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with bloody feet across the hallowed ground

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If you could only see the beast you’ve made of me,
I held it in but now it seems you’ve set it running free.
The saints can’t help me now, the ropes have been unbound,
I hunt for you with bloody feet across the hallowed ground.

 

 


“Stiles, please.”

His grip on the gun barely wavered, hands steady. Firm. Holding the revolver pointed unflinchingly at its target, even as the plea drove a horrible shiver down the length of Stiles’ spine.

“Shut up,” he snapped, though his voice wasn’t nearly as steady as his hands.

“Stiles, think about this. You don’t want to do –”

“I said shut up!” Stiles yelled. He raised his arms just enough to pull the gun off-target, firing a warning shot that sailed over Derek’s shoulder and missed Scott’s outstretched hand by inches. The weapon was old and outdated, his grandfather’s service revolver, but outdated or not the wolfsbane packed into the bullet would still do the trick.

Scott watched the bullet hit a wooden pallet along the back wall, nostrils flaring white as he caught the scent of wolfsbane. A warning shot in more than one way.

“Stiles, listen to me,” Derek tried again. He took a step forward, a step closer to Stiles, who immediately redirected the gun back to its original target, squared dead center on Derek’s broad chest.

“No,” Stiles shook his head frantically. “No, Derek, no. Stop – stop talking, dammit.”

There were four exits from the main room of the warehouse they were in, and Stiles – Stiles had planned this to perfection. Stood at the perfect vantage point to view all four exits, all four possible escape routes. He checked each one systematically, under the guise of looking anywhere but at Derek or his pack. Three of the four were closed shut, sealed tight from the outside, he knew. One, two, three, all done. The fourth, nestled into the left corner of the far wall, had a shadowy mass of figures crowded in the hall behind it, barely visible in the dim light.

The pack, horrified, furious, focused entirely on the sight of Stiles training a gun solidly at their alpha’s chest, didn’t notice the newcomers.

“Stiles,” Derek said again. Stiles exhaled slowly, pulled his eyes away from the back door and looked up to meet Derek’s pleading stare instead.

He was making that face, the one Stiles hated more than any expression he’d ever encountered. The one that was wrecked and desperate, that always brought to mind that horrible night spent in the pool and the first time Stiles was subjected to Derek’s absolute worst gutted, miserable expression. He hated it, and the sight did nothing but strengthen his resolve, a line of steel up his backbone as he straightened to his fullest height and stared right back.

There were no last words. No more pleas, no more screaming. Just the sound of Stiles squeezing the trigger, the explosion of a second shot rocketing out of the revolver, and the hunters bursting through the open doorway just in time to see the bullet slam squarely into the center of Derek’s chest.

 

--- One Month Before ---

 

The joke of it was that they thought things were okay. They actually had the audacity to think they were okay, to think that enough shit had gone down for them to have earned some good karma for a few years. Hell, even a few months would have been fair, enough time for them to pick themselves back up, dust off the loss and the pain and the fight and let them heal.

Because the thing was, it was kind of calm there, for a little while. The worst of it, the business with the Alpha pack and the insanity with Morrell’s organization of lunatic supernatural law enforcement, was almost two full years behind them. The alpha pack, or what remained of them, hadn’t been seen or heard from since Scott sliced clean through Deucalion’s neck with a sword that no one was quite sure of the origin of. Morrell and her balance and order and supernatural things and the Hales have to pay the price they’ve cost the humans in Beacon Hills were overpowered with the surprising support of Dr. Deaton. Junior year had been hell on Earth for most of them, but somehow they’d done the impossible and survived.

Not intact, not completely, and not entirely unscathed. Scott, after a year of posturing like he was an alpha, took one good look at himself once he had real power and realized he wanted none of it. He readily submitted to Derek, bringing his ragtag group of human-pack along with him, and they became something good. Something a little broken, maybe, but also tight knit and fiercely loyal to each other, the kind of relationships that all of them had gone too long without.

A solid, tentatively friendly truce with the remaining Argents kept them safe from hunters. Allison had disappeared the summer after Gerard and the kanima, and the girl that returned to school in the fall was quieter, softer in some ways and harder in others, and fiercely determined to rebuild from the ground up. She and Scott spent six months becoming friends, somehow (because only Scott can find a way to form a deep emotional rapport with someone while under the constant, unrelenting threat of a pack of alpha werewolves out for his blood). She trained Lydia in self-defense until they were both confident and competent and ready to stand with a wolf pack; brought Stiles to her dad until he could say the same. Boyd and Isaac repaired their relationships with Derek, hardened them into something real instead of just instinctual. They were strong, they were good, and most importantly, they were okay.

Of course, because where Derek Hale is involved nice things can’t be had and everything has to go to shit in absolutely the worst way imaginable, the truce, and the safety and security that come with it, went straight to hell in a hand basket when Chris Argent got himself blown up in a fight against a coven of witches.

They had a month grace period. A month to pick Allison up and get her back on her feet, nineteen and alone and leaning desperately on her pack. A month for Stiles to mourn the loss of his mentor, for Scott to mourn the man who might as well have been his father-in-law. A month to lure themselves into a false sense of security, that maybe they’d paid their final cost, maybe they’d done enough to earn sanctuary.

When the hunters finally arrived, they did so with a vengeance. Allison reached through the fragile thread of networks barely still available to her, to find the price of the bounty on Beacon Hills set improbably high. The werewolves have enjoyed their run, the hunters said, the Argents no longer have a hold on the territory.

Even then, they fought. Pulled it together and fought with whatever was left in them, and then fought more. The faction of hunters that settled into the town had been there for three months, most of the pack’s first semesters at college, before the pack suffered their first major defeat.

A defeat that landed both Lydia and Sheriff Stilinski in the hospital.

And it was there, right there, that Stiles drew the line. Because he’d spent the last three years doing everything in his power to keep his father out of the fight. Even once the Sheriff had finally learned the truth, had opened his heart and his home to Derek’s pack like they were his own children and shamelessly and regularly lied to his department to keep suspicion away from anyone in the pack. Stiles had still done everything he could to keep his dad away from the violence and the guns and the claws. And none of that had stopped a hunter purposefully aiming a gun right at his badge and pulling the trigger.

Stiles had learned to suffer the loss of a lot more than he’d ever thought he could. Dealt with the death of Erica at the hands of the alpha pack, the lost opportunity of a friendship he’d never have the chance to explore. Watched the self-destruction within Lydia as she lost Jackson for the last time, first temporarily to a move halfway across the world, then permanently to a group of hunters who thought they’d cornered a rogue omega. Carried the weight of a death he still felt every time he practiced sparring with Derek or caught sight of Allison, caused by an explosion Stiles himself had planned and executed.

There were a lot of things Stiles had learned to suffer the loss of, but he would not, absolutely not, suffer the loss of his family.  

 

---

 

"Stiles!"

Stiles turned around slowly, reluctantly, stalling as long as possible in hope of finding some kind of escape route. The poor excuse for a quad, a spit of grass surrounded on three sides by parking lot and the fourth by a drab academic building, was full of people killing time before their next class started, but Stiles didn't recognize a single one of them.

Recognizing one wouldn't help, really. He'd put negative effort into making friends with anyone outside his pack last semester. He didn't think he'd even be able to name the girl he sat next to every other day in Intro to European Lit last semester, and they’d spent all of midterm week studying in the Beacon County library together.  

"Scott," he drawled finally, finishing his impossibly slow turn so he was face to face with his best friend. Scott looked relieved to have caught up with Stiles, like he'd thought maybe the last week of Stiles’ painfully strict avoidance of anyone and anything "pack" had been unintentional. Like he had no idea what was coming.

"What's up, man, I haven't seen you in days. Isaac says you haven't been around the loft at all this week, and Lydia said you didn't even visit her in the hospital. I thought your first round of papers weren't due for another few weeks?"

"They're not," Stiles answered. Coldly.

Scott frowned.

"Then what's the deal? Your dad's okay, right? I mean, okay being relative cause like, obviously he got shot, but my mom said all things considered it could have been so much worse. Was there something else? Shit, he's okay, right?"

Scott pressed forward a step, pushing into Stiles' personal space in a way that was second nature for them. Had always been second nature for them, both growing up as incredibly tactile boys, and was even more so once pack instincts had really started to kick in.

Stiles took a step back.

"He’ll be fine."

"Have you -" Scott's frown deepened as he took another step forward that was mirrored almost instantly by Stiles' half-step back. "Are you avoiding us? Are you avoiding me?"

"Avoiding isn't necessarily the right word," Stiles argued, taking another step back even as he raised his hands defensively. He could see Allison over Scott's shoulder, moving faster towards them as she got close enough to recognize what was quickly becoming a tense situation.

"You haven't gone this long without talking to me since junior year," Scott insisted. He narrowed his eyes, pinning Stiles still with a subtle flash of red in his irises. "When's the last time you saw Derek?"

"Why, is it your turn to play the 'my best friend is replacing me with an asshole' card, because I feel like the time for that has really come and gone." Stiles took another step backward and collided with something soft and sturdy, something that felt suspiciously like Allison in her favorite wool winter coat. Sure enough, he couldn't see her behind Scott anymore, and the fingers curling around his bicep were way too small to be a man's.

"You and Derek never go more than a day without talking," Allison pointed out, pressing forward hard enough that Stiles had no choice but to take a step back toward Scott. "Also, people are looking."

"Good," Stiles snapped, yanking his arm out of Allison's grip and side-stepping away from the couple. "Witnesses, that's nice."

"Witnesses for what? Stiles, what the hell is going on?"

"He's leaving," Allison said suddenly. "He's leaving leaving."

She lunged forward, always faster than Stiles, and grabbed his left arm again. Lower, this time, hand tight around his forearm as she raised it up high enough for Scott to see his bare wrist.

The leather cuff the pack had gotten him as a joke for his eighteenth birthday, the one with a metal plate inscribed with if found please return to Derek Hale on the surface, was missing for the first time in the year and a half since Stiles had delightedly pulled it out of the wrapping.

"You...what?"

Stiles pulled his arm free again, took another step away to put more space between them.

"I'm done with this," he insisted sharply. "Done. I was going to come by Friday night when everyone was at Derek's, tell you all then. I'm out. It's been fun, and by fun I mean the kind of horrifying, life-ruining shit even the writers of Supernatural would be reluctant to pull, but hey, same thing."

"Stiles," Allison said quietly, voice that special kind of soft she usually reserved for showing how extremely hurt she was, "that's not funny."

"He's not lying," Scott breathed disbelievingly. "I mean, he lied about coming over on Friday. But the rest of it..."

"My dad got shot," Stiles reminded them. "My dad’s been a cop for thirty years and has never so much as been fired at, and now a fucking warehouse full of assholes think they can just do whatever they want just because he's my dad, and they'll work whatever angle they can get."

"But he's fine," Allison countered soothingly, "Stiles, he'll be fine."

"Yeah, this time we got lucky," Stiles agreed harshly. "What about next time? What if Boyd isn't there to pull him back? What if they don't miss, next time?"

"If you leave Boyd definitely won't be there to pull him back," Scott pointed out.

"If I leave there won't be a next time!" Stiles yelled back. "That's the whole fucking point! If I leave I won't have to worry about whether or not my day's going to end in a trip to the emergency room, if I should've woken my dad before sneaking out because who knows if I'll make it home again."

"And you think leaving the pa-" Allison shot Scott a sharp look, eyes flicking sideways towards the growing interest in the crowd around them "- leaving will change that? You think you'll be happier?"

"Do I look happy now?" Stiles challenged. "Look at me, Scott. I gave up my future, I gave up Berkley, or Stanford, or fucking Yale, for what?" He threw his arms wide, gesturing the sorry-looking quad, the single building housing the entirety of Beacon County Community College. “What have I gotten out of this?” 

Allison opened her mouth as though she was actually going to answer, but Stiles steamrolled right over her.

"I've watched my best friend change into something I hardly recognize, risk not only his life but also mine for a girl, a fucking girl," a careless flick of his hand toward Allison, who looked more than a little insulted, "he barely knew. I've watched my friends die, watched Boyd drag back the bloody pieces that were left of Erica and Lydia lose what little mind she had left when Jackson got put down like a dog, and now my dad's been shot. It's all about to happen all over again, except this time it'll be me left behind. So tell me, Scott, do I look happy to you?"

"Don't lie to me," Scott snarled, even though he knew as well as Stiles did that there had been no trace of a lie in Stiles' heartbeat. "Don't you fucking lie."

"We're...we're supposed to be family," Allison whispered softly, not yet giving in to the loud volume Scott and Stiles had reached. "You and me and Scott, more than anyone. You're supposed to be my family."

Stiles closed his eyes. Allison knew him. Allison did it right the second time around - got to know Scott properly, got to know Stiles for real, as more than just her boyfriend's best friend. When Chris...when her dad...Stiles had promised.

"What about the rest of us?" Scott pushed desperately, latching onto Allison's lead like a lifeline. "Isaac'll be devastated, and Boyd will go back to that horrible void of a person he was after - and Lydia. Lydia wouldn't have made it through Jackson leaving, Jackson dying, without you."

"Derek," Allison added, like just the name itself was enough.

It was, because she knew him, because she watched Stiles flinch even as he shook his head. 

Derek,” Stiles repeated derisively. “You say it like it means something, like we’re together. I might’ve been his second, but that’s it, and that’s all it was ever going to be.”  

"Doesn’t matter," she insisted firmly. "Derek's going to lose his mind without you, Stiles. He's going to go crazy. He needs you."

"I think we all know," Stiles snorted, "I’ve always needed Derek a lot more than he ever needed me."

"Bullshit!" Scott roared, lunging forward. The front row of people crowded loosely around them shuffled backward nervously, like even they could tell how dangerous Scott was becoming, but for the first time yet Stiles held his ground. "Derek would cut himself in half if it meant saving your life, don't pretend for a second like that doesn't mean everything to you."

"My dad means everything to me," Stiles snapped back, "my family means everything to me. And if you know me half as well as you like to think you do you know that nothing gets away with threatening my family. I will not watch another person I love die, and if that means cutting ties with all of you, then that's what it takes."

Ringing silence followed Stiles' last shout, echoing through the cold, thin air of the icy January afternoon. Stiles dropped his arms, shoving his red hands in his pockets while still making sure to keep his chin up, not barring his throat to an alpha.

"So that's it?" Scott didn't sound defeated, not anymore. It was a challenge, issued in his voice and his stance and his eyes, and Stiles met each one with calm indifference.

"That's it."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that."

Scott's hands were clenched into fists at his sides, eyes narrowed like it would minimize the possibility of outsiders seeing the red glare flaring across his vision.

"You should leave," he ordered Stiles, "before I do something I might regret."

Stiles didn't bother looking back. 

 

 

--- Senior Year – Summer ---

 

“Ooookay,” Stiles drawled, clambering over Isaac’s legs. “No butter for the lovebirds, because Scott’s trying to retain his girlish figure,” he passed over one of the three bowls of popcorn cradled precariously in his arms, ignoring the way Scott glowered at him. “Kettle corn for the weirdos who seem to think popcorn is supposed to be a sweet snack,” handed the second bowl to Boyd, who settled it carefully on the couch cushion between him and Lydia, “and the super extra butter lover’s with an extra pinch of salt for the normal guys.”

He dropped down into his seat between Isaac and Derek without spilling a single kernel, propping his feet up next to Isaac’s on the ottoman and balancing the bowl on his thighs.

They had a ritual, their pack. Movie nights were sacred, as clockwork and as mandatory as full moons, and it was a ritual they had down to a perfect science. The snacks, the seating arrangements, even the movie selection narrowed down to a delicate system.

Fine, they didn’t at all. Movie nights were usually chaos, because nobody ever agreed on what they wanted to eat and nobody ever agreed on what movie they were watching, whose turn it was to pick. Derek tried to win by insisting it would be “whatever movie comes from Netflix that week, just deal with it.” Stiles hadn’t told him yet that he figured out Derek’s Netflix password three months ago and had been systematically manipulating the queued up DVDs since.

The seats, though. That part was for real, because they might as well take big fat Sharpies and write PROPERTY OF over each one of their favorite spots. Hell, the werewolf contingency probably already did the equivalent of, aggressively rubbing their scent into the particular cushions until no one but Derek could stand wedging themselves into the corner of the L shaped couch.

Whatever. Like Stiles was going to turn down an opportunity to test the limits of how much platonic touching he could impose on Derek before it got weird.

“So, what are we watching,” he mumbled, forcing the words out around a handful of popcorn.

Nobody answered.

“Someone did put the disc in, right?” Lydia asked finally, leveling each one systematically with a look that could make the strongest of men curl protectively over their dicks.

“Shot not,” Scott said quickly, pressing a fingertip to his nose. Stiles was barely a second behind, Isaac and Allison quick to follow, until only Derek was left with his face untouched, blinking around at them with a horrible scowl reminiscent of his old grumpywolf expressions even as he shoved himself upright.

“Watch the popcorn!” Isaac yelped, yanking the bowl away from Stiles and holding it protectively against his own chest. Derek snapped his teeth at him, playful enough that Isaac barely even rolled his eyes in response, and Stiles tried not to focus on the way Derek had braced his hand against Stiles’ thigh in order to push himself up off the couch.

“We’re watching…How to Train Your Dragon?” Derek frowned aggressively, for real this time, at the label on the white disc envelope. “I’ve definitely never heard of this.”

“Huh, wonder how that happened,” Stiles mumbled innocently.

Too innocently.

“Derek,” Lydia said slowly, “on a scale of ‘Allison,’ to a string of random letters and numbers, how secure is your Netflix account username and password?”

Stiles’ open-mouthed grin was so wide he accidentally caught three pieces of the kettle corn Boyd hurled at him directly in his mouth.

“Ew, gross,” he spat, scraping his tongue against his teeth like he could wipe off the taste. A second handful, almost immediately followed by a fistful of the plain, butter-free shit, left Stiles laughing, holding up his arms to defend himself from the sudden onslaught of popcorn.

