Stiles aimed his patented pleading-while-still-sassing-you face at his best friend. The expression involved big eyes and raised eyebrows with a smirk and a tilt of his head that was meant to convey I’m right, you’re wrong, so please, please, please?
Scott remained unmoved. “I haven’t gone to a circus since I was little.”
“Exactly!” Stiles waved his arm in the direction of the Beacon Hills fairgrounds. “Which is why we need to go. We’re older now and can more fully appreciate the experience. Also, nostalgia. And it’ll be something to look back on when we’re old and decrepit.” He jumped behind Scott and put his hands on Scott’s shoulders, pushing him toward the Jeep.
“Now is the time to make memories, my friend, to do something new and out of the ordinary. Greenberg went last night and said it was like a freaky carnival with a hot trapeze artist, a real bearded lady and a huge freak show tent. Fond, fond memories.”
Scott sighed. “As long as we’re not gone too long. Mom’ll kill me if I don’t get at least a C on tomorrow’s history test.”
“I’ll help you study after I bring you home.” He slapped Scott on the back before he got into the Jeep. An actual circus with actual circus freaks. This was going to be great.
Cirque d’Argent did seem more like a carnival than a circus. Instead of a three-ring circus under a tent with a few oddities, the circus seemed wholly made up of oddities. They’d only walked a short distance inside the gates when they came upon a strong man, which Stiles felt fell squarely into carnival territory. A sign in bold letters warned that the act wasn’t suitable for kids or people with heart problems.
Stiles nudged Scott as he took in the chain around the man’s ankle and the sign above his head. “Look at that. Strong in Muscle and Constitution. Boyd the Indestructible Man! What a weird headline. Like, he’s robust and has excellent digestion, or what? Not strong enough to break that chain, though.” He gestured toward the chain and scoffed, but dropped his smirk when Boyd turned to look at him.
Boyd’s skin was dotted with sweat, and his eyes were so dark Stiles would have described them as muddy, like how a person’s eyes can get when they’re sick or in pain. Constant, unrelenting pain. He swallowed down the memory of the last eyes he’d seen like that. Between the guy’s eyes and the sweat, and the less than let me put on a show for you look on this Boyd’s face, he looked like he had anything but a strong constitution, no matter what their sign said.
A few men were offered the challenge to lift a huge kettle bell supposedly weighing hundreds of pounds. None could budge it. Three men gripped the handle at once. After a couple minutes of grunting and groaning and straining, it still hadn’t moved.
“Three fully-grown, stout and strong men!” the barker cried. “But our strong man can lift this mighty weight with a single hand!” He gestured to Boyd, who stepped forward, closed his eyes, and slowly lifted the weight several inches off the ground with one gloved hand. After about a minute passed, he lowered it gently, took a few deep breaths and opened his eyes.
“Wow.” Scott clapped, smiling and nodding.
“Boyd is unmatched in physical strength,” the barker cried out to the crowd. “But even more impressive than that is his sheer, inner strength. Feast your eyes as the Indestructible Man defies death.”
The barker disappeared for a moment inside the tent behind them and emerged with a long, shiny pipe that came to a wicked point on one end. He also carried a black hood that reminded Stiles of an executioner’s hood, but without eyeholes.
As he put the hood over Boyd’s head, the barker explained. “Strong, but dumb. Like blinders help focus a horse, blocking out the sights and sounds around him helps focus Boyd and allows him to withstand almost anything.”
Once he’d secured the hood, he plunged the pipe into Boyd’s lower back, sending the end out his stomach and dropping Boyd to his knees with a cry of pain. Stiles flinched but caught himself. He tilted his head toward Scott and mumbled. “Trick weapon. Fake blood. That’s not even original.” Blood poured from the wound. Some in the crowd gasped and murmured.
Boyd clutched at the pipe protruding from his stomach with one hand, his head hanging. Stiles thought he might fall over, but he managed to stay upright on his knees. He was playing it up; Stiles would give him that. Pretty soon they’d show there was actually no wound where the dude had stabbed him. Nothing different than a trick every semi-professional magician did at one time or another.
Stiles was about to pull Scott in the direction of the biggest tent when the barker shouted to get everyone’s attention.
“Your faces tell me you’re unsure whether or not Boyd’s truly indestructible. You’re a jaded audience, I can see. But let me help convince you that his injury is real.” He held up a long metal rod with a white rope trailing from its end. He stood behind Boyd, who still swayed like he might topple any second. A hand on Boyd’s shoulder urged him to straighten his back and turn a little to the side so the audience had full view of the pipe in the front and the back.
The man fed the rod into the pipe and pushed it through, as if he were sewing. Then he detached the rope from the rod, leaving the rope hanging out the front and the back of the pipe that appeared to be impaling Boyd. The barker grabbed both ends of the rope and seesawed it back and forth.
“Wow, that’s a great trick,” Scott mumbled. Stiles knew it was just magic. An illusion. But it was a pretty damn good one.
The man pulled both ends of the rope toward him, pulling on the pipe “inside” Boyd. Boyd screamed. The audience gasped. Of course, everyone knew it was fake. If they thought a hooded main chained to a platform had actually been run through, someone would have already called 911. Boyd’s screams were just acting. Give the crowd a thrill.
Of course it was fake.
“You, there. Come here and tell the audience what you see!” The barker motioned to a young man in the front, who stepped forward and was urged to kneel down (mind the blood, son, don’t get it on your clothes) and look into the pipe. The barker knelt on the other side.
“Whoa!” The man jerked back when the barker peered through the other end. “I can see your eye!”
Stiles leaned toward Scott. “It’s done with mirrors.”
The barker pulled the rope out, and then the pipe, wringing another scream from Boyd the Indestructible. The barker walked back and forth on the front edge of the platform, bandying the rope about and talking about how we cannot trust what we know of the physical world because there are more things in it that we can imagine. How we cannot trust our perceptions. Mostly standard magic show everything’s an illusion fare.
Then he pulled a white rag from inside his suit jacket and wiped at the blood on Boyd’s stomach to show that the wound was gone. In its place there was a small red spot that might have been a scab or just drying blood that wouldn’t wipe off easily. He turned Boyd and did the same thing to his back. He removed the black hood with the same flourish he’d done everything else. Boyd’s face was wetter than before, his eyes darker, and he took deep breaths, baring his teeth with each inhale. Stiles didn’t remember his canines being quite so prominent, but they must have been. Had he even seen Boyd’s teeth before? Maybe the hood was meant to cause sweating, to give the whole act an air of realism. Maybe that’s somehow what made his eyes darker, too.
He couldn’t say it was fun to watch, but it did its job. It left Stiles unsettled, even though he felt ridiculous about it.
“That was . . . weird,” Scott said as they walked away. He put his hands in his pockets and shrugged his shoulders like he did when he got a chill. “How do you think they did the rope thing, pulling it through like that?”
Stiles scratched the back of his neck. “Really elaborate trick. But I’ll bet if we were watching from the side or behind him, we’d see it. In magic, the angle or even the distance from the trick can make a difference.” He shrugged. “Penn and Teller could do it, I’m sure.”
Scott nodded, then pointed to the tent with the sign that read, “Death-Defying Aerial Stunts--Never a Net!” Another sign warned that this particular act wasn’t designed for small children or the faint of heart. Stiles wondered if anything in this circus was actually meant for the kiddie set, and what the hell kind of a circus wouldn’t be.
As they settled onto one of the bleacher seats, Stiles overheard the people behind him talking about seeing this act last night. One guy carried on about how awesome it was, and how in the end, the woman had actually fallen, and a clown had come out encouraging people to cheer to give Madame Erica the strength to get up again. And she had.
He looked at Scott to see if he was listening to this, but Scott was preoccupied, looking at some girl who stood on the ground offering popcorn and peanuts to people in the first few rows. She was pretty, with killer dimples and an amazing smile. And she was looking back at Scott. Who, if Stiles did say so, was a pretty good-looking dude, himself.
Scott’s hand shot in the air. “Here!” Then he leaned toward Stiles. “Dude, lend me two bucks.”
Stiles slipped him four as sneakily as he could. “Impress the girl. Besides, I’m hungry.”
Scott gave her the money. “Two popcorns, please. I’m Scott, Scott McCall.” Then he smiled like a goofy . . . goof. At least he had a great smile and looked like the happiest goof on the planet when he did it.
“I’m Allison Argent. Aw, that’s sweet, Scott, buying popcorn for your boyfriend.” She flashed an equally blinding smile and headed back down the bleachers.
“Oh my god, Stiles. Oh my god.”
“Relax, Scott. I’d make a wonderful boyfriend.”
When Scott shoved him, Stiles laughed and put his arm around Scott’s shoulders--an arm that Scott kept trying in vain to shake off, but Stiles intended to keep in place at least until Allison looked their way again. “Quit worryin’. You definitely gave her your I would worship the ground you walk on face. And I’m pretty sure she was kidding.” He tossed a piece of popcorn at Scott’s face and laughed. “Keep up, dumbass.”
The girl looked over her shoulder at Scott once she was on ground level again, and her smile made Stiles confident she’d been teasing. He let go of Scott’s shoulders and raised his eyebrows to say see? Scott blew out a breath in relief, and tossed popcorn back at Stiles. In a matter of seconds, they’d each sacrificed at least a quarter of their popcorn to the fight until a balding man in the row in front of them turned and scowled. Stiles pointed an accusing finger at a couple of girls two rows up, then shrugged at Scott’s shocked face.
A tall woman with short, red hair came out dressed in the typical circus Ringmaster suit. She looked severe. She reminded Stiles of his second-grade teacher, Mrs. Shimkus, who always looked like she was three seconds away from knocking you down and kicking you with her pointy-toed shoes.
By the time Madame Erica appeared high above the ground, with no actual net in sight as the sign had promised, Stiles felt like he’d just chugged two cups of coffee, maybe with a candy bar chaser. His pulse pounded faster than normal, and that was saying something. He felt upper-lip sweat cooling on his skin when he exhaled. The hand that pushed popcorn into his mouth shook a little. These people knew how to work up an audience, had to give them credit.
Stiles had never seen a trapeze artist do the things this one could do. The distances seemed impossible, and the grace unmatched by any he’d seen even on the PBS showings of the Cirque du Soleil. And those people trained from the time they were babies.
The problem was that something about Madame Erica seemed completely unreal. Stiles knew it wasn’t a trick. He was watching this shapely woman do spins and leaps and all sorts of tricks high above the ground. And many seemed impossible. But it was the way she held herself sometimes that bothered him. Not only was she curvy and shapely and perfect, which went against everything he knew about gymnasts who’d trained from childhood, but she moved with a fluidity that seemed . . . unnatural.
At least for humans.
He laughed at himself, drawing a look from Scott, who was as entranced as he was. Stiles shook his head at Scott and gestured toward Madame Erica so they wouldn’t miss anything. He’d laughed because he’d thought only an animal could move as gracefully as she did, and she was doing it all in a leotard, boots and gloves. Gloves. Wouldn’t that make it more difficult than ever? The way she moved her limbs sometimes reminded him of the wildlife documentaries he and his dad had watched together when he was a little kid and dead set on becoming either a zookeeper or a bear.
Wow, this circus had already earned its money, making him question things that were absolutely ridiculous. Good job, Argents.
And then Erica slipped. In midair, she reached for the bar with both hands, but only one held. As she dangled by one hand on a trapeze that her movement had set twisting, the Ringmaster rushed back out, telling everyone to stay calm, Erica was a professional, there was no way she was going to fall to her death.
Stiles knew it was coming, but he still full-body flinched when she hit the ground. Some people screamed and stood up. Judging from the commotion at the opposite end of the bleachers, someone might have even fainted. Cell phones appeared, fingers frantically punching 911. At a glance, Stiles could tell who’d seen the act last night. They sat smugly watching the others panic. The ones who hadn’t seen it before but thought it was all a trick, maybe those who’d watched Boyd before coming in, didn’t call for help, but they looked less sure about it.
Scott repeatedly smacked Stiles’ arm while trying to call for help. “Try your phone, dude. I’ve got no signal.”
“I overheard the people behind us, Scott. It’s part of the act.” Stiles had a hard time believing it even as he said it. She hadn’t fallen from the highest point by any means. But it had been high enough to seriously injure or even kill a person.
No one could get a signal, and when some concerned people tried to run out of the tent to find one, they were stopped by two burly men at the entrance.
“Everyone, please!” the Ringmaster shouted. She pulled out a square of black silk or satin and draped it over Erica’s face like a funeral shroud. “Madame Erica only needs our encouragement and energy to recover!”
“Oh my god, that’s no clown,” Stiles muttered, turning to stink-eye the person behind him who’d called it that. The figure rushing out to Erica’s side wore an all black suit and a mask that reminded Stiles of the sugar skull designs used in the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. It was a death rictus decorated with flowers and paisley designs, all in black and white. Clown his flannel-wearing ass.
It ran in circles around Erica, who still had not moved since she hit the dirt, motioning with its arms at the crowd, encouraging them.
“Erica. ER-I-CA,” the Ringmaster chanted. The stunned crowd was slow to join in, but eventually every syllable rang out loud and clear. And Erica moved. Stiles leaned forward, trying to block out everything--the rich smell of roasted peanuts and popcorn, the cologne the man in front of him had bathed in, the sugar skull clown-thing running in creepy circles and the too enthusiastic shouts of Er-i-ca. He focused on watching her move. Because like her movements in the air, something about this was not right, either.
Each movement popped, jerked, like she was a plastic model being snapped together as she rose. Stiles pictured a marionette controlled by someone with a nervous tic. And though he couldn’t be sure, he thought he heard her screaming between the chants of the crowd. More acting, he knew, but . . . he didn’t know.
Erica made it to her feet, the silk falling away from her face. As she held her arms over her head, the sugar skull creature started jumping jester-like, one foot at a time, and waving its arms. The Ringmaster cheered. Erica stood still.
Stiles nudged Scott. “Is that blood on her face?”
“I . . . guess? How is she even standing there? And not screaming?”
The moron behind Stiles who’d called the sugar skull creature a clown rattled to his friend. “My god, isn’t that the most amazing trick you ever saw? How did they do that? Are there two of them, and one fell through a trap door onto something soft while the other hurried up and appeared in her place, safe and sound, like in The Prestige? How could they do that so fast, I . . . .”
Stiles tuned him out. There was no trap door on the ground. And in The Prestige, copy-Robert Angiers dropped into a tank of water where he was conveniently drowned while the real Angiers got the applause. Did this guy know nothing? Was this Greenberg’s even doofier relative or something?
They saw and heard her hit the ground, on which there wasn’t so much as a yoga mat for cushioning. Erica had done this two nights in a row here, and presumably hundreds of times in other locations. Yet there’s no way a person could fall that far without at least some broken bones. No person could do that and not get hurt. Maybe in one freak occurrence, but not reliably. No way.
The guy behind Stiles must have had the same thought, because he cried, “I’ll bet she’s a robot!”
Stiles and Scott looked at each other and laughed, but their laughter wasn’t as hearty as it had been earlier.
As they made their way out of the tent, Stiles didn’t miss the angry complaints about such a shocking show, how it could traumatize people, maybe even give someone a heart attack. The burly dudes at the door just kept referencing the signs outside. There, in fine print, was a pretty catch-all warning. Still, Stiles bet there’d be some grown men having nightmares tonight.
“Where next?” Scott was looking around like he’d lost something. Probably looking to see if Allison was in the crowd now.
Once they’d gone into the next tent, the thing Stiles had been most excited about, he tried to remember the oddities he’d seen at circuses and carnivals as a small child. He’d only gone to a few, but he’d loved them. Stiles was never one to shy away from the unusual or grotesque. He felt drawn to that sort of thing, and had read books about Elephant Man John Merrick, Jo Jo the Dog-Faced Boy, Chang and Eng, General Tom Thumb and other sideshow acts that had been famous when circuses were considered high entertainment.
The ones he’d been to as a child always had at least one small tent filled with disturbing and interesting pictures, bones and strange paraphernalia. There were also always jars of questionable-looking liquid with unidentifiable masses floating in them and labels that said “two-headed pig embryos” or something. Things that made little kids want to pee themselves and sleep with the light on.
He’d never seen anything like this.
Stiles stared into the huge jar of yellow liquid. A woman standing next to him leaned close to do the same.
“What the hell is it?” she whispered.
Whatever it was had three eyes that had gone gray at some point. One of them blinked.
The woman flinched, pulling Stiles’ arm as if to drag him away from it. “Holy--I don’t like this place!” She let go of Stiles’ arm when he refused to be pulled too far away and raced out of the tent without him.
“Stiles!” Scott raced toward him, a look of alarm on his face. “This is too weird. Have you seen--”
“Watch it, Scott. Just watch it for a couple seconds and tell me if it’s moving.” Stiles pointed at the big jar of maybe-blinking flesh gob.
After about thirty seconds, Scott’s spine straightened. “Whoa.”
“It blinked, dude.”
“Yeah.” Stiles was convinced it was some sort of parlor trick. A little animatronic glob of fleshy goo. What else could it be? “What were you saying?”
Scott blinked at him a few times. “Oh, there are pictures over there. Pictures of things that look like real bigfoots. Bigfeet? Bigfoot creatures.” Scott nodded, having talked his way around that grammatical problem. “Werewolves, yetis, dead aliens . . . like actual pictures. I mean, they’re fake, but they look really real.”
“Of course they’re fake, Scotty boy.” He put his arm around Scott’s shoulders. “They can’t--did you say werewolves?”
