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I Don't Need Protecting

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- Sunday, August 14th, 2011 -

Stiles is filled with nervous excitement as he drives to Derek's loft. Tonight is the pack's weekly meeting, during which any important or urgent news is shared—like something else threatening to kill them all—and then things usually turn into a more relaxed gathering. Stiles' favourites are always the evenings when the pack ends up gathered on and around the sofas with a bunch of pizzas and a couple of movies. He feels privileged to be a part of something so good, especially since it had just been him and Scott for years. Now Stiles has many friends, more than he really knows how to handle, but he wouldn't change a thing about it.

When he thinks back on how they all got here, it seems unbelievable.

From Stiles sticking his nose where it didn't belong, to Scott being bitten by Peter and both of them being thrust into the supernatural world. From Derek Hale returning to Beacon Hills, all frowns and growls and threats of bodily harm, to them teaming up with Chris and Allison Argent to take down Peter Hale. They were such a mess back then, and things weren't any better when Gerard Argent showed his ugly geriatric face. They were actually worse, because, with Derek biting Erica, Isaac and Boyd, there were more people to try to keep safe.

Scott's betrayal at the end of Gerard's reign of terror was a tough pill to swallow, both for Stiles and for Derek, but Stiles thinks that they're all in a good place now. Scott has finally accepted his place in the Hale pack, Erica and Boyd came back and apologised for leaving when things got tough, and Jackson is actually less of a douchebag now that he has more people around him to keep him in check.

Derek is also nicer, which was shocking at first and now leads to the second reason for Stiles' excitement about tonight.

Ever since middle school, he harboured a massive crush for the unattainable Lydia Martin. He would wax poetic about her to whoever would listen, which more often than not turned out to be his best friend Scott or his dad, the local sheriff. Sometimes Scott's mother, Melissa, would get an earful as well. Recently, however, Stiles' crush on Lydia has finally waned, only to be replaced by another.

Derek is why movie nights are Stiles' favourite pack meetings, solely because he usually ends up sitting next to him, feeling the heat of his body and smelling his natural manly musk. Several times Stiles has been tempted to lay his head on Derek's shoulder, maybe even nose into his neck to get more of his delectable scent, but he has wisely managed to catch himself every time he has got the urge so far. Things have been good between them lately—dare Stiles say they've even been great, Derek smiling grudgingly at his jokes and sharing meaningful glances with him—but Stiles doesn't want to risk that he is reading things wrong and end up with his throat ripped out, as Derek has promised to do in the past.

When Stiles arrives at his destination, the takes the freight elevator up and enters Derek's loft to find it already filled with his fellow pack members. He greets them all with a wave and his signature grin but freezes just past the threshold when he sees their grim expressions. Right away Stiles knows that this meeting won't end up being one of leisure.

"Oh God, who's gonna kill us all now?" he whines.

"No one," Derek answers gruffly, his arms crossed over his chest. Today he wears a pair of jeans and a dark-purple henley, black chest hair peeking out of the V-neck.

Tearing his eyes away from said hair, Stiles meets Derek's gaze. "Then what's with the faces?"

"We need to talk."

"Isn't that what we're doing right now?" Stiles jokes, trying to lighten the mood. He flinches when Derek yells at him.

"This is serious, Stiles!"

"O-okay, well…tell me what's going on then."

While he waits for a response, Stiles walks further into the loft and approaches the sofas. There is a space open between Scott and Erica. He moves to fill it, but Erica scoots sideways and blocks him.

Stiles frowns, feeling the first tendrils of dread creeping up his spine. "What the hell?"

"You don't belong here," Derek says finally, his voice monotone.

His heart beating fast in his chest, Stiles looks at Derek wide-eyed for several long seconds, until the silence is broken by Jackson coughing uncomfortably. "What do you mean I don't belong here?" he enquires worriedly. "I'm pack."

"No, Stiles. You're not."

This can't be happening, Stiles thinks. Why is this happening?

He scans the faces of the others. They all either look away from him or stare back with unreadable expressions.

"Leave," Derek orders, uncrossing his arms.

"No, but…I am pack. Right? Scott?" Stiles turns to his best friend for backup but is let down when Scott doesn't even acknowledge him.

"You're not pack, Stiles," Derek says menacingly, a thin ring of red appearing around his pupils. "You've never been pack. The only reason I let you to stick around this long was because you've been mildly useful, but now that we have Lydia, who can give the pack everything you have to offer while being a banshee to boot, that usefulness has run its course and it's time for you to leave." Derek stalks around the coffee table and gets up in Stiles' face, maintaining eye contact the entire time. "You'll never tell anyone about us. You'll go back to your ordinary life and leave us alone. You won't try and talk to anyone in the pack again, and if you do, I've already instructed them to ignore you and walk the other way. You're. Not. Pack. Now get out of here."

His eyes stinging, Stiles looks imploringly at Derek as a last-ditch effort to get him to reconsider, but Derek is unmoved. Picking up the last shred of dignity he has left, Stiles turns and walks with his head held high out of the loft. He manages to hold it together during the elevator ride and the walk to his Jeep, knowing that Derek and the betas will be able to hear him if he cracks now.

It isn't until he is behind the wheel of his Jeep and has driven a few blocks away that he pulls over to the side of the road and allows the tears to fall.

* * *

Back in the loft, Derek doesn't relax until the sound of Stiles' engine has faded into the distance, at which point he falls heavily in the seat Isaac moves aside to free up for him.

"Are you sure we made the right decision?" the beta asks his alpha, looking guilty.

"Yeah…that didn't feel right," Erica adds.

"It was what was best for him," Derek defends, running a hand down his face. He feels just as guilty as his betas—more so, probably, because he had to be the one to do it. "It's too dangerous to have him around right now."

Scott puts his head in his hands. Allison rubs his back consolingly when he takes a shuddering breath.

"Are they really that bad?" Lydia questions from next to Jackson.

"It's a pack made up entirely of alphas, Lydia," Derek answers patiently, unable to look away from the door. "There are a least five of them. Imagine facing off against five Peters, back when he was the alpha."

"Still…I feel awful."

"We all do, but it had to be done."

"The way he smelled when he left," Boyd says quietly. "It was so sad."

Derek knows what the taciturn beta means. Even now, the acrid stench of Stiles' heartbreak permeates the whole loft.

Erica sighs. "I just hope he forgives us when this is all over."

Lydia hums her agreement. "Derek especially."

Said alpha sits up and frowns at her. "Why me especially?"

"You really wanna go there?"

Derek tenses again when, under her knowing gaze, he comprehends what she meant. He had thought he was doing a good job of keeping his feelings for Stiles a secret, but apparently not. When Stiles had looked at him before striding out of the loft, as hurt and vulnerable as Derek has ever seen him, Derek almost gave in. He almost went back on everything he had just said and told Stiles that he could stay, that he was sorry and he hadn't meant any of it. But he couldn't let that happen.

You did the right thing, he tells himself. So why doesn't it feel like it?

* * *

- Monday, August 15th, 2011 -

Stiles doesn't want to get out of bed for school the next morning. He knows what the day will entail. It will be filled with him trying his hardest not to look at his ex-friends in class, them avoiding him in the halls and him eating by himself at lunch like the loser he has apparently always been to them. He'll be an outcast like he used to be, only this time it'll be worse because Scott won't be by his side.

When he hears his dad in the kitchen downstairs, Stiles reluctantly drags himself out of bed and meanders across the hall to the bathroom. He shuts the door with a soft click and then stares tiredly at his reflection in the mirror above the sink. He has huge dark bags under his eyes, which themselves are red and puffy because he spent most of the night crying instead of sleeping. He doesn't think it's just his imagination that his face also looks gaunt, his cheekbones more prominent than they were just yesterday, and his hair, which he'd been growing out after Lydia told him he should, is limp, lifeless and greasy.

In short: he looks just as shit as he feels. It will take herculean effort to hide all of this, effort he doesn't think he is capable of.

After stripping out of his Spider-Man pyjamas, Stiles stands beneath the shower spray and leans his forehead against the cool tiled wall. Finding the energy to do anything is, like he'd thought, nearly impossible, but somehow he manages to sloppily wash himself with some sandalwood shower gel and put some shampoo and conditioner in his hair. When the last of the suds have eddied down the drain and the water is clear, Stiles switches off the shower, steps out of the stall and quickly dries himself with one of the fluffy white towels that are hung up on the rail to his left.

"Stiles!" he hears his dad shout from downstairs. "Hurry up! You're gonna be late!"

"I don't care," Stiles mumbles as he walks back to his bedroom to get dressed.

He selects a pair of maroon chinos and a dark-grey sweater and then braces himself when he stands at the top of the stairs, backpack in hand. He doesn't want his dad to see how pathetic he is, so he knows he has to fake it.

"Time to put on the performance of a lifetime, Stiles. You can do this."

"Stiles!" the sheriff shouts again.

"I'm coming!" Stiles yells back, a bit more aggressively than he intended.

Calming himself, he descends the stairs, deposits his backpack in the foyer and joins his dad in the kitchen. The man wears his sheriff's uniform and drinks slowly from a cup of steaming coffee, some of which Stiles thinks he could really use. He offers his dad a rictus smile on his way to the coffee maker, hoping it will be at least somewhat convincing, enough that his dad won't try too hard to question him. After he has poured himself a cup of coffee, he takes out a pot of vanilla yoghurt from the fridge and a spoon from the cutlery drawer and sits at the island. As he eats his meagre breakfast, he can sense that his dad is watching him, but Stiles doesn't show that he knows.

Hell if he is going to be the one to initiate anything.

"You okay, son?" the sheriff asks after a minute, putting down his cup. "You look tired."

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just lost track of time last night and stayed up way too late reading. You know how it is."

The sheriff hums his acknowledgement, but Stiles can still see him watching him out of the corner of his eye. His dad is evidently not entirely convinced, but Stiles must have told a convincing enough lie to get him to consider that whatever is going on with his son isn't pressing. Stiles smiles at him again and eats another spoonful of yoghurt. He can't taste it.

"Well, I'm here if you need me," the sheriff says, clapping Stiles' shoulder on his way past. "I've gotta get to work. Don't be late for school."

"I won't," Stiles promises.

He keeps eating until he hears his dad exit the house, then he drops his spoon with a clatter and shoves the half-eaten yogurt pot away. He isn't really hungry.

Stiles can't put it off for much longer without arousing suspicion later on, so he gulps down his coffee, burning his tongue and throat in the process, and walks into the foyer to put on his shoes. Once that is done, he gathers all the nerve he has left, slings his backpack over his shoulder, and leaves for what is sure to be a long and awful day.

* * *

Stiles was wrong. 'Awful' doesn't even begin to cover how bad his day has been so far, and it isn't even lunch yet.

As soon as he walked into the main building by himself, people were staring at him. There was no way for him to know how his peers had already discovered that he had been ditched by all of his friends, but they had, and as he ventured through the halls to his locker, he could feel his face turning red as other students kept pointing and even giggling at him. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so humiliated, a feeling that wasn't help at all by the fact that several of his ex-friends were around to witness every second of it.

Erica, Boyd, Isaac, Allison and Scott were by Scott's locker, which is of course close to Stiles'. As soon as Stiles got near enough, all of the betas had looked at him and then swiftly turned their backs as if he was something disgusting they would rather avoid. And he knew they could hear what some of the others were saying about him, because he could hear it all clear as day even with his human senses. The fact that they did nothing to try to stop it shouldn't have surprised him—they did nothing to stop Derek from kicking him out of the pack, after all—but for some reason it did.

And it hurt. God, it hurt so much.

He'd hidden his face in his locker until the bell rang, and as soon as he left it, the books he'd had in his hands were knocked to the floor.

"Watch where you're going, loser!" the culprit had sneered at him. As he walked away, Stiles heard him gloating and cackling with some of his boorish friends.

When Stiles finished gathering his books, he looked up and saw Scott at the end of the hall. His erstwhile best friend had seemed torn, but because he left Stiles there to deal with it by himself, Stiles figured he was just imagining it. Maybe his peers were right. Maybe he really is disgusting, and Scott had finally realised it and ditched him now that he is settled into the Hale pack.

Now, as the lunch bell rings, Stiles hightails it out of English class, desperate not to be in the same room as even one of the pack. He hurries alone to the cafeteria and gets in line with his tray, very much aware of how he is still drawing the attention of some of the other students. He sticks out like a sore thumb, because everyone had very recently got used to always seeing him with at least one other member of the pack. Usually several.

Stiles keeps his eyes averted, staring at the kitchen behind the staff serving out lunch until he reaches the end of the line and can't avoid the crowd any longer. As soon as he faces them, he feels panic. There are even more pairs of eyes staring at him than he thought there would be, and as he searches for an empty table he is disheartened to find that there isn't one. There are at least three or four students eating at the emptiest ones, and it's this that causes Stiles to make his escape. His tray still in his hands, he tries to stop himself from running as he heads toward the doors, planning on eating his lunch in a bathroom stall like all the loners do in cliché teen movies.

Right before he leaves the cafeteria, he can't resist looking at the table usually occupied by the pack. They are all there, looking right back at him. Stiles' heart breaks just a little bit more when he notices that his seat isn't just empty but has been completely removed.

They don't need it, just like that don't need him.

* * *

Scott is beside himself with conflicting emotions. He wants to obey Derek, wants to trust that what they are doing to Stiles is the right thing and it will all work out in the end. But seeing Stiles struggle on his own made the wolf in him whimper with sadness, scratching and clawing to get out so that he could dash over to his best friend and hug him tight, tell him he didn't mean it and of course he needs him.

Of course he loves him.

The last straw is when Stiles has the guts to show up to lacrosse practice at the end of the day. Scott is shocked to see him there—he thought for sure he'd skip it, considering that four of the people who abandoned him are on the team. But no, Stiles is still determined to go on like everything is fine, displaying the inner strength that Scott has always admired.

When Coach Finstock begins putting them through their paces again, Scott, Isaac, Boyd and Jackson all do their best to stay away from Stiles, none of them wanting to make it any worse for him. A few of the other guys on the team aren't so kind.

When Stiles ends up with the ball and makes a run for the goal, Greenberg, the asshole, gives chase and tackles him unnecessarily hard.

Scott winces when Stiles hits the ground.

"Greenberg! What the hell was that?!" Finstock yells, reassuring Scott that he wasn't alone in noticing the rough treatment.

"I was just stopping him from scoring, Coach," Greenberg defends himself.

Finstock glares at him and then tells Stiles to walk it off.

Stiles takes that order and walks it all the way off the field, not listening to any of Finstock's ensuing shouts for him to come back.

Scott watches Stiles go and thinks that the salt in the air isn't just from sweat.

* * *

"We have to let him back in!" Scott screams at Derek after lacrosse practice has ended. He should be at the veterinary clinic for another shift with Deaton, but he had to make a detour to the loft first to try to talk some sense into his alpha.

"We can't, Scott," Derek says. He sits on his sofa with a book open in his lap.

"Yes we can!"

"This is what's best. When the Alpha Pack is gone, he can come back."

Derek picks up his book again like that's the end of it, which incenses Scott. He strides forward and knocks the book out of Derek's hands, just like he'd witnessed the bullies do to Stiles. The alpha's head snaps up, his nostrils flared and his eyes flashing red, but Scott doesn't back down. He may be a part of Derek's pack now, but that doesn't mean he has to take things lying down if he doesn't have to.

"Leave it alone, Scott," Derek says menacingly.

"No, I'll never leave it alone! And you shouldn't either!" Scott rebukes.

