Derek raced past Peter and Laura, kicking up snow and snorting the powdery fluff out of his nose.
Cora snapped her teeth at his flank, making him skid through the snow to the left and nearly plow into a tree. She coughed a laugh and skipped away when he tried to bite her foreleg.
Laura and her wife Clara were ahead, keeping pace with Talia; Laura was eight months pregnant and had only been permitted to run with them on the condition that she kept out of the rough housing that usually accompanied pack runs.
Derek pounced on Cora’s back, using her flank as a springboard to leap onto Nick.
He yelped, all four legs going in different directions as Derek’s considerable bulk flattened him. He twisted enough to dig teeth into Derek’s foreleg, but he didn’t pull back. He whined loudly, high pitched around his mouthful of leg.
Derek growled and bit the scruff of his neck, giving him a hard shake until he let go. He climbed off him and sat in front of his snout, huffing smugly.
Cora crept up behind Nick, her belly almost touching the snow. Her eyes danced. She lunged and snapped her teeth around his tail.
He yowled and shot straight into the air; his paws actually left the ground as he spun to snap at her.
She danced back.
Nick tackled her, growling and snarling as much as he could. He’d been putting up better fights lately, but he was still the youngest of the four of them, and had never managed to get the upper hand.
Derek watched them wrestling eagerly, pacing back and forth.
His cousin Layla pounced on Cora’s back, only to get knocked aside by Nick. She skidded to Derek’s side. She rolled onto her stomach and whined loudly, annoyed they wouldn’t play with her.
Derek nudged her to her feet and lowered his front legs, keeping his tail in the air. He mouthed at her leg, not quite biting.
She was only fourteen, had only just started joining the older kids in the play fighting instead of tagging along with her parents, so he figured he’d go easy on her.
A few yards away, Peter and his sister Marissa were wrestling while Talia watched. Grant, Marissa’s husband, was chasing Bryan, Derek’s father.
Derek felt a rush of affection for his family and sighed, content.
Layla tackled him, her teeth digging into his shoulder so hard she drew blood. She yelped louder than he did, scrambling back and tripping over her own legs. She whined and crawled toward him on her belly, licking at the wound tentatively.
Derek snorted and nudged her back. The wound healed up on its own within seconds. He wagged his tail at her to let her know he wasn’t upset.
He managed one, halting step toward her when the air became charged. The fur on his back rose; he saw Cora and Nick’s doing the same. He turned in a circle, looking for the cause.
Peter went still, one paw on Grant’s chest, ears tipped forward. His entire body went tense.
Derek’s lip pulled back, baring his fangs. He felt Cora step up behind him, blocking Nick and Layla.
Something popped; the woods filled with the scent of ozone and blood.
A man stood in front of Derek, three feet away. He had blood on his mouth, throat, and left arm. He blinked at Derek but he looked more dazed than afraid. He grinned, baring bloodied teeth, held up two fingers, and rasped, “Hey,” in a voice that sounded like it hadn’t been used in weeks, before collapsing straight down in a dead faint.
Derek growled when Nick tried to creep forward. He bumped him back with his shoulder. He snarled when he tried to go around him again.
Cora whined and nudged Nick behind her, ignoring his irritated huffing and stamping.
Derek stepped forward, ignoring Peter’s warning growl, and bumped his nose against the man’s leg, but he didn’t move. Relaxing slightly, he sniffed. Fresh blood made his nose wrinkle. He shuddered and shifted back to his skin. He checked the man’s throat first, but the blood there was only smeared, most likely from his mouth.
Around him, the family had shifted back, too, and while he could hear them arguing, he wasn’t listening to the particulars.
He turned the man’s chin and checked his teeth—human, no fangs in sight. He moved on to the guy’s left arm, rolling the sleeve up until he found the source of the fresh blood. It was coming from a ragged wound on the tender flesh of his inner arm.
The man started shivering, but didn’t wake.
“Derek, take him to the house,” Talia called.
He looked up.
She was standing in front of Laura and Nick, while Peter and Marissa were blocking Layla and Warren.
“Talia, we can’t!” Peter snapped. “He’s a stranger.”
Rona stepped closer, inhaling sharply. “Derek, pick him up and take him to a second floor guest room.”
Derek shrugged and scooped him up.
“Mom, the kids,” Marissa blurted anxiously.
Rona looked them over. “Laura, Clara, why don’t you take Layla, Warren, and Nicky out for some hot chocolate and lunch?”
“Grandma!” Nick protested. “I’m nineteen, I’m not a baby-”
“Oh, and I am?” Warren snapped.
“Boys,” Grant intoned.
“Nick, I need you to come with,” Laura said. “I’m too tired to walk around with everyone.” She grimaced and rested a hand on the swell of her stomach. They all knew it was an act, but they were all also mush when it came to the baby.
Nick sighed. “Fine,” he muttered.
“Derek, go take him inside,” Talia said.
“This is stupid. No.” Peter moved to block Derek’s path.
Talia caught him by the scruff of his neck and knocked him to the snow. “Stop that. Derek, now. Go with him, Cora,” she added. Her fangs were already out again, eyes flashing.
“Just let them fight it out, love,” Bennett said casually.
The air filled with snarls and snapping jaws.
Marissa sighed, too.
Derek shrugged at Cora and headed back to the house. He tried to keep the guy tucked in close to him, to warm him up, but he was worried about hurting his injured arm, too.
“Where’d he come from?” Cora opened the door for him, wiping her feet on the mat automatically.
“Thin air, as far as I can tell.” He wiped his own feet, too.
“I’ll get you some clothes.”
“Him, too, and some towels, if you can, please.”
Derek chose the guest room furthest from the stairs for the moment. He set the guy on the bed and carefully stripped his wet, stained sweatshirt off. He stepped back; the guy looked pretty beat up.
He appeared badly dehydrated; he had dark circles under sunken eyes, and his lips, beneath the blood, looked chapped.
Derek couldn’t help that while he was unconscious, so he focused on his other problems.
The ragged wound wasn’t alone. All up his forearm were similar wounds in various stages of healing. It looked like someone with blunt teeth had been biting him.
Derek’s gaze snapped up to the guy’s blood stained mouth. “What the hell…”
Cora was approaching, muttering to herself about the laundry; she threw the door open. “Here, get dressed. If he wakes up and finds some naked guy hovering over him, he might freak out.” She’d thrown on sweats and a hoodie already; she had a pile of cloth in her hands.
Derek accepted the shirt and pants she’d brought him. “Could you get a bowl of water or something? And maybe some peroxide?” He pulled the shirt over his head. “If we have any.”
“We have rubbing alcohol from Andrew and Sophie’s kids, will that work?” She set the other things on the bed, next to the guy’s leg. She glanced dubiously at the wound.
“Uh, sure. They used it for the kids’ skinned knees, so it should be fine.”
Cora nodded and left to get it.
Derek used one of the towels she’d brought to dry off the man’s feet; they were bare and bright pink from the cold. He wondered where his shoes had gone, where he’d come from…why he’d been biting himself.
He observed his features, his bony, somehow delicate joints, the slight upturn at the tip of his nose, and tried to judge whether he’d be dangerous when he woke.