Scott led him to the table of photographs, pointing out the most “really real” looking ones. They were fake. Stiles knew this intellectually. Photoshop was a wonderful and useful thing, especially for teenage boys who wanted to insert themselves into photos with Christina Aguilera and Hugh Jackman, and apparently for circus owners who wanted to fake dead werewolf and bigfoot photos.
Stiles shuddered. Not only did the creepy Argent circus family probably need therapy given the photos they’d created for this tent, they could also make a fine living teaching photo manipulation skills. Unlike the blurry photos often found on hoax websites, these showed a level of detail Stiles was surprised they’d bothered with.
He wished for the digital images just so he could blow them up and find the telltale pixel distortions that gave away a manipped photo. The more he stared at a picture labeled Feral Werewolf Killed by Hunters, the more he desperately needed to see the original digital image. Stiles felt the need to prove to himself that it was fake. Because a voice in his mind, his gut, worried it was real.
“That was a particularly vicious one.”
Stiles spun when the gleeful voice spoke almost into his ear. A white-haired man smiled the most not-happy looking smile Stiles had ever seen. An ugly smile, full of contempt. Whether for him or the subject of the photo, Stiles didn’t know.
“Sorry?” Stiles blinked and cleared his throat. “I mean, it’s fake. A really, really good fake. But, still.”
“Yes.” The man chuckled. He wore a black suit with a bow tie, maybe a circus barker. “Fake.” The man pushed his sleeve up far enough to show Stiles a nasty scar on the inside of his wrist. “Just like this, a scar given to me by that feral wolf, is fake.”
Stiles looked at the picture again, and he could see the resemblance between this creepy man and the much younger one in the picture, posing with his foot on the dead creature. “Hmph. So that’s you?”
“It is. And that werewolf was as real as the wound he left me with.”
Stiles nodded at him and made another sound of assent, just to humor the guy. But Stiles was Stiles. “Okay, that scar totally came from a werewolf. Not farm equipment or a meat slicer or something.” He smiled to soften his sarcasm. What did the guy expect?
“Son, it’s rude not to play along, especially when you’re the one here presumably enjoying all the . . . fakery.” The man clapped his hand on Stiles’ shoulder. “If you’re such a doubting Thomas, how about I show you a real werewolf? The show’s about to start. I’ll even let you in for free as long as you promise to tell all your little friends about it later.”
The man ended up with his hand on Scott’s shoulder, too. Circus barker, maybe. Pedo? Most probably. Creepy? Yes to the yes.
Stiles wanted to see the “real werewolf” show. But he wanted away from this guy more. “Thanks, but I think we’re about to go--”
“Nonsense, you’ve only been here a short time, only seen a couple of acts so far!”
“Wait, how did you--?”
“I’ll even put you right in the front row.”
“Sir, I think we--”
“Not Sir, son. Mr. Argent. I own this circus. And I want you to enjoy the show.” Argent’s hand tightened painfully on Stiles’ shoulder, his teeth seemed to grind together as he smiled. “You need to learn.”
Before Stiles could ask learn what, a man with a longer face than Argent approached and put a hand on the old man’s back. “Dad, who do we have here?” He smiled at Stiles and Scott, and at least it looked partially genuine.
“Two young men who aren’t sure werewolves are real. I’m about to show them that they’re wrong.” Argent removed his hands from their shoulders. Stiles tried not to slump and sigh in relief. Old guy had a grip.
“But they’re not real,” the younger man said, laughing and patting his father on the back. “Wink, wink.” That made Argent laugh, and Stiles and Scott laughed nervously along. “Dad, there’s a phone call for you in your trailer. A supplier with bad news. They’ll wait, but you should take it now.”
Argent scowled at Stiles one more time, then told his son to make sure Stiles and Scott got free, front-row seats to see the real werewolf. He wandered off, smiling and nodding his head at people as he passed.
“I’m Chris Argent. And you are?”
“Stiles. Stilinski.” He shook the man’s hand, then Scott did the same.
“You’ll have to forgive my father. He’s . . . been at this a long time. Reality and fantasy blur pretty easily after decades, I guess. If you’d like to see the show, I’ll take you there myself.” He held his arm up, pointing at the entrance.
Old Man Argent had been creepy as hell. Stiles didn’t get the same vibe from Chris. He wasn’t totally at ease, but he didn’t feel threatened anymore. He and Scott shrugged at each other. “Sure, thanks.”
Chris led them into a tent that normally cost $8 admission per person and took them right to the front row. There was a curtain hiding whatever it was, a werewolf, from view, but the growling was so loud that Stiles almost missed the man saying, “Enjoy the best fake werewolf you’ll ever see.”
“Thanks,” Stiles managed. Chris looked at the curtain, his smile falling away. He brought it back and patted Stiles shoulder, then left.
Scott watched Argent leave, then leaned toward Stiles. “Dude! Could the dad have been any creepier?”
A gorgeous woman in clothes that could have passed for bodypaint sashayed in front of the curtain and began a speech about werewolves and creatures of the night that regular people don’t believe in, but that exist. It was the standard kind of thing haunted houses and circuses and monster movies had been using for years. Get the audience in on the joke, make them feel a part of something, and they enjoy it much more. Stiles supposed if he hadn’t read so much about these kinds of things he might be enjoying it more, too. But he could still feel creepy Old Man Argent’s hand on his shoulder.
“I’m Kate Argent. My father founded this circus and taught me about the evil creatures that put us all in danger every day. And every night.”
“She’s got a flair for drama, huh?” Stiles whispered to Scott, earning himself a glare from Kate Argent. And what was worse, she smiled.
“Hi, sweetie.” She oozed her way over to Stiles, while he looked around, grinning. “What’s your name?”
Sorry, don’t mind me, I’m just lippy, go about your business. All that longed to come out of his mouth, because she had the same contemptuous look Gerard Argent had. She just hid hers under sex appeal. “Uh, Stiles.”
“Uh, Stiles, nice to have you here tonight. I guess you came to see the werewolf?”
“Yeah. Yep. Your dad insisted, and Chris brought us in.”
“My dad and my brother? You’re truly an honored guest. But I can see in your eyes that you don’t believe a word I’ve said. Do you, sweetheart?”
Every time she called him sweetie or sweetheart or smiled her bared-teeth-might-eat-you smile at him, Stiles felt the little muscles in his stomach clench. “Sure I do!” He chuckled. “You’re very convincing. I’m a believer. Totally on board. I--”
Scott elbowed him in the side.
She smirked and took Stiles by the wrist. “Not buying it, Stiles. But I’ll bet I can make a believer out of you yet.” She led him to a spot right in the center of the curtain, then turned back to the crowd. “What do you all say? Shall we convince Stiles here that everything in this world isn’t as it seems?”
A few people clapped unenthusiastically. Scott clapped until Stiles frowned at him.
With a flourish, Kate whipped the curtain away to reveal a man standing in the center of a cage. He faced away from the crowd and Stiles. He wore cut-off jeans and nothing else. Stiles noticed the wide metal cuff around his ankle, secured to a chain, like Boyd’s. He also noticed the broad back and the bold tattoo between his shoulder blades. The man must have had his hands on his stomach, because Stiles could only see his arms to the elbows. He was well-built--Stiles’ mind and body took note of that--but otherwise unremarkable.
Kate looked at him as if to say see?
“Miss Argent, my legs are as hairy as his.” Stiles reached down to hike his pants leg up. “And I’m no werewolf.”
A few people in the audience chuckled. Stiles smiled in their direction and nodded his head a little. “Thank you, I’ll be here all week.” He laughed with the crowd, feeling pretty good about himself and the attention. Scott’s open-mouthed face was a marvel of amusement and I cannot believe your balls.
Kate kept smirking at him. Then she looked at the cage.
The man’s head was cocked, turned a little as if he’d been listening to them. Stiles stepped closer. He still didn’t have a good view, but what he saw reminded him a little of Wolverine. Emboldened by the audience’s reaction to him, Stiles said, “Hey, dude? We’re all waiting to see your totally, one-hundred percent real and authentic werewolf face. Eight bucks a head. At least you could turn around a growl a little.”
Stiles heard Kate chuckle right before the man spun and lunged toward the bars. The audience gasped, and Stiles made a sound that would have embarrassed him if he hadn’t been too busy seeing something he shouldn’t be seeing and not quite knowing what to do with it.
The face just on the other side of the thick metal bars had to be latex and makeup. It had to be some kind of amazing, Oscar-worthy stage face that this tall, well-built man donned before every show. The teeth had to be removable. The facial hair, stick-on. And did they make contacts that seemed to glow? There was no other reasonable explanation.
But that voice inside Stiles. That voice was shamelessly, breathlessly flailing its arms and flipping out and saying that there was nothing reasonable about that face or this moment or this entire freaking circus.
As Stiles stared, taking in all the details that couldn’t possibly be real, the man in the cage stared back. A clawed hand wrapped around one of the bars as he leaned forward, his breathing slowing, head cocking slightly.
“You can’t be real.” Stiles’ whisper couldn’t have traveled to the audience, at least not most of them. He hadn’t even meant to say it out loud. Kate didn’t give any indication she’d heard. But the man in the cage tilted his head down and stared back. He’d heard. Stiles knew it.
“Oh, he likes you, Stiles,” Kate said. She put a hand on Stiles’ shoulder, drawing a growl from the man in the cage. Kate laughed and faced the audience. “Hear that growl, folks? He’s jealous and doesn’t like me touching Stiles. I’ll let you in on a little secret--the werewolf’s in love with me. It’s a real beauty and the beast story. He wouldn’t like it if I got too friendly with Stiles, here. See?”
Kate leaned over and pressed a kiss to Stiles’ cheek. The caged man roared, making several people gasp and titter in surprise.
“Stop making him jealous, Stiles,” Kate said, laughing and mugging for the audience. “Better take your seat, son, so I can finish the show.”
Stiles stared at the man a moment more until Kate pushed against his arm firmly enough to budge him. Stiles sat down next to Scott and watched the rest, but didn’t pay much attention to what Kate said. He was too busy looking into the blue eyes that looked back at him. Even when the caged man was instructed to bare his teeth for the audience, and then threatened with a poke from an electric cattle prod if he didn’t do it, he looked at Stiles while he pulled his lips back, baring impossibly animal-like fangs and sharp teeth.
The show mostly consisted of Kate talking about werewolf mythology--or fact, as she called it--and putting various things in the cage like metal and stone for the “werewolf” to demolish and claw holes in. When it was over, Kate pulled the curtain back across the front of the bars. Just before it hid the man from view, his hand reached out in Stiles’ direction. And Stiles thought the look in his eyes had gone from curious to pleading. Stiles felt his own hand start to lift from his leg, as if he were going to reach back, before dropping it down again, wondering what the hell was wrong with him.
“Dude.” Scott didn’t stand like most of the other audience members. He put his hand on Stiles’ shoulder. “He stared at you the whole time. It was freaking me out.”
Stiles turned his head to look at his friend, who looked genuinely bothered. He scoffed and clapped Scott on the back. “You’re silly, Scott. It’s probably . . . I mean, every show they probably do the same thing with someone. Then they have a big laugh afterwards at the person’s reaction and how they duped him.”
Scott smiled. “Yeah.”
Stiles stood up and pushed Scott in the direction of the entrance. And though he tried to accept what he’d just said, Stiles didn’t believe a word of it. He supposed that would make the most sense, that Kate and the guy with the contacts and fake teeth were having a chuckle right now at uh Stiles and his fascination. But something in his gut told him that’s not what was happening.
They walked around aimlessly for a while, passing by the odd sideshow without really paying attention--sword-swallower, fortune-teller, bearded lady (whose beard looked far less real that the hair on the werewolf’s face had). But Stiles couldn’t stop thinking about those electric blue eyes staring into his.
He stopped when they came upon the Snake Woman, though, because she looked familiar. She sat in a chair in a clear, plastic box, a few woven baskets with lids and numbers around her. The sign advertised her as immune to deadly snakebites. She had long blonde hair and sad eyes. A sad face in general, Stiles thought.
“Doesn’t that look like Madame Erica?”
“I couldn’t see her face very well,” Scott answered.
A barker shouted, “Step right up! Prepare to be shocked and amazed!” He called out to the gathering crowd that they could choose the basket the Snake Woman would have to open. The point was that she’d kick that basket over, then put the snake back in, getting bit in the process. And apparently not dying.
The crowd seemed to settle on #3, which the barker cheerfully informed them was a King Cobra. The Snake Woman kicked the basket over.
“Does she looked angry to you, or is she scared?” Scott nudged Stiles with his shoulder.
“Both, kind of?”
The snake rose up and spread its hood. Predictably, while she was grabbing for the snake with one of her gloved hands, it bit her at least twice. Her cries of pain sounded genuine, because the bites had to be real. That would have been hard to fake.
“People typically die within 30 minutes of a King Cobra bite, with symptoms showing themselves almost immediately!” The barker listed the horrible symptoms, while the Snake Woman collapsed into the chair, trembling and breathing heavily, and pulled a hood over her head while the barker explained, just like with Boyd, it would help her focus. All just an act, Stiles knew.
“They remove the venom glands from these snakes. Easy peasy,” Stiles said. There was no point in sitting there to watch her pretend to be sick and then get over it, so they headed away to find something else to gawk act. Stiles had noticed the next “unveiling of the werewolf” show was in 30 minutes, though, and intended to go. He’d pay Scott’s way, too. He had to see the man again. There was something he couldn’t shake that drove him to want to run back there and see him now, rather than waiting for the show.
“Look, Stiles. A magic show. We have to go.” Scott pulled him toward a half-full tent and a magic show already in progress.
They watched the magician lead his assistant to lie down in a clear box about the shape of a coffin. Instead of a shapely, gorgeous assistant dressed in skin-tight, revealing clothes, this assistant was a tall, curly-haired boy with pale skin and nervous eyes. He wore street clothes--tan pants and a dark-blue T-shirt. And gloves. And as soon as the boy was in the box, out came a hood. To keep him calmer, the magician explained.
The act was the old sword-through-the-box standby, with the twist that the box was see-through. When the first blade plunged down from the top of the box through the bottom, and through the assistant the man called Isaac, many people gasped and a couple groaned as blood started to drip out of the box where the sword poked through. Isaac made the most noise, though, grunting and shouting in pain. Two more swords pierced him before the box was spun so everyone could see it from all angles. The puddle of blood on the ground was substantial by the time the swords were withdrawn. Soon after that, the box was opened, the hood removed, and Isaac shown to be unharmed.
He was paler than when he’d gone in, and his eyes looked wet. His clothes were torn and he was soaked in blood, but he stood all right and managed a shaky smile at the crowd when the magician prompted him. The blood was quite a touch, Stiles thought. Other magic shows didn’t even bother with pretending there was an actual wound.
People starting filing out of the tent, but Scott nudged Stiles and headed toward the stage. Allison stood near it, rubbing her eye. She’d been crying, but smiled when she saw Scott and Stiles coming.
It didn’t surprise Stiles when Scott’s first words were, “This is Stiles, my best friend. Not my boyfriend.”
“Don’t try to deny our love, honey!” Stiles grabbed Scott and kissed his cheek, with Scott laughing and shoving him back.
Allison smiled and said, “Hi, Stiles.” But she looked wrecked. She wiped at her eye again, catching a tear that was about to fall.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Scott put a hand on her arm, and Stiles, determined to be the best friend ever, took a few steps away to give them a little privacy. But he listened hard to hear her answer, because something had clearly upset her. He stepped closer to the platform where the trick had been performed. Stiles froze when he smelled it. The “blood” pooled beneath the box and smeared inside it smelled like actual blood. Not that he’d had many occasions to note what a small lake of blood smelled like, but he’d had a couple of nosebleeds, and stitches on his foot once when he’d dropped a glass. That had bled like mad.
This was that times a thousand.
He caught Allison telling Scott that everything was fine for the third time, she was just tired and shouldn’t have watched the show. Stiles’ stomach turned with the wrongness of everything, everything, about every show they’d watched. He looked at Allison, still shocked by the smell of blood, and her face registered surprise and a little fear, because Stiles knew this was all wrong. And it seemed like she knew he knew. He just didn’t know why.
Stiles was still staring at Allison when Scott asked if she’d have a soda with him so they could sit and talk. She smiled and nodded, then glanced back at Stiles, looking worried.
Stiles pulled some cash out and handed it to Scott. “Here, I’ll buy. Get me one and I’ll catch up.”
That earned Stiles one of Scott’s you are the best friend in the world ever smiles he cherished. They left the tent, Stiles heading toward the werewolf show, Allison and Scott headed toward the concessions.
Stiles stared at the sign that said the show had been cancelled. “When’s the next one?” he asked the muscled man at the entrance.
“Don’t know. Sorry.”
“Stiles!” Kate Argent made her way toward him, a huge smile on her face. “Come on in, sweetie. How about a private show?”
She took his arm and led him toward the stage area. “I’m not a werewolf, but I can smell your curiosity a mile away. Teenage boys are so . . . full of vim and vigor.” She chuckled, a throaty, raspy sort of sound that set Stiles on edge.
“Why was the show cancelled?” he asked.
“Because our werewolf here is being obstinate. I think you upset him, Stiles. You got him wound up like I’ve never seen him before. I’d like to figure out why.” She shoved Stiles toward the cage, putting him in a spot about two steps away from the bars.
Kate whipped the curtain back to reveal the man already pressed against the bars. His eyes zeroed in on Stiles.
“I couldn’t get him to come to the front a few minutes ago, but now that you’re here . . . let’s see.” She held up the cattle prod, shaking it toward the cage. “Step back. Move away from the bars.”
