I. “See how you like it when I smack you with an interspatial distorter that will temporarily phase your brain into Dimension X!”
“This is an iPod with a piece of masking tape attached to it.”
“I found him.” The voice in Derek’s ear was breathless and wary. It didn’t inspire confidence.
“Scott,” Derek snarled, strained and demanding his focus. “Where is he?” Derek could hear branches snapping and leaves rustling over the other end of the line. Scott’s breath, ratcheted up and short, was the only sound that assured Derek he was still alive and well. “Scott.”
“He’s just... standing there in the middle of the woods.” Scott sounded confused. Derek could practically see the furrowed brow that made him look like a kicked puppy. He could hear Erica snort from somewhere near Scott’s phone. “It has to be a trap.”
“You think?” Erica huffed, sounding annoyed to cover for the tense stretch of her voice.
“Don’t approach him,” Derek ordered. He put his phone on speaker as he pulled on his jacket. “Tell me exactly where you are and I’ll come meet you.”
“We’re right here,” Scott hissed.
Derek rolled his eyes. “In what even you have cleverly deduced is a trap. Where are you, McCall?”
Derek could hear something move on the other end of the line. The catch of Erica’s breath quickly followed. Scott piped up, tentative and cautious. “Isaac?”
“Who the hell are you?”
Derek drove as quickly as he could to the clearing on the other end of the Preserve. Isaac’s voice had sounded jittery and frightened. Derek hadn’t heard it sound like that since his father was still alive and well and beating the snot out of him on a nightly basis.
The Camaro’s tires slid on wet leaves before gaining traction and skidding to a stop. Derek barely had it in park before he was out of the car and storming over to the three teenagers standing awkwardly around each other in a circle. Isaac was hunched in on himself – hiding his towering height and making himself smaller, eyes flitting from Erica to Scott to Derek and back again. There wasn’t even a hint of recognition.
Scott was frozen in a half-step forward, wanting to go to Isaac. Only the Isaac he wanted to reassure no longer existed. Erica was acting as sheriff between the two of them, in case one of them should nut up and make a move.
Derek knew the response he’d get but still he made himself say, “Isaac?”
Isaac’s eyes flashed over to him from where they’d been focused on Erica’s heel. He stared back at Derek, wide-eyed and looking vulnerable in a way Derek had forgotten he could. “How the hell do all of you know my name?”
It was as Derek had expected then. A heavy weight settled in the hollow between his shoulders and pushed hard against his spine. Derek flipped his keys into his hand and shoved them into his jacket pocket. He took a step forward and Isaac flinched. Derek stopped and gritted his teeth. “What’s the last thing you remember?” He knew he sounded threatening and short-tempered but that didn’t matter anymore. The last thing this battered kid would relate to was Derek Hale, whether Derek tried out a kind and cuddly version or not.
“I was at my house. With my dad.” Isaac’s jaw clenched as he mentioned his father and a hunted look came into his eyes. “He has to know I didn’t leave on my own. I wouldn’t break curfew.” The line of his shoulders trembled and Derek could only imagine the trouble he’d gotten into for breaking it in the past. He knew the few times Isaac had showed up after the curfew Derek had set for him, he’d looked like he might wet himself. It didn’t help Derek feel any less like a monster.
“Your father’s dead,” Derek told him bluntly. Twin glares, of anger mixed with disbelief, whirled on him.
Isaac scrambled back, tripped over a root and fell hard and sat shaking on the ground. “You k-killed my dad?”
Derek ran a hand through his hair with a growl, his ragged nails getting caught on a few hairs and pulling. “Your dad died almost a year ago,” Derek tried again but Isaac now just look confused and close to tears.
“Derek,” Scott growled, “shut the fuck up.”
Derek’s eyes flashed red as they glared at one another, before he glanced away with a sharp nod of his head. The Alpha in him clawed at his insides, dug in and tried to climb its way up and out, eager to teach this bold beta his place, but that would only further traumatize Isaac. More than Derek already had.
Besides Scott – technically – wasn’t his to punish.
