop until Scott capitulates and says that he'll be over in half an hour. After ending the call, Stiles drops his phone down on to his desk and sits still for a minute—as still as someone like him can be, anyway. He tries to come up with a plan for how he'll successfully convince Scott of what he now knows to be the truth.

Stiles copies all the information he needs from the webpage still open on the screen and pastes it into a Word document before hitting print. He repeats this with several other sources, compiling it all into what he hopes will be an iron-clad case for lycanthropy being very much real. Paired with what has happened to them both so far this week, he hopes it will do the trick.

Forty minutes later, the front door opens downstairs. Stiles stands up ready.

Footsteps up the stairs and then Scott is there.

"Alright, Stiles, this better be good," the crooked-jawed boy says, perching on the end of Stiles' bed and crossing his arms. The expression on his face makes it clear that he won't react well to having his time wasted.

"You know that thing that bit you?" Stiles asks, pausing for Scott's nod. "Well, I've been researching a shit-load for the past hour or so and I think I found something you should see." He hands Scott the stack of papers he had printed out and continues talking, even as Scott begins flicking disinterestedly through them. "I don't think the thing that bit you was just a regular wolf or whatever, not after hearing you talk about your hearing and sense of smell getting crazy sensitive and stuff. I think what bit you was a werewolf."

Pausing, Scott looks up from the papers with a dubious and slightly concerned expression. "Dude, how much Adderall have you had today?" he enquires, trying to make a joke out of it. His smile drops, though, when he sees that Stiles isn't playing around. He puts Stiles' research aside, next to him on the bed. "You're serious."

"Deadly."

"You can't be. This is crazy!"

"Think about it, Scott!" Stiles begs, willing his friend to understand what he is sure is true. "The bite, the hearing, the howling I heard... What does that all add up to?"

"Coincidence?" Scott supplies, looking genuinely worried for Stiles' sanity.

Taking a deep breath to curb his frustration, Stiles tries for another tactic.

"What about your bite? I bet it doesn't even hurt any more, does it?" he asks. He doesn't wait for Scott to answer, just reaches for the hem of Scott's shirt and yanks it up to get at the taped-on bandage beneath.

Stiles ignores the other boy's squawks of protest and rips the bandage off without preamble, They both freeze in shock when smooth skin is revealed, not a single wound or scab in sight. The shoddy stitches are stuck with dried blood to the inside of the bandage, which Stiles lets flutter to the floor. He gapes at Scott's side, his other hand still gripping Scott's shirt tightly. Their eyes meet, both sets wide with disbelief, and Stiles' mind races as he fits this new piece of evidence into his theory. A couple of seconds later, Scott seems to come to his senses and Stiles steps back again when his hand is slapped away.

"See?" he says proudly. "If you weren't bitten by a werewolf, then how do you explain that? There's no way your bite could have healed this fast otherwise. There's not even a scar, so unless this really is just some elaborate plan to trick me—which I don't think is the case, going by how surprised you look, too—tell me what else it could've been if not a werewolf? They heal fast, and that means you're now one of them, too."

"Whatever, Stiles," Scott dismisses, brushing off how confused he is and clinging stubbornly to his old beliefs of what is real and what is imaginary. He storms past Stiles with a huff and flies down the stairs, not stopping even when he hears the short-haired boy following closely behind.

Once he reaches the front door, he just manages to get his hand on the handle before Stiles grabs his shoulder.

"Where are you going?! Don't you know what this means?!" Stiles yells.

"No, because it's not real, Stiles! Now let me go."

"You can't leave yet!"

"Why?!"

"Because!" Stiles shouts, sick of Scott's bullheadedness and finally losing his temper. He steps around Scott and stands between him and the door. "We don't know what you're capable of! You might hurt someone!"

"I'm not gonna hurt anyone, Stiles... C'mon, you know me—I wouldn't hurt a fly," Scott scoffs with a roll of his eyes. He reaches forward to try to push Stiles out of the way and gets mad himself when Stiles still doesn't move. "Stiles, this isn't funny any more! Let me leave. Now. Before I make you."

His back still pressed against the door, Stiles stays right where he is. "Is that a threat? You're really threatening me right now? Me, Stiles, your best friend. See, this is what I'm talking about! You're not acting like yourself! All this weird shit goes on, some of which you practically begged me to believe, and now that I do and am providing you with an answer, you're refusing to see what's right in front of you. Well, that part is like you, but still... My point stands. I repeat: You're not acting like yourself. What happens when your mom does something to annoy you, huh? You gonna threaten her, too? Attack her, even?"

Scott's face closes off as soon as his mother is mentioned, turning from narrowed eyes and a deep frown to blankness. Abruptly, his hands come up and wrap around Stiles' biceps with bruising force. He either ignores or doesn't hear Stiles' resulting hiss of pain. "You're only doing this because your life is so damn boring and your dad never wants to be around any more, so you need something to occupy your time with," he spits, bringing their faces close together. "Get over it, Stiles. It's pathetic."

Scott turns them and shoves Stiles backward before wrenching open the door and slamming it on his way out. He leaves without a second glance at his friend, who is sprawled where he fell on the floor.

Once the shock has worn off, Stiles gets a handle on his breathing and registers a bright pain on his right arm, just below his shoulder. Looking down, he sees that the material of his shirt is torn in four straight lines. Quickly, he shrugs the shirt off and stares in shock at what is revealed beneath:

Four long cuts, like claw marks from a large, aggressive animal.

Like a werewolf.

Chapter Text

- Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 -

Stiles is halfway through patching up his arm when a thought hits him:

The Hales must be a part of this.

The fact that Derek Hale just happened to be hanging around his old house the day after. The location of said house, close to nature and so deep in the preserve that it would have afforded the family a large amount of privacy when they used to live there. It would be perfect for full moons, should everything Stiles has ever seen and read of those nights prove true. From the ubiquitousness in popular culture of werewolves turning without control during the full moon, it probably will. The idea had to come from somewhere, so why not from fact?

There is also the flash of blue that Stiles saw in the corner of the old Hale house. It must have been something werewolf-related, because it was accompanied by a growl. There were two lights so he guesses the blue has something to do with their eyes, though what that something is eludes him.

Only one way to find out, Stiles thinks.

He makes a hasty job of cleaning the last of the cuts on his arm and wrapping gauze around it. After shoving his dad's small box of medical supplies back in its home beneath the bathroom sink, Stiles walks back downstairs and out the front door, snagging is his car keys from their bowl on his way.

It's a long shot, really, that Derek will still be at the old Hale house a whole day later, but Stiles is optimistic. It's dangerous, too, to go right up to someone who for all intents and purposes is a perfect stranger and interrogate them, especially when they could very well be the one who bit Scott. But Stiles doesn't really see any other choice. Without someone who knows what they're talking about to answer his questions, he'll just be going off of whatever information he can find online—there's no way even half of it is accurate. Stiles just has to hope that the good person he thought Derek used to be is still there and that he'll be willing to help.

Stiles struggles for a few minutes to find the road that will take him to the Hale house. He's never really used it before, and judging from how unkempt it looks he guesses that it hasn't seen much use at all in recent years. He is jostled about and has to slow down to a crawl because it's so bumpy.

A few minutes later, the house is in sight. "Holy fuck..."

It looks a lot different with the sun high in the sky, shining light on everything and bringing every detail into sharp relief.

The outside doesn't look too bad. There are of course obvious signs that there was a fire—blackened walls, jagged triangles of glass left in the windows—but Stiles remembers that most of the damage caused by the flames was inside. He supposes it must look a lot worse within. He experienced some of it firsthand a couple of nights ago, but his torch could only illuminate so much.

There is another vehicle parked outside when Stiles comes to a stop and pulls up the parking brake. It's a sleek and shiny black car that looks like it cost an exorbitant amount of money. He vaguely recognises it as the one Laura Hale used to own, recalls seeing her drive it around town every now and then, back when he was a kid. He heard through the grapevine that it was a gift for her eighteenth birthday.

Maybe she's back, too, he muses.

Stiles swallows with difficulty, barely prepared to deal with one Hale, let alone two. Still, he gathers what meagre courage he can find before exiting the Jeep.

He gets a foot toward the black car when a loud voice startles him.

"What do you think you're doing?"

Stiles whips his head around to locate its source. Derek stands at the top of the porch steps, eyes hard, arms crossed, an eyebrow raised.

"Uhh..." Stiles gapes.

Derek's eyes narrow with irritation. When he begins walking in Stiles' direction, Stiles fumbles for a proper answer.

"I know you're a werewolf!" he exclaims desperately, right as Derek comes within touching distance, reaching out with what Stiles assumes is the intention of shoving him back inside his Jeep and sending him on his way. Derek's hand freezes about an inch from his arm when the last word passes his lips. All anger is stripped from Derek's features, replaced by shock and confusion. The man seems at a loss for how to respond, so Stiles takes a step back to put some space between them again before helping him.

"I, uh, need your help," he says, averting his gaze when Derek's face closes off completely, a mask of no emotion slipping into place. Stiles doesn't know why, but he gets the impression that this is a mask Derek has perfected and uses often, maybe to protect himself. "Y'know, werewolf help."

"What are talking about?" Derek enquires slowly, carefully. He takes back his hand and again crosses both arms over his broad chest. Stiles can admit that the stance intimidates him a little. "There's no such thing as werewolves, so get out of here before I make you." He turns away, back toward the house. He is obviously unconcerned with Stiles, certain that his threat will ensure he won't be bothered any more.

Boy, is he in for a surprise, Stiles thinks wryly.

"I know you're lying," he calls after the man, feeling reckless.

"Really?" Derek counters from where he now leans casually against the porch railing.

"Yes, really."

"And why is that?"

There is a definite power imbalance happening that Stiles feels deeply—the difference in their ages, Derek's generally hostile attitude, the fact that Derek stands above him, literally looking down on him. Stiles understands that this is probably just what Derek wants, to make him feel small so he'll scurry away and not disturb the man any longer. The fact that he's sure he is dealing with a predator, potentially one capable of true violence, scares him, but he somehow still holds his head up high. He knows he has to get Scott help.

"You remember when me and my friend were in the preserve yesterday, looking for his inhaler?" He pauses, waiting for Derek's nod. "Well, the whole reason he dropped it in the first place was because he was attacked by something with glowing red eyes when we snuck out here the night before."

Stiles sees Derek's face tighten infinitesimally and knows he's on to something. "He got bitten and then started talking on and on about how all his senses were heightened or more intense. Then, earlier, I saw where he was bitten again and the bite wasn't there anymore. I mean, I'd figured out what was happening before then and I tried to get Scott to understand what was happening to him, but he wouldn't believe me. That's when I remembered you."

Derek almost looks impressed.

"I thought that you must be a werewolf, too," Stiles continues. "I think you were the thing that growled at me when I was trespassing in there." He points at the front door of the house. "But your eyes were blue."

"Your friend got bitten?" Derek asks, looking alert.

Stiles nods. "Yeah, that's what I need your help with," he answers, hoping that Derek really has stopped pretending that he doesn't know what Stiles is talking about. "I don't know where he is and I need to get him to believe what's happening to him before he ends up hurting someone, or y'know, outing all of you to the public or something. Wouldn't put it past him... I mean, he already did this to me when he stormed outta my house in a hissy fit."

Stiles rolls up his sleeve to show Derek the bandage on his arm. When he looks back up, he almost screams with fright because the man is suddenly standing just an inch away, so close that he can feel small puffs of breath on his face. He tries to calm himself down when Derek reaches for him again, and this time he lets him. Stiles' heart keeps racing and doesn't stop when Derek makes contact and leans down to inspect his arm more closely. He watches, fascinated, when he sees the nail of Derek's right index finger transform into a long, deadly-looking claw. If this is what Scott's claws look like, it's no wonder they left such an impression.

"Stay still," Derek instructs before he cuts through the bandage.

It flutters to the floor. Stiles hisses through his teeth when Derek prods at the long cuts with a thankfully now-human finger. The noise is ignored, though, and Derek continues to stare in complete silence for almost a full minute at the cuts on his arm, a deep frown on his face the entire time.

"You done?" Stiles huffs.

Snapping out of his thoughts, Derek finally releases Stiles' arm and stands at his full height again. "What was his name?" he asks seriously.

"Scott," Stiles replies, smiling hesitantly up at the man. "McCall."

"What exactly do you want me to do?"

Stiles thinks it over. "Just...convince him."

Derek nods, and then his eyes flick over to Stiles' Jeep. "Is that all?"

His smile disappearing, Stiles nods his assent and stays where he is as Derek walks away from him. He hears Derek tell him to stay away from Scott for the time being before he disappears inside the house. Stiles bites into his bottom lip, debating the pros and cons of obeying. Scott is dangerous right now, new to his werewolf-ness and therefore unpredictable, but Scott is still his best friend.

Eventually, Stiles decides that he'll keep his distance but won't stay away completely—Scott probably needs some time to cool off anyway. Stiles is sure that it will all work itself out again before he knows it.

Decision made, Stiles' thoughts drift back to Derek. He knows there is something that the wolf isn't telling him—his reaction when Stiles spoke of red eyes was proof of this—but he also knows that some questions are best left unanswered, at least for now. There would be no point in pushing the issue just yet, when Derek seems so hostile.

Sighing, Stiles turns and gets back inside his Jeep.

He turns the keys in the ignition to bring it to life and drives himself back home. It's getting late, the sun disappearing below the horizon and painting the sky a deep orange that bleeds into red. Stiles guesses that Derek won't approach Scott until tomorrow.

He hopes it goes well.

* * *

- Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 -

Stiles spends most of the following morning constantly on edge.

He watches Scott for any signs that Derek has made his move but finds none. In fact, Scott seems set on pretending nothing has happened at all, not acknowledging their fight the afternoon before and going about his day like he normally would. The only difference is that he rarely speaks back whenever Stiles tries to strike up a conversation, only doing so whenever Stiles repeats himself. While honestly frustrating, Stiles is very much aware that Scott's bullheadedness can take a long time to crack and allow the truth—which is so visible to Stiles himself—to seep through.

Derek clearly hasn't spoken to his friend yet. Stiles is left to wonder when he will, if ever. The thought that maybe Derek just said he would to get him to go away makes him nervous; he doesn't want to be left on his own with this responsibility, not when it's so big and life-changing.

Eventually the final bell rings and all the other students clamour to leave, more than ready to cast off the shackles of education and run for the freedom the rest of the day promises.

Stiles isn't so lucky.

No, both he and Scott have lacrosse practice to attend. Stiles trudges along with no enthusiasm as the other boy leads the way to the locker rooms. They have both been on the bench for as long as Stiles can remember, and he doesn't think he'll be leaving it any time soon, at least not to actually play in a game. Quitting is always an option, one Stiles seriously considers as he enters the musky-smelling boys' locker room. Scott sneezes a couple of times ahead of him, making Stiles smirk a little vindictively because he realises that the smell must be even worse for his friend.

The rest of the team is already getting changed. Stiles ducks his head when Jackson Whittemore glares in his direction. Jackson is the captain ever since he joined, striving for excellence in a way that both instills awe in Stiles and annoys him. He considers the other boy a showoff and one of the meanest people he has ever met.

As soon as Stiles is in uniform, Coach Finstock comes striding into the room from his office, clipboard in hand, whistle smacking against his chest with the urgency of his long strides. "Alright, things are gonna be a bit different today!" he shouts, ensuring that everyone else shuts up. "We're gonna shake things up, see if any of you have found some new talent over the winter break!"

Stiles shakes his head when Finstock glances his way. "Good luck with that one..." he mumbles.

"Outside and on the field!"

Following their coach's instruction without delay, a minute later the group of teenage boys is gathered in the middle of the lacrosse pitch. They wait anxiously to be told in further detail what is in store.

"Right, I'm gonna split you up into two teams and have you play against each other," Coach Finstock announces with a wicked grin. "You'll all switch positions every now and then so I can see where everyone fits the best. Whittemore, you be one team captain," he gestures for the boy in question to step out of the crowd, "and, uh...McCall, let's have you be the other one. Whittemore, you pick first."

He blows his whistle unnecessarily, unaware of Scott covering his ears to belatedly protect them from the stentorian sound.

Of course, Jackson picks his best friend first, a muscular Hawaiian boy named Danny Mahealani. Stiles actually likes Danny. Sure, they're barely really acquaintances and they hardly speak, but from what little interactions they have had, Stiles knows Danny is a good person. How Danny came to be close with Jackson is a total mystery.

When it's Scott's turn to pick, Stiles finds himself frozen in shock when Scott doesn't pick him.

"James," Scott calls instead.

The rest of the team seems to share Stiles' bafflement. They murmur confusedly to each other, which makes Stiles' face heat up.

He shies away from their curious stares and outwardly acts like everything is fine. He shoves his left hand in the pocket of his shorts and taps his index finger rapidly against his thigh in an effort to expend the nervous energy that suddenly courses through his body.

Over the next few minutes, the rest of the team is called one by one until just Stiles and Greenberg are left. Greenberg is another regular bench-sitter who Stiles thinks is actually worse than himself. That doesn't stop Jackson from picking him, though, and Stiles finds himself standing awkwardly alone. As the last person to be picked, he ends up on Scott's team by default. It's not a good feeling but he is at least familiar with it by now.

"Right, sort out your starting positions between yourselves and we'll get this show on the road!" Finstock yells with another blow of his whistle. He watches the proceedings eagerly.

For Stiles, the next hour consists of nothing but getting slammed around and shoved violently to the ground. He knows he'll be coming out of the session with more than a few bruises, but no one stops Jackson from getting some extra, unnecessary hits in. The few times he's not picking himself up, Stiles finds himself watching Scott closely for any signs of his new werewolf status. They are incredibly obvious.

Scott is a blur, racing across the field with the ball and flinging it easily past Danny, the opposing team's goalie and the best one Beacon Hills High has. With fantastical acrobatics he dodges any attempts made by others to snag the ball, even going so far as to flip over Jackson's head a couple of times.

Sticking to the sidelines now, Stiles glances around to see whether any one else has taken notice of Scott's dramatic improvement. He finds the coach staring wide-eyed at the crooked-jawed boy, his mouth hanging open ludicrously.

"McCall, what the hell are you doing?!" Finstock yells, bringing everyone to a halt.

"Uhh, scoring?" Scott replies confusedly.

"Right. And what's with all the crazy moves?"

Scott's eyes flick over to Stiles. "Is there a problem with them?"

Finstock shakes his head and rolls his eyes so hard his whole head tips back. "Hell no! I don't know what's gotten into you, McCall, but keep doin' what you're doin' and there may be hope for you yet... Everyone back to it!"

A third blow of his whistle gets the teams moving again.

* * *

When practice eventually winds down, Stiles is leaning heavily on his crosse, his breathing laboured, sweat dripping from his brow. By staying at the edge of the pitch, feigning ignorance toward Finstock's rather aggressive gesturing for him to actively participate, he managed to avoid getting bowled over for the last fifteen minutes or so.

His side still hurts from when he landed on it awkwardly, thanks to Jackson suddenly deciding to sweep his crosse out as they were passing each other in a not-at-all premeditated move, but otherwise he feels alright. He walks slowly to the centre of the pitch when Finstock calls the team over and listens halfheartedly to the man's ramblings about everyone's performances.

Jackson scored a couple of goals against Scott's team, but on the flip-side Scott managed to triple that number for his and Stiles' team. Jackson looks positively vexed when Finstock sings Scott's praises, having always prided himself on being the team's star player and finding himself lost without his coach's attention. Stiles hides his smile behind a hand so he doesn't incur any more of the blond boy's wrath.

Guessing that his position as a permanent bench-warmer won't be changing, he tunes out the rest of Finstock's speech and stares tiredly at his surroundings. He just wants it to finally be over so he can go home and sleep off the bone-deep exhaustion he feels.

However, when his eyes reach the bleachers, Stiles' eyebrows raise and his mouth drops open in surprise. He was expecting the place to be void of other life, but this expectation is wrong. There are a couple of people sitting in the bleachers, huddled close together and perched right in the middle of the middle row. It's a vantage point from which they would have probably watched the entire practice unfold.

Stiles doesn't immediately register who they are because of the distance between them, but after more staring he realises just who witnessed the humiliation he endured for the past hour:

Lydia and Allison.

He turns away from the two girls to save what little face he can.

While it's far from the first time Lydia has attended practice to oversee Jackson's performance, each time is no less embarrassing for Stiles. He wants so desperately for Lydia to like him and the chances get smaller and smaller with each beating Jackson gives him.

Honestly, Stiles still isn't sure why Lydia chooses to lower and put herself in a relationship with someone so openly hateful. He can see there is more to Lydia than what she lets others see, so much more which makes her an amazing girl who isn't just resting on looks—which, granted, don't exactly hurt, either. She is fiercely intelligent, even though she dumbs herself down for Jackson's benefit. Stiles knows that if Lydia would just give him a chance, he could show her she doesn't need to be something she's not to be amazing.

In the next moment, a loud angry-sounding squawk draws Stiles' attention. He turns back to Finstock and his teammates, curious.

"You can't be serious!" Jackson screams, his face reddening.

"I am, Whittemore. You saw how good McCall played out there," Finstock replies, unconcerned with Jackson's outrage. "From now on, he's your co-captain and I'll hear no more complaining. The two of you need to work together on this and, if you do, I know we can kick the asses of anybody we play against."

With a slightly evil grin, the coach calls the practice to an end and saunters off.

The others all begin walking lazily in the direction of the locker room, no doubt all looking for a shower to wash the sweat and mud from their bodies, but Stiles stays right where he is.

He is honestly astounded.

Even with how well his friend played, he didn't think Scott would advance that quickly up the team. He watches with great interest as Jackson throws his helmet to the ground, apparently in full-on tantrum mode. It's seriously unattractive, and he laughs quietly as he follows his teammates to the showers.

* * *

Once he is all clean again, Stiles throws his day clothes back on and walks leisurely outside to the parking lot. To satiate the appetite he worked up during practice, he is already planning on raiding the fridge when he gets home.

Clearing the school's main entrance and descending the steps, Stiles looks around for his Jeep and spots it easily because the lot is for the most part empty, no more than ten other cars filling up the parking spaces. He has just stepped off the curb on his way to the blue vehicle when something else catches his attention a short distance away. He stops in his tracks and pretends to look at something on his phone while he eavesdrops.

"You were really good out there," Allison says shyly, fiddling with the strap of her bag.

"It was nothing," Scott replies, blushing.

Go, Scotty, Stiles thinks. He crosses his fingers in hopes of his friend not saying anything stupid.

"Seriously, some of the moves you pulled off were really impressive!" Allison insists, reaching out and touching Scott on the arm. She takes it back quickly and blushes now herself, apparently embarrassed by her own forwardness. Her arm then stays rigidly attached to her side, and she looks away when Scott smiles widely at her. "I've never seen anything like it, at least not in real life."

Then, the two head off together in the opposite direction, meaning Stiles cannot overhear anything more. It still seems to be going well between them, though, from what little he can see, so he carries on walking to his Jeep and hopes for the best. He thinks that perhaps getting a girlfriend will lift Scott's spirits enough to make him less crabby, but then he remembers Scott's newfound werewolf status. He has enough evidence to deduce that heightened emotions can lead to bad things—getting horny would probably fit into that category.

As he starts up his Jeep, Stiles frowns and tries to come up with something he can do to help, beyond going to Derek again. He's almost home when he comes to a decision: If Derek still hasn't talked to Scott by tomorrow morning, then Stiles will step in and try again to get through to his best friend himself.

Maybe just with some more distance between them this time.

Chapter Text

- Thursday, January 13th, 2011 -

Stiles gets a rude awakening early in the morning.

His eyes snap open at the shrill ringing of his phone. He reaches for it with a groan, annoyed at his sleep being disturbed ahead of his alarm. He recognises the ringtone as the one he set for Scott months ago. His sleep-addled brain can't think of any possible reason for his friend to be calling this early in the morning—a quick check before hitting Accept tells him that it's just gone five—but he gets his answer as soon as he holds the device up to his ear and croaks out a quiet, "Hello?"

"What the fuck have you done?!" Scott screeches, voice so loud it makes Stiles jolt upright. "What's the big idea sending Derek Hale after me?!"

"Uhh..." Stiles says dumbly, his mind still struggling to catch up.

He holds his phone a few inches away from his ear when Scott starts yelling at him again. He doesn't hear the words because he is too busy putting the pieces together. Slower than he'd like, he realises what has Scott so worked up and swallows nervously when his friend reaches a pause in his tirade. Stiles brings his phone flush to his cheek again and fumbles to provide an acceptable answer.

"So he finally spoke to you," he says. "Did he manage to convince you that you're actually a werewolf now, or are you still pretending you don't see what's right in front of you?"

Stiles' tone is harsh, mirroring Scott's, but he excuses himself with the childish reasoning that Scott started it. He is obviously allowed to respond in kind.

"Don't start with that shit again, Stiles..."

"I take it that's a no?"

Scott says something unintelligible under his breath. Stiles frowns.

"Look, I believe it now, okay?" Scott sighs, seeming to calm down some, though there is still an undercurrent of annoyance in his voice. "Derek was...persistent, and he showed me things. But I still don't like him! He's a douchebag and he needs to fuck off before I use these new powers to tear his head off!"

"Whoa, Scotty, don't you think that's a bit much?" Stiles reasons, his eyes wide. Scott has never been the type to make threats of violence, even ones on which he has no intention of following through. That is usually Stiles' department, but he supposes that Scott's new status as a werewolf is making his temper flare brighter. Stiles hopes it will calm down again in time.

"I mean, yeah, Derek doesn't seem the happy-go-lucky type," he admits, "but I really don't think he's bad enough to warrant death... Plus he has more experience than you. Out of the two of you, and I'm sorry if this offends you, but he'd be the one I'd bet money on."

Scott huffs into the phone. "I don't care! He's going down. If I have to be sneaky to do it then so be it!" He hangs up without saying goodbye.

Stiles is left staring down at his phone in shock.

* * *

Later, after first period has come and gone without a single sign of Scott, Stiles knows that the new wolf has skipped school in order to carry out whatever half-baked plan he has come up with. Scott is obviously still not thinking clearly if he is willing to risk getting an ass-whooping from his mother. Stiles manages to make it until lunch before he caves and tries calling him. Of course, the call goes straight to voicemail. When multiple attempts all end the same way, he shoves his phone back inside his jeans pocket and glances around.

He sits on his own in the cafeteria and no one seems to be paying him any attention. He is for once thankful that he isn't popular, because it means no one notices when he slips quietly from the room. He hopes his dad won't care if he misses a couple of his classes; if he does, then Stiles will deal with it later.

Right now he has a more pressing matter to attend to, and that matter is named Scott McCall.

Stiles races across the parking lot to his Jeep, revs the engine harder than necessary and peels out of there. After a quick drive-by to check if Scott is still at home—there is no bike in the driveway, so that's a bust—Stiles decides to check the old Hale house next. If Derek is staying there like Stiles believes, then that seems like the most logical place for Scott to go if he has already finished formulating his plan.

When he stops at the end of the road that serves as the long driveway, the Hale house hidden behind a few scattered trees, Stiles' mouth drops open.

"Oh, Scotty, what have you done?"

There are several other cars already there. His dad's cruiser is one of them.

Tentatively, Stiles opens his door and steps out of the Jeep, but he doesn't go far. He stays hidden in the cover the trees provide, watching as Derek is lead by a deputy toward a cruiser. The wolf is handcuffed.

Stiles winces when angry hazel eyes flick up to meet his in the second before Derek is shoved in the back seat.

"Well, shit, that can't be good..." he murmurs.

He wonders what Scott could have possibly done to get Derek arrested. A quick glance between the tree trunks reveals that his friend is not present. He is just about to get back inside his Jeep, hoping to leave the scene again without being spotted, when a voice startles him, loud and coming from just a foot behind him.

"Stiles!"

Of fucking course.

"Hi, dad," Stiles chirps as he turns around, trying to act cheerful and like his heart isn't about to beat out of his chest. The smile he plasters on his face just barely holds up under the heat of his dad's furious stare. He holds back his emotions when the sheriff's eyes finally drop with a long, disappointed sigh.

"What am I going to do with you, Stiles?" his dad asks rhetorically, running a tired hand down his face. "No matter what I do you keep showing up in places you shouldn't. I don't know why I bother any more. I'm very disappointed in you..." He misses the way his words cause Stiles' mask to crack, his mouth twisting and his bottom lip trembling before he bites into it to keep it still. "Go home. Just...go home."

Without another glance, the sheriff walks away.

Not really thinking about it, Stiles gets in his Jeep and drives, valiantly holding his emotions in check even though no one is around to witness them. He doesn't do as his dad said, though. There is still something he has to do, so instead of going home he turns in the direction of the sheriff's station and parks innocuously down the street. With his fingers twisting anxiously in his lap, he waits for the cruiser Derek was put in to drive past.

It takes so long that Stiles almost misses it.

He presses himself back in his seat as an extra precaution so that the deputy behind the wheel won't recognise him. Once the cruiser passes by without incident, Stiles rolls down his window and sticks his head out, watching as Derek is pulled out of the cruiser and shepherded inside the station by Mitch, a deputy Stiles knows from visiting his dad from time to time. Mitch is usually a kind man, but Stiles sees not a single trace of his usual demeanour before the doors close. This, when combined with the way Mitch holds and pushes Derek roughly about, is enough to tell Stiles that whatever crime Scott has pinned on Derek must be bad. Very bad.

Neither he nor Scott can afford for Derek to be put away right now, not when there is still another werewolf out there, a dangerous one. As far as Stiles is concerned, Derek is the only hope they have of finding whoever the third werewolf is and putting a stop to them before they bite or hurt anyone else.

And if Scott was thinking straight, he would see that, too.

Maybe.

* * *

Time passes slowly.

Stiles whiles it away by playing Angry Birds on his phone and trying in between games to get in touch with Scott, of course to no avail. His calls no longer go straight to voicemail so Scott's phone must be on, but Stiles has a sneaking suspicion that the other boy is screening his calls. It's incredibly frustrating and insulting, but there isn't really anything Stiles can do about it.

All in all he sits there for over two hours, just waiting for any sign of Derek or Scott. His dad showed up about an hour in, looking pissed off—Stiles would be willing to put big money he doesn't have on the sheriff leading Derek's interview/interrogation.

The sun is just beginning to set when Stiles finally decides to call it a day. Coincidentally, that is just when he gets what he was waiting for: Derek walks out of the station right as Stiles is buckling his seatbelt. Stiles stares as the leather-clad man storms straight in his direction with an expression that promises pain. Derek must have known he was there as soon as he came outside.

Stiles flinches when the Jeep's passenger door is ripped open. "Uhh, hi?" he greets, chuckling nervously.

Derek just glares.

Averting his gaze, Stiles decides to try a different tactic. He turns the keys in the ignition, very much aware that Derek continues to stare angrily at the side of his face the entire time. It makes him perspire.

"So, uh, what happened in there?" he asks after he has driven them a few streets away from the station. "Since you're not in custody or a cell or anything like that, I'm guessing it went well?"

"Yes, it did," Derek responds sarcastically. "We had a nice talk once the handcuffs came off, about why I thought it was appropriate to bury my sister's dead body outside the house the rest of our family was murdered in!"

The wolf's tone is acidic. Stiles knows he should feel fear, but he is too stunned by the information that has slipped out to feel it. Derek seems to realise his mistake a second later, because his mouth snaps shut with a low growl and he turns away from Stiles. He looks stonily out the passenger window as buildings blur past.

After taking a moment to look around and guess that they are far enough away from the station for him to avoid being seen with Derek, Stiles eases the Jeep off to the side of the road. He pulls the parking brake up and feels glad that the area of town to which he has driven them is devoid of other cars. It is, however, filled with uncomfortable silence now that the engine is no longer purring with life.

Shifting in his seat, Stiles ends the quiet. "The body in the preserve was Laura?" he asks, folding his hands in his lap.

Derek doesn't answer but twitches at the name, which is answer enough. The movement is like he has been zapped with electricity or poked with a needle.

"Why did you bury her like that?" Stiles tries again. "Seems a little weird to me."

"It's tradition."

At first, Stiles is too nonplussed that he has actually received an answer to enquire further. His companion still hasn't moved but he can see that the rage is gone. Derek's body is not held taut with anger any longer, but with discomfort. Though Stiles' first instinct is to reach over and offer Derek some form of comfort, he knows without question that the werewolf would not react well.

He sticks with words. "Tradition?"

Derek sighs once, deep and long, before opening his mouth. Stiles hangs on his every word, sickly fascinated as he learns more about this new supernatural world.

"Yes. It's tradition," Derek repeats, "not just with my family but with all werewolves, as far as I know... We can't exactly go by the usual human methods—they would find stuff that couldn't be explained by modern science in the autopsies—so we developed our own. I buried Laura, or what was left of her, next to the house with a spiral of wolfsbane laid into the earth on top. And then your friend went and fucked everything up, decided to do a some digging and got me arrested on suspicion of murder!"

Derek's eyes flick over to Stiles' and flash a bright blue. The colour is fitting because the look is so cold. "Luckily, before they could charge me with anything, the coroner's report came in and ruled Laura's death as an animal attack. They let me go."

Choosing to ignore the last part for now, Stiles thinks over everything else. Most of it makes sense. "So...what happens now? With Laura, I mean. Did someone else kill her?"

"That's none of your business!' Derek snaps, his abruptness causing Stiles to jump. "I don't even know why I told you all of that because you're just human. You can't offer me anything, so I think it's best for all of us if you forget everything I've just said and go back to your life." He reaches for the door handle.

"But what about Scott?" Stiles prods.

"Forget about him, too."

"I can't do that! He's my best friend! I can't just leave him to deal with all of this by himself!" Stiles insists, unbuckling his seatbelt when Derek opens the passenger door, steps out and slams it shut. Leaving his own door wide open, Stiles hurries after the wolf with a put-out huff. Even with lacrosse, he doesn't get as much exercise as he probably should and thus finds it difficult to catch up with the muscular man.

"I'm serious, Derek!" Stiles cries. "Even if Scott is acting like a total asshole right now, he's still my friend." He reaches out and recklessly grabs Derek's shoulder, his short nails digging into leather before Derek allows himself to be stopped.

The wolf spins around with a snarl. Stiles genuinely fears for his life for the second time in twice as many days.

"What do you want me to do about that?!" Derek hisses, advancing on Stiles and forcing him up against the old building by which they stand. The bricks dig roughly into Stiles' back even through his shirts. "I've already tried to get through to your stupid friend and look how that turned out! I can't be distracted with trying to keep Scott in line on top of everything else, like looking for the person who really killed Laura before they strike again!"

Derek releases Stiles and takes a step back. "Why do you even want to help him, huh? I don't know him well at all and even I can see that he's a petulant little shit. Give it up, Stiles. He's not worth it."

With one last snarl, Derek stalks away in the opposite direction.

Stiles is left to slide down the wall until his ass touches the dirty ground, his legs unable to keep him standing now that they don't have a reason.

"I'm in way over my head..." he says to himself.

He sits there with his Jeep still idling a short distance away, until his ass has long gone numb and all natural light is almost gone. Only then does he get up and hobble to his Jeep. He hopes he beats his dad home.

* * *

- Friday, January 14th, 2011 -

Still determined to help Scott overcome his new werewolf-y instincts and heightened emotions, Stiles waits anxiously by his friend's locker the next day.

Because he is uncharacteristically early, there are very few other students in the halls. Lydia Martin is there, pretending that he doesn't exist like every other day. While he waits for Scott to show up, Stiles observes the redhead as surreptitiously as possible, watching as she reapplies her lipstick in the mirror she has stuck to the inside of her locker door. The colour is more coral than her usual red, but Stiles thinks it suits her anyway.

Then, Jackson arrives and Stiles' feelings of affection turn to sickness as the lacrosse co-captain kisses Lydia square on the lips and lingers, like he is marking his territory. The couple stays pressed together even when the kiss ends. Stiles scoffs quietly and laments for what must be the millionth time the lot life has dealt him.

Checking his phone, he sees that time is ticking away and guesses that Scott will show his face any minute now.

Stiles is in for a shock when the newly turned werewolf finally does appear, as he isn't alone. Allison is with him, and instead of looking in his direction like Stiles had been hoping, the pair walk right on past him and don't stop until they reach Lydia and Jackson. Because of his heightened senses Scott must have known he was there, so Stiles feels ignored.

"What the fuck is happening...?" he whispers.

The blood drains from his face and he watches on in horror as Lydia smiles at Scott and Allison, obviously pleased to see what appears to be the new couple. Jackson doesn't offer one word of protest at Scott's close proximity, even though just two days ago he would have. Stiles can't believe that what he's seeing is real, for a multitude of reasons.

For one, Jackson and Scott have never been friendly. At best they simply ignored each other in the past. At worst, Jackson has taken pleasure in including Scott in his seemingly endless bullying of Stiles. Outside of the lacrosse field, none of the bullying was physical after the day Derek saved him, but Jackson has never shied away from getting the frequent verbal jab in at both of them. That doesn't look like the case any more.

Quite the opposite.

In fact, when Scott cracks a joke that makes Allison laugh and Lydia roll her eyes, Stiles sees the corner of Jackson's mouth twitch, like he is close to a smile.

Even if Scott's new status as a werewolf is affecting his emotions like Stiles suspects, that isn't a plausible reason for what is happening now. Gone is the animosity held between Jackson and Scott. As the first bell rings and the foursome make their way toward and past him, Stiles is dumbstruck when Jackson looks back at him with a smirk and bumps shoulders with Scott. These actions reveal to Stiles the true reason for this new 'friendship'.

Perhaps Jackson never hated Scott at all. Perhaps Scott only became a target for Jackson's vicious barbs because he chose to align himself with Stiles. And perhaps Jackson is embracing Scott now because he knew how much it would hurt the true object of his ill will.

And hurt it does.

Stiles is left standing alone in the hallway, fighting off the burst of adrenaline that crashes into him and threatens to send him headfirst into his first panic attack in years. His eyes sting with barely restrained tears for the several long minutes it takes him to get his breathing back under control. Once he has done so, he pushes himself away from Scott's locker and heads the other way.

He is thankful that he doesn't share his first class with Scott. He doesn't think he could handle that.

* * *

Because it's the end of the week, Stiles has another session of lacrosse practice to get through before he can go home and mourn the loss of his best and only friend in peace. He trudges toward the locker room, debating the pros and cons of going right up to Coach Finstock as soon as he arrives and calling it quits then and there.

Only his dad's potential reaction stops him from following through.

He knows the sheriff would not take it well because lacrosse is often the only thing he is praised for any more. His dad likes it when he keeps himself busy with things like that, because it keeps him out of trouble, at least some of the time. Stiles' ADHD isn't as much of a problem these days, but it used to be much worse before it was diagnosed and his parents didn't know what to do with him. He was a mischief in every way. And so, when Scott suggested that they try to get on the lacrosse team together, the sheriff had jumped right on it wholeheartedly and ensured that Stiles attended tryouts.

Though he is still just a benchwarmer, it made his dad happy enough for Stiles to stick with it. He'll keep going as long as he can.

"Hey, Stilinski!"

Stiles bangs his head against his locker with a sigh.

"You're lookin' awfully lonely over there!"

"Yeah, no thanks to you, Jackson..." Stiles says under his breath. He wishes he had the courage to speak those words to Jackson's face.

Mocking laughter breaks out among the rest of the team. Stiles tries his hardest to ignore it all and just concentrates on changing reluctantly into his lacrosse jersey and shorts. He doesn't hear Scott's laughter with the other boys', but Scott doesn't say anything in his defence either. This further cements Stiles' theory that Scott has chosen to abandon him.

He walks out on to the field with a cloud over his head.

* * *

By some miracle, Stiles manages to make it through the entirety of practice without getting bowled over once. This hasn't happened in a long time, and he feels marginally better because of it.

He should have known that life wouldn't allow him to feel that way for long.

As he walks down the hallway, he is reminded again that his friendship with Scott is basically over. At least, if they do manage to salvage whatever is left, he knows that things will never be the same between them. They will never be as close as they once were, a knowledge that is made stronger by what happens next.

Scott and Jackson walk a little way ahead of Stiles, in the direction of Allison and Lydia. The two girls are waiting for their boyfriends by Jackson's locker, engrossed in a discussion that is cut short when the distance is closed. Stiles' locker is further down the hall, so he has to walk past them to reach it. He does so without incident. All four of their voices carry because there is no one else around to dilute them, but he doesn't pay attention to what they say as he puts in his combination and takes out the books he'll need over the weekend.

It's not like he'll have anything else to occupy his time with, so he slings his weighty backpack over his shoulder and slams his locker door closed with a sigh. Unaware that the group of new friends has moved and is heading his way, he turns and bumps right into Jackson, to the other boy's fury.

"Watch where you're going, Stilinski!"

With a hard shove, Stiles' back hits the wall of lockers with a loud clang. The corner of one of his books digs into his spine. He slumps to the floor with a hiss of pain. Glancing up, Stiles meets Scott's eyes. He sees a hint of guilt and uncertainty, but these are quickly covered up with mirth as he joins Jackson in walking away, their mocking laughter echoing back to Stiles until the doors close with a bang.

Oddly enough, it's Lydia who lingers the longest. Stiles thinks he spots something like pity on her face before it goes blank and she hurries after her boyfriend.