Cora returned with a bowl of water and the bottle of rubbing alcohol. She set both on the nightstand. “Need any help?”
“Maybe. Let me get the blood cleaned up, first.” He wet one of the towels and started with his throat. He paused when all the blood was off, towel hovering. “Hey, Cora,” he said as calmly as he could, “what does that look like to you?”
She leaned round his shoulder and hissed in sympathy. “Like a burn.” She moved closer. “Like a really…intricate burn.”
Outside, Peter’s voice raised enough for Derek to hear that he was still arguing against keeping the guy around.
The burn looked like spellwork, actually, burned into his skin. Derek tried to be gentle as he wiped the blood away, but it had seeped into the curving lines of the symbol and was proving hard to remove.
Downstairs, a door slammed open as the rest of the pack trooped into the house to get dressed and go wherever Rona and Talia had decided was best.
Derek moved on to his mouth, wiping blood from his lips, chin, and jaw.
‘Huh,” Cora said. “He’s kinda cute when he doesn’t look deranged.”
“He looks sick,” Derek said flatly, so he didn’t have to agree with her.
He looked young, too, maybe Nick’s age, or Cora’s, if he was being generous.
“Whatever.” She prodded his arm. “Wonder what happened.”
Derek grunted noncommittally and set to wiping blood off the wound. He checked the guy’s face frequently, but he didn’t so much as twitch. He frowned, but reasoned that this was probably due to dehydration.
“Here.” Cora opened the alcohol bottle for him. “Looks nasty.”
He took the bottle, wrinkling his nose at the scent. He looked at the bottle, then at the wound, and shrugged. He poured it over the wound.
The guy jack knifed up into sitting position. “What the fuck!”
Derek’s hands flew up automatically, sloshing more alcohol on the man.
He jerked his arm in protectively, his unfocused gaze falling first on Cora, then Derek. “Who…who…” His eyes fluttered and he slumped backwards.
Derek looked at Cora.
She raised her brows. “Okay.”
“Go get him some water, please.”
She stuck her tongue out at him as she left.
Derek got to work changing him out of his wet, bloody clothes, and into the sweats and sweatshirt Cora had grabbed from the dryer. He figured being changed by a stranger was better than being hypothermic, and worked briskly.
He was just finishing getting his ridiculously long legs into the sweats when Peter walked in.
“I have water,” he said sourly. He lifted the pitcher and glass he was carrying.
“I asked Cora to bring it.” He pulled the sweats up and huffed. He could only imagine how the shirt was going to go. “Thanks. You can set it over here.”
Peter crossed the room slowly, his gaze locked on the man.
“I thought you liked magic.”
“So I should automatically trust magical strangers who appear on our property? Of course.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Just set the water down. The guy can’t even sit up.”
Peter scoffed and slapped both pitcher and cup on the nightstand. “He’s older than I thought.” His gaze roved over the man’s bare chest.
“Jesus, Peter,” he muttered. He got to work putting the sweatshirt over the guy’s head.
“He could be dangerous.” He stayed back, arms crossed.
Derek tipped his head, listening as Laura grumbled and grunted her way into the car. Layla and Warren were bickering, and Nick was talking to Clara about where they should go. Doors slammed, an engine revved, and wheels crunched over gravel.
“Peter!” Talia snapped. “They’re gone.”
“So get down here and help with dinner.”
He made a face. “She only wants my help because she can’t cook,” he muttered.
Rona said, “Peter Bennett Hale, get your tail down here now.”
He cast one last suspicious look at the guy before leaving the room. He was probably going to argue with Talia some more.
Derek was more than happy to stay up here and out of the way of the shouting. He and Laura used to fight like that, but they’d mellowed when they got older. Now it was Nick and Cora at each other’s throats all the time.
Derek sighed; he was pretty sure the wound on the guy’s arm should be bandaged, but they didn’t have anything like that on hand. He settled for wrapping one of the hand towels Cora had brought around it. It was still bleeding a little; he wondered if that was normal.
He shrugged and picked up the bowl of bloody water. If it was still bleeding later, he would look up what could be done about it. He turned to take the bowl to the bathroom.
A harsh, rasping gasp made him freeze. The man’s eyes fluttered open. He launched himself to his feet, running before Derek could stop him.
He waited, blinking as the man hurled himself at top speed through the first door he found. Derek pursed his lips and set the bowl back down, in exchange for the glass of water Peter had brought. “Hey,” he said in as low and soothing a tone he could manage. He walked toward the closet where the man had hurled himself, making sure he was seen and heard. “I’ve got some water here, if you want some.”
Wide, terrified brown eyes flicked up at him. He was breathing harshly, like his short journey had exhausted him.
Derek held the glass out.
After a moment of suspicious glaring, he snatched the cup. He sniffed at it before drinking.
Someone who’d been lost wouldn’t run from help, wouldn’t check for poison in water.
Someone who had been held captive might.
“There’s more.” He gestured toward the pitcher. “You look like you could use some more.” He stepped back so he wasn’t crowding him.
The man stood, wobbling slightly, and stumbled for the bed.
“I’m Derek,” he said carefully, pouring more water into the glass. He watched as he guzzled down that one, too, and poured a little less the third time.
Peter was coming up the stairs, having slipped away from Rona.
Derek considered locking the door, but figured he’d just snap the lock and come in anyway.
He stepped in already glaring. “This is private property that you wandered onto.”
The man swallowed his next gulp of water. “Sorry,” he mumbled. He was clearly more afraid of Peter than Derek; he’d shifted almost unconsciously closer to him, keeping his face turned away.
Derek glowered at Peter. “It isn’t a big deal.” He looked at the guy. “What’s your name?”
“Stiles,” he muttered.
“Stiles should be more careful,” Peter said forcefully. “It was a big deal, since he almost ran into our dogs.”
Derek scoffed at the implication. The guy had fainted immediately. There was no way he’d seen any of them shift.
Stiles was staring at Peter with tired, sunken eyes. “I did magic to get here. I know you’re werewolves.”
Peter’s eyes flashed as he snarled.
Stiles cringed a little, but was clearly too tired to do more than that.
“Where did you come from?” Derek asked quickly. “Why’d you come here?”
“Why were you biting yourself?”
He stiffened, then sighed. “I had to.” He closed his hand around the freshest wound. “I needed the blood for a spell.”
“Blood magic?” Peter turned wary, reaching out a hand to drag Derek away.
“It’s different; it was my own blood.” He touched fingertips to the burn on his throat. “My voice was taken away, so it was my only choice if I wanted to get out.”
“What did the spell do?”
“It took me to where I’d be safest.” He shook his head. “Couldn’t go home, my dad is human. The spell brought me to the next closest, safest place.”
“I’ve never heard of a blood spell like that.”
He glared, drawing himself up. “Using your own blood makes the magic and intentions purer, protective. Go look it up, if you know so much.”
“I will.” He glared, too, and swept out of the room.
Derek blinked. “Wow. I’m going to have to remember that. I’ve never been able to get rid of him so quickly,” he explained.
Stiles smiled a little, licking his chapped lips.
“Oh, here.” Derek poured him more water.
“Thank you.” He took a slow drink. “Could, um, could you tell me what day it is?”