Scott finished taking the step he’d aborted earlier and Isaac’s hands reflexively moved up to cover his face. Scott knelt down in front of him and slowly curled his fingers around Isaac’s shielding forearm. “Isaac,” he said softly.
Carefully the arms came down far enough that Isaac could blink at Scott with wide, wet eyes. He’d gone from predator back to prey and it made Derek want to feel something break beneath his hands.
Scott smiled at him, not showing any teeth. “I think – we think you’ve lost at least two years of your memory.” Scott glanced up at Erica. Her face was tight and serious. “We’re your friends. You were kidnapped by some very bad people and they must have done something to make you forget.”
Derek didn’t miss the way Isaac’s eyes slid over to him when Scott said ‘very bad people.’
“There’s someone who may be able to help.” Scott held Isaac’s gaze while he spoke and Derek was grateful for the innocence that had never really bled out of Scott’s features – through becoming a monster and after. “Will you come with us?”
Isaac looked up at Erica, as if gauging her trustworthiness. Apparently he’d already decided he was safe as houses with Scott. Fast friends, all over again. It appeared only his opinion on Derek had changed as he blinked over at him with wide eyes and gave a sharp jerk of his head.
Erica leaned down and bared her teeth in a smile. “Don’t worry, his bark’s far worse than his bite.” It was quite probably the least reassuring thing anyone had said, ever. Judging from the dark amusement on Erica’s face, she knew it too.
Derek’s growl was subvocal and all three betas cringed at the piercing quality of it. Though Isaac didn’t seem to fully understand why he was doing so.
Erica straightened back up, her lip raised petulantly, and Scott squeezed the forearm he was still holding. “Derek’s a bit rough around the edges.” Erica snorted. Derek was going to break her leg at least twice in their next ‘training’ session. “But,” Scott forced out with an angry glare thrown in Erica’s direction, “he wouldn’t hurt you. You’re friends with him, too. You actually live with him.”
Isaac’s jaw dropped open and he stared at Derek in disbelief.
Just in case Derek didn’t already feel like enough of a threat. Derek’s shoulders pulled in, hunched and protective, and he turned on his heel and stalked off back to the Camaro. “Just get him in the car,” he bit out over his shoulder.
He unlocked the doors and threw himself into the driver’s seat, fiddling with the radio so he didn’t have to listen to the conversation going on thirty feet in front of him. He could still hear the gentle, coaxing lilt to Scott’s words and Isaac’s answering murmurs. Erica stood at their sides, her eyes glowing gold while Isaac was distracted. They flashed around in every direction while her head snapped to gauge each minute sound.
It was why she was Derek’s second. She was fierce and protective and her ability to reason through problems was unparalleled among Derek’s betas. He couldn’t have imagined it when he first turned her, not when she hardly seemed suited to the power she already had. She still had the cruel streak that Derek couldn’t seem to break her of. The epileptic girl who’d been teased mercilessly was buried but not forgotten, lashing out and hurting others just because she could. None of them were a perfect fit for command but Erica was the best option he had.
He’d wanted Boyd at first, but Derek could never get a proper handle on him and that made him uneasy. He moved in the shadows and to his own agenda and, when it came down to it, Derek wasn’t sure Boyd considered himself to be a part of Derek’s pack. He wasn’t sure what Boyd had wanted when he’d asked for the bite, but he suspected he hadn’t gotten it.
The creak of the door’s hinges scraped down Derek’s neck and shoulders and made his muscles tense and pull. Isaac eased into the seat farthest away from him and Derek suppressed a snort, as if that wasn’t utterly predictable. Erica sat next to him in the backseat while Scott took the front.
Derek peeled out and drove to Deaton’s, breaking the speed limit every stretch of the way. The sooner Isaac was dealt with, the sooner he would stop looking at Derek like he suspected him of having a dead body in his trunk.
He didn’t. This week.
He could hear Isaac’s fingers digging into the leather by his knees the whole way there, little nervous squeaks grating against Derek’s eardrums as Isaac’s nails pressed in. He wanted to snarl at him that he would damage the upholstery but Isaac already looked as if one word from Derek would make him jump out of his skin. Derek tightened his hands around the steering wheel, claws digging into his palms, and stepped a little harder on the gas.