The caged man ignored her completely, his eyes never leaving Stiles.
“See what I mean?” She jabbed the prod through the bars. He roared in pain and slipped to his knees.
“Stop it!” Stiles shouted.
The man rose back up to his full height and leaned against the bars, whether in solidarity with Stiles or in rebellion against Kate, Stiles didn’t know.
“Oh, you interest him,” Kate said, her voice dripping with something unsavory. “He’s never reacted to anyone like this before. How old are you, Stiles. Fourteen?”
“Seventeen? Hmm. Still young. He’s probably thinking about eating you right now. How easily your bones would snap between his jaws, and how nice and tender your young flesh would be in his mouth.”
Was this woman serious? And was her sexual innuendo intentional? Stiles couldn’t be sure, because he was seventeen. He was pretty confident, however, that she could turn the most mundane thing, like boiling rice or dusting baseboards, into a heavily-loaded sexual metaphor. She gave off that vibe. She needed her own tent act, like the knife-thrower or the sword-swallower. Kate Argent: Maneater.
The werewolf snapped his head toward Kate and growled. The werewolf. I’m thinking of him as the freaking werewolf.
“Whoa, he doesn’t even like me talking about you. Isn’t that sweet? He’s afraid I’m going to eat. You. Up.” As she said the last few words, she moved closer to Stiles and ended up behind him, hands on his hips. Her chin actually hurt him where it poked into the top of his shoulder.
The werewolf growled louder, his eyes flitting between Kate’s face over Stiles’ shoulder and Stiles. Every time their eyes met, Stiles felt peculiar. Like he should know something he didn’t know. And like he’d feel safer with Kate behind the bars and the wolfman behind him.
Kate’s hands moved to Stiles’ stomach, and despite how attractive Kate was and how almost any other hand on his stomach like that would have stirred some attention down south, Stiles felt the urge to wrench away from her. He didn’t, because he was too busy watching the werewolf and trying to figure out if he was dreaming or insane. The growling got even louder. When she wrapped her arms around Stiles and pressed her lips to the side of his neck, the werewolf slammed into the bars and roared. Stiles didn’t think a person could make that sound. It had to be a recording, yet it wasn’t. He could feel the breath against his face as the werewolf roared a second time when Kate only squeezed him tighter and laughed against his neck.
“He likes me, too. Stiles, you’re making him jealous.”
“What? No, I’m not doing anything, see?” Stiles held his hands up as if to show the werewolf that he wasn’t touching her, quite the opposite. She was the instigator here. She was the predator.
“What do you say, Stiles. It’d be an interesting experiment. You and me, right here. We can put on a show for him for a change, see how he reacts?” Kate’s hand slipped down his stomach as she nipped at Stiles’ earlobe, and that was enough. When the werewolf slammed against the bars again, Stiles pulled free of Kate, which took more force than he’d have imagined. The momentum sent him stumbling the two steps between him and cage. He bumped into the bars.
A clawed hand reached through them to grab Stiles’ arm. Stiles turned to see what Kate was doing--she was the one he trusted the least--and the hand on his arm pulled, drawing Stiles in so that his back was against the bars. The growl behind his ear made him shiver and want to scratch the back of his neck. Stiles swore he could feel it vibrating all the way to his stomach.
“Watch it, Stiles. He’s a dangerous animal. Just try to stay calm.” Kate’s voice dripped with amusement. If she really thought Stiles was in danger, she was enjoying it.
Stiles shifted forward, wondering how hard it would be to pull his arm free if he wanted, but another hand shot through the bars and pressed flat against his chest, keeping him in place. Hot breath coated the back of his neck.
“If I walked out of here right now, honey, he’d shred you and eat the pieces.” Kate smiled, hands on her hips. “You’ll look back on this day later in life and realize you nearly bought it, kid.”
The hands on his arm and chest tightened, but didn’t hurt him. The breaths panted in his ear. Stiles could have sworn one of them said no.
“He wouldn’t hurt me.” Stiles wished his voice sounded like he meant it. He patted the hand on his chest. “Would you . . . boy?”
A soft growl made him cringe.
“Sorry. I mean, would you . . . you? Is there a name here? Because this is awkward.”
“His name’s Derek,” Kate supplied. “Not that it matters. He’s just a beast.” She sauntered closer to Stiles, every step making Derek tighten his grip. The press against the bars was becoming painful, as if Derek were trying to get Stiles away from Kate by pulling him through them into the cage.
“I wonder if they’re all drawn to you this way, or if it’s just this one. If you’re a werewolf opiate or something it’d be smart of me to keep you around. They’re getting harder to control as time goes by, you know. Maybe if I gave them a chew toy now and then . . . .”
She put her hand on Stiles’ cheek, but Derek batted her arm away.
“Leave. Him. Alone.” The words sounded too rounded and strange, the voice gravelly.
“Let go of him, Derek. Right now. Or someone’s going to have to pay.” Kate looked directly at Stiles as she said it. She’s threatening me, to Derek. She is actually threatening me.
Derek let go and moved away. Stiles spun. “She’s not going to do anything to me, Derek.” He felt stupid for saying it, but at the same time Stiles felt terrified about what might happen after he left. Kate had enjoyed using that cattle prod on him. What did she do when no one was watching?
“Don’t be so sure, sweetie.” Kate pressed behind him again, her sultry voice in his ear. “I could do all sorts of things to you. It’s been a while since I had someone with teenage stamina.”
Still looking at Derek, Stiles spoke to Kate. “Is this where you tell me it’s all an act and I’ve been played like a rube? One of the suckers born every minute, like Barnum talked about? Are you two going to laugh about me after I leave?”
Stiles didn’t need to ask. He already knew the answers. But the look in Derek’s eyes confirmed it for him.
“Oh, sweetie. Really? You’re smarter than that. Aren’t you? Do you think my father took note of you because of your pretty face?” She stepped to his side and showed all her teeth in a grin. “He saw something special in you, Stiles. And he was right, judging by Derek’s reaction. Look. Come back here in the morning, 9 o’clock. Bring the friend who was with you earlier. We need people like you, Stiles.”
“In your circus?”
She laughed. “In our fight. Just show up at nine, okay? I promise it’ll be enlightening.”
Derek growled and lunged toward the bars again, his eyes brighter than before. Stiles thought he heard a gravelly stay away as Kate pulled the curtain and motioned for him to leave.
Stiles had to compose himself outside the tent before he went to find Scott. His breathing was off, and he felt lightheaded. When he felt a bit steadier, he found them sitting at a picnic table with three sodas. Scott sat next to Allison instead of across from her. They looked downright chummy, and under other circumstances Stiles would have found something else to do to give Scott more one-on-one time with Allison. But Stiles couldn’t wait, not now.
He sat across from them and tried to ignore the look of disappointment on Scott’s face. Sorry, buddy. This is probably going to blow your chances with Allison to smithereens.
“So, Allison, I just came from talking to Kate. You’re related, right?”
“She’s my aunt.” Allison’s tone was leery, probably because Stiles was vibrating with anger and excitement.
“And I’m either totally losing my grip on reality here, or the world as I know it just tilted on his axis, because Derek, the dude chained in the cage, is so totally a real werewolf. Isaac, the dude in the magic show? I’m guessing he’s a werewolf. Boyd the Indestructible. Madame Erica, who I think is actually the Snake Woman, too? Werewolves. Real, freaking, furry-faced, clawed and fanged creatures of the god damn night. That’s why their faces and hands are covered when they’re hurt--so no one sees their eyes or teeth or claws, am I right? Maybe their eyes change and their claws pop out when they heal? Derek’s are on display, but everyone thinks it’s fake and no one runs him through with anything, thank god. Though Kate’s a bit cavalier with her damn cattle prod. I just--”
Allison shot up from the picnic bench, but Stiles jumped up just as quickly. “Please, Allison, that’s why you were crying, isn’t it? Because the things we’re seeing aren’t tricks. They’re feeling all the pain, it’s just that they heal from it.”
“Stiles, Jesus Christ.” Scott was up now too, his hand on Allison’s arm.
“I know I think off the rails a little bit sometimes, but I’m right. I know I’m right. And she wants me to come back in the morning, I think to prove it to me or something.”
Allison looked between him and Scott. “And if I said you were right, how does everything you’ve seen make you feel?”
“Sick to my stomach.”
“Then you can’t come back here in the morning. They’re going to try to recruit you to be a hunter, and I don’t know what happens to the people that say no.” Allison took a few steps backwards. “You can’t be seen with me.”
Stiles started to follow, but Allison looked panicked. “If my grandfather or aunt see us together, Stiles, they’ll get suspicious. You two should go home, now.”
Scott shook his head, his lips set in a firm line. “Allison--”
“My dad and I are taking care of this. He’s trying to figure out a way to do it without putting my family in danger. They’re my family, Scott.” Tears ran down her face. As she ran off, Scott followed her.
Stiles dropped onto the bench and took a few long gulps of his soda, not realizing how dry his mouth was until he drank. His stomach knotted and churned, and he had to keep focusing on his breathing.
He tried to think over everything he’d learned tonight in some kind of logical order, but it kept coming down to just a few things. Werewolves. Hunters.
Scott caught up with Allison between two tents. “Allison, wait. There has to be something--”
“Scott! Please listen to me. You don’t know my grandfather. How vicious he can be. And Kate . . . my dad thinks she’s done things, things so awful he won’t even tell me about them. If they see you with me, after Kate asked Stiles to come tomorrow, they might think you know too much. And my dad, he has plans to end all this, it’s just taking some time.”
He put his hands on Allison’s shoulders. “Allison, we can help. Stiles’ dad is the Sheriff.”
She laughed. “Are you going to tell him that the Argent circus is holding werewolves captive?”
“We can get him out here to look around for some reason, any reason, and then he’ll see.”
“Scott, all he’ll see are performers who show no signs of being held against their will. It’s happened before. Kate paraded Derek in front of a deputy once who’d come asking questions. He played the part he had to play to keep the other werewolves alive.”
Allison saw Kate coming. If Kate saw her talking to Scott this way . . . . “Kiss me.”
Allison wrapped her arms around Scott’s neck and kissed him. She kept kissing him until she was sure Kate had walked out of her line of sight.
“Whoa. That was nice.” Scott beamed at her.
Allison hugged Scott. “It was. Very nice.” Now Kate would only tease her about kissing a cute boy, instead of questioning why she was having a heated conversation with Stiles’ friend. She hoped.
“Type in your number?” Scott held up his cell phone.
“We’re pulling out tomorrow afternoon.”
“Don’t care. I can text you no matter where you go.”
“It’s too dangerous. If they find out you’re suspicious but unwilling to be part of it . . . I can’t let anything happen to you. Not because of me.” Allison kissed Scott again. “Go find Stiles. Go home. Forget about all this. Please, Scott. Just go.”
Scott let her go this time, but he had no intention of forgetting.
An hour later, Stiles sat on Scott’s bed, history studying forgotten, and came up with a plan. It was a basic, fairly bad plan, but it was something. He just had to get Scott on board. Thanks to Allison and her dimples, that probably wouldn’t be hard to do.
“Allison wouldn’t even give me her number. She’s that afraid of these people. What kind of family is that?”
“Apparently, the Argent family. I did a little snooping. There’s nothing about the circus online, but I found some information about the Argents. Allison’s dad, Chris, is a weapons dealer. His wife, Victoria, she was the Ringmaster during the trapeze act. Everything online still makes it look like they’re living their ordinary lives instead of traveling with the circus of horror shows.”
“How does any of that help us, Stiles?” Scott dropped onto the bed and threw his arm over his eyes. “How does that help us get Allison out of there?”
Stiles shook his head. “Allison’s not in danger--she’s an Argent. Nobody’s sticking things into her person or zapping her with cattle prods, dude. Besides, she’s got trophies for archery out the wazoo. High school competitions, nationals . . . Allison’s a badass with a bow and arrow.”
“Yeah?” Scott lifted his head and grinned.
“Yeah. She was in a private school for a while, one that even offers boarding, but now she’s there with the circus. Why didn’t Chris Argent leave her in school while he went to infiltrate the circus of the damned?”
Scott shrugged, but Stiles already had answers.
“Either he’s not so against them as she thinks, or he was afraid to leave her behind. I mean, if what Allison told you is true--”
“It is! She wouldn’t lie to me.”
“Scott, you’ve known her for two seconds. I know she’s pretty, but come on.”
“Fair point. But, no, I just feel it. She was telling the truth.” Scott sighed and covered his eyes again.
“Okay, then they’ve gotten Derek to play along before by threatening the other wolves. What if they’re getting Chris to play along by threatening Allison. Or maybe he’s afraid that’s what’ll happen, so he keeps her close.”
Scott visibly tensed when Stiles mentioned them threatening Allison. “What can we do? She said the Sheriff couldn’t help.”
“I think she’s right. But they’re not expecting me until morning. So if you and I went tonight . . . we could sneak in and set them free while everyone else was sleeping.”
Scott sat up and gaped at Stiles. “Cool plan, bro. Except you’re forgetting the part where we’re not ninjas or cat burglars or spies. We can’t even make first string in lacrosse--where are we going to develop amazing stealth in a few hours that will allow us to sneak into a camp full of people without getting caught?”
Stiles stood and paced. “I don’t know, Scott. But we have to try. They’re leaving tomorrow. You saw what they were doing to those people. Werewolves. Whatever they want to be called. Those screams, the blood, that was all real.”
“I know. I know. We have to try.”
They settled on having 911 punched into their phones, so in a worst-case scenario one button push would connect them to help. Even if they couldn’t talk, the call would go through and the people on the other line would know there was a problem. If a 911 call came from Stiles’ phone, one of the dispatchers would most likely contact his dad, just in case.
Stiles had insisted that if they got separated they’d meet back at his Jeep as soon as possible. If one waited there more than 15 minutes for the other, it was time to call his dad for backup. But he felt sure this wouldn’t be necessary. They’d be careful.
And Stiles was going for Derek first, so they’d have help right from the beginning.
They left the Jeep at the edge of the woods to keep their approach to the fairgrounds silent. “I think we should go to Allison first, Stiles. She can get her dad to help. If we’re already there, determined to break everybody out, maybe he’ll just go along.” Scott tripped over an exposed root and had the wind knocked out of him. He sucked on his inhaler.
“And if Allison’s dad doesn’t want to go along with it, maybe tries to pat our heads and send us home?”
“Okay, Derek first.”
Security was surprisingly lax for a circus that held werewolves captive and tortured them for audiences. The gate wasn’t locked, just draped with a chain that was easy enough to remove. Before they got through it, a growl behind them made the little hairs on Stiles’ arm stand up.
“Stiles.” Scott grabbed his arm and froze.
They turned together, Stiles expecting to see a werewolf behind them. A few hours ago, he would have expected a guard dog. Now he expected a werewolf. Isn’t life funny?
He laughed softly when no one was there. No dog, wolf or anything at all. He and Scott raised their eyebrows at each other and turned to go through the gate to find a man standing between it and them. To their credit, they didn’t shout. They merely lurched backwards a few steps.
“Come to see the circus?” he asked, his smile toothy and white. “Closed at this hour, surely.” He mock pouted.
“Uh, we were--”
“You were sneaking in. I’m Peter, by the way. Peter Hale. And you are Scott McCall and Stiles Stilinski. Sheriff’s son.”
“How do you know who we are?”
“I have excellent hearing, Stiles. I watched you earlier this evening while you were here. And when you were home, making plans to sneak in here and rescue the werewolves.” The toothy grin was back. He crossed his arms and rocked on his heels. “Clever boys.”
Stiles straightened his back and lifted his chin, trying hard not to appear intimidated by this man, even though he was. “You’re here to stop us?”
“Au contraire, my dear Stiles. I’m here to help. You were right--you’re not stealthy. But with three of us, we’ll need less time. And once the wolves are freed, I couldn’t care less about stealth.”
Peter’s eyes glowed red, his teeth elongated, and he held a hand up to show his nails lengthening into something dangerous. Stiles wondered if a part of him was broken, because what should have terrified him--would have terrified him before tonight--fascinated him instead.
Peter smiled at him. “Interesting. Your heartbeats are faster, but neither of you are that afraid of me.” The werewolf traits disappeared as did Peter’s smile. “Even though you should be.”
Stiles did feel a little fear on hearing that, but more than anything he wanted to get in there and get the werewolves out. “Look, we watched other werewolves get tortured today for the price of a ticket. We just want to help get them out of there. And Chris Argent and Allison want the same thing, and will probably help us if--”
“Argents? Remind me to tell you the whole Argent story once this is all over with. Just know that Kate Argent is responsible for the death of my family.” His eyes glowed red again. “And she’s been keeping Derek, my nephew, captive. Never trust them. We can do this ourselves.”
Peter turned to face the fairgrounds and took a deep breath. “The wolves are held in cages scattered around the edge of the grounds. Scott, you get Boyd and Erica first--they’re in separate cages on the east side. Tell them Peter Hale sent you--they'll recognize the name and won’t harm you. Stiles, you should go to Derek. He’s on the west edge. He’s going to insist that you go home. When he realizes you’re not going to, he’ll insist that you get the others out instead of him. Tell him Peter’s here and taking care of everything. He has to come with you. Something tells me he’ll listen.”
Peter held out two keys. “Masters for the padlocks, in case you need them. Once you’ve gotten them out, head to your Jeep. I’ll get Isaac out and send him your way. Then get the hell out of here as fast as you can.”
“What about you?” Stiles asked. “We can wait.”