“It’s the seventeenth.”
He jerked, fumbling the glass.
Derek lunged to catch it before it could hit the floor; Stiles scrambled back, cringing, as he caught it.
“You’re sure it’s the seventeenth? Of December?” he asked briskly, as if pretending he hadn’t flinched would erase the moment.
“Yes. If I had my phone, I’d show you.”
He yanked a hand through his hair, looking shaken up. “Gods, the seventeenth. That must’ve been her plan,” he muttered, almost to himself. “She was going to kill me in three days.”
He looked at Derek, eyes shuttering. “No one,” he mumbled.
Derek set the cup on the nightstand and straightened up. He didn’t want to be a dick, but if his pack was in danger, well, he would be. Anyone being a jerk was nicer than Peter being Peter, he reasoned, so he let his face half-shift, fangs and all, and lunged forward. He slammed his hand into the headboard next to Stiles’s face, snarling and baring fangs. “If someone is after you, you just endangered my pack, my family. We deserve to know who it is,” he growled.
Stiles’s heart hammered so loud Derek almost couldn’t hear it when he hummed, quiet and slow in his throat. His eyes flared bright green.
Derek flew off his feet, his shift melting away as he slammed into the wall opposite the bed.
Stiles stood. “I wasn’t trying to lead anyone here.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “She doesn’t want your pack—just me.”
“What was that?”
Before Derek could try again, Cora came in. “Good morning, sunshine.” She had a sleeve of crackers in hand. “Mom says you shouldn’t intimidate guests, even magical ones, and that Peter is a bad influence.”
“I heard that!” Peter shouted from somewhere downstairs.
She shrugged and tossed the crackers on the bed. “What’s on your throat?”
He slowly sat down on the edge of the bed. He ripped open the crackers. “It’s a silencing curse. My…the person who had me took away my voice.”
“So I couldn’t do spells.” He carefully took a cracker out, but he didn’t eat it.
“Are they like Harry Potter spells?” she asked eagerly.
He smiled briefly. “No, there aren’t any magic words. Spells are…sounds.” His face flushed a little. “Humming and whistling are the most common ways to do magic. I never…I mean, I can’t whistle. I never figured it out, which was why I was such an easy target. Can’t do magic if I have no voice.” He stared down at his lap, reeking of shame and fear.
Cora pretended not to notice. “That’s so cool. Can you show me?”
His lips twitched up again. He held a hand out and hummed something quick and sweet, a tune Derek found strange but pleasant. A yellow rose bloomed in his palm, the stem curling out between his fingers. He held it out to her.
She took it, running her fingers over the edges of the petals. “It’s real,” she said with some surprise.
He smiled for real, a wide, happy thing that had Derek struck by how attractive he was, when he didn’t look hunted. “Of course it’s real!”
“Cora,” Talia said from the bottom of the stairs, “please come down here. Derek, stay up there. I’m coming to ask some questions.”
Cora sighed. “Well, see you later,” she said with a limp wave. She carried the rose with her, still admiring it as she left.
“Your sister is nice.”
“How’d you know she was my sister?”
Stiles made a gesture around his head. “Your auras. Siblings have a specific color around each other. Affection and annoyance at once, or something.”
Talia stepped into the room.
It was strange; there was no way for Stiles to know she was an alpha, the way another werewolf would have, but he reacted as if he did anyway. He immediately closed his mouth and straightened his shoulders, dropping his gaze respectfully and waiting.
“Mom, this is Stiles,” Derek said, though she’d most likely heard already. “Stiles, this is my alpha, Talia Hale.”
“Hale.” He repeated it like a prayer.
She lifted a brow. “Have we met?”
“No, but we’ve probably passed each other. I’m Stiles Stilinski.”
“Like Sheriff Stilinski? From Beacon Hills?”
He nodded. “That explains why my spell brought me here.” He plucked at his borrowed shirt. “Look, I really didn’t intend to endanger anyone. She’ll kill my dad if I go back to him.”
“So you won’t go back,” Talia said simply. “You need to tell us what’s going on. We can’t help if we don’t know what happened.”
He hesitated, then nodded slowly. “She took me to drain my magic for herself on the winter solstice.”
“On the twenty-first?”
He nodded again. “I knew that was probably her deadline, so I was desperate to get away the closer it got.” He held up his left arm, shaking his sleeve back. “I saved up blood until I had enough for the blood spell to get me out.”
“How’d you preserve the blood?”
“I’m good at freezing stuff, even without doing spells.” He glanced at the mostly empty water pitcher; the water inside froze solid. “All I had to do was keep it frozen until I had enough.” He thumbed the older bites. “I didn’t have anything sharp, she wouldn’t risk it, so…”
“You bit yourself.”
He shrugged. “I improvised. I figured the ugly scars would be better than being dead.”
Talia nodded. “I see.” She looked around and took a deep breath. “This place has protections, but not very powerful ones. She’ll be able to track you eventually.”
Terror washed through the room, so strong and quick that Derek’s heart started pounding automatically.
“Now that I can do magic again, I can beef up the security,” he rasped.
Derek wondered what he wasn’t telling them about the time his kidnapper had had him. “How did that happen?” he asked. “If she silenced you, how’d you…how can you talk?”
“By the time I was doing my blood spell, I was too exhausted to do anything anyway, but the blood spell must have cleansed the curse while carrying me here.” He glared at his hands. “I tried using a little blood to get rid of the curse at first, but it never worked.”
“There wasn’t enough blood,” Talia said. She studied him. “You should rest more before you try any magic again.” She must have suspected he wasn’t telling them something, too, but she just went on, “I’ll have someone bring up some food, so you can regain your strength.” She looked at Derek before leaving the room, her expression unreadable.
“How long did she have you?” he asked, listening to Talia pause on the steps.
“Today’s the seventeenth? She…the…” He rubbed his eyes. “I was at school last on the sixth. She must’ve grabbed me then.”
“Did you know her?”
Stiles nodded. “She was posing as a substitute.” He finished his cracker and grabbed another.
Derek shuffled his feet. “Sorry for, um, for earlier.”
He smiled briefly. “Then I’m sorry for throwing you.”
Derek nodded. “You’re in school? How old are you?”
“Just some light classes. I’m twenty-three,” he added with a smirk. “I plan on doing something with magic, which colleges don’t exactly have courses for, so I’m taking a mixed bag of useful classes. Or I was. I’ve missed…several.” He grimaced, looking haunted.
“I’m sure they won’t fail you for getting kidnapped.” Derek lowered himself to the floor and sat cross-legged, because it was uncomfortable looming over him.
“Heh, yeah,” Stiles mumbled, and went silent.
Peter brought up some food and the message that Talia wanted him downstairs, so, reluctantly, he left Stiles under Peter’s care.
Talia, Bryan, Rona, and Bennett were waiting in the kitchen.
“He was being held captive by another witch,” Talia said. “I think he’s young, hurt, and needs help.”
“Doesn’t negate the fact that him being here is dangerous for us,” Bryan said. “We’ve got Laura to think about, plus the kids.”
“He hasn’t threatened anyone, but he might bring danger here.” Rona lifted her hands.
