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With Broken Spines

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The pool had been left stagnant so long the frogs and mosquitos reclaimed it as their own. Half-inflated pool floats lay along the surface. A plastic swan bobbed up and down in one corner with a small thermometer attached to it, casting long shadows in the flash lights shaky beam. The painted eye ball of the swan had long since started to fade away leaving a dreary, drooping, smear where it’s pupil should have been.

“It’s hard enough seeing through all this muck with you shaking the flashlight back and forth,” Peter said as he dredged his net up from the waters. A dark congealed messed of algae and leaves pooled in its center. He cast them over the side of the pool with a grimace.

“Why do I have to hold the flash light?” Stiles asked, gripping the light tighter to hold it steady. His little heartbeat was loud in Peter’s ear. The chemical scent of his anxiety meds leaked off him and masked most of his natural odor. Peter’s nostrils flared whenever the wind blew it towards him. He’d never had to be around someone so medicated before.

“Because you wanted to do something,” said Peter as he cast a pointed look at Chris across the pool.

Chris was too focused on dragging his own net through the waters to notice.

“I was hoping for something a little more interesting.”

“Would you rather have the net?” Peter asked, holding the handle out to him.

“No, thank you. Very generous.” Stiles wrinkled his nose. “When do we get to do cool stuff?”

Chris chuckled. “I hate to disappoint you but this is what most hunts are these days.”

“Slogging through dirty pool water looking for an alligator-platypus?”

“It’s called an Afanc and they’re-“

“Really damn annoying,” Peter said. “We’ve been reduced to pest control. Remember back in the days when hunters only went after big things?”

“Werewolves were the big things,” Chris said. “Back in those days you would have been the pest and your head would rot on spike.”

“Not if I got to yours first,” Peter said with a flash of his crimson eyes.

Chris smirked.

“You two have such a loving relationship. It’s overwhelming me. Stop before I suffocate,” said Stiles with a mocking gag.

Peter rolled his eyes.

Chris chuckled.

As Peter dipped his net along the edges of the pool he felt something hard brush up against it.

“Fuck. I found it.”

The creatures tail surfaced. It was long, dark, and flat like a paddle but covered in dull green scales the color of kelp. The tail smacked the water’s surface and caused a wave to rush up the side of the pool and spill out over the lip.

Peter swung his net underneath but as he pulled it up the figure lurched up. The Afanc was about the size of a small dog. Its scales glistened under the flashlights beam. It grabbed onto Peter’s pant leg and yanked.

“Fuck!” Peter shouted as he fell into the pool. The water splashed up around him as he plunged through the surface and disappeared beneath the layers of green. The creature kept a tight hold on him as it dragged him down further and further. His hands scrabbled for the side of the pool wall.

He kicked and hit the Afanc under its jaw. It released and he swam towards the surface. As his head breeched the waters he saw Chris aiming a crossbow right at his head.

“Do not shoot me!” he snapped.

“Then get out of there!”

Stiles’ hand grasped his shoulder and tugged him out of the water.

Peter grabbed onto the ledge and pulled his torso out before he felt the jaws snapping around his leg again.

The Afanc yanked on his ankle.

Peter’s hands slipped on the slime-coated lip of the pool. He clenched his eyes shut as he fell back into the water. Stiles crashed into the water right beside him. His arms flailed uselessly in the murk.

Peter’s eyes burned as he opened them. Through the darkness the Afanc’s beady green eyes were just barely visible. He snarled though the sound was quite literally drowned.

He grabbed the Afanc by its scale-covered throat and squeezed tight. He stuck his fingers in its mouth and pried its jaws from his leg. He was lucky it hadn’t bitten down hard enough to break his skin.

The Afanc released and Peter pulled it to his chest. It writhed and thrashed against him but he held on tight. He swam up to the surface. just in time to see Chris pulling Stiles up out of the water by his arms.

“Oh no, don’t help me,” Peter said, wiping his water-logged hair from his eyes. “I’m totally fine. I wasn’t almost eaten or anything.”

Stiles spat out a mouthful of water back into the pool. He breathed heavily and collapsed onto his side.

“You wouldn’t have been eaten,” said Chris. “It’s not like it could actually swallow you.”

