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ghost at my shoulder

Chapter Text

 

“I’m not your errand boy,” Stiles grumbles even as he wriggles through one of the air ducts inside the bank.

The translucent figure currently settled in his torso waves a ghostly flippant hand that Stiles just manages to catch in his peripheral vision.  “Well you don’t have to do what I ask.”

He tosses a glare over his shoulder at the woman.  “Then you’ll just nag me all day and give me those stupid puppy-dog eyes.  You’re a grown-ass werewolf for god’s sakes and you’re bossing teenage boys around to do your dangerous dirty work ’cause you don’t feel like moving on.  Has anyone ever told you you’re next to useless?”

“Uncle Peter did,” Laura answers matter-of-factly.  “We had some choice words for each other right before he killed me.”

Stiles huffs and inches forward another few feet.  He can practically feel the grimy layer of dust he’s picking up.

Laura swans forward, at least three-quarters of her body sinking further into Stiles’ as she leans forward over his head to peer at him upside-down.  Stiles swats at her but – of course – his hand simply passes right through her forehead.  Contrary to popular belief, there’s no actual chill when a ghost travels through you or vice versa.  At the very least, Stiles never feels anything except a slight pressure whenever Laura swoops through him, and the pressure isn’t even uncomfortable.

“I don’t really care anymore,” She continues, and there’s something a little sad in her voice but not dishonest.  “Death puts certain things in perspective.  And since I’m already dead, there’s not much point getting hung up on how I got that way.”

Stiles grunts as he hauls himself up one duct before swinging into another horizontal one.  “Well that’s good.  I mean, you were kind of a shitty Alpha anyway.  At least to Peter.”

“Thanks,” Laura says dryly, sitting up again so that everything below her waist is inside Stiles’ chest area.  “You should tell Uncle Peter that.  You two can bond.”

“Over what exactly?”

“Your shared ruthless opinion of pack loyalty.”

Stiles snorts.  “I haven’t tried exorcising you yet, have I?”

“True,” Laura agrees.  “But I haven’t betrayed you the way I did Peter either.”

Stiles pauses and looks over his shoulder at her.  Laura smiles back placidly, hands clasped between Stiles’ shoulder blades.  “Would you?  If you could?”

“Betray you?”  Laura looks almost amused.  “Probably not.  I mean, I’d like to think I’ve learned my lesson.  And you’d make the exorcism hurt, wouldn’t you?”

Stiles turns to face forward again and continues his squirming crawl.  All he says in response is, “You Hales are so damn weird.”

Laura laughs, airy but not quite humorous.

Because yes, he probably would.

 


 

Stiles finds Cora Hale in record time, along with Erica and Boyd.  Laura’s already scoped the place out for him, and when she drapes herself through him and wraps her hand around his heart, she can’t hurt him but she can make it so that it’s as if Stiles isn’t even there.  No heartbeat, no scent, no sound.

As if he’s dead too.

It’s a convenient trick to have, and Stiles takes shameless advantage of it.  Laura doesn’t seem to mind either, especially when her younger sister’s on the line.

So when Stiles slides out of the vent and into the hall leading to the vaults, his shoes don’t so much as squeak as he lands in a crouch.

The other Alphas are out.  The twins at school mocking Scott and the others, and Deucalion and Kali at the nearby supermarket, leaving only Ennis on guard duty.

One Alpha, Stiles can handle.

Ennis is sitting in a far corner with his feet kicked up and an open magazine in front of him.  He’s half turned away from the direction Stiles is coming from, which leaves Stiles free to creep forward and pop his head into the vault Laura directs him to.

Three teenagers stare back at him, eyes wide behind the circle of mountain ash surrounding them.  Stiles hastily puts a finger to his lips before miming holding his breath a few times.  He waits until they all nod, confused but cautiously, desperately hopeful, and then he reaches into his bag and retrieves a grenade.

He raises three fingers and counts down.  When he gets to one, Boyd, Erica, and the girl who has to be Cora if Laura’s anxious frown is anything to go by, all suck in a deep breath.  Stiles does the same before pitching the grenade at the ground near Ennis’ feet.

Ennis is up in an instant, and he catches sight of Stiles in the blink of an eye, but before he can react with more than a flash of hostile red eyes, the grenade detonates in a smokescreen explosion filled with wolfsbane.

Stiles doesn’t waste any time.  He’s digging out four gas masks even as he hurries forward, stopping only long enough to break the mountain ash line before shoving three of the masks at the captive teenagers and buckling the last one onto his own face.

With Laura chanting “Go go go!” in his ear, and Ennis’ agonized, furious howls in the background, Stiles yanks the two nearest – Cora and Erica – onto their feet as soon as they’ve clumsily secured their respective masks and swiftly leads them towards the nearest escape route.

Always have an exit plan.  First rule of breaking into anywhere.

They stumble out of the bank, and Stiles herds them towards his jeep parked out back and waiting for them.  All three werewolves pile into the back in a heap of limbs while Stiles scrambles behind the wheel, flooring the pedal almost before the doors are shut.

Laura disappears for the length of the street that Stiles hurtles down, and then she’s back, settling into the passenger seat beside him.

“Deucalion and Kali just got back,” She reports as Stiles runs a traffic light in his haste to put as much distance between them and the bank.  “You got out just in time.”

“No thanks to you,” Stiles mutters under his breath as he removes his mask.

“I helped!”  Laura protests indignantly.  “I did the recon and everything!”

And I did the planning and all the legwork, and the grenade and gas masks didn’t come cheap either, Stiles thinks rather uncharitably.

He’s always rather uncharitable when it comes to Laura.  Derek drowns because he’s an idiot and big sister Laura spends the next two hours wringing her hands and reminding Stiles not to let her brother go, as if Stiles could forget while treading water and holding the stupid Alpha’s deadweight afloat, especially considering he also had Derek snarling at him about the exact same thing.

Derek’s living in squalor because he’s an Olympic champion at brooding and wallowing in guilt so big sister Laura strikes again and bugs Stiles until Stiles goes and bugs Derek about moving into a place fit for actual living, never mind that Stiles gets slammed into three walls and a steering wheel before the asshole finally grudgingly agrees like he’s doing a favour for Stiles instead of the other way around.

Laura even bothers him about Peter.  Well okay, maybe she doesn’t.  She’s prodded half-heartedly at Stiles a few times when Derek threw his uncle into a wall or drew blood with threatening claws, but she never actually asked Stiles to do anything about it, and if he’s being honest, it was really mostly Stiles’ decision to step in and distract Derek from going after Peter some more by mocking the Alpha until the scowls and threats are redirected at Stiles.

Clearly, Laura’s crazy was infectious.

And now of course, Stiles can add Cora to the list.  After going out to possibly find out more about the Alpha Pack for Stiles, Laura came back with a heroic mission instead, exclaiming over Cora being alive (“You know, if you’d stayed long enough seven years ago to hear the police report instead of running away right off the bat, you would’ve known that only eight people were reported dead in the fire.”  “You’re a heartless, tactless brat, you know that?”) and then insisting and wheedling him to save her sister, and Stiles has decided he’s going to hate this woman forever.

He ended up pulling two weeks’ worth of caffeinated all-nighters to come up with a viable rescue just to shut her up.

“Stiles?”

Erica’s timid, hoarse voice interrupts Stiles’ internal lament.  He flicks a look at the three werewolves reflected in his rear-view mirror.  They’ve taken off their gas masks as well, and they’ve untangled themselves from each other.

They are not friends, them and Stiles.  Allies, at best.  More importantly though, they’re Derek’s responsibilities.

“Do you want me to drop you off at Derek’s?”  Stiles asks abruptly, taking a left into busier traffic and slowing down now that there isn’t much of a chance of an Alpha werewolf springing out at them.  “Or home?”

Erica wilts, and even Boyd cringes a little, which is strange to see.  Cora huddles against the door, arms wrapped around herself and a very Derek-esque scowl on her face, defensive and wary.

“Stiles,” Laura says softly, and Stiles’ lips thin.

He loathes taking care of people.  He’s good at it, he’ll do it without complaint for the people he cares about, but it’s hard.  He’s already had his hands full with his dad and Scott for years.

But he’s also known Laura long enough to understand what she wants, and it’s ridiculous the way she can simply say his name and Stiles can automatically hear the unspoken words underneath.

“Or I could drop you off at my house,” Stiles relents after several tense beats of strained silence.  “I’ve got a guestroom, and my dad won’t be home for a couple days.  You could get some rest and a few hot meals there.”

He watches his two schoolmates practically sag with relief.  Apparently, option three is better than facing Derek or facing their families right now.

The words come unbidden as he pulls up in front of his house and tosses a key at them.  “Then grab a shower and help yourself to anything in my closet.  There should be something that fits.  And the kitchen’s yours if I’m not back by then.  Just don’t blow anything up.  There’s no mountain ash around the house but I’ve got wards raised so no one without a personal invite from me will be able to get in.”

Erica smiles weakly at him, fingers brushing his shoulder as she moves to get out of the car, and Boyd gives him a nod, a little hesitant but steady enough.  They both glance at Cora but don’t say anything, and Stiles waits until they’re safely inside his house before pulling away from the curb again.

Laura smiles at him, curled up in her seat, dead and beautiful and looking at Stiles like she trusts him with her family.  Stiles ignores her in favour of the girl in his backseat.

“So.  Derek’s or Peter’s?”

 


 

“Derek’s the Alpha now?”  Cora asks in a voice rough with misuse.

Stiles hums a confirmation as he takes another trip around the block.  He considers her reflection for a moment before launching into a succinct summary of all the shit that’s gone down in Beacon Hills.

“Starting with you digging up my naked body,” Laura murmurs cheerfully, and Stiles shoots her a flustered glower.  Laura snickers.

“Uncle Peter killed Laura?”  Cora asks after Stiles finishes, and she sounds almost dazed.

Laura grimaces and stares rather helplessly at her sister.

“…He wasn’t really in his right mind,” Stiles offers after a lengthy minute of awkward silence.  “And if Laura were here, I’m sure she’d agree that she deserves at least some of the blame.”

“How would you know?”  Cora scoffs weakly, gaze dropping to her knees where her hands are white-knuckled.

Stiles glances at Laura before looking back at the road.  “Because I think any halfway decent person would feel the same.  Because if anything is worth regretting, it’s leaving someone to suffer on their own when you’re supposed to look after them.”

He meets Cora’s eyes in the rear-view mirror.  “Was Laura a decent person?”

He sees the flinch that ripples across the werewolf’s shoulders.  He doesn’t really expect her to answer something so personal so he’s surprised when she does.

“She was bossy and annoying like big sisters are,” Cora mutters, forehead pressing against the glass of the window.  “But she could be nice and funny and she helped Derek with homework and she kicked some high school guy’s ass when I was nine because he laughed at my haircut.”

There are pearly tears in Laura’s eyes.  And Cora suddenly looks very young and very tired in the backseat.

Stiles suppresses both a sigh and the desire to run for the hills.  His jeep trundles down an empty street.

All three of them are quiet for a while.  Stiles drives five blocks in total before Cora speaks up again.

“You’re Stiles?”  She squints at him through the mirror.  “Are you part of Derek’s Pack?”

“No,” Stiles denies shortly.

“Oh,” She cocks her head and doesn’t ask why.  “Is Uncle Peter part of Derek’s Pack?”

“Yeah.  No.”  Stiles’ brow knits.  “Kind of?  Peter’s not exactly welcome in it but he’d be an Omega otherwise.”

Cora doesn’t look surprised.  Stiles is pretty sure she’s an Omega too.

“Uncle Peter,” She says at last after another minute of pensive contemplation.  “I’ll go to Uncle Peter’s place first.”

“Will do,” Stiles agrees.

Beside him, Laura slumps a little, and she looks sad again, if also a bit relieved.  Stiles watches her out of the corner of his eye before reaching over and surreptitiously passing his hand through hers in an imitation of two living people holding hands.

Laura blinks, startled, and then she laughs and sinks her palm into his wrist.  “You’re such a softy, Stiles.  Who do you think you’re fooling?”