“He’s the son of the sheriff from our town.” Talia rubbed her eyes. “I’ve dealt with Sheriff Stilinski before. He’s a good man.”
“So you think we should help him?”
“What if he goes after one of us? Laura?”
“He won’t.” Derek winced when they looked at him. “I don’t think he would. He seemed happy when he realized we were werewolves. He doesn’t think his kidnapper will bother us.”
“He liked Cora,” Talia added with a smile. “He’s afraid of Peter, he respects me. He’s not sure what to make of Derek.”
“He hasn’t felt threatened yet,” Bennett concluded.
“He felt threatened by me,” Derek put in. “I scared him.”
“He flinched.” Talia nodded.
“But still—you’d been taking care of him until that point. Let’s see what he does when someone he doesn’t know threatens him.” Bennett straightened his shoulders. As far as werewolves went, Derek had yet to meet one as intimidating in appearance as his grandfather. He was broad shouldered and muscular, with powerful arms and a stern resting face. On top of that, he stood at six and a half feet tall.
“Grandpa, I don’t think-”
“Let him go,” Rona said. She wasn’t keen on macho intimidation tactics, which she referred to as a disease of humanity, but she liked to let the men figure out they were being dumb themselves.
Bennett went for the stairs.
“He’s a witch,” Derek whispered. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to freak him out.”
“Hmm.” Rona didn’t look inclined to share her opinion on the matter.
“Where’s Aunt Marissa and Uncle Grant?”
“Checking the perimeter.” Bryan leaned against the counter, his shoulder pressing into Derek’s. He looked exasperated.
Upstairs, a door slammed open. “Dad, what-” Peter began.
Bennett roared. Stomping feet, then a bang! He yelped and the walls shook.
Derek ran for the stairs, tailed by Talia and Rona.
Bennett had plaster dust all over him; he’d gone partially through the wall across the hall from the guest room. “Non-lethal energy bolt,” he grumbled.
Derek looked in the guest room.
Stiles was swaying but on his feet, wide eyed and heaving for breath.
“Sorry,” Derek said quickly, crossing to him. He elbowed Peter out of the way and gently eased Stiles back onto the bed. “I’m sorry. They wanted to see if you were a threat to us. They won’t do that again.” He rubbed his shoulders automatically, feeling the chill through the sweatshirt.
Stiles’s gaze was dazed and empty, turned toward the door but clearly not seeing.
“Serves you right,” Rona said. “Scaring that boy like that. You’ll be fixing the wall, too.”
Derek stepped toward them, intending to close the door. Something tugged on his shirt, stopping him. He glanced back.
Stiles was gripping the edge of his shirt. He slowly lifted his eyes to meet his gaze.
Derek sat beside him on the bed. He stayed until he stopped shivering.
Cora, Peter, and Derek moved their stuff to the second floor that night. They were the best options, just in case anything went wrong. Plus, Stiles was most comfortable with Derek and Cora, and even Peter, to some extent.
Derek was walking back to his and Cora’s shared room from the bathroom when a small, wounded sound stopped him. He listened for a moment, then followed the noise to Stiles’s guest room.
He was asleep but restless, muffling cries into his pillow. He was curled up in a tight, protective ball. When he clamped down on another cry, Derek went to the bed and shook his shoulder.
“Hey, wake up. It’s okay, you’re just dreaming,” he whispered, rubbing his shoulder with his thumb.
Stiles shuddered and woke, opening eyes still streaming tears. “S-sorry,” he stammered. “Sorry, I was just…”
“Dreaming.” Derek looked around. “Do you want me to stay?”
He wiped his face. “No. Thanks.” He sat up and pulled his knees to his chest.
“I’m going to stay.” He sat on the floor, leaning back against the wall.
Stiles huffed but didn’t say anything at first. He picked at his sleeve, sighed, and said, “You could ask.”
“It isn’t my business.”
He glared at him.
He sighed and flopped backwards.
“If you want to talk about it, be my guest.”
He lifted his head just enough to glare again. “I feel stupid.”
He grumbled incoherently. “She used magic to torture me,” he said to the ceiling. “So she didn’t actually hurt me, but…it hurt.” He laid his palm flat on his chest. “She wanted to test my magic before she took it. Get a…a taste of it. So she tortured me to bring it to the surface and it just…feels like I didn’t really get away.”
“I’m sure that’s normal after an event like that.”
He nodded. “I guess.” He swallowed loudly. “I didn’t mean to…endanger your pack. I thought the spell would take me to other witches or something.”
“How could you know? You were just trying to survive. We like survivors.” Derek certainly did. He liked that this lanky, exhausted guy in front of him was a fighter, had gotten himself out when he saw no escape. It was just the wolf in him, he guessed, to appreciate people who fought and clawed for their right to live.
Stiles sat up. “She had me for days.”
“You still got out, by yourself, after all that.”
After a long moment of silence, he asked, “Where are we?”
“Oregon. My grandparents live here.”
“Not with the pack?”
Derek smiled. “No. The pack house was getting a little cramped, so they moved here. Now there’s two pack houses; the rest of us use this one during the holiday season.”
Stiles nodded. “Your grandfather was the alpha before your mother?”
“Nope, my grandmother.” He flashed a grin. “Size doesn’t mean much with us. Plus, Grandpa’s a teddy bear. Grandma’s the scary one.”
“Hmph.” Stiles clearly didn’t agree.
Derek shrugged, since that was fair.
After a while, Stiles started talking about his classes, his friends, a little about his father.
Derek wasn’t sure when he’d drifted off. He woke with Stiles’s head pillowed on his leg, curled up under a blanket he must’ve dragged from the bed.
Derek yawned fiercely and gathered him up. The sun hadn’t quite risen, so the room was still pretty dark. He stood, wincing as his stiff muscles stretched, and took Stiles and the blanket to the bed.
Stiles whimpered as he set him down.
Derek rubbed his face and crawled onto the far side of the bed. He was too tired to worry about awkwardness or whatever rules there were about sharing a bed with a stranger.
The next time he woke, Stiles had curled up against his side in his sleep; the sun had fully risen. He didn’t move for a moment, just breathing.
Downstairs, Laura was convincing Uncle Grant to make his specialty French toast to go with breakfast, and Warren and Layla were arguing over who forgot to shut off the Xbox the night before.
Derek inhaled slowly. He had always liked this part of holiday season, everyone crammed together with nothing more pressing than recipes to worry about. Members of other parts of the family—Bryan’s sister Sophie and her family, Grant’s three younger siblings, even Rona’s brother and his grandkids—would pop in now and again for a visit, and it always felt…good. Crowded and noisy but just where he wanted to be.
Stiles grumbled in his sleep, rubbing his cheek against Derek’s shoulder unconsciously.
A powerful surge of want had his stomach swooping. It wasn’t even physical, though he did find Stiles attractive; it was this: waking up with someone all warm and comforting beside him, with his pack just downstairs.
He sighed and gently nudged Stiles away.
He opened his eyes slowly, shooting Derek a groggily confused look.
He couldn’t help smiling. “Well, I’m sure it’ll get better once we go downstairs. My uncle is making French toast and there will definitely be bacon. Possibly pancakes.”