“It took you guys weeks,” he yelled, laughing. “Weeks. I really thought all three Lord of the Ring movies in a row would be the deal-breaker – Dude!” Stiles batted away three pieces of kettle corn and got a face-full of butter-free in return, “Derek’s gonna be so mad when your gross popcorn gets ground all up into the nice sexy leather of his couch.”

Derek, who had been climbing his way back over Isaac’s legs towards his seat, barely even missed a beat. He bent low, scooped the bowl out of Isaac’s hands, and up-ended the entire butter-sticky contents onto Stiles’ head.

The sound of Stiles’ indignant squawking was drowned under the raucous hoots of laughter from the rest of the pack, but it was the sight of Derek’s quietly pleased look-I-did-a-thing face that made Stiles give up any attempts at protesting.

Well, verbally. It didn’t stop him from gathering up two enormous handfuls of popcorn from his lap, even as he joined in laughing, and tackling Derek backwards onto the ottoman. 

The shrieks that follow them were the good kind. Allison’s voice was laced with laughter as she shouted out helpful evasive maneuvers every time Derek almost had Stiles pinned, Lydia’s tone was light and playful when she told Derek to go for the jugular, and it was beautiful. They’d worked so hard for this, to even be allowed to have nights like this without the weight of guilt and fear hanging over them. Stiles would take getting his ass handed to him by Derek, finally pinned in the crack of space between the ottoman and the couch, Derek’s butter-greased fingers rubbing popcorn crumbs in Stiles face until he admitted defeat, he’d take it a thousand times over. Again and again and again, shamelessly trading in pride and mental sanity alike for the chance to hear his pack sounding whole and safe and happy like that.

(How to Train Your Dragon was a surprise hit. Scott definitely cried, Stiles suspected Lydia might have too, and Boyd quietly declared he’d read something about a sequel last year. Derek spent the night with his arm thrown over the back of the couch, still-greasy fingers brushing delicately against the back of Stiles’ neck, and Stiles let himself settle in the knowledge that there was nothing in the world he wouldn’t do for this pack.) 

 

--- One Month Before ---

 


Stiles parked his car in the most prominent spot outside the Beacon County Public Library, dumped his backpack full of books at a secluded table in the Dewey Decimal Numbers 550.0 – 621.10 aisle, and waited.

“Waiting for somebody?”

He looked up from his Gen Chem homework in time to watch the two hunters take their seats on the opposite side of the table from him, the loose, casual slump of their bodies belied by the sharp alertness of their eyes, the tension in their jaws.

“Oh good, you got my message,” Stiles responded, dropping his highlighter into the margin of his textbook. “I thought you might.”

The hunters exchanged careful looks, the silent communication apparent even though Stiles couldn’t read it, before turning back to him.

“We got that there was a message,” one of them said pointedly. “We haven’t decided yet if it’s worth our time.”

“You’re here, aren’t you?” Stiles snorted, raising an eyebrow.

“I have my money on it being a waste of time,” the other hunter sighed, his boredom a little too affected. Stiles had managed to gather a fair amount of intelligence on the organization of hunters invading Beacon Hills, enough to know that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern here were pretty much as bottom-tier as it was possible to be, essentially doing grunt work for their superiors. He hadn’t even bothered learning their names, focusing on frying the bigger fish, so frankly their opinion of him, or of the situation, hardly mattered.

“You’ve been here for almost four months,” Stiles reminded them, keeping his voice low and pointed. “Four months, and you’ve managed to take out exactly none of the Hale pack. They, on the other hand, have gotten what, six, seven hunters down already? I’m not sure how I could be the one wasting your time when you seem to be doing such a good job of that already on your own.”

The second hunter sneered at him, like that was supposed to intimidate someone who’d spent the last three years being snarled at by fanged, bloodthirsty werewolves. His companion shot him another look, blatantly scolding, before offering Stiles a bland smile.

“Forgive my co-worker,” he said smoothly. “We’re here because our superiors want to hear what you have to say, and because they’re concerned that if you’re serious about leaving Hale’s pack you might be in real danger of retribution. Our organization is ready to offer you protection.”

“Protection,” Stiles scoffed. “Last week you were shooting bullets at me.”

“We have no fight against humans,” the hunter responded. “Not ones that are smart enough to quit while they’re ahead.”

“Yes,” Stiles smiled coldly at them, pressing his forearms down onto the table as he leaned forward. “I’m familiar with your stance on fighting humans. You put two of mine in the hospital.”

“Collateral damage,” the second hunter snapped, ignoring the exasperated look from his friend.

“Which is why,” the first hunter cut in quickly, “you need our protection.”

“I think you have it backwards,” Stiles challenged, leaning even further in toward them. “I think it’s you that needs me. You need my help, you need my information. You want to take the Hale pack down once and for all, and I can help you, so no. I don’t need you. You need me.”

Even the skeptical hunter was paying attention now, sitting straighter up in his chair and eyeing Stiles with something that looked like begrudging interest.

“You’ve spent all this time helping them,” the first hunter argued. “Why should I believe you’re ready to help kill them now?”

“One thing I’ve learned about hunters,” Stiles offered back quietly, “is that a lot of the time they get into the life because something happens to their loved ones. You have any family left?”

The hunter nodded, and Stiles didn’t need the sudden tension in his shoulders to confirm his theory, but it didn’t hurt.

“What would you do if this one,” he jerked his chin at the second hunter, “rounded up whatever remains of your family and held a gun on them?”

“He’d have a bullet in his brain before he could even get his finger on the trigger,” the first hunter said instantly, unflinchingly.

Stiles nodded.

“Sure I’ve been helping them. Some of them were my friends, before they were bitten, and we’ve had enough dead teenagers in Beacon Hills to last a lifetime, so yeah, I helped. I’ve been helping them for years, and all I got in return was a gun turned on my dad.”

The two hunters still didn’t look like they were following, and Stiles’ only solace for ever considering these hunters challenging was that these two were, at least, the bottom of the barrel.

“I will do anything to keep my dad safe,” Stiles told them firmly. “Anything. Derek Hale brought down a deadly force on Beacon Hills and let my dad walk right into it.”

He smirked at them, a sharp, toothy thing he’d learned from the very alpha in question.

“I’m going to put a bullet in him myself.”

 


--- Senior Year – Witches ---

 

 

”So here’s what I’m thinking,” Stiles jumped in, worming his way through the tight space between Derek and Chris. Derek stepped back easily, making room for Stiles in front of the table, and handed him an out-of-reach Sharpie without needing to be asked. “We know for sure they’re here,” he drew a circle around the building they’d identified as the witches’ hideout. It wasn’t much more than a condemned shack in the bad part of downtown, not far from the abandoned train depot Derek had once used, appealing for its secluded location more than its aesthetic value.

“What’s the layout of the neighborhood like?” Chris asked, frowning at the surrounding buildings. Most of them were abandoned, Stiles knew that from surveillance he’d bullied Scott and Isaac into doing before they called this meeting, but he turned to Derek for his input anyway.

“There used to be a pretty regular homeless population around here,” Derek pointed at an alleyway about a block from the building, “and another here. Isaac checked them both out though, said they looked like they’ve been abandoned for a while.”

“You think the coven scared them out?” Stiles frowned, stretching across the table for a post it note and scribbling frtrs of sol. – chk radius of no ppl. on the top page before peeling it off and slapping it to a corner of the map. “Do they have spells that could do something like that? You know, Notice-Me-Not spells or wards that make you suddenly remember urgent business on the other side of town?”  

“Are you comparing Beacon Hills to the Quidditch World Cup?” Derek asked wryly, quirking an eyebrow at him. It was the face he made when he was trying to hide his amusement, a face Stiles saw quite a bit of, and it did nothing so much as made Stiles want to pat his cheeks fondly and smirk.

“I’ll never get over the fact that you get those references,” he sighed instead, nudging his shoulder lightly against Derek’s. “But yeah, basically.”

“I don’t think they’re quite as specific as that,” Chris interjected. He hid his amusement much better than Derek ever did, but Stiles had watched Harry Potter movies at Allison’s before, he’d seen the way Chris lurked in the doorway through the entire Battle of Hogwarts. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if they had a hand in clearing the area.”

“Well, better for us,” Stiles shrugged, dragging the attention back to his map with a firm tap of his Sharpie against the paper. “Because I’d rather there not be any collateral damage when we blow the place up.”

Nobody reacted to that. Stiles hadn’t necessarily expected shocked exclamations, hands demurely draped over hearts with wide-eyed, appalled expressions, but still. Neither man even blinked more than necessary, just pinned Stiles with oddly matching looks demanding further explanation.

“Deaton’s confirmed for us that, while we don’t know what exactly they’re doing, they’re doing something. They’re here working on a ritual, something long term that takes time and phases of the moon and constant maintenance and all that kind of bullshit. We don’t know what their end game is, but they’ve proven themselves pretty ruthlessly Machiavellian in their efforts thus far so I’m really not expecting it to be anything good.”

“And blowing up the building is the only way to stop the ritual?” Chris sounded skeptical, though not entirely opposed, and Stiles could work with that.

“Not necessarily the only way, but definitely the one guaranteed to work the best. The way to stop the ritual is to permanently disturb the structure maintaining the spell, and we have no way of knowing what kind of wards they have up around it, what we need to break through and whether or not getting through them will hurt us. Blowing the building will almost definitely send debris collapsing on top of the ritual structure though, and there aren’t many wards strong enough to protect from an entire roof collapsing in on it.” Stiles answered. He and Deaton and Lydia had gone over this extensively after Scott and Isaac had come back from their first sweep, sending them back three separate times to look into different angles one of them wanted more information about.

“Even if blowing up the building is the best option for taking care of the ritual,” Derek interjected, eyebrows furrowed as he skimmed over some of the notes Stiles had scribbled across sections of the map, “how does that deal with the coven itself?

The smile Stiles gave him in response was cold and sharp, more of an aggressive baring of his teeth than an actual smile. “Easy,” he shrugged. “They’ll be in the building.”

He felt Derek tense up next to him, body gone rigid and still, and he knew that was coming. Knew this was the hardest part of the plan, the biggest roadblock in selling it. It had been Lydia’s idea, tacked onto the tail end of Stiles’ suggestion they use explosives to wipe out the ritual, and he’d known immediately where she’d gotten it from.

“It’s not –” he started quietly, turning into Derek carefully. Chris took a step back, giving Stiles room to move into Derek’s space, to put a hand on his arm and squeeze until Derek looked up to meet his eyes. “This is Plan B. Plan A is open negotiation, we already agreed on that, which means if it comes to this they’ve been fairly warned. It’s nothing like – Derek, they deserve this.”

“Do they?” Chris asked carefully. His tone wasn’t one of disagreement, nor challenge – more like Devil’s Advocate, asking the question that needed to be asked, even if no one wanted to.

“You saw what they did to Peter,” Stiles turned back, leveling his gaze squarely with Chris’.  

What they’d found of Peter’s body had only been identifiable because Derek, for reasons Stiles still shuddered to think about, was familiar with the scent of charbroiled flesh and bone on his uncle. The pieces they’d found were ruined beyond recognition to the naked eye, burnt through by magic and fire alike, and Deaton was fairly convinced it was a torture the coven had dragged out over five days, testing the limits of Peter’s revived body and studying the results of his makeshift necromancy on top of whatever they needed him for.

Since Scott was turned Stiles had watched men be cut in half and had their heads ripped off, had witnessed a man crushed under the weight of a car lift and his own Jeep, saw Derek beat someone’s skull in with a barbell, had personally helped set Peter on fire. None of that had prepared him for the gut-wrenching feeling of seeing Peter’s charred limbs scattered across Deaton’s exam table, to stare at the remnants of fingers he’d watched clatter across his laptop a thousand times as Deaton systematically listed the spells he believed Peter had been subjected to.

Stiles had never fully forgiven Peter. Peter was responsible for a laundry list of grievances, had caused life-altering damage to at least three of the people Stiles loved most in the world, and no matter why he’d done it or what he’d done since, Stiles was never, ever going to be able to fully forgive him. He and Peter, though, loathe as he once was to admit it, made a pretty solid team. They were the researchers, the information, Stiles’ fingers flying over his keyboard as Peter took notes from the books and journals the two of them had managed to collect over the years, some filled with handwritten information from Peter’s own memories.

Stiles was never going to forgive Peter for biting Scott, for toying with Lydia’s mind, for taking Laura away from Derek, but he couldn’t help the grudging respect he had for the man. He’d somehow become the family member everybody loved to hate, appreciated in his own twisted way, and the witches had taken that from them.

“Do you disagree?”

He’d meant the question for Chris, the adult in the room who should, realistically, be the one to protest the execution of five men and women at the hands of a werewolf pack. Stiles still wasn’t sure where witches fell in the categories of the hunter guidelines, where along the spectrum of “innocent” to “kill on sight” they lived, and what he was proposing was extreme.

Chris looked over Stiles’ shoulder at Derek though, who seemed surprised. He glanced at Stiles, studying his face carefully, before nudging him gently out of the way so he could step back up to Chris again.

“This is your area of expertise more than it is mine,” Derek said finally. “We’ll do what you think is right. Besides,” his voice turned cold, eyes narrowing. “They came into my territory and killed a member of my pack, the last remaining blood relative I have. I’m a little biased, I think, I shouldn’t be responsible for deciding their fate.”

Stiles smiled at him, small and reassuring, and felt the soft brush of Derek’s fingertips against his wrist in acknowledgment. It was an answer that Derek two years ago wouldn’t even have considered, wouldn’t even have been capable of, and the appraising look Chris leveled on both of them meant that he’d noticed it too.

“Good,” Chris nodded, turning his attention back to Stiles. “Negotiation should always be the first option. We’ll try talking to them, send representatives to approach them on neutral ground.”

“Lydia,” Stiles replied, because Lydia’s status as a human in a werewolf pack made her less of a threat but still intimidating, even without throwing her formidable personality into the mix. She’d stood as their negotiator before, when Derek was unwilling to send Stiles, his second in command, into a delicate situation, and she’d always been good at it.

“And Allison,” Chris agreed. “Both human, less threatening than a werewolf as far as witches are concerned, and representing both the pack and the hunters that lay claim to this territory.”

Stiles glanced at Derek, who nodded his consent, before adding his own confirmation.

“And if the negotiations fail?” Derek asked quietly, looking down at Stiles’ mess of paperwork still spread across the table between them.

Chris looked down too, eyes lingering on the map showing the coven’s hideout, the red squares marking out the spaces Stiles wanted to lay the charges.

He flicked his gaze up again, staring back and forth between Stiles and Derek, a calculating smirk that still never failed to give Stiles chills lifting the corner of his lips.

“Then we blow them to hell.”

 

 

--- Four Weeks Before ---

 


Stiles wasn’t remotely surprised to find Isaac and Boyd waiting by his car after his Tuesday evening class. It’d been four days since his blowout with Scott on the quad – just enough time for the rest of the pack to hear about it and realize that Stiles meant it. He’d never stayed away for longer than a weekend before, and here he was pushing almost a week and a half.

What was surprising was the look on Isaac’s face. Stiles had expected Isaac to be hurt or upset or confused, but the Isaac in front of him was nothing. He was staring at Stiles like he was looking through him, face blank, eyes expressionless, and it was Boyd who looked gutted.

“I’m sorry about your dad,” he blurted out, the second Stiles was close enough to hear. “I’m sorry. If I’d gotten there faster, if I’d pulled him back just a little further…”

“Then he wouldn’t be dosed up with pain meds and lined up for physical therapy for the foreseeable future,” Stiles agreed coldly. He didn’t placate, didn’t point out that the outcome would have been much, much worse if Boyd hadn’t gotten there at all. Boyd looked stricken, guilty and uncomfortable, and Stiles took no pity on him.

“How is he?”

The pack loved Sheriff Stilinski. They’d been at the tail end of the alpha pack shitstorm when he’d finally put all the pieces together, years of experience as a detective and living with a son like Stiles adding up to the unbelievable yet irrefutable truth of werewolves in Beacon Hills. He’d been angry at Stiles for keeping it a secret, upset and concerned about his son’s involvement in something so incredibly dangerous, but he, much like Stiles, had been an incredible asset. More importantly, he and Melissa McCall took the pack in like they were extensions of their own children, opening their homes to the fragile pack struggling to make something of themselves, and none of them would ever forget that.

“Alive,” Stiles responded shortly.

Boyd nodded silently, lips pressed together in a thin line. Isaac was still suspiciously blank next to him, eyes trained on Stiles’ face like he was trying to read the minutia of Stiles’ expression during his interaction with Boyd, and he barely flinched when Stiles turned a raised eyebrow toward him.

“Anything else?” he snapped, looking back to Boyd. Stiles knew they weren’t just there to ask about his dad, knew they’d both checked up on the sheriff on their own time and well before now, but he wasn’t going to stand around a dark parking lot and wait for them to get to the point. That wasn’t his job anymore.

“We want to hear it from you,” Isaac said.

Stiles had heard a lot from Isaac in the last few years. He’d heard Isaac intimidated and withdrawn, cowed and sullen, aggressive and violent. He’d heard Isaac screaming his throat hoarse, whimpering and crying, snarling through fangs and growling with gold eyes.

He’d never heard Isaac like this, voice flat and unaffected, reminiscent of Derek in the days before they were a pack, when Derek used a careful mix of apathy and exasperation to hide his desperation. It didn’t sit well on Isaac, didn’t fit the personality he’d grown into since settling into himself, and it made Stiles bite back more than one response.

“Hear what?” he asked finally.

“Hear you tell us you’re leaving,” Boyd answered quietly. “Hear you tell us you’re abandoning us, and why.”

“I already had this conversation with Scott and Allison,” Stiles reminded them, because there was no doubt in his mind that their argument had been hashed out in vivid, explicit detail with the entire pack over the weekend. “I’m sure you’ve already heard it.”

“We want to hear it from you,” Isaac repeated firmly. “I want you to look me in the eye and tell me to my face that you’re leaving us.”

Stiles didn’t hesitate. He squared his shoulders, turned his head fully to look Isaac head on, unflinching, and met his slate blue eyes.

“I’m leaving,” he said. He turned to Boyd and did the same, tilted his chin up the few inches Boyd had on him, leveled his stare, said it again. “I’m leaving.”