Stiles scowls at the car in front and doesn’t look at the former Alpha.

But he doesn’t remove his hand from the passenger seat either, even if it does garner a puzzled look from Cora when she notices the somewhat odd placement of Stiles’ limb.

 


 

“Where did you find her?”  Peter asks once Cora is in the shower and therefore not within earshot.

Stiles shrugs, idly watching Laura make faces at some of the food Peter has in his cupboards.  Not that Stiles can see anything but his ghostly companion is nosy enough to stick her face through the closed cupboard doors before retreating with a scrunched nose and a pout.

“The Alpha Pack had her,” Stiles replies.  “Along with Boyd and Erica.”

“And Boyd and Erica are…?”

“Safe,” Stiles directs a winning smile at the werewolf.  “They’ll return to civilization when they’re ready.”

Peter stares at him, arms crossed, icy blue eyes unwavering.  “And you brought Cora here?”

“She wanted to come here.”

Peter’s eyebrows go up.  Stiles shrugs again.  Laura disappears into the living room.

“Look, she’s your niece,” Stiles sighs, pushing himself to his feet from where he’s been sitting at the kitchen table.  “Don’t go killing this one, okay?  I get the feeling she’s had a rough time.  Maybe you two can bond.”

He heads for the door.  Peter doesn’t stop him.

“Hey, Uncle Peter’s as antisocial as Derek is!”  Laura hollers from the living room, and Stiles doesn’t quite remember to stop himself from turning and glancing in the direction of the woman’s voice.  “He plays chess against himself, and there’s a depressing amount of video games here for a thirty-five-year-old man!”

Stiles rolls his eyes, catches Peter studying him intently, and quickly lets himself out of the apartment.  He’s in his jeep again before Laura joins him.

“Where are we going now?”  The ghost asks.  “Home to take care of your pups?”

Stiles splutters.  “Don’t even joke about that!”

Laura cackles.

Stiles hates his life.

 


 

They go shopping for clothes.  This one’s all on Stiles; Laura never even suggested it.  But Stiles’ mind just sort of meandered in that direction, thinking of the tattered jeans and shirt that Cora had on and the lack of a bag or even a wallet, and he finds himself driving to the nearest mall.

If nothing else, Laura will have fun, and she does, practically glowing as she flits from store to store, picking out things that she thinks her sister will like and will look good in.

It gets expensive.  Not waterworks-worthy expensive thankfully, but the amount still gets high enough to make Stiles wince, and that’s after Laura notices and tries to cut back.  Money doesn’t mean anything to the dead but she’s aware enough to know that Stiles isn’t rich and can’t afford everything that catches her eye.

They end up with three pairs of jeans, a pair of sweats, and few pairs of short shorts, two sweaters, a jacket, and a variety of tops, from denim to tees to blouses.  And then there are the shoes – a pair of ankle boots and a pair of high-tops.

“Jesus fuck,” Stiles mutters as he throws in some socks, a hairbrush, and some female toiletries because why the hell not.  He already got the bras and underwear that Laura instructed him to pick out; nothing can be more embarrassing than that, especially when the cashier shot him a suspicious, judge-y look like she thought he was a pervert or something.  What, never seen a guy shop for girl things?  Honestly.

Hovering beside him, Laura chews on her lip.  “You know, I have a private bank account.”

Stiles pins her with a flat look.  “And you’re mentioning that now?”

Laura has the grace to look sheepish.  “I’ve been declared dead though, and everything goes to Derek, so I guess it isn’t so private anymore.”

Stiles rolls his eyes so hard he nearly strains himself.  “Then what was the point of mentioning it?”

“I’m just saying you could ask Derek for money.”

“Yeah, call me stupid, but I’m not that desperate.  Besides, if I was gonna get Derek to pay for this stuff, I’d just get him to go shopping.”

“Ugh,” Laura pulls a disgusted face.  “Don’t.  Derek hates shopping.  Also, he has no fashion sense whatsoever.  Those clothes he’s wearing even now?  I bought them for him.  Every last one.  The only things he ever buys are his own underwear and shoes.”

Stiles smirks.  “Boxers or briefs?”

Laura grins back, sly and mischievous.  “He’s a total briefs guy all the way.”

Stiles sniggers, and he doesn’t even care when a mom shopping in the same aisle turns to give him a disapproving look.

Stiles is weighed down by five different shopping bags by the time they leave the mall, and he shoves them all into the backseat of his jeep.

“You could just get Derek or even Peter to take Cora shopping,” Laura tells him, slanting a look at him from under her eyelashes.

“I could,” Stiles agrees as he leaves the parking lot.  “And from now on, they can fund Cora’s wardrobe and livelihood.”

Laura props her chin in her hands and her hands on her knees, and she doesn’t speak until Stiles is turning onto the street where Peter’s apartment building is on.

“Thanks for letting me shop for her,” The woman whispers.

Stiles makes a noise of acknowledgement at the back of his throat and pretends not to notice the tears that Laura’s trying to hide.

 


 

He leaves the bags at the door, rings the doorbell once, and leaves.  He’s not really in the mood for socializing anymore that day, and he still has two runaway werewolves at home to deal with.

 


 

Erica and Boyd are asleep in the guestroom when Stiles gets home.  They’re pretty much wrapped around each other, with Boyd facing the door, no doubt ready to rip apart anyone who registers as a threat on his radar, and Laura floats above them, cooing about how cute they are.

Interestingly enough, Stiles makes it all the way into the room and neither of them stirs.  Erica’s wearing a pair of Stiles’ pajamas – the soft grey ones with small Batman symbols all over them – while Boyd’s picked out one of Stiles’ baggier t-shirts and sweats, ones that aren’t quite so baggy on Boyd.

Stiles lingers long enough to open a window, figuring fresh air – along with sunlight – would be welcome, even deep in dreamland.  And then he shoos Laura back out, closing the door behind him most of the way.

The kitchen downstairs hasn’t been touched, which means the two upstairs must have simply fallen straight into bed after a shower.

“You’re gonna cook dinner for them,” Laura singsongs from her perch on the stove.

“Shut up,” Stiles grouches at her, and then he proceeds to cook dinner.  He has to eat after all, so he may as well cook for three.

 


 

Erica and Boyd stay for the entire weekend before Stiles manages to convince them to go to the police station.  They dither until Stiles gives up and goes inside with them, which results in the inevitable disappointed expression from the Sheriff because his delinquent son has gotten himself involved in yet another case.

Stiles ignores it.  He is a goddamn pro at ignoring his dad’s disappointment in him these days.

Laura hovers, ghostly hands resting protectively on Stiles’ shoulders as if they’re still made of flesh and blood.  Stiles says nothing but he supposes he appreciates the gesture all the same.

They stick to the runaway-gone-wrong story.  They can’t exactly say they’ve been kidnapped; they can’t explain the supernatural to regular humans, and the entire police force is no match for the Alpha Pack anyway, not to mention Erica and Boyd’s injuries have already healed so there’s no evidence of abduction.

So the two of them sit through their families’ tears and hugs – nobody’s angry, just really fucking relieved – while Stiles plays Candy Crush in the bathroom so that he won’t be the spare prick at a family reunion.

“How do these work?”  Laura says from where she’s examining a urinal.  “I never really took much notice.  Do guys just pee in here and then it automatically flushes?  Do you not use toilet paper?”

Stiles buries his face in his hands.  God.  Kill him now.

 


 

Trouble starts after that.  Well, trouble was already hanging around like an executioner’s axe, has been since Scott got Bitten and the Argents moved back into town.

Boyd and Erica return home with their families, but early Monday morning, Stiles gets two separate phone calls and two separate requests for a lift to school if their respective houses aren’t too out of his way.

Stiles sighs and agrees, mostly because it isn’t as if he has much else to do on that front, what with Scott busy doing the on-again-off-again tango with Allison and being werewolf bros with Isaac.

How Derek’s taking that, Stiles doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know.  He has enough on his plate as it is, even more once Stiles realizes he’s gained two werewolf shadows, and no, he isn’t counting Laura.

The student body as a whole is surprised to see Erica and Boyd again after such a long absence, and Scott, Isaac, Allison, and even Lydia are downright stunned because none of them have heard any mention of a breakthrough with the mystery surrounding the Alpha Pack.  The Alpha twins just look mostly pissed off because their former prisoners are now walking around free.

Erica and Boyd stick close.  They still walk down halls with their heads held high, but their shoulders brush as they walk, and they remain within half a step of Stiles whenever possible.  They no longer flaunt their werewolf assets.

“Scott’s looking this way,” Erica hisses under her breath as she sits down across from Stiles at lunch with Boyd beside her.

“They’re pro’ly won’ring why you’re hanging out wi’ me,” Stiles says around a mouthful of sandwich.

Laura wrinkles her nose at him.  “That’s gross, Stiles.”

Stiles shrugs, not particularly repentant even as he swallows.

“I didn’t have classes with him today,” He explains to the living werewolves.  “So he hasn’t been able to ask me anything about you guys.”

“Why aren’t you sitting with him?”  Boyd enquires, gaze flitting thoughtfully between Stiles and the table across the cafeteria.  “Did you and McCall have a fight?”

Stiles shakes his head, shoving down the twist of resentment and hurt in his chest.  “Not really.  Scott’s just been busy lately.  And I’ve got better things to do than watch him and Allison make gooey eyes at each other while Isaac moons after both of them.”

Boyd snorts.  Erica grimaces.  “Why is he still with her?  Didn’t Argent try to kill him?  And us?  Like, she literally tried to kill everybody.”

Stiles hums noncommittally.  “The heart wants what the heart wants.  But also, she’s not as crazy anymore since Grandpa Argent’s fucked off somewhere.”

Boyd’s eyebrows lift briefly, but as expected, he doesn’t really say anything, though his silence alone is opinion enough.

Erica just sighs.  “Awesome.  Well.  So long as they don’t expect me to stay in the same pack as her.  Now pass me the fries.”

That should’ve been Stiles’ first clue, especially with Laura swimming around them, a secretive smile on her face.

 


 

They both follow Stiles home after school.  They have early curfews now but not that early, and their parents are apparently okay with Stiles since he was the one who supposedly stumbled on them and gave them a ride to the station.

The Sheriff isn’t home so they play Mario Kart, do a bit of homework, and then somehow end up puppy-piling in Stiles’ bed while watching a movie on his laptop.

It’s weird.

“You two are being weird,” Stiles mutters as they watch the Avengers duke it out with the aliens in the middle of New York City.  Erica’s head is pillowed on Stiles’ left shoulder.  Boyd is lying on Stiles’ right side, semi-plastered against him.  “I mean I know I got you away from the Alpha Pack and all but this level of gratitude is strange no matter how you look at it and probably not healthy to boot.”

There’s a moment of awkward silence.

“Do you want us to leave?”  Erica asks in a tiny voice at the same time that Boyd mumbles, “This isn’t gratitude.”

Stiles squints skeptically at his laptop screen until Boyd amends, “Okay, some gratitude.  Most people would encourage that, Stilinski.”

Stiles rolls his eyes.  “Whatever.  You’re welcome.  But look, I’m not kicking you out or anything if you actually want to stay.  I’m just saying.  I mean we were never even friends.”

“…We could be?”  Erica ventures tentatively.

Stiles sighs.  He glances up at where Laura is sprawled on her belly in midair.

“Don’t be shy, Stiles,” Laura clucks.  “Socializing is good for you, or you’ll turn into a hermit.  And you don’t want to hurt their feelings, do you?”

Stiles kind of wants to strangle her.  To be fair though, that sentiment has been a vague feeling itching at the back of his mind since they met, so it’s more accurate to say that he kind of wants to strangle her more than usual.

“Stay if you want,” Stiles says at last, focusing on the movie again.  “But you know, if you ever want to go back to Derek’s Pack, just say so.  I’ll even act as a buffer in case he gets violent.”