Stiles rubbed his cheek against the pillow. “Mm, I prefer waffles.”
He laughed, looking shocked at the sound.
“Come on, we’ll feed you.”
He sat up, yawning and running a hand through his hair. “How many people are here?” He looked wary.
Derek grimaced. “Oh, about thirteen, plus me.” He held up a hand. “My parents, my older sister and her wife, my two younger siblings. My mom’s younger sister Marissa and her husband and two kids. My uncle Peter, who you met yesterday, and my grandparents.” He smiled weakly.
“No pressure,” he muttered.
“You’ve met Peter and survived. Everyone else is cake.”
Stiles didn’t look convinced.
Everyone was still in pajamas when they got downstairs. They pretended not to notice them, which Derek appreciated. Stiles’s nerves were thick enough to choke on, so crowding him probably wasn’t a good idea.
“Good morning,” Talia said, brushing a hand over Derek’s head as she passed with a platter of eggs.
Nick came pounding in the backdoor, scattering snow all over the kitchen floor.
“Nick!” Bennett boomed.
Stiles shrank behind Derek.
“Wipe your feet!”
“Sorry, Grandpa,” he said breathlessly. “But look what I found!” He waved a piece of damp paper around with one hand while messing with his phone with the other.
Talia snagged the paper.
Derek leaned over to look at it. “Oh.”
It was a missing person flyer, for one Mieczysław Stilinski. There was a picture of Stiles in the center and several phone numbers below asking to be called if anyone had any information about his location.
Stiles made a low wounded sound. “My dad is probably so freaked out, this is awfu-”
“Nick,” Derek barked. “Hang up. Hang up your phone.”
“But it says-”
“Hang up the phone!” Cora shouted.
“We know wh-”
“Hang up,” Talia ordered.
Nick hung up on the third ring, looking confused. “What’s the problem? We found him, he’s missing, he just said his dad-”
“Is human,” Talia said. “He could get hurt. For now, we don’t contact him.”
Stiles sagged with relief. “Thank you.”
“Where did you find this?”
“Well, there were a lot of them scattered everywhere when I was walking around.”
Bryan pinched the bridge of his nose. “Where were you walking around?”
“Just past the edge of the property. They were all over Edgewood drive.”
He sighed. “Nick, we asked you to stop wandering off the property without telling us where you were going.”
He shrugged. “Sorry.”
Derek rolled his eyes and led Stiles to the table.
Breakfast, even with a guest to put them on their best behavior, was chaos. Layla and Nick had both decided that Stiles was the most fascinating person they’d ever met and spent most of the meal chattering at him, until the food was gone.
Stiles didn’t seem to mind.
“But how do you know what song to hum for each different spell?” Layla asked.
“We have to learn them from books. Really, really old books.” He wrinkled his nose. “It’s not too bad.”
“Can you show me?”
He smiled. “Sure.” His gaze flicked around, stopping on the chandelier above them. He held his right hand out, palm up, and began to hum. It was a sweet, high pitched melody that lasted longer than the other spells Derek had witnessed him do. The lights flickered and shifted.
While they watched, the glow of the light flowed out of the fixture like a liquid, pooling in his palm.
Layla’s jaw dropped.
“Oh, cool. Can I touch it?” Nick asked, already reaching out.
“It’s hot, hang on.” Stiles touched a fingertip to Nick’s palm and hummed again, low and gentle. Then he poured the light into Nick’s hand.
He laughed delightedly, making Derek smile.
Bryan sighed from the kitchen. “Those were brand new bulbs.”
Stiles winced. “I can put it back,” he mumbled, flushing.
“Dad, come look at this, it’s so cool.” Nick grinned at Stiles. “Do you have to put it back?”
“Ah…no, but it would fade eventually.” He smirked and hummed again.
The light began moving, forming shapes from Nick’s cupped palms.
Stiles sat back in his seat, looking pleased.
Derek smiled at him, grinning wider when he flushed.
Cora returned from doing her portion of the dishes. “Oh, cool. Man.” She made a face. “I wish I could do magic.”
Talia sighed from the living room.
“You can,” Stiles announced.
The whole house fell quiet.
“Uh…what do you mean?” Derek asked gently, wondering if Stiles had hit his head at all.
Stiles smirked and held his hands out. The light in Layla and Nick’s hands shot back up to the chandelier. “Come here. I’ll show you.”
Cora put her hands behind her back. “Show me what?”
“How you can do magic. It’s okay. It won’t hurt.” He held his hands out.
She glanced at Nick, who nodded eagerly, before sighing and approaching. She eyed him warily before putting her hands in his.
He smiled and flipped her hands over so they rested palms up on his. “Okay, just hum this.” He went high, then low sharply, followed by a slow rise to high again for three seconds.
Cora looked slightly panicked. “But I can’t sing—or hold a tune.”
“That’s okay. Just do what I did.”
She nodded. “Okay.” She blew out a breath and inhaled slowly.
Stiles nodded encouragingly at her.
She started humming. It was off-key but otherwise mimicked the sound Stiles had made. Sparks shot into the air, just above their heads, pink and green and yellow. They twinkled and fell, disappearing like fireworks.
Stiles hummed again; orange, blue, and gold shot up.
Cora laughed and hummed, too: purple sparks joined Stiles’s. “Oh, my god! I did that?”
“I did magic?!”
“Can I go next?” Layla asked eagerly, elbowing Cora out of the way.
“He isn’t an amusement park ride,” Laura snapped. “Clara, can you bring me some oranges?” she asked sweetly.
Stiles, who looked pale, winked at Layla and held out a ball of light to her. “Throw it at your brother,” he whispered.
Delighted, she cupped her hands protectively around the ball and ran to find him.
“That was either really mean, or really nice,” Derek said. “I can’t decide.”
“It’s just the magical equivalent of a snowball. It won’t hurt him, no matter how hard she throws it.” His eyes were a little glassy, like he’d overexerted himself.
“Come on, you should lay down.”
He shook his head. “I’m fine.”
“You’re exhausted again.”
Derek crossed his arms.
“He’s an adult, Derek,” Laura muttered. “Can someone get me an ice pack? I’m hot. I’m melting.”
Stiles grinned and stood. He waved Clara off before she could go back to the kitchen. He followed her to the living room.
Derek lifted his brows and followed a pace behind.
Laura was stretched out on the couch; her hair was indeed clinging to her temples with sweat. “Hey.” She grinned weakly. “I’d say I’m usually much nicer than this, but that would be a lie. I’m more consistent usually, though.”
“That’s okay. I’m not usually very nice either.” He held a hand out. “I heard you needed cooling off.”
She lifted a brow.
He wiggled his hand.
She lifted her own. Her brows flew up when they touched. “Oh my god.” She grabbed both his hands and pressed them to her cheeks. “Oh my god,” she moaned.
Clara laughed. “Alright then. Here’s your oranges, babe.”
Derek snorted. “I’ll go get you some ice water.”
“Uh-huh,” she mumbled distractedly.
He shook his head and went to the kitchen.
Peter was leaning against the island, arms crossed. “Should we be letting him near Laura?” he muttered. “In her condition?”