He squealed into the parking space ‘Reserved for Clinic Customers’ nearest the front door. The road was wet and the spin of the wheels tossed up droplets of water on his window. The sign on the door was flipped to closed. Derek ignored it, tugging the locked door open as though it was nothing more than a flimsy piece of cardboard.
Isaac watched the whole thing curiously, as though wondering why a door with a closed sign on it would (appear to) be unlocked.
Deaton walked out from the back, wiping his hands on a rag. Derek could smell something like dirt and moss on it. He glanced mournfully at the split in the wood where the other side of the lock used to be fastened to the frame. “I’m going to have to put a line of mountain ash up around the front too, it seems,” he said tiredly, as though adding something else to his ever-growing to-do list. He offered Derek a stern look. “Knocking would have been just as effective.”
Derek grunted. He wasn’t going to admit that breaking and entering was his form of payback for Deaton hoarding answers like a squirrel hiding nuts for winter.
“Ah, Isaac,” Deaton said warmly, noticing him for the first time. “How nice to see you again, and looking well too.”
Isaac looked a bit shell-shocked. “Uh.”
“His memory’s been wiped,” Derek interrupted. It was time to get this fucking show on the road. He’d forgotten how pathetic Isaac had been. It was making his stomach clench and roil. Looking at weak things only made Derek want to put them out of their misery.
Deaton frowned and gestured for Isaac to follow him to the exam room.
Isaac went a bit bug-eyed when he noticed the cages. “You’re a vet?”
Deaton smiled enigmatically. “Among other things.” He patted the metal table and Isaac obediently slid up onto it, even though he looked as if it went against his better judgment. This was Isaac: conditioned to follow every order. It made Derek cringe. Deaton moved around Isaac’s back, while Isaac’s hair stood on end and his shoulders hunched in.
On the back of his neck were the claw marks of an Alpha. Derek had expected the scars but the shiny skin still felt like an accusation. He crossed his arms over his chest.
Deaton’s eyes flicked up to Derek’s. “Do you know how much time he’s lost?”
Derek shrugged. “At least two years. He thought his dad was still alive and I don’t think he knows about—anything else.”
Deaton nodded as though he’d expected nothing less. Isaac revealing his ignorance of Deaton took away some of his all-knowing mystique there. “There are a few things I can try.” Deaton pinned Derek with a gaze that said he already knew the answer. “You went to Peter already?”
Derek’s fingers curled tighter over the crease of his elbows. “We’ve done this once before.” Derek nodded to Erica. “To find Boyd and Erica. Peter’s a novice at best.”
Deaton made an agreeable sound as he examined the back of Isaac’s neck. “I’m afraid I’m not much better. I’m a student of magic these days, not much of a practitioner.” Deaton walked over to the wall of vials and let his fingers wander over the stoppers before pulling out two slender tubes and a jar full of something that looked like mulch.
It didn’t smell like mulch. It most closely resembled salt water taffy and the taste of it on the air was strong. Deaton plucked out a few of the sticks with metal tongs and then uncorked the two vials. One was filled with a moss green sludge while the other was opaque yellow. The first didn’t have much of a scent but it sparked up and smoked when poured on the mulch.
The yellow vial smelled overwhelmingly like vinegar and Derek couldn’t keep the distaste off his face as Deaton sprinkled a few drops into the mortar with the other two ingredients. What was left after mixing was a smooth liquid that was dark, dark purple in color.
Deaton poured it into a beaker and held it out to Isaac. “Drink up, Mr. Lahey.”
Isaac eyed him warily and, realizing he was serious, looked around the room as though hoping someone would stop him or announce this was all an elaborate prank. He landed on Scott, who looked serious and tight. Scott gave a slight nod of his head.
Isaac drank. He pulled a face and smoke curled up from his nostrils when he choked on the taste, coughing. A flash dropped down through Isaac, highlighting his veins and arteries as it raced through. Derek could see them as clear as if someone had tattooed them onto his skin.
He took a step forward but Isaac didn’t seem to be in any pain. When it disappeared from the tips of his fingers, Deaton snapped his fingers to make Isaac open his eyes.