"Why not?"

"Stiles is never going to forgive us if we don't start grovelling right now. You didn't see how he was today, Derek."

This breaks through the bearded man's anger, his eyes returning to their human hazel colour. "What're you talking about?"

"He looked…destroyed," Scott explains, his voice quiet and wounded. "I haven't seen him like that since his mom died, and those jackasses didn't help."

Derek perks up, alert. "Jackasses?"

Scott feels hope blooming in his chest, thinking that he is actually getting through to his alpha. "Yeah, the bullies who picked on Stiles today because he was by himself," he apprises. "There were a few of them, pushing him around and calling him names and stuff. That kind of thing happened now and then when it was just me and him, but it died down after we started hanging out with the rest of the pack. Strength in numbers, I guess. But now it's worse. You know teenagers can be cruel—hell, I've done some shit I'm not proud of—but never like this."

"It'll blow over in a few days," Derek excuses, but he doesn't fool Scott. Now that he is looking closely, he can tell that the alpha is perturbed.

"And if it doesn't?"

Derek sighs. "Look, I ordered you to stay away from him for a reason, and I'm not going to take it back. But…I can give you guys a second order."

Scott waits for whatever solution Derek thinks he has found.

"I don't want you guys to get into trouble, but if you see someone picking on Stiles again, get them to back off."

"That's it?" Scott asks incredulously.

"That's the best I can do."

"Bullshit!"

"Careful, Scott," Derek warns, his eyes red again. "Don't push me."

The beta glares at his alpha and then storms out of the loft. Fuck Derek, he thinks as he climbs onto his bike. And fuck his orders.

He reaches a decision. As soon as he has finished up at the clinic, he is going to go to Stiles' house and throw himself at his feet. He knows that Derek is wrong, and Scott should never have allowed last night to go the way it went. He just prays that he can make up for the pack's mistake before it's too late.

* * *

Stiles is exhausted when he gets home. It's good that his dad is still at work, because he wouldn't be able to put on a half-decent act for him like he had that morning. He briefly considers doing the exact opposite, telling his dad everything that happened last night and today, but he pushes the thought aside. He isn't some kid who needs his daddy to tell the other children to stop picking on him.

Ordinarily, Stiles would be hanging out with the pack right now, maybe going to see a movie. Hell, he'd even take Lydia dragging him on a shopping trip.

But nope, it's just little ol' him.

With a weary sigh, Stiles trudges upstairs and enters his bedroom. A nap is in order, but he only makes it halfway across the room before he is stopped by a sound.

"Look what the wolves hung out to dry," says a voice, startling him.

Stiles whirls toward the voice with a hand clutched to his chest and gapes when he sees a woman standing in the corner by the window. She has long dark hair, a pretty face, and is maybe in her late twenties or early thirties. On her toned body she wears a white tank top, which looks unusually bright against her caramel skin, and a pair of tight jeans. She is barefoot, and it's this choice that leads Stiles to deduce that she is a werewolf. Her toenails are claws which clack against the hardwood floor as she begins advancing on him with a sinister grin.

"W-who are you?" Stiles asks tremulously, backing away.

"My name's Kali. Your alpha should really keep a tighter leash on you."

When his back hits the wall, Stiles fights to prevent himself trembling and meets Kali's gaze when she comes to a stop a couple of feet from him. At the mention of Derek, he narrows his eyes, his stupid heart still belonging to the man even after yesterday.

"What do you want with Derek?" he demands, his tone accusatory.

"Don't worry your pretty little head about it."

"Why are you here?"

Kali's sinister grin becomes amused. "Really? You haven't figured it out yet?"

Stiles stays silent.

"Fine, I'll tell you. It's not like it matters if you know, because you're not going to be able to warn anyone."

In a flash, Kali punches clean through the wall right next to Stiles' head, leaving a gaping hole. Out of fear, Stiles falls violently on his ass—a mistake, as it gives the werewolf even more power over him.

Her eyes red now, Kali crouches in front of him and cups his cheek almost affectionately. "Here's what's going to happen next: I'm going to knock you out, take you somewhere far away from here where your band of mutts will never be able to track you, and then me and a few of my fellow alphas are going to have a whole lot of fun with you. You're going to help us destroy your pack. If you refuse to talk, we'll make you." At this, she digs her claws into his cheek, piercing skin. "Understand?"

Stiles doesn't respond, but it doesn't matter. Kali only grins again, then fists her hand in his hair and bashes his head against the wall.

Everything goes black.

Chapter Text

- Monday, August 15th, 2011 -

When he has finally been allowed to leave work at the veterinary clinic, Scott pushes his way out of the back entrance and immediately walks over to his bike to unlock it. Everything seems to glow beneath the rays of the setting sun, but Scott barely notices, doesn't have time to stop and admire something as mundane as a sunset. There'll be plenty more in his lifetime, but what he can't be sure there will be plenty more of are times spent with his best friend. He could have already lost him forever with his continued thoughtlessness, but he prays to whichever deity will listen that it won't be too late to make amends for yet another shitty thing he has done.

Scott's desire to get to Stiles makes him a bit more careless than he ordinarily would be, to the point where he almost knocks his bike over as he climbs onto it, his military jacket catching on the right handlebar. He stops, takes a breath and tries again, this time finding success. He rides quickly, tearing out of the parking lot and down the roads separating the clinic and Stiles' house.

Five minutes later, after weaving in and out of the other cars that are still on the roads, he reaches his destination. The sheriff's cruiser is gone, but Stiles' Jeep is in the driveway. Scott thinks that of course it is, because where would Stiles think of going when all of his friends have thrown him aside like the assholes they all apparently are? He parks his bike next to the large blue vehicle, walks around to the wall with Stiles' bedroom window and deftly climbs up to it. It's open, so he slides inside and looks around the room for Stiles.

But Stiles isn't there.

Scott frowns and uses his ears to locate his friend, but he can't hear another heartbeat in the whole house. In fact, he can't hear anything in the house at all, apart from the occasional creaking of pipes and a tap dripping slowly in the kitchen sink downstairs.

Switching senses to his nose, Scott takes a careful sniff of the air in Stiles' bedroom, really picking apart the scents, and recoils when he is hit with a very unpleasant concoction of old come and abject terror. The first scent isn't unexpected—Stiles is a teenage boy, after all, and jerking off is perfectly normal—but the second…Scott doesn't know why that would be here if everything was alright.

What could have happened to cause a smell like that?

Scott pulls his phone out of the back pocket of his jeans and is about to send a group text to the other members of the pack, asking them all if they have heard from or seen Stiles since school ended. It's as he is typing that he sees it out of the corner of his eye.

He has been in his best friend's bedroom enough times to basically have everything in it memorised almost as well as the contents of his own. His visits have been less frequent recently, what with Allison and all the supernatural shenanigans that have been going on, but looking up, Scott is sure he would have noticed if there was a hole in the wall the last time he was here.

Instead of asking if anyone knows where Stiles is, Scott dials Derek.

"What?!" is the alpha's short opening, clearly still miffed about their confrontation earlier.

"I think something bad's happened to Stiles," Scott says, getting straight to the point because he's still pissed at Derek, too.

"What?" Derek repeats, his voice quieter this time.

"I'm in his bedroom and he's not here." Scott apprises his alpha of the scent of fear and the hole in the wall.

"You're still there?" Derek enquires, the sounds of rustling in the background.

"Yes."

"Wait for me."

Derek hangs up before Scott can respond. "Asshole…" he mutters. With a sigh, he sits on the edge of Stiles' bed and makes some more calls.

* * *

When Stiles wakes up, the first thing that registers is his splitting headache. It feels like someone is digging through the back of his skull with a tiny jackhammer. With a groan he opens his eyes, but his vision is too blurry to make out much of anything. Initially he doesn't remember the events that lead to him being in such a state, but then, when the blurriness begins to clear and he starts to take in his surroundings, it all comes back to him:

His friends abandoning him.

His hellish day at school.

Returning home to find that alpha woman waiting to ambush him in his bedroom.

Her promise that he will help her bring down the Hale pack.

What was her name again? Stiles ruminates on it for a long time. It began with a K, he recalls that much. Shaking his head, he stops trying to think of it and refocuses.

The room he is in is spacious and dirty. The ground is concrete and the walls metal, and there are blacked-out windows high up on two parallel walls, between which run huge metal beams with rusty chains hanging from them. An old warehouse. Most striking of all is the table on which Stiles lies. Also made of metal, Stiles' wrists and ankles are secured to each corner with leather restraints similar to those he has seen in mental asylums in movies and on TV. A quick few tugs against them proves futile, so he ceases and conserves his energy.

Lastly, when he looks down the length of his body, Stiles sees that he has been stripped of his sweater and feels violated. The woman—Kali, that was her name!—must have removed it while he was unconscious.

A small mercy—a very small one—is that she hadn't taken the clothes from his bottom half as well.

A few minutes later, Stiles hears something outside; a car engine. He tenses up, holds his breath and listens intently as the car comes closer, tyres crunching over loose gravel, and then the sound of it shuts off and he hears several doors open and slam closed. So there is more than one person. Kali had said that there were five of them, all alphas like her, so this shouldn't come as a surprise to him. It doesn't, not really, but only because he is too busy internally freaking out about what Kali and her friends are going to do to him once they enter the warehouse.

Stiles contemplates feigning sleep, just like he used to do when he was a kid and his parents would check to make sure he wasn't staying up past his bedtime. But he knows it would be as futile as struggling against his bonds. Thanks to their enhanced senses, the alphas would be able to tell that he is awake no matter how good his acting is.

There is nothing for it but to hide his fright and meet whatever they dish out with as much strength as he is capable of.

"Oh, look who's awake!" Kali says delightedly as she steps inside the warehouse, still barefoot.

"Damn, I was hoping I'd have to wake him up myself," says another person who comes in behind her. A huge brute of a man, he wears a white tank top, jeans and scuffed black trainers. Stiles is for a moment reminded of Derek, mainly because he has seen the bearded man dressed similarly in the past, but that is where the similarities end. Unlike Derek's, this man's muscles are so big they are ugly instead of attractive, and his light-brown hair is buzzed short like Stiles' used to be.

Three more people follow. Two are boys who look around Stiles' age. They're twins, one in a red T-shirt and the other in green. Despite their age, Stiles can see the menace in their eyes and is certain that they can be just as vicious as Kali and the older male alpha.

Last to come into the warehouse is another man. At first, with the others standing in the way, Stiles can only hear the clacking of something plastic hitting the concrete, but then the fifth and final alpha walks around to stand in front of the rest. He has shaggy brown hair and black glasses covering his eyes. He is smaller than the man behind him but is still muscular and looks plenty threatening, even with the white cane in his hand. Stiles frowns at this oddity. He has never heard of something like this before.

A blind werewolf.

Even stranger, it's evident from the way the alphas have positioned themselves that the blind one is in charge. Even from his place on the table, Stiles can feel the power emanating from him. It's stronger than all of the others, making goosebumps break out across his exposed skin. He clenches his jaw when the blind man comes closer and stops right next to the table.

"Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Stilinski," he says, his voice deep and raspy.

"Wish I could say the same, whoever you are," Stiles retorts. He thinks he'll get hit for it, but the alpha just chuckles.

"I'm Deucalion, but you can call me Duke. We won't be seeing much of each other—"

"I doubt you'll be seeing much of anything," Stiles snarks, the words slipping out before he can stop them. Apparently fear makes his already weak filter all but nonexistent.

He would feel terrible about making a joke at a disabled person's expense, but as said disabled person currently has him tied half-naked to a table and probably plans on having other, even more awful things done to him, he doesn't really give a crap.

"Show some respect!" Kali screeches, storming forward with her top lip curled back in a snarl. She stops when Deucalion holds up his hand.

"That's enough, Kali," he says, his voice calm but injected with authority.

"But—"

"I said that's enough."

The female alpha growls at Stiles but backs off again. It's all Stiles needs to see to have confirmed to him that the blind alpha is serious business. He didn't even have to raise his voice to get Kali, an obvious loose cannon, to obey.

"You've got quite the mouth on you, Mr. Stilinski," Deucalion observes, turning back to Stiles. "I like it, but I wonder if that'll still be the case afterwards."

Stiles gulps. "After what?" he dares to ask.

Deucalion just smirks and moves on. "This is Ennis," he says, walking back over to the tall, obscenely muscular alpha. "And these two," Deucalion continues, standing between the twins with his free hand on one of their shoulders, "are Aiden and Ethan, the newest additions to our little pack here. They're quite special, as I'm sure you'll discover eventually. As I said before, you and I won't be seeing much of each other in the coming days, but I have every faith that my friends here will keep you from getting lonely."

Releasing the twin's shoulder, Deucalion smirks at Stiles, no doubt able to hear his heart beating a mile a minute. "We've been watching you for a while now, learning your patterns, what makes you tick. We need to know everything we can for when it's time to make our move."

"I'm flattered, but I'm a more of a one-person-at-a-time kinda guy and none of you are really my type. Plus, stalking? So not sexy, dude."

"I thought you had a thing for alpha werewolves?" one of the twins sneers.

Stiles keeps his face impassive. "What?"

The other twin speaks next: "We've been watching, remember? You're not subtle."

Deucalion's smirk widens into a grin. "As has just been demonstrated, we've managed to learn quite a lot so far, but unfortunately there are some things we can't know just by observing you and your pack. That's where you come in. We took you because you're just human and therefore the weakest target and the easiest to break. You're going to tell us everything you know. If you cooperate, then I'll order the others to kill you all quickly. Make this more difficult than it has to be and, well…"

With that ominous sentence left purposefully unfinished, one of the twins—Aiden, Stiles thinks—takes Deucalion's arm and escorts him outside, leaving Stiles with Ethan, Kali and Ennis.

"What to do first?" Kali wonders aloud. She leisurely circles the table, scraping a clawed index finger around the edge of it as she goes.

"You mean what do we ask him first," Ethan corrects her.

Kali bares her fangs at him, her red eyes gleaming with sick excitement. "No. I don't."

The younger alpha frowns. "I thought we were supposed to interrogate him."

"We will."

Kali walks another circle around the table before coming to a stop above Stiles' head, meaning that he can't keep all three werewolves in his sight at once.

"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" Ennis asks her, taking up a position by Stiles' feet.

The female alpha nods. "I think so."

"Is someone gonna let me in on this or what?" Stiles complains, still somehow maintaining his unaffected facade. Despite his question, he would be willing to bet his own life and the lives of his dad and all of the Hale pack that he already knows what Kali and Ennis are conspiring to do to him, and he can't help when tremors of fear rack through his whole body.

"Duke said we had to get answers out of you," Kali says, running her fingers through Stiles' hair. Her claws cut into his scalp. "But he didn't really specify how, and he didn't say we had to try our hardest right away."

"Which means," Ennis takes over, "that we can have some fun with you first."

Ethan's expression is disapproving but he doesn't try to stop the other two werewolves, choosing instead to walk away from the table and sit down against one of the metal walls so that he isn't a direct part of what will surely be Stiles' torture. He is apparently the least sadistic of these fuckers, information that the human makes sure to remember. It could come in handy later down the line, if he actually gets a chance to make use of it.

"Where should we start?" Kali asks Ennis, looking like she will begin salivating at any moment.

"Dealer's choice."

Kali is pleased by this response. "How sweet of you."

Stiles glances between their faces, still on the hunt for useful information while he remains coherent, and notes how they stare at each other. There is a relationship between Kali and Ennis, he is sure—lust at the very least, but maybe a sick sort of love too. If psychopaths can fall in love. Stiles doesn't know.

