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state of readiness

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"Dude," Scott complains.

He's trying to keep his head hidden under a pillow, which Derek mercilessly plucks away, shuffling his way through the living-room puppy pile and jostling each of them awake. Erica actually goes so far as to bare her teeth but Derek just rolls his eyes. Isaac manages to look adorably confused, and the expression on Boyd's face is one of mild shock combined with unwelcome recognition, like he's just now remembering what it's like to be a beta for Derek Hale.

Namely, a life of frustration and too-little-information.

Alpha-pack defeated, Derek has apparently allowed his pack a single night of celebratory shenanigans before cracking the whip. Seriously. One night and one night only to spend relaxing, relishing the strategic return of Erica and Boyd, the unexpected willingness of Scott to take direction from Derek, and the success that it all brought.

If by given values of 'success' one means 'luck', and that everyone still has all their respective parts, and that law enforcement is not currently interested in anything in Hale territory, then they are legitimately knee-deep in it.

So with all that, you'd think they'd get more than eight hours of downtime, but when Derek rouses them all at ass o'clock the next day with growls about "pack meeting" they are, well, surly.

And Stiles? Well, Stiles' head hurts. Adderall- and near-death-fueled adrenaline hangovers suck.

"Don't get me wrong, O fearless leader, but what is so friggin' important that we gotta start it before breakfast?" Stiles asks, yawning and stretching. "I mean, we are the champions. Another one bit the dust. We floated like butterflies and stung like bees. It was the Eye of the Tiger up in here last night, names were taken and asses were kicked. Ding, dong, the witch is dead. The One Ring is all melty in the fires of—"

"Stiles."

"I'm just sayin'. There's this thing called downtime. You take a moment to live a little. Chase the rainbow. Stop and sme—"

"The next war starts today," Derek interrupts ominously, crossing his arms across his chest (at which Stiles is resolutely not looking) and tilting one lean hip (also, not looking) against the side of the giant sofa. He seems very stern.

So much for downtime.

"Fuck that," Isaac says, stomping out of the living room toward the kitchen. "I'm not having another war until I get some coffee." Stiles couldn't agree more, and one by one they all extricate themselves from the formerly cozy nest of blankets and follow him in.

They make short work of throwing breakfast together. Everyone's got their own role, and Stiles for one is glad to have Erica back on bacon duty because while she was gone he always ended up getting burned with popping grease. Stiles is the king of toast, and happy to stay that way.

"I like toast," he croons to the butter dish. "I'm good at toast. I'm the toas—"

"If I hear you call yourself the Toastmaster General one more time, I'm gonna pull your lungs out through your nostrils," Jackson grumps, reaching over Stiles and snatching a piece—perfectly browned and buttered to the very edge, because Stiles is a culinary god—from the platter.

Stiles just smiles serenely over Jackson's shoulder to Lydia.

"Jam?" he offers, holding out a little glass jar that Jackson pretends not to see and is rewarded when Lydia and Allison giggle and roll their eyes in sympathy.

The Hale house is only partially rebuilt so far, but Derek obviously knows his pack's priorities. The giant, warm kitchen—big enough for the pack to grow even more—was the first thing finished, and the equally big family room they'd all just been roused from was the second.

Stiles always feels a little extra happy when he's in the kitchen. He and Jackson, surprisingly, are the best cooks in the pack. Stiles' talent is born solely of a fierce desire to keep his dad from eating himself to an early heart bypass. He's not really sure about Jackson's culinary inspiration, but it doesn't hurt the whole metro-sexual vibe he has going.

When Derek refused to let any of them pick out countertops or cabinets, everyone waited in apprehensive solidarity, expecting to show up the day after installation and see black granite and black cabinets and maybe stainless steel everything. Instead they found warm maple wood everywhere, with leather barstools pulled up to pebbled, chocolatey-brown granite and bronze fixtures.

Their amazement must have shown on their faces, because Derek flushed and ducked his head.

"What? I'm building a house for a pack family, not a bachelor pad for a lone alpha," he'd muttered defensively. Secretly, Stiles thought it was adorable.

Eventually everyone's settled at the big table adjoining the kitchen except Derek, who's leaning up against the granite breakfast bar, watching his pack. Stiles can't read his expression, and, given that Derek only has a handful of them, it really shouldn't be that hard.