He pauses.  “That’s a figure of speech, by the way.  I don’t actually think Derek will get violent.  Well, you know, beyond what a werewolf can take-”

Erica is already shaking her head, blonde hair tickling Stiles’ chin.  When Stiles glances at him, Boyd shakes his head as well, a frown creasing his forehead.

“We already told him we were leaving,” Erica clarifies.  “We’re not taking that back, especially with Argent now part of Derek’s Pack.”

“She’s not really-”

“We know,” Boyd interrupts this time.  “But we burned our bridges.  Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do, but we did, and then we got ourselves abducted by Gerard and then the Alpha Pack, and Derek never showed either time.  So we’re obviously not Pack anymore if we’re not a top priority for him, and I guess that’s not all on him.  But we’re not going to put our lives in his hands again either.”

Stiles chews on his lip.  “He’s been looking for you.”

“But you’re the one who found us and saved us,” Erica finishes with a finality that makes Stiles’ skin crawl.

He looks at Laura again.  She shrugs, wholly unhelpful.  “They have a point.”

No they fucking don’t, Stiles thinks bitterly.  He only went to the bank because Laura wanted to save Cora, and Stiles is a two-birds-with-one-stone kinda guy, but he can’t explain that because he shouldn’t know Cora to begin with.

“Look, we’re not stupid,” Boyd is eyeing him with a mix of exasperation and curiosity.  “We get it; Derek was looking for us, you weren’t, but you somehow ended up finding us anyway.  You could’ve left us there.  But you didn’t, and that’s what matters to us.”

“And then you let us stay here,” Erica adds, lifting her head.  “And you drove us to school and let us eat with you and now we’re bunking in your room when you could just kick us both out.  Even if you weren’t leading a search party for us, you’re looking out for us now.  We don’t want promises of werewolf-y families where it’s supposedly all for one and one for all but nobody actually follows through ’cause we were never really a pack, Stiles.  So now we kinda just want someone reliable, you know?”

On screen, the Hulk is smashing things like no tomorrow.  Stiles says nothing until the nuclear missile is heading for New York.

“If you change your mind…” Stiles trails off.

Erica scoffs and drops her head back onto Stiles’ shoulder.  “Not likely.”

Boyd relaxes again and doesn’t disagree.

Laura gives Stiles a thumbs-up.  Stiles would give her the finger if he could.

 


 

Two weeks go by in much the same manner.  Erica and Boyd aren’t as jumpy in public, especially after Ethan and Aiden try to corner them and threaten them, only for Stiles to whip out a can of pepper spray laced with wolfsbane that had both wolves vomiting black goo within seconds.

The twins stay away after that, and Stiles spends an afternoon driving up and down the routes between Erica’s and Boyd’s houses, the school, and Stiles’ house, pointing out the CCTV cameras and where they should walk on the off-chance someone tries to nab them again.

Scott also corners them.  Well, he corners Stiles first and demands an explanation.  Stiles gives him a half-assed one just to be petty, and he doesn’t even mention Cora.  Cora can tell them about herself if and when she wants to.

Sunday morning, then the trouble begins.

Stiles is still asleep.  Erica and Boyd didn’t insist on another sleepover.  The Sheriff stayed overnight at the station again.

And then there’s a knock.  Stiles is a pretty light sleeper these days.  He sort of has to be, all things considered.

But the knock is just a knock, not rude banging or some other loud noise that might signify a life-or-death situation, so Stiles just rolls over and tries to convince his brain to remain asleep.

Another knock sounds, and this time, Laura decides to be gleefully evil because she’s bored and doesn’t want to wait a few more hours for Stiles to wake up on his own.

So, “STILES!!”  She bellows in his ear.  “MAIL FOR YOU!!”

“Fuck off!”  Stiles automatically snaps because he stayed up late on the phone with Erica last night after she called him in a fit of post-nightmare panic, not to mention this isn’t the first time Laura’s decided to screech in his ear to wake him up, and he almost jolts right off the bed to get away from the shout.

“You have ma-ail!”  Laura sings, zooming lazily through the air above him.

“There’s no post on Sundays!”  Stiles snarls, and he refuses to open his eyes.  “Now leave me alone and stop acting like a five-year-old on Christmas morning!  You’re supposed to be a grown-ass woman, Laura!”

There is complete, blessed silence after that.

It ain’t blessed for long.

“Uh-” Laura stammers, and that, that is enough to get Stiles up and on his feet in the span of a heart-stuttering breath, one hand already groping for his baseball bat, the other steadying himself when he almost staggers into his nightstand.

“What?”  Stiles barks, rubbing the grit out of his eyes.  “What’s wro-”

He freezes when he catches sight of the window.  It’s closed.  Only a select few can enter this house these days; the uninvited can’t even break a window to get in.

But perched outside on the sill is Peter Hale, and he must have been the one knocking earlier.

Peter is motionless, staring back at Stiles, no doubt having heard every word of Stiles’ half-asleep argument.

There’s an envelope in the werewolf’s right hand.  His left one is still poised to knock again.

Stiles forces himself to move, to lower the bat and shuffle towards the window.

“Say you were dreaming,” Laura whispers even though nobody but Stiles can hear her anyway.

Stiles slides open the window.  “Um.”

They stare at each other some more.

Stiles does not invite the werewolf in.  He doesn’t give a damn about being rude if it means today won’t end with dire threats and/or animalistic mauling.

The envelope makes a thwip sound when Peter flicks his wrist once.

“A cheque,” The man says quietly, eyes glued unblinkingly on Stiles’ face.  “For Cora’s expenses.  She approves of your fashion sense so she's not giving the clothes back but she insists on paying for them.  Well, she insists on getting me to pay for them anyway.  And she wants to know if you want to join us for lunch today.  She would’ve asked you herself but she has the good sense to agree to lie low for now just in case so I’ve come in her stead.  It is my cheque after all so I might as well.”

He stops.  His gaze sort of glides around the interior of Stiles’ bedroom, unknowingly sweeping over Laura twice.  Then his attention returns to Stiles, and his mouth smiles but his eyes don’t.  His head cants to one side, and the expression on his face is entirely lupine.

“That was an odd way for you to wake up,” Peter remarks with deceptive casualness, belied by the spark of otherworldly blue in his eyes.  “Who were you dreaming about, Stiles?”

“Oh, he’s not gonna let this go,” Laura mutters.

Stiles suppresses a twitch.  Yeah, no shit.

 

Chapter Text

 

Peter sits on Stiles’ windowsill and smiles like there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.  Stiles sits on his bed and tries not to fidget like he’d rather be anywhere but here.  Laura floats in the air and wrings her hands and in general can’t possibly be more useless.

“I have funky dreams sometimes,” Stiles breaks the silence first, shrugging with deliberate nonchalance.  “Especially ever since this town went to hell.”

Peter hums, smile sharper than ever, eyes so focused and intent that Stiles is surprised the werewolf can’t see Laura anyway.

“I see,” Peter’s gaze flits across the room again.  “And do all your dreams feature someone named Laura?”

Damn it.

“Dunno,” Stiles shrugs, keeping his heartbeat steady the way Laura taught him.  “I don’t remember most of them.  Who knows why I dream what I dream?”

Judging by the patronizing look the werewolf levels on him, it’s clear Peter doesn’t believe a single bit of the bullshit coming out of Stiles’ mouth.  Stiles would be surprised if he did.  But the man can’t prove it, and that’s all that matters.  And never let it be said that Stiles can’t deny any and all knowledge until the cows come home, if only to be a contrary little bastard.

Peter opens his mouth, most likely to interrogate Stiles some more, but he doesn’t get the chance before the buzz of Stiles’ phone interrupts them, and Stiles wastes no time picking it up.

You have awesome timing, Erica, Stiles thinks fervently as he picks up the call.  “Hey, you’re up early.”

“It’s ten, Stiles,” Erica volleys back playfully, but she actually sounds just as tired as he feels.  “And I… didn’t feel like sleeping in.  If you’re up, do you want to hang out today?  Boyd too, of course.  He’s already on his way to my house.”

Stiles seizes this opportunity.  “Sure, we can-”

“They can come too,” Peter cuts in, smirking when Stiles’ gaze snaps back to him.  “Cora’s invited you to lunch, remember?  I’m sure she wouldn’t mind seeing her fellow prisoners again as well.”

“Who was that?”  Erica asks warily even as Stiles scowls at the man.  “Stiles?  Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Stiles grits out.  “That was Peter, Derek’s uncle?  I don’t think you’ve ever met.  He came over a little while ago.  Something about lunch.”

“I insist,” Peter insists.  “And you don’t want to hurt Cora’s feelings by turning her down, do you?”

Stiles gives the werewolf a look that clearly conveys how many fucks he does not give about Cora’s feelings.  Peter just looks amused and not at all offended on his niece’s behalf.

“We don’t mind,” Erica pipes up.

“Uh, yeah, we do mind,” Stiles argues, almost pulling the phone away from his ear just to stare at it and emphasize his incredulity.  “We mind very much.”

“Come on, Stiles, why not?”  Erica coaxes.  “We actually did get to know Cora a little bit back in that vault.  Hard not to, all things considered.  It could be nice to see her again.”

This time, Stiles does pull the phone away from his ear, drilling suspicious holes into it because he isn’t deaf and he can hear the bite in Erica’s voice just fine.  He doesn’t think she – or Boyd – has any particular issues against Cora but, all the same, there’s a terse underscore of temper that belies her enthusiasm for the lunch invite.

He puts the phone back to his ear.  “Erica,” He warns, and he doesn’t really have to say anything else.

There’s a moment of silence on the other end.  “I’d like to go,” Erica says at last, less caustic but infinitely more… something else.  Like going to this lunch is a necessity for her.

Stiles stares at the far wall for a long second before heaving a sigh and raking a hand through his hair.  “Yeah, alright.”  He slants a glare over at Peter, who’s no longer smirking but is instead watching him with far more calculation than before, which is arguably worse.  “We’ll come, but I’m picking up Erica and Boyd first.  We’ll be at your place around noon.”

To his credit, Peter doesn’t push his luck.  Instead, he nods his head, sets the cheque down on the windowsill, and – after another careless smirk at Stiles but an assessing scan of the room - leaps back down to flat ground and presumably heads home.

Stiles rolls his eyes.  Oh yes, just jump up and down from Stiles’ window in broad daylight right smack in the middle of the front yard.  Werewolves.  No subtlety whatsoever.

“I’ll come pick you two up at around eleven-thirty,” He tells Erica briskly.

There’s a smile in Erica’s voice when she replies.  “Thanks, Stiles.  We’ll be ready.”

Yes, ready.  Stiles hangs up and lets his eyes drift up to where Laura is hovering, uncharacteristically silent.

But ready for what?

“I think you handled that pretty well,” Laura chirps.

Stiles nails her with a blistering glare and stalks for his bathroom.  So much for sleeping in.

 


 

“We weren’t properly introduced last time,” Stiles breaks the silence first once everyone is crowded inside Peter’s kitchen.  “I’m Stiles Stilinski.  Sheriff’s son.  Very human.  Still amazing.”

Cora snorts with amusement.  They don’t shake hands, but Stiles knows enough about werewolves these days to not go for one anyway. 

“I’m Cora,” She offers in return, flicking a glance behind him at Erica and Boyd before focusing solely on him.  She smirks and it looks like Peter’s.  “I like your fashion sense.”

Stiles shrugs, though he does take in the casual blouse and jeans she’s currently wearing with an appreciative eye.  Laura knows her stuff.  She did mention she wanted to be a fashion designer before… well, before.

“She’s grown up so gorgeous, don’t you think?”  Laura’s currently beaming, swooping around Cora proudly.

Stiles suppresses the urge to roll her eyes, motioning instead to the two werewolves behind him.  “Erica and Boyd, as I’m sure you already know.  And that’s Peter.  I set him on fire once.”

He smiles winningly at Peter, who flashes a glimpse of teeth even as his lips pull back in an answering smirk that’s equal parts threat, mirth, and challenge.

Cora looks between them, eyebrows raised.

“The UST here could choke a man,” Laura mutters from the air, and Stiles twitches violently in her direction before firmly tamping down on the urge to commit murder.  Or at least an exorcism.