He is shocked out of his thoughts when Kali's hand appears in his line of sight. She reaches over his head and presses the claw of her index finger to the bottom of his chest, in the small dip created by his barely developed pecs. Next, his vision is obscured by the curtain of her dark hair as she brings her mouth to his ear and whispers to him. "I wonder what your pack will think of you when they see you again before they die. With how bloodthirsty my Ennis can be, and how much it gets me going too to see him in action, will you even look like yourself?"

Still blind to everything but Kali's coconut-smelling hair, Stiles jolts atop the table when he feels one of Ennis' claws on the sole of his right foot.

"You ready?" Ennis asks his fellow alpha.

"You bet," Kali replies, finally raising her head to watch their work with glee.

For a few awful seconds they do nothing to him. Stiles is suspended in anticipation, which he guesses is a part of their game.

But then, as one, they cut into him deep, and he can't stop himself from screaming.

* * *

Derek is panicked as he runs through the last hundred metres of trees that the Stilinskis' backyard backs onto, sweat beading on his brow and the underarms of his grey tank top darkening. Scott's phone call plays on a loop in his head, along with countless scenarios of what Stiles could be going through this very second if Scott was right, each more horrible than the last. He could have taken his Camaro, but it was quicker to go on foot, putting his all into it so that by the time the trees finally break and he races around the side of the building to Stiles' window, he is out of breath; a rarity for him.

As he climbs through the window, Derek thinks back to the many times he has done so in the past.

At first, it was to make Stiles do what he wanted, carrying out research and gathering other info for him, which usually meant shoving him around. He regrets how rough he'd been with the boy back then, pushing him into walls—likely bruising up his back something fierce—and threatening to do worse things if he didn't do as he was told. Stiles had never shown he was hurt by Derek's less-than-gentle touches and mouthed off to him insouciantly every step of the way, even if it riled the werewolf up even more. Derek supposes now that such bravery was commendable, if stupid.

Then, after being forced to rely on each other in many life-or-death situations, Derek's visits changed. If he had to pick a single incident that lead to his opinion of Stiles improving, he would pick the time Stiles held his paralysed body above water when they were both trapped for hours in a pool by the kanima. He made an effort to be less hostile following that. He wouldn't say he was exactly friendly, but things were better, and Derek no longer used violence to get his way. Stiles was willing to help him by then, no questions asked.

Derek had grudgingly been grateful—not that he ever thanked Stiles for his help.

Then, before the Alpha Pack became a threat, his visits had even started to turn into pleasant affairs, and as he touches his feet down on Stiles' bedroom floor, the memory of the brightness of the boy's smile the last time he'd come here unannounced almost overwhelms him. It was like looking into the sun. The fact that Stiles was actually happy to see him was dangerous—Derek didn't want to get hurt again by whatever inexorable force was drawing them closer, and he didn't want Stiles to get hurt because of him either. But now, as he stares at the hole in the wall Scott had described to him and breathes in the lingering scent of Stiles' fear and something foreign, he knows his caution was pointless.

Stiles got hurt because of him anyway.

"What do you think?" Scott asks him, getting up from where he sits on Stiles' bed.

"I don't know," Derek says quietly, looking away from the wall. He inhales deeply through his nose, trying to pick the foreign scent out of the others. "Someone else was definitely here."

"Really? How can you tell?"

"By using my nose, Scott," Derek snaps, his temper short.

The beta glares at him but doesn't bite back. "Do you recognise them?"

"No. They were another werewolf, though."

"An alpha?" Scott asks, eyes wide with fear as he comes to the same conclusion as Derek.

"I'd say it's likely."

"I told you we shouldn't have kicked him out!"

Derek bows his head, already feeling like every inch the failure he is. Will he ever be good at this? He wonders how the hell his mother and Laura did it. They'd made it look so damn easy, and here Derek is fucking everything up seemingly at every turn. It's no wonder his mother had always planned on Laura taking over for her and not Derek.

"You were right," he admits, loath as he is to do it.

Someone else enters the window then, and Derek spins around to see Erica a few feet away. Boyd climbs in after her.

"Don't feel too bad," Erica says, displaying a softness that isn't common coming from her. "I doubt it would've helped if we hadn't."

Scott rolls his eyes. "Oh please. It's totally his fault."

"We all did it, Scott," Erica reminds him, more forceful now. "Yes, it was Derek's idea, but we all went along with it and we have just as much blame for that. But like I said, I think Stiles would've been taken anyway."

"How d'you figure that?"

"Think about it, idiot! Stiles would've been by himself at some point, even if it wasn't today. Hell, he'd have been on his own later on tonight, so whoever took him could've just waited until he was asleep to do it. The only thing us all kicking him out of the pack did was probably make him believe that we won't try to find him. Which we will. Right?" She directs this last part at Derek, her gaze hard.

"Right," Derek agrees. He'll tear the whole state apart if that's what it takes.

"What about his dad?" Boyd speaks up, reminding Derek of his presence.

"Yeah…we'll need to tell him something, since I doubt we'll be able to find Stiles in the next few hours," Erica adds. "They'd be smarter than that."

It's Derek who sits down on Stiles' bed this time. "We tell him the truth."

"Are you sure that's a good idea? I mean, Stiles wanted his dad left out of this—"

"What else can we tell him, Erica?"

"I don't know! Maybe we can just say that Stiles is staying at one of our houses or something, for a few nights if we have to. Maybe there's some big project we have to do for school."

"That could work," Scott murmurs.

"Well we'd better decide soon, because I think I hear the sheriff coming home," Boyd interjects, his eyes on the window.

Derek concentrates and, sure enough, he is able to pick out the rumble of the sheriff's cruiser getting closer. He briefly closes his eyes to block everything else out while he comes to a decision. "We tell him the truth," he says after a moment, opening his eyes again. He looks at Scott. "Call your mom. It'll help to have her here when we tell Stiles' dad. You two," he says to Erica and Boyd, "call everyone Scott hasn't already called, and I'll get in touch with Deaton and Chris. We're going to use all the resources we have to get Stiles back."

"I already called everyone else," Scott apprises as he walks toward the door. "The only ones I couldn't reach were Lydia and Allison."

"Boyd, try them again," Derek orders.

The laconic beta already has his phone pressed to his ear. "On it."

While he does that, Derek tries to think of the best way to tell the sheriff. Total honesty is a must. He just hopes he won't end up with a bullet between his eyes when Stiles' dad finds out what he did.

Chapter Text

- Monday, August 15th, 2011 -

When the Alpha Pack finally leaves Stiles alone, he is in unbearable pain. What Kali and Ennis did to him made what Gerard Argent put him through seem like child's play. It hurts just to breathe, the many cuts Kali had made in his chest being disturbed by the expansion of his lungs. His throat isn't much better off with how much he had screamed himself hoarse. He didn't want to, hadn't wanted to give the alphas the satisfaction of hearing him scream, but he just couldn't stop it.

Before they left, they untied Stiles from the table. Through the pain he was surprised that they would just leave him like that, but then he'd heard them speak:

"Aren't you worried he'll escape?" Ethan had asked Kali, as confused as Stiles.

The female alpha laughed. "God, no."

"This is just another part of the game," Ennis added.

Ethan frowned on his way out of the warehouse. "I don't get it."

"Let him think he has a chance." Ennis strode ahead and opened the door. "It'll make it even sweeter when he realises there's no way he's getting out of this. There's nothing better than giving someone hope and then taking it away again to watch the despair set in when they accept their fate."

Kali put her arm around Ethan's shoulders. "You'll learn that soon enough, newbie."

That was the last thing Stiles heard before the doors were slammed shut.

Now, he still lies on the table and tries with all his might to push through the pain and just sit up so he can get a proper look at himself. He opens his mouth to cry out when he manages to get his body to cooperate, but all that comes out is a choked sound because he has already screamed himself raw. He shakes all over as he closes his eyes tight and breathes purposefully in and out to get a handle on things again. It isn't easy, but eventually his breath comes normally and he is able to concentrate on something else but the overwhelming pain. When he opens his eyes and looks down at his body, he almost wishes he hadn't bothered.

Kali definitely achieved what she said. He is unrecognisable.

His torso looks like it's been through a shredder. Hundreds of cuts litter his skin, some shallow and some deeper and still bleeding sluggishly. Almost none of his pale skin is visible, painted red with his own blood instead. No wonder he hurts so much. Shock makes him retreat into the back of his mind. It's safer there, feels like everything he is feeling and seeing is happening to someone else. It allows him to take stock of things without panicking again.

Still looking at the cuts, Stiles picks out a word carved into his sternum:

BITCH

It seems especially cruel, even by the alphas' standards. He'll have it for the rest of his life. He wonders when they made it, and who. He stares and stares at it, picking apart the crude lettering until a memory comes back to him, hazy because of the pain he was in at the time. He'd heard Ennis speaking about him while he cut the slur into him, specifically about his place within the Hale Pack.

"I bet they keep you around as the pack bitch, don't they?" the musclebound alpha had taunted him.

"I'd say it's likely," Kali chimed in. "Why else would they? He's got nothing else to offer."

"True. If I didn't already know where you've been, I might be tempted to take your ass for a spin myself. But there's no way I'm sticking my dick in there."

They'd laughed and that is all Stiles can recall. He sniffles, wipes the tears he didn't know he'd cried from his cheeks and stops his examination, unable to take any more. He looks blearily around the warehouse instead. It's dark outside now, and the interior is lit mainly by the few dusty bulbs hanging from the high ceiling that aren't broken or simply gone completely. The table on which he sits is positioned right beneath the brightest of these lights, something that Stiles doesn't think is a coincidence. The alphas must have chosen to put it here so that he would be able to clearly see the damage they had done to him.

Moving slowly, Stiles shifts closer to the side of the table and swings his legs over the edge. He tries to stand up, but right away his legs fail him when sharp pain emanates from the soles of his feet, reminding him of where Ennis had started his torture. On the dirty ground now, Stiles whimpers when he looks at his feet and sees that they are in a similar state to his torso. Walking is going to be next to impossible, but he doesn't have the strength in his arms to drag himself toward the exit and there is no way he is staying where he is. Even though what Kali and Ennis had said makes it clear to him that his chances of actually escaping are slim to none, he has to try. He can't give up.

"Move, Stiles," he whispers to himself. "You can do this."

The small pep talk works. He is so sick of everyone thinking of him as weak. The Alpha Pack. The Hale Pack, who were supposed to be his friends.

"You're not weak. You're not. You're gonna show them all how fucking wrong they are."

The idea of sticking it to his ex-friends, especially Derek, has Stiles reaching for the edge of the table to pull himself back up. Like everything else has been so far, it's tricky and requires herculean effort, but he achieves his goal and remains standing, even when the pain from his feet makes his legs shake violently. He stands there for a few extra seconds, just to make sure he won't fall right back down with the first step he takes. Once he is ready, he lifts his right foot, gently puts it forward and does the same with his left before the pain can affect him.

Every step is like he is walking over hot coals, his soles burning and making him wince. He grits his teeth and bears it until he reaches the corner of the table, which is where the real test of his mettle will begin.

Without anything to support himself with, Stiles has to move slower, pausing in between each step to balance himself. He keeps his eyes locked on the exit. He doesn't let himself think about what the hell he will do if he actually reaches it and gets outside. He has no idea where the alphas have brought him, whether he is even still in Beacon Hills. It stands to reason that he would be close, because the whole point of the Alpha Pack taking him was to use him to get to the Hale Pack and they wouldn't go too far away from their true targets. But they wouldn't want to be too close either, lest they be caught before they can pull off whatever dastardly plan they have cooked up.

When Stiles reaches the wall after God knows how long, the exit is just a few feet to his left. He is sweating all over with the effort it took just to get here. He looks behind himself and sees through the dim lights that he has left a trail of bloody footprints and smears in his wake. The floor would have probably been disgusting when this warehouse was still in use, but now that it has been abandoned for what has presumably been years, Stiles doesn't want to think about how dirty it is and how that dirt has now got into the wounds on his feet.

He just hopes whatever infection he has no doubt given himself won't set in until he is out of here. But as his luck has been going so far, it seems highly unlikely.

Guess I'll have to be quick, he thinks.

Stiles makes himself move again, sliding along the wall toward the exit. He can feel the air from outside and shivers. It's cold but it feels so good against his overheated skin, so he limps faster and grins triumphantly when he finally reaches his goal and finds that the doors aren't locked. They open right up for him and he ventures out into an alleyway with another warehouse right in front of him. Looking side to side, Stiles discerns that he is in an entire complex of them that, from his position in between two towering walls, seems to go on endlessly. He is dismayed by this discovery but doesn't let it break him. All the cutting didn't break him, so this won't either.

He keeps going.

* * *

John Stilinski arrives home and is glad to see his son's Jeep parked in the driveway. He has been thinking about Stiles' behaviour that morning all day long. It distracted him from the work he should have been spending all of his concentration on, but he just couldn't get his son's glum mood out of his head, wondering what on earth caused it. Stiles was obviously trying to put on a front for his benefit, pretending that he was fine, but John saw right through it and knew that something was seriously wrong. But he had to get down to the station and Stiles had to go to school, so he couldn't really delve into it like he wanted to.

Well, as he gets out of his cruiser and walks up to the front door, he thinks that he is about to change that.

When he walks inside, John doesn't expect Scott to come down the stairs to meet him. One of his theories had been that Stiles might have had a falling out with his best friend, but either that wasn't the case or they have already patched things up. Either way, John smiles warmly at Scott and asks him if Stiles is up in his bedroom.

"Uhh…no, he isn't," the teenager says. He sounds nervous.

John hangs up his gun holster and frowns. "Where is he then? Out getting junk food or something?"

Scott shakes his head, and John starts to get a very bad feeling, his well-attuned instincts coming through for him. "What's going on?"

A few seconds later he hears more people on the stairs and watches as Erica Reyes and Vernon Boyd join them on the ground floor. Their appearance makes him even more confused, but that is nothing compared to when Derek Hale brings up the rear, looking absolutely terrified and doing an even worse job of hiding it than Stiles had hid his sadness that morning.

"What are you doing in my house?" John asks him, on guard. He knew that Stiles was somehow involved with Derek Hale but was never able to get proper answers out of him. As such, even though he feels sorry for everything the young man has been through, he doesn't trust Derek at all.

"Why don't we all go sit down?" Scott suggests, pointing to the living room. He leads the way and Erica, Boyd and Derek all follow him, so John has no choice but to follow as well.

"Somebody speak right now and tell me what's going on," he demands, staying on his feet while the teenagers fill the sofa.

Derek remains standing as well.

"Stiles is missing," Scott says seriously, and John feels like someone has dumped a bucket of ice water over him.

"What?"

"This is going to be tough to understand, Sheriff, but…none of us have been telling you the full truth for some time now," Derek takes over, not quite meeting John's eye.

"I figured that out for myself, thank you, Hale. I'm waiting. Tell me what Scott meant when he said Stiles is missing."

"I think we should start at the beginning."

"By all means."

John waits on bated breath. He keeps his face stern but deep down he is pleased to finally be told what the hell has been going on in his son's life for the past few months. It's been a long time since he has felt included, since they were close and there were no secrets between them. He has sorely missed those times. He still loves Stiles more than anything in this world and nothing will ever change that, but it has been incredibly hard to feel pushed out and like his son no longer trusts him enough to let him in. And it wasn't the typical teenage behaviour he was anticipating as Stiles grew older, when all teenagers start to distance themselves from their parents because it's seen as uncool to be too close to them or they want more independence. John could always tell it was more than that, and to finally be close to answers, even if they're not from Stiles himself, is exciting.