Stiles searches for something indicating pride, safety, satisfaction, relief…anything he'd expect at having everyone whole and under one roof again for the first time in forever, but he can't find it in Derek's face. Derek must sense Stiles' curiosity, because he turns and gives Stiles the patented Alpha 'back off' glare, and Stiles flushes, quickly cutting his eyes away.

That expression he recognizes.

"So, um, Derek," Allison asks, trailing off as the clink of silverware dies out, everyone's attention now directed toward Derek and away from eggs and hash browns.

"It's the War on Weakness," Derek says without preamble, and very seriously. Stiles can tell. Those are totally his serious eyebrows.

There's a long moment of silence, which really should be a signal to Derek, because when you have the whole pack in the room with bacon and no one's even chewing, well, something is about to get sideways.

"The war…." Isaac parrots, and trails off, head tilting to the side like the very bird itself as Derek makes his way over to his place at the head of the table.

"…on weakness?" Boyd finishes doubtfully, a forkful of eggs suspended mid-air on the way to his lips. They have ketchup on them, which Stiles has always found mildly nauseating ever since that one time he cracked an egg open while making brownies and found a bloody, half-formed chick inside.

Suddenly everyone is talking at once.

"Is this another workout regimen?" Erica sighs, clearly underwhelmed after such a dramatic initial pronouncement.

"Because you really need to make them more human-friendly—" Allison chimes in, and Scott of course agrees with her immediately.

"Do I get to kill the weak things?" Jackson sounds way too excited, and yes, Stiles can totally feel his evil robot-lizard-wolf eyes laser-beaming him in the forehead but he will not give Jackson the satisfaction of reacting.

"Is this anything like the War on Drugs?" Stiles asks instead, because he's suicidal, obviously, but death-by-Derek is marginally more appealing than death-by-Jackson. At least Derek won't pee on his cooling corpse.

Probably.

"Because," Stiles continues, "that's cost the U.S. billions of dollars over the last twenty-five years for exactly zero return-on-investment. Legalizing marijuana alone and taxing it would totally erase the deficit in about—"

"Legal pot would be awesome," Isaac interrupts with a drawl, high-fiving Stiles. "I could be down with some patriotic debt-erasing."

Stiles briefly wonders if anyone's ever tried to get werewolves stoned on the full moon, as a control method. It would incur a lot of residual costs in Cheetos and Reese's Cups, but it'd be better than cells in a burned-out basement.

"THIS IS NOT—" Derek shouts them all down, glowering at them over his coffee mug, visibly restraining himself as the hubbub dies out.

"This is not like the War on Drugs," Derek starts again after a long-suffering deep breath, which doesn't seem to bring him any serenity. Stiles is just secretly gleeful that he can hear the capital letters in Derek's voice.

"And we are not legalizing pot," he adds unnecessarily, which totally deflates everyone. Derek is the worst motivational speaker ever. Really. Like, the TED-talks people probably use game films of Derek as cautionary tales.

"If there's one thing I learned with this whole alpha pack thing," Derek says, more quietly, and that has everyone's attention, because Derek usually only breaks down and talks about what he doesn't know when someone in the pack is bleeding, "it's that there are different ways to get to each of us. We were lucky. Lucky to get everyone back and lucky to end up together, with each of us in one piece."

Boyd and Erica look abashedly grateful, both nodding. Everyone else is silent, and for once Stiles feels no great need to speak. He's certain Derek Hale has never said so many words at one time in his life, and it feels like the whole pack is holding its collective breath, as if inhaling or exhaling would break the spell.

"As your Alpha," Derek continues, looking each of them in the eye turn by turn as he pulls out a chair for himself at the head of the table, "it's irresponsible of me to trust to luck to keep each of you safe. I'm supposed to ensure you're ready to meet any threat. Therefore…"

And that's starting to sound a little more ominous. Glances are beginning to be exchanged around the table in apprehension. Derek's concept of fixing things is usually by the most direct route possible—pain, mental fatigue and inconsequential barriers like blisters and brick walls notwithstanding.

