Actions

Work Header

At the Edges

Chapter Text

Danny is on a run when he sees Erica. Eight months ago, he wouldn’t have given a damn about seeing Erica Reyes in the backseat of a rusty Camry. Hell, eight months ago, he’d been aware of her only enough to pity her for her epilepsy. Admittedly, that pity had transformed into a sort of terrified awe after the midyear leather and lipstick makeover, but even then he wouldn’t have noticed the blur of her hair in the backseat of a car speeding through an intersection.

But, as far as Danny knows, no one has seen Erica since the spring. Jackson had had to go to the police station, had been asked to give yet another statement in a semester so full of alleged criminal activity that Danny hadn’t even been surprised to hear that his best friend was a suspect in the disappearance of a girl they’d both known since elementary school.

Months have passed, everyone says the investigation has grown cold, and now here she is, and Danny is the one to see her, so, yeah, he notices her. She whips around at the sight of him, presses her palms against the glass of the window, mouths frantic words at him through the smear of red her lips become as the car passes, and Danny stands still just long enough to make out the number on the license plate. Then he turns and runs.

He doesn’t go to the police station. He probably should. Even as he heads away from the center of town, even as he turns down residential streets and cuts through cul-de-sacs, a part of him is thinking he should go to the sheriff. A part of him is thinking he should pull his phone out of the sleeve on his arm and dial 911. He shoves that part down and sprints, flat-footed and tired, to Stiles Stilinski’s doorstep.

He falls forward, pounding fists against the door. He hasn’t even begun to recover his breath when the door opens and he stumbles, catches himself, and looks up to see Stiles standing in front of him, bleary eyed, hair messy, mouth partly open.

“What’s happened?” Stiles steps aside, voice croaky, and Danny shakes his head, gulps in air, and gets far enough inside for Stiles to close the door behind him.

“Erica,” Danny rasps, and Stiles’s eyes widen. He wakes up a little.

“Did you see her?”

“In a car by CVS.”

Stiles pushes him down the hall, one hand against the drenched fabric of his t-shirt, and into the kitchen. There are plates piled in the sink, a half a pot of coffee in the coffeemaker, a cereal box sitting open on the counter. Stiles pulls a glass from the dish rack and fills it with water, handing it to Danny while picking up his cellphone from the kitchen table and thumbing down the screen.

“Get over here,” he says into it. Danny tips his head back and drains the glass. “Yes, I know. No, I don’t care. It’s Erica. Yeah. I’ll call Scott.” He pulls the phone away from his ear for a moment. Danny refills his glass in the silence of Stiles scrolling through his contacts again, and then Stiles is saying, “Hey, get the gang together and go to the center of town. You don’t need to tell me it’s early, I fucking know it’s early. Call Allison. I know, I know, dude, but it’s Erica. Danny’s seen her.” He turns away from Danny, who’s getting a third glass of water. He takes this one slower, staring at the hole in the collar of Stiles’s shirt. “I don’t know. I don’t know, Scott. I told—yeah, Jackson will be over. Ask Allison to call Lydia. I’m not sure. I don’t know, I said. We’ll figure it out. Right now, though, Erica. By CVS. In a car. I don’t know what kind,” and Danny says, “late 90s Camry, white,” and Stiles says into the phone, “Did you hear that?” even though Danny’s voice is still quiet with the fastness of his run. Stiles hangs up without saying anything else, drops his phone in a loud clatter on the counter, and faces Danny again.

“So?” he prompts.

Danny rests his glass against his cheek. “She was in the backseat. She looked,” petrified, angry, vicious, crazy, “like she didn’t want to be there.”

“No fuck.” Stiles is so much less than the hyperactive kid he is in chemistry right now. He’s got his lip between his teeth and his hands pressed against the back of his neck and Danny feels confused, lost in this boy’s kitchen. Stiles takes up so little space here.

He hurries out of the room; Danny can hear his feet pound up the stairs. A door slams, and then there’s silence, and then Stiles is stampeding back down the stairs, shaking the stairwell as he careens into the kitchen, his laptop in his hands. He drops the computer in the same unceremonious fashion that he had dropped his phone, and, all right, it’s not the nicest machine in the world, but he should really be a little more careful.

“You don’t need to take this out on your computer.”

“She’s been through worse.”

Danny decides to ignore that. Mostly. He snorts a little.

Stiles doesn’t respond, just pushes open the computer and types in his password, then turns it (her?) to face Danny. “You’re hacking into California’s car registry.”

“No, I’m not.” Danny shakes his head, so fast the room blurs. “Definitely not.”

“You are,” and then there’s noise in the front hall, voices running over each other, and Stiles shoots Danny a hard stare, one that doesn’t at all fit the Stiles who falls off his chair in chemistry, the one who asks him questions about his sexuality, the boy Danny would have sworn he knew just yesterday, before heading down the hall toward the front door. Danny pulls out a chair and Googles the remote access site for California’s DMV.

Jackson and the absurdly built man Stiles’d once introduced to Danny as his cousin Miguel follow him back into the kitchen a few Google pages later.

Jackson nods at Danny, posture weirdly stiff and eyes skittering over the table and the fridge and everywhere but where he’s sitting at the table. Stiles waves at the man he’d made strip in his bedroom last year. “This is Derek.”

The man holds out his hand. “Not Miguel,” he clarifies. Danny shakes his hand, even though he’s half afraid this Derek will break his fingers just by touching them. Because, fuck. Even in the t-shirt he’s wearing, which is definitely looser than any of Stiles’s were on him, just damn.

But Derek lets go of him without breaking any bones, and Danny releases a nervous laugh as he sets his hand back on the keyboard.

Jackson jerks his head up. “Boyd,” he says, tone sounding like a warning, seconds before Stiles’s back door bursts open and their classmate throws himself inside.

Boyd used to be big but little, diminutive, easy to ignore for Jackson and Danny and their group because he didn’t matter to them, and, yeah, better by comparison to Jackson is not good, is not nice, Danny knows this even if no one else does. But now Boyd is huge, he fills up the room, gets up in Danny’s face with eyes wild, lips curled back, voice rough and deep and fucking desperate. “You saw Erica?”

Danny jerks back, and Stiles—Stiles steps around him as his chair scrapes on the floor and presses a hand against Boyd’s heaving shoulder. “In a car, he’s hacking the DMV, we’ll try to find out who it is, where they’re going.”

“Shouldn’t we be—?” Boyd takes deep breaths and Danny refocuses his attention on the computer, uncomfortable at the raw emotion, abruptly aware of how much more important this is than maybe anything he’s been involved in before. “Shouldn’t we be looking for her? If she was in town? Couldn’t we—couldn’t we just—shouldn’t we be able to find her?” All of these questions are directed at Derek, who collapses at Stiles’s table like he belongs there.

The questions are directed at Derek, but it’s Jackson who answers first. “I passed Scott on my way here. He said he and Isaac were tracking her. Lydia and Allison were supposed to be joining them, bring a car and…stuff.”

“Tracking?” Danny repeats, speaking to Stiles’s computer screen.

Jackson moves around the table, pressing into Stiles’s space. “I told you I didn’t want,” he begins.

“Don’t care,” Stiles tells him. “Really, dude, I don’t give a damn. Sorry, but this is important, and Danny can help. More than you can, right now. Besides, he’s in it.”

“He doesn’t have to be in it.” Derek’s voice is quiet, like he’s trying for calm but only just manages tired.

“I want Erica back.” Boyd sits on the other side of Danny, and Danny tenses, fingers still on the keyboard while he tries to ignore the solid presence beside him. He hasn’t felt—this is threatened, this feels threatened—he hasn’t felt this way since he and his last boyfriend broke up. “If he needs to be in it to get her back, then I’m with Stilinski.”

“He’s already in it,” Stiles repeats. “Like we all were. I was, from the start. Lydia, Allison. You can’t not be. He can’t not be.”

“Maybe someone should ask me what I want.” Danny has just cracked through the last password-protected portion of the remote-access site and numbers skim under his fingers, beautiful.

“If you answer wrong I’ll be so disappointed, dude.” And Jackson growls at that, an actual guttural sound, leaning over the table so his shadow looms across it, lengthens in the sunlight slanting through the windows over the sink.

“You have no right.” Derek’s voice is still exhausted. “No one’s forced you to tell your dad, Stiles. No one’s forced you to do anything. Let Jackson…this isn’t your business. Either of yours,” he adds, because Boyd has started speaking.

Stiles waves his hands around, and Danny is comforted by the movement, by the familiarity of it. “Fine.” Stiles sounds put out the way he does at lacrosse practice, when he’s been told to sit on the bench for one too many games. “I’m going upstairs. Let me know when you’ve decided.”

To Danny’s surprise, Boyd lifts himself out of his chair and trails Stiles out of the room. Derek leans in close to Jackson, saying something so quiet that Danny can’t make out more than a rumble of noise, before following the other two. Jackson doesn’t look at Danny. He doesn’t speak until there’s a sound of a door shutting loudly, slammed, upstairs, and then he settles in his seat.

“How’d you know to come here? When you saw her?”

“That’s not your question,” Danny accuses, typing the numbers in the search bar. He can’t remember the last two digits of the license plate, but he hopes the first five will get him somewhere.

Jackson presses his hands into the table. It creaks. The table fucking creaks.

“Your question,” Danny stares at Jackson’s hands for a solid few seconds before forcing his attention back to the computer screen, “is why I didn’t call you. Why I came to Stilinski.”

“And your answer?”

“Because I thought he was more involved in all of this than you. I thought,” Danny can feel success approaching, it’s buzzing in the keys, “you were more on the outskirts of all the craziness that’s happened this year.”

Jackson laughs. “Everyone underestimates me.”

“No, I thought you were too smart to get tied up in it.” Danny glances up from the computer screen. “But I was wrong, wasn’t I?”

Jackson still won’t meet his eyes. “Do you want to know what’s going on?” he asks, finally, and Danny, even though he has had half a year to decide whether he wants the truth, even though he has been thinking about this since Scott McCall made first line, since that weird night in the club, since the boy he’d been crushing on disappeared, since a fuck-ton of death got shoved into a few short months, since Jackson died but actually didn’t, since Stiles came to school with his face black and blue and Lydia had stood in the middle of a hallway and catcalled at him, and Stiles had laughed—not blushed, not flailed, but laughed—since the whole school turned on its head, Danny has been deciding whether he wants to know.

And now he’s got to do it, actually make a decision, and that is pretty damn hard.

“If I say no,” he says, and Jackson lets out a breath that sounds like relief, and so Danny repeats, “If I say no, will you run off and leave me here when I tell you that I just found out that the car was registered to a Ms. Umberta Smith of 56 Oak Street and that supposedly she is no longer allowed to drive it?”

Jackson shoves back from the table. “Good, that’s good.” There’s the sound of feet pounding on the stairs and Jackson tries to escape but Danny reaches across the table, snags onto the neck of his tee, and, fuck, Jackson’s glare has gotten a lot scarier in the last few months.

“That’s a yes, then,” Danny fists his hand in Jackson’s shirt, “which means,” the fabric darkens in his still-sweaty fingers, “that’s a yes from me, too. What the hell is going on?”

Derek and Boyd have reached the kitchen, and Stiles skids in just as Jackson takes his seat again and looks at Danny, really looks at him, for the first time that morning.

“We’re going,” Boyd tells him. “Derek and me. You catch up with Stiles when you can.”

“Wait,” Stiles says, and Danny’s glad he’s not the one who has to say it, because Derek and Boyd look like they’re ready to explode, to get away so fast they might break a wall, but they stop when Stiles tells them to. “First,” he’s speaking quick and crazy, voice high with tension, “you should be here for this. At least you, Derek, because you’re the start of it. And second, why would they bring Erica back? Why would they come back if they had her? Why after all this time? This is obviously a trap, right? We need to be careful not to spring it.”

“So?” Boyd growls, low. Jackson is still staring at Danny, still watching, waiting like he wants him to say that he takes it back, that he doesn’t want to know. “You want us to go slow?”

“I want us to go slower, and I want us to go together.” Stiles pulls out his cellphone and leans against the counter, touching rapid fingers against the screen. “Jackson,” he says without looking up from the phone, and Jackson, amazingly, lowers his gaze to his hands and opens his mouth.

He takes a deep breath, loud enough that Danny can hear it no problem, and then says, “First off, I guess it’s important for you to know that werewolves exist.”

Danny chokes back a laugh. This doesn’t seem the moment to laugh, even if it reeks of one of Jackson’s terrible practical jokes. Like, he’s beginning with werewolves but it’ll end up being a drug deal or an underground fighting ring. Something slightly—if only slightly—more believable.

“Werewolves?” Danny repeats. Stiles makes an agreeing humming noise behind him, and Jackson shoots his gaze up to Stiles, eyes glowing blue, bright blue, electric blue, fucking unnatural blue.

“Jesus.” Danny slides down in his chair, fisting his hands in his hair and trying not to think because this is insane, is what it is. It is ridiculous. This cannot be an actual conversation that he’s having in his life.

“Erica and Boyd and Lahey and McCall and,” he looks at his hands, looks over Danny’s shoulder again, looks over Danny’s other shoulder, at Derek, looks, finally, at Danny, “me.” Danny tries not to move, tries not to react. “We were all bitten. By Derek.” Danny tenses, moves slightly, an inch or two, over in his chair, closer to Stiles, further from Derek. “He offered, Derek offers. Except for McCall. McCall didn’t—”

“My uncle bit Scott,” Derek explains, voice soft, not that that makes any difference to Danny, he’s still hanging off his chair, getting as close to Stiles—the only other human in the room, fuck everything—as possible, “he wanted a pack, because pack means strength, and he found Scott and bit him without giving him a chance, without telling him,” and he trails off, seemingly unable to continue.

Stiles picks up, “So Scott and me sorted out this ridiculous werewolf mystery and then it turns out that there are humans who know about it—not like me and Lydia, and now you, who sort of fell into it—but humans who call themselves hunters and, um, their mission in life—their family’s mission—is to kill rogue werewolves? Or not-so-rogue, if you’re crazy like a few of the Argents were. Not Allison.” All of this bursts in a rush and Danny feels as if his brains are about to fall out. “So anyway a lot of the shit that went down this year was us trying not to get killed by hunters—or me trying not to let Scott get killed by hunters. And also Derek’s uncle was sort of batshit crazy. He died,” and then Stiles falters because apparently he realizes he is really not helping matters much.

“He died,” Danny repeats. “Someone killed him?”

“It was a joint effort,” Stiles explains. “Really pretty complicated. This was before—everything, really—when Scott and Derek and Peter—Derek’s uncle—were the only wolves in town. And then Derek became the alpha and bit the rest and some shit went down that doesn’t really matter and then Erica and Boyd found an alpha pack—that is, a pack of alphas.”

Jackson cuts in, “Alphas are wolves who can turn you, like Derek. The strongest wolves.” And maybe no one else notices it, but Danny can hear the edge of jealousy in Jackson’s tone.

“We were found by an alpha pack,” Boyd interrupts, “and they messed me up but let me go, but they kept Erica and disappeared. We’ve been searching for her for months, but they somehow severed our pack bond, and now she’s back because you’ve seen her. And I’d really like to go get her now.” His voice drops several octaves and Jackson starts up without seeming to think about it. Danny cranes his neck around to look at the others. Derek has his hand on Boyd’s neck, fierce comfort, and Stiles is typing something into his phone again.

“Scott says they’ve followed the scent to the edge of town, over by the abandoned flea market, but that they don’t want to go on without all of us there. I’ve got the address for the owner of the car in my GPS—do we go to the others, or do we go there?” He looks at Derek.

“There?” Derek suggests, and Boyd propels from beneath his hand like he’s finally been unleashed.

“Slower, remember,” Stiles shouts after him, but they can already hear the sound of a car starting in the driveway.

Jackson and Derek hesitate in the doorway. “You don’t have to come,” Derek tells him. “As long as you swear not to say anything, you can go.”

“This is,” Danny clears Stiles’s Internet history and stands up, “it’s like—this is weird and fucking crazy, I guess, but I’m in. Like Stiles said. Plus, I was the one to see her. And that can’t have been a part of their plan. Maybe we’re, maybe because of me you’re ahead of them.”

“Great,” Stiles throws an arm around Danny’s shoulders, and he tries not to jump at the sudden contact, “let’s get going, then, otherwise Boyd will probably tear a hole in my car.”

Stiles doesn’t even complain about Boyd being in the driver’s seat as he climbs to sit between Jackson and Danny in the back. He leans forward and holds his phone out in the space between Derek and Boyd, directing Boyd to drive them down narrow and windy back roads that Danny hadn’t even known were still considered within Beacon Hills.

There’s no car in the driveway when they pull up to the ranch, just one falling-down floor with weeds growing through cracks in the driveway and over the bricks of the front steps. Boyd parks on the road so fast that Danny’s head bounces back against the seat.

Derek gets out, pushes his seat forward. “Boyd, you and Jackson stay here. Danny, Stiles, you two come on.”

“Is there anyone home?” Stiles asks, and Danny wonders how he expects anyone to know that, but Derek nods.

“Just one person. Human, but the place stinks of wolves.”

And Danny realizes that the only thing he actually knows, the only thing that is different about him at this moment, the thing that wasn’t his this morning, is this knowledge of werewolves. This knowledge that they exist, and that Jackson and the others are not human. He doesn’t know anything about what that means.

Stiles rings the doorbell, leans against it so it buzzes loud and obnoxious even to them, where they’re standing outside, and Derek mutters, “Stiles,” his voice gruff, and he lifts his finger, the noise fading. Danny feels so out of place that he’d almost rather be naked while guarding the goal in a lacrosse game.

“No one’s coming,” Stiles says after a few silent seconds, reaching out to press the doorbell again.

“Don’t,” Danny says, and Stiles’s finger hovers in the air.

“Someone’s coming,” Derek tells them, his body growing so tense beside Danny that it feels as if he’s pulling the air away from them, like he’s gotten heavier and his gravity is consuming. Danny shifts forward, his foot tapping against the heel of Stiles’s shoe as he moves. Stiles glances back and offers a weirdly stretched grin just as the door opens and—

And they’re looking at a tiny woman, shoulders delicate but hunched, hair so white it’s blue, eyes nearly lost in a maze of wrinkles, wrists so thin, just so thin, and it hurts to look at her because she is old age, she is what happens if you make it, she is weak and fragile and Danny can hear a growl beginning in Derek’s throat and that is wrong, because she is tiny and alone and the most unthreatening person he has ever seen.

Stiles starts talking before Derek can do whatever he’s planning, thank God. Stiles just goes, “Good morning. I’m a friend of your neighbor,” he gestures vaguely down the road, away from the Jeep, “and he mentioned to me the other day that you have a Toyota Camry? Said it never leaves your lot, although I don’t see it here now,” Stiles waves his hands, and Danny is stunned because he is good at this, good at lying, astonishing with the way he’s throwing his body into it, “And my friend here,” he points at Danny, who tries to look convincing, tries to look like—Stiles’s friend, like someone whose breath is not caught hard in his lungs, “is looking for precisely a model that year and I understand if you don’t have it anymore but if you do would you possibly consider selling it to him?”

“No one wants that car,” the woman says, her voice hoarse and husky. Maybe it wasn’t such a good lie, but Stiles did it so well that Danny would have believed him one second in, and he doesn’t get why this woman is still holding onto the door and glaring at them through wrinkled-over and watery eyes. “And my grandsons are using it. And no, I will not tell you where they are, because they and your pretty blonde friend do not want to be found.”

Derek’s growl bursts out, but it’s taken on Stiles’s name while lingering in his windpipe, and Stiles responds by stepping forward and taking one of the woman’s tiny wrists, before Danny can even blink, before the woman can so much as shuffle a step backwards. Stiles is holding a syringe, which he inserts where the woman’s shoulder meets her neck, and she lets out a sigh and falls forward. Derek has stepped around both Danny and Stiles, who releases the woman as she crumples. He caps the needle and pockets it, his hands steadier than Danny’s ever seen them. Derek catches the woman as she drops; he lifts her in his arms carefully, like a child.

“Close the door and come on,” he directs, heading back to the Jeep in a long-legged stride, and no one comes screaming out of their houses, no alarms go off, no cop cars zoom skidding from down the road. It’s all quiet, except Stiles just drugged a woman and Derek Hale, resident hottie with a tragic backstory, resident alpha werewolf, is lifting an unconscious woman into the backseat of Stiles’s Jeep. Danny can feel the panic he’s been keeping tamped down clawing at his throat as Stiles shuts the door to the house with a soft click.

“Ready, Danny?” He says it like they’re leaving chemistry together. He says it like it’s normal. He says it like Danny’s not taking scary deep breaths to keep standing.

“This is going to come across as sort of callous and awful and I’m sorry, but can you hold off on that until we get in the car? Because I only gave her enough to knock her out for like fifty minutes, and if we could get to her grandsons and Erica before she wakes up that would probably be good.”

“How’d you even—?” Danny manages, trying really hard to fight the burgeoning panic back. Really hard. Really fucking hard. Stiles takes his elbow, carefully, lightly, like he’s afraid Danny’ll blow up if he puts any real pressure on him, and tries to lead him down the steps. Danny lets him, but only because Stiles starts talking.

“The drugs are a cocktail given to us by Deaton—the town vet? He’s sort of, um, a werewolf whisperer, I guess? I don’t know what you’d call him, actually. But he helps sometimes. And the reasoning is,” he trails off because Danny has stopped again.

Danny takes two deep, deep breaths, so deep he imagines he can taste the hot tar and the sweat blistering out over his forehead and the sweat at his elbow, transferring from Stiles’s hand to his skin, and he breathes those two breaths and says, “The town vet is in on this?”

Stiles shrugs. “It’s all incredibly fucked up.” The Jeep’s engine revs from where it sits only a few feet away—a few feet, Danny can make it—and he looks up to see Boyd’s eyes flashing yellow behind the window. “But we’re going to hopefully use this woman to trade for Erica. Hopefully they’ll care enough about her. Family is pack, and Derek says this place smells like that pack, so chances are they’ll take the bait. If they don’t, at least we’ve got a bargaining chip. Now, please, get in the Jeep.”

And Danny does. Derek and Jackson are in the backseat, the woman between them with her head tilted back and a shiny string of drool slipping from her pale lips. Danny and Stiles squeeze together in the passenger seat, and Stiles’s left leg jiggles against Danny’s as Boyd takes off, wheels screaming against the road.

“You said by the old flea market, yeah?” Boyd asks Stiles over Danny, not even looking at Danny, and the air in the car is crazy, it’s full of tension and hope and a lot of other emotions. Emotions that feel out of proportion. Danny’s never felt love like this, this love the whole Jeep is full of, this love for Erica that’s driving all these people—even Jackson, somehow, Jackson is here and he has not argued once, he seems one hundred percent on board with this, and Danny doesn’t understand that—it’s driving all of them to—to drug an old woman, to threaten and posture and—this is insane.

Danny’s never needed to fight mythological creatures for somebody. He doesn’t know the lengths you go to when lives are on the line. Or he hadn’t known. Now, he realizes, as Boyd speeds through a four-way stop without even touching the brakes, now he knows. You go to whatever lengths you need to. You go the whole fucking distance.

He feels this niggling doubt, like, did they have to? Did Stiles have to drug her? Was this the extreme, was this borne of watching too many action movies as kids? Was this just how they thought they had to act? They were all so young, maybe—maybe there was a way out of it that wasn’t criminal. Maybe, but then Stiles is leaning into his shoulder, breath on his ear, whispering, even though from Derek’s comments back at the house Danny’s sure the whole car can hear, “Are you okay?” Danny nods, because he has to.

“Fine,” he says, voice stiff.

“He’ll freak out later.”

Danny doesn’t feel like Jackson has the right to make comments about him right now. Jackson has been lying for so long, about such important things, he can’t have the right—Danny doesn’t know, he doesn’t get it, any of this.

“Scott says,” Stiles speaks before Danny can react to Jackson, “that they’re at the flea market. The alphas left the car and took off into the woods. He thinks they know they’re there, but they haven’t done anything.”

“They didn’t leave a guard at their grandmother’s, either,” Derek says. “They’re either idiots or they’re planning something.”

“Or possibly both.” Stiles shifts so Danny has a little more room. “Which might be good. Idiots with a plan are easy to trap.”

They roll to a stop in the dirt parking lot of the abandoned flea market, where two cars idle at one end and the Camry sits empty at the other, parked among some dilapidated wooden carts.

Isaac and Scott get out of one car, Allison and Lydia appear out of the other, and they regroup in the middle of the lot, Jackson cradling the old woman, Stiles beside Danny with his hand somewhere around the small of his back, although it doesn’t settle on him.

Lydia gives him her usual look. Cool, calculating, considering. He hates that expression; he tries to smile at her. “So, werewolves,” he says, and her lips twist into a smirk.

“It’s absurd how long it took you to figure it out.”

“He didn’t.” Jackson speaks over the little old lady’s head. The little old lady has elicited exactly zero comments, no strange looks. Like Danny’s the piece that doesn’t fit in this equation. “We had to tell him.”

“To be fair, it’s not the first thing you’d think of.” Allison reaches into a bag hanging from her shoulder and pulls out a miniature crossbow—a crossbow!—and Derek shakes his head.

“We’re going in peacefully,” he tells her. “For now.”

Lydia rolls her eyes. “Has that ever worked for us, Hale?”

“It might this time.” Jackson hefts the woman, like she’s a bag of lacrosse sticks, like she’s nothing.

“Let’s go.” Scott waves a hand toward the woods. Derek glances around at the others.

“Allison and Boyd, you should stay.” Boyd looks like he’s going to fight, but Derek says, “No, stay with the cars. You’re too volatile right now—which is understandable, but we need this to be calm. And Allison, you keep your weapons with you. Danny? Do you want to come?”

Danny looks at Allison, whose grip is white on the strap of her bag, and at Boyd, whose eyes are still glowing off and on, and he nods. Derek nods back, then turns to face the trees.

Danny keeps pace with Stiles as they approach the woods. Lydia is a few steps ahead of them, just behind Jackson, and Scott and Derek and Isaac are at the front, breaking the way through the branches and the weeds, not even bothering to try to be quiet.

The alphas have a camp set up about a half mile in. It’s just a half-circle of green and yellow tents, surrounding a fire pit full of charred wood and ashes, with a few pans sitting in a pile by the circle of rocks, and three alphas—a woman and two identical men, teenagers, standing in the same way, angry eyes locked on Jackson—all of them looking strong and terrifying. Like nightmares, with their eyes red and their teeth long. Danny’s heart goes crazy and Stiles reaches out and grabs onto his wrist, tugging on it until he tilts his head and Stiles hisses, “It’s fine,” like that’ll make a difference at all.

They don’t look surprised to see the woman in Jackson’s arms.

“That’s how you want to play it?” The woman asks, hair long and shiny brown, hands on hips, elongated teeth making her words come out lisped, come out silly, and it’s crazy that the sound makes Danny want to laugh.

“One of your pack for one of ours,” Derek growls. He hasn’t transformed. Yet, he hasn’t transformed yet, and Danny is scared, nervous about seeing a werewolf on this side. One of the supposed good guys, one of the guys he’s standing with. A monster.

“I don’t know,” the woman draws the words out. “I don’t think your threat is all that serious. Would you really hurt a defenseless old lady? Really? Aren’t there hunters around here? Wouldn’t that,” she raises her hands, her fingers ending in claws, and it’s so ugly that Danny wants to turn and run, “upset them?”

“Not necessarily,” Derek says. “Not if she doesn’t stay human.”

The twin to the right of the woman growls. “That’s my grandmother. I can assure you she very much wants to stay human. Your hunters won’t appreciate you biting her.”

Derek chuckles. “You give our hunters too much credit. As a werewolf sympathizer, she’s at risk. And if I bite her, well. I think we can probably make Argent understand.”

“His daughter will understand, anyway,” Scott’s using Allison like a chess piece in a bad heist film, “and she’s the one who matters these days.” Danny feels how ridiculous this is, feels it even as the three alphas glance at each other.

“You wouldn’t bite her. She’s old,” the twin to the left says, and as Danny adjusts to how nightmarish the man looks he can hear the thread of worry beneath his lisped words.

“She’ll either die or she’ll live longer, get stronger.” Derek doesn’t seem to care, and Danny doesn’t know him well enough to know if this is an act. He doesn’t know any of them, it’s occurring to him. Maybe Jackson a little. Not Stiles, not Lydia. Certainly not Isaac, and not the others back at the cars, and not the girl they’re trying to save. What, he wonders, what is he doing here?

“You won’t.” The woman steps forward, claws out, teeth out, eyes inhuman, and Derek steps forward, too, and Danny can’t see his face but his ears are suddenly pointy so he must be wolf-like, too, animalistic, wrong. Or is it right, for him?

“Are you willing to risk that?” His words are lisped, but only just. “Give us Erica back.” There’s a command underlying the words, and Danny feels a tug in his chest. If he had Erica, he’d hand her over right now.

“She abandoned you.” The woman seems entirely unconcerned. “She ran away and found us. Why do you want her back? She doesn’t want to be back with you.”

“Liar,” Jackson accuses, sounding satisfied. Sounding proud of himself.

The twins throw up their hands in unison, all their similarities striking and disconcerting as they move. The woman shifts forward an inch. “Maybe so. But it is true we don’t want to give her to you.”

Jackson steps forward, aligning himself beside Derek. The old woman’s left arm is swinging limp. He shifts her weight and settles himself towards Derek. “Derek can bite her. Easy.”

“Do you really want your grandmother to belong to another pack?” Stiles speaks up for the first time, and three red gazes lock on him.

“You’ve got liabilities, Derek,” one of the twins says the words like they taste sweet. They rumble from his throat and smooth out into the air.

“As do you.” Derek’s hand snaps out and catches at the old woman’s hanging arm without looking away from the faces in front of him.

“You want Erica?” The woman shrugs. “Bring her out.” Her voice is barely louder at all, but two men come out of the far tent, one wearing sunglasses, his steps a little like shuffling, but his lips tensed in a dangerous smile. The other has a shaved head, his stride an easy predatory movement. Their clawed fingers wrapped around the wrists of the blonde-haired girl. A girl Danny once pitied.

They stop behind the first three and Derek’s head jerks back. “What did you do?” He drops the old woman’s wrist and makes like he’s about to leap forward, but Isaac and Scott grab onto his shoulders, and he stops moving. He just stands still, as Erica raises her face to them, looking over the shoulders of the twin on the left and the woman in the center. She looks devastated, wrecked. Her lips are garish red, her hair is wild and long and tangled. Her eyelids are dark and her leather jacket is dirt-smeared and scratched. They did that to her, made a mockery of all her badass posturing.

But that’s not why Derek’s standing the way he is, why all the wolves have suddenly frozen around them.

Because Erica’s eyes are red, glowing bright at her old pack.

“She didn’t like killing, much. We expected her to take to it. I, personally, was a little disappointed.” The woman smirks at Derek, smirks around long teeth, and Danny watches as he shrinks, his shoulders drawing up around his jaw.

“Erica.” Isaac’s voice is quiet, so quiet, “do you want to come home?”

She looks at him, her red eyes disconcerting and wrong, and nods like she’s not hopeful.

“Jackson,” Derek says, and that’s it.

Jackson holds out the old woman. One of the twins takes her, weirdly gentle with his teeth still long and his eyes still red. His clawed fingers barely brush the fabric of her blouse.

The two alphas holding Erica release her, and she moves skittishly, shoulders drawn in, steps short, around the alpha pack. She doesn’t turn around when she stops beside Derek, facing away from the campsite, towards the woods. Stiles moves from beside Danny to reach out a fist to her. She stares at it, then slowly lifts her fist to bump against his. He doesn’t get a smile out of it, but her eyes darken, lose their glow. Look bloodshot but nearly natural.

“She’ll wake up in ten minutes,” Stiles tells the alphas. “It was good doing business with you.”

The alphas don’t speak as Derek and his pack and Danny turn and head back through the woods. They don’t make it far before there’s the sound of crashing leaves and Boyd appears before them. He skids to a stop at the sight of Erica and takes in two harsh and fast breaths before slowly lifting his chin, baring his throat, and Danny hears a sigh escape Derek’s mouth as Erica very gently presses her nose against the bump of Boyd’s Adam’s apple. They stand still like that for long enough that Danny considers moving on on his own.

Finally Erica steps back from Boyd and they all continue on in silence. Allison is sitting on the hood of her car when they reach the parking lot. She looks at Erica and nods, and she shifts closer to Stiles, so he’s almost sandwiched between Erica and Danny. Allison’s smile tightens, and she slides from the hood and opens her car door without another word.

They break apart quickly. Isaac and Scott and Derek and Boyd and Erica squeeze into Scott’s mom’s car, and Jackson comes over to Danny and looks at him, just looks at him. “You all right?” he asks.

Danny shakes his head, then nods. “I’ll be fine.”

“I’ll drive you home,” Stiles tells Danny, and Jackson looks relieved to be excused the task, which—doesn’t hurt, really, because if they were alone right now Danny would probably yell at him, and Jackson has to know that. He’ll want to give him time to cool off.

Jackson leaves without another word. Lydia brushes her lips against Danny’s cheek and says, “Call me when you decide what you want to do.” And Danny nods, because he can’t do much else when faced with werewolves.

Then it’s just him and Stiles and Stiles’s Jeep and that white Camry, which Danny very badly wants to key. Stiles crosses the parking lot, kneels down beside one of the broken-down stands from the flea market, and starts digging through his pocket.

“What’re you,” Danny’s voice comes out rough, “What’re you doing?”

“Getting rid of evidence.” Stiles sticks the syringe in among the weeds and the dirt beneath the stand. “It’s dangerous to leave one of these out here, probably, but it’s more dangerous to throw it away, and I don’t want to go over to Deaton’s to dispose of it properly. He’s away this week and Scott is a little—preoccupied—and so I’d have to break in, which, probably not a good idea. Plus, my dad is super suspicious these days.” Danny doesn’t say, “Understandably,” but he wants to. Stiles jerks to his feet and wipes his hands on his thighs, leaving a light dusting of dirt on the fabric of his jeans. “Want waffles? Or something?”

“Not. No, not today.” Danny walks back to Stiles’s Jeep.

Neither of them says anything else until Stiles pulls up outside of Danny’s house. “If you need to talk,” Stiles unlocks the door, “or anything, you have my number, right? I get that it’s…this is all a lot.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Danny opens the door and then he looks back in and says, “I mean, just…Erica’s back. That’s good.”

Stiles flashes him a grin so bright it’s almost too much. “That’s really good, man. It’ll be fine. It’ll be good.” His grin fades even as Danny lingers, half in and half out of the Jeep. “Except.”

“Except?”

“She’s an alpha now, I don’t know…I don’t know how that’ll go.”

Danny shakes his head. “I don’t understand.”

“You know,” Stiles cocks his head, looks at him with eyes that don’t leave his face for a second, expression considering, “I don’t really understand, either. But Erica is back. And that is good, no matter what else.”

“Okay.” Danny takes a breath. “Okay. See you later, then?”

“Later.” It doesn’t escape Danny’s notice that Stiles waits until he’s inside his house to pull away.

That night, the local news stations have a new feature story. The photograph of Erica that’s been plastered all over the Internet and the town and the shitty Beacon Hills papers is shown in full color on every station. The reporters are celebrating, practically popping champagne bottles on screen.

“She showed up at the police station, completely out of it, saying she didn’t remember anything,” Danny’s dad says as he shells shrimp for the risotto he’s making. “Or that’s what I hear from George. Said she just walked in looking like hell and broke down into tears. Said it was so sad she almost had the whole department going, even the sheriff. And you know how tough Stilinski is.”

Danny thinks of the way Stiles had buried a syringe in an abandoned flea market and muttered about his dad and suspicions. He thinks about Erica’s red eyes. He thinks about Derek’s sigh, and the way Jackson had said, “You’re lying,” like he won a trivia contest, and he thinks about Stiles smiling and saying it would be okay. He thinks about Stiles’s steady hands.

“You knew her, right?” his dad asks, and he shakes his head.

“She’s in my year,” he stresses the present tense, the fact that Erica is still here, is here again. “But we don’t really have the same friends.” Is that changing? Does he want that to change?

His dad makes a considering sound. “Well, anyway, I hope they’re able to find out what happened to her.”

You really don’t want to know, Danny thinks, setting out forks on the table and pouring water into glasses with aggressive shoves of the faucet. He almost wishes he didn’t know. But then there’s this part of him that wouldn’t take back all of this morning’s ignorance for anything. And that’s terrifying.

:::

Danny goes to bed that night feeling tense but almost okay. He wakes up the next morning feeling like he’s been stretched out, all his joints tight and muscles sore, his jaw aching from the way he was grinding his teeth through the night, and does not move from his bed for two days.

That’s a lie. He moves to go to the bathroom. He doesn’t shower. He eats chips and pretzels and drinks so much Mountain Dew that his mom threatens to cut him off. Julia, his little sister—who’s fifteen, God, and so not so little—tries to get him to tell her where he got his fake ID. Repeatedly. For two days. And still he doesn’t leave his house.

On the third morning after he saw Erica in the backseat of a car and flipped his world on its head, he rolls out of bed at seven in the morning and puts on running shorts and a t-shirt. He starts out with no clear idea of where he’s going, just a latent restlessness in his feet that keeps him moving.

It keeps him moving until he’s outside Stiles’s house. Once there, he hesitates, jogging in place at the end of the walk before going up the front steps and knocking—not pounding, this time, nothing frantic—at the front door.

The sheriff answers it, which is probably something Danny should have expected but didn’t, and he looks at Danny for a few silent seconds before saying, “Mr. Mahealani,” and Danny remembers being thirteen and being stared down by those eyes, but he stomps on that memory and smiles his practiced unassuming smile.

“Good morning, Sheriff. I was looking for Stiles?”

The sheriff steps back and lets Danny inside. Danny stands in the entranceway, sweat starting to pool at the base of his spine, and watches as the sheriff glances at the stairs. “It’s a little early to expect my son to be out of bed. What’d you want him for?”

“Oh,” Danny says, feeling suddenly stupid, because of course Stiles isn’t going to be up at a quarter after seven on a Thursday in the summer, who would? He wouldn’t even, except that he spent the last two days trying to erase vivid images of werewolves from his brain. “Right, sorry. I just was out for a run and passing by and I thought he might want to join? We’re all doing cross country in the fall, thought it might be good to get a head start on training.” And the sheriff brightens, his lips splitting into a grin.

“You know what? That sounds healthy and normal and not at all like Stiles. I will wake him up for that.”

“You don’t,” Danny begins, but the sheriff is already up the stairs, moving fast up them the way Stiles had three days before, when he was running around because Danny had seen Erica. Erica, who’s fine. Erica, who’s a werewolf.

Danny’s new world is going to take some getting used to. He’s not entirely sure that he’s going to ever be able to make it seem normal.

The sheriff comes down the stairs much slower than he went up them. “Of course,” he mutters, “of course he’s not there. I’m so,” and then he looks up, seeming to remember Danny, and grimaces. “Sorry, son, looks as if Stiles has yet to return from wherever the hell he went last night.”

The sheriff is pulling a cellphone out of his pocket, and Danny’s heart is seizing. Because what if the alphas came back for revenge? They could have. They would have. If they haven’t yet, they probably will. What if they got Stiles? What if—and this is selfish—what if Danny is the one who has to break it to the sheriff? What if he has to shake up Stiles’s dad’s world the way Jackson and Stiles and Derek and Boyd did his?

But the sheriff has his phone to his ear and is speaking into it, speaking loudly, and Danny knows that if he weren’t here that would probably be a yell. The volume on the sheriff’s phone is up loud enough that Danny can just make out Stiles’s responses as he sputters at his dad’s accusations.

“Sorry, Dad, sorry, I’m at Scott’s, we lost track of time, I fell asleep, I’m just at Scott’s, I promise.”

“Why is your car in the driveway? Why didn’t you leave me a note? Or call?”

“Allison picked me up, and I didn’t think I’d be staying the night. I told you, I fell asleep. Accidentally. It was an accidental sleepover, I swear.”

Danny shifts, stepping back toward the door, and the sheriff waves at him. “The reason I even realized that you weren’t in your room was because your friend stopped by.”

“Friend?” Stiles sounds, God, confused, as he continues, “Everyone’s here, who…?”

“Danny Mahealani.” Danny has never heard so much meaning packed into his name. It’s a question and a statement so full that it sounds heavy as it falls from the sheriff’s mouth. The sheriff offers him a small smile as he says it, as if to soften the weight of it.

As soon as Danny’s name is out, his phone starts buzzing. He doesn’t glance at the screen as he pulls it from the sleeve around his upper arm. “Yeah?” he says into it.

“Danny.” It’s Scott, voice quiet so that the sheriff wouldn’t have been able to hear even if he hadn’t been distracted by saying something about responsibility to Stiles. “Is everything okay? Did something happen? The alphas didn’t—”

“No, no, no,” Danny hurries, and he feels an unfamiliar flush rushing up his neck. He’s not used to this, reaching out and finding nothing. “No, I just was on a run and stopped by to see if Stiles wanted to join. Cross country, you know?”

“Oh,” and then Scott’s voice comes from further away, “Hey, Stiles, Danny wanted to know if you want to go on a run.”

And Danny can hear Stiles’s response through his dad’s phone, and this is so weird, definitely among Danny’s most awkward moments. Not that he has a list. “Oh, that’s why he came by? A run? Ew, um, ow, Jacks—Okay, yeah. Yeah, I’d like to go for a run.”

“He’ll go. You can come by? I’ll text you the address.”

“Sure,” Danny tells Scott and hangs up as the sheriff is saying into his phone, “You come home straight after your run and I swear to God, Stiles, we are going to have a serious discussion about responsibility and how much it will suck for you if you don’t keep me updated on your life.”

“Dad,” Stiles protests, and then says, “Fine, whatever, have a good day at work,” and the sheriff hangs up, shaking his head.

“Do you need a ride over to Scott’s?”

But Danny’s already stepping back toward the door. “No, it’s fine. He’s only a mile or so away. Stiles isn’t exactly in top shape yet, it’ll probably help that I’m a little worn out.”

The sheriff huffs. “You should run a marathon first. I haven’t seen him do anything since lacrosse ended.”

“He’ll be great. He’s got a runner’s build,” and then Danny flees, because what a weird thing to notice about someone and seriously what an awkward thing to say to their dad.

He doesn’t look at his phone until he’s halfway down the block, and he’s not exactly surprised to see that the address Scott texted him is that of an apartment a mile and a half across town, in the opposite direction from Scott’s neighborhood. He cuts through someone’s backyard and starts back the way he came.

The apartment complex consists of three rows of double-storied identical miniature houses, complete with balconies lined with white picket fences, shiny white-lined parking spaces, neatly trimmed hedges, and golden numbers nailed to the doors. It does not look like the sort of place where anyone involved in this werewolf shit would fit.

But there Stiles is, sitting on the curb in front of the first row of apartments when Danny jogs in, his knees up around his chin and wearing a pair of basketball shorts rolled a few times around his waist. “Derek’s,” he gestures at the shorts when Danny comes to a halt in front of him. “Also Derek’s,” he gestures at the apartment directly behind him, number 15. “Just in case you need to know sometime.”

Danny nods. “Am I not allowed in now?”

“Do you want to go in now? I mean, we can. Almost everyone’s there.”

Danny looks at the closed door of the disconcertingly nice apartment and shrugs. “I’ll see them later. Did something happen last night?”

Stiles pushes to his feet, adjusting the too-big shorts—and does he knows what it means to wear someone’s clothes, the belonging that implies?—and shakes his head. “We’re just trying,” he glances over his shoulder at the door, everyone must be listening, “I mean we figure the alphas will be coming to get us, so we wanted to plan.”

Danny nods, and turns toward the exit. “Danny,” Stiles whines, a few steps behind him. “Do we really need to do this? Can’t we get breakfast or something? Want to go discuss puppies and magic over eggs and bacon?”

Danny just starts running, keeping his pace slow until he hears Stiles’s footsteps behind him. He speeds up a little then, and Stiles matches his strides, his breath steady, managing to keep up for a while in relative silence.

“So I imagine you have, like, questions,” Stiles says between breaths about ten minutes into their run.

“We’re running,” Danny replies, breath starting to come in faster bursts, “but this afternoon you and me are going to go get you new shoes and then we’re going to have a conversation.”

“I don’t need,” Stiles begins, but Danny just kicks out slightly and his foot lands on the straggling end of one of Stiles’s brown shoelaces where it trails from the ratty Nikes, which are dirt-stained and grass-smeared and probably have a few holes in the soles.

“Those’ll give you shin splints in a week. They look like someone ate them, spat them up, and then you wore them while running through a swamp.”

“Well, the last is true,” Stiles admits, voice coming fast, “there were kappas involved. I can’t be held responsible.”

“We’re replacing your shoes. You’re keeping these ones for chasing monsters.” Danny tries not to think about kappas. He thinks they were mentioned in Harry Potter. He doesn’t think they were friendly.

“If my dad ever…lets me out again,” he directs them down a shady side-street, “I will go shopping with you.”

“Sorry about that,” Danny feels a twist in his gut. “I didn’t think.”

“You shouldn’t have had to think. And it’s not the first time, don’t worry about it. Not your fault at all.” He looks over at Danny, a quick twist of his head before he faces the road ahead of them again. “I don’t get why you stopped by, though?”

“I wanted someone to run with, and everyone else is apparently a supernatural creature. Plus, I was passing your house. Plus, you had said you wanted to do cross in the fall. Not an easy sport to jump into.”

“Yeah,” Stiles wheezes, and underneath the breathing he doesn’t exactly sound displeased.

The run continues on in companionable silence, and Danny feels almost normal. Except that, apparently, he and Stiles Stilinski are now sort of friends. Something. They’re something, and Danny’s not exactly sure how he feels about that. It was his doing, though. He knows that Stiles would have left him alone after they got Erica back, knows that the last two days of silence were a respectful signal that if he wanted to ignore all of this, he was allowed to.

“I want in,” he says, as they reach Stiles’s doorstep, having taken a much more circuitous route to get back than he had originally taken to get to Derek’s apartment.

Stiles cocks his head, looking up from where he’s leaning over with his hands on his thighs. “Yeah?”

Danny nods. “Yeah.”

“All right. I’ll text you about shoe shopping, if I still have access to my phone.” He wipes a hand across his sweaty forehead and looks over his shoulder at his house. “Thanks for the run. It was, um, good? Something. Do you want a ride back to your place?”

“Nah, I’m good. Expect me tomorrow at seven.”

“Danny,” Stiles whines again, and Danny just turns and waves a hand over his shoulder.

“It’s happening, Stilinski.” He slows his pace considerably on his way back home, but he doesn’t stop running.

Stiles texts him later that afternoon. My dad says yes to shoe shopping, yes to running, but no to everything else. I think he thinks you’re gonna be a good influence. Wanna get me a good fake ID? Jungle Friday?

Danny stares at the screen of his phone and shakes his head. Slow. Pick you up at 3. Good. No. Absolutely not. The last time you were there some freaky shit went down. Which you will be explaining.

There’s no response, but Stiles comes out as soon as he pulls up outside of his house, like he was watching for him.

He looks a little twitchy as he slides into the passenger seat. “Look,” he begins as soon as Danny pulls away from the curb, “there are some things that I can tell you about all of this. How it started, how we got involved, some of the more recent stuff that happened. But there’s some things…it’s not my place, okay? And you need to talk to whoever was involved because I’m Google, I’m the wolfsbane and the mountain ash and the contact person, but I’m not—I’m not at the center of any of this. So you can ask questions, and I’ll tell you what I can. All right?”

Danny signals to pull onto the entrance ramp to the freeway. “You realize I don’t understand anything, right? I know, like, literally zero percent of what’s been going on. Maybe, maybe, point zero one percent. So everything you just said—sure, I’ll agree now, but can you just give me a basic rundown of what we’re dealing with here?”

By the time they’ve bought Stiles a new pair of running shoes and are sitting in the food court eating Wendy’s burgers and curly fries, Danny knows more about werewolves than he really wanted to. Stiles is smooshing his last fry in ketchup and staring at the two large Cokes sitting between them, refusing to meet Danny’s eyes.

“Those’re the basics,” he says, “but there’s something else you should probably know. Everything else, like I said, you should talk to Jackson and Scott and Derek about. And Lydia. Partially Lydia for this too, I think, but you should know,” he inhales, deep and slow, and continues, “you know how we said that Derek’s uncle…um, passed on?”

Danny rolls his eyes. Like anything else Stiles has said in the last two hours has been even passably sane by any potential eavesdroppers’ standards. “Yeah,” he answers, when Stiles kicks his leg under the table.

“Well, he, er, undid that.”

He undid that. “He undid that?” Danny lowers his voice. “Is he a zombie?”

“What?” Stiles jerks back, salt-covered fingers flinging up. “No!”

“Well then what?”

“He’s just, um, back. Normal, like. Or as normal as an insane undead formerly-alpha murderous werewolf can be.”

“Jesus Christ,” Danny swears, and Stiles grins at him like he’s told a great joke. “Don’t,” Danny warns. “This is absurd. How?”

“That’s a Lydia thing, I think, like I said. But she doesn’t like to talk about it. Maybe with you. You’re special.”

“Gee, thanks, Stilinski.”

“No, it’s a good thing.”

They sit in silence for a while, Stiles slurping from his Coke and Danny not eating, staring at his food and trying to force his worldview to change to accept resurrection as an actual thing that happens.

“Is he around? Like, does he live with Derek?”

Stiles shakes his head. “He and Derek reached some sort of an agreement, I think. I don’t know the details, but he lives a few towns over. I haven’t seen him in weeks. He’ll probably be around more now, because the alphas are back. But then, it’s been a few days and no one’s really mentioned him.”

“Okay.” Danny watches Stiles as he shifts, fingers playing against the table. “I don’t think I’ll get that through my head, like, ever, so I’m just gonna ignore it. What about Erica?”

Stiles shrugs. “They’re still working that out, I think. Right now, she’s trying not to be—she’s—not good. And her parents aren’t really letting her out of their sight, so it’s hard. But the pack is trying to get rid of the alphas and trying to keep her out of it but she’s not the sort to sit out and also, she’s an alpha now, so if she could harness that power than that could be useful in beating them, but, like—I don’t know. This is not necessarily something she wants to be involved in, is Derek’s argument. Mine is that she’ll be good, helpful.”

Danny nods, spinning his Coke cup in wet rings over the patterned plastic of the tabletop. “And what about Derek?” Because he knows about Derek Hale, knows his story, but Stiles and the rest seem to really know him, and that confuses Danny. Maybe not for Boyd and Isaac and Jackson, because Stiles says some connection comes with the bite, but for Stiles and Scott and Lydia and Allison—Allison, who, according to Stiles has every reason to hate Derek, who has every reason to hate her right back—but they still seem to know him. Stiles, especially.

“Scott and I got him arrested a couple of times,” Stiles has already admitted this, but this time the confession has a sort of amused stretch to it, “and then we realized that he just had no clue what he was doing, and neither did we, so after some, um, drama of a lizard-ly nature, we managed to come to a compromise. He’s okay, just really messed up. I think he’s getting better.”

Stiles has been dropping hints about lizards all afternoon, but Danny really doesn’t want to know. He thinks that’s something he was involved in, on the periphery, and something Jackson was at the heart of, and he doesn’t know if he’s ready for it. If he’s not, though, he does know that he shouldn’t have told Stiles that he was in. He decides to ignore the lizard part of Stiles’s statement and asks, “But what about you and Derek?”

“Me and…?” Stiles trails off, gaze jerking from Danny’s cardboard container of fries in surprise. “What are you talking about?”

“You were wearing his shorts yesterday.” Danny pushes his fries a few inches towards Stiles, and he reaches in without looking away from Danny.

“Because you wanted to go for a run and I only had jeans with me.”

“He listens to you.”

“They all learned that listening to me is sometimes a good idea the hard way.” Stiles stuffs three fries in his mouth. “No, dude, look, it’s not like I’m not attracted to him, because I do have eyes, and I think he’s a—not a good person, but I like him, most of the time, you know?—but I would never in a million years go there. Not ever. Not that he would have me. I’m pretty sure he’s like ninety-five percent straight, at least. But in this weird alternate universe you’re imagining where he would, no. I just do not think that would be a good idea. I don’t think it would end well.”

Danny nods. “Okay. So if I wanted to test your theory on his straightness?" Stiles’s eyes widen and his lips part and he looks so ridiculously surprised that Danny can’t keep a straight face. He laughs into the straw of his Coke and Stiles throws his head back, his whole body shaking.

“You’re such an asshole,” Stiles says when he settles back into his chair. “God, just picturing what Derek would do if you came onto him.”

“He would probably just growl at me. I get the feeling growl is all these guys do.”

Stiles tilts his head like he’s actually considering that. “Sometimes they roar. I don’t know if he’d be pissed enough, but wait until you see it. It’s pretty funny. Or alternatively terrifying, if it’s directed at you.”

“Maybe I’ll try it out, just to see how he’d react.”

“I’d love to see that.” Stiles stands and pushes his containers into the swinging door of the trash can. Danny follows him and the two weave among the overwhelming number of preteens to get to the mall exit.

On the drive back to town they come up with increasingly ridiculous ideas to get Derek shirtless again, and by the time they pull up to Stiles’s house they’re both blinking back tears from laughter.

Stiles bites his lip, hesitating before he gets out of the car. “I know you probably don’t want my advice,” he says, staring at where his dad’s car is parked in the driveway, “but I really think you should talk to Jackson. And I’m happy you’ve decided to join this—not least for the effect you have on our resident douche-bro, no offense—but I also want to make sure…this is dangerous, you know? It’s really dangerous and it’s hard, keeping it a secret, and it’s scary at times and it’s interesting as hell and it can be absurdly fun, God, but it’s not exactly…it’s probably not healthy.”

“I’m in,” is all Danny says, and Stiles nods.

“All right, then. See you way too fucking early tomorrow.” He slams the door too hard when he gets out, but he pats a hand against the hood as he passes, as if to make up for it.

:::

Danny doesn’t call Jackson until four days after he and Stiles go shoe shopping, four runs after their first run, each of which begins with Stiles mumbling nonsense at him and ends with Stiles telling him to talk to his asshole of a best friend.

The fourth day, Danny says, “Fine, okay, all right,” and Stiles nods, like he expected that.

“If you need to talk after, I’ll be here. Grounded. Except for in the mornings, when my dad lets me out to get tortured by you.”

Danny flashes him a grin, but his gut is already twisting with nerves, and Stiles must see some sign of that on his face, because he stops on his front step and faces Danny. “Look, what Jackson’s going to tell you, it won’t change a thing about how everything is right now. Everything will stay the same, it’ll just be—you’ll just understand more.”

“It’ll change how it is for me,” Danny says, knowing this without question, “Thanks, though, Stiles.”

Stiles shrugs and opens his door. He disappears inside his house and Danny gets into the car, driving home and inventing all the various ways that the lizard problem could fit into this horror story he’s wandered into, fits into Jackson’s life, fits into his life.

It ends up being worse than even the worst thing he thinks of.

He and Jackson are sitting in his bedroom, Danny on the bed and Jackson on the chair in the corner, and Danny doesn’t say anything for a long time after Jackson finishes telling him about the kanima, about being the kanima.

The idea of Jackson killing is not as absurd as it would have been before he found out about werewolves. After all, if Stiles Stilinski can tell him that killing a person, werewolf, whatever, was a “joint effort” involving Stiles himself, then clearly anyone can be a killer.

But for Jackson to kill without agency, without remembering it—that probably shouldn’t be the part that scares him, but it is. For him to be controlled by Matt, that means that there are things in this world that are even more dangerous than werewolves and hunters and Stiles’s brief mention of kappas. That means that there is a chance that Danny’s own choices might get taken away from him, and that is not—that is just not okay.

“Danny.” Jackson finally breaks the silence, and Danny shakes his head.

“No, no, don’t worry. It’s just, man, that sucks, that that happened to you.” Understatement of the freaking year, seriously, and Danny feels a little ashamed for having said it. “It doesn’t change anything. This morning, Stiles said that everything was the same whether I knew or not and that’s true,” it’s not, it’s not, like Danny knew it wouldn’t be, but Jackson doesn’t need to know that. He might tell Stiles, later, just how wrong he was, but Jackson can believe this.

“You’re lying,” Jackson tells him. He rests a finger against his earlobe, smirks half-heartedly. “I can tell. But…thank you for saying it.”

Danny flushes. He should’ve known that. “What else do you know?”

“A lot. Derek’s good at cataloguing things. Right now, it’s more overwhelming than anything. Eventually I’ll be able to distinguish scents, heartbeats. I can already tell you’ve been spending more time with Stilinski than usual. I know most of the pack by smell.”

“That is disgusting.” Danny shakes his head. “No, really, that’s nasty, Jackson.”

“It’s not like everyone smells bad.” Jackson looks affronted, eyes flashing bright before he calms a little, then his lips loosen in a full-on grin. “Except Stilinski. He stinks.”