“Why?” Isaac intoned flatly. If he had a reaction it didn’t show on his face – none of this was anything like the Isaac Stiles had come to know, friendly and open. Then again, he supposed they could probably say the same about him, though Stiles had never made any effort to pretend to be anything other than an asshole.

“My family is in danger because of what you are,” Stiles answered. “Because of my involvement with you. My dad almost got shot for no reason, by someone whose only gripe with me is that I was willing to help you.”

“You think they’ll leave you alone? You think you’ll be safe?” Boyd argued, shaking his head. “You know what happens to omegas.”

Boyd knows what happens to omegas. He nearly was one, crawling back from four months with the alpha pack, from Erica’s death, angry with the world and determined to have nothing to do with them. He looked haunted by the very memory of those months, before Isaac and Stiles talked the sanity back into him, before he and Lydia became inseparable.

But he forgot, maybe, that no matter what Stiles was, he would never be an omega.

“I know I’ll be safe. And I’m not a werewolf,” he hissed, raising an eyebrow at Boyd. “No magical lunacy in my future.”

“But we’re pack,” Isaac interjected, cutting off Boyd’s response. “This is your pack.”

“This is my family,” Stiles cut back. “I know you don’t have much of that, but try to remember what it’s like.”

Isaac visibly recoiled, stumbling back a step as if Stiles had physically struck him. Even Boyd was staring wide-eyed at him, like he hadn’t believed Stiles would go there, like the dawning realization that Stiles meant it was finally sinking in.

“Is that enough of a why for you?” he snarled, leaning forward just enough to eliminate the space Isaac had just put between them. Isaac was still surprisingly stone-faced despite his reflexive recoil, eyes still calculating and searching Stiles’ expression.

He finally nodded, lips pressed together, face pale. Stiles nodded too, firmly, decisively, before pulling back and straightening upright, stepping out of Isaac’s space again.

“I’m leaving, then,” he shrugged. He turned his back on them, taking half a step forward, around the bumper to the driver’s side of his Jeep, when he felt a warm hand clamp down over his shoulder, fingers curled just tight enough to hold him still without hurting him.

Stiles moved without hesitating. He bent his knees, dropped his shoulder back, wrapped one hand tight around Boyd’s forearm and another around the back of his neck. Before Boyd could move, before he could even pull back from Stiles’ hold, Stiles tipped him forward, flipping him solidly over one shoulder to land hard on his back, sprawled on the asphalt in front of Stiles.

Nobody moved. He stared down at Boyd, flat on his back and staring up at Stiles with a stunned expression. Even Isaac’s carefully schooled blankness had cracked, shock and concern widening his eyes and tightening his jaw.

“I’m leaving,” Stiles said again, glancing up from Boyd to level Isaac with a flat, pointed look. “Now. And if you two aren’t gone by the time I get in my Jeep and get the engine started, I won’t hesitate to run you over.”

He left them there, both still frozen, still staring at him, and didn’t spare a glance before pulling his Jeep into reverse and speeding out of the empty lot.

 


---

Now there’s no holding back, I’m making to attack
My blood is singing with your voice, I want to pour it out.
The saints can’t help me now, the ropes have been unbound
I hunt for you with bloody feet across the hallowed ground
.

---

 

---   Junior Year – The Alpha Pack   ---

 

Scott managed real alpha status for a week. Admittedly, it happened to be a week with a full moon, which was probably like combining a Red Bull and a Five Hour Energy for the ultimate power up (bad idea, for the record. Baaad idea). Still, he lasted a week before he called Stiles, desperate and panicky even over the phone.

“I need to ask you something really important,” Scott had said, and Stiles knew in a second that this wasn’t one of those ‘which would I rather have right now, Hot Pockets or Oreos,’ important questions.

It wasn’t. It was one of those ‘tell the honest to God truth, is keeping the packs separate worth it or should we seriously explore the option of merging because I don’t think I can handle this, Stiles, I can’t,’ important questions.

So Stiles called Derek. And Derek called his pack. And there they were, standing in the clearing outside the burned out husk of the Hale house, which they were still using as some kind of horrible rendezvous point, with Scott on his knees in front of Derek.

“It’s possible,” Peter insisted, and even though nothing would ever fully redeem him, Stiles had never liked him more than he did right now, throwing in his full support behind Scott. “Obviously it’s possible, we just saw a whole pack of alphas. If Scott really, genuinely submits to you as his alpha there shouldn’t be any reason why he wouldn’t be able to function as just a slightly souped-up beta.”

“That’s what Deaton thought too,” Scott added desperately. “And it’s…Derek, I can’t. I want to bite people all the time, I want to bite Stiles, my mom, Allison. I want to bite Lydia, even though I’m completely, one hundred percent aware that it won’t work, I want to do it anyway. I can feel it everywhere, under my skin like I’m seconds away from shifting, like if someone breathes on me I’m going to snap, and I can’t. I don’t want this.”

Derek looked thoughtful. Not opposed, which was a hell of a lot more than Stiles had expected from him, but definitely considering.

“Derek, please.”

Finally, blessedly, Derek nodded. Except –

“Wait,” Stiles called out, before he could stop himself. Both of them – okay, all of them, Derek and Peter and Scott and Boyd and Isaac and Lydia and Allison, all of them, turned and stared at him like he’d answered the rhetorical speak now or forever hold your peace at a wedding.

“Stop it, I’m not trying to steal your bride,” Stiles grumbled, waving his hands dismissively. “I just want to make sure we’re clear on the fact that you’re letting Scott submit, sure, but Scott’s not an omega.”

“Did you miss that entire sale pitch there, because I think that was kind of the point.”

“Thanks for that, Vernon, but what I meant was,” Stiles gestured around him, right to Lydia, left to Allison, a long flourishing sweep of his own body, “Scott comes with attachments. Specifically an Allison attachment, a Lydia attachment, and most importantly, a Stiles attachment, and I just want everybody to be perfectly clear on that.”

Derek looked at Boyd, first, who just shrugged. Isaac, who grinned shamelessly at Stiles even as he nodded. Even Peter, who rolled his eyes with almost as much dramatic gusto as Stiles.

“I’ve been trying to recruit Stiles and Lydia for what feels like years now, obviously I’m all for it,” he reminded them, flashing his teeth at Lydia. Stiles rescinded any previous thoughts about being grateful for Peter’s presence.

“And you three?” Derek asked, ignoring Peter and looking back towards the three humans.

“If you’ll have me,” Allison answered quietly.

“Allison’s taught me five different ways to incapacitate a man with my bare hands,” Lydia said sweetly, smiling coldly back at Peter. “I’m really looking forward to the chance to test them on a werewolf.”

Derek looked at Stiles last, gaze steady, but Stiles had seen the shift in his stance. A tighter line across his broad shoulders, a slight clench to his jaw, fingers tensing against his thigh. He was nervous, Stiles realized, and it occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, Derek was nervous because he was afraid Stiles would say no.

Like Stiles was important enough that Derek wanted him in his pack too.

Stiles looked around the clearing. Looked at all of them, took them in, and for just a second there, he saw it. Saw what they had the potential for, what he thought maybe they could do together, could do for each other, as a pack.

“Yeah,” he nodded, looking back at Derek again. “Yeah, of course. Hale Pack, assemble.”

When Derek threw his head back and howled, joined seconds later by an echoing chorus of Peter, Isaac, Boyd, and Scott, it was the first time ever the sound didn’t send a shiver of fear down the length of Stiles’ spine.

 

--- Three Weeks Before ---

 

Writing a paper on Heart of Darkness was supposed to be easy. It was supposed to be a breezy A for a class he didn’t really need, an English pre-req just in case he ever wanted to take something more advanced in later years. Heart of Darkness, he figured, was one of those books he’d never forget, branded in his memory along with everything else that was his junior year of high school.

Besides, the essay prompt had offered the opportunity to write about Apocalypse Now in conjunction with Heart of Darkness, and the novelty of being expressly permitted to watch a movie adaptation of a book and still call it ‘homework’ hadn’t worn off yet.

He just…he couldn’t stop hearing it. Sitting alone in a nearly deserted diner, his laptop and a cold cup of coffee in front of him, a lone waitress and a trucker just slightly too far off the beaten path at the counter. It was supposed to be easy, but he just couldn’t stop hearing Brando’s voice hissing in his ear. I’ve seen horrors. Horror has a face…and you must make a friend of horror.

The horror…


Stiles didn’t jump when he looked up just in time to see three men sliding into the opposite side of his booth, but he did admit a small, relieved sigh at the excuse to smack the save button and tear his eyes away from the endlessly blank word document.

“Now?” he sighed, staring at the hunters over the edge of his laptop. “This paper’s due in like, six hours.”

“Take it or leave it,” the man in the middle shrugged. Stiles rolled his eyes even as he slammed his laptop shut, shoving it to the side before turning his attention back to the three men in front of him.

He knew them. Had actually managed to identify all three of them, back when that was still a priority of his. Miller, Young, and Bayer, all independent hunters before they’d joined the organized attack on Beacon Hills. None of them were the head, head honcho, the alpha of the pack, if you will, but they were high enough up on the food chain that Stiles was willing to talk.

“Fine,” he drummed his fingers against the tabletop, raised an eyebrow at Miller sitting directly across from him. “How can I help you?”

“I thought that was your whole point,” Bayer said from Miller’s left. “That we need your help.”

“So what,” Stiles snorted, “you’re going to ambush me at a diner at two in the morning and hope I’m prepared enough to give a sales pitch?”

“Are you not?”

“Of course I am.” He turned to the backpack on the bench next to him, shuffling through three folders and a spiral notebook before finding what he was looking for. He yanked the unmarked folder free and slid the topmost piece of paper out, slapping it down on the table between them.

All three hunters leaned forward, looking nonplussed at the sight of the scaled down building schematics presented before them.

“What’s this supposed to be?” Miller asked finally, glancing back up at Stiles.

“An abandoned warehouse in the industrial district on the outskirts of town,” he shrugged. “Specifically one the Hale pack has used in the past, both as a hideout and for training.”

Young, who amusingly actually was the youngest of the three, who couldn’t have been all that much older than Stiles, gave him a sassy little sneer that didn’t need any words to make its point. It set Stiles’ teeth on edge, hooked in his mind as something uncomfortably familiar.

“You’re simultaneously underestimating them and overestimating them,” he sighed, because impatient assholes know nothing about dramatic delivery. “For the most part you’ve been going after members of the pack one at a time, with only a few men, underestimating the rest of the pack’s reaction time in coming to the rescue. This pack has been under near constant attack literally since the day it was formed, you’re not going to have any luck like this.”

“This is brand new information,” Bayer mumbled sarcastically. Stiles ignored him.

“What you’re overestimating is their ability to overpower all of you at the same time. The only time you’ve ever orchestrated a concentrated assault, using a good chunk of men aimed towards multiple members of the pack, was the only time you’ve successfully managed to actually land a successful blow.”

“We put two humans in the hospital,” Miller reminded him. As if Stiles needed the reminder. As if Stiles wasn’t abundantly clear on what had happened that night. “That’s not exactly a victory for anyone.”

“You’re an idiot if you think that,” Stiles said flatly.

“We know the sheriff’s not really pack,” Bayer butted in, “so that doesn’t really do anything. And what the hell’s that little girl gonna do?”

“Lydia might not look it, but she’s a force to be reckoned with all the same. Benching her for a while might not have won the battle for you, but it’s definitely not going to hurt,” Stiles snapped. Being protective of Lydia, defending Lydia, that was a character trait he was probably never going to shake. Besides, these men really were idiots if they underestimated her. “But you’re missing the bigger victory here.”

All three men stared blankly at him, and if Stiles rolled his eyes any more he was going to give himself a headache.

Me, asshats. You took out Hale’s second in command.”

And for the first time since they sat down the three hunters looked genuinely interested in listening to him. Stiles grinned, razor sharp, and watched the realization slowly dawn on them.

“So, this warehouse,” Bayer nodded at the schematics on the table. “What about it?”

“I told you. Your best bet for taking out the Hale pack is to hit the whole pack in one fell swoop, using the entire force at your disposal. Trap them all in a warehouse, together, with no one on the outside who can break in and help them out in time, and open fire, literally or figuratively.”

Miller and Bayer exchanged looks, and Stiles knew they were starting to get it. Maybe not his involvement, maybe not the whole picture, but the unmasked interest on their faces was a guarantee that it was sinking in slowly.

Young, on the other hand, didn’t look so sure. “And you’ve conveniently picked a place for us. How do we know you’re not setting up your own ambush, that we’re not going to get there and find ourselves caught in our own trap?”

“Because I’m telling you the place now, which means you guys have the next few weeks to scour it from top to bottom, set up your own surveillance or recon or security or whatever, wire the place from floor to ceiling, whatever you want,” Stiles snapped back.

“But what’s stopping us from just taking your idea, finding our own location, and setting a trap for tomorrow night?” Young argued.

Stiles sneered at him. “And how, exactly, are you planning on getting them there?”

Even Miller and Bayer turned expectantly toward Young, eyebrows raised like they were only too happy to hear a suggestion. The hunter narrowed his eyes even as his face flushed, giving Stiles a sour look before wordlessly gesturing for him to continue.

“Me,” he supplied. “I’m how you’re planning on getting them there. When you guys are ready I call Derek. Tell him I want to talk to the pack, all of them together, but I want to do it somewhere neutral. The warehouse is a good neutral ground because it suits your purposes and the pack has history there, so no one will question why I picked there of all places.”

“And they’ll buy that?” Bayer frowned.

“They trust me,” Stiles smirked at him.

“So then why should we?” Miller pointed out.

“Have you always been a hunter?” Stiles responded. He wasn’t above using the same tactic twice, especially if it worked the first time, and Miller didn’t know it was a recycled trick anyway.  He just shook his head, and Stiles nodded. “What got you involved?”

“An omega bit my daughter,” Miller grunted. “Was enough of a lunatic at that point that he thought he had the power to turn her, thought he could make his own pack.”

Stiles nodded encouragingly. “But before that, then, did you have any particularly vitriolic hatred towards the supernatural?”

Bayer snorted, Miller only shook his head again.

“Running with a pack was…interesting. High school was boring, the adrenaline rush of being involved in some super secret world hidden in the dark, feeling like the hero in next summer’s action thriller. It had its appeal.” Stiles shrugged, feigned nonchalance, before narrowing in on direct eye contact with Miller again. “I’m not an idiot. I’m not one of those kids who needs to get burned over and over again before they learn not to touch the stove. My dad got lucky this time, I’m not about to stick around and tempt fate. Playing with fire was fun for a while, but only until someone got burned. Now it’s time to put the fire out.”

He wasn’t sure if it worked. Miller looked thoughtful more than anything else, Bayer side-eyeing him speculatively. Young…Young just looked guilty, shifty-eyed and avoided Stiles’ gaze.

“So let’s say we do it,” Bayer says finally. “Let’s say we buy into your plan, set a trap in the warehouse, let you lure them in. Even with our full force, how do you expect us to overpower a pack of werewolves?”

“You know the idea ‘cut off the head and the body will die?’” Stiles asked. Bayer nodded, and Young sat up straighter, finally turning back to look at Stiles.

“You told Keegan you were going to shoot Hale,” he said sharply. Stiles only smirked in response, waiting for a reaction from the other two.

“That…could work,” Miller admitted carefully. “I’ve seen what happens to betas when their alpha dies. It disorients them, not for long but still long enough for us to make a move.”

“What about McCall?” Bayer frowned, shaking his head. “He’s an alpha too, won’t the other two just rally to him?”

“Scott?” Stiles snorted derisively. “Scott will be so shocked that his best friend just killed his alpha, you’ll have plenty of time to get the jump on him. Just make sure he’s the primary target after Derek goes down. Once Derek’s out, and once you take care of Scott, Isaac and Boyd will be cake. It’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel.”

A long moment of silence followed – Miller and Bayer had a conversation that seemed to consist mostly of telepathy and eyebrows, Young dragged the warehouse blue prints closer to him. Stiles waited as patiently as he knew how, settling back against the worn plastic of the booth and fingering the bare skin of his left wrist, nails scratching at nothing.

“Obviously, we have to take this back to HQ, talk this over.” Miller cleared his throat, finally looking back over at Stiles. Stiles nodded, fumbling for the folder still in his lap.

“Yeah, sure. There’s a more detailed outline and a few more schematics and plans and shit in there, and my cell phone number,” he handed the folder to Young. “So, you know, you guys can stop stalking me in semi-public places. Or if you have any more questions.”

“I just have one,” Bayer cut in. He waited until Stiles was looking at him, until they were firmly eye to eye, before asking. “I just want you to look me in the eye and tell me that you, beyond any shred of doubt, believe you’re capable of shooting Derek Hale.”

Stiles didn’t smirk. He didn’t shrug or roll his eyes or laugh. He looked right back at Bayer, eyes cold, face set.

“Derek Hale ruined my life,” he said flatly. “Not only am I going to shoot him, but I’m going to enjoy it.”

“Good,” Bayer smirked, giving Stiles a satisfied nod as he leaned back again. “We’ll be in touch.”

 

 

--- Junior Year – Morrell ---

 


There’s an old episode of Scooby Doo (or maybe a movie, they all blend together, really), something to do with Red Beard and pirate ships, and the gang is out on a boat one night with fog so thick Scooby cut through it with a knife. He probably ate it or something, sliced himself a big ole’ piece of fog pie and took a bite, but the part Stiles remembered so vividly was the dinner knife sawing through thick, dense fog and the way nine-year-old him suddenly understood the phrase “you could cut the tension with a knife.”

It was that kind of tension, there in the woods behind what was left of the Hale house, choking up the air between them. The kind of tension you could see weighing heavily, vibrating through tightly clenched fists and hair triggers, pressing on shoulders and brows.

Chris Argent stood at a folding table he’d dragged from the back of his SUV, systematically lining up a variety of weapons from his personal stash, a wide range from crossbows to handguns to knives. He moved carefully, precisely, like he was only too aware of the laser focus on Derek’s eyes watching his every move, just waiting for Chris to turn on him.