Cora gives him a weird look, and he can sense mild confusion coming from behind him, but it’s Peter who zeroes in on him like a homing beacon, gaze flicking from Stiles to the patch of air Laura is occupying and then back to Stiles.

Stiles takes a deep breath, claps his hands together, and asks in as upbeat a tone as he can vocally manage, “So what’s for lunch?”

Fucking Hales.

 


 

Things settle down a little after that, mostly because Laura gets bored halfway through lunch and swoops away in search of something else to poke her nose into.  After that, they settle down with Peter’s disconcertingly large collection of video games – everything from Call of Duty to MGS to Super Smash Bros., from a GameCube to a Wii – in the sitting room.

Boyd and Cora seem okay with each other, though that could be because Boyd is a generally stoic individual and can’t be bothered to carry on a conversation with Cora beyond yes, no, and a handful of short sentences, all while looking like a very zen black mamba when staring at Cora.

Cora always stares back, and they never look away unless it’s at the same time.

Erica and Cora on the other hand… well.  First they snipe at each other over the food – which Cora apparently helped cook – then they take underhanded snide jabs at each other the way only girls can, then they move on to the video games and try to kill each other there, both of them flashing gold eyes and fanged snarls.

And here Stiles thought they would get along.  Erica’s a firecracker, with a penchant for mischief and an impulsive temperament.  Cora – from what Stiles has seen – isn’t that different.  In fact, she actually reminds him of a less… cynical version of her uncle.  She snarks on equal footing with Erica, and her sarcasm cuts… well, not as deeply as Peter’s or Stiles’ but she still wields it with scathing proficiency.

And it just seems as if she and Erica would click, but maybe it’s just that they’re too similar.  Still, on occasion, in the middle of trading barbs back and forth, they even seem to be having fun, and half the time it’s like they’re insulting each other because they have to.

Girls.  Maybe it’s just one of those things Stiles will never understand.

At least they’re not going for each other’s throats though, and Stiles only has to step in three times – twice with sharp looks for both of them to cut it out when Erica takes a pot-shot at Cora’s lack of family, and Cora hits below the belt by bringing up Erica’s old insecurities about being a nobody, and then once more with a harsh “calm the fuck down, you two aren’t actual wolves” when they bust out their claws that one time, looking ready to throw down.

Boyd stays largely out of it but three guesses to which side he’d take if a fight actually broke out, and Stiles so does not want to deal with that.

Shooting at each other on Peter’s flat screen at least seems to channel their one-upmanship into the game instead of directly at each other.  Even Peter takes turns playing, very smugly kicking all their asses because he’s apparently terrifyingly good at any game they choose, and proving once and for all that he’s a giant nerd underneath the sociopath routine.  Not that he isn’t a sociopath too but still.  Stiles doesn’t know whether to be horrified or amused.

It’s a few hours since lunch, and they’re relaxing with chips and Mario Party 8, and even Erica and Cora have simmered down a bit, when Laura pops back in.  It’s a testament to how used to this Stiles is that his heart stays rock-steady.

“Stiles,” Laura mutters urgently without her usual good cheer.  “You have company.  Those Alpha twins are lurking outside the apartment.  They’re in the parking lot, not really doing anything, but they know which suite you’re all holed up in.  Attacking now would be stupid but they might once it gets dark and you and Boyd and Erica are gone.  Two Alphas against two Omegas is a joke.”

Stiles finishes shooting Boos in the haunted house, coming in second after Erica, who throws her arms in the air and crows triumphantly before growling at Cora who – coming in third – makes a disparaging remark under her breath.

“Here,” Stiles tosses the Wii remote over to Peter before getting to his feet.

Boyd looks over, straightening like he’s about to get up too, and Erica immediately forgets Cora in favour of concentrating on Stiles.  “Stiles?  Did you want to go?”

“Nah,” Stiles stretches the kinks out of his muscles before grabbing the sweater he shucked off earlier.  “I just wanna stretch my legs.  Maybe buy a cup of coffee down the street.  I’ll be back.  Half an hour tops.”

Erica still looks distinctly unsettled so Stiles reaches over to squeeze her shoulder in reassurance before nodding at Boyd.  Erica settles under his hand, and Boyd surreptitiously scoots an inch closer to Erica.  Stiles glances at Cora next, then Peter, and then he heads for the door.  Peter isn’t stupid enough to randomly cause any harm to Boyd or Erica.

“They’ve retreated around the corner,” Laura reports as they hit the parking lot and make for Stiles’ jeep.  “They can’t see you but they’ve probably got a bead on your scent and heartbeat.”

Stiles hums noncommittally as he slides behind the wheel.  He supposes he isn’t exactly stretching his legs but he can always do that when he goes to buy his coffee.  Right now, he needs his car.

He drives to the coffee shop down the street, slowly but not so slowly that it’s suspicious.  Once in a while, he catches a glimpse of a figure in his rear-view mirror, skulking a distance away behind them but steadily tracking them all the same.

“I think it’s Aiden,” Laura’s muffled voice tells him from where she’s half-in half-out of the car, everything waist-up sticking out of the roof.  “His brother stayed behind.”

Even better.  Stiles reaches over into the cup holder compartment, unscrewing the lid of the travel mug before tipping the whole thing onto the floor.

He parks, in front of the alley adjacent to the coffee shop.  As he steps out of his car, nobody notices the dark trail of mountain ash that follows his sneakers out like the silent sinuous glide of a snake, only to curl up under the jeep, waiting for Stiles’ next command.

“Laura,” Stiles murmurs, glancing up only long enough to see her nod at him.  Then he heads inside.  He does want a drink.  Maybe a caramel mocha.  It’s that kind of day.

“Han Solo,” He tells the cashier when she asks for his name, grinning cheekily when she laughs and gamely scribbles it down.

He waits the two minutes it takes for his drink to come out, toasts the girl who calls out “Han Solo!” for the whole shop to hear, and then makes his way out the back door instead of the front, sipping blissfully at his coffee.

Laura appears the moment he steps outside, already phasing herself into his body to mute both scent and sound, and when they turn into the alleyway next to the coffee shop, Aiden’s unprotected back faces them, the werewolf himself lurking in the shadows as he waits for Stiles to come out.

Stiles kicks a stray tin can.  Aiden spins around, claws already popping out, clearly startled.

Stiles smiles.

Aiden lunges, only to slam into the invisible barrier made by the circle of mountain ash around his feet, and before he can do more than snarl with anger and rising fear, Stiles is already darting forward, taser in hand, and the werewolf hits the ground in a convulsing heap of limbs.

A sharp kick to the head knocks him the rest the way out, and Stiles takes another gulp of his coffee to congratulate himself.

“Nice,” Laura agrees appreciatively, letting Stiles go to take a closer look at the unconscious Alpha.  “What an idiot.  You’d think he’d have learned his lesson after you sicced that wolfsbane spray on him at school.”

Stiles shrugs.  “Some people never learn.”  He sighs, strolling for his jeep, the rustling sound of mountain ash at his heels.  When he opens the driver’s door, it rears up and winds its way inside again now that its job is done.

“You’re getting really good with that,” Laura remarks as Stiles sticks his mocha into an empty cup holder.

“Obviously,” Stiles mutters, wandering back over to Aiden to crouch down beside the guy.  “Now if only I could get that good with runes.”

“You’re already miles ahead of where most other people would be at your age,” Laura says with a roll of her eyes.  “Do you think it’s normal for someone to pick up runework and wards the way you have?”

Stiles just grunts and pulls out a Swiss army knife, cutting his finger open before swiftly painting the necessary runes on a patch of Aiden’s skin for disguising both scent and heartbeat.  And then he heaves the werewolf up and proceeds to drag him out of the alleyway and into the back of his jeep after making sure no one’s looking their way.

“Normal or not, I would like to be able to do runework without cutting myself open all the time,” Stiles retorts as he finally climbs back into his car, sucking on his finger to soothe the sting.

“You could use ink,” Laura reminds him, not for the first time.

“Do I look like the kinda guy who carries an inkpot and brush around with me all the time?”  Stiles snorts, pulling away from the curb.  “Besides, you said so yourself – ink’s not as strong as blood, and blood’s not as strong as raw magic.  That’s what I want.”

“Ambitious little brat,” Laura huffs, but she almost sounds fond.

Stiles doesn’t reply.  Laura is many things – and most of them get on Stiles’ nerves – but she also inherited quite a few books as heir apparent, and she’s perfectly willing to pass on everything she’s learned to Stiles.  When she was alive, she didn’t know how to raise wards or spell runes into existence, probably wouldn’t have even been able to the way Stiles can because she isn’t a Spark, but she read about them, and whatever she remembers, she’s been telling Stiles, and Stiles has always been the figure-it-out-himself sort.  The guidelines Laura can give him are just icing on the cake.  And just like icing, Stiles eats it, and then goes and bakes his own cake, so to speak.  He’s never been one to follow rules after all.

They make it back to Peter’s apartment, well within half an hour.  Stiles waits until Laura gives him the go-ahead before heaving Aiden out and towing him up the stairwell, not at all concerned about the way the werewolf’s shins will probably have lingering bruises by the end of this.

The door opens even before Stiles reaches it, and Peter sticks his head out.  Stiles sniggers around his drink as he watches the man’s smirk falter with shock at the sight of Stiles’ plus one.

“Stretching your legs, was it?”  Peter drawls at last, but he lets Stiles in without protest, carelessly using one foot to shove the rest of Aiden inside when the unconscious teen’s belt buckle gets caught on the doorstep.

“What can I say,” Stiles deadpans, dropping the werewolf and ignoring the way Aiden’s head smacks against the hardwood floor.  “It’s the Stilinski charm.”

“Stiles?”  Erica appears in the kitchen, mouth dropping open when she catches sight of Aiden.  “Oh my god what- Is that Aiden or Ethan?”

“Aiden,” Stiles says just as Boyd pops in as well, eyes flashing gold briefly when he too spots the Alpha werewolf in their midst.

“Was he following you?”  Boyd rumbles, cutting to the chase just as Cora enters as well, stiffening immediately when she sees Aiden.

“To the coffee shop, yeah,” Stiles sighs again, knocks back another mouthful of coffee, and then puts that on that counter before stooping down, grabbing Aiden, and hauling him into the nearest chair.  He eyes the werewolf thoughtfully for a moment before fishing out his knife again, slicing open another finger, and quickly drawing a paralysis rune on Aiden’s collarbone before smudging out the former ones.  He smiles a little to himself when Aiden goes rigid in the seat even as his head lolls.

He steps back and shakes out his hand a little.  God, he can’t wait to figure out that healing spell thing that Laura mentioned.  She couldn’t really tell him more than the fact that it exists but Stiles is used to that anyway.  He’ll dig up the how-to bit sooner or later.

“Boyd, Erica,” He turns to the two werewolves, still smiling, but even he can tell it takes on a faintly nasty edge.  “Mind going outside and fetching his brother?  You can tell him he has two minutes to come in with you guys without kicking up a fuss or Aiden here is gonna end up very dead in very short order.”

Erica’s grin is positively feral.  Boyd’s expression doesn’t change but his eyes are gold again, and this time they stay gold as he prowls for the door, radiating an aura that reminds Stiles of the unknown depths of a river in the middle of a storm.  Erica saunters after him, claws already flexing.

Stiles turns back to Aiden.  “Wakey, wakey,” He pokes the werewolf in the forehead and focuses what he wants into the tip of his finger.

Aiden’s head snaps back.  It looks pretty painful considering nothing below his neck can move with the sudden motion, and the werewolf ends up cracking his head against the back of his chair, eyes rolling, before groaning in pain.

Then he sees Stiles, and he abruptly shuts up despite his eyes scrunching against a headache.  Still, he bares his fangs, neck muscles standing out starkly as he tries to move the rest of his body.  “You!  You bastard!  I’m gonna rip your spleen out when I get my hands on you!”

Stiles cocks his head.  “Well that’s not very nice.  I’m not the one who was playing stalker all day-” He pauses when the door swings open.  “-with your brother.”