Isaac blinked and swallowed hard, sticking out his tongue like a bad taste was left in his mouth.
“Isaac, do you know where you are?”
Isaac stared at him, his brow furrowed. He looked as if he was still waiting for the admission that this was all one big, and poorly constructed, joke. “I’m at a vet’s office, with people I’ve never met, who look like they’re in some really ineffective gang, and a man who’s making me drink things that taste like sweat and vinegar.”
Scott let out a frustrated breath.
Erica went back to examining her nails.
Derek wasn’t exactly holding his breath but the little bit of hope he’d allowed himself to feel at the visible effects of the concoction drained out of him. “That’s the best you can do then?” he asked sourly.
Deaton looked as calm as ever when he looked back at Derek. “I told you I wasn’t a practitioner any longer.” He frowned, staring down at the beaker, only a drop of the mixture was left and it had spread to ring the inside. “There are a few more things I can try.”
Erica pulled herself up onto the counter and Derek leaned more heavily against the wall.
Deaton sighed. “All right then.” The next thing involved crystals and chanting and it only made Isaac look at them all as if he suspected them of being a cult rather than a gang. Then Deaton tried hypnotism, which Erica got quite a bit of enjoyment out of as Isaac spent the next hour or so cross-eyed and annoyed.
Deaton pulled away, looking grim. “I’m afraid those were the only methods I’d ever heard of that might reverse the memory manipulation of an Alpha.”
Derek snorted. “Real effective.” Isaac looked as if he agreed with the sentiment but he was still too wary of Derek to say anything of the sort out loud. He didn’t question what was meant by ‘Alpha.’ It was clear he wanted to, but this Isaac did not speak out of turn.
Deaton shrugged. “Deucalion is a powerful Alpha. A demon-wolf. I would bet it was he who removed Isaac’s memories.” Deaton spread the fingers of his hand like he was imagining claws. He held them an inch or so away from Isaac’s neck, hovering. Isaac instinctually tensed. “The set of these marks is wide and the length of each scar is larger than I’ve ever seen. Whoever did this dug in deep, far deeper than necessary to do this.”
Scott pushed off his back foot and a tic in his jaw fluttered. “Are you saying you can’t fix this?”
Isaac glanced at Scott with an almost sympathetic expression, like he regretted not being the friend Scott had known. Or perhaps it was pity because they were all clearly insane, talking about demon-wolves and digging fingers into necks.
Deaton stepped back from Isaac and said in low tones, “That’s exactly what I’m saying, Scott. I’m not sure it is reversible when someone as powerful as Deucalion is the one changing the picture.”
Derek refused to accept that. “There must be something you can do.” This Isaac was not what Derek wanted for his pack. He would force Isaac to become an Omega before he let a boy, who looked at him like a murderer, hang around.
Deaton shook his head. “Short of Deucalion undoing this himself, I don’t see a way of restoring Isaac’s memories.”
Derek held his fist down by his side to hide the way his claws were extending. His eyes were filtering red, his vision attuning itself to twitches of movement and rabbiting heart beats. “That’s not good enough.” His voice was raw, hoarse like the wolf’s.
Deaton didn’t look even slightly intimidated. Derek almost preferred that, to know there was at least one person who wasn’t afraid of him and never had been. It might have endeared Deaton to Derek if he wasn’t such a pretentious, superior con artist.
Deaton frowned deeply in thought. “There is someone I could call. A friend. He’s got quite a bit more experience than I do with all things supernatural and he works as a freelancer of sorts. He’s set up in Boston so I’ll contact him in the morning regarding Isaac.”
Derek’s fangs were digging into the soft insides of his lower lip when he growled, “Call him now.”
Deaton gave a resigned sigh and moved to pick up the receiver from the wall mount. It wasn’t cordless and it reminded Derek of the one his family had in the kitchen. It was the same ugly mustard color. Deaton dialed a number from memory and it was rolling into its fourth ring when a sleep-scratchy voice asked, “Deaton?” It sounded like it belonged to someone young, which wasn’t what Derek had been expecting at all. He could hear the sound of a heavy thump, rustling, and then a voice reemerged over the static. “What the hell? You know it’s 3:30 in the morning here, right?”