"I guess I'll just rip the Band-Aid off," Derek says. He takes a deep breath, looks directly into John's eyes this time and says, "We're werewolves."

John blinks dumbly, not comprehending. "Excuse me?" He can't believe Derek would waste his time with this crap.

"It's the truth, Sheriff. Watch."

In the next couple of seconds, Derek Hale's entire face changes. John recoils as it happens, as Derek's eyebrows disappear, his brow gets heavier, coarse hair grows down the sides of his face and, most striking of all, his hazel eyes glow red. The younger man makes a sound like an animal growling and bares teeth that are no longer human but sharp and deadly-looking before everything changes back to how it had been a few moments ago.

"H-how?" John stammers, wishing he had his gun on him still.

"I don't know how. My family have always been werewolves, for generations and generations," Derek responds.

If there is one thing that John is good at, it's compartmentalising. So he does it now, shoving all of his disbelief and fear into another part of his brain to deal with later. Right now Stiles is still his main priority, and he needs more answers.

"Tell me everything."

* * *

"Let me get this straight."

Having just finished relaying to Stiles' dad everything that happened with Peter and Gerard Argent, Derek waits patiently as the older man comes to grips with it all. He knows it's a lot to swallow. He just hopes the sheriff will move on from it quickly so they can all go out and start the search for Stiles, who he so foolishly cast out to protect him. Having Melissa McCall here with them would have really helped, but according to Scott she was swamped at the hospital when he called her and couldn't get away to assist with easing the sheriff into this new scary world.

"The Argents, who are werewolf hunters, murdered your family—Kate Argent, specifically—just because you were werewolves."

"That's correct," Derek confirms, uncomfortable with the topic but pushing through it.

"And she did it by…seducing you."

Derek clenches his jaw, self-loathing washing over him as it always does when he thinks about how he didn't see Kate's true intentions before it was too late. "Yes."

"Then, earlier this year, your Uncle Peter murdered Laura Hale to get her alpha power so that he could get revenge."

"Yes."

This goes on for a while, Stiles' dad restating everything he has just been told to make sure he has it all right and then adding it into the order of events he thought he knew before today. When they finally reach the end of the debacle with Gerard Argent and move on to the Alpha Pack's looming threat, Derek's nerves return all over again because the easy part is over. With all of his betas also showing the sheriff their beta faces, the sheriff now believes what he has been told, and now Derek will have to tell him what he did to his son.

"Okay…it's crazy, but I think I understand all of that," John says slowly, gripping the armrests of his armchair. "But that doesn't explain where Stiles is now."

"We believe he was taken by the Alpha Pack," Derek says carefully.

"Why was no one protecting him?"

Derek averts his gaze. "I thought we were."

John glares at him. "Well you were apparently doing a crappy job of it, because I don't see him in this room, do I?"

"No…"

"What was this 'protection' you were giving him?"

When Derek stays silent, John gets out of his chair and walks over to where Derek has stayed standing next to the sofa on which Erica, Boyd and Scott sit. He moves close so that there are barely a few inches separating their faces and Derek has no choice but to look him in the eye. "What did you do?"

"I…"

"Tell me what you did to my son!"

"I made everyone break off all contact with him. I thought the Alpha Pack wouldn't come after him if he wasn't associated with us anymore."

John stares at him. "Well that explains some things."

"It does?"

"Yes. It explains how down in the dumps Stiles seemed this morning. And it was all because of you."

Derek flinches. John speaks nothing but the truth.

"If I didn't need you to get him back, I'd kill you right now. The hell with my job." John looks at Derek like he is nothing more than a piece of shit on the sole of his shoe and then backs away again, retaking his seat in his armchair. "But I do need you, so I won't do anything to you. But this isn't over. When we have Stiles back—and you'd better pray it's when and not if—you and I are going to be talking again. Maybe I'll even go to Chris Argent and get some of those special bullets you said he has."

All Derek can do is nod. He would deserve nothing less.

"Right, now that that's settled, how do we find my son?"

Chapter Text

- Monday, August 15th, 2011 -

Stiles isn't sure how much longer his body can hold out. He has lost a lot of blood, and his feet are killing him with every step he takes through the complex of warehouses.

Like he'd thought when he first got out of the one the Alpha Pack stowed him in, the complex seems endless. He turns corner after corner without seeing even a sign of the end. Maybe he is so delirious that he is getting turned around, but he doesn't think so. If he accidentally doubled back on himself, he would see the trail of bloody footprints he is still leaving in his wake. That hasn't happened yet, so it must just be that wherever he is really is as big as it seems. How a place like this became abandoned is a question he doesn't have the answer to, nor has he got any closer to figuring out where it is. Surely he would have heard something about it over the years were it near Beacon Hills.

As Stiles forces himself to keep going, pushing his body nearer and nearer its breaking point, he becomes convinced that the Alpha Pack has taken him further away from his hometown than he had first theorised, which will make getting back a bitch. It will also make any rescue efforts that are being launched that much more difficult. Whether or not his pack—his ex-pack, he reminds himself—will be a part of that effort is yet one more thing he doesn't know, but surely his dad will raise the alarms when he gets home and finds that his son isn't there.

At least his dad will still care enough about him to look for him.

When Stiles reaches the end of yet another alleyway and walks out into a four-way intersection between warehouses, he is close to giving up.

"Oh come on…" he says, resting his hands on his knees and bowing his head. "This is ridiculous."

"I agree."

Startling violently, Stiles must reopen several of the cuts on his body in his haste to turn in the direction from which the voice came. He squints through the darkness and feels fear suffuse through his entire being when he sees a silhouette approaching. All he can make out is that whoever this person is, they are smaller than any of the members of the Alpha Pack, at least those he has encountered thus far. Kali had said there were only five of them, and with Ennis, Ethan, Aiden and Deucalion, he has met all five. But for all Stiles knows, Kali could have been lying. He wouldn't put it past her. It would actually be the least bad thing she has done to him so far, telling one simple lie. That bitch.

As the silhouette comes closer still, more details become apparent.

The stranger is distinctly feminine, as was their voice. She has long straight hair and skinny limbs, and the heels she wears clack across the concrete ground.

"You don't need to be scared of me, Mieczysław," the female says, her voice silky smooth.

Stiles frowns at being addressed by his real name, which is something he thought only his dad and Scott knew. "Who are you?" he asks her.

The woman keeps walking, and when she exits the alleyway and enters the intersection with Stiles, enough light shines down on her from the moon above their heads that Stiles can see her face. He doesn't recognise her, but her skin is olive-toned and soft. Her face looks youthful, but her eyes are filled with an intelligence that only comes with age and experience, meaning she must be older than she looks. When she doesn't speak again, Stiles repeats his question.

"My name is Marin Morrell," the woman finally responds, stepping closer still.

Stiles steps back in time with her. "What the hell do you want?" he spits, pain making his temper short. Her name doesn't ring any bells.

"I'm here to help you."

"Yeah, right."

"I understand why you are wary of me, but I'm telling you the truth."

"Oh yeah? Then how'd you find me if you're not working with them?"

Marin Morrell keeps advancing. "You're right, I do work with them—Deucalion, specifically. But it isn't my job to hurt you."

Stiles' heart drops when his back hits the wall of a warehouse. "Then what is your job?"

"To heal you."

Stiles scoffs.

"Come with me, Mieczysław."

"I'm not going anywhere with you! You're a trick!"

"I assure you I'm not. I ordinarily wouldn't even interfere with something like this, but due to the wounds Kali and Ennis have already inflicted upon you, Deucalion saw fit to call me in to mitigate the damage."

Stiles expels a sharp breath through his nose, processing this. "Why?"

Marin Morrell's expression becomes pained. "Because he did not wish for you to be hurt this badly this early. Kali and Ennis got…overzealous…and have been suitably reprimanded."

"Well that makes me feel so much better."

"If you truly want to remain in this state, then by all means. You can barely stand, so even I could probably force you. But I'd rather not. I want for you to trust me."

"That's never gonna happen. You work for them."

Morrell sighs as if greatly disappointed. She looks briefly down at the ground as if thinking hard about something, and when she looks back up at Stiles her eyes are no longer as gentle as they had been but determined instead. Stiles is immediately on-guard and wishes he could back away further from her, but there is nowhere else to go when Morrell finally closes the remaining distance between them and grabs his arm. Her grip is shockingly strong for a woman of such small stature.

"Let go of me!" Stiles yells, trying to free himself. But like she said, he is too weak.

"Stop struggling, Mieczysław. You'll only injure yourself further and create even more work for me."

"What a fucking shame that would be!"

Morrell sighs again and continues dragging him onward. From the blood he can see on the floor, she is taking him right back the way he'd come.

After a minute, Stiles does finally give up fighting her. It isn't doing him any good. All it does is make him feel woozy, like he'll throw up at any moment, so he goes lax in her hold and allows himself to be brought back inside the warehouse with the table the Alpha Pack had tied him to. Morrell directs him to lie down on it again, and Stiles considers refusing for all of two seconds before acquiescing. He's just so tired all of a sudden.

"You've worn yourself out," Morrell comments, appearing above him with a large black leather bag in hand.

"No shit…"

"Let's get this done."

Stiles could worry about what is inside the bag, but his vision is blurring around the edges and he can barely focus on anything.

Just as Morrell opens the bag, he falls unconscious.

* * *

"Right, now that that's settled, how do we find my son?"

The sheriff's question is met with silence at first. None of the betas seem to know how to answer it, not wanting to upset the man any further. It falls to Derek, which, as he finally sits down, he supposes it should.

"We'll try to track him," he says, sitting forward with his elbows on his knees.

"How?"

"By using our senses. Our sense of smell, mainly. As werewolves, it's incredibly strong."

"Right…werewolf noses."

Derek is about to speak again when he hears a car pull up outside. He looks through the window over his shoulder and spots Chris Argent's black vehicle now next to the sheriff's cruiser, meaning that reinforcements have finally arrived. Derek swallows tightly, anxiety coursing through his veins like it does anytime he has an interaction with any member of that cursed family. At least now the worst offenders are dealt with and the relationship between them has been slowly getting better, to the point where Derek is actually reasonably comfortable having Allison as part of his pack. He wonders if all of that progress is about to go out the window when Chris finds out the part he played in Stiles being taken by the Alpha Pack.

"They're here," he says, getting to his feet again. Sitting down when Chris enters would make him feel more vulnerable.

"Who?"

"Someone who'll hopefully be able to help us find Stiles."

When the doorbell rings, the sheriff is out of the room in a flash to answer it. Derek hears the two men exchange stilted pleasantries at the door and then the sheriff is back. Chris follows behind him, a bag in his hand that smells potently of wolfsbane. He is dressed in dark jeans and a tight black T-shirt, perfect for blending into the night.

"Quite a mess, Derek," are the first words the hunter speaks to him.

Derek refrains from snapping back. It won't get them anywhere. "I'm aware."

Chris' ice-blue eyes pierce through Derek, giving him the impression that he can see right into his core, picking him apart. "Well…no use placing blame now, I guess," the older man says.

Derek hears Scott grumble under his breath, "Not so sure about that…" He doesn't acknowledge him

"Anyway, let's get down to business, shall we?" Chris suggests, turning to the sheriff. "Each second we waste on this is another second your son could be going through something terrible. We want to find him quickly."

Stiles' dad clenches his jaw. "Agreed."

"They've got you up to speed on everything, right?"

"Right."

"Great. We can skip that."

Chris dumps the bag in his hand onto the coffee table and opens it. From it he extracts a black handgun, the model and make of which is lost on Derek. He doesn't really know firearms at all, has never had the need. Recognition is clear on the sheriff's face, though, and he takes it when Chris holds the grip out to him.

"It's filled with wolfsbane bullets," the hunter says, pulling out some extra clips of ammunition. "The breed used is strong enough to slow any werewolf down, even an alpha."

There is a second in which the sheriff glances at Derek and Derek thinks that he is about to have the gun aimed at him. He tenses, prepared to leap out of the way, but the sheriff's eyes leave him again and he looks back down at the gun in his hand, examining it closely. Derek exhales slowly and tries to slow his racing heart, but it takes him too long. He can feel his betas' eyes on him and knows they can hear it rabbiting in his chest, but he ignores them and is glad when the perfect distraction presents itself in the form of the rest of his pack arriving at the house. Isaac is first, then Lydia shows up with Jackson and Allison.

"Sorry we didn't get here sooner," the huntress says, sitting down next to Scott. "We were at the movies."

"That's fine," Chris assures his daughter. "You're here now."

"So what's the plan? Is Stiles really missing?"

"You think we'd all be gathered here if he wasn't?" Erica points out impatiently.

Allison shrugs but concedes the point.

"The plan is that the werewolves are all going to go out and try to track Stiles' scent," Chris announces, taking control. Derek lets him, not trusting himself to be in charge right now. "If you have success, contact the rest of us before pursuing the trail."

"And us?" the sheriff enquires.

"You should go with Derek," Chris says.

The sheriff glances at said alpha again, his expression grim. "Fine."

Great, Derek thinks.

"Meanwhile, I'll be in touch with some of my contacts, see if anyone's heard anything that might give us a clue as to where the Alpha Pack is keeping Stiles. The Argent name may have been dragged through the mud by my sister and my dad, but it still carries some stock in hunting circles and I doubt the Hale Pack is the first they've screwed with. There should be some sort of trail somewhere."

"Sounds good to me," Stiles' dad assents. He retrieves and puts on his gun holster and then replaces his usual gun with the one Chris gave him.

"Everyone ready?" Chris asks the group at large.

"Yeah."

"I guess."

"As I'll ever be."

Derek is proud of his pack's willingness to help out, especially on a school night, but he says nothing as they all file out of the house.

"Come on, Hale!" Sheriff Stilinski barks at him from the foyer.

Taking a deep breath to gather his resolve, Derek follows Stiles' dad outside and over to his cruiser. It's going to be a long night.

* * *

Four hours later, Derek has never felt more like dirt as he trudges after the sheriff back up the front path to his house. The time they'd spent looking for Stiles was uncomfortable and tiring, with so much going unsaid between them. The silence had spoken louder than any words could, though, and Derek could feel how much Stiles' dad dislikes and resents him for his son being taken. He could see the accusation in his eyes every time he spoke, the words always clipped.

Twenty minutes ago they'd both reluctantly decided to call it a night and had told the betas to get some rest too. It wouldn't do Stiles any good if, whenever they find him, they are too weak and exhausted to defend themselves against the Alpha Pack. None of them had liked it, and Derek understood why, but the sheriff managed to convince them that it was for the best. That it wasn't Derek the pack were listening to should have made the alpha feel terrible, because it made it clear that Stiles being taken right under his nose made them all lose faith in his capabilities as the leader. But it was what it was, and Derek couldn't say he blamed them.

Besides, this was about Stiles, not him, so he'd just have to suck it the fuck up.

"What the hell?"

Derek looks up from the ground at the sheriff's bewildered words. He steps up behind the other man to find out what caused them.

Lying on the doorstep is a white envelope with John's name written on it in block letters. There could be a perfectly innocent explanation for its appearance, but something tells Derek that the contents of the envelope won't lead to anything good.

John picks up the envelope but doesn't open it right away. He shares a look with Derek which communicates that he is having the same misgivings as him and then unlocks and opens the door. Once they are inside and in the living room, Derek takes the envelope from the sheriff and sniffs it for any scents. Right away he smells the earthiness that is a part of every werewolf's scent and knows that the Alpha Pack is responsible. He feels the envelope and at first thinks there is nothing inside, but then at one corner he feels something small, flat and hard.