Really alone now, Stiles allows a tear to fall.

Chapter Text

- Wednesday, January 19th, 2011 -

Come Wednesday afternoon, Stiles hasn't interacted with Scott at all since their eye contact after lacrosse, not that he really expected to. He has seen his ex-friend from across classrooms and the cafeteria, anger bubbling up inside as he observed how easy it has apparently been for Scott to dump him and settle into his new friendship group.

To complement his new change in personality, the crooked-jawed boy has also undergone a physical metamorphosis, one that Stiles suspects was orchestrated by Lydia. From the facade she resolutely maintains, Stiles knows she wouldn't dare let herself be seen hanging around anyone with Scott's old fashion sense. Scott's floppy hair is now short at the sides and a little longer on top. It's always styled effortlessly up and away from his forehead with wax, making him look as if he ran his hand through it and it just happened to stick that way indefinitely. Honestly, it looks like a carbon copy of Jackson's usual haircut, a thought that makes Stiles pity his old friend.

Elsewhere, gone are the ratty old T-shirts and jeans. Instead Scott now sports immaculately-fitting clothing that looks incredibly expensive and tailor-made for his body—smart button-up shirts devoid of cartoon characters or colour or any life at all.

Stiles wonders where Scott got the money for his transformation, whether he paid for it out of his own pocket or if Lydia or Jackson helped him. He doubts that Scott could afford what look like designer labels with the money he makes at the veterinary clinic, so the latter option seems the most likely.

His Jeep idling in the school parking lot, Stiles sits behind the wheel and glares out through the front windshield.

Scott stands on the other side of the glass. He's side by side with Jackson on the sidewalk a short distance away, bumping shoulders with the enemy. Morosely, Stiles thinks they're both enemies now. He is about to drive off so he doesn't have to see the vomit-inducing sight any longer when his phone beeps from the depths of his backpack. Curiosity taking hold, he reaches over and extracts it, only to wish that he had ignored it. It's a reminder, one he set after Scott scratched him and he went to Derek for help.

The full moon is tonight. Scott's first.

Stiles contemplates what he should do about it.

Because of how things are between them, helping Scott directly is out. The new wolf probably won't help himself either. Stiles doubts that Scott was even smart enough to start tracking the moon's cycle.

For a split second Stiles feels bad for thinking of Scott as unintelligent, but then he snaps himself out of. Why should he feel bad? It isn't like Scott has gone out of his way of late to consider Stiles' feelings, so as he drives away Stiles allows himself to soak up the cruel sense of satisfaction he gets from the criticism. He has always strived to be kind, sometimes with great difficulty, so giving that up for a second is refreshing.

Going to Derek again for help seems like the most viable option. Stiles scoffs because that really says something about the current state of his life. He probably shouldn't even bother. After all, Derek did say he would take care of it the last time they spoke, but Stiles doesn't exactly have much trust for the man.

Not yet.

In time, maybe, after Derek has proved himself worthy of it, but as it is Stiles barely knows the man. He never did, not really, and that is the last thought he has on the matter before he pulls into the driveway of his home, right next to his dad's cruiser. It's rare for the sheriff to be home, especially at this time of day, so Stiles is intrigued as he steps inside the house and dumps his bag carelessly on the foyer floor.

The house is quiet, but Stiles finds his dad sitting alone at the dining room table. The man is poring over some paperwork with a half-filled tumbler and an empty bottle of whiskey to his right. The sight makes Stiles' heart sink, because that bottle was unopened just over a day ago, brand-new after the old one was finished on Monday night. He wonders what has happened to cause this.

"Stiles," his dad greets, not unkindly but not exactly warmly either.

"Dad," Stiles whispers, anxious.

As he walks through to the kitchen, he sticks close to the dining table in hopes of seeing something juicy. But there are no pictures immediately in sight, just words which are too small for him to make out from that distance. Stiles grabs a bottle of Coke from the fridge and then dares to sit at the dining table with his dad. The sheriff usually doesn't allow him to be around whenever he is going over stuff for work, but Stiles doesn't hear a protest this time.

He takes a sip of his carbonated beverage and takes out his phone. He ignores his lack of text messages, mutes the device and angles the camera discreetly toward his dad's paperwork. Trying not to be too obvious about it, Stiles takes a series of pictures, a new one each time another sheet of paper is revealed. His dad is none the wiser.

Large glossy photographs are revealed after a while, right at the bottom of the pile. The sheriff spreads them out a little in his inebriated state, which gives Stiles ample opportunity to get a glimpse. He takes more pictures of these even though he doesn't really need to—he can see the originals just fine but supposes it will be good to have a record of them, to look at the text and photographs together up in the privacy of his room.

"I'll see you tomorrow, okay, dad?" Stiles says, pushing his chair back.

He gets a grunt in reply.

Scurrying upstairs, he shuts his bedroom door and immediately boots up his computer to sync his new pictures to it. He'll be able to see them more clearly there. He taps his foot impatiently as he waits. He's very curious about whatever new development has sent his dad to the bottle in such a short space of time. Again.

Before, Stiles had guessed that finding the bottom half of a body, all mangled up and grotesque, was what caused the drinking. That single night would be the end of it. Now he isn't so sure. When the pictures load up on his computer screen, Stiles clicks on them all with a sick thrill of excitement, enlarging them and flipping them all around so that the text becomes readable.

The first sheet is part of an autopsy report, with Laura Rose Hale written near the top. Like Derek said, her death is listed as an animal attack.

"Makes sense, if a werewolf did it..." Stiles says to himself.

He scans the rest of the document for anything else that stands out. The autopsy report references some photographs which—after filtering through the hazy shots he took—Stiles finds. He wishes he hadn't.

Laura was torn nearly clean in half, claw and teeth marks red and ugly in the skin that survived near her midsection. It's messy and brutal. Reading up on the death of someone he used to know—or know of—makes it seem too real. He can't stop imagining himself in her shoes, how terrified she must have been. His only solace is that it can't have taken long. He feels guilty for going looking for her that night, a disrespectful act he knows was incredibly foolish.

He'll have to apologise to Derek next time they bump into each other.

He forges on.

The next document is a report written by his dad, dated for that day. It was filed just a few short hours ago and covers another body being found on the outskirts of town.

There wasn't a conclusive cause of death but preliminary findings point to another animal attack. Stiles thinks it's no wonder his dad broke out the whiskey again if he was one of the first people on the scene. He ponders why he didn't hear any whisperings of another death when the discovery of Laura's body spread like wildfire, more so after her identity was gleaned. Perhaps they're keeping this quiet in an effort to stop people from freaking out.

With a sigh, Stiles closes the page and moves on to all the others, his mood getting worse and worse when he fails to find anything else useful. All he knows by the end of the last page is that there has been no luck in trying to find the 'animal' responsible for the attacks, but that isn't surprising.

Stiles notices when he has finished that the sun has gone down and his room is drowned in darkness, save for the light provided by his computer screen. The moon is in the sky, and despite it probably being too late already, Stiles navigates to Scott's contact listing in his phone and begins typing out a message that will probably end up being futile. Still, he has to try, if not for Scott's wellbeing then for everybody else's.

Though their relationship is in tatters, he wouldn't be able to forgive himself if he did nothing and Scott ended up hurting someone in his out-of-control state. His typing is interrupted, though, by another text appearing on the small screen, from an unknown number:

I'll keep him out of trouble.

Instantly, Stiles knows it's from Derek.

How Derek got his number is a question that will likely go unanswered, so Stiles just creates a new contact for the man and replies simply to thank him. That done, he locks his phone again and flops down on his bed to sleep.

* * *

- Friday, January 21st, 2011 -

After a brief absence the day after the full moon, Scott seems fine when he shows up at school again, much to Stiles' relief. From the glare Scott sends his way as he waits outside for first period to start, Stiles knows that Derek must have had his work cut out for him.

He almost feels sorry for the ornery leather-wearing werewolf, and he actually would if it weren't for the aforementioned bad attitude. He is more than familiar with how much of an annoyance Scott can be when he doesn't want to deal with something—his reluctance to believe that he is now a werewolf being the most recent example. To Stiles, it seems like the perfect punishment for Derek to have to deal with Scott for one night. Especially that night, when all of Scott's worst personality traits must have been exaggerated.

Stiles makes a mental note to ask Derek later on for more details on how the night of the full moon had gone. He is very curious about how it all works, if there is some way for them to control themselves or if they lose all traces of humanity like the stories say. He hopes for everybody's sake that it is the former, but he wants all the information regardless and will find a way to get it, even if Derek doesn't tell him anything.

If Scott is gone from his life forever and Derek doesn't stick around, Stiles now knows that at least one supernatural creature is not a myth. He can't spend the rest of his days pretending to be ignorant of that fact like he was for sixteen years of his life. He's too nosy for that.

The one plus of Scott's new shift in alliance is that the novelty of hurting Stiles by stealing his only friend appears to be wearing off for Jackson. As he waits for the bell, Stiles covertly watches with only a little smugness as the blonde boy tries valiantly to keep up his air of friendliness around Scott.

It looks much harder to maintain after spending so long around him.

Stiles thinks it serves the jackass right.

Ha. Jackson the Jackass.

Checking his phone, Stiles finds that time is going by incredibly slowly. He bides it by making a plan to find Derek and interrogate him after school lets out that afternoon. 'Interrogate' may not be the correct word, but he doesn't care.

Right after the first bell finally rings, he bends down to grab his backpack from the floor. When he looks up again, he spots Derek looking pale and sweaty and lumbering in his direction. Other students are whispering and pointing. Stiles begins to panic when he notices Derek's eyes, which bore purposefully into his own, flashing blue on and off.

Quickly, Stiles rushes over to the wolf and guides him in the other direction, away from the crowds. Surprise builds when Derek actually allows himself to be manhandled. Stiles has to take a lot of Derek's weight. He grunts at the exertion as he slings one of Derek's arms around the back of his neck and walks them toward his Jeep. Derek isn't light by any means, so it takes all of his strength to keep them moving.

"What the hell happened to you?!" he hisses under his breath.

He glances sideways at Derek's face and feels his irritation morph into concern when he sees how unfocused Derek's eyes are.

Derek stumbles then, tripping over his own feet and nearly sending them both to the ground. Stiles selfishly saves himself by letting go, an action he regrets when Derek glares up at him with disdain and a growl.

"Alright, alright, wolf-man," Stiles huffs. "No need to get your underwear in a bunch!"

With difficulty, he pulls Derek back up and moves them the remaining distance to his car. He leans Derek against the side while he gets the passenger door open and then helps the wolf get in and buckled up. Stiles hadn't spotted it before, but being in such close proximity gets him up close and personal with the painful-looking wound in Derek's arm, just below his shoulder.

"Don't bleed all over my seats," he warns.

He slams the door closed again and scurries around to the other side of the Jeep, where he gets in himself and guns the engine. "What am I doing?" he asks himself in a whisper.

"Drive to Deaton's."

Surprised, Stiles whips his head to the right. "What? Go where?"

"Deaton's. The veterinary clinic. He can help," Derek bites out, teeth clenched.

"How the hell can a vet help when you look like you're dying?!" Stiles questions exasperatedly, his fingers going white around the steering wheel as he guides the Jeep out of the parking lot and onto the main road. In the rearview mirror, he sees Scott watching them before they turn a corner. "If I was less frantic I would make a dog joke right about now, but I think that would just get me killed, too."

"Just trust me," Derek snarls. "He's...an old acquaintance, who'll hopefully have what I need." He tries to slip out of his leather jacket and get a better look at his injury.

"You still haven't told me what happened," Stiles presses after a while, when the sound of Derek's laboured breathing gets too much to bear. It makes him uneasy. "You look like you've been shot but, unless everything I know about you guys is wrong, werewolves are supposed to heal really fast. Why aren't you healing?"

"Later! Just focus on driving."

Stiles flinches at the harsh tone but chooses not to comment on it. He knows that Derek must be in a lot of pain right now and is entitled to be a little brash, just this once.

With worry, Stiles looks at the man and frowns at his paling complexion. It seems to get steadily worse, like he is slowly bleeding out. Stiles doesn't want his upholstery ruined, thank you very much—that would be a bitch to explain—so he presses his foot down harder on the gas until they are in serious danger of breaking the speed limit. The clinic isn't too far away now, though, so they don't have much time to be pulled over.

Stiles is relieved when the building finally comes into view a minute later. A little sloppily, he parks in the lot around the back, not liking the fact that there are no other vehicles there.

"Doesn't look like anyone's around..." Stiles observes as he unbuckles his seatbelt.

"Doesn't matter," Derek responds.

Before Stiles knows what's happening, Derek has the passenger door open and is trying to get out. The attempt is rather ungraceful and unsuccessful, because just two seconds after getting his feet under him, Derek's legs buckle and he crumples with a groan.

Stiles fumbles with his own door before getting it open and rushing around to Derek's side. He finds the wolf on his back, face tilted to the sky with his eyes clenched tight, mouth pulled down and eyebrows meeting in the middle.

"You alright?" Stiles asks gently, real fear starting to bleed into his voice now. As much as he doesn't really like Derek, he doesn't want him to die either.

He doesn't get a verbal response, just a jerky nod, but nevertheless he reaches down and helps Derek to sit and then stand up. He once again takes most of the man's weight on his considerably-less-capable frame. "C'mon, let's see about getting you fixed up, hmm?"

Derek releases another grunt in reply.

Of course, the back door to the clinic is locked tight. This doesn't turn out to be as much of a problem as Stiles thought it would be, not when Derek punches the whole handle clear out of the wood. Stiles keeps his mouth shut about property damage and pushes the now-useless door inward so he can walk Derek through.

The place seems completely deserted, as far as Stiles can tell. After making sure that Derek is okay leaning against the metal examination table that is screwed into the floor in the middle of the room, Stiles begins opening all the cupboards at random, not really sure what he is looking for. A lot of the cupboards contain the standard things he had expected to find—medical supplies and books written on the subject of caring for animals.

But eventually he starts to come across things he was not expecting—strange jars of herbs, labelled with words he doesn't recognise, and old-looking tomes which weigh more than any books Stiles has held before. They talk of magic and other otherworldly things in the paragraphs he can decipher, either because they are actually written in English or because the text is large enough.

Soon enough, the countertops are all piled with the stuff he pulls from the cupboards. He doesn't spare a second to worry about what whoever this Deaton person is will say when they find it all so out of place. When the last cupboard has been searched, he turns to Derek.

"You mind actually telling me what I'm looking for?" Stiles asks.

It probably would have been a good idea to ask before he started, but that is a thought for another time.

"Wolfsbane. Find anything labelled 'Wolfsbane'," Derek instructs after a second, his legs growing more and more shaky. His shirt is soaked through with sweat now and his eyes no longer flash their supernatural blue. Stiles doesn't know whether that's a good thing or not. "Bring them all here. Hopefully he should have the kind I need, otherwise I'm screwed."

"OK, wolfsbane... Wolfsbane..." Stiles mumbles.

"Hurry up!"

His pulse racing, Stiles frenetically checks over all the jars a second time and makes a noise of frustration when none of them have the label he wants. His last-ditch effort is to scan the books again, and his eyes widen when he finally finds something useful—a short passage explaining the origins and effects of wolfsbane, complete with all the different names for it:

Aconite.

Monkshood.

Devil's helmet.

The first of these new names rings a bell and, sure enough, he finds several jars labelled as such.

"Here!" Stiles exclaims, somehow managing to pick up every relevant jar and carry them over to where Derek still stands by the examination table. He almost drops them when he sees that Derek had apparently decided to lose his shirt while his back was turned. The sweaty garment now lies against the wall on the other side of the room.

Stiles gets lost for a second in the display of muscle before returning to his senses. "Is one of these what you need?"

Slowly, Derek moves to look at each jar, his face falling further with each one. When he reaches the last jar he yells, "No!" and sweeps them all off the table. They fall to the floor and shatter, spreading shards of glass everywhere.

Stiles jumps back at the outburst but steps forward again when the fight seems to leave Derek's body all at once. The wolf stumbles backward, his back colliding painfully with the wall before he slides down it and sits, his eyes closed and his breathing shallow.

"Derek?" Stiles calls, dropping to his knees in front of the man. He takes a second to brace himself before reaching out and touching Derek's shoulder. He almost recoils at the heat of the werewolf's skin—it's burning-hot and slippery with sweat. "Derek, c'mon, you gotta tell me what to do! There's still someone out there killing people, remember?! I need you to help me, so open your fucking eyes and give me another option! There must be something else that can cure you!"

"Kate..."

"I mean it—" Stiles falters. "What?"

"Kate. She's the one who shot me. She'll have the cure," Derek explains.

"Kate who? Where is she?"

"Argent. She'll be with the rest of them at their house..." Derek coughs violently, his whole body shaking. He cracks his eyes open and blinks blearily up at Stiles. "You need to find another bullet like the one she shot me with. It's the only thing that'll work," his eyes turn hard, "but I don't have much time left so fucking speed it up!"

Stiles quickly mulls this over.

He doesn't like the thought of sneaking into the Argents' house—wherever that is—and going through their things. Especially not the things of this Kate woman, who is apparently not above shooting people.

"We're talking about breaking and entering here, Derek," Stiles says cautiously. "I'll be putting myself in a lot of danger, and that old idiom about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar is true, y'know. You could say please..."

With a threatening growl, Derek reaches up with strength Stiles didn't think he had left and fists a hand in the front of his shirt. "Just fucking do it! You'll get your thanks when you get back here and I'm not dead!" he spits, glaring up at Stiles for a couple of seconds before his sudden surge of strength disappears again and he slumps back against the wall.

Stiles glances at the bullet wound and fights the urge to throw up. Black spider veins run from it in a circle like the rays of a cartoon sun. The wound itself is nearly black, too.

He thinks he has waited long enough.

Stiles races to the door but freezes and looks back over his shoulder when Derek calls his name. His eyes widen when he sees Derek digging into the wound in his shoulder. He is about to ask what on earth the wolf thinks he is doing when something metal is thrown his way. It skitters and rolls across the linoleum floor, where it comes to a stop at his feet. He picks it up to find that it's the bullet Derek was shot with.

"That is so fucking gross..." he says to himself.

"Now you know what to look for..."

Shaking his head, Stiles continues on his way, dreading what he has just agreed to do.

Chapter Text

- Friday, January 21st, 2011 -

Sitting behind the wheel of his Jeep, Stiles stares with wide eyes down at the bullet in his palm. It's still slick with Derek's blood. He reaches for the tissues he keeps in the glove compartment and wipes it and his hands of the red fluid. When he's finished, he balls the tissue up and drops it in the footwell. The bullet gleams gold in the sunlight now that it's clean.

Being the sheriff's son—and just curious in general—Stiles is no stranger to most types of ammunition, but he has never before seen something quite like this. The bullet is long and deadly-looking, with a fancy engraving on the bottom that looks like an A with an arrow through the middle. Pocketing it carefully, Stiles tries to think of a way to carry out the task Derek has given him. He feels a tremendous weight on his shoulders because he is essentially responsible for whether Derek lives or dies. This weight causes his brain to slow and makes his thoughts difficult to process.

His first task should be to find out where the Argents even live. He assumes that they have at least a decent amount of money because of Allison's fancy clothing and, while there isn't really a 'poor' side of town, there are definitely residences that cost more than others.

The property would have just recently gone off the market, but Stiles has no real way of ascertaining more about the town's real estate, at least not as quickly as Derek needs. 'Argent' isn't that common of a last name, so Allison and this Kate woman must be related. It's with this theory that he makes his next move.

Pulling out his phone, Stiles prays that A) Scott will pick up this time, and B) that he has been to or at least knows where the Argents' house is. If he doesn't, then Stiles doesn't know what else to do.

The phone rings. He waits on bated breath for the call to be picked up.

After a minute, the call finally connects.

"Stiles, what do you want now?"

Stiles grins in triumph and wraps the fingers of his other hand around the keys in the ignition, ready to go as soon as he has what he needs. "Oh, thank God you answered!"

"I'm waiting."

"Listen, I need your help. Something's happened, and I need to know where Allison lives," Stiles explains quickly. He wonders briefly why Scott's voice sounds hushed, then determines that he's probably hanging with Jackson again and doesn't want his new 'friend' to know he's speaking to Stiles. Typical. "It's urgent. Like, life-and-death urgent, so please. This doesn't have anything to do with you and me so don't make it about that. Just tell me what I need to know and you can go back to hating my guts and pretending I don't exist to your heart's content, okay?"

Stiles hears Scott sigh on the other end of the line, followed by a distant-sounding exchange of words, none of which he can pick out. Then, Scott is back but only briefly. Stiles is about to give in to his curiosity and ask where his ex-friend is when said ex-friend whispers to him that he'll text him Allison's address shortly. Then the line goes dead.

Stiles sighs himself and taps his foot impatiently. His phone beeps after three tense minutes and the screen flashes with a new message containing, as promised, Allison's address. He doesn't need to look it up because he knows exactly where the house is—it's in the same neighbourhood as Lydia Martin's. How he knows that is something he'd rather not talk about.

"Alright... Showtime."

His foot hits the gas pedal hard.

* * *

The house is easy enough to find, the number displayed clearly on the wall beside the extravagant front gate. Stiles drives a little further down the road and parks in front of one of the neighbours in hopes of not being too suspicious. After checking that the bullet is still in his pocket, he power-walks back to the Argents' and looks cautiously around the area for anybody that could spot him. When he sees that no one is around, he vaults smoothly over the wall.

His landing, unlike his leap, is anything but graceful. He ends up flat on his back in one of the flowerbeds, dirt and flowers crushed beneath his body and the petals of a yellow tulip tickling the shell of his right ear. He bats the irritating plant away and scrambles to his feet.

Tiptoeing toward the house and around the side, Stiles looks for an opening he can use to get inside undetected. There are cars in the driveway, so he knows that people are home. He is all the more cautious and nervous for it. Eventually, after completing one lap of the property and finding nothing promising short of just waltzing in through the front door, Stiles starts a second circuit and spots something he hadn't before:

A small window, low to the ground at the base of the left wall.

It's open the smallest bit, like someone meant to close it but was in a rush and didn't quite manage it. Stiles crouches down to see two strangers standing in what must be the basement. A woman with long blonde hair, possibly Kate, and a man with hair a little longer than Stiles' own, their heads bent together. They appear deep in discussion and like they won't be moving to allow him entrance any time soon.

Stiles wants to release his frustration with a scream but holds it in.

Of course the only potentially undetectable way inside he can find is blocked, at least for now. Time is preciously short and he knows he doesn't have enough to spare to wait the two strangers out.

The Powers That Be must be on his side this time or something because, right as Stiles is contemplating breaking a different window or trying his luck with the front door, the man and woman both seem to finish up whatever they were doing. With something large in his hands, the man walks to the left until he is out of sight. When he reappears, his hands are empty. Then, they both ascend the stairs to the ground floor.

Stiles waits for a few seconds after the lights are turned off before shoving the window fully open and sliding through.

The only light pours in from outside, so he cannot see much. What he does see, though, takes his breath away. And not in a good way.

"Jeez, Derek, you could've warned me..." he whispers.

He has never seen an arsenal like this, so many different varieties of weaponry lining the walls in cabinets that, after checking one of them, he guesses are all locked for safety reasons. Huge rifles, handguns, bows and arrows, crossbows and bolts. And hundreds of bullets.

A quick scan reveals to Stiles that none of these bullets are the type he needs. He is thankful because it means he doesn't have to try to get to them—the noise would probably alert one of the Argents, and that is a confrontation he would rather not have. Ever. The only problem is, if the bullets he needs aren't here, they must be upstairs. He guesses that they are in the room in which Kate is staying, so it will be a process of elimination should he manage to get up there.

Slowly, Stiles climbs up to the basement door and presses his ear to it. He listens carefully for any sounds of life on the other side and, when he hears none, he reaches with a shaking hand for the knob. As swiftly and silently as he can manage, Stiles slips through the door and pushes it closed again.

He sticks close to the wall as he takes in his new surroundings, finding the kitchen to his right and what looks like the foyer to his left. He decides that going left is his best bet. To get there he has to pass by the archway leading into the living room. Now that there isn't a door between them, he can make out voices coming from inside. Crouching down low to the floor, Stiles crab-walks sideways until he can see the woman he thought was Kate and the strange man sitting on the sofa, their backs turned to him. Another woman with short red hair is with them. When she leans her head on the man's shoulder, Stiles presumes these are Allison's parents.

The television is on, mounted on the opposite wall above the fireplace. Stiles realises that the talking he can hear is coming from this instead of the trio of Argents.

Before anything has a chance to change, he carries on his way toward the foyer and bolts up the stairs when he reaches them, praying that no one else is home. School is still in session, so he shouldn't have to worry about Allison. The thought of school sidetracks him briefly. He worries that he is unintentionally pushing his dad further toward the edge with more classes he isn't attending, all in such a short space of time. He'll have to think about that properly when his current task is finished.

Standing at his full height, Stiles approaches the first door he comes to and opens it to find a large bed with clothes strewn atop the covers. This and the other items he can see—a book on one of the nightstands; a dresser with jewellery neatly organised on top; tasteful art on the walls—tells him this is not the room he wants.

Moving on, he tries the next door along. He finds the bathroom.

"This is taking too long..." he whispers, moving on again.

The last door on this side of the landing reveals what is clearly Allison's bedroom. It's girly and already messy with schoolwork in a heap on the desk.

This leaves just one door left, so Stiles tries his luck a final time. The room looks bare for the most part, like it isn't lived in. When Stiles spots two bags on the floor, he knows he has finally found what he is looking for.

Pushing the door to, he kneels to examine the luggage more closely and finds that both bags are filled with nothing but clothes—jeans and tops and bras and underwear, not a single bullet or other piece of weaponry in sight. Contemplating giving up in a moment of weakness, he flops down carelessly and lies flat on his back, an arm thrown over his face. He doesn't stay like that for long, because when his other arm flies out sideways with the movement, it bumps into something hidden beneath the bed.

With hope, Stiles uncovers his eyes. The third bag is unzipped, so he pulls it open to look at what's inside.

A small wooden box sits on top, which Stiles pulls out and examines more closely. It has a familiar-looking plant detail on the lid. When he flips it open, he almost cries with relief.

Bullets.

A row of eight, with space for a ninth. Exactly the type Derek needs.

Grabbing one and shoving it in his pocket, Stiles shuts the box, returns it to its home inside the bag and shoves the whole thing back under the bed. Before he can even contemplate getting back downstairs, he hears somebody coming up. Amid his panic, he mentally pats himself on the back for having the forethought to leave the bedroom door ajar so that he has some warning. Still, he has the problem of figuring out where he can possibly hide in case whoever is coming upstairs enters this room.

As he sees it, he has two options: under the bed, behind the bag; or in the closet, which stands empty with its louvre doors open. Lacking the time to properly think either option through, he throws himself inside the closet and just manages to get the doors closed before the women he thinks is Kate pushes the bedroom door open and enters the room.

Stiles breathes slowly and deeply, keeping as quiet as possible as he backs himself against the wall, away from the closet doors. He can still peer through the slats, so he watches with his heart racing as the woman crosses with a frown to the bags on the floor. It's only then that Stiles realises he forgot to close the second bag back up. Because of his mistake, a few garments spill out. He prays for her to dismiss it.

A few tense seconds pass, and then her eyes flick up the closet. Stiles holds a hand over his mouth to stop a gasp from escaping and giving him away.

The woman stares right at him for God knows how long before shrugging and picking up a pair of dark jeans and a grey tank top. She exits the room again after that, but Stiles stays right where he is.

He doesn't want to leave his hiding place yet, just in case the woman comes back. After taking his hand away from his mouth, he waits, ears straining, until the sound of a shower turning on in the bathroom reaches them. Hoping that this is his chance, Stiles scurries out to the landing and steps softly down the stairs. As the living room comes into view, he pauses in order to check that Allison's parents are still sitting on the sofa watching TV. They are, so Stiles feels confident in moving down the hall toward the basement. Once that door is closed, he drops all pretence of stealth and dashes for the window on the other side of the dark room. He hoists himself up and through it with some difficulty, the muscles of his arms straining.

The fresh air feels good on his skin. Stiles hadn't realised before, but the stress of almost being found out had caused him to begin sweating. He takes a few seconds to pull the collar of his shirt out and flap it a little to help his skin breathe better. Then, wiping his brow, he sets out across the garden.

Standing on the sidewalk again is a definite relief, the pressure of infiltration disappearing.

"Stiles?"

Whipping his head to the side, Stiles sees Scott standing a few feet away. "Scott?"

"What are you doing?"

"Uhh..." Stiles fumbles for an answer, knowing that the crooked-jawed boy will most likely not approve of what he has just done. He plasters on a fake smile and starts the short walk back to his Jeep with Scott falling in step beside him. "I'm doing nothing, obviously. Just out for a stroll, you know how it goes. Energy to burn and all that. Why aren't you still in school? Not that I really care, but won't Jackson miss you? You don't want to do anything that'll get in that way of your new friendship, now, do you?"

Stiles gets his hand on the driver's door handle and is about to open it when Scott grabs his wrist.

"What's that supposed to mean?" the beta asks, a deep frown on his face. "Stiles, are you mad at me or something?"

Stiles gapes. "Is that a serious question?" He shakes off Scott's grip and drops his carefree facade in favour of wrenching the door open and slipping inside behind the wheel. He pointedly slams the door behind him. Scott knocks on the window, looking angry now, too. Stiles fantasises about driving away without giving Scott another second of his time, but he sighs and rolls down the window anyway.

"What?"

"You are mad," Scott states confusedly, curling his fingers around the rim of the glass.

"What gave it away?"

"I don't understand. Sure, I've been hanging around Jackson more lately but I don't see why you're holding that against me." He seems oblivious to the way Stiles' eyes fill with hurt and rage. "Isn't that what we've both always wanted? To be popular? And now that I finally am you're getting pissy with me..."

Trying to keep himself calm before he says something he will regret later, Stiles sticks his keys in the ignition and brings the engine to life. "I don't have time to deal with any of this shit right now... Let go of the window," he orders. Scott doesn't seem willing to remove them himself, so Stiles pries them off. Before his ex-friend can say another word, he rolls the window back up and peels away with a loud squeal. An evil thrill runs through him when he hears Scott calling after him, faintly, demanding he stop and provide an explanation.

Stiles keeps driving away from the self-centred werewolf and toward the clinic. To Derek, who, while they don't exactly get along either, is at least self-aware and upfront about it.

And right now, Stiles will take what he can get.

* * *

It doesn't take Stiles long to get from Allison's house to the clinic, his foot pressing down hard on the pedal in the spaces between red lights.

Because it isn't even midday yet, there aren't many people around. Most everyone is either in school or at work, and Stiles thinks it's a good thing that those who aren't stick to the pavements. He doesn't want to accidentally run one of them over in his haste. Honestly, he doesn't believe he would stop to deal with the aftermath should that happen. No, his urgency to return to Derek with the wolfsbane bullet is too strong for that, a fact that surprises him a little. Perhaps it's his desperation to have anyone in his life now that Scott is gone, but this is an issue that can be delved into when said Derek's life isn't on the line.

Pulling to a jarring stop in the back lot of the veterinary clinic, Stiles flies from his Jeep. He retrieves the stolen bullet from his pocket and holds it tightly in his fist as he shoves the clinic door open. He spares a precious moment to wonder why the place isn't in business when it probably should be, but the thought is wiped from his mind when he pushes open the second door and sees Derek.

The wolf is right where Stiles had left him, sat propped up against one of the walls, but now he has slumped over to his left and his eyes are closed. His bare chest barely rises with breath. Stiles feels a jolt of fear that spurs him into action.

"Derek?!" he yells, racing over and landing painfully on his knees. The bullet skitters across the floor to join the glass from the wolfsbane jars, but he doesn't pay it any mind. He cups Derek's face in his hands and shakes him gently, hoping that the wolf is just sleeping and the movement will rouse him.

No such luck. Derek's eyes remain closed and his breathing the same.

"C'mon, you asshole, after the shit you just put me through, you better not die on me now..." Stiles chokes. Not knowing what else to do, he draws back his right hand.

"Please don't bite my head off for this."

Stiles punches Derek as hard as he can. Derek's head reels back as pain ricochets up Stiles' arm—it's like punching solid rock. He shakes his hand out before repeating the action twice more. His eyes widen and shock has his breath stuck in his lungs when his wrist is grabbed in a tight grip and bright-blue eyes stare up at him. "Thank God... You were starting to worry me there!" Stiles gasps when Derek releases him.

"What are you doing?" Derek growls, annoyed.

"You looked like you were almost dead, so that was me trying to bring you back. You're welcome."

Stiles looks back over his shoulder and locates the bullet. He crawls to grab it and brings it back to Derek, who takes it gladly. "This wasn't easy to get. Kate almost caught me but I hid in her closet." The corner of his mouth twitches when Derek's eyes flick up from the bullet to his face. "And I think Scott's gonna be looking for an explanation on why I was climbing over the Argents' wall, but whatever. That's not important. Right now we need to get you fixed up, right? Can you stand or are you still too weak?"

"Help me up," Derek instructs, grabbing on to Stiles' arm and using the boy's momentum to pull himself up. He locks his legs and leans on Stiles again to get over to the examination table. "I need a lighter or a match or something. There should be one around here somewhere, so help me find it before I keel over again..."

"Yeah. Three times is enough for me, thanks."

A minute later, Stiles manages to procure a box of matches from the things piled on the countertops. He follows closely along as Derek tells him what he needs to do. He struggles but manages to disassemble the bullet and the wolfsbane within is subsequently poured out onto the tabletop. Striking a match, he lights the powder on fire and leaps back when a burst of smoke is released, clogging up his lungs and making him cough. He recovers just in time to see Derek take the burned powder and rub it into his bullet wound.

For a few seconds nothing happens. Stiles opens his mouth to ask if that was it when Derek suddenly cries out.

The wolf throws himself backward to the floor. He lands with a slam and writhes, a series of pained yelps and screams slipping out between gritted teeth.

"Derek?" Stiles calls worriedly.

Though he wants to, he knows there isn't really anything he can do for Derek. If he dared to get close enough to try, he would probably get hit or knocked out, so he stays a couple of feet away. He bites his lip as Derek's writhing gradually eases and his uncharacteristic noises get quieter and then stop altogether. Slowly, Stiles approaches and crouches down to help Derek sit up.

"That was...something," he says lamely.

"Painful but effective..." Derek breathes, peering down at his shoulder. The black spider veins are gone and, while the wound still bleeds a little, it's gradually stopping. The blood is a normal red instead of black, a sign that the burned wolfsbane did its job. "It should start to heal now that the worst is done."

Stiles gets Derek to his feet with a groan and steps back as Derek rolls his shoulder a couple of times. After that doesn't produce any more pain, the wolf stretches his arms above his head and twists his torso from side to side to ease the ache in his muscles. Stiles averts his eyes and tracks down Derek's shirt. He picks it up off the floor and hands it back to its owner when Derek is done stretching. While the werewolf gets dressed, Stiles looks over the mess they've both made of the room and sighs, supposing that they had better clean as much of it up as they can.

He grabs the dustpan and brush he remembers seeing in one of the bottom cupboards and sweeps up all the broken glass. Once that has all been dumped in the bin, he puts everything back in the cupboards, probably in the wrong places.

"Well, that was quite the adventure," Stiles says awkwardly once they are outside.

Derek glances at Stiles but says nothing.

"So...what were you doing when you got shot, anyway?"

"I really wish you would let this go, but you won't, will you?" Derek asks rhetorically. He lets out a lengthy sigh. He doesn't give an answer to Stiles' question, just retrieves his jacket from the Jeep and walks away, shaking his head.

Stiles watches him go, formulating a plan. He grins devilishly.

Chapter Text

- Saturday, January 22nd, 2011 -

Stiles wakes up bright and early the following morning, unusual for him on a weekend. At just after seven he is already washed and dressed and contemplating whether or not he should wait a bit longer before heading to the Hale house. Derek may not be up yet and, for all Stiles knows, he could like to sleep in; Stiles himself would definitely still be in bed if it were any other Saturday.

It's the possibility of dealing with a sleep-deprived Derek when the normal variety is already so prickly that deters Stiles from leaving as soon as his teeth are brushed. While he waits for a more respectable hour to come, he plants himself on the sofa and watches mindless television. There is never anything interesting on at this time of day but he doesn't switch it off again just yet.

He ends up losing himself in a news report.

It seems that the body his dad found has finally been made public knowledge. Stiles focuses on the anchor, curious about what has made it into the report, if there is anything new he hadn't already found out by sneaking photographs of his dad's paperwork. There isn't, so he switches off the television right as the stairs creak, an indication that he is about to have company. His dad enters the living room a few minutes later, cup of coffee in hand and pyjamas still on. The sheriff takes one of the armchairs.

His presence seemingly going unnoticed, Stiles stares at his dad's tired features. His eyes are red and he has substantial bags beneath them, letting Stiles know that the man is suffering through another hangover. He feels deep sadness and thinks worriedly that this really needs to stop. Something has to give eventually.

He bites his lip and averts his gaze when his dad finally notices that he is not alone.

The situation is beginning to remind Stiles of what things were like for months after his mother's untimely death. For a while, people were sympathetic and let the issue lie, but as time went on and the sheriff still drank and had even begun letting his drinking interfere with his job, the sympathy stopped. After being forced to take some leave to 'sort out his problems', John Stilinski eventually returned to work sober and, for the most part, everything was as it always had been.

Stiles can easily see the signs now, knows that history is repeating itself. He plots the different ways he could possibly stop it from progressing any further.

One way is to throw out all the alcohol in the house. That would go over well, he's sure. Plus, his dad could just buy more.

"Something bothering you, son?"

Stiles startles, too busy imagining the look his dad will have on his face should he follow through with his first idea to notice that his dad is staring at him now.

"Uh, n-no?" he stammers.

"Right... Do you have any plans for today?" the sheriff asks.

Nodding, Stiles gets up from the sofa and picks his phone up from the coffee table. "Yeah, I do, and it's actually about time for me to go, so... C'ya!" he answers, waving a little too enthusiastically as he backs out of the room. It's approaching 8:30 a.m. Stiles hopes that this will be an acceptable time for him to show up at the Hale house.

Now that he is leaving, nerves begin to make themselves known, butterflies fluttering around in his stomach and making him feel a little queasy. Hoping his plan comes to fruition, Stiles slips behind the wheel of his Jeep and reaches over to fumble with the glove compartment. His fingers curl around the crumpled-up dollar bills he keeps in there for emergencies—he would definitely classify this as one.

Operation: Get Derek Hale to Like Stiles Stilinski

Stiles chuckles to himself and drives in the direction of his favourite diner.

The old proverb of the way to a man's heart being through his stomach will hopefully prove true.

* * *

With a variety of piping-hot breakfast foods sitting in a bag on the passenger seat, Stiles pulls up outside the Hale house and cuts the engine. Derek's Camaro is parked next to him, as awe-inspiring as ever. Now that Derek isn't as hostile toward him anymore—at least not openly—Stiles dares to take a closer look at the sleek vehicle. Stiles peeks through the windows at the spotless leather upholstery, on which not a single spec of dirt or dust seems present. On the outside, the black paint shines in the bright light provided by the overhead sun.

Derek clearly takes amazing care of the car, which makes sense.

After all, if Stiles were to own something as expensive and badass as the Camaro, he would go out of his way to look after it, too. He gets brave and tries the driver's-side door handle but, unsurprisingly, it's locked up tight.

His inspection finished, Stiles glances around the area and his eyes land on a conspicuous mound of dirt. As he approaches it he supposes it must be where Laura was buried. A relatively deep hole is just beside it—Stiles wonders why Derek hasn't filled it back up yet, unless he plans on returning Laura's body there whenever it's finally released back to him. The thought is a little unsettling, but thankfully he doesn't have long to dwell on it.

As soon as Stiles turns away from the pit, he hears the front door of the house creak open.

Derek steps out on to the porch a second later and scowls at him. "Why the hell are you back here?"

Stiles smirks.

He was anticipating this question and hurries to retrieve the bag of food from his Jeep. "Before you kick me off your property again, I come bearing hot food!" he announces, holding the bag high like a trophy he has just won.

Derek remains seemingly unimpressed but doesn't offer a protest as Stiles climbs the steps, walks right past him and heads inside the house. Stiles takes it as a victory, especially when Derek follows him a moment later and the front door is closed again. The interior of the house is still mostly filthy, but the living room has been cleaned at least little bit, likely because Derek has chosen to sleep there. An old mattress on the floor in the furthest corner, complete with rumpled sheets, supports this theory.

"Love what you've done with the place, by the way," Stiles comments. "Very...loner-werewolf chic."

Offering a small growl, Derek snatches the bag of food from Stiles' grip and plants himself on his makeshift bed. He rifles through it and ignores Stiles' protests."

"Hey! It's rude to take things without asking, y'know!"

"What are you gonna do about it?"

Stiles opens his mouth again to respond but then thinks better of it.

After giving him a look that very clearly says, "I thought so," Derek opens the first container and shoves in his mouth a couple of the bacon strips he finds. When Stiles continues to sputter indignantly, Derek glances up at him exasperatedly and seems to find enough altruism within himself to leave his young companion a few strips.