The heartbeat that belonged to the voice was fast and hummingbird-light. It pressed at Derek’s temples in a way that made his head throb. There was a slower, steadier one in the background that was accompanied by heavy, sloping breaths.
“You know werewolves better than I,” Deaton said warmly, shared stories and camaraderie behind his tone.
The man on the other end snorted and it sounded like he was scrubbing at his face. “Pushy, stubborn, full of a false sense of entitlement.” He paused and there was a definite grin in his voice when he said, “Tell me they’re there.”
Derek hated him already and he could feel his claws extending all over again.
“Of course,” Deaton said calmly. “I would have waited until morning given the choice.”
There was a yawn and then a lazy, “I appreciate the professional courtesy, Special K.” Deaton smiled, letting out an amused breath, and Derek heard mattress springs creak like someone was getting comfortable rather than getting up. The heartbeat in the background got louder. “What is it that’s so urgent?”
“A problem I believe only you have the skill and power to undo,” Deaton told him.
The man laughed and said incisively, “Buttering me up?” The springs squeaked. “How bad is it exactly?”
Deaton inhaled sharply, playing up the drama of the moment the way the man loved to do. “I believe Deucalion is involved.”
The springs screeched for half a second and what Derek had thought was the man’s heartbeat on adrenaline was now fluttering so fast that Derek could barely separate one palpitation from the next. “The Alpha pack?” he said harshly, his voice twisting over the words. “Where?”
“Beacon Hills,” Deaton said, matter-of-fact.
“Shit,” was the reply, fraught with disbelief and something like fear. “I’ll be on the first plane out,” he said gruffly and there was definitely accusation and fury there, and it was meant for Deaton. The receiver slammed down on the other end and the line went dead.
Derek waited for Deaton to place the phone back in its cradle before he said, “What time should we be back here?”
Deaton looked weary, affected by a few harsh words in a way that Derek had never managed, even fully wolfed out. “If I know our mercenary… and I believe I do,” Deaton said with a slight smirk, tinged with a certain regret, “he’ll find you.”
Isaac didn’t sleep. He paced in front of the wall of windows and refused to believe that he lived in the spacious loft with Derek, or that his father was truly dead. If this supernaturally-experienced guy of Deaton’s didn’t arrive by tomorrow night then Derek would take him to the graveyard to see the headstone Isaac had picked out himself. Despite Derek’s own aversion to the sick-sour smell of cemeteries.
Derek didn’t sleep listening to the continuous sound of his footfalls.
Erica went home but Scott stayed on the couch that night, presumably watching Isaac. At least until his breaths went heavy and muffled and he fell into slumber.
Derek suspected Peter was down the hall in the spare bedroom – since ripping his throat out, Peter’s scent and heartbeat had gone wonky, unpredictable, so it was impossible to keep preternatural tabs on him. Which was just another in a long list of reasons to be on constant alert around him. He was likely aware of everything though, in that obnoxious way he always was.
Scott took Isaac to his old house around two – it was still on the market and it looked innocuous now. Derek knew it was anything but to Isaac. Just after four, his door slid open and confident, unfamiliar steps breezed into his loft. The rabbiting heartbeat that pushed at his skull was one he recognized instantly.
Derek was up, claws and fangs out by the time those footsteps rounded the corner. The man – boy – they belonged to hardly even glanced at him. Derek’s image of an older, wiser man than Deaton, with wrinkles and white hair and beard – which had been dampened by the youthful voice on the phone – was now fully dispelled.
The boy had his neck tipped back so he could gaze up at the high ceilings, a tribal-looking tattoo snaked halfway up it. He whistled. “Dayum. This is a nice place, Growly. I didn’t even know they had properties like this in B-Hills. Been classing up the joint since my last visit.”
Derek snarled but his unwelcome visitor kept trailing his fingers along his kitchen counter, utterly unconcerned. He smelled like electricity, ash and earth. It set Derek’s teeth on edge. “How did you get past the wards?” Derek had put them up, with Peter’s grudging assistance, after the Alpha pack had made themselves at home a few times too many.