Peter shook his head and spoke slowly, his voice deep and rattling. “I’m going to be busy for a while, since I intend to bring this whole place down to the ground.”
Before Stiles could ask any of the many questions he had, Peter ran into the maze of tents, quietly and too quickly to track with his eyes.
“He forgot Allison. I’m not leaving her.”
“I know, Scott. Just hurry.”
The moment was surreal enough that Stiles and Scott hugged before they headed in opposite directions.
Stiles found Derek’s cage easily enough. Some of the cages contained animals that glanced at Stiles as he walked by. Only one cage he could see was covered. Did she always have the bars covered when she wasn’t toying with him?
“Derek,” he whispered. “It’s me, from earlier today. Stiles.” He carefully lifted the cloth to peek under it. Empty. Stiles looked around for a minute, then decided to check the tent where the show had been earlier in the day. Maybe he was staying the night there for some reason.
Stiles crept to the entrance of the tent and heard a voice inside. Kate. Stiles moved to the side of the tent and used his pocket knife to cut a slit in the canvas he could peer through. Derek was in the cage, same as before, but standing against the bars in the back. Only this time, his wrists were cuffed above his head. Something was taped to his side, with wires leading from there to a little machine on a cart.
And this time, Derek didn’t look like a werewolf. His features were decidedly human male--an unbelievably gorgeous male, even as pale and sweaty as he was. He looked exhausted. Stiles could barely stand watching and waiting for a moment when he could do something.
“You misbehaved badly today, Derek. I should be very angry, but I’m not as angry as you might think.” She paced back and forth in front of him. “It was nice to see a spark of life again. You’re so much more fun to play with when I can get a rise out of you.”
She tapped something on the machine, and Derek jerked, groaning in pain. Stiles held his breath. How was he going to get Derek out of there with Kate in the way? Kate tapped the machine again. Derek slumped, panting.
“I’m not going to hurt the others for your indiscretions today, or your lack of useful information, once again. This time, I’m just going to hurt you. I think I’ll set this to keep juicing you all night. Maybe you’ll be a good boy tomorrow, huh?”
She ran a finger across his chest from one shoulder to the other. “And maybe when Stiles comes in the morning and we convince him what a monster you are, that’ll hurt you even more.” She bent down to lick Derek’s stomach from below his navel to his breastbone. She had to jerk back when Derek growled and snapped his teeth at her--pointy teeth, Stiles noted. Kate laughed and tapped a button on the machine that sent Derek into seizure-like movements, his face morphing from human to wolf-featured and back.
“Enjoy what you’ve earned, Derek. I’ll be back in a few hours to see if you can take some more.”
Stiles could barely stand waiting until it seemed Kate must have been long gone to rush into the tent and the unlocked cage. Derek groaned, shaking his head, or at least Stiles thought he was trying to, his body still jerking in pain. Stiles grabbed the power cord and yanked, then ripped the wires and contacts off Derek’s side.
“It’s me, Derek. Stiles, from today.”
“Run. Go,” Derek breathed out, barely loud enough for Stiles to hear. He growled.
Stiles felt the pain before he heard the zap, when something jabbed into his side and lit his nerves and muscles on fire. He crumpled to the floor, twitching and trying to take one good breath.
“Oh, sweetie. Trying to be the hero? And I had such fun things in mind for you and me.” Kate held up the cattle prod, and fished Stiles’ phone out of his pocket before he could recover enough to stop her. “I never wanted it to come to this, but sometimes bad things happen to foolish little boys. Derek knows all about that.”
She stepped out and locked the cage behind her, then moved behind Derek. “This shot I’m giving him means you have a very poor chance of surviving the night. You’ll be famous when they find you, kid, if there’s enough left to scatter around. A little place like Beacon Hills would probably put a death by animal attack right on the front page.”
She chuckled and unlocked Derek’s cuffs, then hopped away from the bars too quickly for him to grab her. Derek knelt next to Stiles, his hands on Stiles’ back and chest. Kate awwwwed.
“If you survive, then you’ll see for yourself why we have to get rid of these creatures. You’ll definitely want to be one of us. Good luck, Stiles. I’d really like to see you again, if it’s any consolation.”
“It’s . . . not,” he ground out, now that he’d finally gotten his ability to breathe back.
“I like your pluck, kid. Such a shame to lose that.”
Not so much a shame that she was about to change her mind, though. Kate left Stiles wondering if torture was so commonplace around here that she wasn’t even worried about him screaming for help.
The second Kate disappeared, Derek said, “You shouldn’t be here, like this. I’m so sorry.”
“Peter’s here. When I don’t show up, he’ll come looking.”
“Yeah, he’s getting Isaac, Scott’s getting Boyd and Erica. He said you would want to know they were safe before you’d come with me, and to tell you he’s got it covered.”
Derek let out a shaky breath and closed his eyes briefly. “He’s going to be too late to help me, but he’s going to find you and get you out. Are you all right?”
Stiles sat up, the weight of Derek’s hands on him drawing all his attention. “I’m okay.”
Derek’s green eyes were mottled with electric blue. “Stiles, here’s what’s going to happen. The drug she gave me is going to force me to turn and put me into a state . . . I won’t know you. I’ll hurt you. So I want you to help me secure those cuffs around my wrists. It might keep you safe until Peter gets here.”
“You’re going to leave with Peter and not look back.” Derek stood and moved toward the bars.
“No! Derek, you don’t need to chain yourself up. She was only after my phone, and didn’t check my other pocket.” Stiles pulled out the key to the cage. “We can get out of here.” He grabbed Derek’s shoulders. “Can’t Peter help if you turn all growly once we’re out?”
Derek raised an eyebrow. “If he’s there, yes. But it could happen before we get to him. If we’re running, that could be even worse. I might think you’re prey. Stiles . . . I can’t hurt you.”
“Then you won’t. Come on, Derek. We need to go.”
Derek grabbed Stiles’ arm as he spun and turned him back around, then grabbed his other arm and pulled him close. “Why are you doing this?”
“She’s hurting you. The others, they’re being tortured every day with it made to look like trickery and entertainment. How could I know about that and ignore it?”
“And if I turn feral before we find Peter . . . do you realize what you’re risking?” Derek’s eyes were bluer than before, his jaw wider. “Why would you--you don’t even know me.”
“I know, okay? But there’s something. Something about you that makes me trust you, Derek. And the longer we talk about this, the riskier it is, right? Come on.”
Derek followed this time without saying anything else. Before they were halfway to the circus entrance, Derek whimpered. Derek sniffed the air and seemed to shrink into himself.
Derek’s eyes went full blue, his teeth growing before Stiles’ eyes. “Fire.”
“I don’t smell anything.”
“You will. Run, I’ll catch up. I have to make sure the others are safe.” Derek turned and headed deeper into the grounds.
“Derek, wait,” Stiles whispered. Two dogs raced by him, and a horse whinnied in the distance. He hurried in the direction Derek ran, and met Scott and Allison running toward him, hand in hand. Chris Argent followed behind them, holding a shotgun like a shield.
“Run, Stiles,” Chris said. “Let’s go.”
“Boyd and Erica are already out.” Scott waved his hand. “I don’t know where Peter is. Where’s Derek?”
“He went back when he smelled smoke.”
“Smoke?” Argent looked alarmed even though he sniffed the air and didn’t seem to catch anything. Then, like a light switch being turned on, the smell of smoke surrounded them. “Damn it,” Chris said. “You kids, go. Get to your car, get away from here. I can’t just leave my family.”
“Dad, what about Isaac?”
“I know, sweetheart. I’ll find him if I can. But I need to know you’re safe.” Chris took Allison’s face in his hands and kissed her forehead. “Go, now.” He turned and ran.
Stiles didn’t even have to think about it. He held his keys out for Scott. “Take these. I’m not leaving without Derek.”
“No way, Stiles. I’m not leaving you here!”
Allison shook her head. “We can’t leave Isaac or my parents.”
“I guess it’s decided, huh?” Stiles smiled at them as the three followed Argent’s path back through the tents. An explosion to their left sent them heading in a new direction. Engines roared to life as people tried to pull the animal cars to safety. No one paid attention to Stiles, Scott and Allison, maybe thinking they were trying to help, as well.
When they reached the center of the grounds, Stiles gasped. Everything in the back lots burned brightly, the surprisingly loud roar making him wonder how they hadn’t heard it before. Peter stood off to the side, staring at the flames. He didn’t seem to notice them.
“Peter!” Stiles ran toward him. When Peter turned to him, Stiles saw the blood on his shirt and sweat, or maybe tears, shining on his face. There just wasn’t time to ask about any of it. “Derek?”
“He’s my nephew.”
“I know,” Stiles snapped. “Where is he?” When Peter only stared at him, confused, Stiles grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “Where is Derek?”
“The Argents . . . they took everything. They took him away. Made him part of this hellish charade.”
“I know. Damn it.” Stiles gave up trying to get information out of Peter, and cupped his hands around his mouth to shout. “Derek! Derek!”
Stiles’ shouts drew everyone but Derek. Boyd and Erica, holding tight to each other, appeared, and shouted with Stiles. Isaac followed them, and hugged Allison, who cried with relief. Peter used a flag as a makeshift torch to set fire to another tent.
Then Derek was simply there. One minute Stiles was screaming his name, the next, Stiles was picked up and thrown over a shoulder, bouncing painfully with every bounding step. Stiles saw the others running behind him, all but Peter and Chris Argent.
“It’s okay, big guy. You can put me down.” Stiles grunted as Derek’s shoulder drove into his stomach. Derek kept running, holding Stiles firmly in place.
“My family!” Allison shouted, pulling on both Scott’s and Isaac’s hands to stop, but they pulled her forward. Stiles couldn’t make out what Isaac said to her, but whatever it was it worked and she ran quickly again.
The problem that faced Stiles now was Derek running in the wrong direction to find the Jeep. He was veering off at an angle that would take them nowhere near it, and quickly outrunning the rest. “Scott!” Stiles threw Scott his keys. “When Peter comes, tell him Derek needs him. Tell him to find us!”
He heard Scott scream his name, and wished there were something he could do about it. “Derek. Hey, buddy, you’re going the wrong way. The Jeep’s over there.” He pointed. “Please slow down, Derek. We need to get to my Jeep.”
No amount of pleading or struggling helped, so Stiles switched tactics “Derek!” Stiles was shocked at how sharp his voice sounded. He gasped when Derek threw him to the ground and roared. At least they’d stopped.
“Derek, it’s me, it’s okay!” He scrambled backwards, which brought Derek closer, his eyes bright blue, his face looking as it had the first time Stiles saw him. He remembered Derek’s worry that they’d be running when the drug kicked in, and Stiles would look like prey to him. He forced himself to sit up and not shrink back. “It’s Stiles. You said you didn’t want to hurt me.”
Derek cocked his head like a dog hearing a whistle. “Stiles,” he growled. He dropped to his knees and took a few deep breaths. “Not. Safe. Go.”
Stiles moved to his knees and reached for Derek’s shoulder. Derek growled and jerked away from Stiles hand. “Go. Find. You. Later.” Every word seemed like agony to get out, maybe because his throat was changing or he was fighting the urge to attack Stiles.
“You’ll find me later? How? Okay, I guess you can smell things I can’t. And I guess you’ll be okay in the woods, being wolfy and all.” Stiles leaned further back at the glare Derek gave him. “Okay, okay.” He told Derek his address--three times--and then stood. “I don’t like leaving you. It doesn’t feel right.”
Derek lurched to his feet, roared, and clawed at the closest tree, ripping bark and solid wood away. “Go now.”
“Shit. Okay. I’ll just . . . .” Stiles backed away as he spoke, a fast walk, though he wanted to run. The only thing keeping him from it had been Derek’s warning earlier. Derek hugged the tree. Stiles could hear his claws popping through the bark. He turned and walked as fast as he could without breaking into a run.
“Okay, okay, okay,” he whispered to himself as he made his way through the brush. But when he heard something running behind him, something barreling after him, Stiles ran.
He hit the ground hard enough to knock the breath from him, a heavy weight on his back, a bone-rattling growl behind his ear. When Stiles could breathe again, he shouted, “I know, I ran! But instinct kicked in!”
The weight eased. A hand flipped him over, and he found himself with a face full of growling, snarling, furious-looking werewolf. “Oh my god,” he blurted, trying to push himself backwards, but he was bracketed in place. Derek’s feet were on both sides of his knees, and his hands were on both sides of Stiles’ head. His face just kept getting closer.
Stiles cried out when Derek’s weight dropped onto him, and he lowered his face to Stiles’ chest. He was--
“Are you sniffing me?” Stiles felt like he might start laughing like a madman unless he kept talking “Wolves do that, don’t they? They sniff their prey before they eat it, right? Dude, I’m skinny and bony. I’d be some tough eatin’. Let’s go back to my house and I’ll make you a nice, juicy steak, okay?”
Derek lifted his head and looked at Stiles, growling louder than before.
“Or chicken. Whatever you want.” Stiles flinched when Derek’s face pressed against his neck, sniffing more, and Derek moved on top of him, rubbing his whole body against Stiles and bearing down. “What are you--you’re rubbing your scent on me, aren’t you? I hope that’s a good sign. I mean, I think it is. If you were going to kill me, you wouldn’t do that, right? Right,” he answered himself. “This means we’re friends or something. Stiles--friend.”
Stiles lifted a shaking hand and stroked Derek’s dark hair. Derek flinched at first, growling louder against Stiles’ neck, but then relaxed.
“Yeah, buddies. Maybe if we just wait this out, it’ll be okay. See, I told you I trusted you.”
His hand and voice wouldn’t stop shaking, but he breathed easier. Until a warm, wet tongue licked the side of his neck from his collarbone to his ear.
“Whoa. Derek?” Stiles closed his eyes at the answering growl, and the teeth that latched onto his neck where it met his shoulder. “Hey, hey! Easy . . . .” It hurt, the way the teeth pressed into his muscle, but he couldn’t tell if it broke the skin. “Derek? Please--”
Derek lurched up, roaring, and caught Peter in the air. The two werewolves rolled together, snarling and clawing, giving Stiles enough time to get to his feet and move away. He didn’t know what to do--he didn’t want one to hurt the other, but it seemed impossible to stop them. He shouted at Peter, at Derek, but could only stand by and watch.
Something moved to his right, and he realized someone lay on the ground. Kate. She was trying to push herself up, but moved slowly, obviously dazed or injured. Peter must have carried here her. Or, by the looks of her, he may have dragged her.
Peter, his face more wolf-like than he’d shown Stiles earlier, tossed a knife from his belt in Stiles direction, low to the ground. “He’s almost too strong for me. I can’t hold him and do this at the same time. Do it, Stiles. Several times.” He struggled to keep Derek under control.
“He’ll be all right. I need the healing process to kick in to get the rest of the drug out of system. Do it, before I lose my hold!”
Stiles picked up the knife--a hunting blade that looked huge compared to his pocket knife--and moved toward them. Peter had Derek in a wrestling hold, his arms under Derek’s shoulders, his hands clasped together behind Derek’s neck. Derek fought him, but made no move toward Stiles when he approached.
“I’m sorry, Derek.” He looked at Peter once more, telling himself that he'd watched Boyd, Erica and Isaac heal from worse just hours ago, it would be okay. Derek would heal. With a deep breath, Stiles jabbed the knife into Derek’s stomach. The cry of pain nearly stopped him, but Peter shouted again, again, so Stiles did it a few more times, each one making his chest ache a little more.
Peter let go, and Derek crumpled to the ground. Stiles started to fall with Derek, to put his hands on him and talk to him, but Peter jerked him away. “Wait, we need to see if it’s worked first.” Peter’s face was back to normal.
The moonlight wasn’t bright enough for Stiles to watch the wounds close, but Derek’s breathing sped up then slowed, and something about his entire body seemed to relax as the seconds ticked past.
“Would he really have killed me?”
Peter god damn chuckled. “The drug she said she gave him could make him kill almost anyone. But you? Didn’t look like he was going to kill you, no.”
Leaves rustled. Kate was crawling, but making little progress. Peter kicked her in the ribs. She cried out, but made no other noise and lay still. Stiles wondered how Peter had gotten her to tell him about the drug. He probably didn't want to know.
“Stiles?” Derek lifted his head.
Stiles knelt next to him. “I’m okay, Derek. You didn’t hurt me.” He put a hand on Derek’s back, and one over Derek’s hand where it had clawed into the dirt. As the blue glow faded from Derek’s eyes, he turned his hand and gripped Stiles’. Neither said anything else.
The sound of Derek’s slowing breathing and the occasional rustle of leaves seemed incredibly peaceful after all the growling and shouting. Peter put a hand on Stiles’ shoulder.
“I hear indoors is a wonderful place for people to hold hands. So if you two would consider getting up?”
Stiles pulled Derek’s hand to help him to his feet. Derek sucked in a breath, then he embraced Peter, who hugged back just as hard.
“I’ve been trailing you for a few months, biding my time to figure out the best way to get everyone out. I was too weak before that.”
Derek clung to Peter. Stiles flinched at the hard look on Derek’s face when he saw Kate on the ground. When Derek let go, Peter grabbed Kate by the hair and hauled her to her feet. She screamed at the first vicious tug, then whimpered and tried to push him away. He pinned her against himself with an arm around her waist and pulled her hair until she lifted her face to look at Stiles and Derek.
Peter’s eyes glowed red. “Derek? Shall I, or would you like the honors?”
Stiles couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Whoa. Wait.” He waved his arms toward Kate. “You can’t just kill her.”
“Oh,” Peter growled. “Yes, I can.”