Danny chucks his pillow at his friend. “Shut up.”

“Hey,” Jackson catches the pillow out of the air, drops it on the floor, “you don’t want me to push, I won’t push. Just don’t expect McCall to be as considerate. He’s been oozing jealousy everywhere since his bestie started hanging out with you.”

Danny feels something tighten in his chest. “Look, it’s not…you know what, never mind. Do you want to play a game of lacrosse? Get out of here, get some people together?”

“Who?” Jackson asks, already pulling out his phone.

“The rest,” Danny suggests, and Jackson makes a grumbling noise, but when they get to the lacrosse field Scott and Isaac are there, and Boyd, and even Stiles, who says that his dad is at work and he hitched a ride with Scott, so he probably won’t get caught.

Erica drives up just as they’re splitting into teams, and everyone except for Jackson stops talking when she gets out of the car dressed in Nike shorts and a tank top and comes toward them. “Think you boys can keep up with me?” Her tone is so close to natural that Danny starts wondering if maybe she’s not as broken as he was starting to think she was.

“I know I can’t.” Stiles tosses her Jackson’s extra stick from where it was lying on the grass by his feet, and she bares her teeth at him as she catches it.

The teams are uneven now, but that doesn’t matter at all. They fall into laughing heaps as they crash into each other, the wolves colliding at rates of speed that would break Danny and Stiles’s to pieces, and Stiles and Danny leap out of their way as they careen towards them.

They end up sweaty and covered in summer-dead grass, not leaving until late in the afternoon, just as the air is starting to cool a little. Stiles waves at Danny and calls, “See you tomorrow,” as he climbs into Scott’s car, making something deep inside Danny really ridiculously happy.

It’s not a feeling he’s ever expected to be directed at Stiles, and Jackson shoots him a look as they get into his car, like he’s biting his tongue to keep from pushing, like he said he would.

:::

Exactly three weeks after Erica’s rescue, Stiles calls Danny at seven in the evening and says, “Pack meeting at Derek’s stat,” before hanging up.

Danny had thought, naively, he knows, that the silence from the alphas might have meant that they’d gotten bored with Derek’s pack, that their attempt to fuck with it by fucking with Erica had failed and so they’d moved on.

He drives to Derek’s, foot heavy on the gas pedal, and berates himself. Because maybe the alphas were dumb, maybe they were, but they could not possibly have been that dumb. And so now he gets to see what it actually meant when he told Stiles that he wanted in.

Shouts of “Come in,” meet his single knock, and he pushes the unlocked door open to find everyone crowded into a tiny living room. Boyd and Erica are pressed together in an armchair in the far corner of the room, and Derek is sitting in a La-Z Boy in the other corner. The rest are squished on a couch, except for Stiles, who sits on the floor, leaning against the Wal-Mart style cart carrying a smallish flat screen TV. Peter isn’t there, for which Danny is grateful, even though he’s sure the undead wolf’s absence doesn’t have anything to do with him.

Stiles moves over a little so Danny can rest his back against the TV stand too. It’s only after he sits that he notices that Jackson had had a small space beside him on the couch, and when Danny settles on the floor Jackson gets closer to Allison as everyone on the couch moves to fill in the space that was supposed to be Danny’s. No one says anything. He’s not sure yet exactly why he gravitates toward Stiles these days, but he’s been noticing it more and more, and he thinks it’s something he needs to sort out soon. At least before Jackson breaks his uncharacteristic silence on the matter and decides to be either weirdly nice about it or begins acting like an absolute dick.

“What’s happened?” Danny asks, trying to avoid Scott’s gaze, because Scott is staring at him, eyes narrowed, head tilted towards Isaac beside him.

“The alphas left town for a little while. They just got back last night,” Derek explains. Everyone is avoiding looking at Erica so much that they may as well be staring at her. “I was running out in the woods over where their old camp was, and their scent is all over the area again.”

“And we still have no fucking clue what they want.” Stiles’s hands are in fists, tapping against his thighs. Danny watches them.

“Erica, maybe?” Jackson suggests, cueing a growl from Boyd and a light smack to his shoulder from Lydia. “Not that we should give her up. But, that’s what they wanted last time.”

“No it’s not. They didn’t want me. They just got me.” Her voice is rougher than Danny’s ever heard it, and he keeps staring at Stiles’s hands because he imagines her eyes are red. Erica with red eyes is more unnatural than Derek. She looks sad every time she lets them surface, like she’s got the whole process, the whole kidnapping and murder and whatever else happened while she was gone, playing on a loop in their color.

“Do you know what they want?” Stiles asks, even though Boyd is growling again, a warning sound that makes Danny want to shift a little closer to Stiles.

“Territory, of course,” Lydia answers for her.

“I don’t know if it’s that simple. I do know that they think that it will be easy to get whatever it is they want. We’re vulnerable.”

“They think.”

“We sort of are, Stiles.” Scott shrugs. “We aren’t exactly set up to defend much of anything, let alone defeat a pack of alphas.”

Derek glances along the couch, at the betas and the humans, and then his gaze lands on Erica and Boyd. “Is it worth trying to talk to them?”

“Possibly.” Erica picks at a hole in her jeans, her eyes their normal color.

Derek sighs, a long sound in a tense room, and then asks, his voice extremely diffident, “Would you recommend talking to them? Say, if Isaac and I went? Would you say that was a good idea?”

Even Danny sees what this is. Derek wants to have Erica making decisions. He wants her to be an alpha in practice. According to Stiles, he’s only just learning himself, and now he wants to train her too. It is really unexpected and also, Danny thinks, although he can’t be sure, a really good sign.

Erica is still for so long that Danny half expects Derek to repeat his question. But then she nods. “Yes,” she says, voice soft. “Yeah, I think that would be a good idea. You and Isaac, just to get a feel for what they’re thinking. I wouldn’t expect much from it, but it’s better than—they should know that we know they’re here.”

“Okay. We’ll do that, then.” Stiles shifts, and Danny glances over at him. He’s got his phone out, is scrolling through a Google search on the screen. Derek continues, “Allison, is your father aware of this?”

The room goes breathless, the reference to hunters sucking the air from it. “No.” Allison’s voice is quiet. She’s sitting between Isaac and Lydia, and both of them move towards her enough that Danny notices from where he’s sitting. Allison looks at Erica, who’s staring at her hands as if entertaining the possibility of letting claws rip out of them. Allison keeps talking, her voice wavering a little. “I know I’m not trustworthy. I know I lost that, and I know that you don’t understand why I did…what I did. I’m not asking for forgiveness, I’m never going to ask for forgiveness. But I don’t want everything in my life to be based on some decisions I made because I thought I lost my whole life,” Erica growls at that, and Allison nods, like she understands. “I know I’m not unique in that. But I want—will you consider what I have to say?”

Scott shifts where he sits on Isaac’s other side, and Stiles shakes his head just a tiny bit as Isaac sets a hand on Scott’s knee, and then the whole room stills, waiting on Erica.

“We’ve all suffered.” Erica pins Allison with a glare. It’s human, but it’s still earth shaking in its intensity. “You’re right that that’s not yours alone. What is yours, unfortunately, are the hunters. So give us their perspective, Argent. What do you want to say?”

“We don’t tell the hunters about this. We don’t let my dad in on it. We meet with the alphas, we try to negotiate an agreement. They’ve done terrible things, but my family has done worse. You all know that.” Her gaze skitters, fast, from Erica to Derek, and lands on Stiles. His knee, which had been jumping as the conversation carried on, stops against Danny’s thigh. “And will continue to do worse, if my dad becomes aware of this—he’s sworn off of hunting, but an alpha pack? I don’t think he’d let that go. If he calls in the rest of the family, they’ll come. And if they come, they won’t leave once they’re finished with the alphas. Allying with the alphas—that will probably go better for this pack, in the long run, than allying with hunters. At least so far as I understand werewolf politics. So if my dad can’t stop himself, if he starts snooping, if the wolves get too active—we need for them to know that they can’t draw attention to themselves.”

“Not letting the hunters in is something I can get behind.” Erica leans her head against Boyd’s shoulder, looking at Allison in consideration. “But you’re going to need to be careful, too. Isaac and Derek, they can warn the pack, tell Deucalion and Kali and the rest that the Argents aren’t gone. But your dad won’t just ignore what you’re doing. He thinks you’re out of it, too, doesn’t he?”

Allison nods, twisting a few dark strands around her finger. “I have ‘new friends,’ they’re great, they’re really fun. I go over to their houses all the time.”

“They sound really awesome, I really want to meet them.” Lydia’s voice is flat, completely without inflection, and Allison smiles, a little embarrassed.

“I don’t know if he believes me, but he hasn’t been following me anywhere, which is an improvement.”

“Erica’s right, though. You’re going to need to be careful around your dad, if you think—and obviously you’re right—that it’s a good idea to keep the hunters out of this.” Derek’s voice is careful; they’re all talking around things, and Danny doesn’t think that Stiles gave him the whole story on any of this, but what Stiles did give him is enough to build the tension in the room to a breaking point.

“I will,” Allison nods, “I’ll be careful.”

“But what if,” Stiles glances at Erica, then at Derek, “what if the alphas don’t want to negotiate? They’re clearly strong, stronger than us. And while I don’t want the Argents involved, no offense, Allison, just, your dad is okay and you’re obviously great but everyone else? Sucked balls. A lot.”

“Your point, Stiles?” Scott growls, and Stiles’s shoulder brushes against Danny's as he straightens his back and starts speaking directly to Scott.

“They’re stronger than us. You said that, earlier, and everyone knows it. They took Boyd and Erica no problem.” Boyd nods, his chin brushing against Erica’s cheek as her hands tighten on her knees. Danny looks away from them. “What if the alphas just decide to kill us all, to get it over with? They’ll get injured, maybe one or two of them will get seriously hurt, maybe, maybe, one will die, but will it be that big of a loss for them?”

“It would be,” Erica says, completely confident. “That’s how it works, the alpha pack. They’re unnatural. The one thing that keeps them as a pack, that lets them borrow from each other’s strength, that bonds them—it’s affection, loyalty. They won’t betray each other. They have such absurd challenges to get in—becoming an alpha, willingly, not like me, it’s just the beginning. To lose someone, they wouldn’t consider it.”

“So that’s why,” Derek mutters, and everyone in the room turns their gaze to him. He shrugs his shoulders, dark shirt shifting as he lowers them. “I was wondering what the point of the whole kidnapping exchange was. I’m still not certain about everything—but they wanted to see how far we were willing to go with the grandmother.”

“They were testing us.” Danny gets it, the way the alphas had looked when they showed up in the woods.

“Playing with us,” Stiles mutters. “I don’t like that.”

“Who would?”

“But the question is,” Stiles continues, ignoring Jackson, “is it good or bad that we went for their grandmother?”

“I don’t know,” Derek looks at Erica, who shakes her head.

“I’m not sure. They never…I wasn’t really in their pack. I was kept alone most of the time. I picked up some things, but I couldn’t figure everything out. I’m still not sure what they wanted with me. I don’t know what they’re looking for.”

“They called us liabilities,” Danny remembers, and Stiles nods.

“That means you should avoid going anywhere they might find you alone,” Derek says, tone rough.

“Or that we’ll make really excellent bait.” Lydia lays a hand on Jackson’s leg when he starts growling.

“Excellent and dangerous bait.” Stiles grins, pressing his hands together like he’s plotting.

“Aren’t you still grounded?” Derek raises his impressive eyebrows at Stiles.

“Tonight is my last night of grounding.” Stiles doesn’t look worried.

“So you’re celebrating by sneaking out,” Danny says.

Stiles waves a hand. “He’s working a night shift, it’s fine.”

“But he’ll notice if you come home torn to pieces because you were playing stupid,” Scott points out.

“I didn’t say we were going to get hurt.” Stiles manages to sound annoyed, but his legs are shaking again. Danny thinks he probably expects to get hurt. He probably expects that daily.

“Be careful, Stiles. They’re not as dumb as you think they are.” Boyd settles an arm around Erica’s waist, and Stiles nods.

“But they haven’t attacked Danny and me while we’re out running. I don’t get that, if they’re at all interested in getting the pack.”

“Maybe they’re biding their time the way we’ve been, trying to figure out what we’re doing. Maybe they got worried when we took their grandmother. Realized we’d go pretty far.”

Derek nods at Danny. “I think that’s a good possibility.”

“So we’re both circling each other? Who’s going to strike first?”

“No one,” Derek growls. “Isaac and I are meeting with them, remember? Peacefully, like we talked about seriously five minutes ago.”

“Yeah, but after that all goes to shit?” Jackson earns himself a Derek-patented glare. “Who’ll attack then?”

“Us, probably, because that one bit a bunch of teenagers.” Stiles gestures towards Derek, and Danny tries not to think about the two alpha twins, who were also teenagers, who looked a hell of a lot more dangerous than any member of Derek’s pack, including Derek himself.

“I have no idea what the fuck I was thinking.” Derek’s muttering is loud enough for even the humans to hear as he pushes himself to his feet.

“I wonder that literally all the time,” Erica calls after him, her tone miraculously teasing.

Derek returns with two bags of tortilla chips and tosses them on the coffee table. He sets down an open jar of salsa beside them and says, “There’s soda in the fridge if anyone wants some,” as he reaches for the remote and flicks on the TV. Stiles twists around, lying back on the floor with his feet lifted slightly on the TV stand, and Danny mimics him. They watch reruns of Seinfeld until Scott rolls off the couch, stretching.

“I told my mom I’d be home by midnight.”

Everyone stands in stages. Derek’s fallen asleep in the chair, and Erica takes a ratty blanket from the back of the couch and tosses it over him.

They leave the apartment in silence, lingering outside for a few minutes before breaking up to get into their separate cars. Danny doesn’t see Stiles’s Jeep, so he offers, “You want a ride?”

Stiles glances over at where Isaac and Scott are leaning close together against Scott’s mom’s car, and he nods. “That’d be good, thanks.”

They don’t speak for a minute or two, as Danny follows Lydia and Boyd and Erica out of the parking lot, and then Danny says, “Want ice cream?” possibly because it’s the first night he’s been out since he went to Jungle the weekend before he found out about everything, when Jungle suddenly became insignificant, and possibly because he really doesn’t want the night to end. What he wants is to keep being surprised by this boy in his passenger seat.

They get Blizzards at Dairy Queen—Stiles’s overloaded with pieces of candy, Danny’s just plain Oreo—and sit on the hood of the car, the red and white sign glowing over them, yellow headlights speeding by on the road behind them.

“Bet this wasn’t what you expected to be doing with your summer.”

“It wasn’t,” Danny agrees.

“So what were the plans of the great Danny Mahealani before he fell into the world of supernatural freaks?”

Danny thinks about that. “Going to Jungle. Getting drunk. Sleeping a lot. Pissing off my little sister. Honestly, this is better.”

“Just wait till you almost die. You won’t be saying that then.” Stiles bumps his shoulder against Danny’s, like he’s meant it as a joke, but Danny hears the honesty cutting under Stiles’s words.

He looks over at Stiles in this fake soft light and thinks about how easy it would be to kiss him.

Stiles is looking down into his cup of ice cream, scraping the side to get some sort of candy on his spoon, and so he doesn’t notice the way Danny’s looking at him. Even if he had, Danny doesn’t think that Stiles would get it. That’s one of the reasons Danny doesn’t reach over and angle Stiles’s chin towards him. He also thinks that after the kiss—and there would be one, Stiles would kiss him back, he’s sure of that—but after it, he thinks Stiles still wouldn’t understand.

He thinks Stiles would assume that Danny was just thinking about Jungle and how he hasn’t been in a while, that Danny was wanting and Stiles was there. Danny doesn’t think Stiles would realize that Danny wants him. Danny doesn’t think that thought would even cross Stiles’s mind. And so Danny doesn’t kiss him because he doesn’t think Stiles would understand, but also because he’s not sure if he understands quite yet, and he doesn’t want to promise something while sitting here on the hood of his car, touching under this stupid light, with both their mouths sticky with sweet ice cream—Danny doesn’t want to give Stiles something he is unsure of.

“Haven’t I already?” Danny asks, and Stiles glances over at him, spoon halfway to his mouth. “That first time, with the alphas? Didn’t we almost die?”

“Oh,” Stiles sticks his spoon in his mouth and waves both his hands around, keeping his spoon in place with his lips. It’s obscene, even more so for the fact that Danny wouldn’t have thought anything of it a month ago. “That wasn’t almost dying. That was like, mildly threatened. You’ll know almost dying.”

Danny nods, digs back into his Blizzard so he doesn’t have to look at Stiles anymore. “Do you ever regret it?”

Stiles leans down and sets his cup on the ground, then falls back so he’s stretched on the hood, knuckles rapping against the outside of the windshield, t-shirt rucking up a little so Danny can see a tiny centimeter of skin and the elastic top of his boxers. Danny pushes himself back to lie beside him, listening to the beat of Stiles’s restlessness. “I try not to think about it much,” he finally says. “I guess I regret leading Scott into the woods the night he got bitten. I regret Scott becoming one, because he never wanted it, and he never would have wanted it. I like—I don’t like the near-death, but I like what it’s brought me.” He laughs, a little sardonically, and Danny feels a little tense, like he’s suddenly somewhere he doesn’t think he wants to be. “I guess you know that I never really had friends other than Scott. I like that I do now. I like that I have a lot of people who would die for me, people I would die for. I don’t regret that.”

“You’re good,” Danny tells him, after the silence has stretched so long it’s bound to snap, “you’re really good at taking care of things. At knowing things. I’m impressed by how you do it all.”

“It’s just what I do. But thanks.” Stiles keeps his hands moving, drumming against the hood. “The worst part is the lying.”

Danny can’t keep himself from saying, “You’re really good at that, too.”

Stiles laughs again, the sound abrupt. “God, a year ago you’d have been laughed out of town for saying that. I can’t believe how easy it is now. Not like I tell good lies, just like—it’s more natural to lie than to tell the truth. When I was telling you about all of this, I had to keep stopping myself from sticking stuff in that didn’t happen, or leaving stuff out—it was really hard to just tell you the truth straight out. I never expected that when I got involved with all of this.”

Danny hums in acknowledgment. They’re silent a little while longer, and then he asks, “What did you expect?”

Stiles shrugs, Danny can hear his t-shirt brushing against the glass beneath his shoulders. “Staying alive, keeping Scott alive. Always being Robin.” He says it like a joke.

“Erica calls you Batman.” He’d noticed it that night, when they were saying goodbye outside of Derek’s. Had thought it sort of cute and sort of odd, but in a nice way. Which is the way he’s starting to think about everything to do with Stiles.

“Erica’s the best.” Stiles sighs, sitting up, limbs flailing as he regains purchase on the car. He turns to look down at Danny, face wide open and excited. “Hey, Derek was great tonight, with the deferring to Erica thing, wasn’t he? The pack might not need to break up.”

Danny doesn’t want to sit up yet. “You thought that might be a possibility?”

“Well, yeah. Two alphas? Derek’s already got to deal with Scott not really being ‘his,’ and then there’s Peter—he doesn’t need another member of the pack questioning his authority. But if they can do co-alpha-ship, or whatever, that’d be great. Derek seems to want to. I bet Erica’ll go along with it.” Stiles turns back around, head tilting to the side as he looks at the glass windows at the front of the Dairy Queen.

“Stiles,” Danny looks at Stiles’s back, his shoulders, the angle of his neck, “did you ever want the bite?”

Stiles’s back tenses. Even if Danny hadn’t been studying it so intently he thinks he would have noticed. “Nah.” His pause is too long for the nonchalance that word carries. “I like having an exit strategy. That’s a little too permanent for me.” He turns his neck so quickly it cracks. Danny winces, but Stiles doesn’t even seem to notice. “Why, are you thinking about it?”

“I’ve only known for like three weeks, dude, I’m definitely not thinking about it.”

“Okay. But in a few months, a year, do you think you would?”

Danny shrugs, completely unsure. The thought is foreign, but he doesn’t know if that’s because it’s new, or because he definitely would never want to be a werewolf.

“If you do start, talk to Scott.”

“Why? Because he’ll talk me out of it?”

Stiles makes a noncommittal humming noise.

“What,” Danny pushes against the car, sitting up so his face is inches from Stiles’s, suddenly curious, “why would you care if I became a wolf?”

“It’s not just,” Stiles holds his hands up, makes them into claws, bares his teeth, “physical. It’s all of you. It’s a whole-person change. And yeah, basically you’re the same. But there are things you get with the bite, instincts you’re given, and they’re not you, they’re the wolf, and I don’t—you’re good, Danny. You’re just—change isn’t always for the better.”

Danny stares at his shoes, where they hang off the car. The words sound almost panicked, but they warm him. It’s crazy, the fact that Stiles not wanting him to change makes him feel so secure. “Hey, don’t worry.” He kicks his foot against Stiles’s. “I said I’m not thinking about it. And I promise if I ever do, I’ll talk to Scott.” He holds out his pinky, and Stiles looks at it a moment before chuckling and linking his little finger with Danny’s.

“A lot classier than a spit handshake.”

“Just as binding, though.”

Stiles takes Danny’s Blizzard cup from where he’s set it between them and attempts to lob it into the trashcan at the end of the row of cars. It lands in a spiral of melted vanilla a few feet short, and Danny shakes his head, hopping from the hood and picking up Stiles’s cup from the ground on the way to pick up his own.

Stiles grins at him when he returns. “Never said I was a basketball star.” Danny laughs and reaches out, unthinkingly wiping his sticky vanilla-ice-cream fingers on the front of Stiles’s t-shirt. Stiles glances down at his hand and then up at his face, cheeks suddenly flushed, and Danny feels an answering blush running up his neck.

“Ass,” Danny mutters, breaking the awkward moment by shoving the offending hand against Stiles’s shoulder.

Stiles laughs, nervous, high, then rushes, “I should probably get home. My dad is supposed to be off his shift at three, I wouldn’t want to risk getting grounded as an encore to my prior grounding.”

“Sure.” Danny unlocks the doors, waiting until Stiles is sitting inside before sliding in himself. Stiles lifts his feet to press against the dashboard. Anyone else would be abandoned at Dairy Queen for that move. Danny just reaches over and shoves Stiles’s feet down. He puts them back up as they’re turning out of the lot, and Danny doesn’t react at all.

:::

Julia is sitting on his bed when he gets home that night, his laptop open on the comforter beside her.

“Your Facebook is woefully lacking in juicy gossip these days,” she informs him as he drops his keys and wallet on his desk.

“Sorry to disappoint.” The current juicy gossip of his life is enough for a soap opera, but it’s definitely not something he’ll be sharing with his little sister. She’s going to stay way the hell out of all of it.

He sits down on the end of his bed and tugs off his shoes. Julia kicks her bare foot against his leg.

“No, seriously, what have you been up to? You haven’t been tagged in any scandalous photos, no one’s posting on your timeline congratulating you on older conquests made at Jungle, and everyone’s been asking me where you are whenever I go out.”

“You’re not supposed to go out.” Danny shoots her a glare. “Seriously, you’re like twelve. No boys, no girls, no alcohol for another ten years at least.”

“Too late, bro. But I’m really tired of having all of my conversations start with questions about you. I shouldn’t have to be your babysitter. For one thing, you’re older. For another, it’s not like you’re my ticket in to these parties.”

“Who is your ticket in?” Because Danny would really like to talk to whoever the hell has allowed his sister into his social scene. Talk politely, with minimal fists involved.

“Myself,” Julia declares, waving a hand at her face, which is made-up to Lydia-like levels of perfection. Danny snorts. “Well, okay, originally Britta—senior, varsity volleyball?—invited me. But I have held my own. Except you had to go and be all mysteriously missing since summer started, so now you’re like all anyone talks about.” She tugs at a few dark strands of hair that have escaped the pile on top of her head. “Well, you and Jackson and Lydia, obviously. Do you have any insights for me?” She reaches into the pocket of her shorts, pulling out her cellphone, and Danny feels suddenly on edge.

“Why does it matter?” he asks, shifting at the end of his bed.

“Because,” the screen of Julia’s phone lights up, “I got a text from Ian tonight, asking me why you were hanging out with Stilinski at Dairy Queen when there was a wicked rager going on at Ryan’s house.”

The truth is, this shouldn’t bother Danny. Stiles, he’s coming to find, is way more fun to hang around than at least eighty percent of the people who frequent summer’s repetitive house parties. Also, near-death-by-werewolf is way more important than perfecting his game of beer pong—which is pretty damn near perfect, anyway. It’s not that he doesn’t miss the loose easiness of drinking warm beer in a room with a good portion of his high school class, because a part of him does miss that, a little bit, but the supernatural shit feels heavy and significant, something he needs to be a part of. It shouldn’t require that he defend his friends to anyone, let alone Julia.

“What’d you tell him?” he asks her, instead of saying any of this.

“That I am not your keeper.”

Danny nods. “And what’d he say?”

“Oh, that’s not all I told him. I told him that if you wanted to expand your social circle, then that was entirely your business. I told him that the way he has treated Stiles in the past is despicable. I told him that he had better never fail a history class, because Stilinski will be the first person they ask to tutor him, and if he thinks that he will pass on the opportunity to torture him back, then he is dead wrong.”

Danny doesn’t try to fight the grin that spreads across his face at that. “And what’d he say?” he repeats.

Julia waves a hand. “Something rude, it’s fine. He’s an asshole.”

Danny lets all of that sink in. “Thanks, Jules.”

“Hey, what’re sisters for?”

“Usually? To make my life miserable.”

She hops off his bed, jostling his computer dangerously near the edge with the movement. “That’s coming, don’t worry. I’m still curious about him. He’s not exactly your type.”

“He’s an asshole a lot of the time,” Danny points out, “he’s actually exactly my type.”

Julia’s answering grin is gleeful. “You do like him! You want to kiss him and ask him to prom and have little adopted babies with him!”

“Oh, get out.” Danny chucks a pillow at her. It hits her in the shoulders as she leaves, and he’s surprised at how weird it is to not have the initial reaction to flying projectiles be instant werewolf-borne catching skills.

He dreams about Stiles that night, and it’s innocent, something weird about being stuck in a Nordstrom’s with him while werewolves throw collared shirts around, but when he wakes up to a splash of cold water across his face he feels just as shaken as he would have if he had had been dreaming of Stiles naked and in his bed.

Julia’s standing over him, a water glass tipped on its side in her hand. He reaches up and tries to catch the dribble of water in his palms. Julia smirks. “Stilinski is downstairs.”

“What?” Danny waves his hand in the air and attempts to hit her, but meets her hand where it holds out his cellphone instead.

“Dead,” she tells him. “Your phone is, I mean. He says you said you were going running this morning, but that you didn’t show up and didn’t answer your phone. He didn’t say that he was worried, but it was implied.” She leans in close over him, water glass tilted at a dangerous angle again, and hisses, “It is totally true love.”

“I hate you.” Danny drops his traitorous phone on the floor and rolls out of bed. “Tell Stiles I’ll be down in a minute.”

“Will do.” She practically skips from his room, and he calls after her, “Don’t you dare say anything embarrassing to him.”

Stiles is sitting on his couch when Danny comes down, hands loose between his knees, his toe tapping out an offbeat rhythm against the carpet. Julia leans against the wall by the TV, watching Stiles but not saying anything. It is among the strangest scenes that Danny has ever walked in on.

“Hey, guess what,” Stiles says, as soon as he notices Danny, “I’m not grounded anymore.”

“Congratulations, that’ll change so much about your everyday life.” Danny shoots Julia a glare as he speaks, and she holds up her hands.

“You said not to say anything embarrassing. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. So, silence.”

Stiles stands, shaking his head. “I was thinking you were trying to kill me with your mind.”

“Sorry, no superhero powers here.” She grins. It’s terrifying. Danny is seriously starting to be afraid of his little sister. “It was good meeting you, Stiles. Next time you decide to break curfew with my brother, can you give us a little something more to gossip about than what flavor of ice cream you both had?”

Stiles turns red. It would be hilarious if Danny’s entire consciousness wasn’t focused on wanting to kill Julia.

He reaches for Stiles’s wrist and drags him toward the door. “We’re going running now. If you never talk again I’ll buy you Starbucks every day for the rest of the summer.”

“Tempting, Daniel, but I cannot be bought that easily,” she calls after them.

“Your sister is scary,” Stiles tells him, as they stop at the end of the walkway to do some quick stretches.

“I think she’s been taking lessons from Lydia. It’s literally the worst thing that could have happened in my life.”

Stiles reaches his arms behind his head, pulling his shoulders back. “And that is saying something, considering your recent supernatural-related adventures.”

“Right?”

They start off on their run, Danny leading the way because the streets in this part of town are more unfamiliar to Stiles, allowing the fast pace they’ve set to prevent conversation for a while. Danny is pretty sure that what Julia had said about gossip is still sticking in Stiles’s head the way it is in his, and he’s also pretty sure that Stiles wants to discuss it about as much as he does, which is to say not really at all.

After the silence has stretched so long between them that even Danny is starting to feel uncomfortable with it, he asks, “What’s on the agenda for your first day of freedom?”

Stiles shakes his head, taking a few more breaths before responding. “I didn’t really have any plans.”

“Not going to go sit out in front of the sheriff’s office and wave at everyone who passes you?”

“Definitely not.” Stiles breathes out a laugh. “My dad would probably be confused enough by that to sit me down and a have a talk, which is something I’m decidedly not interested in participating in.”

Danny nods. “Want to stay at my place after the run, then?”

“Yeah, sure.” Stiles is grinning, Danny can hear it in his voice.

It becomes a thing. They go for runs, take hurried showers, and then hang out at whichever house they started out at until the afternoon, sometimes early evening. After a week Danny’s got clothes in both his room and Stiles’s, and one of Stiles’s sports bag is kicked behind his bedroom door. He really only notices it when the door is shut, but Julia gives him a narrow-eyed look the first time she sees it.

“He’s basically moved in,” she informs him. “You should probably just make it official. Even Dad’s starting to ask me about him. Although I don’t know why the entire world thinks that I have the answers to all questions regarding your private life. Like, seriously, why will they not ask you?”

“Because I’ll never tell them what they want to hear, and that’s all you ever tell people. Aside from me.”

“Oh, come on. I’m telling you right now: Stiles Stilinski wants you badly. I have it on good authority. And that is definitely what you want to hear.”

Danny twists around in his chair, raises an eyebrow. “Who’d you hear that from?”

Julia shrugs. “Doesn’t matter, it’s totally true.”

Danny drops his head to his desk and shakes it. Julia makes a considering noise behind him.

“You really like him, don’t you?” Her tone is softer, more like it used to be, before she hit high school and painstakingly learned deflection and sarcasm.

Danny nods his head, feeling the spiral binding of a notebook bump against the skin of his forehead.

“And you’re, what? Afraid he doesn’t like you back? Because, seriously, Danny, you cannot be that blind.”

“He likes me back. I know that.”

“So? You have a problem, what is it?”

“There’s a lot going on. In Stiles’s life, in mine.” At least, he realizes, lifting his head a little, he and Stiles are no longer in entirely separate circles. He doesn’t really care what people like Ian and Britta and all of the others his sister’s been hanging out with this summer think. He and Stiles have friends in common, and they’re all tied together by something pretty unshakeable—at least he knows he would never need to explain Stiles to people who matter. Everyone who matters realized that Stiles was important even before Danny did. “I don’t want to complicate things.”

“Daniel.” He looks at Julia. Her dark eyes are narrowed at him, her arms crossed, her lower lip sticking out a little. “You are in high school. You are a teenager. Life is meant to be complicated right now. This is when you start figuring stuff out.”

Danny bites on his right index finger to stop the hysterical laughter that bursts up at that. Life isn’t meant to be complicated the way his life is, he doesn’t think. Julia raises her eyebrows. “Seriously? Danny, what the hell is wrong with you?”

“Nothing, it’s just—Stiles hasn’t done this before.”

“So? Just don’t be an ass to him. It is not that hard.”

What if it is, though? What if Stiles pisses him off—because Stiles can, because Stiles does, because sometimes he is an obnoxious little bastard—and what if Danny reverts to treating him the way he did before the start of this summer? He knows Stiles well enough to know that that would hurt him, even if he didn’t make it obvious. And what if—and this is likely, too, weirdly likely—what if Stiles chooses the wolves over him? What if he decides Danny isn’t in it enough, what if he decides Danny shouldn’t be in it? Will he just abandon him—temporarily or otherwise?

“What if it is, though?” he asks Julia, because he has to know.

“Hard to not be an ass?” Julia cocks her head at him. “You’re usually not, you know. Most people like you because you’re nice.”

“I’m nice compared to Jackson,” Danny corrects.

“Don’t,” she holds up a palm, a scribble of pen blurred across it, a phone number, he imagines, and that makes him feel dead old, “don’t even start with that. You are good, and nice, and kind, most of the time.”

Danny looks at her for a long moment. She shifts from one foot to the other, sticks her hands in her pockets. She’s still little, he reminds himself. She’s still his younger sister. She doesn’t know everything. But she might be right about this, maybe, because most of the time when he’s with Stiles he just wants to figure him out, and when he figures something out and is disappointed by it—by the fact that Stiles’s derision for Jackson hides nothing more than more derision—Danny doesn’t want anything more than to find something else out about Stiles, something that he likes. And he always does. He’ll be pissed or disappointed one second, and then next he’ll be impressed or happy or relieved, because Stiles pisses him off sometimes but he never stays that way.

“So what do you think I should do?” Danny asks Julia.

“Kiss him, is my suggestion. Preferably before you get all sweaty from your run, or after you shower—unless you’re into that?” Julia waves her hands around, turning on her toe in his doorway. “You know what, I really don’t want to know. Please just, don’t ever say anything to me about this ever again. Go get him, leave me out of it, etcetera etcetera.”

“You’re all right, Julia.”

She’s already down the hall, but he’s pretty sure she hears him.

:::

Scott sends out a mass text that night, declaring a pack meeting at his place. Stiles picks Danny up, even though it’s not at all on his way, and he sits in the driver’s seat, left hand tense on the steering wheel, resting his right hand against his lips during the long stretches that he doesn’t need to shift, chewing at his fingertips. Danny tries not to notice any of this, because it makes his stomach twist.

“Dude, what’s going on? You’re acting weird,” he finally asks, because he hasn’t seen Stiles this nervous in ages.

“I don’t know, I don’t know, sorry, seriously.”

“What?” Danny turns in his seat, undoing his seatbelt, knowing that if Stiles were at all himself he’d be upset by the undoing of the seat belt, because he is still a cop’s kid, murder and werewolves aside, but Stiles doesn’t yell at him because he’s staring straight ahead, barely paying attention to Danny, and that’s not normal.

“Scott’s selling this like a pack meeting, but it’s just a cookout, and his mom’s gonna be there, and he invited everyone, and it’s just—damn,” Stiles slams his palms against the steering wheel and lets out a tense laugh, “he’s normalizing it.”

Danny ducks his chin. “Normalizing?” he repeats.

“Yes. Normalizing.” Stiles lets his foot off the gas a little, Danny can feel it in the way the Jeep slows as they take a corner. “We’ll get there, and Mrs. McCall and Isaac and probably Derek will be grilling steaks, and Scott will be trying to get Erica to help him chop vegetables, and Boyd and Allison will be doing things like, like setting the table and washing dishes, and Lydia and Jackson will be directing things, and it will be—it will be normal, except for how everyone’s a werewolf and Mrs. McCall knows.”

Danny reaches a hesitant hand out to touch Stiles’s shoulder. Stiles glances at him, gaze sharp and quick, and then he turns his eyes back to the road and Danny drops his hand, feeling awkward.

“What?” Stiles waits for the silence to grow tight before he asks. “What was that look for?”

Danny thinks Stiles probably thought he looked pitying. It’s probably true. “Scott’s just trying to make this into a real friendship. Not just pack, not just life or death. He wants it to be something better, something that’s good for everyone, that works for everyone.” Except Peter, Danny reminds himself, because occasionally he needs to remind himself that there is an undead werewolf in this equation, one he hasn’t met yet. “That’s not the problem. You shouldn’t have a problem with Scott wanting all of you, all of us, to be friends. You really don’t, do you?”

He doesn’t expect Stiles to respond, and so is neither surprised nor disappointed by Stiles’s continued unnatural silence. His hands tighten on the steering wheel, though, Danny watches as his fingers whiten around the black cover.

“But Scott’s mom is going to be there.” Stiles shakes his head as Danny pauses, and then he flicks on his signal and the Jeep rolls to a stop on the shoulder. Late afternoon sunlight falls through the leaves of the trees that hang over the road, drawing webbed shadows on Stiles’s hands.

“No one’s ever told me I can’t tell my dad.” He says the words fast, like they’re meaningless, unimportant. Like he’s said them to himself so much they don’t matter anymore.

“So why don’t you?”

Stiles shakes his head, still looking out the windshield, not at Danny. “I don’t trust him.”

Danny blinks. He had not been expecting that.

“No, that’s not it, really.” Stiles is back to talking fast, back to talking like he’s got so many words they won’t fit in his mouth. “I don’t trust him to trust me enough to understand that I actually know what I’m doing for once. You know? This is, this is me and Scott and Derek and Erica and you. This is all of us. It’s not about whether or not the adults approve, no one needs to approve, because we do what we need to to take care of whatever shit’s going down. And,” he drums his palms flat against the steering wheel, high-energy slaps that leave the car humming, “you said I’m good at this. You meant that, right? You meant that I’m actually good at taking care of things.”

“You’re superb.” Danny thinks that word should come out sarcastic. He thinks he should be embarrassed when it doesn’t. He isn’t.

“So I won’t tell my dad for selfish reasons. Even though it might help in his job. Even though it might help him be safer just as much as it might make things more dangerous for him. I don’t want to lose this.”

“That makes sense.” Danny looks out the side window instead of looking at Stiles. “And, you know, even if you’re not doing it for necessarily the right reasons, it still might be the right thing.”

“Right,” Stiles doesn’t sound like he agrees, but Danny won’t push it. Stiles drops his hand to the gearshift, and Danny watches as he pulls them back onto the road. He can’t think of much but Stiles’s hands and the way he touches everything, like it’s not real until he’s held it.

“Do you want to skip tonight?” he asks, instead of telling Stiles that he wants his hands on him, instead of telling Stiles that he thinks he’s ready, instead of asking Stiles whether he’d understand if Danny kissed him now, whether he’d know that he means it.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, but he’s still driving towards Scott’s.

“Seriously, Stiles. We don’t need to go. You text Scott, I’ll text Jackson, say we can’t make it. We don’t need to explain ourselves. We don’t need to do anything.”

Stiles glances at him. “I want to take you up on that. Really badly, I do. But Scott—I can’t do that to him right now.”

“Why not now?” Danny asks. They’re on Scott’s road. He’s pretty sure they’ll be within hearing distance of the wolves soon, although the rumbling of Stiles’s Jeep will probably block much of what they’re saying.

Stiles shrugs, a full-body movement. “Something’s off. He put a lot of effort into planning this, I’m not gonna be the one to fuck it up.” He grins at Danny, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.

Danny thinks about what Jackson said about jealousy as he and Stiles get out of the Jeep and go around to the back of the Scott’s house, where, just like Stiles guessed, Isaac and Derek and Mrs. McCall are standing over a grill, arguing about the best way to cook steak. It’s surreal.

The whole night is actually surreal, and what Stiles had been saying about Scott wanting to make everything normal makes a lot more sense. Normal seems a lot stranger after he’s watched Derek pick corn out from between his front teeth with a finger, after he’s heard Isaac and Jackson get into a serious argument over whether it’s worse to overcook or undercook your meat, after Lydia and Allison and Mrs. McCall gang up on him and Jackson and get them to wash the dishes. The only technically abnormal thing about the whole night (even if the whole thing feels really fucking abnormal, if Danny’s honest about it) is the way Scott and Stiles are not speaking to each other.

Mrs. McCall spends a good five minutes quizzing Stiles on where he’s been all summer, Stiles going evasive and talking into his plate, mumbling about groundings and running, and Scott sinks further and further into his chair the more they talk. They nod at each other when they both reach for the bowl of macaroni salad at the same time, neither of them taking it, the awkwardness stretching until Erica reaches in and takes some for herself, passing the bowl to Stiles when she’s done, who gives it to Derek, who gives it to Scott. Lydia says something to Stiles about how she’s excited to see how Danny and he do in cross country, and Scott shoots her a look that seems almost challenging. The whole thing feels like a mess. Danny wants to shake both of them until they realize that whatever they’re doing is really childish. Like middle school, except he, like everyone else in Beacon Hills, knows that Scott and Stiles never fought in middle school.

Jackson goes silent while he and Danny are at the sink, taking the rinsed glasses Danny hands him and placing them so carefully in the top rack of the dishwasher that they don’t make any noise. Danny nudges him with his shoulder, and Jackson jerks his head toward the side, toward the screen door. If Danny narrows his eyes, he can just make out the shapes of Scott and Stiles, standing at the very edge of the dim light thrown across the back deck from the kitchen.

Danny raises his eyebrows at Jackson, who nods, like that’s an answer, and reaches for the next glass.

When Scott and Stiles come back inside, they’re both shuffling their feet a little, and Scott refuses to look at either Danny or Jackson. Stiles glances at Danny fast and then away, cheeks red, and Danny has no idea what’s going on, but Scott and Stiles are talking to each other normally again, so that, at least, is an improvement.

Derek leaves first, and soon after Erica and Boyd trail out, Erica gripping onto Boyd’s hand. Allison leaves, and then Jackson and Lydia share a significant look and get up. “Come on,” Lydia says to Danny.

But Stiles reaches out and grabs onto Danny’s wrist. “No, I’m taking him home.”

“It’s on our way,” Lydia points out.

“It was for you to bring him, too,” Stiles replies.

Jackson nods at Stiles, a strange and sort of polite bow of his head, and wraps an arm around Lydia’s waist. “See you losers later.” He doesn’t specify that Danny isn’t a loser, which makes Danny feel good, for some reason. Like he’s been lumped with Stiles (and Scott and Isaac, but whatever) and that’s a good thing.

Stiles stands after the lights from Jackson’s Porsche sweep across the windows. “I’ll text you tomorrow,” he tells Scott, and Scott chucks a pillow after them, which is weird but, finally, not unusual.

Stiles doesn’t say anything until they’re at the stop sign at the end of Scott’s road. “My dad’s working tonight,” he says, and it means something, the way he says it. “Want to stay over?”

“Yeah.” There’s not really much to say, after that, and Stiles takes the few streets between his house and Scott’s as Danny tugs his phone out of his pocket and texts his mom to let her know he’s staying at a friend’s house. He says it just like that. She texts him back, a simple Be safe, and he’s sure he has reasons to resent his parents, but he legitimately can’t think of any at the moment.

They don’t talk at all as they get out of the Jeep and Stiles unlocks his door, and they head through the house to Stiles’s bedroom. They don’t say anything in the doorway to Stiles’s room, or as Danny leans against the wall by the desk and Stiles opens dresser drawers noisily.

Danny thinks about what Julia said earlier. “Did Scott think I was being an ass to you?”

Stiles starts, jerking around from his drawers with a t-shirt in one hand and a pair of socks in the other. “No?” Danny raises his eyebrows. “Well, sort of. He said I didn’t understand what was going on. He said that if I didn’t understand what was going on then I should probably start hanging out with him again. He said a lot of stuff. I think he was,” Stiles rolls his lip between his teeth, “jealous? Which is dumb, because he picked Isaac first.”

Danny wants to address that last part, but he wants to address the first part more. “Do you understand what’s going on?” he asks, and Stiles releases his lip, his mouth falling open a little.

“Yeah,” Stiles’s voice is rough. He’s never sounded that way before, and it hits Danny right in the gut.

When they kiss, because it takes only tiny seconds for Danny to get from Stiles’s desk to Stiles’s place by the dresser, when they kiss, it’s hot and messy, lips and teeth and tongue. It’s loud, because Stiles moans like he’s got something crazy in him. Danny wants his hands everywhere, but he wants Stiles’s hands everywhere more, and they’re just settled on the small of his back, like he’s something precious, not to be undone yet, and he bites at Stiles’s lower lip because he can.

They don’t do much that first night. Or, they do a lot of kissing. They push each other into Stiles’s bed and web around each other. Danny doesn’t let his hands drift under Stiles’s shirt, because Stiles’s hands stay firmly on cotton, not even moving over denim. He’s not sure what it is that’s setting up boundaries for them—he trusts Stiles enough to want him to touch every bit of him. He wants Stiles everywhere.

But while Stiles’s hands are hesitant, his mouth is open and wanting and wet, and Danny pushes into that, takes everything he can from Stiles’s lips, and when they finally drift into a tired and hazy tangle, Stiles’s mouth finds a place on Danny’s neck and stays there. And so the slowness of his hands, the softness with which he touches the hem and collar of Danny’s t-shirt, that seeming reluctance is completely belied by the urgency of his mouth. Danny hasn’t done this in a long time, this learning thing, this kissing thing. He hasn’t met someone outside of Jungle in so long that he’s forgotten if he ever even knew the way this sort of thing feels. He knows that Stiles isn’t just looking for sex, and neither is he, and that, somehow, has completely undone everything Danny thought he knew about relationships, about love and lust.

His hand is tucked beneath Stiles’s shirt when he wakes up, hot against the smoothness of Stiles’s back, going there in their sleep when he respected boundaries awake, but Stiles doesn’t seem to care. They roll away from each other, limbs tight and uncoordinated, and Stiles rubs at the back of his neck and Danny scrubs a little at the spot of dried spit on his throat, and then Stiles says, “Run?” and Danny nods, says, “Then breakfast?” and everything is back to normal, except it’s all a little better.

Danny is surprised to come home after the run and the breakfast and a little more soft maple syrupy kissing to find his room empty. He had thought that Julia would be sitting on his bed, ready to taunt him about spending the night at Stiles’s, because of course she’d have assumed that’s where he was.

But she’s not there. The house is empty, both his parents off at work, Julia somewhere, and he finds himself with a lot of time to overthink.

He’s into round two of what if it’s just a friends with benefits thing would that be bad should it be something more or should we start off there or should I call Stiles or how much, really, has changed, when Lydia texts him.

How was your night last night? she asks, and he turns bright red without anyone there to see him blush, turns bright red even though nothing happened except kissing, turns bright red even though he is not the blushing type, except, apparently, where Stiles is concerned. He got his first kiss at fourteen from a seventeen year-old at a lacrosse party he and Jackson snuck into, a senior who had no idea that he was just an incoming freshman. He got his first hand job that same year, first blowjob the year after, first time with someone inside him when he was still fifteen, just barely, after a really terrible series of tequila shots and poor life choices, from a man who kissed his shoulders when he came and made it—if not good, if not right, if not what Danny would have wanted when sober—then all right, he made it okay.

Danny is not a blusher, and he’s blushing at a fairly innocent question with a mostly innocent answer. There’s more insinuated in his silence than there will be when he texts back, Good. We kissed. A lot. so he lets the question hang unanswered while his blush fades.

When he finally does respond to Lydia, she makes him wait a good fifteen minutes for a reaction, and then she sends a Finally. The sexual tension was literally painful to witness, and Danny turns his phone off so he can go back to freaking out about what this means in peace.

It occurs to him sometime in the mid-afternoon that Stiles may be having just as much of a crisis as he is. Possibly more of one, considering that Danny is fairly certain Stiles has never done anything before. He’s actually pretty sure Stiles believed that he was straight up until at least their freshman year, and so this may be even more confusing for him.

He turns his phone back on and finds a few missed texts from Jackson, congratulating him and then begging him not to give any details, one from Derek saying that they’re having a pack meeting (an actual one, not a cookout) in two nights, and one from Stiles, just saying, Text me when you get the chance.

He calls instead.

“What’s up?”

Stiles’s intake of breath is enough to bring the night before back in full force, and Danny wishes he’d never left Stiles’s house that afternoon.

“So I’ve been thinking,” Stiles says, after a few seconds of them breathing into each other’s ears, “and I know it’s probably not cool to admit that or whatever but you know me, I think, and you also know that this is, like, super new territory for me. We’re talking uncharted, so.”

“Stiles,” Danny tries to interrupt, but Stiles’s voice keeps boiling.

“Are we actually doing something here? I mean, like, obviously we did something, but are we going to continue doing…that? I know I told you that I understood what was going on and I did, I sort of did, I did enough to know that last night was in the cards, but is it still in them?”

Danny thinks about asking what Stiles wants. But he’s not sure if Stiles will tell him, and he’s not sure if he’ll believe him if he does. So he says, “I want it to be.”

“You do?” Stiles’s voice is tentative.

“Do you?” Danny is impatient, suddenly, and he knows that that’s unfair. But he had left Stiles’s house feeling confident, and something in the last six hours has thrown both he and Stiles into mirroring pits of self-doubt, and that is really unacceptable. And he knows it’s because this is so new, so unexpected—well, not recently. Recently, he’d expected it. But the newness is making it all seem shaky, when he and Stiles, well, they’re really not all that shaky at all.

“Well, yeah. Obviously.”

“What do you mean, obviously?” Danny sits still, listens to Stiles breathe on the other end, thinks about all the ways Stiles could answer that question.

“Danny, I’ve been falling over you all summer. I will take almost whatever you want to give me.”

“Almost?” Danny fixes on that word. “Say we say we’re dating. Is that something you’ll take?”

It sounds like Stiles’s lungs empty in one breath. “That,” he says, “that I will definitely take. No question.”

“All right, then.”

“All right,” Stiles agrees.

Chapter Text

Kissing just after running is gross. They both smell like sweat and cut grass and dirt, and Danny has a tiny caterpillar stuck in his hair that Stiles catches with his fingers as he runs his hand against Danny’s scalp, lips eager even as he snatches his hand back and scrubs caterpillar juice on Danny’s already nasty t-shirt.

Gross.

“We could shower,” Danny suggests, and Stiles goes bright red. Danny coughs. “I meant, separately? Like usual.”

“Oh.” Stiles rubs his foot against the tile of his kitchen and stares at his grass-stained sock a minute before saying, “Probably a good idea.”

“Stiles,” Danny begins, but Stiles just looks at him, eyes bright, cheeks still a little red, and Danny has no idea where he wants to say, so he just shrugs. “I’ll go first?” Stiles nods, turns away and gets himself another glass of water.

Kissing just after showering is much better. Stiles’s hair is wet and Danny’s is still damp, and they both smell like Stiles’s soap and shampoo. They’re lying on Stiles’s bed. Stiles is straddling Danny, hands wrapped around his sides as he leans down, like he’s holding Danny together, and when Danny presses against Stiles’s shirt the blue fabric darkens, sticks closely to his skin because Stiles threw on his clothes without fully drying off first. It is really absurd how much Danny wants all of this, over and over and forever.

“Stop thinking,” Stiles says into his mouth, and then his hands skirt under the hem of Danny’s t-shirt, fingers brush just barely against the skin above his jeans, and Danny presses up into him, shoulders lifting off the bed as he tries to get as close as possible to Stiles.

He doesn’t leave until late that day, when the sun’s all the way behind Stiles’s house and his lips feel tender and Stiles looks flushed and wrecked, even though Danny never even got his shirt all the way off. It drives him crazy, thinking about how Stiles will look when he’s all the way gone.

He distracts himself, thinking about it. He goes to Derek’s the next night impatient to see Stiles, even though they ran in the morning and spent the early afternoon in Danny’s backyard. Danny’s barely thinking about the alphas and all the dangerous games he and his friends are playing—he’s barely got room to think about that, because of the amount of thought Stiles’s hands and mouth and body take up.

The Jeep’s not there when he gets to Derek’s. He considers waiting for Stiles before he goes inside, but Lydia taps on the glass of his window almost as soon as he pulls his key from the ignition. He climbs out a little warily, but she just cocks her head at him, standing on tiptoe a little to brush a kiss against his cheek.

“I hear you’re happy,” is all she says, taking his hand and leading him into Derek’s already crowded apartment.

Scott jerks his head around when he walks in, and a tall man who Danny’s never seen before, standing by the entrance to the kitchen, lets out a rough laugh. “Your pack is like singles night, Derek. Soon it’ll only be you. Unless you’ve got someone in mind?”

Derek, coming out of the kitchen with his hands full of bags of chips and pretzels, growls. He nods at Danny, puts the food down and makes an abortive gesture across the space of the living room. “Danny, this is my uncle Peter. Peter, Danny.”

Danny steels himself and says, “Hey,” before sitting next to Scott on the couch. Scott bumps his shoulder, like everything’s forgiven between them, and maybe it is. At least, it is in the face of undead werewolves.

There’s something off about Peter. Danny hopes that he would have seen it even if he hadn’t known the man’s backstory. His eyes seem a little dazed, a little less focused than most people’s. Like he’s not entirely there.

“Where’s Stiles?” Isaac reaches over Scott to snag a bag of chips from the table.

“Not sure,” Danny answers. “I texted him to see if he wanted a ride, but he said he was all set.”

Erica shifts and pulls out her phone, lighting it up. “He’s ten minutes late, can we start without him?”

"It’s sort of,” Derek begins, but then catches the expression on her face, her lip tucked between her teeth, her eyes wide as she watches him, “Yeah, I guess. We can catch him up.”

"Did you and Isaac meet with the alphas?” Lydia is perched on the arm of the chair. Peter’s behind her, watching them all from his position by the kitchen, and Jackson is leaning against the wall beside him, splitting his attention between the back of Lydia’s head and shooting sideways looks at Peter. Danny can’t bring himself to look away from Jackson. He hasn’t seen him this tense in months, not since he was, by all credible accounts, a giant murderous lizard.

He’s so focused on the strange tension between Jackson and Peter and Lydia—a tension which only Jackson seems fully aware of—that he almost misses Derek’s response to Lydia’s question.

“It wasn’t very successful,” Derek is saying when he tears his gaze away from Jackson. “They were not interested in negotiating." 

“Are you sure it wasn’t your method of negotiation that made them disinterested?” Peter’s voice is soft. It gets under Danny’s skin, and, judging from the way his hands tighten into fists, it gets under Derek’s, too. 

“They barely let us speak, just said, ‘Get out.’” Isaac leans forward, resting his chin in his hands. “We said no, of course, and the girl launched herself at us. We had to get out then, before it turned into a bloodbath.”

“What’s plan b, again?” Stiles speaks from the door, and although none of the wolves look surprised to see him, Peter does shift forward a little. Jackson lets out a low growl as soon as Stiles speaks, but it doesn’t seem directed at him.

“We hadn’t really come up with one,” Allison admits.

Erica’s sitting on her hands, her head resting against Boyd’s. She has her eyes shut.

“We probably should, then.” Stiles doesn’t move from the door. He falls back against the wall, crosses his arms, and stares across the room at Peter. “What’re you doing here?” 

“Stiles.” Derek sounds tired.

“Derek wanted to know if I knew anything about alpha packs. I don’t know much, but I imagine I know more than you. For all you’re trying to turn your pack into one, apparently.” He’s staring at Erica, and she shrinks into Boyd like she can feel his gaze on her.

“Don’t,” Boyd growls.

Stiles waves his hands. “Yeah, fine. Great. Why couldn’t you share your intel with Derek not on pack time? No one wants you here.”

“Stiles,” Derek repeats. There’s even less force behind his name this time.

“I don’t think,” Peter leans forward and Jackson shifts towards him, just a little, “that Derek likes spending time with me alone. Safety in numbers, as they say.” His mouth opens in a grin that shows off his canines, and Danny moves a little closer to Scott.  

“You’re not a threat,” Stiles scoffs, and he sounds almost confident. “You’re just an asshole. And a nuisance. If you don’t have anything useful to tell us regarding alpha packs, why don’t you get the fuck out?”

“I never said I didn’t have anything useful. I just said I didn’t know much.”

Derek makes a low noise that vibrates through the room; he’s put his whole body behind it. “What do you know?”

Peter blinks. “Calm down, kid. It’s not that interesting. Just.” He cocks his head, gaze still on Stiles. Danny has never felt tension like this, like any moment the air could snap and the wolves would be on each other. “It’s relevant, I guess. They negotiate with humans.”

“They negotiate with humans,” Derek parrots. “What the hell does that even mean?"

“It means that if you’d been smart enough to send in two of your pets, the alphas would have talked to them. Not that it would necessarily have gone any better. But at least words would have been exchanged.”

“How do you even know that? It seems pretty arbitrary.” Allison moves forward from her place beside Isaac, twisting so she’s facing Peter.

"It’s not, though.” Stiles has his head tilted up, examining Derek’s ceiling. He’s speaking slowly, for him, which is still about as fast as most people talk normally. “Because other werewolves are threats—alphas because of their strength, betas because these alphas probably think that every beta wants to be an alpha, and therefore wants to kill an alpha. Omegas don’t have packs to negotiate for. Humans, though. If they come in empty handed, they can do nothing. If these alphas have trust issues, then humans speaking on behalf of a pack—yeah, that makes sense.”