The Afanc wriggled around in Peter’s arms and thwacked its tail against his leg.

Peter huffed and pulled himself up out of the pool. “Anybody want this thing?” he asked.

Chris met him on his side and put a towel around his shoulders. “Hold onto it until we get in the car.”

“No ‘thank you’?”

“Thank you, oh fearsome and mighty predator. You’ve saved the frogs and they are eternally grateful.”

Peter growled and pulled Chris down to his level by his shirt. He moved for Chris’s lips but was abruptly shoved away.

Chris wrinkled his nose. “Not until you shower.”

“You always say that,” Peter said with a sigh. He stood up and readjusted the towel around his shoulders. The Afanc wiggled and made a hacking nose. Its webbed feet clawed at Peter’s chest but outside of the water it was about as destructive as a penguin.

“Oh god, what the hell,” Stiles hacked up another mouthful of pool water as he keeled over the edge. His hair had grown out a bit since moving in with them and hung down over his eyes in clumps.

“Deep breaths, Stiles,” Chris called over to him. “There’s another towel in the bag.”

Stiles scrambled over to it on his hands and knees and rifled through until he found a towel.

Peter wrapped his arm around Chris’s waist and eyed the pool.

“Do not push me Peter,” said Chris.

“So feisty. Why aren’t you ever the one faceplanting into pools? Why does it always have to be me?”

“Because I’m careful,” said Chris. He patted Peter on the cheek and grabbed the light Stiles dropped when he’d been pulled underwater. “Now let’s go.”

“You’re not going to kill that thing?” Stiles asked. He stood on the grass with the towel tightly wrapped around his shivering body. He moved closer to examine it and tilted his head to one side.

“We don’t kill unless we have to,” said Chris. “Once it’s out of the water it’s harmless.”

“You want it?” Peter asked.

The Afanc blinked its beady little eyes at him.

“Is it going to bite me?” Stiles asked.

“It might, but it doesn’t have any teeth.”

Slowly, Stiles took the sopping wet thing from Peter’s arms and cradled it against his towel like a puppy.

As soon as Peter was free of the thing he rolled his shoulders back and looked up at the moon. It was half hidden behind a layer of clouds but the glowing half-circle enraptured him all the same. His muscles writhed beneath his skin. The colors in his vision shifted every so slightly. The trees surrounding them came into focus and things that had been hidden in the darkness were suddenly visible like the tiny insects blending into the environment. His bones cracked and snapped. He fell forward onto his hands-now-paws and shook the water from his fur.

“Ew! Gross!” Stiles shouted. He jumped back, away from the spray of water.

“Peter!” Chris snapped. “Warn people!” He looked down with a grimace at the layer of water that clung to his shirt.

Peter snorted and brushed his head against Chris’s leg in apology.

Chris sighed and scratched his ear as he bent down to pick up what remained of Peter’s clothes and towel.

He followed the trail of scents back to the Tahoe parked on the edge of an abandoned road leading to the house and waited for Stiles to open the door for him.

“Oh so he’s a wolf and he still gets to sit up front?” Stiles opened the door for him anyways and Peter clambered inside.

“You should both feel lucky I’m not making your wet selves sit in the trunk.”

“Fine, fine,” said Stiles as he got into the backseat. He settled the newly docile Afanc down between his legs and put on his seatbelt.

Peter settled down into the seat with his head resting against Chris’s thigh.

Chris grumbled something about dry cleaning as he drove back out onto the road.

“So, what do we do with this thing now that we caught it?”

“We’ll keep him for the night and release him in the morning.”

“Can I go with?”

“I don’t know if you’d want too. I have a lot of errands to run and you have school.”

“Hunter errands? I can help.”

“No, regular ones like picking up groceries.”

“That’s boring.” Stiles slumped back in his seat.

Chris chuckled. He was silent for a few seconds before he spoke again. “I am meeting with a wendigo tomorrow, if you really want to come?”

Peter opened his eyes.

“Really?”

“Really,” said Chris. He stroked his hand down Peter’s head and lightly squeezed his nape. “Unless you mind missing a couple hours of school?”