"...therefore," Derek repeats over the sounds of unrest, "we will be eliminating the group training sessions." Stiles steals a glance at Erica, who poorly masks her excitement with a sudden need to study her cuticles.

"Instead—" and it's sorta funny to see everyone's heads pop up and snap to attention; it's like watching Meerkat Manor. "—you'll each take turns, spending full days training with me, one-on-one. The sessions will be individually customized with the end goal of eliminating your biggest weakness."

He pauses, for what would seem suspiciously like dramatic effect if it were anybody but Derek.

"For some of you this will mean physical training," Derek says, and Stiles narrows his gaze, "but for others, it might mean something else entirely."

That made sense. The Alpha pack had come at them from all angles; they threatened Scott's mom, had hacked Derek's phone and convinced Isaac that Derek had abandoned him, and they'd thrown so many red herrings at Stiles that he was practically incapacitated without a clue as to which way to look for real answers. He'd had not one, but two separate panic attacks in the midst of all the chaos.

The only consolation was that Peter was so freaked out when they came after him that he took off and hasn't been seen since. It's an ill wind that blows nobody, yada yada.

There are varying reactions to Derek's proclamation. Boyd is staring at Derek like he's analyzing the tactic, Isaac is smiling and unabashedly worshipful, and Jackson has that constipated expression he gets when he really likes something and doesn't want anyone to know. As much as he hates Jackson, that look always makes Stiles' heart hurt a little, wondering what in his life has conditioned Jackson to disguise what he loves.

But Stiles?

Stiles is deeply, unbelievably, incredibly turned on.

Let's face it—he's a seventeen-year-old virgin. It would be abnormal if he didn't have inappropriate sexual fantasies about a mysterious older authority figure who looks like he moonlights in those soft-core Abercrombie ads.

He's imagined a lot of things about Derek Hale. Because Stiles is an open-minded guy with the attention span of a goldfish and unfettered access to hi-speed internet. Derek regularly climbs through Stiles' window, after all. And if you a) are ridiculously hot, and b) repeatedly invite yourself into a horny teenager's bedroom, you are thereby granting blanket permission to be permanently added to said teenager's spank bank library. It's probably even legally binding. Stiles doesn't feel a bit guilty about any of those fantasies.

Not even the one with Derek's fur.

And, whoa, suddenly he needs to move this little gathering along before every wolf in the room starts sniffing out Stiles' newfound competency kink.

"What happens when you…er…train us all out of our biggest weaknesses?" Stiles asks, which, retrospectively, was maybe not his best idea ever because now Derek is staring right at him and Stiles is pretty sure he's pinned to his chair. Like a butterfly in one of those glass display cases. With something long and stiff stabbing deep into its abdomen. And hey, that right there is a simile gone one step too far. Yes indeedy.

Derek is getting that little what is with you Stiles wrinkle in the bridge of his nose, but after a moment he shrugs and lets it go.

"We start on your second biggest weakness," Derek answers, and, thankfully, that sounds enough like endless work and perpetual suffering that the pack is now collectively groaning in response and no longer momentarily enraptured with their Alpha and his leadership skills. Stiles breathes a sigh of relief.

"Who decides what our biggest weakness is?" Boyd, ever the practical one, asks. Derek leisurely sips his coffee before responding.

"I'll meet with each of you privately to discuss that," he says.

"And we decide together, right? What we're working on?" Lydia sounds dubious, and with good reason, because Derek leans back in his chair and breaks into the sort of slow, wide, predatory smile that apparently comes with the whole Alpha kit. You can see his teeth and everything.

Everybody shifts uncomfortably in their seats, utterly silent and suddenly endowed with perfect posture, as if a nun with a ruler has just entered the room.

"Of course we do, Lydia," Derek says soothingly; you can practically hear the imaginary head-pat he gives her in his voice. Derek pushes back from the table, and something happens that's never happened before. Everyone—Stiles included—instinctively scrambles to their feet.

It's just like Carson rising from the breakfast table at Downton.

"We start tomorrow," Derek calls back over his shoulder as he exits, off-handedly, like he's just proposed tossing the pigskin around or catching a movie. For once Stiles doesn't check out Derek's ass, because he's simply too terrified to think about nice things.

They are so very, very screwed.