Tentatively edging closer, Stiles manages to sit down on the mattress without getting his throat torn out. He begins to relax. They both sit in silence as they eat, Stiles taking whatever Derek sees fit to leave him even though he was the one who paid for it all. Derek is obviously top dog—being a werewolf and in tune with his more animal side, Stiles supposes it makes sense that things work out that way. The only thing he insists on are his pancakes, which he bravely eats all of as Derek glowers at him.

"So...now that you're fed, do you finally feel like telling me everything that's been going on lately?" Stiles speaks up once he finishes the last of his breakfast. Derek looks at him with surprise, like he was expecting Stiles to drop it just because he said so. Seeing a different emotion on the wolf's usually closed-off and angry face makes Stiles smile.

"I mean, you do kinda owe me," he points out confidently. "I did save your life yesterday, after all, so spill."

"This isn't a game, Stiles," Derek says.

"I know that, but someone's gotta keep their sense of humour around here."

Derek harrumphs and Stiles' smile gets wider. He knows he's getting close to winning.

Derek shoves all the empty polystyrene containers back inside the bag they came in and throws it into the opposite corner, where Stiles can see a small rubbish pile forming. Pizza boxes make up the majority of it. He purses his lips disapprovingly as he works out that Derek has been subsisting on pretty much nothing but the stuff since he got back in town. He can understand because pizza is one of his favourite foods and, if he could, he would live off it, too. But he knows that is in no way healthy, not even for a werewolf. Still, Stiles doesn't voice his concerns just yet, aware that his budding 'friendship' with Derek is still tenuous at best.

He bumps their shoulders together. "C'mon, I know you're just dying to get all this juicy information off of that chest you obviously work so hard to maintain!" Stiles waggles his eyebrows goofily.

"You're ridiculous," Derek sighs. He gets up to retrieve a bottle of water from the multipack he bought the day before and returns with two after Stiles nods at his offer.

"That may be, but you're not denying it, so..."

"Why? What can you possibly do to help? You're just human."

"Rude!" Scoffing testily, Stiles accepts his bottle of water and easily refutes Derek's statement. "I've helped you tons already! Alright, I'm only human and therefore probably useless in a fight against one of you guys if it came down to it, but I have other skills, thank you very much. In case you didn't notice, you were dying yesterday and I helped you then! You may be the Big Bad Wolf or whatever, but you need someone to support you in fighting this other werewolf. There's no way you can do it alone and come out the other end alive."

Derek is left without a retort. Stiles feels smug.

Retaking his spot on the mattress, Derek bides his time by slowly drinking his water, not taking his lips off the rim of the bottle until half of its contents is in his stomach. After wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he turns sideways to face Stiles, crosses his legs and makes a gesture with his left hand as if to say, "Out with it."

Copying Derek's position with glee, Stiles rests his hands on his knees and takes a deep breath.

"Get ready, 'cause I have a lot of questions for you," he warns. He instantly sees regret bloom on Derek's features and presses on before the wolf can change his mind. "So, I know you're a werewolf, but you're not the one that bit Scott that night. We need to figure out who that person is and stop them before they can hurt or kill anybody else, and we'd better do that fast because I don't think they're waiting around. So, to the questions! Why are your eyes blue and Scott's yellow? And why are that other werewolf's eyes red? Is it like, a random thing? I tried to look it up online but couldn't find an answer, at least not one that sounded believable..."

Derek opens his mouth to respond but Stiles just barrels on.

"Can you all change like they did, too?" the teenager asks. "I mean, from what he told me, Scott didn't get a good look at this person but he did make it sound like they were huge. I saw the bite mark it left in his side before it healed, too. It definitely didn't look like it was made with a human set of teeth, unless they were a giant or something, which... Actually, while we're on the subject, are giants real?" Stiles' eyes become wide with curiosity. "Because there are so many different mythological creatures out there and now that I know werewolves actually exist, I wanna know about all of them. And the way you're looking at me now tells me that they're not and I should shut up before you hit me. Shut up, Stiles! Shutting up."

Derek gapes, dumbfounded. "I've never heard someone say so much in so little time..."

"Yeah, well. I have ADHD, so..."

Derek nods understandingly and an expression appears on his face like he has just figured something out. Stiles makes a noise of confusion.

"It's nothing," Derek dismisses. The corner of his mouth twitches like he wants to smile and he looks down at his lap briefly. If Stiles didn't know better, he would swear he sees a bit of red creep into the wolf's cheeks. The tips of Derek's ears definitely seem pinker than they were a few seconds before, but Stiles chooses for his own safety not to comment on it. "It's just..." Derek continues. "You always smell faintly of medication, so I guess that's why."

He trails off and coughs twice, awkwardly.

Stiles' eyebrows raise. Even though he knows he won't detect anything unusual, he turns his head and sniffs his shoulder. "Wow, your sense of smell is really that strong, huh?" he queries, amazed. "I mean, Scott did pick up on an old stick of gum I had in my pocket right after he turned, but still. That's pretty cool."

"It can be if we want it to be," Derek replies. He doesn't explain any further, so Stiles stares at him pointedly until he does. "Well, think about it—how intolerable would your life be if you had to walk through it smelling absolutely everything around you as if it were right under your nose? No one would be able to stand that. So, if we want to and concentrate hard enough, we can block out certain things. But it's not always a smart thing to do. You can tell a lot about someone by the scents they give off, what their true intentions are, unless they're really good at hiding them..."

He frowns and his eyes cloud over with an emotion Stiles cannot name.

Humming, the human boy gives Derek a chance to get over whatever thought or memory has just entered his mind. He ruminates over this new information and only enquires further when Derek's eyes clear.

"What can you tell about me?"

Shaking his head, Derek refocuses on the present. "You're annoying."

"C'mon, be serious!"

"Who says I'm not?"

Stiles doesn't know if he should take this as a joke or not, but then Derek keeps going.

"You are annoying, a little, mainly because you talk too much. But other than that, I don't think you mean any harm." Derek shifts uncomfortably, as if giving even that much of a compliment is something he is not used to. Stiles guesses he probably isn't. He wonders if Derek had anyone in his life other than his sister and knows the answer to that, too.

It makes his stomach twist funnily.

Satisfied with Derek's answer, Stiles takes his first sip of water and groans quietly as the cool liquid slides down his throat. It feels good because he hasn't had anything to drink since the previous night. The bottle is empty before he knows it.

"Now, you still have other questions to answer, Mr., so get cracking!" Stiles orders. "Don't skimp out on me now!"

His eyebrows rising high on his forehead, Derek takes a few seconds to think.

"Right...well," he fumbles eventually, finding it difficult to formulate the appropriate responses to everything Stiles had asked. "No, giants don't exist as far as I know. And, as for everything else, I only know for sure that a few other creatures exist, but I'm sure there are more. The myths had to come from somewhere. As for the different eye colours, they signify a werewolf's rank. There are three different ranks: alpha, beta and omega. Alphas have red eyes and that is what Scott encountered in the preserve that night. They are the people in charge. Each alpha will have a pack, a group of people, some humans but mostly other werewolves, who are known as betas. Being an alpha comes with an increase in power, and they are the only ones whose bite can turn people. Scott and I are betas, so our bites are harmless."

Stiles pulls a face at this, so Derek rephrases.

"Well, maybe not harmless—they'll do a fair bit of damage, but the person on the receiving end would remain human," he corrects himself. "As for omegas, a werewolf is made an omega when it has no pack. Werewolves need to be in packs to survive, just like regular wolves. So, if a werewolf doesn't have a pack, either because their original one was killed or they were kicked out, then the omega will begin to lose their mind. More often than not, they are put down so they don't hurt anyone, usually by hunters, groups of humans who know about us. That's who the Argents are, hunters."

"Were you bitten?" Stiles interrupts before he can stop himself.

Derek looks up in surprise. "No, why?"

"You said alphas have red eyes, but why are yours blue and Scott's yellow? You're both betas, right? There must be a reason for the difference and birth versus bite is the best explanation I can see."

"Uh, yeah..." Derek rubs a hand stiffly over the back of his neck.

Stiles hums, feeling clever. "Go me."

"Now, about the change. It's only in very rare cases that a werewolf can shift fully. Normally, only a few things about us change—the claws, the fangs and the like. But, if an alpha is exceptionally powerful, there is a chance that they can learn to shift fully, into a proper wolf. My mom could. She was respected for it. Other alphas would come to her for advice all the time..." Derek smiles sadly.

Stiles wiggles a little bit closer until their knees touch. If Derek notices the new closeness, he doesn't say anything about it or move away.

"What happened? You know, after?" Stiles asks carefully. He winces when Derek's head whips around and he is given a sharp look.

"What do you mean?"

"You said that werewolves need packs to survive, and I'm assuming that your pack was your family, with your mom as your alpha..." Stiles trails off, knowing that he is venturing into dangerous territory and it may just be better for both of them if he doesn't continue. He has never been good at stopping himself in moments like these, though, and he is seemingly powerless to prevent the words from passing his lips. "You don't have to answer if you don't want to, and if I'm overstepping my bounds then just tell me to shut up, but what happened after that, when your pack was gone? Why didn't you and your sister go insane?"

"I should want to maim you for asking me that..." Derek whispers. "Why don't I?"

The wolf is talking to himself and stares down at his hands with a deep frown. Stiles shuffles away again and is about to change the subject back to something lighter when Derek finally responds:

"The power of an alpha can be transferred in two ways. If a beta kills an alpha, they steal the power and become an alpha themselves. Or, if the alpha chooses, they can give away the power to someone else. This is how things are usually done when an alpha is getting old and decides that someone else within their pack needs to take over, usually their second-in-command. Laura was my mom's choice, so Laura became my new alpha when...after it happened. That's the whole reason I'm back in town.

"Laura and I moved to New York after the fire, but she came back here on business a couple of weeks ago, without telling me what that business was. After she didn't respond to any of my calls, I followed her here and discovered that she had been murdered by the same person who then bit your friend."

"Are you an omega?"

Derek sighs. "It depends on how you want to look at things," he explains, crossing his arms. "Technically, no, I shouldn't be an omega. I should be part of this new alpha's pack, but because I don't want to be, I'm not. There's still enough of a connection between us to keep me from going insane right now, but it won't last forever. I have to find out who they are and stop them before my time runs out and I do start going insane."

"And Scott? Does he feel this...thrall, too?"

"Yes. I've been keeping an eye on it, though, so don't worry about him. From what I've observed so far, it doesn't look like the alpha has made a move on him," Derek reassures, looking frustrated.

Finishing his water, Stiles tosses the bottle with the other rubbish. It bounces off and rolls across the floor, into the foyer. "Are you gonna answer me this time if I ask again what you were doing when you were shot?" He smirks cheekily when Derek glares up at him. The beta's apparent annoyance doesn't last long, his expression slipping back into something more neutral.

"I want to help you as much as I can because we're all involved in this," Stiles says. "My dad is the sheriff so he's in involved, too, in a way, and I don't want him to get hurt if there's something I can do to stop it." The topic of his father reminds him of the files he had taken photos of. "The alpha has already killed one other person apart from your sister, but there isn't a pattern, not that I can see, anyway. What's our next step? It would be good if we could stop them before they kill a third time."

"I agree. I have an idea but I don't want you involved in that part," Derek says, holding up a hand when Stiles goes to protest. "This isn't up for discussion. You'll know as soon as it works. Or doesn't. Either way, you're not coming along. I have to do this alone."

"Aww, Der Bear, I didn't know you cared!" Stiles grins, patting Derek on the shoulder.

The touch is slapped away immediately. Stiles pouts.

Derek rises from his seat with a sour expression on his face. "Don't call me that. And I don't care, not really. I'd just prefer to have as few casualties in this as possible. This isn't a joking matter. It's life and death."

"So I'm aware," Stiles responds a little testily, not a fan of being condescended to. Being treated like a child has always rubbed him the wrong way, even when he was one, but he shakes it off because he knows Derek didn't mean to hurt his feelings. "I guess I'll see you later then, after you've done...whatever. C'ya, Sourwolf."

With a somewhat lifeless wave, Stiles exits the house and doesn't stop until he is stood beside his Jeep. He opens the driver's door just as his name is called.

He looks up to see Derek standing on the porch.

"What you did for me yesterday, I just want to say..." Derek grunts and shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot. He frowns down at the ground and growls out a quiet, "Thanks," that Stiles only just hears. Then he disappears back inside, leaving Stiles staring after him in disbelief.

Maybe he isn't so bad after all, Stiles thinks.

He smiles softly.

Chapter Text

- Monday, January 24th, 2011 -

A few minutes before classes are due to start, Stiles arrives at school to find it in chaos. He doesn't immediately notice the commotion, too caught up is he in his thoughts to pay much attention to anything else. He had spent the majority of Sunday trying to figure out what plan Derek could have possibly been carrying out while he was stuck at home, complete with all the ways it could go wrong. The worry he felt was shockingly overwhelming, and he supposed it was because Derek is pretty much the only person in his life who is willing to talk to him and he has started clinging to that connection as a replacement for his now-defunct friendship with Scott. Neediness isn't a good look on anybody, he knows, but the worry did not dissipate no matter how much he had wished for it to. He had driven by the Hale house around lunch time and was disappointed to find no trace of his new ally. Whatever plan Derek had must have already been in motion by then, so he had returned home, sullen, and eaten his lunch by himself. It was tasteless. A loud bang, a car door slammed in the space right next to his, is what finally causes him to look up. There is a giant crowd gathered around the side of the main school building, and he exits his Jeep with a frown, wondering what all the fuss is about. It isn't until he spots the police cruisers in the area, his dad's included, that his heart rate spikes.

He pushes his way to the front of the crowd and sees one of the school buses.

The front of it looks normal but the back is covered in crimson splatters, and the door is dented inward as if something hit it with severe force. There are scratches in the metal, marring the yellow paint, long jagged lines which are too far apart to have been made by an animal. Stiles doesn't have to guess what might have happened. He knows instantly:

The alpha has claimed a third victim.

Excited conversations go on around him, both hushed and loud, containing speculations about the identity of the corpse none of them can see, and through it all Stiles spots Scott standing a short distance away.

The other boy's face is paler than Stiles has ever seen it, fear and disbelief clearly visible in his eyes even with the distance between them, and he feels concern blossom in his gut as he makes his way over on autopilot, completely forgetting in the moment that they are no longer friends and comfort shouldn't be his first instinct. "Scott?" he whispers when they are right next to each other. Scott doesn't respond, just continues to stare at the scene before them, and Stiles looks around quickly before grabbing Scott's wrist and dragging him away, through the crowd and out the other side. A secluded area isn't too hard to find because nearly everyone else is gathered around the crime scene. "Scott, talk to me. What happened?"

"I think I did it," Scott whispers, finally tearing his eyes away from what he can still see of the school bus and meeting Stiles'. The human boy gasps and moves them even further away, into the school building and away from all distractions. "Stiles, I think I did it. It's Allison. I think I killed her last night..."

"What are you talking about?"

"We were both here last night. I thought it was just a nightmare, but..."

Stiles listens as Scott recounts everything that had happened, how he and Allison had snuck out to the school after dark and she had led him inside the empty school bus for some 'fun'. He doesn't have to ask what kind of fun Scott means. Then, suddenly, Scott had lost control and started to shift, his eyes glowing and claws tearing into the cheap upholstery of the bus seats. Allison had understandably freaked out and tried to escape, but Scott was faster. "And that's when I woke up, right as I was going to bite her! What am I going to do now?! My first girlfriend and I probably ate her!" Scott cries.

Tears don't look that far off.

Thinking quickly, Stiles weighs their options.

On one hand, he could try to convince Scott not to say anything and force him to go about his life as if nothing has happened. They would have to hope that no incriminating DNA evidence is turned up at the scene, but that is unlikely even if the death is ruled as yet another animal attack.

Derek is another option, though Stiles isn't sure what he would say.

Realistically, it would probably end in both his and Scott's deaths, too, should Derek finally tire of all the teenagers rampaging through his life. Stiles wouldn't blame him, honestly. He is tired, too.

Before they do anything, Stiles knows they should verify that it is indeed Allison's body in the bus. There is still the chance, slim though it may be, that this is all a freaky coincidence and Scott's 'nightmare' was just that: a nightmare. He has just decided to take things as they come and to return to the scene, to ask whether anyone knows whose body it is, when a group of three approaches.

Lydia, Jackson...and, to Stiles' relief, Allison.

"Oh, thank God," he breathes.

"Allison!" Scott blurts loudly, his eyes wide. "You're alive!"

Stiles resists the urge to smack the new wolf. Barely. As it is, he steps back just in time to avoid being knocked to the ground as Scott leaps at the brunette and crushes her in a hug, which she reciprocates with less vigour after a few seconds spent sharing a bewildered look with Lydia. Scott releases Allison when she pulls back, done with the embrace, and Stiles goes to slip away, phone in hand to tell Derek of this new development. The movement brings Jackson's attention back to him, but before any insults can he hurled in his direction he carries on, turning and marching right toward the double doors and outside again. The crowd of curious students has dwindled somewhat while he and Scott were talking, and Stiles has a better view from the top of the steps of the school bus. He is just in time to see what appears to be the lifeless form of a middle-aged man being placed delicately inside a body bag, no doubt on its way for an autopsy. Tearing his eyes away when the body is out of view, Stiles guesses that school is closed for the day because his peers are returning to their cars and driving away. He goes to do the same but first glances over his shoulder, and his eyes lock on to Scott's, who is looking back at him but averts his eyes quickly. A second later and the foursome starts heading his way, so Stiles carries on down the steps and across the parking lot to his Jeep.

* * *

At the end of the day, because he is the only one who will take care of the house properly, Stiles is running errands around town when he sees something that catches his attention.

Scott, walking in the opposite direction with his head down. The crooked-jawed boy is by himself, none of his friends in tow, and the way he keeps glancing around at his surroundings, as if checking that no one is following him, is suspicious. While Stiles is tempted to just keep on driving to the supermarket like he probably should, his first instinct is still to go to Scott, especially after they managed to say more than three words to each other earlier that day without things getting heated between them.

With a sigh, he does a U-turn and decides to tail Scott. Strangely, despite its conspicuousness, his Jeep appears to have gone unnoticed by the werewolf, though that could just be because Scott is only checking the pavements for other pedestrians, and not the roads for vehicles.

This means Stiles is safe from being detected.

"What are you up to, Scotty?" he asks no one. "Probably getting into more trouble..."

Eventually, Scott ends up leading Stiles to the school. The sun has set almost completely by the time Stiles pulls to a stop, a little way down the road so as to not draw unwanted attention. The sky is dark for the most part, apart from behind the tips of the trees, where a faint orange glow can be seen. There is an unexpected chill in the air and, to fend it off, Stiles holds his arms close to his body after climbing out of his Jeep. He wishes that he had dressed in warmer clothing that morning as he walks down the road to the school, cursing the thin material of his plaid overshirt for doing almost nothing to shield him from the low temperature. Increasing his pace, Stiles turns the corner just in time to see the distant figure of Scott entering the school, the doors apparently not locked like they should be at this time.

Hurriedly getting inside himself, Stiles pauses on the threshold and waits for his eyes to adjust to the dark. The one good thing about the school being so quiet is that, even though Scott is not in sight, Stiles doesn't lose track of his quarry. Scott's footsteps echo quietly down the hall, and it isn't difficult to track him down to the main office. Stiles stands just outside the room, wondering what Scott came here for.

Scott still doesn't seem to know he has been followed.

Fuck it, Stiles thinks.

He announces his presence. "Yo, Scotty-boy!" he calls loudly, the corner of his mouth twitching when Scott jumps. "What on Earth are you doin' in here at this time of day?"

"Jesus Christ, Stiles!" Scott hisses, slamming his hands down on the reception desk behind which he stands. He glares at Stiles, his expression not lightening even a little when Stiles chuckles at his reaction. "What are you doing here? Did you follow me? What the fuck, Stiles!" His tone is laden with accusation.

"Here's a tip: If you don't want to be followed, don't act so damn shifty," Stiles replies with a roll of his eyes. "Seriously, I saw you walking down the street and, if I didn't know better, I would've thought you were on your way to rob a bank or something. You looked super shady. Anyway... You gonna tell me why we're here?" He steps closer and joins Scott on the other side of the desk. "Unless all you wanted was to get up close and personal Miss George's stationary. Which, ick. She's like, sixty, dude."

"That's gross."

"I know. So tell me why you're here if not for that."

"Ugh, fine! You're relentless..."

Scott explains a plan he had come up earlier that afternoon, after he returned home from a spontaneous shift at the veterinary clinic. Scott's boss, Deaton, has been helping him through all of his new wolfy problems, and it had shocked him to find out that the man knew about them. It shocks Stiles, too, but in hindsight he supposes it makes sense of all the strange herbs and books he had found in the clinic's cupboards a few days earlier, while he was helping Derek find a cure for his wolfsbane bullet wound. It also serves as a reminder that he had heard the name before that day—he just didn't remember it at the time because he was in such a panicked state. Clearly, more people are aware of the supernatural world than he first thought, and he wonders idly whether Deaton and Derek know each other. He remembers that Beacon Hills has had the same vet for years now, going back before the Hale fire, so it would make sense.

"Right, let me get this straight: You've been getting help from Deaton all this time?" Stiles asks incredulously, allowing himself to be moved out of the way when Scott reaches for something on his side of the reception desk. "Because I have to say, it's pretty crazy that someone so close to you would know about all this shit. Though I guess that explains why you haven't killed anyone yet..."

"Stiles..."

Holding his hands up and backing away a couple of steps, Stiles lets the subject drop so as to not exacerbate Scott's irritation. Thankfully, a short growl is the end of it.

Letting up on his glaring, Scott turns away from Stiles and takes the intercom in hand. "Anyway," he says pointedly, "Deaton said that the alpha and I are linked somehow because they're the one that turned me. That's why I dreamed about them killing last night, and that's why I'm here. I'm gonna lure them out."

"Wait, wait, wait!" Stiles yells. He smacks Scott on the shoulder.

"For what?"

Exasperated, Stiles wrenches the intercom from Scott's hand and holds it behind his back when Scott attempts to get it back. They scuffle for a few seconds, and it's nothing like the play fights they had when they were younger. Stiles takes a few punches that he feels to his core, until he manages to put some distance between them. "You're gonna get the alpha to show up here? Now?! Are you fucking crazy?!" he rages, valiantly quelling an urge to reciprocate the blows he just took. That pain would probably be his anyway, seeing as Scott's recent transformation has come with a significant boost in physical constitution, from soft flesh to something rock-like. "What will you do when they get here? Did you think that far ahead? Because, the way I see it, the alpha is gonna kick your ass from here to next week and most likely kill you for good measure, and there'll be nothing you can do about it. This person is probably a lot more experienced than you if they took down Laura, who was a werewolf her entire life, and stole her alpha status!" He pauses, a thought striking him. It wouldn't surprise him, given Scott's sudden surfeit of stupidity and arrogance. "Wait a minute... Is that what your plan is? To kill them and become an alpha yourself?" One of Scott's eyes twitches. "Oh my God, it is, isn't it? Why do I even bother trying to stop you from doing this stupid shit when you never learn?" His voice becomes quiet and lugubrious, resigned.

"Would you just give it back already?" Scott sighs, disregarding everything Stiles has expounded to him.

Stiles doesn't move or even look up from the floor, and because he isn't looking he doesn't notice Scott's approach until it is too late to stop it. Before he knows it, he finds his hand empty again, the intercom in Scott's instead, and he is shoved roughly from the room, his right hip banging against the reception desk and knocking a lamp over. The door is slammed in his face, and the sound of the lock clicking in place sounds terrifyingly like a guillotine cutting through the air, a death sentence for both of them.

"Scott! C'mon, I'm begging you, man, don't do this!" Stiles yells, banging on the door.

"No!" comes Scott's reply.

"You're gonna get us both killed!"

"Too bad. You don't get to tell me what to do anymore! Sorry to break it to you, but the days of you always bossing me around are over! Get used to it." Scott sounds particularly smug, and Stiles is torn between wanting to scream and asking why Scott has just invalidated their entire friendship even further.

There is no other way inside the office short of going outside and breaking one of the windows, and he seriously considers doing just that when another sound splits the air.

A howl, blasting out of all the speakers in the school. It is so loud that he has to cover his ears to avoid the pain it causes him, and he knows it is enough to carry over a considerable distance, unmissable by anyone within its wide radius. Grudgingly, he has to hand it to Scott—though the mere concept of confronting the alpha afterward is stupid, should they even show up, it is quite smart to get their attention this way.

Too bad we're both gonna die now.

He smiles wryly.

As suddenly as it had started, the howl cuts off and the speakers go dead, Scott presumably taking his thumb off the intercom. The door unlocks a few seconds later and Scott steps out, looking pleased with himself. He walks right past Stiles like he doesn't have a care in the world, a distinct skip in his step, and Stiles follows more sedately, out into the cool evening air. Scott takes a seat on a low wall, settling in to wait for the fruits of his labour. Stiles has no interest of sticking around to watch as his old friend is ripped limb from limb. He can't forcibly take Scott with him, nor convince him with what are, in his opinion, well-reasoned arguments.

"I'm done," he announces, walking down the steps.

"You're what?" Scott calls after him.

Stiles stops briefly and turns back around. "I'm done trying to save your idiotic ass. So I guess I'll see you tomorrow, if you're still alive then." With a middle finger raised to the sky, he carries on his way, across the parking lot and down the street to where he parked his Jeep. He doesn't quite make it.

"Please tell me you didn't have anything to do with what I just heard."

His head snapping up in shock, Stiles gapes in surprise as he takes in Derek standing before him. The man is out of breath, his hair dishevelled, and there is a wildness in his eyes that gets Stiles' heart racing. His leather jacket hangs strangely on his bulky frame, like he was in a rush and didn't have time to put it on properly. There is no Camaro in the area, so he assumes that Derek must have sprinted to the school after hearing Scott's ill-thought-out howl. When Derek starts to look impatient, he hastens to provide an answer.

"No, you have Scott to thank for that," he clarifies with a disparaging shake of his head. "He wants to lure the alpha here and kill them, which...yeah, I don't even have an explanation for that."

"Where is he?" Derek demands.

"Waiting in front of the school like a doofus."

Immediately, Derek races past, in the direction Stiles has just come, and Stiles stares after him, alarmed. Cursing the entire situation, he follows, his tired legs protesting the movement as he struggles to keep Derek in sight. The street lamps along this stretch of pavement are dim, and he thanks his lucky starts that he manages to get back to the school without tripping and breaking his nose on the concrete. When he gets there he finds he is just in time to witness Scott being dragged roughly down the front steps like a misbehaving child—it's a funny sight, and he hopes he'll be able to fully enjoy it once they are all out of danger. Angry words float on the breeze to his ears, and he increases his strides to close the distance between himself and Derek so he can hear them better. Sticking close to Derek right now also just seems like a smart idea.

"Fucking let go of me!" Scott seethes, scratching at Derek's hand.

The leather-wearing wolf ignores Scott's commands, digging his claws into the flesh of the struggling boy's wrist, heedless of the blood he draws, and continuing to drag him away from the school. "C'mon," Derek grits out to Stiles when they reach each other, "we have to get out of here before the alpha shows up."

Thinking that sounds like an excellent idea, Stiles moves around to Derek's other side as they move, looking to avoid Scott's flailing limbs. When they reach the pavement, they know that they are too late. In the time it took Derek to get Scott, the street lamps have mysteriously turned off completely, and the only light in the area comes from two pinpricks of red in the distance, blocking the way to the Jeep.

"Oh fuck!" Stiles whispers, latching on in his sudden panic to Derek's free arm. He doesn't think of letting go, even when Derek stares with a frown down at his hand.

"Plan B..." the man says.

"Which is?!"

"Run!"

Releasing Scott, Derek grabs on to Stiles instead, fingers tangling in the soft material of his plaid overshirt, and pulls him away from the alpha. Stiles' feet can't move fast enough to keep pace but Derek doesn't slow down. Miraculously, they make it back to the parking lot, Scott just behind and the alpha just behind him, and race up the front steps and into the school. Slamming the doors closed behind them, Stiles searches frantically for the chains he knows are supposed to serve as their lock and curses loudly when he doesn't see a single sign of them. "We have to keep moving! These won't hold them for long!" he orders, swiftly following Derek down the hall just as the alpha bangs into the doors and roars. He strategises desperately, searching for a way for them to survive. The classrooms are out, too many windows providing easy ways for the alpha to reach them. Running out the other side of the school also doesn't strike him as a good idea, guessing that the alpha can outrun them. They pass a door labelled 'Basement Access', and he screeches to a halt. "Wait! In here!" he yells, pushing the door open and racing down the stairs. Once he reaches the bottom he looks back up to the top with urgency, wondering whether Derek and Scott will follow him at all or if he has just screwed himself. A few tense seconds go by before a silhouette appears in the door frame, and once the other person has shut the door and joined him, Stiles is elated to see that it is Derek.

"Where's Scott?" he asks as he is pulled along the basement hallway, a fleeting thought spared for how Derek is managing to get around when it is almost pitch-black. Enhanced eyesight must be part of the package, he guesses, another sense that is heightened above human levels. He's a little jealous.

"He didn't stop, so he'll have to fend for himself," Derek hisses back over his shoulder.

"Why didn't you go after him?" Stiles enquires curiously.

"You're the lesser of two evils..."

Having no response, Stiles stays right on Derek's heels, into one of the rooms off the next hallway. The sound of the metal door shutting is quiet but, even though Derek has tried to be gentle so as to not give away their position, it is still detectable even to his human ears. There is a good chance that the alpha heard it, too, but everything else remains quiet, and he feels a tiny flicker of hope.

"Here, get behind the boiler," Derek whispers, pushing Stiles to the other side of the room. He touch is gentler now. "Stay hidden here and try not to make a sound. I need to listen."

Once he is sure that Stiles is hidden well enough, Derek returns to the door. Stiles' heartbeat is all he can pick up, so he presses his left ear to the metal and holds a hand over his right to block out the jackrabbiting sound, straining to detect any signs of life on the other side. There are thumping footsteps somewhere above, stopping and starting, likely the alpha searching for them. The footsteps get quieter, further away, and he hopes against hope that they will continue in the wrong direction.

They don't.

In fact, the footsteps get suddenly louder, more urgent, the alpha's excitement palpable.

Standing stock-still out of fear, Derek holds his breath as he hears them get closer and closer, and closer still. The come to a halt right on the other side of the door, and he prepares himself for the worst right as the alpha roars and slams against the barrier between them. They're trapped.

Chapter Text

The alpha's roar makes Stiles' already racing heart beat even faster, to the point where he feels like he is in serious danger of having a heart attack. Jarring sounds of large claws scratching across the metal of the door fill the otherwise silent room, and slowly he peeks out from behind the boiler and tries to see through the darkness. He thinks he can make out Derek, a tall shape blacker than everything else, and he approaches after easing out from his hiding place. "What do we do now?" he asks worriedly, giving up all pretences of being quiet because the alpha obviously already knows very well where they are.

"Just get ready to run," is all Derek says.

"Oh God."

Swallowing tightly, Stiles tightens the muscles of his legs, preparing to do as Derek said whenever the heavy door protecting them finally loses the fight. It won't be long now, and sure enough, just as Derek pushes him to the side, in the corner behind where the door would open, it gives.

A hulking form stomps inside the room, and Stiles can smell its rancid breaths, like something rotten and decaying. It makes him gag, and faintly he thinks that Scott wasn't kidding when he described the alpha as big. They must be almost eight feet tall, in this form, at least, and Stiles feels like wetting himself even though he can't actually see any detail. Just a black mass and two red orbs, which turn slowly from Derek to him. They narrow calculatingly, and he feels a puff of hot breath directly on his face. Blue eyes join the red in cutting through the darkness, and he watches, horrified but unable to look away, as Derek leaps right at the alpha, most likely saving him from becoming their fourth victim. Either the alpha is weaker than everybody thought or they weren't expecting such a bold move, because they stumble backward, back into the hallway. Over the roaring and sounds of flesh being torn apart by vicious claws, Stiles hears Derek yell for him to run while he has an opening, and he doesn't hesitate to take it. As fast as he can he sprints back through the hallways, tripping briefly over a limb in the process, whether Derek's or the alpha's he doesn't know. He sprints toward where he remembers the basement door being and stumbles up the steps, feeling guilty for leaving Derek to fend for himself. Right as his hand grasps the door handle, potential freedom and safety just a turn of it away, a pained scream echoes all the way to him and causes him to stop.

As much as he would love to get out of there, he doesn't feel right leaving Derek to be killed.

"Damn it!" he curses.

Spinning around, Stiles runs back down the stairs and uses his phone to search for a weapon of some sort. He locates a rusty-looking shovel, something probably not used in years, and takes it in hand. The wood feels rough against his palm but he doesn't care. The sounds of fighting are louder, closer, and it seems plausible to Stiles that the alpha is trying to get to him while Derek impedes their progress.

Leaning his phone against a box, the beam of light points down the hall and illuminates most things. It doesn't quite make it the whole length, but it doesn't matter. A few seconds after placing his phone, Derek and the alpha tumble into view, a flurry of limbs as they twist around each other, trying to land blows. As quietly as he can, Stiles approaches and hopes that the alpha's attention is sufficiently occupied by Derek, giving him the element of surprise. His hands shake, his grip on the shovel white-knuckled, as he waits for an opening. Then, Derek slashes violently at the side of the alpha's giant head, sending them backward and prostrating them right at Stiles' feet. He swings the shovel down with all the force he can muster, and it connects jarringly with the alpha's head, a deafening clang echoing through the hall.

The alpha goes still.

"Are you OK?" Stiles asks, stepping cautiously over the large unmoving body to Derek's side. Derek is leaning heavily against the wall, and he frowns at Stiles when they're next to each other.

"I told you to run," Derek pants out, reaching up and cupping the left side of his face. Three long gashes run down from his eyebrow to just above his chin, and they bleed sluggishly through his fingers and make talking incredibly painful. "You have a thing for disobeying orders, don't you?"

Stiles shakes his head. "It's never been my strong suit, no."

"Of course... Let's get out of here."

"Yeah, wouldn't be good if we're still around whenever the alpha wakes up. A shovel to the head can't keep someone like that down for long..." Stiles speculates, retrieving his phone and slinging Derek's arm around the back of his neck to help him walk. This is becoming a regular thing, he muses, his mind going back to when Derek was shot and he had to take the brunt of the wolf's weight then, too.

Slowly, they make it up the stairs and out of the basement, the moon providing light and allowing Stiles to see a lot better. Derek stops them halfway to the exit, pushing him away gently and announcing that he has healed enough to walk by himself once more. Stiles' shoulder is thankful, the ache that was setting in there beginning to let up now. Again they walk, and then again they stop, outside now, Derek flinging out his arm and splaying his hand across Stiles' chest. "Be quiet. Someone else is here," he whispers, frowning.

"Who?" Stiles asks, peering worriedly around.

"I don't know. I don't recognise their voices..." Derek answers. "They sound pretty young, though, a guy and two girls." He points to them and, before he can be stopped, Stiles rushes off in the direction of the strange voices, back inside the school, and as much as all the logic Derek possesses is telling him to leave, to cut his losses and escape before the alpha can wake up and start round two, his instincts refuse to let him. He growls, annoyed with himself and Stiles as he dashes after the boy as fast as his bruised and battered body will go. All too quickly for his liking he loses sight of Stiles, and he decides to stick close to the basement door, standing vigil outside of it as he focuses both for any signs that the alpha is beginning to stir, and on what is happening in the next hallway over. It sounds like a conversation, and Stiles apparently knows the people who have so unknowingly thrust themselves into this life-threatening situation. He'd rather stay out of it.

Stiles gets a surprise when he rounds the corner.

"What the hell...?"

Before him are four of his peers, three of whom he would never have expected to show up at school this late. Scott, Allison, Lydia and Jackson. He approaches timidly.

"No, what are you talking about?" Scott asks Jackson, bewildered, eyebrows up to his hairline. "I never texted you to come here! Why the hell would I do that?" He snatches Jackson's phone and looks down at the screen, frowning at the message shining up at him, clear as day:

'There's some fun stuff going down at school tonight. You should check it out.'

"I never sent this!"

"Well then who did, dumbass?" Jackson retorts, taking his phone back.

Stiles stays a few feet away. The darkness has kept his movements unnoticed by the four until now, but that changes when he finds light shone directly in his eyes. He raises a hand to shield them and blinks to get his vision to return when the beam is finally lowered. Jumping back, startled, he finds Jackson is right in front of him, scowl making his objectively handsome face look ugly. Stiles thinks it matches his personality.

"Don't tell me you texted him, too?" Jackson demands, rounding on Scott. He is apparently outraged at having to spend any more time around Stiles than he has to. Stiles resists his desire to crack wise and say that the feeling is more than mutual. Instead he observes the other two onlookers, Lydia and Allison, to gauge their reactions. Lydia looks like she would rather be anywhere else, staring down at her nails, bored, and Allison looks a little concerned but doesn't voice any opinions she may have. He refocuses on Jackson. "I thought you were done with this loser! Or are you going soft again?"

"I already told you it wasn't me, so will you get off my back already?!" Scott yells, shoving at Jackson's chest to put some distance between them.

Jackson looks ready to tackle Scott to the ground, and Stiles has to give him props. He'd have thought it would take less time for Jackson to become fed up of Scott's antics, what with how much effort he puts into appearances, both his own and that of those around him. For Stiles himself it took years, embarrassingly.

"What are we still doing here then?"

Lydia's question breaks up Scott and Jackson's staring contest.

"Uhh..." both boys fumble.

"Excellent question!" Stiles chirps, drawing everyone's attention to himself. "There's no real reason for you to all stick around here, so how 'bout you all run along now? I'm sure there are better things you could be spending your night doing." He makes a flapping gesture with his hand, as if shooing away a small, troublesome animal. The facetious bright smile remains on his face, even when Jackson glares and Lydia stares at him piercingly, as if trying to suss out why he is so eager to get rid of her.

Luckily, a few seconds later she shrugs, either not finding anything or dismissing what she does. She walks away, forcing Jackson to hurry after her. Scott doesn't look like he wants to follow the blonde boy but in the end does so anyway, taking Allison with him. This leaves Stiles alone in the hallway, breathing out his relief, and he turns and heads back the way he came, to Derek. He finds the wolf leaning casually against the wall just around the corner, and he sends him a smile as if to say, "You good to go?" to which Derek nods. "No sign of the alpha waking up?" Stiles asks as they exit the school building, shutting the double doors behind them with a sense of finality. He needs to be sure, surprised that the red-eyed wolf stayed down during the entirety of his 'conversation' with Jackson and the others.

"Not that I could hear," Derek answers succinctly.

"Good," Stiles nods, pleased. "Let's hope they wake up by morning, though. Wouldn't be good if the janitor went down there and found them... For anyone."

This brings Derek to halt.

He looks worried, as if that possibility hadn't occurred to him, and Stiles can already see where this is going. He faces Derek, watching the wheels turn in his mind. The cuts on Derek's face have all but healed, only lines of faint red scarring visible beneath the blood that is dried to his skin, and Stiles takes the time to get a good look at the rest of him, too. The wolf's leather jacket has been through hell, a few new cuts and holes joining the one in the arm from Kate's wolfsbane bullet, and he thinks sadly that Derek will probably have to get rid it. He feels it's a shame, because the leather really added to the whole 'Dark and Dangerous' thing Derek has going on. The thought bemuses him, and he wonders where it came from. Sure, he has known since their first encounter in the preserve that Derek is an attractive man. He had just figured that, after a while, the effect of said attractiveness would wear off and he would go back to his easy and one-hundred-percent hetero sexuality. Apparently not. Huh. "You want to go back and keep an eye on them, don't you?" he asks worriedly, not needing an answer. Rolling his eyes to cover up how much the mere suggestion of this terrifies him, he sticks right to Derek's side anyway, much to Derek's apparent surprise. The man stares at him, silently asking why he hasn't left yet, and Stiles shakes his head. "You think I'm gonna be able to get any sleep while I know you're here, alone, putting yourself in danger? 'Cause let me tell you now, Mr., ain't gonna happen!"

Derek just looks even more confused, and Stiles realises what he has just said and how it sounds. He is quick to cover his slip up. "We're in this together, remember? If you get killed tonight because you decided to do something stupid—which going back in there is, just so you know—then there'll be pretty much nothing I can do to stop the alpha, and that's just not an option."

Humming, Derek nods. "Right... I'm still going," he announces.

The man walks away without another word, and Stiles huffs and scurries to catch up.

"Idiot," he mumbles.

Then, a scream splits the air, high-pitched and distinctly female. Both of them freeze and look at each other before bolting. They know what this means: the alpha is awake, and probably going after Jackson, Lydia, Allison and Scott, who apparently weren't fast enough in leaving.

On the other side of the main school building, swathed in darkness under the shelter the pathway leading to the gymnasium provides, the four teenagers stand, gaping up at something neither Stiles nor Derek can see from their positions. Scott, tearing his eyes away from whatever has the other three transfixed, meets Stiles' worried gaze before curling an arm around Allison's shoulders and steering her away, in the opposite direction. Jackson and Lydia follow, and the four of them run without looking back toward the gym. Moving forward himself, Stiles looks over his shoulder and sees a black shape perched on the edge of the roof of the main building, red eyes peering down at him menacingly.