Kate coughed. “Told you, Stiles. They’re beasts.” Her voice wasn’t smooth and glib like before. It shook with terror.
“Look, I know she’s done terrible things. I get it. She should go to jail for the rest of her life. But this . . . it’s cold-blooded murder.” Stiles felt panic rise up in his chest.
“Burning our family alive was cold-blooded murder. This is retribution. We were a peaceful pack. Then she came in and tore us apart.” He nearly lifted her by her hair and growled. “Derek was alone, running, afraid, while I rotted in a nursing home for three years, unable to help him. Then she found him again.”
He leveled his red eyes at Stiles. “Kate here killed our family, made me an invalid, and caged Derek for almost two years. By comparison, her death will be a mercy.” His gaze shifted to Derek. “I was going to kill her the second I found her, Derek. But I thought you might want . . . closure.”
Kate cried out when Peter yanked her hair again to lift her chin and expose the arch of her throat.
Offering her to Derek. Derek held up a hand, claws popping out of his fingertips. He growled and took a step forward.
“Wait!” Stiles put his hand on Derek’s arm. He shook his head, not sure what to say.
Derek leaned close. “I’m sorry you have to see this, Stiles, but she killed my family. She murdered children. She took everything from us.”
Stiles panted, unable to draw a deep, solid breath. “Then get her to confess, get her arrested, put her in jail. Don’t do this.”
Kate hissed, “That’s right, Stiles. Call the cops, hurry.”
Derek squeezed Stiles’ arms. “She covered her tracks, so nothing can be proven, especially after this many years. And confessions can be thrown out. Hunters know their way around the system. Cops won’t help.” He took a deep breath. “Just . . . turn around so you don’t have to see.” Derek let go and took another step toward Kate.
His heart rattling out of his chest, Stiles jumped between Kate and Derek and put his hands up in front of him. “She killed your family in cold blood . . . okay, she deserves to die for that. But after everything you’ve been through, you don’t deserve to become a killer.” He’d have gotten on his knees and begged if he thought it would help. “You don’t have to be like her. Please, Derek.”
Stiles couldn’t hear anything but his heavy breathing and the blood rushing through his veins, until Derek finally nodded and took a step backwards. Stiles could have hugged him, but instead moved away from Kate to stand next to Derek, shoulder to shoulder. He could barely believe what was about to happen right in front of him, but knew there was nothing more he could do.
Peter nodded. “I already am a killer, so I have no compunctions about doing it.” He growled in Kate’s ear. “Care to beg?”
“Derek,” Kate said, “you’re not going to let him kill me. You couldn’t do it, not because of Stiles, but because you don’t want me dead. Help me and--” Kate choked out the last word and couldn’t continue because Peter nearly bent her backwards with one rough yank.
“You’ve been dead for a long, long time,” Derek said through clenched teeth, his voice raising gooseflesh on Stiles’ skin.
“This is for my family.” Peter raised his hand in the air, claws pointed and lethal.
Before Peter’s hand could arc down, Derek grabbed Stiles’ arm and jerked, spinning him around so he faced the opposite direction over Derek’s shoulder. Derek held his arm tightly enough that he couldn’t turn back. Stiles heard the squelch of flesh as Peter’s claws tore into Kate’s throat. She yelped in pain, a horrible cry cut off by the sound of her choking on her own blood. Gargling--it sounded like gargling, he realized. How insane was it that a woman dying a few feet away sounded similar to something so innocent. Kate hit the ground with a thud.
Stiles closed his eyes and tried hard to calm his heartbeat. When he opened them, Derek was staring at him, still holding him in place.
“I’m fine.” His mouth had gone dry, and he urgently needed to urinate. “Gimme a minute.” He hurried as far away as he could without being ridiculous about it and found a tree to stand behind. As soon as he’d relieved himself, he retched, grateful he hadn’t eaten much in the last several hours. When he’d composed himself as much as he could, he headed back to Derek. Kate was gone, and Peter walked back toward them as casually as if he’d been strolling through the woods and come upon them by chance.
“I’ll come back and take care of that later,” he said, brushing his hands together. “Shall we go?”
If Stiles hadn’t just seen--no, heard--him kill a woman, he’d never have believed it to see him now. “So you want me to keep this a secret. That Kate’s dead. Been murdered.”
Peter clapped Stiles on the back. “Justice has been served, or at least as close as we can get. All of the Argents combined aren’t enough to make up the pound of flesh we deserve, but I will settle for the one.”
“Allison and her dad, they were on your side.”
“I wouldn’t quite say that, Stiles. But they weren’t against us, and I suppose that’s something. I’m not going to hurt any of them, if that’s what you’re worried about. Kate was the poisonous one.”
“Gerard?” Derek asked.
“He’s apparently suffering from Alzheimer’s, or some other form of dementia. It’s been advancing rapidly, from what I’ve been able to gather. I wouldn’t want to kill him now and rob him of that experience.”
Derek nodded. “Stiles, if you feel you have to report this, I wouldn’t stop you.”
Peter crossed his arms. “I would.”
“No,” Derek said, holding his hand up to his uncle. “But you have to tell me now, because we’ll have to go.”
“Go?” Stiles ran his fingers through his hair and chewed his lip.
“I just got out of a cage, Stiles. I’m not going to take a chance of Peter being locked in another. Not over someone like Kate.”
The idea of Derek leaving now made Stiles’ stomach ache. He’d only met him hours before, if you could call that a meeting, and still didn’t know anything about him except what they’d just told him. But he couldn’t bear the thought of Derek disappearing now and Stiles’ life going on as it had before, without Derek in it. Was it irrational? Maybe. Stiles only knew what felt right and wrong. And keeping Kate’s death at Peter’s hands a secret felt far less wrong than never seeing Derek again. He could wrestle with his conscience later, if need be, but he had to keep Derek here for now.
“I don’t know what happened to Kate, because after Scott and I left the circus earlier this evening, I helped him study for history and then we went to bed.” Stiles swallowed hard when Derek squeezed his hand.
“Good boy,” Peter said. “I thought you were smart, and I was right. I believe this belongs to you?” Peter held Stiles’ phone out to him, rubbing at what looked like a blood smear on the light blue case with his thumb.
They walked together toward the Jeep, Derek between Stiles and Peter. Stiles still felt sick about what he’d just been part of, but he had so many questions. And asking them was better than thinking about Kate.
“Why?” Stiles asked. “Why torture you all this time? What was the point?”
Derek took a deep breath. “She wanted information about where other packs were located around the country, and anything I could tell her about our habits, traditions, healing, transformation. She wanted to learn all she could so she could destroy us.”
Peter cleared his throat. “And she was psychotic and sadistic. I’m told that type embraces the opportunity to inflict pain, just because.”
“What about Isaac, Boyd and Erica? Are they distant relatives or something?”
Derek shook his head. “They were all turned by different alphas, all killed by Kate. She knew that none of us would jeopardize the safety of any of the rest. There were three others.” Derek paused, and seemed to breathe harder. “She killed each one in front of us, a few days apart, to send a message. I--I didn’t know them, so I wouldn’t even know who to tell about their deaths.”
“I’m sorry,” Stiles whispered. Derek nodded. A few more minutes passed in silence as they walked. But when it got quiet, Stiles heard Kate choking on her own blood.
“Okay,” Stiles said. “Why did you have me stab Derek to make him heal instead of just clawing him?” He stepped on a damp patch of leaves and slid a little, until Derek’s hand grabbed his arm and righted him.
“I could have, but I was thinking of him. My sister was the alpha of our pack. When she died, because I was older than her children, it passed to me. So if I, as his alpha, would have clawed Derek, even just once, it would have taken much longer for him to heal. You and I would still be back there, alone, staring at each other, waiting for him to rouse. And I’m sure Derek wouldn’t like that.”
Derek’s head snapped up. Peter chuckled.
“Oh, my baby,” Stiles said, when the blue of his Jeep came into view. Erica ran toward them and threw herself into Derek’s arms, crying. Isaac followed behind her, and Boyd trailed behind him. So, Derek and Erica. Stiles felt happy for Derek, being reunited with her, but sad for himself. Somewhere between the disbelief and the mounting horror and the adrenaline-fueled escape, Stiles had let himself think that maybe there was a special connection between him and Derek. Maybe one that might lead to things like hand-holding and hugging and more licks up his neck and such.
They’d been separated, Stiles guessed, the whole time Derek had been there. Almost two years. He suspected they were going to need some privacy over the coming days.
Scott reached him and gave him one of his world-famous bear hugs. “Man, you had me worried. You’re okay?”
“Yeah, right as rain. What about Allison?”
“The news isn’t good.”
Chris had shown up while Stiles was getting chased and licked, and had his arms around Allison. She cried and clung to him.
“Chris couldn’t find his dad. Said maybe he rode off with one of the people hauling animals. And he couldn’t find Kate. Allison didn’t get upset until he told her that her mom refused to come, and went with some of the staff as they pulled out. Victoria is apparently a lot like Gerard and Kate.”
“Oh, man.” Stiles could tell Chris was crying, too.
“Yeah. I mean, her mom left her, by choice.” Scott looked like he might cry, as if he couldn’t understand how it happened. Stiles understood, because he didn’t get it either. His mom would have given anything to stay with Stiles and his dad. He consoled himself by remembering what Peter said, and figuring that if Allison’s mom was anything like Kate, Allison was so much better off.
When Erica finally let go of Derek, Isaac hugged him, though much less enthusiastically. Boyd gave him a quick hug and a pat on the back. Then the four of them held each other in a loose circle, as if they were drawing strength just from being together. Peter watched them for a minute, until Derek held his arm out and made room for Peter to join them.
When they finally pulled apart, Derek and Erica still touching, Boyd touching her, and Isaac and Peter standing close enough to brush shoulders, Chris approached them. Scott put an arm around Allison’s shoulders, and Stiles stood between the two groups, the urge to stand next to Derek making him feeling foolish.
Peter growled as Chris neared them. Chris held up his hands, palms out. “I understand. There’s nothing I can do to undo what my family has done. I know that. But let me do what I can. Let’s go into town where I can get us all hotel rooms for the night--for however many nights you want--so everyone can sleep in a warm bed tonight. I’ll pay for everything--the room, meals, whatever you need. It’s a small gesture, but it’s all I have right now.”
“No,” Derek said. “We’ll find our own way.”
“Derek, I’m offering out of goodwill and regret, nothing more. It’s not charity, it’s not payment. Just let me help.”
Peter took a step toward Chris. “You can help by getting word out to other hunters to back off, and that anything like what happened to the Hales will be met with swift and violent retribution.”
Chris tilted his head and sighed, but nodded. “Allison and I are going to find a hotel.” He handed Peter a business card. “Call me if you change your mind. The offer stays open as long as we’re here.”
Scott hugged Allison, followed quickly by Isaac. Stiles would have thought Scott might have been more broken up to watch her go, but Scott nudged him. “She finally gave me her number.” Scott’s grin was contagious, so Stiles was still smiling when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“I can’t thank you enough.” Derek squeezed his shoulder and then let go, far too soon for Stiles’ liking.
Stiles took a step toward him. “What--I mean--what now? Are you going to get your own hotel room?”
“We’ll find someplace to stay. We can sleep in the woods if we need to. Better than a cage. And, werewolves, remember?” Derek’s mouth turned up into what might have been almost a little smile.
“My dad, he’s on the night shift. At least come back with me and take a hot shower, eat, maybe get some different clothes. Not that cut-off jeans is a bad look on you or anything, but shoes and a shirt and stuff. You can sleep in a real bed, at least for a while.”
“Stiles,” Scott hissed, pulling his friend to the side. “You can’t just invite five strangers home without telling your dad. Do you want his head to explode?”
“It won’t explode if he doesn’t know. What am I supposed to do, ask if my five new werewolf friends can come over. Look, Derek’s been in a cage for almost two years. I don’t blame him for not accepting Chris’ offer or anything, but . . . he deserves to sleep in a bed. On a damn couch, at least.”
Scott sighed heavily and leaned closer to Stiles. “Fine. Thankfully, Mom’s on nights also, so I can stay with you.”
Peter spoke up. “I guess you two forgot how I overheard you earlier today?”
“Uh . . . if you heard what I just said, then at least I don’t need to repeat it as part of my argument why you should come?” Stiles smiled and was grateful for the darkness as he felt his face heat up. At least his blush wouldn’t show as much.
“We graciously accept your offer. It’s nice to have a friend again. Tomorrow, we’ll see about other accommodations.” Peter dipped his head, and shook his head at Derek, who looked about to protest. “Boyd, Erica, Isaac, come with me. I have a car not far from here. Derek, you can ride with Stiles. We’ll follow.”
Derek didn’t protest. And Stiles once again thought no friendship could ever compare to his and Scotty’s when Scott climbed into the very uncomfortable and small back seat, leaving the passenger seat free for Derek. Stiles shot Scott a grateful look, though he wondered why Scott hadn’t clued in that Derek and Erica were obviously a thing, then drove home.
“Make yourselves at home,” Stiles offered. “It’s too late to order pizza, but there are some leftovers and some frozen stuff you can microwave . . . .” Boyd and Erica were already pulling things out of the fridge, so he figured they could find what they needed. “All of you . . . just enjoy. Bathroom’s upstairs, plenty of towels and soap and everything. My bedroom’s upstairs, room for a couple in the bed, and there’s a guest bedroom down the hall. Mi casa es su casa and all that. I’ll wake everybody before my dad gets home.” Stiles gave them a thumbs up and collapsed onto the couch. Scott plopped down next to him with a heavy sigh.
Stiles’ sigh matched Scott’s. “Apparently, being attacked by a psychotic werewolf hunter, learning that werewolves actually exist, helping to rescue werewolves from captivity, and being parties to a circus arson,” among other illegal things, he thought, “won’t get us out of school or that history test tomorrow, since we can’t tell anyone.” Stiles closed his eyes and let his head drop back.
“And we can’t have your mom kick your ass. So, Scotty boy, explain the purpose of the Potsdam Conference.”
John came in the kitchen door and stretched before dropping his keys on the table. He dreaded the longer-than-usual night in front of him, thanks to the suspicious fire at the fairgrounds. The combination of dread he always felt when he knew they could find a body mixed with the thought of hours of paperwork even if they didn’t, and made him wish he’d chosen a different profession.
He peered into the fridge. He checked the freezer, then looked in the fridge again for good measure. John thought they had leftovers from dinner last night. He’d thought they had food of some kind when he’d left for work earlier. Movement outside the window caught his eye--a boy crossing the yard, at this hour? He was about to head outside, when another one appeared. He heard a scraping sound above him--the roof?--and another one dashed across the yard.
They’d climbed out of Stiles’ window. So, Stiles had guests he hadn’t told his dad about, who had just sneaked out his window in the middle of the night. He’d warned Stiles about playing video games half the night when he had school the next day. John sighed. At least that explained where all the food had gone.
He headed upstairs to read Stiles his rights and grab a clean uniform, because he’d surely need one later in the day. The bathroom door was open a sliver, the light spilling into the hall. He was about to knock and tell Stiles he was busted, when he heard Stiles gasp.
A slam made him flinch. And a moan made his heart race, and gave him a vision of Stiles, having slipped and fallen hard, now lying on the floor with a cracked skull. “Stiles?” He knocked, pushing the door open at the same time.
Stiles wasn’t on the floor with a head wound.
“Oh my god.”
Something bumped Stiles’ knee. He opened his eyes to see his dad’s angry face looming over him. “Dad?”
“What--oh my god.” He batted Scott with his arm, but Scott only groaned and rolled away, still asleep. They’d dozed off on the couch while Scott was reciting important WWII dates. “Dad, I can explain. There’s nothing to be upset about.”
“No? Really? Because I think we’re all a little upset, frankly. Some of us more than others.” His dad’s voice ratcheted up just enough to let Stiles know this wasn’t one of those “we’ll talk later” problems.
Stiles glanced at the clock. It was well past 3 a.m. His dad must have seen a couple of them sleeping in Stiles’ bed. Holy god, he and Scott were dead men. And that was even before Scott’s mom found out.
“From now on, you let me know when you’re having friends over while I’m gone. I don’t mind Scott. Hell, I expect Scott. But I don’t even know those other kids. And meeting them while they’re having sex in our bathtub really wasn’t the way to get things off on the right foot.”
Stiles straightened up. “The bathtub?”
“Well, they were standing under the shower in the bathtub. Where I bathe. Naked. Thankfully he was a gentleman, but I saw more of his backside than I should ever have to see if you two are friends for the rest of my life. I’ve never seen Scott’s ass, and I see him several times a week! Sex, Stiles. In my shower.”
“Uh, Dad. I’m, ah, I’m sorry. We were all studying, you see, big history test tomorrow, and Scott and I dozed off, and I guess they just couldn’t keep their hands off each other. I’ll, ah, I’ll tell them to behave from now on.” Stiles cringed. The idea of his dad catching Derek and Erica in the shower was bad enough. But Derek and Erica in their shower, aside from how hot it must look, wasn’t exactly a happy image to have in his head.
“So, you were studying. Where are your books?”
“Uh . . . it’s history, Dad. The point is to remember everything, so I was quizzing Scott. No books needed.” He tapped his temple. “All in here.” He slapped Scott’s arm again, hoping for Scott to back him up, but Scott was known for being a heavy sleeper. He snorted and stayed asleep.
“Uh huh. Just you, Scott and the two in the shower? Studying?”
John pointed at Stiles. “You admit it to me, Stiles. You had a crowd over here last night. I stopped by to get some leftovers to take back to work, and the fridge is stripped. I’m surprised there’s even mustard left on the door! You had a party behind my back.”