It was supposed to be defense training for the humans. Morrell and her merry band of psychos were human, for the most part, and were overflowing with knowledge of how to incapacitate werewolves. They couldn’t afford to depend on the werewolves to be able to defend their delicate new pack, even two alphas, a life-long beta, and Isaac and Boyd firmly settled into their wolf’s skin. No, the humans needed to be just as capable, just as prepared to defend themselves, defend their pack, and somehow Scott and Allison had convinced Chris to be the one to do it. It had even seemed like a good idea at the time, the way Scott had carefully painted it to the rest of the pack, and Stiles had almost been looking forward to it.

Except Derek, he should have realized, would be twelve different kinds of on edge with Chris Argent anywhere near him, and his tension was rubbing off on them. Allison’s fingers kept twitching over the crossbow on the table, her eyes never moving away from Derek’s death glare at her dad. Scott, who’d insisted on being there to mediate between the Argents and Derek, kept trying to edge his way between them, a barrier between Derek and Allison should the tension finally snap.

At least Lydia was making an almost believable effort at indifference. She stood next to Stiles with her arms crossed over her chest, fiddling absently with the curled end of the long braid she’d tied her hair back in, but Stiles saw through that too. Her free hand was clenched in a fist against her ribs, brown eyes jumping back and forth from person to person, and he could feel the line of tension coiling through her, her fight or flight response a hair’s breadth away from being triggered.

“So what’s on the table here?” Stiles asked loudly, finally shattered the heavy silence for the first time since Chris and Allison had arrived. Everyone startled a little, like they’d forgotten he was there, and it took more effort than it was worth to stop himself from rolling his eyes.

Chris was the first to recover, looking down at the table in front of him before turning back up to Stiles with a raised eyebrow. His expression made it clear he was second guessing letting Stiles anywhere near a weapon, so Stiles didn’t bother controlling his heavy eye roll.

“I don’t mean literally,” he griped, flinging one hand in a sweep gesture over the contents of the table. “I think it’s pretty obvious what’s on the table. I mean what are we doing with what’s there?”

Nobody looked like they knew how to answer, or like they knew what he was asking, really, and honestly. Stiles understood the brevity of the situation, understood the stress of having Argents on Hale land, of a relatively new member of Derek’s pack, and an alpha at that, being the one to invite them, but they needed to focus. Morrell had already proven herself to be a formidable opponent on more than one occasion and that was before the rest of her order arrived – they couldn’t afford to fuck this up.

“You’ve got three different categories of weapon over there,” he continued, only after a long, calming inhale and slow, pointed exhale. “Bow, firearm, blade. Allison’s obviously proficient in all three but the bow is her expertise. So what’s the plan for me and Lydia? Teach us the basics of all three? Basics of all three with a concentration in one? Make Lydia the ninja warrior princess of the knives and give me a few wolfsbane bullets, have the perfect trifecta of a weaponized Team Human?”

“You wish,” Derek snorted derisively. “What makes you think anyone’s going to let you within ten feet of a gun?” It was the first time he really looked away from Chris, flicking his gaze over to Stiles, who narrowed his eyes.

“Why,” he smirked, “afraid I might shoot you?”

“Lydia does have a pretty steady hand,” Scott added, giving Stiles an apologetic look. “She’d probably be a better shot, at least in the beginning, and we are kind of pressed for time.”

“Lydia and I have been doing a lot of hand to hand combat training though,” Allison pointed out, frowning at him. “Which gives her a good base if she wants to try adding working with knives into what we’ve already been doing.”

Lydia is right here,” Lydia interjected hotly, dropping her arms down to her sides and stepping up from where she’d been slightly behind Stiles. “And would appreciate being allowed to have her own opinion on which deadly weapon she’s going to have to learn.”

“Which is,” Chris prompted, raising an eyebrow at her.

“The knives,” Lydia answered immediately. “Allison’s right, they’re the most logical option. They’re also much easier for me to carry and conceal.”

“Which leaves Stiles with a loaded firearm,” Derek reminded them. “Or does no one else remember the time Stiles almost shot himself in the face?”

Stiles glared at him, and pointedly ignored the way Allison and Scott were exchanging looks, no doubt remembering another time Stiles almost shot someone in the head. Almost, being the key point, and with Allison’s bow being another.

“That was with Allison’s bow,” he growled at Derek, throwing a pointed look at Scott and Allison so maybe they’d remember that too. “That I couldn’t even see, because we don’t all have glowy eyes that give us magical night vision. We’re talking about a completely different weapon here.”

“A gun is a pretty serious weapon,” Chris interrupted, cutting Derek off quickly. “There’s a reason I always preferred pushing Allison toward the bow, even though a gun seemed like a more logical option given the business cover.”

“Which is why it makes sense for Stiles to have it,” Lydia argued. She shot him a look over her shoulder, what is wrong with these idiots a clear question written across her face, and Stiles could only shrug in response.

“How does that in any way make sense?” Scott frowned.

Lydia stared at him for a long moment before turning back to look at Stiles. She didn’t seem surprised to notice that Stiles wasn’t there anymore – that Stiles was stomping across the clearing towards Chris, slipping around him to stop in front of the end holding the various different pistols.

He picked up a semi-automatic and a matching magazine, slamming the magazine into place as he took a few steps back again, moving into the free space near the center of the clearing. Allison had set up a target when they’d first gotten there. The paper kind, like they sometimes used at the shooting range, with the outline of a man’s torso and little bullseyes over his heart and between his eyes, and Stiles had already made note enough of where they were.

“Stiles,” Derek said sharply. It was a warning from his alpha, loaded and tense and telling Stiles in no certain terms how Derek felt about Stiles’ little display.

Stiles leveled the pistol, pulled the slide back, and ignored him.

The first shot made them all jump, but Stiles didn’t notice. The second sent a raucous flock of birds fleeing wildly from nearby trees, the third still echoing through the clearing by the time they were gone.

The silence that settled again fell on ringing ears, probably worse for the two werewolves, but Stiles still ignored them. He focused on clearing the magazine from the pistol again, dumping it back onto the table next to a speechless Chris, and double checking the gun was unloaded before carefully placing it back in its spot next to an old revolver.

“My dad is a cop,” he said finally. Everyone was looking at him now, various degrees of speechless shock on their faces. On Lydia looked smugly unsurprised, brown eyes warm with a suppressed smile as she nodded her agreement. “When your kid is a nosy little shit who thinks Daddy’s job is the coolest thing ever and is too curious for his own good, you learn pretty quickly that padlocks on the gun safe can only do so much. Gun safety’s been drilled into my head since I was old enough to understand what a gun is, and I’ve been going to the shooting range with my dad since I was ten.”

He grinned at Scott, whose shock was quickly melting into some mix of sheepishness and pride, before turning back to look at Derek. Derek, though, was watching Allison, who Stiles hadn’t noticed leaving their little circle. She was heading back toward them now, carrying the paper target carefully between two hands, and Stiles took great, great personal pleasure in the expression on Derek’s face as he took in the sight of two overlapping bullet holes through the bullseye over the silhouette’s heart, the third right square between his eyes.

“Right,” Stiles grinned, clearing his throat until Derek finally jerked his attention back towards Stiles. “Anything else?”

 

--- Two Weeks Before ---

 

Lydia took one look at him, standing on her back patio like the absolute creep he was, and made a face like the only thing stopping her from slamming the door in his face was the delicacy of French glass frames.

“Wait,” Stiles begged her, “come on, let me in.”

She stepped back, made a big show of being incredibly reluctant about it, and almost slammed the door shut on his foot when he didn’t move fast enough.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, “I’m sorry, I know I should have come checked up on you sooner, I meant to come check up on you sooner, but I’ve been –”

“Oh, I know exactly what you’ve been up to, Stilinski,” Lydia snapped, crossing her arms over her chest. She was decked out in her usual dressed to the nines style, and the cold winter chill was enough to excuse the extra layers of tights, a long cardigan, a scarf, but Stiles could still make out fading cuts and bruises on her hands, her wrists, her face. He reached out, fingers stretching for the closest bit of bruised skin, but recoiled before he made contact. He wasn’t allowed that right anymore.

“I just needed to make sure you were okay,” he said, shaking himself lightly, hoping the physical jolt could clear his head. Lydia always did this to him, even now, made him lose his focus. “I needed, before everything –”

“Don’t finish that sentence,” she warned him, jabbing one finger pointedly in his face. “You tell yourself and everyone else whatever lies you want, but I know you, and I know what you’re doing.”

“I’m not – Lydia, I’m not doing any –”

Don’t lie to me,” she hissed. “You promised, remember? You promised you would never lie to me again.”

He had. Promised it years ago, when Lydia showed up in his room for the second time in as many weeks, having finally hit the rock bottom breakdown that accompanied her crash course into the supernatural world. She’d been wrecked beyond recognition, between the resurrection of Peter, the death and rebirth and death and rebirth again of Jackson, almost immediately followed by Jackson’s parents moving him across the world, all while Lydia finally finished putting together all the pieces. She’d come to Stiles in a horrible, heartbreaking rage, and he promised on everything he’d ever held dear that he’d never lie to her, never keep her in the dark again.

“I know what you’re doing,” Lydia repeated angrily. “I know, and I know why, but this is insane. Stiles, this is insane, and if something goes wrong, if something happens to you –”

“But that’s why I have to,” Stiles insisted. “I have to, Lydia. You, my dad, I can’t – I won’t ever let them hurt you again. I don’t know what else to do.”

He turned his back to her, facing toward the door. It was a mistaking coming here, he knew he shouldn’t have. He needed to check on her, needed to see for his own eyes that she was okay…but he knew that if there was anyone left in the world who could break him, it was Lydia.

“Just tell me you’re okay,” he asked, still with his back to her. “I need to know you’re okay.”

“He misses you,” she replied instead. “I mean, everyone does, but Stiles…he misses you. The aching, palpable kind of missing that just looms over everything, and it’s horrible.”

Stiles squeezed his eyes shut, ran his hand down his face, over the slope of his nose, the wet heat of his mouth. He – no. He shouldn’t have come here.

“Take it easy, the next couple of weeks,” he whispered. “Bed rest, it’s great for bruises. Maybe take a break from the heavy-duty pack stuff. Just for a couple weeks.”

“You don’t have to do this,” Lydia tried again, pleading this time. She was incredible, the way she switched tactics effortless, attacking from all sides. “You don’t, we can still figure a way out. Figure something else out. Stiles, please.”

“Goodbye, Lydia,” he answered quietly.

She didn’t try to stop him.

 

--- One Week Before ---

 

The nice thing – okay not a nice thing, because there’s nothing nice about getting shot in the arm, but…the silver lining, maybe, of the sheriff getting shot was that he and Stiles spent more time together than they had in months. Stiles wasn’t big on letting his dad drive anywhere, doable as it might be, and even if he did drive how exactly was the sheriff planning on pushing a grocery cart with only one functioning arm? 

Fine, Stiles was being an overprotective pain in the ass, but still. It was a relatively mild Saturday afternoon and the back seat of his dad’s SUV was filled with shopping bags from various silly errands. The last stop on the list was groceries and Stiles stood bickering happily with his dad over a display of avocados, feeling for the first time in weeks like maybe things might actually, finally, be getting somewhere closer to normal. 

“I don’t care if they’re ‘nature’s butter,’” his dad whined, glaring daggers as Stiles gingerly squeezed an avocado between long fingers. “I want actual butter. I’d even settle for margarine, I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter, whatever.”

“That shi– stuff’s even worse,” Stiles protested, “it’s not butter because it’s all chemicals.”

“So then yes butter?” The sheriff tried.

Stiles rolled his eyes, dropping a third avocado into a produce bag before tying the bag off and dropping it into the cart. “No,” he said firmly, nudging his dad out of the way as he pushed the cart around the display and down a row of expensive out-of-season apples.

“But –” the argument died on his dad’s lips, cutting off abruptly, and Stiles had no idea why.

Until, that is, he looked up from a pallet of Gala apples and found himself face to face with Derek Hale.

“Derek,” the sheriff said warmly. It was the same tone he used when he was introducing Stiles to someone new, the all-encompassing fondness and pride of telling someone ‘this is my son,’ and where it used to make Stiles fuzzy warm with affection now it just made him feel sick. “How’ve you been?”

“Fine,” Derek replied shortly. He was still staring at Stiles, who was frozen and staring helplessly back, until the sheriff cleared his throat.

Stiles jumped, wrenching his eyes away from Derek and fixing his gaze on a misshapen eggplant in an aisle perpendicular to theirs. He curled his right hand around his wrist, twisting against the bare skin sharply enough to remind himself not to look back at Derek again.

“How’s the…how’s your arm?” Derek mumbled, gesturing pointlessly at the sling.

“Just fine,” the sheriff answered, though he sounded…off. Confused, maybe. “Which you should already kn–” he stopped short, cutting himself off again, and Stiles could see him looking shiftily toward his son like maybe Stiles didn’t notice.

Of course Stiles noticed.

“It’s fine,” he tried again. “Doing much better. Anyway,” he said quickly. “Don’t want to keep you from your shopping.  Good to see you again, Derek.”

“You too, Sheriff,” Derek agreed quietly. He stepped back, clearing a path for Stiles to push the cart through, and the movement brought his legs directly into Stiles’ line of sight. “Stiles.”

He said it so quietly, so softly, that Stiles wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t been so vigilantly hyperaware, tension like steel running through his veins. It was almost involuntary the way Stiles raised his eyes again, looking up to meet Derek’s hazel stare.

He misses you. He could hear Lydia’s voice in his head, clearer than if she was standing right next to him, whispering in his ear. The aching, palpable kind of missing that just looms over everything, and it’s horrible.

And just for a second he felt it. Burned with it, ripping through his chest, clawing at his ribs. He could feel the gaping hole where the pack had been, where Derek had been, edges still raw like he’d physically carved them out with a knife.

It took a gentle nudge from his dad to break their staring match, to shake Stiles from whatever trance he was in. He dragged his eyes away from Derek’s face and shoved the cart forward, determined not to look up again until they were safely away from the produce section entirely.

His dad, mercifully, didn’t say a word. Stiles wasn’t sure if it was because he knew better than to ask or because he remembered that Derek could probably hear them, especially now that he knew they were there and was probably straining to hear their voices, like the creepy, nosy bastard he was.

It was only when they were back in the car, bagged groceries loaded in the trunk and sitting at a light two blocks away from the shopping center, that Stiles caught sight of his dad side-eyeing him contemplatively from the passenger’s seat.

“What?” he challenged, raising an eyebrow.

“Nothing,” his dad shrugged. “Nothing, I just…why are you doing this? With the pack. Or Derek. Or any of them, really.”

“I have to –” Stiles took a deep breath, closed his eyes, exhaled slowly. The light stayed frustratingly red, denying him the excuse of focusing on the road. “I have to protect my family.”

His dad was quiet for long enough that, if Stiles hadn’t known him better, he might have assumed the subject had been dropped. As it was, his dad waited until they were at the next intersection, the next red light, before speaking up.

“I kind of thought Derek was,” he said finally. “Family.”

Stiles’ fingers were wrapped so tightly around the steering wheel he could dig his nails into his palms even with the thick plastic wheel in the way.

Dad,” he croaked hoarsely. “Whatever Derek is – was – might have been…you’re my…I need you. And keeping you safe, keeping you out of this, is worth cutting ties with the pack.”

“You’re not just cutting ties from the pack,” his dad pointed out. Stiles hadn’t told him anything, hadn’t so much as made the mistake of leaving an errant piece of paper on his desk, but Sheriff Stilinski was still shaking his head emphatically like he knew Stiles was lying. “You’re up to something, I know you are.”

“You know how Stilinski men are,” Stiles tried weakly, falling flat far from any actual lightheartedness, “we’ll do whatever it takes to look after our own.”

“But they are your own,” his dad argued. “Aren’t they? Isn’t that the whole point of pack?”

Stiles – Stiles could hardly breathe. Stiles shouldn’t have been driving, should have been pulling the car over to the side of the road, should have been closing his eyes against tunnel vision and forcing himself to count each inhale and exhale until his body remembered how to do it on its own, until his heart rate wasn’t ratcheting up to dangerous heights. 

He didn’t. He shoved everything to the side, to the corner of his mind, forcing it down before it could rise up enough to take hold of him. He focused on inhaling, on the steering wheel, slick against his sweaty palms. He focused on the familiar scent of his dad, of the SUV, of smoke still clinging to the fabric of the seats years after his mom quit, on the low buzz from the police scanner on the dash.

Stiles,” his dad was saying, ”Stiles.” The light was green, the woman in the car behind them leaning on her horn hard enough for Stiles to recognize that he’d been sitting there too long.

“I’m okay,” he mumbled, switching his foot to the gas and waving a hand in his rearview mirror as a half-hearted apology. “I’m fine, I just…”

His dad shook his head. Stiles knew he didn’t need to justify it – he and his dad understood each other, had always understood each other, especially when it came to the way they felt about family. Family was everything to the Stilinskis, to Stiles and to his dad, and he didn’t need to figure out how to put it into words.

“Do what you have to do.” His dad sounded resigned, dropping the subject more because Stiles needed him to than because he was satisfied with Stiles’ (lack of) response. “Just…be aware of what the consequences will be.”

The consequences, Stiles thought, thought but didn’t even try to put into words. The consequences were the why. The consequences were him standing in a funeral parlor with the stink of too many flowers in his nose and the steady thump of hands against his shoulder, of sorrys and prayers and if you need anything, empty words that only just disguise the bone-deep relief of well-wishers thanking god that they weren’t in his shoes, that they dodged the bullet.

“I am,” he nodded, voice quiet. “I really, really am.”

 

---  Junior Year – The Alpha Pack   ---

 

Running for his life was one thing. Stiles was, loathe as he was to admit this, horrified at the reality of how true it was, starting to get used to literally running like his life depended on it. But the fact that the alphas had them trapped in the high school, the fact that this was the second time in less than a year that a sadistic fucked up werewolf was playing a deranged game of manhunt in the same hallway as his locker

As if school wasn’t already absolutely shit enough, now he was going to start having PTSD flashbacks every time he walked into Physics.