With a roar, the alpha leaps down and lands heavily, quaking the ground with its force. Its eyes never leave Stiles and, as soon as the ground stills, it charges right for him.

Stiles yells as he is violently shoved backward. He tumbles back and lands on the grass at the side of the path, and he looks up to see Derek standing between him and the alpha, growling, claws out. Then, they fight. Although the injuries Derek sustained previously have all healed, he expended a large amount of energy during their last fight and, as a consequence, his reflexes are slower now, his movements practically glacial in comparison to his enemy's. The alpha, however, is lightning-quick, unhindered.

It isn't long until Derek fails to block one of the alpha's blows.

And time stops flowing.

"Derek!"

Stiles' body shakes with shock, and he holds a hand over his mouth as he wishes for his eyes to be deceiving him. Derek's head is thrown back, and Stiles can see one of the alpha's large hands has gone right through his body, coming out the other side just below Derek's sternum. It drips with viscous blood, and he hears choking right before the alpha rips their hand back and Derek falls to his knees.

Then, Derek slumps over, lying on his side on the ground, and doesn't move again. A familiar feeling appears suddenly in Stiles' chest, one he hasn't felt in years. He doesn't have time to identify it because he senses eyes on him and looks up to find the alpha's attention focused once more on him.

He has to leave Derek's body where it is, as much as he doesn't want to.

"Stiles! In here!"

While still running for his life, Stiles sees Scott holding open the door to the gymnasium and changes course, cutting diagonally across the grass and inside. Scott slams the door behind him.

"What the fuck was that thing?!" Lydia screeches, her eyes wild and her usually perfect hair in disarray. Stiles wouldn't know how to answer that question even if he could. His words are stuck in his throat, and all he can do is move away from the door when the alpha slams into the other side of it, wanting in. Allison clutches at Scott's arm, cowering, but Scott doesn't acknowledge her at all. He remains vigilant and looks over the room, for what Stiles doesn't know. Strangely, when Jackson goes to throw a comforting arm around Lydia's shoulders he is pushed away, and Lydia stalks off to the other side of the large room to sit tiredly on the bleachers. Jackson stares after her with a hurt expression on his face that is quickly covered up, and he stays with the group, seemingly not minding that Stiles is a part of it in light of the current circumstances.

When the alpha suddenly stops banging into the door, Stiles frowns.

That can't mean anything good.

Things are eerily quiet outside. They can't have given up that easily, he speculates, walking to stand by himself in the centre of the gym. He rubs a hand over his right elbow, which took the brunt of the fall when Derek pushed him out of the way of the alpha's attack. Unable to stop himself now that he has a moment, he replays the events of the past two minutes again and again in his head, physically flinching when the alpha's hand piercing Derek's torso flashes across his mind. He can't hear anything else.

It isn't until something touches his shoulder that he remembers he isn't alone. Scott is beside him, talking to him, but the words seem muffled. White spots flash across his vision, and the stinging in his cheek tells him that Scott has just slapped him, snapping him out of his stupor.

"Stiles, come on, we have to think of a way out of here!" Scott hisses at him, his words finally making sense. Stiles shakes off the beta's grip and mentally checks back in, his mind seeming hyper-focused after a period of being offline. There still isn't a single sign of the alpha being outside, but that doesn't mean they aren't, lurking, waiting for them to make their next move.

Whatever that move is.

The alpha has enhanced hearing and will know if any of them try to make a run for it. They need a way to defend themselves. This is the first of two threads that form in Stiles' mind, and he tries fastidiously to connect them into a workable plan. They need some sort of weapon. Think, Stiles, think. Maybe... No, that won't work. But what if...? No, not that either. And then, he comes up with something he hopes has a chance of working. It's slim, but better than nothing. Calling everyone to attention, he types out his plan on his phone and holds it out so that the other four can all read it. He daren't speak it aloud because the alpha is most likely listening to everything they do. Once the others have finished reading, he shoves his phone in his pocket.

They all nod at him, albeit without confidence, and he tiptoes across the room until he reaches the door that leads to the boys' locker room. "I hope this works..." he whispers.

Stiles waits until he hears loud noises from behind him, the others creating a distraction, before pulling open the door and racing out. Through the locker room and down the hallways, skidding around corners where his shoes squeak a little too loud for his comfort, toward the chemistry lab.

Frantically, hopefully before the alpha can realise what is really happening, he fumbles through the storage cupboards, looking for anything that can be used to fight. In his current state he can't think of any solutions he could possibly make with all that is in front of him, nothing he has learned during class or from browsing the Internet during a night of boredom. But eventually, he happens across several jars labelled 'Hydrochloric Acid' and almost jumps for joy. It won't kill their adversary, but if they get enough of the stuff on the alpha then hopefully the four of them will have enough time to make their escape.

He carries as many jars as he can.

"Alright, I managed to get this!" Stiles exclaims when he reenters the gym.

The door closes by itself behind him.

The others stop creating noise, switching off the music blaring out of their phones as dodgeballs roll across the floor, unneeded. Carefully, he hands out the jars between the five of them, one each. "Make them count." He turns to Scott and asks, "Can you hear them?" to which Scott shakes his head. Stiles fits his jar of acid more comfortably in his palm, ready at the drop of a hat to hurl the thing.

Slowly, he leads the way over to the door outside and unlocks it, his heart thumping in his chest.

"Are you sure about this?" Allison whimpers.

He answers honestly. "No."

Regardless, he flings the door open and waits a few seconds, anticipating the alpha coming out of nowhere to do to him what they did to Derek, but all remains quiet. "On the count of three, run for your cars. They can't chase all of us..." he whispers, bracing himself by bending his knees the slightest fraction. "One... Two... Three!" Like a bullet leaving the chamber of a gun, he is outside in a flash and sprinting for the street on which he parked his Jeep, the sound of the others' thundering footsteps fading out as the group splits apart. He is on his own now. His lungs protesting, he races past where Derek was killed and skids to a sudden stop, flabbergasted. Derek's exsanguinated body is gone. All that remains is a pool of blood, dark on the light concrete, and he feels anger blossom in his gut at the thought of what the alpha could have done with it. Then, a low growling reaches him, a lot closer than he thought was possible without hearing any other signs of the alpha's approach. He feels breath on the back of his neck and, on instinct, spins around, the jar of acid connecting with the side of the alpha's head and making it yelp out in agony. Pain also sprouts across Stiles' left hand and up his forearm, shards of glass embedding themselves in his palm and acid splashing across his exposed skin. The injuries are necessary evils, though, and he holds the limb close to his chest and stumbles back as the alpha flails around, batting at their head and trying futilely to get the acid off.

Clumps of black fur fall off, disintegrating, and beneath that, leather-like skin is revealed, turning red as it burns and melts away. The sight makes Stiles feel sick.

Then, the alpha runs, off into the night.

Stiles hardly dares to breathe, hardly dares to think for a second that the nightmare is over. For now. The adrenaline he felt quickly leaves his body and his legs give out, landing on his ass on the ground with a thud. Now that he is safe, all the gut-wrenching emotions he felt before his bout of heroism return.

He turns his head and stares with sad eyes at the pool of blood beside him.

Why he feels like this, he doesn't understand. Sure, he would have expected Derek dying to affect him in some way, seeing as they have, in his opinion, been slowly forming a connection that he wouldn't hesitate to call friendship. That doesn't explain why he feels as bad as he does in that moment. It is a new development, and he doesn't quite know what to call the painful ache in his chest.

Regardless, it is nearly suffocating.

Chapter Text

- Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 -

Stiles sits on his bed, just before six in the morning, watching as the sun rises and shines through the closed curtains, casting an orange glow throughout his bedroom and creating warmth he is too numb to feel. He is unfathomably tired, having spent most of the night wide awake after relaying his version of what had happened at the school to one of his dad's deputies. His arm was taken care of at the same time, at the hospital. The glass was meticulously picked out and the cuts stitched up where necessary, the burns treated and pain medication administered. He was given a small prescription for more meds he could take until everything was healed. The last one of the teenagers the authorities talked to, Stiles had been incensed to discover through an offhand comment the story Scott had concocted without asking first for his input, that Derek was the one who terrorised them all. He felt awful about besmirching Derek's name like that, especially because the man died to save him from the real culprit, but by then there was nothing he could do to make it right without making himself out to be crazy. The medication made him drowsy, but back home there was no way he could keep his mind quiet long enough to get even a modicum of sleep. His dad had accompanied him, and he felt like a little kid again as he was guided straight upstairs and tucked into bed. The sheriff hadn't displayed that much open affection toward him in so long, and he'd wanted to cry with the realisation of how miserable he has been during the past few years, the last couple of weeks in particular.

The weight of that, coupled with what Derek had done for him, almost had tears spilling over before his dad could return to the station, but he had white-knuckled it and pretended to fall instantly asleep so he didn't make a fool out of himself. It wasn't until the lights were out and he was alone that he allowed a single tear to fall, running down the side of his face and wetting the pillow.

It was a very low point for him.

His alarm going off snaps him out of his thoughts.

Six o'clock, time to start getting ready for school. He isn't supposed to. After the previous night, his dad told him to stay home and recover some more, but Stiles can't bare being alone with his thoughts any longer.

He longs for something to distract him.

So, getting to his feet, he struggles with one useable hand into his day clothes, fumbling with the button of his chinos and managing to catch his shirt in the zipper. He curses before righting it, and when the last garment is on, a faded plaid overshirt, his favourite, he trots downstairs and is glad to find that his dad is nowhere to be seen. Probably going over all of last night's crap, he speculates. Although things have never been one-hundred percent right between them since That Night, Stiles wonders how much having his son's life threatened on top of everything else happening recently will affect his drinking. Hopefully not too much.

Getting into his Jeep, Stiles guns the engine and backs out of the driveway faster than necessary, and he waves unrepentantly at his neighbour, an old spinster who is always trying to stick her nose into the business of everyone on their street, when she glares at him from behind her hedges.

At a red light, his eyes are drawn to his right.

There is a blood stain on the passenger-side door.

It must have gotten there during the whole wolfsbane-bullet escapade, and the sight is like a blunt knife piercing slowly through his chest, serrated. Quickly he turns away from the door and stares out through the windshield, a horn blaring behind him startling him, and he looks up to see that the red light is now green and probably has been for several seconds. He shoots forward, pressing down too hard on the gas, and tries to shut down the thoughts swirling around in his head. So far unaddressed, the vast majority of them deal with all things Derek, sadness over his death, guilt about said death being because of him, and something else that goes stubbornly unnamed. He shouldn't have feelings for a crotchety werewolf several years his senior, not when they only knew each other for a short time. No, the only person with a claim to his heart should be Lydia.

Against all reason, that isn't so.

* * *

At school, Stiles walks through the halls, feeling as if he has a spotlight shining on him. Everyone stares, and he knows that tales of last night must be circulating, with him at the centre of it all. Jackson and Lydia also seem to draw more attention than they normally do, but they take it in stride, used to the gawking.

Opening his locker, he takes refuge in the illusion of privacy the door provides, shielding his face from all the staring. Even though this is still preferable to remaining at home, he longs to be invisible again, a thought that makes him chuckle. How times change. Running a hand over his short hair, Stiles slams his locker closed and picks his backpack up off the floor, more than ready for the first bell to ring so he can lose himself in the monotony of learning things he has up until now not given a shit about.

The concept has never seemed better.

Stepping away from his locker, he immediately bumps into someone.

They stumble backward, and Stiles reaches out a fast hand to grab their arm before they can fall. A curly-haired boy he has seen in the halls before but whose name he doesn't know, and he smiles at him apologetically. "Sorry, I wasn't looking where I was going," he says, releasing the other boy's arm. The smile drops from his face when he sees their expression, downtrodden, and they refuse to meet his eyes. "Are you OK?"

"I'm fine," the boy replies before carrying expeditiously on his way, his curls bouncing on top of his head. Stiles stares after him until he disappears around the corner, then sighs.

His first class of the day is thankfully English, not Econ with Coach Finstock. While they usually match his own, Stiles doesn't think he could handle the coach's energy levels today, not without finally snapping and losing control of his emotions. He could not allow that to happen, at least not in public. Thinking of his lessons reminds him that he has Chemistry with Mr. Harris for last period, and the possibility of having to endure the ornery man's criticisms for a whole hour briefly makes him reconsider his determination to come to school in spite of what happened last night. Nodding to himself, he decides that he'll just skip last period, and if Harris has something to say about it then he can talk to the sheriff.

* * *

When the lunch bell rings, Stiles heads straight for the closest bathroom.

He finds it empty and enters one of the stalls.

Now that he is alone, he sits on the closed toilet seat and rolls up his sleeve to take off the bandages on his left arm. Hissing through his teeth, he examines the chemical burns closely, knowing that he probably shouldn't have them uncovered in a place as unsanitary as a public boys' bathroom. He can't resist, though.

They look horrible, especially because he didn't wash the acid off with water immediately after contact. No, he was too distracted by Derek's blood to do much of anything until the police arrived, and as a consequence the burns will take longer to heal. He will have to put up with the pain and inconvenience until they do. After sticking the bandages back down, he pushes himself to his feet and unlocks the stall door, getting a fright when he finds someone else is now in the room. Someone he never would have expected:

Lydia.

"What are you doing in here?" he asks, skirting around her to the sinks.

"I wanted to talk to you, and when I saw you come in here alone I thought it was the perfect opportunity," the redhead answers, checking the cleanliness of the closest sink before leaning against it.

Rinsing the soap from his left hand, Stiles hums thoughtfully and turns off the tap. "What about?" He pulls a paper towel out of the dispenser and struggles for a few seconds with how he is supposed to dry his right hand without the use of his left. Lydia approaches then, and he gets another surprise when she takes the towel and does it for him. He stares at her, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, until she is done.

Oddly, his heart only beats a little bit faster.

He expected more of a reaction.

"There, all done," Lydia says, balling up the damp paper towel and tossing it into the bin that sits in the corner of the room. She notices the way Stiles is looking at her and smirks, a quirk of her eyebrow snapping the boy's mouth closed with an embarrassed cough. "Isn't it obvious, Stiles? I want to talk to you about last night. I have questions, and though I went along with it and I don't really remember what I saw, I have a feeling that what Scott told the police isn't what really happened, at least not the whole truth. The way you acted, how you took charge and seemed to know what you were doing, got me thinking." Her eyes narrow, and Stiles gulps. "That thing that attacked us all last night, I don't think that was Derek Hale. I never even saw Derek, and the glimpse I got of it looked bigger than a man. You're the one that fought it," her eyes flick down to Stiles' injured arm, "so I want to know what really happened. Now."

Lydia keeps a stoic expression, but Stiles can easily see behind it from all the time in the past he has spent studying her face like a creepy stalker. He knows that the fire in her eyes isn't just caused by determination, but fear as well, and he sighs. "This isn't the place to have this conversation..."

"Where, then?" Lydia huffs.

Stiles thinks it over, hastening to provide an answer when Lydia's impatience grows visibly. "Well, I have some errands to do later today, so how about you come to my house tomorrow, after school, and I'll tell you everything I know then?" he ventures, holding his breath for the few tense seconds it takes for Lydia to respond. In the end, she nods and takes his phone number before swiftly leaving the bathroom without another word. She shoots him a look over her shoulder as if to say, "You better not screw up this chance I'm giving you so graciously." He gets the message loud and clear.

By himself again, Stiles adjusts his bag on his shoulder and exits the room, too, heading to the cafeteria in hopes of snagging himself some food and then going somewhere quiet.

He doesn't feel like sitting with everyone else. Word had spread fast throughout the morning, about what had transpired the previous night, and he has found himself once more the recipient of many interested stares. They are usually focused on his arm, an obvious sign that the rumours are true, at least about his supposed involvement. The actual reason for the injury varies from person to person.

Another animal attack.

A serial killer brandishing a set of claws, à la Freddy Kruger in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Stiles' favourite is that he finally pissed off Mr. Harris enough to make him homicidal.

Of course, Scott fucked it up.

During second period, Stiles had overheard the beta telling several interested parties about his daring escape from the evil and vicious Derek Hale, attempted murderer at large. Stiles wanted to punch him but kept his head down. It will pass eventually, like it always does. He just has to be patient.

One step at a time, Stiles, he told himself.

The prospect of having Lydia in his home leaves him feeling strange. Instead of the overwhelming amount of butterflies he always had in his stomach whenever he'd fantasised about that very thing in the past, there are only one or two now that the fantasy is becoming reality. His un-bandaged hand isn't even clammy. Granted, the reason for Lydia's visit won't be in line with anything he dreamed up, but still. He ponders the implications as he waits in line for food, sliding his tray along the countertop and taking anything that looks even vaguely appetising. His tray ends up looking dismally empty. Perhaps he is still feeling the affects of last night, Derek's bloody demise in particular, to allow his love for Lydia to come to the surface. That must be it. Nodding to himself, he takes his tray and hightails it out of the cafeteria, very much aware of the attention his pace draws but for once not giving a damn. He finds himself sat outside, perched on a low wall around the back of the building, where hardly anyone goes. As he picks at his food, he tries to come up with a plan for what he will tell Lydia the next day. He doesn't think he can tell her the truth, at least not fully. That would be putting her in unnecessary danger. The only problem is, he cannot for the life of him come up with a lie he thinks sounds even half convincing. Trying to pass it off as an 'animal attack' probably wouldn't work, making it seem like just another incident that didn't end in death this time. No, Lydia is too smart to fall for that.

The truth will have to do if he can't come up with anything by tomorrow.

He eats the last bite of his egg-mayo sandwich and checks the time on his phone. Still half an hour to kill until lunch ends, so he slips his tray back inside the cafeteria and goes to the library.

There's always homework to do.

Sitting down at one of the tables, he is glad to see that the place is pretty much deserted, only the librarian behind the desk and a dishevelled blonde girl by one of the bookcases, who he thinks is in his year. He has seen her in a few of his classes, and her name begins with an 'E', he remembers that much. Anything else is lost to him, though he supposes after a few seconds that it doesn't matter. He could always use another friend, especially now that, as of last night, he doesn't even have any prospective candidates.

Shaking his head, Stiles leaves her alone. She appears engrossed in a book and he doesn't have the courage to get up and begin a conversation right now anyway. He gets out the book he is supposed to read for English and makes a start, progressing a couple of chapters before something distracts him.

A thud, followed by a scream.

Stiles looks up and sees the librarian, Miss Price, stood stock-still behind her desk, staring at something in horror. He stands, the thing that has her fixated not within his line of sight while sat in his chair, and gasps when he sees the blonde girl writhing on the floor. Of course, he thinks as he hurries over to her. That's why I know her. Everyone does. Erica, her name comes to him suddenly, suffers from terrible epilepsy, and he has looked on from the back of the crowds that have gathered whenever a seizure has struck her in school. Regrettably, he did nothing to disperse the onlookers, though he knows he should have. Crouched down on the floor, he grabs Erica's arms and holds her as carefully as he can until the shaking dies down.

She remains still after that, breathing into the material of his chinos.

There is a wet spot on the front of her baggy jeans, and he grabs what he hopes is her jacket from a nearby chair and drapes it over her hips to prevent anyone else from seeing it.

Miss Price approaches then, slowly. "Is she OK?" she asks.

"I think so," Stiles replies quietly, moving them so that Erica's head is resting in his lap. He strokes her hair soothingly, and decides then and there that he will befriend her no matter what. From what he recalls of seeing her around, she doesn't have many friends either, and he supposes that maybe they can help each other out now. "Do we need to call an ambulance or something?"

"I don't know. Let me check."

Stiles waits, and nods his acknowledgement when Miss Price comes back a minute later and tells him that she has just called for help. He sets in to wait, not moving from his spot on the floor, not even when his legs begin to cramp, because Erica looks so calm now. He can handle the discomfort.

* * *

Later, after distracting himself from the ache in his chest by restocking the cupboards and fridge and making his bedroom look semi-presentable, Stiles is driving home from the sheriff's station.

Noticing that he is running low on gas, the little light on the dashboard catching his attention, he makes a quick detour to the closest gas station. More than ready to get home and collapse into bed, for this hellishly tiring day to be over, he makes quick work of filling up the Jeep's tank, quietly humming a made-up tune as he waits for it to finish. Once it is, he heads into the station to pay and decides to pick up a little comfort food while he is there, walking between the few aisles and browsing the meagre selection.

Grabbing a couple of Mars Bars, a packet of Cool Ranch Doritos and a bottle of Coke, he turns toward the counter and finds his hands empty again when he knocks into someone right next to him. Apologising profusely, he bends down to pick up his future purchases, along with the other person's, and stands to hand them back. His eyes widen when he sees who they are:

Kate Argent.

Her blonde hair falls in elegant waves to just above her chest, parted in the centre and framing her face perfectly. Her eyes are smoky, drawing focus and highlighting the unsettling mind behind them. On her toned frame she wears a pair of tight jeans, ripped at one knee, and a black T-shirt with a white leather jacket on top, which has one too many zippers to be anywhere close to practical. They are obviously just there for aesthetics, but Stiles still thinks the designer was pushing it a bit. (Not a patch on Derek's...) All in all, it isn't an outfit he thinks one wears to somewhere as uninteresting as a gas station. It sets him on edge.

"What's the matter?" Kate asks. "You look like you've seen a ghost!"

She has a concerned frown on her face as she takes her items from Stiles' still-outstretched hand, a bottle of water and a protein bar, and Stiles hurries to think of something to say to excuse his behaviour. "Uhh..." he says dumbly, wanting to slap himself. "Nothing's wrong, but thanks for asking. And, uh, sorry again."

He sidesteps around Kate and walks up to the counter, looking back over his shoulder as his purchases are rung up and breathing out a sigh of relief when he sees that the blonde woman is no longer in the building. Small plastic bag now in hand, Stiles steps back outside and looks up at the sky once he is beside his Jeep. The sun seems to have disappeared while he was inside the station, and now the sky is almost black, with dense clouds that obscure the stars. Only the moon shines through, providing little light with which to see. Luckily, the cheap and flickering bulbs of the station overhang are still working, though Stiles is dubious about them lasting the rest of the week. He shakes his head and puts his hand on the driver's door handle to open it, but his wrist is grabbed. His head snaps to the side.

"Come now, Stiles, why so anxious to leave?" Kate smirks, and the fact that she knows his name even though he didn't give it to her has Stiles' breath catching and his heart nearly beating out of his chest. "I thought we could talk some more. We have so much to discuss, after all, like how inappropriate it is to break into other people's houses and steal their belongings. That was very naughty..."

Stiles remains silent.

"Yes, I know that was you," she continues. "Did you honestly think my brother didn't have security cameras installed the minute he, Victoria and Allison moved in?"

Yanking his hand out of Kate's grasp, Stiles takes a step back and instantly realises his mistake when Kate moves with him, blocking the door to his Jeep completely now. "What the hell do you want?" he asks, keeping careful control of both his voice, not allowing it to shake, and his face, held stubbornly neutral.

He is determined not to let her see how much this confrontation is affecting him.

"Quite the attitude you got there."

Stiles' eyes narrow.

"Oh, alright, I'll come out and say it! With everything that happened last night—and yes, I know all about that, too—I've got to make sure that my niece isn't put in any more danger by you or that mutt she hangs out with..." Kate looks away for a few seconds, but her eyes are back on Stiles before he can move to push her out of the way and make his escape. "She doesn't know about all of this, you see, werewolves and our family being hunters. Chris says it's not time, that she's not ready." She rolls her eyes. "He's so overprotective. Anyway, I'm getting off the subject, aren't I? I just thought I'd come see you and ask if you had any juicy information for me. I know you've been getting all buddy-buddy with my dear Derek."

"I have nothing to say to you," Stiles speaks eventually, after Kate keeps staring at him.

"Not even if I ask real nice?" She flutters her eyelashes coyly, and Stiles feels his stomach turn, bile rising in his throat. This is the woman who shot Derek, the whole reason for this little chat he is having to get through. Albeit he still doesn't know the circumstances, he doesn't think there is any excuse for that. He can just tell by being in her presence that there is a screw loose somewhere in her mind, and he desperately wants out of this whole situation. Kate and Derek clearly know (knew) each other, of that much he is sure.

There is the way she called him her 'dear Derek', and the way Derek spoke of the Argents that morning at the Hale house, when Stiles surprised him. There must be some bad blood between them.

"Nope," Stiles answers.

Pouting, Kate uncrosses her arms from beneath her chest and sighs. "Fine. I hope for your sake you know what you're doing, Stiles," she warns. "Think very carefully about who you choose to align yourself with in this war. It isn't wise to cross me or my family. People who do tend to end up... Well, I shouldn't really say anything more about that. I think you understand well enough what I mean."

She smirks again, and Stiles tenses when she moves, pushing off the side of his Jeep and pulling the driver's-side door open. "Think it over, Stiles. Werewolves are animals, all in need of being put down. Derek will turn on you eventually, and then you'll come begging me and my brother to help you."

The possibility looks like it thrills her.

"I'll take my chances..." Stiles murmurs, sliding behind the wheel.

"Suit yourself. Send Derek my love!"

With that, Kate slams the door closed behind him, and he chucks his small bag of junk food on to the passenger seat before jamming his keys roughly in the ignition and shooting out of there, away from her.

Chapter Text

- Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 -

Even though he knows she won't be there, the following day Stiles keeps an eye out for Erica. He supposes that after yesterday's seizure it makes sense for her not to be in school. They can't exactly do wonders for someone's physical state, not to mention their mental state. Taking advantage of his connections with the deputies on the force, Stiles asks during lunch if one of them can tell him where Erica lives. After explaining what had happened to her, Deputy Parrish comes through for him a few hours later, looking up the Reyes' address amid his other work and sending it to him in a text in the middle of last period. As a thank you, Stiles promises to bring Parrish a pastry of his choosing the next time he visits the station. Address now committed to memory, he waits the scant remainder of the school day and leaps from his seat as soon as the bell rings, beating all the other students to the door and drawing a raised eyebrow from his teacher, which he pays no mind. He cannot explain it—there is just something in him that is desperate to find out how Erica is dealing with things, and it isn't until he gets outside that he remembers he has a prior commitment. Lydia is waiting at the bottom of the steps, facing away from him, and he pauses at the top to debate whether or not she will accept this second delay. Jackson isn't in sight, so he decides to chance it and skips down the steps between them. He shoots Lydia a grin when they are next to each other and she turns to look at him expectantly.

"Well? Are you finally ready to tell me what's been going on?" she asks, putting her red lipstick back in her bag. She fixes her hair, pinned up at the back of her head today, readjusting one of the pins so that a stray lock of strawberry-blonde hair that had come loose is once more held securely in place.

"Uh, not just yet," Stiles replies, rushing to explain when Lydia's eyes narrow. "I have a good reason, though, I swear! You know Erica Reyes?" The redhead thinks for a second before shaking her head. "Well, she had a seizure in the library yesterday and I was going to see how she's doing now. You can go to my house, though, and wait if you want. This won't take longer than half an hour, tops."

Lydia just stares at him.

"Please? It'll be worth it, pinky swear." He holds up his little finger.

"You better be right."

With that, Lydia walks away from him, presumably in the direction of her fancy car, and Stiles lowers his hand again and sags with relief. Thankful that things turned out relatively well, he heads for his Jeep and gets in. Keys in the ignition, he drives across town to the street Erica's house is on, coming to stop again by the curb outside, next to a modest-looking silver car which most likely belongs to one of her parents. Looking up at the house, Stiles takes a moment to talk himself up before walking the path to the front door and raising his good fist to knock. He hears muffled footsteps getting closer on the other side of the wood and steps back slightly, putting on his most earnest-looking face as the door swings inward and a woman is revealed.

"Yes, can I help you?" she greets, wiping at a wet patch on her pale-pink blouse, over her collarbone. She wears no makeup, and her hair is the same blonde as her daughter's and just as unruly.

"Mrs. Reyes?" Stiles asks.

She nods.

"My name is Stiles Stilinski. I go to school with Erica and was there when she had her seizure yesterday," he explains, and an expression of understanding appears on Mrs. Reyes' face. "I know it might not be a good time right now but...I was wondering if I could see her, just to see how she's doing. I've been kinda worried." The understanding morphs into surprise, and Stiles waits patiently when the woman says to give her a minute while she checks if Erica is up to having a visitor. To pass the time, he examines the flowers that sit in large pots on either side of the front door, chrysanthemums of varying colours, all bright.

Mrs. Reyes returns a couple of minutes later, and Stiles turns away from the road to face her again. He was studying the neighbourhood, having never been on this street for more than a few seconds whenever he drove through it to get somewhere else. It isn't much different from his own, truth be told.

"What's the verdict?"

"You can see her, but only for a few minutes. She's still feeling a little out of it and really needs her rest," Mrs. Reyes says, stepping aside and ushering Stiles into the house. He smiles at her gratefully, following her directions once he reaches the second floor and heading right, to the door at the end of the hall. It is wide open, and he steps quietly into Erica's bedroom, scanning it for clues of who she is.

A plain light-wood desk is piled high with papers and books, and the seat of the red chair in front of it has a hole in one side, the stuffing starting to come out. There are clothes strewn about the purple-carpeted floor, and more spill out of the dresser that sits opposite the bed, on which Erica is propped up against the pillows, the navy-blue sheets up to her waist. Atop the dresser is a large television, a few years old, and Stiles recognises a scene from Tangled playing out on screen, still near the beginning. The volume is down low, and Rapunzel's song, in which she details her monotonous daily routine, is only just audible. The screen freezes a few seconds after he enters, the little Pause icon appearing in the top-left corner, and he turns back to the bed to see Erica now has the TV remote in her hand.

She looks terrible, her hair unusually flat and lifeless, with large bags beneath her red-rimmed eyes.

"Hey," Stiles starts, taking the desk chair.

"Hey," Erica croaks back. Her eyes are down on her lap.

Stiles stares at the girl for an uncomfortably long amount of time, not knowing what to say next. Eventually, he coughs once, briefly drawing her eyes, before breaking the silence and answering the questions he knows Erica must have. "I don't know if you know who I am, so... My name's Stiles, and uh, I was there yesterday, when you...y'know." He waves his good hand awkwardly in the air. "Anyway, I noticed you weren't in school today and just wanted to come see how you were doing. So...how are you doing?"

"As good as can be expected, I guess," Erica mumbles, dropping the TV remote by her hip. She pushes herself up so that she is sitting straight, groaning with the effort. "You really didn't have to come."

"No, but I wanted to."

This finally causes Erica to look at him properly, surprise giving way to suspicion. She immediately goes on the defensive. "Why? Do you feel sorry for me or something? 'Cause if that's the reason then thank you very much but you can go now. I don't need your pity. Or anyone else's."

Taking it in stride, Stiles lets Erica get it all out before replying. "Not at all," he refutes gently, keeping a calm expression on his face when the blonde girl tilts her head to the side slightly, confused now. Even though his academic life hasn't been the easiest thing to deal with recently, he is sure that Erica has had it much worse for much longer, and that she is being short with him now as a way of protecting herself from experiencing any more ridicule. The suspicion makes him feel even worse for not doing anything to befriend and help her sooner, but he brushes the feeling aside because this isn't about him. He thinks his next words over carefully, not wanting to say anything that will accidentally set Erica off again and ruin their friendship before it has even begun. "I just... You seemed kinda lonely whenever I've seen you around. This isn't me feeling sorry for you—I'm kinda lonely, too, now that my supposed best friend ran off and ditched me for somebody 'better', so I was just thinking that maybe we could, I don't know, get to know each other a little? We have some interests in common," he gestures to the various posters that line the walls, of musicians, bands and movies he is a fan of himself, "so I think we could help each other out here." He fidgets in his chair. "Just say the word and I'll fuck off again, no hard feelings. You just seem like a cool, strong person, and I thought I'd give it a shot."

"You think I'm strong?" Erica asks disbelievingly. "Me? Are you blind?"

"I know you're strong."

"How the hell did you come up with that? I'm a total mess!"

Stiles shakes his head. "That's not how I see it at all," he says, edging closer to the bed, the wheels of the desk chair squeaking. His voice becomes impassioned. "You still go to school every day, even though there are those idiots who seem set on making life as difficult as possible for you. It takes a lot of strength to get through that—trust me, I know. So yeah, I think you're stronger than you give yourself credit for."

"You honestly believe that?" Erica whispers, looking down and trying to hide the wetness that is fast building in her eyes. Her fingers twist in the soft material of her pyjamas, pink with cartoon drawings of breakfast foods on them. She wipes hastily at her eyes when Stiles hums his assent, trying to save face, and Stiles smiles. He doesn't hold the tears against her at all, assuming that her emotions must be close to the surface at a time like this. Erica sniffles a couple of times, pulling a tissue out of the box on her nightstand. "No one but my parents has been this nice to me in a long time... It's super strange."

The statement making him feel like they are even more kindred spirits, Stiles chuckles wryly. "Yeah, well... People can be cruel, especially to those who are different from themselves."

"You're really smart," Erica blurts.

She immediately blushes.

Grinning now, Stiles stands from his chair. "Sometimes too smart for my own good," he says, repeating what his mother used to tell him all the time, many years ago. "Here," he slips his phone out of his pocket and hands it to Erica, "put your number in there and we'll hang out sometime, when you're feeling better."

Almost as if she is scared that this is all a ruse and Stiles will snatch his hand back at any moment, Erica leans forward and slowly accepts his phone, flicking her eyes up to his face when she has the device and is about to input her phone number. Stiles nods at her reassuringly, his grin having eased into something softer, and once he has his phone back he shoots off a text to the new listing in his Contacts. A ding is heard, and then Erica's phone skitters across her nightstand, Stiles' text coming in.

"There, now you have mine, too!" he chirps.

Goodbyes are exchanged then, and plans are made to meet up over the weekend. Stiles leaves afterward, pleased to have broadened his social circle a little, and gets a surprise once the front door is shut behind him. Erica's parents begin talking right on the other side, and his eyes widen and his cheeks redden at what he overhears before he can descend even one of the steps on the porch.

"So was that the boy Erica has a crush on or something?" Erica's dad asks his wife.

"Yes, I believe so. I can see why," the woman replies, and Stiles can't stop himself from standing there a little longer to eavesdrop on the rest of what she has to say. "I know I shouldn't have but I stayed in the hall after he went into Erica's bedroom, just to make sure, you know? Anyway, you should have heard what he had to say to her. It was very sweet, and I think I even heard them planning to get together at some point soon. I hope it works out... Erica deserves to have a friend she can actually count on, and who knows? Maybe it'll turn into more than that over time." The talking fades away after that, Erica's parents presumably heading deeper into the house, and Stiles takes that as his cue to walk the rest of the way to his Jeep, cheeks still flaming.

* * *

After leaving Erica's house, Stiles hops back inside his Jeep and winces when he sees the time. Meeting with Erica must have taken longer than he was expecting, because it has been nearly forty-five minutes since he and Lydia parted ways outside the school. Praying that the redhead hasn't gotten fed up with waiting and left already, never to give him another chance, he speeds home and feels relief when he sees her car is still parked outside, on the curb. Driving around it, he comes to a stop in the driveway, an empty spot beside him for his dad's cruiser, and walks into the house. He finds Lydia sitting in the middle of the sofa in the living room, her arms and legs crossed, top leg bouncing up and down with impatience. She glares at him when he enters the room, and he offers an emollient smile. "Sorry that took so long."

"I should think so..." Lydia says haughtily, uncrossing her legs and sitting up straight. She smooths out her skirt, meticulously getting rid of any wrinkles. "So?"

"So...?" Stiles echoes.

"What happened that night?" Lydia probes, rolling her eyes after Stiles' widen slightly with realisation. "You know, the whole reason I'm in your house to begin with?" She sighs when Stiles tells her to wait a second as he heads into the kitchen, calling back over his shoulder to ask if she would like anything to eat or drink. A simple glass of water is her answer, and he returns a minute later with two, one of which he gives to her.

"Right," Stiles mutters to himself, taking a seat in one of the armchairs. "Where to begin..."

"Maybe if I just ask my questions?" Lydia suggests.

"That could work!"

The corner of her mouth twitching, Lydia coughs to cover the slip before taking a sip of water. She sets her glass on the coffee table, using one of the coasters that are kept there but normally never used by the two Stilinski men. "First: what was that thing that attacked us? It wasn't human."

Lydia listens attentively as Stiles begins explaining, from the fateful night he and Scott went into the preserve, minus the reason for that excursion, to his figuring out that Scott was bitten by a werewolf, to the unidentified alpha who is responsible for all the deaths that have been happening recently. A small frown appears on her face when the word 'werewolf' first passes Stiles' lips, but she doesn't interrupt him. Stiles leaves out the part where he had realised his feelings for Derek were progressing further than he was previously aware, knowing it isn't pertinent and will most likely only bore her. He isn't sure how he would put it all into words anyway, what he could possibly call it. When he comes to the end of his long explanation, finishing with how he had hit the alpha on the head with the jar of hydrochloric acid, they sit in silence for a couple of loaded minutes as Lydia fits all the pieces together in her head. Stiles spends this time shifting uncomfortably in his chair, hoping simultaneously that she believes him and that she doesn't, that she will call him a lair and leave, not getting involved any more than she already is. Honestly, he doesn't know which outcome he would prefer, but he gets his answer when Lydia picks her glass of water up from the coffee table and downs it in a few large gulps. She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and smears her red lipstick before opening it.

"This all sounds insane..." she gulps. "But after what I saw that night, I have to admit it does make some sense. Especially when you add in Scott's sudden increase in athletic ability."

"I know. I didn't really believe it either until I actually saw it happen with my own eyes."

Lydia hums thoughtfully.

"Anyway, that's about it. The alpha is still out there somewhere, probably mad as hell after what I did to them, and I have no idea who they are," Stiles reiterates, glancing sideways at the window, feeling suddenly paranoid. "Plus there are the Argents, who know all about this, too. Allison doesn't know anything, so she's probably safe enough to keep hanging out with. You should watch out for her aunt, though, Kate. She pretty much threatened to kill me if I don't side with her, which...no. Bitch is crazy."

"Noted..." Lydia mumbles, actually looking worried for him. "I should get going, but keep me updated. I don't want to be caught unawares by the alpha again." She shudders before standing. Stiles copies her, and they skirt around each other awkwardly on the way to the front door.

Lydia rolls her eyes.

Stiles graciously opens the door, and frowns in confusion when Lydia pauses on the threshold. She looks back at him and opens her mouth as if she wants to say something more, but a second later she snaps her lips together again and continues on her way, marching with purpose down the pathway to her car. Stiles watches her go, waving as the red car disappears down the road.

Closing the door, he sags against it.

That went better than expected, he thinks as he pushes himself away from the wood, releasing a long breath. Dropping both his and Lydia's empty glasses in the kitchen sink, he grabs himself a chocolate Pop-Tart from the cupboard before making a start at preparing some dinner for himself and his dad. Some chicken breasts on the bottom shelf of the fridge catch his eye, and after checking for the rest of the ingredients he decides on chicken tikka. Getting everything going, nibbling on his Pop-Tart as he does so, Stiles contemplates what his next move should be. He needs to find out more about the Argent family, where they were before coming to Beacon Hills and if there were any deaths or missing persons in those places they could be connected to.

With Kate it is likely, and their 'chat' has left him curious.

He needs more information when it comes to Chris and Victoria, though.

Traipsing upstairs, planning on spending the next few hours in front of the glow of his computer screen, he carries his dinner in his good hand (his dad's is waiting in the oven) and a bottle of water under his arm.

The plate goes clattering to the floor when he pushes open his bedroom door.

Someone is sat at his desk. A man.

"Derek?"

His heart stopping, Stiles stares as the beta turns around and hazel eyes meet his. Derek silently gets up from the desk chair, frowning down at the mess Stiles' dinner made when it hit the floor, but Stiles doesn't notice any of that. No, instead he hurls himself across the room, fast as a bullet.

"Uhh, Stiles? What the hell are you doing?"

Face buried in Derek's chest, Stiles tightens his arms around Derek's body when the wolf tries to pry him off, making a noise of disapproval in the back of his throat. Derek seems to give up after that, and Stiles hugs him tighter still, squeezing his eyes shut when strong arms come around his slender body in return, if somewhat hesitantly. Nothing but the exquisitely masculine scent of Derek fills his nose, and his heart feels like it could explode at any moment with how fast it is beating. The ache that has been a constant in his chest ever since that night at the school has finally let up, replaced by pure and all-consuming joy, and every bone in his body is telling him to never let go of the man in front of him.

Logically, it sounds crazy even to him, so after one last subtle inhale he pulls away.

"Are you crying?" Derek enquires, sounding baffled.

"No..."

Stiles wipes hastily at his wet eyes, turning away from Derek as if it will hide the evidence, even though he knows it is already too late. Blinking rapidly, he doesn't face the man again until they are mostly dry, and even then he doesn't directly meet Derek's curious gaze, embarrassed. This allows him to examine the wolf properly, and he is dumbfounded by how well Derek appears to be, how normal, beard neatly trimmed and face sporting a healthy-looking glow, like he didn't have a clawed hand fatally shoved through his lower sternum a couple of days ago. He is dressed in a pair of dark-blue jeans and a tight-fitting red Henley, no leather jacket in sight. He must have finally chucked it. "Sorry," Stiles mumbles. His legs feel weak, the shock of finding Derek alive and well having not yet fully receded, and he lowers himself roughly into his still-warm desk chair.