"Open it," Stiles' dad orders him, sitting down in his armchair, his hands curled around the armrests so tightly that his knuckles are white.

Derek uses a claw to cut into the envelope like a letter opener, then he tips the flat object out onto his palm.

"What is it?"

"It's an SD card," Derek replies, holding it up for the sheriff to see.

"Do I even want to know what's on it?"

"Your guess is as good as mine, but I'd say probably not."

"We need to see it anyway."

"Agreed."

Since the betas should all be in bed by now, Derek sits patiently on the sofa while John calls Chris and tells him about this most recent development. The wait for the hunter to arrive is agonising, but soon Derek has Stiles' MacBook open in front of him on the coffee table and John and Chris sit down either side of him as he inserts the SD card into the slot on the left side of the machine. When the drive shows up in the Finder window, Derek cautiously clicks on it and is taken to a folder containing several photographs and one .mp4 video file.

From all the pale-pink skin and shiny red in the thumbnails, Derek can guess what the subject of all of them is.

"Ready?" he asks the two older men.

"Yes," Chris confirms.

"As I'll ever be," is John's response, his voice full of fear.

Derek highlights the first photograph and presses the spacebar so that it fills the screen. His stomach turns.

"Fuck…" Chris whispers next to him. Derek shares the sentiment.

The photograph is of Stiles, as he'd suspected. The teenager is bare from the waist up and tied down to a metal table in some sort of huge, dimly lit room. The background is too dark for Derek to spot any identifying characteristics that might give him a clue as to Stiles' location when the photograph was taken, but he isn't really looking hard. He is too busy staring at what has been done to the boy he cast aside like yesterday's rubbish. He almost can't comprehend it, the amount of cuts that litter the entirety of Stiles' naked torso. The cuts all blend together into a patchwork of horrors, and Derek can't even see Stiles' face. He isn't sure he wants to know the expression that must have been on it after this.

"My baby boy," John croaks, tears in his eyes.

When Derek doesn't move on to the next photograph after several more seconds, Chris takes over. He picks the MacBook up and rests it over his knees, far enough away that, if he leans back against the back of the sofa, Derek can still clearly see the screen.

The next photographs are all similar, and it isn't until Chris reaches the last one before the video that Derek picks out the word that has been carved into Stiles' sternum. He feels like he really might throw up now, and apparently John is of much the same mind. The sheriff leaps up from the sofa and rushes into the kitchen, and a second later Derek hears the sound of him retching into the kitchen sink because he couldn't hold on long enough to make it upstairs to the bathroom.

While the sheriff is out of the room, Chris plays the video. The camera is trained on Stiles on the table. A dark-haired woman stands on the opposite side, her eyes as red as the blood on Stiles' body.

"Hello, Mr. Stilinski," another person says from behind the camera. A man. He sounds like he is reading from a script, and from the way the shot shakes slightly, he is holding the camera in his hand, probably a small, cheap thing. "As you can see, we have your son. I guess that Derek Hale has told you the truth by now and he is probably with you as you watch this."

Derek is watching the video with Chris Argent and not Stiles' dad, but close enough, Derek supposes.

"We don't have any demands. No ransom or anything. We just want you to know."

The woman shares a significant look with the man behind the camera and then shifts into her beta form. She dances her claws over Stiles' chest for a moment and then, with a single finger, she drags it down the very centre, leaving a fresh, deep cut in her wake.

Stiles' scream chills Derek to his very bones.

"We'll be in touch again soon."

With those parting words, the video ends, and Derek is left staring at a black screen.

Chapter Text

- Monday, August 15th, 2011 -

When Stiles' dad comes out of the kitchen again, his forehead glistens with sweat and his eyes are haunted. "What're we going to do?" he asks the two men on his sofa.

"I don't know," Chris responds. He turns to Derek. "Have you heard anything new from your betas?"

Derek shakes his head, feeling completely out of his depth. He can barely think, can only keep remembering how Stiles' body looked like it had been fed through a wood-chipper. Derek wouldn't have wished such treatment even on his worst enemies—he would just get it over with by killing them instead. But this isn't his worst enemy. It's Stiles, the boy who has been a constant in Derek's life for half a year now and has always seemed to have everyone's best interests at heart. Sure, Stiles could be a pain in the ass sometimes, especially when they first met, but most of those times were because Derek himself was being an asshole and Stiles just reacted to it.

But now? Now, Stiles is the person who holds Derek's affections, even if no one but Lydia is aware of them. He doesn't think he could feel more distressed.

"Well, we have to do something!" the sheriff exclaims, spreading his arms wide. "I know I said we needed our rest, but that was before I was given proof of the torture my son is going through, and the longer it takes to find him, the more those bastards will hurt him!"

"I know, John," Chris says. "Give me a minute."

Derek glances at the computer screen and sees the hunter opening some of the photographs in Photoshop. He looks away, not wanting to see Stiles covered in his own blood again.

John walks around the back of the sofa so he can see what Chris is doing too. "What're you thinking?"

Chris doesn't respond for a few seconds, just clicks on the trackpad and hits a couple of the keys on the black MacBook keyboard. Then he hums quietly and a satisfied smile curls his lips. "It looks like they're holding him in some sort of warehouse."

Surprised that Chris could discern anything from the photos when he himself couldn't, Derek turns back to the older man but keeps his focus away from the computer. "What? How'd you figure that out?"

"By brightening up some of the photos." Chris passes the MacBook to John. "It looks like it's empty, probably abandoned for a long time. It's only been a few hours since Stiles was taken, so the Alpha Pack won't have had that much time to take him elsewhere and do that much damage to him. I'd guess that he's still in Beacon County or at least somewhere close to it. Hell, he might even still be in Beacon Hills. I haven't lived here long enough to know the layout of everything. Do you know if there are any empty warehouses like that one somewhere in town?"

"I think there are some," John responds, staring intently at the screen.

"I guess we have a lead, then."

"I guess we do."

"Do you want to go look now?"

John nods and gives the MacBook back to Chris, who shuts it and sets it on the coffee table. "Mmhmm. I want to find my son as soon as possible. Derek?"

Said alpha sits up straight and meets the sheriff's cool gaze. "Yes?"

"Leave your betas to get some rest until the morning, but I want you out there with us tonight. We'll need your enhanced senses."

Derek nods immediately. He thinks he'd do just about anything to prevent himself from falling even further in John's estimation. He doubts there's really any further he could fall. He wants to prove to the sheriff that he can be good for Stiles, as if there is even a possibility of anything happening between them when they get Stiles back. There isn't, but the desire remains.

"Alright. We shouldn't engage if we run into the Alpha Pack, though," Derek says carefully, not wanting to offend. "Just the three of us won't be enough manpower to take them on. I can probably take one of them, but there are five. Plus, you're not used to fighting werewolves yet."

John glares but can't refute Derek's logic. He nods tightly.

With a loose plan agreed upon, Chris gets up from the sofa. "Let's head out then. John, you can sit up front with me and give directions. Derek, you're in the back."

Again, Derek goes along with it easily, even as his inner alpha protests him not being in charge like it thinks he should be. He tells it to shut up.

He's proven that he can't be trusted.

* * *

Scott lies awake and stares at his ceiling, his stomach churning unpleasantly. Sleep won't take him. He can't stop thinking about what his best friend must be going through while he's perfectly alright in the safety of his bedroom, his girlfriend slumbering at his side.

For the hundredth time, he chastises himself for going along with Derek's plan. How the hell could he agree to do that to his best friend? Stiles had obviously tried not to show how much he was hurt after Derek told him he wasn't part of the pack anymore, but Scott had known him long enough to see that Stiles was heartbroken. God, Scott hadn't seen an expression like that on the other boy's face in years, maybe not since his mother died. The realisation makes him feel even shittier.

"Scott?" Allison calls sleepily next to him. She turns over to face him, the moon shining in through the window reflecting off of her eyes. "Can't sleep?"

"No," Scott answers. "I'm tired, but I can't shut my brain off, y'know?"

Allison nods. "Yeah. I know. You wanna talk about it?"

"I just keep thinking about what those bastards must be doing to him because we turned our backs on him. Erica said she thought Stiles would be taken anyway because there's no way one of us could've been with him twenty-four-seven to protect him, but still, the guilt's there. And the anger at Derek. Stiles is never gonna forgive us, and he'd be right not to."

Allison hums and sits up to look at the clock on Scott's nightstand. Nearly midnight. "I probably won't get much more sleep either. How about we do something? Go out and look? Even if we don't find anything, it'll still make you feel better to be actively doing something instead of just lying here twiddling your thumbs."

Scott is instantly on board. "Yeah, that's a good idea."

"Your mom's working tonight, right?"

Scott flings back the sheets and gets out of bed. "Yeah, so won't be back until around seven in the morning."

"You should let her know what we're up to. Just in case."

"But then she'll worry."

"She'll worry even more if we don't come back in the morning and she doesn't know what happened," Allison points out.

Scott sighs as he shoves his legs in the jeans he'd taken off not an hour earlier. "I guess you're right."

"I'm always right. You should've learned this by now," the huntress jokes, trying to ease the tension. It doesn't work, but Scott appreciates it anyway.

After both of them have got dressed again, they make a quick stop in the kitchen downstairs to drink some water and get a snack to keep them going while they search. Then Allison gathers her hunting supplies while Scott writes a note for his mom and leaves it on the kitchen counter, and finally they exit the house. Scott locks up and leads Allison to his bike.

He hands her a plain black helmet. "You ready?"

"As I'll ever be."

"Let's do this."

* * *

- Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 -

When Stiles comes to, he's disoriented. It takes several minutes for his vision to stop being blurry, but when it has righted itself, he almost wishes he was still unconscious. He'd foolishly hoped that the past twenty-four hours were nothing but an awful dream, but no—he's still in the empty warehouse, still cold and half-naked. The only upside is that he's no longer in unbearable pain. His body still aches, but it's nothing compared to what he felt before Marin Morrell found him outside.

Speaking of Morrell, Stiles sits up on the hard table and looks around the warehouse for her, but she's nowhere to be found. Neither is the bag she had with her.

"Great. Where's she gone off to?" he wonders aloud. He still doesn't trust her, but he'd rather see her than the Alpha Pack.

Once he's relatively confident that he's alone, Stiles looks down at his naked torso and marvels at what Morrell did while he was out. The blood has been cleaned from his skin, and the cuts that Kali and Ennis had given him are gone, healed up so well that there aren't even any scars. For the most part.

The word BITCH is still there, the crude lines pink and raised. Stiles touches the scars and decides to focus on the positives and not the glaring negative. He'll still have that word carved onto his body for the rest of his life, yes, and it stands out more now that there aren't other cuts surrounding each letter, but at least the rest of him is unmarred once more.

Stiles' life has been filled with fantastical things for several months now, and yet he is still amazed that Morrell was able to remove most of the cuts altogether and rapidly heal the ones she left. He recalls Scott's boss telling him about the spark he apparently has inside of him, and how he'd been able to surround a whole building with mountain ash using nothing more than belief that he could when he was trying to help capture the kanima. Morrell must have some sort of power like that, only she's obviously a lot more adept at wielding it.

Whether that's a good thing or not remains to be seen.

After checking the soles of his feet to find that there are no cuts there either, Stiles gets off of the table and listens closely for any sounds that mean he isn't as alone as he thought. He hears nothing and approaches the doors with the intention of making another run for it. He feels much better than he had the last time he tried, so he should be able to make it further and stop himself from getting turned around. At least he hopes he will. Only one way to find out.

It seems even colder outside the warehouse than it did last time. Goosebumps break out down his arms and he quickly begins to shiver, so as he walks he wraps his arms around his torso in an effort to conserve some heat. It doesn't really work, but he doesn't stop, just keeps walking. If he goes in a straight line, he should come out of the complex of warehouses eventually, so that's what he does, always listening for the slightest hint that the Alpha Pack or Morrell is coming to take him back to the first warehouse. He has a bad scare when he picks up some rustling around the corner of one of the warehouses, but it turns out to just be a stray cat.

"You're losing it, Stiles," he whispers, plodding onward. "Keep it together."

After God knows how long, he finally reaches the final warehouse and sees trees at the other end of the building. Better than nothing, he supposes.

He walks along the last stretch of dimly lit alley and steps foot on grass and soil instead of concrete. It makes for such a lovely change that he stands just over the divide for a minute and savours how the grass feels between his toes. It's foolish to waste time like this, but he'll take whatever small pleasures he can get after the pain he has endured tonight.

An owl hooting urges Stiles to keep going. As he walks between the trees, he has to tread with extreme care because the foliage overhead blocks out the rays of the moon, making it impossible to see more than three feet in front of himself. He persists. He's not going to let darkness stop him now. He knows that there are true evils in the world, real evils, and they don't come from the darkness like childhood fears used to tell him they did. He hasn't been scared of the dark in a long time anyway, so he puts one foot in front of the other and only trips over tree roots or surprising dips in the terrain a couple times. It's good progress, but it doesn't last.

When Stiles has been progressing through the dense trunks for a while, he hears something that can't be explained away as nocturnal wildlife.

A quiet laugh.

Freezing in place, the shaking of Stiles' body now has nothing to do with the low temperature. He turns slowly in place and attempts to pick out the source of the laughter but sees nothing but black. Until he's on his second rotation, at which point he sees two tiny pinpricks in the distance. At first, he tells himself that it's just some animal peering curiously at him because it's unused to getting visitors like him, but then the pinpricks turn red and he realises what the eyes belong to—an alpha werewolf, one who derives amusement from his pain.

So much for this, Stiles thinks despondently. Still, he's not going to give up without a fight.

Even if it's a fight he could never win in a million years.

"Fuck off!" he yells at the alpha, projecting strength into his voice. He won't let them see how scared he is.

"Why would we do that?"

The voice is male and comes from right behind him, startling him out of his skin. Stiles whirls around and sees one of the twins inches from him. From the malice in the other boy's expression, Stiles guesses he's Aiden and not Ethan.

"Because you're all bastards who'd make the world a better place by killing yourselves," Stiles mouths off. Not a good idea, but he can't help himself.

Aiden's lips stretch into a grin that shows off his deadly fangs. "I'd rather kill you."

"My, what big teeth you have," Stiles murmurs, struggling to look away from them. He swallows with difficulty.

The alpha chuckles. "I'm not roleplaying the Big Bad Wolf with you."

Stiles takes a step backward. "Shame. Could've been hot."

"Oh right, your pathetic crush on Derek Hale…as if you had a chance in hell, even before we were planning on murdering you. Was that one of your fantasies? To be the Little Red Riding Hood to his Big Bad Wolf?"

Stiles' cheeks turn red because, yes, he has imagined exactly that a time or two when he has jerked off. How he'd run through the preserve and Derek would give chase, hunting down his prey until they tumbled to the ground and fucked like wild animals right there in the dirt. He got several good orgasms out of that particular fantasy, but he doesn't tell Aiden that. He doesn't want to give him the satisfaction, but it's evident from Aiden's smirk that he has guessed correctly.

"Whatever," the alpha says. He stares unnervingly for a long time, and then he finally looks down, pulls his phone out of his jeans pocket and taps several times on the small screen with his fingertips. The way the device illuminates his features in an incredibly eerie fashion reminds Stiles of the cliché of teenagers swapping scary stories in the dark, a flashlight trained on their face from below.