“Then explain the three boys who climbed out your window when I came in?” John raised his eyebrows and smiled. “I’d love to hear that one. Were they borrowing your room to study chemistry?”
At least his dad hadn’t stopped Boyd, Isaac and Peter and discovered that Peter was far past high school chemistry tests. All in all, things could be worse.
“Okay, you got me. I invited a bunch of people over earlier without your permission. We ate snacks and leftovers and played video games instead of studying. I’m sorry.”
“Were you kids drinking?”
“What? Dad, no.”
John squinted at Stiles and then nodded, accepting his answer. “So you had a little party without permission on a night I was at work. You had some friends over. A group of them. Friends that aren’t Scott.” John rubbed his hand down his face. “I know I should punish you, but I’m almost proud.”
Stiles laughed, until John pointed his finger. “But I am still upset about the shower incident. It’s overdue for a good scrub anyway, so you’re going to scrub it tomorrow if for no other reason than symbolic ones.”
Stiles nodded, biting his tongue.
“Tell them to try to rein in the hormones, at least in other people’s houses?”
“I will. Sorry about the food, Dad.”
“I’ll grab something at the Quik-Mart. I was going to anyway, but thought I’d pop in and let you know I probably won’t be back until after you get home from school tomorrow. That circus you guys went to see? Caught on fire sometime during the night.” He squeezed the bridge of his nose. “They’ve got the last of it out, but there’s a lot to investigate, and a lot of paperwork. I’ll catch a nap later in the cot at the office. If I came home and crawled into bed, I think I’d literally cry at having to get up after only a couple of hours.”
He put his hand on Stiles head and ruffled his hair a little. “No more parties without permission. If you’d have asked, I’d have made sure you had extra food, Stiles.”
“Sorry, Dad. I just wasn’t thinking.” Stiles stood up when his dad started to walk away. “Nobody was hurt? At the circus, I mean.”
John shook his head. “Doesn’t seem so, but we can’t find the owner or any of the Argent family. A lot of damage, but the animals and most of the staff trailers seem to have pulled out pretty soon after it started. It’s just a matter of figuring out what happened, and why the owner hasn’t contacted anybody yet. Just takes some time, that’s all, and we’re shorthanded as it is with Baker still out sick.”
“Be careful, Dad.” Stiles hugged him, tightly and for a long time. It wasn’t as if they never hugged, but after witnessing how another family lived tonight, and learning how another family died, he was more grateful than ever for his, incomplete as it was.
“Always, son,” John said, holding back just as tightly. When Stiles finally let go, John smiled at him and said, “Now send the lovebirds home, or let them stay here--separately, for the love of god--and get some sleep. Don’t you kids be late for school tomorrow.”
“We won’t. None of us. I promise.”
The second the cruiser pulled out of the drive, Stiles took the steps two at a time. Erica, wearing her clothes from earlier but with wet hair, opened the bathroom door. “Sorry, Stiles. We were distracted and didn’t hear anyone coming.” She batted her pretty eyes at him and brushed by him in the hallway.
“Your dad was nice about it, though.” Boyd followed her out of the bathroom, holding her hand. “Gave us a safe sex lecture and everything, with his back turned. We pretended we were friends from school.”
Stiles gaped at Boyd, who snapped his fingers in front of Stiles’ face. “Stiles? He bought it, obviously, so don’t worry.”
But Derek and Erica. The way she’d thrown herself into his arms. “So you and Derek . . . you’re like . . . .”
“Packmates. He’s like a big brother. And you’re getting low on shampoo.” Erica kissed Stiles’ cheek. “Where can we sleep?”
Stiles pointed to the guest bedroom, deciding there was no way he was going to insist they sleep separately. “Dad won’t be back until later tomorrow, so it’s probably safe to sleep as long as you need.”
Erica hugged him then, and it was the type of hug that rivaled Scotty’s bear hugs. “Thank you, Stiles. We won’t forget this.”
Boyd clapped him on the shoulder. “Nope. We won’t.”
He watched them go into the guest bedroom and close the door. Boyd and Erica. That meant Derek and Erica weren’t together. Was it totally ridiculous to think that maybe--
“Stiles, why’d you leave me on the couch?”
Stiles grabbed Scott’s arm and dragged him into his bedroom. “Do you think,” he started, before he realized that Derek and Isaac were stretched out on his bed, and Peter was just climbing back into his window.
“So your father saw us and thought we were friends over for a night of pizza rolls, Red Bull and Grand Theft Auto.” Peter sat in Stiles’ desk chair.
“Dude, how good is your hearing?”
Peter laughed. “I’m glad he bought the story. And since he won’t be back in the morning, that gives everyone a bit of breathing room. We can get comfortable with blankets or sleeping bags on the floor and the couch so you and Scott can sleep in here.”
Derek and Isaac started to sit up, but Stiles shook his head. “Nobody needs to sleep on the floor.” If he changed the sheets before his dad got home tomorrow, getting a jump on the laundry, it would look like him trying to make up for the whole party and shower sex debacle. “Boyd and Erica are in the guest room. Peter, you can have my dad’s bed.”
“Oh,” Peter said, looking pleased. Stiles bit back the urge to ask him not to do anything in it.
“Derek and Isaac, you can stay there. Scott and I will pull out the couch.”
Scott headed out of the bedroom. “I’ll go pull it out and find extra blankets.”
Isaac hopped up. “I’ll help you?” Isaac smiled when Scott nodded and said, “Sure.” Peter followed them out.
Derek lay on Stiles’ bed on his back, watching Stiles without an expression of any kind. He looked tired more than anything.
“Did you get any sleep before my dad showed up?”
“Some. A shower, too. Sorry about your dad and . . . Boyd and Erica.” Derek smiled a little, or maybe Stiles was imagining it.
“It’s okay. I mean, that’s nothing compared to how I’m letting someone who killed a woman a few hours ago sleep in his bed.” He shrugged, kind of wishing that was one thought he hadn’t expressed. “I’ll let you get back to sleep then.”
Derek was on his feet before Stiles even turned toward the door. “I meant what I said before. I don’t know how to thank you. For your help, and for not saying anything about what Peter did. If it’s going to bother you, if you feel like you need to tell your dad, please just give us some warning.”
“Derek, I’m not going to tell him. She deserved it. She deserved worse. It’s not like he’s a psycho killer randomly picking off innocents. He’s safe to be on the streets and everything. I’m not going to change my mind.”
Derek nodded. “We talked while we were eating . . . and I think we’re all considering staying here.”
“Yeah?” Stiles put his hands in his pockets and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He tried not to seem as excited as he was, then wondered why he cared. “Moving to Beacon Hills, huh?”
“Well, the people seem pretty nice,” Derek added, his kind-of-smile showing again. “And strategically it’s a good location. Lots of woods. We all miss running after being cooped up for so long. We’ll run tomorrow night, then we’ll know for sure. It also seems unlikely Gerard would come back here anytime soon. With Chris talking sense into any hunters in the area . . . it seems like a good idea. And since Boyd, Erica and Isaac should still be in high school, they’ll already know you and Scott. That’ll help them adjust. They need someplace to call home again.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I hope you all do stay. I was going to ask, if you didn’t . . . if we could all keep in touch. You staying makes that easier.”
“Yeah.” Derek nodded, looking down at the floor.
“Derek, can I . . . just . . . .” Stiles stepped up to him slowly, then put his arms around Derek’s shoulders and neck in a careful hug. “Is this okay?”
Derek didn’t do or say anything for so long, Stiles thought he’d made a huge mistake. Just before he let go, Derek’s arms slid around his waist. “It’s okay.”
After a few awkward nods, Stiles left the room, passing Isaac in the hall. “Good night,” he told Isaac, who said the same back before going into his room. Scott was already in the couch bed, his hands laced behind his head.
Stiles slid in next to him. “Good talk with Isaac?”
“Yeah. We mostly talked about Allison.”
“Good talk with Derek?”
“Yeah. They’re all thinking of staying in Beacon Hills.”
“Isaac said. Allison texted earlier while I was asleep. She and her dad don’t want to go back, not with her mom siding with Gerard and Kate missing.”
Or dead, Stiles thought, acid in his throat.
“Her dad’s considering finding another place to live and asking Isaac to join them. Maybe if Isaac stays . . . .”
“Yeah. But if Isaac and Allison are together, where does that leave you?”
Scott looked at him with wide eyes. “Stiles, we can be friends. I’m capable of being friends with a girl.”
“Sorry, mister maturity. I’ll never doubt again.”
“He kissed me, by the way.”
“On the cheek. And thanked me, us, for helping them. It was . . . sweet.” Scott smiled.
“Erica kissed me on the cheek, too. And hugged me.”
“Allison kissed me kissed me earlier, when she saw Kate coming. But it wasn’t totally fake. I mean, I could tell.”
Derek licked my neck and rubbed his whole body against mine, Stiles could have said. He thought he’d probably win their little competition, if he did. But he didn’t want to tell Scott, or anyone. That was his alone.
“Dad saw Boyd’s bare ass.” Stiles’ dad was the clear winner, and they giggled off and on until they fell asleep.
Before Stiles could wake anyone up the next morning, Peter appeared in the kitchen to make coffee. That was one of the few things they hadn’t already eaten.
“Morning, Stiles. I took the liberty of adding my number to your contacts last night while I had your phone, along with numbers for Erica, Boyd, Isaac and Derek.”
Stiles pulled his phone out and scrolled through his contacts. “Hmm. They have phones?”
“They do now. I purchased them a week or two ago as an act of optimism. Worked out well, wouldn’t you say?” Peter raised his eyebrow in a way that made him look decidedly capable of deception. Hot, but devious.
“I’ll have everyone awake and out of here before you or your father get back.” He pulled out some bills and lay them on the counter. “For the food and lodging. I could have gotten us hotel rooms last night, but your offer was so generous. I thought staying in an actual lived-in home, where a family regularly slept, would do them all some good.”
“No problem. I’m glad to have helped. So is Scott.”
Peter sat at the table to wait for the coffee, running his fingers over the handle of his cup. “I noticed his inhaler last night. Asthma, I presume. I know a cure for that. Perhaps, after we’re here a while, I’ll offer. How would you feel about that?”
“You’ll offer to turn him into a werewolf?”
“Of course. It’s a gift, and one I’d happily give to either of you after all you’ve done for us. The medication I smell on you, Stiles, something for an attention disorder? You’d no longer need that.” Peter laughed, probably at the goofy expression Stiles figured was on his face. “I realize it’s a lot to take in at once, and I wouldn’t want you to make a rash decision. Just know the offer’s there. One bite, and you achieve perfect health. And so many other things. Keep it in mind.”
“Okay.” Stiles was shocked he managed to speak at all, with how his brain was clenching up on itself.
“I think we all consider you pack now,” Peter said as he rose to pour some coffee, too impatient to wait for the whole pot. “You can be human and still be part of our family. But the bite could certainly be a perk for you two. Anyway, I’ll text you if we find a place today or make any permanent decisions, all right?”
“Okay.” Smooth, Stiles.
“O-kay.” Peter raised in coffee in a pretend toast, let his eyes flash red and took a sip.
The last period of the day was the longest 45 minutes Stiles could remember in a long time. He was done with everything with nothing left to think about except how things had changed for him so dramatically in less than 24 hours. He made a list, just so he could look at it and soak in how insane it really was.
- Discovered werewolves were really a thing.
- Discovered I have
the hotssome kind of strong physical and emotional feelings for a slightly older, excruciatingly good-looking guy werewolfguy who is also a werewolf.
- Trespassed on private property in the middle of the night.
- Contributed to the delinquency of a minor by taking Scott with me during said trespassing.
- Helped during rescue of kidnapped and captive werewolves, which might I add really do exist.
- Stood by during commission of widespread arson.
- Fed and housed arsonist. Who is also, I shit you not, a werewolf.
- Fed and housed four other werewolves, one of which causes aforementioned feelings inside and out.
- Let arsonist sleep in father’s bed. If there’s any kind of god or goddess paying even heavily-distracted attention here, please never let my father discover this. I would erect a temple in your honor or something if this could be guaranteed.
- Exposed father to naked werewolf ass. Though I’m sure it was a nice enough view as far as asses go, this will be a point of contention for some time.
- Alpha werewolf said Scott and I were pack now, and offered to turn us into werewolves, just like Lon Chaney, Jr.
- Spent hours hoping newly discovered werewolves stay in town, because wow, werewolves. And feelings.
Stiles tore the paper into little pieces and crumpled them together just minutes after writing, reading and rereading the list. He didn’t want anyone else to think he was insane. He just needed to see it all in black and white so he could begin to process it.
He left one thing off the list, because he couldn’t bear to write it down. That it wasn’t just an arsonist in his dad’s bed, but a murderer. Regardless of why, Peter had killed a woman, and Stiles let him sleep in his dad’s bed. He knew instinctively (though he didn’t know how) that Peter wasn’t a threat to them, but if his dad ever found out the truth about last night, there was no way for him to explain it and make it seem reasonable.
Stiles also knew instinctively that it was wrong to lie, even by omission and silence, about Peter killing her. But what she did was more wrong. He could tell himself that, and it helped. It also helped when he touched his neck and pressed lightly on the bruise Derek’s teeth had left. It was low enough, fortunately, that it didn’t show above the collar of his flannel. But Stiles knew it was there. He pressed it, feeling the tenderness, and reminded himself what Kate put Derek through. What she put them all through. That made it so much easier.
He’d touched the spot all throughout the day, even when he wasn’t thinking about Kate or murder or what his dad’s face must have looked like when he walked into the bathroom. He thought about Derek, Derek’s tongue and mouth on his neck, and Derek’s green eyes. Derek’s blue eyes when he’d first seen them, and the way Derek pushed Kate’s hand away from his face.
As tired as he was, twice he’d had to force himself to think of unpleasant things so his erection would fade before the bell rang and he had to get up. Stiles had it bad.
He’d texted his dad at lunch, asking again if anyone got hurt. His dad said they hadn’t found any bodies and there’d been no reports of injury, which was good. Peter must have disposed of the body in some super-clever way. Even burning would leave remains. As curious as Stiles always was about everything imaginable, how Peter got rid of those remains, Stiles never needed to know. It would be easier to keep the secret if he had less information.
Sorry, Dad. You never knowing about anything that happened last night is for the best.
They stopped at Scott’s before heading back to Stiles’, so Melissa could see Scott before she went to work on the evening shift. They went right for the milk and the canister full of freshly-baked cookies on the counter.
“You boys look tired.” She embraced Scott. “Up late studying, huh?”
“Yeah, pretty late. Mrs. McCall, your cookies are the best.” Stiles dunked one in his milk and tried not to dribble it everywhere while eating.
“There’s a Zip-loc baggie full on the table you can take home for you and your dad.”
“Thanks!” Stiles comforted himself with the cookie and for a few moments could pretend like it was any other day.
“How’d you do on your test?” she asked Scott. She tossed a couple of paper towels their way so they could wipe up the milk that somehow managed to dot the table. “Use these. You’re worse than four-year-olds.”
“I think at least a B. Maybe even an A.”
Scott grinned like a four-year-old when she combed her fingers through his hair and said, “Baby, that’s great. I’m so proud. And if you’re trying to con me now by saying that, and hoping I’ll forget to ask about it in a few days, you are so very, very wrong.”
Melissa kissed his forehead and gave Stiles a light slap on top of the head for good measure. “I’ll be home by 1:30, Scott. I expect you in bed, asleep, long before that.” She pointed at them and nodded before she smiled and headed out the door.
“Nice try, but your mom doesn’t miss anything. What do you really think you got?”
“At least a C, but maybe a B. Nothing stumped me, at least.”
Stiles’ and Scott’s phones both buzzed. Stiles had given Scott all the numbers Peter had put into his phone earlier in the day. He figured it was fine, since Peter said they were both pack. He’d even told him about Peter’s offer of shared werewolfiness. He was a little surprised when it seemed Scott was considering it. No asthma could mean a lot of great things, the least of which would be the ability to play lacrosse with more stamina, right on up to not dying of an acute asthma attack.
They’d agreed to keep it in their minds, but had decided not to think about it too seriously, at least not right now. Stiles was smart enough to know there was always a catch with anything that seemed too great right out of the box.
Peter texted them the address of a loft apartment he’d just spoken to the owner about. It seemed perfect, and they planned to move in as soon as the owner said it was ready. Until then, they’d be at a local hotel. He texted their room and phone numbers to both Scott and Stiles, making it clear which room and phone belonged to which of them. Boyd and Erica shared a room, while the other three took separate ones.
Scott’s phone buzzed. He read the text to Stiles, his face getting happier by the word. Isaac gave him the same information, perhaps not knowing that Peter had texted. He gave Scott his room number in case he wanted to come by sometime, and said that Allison was coming in a few hours while her dad met with Peter. Would he like to come then?
Scott apparently liked that very, very much, if Stiles went by the beaming smile on his face. Stiles smirked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Are you excited about seeing Allison or Isaac?”
Scott shoved his phone back into his pocket. “They’re both very nice.”
“They’re both very pretty, too.”
“Yeah. Yeah, they are.” Scott trying not to smile made it look like he was chewing something that kept getting bigger.
Stiles tried not to be bothered that Isaac had texted Scott with his phone number and room, but he hadn’t heard from Derek. Maybe Derek knew Peter had already told them? Still, it would be nice to get an invitation specifically to see Derek. The feeling grew worse when Erica texted on behalf of herself and Boyd, telling Stiles the news.