“What good could you do, though?” Jackson spits. “Say Danny and Lydia walk into their campsite and start talking. What does that do?" 

“They reach an agreement.” Stiles waves a hand. “It’ll be easy.”

“And if they decide to bite?” Derek asks.

“Scott fought Peter. So whoever goes fights them. If Lydia went, she’d be fine. She’s immune.” 

“And if they decide to kill?” 

“We stay alive,” Lydia says. “It’s really not that complicated. We should have done this from the start.”

“Seems like it could be complicated,” Jackson argues.

“We’ll go tomorrow,” Lydia ignores him.

Peter makes a noise. “As admirable as your eagerness is, Lydia, I think you’re forgetting to take something into account.”

“And what is that?” Stiles voice snaps the words out.

"They only accept one negotiation. They won’t be so easy to find for a second one.”

“If they only negotiate with humans, how does what Isaac and Derek did even count?”

“Sorry, I should have said, they only peaceably negotiate with humans.”

“So we scent them out.” Scott shrugs. “Not hard.”

“You lost me for months.” Erica’s voice is soft. The room goes quiet for a few minutes, letting Erica’s words settle.

Stiles breaks the silence. “They left, when they got you. Didn’t they? They left but then they came back, so obviously they want something more. They won’t let us lose them this time. It’s different, this time.”

“But is that good?” Erica asks, and no one has an answer.

They leave soon after, no one able to come up with a solution that won’t result in bloodshed, no one wanting to stick around if Peter’s there. And he stays until they start moving toward the parking lot, lingering in the open doorway to say something to Derek that makes all the wolves exchange glances.

Scott turns around when Peter leaves, grabs onto Erica’s hand as she’s about to climb into Boyd’s truck, and pulls her back toward Derek’s apartment. The others continue getting into their cars as if nothing’s going on, so Danny follows Stiles to the Jeep, shooting occasional glances at the door, which Scott had shut behind him and Erica.

There’s a good foot of space between him and Stiles, and Stiles is looking at his face, his eyebrows slightly, unconsciously, raised. The expression is unsure, like he’s waiting on something.

Danny steps forward and rests his hands on Stiles’s hips, half on his t-shirt over skin, half on the t-shirt over jeans, and leans in to press a light kiss against Stiles’s barely parted lips. “What’re you up to now?” Danny asks, when Stiles sighs out. He steps back an inch.

“My dad’s home.” Stiles rubs a hand against the back of his neck. Danny’s hands are still on Stiles, and he presses his thumbs in, trying to make the moment stick. “I think,” Stiles begins, then shifts forward and rests his forehead against Danny’s. He stays silent for long enough that Danny thinks that might have been his cue to say something, but then Stiles continues, “I think I might try to talk to him.”

“About?” Danny prompts after Stiles waits a few beats, as if expecting a reaction.

Stiles steps back and Danny’s hands slip away. He tucks them in his back pockets, not looking away from Stiles’s face, the wry expression he can make out in the light from the streetlights around them.

“You, I guess? If that’s all right?”

Danny’s family probably already knows about Stiles, probably supposed something was going on long before something actually was, because of Julia. He can’t imagine sitting down and having that conversation with them, the one that starts off with “I’m seeing someone,” and continues with, “His name is.” He can’t imagine the surprise that might be inherent in that conversation. He’d never had to do that, not really. His coming out to his family was much less of a revelation than an affirmation.

“Of course it’s all right,” is all Danny tells him. Then, because Stiles still doesn’t look entirely satisfied, adds, “I want him to know.”

"Okay, then.” Stiles fumbles behind him for the door to the Jeep, and Danny reaches out, stops him with a hand to his shoulder.

“Do you want me to come?”

Stiles shakes his head. “No, I want—I need to talk to him, just me. I’ll call you when it’s over?”

Danny nods, squeezes Stiles’s shoulder and crosses to where he parked a little down the lot from Derek’s apartment. He sits in the car until Stiles’s headlights cut through his back window, and then reverses out of his parking spot.

He drives home without putting on any music, sitting in the silence of the car, the air conditioning blowing loud enough to block out the hiss of his tires over the road, and he thinks over the feeling of Peter’s gaze on him, and the way Stiles had waited for him after, and the way Stiles had looked at him, before he said that he wanted him to tell his dad, like this thing—this actual thing that they have actually talked about—is still so fragile that it might go nowhere. He doesn’t think about the alphas. He doesn’t want to.

Julia is sitting in the living room when he gets home, watching a Lifetime movie and eating out of a Ben & Jerry’s container.

Danny stops in the doorway. “Did you break up with somebody?”

Julia glances over her shoulder at him, spoon in her mouth, and shakes her head. She plucks the spoon out. “No, why?”

He shrugs, hesitating a moment before crossing the room and perching on the edge of the couch. “Ice cream, shitty TV movie, in your pajamas at ten at night?”

“I just felt like it.” Julia waves the hand holding the ice cream container. A drop of condensation rolls from the cardboard bottom and lands on the couch, darkening the blue of the cushion. Danny presses his fingertip against it.

"So.” Julia reaches over and mutes the TV. There’s something dramatic going on onscreen, a teenage girl screaming in her bedroom, mascara running black down her cheeks. “I haven’t seen you around the past couple of days. You took my advice, right?”

“When do I ever not take your advice?”

“So you and Stilinski are dating?” Julia prompts. “Or is it just a fuck buddies thing?”

“Julia.” Danny’s tone is warning, but warm, too, and Julia grins at him. “Language.”

“A bit hypocritical of you, seeing as how you’re the one who taught me that word.”

And quite probably every other swear word in existence. It was one of Danny’s weaker periods, and definitely not something he feels like discussing right now, when his parents could come into the room at any moment. He can hear the sound of TV coming down the hall from their bedroom. “We’re dating,” he answers, and her grin widens.

“Good for you.” She reaches out, pats him on the shoulder, and unmutes the TV. He sits with her, cringing at the acting and Julia’s reactions to it, occasionally checking his phone for Stiles’s call.

It doesn’t come until the end credits are rolling. He answers as he's taking the stairs two at a time, still feeling his sister’s curious gaze on his back.

“Hey, how’d it go?” He shuts the door to his room and locks it just in case, falling on his bed as Stiles responds.

“Okay? I think? I mean, he was good about it. Said you’re a nice kid. I think he was relieved I wasn’t, like, bringing home Isaac or Derek.” Danny snorts, and Stiles hums in acknowledgment. “Yeah, so that was good. He wasn’t even that surprised, I don’t think. Guess the fact that you’ve been around all summer was sort of a tip off.”

“You’re welcome,” Danny says, knowing as he says it that it’s not exactly the right response, and Stiles’s silence confirms that. “Sorry. So what part left you not all right?” Because Stiles sounds hesitant, a little faulty, like he doesn’t exactly trust his voice.

Stiles makes a noise like he’s frustrated. “After I told him about the whole you thing, the whole bi thing, he asked if this was what I’d been hiding from him all year.”

“Oh.” Danny stares straight up at his ceiling. “What’d you say?” Because it would have been an easy out. Not an out for the future, maybe, not for all the secrets they will have, not for the lies still coming, but for the past, at least. And Danny knows Stiles wants one of those badly.

“I said it wasn’t.” Stiles sounds surprised. “I can’t believe I said it wasn’t.”

Danny releases a breath. “What’d he say?”

“He got all sad again, asked me whether I was going to ever tell him what that was. I said he’d find out eventually.”

“And he just let you go?”

“Yeah. Got up and patted me on the head and told me to go to bed.”

“Jesus.”

“I know. So, anyway, guess that’s done. I should go. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“At seven,” Danny promises before ending the call. He shuts his eyes, and hopes he never has to lie to his parents the way Stiles has his dad.

Except that he supposes he is, just by knowing about all of this. He guesses his lies aren’t as noticeable because he hasn’t gotten his hands dirty. Yet. He wonders when he will. He thinks they’ll notice, when he comes home with scratches down his sides and a split lip.

There’s no possibility that that won’t happen. He’s in this. He’ll end up bloody, one way or another.

:::

Stiles’s dad is on night shift when Stiles calls Danny and says without preamble, “We’re going to Jungle.”

“We are not going to Jungle.”

“Come on, Danny. I’ve never been there on not-pack-duty. I think I’d like it.”

“I think you would, too. Maybe when we go through our mid-relationship breakup because you can’t believe you tied yourself down to me, then you can go to Jungle. I’m not really interested in watching 25 year-old men try to grind on you.”

Stiles doesn’t say anything for a minute, and Danny realizes that the thing about the breakup, that may not have seemed as much of a joke to Stiles as he had intended it. But then Stiles says, “Please, they’ll be all over you, not me,” and he sounds normal.

“Stiles.” Danny presses his forehead against the glass of his bedroom window. “Trust me. They will be all over you.”

Stiles makes a considering noise. “Fine. No Jungle. What do you want to do, then?”

“Dinner, movie? There’s that new one with the guy from The Transporter in it. It looks horrible.”

“Like, a date?”

“We are dating, aren’t we? Why wouldn’t we go on a date? Also, what would you have called going to Jungle?”

“Dancing? In a dark room? Where the only people we know are drag queens and a few college kids?”

“Are you trying to hide that you’re seeing me, Stilinski?” Danny attempts a joking, werewolf-esque growl, but he thinks he’s starting to see where Stiles is coming from, and it makes him feel sick.

“Obviously not. You’re like the best person in this town.”

“So you think that I’m trying to hide that I’m seeing you?”

Stiles doesn’t say anything.

“Yeah, that’s definitely not happening. We are going to go out to dinner at Lou’s Diner and I know for a fact that the soccer team is going there to eat before a party at Liam’s tonight, and they are going to see us together and I will kiss you when you have curly fries in your mouth if that is what it takes to convince you that I want this just as much as you do. And then we’ll go see that terrible movie and watch people who do not actually exist get blown to bits and probably I will get so bored that I will need you to entertain me. And if you want, we can go to the party at Liam’s after and get really wasted and hook up on his parents’ really nice leather couch.”

Stiles still doesn’t say anything.

“Stiles, seriously, do you get what I’m saying?”

There’s a strangled cough from the other end “Copy,” Stiles says. “One hundred percent clear. All of that is a-okay with me. Except let’s not go to Liam’s.”

“Okay, good. It’s a date. Can you drive? I don’t have the car tonight.”

Stiles laughs, the sound worming into Danny’s ear. “Yeah, I’ll drive. Pick you up at six thirty?”

“See you then.”

There are three shiny sports cars parked outside of Lou’s when they get there, and Stiles pulls into the space beside an Audi, shaking his head.

“I would take my Jeep over one of these any day, but, damn, I’d love to drive one, just once. You’ve driven Jackson’s Porsche, haven’t you?”

“Once or twice. I was too scared about crashing it into something or getting a scratch or a bird shitting on it while I was in the driver’s seat to really appreciate it, though.”

Stiles laughs, stuffing his hands into his pockets as they approach the door. “We should gang up on Derek to let us drive the Camaro. Not that that’s the same as the Porsche, but he’d probably eviscerate us only a little if we hurt it.”

“We’d still be dead.”

“But possibly still recognizable as ourselves!” Stiles grins at him, wide, and Danny holds the door open for him and follows him into the diner. The soccer team is at two tables pushed together, in direct line of the door, and Stiles heads toward a booth on the other side of the room, so they have to pass the team, but so most of them won’t be able to see them while they’re eating.

“Danny?” Ryan half stands up from the table, waving at him. “Hey, we haven’t seen you in ages.” And then the whole table is looking at them, and Danny can feel Stiles drawing himself up beside him, apparently unconsciously preparing to throw himself into a full-bodied deflective babble. Danny reaches out and hooks his finger in a belt loop on his jeans.

“Hey, man. Yeah, it’s been sort of a crazy summer. What’re you all up to?”

“Didn’t you get the Facebook invite for Liam’s party? His parents are in New York, he’s been planning this for months.”

“Aren’t you coming? You must remember him talking about it during finals.” Alec is looking between Stiles and Danny like he doesn’t know for sure what he’s seeing. The last time Danny had seen Alec, they’d been at a house party just after school ended, and Alec had been drunk, but not that drunk, and he’d kissed Danny until Danny’s mouth burned. He steps closer to Stiles.

“I remember him mentioning it,” Danny says. “I don’t know if we’ll make it, though." 

“Well, if you want to,” Ryan shrugs, “you’re both welcome.”

“To any party, really. We miss having you around. And Jackson, and Lydia. Where’ve they been?” Erin is dating Liam, and she’s got the dubious reputation of being the biggest gossip at school. The thought of her actually missing any of them is laughable. She is definitely going to send a mass text about him and Stiles within two minutes of this conversation ending.

Danny shakes his head. “I haven’t seen much of them this summer, either,” and that’s the total truth, if his definition of “much” is the amount of time he spends with Stiles.

“Huh,” Erin sucks in her lower lip. “Well, if you see them, tell them that they need to make an appearance at at least one party before school starts again. It won’t really be summer until they do.”

“Will do,” Stiles says, and everyone looks at him. “Tell Lydia and Jackson, I mean? Because you haven’t seen them and we do? Sometimes,” he adds, because everyone’s faces are wide open and incredulous.

“Do that,” Erin instructs,  “and you be sure to come, too, Stiles. I think you could be fun.”

Stiles laughs, an awkward, nervous sound. “I have it on good authority that I am. Anyway, we should let you get back,” he waves a hand at their baskets of half-eaten burgers and scattered fries, “it was good seeing all of you.”

“You too,” Alec says for the group, his voice still a little questioning, but not unfriendly.

Danny releases Stiles’s belt loop as he follows him to the empty booth near the back. “That wasn’t too much like The Breakfast Club. Or Mean Girls. Maybe your friends aren’t as awful as I thought.”

“You were on the lacrosse team with some of them,” Danny points out. “Did you hate them then?”

“We didn’t really have much in common until the end. Benchwarmer,” Stiles gestures at himself, “actual legit lacrosse player,” he points at Danny. “But no, they weren’t horrible.” He glances at the plastic-covered menu and then says, considering, “But I was never hooking up with you before, either, so things can change. Also, Julia is going to have way more to gossip about after tonight, isn’t she?”

“She probably already does,” Danny mutters. “Erin had her phone out before we even sat down.”

“We’re really not that interesting.” Stiles puts the menu down and fiddles with the green wrapper that had been secured around his napkin.

“Apparently for all of those not in-the-know about the whole werewolf side of things, we are the most interesting thing to happen this summer.”

“That’s absurd.” Danny glances over the menu in the brief silence that follows, even though he hasn’t changed his order here since he was eight, and then Stiles continues, words rushed, “Hey, you haven’t been avoiding your friends because of me, have you? Because I will definitely go to parties with you, and if you don’t want me there, then,” he shrugs, “that sucks, but I wouldn’t, like, tag along.”

“No,” Danny says, fast and hard. “No, it’s just—none of that really seems important this year. But maybe we can go to one or two. Just to go. I don’t know, it’s just…not the same anymore. You know?”

“Yeah,” Stiles looks up from his hands, “Yeah, I know.”

The movie is as terrible as predicted, and Stiles ends up half in Danny’s lap by the end of it, curved over the armrest between them and kissing him with a tongue that’s still salty from dinner. When the final explosion brings in the end credits and the lights flicker on, the middle-aged woman who had been sitting behind them actually makes a “tsk”ing sound, and Stiles just laughs into Danny’s shoulder.

He’s never come off of a date feeling so good.

Except that when they walk out to Stiles’s car, there are two shadowed figures leaning against it.

“Shit.” Stiles has his phone out before Danny’s even recognized them as the twins. The phone is back in Stiles’s pocket by the time the alphas reach them, and Danny doesn’t even know if he had enough time to let the pack know what’s going on.

But then that doesn’t matter so much because one of the alphas has his fist drawn back and Danny’s face explodes in a burst of pain. The alpha hauls him up from the ground by the back of his shirt, dragging him around the theater to the dumpsters in the back before anyone notices them, and Stiles is making sputtering noises; he must have the other’s hand over his mouth. But Danny can’t see, because the alpha hit him just below the eye, and he’s still blinking back spots of pain.

The wolves maneuver them until they’re side by side, their backs against the rusty metal of one of the dumpsters. The minute the alpha who’s holding Stiles lets go of him, he starts talking.

“Jesus fuck.” Stiles’s voice is higher than normal, words coming fast. “What the hell was that for? Why the fuck did you hit Danny?”

“We didn’t hurt him bad,” says the one on the right and Danny can see him now, see his flashing red eyes beneath a long forehead and the way he’s rubbing at his knuckles. “We didn’t bite him.”

The one on the left nudges his brother. “We hear you went looking for us.”

Danny would look at Stiles if he didn’t think that movement would cause him more pain and possibly prompt the alpha to hit him again. Stiles waves his hand so expansively that it gets in Danny’s line of sight. “Not me,” he says, “Lydia, Allison. Not me,” he repeats to the alphas.

“Semantics,” the one on the right says.

“No, it’s really not just semantics. We didn’t go looking for you, so why did you come looking for us?”

“We wanted you to know that we will not negotiate.” The one on the left could be Ethan, he could be Aiden. Erica said she never was able to tell them apart, that they even smelled the same. She said it like it was really wrong, something very off about them.

“Great.” Stiles does jazz hands, seriously, fucking jazz hands while they’re out behind a movie theater with two alphas burning their red eyes at them, with Danny’s face already throbbing, probably well on its way to a bruise. “Have you never heard of, like, the Internet? Pretty sure you could have sent us an email to that effect. Derek’s is listed on his Facebook, for future reference. I set it up for him. Or, you know, a phone call? Or maybe you could have knocked on Derek’s door during the day and said, ‘Hey, dude, we won’t negotiate.’ That would have worked.”

Stiles’s ability to babble is really incredible. Danny’s never realized before how useful it is when they’re trying to stall, but he can feel Stiles’s fingers tapping against the metal of the dumpster behind them, like he’s counting, and he thinks that he might be trying to figure out how long before someone answers the text that he must have been able to send, because otherwise he would be trying to get them out of here. He would be trying really hard.

“You’ve got a fucking mouth on you.” The one on the left leaps for Stiles in the next second, his fist drawn back as Danny jumps forward, wanting to keep the pain he’s feeling from Stiles, trying to get his arms around the alpha’s waist, trying to bring him down before he reaches Stiles where he’s pressed flat against the dumpster.

But the alpha’s fist connects with Stiles’s jaw just as Danny is snatched out of the air by Ethan or Aiden, whichever, his arm coming up and folding around Danny’s neck, pressing tight enough against his Adam’s apple that it’s hard to swallow.

“You two,” the other one has Stiles in a matching grip, the line of Stiles’s jaw red from the force of the alpha’s punch, “are really very stupid, you know? You could throw your loyalty anywhere. Why with that pack?”

“Are you offering?” Danny asks, wheezing a little.

“If he were, would you take it?” The alphas words are soft from the way his lips catch around his canines; his tone is hard, a challenge.

“Of course not. I’m not in this for power. Obviously.” Because he has never felt more powerless.

“Would you?” The one holding Danny asks Stiles, and Stiles leans his head back against the twin’s shoulder, throat long, chin jutting up over his arm.

“No.” Stiles says, despite the submissive gesture, despite the way his hair is brushing against the side of Ethan or Aiden’s face. “Not even if you had been here back in the beginning.” He’s talking slowly, like it already hurts to move his mouth too much. Danny wants to get him home, to get ice on his jaw.

“See what we said? Stupid.”

“Not so,” Stiles answers, and then there’s the sound of growling around them, and Derek and Erica are coming from either side, running on all fours and leaping at the wolves.

The alphas release Stiles and Danny to turn to meet Erica and Derek’s attack. Stiles pulls something out of his back pocket, a bag of something, and just holds onto it, lingering on the edge of the fight.

The wolves are all growling, all in beta-form, teeth and claws out, and Danny forces himself to watch as Derek gets one of the twins in the back of his neck, throwing him into the chain link fence that lines the parking lot with a sound that can’t have gone unnoticed by anyone at the front of the theater,  but no one comes running.

Erica’s being held down by the other, and Stiles steps forward as Derek grabs onto his neck, too, and sends him to meet his brother. The alphas lie in a heap, shoulders shaking, blood running dark down their backs. Derek and Erica shift again, and Derek grabs on to Erica and Stiles, pushing them back to the well-lit portion of the lot. Danny trails behind, glancing over his shoulder at where the alphas are. They’re sitting up, rubbing at their necks. They flash their eyes at him, but they don’t stand. They don’t follow.

Erica and Stiles are leaning against the side of the Jeep, taking deep breaths. Derek’s pacing a small line in front of them. Danny falls back beside Stiles, brushing his hand against Stiles’s before sticking both of his in his pockets.

“You two have the worst luck.” Erica’s eyes are bright when she finally speaks, but her tone is even. Derek places a hand on her shoulder and raises his eyebrows at Stiles and Danny.

“Date night gone wrong? Did they say anything useful?”

Stiles kicks at a rock on the ground. “They’re not open to negotiations.”

“Beautiful,” Erica mutters.

“I thought they weren’t supposed to hurt humans?” Danny remembers what Peter said, the way he’d referred to the humans as pets. The way Stiles himself had said they weren’t a threat.

“Either they’re not playing by the rules,” Derek answers, “or that only counts if you approach them. Which I’m guessing you didn’t.”

“Not intentionally.” Stiles rubs at his jaw. “Our third option is that Peter is lying.” Derek shakes his head a quick gesture, and Stiles shrugs. “It has to be said, Derek, even if you’re not interested in hearing it.”

Danny pulls his hand from his pocket and circles it around Stiles’s wrist. “This has been just delightful.” Derek looks like he wants to tear into Stiles for a million different reasons, and that is the last thing any of them actually needs right now. “But we should probably get back home. Thanks for coming to rescue our asses.”

“Next time, Stiles, maybe get your mountain ash out before your phone?”

“I wasn’t sure it would work,” Stiles says, rueful. “I wanted to make sure you were on your way before I tried it. And then there wasn’t really an opening.”

“Sometimes you gotta make your openings,” Erica calls, as she and Derek turn and stride side by side toward the road, hair and clothes a mess, looking dangerous and criminal.

“Are you all right?” Danny asks as Stiles starts to move toward the driver’s side.

Stiles pauses by the back bumper. He turns and shakes his head. “Are you? That was—I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to be sorry. I picked this, remember?” He waves a hand at his face, the skin around his eye burning with pain. “Besides, I’ve only ever gotten one of these from lacrosse. This is a new experience.”

Stiles sighs. “Definitely an experience I wish you didn’t need to have.”

“I chose this,” Danny repeats. “And I feel better than you look right now. Do you want me to drive?” His eye hurts, but it isn’t swollen. Stiles’s jaw is already purpling.

“Yeah, sure.” Stiles digs into his pockets and hands Danny the keys. “She might be a little resistant at first, but you’ll get it."

“I’m sure I won’t be defeated by your car,” Danny mumbles, and Stiles smirks, the expression a little twisted.

“You wouldn’t be the first." 

He’s only going seven miles over the speed limit when they get pulled over.

“Shit,” Stiles mutters, as Danny signals and slows onto the shoulder. “My Jeep,” Stiles ducks forward, “she sticks out.”

The light that precedes the face leaning into the window is bright and harsh on Stiles’s bruise, and Danny imagines it does the same for whatever physical evidence there is of the pain that’s throbbing around his eye.

 “Mr.,” the officer begins, speaking through the rolled down front window, and then he stops, “you’re not Stiles.”

“Hey, Officer Mitchell,” Stiles waves from the passenger seat, leaning around Danny but trying to keep his face tilted so the discoloration of his jaw isn’t as obvious. “Danny was just giving the Jeep a go.”

“I’m sure it must be a thrill to drive,” the man deadpans, biting back a smile. He’s older, Stiles’s dad’s age, and he has laugh lines around his eyes. Danny’s heart stops rocketing so much.

But then the man turns his attention back to Danny and blinks, eyes having adjusted to the brightness of his flashlight in the small space of the Jeep. “Jesus, son. What happened to your face?”

Danny shakes his head. “It’s nothing,” he tries.

“Clearly,” the man looks at Stiles again, Stiles who is bobbing his head, trying so hard to keep his bruise from being obvious that it’s become impossible to miss. “You too, Stiles?” And then he takes a breath, like he’s diving, “You didn’t do this to each other, did you?”

“No! Of course we didn’t.”

Stiles’s response is more reserved, less offended. More accepting. He just shakes his head.

There’s a loud staticy sound, the officer’s radio going off behind them, and he gives them both an assessing look before turning to answer it.

Stiles cranes his neck to look at the back window. “It’s times like this I really wish either you or I had werewolf hearing. Because, seriously, I would love to know what’s more important than figuring out the nature of the sheriff’s kid’s abusive relationship.”

“Don’t,” Danny snaps. “Don’t joke about that. It’s not all right.”

“Sorry, it’s just,” but the cop is back before Stiles can say whatever he was going to, and Danny can’t help but be a little relieved. He doesn’t think he wants that conversation to continue.

“Where were you boys tonight?” Officer Mitchell’s would-be casual tone immediately puts Danny on edge.

“Movies,” he answers, not seeing any reason to lie about that. They hadn’t left any casualties at the theater; they hadn’t started it.

“See anything good?” He presses, and Stiles shifts in the passenger seat. If Danny looks at him, he knows he’ll start blushing.

But Stiles, surprising, ridiculous Stiles, says, “That one with the Transporter dude in it? But it was awful, we didn’t really end up seeing much of any of it.” And then he adds, because he knows exactly how far to push, “If you know what I mean.”

It’s hard to tell in the light from the flashlight, but Danny thinks the cop has just turned redder than Danny’s ever been. In his whole life. Redder even than in his newborn baby photos.

And then the officer swallows and says, tone hesitant, “Did you boys run into trouble there?”

“Not the kind you mean,” Stiles answers. “We’re fine,” with an emphasis on the fine.

The cop nods. “I’m going to let you go this time. Drive more carefully in the future. Stiles,” he waves a hand through the window and is back in his car before Danny finishes rolling it up.

The car passes them, lights flashing, as Danny shifts into drive and rests his foot on the brake, waiting for the red blue pattern to disappear among the trees.

“Jesus, that was weird.” Stiles rubs at his jaw again, shoulders drawing in a little. “I wonder what’s going on that got him to leave so quickly. Usually it takes ages to argue my way out of a ticket, and that’s without the added complication of bruises.”

“Well, first off, you told him that we spent the entire movie hooking up, so I’m sure that made him incredibly uncomfortable. And then, whatever he got a call about?”

“Whatever was going off on the scanner, you mean? That’s probably more the problem.  I’ve said awkward things to everyone on the force by now. They’ve got to be used to it.”

“You’re a strange person.” Danny eases the Jeep back into the road. “So the call—do you think it had something to do with what happened tonight?”

“Maybe. Knowing our luck, probably.” Danny glances over to see Stiles pressing at his jaw.

“You know touching it isn’t going to make it feel any better?” Danny lifts his hand off of the gearshift and pulls at Stiles’s forearm.

Stiles lets Danny settle his hand in his lap and shrugs as Danny lets go of him. “What the twins did to us could have been a diversion, a distraction. We should’ve followed Mitch, then we’d know for sure.”

“You don’t think he’d have been suspicious if we just took off after him?”

“Not if we were stealthy about it.”

Danny turns down his street. “Stiles, your Jeep is many things, but she is not stealthy.”

“He is not the most observant of cops, though. I bet we’d have gotten away with it.”

“Until we pulled up at the crime scene and your dad saw us.” Danny rolls to a stop outside of his house. Stiles groans.

“Yeah, yeah, good point. I would really love to know what the hell is going on, though. Like, that attack on us made so little sense, and now Mitch is giving out easy warnings? Hell, he didn’t even ask for your license. He didn’t even document it.”

“Unfortunately, I bet we’ll find out what’s going on soon.”

“I’ll let you know if I hear before Derek does.” Danny puts the Jeep in park and undoes his seatbelt. “Get some ice on that eye, all right?”

“You get some ice.” Danny leans over, pushing the door open with one hand while very lightly kissing half of Stiles’s mouth, on the side that’s not noticeably swollen. “What’s our story?”

“Got into it with some kids after the movie. They were assholes, we showed them.”

Danny hops out of the Jeep and Stiles climbs out of the passenger side. “Were they assholes about anything in particular?”

“I don’t know, the movie? Our lies don’t have to be that specific; everyone knows we’re lying anyway.”

“My family doesn’t,” Danny says, soft, and Stiles blinks at him. They’re standing in front of the Jeep, its parking lights picking out specks of gnats floating in the air, the vivid shape of Stiles’s newly deformed chin, the probable redness on Danny’s face.

“Oh.” Stiles reaches for Danny, a quick gesture he drops before completion, his fingers just brushing against the back of his hand and his knuckles before he lets them fall. “They don’t,” like he’s just realizing this isn’t the same for everyone. “We’ll tell them the guys were assholes because…” he picks at the skin around his thumbnail. Danny shifts an inch closer to him. “Why’s there violence for normal people?”

“Because people suck.” Danny sticks his hands in his pockets, wanting to touch Stiles and knowing from the way Stiles has hunched in on himself that he doesn’t want to be touched. “How about we say they tapped the Jeep and we yelled at them and voila, bruises?”

“But the Jeep doesn’t have a new scratch or dent?”

“Stiles,” Danny waves his hand at the car. The front fender is decorated in scratches, just like the back, just like the sides. “Do you think your dad actually catalogues the marks on your car?”

“He might,” Stiles mutters. “Whatever, it’s better than my story. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” and Stiles walks around him, bumping his shoulders but not leaning into him, and Danny had thought they were getting somewhere earlier, but he’s not sure where they’ve got to now.

::: 

Stiles texts him at five. He wouldn’t have woken up to it, except he’d turned the volume on his phone up all the way the night before, thinking he might be too tired to wake up to the alarm if it weren’t at a wall-shaking volume. He swears when his phone buzzes and chimes with Stiles’s early text, hands scrabbling at his side table to silence the damn thing.

He opens the text, squinting painfully, skin around his eye still throbbing, and reads, Dad got home. Said a girl was attacked. Not dead. Scott has a call in to his mom. Derek and Erica are at the hospital. Are you busy?

God. No. Do you want me to come over?

Stiles’s response comes through minutes later, after Danny has already gotten up and pulled on a t-shirt and gone to brush his teeth, grimacing at his purple-eyed reflection in the mirror. He’s awful looking. Stiles probably looks worse, he reminds himself, as he pulls up the most recent text. Snuck out my window. I’m on my way.

He doesn’t bother texting back, just walks quiet and barefoot down the carpeted hall and the stairs, unlocking and opening the front door. If his parents wake up, they’ll be surprised that Stiles is here so early. They’ll ask him what happened to his face. They’ll ask him if he’s okay, and then they’ll go back to sleep. If Julia wakes up, she’ll be ecstatic. His parents will be happy about Stiles, he thinks, because they actually go to the same school, because Danny does things with Stiles, things like running and going to the movies and playing videogames.

Not that he hadn’t done those things with his previous boyfriends, just…they tended to do them elsewhere, not in Beacon Hills. Not in his house. His parents like the closeness Stiles creates. They wouldn’t say no to Stiles staying the night; they won’t say no to him showing up at five in the morning. They’re not as protective as the sheriff, but they haven’t necessarily had reason to be, either.

Stiles pulls the Jeep to a stop on the street. He climbs out, looking like a disaster and sits stiffly beside Danny.

“My dad said the girl was torn almost to pieces, but that she was still alive. They left her out on the edge of the Preserve. I think he would have suspected me of being involved, if they had used their fists instead of their claws." 

“Your dad can’t,” Danny begins, and Stiles drops his forehead into his hands, heels digging against his eyes. Watching him makes Danny’s face start throbbing again.

“You’re right, you’re right, he probably wouldn’t think that. He probably wouldn’t. It’s just, I don’t know? And there’s a girl hurt, and we were a distraction, and I don’t get the point of this. It all—everything the alphas have done,” Stiles is speaking fast and softly, “everything the alphas have done makes no sense. I don’t get it. If they want territory, if they want Derek, if they want to kill us—nothing they’ve done has an actual purpose.”

The sun is rising, but right now it is shadowed and violet, colored like their bruises, and the whole morning feels desperate. “Then they’re insane or they want something we haven’t thought of.”

“What, though?”

Danny pushes himself to his feet. “I don’t know, Stiles. Come upstairs. It can wait a little while, while we sleep some more.”

Stiles follows him quietly, stepping up the stairs on his toes, looking like a little kid, like someone who’s never hidden anywhere before. He almost knocks over the lamp on Danny’s desk the minute they get into Danny’s room, catching it before it clatters to the floor, and Danny raises his eyebrows at him, the pull pulsing at his eye. “Sorry,” Stiles mouths.

“It’s fine, idiot. Come here.” He hops back into his bed, a full size that’s just big enough for him and Stiles to fit in, and Stiles hesitates by his desk before reaching an arm over his head and tugging his t-shirt off by his collar. Danny stares. Stiles is all pale skin and a stretch of dark hair and muscles, slim well-defined monster-fighting muscles. Danny’s seen him shirtless before—hell, he’s seen him nearly naked, and that’s definitely been a feature of his recent fantasies—but not since this all started, not since he thought to really look at him.

Stiles keeps his eyes down as he moves towards Danny’s bed. He doesn’t raise his head even as he sits on the edge of the mattress and lifts his legs up, basketball shorts riding up his thighs a little, back straight, shoulders angled.

Danny takes a breath, presses one hand against the center of Stiles’s back, so his middle finger runs right along his spine. Stiles’s skin is warm. He drops his head forward, his neck curving. Danny sits up, his left shoulder pressing just barely against Stiles’s right shoulder blade, and kisses where his neck meets his shoulder. The skin is taut there, stretched with the way Stiles’s neck is angled, and he lets out a small squeak of noise as Danny parts his lips and sucks.

By the time Stiles lifts his head and pushes up a little on the bed, shifting so he’s sitting facing Danny, Danny’s left a pretty startling mark on his shoulder. Stiles is blushing all over. Danny feels hot.

Stiles reaches out and tugs at the collar of Danny’s t-shirt. “It might be good for you to take that off,” he says, and Danny strips it off without hesitating. Stiles pushes forward, presses Danny back into the bed, kissing him, angle a little off because he’s being careful of his bruised jaw.

Stiles’s mouth, though, is familiar and wet, and Danny will never get tired of the way he takes and takes and draws him in, but the press of Stiles’s warm skin against his is delirious. It’s insane. It unleashes a new feeling in his gut, something hot and shivery. It’s anticipatory, as he unconsciously jerks his hips up, trying for friction, which Stiles grants with a small moan into his mouth. Danny knows where this is going, but the feeling is also settled, content. Confident.

Stiles is grinding down into him, the spaces and material between them still too much, but the feeling is fast becoming agonizing, right on the verge of painful, right around wanting more space and more material, because they’re not getting where they’re going fast enough.

Danny feels like this is the first time anyone’s seen him about to come. Feels embarrassed and foolish and sloppy, and then he looks at Stiles, above him, lips parted and shoulders tense and hair a mess, eyes shut, and thrusts against him, both of them still with their shorts on, both of them completely undone, and he says, “Open your eyes,” just, just as his body lets go entirely and he’s shaking, his head tilting back. He has never felt this wrecked, this good. 

No competition. He doesn’t care if that’s insane, because it was so fast and they’re still half-clothed and his hands are only just tucked beneath the waistband of Stiles’s shorts and Stiles’s hands are in the sheets on either side of Danny, fingers tight around the material and arms straining, and Stiles’s jaw is purple and Danny’s left eye hurts and it’s still the best Danny’s ever felt.

Stiles presses a terribly chaste kiss to his throat as he falls down, his body shaking, releasing. The places they’re pressed together are wet and too tender, and Danny’s overly aware of Stiles’s hips and his dick and his legs, even, the post-orgasm shivers extending all over his body.

Stiles rolls off after a moment, and he lets out a breath like—Danny’s not sure what it means. He thinks it sounds awkward, maybe.

He reaches for Stiles’s hand without looking, finds it after fumbling a moment at his stomach and the damp nylon of his shorts, feeling the flush burning up his neck again, until he has his fingers wind through Stiles’s.

Stiles doesn’t say anything at first, lets Danny twist their fingers together so tightly it’s got to hurt, because Danny’s fingers feel cramped with it, but he has no interest in letting go.

“Why haven’t we been doing that for years?” he asks, and Danny’s head falls to the side so he can look at him. Stiles is staring at him, lips red and jaw purpleish and eyes still dark and hair still an absolute mess, and he’s smiling a little. Tentatively.

“You were hung up on Lydia and I was wasting my time,” Danny answers, even though he thinks that’s probably a disingenuous way of presenting the last few years. His ex-boyfriends weren’t all assholes. Stiles wasn’t focused solely on Lydia. “Or, we just didn’t know to look.”

“It was mostly a hypothetical question,” Stiles tells him, that small smile a little more set on his mouth. “I thought, last night—just, what the hell was I waiting for, you know?  We’re good together, I think.”

“We are,” Danny affirms, even though he’s not sure if Stiles wants affirmation. He’s not sure if Stiles needs it anymore. He thinks that this might be more than just the result of built-up horniness of making out to the point of blue balls a few (okay, a lot of) times, this whole thing might mean that Stiles knows that they’re for real. That Stiles finally accepts that Danny’s not being an ass, that he’s not using him, that they’re not going to go back to school and drift away from each other.

This means that Stiles trusts him. And more than anything else, Danny knows that Stiles’s trust is hard-won. He rolls fully to his side and kisses Stiles, careful of his swollen skin, mouth open but tongue lazy, and Stiles bites at his lower lip until he deepens the kiss and takes a little more aggressively. They’re learning how to do this, and Danny cannot remember being happier.

:::

The girl’s name is Ellen. According to Scott, her parents are taking turns crying outside of her room in the ICU. According to Mrs. McCall, the wolves used their claws; she was not bitten. According to Derek, she doesn’t smell like she’s dying. Erica says she doesn’t sound like she’s turning.

They meet in the waiting room of the ER, a few pale people scattered around, one man with a paper towel blooming red wrapped around his hand, one woman clutching her stomach. Otherwise it’s calm. But there’s a girl somewhere in the hallways behind the swinging doors who’s been attacked by alpha werewolves, and Danny is struck again by how absurd it is that so few people here actually know, actually understand how the world really works, what it’s really made of. And more than half of them are teenagers. It’s ridiculous, he thinks, as he hunches his shoulders and tries to focus on what Jackson’s saying.

They’re all there, in a circle by the hallway leading to the vending machines, and they probably look suspicious as fuck, but Mrs. McCall is working and they all want to talk to her. She says the girl didn’t get bitten, and then she gets paged, and they linger, waiting for her to return to explain how it could be that this girl has been ripped to shreds but that no teeth were used on her—how she can tell.

Jackson’s shaking his head. “It’s so fucking dumb,” he’s saying, over and over in different ways, “it makes no sense.”

Lydia rests a hand on his shoulder and looks at Danny. “Do you think that the twins were meant to be a distraction when they attacked you last night?”

“Yeah,” Stiles answers, “I think so.”

“It worked,” Derek says, gruff. “Erica and I should’ve split up. One of us could’ve handled them.”

“That’s bullshit,” Danny tells him. “You couldn’t have known, and also, maybe one of you could’ve handled the twins, maybe,” he doubts it, but Derek’s glaring at him, so he’ll half give it to him, “but one of you could definitely not have handled the other three.”

“Can Deucalion even do anything?” Scott asks. “He’s blind.”

Erica makes a small disbelieving sound. “Don’t be an idiot, McCall. He’s terrifying.” She sticks her hands in the pockets of her jeans and leans back against Boyd. “I’ve never seen anyone fight the way he does. I would rather face all four of the others together than him alone.”

“How are we meant to fight him, then?” Jackson shakes his head. “This is so stupid.”

“We get that it’s stupid, Jackson, thank you.” Danny nudges Stiles, and he glances at him but doesn’t look at all apologetic. “The problem isn’t really how we fight them, right now, is it? It’s more, what the hell are they even doing here?”

Derek’s about to respond, mouth open, when the wolves’ heads jerk towards the glass doors at the entrance to the ER and Scott hisses out a, “Shit.” The sheriff and three of his deputies walk in.

Stiles tries to move behind Danny, but the sudden jerky movement draws his dad’s attention, and the sheriff takes in the group in one long scan, not blinking as his gaze flicks from person to person, landing finally on Derek. He scowls and turns to say something to his deputies that makes all the wolves shift nervously. Stiles tangles his hand in the hem of his shirt.

The deputies approach the front desk, where one of the secretaries is chewing on a pen cap and watching the drama unfold. The sheriff comes toward them.

“Kids,” he says, evenly, and then, in an entirely different tone of voice, deeper and slightly threatening, “Mr. Hale.”

“Hi, Dad,” Stiles says, tone bright, as the others offer varying versions of, “Hi, Sheriff,” and “Hello, sir,” and Scott mumbles something that sounds apologetic.

“I thought I told you to stay home until we discussed what happened last night.” The sheriff directs a glare at Stiles. “But now that I see that Mr. Mahealani was also involved, maybe he’d be willing to fill me in.”

“It wasn’t really a big deal,” Stiles mutters. “I told you, some kids scratched the Jeep, we yelled after them, they got out, hit us, moved on, we got slightly injured.”

The sheriff’s expression doesn’t change. “I find that difficult to believe.”

“It’s true, sir,” Danny tries, and the sheriff raises his eyebrows at him. Which is a little bit terrifying.

“And yet I still don’t believe it. Neither of you look at all like you tried to defend yourselves. And Stiles, at least, knows how to throw a punch.” Stiles stands a little straighter, as if his dad is praising him. Danny supposes he sort of is. “And I assume you do, as well, considering that you’re on the lacrosse team. Used to defending yourself, aren’t you?” The sheriff looks from Stiles to Danny and shakes his head, “So, unfortunately, I don’t believe you. I wish I did.” He says the last part softly, like he doesn’t really intend for them to hear it. “But, also unfortunately, that is not exactly the issue right now. What are you all doing here? Is someone hurt?”

“We were waiting to see my mom,” Scott tries.

The sheriff nods. “Of course you are. Mr. Hale, you know Melissa?”

Derek flushes. It’s an interesting look on him. He doesn’t meet the sheriff’s eyes as he answers, gruff, “Yeah.”

“She helped him get his job at the rest home,” Stiles explains, and, wow, is that news to Danny.

The sheriff doesn’t say anything, just looks around at all of them as if looking for the one most likely to crack. His gaze settles on Erica. Danny feels Stiles tense beside him, and Boyd rests a hand on Erica’s waist, drawing her against him.

“Ms. Reyes,” his tone is softer, and that seems to upset Erica more than anything, “How have you been?”

“Good,” Erica says, nearly matching Derek for gruffness. The sheriff looks taken aback, blinking, mouth tightening into a scowl.

“Kids,” Mrs. McCall pushes through the swinging doors, her lips rolling together when she notices the sheriff. “Sheriff, Maddie’s going to take you all back to meet with Ellen's family.” She gestures at a young nurse lingering at her right shoulder. The girl gives them all a curious look before dropping her gaze back to her white sneakers.

Stiles’s dad looks at them. “Okay,” he draws the word out. “Keep an eye on them, all right?” he says as he passes Mrs. McCall and she nods, smiling at him as he joins back up with his deputies and disappears inside the hospital.

The group releases a collective breath. Stiles sags against Danny and Mrs. McCall shakes her head. “You all need to be more careful, or you need to tell him. It might help,” she addresses Stiles, who’s already shaking his head. “It helped me.”

“But wouldn’t you rather be completely oblivious still?” Stiles asks, voice quiet.

Mrs. McCall looks over Stiles’s shoulder, at Derek, Danny thinks, at Scott, and she says, “I don’t have the luxury to wish that. You’re all involved, and so am I. Your dad would see it the same way.”

Stiles shrugs, and Mrs. McCall nods. “All right, then. No one’s forcing you,” although it occurs to Danny that it might be a good idea for someone to force the issue, because Stiles seems to get emptier every time he lies to his dad, emptier and more reckless.

“She wasn’t bitten,” Derek interjects, and Mrs. McCall nods.

“She wasn’t bitten.” And then she diagrams the girl’s injuries, speaking softly so that if anyone happens to wander near them they won’t be able to hear what she’s saying, how many privacies she’s betraying. The girl has six slices down her torso, deep enough to have broken skin, but not deep enough to have done any permanent damage, aside from scarring, “Obviously,” Mrs. McCall says, and there’s pity underlying the near-callous word. Her face, luckily, is untouched, her thighs have two cuts down them, her calves each have one, her knees are a mess and so are her palms, but more like she tripped. “She’s on enough morphine to keep her unconscious for a while. When she starts doing better, though, she’s going to be questioned. Hopefully,” she shakes her head, “what are we hoping for, this time?” And Scott’s mom looks impossibly young, faced with this. There’s no way to get old enough to deal with this sort of thing, Danny doesn’t think.

But Stiles accepts it, pushes through the awkward question like it’s ordinary. “Mountain lion, I’d say. If she says it’s a mountain lion, she can avoid the psych visit.”

“You think she’ll know enough to know that?”

“It’s possible that she’ll have convinced herself that that’s what it was,” Mrs. McCall says, in the face of Isaac’s speculation. “It was only six months ago that the police were blaming everything on mountain lions, too. She might settle on that as an easier answer than whatever she did see.”

“It’s definitely saner,” Jackson mutters. “Well, hey, at least we don’t have to deal with a new beta.”

“Or the alphas don’t need to,” Lydia points out. “Since she’d have been theirs.”

“Which is something they definitely don’t want.”

Mrs. McCall’s phone buzzes, and she glances at the screen before waving at them. “You should all get out of here. I’ll keep Scott updated, okay?”

They file out as she turns back to the front desk, and Scott pulls out his phone and turns up the volume as they blink into the early afternoon sunlight. “What do we do?” he asks Derek.

Derek shakes his head. “I have no idea,” he growls, the admission drawn from his mouth slowly, gratingly. “If we knew what they want—but we don’t.”

“So how do we find out?” Danny reaches into his pocket and begins fiddling with his phone. He wants to hack something, call someone, dig until they’re in open air again.

“Nothing we do works.” Erica runs one hand through her hair, catching a few strands and watching them float away on the breeze. Lydia wrinkles her nose. “I can’t think anymore, I can’t remember whether they said anything useful at all.”

“No one’s trying to get you to,” Boyd says, voice steady.

“But if I could, if I could just figure it out,” Erica spits. “God, this is so fucked up. They had me for months. I was with them for months. I should be more help.”

“You’re helping,” Derek says.

“But,” Erica begins, and Derek shakes his head.

“No, you are helping.” He growls the words, and Erica’s shoulders rise and her eyes flash red for just an instant, and then she’s gulping in air and staring at her hands, her human hands, and nodding.

“Okay,” her voice is soft. “Okay.”

“Okay.” Derek turns to face them, and he sighs. “You all go home. Scott, let us know what your mom says. Erica and Boyd and I are going to go meet with Peter. We’ll let you know whether he’s any help.” Derek looks doubtful enough that no one responds to that, not even Stiles, even though Danny would bet good money that he has a few choice phrases lined up. Hell, Danny could say something about Peter and helpfulness, and he doesn’t even really know him.

“The rest of you, just, think.” He looks at Stiles, in particular, and Lydia, and they glance at each other and nod. “And stay out of trouble,” Derek adds, as he heads off across the lot, Boyd and Erica following.

Stiles had driven, but he and Lydia are conferring over by Jackson’s Porsche, and so Danny heads over there, too. “Why don’t you two head back to Stiles’s?” he suggests, coming up beside Jackson, who’s leaning against his car looking intensely bored. “Jackson’ll give me a ride home.”

Jackson perks up at that, smiling close-mouthed at Danny and probably envisioning a stop by the gym and maybe some videogames, although all Danny really wants to do is go home and crawl into bed.

“And, what, you two will ‘think’ while Stiles and I do all the work?”

“We’ll think,” Jackson protests. Danny just shrugs. He’ll try, but he’s not entirely sure what good he’ll be. Alpha pack machinations seem a little out of his depth.

“Fine,” Lydia sighs, leans forward and kisses Jackson lightly. Stiles is making a face as she backs away, and she hits him in the shoulder. “You and Danny are much grosser,” she declares. “See you later, boys.”

Stiles looks at Danny, his face a little closed off, and ignoring Jackson’s warning huff, Danny steps towards him and kisses him lightly, to the side of his bruise. “Keep icing that.”

“Your face is a disaster,” Stiles says, “So I’ll only ice if you ice.”

“Ass,” Danny mutters, only meaning it a little. He catches Stiles’s hand as he’s about to turn, and squeezes, and Stiles flashes him a genuine smile over his shoulder.

“You guys really are gross,” Jackson tells him as he slides into the passenger seat of the Porsche.

“Whatever.” Danny’s oddly okay with that.

There’s a police car outside of Danny’s house when they get there. Danny stares at it. It looks out of place, absurd, taking up half his driveway.

“Danny?” Jackson’s voice is hesitant, and Danny’s just staring, just staring at that fucking cop car in his driveway and he can’t figure anything out.

And then Jackson lets out a breath and says, “Everyone’s home, no one’s hurt,” which is good, of course, obviously, it’s great, but then there’s the possibility the cop car is somehow here for him, and Danny counts off the many not-exactly-legal things he’s done, stopping at hacking the DMV’s car registry, because if it’s something, then it’s probably that.

“They’re talking,” Jackson says, eyes squeezed shut. “I can’t quite make out the words, your neighbor’s lawnmower.” His neighbor is mowing his lawn, but he keeps stopping halfway through a row, mower still running, and looking over at Danny’s house. “But I think they’re in the living room. Your parents and Julia and just one cop.”

He opens his eyes and looks at Danny, who’s lowered his gaze to his hands. “Do you want to leave?”

Danny shakes his head. “I should go in. You can go, though. I’ll text you.”

Jackson waits until he’s opened the door to leave, which is out of character for him. Usually he pulls away while Danny’s still getting out. It makes Danny even more nervous.

He steps inside and through the small mudroom. The cop is sitting in his dad’s armchair; Danny barely glances at him. His parents are bracketing Julia on the couch, and his mom turns to look over the back of the couch when he pauses in the doorway. Her forehead is wrinkled, nervous, sad.

Her eyes widen at the sight of his black eye. She opens her mouth, but Danny shakes his head. “It’s nothing. Misunderstanding.” His dad glances at him, narrows his eyes. “Really,” he says. “It’s nothing. Julia,” his sister has her face in her hands, and her shoulders are shaking over the edge of the couch, “Jules?” She doesn’t move.

He steps forward, and then the cop says, “Aren’t you Stiles’s boyfriend?” and Danny recognizes him as Officer Mitchell from the night before, his face clearer in the daylight, less distorted by shadows.

“Yeah.” Of fucking course it’s the same cop.

“Of course you are.” Officer Mitchell parrots Danny’s thoughts. He sighs and rubs a hand across his face. “Nothing’s ever simple,” he mutters. “Might as well take a seat, son.”

“Danny,” Julia lets out a choked sound, and he comes around the couch, squeezing between her and his mother. She rests her hand on his knee and Julia turns, pressing her face into his shoulder, dampening his shirt immediately.

“What’s going on?” Danny glances from Officer Mitchell to his dad, rubbing a hand down Julia’s back as she sobs silent tears onto his shoulder.

“You want to tell me again where you were last night?” The cop asks, his tone tired, not at all aggressive, and Danny sighs.

“We went to the movies. We saw that new action flick, it was horrible.” He feels slightly vindicated when the cop’s gaze jerks away for an instant, neck reddening, before returning to his face. “We came out, got in Stiles’s car, and someone swiped the back bumper. It barely left a scratch.” This is all coming out too rehearsed. Stiles probably would have done a better job. “We got out, yelled at them, the guys stopped, punched us, took off.” His mom pats her hand against his knee.

“And you didn’t fight back? You didn’t call anyone—no one saw?” The cop asks.

“Happened pretty fast.” Danny shrugs, jostling Julia a little. She clings tighter. He hasn’t seen her like this in years, possibly since their grandmother died and they flew to Hawaii for the funeral. “What happened?” he asks her, speaking down, softly, so the cop won’t think he’s asking him, but Julia just shakes her head, still not releasing him.

“All right. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you’re telling the truth. You weren’t at a party at Liam Waterman’s house, then?”

“No.” Danny shakes his head. “We knew about it, but we didn’t go.” Julia lets out a shaky breath and starts to pull away. He drops his hand from her back and watches as she wipes her hands against her red cheeks.

“I went,” she confesses. “And it was,” she glances at her parents, “I mean, I went with Ellen, my friend from basketball?” And suddenly Danny understands everything. He cuts a glance at the cop, who has definitely noticed the change in his facial expression.

“You know about Ms. Hart already?” Officer Mitchell prompts.

“I’m dating the sheriff’s son,” Danny says. He had forgotten Julia even knew her, actually. Ellen is a freshman, Danny hadn’t even known her name until Stiles had pulled Danny’s yearbook out from under a pile of clothes and searched the pages, pointing at her with a shaking finger that morning, after they’d showered and changed and had stopped touching each other long enough to focus on the disaster of the night before.

“And Stiles still hasn’t learned to stay out of his father’s business?” That can’t really be a question.

“He’s Stiles.” Danny’s dad shakes his head at him.

“Daniel,” he warns. It occurs to Danny that his tone throughout this whole interview has not been the most respectful. But, seriously, there are werewolves. Werewolves, and this cop is questioning his baby sister.

“Sorry.” He stares at his hands. “No, Stiles has not learned to stay out of his father’s business. What does what happened to Ellen have to do with Julia?” What if Julia had seen something, Danny wonders. What if he has to lie to her? He doesn’t know if he can. He doesn’t know if he’ll even try to.

“I was the last person to see her,” Julia says through a hiccup. “At the party. She went to get a Coke,” Officer Mitchell rolls his eyes, but Julia is adamant, “No, honest. She just went to get a soda, she wasn’t drinking beer at all, she really wasn’t, and it was still early. I went looking for her a few minutes later and couldn’t find her anywhere, and then,” she shrugs, a tiny motion of her shoulders, “you found her in the woods?” And then she’s crying again, covering her face. Their dad pulls her over to him, and Danny drops his chin in his hands.

He wants to tell Julia that Ellen will be okay, but he doesn’t think he’s supposed to know that. He doesn’t know if Officer Mitchell is as well informed as he is, but he has a feeling that he probably isn’t.

His phone buzzes in his pocket and he drops his hand but doesn’t pull it out, because Office Mitchell is staring at him. “So the last time you saw Ellen, she was going to get a soda,” the cop repeats, asking Julia but still watching Danny, “and no one else had seen her?”

Julia shakes her head against their dad’s shoulder.  “I asked around, because she was my ride, but no one—she wasn’t there anymore.” She’s speaking into their dad’s shirt, her voice muffled and wet.

“And when you couldn’t find her, you got a different ride home?”

“Yeah. I was home before Danny was.” Which really isn’t helpful to him at all. The cop raises his eyebrows.

“What’d you think happened to your friend?” He says it not like he’s trying to make her guilty, just like he’s genuinely curious.

Julia jerks her head up and spits, her tone hard and fierce, “I thought she’d taken someone else home. What, you thought I’d just let her get ripped to pieces?” and she’s sobbing, her hands covering her face. Officer Mitchell shifts, wiping his palms on his thighs. For the first time, he looks uncomfortable.

“She’s going to be okay.” Danny cannot take it anymore, this crying, this awful way way his sister’s grieving.

“How do you know?” The words are barely discernable among Julia’s tears. Everyone’s looking at him.

“I just do,” he says. “I promise.”

Officer Mitchell tilts his head. “I may need to speak with you later, Daniel. I’m sorry to have brought such bad news.” He stands up, walks over to shake Danny’s dad’s hand. “And, Ms. Mahealani, thank you for answering my questions. I’m sure this can’t have been comfortable.”

Danny’s mom stands to walk him out. His dad waits until he hears the door shut before turning to face Danny, head tilted to the side. Danny’s parents have always been easygoing, but he knows his mom is standing behind the couch, now, and neither of them is going to let up until he answers some questions.

“There were just some assholes at the theater,” Danny says. “They laid into us for no reason. We’re fine. And I know Scott McCall, whose mom is a nurse at the hospital. She’s treating Ellen, so she knows what’s going on. She told Scott because he was worried.” A small partial lie. Scott had been worried, but not for the reasons he’s hoping his parents and Julia will accept. Julia sniffles.

“So she really is going to be okay?”

Danny nods, holds out his pinky. Julia links hers with his. “Pinky swear, she’ll be fine.”

“Julia,” his mom’s tone is soft, “why don’t you go up and shower. We want to talk to Danny.”

Julia makes a face at him, ugly with her bloodshot eyes and shiny cheeks, and he attempts a smile. She slides off the couch and disappears up the stairs, stepping loudly.

“You and Stiles are dating now?” His mom sits down in the chair the cop had vacated.