Tense silence passes, during which Stiles takes another step back. He doesn't dare to go too far because he hasn't forgot that another member of the Alpha Pack is behind him, but he feels a bit better putting some distance between himself and Aiden.

"Five minutes," said alpha announces suddenly, raising his gaze back up to Stiles'. He turns his phone around so that Stiles can see the timer he has set up. 5:00 flashes at him.

"W-what?"

"You have a five-minute head start."

Stiles doesn't think that sounds good. He fidgets restlessly, adrenaline already spiking through his veins. "And then?"

"And then we hunt you down. Duke said that whoever catches you gets to have some one-on-one time with you, as long as we remember to actually interrogate you this time. So we'll all be trying our hardest to win."

"And if I get away?"

Aiden laughs again. "We both know that there's almost no chance of that happening."

"Then what's the point?"

The alpha tilts his head to the side. "You don't wanna try? 'Cause if you don't, then I guess we'll just have some fun with you right now. All of us. At once. Sound fun?"

Stiles shakes his head, flashing back to what Kali and Ennis did to him. He doesn't want to think about what would be done to him if Aiden, Ethan and maybe even Deucalion himself were involved too. Deucalion may be unable to see, but Stiles really doesn't want to experience whatever great power Deucalion has that makes the others follow him.

"Then you'd better start running," Aiden tells him. He taps his phone screen again, and the timer starts counting down.

Praying to whichever deity is listening, Stiles runs.

Chapter Text

- Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 -

Derek sits in the back of Chris Argent's black 4x4 and stares uncomfortably out the window to his left, watching as the street lamps blur past. The silence inside the vehicle is oppressive. Derek almost wishes that Stiles' dad would turn around and yell at him some more, if only so the silence is broken. But no, the sheriff keeps his eyes on the front windshield and fingers the gun in his lap. The weapon was given to him by Chris. Derek can smell the wolfsbane in the bullets and against his will flashes back to the last time he was shot with one of them.

It was the night Kate Argent returned to Beacon Hills, and just recalling his interactions with her has him filling with disgust, self-loathing, fear and anger. It's a potent combination of emotions that are all difficult enough for him to control on their own. Together, Derek can barely suppress them, but he does. He can't give Stiles' dad or Chris any more reasons to think lowly of him. They couldn't possibly think less of him than he thinks of himself, but try as he might not to be affected by them, their opinions matter to him because he knows they would matter to Stiles. At least the sheriff's.

God, how Derek would love to go back just two days ago and knock some sense into his past self. He would do things differently were he given the chance.

He wouldn't kick Stiles out of the pack but would bring him further into it, closer to Derek himself.

He wouldn't let Stiles out of his sight.

Maybe he'd even confess his feelings for the boy.

Derek doesn't think it's a secret to anyone with werewolf senses that Stiles has been attracted to him for some time now. It's almost impossible not to notice the constant smell of arousal that surrounds Stiles whenever he is near Derek. It's been hell for Derek to pretend that he hasn't been aware of Stiles' infatuation with him all along, but he apparently did a good enough job of it to fool the majority of his pack members.

He'd pretended not to care much when Stiles showed up at his loft for every pack meeting with home-baked treats in hand. He only looked his way or spoke to him whenever it was necessary. He felt like an asshole doing it, especially since Stiles seemed to want to talk to him often and would end up sitting near him nearly every time the pack settled in to watch a movie or something. But Derek had an appearance to uphold, and he deluded himself into thinking that it was safer for both of them if he kept Stiles at arm's length, if no one knew how he feels a jolt of excitement just hearing Stiles' voice. It was like he was still a stupid teenager with his first crush.

Stiles would've been a much better candidate than Kate Argent, but as much as he'd like to, he can't change the past.

Only Lydia was unconvinced by Derek's acting, and that's only because nothing slips past her. Derek wonders if it's because Lydia is a banshee and that grants her more perceptiveness than a regular human girl, or if it's because she's Lydia. Whatever the answer, Derek resolves to stop thinking about it. It won't do him any good now. He needs to concentrate on the present, not his regrets. That's the only way he's going to be able to help Stiles and start to make up for wronging him.

"Is this it?" Chris asks John then, bringing Derek out of his introspection.

The alpha blinks to bring everything outside the 4x4 back into focus and realises that they have arrived at their destination.

"Yeah, we're here," John confirms, unbuckling his seatbelt.

When the other men exit the vehicle, Derek does the same and looks around them. They stand in front of a series of buildings in a long-retired industrial district that's actually not too far from his loft.

It's dark. Most of the lights around the place don't work any more, either because the glass of the bulbs was long ago shattered or because they're simply too old. Those that do still provide illumination don't provide much because the glass is encrusted with years of dirt and dust. Derek is surprised the lights in this district are even powered anymore. It will be difficult for John and Chris to see, but Derek doesn't have that problem. Allowing his eyes to glow red, he sweeps them over the area and takes everything in.

Huge pipes run up the side of the closest building, and stacked next to one of the walls are several piles of crates. Derek can smell the half-rotted wood and wrinkles his nose. He doesn't detect any other werewolves in the area at the moment, not even any old scents, but he supposes that he, John and Chris had better check the place out anyway. After all, the Alpha Pack could be making themselves harder to track by masking their scents somehow.

"Normally I wouldn't suggest this, but time is of the essence," Chris says. He turns to Derek. "We'll split up. You search one half of this place by yourself since you're the strongest, and John and I will take the other half. Agreed?"

Derek nods. He doesn't actually approve, but he doesn't think it's a good idea to say so right now.

Chris makes sure his gun is loaded and ready and waits for John to do the same before he speaks again. "Alright. Everyone keep your phones on."

And then Derek is left on his own. He grits his teeth and turns to walk the other way, hands shoved in the pockets of his leather jacket. He can't help but feel as if John and Chris are sending him out without any backup because they couldn't give a rat's ass if he ends up getting killed. John definitely hates his guts now, and while Derek's relationship with Chris had been getting a bit better recently, they were never anywhere close to being friends before Stiles was taken. Yes, Derek thinks, they probably wouldn't care very much.

Not liking such thoughts, he shuts off the human part of his brain and just walks, relying on instinct. He still can't pick up any scents that seem out of place here, and if he listens closely, the only other sounds are the beating hearts of John and Chris and the occasional flickering of a still-functioning light. Not very promising, but Derek didn't really expect the Alpha Pack to make things easy.

After breaking into the final warehouse in the complex and observing that the interior looks nothing like the one in the photo Chris had enhanced, Derek begins to make his way back. He hasn't got a phone call and hasn't heard any shouting or gunshots, so Chris and John mustn't have had any more luck than him. Sure enough, when Derek has been leaning against the side of Chris' 4x4 for just three minutes, the two older men appear around the corner.

"Find anything?" Chris asks when he reaches him.

"Nothing," Derek responds.

"Damn it," John mutters, looking like he wants to punch something.

"It's okay, John," Chris soothes, placing a hand on the sheriff's arm. "We'll find him."

"And what if we don't? What then?"

"You can't think like that."

"That's easy for you to say! What if Allison was taken? Would you be so calm and rational then?"

Chris hums. "It would be difficult, but I'd have to be. Thinking and acting recklessly would only get me killed before I could track down where she was being kept."

John exhales sharply and glares at the ground. "I see your point."

"We just have to regroup, maybe do some research. There have to be some more warehouses somewhere in or around Beacon County. We'll look it up and try again, okay?"

"Fine."

Derek turns away from the other men when something reaches his ears. It sounds like an engine.

"Someone else is coming," he says.

"Who?" Chris asks.

"I don't know. They're getting close, though. A motorbike."

When the sound is almost upon them, Derek recognises it as belonging to Scott. He tells John and Chris.

"What's he doing out?" John wonders aloud with a frown. "Isn't he supposed to be resting?"

"He's probably doing the same thing as us," Chris theorises. "Stiles is his best friend, right?"

"Yes."

"Then he'll want to find him almost as much as you. I admit I've never been Scott's biggest fan, especially not in the beginning, but his heart's usually in the right place."

Derek doesn't voice his own opinion of the beta, just waits for him to show. When he does and Derek spots Allison riding on the back of the bike, he groans internally. Just what he needs—yet another person around with whom he has a rocky relationship.

After Scott has stopped the bike next to Chris' vehicle and climbed off of it with Allison, Chris approaches. "You should've told me you were going to keep searching," he reprimands his daughter, his arms crossed over his chest.

"Sorry," Allison apologises. "We couldn't sleep, so we figured why not? We've been careful."

"Have you guys already looked here?" Scott enquires. He glances in Derek's direction just long enough to sneer.

"We have. No luck."

"Damn…"

"We were just about to head back and do some research into other places the Alpha Pack could've taken Stiles."

"We'll join you then," Allison says.

Both teenagers get back on the bike, ready to follow. Chris, John and Derek get back in the 4x4 and strap themselves in.

"Do we show them what's on the SD card?" Derek asks.

Chris shrugs and sticks his keys in the ignition. "We'll tell them what's on it, and then if they want to see for themselves, we can show them."

"They're not going to like it."

"Neither did I," John cuts in, looking stonily at Derek.

Derek shuts up after that, not wanting to say anything else to set the sheriff off. He goes back to staring out the window.

* * *

Stiles runs as fast as his legs can carry him, which is unfortunately not very fast. Despite Morrell healing his injuries, he wasn't unconscious long enough to regain all the energy being tortured had taken out of him, so his gait is awkward and uncoordinated. It doesn't help that he's having to stumble through the dark, all with the knowledge that the Alpha Pack won't have a problem chasing him. Even if they could barely see like him, they'd have their noses, and Stiles is sure he's leaving quite a scent trail for them to follow, made potent by his fear.

He doesn't even have anything he can use to fake them out. If he still had his shirt, Stiles could whip it off now and leave it somewhere, distract them with that while he progresses farther through the trees. He could do that with his chinos, but then he'd be left in just his underwear, and he really doesn't want the Alpha Pack to find him like that. He'd be even more vulnerable, and he doesn't want further nudity to give them any ideas.

What with how crazy and vicious they are, he doesn't doubt that at least one of them would try something.

As Stiles runs, branches whip his face and leave tiny wounds behind, small, painful things that throb like paper cuts. His arms and chest don't fare much better, but he takes what meagre comfort he can in the fact that they shouldn't leave him with any more unsightly scars and keeps going. He can't stop now. He can't just give up, and ensuring that he doesn't is Aiden's taunt replaying through his head.

It's perfect motivation. God, had Stiles ever wanted to wipe the smirk off of the alpha's face, and lasting longer than the Alpha Pack expects him to seems like the only way Stiles is going to be able to do that. There's no way he can escape outright, but he's going to damn well try. He thinks of his dad and how, if he dies, the sheriff will be all alone.

He could never do that to his dad, so he proceeds.

Eventually, a sudden incline catches him off-guard. He tumbles down it and lands hard on his hip at the bottom, but he only allows himself a moment to get lost in the pain before he forces himself back to his feet. He has a slight limp now, hindering him even more, but still he runs determinedly. It's a good thing too, because after what Stiles guesses is another minute, he happens upon a sizeable stream. He can't be sure that it'll work against alpha werewolves, but he recalls reading stuff in the past in which someone has lost or evaded a pursuer by using a stream or a river such as the one Stiles just found. There's no harm in trying.

Stiles steps cautiously into the stream and is glad when the water only comes up to the middle of his calves. It's freezing and doesn't help Stiles' shivering, but it'll have to do. He power-walks upstream for short time and then gets out of the water on the other bank, praying that it will be enough to at least slow the Alpha Pack down. He doesn't know how much time he has left, so as soon as his feet are on dry land again, he returns to his previous fast pace, his feet thumping over the ground.

He ignores his protesting hip and pushes his body perilously close to its limit. Stiles doesn't have much more in him, he knows, so when he hears several loud howls from far away, signalling that the chase has finally begun, he switches strategies again. He looks around for a suitable tree and locates one with sturdy branches low enough for him to climb. Progress is incredibly slow, and Stiles has to make a concerted effort not to think about his pursuers likely rapidly gaining on him in order to keep climbing higher and higher.

It fast becomes dizzying. Stiles scrabbles above his head for the next branch and almost slips because he can't see where he's grabbing. Falling from the height he has so far attained would be a very bad thing—he'd definitely break something or maybe just kill himself outright, and while the latter option would be better than being back in the hands of the Alpha Pack, he still owes it to his dad to stay alive for as long as he can. His dad will be looking for him, and he has to give the man something to find other than a dead body. He tries to be more careful, feeling his way before he hoists himself up with aching arms. The foliage is dense up here, and Stiles has no hope in hell of seeing the ground. Maybe that will work in reverse, to his advantage.

If the Alpha Pack can't see him…then they'll still be able to smell him.

Fuck.

Stiles is racking his brain for a solution when he hears something scuffing along the ground far beneath him. He holds a hand over his mouth and nose to stifle his breaths and closes his eyes, just knowing that it's one of the Alpha Pack. He has never wanted anything more than he wants not to be found right now. He sends up a wish to whichever deity is listening that he won't be. He doesn't care what he has to give in exchange, but he won't—no, he can't—be taken back to that fucking warehouse and endure torture at the hands of those sickos again.

Because he is tensed up so much listening to the person below him, Stiles almost topples sideways when another dizzy spell hits him out of the blue. He slams his hand to the tree trunk to prevent himself from falling, and dread fills him when the sound of skin hitting rough bark echoes throughout the area. It wasn't quiet.

He's screwed. Or so he thinks. Stiles waits for the end with his heart beating so hard that he fears it might burst right out of his chest, but the end doesn't come. There's the scuffing again, and then the person beneath him just…leaves, mumbling frustratedly under their breath as they go. From their voice, Stiles guesses it was Ennis.

What the hell? Why didn't Ennis find him? It wasn't as if Stiles was being quiet. Even if he hadn't almost fallen and created noise by clumsily saving himself, the alpha should've still been able to smell him or pick up his racing heartbeat. Stiles thinks even he can hear it.

So what gives?

He ponders this for a few more moments before deciding not to question it. He'll count his blessings and be grateful for them.

They're going to be few and far between until his dad can track him down.

Stiles takes a breath and is about to begin his descent back down to the ground when he stops himself, the possibility that this could be another cruel trick occurring to him. He stays where he is for a while longer to make sure that Ennis is truly gone, and then he leaves the relative safety of his perch.

He feels much less safe when his bare feet touch dirt again and he is out of the concealment of the leaves, but he can't stay there all night. Now that the panic from earlier has dissipated and he has been stationary for a while, the cold is setting in with a vengeance, chilling him to his bones. His teeth aren't far off from chattering by this point, so after sparing a valuable moment to survey his surroundings for pinpricks of red light in the dark and finding none, he sets off again.

Stiles can't figure out how fast he should go. He needs to exert himself enough to warm his half-naked body back up, but the Alpha Pack aren't just behind him anymore. At least one of them is now ahead of him, and Stiles doesn't want to run too fast and end up stumbling right into Ennis' roided-out arms if he can prevent it. He settles for a reasonably brisk pace that isn't pushing his tired body too hard and doesn't create too much noise, which will mean that the members of the Alpha Pack will have to be in closer range before they hear his footsteps. It probably won't help much, but Stiles figures it can't hurt.

Minutes pass without any more appearances from his pursuers, neither sound nor sight. Stiles isn't relieved but unnerved instead. There's no way he should've been able to last this long against them.

"Where are they?" he whispers, leaning against another tree to catch his breath. He's tiring more quickly now, which isn't a good sign. He hasn't had anything to eat or drink since lunch the previous day, and the consequences are now showing.