“Don’t any of these people communicate?” Stiles shoved his phone back in his pocket. “Changing the sheets and scrubbing the despoiled shower. That’s what I’m going to be doing while you’re doing Allison and Isaac.”
Scott giggled. “No, we’re not going to do anything.” But he got a faraway look in his eye, like he was imagining exactly what they weren’t going to do, so Stiles slapped his shoulder and said, “Come on. You can at least help me make a grocery run.”
Scott helped him haul in the food, food he’d claim to have purchased with saved up allowance to make up for his friends cleaning them out, if his dad asked, then Stiles took him home before starting in on the shower and sheets. He’d been done quite a while when Scott texted him about going to the hotel. He checked to see if Stiles wanted to come and visit Derek while he was there. Mostly on account of how Stiles was the one with a vehicle.
He’d already finished tidying up, so he gave Scott a ride.
“Just go to his room, Stiles. You have his number. Text him first, and then show up. Derek’s not going to mind.”
Stiles followed Scott as far as the lobby, but no farther. “I just feel like he’d have invited me if he wanted me to show up. Better not to impose.”
“You could get to know Boyd and Erica a little better. She did text you.”
“True. But I suspect they’re still catching up after being separated for so long. I’ll just . . . occupy myself down here. It’s okay, Scott. You go and have fun, and tell Allison and Isaac I said hey. Don’t rush on my account. I have my phone fully charged, and plenty of candy that needs Stiles’ brand o’ crushin’.” He nodded his head toward the hall. “Go on, that’s my boy. Just be sure and wrap that rascal.”
“Stiles!” Scott hurried down the hall, shaking his head.
“Oh, don’t act so scandalized,” Stiles murmured with a laugh as he sat and pulled out his phone. The game hadn’t even loaded when a voice startled him.
“Wrap that rascal? Really?” Peter sat next to Stiles. “Your smooth-talking sexual terminology aside . . . werewolves can’t carry diseases. Including sexually-transmitted ones.”
“Damn your hearing!” Stiles shook his head. “ But Allison’s human, right?”
“Oh, I know. Scott should probably wear a condom if he and the lady engage each other sexually. I’m just giving you a useful tidbit of knowledge, that’s all.”
Stiles nodded. Was Peter making an awkward sort of pass at him by telling him that? He didn’t think so. It was hard to tell, though, the way he looked at you like you might be delicious, and like he might take a taste any minute. It was sort of mesmerizing, and only slightly creepy.
“I want you to know that I’m happy to answer any of your questions about our history, culture, traditions. I know you’re smart and curious. It’s refreshing, actually, so please feel free to ask what you want.”
Stiles combed his fingers through his hair. “Thanks, I will. I’m still a little overwhelmed by it all--”
“I understand.” Peter put a hand on Stiles’ arm. Okay.
“But I do find myself wondering . . . why a circus? If they’re so worried about werewolves that they’re willing to kill them for no good reason, why a damn circus? Why not just take a werewolf, announce that it’s a werewolf, prove it to the world, advertise their dangers, and get them killed off that way. Mob panic. It works.”
“Why parade werewolves around pretending they’re not but telling some people. Kate was going to tell me this morning. I’m sure she was going to show me proof, to get me on their side.”
“Yes,” Peter said calmly, though red flashed lightly around his eyes at the mention of her name. “I think that’s why they chose a circus. It could have been anything, really. A lecture about werewolves that would draw the bored, the curious, the true believers, from whom they could have hand-picked those they’d bring into the hunter lifestyle. But this also made them a profit to help fund their exploits, gave them a cover for traveling extensively, and . . . fed into their egos.”
It made sense. Kate had been all ego. Slithery, sexy ego.
“They were fooling everyone except those they chose to share with. Kate must have loved that, waving the truth right under people’s noses and getting away with it.” Peter’s jaw clenched, his teeth creaking together. He swallowed and breathed out slowly. “I supposed they didn’t just prove it to the world for the same reason that many people believe the government covers up alien visitations. Whether or not they’re real, consider if they were. If the government proved to the public one day that aliens had been visiting us for years, it would throw millions of people into shock, tilt their worldview and destroy their belief systems. There could be chaos.”
“Chris Argent has assured me that we won’t have to worry about his family or other hunters again. In fact, Gerard has been hospitalized in New York, his dementia and confusion bad enough that he must be monitored. Victoria reportedly stays by his bedside and plans to care for him during his last days.”
“Aren’t they looking for Kate? Isn’t Chris concerned?”
Peter’s smile made Stiles shiver. “Kate was a bit of a free spirit before joining their little traveling show, so they seem far less concerned than I’d have expected. Chris said she’d talked about trying to infiltrate a werewolf pack in Texas a few weeks ago, so I think they assume she’s down there.” Peter shrugged, his grin sharper than before. “Couldn’t have worked out better, really.”
Good news for the werewolves, but sad for Allison. Maybe.
“Stiles? I thought I sme--heard you.” Derek had the grace to look embarrassed about almost saying he thought he smelled Stiles.
“Derek, Stiles and I were just waxing philosophical. I’m on my way to discuss, eh, boundaries with Chris Argent. You two catch up.” Peter patted Stiles’ shoulder as he rose.
“How’re you doing?” Stiles motioned for Derek to sit, but he didn’t.
“I feel better. Got lots of sleep. Great to sleep in a bed again.”
“Everything okay at home? I mean, your dad didn’t find out or anything?”
“No. Nope, everything’s fine. So, you’re staying here and then moving into a loft. Pretty big place?”
Derek put a hand in his pocket. “Bigger than we need, but that’s okay. Stiles . . . I--I’ll see you.” Derek hurried out of the hotel, so suddenly it left Stiles wondering if he’d said something wrong or offensive and hadn’t realized it. It made one thing pretty clear. All his thoughts about Derek, the sniffing, the licking, the everything . . . it had been a nice fantasy. It seemed he and Derek weren’t even going to be actual friends, considering Peter was the one who kept making conversation with him.
But Peter wasn’t the one chained in a cage for almost two years. Poor social skills--to be expected, an optimistic version of his own voice told him. Cut the guy some slack.
Maybe Derek needed room. Literally, after being a cage, and metaphorically, without Stiles trying to crowd around him. Maybe being alone for so long made it harder to be around someone for very long at all, even if he wanted to. Maybe . . . .
“Maybe my life has become an Evanescence song,” he mumbled. He wasn’t even in the mood to play his game, so he flipped through brochures about Mount Diablo and San Francisco Bay while he waited for Scott.
Stiles heard from Peter and Erica (and therefore, Boyd) over the next week, getting updates about how they were about to move into the loft, and how it was going once they did. Stiles wondered why they didn’t ask for help moving--didn’t everybody beg their friends to help them move?--then he thought werewolves. Probably took them three minutes to lift and carry everything they needed.
It really bothered him that Scott had been there with Allison, and still Derek had never thought to invite him. Or even text and say hi. He still managed to smile and be genuinely happy for Scott when he said that Allison’s dad was putting her in school here and was looking for a house.
Peter called Stiles and invited him over--they were going to call for takeout and properly christen the loft, he said, and wanted Stiles to come. Stiles hated to say no, but he didn’t want to make Derek feel awkward.
“I probably shouldn’t, Peter. But thanks.”
“Derek . . . I think he’d probably prefer it if I didn’t come. At the hotel the other day, he just sort of rushed off while we were talking.”
“And you haven’t heard from him since?”
“Oh, Stiles. You have to come. Derek will be beside himself if everyone’s here enjoying the moment but you. I promise you that Derek wants to see you. Remember in the woods when you asked if he would have really killed you, and I said no?”
Stiles touched his neck where the bruise had mostly faded now, and the tenderness was gone. He missed it. “Yeah.”
“He wasn’t trying to hurt you when I arrived. He was putting a mark on you, a bruise, that’s designed to let other werewolves know you belong to someone. I’m assuming in the state he was in that he didn’t ask your permission?” When the silence stretched out, Peter continued. “He wouldn’t have done it without asking you first under normal circumstances, I promise. It’s just that the wolf in him likes you very much. The wolf wants to keep you.”
Stiles started to speak, but it came out dry and breathy. He cleared his throat. “What--What about the man in him?”
“I think he wants to keep you, too. He just doesn’t know how. And his hearing is as good as mine, so he probably knows we’re having this conversation. Now you have to come or you’ll both be mortified for days, if not weeks. See you tomorrow at six, Stiles.” Peter hung up.
Stiles dropped his face to his hands. “Oh my god.” But he kept touching the place where Derek had bitten down, marking him. Wanting to keep him.
Stiles showed up at 5:45, Scott in tow, Allison right behind because she’d followed them there. Pizza, Chinese, Thai and sub sandwiches from various take-out places covered the table, the coffee table and the kitchen island. The loft was huge, and the furniture they had--the kitchen table and chairs, a couch, a few armchairs and a large shelving unit with a TV and some other electronics--didn’t begin to fill it.
“Wow. Scott told me it was big, but this is big.”
Erica hugged Stiles. “Hey. Yeah, we all decided that too much room was far better than what we were used to. It’s easier to breathe here.”
Boyd clapped him on the back, and Isaac started to do the same, but ended up giving him a quick, light hug. Peter put a hand between Stiles’ shoulders and rubbed, leading him to the table while Allison and Scott were greeted.
“I trust there’s plenty here you like?” Peter gestured at the food.
“Um, all of it? Teenage boy. I’ll eat just about anything you put in front of me.”
“That so?” Peter smirked.
God. “Where’s Derek?”
“Oh, he was fidgety so I sent him for some more soda. Why don’t you sit on the couch, Stiles?”
The minute Stiles sat down, Erica perched on the arm of the couch next to him, telling him about how they were all going to start school the following week. She said she didn’t know why she had to go, but her voice gave away her excitement. She could act put out all she wanted, but when she asked about how often there were parties and dances, it was obvious she was looking forward to it.
Scott sat on his other side, with Allison practically in his lap, and Isaac practically in hers. Peter did something in the kitchen. Boyd sat in an armchair, his leg stretched out so that his foot touched Erica’s.
Everyone talked at once, laughing and teasing, and Stiles realized that for all the space they claimed they wanted, all of them were crowded onto one couch and chair with him and Scott.
The door slid open, and Derek looked around, nodding when he saw the group on the couch. Derek wore sweatpants and a loose T-shirt. He looked great, but Stiles figured that was a constant no matter what he wore. He’d looked great in nothing but ratty blue jean shorts, too. Probably look great in nothing.
Derek’s eyes never met Stiles’. Peter’s did, though, after Derek put the soda in the kitchen and went up a metal, spiral staircase to where Stiles guessed the bedrooms might be. Peter shook his head with a little smile that Stiles took to mean, it’s no big deal, don’t worry about it.
Stiles wondered if it really meant I’m stupid, I was wrong, you should leave right now immediately, Stiles and he was wishful-thinking it into something else. But he was here, and he really wanted to be here, so he guessed they’d all just have to deal.
It wasn’t long before Derek came back down the stairs. Stiles stared, with his inner voice shouting at him to stop staring, dipshit all the while. But he looked so amazing. Derek had changed his clothes, and now wore form-fitting black jeans and a snug, dark-blue Henley. He wore boots, and his hair held just a touch of dampness, as if he’d just showered. He hadn’t shaved, though. His face still showed at least a three-day growth of stubble.
God, he was perfect.
“Scott,” Peter called from the kitchen area. “Will you come help me with the drinks?”
Scott stared at Peter for a minute, and appeared to not understand why he was asked this. But he shrugged and headed to the kitchen, Allison holding his arm, giggling and offering to help, too. Isaac stood and sauntered after them, looking a little lost until Allison pulled him along.
“The rest of you, go ahead and sit around the table. There should be enough chairs.”
Stiles took a chair, and Erica took the one next to him. Then Derek took the one on his other side.
“Hey, Derek,” Stiles said, figuring he might as well be the one to break the ice.
“Sorry for what happened at the hotel. I’m . . . not used to talking to people.”
“It’s okay. I know.” Stiles swallowed and worked up his nerve. “Lucky for you, I talk enough for three sometimes.”
“Oh no.” Derek rolled his eyes just enough to be noticeable, but smiled along with it just enough to make it a joke and not an insult. Stiles congratulated himself on how quickly he was learning to read werewolf expressions.
“Like it here so far?”
“I do. You should . . . come over more often.”
Stiles barely restrained himself from pumping his fist into the air and cheering. “Okay. I will.”
Everyone found a chair, drinks were passed around, and food was grabbed and devoured. Stiles thought he and Scott could pound the groceries, but they had nothing on werewolves. And Allison. Stiles was starting to wonder if she had hollow legs she was filling with food when she finally pushed the plate away and groaned.
Archery champion, good eater, dimples to die for, comes packaged with equally beautiful male werewolf. Way to go, Scotty boy.
After they ate, Scott and Stiles set up the X-Box Peter bought, and decided to simply watch the werewolves play for a while. Stiles sat back in his spot on the couch, and to his pleasant surprise, Derek sat right next to him. Stiles kept telling Derek where to go and where to shoot, which was helpful but annoying if Derek’s expressions were anything to go by. They argued gently about why Derek got killed when he did and how he wouldn’t have if he’d listened to Stiles and how Stiles should just let him figure it out on his own. It was all mixed with little smiles and nudges, so everything seemed to be going well. Erica seemed close to rage-quitting a few times, but turned a corner and ended up kicking everybody’s ass. She was deemed X-Box champion, which made her happy.
Then it was time for movies. Peter seemed to have bought a selection of films they’d have gone to see if they hadn’t been held captive at the time. Erica got teary-eyed when Peter held up Thor. “I always went to Marvel movies on opening weekend.” They watched Thor first, then Bridesmaids. Normally quiet Boyd laughed until he cried at the scene where they all got sick after eating bad chicken.
Everything was nice. They talked, not about the Argents or the circus, but about school and things to do in Beacon Hills. It was like a small party, really, Peter the chaperone over it all.
When it was time to go home, Boyd and Erica said their goodbyes and retreated to their bedroom. Isaac did the same, quickly followed by Peter. Leaving Derek.
“So, I guess I’ll see you,” Stiles said, wishing he really didn’t have to go yet.
“I’m not tired,” Derek offered. “You can stay a while, if you want.”
Allison shook her keys. “I’ll take Scott home if you want to stay, Stiles.”
He thanked her before his brain thought better of it, ignoring the concerned look Scott gave him. Alone time with Derek. That’s what he’d wanted all along, wasn’t it?
When only the two of them remained, Derek stood with his hands in loose fists, looked around, looked back at Stiles, all with a look on his face that said he wished Stiles hadn’t stayed after all.
“I can go,” Stiles said, motioning toward the door. “I mean, I love that you asked me to stay, but if you’d really rather--”
“If I hadn’t wanted you stay, I wouldn’t have asked.” Derek’s tone was clipped.
Stiles put his hands up and shrugged. “Okay. Sorry.”
“No, don’t apologize. I--I’m not angry, I just . . . I suck at this.” He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead.
“Yeah, you do.” Stiles laughed, earning a glare. “What? You really do. But it’s totally okay that you do.”
Derek’s expression softened. “Take me to the Preserve?”
“Now? Okay.” Stiles was questioning everything as he drove Derek silently to the Preserve. Like taking someone he really didn’t know to the woods, alone. Madness, right? So why did it not feel that way with Derek. Did everyone ever murdered by a serial killer or psycho feel okay about what they were doing right up until they were offed?
He parked the Jeep, and followed Derek into the woods a short distance. Then Derek started peeling off his clothes.
“She had drugs that kept me half-shifted during the day--Kate,” Derek said softly as he unbuckled his belt. “So I couldn’t full shift or slip back in front of an audience. And I’m a born wolf, so I never had issues controlling my shifts like bitten wolves often do. Having that ability taken from me . . . .” His shoulders flinched. “Now that I can shift at will again, it’s like letting out a breath I’ve been holding for two years and taking a really deep one again.”
Stiles watched Derek kick off his boots and slide out of his jeans and underwear. He put his clothes in a neat pile on top of his shoes. Don’t look at his crotch. Don’t look at his ass. You’re looking, you’re looking!
“I can’t even imagine, Derek.”
“I want to run for a few minutes. Will you stay here, and wait for me?”
“Yeah, of course.”
Derek’s eyes shone blue, and his body and face shifted while Stiles watched. He growled softly, then took off faster than a human could, but not as fast as he’d seen him go before. Stiles sat on the ground next to Derek’s clothes and waited. He read the text Scott sent after he left, asking Stiles to let him know what happened and warning him not to fall asleep there.
Ten or fifteen minutes had passed when Stiles heard Derek returning. Derek ran until he was about twenty feet in front of Stiles, then slowed to a walk. He looked majestic as he approached, naked, walking with such athleticism and confidence, claw-tipped hands swinging at his sides, his face shifted to the wolf, his eyes burning blue. He was half-hard, and his skin shone in the moonlight.
Stiles stood, not even hiding his admiration as Derek stood before him. “You’re amazing.” And it was obvious that Derek felt more at ease like this than he did when he’d shifted back to human. “Can I . . . ?” Stiles tentatively reached out to touch Derek’s face, giving Derek time to stop it if he wanted.
He felt Derek’s brow, his nose and cheeks, and then let a fingertip slide over Derek’s lip, brushing against his pointed incisors. He lightly scratched the hair on his cheek.
“I’m guessing dog jokes won’t go over very well? Because I’m warning you, some might slip out before I can stop myself.”
“Thank you,” Stiles said seriously. “For showing me.”