“I thought everyone knew that.” There are coasters on the coffee table, laid out for four glasses that had never made it there this morning. He pictures his mom offering water or coffee, stopping short when the cop said something about Ellen, something to make Julia cry.

“How were we supposed to know that? We barely see you anymore.”

“I thought Julia told you.” Danny reaches out and spins one of the coasters so it’s at an angle. “Besides, he’s here all the time.” He had thought his parents were happy with Stiles—it hadn’t occurred to him that they hadn’t even realized they were something other than friends.

“Jackson used to be over all the time,” his dad points out.

“Yeah, but Stiles is,” Danny shrugs, “he’s not Jackson.”

“We’re not saying we don’t approve, or that we’re worried,” his mom says, although it really sounds like they’re saying both of those things, “just that we wish you had told us.”

“I really just thought you’d assume?”

“Now that we know,” his mom cuts off that topic before they can circle back around one more time, “maybe we can talk about the black eye?”

“Like I said, just some jerks at the movies. Nothing to worry about.”

“Was it about you and Stiles being together?” His dad says it hesitantly, like just the thought is dangerous.

“No,” Danny shakes his head, “no, it really wasn’t. Just the car, and the guys being assholes—sorry, and us not caring enough to make it into a bigger deal. Seriously.” He looks up at his dad. “Honest,” he meets his gaze, and his dad holds it for a long moment before nodding.

“Okay. And how about how you spoke to Officer Mitchell? Because that was not how we raised you, Danny. That was not polite.”

“He was upsetting Julia,” Danny attempts.

“Some animal attacked Julia’s friend and upset Julia,” his mom corrects. “Officer Mitchell was just doing his job. He shouldn’t need to deal with rude teenagers on top of it.”

“Sorry,” Danny mutters to the table.

“You should maybe tell him that.”

“You sounded pretty suspicious, son.” His dad stands and ruffles his hair. “You should be more careful if you’re going to spend your time getting into gang fights.”

Danny tries to laugh, but it comes out choked. His parents don’t seem to notice. 

The text Danny got during Officer Mitchell’s interrogation is from Scott. He checks it after throwing a load of laundry in the machine.  Mom says doctors say ellen’s prog…thing is good. Danny shows the text to Julia, who’s stopped crying and manages a relieved smile.

She pulls Danny down onto her bed beside her. “Mom and Dad aren’t grounding me, are they?”

Danny shakes his head. “You’re allowed to go to friends’ houses. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“They’re not grounding you, are they?”

“No, although they probably thought about it.”

She reaches out and touches the bruise on his face. “Was this really from some asshole who hit Stiles’s car?”

Danny nods, not looking away.

“And you didn’t know them?”

He shakes his head. “Must’ve been from out of town. They looked like they were maybe a few years older than us.”

“Huh.” Julia reaches for her laptop. “Want to watch an episode of Toddlers in Tiaras?”

They end up watching six.

:::

Stiles and Lydia come up with some ideas, which they share with the rest of the pack over soda and snacks in Scott’s kitchen the next afternoon, but none of them actually seem likely.

“Territory makes no sense,” Lydia ticks off, holding up her index finger, “pack makes no sense—even if just Derek, they’d have had to have made some move other than pissing him off—drawing out the Argents makes no sense, since (a) there are larger contingencies elsewhere and (b) Chris is ‘retired,’ revenge is possible but not likely, because Peter says he’s never heard of this particular alpha pack before.” She shakes her head. “I don’t understand.”

It’s pretty shocking to hear Lydia admit that, and Danny glances at Jackson. He looks as scared as Danny’s ever seen him.

“This is ridiculous,” Jackson mutters, and everyone murmurs consent, even Stiles.

“We just need to keep thinking,” Derek says, like that will actually do something, at this point.

“Can’t we just give up trying to strategize and just, like, attack them?” Isaac leans forward on the table. “I know they’re stronger than us, but there are more of us.”

“No,” Stiles snaps. “That’s a bad idea, dude. You know what happens when we run in claws out.”

“We get hurt, yeah, but we survive it.” Boyd crosses his arms, stance intimidating.

“We might not, this time. We’ve never fought something like this before.” Allison is leaning against the doorway leading from the kitchen to the living room, and she’s got her arms crossed, mouth in a tense line.

“Isaac has a point, though,” Derek says, slowly. “Not that I think we should go in, as Stiles says, claws out,” he shoots a half-amused glare at Stiles, “but we can’t just circle this forever. Especially if they attack other humans. Because, obviously, that’s not good, but also, Allison, your dad has to be thinking that something is up.”

Allison tightens her arms across her stomach. “He does. He asked me if I had seen you all around town. I told him point blank it wasn’t you, figured there was no point in dodging the issue. He said he figured as much, asked me if I knew who it was.”

The room goes still. Allison waits a few agonizing seconds before saying, “I said I did, but that we were dealing with it.” She waves a hand. “Technically I’m grounded.”

“You’re acting like me.” Stiles sounds gleeful. Allison laughs. It’s only half-happy, but it’s more than Danny would expect, considering the way she’s standing like she’s barely holding herself together.

“And he didn’t ask you anything else?” Derek can’t continue this line of questioning, but Erica will.

Allison shrugs. “He did, I didn’t answer him.”

“You still think it’s a good idea to keep him out of it? He might help.”

Allison shakes her head at Scott. “He won’t, and we definitely don’t want anyone else from my family coming in. I don’t know any of them well enough to know their hunting styles, but I think they’ll tend more towards my—more towards my mom’s.”

Everyone looks at the floor.

“So no hunters,” Stiles finally says, and Danny has possibly never been more grateful for him, “check.”

“This is so fucking frustrating.” Isaac leans on the kitchen table, hands fisted. “I hate not doing anything.”

“Want to go play a game of lacrosse?” Scott suggests, and Danny expects everyone to laugh, shake their heads, and go back to whining about how there really is nothing they can do, but Isaac tilts his head, nods.

“Yeah.” And then everyone is filing out to Scott’s backyard, which is nowhere near big enough for a full-scale game, but is definitely big enough for them to toss a ball around.

Derek stays for a little while before he heads off, ostensibly to get some rest, although Danny suspects he’s going patrolling.

Danny’s tired by the time he gets home, eats a quick dinner with his family, and crawls into bed. He’s just searching Google for a movie to watch while he falls asleep when he hears a tap at his window.

He jumps off his bed and has the window open before he’s fully registered that it’s Erica perched there, looking perfectly natural hanging from the roof over his window.

“Hey.” He steps back so she can slide inside. She looks fine, shaking a few dogwood petals off her shoulders. They fall to the floor just inside his window and she sits down on his bed, pulling her knees up to her chin.

 Danny sits in his desk chair and waits.

He’s waiting long enough that he pulls a book from the stack on his desk and starts reading. It’s Moby-Dick, summer reading for English next year, and unsurprisingly dead boring, but makes him feel slightly less awkward about sitting in silence with Erica than he had while watching her watch him.

He’s just up to where Ishmael meets Queequeg (a plot point that should be fascinating, just by virtue of the two characters’ names, but actually really isn’t) when Erica sighs and says, “I’ve been thinking.”

“Okay.” Danny sets the book down on his desk and faces her again.

“When they took me,” she looks at her hands, “I thought I was going to die. Not like when we get in a fight, or there are hunters after us, when I think there’s a possibility that I will die, I just—I was certain that they were going to kill me. I had my last words planned. I was going to write my will on a tree with my claws. I wanted Stiles to get my leather jacket.” Danny doesn’t move, but he tries to smile at that. He doesn’t really succeed. “I figured Derek would sniff me out, or Boyd would. I figured that when the alphas killed me, they’d leave, or maybe they’d wait for someone to try to avenge me. I figured my death would most likely lead to someone else’s. I didn’t really want it to, I just thought it was sort of inevitable. I felt a little vindicated, thinking about it. You know, when people are asses to you, and you think, well, I’ll show them? This was like that. I was going to show everybody by dying.”

She shakes her head, long hair tangling over her shoulders. Danny has no idea why she’s sitting here. He hopes she doesn’t expect him to say anything wise or helpful or good, because he definitely doesn’t have anything to offer.

“But they didn’t kill me. They sedated me, stuck me in the back of a car, and took off. We got so far I couldn’t feel the pack. I couldn’t even feel Boyd, and usually…Boyd was always there, you know?” Danny doesn’t know, of course, but he imagines not having any way of contacting Stiles, not knowing that he’s still in Beacon Hills, not being able to text him whenever, and he doesn’t like the way he imagines that would feel, so he nods. “So, it sucked. But I wasn’t dead. And I couldn’t see why I wasn’t dead. They didn’t really talk to me. They didn’t really talk about me. It was sort of like I wasn’t there. Except that, unfortunately, I really fucking was.”

And then she raises her eyes to Danny. They’re red. “They took me somewhere south, somewhere I could smell the ocean, they locked me in a room with a really weak alpha on the night of the first full moon since they took me, and they waited to see what would happen. They were taking bets on which of us would kill the other. They all expected me to win.” She bites her lip. Danny doesn’t want to hear this. “I wasn’t planning on it. Before the moon, I was planning on letting the other woman kill me. I thought it would be faster than whatever they had planned for me. Which would have been true, obviously. But when the moon came—none of my resistance mattered. I didn’t have my anchor, couldn’t even sense him, and the alpha was crazy, and—I don’t know how long they had her. It can’t have been long, because her pack would’ve tried to break her out, might’ve succeeded, but they hadn’t been feeding her and—we just went at each other. She didn’t stand a chance.” The matter-of-fact way Erica says it so shattering, so terrifying, that Danny wants to move away from her. But he knows if he does he will wreck whatever feat of trust brought her to his windowsill, and so he sits still and keeps nodding, like he understands. Like he could.

“I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to become an alpha. I think it shouldn’t work, if you don’t want it. Your body should reject it. You should die. But I didn’t. So I became an alpha and, still,” she waved her hands around, “still they ignored me. They gave me drugs that kept me on the verge of unconsciousness and drove east for what felt like weeks, and then they locked me in a cabin in the woods and I thought, Danny, I really thought that this was some sort of weird initiation, and that I was going to be alpha for some other beta to kill. I thought there had been a test somewhere in there that I had failed, and so they didn’t want me.”

This whole summer Danny has been trying not to think about what it was like for Erica—a werewolf, okay, but also a girl his age—being kidnapped, being traumatized, being forced to kill. He’s been trying and mostly succeeding, actually, but here she is on his bed, telling him about it, and he can’t keep himself from nodding, encouraging her on, because if she needs to talk then he will listen. He is that nice, at least. He can do that much.

“And it surprised me,” Erica’s voice is suddenly hard, “that I wanted them to want me. A little. Enough to know that I really didn’t want to die. It wasn’t Stockholm syndrome, don’t get that look. I didn’t like them. But I wanted to stay alive. I wanted to be accepted in order to stay alive. That’s what I thought about, while I waited for them to find some beta, someone like I had been, someone to come in and kill me and do better at being captive than I had.”

Danny waits a long time for Erica to continue. She takes in deep breaths, her hands spread around her knees. She looks at him. He looks back.

“But they didn’t. They came in and they started training me. They started teaching me how to control myself. I didn’t expect to take to it at all. I was a little out of control as a beta, I thought I’d be so much worse as an alpha. But I wasn’t. It was easier for me. I didn’t have to answer to anyone—I certainly didn’t want to answer to them—and so I forced myself to get a hold of myself. I wasn’t perfect, but I got better. They still treated me like a prisoner, I still was a prisoner, but I wasn’t at all what they…I wasn’t beaten. I wasn’t theirs.”

She shrugs. “And then it was summer, and we were driving across the country again. And I saw you, and they let Derek take me back, and I have spent the last six weeks trying so hard to figure out what the fuck the point of all of that was. And I just thought—they trained me and then dropped me here. And they stayed, but not in the middle, they hadn’t gotten involved in anything until you and Stiles, until Ellen. And so—what if they thought we were going to fight? What if they thought we were going to mess up, draw attention, and then when we didn’t? What if they had to do it themselves?”

Danny waits for her to continue, but she’s just looking at him, like she’s waiting for him to actually answer her questions, and he shrugs. “But why do they want to draw attention?”

Erica drops her head “I’ve been thinking and thinking about it. I think I’m starting to get it. The alpha I killed—what was the point of her? They didn’t want me to join their pack. Maybe having another alpha in Beacon Hills would have caused problems for Derek, maybe, but that’s a pretty huge assumption to make, considering the efforts they went to. So what if it was about her? What if we’re nothing other than weapons?”

“Oh.” Danny lowers his chin. “You mean, that alpha’s pack?”

“Her pack, if she had one. Her partner. Someone who misses her. What if they’re just drawing them here. What if they trained me just enough to be able to defeat them, and then what if they turn on us, weakened from that fight, and they get rid of us, and—well, what if we defeat each other and only the alphas are left? What then?”

“But there haven’t been any other wolves here,” Danny points out. “Just our pack and the alphas, circling.”

“We haven’t really been looking, though, have we? And the alphas are trying to make it obvious. Look at that girl. If whoever they’re baiting doesn’t show up—what then? Who’ll they get next?”

“So what do you say we do?”

“You don’t think it’s a dumb idea?” Erica stares at him, eyes wide. “You really don’t?”

“I think it’s smarter than most of our other ideas,” Danny confesses. “Don’t tell Stiles or Lydia I said so, though.”

“No, that’ll be my lead-in to the conversation. I’ll tell them they should listen to me because you say it’s better than what they’ve come up with.” Danny can’t really tell if she’s kidding or not. Her fangs are out. She looks a little intimidating.

He lets out a brief chuckle, just in case it is a joke. Her grin widens.

“So I’ll share that idea with Derek tomorrow, I guess. I don’t know what good it’ll do, though.”

“It’ll make it so we’re not all sitting around saying that nothing makes sense. You all can start looking for other wolves more than you’re looking for the alphas. If they’re just here to use you, at first—well, better to ignore them, you know?”

“You, too, Danny,” Erica points out. “You might not be as physically dangerous as us, but they’ll use you, too.”

“I know. We can maybe negotiate with them? The partner, the other pack, whoever the alphas are baiting? You weren’t in your right mind—it wasn’t your fault.” The last words have an edge to them; he hopes Erica understands how very much he means them.

She lets her curls fall in front of one eye. “Yeah. We’ll see if they’re reasonable.”

And then they sit in silence again, less comfortable than when she first climbed through his window. Danny shifts in his chair and Erica sits still on his bed, looking down at her hands on her knees. “Do you want to watch a movie?” Danny offers, and Erica looks up at him, nods without saying anything.

He carries his laptop over to his bed and pulls up a bootlegged copy of Skyfall from somewhere online. Erica stretches back beside him, her back against his headboard, a few of her curls tangling over his shoulder, and watches in silence as the opening chase scene bursts on his computer screen.

Erica falls asleep, her head tilted forward at an angle, and he stops the movie before it’s even halfway through. He pulls out his phone in the darkness of his room and texts Stiles, tells him what Erica’s thinking.

Stiles texts back, Shit. And then, Actually, this could be good. I’m going to see what Derek and Peter know about other packs in CA.

Danny doesn’t respond, because Erica’s head has fallen onto his shoulder and she growls, a low sound surprised from her throat, and jerks up, eyes red in the dimness of Danny’s bedroom.

“Just me,” Danny waves his phone. Her eyes dart to track the progress of the glowing screen, and then she visibly shakes herself.

“Sorry,” she breathes. “Still not,” she trails off.

“It’s seriously fine. We might have a problem if you’d clawed me. But you didn’t. We’re good.”

“Don’t worry. I have enough self-preservation to not want to deal with an angry Stiles if I attacked his boyfriend.”

“He wouldn’t be too pissed if it was an accident.” Danny tries to ignore the weird thrill those words send down his spine. 

“Oh, no.” Erica slides off his bed and tugs on the hem of her white t-shirt, straightening it over her jeans. “Even if it was an accident, he would still totally kill me.”

“He’d probably like the scar it left.” Danny tries for a lighter tone, because there’s something in Erica’s expression that he doesn’t quite understand.

She shakes her head. “I don’t think he would. Thanks for letting me talk to you, Danny. Sorry for,” she waves her hand at where he’s sitting on his bed, his closed computer beside him, “you know.”

“Of course,” he says, and then, just as she’s pushing his window open, he asks, “Do you mind, I mean, why’d you come to me, though?”

She turns back to face him. “Boyd gets sad and doesn’t listen. He says he’s listening, but he’s just beating himself up over letting me get taken, still. And Stiles just—he’s good. But you let me talk. I don’t think he would’ve. He’d have been running his mouth all over the place. You let me work through it myself. I thought you would.” She shrugs.

Danny smiles at her. “Any time,” he offers, and she nods.

“I might take you up on that,” and then she’s gone, leaving his window open behind her. Warm wet summer air presses into the cool of his air-conditioned bedroom, and he stands to lean against his windowsill, looking out at the shadows falling under the streetlamps.

:::

Stiles texts him the next morning to tell him he won’t be able to make their run. Danny’s barely finished reading the text before he’s hopping off his bed and heading out on his own, keeping his pace steady as he heads toward the high school.

He crosses the empty parking lot to the track behind the school, where he stretches beside the start, pulling at the toes of his running shoes and swinging his arms behind his back, before settling his toe against the white line and pushing off.

Track workouts are Danny’s second least favorite training technique ever, and he would never subject Stiles to one—he’d go crazy, going in circles. But Danny feels the give of the rubbery surface beneath his running shoes and pushes off a little more aggressively than he does on the roads. He’s still got Erica’s words turning over in his head, and the repetitiveness of the workout is doing something to unwind the tension her story created.

He’s just about to start on his third lap—this one at race pace—when he notices the two figures coming toward the track. From this distance, he can just make out the swing of Kali’s long hair and Ennis’s predatory stride.

He slows to a jog, fingers fumbling for his phone. He’s about to send a semi-incoherent text to Stiles when the wolves stop, still on the other side of the fence, cross their arms, and watch him. He keeps his pace slow, waiting for them to come nearer, but they don’t move.

Eventually, Danny continues his workout, speeding up on alternating laps. He feels the alphas’ eyes on him the whole time, but he doesn’t give up until his breath is coming in short, painful bursts and his watch has beeped, signaling the end to the run.

He leaves by the back entrance to the school, and checks over his shoulder frequently as he jogs home, but he doesn’t see the alphas again. He tries to push them to the back of his mind as he checks his phone, finds a text from Alec inviting him (and Stiles, Alec makes sure to specify) to a party later that week at his house and one from Derek to the whole pack, reminding them to be careful. Danny taps back to the home screen without responding to either and goes to take a shower.

When Stiles finally stops by in the afternoon, Danny has almost forgotten about the alphas watching his run. Considering the various terrible ways that could have gone, he thinks he probably came off okay.

He doesn’t mention it as he meets Stiles at the front walk, brushing a quick and careful kiss over his lips and asking, “Did you guys find anything?”

“Peter was actually sort of kind of half helpful? Like, he told us about a few packs he knows of near LA. Derek and Erica weren’t clear on who it was she killed, but it seems like a likely possibility that she’s right in that the alphas were using her to get at somebody.” They’re walking up Danny’s stairs as he’s talking, and Danny’s glad that his parents got invited to an afternoon cookout at a friend’s, because otherwise he’s pretty sure both of them would be asking why the fuck Danny’s started dating someone who talks about death so nonchalantly. And by asking he sort of means yelling. Also calling the police.

“Oh, shit.” Stiles must read something of his thoughts in Danny’s expression. “Sorry. Is Julia home? Are your parents around? Is there some reason that I shouldn’t be shouting about the fact that Erica killed someone?”

“There are probably a lot of reasons. But Julia’s visiting Ellen in the hospital with some other kids who were at the party the other night, and my parents are out. But seriously, Stiles, have you considered how shitty Erica feels about all of this?”

“Yes?” Stiles flops himself back on Danny’s bed, pushing up until his shoulders are against the headboard. Danny crosses to his desk chair, sitting and looking at Stiles as he rolls his lower lip between his teeth, expression going a little petulant. “I’d never say any of this to Erica, I swear. I would never be so mean to her face.” But the way Stiles is twisting his mouth tells Danny it’s a lie, and he shakes his head.

“You can be callous,” he tells Stiles, and he’s not sure if he’s giving permission or if he’s making an observation.

Stiles links his fingers behind his head, elbows bent and arms making triangles against Danny’s headboard. “I can,” Stiles agrees. “Look, Erica may be right, but we’re still not sure whether the alpha she was forcedto kill was the head of a full pack, or whether she only had a partner, or friends, or, like, a human companion who’s going to come after us. We really still don’t know what we’re up against.”

“But if it was just one person, human or wolf or whatever, do you think the alphas would have gone to this much effort? Like, wouldn’t they have just killed both of them themselves, especially if they were able to hold the one—that one for long enough to make her that weak?”

Stiles hums. “Probably. But Erica is adamant that they’ll do anything to avoid risking their pack. 

“Not that I’m doubting Erica, but why would they kidnap another alpha if they’re not willing to take risks? Why would they come here? I don’t imagine Derek’s exactly known for being even-tempered. And then there’s Peter.”

“I really want to find a way to blame this whole thing on Peter,” Stiles confesses.

“That would be convenient,” Danny admits. “Oh, hey, wait. I almost forgot. I did a track workout today.”

Stiles makes a face. “Why would you do that to yourself?”

“You know I’m going for top five this year. Plus, they’ll suck less when we have to do them in the fall if I’ve already done a few. You’ll notice I haven’t dragged you on any.”

“My hero.” Stiles presses his hands to his chest. Danny chucks a pencil at him. It falls short, landing next to Stiles’s hip. Stiles picks it up and starts playing with it, threading it through his fingers. “So? You tortured yourself this morning. Did anything happen while you were at the track?”

“Kali and Ennis showed up.”

Stiles drops the pencil and jumps off the bed, landing on Danny’s floor with his long frame crowding into his space. He presses his hands on Danny’s shoulders and leans forward, brown eyes wide. “What’d they do? Why didn’t you call me? Or Jackson? Or Scott? Danny, what the fuck?”

“They didn’t do anything. They just stood and watched me. They didn’t follow me home or anything.”

“That you saw,” Stiles corrects. “Jesus.” He’s pulled away, let go of Danny and is pulling his phone out of his pocket, fingers moving fast over the screen before he holds it up to his ear. “Hey, Jackson, can you get over to Danny’s and sniff around? He saw a couple of the alphas at the track this morning. Yeah, I know. Yeah, I’ve told him. Yes, Jackson, yes, will you just get your ass over here?”

Stiles tosses his phone on Danny’s bed. It misses, clatters to the floor, and Stiles doesn’t even glance at it. He steps forward again, in between Danny’s legs, and leans forward.

“Don’t do that,” he tells him, kissing him once, the press of lips hard. “Don’t forget that you’re important.” And what it sounds like, to Danny, is, “Don’t let us down.” Danny pulls back.

“I’m not going to fuck this up for you, all right?” He pushes his chair away, its wheels moving slowly over the carpeting of his room.

“What? No. Danny.” Stiles reaches out and grips onto the arms of the chair, tugging him to a stop. “That’s not what I meant at all. We don’t want you hurt. This is fucked up, already. The fact that we’re even having this conversation—the fact that we all have to worry about each other—it sucks, all right? But we do it, and we do worry, we all do. Don’t tell me you don’t worry about me, about Jackson, when we’re not around. Don’t deny us the right to do the same for you.” Stiles closes the distance between them again. “Don’t try to make us stop caring.”

Danny’s phone buzzes then, vibrating a few centimeters across the surface of his desk, and he reaches over to pick it up. Stiles doesn’t give him an inch, so he holds the phone up beside them, turning his head to look at it, his nose brushing against Stiles’s as he moves.

If you & Stilinski are done being gross, I’m outside.

“Jackson,” Danny tells Stiles, and Stiles kisses him again, fast, and then straightens.

“Let’s go make sure your house hasn’t become an alpha target, boyfriend.”

Danny shoves against his shoulder, and Stiles shoves him back. And somehow, Danny is irrepressibly content as he follows Stiles outside, to where Jackson is leaning against his Porsche.

The alphas hadn’t followed Danny home. Jackson says he doesn’t smell anything strange around his house, and Danny is happy to accept the alphas’ creepiness at its surface value of intimidating and threatening but not actually harmful. Stiles isn’t exactly satisfied with that explanation, but he and Jackson only toss a few slightly-jagged suggestions back and forth before they all give up and call the rest of the pack together for dinner at the Diner.

They’re sitting at one of the large circular booths at the very back of the room, near the grease spilling in waves from the kitchen, when Scott comes rushing in. Derek has pulled a chair up, Stiles is basically in Danny’s lap and Erica is entirely in Boyd’s. Scott pulls a chair from a nearby table and shoves it beside Derek’s, reaching for Stiles’s water glass as he drops down. “Sorry, Deaton’s back and driving me crazy.” Stiles makes a noncommittal noise and Derek raises his eyebrows. “Okay, so, anyway, my mom tells me that Ellen woke up and won’t quit talking about mountain lions.”

Stiles relaxes against Danny’s side. “Good.” He pulls his phone out and starts typing out a text to his dad, but Derek reaches across the table and pulls his phone from his hands.

“Maybe your dad shouldn’t know you’re as well informed as you are,” he says, cancelling the text and handing Stiles’s phone to Danny. “And maybe you shouldn’t make him more suspicious than he already is.”

“Fine, fine.” Stiles waves his hands. “Whatever. So, now that that we no longer have to worry about Ellen telling everyone, what’s our game plan?”

“We’re going to a party at Alec’s on Friday,” Jackson says, and the whole table turns to look at him. “Well, not all of us. Derek probably shouldn’t. But I am, and Lydia is, and Danny. Stilinski, if he wants to.”

“Why?” Danny asks, even though he’d been flicking back to the text about the party occasionally throughout the day.

“Last time there was a party,” Lydia pulls a piece of lettuce from her burger and drops it in her paper-lined basket, “a girl apparently got kidnapped from it. So obviously we’re going to this one.”

“Obviously,” Jackson repeats, and Stiles settles against Danny.

“Sounds good to me.”

“More than one wolf should be there,” Derek says, voice low. “Scott?”

“Sure,” Scott agrees. Stiles shifts beside Danny and Scott jerks in his chair, reaching one hand down to rub at his shin, shooting a glare at Stiles even as he continues, “Although, on behalf of my friends, I resent the fact that you’re implying that the humans are not as capable of handling themselves and protecting people as we are.”

Derek rolls his eyes as Stiles holds out his fist for Scott to bump. “I’m not implying it, I’m stating it outright. And you all know it’s true.”

“Hey,” Stiles shoves his burger in Derek’s direction, “we’re not all damsels in distress.”

“Last time you were cornered by alphas, you texted me and Derek,” Erica points out.

“Well, yeah.” Stiles shrugs. “Less effort involved for me that way.”

 Derek snorts. “Shut up and eat your burger, Stiles.”

“Whatever, Derek. You’re just afraid of admitting that you find me intimidating.” Stiles sets his burger down long enough to make claws with his hands, and Danny laughs into his straw as Derek drops his head to the table and lets out a long-suffering sigh.

Boyd reaches out and taps an awkward pat against his shoulders. “I’ll go too. Make sure these idiots don’t get themselves killed.”

“And me,” Erica offers. She’s staring at the ketchup bottle at the center of the able. “I want—I just. Might as well make an appearance before school starts.”

“That’s probably smart.” Derek’s voice is low, the words coming hesitantly, but when Danny glances at him he sees that his mouth is relaxed in a small smile. “I’ll stay nearby, just in case.”

“So,” Jackson doesn’t even look at their end of the table, “who’s picking up the beer for Friday?”

Stiles points at Derek. Derek looks away from Erica and shakes his head.

“He will,” Stiles says. Derek groans. 

:::

Derek doesn’t actually end up buying them beer. They go to the party empty-handed, because Derek puts his foot down and Danny doesn’t have enough spending money to buy beer and besides, Jackson says there’ll be a keg. And, Lydia reminds them, the only reason they’re even making an appearance at this fucking party is to keep drunk high schoolers from getting mauled by werewolves.

Which, okay. Danny will give her that, but it’s a little difficult to be inside the house, among the press of moving bodies, and not want to go to the kitchen for a drink immediately.

Stiles doesn’t resist the temptation. He emerges from the kitchen with two mostly full Solo cups and hands one to Danny. “Lydia’s not that scary,” he says in response to Danny’s raised eyebrows. Danny doesn’t point out that she really sort of is, just takes an appreciative sip of the beer, which is not as shitty as one would expect from one of their classmates, and takes Stiles’s hand.

Someone has a playlist queued up—Danny’s willing to bet it’s not Alec’s, because his music taste runs more toward angsty guitar-strumming than pop songs and dance remixes—and the living room soon becomes a mess of people moving together.

Danny nods towards the room, knowing that Erica and Boyd are lingering outside and Jackson and Lydia have disappeared somewhere in that group, and Scott is probably good-naturedly ribbing the sophomores and freshmen lingering around the edges of the party. He knows that all of the wolves have an ear out for anything supernatural. He and Stiles can be teenagers for right now, if they want to.

Stiles tips back the rest of his beer, taking it down in impressive gulps that leave Danny a little awed. He sets the cup on a coffee table and Danny hurries to follow him, drinking only half of his beer before leaving it beside Stiles’s. He sets his hands on Stiles’s waist and can already feel the tension in him. Danny draws him close and they move into the crowd of their classmates, a few of whom are so drunk they’re staring outright.

“Why do they care so much?” Stiles mutters, dropping his head back so his mouth is nearer Danny’s ear.

Danny drops a kiss to his throat. “Does it matter?” he mutters. “God, Stiles.” He tightens his hands and presses forward. Stiles lets out a small sound, somewhere between a squeak and a moan, and his neck flushes red.

They make it through two songs before everything goes to shit.

Jackson grabs onto the back of Danny’s neck and hauls him into the kitchen. Danny catches Stiles’s hand as soon as Jackson touches him, pulling him along behind them, and they stop just at the screen door that looks over the back deck and the yard. There are couples and groups out in the yard, and Jackson digs his fingers into Danny’s neck and hisses, “One of the alphas is out there.”

“Which one?” Stiles asks from beside Danny.

“Where?” Lydia comes up behind them, resting a hand on Jackson’s shoulder. He releases Danny slowly, fingers unclenching from around the back of his neck. Scott is standing just on the other side of the screen door, and Erica and Boyd are at the railing of the deck, by the stairs down to the lawn.

“One of the twins,” Scott answers through the screen door. “We can’t tell exactly where. It’s hard to hear over,” he gestures toward the sounds still pulsing from the living room.

But then Danny notices Erica stepping carefully down the stairs, brushing past a couple making out against the railing, with Boyd following right behind her. “Let’s follow them.” He pushes the door open and steps onto the deck.

“Wait.” Scott reaches out and presses a hand against Jackson’s shoulder. “You and me should stay up here, Jackson. If there’s only one out there—there are four more.”

“Fine,” Jackson growls, stepping back into the kitchen so Scott can join him. Stiles pushes up against Danny’s back, moving him a few feet further onto the deck.

“You’ve got mountain ash and wolfsbane?” he asks Lydia, and she nods, her hand going to her back pocket.

“Enough,” she tells him. “You?”

He grins. “More than enough.” He takes Danny’s hand and tugs him across the deck, to the stairs. Erica and Boyd are standing at the last step, their backs stiff.

“Everything all right?” Stiles asks when they reach them.

Erica shakes her head. She nods toward the side of the house, where there are two shadowy bodies moving together.

“That’s him?” Danny keeps his voice soft. The alpha doesn’t look like he’s here to wreak havoc, kissing someone in between Alec’s mom’s rosebushes. He doesn’t look like anything worse than their classmates all over the house, the girl he’s kissing doesn’t look like she’s resisting, although Danny can’t make out who it is. But maybe Ellen’s nightmare started this way too, with a kiss at a party.

“Who…?” Stiles trails off, because Erica has leapt forward, body changing in the air, her shadow stretching and distorting as she shifts into beta form. She drags the twin off the girl, her claws digging visibly into his shoulder, and he roars as he twists to meet her, his eyes a red that matches hers.

Boyd shakes beside Stiles and Danny, fighting his transformation because Erica doesn’t need his help yet, and then breathes, “Oh, fuck.”

Danny doesn’t need to ask what’s wrong, because they’ve gotten closer to the fighting wolves, close enough to see the girl in the light falling from the windows of Alec’s house, and the girl is Julia. Julia, looking at the fight rocking out in front of her like she’ll never look away. Julia, touching her red mouth and staring.

“Jules.” Danny lets go of Stiles, who is fumbling in his pocket for wolfsbane or mountain ash or something, and steps toward his sister.

 “Jules,” he says again, grabbing onto her as she tries to lurch away from him, and then a light flashes on on the back deck and he looks up to see people lining the railing, staring down at the werewolves rolling on the ground, at the blood darkening the green grass.

"What,” Julia says into his shoulder, “what the fuck, Danny, what.”

He’s about to say something, although he’s not sure what, when there’s a scream from the front of the house. Boyd lets out a howl, and it’s answered by one of the wolves inside. Jackson, Danny thinks.

Erica is winning; she has the twin pinned to the ground, and she’s self-aware enough to look up at Danny and Boyd and Stiles. “Help the others,” she growls, voice low and grating and lisping through her teeth. The twin beneath her makes an abortive movement and she digs her claws into his shoulder, blood pulsing out in large enough amounts that Danny can make it out in the dim lights falling over them from the house and the deck.

Boyd and Stiles have already started towards the stairs, but Danny’s still got Julia in front of him, struggling out of the hold he’s got on her upper arms, staring at where Erica’s holding the alpha down. Staring at the blood.

“Get home, Julia.” He shoves her toward the walkway that cuts around the house.

She stumbles, not looking away from Erica, who’s fucking strangling the alpha, now, hands red and slippery looking.

“Jules.” Danny breathes out. “Please. Go. Home.”

“But,” she won’t look at him. Won’t turn from Erica. “Danny?”

There is a barrage of screams and shouts coming from the deck, spilling through the open living room windows a floor above them. He needs Julia to get out of here. He needs Julia home before the cops come, needs her out of here before the alphas break through the barricade of Scott and Jackson and Boyd, Lydia and Stiles, and realize that one of their pack is hurting. He needs her gone.

Erica spits from where she’s still sitting on the alpha, her hands still around his neck, but they look looser, “If you don’t get out of here in five seconds, I will kill this asshole, and then drag you back to your house by your fucking hair.”

Julia makes a strangled sound. She turns to stare wide-eyed at Danny, as if expecting him to protect her. He waves his hands at her. “Go the fuck home, Julia. Please.”

She looks like he’s hit her, but she turns and hurries down the walkway, glancing behind her only twice before breaking into a run. He can hear other people leaving, see headlights cutting from the road at the front of the house—people fleeing. He hopes Julia gets home with one of them, but anywhere is better than here.

Erica pushes herself to her feet, wiping her hands on her jeans, smearing dark prints there. “He’s unconscious,” she tells Danny. “I didn’t kill him.” He’s a little surprised, and a little ashamed that he’s surprised.

She doesn’t pause to make sure he’s following as she brushes past him to the door that leads to the downstairs. She kicks the door in, her whole body behind it. It shakes, the wall shakes, Danny’s world shakes, and he follows her inside, grateful that they don’t have to push through the teenagers still clogging the deck, the ones who’re shoving each other down the deck stairs, so anxious to get out of this nightmare that they’re running into the woods, disappearing in the neighbors’ backyards. Screaming, all around them, screaming, and shouting, and these repetitive roars from upstairs.

They’re in the living room. Ennis and Kali and the other twin, the one not currently bleeding and unconscious in the backyard, standing in a line with their backs to the picture window that looks out over the street. They’re not fully shifted, but they’re all somewhere on their way to full wolf, and Scott and Boyd and Jackson face them, standing in front of the couch that’d been pushed against the far wall in preparation for the party, looking across a room that reeks of spilled beer and letting out low continuous growls. The alphas are the ones roaring, jaws cracking as the sounds roll out, as if they’re trying to attract attention.

Stiles and Lydia are standing in the doorway to the kitchen. They look unharmed. Everyone looks fine; Erica’s the only one with blood on her.

She and Danny pause at the top of the stairs. They’re near their friends, and Danny moves to join the wolves, but Erica shoves him towards Stiles and Lydia as she herself steps forward, releasing a roar that matches the ones coming from the alphas.

At the sight of her they stop, the three of them, their mouths bursting with teeth but suddenly silent, their red eyes locked on her bloody skin, hair, clothes.

“Aiden?” Kali asks, meaning that the one watching Erica like she’s a nightmare coming directly for him is Ethan. He starts growling.

“Unconscious but otherwise fine, which you have to know.” Erica waves a hand. Her claws are out, and the gesture, which looks so innocent on Stiles, on Danny, is a threat on her. “Unless your pack bond has gotten so weak you can’t even tell he’s alive?”

Ethan leaps for her, and Kali growls, “No,” as Scott and Jackson and Boyd converge on them, too, the wolves growing claws and fangs and sideburns in the time it takes them to cross the room. 

The alphas fight, but they don’t shift into wolves. Erica doesn’t, either. They aren’t fighting individually, their bodies are coming together and breaking apart in a mass, all together in waves, and Danny can’t tell who’s growling, who’s roaring, whose blood is pooling on the hardwood floors. He reaches into Stiles’s pocket and tugs out a bag of powdered wolfsbane. He doesn’t know what good it’ll do, doesn't even really know what to do with it, but Stiles has his hand clutched around a bag of his own and Lydia, Jesus, Lydia has a knife in her hand, and she’s holding it easily, familiarly.

The sounds of the wolves are getting more desperate. They’re ripping at each other, Danny can see Boyd’s teeth settle in Ennis’s shoulder, and he lets out an honest-to-god scream. Stiles keeps pushing forward onto the balls of his feet, like he wants to get in there, and then settling back on his heels when he realizes there’s no opening. There’s not even enough room between the wolves to force an opening. 

Sirens cut through the cacophony of roars and growls and claws ripping through skin, the sounds of people still shouting out in the backyard elevating in the direct aftermath of the sirens, and then it’s suddenly still and silent in the backyard.  The wolves continue fighting for the barest of seconds, and then Kali releases Scott and Erica shoves Ethan away from her and Jackson and Boyd back off from Ennis. They’re all bleeding, their bodies healing in agonizing slow motion.

“Later,” Ennis coughs, backing toward the window. Kali makes it there first, flipping through the glass as three long cuts down her side shed blood everywhere. The sound of glass shattering as she falls is the least shocking noise of the night.

Scott reaches out as Ennis and Ethan follow her, as if he wants to keep one of them. To take one of them hostage.

It’s not a bad idea. Danny looks at Lydia, who nods and turns, running down the stairs before Danny can even vocalize his thought. 

“Where?” Erica begins, coughing, wiping blood from her face onto her bloody wrist. They’re all covered, all over red. Jackson lets out a brief growl and hobbles after Lydia, body healing as he stumbles down the stairs.

“If Aiden’s still there, Lydia’ll drug him. Derek should be nearby.”

“A hostage?” Erica looks sick.

“If he’s still there.” Danny gets why she looks the way she does, but they need an advantage. And they took her.

“They took you.” Boyd growls, grabbing onto Erica’s hand.

“We need to get out of here.” Scott glances at the broken window. “We’ll talk—we need to get out of here.” Because the room is suddenly filled with reflective red and blue lights, and they cannot be here. “Stiles.” Scott steps forward, face twisted in concentration.

“I know, dude, I know.” Stiles reaches out and grabs onto Scott’s wrist. Danny gets under his other arm and Boyd, who didn’t get nearly as torn up as the others, holds onto Erica’s waist.

They go through the downstairs, out through the open back door. Lydia and Jackson aren’t outside anymore, and Aiden’s not there, either, although that could mean anything.

They hear someone from the front of the house call, “Police, open up,” and they stumble through the few people too scared to make a break for the woods. They’re given a wide berth as they make their way into the side woods that skirt Alec’s house.

“The Jeep’s down the road this way,” Stiles says through his teeth. Scott’s gone mostly unconscious, and Danny admires the fact that Stiles can even form a sentence—Scott McCall is not a light load, even split between the two of them.

“Think your dad noticed it?” Erica asks, voice shaking.

“Does it really matter? We need to get to Deaton. Fuck the police.” Stiles is trying so hard, so hard for humor, but Danny can’t even manage a smile. Boyd lets out a huff that could have been a laugh, maybe. An attempt at one, anyway.

They get to the Jeep without running into anyone. It’s parked alone on the side of the road in front of a house a few houses down from Alec’s; less than two hours ago they had been at the end of a very long line of cars. Now the road is empty, the lights from the police cruisers still flashing around the curve in the street by Alec’s house, the sounds muffled by the distance they’ve come, but still louder than an ordinary Saturday night on this back road.

“Fuck,” Stiles mutters as he and Danny manage to heave Scott into the backseat. Boyd climbs in after, pulling Erica behind him, and he lets the two more heavily injured wolves fall against his sides.

Stiles drives so fast they almost leave the road when they take corners, and Danny doesn’t even think about the possibility of them crashing or getting pulled over or anything because this night has already been shitty enough and they need to get to Deaton. They need to get to Deaton, and he needs to get to Julia.

Stiles’s phone makes a chiming noise, and he huffs and digs around in his pocket with one hand, the other staying on the steering wheel, and hands his phone to Danny. It’s sticky with blood when he takes it.

There are three texts. He opens the first, from Derek. What happened? I hear sirens.

The next is from Lydia: Got Aiden. Taking him to the Hale place.

The third is from Derek, again: Jackson’s okay. Let me know when you get out.

Danny reads them to Stiles. “I’ll let him know we’re going to Deaton.”

“Then what?” Erica asks from the backseat, her voice a raspy mess.

“Then we get you all healed up. We go see Derek. We find out what Aiden knows. We solve this fucking mystery.”

“What if the alphas go to Derek’s? What if they try to get to them? There’s only Jackson there now.”

“And Derek, and Lydia. I bet Allison and Isaac'll be over there soon.” Danny sends the text to Derek from Stiles’s phone, scratching at a bit of the dried blood—Scott’s probably, maybe Erica’s—on the screen as the message pops up in the log.

“Lydia’ll surround the house with mountain ash, so they won’t be able to get in, and none of you would be any help right now, anyway.” Stiles scrubs a hand through his hair. “Scott, buddy, you still with us?”

“I’m good,” Scott manages. It sounds like he’s anything but, but Stiles relaxes in the driver’s seat at his voice.

“Call Deaton. He’s in there under Enigmatic Douchebag,” Stiles directs, and Danny scrolls through his contacts to find the vet. He answers on the first ring.

“Mr. Stilinski? To what do I owe this pleasure?” The man’s voice is quiet. Everyone sounds so damn tired these days.

“It’s actually Stiles’s boyfriend—we’ve got three werewolves bleeding out in Stiles’s Jeep and we’re on our way to your office.”

“I’m not bleeding out,” Boyd protests, and Danny rolls his eyes as Deaton releases a sigh into his ear.

“I can be there in ten minutes. Is Scott with you?”

“Yeah." 

“Of course he is. Well, he has a key. Let yourselves in. Stiles knows where the antiseptic ointments and bandages are; he can start preparing them.” The vet hangs up before Danny can respond.

They screech into the vet’s parking lot a minute later, and Erica and Boyd get out, Erica standing mostly on her own now. Scott makes a few attempts at fumbling in his pocket, but he’s losing control over his hands—he seems to be getting worse rather than better, which is not how this stupid werewolf shit is supposed to work, damn it—and Stiles reaches into his pockets for the keys.

“Which one,” he holds out the keychain in front of Scott, and Scott reaches out a shaking finger to point at the slim silver one between his mom’s car key and one that looks like it could fit a bike lock. 

Stiles fists the key in his hand and strides up to the vet office, unlocking the door and holding it open as Boyd helps Erica inside. Boyd returns in a few seconds, and he and Stiles and Danny manage to get Scott into one of the back rooms, lifting him up on an exam table. Erica is sitting in a chair in a corner, Boyd carefully smoothing back her hair so he can see the damage.

Stiles’s hands shake as he tries to cut Scott’s shirt off with scissors he pulls from a drawer in the side cabinets. Danny reaches for the scissors, stills Stiles’s hands with one of his. “I can do it,” he tells him, and Stiles steps back.

Danny cuts a neat line up the center of Scott’s torn shirt, thinking about how he was not meant for this. The line is straight, but it reveals the complete mess underneath. Scott’s skin is red and bloody and swollen around bite marks and scratches so deep and wide they’re more like gouges, rips out of his skin.

Stiles makes a sound in his throat, and Danny glances up from where he’s peeling the fabric away from Scott’s torso and chest, tugging a little where it’s stuck with dried blood. Stiles is gripping the edge of the metal exam table, fingers leaving smears of sweat on the metal, his face twisted and his mouth open a little and he’s breathing hard. “Oh, God.”

Danny’s never seen him like this before. “It’s all right, Stiles, it’s okay.” He lifts Scott’s shoulders off the table and tugs the remains of his shirt from under them. Scott shivers a little as his hot skin falls onto the cool of the table. “We need to get him cleaned off. Deaton mentioned ointments, bandages?”

Boyd’s moving behind Danny, and he hears water running. He turns to see the werewolf at a sink set into the row of cabinets, holding a cloth under the faucet. The water runs pink down the drain from all the blood on Boyd’s hands, and he leaves the faucet on as he crosses the room back to Erica, whose shirt is on the floor. Her torso is a wreck, but not nearly as much of one as Scott’s. 

Danny digs in a cabinet to the right of the sink and finds a white cloth, which he sticks under the faucet for a second before turning back to Scott, who is shaking on the table. Stiles hasn’t moved.

“Stiles.” Danny carefully runs the cloth over Scott’s skin, pressing just a little to get the dried blood off. The wounds aren’t bleeding as much anymore, the red coming in sluggish pulses, and Scott doesn’t look quite as awful as he did when they first got him out of the Jeep. Danny’s not sure if that’s wishful thinking. “What do you usually use to sterilize their wounds?”

“Oh, God.” Stiles spins on his heel and starts rummaging through the cabinets on the wall behind him, but his movements are frantic and unfocused, like he’s not sure what he’s looking for, he’s just looking.

“Stilinski,” Boyd barks. “Get your shit together.”

Erica snorts as Boyd scrubs blood from her shoulder. “He’ll be okay, you idiot. He’s not dying.”

“Oh, God.” Stiles presses his forehead against one of the cabinet doors, and Danny is just about to drop the bloody cloth to the exam table to go to him when the door opens and Deaton strides in.

He takes in the scene with his eyebrows raised, his expression barely changing at all.

“Mr. Stilinski, the antiseptic is in the drawer by your left hand. Please take out the bottle with the blue top. Mr. Boyd, please remove your shirt. I can’t treat your injuries if I can’t see them. Ms. Reyes, the next room has an exam table. If you can make it there yourself, I suggest you do. It will be easier for Mr. Stilinski to help you if you’re lying down and he's not looking at Scott the whole time.” He pivots, takes in Danny, with his hands on Scott’s shoulders. “You must be the boyfriend.” He directs his gaze down, at Scott, and gives a slight shake of his head. “I’ll take care of Scott.” His tone is soft.

Stiles follows Erica’s shuffling form into the next room, and Deaton looks Boyd over quickly, handing Danny a clean cloth and a small bottle of what smells like rubbing alcohol. “Mr. Boyd just needs that bite on his shoulder cleaned. Please." 

Danny feels a little relieved to leave Scott’s side; Boyd looks like a significantly better patient to treat.

Deaton makes a noise as he leans over Scott, and Boyd growls as Danny pours the clear liquid onto the cloth, rubbing it against his wound, and Erica’s saying something to Stiles in the next room that makes him half-laugh, and the barely-there noises are startling after the rush of the last few hours.

Deaton makes a humming noise as Danny washes the cloth in the sink and Stiles and Erica come shuffling back into the room, both looking much healthier. Erica snatches her bloody shirt from the floor and pulls it on, and they all crowd around where Scott is still lying.

“I can’t have you all hovering,” Deaton finally says. “Mr. Stilinski can stay, the rest of you may go into the waiting area.”

Erica shakes her head. “We should be with pack.” 

“You’ll help Scott more if you let me take care of him.” 

“Can we go to Derek?” Boyd suggests. Stiles reaches into his pocket, not taking his gaze from Scott.

“Here,” he hands his keys to Danny, their fingers brushing a little, "just come back for us after you drop them off.”

"I have to make a detour home, I need to see if Julia’s okay.”

“Of course,” Stiles glances up, a quick jerk of his eyes, and he tries to smile. Danny squeezes his hand before leading the others out of the clinic, to Stiles’s Jeep. 

It stinks of blood and sweat, and Danny feels a little sick as he reverses out of the parking lot, Erica in the seat beside him and Boyd in the back. The headlights cut across the buildings as he pulls out onto the road, and his foot falls against the gas. The Jeep's engine revs.

He knows he's speeding toward the woods and all the nightmares living in them, and he’s not wishing for safety, really; all he wants is Scott and Stiles in the Jeep with him and Erica and Boyd, to have them all heading toward the monsters together.

Chapter Text

Lydia is waiting outside the wreck of the Hale house when Danny pulls up. There’s an arc of light flashing repeatedly through the house’s glassless front windows, like someone inside is signaling the same long signs over and over, or, more likely, pacing with a flashlight in hand. 

The night is so quiet that the noise of the Jeep seems nearly deafening. 

Lydia watches, her expression unchanging, as Erica and Boyd climb out of Stiles’s car. She scrapes her foot across a dark line illuminated by the headlights, breaking the circle that must surround the whole house, and the wolves cross to stand beside her. 

As soon as Erica and Boyd are next to her, Lydia leans down and releases a little more of the dark powder onto the ground, staring at her fist as the mountain ash pours from her hand. She wipes her palm on her jeans and stands, waving at the Jeep. Danny reverses and bumps down the long dirt drive, silently promising himself and Lydia and Erica and Boyd and all the others inside that he and Stiles and Scott will be back soon. 

He has his foot on and off the gas as he pulls out onto the main road, trying to keep exactly at the speed limit, knowing that he already runs a higher risk of getting pulled over because of the  conspicuousness of the car he’s driving. He’s covered in blood and dirt and he needs to get home to Julia and then he needs to get to Stiles and Scott—he doesn’t have time for a police interlude. 

It’s miraculous, really, that he makes it home. Well, either it’s a miracle or the whole force is still at Alec’s. Whichever, he pats the steering wheel gratefully as he parks the Jeep and twists the key out of the ignition. He scrabbles his hand in Stiles’s glove compartment for a moment, pulling a Ziploc baggie of mountain ash from between a Bic lighter and one of Stiles’s first aid kits. He stuffs the bag and the keys in his pocket before climbing out. 

Julia’s light is shining down on the front walk, so he doesn’t knock when he reaches the hall outside her room, just pushes the door open. He’s a little surprised to find that it’s unlocked.   

She’s sitting in the corner by her closet, clutching a softball bat, hair wet around her face, skin still flushed from a shower. She’s glaring at him. 

“Jules,” he says, and she shakes her head. Her eyes are a little bloodshot, the brown irises clearer for the contrast, but she’s not crying now. She looks, as she stares up at him, equal parts livid and terrified. 

“What the fuck was all that? Why—you’re fucking covered in blood. What happened tonight, Danny? What the hell is going on?” 

“I’m fine.” He waves down at the blood. “It’s not mine, and everyone’s fine.” He slides down, his back against the door, and watches her across the floor of her room. “What happened tonight—it’s not something I really want to talk to you about, to be honest.” 

“But you’re going to,” Julia sounds dangerous, tone on the edge of something catastrophic. “You’re fucking going to, Daniel, because I just had my tongue in some guy’s mouth and then suddenly he had fangs. What is going on?” 

And so he tells her. He doesn’t think about spinning a web of lies similar to the one Stiles has wrapped all around his dad. He doesn’t even consider what he would say to get out of this one, the sort of drugs he could allege to explain it. He just tells her. He tells her fast, the way Stiles and Jackson and Boyd and Derek had told him back at the beginning of the summer, because he needs to get back to the clinic, but he tells her as much as he can. And she sits across her room and stares at him, fingers unfurling from around the softball bat, eyes widening as he goes on about Scott and Derek, Peter and Boyd and Isaac, Erica. 

“Oh,” she says, as he trails off, unable to fully explain the alphas, unable to really describe them because his level of understanding regarding them is miniscule. “Oh.” 

“Yeah. So. That’s been going on.” 

“Seriously, Danny. All this time, werewolves, and you didn’t tell me?” 

She looks at him like he’s hurt her, but really. “Werewolves, Jules. Would you have even believed me? I wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t seen some seriously weird shit go down in the last year.” 

“Maybe? I don’t know.” She drops her chin against her knees. “Are you supposed to have told me?” 

Danny tips his head back against the door. “Probably not.” He thinks Derek might be upset. “But I’m not going to lie to you anymore.” He could have. He could have said he heard someone spiked the drinks. She would never have believed him, but then, Stiles has proven that the lies don’t need to be believed. They just need to be ignored. 

“Why not? You’re lying to everyone else.” Her voice, so angry a minute ago, so accepting a second ago, has grown hard and cool. 

“Not the people who,” he cuts off, stops himself from saying, “the people who matter,” because his parents matter. His old friends, Liam and Alec and the rest, they matter. They do, even if this summer he’s bundled himself into an entirely different world. Even if he’s spent most of his time not thinking about them. They still exist; they’re still his friends. They’re still there

It’s hard not to trivialize everyone else, with the near-death that throws itself in the pack’s lap regularly. It’s hard not to trivialize everything outside of them when Stiles is looking at him, waiting for him, jogging in place at a stoplight next to him.  But even so, even given that, he shouldn’t be willing to say everyone else doesn’t matter because they’re not dealing with shit stolen from paranormal thrillers. “The others don’t need to know. You need to know,” he finally explains, and she raises her eyebrows at him. 

“What makes me so special?” The sarcasm weighs down the air in her bedroom. 

“You can’t protect yourself if you don’t know exactly what you’re protecting yourself from.” 

“So you’re only telling me because I kissed a—because I had my tongue down a werewolf’s throat?”

Danny scrunches his face. Julia, little Julia, and Aiden, who has killed innocent people, the thought of the two of them together is revolting in a way it wouldn’t be, if she had been talking about making out with anyone from their high school. He doesn’t say anything. 

“Fucking werewolves, Danny!” 

“I know.” He drops his chin to look at her again. “I do. I would have told you if you’d seen even half of what you saw tonight. If you saw Jackson with sideburns, or Scott with his eyes all lit up—I’d have told you.” 

“Bullshit. You’re telling me now, and I thank you for that, I do, but—that was Erica tonight, right? The one who pulled Aiden off of me? That was Erica and she threatened me and you sided with her. You stayed, Danny. You sent me away, but you stayed.” 

“Of course I stayed. You didn’t know what was going on. You needed to get out of there.” He looks at the dried blood spattered on his dark t-shirt, his jeans. “I needed to stay.” He can’t explain that compulsion, the fact that he didn’t even consider a different possibility, didn’t consider leaving to make absolutely sure she made it home all right. He feels a raw surge of guilt at that, but even so he can’t imagine having handled the night any differently. 

“But once I was gone, what’d you do?” She fixes her gaze on a smear of brownish blood across his forearm. “You look like you killed somebody. You look like a psychopath. You’re a mess. How do you know Erica and the rest are the good guys, how do you know you want to side with them?” She takes in a shaky breath. “How can you want to risk everything for them?”

“What we’re doing—it’s right, Julia. I’m on the right side.” 

“Say there’s not a right side,” she argues, “or say both groups of werewolves are wrong and the right side is the people who’re out of it.” 

Danny pushes to his feet. “Staying out of it isn’t an option for me. People are getting hurt, and we need to stop the wolves who’re hurting them. That’s what there is. That’s all this is.” 

“Fuck that,” she spits. “This is a power trip.” Danny shakes his head, thinks no, and she continues, “Maybe not for you, but for the people who were so recently no-name high school students? Erica Reyes, Vernon Boyd? No one knew they existed eight months ago. And Derek Hale? He’s a twenty-something loser hanging out with teenagers. They’re out to prove something. They want to win.” 

Danny shakes his head again, jerks it from side to side so fast the room blurs. Julia blurs. “What the alphas are doing is wrong. You have to admit that. I don’t think…I know Derek and Erica and Boyd and Isaac—their reasoning isn’t what you say it is, but if it were, if they were trying to…make a name for themselves, become heroes, redeem themselves, whatever you’re thinking—does that matter? They’re helping, for whatever reason.” 

“Yeah, Machiavelli? I don’t think they’ll stop when they reach whatever end you’re all working toward.” 

“You don’t know them.” Danny taps his head back against her door, hard enough to make a noise but not hard enough to hurt. 

“Do you?” Erica counters. “You’re all over Stilinski, all right, and I’ll leave him out of this—even though he’s who got you into it—but do you know the others? I don’t think you do. I don’t think you even know Jackson anymore.” 