Peter rumbled a growl and flicked his ears. He had his own opinions about the educational system but it wasn’t Chris’s nature to let a kid break rules so flippantly.

“No,” said Stiles a little too quickly. “Like an actual Wendigo? How big is it? Is it dangerous?”

“It’s a she and her name is Eleanor. She’s not dangerous unless you insult her.”

“What are we going for?”

“I need to ask her about some bodies that washed up on the beach a few months back.”

“Bodies? What kind of bodies?”

Peter flattened his ears back against his head and nipped at Chris’s elbow.

“Ow,” Chris snapped. He flicked one of Peter’s ears.

Peter snarled and snapped again.

“Oh stop that,” Chris said.

“Chris. Tell me about the bodies,” he leaned forward so his head poked through the gap between the front seats with the Afanc clutched to his chest. The back of its tail smacked against Peter’s shoulder.

“Later,” said Chris. “I need to check my research notes but I’ll tell you about it in the morning before we leave, alright?”

“Awesome,” Stiles said with a huge grin on his face as he slumped back into his seat.

The rest of the drive passed in relative silence. They weren’t too far from the house but by the time they got there Stiles’s eyes were already half lidded and his tight hold on the Afanc slackened so it could curl up beside him on the seats.

Peter looked up at the sky. The moon was still nestled in the center, beckoning him back into the woods. He could slip easily behind the houses and be back up into the forests in a matter of minutes, but there were regrettably more pressing matters at hand.

Chris held the car door open for him as he jumped out of the vehicle. His paws hit pavement and a moment later those same paws warped into fingers and his body elongated and stiffened.

Chris was quick to throw a jacket over his shoulders. “Could you wait until we’re inside?”

Peter shrugged. “It’s midnight. No one’s outside.”

“If the neighbors look through the window they’ll see a naked man on the lawn.”

“They’ll also see a teenager with an alligator platypus, which do you think is more concerning?”

“In this day and age? The naked man. Now get inside.”

“What should I do with this thing?” Stiles asked when they were back inside the house. He stared in the opposite direction of Peter’s naked body.

“I’ll take it downstairs,” said Chris. “We’ll keep it there until tomorrow morning.”

“I can do it,” Stiles said. “You guys can have the shower first.”

“Cute try, but no,” said Peter.

“Just let me see it!”

“No,” said Chris.

“I bet Allison has seen it.”

“No, she hasn’t. It’s only for experienced hunters,” said Chris, plucking the Afanc from Stiles’s hands. It grumped and latched onto his shirt with its claws.

“Ugh, fine whatever. Enjoy your secrets,” said Stiles.

“We will, thank you,” said Peter.

“I get the shower first,” Stiles said. He stuck his tongue out and ran up the steps, his still damp hair and wet socks left a trail behind him as he went.

Chris grimaced at the mess. “Wipe down the stairs when you’re done!”

Stiles waved back at him from the top of the staircase and disappeared into the bathroom. For a teenager, he was usually pretty good about cleaning up after himself but only when he remembered he’d made a mess in the first place.

Chris shifted the Afanc in his arms and dug around in his pocket for the basement key.

“You’re coming with?” he asked when he noticed Peter standing behind him.

“I think I’d better.”

“I think you’d better shower,” Chris said through pursed lips as he unlocked and opened the door.

The basement was large, larger than the living room and kitchen put together. In the past it had served as a bunker, an armory, and a holding facility. Now, it was mostly a temporary enclosure for wild beasts and a storage unit for the more dangerous weapons they didn’t want Allison – or any other nosey person – getting their hands on. A large fish tank and several large cages lined one wall directly opposite an arsenal of guns and stun batons.

Peter was silent as they descended the concrete steps but as soon as they were safely behind the sound proof walls he set in.

“Why are you taking Stiles to Eleanor?”

Chris popped open the top to an aquarium. It was large, and usually empty aside from the occasional Afanc or Bunyip that came there way. The Afanc slithered happily into its temporary home.

“She’ll know if he’s still human. It can’t hurt,” Chris said as he closed the lid.

“I’ve told you that he is. Do you not believe me?”