It spins with the momentum as his legs give out halfway, and he allows a couple of rotations, Derek appearing and disappearing, before planting his feet firmly on the floor with Derek plainly in sight.

He is reluctant to let the man out of it again.

"You sure you're OK?" Derek asks, crouching down. "You look paler than usual."

Stiles laughs.

The sound comes out a little hysterical, so he clamps his mouth shut and nods. "Yeah," he croaks, "just wasn't expecting to ever see your ugly face again. Who'd have thought I'd actually miss it. Not me, nope. No siree..." He trails off awkwardly. In the ensuing silence, his happiness at Derek being alive fades and gives way to anger. The emotion catches him off-guard, and he doesn't try to stop it from taking over.

Before Derek can lean out of his space, Stiles sends a fist flying right at his face and nails his left cheek. He probably did more damage to his own hand than to Derek, but the action fills him with righteous satisfaction anyway. Derek recoils, his eyes flashing blue, and growls, mad himself now.

"What was that for?!" he hisses.

"For waiting this long to tell me you're not rotting away somewhere, that's what! Pick up a fucking phone next time!" Stiles yells back, leaping to his feet and going for another blow. Derek grabs his wrist before it can land, and they glare at each other, breathing heavily, for almost a full minute before Stiles loses all of his rage once more. He tips his head forward and leans his forehead against Derek's chest, thinking that it isn't a bad place to be at all. Derek doesn't seem to know what to do now that all the fight has left Stiles' body. He keeps hold of his wrist anyway, grip turning soft, and allows Stiles to get his free arm around him again.

"Just don't do that to me again, OK?" the boy whispers.

There, as Derek actually apologises and embraces him back a second time, Stiles thinks something that stuns him. Please don't leave me like that again... I love you too much to lose you.

His breath hitches.

Well, fuck.

Chapter Text

Quickly, Stiles steps back from Derek and flops down on his bed, his good arm thrown over his eyes to prevent Derek from seeing any of the shock that must show in their depths from his epiphany. He doesn't know how he didn't realise it sooner. Of course he knew that something was happening, that Derek was becoming an important person in his life in some capacity. He had even started to accept that his feelings toward the wolf were becoming more romantic in nature, but never did he think they would progress to full-on love so fast. It leaves the air stuck in his lungs, his heart in his throat, and he tries in vain to keep control of it all so that he doesn't go head-first into a panic attack. I'm sure Derek would love dealing with that, he thinks with a wry smile. He listens carefully for the sounds of Derek moving around his bedroom, soft footsteps, until suddenly the bed dips next to him. Remaining as still as possible, he can't help the surprised gasp that slips out when he feels a careful hand grip is injured arm. His first instinct is to pull away, but he pushes it down and peeks out from his hiding place to watch as Derek inspects the bandages with consternation. He has never seen such a deep frown on the beta's face, and he stays quiet when the bandages are slowly peeled off to reveal the chemical burns and cuts that run from his hand all the way up to his elbow. For some reason, Derek seeing all of this makes him feel intensely vulnerable, and he sits up finally to take back some semblance of control.

"How did this happen?" Derek asks as he smooths the bandages back in place, running a finger along the tape to make sure they are properly stuck down once more. Stiles pushes himself up to the head of the bed and leans against the pillows, and Derek repositions himself near the foot, facing him.

"Smashing a jar of acid over the alpha's head is apparently not very good for your skin. Who'd have thought, right?" Stiles replies, fiddling with the sleeve of his overshirt, pulling it down to cover most of the bandages with only minor pain. That done, he folds both arms over his drawn-up knees and rests his chin delicately atop them. "It worked, though, allowed us all to get out of there alive, so I'd say it's a fair compromise, really. Just kinda sucks that I have to put up with only one properly working arm for a while."

Derek hums.

"What about you?" Stiles asks.

"What about me what?"

"What happened to you, y'know, after the whole hand-through-the-torso thing?" Stiles clarifies, his eyes flicking pointedly down to Derek's chest. "I mean, how the hell did you survive that?"

Lifting his shirt, Derek runs a hand over the skin just below his sternum, recalling how excruciating it had been to have the alpha's fist punch through it. It is all healed now, not even a trace of a scar visible. "I... I don't really know," he confides, dropping his shirt again. He misses the flicker of disappointment in Stiles' eyes, probably for the better. "There was some part of me that kept hanging on, I guess. That night is kind of hazy, but I knew I'd be no help to you any more, and with every ounce of strength I had left I got out of there somehow. Crawled my way into the preserve and stayed there until I had healed enough to clean myself up. That's when I found out that the blame for that night had somehow found its way on to my head, when I almost got arrested again getting back into town." His eyes narrow accusingly.

"Oh, right... That." Stiles looks off to the side, contrite. He coughs a couple of times to clear his throat. "Sorry, but Scott already told the deputy who interviewed him that you were responsible for it all while I was getting my arm patched up, and I couldn't really come up with a different story without making myself look insane, so... Yeah, sorry." He hopes they can fix the problem someday.

Derek sighs. "It's fine, I suppose. S'going to make things tricky now, though."

"Yeah..."

"Do you mind if I stay here until it blows over?"

Head snapping up, Stiles panics briefly, the mere concept of living (albeit temporarily) with Derek and possibly having his feelings found out terrifying him. "Uh, yeah, sure," he mumbles. "You'll have to hide from my dad whenever he's around, but with your super hearing I guess that won't be much of an issue."

Things get quiet after that, though it isn't an uncomfortable silence. Derek picks himself a book from Stiles' bookcase, some crime novel he was gifted for one of his birthdays a few years back but hasn't read yet, and Stiles fiddles around with his computer. The sounds of his fingers on the keyboard and the turning of pages are all that fills the room, and Stiles allows himself to think that perhaps he can get through the next few weeks (or however long Derek will be staying in his room) without fucking things up too badly. He doesn't want to do anything to drive Derek away, especially not now that they actually seem to be getting along.

Stiles is right in the middle of searching for more information about the Argents (with frustratingly few results) when Derek apparently gets bored of his book and asks him what he is up to.

"Not much. Just trying to see if I can find out what that Kate bitch and the rest of her stupid family got up to before coming here," he replies, clicking another link that leads to a dead end, the resulting page displaying a short biography for someone named Kate Argent, but it is another woman entirely, some scientist who died more than a decade ago. "Not having much luck, though. They cover their tracks well, which I guess is to be expected with what they spend most of their time doing." He frowns.

"Why are you looking into her?" Derek moves to sit next to Stiles on the bed.

Concentrating with all of his might on the computer screen, ignoring the soft breaths he can feel on the side of his neck when Derek leans in close to look at the Google results, too, Stiles swallows with difficulty before answering. "Well," he coughs, "she pretty much threatened to kill me yesterday, so... I'm curious."

Derek immediately sits at attention, alarmed.

"She did? What exactly happened?"

Blinking, dumbfounded by Derek's apparent concern, Stiles tries to recall his and Kate's conversation word for word. "I ran into her at the gas station. 'Ran into' might be pushing it a bit since I think she had planned on meeting me there the whole time, probably following me, but that's beside the point, I guess. Basically she said that I should think very carefully about whose side I'm on, that you would turn on me eventually, and that the people who cross her end up dead. Well, she didn't explicitly say 'dead', but she definitely hinted at it pretty heavily. She's fucking insane..." He shudders before clicking on another webpage. Again it yields no results, and he snaps the computer closed, pushing it sideways off of his lap in frustration.

"Don't go near her or anyone in that family if you can help it. It's too risky," Derek warns. He doesn't look at Stiles, his eyes focused on the opposite wall, seeing something Stiles can't.

"Yeah, I don't plan on it."

"Good."

A little weirded out, Stiles stares at the side of Derek's face, thinking how strange it is that the man is showing open concern for him. He wonders what the reason for this is, and already he can tell that the change in attitude will only make his feelings stronger, for better or worse. "You're acting weird. You're never this nice, so what gives? Am I in a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or something?"

Snorting, Derek grudgingly smiles, a small quirk of the sides of his mouth. "I can always stop if it's bothering you that much," he suggests snarkily, rolling his eyes when Stiles shakes his head aggressively. "In all honesty, you've pretty much proven yourself to be an asset in this fight, and I guess I'm just getting used to your...enthusiasm. It's not quite as annoying any more." He shrugs, then points a finger at Stiles with raised eyebrows. "That doesn't mean you can ramble on about whatever crazy crap goes through your mind, though, OK? There is still a limit to how much I can tolerate." His eyes narrow.

Holding up his hands placatingly, Stiles chuckles nervously. "Uh, yeah, dude. Sure thing."

"Don't call me 'dude'."

* * *

For the rest of the evening, Derek and Stiles return to their individual tasks, Derek reading his book and Stiles clicking away on his computer. Having gotten bored of finding no results on the Argents, he had moved on to researching for a paper he is supposed to hand in soon for Biology. It was excruciatingly dull.

Now he sits, bored, surreptitiously observing Derek over the top of the screen.

If Derek notices, he stays silent.

Eventually, when Stiles dares to sneak another glance, he jumps because Derek is frowning right back at him. "What's up?" he asks, clicking away from his embarrassingly empty Facebook feed and putting the device aside to give Derek his full attention. The frown doesn't look to be out of annoyance, so he knows with almost one-hundred percent certainty that his staring isn't what put that expression on Derek's face. Rather, the frown looks formed from unease and, oddly for the wolf, a little trepidation.

"I think it's time I showed you something," Derek says, standing. He looks briefly out the window, at the dark sky, before gesturing for Stiles to follow him out of the room and downstairs.

"What is it? Something exciting?"

"You'll see..."

Derek's voice sounds tight, like it is a struggle to get the words out, and Stiles knows that this is serious. As they exit the house and get inside the Jeep, he abstains from making any jokes to try and lighten the mood, guessing that they would not be taken well, even less so than usual. His dad's cruiser is still not in the driveway beside them. He had received a text shortly after getting settled upstairs with Derek—from the sheriff, it told him that his dad will be staying at the station for the rest of the night, possibly not even coming home until the following evening. The news had worried Stiles considerably, afraid of what the reasons for this extended period of work could be, but he had just replied back with a simple 'OK', not writing any of his concerns.

It had worked out well for Derek, though, because he got to eat the sheriff's dinner, and the way he had consumed the meal ravenously had left Stiles gaping. Clearly Derek hadn't eaten much that day, maybe not since before that night at the school, and some part of Stiles, the caretaker that drew him to Erica, had kicked in strong. Derek will be well fed as long as he is staying in his room, Stiles had decided.

It is the least he can do, after all.

"So, where are we going?"

Per Derek's ensuing instruction, Stiles takes them toward the hospital, his curiosity sufficiently piqued. The drive is taken in silence, no more words exchanged and the wheels on the road the only sounds, and at a red light Stiles looks sideways at Derek, who is staring out the passenger window. Hidden mostly in shadow, it is difficult to tell what is running through the beta's head. The only clue Stiles gets is Derek's tense posture, and he quickly flips on the radio to avoid doing something stupid, like breaching the gap between them and pulling the obviously deep-in-thought man into another hug. Two is probably the limit, so instead he listens to the music as he waits for the light to change, his fingers kept resolutely wrapped around the steering wheel, white-knuckled. Eventually the light turns green and he presses his foot once more to the gas pedal, turning the corner and arriving on the road leading to Beacon Hills Memorial. As he pulls up the brake in the nearly empty car park he wonders whether Melissa McCall is working tonight. He hasn't seen the woman since Scott betrayed him and befriended Jackson as a replacement, and he is genuinely curious to find out if she has noticed or questioned his absence from her son's life. The most likely option is that she has, but even so they still will not be seeing each other as much as they used to, something Stiles thinks is a real shame. Melissa had become something of a second mother to him in the years following his actual mother's death.

Not that his mother was replaced. No, he could never even think that.

"Keep up," Derek instructs succinctly, unbuckling his seatbelt and exiting the vehicle. Stiles swiftly does the same and, after making sure his Jeep is locked, keeps right on Derek's heels.

The wolf takes him around the back of the hospital, counting the windows until he reaches one that is closed only most of the way. When Derek pushes it fully open, Stiles squawks and latches on to the back of his shirt, preventing him from climbing into whatever room they stand beside. "Are you crazy? What if someone catches you? Visiting hours are over, dude, so there'd be no way to talk yourself out of trouble, and I don't really fancy the idea of getting arrested. Again, in your case." He pulls forcefully on Derek's shirt.

Pulling the garment free, Derek frowns down at the stretched fabric before letting it go. "Relax, Stiles. Super hearing, remember? No one is around," he assures, flicking the boy on the middle of his forehead. He smirks when Stiles slaps his hand away, then attempts again to climb through the window.

"Ass..." Stiles whispers.

Getting a eyeful of Derek's actual ass does make it sort of worth it, though.

"What was that?" Derek sticks his head outside again.

Blinking innocently, Stiles keeps his mouth shut and pushes Derek's face away so that he can get inside the hospital room, too. As soon as he is there he remembers how much he hates this place. It holds nothing but bad memories, and luckily, the last time he was here for his arm, he was too focused on the things happening in his life to let his mind run in its usual circles. That isn't the case this time, though. Just the smell can be enough to set him off, and he has to take a second to gather himself and force those ever-present feelings down and away, out of sight, out of mind. Yeah, right. Returning his attention to the room, the reason for Derek bringing him there is not immediately obvious, but Stiles gets the feeling that their trespassing has something to do with whatever is behind the large curtain drawn around the only bed in there.

He stays in his spot beside the window, waiting for Derek to make the first move.

"You wanted to know more about the Argents, right?"

"Yeah..."

Nodding, Derek walks over to the curtain and fists it in his right hand. Dread builds in Stiles' gut when the man looks back at him over his shoulder. "This is why they are dangerous," Derek says before yanking on the curtain, the loops at the top scraping along the metal pole they encircle. To see better, Stiles steps forward until he is beside the bed, then wishes he hadn't. What he sees makes him feel sick.

A man lies on the bed, staring up at the ceiling with vacant eyes. His hair is quite long and greasy-looking, a couple of days' growth of stubble along his jaw, and the right side of his face is severely burned, the skin red and bumpy. The man looks considerably older than him, Derek as well, and because of the shock of seeing him, Stiles doesn't immediately connect the dots. Once his mind has caught up, he knows that this burned man is a Hale, left in this state by the fire that killed most of the rest of his family. He must have been in this bed for years, comatose, and Stiles doesn't really want to know the story of how he came to be there.

Derek breaks the silence, standing a couple of paces behind Stiles. "This is my uncle, Peter, the only person who survived the fire..." he whispers, his voice suddenly hoarse.

Stiles doesn't blame him.

"What happened?"

"Hunters are supposed to abide by a code," the beta continues, his eyes looking at the plain bedsheets. "They hunt werewolves, but just those who are a danger to others. Most werewolves are just like everyone else, good people, and the hunters leave us alone. The Argents aren't like that. They don't care."

"You mean... You mean the Argents are responsible for the fire?" Stiles asks when Derek goes silent. His mouth sets in a thin line when his companion nods jerkily. Though he had suspected as much when he had gotten his first glimpse of Peter's still body, actually having it confirmed makes it all seem more real. It certainly makes Kate's threat at the gas station hold more weight, and he feels both fear for his own life and white-hot rage for Kate and the rest of the Argents. "How could they do something like that?"

"Like I said, they don't care."

"No wonder you're so grumpy all the time..." Stiles mumbles.

Derek glares. "There's more."

"Of course there is..." Stiles longs for the day when all this madness will end. Derek refuses to look at him, hazel eyes again fixed on the bedsheets, and he listens as Derek goes into more depth about the fire and the events that led up to it. How Kate had seduced him when he was sixteen, gained his trust, and managed to find out on which night all the Hales were likely to be at home together. How Kate had spread mountain ash around the outside of the house, creating a barrier that no werewolf could have crossed. How he and Laura were both at the movies when it all happened, only returning home when it was too late. Tears have built in Stiles' eyes by the end, and when Derek clams up, his hands balled into fists, blood dripping on to the floor from where his claws are piercing his palms, Stiles goes to hug him again. But Derek moves away.

"Don't," the wolf bites out, looking down at his now-unclenched palms with anger as the healing process begins and the wounds slowly disappear. Stiles freezes, his arm staying outstretched for a short time before he lowers it to his side. Seeing Derek hurting so obviously makes his own heart hurt, too, and every cell in his body longs to bridge the gap between them and wrap Derek up in his arms, regardless of any protests.

Still, he resists. If what Derek needs right now is space, then Stiles will allow him that.

As much as it pains him.

Leaving Derek to it, Stiles moves to stand in front of the open window, gazing up at the night sky and feeling the cool breeze on his face. He longs for sleep after this emotionally exhausting day.

"Someone's coming."

The words snap Stiles out of his stargazing, and he squeaks when Derek appears behind him and shoves him through the window without warning. He goes tumbling outside, nearly breaking his face open on the ground, and huffs indignantly when Derek pulls him up by the back of his shirt.

"C'mon, let's go back before anyone has a chance to find us," Derek orders, pulling the window down so it is almost closed like they found it and sprinting off to the parking lot. Stiles pouts after him before sighing and following, his breaths coming out short by the time he reaches the Jeep. Derek stands impatiently beside the passenger door, so Stiles unlocks it and gets in behind the wheel, keys being shoved in the ignition and seat belts being buckled. Foot pressed down on the gas pedal, he feels the adrenaline of their sudden getaway begin to ebb away as the lights of the hospital are left behind them, the roads dark apart from the street lamps.

The adrenaline leaves amusement behind, and he chuckles quietly once they reach a red light, a couple of trucks and cars crossing the intersection in front of them. Derek turns to look at him, frown on his face, confused, and Stiles tries to reign his laughter in. "Sorry... It's just kinda funny, what my life has become. Even more screwed up and weird." He clears his throat and concentrates on driving, Derek's eyes returning to the outside world as it blurs past on the other side of the passenger window.

The rest of the journey back home is quiet.

A lot goes unsaid.

* * *

Back inside his house, Stiles busies himself with cleaning, struggling to wash up the dishes in the kitchen sink and stacking them neatly on the drying rack next to him. He can only get one of his hands wet, his chemical burns still reminding him of their presence if he so much as gets a single drop of water on them, so he has to awkwardly hold the plates with his bandaged one while he scrubs them with the other. Derek had disappeared upstairs as soon as they were in the door, and Stiles looks up at the ceiling now. Honestly, he is a little worried. Sure, he doesn't really expect much conversation after everything Derek had revealed to him earlier, but this complete silence is unnerving. He puts the last piece of cutlery on the rack and pulls the plug, draining the water, and checks for a final time that everything is in order before switching off the kitchen light and heading through to the living room. It is nearing midnight when he finally heads upstairs, longing for his bed. If it were up to him he would have flopped down on his mattress and drifted off as soon as he walked in the front door, but he had stayed downstairs to give Derek some more time by himself, guessing that is what the man needs. Stiles knows he would want that if it was he who had shared something from his past like that, something painful that still affects him to this day. He takes longer than necessary in the bathroom to extend Derek's privacy, redressing his arm and brushing his teeth.

When he is finished, without anything else to do to waste more time he trudges across the hall to his bedroom. Derek is sat in his desk chair, the same book he has been reading on-and-off open in his lap, and Stiles stands and watches him for a minute. Derek's eyes don't move, giving away that he isn't reading a word.

"You OK?" Stiles asks, when the ongoing quiet gets to be too much.

Derek doesn't look up, eyes glued to his book's open page, and responds with a short, "Yes."

"OK... Well, I'm going to sleep now."

When Derek just continues to stare down at the open page in his lap, his eyes and body remaining motionless, Stiles sighs and switches off the light. "Goodnight," he says pointlessly, walking softly over to his bed and sliding beneath the covers. He lies there for a while, still awake but with his eyes closed, and listens. The room is completely silent, and eventually his exhaustion catches up to him.

Before sleep takes him, he faintly hears Derek's voice.

"Goodnight, Stiles."

Chapter Text

- Thursday, January 27th, 2011 -

Early in the morning, Stiles wakes unexpectedly.

The room is dark when he opens his eyes, a bunch of unmoving shapes barely illuminated by the street lamp outside the window, and the only sounds he can detect are the soft breaths coming from a few feet away. Derek, slumped in Stiles' desk chair with his neck bent at an uncomfortable-looking angle, appears to be sleeping, so, without any sign of what had awoken him, Stiles closes his eyes again and is about to try to return to his dream when he hears something else—a faint whimper, followed immediately by a short growl. Pushing himself up, he switches on his bedside lamp and frowns at Derek, at the way his body twitches like he is fighting something. It isn't long before the man makes the sounds a second time, and Stiles has just flung the sheets back with the intention of waking him when Derek regains consciousness by himself, jerking up straight and looking wildly around the room, body held tight. He groans after a few seconds and sags against the back of the chair, a hand held to his forehead. Stiles is unsure of what to do. Derek was clearly having a nightmare, likely featuring the memories he stirred up back at the hospital, and Stiles doesn't know if he should lie down and go back to sleep without saying a word, or break the silence. After all, it is still highly unlikely that Derek will be in the mood to talk. Even so, his mouth makes the decision for him, as traitorous as ever, and his lips part before he can stop them, a question tumbling out.

"Bad dream?" he asks quietly. Derek's head snaps up, the soft glow of the bedside lamp catching his eyes and highlighting the anguish in their depths. Stiles stares into them, concerned.

"You could say that..." Derek whispers.

"You, uhh...wanna talk about it?"

A shake of the head.

Stiles nods his acceptance and manages to keep his mouth shut now. Derek rubs a weary hand along the right side of his neck and down his shoulder, where a crick must have developed from his uncomfortable sleeping position. Trying not to think about his actions, Stiles gets up and walks across the room, around the chair, and comes to a stop behind Derek's now-frozen body. "Just gonna help, you dummy..." Stiles assures, bringing up his good hand and curling it around the thickness of Derek's shoulder.

Cautiously, Derek's own hand drops, but he remains rigid under Stiles' touch for a full minute before easing back into it. Stiles massages the tense muscles until they start to give, knots loosening and, if Derek's almost-sexual noise of relief is anything to go by, pain receding. He keeps going for an indeterminate amount of time, probably only mere minutes but it feels like so much longer to him.

Touching Derek will do that, he supposes.

"How did you learn to do this so well?" the wolf asks, when his neck is no longer stiff.

Taking his hand back, palm already feeling cold without Derek's warmth beneath it, Stiles smiles a little sadly, glad that Derek is facing away from him and won't see it. "My mom gardened and got a lot of stiff joints and sore necks because of it," he explains wistfully. "I used to help her."

Derek hums his understanding.

His work done, Stiles glances at the clock on his nightstand. It is closing in on three in the morning, and he laments how little time he has left to catch up on the sleep he has missed lately. After patting Derek on the shoulder one last time, he returns to his bed and slips beneath the covers, turning over on to his side to face the room. He can just about see Derek from this angle, and he sniggers as he watches the beta try to find a position in the chair that won't make his neck act up again. "You don't have to sleep in that, y'know," Stiles says, and Derek shoots him a look as if he is stupid. Stiles thinks he probably is, at this point. He hates his mouth and wishes it would listen to his brain more than just some of the time. "Seriously, there's enough room in the bed if you don't mind sleeping near the edge. I'm OK with sharing."

Derek still looks dubious, so Stiles backtracks.

"Never mind, just forget I mentioned it. It was a stupid idea," he mumbles, giving a fake laugh as he turns over on to his other side. He doesn't want to see the expression on Derek's face.

Lying there, Stiles feels an intense flush of embarrassment spread down his entire body. He gets so caught up in his head, mentally berating himself for being such an idiot, that he doesn't hear the footsteps as Derek tentatively crosses the room. When the mattress dips behind him, Stiles goes still as stone and stops breathing, his lungs soon burning. Slowly he cranes his neck and looks back over his shoulder to see Derek lying next to him, on his back with his eyes closed. There is a definite tension in the air despite his relaxed appearance, and Stiles wracks his brain for a way to defuse it.

He turns on to his back, too, and stares up at the ceiling.

An idea hits him.

"My mom died when I was eleven," he says.

This gets Derek's attention. His eyes crack open and he turns his head, peering at the side of Stiles' face. Stiles doesn't meet his bedmate's gaze, knowing that he won't be able to continue with what he wants to say if he does. It is likely a long shot, but the reason for Derek being more distant than usual since they returned from the hospital could be because he is uncomfortable with how vulnerable he made himself.

Stiles doing the same might remedy the problem.

"We used to be really close. I guess most people connect more with one parent than the other, and as much as I loved my dad and still do, no one could compare to my mom," he carries on, digging his left hand into the flesh of his thigh. The pain helps to ground him, the nails in his leg and the still-healing cuts on his palm being pushed to the brink of reopening. "Everything was great for years, especially after Scott moved to town and I made what was basically my first friend. Everyone else got too annoyed by my hyperactivity to stick around, but Scott didn't have any friends either and was inept at making any, so I took pity on him. He wasn't always such a dick..." Stiles chuckles humourlessly, the memories of his best childhood friendship tainted in light of recent events. "Anyway, after I turned eleven, shortly after the fire, my mom got sick. Pancreatic cancer. She tried all the treatments but deteriorated quickly, until she was just a lifeless husk lying in a hospital bed. Within a year she died, and I was alone with her when it happened. Seeing someone you love die slowly like that, until they aren't really themselves anymore... It changes you, just like they always say. I knew it was coming for a long time, even though everybody went out of their way to protect me from it as much as they could. Even though I knew, it seemed sudden. One minute she was there, and then she wasn't."

Derek interjects. "Why are you telling me this?" he asks.

Pausing, Stiles glances briefly at him before returning his eyes to the ceiling. "I don't know... You told me something personal earlier, and I guess I thought I'd do the same. I can stop."

"No, go ahead."

"OK, well... You might have noticed that my dad and I aren't that close anymore. I mean, he's hardly ever around and, when he is, we barely talk. I still love him and I know he still loves me, but there's just this gap between us. You see, my dad didn't exactly take my mom's death well."

It has a been a long time since Stiles last allowed himself to think about That Night, and recalling the events now after having them buried in the back of his mind for so long is difficult. He digs his nails into his thigh with more force. "He was never a big drinker, the occasional beer or glass of wine on holidays, but that changed after mom died. Whiskey, vodka, whatever he could get his hands on he'd drink in excess, night after night. No one else knew, or at least they did nothing to help, so it was up to me to get him to stop because I couldn't live like that. It all came to a head about a month after the funeral, after he was put on temporary leave from the force and told to get himself sorted out.

"That night he drank more than ever, and I snapped. Yelled at him, asked him what the hell he thought he was doing and where my dad went. He didn't react well..." Stiles blinks rapidly to rid his eyes of the tears that are forming. There is an audible quaver in his voice. "He threw his empty glass at me. I ducked and it missed and shattered on the wall behind me."

"You don't have to, Stiles..." Derek whispers.

Stiles keeps going as if Derek hadn't spoken. "The things he said... He hated me for looking like her, said I should have been the one to die, that he and mom would've been better off without such a nuisance. I didn't stick around to hear more. I ran to Scott's house, crying my eyes out as I banged on their door at eleven at night. Scott's mom answered. She asked me what had happened to get me so upset and I refused to tell her. I stayed the night, and when I went home in the morning my dad was sober.

"I don't know if he remembers everything that happened. He didn't say anything when I walked in the door, and we've pretty much been avoiding each other as much as we can ever since." Stiles sniffles once before going quiet, wiping his eyes on the bandages on his left arm. "Anyway, that's that."

No one speaks then, until Derek breaks the silence a minute later.

"I'm not sure what to say," he mutters.

"Don't say anything. It's fine."

"I'm sorry."

Stiles smiles sadly at the ceiling. "Don't be. Let's...let's just get some sleep now, OK?"

"OK."

* * *

In the morning, Stiles wakes slowly. He feels like he is floating, warm and safe, and he snuggles into his pillow with a pleased groan. More well-rested than he has been in weeks, sleep threatens to pull him under again, and he has nearly allowed it to when his pillow rumbles beneath him, a low sound. All traces of tiredness leave instantly, and he realises that his pillow is moving, a slow, rhythmic up-and-down that would be soothing if his head wasn't so jam-packed with panicked thoughts. Derek is still asleep, and Stiles cracks open his eyes to find that, at some point in the night, he has cuddled right up to Derek's side. His head rests on the wolf's muscular chest, good arm wrapped around his waist to keep them sandwiched close together, and, the cherry on top and what really makes him start to sweat, his morning wood pressed right up against Derek's hip. A word repeating in his mind (Fuck, fuck, fuck!), Stiles lifts his head from Derek's chest and, as quickly as he dares, takes his arm back, squirming as far away as he can without falling off the bed. It isn't very far.

Sitting up, he waits a few seconds to see if Derek is still asleep and, when he realises that Derek's breaths aren't as soft and slow as they were, hightails it for the bathroom across the hall. The squeaking of bed springs lets Stiles know that, with his escape, Derek has given up all pretences of not being awake, but he doesn't look back, afraid of what he might find on the man's face if he does.

Probably disgust. Or worse.

He kicks the bathroom door closed behind him with a loud slam.

Leaning against the sink, Stiles takes a long breath and stares at his reflection in the mirror. His eyes are a little crusty thanks to the few tears he shed last night, and he washes his face to get rid of it.

Otherwise he looks perfectly healthy, no bags beneath his eyes and his skin pinked up from Derek's warmth and his own intense mortification. Deciding to stop thinking about it, he turns to the shower and switches it on, holding his good hand beneath the spray as he waits for it to warm up to the correct temperature. His erection has gone down by the time the water is right, and he has just stripped off his pyjama top when two problems occur to him: He forgot to get any fresh clothes on his way out of the bedroom, and he needs something to wrap around his injured arm to protect the bandages, burns and cuts.

Cursing his stupidity, he pulls his top back on and opens the bathroom door a crack, peering through the small gap to see if the coast is clear. It is, and he finds his bedroom empty, too. He stops briefly in the doorway and is wondering where Derek has gone when a bang sounds from downstairs, giving him his answer.

Raiding his dresser, he selects a fresh shirt, a pair of underwear, and his green chinos.

Now...plastic wrap, he thinks.

This means heading to the kitchen, and he tiptoes downstairs even though he knows that Derek can hear him anyway. The wolf is standing in front of the stove, and Stiles creeps up behind him and looks over his shoulder to see some bacon frying in a saucepan and scrambled eggs cooking beside it. Derek apparently feels comfortable enough to help himself, and Stiles refrains from commenting on it when Derek raises an eyebrow at him. "Save me some, OK?" he asks, waiting for Derek's nod of acquiescence before retreating back upstairs, the shower beckoning him. Wrapping his arm up securely, he steps beneath the spray and sighs as the warm water sluices down over his body, soothing any nerves left over from how he had woken up. Naturally, his mind wanders, and he can't help recalling how wonderful it had felt to start his morning like that, bathed in Derek's scent, the warmth of his body, the beating of his heart beneath his ear.

His cock fills again as he reminisces, and his good hand has just started to slide down his stomach toward it when he remembers that Derek is downstairs, and definitely within earshot. "Not a good idea, Stiles..." he whispers to himself, reaching for his shower gel and getting on with the task of cleansing himself for the day ahead. He stubbornly keeps his mind away from anything concerning the man in his kitchen.

* * *

Walking through the school's main entrance, Stiles is glad to be out of the house.

Ignorance was the name of the game while he and Derek ate breakfast, neither one of them bringing up what they had talked about the day before or the compromising position in which they had woken up. It had made for an incredibly awkward affair, one Stiles shudders to think about now as he makes his way to his locker. In fact, not a single word had been exchanged before he left, and Stiles had found himself losing his appetite in spite of the delicious bacon and eggs still on his plate.

Derek ate it all in his stead (better than it going to waste, Stiles had supposed), and then immediately after brushing his teeth he was in his Jeep and driving away from all the unsaid words.

Going back in the evening is going to be so much fun, he is sure.

He sighs.

"Uhh... Should I come back?"

Jumping backward on instinct, Stiles brings the locker door with him and ends up bashing himself in the face with it, a loud clang echoing along the hall and drawing the curious eyes of the other students in it. Rubbing at his nose and groaning, he turns and sees Erica standing a couple of feet away, looking exceptionally guilty. "No, you're fine, just...lemme go make sure I haven't broken my nose on top of everything else," Stiles replies, his voice a little tight as he scurries away to the nearest boys' toilet. No blood drips down on to his shirt so he hopes, and finds after a careful inspection, that he hasn't done any lasting damage. He finds Erica waiting outside, his bag in her hand because he forgot to bring it with him. "Alright, all good."

"Really? Because you didn't sound that good when I surprised you," Erica pries, returning to Stiles his backpack. She looks drastically better than the last time he saw her—her hair isn't wild but straightened and pulled back into an elegant ponytail, and she wears a clean pair of jeans and a grey sweater.

She even has a touch of makeup on her face.

Smiling, flattered by Erica's concern for him, Stiles shakes his head. "It's nothing; just an awkward situation at home that I'd rather not get into," he dismisses, running a hand over his buzzed hair. He gestures for them to start walking, in the direction of his first class, which memory tells him they share. "I'm surprised to see you back here so soon. I thought for sure you'd be out of commission until this weekend, at least."

Erica rolls her eyes. "If my parents had their way I would."

"I'm sure they mean well."

She nods slowly, reluctantly conceding the point.

"True, but they're pretty damn overprotective because of my epilepsy," she complains, taking one of the desks at the back of the Math classroom. Stiles sits in the chair next to her, feeling a little weird because, up until today, he has always sat near the front of the room in order to be closer to Lydia. Plus, he is taking someone else's seat, but the thoughts are wiped from his mind when Erica keeps speaking. "I mean, I get it, you know? Seizures aren't exactly fun, and it must be hard for them, too, but all their worry just makes it worse somehow. I hardly ever get to do anything without them trying to keep me 'safe' at home all the time."

She makes air quotes and scoffs. "Anyway...that's enough whining from me," she finishes, pulling out her notebook and pen. Then, other students begin trickling in, and she keeps her eyes down.

"I don't mind," Stiles promises, getting out his own stuff.

"Thanks..."

Stiles gets the feeling that Erica is thanking him for more than just his promise, but before he can tell her that her gratitude isn't at all necessary, that he meant it when he said he wanted them to be friends, the teacher walks in and brings all conversation in the room to a halt. The woman, Mrs. Hill, begins teaching immediately, writing a series of equations on the blackboard and calling people up in pairs to solve them, like a tournament without a prize. Stiles doodles in his notebook as he awaits his turn, but his attention is drawn when he hears Mrs. Hill call for Lydia to take hers. The redhead marches up to the blackboard with confidence and solves her equation in under ten seconds. Stiles isn't surprised at all by this—she is the best mathematician in the class, after all. The boy competing against her, however, isn't as swift and stays up there for almost two full minutes under Lydia's smug gaze, mumbling to himself. Soon enough Mrs. Hill is forced to put him out of his misery, and she tells him to sit down. This allows Lydia to do the same, and Stiles frowns in confusion when he notices that he isn't the only one who has switched seats. Lydia normally sits next to Jackson, Beacon Hills High's power couple, ever strong and united, but now there are several desks separating them. Tilting his head to the side, curious, he watches with sick fascination as Jackson glares in Lydia's direction, clearly not pleased with her. He wonders what has transpired between them to cause such open animosity.

* * *

Later, as Stiles and Erica are walking together toward the cafeteria for lunch, they turn the corner and find that a substantial crowd has gathered in the middle of the hall, blocking their way. Sharing a baffled look, the pair hurry forward to see what all the commotion is about, elbowing their way to the front of the crowd and finding two people at the centre of it, facing and hurling angry words at each other.

"Are you fucking kidding me?!" Jackson yells. "You're dumping me? Me?!"

"Yes, and keep your voice down," Lydia responds, looking bored.

"Have you lost your mind?!"

Rolling her eyes, Lydia glances to her left and briefly looks at Stiles before returning her attention to the seething boy in front of her. "My sanity is intact, I can assure you... It's you who needs to take a long look in the mirror, Jackson," she says coolly, hands on her hips. "You've just been acting too hotheaded lately for me to look past it anymore. You refuse to see what's right in front of your face, stubbornly believing all the bullshit that comes out of Scott's mouth in some desperate attempt to keep your false reality unbroken. You were there, Jackson. You know the thing that attacked us that night was a thing, not a who. Perhaps when you get your head out of Scott's ass we can revisit this relationship but, until then, I'm done." Looking pleased that she got the last word, Lydia spins on an expensive heel and marches off, head held high.

The crowd parts to let her through, and Jackson gapes after her, looking as flabbergasted as everybody else. Gradually his expression morphs from that into rage, and his eyes flick over and land on Stiles, who stares back with trepidation. The crowd disperses slowly, growing tired of the staring contest.

This leaves Stiles and Erica alone with Jackson.

"You. You did this, I know you did!" Jackson spits, advancing on Stiles. "I know you've been wanting to steal Lydia for yourself for years now! What lies have you been filling her head with?!"

Stiles is too stunned to reply, his mouth opening and closing several times like a fish. Jackson fists the front of his shirt and shakes him, the look in the blonde boy's eyes becoming so manic that Stiles genuinely starts to fear for his own safety. "I-I don't know what you're talking about, Jackson," he stutters, not wanting to say the wrong thing and exacerbate the situation. He is still trying to figure out what caused Lydia's sudden change in priorities himself, because it wasn't too long ago that she put popularity above everything else. Ending her relationship with Jackson, the co-captain of the lacrosse team, seems like a good way to lower her social standing somewhat, fickle as a lot of high schoolers can be, and he doesn't understand it.

"Tell the truth!" Jackson shouts.

"Leave him alone!" Erica butts in, batting Jackson's hands away.

She gets in between the two boys, and Jackson's eyes narrow as he decides whether taking on the two of them is worth the effort. He seems to come to the conclusion that no, it isn't, and with one last glare shot Stiles' way he turns and strides away, muttering under his breath about brainwashing assholes and their mangy lapdogs. Stiles watches him go with relief, feeling like he has just dodged a bullet.

"C'mon, let's go get some lunch," Erica suggests, righting Stiles' shirt.

"Uhh, sure..." he responds, still stunned.

Chapter Text

Stiles gets home still reeling from the afternoon's events. Lydia and Jackson's rather public falling out had pumped new life into the school's rumour mill, her reasons for ending things with the lacrosse captain eliciting new speculations about what had taken place when they were all attacked by the alpha at the start of the week. This lead to Lydia falling out with Scott as well, a short, rather one-sided argument taking place in the parking lot after last period. Her contradictions to the elaborate stories he had been concocting were hindering his selfish social climbing, and the confrontation ended with her slapping Scott across the face and storming off. Stiles was impressed with her bravery, especially now that she knows what Scott could have done to retaliate given his werewolf status. He had hidden a smirk behind his hand as he walked to his Jeep, aware that Scott's eyes were narrowed in his direction, displeased because things weren't going his way. Stiles thought it served him right, and as he started the engine he'd wondered what Lydia would do now that she had cut ties with both of the lacrosse team's co-captains. He doesn't doubt that she will land on her feet, but the method with which she will keep hold of her high social standing is a mystery, that is if she even tries to hold on to it in the first place. Stiles' life just seems full of surprises lately, and it would simply be another one to add to the list if Lydia were to keep going with her sudden and drastic shift in priorities.

Walking through the front door, Stiles drops his bag inside the threshold and saunters into the kitchen, in need of sustenance. It feels like it has been longer than a few hours since lunch, and his stomach rumbles in anticipation as he opens the fridge and peruses the things stored within. There seems to be much less to choose from than he remembers there being that very morning (even the chocolate milkshake he was saving for a weekend movie night is gone) and he raises his eyes and glares halfheartedly at the ceiling.

"Greedy Sourwolves," he mumbles.

Sighing, Stiles grabs a couple of slices of ham from the newly opened packet on the top shelf and shuts the fridge again, heading upstairs once they are in his stomach, tiding it over.

"Hey, Derek," he greets when he enters his bedroom.

Derek grunts a reply.

The wolf has made himself comfortable on the bed, leaning against the headboard looking about as relaxed as Stiles has ever seen him (which isn't saying much, really). His legs are pulled up, knees bent at a ninety-degree angle, and a new book is propped open on his thighs. He must have finished the one he was reading before, and Stiles makes a mental note to ask whether it is worth finally trying it for himself.

The less-than-warm welcome isn't as off-putting as it used to be, and he wonders why as he plops himself down in his desk chair. Maybe he is just getting used to Derek's non-demonstrative self, learning not to take it personally. It makes sense to him now, that Derek would be unwilling to let anybody get past his many bulwarks after what Kate Argent did to him all those years ago. His feet on the floor, he turns himself marginally from side to side out of boredom, casually and unrepentantly observing the man sitting on his bed. Derek appears to have had a shower at some point, not long before Stiles arrived back home if the dampness of his hair is anything to go by. His clothes are different, too, a heather-grey Henley and a black pair of jeans this time. He must have ventured outside and retrieved his meagre belongings during the school day.

"Any particular reason you keep staring at me?" Derek asks without looking up.