He cut right…tried to cut right. Wound up skidding out on the tile instead, because god forbid he wear anything other than flat-soled Addidas with no traction to speak of, caught himself with one hand pressed to the ground. Stiles had just barely managed to propel himself back upright when he felt a hand close around his bicep, another slap over his mouth, and a hard yank backwards into a broad, solid chest.

Really, a hard yank backwards. Hard enough to lift him off his feet entirely, dragged back enough paces for his assailant to pull him through a doorway he hadn’t noticed. The hand over his mouth disappeared long enough to slam the door shut, and Stiles had just barely inhaled enough breath for a good, solid scream when a voice hissed into his ear.

“Stiles, shut up.”

And he totally knew that voice. It had been months since he’d heard it last, May, at least, and it was a week before Halloween now, but apparently Stiles didn’t need to be a werewolf to have developed some kind of Pavlovian response to the sound of Derek Hale’s voice.

“Derek,” he drawled, keeping his own voice as low as possible (he was an asshole, always, but he wasn’t stupid). He’d stopped struggling the second he’d recognized Derek, but Derek still had a tight grip on his arm, was still holding him with his back flush to Derek’s front. “Aw man, trapped in a supernatural game of cat and mouse with the creature feature of the season, it’s just like the good old days. What’s up, didja miss me?”

Derek’s answering growl was so low Stiles felt it more than he heard it, a steady rumble against his back. He opened his mouth, retort ready on the tip of his tongue, when he heard a much louder growl from the other side of the door.

“Shitshitshitmove,” he demanded, elbowing Derek backward until there was actual distance between them. Derek, apparently contrary and stubborn as ever, lunged forward instead of where Stiles was trying to usher him back, dragging a massive metal shelving unit in front of the door like it weighed less than a chair.

“You assholes and your barricades,” Stiles hissed at him, gesturing wildly to the second open doorway perpendicular to the first, “come on.”

He reached out and grabbed the closest part of Derek he could reach, the cuff of his leather jacket, and tugged. They were in a spare room off the cafeteria, where the custodians kept extra supplies and those oversized rolling mop-bucket combos, but there was a mostly unused stairwell in the back that lead down into the History department’s wing.

Derek, for once in his goddamn life, followed without complaint, staying hot on Stiles’ heels as they all but flew down the staircase and crashed through the heavy wooden doors at the bottom. Even without the extra hearing ability Stiles could distinctly make out the sound of metal screeching, of the supply room door and the shelving unit being shoved out of the way.

“Come on come on come on,” Stiles chanted, fingers tightening into the cool leather as he led Derek down hallway after hallway, left, left, right, left again.

“Tell me you don’t have a map of the school memorized,” Derek snarled, following Stiles into a teacher’s lounge with a second door to another hallway.

“Some of us,” Stiles huffed back, “aren’t three season varsity athletes, and have to do nerdy things like join the AV club during off-season so they don’t get bored out of their minds. Shit, no wait, this is the girls’ locker room.”  

Derek twisted them around, rearranged Stiles’ grip on his sleeve until he was the one with his fingers closed around Stiles’ wrist, pulling him forward into a sea of muted pink tiling.

“Dude, it’s a dead end,” Stiles warned him, making a feeble effort to pull Derek back. Derek, of course, ignored him.

“No it’s not,” he said instead, winding through rows of lockers.

“Spent a lot of time in the girls’ locker room?”

“Some of us,” Derek smirked, glancing back just long enough to catch Stiles’ eye, “made good use of their status as a three season varsity athlete.”

Dude,” Stiles hissed, somewhere between scandalized and impressed, “there are murderous alphas trying to kill us, now is not the time to develop a sense of humor.”

“If I have to wait until something isn’t trying to kill me, I’ll be dead first.”

“I swear to God, if you make me laugh, and that gives away our position, and one of those fucking alphas kill me, Derek Hale I will come back from the grave just to haunt you –”

Derek drew to a stop against another door (rat bastard, Stiles hated when he was right), yanking Stiles right up behind him. There was another pair of eyes glinting back at them in the darkness on the other side of the door, ruby red and creepy as shit, and Stiles was only too happy to wedge himself into the safe space between the tile wall and Derek’s muscles.

“Stiles,” Derek whispered, squeezing lightly where he was still holding Stiles’ wrist.

“What?” He didn’t tear his eyes away from the alpha over Derek’s shoulder, creeping through the weight room, drawing closer and closer, but he could feel the heat of Derek’s fingers against his bones.

“Yeah, I did.”

Stiles held onto that as Derek sprung forward, throwing himself through the swinging door and lunging straight for Ennis. Rewound his way through the conversation, the way he did so easily sometimes, involuntarily, replaying and regretting and second-guessing. Closed his eyes firmly against the sight of Derek bashing Ennis’ skull in with a barbell stacked 90 lbs. deep on each end and held onto his original question, Derek’s answer.

But it wasn’t until later, reunited with both their packs and heading out to their respective cars, that Stiles let himself fall back a bit, away from Scott and Lydia until he was lingering close enough to Derek’s pack to catch his eye.

“I missed you, too.”

 

--- One Day Before ---

 

 

It wasn’t much of a surprise when Stiles didn’t hear from the hunters. He’d been expecting it, really, expecting them to want to do as much of the execution as possible without involving him. They didn’t fully trust him, wouldn’t fully trust him until he gave them a real reason to, and he was okay with that. He didn’t need them to trust him in order for his plan to actually work, just so long as they actually let him play his part in it.

So he wasn’t really shocked when his phone went off late one night, three weeks after Miller, Bayer, and Young had left him to his Heart of Darkness paper, with instructions that the plan was going into effect tomorrow night.

“And my role?” he asked, clicking through folders on his computer until he found the file with the notes he’d typed out outlining his plan. He knew it by heart by now, could probably run it in his sleep, but it was always good to double check.

“Exactly what you wanted it to be,” the gruff voices on the other end of the line told him. “Starting right now. Call Hale, arrange the meeting. We want them there at midnight, you an hour earlier.”

“Got it,” Stiles nodded pointlessly. “Anything else?”

“Don’t fuck up.”

The line went dead before he could muster up a witty comeback.

He didn’t bother wasting time. There wasn’t much he had to do at this point anyway – other than making sure his gun was loaded and he made it to the warehouse on time, everything else was taken care of. All he had to do now was call Derek.

Stiles thumbed through his phone, scrolling manually through his contacts, rolling to a slow stop as it slid through Geller, Greenberg, and Grossman before finally stopping at Hale.

He was…he started to look around his room for a second before firmly shaking his head, a pathetic, breathless laugh escaping his lips. Of course he was alone in his own room, he didn’t have to check. He was alone, no one around to witness the slow, shaky breath Stiles inhaled, the way he closed his eyes and gave himself a moment before jabbing his thumb against the icon for Derek’s cell phone.

“Stiles?”

He answered on the first ring, breathless like he’d dove for his phone. Derek sounds…scared, maybe, or…hopeful, the traitorous voice in Stiles’ head whispered, and he ignored it with the same forceful effort he ignored the kick in his ribs at the sound of Derek saying his name.

“Derek,” he responded finally. Stiles was careful to keep his voice as unaffected as possible, nothing that could possibly give him away leaking into his tone.

“Are you – what’s – is everything okay?”

Stiles holds the phone away from his ear as he takes another deep breath, closing his eyes on the inhale and opening them again only after he lets it out.

“I think we should talk,” he answered. “All of us. You, and me, and the whole pack together.”

“Yeah,” Derek agreed immediately. “Yeah. Yes. Fine. When, and where?”

Stiles sucked his bottom lip into his mouth, biting down hard. Hopefully the pause made it seem like he was thinking it over, seemingly trying to decide, and not like he was hoping the pain would forcibly remind him that he was better than this. That he wasn’t going to fall all over himself at the desperation in Derek’s voice, the pathetically easy way he agreed. Like he needed Stiles, like he’d agree to anything to get him –

“The warehouse down by the train depot,” he choked out, shaking himself. “You know the one.”

“That we used for training?” Derek asked. “With –”

“Yeah,” Stiles cut in. “Midnight?”

“Sure.” There’s a pause, on Derek’s end this time, heavy and thick, the suffocating kind of silence. Then, finally, “Stiles…”

“The whole pack, Derek,” Stiles snapped. “Tomorrow night. See you then.”

 


--- Two Months Before ---

 


“This isn’t working.”

Stiles looked up from the file he was pouring over, illegally printed from the database his dad didn’t know he knew the password for. It was a background check on one of the hunters they’d managed to learn the first and last name of, a desperate grasp for anything that might give them other names, a source of connection, some kind of illicit activity they could nail them for, anything.

It was turning up exactly nothing, and from the exasperation weighing down Derek’s voice Stiles guessed he wasn’t fairing much better on his end.

“I know,” Stiles sighed quietly, spitting out the highlighter cap he’d been mindlessly chewing on. “They’re not stupid enough to make it this easy.”

Not that it had been easy, not at all, getting enough information about them to look them up. Or looking them up. Or wasting hours scouring each file, trying to find anything remotely usable. But still, Derek was right. This half-desperate, long-shot attempt to find something criminal to pin on these guys, to finally, actually use the sheriff and the law to solve a supernatural crisis, wasn’t working.

“It’s not like we were doing much better before, though,” he added.

It wasn’t really true. They’d at least been doing something, back when their tentative plan was just to take the hunters out however they could. It was a dangerous game, because they had to straddle the delicate line between incapacitating the hunters just enough to put them out of commission without actually killing them, because killing them would only add fuel to their fire. Killing them would give them a legitimate, code-sanctioned reason to eliminate the Hale pack, not just the shady gray-area they were acting in now.

Because that much they had been able to figure. They’d painstakingly pieced together hours of eavesdropping and information gathering, of stakeouts and lightning-fast interrogations of the few hunters they’d managed to restrain while still conscious. Allison had done her best too, anonymously reaching through fragile lines of communication to find any information she could on what was happening in Beacon Hills.

Chris’s death had been the catalyst. With Allison as the only living Argent left in Beacon Hills, barely twenty and openly, brazenly sympathetic – no, not just sympathetic, an outright, card-carrying member of a werewolf pack – it was agreed that the current truce between the Argents and the Hale pack was nullified. That Beacon Hills was now “unprotected” from the werewolf population residing within it, and that it was the responsibility of another family, another faction of hunters, to bring the territory back “under control.”

The truce they’d fought so hard for, that they’d all worked so long towards, was gone. Just like that. Whatever network the hunters had they’d used to put a bounty on the Hale pack, a bounty on Derek’s head, on Scott’s, free reign to eliminate the threat by whatever means necessary. Allison’s continued presence had only afforded them the guarantee that no other established, organized party of hunters would make a play for the territory themselves, a bullshit façade at honoring their code, but all it really meant was that it was open season on Beacon Hills, a magnet for unattached or rogue or amateur hunters looking for a way to win the favor of a more established organization.

At first it was easy. A hunter here and there, sometimes small groups of two, maybe three. The pack had managed to run them out of town nearly as quickly as they’d arrived, never using deadly force but always just enough to force them to get gone and stay gone.

Or so they’d thought.

Apparently all they’d actually done was given them something to bond over, because the hunters came back with a vengeance. A vengeance and a plan – the mess of lone hunters had banded together, organized themselves, were back with a purpose and real supplies and information. They’d still never managed to get the jump on the pack, not the way they wanted to, but they were getting scarily, dangerously close.

“Do we have any idea how many of them there are?” Derek asked, snapping Stiles out of his brooding. Stiles shrugged even as he stretched across the table for his laptop, dragging up the folder with everything the knew about the newly established group.

“I have fourteen definitely,” Stiles read, as if he didn’t have the information memorized. The top page of the word document was a list of identifiers ranging from Miller, Ian – 35, El Paso, TX to Hunter #8 – trashy barbed wire tattoo on bicep, always wears those stupid fingerless gloves. “Fourteen confirmed, but there could be more that we just haven’t identified yet. And at least five of those have been taken out of commission, so really we’re looking at maybe nine or ten?”

Derek, who’d apparently gotten up when Stiles wasn’t paying attention, rounded the table to crowd up behind Stiles and read over his shoulder, nodded.

“Any more we can get like this?” he asked, nudging the folder Stiles had previously been looking at. The last two hunters they’d taken out, only just last week, they’d gotten arrested on possession charges, an arrest that stuck firmly enough to knock them full out of commission when a search of their motel room had turned up illegally owned and obtained firearms. That was what had given Stiles the idea of looking into the rest of them in the first place, bringing his dad into their plans and asking for any advice he might have.

“Not from what I can tell,” Stiles shook his head. Derek hadn’t moved from where he’d been hunched over Stiles, even though they weren’t looking at the computer anymore, and Stiles could feel the warm weight of him even through the few inches of air between them, seeping through his layers of shirts and hoody straight through to his bones. Derek’s loft was always cold, drafty even in the summer and poorly insulated thanks to the large glass windows; Stiles’ willpower to refrain from sinking back into Derek’s body heat was quickly running out.

“So it’s another dead end,” Derek nodded again, answering his own question. He stepped back from Stiles, finally, but instead of retreating to his own seat he just shifted to the side, turning until he was facing Stiles, hip resting against the edge of the metal table.

“What are you thinking?” Stiles frowned up at him. Derek, despite so much else that had changed about him, still wasn’t much in the way of a strategist. He was content to let Stiles handle the planning, these days, was much more open to his suggestions and willing to go along with his ideas, but it was a rare day when he actually offered up his own.

“We can’t keep picking them off one by one,” he answered, crossing his arms over his chest. “We’re barely outlasting them now, if they get it together long enough to figure out how to do a concentrated attack that we don’t see coming I don’t know if we’ll be able to fight them all off.”

“You want to try to take them all out at once?”

It was impossible not to think about the last time he and Derek were standing at this table, paperwork spread across it and Chris Argent standing next to them, plotting how to take out a coven in one fell swoop. That plan had backfired spectacularly, had, really, been the fuck up of epic proportions that had landed them in their newest pile of shit, and Stiles really, really did not want to think about it.

“Not like that,” Derek said softly. He was watching Stiles like he knew exactly what he was thinking, uncrossing his arms to reach out and squeeze Stiles’ bicep lightly. “Not like – we’re not trying to kill them, remember? It won’t – it can’t be like that.”

Stiles nodded. Took a deep breath, feeling the pressure of Derek’s hand on his arm as his shoulders shifted with the inhale-exhale, and nodded again.

“You’re right,” he agreed. “And you’re probably right about taking them down all together, too.”

Derek’s answering smile was small enough to barely be real, not much more than an upward quirk of one corner of his lips, but that didn’t stop the warm burst of heat rushing through Stiles’ chest, his usual response to one of Derek’s rare smiles.

“The real question is how do we do that,” he continued. “How, exactly, do we somehow get them all to be in the same place at the same time?”

Derek shrugged, expression grim even as he twisted his mouth into a wry, humorless smirk.

“That’s what I keep you around for.”

 

--- One Hour Before ---

 

Two of the hunters met him around back – Young and another, one Stiles had never managed to figure out the name of and had settled for calling him That One With the Creepy Scar. They were silent as they led him inside, taking a meandering path through the back hallways, and Stiles noticed why as they passed the third of four doorways leading into the large center room.

“They’re going to notice the guys stationed by the doors,” Stiles pointed out, nodding over to the man lurking behind the large steel door. “Like, stupidly fast.”

“As opposed to the dozen heartbeats and human scents concentrated in a small antechamber?” Young snorted. “Didn’t think that one all the way through, did you?”

Stiles blanched. He hadn’t, actually, hadn’t considered how to disguise the hunters’ presence from the pack.

“It’s cool, kid,” Creepy Scar grumbled, “we have some of our own tricks too.”

“Mountain ash masks the scents,” Young added, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a loose handful to show Stiles. “And we have these low frequency static radios that disguise a heartbeat pretty well. Long as these guys stay out of sight they should be okay long enough for Hale and his pack to get inside.”

“Just make sure they’re as silent as possible,” Stiles muttered, petulant in his embarrassment at having missed something. “Like, ninja-status.”

Young shot him an unimpressed look but bit back whatever comment he’d been considering in favor of leading Stiles through the open doorway. The large warehouse looked virtually the same as it had the last time Stiles was here, thick layers of dust the only sign of time. The hunters had done a good job of not disturbing the place, or of not making it appear to have been disturbed.

“Here’s your mark.”

Stiles had, at least, mapped this part meticulously. He’d wanted a spot with a crystal clear view of as much of the room as possible – all four doors, preferably, but specifically the one he knew Derek would be most likely to use and the one he knew the hunters would be behind. The point he’d settled on offered all the above: wide open space in front of him, easily visible from the first door, a clear shot at the hunter’s door.

“We’re going to be in there, obviously,” Young reiterated. They’d followed Stiles’ suggestion there too, opting for the only one of the four doors that had a sealable antechamber behind it. They could barricade themselves in from behind to put an extra barrier between them and the pack, plus keep their forces concentrated to a small, easily defensible home base rather than scattered about the room, easy pickings for any of the pack’s well-trained fighters.

“Still taking the first warning shot as the cue to get ready?” Stiles asked, glancing over to the open doorway. He could see Miller inside, hunched over a rifle while talking to a man with a hood over his face, and Bayer leaning against the metal frame, eyes on Stiles.

“First shot means get ready, second means go,” Creepy Scar nodded. “We’ve got you a –” he cut himself off as Stiles reached behind him, pulled a revolver from the waist of his jeans.

“Brought my own,” he shrugged. “It’s my dad’s, it’s like, poetic or something.”

Young has a pinched look on his face, eyes flickering back and forth between Stiles and the gun, but Creepy Scar just seemed amused.

“We don’t have wolfsbane bullets for a revolver like that,” he lamented, like he was genuinely regretful about it. “So your poetic justice is out of luck.”

“Seriously?” Stiles frowned. “I was trained by a hunter, even when I was living right in the middle of a wolf pack. You think he didn’t make sure I was well stocked on the right kind of bullets for the guns I had? Trust me, I’m good.”

Creepy looked unconvinced, and Stiles just rolled his eyes.