The guy pulled a face. “You mean the wards a five-year-old girl with the mental ability of a goldfish could deconstruct?” He blinked wide eyes at Derek. “Gee, I don’t know. It’s bound to go down as one of life’s great mysteries.”
Derek despised him.
“Stiles?” Peter had slinked out of the shadows of the spiral staircase, a predatory grin stretching across his cheeks. Derek hadn’t even known he was there.
Derek blanched. Was that supposed to be a name?
Stiles clicked his tongue. “And here I’d heard you were dead. A full month of celebrations and it wasn’t even true.”
Hunger and something softer, smoother, burned in Peter’s eyes as he came up on Stiles. “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Stiles rolled his eyes and went back to exploring the apartment again, rather than watching the way Peter was staring unblinkingly at him. “Twain you are not. Stick to quoting authors who are more your level. I suggest Meyer.” Stiles ducked down to look in the cabinets under the kitchen island. Derek couldn’t quite contain his growl. “You’ve already got the whole ‘back from the dead’ quirk in common with her characters,” Stiles said, ignoring Derek entirely.
Peter was right there when Stiles stood again, his hand smoothing over Stiles’ shoulder before rubbing a thumb up the dark ink on the side of his neck. “I’m wounded,” he said in low tones.
Stiles grinned and a darkly amused light was dancing in his amber eyes. “I could do better.”
“I’m sure you could,” Peter murmured while Stiles pulled away from him and rounded the support beam down the hall, no doubt off to explore the bedrooms. Derek wanted to call him back but he had the feeling it wouldn’t be worth the argument that followed. Not to mention, he doubted he would win it. He suspected Stiles would talk him to death until he finally gave in, so it was better to skip the exhaustive exercise and just let him have at it.
“It’s expanded since I last saw it,” Peter called after him, motioning to his own neck.
“You have no idea,” Stiles said teasingly from down the hall and Derek was sure now. His uncle was flirting with a kid who was even younger than Derek. And the kid was flirting back. Derek’s opinion of this ‘Stiles’ soured even further.
After a minute or two, he wandered back into the main room and stared at Peter gravely, his eyes dark and focused. Derek wouldn’t have expected him capable of such intensity. It sent an odd shiver of discomfort and curiosity down his spine. Stiles tilted his head and said grimly, “You smell like death.”
Derek didn’t know what this boy could smell that he didn’t. There was a void where Peter’s scent should be, not old and familiar or new and grating, only a vacuum. It was as if Derek’s senses couldn’t reach Peter. It was part of what left Derek feeling so on edge around him. That, and the fact that he’d killed his own niece.
Peter held his arms out at his sides, the expression on his face unconcerned. “It’s a hazard of cheating it.”
Stiles walked over to him and the gravity didn’t leave his face. He placed a hand on Peter’s shoulder and said, “I was sorry to hear about your family. They were good people.”
Peter’s mouth turned down, lips twisting, before he fought it off and quirked them up. “It’s probably for the best,” he said with acidic cheeriness. “Talia would put me back in the ground if she knew we were in the same room again.”
Derek hadn’t heard Peter mention his mother – any of his family – so casually even once since the fire.
“Good woman,” Stiles said wistfully.
Stiles had known his mother? Who the hell was this kid? Derek was sure he’d never seen him before.
Peter’s green eyes flashed over to Derek. “This is my nephew, Derek. I don’t think you were ever properly introduced.”
Stiles frowned thoughtfully before sticking his hand out to Derek. Derek ignored it. “Nope, we never met,” he said happily, shrugging and pulling his hand back in as though it was a cultural difference rather than a purposefully rude gesture on Derek’s part. He smoothed the hand down his jeans and looked back up at Derek with a strange empathy. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Derek grunted. It was better than ‘whatever’ and not quite as good as ‘thanks’ but it was acknowledgement at least.
Stiles’ unstoppable grin was back in place and he threaded his fingers together and turned them out, cracking his knuckles. “Welp, where’s the patient?”
Derek already had his phone out. He pulled up his contacts and jabbed his finger into Isaac’s name. The faster they got this done the faster this inquisitive, tattooed, friend of the family could get out of his territory. It unnerved Derek how completely comfortable he was in a foreign wolf’s territory. Derek cut Isaac off mid-greeting and growled, “Get back here. Now.”