“She’s pregnant, Peter, not terminal. Plus, Mom’s out there. She isn’t going to let anything happen.” Derek hunted down the lid for Laura’s favorite cup.
“Something bad is going to happen.” Peter shook his head. “This is a terrible idea.”
“Go take a walk. I think you need some air.”
He scoffed and went to the living room.
Derek finished making Laura’s drink, thinking about it. Peter usually had a good reason to be paranoid, but he trusted Stiles.
Talia liked him, which was normally enough for him anyway, but in this case, his gut was enough, too. Stiles wasn’t there to hurt them.
Derek ended up in Stiles’s room again that night. “You’re safe here,” he whispered, holding onto him as he sobbed unreservedly against his chest.
“I know,” he gasped. He shuddered. “It’s like you’re warding the nightmares off.” He gulped in air until his lungs stopped working so hard. “I’m sorry.”
Derek squeezed him a little tighter. “S’okay. Want me to stay?”
Stiles answered, “Yes,” in a small voice.
The next day passed like the previous, almost identically; at dinner, Bryan had to hunt Nick down since he’d wandered off again. For dessert, they had homemade pie and Stiles, having regained more strength throughout the day, made tiny ice sculptures for everyone.
“So what can you do with that power, besides art?” Bryan asked. His sculpture was a tiny convertible, set on top of his plate. He’d been admiring the details for a few minutes already.
“I can freeze almost anything,” Stiles answered carefully.
“Even people?” Warren asked eagerly.
“Ah…I’ve never tried anything alive. Once in high school I froze the pool so we didn’t have to swim.”
Grant rolled his eyes. “Finish your pie, kid.”
The only people Stiles didn’t speak to were Bennett and Peter; Bennett, he was still sort of wary of, and Peter…Derek wasn’t sure, but they seemed to be regarding each other as dangerous but not exactly immediate threats.
“It’s our turn to do dishes,” Stiles announced. “You let Derek and me skip dish duty yesterday and all day today, and I’m pretty sure we both ate.” He tapped his thumb against the edge of his plate pointedly.
Talia laughed. “Well, if you’re that eager, be my guest.”
“Thanks a lot,” Derek joked.
Stiles snickered and jostled him with his elbow.
“I’m going to get the fire pit going,” Rona said, standing with her plate.
“Can we do s’mores?” Layla asked.
Grant gaped. “Are you a bottomless pit?”
“Just like her momma,” Marissa said proudly.
“You boys join us when you’re done,” Rona said with a grin. “I promise to protect you from Bennett.” She ruffled Stiles’s hair as she passed.
Bennett said, “For god’s sake, Rona! I was protecting the pack! Stiles, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“Okay.” He didn’t say anything else or move, though, proving that an apology wasn’t quite enough.
While the rest of the pack trooped outside to “start the fire pit” which was Hale-speak for throwing sticks into the flames and acting like idiots, Derek went to the kitchen.
“You don’t have to help,” he said when Stiles joined him at the sink.
“Sure I do. Why haven’t your grandparents invested in a dishwasher?”
Derek shrugged. “Probably to give people something to do when there’s too many Hales.”
“Is there such a thing?” he teased.
Derek snorted. “Sometimes.” He set about filling the sink with hot, soapy water. While it was running, he got out a stack of towels. “For drying,” he explained.
“Ah. I’ve heard of this practice.” He ran his fingers back and forth across the counter. “Thank you.”
“For being…safe.” He made a face. “For helping me. You guys could’ve just called an ambulance and been done with me.”
“Well, you are a witch. We magical beings should take care of each other.” He smiled.
“Should,” he murmured. “Sink is full.”
Derek shut off the faucet and started scrubbing. The rhythm was nice, side by side like this. It wasn’t as easy and familiar as it was with his siblings, but it was nice anyway. He liked listening to Stiles talk, even though he was obviously trying to distract them both. Something about the whole moment felt right, and Derek wanted to keep it forever.
“-and I don’t even really know you,” Stiles was saying, “but I just…” And then he turned Derek’s face with the hand holding the damp towel and kissed him.
A plate thunked back into the full sink, sloshing water across his shirt. He sighed and kissed back, and yes, this felt right, too, this was exactly where they were supposed to be.
Derek let Stiles drag him to his guest room when everyone was turning in for the night. He’d have ended up there anyway, drawn to the sounds of fear and pain, so he considered this just saving time.
They were kissing before the door closed all the way. He let himself be tumbled onto the bed, but caught Stiles’s wrists gently before he could grab for his pants.
“Sorry,” he said instantly, easing back.
“That’s okay. I just don’t…really do casual sex.” He shrugged. “I like relationships.”
Stiles nodded. “Okay.”
“But we can keep kissing, if you still want to.”
He smiled. “Yeah, I still want to.”
They made out languidly on the bed until Stiles slipped into sleep. Derek covered them with the comforter and curled up around him. He pressed a kiss to the top of his head and wondered what he’d say if he asked him out on a date. He smiled as Stiles snuggled closer. He’d say he had a pretty good chance.
A shout roused him hours later. It was hideously early, if the weak gray light was anything to go by. Stiles grumbled and burrowed under Derek’s arm.
“Has anyone seen Nick?” Bryan called. He sounded just panicked enough that Derek sprang out of bed.
He paused to tuck the blankets around Stiles—after all, Nick was prone to wandering—before running to the hallway.
Cora and Peter were already out there, blinking blearily.
Talia was at the foot of the stairs, her face ice white. “We can’t find him.”
“He can’t have gone far,” Derek reasoned. “It’s still early, he probably just left.”
Talia shook her head. “I heard him step outside last night, but he said he was just going around the house a couple times and—what’s going to overpower a nineteen-year-old werewolf at three in the morning? So I—I fell back to sleep.” She covered her mouth.
Bryan wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
“Okay, so maybe he’s been walking for a while, lost track of time.” Laura nodded firmly. “We’ll go out and look for him, and I’m sure when we find him he’ll be completely confused by our anger.”
“I’ll help. You stay here,” Clara ordered. She gave Laura a quick kiss to stave off arguing. “You’re slow, babe. Better stay here just in case he shows up.”
“Thanks so much,” she muttered.
Derek grabbed his boots and yanked them on.
Bennett and Rona were already outside, hunting for Nick’s most recent scent trail.
“Peter, you stay here with Laura and the kids,” Rona said.
Marissa bit her lip. “Should Grant stay, too?”
Rona looked up at the house, then at Marissa’s anxious expression. “Yes.”
Grant nodded and retreated into the house.
“Pair off,” Rona commanded. “Marissa, go with your sister. Bryan, with Bennett. I’m taking Clara with me. I was hoping you’d shift and lend us your ears, Clara, darling.”
She grinned. “Got it.”
Peter had lost the title of best hearing when Laura had married Clara; she outstripped him by a mile. He was still bitter about it.
“Go on,” Rona ordered. “We’ll catch up.”
Talia and Marissa went east; Bryan and Bennett headed north.
Derek glanced at Cora, who rolled her eyes, and headed west, into the part of the trees that led toward town. Nick usually wandered in that direction. He liked people and crowds and noise.
The sun had fully risen when they heard a howl.
“Was that Mom?” Cora whispered, looking unsure.