Stiles checks around him again as if expecting the Alpha Pack to suddenly appear with his words, but still he is left alone. He can't even hear any nocturnal wildlife around him, maybe because any that would usually be there can sense the presence of deadly predators and know better than to stick around.

With a quiet sigh, Stiles pushes away from the tree and plods onward.

Chapter Text

- Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 -

Stiles has been walking without interruption for what he guesses is another half hour when the strangest sensation comes over him. He has never felt anything like it before.

It's almost as if something is calling to him, like there's a voice whispering in the back of his mind. He can't discern words, but he doesn't need to. He thinks he understands the intent behind the voice and is almost positive that it doesn't mean him any harm. He worries momentarily that this is actually some new supernatural entity leading him into a trap, or maybe it's another one of the Alpha Pack's games. Perhaps Morrell did something to his mind while he was out. Then there's the mundane possibility that Stiles is just so tired that he's starting to hallucinate.

There's only one way to find out the truth, so he walks in the direction the voice urges him in, doggedly putting one foot in front of the other.

There's still no sign of the Alpha Pack, which both baffles Stiles and fills him with relief. He couldn't run if one or more members were to show up. By this point, he has to put his hand on every tree trunk he passes in order to keep himself upright. He gets awfully close to his legs buckling when the trees finally break and he reaches a large clearing. The moon, high in the sky now, shines brightly here, its light unimpeded by any foliage. It illuminates the clearing so well that Stiles is actually able to see a decent distance in front of himself. It makes for a nice change, and it also means that he can see what's in the very centre of the clearing without having to get closer.

A huge tree stump.

Stiles stares uncomprehendingly at it for a few seconds before coming to the conclusion that the voice he has been hearing is coming from it.

"Weird…" he whispers, stumbling toward the stump.

When he reaches it, he falls to his knees and reaches a shaky hand toward it, all but forgetting about the danger the Alpha Pack still presents. He can tell he is doing the right thing when the voice gets more insistent, practically screaming in his head to just touch the surface of the stump already. It promises safety and protection, which Stiles wants more than he needs air.

Right as his palm touches the old wood, the area around Stiles changes. He looks around and tries to figure out what has occurred. It takes him a moment, but then he sees how the branches of the surrounding trees are moving in the night breeze but make no noise, no rustling or creaking. Even with everything Stiles has experienced in his life this past year, this is the strangest thing he thinks he has encountered, especially when he factors in the energy he can feel pulsing through his palm, connecting him to the tree stump. It's electric, but it doesn't hurt him. If anything, it soothes.

"Stiles."

Jumping, Stiles removes his hand from the stump and the sound of the wind returns. He can't see anyone nearby who could've spoken his name, but the voice in his head has returned, telling him to put his hand back. He does so, and waits.

"Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you."

Still startling, but not badly enough to break his weird connection to the stump again, Stiles turns his head to the left and gasps when he sees someone sitting on the edge of it, hands clasped in their lap.

"M-mom?" he asks, his voice breaking and tears stinging his eyes.

"I'm not your mother, Stiles," the woman says. She sounds sad, like she would've liked to give a different answer.

Stiles swallows tightly. "Then who are you?"

The image of his mother tilts her head to the side and glances down at Stiles' hand. "Isn't it obvious?"

"You're…you're the tree?" Stiles guesses.

"Yes. I was called the Nemeton. You're just seeing me as someone familiar to you."

"Why?"

"I don't know why things are the way they are. How do werewolves exist? How did anything come to exist in this world? Best not to question these things. You'll only get a headache."

The Nemeton's voice is distant, like Stiles is hearing an echo of it. "Can you at least tell me why you're here?"

"Because you called me."

That surprises Stiles. "I did?"

"Yes, and I aided you, just like you asked me to. I helped to conceal you from your enemy."

Stiles flashes back to his near run-in with Ennis, when he was hidden up in the high branches of one of the trees and Ennis didn't seem to notice him.

"I've been aware of you since you were born," the Nemeton reveals. "I can feel everything with power in this town. The Hale family, the veterinarian you call Deaton, the werewolves who are now your friends. And you."

Stiles opens his mouth to rebut the Nemeton about the werewolves being his friends but doesn't bother. It's not salient information, and there are so many other questions he wants to ask. The most pressing of them is why the Nemeton included him in its list of beings with power. He isn't powerful, not even by human standards. He says as much.

"Oh, but you are," the Nemeton refutes. It places a hand over his, and the energy connecting them increases. "You have more power inside you than you know."

"I do?"

"Yes. I believe the vet has told you about it before. He called it your spark."

"That was real?"

"Did you not complete a circle of mountain ash even when it shouldn't have been possible, using only your belief that you could do it? And before you ask me how I know this, I've already told you: I've been aware of you since your birth and have kept an eye on you ever since."

Stiles' tired brain is slow to process everything, but it's getting easier the longer he stays connected to the tree. "Okay…I think we need to go back. I don't understand any of this. There's just a magical tree in the middle of the preserve?"

The Nemeton hums. "I've been here for centuries. There are other trees like me all over the world, and I'm actually one of the youngest."

"Can you feel them too?"

"I can feel everything that's connected to the earth, if I so choose. Everything is connected if you know where to look. You'd be able to do this as well, had you been honing your spark since birth."

"Yeah well, I kinda didn't know any of this supernatural shit actually existed until this year, so sorry."

"I'm aware," the Nemeton says. It removes its hand from Stiles' and places it on the stump instead. Stiles instantly misses its alien warmth. "Centuries ago, the emissary of the pack who claimed these lands before the Hales grew fearful of me, so he cut me down in a foolish attempt to harness my power for himself. Needless to say, he failed, although he did succeed in crippling me somewhat. I lashed out with the power that remained in me, and he died."

"He crippled you?"

"While still strong, I am now a shadow of my former self. As you can see."

"Because you're a stump."

"Correct. Anyway," the Nemeton continues, "ever since I was a mere sapling, I've been a loyal servant to those who are good. The pack back then—excluding their emissary—were such people, and so were the Hales. Amelia Hale, the alpha before her daughter Talia took the mantle, would come to commune with me often, and she would often bring her daughter with her. We…I suppose in your terms, we were friends."

Stiles' mind is racing now. "Couldn't you have helped them?" he enquires. "Y'know, when…when Kate Argent killed most of them?"

The Nemeton's expression turns regretful. "Unfortunately, because of what that evil man did to me, there are limits to my power now, and I couldn't overcome the weakness werewolves have to mountain ash. Nor was their emissary at the time, Deaton, around that night for me to lend my power to. It was a tragedy. I mourned for them, and for those who were left behind."

"Derek, Laura and Peter…"

"And Cora Hale."

Stiles' eyes widen. "What? There were only three survivors of the fire."

"Incorrect. Cora Hale is alive and well."

"Where?"

"In a small town in South America. She lives with another pack there. I check on her often."

"Does Derek know?"

"He does not."

Even with how much Derek had hurt him, Stiles promises himself that, if he makes it out alive tonight, he'll tell Derek about his long lost sister. Try as he might, he can't bring himself to hate him. He admits to himself that the reason Derek was able to hurt him so much in the first place was because the Alpha Pack was right. He does have feelings for Derek—big feelings—and so Stiles still wants good things for him. And Derek's sister basically returning from the dead would be a very good thing. He deserves to have all the family he can.

"You have a very kind heart, Stiles," the Nemeton comments, smiling wistfully.

Stiles narrows his eyes. "Were you reading my thoughts?"

"Not precisely, but we're connected now, you and I. I felt your new resolve."

"Oh. I don't know how I feel about that."

"That's alright. You'll get used to me eventually."

"So you plan on sticking around then?"

"Oh yes. I'm not just going to be with you tonight. The Hale Pack will need an emissary, after all."

"M-me?!" Stiles squawks disbelievingly. "Look, I don't think I'm qualified! Besides, they don't want me in their pack anymore…"

"Again, you are incorrect."

Stiles' stomach clenches. "What?"

"I understand what they did, but your alpha, the man you love, did what he did in a misguided effort to protect you from the Alpha Pack. It didn't work, but his intentions were true."

Stiles sputters. "I'm not— I'm not in love with Derek!" he denies ardently, even as blood rushes to his face and proves his claim a lie. From how the Nemeton arches one of his mother's elegant eyebrows, it's clear that it doesn't buy the lie one bit.

Still blushing, Stiles glares at the ground beside him and thinks. He doesn't know if he can really believe that what the Nemeton just told him is the truth. He wants to—God, does he want to—but he can't erase the pain being kicked out of the pack had caused, how much Derek saying those words had torn him to shreds. In the end, Stiles concludes that, even if Derek and the others intended to remove him from the Alpha Pack's sights, he can't forgive them so easily. They still did it.

"I hate to disturb you from your rumination," the Nemeton interrupts him after a while, "but it's urgent. I can sense that an enemy is getting close to my clearing. We must act quickly."

Raising his head again, Stiles fights off the panic that threatens to overcome him. "What're we gonna do?"

"Just close your eyes. I'm going to give your spark a jumpstart. You'll feel no pain."

Doing as he has been told, Stiles waits patiently and is amazed when, just a second later, he feels the energy get brighter again. It's even brighter than it was when the image of his mother touched his hand. It's like pure light is pouring into him, filling up all the spaces inside of him.

No, it's more like the energy is waking those spaces up so that they shine on their own, reenergising him. It's in his chest, the brightest light of them all. Instinctively, Stiles knows that this is his spark.

"It's…it's beautiful," Stiles whispers reverently.

"It is," the Nemeton agrees. It retreats once more, but it doesn't leave Stiles feeling colder. The warmth remains. "You really are the perfect candidate. Your soul, heart and spark are all shine so brightly. I've waited a long time for one like you. You'll do wonderful things."

Opening his eyes again, Stiles marvels as he discovers that he can see much clearer. It's as if everything in the clearing has been cast into sharp focus. It doesn't matter that it's the middle of the night. He can see everything.

He wonders if this is what it's like for a werewolf.

"It's similar," the Nemeton confirms. "As are your eyes."

Stiles has a sudden desire for a mirror. "My eyes?"

"Every owner of a spark is different. Yours are a pale purple."

"I wish I could see them."

"You will. You'll be able to look at them whenever you want, especially before you've learned to glamour them, but first, you have to get through tonight."

"Right…but how? I don't know how to use any of this power."

"Like the colour of your eyes, sparks manifest differently in every user," the Nemeton apprises, standing up for the first time. It holds out a hand, which Stiles takes and uses to pull himself to his own feet. "I'm afraid we don't have the luxury of time, but you already know that your spark is based on belief. It's also based on what comes naturally to you. What you want to happen, if you want it enough, your spark will find a way for you to make it so."

"Well, I don't want to die tonight," Stiles says wryly.

"Then you won't."

"I…" Stiles takes a breath. "I don't know what else to say other than 'thank you'. Doesn't seem like enough."

"Just don't be a stranger. I have missed having someone to converse with like this. It's been almost a decade. I can assist you further in training your spark, if you need incentive."

Stiles smiles. "I don't, but that's good to know."

"Then you know where to find me. Now, prepare yourself. Your enemy is almost here."

In the next second, the image of Stiles' mother disappears as if she was never there at all. Stiles might be tempted to think that she really was just a hallucination were it not for the warmth that has been ignited in his chest. He stands tensed up and listens. The sound of the breeze has returned now that the Nemeton is no longer appearing to him, but for longer than Stiles expects, he hears nothing else. From how the Nemeton was speaking, he anticipated a fight as soon as it vanished, yet there's nothing for almost a full minute.

A twig snapping behind him has Stiles whirling around, his hands held up defensively.

"There you are," one of the twins says, entering the clearing. His face isn't contorted by malice, so he must be Ethan.

Stiles doesn't lower his arms. "Yeah, you've all been looking for me."

"You're hard to track down." Ethan takes another step forward. It's hesitant.

"Don't come any closer!" Stiles exclaims.

Ethan's countenance becomes bemused, with a small hint of badly hidden fear. "How are you doing that?" he enquires timorously.

"Doing what?"

"Your eyes, they're…they're purple. But you're just a human."

Stiles scoffs. "Apparently not entirely."

Before Ethan can say anything else, he whips his head to the left, obviously picking up a sound that Stiles can't. Stiles half turns in that direction as well but makes sure to keep Ethan in his periphery. This particular twin doesn't seem to really want to hurt him, but it wouldn't do to become complacent. There's also the possibility that it's all an act, some twisted version of Good Cop, Bad Cop.

"Nice find," says another voice, just before Aiden emerges from the tree line. He walks over to stand next to his brother.

Ethan doesn't speak but steps backward again, deferring to Aiden. It's obvious who is the more dominant one.

"Hi," Aiden grins at Stiles, showing off his fangs.

Stiles waits for someone else to come, but it's just him and the twins. Alright. He can handle them. Hopefully. "You don't wanna do this," he tries to warn them, even though he's certain the warning will fall on deaf ears.

Sure enough, Aiden's short nails lengthen into deadly claws. "And why not? I could use some fun, and ripping into you sounds like an awesome time. Kali and Ennis made me very jealous by getting to have you first."

"His eyes, Aiden," Ethan points out.

"What about them?"

"They're purple. And can't you feel it? There's something different about him. There's something unsettling about this place…"

Aiden regards Stiles closely, head to toe. "So what?"

"So?" Ethan echoes exasperatedly. "He could be dangerous!"

"I doubt it's anything we can't handle. But if you're too chickenshit, I can handle him on my own."

In the next second, Aiden throws himself at Stiles with a howl. Stiles has just enough time to be concerned that the howl will attracted the rest of the Alpha Pack to the clearing, and then his palms flare hot and Aiden crashes into thin air. The alpha is knocked on his ass by an invisible forcefield, and the impact sends Stiles skidding backward several paces, his feet leaving trails in the dirt. In the aftermath, Ethan has dropped the remnants of his mask and looks entirely fearful now, Stiles is satisfied and gleeful, and Aiden seems too stunned to feel anything else.

It's Stiles who breaks the silence. "Sure you still wanna do this?" he asks, standing tall and revelling in being the one in the position of superiority for once.

"You just caught me off-guard," Aiden excuses, leaping up again with a glare. "You won't be so lucky this time."

"Try me."

"Don't say you didn't ask for it," Aiden spits before turning to his brother. "Let's do it."

Ethan doesn't remove his gaze from Stiles. He watches him closely as he answers Aiden. "Are you sure? Duke warned us about showing our hand too soon."

"Yes! Ethan, we're doing this now!"

Nodding slowly, Ethan holds out a hand to his twin. Aiden takes it, and before Stiles' eyes, their bodies merge into one. Stiles doesn't actually see the merge transpire. One second there are two of them, and then the next, there's a single beast of a man, so tall and muscular that he puts Ennis to shame.

Nerves nearly creep in again because the twins joined together like this makes for a very intimidating sight, but Stiles tamps them down and recalls the Nemeton's promise to him that his spark will keep him safe. All he has to do is believe in it.

"We're going to rip you limb from limb!" the hulking man roars.

Stiles braces himself, and then the beast attacks.

Chapter Text

- Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 -

When the twins hit Stiles' forcefield this time, the outcome isn't in Stiles' favour. While they don't actually break through it, the alphas aren't the ones sent flying backward. Stiles hits the ground hard, goes rolling and grunts when his back collides with the side of the Nemeton. He's sure he'll have major bruises from the impact, maybe some splinters, but oddly enough, he only feels a minor twinge of pain. The magic pulsing through his veins must be protecting him. It allows him to get back to his feet without issue, ready to meet whatever the twins' next assault may be.