Derek nodded, and put his hand on Stiles’ shoulder. His thumb traced the line where he’d licked Stiles after they’d run away from the fairgrounds. Stiles felt the claw gently moving over his skin. He stepped forward, took a deep breath, and pressed his tongue against Derek’s collarbone. Derek flinched but didn’t push him away.
Stiles licked up to his ear, then after only a moment’s hesitation, gently bit down on the junction of his shoulder and neck. Derek growled, but Stiles could tell it wasn’t a warning. He could feel the rumble in Derek’s chest where their bodies were pressed together. He slid his arms around Derek’s waist and held on. He felt something change, a shift of muscle under skin, and realized Derek had morphed back to human.
“Stiles.” Derek’s voice sounded broken.
“I want to keep you, too. I know your life has been nothing but pain and heartbreak for a long time. But if you’re staying here, maybe it’s important to try to get back to normal, whatever that was before . . . . Do regular things, get involved with someone ordinary--me, in case you’re confused--like you might have during normal times.”
Derek gasped and put his arms around Stiles. “You’re hardly ordinary.” He paused for a long time. “The last person I got involved with used me to kill my family and kept me in a cage for two years.”
What the hell was there to say to that? Stiles held him tighter and whispered, “I’m so sorry.” Just when he thought Kate Argent couldn’t be any more evil, blammo. New, more horrible revelation. Peter and what he’d done looked less and less gray-area to Stiles all the time.
“Given everything,” Derek continued after several minutes, “I’m not sure I’m the type of person a seventeen-year-old high-school student really needs. And just to impress you even more . . . I was kind of an asshole before. Bound to be one again, at least sometimes.”
“An asshole, huh?” Stiles leaned back to look at him without letting go. “Arrogant jock, or a stoner-type asshole?”
“Are those the only two types?”
“No, but they’re the predominant ones.”
“Jock. Arrogant jock. Alcohol and drugs don’t really affect us.”
“Okay, shoving people into lockers arrogant, or just snarling with contempt at lesser players arrogant.”
“Definitely snarling. I didn’t bully people. Mom--she’d have--I’d have been sorry if I’d done anything like that.”
Stiles didn’t miss the way Derek’s voice tripped when he talked about his mom. He hoped one day Derek could tell Stiles about her. “I can handle you snarling with contempt. Hell, Jackson’s the captain of the lacrosse team Scott and I play on. His snarl is legendary. I’ve been conditioned.”
“Friends with him?”
“No. And I probably wouldn’t have been friends with you if you’d gone to my high school,” Stiles said, thinking how strange it was. “I’m standing here with an absolutely gorgeous, naked guy who, under different circumstances, probably wouldn’t have given me a second look.”
Derek pressed his face against Stiles’ neck. “Oh, I’d have looked.”
Stiles smiled. “You know, just to point out the obvious, you are very, very naked.”
“I can dress.”
“Didn’t say you had to! Just being observant. And nervous. A little nervous. I’ve never been hugged by a naked man before. Never been licked or bitten by anyone, either. So nerves are presenting themselves. As well as other things.”
Derek huffed against his neck again and squeezed him tighter. “I feel those other things.”
Yeah, there was that, definitely presenting itself, front and center.
“How many other things haven’t you done, Stiles?”
Stiles could pretend more experience than he had. That was usually his instinct. But now he’d tell the truth and hope that his lack of experience made it easier for Derek. He hoped it made him seem safer.
“All of them? And let me tell you, it’s disappointing. There was supposed to be groping after dances and maybe a couple of locker room circle jerks by now, right? Kind of a let down.”
Derek laughed, but seemed shocked. “Nothing, really? Not even kissing?” His lips moved to the spot where he’d bitten Stiles several days earlier.
“A girl I grew up with grabbed me and kissed me once at her birthday party. She was a little drunk, so I don’t really count it.
Derek put his knuckle under Stiles’ chin. His facial features were human, but his eyes blue lights. “So I guess it wouldn’t be right for your first kiss to be in the woods late at night with a naked werewolf. Maybe another time would be better.”
“No! I mean, this is fine. It’s perfect. What it lacks in pre-planning it makes up for in spontaneity and uniqueness.”
Derek nodded, a half-smile on his face, and leaned his head toward Stiles. Then stopped, as if unsure what to do or whether he should.
If Derek had been involved with Kate at sixteen, then right after he’d spent a couple of years alone, scared and running. Then a couple in a cage. In many ways, his life had stopped at sixteen. So he was almost younger than Stiles in some regards, instead of an older, more experienced guy.
Maybe Stiles should be the one to step up.
He pressed his lips to Derek’s, moving slowly, softly, and exhaled with relief when Derek didn’t move away. The soft kiss turned into something more and seemed to give Derek more confidence. Each one’s lips found the other’s again and again, as they broke apart and went back for more. Derek’s tongue slid against Stiles’, then Stiles pushed his tongue against Derek’s, slipping into his mouth in turn. He felt a scratch against his tongue and realize Derek’s teeth were elongating. A low rumble in his chest announced the wolf, as well.
But Derek didn’t back off. If anything, he got more enthusiastic. Stiles slipped a hand between them and gripped him, shuddering at the feel of another man hard in his hand. Derek’s hips rolled up and forward, so Stiles tried to stroke him the way he did himself. In only a few seconds, Derek’s head snapped back, and he growled, bucking forward, warmth spilling over Stiles’ hand. He’d remember how this felt, the pulsing in his hand and the sudden heat and hardness of it, for the rest of his life. How he’d made Derek feel this way.
Derek dropped his forehead to Stiles’ shoulder, his voice human and soft. “I haven’t been touched without the intent to cause pain . . . for so long. I’m not used to anyone treating me kindly.”
“You’ll have to get used to it again. I’ll make sure. Your pack will make sure.”
Derek pulled him close, unmindful of the little mess between them. “Let me make you feel good now,” he whispered.
Stiles shook his head. “I do feel good, Derek. Let this be just for you. Something nice for a change. I will enjoy it over and over tonight before I fall asleep, I’m sure, but for now . . . it’s just you.” Of all the sentiments Stiles ever thought he’d express to another human being, no need to give me an orgasm because I want the one I gave you to be special, and besides I’ll be masturbating to this later anyway was not one of them.
“Really, Derek. You deserve to have something without giving something in return. Let me be someone who does that for you.”
Derek kissed him again, just as heated as last time, until Stiles pushed gently against his hard, toned chest. The chest he really would rather not push away, but pull to him. Why was he pushing him away again? Oh, right.
“Whoo. Either you need to get dressed or I’m gonna need to get naked. Wow. So, yeah.” He pointed at Derek’s clothes. “Don your apparel, Fuzzybutt.”
“Don’t--don’t call me that.” Derek began to dress. “Where did that even come from?”
“It’s cute and appropriate.”
“It’s not, really. I will pay you to never call me that again.”
“Oh my god, Stiles.”
Once they were back in the Jeep, it took a surprisingly long time for them to get on the road. Derek looked so good in his tight jeans and shirt, and now that Stiles had touched him while he was naked, intimately no less, he was more eager to kiss and reach out and touch clothed Derek, too.
There was more kissing and touching when they reached the loft. Stiles got out of the Jeep and ended up with his back pressed against it, getting another mouth-shaped bruise on his neck that he’d be touching and blushing over for days.
True to his word, Stiles went home and wasted no time replaying what had happened in the woods and anticipating what it would be like when Derek finally touched him. After a couple of hours and a record number of orgasms--Stiles figured if masturbation were an Olympic sport, he’d be medaled like Michael Phelps--his phone rang.
Allison had stayed at Scott’s with him for a while, and Isaac had shown up, and Scott was ready to spill the sexy details.
“Wait, Scott, I don’t want to hear about your sex life. I have to look these people in the eyes later.”
“What am I saying? Tell me everything.”
Scott did, and though Stiles wished he’d gone a little light on certain descriptions, it was still pretty fascinating. When Scott asked what he and Derek had done after they left, Stiles felt guilty because he wasn’t going to share the same level of detail.
“I took him to the Preserve so he could run. And then I took him home. We kissed and everything, too. It was nice.”
Scott pressed for more details, but Stiles said that’s all there was.
After they hung up, Stiles didn’t go for the gold again. Instead, he fell asleep thinking about how protective he felt of Derek, and what a nice feeling it was.
Stiles was almost ready to head to Scott’s so they could go to school, when he heard someone at the door, then his dad talking downstairs.
He ran down the stairs, wondering what kind of company they’d have before eight in the morning, to find Derek, wearing a black leather jacket, standing just inside the doorway.
“Derek here says he’s new in town, and you two met at that circus a couple of weeks ago.”
“Yyyyeah. Yeah, that’s right.”
Derek looked nervous. “I came to see if you wanted a ride to school.”
The Sheriff pulled the curtain back to peek out. He whistled. “Nice Camaro.” Stiles wedged in next to him and made similar whistle. Then he beamed and tried to thought communicate with his dad with a smug look that said check my cool ride, pops.
Derek cleared his throat. “Thank you, sir.”
Stiles was still admiring the car. It was a beaut, and it fit with the leather-jacket look perfectly. Hot. Unfortunately, it gave off a wanna-be-a-bad-boy vibe that his dad had no doubt already picked up. And his dad was used to Scott, who was like the boy-next-door on sweetness steroids. Everybody seemed like a bad boy compared to Scotty.
“If you don’t take the Jeep to school,” John asked, “what about Scott? And how will you get home?” He looked back and forth between Derek and Stiles.
“I’ll bring him home. And Allison’s taking Scott and Isaac back and forth today.” Derek looked at Stiles. “Peter’s taking Boyd and Erica.”
“Oh, I see,” John said, nearly bouncing on his toes. “This is the party group, I see, I see. I suppose you can take Stiles to school and back, as long as there are no more gatherings without my knowledge. All I ask is to be informed of these things, and there’s to be no drinking.” John pointed his finger. “The Sheriff can’t have underage drinking in his home. And as a father, I don’t want my son doing it, or his friends.”
“Understood, Sir. Actually, none of us drink, at least not that I know of.” Derek nodded at the Sheriff.
“Good. That’s good.” He held his hand out for Derek to shake. “You’d better go. Don’t want to be late. If you’re not coming directly home after school, Stiles, let me know?”
He and Stiles shared a one-armed hug. “See ya, Dad.” Stiles nearly bounced down the sidewalk.
Peering through the living room window, John sighed and watched his son trying to contain himself as he headed for the black Camaro next to the incredibly handsome, leather-jacket wearing, new-to-town, older Derek Hale.
John thought Derek had looked relieved to be lectured about drinking and having a party without permission, which made him wonder what questions he should ask that he didn’t know he should ask. The kid looked young, but he was older than Stiles. He wasn’t sure how much older. His eyes looked old, but John knew that wasn’t a good yardstick.
Rather than embarrass Stiles in front of his new friend, John decided it was a conversation he could have with his son in private. He hoped all the answers to his questions turned out to be good ones.
He let the curtain drop back until there was only a thin opening he could see clearly through. “You shouldn’t be watching this,” he mumbled to himself. “You shouldn’t. But you are absolutely going . . . to . . . watch, aren’t you? Yes, you are.”
Stiles and Derek got into the car, and before the engine even started, Stiles--
“Okay, shouldn’t be watching. Let him start the car, Stiles. Don’t--okay, that’s enough now--I--my god, Son, don’t--it’s a public street . . . .”
John turned away from the window and sighed. Seeing his son leave with Derek and his leather and his Camaro had been one thing. Watching Stiles kiss the stuffing out of him had been entirely another.
A framed portrait of Claudia on an end table seemed to be accusing him of something. She was smiling, but she’d always had a little mischief in her eyes, just like Stiles.
“Hey, you can’t judge me for being concerned,” he said, touching the frame with a fingertip. “All I did was watch out the window. I didn’t fingerprint him or frisk him, so I’m entitled to spy just a little.” He smiled a little sadly and brushed his thumb over the glass. “I did better than you would have--you’d have followed them to the car and probably made them pose for pictures.”
John headed into the kitchen for coffee, and laughed when his phone buzzed. “Right on time.” He didn’t even have to look at the screen. “Hi, Melissa. Let me guess. A couple of kids you don’t know, probably really good-looking kids at that, came and picked Scott up for school?”
“How did you know?”
“I was just about to call you. You should see the one--Derek--who came to get Stiles. Apparently they all know each other. If yours are as good-looking as him . . . did we know anybody that good-looking in high school? I don’t think we did.”
“Probably not. Was Stiles kind of giddy over Derek? Because Allison and Isaac, the two that came for Scott, had him acting like it was Christmas morning. I still can’t decide which one was prettier. Or which one he liked better.”
“Giddy’s a good word for it. Stiles has carried on about Lydia Martin forever and a day, but she’s never gone with him to school. I thought he might pop. Watching them, teenage crushes . . . god, how old do you feel right this minute?”
They both laughed, and passed theories about their kids back and forth until John had to go to work.
Once they’d pulled away from the curb (Stiles, your dad’s watching us), Stiles had laughed just because he felt so happy. They rode in silence for a while, until Stiles couldn’t keep it in anymore. “So, Wolfman meets the Dadster. Quite a morning.”
Derek glared, but with no heat behind it. “I’m doing what you suggested. Trying for normal. Meeting your dad when picking you up for school for the first time, that’s a normal thing people do, right?”
“So it is,” Stiles agreed.
“Some things will never be normal. You realize that.”
“But the things that can be, we should try to make them that way.”
“You are wise beyond your years, Werehopper.”
“If you keep calling me goofy names, I’m pulling over and letting you walk to school.”
Stiles pointed ahead of them. “The parking lot’s right there.”
“It’s the principle of the thing.” Derek kept a straight face until they turned into the parking lot, which took three seconds, then he laughed. His eyes crinkled and his nose wrinkled up and his teeth showed and he even blushed a little. He was breathtaking.
“Oh my god, you’ve got to do that again.”
“What, make an empty threat?” Derek still grinned, and it was hard to imagine he was the same Derek who’d looked so sad and alone such a short time ago.
“Laugh. You’re . . . you’re wow.”
Derek’s smile changed to something softer.. “Do you care if people know we’re seeing each other? Being out here isn’t a problem?”
“Do I care if they know? I’d take you to my classes and introduce you to every person in the room, if I could.”
Stiles was out of the car by the time Derek rounded the front of the Camaro. “Good,” Derek said softly enough that only Stiles could hear. “Because being in front of this high school reminds me of my arrogant jock days.” He raised an eyebrow. “And if things were normal, and we were in school together and involved with each other, I’d make sure everybody knew you were with me.”
He slid his arms around Stiles’ waist and kissed him, full and long, right in front of god and the student body and everything. “I’ll see you this afternoon.” Derek kissed Stiles’ neck and bit down before getting back in the Camaro and driving away.
Boyd, Erica, Scott, Allison and Isaac were sitting on the edge of the steps going into the school, smiling and waving at him. Scott, who must have finally accepted the idea of Derek and Stiles being more than friends, gave him two thumbs up.
Allison laughed and leaned back and forth, nudging Scott and Isaac where they sat on each side of her. Erica sat on Boyd’s lap and looked Stiles’ way when she didn’t have her head on his shoulder. And Derek drove away after kissing him nearly senseless in the school parking lot. And there were werewolves.
As Stiles walked toward them, he thought about what he’d told Scott when he was trying to convince him to see the circus. Now is the time to make memories, my friend. He’d just been trying to talk Scott into going so he could see the freak tent and maybe get a little entertainment out of a trapeze act or a dog and pony show. He’d wanted something out of the ordinary, because he’d grown bored with normal.
He and Scott had made memories, all right, and they’d also managed to change their entire lives.
“Way to suck face, Stilinski.” Erica kissed his cheek, probably leaving red lips there.
“Hey, am I the kind of guy to let a gorgeous hunk of man-meat walk away without a kiss? I think not.”
Scott groaned and rolled his eyes. Stiles’ phone buzzed.
Don’t call me that. Nerdface.
Stiles spun around, looking for the Camaro. Derek waved from inside it, where he sat at the light at the end of the street.
“Oh my god, werewolf hearing.” Stiles laughed and replied.
After a few seconds: That’s as cutesy as I get. See you at 3. The Camaro disappeared onto another street.
“He called me nerdface,” Stiles complained to Scott as they walked into the building. “And he texts in complete sentences.” The rest walked around them in a loose circle, so Stiles put his arm on Scott’s shoulders and squeezed.
Scott leaned in and whispered. “Want to know what Allison called me last night?”
“No. Nope! I don’t need to hear your perversions.” He clapped Scott on the back as they reached his locker and parted ways. He gathered what he needed for class, then changed Derek’s name in his contacts to Fuzzybutt. “Call me nerdface, will ya.”
He settled into his first class and tried to concentrate, then decided it was okay if he was a bit distracted. It wasn’t every day a hot guy in leather kissed him in the parking lot after driving him to school in a Camaro, after possibly impressing his dad by coming into the house to introduce himself. Of course, it hadn’t been every day before. Now, maybe it would be. His stomach did a little flip at the thought.
Stiles knew--he knew it with the same certainty that Scott + Cheetos and a few hours of video-gaming meant he’d find orange fingerprints around the house for days--that being with Derek wasn’t always going to be as lighthearted and lovely as this morning. No way. Someone couldn’t go from what he’d lived through to happy and cheerful without some issues. He could expect some dark emotions to surface, probably sooner than later.
But he felt the same certainty that he’d be there for Derek, and they’d get through it. He wanted that more than anything. Derek deserved that, and so did he.
Stiles pressed the tender spot on his neck and thought about how fantastic and amazing his normal, ordinary life was going to be.