Derek shook his head. They could always recognize Talia’s howl. “No. Laura, maybe.” He took her hand. “C’mon.” They ran for the house.
Clara looked upset when they arrived, standing on the porch pulling on her clothes. “Sorry, that was me. I found his scent, but it stops in the thick of the woods.”
“Yeah. Just…and there’s…magic.” She swallowed. “The scent of magic.”
Derek’s heart lurched.
“Did you find him?” Talia asked, flying toward them.
Clara shook her head.
“Let’s get inside,” Rona said. “We’ll talk inside.”
Bryan and Bennett returned last, and they all trooped inside together.
Stiles was awake, looking confused and worried. He was keeping Laura from overheating, too, freezing wet towels and laying them across the back of her neck.
“Nick’s scent stops in the middle of the woods. We think someone with magic covered his scent, possibly took him.”
Peter snarled and lunged at Stiles.
Derek intercepted him, snapping at his throat. “He’s been upstairs all night,” he growled.
“I guess you’d know.” He bared his teeth.
“Yeah, I would.”
“Stop.” Stiles put a hand on Derek’s shoulder. “It’s my fault. She took him to lure me out.”
“You don’t know that,” Derek muttered.
“Who is she?” Talia demanded.
He swallowed. “Jennifer Blake. She teaches a Lit course at my school. Or she subbed for one, anyway. I don’t know. She showed up one day, and a week later she had me in an eight by eight stone cell, blasting me with such painful magic I couldn’t move for hours after she left.” He inhaled sharply, hands clenching in fists at his sides. “I don’t-”
“I don’t know how she found me, but she must have realized Nick knew me.”
Talia nodded, pulling herself to her full height. “Then I’m going to find her.”
“And what?” Stiles asked wearily. “She’s got a lot of magic.”
“And rip her throat out with my teeth!” she snarled. “See her do her spells like that!”
“She wants me,” he said. “She won’t want to piss off a pack. So I can just—just go give myself up. You’ll get Nick back-”
“Absolutely not. We can get Nick back without giving a murdering psychopath her victim!” Derek snapped.
“Uh,” Laura said.
“He’s our little brother,” Cora whispered tearfully.
“And we can get him back without letting her take him.”
“How?” Bryan asked. “I don’t want to do that, either. He’s a kid, too.”
“I’m twenty-three, I think it’s my choice,” Stiles pointed out.
“We aren’t trading anyone to her. We are getting my son back,” Talia snarled.
“She won’t let anyone but me close enough to get him back.”
“Oh my god!” Laura yelled. “I am in labor, someone get me some fucking ice before I save the bitch the trouble and kill you all!”
For a moment, no one moved.
Movement exploded: Talia ran for the kitchen, Stiles snatched an empty glass off the coffee table, and Bryan and Clara knocked into each other trying to get to Laura’s side.
Rona leaned over the back of the couch, clamping a hand over the back of Laura’s neck. She gasped at the same time Laura relaxed. “Yep. Definitely baby time.”
“Let me do that, I’ve got it,” Bryan babbled.
“Bryan, I’ve done this three times, I can handle a few contractions.”
“I can do it, Mrs. Hale,” Clara said.
Rona nodded and let go.
Stiles thrust a full cup at Laura. “Sorry, they’re kinda big, but…”
She smiled a little. “Thanks.” She took the cup and crunched on a piece of ice.
Talia returned. “Dr. Deaton’s on his way, but, well, it’s not like we haven’t all done this before.”
“Uh,” Cora protested.
Talia grinned at her. “First time’s a blast.”
Laura snarled at her.
“Let’s get you to your room,” Bryan said soothingly. “Get you changed and prepared.”
“No, don’t make me move,” she whined.
Clara huffed and scooped her up.
Derek was too busy laughing at Laura’s shocked expression to notice Bennett pacing around furiously for a moment.
“Oh, my god,” Cora said slowly. “Oh, my god I’m about to be an aunt, and Nick is missing, and I don’t know what to do!”
“Go be with Laura. The pack should protect her right now.” Derek rubbed his hands against his legs. “Yeah. Mom?”
Talia was frowning, frozen halfway to the bedroom. She looked slowly back at Cora, then Derek.
Rona had followed Laura, Clara, and Bryan to the bedroom, and Bennett was still pacing somewhere behind Derek. “Derek…”
He glanced at Cora, puzzled.
“Stiles is gone.”
He jerked. He twisted around, but she was right; he couldn’t hear Stiles anywhere in the house. His gaze darted to the door. A pair of shoes was missing—Derek’s sneakers. He’d worn his boots to search for Nick. His stomach dropped. “Mom, we can’t leave Laura,” he rasped.
She studied him.
“I saw where he went,” Bennett announced.
“You and Derek follow him, then. The pack and I can protect Laura. Cora.” She held her hand out.
“Laura’s vulnerable, Clara and half the pack are distracted,” Derek whispered urgently. “You have to stay.”
“Okay. Be careful.”
Bennett nodded and went outside. “I don’t know how he knew where to go, but he went this way.”
Derek was surprised to find him heading for the trees rather than the road. He looked up at the sky. “Is today the twenty-first?”
“Winter solstice.” Derek rubbed his mouth, feeling nauseous. “She wants to drain his magic and take it for herself. She probably wants to do it before he can get away again.”
“And she can’t do that in public,” Bennett finished grimly. “We’ll find them, Derek. These are our woods.” He waited until they hit the tree line to take his clothes off and shift.
Derek did the same. It was more practical; their senses were better, they could navigate the ground easier, and they moved quieter. Derek padded along beside Bennett, keeping up only because he was half-running.
Even as a wolf, Bennett was big. His fur was lighter, almost white, and blended with the snow better than Derek.
Derek stuck to the shadows of the trees, ears swiveling at every minute sound.
“Let him go first,” Stiles said in the distance, his voice faint.
Someone murmured something back.
They were too far away. They took off in a sprint, pausing every little while to listen, checking that they were going in the right direction.
Nick was the first one they saw, shifted and crouched behind Stiles’s legs, shivering.
Stiles had a hand out, an orange translucent wall lit up in the air before him.
A woman stood across from him, away by several yards. She looked irritated, like this was a mild inconvenience for her. “Don’t be ridiculous. Why would I want the boy?”
“Then let him go. After that, after he’s gone, I won’t fight you.”
She scoffed. “How stupid do you think I am? I need him here so you won’t put up a fight.”
Derek crouched on his belly, creeping toward them.
Bennett huffed and circled around from the other direction.
The woman, obviously Jennifer Blake, glanced toward where Derek was crouched under a bush.
“I’m going to fight harder to protect him. Let him go.”
“You don’t even know him,” she spat. “You’re using him. Don’t think I don’t know how that safety spell you used works. You’re safe as long as he’s near you.”
Stiles shook his head and laughed a little. “He wasn’t the one the spell took me to.”
She looked briefly surprised. “Then why do you care?” Before he could answer, she whistled sharply; a knife flew out of her belt and stopped inches from a bush on her right. “Come on out, wolf.”
Bennett stalked out of the brush, standing tall and snarling.
Stiles looked shocked, while Nick whined from behind him.
Derek wondered why Nick didn’t just take off.