Stiles blushes but doesn't lower his eyes. "Not really."

"You going to stop?"

"Nope."

A sigh, and then silence. Stiles wiggles in his chair a little, feeling a small sense of victory because it wasn't long ago that Derek's questions would have been followed by threats. Their relationship is improving, he hopes. Continuing his staring, Stiles notes that Derek's facial hair is more than it has ever been, a short beard now instead of just stubble, and he thinks it really suits him. And, when he flicks his eyes down to the neckline of Derek's shirt, he sees a few days' growth of chest hair peeking out of the V. Stiles guesses that Derek usually shaves it, given that his chest was completely smooth the last time he got a look at it in the clinic.

This is an improvement, too, surprisingly. It seems that being around Derek is awakening in him new likes, and he hums thoughtfully, wondering what else he has yet to discover about his preferences.

I'll have to do some vigorous research when Derek isn't here, Stiles plans, folding his hands over his lap when arousal stirs and his body responds with interest. Now is not the time for that, not in any way, shape or form, so he frantically tries to get his mind off of the arousing subject by bringing up another, safer one.

"The alpha hasn't made a move for a few days now," he blurts.

"I know," Derek responds, putting his book aside.

"I'm getting worried."

"Me, too... This silence can't mean anything good."

A thought occurring to him, Stiles spins around in his chair and snaps up his phone from where he had put it as he sat down, on the edge of the desk. He hears bed springs and prepares himself, shivering anyway when he feels Derek's presence right behind him. Every part of him seems attuned to the wolf, longing to seek him out and touch, so he focuses doggedly on the small screen in his hand.

"What are you up to?" Derek asks.

He comes around to Stiles' right side and leans against the desk, and Stiles glances up at him but doesn't answer just yet, trying his best not to give any part of his brain over to examining more closely the ample curve of Derek's crotch, which he can just see out of the corner of his eye. "I just thought of something," he announces after typing out a message to Lydia. Derek gestures for him to continue. "That text Jackson said he got from Scott... Scott was adamant that he wasn't the one who sent it, and I don't think he was lying. So, if Scott didn't send it, someone else must have, right? Someone who wanted Jackson and the others there that night. And only one person comes to mind: the alpha. Maybe finding out who they are is as simple as finding out where the text was sent from..." He shares a look with Derek, who nods his agreement even though the expression on his face reads as unsure, like he doesn't think Stiles' plan will be 'simple' at all.

Stiles' phone dings a second later, and he grins down at Lydia's reply.

"Awesome, Lydia says she'll help us," he relays, pausing when Derek frowns down at him, confused and a little irritated. "Oh, I guess you don't know about that yet, do you? Must've got here after she'd already left. Well, uh...you see, after that night at the school, Lydia didn't believe you did it and came to me demanding answers, and I sorta gave them to her. You can trust her, though, I promise! She won't do anything to like, out you guys to everyone or something. Plus, y'know, asset." He waves his phone in the air.

"And how exactly is she going to help us?" Derek asks, crossing his arms over his chest. He looks like he wants to say more, probably something snarky, but is refraining with great difficulty.

Stiles rolls his eyes.

"Well, she's not going to help directly," he concedes. "She wants to stay out of this as much as possible, which is totally understandable, but she is going to convince Danny to look into who really sent the text that lured everyone there. Danny's kind of...I guess you could say 'gifted', when it comes to technology."

"Gifted," Derek deadpans.

"Yup!"

Derek remains dubious, and Stiles sighs.

"Look, if anyone can find out what we need, it's Danny, so just try to be patient, OK?" Stiles pleads, reaching out without thinking and putting a hand on Derek's thigh. (Damn, that's a thick muscle...) "It's not like there's really anything else we can do at the moment anyway, so why don't you just keep reading your book or something while he wait for Lydia to convince him to help, and then for him to email me whatever he finds. We don't even have to tell him anything if that's what you're worried about. Lydia will keep your secret, and it shouldn't take too long, knowing him. I meant it when I said he's good, so good in fact that he's gotten into some trouble with the law a couple of times in the past." He stares earnestly up at Derek.

The wolf shifts uncomfortably under his gaze, and Stiles feels relief when Derek sighs and moves to situate himself once more on the bed. But, before actually doing so, he smacks Stiles up the back of the head, and Stiles squawks loudly in indignation. He rubs gently at the sore spot left behind, spinning in his chair to level Derek with narrowed eyes and a pout. "What did you do that for?!"

"For telling your friend without asking me first," Derek replies easily.

Stiles keeps pouting.

* * *

After an hour of impatiently waiting, Stiles' attention is drawn from his phone when his computer makes a noise, telling him that he has a new email. Swiftly he opens his mailbox and smirks when he sees that it is from Danny, like he had expected. "Alrighty, showtime..." he mumbles, getting Derek's attention as well. He opens the email, which has no actual text, and downloads the attachment, hoping that it will contain all the information they need to put an end to the alpha's killing spree once and for all. Derek hovers by his shoulder now, and once the download is done Stiles hesitates for a second before double-clicking.

He scrolls through the document until he reaches the message Jackson received that night:

'There's some fun stuff going down at school tonight. You should check it out.'

"Jackson was definitely right," Stiles says, scoffing. "There aren't enough spelling and punctuation errors for Scott to have been the one behind this... Now then, where was this sent from, hmm?"

There is a lot of information on the page to make sense of, but luckily what he wants isn't too far below the text message itself. The location shocks him, and he stares at it for a while as if waiting for it to change, like his eyes are playing tricks on him. One of the computers at Beacon Hills Memorial, logged in as 'm.mccall'. Thinking there must have been some sort of mistake, he searches the rest of the page for anything else relevant and finds nothing. With a frown he sits back in his chair, then instantly jumps up from it when he feels a sharp breath on the side of his neck. He had forgotten that he isn't alone in the room, and Derek gives him a judgemental look as he calms himself back down. "Shut it, Sourwolf," he mumbles, averting his eyes and returning to the chair. "Well, I suppose we have our next step. We need to go back to the hospital and find out why Jackson's text was sent from one of their computers. I seriously doubt that Scott's mom was really the one behind it, so someone must have got hold of her login info and used it instead of their own. The culprit is probably another staff member. You've been there to visit your uncle more than just that time you brought me along, right?" He waits for Derek's hesitant nod. "Well, did you sense anything off, meet anyone that gave you weird vibes? I mean, I find it hard to believe that they slipped by all your freaky senses unnoticed."

Derek scowls. "No, I didn't," he bites out.

"Whoa, dude, didn't mean to offend you or whatever. It's fine."

"Let's just go."

Not saying another word, Derek turns and marches from the room. The sounds of his footsteps on the stairs echo back to Stiles, who sighs before following more sedately, planning on apologising properly in the Jeep in order to avoid the long, more-awkward-than-usual journey that is otherwise likely in his immediate future.

* * *

Pulling to a stop on the edge of Beacon Hills Memorial's large parking lot, Stiles cuts the engine and glances to his right, happy to see that Derek's mood has apparently brightened since they left the house. With Derek it is always difficult to tell because he doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve like Stiles does, but Stiles would like to think he is getting better at reading the wolf the more time he spends around him.

"You ready?" he asks, unbuckling his seatbelt.

"As I'll ever be. Let's get this over with..." Derek replies, opening the passenger door and stepping out into the cool evening air. Visiting hours will have ended already, so he bypasses the hospital's main entrance and walks around the side of the building, looking for the window to his uncle's room like he had before. Stiles trots to keep up, trusting in Derek's superior hearing to keep them from getting caught. Also like last time, the window isn't closed all the way, and it is easy for Derek to push it open and climb through. And if Stiles deliberately goes second just to get another look at Derek's scrumptious ass, then no one has to know.

I wanna bite it, he thinks, mesmerised until he hears Derek's seemingly far-off voice telling him to get inside already. He hurries to comply, falling over himself to scramble into the warmth.

"Alright, let's get to sleuthing!" he grins.

"Keep your voice down."

"Yes, dear."

Derek's eyes widen, but he doesn't comment on the pet name.

Stiles is glad when the wolf turns away and presses his ear to the closed door. It gives him time to silently tell himself off for calling Derek 'dear', even if it was a joke. It wouldn't be a good idea to keep slipping up like he already has twice this evening, lest Derek find out how he really feels. Shaking himself, he takes stock of his surroundings and notes that Peter is still on the hospital bed, a sorry sight he has to look away from. The rest of the room looks the same, too, though there is a worn copy of War and Peace on the end table, illuminated by the lamp, which he doesn't remember being there before. "Do you hear anyone?" Stiles asks, stepping around Peter's bed and coming up behind Derek, glad when the beta shakes his head. "Well, let's get going. The sooner we get what we came for and get out of here, the better I'll feel about this whole damn thing."

"Agreed..." Derek mutters, opening the door and stepping out into the deserted hallway. There is a sign on the wall, which informs them that the staff lounge isn't far away, and they follow it silently, Stiles making a measured effort to keep his footfalls as light as possible. Once they reach the entrance to the lounge, Derek flings an arm out to prevent Stiles from going any further. "Something's off."

"What do you mean?" Stiles whispers, his heart rate spiking.

"Things are too quiet. There should at least be someone here at all times."

"You wanna go back?"

Derek pushes open the staff lounge door and peeks inside. "No, but I don't like this at all. It feels far too easy," he explains, stepping inside when his eyes confirm what his ears had already told him. Stiles keeps on his tail but doesn't move much further than the other side of the door, all humour gone.

There is a row of lockers along the left side of the room, the names of every staff member working on this floor stuck to the top of each one. Derek walks along them curiously, scanning the names for any that stand out. He knows Melissa McCall, of course, and the name of the nurse in charge of Peter's care, Jennifer. Every other name is new, which doesn't give him much to go on. Throwing caution to the wind, he rips open the locker in front of him, breaking the lock, and starts going over the belongings stored within. Stiles' vehement protests don't stop him from repeating this process on every locker in the long row, and he goes through Melissa's and Jennifer's for good measure, figuring that it is best to be thorough.

"What do you two think you're doing?!"

The question comes right before Derek can examine the folded piece of paper he has just found tucked in the back of Jennifer's locker. He turns to find the woman herself standing just inside the lounge door, her eyes looking wild as they flick down to his hands. Stiles backs away from her a few paces, closer to Derek, whereas Derek meets her accusing stare evenly. The way a flash of fear breaks its way through her outrage gets him curious, and he unfolds the paper in his hand and looks down at the picture printed on it.

"Don't look at that!" Jennifer hisses, leaping across the room.

Derek easily sidesteps her, and she collides with her locker instead.

"What is this?" He holds up the paper.

"I don't know what you're talking about. Now please leave before I'm forced to call security and have you forcibly ejected from the building!" Jennifer demands, retreating to hold the door.

Taking the paper from Derek, Stiles inspects it curiously, keeping half of his attention focused on the woman on the other side of the room, cautious. A grainy black-and-white picture of a dead deer is in the centre of the page, lying on its side with a strange spiral design carved into its flank. He can't make any sense of it by himself, so he rejoins the room in search of clarification.

"What does this spiral thing mean?" he asks Derek. His phone buzzes in his pocket, but he presses a button to silence it. Jennifer does nothing but stand motionless and glare, still holding the door open, her hair starting to come loose from the tie at the back of her head. It makes her look quite manic.

"It means revenge," Derek replies.

"Revenge?"

Derek doesn't take his eyes off of Jennifer as he reaches out blindly to take the paper back, folding and putting it in his pocket for safekeeping. "It's used by werewolves to mark whenever they're getting revenge on somebody they feel has wronged them..." He trails off and breaks eye contact with Jennifer, a deep frown appearing on his face as his mind works. Stiles can almost see the cogs turning, and jumps in surprise when Derek's head snaps up again with a sharp inhale. His voice shakes then, whatever realisation he has come to shaking him to his core. "I know who it is. Stiles, we need to get out of here right now."

"Who? Derek, just tell me!"

Then, before Derek can react, a loud crack echoes through the room, and both he and Stiles stare wide-eyed as Jennifer's lifeless body drops to the floor. A man is revealed behind her, and Stiles instantly understands why Derek was so affected by his discovery. Peter Hale stands there, looking as well as can be, and Stiles takes in his appearance in a split second: Peter's face is still scarred but there is fire in his eyes now, replacing the blank look Stiles had seen just minutes before. Gone is the hospital gown, replaced by a tan shirt and dark jeans, a black trench coat thrown on top of it all. His raggedy hair is tucked behind his ears, curling at the ends, and the small smile that doesn't waver, like Peter is completely confident in revealing himself, is unnerving. The alpha steps over Jennifer's body and strolls casually into the room, acting like committing murder is an everyday occurrence for him. Stiles supposes it kind of is, and now that the moment of confrontation is here, their inconnu's identity exposed like he has been wanting for weeks, he doesn't know what to do. Instinctually, he moves even closer to Derek so that their hands brush with every expansion of his lungs, and he doesn't miss the way Peter's eyes flick down, taking it all in with a knowing smirk. There is a quiet growling in the room, coming from Derek, and Stiles takes the beta's hand in his own and strokes his thumb over the back of it in an effort to soothe, not thinking about what he is doing or how it might be received.

Derek doesn't pull away from the touch, and the growling slowly eases before stopping altogether, so Stiles counts it as a win, even if Peter's amusement only seems to grow.

"Dear nephew, it's been years," Peter says, enjoying the tension.

"Uncle," Derek grits out.

"And who's your little friend?" The alpha's smirk turns into a grin.

"Nobody."

Peter takes a couple of steps to the right, and Derek does the same, taking Stiles with him because their hands are still linked. They circle each other until they have almost swapped places, Peter standing by the lockers and Derek and Stiles in front of the still-open door. The beta squeezes Stiles' hand hard before releasing it. "Get out of here, Stiles," he says, not bothering to whisper because Peter would hear him anyway.

"What? No! I'm not leaving you alone with this maniac! He'll kill you, Derek!" Stiles protests, ignoring the mocking sound Peter releases, as if the mere suggestion of being a murderer has wounded him. Derek rounds on Stiles then, forcing him bodily through the door and giving him a gentle push down the hall.

"Leave, Stiles," he insists, pushing harder when the boy still doesn't move.

"But-"

"Go!" Derek roars in the boys' face.

Stiles stumbles backward, almost falling over, and, following one last pleading look that Derek rebuffs, hightails it out of there, praying that he is doing the right thing. He gets outside before he stops, the cool evening air making his panted breaths visible as he looks guiltily over his shoulder. No part of abandoning Derek with his psychotic uncle feels right, his soul and every cell of his body telling him to go back inside and stay despite Derek's insistence that he flee. But for once he forces himself to obey. He carries on running to his Jeep and flings himself in the driver's seat, dropping his keys in the footwell in his rush.

Fumbling to pick them up, he shoves them in the ignition and turns hard, bringing the vehicle to life, before slamming his foot down on the gas pedal. He prays. Derek...please stay safe.

* * *

Back inside the staff lounge, Peter chuckles to himself as Derek reenters looking conflicted. The door is shut to give them privacy, and he takes one of the comfy chairs that are positioned in two rows down the middle of the room, relaxing into the cushions with a noise of pleasure. Derek stays standing, every muscle tensed and ready for an attack. Peter smiles indulgently, gesturing for his nephew to take one of the seats in the row opposite his own. "Well, Derek, it seems we have a lot to catch up on. What do you say? Shall we get started?"

Chapter Text

"Why are you doing this, Peter?" Derek seethes.

He can barely contain his rage but knows it would be useless to try to attack Peter right now, when he is by himself and without the element of surprise. So, instead of being reckless, he grudgingly takes one of the seats across from Peter when the older man gestures again for him to do so, remaining perched awkwardly on the edge of the cushion with his body held taut, ready to defend himself should Peter attack unexpectedly. He doesn't think he can be too careful at this point, and he digs his nails into the fabric of his jeans when Peter gives him that self-satisfied smirk he remembers from childhood, the one he has always detested.

"Haven't you figured it out yet?" Peter enquires with a chuckle. "I thought it would've been obvious by now, but I guess I overestimated your intelligence. What did they teach you in New York?"

"Answer me."

Peter sighs and leans forward, elbows on his knees.

"Fine, if you insist on being so impatient, I'll put you out of your misery and tell you," he relents, dropping his relaxed facade and growing serious. "I've been hunting down those who were responsible for killing most of our family years ago and giving them a taste of their own medicine. It's been very pleasurable, I was surprised to find, and there were quite a few more than I thought at first. A bus driver for the school, who cried a lot. A couple of homeless-looking men who set the actual fire, and who I burned up in a barrel. I don't think the authorities have even found their bodies yet." An unsettling gleam appears in his eyes. "And finally, a chemistry teacher at the high school who provided to the orchestrator while they shared a drink at a bar all the information needed to set a fire without leaving any detectable trace of arson. I haven't killed him yet because I've been saving the worst offenders till last. So he'll be next, and lastly will be Kate Argent and the rest of her family. Of course, you already know all about her involvement in the fire, since you were the one who blindly let that viper into our pack." Derek flinches and breaks eye contact at the mention of Kate, and Peter smirks in response. "I will have to punish you for your involvement in all of this when everyone else is taken care of, you know. But let's not worry about that just yet. For now I think I'll settle for you taking part in the remainder of my plan. Think about it, Derek, how fun it will be, us working side by side to get justice!"

"And what about her?" Derek asks, pointing to his right at Jennifer's dead body, which still lies in a heap inside the staff lounge door. He feels a little bad about her death, but not much because she was in cahoots with Peter. "How did she factor into all of this and why the hell did she have that picture in her locker?"

"Ah, Jennifer... Poor, pathetic Jennifer..."

Derek waits.

"It was precious really, how infatuated with me she became... I couldn't even respond to her and she would spend hours talking to me whenever she could spare them. She's what set this whole thing in motion, really. I saw my chance to get the revenge I had been longing for for all these years, and I managed to break out of my comatose state for long enough to tell her what she needed to do to help me, to help us finally be together." A cruel laugh. "She fell for it hook, line and sinker. Like I said: pathetic."

Peter's callousness makes Derek's stomach turn unpleasantly. They had never really been close when he was growing up, their relationship hindered by the fact that the older man would always go out of his way to tease him whenever his alpha sister wasn't around to stop him. The older man's morals had also been too loose to mesh with his own in any way, but even so it is shocking to see how much his uncle has changed for the worse. Clearly there was further to fall, as hard as Derek finds it to believe. Gone is his guilt for leaving Peter behind when Laura dragged him off to New York for a fresh start, replaced now by potent disdain. Derek cannot wait for the time to come when Peter gets what is coming to him, hopefully by his hand.

He will make it slow.

And bloody.

Derek is broken out of his thoughts of avunculicide when Peter continues talking, detailing all the ways he had used an obviously lonely and mentally ill woman for his own sick gains.

"Anyway, about that picture," the alpha says, standing and walking over to Jennifer's corpse. "I had Jennifer use it to lure my dear niece here so I could take her alpha status. It was the only way to move the healing along, otherwise I'd probably have been stuck as a vegetable for the rest of my life. That is the only part of my plan I regret... If there was another way to go about it I would have taken it but, alas, there wasn't."

Derek doesn't believe his uncle at all.

No, he thinks Peter enjoyed killing the only blood relative they had left in common, someone who did nothing to deserve it. The state in which he had found Laura's body certainly suggested that Peter relished in the murder. If all he had been after was her alpha status, literally tearing her in half wouldn't have been necessary. In the years after the fire, Derek's relationship with Laura was strained at best. That was all on him. He wasn't ready to forgive himself at all, as much as she tried to inculcate the idea that it wasn't his fault and that she didn't blame him for unknowingly playing his part. Even now he still isn't really ready, but things were starting to get better. He and Laura were slowly repairing their relationship, getting close like they used to be when they were children, and this made her death all the harder to take. Hearing Peter talk so glibly about killing her boils his blood until he is ready to toss aside his earlier reasonings for not attacking first. After all, what else does he have left to live for? No friends back in New York, a job he doesn't like and from which he will probably be fired with all the time he has been gone without a proper explanation.

There is nothing, so without giving Peter a chance to react he leaps from his seat and tackles the older man, sending them tumbling over the back of the row of chairs. Peter is quick to defend himself, claws and fangs coming into play, and Derek manages to get a few good swipes in before he is subdued.

"That wasn't very smart," Peter pants.

He hovers above Derek now, putting moderate pressure on the beta's neck with his foot.

"Just kill me!" Derek chokes.

Laughing, Peter moves lightning-quick, removing his foot from Derek's neck and stamping down on his nephew's calves, breaking the bones and putting him temporarily out of commission. This means he doesn't have to worry about Derek making another reckless attempt on his life. "No, I don't think I will. I want you alive, at least for now. Besides, you wouldn't want to do that to your little friend now, would you? Leave him to deal with me while his only help is that worthless McCall boy? That would just be cruel," he smirks, flipping the row of seats back into position and retaking his place in the centre.

Derek drags himself painfully across the floor until he is leaning against Jennifer's locker. "Why would I care about that?" he grunts out, trying not to move his legs while they heal.

"I do see what's happening between the two of you, you know."

"What?"

Peter tilts his head to the side, curious.

"You really don't see it, the bond that is forming between you and that boy?" he asks, a grin breaking out on his face as he delights in being the one to clue his oblivious nephew in. "Did my sister not have The Talk with you when you were a pup? I'm disappointed... Actually, no, I'm not. This'll be entertaining. You see, when two wolves like each other very much, or a wolf and a human, there's this bond that starts to grow. I thought you knew about it but the fact that you don't just makes this all the more hilarious! You've saved each other's lives several times already in the short time you've known each other, provided and cared for each other, in your own ways, and even allowed yourselves to be vulnerable around each other. I was surprised when you told Stiles about your little tryst with Kate Argent. It was difficult to keep up the act of being comatose, I have to say, the urge to laugh was so strong. And then there was Stiles' tale of his mother's ill health..." He notices Derek's expression of confusion. "I had Jennifer bug our old house and Stiles' bedroom so I could hear what the two of you were planning. The results were more than I could have dreamed. As pathetic as she was, Jennifer did have her uses." His smile turns salacious, causing Derek to feel sick. "Do send Stiles my condolences the next time you see him, won't you? His poor mother, she was so very sweet. Anyway, if you allowed it, this bond would continue to grow until you became full-fledged mates. Wouldn't that be exciting? Too bad I can't let that happen. Stiles would just get in the way of my plans, especially being the son of the sheriff."

Peter gets up and moves to crouch in front of Derek, their faces close. "You want to know how I'm going to force you to help me? It's quite simple, really. If you don't cut all ties with Stiles and join me, I might just have to see what all the fuss is about, pay him a little visit and take him for a test drive myself..."

Derek's eyes widen.

His mind grinds to a halt. While he had known Stiles felt something for him, he hadn't guessed the feelings ran this deep, on both sides. His instinct to protect the boy makes sense now, at least, but he doesn't get the chance to think about it for too long. Pure terror fills him instead of awe, the implications of his uncle's threat too much to comprehend. "You wouldn't..." he breathes, unable to believe that Peter would even say the words, let alone carry out their meaning. The look Peter sends him forces him to believe it, though, and he knows with certainty that Peter will have no problem at all going after Stiles in such a sick and disgusting way.

He can't let that happen.

If his wife could see him now...

"If you touch Stiles, I'll kill you," Derek warns, eyes flashing blue.

"You can't stop me, Derek," Peter sighs, putting a hand on the beta's broken leg as a reminder. "One way or another I will get my revenge. You just have to decide if resisting me is worth increasing the body count."

Glaring up at Peter's smug face, Derek keeps his mouth shut so he doesn't say something he will later come to regret. His leg throbs where his uncle's hand still rests on it, and the pain helps to keep him grounded, giving him something else to focus on other than his anger. Peter seems to take his silence for agreement, because his expression changes in a flash back to the fake chipper mask with which he had started out.

"Excellent!" Peter exclaims.

He stands and claps his hands twice in quick succession, as if he is calling a group of people to attention, then starts rambling on about what their next move will be. While he does think he hears the name 'Argent' come out of his uncle's mouth a couple of times, Derek doesn't really pay attention, too busy wondering what he has just gotten himself into, whether his reluctant cooperation will actually ensure Stiles' safety at all like Peter says it will. Peter has always been perfidious and he can't be sure that the older man will stick to his word, so he makes a promise to himself that he will never let his guard down, constantly on the lookout for any openings he can use to take Peter out. The alpha has to sleep sometime, after all.

* * *

- Friday, January 28th, 2011 -

After his hasty retreat from the hospital, Stiles was in for a sleepless night.

He spent hours pacing back and forth in his bedroom, wearing off the finish on the hardwood floor as he waited for any sign of Derek, a text, an appearance, anything. At around two in the morning his heart had raced when he heard noises in the kitchen below, and he'd rushed downstairs with the idiotic hope that it was Derek, having escaped unharmed from his run-in with Peter. He was greeted instead by his dad, silhouetted by the light from the open fridge. After being told that he shouldn't still be awake, he had gone back up to his bedroom and thrown himself childishly onto his bed, atop the covers, unable to stop his mind from racing. What if Derek never came back? What if Derek had already been killed and Stiles was just waiting there for Peter to come kill him next? There were just so many unanswered questions, and there was nothing he could do short of sneaking out again and searching for his lost friend. Returning to the hospital didn't seem like a good idea, given that there was a good chance of Peter still being in the area, keeping up appearances.

Now, he stares down at his phone, five minutes before he has to leave for school.

C'mon, Derek. Please...

The screen stays infuriatingly black.

He almost throws the device at the wall out of frustration, but the scant possibility of Derek trying to contact him via text keeps him from doing so. Instead he shoves it roughly in his pocket and stomps to the ground floor, making more noise than necessary as he prepares breakfast for himself, Cheerios with pieces of banana.

It is tasteless.

He only eats half of it and throws the rest away, what little appetite he possessed now lost. The clock chimes then, telling him he had best be on his way to school or he will be late.

The idea of pretending that everything is fine while his life has been turned practically upside down is not one that thrills him, but he has done it before, recently and under much worse circumstances. There is the possibility that Derek is still alive this time, and it is this hope he clings to as he sits stiffly behind the wheel of his Jeep and guns the engine, speeding off toward another long school day filled with monotony and avoiding Scott, Jackson and Allison. At least he isn't forced to go through it all by himself now, not with Erica as his friend, and Lydia as his friendly acquaintance. It is at a red light that he makes a decision:

If Derek hasn't surfaced at all by the end of the day, he will go out and find him.

Danger be damned.

* * *

After last period has ended, Stiles walks in the front door of his house, replaying the events of the day in his mind. He was subject to multiple glares from a churlish and alone Jackson throughout the day, as Stiles had expected, but luckily the lacrosse captain never tried again to do anything, not when Erica stayed practically glued to his side whenever Jackson was around. She is turning out to be very loyal, and protective, something Stiles was surprised to discover. Surprised, but glad. From the looks she had given him all day, she must have known something was off with him, even if they have only been friends for a short time. In all honesty he had done little to assuage her concerns, at a loss for how he could possibly try to convey to her all he was feeling. During lunch, a quiet comment about dealing with some personal stuff had been enough to stop her from questioning his behaviour any further, though she had said that she was there should he ever want to get whatever was bothering him off of his chest. His gratitude for having someone else to talk to, even if he chose not to do so, had increased beyond measure. He was reminded then, when he had grown tired of the noise of the cafeteria and retired to spend the remainder of the lunch hour in the library, that he has a second person to talk to. Someone who knows all that is happening, or at least most. Lydia had silently pulled out the seat next to his, her completed essay for Biology in hand, and proceeded to help him start his own.

The help wasn't really necessary.

If it were not for Mr. Harris' dislike for him, he would have the second-highest grades in the glass, behind only Lydia, but he appreciated her assistance nevertheless, taking it for the friendly gesture it was. They had talked while he wrote, and he informed her of all he had discovered and everything that had happened in the past two days, of the alpha's identity and that Derek is still alive.

Possibly.

He had sobered up quickly as renewed worry surged through his body, but luckily Lydia appeared not to notice anything was amiss. The rest of the day had passed relatively smoothly, and Stiles rests his head against the cool wood of the front door and sighs, feeling the time slipping through his fingers.

There aren't many hours left until the time limit he gave Derek is over. Really, he doesn't see the point in waiting any longer. If Derek hasn't shown up by now then he probably won't by himself, so Stiles drops his backpack to the floor with a thud and traipses upstairs, shaking off the lethargy that has had a tight grip on him since leaving the library. Shoving open his bedroom door, he finds everything is just as he left it that morning, no sign that Derek had been there while he was out, and the sight makes him more determined. A voice inside his head keeps whispering things to him, things he doesn't want to hear. Kate's words from the gas station come up repeatedly, her warning that Derek will turn on him. He knows it isn't true but the voice will not let it go, and as much as he doesn't want to, he finds himself starting to believe it a little bit.

At least that would mean Derek is breathing.

It is preferable to the alternative.

"I'm being stupid..." he tells himself, battling the voice back and gathering some clothes for a shower. He will get himself clean and then go out in search of answers, whether good or bad.

After he has folded a fresh shirt and a pair of chinos over his arm, he moves toward the door and freezes when he hears something behind him. The sound of his window opening. He doesn't turn around, not until his name is called, softly. The clothes fall as his arm comes to rest at his side, and he turns slowly until he faces the window, in front of which stands Derek, looking tired but otherwise well. "Where've you been?" Stiles asks, taking a step forward and stopping immediately when Derek steps back with him, keeping the same distance between them. The movement doesn't bode well, but he swallows back his worry. "Did Peter hurt you?"

"No," is Derek's succinct reply.

"So...what did happen?"

"I can't do this anymore." Derek looks at the floor.

"Do what?"

"Pretend to be friends with you," Derek explains bluntly, meeting Stiles' eyes again. Stiles recoils like he has been struck, searching when he has gathered himself for a trace of remorse in Derek's eyes, some sign that he doesn't mean what he is saying. He finds nothing. "You've been useful up until now, and I didn't expect that, but you need to stop or I'll have to make you, and it won't end well."

Stiles' chest tightens, his heart beating so fast that it feels like it may stop at any moment, giving out under the pressure of his anxiety. "What do you mean? You'll hurt me?" he asks with a forced laugh, trying to play it off like it is all a joke. It is his coping mechanism, why he plays everything off as a joke, because it gives it all less power over him. It usually works, but all attempts to feign humour fade quickly this time, and he strides across the room in spite of what he has just heard. "Why are you doing this? Peter must have something over you, right? He's making you do this... Tell me what he has over you and we can find a way to stop him!" He doesn't like how desperate his voice sounds, wobbly with emotion, but there is nothing he can do about it.

"It's not Peter. It's you."

"Me?"

"I know how you feel about me," Derek reveals, "and I don't like it."

Derek's voice is hard, and Stiles doesn't know what to say in response. His face heats up, and silence reigns for several tense minutes, in which Derek stays stock-still and he moves to sit on the bed, his legs unable to support him. "So that's why? You know I lo- you know I like you, so you want to cut all ties, just like that?"

"If I had stayed in New York, things would have been so different," Derek says almost wistfully, turning to face the open window and placing a hand on the sill. Stiles watches him in his peripheral vision, his heart breaking with every word. He barely manages to prevent the moisture building in his eyes from spilling over. "Werewolves are split into two parts, the human and the wolf, and at the same time they are whole, a single entity. The only difference between the two parts is that the wolf follows instinct alone. It can be useful to help get a proper read on people, but it can also be a detriment. Your...feelings for me have garnered my wolf's attention because, after what happened to my family, it's desperate for any sort of connection. It's started responding..." Derek grimaces. "There's a bond forming between us, one that was started probably not long after we met in the preserve a few weeks ago. It isn't uncommon, a bond like this. Many werewolves follow it through because their human halves come around and start seeing what the wolf has been seeing all along. If I had stayed in New York, my wolf wouldn't have chosen you. It would have chosen someone else entirely." He smiles wryly and hums, his fingers curling around the window sill. Claws dig into the wood on the outside, where Stiles cannot see them, and the smile fades and he withdraws them as he readies himself to leave, swinging a leg through the open window. Stiles' voice behind him makes him pause, though, and he looks back over his shoulder, observing the boy where he still sits mournfully on his bed.

"Do you wish it had?"

"Do I wish it had what?" Derek responds.

Stiles turns his head. "Your wolf. Do you wish it had chosen someone else?"

More silence, and Stiles stares at the wall over Derek's shoulder instead of meeting his eyes. He is unable to. Then, just when Stiles thinks he won't get an answer, Derek says yes, and leaves.

Chapter Text

- Monday, January 31st, 2011 -

Things feel different in school after the weekend.

At first Stiles thinks it is just because of what happened the previous Friday, the cloud still hanging over his head from Derek practically ripping his heart out making everything else seem overwhelming, too much to deal with in his depressed and heartbroken stupor. But, as he stands by his locker and overhears a couple of the excited conversations going on around him, he realises it is more than that.

"Has anyone asked you yet?" one girl asks her friend.

"No... I'm starting to get worried," the friend replies disconsolately.

"Don't be!"

Preparations have started for the winter formal, which takes place at the end of the week.

It has come around so fast. Stiles had been so distracted by the other parts of his life that he completely forgot about the event, the half-baked plans he had made over Christmas for how he would convince Lydia to ditch Jackson and go with him instead. All the fantasies he'd had, of them walking into the gymnasium arm in arm, and everyone would turn and gasp, marvelling at how good they looked together. All except for Jackson, who would be stewing in his jealousy in a dimly lit corner. The memories make him chuckle sadly, another piece of his innocence slipping away. It feels good to be out of his house again, to have something else to think about. He had spent the weekend in his room, lying on his bed and watching the sunlight appear and disappear again, the words Derek had told him on repeat in his head. Except to use the bathroom he hadn't gotten up once, not even to eat. Surprisingly he didn't shed a single tear, perhaps because he was so far beyond sad that it was impossible for him to cry like he thought he should have. It was like the two weeks after his mother's death, which hadn't felt real for a long time, just like Derek's words don't now. He believed that Derek wouldn't have said what he said if it weren't for Peter's involvement, at least not all of it, but he could not for life of him think of anything he could do about it on his own. He still can't. One lucky escape from an enraged alpha is probably his limit, and he wasn't and isn't yet willing to test that theory.

Maybe someday soon, when his emotions finally hit him full tilt.

His alarm had blared from beneath his pillow about an hour ago, and he finally got up, lured by the promise of a distraction, however inefficacious it will likely prove to be.

Then, Erica joins Stiles at his locker.

"Hey. Where were you on Sunday?" she asks.

It is then he remembers they were supposed to meet up. He apologises, and she puts up with his sour mood until lunch, at which time she drags him off to the empty bleachers overlooking the lacrosse field. He doesn't protest and sits at the top where she tells him to, knowing full well what is coming when she plops down next to him. They are tucked away together, in the far corner and out of sight so that no one can interrupt them. "Alright, what's going on with you?" Erica probes predictably, tone brooking no argument. Her hand rests on his leg, her old milquetoast nature disappearing fast. "And I want the truth. Something major is clearly bothering you, and I think you need to tell someone before you sink under the weight of it."

"I don't think-"

"Nope! You're not leaving till you spill, so spill."

Stiles sighs and loses any fight he had.

"God, you're bossy..." he mumbles, causing Erica to snort and smirk in victory. "I can't tell you everything; a lot of what's wrong has to do with secrets that aren't mine to share, and even after what's happened...I don't feel right breaking that trust." He pauses to fiddle with the hem of his flannel overshirt.

"Just...just tell me everything you can. Even a little might help."

Stiles stops playing with his shirt and shoves both hands between his thighs to keep them still. "I've been getting close to someone over the past few weeks," he begins, a little awkwardly, but the words soon tumble from his lips before he can even think of stopping them. He looks away from Erica, choosing instead to stare out at the trees on the other side of the grassy expanse, and misses when understanding and sadness flash across her face. "We pretty much hated each other at first, or at least they hated me, but circumstances kept shoving us together and we warmed up to each other, me more than them, I think. Anyway, about a week ago something that I can't really talk about happened to them, and it made me realise how I really felt about them. They found out about my feelings somehow and broke things off in a pretty brutal way, but...I don't think they did it willingly." He frowns deeply. "At least I hope not. I think they did it to protect me, but I don't know why."

"This person wouldn't happen to be Lydia, would it?" Erica asks tentatively.

Stiles chuckles. "No, not her..."

Erica breathes out slowly, relieved. "A week ago... That's about the time you and those others were attacked here, right? By Derek Hale, when your arm got fucked up?" she asks, noting curiously how Stiles flinches at the mention of the wanted man. He tries to regain his composure immediately afterward, his expression relaxing and becoming calm, but the seed has already been planted in Erica's mind. "I get the feeling the rumours circulating the halls aren't really all that truthful, and there's a lot Scott lied about. Am I right?"

"Maybe," Stiles replies, unable to lie properly.

"And the one who attacked you, was it really Derek like Scott told everyone?"

A shake of the head.

"So...is Derek the one you were just talking about? Because I honestly would never have guessed you were gay," Erica says, fidgeting. She tucks her hair behind her ears, out of the way of her eyes.

"I'm not. At least, I don't think I am," Stiles explains, smiling softly. He is glad that Erica dragged him away for this private conversation, despite how much he hadn't wanted to talk at first. It feels like a weight lifted off his shoulders. "I'd never looked at another guy like that until I met Derek... I haven't really had a chance to figure it out yet. Maybe bisexual? I suppose it doesn't really matter, though, not when he's said he doesn't even want to be friends with me anymore." His smile fades, his mouth turning down as a fresh wave of heartbreak suffuses through his entire being and leaves him cold. Erica's arm comes around him, and he lets himself be moved until his head rests on her shoulder and his injured hand is held carefully in one of hers.

The wind is the only sound for a while, until...

"You said you wanted answers," Erica speaks up, startling Stiles.

"I do," he says.

"Then go get them." The blonde gently pushes him up, until she can look him in the eye. "I don't know Derek, or anything that happened between the two of you, really, but I do know you shouldn't give up that easily. You think he did what he did to protect you, right? Then go demand answers."

Stiles contemplates this for a minute before deciding that Erica is right. There is no point in mourning what could have been just yet, not when it isn't truly over. "Now who's the smart one?" he chuckles, holding out his fist. Erica bumps hers against it in a gesture of solidarity right as his stomach growls loudly, announcing his hunger to them both. "Let's go get some lunch while we still have the chance. I'm starving!"

* * *

Derek will hear him coming, Stiles is sure of that much.

He sits in his Jeep, idling by the turn-off that will lead him to the Hale house. Though still determined to get answers, he feels butterflies in his stomach as he hesitates, and the feeling gets worse the longer he stays there until it becomes nearly unbearable. Smacking his hand on the steering wheel, he releases the parking break and puts his foot on the gas pedal, easing down the narrow road that will lead him to his quarry. He isn't even sure if Derek will actually be there (maybe he is off doing something, or Peter has taken over the property and Stiles is driving to his death) but it is the only place he can think of to go. The Camaro isn't parked outside when the trees break to reveal the large clearing the house is built within, and he is about to do a U-turn and regroup elsewhere when he sees a flash of something in one of the broken windows. Like someone walked in front of the glass, or like they were watching and wanted to disappear from view before they were spotted. It could be Derek, or it could be Peter, but there is only one way for Stiles to find out which is right. He keeps the engine running in case he has to make a quick getaway, pushes open the driver's-side door, and steps out into the cool air, his fingers clenching and unclenching by his sides as he stares at the window in which he thinks he saw the figure. "Here goes nothing..." With a deep breath, he approaches the front door and pushes it open with a loud creak. It swings shut again on its own when he steps over the threshold and into the living room, and he is about to call out for Derek when something runs into him from behind.

The air is knocked from Stiles' lungs when he is slammed into the adjacent wall, the sun shining into his eyes through the large cracked window to his right. A hard body presses him into the crumbling plaster and keeps him pinned, and there is a low growling sound by his ear that sends shivers down his spine. He feels fear briefly before a familiar scent reaches his nose. "Derek?" he gasps, trying to look over his shoulder. He can't quite see the beta's face, but the growling stops and his temporary captor steps back.

With space to breathe, he turns.

"Why the fuck are you here?!" Derek hisses at him.

"To see you, obviously..." Stiles snarks, rubbing at his chest.

"I told you not to."

"When have you ever known me to listen to orders I think are stupid?" Stiles glares right back at Derek, though whether his glare is as intimidating as Derek's is up for debate. His eyebrows certainly aren't as expressive. "I came to get the truth about what happened on Friday, and I'm not leaving until I get it."

Derek stares. "You need to leave, Stiles. It isn't safe for you here," he warns with a sigh. He crosses his arms over his chest and turns his head to look out through the living room window.

The sun is descending, nightfall a short while away.

The hand squeezing Stiles' heart releases the smallest fraction, the fact that Derek hasn't threatened him directly giving credence to his theory that the beta didn't try to end their relationship willingly. "Why?" he responds, stepping cautiously away from the wall. Though he is now (nearly) certain that Derek won't be the one to hurt him, he doesn't know how good of an idea it is to get close to him. He does so anyway, reaching out and placing a hand on Derek's large bicep. "I'm not stupid, you know. Peter said he'd do something, didn't he? To me?" Derek still gazes through the glass. "Well, to hell with him! He doesn't scare me. Much. And he shouldn't scare you, either. He's not invincible, that much I proved by smashing that jar of acid over his huge head, and I know we can stop him if we just keep working together. My brains, your brawn."