“Honestly, do you want me to take them out so you can sniff them? You don’t have a supernatural sense of smell, do you? Believe me, they’re wolfsbane. You’ll know it after the warning shot, even if you don’t believe me now.”

“Let him keep it,” Bayer called over. “Either they’re wolfsbane and they take Hale down, or they’re not and Hale will rip the kid apart for trying to kill him and we strike while he’s distracted. One way or another no loss for us.”

“Thanks,” Stiles mumbled dryly. He shoved the gun back into his jeans though, tugging his hoody down over it, before turning back to his two guides. “Anything else?”

“We’re running through the plan one last time at 11:30,” Young reported, “with the deadline of being completely concealed, prepped, and ready to go by 11:45. You just…sit here, hang tight until then.”

“Oh yeah, sure,” Stiles agreed snottily. “I’ll just wait here then. Balance my checkbook, level up Candy Crush score. Don’t worry about me.”

Young rolled his eyes, apparently only able to resist for so long, but Creepy Scar almost, almost laughed.

 


--- Six Weeks Before ---

 

 

It was hardly the first time Stiles had shown up at Derek's loft unannounced, let himself in and got to work pouring over the documents spread across the large table under the window. He was there almost daily in the last month, all hours of the day and night, pacing around the table looking for any kind of new angle.

He didn't know what was different, what tipped Derek off to the fact that Stiles was on a roll, but somehow when he shoved the sliding door open a good two hours after Stiles had gotten there he already knew. He didn't even look at Stiles, just dumped his groceries and keys on the kitchen counter and went directly over to where Stiles was practically vibrating in his seat.

Well, okay, maybe that was how Derek knew.

"Spit it out," Derek sighed, dropping a hand on Stiles' shoulder the second he was close enough, holding him still.

"I have an idea," Stiles burst, shoving aside pages until he found the notepad covered in tiny, barely legible scribbles of half-formed thoughts. "For how we can get all the hunters together."

Derek, who'd been trying mostly unsuccessfully to decipher Stiles' handwritten notes, glanced back up at that.

"A real one?"

Stiles narrowed his eyes. "Rude," he mumbled, resisting the urge to stick his tongue out. "Yes a real one, does this look like joke time?"

Derek dropped the notepad and had the grace, or maybe the gall, to look properly chastised. Stiles groaned, grabbing the notepad back up off the table and slapping it against Derek's arm.

"Quit it with the face, moron, I'm just being a dick. But yes, I have had a real, bonafide, viable idea for how we can herd them all together."

"How?"

"We need a spy in their ranks."

Derek pulled a face at him, all at once exasperated and fond and full of I'm not buying your shit right now, Stilinski. "Yeah, okay," he said sarcastically. "I'll get right on that, because I'm sure that'll be really easy to accomplish."

"Well, no, not easy," Stiles agreed. All at once all trace of amusement was gone from his tone, and Derek definitely noticed. "But...doable."

Derek stared at him. Cocked his head to the side in a frankly adorable way, studied Stiles' face. His eyes. The fidgety twitch of his fingers and the determined set of his jaw, and Stiles could tell the exact moment it hit him.

"No." It was his alpha voice, firm and steel and laced through with a little thread of power. It didn't work on Stiles the same way it worked on the other werewolves, never really would, but that didn't stop the little shiver running through him, the smallest urge to submit and agree.

"Yes," he countered.

"No," Derek snarled back. "No, Stiles. Absolutely not."

"It's a good idea!" he protested. "I mean maybe it needs some fine tuning, but it's definitely viable!"

"Sure, until they find you out and execute you," Derek snapped. "Absolutely not, Stiles, no way. We'll think of something else."

"There isn't anything else," Stiles argued. "We've been through everything we can think of, nothing else has worked, or seemed like it was going to work, or done anything remotely effective. This could. This could work."

"How?"

Derek sounded - Stiles hated that tone. He'd heard it way too many times in the relatively few years they'd known each other, the desperate appeal for any other option, anything, anything else just not this.

"Just, just listen to me," he implored, forcing his voice back into something calm, something placating. "Here me out. We act like I'm leaving the pack."

Derek flinched, jerking back away from him, and Stiles almost fell off his stool in an effort to fling himself forward and catch Derek's arm.

"Listen," he begged. "We make it look like I'm leaving the pack. We, I don't know, I start freaking out that something might happen to my dad, there's a close call and I almost get hurt, something, I don't know we'll figure that out later. But we make it look like I'm out, and in an ugly way. Big public scene, make it really convincing, get their attention. Then I'm the big juicy steak at the barbecue, you know? They're smart enough to know I can tell them everything there is to know about this pack, and they're running low on resources here. They'll take advantage of the opportunity, try to bring me in somehow. I propose a plan to them that involves all of them being together somewhere, to set a trap for you guys, but obviously you already know it's a trap and you get there, have the upper hand, take them out, we win."

"Just like that?" Derek muttered dryly. He didn't sound desperate anymore, but he didn't sound much like he was buying it either.

"Just like that," Stiles agreed cheekily.

"It's never going to work," Derek protested. "There's too many opportunities for them to make you. You know they've got surveillance on all of us, all it takes is one time seeing you leaving Scott's house or driving around with Isaac or -"

Derek stopped short, staring at the pained expression on Stiles' face.

"You mean make it look like you're leaving the pack...for real," he said slowly. "To everyone. Including the actual pack."

Stiles winced even as he nodded. "Only you and me will know it isn't real."

Derek closed his eyes. It was a tactic he'd stolen from Stiles himself, giving yourself a second to breathe, take a deep breath and pull everything back in.

"You really think this is worth it?"

"Yes."

Derek's eyes were still closed. Stiles reached out, maybe to grab his arm, maybe to squeeze his shoulder, he wasn’t sure. He froze before he got that far anyway, fingers twitching over empty air, and by the time Derek opened his eyes Stiles’ hand was back down at his side.

"I can't sit around anymore and watch these bastards go after my family," he said firmly. "Eventually, somehow, they're going to get lucky, and we're going to get hurt. And I can't - " he choke, shook his head slightly, turned back to Derek again. "We've lost enough for a lifetime, Derek. I'm not going to sit around and wait for them to take anyone else away from us. Not if I can do something about it."

Derek didn't say a word.

Stiles waited.

"We..." Derek cleared his throat after a long moment, tried again. "We need to plan every detail."

"Okay," Stiles agreed quietly.

"Every detail, Stiles, I mean it. Every lie you're going to tell Scott, every minute inch of the plan for the hunters, every bullet -"

"Bullet?" Stiles frowned, "who said anything about bullets?"

"That's how you're going to convince them that you mean it," Derek insisted. "You're going to need some kind of grand gesture that proves you really do want done with this pack, and preferably one that makes you instrumental in the fake plan to get us all together, right?"

"Yeah, but I'm still working on..."

Derek shook his head until Stiles trailed off, frowning contemplatively.

"Bullet," Derek repeated. "You're going to shoot me."

"What?"

Stiles jerked back, stumbling hastily backwards a few steps. Derek followed, hands reaching out as though to steady Stiles without actually touching him. Stiles, too busy shaking his head, barely noticed.

"Are you out of your mind? The whole point of this is to prevent anyone else from dying, not for you to walk in front of a loaded gun. This isn't a trade, your life for ours, you fucking martyr, that's not what..."

"Stiles," Derek was repeating. Over and over until Stiles finally gave up, letting the words fade out mid-rant. He was shaking, wide-eyed and panicky, and Derek moved slowly, gave Stiles plenty of time to stop him, before putting his hands carefully on Stiles' shoulders.

"I told you, we're going to plan this whole thing in excruciating detail. Hiding a regular bullet in with the rest of the wolfsbane rounds, firing a warning shot first so I know when it's coming, where to aim." He smirked wryly, squeezing Stiles' shoulders once. "I know you can make the shot. I trust you."

I trust you.

And that was it, really. It was hardly a secret, or even the first time Derek had said it, but it was so rare an acknowledgment that it was almost always guaranteed to collapse any argument Stiles might have.

"I don't like this," Stiles mumbled. It was as good an admittance of defeat as any, and Derek totally knew it.

"I don't either," he agreed easily. "But I'm not letting you put yourself at risk without some pretty concrete security, and this is the best I can come up with."

"Fine," Stiles nodded. "Fine." He looked up, nodded again at the small attempt at a reassuring smile Derek was trying to muster, "Where do we start?" 

 

--- Five Minutes Before ---
 

 

They found him perched on top of an upended packing crate, one leg bent into his chest, the other dangling nearly to the floor, watching them approach. Derek’s red eyes reflected in the shadows at the back of the room, red and gold from Scott, Isaac, and Boyd not far behind, and Stiles watched until they were in full view, fanning out behind Derek. 

There was an empty space behind Derek’s left shoulder, next to Scott, and Stiles had never tried so hard to avoid looking at nothing in his life.

But…actually, there are a couple more empty spaces too, come to think of it. Isaac was trying to cover too much empty air, Allison shifting back and forth on the balls of her feet, but Lydia and Boyd were both missing. Missing, even though Stiles could have sworn he just saw Boyd and could still see the door they came in was closed now. That was part of the plan. The hunter manning that door wasn’t supposed to close it until the whole pack was inside, a silent all systems go to the rest of the team.

Huh.

“Stiles.”

He dragged his attention back again, leveling a blank stare on Derek. He was smart, had stopped a good ten feet back from where Stiles was still perched, but that didn’t mean Stiles couldn’t see every inch of the tense expression tightening his sharp features.

Didn’t mean he couldn’t see further back either, couldn’t see Scott’s cold, angry glare, Isaac’s clenched jaw. Allison, at least, was falling back on her long-ago perfect art of a completely neutral, emotionless expression.

“You know what I hate?” Stiles announced conversationally. He pushed himself forward off the crate, landing lightly on the dirty concrete floor, and brought himself up to his full height.

“I hate villain monologues. You guys always burst in as the eleventh hour heroes, but I’m always the one who has to sit there and listen to the jackass bitch about how ten years ago his mother hit him with a wooden soup spoon and now that he’s a werewolf he’s going to rip the throat out of every brown haired fifty-something he sees.” He reached behind him, curled his fingers around the grip of his revolver, and leveled the end of the barrel straight at Derek in one swift motion. “So I’m just going to get right to the point.”

For a moment, Stiles was certain this was what it must feel like to have werewolf hearing. He could hear, just for a second, everything – Isaac’s rough intake of breath, Allison’s heartbeat, the pop of Scott’s knuckles as his fists clenched and relaxed. He didn’t look to see any of it, wasn’t even sure if it was real or not, because he couldn’t take his eyes of Derek. Wouldn’t take his eyes off Derek.

“What are you doing?”

Of course it was Scott. Scott, edging forward, a little bit to the side, stepping out of the shadow of Derek’s protection as he tried to draw Stiles’ attention over to him.

“Stiles,” Derek said softly. His face was impossibly calm, hazel eyes clear and steady as they stared back at Stiles. “It’s okay. It’s going to be –”

“It’s not okay!” Scott snapped. For the first time since they walked in Stiles wrenched his gaze away from Derek, turning finally to look at Scott. “Stiles, seriously man. Put the gun down. We can talk about this.”

“Scott, don’t,” Allison whispered.

Scott, shocking absolutely no one, ignored her.

“Stiles, please.”

His grip on the gun barely wavered, hands steady. Firm. Holding the revolver pointed unflinchingly at its target, even as Scott’s plea drove a horrible shiver down the length of Stiles’ spine.

“Shut up,” he snapped, though his voice wasn’t nearly as steady as his hands.

“Think about this. You don’t want to do –”

“I said shut up!” Stiles yelled. He raised his arms just enough to pull the gun off-target, firing a warning shot that sailed over Derek’s shoulder and missed Scott’s outstretched hand by inches. The weapon was old and outdated, his grandfather’s service revolver, but outdated or not the wolfsbane packed into the bullet would still do the trick.

Scott watched the bullet hit a wooden pallet along the back wall, nostrils flaring white as he caught the scent of wolfsbane. A warning shot in more than one way.

“Stiles, listen to me,” Derek tried again. He took a step forward, a step closer to Stiles, who immediately redirected the gun back to its original target, squared dead center on Derek’s broad chest.

“No,” Stiles shook his head frantically. “No, Derek, no. Stop – stop talking, dammit.”

There were four exits from the main room of the warehouse they were in, and Stiles – Stiles had planned this to perfection. Stood at the perfect vantage point to view all four exits, all four possible escape routes. He checked each one systematically, under the guise of looking anywhere but at Derek or his pack. Three of the four were closed shut, sealed tight from the outside, he knew. One, two, three, all done. The fourth, nestled into the left corner of the far wall, had a shadowy mass of figures crowded in the hall behind it, barely visible in the dim light as they slowly slid the door open.

The pack, horrified, furious, focused entirely on the sight of Stiles training a gun solidly at their alpha’s chest, didn’t notice the newcomers.

“Please, Stiles,” Derek said again. Stiles exhaled slowly, pulled his eyes away from the back door and looked up to meet Derek’s pleading stare instead.

He was making that face, the one Stiles hated more than any expression he’d ever encountered. The one that was wrecked and desperate, that always brought to mind that horrible night spent in the pool and the first time Stiles was subjected to Derek’s absolute worst gutted, miserable expression. He hated it, and the sight did nothing but strengthen his resolve, a line of steel up his backbone as he straightened to his fullest height and stared right back.

There were no last words. No more pleas, no more screaming. Just the sound of Stiles squeezing the trigger, the explosion of a second shot rocketing out of the revolver, and the hunters bursting through the open doorway just in time to see the bullet slam squarely into the center of Derek’s chest. 

 

--- One Month Before ---

 

Stiles didn’t so much as flinch at the sound of his window sliding open, the sight of a broad silhouette shimmying through the tight space and landing in a crouch on the floor under the sill. He’d been expecting him, and even though Derek used the door most of the time these days, late-night/early-morning visits almost always got the window treatment.

“Hey,” he said quietly. His dad was being kept overnight at the hospital, so there wasn’t really a need to keep his voice down, but still.

“You’re still up?” Derek nodded towards the dimly lit computer screen, the only source of light in the room, and Stiles sitting half-slumped in his desk chair.

“Figured you’d be stopping by,” Stiles shrugged. Derek winced, like he was taking the blame for Stiles still being awake. “Shut up idiot, it’s not like I would have slept anyway. Besides, I wanted to talk to you.”

Derek shifted his weight, relaxing from a crouch until he was sitting flat on the floor, long legs sprawled in front of him with his back propped against the wall. It was one of the spots Stiles had come to associate as “Derek’s;” on the floor under the windowsill, the spare chair in the corner, the left side of the bed. He had a feeling that, were he in possession of supernatural sniffing skills, those places would even smell like Derek more than they did Stiles.

“How is he?” Derek asked, breaking Stiles out of his rambling musings. The younger man blinked, lifted his head from where he’d been propping his chin up with his fist, and glanced towards his dad’s room like he could see all the way through to the hospital and check firsthand how his father was.

“Doctors said he’ll be fine,” he reported. “The bullet clipped his arm but didn’t do any irreparable damage. Stitches, a sling, probably some physical therapy a little later on. It could have been a whole lot worse. Make sure Boyd knows that…if he hadn’t pulled Dad out of the way in time…”

Derek nodded firmly, like it was important. It was. Not just because it was important to Stiles – Stilinskis have a terrible habit of taking in strays, and against all odds the sheriff had developed a soft spot for Endearing Wayward Wolf Derek Hale. Derek spent more time at their house than even Scott did, these days, and harbored a protective concern for Sheriff Stilinski nearly as strong as Stiles’ own.

“Lydia looks worse than she actually is,” Derek eventually responded. Stiles, who’d spent most of his time at the hospital speaking with his dad’s doctors and filling out paperwork, hadn’t gotten much beyond the ‘Lydia’s not dead nothing’s fatal they’re not even keeping her overnight,’ update. It was a miracle, in Stiles’ personal opinion – sure, it was only one floor up, but she still fell out a fucking window.

“She got shoved out a second story window,” Stiles reminded him, because that kind of thinking bears repeating out loud.

Derek smirked humorlessly. “She’s Lydia, Stiles, and she was trained by Allison. She landed on her feet, didn’t even break a bone. Suffered some serious scrapes and bruises from the broken glass and the grating over the window, but nothing a few weeks of taking it easy won’t fix. Boyd’s keeping an eye on her and trying to help with the pain a bit, but…”

“She’s Lydia,” Stiles finished. Allison, between her hunter training and Scott’s overprotectiveness, got hurt the least often of the three humans, Stiles considered the excuse to steal cuddles and ride the hazy cloud of endorphin rushes a silver lining to all injuries, but Lydia almost always refused to accept her packmates’ offers to help temper her pain.

There’s a few minutes of silence following Derek’s hum of agreement. They’d long ago settled into the art of comfortable silences, both of them content enough with the company to not need to push, but Stiles really had wanted to talk to Derek about what they needed to do.

“I really came here to check on you,” Derek admitted, breaking the silence before Stiles could figure out how to. “Melissa filled me in on your dad already, but…I mean, your dad and Lydia.”

Stiles nodded. The night couldn’t have hit Stiles harder if it had been planned that way – his dad, and even though he’d grown away from his obsessive crush, Lydia was still Lydia. She still held a strong hold on a piece of his heart, even if now it was as a sister, a packmate, an ally, and Derek knew that better than anyone.

“I’m okay,” he sighed. He was, mostly. “Mostly just really shaken up, and I’ve really, really had it with these hunters. Derek…” he trailed off, because he still wasn’t sure how to push this.

“I know,” Derek said softly.

“This couldn’t have been a more perfect opportunity,” Stiles insisted out. “Everyone knows how I feel about my dad being involved in this, and everyone knows how I feel about Lydia. We couldn’t have orchestrated a better motivator.”

Derek just nodded.

The silence that followed that time was harsh and heavy, weighted with the words they both knew were still coming and the dawning knowledge that this was it. Theoretically, if everything went according to plan, the next time Stiles saw Derek it would be down the barrel of a gun.

“You can’t tell them,” Stiles reminded him. “They have to believe it’s real. I have to sell it so hard that even Scott believes it. We both know what’ll happen if I don’t.”