Stiles was obviously not fighting because Nick was there, because he didn’t want him to get hurt, but Nick wasn’t getting it.
Derek chanced creeping closer, growling very, very softly. He could tell from the way Nick’s tail twitched that he’d heard.
Jennifer was talking, but he was too focused on Nick to pay attention.
Nick shifted from foot to foot anxiously; Derek growled slightly louder, putting some teeth into it. He whined.
“Don’t,” Stiles breathed.
“Stop fighting, and I’ll leave your wolves alone,” Jennifer said. “Final offer.” She whistled.
Her knife centered on Bennett’s throat.
His muzzle wrinkled, baring all of his teeth.
Derek growled again, as loudly as he dared.
Nick broke for the trees.
“No!” Stiles dove after him; a knife slashed across his shoulder. He twisted, snarling, and molten light rushed at Jennifer.
Derek leaped out, herding Nick away, into the relative safety of the trees. He spared a split second to lick Nick’s muzzle, to reassure him, before nudging him firmly away. He twisted back.
Stiles’s arm was bleeding, but so was Jennifer’s left hand; it looked burned, as if the light had engulfed it.
“Pathetic.” She whistled and Stiles hummed and the knife at Bennett’s throat jerked forward and left, skimming his shoulder rather than his jugular.
Derek darted to Stiles’s side, pressing against his legs and growling furiously at Jennifer.
The bloody fingers of his left hand tangled in the fur of Derek’s neck, like he knew, like he recognized him even like this.
“Lights and flowers and fireworks. You make the rest of us look bad.”
Stiles scoffed. “Oh, like you’re much better? Witches like you are the reason we keep getting hung and drowned and burned.”
She bared her teeth. “You don’t deserve that magic.”
“Neither do you.” Stiles hummed; lights popped and flashed. A shield opened up in front of them again.
Derek braced against his leg, watching Bennett circle behind them to go help Nick.
He glanced back at him, then Stiles.
Derek dipped his muzzle.
He snorted and bound over to Nick.
Jennifer whistled sharply; the shield wavered as a brilliant white bolt of energy struck it.
Stiles slid back a few inches, leaning forward to keep his balance. He’d stopped humming, staring at Jennifer with an oddly intense expression.
She narrowed her eyes and whistled again, making a sharp gesture with her hand.
Derek knocked into Stiles’s legs as the shield shattered; the bolt missed them by inches. He looked up at Stiles’s face, but his gaze hadn’t wavered. Whatever he was doing, he was entirely focused on it.
Jennifer screamed in rage and hurled flames at them.
Derek yelped and banged into Stiles’s hip, knocking him to his knees.
“You fucking brat-” She stopped so suddenly that Derek’s head snapped up in alarm, sure she was about to throw something terrible at them. She looked vaguely confused, staring down at her fingers. They were turning blue.
Stiles was still staring at her, his face paling at an alarming rate. He got to his feet carefully.
She whistled, loud and harsh. The shadows of the trees gathered toward her and writhed in her magical grip, clearly trying to escape.
Stiles’s hand flexed in Derek’s fur.
“You—you…” She couldn’t seem to get a breath. The shadows escaped her, flowing back to their original positions.
Derek watched as she fell to her knees and curled in on herself, trying to conserve some warmth where there was none. She was shivering so hard he could hear her teeth clacking together, her glare locked on Stiles; she was too cold to speak.
They stood, silent, for another few minutes, watching as her skin took on an icy blue hue.
Stiles let out an explosive breath. “G-guess I can freeze a person,” he said, and toppled forward.
Derek just barely managed to catch him, shifting back just in time to get his arms around him.
“S-sorry.” He pressed his face into Derek’s bare shoulder. Tears slid against his skin. “Is your bro-brother okay?”
“Yeah. He got away with our grandfather.”
He nodded. “Good.”
He looked up. “You guys helped me. I couldn’t let something bad happen because of me.” His eyes fluttered.
Derek put a hand to his forehead. “You’re dehydrated again,” he said, exasperated.
“Yeah, the freezing sort of takes the water out of me. It took a lot this time.” He let his head tip forward. “I started on her organs first, and her blood, and…” He shuddered.
Derek sighed and picked him up. “I’m not going to carry you home every time,” he joked.
“I’ll carry you over the threshold when we’re married, promise,” Stiles slurred.
“How about a date first?” Derek asked, amused. “We’ll get to marriage and thresholds later.”
Clara and Laura’s baby girl was eight pounds, four ounces; she was twenty-two inches long and had a puff of brown hair on her head already.
Talia was deeply irritated. “Two hours of labor?” She gave Laura an affectionate noogie. “I was in labor for sixteen hours with you, and you get two?”
Laura grinned. “She was in a hurry.”
“Overachiever,” Derek teased. He was holding the baby, having claimed older sibling privilege and taken her from Cora. “Did you guys pick a name?”
“No,” Talia said firmly. “Because they’re going to decide like adults.”
“We wanted to thumb wrestle for naming rights,” Laura sighed.
“You are not thumb wrestling to choose my granddaughter’s name!”
Derek turned toward Stiles, who’d been hovering but trying not to intrude. He tilted the baby toward him. “What do you think?”
“That’s a baby, alright,” he said heartily. He took another sip from his cup, which Bennett had been filling nonstop since they’d gotten home, after wrapping up his bleeding arm as best they could with the lack of bandages.
“Oh, ooh, what about Mica?” Laura gasped.
“Mica?” Clara repeated. “Where’d you come up with that?”
“I dunno, I heard it somewhere, and I liked it.”
“I thought we were going between Amelia and Nora,” Clara laughed.
Bryan shook his head. “Give it up, kiddo. Not a single Hale kid got named before they were a week and a half old.”
Rona held her hand up. “Excuse me, Peter was named on day six.”
Talia guffawed. “Oh, that’s right. He was named Christopher for three days!”
“But he was named by day six,” Rona insisted. “It wasn’t a permanent naming, but he was named.”
Stiles laughed, so loud and bright that most of the family had to smile.
Peter scowled. “It wasn’t that funny.”
“Okay, Christopher,” Laura snorted.
The baby started fussing.
“Hmm, she doesn’t like it either. Go figure,” Rona said with a smug look toward Bennett.
“I admitted defeat years ago.” He slung an arm around Peter’s shoulders, nearly knocking him over.
Derek passed the baby back to Laura, pressing a parting kiss to her forehead, even though that seemed to frustrate her.
“You’re having the next one,” Laura said, squeezing Clara’s hand.
She laughed. “Deal.”
Derek backed out of the room; he wasn’t surprised to hear Stiles follow him out to the living room. “You okay?”
“Getting there.” His gaze drifted off to the side. He swallowed. “I, uh…” He waved a hand at his head. “Have a lot going on.”
He met Derek’s gaze. “But I wanted to know if you wanted to go out on a date, once everything is dealt with.”
There was a lot to be dealt with. The body, for one; Stiles’s father had to be called, he would need treatment for his injuries, both physical and otherwise.
But he was smiling tentatively at Derek, his eyes gleaming with hope, and he’d given himself to the person who tortured him for over a week to save his little brother.
“Absolutely,” he said, and kissed him.