Danny shakes his head, hand fumbling for the doorknob to his side. “I know them enough, Julia. Think about what could’ve happened to you if we hadn’t been there tonight.” 

“Enough for what? To die for them? And fuck you, I’m not an idiot, I wouldn’t leave with a guy I don’t know.” 

“Enough to trust them to do what needs to be done. And you were being an idiot when you,” she cuts a glance up at him, and he backtracks, “I’m just saying, he’s a werewolf, Jules. He could have taken you if he wanted to.” Her fingers brush against the bat beside her. “Do you really think we’re the bad guys?” 

“I don’t know what to think.” She settles the bat across her lap and looks at him. “I know you’re being selfish. I know you’re being reckless. I know this isn’t good for you.” He twists his hand on the doorknob and her eyes widen, jerking from his hand to his face and back again. “You’re leaving, Danny, now? You’re leaving me alone?” She sounds stupidly young and horribly naïve. 

“I need to get back to Stiles and Scott. I just wanted to be sure you’re all right. I’ll lock the door, you’ll be okay.” 

“Like locks’ll keep out werewolves,” she hisses. “You’re leaving me.” 

He pushes the door open and reaches into his pocket. “Here.” He tosses the bag of mountain ash across the room. She reaches up one hand to catch it, the knuckles of the other whitening around the softball bat. 

“What’s this?” She tugs the seal open and stares at the dark powder inside. She sniffs. 

“Mountain ash. Put a line across your doorway, a line across your windowsill. It keeps werewolves out. You just need to believe it’ll work, and it’ll work.” He doesn’t know if that’s true. He doesn’t know if she needs what Stiles obnoxiously refers to as a spark for it to work. But he doesn’t expect the alphas to come for her, she’s not involved, she didn’t help them take Aiden. They’ll want him back, they won’t want Julia. His pack can afford a baggie of mountain ash to provide his sister the illusion of safety. 

“That’s your idea of protection? A magic fucking powder? No gun, Danny? No guard dog?” 

“Use the ash, Julia. I’ll be home in the morning.”  

She calls him an asshole, but he shuts the door and has his hand on the handle to Stiles’s Jeep before he even lets himself think about the possibility that she might be a little bit right. Maybe his loyalty has strayed too far, but it has strayed, and he’s not about to betray that. Stiles needs him, and right now Scott does too, and his friends are interrogating a wolf who would have used his sister, who might have killed his sister, and so Danny is going to pick a side, fuck the means they use, because there’s a chance the ends will justify them. 

He glances in the rearview mirror as he’s backing out of the driveway and slams on the brake so hard the seatbelt snaps him against his seat. “Jesus fuck,” he breathes. The glowing eyes in the mirror blink. 

He twists around in his seat to see Isaac sitting there, scrubbing a clawed hand through his curls and looking sheepish. “Sorry,” Isaac mutters. “I didn’t realize you didn’t know I was here.” 

Danny takes a few seconds to catch his breath. “Jesus fuck,” he repeats. 

“I’m sorry,” Isaac says again, “but Derek said you were going to get Stiles and Scott and I thought I could be more help there than at the house, and your house is closer than the vet.” 

“What’re you even,” Danny shakes his head, waves a hand toward the passenger seat, “get up here, why’re you in the back?” 

Isaac climbs smoothly over the console between the seats and doesn’t answer. “Are we going to Deaton’s?” 

Danny removes his foot from the brake and continues backing into the road. “To get the others. Scott should be okay by now, and then we can all get back to the Hale house. Where were you tonight?” 

Isaac shifts in his seat so he’s looking at Danny. Danny lets himself speed a little, optimistic after he made it home without seeing any cops. “Derek and Erica wanted me and Peter to do some tracking.” He makes a considering noise. “Well, actually, Peter wanted to do some tracking. Derek and Erica wanted me to do some guarding.” 

“They made you trail Peter? That seemed like a good idea to them?” 

“More like we were working together, but yeah. And I don’t appreciate your tone. Nothing disastrous happened.” 

“Except that the alphas attacked. That’s sort of a disaster.” 

“Not our fault. You and the rest were on alpha duty. We weren’t.” Isaac sounds scornful. Danny flicks on his left signal and turns onto a back road that cuts through the center of town and, if he speeds a little more, will get them to the vet’s in under five minutes. 

“Who were you tracking, then?” Danny swallows. It sounds loud. “You found the pack. The one whose alpha Erica killed.” He intends it to be a question, but it comes out too tense, too forced to be anything but an assumption. 

Isaac lets the silence stretch. 

“Did you?” Danny asks as he brakes into the vet’s parking lot. 

“Peter did, earlier. We just watched them tonight. They’re…not happy. But they’re not on a murderous rampage, either. Which is good. An improvement over the alphas.” 

But the alphas haven’t actually killed anyone in Beacon Hills yet, have they? He doesn’t ask that. He doesn’t want to get further into the alpha’s psyches. Instead he asks, “How did Peter find them?” 

Danny shoves open his door in the silence following his question. Isaac follows after a moment. 

“I didn’t ask. I think there was some sort of terrifying ritual. Either that, or he just went around to all the shitty motels at the freeway exits around here and looked for strange werewolves.” 

“They’re at a motel?” 

Isaac nods. He rests a hand on Danny’s shoulder as Danny pushes open the door to the vet’s, and Danny would hate the predatory feel of that if it weren’t for sudden spike in his own nerves at the line of light showing beneath the door to the exam room where he left Stiles and Scott and Deaton. It’s been longer than it should have been. They should be fine. They should be having coffee in the break room and discussing what they’re going to do with the prisoner. Arguing over whether it’s wise to let Derek handle it. Scott should be okay by now. 

And then the door to the exam room opens and Scott is standing there, shirtless and with a little bit of blood still crusted in spots, but mostly fine. He smiles at them. “Isaac, dude. I didn’t know you were with Danny.” He steps back from the door and Isaac releases Danny to enter the room, brushing his shoulder just slightly against Scott’s as he does. Of course, of course, the exam room doesn’t have windows. No one can see inside. It’s safer. Danny feels a little ridiculous for the still-dissipating knot of worry in his throat, but then, he’s still covered in Scott’s blood, so maybe he wasn’t being entirely unreasonable. 

He enters the room more slowly than Isaac had, weirdly nervous about seeing Stiles, as if something significant has changed in the hour since they’ve been in the same room. But all he feels is a release in his chest when he sees Stiles at the sink, rubbing a bar of soap up over his forearms, the blood coming off his skin in a wash of pinkish white. 

Stiles turns, dropping the soap in the sink, hands dripping suds and water, and rests his ass against the counter. Danny doesn’t look at the others in the room. Deaton is saying something to Isaac, asking him something. Danny doesn’t—Isaac won’t tell Deaton anything he hasn’t willingly told Danny, so Danny doesn’t care. He crosses the room to stand in front of Stiles, between Stiles and the cabinets and the sink and the exam table where Scott had been bleeding out an hour ago. 

He reaches out and wraps his hands around the slippery skin of Stiles’s wrists. Stiles looks at him, looks up at him because his feet have slid forward a little on the tile floor, because of the way he’s resting against the counter. “Is Julia all right?" 

“Not really.” Danny leans forward and presses his forehead against Stiles’s. His breath still smells like beer but Danny wants to crawl inside of his mouth. Mostly Danny wants to be closer, as close as possible. Closer than possible. 

Stiles breathes out, apparently uncaring about the stale sweet sour scent. “What’d you tell her?” 

“I told her the truth.” 

Stiles pulls back, but only so he can angle his mouth against Danny’s for a kiss that feels like pushing at a bruise. Danny gives in to it, not caring about the three other people in the room. Not caring about the blood or the wet slip of Stiles’s wrists under his hands, where they’re still caught between their bodies. Not caring about how awkward this could be, if they let it be awkward. If this weren’t Stiles, if there weren’t werewolves, if they weren’t covered in other people’s blood. If everything were different, this kiss would be odd, hard, upsetting. 

But everything is the way it is. And Danny’s glad that he gets a stale beery kiss in the exam room at a vet’s office while three people talk behind him and the boy he’s kissing has hands that are wet because he was scrubbing his best friend’s blood from between his fingers. Danny’s glad he gets this. 

He breaks away, resting his forehead in the curve of Stiles’s neck into his shoulder and says, “Do you think Derek will care?” 

“As long as Julia doesn’t tell anyone, he’ll be fine.” 

“She’s pissed, though.” And confused. And thinking Danny might be a monster. Thinking Erica definitely is a monster. 

“Yeah, well. You weren’t too pleased when we first told you, either. You got over it.” 

Danny lets go of Stiles and steps back, leaning against the exam table, not thinking about how Scott looked lying there. Stiles turns and starts scrubbing at his hands again. Danny wipes his hands on his jeans and watches the wetness darken them, turn the brown spots of blood reddish. “I don’t want her to get over it the way I did,” he admits. 

Stiles tugs some paper towels from the dispenser on the wall and gestures for Danny to take his place at the sink before he asks, “What do you mean?” 

Danny makes the water as hot as he can stand it. “I mean I don’t want her getting over this by getting involved in it.” 

Stiles lets out a loud breath. “You might not be able to make that call.” Danny digs his nails into the skin between his thumb and index finger, scraping up flakes of blood. They swirl down the drain. “I’m not saying that to be a dick,” Stiles continues, “it’s just, she’s fifteen. She knows now. If she wants to be a part of it, there’s probably not much you can say that’ll stop her. But will she want to be a part of it?” 

“I don’t know.” Danny lets the water run up his wrists, scrubs at his forearms with the soap and a rough cloth that had been folded on the counter. “Right now it doesn’t seem like it, but Julia—she’s not the sort to let things go. To let things be.” 

“Um,” Isaac coughs from Danny’s left. “I hate to interrupt, but if we don’t get to Derek’s then there might not be anything for Julia to get involved in.” 

“Dude,” Scott mutters, but Danny shuts off the water and grabs some paper towels, rubbing his hands dry until the paper’s a pulpy mess. 

“No, sorry, Isaac’s right. We should have been there ages ago.” 

Stiles takes the paper towels from his hands, which are shaking, but only a little, and throws them away. 

“Boyd’s been keeping us updated.” Scott waves his cellphone. “Not much has changed. Aiden’s woken up, but he won’t talk. Lydia’s got him in a circle. Erica’s upset. Derek’s growling and pacing. Jackson’s taunting the asshole. Peter is, according to Boyd, gleeful.” 

“Sounds pretty normal.” Stiles grabs onto Danny’s hand and starts drawing him toward the door. Danny lets him. They’re about to leave the exam room when Stiles hesitates and turns his back on the exit. “Are you coming, Doc?” he asks Deaton, who’s still standing in the far corner, by a pile of bloody cloths and some glass vials.

“I’ll be here,” the vet says, “in case things go wrong.” 

“When do they ever go right?” Isaac asks, and Deaton smiles, small and close-mouthed. 

“I’ll be here,” he repeats. “But call me if you need me to be elsewhere.” He directs the last at Scott, who nods, expression tight as he rests one hand on Isaac’s shoulder and moves them the door. Stiles steps aside so the two werewolves can leave first, and Danny presses close to him. 

Stiles hasn’t stopped looking at Deaton. “What you did for Scott, that wasn’t something little,” he says, and there’s a whole lot beneath the surface of that that Danny can’t grasp on to. 

“Wounds inflicted by an alpha take a long time to heal. You know this. I just sped up the process.” 

“Boyd and Jackson’s wounds healed easier.” Stiles’s grip on Danny’s hand is so tight it’s starting to hurt. He squeezes back. 

“They weren’t injured as badly.” Deaton sighs. “What do you want to know, Mr. Stilinski?” 

“I’m wondering,” Stiles says, voice hard, “how much healing Scott like that took out of you.” 

“You are observant,” Deaton says it like it’s a concession. “It took enough out of me that I won’t be much help until later in the day. But I do know things, Mr. Stilinski. So I will provide assistance in whatever ways I can.” 

Stiles’s grip relaxes. Danny stretches his fingers out as much as possible while keeping them within Stiles’s hand. “Someday,” he starts pulling Danny back towards the exit, “you’re going to explain to me just what those ‘things’ are.” 

“When that day comes, I have a feeling you may be explaining some things to me.” 

Stiles snorts. Danny suppresses a shiver. Deaton, for all that he’s on their side, freaks him the fuck out. 

Scott and Isaac are leaning against the Jeep, tapping impatient feet against the pavement, when they reach the parking lot. “Sorry,” Stiles mutters, tugging his keys from Danny’s front pocket and unlocking the doors. “Had a few questions.” 

“We heard.” Isaac climbs into the backseat. “I don’t really want to know what any of that meant, though. If that’s all right.” 

“Yeah.” Stiles barely waits until the doors are shut before he’s shifting and pulling out onto the road. “That’s good. I don’t really feel like explaining.” 

Scott doesn’t let it go quite as easily. “Is it bad, what you asked Deaton? Is it a bad thing?” 

“It’s definitely not ideal. But we can work around it.” Stiles throws a grin over his shoulder as he takes a sharp turn at forty-five, and Danny fixes his hand around the oh-shit handle. “Besides, the alternative would be you sitting this one out, and obviously nobody wants that.”

 

“Also I’d still be healing, which sucks.”

 

“I imagine,” Danny says, tone a little wry.

 

“A lot of pain has to get stuffed into a little bit of time,” Scott protests.

 

“Sure, Scott. We all feel very bad for you and your wolfy healing powers.” Scott flashes his eyes at and fangs at Stiles, who catches them in the rearview mirror and snorts.

 

Isaac sighs, the sound longsuffering in the aftermath of Stiles’s laugh. “So, tonight. Do we have a plan?”

 

“Not really, but I’d love to hear more about the pack you and Peter were stalking today.” The Jeep lurches over a bump as Stiles turns off of the pavement and onto the dirt road leading to the Hale house. Danny turns to look at Isaac.


“There are six of them. I think four are werewolves—betas, without an alpha, obviously. The other two—humans, possibly witches. They’re all pretty young; twenties, thirties. None as young as us. None as old as Deucalion seems to be.” 

“What did they do all day?” Danny asks as Stiles throws the Jeep into park outside of the Hale house. Nothing’s changed from the last time he was here, except that the light shining through the window is steady—someone’s rested the flashlight on the sill—and Lydia’s not outside. 

Stiles breaks and remakes the mountain ash line. He does it like breathing. Watching him and Lydia touch the stuff—it’s mesmerizing to Danny.  It’s confusing. 

“They didn’t really leave their rooms all that often. They talked about Beacon Hills, defensive strategies, offensive strategies. All the stuff we went over back when the alphas first showed up again. They didn’t sound any more or less competent than we are.” 

“Did they sound more desperate?” Stiles pushes open the front door and Isaac doesn’t answer. Now that they’re inside the house the nighttime stillness of the woods seems unnatural. 

“Jacks, Lydia?” Danny calls, keeping his voice canted low. 

“Boyd?” Scott calls and, “Erica?” is Stiles’s, and Isaac gets, “Derek,” low and desperate. Their voices run over each other, like a round gone wrong. 

Peter appears in the empty doorway that would lead to the living room, if the house had one. 

“No one wanted you.” Stiles doesn’t even bother to make his tone light. 

Peter rolls his eyes and raises a finger to his lips. “Hush, kids. Our prisoner is finally asleep and it took Ms. Martin some time to get him there. She won’t take kindly to you waking him up.” 

“We need him awake,” Isaac growls, “what’s the point of him if he’s not awake?” 

“He was howling loud enough to draw the entirety of California’s supernatural population to our doorstep. It was make him sleep or kill him. I went with the less dramatic of the two.” Lydia enters the room, back straight and gaze locked on Stiles. “But you would probably be a big help right now.” 

“I’ll only be able to help if I have permission to wake him up.” Stiles grabs onto Danny’s hand and drags him across the pitted floorboards. Peter steps aside as they pass, Lydia latches onto Danny’s other hand, gives his a quick squeeze. “Where are you keeping him? Why can’t the wolves sense him?” 

“He’s in the backyard. I think there’s something different about the mountain ash Deaton gave us this time. It goes down harder, but it works better. Blocks more than just physical things.” 

“What do you mean, it goes down harder?” Danny can hear the others following behind them, but his heart is suddenly loud in his ears. 

“The belief it takes, to make it stick, to make it work, it’s more than just,” Lydia glances at Stiles, her lips twisting a little. They’re dry, missing the usual sheen of her lip gloss. “What would you say, Stiles?” 

“It’s less of a spark and more of a fire you need to make it work.” 

Danny really, really hopes Stiles is exaggerating. He also hopes that it was old mountain ash that Stiles kept in his glove compartment. It’s not as if he really expected it to work for Julia, but he’d like to believe it had a shot at working. 

“Don’t be an ass, Stilinski. You know Deaton only told you that to mess with you.” 

“Yeah, but has he come up with a better metaphor in the months since then? Have you?” 

They’re crossing the skeleton of the house, the light from the flashlight fading as they move through the empty doorways toward the back door. They get to the arch of the doorframe, half of which is missing, and stop. There used to be a porch leading to the yard, but it’s rotted or burned away, and they’re looking out over the half-circle of  tree-less yard from what used to be the Hale family’s kitchen. 

The wolves are gathered at the far edge, one of those heavy duty flashlights at their feet and throwing shadows up over their faces. A few feet away from them there’s a dark form folded over itself on the grass. It’s Aiden, of course, but Danny can’t see the mountain ash circle from here, can’t tell whether Aiden is in half-wolf or full-wolf or human. 

Danny looks out over this and thinks how it’s like something out of a war. 

And then he looks down. Scott brushes past him and launches from the last bit of floor, landing on all fours in the grass and weeds, pushing to his feet and walking towards the others. Isaac and Peter follow after him. 

Stiles looks at Lydia. 

“How’d you get up?” 

But she doesn’t need to answer, because Jackson appears beneath them, looking up with his arms crossed. The stance says that he’s bored. His eyes are glowing blue, though, burning up at them, and he has a fang caught over his lower lip. “Coming, babe?” he asks Lydia. 

“Don’t mind if I do.” Stiles steps forward, letting go of Danny and dropping from the edge of the house in an instant. Danny strangles a shout as Jackson catches Stiles, sets him on his feet and shoves him in the shoulder. 

“Ass,” Jackson growls. Stiles shrugs, tugs his blood-spattered shirt straight, and crosses to where the others are standing. 

“Coming, babe?” Jackson repeats, and Lydia grins down at him. 

“Love to.” She lets go of Danny and is gone just the way Stiles was, although her landing is a lot more graceful and involves no name-calling. 

“Danny?” Jackson holds out his arms. Danny looks down at him, shakes his head, and takes a step off the porch. There’s air all around him and he thinks he will probably break something, and that will fuck with his cross country training, but then Jackson’s arms are under him. His friend lets out a puff of air with the force of his landing, but doesn’t let him fall. 

“Thanks.” Danny pushes against Jackson’s shoulder once he’s got his feet under him again. Jackson pushes back, and they join the others. 

Erica is standing with her back to the sleeping Aiden. From this distance Danny can tell that he’s in his fully human form, and he’s covered in blood, but it doesn’t look as if he’s got more blood on him than he did when Erica dropped him outside of Alec’s house. 

She has her arms crossed. Her eyes are red, gaze locked on Derek, who’s mirroring her stance across the circle made by their friends. 

“What do you want me to do, Erica? Just give him back?” 

Stiles is standing at Erica’s side, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Danny moves next to him, and Stiles’s arm brushes against his as he moves, but he doesn’t look away from Derek. He’s waiting on something, some signal. Danny looks past his jittery shoulders, toward Erica, who’s shaking her head. 

“We never should have taken him.” 

“They took you.” Boyd’s practically shouting; it’s the angriest Danny’s seen him since he was in Stiles’s kitchen at the beginning of all this. 

Erica’s eyes flash at him, and he drops his head but doesn’t shift from his place beside Derek. “I fucking know that they took me. I know that we aren’t allowed to be pacifists. Hell, I want to rip them all into such tiny pieces that even Peter couldn’t bring them back.” Peter, standing beside Jackson, bites at his lip. He looks too pleased with himself. In a different situation, Danny thinks Jackson would jump at the man for that expression. As it is, Jackson just shifts forward, drawn toward Erica as she growls at them. “But this,” she jerks her head back at the circle of ash and the sleeping body behind her. “It’s not something we need to do.” 

“It was an opportunity.” Lydia steps forward, breaking up the oddly perfect curve of the group’s circle, pressing into Erica’s space. Jackson follows her forward a step before Peter lays a hand on his shoulder. The tension spikes so high that Danny imagines he can feel it on his skin. He draws his shoulders up. 

“What have we gotten by taking him? By taking this opportunity?” Erica leans forward, eyes so red. Lydia stands still and meets her gaze. Danny can’t look away from the two of them. Stiles still moves, restless, beside him, and Danny wants to tell him to stop. But he doesn’t, because Erica hasn’t. 

“We have power over them.” Lydia holds up one finger. It’s not shaking, and Danny is impressed. “We have the opportunity to gather information.” She lifts another finger. “We can blackmail.” A third. “If we need to, we can kill.” The fourth, and final. 

Erica’s growl is vibrating the air around them. “He’s helpless.” 

“Right now.” Isaac looks over Erica’s shoulder, eyes reflecting the flashlight at their feet. “The thing is, Erica, right now he’s helpless, but usually he’s not. And usually he’s willing to do what he thinks he needs to. And what he thinks he needs to,” Isaac shakes his head, “it’s not good. With people like that, sometimes you’ve got to take your chances where you can. Even if your choices mean you’re not a good person.” He lets out a harsh rasping sound. Stiles stills abruptly beside Danny, grabbing onto his hand for a brief second before releasing him. His hands are sweaty, but so are Danny’s. “None of us came into this thinking it would make us into better people.” 

“I know that.” Erica’s teeth are human as they fix over her lower lip. “I know that. I don’t want—this isn’t. This cannot be about me. About what they did to me.” 

“It’s not,” Derek says, and the whole group breathes out. 

“It’s about Ellen and Danny’s sister and the fact that they seem to want to use us.” Scott steps forward, grips onto the torn shoulder of Erica’s shirt. “It’s about everyone, not just you.” 

“Okay.” Erica’s eyes fade. “Okay.” She leans forward, rests her forehead against Scott’s for just a moment, before she shrugs off his hand and spins to look at Stiles. “You’re going to do this?” 

“I’m—yeah, I’ll do it.” 

Danny doesn’t know what is going on. He feels suddenly out of his depth, the way he felt standing in Stiles’s kitchen when he realized that he didn’t know him at all. But that was nearly two months ago, and as he turns with the others to face the circle of mountain ash, as Stiles steps away from them and toward Aiden, he thinks that this does not work out. This does not seem normal. Because he knows Stiles, he’s had the summer to know Stiles, he almost loves him, maybe, a little, and he has this feeling right now of not recognizing him at all. 

Jackson and Scott bracket him as he faces Stiles and the alpha, and he knows why they’re there. He knows they can sense his discomfort, knows that Jackson is beside him because he’s his best friend, still, that Scott’s shoulder is pressing against his because he loves Stiles and Stiles cares about Danny. Usually, Stiles is right there for Danny, but right now he’s somewhere else, and so Scott steps in. Because he is his best friend, and maybe he cares about Danny on his own, too, but it’s more for Stiles. 

Stiles has crossed the mountain ash and is kneeling beside the fetus-curled body. His pack has created a semi-circle around the ash, Derek, then Isaac, then Peter, then Scott, Danny, and Jackson, Lydia, Boyd, and Erica, each standing pressed against each other. No one seems concerned about the empty side of the circle. No one seems to be breathing except for Danny, whose breaths are coming in hard and loud. 

Stiles doesn’t seem at all nervous. He’s not shaking as he leans forward in his Converse and presses his palms against Aiden’s shirt-covered shoulder blades. One of the wolves near Danny kicks over the flashlight so it’s shining in the circle. In its light, Danny can make out the darkness spreading across the back of Aiden’s neck, like a shadow rising up from where Stiles’s fingers brush over the ripped collar of his t-shirt. 

The wolf jerks. His limbs spasm out until they hit the edges of the circle, and then they fly back towards him. It’s something out of a horror film, something like an exorcism. Stiles rocks back on his heels, rests his hands on his knees, and waits. 

Aiden takes a few seconds to get his bearings, but when he does he pushes to his feet, keeping his hands on the ground. He crouches and growls, his eyes blister at Stiles, and Danny wants to yell at Stiles to get the fuck out of the circle, but Scott grabs his shoulder and he bites his lip instead. 

“You can’t touch me.” Stiles tells him. The voice isn’t all his, though. There’s a roughness to it that’s not normally there. 

Aiden doesn’t try to touch him. He doesn’t change his stance at all, but he bares his teeth. Stiles stays terrifyingly still. 

“I don’t look like much. You’ve survived Erica’s attack and Lydia only put you to sleep—that’s not that dangerous. We’re not you. But you’ve hurt some of our friends, so we’re also—I’m not them, you know? I’m not Erica, with her claws and teeth and weird willingness to let you live. I’m not Lydia.” Stiles digs his hands into the dirt between them and little tendrils of smoke ease up. The werewolves take one simultaneous step back as the air begins to haze; Aiden’s red eyes squeeze shut and his breath roughens. 

“That’s wolfsbane,” Stiles explains. His voice shakes a little. “You know that’s wolfsbane, I guess. Not much else can affect your system like that.” He leans forward, his back arching, as Aiden chokes. “I’m all right with wolfsbane.” 

Stiles lifts his hands out of the ground and holds them up in front of him. The smoke dissipates immediately, and Scott and Jackson press against Danny’s sides again. Danny is shaking. Stiles is still. Aiden breathes, deep and loud. 

“I’m not very good with a lot of things, but I’m good with wolfsbane. I’m actually very good with a few things that can hurt you.” Danny is happy that he can’t see Stiles’s expression at this moment. He hadn’t known about this. No one had told him about this; Stiles hadn’t told him about this. When Stiles told him about werewolves at the beginning of the summer, he said he’d tell him what he could. He said he’d tell him what was his to tell. This had been his, and all Stiles had said was that he was the wolfsbane, the mountain ash. Danny hadn’t pictured this. 

This is not okay, he wants to say. But he knows that no matter how not okay it is, now is also not the time. He wishes it were. He wants to haul Stiles out of that circle and into his Jeep and he wants to tell Stiles all the ways in which this is not okay. 

But Stiles is acting as the others expect him to. Stiles is doing what he’s supposed to. Danny has to stand here and do what he’s supposed to, too. 

“Kill me, then,” Aiden challenges. 

“I don’t really want to kill you, but that sounded like a dare.” Stiles’s voice is still rough, it sounds rougher. “Do you double dog dare me?” Scott makes a sound in his throat—it’s a fond noise. Danny shifts a tiny bit toward Jackson. 

“I triple dog dare you,” Aiden snarls, and Stiles shakes his head. Danny’s heartbeat quickens. 

“I wish you weren’t evil.” Flickers of light have appeared around Stiles’s hands, floating out like bright fireflies into the circle. Aiden’s glowing eyes follow them. “I want to know why you are evil, though. What’s the point of you being here?” 

One of the lights drifts towards Aiden’s mouth. He bites it shut. Stiles’s breath sends more of the lights towards Aiden. They’re violet and yellow and they look innocuous, but the one near Aiden’s mouth drifts upwards, brushes against the tip of his nose, and he jerks backwards, letting out a low roar. The skin is red where it touched. It doesn’t look like it’s healing. 

Stiles’s shoulders tense. Where he seemed confident, absurdly so, a second ago, the sight of the red on Aiden’s nose seems to have shaken him a little. 

“Oh.” Stiles coughs, then holds out a hand, holds it up, and the lights gather there, floating around his fingers and adding their glow to the flashlight’s, to the burn of Aiden’s eyes and those of the wolves around Danny. “I’ve never tried this out before.” He takes a few deep breaths and then his voice is back, but not his, his tone angry. His shoulders loosen as he starts talking again. Danny wants to know what the fuck is going on inside his head. “You get to be my test subject.” He thinks Stiles might be grinning, and that’s terrifying. The way he sounds, the way Aiden is looking at him—it’s all terrifying. “They’ll stay away from you for now. I was wondering what you were thinking, when you kissed Danny’s sister tonight. Did you want to hurt her, the way you hurt Ellen last week?” 

“I wasn’t involved in what happened with Ellen.” The wolf has his eyes on Stiles’s hand. His nose looks even redder. 

“You were a distraction. So you were involved.” Stiles makes his hand into a fist, the lights squeezed into his palm, refracting out from between his fingers. The sight of him touching them makes Aiden back up. Danny feels sick. “What were you going to do to Julia?” 

“Hurt her,” Aiden admits. “A little. Kali wanted to bite her.” Stiles releases one of the lights. It hovers at Aiden’s mouth. He crawls back, the toes of his feet getting dangerously near the mountain ash line. Danny barely notices. His sister, a werewolf? Turned by one of these assholes, against her will? A part of him wants Stiles to force that glowing light down Aiden’s throat. But it’s a very small part, and the light is floating there like it might manage to get Aiden’s mouth open. “We wouldn’t have, though,” Aiden hurries. The light moves away as he speaks. “Deucalion doesn’t want that.” 

Stiles nods. “Another liability wouldn’t be good for your pack right now. Erica was already a mistake.”

“She was necessary.” 

“To draw the other pack here? To make them want to kill us?” 

Stiles lets all the lights go, and they’ve been multiplying in his hand, now there’s a whole army moving between him and Aiden, moving towards Aiden, and Aiden squeezes his eyes shut, presses his mouth into a thin line, lifts a hand to cover his nose. 

“Why?” Stiles presses. His voice not really his voice again. The lights are dizzying, crazy and fast, swirling around Aiden’s head, drawing bright lines through the air. “What do they have on you that you want them gone? Why do you want us to destroy each other? What is the point of all of this?” 

Jackson and Scott and the rest, who’ve been watching Stiles torture Aiden as if it’s normal, their bodies completely relaxed where they press against Danny, tense. Their heads jerk up, and they look to the woods across the circle. The lights keep moving, but Stiles looks over Aiden’s shoulder, and Danny can see Aiden’s hand, the one not covering his nose, relax against the grass, lose its claws. 

Ennis steps from between the trees. “Our pack is trained better than that. He won’t tell you anything for a little light show.” Stiles pushes to his feet. Jackson and Scott shift away from Danny, and a low growl issues from the wolves around him. Aiden doesn’t stand, but he does lower his other hand, presses it against the grass, too. 

Stiles makes a staccato gesture with his hand, a heavy breath falling through the air in response to Ennis. One of the lights burns its way outside the circle, leaving afterimages as it approaches Ennis. The werewolf watches it approach. 

It hits his forehead and bursts, sizzling against the skin between his eyebrows. It glows, an exploded star in microcosm, and then fades and there’s a shadow on Ennis’s skin. The smell of burnt flesh is overwhelming. Ennis lets out a deep sound, a gasp sounding as if it’s wrenched straight from his gut, and he lifts his finger to touch the mark. His shoulders shudder inwards. 

“Imagine that in your mouth.” Boyd sounds devastatingly proud. Danny wants to throw up everywhere. “Down your throat.” 

“In your stomach. Still burning. Stiles can do that; imagine it. Do you think you’d break?” Isaac offers. His voice is quivering. Danny’s grateful for it. 

“He won’t get the chance to find out.” It’s the blind one, Deucalion, coming from the trees now. No one seems surprised to see him. Even Danny’s not, if he’s honest. Nothing else could surprise him tonight. Of course the whole pack will be here. Of course they’ll come in stages; they’ll make it dramatic. 

Deucalion’s hands are behind his back. He’s smiling. “Don’t try that on me.” He’s would be looking at Stiles, if he could see. “I’m not as susceptible as the rest to fire and wolfsbane.” His smile drags downwards. “And I’m particularly immune to light.” 

“It’s not just fire and wolfsbane,” Stiles protests, his voice still unnatural, not exactly his. “You might find that this could hurt you.” The lights have settled near his right hand where it's beating a rhythm against his thigh. Aiden rocks back on his heels and pushes to his feet. He keeps his head down, faces away from his pack, keeps his limbs as far from Stiles and the mountain ash as possible, an effort which forces him to scrunch in on himself, make himself small. No one pays him any attention. 

“Spare us the dramatics. We have business.” 

“What business?” Derek steps forward, his toes edging against the line of ash. 

“What was it you said, the day you came to get Erica back?” 

“One of your pack for one of ours.” Ethan appears at Deucalion’s shoulder, and he grants his twin a grimace before looking at Derek. “Isn’t that what you said?” 

Scott lets out a breath of a roar, and Danny understands immediately. The only member of their pack who isn’t standing in this half circle is Allison. 

But the thought of the alphas getting Allison doesn’t make any sense. She is powerful and can protect herself; she would not be easy. The alphas wouldn’t have been able to trap her in the time it took them to get back together, to heal from the fight at Alec’s. Danny rests a hand on Scott’s shoulder as Derek says, “Our pack is here.” Maybe because Derek cannot think of Allison as pack, still, maybe because Derek thinks, like Danny does, that Allison would not have fallen prey to the alphas. That they wouldn’t have risked getting in a fight with a hunter. 

“If you’ll remember,” the shape of Deucalion’s smile is weird and twisted in the barely-there light from the flashlight and the colors drifting at Stiles’s hand, “when you made your exchange, you hadn’t taken a member of our immediate pack.” 

Danny lets out a shocked grunt as Kali wanders into the clearing, a body held in her arms. He had thought that he was beyond surprise, but his heart stutters and his breaths stop coming for a long moment. 

The sight of Kali cradling his sister is absurd, because she is not that big and Julia is thin but not small. It is absurd because she should not be here, because her head has fallen back and there’s a smudge of blood on her neck. Because he sees leaves and twigs tangled in her dark hair and he suddenly can’t see anything else. His hand, where it still rests on Scott’s shoulder, digs so tight that Scott, despite all his werewolf strength, shifts uncomfortably. He doesn’t shrug Danny off, though. His shifting brings him closer. 

“She had some mountain ash, but her belief wasn’t very strong. She did try to hit me with a bat. She’s brave.” Kali strokes a hand over his sister’s wrist. He wants to kill someone. He wants Stiles to kill someone. But Stiles is not moving, the lights are not moving from his hands. There’s no wolfsbane smoke hazing the air around him. He’s not even looking at the woman holding Danny’s sister like she’s a sacrifice; his head is cocked to look at Aiden. 

“Don’t worry, she’s still alive.” Ethan says. “Just a little head injury. Nicer than what you did to my grandmother. She wasn’t herself for days after you drugged her.” 

“You’re right, I should have done more research on how much to dose her with.” Stiles jerks his head toward Ethan, and the lights brighten and rise in the air for a minute before sputtering out as one. “I am so sorry.” Stiles sounds like himself, sarcasm heavy and voice on the very brink of panicked. At this moment, with the threat of the alpha pack before them, with his sister at the heart of it, Danny is pissed that Stiles’s weapons have abandoned them. They scare him and he wants them back, because at least Stiles—even that odd, off-kilter, rougher Stiles—is on their side. 

“Shall we continue with the game?” Deucalion steps towards Kali. His body brushes against Julia’s bare feet where they dangle from Kali’s arms. “I believe you threatened to bite the twins’ grandmother. Would you like me to carry on along that track?” His teeth elongate. “Or would you like to make a trade?” 

No one moves. No one says anything. 

For a moment, the night freezes. Danny thinks that this might be it, the end of all this, and then the alphas throw their heads up, tighten their shoulders and bend their knees, a group preparing for a fight. 

A sound cuts through the air, a harsh whistling sound almost like a football, a Frisbee. It’s not, of course. Stiles scrubs his foot against the mountain ash keeping Aiden in place at the same moment that there is the sickening noise of an arrow tearing wetly through skin and snapping against bone. Aiden throws himself from the circle and Deucalion lets out a roar, his clawed hand scrabbling at the shaft. 

Aiden’s brother steadies him. Deucalion takes in breaths deep enough for Danny to make them out, raises his head, tears the arrow from his shoulder with a terrible grating noise. 

“If your pet hunter tries again,” his voice is still coming in gasps. Danny feels a surge of pride for Allison, as Deucalion drops the arrow and presses his heel against it to make the shaft splinter, but then he continues, “we kill the girl,” and all of Danny’s insides turn sharp and terrified. 

He brushes past Stiles and through the severed circle without a thought. “You don’t,” he says, voice hollow, “you do not get to kill her. I—,” and he whirls, because Stiles has caught onto his hand. “And you do not get to touch me right now.” Stiles’s eyes widen and he releases Danny. He raises his hands. He takes a small step back. Danny turns to face the alphas again. 

Kali lets out a soft laugh. “Glad to see we’ve been creating dissension somewhere.” Deucalion groans, and Danny can’t tell whether it’s in reaction to what Kali said or the pain of his shoulder. “What will you do to keep us from killing her?” 

“Our hunter,” he spits the word, “won’t do anything else.  Aiden’s free. Give me back my sister.”

Deucalion has a hand cupping the black blood flowing from his shoulder. Knowing Allison, Danny assumes the arrow was tipped in something poisonous. Deucalion’s voice is careful, controlled, when he says, “Give me what I need to cure this and you can have her.” 

Kali draws Julia closer to her body, her lips a shadowed scowl. Danny feels bile rising in his throat, but he turns, looks past Stiles, who is still staring at him like he doesn’t know him, which, welcome to the club, seriously, and sees that Allison is standing behind Scott’s shoulder. “The wolfsbane,” he demands. She shakes her head. 

“It’s not just wolfsbane. But Stiles has it.” 

“It’s in the Jeep. Under the passenger seat. In a baggie with Allison’s name on it.” Stiles lowers his gaze, speaks at Danny’s shoes. “I can go get it.” 

“No,” Ennis snaps. “We’re not letting you out of our sight. The hunter brought the arrow, make the hunter get the cure.” He smirks. “Erica can go with her. We trust Erica.” 

Erica spits on the ground before moving from beside Boyd, walking around the Hale house a few steps ahead of Allison. The alphas watch them go. 

“This was very stupid of you, you know,” Aiden speaks for the first time since he was in the circle with Stiles, looking at Derek. “You apparently know more than you should, so why even bother torturing me? Haven’t you realized we’re not the threat here?” 

Danny attempts a disbelieving snort. It comes out more of a choked exhale. “You have my sister, you took Erica, you’ve seriously harmed at least one human. You’re obviously a threat.” 

Ethan makes a considering noise. “We’re not innocent, I will give you that. But neither are you.” 

“Stop talking,” Deucalion grinds out. “Those girls had better hurry up, Hale.” 

“Hold your vital organs in place, we’ve got it.” Allison comes striding ahead of Erica,  holding out the flower with its stem wrapped with some thin vine, and Deucalion uses a claw to slice his shirt away from his shoulder. The skin around the hole left by the arrow is nearly all black. 

“You apply it,” he tells Allison. She shakes her head. “Well, then, you’d better hope your friend’s sister takes to the bite.” 

“I’ll do it.” Stiles steps forward, not touching Danny as he passes. He’s digging in his pocket and he pulls out a lighter, which flickers on under his thumb. Deucalion flinches back an inch as he approaches. If Danny hadn’t been watching for it, he might not have noticed it. But Deucalion seems afraid of Stiles. It’s fucking unreal. 

“Don’t be a baby.” Stiles holds the lighter up as he takes the plant from Allison. “She’d probably put too much in and kill you. I’ve had more practice.”

“And you don’t want to kill me?” Deucalion doesn’t move again. 

Stiles sticks the plant into the flame and crumbles it in his palm. He doesn’t flinch at the heat. 

“I don’t want to kill anyone.” Stiles sounds completely himself. “Barely anyone,” he amends. “I really don’t want you to touch Julia.” He grinds the ashes into Deucalion’s shoulder. 

The alpha swings away, panting with his hands on his knees, as his skin knits back together. He’s up again in a moment, grinning at Stiles. “Give her back,” he barks, “but give her something to remember us by.” 

Stiles twists as Danny reaches forward, seeing his sister with yellow eyes and fangs and claws, and Jackson is beside him, too, his hands stretched out for Julia as Ennis reaches Kali, lifts Julia’s arm from where it rests on her torso, and snaps the bone. It’s a break like a twig. Julia stays unconscious, her arm curved, as Kali, smirking, hands her to Jackson. 

The veins in Jackson's forearms darken as he takes on Julia’s pain. 

Deucalion makes a sound. “You should stop trying to fight us,” he advises. The others have started drifting toward the woods, but he doesn’t move. “You’re all so young. It’s a little sad, the way this is playing out. But,” he tilts his head, “I still can’t see another way for it to go. I am sorry. I think we could have had a lot of fun together, had the circumstances been different.” 

Erica roars, the sound so loud in the night. Deucalion holds his hands up as he backs toward the woods. The gesture is not a surrender at all, not an effort at calming Derek’s pack. It’s just a movement, meaning nothing, except maybe that Deucalion is mocking them. “You especially, Erica. I’m sorry you were…destined for other things.” He turns and disappears in a moment, but Erica’s voice rolls out in a continuous growl. Danny doesn’t really give a damn. He pushes at Jackson’s shoulder. 

“We need to get her to the hospital.” Under Danny’s pressure, Jackson starts carrying Julia toward the side of the house. “Scott, please say your mom is working.” 

“She’s not. But she doesn’t need to be. Just say you found her like this in the woods, or say she was dropped off at your doorstep like this.” 

“My parents are probably home by now, that won’t work. Shit.” Danny feels in his pockets for his keys, but then remembers that Stiles had driven him. And he’s not speaking to Stiles. He’s not looking at Stiles. He’s not thinking about Stiles until his sister is awake and has her arm in a cast and until he’s one hundred percent sure that she will speak to him again. 

“We’ll just say we were driving back to your place from my house,” Allison says, “we’ll just say she was wandering by the edge of the Preserve. It’s fine, Danny, it’s okay. She’s safe.” 

“Does anyone even know what that word means?” Danny turns to glare at Allison, but she’s holding her keys in her hand and the sight of them calms him a little. 

“Danny,” Stiles begins. Danny glances at him. The whole group of them is rounding the corner of the Hale house and Allison presses a button on her keys to make her lights turn on. They flash against the side of Stiles’s Jeep, illuminating the scratches, the blue paint, the blood on the passenger door. 

“Stiles,” Danny returns. Jackson is lowering Julia into Allison’s backseat. He buckles a seatbelt around her still form, brushes some hair away from her cheek. Danny looks back over at Stiles. He lets out a loud breath. “Later, okay? Just. We’ll talk later.” He approaches the car. 

“Wait,” Stiles says. He moves to the back of his Jeep, rummaging in the trunk. “Here,” he tosses a shirt to Jackson and one to Danny. Danny catches it without thinking. “They’re clean. I don’t have extra pants, but at least these—I mean, you won’t be covered in blood when you walk in to the hospital. Leave your shirts here. I’ll burn them.” 

The shirt is his, Danny realizes as he pulls it over his head and the fit isn’t at all tight. It’s unsurprising that Stiles would prepare for something like this. He hasn’t seen this shirt in months, had forgotten he even had it. He must have left it at Stiles’s at some point. 

The shirt Jackson’s pulling over his head while Danny tugs at the hem of his clean one is Stiles’s, and he feels a little better knowing that Stiles did not have a shirt from every member of the pack in the back of his car, because that sort of contingency planning would have worried him. And he’s already overwhelmed with worry; he can’t really afford much more of it. 

“Thanks,” Jackson mutters. Danny doesn’t say anything, just kicks the bloody t-shirt across the dirt toward Stiles. It doesn’t make it very far. Stiles looks at it. 

“Danny,” he says again, and Danny shakes his head.

“Later." 

“We have to get Julia to the hospital,” Jackson reminds them all, as if they’ve forgotten, and he sees Scott rest a hand on Stiles’s shoulder and Lydia grab onto his hand before he turns his back on all of them and gets into Allison’s car. He sits beside his unconscious sister and holds onto the limp hand of her left, non-broken arm. 

The hospital is quiet when they pull up. It doesn’t stay that way. Danny stands at Jackson’s shoulder as he carries Julia through the doors, and the nurse who sees them pages a doctor immediately. The attending and his residents come and roll Julia away in an instant, leaving a woman in scrubs to get the important information from them. 

“What happened?” she asks, and Danny knows he needs to answer, but the lie doesn’t come easily. 

Allison steps forward, slipping her hand into his and saying, “We were all driving back to Danny’s place from my house. We passed her wandering out near the preserve. She passed out as soon as we got her in the car.” 

“You’ve called your parents,” the woman prompts, and Danny shakes his head because, idiot, no he hasn’t. 

“Okay, you’re going to need to do that. Eventually we will get a psych consult down here, but before that we are going to have to call the police,, because there is obviously foul play involved here. You will probably need to speak with them, so I’d advise that you,” she nods at Allison and Jackson, “call your parents as well. There’s coffee down the hall that way, if any of you want some.” She attempts a comforting smile at Danny. “I’ll keep you updated on your sister.” And then she disappears behind the doors. 

They haven’t been let into the ED, where rooms are reduced to curtained-off beds and the phone rings nonstop. Danny thinks that’s because they haven’t taken Julia into the ED, although they may have. It may also be because Jackson and Allison aren’t related to her; hell, Danny’s not sure if he’d be allowed in, even if he were on his own. 

He’s glad he’s not on his own. 

His voice shakes when he calls his parents. “We were driving and we passed her in the woods and she’s okay, but she’s unconscious and her arm is broken and they’ve taken her in and you need to get here so they can fix her, please,” and Jackson takes the phone from him and says a few would-be calm words into it, because Danny sounds insane and he knows that, and he knows it’s not helping but his heart won’t slow down. The whole night is coming back to him, the night that started with Stiles taking a swig from beer and dancing with him and is now here, hoping that his little sister wakes up and, stupidly, terribly, hoping that when she wakes up she says she doesn’t remember a thing. Standing here under bright lights with his hand over the biggest splatter of dried blood on his jeans hoping that no one looks at any of them too closely. 

Allison says a few words into her phone, and she says, “I can handle it,” and she returns the phone to her pocket and leads Danny over to a group of three chairs pushed against the wall near the admittance desk while Jackson calls his parents. 

“They’re coming down,” Jackson doesn’t sound as self-satisfied about it as he normally does when his parents step in and extricate him from god-awful situations. “You don’t think it’ll be Stiles’s dad who talks to us, do you? My parents don’t—and he doesn’t—after that shit last semester.” 

“That was illuminating,” Allison mumbles, stretching and pressing a hand over her mouth as she yawns. It’s an astonishingly simple movement.

“I just mean that they don’t trust him, stupidly, and he doesn’t trust them.” 

“They don’t trust him because you said his son locked you up in a police van—that he stole—and he doesn’t trust them because you filed a fucking restraining order,” Danny bites. 

“We got rid of it,” Jackson protests. “And I told my parents that was a misunderstanding.” 

“It still happened. I don’t really think the sheriff is going to forget that. Ever. And your parents aren’t the most forgiving people in the world.” Allison rests her chin in her hands and taps a toe against the linoleum. 

“He is a bit of a hard ass,” Jackson mutters. Allison reaches across Danny to punch him in the shoulder, and he turns his head to glare at her. “He is.” 

“He’s the sheriff. He’s meant to be a hard ass,” Danny reminds him staring at his shoes. He’s got a bit of blood along the rubber of the sole of his right one. He presses his left over it. It’s probably not noticeable—no more noticeable than the few spots still on his jeans—but he’s never felt more guilty in his life. And they didn’t even do this. 

“Well, at least I’m not dating,” and then Jackson stops, shifts a little in his seat, and brushes his shoulder against Danny. “About Stiles,” he says, tone hesitant in a way it doesn’t often get, “what he did, what he does—we all do what we need to, you know?” 

“I know.” Danny barely opens his mouth to get the words out. Jackson doesn’t move away from him. 

“You know I don’t always like him,” Jackson continues, and Danny shifts so there’s space between their shoulders. Jackson, thankfully, doesn’t lean in to fill it. “But he’s not bad for you.” 

“Thank you for that, Jackson. We’ll—it’ll be fine, okay?” 

“Julia will be okay, too,” Allison says, her voice soft. “She will. It sucks that she’s caught up in it but she will be—” 

“I caught her up in it,” Danny interrupts, trying to keep his voice quiet so that no one around them can hear. “If it weren’t for me, she’d never have been involved.” 

“You can’t know that,” Allison says, “and, besides, you couldn’t know. The blame for this—it’s not something you can actually take on. They did this; you didn’t.” 

Danny shrugs. He returns to staring at his feet, Allison and Jackson sitting close enough that their knees bump his occasionally when they shift in their seats, but otherwise they don’t interact until his parents come through the doors, when Allison rests a hand on his leg and Jackson brushes against his side as he stands. 

“They took her right in,” he says, his voice low and making a nice effort at calm. Danny’s dad is crying, and his mom leads him across the waiting room because he doesn’t seem capable of moving himself. The girl at the desk picks up her phone. Danny looks back down at his shoes. 

His mom leans in to him, reaching her arms around his shoulders and drawing him into a hug. “Danny.” She rubs a hand over his head as he pulls away, barely able to keep from flinching at the rawness of her tone. “Have you heard anything more?” 

He shakes his head, staring at the doors where he’d last seen Julia. They swing open under his gaze, and the doctor they’d spoken to earlier—a half hour ago, maybe? It feels like decades—comes out. She approaches his parents, her hands at her sides and her face soft, not tragic and horrified the way he’s imagined it would be. 

She rests a hand on his dad’s elbow and directs his parents a little bit away. They lower their heads to listen to her, and Danny elbows Jackson in the side. He shoots Danny a glare, but cocks his head to make it obvious to Allison and Danny that he’s listening in. His expression doesn’t change. 

Before he’s able to divulge whatever he’s learned, Danny’s parents approach again. His dad isn’t crying any longer, and his mom is smiling, a little.  

“We can go in and see her. She’s not awake yet, but they’ve set her arm and she’s showing signs of waking up. They’ve given her some pain medication, which they say explains why she’s still unconscious.” 

“I can come?” he asks, and his mom nods. His dad grips his shoulder. 

“You all,” his dad lets out a breath, “just, thank God you were all coming back when you were. Thank God you found her.” 

Danny draws his shoulders in, but Jackson and Allison nod. “Yeah,” Jackson says. 

“We were lucky.” Allison squeezes Danny’s hand. He disentangles his fingers and follows his parents without looking back at where they sit, waiting for Jackson’s parents and the police to arrive. 

His parents don’t say anything as they stand at Julia’s bedside. Her skin looks darker than usual against the white sheets, her arm held at a right angle in a white plaster cast. 

His mom lets out a sigh and drops into the chair at Julia’s bedside. His dad stands behind her, both of them just staring at Julia. There’s a light bruise over her eye and a bandage over neck—he doesn’t know what happened there, but he remembers there was blood. He chews at his lip and forces himself to look at all the ways his choices have brought his sister here. 

He doesn’t move from his position by her bed until a nurse comes in, resting a hand on his shoulder that is light in its touch but nonetheless startles him. He glances over at her, an older woman with greying hair who manages a tired smile. “There’s an officer in the waiting area with your friends. He’d like to speak with you.” She looks over at Danny’s parents. Her tone sharpens a little, “His friend’s dad told me to tell you that he’s got it covered, if you don’t want to leave your daughter.” Mr. Whittemore had evidently been being his charming self. 

“The police?” Danny’s mom crosses her arm, her gaze jerking up from Julia. “Why?” 

“They’ll want to get all the facts, in a case like this. Especially considering that this is the second one in a week. They’ll just ask a few questions.” The nurse doesn’t sound at all reassuring, but his mom nods once. 

“Are you all right with Mr. Whittemore?” she asks Danny. Danny nods, but his dad is already stepping around the end of Julia’s bed. 

“I’ll come too. Just in case.” 

It’s Officer Mitchell standing in the doorway of one of the offices off the hall commandeered, apparently, for impromptu sessions of police questioning. The office is stark and clean, two chairs on one side of a desk, one on the other, a powered-down computer and a stack of papers on top. Mr. Whittemore is saying something low to Jackson by the door as they reach the room, and he joins their group as Danny and his dad follow Officer Mitchell in. 

“You don’t need to say anything you don’t want to,” Mr. Whittemore reminds him, standing behind his chair as Danny falls into it. Officer Mitchell shoots a disgruntled look at Mr. Whittemore, but pulls out a file and a sheet of paper and begins tapping his pen against it. He stares at the blank paper for a few minutes. Danny’s willing to wait him out. 

“So tell me what happened tonight.” 

“We were driving back from the Argent’s. There was someone stumbling on the side of the road, sort of in the woods, and Allison pulled over to see if we could help.” Danny’s voice sounds hollow to his own ears. His dad rests a hand on his knee, his thumb just brushing against the barest splatter of what Danny thinks is Scott’s blood. His dad doesn’t seem to notice. Amazing what you don’t see when you’re not looking for it. Amazing how much blood can look like dirt if you want it to. 

“And then?” Officer Mitchell prompts, after he’s apparently decided he’s given Danny enough time to get over his emotions. 

“It was Julia,” and that? That carries all the shock of seeing Julia in Kali’s arms. His dad’s hand tightens on his knee. 

The cop coughs, scribbles something on the paper. “And once you realized it was Julia? What’d you do?” 

“We got her into Allison’s car, we came here. She passed out somewhere on the way.” 

“You don’t know when?” His voice is suddenly harder, more pointed. Had Allison or Jackson given an estimation of when Julia passed out? He would have thought they’d both be better at ambiguity than that. 

“I’m not sure,” he hedges, “she wasn’t really coherent when we found her, and she closed her eyes as soon as we got her in the—I mean, I know you’re not supposed to let people with head injuries fall asleep but we didn’t really know what it was and I just thought, better than remembering?” He falters off. The cop gives one nod. 

“You’re only seventeen. You shouldn’t have to know how to deal with trauma victims.” The cop sounds suddenly much more tired than he has in any of Danny’s other interactions with him. Much more weary. 

And Julia is a trauma victim, the words so simple and stark. “I did have to deal with it,” he tells the cop. 

“Yeah.” Officer Mitchell rubs a hand over his face. Danny stares at the few notes the cop has written on the piece of paper. He can’t make them out from where he’s sitting. “Were you at the party at Alec Richmond’s house earlier last night?” 

The abrupt change in questioning surprises Danny into telling the truth. “Yes,” he says. 

“Was Julia there?” 

“Yes,” he repeats. 

“Did you see who she was with?” 

Danny shakes his head. The cops can’t start investigating men who look like Aiden, because they cannot handle the alpha pack. If his answers got Stiles’s dad involved with the alphas—he’d never forgive him. And Danny wouldn’t blame him. 

“No?” Officer Mitchell questions. 

“I was with friends, and so was Julia. We didn’t talk at all. I only saw her in passing.” 

The officer writes a few more lines. “And what time did you leave the party?” 

“I’m not sure,” Danny stutters, trying to remember what time everything went to shit. He’s not sure, the whole night is a mess in his head. It’s barely dawn, and he feels like he’s in a different lifetime. “I don’t know. I just know Allison and Jackson and I left before most people did.” 

The cop shakes his head. “I have witnesses who put you in the middle of a fight that broke out. From all accounts a pretty serious fight.” Danny’s father’s hand drops from his knee, but Mr. Whittemore places a hand on his shoulder, the tension in his fingers warning Danny not to say anything. “You and Stiles Stilinski and Jackson,” he raises his head to Mr. Whittemore, “and Scott McCall and Lydia Martin. Erica Reyes was noticed by a few. Allison was not mentioned by anyone at the party.” 

“They must have,” Danny begins, but Mr. Whittemore’s grip on his shoulder is so tight it’s become painful, and he shuts up. 

“Was Stiles at the party with you?” Officer Mitchell takes a different approach, his gaze locked on Mr. Whittemore’s hand. 

“Yes,” Danny answers. “For a while.” Mr. Whittemore doesn’t squeeze any tighter, so he assumes that response is acceptable. 

“And after that while?” 

“He stayed with Scott while I went with Jackson and Allison. I don’t know where he is now.” 

“You didn’t call him when you all found Julia? You haven’t let him know?” 

Mr. Whittemore says, very, very softly, his tone dangerous. “Danny has been through a lot in the last several hours.” 

“Of course.” Officer Mitchell drops his head into his hands. “I think,” he hesitates, and a knock at the door interrupts whatever he’s about to say. 

“Come in,” Mr. Whittemore says, when the cop doesn’t seem about to. 

The door opens a crack and Mrs. McCall leans in. She offers Danny a wide smile and he has never in his life been more relieved to see anyone. 

“Julia’s awake,” she says, and his happiness spikes. “If you’re all set here,” she shoots a look at the cop, who still hasn’t looked up from the desk, “she’s asking for you.” 

"What’s she saying?” his dad asks, pushing up from his chair. “What’s she saying happened?” 