Derek’s eyes flashed in response, like the very thought, the very thought of the possibility of Stiles being killed made him lose his iron-strong hold on his control. Stiles curled his fingers around the leather cuff on his wrist, twisting the soft bracelet back and forth around his skin, a nervous habit he’d developed in the months since the pack bought it for him.

“I hate this,” Derek spit vehemently. “Stiles, I hate this plan.”

Stiles slumped down out of the chair, too heavy with bone-deep exhaustion to bother with standing up, just shuffled across the floor on his hands and knees until he could settle in next to Derek, press himself against the length of Derek’s side until they were shoulder-to-shoulder with their backs to the wall.

“I don’t know,” he muttered, “shooting you is going to be a dream come true for sixteen-year-old Stiles.”

Derek choked on something that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a sob, because even though he could read the lie in Stiles’ heartbeat just as well now as he could all those times back then, it still wasn’t funny.

“If you get yourself killed,” he threatened instead, bypassing Stiles’ pathetic attempt at bravado, “I’ll find a way to bring you back to life just so I can kill you again myself.”

“If your healing shit doesn’t work fast enough I’ll follow your ass straight to hell just to punch you in the face,” Stiles countered.

“It’ll work,” Derek promised. He nudged Stiles’ shoulder with his own, pressing it forward until there was enough room for him to wedge his arm and shoulder between Stiles and the wall. Stiles moved willingly, let Derek rearrange them to his liking, until Stiles was mostly perpendicular against him, leaning back into Derek instead of the wall, and Derek had ready access to the crook of his neck.

“Listen,” he warned several long minutes later. “Scott…Scott doesn’t get really, genuinely angry very often, but when he does he gets angry.”

“Stiles…”

“No seriously, this is important,” Stiles insisted. “He’s going to be the hardest sell, and the most important, and I’m going to have to say some awful things to him to try to convince him.”

“He’ll forgive you,” Derek assured him. Stiles felt the brush of the words against the back of his shirt, the warmth of Derek’s breath with each exhale. Scenting was always important to the werewolves in the pack, and Stiles knew having to go a whole month without the reassurance of his second nearby was going to be hard on Derek, but scenting with him was always just a little bit too much for Stiles to handle.

“I know he will,” he agreed quietly. “Eventually. But more importantly is that he’ll definitely have some really horrible shit to say right back, and since he won’t be able to get to me to say it, you’re going to hear all of it. And you have to. Derek, you have to let him. Scott’s going to do everything he can to convince himself it’s not really happening, and if you start defending me after I abandon the entire pack he’s going to know something’s up.”

He didn’t miss the sharp inhale at the word abandon, the clench of Derek’s fingers where they curved around his side. He squirmed his way out of Derek’s grasp, ducking and twisting until he was on his knees facing his alpha, hands coming up to cup the sides of Derek’s head, to force him to look Stiles in the eye.

“I’m coming back,” he promised, pressing the words out in as firm a voice as he could muster. “This is a horrible, awful, hideous plan, but it’s the best plan we have. Derek, I can’t sit here and let these…these monsters try to take my family away from me. I can’t and I won’t, not when I think there’s still something I can do to stop them.”

Derek closed his eyes, turned his head away, and Stiles tightened his grip.

Look at me,” he hissed, and waited until Derek did. “I’m coming back. You know I am. You know I’ll always come back to you.”

Derek pushed forward that time, pushed until he could press his forehead against Stiles’. Stiles was only too happy to let him, to let his eyes fall closed and his hands slide back until he could thread his fingertips through dark hair, like he could actually hold Derek there.

“No contact,” he reminded Derek.

“No contact,” Derek repeated.

“And make sure you keep them away from here on the full moon,” he pressed, “you know I can’t resist Isaac when he’s all sad-puppy at me.”

“Stiles,” Derek breathed. “It’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.”

Stiles tightened his grip in response, just for a second, before letting his hands slip away and fall back down to his thighs.

“I should go. I told Boyd I’d check in with them, and I haven’t seen Scott since –”

“Go,” Stiles ordered gently. “They’re going to do their horrible ‘oh, you were with Stiles,’ schtick if you don’t.”

Derek didn’t laugh. He pushed himself to his feet before he bent low at the waist, leaning down to catch one hand under Stiles’ jaw and tilt his head up.

“Be safe,” he ordered hoarsely. He shifted up just slightly, just enough to press his lips hard against Stiles’ forehead, and was out the window before Stiles could drag him back and beg him to stay.

 

---

The fabric of your flesh, pure as a wedding dress,
Until I wrap myself inside your arms I cannot rest
The saints can’t help me now, the ropes have been unbound
I hunt for you with bloodied feet across the hallowed ground

---


--- One Minute After ---

 

Allison was the first to recover.

She was the closest to the open doorway, where the hunters trying to force their way into the room were being bottlenecked in the narrow steel frame, and the first to move, sinking an arrow into the lead hunter's shoulder before he could even lift his gun.

The whizz of the arrow snapped Scott and Isaac out of their stupefied horror. The room was buried in a sudden avalanche of gun shots and growls, the familiar soundtrack of far too many nights, and as they fell into the rhythmic movement of protecting the pack, the hunters didn't stand a chance.

Stiles saw exactly none of this. He hesitated only long enough to spot a glimpse of strawberry blonde at the back of the group of hunters, and that explained the lack of Lydia and Boyd, and for Scott to catch his eye.

He was on his knees at Derek's side before the first hunter even hit the ground.

"Derek," he gasped, crowding up against his side, fingers scrabbling against the bloodsoaked t-shirt. "Shit shit shit, you said this would heal you lying fuck."

"Get it-" Derek choked out, "get it - out - Stiles -"

He was at least conscious enough to speak, enough to lift his arm up off the floor and hook it around Stiles' hips. Stiles leaned forward, shoving Derek's ruined shirt up over his ribs even as he glared exasperatedly at him.

"Do I look like I have fucking forceps in my back pocket?" he growled, framing his hands around the entry wound. "Jesus shit fuck, tell me again why we vetoed the bulletproof vest."

"Stiles -"

"Shut up I'm trying to perform delicate surgery on the dingy floor of an abandoned warehouse with absolutely no medical supplies."

Derek's hand tightened its grip on the back of Stiles' shirt, tugging sharply. Stiles ducked just in time to avoid an arrow that was decidedly Not Allison's, followed almost immediately by a roar that could only be from Scott.

Stiles braced himself over Derek's chest, ignoring the breath caught in his lungs and the jackrabbit pace of his heartbeat, closed his eyes just long enough for a steadying inhale, and pressed two fingers as deep as he could into the hole in Derek's chest.

He collapsed the rest of the way forward the second the bullet was clear, forehead pressed against Derek's sternum and fingers curling over the torn up flesh. Stiles knew he didn't have any kind of power for it, knew realistically that Derek would probably be dead already if his alpha healing wasn't working, but he couldn't stop himself from a desperate internal chant of healhealhealhealhealohgodpleaseheal.

The next thing he was aware of was fingers trailing up the curve of his spine, of blunt, human nails scraping lightly against his scalp. Derek tangled his fingers through Stiles' hair, his other hand coming up to curl around the one Stiles was still pressing into his chest. His smooth, completely healed chest.

Stiles exhaled for the first time in what felt like minutes.

Days.

It was only then, breathing shallowly against the ruins of Derek's burgundy shirt, counting each stroke of Derek's thumb over his palm, that Stiles noticed the ringing silence that had replaced the cacophony of a fight.

He lifted his head only high enough to look up. Didn't dare dislodge Derek's hand, refused to suffer the loss of the warmth he'd been without for over a month.

Only the pack remained standing. Isaac's sleeve was torn and bloody, though the wound was already gone, and Boyd was still healing a long scrape along the side of his head, but overall...they survived. They stood there like a pack of demons from the jaws of hell itself, dripping the kind of delicate destruction River Tam would envy, and Stiles had never loved them more.

"Any dead?" he asked, clearing his throat only once before straightening the rest of the way upright. Slipping seamlessly into the role of Derek's right hand was worlds easier than the oncoming storm Stiles knew was on the horizon - he was going to do everything he could to damage control this situation before the pack caught up with themselves enough to stop him.

"Just unconscious," Allison answered promptly. Automatically.

Stiles nodded.

"Right," he said, pushing himself up onto his feet. He reached a hand down to Derek, who pulled himself upright without so much as a wince, before handing Stiles his cell phone without needing to be asked.

Stiles dialed the direct line to his dad's work cell, avoided looking anyone in the eye as he waited for an answer.

"Anonymous tip for the Sheriff," he said brusquely, ignoring his dad's familiar greeting. "There's a warehouse out by the old paper mill with a whole stash of illegally obtained weapons and firearms, definitely enough to put a few guys away. One of them was running his mouth about shooting a cop, maybe a month back."

His dad didn't say anything for a long minute. They had a deal, now that he'd been brought into the whole business of the supernatural world, and Stiles had expressly broken it by not including his dad in on his and Derek's plan.

"So it's done?" he said finally. "You're done with..."

"Yeah," Stiles breathed, nodding like his dad could see him.

"Good," the Sheriff insisted. "I'll send a patrol car or two to check the scene out."

"And maybe an ambulance," Stiles suggested, frowning down at the group of bodies on the ground. One of them was groaning, like Young. Boyd was glaring at him with an uncharacteristic amount of vitriolic disgust, and something clicked into place in Stiles’ head.  

He glanced up at Derek, jerked his head toward the guy, and Derek nodded.

"Anything else?"

"That's it," Stiles shook his head.

"Coming home tonight?"

Stiles looked back at Derek, who seemed entirely focused on yanking the groaning hunter to his feet as roughly as he could manage, jostling his injured arm as he and Boyd manhandled him upright.

"No," he told his dad. "No, I’m not."

"Bring Derek over for dinner tomorrow night," the sheriff instructed. "And the rest of them this weekend, if they're speaking to you. I miss my kids."

"Yes sir," Stiles mumbled, ignoring the derisive snort from Boyd. "We'll be clear in ten minutes."

"I'll have an ambulance and a couple squad cars there in fifteen. Thanks for the tip."

Stiles hung up just in time to catch Young waking up fully, Boyd's claws dug into his previously uninjured shoulder to hold him steady. He looked sufficiently cowed by the sight of Stiles and Derek standing shoulder to shoulder in front of him, pack at their backs, and what remained of the hunters' group at their feet. 

“You – I knew it,” Young choked out, glaring weakly at Stiles. Stiles smirked at him, eyes narrowing calculatingly as he leaned forward.

"Which is your dominate hand?"

Young blinked at him, like he didn't understand the question.

"Left or right," Stiles prodded, gesturing to the arm Boyd held behind the man's back, the bloody one hanging limp from Allison's well-placed arrow. "Which hand do you shoot with?"

"L-left," he choked out.

His left forearm snapped like a twig between Derek's deft fingers, the crack of breaking bones drowned under Young’s pained scream.

"That's for my dad," Stiles told him. Boyd relaxed his hold enough to let the hunter sink to his knees, broken arm cradled in his lap, and Stiles stepped around Derek to crouch down in front of him until they were eye to eye.

"Listen carefully," he instructed, voice low and tone leaving absolutely no room for misinterpretation. "You tell your superiors. You tell your subordinates. You tell everyone you possibly can, and everyone they can - Beacon Hills is ours. This is our territory, and we defend it at any and all cost."

Young nodded frantically, eyes wide.

"This is the first and only warning," Stiles continued, gesturing around to the unconscious hunters around them. "The next time a hunter steps foot in our territory, the next time a hunter tries to come after my pack, I will personally make sure there isn't enough left of them to bury. Understood?"

He was still nodding when Boyd pulls back and knocks him out cold again.

 

---

 

They made it as far as the parking lot. It was further than Stiles expected, really, but Isaac still looked wide-eyed and shell-shocked, Allison was still looking sideways at Stiles like she was afraid to let him out of her sight, Scott still hadn't so much as said a single word. Stiles thought they had a chance, maybe, of getting back to Derek's loft before everything came to a head.

Which was why, even though he was kind of expecting it, it still took him by surprise when Scott's fist collided squarely with his jaw.

"Shit!" Stiles swore, the blow hard enough that even though he fell backwards he hit the ground on his hands and knees, the force of Scott's punch twisting his body almost a full hundred and eighty degrees. He could feel the throb of his heartbeat pulsing through his entire face, the heavy grit of gravel grinding into the shredded heels of his hands, and Scott looming over him.

"Save it," Derek snapped, stepping forcefully in between Stiles and Scott. Lydia's hands were curled around Stiles' bicep, tugging him upright again, and Isaac had his hands on Scott's shoulders, holding him back away from Derek. "The cops are going to be here in minutes, we don't have time for your histrionics."

"He - Derek!" Scott protested, gesturing wildly at where Stiles was gingerly climbing back to his feet.

"Get in the car," Derek ordered, alpha voice coming out as he glared back. "Back to the loft," he told Allison, nodding toward where Isaac was already steering Scott toward her car. "Take Scott and Isaac. Boyd," he fumbled with the key ring from his jacket pocket, detaching a single key before tossing the rest to Boyd, "take Lydia and Stiles."

"I can drive," Stiles protested. Rue the day he ever thought it was a good idea to cut Derek his own copy of the Jeep's ignition key.

Derek stared pointedly at his hands, filthy with a combination of Derek's blood, Stiles' blood, gravel, and dirt.

"Fine," Stiles huffed, turning his back on the fond exasperation in Derek's expression and following Boyd to the Camaro. Lydia, for the first time in all the time Stiles had known her, relinquished the front seat without a fight, climbing wordlessly into the back and pulling the seat back into position for Stiles.

"Thanks," he said quietly.

"Don't get used to it," Lydia snapped, throwing a pack of handiwipes from the first aid kit Stiles kept under Derek's seat and hitting him in the shoulder. "You have months of groveling ahead of you, Stilinksi. Months."

"Come on," Stiles protested gently, "don't act like you even for one second bought it. You knew all along."

"How would I have known anything," Lydia sniffed, sounding affronted. "You didn't tell me. Anything."

"Don't believe her," Boyd advised him, sliding into the driver's seat and slamming the door shut behind him. "She and Derek have fought every day for the last month, always talking in code about secrets and lies and things backfiring spectacularly, and none of us could figure out why."

Stiles glanced back at Lydia, raising his eyebrow pointedly, and she huffed and tossed the long tail of her practical, going-into-battle braid back over her shoulder.

"Look at you, you were even dressed for a fight," he gestured his elbow what has become her and Allison's preferred uniform, standard black on black Under Armor and running shoes, a far cry from her usual high fashion style. Lydia only rolled her eyes, and Stiles shifted gears.

"Lydia," he said softly, imploringly. "You know why I did it. You know why I had to."

"Of course she does," Boyd huffed. "We all do. Or will, once Scott calms down enough to listen to reason. Doesn't mean we like it."

"It felt horrible," Lydia said finally. Her voice was disconcertingly hollow, Stiles hears the extent of the horrible in her tone. "I knew it was a lie and it still felt awful. Everything was out of balance without you, like we all forgot how to function without you around being an insufferable know-it-all asshole..."

She trailed off, losing the haunting quality in favor of impassioned anger as her rant built up momentum, and Stiles focused his attention on using the wipes to scrape the blood from under his fingernails.

"Scott hasn't been that bad since he killed Deucalion," Boyd told him. "He's been kind of...pissed."

Stiles snorted his agreement. His jaw still throbbed with the weight of his heartbeat and he could feel the hot, angry bruise already blossoming under his skin.

"I'm sorry," he said to Boyd, because Lydia still wouldn't meet his eyes. "About all of it. And about..." he waved one hand loosely, because how do you politely say to someone 'sorry about the time I flipped you over my shoulder and threw you into the ground for having the audacity to try and touch me?'

"It's fine," Boyd said dismissively. "You needed to sell your pitch, and Isaac was going to be the second hardest buyer after Scott, but you're too much of a softy to ever actually hurt Isaac so it had to be me."

Stiles only blinked, because that didn't even remotely sound like something Boyd had come up with on his own in the barely twenty minutes that had passed since Stiles revealed his actual intentions, and the loud exhale from the back seat seemed to agree.

"Lydia filled me in once she had me away from the rest of the pack," Boyd admitted. "I've had a little more time to let it sink in."

"That was brilliant, by the way," Stiles said, twisting around as much as he could to look at Lydia. It was, too. Derek didn't always appreciate when the pack took initiative, but the rules were always more like casual suggestions when it came to Lydia, and in this case sneaking away with Boyd before the hunters sealed the doors, circling around back to trap the hunters in the narrow hallway they'd been hiding in, was pure Lydia Martin genius. "Literally probably life-saving."

"Of course it was," Lydia scoffed, like she was offended at Stiles' surprise.

Boyd was turning the Camaro into Derek's creepy alleyway before Stiles could continue laying it on thick, and Lydia was scrambling over the seats and out the passenger's side door almost before Stiles himself was fully out of the way. She stood expectantly in front of him as he slammed the door shut, all five foot two of her blocking his way out of the alley, and he grinned in spite of it all.

"Do you want to hit me too?" he offered, showing her his uninjured cheek. "You can, you know. I deserve it."

She leveled her you're too stupid to be worthy of my attention glare at him, and his grin softened into a small, fond smile.

"Hug, then?" he asked, holding his arms out loosely.

Lydia dove forward, wrapping her arms tight around Stiles' ribs and pressing her face into his chest, tucking her head under his chin. He hugged her back just as hard, tightening his grip until there was barely even air between them, just Lydia squeezing the breath from his lungs and Stiles holding on for dear life.

"Don't you ever do that to me again," she whispered, pulling back just enough to look him in the eye, both their arms still curled loosely around each other. "Never again."

"You kidding?" Stiles scoffed, twisting the end of her braid around his hand and tugging lightly. "I'm moving into your guest room, bringing the rest of the pack with me. Be prepared for several long months of me following you around with an extreme case of separation anxiety."

Boyd coughed lightly from where he stood at the mouth of the alleyway, and it was enough to spark Lydia into taking a step back.