“You are just all kinds of charming, aren’t you?” Stiles said, exaggeratedly blinking impressively long lashes at him.
Derek gritted his teeth in a sneer and turned away.
Stiles hummed and whirled around to dig through Derek’s fridge. He pulled out an apple and plopped down on Derek’s sofa like he spent every lazy afternoon camped out there. He crunched into the skin and said around the bite he’d come away with, “You know, you could add a few homey touches. Art, photographs, etcetera. Make it look a little less like a serial killer lives here.”
Peter settled on the couch next to Stiles, forgoing his usual strategy of slinking around in the shadows and watching from a distance. He dropped his arm over the back frame, pressing his forearm into Stiles’ shoulders. “It’d be false advertising.”
Stiles’ grin was sharp when he turned it on Peter. “I did hear something about you going on a killing spree of sorts. I thought about coming back to put you down myself.”
Peter leaned in close to Stiles’ neck and dropped his voice low. “I think I would have liked that.” Strangely, he seemed to mean that.
They sat in silence for the next few minutes, except for the deliberate wet crunch of Stiles eating. Derek watched the juice drip down the largest vein of his wrist, twining around his skin. Stiles didn’t seem to notice.
Now that he wasn’t making (as much of) a nuisance of himself, Derek could see that he was older than he’d first thought. It wasn’t given away in the youthful exuberance of his honey-colored eyes or the near-invisible lines on his face but by the dark, rubbery skin under his lower lashes. He was pale but not unhealthily so and Derek thought he might be fit but it was impossible to tell under the t-shirt and plaid overshirt he was wearing. Only the breadth of his shoulders and the way his chest would sometimes press against the novelty design on the front gave away that there was anything worthwhile there.
Derek had no idea what it was supposed to be referring to either. There was a picture of an orca on it and underneath were the pixelated words: ‘A wizard has turned you into a whale. Is this awesome (Y/N)?’ What the hell was the point of that?
Stiles stretched out his legs, kicking his heels up on Derek’s coffee table. He had a lanky, klutzy persona about him and the way he used his hands and arms when he spoke, said he flung his limbs about to enforce that impression. Derek wondered if that was a tactic to make him seem young and careless, so predators would see him as less of a threat. He was tall, nearly as tall as Derek, and he had moles dotting his face and neck that suited him somehow.
He was a mess of energy and motion and the thumping of his heart was the soundtrack conducting Derek’s headache. Derek shifted forward in the seat across the coffee table from Peter and Stiles, watched his claws grow out an inch or so with a bored expression and swiped them over the soles of Stiles’ shoes in one quick movement.
Stiles squawked and pulled his feet away. Derek smirked at the newly empty space on the coffee table while Stiles scowled at him. “I don’t think you’ll be winning any hospitality awards this visit, Grump.” Stiles stared mournfully down at the sole of one of his shoes. Little strips of rubber were curling up from the four claw marks. Stiles placed a hand over the gouges and Derek could now see that the tattoo curled around the top of said hand. He hadn’t been able to see it before because the sleeves of Stiles’ shirt had slipped down to cover the mark.
A flash of red tore from the tip of the tattoo at his neck down to the ink on his hand and Stiles pulled his fingers away to reveal a perfectly whole sole. He did the same with the other shoe and this time Derek saw his eyes spark yellow. He was fire in human form, Derek thought with a sneer as he settled further into his seat, leaning away from this mortal matchstick.
Peter didn’t have the same compulsion. Instead he looked fascinated and slightly desirous. It made Derek feel ill.
Stiles took a last bite of his apple and looked from the core to the kitchen and back. He glanced at the coffee table like he was considering setting it down there before flicking his gaze up to Derek and grinning when he found himself watched with a scowl. He sighed, leaned back, pushed out his lips and gave the apple a curious look before it, pop, vanished from his fingers.
Derek blinked. There had been no puff of smoke or spark or flash over, nothing. One moment it was in his hands and the next it wasn’t, as if invisible paint had been poured over it.