“She just woke up,” Mrs. McCall cautions, holding the door open for Danny and his dad. “She’s not saying much yet. But she did say,” she looks at Danny’s dad, doesn’t look at him at all, but he feels a knot of tension tighten in his throat, “she doesn’t remember much.” 

Officer Mitchell slaps his hands down on the desk behind them, the noise stifled quickly in the closeness of the room as Danny’s dad leads the way into the hall. Mrs. McCall glances over Danny’s shoulder at the police officer, who apologizes gruffly.

“I’m just tired of not having any answers,” he mutters. 

“Understandable,” Mrs. McCall says. “But you’re going to need to keep your temper in check, or I will have to ask the sheriff to send another of his deputies to work with these kids.” She presses a hand to Danny’s back and pushes him into the hall. 

He wants to see Julia but he doesn’t. He wants to see her but he doesn’t want her to see him, or he wants to see her but he doesn’t want to hear what she has to say to him. He follows his father slowly, his feet scuffing along the linoleum of the floor. Mrs. McCall walks beside him, keeping pace with him. 

“You’ll be all right,” she tells him, as they reach Julia’s room. He tries to smile at her. 

Julia’s sitting up in bed, looking infinitely better than he’s seen her since the last time he saw her before they were all at Alec’s. 

“Hi, Daddy.” His dad crumbles into her shoulder, and she rolls her eyes at Danny over his shoulder. “I’m fine, really. Just a little bruised. No big deal.” Her voice is raspy and her eyelids slide shut as her dad backs away, as if keeping them open is a bit of a challenge. 

She blinks a few slow times and then fixes her gaze on Danny. She smiles at him, holds out a hand. “Thanks,” she says. 

He’s not sure what she’s thanking him for, whether it’s for their parents’ benefit or Mrs. McCall’s or his, but he squeezes her hand tightly and tells her, “I never want to see you like that again.” 

“Well, I never want to be like that again, so I hope we’ll both be able to get what we want.” Her voice catches a little. She coughs and shuts her eyes. “When do I get to go home?” 

Mrs. McCall steps forward. “We want to keep you here one night, just for observational purposes, to make sure we didn’t miss anything. And you’ll have to go through one visit with a psychiatrist—I’m sorry, Julia, it’s required for cases like yours. And the police would also like to speak with you.” 

“But I don’t remember anything,” Julia protests, and already the words sound worn. 

“You can just tell them that, then.” Mrs. McCall steps back toward the door. “I’ll leave you be for the time being. Page if you need anything.” She taps a finger against the button by Julia’s right hand. 

Someone has found another chair, and Danny’s dad sinks into it. Danny stays standing by Julia’s side. She sighs. “You don’t all need to hover over me, I’m okay.” 

“You’re not okay,” his dad says. “Someone did this to you, Julia, you can’t—” 

“I can.” She lifts her head from the pillow. “I know, Dad. I don’t want to talk—but I know.” 

“Okay, okay, okay. It’s okay.”

 ::: 

Eventually Danny’s parents realize that he hasn’t actually been home since before the party the night before, and at his mom’s urging he escapes the circle watching Julia sleep. 

Jackson’s dad has apparently left, but Jackson and Allison are sitting in the waiting room again, Jackson with his head tilted back against the wall, Allison sitting upright with her arms crossed and her lower lip between her teeth. She shrugs at him. “We didn’t both want to be sleeping when you came out. How is she?” 

She kicks Jackson, and he wakes up with a muttered, “Fuck.” 

“She’s all right.” Danny thinks it probably sounds like a lie to Jackson, at least. He knows he doesn’t believe it. 

Allison nods, pushes to her feet. “So, ready to go home? I can bring you back later, if you need I ride.” 

“I’ll have my mom’s car,” he says, knowing that’s not the answer she was looking for. 

They push out into the sunlight, and Danny blinks against it. Somehow the night has rolled out and he feels grainy and exhausted and sick. He stops just as he’s about to step off the sidewalk into the parking lot, and Jackson bumps into him. 

“What,” Jackson growls. 

Stiles’s Jeep is in first space in the lot. He’s reclining in the driver’s seat, his feet kicked up on the wheel and his arm hanging out the open window. He lifts his hand in greeting. 

Danny doesn’t move. 

“Danny?” Allison asks. 

“Yeah,” Danny says, not knowing what he means until he’s crossing the lane between them and Stiles’s Jeep. 

“Can I give you a ride?” Stiles drops his feet out of sight and jerks his seat up. “Please?” 

Danny shrugs. Jackson and Allison linger at the Stiles’s window as Danny crosses to open the passenger door. 

Jackson raises his eyebrows at him when he glances over. “It’s fine,” Danny tells him. “Both of you go home. I’ll call you later.” And, as he’s climbing in beside Stiles. “Thank you for staying with me.” 

“Of course,” Jackson says, voice gruff, and he and Allison pat the hood of the Jeep as they pass, staccato slaps in tandem. 

“Is Julia going to be all right?” Stiles shifts into reverse, glancing over his shoulder as they roll out of the parking space. 

“Probably. I mean, health-wise, she’ll heal. But she says she doesn’t remember anything, and I don’t know. I think she does. I need to talk to her when my parents aren’t there.” 

Stiles’s phone goes off in the silence between them, and he tugs it from his pocket, glances at the screen, scowls and tosses it in the cup holder. Danny tips it so he can see the screen. It’s Stiles’s dad. 

“Do you want me to…?” he drops off; Stiles is already shaking his head. 

“Yeah, no. Sorry, I’m not exactly interested in speaking to him at the moment. Apparently there’re a lot of rumors going on about the party.” Stiles runs a hand through his hair and then flicks his turn signal on. They’re on a windy back road, and he pulls off onto the patch of grass running alongside. They shudder to a stop. “Can we talk?” 

“That’s probably a good idea, yeah.” Danny undoes his seatbelt and shifts in the seat to look at Stiles. Stiles turns the key in the ignition and the rumbling of the Jeep stops. The air is full of their breathing and the brush of the trees beside them. 

“You’re angry with me,” Stiles begins, and then he looks down at his hands, where they tap against the gear shift.

“I’m,” he’s a lot of things. Mostly he’s exhausted. Mostly he wants to sleep, and then maybe have this conversation after. But he’s still got a shadow of the horror he felt the night before edging his emotions, and he doesn’t want to lose that, because this—this conversation needs to happen. “Yeah. I’m angry.” 

“Okay,” Stiles drags the word out. 

“Why didn’t you tell me? About what you can do?” 

Stiles scrubs against his forehead. “I don’t know. I think—I didn’t want to change things.” 

“Change things? What was there to change, before? This has been going on for longer than I’ve been in this, Stiles. You haven’t learned to do…you haven’t learned that in the last two months. Why didn’t you tell me this when you told me about werewolves?” 

“You knew me, though,” Stiles says. “Then, you knew me. Like I was, I mean, at school, before all this. I didn’t want to change that.” 

“I didn’t know you. Not really. Hell, that first day you drugged an old woman and I thought, fuck, I thought I didn’t know you at all. That first day, when we were in your kitchen, when you just took over—I thought it then, before we got to the twins’ grandma’s. I’ve been thinking it since I got into this. I’ve been thinking how you’re not the person I’ve known forever.” 

Stiles opens his mouth to protest, but Danny continues, “I honestly don’t think I ever knew you, before this summer. I don’t think I knew you at all before that day in your kitchen. And then last night I realized maybe I don’t even know you now.” 

“I don’t get it.” Stiles drops his hands to his knees, long fingers digging into the denim. He’s gone home and changed at some point since they were all at the Hale house, his jeans aren’t bloodstained, aren’t muddy. “What’re you saying?” 

“I’m not saying anything,” Danny says, frustrated. “Not anything you shouldn’t have known already. Fuck, Stiles, before this summer we were barely friends, now we’re—dating, boyfriends, whatever you want to call it—now we’re this,” he gestures, taking in the tense atmosphere of the Jeep, the way they’re sitting towards each other, the way they’re talking because they can’t let themselves fall apart, “obviously I have never looked at you once in the last two months the way I have in the last twelve years.” He breathes out, a long breath. “Why the fuck did you think I did?” 

Stiles stares at him. “Because you never once treated me differently. I mean, yeah, the kissing, touching, acting like you wanted me—all that was different. But you didn’t act really different towards me. I mean, you didn’t act like you expected anything from me.” 

Danny bites back his initial reactions to that, because they’ll all dig them both a deep hole that he’s not entirely sure he’s equipped to carry them out of. After a few beats of silence, he says, “What do you mean by anything? Because I definitely had—I have—expectations for you, Stiles.” 

Stiles’s gaze locks on his. His cheeks are a little flushed, and Danny can’t tell whether it’s nerves or the thought of the sort of expectations Danny might’ve had for him that’s causing it. “Like,” Stiles starts. “Okay. Tonight, for example, or maybe, actually, as a less potentially explosive example, that first day, when I drugged the twins’ grandma. That day, Derek took me and you with him to the door. He took you because he didn’t trust Jackson and Boyd to be nice to you, or because he didn’t trust you in the car with them. He also took you because you’re human, of course, and therefore obviously less intimidating. But the first issue was an issue of trust—whether toward Boyd and Jackson or you, I’m not sure. But me? He took me because he expected me to take care of the problem. Because he couldn’t do it like that and because he knew I could. So the anything that you didn’t expect from me, Danny? That’s it. You don’t expect me to take care of shit. You don’t expect me to be,” he waves his hands, “I know you think that was a cop out, when I told you I’m the mountain ash, the fucking wolfsbane. I know it probably was. But even when I told you that—you didn’t expect even that from me. You still treated me like I was no more or less capable than you. Crazier, sure. Good at different things? Yeah. But never—you’d never have sent me into that circle tonight.”

“Because I didn’t know.” Stiles flinches and Danny looks down at his hands. “I don’t mean. Stiles. Believe me, I haven’t doubted that you’re capable. It just never would have occurred to me to even ask you to do that shit, like you said. It just—I never thought of it. I didn’t know about the magic, but otherwise maybe the reason for that is what you say it is, that I don’t want you to have to, maybe. But sometimes you decide to take the lead and sometimes you don’t. I just,” he picks up Stiles’s phone from the cup holder between them, starts tossing it in the air. Stiles watches him. “I got involved in all of this, not because of Jackson or anything. I mean, sort of Jackson. He is my best friend, still, I don’t want to lose him. But you just—you confused me but being near you was the safest I’d felt in a while and you let me in and I don’t know, I didn’t want you to have to do this alone.” 

“I wasn’t alone, I had,” Stiles stutters, and Danny shakes his head. 

“You had the pack. And now I have the pack. And the pack is great. It’s incredible, actually, the way we’re all friends now. I never would have—I really never would have thought it was a possibility. But whenever I’m feeling really shitty, Stiles, really ridiculously unhappy or even just a little bit lonely or like I don’t understand anything that’s going on—and sometimes I think I really don’t, because there are werewolves and you…and you—but when I’m feeling like that, I don’t want to hang out with a bunch of likable assholes in front of Derek’s TV. I don’t want to play lacrosse with idiots who could kill me easier than anything. I really just—fuck, when shit goes down? I really just want to see you. So maybe I didn’t need to get involved, maybe you didn’t need me to, but I’m still—even after…yeah, I’m still glad I did.” 

“I really,” Stiles’s phone starts ringing again, and he takes it from Danny, silences it and leaves it in the cup holder, “Sorry, I really—when shit happens, I really want to see you too.” 

“Okay.” Danny lets out a breath. Stiles looks at him expectantly, like this is wrapped up neatly and they can get on with the making out or, alternatively, the sleeping, which something Danny would very much like  to work on at the moment. But there’s more to all this than the lying. “So now we’ve reaffirmed that we like each other,” Stiles rolls his eyes but sucks his lower lip in between his teeth, body drawing in on itself and tensing once again, “and now that you know that you should have been up front with me from the start and now that I know that I should not expect more from you than you’re willing to give, we should probably talk about tonight. Last night, whatever.” 

“Why?” Stiles’s tone is slightly whiny. “Can’t we just leave it at I should have told you and be done with it?” 

“No.” Danny shakes his head. “Because I dated a guy for a while once who, every time he got a little bit drunk, he acted like a completely different person.” Stiles has his eyes trained on Danny’s face. His skin pales. “Nothing ever happened. I mean, he hit walls and doors and broke a lamp once, but he never hit me. I,” Danny rubs a hand over his eyes, “I hit him once. He wouldn’t stop—he was just—I mean, it’s over. It ended better than it could have. It doesn’t matter anymore.” 

Stiles leans forward, into Danny’s space, his mouth open like a whole book is prepared to fall out of him. But he doesn’t get a word out before Danny continues, “But what you were like last night. I think I could tell you didn’t like it. It didn’t even seem like you.” Stiles closes his mouth and swallows, opens it again, looking ready to protest anything, like if Danny had said the sky was blue, Stiles would be claiming it was red, and Danny shakes his head. “It didn’t seem like you. And I know I say you’re callous, and I know you can hurt people. And I know you helped kill Peter the first time. And I know Aiden—he deserved it. They all deserve it, fuck, look at Julia. When I saw Julia I wanted you to hurt them. But it scared me, because I don’t think—even if you didn’t like it, maybe even because you didn’t like it—the fact you did it anyway?” He presses the heels of his hands against his eyes. “Jackson says we all do what we need to do. But how did you even learn to do that? How did you know you could? Why did you only do it then, when Aiden was defenseless, and not earlier, when we were? Did you need to do that last night, Stiles? Did you really?” 

“Look.” Stiles leans forward, rests his hands on Danny’s knees, twists his body around so his face is in Danny’s, his gaze unavoidable. “I don’t like it, you’re right. I don’t feel like me, because the magic takes over, and it isn’t me. It’s from me, or whatever, but it’s not fully me. It doesn’t have anything human in it, and when I let it go, or when I make it take over, then, you’re right, I’m,” his breath is stale in Danny’s face, “I’m, yeah, I’m dangerous.” 

Danny stares back at him. “I’m dangerous,” Stiles repeats, like the words are a revelation. “Okay, but I’m only dangerous sometimes. It takes a lot of energy to do that. It takes—God, when Deaton first started teaching me back in May, I could barely maintain a circle of mountain ash for longer than a day. Just normal ash, on my windowsill, in my doorway. Now I can hold it without thinking about it, but it’s still a drain. What I did tonight,” he shakes his head, “I’ve only tried that once before. I don’t know if I can do it when I feel threatened, because I’ve only ever tried it when I’m not, when it’s just me and Lydia and Deaton, working on stupid magic shit. I haven’t used any of it in a fight because I don’t know if I can, and that doubt means that I definitely can’t. It’s stupid that I’m the one with the strong magic, because I believe in fuck-all, but tonight,” because Danny is shaking his head, leaning away from him, “tonight I believed that we needed to threaten Aiden because he and his pack will keep going until they kill someone, or until they get that other pack to kill us or until they get us to kill that other pack and I—I can’t stand the thought of us breaking apart in whatever way they’ve got planned. Also,” he rubs at his mouth, “there was Julia, and you, and you are only in this—you said, you’re in this for me, and I want them to leave you and your family alone.” 

“But what good,” Danny pushes, “what good would it have been, to threaten Aiden even if they hadn’t shown up with Julia? What did you want to get out of it?” 

“Answers. A way to stop this. I wanted to know who the other pack is and where they are and I wanted to know why the alphas picked us, picked Beacon Hills as the place to lead them.” 

“We know where they are,” Danny says. “We don’t know the rest of that, but we know where they are. Isaac told us, remember? Did Peter say anything else after we left?” 

Stiles jerks back at the mention of Peter. “No. We just cleaned up and got the fuck out of there—we figured someone was going to call the cops after all that howling.” He taps his foot against the floor and glances at his silent phone, which has lit up twice since Stiles silenced it. “Peter didn’t say anything to me. To anyone. I think he and the others went back to Derek’s apartment.” 

“Did Isaac?” 

“Go to Derek’s apartment?” Stiles nods. “I think so. Why? What—you mean you think he might have gone after the other pack?” 

“Not on his own.” Danny shifts and slides his phone out of his pocket. It’s got a few texts, from people at the party, people who’ve heard about Julia, one from Lydia. He opens it. Nothing useful, just, He’s an idiot but he’s not bad for you, which isn’t something Danny would ever have debated, not even in the middle of watching Stiles play with fire the night before. 

He calls Isaac. 

“Hey. Is everything all right?” 

Danny turns on speaker and tells him, “Fine, I think. I’m with Stiles. Jackson and Allison might stop by Derek’s later.” 

“Good, that’s good.” Isaac makes a noise into the phone, and then he repeats what Danny has told him to someone else in the room. There’s the rumble of a few even more distant voices over each other, and then Isaac is saying, more distinctly, “Can you guys make it to Derek’s in an hour?” 

Stiles is about to say yes, he gets the start of the “y” out, but Danny talks over him. “Actually, Isaac, can you tell me what hotel it was you and Peter were at this morning?” 

“Why?” There’s a rustling sound on the other end, the sound of footsteps, a door shutting. Running water. “What do you want to do?” Isaac keeps his voice soft, and even with all the precautions Danny is willing to bet that the other wolves in Derek’s apartment can still make out the general sense of the words. He doesn’t care. He’s doing what he wants; it’s what they’ve all done so far. 

“I’m going there.” 

“And Stiles?” Isaac asks. Danny glances over at Stiles, who nods, the gesture energetic, the way his lip is caught between his teeth belying the enthusiasm. 

"And Stiles,” Stiles tells Isaac, his voice not shaking at all. 

“That’s probably not a good idea,” Isaac points out. 

“Where is it?” 

So Isaac tells them, the Howard Johnson six exits down the freeway from the entrance nearest the McDonald's, and Stiles picks up his phone and enters the information into the GPS. 

“Don’t be idiots. There are a lot of them, only two of you. Don’t forget that.” 

“Never would,” Danny tells him. 

“We’re used to being outnumbered,” Stiles says, and his smirk smacks Danny hard with its familiarity. 

There’s a sound of Isaac sighing over the line, a long staticky breath, and then he says, “I know you probably don’t want any werewolves with you, but keep us updated, okay? If you go thirty minutes without texting, we’re coming after you.” 

Danny doesn’t say anything about how much could change in thirty minutes. He doesn’t want to make this more complicated than it already is. 

“Sure,” Stiles says, and Danny slips his thumb over the screen to end the call. 

“We’re going to your house first.” Stiles turns the key and the Jeep bursts to life. “You need to change and we both need coffee. And right now I need you to see if there’s anything on the Internet about werewolf packs and humans. Or packs without alphas.” 

Danny pulls up Google and types in the words, not feeling too optimistic as the search results show up. He scrolls through the myriad of online RPGs and Wikipedia entries on actual wolf packs, snorts as he taps through references to The Hangover, and finally settles on skimming a poorly formatted forum that, despite the red text on black background, seems to have posters with some legitimate concerns. 

“This kid is wondering whether you have to get bitten in order to stay in a pack once you’ve hit puberty.” 

“Werewolf problems,” Stiles winces exaggeratedly, “the talk must be so much worse when you have to ask questions like that.” They ride in silence for a few seconds before he asks, “Did anyone respond to him?”

Danny nods. “Said he should talk to his parents but that humans aren’t usually forbidden from being a part of a pack, even mature humans.” Danny moves forward on the forum. “Which we know, considering our situation.”

“I don’t know that our situation is exactly typical.” Stiles brakes outside of Danny’s house and throws the Jeep in park. “It would be good to have some sort of backup on that.” 

“This forum is probably not the ideal source for normalcy, but I wasn’t seeing much else. Life would be a lot easier if we knew of a supernatural division of the government that I could hack.” Danny hands Stiles his phone and shoves open the door. “I’ll go get changed. You want to make some coffee?” 

Stiles hops out and follows Danny into the house, heading through the hall into the kitchen when Danny goes up to his bedroom. 

Danny doesn’t look in the mirror as he takes off his clothes and piles them by his closet. He puts on a clean pair of jeans and a new t-shirt and goes into the bathroom to wash his face, and by the time he gets back downstairs, his bloody jeans rolled up beneath his arm, Stiles has two travel mugs of coffee sitting beside his mom’s Keurig. 

“Think it’ll be safe to ditch these in our garbage can?” Danny holds up his blood-spotted jeans. The blood isn’t extensive on them, not the way it was on the t-shirt Stiles had burned early that morning, but he still doesn’t want the evidence—or whatever it is—sitting around his bedroom. 

“Probably.” Stiles cocks his head. “You can toss them in the back of my Jeep, if you’d rather. I can try to get them clean for you, they aren’t too bad. I’ve got some of mine and Lydia’s to do, too.” 

Danny shrugs. “If it’s not any more trouble.” He reaches for one of the coffee mugs, and then looks at Stiles, one hard look. “Are you sure you want to come with me?” 

“Best option we’ve got.” Stiles steps forward, hesitantly, like he’s not sure he’s allowed to, and when Danny doesn’t move back he presses a dry kiss to the corner of Danny’s mouth. “I’m really sorry I fucked up, you know.”

“Yeah.” Danny squeezes the hand not holding his coffee around Stiles’s wrist. “We’re all right. Is there anything else I should know before we do this?” 

Stiles shakes his head. “I really hope not.” He reaches for his coffee and nudges his hip against Danny’s. “Let’s go kick some ass.” 

“I think that should probably not be our goal,” Danny mumbles, locking his family’s front door and glancing up at Julia’s bedroom window. There’s nothing visible on the outside, no evidence of the alphas’ illegal entry. 

“She’ll be okay,” Stiles reminds him. “You said she’ll be okay.” 

“Yeah,” Danny agrees. “Except—I don’t know. She was pissed at me yesterday. I gave her mountain ash, like—like she could be protected. Like this all isn’t as serious as it is. Like it’s some game.” 

“She could have been protected.” Stiles’s tone is fierce, hard. “If I had come with you, I could have shown her how to use the ash. If I had been smarter, I would have trained you better. I just—none of us saw them coming here. We should have.” 

“None of us did, though.” Danny shoves his jeans beneath the backseat of the Jeep and climbs into the front. “None of us did.” He doesn’t say that no one should blame themselves, because he’s not sure about that. But whether or not they ought to feel guilty, Julia was caught up in it. Is caught up in it. 

Stiles sets his phone on the dashboard as he reverses out of the driveway, and almost immediately it lights up with a phone call. He sighs and presses the answer button, turning it to speaker as Danny pulls up the GPS on his own phone, holding it out between them. 

Stiles says, “Hey, Dad.” He turns onto the road leading to the freeway. 

A long breath is released, crackling shakily out of Stiles’s phone. “Stiles.” The sheriff sounds wrecked. Danny is staring at the map on his screen, the instructions scrolling across the top. He refuses to look at Stiles, but he does notice the way Stiles’s palm slaps against the top of the gearshift, over and over. 

“Sorry I haven’t picked up. I had my phone on silent.” 

“Where the hell are you?” The sheriff’s words sound tense, wound tight. Stiles signals to merge onto the freeway, the Jeep surging beneath them as he accelerates. 

“With Danny and Scott.” 

“No you’re not.” 

Stiles’s hand makes a jerky motion toward his phone where it rests on the dashboard, as if he’s going to cancel the call. Instead he inhales. “Is Scott there?” 

“Scott,” the sheriff lets out a dry laugh, “no. I’m at the station, sorting through accounts of what sounds like a very violent house party last night. Stiles.” There’s a pause, and Danny glances away from his phone to look at Stiles. His face is pale, his eyes glued to the road. “Stiles,” the sheriff continues, “all of your classmates—they’re all saying crazy things. But they all mention you and your friends.” 

 “All of them?” Stiles stalls. 

“Enough that I’m going to need to ask questions. It would be easier if you and your friends could just come in and answer them.” 

“Haven’t you already spoken to some of them? I saw patrol cars at the hospital.” Stiles’s voice has taken on a harsh edge. Danny reaches out and rests a hand on his knee, too familiar with the tone. He's trying to distance himself.  

 “You were at the hospital?" 

“Julia’s hurt.” Danny’s hand tightens. “I wanted to see Danny.” 

“And where are you now?" 

Stiles looks down at Danny’s phone, merges to the right and turns on his signal. They pass a sign listing lodgings at the next exit, the Howard Johnson is right there, beside a Motel 6.  Stiles doesn’t say anything to his dad. 

The silence goes on so long that Danny thinks for a moment they may have lost the sheriff, but then he says, “Where are you going, then, if you won’t tell me where you are?”

 “We’ll be home tonight.” He looks at Danny, a hard look, and Danny reaches out and ends the call. Stiles releases a breath. “Thanks,” he mutters. “I couldn’t—I mean, you know.” 

Danny’s never known so well. “I know this isn’t exactly the time, but maybe you should, you know, tell him.” 

“Yeah.” Stiles brakes as they turn left into the parking lot of the hotel. “I should.” 

The Howard Johnson used to be an old motor inn, and the only thing that’s changed is the sign out front. There are a few cars pulled into spaces outside of rooms, and one of the doors is propped open, a skinny man with dark hair standing to its side, his hands pressed against the wall behind him. 

He looks like he’s waiting for something. Danny assumes it’s them. 

Stiles touches his pockets, and Danny slips a hand in his own. He’s got nothing there except house keys, but he knows Stiles has an arsenal in his. 

“Ready?” Stiles asks, hand on the door handle. Danny shoots a text to Isaac, telling him to start his countdown, and nods. 

The man pushes away from the side of the building as they approach. He’s anemic-looking, waifish. Danny would bet anything he’s a witch, not a werewolf, not purely human. Stiles grins at him. 

“I could feel you coming,” the man says. He rubs a hand through his hair and it stands up. He looks anything but intimidating. 

“We’ve got an issue,” Danny tells him. “We’re hoping we can solve it.” 

“We aren’t interested in helping you.” 

Stiles cocks his head. Danny crosses his arms. 

“I understand,” Stiles begins, but the man jerks his head from side to side. 

“You understand fuck all.” 

“Okay.” Danny exhales, forces himself to breathe through the tension knotting in his throat. “Except we do know that there’s an alpha pack here, playing us off each other.”

“They wouldn’t have cause if your friend hadn’t killed our alpha.” 

“She wouldn’t have,” Stiles spits, but Danny grabs onto his wrist and pulls him closer, stopping Stiles before he’s able to fully begin his irritated babble. 

“We are right, though, aren’t we? The alphas did start this when they captured Erica and your alpha?" 

“If you want to turn something messy into something neat, then, yes, this is all the alphas’ fault.” His voice whines on the last few words, mocking. Stiles inches closer to Danny, his hand brushing against the pocket of his jeans. 

“You admit that, but you’re still willing to have them use you?” Danny tries not to sound accusatory, but he’s not sure he succeeds. 

“I’m willing to be used if their ends match mine.” 

“They want us to kill each other,” Danny points out. “They don’t just want my pack dead. They want all of us out of the picture.” 

“We’re not as weak as they think we are.” A woman steps through the open doorway behind the witch, stopping at his shoulder and looking from Stiles to Danny. She’s the picture of normalcy, hair smoothed back, eye makeup clean and smile wide and white. Danny can tell, though, from the way Stiles stiffens beside him, from the way the woman holds herself, that she is a werewolf. 

“Neither are we,” Stiles points out. 

“They’ve been toying with you for months,” the woman snorts. “You’re exactly as weak as expected.” 

“You think we’ll be easy to beat?” Stiles leans forward. “You really think that?” 

“Easier than them,” the woman’s voice taunts. 

“But if we were to team up, don’t you think we’d be able to beat them? Our packs together—we have advantages over them.” Danny raises his voice to speak over what seems to be the beginning of a fairly epic pissing contest.

“Your pack is new. The alphas are well-established.” A second werewolf has joined the others, his wolfishness obvious in the claws he rests on the witch’s shoulder. Danny glances over at the hotel office. Blinds obscure the windows facing the parking lot. All the other rooms are shut; cars speed by on the road without even slowing down. They’re as isolated as they can be at what amounts to a freeway rest stop. 

Stiles doesn’t change his tone at this new werewolf’s apparent lack of concern. “A well-established aberration. You would ally with them?” 

“Are you saying your pack is normal? You have two alphas,” the witch holds up two fingers, lifting more as he continues, “an undead werewolf, humans and hunters and a woman who is immune to the bite and a witch who cannot do difficult magic if he feels threatened.” That makes Stiles step back into Danny, his hip hitting Danny’s. Danny lets himself rest against him a little. “Did you think we were hanging out here for fun? We have been paying attention." 

“You should have been, too,” the woman tells them. Danny swallows. 

“Supposing you succeed in killing us without losing any of your own pack—which is doubtful, but possible, I guess. Say you do it, though, what’s your plan then? Do you think the alphas will leave you alone? For some reason they have latched onto you, for some reason they want revenge. They’re willing to go to extreme lengths to get that. If you get out of a fight with us alive, why would they let you live?” 

“We will be more powerful, if we kill your two alphas. We will be able to take them on on our own.” 

“And if you can’t?” 

“I’ll have had revenge,” the witch says. “Your friend killed my sister. I’ll have gotten her back, at least.” 

“And the rest of your pack? Their lives matter less than your dead sister?” Danny shakes his head at Stiles’s words. He gets the witch, he thinks. He wouldn’t have until that morning, but when he saw Julia and he wanted Stiles to do whatever he had to—that taught him something. 

The witch’s hands come out of his pockets, fisting at his thighs, but before he’s able to retaliate the woman steps forward. “What did you think was going to happen when you came here?” 

“Getting revenge on the alphas makes more sense than getting revenge on us,” Danny answers. 

“Your friend killed my sister,” the witch repeats. “If you’re willing to give her up, then we can ally against the alphas.” 

“You want us to betray a member of our pack?" Danny shakes his head.

“She’s a murderer.” 

“Aren’t you? If you’re not yet, you’re planning on becoming one very soon. Extensively. An extensive murderer. Of teenagers.” Stiles rocks back on his heels. “You act like Erica wanted to do what she did.” 

“She wanted it more than the alternative.” 

“She tried to stop herself.” Stiles’s voice sounds like it’s clawing his way ragged from his mouth. He sounds like he’s at the very edge of his own control. 

“She was a new werewolf, she didn’t want to do anything.” Danny rubs a hand at the back of his neck, feeling exhaustion gathering in his joints. “She told me she decided not to attack, but when the full moon came—she just—she didn’t know how to hold it back. Her anchor wasn’t there.” 

“And so it’s okay that Di is dead?”

“No, of course it’s fucking not okay.” Danny straightens his back, meets the man’s gaze for the first time. His eyes are green, sunken, with vivid purple spread beneath them. Danny sees him and thinks of Julia. “Of course it’s not okay, but you are looking in the wrong place for revenge. Will killing us all make it better?” 

“Killing you and killing the alphas will.” 

“James,” the woman squeezes the witch’s arm. He stills, stops talking. She turns to face Danny and Stiles. Her attention eventually seems to fasten on Danny, although it’s clear, it must be, that Stiles is the threat here. “He’s not being entirely honest.” Her tone is calm, but here eyes flicker between beta gold and brown. “Dianna became our alpha after her mother died—she inherited it. Her alpha, well, her power, I mean, it was our pack’s alpha, do you understand? When your friend killed her, whether or not she was willing, whether or not she planned on it, she took a piece of Dianna. A piece of our pack. To have that in another wolf, with another pack—it’s impossible to live with.” Her eyes burn. “It’s like a constant itch. Dianna’s power should have gone to Aaron,” she tilts her head to the wolf whose claws still snag at the witch’s shirt, “but your friend killed her. We want it back. Killing your Erica—whether or not she planned the death, she did murder Dianna. Whether or not she feels remorse, she still has powers that were not intended for her. Once we have those back, we can turn our attention to avenging Dianna. The alphas deserve to have us allied, but—we need an alpha. We need our alpha again.” 

Stiles lets out a hiss of breath. “Packs can exist without alphas.” 

“Not well. Not powerfully. We won’t be able to protect ourselves.” 

“And you need this essence of your pack, or whatever? Having Aaron,” Stiles inclines his head toward the wolf, whose expression has not changed since he first appeared behind the others, “having him kill an alpha, Deucalion, Kali, any of them, having him exact revenge on them first, that won’t be the same? That won’t give your pack an alpha, regardless of whether that power was once Dianna’s or not?” 

James shakes the woman’s hand from his arm. “We need Di’s power.”

“Even though it’s Erica’s now?” Even as the words leave his mouth Danny knows they are the wrong ones. The woman’s eyes narrow; Aaron growls; James’s hands burn red, really bright red, where he holds them in front of him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Danny attempts. 

“Danny,” Stiles murmurs, his voice simultaneously a warning and an answer. His gaze is locked on the still-open door to the room. The rest of the pack has gathered there, the three figures shadowed in the space beneath the overhang. 

“I’m sorry,” Danny tries again. 

“The power is ours,” Aaron growls. 

“I realize that. We realize that.” Danny stays silent until James lowers his hands, the magic easing into the air around them. He can’t sense it, but Stiles’s hair is standing on end, his hands stuffed deep in his pockets. “I only wanted to know whether Erica has tainted the power, the way you say the alphas’ powers are.” 

“What she has originated with our family. She doesn’t have enough of it to have changed it. Not significantly.” 

“Can’t she give it to you?” Danny asks. “Can’t it be passed willingly?” 

James jerks back. “It’s a difficult magic.” 

“How difficult?” Stiles inches away from Danny, steps across the pavement of the parking lot toward the other witch. Like his proximity could convince him. 

“Nearly impossible. Would she even do it? You know we’ve been watching you. She seems to have taken to it.” Aaron bares his teeth at Stiles. Stiles doesn’t move back, and Danny doesn’t reach for him. Here’s their moment, and he can suddenly feel the future opening again. It doesn’t feel anywhere near as dark as it had hours before. 

“She’d do it.” Danny’s certain. Whatever Erica was looking for when she took Derek’s offering, he knows that life as a pack’s second alpha wasn’t it. He knows that a pack war with no firm resolution wasn’t it. 

“It’s difficult,” James repeats. 

“Peter brought himself back from the dead,” Danny tells him. “Stiles knows his shit. You look like you do, too. If Erica is willing, why risk everyone?” 

“If we do this, we form an alliance against the alphas,” Stiles tells him. 

Danny adds, “If this works, we need the alliance to last past the alphas. What happened to your sister was terrible, but we do not deserve to pay for it.” 

Aaron growls again, but James glances over his shoulder, at the figures behind him. “Okay,” he says with his head still turned away from them. “Call your friends.” 

Stiles does.

::: 

Derek arrives, Erica, Peter, and Isaac crammed into the back of the Camaro, the others having stayed behind to avoid raising suspicion from the alphas, if they’re watching. Derek rents a bedroom, paying with cash and shoving a fake ID across the desk carelessly. The blue-haired woman manning the desk barely looks up from her phone to take the money.

Erica sits on the hood of Derek’s car while Stiles unlocks the door to the new room, James and Peter at his shoulders, all three of them carrying bags of herbs. Stiles has a lighter in his left hand and he keeps flicking it on. Danny hesitates on the sidewalk outside, and Derek glances over at Erica, sitting and watching them. 

“We need some furry asses in here,” Stiles calls from the doorway, voice low. Derek and Isaac converge on the room, and Danny crosses the parking lot, hopping onto the hood of the Camaro beside Erica. He taps the slippery metal beneath them and says, “You okay?”

“It’s not like I have much of a choice, is it?” One of the other wolves, not Aaron, not the woman who first confronted them, but another woman, is sitting on a desk chair pulled out onto the pavement outside the rooms. She is watching them, clearly listening. Erica returns her stare, but Danny turns his head to face Erica. 

“I’m sorry,” he offers, because her other choices are not good ones, and he wouldn’t want to protect a person who would choose them. 

“You’re probably the only one.” She throws her head back. “Boyd is so relieved. I told him I didn’t want him here. This is going to hurt, I think. The way Peter kept humming while he read through the spell he found, the way he looked at me after—I think it’s going to hurt a lot.” She twists to face him, a movement that would look sloppy in a human body but looks terribly graceful in hers. “But, hey. Must restore the natural order, right? That’s our job?” 

“I sort of just want us to be able to get rid of the alphas. If the natural order or whatever had to stay messed up for that to happen, I’d be fully behind that plan, too.” 

Erica smiles at him, close-mouthed and surprisingly soft. “Jackson said Julia will be okay?” 

“They think so.” Danny kicks the heel of his shoe against Derek’s car. “You really,” he shakes his head, “this is going to sound so dumb, but you were becoming a really good alpha. From what Stiles has said, about the pack before? Just, it was working.” 

Her grin widens. “Derek said so, too. Well, not in words, but, you know. Derek-ly.. I hope whatever we’ve changed will still work, even when I’m a beta again.” No one’s mentioned the possibility of Erica becoming human. Danny wonders if there’s a chance, wonders if it’s something no one else has thought of because humanity has become inconceivable to them. But he can’t picture her without fangs and claws lurking beneath the surface. He really doesn’t want to see her without her growl. 

They sit in silence, watching as the members of the other pack gather around the shut door to the room Derek’s rented. Erica inches closer to Danny as time stretches on. 

She nearly flings herself from the car when Stiles opens the door to the room and pushes through the members of the other pack. “Erica,” he says, his voice carrying across the parking lot.  “Are you ready?” 

She doesn’t say anything as she crosses the pavement, but she tosses her hair when she passes him, entering the room on her own. Stiles looks at Danny, and then, when he doesn’t make any move to approach, waves him over. “I want you here. If you don’t mind?” The question seems like an afterthought, and Danny knows it’s unnecessary, also knows that Stiles wouldn’t have offered it if it weren’t for what happened the night before, and he’s grateful for it. 

The beds have been pushed against the wall, and there are two nearly closed circles of mountain ash on the green patterned carpet. Erica is at the edge of one, Aaron beside the other. Peter perches on the edge of one of the beds, and James stands to Aaron’s right. James is staring at Erica likes she’s a train wreck, a flaming car accident, the last person to have seen his sister alive. 

Erica looks at the circle of mountain ash. She steps inside. 

The wolves are crowded around the door; Danny brushes by Derek as he enters, and Derek glances at him, eyes red in anxiety. 

“You should all get out, this is going to be—it’ll be best to have as few people in here as possible.” Stiles nods toward the crowd of wolves. 

“What’s the purpose of,” Aaron points his chin towards Danny. 

Danny shrugs as Stiles rolls forward on the balls of his feet. “He’s grounding.” 

“You need that?” James asks, tone cutting and raw, jerking his attention from Erica. 

Stiles flushes. “I do.” 

James nods, and Danny knows there’s something that’s not being shared, here, something he and maybe everyone else is on the outside of. But Peter smacks his hands together and says, “Wolves, out. James and Stiles, close your circles.” And the room empties. “Daniel, will you close the door, please?”

Danny does. The last thing he sees before shutting it is the flash of Derek’s eyes. 

“Okay.” He turns back to face the others. Peter pulls his phone from his pocket and Stiles and James snap upright at Erica’s and Aaron’s backs. They’re facing each other. Stiles is tall enough to see over Erica’s mess of hair, but Aaron is taller than James, and so his view of them is blocked. Danny imagines Erica is relieved, but James’s hands are fisted at his sides, and he’s chewing on his lip. Danny doesn’t know how magic works at all, but he hopes that emotions don’t come into play. Otherwise this will go terribly wrong. 

Peter doesn’t warn them before he begins, just starts speaking in a hollow voice, one that sounds like Stiles’s had the night before. It’s not English, what he’s saying. Probably Latin, although Danny’s only ever heard American-accented Latin so he has no idea what actual Latin should sound like. But from what he knows of magic, whatever Peter is reading off of his screen is probably Latin.

Nothing feels different to Danny as Peter speaks, his tone of voice barely taking on any inflection as the spell drops out. James and Stiles look as if they’re feeling something, though, if only from the way they’re not moving. Stiles looks so unnatural, standing like that. His eyes are shut. If Danny couldn’t see the rise and fall of his chest, he wouldn’t think he was still alive. 

Erica and Aaron are moving, though, shifting within the confines of their circles. They’re looking at the floor, at the ceiling—not at each other, not once. They look uncomfortable, but not concerned. 

And then that changes. Peter pauses, inhales to continue on his long litany of whatever language it is he’s speaking, and Erica lets out a high keening noise, throwing her head back so her hair falls down and her neck arches at what looks to be an agonizing angle. Peter keeps talking, the syllables falling from his tongue in a rush. Nothing else changes. Erica stays arched like that, her body a parenthesis, her voice crawling out into the air. Danny hears the knob on the door turn behind him. He falls back against it, hoping his weight will be a signal to whoever the fuck is trying to break in on this that now is not a good time. 

Peter pauses again, and this time Danny realizes the pauses aren’t for him to breathe. They’re mandated by the spell, apparently, because Erica goes silent as soon as Peter does and drops to the ground, pressing her palms against the carpet to hold herself in a crouch. As she falls, Aaron throws his head back, his voice carrying on Erica’s cry, a few octaves lower but inarguably the same sound. 

Erica is gasping, her hands flat on the floor, and Danny wants to go to her. He steps away from the door, Peter still talking over Aaron, but Stiles has crossed into the mountain ash before Danny can reach it. He is kneeling in front of Erica. Danny can’t hear exactly what he’s saying, but the cold tone of his words and the light pulsing from his palms where he presses them against Erica’s on the carpet tells him that whatever it is Stiles is doing, it’s not natural. 

But this time Danny doesn’t want him to stop, because Erica’s forehead is falling forward against Stiles’s shoulder, and Stiles is resting his head on Erica’s, and despite the weakness in both their postures they both look better than they had moments ago. Erica, especially, but Stiles is moving again, with his head on Erica’s shoulder and his hands on her hands, his knee jiggling where it’s bent beside them. His voice keeps going, whatever he’s saying winding low beneath Peter’s spell and Aaron’s continuing cry, which has devolved somewhat into a whine. 

Danny drifts back to the door as the spell continues. James is standing still, exactly as he has been this entire time, and the way that’s tied to the magic, to the way Aaron has his body thrown back, is entirely apparent. Danny wants Peter to stop talking. The stillness of James and Aaron and Peter himself, the way Erica is still slumped on Stiles and how Stiles seems to think he still needs to magic Erica through her loss—Danny hopes that’s what he’s doing, he hopes that Erica has at least released the power, in all of this—it is making Danny’s heart clench tight. It seems too—but then Peter does stop, and instead of falling, as Erica had done, Aaron throws his arms back, opens his blazing eyes wide, and roars. 

Danny presses back into the door, palms flat and slippery the fake wood. Aaron quiets, but begins pacing the edges of a his mountain ash circle, a tight turn that would have left Danny dizzy in seconds.

James shakes himself, snaps his eyes open. Peter has fallen back on the disgusting bed-cover, pulled a pillow over his head, and is, apparently, completely finished with this process of de-alpha-fying. 

Stiles is still talking to Erica, but he’s no longer glowing, and she’s nodding her head against his shoulder. 

“Aaron?” James asks, and the man spins in the circle, growling as he approaches the edge, as his face, with its red eyes and fangs and sideburns, gets so near James’s. And then he whines, because the circle is still intact. 

“Aaron, come on.” 

This is the least human, least tame, Danny has ever seen a werewolf. Even when they’ve fought each other, the wolves have never seemed less than human. Superhuman, yes. But not like this. Aaron is non-verbal. His shoulders are hunched, he looks absurd and wild, trapped on a tiny space of floor in a shitty hotel room. 

“You might need to call him back to himself.” Peter’s voice is muffled by the pillow, he still hasn’t sat up. “It can be a bit of a shock to the system.”

“A bit,” James echoes. 

Peter hums in acknowledgment. Danny watches as the wolf continues its whine, pressing against the invisible barrier the mountain ash throws up. 

“Do we let the others in?” Stiles stands from beside Erica, who has lowered herself to sit cross-legged, exactly in the center of her circle. She is watching Aaron lean over James with a curious expression on her face; Danny can’t work out exactly what it means. 

“Give me a minute.” James has not looked away from Aaron. His eyes seem to have taken on a bit of the alpha glow, and Danny doesn’t know whether he’s imagining it or if it’s a reflection or if something else is happening. 

Stiles steps over the mountain ash line, leaving Erica secured inside. She acts completely unconcerned, disinterested in moving beyond the boundary. She’s still watching the new alpha in the room, and she hasn’t made any sort of sign that she herself is still a werewolf. 

As Danny watches, Erica very slowly lifts her hand from the ground. She holds it out, her gaze not moving from the back of Aaron’s head, and attempts to reach into the air outside of the mountain ash. She can’t. 

Danny lets out a breath of relief and Stiles a nearly joyful yelp that makes someone bang a fist on the door hard enough for it to shake against Danny’s back. 

“What the fuck is happening?” It’s an unfamiliar voice, one of the other pack’s wolves, and the growl sounds like something out of a horror movie, like all of this hasn’t been. 

James or Aaron should answer, but they’re looking at each other, caught in the weird exchange, and neither of them even shifts in response to the voice. Although Aaron should, if they’re his betas, Danny thinks. But he has never understood how the pack works, and Stiles is grinning so wide at Erica, who has finally looked away from the man who has her power—because regardless of what James has said, Erica had accepted it, it had become hers—and so Danny twists around, cracks open the door, and says to a pair of vivid beta-gold eyes, “Everything’s fine. It worked. Aaron is adjusting to the change.” 

“Why don’t we let the pack sort itself out.” Peter sits up from the bed in one graceful movement, the pillow that had been on his face falling to the floor. “I think James has gotten Aaron nearly here. The betas and the others could only help. Stiles, break the circle.” So Stiles does, scrubbing his foot across the circle by Erica’s feet, and she tries to walk calmly out of it, but her steps are faltering. Peter takes one arm as soon as she’s on the other side, and Stiles takes her other. Danny opens the door to the press of the other pack. 

“You can go in. We’ll wait for you,” Peter says, when the silence between them is beginning to feel like a glove thrown in a ring. 

At that the pack steps back so that Danny, Stiles, Peter, and Erica can leave the doorway open. The pack pushes in as one, their shoulders brushing against the doorframe and the hinges. They let the door shut behind them. 

Erica sits down on the concrete of the walkway outside the room. Isaac pushes away from the pillar where he and Derek have been standing and drops in front of her, pushing her hair away from her forehead in a quick movement. 

“Are you okay?” 

She lets out a long breath. “I think I will be. It’s,” she looks up at Derek, who is staring at the closed door, probably listening on what’s going on inside. When Erica looks at him, though, he drops his gaze to her and nods, “it’s like I’ve been lying on my back for a year and I have to learn how to walk all over again.” 

Derek smiles, close-lipped and tight, “You’ll be running again in a day or two. You dealt with being an alpha better than I had; you’ll deal with this, too.” 

“At least I’ve got some practice in this.” She rests her head back against the wall. After a few minutes of silence, the werewolves’ heads all tilted toward the closed door, Stiles sits beside Erica, stretching his legs out in front of him. The toes of his Converse wave in the air. Danny watches them until Stiles jerks one leg up towards him. 

“Come sit?” 

So Danny joins him, resting his head back against the wall and pressing his shoulder and arm and the length of his left leg against Stiles. He thinks he understands, at its basest level, what Stiles had meant about Danny grounding him. Just moments ago Danny’s whole body had been a tight fist, but the minute Stiles’s knee bumps against his he feels some of the pressure release. Not all of it, of course, not nearly all, but he’s no longer certain the whole world is going to implode on them. 

Stiles reaches over and begins tapping his fingers against the back of Danny’s hand where it rests on his thigh. He doesn’t have an even rhythm down; it’s a nervous jitter. He keeps it up the whole time they’re sitting there, so the pulse of it is in Danny’s bones by the time the other pack opens the door, Aaron and James leading the rest out. Aaron still looks on edge, but there are no obvious signs of his newfound power, no lingering red in his eyes. He stays at James’s shoulder as the six members of the other pack line up in front of Derek and Isaac and Erica, Peter and Danny and Stiles—Derek and Isaac the only two standing. 

They’re silent as the two packs look at each other. Erica keeps her head down, blonde hair shielding her eyes. 

The woman who had been speaking to them earlier steps forward, James and Aaron to her left, two women and one man to her right. Two of them are wolves, but Danny can’t tell which of them. The other must be human, because none of the wolves have tensed significantly at their appearance, and without magic—whoever it is wasn’t involved in the spell. 

“You are not forgiven.” The woman looks down at Erica. “But we will not make you pay. Not now, and not later. You should consider yourself lucky.” She pivots to face Derek. “We cannot fight the alphas immediately, you understand? They hopefully do not know what we've done—if they do, they’ll attack now, rather than waiting for Aaron to learn his power, for her,” she jerks her chin towards Erica, who still hasn’t moved, “ and our witches to regain strength.” 

“And if they do know? We still fight them.” Derek leans forward, his body a declaration. Danny can feel the violence in the air. 

“We still fight them,” she agrees. “But I’d rather we fight them on our terms, or, at the very least, at a better time. So,” she smacks her hands together, a teacher collecting unruly students at the end of recess, “we’re going to have a system. We break into pairs, exchange numbers. That way, if something happens, everyone has someone to text. We don’t need to be too obvious, we don’t need group texts. We’re all in contact. You obviously are, too.” 

Derek nods. “That’s reasonable. Who’s with whom?” 

“Aaron and you, of course. Alpha with alpha.” She’s got a bit of a smirk in her tone. “James wants your human,” Stiles’s fingers still on Danny’s hand, his fingertips press and if he had nails they’d be digging, “so of course our human gets your witch.” She points at Stiles, and then gestures toward one of the girls to her right. She’s tiny, with dark hair and green eyes, and she has a lip ring that glints when she grins. 

“I’m Hannah,” she steps forward. Stiles lifts his chin in acknowledgment, but doesn’t get up. 

“And Liv will take your beta.” The other girl is blond, her smile at Isaac is all teeth. “Terrance your…zombie.” Stiles lets out a laugh, but Danny chokes his down, because for the briefest instant, as the other pack’s beta glances at Peter, the older wolf looks murderous. “And I’ll take Erica.”

Erica looks up then, lips rolled thin. “What is your name?” she asks. 

The woman doesn’t look down at her, but she does answer, “Lucy,” as she pulls a slim phone from her pocket. “Now we exchange numbers and go our separate ways.” 

“So we text if something happens,” Stiles jumps to his feet. “But if nothing happens within the next couple of days? We should probably organize ourselves. We should probably attack first.” 

“So we give ourselves a deadline.” Aaron steps out of line, gestures toward Stiles. “You say a few days. If nothing happens by Tuesday, then we meet here, we plan.” 

“We’re already going to be planning,” Stiles says. “We’ll just be meeting to discuss it.” 

James cocks his head. “How do you mean?” 

“And you said our pack was ill-prepared,” Peter snarls. “We are going to try to figure out a way to get rid of the alphas without all of us dying, of course.” 

“Magic?” The girl, Hannah, offers. 

Danny pushes to his feet as Stiles agrees. “Magic. A curse, a territory spell. Something. We’ll find something.” 

“We’ll work on it, too.” James reaches for his phone and approaches Danny, and that signals to the others to cross this small but significant space that exists between their packs, to begin the brief and quick exchange of numbers and texts, and then they drift again. 

“We’ll be in touch,” James says, and then it seems as if they are free to go, after this impossibly exhausting afternoon, free to go wherever the fuck they need to. 

“Home?” Stiles asks Danny, and he shrugs. 

“Which one?” 

He can feel the other pack watching him as they approach Stiles’s Jeep. 

“Mine.” Stiles lets out a shuddering breath. “I need to—I really do need to talk to my dad. And I really do need you there. If you can be?” 

“Of course I’ll be there.” Danny hasn’t gotten any texts or calls about Julia, which he thinks is a good sign. He assumes his parents are sleeping. 

“Can you text my dad, tell him we’ll be there in twenty minutes?” Stiles tosses his phone to Danny, and when Danny unlocks the screen he sees a list of five missed calls and thirteen text messages, all from his father. He bites the inside of his cheek. What they’re doing, now, it’s necessary and long-overdue. It also may fuck a lot of stuff up, but he knows Stiles knows that. So he texts Stiles’s dad and holds onto the phone as the screen lights up almost immediately with another phone call. 

When he doesn’t answer, the sheriff texts. It just says, I’ll be waiting, and Danny swallows.

“Do you want one of the wolves to be there?” he asks. 

Stiles shakes his head. “Just you.” Danny hears the unspoken words, the acknowledgment that if he needs to prove the existence of the supernatural to his father, then Stiles has the ability in his own hands, doesn’t need friends with fur and fangs to make a point. 

The sheriff is sitting at his kitchen table when they come in. He has a stack of papers in front of him, a half-full coffee cup and a glass of water by his right hand. He doesn’t look up, not at all, not even when Stiles and Danny sit down at the table. No one says anything for so long that Danny is starting to itch to break the silence, and that is always Stiles’s job. 

Stiles shifts in his chair, the sound of his jeans slipping against the wood really fucking loud, and pulls his phone out. He sets it on the table, places his hands palms-down on either side of it, and looks at his dad. Just looks. 

“Okay.” The sheriff stacks the papers on the table and slides them into a manila envelope. “Are you going to tell me now, or make me guess?” 

“You know already, don’t you,” Stiles says, surprising Danny with the frankness, the lack of hesitancy and nerves in the statement. “You’ve been reading reports from last night all day. You must have figured it out.” 

The sheriff shakes his head. “Whatever conclusions I’ve made,” he rubs a hand over his face. It’s a simpler gesture than Stiles’s version, which involves his whole body, but still familiar, and it makes the knotted anxiety in Danny’s throat loosen a little. He allows himself to slump in the chair. His knee knocks against Stiles’s beneath the table, and Stiles shifts closer to him as the sheriff sighs into the fingers he’s pressed against his mouth. “Whatever conclusions I’ve made,” he starts over, “they make—they make a certain amount of sense.” 

“But?” Stiles’s fingers roll against the table, a ten beat repetitive surge. 

“Damn it, Stiles.” The sheriff’s voice sounds exhausted. “Haven’t we been through enough? Just—can’t you just tell me?” And Danny wants Stiles to start talking, now, too. This feels strangely like taunting. Like a challenge. 

He turns to look at him. Stiles is staring at his father, his eyes not flicking away at all. It is a challenge, Danny can see it in his stare. But it’s more of a—more of him wanting his dad to trust his instincts. It’s more of him wanting his dad to get it, than him wanting his dad to fight him back. 

Still, Danny doesn’t think now is the time to force the sheriff to see the truth on his own. Even, maybe especially, if he’s already suspecting it. He says, “Stiles, if it’s going to come out—why not just start at the beginning?" 

Stiles ducks his head. He starts, carefully. “When the department went looking for Laura Hale’s body—the other half of Laura Hale’s body—Scott and I were out there, too. You know that.” Danny glances at the sheriff. He nods. Stiles continues, “You found me and I left Scott, and that—I shouldn’t have. That started all of this.” 

“How?” 

“That night,” Stiles had sounded so much braver, when he gave Danny the details of this story, had tossed them into his lap in the mall food court, almost uncaring, “when I left Scott alone, he got bit by an animal. He told me it was a wolf.” The sheriff ‘s mouth twists. “But the bite mark disappeared completely, and Scott—Scott didn’t need his inhaler anymore, he could hear everything, he was suddenly first line,” Stiles’s tone is shaky but wry, “and the Internet told me that Scott had probably turned into a werewolf.” 

The sheriff inhales, the sound stuttering. They all wait in silence as he looks at Stiles. 

“And you believed it?” he asks finally, voice amazingly steady. 

“At first? Not at all. But then, yeah, there was too much evidence not to.” 

The sheriff nods. “Okay. So, Scott got bitten by a werewolf. What’s next?” 

And so Stiles tells the whole story, everything he told Danny and everything he didn’t, back in the beginning. About Derek and Peter and Lydia, about Jackson. About Allison and the Argents and Kate and the Hale family. He tells his dad about Erica, the alphas. About the night before, the morning spent with the other pack. 

He talks for a long time. His voice goes rough and the sheriff does not interrupt once, and Danny sits there in silence, pressing his knee against Stiles’s beneath the table and watching while Stiles’s hands move through the air, punctuating his words. 

When Stiles stops, the sheriff nods once. “And that’s it? That’s everything?” 

Danny lowers his head, waiting for the final thing, the last thing Stiles shared with him. He wonders, in the weighted silence that follows the sheriff’s question, whether Stiles will actually open up about this, too. A part of him hopes he doesn’t, because a part of him—a terribly large part, an angry, raw piece—wants Stiles’s reluctance to spread beyond Danny, to include his father. 

And maybe it does, but that reluctance isn’t a barrier for his dad. Stiles exhales and says, “Just one more thing,” and he pushes back from the table, begins pacing back and forth behind Danny’s chair, as he says, “I’ve been learning how to do magic.” 

The sheriff lets out a puff of air, almost a laugh. It’s the first time he’s sounded disbelieving this whole time, and Danny supposes that’s why Stiles reacts the way he does, bursting an uneven oval of mountain ash into existence around them. 

 “Oh.” 