“Aiden!”  Ethan surges forward the moment he catches sight of his brother, only to freeze when Boyd’s grip on the back of his neck tightens, claws already drawing rivulets of blood that seep into Ethan’s clothes.

“Now, now,” Erica purrs as she slips in as well and closes the door behind her.  “What did we say about any fast movements?”

“You crazy son of a bitch!”  Aiden snarls at Stiles, face turning red as he continues straining against the rune.  “Let him go!”

“You know, this name-calling is really hypocritical of you,” Stiles remarks.  “We’re not the ones who kidnapped a bunch of teenagers and tortured them for fun all damn summer.  And that’s not counting this one-sided guerilla warfare you and your pack is waging practically in my backyard.  You don’t see me calling you crazy.”

A muscle jumps in Aiden’s jaw.  In his peripheral vision, Ethan twitches like he wants to attack but doesn’t dare considering Boyd’s claws are so close to his spine.

“Right then,” Stiles says into the blessed silence.  “Ready to cooperate?”

If looks could kill, Stiles would be six feet under.

“What do you want?”  Aiden spits out.

Stiles scoffs.  “What do you think I want?  I want to know what you want.  You, and your brother, and Ennis, and Kali, and Deucalion.  You took what you assumed were Derek’s Betas.  Kept them in a vault made of hecatolite so they’d turn feral.  And then what?  Derek would have to kill them?”

He glances at Ethan, then back to Aiden.  “Kill his own pack?  I hear that’s how the Alpha Pack functions.  Kill your own pack, then you can join up with Deucalion.  The thing is, I don’t buy it.  Why would you want Derek?  He’s not much of an Alpha but he wouldn’t kill people just because.  And forcing him to kill his packmates won’t do anything but break him.  He’d never join up with you.  So I’m asking again,” Stiles leans forward.  “What do you want?”

For a long, tense minute, neither twin speaks.  Stiles scratches idly at some of the blood that’s dripped down to from the newest cut on his hand.  It’s still bleeding, he notes, so he might as well.

“Hey-” Aiden jerks his head in Stiles’ direction but he can’t do much else as Stiles etches the same paralysis rune onto Ethan’s almost quivering neck.

He nods at Boyd once he’s done, and the teen relinquishes his grip on Ethan, who crashes to the ground like a statue, cursing into the kitchen floor.

“Cool,” Erica comments, nudging none too gently at Ethan’s prone form.

“Start talking,” Stiles makes a long arm and snags his coffee from the counter.  At least it’s still warm.  “I don’t care who.”

“And if we don’t?”  Aiden sneers.

Stiles blinks perplexedly at him.  “Then you’re essentially useless to me and I guess I’ll be wasting the rest of my afternoon digging a very deep hole.”

Aiden sort of stares.  Stiles wonders why he’s so surprised.

“I have shovels in my garage,” Boyd supplies offhandedly, arms crossed and staring down Aiden from over Stiles’ shoulder.

Erica snickers.

They’re both a lot more bloodthirsty than Stiles expected.  Then again, talking is easier than doing.

Aiden’s eyes bleed red, and his expression twisting with contempt.  “You’re bluffing.”

Stiles takes one more sip before putting his drink back on the counter.  And then he snaps his fingers.

A heartbeat later, Aiden is roaring, fangs snapping as his head tosses from side to side, crimson eyes wild as he shouts, “You bastard!  My brother!  I’ll kill you!  I’ll kill you!  Ethan!  Ethan-”

“Aiden?”  Ethan calls back from the floor.  “What’s going on?  What’ve you people done?  Aiden?!”

Stiles lets that go on for a few seconds before yanking Aiden’s head back by the hair to get his attention and snapping, “Start talking.  Otherwise, you can say goodbye to your brother.  I can still heal him, but at this rate…”

“Alright!  Alright!”  Aiden’s voice is frantic, and he doesn’t hear Ethan yelling back, “Heal- Heal me?  What?  Aiden-”

“Deucalion wants McCall!”  Aiden gasps out, words almost tumbling over each other.  “’Cause he’s a- he’s a True Alpha, and that’s- Deucalion wants that in his Pack.  I don’t- I don’t know the exact plan, I don’t, but- but having Derek take out his own Pack will turn him against McCall and weaken all of you more, and that’s what Deucalion wants.  He’ll eliminate all of you or he’ll get McCall to join him in exchange for sparing the rest of you, and that’s all I know I swear, Deucalion doesn’t tell us everything, me and Ethan are the lowest on the totem pole so I don’t know anything else now save my brother you promised-”

Stiles snaps his fingers once more, and Aiden’s eyes – wide and unfocused from staring at something none of the rest of them can see – finally snap back into focus again even as his chest heaves with choked-off whines of dizzying emotion, and Stiles releases his grip on the werewolf’s hair.

Aiden isn’t capable of shaking but his expression shudders all the same, like he can’t believe his eyes when he spots his brother still face down on the floor.  “W- What-?   Ethan- You slit his throat!  I saw-”

“Magic is a wonderful thing,” Stiles clarifies, and then thinks sleep, and Aiden’s head slumps forward, limp.

“Aiden?”  Ethan keeps trying to lift his head.  “Aiden?  What have you done to him?!”

“Well, he isn’t dead yet,” Stiles assures helpfully, and then promptly whips out his taser and jabs it into Ethan’s ribs.  A kick to his head when the werewolf practically vibrates with the volts and he too is out like a light.

Stiles blows out a breath and pockets his taser.  Then he turns to face everyone else.

“Where can I get one of those?”  Erica is the first to jump in, looking almost gleeful at the thought of a taser.  Boyd just looks mildly amused but he seems equally interested.

Stiles rolls his eyes.  “I’ll get you one each.”

“What did you do to him?”  Cora interjects, and everything from her voice to her expression is guarded but not like she’s horrified or anything.  Instead, she looks at Stiles like she’s re-evaluating him.

Stiles wiggles the fingers of one hand.  “Magic.”  At Cora’s unimpressed eyebrows, he huffs a laugh and shrugs.  “I poked him on the forehead, remember?  It’s sort of like… slipping a bit of my magic into his brain.”

“So it’s mind-control,” Cora concludes.

Stiles frowns.  “Sort of?  I guess you could call it that.  But he’s still himself until I want my magic to feed his brain illusions or make him go to sleep.”

“But only one at a time, or you would’ve done it to his brother as well instead of physically knocking him out,” Peter speaks at last, voice as smooth as an unseen dagger in the back, and he looks at Stiles like… like he wants to eat him.

Stiles stares straight back.  “For now.”

Peter smiles, an unsettling sort of fascination in every contour of his face.  “Oh I don’t doubt that in the least,” His smile widens, and he practically licks out the last word, “Stiles.”

From the ceiling, practically forgotten at this point, Laura pointedly clears her throat.

Stiles’ lips thin.  He doesn’t even blink until Peter chuckles and inclines his head like- like acknowledgement before glancing away first, averting his eyes to the twins.

“Whatever shall we do with them then?  If we let them go, they’ll run straight back to Deucalion.”

Stiles looks over at Boyd and Erica.  “Wanna kill them?  I could do it if you don’t want to.  Otherwise, I’ll wipe Aiden’s memories first, and we’ll keep them both until I can recharge and do the same with Ethan.  Up to you.”  He glances at Cora.  “And you I guess.”

All three werewolves stare at him.

“You really would,” Erica says at last, and there’s an odd inflection in her voice that Stiles can’t place.  “Kill them, I mean.”

“Well, I figure they’ve hurt you most so you get first say,” Stiles squints at her.  “Now what’s it gonna be?”

Erica looks at him like he didn’t quite address what she meant, but she exchanges a look with Boyd, and then they both look at Cora.

“Let them go,” Boyd finally says.  “When we were locked up, it was mostly Deucalion, Kali, and Ennis who… well.  We didn’t really see much of the twins, and they’re our age.”

“But if they try anything again,” Erica adds with a flash of her fangs.  “I get first dibs.”

Stiles glances at Cora, who nods with a grimace but looks firm enough about the decision, so he nods back and turns to Aiden again.  “Right then.  One obliviate coming right up.”

Even Boyd cracks an exasperated smile.  And Stiles does love it when people understand his references.

 


 

They end up staying for dinner.  Peter cooks while the rest of them sprawl out in the living room with their homework.  Or – in Cora’s case – a book.  But Stiles does excuse himself eventually for a bathroom break.

“So?”  He asks as he washes his hands.  “What’s a True Alpha?”

Laura seats herself on the counter.  She has no reflection.

“Something rare,” She tells him with something like awe and something like bewilderment.  “Once in a hundred years rare.  A werewolf who becomes Alpha through sheer force of will because they have the overwhelming potential for it, based on the strength and purity of their character.  Or so the stories go.  I’ve never met one, obviously.”

Stiles mulls this over, absently playing with the soap, and then snorts.  “Well, I suppose if anyone is ‘pure’ in this town, it’d be Scott.  And you can’t have a stronger moral compass than him.”  He glances sharply at Laura.  “You should already know that though, from what you’ve seen of Scott.  So why are you confused?”

For once, Laura doesn’t jump guiltily or lie atrociously or even pout in an attempt to deflect Stiles’ attention.  Instead, she looks back, expression unreadable, and the silence between them lasts long enough for Stiles to consider dropping the issue.

Potential means nothing in reality,” She says at last.  “Potential is just a possibility.  And possibilities are a dime a dozen.  Packs don’t need maybes.  They need competency.”

Stiles blinks at her.  “I don’t get it.”

Laura smiles, and for a moment, she looks wise beyond her years.  “You will.  But Scott won’t.  Not the way he is.”

And then she swoops up through the ceiling and away, effectively ending the conversation.

Stiles stares after her for a moment before turning off the taps and drying his hands.

He doesn’t know what she means, but all the same, something tugs in his gut, like anticipation and dread and the weight of responsibility.

 

Chapter Text

 

“So what are we gonna do about the Alpha Pack?”

Five pairs of eyes turn expectantly to Stiles.  Stiles squints back at them around a spoonful of ice-cream before wondering out loud in garbled tones, “‘We’?  What ‘we’?  Where did this gung-ho teamwork attitude ‘we’ come from?”

They’re all still in Peter’s apartment, same day and everything, except it’s nighttime now, Peter hasn’t kicked them out yet, and Boyd and Erica have called their respective parents, citing sleepover with Stiles, which technically isn’t untrue since they do plan to sleep over at Stiles’ place once they get there.

Aiden and Ethan have been sent packing with minds that have been adjusted to remembering nothing but a day of boring stakeout outside a block of apartment buildings.  Stiles even made sure they no longer knew which apartment Peter lived in, and then he proceeded to ward this particular unit to the nines.  After all, what’s the point of wasting energy chasing off the Alpha twins if they can just come back anytime?  Stiles might as well cover all his bases, which means no one who doesn’t already know the address – or is told the address by Peter, the owner of the place, or Stiles, the one who raised the wards – will be able to find this place, and they won’t know why they can’t find it either.

Peter stared at him the entire time Stiles was bloodying up the four cornerstones of his flat.  Stiles ignored him.  If the guy wanted to make sure he wasn’t adding something nefarious to the wards, well, it’s not like Stiles wouldn’t have done the exact same thing in his place.

“Come on, Stiles,” Erica flips an impatient hand in the air.  “We all know you’re not gonna just let McCall deal with the Alpha Pack on his own when they go gunning for him.”

“Yeah, and?”  Stiles shrugs, scraping the bottom of his bowl with his spoon.  “That’s my problem.  I’ll deal with it.”

He stares into what’s left of his ice-cream.  He will have to deal with it, if only because Scott won’t.  He’s obsessing over Allison again – not that he ever stopped – and even once he learns about what the Alpha Pack wants, Stiles highly doubts his best friend will do… anything about it.  Or at least anything effective.  The Alpha Pack’s already proven themselves capable of torturing teenagers, which is arguably worse than just outright killing them.  There’s going to have to be a more permanent solution, and when Stiles says permanent, he means of the deadly kind, which is something Scott will never do.