The deep frown returns.

"Not that I don't think you're smart!" Stiles hurries to add, giving Derek's bicep a squeeze before taking back his hand. "It's just a saying. Or something..." They lapse into silence then, a familiar thing, only the awkwardness which used to pollute it is back in full force. Stiles already misses the ease he and Derek shared while hanging out in his room, warm and strangely comfortable, and he hopes they will get back to that soon.

Derek looks like he is about to say something, but then his body goes rigid.

"You have to leave," he whispers again.

Stiles jumps when Derek's hand grips his arm hard. "What? Why? Is Peter here?!" he asks in a panic, his earlier claim of not being scared of the alpha rendered a lie. Derek drags him through to the foyer and halfway to the front door before he stops suddenly, his grip tightening even further until it feels bruising. Stiles hisses quietly and is about to complain when he notices the way Derek turns his head infinitesimally, as if he is listening for something. So Stiles stays silent, the only help he can give, and attempts to control his breathing, making it as slow and soft as possible. He can hear his heart in his ears.

The minute that passes is tense, and then Derek shoves Stiles away, toward the back of the house. "Get out of here!" he yells just before the front door bursts open and the deafening sound of gunfire fills the air. Stiles stays just long enough to get a glimpse of blonde hair before he runs.

A howl follows him.

* * *

Derek stirs gradually, in increments.

His mind is sluggish, a swamp he has to wade through before consciousness returns. It is a slow process, the feeling of his body registering first, an unpleasant dull ache running through his veins that he has never felt before. There is a quiet hum nearby which sounds electrical, but he cannot crack his eyes open to find out what is causing it or whether it is connected to the ache. He tries to move and finds that he can't—his hands are bound above his head, and his shoulders pull painfully as he gets his feet under him, standing instead of hanging and taking most of the pressure off of his protesting joints. Only then can he wrangle his eyes under control, peering through slits at the gloomy room in which he finds himself. He doesn't immediately remember what lead him there, but realisation hits and his eyes snap open wide when he spots the small generator that is a short distance away, on a table to his right, with wires running from it to his abdomen. The fact that he isn't wearing a shirt is only mildly alarming. Then, someone talks to his left and puts all the pieces together.

"I was wondering when you'd wake up," Kate comments, sitting on a chair at a second table to the left. She looks casual as can be, totally relaxed in this dilapidated room which stinks of age.

"You..." Derek seethes.

"Me."

She pushes herself up and saunters over to him, the laughter in her eyes making them shine in the low light provided by a single exposed bulb. Her lips twist into a sickeningly confident smile, stretching from ear to ear, and she raises her hand and runs her index finger down the centre of Derek's bare chest, the dip between his taut pectoral muscles. She giggles when he fights his bonds and snaps his teeth at her.

"Oh, Derek, I've missed you! Have you missed me?" Kate asks, holding her finger coyly against her bottom lip. Derek doesn't reply, just glares daggers at her, and she hums thoughtfully. "No? Well, that's a shame. I was hoping this reunion would go smoother, but I guess that's not gonna happen, huh? I've been wanting to talk to you ever since I got back into town, but you've been a naughty boy and avoided me. That wasn't very nice..." She pouts and walks over to the table with the generator on it, a distinct skip in her step. "You're going to have to be punished for that, and maybe that'll change your tune a little. But trust me..."

She reaches for the dial on the side of the generator.

"This hurts you a lot more than it hurts me."

As soon as she turns the dial, the low current of electricity that has been running through Derek's veins since he woke up increases astronomically, made worse by the section of chainlink fence to which he is secured, and he throws his head back as extreme pain flares suddenly throughout his restrained body.

He keeps his mouth stubbornly clamped shut to prevent a scream from escaping, unwilling to give Kate the satisfaction as he rides it out. It lasts for almost a full minute before she turns the dial back down to where it had been before, and he slumps in his chains, breathing heavily and ignoring the high-pitched cackling he can faintly hear, Kate finding joy in his suffering. He jolts every now and then with aftershocks, his heart beating twice as fast as normal in his chest, and he wonders idly how long it would take for it to give out should Kate turn up the juice again and leave it there. It would actually be preferable to spending another minute in her presence, but he supposes she knows and loves that, beneath all the bad acting, and that is why she steps away from the generator. Derek watches out of the corner of his eye as Kate repositions the chair in which she was previously sitting, dragging it over from the second table and placing it right in front of him, facing her. She sits down on it, backward, folds her arms across the back, and rests her chin atop them, blinking up at him and trying to catch his gaze. He keeps his eyes averted and wracks his brain for a way out that doesn't involve his death. His uncle presumably won't know what happened to him, and the thought of Peter concluding that he has been betrayed and going after Stiles in retaliation is terrifying in so many ways, especially if his earlier threat still stands. Derek will never forgive himself if he fails to stop it.

"Hello, earth to Derek," Kate singsongs, bringing him back inside the dim room.

"What?!" he snaps.

"Hmm... Time has given you a temper, I see."

"I wonder why," Derek says sarcastically, through bared teeth.

Kate smirks. "It doesn't really matter. I'm sure we can have plenty of fun even if you insist on being a gloomy gus," she assures arrogantly, waggling her eyebrows. "Now, what should we discuss first? Oh, I know! How about how your uncle is the alpha my brother and I have been searching for these past couple of weeks? I should've known it would be someone from your family, considering who all their victims were... And then Peter slipped up and disappeared from the hospital, leaving behind the body of his nurse. Tsk tsk."

Derek doesn't respond, his eyes lowered to the floor as sweat starts to break out on his forehead from the electricity still surging through his body. He feels overheated.

"How long have you known?"

He sighs. "A few days."

Humming thoughtfully, Kate picks at the peeling paint on her chair, revealing the old rotting wood beneath. "I'd have thought it was longer. Interesting..." she murmurs, shrugging. "Regardless, I want you to be a good little mutt and tell me where your uncle is. The sooner Chris and I put Peter down, the quicker we can be done with this whole town and leave again. Isn't that what you want, to be rid of me?"

"I don't know where Peter is. Probably looking for me somewhere," Derek explains, tugging ineffectually at his restraints again. The rattling of the chains echoes around the cavernous room and out the open door directly opposite him, and he glances up quickly, over the top of Kate's head, to search for clues as to his whereabouts. An old painting he didn't see before hangs on the wall next to the doorway. The canvas is burned beyond recognition, but that doesn't matter. The frame is still mostly intact, and this is all he needs to see to come to a conclusion. Kate didn't take him far. He hasn't been down in the catacombs beneath the Hale house in years, not since a few months before the fire, and a lot has clearly changed and fallen into disrepair.

"You sure? That's very disappointing." She frowns.

"What a shame."

Kate blows out a long breath and stands, kicking her chair aside. It tips over, landing on its side with a bang, and slides a few inches across the concrete floor. "Well, I don't want this entire evening to go to waste, so what do you say we...reconnect a little? It's been so long," she coaxes, biting her lip lasciviously.

Winding the fingers of her right hand through Derek's dark hair and getting a tight grip, Kate pulls roughly as her left hand goes lower, cupping and rubbing over his denim-covered crotch in what is likely supposed to be a sensual motion. The hand follows when he tries to jerk his hips away, and there isn't much else he can do to stop her, so he clenches his jaw and barely suppresses the urge to gag when Kate leans in close and slowly licks up the side of his face. Her neck is right in front of his mouth, and if it weren't for the electricity subduing his strength he would gladly tear through the vulnerable flesh and bring an end to her molestation. He can barely get his fangs to materialise, though, and in his weakened state her grip on his hair is too strong for him to move his head even an inch on his own, subjugated. The scent of her perfume irritates his nose, some pungent floral monstrosity, so he breathes through his mouth instead and soon regrets it when Kate tries to kiss him. He bites down hard on her bottom lip, fangs drawing blood and causing her to leap back with a cry of pain.

"Ah! You asshole!" she exclaims, spitting blood on the floor. Derek feels vindictive satisfaction, even when she slaps him so hard across the face that his ears ring and his vision blurs.

It was worth it.

"Don't you remember how much fun we used to have?! You couldn't keep your hands off me!"

"Times change. I didn't know what a murderous bitch you were then," Derek rebukes.

Kate exhales sharply.

"I will get what I want, Derek," she promises darkly. "You will give in eventually, and then you'll be begging me to make you feel all the things I made you feel years ago, when you so willingly gave me your virginity..." She licks and prods delicately at her lip to test the small wounds Derek made and, after concluding that there isn't any major damage, steps away and returns to the table with the generator. Sitting on the edge, she traces her fingers teasingly along the curve of the dial. "You really did make it so easy."

"You disgust me," Derek snarls, obdurate. The taste of Kate's blood lingers on his tongue, so he spits a couple of times to get rid of as much of it as he can, his saliva joining hers on the floor. "I'll never let you touch me like that again. I'm not a naive kid anymore, and I'm not your plaything."

Kate's fingers pause.

"Oh, Derek... That's where you're wrong," she purrs.

Derek grips his chains hard, bracing himself.

She cranks the dial all the way up this time, and he writhes in agony.

"You'll always be mine."

Chapter Text

- Tuesday, February 1st, 2011 -

The previous afternoon, Stiles had run from the Hale house as fast as he could, feeling like it was becoming a recurring theme for Derek to tell him to flee and for him to do so. He didn't make it far, running headfirst into a stranger about a minute into the trees. They had a shotgun slung over their shoulder, clearly a hunter, and Stiles obeyed with his heart beating a mile a minute when he was commanded to walk right back the way he'd just come. Kate was loitering by his Jeep, brushing dust off her jeans as more hunters stood around her. She smiled at him as he came into view and, surprisingly, told the man holding the gun to Stiles' back to let him go. Stiles couldn't see Derek anywhere, and his lingering must have made his concern obvious because Kate knocked on the driver's-side window to get his attention. "Don't you worry about Derek now," she had said. "I'll take good care of him. You just run along home like a good boy and let us worry about catching the alpha. Oh, and don't try to find Derek, or I'll make sure his interrogation goes a lot less smoothly. Got it? Good."

Gulping, Stiles had reluctantly backed away, once again unable to do anything.

It was a horrible feeling.

The following morning, Stiles walks into school with no plans of rescue. Having to trust that Kate won't kill Derek doesn't sit well with him, but he wouldn't stand a chance with all the firepower she has at her disposal. He could always break into the Argents' house again and steal something, but that would likely just get him in trouble as well. And then there really would be nothing he could do.

He spends the day out of it, until Lydia intercepts him as he and Erica are exiting the main building after last period has ended. Her hair is loose and pin straight, and she wears a short brown skirt and a light-blue blouse with small brown dachshunds embroidered all over it. It's adorable.

"Do you want to go to the dance?" she asks by way of greeting.

The question catches Stiles off-guard, and he gapes.

"Well?"

"Uhh...what?"

Lydia sighs, exasperated. "I asked if you wanted to go to the dance with me on Saturday," she reiterates to Stiles with a roll of her eyes. The wind blows her hair in her face, so she grabs it and sweeps it all over one shoulder, keeping her hand wrapped around the ends to hold it in place like a makeshift hair tie. "Just as friends. After all the crap that's been happening recently I want to have a nice, relaxing time there, and since Jackson is out of the picture and you're the only person I know who will go without expecting anything, I figured I'd ask. Am I just wasting my time?"

With a hushed farewell Erica scurries off, looking back over her shoulder as she goes. Stiles barely notices, still staring at Lydia until she raises an impatient eyebrow.

"Sure?" he accepts uncertainly.

"Excellent!" Lydia exclaims, her face lighting up. "I'll take care of your outfit so that it doesn't clash with the dress I've already picked out, so don't worry about that. As for the rest, just pick me up about half an hour before it starts. Don't be late. Oh! And before I forget, here." She shoves something in Stiles' hand, a small plastic bag containing funny-coloured powder. "I got this after you told me about everything. It's wolfsbane. I thought it was a good idea we both have some in case of an emergency, so keep it on you at all times." She pulls her own bag from her pocket and winks, then marches off with purpose, head held high. Stiles stares after her until she disappears, blindly putting his bag of wolfsbane in his own pocket. That done, he turns to his left and wonders where Erica has disappeared to.

* * *

- Saturday, February 5th, 2011 -

Stiles examines himself in the bathroom mirror.

It isn't a bad ensemble, he will admit—the suit is well-fitting, pristine, and probably more expensive than he could ever afford by himself. Lydia chose well but, while he hadn't really doubted her taste, it is still surprising how much the suit changes his appearance. Plain black with a crisp white shirt beneath the jacket, it is a little more formal than he would have gone if left to his own devices, but he supposes that this is what the dance is supposed to be about. After all, it is the winter formal.

He would almost call himself dapper, but he isn't quiet that sure of himself yet.

"Alright, you can do this..."

Running a hand over his short hair, Stiles checks the time and panics for a second when he sees that it is later than he thought. He was supposed to leave to pick Lydia up at her house five minutes ago, so he quickly slips on the dress shoes that complete the outfit (black leather, of course) and rushes downstairs.

His dad is in the living room, relaxed on the sofa with a beer in his hand, and Stiles pauses briefly in the doorway when he sees this. At least it isn't hard liquor this time, he muses. An improvement. Remembering that he has somewhere to be, he quickly says goodbye to the sheriff and is out the door with uncharacteristically graceful celerity. After waiting a minute for the Jeep's engine to warm up, he drives in the direction of Lydia's house, tapping nervously with his fingers on the steering wheel. He hopes the night goes smoothly. He doesn't expect anything, just as Lydia said on Tuesday, but there are still feelings there. Not as strong as before, when he used to obsess over her, but enough to raise his anxiety level. Somehow he manages not to work himself up as he stops outside the Martin household and gets out, pressing the button on the intercom that is screwed into the wall next to the closed and opulent front gate. There is a short wait before Lydia's voice hisses out of the tinny speaker, telling him that she will be right there. He shoves his hands in the pockets of his jacket and waits patiently, jumping in surprise when the gate bursts to life and swing inward. Turning, he looks up the drive and feels his heart skip in his chest when the front door opens and Lydia steps out, dressed to the nines. Her dress is strapless and puffs out at the waist in large pleats that come down to her knees, made out of the softest-looking material, baby pink, complementing her pale skin perfectly. Her hair is in waves, pinned away from her face but otherwise down, and her makeup is delicate, more natural than it normally is.

It suits her.

He wonders how long it took her to get ready.

"We good to go?" she asks when they stand next to each other.

"You look beautiful," he bleets in reply.

She smiles. "Well, duh. You're not so bad yourself." She fiddles with his pink tie.

"Thanks."

Redness blossoms across Stiles' face, and he is thankful for the low light, which will hopefully hide his reaction to the compliment. In lieu of verbally answering Lydia's question, he walks back over to his Jeep and opens the passenger-side door for her, stepping back to allow her to get in. She does so demurely and runs her hand over the dashboard, humming thoughtfully. "Strange," she mutters.

Stiles is in the driver's seat now, seatbelt just buckled, and he pauses briefly with the parking break in his grip. "What is?" he asks as he begins the drive to the school.

"It's just...your car is cleaner than I would've thought," Lydia explains, taking her hand off the dashboard and resting it in her lap, being careful not to wrinkle her dress. "Not that I thought you were a slob or anything. It's just, y'know, boys... Jackson's Porsche was always a mess." She gets a fond expression on her face, but it only lasts a second before she seems to remember how she is supposed to feel about the lacrosse co-captain and embarrassment takes over, bringing more colour to her already rosy cheeks. She clears her throat and reaches for the stereo, switching it on to fill the car with music and flipping through the stations until she arrives on one which is doing a countdown of the current charts. Stiles doesn't comment on the distraction, staying silent and letting Lydia take as much time as she needs to get herself together again.

It doesn't take long for the school to come into view.

"Oh, wow..." he gasps.

It seems a strange thing to see the building all lit up in the dark like this. There are decorations hung up around the entrance, large arrows on poster board pointing the way to the dance in case anybody has forgotten the room in which it always takes place. The parking lot is full to the brim, and groups of other students mill about in their formal wear, talking excitedly to each other. Stiles can hear laughter already, and he smiles as he eases the Jeep into one of the few free spaces left in the back, already finding the electricity in the air contagious. "You ready for this?" he asks Lydia, reaching for his door handle.

"Let's do it," the redhead grins at him, sadness all gone again.

In tandem they exit the vehicle.

Lydia comes around to the driver's side and holds out her arm, which Stiles takes after a second of hesitation. As he thought would happen, as soon as they begin walking arm in arm toward the entrance of the school, heads turn in their direction and gossipy whispers are shared behind hands.

"This is surreal..." Stiles says when they get inside.

"What is?"

"Just...being here. With you."

Lydia tilts her head to the side before nodding. "I guess."

Following the arrows, they arrive in the gym, which has been spruced up considerably for the occasion. Pink and gold streamers are pinned from the middle of the ceiling, running out in long lines until they reach the four walls like the roof of a large circus tent. Metallic balloons are stuck between them, peeking out the gaps and sometimes falling through to the floor. Some people are playing with them, hitting them up in the air and trying to keep them there like a game of low-gravity volleyball, while others dance to the music that comes from the stage set up on the far side of the room. A band is already there, playing away, with the lead singer singing about pressure dripping off a girl's shoulders and wanting to relieve it. Yet more people are lounging on the stands, while refreshments are spread out on a long table along the last wall. Lydia pulls Stiles toward it, and he looks over the spread while she fills two plastic cups with punch that will likely be spiked by the end of the night, a rite of passage true to every teen flick he has ever seen.

She shoves one of the cups in his hand a few seconds later, and he smiles at her gratefully before taking a sip to wash down the handful chips he has just eaten, people-watching over the rim.

"Hang on a second," Lydia says suddenly, shoving her cup at him, too.

He takes it, baffled.

She elbows her way through the crowd, and Stiles can just about see the top of her head as she meets up with another girl, a brunette. They talk for a minute before Lydia grins and makes her way back. He gets a flash of Allison's face before she returns to whatever she had been doing. "What was that about?" Stiles asks as he hands Lydia back her drink. He still doesn't know what to make of Allison, so he is a little nervous.

"Just checking to see if Jackson has shown yet," she answers.

Stiles frowns.

"I asked her to warn me when he does. I don't need that headache tonight."

"Oh." Stiles takes another sip and catches a flash of blonde hair a short distance away. A closer look reveals that this belongs to Erica, who dances enthusiastically with a tall dark-skinned boy whose name Stiles doesn't know. He usually sits by himself in the cafeteria every day, though, Stiles knows that much. Erica catches his curious gaze after a while, and he sends her a thumbs up before she goes back to dancing her ass off. Stiles is glad she found someone to come with. He had been concerned after the disappearing act she pulled when Lydia asked him, and he smiles fondly as he watches her enjoy herself.

It is nice to see.

"Wanna dance?" he asks Lydia, wanting to get in on the fun. The redhead gulps down the rest of her drink before accepting the offer and dragging him out to the middle of the dance floor. The next moment, before either of them can get into the fast-paced song, it changes into one with a much slower tempo.

Stiles immediately feels awkward but follows along obediently when Lydia's forearms come to rest on his shoulders, his hands finding their way to her waist. They move slowly from side to side for the duration of the song until it changes again, the tempo increasing. They have drawn yet more speculative eyes from other students, and Stiles goes to suggest they stop, his nerves not reacting well to being the centre of attention, even if that was what he wanted for years. He doesn't manage to get his mouth open because, as soon as he turns his head to face Lydia again, lips are on his. Freezing, eyes wide, he doesn't respond as Lydia tries to coax him into the kiss, her right hand wrapping around the back of his neck and her left curling around his shoulder. His own hands spasm on her waist before he comes to his senses and gently pushes her away.

"What's wrong?" Lydia asks immediately, eyes narrowed. "I know you want this."

She tries to kiss him again.

"Lydia-" he gasps out, turning his head to the side. "Stop it!"

"Why?"

"Because I don't want this!"

She gives him a hurt look and then storms off, getting lost in the crowd.

Stiles is left confused, standing alone with a bunch of unrepentant gossip surrounding him. He quickly tries to follow Lydia, making his way to the top of the stands to get a better view of the room. Her red hair isn't in sight, so instead he exits the gym altogether and goes in search of her elsewhere, jogging down the halls until he hears something that sounds suspiciously like crying. It comes from the girls' bathroom beside which he now stands, so he knocks on the door. "Lydia? Is that you?"

The crying cuts off, followed by a quiet, "Go away..." and a sniffle.

Ignoring her, Stiles opens the door. Lydia leans against one of the sinks, with red eyes and a crumpled-up tissue in her hand. "What's going on?" he asks softly, leaning against the sink beside hers.

Lydia doesn't offer a reply at first, and Stiles willingly gives her all the time she needs to organise her thoughts. He hands her another tissue when she asks for one, which she uses to wipe away the lines of mascara that have run down from her eyes. Her makeup is ruined, making her look like a raccoon, but she'd apparently had the forethought to bring some more with her, which she pulls out of her tiny clutch. The current song playing in the gym is just audible, the bass loud enough that it shakes the walls from a couple of hallways away. It hadn't seemed that loud when they'd first arrived. Stiles looks around the room while Lydia finishes touching up her makeup, curious, and notes all the differences between it and the boys' bathroom. There are those he could've easily guessed (like the lack of urinals and the extra stalls which replace them) and the ones he couldn't have. The walls are painted a soft pink, the stereotypical mirror to the sky-blue hue of the boys' bathroom, and the stalls are a deep purple instead of the navy blue he is used to. It also seems a lot cleaner, and Stiles can't pick up the faint traces of urine that always seem to permeate the air in the boys', likely because nobody misses when clumsily relieving themselves. It makes a nice change. A short while later, when his ADHD has begun to act up, making him feel restless, Lydia finally seems ready to explain her earlier actions. Stiles turns to her when she clears her throat to reclaim his attention.

"I don't know what came over me," she whispers as she puts the cap back on her mascara. "Ever since I broke things off with Jackson I've been... I'm not used to being by myself, and I know it's not fair to you but I knew you had a crush on me for years, and I guess I just wanted to feel wanted again. I'm sorry."

Stiles frowns.

"You don't need to apologise, Lyds," he says.

"Yes, I do. I was trying to take advantage of you and that wasn't right."

"Maybe not, but I'm more worried about why you felt the need to do that."

She looks away.

"I'm not in love with you anymore, if I ever really was," Stiles confides, stepping closer and wrapping an arm around Lydia's shoulders. Truth be told, what he felt for her for years was never love, he knows that for sure now. It was simply infatuation, which pales to almost nothing when compared to his recent feelings for a certain Sourwolf, but he keeps that comparison to himself for the time being.

"Even so, I think in the years I admired you from afar I grew to know a lot about you. You built your whole sense of self around being popular, the It girl, and now that you're not with the captain of the lacrosse team anymore, you're panicking because you don't know who to be. Well, I have to tell you now: You're beautiful, obviously, but that's not what kept me interested for so long. I saw the person you tried to hide, the smart, kind and amazing person you are beneath all the bravado, and I hope someday you let everyone else see that, too. That's who I think you should be." She leans into his embrace as he talks, and they find themselves in a full-on hug, her head tucked under his chin. "You deserve someone who can really make you happy, and who loves you for you. But that's not me. Not romantically, anyway."

"I'm sorry."

Stiles shushes her. "I already told you, you don't have to apologise for earlier."

Lydia pulls away. "Not about that... I wanted to apologise for not doing anything sooner about how Jackson treated you. I just stood back and let him torment you for years," she mumbles, ashamed. "You're a much better person than he ever was, and I'm sorry I didn't see it until it was too late." A shaky breath, and then her lips twist into a small smile. "Who'd have thought we'd ever be here, having a heart-to-heart in the girls' bathroom on the night of the winter formal? Things really do change fast, don't they?"

Stiles smiles, too. "You can say that again."

"When did you stop crushing over me, by the way?" she asks, intrigued, as she picks her clutch back up from where she had left it on the rim of the sink. "How did I miss that?"

"A few weeks ago..."

"Wow, that's pretty recent. What happened?"

Stiles blushes and looks down at his feet. "Derek happened."

Lydia's eyes widen, and he nods. "Yeah, it shocked me, too, believe me..."

"Well, I hope it works out with you two. You deserve to be happy, too," she says, checking herself over one last time in the mirror. She must see some imperfection that Stiles doesn't, because she narrows her eyes at her own reflection. "Give me a few minutes, OK? Just wait back inside and I'll be there soon."

"Sure thing."

* * *

Stiles stands just inside the gym for five minutes before he starts to get worried.

He hadn't expected Lydia to take so long, and he pulls his phone out to check the time again just as he feels it vibrate, a new message coming in. From Lydia, it asks him to come meet her outside, by the lacrosse pitch. Confused, Stiles exits the gym again, leaving behind the music and the atmosphere of joy and celebration, and navigates the halls between him and his new destination. He finds it odd. What reason could she have for being out there? It doesn't take him long to find out because, as soon as he has passed through the locker rooms and strolled out onto the familiar grass of the lacrosse field, the floodlights come on, temporarily blinding him. He holds a hand up to shield his eyes, blinking rapidly to clear the moisture, and tries to make out what the strange shape is that he can see right in the middle of the pitch. It looks sort of like a person, and when his eyes get used to the brightness he sees that it is, just not the person he was expecting.

It's Peter Hale.

"What the fuck...?" Stiles breathes out.

The alpha smirks at him before looking down at something on the ground between them. Stiles does the same, his heart stopping in his chest when he sees Lydia lying there, unconscious and bloody. Her dress is torn to shreds, and she has deep claw marks on nearly every patch of visible skin. "What the hell did you do to her?!" Stiles demands, hurrying forward and falling to his knees beside Lydia's supine form.

He holds two fingers to her neck to check her pulse and feels a surge of relief when he finds one, though it is sluggish. The various cuts and gashes on her body all continue to bleed on to the grass, leaving sick trails of red against the pallor of her skin, which frighteningly gets paler and paler as the seconds tick by. Peter watches Stiles the whole time, smirk still in place, and only steps forward when he slides his arms beneath Lydia's knees and upper back, readying himself to pick her up and take her to safety.

A clawed hand grips his shoulder hard and keeps him in place.

"I can't let you do that, I'm afraid," Peter says menacingly, eyes flashing red. "She's already served her use, and now it's time for you to serve yours." He runs his pink tongue over a fang.

Stiles shudders.

"Why? Why are you doing this?" he asks.

"I need you to help me find Derek, of course," Peter answers. "Sound good?"

Not above pleading, Stiles stares imploringly into the alpha's conflagrant eyes.

"Let me help her first. Please!"

Peter contemplates this for a while, drawing out the time purposefully until Stiles wants to scream. Finally he acquiesces. "Fine. You can call to get her some help, but only on the condition that I get your full and unwavering cooperation for the rest of my plan," he drawls, looking delighted with himself.

Stiles gets the impression that this deal was all part of Peter's said 'plan'.

"Fine!" he seethes.

The alpha waits patiently while Stiles dials 911 and requests an ambulance, leaving out as many of the details as he dares before hanging up. They will easily be able to figure out that it was the son of the sheriff who called, so there isn't any point in wasting more time than he has to. "Alright, there. Now, what the hell do you want me to do, you unbelievable asshole?" he hisses, hands balled into fists at his sides.

Peter grins.

Chapter Text

"Why do you insist on resisting me so hard, Derek? Am I that terrible?" Kate asks sweetly, stroking the back of her hand down the side of Derek's sweaty face. She has just turned down the generator again, after keeping it on for almost half an hour as punishment for his perceived insolence. His eyes are clenched shut and he grunts disapprovingly but, as much as he wants to, he no longer has the energy to actually turn away from her touch. "You know that each time you reject me I'll just leave you writhing there for longer and longer..."

"Go fuck yourself..." Derek mumbles.

Kate giggles.

"Oh, don't be silly, Derek! I'm trying to get you to do that instead!"

Derek growls low in his throat, but the sound isn't as threatening as he means it to be. It comes out weak, like a newborn puppy who has just noticed its own reflection for the first time. Kate coos at him, feeling the vibrations as she rubs her hand in small circles over his chest, like she is trying to soothe. As it is, the touch has the complete opposite affect, riling him up until he somehow finds the energy to kick out at her, nailing her right in the shin and causing her to hop away, hissing through her teeth. "I told you to stop touching me..." Derek bites out, glaring with heavy-lidded eyes as Kate sits herself down in her chair and holds a hand over her shin. His surge of energy disappears just as quick as it had come and he slumps once more in his restraints, barely keeping his head from tipping forward, his legs shaking slightly.

"And I told you that I don't care," Kate responds.

The pain in her shin dimmed to manageable levels, she crosses one leg over the other and bounces it gently up and down. "Y'know, I had some time to think just now, while I was punishing you again for being a bad little werewolf, and I think I realised the true reason why you refuse to cooperate."

"Oh, really?" Derek asks, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Kate smirks.

"Really. You see, I don't think it has to do with me at all," she explains. Picking up Derek's phone from where it lies on the table between the generator and her gun, she presses the power button and pouts briefly when she finds that it is flat but quickly becomes unbothered because they have the same make and model. Her own charger is quickly put to good use, which she gets from her bag just inside the door. Plugged in, she sits in silence until Derek's phone is powered enough to switch on and then tries to guess his passcode. "Let's see... My birthday? No? That's a shame. Perhaps your bitch sister's birthday, if I remember it correctly from when I was gathering intel on your family all those years ago... Not that either, huh? That's cold, Derek, very cold."

Derek stays tight-lipped through this, not wanting to give Kate any clues.

"Oh, I bet I know what it is!"

She inputs the suspected code and grins when the phone unlocks to the home screen. "The date of the fire? Really, Derek?" she asks almost fondly. "You do love to torture yourself, don't you?"

"There's a reason."

"Do tell."

"It was supposed to serve as a reminder not to let myself get sucked in by insane murderous bitches again," Derek spits, getting pleasure out of the affronted expression that flashes across Kate's face. It is short-lived, though, because she goes back to perusing through his phone a couple of seconds later, acting as if he had never opened his mouth. Hanging limply in his restraints, he waits until she finds whatever she is looking for.

Luckily, or perhaps unluckily (he doesn't know which), he doesn't have to wait long.

Kate gets up with his phone still in hand and moves to stand in front him.

"Here we go!" She shows him the screen.

Derek's lips thin.

"This is why, right?" she asks, scrolling through all the texts that have been sent between Derek and Stiles over the past few weeks. The vast majority of them are from Stiles, inane chatter and questions that went unanswered, but that didn't appear to have bothered the teenager. No, the texts just kept coming and while it had annoyed him in the past, when Derek looks back on them all now he can't help but get a warm feeling in his chest because he was clearly on Stiles' mind so often. It is nice to have that reaffirmation of how important he is to the boy, especially given the company that has been forced on him for the last week.

"I bet you won't touch me anymore because you have feelings for this Stiles kid," Kate says. "I have to say I find that mighty amusing, Derek. How the tables have turned, hmm? You say you hate me for what I did to you, but then you go and start doing the exact same thing! We have more in common than I thought."

"That's not true," Derek snaps.

"No? So you haven't been taking advantage of a lonely teenage boy?"

Derek has to look away.

"See? You can't answer me because you know I'm right and you can't admit it to yourself," Kate continues, revelling in the shame she can clearly see building in Derek's eyes. She crouches down to try to meet them but he keeps avoiding her gaze, his already flushed face becoming redder. "You're just as sick as me, Derek. That's why we're so perfect for each other! Do you see that now, or do you still need some convincing? No? Good. He is rather cute, I'll give you that much, and loyal. I warned him about you, and you know what he did to thank me for my thoughtfulness? He just ignored me and drove off. Stalwart little shit..." She chuckles. "I suppose it doesn't really matter now. He knows too much and as unwise a decision as it was, he's already chosen his side in this war. He'll have to go, too, after I'm done with you."

* * *

Feeling immensely guilty, Stiles leaves Lydia lying on the lacrosse pitch and goes with Peter. He already knows there will be awkward questions he will have to answer, about how Lydia came to be in the state she will be in when the ambulance finds her and why he left her there after calling it in.

It is a good thing that hardly anyone else is around when he and Peter get into his Jeep and drive off, because the questions would be even harder to answer if he had to account for why he had left with Peter Hale, who vanished from the hospital and left a dead body in his wake. Peter hums to himself in the passenger seat, and Stiles keeps his fingers wrapped around the steering wheel, white-knuckled, as he is given directions to an old parking structure on the other side of town. He vaguely remembers the place when he pulls to a stop inside it, on the top level, and exits his car to get a better look at his surroundings, making a note of every escape route he can see should things go south, as they inevitably will. The complex used to be frequented by lots of people but, over time, and especially after the new mall opened a few years back, complete with its own larger and brand-new parking facilities, it saw fewer and fewer visitors until people stopped using it altogether. The walls are absolutely covered in graffiti, almost no free space left, and in the air there is the distinct odour of stale cigarette smoke and urine, commixed together. There is only one other vehicle in the area, and Stiles does a double-take when he lays eyes on Derek's Camaro. Peter has clearly been driving it in his nephew's stead.

Speaking of Peter, the alpha remains sat in the Jeep for a minute, doing what, Stiles doesn't know, before exiting it as well. The passenger door is left open and the smirk is firmly back in place, destroying any calm Stiles had managed to scrounge together and unnerving him all over again. Peter approaches him, so he futilely takes several steps back to maintain the distance between them. Peter is too quick for this to work, and an arm comes around him anyway and leads him with an iron grip over to the Camaro.

Then, Peter opens the boot and steps aside.

"Get to work."

Stiles' eyes bug out.

Before him is a surplus of electronics, fancy-looking equipment that at first doesn't make any sense to him. Then he sees a faded white sticker on what appears to be a bulky laptop:

'Property of Danny Mahealani'

"How did you get this?" Stiles asks fearfully, opening the laptop up and hitting the power button. The screen lights up almost instantly and a loading bar appears at the bottom, slowly filling up as the tense seconds tick by. "Please tell me you didn't hurt Danny, too. He's not part of any of this!"

Peter chuckles, seeming to find Stiles' worry highly amusing. "Relax, there was no one home when I broke in," he explains, running a finger distractedly along the hard black edge of the boot. "And as long as you do as you're told I won't have to waste more time by going back there when someone is. Now, I want you to use all of this to track down my nephew, and be quick about it. I'm in no mood to dawdle and I think we've left Derek in Kate's clutches for long enough, don't you? Surely just imagining the many, many horrors she has inflicted upon him is enough to get you moving, no? The different ways she could be tormenting him at this very moment, even just by forcing him to be in her presence. So come on. Chop, chop!"

"Why do you care so much?" Stiles asks.

"He's my nephew."

The computer finishes booting up then, and Stiles runs the cursor around the desktop uselessly, looking for a place to begin working the unfamiliar software. "No offence, but you killed your niece so I'm not exactly in a hurry to accept that at face value..." he points out, feeling brazen. He figures that Peter needs him alive for at least the next few minutes, so why not try to get away with some of his patented snark?

Peter sighs.

"Just trust me. Derek's life is very valuable to me."

Pulling a face that makes it perfectly clear just what he thinks of Peter's words (bull-fucking-shit), Stiles systematically clicks on each of the many icons that clutter up the desktop and closes each one that doesn't lead to something he guesses he wants. He is honestly baffled as to why Peter thinks enlisting his 'help' in this was in any way a good idea. After all, he has no clue what he is doing, but he has to give it to the man: he knows just what to say to make him cooperate. Just say Derek's name and he will bend over backward, and that is a thought that strikes him with a hint of bemusement and fear. Feeling that protective and dedicated to another person, especially one who, in the grand scheme of things, he has only known for a few weeks, is frankly startling. He has to shake off the feeling and pay it no more mind, though, refocusing on the task at hand and telling himself that he can have his little freakout when Derek is safe and sound and Peter is dead. Kate, too, if he has any say in the matter. He will kill her himself if he has to.

And then I'll be a murderer as well.

"A necessary evil..." he whispers to himself, drawing Peter's attention.

"What was that?" the alpha asks, stepping closer.

"Nothing."

Peter hums, thankfully not pressing the matter further. Stiles keeps his eyes on the screen, the tightness in his chest loosening the smallest fraction when he clicks on one of the last icons on the desktop and the application that opens looks vaguely like tracking software. He can't be sure because he has never seen something like this, at least not in real life, but there is only one way to find out. Pulling out his phone, he goes to Derek's name in his Contacts and types the number into the box at the top of the app window.

More loading, and then a detailed map of Beacon Hills appears on the screen, a blinking dot right over the middle of the preserve. It takes Stiles a second to figure out where this is, and when he does a frown forms on his face. Kate didn't take Derek far, it seems. In fact, she didn't take him anywhere.

"He's at your old house," Stiles says, pointing Peter to the dot.

"Hmm, that is interesting, isn't it?" the alpha asks.

"It is?"

"I'd say so. That she would keep him there, and that I couldn't detect him when I went looking after she took him," Peter elaborates, moving closer at the same time Stiles starts backing away cautiously. In a flash he grabs hold of the boy's arm, preventing him from getting any further. "Ah, ah, ah, I wouldn't do that if I were you. Trying to run from me could lead to me finishing what I started with Miss Martin. You wouldn't want that now, would you?" His words have their desired effect, Stiles giving up his attempts to extricate himself from Peter's grasp, and Peter grins toothily, a hint of fang showing, poking into his bottom lip. Satisfied that Stiles will make no more efforts to escape, he releases him and closes the laptop, shutting the boot again afterward.

"Now then, what to do with you..." Peter ponders.

Stiles tenses.

The alpha taps a finger against his chin, head tilted to the side speculatively. "I can't just let you go. You're still a liability, after all; I can't be sure you won't try to thwart my plans later on."

Lightning-fast, Peter reaches out and takes Stiles' wrist in his hand, holding it up between them so that the vulnerable inside is facing up. "I know! How about I give you the bite? Would you like that, to be able to keep up with Derek, be better than Scott? I should have never bitten him in the first place... That was a grievous error in judgement. No, you'd be a much better beta, I bet. What do you say?"

"Uhh..."

Stiles is left uncharacteristically speechless.

Sure, he has thought about what it would be like a couple of times since making the discovery that werewolves are a real thing, but never did he think about actually taking the plunge. The only thing he is sure about is that, if he were to take the bite, it wouldn't be with Peter as his alpha. He yanks his hand back and is surprised when Peter actually lets him. The alpha looks shocked, like the possibility of his proposal being rejected hadn't occurred to him, and Stiles feels a little pleased about sweeping the rug out from beneath his feet with such a small gesture. The surprise fades quickly, replaced by that familiar smirk, and Stiles smiles back, though he doesn't feel it. "I think I'll stick to being human, thanks. It's worked out for me so far, and besides: all offence intended, you're fucking crazy and I'd rather die than have to take more orders from you."

"Plucky, aren't you? I can see now why Derek likes you so much," Peter comments, getting amusement out of the way Stiles' mouth gapes like a fish. "You should watch it, though. It wouldn't be a very good idea to make me mad now, would it? Not when I already have what I want from you."

"You don't scare me."

Peter grins, eyes flashing red. "Is that so?"

A hint of fear flits across Stiles' face, but he nods anyway.

"Let's test that, shall we?"

In less than a second Peter is on Stiles, pushing him over so that he lands with a thud on the hard concrete, his back sparking brightly with pain that makes him cry out. He claws at Peter's forearm when it presses against his throat and stares defiantly up into his eyes, knowing this moment was inevitable, no matter what he said or how well he played along with Peter's plans. Said man straddles his waist and he tries to buck him off, but it is a fruitless endeavour. Peter is immovable, so Stiles goes still to conserve his energy and breathes harshly through his nose as the alpha brings their faces closer together, mouth right next to his ear.

Warm breaths puff out against the shell and make him shiver.

"Don't say I didn't warn you."

Stiles has no time to think about what Peter's words mean before he feels sharp claws press hard against his ribs through his dress shirt. He wriggles to try to get away before they pierce the fabric and then his skin, Peter's grinning face above his own the entire time, but his efforts to get free aren't necessary. What Peter has planned doesn't involve eviscerating him, as Stiles finds out when the alpha instead moves his hand and uses his claws to shred his black trousers, not bothering with the button and zipper and just rending the waistband apart before yanking them down his thighs. Stiles truly starts to panic now, his eyes widening as he realises just what Peter intends to do to him, and he renews his struggles even as the arm still pressing on his throat gets more forceful, very nearly cutting off his airway. Faintly, through the rushing in his ears, he hears Peter babbling to himself. He doesn't get all of it but hears rhetorical questions, Peter asking how it is fair that Derek gets to have a mate when he was the one who killed their whole family, Peter's own innocent mate included. The mad ramblings continue but Stiles blocks them out when his trousers and underwear are finally ripped off his legs completely and discarded. The concrete is freezing against his naked skin, and he gulps in a great lungful of air when the pressure on his throat suddenly disappears, Peter's hovering face with it. Then, he is flipped over onto his front and the weight is back, this time on his thighs. Peter leans over him again and whispers more things in his ear, asking him how he thinks Derek will react when they find his bloody corpse.