Stiles wipes his hands on his jeans. “Sorry,” he mutters. “It’s not,” and then he laughs, the sound shivery, “God, that’s like the lamest magic I know.”

“It keeps werewolves out, though,” Danny points out. “It’s probably the most useful magic you know.” 

Stiles nods distractedly. The sheriff is looking at the floor, at the neatness of the powder. “Jesus,” he breathes. “You’re different, too.” And then he laughs. “God, werewolves, witches, of course you’re different.” 

And then he pushes back from the table, moves around it, careful not to disturb the line, and pulls Stiles into a hug. They’re right behind Danny, and he examines his hands while he waits for the their shadows to separate. The moment is a private thing. 

“Okay,” the sheriff breaks the soft sort-of-silence borne of their shaky breathing. “So I am going to need to come up with an explanation for last night. And you’ll still need to give me a statement, son.” Danny stands, slipping from his chair so he can join Stiles and his dad, both still standing within the confines of Stiles’s mountain ash circle. Danny steps outside of it to face them. 

“And you need to figure out how to fight this—the alpha pack?” 

“Yeah, yes.” Stiles scuffs his foot on the ground. “Dad, what we’ve been doing—I don’t know another way to do it.” 

“You think,” the sheriff lets out a breath, “you think I’m going to tell you to stop?” 

Stiles shrugs, then nods. “I think—I thought it was a possibility.” 

“You wouldn’t have listened,” his dad says, with certainty, “and I wouldn’t have been proud of a son who would let his friends down. I wouldn’t be able to—I wouldn’t be able to stop you from trying to make this better, and I know that. And I’m glad of that, even if I’m terrified for you. And your friends.” He offers Danny a soft look. “But I also know that your friends are going to protect you. And now that I know what’s going on, I can too.” Stiles shifts from foot to foot and his dad nods. “So. Stiles, you’re coming to the station with me. After you give your statement, you can go where you need to to research—or whatever it is you need to do. But if you’re going to do something dangerous, I need you to call me and tell me before you do it.” He rubs his forehead. “God, I am proud of you, but I wish I could ship you off to your grandmother’s.” 

Stiles pales. “Please,” he begins, and his dad lets out a bark of a laugh. 

“I said I wish I could, not that I was going to. You're good, Stiles. Despite all of this, the lies, I mean—you're good."

Stiles nods, grabs onto Danny's hand. "We try."

"Really damn hard, I bet." The sheriff reaches out again, squeezes Stiles's shoulder. "We're going to be okay, son. You are, you know. Both of you, all your friends—what you all have is pretty incredible."

Hopefully, Danny thinks. Hopefully what they have is enough to get them all out whole.

Chapter Text

When Stiles’s dad drops Danny off at the hospital he realizes he’s damn lucky that Mrs. McCall is working. She tells him it’s not supposed to be visiting hours, but no one questions her when she leads him back to Julia’s room. 

Their parents have left, and Danny shoots them a text to let them know where he is, just in case they decide to check on him when they get home. Julia is asleep, or pretending to be, lying still in her bed. 

Mrs. McCall, who is totally an angel or something, pats Danny on the shoulder and closes the door on her way out. Julia opens her eyes as soon as the door slides shut. 

She doesn’t say anything as Danny takes three steps to cross the room and sits in the plastic chair beside the bed. But when he reaches for her hand—the one not in the cast—she lets him take it. 

“I didn’t even,” he begins, but she shakes her head, a tiny, barely there movement that breaks Danny’s heart a little. 

“Don’t,” she whispers. “You were right, about picking sides.” 

“So you don’t hate me?” 

Her lips twitch. “Not even a little.”  She breathes out, the sound tired. “I might blame you, a little, but that’s only because—well, they hurt me. And it is true that if you weren’t involved I guess they wouldn’t have come for me. But you were right, so you don’t need to feel guilty. That’s just me, you know.” 

Danny shakes his head. “Of course I feel guilty, idiot. If I’d just—I could have protected you better. I will, from now on. I promise.” 

She squeezes his hand, the pressure slight. “I don’t want that, I really don’t. I just want you to be honest. Okay?” 

“I’m not going to stop wanting you to be safe, Jules. And Stiles and Lydia, they’re—I mean, they could, you know. They can help me protect you.” 

“I don’t want you to stop wanting me to be safe. I like,” she digs her nails into his skin a little, “I really like that you thought I could protect myself and just because that failed—God, did that ever fail,” she lets out a choked laugh, “God, Danny, I’m going to have nightmares for the rest of my life,” he feels like he might vomit, “but I don’t want you to think that means I’m not able…if Stiles and Lydia can protect us, maybe they can teach us to protect ourselves?” 

“Yeah,” he rests his other hand on her wrist, right at where her veins branch, beneath the plastic tubing hooking her up to IV and morphine drips. “Maybe.” 

She bites her lip like his answer isn’t good enough, but she doesn’t say anything else. He knows they’ll be talking about it later, but for now he thinks they’re okay. 

“About the nightmares,” he says, and she shakes her head, that small movement again. 

“I know they’re coming. They’ll happen. They’ll probably give me drugs, make me go to therapy. I don’t know, Danny. But there’s nothing you can do.” 

“It might help,” he says, “to get to know some of the pack.” 

“Are you giving me an—are you asking if I want to join?” 

He shrugs. He hasn’t really thought this one out, it’s just that he remembers his first few days, after they got Erica back and he locked himself in his room. Nothing disastrous had happened, the scariest things he saw were fangs and sideburns, red eyes and claws, Stiles with a syringe—which is an image that doesn’t even compare, anymore, to Stiles with his magic—and he knows that if he hadn’t gotten out of his room back at the beginning of the summer he’d have worked himself into some sort of dizzying disbelieving spiral. 

“Not join, exactly,” he hedges. “I don’t have that say, really. I’m not even sure I’m pack—I’m just there for Stiles, for Jackson, you know? And I don’t even want you that involved. I don’t want you in real danger.” 

Julia rolls her eyes. “Fuck that, Daniel. You’re pack, even I can see it. You’re giving stuff up for them—they can’t ask you to do that if you’re not.” 

“Well, whatever.” He shifts in his chair. “I just meant—after all this calms down,” because it has to, because they cannot live their lives so hyper-vigilant, because they cannot will not must not lose to the alphas, “once things are calm again, you can hang around with us sometimes. It’s nice? And the normalcy of it, it’s like—it’s a buoy, you know, if you feel yourself sinking into this shit, it’s nice to see that Derek and Erica and the rest are just—they’re really nothing more than people.” 

“Who can run really fast and roar really loudly and scale buildings? You’re not helping, really, Danny. But I’ll—I’ll think about it. Thanks.” 

He nods and waits a few seconds, looking around the room at all the blank spaces surrounding them. “So, on a scale of one to one of Harris’s science classes, how boring has it been in here?” 

“We’re way past Harris,” she sighs. “Could you, like, beg Mom to pick up a Cosmo and also possibly a National Geographic and one of those horrible long Russian novels that are supposed to make you suicidal? I’m thinking reminding myself that peoples’ lives are depressing and bloody even without werewolves would be a good thing right now.” 

Danny snorts. “I’ll see what I can do, but Russian authors might make it all worse.” 

“I doubt it. They seem like they’d suit the last couple of days perfectly.” She yawns, mouth opening wide, and turns her head on her pillow. “I think I’m about to fall asleep, but stay with me a while?” 

“Yeah, of course.” 

Danny doesn’t leave until it’s fully dark out and Julia’s snoring softly. He calls his dad to come get him from the hospital waiting area, leaning against the wall by the nursing station as the phone rings in his ear. 

His dad comes inside when he gets there, Mrs. McCall directs him to Julia’s room, and he stands by her bed looking down for a few minutes while Danny lingers in the doorway. Julia stays asleep, looking—not peaceful, not really, her fingers twitching on the blankets and her eyelids fluttering a little, but not in pain, either. Danny’s gratified to see that. 

His dad grips Julia’s hand briefly and then raises his gaze to Danny. “Ready?” he asks. Danny nods, ducking out of the doorway and walking down the hall without turning to make sure his dad is following. 

He joins Danny at the car a few minutes later, his hands stuffed in his pockets and his eyes down. Danny doesn’t try to get a look at him; he has no interest in seeing the red of tears in his dad’s eyes. 

“She looks better,” his dad says. “Did she tell you the doctors told us we can take her home tomorrow, as long as everything goes okay with the psych consult in the morning?” 

“No, she didn’t.” Danny tries for a smile, it comes a little slow. “That’s really good news.” 

“Well, depending on how the psych consult goes,” his dad repeats. “I don’t know if they’ll expect her to remember anything. I don’t know if she does remember anything—I can’t tell. You don’t think she does, do you? Why would she protect whoever did this to her?” 

Danny’s never heard his dad sound this shaken, this anxious. This much like a child. “I don’t think she remembers." It’s an easy lie. 

“I hope you’re right. I hope she doesn’t remember. I know that’s bad in terms of the police and investigation and everything, but, God, I don’t want Julia to be—I don’t want her to suffer.” 

Danny doesn’t point out that she is suffering. He does say, “She’ll not be one hundred percent right away, but she is Julia, Dad. She’s not so easy to keep down.” 

“No,” his dad smiles at the road, his face relaxing a little, “no, she definitely isn’t.” 

They drive in silence until they’re just about to turn onto their street, and then his dad adds, voice not as easy as it had been minutes before, “What the hell is going on in this town, Danny?” 

“I don’t,” Danny begins, but his dad interrupts. 

“You and Julia used to seem so safe. We thought you’d be safe. Are you,” his dad takes a turn too fast, Danny presses his hand against the seat to steady himself, “are you involved in all this, whatever it is? Gangs? Drugs? I can’t—that bruise, Danny, and the way you acted with that police officer, and now—Julia.” 

“No. No, I swear.” The words don’t even feel like a lie. What his dad’s thinking, that’s not what this is. 

“I don’t.” His dad pulls into their driveway, jerks the car into park. “I want to believe you, son, but Julia—she wouldn’t lie for anyone but you. And if she is lying? Then what other explanation do we have?” 

“She’s not lying.” Danny pushes open the door. “I promise, Dad, I’m not involved in any of this.” 

His dad nods. “Okay,” he says as he types in the code to the garage door, raising his voice as it grates up, “so do you have any idea who is?” 

“No.” Danny tries to keep his voice steady. “I don’t know.” 

“Do your friends have any idea? Jackson, Lydia, Stiles?” His dad trips over the names, rushing to get Stiles’s name out. 

“If I had any idea, if any of my friends had any idea, do you honestly think I would just let Julia lie in that hospital bed without doing something about it?” Danny turns in the tiled hall just inside their house and allows his frustration to rise to the surface. He’s here, in his house, and he knows what’s going on, he does—but his phone has stayed silent and he doesn’t know how to help, so he’ll be here until he receives a text message, until someone tells him what the fuck the plan is. And it’s driving him crazy, but at least he doesn’t need to fake that. 

“Shit,” his dad mutters. He rubs at his temples, where his dark hair is greying, and shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Dan. I’m just—I don’t know what’s happening. I’m just,” his shoulders drop, and Danny feels terribly out of his depth, “I’m just scared. This isn’t natural.” 

The assessment spurs a jag of bitter amusement in Danny’s chest. He bites at his lip to stop the inappropriate snort of laughter and forces himself to look at his dad—his dad, terrified and lost and stupidly young-sounding, and Danny’s laughing over the fact that this shit is supernatural. He focuses on that for the bare seconds it takes for sour humor to dull into the drop of guilt in his stomach, and then reaches out and squeezes his dad’s shoulder, offering comfort the way he’s seen Jackson’s dad do. Distant, a little, for their family. 

His dad usually pulls him close. Bear hugs didn’t stop for them at middle school, the way they did for most of the kids Danny knew. But right now he feels like the older one, like the one with the answers—because he is, even if he’s not sharing them. And right now, he needs to not be the person he’s always been. So he offers up a reserved comfort and is so grateful when his mom pushes open the door to her bedroom, light spilling from her room into the hall and the kitchen beyond it. 

“You’re home,” she says, and her voice is relieved and sad and this whole thing is possibly more than Danny is able to handle. He steps away from his dad, down the hall. 

“Julia’s doing all right,” his dad answers the unasked question. “They think she’ll be able to go home tomorrow. We can head over early in the morning.”

Danny passes his mom, and she reaches out a hand to grab onto his wrist. “Are you going to be okay?” 

He nods, leans over and wraps her shoulders in a quick one-armed hug. “Yeah, Mom. We’re all right.” 

She steps back into the bedroom, and just as Danny is turning the corner, almost to the stairs, his dad calls after him, soft voice loud in the still house, “I didn’t mean to offend you, Danny. Or to make you think we don’t trust you.” 

Danny twists his head to look at his parents, lit yellow in the light from their room, his dad still in the hall. He shrugs. “It’s hard to know what to think,” he accepts. “Everything’s crazy.” 

“It is,” his dad agrees. 

“We’ll see you in the morning.” His mom shifts a little as she speaks, and he thinks she tried to turn the words into a question but they come out a statement, almost a demand. 

“Of course,” he says, even though—well, who the fuck knows what’ll be going on in the morning. He certainly doesn’t. He could be sitting in the kitchen with his parents, eating a silent and awkward breakfast and making a concentrated effort at being neither awkward nor silent. 

His mom offers a small smile, and his dad steps toward him, toward the kitchen, and Danny turns and heads upstairs, trying desperately hard not to make the movement seem like flight, for all that it definitely feels like it. 

He pauses as he reaches Julia’s open door. There’s no sign inside her bedroom of any struggle; the black-wrapped metal end of her softball bat is sticking from beneath her bed, a haphazard artistry to it that makes him think Kali probably kicked it there. He crosses Julia’s room, leans against the sill. There’s a faint dusting of powder there, the mountain ash that must have scattered at some point. He brushes it into his suddenly clammy palm, realizing he’s cleaning up a crime scene, discarding evidence that no one who matters would even recognize as evidence. 

He brushes his hands clean over Julia’s trash can, covering the lipstick-marked tissues and inserts from magazines in a fine dust of inert mountain ash. Stiles may have wanted it back, but it seems to Danny he can draw it up from anywhere if he wants more. 

He flicks off Julia’s overhead light and shuts the door behind him, heading down the hall to his bedroom and trying not to think about the silence of her sleeping in her hospital bed. 

Danny’s room is empty, things tossed around in a way he normally doesn’t like, and he takes a few minutes to straighten it, hoping that with his clothes folded and his books realigned on the shelves and his desk settled with everything on it at right angles to one another that maybe he will be able to relax, lose some of the tension in his spine. He’s not hopeful, but he does manage not to jump a foot in the air when his phone buzzes against his thigh. He considers that progress, as he pulls the phone out and swipes a thumb across the screen.

A text from Stiles: Sorry if this is a really shitty time but can I come over? 

Danny answers, Yeah, just give it fifteen minutes, supposing his dad will have joined his mom in their room by then. He feels a surge of nostalgia for the beginning of the summer as he hits send. 

He doesn’t miss, exactly, the vague grey area he and Stiles had been occupying, back when they were running together and Stiles was—very carefully, Danny sees now—unveiling the world of werewolves for him. And he wouldn’t give back the progress they’ve made, with each other, or on the werewolf/magic side of things. They were tangled up in it back then, and they’re still tangled up in it. It’s just easier to see where they’re caught now, to understand the lines wrapped around them. 

But they had been more ignorant two months ago—Danny more than Stiles, but Stiles too—and a part of Danny does miss that. The quiet of his thoughts back then, the worry—just two nights ago, it’s fucking ridiculous—that he’d be judged for dating Stiles, that Stiles would think he’d care that he was being judged. It’s stupid teenage shit and Danny realizes, as he sneaks downstairs, flicks off the motion sensor light to his front walk, unlocks his front door, and settles on the steps to wait for Stiles, all that stupid teenage shit was an actual luxury to care about. It doesn’t matter anymore. It’s absurd to think that it will again, although he does wonder if, after all this is over (if this all ends even remotely neatly), high school and its petty drama will intrude on their lives again. It’s dumb to think that he sort of wants it to. To be normal, even nominally—he thinks he’d like that. 

Stiles comes up the road with only his parking lights on, shutting even those off as he rolls to a stop two houses down from Danny’s. Like the minimal distance will make any difference if anyone comes upon the Jeep sitting there. Danny feels a tiny bit lighter at the naïveté of it. None of them knows everything. 

“Hey.” Stiles unfurls himself from the Jeep and comes up the road, lifting his hand in a shadowy wave as Danny reaches the end of the walk. 

Danny drops his head against Stiles’s shoulder, letting himself take in the solidity of him for a moment before turning and leading him back up the steps, passing silently through the front door and gesturing up the stairs. He waits until Stiles has reached the top step to follow him up, making sure no light falls down the hall from his parents’ room. 

Stiles is standing jittery by Danny’s bedroom window, fiddling with the hem of his shirt and looking at his shoes and the wall by the door as Danny shuts it. “The others are mostly at Derek’s,” he says, “planning or something. But I—I think we can probably join them in the morning.” 

“They’ll probably all be passed out soon, anyway.” Danny’s familiar with the way a buzz of productivity can short-circuit into a restless sleep, particularly given the sleepless pattern of their last few days, the amount of coffee everyone’s been consuming. 

“That’s what I was thinking. Plus, the whole readjusting to Erica being a beta thing? That’s not something we can really participate in. I think that’s what they’re working on tonight.” 

Danny ducks his head, thinking of the release of her power that afternoon. The way she’d seemed so weak, at the end of it. 

He and Stiles are still standing across the room from one another, and it all feels—fucking stilted, unnatural for them. Different than it has been since they sorted out what they are, what they mean to each other. Different even than the terrible conversation of that morning. The distance, for Danny, isn’t at all related to the fact that Stiles kept something that huge from him. It’s something they’ll work on, because Danny is decidedly not over it, but this space, the whole room between them, it’s more like they’re unsure of each other again. Like Stiles is unsure of him. 

Danny lets out a puff of air and pulls his desk chair out, trying not to appear as uncomfortable as he feels. “You want to sit?” he gestures at his bed. Stiles glances at it, at him, and then toes off his Converse and perches on the very edge of the mattress, still by the window. 

He kicks his socked feet at his shoes and Danny watches him until the silence starts to feel rough rather than comfortable. 

“How’s your dad?” The question seems innocuous, and Stiles doesn’t flinch as it stretches between them, so he supposes the problem, whatever it is, doesn’t have anything to do with how the sheriff acted after dropping Danny off at the hospital. 

“Okay.” Stiles presses his hands together in front of him. “We answered questions at the station but they weren’t really that bad. I mean, I guess they’re just dealing with all the weird shit people said, opposed to the fact that we were all there and implicated in it? I’m not sure how it’s going to play out, but no one seemed to seriously be considering us as the perpetrators. Or whatever. My dad’s at Allison’s now, said he wanted to talk to her dad. I think,” Stiles rubs his nose, scratching just to the side of it, “I think Mrs. McCall is going over there after her shift, so I’m not too worried. Besides, Mr. Argent  hasn’t been terrible, lately.” 

“He’s been retired,” Danny points out, because of all of them, Stiles should probably be one of the more cautious when it comes to the Argents, considering how he’s tied to all of this. 

“Retired,” Stiles repeats, but the word comes out heavily sardonic. “I don’t know that I believe that. I think he’s waiting for something. I just don’t think he’s interested in hurting us anymore.” 

“Does Allison believe him?” 

Stiles shakes his head, then shrugs. “Yeah, you know, I don’t know. I sometimes feel like I can’t really tell with her anymore. I don’t know—all this shit,” Stiles throws his hands up, “I don’t know anymore.” 

And there it is, he thinks. 

“It’s not too much,” Danny tells him, even though it mostly is. “I mean, it probably is, but we’ll make it through.” 

“We hope.” Stiles shakes himself, shakes his head, and raises his head to look at Danny’s, eyes harder and more direct than usual. “Obviously. Jesus, I’m just saying—when I told you about this, I told you what I had to and what I thought I could and nothing else. But telling my dad everything—that felt, like,” he chews on his lip, “it just made me realize how much I’ve been keeping from him. There’s been a lot. We’ve—our lives are completely different now.” He makes a frustrated noise, the sound bursting from between his lips. “You know that. Fuck, you know all of this. Sorry, I don’t. It’s just, in the beginning it wasn’t—it was real, okay, it was real and terrifying. But it was also a little awesome. It was like, we—Scott and I were never cool, we were never anything close to it.” Danny shifts, his chair creaking a little, feeling a too familiar burn of shame. Stiles makes a sort of…dismissing motion with his hand. “It’s fine, it’s just the way it was, and then all of a sudden Scott had super powers and we were in the middle of something no one else could possibly understand. And it was really cool, in the beginning, to see that happen, to be at the center of it. Even if it wasn’t me. Even if I was still boring and human and—don’t say anything,” his eyes narrow into a brief glare, “I’m just telling you how it was, how I saw it. Not how I know it is now, okay?” 

“So how is it now?” Danny asks, feeling like they’re going in circles. This might be necessary, it might be, but he really wants to drag Stiles back into his bed and not resurface until it’s a week from now and all their problems have been solved by someone else. 

Stiles pushes to his feet, starts pacing in the long narrow space between Danny’s door and window, brushing past where he’s sitting in his chair, hand running over his shoulder with each pass like Stiles isn’t thinking about the gesture at all. Probably isn’t. 

“Now—we’ve got more to lose and more on our side and I feel like…in the beginning I should have been out of my depth. In the beginning there were suddenly werewolves and my whole world was different and all of that, which you know, but now—now I know more and yet I feel more like it’s out of my control than I ever did then.” 

“Because you know more,” Danny repeats. “And so you know it’s nowhere near as black and white as it seemed in the beginning.” 

Stiles stops in his pacing, facing Danny from only a foot or so away. His lips quirk in a small smile, a twist of his mouth. “Right? In the beginning it was just—me and Scott? Good. Everyone else was evil. And then that,” he rubs at his neck, shrugs, “that changed. A lot.” 

“We’re in it, though. However it is. And, I don’t know, Stiles.” Danny stands up, realizes that the move puts him closer to Stiles, not sure whether the space between them has a purpose now, is still unsure of whether it did at the beginning of the conversation. This feels like the first night, again. That stupid rushed kiss. “I don’t know, I thought today might have been good. For all of us, I mean. Don’t you think we have a better chance at getting out of this?” 

“Yeah, I—I don’t trust them, this other pack.” Obviously he doesn’t, Danny doesn’t either. He’s not sure if he even wholly trusts everyone in their pack. He’s not even sure if he trusts Stiles. He knows he wants to, though. And he knows that that wanting means almost everything. Definitely means enough. “But, yeah, you’re right. We’re better off than we were yesterday. Injuries,” he winces, “aside.” 

Danny stuffs his hands in his pockets. “What’re we,” he gestures between them, “what’re we doing, here?” he asks, stiff. 

Stiles laughs, the sound breaking a bit of the awkwardness. “I have no fucking clue. I should probably be researching something, some spell or something, but I really—can we just go to bed? Do you mind if I—can I stay?” 

“Yeah, of course.” 

And then there’s an awkward moment of both of them looking at their feet, over each other’s shoulders, at the ceiling, in brief glances, and then Danny laughs. “Jesus, you’d think neither of us had done this before,” and he tugs his shirt over his head, undoing the button on his jeans with a hand as Stiles rocks back on his heels, glancing at him for an instant before his cheeks flush red. 

“Well, I haven’t. Like, all the—naked, and everything,” he says, words hesitant and jagged, and Danny nearly bites his tongue in half. 

“I didn’t mean,” he begins.

Stiles starts speaking almost immediately, “Oh, God, like we’ve never slept together, just slept, you meant, and I’m—I don’t, I wasn’t, it wasn’t, like that.” 

Danny stares at him. “I have no idea what you just said.” 

“What I said is nonsense. What I meant is,” Stiles’s cheeks are endearingly red, “I honestly just want us to never have started this conversation. Can we just get in bed?” His hand goes up to cover his mouth. “Oh, God. No, don’t, Danny.” 

“See,” Danny fakes like he’s confident. In this, if in very little else to do with Stiles, he has a right to confidence. But right now he feels like—like someone who could do something very dangerous, like there are wrong steps all over the place and he doesn’t know which is the right to take. “Because right now is maybe not the best time.” He reaches out a hand and grips Stiles’s shoulder, drawing him forward into the space between them. “But I will totally get in bed with you.” 

He means for it to come out a joke, sort of, a way of winding back Stiles’s nerves, but their mouths are too close and Danny can’t resist pressing a ridiculous kiss to Stiles’s, a stupid chaste thing that barely feels like they’re touching at all. 

Stiles reacts to it though, his arms coming around Danny’s waist, cold on his skin. They rest against his sides, Stiles’s blunt nails digging in a little as he opens his mouth on Danny’s. The tangle of their tongues is hot, a contrast to the pressure of Stiles’s hands. 

Danny slips his own beneath Stiles’s t-shirt. He runs his thumbs over Stiles’s hipbones, does not let them drift too far in any direction because Stiles has been weird about this, different than the other guys Danny’s been with. Hesitant. And he can’t tell what it is, because for him this was different. 

Stiles breaks their kiss, pulling his head away and closing his mouth as soon as it’s free of Danny’s. “I think—you and clothes,” he says, voice rushed and cracking. Danny thinks he knows what he means, and then Stiles’s hands drop from his sides and brush against his wrists, and Danny slips his hands up Stiles’s slides, pulling the t-shirt up with it, lifting it over Stiles’s head with a sharp tug as Stiles lifts his arms. The shirt tangles around his elbows and Danny’s hands go to Stiles’s back, settling on either side of his spine, as Stiles deals with getting the sleeves of the t-shirt from around his wrists. Once he’s flung it into the corner of the room he pushes against the front of Danny’s shoulders, and Danny just wants to duck his head, suck at Stiles’s collarbone, move his mouth lower, but Stiles has direction now, has a purpose. 

“Danny,” he groans, sounding both aroused and frustrated, “bed, right? We said bed.” 

“Eventually,” Danny tries, but it comes out a question, and Stiles shoves at him until the backs of his knees are bumping at the mattress. He sits, because that is what Stiles wants. And then Stiles is undoing the button and zipper on his jeans, hands shaking, and Danny cannot look away as the elastic on Stiles’s superhero boxers dips even lower with the force of him pushing his jeans down. His right hip is right there, the dip of it into his boxers so tempting, Danny just reaches out and fits his hand around it, his thumb brushing against the hair leading lower, and Stiles lets out a small noise, his jeans caught around his calves. 

Danny doesn’t know the words for this. So, “Superman?” he asks. “I would have expected—not that.” Batman boxers, maybe, or sheep or wolves, for a laugh. Roosters or—Stiles texted Danny a picture of boxers covered in the digits of pi two weeks ago, 3.14159 etc., starting at the slit in the fabric and continuing all over. Something like that. Superman’s never seemed like Stiles. It’s a stupid thing to notice, but it’s incongruent, and it distracts Danny from the fact that if he wanted to—well, he wants to—if he knew for sure that Stiles would be okay with it, he could tug down the waistband of his boxers. The angle to get his mouth on Stiles’s skin would be awkward, but he could do it. In barely a minute, he could have Stiles in his mouth. So he asks about Superman. 

“They were a gift from—I haven’t done much laundry recently.” Stiles is looking down at him, lips red, eyes dark. His hair’s not as much of a mess as it will be, but it’s still sticking up in places. Danny is so stupid over him. It would be more embarrassing if he weren’t sure that Stiles is lost on him, too. 

He leans down and pushes at Stiles’s jeans, looking at the backs of his calves, the creases at his knees as Stiles lifts his feet out of his pants. Still in socks. It’s dumb, this whole thing, the way it catches at Danny’s heart and makes him feel so fucking vulnerable, in a way he hasn’t, often. 

He kisses the bend in Stiles’s knee, and Stiles releases a startled noise at the contact. Danny bites down on the words he wants to say, the questions he wants to ask, and straightens so the top of his head is right around Stiles’s chest. He places his hands on Stiles’s hips again, this time letting his thumbs slide beneath the waistband and press at the skin there. Stiles rests his hands on Danny’s forearms. 

They stay like that for just a moment, barely a second, probably, looking at each other, Danny able to feel Stiles’s pulse beating in the thin skin beneath his boxers, Stiles’s fingertips just barely pressing at Danny’s arms. And then Stiles grins at him, wide and full and genuine, and Danny cracks, “Coming?” unable to keep the smirk from his mouth. 

Stiles laughs as he shoves Danny back on the mattress, falling over him in the least graceful array of limbs ever, his elbow catching at Danny’s side as he rights himself on the mattress. Danny pushes back against the pillow and the wall. Once Stiles has gotten some semblance of control of himself again, once he’s kneeling on the bed, he fits his fingers, long and dangerous and terrifyingly powerful, beneath the waistband of Danny’s boxers. He glances up at Danny, cheeks flushed, and asks, “All right?” 

“Yeah.” Danny’s half hard and wants Stiles’s hands on him yesterday, weeks ago, honestly, and now they’re here and Danny is not shy at all, the way Stiles seems to be. He lifts his hips so Stiles can get his boxers down and off, and Stiles follows them with his hands all the way down Danny’s legs, off around his ankles, fingers lingering there as he looks up and his eyes go wide. 

“I don’t,” he starts, but then he’s stretching up Danny’s body again, between his legs, hands following the same path up, and Stiles is kissing him, Danny’s cock pressing in a burst of friction and heat against his stomach. When Danny’s hands find the elastic of Stiles’s waistband Stiles stills. “I don’t,” he says again, and Danny’s fingers dig in to the softness of the skin just beneath what he’s always been able to see, his index fingers dipping into the cleft of Stiles’s ass, and if Stiles says no now, Danny will never be able to show his face anywhere again, he’ll die of mortification and sadness and nearly overwhelming want. 

“I mean, go ahead, go, I just—what’re we doing?” 

Danny’s hands slip slowly down Stiles’s ass beneath his boxers, and he tries to think, tries to stay focused on the way Stiles’s lips are inches from his, the way Stiles is speaking, the way one of Stiles’s hands is pressing into the mattress beside Danny’s hip, not touching him. He tries to focus on the spaces where they’re not touching, so he can get what Stiles is saying. 

“What?” Danny asks, hands bringing Stiles’s boxers down with them, finally, finally. Stiles is hard, nearly lined up perfectly with Danny, and Danny wants to peel him off of him, spread him out so he can see all of him, but Stiles isn’t moving. 

“Just—do we—condoms?” Stiles ducks his head so Danny can’t see his face. 

“Oh.” Danny presses his forehead against Stiles’s shoulder, having left Stiles’s boxers somewhere around his knees, and returns his hands to Stiles’s back. “No, not tonight, I don’t think.” 

“But,” Stiles starts, and then rubs his head against Danny’s shoulder, too. Like he’s scrubbing something out. “But,” he starts again, “Danny, I’m not going to die without having done that.” 

“You’re not dying,” Danny’s grip on Stiles tightens. “You’re not dying. And we’ll get to that, just—we don’t have to rush it. And tonight? It’d be rushed.” Danny once dated a guy who said that if you couldn’t call getting fucked in the ass what it was, then you weren’t mature enough to do it. He sort of hated him, for a while, but he’s often wondered whether he had a point. He’s still not sure. There’s something to be said for tact, although he’s never really thought Stiles had much of that. “Tonight,” he tells Stiles, “can’t we just,” and Stiles lifts his head up enough that Danny can get at his mouth. When their kiss breaks, Danny scoots down on his mattress so Stiles is holding himself up over him. 

“Okay,” Sties breathes, lowering his body onto Danny’s again, achingly slowly. When Danny bumps his hips up against Stiles’s, Stiles lets out a deep moan and Danny bites at his lips, feeling the curl of heat as they begin to find a rhythm against each other. 

It isn’t anything regular, it’s erratic and sloppy and Danny’s never taken the lead quite like this, but he draws Stiles’s hips into his own and begins to set one, with Stiles’s words stumbling out from his mouth into Danny’s, and Danny really not able to think past the friction of their cocks and the way Stiles’s right hand has gotten caught beneath his shoulder blade, digging into his skin with every matched thrust. 

When the tension becomes too much, and he can feel the slick stickiness of pre-come and sweat between them, Danny tries to focus on everything else. He thinks about Stiles’s hand leaving marks on his shoulder and he thinks about Stiles’s boxers still caught around his ankles, he can feel them with his bare feet and how weird that is, and how weird it is that Stiles left his socks on, too, and then Stiles says, “Danny,” against his shoulder, and Danny is gone. His body burns through it, orgasm shaking him up against Stiles, his thighs and calves straining as he pushes up, and he bites at Stiles’s neck—lightly, lightly, and Stiles lets out a rapid breath against his ear and is falling down onto him, body a wreck of limbs. 

“Oh.” Stiles says into his neck. “Okay.” 

Danny lets out a laugh. “Okay?” 

Stiles hums in agreement, sliding his hand down Danny’s side, working his other from beneath Danny’s shoulder and clenching and relaxing it on the sheet beside Danny’s head. He turns to watch the movement of Stiles’s fingers. 

“I wish we didn’t have to fight bad guys, because I would so be up for never leaving this bed ever.” 

Danny slides out from beneath Stiles, rolling him over so he’s on his back. He’s got a smear of come on his stomach and his cock is softening, flushed red with friction and sex and Danny just—he can’t help but just look at him, as Stiles reaches out and grabs onto his hand. “No, you’re not allowed to leave. We don’t have to fight monsters now.” 

There’s something tender about the way Stiles says the words, and it makes Danny want to crawl back in bed, lie on top of him and let their come glue them together. Instead he gestures at the mess on his stomach, at the mess on Stile’s, and says, “I’ll be back, promise.” 

Stiles humphs but lets go. 

After they’re cleaned up, the washcloth dropped uncaringly on the floor, and Danny’s finally tugged Stiles’s boxers from where they were hanging around his left ankle, and Stiles has pulled his socks off, face a little red as he does so, they curl around each other, Stiles’s left leg tucked between Danny’s, his mouth resting on Danny’s shoulder. The way they’re lying, Danny can’t see much of anything beyond Stiles’s hair. He digs his chin into Stiles’s head and says, “You’re not dying.” 

“Okay,” Stiles says, voice vague. “You neither.” 

“Me neither,” Danny agrees. 

Stiles smiles against his shoulder. “I like you, you know.” 

“Yeah.” Danny knows that three months ago he never would have imagined himself here, with Stiles’s hand tapping a lazy rhythm against his side as he drifts off, but three months ago he had been a different person. He’s happier now, despite everything. “Yeah,” he says again. “I like you, too.” 

Stiles doesn’t acknowledge that, already asleep or maybe just disinterested in discussing this more. Danny doesn’t really care; Stiles knows, which is what matters. 

::: 

Stiles leaves before dawn the next morning, sneaking downstairs in bare feet. He kisses Danny before he leaves the bed, running his hand down Danny’s chest, fingers digging in as his lips leave Danny’s. “I’ll text you.” 

Danny nods into his pillow. “Don’t do anything dumb without me there.” 

He’s not sure if the words are discernable as they come out, they sound to him like one long string of vowels, but Stiles says, “Yeah,” as he leaves. 

Danny rolls out of bed as soon as he hears the growl of the Jeep turning on, pulling his boxers from where they fell at the foot of his bed and hopping into them. He needs to take a shower, but he goes downstairs and turns on the coffee first. His parents’ door is still shut, and it’s still dark out, and he feels a little like he’s stumbling around in some sort of soft sleep suit, a barricade of fleece and tiredness between himself and everything else. 

He turns the shower on as hot as he can stand it, scrubs at his skin with the roughest washcloth they have, turns even his knees red. Still, he doesn’t feel awake until the coffeepot makes its terrible beeping noise and his mother stumbles out into the kitchen, rubbing at her eyes and tying her bathrobe around her.

“What’re you doing awake?” She leans against the counter, taking the coffee mug he hands her with a squinty smile. 

He shrugs. “We get to take Julia home today.” Honestly, he’s checked his phone three times already for a text from Stiles. 

“I don’t,” his mom covers a yawn with her hand and shakes herself before continuing, “I don’t know if you want to come with us to get Julia. They’ll need to ask some questions, and the police might be there again. The psychiatrist might want to talk to you too if you come.” 

Danny looks down into his coffee. He feels his mom’s gaze on him. “Do you think it’d be better if I didn’t go?” 

“I’m just saying, you don’t need to. You know Julia won’t hold it against you, and it might be easier.” She buries whatever else she’s thinking in her coffee, downing half the cup in a series of rapid sips. 

“Okay.” Danny picks at the peeling palm tree decal on his mug. “If you think it’ll be easier, maybe I won’t go.” 

“Let us know if you go out, though. Please.” 

The trust in her tone is partly grudging, and Danny wonders whether she is making a serious effort to appear like she trusts him. He doesn’t think his parents are that angry with him. He knows they’re confused, but this isn’t Stiles and the sheriff. There’s a lot less reason to distrust between them, and he hopes he’s able to keep them out of this. 

He goes up to his room with his coffee, starts searching the Internet for anything that might help their tentatively allied packs defeat the alphas. The Internet is—unsurprisingly—fairly unhelpful, but Danny does stumble upon a few forums that have several members who seem to be confident that what they’re posting about is not entirely mythology and theory. Some of their descriptions seem accurate, at least. 

He opens a new tab to the Wikipedia homepage when his parents appear at his bedroom door around nine. “We’re going to see Julia. We’ll let you know if they discharge her, and,” his dad rubs a hand over his face, “text us if you go out, okay? Let us know where you’re off to.” 

Danny nods, “Yeah, of course,” he promises, the words barely out of his mouth when his phone buzzes from its place beside his laptop, screen lighting up with a message from Stiles. He slides his finger across the screen as his parents follow each other from his doorway toward the stairs. 

All the non-wolves (and zombie and therefore your bffl) are meeting at my place. Come over whenever you can. 

Danny waits a half hour, just so his parents won’t think that he waited until they left to divulge his plans for the day, then texts them and turns his phone on silent, slipping it into his pocket and grabbing his mom’s keys from where they sit on the kitchen counter. 

Jackson’s and Allison’s cars are parked on the street outside of Stiles’s house, and Danny pulls in behind Jackson’s, running a hand over the smooth hood as he approaches Stiles’s front door. So much had happened in Jackson’s damn Porsche, but it all feels so distant. 

He knocks, listens for Stiles’s shouted, “Come in,” and heads through Stiles’s house to the kitchen. 

They’re all there, Peter and Jackson sitting across from each other, Lydia at one end, Stiles perched on his counter and looking like he hasn’t changed from last night, meaning that the wolves must have gotten a nose-full. Something about that makes Danny feel weirdly content.  Allison’s sitting in a chair shoved between Lydia’s and Peter’s. The table is covered in stacks of books and notepads, and the end of the table across from Lydia is open. Stiles’s computer sits there, screen lit and browser open to Google. 

“Hey, Danny.” Allison looks up from the green leather bound book she’s got in front of her, her finger stuck in somewhere near the middle of what Danny would conservatively estimate is a thousand pages. 

“Welcome to research central.” Stiles has his phone in his hand, is scrolling down the screen with flicks of his thumb. He kicks his foot against the cabinet beneath him and Jackson flinches. 

“Stilinski,” he mutters, “Will you stop?” 

“It helps me think.” 

“We’re getting nowhere,” Jackson hisses, and Lydia raises a hand. 

“Danny, sit. We are looking for any sort of spell or charm that might make a bunch of alphas turn tail and run. We are also discussing the possibility of linking our pack with the other pack, in order to combine their strengths and overwhelm the alphas. Peter,” she narrows her eyes at the older wolf, “says that that will have the best outcome. Stiles and I think there may be a less violent solution.” 

Danny sits in the open chair, types in the address of the forum he had been searching at his house, and starts scanning the pages of posts again. “Do we have anything else to go on?” he asks, as he finds the last post he had been reading. The author (a newmoon69, seriously) had answered a question regarding the relative strengths of alphas. According to this person, an alpha without a pack is barely stronger than a beta and Danny thinks it’s possible, although not likely, that breaking the wolf-made, rather than natural, bond between the alphas may be a part of a solution to their issue. 

“I stopped by Deaton’s this morning,” Stiles says. “On my way to Derek’s to get you all, and he told me that there’s a spell he remembers hearing about that has to do with the territory, rather than the pack. Or something, he didn’t remember the details, but he knows it was in one of his books.” Stiles kicks a foot toward the table, but stops it before it hits back against the cabinet door. 

Danny nods, closes out of the tab he’d opened from the comment thread on the forum, and continues scrolling. He’s hoping there’s someone writing in code on here, because if someone’s aware enough to know that their knowledge could be dangerous, then they may have actual valuable information. 

“I wish Alan would actually supply relevant help,” Lydia murmurs, and Danny bites back a smile at her disgruntled tone. 

“He’s an enigmatic bastard,” Stiles agrees. “But at least he’s on the right side.” He keeps his gaze on his phone, but Danny thinks his words are pointed. Jackson glares across the table at Peter, who continues turning the pages of the thick book in front of him. 

Danny coughs against the suddenly palpable tension in the room, and asks, “How’s Erica?” 

“Seemed okay.” Lydia reaches across the table and rests her hand over Jackson’s for a moment before pushing her hair over her shoulder. “Everyone else is at Derek’s. I think they’re trying to readjust, or something.” 

“It’s not like anything really changes for us,” Jackson mutters, and Peter snorts. 

“Everything’s different for her. You don’t know what that’s like, having all that power, and then not having it, and some of you were more hers than Derek’s. It’s going to end up being an interesting balance, the way they work it out. If they work it out.” 

“They’ll work it out,” Allison says. “They’ll be fine.” 

Peter hums, a soft and slippery noise, and Danny kicks Jackson beneath the table before he loses what seems to be very tenuous control. Jackson shoots a look at Danny, but it’s purely human, just the pissed-off-Jackson look he’s been familiar with from age 6, and so Danny ignores it, turning his attention back to the computer. 

They’re silent for what feels like a very long time, the only sounds the occasional turning of pages and Stiles’s heels restarting their rhythm against the cabinets. 

“What about this,” Allison nudges Lydia at one point, pushes her book into Lydia’s space, and points her finger at a line on the page. Everyone watches as Lydia wrinkles her nose, reading silently. She sighs, rubs a finger beneath one eye, and shakes her head. 

“You don’t think,” Allison starts. 

Lydia cuts her off, “This involves tying the land to someone.” She directs the question at Stiles. “Would anyone take it? They wouldn’t be able to leave.” 

“I wouldn’t let anyone take it.” Stiles hops off the cabinet. Danny’s watching Peter, who has his lip caught between his teeth. His gaze is locked on Stiles as he leans over Lydia’s shoulder, his eyes not moving at all as Stiles’s finger drifts down the page, pausing at something on the paper. 

“But what if,” Stiles mutters, and Peter’s back straightens. 

“What if what?” he nearly growls, and Stiles looks up, ignoring Peter to focus his attention on Danny. 

“I need to check something with James. Can I have your phone?” 

Danny tugs it out of his pocket and hands it to Stiles without looking at it. Stiles grins when he takes it, face splitting wide, and hands it back immediately. “Message from your sister,” he says, and Danny’s heartbeat speeds as he looks at the screen and sees the start of Julia’s message. 

He unlocks the phone to read the rest, doesn’t bite back the smile as he reads, Got out! Mom and Dad said you’re at Stiles’s. I expect to hear the whole story when you get home and please don’t be an idiot. 

“They discharged her,” he says, handing his phone back to Stiles without replying. If he starts talking to her now he knows she won’t wait until he’s home to demand answers, and he’d really rather not give her any reason to worry, any other holes through which to force her involvement, until they’re all safe again. Or as safe as they can be, with all they know. 

Stiles looks at the phone in his hands for a moment and then shakes his head. “I’m—James seemed to like you. Could you,” he hands the phone back to Danny. “I don’t know what to tell him, just I need to know—ask him if he has any experience inventing spells.” 

Lydia lets out a hiss of air. Danny hits the call button. He listens to the ringing. Peter and Lydia are both speaking, Lydia saying, “Stiles, that’s not a good idea,” and Peter saying, “I know how to invent spells, do you trust someone from another pack more than me,” and Stiles ignores both of them, just stands beside Danny and looks down at him, tongue jutting his lower lip out a little. And Danny waits for the other pack’s witch to pick up his damn phone. 

“You have something?” James’s tone is curt, and Danny swallows as Stiles leans forward, one hand resting on the table beside his laptop. 

“Stiles thinks he might have an idea. What do you know about inventing spells?” Danny stumbles over the words, but the witch seems to understand him, judging from his sharp intake of breath. 

“That it’s dangerous.” 

Stiles waves his hands at Danny. “But have you ever done it?” 

“Once,” the man hedges. 

“And did it go okay?” 

“It went—it went the way it was supposed to go. Which doesn’t mean it was a good idea.” 

Stiles reaches for the phone but Danny shakes his head, pushing away from the table and beginning to pace around the crowded kitchen. “What did it do?” 

“That’s not something you need to know.” 

Danny squeezes his hand into a fist and releases it. Stiles makes a gesture toward him as he passes, but doesn’t touch him. No one’s talking, the wolves listening in easily and the humans straining to. Danny turns up the volume a little, but doesn’t dare put it on speaker, because he knows the others will take that as an invitation to speak and he also knows that James will not accept their input. 

“Are you sure it’s not? Because Stiles thinks he could solve this if you’re willing to work with him on creating a spell. If there’s a reason you’re not willing to do that to fix this mess, then maybe we do deserve to know.” 

James is silent for three circuits around the kitchen. “It’s what got us into this mess,” he admits, at last. “I created a spell. What happened pissed off the alphas, and then—all of this.” 

“I thought you didn’t know what happened.” Danny can’t keep his tone even, it’s heavy over the words. 

“We didn’t—they’re insane. They overreacted.” 

“What was it?” Danny tries again, because Stiles is waving at him and he doesn’t need Stiles to tell him that details are essential here. 

“It was just a spell. It was supposed to increase the power of my pack—it was originally just a power…boost, I guess you’d say?—but I modified it and it worked, it worked. For a while we were the most powerful pack anywhere. Honestly, anywhere. But I hadn’t adjusted the parameters properly, I hadn’t narrowed the spell enough. One of Deucalion’s alphas had been traveling nearby, he had gotten caught in the spell. He’s not there anymore. They had to kill him, because the power—well, he wanted Deucalion’s place. No one was going to have that. I think the twins killed him, but he had been Deucalion’s second, his closest friend. If Deucalion even has friends, I mean. He was definitely the closest thing Deucalion had to one. He didn’t appreciate having to kill him. So then—” 

“Revenge,” Danny supplies. “How does our pack play into this, though? I know they’re using both of us, but why?” 

“Talia Hale.” Peter’s claws appear, dig into the table, shreds of wood curling up from them. Stiles makes a face but doesn’t say anything. 

Danny glares at him. Peter had said that he didn’t know these alphas. He waits in silence for a few moments, watching Peter’s hands slowly turn human again, then prompts, “Derek’s mother?” 

“The alpha before him. Well, before him there was—but Talia was the alpha when they all died. Deucalion was not a favorite of hers. I don’t know whether he knows something more than that, whether Talia had been planning on eliminating him before the hunters took her family or whether Deucalion just wants all remnants of her family gone. I don’t know his motivation there, I just know that the alpha pack was just as against Talia Hale as she was against them.” 

“And Erica just fell into their hands. Christ.” Danny mutters the words, and the silence on the other end of the line reminds him that he’s talking to James, who may have answers they need but also has a grudge like an axe in his hands. 

“She’s not innocent,” James bites. 

“I know. Damn it, I know. But no one is. So, are we going to try Stiles’s idea, or do you want us to keep looking? Peter Hale is talking about linking the packs. I don’t suppose you’d approve of that plan?” 

James’s growl is deep and raw. “Never.” 

Peter smirks at the table. 

“So, would you like to talk to Stiles, then? See what he’s planning?” 

Danny has stopped pacing. He leans back against Stiles’s fridge, his shoulders bumping against magnets and pictures stuck to it, and he stares across the room at Stiles. Stiles laces his hands behind his head and stretches, waiting for the answer with the rest of them. The silence coming through the phone compounds the silence in the kitchen. “James?” Danny prompts. 

“Give him the phone.” 

Danny takes six steps to reach Stiles and presses the phone into his hand. “Give me a minute,” he says into it, then grabs Danny’s hand and tells the others, “We’ll be back.” 

Lydia half stands from the table, but Allison places a hand on hers and keeps her there. Stiles leads Danny out to the driveway, opens the passenger door to the Jeep and nods for him to get in, then gets in himself and turns the car on. 

“I don’t want anyone to overhear the plan in case it’s absolutely ridiculous,” he explains, half to James and half to Danny. 

What Stiles means, Danny thinks, is that he doesn’t want Peter to hear the plan, because he doesn’t want Peter to have enough time to rework it to his advantage. Peter will be central to the spell—aside from Stiles and James he is the strongest trained magic-user they have—but he will not be allowed to pore over the spell the way James and Stiles will. 

Stiles pulls into the parking lot of the Starbucks near the start of the more commercial section of town, flips the radio to a low volume, and begins speaking into the phone. Danny strains to hear James’s responses. 

He’s not sure why he’s here, but he thinks that maybe Stiles is reluctant to keep him in the dark about anything now. He’s not at all averse to that. 

Stiles begins explaining how he wants to create a boundary around Derek’s territory. It sounds incredibly complicated and dangerous and really genius, but still Danny is surprised when James hedges, “That would take some serious work.” 

“Obviously.” Stiles begins tracing his finger up Danny’s where it rests on his knee, over the tendons.  “But could we do it? Would it work?” 

“If we could do it, it would work…to an extent. The second we went out of the territory they’d be on us. There’s no way we could hold that up over a large enough distance.” 

Stiles wraps his hand around Danny’s and says, “What if we made a permanent change to them, then? Could we take away their powers? The way we did Erica’s—could we do that all the way, make them human again?” 

“No,” James is frank. “It wouldn’t work at all. Being a werewolf—that’s not something that’s put on someone, like a spell—that’s something fundamental. We were able to release the alpha power because it was an adherent, something added to the makeup of the matter. We could make them betas maybe. We couldn’t make them human.” 

Stiles scrubs a hand through his hair. “But,” he starts. 

“Hush,” James interrupts. “I’ve just thought. This isn’t ideal, and it could make this even worse—but if it works…I mean,” he speaks rapidly, and Stiles doesn’t look as if he understands what James is getting at much more than Danny does, “I mean, it would all need to go somewhere, into something alive. We couldn’t just put it into the air or a lake or the ground—it would be like a magic hurricane or cyclone, or something. It could be bad, but if it worked—it could work.” 

“What are you talking about?” Stiles rarely takes that tone with anyone aside from Peter and, infrequently lately, Jackson. 

“Well,” James hesitates, “we can’t kill them all, can we? I don’t know any spell strong enough to kill five alphas without being directly in front of them, other than one that involves dark magic. And you’re not interested in dark magic, are you?” 

“I haven’t,” Stiles tilts his head back, stares at the roof of the Jeep. Danny feels that sick twisting in his gut again. He can’t believe they’re here right now. He can’t believe all the dead ends they’re hitting, can’t accept that there seems to be a bridge out there that might result in them—what, summoning demons? What does dark magic even involve? “I haven’t,” Stiles starts again, “done much research on that. I don’t know if I can. I don’t think I want to.” 

“The last good witch.” Even from where he’s sitting Danny can catch the sarcasm in James’s voice. “Well, then, here is my idea. And like I said, it’s not a good idea. But it’s better than nothing, of course. It’s based on the spell we used yesterday, but it’s not exactly the same, and it’s not turning them human, either.” He’s speaking slower, sounding out the idea for himself as well as for Stiles and Danny. “They’ll still be able to shift. But what we can do—we can take away the magic. Their makeup will still be alpha wolf, but they will not have the magic to guide them along in their shift.” 

“So when they shift,” Danny’s picturing Hugh Jackman’s claws coming out in X-Men, thinking of the shredded skin and blood that would accompany them if not for the character’s superpower. He imagines that on a wolf, a person they know. He bites his tongue as his stomach heaves and continues, “they’ll die.” 

“Or they’ll be in so much pain that they’ll want to die. It’ll most likely be at their hands. It’s a certain way to stop this. If it works, that is.” 

“If it works, we have five deformed bodies,” Danny points out. 

“We’ve dealt with bodies before.” Stiles slips his hand from Danny’s and scratches at the side of his nose. Danny tries not to shift away from him: He is implicated in this. He may be a murderer within the week.  He can’t judge. Stiles lets out a breath. “How do we do it?” 

Danny drops his head against the window and listens as James gives Stiles a rough outline of the spell. “The thing about the magic, though,” he says, “is that we do need to have a living body to put it into. It’s too much power for anyone to handle, but we can’t focus it on an alpha, because the spell is taking it from them. And we can’t just let it go—I have no idea what it would do, but it would certainly not just dissipate.” 

“We'll work on that. Tonight,” Stiles says. “Danny and I will meet you at the hotel. Rent another room. We’ll be there around eight. We’ll sort out the details.” 

“Bring the girl, too. The redhead, the one who didn’t come with you yesterday. Leave Peter Hale.” 

“I’m not an idiot.” Stiles hangs up the phone. He hands it to Danny without looking at him, keeps his gaze out the window as they pull out of the parking lot. 

“Don’t hate me for this.” They’ve driven close enough to Stiles’s house that Danny can see the stop sign marking the end of his street. 

“I wasn’t going to,” Danny promises. “They don’t deserve good things, Stiles.” 

“Yeah, but this.” Stiles shakes his head. “I have basically no moral compass, and I don’t want to do this.” Danny’s really fucking relieved to hear this. “I know,” his hands are white on the steering wheel, “they’ve killed people before, they hurt Julia and that other girl, that Ellen, and they’ve hurt us, and they made Erica—I know. They’re not good people. They don’t deserve anything good. And still I don’t want to do this. Maybe I’d be okay if someone else,” he drops off, pulling into his driveway. “But, hey, who else do we have?” 

Danny reaches out and squeezes his knee. “I’ll be there,” he says, like that means something. And maybe it does, because Stiles looks a little less like he’s about to rip his hair out when he hops out of the Jeep and goes inside to explain their plan. Very vaguely. Peter growls a lot as Stiles babbles around the specifics. Jackson’s eyes flash blue so often that Danny thinks he might as well shift entirely. 

Lydia finally snaps. “You have not been forthcoming with us,” she spins, locking a glare on Peter. “You told us you didn’t know this pack. Your sister knew them, and you’re the nosiest asshole I know—do you expect us to believe that you were entirely ignorant of their existence? Do you think you deserve to know everything now, when you've been lying to us?” 

Peter opens his mouth, but Lydia’s not done. “Honestly, you’re at our mercy. You are at my mercy, you have been since I brought you back. Unintentionally, yes. Against my will, yes. But I did it, Peter. Please do not think that I am too tender or too afraid to undo it.” 

Peter closes his mouth on air. Jackson stands at Lydia’s shoulder, but he seems so small in comparison to her open disgust. 

After a moment Peter straightens his shoulders. “I never choose the weak ones,” he says, as if he’s reminding himself, and turns on his heel. He’s out of the house before anyone else speaks. 

“Well,” Allison bites at her lip. “I think we should probably go tell Scott about this plan before Peter gets to him. Jackson?” 

“We have to tell Derek, too.” Jackson squeezes Lydia’s shoulder before brushing by Allison to the door. 

“They’re all together.” Allison shrugs; either the delineation means nothing to her, or she’s acting like it doesn’t. “Do you guys need anything?” 

“No.” Stiles glances from Lydia to Allison. “We’re good. We’ll just—we’re going to stop this.” 

“I know you are.” Allison wraps her right hand around her left wrist. “Just—you know better than to trust this pack.” 

“We don’t trust easily,” Lydia replies, which is both an answer and not one at all. Allison nods, though, accepting it.

::: 

They swing by the police station on their way to the motel. Stiles’s dad is in his office, and the receptionist quirks an eyebrow at them but waves them through. The sheriff takes one look at them and gestures to Stiles to shut the door. 

“What’s going on?” 

“We’re going to meet with James,” Stiles tells his dad without preamble, the words coming out terse and defensive. 

“In a well-lit public area where there will be witnesses if he threatens you?” The sheriff is already pinching at the bridge of his nose. 

“Not precisely? But we can look after ourselves. Anyway, he’s well aware there are bigger problems here, and he could have hurt us at any time yesterday.” 

“You do not exactly inspire confidence.” He looks from Danny to Lydia. “Do your parents know where you are?” 

“My parents are in Milan.” Lydia’s red mouth is a guileless smile. “They know I’m in California.” 

The sheriff sighs. “And yours, Danny?” 

“I told them I’d be out tonight.” Lying to the sheriff—even skirting the truth like this—is not something Danny’s ever going to be good at, and he admires Stiles a little for having kept his own lies going for so long. 

“And you think you need to do this? You need to meet with this James, and it can’t be done in public?” 