Stiles’ mouth twists bitterly.  He loves Scott, he does, but Scott is… Scott is the worst kind of hypocrite out there.  He sold Derek out to Gerard and was literally carrying out premeditated murder against the geriatric psycho but he didn’t deal the final blow, choosing to be merciful instead at the last minute all because Gerard was incapacitated, and that – in Scott’s mind – means he’s still the good guy.  If someone else blew off Gerard’s head in front of him, finished the job for him right then and there, Scott would’ve been horrified.  Would’ve condemned them as the bad guy.

It’s the same with Peter.  Scott was fully willing to kill Peter for his own gain, would have if Derek didn’t get there first, and yet he condemns Peter for the deaths on his hands, condemns even Derek for trying to manipulate Scott into siding with him against his uncle, and that’s just-

Sometimes, Stiles wants to yank out his own hair in sheer frustration when he thinks about Scott’s double standards, especially because sooner or later, those double standards are going to have consequences that none of them will be able to handle.  That they’ll regret.  That will probably get them killed, if not worse.

It reminds Stiles though – he needs to hunt down Gerard and put as many bullets into him as it takes to make sure the old bastard’s down and out for good.  He doesn’t need a Take Two coming back to Beacon Hills for revenge or whatever.  And he’ll need to do the same with the Alpha Pack since it’s pretty damn clear that they’re not just here for a vacation.

“You’re totally plotting evil things without us,” Erica observes, and when Stiles looks up, he finds the rest of the table staring at him over their own ice-cream bowls with varying degrees of interest.

Stiles rolls his eyes and polishes off the last of his ice-cream.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do,” Erica bounces in her seat.  “And you can include us, you know?  Well, me at least,” She amends, exchanging a glance with Boyd.  “And Boyd.  We can help.”

Stiles snorts.  “With what?”

“With whatever you want to do to the Alpha Pack,” Boyd interjects calmly, and he looks at Stiles like he knows exactly what Stiles wants to do to them.

Stiles stares back, at all of them, at Boyd and Erica who seem ready to march out and strong-arm another pair of killers if need be, at Cora who’s wearing her perpetual unimpressed expression but looks equally attentive, even at Peter who simply smiles, sly and sharp and just shy of hungry.

“You can depend on them,” Laura says softly from somewhere behind him, and Stiles almost cracks up laughing.

Because he can’t remember the last time he depended on anyone for anything, not when it really counted.  If Boyd and Erica refused to go get Ethan earlier, Stiles would’ve been fully capable of going to get the Alpha douche himself.  If Scott didn’t come in time with that bullet, Stiles would’ve been fully capable of cutting Derek’s arm off himself.

(When the Sheriff couldn’t pull himself out of his latest bottle or couldn’t – or wouldn’t – come home for days on end, Stiles was fully capable of taking care of himself.  When Scott hung up on him while Stiles was calling him for help, Stiles was fully capable of keeping himself and Derek alive.  When Scott forgot him in favour of another date with Allison or bro time with Isaac, Stiles was fully capable of entertaining himself.  When no one came to save him that night he was kidnapped, Stiles was fully capable of limping his way home on his own.)

(He’s such a self-pitying mess, isn’t he?)

“I’ll think about it,” Stiles grunts, which is to say he probably won’t, ever, because he doesn’t need a couple teenagers and possibly an ex-serial killer committing murder with him, but saying it does its job in getting these idiots off his back.

He’s always been an unrepentant liar anyway.

“Come on,” Stiles clambers to his feet and heads to the sink to deposit his bowl.  “It’s late, and we have school tomorrow.  Time to go.”

Peter sees them to the door.

“So, we should do this again sometime,” The man quips with a smirk, gaze as avid on Stiles’ face as it’s been every other time he’s looked at Stiles today.  Stiles might even go so far as to say Peter’s always looked at Stiles like this, like there’s something about him that fascinates the werewolf more than anyone or anything else in the vicinity at any given moment.

Which is not actually a good or healthy thing, however flattering it might sound.  And it’s only gotten worse after everything that’s happened in the past twelve hours.

“We really, really shouldn’t,” Stiles mutters, raking a tired hand through his hair.  He doesn’t like to admit it but all the magic he used today has drained him quite a bit.  The mountain ash was easy, the runes too, on both the twins and the flat; it was the repeated mind magic that’s biting him in the ass now.

It rankles, honestly.  He’ll need to work on his stamina.  Being a Spark may make wielding magic easier but he still needs to put effort into it.

He flicks a glance at Boyd and Erica, who are several steps ahead, making for the stairwell.  Laura hovers in the corner of his eye.  Cora is somewhere inside.  He looks at Peter again and sighs.  “Try not to kill anyone.  Try not to die.  See you ’round, Peter.”

He leaves.  Peter’s eyes follow him until they can’t anymore.

 


 

“So now what?”  Laura asks the next day.  They’re – well, technically just Stiles – sitting in Econ, Finstock is ranting up at the front, and Scott is trying to catch his eye from across the room where he’s sitting with Allison and Isaac.

Stiles deliberately came in thirty seconds before the bell rang, evil-eyed a kid out of the seat closest to the door, and is even now ignoring Scott’s disappointed puppy-dog eyes.  No matter how many times his best friend asks, Stiles’ answers about Boyd and Erica aren’t going to change, and he has zero patience left for fielding Scott’s questions.

It’s quite possible that Stiles is a bitter grudge-holding asshole, but he figures he has that right considering the first time Scott has talked to him since the fiasco with the kanima and Gerard – which was last April, and now it’s September – is to interrogate him about how Boyd and Erica escaped and why they suddenly seem to be friends with Stiles now.

Stiles is well aware that nobody picks him.  Nobody consciously chooses to stay with him.  His dad’s stuck with him because he’s Stiles’ dad, and even Scott was stuck with him way back in elementary when most of the student body sneered and refused to be friends with the asthmatic kid who couldn’t play fifteen minutes of just about any sport without wheezing for breath, always puffing away at his inhaler.  It was uncool.  But Stiles knew better than just about anyone that sickness – in any form – is no laughing matter, and he was the only one who went after Jackson and broke the idiot’s nose for stealing Scott’s inhaler.  Apparently, that was grounds for friendship because Scott started following him around after that.

Scott has options now though, especially with Jackson no longer around to spearhead the bullying against him.  Perfect health, athletic physique with the strength and speed to match, hot girlfriend, lacrosse captain – those things look good on any high school résumé.

So Stiles can’t even say he’s particularly surprised that Scott’s drifted away from him.  Nobody picks him.  Nobody chooses to stay with him.  He’s long since accepted that as a fact of life, and instead, he poured all of himself into the one person who at least gave Stiles and all his quirks and weirdness a chance.

But he’ll be damned if he lets anyone – even Scott – use him and then forget him again once they no longer need him.  Even Stiles has his pride, and yeah, knowing Scott, the guy’s probably completely oblivious to what he’s doing, to how Stiles feels, to the canyon that’s opened between them in a way that Stiles never would have thought possible once upon a time, or maybe Scott’s convinced himself that there’s a perfectly good reason for their lack of interaction these days, not to mention Stiles hasn’t exactly confronted him about it either.

But that’s intentional, on Stiles’ part.  Maybe it’s stupid.  Maybe it’s childish.  It’s probably both.  But bringing up the matter first feels a lot like losing, like giving in, like crawling back after being rejected, like admitting he’s in the wrong when he isn’t, because it’s not Stiles’ job to make sure Scott gives him the time of day, to remember they’re friends and that’s supposed to mean something.

Nobody treats Stiles like that and gets away with it, not even Scott.  Stiles isn’t that kind.  Isn’t that forgiving.  Isn’t that lenient.  So the resentment festers, the distance grows, and even if that leaves him friendless and alone, he’d rather be that than trailing after Scott, lapping up whatever attention Scott deigns to give him when the werewolf teen happens to remember his first friend, but feeling like he’s invisible or unwanted the rest of the time.

He gets enough of that from his dad.

Still, even if he’s avoiding Scott these days, being bratty and unhelpful because it’s a way to get back at Scott without actually hurting Scott the way Stiles knows he could if he really puts his mind to it, he doesn’t want Scott dead.  The dude’s still the closest thing he’s got to a brother.  His closest and only friend, once if not anymore.  Which means Laura’s question is legit, and Stiles needs a plan, preferably with several contingencies lined up behind it.

He has a feeling there’s going to be a lot of dead bodies by the end of this.

 


 

Stiles is tempted to go after Gerard first.  He’s looked, of course; he’s had all summer to dream about stabbing that bastard in the face despite spending the majority of his time on furthering his magical education, and the memories of his own little torture session at the psychotic bastard’s hands is more than enough incentive, but Chris Argent’s hidden his father well.  There’s no paper or electronic trail to follow, and Stiles is still trying to figure out tracking spells.

But now, from an objective, logical standpoint, the Alpha Pack is the bigger, more immediate threat.  The last time Stiles saw Gerard, the guy was puking up black goo and couldn’t even walk.  He’ll keep.  The Alpha Pack won’t for much longer.

Fortunately for him, Stiles has the perfect spy.

“They’ve been talking about killing a few of you,” Laura reports after her latest surveillance mission at the abandoned warehouse that the Alpha Pack has moved to ever since Stiles broke into the bank.  “People closest to Scott.  A couple dead friends will have him running scared, maybe turning to Derek for help.  My brother more than likely won’t help him after Scott served him up to Gerard like a lamb to the slaughter-” Her expression darkens.  “-or even if he does, it’s not like Derek can do much anyway.  He can’t take down five Alphas, and he doesn’t know much more about the Alpha Pack than Scott does.  Deucalion is banking on all of that resulting in a kid who will be a lot more susceptible to his… guidance.  If Scott thinks it’s the only way to save the rest of his friends and even his mom, he’ll do whatever Deucalion wants.”

Flat on his back on his bed, Stiles hums and stares thoughtfully up at the ceiling.  “…Aiden said that he and Ethan were basically at the bottom of the food chain in their pack, right?”

Laura floats down to sit cross-legged next to Stiles.  “Yeah.  Which isn’t really a surprise.  They’re the youngest, probably the weakest, and I don’t know Kali or Ennis personally but I’ve been watching them – Ennis is more violent than Kali, but Kali is more sadistic, and neither of them are the type to let a couple of teenagers stand on equal footing with them.  Plus the twins were the last to join.  Kali and Ennis only follow Deucalion because Deucalion is stronger than them, and he’s the one who recruited them in the first place.”

Stiles chews on his bottom lip.  “You told me he used to be different.  Deucalion I mean.”

Laura nods.  “He was.  I didn’t know him like my mom did obviously – they were friends – but he and his pack were invited over for dinner a few times, and our packs had a decent alliance going.  He was nice to my younger relatives when they were around, calm, quiet without being antisocial or anything.  He could carry a conversation.  He seemed like a good Alpha.  Very British too, if that makes any sense.  He loved his tea.”  She snorts.  “Then he went to that peace talk with Gerard and came out a different man.”

Her lips twist with a sardonic sort of amusement that reminds Stiles more of Peter in that moment that anyone else.  “Hatred changes people.  Never for the better.”

Stiles eyes her for a long minute but says nothing.  Sometimes, he wonders if it would make things better or worse if Laura could actually have a sit-down with her uncle and hash out their unresolved issues once and for all.

“Does it make a difference?”  Laura asks, peering down at him.  “Knowing what kind of person Deucalion used to be?”

Stiles shrugs.  “Not really.  Maybe he can be redeemed, maybe not.  But I’m not a priest, and he’s certainly not looking for absolution.  All I know is that he’s capable of butchering entire packs and torturing teenagers, and he’s a threat to Scott.  That’s all I need to know.  He’s fucking around in territory that isn’t his – that’s enough grounds for execution, isn’t it?”

He looks at Laura.  Laura blinks back once and slowly smiles, the curve of it just shy of bloodthirsty.  At the end of the day, no matter what her state of existence is now, she is still a true born werewolf, and this is the land her family has held and guarded and lived in for centuries.  “Yes.  Yes it is.”