"We're gonna shatter that stupid thing!" the beast spits.

"Sure you are," Stiles goads them, hiding his worry with sarcasm. It's always been his go-to defence mechanism.

"We'll break your spine in half!"

"Y'know, you've given me all these threats, but I'm not seeing any results. You're all bark, no bite."

The twins' lips twist into a grin, transforming their face into something even uglier. "If you wanted us to bite you, you could've just asked."

Stiles raises his palms, preparing his spark for a stronger forcefield. "Nah, I'm cool being human. Thanks, though."

For the next few minutes, the twins attack Stiles' forcefield with everything they have. Stiles is ready for the force behind their attacks now, so the most that happens is his bare feet skid across the ground like the first time. Still, it's tiring to use so much of his power when he's so new to it. His body isn't used to the effort and is still fighting off exhaustion from being awake for so long and the torture he endured, so he's sure that he won't be able to keep it up forever. He racks his brain for another way to channel his spark. Maybe something offensive this time.

As soon as the thought has entered his mind, the twins reel back their fists and hammer them against the forcefield repeatedly. Stiles feels each blow to his bones, and then, with a final punch into which the twins put their all, the forcefield is no more. Just like they promised, it shatters like glass.

"Told you," the twins say smugly, already advancing on where Stiles is now sitting on his ass.

Before he can react, the twins have a hand around his neck. They lift him up into the air, legs kicking uselessly as they squeeze his throat and cut off his air supply. Stiles bets that they could very easily end this right now and crush his windpipe if they wanted, but they must not because they clearly aren't exerting all of their considerable strength.

Stiles is offended. Do they really not think he merits it, even now? Well…he'll show them.

He glares down into their hate-filled red eyes and clutches their wrist with both hands. It's like gripping warm stone. His lungs are burning for oxygen, so he needs to do something to shock them into dropping him fast. The word 'shock' leads to an idea forming. He imagines that his spark is just that, like a real electrical current flowing through his veins. He visualises it escaping through his palms and—true to the Nemeton's word—imagination becomes reality and purple sparks shoot out of his hands. He crumples to the ground when the twins drop him to leap away in surprise.

"You've got tricks," they growl, shaking their huge shared body.

"You have no idea…" Stiles says around ragged breaths. "Neither do I, but thanks for helping me figure it out."

When he has recovered, Stiles doesn't give his adversary a chance to make another move. He attacks first this time, flinging out his hand and shooting a bolt of electricity at them. They dodge the bolt with a roll, nimble and effortless-looking. A body that large should be ponderous, but the twins make each movement look graceful as Stiles fires off another bolt and then another. Each one leaves scorch marks on the ground or on the bark of trees. Stiles would feel bad about the latter were his life not still in danger, but as it is, he doesn't have time for guilt.

His spark still radiates light in his chest, but the light is getting dimmer with each bolt of electricity he uses. He guesses it's like a battery, and if he depletes it too much, it'll need time to recharge.

With another bolt that misses, Stiles gives up and switches tactics once more. He thinks back to how he'd avoided Ennis earlier in the night and attempts to do it again now.

"What the fuck?" the twins mutter, their eyes going wild as they spin in place.

The dizziness is back, making Stiles' vision blurry, but he pushes through it and walks closer to the brute, his steps slow and ungainly. He makes sure that just enough of his spark is laser-focused on what he knows now is nothing but an illusion.

Stiles isn't actually invisible or soundless. His spark is simply messing with the twins' perception so they can't see, hear or smell him. Even so, he's cautious because something tells him that, while the twins don't currently know where he is, were they to begin throwing punches at thin air, their fists would still connect with his fragile human body. Best to play it safe.

Stiles isn't going to get far with the twins merged like this. If he could come up with a way to separate them, he'd have a much better chance of defeating them.

But how?

As he circles around the twins, he racks his brain for a solution but can't think of one. He gets frustrated with himself, which leads to him foolishly not paying enough attention. He only just manages to avoid a fist as the twins start blindly fighting the air like he thought they might. The sight would be funny at any other time, but the surprise of knuckles coming inches from breaking his nose has Stiles flinging himself backward to get away from them. He lands with his back against the side of the Nemeton, which leads him to a solution he never would've thought of on his own.

He doesn't see an apparition of his mother this time, but he hears the ancient tree speak through her voice directly into his mind:

"Close your eyes," it instructs him.

Stiles does as he is told, putting his trust in the Nemeton once more. It tells him to visualise his spark like a radar and to send pulses of energy out in a blanket over the surrounding area. He is awestruck when he discovers he can sense the auras of everything in the vicinity of the clearing.

They appear in his head like wispy purple smoke. There are a few birds hiding high up in some of the trees and a family of foxes is burrowed in the earth not too far past the tree line to his left, each animal terrified of the powerful beast still battling against nothing mere feet from Stiles' position. But most striking of all are the mangled auras of the twins themselves.

It's the strangest thing. Stiles can see their human forms, again as smoky auras, but if he looks hard enough, he can see further inside to where their wolves reside. One is brighter than the other, less touched by evil. It's docile and cowers in front of the wrath its counterpart displays. Stiles guesses that it belongs to Ethan, which means that the other one, the one that's darker and in control, belongs to Aiden.

"You can pull them out," the Nemeton tells him. "Then they'll be defenceless."

Stiles knows he'll need all of his spark to do what the Nemeton has suggested, which means he'll have to come out of hiding. His eyes still closed so that the auras of the wolves stay in his head, Stiles gets to his feet and drops the illusion.

The noise that was previously in front of him, the grunting and the disturbances of air, cuts off abruptly, and then he hears a growl. It takes all of Stiles' nerve to keep his eyes shut as he senses the twins running full-tilt at him. He flinches when their large hand wraps back around his neck, but instead of lifting him up into the air, the twins slam him flat to the ground, trapping him beneath their significantly bigger body.

"Got you!" the twins seethe, spit landing on Stiles' face.

The human reaches for the merged werewolves, presses his palms to the twins' broad chest and sends his spark inside to where the wolf auras make their home. The one belonging to Aiden fights the magic, snarling and snapping its jaws, but the one belonging to Ethan seems to accept its fate and doesn't struggle as Stiles' magic encapsulates it and tugs.

"What're you doing?!" the twins demand. Stiles is glad to hear panic in their deep voice. "Stop it!"

Just a bit more, Stiles thinks, attempting to get Aiden's wolf under control. The hand around his throat constricts and chokes him again, but it's too late.

Stiles has them.

"No!" the twins scream, collapsing atop Stiles and then rolling sideways.

As all physical contact between them breaks, Stiles maintains the hold he has over the twins' wolves and wrenches them out of their body. They howl in pain before whimpering and curling into trembling balls of smoky fur next to Stiles, not knowing what to do with themselves now that they've been fully parted from their hosts. Stiles turns onto his side and tries to comfort them, figuring that it's not their fault that their hosts did what they did. Aiden's wolf recoils from his touch, but Ethan's peeks at him from behind its tail and doesn't protest when Stiles runs a hand down its flank.

When its whimpering ceases, Stiles props himself up on his elbow and looks to where the twins rolled. He finds them separated, their ability to combine their power taken from them along with their status as werewolves. For all intents and purposes, they're now just as human as Stiles—more so, probably, seeing as they don't have sparks.

They both lie unmoving on the ground, but their chests rise and fall, indicating that they're still alive. Safe with the knowledge that they are no longer a threat to him, Stiles crawls over to them and inspects them. Aiden remains unconscious, though even in sleep he frowns deeply. The same is true for Ethan, but when Stiles touches his arm, Ethan blinks open his eyes and stares blearily around him.

"What…what happened?" he enquires, his voice hoarse as he raises a hand to his forehead.

"I ripped your inner alphas from you," Stiles explains, sitting back on his heels.

"W-what?"

"You can't hurt me anymore."

Ethan sits up and moves his hand down to his chest. His face pales. "I feel so empty, and it's like I can't hear or smell anything. Everything's muted."

"Again, that's because you're human, so your senses are human too," Stiles says, pushing tiredly to his feet.

Ethan watches him sadly. "You're not gonna put it back, are you?"

"I don't know."

Hope appears in the twin's countenance. "So there's a chance? Please, I don't know how to live like this!"

"It depends on you," Stiles says, walking over to sit on the edge of the Nemeton. As soon as he comes into contact with it, he feels it pouring some of its strength into him, replenishing all that he used during his fight with the twins. It rids him of some of his exhaustion as well, like it can tell that he'll need all the energy he can get in order to deal with the remaining three members of the Alpha Pack. When the battery has been recharged, he pats the Nemeton and thanks it.

"What's with you and that old tree?" Ethan asks him. He drags himself over to his brother so that he can cradle Aiden's head in his lap.

"That's not important," Stiles responds, preferring not to get into it right now. "What is, though, is what you would do if I gave you back your wolf."

"I don't know…"

"Your brother was the one in charge, wasn't he?" Stiles presses him. "At least out of the two of you."

"He's always been stronger than me, even when we were betas. So yeah, I guess he has."

"I could tell. When you were together, it was like your wolf was suppressed by his," Stiles says. Although he can't see them anymore, he can still sense the auras of the twins' wolves on the ground.

"He wasn't always like this, y'know," Ethan murmurs, running his fingers through Aiden's hair. "Back when we were betas, the alpha of our old pack was a real bastard. Everyone was afraid of him. Aiden had always seen himself as my protector since he was a few minutes older than me, and he always took the brunt of our old alpha's anger. It was…hopeless. Neither of us could see a way out, short of running away and becoming omegas, and even staying with an abusive alpha was better than that. So we stayed. Then Deucalion came and gave us a lifeline."

Stiles listens intently. He didn't ask for the twins' life story, but he'd be lying if he said he wasn't interested. He wonders briefly if Ethan is just spinning a sad tale in hopes of garnering sympathy from him, but he quickly decides that he's not. Plus, there's the possibility that Ethan will spill some secret that will help him deal with the other alphas.

"It was a test, like an initiation," the newly human boy goes on. "If we could kill our alpha and take his power for ourselves, we could join his pack, and we'd never be weak again."

"And you did it."

"Yes. Aiden and I clawed out our old alpha's throat at the same time so that we both got his power."

"Smart."

"Aiden's idea. Anyway, after that, we joined up with Duke and the others. I've never really liked what he wanted to do, but I owed him, y'know? It didn't feel right to turn my back on him after he saved me."

Stiles recalls the hesitance he has seen in Ethan several times over the past couple days. Ethan hadn't wanted to help Ennis and Kali torture Stiles, and he looked like he hadn't really wanted to combine with Aiden earlier tonight either.

"What does Deucalion do?" Stiles enquires, realising that he still doesn't know the alpha's M.O.

Ethan informs him of how Deucalion has been taking his pack of alphas around the country to recruit others. He either convinces the alpha of each pack to murder their betas and take their power for his or her own, or like with the twins, he convinces a member of the pack to murder their alpha and then the rest of the betas.

Stiles is sickened just hearing about how much blood Ethan has on his hands. Even though Ethan swears that it was Aiden who killed the rest of their pack after they took care of their alpha together, he still let it happen. He's still complicit.

"You must hate me," Ethan says, head bowed.

Stiles snorts. "Well, I definitely don't like you."

"Sorry…"

"It's a bit late for that now, but thanks, I guess. Now, is Deucalion planning on making Derek kill his betas like the others?"

"Yeah."

"Then why take me? This doesn't really add up. I thought you needed me to get information."

Ethan shakes his head. "That was a lie. We had everything we needed already."

"When why me?" Stiles repeats.

"Because we knew the chaos that taking you would cause. It would make your pack frantic to track you down. It'd make them careless. Especially Derek."

"I doubt Derek cares," Stiles whispers, blocking out his memories of that horrible evening in the loft.

"Oh, he would. More than anyone, except your dad."

"You've got that wrong, but whatever. I'm getting bored. Here's what's going to happen now—you're gonna promise me that, if I give you your wolf back, you won't attack me."

Ethan looks up again then. "I promise. I never really wanted to in the first place."

"Right. You were just a doormat who did whatever your brother told you," Stiles says. He refuses to care about being cruel when Ethan flinches. "When I give you back your wolf, you're going to use it to keep your brother from running. When I'm done dealing with the rest of your 'friends', my dad's going to arrest you, and you're going to go quietly to jail like you deserve. Do we have a deal?"

"J-jail?" Ethan stammers.

"It's either that or I let my dad or Chris Argent shoot you."

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Ethan doesn't really have a choice. He nods. "Okay…I'll do it."

"No reneging on our deal, or I'll just take your wolf right back from you. Got it?"

"I've got it."

Stiles gets up from the Nemeton and approaches where he can feel Ethan's wolf. With some coaxing, he draws it over to the twins. "Get ready. I doubt this'll feel nice."

"It didn't feel nice when you took it out. I can handle it. Please."

"Alright."

Stiles touches his hand to Ethan's chest and closes his eyes so that he can better concentrate. After a few seconds, he breaks the chains that are currently keeping wolf and host apart, and in an instant it's returned to its home. When he opens his eyes again, he sees that Ethan has tears running down his cheeks and a smile on his face.

"There," Stiles says as he gets up again. "Remember your promise."

Ethan wipes his face. "I will. Thank you so much."

"Can you hear where Ennis and Kali are?"

Ethan looks around and inhales deeply, both scenting the air and listening for a sign of either of his packmates. "No. They're not close. They must be looking for you somewhere else."

"Guess I've got some more walking to do, then. Great."

"I—" Ethan begins, but he cuts himself off.

"What?" Stiles prompts.

"I could come with you."

"And why would I want that?"

"Because you'd stand a better chance if you didn't face them alone. I…I want to help you."

Stiles peers down into Ethan's face and sees no trace of guile. "Why?"

"I know there's nothing I can do to make up for everything I've done, but helping you would make up for some of it."

"I'm not changing my mind about you and your brother going to jail."

"That doesn't matter. I still want to help."

Stiles purses his lips and weighs the pros and cons. He still doesn't believe that Ethan will go back on his word, but he can't rule out the slim chance that he's wrong. It seems stupid to take that chance. On the other hand, what Ethan said about having an ally makes sense.

"Okay. You can come," Stiles concludes.

Ethan breathes a sigh of relief.

"But you do exactly as I say, when I say it," Stiles decrees.

"I can do that. I'm used to taking orders, remember?"

Stiles looks down at Aiden. "Unbuckle his belt and tie his hands with it. We're bringing him with us, and I don't want him making a run for it."

Once Ethan has done that, he picks his twin up in a fireman's carry, barely feeling his weight because of his supernatural strength. "I'm ready."

Stiles turns to where he can sense Aiden's wolf still curled up on the ground. When he gets close to it, it doesn't react until he places a hand on its head. Raising it, the wolf regards him distrustfully.

"Wanna come with me too?" Stiles offers it.

"Who're you talking to?" Ethan asks him, baffled.

"Aiden's wolf."

"I don't see anything."

"Hold on."

With a small bit of his magic, Stiles wills Aiden's wolf into corporeal form. It transforms from purple smoke into a flesh-and-blood animal, its fur the same brown as Aiden's hair.

"Wow," Ethan says, tilting his head to the side. "That's pretty fucking cool."

"Thanks. Okay, c'mon. We've got some ground to cover, and I want to end this tonight, before Deucalion can give Derek his 'offer'."

With that, Stiles leads the way with Ethan just behind him. Aiden's wolf trots at his side.