Derek was pulling the Jeep up to the curb in front of his building, Allison just behind him. Scott was the first one out of the car, storming brusquely passed all of them and into the apartment complex, Allison barely sparing an apologetic glance their way as she hurried after him.

"Nice night for a drive?" Boyd snorted, glancing at a still shell-shocked Isaac.

Isaac ignored him, making a beeline straight for Stiles. Lydia moved like she was going to try to get in his way, bless her, but Isaac dodged her neatly, slowing down only just in time to plow gently into Stiles' side, bending down to bury his nose in the crook of Stiles' neck.

"I knew you didn't mean it," he mumbled. Stiles looped an arm around his waist gently - Isaac was more tactile than the rest of them put together on a good day, but for all that he craved contact he almost never initiated it. "Knew it. Knew you were faking."

"I missed you too," Stiles promised, reaching up with his free hand to ruffle Isaac's hair. "Come on, lets go upstairs so Derek and I can fill everyone in."

 


---

 


Scott wouldn’t stop pacing.

There was no discernable pattern, as far as Stiles could tell. He stalked back and forth between the couch and the kitchen counter for a few turns before veering off to the steel work bench still covered with Stiles’ and Derek’s elaborate plans, stomped in dizzying half-circles around the spiral staircase, wore a path in the floor under the window.

He didn’t say a word either. Didn’t even look over to where Stiles was sitting, Derek standing behind him with his hands braced against the back of the couch, not once in the whole time it took them to explain in excruciating detail every necessary moment of what had happened in the last month and a half.

The rest of the pack had, for the most part, listened quietly. Lydia made no effort to keep her derision hidden, particularly when Stiles admitted that coming to her house was the closest he came to fucking up, but other than that they seemed willing to sit still and listen.

“And then this asshole over here wanted me to shoot him,” Stiles concluded finally, after what felt like hours of talking, “and I did. And I guess you know the rest from there.”

“It worked,” Derek argued grumpily. He was standing to Stiles’ right, the back of the couch and a foot of space between them, and Stiles tried not to acknowledge the way the distance made him ache. He could feel every inch of it between them, every bit of space between his right shoulder and Derek’s left hand, and pointedly forcing his attention elsewhere was only going to work for so long.

“I don’t know how,” Lydia snapped from the opposite corner of the L-shaped couch. She was sitting with her arms folded over her chest and an unimpressed glower on her face, and even Boyd looked a little nervous to be sitting next to her. “This was without a doubt the most idiotic, asinine, senseless plan you two have ever come up with, and that’s saying a whole hell of a lot!”

“It did work,” Stiles reminded her, because apparently a month away from Lydia really did a number on his self-preservation instincts.

Lydia sneered at him, lips parting to deliver an undoubtedly scathing response, until Scott beat her to it.

“Was it worth it?”

Stiles stared at him. Scott had come to a stop halfway between the island counter that separated the kitchen from the living area and the loveseat, head cocked inquisitively to the side as he looked back at Stiles. Everyone else seemed torn between watching Stiles and watching Scott, and Stiles could feel the tension settling into Isaac’s long limbs.

“Um, yeah,” Stiles insisted. “Hell yeah. Look at us. The hunters are gone, hopefully for good, and we’re all still here. We’re all still here, nothing more than a couple scrapes and bruises and some PT for my dad. I’d say this was probably the most successful Attack of the Supernatural Douchebaggery battle we’ve ever had, so yes, Scott, absolutely do I think it was worth it.”

“You lied to us,” Scott shot back. “You lied to all of us, betrayed the most basic instinct of pack. And we all heard you, we all listened to you look us in the eye and say you were leaving the pack, leaving us, and there wasn’t a single indicator of you lying. How am I supposed to trust you, now, knowing that?”

“He wasn’t lying.”

Stiles could feel the palpable shift in tension in the room, the change in focus as every eye turned to stare at Isaac. He pulled himself up from where he’d been slouched over on the couch with his shoulder pressed against Stiles’, straightened up and cleared his throat as he looked back at Scott.

“I can’t speak for your conversation with him, but I know how mine went. Stiles said a lot of shit that, when it was all laid out together like that, sounded pretty convincing, but if you broke it down didn’t actually mean anything,” Isaac continued quietly. “He told me he was leaving to protect his family, because his family was in danger because of what I am.”

“Exactly,” Scott argued. “That’s my whole point, Isaac. He said it and he meant it, how the hell are we supposed to trust that next time it won’t be real?”

“You’re not listening,” Isaac shook his head. “His family is in danger because of what we are. Of course it’s not a lie, of course he meant it. Hunters were here, going after us because of what we are. No part of that statement wasn’t true, he just made it sound like he meant something else.”

“Seriously, none of you have ever noticed Stiles doing this?” Isaac raised an eyebrow at the frowns he was getting from around the room. Everyone but Lydia looked confused, even Derek, and Isaac rolled his eyes before turning back to Stiles. “Help me out here.”

“My dad got shot,” Stiles said firmly, looking up to meet Scott’s eyes. “My family’s in danger because you’re all werewolves. I’ll do whatever it takes to protect my family, and if that means cutting ties from you then so be it.”

“Okay, so he’s still not lying,” Scott growled, eyes narrowed. “What does that prove.”

“Scott,” Allison interrupted quietly, eyes never leaving Stiles’ face. “How many times has Stiles told us we were his family?” she turned back to her boyfriend, smiling wryly at him. “I mean, he introduces you to people as his brother.”

“Frankly,” Stiles mumbled, “I’m kind of offended you didn’t call bullshit the first time I used the family line.”

“I did,” Isaac grumbled quietly back, “just not to your face.”

Scott ignored them. He was still looking at Allison, who was nodding lightly in response to whatever silent communication was passing between them. Stiles watched him even as he nudged his shoulder back up against Isaac’s, carefully cataloguing the subtle shifts in Scott’s expression as he argued with Allison.

Scott took a step toward the couch, pulling his attention away from Allison and turning back to Stiles, and even with the foot of air between them Stiles could feel Derek tense up. He shifted closer, hand gripping the back of the couch much nearer to Stiles’ shoulder, and Stiles resisted any urge for a reassuring touch only because he knew it would only annoy Scott further.

Scott was still advancing toward him though, and even if Stiles trusted Scott to the moon and back his face was still throbbing from where Scott hit him earlier.

“Dude, if you’re going to punch me again just do me a solid and keep it below the neck,” Stiles joked warily, scrambling to his feet when Scott was only steps away. “I’m going to have a hard enough time with one black eye, my dad’s going to go –”

The hug was bordering on painful. Scott, nose buried in the crook of Stiles’ collarbone, one arm tight around his shoulders and the other like a steel band around his ribs, didn’t seem to notice how tight his grip was. Stiles didn’t care. He didn’t hesitate to throw his arms around his best friend in return, squeezing back as hard as he was capable of and pointedly ignoring the sarcastic aww that sounded like Lydia but very well could have been Allison too.

“I’m still so fucking mad at you,” Scott hissed in his ear, not even remotely loosening his grip. “So fucking pissed. If you ever do that to me again, Stiles, I swear to God –”

“Please,” Stiles mumbled back, “like I’d be able to pull that trick off twice. Besides, I just gave away my best kept werewolf trade secret, I’ll never be able to lie to you again.”

At that Scott finally pulled back, not fully releasing his hold on Stiles but still letting go enough that they could put a bit of space between them.

“You’ve been pulling that trick for years, haven’t you?” he accused, eyes narrowed.

“What, layering facts on top of each other in an effort to sneak a lie past your wolfy heart monitors? Of course I have,” Stiles scoffed. “Come on Scotty, it’s me. I’ve never been very good at not embellishing the truth a bit.”  

“Asshole,” Scott accused. It was more good natured than aggressive, even though Scott still was frowning petulantly, so Stiles did nothing more than clap Scott on the shoulder once before carefully extricating himself from the hug.

He turned to Allison. Allison, who was calm and level-headed and had maybe too much practice in approaching things with a clinical, unemotional detachment. Who was the only person in this whole apartment who hadn’t said boo one way or another to him, hadn’t reamed him out or forgiven him or, really, said much of anything.

“Allison,” he prompted gently. He’d take anything from her, anything she wanted to throw at him or say to him or do to him, he just wanted something. Some kind of reaction.

What he wasn’t expecting was a light shimmer of tears glinting in her brown eyes, the guilt on her face when she looked up at him.

“I should have trusted you,” she whispered shakily. “You’ve been there for me, for everything. I should have trusted you, should have trusted that whatever you were doing had some kind of ulterior motive.”

“No,” Stiles shook his head. “I gave you some pretty good reasons not to. I said some horrible things.”

“You’ve said horrible things before,” Allison argued. Stiles had too. Never quite like that, never with the intention of cutting people right to the bone the way he had then, but Stiles had never been one to pull his punches, and he and Allison had definitely had it out more than once in the past.

“And I’ll probably say them again,” he admitted ruefully. “Doesn’t mean you’re to blame for not magically seeing through me this time.”

“But –”

“Shut up and come hug me, Al,” Stiles insisted, cutting her off and holding his arms open impatiently. Scott got out of her way just in time, Allison crashing into Stiles and winding her arms tightly around his waist, shaky with unshed tears even as she laughed.  

He wasn’t really paying attention to how it happened. Was more focused on Allison, to be honest, on pressing his face in her hair and keeping his arms tight around her shoulders. But suddenly Scott was worming his way in, burrowing under Stiles’ elbow and nudging at Allison’s arm until they had no choice but to rearrange and pull him into their hug, and it was all downhill from there. Isaac’s mumbled complaint of “no fair” was the only warning before he was plastering himself to Allison’s other side, fingers buried in Stiles’ hair and an arm over Scott’s shoulders, and Stiles only noticed Lydia’s arrival because she pinched his waist sharply before curling her arm around it. Even Boyd was there, wrapped around Lydia with an arm sandwiched between Lydia and Stiles, and oh god. They were hugging. They were puppy piling, the upright version, and Stiles would go to his grave never admitting how good it felt.

He looked through the tangle of limbs, under the crook of Isaac’s arm and over the edge of Boyd’s shoulder, to catch Derek’s eye. Derek had never been one for group hugs, not even a little bit, but there’s an exception to every rule. 

Except when he met Derek’s eye all thoughts of group hugs and pack bonding and fluffy family moments went right out the nearest window, took a swan dive over the edge of the balcony twenty stories down to the gray pavement below. Derek’s eyes on him were hot and sharp and possessive, even ten feet away in the dimly lit loft, and Stiles might have missed the rest of his pack like hell but he needed them gone now

“You’re crushing me,” Stiles mumbled, turning his head back into the mess of bodies and muffling the words against someone’s shoulder. He was looking for Lydia, who he was pretty sure was somewhere against his right side sandwiched between him and Boyd, and was relieved to notice that by the time he found her she seemed to have picked up on it already. “You’re going to kill me by hugging me to death, what an undignified way to go.”

“Shut up and like it,” Isaac grumbled from somewhere behind Allison.

“I don’t,” Stiles griped, “not even a little bit. I hate all of you.”

“Liar liar liar,” Scott sang back. “Sooo many lies.”

“Stiles is just cranky that none of us are Derek,” Lydia said primly. Stiles could feel her against his side now, could feel the way she was slowly squirming back like she was pulling away from him, and apparently that was all it took. The tangled mass around him shifted and twisted and pulled until everyone was free, taking stumbling steps backwards and snickering at each other when Isaac tripped over his own foot, Boyd had to unhook his watch from where it caught on Allison’s sweater. 

They migrated toward the door as a group, gathering up small handfuls of their things off the couch and coffee table, shrugging into jackets as best they could while still being relatively close together. Everyone managed to lay a hand on Stiles in some way or another before they stepped out the door, never with a goodbye because goodbyes are for people you aren’t going to see again in twelve hours or less.

Eventually only Scott was left, lingering in front of the sliding metal door and turning back to look at Stiles.

“I should’ve known you’d never leave him,” he said quietly. Stiles didn’t have to follow Scott’s gaze to know he was looking over Stiles’ shoulder at Derek.

“You should’ve known I’d never leave you,” he shot back. It was mostly a joke, mostly, but Scott still turned an uncharacteristically serious expression on him.

“Yeah,” he agreed, nodding. “Yeah, I should’ve.”

He slipped out the door before Stiles could say anything else, pulling the heavy metal closed behind him and leaving Stiles alone with one hand still hanging off the handle and the burn of Derek’s eyes on his back.

“Stiles,” Derek said quietly. It was heavy with the weight of whatever millions of things Derek was about to say, and Stiles didn’t have the patience to hear any of them. 

“Shut up,” Stiles choked out. He flung himself around and launched himself away from the door, toward Derek. “Shut up, shut up, shut up.” He crashed into Derek hard enough to send them both careening backwards away from the couch and into the edge of the kitchen counter, caught himself with hand on either side of Derek’s face and a hard, rough press of his lips against Derek’s.

Derek didn’t hesitate, didn’t so much as wait until they’d regained their balance – just wrapped his arms around Stiles’ ribs and kissed him back. Kissed him desperately, like he’d been aching for it for as long as Stiles had, untangling one hand from where it was gripping Stiles’ shirt to slide it up into his hair, holding the back of Stiles’ skull as he pressed forward to deepen the kiss.

“Jesus, fuck,” Stiles gasped, twisting his mouth just far enough to the side to drag in a harsh breath. Derek barely slowed down, redirecting his focus to Stiles’ jaw, the smattering of moles along his cheek. “You asshole,” Stiles whined, tilting his head further to the side as Derek made his way towards Stiles’ neck. “Years of sexual tension, and you decide the best time to kiss me is the night before we both have to pretend to hate each other for the foreseeable future. Who does that?” he groaned, and it’s only partially because of the sharp nip of Derek’s teeth against his throat.

“It barely –”

Years,” Stiles insisted, “years, Derek. Shut up and come back here, I’m not done kissing you yet.”

Except he couldn’t even decide where to start. He dragged Derek’s face back up against his and swiped his tongue across Derek’s bottom lip only to shift gears last minute, drawing the flat of his tongue against the rough stubble coating Derek’s jaw until he could catch Derek’s earlobe between his teeth. 

“I missed you,” Stiles whispered, breathing the words against Derek’s skin. “I missed you so much, fuck.”

“I tried to trick myself into thinking that it wouldn’t be that bad,” Derek mumbled back. His hands were in constant motion, cupping the back of Stiles’ neck, sliding down over his arms, peeling his hoody back off his shoulders. “Or maybe at least that it wouldn’t be as bad for me as it was for everyone else, because they thought you really were leaving and I knew you weren’t.”

“How’d that work out for you?” Stiles teased. It was a pointless question – he didn’t need the way Derek’s fingers flexed against his chest, the sharp jerk of breath in Derek’s lungs, to know that it had been just as horrible for Derek as it had been for him.

“Not too well,” Derek huffed out. He dropped Stiles’ discarded hoody and was already doing work on the buttons of his flannel before it even hit the floor, fingers flying nimbly over buttons even as Stiles put some serious effort into biting a lasting mark into the soft skin under Derek’s jaw. “It just – fuck – made it even harder to stay away, knowing that wasn’t really what you wanted.”

“I never want you to stay away,” Stiles answered instantly, pulling his mouth off Derek’s neck with a filthy kind of noise in his urgency to get the words out. “I never want you not around me, not with me. This month was hell, Derek, I never –”

Derek cut him off with his own lips, abandoning Stiles’ fully-unbuttoned flannel in favor of cupping both sides of his face and drawing him down into another sloppy kiss. Stiles sank only too willingly into it, fingers scrabbling to get two fistfuls of t-shirt against Derek’s chest, and pulled away gasping only when he absolutely had to.

“Never again,” Derek ordered hoarsely. “Never again, Stiles, I’m never letting you do anything like this, never…”

“Fine by me,” Stiles agreed breathlessly. He’d begun attempting to steer them backwards towards the spiral staircase leading up to Derek’s bedroom, dropping his flannel and managing to fumble off one shoe. “As long as we also agree I never have to shoot you again.”

“Deal,” Derek nodded. His still bloody shirt landed on top of Stiles’ second sneaker and Stiles was momentarily distracted from his mission to get to Derek’s room, stumbling to a halt to run shaking fingers over the pink, newly healed flesh over Derek’s heart.

“I’m serious,” he insisted, looking up to meet Derek’s unfathomable eyes. “I fucking love you, you asshole, and I swear to god if you ever try to talk me into shooting you again I’ll use a wolfsbane bullet.”

If Derek was opposed to that or not Stiles would never know. He was far too busy bracing himself against the hard metal banister curling around the spiral staircase, wringing soul-crushing kisses out of Derek as he mumbled over and over again that he loved Stiles too.

 


---

 


They didn’t really make it to the bed in time for round one. Or round two. But eventually Stiles found himself sprawled the wrong way across Derek’s mattress, head pillowed in the crook of Derek’s arm and one leg sprawled over Derek’s waist. The skin under his nose smelled warm and familiar, and the sleepy half-smile Derek shared with him once he woke up made Stiles ache all the way to his bones.

“Help me with this?”

Derek held out one hand expectantly, letting Stiles drop the strip of well-worn leather and metal into his open palm. Stiles had found it in the drawer of Derek’s nightstand while desperately searching for anything that might qualify as lube, and hadn’t let it go since.

“This makes it official you know,” Derek mumbled teasingly, tying the ends of the leather cuff into a neat, nearly-unbreakable knot. “No last-minute changing your mind now.”

“As if,” Stiles snorted. Derek curled his fingers around Stiles’ wrist, overlapping lightly with the soft leather, and Stiles used the tips of his own to trace the engraved letters against the metal plate. “Everything I went through to get us here. You’re stuck with me forever.”

If found please return to Derek Hale. He’d have to look into getting Derek a matching one, black leather instead of brown, Stiles’ cell phone number engraved on the inside, just in case.

“Promise?”

Stiles hid his grin in the soft skin of Derek’s inner arm, using the leg still hooked over Derek’s waist to haul himself in close enough to tug Derek up for another kiss.

“Promise.”

 

Be careful of the curse that falls on young lovers,
Starts so soft and sweet and turns them to hunters.
A man who’s pure of heart and says his prayers by night
May still become a wolf when the autumn moon is bright




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