Stiles nods.  “Okay.  Then, on a scale of one to ten, how hard do you think it would be for the twins to kill the other Alphas?”

Laura’s eyes widen, but then she cocks her head in thought.  “…All three of the other Alphas?  I’d say an eleven.  Even two is pushing it.  But one?  I’d give it a decent three, maybe four, so long as they’re joined together, and the Alpha they’re going to kill can’t be expecting the attack either.  But the twins will never get the drop on Deucalion so it’ll have to be either Kali or Ennis.”

She gives him a searching look.  “Why?  What are you planning?”

Stiles absently flexes his fingers.  “My magic… is still in their heads.”

Laura goes still.  “…Oh.  Oh.”  She pauses.  “So, hypothetically, if you give them the kill order…”

“They’ll go after the other Alphas,” Stiles finishes.  “And probably get themselves killed in the process, but that’ll be three Alphas down.”  He frowns.  “The thing is, I don’t know how far I can push until their brains start fighting back.  Simple commands like ‘sleep’ are easy.  Small illusions that play out exactly the way they’re expecting is easy too.  Aiden knew he and Ethan were in danger.  Doesn’t take a very far jump to think that I’d kill his brother to get him to talk.  But commands that go directly against what they want to do…”

Laura props her chin in folded hands.  “So what you’re getting at here is the strength of their pack bonds.  If they really consider the others to be close packmates or something, they’d struggle harder.”

“Right,” Stiles agrees.  “But if they’re treated as the muscle and all-around pack equivalent of gophers, then even if they don’t want to, they’ll still do it.”

“The second seems more likely, from what I’ve observed,” Laura offers.

“Which is good for us,” Stiles’ frown deepens.  “But then there’s the matter of the others being higher up on the hierarchy.  I mean if Deucalion or even Kali or Ennis catches them with an Alpha command, would that stop them?  I don’t know that much about mind magic yet so I can’t exactly plan for any of that.”

He stops again, mulling the plan over.  “Still, can’t hurt to throw the twins at them and see what happens.  Worst case scenario, they don’t manage to kill anyone and Deucalion realizes someone’s whammied them, but I erased their memories of most of what happened yesterday so they won’t know it was me, even if Deucalion does the whole claw-neck memory thing because the memories just aren’t there anymore.  I’ll still have the element of surprise on my side if I have to go after all of them myself.”

“You could always try and catch Kali or Ennis,” Laura suggests.

“I couldn’t,” Stiles shakes his head.  “They’re a lot harder to get to than the twins since they’re almost always holed up inside these days, and after the bank thing, they’re probably a lot more cautious.  And they’re more experienced too, so they’d be stronger, faster, probably smarter.  It’s more trouble than it’s worth to try, and from what you’ve told me, Kali and Ennis at least are closer to each other and even Deucalion than the twins are.  Turning them against each other won’t work if I can’t even make the twins do it.”

They’re both silent for a while.

“Then again,” Stiles speaks up first.  “Maybe I’m complicating this too much.  I could always just wait until all five of them are back in the warehouse, then circle the place with mountain ash and light the whole building on fire.  With you there, they won’t even hear or smell me coming.”

“…Efficient,” Laura concedes.  She tips a strange smile at him.  “You can be a cruel boy, you know.  Force two of them to commit suicide by murder or burn them all to death.”

Stiles turns onto his side, tucking one arm under his head as he pins Laura with a flat stare.  “If I’ve somehow given you the impression that I’m a nice guy, I can assure you, it was an accident.”

Laura shakes her head and laughs.  “You’re nice to the people you give a damn about, Stiles.”  She considers him for a moment.  “Lighting the warehouse on fire is easier, granted, but people will hear their howls from across the town.  It won’t be fast or quiet, the mountain ash will burn if the fire reaches it, and you run the possibility of the fire department reaching them on time to save at least some of them, at which point even a stray boot or fire hose dragging over the circle will break it.”  Her lips stretch into a thin smile that doesn’t reach her eyes.  “The only reason nobody heard my family and came running on time was because the fire grew too big, too fast, and Kate flooded the house with wolfsbane beforehand.  None of them could howl, and their screams weren’t loud enough over the fire.  They were already dying before they started burning, and wolfsbane poisoning is not a pretty way to go, as I’m sure you noticed when Gerard keeled over.”

Stiles regards her sombrely.  Then he rolls onto his back again, eyes finding the ceiling once more.  “I’ll have the twins go after Kali.  With any luck, we’ll have three less bodies to deal with by Wednesday morning.”

He says nothing more, even when Laura lies down and curls up beside him on the bed, weightless and intangible and yet still so real.

 

Chapter Text

 

It’s Wednesday, the sun is beginning to set, and Peter is just exiting his favourite bookshop after a day of reading in one of the squishy armchairs inside when he spots Stiles’ signature blue jeep.

As loath as he is to make the comparison, the way all of Peter’s senses zero in on the vehicle is very much reminiscent of a dog on a scent, and it only takes him a split second of contemplation before he veers away from his usual route back to his apartment and follows the jeep instead.

Stiles.  Stiles, Stiles, Stiles.  It always comes back to this boy, Peter finds.  So much like Peter himself, in his practicality and ruthlessness, and you’d think Peter would be able to predict him, what with their similarities, but the boy surprises him all the same, time and time again.  Even before he was killed, Peter already noticed the darkness inherent in Stiles’ character, carefully tucked away, locked behind a flimsy cage of morality, with the key in Scott McCall’s oblivious hands.

But of course, lock-picking isn’t beyond Stiles.

Because then Peter came back, and he almost did a double-take when he first clapped eyes on Stiles again.  Because in addition to looking like the victim of a brutal mugging, there was a hardened edge to him, angry and bitter and so tired he looked ready to drop.  But still he was there, facing down the kanima with everyone else, and then Peter watched him watch Scott walk away with Allison, fawning over her all the way to the car, letting Argent drive them away as if the man's daughter and father haven’t been hunting down every werewolf in town for the past month.

As if Scott’s precious girlfriend and her family wasn’t torturing his best friend not even three hours ago.  One whiff, even just in the general area of Stiles’ scent, and Peter could smell everything he needed to know – pain and blood, violence and Argent, and underneath all that, the dark, terrible simmer of betrayal.

Scott lost something that night, and he never even noticed.  To this day, Peter has rarely ever seen anyone do something so careless, so foolish, and not even know it.

And now Stiles is… Stiles is more, possibly more himself than he has ever been before, and Peter enjoys watching every minute of it.  He didn’t have much time over the summer break, having needed those two months to get back on his feet, settle himself back in the world of the living again, but now…

Well, Stiles producing Cora on Peter’s doorstep was only the beginning.  The boy wasn’t around to see Cora’s face when she opened the door and found new clothes and other essentials waiting for her with Stiles’ scent on them but Peter did.  Shock and suspicion and confusion, underscored by a fresh bloom of wary gratitude.  And then there was that afternoon of power play between his niece and those two other wolves, and Stiles may not have understood but Peter knew the beginnings of a tussle for pack position when he saw one.

Whether Stiles likes it or not, whether he knows it or not, the boy is establishing himself as an Alpha, and there are at least two werewolves vying for top beta position, and at least three around him fully willing to throw their lot in with him.

Quite possibly four.  Peter has always prided himself on being able to tell which way the wind is blowing before the storm is even seen on the horizon, and he is very, very interested in seeing what kind of Alpha Stiles will become.

Because if he’s honest with himself, Peter’s tried his hand at Alphaship, and he knows it doesn’t suit him.  He wants power, he always will, but not necessarily the power of an Alpha.  He wants power enough to feel safe, to be able to protect what he wants to protect, including himself, and to be able to stand against any enemies looking to set his world ablaze again.

(To never be as helpless as he was when he was forced to watch his family burn, when he was left to rot away in a hospital that stunk of misery and death, when he was culled from the pack because the woman who was supposed to be his Alpha didn’t think he was worth keeping.)

He wants real Pack.  And he thinks, he thinks he could have that with Stiles.  He never will under Derek, his darling nephew who will never truly accept him after what he’s done, because it’s easier to have someone else to blame than to blame himself all the time, because of Laura, and simply because he was raised that way, because Talia always, always made sure Peter was kept on the fringes of their pack.  An enforcer like Peter could never be trusted, and it’s been made abundantly clear that that ideal has been passed on to at least two of her children.  Peter would never feel safe under Derek, who’s even less Alpha material than Peter is, and Peter will always be watching for fangs at his throat and claws at his back if he tries to find a place in his nephew’s ragtag band of teenage misfits.  Or rather, just one misfit now.

It would be the same under Scott too, if the boy ever actually acquires the red eyes of a True Alpha.  He has all the revolting makings of one, including a druid who’s already nudging him in that direction, manipulating the oblivious teen with ease.  Scott blames Peter for everything as well, and Peter will admit that he never should have bitten Scott, but he’d plead insanity for that one, and considering he paid for it by being set on fire again, Peter is perfectly willing to wash his hands of any guilt he might’ve felt.  But Scott finds it easier to hate someone present and there to heap his accusations on rather than his girlfriend’s dead aunt or nearly dead grandfather or even just that family in general, too afraid to alienate darling Allison.  Even if Peter offers his help, offers his vast knowledge on the supernatural to assist Scott in his heroics, the boy would only ever use him without giving anything back, use him like he uses Stiles, with no appreciation and every expectation, and Peter would be left an omega anyway.

Besides, Peter could never bow to a fool.  Nor could he ever bow to a child who doesn’t understand werewolves or pack bonds or Pack, and has no desire to understand or even respect them either.  Ignorance can be forgiven.  Once.  Deliberate ignorance cannot.

But Stiles.  Peter could bow to Stiles.  Could see himself becoming a loyal beta to Stiles if Stiles could find it in himself to give Peter a chance.  Because Peter’s seen the way he treats Boyd and Erica, the way he treats Cora.  He holds them at a guarded arm’s length, like he’s afraid they’ll betray him the way Scott has, but at the same time, every action he takes against the latest threat in Beacon Hills so far has been accompanied by an almost instinctive consideration for each of them in turn.

Even for Peter perhaps.  He doesn’t know if Stiles is aware of it, doesn’t know the exact reason Stiles did it – maybe it was solely for Cora – but those wards now erected around his apartment are some of the strongest Peter has ever come across, and Stiles never even asked for anything in return when he would’ve been fully in his rights to do so.

And Peter wants that, wants that careful, protective attention from an Alpha who looks after everyone in the pack, not just the ones that they like more or the ones that they’re hoping to dip their dick in.  He wants an Alpha who won’t judge and judge and judge and never be satisfied no matter how much of himself Peter gives.

It also certainly doesn’t hurt that Stiles’ morals line up with Peter’s quite well.

So when he sees Stiles’ car, it’s practically instinct to follow.  Stiles might need backup – Peter is more observant than the other pups; he knows Stiles was never planning to involve any of them in his schemes to get rid of the Alpha Pack – but that just means they’ll have to step up and prove themselves to Stiles, prove they’re worthy of being Pack, just as Stiles has proven himself worthy of being Alpha.  Pack is never just one way after all.

It’s fortunate that Stiles isn’t driving that fast, especially since Peter takes extra care to hang as far back as possible without losing sight of the jeep.  He doesn’t exactly have concrete proof but…

But there’s something odd about Stiles too.  Something that makes Peter… apprehensive.  Because he hasn’t forgotten that Sunday morning, when he dropped by the Stilinski household and consequently discovered wards powerful enough to raise the hairs on the back of his neck before he even hit the property line.  But he meant no harm to the house’s occupants so he was allowed through, and not two minutes after he started knocking on Stiles’ window – more than a little amused at the sight of Stiles curled up under his blankets like a cat – Stiles was jolted awake by seemingly nothing at all, annoyed and practically growling his ire, and Peter heard a word he never thought he would again unless it came from Derek or Cora.

A name.

And Stiles can bullshit him all he wants; they both know even now that Stiles was lying that day.  But there are some things Peter isn’t quite ready to confront yet, and the ghost of his eldest niece is certainly one of them.