“Of course, I do but can’t you tell something’s off with him? I like Stiles, I do, but he’s always twitching, always nervous. His heartbeats fast, his breathing is slow. He barely gets any sleep. Sometimes it feels like you have to shout just to get his attention.”

“He has ADHD. That’s all normal for him.”

“We don’t know what normal for him is.”

“So you’re just going to chop off a finger and feed it to Eleanor?”

“No. I just want her to double check.”

“Fine,” said Peter. “But she’ll tell you the exact same thing. Stiles is human.”

“I have to be sure,” he said.

“I love you Chris, but you’re paranoid.”

“I have to be.”

Peter rolled his eyes and stepped forward. He put his hands on Chris’s shoulders and leaned in to claim his lips. “Promise you won’t let him get eaten?”

“I promise,” said Chris. He pressed his mouth to Peter’s for only a second, then he shoved him back. “You need a shower.” He wiped his lips on his sleeve just has they heard the water turn on upstairs.

“Goddammit!” said Peter.

“You know there’s a shower in our room?”

“Yes, but the water will be cold Christopher. Unless you want to heat it up with me?” he batted his dark lashes.

“No.”

“You are the absolute worst.”

Chris smirked. “Second only to you.”

⊶⧟⊷

Derek watched the moon as it followed its invisible path through the night sky. He lay in a clearing a little ways out from his old home, far enough that the scent of charred wood couldn’t reach him. Blades of grass tickled his ear as the low breeze rustled trees overhead, which did little to cool the warm air. It was hard to catch a good glimpse of the moon with so many clouds, but nevertheless the glowing light emitting between gray and silver puffs soothed the beast coiled in the core of his being. His wolf had been restless for a while.

His ears pricked as he heard twigs snapping not too far off from his right. He sat up, shining his beta eyes in the direction of the noise. A tall, lanky figure stumbled towards him through the darkness, only visible through the infrared of Derek’s vision. Twigs broke, leaves crackled, and a little, quiet ‘ow,’ came every few seconds.

“I told you to stay on the path, Isaac,” Derek said.

Isaac broke through the tree line. His pants had bits of leaves clinging to them and his hair was more than a little disheveled. He carried with him a sulfuric scent that was vaguely reminiscent of high school chemistry class.

“’m interrupting something?” he asked. He tilted his head to one side.

“Sneaking up on a werewolf in the woods? Not a good idea.”

Isaac’s smile flickered into a frown. “Sorry,” he said. “I just wanted to see what you were doing. Thought it might be some cool, werewolf stuff.”

Derek sighed and laid back down. “I was relaxing. Go back to the path. There’s a lot worse things than me out here.”

“Bigger things like mountain lions, or bigger things like, I don’t know, a mega werewolf?”

“Wolves that wouldn’t hesitate to swallow you whole.”

“And how exactly is the path going to keep me safe?”

“Chris lined it with emitters and fumes. It’ll mask your scent and most will find it too overpowering to go near.”

“You go near it.”

“I hold my breath. Go back to the car.”

“I’m not scared.” Isaac crossed the little clearing to sit down beside Derek. He laid on the grass with his arms behind his head.

“You should be.” Derek lay back down beside him and let his arms fall lax beside him.

“When I’m a wolf will the moon still look the same?”

“I don’t know. Maybe?”

“When are you going to ask Peter?”

“Soon.”

“You keep saying that.”

“I keep meaning it.”

“Why won’t you just ask him?”

“I don’t have to. I know he wants a pack.”

“That sounds like you don’t know.”

“Peter is my closest relative. We used to have a big family and now we don’t. I know he misses it. He and Chris are all alone.”

“They have each other. And Stiles.”

Derek looked over at Isaac.

“How is Stiles?”

“Why don’t you ask your uncle?”

Derek looked back up at the moon. The clouds were slowly obscuring its shape. Somewhere, probably on the other side of the preserve, he was certain Peter would be watching it too. He missed when they would watch it together.

“We don’t talk.”

Derek let the silence drag between them. It wasn’t any of his business anymore what happened to Stiles, but he couldn’t stop thinking about those miserable, hopeless eyes on the roof of Beacon Hills Hospital. He remembered what it was like to feel that way. He remembered reaching for Peter’s hand and finding nothing there.