"What do you think he'll do, hmm, when he realises what happened to you was all his fault?" Peter enquires, the sick thrill of excitement in his voice. "It only serves him right, after all. He took what I loved most away from me with his fucking stupidity, and now I'm doing the same to him. Only I'm going to take my time, going to really make you feel it. I'm sure he'll love knowing I had you before he could."

Peter grinds his hard length down against Stiles' bare ass, and Stiles' breath hitches.

"Please don't!" he gasps.

A cruel laugh.

"You should feel honoured," Peter responds, shuffling backward a little and keeping Stiles down with a hand between his shoulder blades. "I would tell you to just relax so this'll be easier for you, but that wouldn't be anywhere near as fun. Feel free to struggle as much as you like, Stiles. No one will hear you."

A dry finger presses against Stiles' hole then, applying moderate pressure to get the tip to just barely slip inside, and Stiles' whole body is still out of shock, his mind juddering as his thoughts skip over themselves. No one has ever touched him there like this before, not even himself, and he holds a hand over his eyes as if it will block out all of his senses and not just his sight. His face flushes with humiliation as he takes a series of shuddering breaths, his eyes watering at the feeling of pure helplessness. Then, his saviour, he hears the memory of a female voice, repeating something he was told earlier in the week:

"Keep it on you at all times."

Lydia.

He could actually kiss her now.

Peering through his fingers with a wince as Peter invades him deeper, Stiles spies his trousers on the ground a couple of feet away. And there, in the right pocket, is the bag of wolfsbane Lydia gave him after asking him to the winter formal. The only thing he has to do is reach it without Peter noticing what he is doing. Easier said than done, but no one can say he isn't dripping with aplomb when it really counts. Chancing a glance over his shoulder, Stiles spots his opening when he sees that Peter is fixated with watching himself, seemingly paying no attention to anything but his fingers. Before this can change, Stiles slowly stretches out his arm toward his trousers and sighs in relief when he finds he is just able to reach them. A second dry digit enters him as he gets his hand on the bag of wolfsbane, and he hisses through his teeth at the sharp burn.

"What do you think, Stiles? Should I do a third or would that just be unnecessary?" Peter asks suddenly, making Stiles pause. "I think it would...so let's get on with the show, shall we?"

"Wait-"

Peter rips his fingers from Stiles' body then, making him cry out at the rough treatment. Frantic now, he tears open the bag and gets a fistful of the grainy powder within, flipping himself over on to his back when Peter gets off of him in order to unbuckle his belt. The alpha looks down at him in surprise for a second and, when blood-red eyes flick up to the now-empty bag above his head, Stiles acts.

"Fuck you!" he yells.

The wolfsbane is thrown right in Peter's face.

Peter screams bloody murder and scratches at his skin, coughing and spluttering as he stumbles away from Stiles' prone form. Stiles watches this all with vengeful glee for a few seconds before remembering his nudity and scrabbling to get back into his underwear and dress trousers, dismayed to find that the damage Peter did to the waistband of the latter means he has to hold them up himself. Still, it is the best case scenario right now so he makes do, taking a few steps backward, toward his Jeep, when he notices that Peter's noises of pain are quieting, the coughing easing off into heavy breathing and low growls. Clearly the wolfsbane is wearing off, so when Peter takes his hands away from his face and glares up at him with red eyes, in more ways than one this time, Stiles sticks the hand not currently holding on to the only thing protecting his modesty inside his other trouser pocket. "Don't you dare some any closer, you asshole, unless you want another faceful of this stuff," he threatens, glaring right back at the alpha. He is quite proud that his voice doesn't come out at all timorous, not an ounce of weakness showing in spite of what he has just been forced to endure.

Scowling, Peter snaps his teeth at Stiles. "I know you're lying," he announces as his features revert back to their human state. "But that little stunt really ruined the mood, so I suppose I'll let you go. For now. We'll finish this later, perhaps with Derek watching." The smirk a final time, then he gets in the Camaro and races out of the parking structure, swerving purposefully at Stiles so that he is forced to leap out of the way. Words of parting are shouted through the open window before the car disappears down the ramp:

"Until next time, Stiles!"

Stiles watches Peter go with his breath held, only letting it out when silence reigns.

"Bring it. I'll be ready," he promises.

Chapter Text

The first thing Stiles does when he is sure that Peter is truly gone is to change out of his ruined dress trousers and into his lacrosse shorts, which are stored in the trunk of his Jeep. It feels strange to pair them with his no-longer-crisp dress shirt, but he doesn't really have any other choice. He balls up the trousers and tosses them to the backseat after situating himself behind the wheel, grimacing when his ass twinges and reminds him of what happened minutes earlier. Reaching over to close the passenger door that his assaulter so graciously left open, the engine revs to life after turning the keys in the ignition, but he doesn't leave the parking structure just yet. Instead he sits and thinks. Peter will probably already be well on his way to 'rescue' Derek, and Stiles doesn't want to confront the alpha just yet. His next move becomes obvious after a little more rumination, so he presses his foot down on the gas and drives in the direction of Beacon Hills Memorial, with the plan of checking up on Lydia. He hopes the ambulance was able to reach her in time. The street lamps blur past, and before he knows it he is stationary in the parking lot, hopping out of his Jeep, and power-walking toward the main entrance. Melissa McCall stands beside the nurses' station, dressed in her scrubs with her curly hair pulled into a ponytail at the back of her head and, after taking a moment to gather himself, Stiles approaches her with purpose. Tapping her on the shoulder to get her attention, Melissa looks up from the form she had been filling out and happiness spreads across her features when she sees him.

Stiles feels a little happiness, too, as a part of him was concerned that Scott may have poisoned her against him after their rather public and explosive falling out. Melissa's obvious pleasure at seeing him again lets him know that he was just being stupid, and he feels a little guilty for ever doubting her for a second when she has been nothing but warm and motherly to him in all the time they have known each other. "Hey, Miss McCall," he greets, eagerly hugging her back when she pulls him into an embrace.

The act is a small comfort of which he was in desperate need.

"Stiles! I haven't seen you in ages, young man!" Melissa admonishes jokingly.

"Yeah..." He smiles tightly and rubs a hand awkwardly over the back of his head.

"How've you been?"

"Umm, good, I guess," Stiles lies, not wanting to tell Melissa the truth about all that has happened since the time they saw each other last. He will leave that task for Scott, who has apparently been too much of a coward to inform his mother of everything he has done, all the pain his actions have caused, since he became a werewolf almost a full month ago. Stiles hopes for their future conversation to end in a good and well-deserved ass-kicking of mammoth proportions, and that he will be there to witness it. "I'm here to see how a friend of mine is doing. She should've been admitted not too long ago. Her name's Lydia Martin."

Melissa's face grows concerned. "Oh, sure thing, honey," she says, her tone gentle as her motherly instincts kick in full force. She pats Stiles' shoulder consolingly. "I'll just go see what I can find out, OK?"

"Alright," Stiles accepts, nodding.

"Be back in a flash."

He sets in to wait, leaning his hip against the nurses' station.

Life goes on as normal around him, the hustle and bustle of a late weekend night at a hospital. Doctors and nurses come and go, and several times he has to wave them off when they ask whether he requires any help. He can't blame them, not with how dirty he still is from being held against the rough ground, his knees scraped up. It is odd that Melissa didn't notice, but he is thankful for it nevertheless.

He couldn't answer her questions.

A flash of the incident appears in his mind, and he resolutely forces it away.

"OK, she's in stable condition but still unconscious."

Stiles jumps, having not seen Melissa return.

"What?"

The woman frowns at him. "Honey, are you sure you're alright? You look pretty pale," she asks, reaching up to touch his forehead. Stiles brushes her off, trying not to be rude, and for a second she looks like she wants to persist but drops the subject after a few seconds of silent staring. She can mother him to death later, when he doesn't have important things to do, people to kill, a self-sacrificing Sourwolf to rescue. He is pulled from his thoughts again when Melissa keeps talking to him, plans of how he is going to get his revenge on Peter and exact vengeance on Kate fading to the back of his mind. "Hmm... It would probably be best if you just came with me to see your friend. I can't let you in her room just yet, but I don't see a problem with you looking in through the window if it will make you feel better. Does that sound OK, sweetie?"

"I'm sure that'll be fine," Stiles accepts, gratefully following when Melissa leads the way. They navigate a series of corridors before coming to a stop outside a room that has large windows looking inside, and a row of chairs along the wall opposite. Stiles steps close and peers through the glass.

"She could wake up anytime," Melissa says.

Lydia lies in her giant hospital bed, looking small by comparison. Her hair is lifeless and her skin is washed out by the gown she wears, marred by countless strips of gauze and rows of tiny paper stitches. Overall she still looks better than the last time Stiles saw her, but that isn't saying much. He wonders how she will react to all the injuries whenever she regains consciousness, whether she will freak out about having her face and body tainted by what will likely be many new scars of varying severities.

He hopes she won't blame him.

"You going to be OK?"

Stiles glances at Melissa. "Don't worry about me; I'll be fine."

"I need to get back to work, but come find me again if you need anything, OK?"

After nodding his assent, Stiles watches Melissa walk back the way they had come with a fire building in his gut. Turning back to Lydia, he stokes the flames and uses them to temper his determination, turning it from a blunt thing into a deadly-sharp blade, which he will use to pierce Peter's heart. Only one problem remains—how is he actually going to do it? Supposing that he has wasted enough time, he turns and starts to make his way back toward the parking lot, trying to form in his head a sure-fire plan of attack. He doesn't make it far. As he is walking past one of the doors in the next hallway over, it opens lightning-quick and he is grabbed by rough hands and yanked through. Stumbling with the momentum, Stiles spins on his heel just as the door is closed again and blinks through the darkness, trying to figure out who has just grabbed him, his heart beating rapidly with the fear that it is Peter Hale, back for a second attempt already. The light is flicked on by his assailant then, revealing Chris Argent standing there with a couple of other hunters behind him.

"Mr. Stilinski, I thought it was about time we were introduced," the man says, stepping forward. His blue eyes are chilling, and they hold deep suspicion and dislike within them.

Stiles thinks wryly that the feeling is more than mutual.

"I don't," he sneers.

"Well, tough," Chris responds, stepping to the side when he notices Stiles eyeing the door like he is thinking of making a break for it. "You have information I need, so you're going to give it to me. If you talk, we won't hurt you and we'll be on our way. Refuse, and I'll let Bruce and Jamie convince you." The burly hunters grin, one of them pulling back his coat to reveal a glinting metal dagger in the waistband of his jeans.

"Wow, how terrifying..." Stiles mumbles.

"What was that?"

"Oh, nothing. Just thinking about what to have for dinner tomorrow," Stiles elaborates, backing up a couple of paces when Chris' eyes narrow. "Y'know, if we all survive Peter's killing spree and everything. I bet Kate's next..." Chris is on him immediately after he finishes speaking, pushing him against the large cupboards behind him, the handle of one of them digging painfully into his lower back. A hand wraps around his neck, and he feels like rolling his eyes. After what Peter put him through, some light choking is like a walk in the park. Truth be told, he is getting sick of people trying to beat him into submission.

"Take this seriously or see what happens," Chris warns, fingers squeezing tighter.

Stiles does roll his eyes then.

"Oh, please, you need to work on your threats. Peter's are way more convincing..." he says.

His voice a little breathy because of the pressure still on his throat.

Chris releases him a few seconds later, after Stiles confidently keeps holding his eyes.

"Where is he?" Chris asks.

Rubbing at his neck, Stiles thinks idly that he will likely have some considerable bruises there the next morning, but he will worry about that properly when the time actually comes. Right now he keeps his attention on the trio of hunters holding him in the unoccupied hospital room. Bruce and Jamie still seem content to hang back and watch the proceedings for the time being, and Stiles hopes that doesn't change. As much as he meant his earlier words about not being intimidated anymore, he still doesn't really want to experience whatever they will unleash upon him should he piss them off enough. "Probably going after your sister for what she did the last time she was in town," Stiles replies, his head tilting to the side speculatively when a confused frown appears on Chris' face. "You don't know, do you? What Kate did to the Hales?"

"What are you talking about?" Chris huffs, blue eyes suspicious again.

"I'm talking about Kate setting the fire."

Chris inhales sharply.

"And before you say it, no, I'm not lying," Stiles insists, stepping forward to get up in Chris' face this time. "You want me to tell you all about it? Well, let's see...she seduced a sixteen-year-old Derek, got him to tell her when his family would all be home, and then torched the place, hoping to kill them all!"

"How do you know this?" Chris demands, half disbelieving.

"Derek told me, after Kate threatened to kill me for simply befriending him," Stiles explains, crossing his arms over his chest. As he talks, Chris' expression shifts gradually from distrustful to shocked to revolted, and Stiles knows he has at least planted a seed of doubt in the hunter's mind when it comes to his sister's intentions and sanity. Maybe it will be enough to get Chris to see what he has been ignorant of probably his entire life, and Stiles can't help but hope that it will perhaps lead to him dealing with his sister himself, and maybe even an uneasy alliance once all of this is over. The latter is unlikely, sure, but stranger things have already happened, especially in the past month, and Stiles decides to grab on to this new panglossian belief with all his might. He needs some hope to get through the rest of the night. "She's a cold-blooded killer, Mr. Argent, psychotic, and if you don't see it then you're fucking blind as a bat. Who do you think all of Peter's victims have been? Did you think it was random? No, they were all people Kate got to help her kill the Hales simply for being different than her, when they were good people who'd never done anything to hurt anyone! It wouldn't surprise me if she kidnapped Derek now just to torture him with what she did all over again. So as much as Peter needs to be stopped, I can honestly say I wouldn't feel bad if he adds one last person to the body count before that happens. I hope it's bloody. If anyone deserves that it's her."

Then, the hunter with the knife in his jeans lunges forward.

"Say that again!"

Calloused fingers grab hold of the front of Stiles' shirt and lift him in the air.

"Bruce!" Chris yells, stepping forward to break them apart.

Stiles' feet touch the floor a few seconds later, Bruce's rancid breath fading again as Chris manhandles him back to the door, next to Jamie. Stiles meets his eyes coolly and keeps his arms at his sides, acting more unfazed than he really feels. Showing weakness wouldn't be a smart thing to do, so he holds it together until whatever words Chris is whispering to his angry companion have calmed him down somewhat.

Chris turns back to him then. "Kate kidnapped Derek?" he asks.

"You didn't know that either?" Stiles is honestly surprised.

"No..."

"Huh," Stiles frowns. "I guess Kate's been up to a lot of stuff without you knowing. Why don't you run along now and have a nice, long talk with her, hmm? You clearly have a lot to discuss."

A severe expression of annoyance appears on Chris' face at the disrespect. He looks like he wants to say something about Stiles' clear dismissal before deciding against it, instead sighing and gesturing for Bruce and Jamie to exit. They leave the door open behind them, and Chris stands in the doorway before following, looking sternly back at Stiles, blue eyes piercing the boy to his core. "If what you've just told me about Kate and the fire is true...I'll get to the bottom of it, one way or another," he promises, voice strong with conviction. "But I'll be doing it alone. I think it's best if you go home now, Stiles; this doesn't concern you anymore."

"Yeah, sure," Stiles agrees sarcastically, nodding rapidly.

Chris sighs once more and leaves.

By himself now, Stiles allows himself to relax and raises his left hand.

Bruce's knife gleams in the overhead lighting, long, serrated and deadly-looking. There is an intricate design engraved into the hilt, an instantly recognisable plant, and this, when coupled with the strange flecks that are embedded into the silver of the blade, makes Stiles sure that he has what he needs.

It has Peter's name on it.

"This should be fun..." he says, determined, as he exits the room himself.

* * *

Stiles takes a shortcut from the hospital, hoping to at least beat Chris and his cronies to the preserve, though probably not Peter, not with the head start he had. As a precaution he leaves his Jeep a long distance down the road, not wanting his approach to be known before he is ready. He can't be sure how many hunters Kate has keeping watch for her and, because the element of surprise is so important for what he has planned, after switching off the Jeep's engine and climbing out, he tiptoes as silently as possible through the dark. Everything seems quiet as he flits between the trees, using the thick trunks as cover, but he doesn't let his guard down, remaining vigilant for any sign that there are others in the vicinity. The stolen knife is held tightly in his hand the entire time, ready to be used at a second's notice, and in that moment he regrets turning down learning the basics of hand-to-hand combat when his dad offered to enrol him in a class years ago, after the man found out about the bullying he was enduring at school, but before their relationship crumbled. A gun would be preferable (being the son of the sheriff does come with some perks, after all, a minor proficiency with standard-issue firearms being one of them), but the knife will have to do until he can get his hands on one. It is a little difficult to watch his footing so he moves as slowly as he dares, thinking that he has already left Derek in Kate's clutches for far too long. He never should have listened to her when she told him to stay away.

The state in which he could possibly find Derek worries him.

He moves faster.

Then, when he thinks he is getting close to the Hale house, he hears a noise.

A rustling to his left, a short distance away. Instantly he freezes and presses his back up tight against the tree next to which he stands, cautiously peeking around the trunk as rough bark scrapes against his cheek. A black shape moves a few feet away, crouched low to the ground, a hulking mass of muscle that likely belongs to one of Kate's hunter friends. They appear to be rifling through a bag at their feet, their back to him, and Stiles gladly takes this golden opportunity, creeping out from his hiding place.

He keeps going toward the house.

When the trees break he stays hidden behind them for a minute to observe the open space around the Hale house. Another hunter patrols back and forth across the ground by the front, his gait slow and unworried. After wracking his brain for a solution, Stiles slips his phone from his pocket. "Here goes nothing..." he whispers, breath puffing out in a white mist. He puts his phone on the ground and moves quickly as a song blares loudly from the tinny speaker, immediately getting the hunter's attention. Stiles makes sure to keep the grizzled man in sight as he skirts around the edge of the clearing, waiting until the hunter disappears between the trees in search of the source of the noise before darting forward, rushing up the front steps and into the house.

The interior is almost pitch-black without the light of the moon.

No one else seems to be on the ground floor, but Stiles doesn't take this as fact.

It wouldn't serve him well to become complacent now.

He moves cautiously.

After searching both floors without finding Derek, Stiles goes below ground, the last option that he was putting off. The door in the hall between the foyer and kitchen reveals decrepit stairs.

He descends them.

His breath held, he gets down into the basement to find it dimly lit, a bulb hanging from the middle of the ceiling providing enough light that he doesn't have to watch where he steps so carefully. Nothing but old boxes are present, burned up and destroyed, but there is another door in one of the walls, pushed to. Praying that he will find Derek on the other side, Stiles approaches and pulls it open.

Readjusting his grip on the wolfsbane-laced knife, he navigates the following sequence of hallways, surprised at how big the system of tunnels is. It seems to just go on and on, lit up by more old bulbs set into the walls, high up near the ceiling. Thick wires run along them all to provide them with power, and Stiles has just felt a spike of fear at the thought of getting lost down there, suspicious of circling around to where he had entered, when he hears something new. A low humming sound, followed by a grunt and shrill female laughter. Though he has only heard it a couple of times, Stiles would know that evil laugh anywhere, and he comes to a stop outside the room from which it originated and sticks his head around the door frame, eyes widening as they take in the sight they were greeted with. Kate is angled away from him and, as a result, doesn't notice that she has an observer, her hair pulled up into a neat ponytail and nails rapping lightly against the wood of the rickety table on which she sits. There is an electrical device beside her, and Stiles tracks the wires from this over to where Derek hangs, clad in just his jeans, the bare skin of his torso covered in a week's worth of sweat and grime. The beta's alert eyes are on Stiles' when Stiles finally reaches his face, also wide and half relieved, half terrified. Derek lowers his gaze to the floor a second later, likely in order to not give away Stiles' position, and Stiles has about a second to feel grateful for Derek's smart thinking before Kate pushes herself off her table, moving over to stand in front of the captive werewolf.

Her back is still turned to Stiles.

"Honestly, Derek," she sighs, "this is just getting ridiculous."

Stiles steps inside the room.

"I'm actually getting bored of this... Who'd have thought, huh? I wouldn't if I were you."

Stiles freezes.

The sudden shift in the tone of Kate's voice let's him know she is aware of his presence. His hand is in the air, the butt of the knife poised to connect with the back of her head, and he can't seem to get himself to lower it again when she finally turns to face him, smirk on her lips. Her eyes flick up to the weapon, and this is what causes Stiles to regain control of his disobedient limb, both arms hanging rigidly at his sides under Kate's piercing stare. She looks at him almost pityingly, and he flicks his eyes over her shoulder to meet Derek's again, his heart beating faster because the hazel orbs are just terrified now, no relief apparent.

The fear is for him.

"You're so sweet, Stiles, running in here to be Derek's white knight. Just adorable!" Kate says with a giggle. She steps a little off to the side so that both Stiles and Derek are in her vision, the latter in her periphery. "You should've known better than to think you could get the jump on me, though. That wasn't very smart."

"Yeah, well... I had to try," Stiles responds, fingers white around the knife.

"Of course you did! So cute..."

Derek growls, Kate turns her head, and Stiles pounces.

He barrels into her and knocks her to the ground, slashing through the air. The sharp blade finds skin as she shrieks in shock, foolishly not having expected Stiles to still try to attack her.

Derek yells for Stiles to leave him and run as Kate shoves him off and flips herself on to her front, getting to her feet then racing over to the table with the generator. She reaches for something that rests beside it, a gun, and Stiles ignores Derek's panicked pleas. He acts quickly, pushing the muscles of his legs to their limit as he launches himself across the room and stabs the knife down miraculously at just the right time. Kate screams bloody murder as the serrated blade goes right through her hand, pinning it to the wood beneath, a mere inch from the gun. Stiles is quick to snap the firearm up before retracting the knife and taking a couple of steps back, putting himself between Kate and Derek. Aiming the gun right at the huntress, he is the one wearing the smirk now as she clutches her wounded hand to her chest. "Who's cute now, bitch?" he sasses.

"Like you know how to use that!" she snarls, all amusement gone.

"I've been to a shooting range once or twice in my life," he retorts. "Care to try me?"

Kate narrows her eyes.

"C'mon, I dare you! It'll be fun," Stiles taunts, feeling cocky. "Though I should warn you that your brother is on his way here to see you. I told him everything, and he was very surprised to find out what you were up to the last time you were in town. I don't think he's very happy with you. Oh, and Peter's on his way, too, to kill you. I'd run if I were you," gunshots overhead, "although it might already be too late."

"This isn't over." Kate clenches her jaw, and flees.

Chapter Text

"Yeah, that's right!" Stiles yells as Kate's rapid footsteps fade down the hallway. "Run away, you rapist bitch!" He keeps her gun at the ready as he walks to the door and glances through it, just to make sure she is truly gone before he drops his guard. Gunfire can still be heard from outside, and he feels trepidation.

His confrontation with Peter is near.

Then, Derek speaks and reminds him of what he came to do in the first place.

"Uhh...Stiles?"

He turns back to the wolf, blinking owlishly. "Yeah?"

"You feel like helping me out of this now?"

"Oh! Yeah, sure," Stiles responds quickly, setting Kate's gun and his stolen knife down on the table before helping Derek. He rips the tape from Derek's abdomen, removing the wires connecting him to the generator, and casts it all aside before examining more closely the shackles secured around Derek's wrists. They are locked up tight, Derek's hands faintly purple and the skin around the metal abraded, leading Stiles to conclude that the shackles are laced with wolfsbane like his knife. At Derek's instruction, he drags Kate's bag over from just inside the door and rifles through it for the keys, holding them up victoriously when he finds them under a man's T-shirt, which he remembers as the one Derek wore the day he was abducted. The maroon fabric is torn in several places, which makes sense because he seriously doubts Derek would ever go down without a fight, least of all to Kate. Leaving the shirt beside the generator, he swiftly unlocks both of Derek's hands, taking them in his own and worriedly assisting him in stepping away on shaking legs from the section of chainlink fence against which he was held. As Derek's strength returns, Stiles rubs gently across his hands and wrists to help the blood flow back into the deprived extremities. Derek lets him, and Stiles uses the time to subtly check him over for other injuries. Thankfully, he finds none—if there were any, they must have healed like Derek's wrists have almost done, now that the electrical current isn't keeping his powers at bay.

"You OK?" Stiles asks.

"Yeah..." Derek replies, looking with a furrowed brow up at the ceiling. "Don't take this the wrong way, but why are you here now? You shouldn't put yourself in danger for me like that."

Stiles bites his lip.

"You really have to ask that?"

Derek stares into Stiles' eyes for several beats before something softens in his face. "No, I guess not. It was still a stupid move, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't grateful for it all the same," he accepts, the corner of his mouth twitching like he wants to smile. They stare at each other for a few seconds longer, until Stiles gives into the relief-fueled urge to wrap his arms around Derek and hug him for all he's worth. The wolf doesn't smell quite as pleasant as he normally does, unwashed and slightly musty, but given how long he was kept in the dim room, Stiles isn't surprised, nor does he care. Derek's warmth is comforting, and seeing him alive and relatively well does wonders to release the tightness that has been ever-present in his chest.

Derek reciprocates the embrace more than he ever has before, and Stiles smiles into the skin of Derek's neck, feeling safe. He needed this. Derek pulls away too soon and reclaims his shirt from the table, pulling it on over his head, and Stiles tries to hide his disappointment.

Derek still sees.

"Something wrong?"

Stiles becomes flustered. "N-no."

He looks away as his cheeks colour, and Derek chuckles. "How did you know I was here, by the way?" he enquires. "I know Peter came looking the next day, but Kate must've done something to hide us down here because he didn't stick around." He takes in Stiles' appearance for the first time and frowns, the mismatched and dirt-covered outfit and the fresh-looking scrapes on his knees. The way Stiles tenses up at the mention of his uncle is also suspicious, but he doesn't mention it yet.

"Peter attacked Lydia earlier, to get me to do what he wanted," Stiles explains, picking his gun and knife back up and immediately wishing he had a place to store them. His lacrosse shorts wouldn't provide that much stability so he can't shove them in the waistband, meaning he is forced to hold them in his hands. At least they will be at the ready. "Anyway, he wouldn't let me get her any help until I agreed to help him find you. He stole Danny's laptop and got me to track your cell, which lead here, and then he left. I'm surprised I beat him... He had a pretty big head start. I'm glad, but I wonder what kept him."

Derek hums. "Why do I get the feeling there's something you're not telling me?"

"What? That's ridiculous!" Stiles splutters.

"Stiles... Tell me."

The boy's eyes dart around nervously, looking everywhere but at Derek's face, and Derek feels his blood run cold as he remembers the threat Peter made at the hospital. "Did he..." he starts, finding it difficult to talk around the lump in his throat. He steps closer and subtly sniffs the air for impure scents, growling quietly when he picks up traces of Peter's arousal on Stiles' shirt.

"Did he...hurt you?" Derek finishes, unable to actually say the word.

"Can we not talk about this right now?"

Derek sighs. "Stiles..."

"Please?"

The slight crack to Stiles' voice is what makes Derek give in. "Alright," he yields, "but as soon as this is over, I want to know exactly what he did to you." Reaching out, he gives Stiles' shoulder a squeeze and thinks that he already knows, though he still wants confirmation. He keeps his hand there until Stiles meets his eyes briefly and nods, clearly already dreading that future conversation. It will be necessary, Derek knows, for more reasons than just Stiles getting the secret off his chest. He smiles wryly, amused that he of all people is insisting on not keeping things bottled up, but everything he knows about himself always seems to fly out the window whenever Stiles is involved. "We probably have a lot to talk about anyway, and I promise I won't judge you or anything like that, if that's what you're afraid of."

Taking a deep breath, Stiles allows the tension in his body to seep away and latches eagerly on to his previous desire for revenge. He uses that as a distraction now that his rescue mission is complete. "Fine... Can we go kill Peter now?" he asks. "I'd say it's long overdue."

More gunfire.

"You sure you're up for it?"

"Believe me, I am," Stiles promises.

Derek leads the way, following the trail of blood Kate left in her wake until they reach the top of the basement stairs. He is confident going into combat now that the generator isn't keeping his strength down, and he listens closely to get a rough idea of how many people are out there and where on the property they are. The stench of copper, wolfsbane and gun powder is thick in the air, and Derek knows already that several people are dead, likely most of Kate's allies. Deducing that all of the current noise is coming from further away, not in the house, he pushes the door open and steps through, looking back over his shoulder to make sure that Stiles is still behind him. The boy readjusts his grip on his weapons, and Derek thinks it is about time he brings out his own. The shift comes easily—his eyes change from their natural hazel to ice-cold blue; his fangs and claws grow from his teeth and nails; the hair of his eyebrows recedes into his skin as his brow gets heavier; and coarse hair sprouts down along his sideburns, meeting his beard and making him look positively wild. The sound of fighting all at once gets louder, then cuts off abruptly with another gunshot and an agonised scream, someone else meeting their end. "Come on..." Derek whispers, his fangs making the words come out a little slurred. He moves in the direction of the front door, toward the action.

There are bodies everywhere, nameless hunters all eviscerated. Peter is nowhere to be found, but Chris Argent stands a couple of feet in front of the porch steps, pointing the barrel of a hunting rifle at the trees on the opposite side of the clearing. As Derek descends the first step, Chris whirls around in a panic and barely stops himself from firing before he realises who it is.

"Where's Peter?" Derek demands, braced for action.

"I don't know!" Chris hisses.

Stiles turns back-to-back with Derek to prevent an ambush.

"I don't care about our differences right now, Derek. Just help me kill Peter and I swear we'll be golden," Chris whispers, quiet enough that Peter will hopefully not hear him.

"As long as I'm the one to actually kill him."

Chris pauses for a second.

"Deal."

Then, Peter walks casually out of the darkness, hands clasped behind his back as if he hasn't just committed mass murder. "Well, well, well! Fancy meeting you here, nephew," he greets, blinking innocently. "I would've come sooner, but I decided to be nice and let Stiles have a little taste of heroism before I snuff him out. I'm thoughtful like that. Where is Kate, by the way? She's the last one on my list, and I'd really like to get it over with quickly so I can have another crack at delivering you and your new pet your punishments." He smirks when Derek growls at him, a warning, then looks over the beta's shoulder and flashes his red eyes at Stiles. "You looking forward to round two, Stiles? I just can't wait to get inside you."

"Don't you dare talk to him..." Derek threatens, taking a step forward.

"Protective, I see."

Before anyone else can do anything, both Derek and Peter look off to the side, the former with their eyebrows raised in surprise. Scott comes traipsing through the trees, dressed in the suit he wore to the winter formal. He seems surprised, too, to find so many people there, especially so many dead, but the expression clears and is quickly replaced by contempt for Derek and Stiles.

"Scott?" Stiles speaks up, breaking the silence. "What are you doing here?"

"Ask Peter," the other boy replies.

All heads turn to the alpha, and Chris cocks his rifle.

"This is our final showdown, is it not?" Peter smirks, unclasping his hands and instead crossing his arms over his chest. The look on his face tells everyone that he doesn't think he should have to spell it out for them. "I figured that meant all the key players should be here. Which reminds me... One moment, please." He walks back into the shadows and returns a second later, holding tight to yet another person. No one moves at first, but then, when she lifts her head and reveals her identity, there is a flurry of activity. Scott lunges forward, transformed into his beta form, and tries to go for Peter's throat, but the man sidesteps the impulsive attack easily and pushes him to the ground with a dry laugh. Chris shouts in fury and fires his rifle, but Peter is too swift for that, too, and blocks it with his captive. She screams through the duct tape across her mouth as the bullet pierces her arm, and Chris shakes with conflicting emotions.

"Careful now! Don't want to accidentally kill your daughter, do you, without telling her everything you've been lying to her about her whole life? That would be a real shame... There was so much, after all. You see, while I was giving Stiles a chance to get here first and save my nephew, I had some free time. The school is down a teacher—thank me later, Stiles; as I understand it, you and Adrian Harris never did get along—and after that was done, I collected our guest here. Now, don't be rude..." He rips the tape off her mouth.

"Say hello, Allison."

"Dad, what's going on?!" she cries.

"It'll all be OK, sweetheart; I'll get you out of this!" Chris swears vehemently.

Peter grins, showing his fangs.

"We'll see about that." Without preamble, he bites into the pale flesh of Allison's shoulder, causing her to scream louder and thrash against him, trying fruitlessly to get away. Peter's red eyes bore into Chris' as he bites harder, daring him to act. Chris would take the bait it weren't for Derek holding him back.

"Allison!" he yells, panicked.

"Chris! Chris, calm down!" Derek implores, shockingly having to use every ounce of his strength to keep the hunter from foolishly charging in and getting himself killed like Peter wants. "This is all part of his plan, for you to forget all your training, to act on feelings alone. That will get you killed, so stay focused and don't let him get to you! Allison will be fine." Chris stops struggling after a short while, sagging back into the younger man's hold with his teeth bared and his breathing laboured, but Derek doesn't release him yet. The calm could be a facade intended to get him to do just that.

Peter retracts his fangs. "Very wise, Derek," he compliments, licking his lips and smiling as if the taste of Allison's blood is one he enjoys immensely. Derek wouldn't be surprised.

"I'll kill you..." Chris seethes.

"You think so? Let's put that to the test!"

Peter runs for the trees, dragging a still-crying Allison behind him.

Chris does break free of Derek then, running full-tilt in pursuit of and hurling curses at the alpha. Derek is about to dash after the hunter when he detects movement out of the corner of his eye, an approach he didn't notice because all of his attention was held by the events directly in front of him. He turns his head and has just enough time to open his mouth in shock at how close Kate is, practically right next to him, before she fires the shotgun she holds almost point-blank to his chest. He flies backward, through the living room window of his old house, and rolls along the dust- and ash-covered floorboards. The buckshot in his chest is free of wolfsbane, a saving grace, but it is still enough for white spots to appear in his vision. He is unable to do much more than wince and crawl uncoordinatedly away from Kate as she steps through the window after him, seeming not to notice that a shard of glass still in the frame cuts into her thigh.

"I really didn't want it to end like this, Derek." She sighs as if it pains her, cocking her hip to the side with her shotgun gripped in both hands. The cut on her thigh drips blood on to the floor, and her eyes pierce into Derek's. "We could've had so much fun together, but clearly that was just wishful thinking on my part, so...my bad. I guess it's finally time to say goodbye."

Outside, Stiles vacillates briefly about what to do.

Should he go after Peter, Scott and Chris, or help Derek again?

The answer is obvious.

Taking the front door instead of the now-broken window, Stiles barges into the living room in time to see Kate crouching down in front of Derek. She whispers something to him where he rests against the wall, his face scrunched up as he holds a hand over the centre of his chest.

She aims the shotgun at his face.

"No!"

Stiles races forward with his knife raised in his right hand, intending to plunge the blade deep into her back. His shout catches Kate by surprise—she spins around quickly to face him, and her shotgun bashes harshly into his ribs and knocks him off-balance. Stumbling, his knife-wielding hand slashes accidentally through the air, and Stiles has a second of realisation about what is about to happen before it does. He cannot do anything to stop the momentum, and he freezes in shock when the knife ends up buried to the hilt inside her left eye. They both stop moving immediately, stabilising themselves against one another, and Stiles stares disbelievingly into Kate's other eye as the intelligence behind it slowly disappears.

The shotgun falls from her hands.

She releases a gurgling sound, then crumples to the floor.

The knife stays embedded in her skull.

He leaps back and starts trembling all over, blood rushing in his ears.

"Stiles!"

Head snapping up, Stiles stares at Derek with wide eyes. The beta stands before him, a hand still pressed against his chest but seemingly recovering well from the shotgun shell Kate unloaded into him. Derek's mouth moves but Stiles can't make out the words, not until Derek's other hand comes to rest over his heart, too. He draws strength from the touch and, after an indeterminate amount of time, Derek's words begin to make sense and his breaths come more easily. "Thanks..." he mumbles as he steps back from Derek, partly to hide his embarrassment and partly to put some distance between himself and Kate's body. He can't look at it. Sure, he had planned on killing her if it came down to it, but actually doing the deed was more than he could ever have anticipated. Taking a life, even one so despicable, doesn't feel good, but he has other things to focus on, as Derek reminds him after watching him carefully for a minute. Peter is still out there, so Stiles reluctantly follows Derek outside and into the trees, trusting the beta to lead him in the right direction. Derek's nose is in the air, an indication of how he is tracking their prey, and soon, with the sound of gunshots in the distance, they bump into Scott. Stiles' old best friend is sitting on the ground with Allison's head in his lap, and what looks like a strip of his green shirt is wrapped in a makeshift bandage around the bite on her shoulder.

"I think she passed out from shock, and Peter ditched the deadweight," Scott informs them, not looking up from Allison's face. Neither Stiles nor Derek reply, but they do watch with interest as Scott stands and gently leans his girlfriend against the nearest tree, affectionately tucking a lock of brunette hair behind her ear. "I stayed behind to make sure she was OK. Chris went ahead."

Derek walks on without comment.

Stiles hurries to keep up, uncomfortably aware that two have become three.

He doesn't know how to act around Scott, their destroyed friendship the metaphorical elephant in the room, or in this case forest, so he keeps his eyes tracked straight ahead, on the shifting muscles of Derek's back. Their pace increases as the gunshots get louder, and then, when Stiles thinks they are close, it goes quiet in an instant. Chris stands in the middle of a clearing, frantically trying to reload his rifle. Peter isn't in sight but, from the way Chris is behaving, Stiles guesses that the alpha is there somewhere, hiding and biding his time. The hunter manages to get more ammunition in his gun, and has just raised it to fire again when a great roar echoes throughout the area. Even to Stiles it is deafening, and he joins all the wolves in covering their ears.

Peter jumps down from a nearby tree and lands on top of Scott, taking him down and bashing his head right into the ground. The crooked-jawed beta is knocked out.

Chris fires his rifle, and Peter dodges sideways toward his nephew, slashing through the air in a practiced move that catches Derek across the face. Derek stumbles back, having not expected the attack, and this leaves him open to further blows that Peter easily lands. Another shot from Chris, and Peter spins both himself and Derek around in a flash so that the bullet misses its target and whizzes between them instead. Not missing a beat, Peter continues to tussle with his nephew, managing to temporarily incapacitate him, and then rounds on Chris before the hunter can load another bullet into his rifle.

Stiles rushes over to Derek.

"Hey! C'mon, wake up!" he begs, smacking the wolf hard on the cheek.

All he gets is an ache in his hand.

The sound of a fist connecting with flesh reaches his ears, and then Chris is thrown over his head and crashes into a tree, joining Scott and Derek in unconsciousness. Only then does Stiles realise that he left his gun back at the house, in too much shock to pick it up from where he'd dropped it, and he turns on his heel just in time to see Peter running at him at full speed. He doesn't even get a chance to react before he is knocked down, Peter landing heavily atop him and causing all the air to leave his lungs.

"You killed Kate," Peter spits in his face.

"So?" Stiles gasps, pushing ineffectually at the alpha's chest.

"She was mine! You took my revenge away from me!"

"Go fuck yourself, you psycho!"

"I've had it with you..."

Claws hover menacingly above Stiles' face and are then raised high in the air, where they are poised to come down and end him. A sudden rage-filled roar halts Peter, and in the next instant the alpha is gone from above him as Derek, awake again, barrels into his side.

Scrabbling over to Chris, Stiles fumbles in the hunter's pocket for a bullet to load into the rifle. Derek and Peter continue to fight, neither one gaining the upper hand. Peter fights with all the strength his alpha status gives him, which would ordinarily be enough to overpower his nephew, but the sight of Peter almost killing Stiles has filled Derek with such fury that he is able to match his uncle blow for blow, not even feeling all the scratches and bites he gets from Peter's claws and teeth. Stiles is in awe of Derek's prowess, and as soon as the two wolves are separated enough for him to get a clear shot, he takes it. Pulling the trigger, the wolfsbane-laced bullet flies through the air and pulls Peter to a stop just as he is about to sink his fangs into Derek's arm. He stumbles as blood pours from his neck, pawing at the wound in a futile effort to save himself from bleeding out. Derek takes advantage of the opening and tackles Peter to the ground, his hand lifted in the air for a split second like Peter's was before he savagely does to his uncle what his uncle had planned on doing to Stiles. No other sounds are made then, apart from Peter's rasping breaths as he dies. The body count increases one last time, and Stiles finds this death much more satisfying. He will probably have a more intense reaction to all of this later, but in that moment he just feels an all-encompassing sense of relief.

Chris remains out cold.

Derek hunches in on himself, then flings his head back and roars at the sky.

This causes Scott to stir, clutching at his head with a groan. "Ugh, what happened?"

Stiles ignores him and, when the roar comes to an end, walks tentatively forward with small steps. Derek's head turns in his direction, staring at him with blood-red eyes.

He gulps.

"I'm the alpha now," Derek announces in a raspy voice.

Stiles nods along dumbly. He doesn't know what to make of something that has featured so frequently in his nightmares suddenly belonging to Derek. The red eyes terrified him when they were Peter's, but now that they belong to Derek, they take on a different meaning. He isn't scared. Derek keeps staring at him intensely as he walks closer, not stopping until they are standing right next to each other. Faintly, as if he is far away, Stiles hears Scott ask him what he is doing, but again he ignores the other boy.

"Mine..." Derek breathes.

Then, Stiles gasps as Derek's lips meet his.