“I know we need to do this.” Stiles steps forward, has his mouth open to release a torrent of explanations that will in all probability actually explain nothing, but the sheriff raises a palm. 

“Okay. I trust you. If you’re not all in my kitchen by nine tomorrow morning, however, I will put the whole force on the search for you.” 

“We’ll be at that Howard Johnson a few exits down.” Lydia moves to stand beside Stiles and Danny follows her. “If we’re not back.” 

“Thank you,” the sheriff looks at Lydia. “Do you all need anything before you go?” 

“A map? Of Beacon Hills?” Danny asks, and the sheriff tugs out a drawer in his desk, papers spilling out as soon as it’s partly open. He rifles through the papers and pulls out a badly folded map. He stands and comes around his desk, handing the map to Danny and squeezing his shoulder in a single motion. 

“You be careful,” he says to Stiles next, pulling him to his chest in a hard hug. “Please don’t prove me wrong for trusting you.” 

Stiles nods into his shoulder. 

The sheriff shakes Lydia’s hand, which makes her smile, although she bites it back almost immediately. 

“See you tomorrow morning,” he says as they file out of his office, “and I expect waffles.” 

“Sure thing,” Stiles calls over his shoulder. His voice shakes a little, but Danny thinks he can only hear it because he’s a few steps behind him. 

“Do you think there’s a chance his pack will attack us?” Lydia asks as they climb back into Stiles’s Jeep in the parking lot. 

“I think he doesn’t want us to fuck this up.” Stiles’s tone isn’t quite as bitter as his words are, but he sticks his key into the ignition with a tremor in his hand and says, “Sorry, it’s just, I really don’t want us to fuck this up.” 

“Please, Stilinski. We’re good at this, remember?” Lydia’s confident tone is belied by the concerned purse to her lips, but Stiles isn’t looking at her, and so he doesn’t notice it. Danny chooses to ignore it. 

“Right, we’re basically wizards.” Stiles pulls onto the road and speeds toward the freeway entrance. 

“Pretty much,” Lydia laughs. “It’ll be fine.” Which is bullshit, but no one's saying that. 

Lydia has a pile of books on the seat beside her. Danny can see them when he turns around to look at her.  They’re all dirty and old; they’ve transferred some of their musty smell to the inside of the car. Stiles thinks they’ll have enough information to make their spell foolproof. Danny reaches over the back of the seat and pulls one from the stack. 

It’s a dark green cloth-bound tome that looks as if more than a few drops of blood have been spilled on it over the years. He runs his fingers over the title engraved on the cover; they catch on the tail of the y and the cap of the h in Demystifying the Werewolf: Uncovering the Myths Behind the Beasts. He opens the cover and places the map the sheriff gave him inside. 

“If I die, though,” Stiles says as they pull into the parking lot of the Howard Johnson, “you get my Jeep, Danny. You’re the only one she’ll have.” 

Danny nearly swallows his tongue, but Lydia reaches out and smacks the back of Stiles’s head. “Don’t be morbid,” she snaps, pushing open her door. Stiles follows her out and Danny pauses to collect the books before joining them by the hood of the Jeep. 

Danny shoves at Stiles's shoulder with his free hand to get him moving toward the rooms where the pack had been staying. 

The door swings open before they reach it and James steps out. “We’re across the lot.” He jerks his head toward the parallel row of rooms. Hannah, the tiny dark-haired member of their pack, follows him out. 

“I’m training.” Her voice is bright and cheerful. She’s probably only in her mid-twenties; she may not even have been a member of the pack back when James cast the original spell. 

“To be a witch?” Danny asks. He had thought she was fully human. 

“I’m not really magic, not like all of them.” She juts her chin toward the backs of James and Stiles and Lydia. “I’ll just be a…user, I guess.” She shrugs. “I want to be able to throw wolfsbane in their faces.” Her grin is sharp. 

James opens the door to a room identical to the one they were in the afternoon before, when they took away Erica’s alpha powers. James perches on one of the beds, one knee bent and leg crossed over his other. Hannah falls beside him, curling in on herself, cat-like. Stiles sprawls out on the other, and Lydia sits beside him, prim at the head of the bed, with her feet pressed flat against the floor. Danny sits at the desk, shoving the chair a few inches closer to Lydia and Stiles’s bed so if he wants to he can reach out and rest a hand on Stiles’s leg. 

“So we take away their powers.” Lydia holds out a hand toward Danny, and he drops the Demystifying the Werewolf book on the bed by Stiles’s knee. Lydia picks it up. “What sort of spell do we need to do that?” 

“The one we used yesterday,” James says. “That will be a good place to start. But first we need to figure out who will be the receptacle for the magic.” 

Stiles kicks out his foot so it’s resting on Danny’s knee. 

“This magic will be enough to kill someone, won’t it?” Lydia has perfected the art of the question that is not, in fact, a question. 

“We can’t do that,” Stiles tells her. 

“Do what?” Hannah looks from Lydia to Stiles to James. James taps his finger against his chin, and Danny’s breaths grow shallow. 

“It might make him stronger.” The toe of Stiles’s Converse is waving back and forth from where it rests on Danny’s knee. 

“They want to put all the power in Peter Hale,” Danny answers Hannah.  “They want to give it all to him so they can get rid of him, too.” He turns his attention to Lydia. “Why, though? Peter’s not good,” he hurries, because Lydia’s face has lost its cool mask, lips parted and eyes bright and suddenly livid, “but he hasn’t done anything recently.” 

“We don’t know what he’s done. He’s lied to us. He’s a murderer. He deserves death for that, at least. And why did he come back? He has to have some reason.” 

“Maybe he just didn’t want to be dead?” Hannah suggests. Danny’s glad he’s not the one who said it when Lydia pins the girl with a glare. 

“You don’t come up with a contingency plan for death unless you have some reason. Particularly when your whole family is dead and you’ve gotten your revenge. Stiles,” Lydia turns to look at him, red hair sweeping forward as she tilts her chin down, “you think that much magic won’t kill him?” 

“I think.” Stiles lets out an explosive breath, rubbing his palms against his eyes. Danny places one hand around Stiles’s ankle. “I think we have no clue what the hell Peter did to himself when he came back. He’s not just a werewolf anymore.” He turns his head to the side so he’s looking at James. “You’ve never dealt with anyone who’s come back from the dead before, have you?” 

“I’d never even heard of it happening before we came here.” James makes the words sound derisive, like this town is ridiculous. And it is, of course. 

Danny brushes his thumb up under Stiles’s jeans, sliding it beneath the elastic on his sock so he can touch the jut of Stiles’s ankle bone. “Also, won’t you need Peter for the spell? You and James and Peter—won’t you need three to work it?” 

“I could help,” Lydia offers. Her voice is hard-edged, dry. She’s daring someone to deny her this. 

Stiles takes the dare. “Your magic is strong, but it’s too volatile. We’re still not sure,” Lydia tosses her hair and looks away from him, across the space between the beds at James and Hannah, and Stiles reaches up to tangle his fingers in the few curls that still fall over her shoulder, “No, Lyd. We don’t know what you are yet, we can’t risk you and this by making you a source of the magic. I’m sorry, but Danny’s right. We do need Peter.” 

“Can’t you turn it on him?” Hannah licks her lips. “I mean, I don’t know him, but he’s your pack and if you want him gone,” she shrugs, “he doesn’t need to know all the details, just needs to know what to do until the magic is out of the alphas, then you two just push it on him. He can’t be strong enough to take you both on?” 

“He might be.” James presses his fist against his mouth. “I don’t know—I like the idea,” he admits to Lydia. “But it’s very risky. I don't think, though—I really do not think anyone, even someone who's been dead, could survive that much magic.” 

“It’s too risky.” Stiles flails up until he’s sitting, his foot lifting from beneath Danny’s hand and joining his other on the floor. “We’re not even sure whether this will work—how the fuck are we going to make it work and then turn on one of the people doing the spell? That’s a whole second stage. It could ruin everything.” 

“It could,” James agrees. “Or it could leave your town safer than it was even before the alphas arrived.” 

Stiles lets out a long breath. “You want to do this,” he says to Lydia. 

“I want to do this.” She’s already reaching for the notepad left on the nightstand between the beds, uncapping the cheap pen and resting the notepad on her knee. “We’ll have three witches.” 

“I prefer the term mage,” James tells her, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “Do you know where Peter found that spell yesterday?” 

Stiles has his own phone out, pats the bed beside him. “I’ve got it up already.” James comes to sit beside him. 

Danny watches. Eventually he gets up from the chair, cracks his back. He gets a glass of water from the sink, the hotel chlorine taste weirdly comforting. He refills the glass for Stiles, then gets one for Lydia. There are two sealed plastic cups, which he gives to Hannah and James when he goes back into the bedroom. Hannah thanks him, but no one else really notices; they just reach for the water and drain it in long gulps.

Danny sits beside Hannah on the bed opposite the others. She’s got her legs crossed and is watching the others like they’re fascinating. Danny could find it interesting, he guesses, if it didn’t make him so nervous, the way Lydia keeps tapping the pen against her lips like she is unsure of what they’re doing, the way James is taking the pad of paper from her and making diagrams that Danny can’t understand, and not just because he’s looking at them upside-down, the way Stiles is sitting perfectly still, occasionally offering pieces of information that make very little sense to Danny, but seem to mean something to Lydia and James. 

It’s utterly terrifying, the way the three of them are working together. 

Lydia gets up at one point and spreads the map of Beacon Hills out on the desk. She begins drawing on it, muttering to herself and typing numbers into the calculator on her phone. 

“Danny,” she glances up, “can you,” and he comes over and stands at her shoulder, listening to her mutter about an algebraic equation that will allow for them to discover the points of power at the borders of Beacon Hills. Once Danny realizes that she’s actually talking about triangles, he steals the pen from her and traces out a right triangle with its three points starred. Lydia kisses his cheek. “You’re a treasure,” she tells him, and he shakes his head. 

“You’re thinking too much. That’s the easiest thing there is.” 

“I know, I know.” She taps his hand, still holding the pen, and says, “Get me coordinates, okay?” 

Danny does, and then he returns to sit beside Hannah, who seems to be growing bored if the way she’s fidgeting is any indication. Danny steals a piece of paper from the marked-up pad on Stiles’s knee—earning a glare from James and a bright but unfamiliar grin from Stiles—and he and Hannah start playing a very quiet game of hangman. 

An hour after that, Hannah falls asleep halfway through guessing Danny’s word—lycanthrope—and Danny lays back on the bed and stares at the coffee-colored pattern a leak in the roof has made on the ceiling. 

He eventually falls asleep too, waking up to Stiles pulling at his hand. “Come on, Danny. Up and at ‘em.” 

“Where’re we up and at ‘em-ing to?” he mumbles, rolling off the bed and landing on the carpet on all fours. Lydia’s still in the room, but James and Hannah have left already. 

“To make waffles for my dad, and then to finalize our plan. Today’s the day.” Stiles is practically crowing. “Come on, come on, Danny.” 

And so Danny follows him and a silent Lydia out of the room. Her silence and Stiles’s manic tone has Danny terrified, but he doesn’t want to know. He’ll go along with what their plan is because they have a plan. He thinks that’s probably not the safest attitude to have, but then, there are werewolves. He might be implicit in a murder by the end of the day. He might actually be sleeping with a murderer—he might actually be a murderer. He needs to accept this. 

But there’s something calming about the way Lydia rests her hand on Stiles’s shoulder as they approach the Jeep, something steadying about the glance he throws her in response, that makes Danny think they may not be as epically fucked as his head is telling him they are. 

The sheriff takes one look at them, sitting in his kitchen with plates of waffles in front of them, and says, emphatically, “I do not want to know.” 

“That’s good,” Stiles responds. “We probably shouldn’t tell you.” 

“But I still need to know where you’ll be.” The sheriff pours syrup over the waffles they left at his seat, and Stiles doesn’t even open his mouth to harass him for his topping choice. 

“We’ll all be in Beacon Hills.” Lydia stands to rinse her plate. “Stiles will be at the McDonald’s, Danny and I and the rest of the pack will be around. You’re not on duty tonight?” 

“The McDonald’s?” The sheriff sounds incredulous.

“Sheriff, are you going to be on duty?” Lydia asks again. 

“No. But if something suspicious happens I will probably be called in.” 

Stiles nods, seeming to take that as a warning. 

“We’ll make sure nothing looks suspicious, then.” Lydia sits down again and casts a judgmental look at Danny’s empty plate. He pushes back from the table and moves to the sink.  “Hurry up, Stiles,” Lydia says when Danny's placed his plate in the dish rack, “We need to go talk to the others.” 

“I know, I know.” Stiles stuffs a few forkfuls of  waffle into his mouth and stands, still chewing. “See you, Dad.” He drops his plate in the sink and grabs a bag from a stool by the doorway. Danny catches Lydia’s eye roll, but she follows him from the kitchen without commenting. Danny offers the sheriff an awkward wave. He nods and reaches for the syrup again. 

Peter isn’t at Derek’s when they get to his apartment, but everyone else is. Stiles and Lydia stand in front of the TV, and Danny knocks his knee against Erica’s when he sits beside her and Boyd on the couch. 

“How are you?” he asks, tone low because Stiles and Lydia are talking to Derek, whose eyes are flashing red in rapid pulses, like he’s struggling with himself. They must be telling him about their plan regarding Peter; he can’t see Derek resisting too much, but Peter is the last of his family. This whole thing is definitely not, as James had said, ideal.

“I’m okay.” Erica’s watching Stiles and Lydia and Derek, too. Everyone is. Everyone else, aside from Allison, can probably make out every word they’re saying. Danny looks down at Erica’s hands. Her nails were painted black once, but they’re chipped and bitten down well below her fingertips. He doesn’t remember them looking like that a day ago. 

“Okay.” Danny reaches down and taps a finger against the back of her hand. It’s a weird gesture, one he doesn’t even understand as he’s doing it, but Erica turns her head and looks at him, eyes narrowed for an instant before her mouth cracks in a grin. 

“Thanks, Danny.” She rests her head against his shoulder. Her hair is soft against his cheek. He breathes easier, somehow, sitting there beside her, watching as Derek slowly nods his head, again and again, as Stiles reaches out and grips Derek’s shoulder in a quick, jerky movement. 

“Someone call Peter.” Stiles turns to look at the pack, crowded into Derek’s living room. “We need to teach him his part in this spell.” 

Isaac says, “I’m on it.” No one says that this may be the last time any of them has a reason to call Peter. No one says this may be the last time anyone could call him. Premeditated death is something new, and Danny can feel the metal-tasting weight of it in his chest and throat already. He knows he’s just signed on for a lifetime of this. Erica presses her forehead into his shoulder harder, and Stiles meets his gaze across the coffee table, and Danny’s life is heavier, yes, but at least everyone else is weighed down along with him. 

::: 

Hours and hours later, Stiles says, “Tonight is the night.” He’s holding his phone in front of him, the glow from the screen throwing his face into a Picasso pattern of shadows. 

“This is something out of a horror movie,” Danny says. 

Peter chuckles. “We’re werewolves; it’s in our nature.” 

“Yours, maybe,” Scott mutters. “We’re not all crazy.” 

“People.” Lydia steps forward. “We all have places to be, don’t we?” 

“And we should get to them.” Stiles shoves at Scott’s shoulder. “Go on, buddy. To your post.” 

“See you.” Scott lowers himself to lope through the trees toward the border of Beacon Hills that runs through the Preserve. 

Allison and Jackson and Lydia get into Allison’s car—she’s taking them through town, to the town line separating Beacon Hills from Blue Ridge. They’re surrounding town, Stiles and James and Peter to be at the previously diagrammed points. Earlier Stiles had gleefully explained how Lydia and Danny had charted it out on the map, saying, “You could SOHCAHTOA the shit out of this bitch, I’m not even kidding.” Danny’d squeezed Stiles’s knee and smiled, the pretense building on the sick feeling in his stomach.   

“Okay.” Stiles turns to Peter. “James is in position. You need to stay right here, and I will text you both when I’m where I need to be. Then we start. You have the spell?” 

Peter nods. “This is not my first rodeo, Stiles.” His grin is bright and toothy, but he holds himself stiffly. 

“Just—don’t fuck it up, and I won’t either.” Stiles lets a bit of the day’s bravado slip, and Danny knows he doesn’t like Peter, doesn’t trust him, but it’s the first sign of Stiles—actually, honest, not bullshitting anyone—Stiles he’s seen since hours before. 

“Cross my heart.” Peter draws an x over his heart with one clawed finger, and Stiles lets out an exaggerated shiver before turning toward where the Jeep is parked on the side of the road. 

“Okay. We’ll be in touch.”  Stiles tangles his fingers with Danny’s and Danny follows, relegated to this position of Stiles’s silent shadow just for now. 

As soon as they’re on the road, Stiles lets out a long breath. “I kept thinking I’d say something dumb like, see-you-later or whatever and he’d hear the lie. I can’t,” he breaks off. Danny’s driving, but he glances away from the road to see Stiles biting his knuckles. “I can’t,” he repeats. 

“It’ll go okay.” Danny has no way of knowing this. “I think—as long as the alphas are in Beacon Hills, then that part seemed easy, right?” 

“Not easy,” Stiles snorts. “God, the power—I mean,” he shakes his head. “I mean, it’ll be tiring. But we’ll be good, you’re right. Just—well, we’ll see.” Danny has arrived at the McDonald’s near the high school, Stiles’s improbable point. The lights are on in the restaurant, but luckily Stiles’s assigned coordinate is on the other side of the building from the drive-through. 

There’s a red metal picnic table edged up on a mound of grass between two trash cans, and Stiles sits on the bench facing the road. He has his phone in one hand and a baggie of mountain ash in the other. He begins spreading the ash in a circle around him, a plan suggested by Allison to keep out any of the alphas that might catch wind of what they’re doing. 

“So,” he looks up at Danny, “you know what you’re doing?” 

Danny nods. “And you know what you’re doing.” 

“So we’re good.” 

Danny leans forward, kisses Stiles fast, a close-mouthed too-hard thing, and turns on his heel. “I’ll be back when it’s done.” 

“Or before, if I get hungry and decide to wander off,” Stiles calls. 

Danny waves a hand. He’s not worried about Stiles. 

He sets his phone on the dashboard of Stiles’s Jeep and rolls out into the street. He’s got a map of Beacon Hills up on the screen, with three dots pulsing exactly where they’re supposed to be. But Danny does not expect all three of them to remain still be for the duration of the spell. 

He knows Stiles thinks he’s being a little too anxious. He thinks they can trust James for this, thinks Peter wants the alphas gone so that Peter can get on with whatever nefarious plan he’s working on. Stiles thinks Peter has no idea that they’d turn on him. 

Danny thinks Stiles is refusing to be suspicious because he can’t focus on anything more than the immensity of the spell they’re about to set over Beacon Hills. It’s a spell calculated to affect only alphas, so Derek is somewhere—Derek should be somewhere—well outside of Beacon Hills. Jackson is supposed to be staying with him, because Lydia doesn’t trust Jackson to let her be during this unless he’s far enough away that he doesn’t have a choice. 

So much of their plan hinges on everyone being in a previously decided place. Danny doesn’t have much faith in any of them to stay where they belong, though. He worries that James will decide  that revenge is actually more important than eradicating the alphas, or that Peter will decide that tonight is the time to put his plan into action. This may have all been a master plot of Peter’s—Danny is not beyond thinking it. 

He drives around on back roads between the three points, navigating a loopy triangle of his own. None of them move for a very long time. His phone is silent; no texts coming through.  He has no idea what is going on, and the more turns he makes the more he’s convinced that something horrible has happened and he just doesn’t know yet, that an alpha is going to leap on the Jeep from the trees and get a claw in his throat. It’s a possibility, he knows it. He turns the radio up a little so he stops jumping at every noise coming from outside the car.   

His third time around, Peter’s dot shivers on his screen. It’s a tiny movement on the phone, but it had to have been larger in life, at least one circuit around the clearing Peter was left in. 

Danny pulls an immediate U-turn, speeding as he heads back the direction he’d come. 

He throws the Jeep into park on the side of the road where he and Stiles had left Peter, grabbing his phone and the keys and hopping to the ground. There’s a sound issuing from the woods, a rocky sound of harsh breaths and deep, deep roars. 

Danny calls Erica from the edge of the trees. “I need you,” he tells her. “Please say you’re near Peter.” 

“Wouldn’t leave that fuck alone for a minute,” she says, and she sounds like she’s running, the words coming fast and soft, like she’s speaking around her fangs. Which is good, because judging from the sounds Danny can hear she’ll need all strength she has. 

Erica barrels up the road in minutes, wearing yoga leggings and a t-shirt and her hair tied up in a knot. She looks feral, eyes yellow and teeth bared. “Stay here.” She presses one clawed hand to Danny’s shoulder as she passes him, but he’s right behind her as she moves through the woods. 

Peter and one of the twins are in the clearing. The roars are coming from the alpha. Peter still has his phone, is still reading from the screen in short bursts of Latin. He’s breathing hard, and he has moved across the clearing because the twin is where he should be.

They should have put mountain ash around Peter, too, except that that would have made it more difficult for Stiles and James to push werewolf magic on him once the first part is done and, besides, Peter probably would not have taken well to being caged in, even if it had been for his own good. 

The weird thing, Danny realizes as he pauses at the edge of the clearing and Erica rips through it, is that the twin hasn’t attacked Peter. He could, easily. Peter is a sitting duck, but aside from their switched positions, there’s nothing to suggest that the twin has made any move toward him. And Peter’s still doing the spell which, if they’ve already fought, should have been royally fucked up. 

Peter glances up from his phone as Erica passes him, and he says, “Fuck,” before continuing with the spell. “You don’t,” he says a few more words in Latin, “you really don’t want to,” more Latin, “he’s trapped.” 

The twin lets out a roar as Erica approaches. But there’s some line, some magic, keeping him in place. 

Danny throws glances over his shoulder at Peter as he moves to Erica’s side. 

“You have him here to—you want to kill him? You want to be alpha? You want to be an alpha when this all blows up?” She whirls to fling her accusation at Peter, who still hasn’t stopped his Latin recitation. “When the spell happens, it’ll kill you.” 

“There’ll be an opening.” Peter breathes out. “There always is.” 

“Or you make one.” Danny can’t look away from the twin. He’s red-eyed, snarling. Whatever’s keeping him where he is isn’t visible, but the spell must have metaphysical sharp edges; every time the wolf pushes too far lines of blood rise up on his skin. 

One way or another he’s going to see this wolf die, and he doesn’t even know which twin he is. 

He opens his mouth to ask, but Peter lets out a triumphant something that sounds nothing like the rest of the spell, a dagger-toned word that burns Danny’s ears. 

The twin lets out an answering roar, bursting through the just-released trap and past Danny, directly toward Peter, and it occurs to Danny that if the alpha kills Peter just as the spell finishes, then the magic will have nowhere to go and—he shoots a terrified look at Erica, whose mouth is open around fangs. “Fuck.” 

But then there is a cascade of noise. White-noise, almost, senseless. Peter’s dropped his phone, is reaching for the alpha like the attack is something he wants, something he’s inviting, and Erica leaps from beside Danny, her body fast and poised like a cat’s. She is prepared to maul. 

Her claws punch through the twin’s shoulder blades just as a chasm is ripped out of the air. Or that’s what it feels like—a great suck of pressure, Danny’s mouth opened and his lungs emptied, dark red all over Erica’s hands, spattered on her cheeks, Peter’s teeth long and curved and his head thrown back, his whole body pale and sweaty and his muscles standing out in ropes, the alpha falling. A chasm, a canyon, a complete lack of noise. Danny can’t breathe and everything is paused. 

And then Erica is down on all fours, retching. The alpha is on the ground, a pool of blood easing the grass and dead leaves into darker tones. Peter is— 

Peter looks mummified. Completely dried out, completely dead. A dried wasp found in a windowscreen at the end of August. 

“Jesus Christ,” Danny breathes. His phone is buzzing in his hand and he can’t even think to answer it because there’s the slight possibility, the maybe even likely possibility, that this went off completely fine. 

Erica gets to her feet, wipes at a spot of blood with her wrist and proceeds to smear it over her chin. She lets out this depraved, terrible, bright laugh. “I think I may have hit the opening,” she says. Her eyes glow red. 

Danny can’t tell if she’s happy or devastated. He finally answers his phone, which is buzzing again. 

“Did it work?” It’s James, not Stiles, and Danny has half a mind to hang up on him. 

“Peter’s dead. One of the twins was here, he’s dead. I don’t know about the rest.” 

They’ll be wandering around Beacon Hills, shifted and monstrous. They won’t be dead like their alpha, who escaped the trauma through Erica’s possibly idiotic but also amazingly timed attack. 

Danny hangs up on James to call Stiles. 

“Everything’s fine,” Stiles says. “I felt—Derek called. It worked? For Peter, I mean.” 

“It worked.” Danny looks at Erica, who is scrubbing at the blood on her face again. “I think we need to get everyone together.” 

“And the bodies.” Stiles isn’t really talking to him. “And the alphas, or whatever they are now.” His voice sharpens, “You talked to James?” 

“Briefly.” 

“I’ll call him, see if his pack wants to go on a hunt for the alphas. Former alphas? Falphas?” 

“I’ll come get you,” Danny offers. 

“No, don’t. I’ll have Allison swing by. We need to take care of Peter, and it’ll be better if you stay with his body. Are you alone?”

“Erica’s here.” 

Stiles says something vague and hangs up. 

“Our lives are such messes,” Danny tells Erica. 

“Yeah.” She drops her hand from her face. “I was a beta for a fucking day and a half, and it felt weird but fine and now.” She shakes her head. “This is all such bullshit. Life is such bullshit.” 

Danny looks at the two bodies on the ground and then looks away, at his feet. 

“Such bullshit,” he agrees. 

Stiles, Allison, and Lydia get there minutes later, and they bury Peter. Lydia says all sorts of spells over him to keep him dead, because Stiles is too tired to do anything other than lift piles of dirt, and besides, Lydia has earned this. Stiles reacts to Erica by flailing. Lydia smiles a close-mouthed smile that Danny thinks means something a lot less positive than it could. 

“Is this a good thing or a bad thing?” Stiles asks, after Lydia and he have magically dug a hole for the twin, whichever twin it is, and Erica's shoved him into it. Danny’s not thinking about the fact that they’re burying people in the light of their five cellphones. He’s not thinking about it. Decidedly. 

“I was an alpha before and I was fine. At least he didn’t get Peter—I think Peter was too weak to fight him off, by that point. He didn’t factor in how tired he would have been after all that magic, when he lured the twin here.” 

“How bad would it have been,” Allison asks, pushing some dirt over onto the body of the twin with her foot, “if the magic hadn’t had anywhere to go? If Peter had died first?” 

Stiles shrugs. “It may have reanimated him, if he had been dead. If it didn’t do that, it probably would have been like a small explosion.” He suddenly pales, waves a hand out until it fastens on Danny’s hand. “You shouldn’t have been around Peter. Fuck, no one should have. Fuck, I’m sorry, I didn’t even think.” 

Danny has too much going on in his head for the significance of this to really register. He almost died? He felt like he was almost dying the whole night, it’s not that huge of an issue. 

“I didn’t even think,” Stiles repeats, and maybe that’s the issue here. That he feels he’s not been attentive. And, well, he hasn’t, but he didn’t need to be. There were larger issues tonight. 

“It’s fine.” 

Erica shakes her head. “We knew it was dangerous,” she tells Stiles. “It’s okay.” 

“I don’t.” He’s shaking again, hands twitching. “I didn’t even—"

“You didn’t think,” Danny interrupts, “but it’s fine. We’re fine. And if Erica hadn’t been here, then who knows what would have happened. It worked out.” 

Stiles nods, scrabbles his hands over his face. “Okay. We need to go find James and the rest. And then I guess—do we just go home?” 

“School starts next week,” Allison points out, a wry lift to her voice. “Maybe we should start getting ready for that?” 

The realization sends a shocked laugh through the group, and then Erica is down on her knees, nearly howling with laughter, and Stiles is almost crazed enough to join her on the ground. He doesn’t, but mostly because he falls onto Danny’s shoulder instead. His mouth is open on his t-shirt; Danny can feel his teeth digging through the cotton. 

He’s laughing too, they’re all in a near-hysteria over it. The sound of their combined laughter—Danny and Stiles holding hands so tightly it hurts; Erica on the ground; Allison leaning over with her hands on her thighs; Lydia falling on her back—it’s a horrible sound, loud and wrong, rough in the woods. There are two bodies under their feet—two people dead who were alive an hour ago, and they did that—and they’re laughing. They start junior year in eight days. Their lives make no sense. 

“We need,” Lydia finally wheezes, straightening and tugging at Allison’s shoulder to pull her up, too, “to go find the others.” 

“We do,” Allison agrees. “We do.” 

Danny calls James. “It worked on the rest,” James answers. “We found Deucalion and another twin, they’re a mess. They’re begging Aaron to kill them right now. We passed your three. They’re looking for the others.” 

“Only Kali and Ennis left,” Danny says, and Allison’s hand tightens on her bag. 

“We’re considering giving in to these two right now. If we kill them, should we take their bodies off your land?” 

Danny wishes Derek were around to tell them whether that was necessary. They’ve already buried two, do two more matter, and two more after that? If anyone finds them—well, Peter’s a dried-up husk, and was officially dead before he died again. The twin is a problem, but the others? They’ll look like monsters, something off of Ripley’s

“It’s probably okay to bury them. Do you know the spells to keep them in place?” 

“I don’t think any of them would have had a plan like Peter did,” James says. “None of them expected to die.” 

“Still.” Danny fishes the keys to the Jeep out of his pocket and turns on his heel. The others follow him from the clearing. “It’s better to be safe.” 

James sighs into the phone. “I think I can work the spells.” 

Danny glances over his shoulder at Lydia. “If you tell us where you are, we can come find you. Lydia can do the spells, if you’re too tired. She did the ones on Peter and the twin over here.” 

James hisses. “Fuck, yeah. Okay. I’m going to go—I’ll take care of this. I’ll let you know where we are.” 

The text comes through minutes later; Danny glances at the screencap of the map on the phone and hands it to Lydia. “Coming?” he asks. 

“We’re going to go find Boyd and Scott and Isaac. We’ll let you know if we run into trouble. Otherwise, see you tomorrow?” Erica reaches out a fist to bump against Danny’s. He meets hers. She’s still got flakes of blood dried on her skin. 

“Avoid cops at all costs. Actually, avoid people in general,” he advises, and she rolls her eyes as she turns away. 

“Text us where you find Ennis and the other twin,” Lydia calls, just before Allison and Erica climb into Allison’s car. “I’ll come take care of the spell over them, too.” 

Allison salutes. 

When they reach James and his pack the wolves have already buried Deucalion and Kali. Danny’s okay with that, he had no interest in seeing what the suck of their magic did to the bodies. Lydia draws pentagrams in the loose heaps of dirt the other pack has pushed over the former alphas and says a few words in Latin. It’s a shorter spell than the one she used on Peter’s corpse, but that’s unsurprising. James was probably right. These wolves hadn’t had a contingency plan; they hadn’t expected to lose. 

“We’re going to spend one more night at the hotel,” Aaron says while Danny and Stiles are shoving dead leaves and tree branches over the fresh dirt, trying to make the array of debris look natural. “Tell Derek if he wants to meet with me we’ll be there until noon. After tomorrow we won’t bother you, unless you come bothering us.” 

“There’ll be an alliance.” Stiles faces him and James, Hannah at James’s side. The other three—Liv and Terrance and Lucy—stand behind them, shoulders brushing against each other. They look more dangerous than they have since Danny’s met them. “You know that.” 

“If Derek comes,” Aaron agrees, “we’ll work something out.” 

“He’ll come,” Lydia promises. 

James stops in front of Danny as he and his pack move toward the woods. He holds out a hand to shake. “We’ll probably see you again.” James releases Danny’s hand. “But if we don’t, I appreciate how you’ve behaved these last few days.” He glances at Stiles. “Derek is a lucky alpha, to wind up with teenagers who have their heads on straight.” 

“We haven’t given the world enough of a chance to fuck us up,” Stiles says, grin bright and straight and glaring. He reaches for Danny’s hand, and Danny lets him take it, although he desperately wants time alone so he can unfix Stiles’s smile, so he can find out what it was like, to cast a spell that stole the pulse right out of six people, so he can find out if Stiles is as okay as he’s acting. 

“No.” James inclines his head. “I suppose you haven’t.” 

Hannah comes next. She stands on tiptoe and kisses both Danny and Stiles on their cheeks. She squeezes Lydia’s hand, a gesture Lydia, to Danny’s surprise, returns. “We’ll see you.” Hannah tosses over her shoulder as she follows the rest of her pack from the clearing. “I’ll make sure of it.” 

The text from Boyd comes minutes later. A screencapped map and a few words: We’re going to meet up with Derek. Erica needs to see him. The others are here; they’d killed each other before we found them. 

They’d done a haphazard job burying them. Ennis’s hand is still sticking from the dirt, fingers covered in blood, skin shredded and bones pushing out from his fingertips where his claws breached the skin in his final shift. Lydia scowls at the sight. 

“Lazy bastards,” she mutters, then kneels and begins burying them deeper, her hands spread out over the dirt and her eyes closed as she whispers words that Danny can’t make out. 

“Stiles,” she says, after the last of Ennis has sunk from view and dirt has crumbled down to fill the depression the sinking of his corpse left. “Are you strong enough to do the spell? I’m—that took more out of me than expected.” 

“Peter took more out of you, you mean.” But Stiles keeps one hand in Danny’s and kneels beside Lydia, tugging Danny down beside him, and begins tracing out the now too-familiar pentagrams in the dirt. 

“There,” he says, rocking back on his heels and wiping his hand on his jeans. “All good.” 

“Good.” Lydia pushes to her feet. “Now we go home?” 

Stiles drops Lydia off first. When he pulls to a stop outside Danny’s house, where the living room windows are lit up and his parents’ cars are in the driveway, he turns to look at him. “I guess you need to stay home tonight?” 

Danny nods. “Are you going with Derek tomorrow?” 

Stiles shakes his head. “That’s going to be between him and Aaron—alpha stuff. Hopefully he’ll know enough to leave Erica out of it; they don’t need to know that she’s an alpha again.” He snorts. “All that fucking effort.” He drags a hand down his face. “I mean, I guess it all worked out in the end, right?” 

“Sure,” Danny agrees. “So I’ll see you tomorrow?” 

Stiles bites his lip. “Yeah. Hey, Danny?” He reaches out a hand as Danny’s about to step out of the Jeep, and Danny turns to look at him, raising his eyebrows. Stiles looks exhausted, dark swings of purple under his eyes, hair stuck up from running his hands through it over and over for days. 

“Hey, Stiles?” Danny offers, when Stiles doesn’t seem to be saying anything else. Stiles returns his slight smile. 

“Just—thanks, I guess. This summer, it wouldn’t have been—I wouldn’t have been okay without you, you know?” 

Danny blinks at him in the light from his living room windows, in the light from the Jeep’s headlights. It sounds like he’s saying goodbye, or making a declaration, and Danny can’t tell which. He’s not okay with the first; he’s nervous about the second. 

“You’re Stiles,” he tells him. “You’d have been okay, but I’m glad I was here.” He leans across the passenger seat, palms flat, and kisses Stiles quickly. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

His parents are sitting on the couch. The TV is off, there’s no music playing, and they both turn to look at him when he walks in. For a second he thinks something’s happened to Julia. Or that someone saw them all, running around killing people (Jesus fucking Christ, he cannot believe this is his life). 

“Is everything okay?” he asks, instead of confessing everything, instead of apologizing, instead of screaming his sister’s name. 

“Danny.” His dad kneads a hand against his forehead. “We’re worried about you.” 

“You know we are,” his mom adds. 

“Everything’s fine now,” Danny says, not moving any further into the living room than the doorway. He’d escaped the blood-spatter this time, but he’s sure there’re smears of dirt on him, can see the stains at his knees. There are fragments of leaves caught in the ratty ends of his shoelaces. “There was something going on with Stiles’s friends,” he tells them, “but we sorted it out. I promise, no more weirdness.” 

His parents exchange a look. “Are you ever going to tell us what that weirdness was?” his mom asks. 

Danny shrugs, glances up the stairs. “Probably not. I mean, if you need to know I might. But you won’t, because it’s done.” 

“And it had nothing to do with Julia?” 

“It had nothing to do with Julia,” Danny confirms, wishing this were the last time he had to lie. 

“Okay.” His mom nods. “Sure.” 

Danny hurries up the stairs as soon as it’s clear that his parents are through questioning him, thinking of how the stilted way they’re moving around each other has become almost normal. He’s not sure what to do with that. He hopes it dissipates, now that the alphas are gone—and what a word for dead gone is. 

Julia’s light is off, but he taps against her door anyway. It swings open. She has a nightlight plugged in, dug out from = deep in one of their closets, and in its glow he can make out her head on her pillow, her dark hair fanning out. Her eyes are open. 

“Hi.” 

“Is everything okay?” She tries to sit up, but doesn’t make it far before slumping back in her bed. “It’s been a long day and I was worried sick, you asshole.” 

“I know, sorry. Everything happened fast, Jules. Can I—If I shower and come back, will you be asleep?” 

She lets out a quick laugh. “The doctors cut my meds. The chances of me falling asleep are pretty slim.” 

“How mean of them,” he says, against the throbbing her words start, the stupidity of it being his fault. “So I’ll be back, then? That’s fine?” 

“That’s fine, Danny.” 

He takes the shortest, hottest shower of his life, and comes back in with two glasses of water and a Vicodin pill he found in the back of the medicine cabinet from the time he got his wisdom teeth out. “Only if you haven’t taken anything else.” He holds it up for her to see. 

“Nothing more than Aspirin hours ago,” she whines. “But after your story.” 

Danny sits down beside her, resting his back against her headboard. “Okay, so.” And then he doesn’t know where to begin, because the last three days have felt like a lifetime, and—he realizes, a sharp surge of dislocation pushing the thought—six people are dead, and he had something to do with their deaths. How does he tell his little sister that? 

But how could he not? 

So he starts, “Stiles thought there might be a way to magic us all out of this mess,” and he tells her about the spell Stiles and Lydia and James thought up. He tells her about Peter the villain, a Peter he didn’t really know. He tells her it was Lydia’s idea, tells her there was no other way to get rid of the magic. He doesn’t tell her how the spell worked, what it wound up doing. He makes it sound like the alphas died instantly—like James and Peter and Stiles wielded a simultaneous, immediate, magic-borne alpha-death-ray. He tells her Peter died fast. He doesn’t tell her how they buried them. 

Julia doesn’t say anything at all while he’s talking, which is terribly out of character for her. But when he glances at her, brief glances throughout the story, because that’s all he can handle, she doesn’t look disgusted or overly horrified. She just looks like she’s listening, head back on her pillow, eyes half-shut. 

When he’s done, she reaches for his hand with her good one and squeezes. “You know how ridiculous all of this is? It’s like I’m still on the painkillers they had me on in the hospital. But it’s better knowing than not. So thank you.” 

He moves to get up, but Julia doesn’t let go. “Stay here? You’re not going to sleep well after all that, either.” 

“No,” he admits, “I probably won’t.” 

Julia’s bed is too small for both of them to fit the whole night, so she kicks her comforter off and drops an extra pillow on her floor, and Danny falls asleep on the ground, listening to Julia’s breathing, not quite even enough to indicate that she’s fallen asleep too. 

::: 

Julia’s up before he is the next morning. She’s sitting in the kitchen, her arm in a sling pressed to her chest, drinking a glass of orange juice and arguing with their mom. 

“Danny,” she says, when he appears in the doorway to the kitchen, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. “Tell Mom that I can go shopping with Erin and the others today. Ellen’s going, and she was way more messed up than I was.” She emphasizes the final point by gesturing with the orange juice in her hand. A little of it sloshes over the rim onto the kitchen table and their mom reaches across the table to swipe a napkin over the spot. 

“I think that Mom might be right on this one. You’ve got to be ready for school next week, can’t go using all your strength now.” Danny grabs a glass of water and drains it, then leans down to tighten the knots on his running shoes, but he catches Julia’s gaze as he leans over and she narrows her eyes. She’s threatening blackmail. 

“Or, maybe it would be a good idea to start getting used to being out in public again. After all, school might be a little overwhelming if it’s your first time out since the party.” 

Thank you,” Julia exclaims. “See, Mom, Danny sees sense!” 

“Unfortunately for you, Danny is not your parent.” Their mom stands up, brushing her hand over Julia’s hair as she approaches the coffeepot on the counter. “Are you going running?” 

“Yeah, I’m going to swing by Stiles’s. I’ll be home by dinner.” 

“Let me know if you go anywhere else.” 

“Sure,” Danny agrees, sticking his house keys and phone in the pocket of his running shorts and jogging from the room. 

The sheriff opens the door when he gets to Stiles’s. He raises his eyebrows. “I really do not anticipate my son getting out of bed anytime soon.” He steps back and lets Danny inside. “And, no matter what he feels for you, I cannot imagine that you will be able to convince him that a run is a good idea today.” 

Danny laughs. “Probably not, but I thought I’d try. Do you mind if I go up?” 

The sheriff nods toward the stairs. “Be my guest.” 

Stiles is sprawled out on his bed, face-planted in his pillows. He’s still got his jeans on from the day before, but his feet are bare where they hang over the edge of his bed. Danny resists the urge to fall down on top of him. 

He kneels down beside his bed and shakes his shoulder instead, which results in Stiles flailing up, saying, “Holy fuck,” and nearly toppling over the other side of his bed. 

“Just me, sorry, sorry,” Danny’s apologizing through his laughter as Stiles rights himself. 

“You,” Stiles falls back onto his pillows, “you asshole. I was convinced you were the ghost of Peter, back to haunt me.” 

“Pretty sure if ghosts exist they wouldn’t be able to touch you.” But he’s not at all sure of that, and inside he’s cringing over the nightmare Stiles is admitting to. 

“Peter’d find a way.” Stiles yawns, not bothering to cover it, and his face wrinkles horrifyingly. “It feels early. Are you actually,” he squints at Danny, “you’re not actually running?” 

“Yeah. I’m guessing you don’t want to join?” 

“Danny,” Stiles groans, turning his face into the pillow, “I don’t know how to say ‘no’ strongly enough to make it clear how much I don’t want to run today.” 

“Cross country’s starting soon. We’ve been slacking last week.” 

“If one week off is enough to ruin the results of the torture you put me through this summer, then I don’t want to be a runner. Because that is bullshit. You go,” he waves a hand out from beneath his sheet, “run, have fun. Come here after.” 

Danny pushes to his feet. “You’ll be regretting this on Wednesday,” he warns. 

“Whatever,” Stiles mumbles, then waves a hand out again and catches onto the hem of Danny’s shorts. “Wait.” He sits up and tugs Danny in, stretching up until Danny takes pity on him and leans down so their faces are even. Stiles narrows his eyes at him. “This is normal.” His voice is very quiet. “It’s really weird.” 

“It’s good, though.” 

Stiles confirms that with a kiss. 

By the time Danny gets back from his run, Stiles is up. He’s making pancakes in the kitchen, his dad sitting with two very anemic looking pancakes and a bowl of fruit in front of him. Stiles hands Danny a plate with four pancakes on it, then nods toward the fridge. “There’s some syrup in there, but he’s not allowed to have any. He had enough yesterday.” He points an accusing finger at his dad. 

“You’re very lucky I understand that your heart is in the right place,” the sheriff mutters into his coffee. He waits until they’re all halfway through their breakfasts before he asks, “So, judging from the way you’re both behaving today, I’m guessing that everything went smoothly?” 

Danny jerks his head up. He’s not sure what Stiles has told his dad, but he’s pretty sure the sheriff would not be so calm if he understood that everything going smoothly involved a fair bit of murder. But then, he does understand that everything going smoothly did involve werewolves and witches, so it’s possible Danny is underestimating his view on the grey areas. 

But then Stiles says, “Yup, we cleared the alphas out of town.” 

The sheriff nods. “Will I have to do any recon on this?” 

“You shouldn’t have to.” 

“We’re still looking for the men who attacked Ellen and Julia.” 

“That,” Stiles shrugs, pushing a piece of pancake into his syrup, “will probably wind up being one of the cases that goes unsolved. Julia knows, though. She’s okay,” he glances up at Danny, “right?” 

“Yeah, she’s okay. And I think she’ll be able to help Ellen out.” 

“So,” Stiles smiles at his dad, “all’s well that ends well, etcetera.” 

The sheriff shakes his head. “Someday you’ll eat those words, but I hope it’s not soon.” 

He’s not working, so after Danny showers and dresses in some of the few clothes of his that are still kicked in the corner of Stiles’s room, he and Stiles and the sheriff watch some ESPN programming. Once the sheriff pulls out some cases to go over, Danny and Stiles go upstairs. 

Danny stretches out on Stiles’s bed, and Stiles stretches out on top of him, resting his chin on Danny’s shoulder. Danny traces a hand up underneath Stiles’s t-shirt, remembering just weeks ago when that skin was as off limits to him as it was to everyone else. 

“Are you okay?” Danny asks, when the silence has stretched on unnaturally long. 

“You know,” Stiles’s words press against Danny’s jawline, breath soft against his ear, “I’m not sure. A lot has changed. But then, we’re better off than we were in June. Erica’s back, she’s alive. The alphas,” he digs his chin into Danny’s shoulder, a hard point of contact between them, “they’re dead. Whatever Peter was plotting will never happen. You’re in it, now. And I think that maybe everything is good? Except for the fact that we’ve killed so many people. But then—they deserved it, right?” 

“I think they probably did.” 

“Plus,” Stiles says, voice hitching up a little, making an effort at cheerful and only just hitting manic, “we have this new connection with that other pack? And that could be useful in the future. Werewolf networking. That’s good, right? They liked you, anyway, and that’s good for me.” 

“Werewolf networking,” Danny repeats. “Jesus. Yeah, that could be good. Stiles, I don’t—this all. It’s insane.” 

“You don’t what?” Stiles pushes himself up, so he can look Danny in the eyes. Danny looks back at him. They’re so close, closer than he’s ever been with anyone before. He’s willing to admit that—Stiles has more of him than anyone ever has. 

“I don’t know what we’re doing,” he admits, “I really have no fucking clue. But I’m really glad we’re doing it. I mean,” he hurries, because Stiles looks confused, “I know what this is,” if they weren’t pressed against each other, he’d make a gesture between them, “I know what we are, obviously, but the rest of it? You with your magic? This pack stuff. The fact that we’re—we’re not good people, anymore, if we ever were. We’re like, Jesus, we’re like vigilantes or something. That’s what I don’t get. But I don’t regret that, is what I’m saying. What we are, I don’t regret it, and what we’re doing, I don’t regret that, and I’m really fucking grateful that I saw Erica in the backseat of that car at the beginning of the summer.” 

“Oh,” Stiles leans forward, “that’s good.” He kisses Danny, long and slow and not something they’ve been able to do recently. Taking their time like this, not feeling like every kiss had an edge of a goodbye to it. “For the record,” Stiles says, when he rolls over and lies flat on his bed, when Danny straddles his hips, “I’m very happy you saw Erica, too, and that you knew to come to me.” 

“There wasn’t even a question of who I’d go to,” Danny admits. And Stiles grins as Danny tries to kiss him, and winds up with Stiles’s tongue in his mouth almost immediately, and this thing they have, it’s messy. But it’s also really, really good. 

::: 

They go to Derek’s the next night. Allison and Scott pick up Thai take-out and they spread it on the table in Derek’s tiny kitchen. Danny nearly gets speared by Erica’s fork as she makes a dive for some green curry, and Stiles is wrestled to the ground by a laughing Isaac over a container of basil noodles. 

No one mentions Peter. Erica and Derek move carefully around each other, more carefully than they have since Erica first came back from the alphas, but they’re not rough with each other. There’s no feeling of a rift there. It’s very very weird, sitting around with the pack and not plotting or worrying or talking about anything other than whether there’s anything good playing at the movies and whether the werewolves should even be allowed on the cross country team. Derek tells them to go for it; Danny and Stiles argue that they shouldn’t. 

“That’s just because you guys don’t want to have any serious competition on the team.” Jackson stretches his legs out, tripping Stiles where he’s passing in front of the couch to get another drink from the kitchen. Stiles flicks him off. 

“It’s not a fair competition.” Danny elbows Jackson. “It’s not natural.” 

“Whatever,” Jackson shrugs up one shoulder, “we played lacrosse—I didn’t see you complaining when we were winning games.” 

“Besides,” Scott adds from where he’s sprawled on the floor, his head in Allison’s lap, “Finstock won’t let us play lacrosse if we don’t do cross, too. You know that’s one of his rules. Promise we won’t blow you too far out of the water, buddy,” he says to Stiles, who hands him a can of Coke before he settles back in at Danny’s side. 

“Sure.” Stiles smirks and Scott sits up to open the soda, releasing his claws to flick at the tab. The pop of the can opening is accompanied by a spray of tan fizz, hitting Scott square in the jaw. 

“Asshole,” Scott mutters under the sound of the pack’s laughter, and Stiles curls into Danny’s shoulder, shaking gleefully. 

Scott stands and threatens to pour the rest of the soda over Stiles’s head, but Derek barks, “You mess my couch up, you clean it up, McCall,” and Scott rights the Coke can before any drips out. 

“Thanks, man,” Stiles says to Derek, when he emerges from Danny’s shoulder. 

Derek shakes his head. “You’re cleaning the carpet.” And he makes that face, the one with the wrinkled forehead and red eyes, the one that practically whines teenagers, but even he is grinning.   

Stiles and Danny stay late to spray stain remover on Derek’s carpet, Danny sprawled on the couch as Stiles crouches on the floor. “Can’t you magic that out?” Danny’s spent a bit of time recently wondering how far Stiles’s magic extends. 

“Not worth it.” Stiles scrubs at the spot with a white rag. “And I haven’t spent any time learning domestic spells, so I’d probably fuck it up.” 

Derek carries the garbage through, pausing at the front door to say, “You’d burn a hole right through to the cement. Which I wouldn’t appreciate. And neither would your bank account.” 

“Derek makes a valid point.” Stiles pushes to his feet. “Are you coming home with me?” He balls the rag in one hand and tosses it to Derek as the werewolf reappears in the door, having deposited the garbage in the dumpster across the parking lot. Derek catches the rag in one hand. 

“I thought I would.” Danny gets up. 

Stiles grins, wide, and waves a hand at Derek. “See you, dude.” 

“You’re such a child, Stilinski.” Derek chucks the rag at Stiles’s head as he and Danny leave his apartment, and Stiles just laughs. Danny can’t believe sometimes, how quickly and stupidly he fell for this asshole. 

That night—most nights, honestly—neither he nor Stiles can fall asleep, but it seems to Danny that Stiles is putting in more of an effort than Danny is, so around one he disentangles himself from Stiles and his sheets and creeps downstairs. The sheriff is on duty, which is lucky because Danny’s attempts at silence are not overly successful. He opens the front door, which squeaks, and sits on Stiles’s front step. He flips his phone over and over in his hands, the light from the screen coming on and fading at intervals as his finger presses against the buttons on the side. 

Danny is basically a murderer. He hasn’t quite accepted that about himself yet, but what he keeps coming back to, what really will not leave him alone, is the thought that he still doesn’t know which twin’s death he witnessed. Which twin’s blood got in Erica’s mouth. He’s not sure if it bothers her. He thinks she’s probably compartmentalized the whole thing, shoved it somewhere deep, linked it to James’s sister’s death and locked it away under the fact that she and all of her friends are still alive. She might be able to see things that way. 

But Danny keeps thinking about Stiles and Lydia lifting mounds of dirt from the ground with magic, and the unceremonious way Erica shoved the twin’s body into the dark hole. It is an unmarked grave by necessity, of course, but Danny wants it to be marked somehow, at the very least, in his memory. 

He rests his phone against his mouth. 

“Hey.” Stiles pushes open the front door, warm light from the front hall falling over Danny’s back for a moment before Stiles lets it close behind him. “What’s going on?” 

“Do you know which twin Erica killed?” 

They haven’t really talked about it, any of them, and the words feel like Danny’s betraying a secret. But they did this, and if they can’t talk about it to each other—is it possible they’ll forget? In twenty years, call the summer a nightmare? Danny doesn’t want it to be unreal. He wants to always be absolutely aware of what he and his friends can do. 

Stiles sits beside him, warm all along his side, which is already sticky with sweat from the late summer humidity. He doesn’t move away, though. 

“I don’t know.” 

Danny nods. He unlocks his phone and, with Stiles watching, types a text to James. They haven’t talked since the day of the murders. Derek had said that they’d reached an alliance, but hadn’t told them details. Erica had asked Danny if he was going to delete James from his phone. Danny hadn’t even considered it. 

He and Stiles watch as Danny’s question is sent to James. 

“Why do you want to know?” Stiles rests his temple on Danny’s shoulder. 

“I don’t like not knowing.” 

“Okay,” Stiles accepts. 

They sit in the dark and wait for James to respond. 

It’s barely three a.m. when James’s text comes through. Ethan was with us. 

Danny deletes the message chain and stands. 

“Okay?” Stiles asks him. 

“Fine,” Danny tells him. “Everything’s fine.” 

They go back to bed. 

:::  

People look at them weird on the first day of school. Danny and Jackson lean against their lockers in the morning, and last year there would have been a crowd around them well before the first bell, but people are skirting them today, cutting across to the other side of the hall when they reach their group of lockers. 

Jackson sighs. “Fucking alphas. Fucking everything up even now.” His words are more of a growl than anything else, and Danny wants to tell him it might not just be the rumors surrounding them that are causing problems. But he’s only got one friend at the moment, apparently—one friend and a pack scattered throughout the school—so he’s not going to risk pissing him off. 

“They’ll get over it.” Danny shoulders his backpack. “They always do.” 

“Somehow I think rumors that we’re in a cult might be a little more difficult to get over than that time they caught you kissing Tanya’s boyfriend in the locker room.” Jackson shoves against Danny’s side as they start down the hall toward their first class. Not hard, though.

“It’s high school. Something more interesting is definitely going to happen someday.” 

Erica comes around the corner, flanked by Boyd and Isaac, and when they see Jackson and Danny their faces break into near-feral grins. “Boys,” Erica calls, grabbing Danny around the waist and changing direction to accompany him and Jackson. Isaac and Boyd nod but don’t turn, continuing down the hall toward the cafeteria. Danny can feel the rumors growing by the second. 

“So,” Erica says, swaying alongside them. “Are we all getting together tonight? Isaac says Derek lost a bet, and that he’s therefore contractually obligated to provide us with pizza for a week.” 

“What bet?” Danny asks. He’s staring straight ahead, trying to ignore the looks people are sending their way. 

“Doesn’t matter,” Jackson says, “I’m there. I’ll happily eat Derek’s pizza any day. Make sure he doesn’t only get cheese, though. That was so pathetic last time.” 

“I swear. That was Boyd’s oversight. Isaac’s already put in his requests.” Erica smacks a kiss against Danny’s cheek and whirls to go the other way.

Danny would be aggravated at the way the groups of people in the hall react to that, at the heightened sounds surrounding them, but he sees Scott and Stiles and Lydia standing against the bank of lockers where Allison is emptying her bag, and Stiles glances up and waves. 

“Hey, honey,” Lydia reaches for Jackson as soon as they’re close, presses a close-lipped kiss to his mouth. And then she says, voice clear and carrying, “So, are you guys ready to sacrifice some virgins tonight?” 

Jackson’s face goes red. Danny nearly chokes. 

Stiles, though. Stiles lets out a delighted laugh. “Hey, you know what’s great?” He wraps an arm around Danny’s side, pulls him in close and kisses his neck, right at his rabbiting pulse point. “I am no longer on the menu for the virgin sacrifices. Life is so awesome right now.” 

“We’d never have used you, anyway, Stilinski.” Allison swings her bag onto her shoulder and steps out into the traffic—most of which has paused around them, listening in on their conversation. “You have too many impure thoughts.” 

“Ah, I suppose I do.” 

Danny looks up into the crowd of students and catches Alec’s eye. Alec grins hesitantly at him. He shrugs, and Danny nods in return, and smiles, and maybe, with some luck, all of this can become not completely fucked up. 

With some luck, they can be normal high school students who sometimes moonlight as vigilantes. And Danny’s not totally okay with that, but he knows it’s better than the alternative. He throws an arm around Stiles’s shoulder, leads him down the hall toward their first class. Stiles fist bumps Scott when they pass him, and then he says into Danny’s ear, “So, I was thinking of skipping cross practice tonight?” 

Danny shoves him into a seat. “No way, asshole,” he says, “I didn’t spend this summer dragging you around town to have you slack off now.” 

“Fine,” Stiles whines. “Fine.” He kicks his foot across the aisle and rests the toe of his Converse against Danny’s ankle. Danny does not hear a word their teacher says the entire period, but it doesn’t matter in the least. It’s the first day; there’s time.