He’ll never apologize, not when he isn’t sorry, not when he was betrayed first.  But even he isn’t sure if – faced with irrefutable proof of Laura’s continued existence – he’ll be able to forgive her or if he’ll want to exorcise her in the most painful way possible, as soon as possible.

And god only knows how Laura would react to him in return.  If she really is haunting Stiles, the question to ask is why.  Most ghosts with unfinished business go the possession route – gets things done faster that way since the most common reason they stick around is vengeance.  But a haunting – while potentially frightening – only affects things on the living plane depending on how magically powerful the person or object or even place that’s being haunted is.  Most people aren’t strong enough to even see who’s haunting them.  Objects will mostly only be as strong as the ghost.  And places can make a ghost forget why they stuck around in the first place.  The earth is soaked in magic that most people can’t harness without rituals and other preparations, and even then, they can only borrow, and if they don’t give back, nature will take its due anyway, and it wouldn’t be nice about it.  Haunting a place like Beacon Hills would be suicidal.  This town could swallow a person whole, ghost or otherwise.

For Stiles to not only be able to see Laura but interact with her as well without being driven mad or even just tiring more easily – he has to be very powerful.  Which, Peter already knew.  Nobody raises the kind of wards Stiles did with only, what, four, five months of dabbling under his belt?  And without even a proper teacher to guide him?  There’s nothing weak about Stiles.  It probably helps that Laura seems to be a friendly ghost with no designs on Stiles’ life energy, but even benign ghosts leech off their hosts, to a lesser and less invasive degree than a possession would but they take all the same, if only so that they can sustain themselves, and it wears on the hosts in turn.  Stiles has shown none of that fatigue though, tired only from what life has thrown at him but – from what Peter has observed – largely unbothered by his passenger if you don’t count how irritated Stiles gets from time to time, presumably due to whatever comments Laura makes.  It would be amusing if it wasn’t Laura and Stiles.

That’s the only thing Peter still doesn’t understand.  He’s almost one hundred percent certain that Stiles is being haunted, and that it’s his niece doing the haunting, but he doesn’t understand why Laura is haunting Stiles.  What exactly is the connection there?  It isn’t as if they knew each other when Laura was still alive.  It would make more sense if she chose to haunt Peter, or even Derek or Cora.  And while ghosts can stay longer if the person they’re possessing has the magic to spare, so one would think they would try and choose a magically powerful host, it’s a double-edged sword in that said powerful host can more easily overpower them in return, trap them or exorcise them or even subjugate them.  Nobody likes being haunted, and if there’s a way to get rid of the ghost, most people take it.  Until now that is, because Stiles must like Laura a lot if he still hasn’t gotten rid of her when she so clearly annoys him on what must be a daily basis.

Peter isn’t sure he likes that very much – in fact, he very much doesn’t – but he consoles himself with the thought that, knowing what he does about Stiles even though he’s still trying to figure out what makes the boy tick, at least half the reason for Stiles putting up with Laura has to be because Laura’s useful to him in some way, probably for what she knows.  She may not be as knowledgeable about various monsters and laws and even branches of magic in the supernatural world as Peter is but she’s still a werewolf who was born and raised in the thick of it.

And speaking of which, she’s probably with Stiles right now.  And Peter wouldn’t know whether or not Laura’s spotted him until long after she tells Stiles, so all he can do is hang as far back as possible without losing them entirely.

He more or less knows where they’re going once they hit the road leading to the Preserve.  The wind shifts and he thinks he smells blood coming from the jeep, hopefully not Stiles’.

He thinks about turning back.  Once they hit the treeline, Laura will most likely pick up on the extra heartbeat in the vicinity.  Then again, can ghosts – even werewolf ghosts – hear that sort of thing anymore?  Either way, he isn’t foolish enough to simply assume they don’t.

On the other hand, a werewolf generally can’t identify someone by their heartbeat.  It’s usually scent that gives it away, and so long as Peter stays downwind of them, that won’t be a problem.  Aside from mates, heartbeats only give away position and lies and number, and whether you’re in the middle of the woods or in the middle of a city, there are always heartbeats drumming away, from animals and people alike.  Werewolves have to tune them out if they don’t want to go crazy, so unless they’re on alert and actively listening for anything out of the ordinary, heartbeats are usually simple white noise in the background.

Peter will have to bank on that.  He wants to know what Stiles is up to this time, and he’s good at tracking a target without being seen.  God knows he did it enough with Talia when he was younger, whenever she left him behind or out of the loop.

Stiles isn’t Talia though.  Thank goodness for that.  But for all that Peter is sure the boy would make an excellent Alpha, he isn’t entirely certain how Stiles would interact with an actual pack.  More specifically, them as pack.  What responsibilities he’d give them.  How much of himself he’d trust them with.  How much he would trust them.

It will take time, obviously.  And Stiles will have to acknowledge the fact that he’s instinctively stepping into the role of Alpha first, because Peter is pretty sure the boy actually has no idea at this point in time.  Which somehow makes the whole situation both twice as endearing and twice as impressive.

(Possibly twice as worrying too.  What if Stiles decides he doesn’t want to be their Alpha?  He treats them well, already starting to treat them like Pack, but consciously accepting them is another matter entirely.

But then, that’s why they have to prove their worth just as much as Stiles does.  Give and take, because the best packs always go both ways.)

The jeep rolls to a stop right next to a crop of trees.  Peter drops back to crouch in the shadows of some bushes, making sure his heartbeat is a steady, calm thud in his chest.  Those are the hardest to pick out.  He catches a glimpse of Stiles dragging something out of the back— is that a body?  Then he has to duck back down, and he still only hears one heartbeat – Stiles’ – so if that really was a body, it’s certainly not a live one.

Considering what they were just talking about on Sunday, Peter thinks he can take a fairly good guess about Stiles’ latest activities.  It isn’t like he wasn’t already expecting the boy to go ahead with whatever plans he has in store for the Alpha Pack.  He just didn’t expect Stiles to have already carried out those plans.

He waits until he can no longer hear Stiles before rising to his feet and taking off into the woods after the boy.  To his surprise, there’s evidence of three bodies being dragged along the forest floor, but Peter can’t figure out how Stiles managed that.  The boy doesn’t have werewolf strength, not to mention he doesn’t have that many hands anyway, and ghosts shouldn’t be capable of touching anything on the physical plane so it couldn’t have been Laura.  Magic then, perhaps?

He follows Stiles’ trail easily enough.  The boy’s scent is mixed with blood and fresh decay, and mingled with mountain ash, although – curiously enough – both the scents and the visible trail on the ground seem to gradually disappear the deeper Peter walks into the forest, melting into the surroundings like they were never there.

Peter smirks.  Not bad at all.  He certainly couldn’t wield magic like this, especially with so little practice and experience.  But Stiles also hasn’t learned to cover all his bases yet, and Peter wasn’t the best tracker in his old pack for nothing.  Stiles has erased the trail that the bodies were leaving behind, and he’s erased the scents too.  But he’s forgotten – or it just hasn’t occurred to him that he should – to erase his own footsteps.

Oh, there are no imprints, Stiles made sure of that too, so to the human eye, it doesn’t even look like the earth’s been disturbed, and it might even fool most werewolves, but Peter picks up a snapped twig here and a pebble sunk too deeply into the dirt there, and he has no trouble continuing on.

It seems that Stiles has only picked out what he thinks is important to hide with his magic.  He doesn’t realize just how much he’s still leaving behind.  He’ll have to fix that.  And Peter will be happy to inform him.  Later.

He reaches a small clearing just in time to hear the tail-end of Stiles’ question, “-here?”

A pause, and then Stiles speaks again, “Why would this Nemeton thing care anyway?  I just want a place to get rid of the bodies, damn it.  And I mean it sure didn’t help you when Kate set your house on fire.”

Peter’s blood runs cold.  What?

“Well your mom could’ve explained it a little better than that,” Stiles snarks next.  Pause.  “Are you sure?  Because seriously, Laura, the last thing I need is a magical tree stump coming after me just because it didn’t like me using its forest as my personal dumping grounds.  I can just as easily burn these guys on your front lawn, you know.”

Another pause, longer this time, even as Peter’s fingers curl onto the brink of claws.

“Okay, fine,” Stiles mutters at last.  “Feeding bodies to a tree.  Now I’ve seen everything.  But I just have to bury them?  Shouldn’t I- I dunno, actually go to this tree?  Tree stump?”

Pause.  “You don’t know where it is?!”  Pause.  “Great, wonderful.  I-” Pause.  “Do I look like I give a damn about what Talia Hale used to do?  Obviously, it didn’t do shit for her.  Burying bodies in the woods for a magical tree didn’t make a difference when it counted, did it?  Look, it’s not like I care where I bury these guys just so long as they get buried sometime this century.  But I’m not gonna bury them here if you’re not one hundred percent sure it’s not gonna come back and bite us in the ass.”  Pause.  “Too bad, I’m burning them.  Safer that way anyway, less evidence to leave behind.  I can’t believe you made me drag them all the way out here and now I gotta drag them all the way back.”

And with that said, there’s a rustle, a thump, and then the footsteps turn and head back in the general direction of the road.

Hidden again behind a few trees, Peter allows himself a breath of relief and even send up a prayer of thanks that Stiles actually has more than two brain cells to rub together.  What is his fool girl of a niece teaching the boy anyway?  What did Talia teach her, for god’s sakes?  Messing with the Nemeton is a bad idea on a good day.  And simply burying bodies in the woods doesn’t do a damn thing to endear oneself to the Nemeton growing there – Peter may not know as much as he’d like to about Nemetons in general but he knows that much from the books he managed to find and barter and trade from old bookstores or various witches’ private collections.

The books that Talia always disapproved of.  Not fit for her pack’s eyes, when there were one too many mentions of sacrifices and rituals and obscure pieces of dangerous knowledge.

Clearly, she should’ve read the books.  Who told her that just burying the bodies of their kills in the forest would work to… what?  What did she think it would achieve?  That such- such thoughtless, ignorant sacrifices would make the Nemeton protect them?

Even if that is what you’re supposed to do, this Nemeton has been dormant for a very long time.  Hence, the stumpObviously.  Peter doesn’t know why it’s dormant, but the fact that it is means that it’s not about to help anyone out anytime soon.

He heaves a sigh and turns to leave as well.  At least Stiles has enough sense to be cautious.  And the trip wasn’t entirely a waste.  Peter’s learned quite a few things and added few more pieces to the puzzle that is Stiles.

He still doesn’t know who Stiles killed though.  Members of the Alpha Pack, most likely, but corpses don’t smell the same as when they were still alive, and Stiles has hidden their collective scents anyway.

He makes his way out of the forest, circling around so that he comes out near his family’s burnt out shell of a house.  Stiles’s jeep is there already, as is Stiles, and there’s a large steady bonfire crackling merrily away in a hole in the ground.

Peter wrinkles his nose and steps further back behind a tree so that the scent of smoke and flame isn’t being blown directly at him.  Breathes more shallowly as well, even as flashes of another fire surfaces in his mind.  Screams too, because he’ll never again be able to hear one without the other, adults choking their screams back while the children’s screams rose thin and reedy with confused agony as their flesh melted from their brittle bones.

He forgets himself in the past, in his worst nightmares borne from reality, just for a moment, and it costs him, because when he opens his eyes again and manages to focus on the present once more, there’s a heartbeat thudding on his right, a little behind him and out of his immediate line of sight, and almost instantly, he’s twisting around sharply, claws dropping, taken off-guard and hating it, only to pull up short again when he finds himself staring straight into Stiles’ wary, narrowed eyes.

Ah.  Well then.

“Stiles,” Peter greets.  His voice comes out hoarser than he expects it to, and he almost grimaces.

Stiles eyebrows go up.  “Peter.”

Peter smirks, despite the situation, and casts a casual eye around them.  He can’t quite help himself.  “And Laura of course.  Wouldn’t want her feeling left out, now would we?”

Stiles goes still.  Peter’s smirk widens. And the fire in the Preserve burns.