Stiles rubbed his sticky fingers together and huffed. The silence stretched out for all of a moment. He glanced at Peter, then Derek, and burst out laughing.
Derek’s first thought was that magic released some kind of endorphins – he didn’t really know much about it after all – but when the kid didn’t stop after a minute, Derek bit out an annoyed, “What?”
Stiles pulled himself together enough to point around at them. “Come on, we’re sitting here: a mage, a werewolf, and a zombie.” He snorted hard and got out brokenly, “We should walk into a bar. See what people come up with.”
Peter chuckled softly before he covered it with the back of his hand.
Derek didn’t think it was that funny.
When Stiles finally caught his breath with a long, happy sound, he said, popping his mouth, “Total silence is good, too.”
Peter’s teeth glinted behind his smile and he said into Stiles’ ear, “I can think of one way to pass the time.” The door mercifully slid open barely a second after the words were out and two sets of heavy footsteps stomped into the room.
Isaac looked uneasy and Stiles popped up from the couch and bounded over to him. “You must be the patient,” he said gamely and Isaac’s expression immediately calmed as Stiles stuck out his hand.
Isaac smiled uncertainly and slid his fingers into Stiles’.
Stiles grinned, brought his other hand up like he was going to clasp Isaac’s neck and instead slapped him in the back of the head, bringing their foreheads together. Isaac opened his eyes again, his expression jarred and irises glowing gold.
Stiles pulled away and said cheerfully, “Welp, that’s me done.” He whirled around and added, “I’ll just take the plane fare, round trip. Won’t charge you for the actual—” He waved his fingers around as if to say, ‘ooga booga.’ “Since, you know, it was pathetically easy and an excuse to come home besides.”
“You live here?” Derek said, shock making his voice loud.
At the same time, Scott squawked, “How are we supposed to know it worked?”
“Yes to you, Grumpygills,” Stiles said, pointing at Derek. He shrugged his shoulders at Scott and nudged Isaac in the collarbone. “Dude, say something you would say.”
“Uh, thanks for the memories?” Isaac tried.
“Ew,” Stiles wrinkled his nose, “does he usually make Fall Out Boy references? Are you sure you wanted him back?”
“Isaac,” Derek ground out, dragging the focus back to what mattered. This kid seemed to have an obnoxious habit of diverting that. “What do you remember?”
Isaac shrugged. “Everything. The Alpha pack taking me; torturing me for three days and Deucalion digging his claws into my neck.”
“Glad I could brighten your day,” Stiles said and his smile was more of an apologetic grimace. “Anyway,” Stiles stressed. “The ticket cost 530 bucks, round-trip. I’ll take a check if you don’t have that much on you.”
Derek rolled his eyes, paid the man without arguing – just because it hadn’t looked difficult didn’t mean it wasn’t worth every cent – and watched as Stiles flounced out with a fluttering wave of his fingers. A swell of relief crashed over Derek. The man was unsettling and Derek was glad to have him and his foreboding scent gone.
“They’re not going to stop coming after you.” Peter’s gaze roamed up the stairs to where Isaac was sleeping. His eyes focused on the ceiling just under his room. Derek tilted his head, listening to the steady breaths to make sure they stayed that way. “Having Isaac cured is only going to make them come harder.”
Derek hunched his shoulders. Peter had an annoying habit of telling him what he already knew. “What do you suggest I do then?”
Peter leaned in and said forcefully, “A preemptive strike.”
“You know they aren’t giving up until you kill one of them.” Us would have been the more accurate terminology but Derek doubted Peter wanted to remind him that this might all go away if Derek just slashed his throat. Again. “Why should we sit back and wait for them to come to you when we could utilize the element of surprise?”
The manipulative light in Peter’s eyes was shining eagerly. No doubt he was hoping Derek and the rest of the pack would rush in and get themselves killed and make him Alpha by default. While he was safe and sound, and far away from the action as he always seemed to be. “The element of surprise won’t change the fact that they’re stronger than us.”
Peter’s brows perked. “Can’t hurt.”
Derek stared at him, forehead furrowed. It was true that another confrontation with the Alpha pack was inevitable, whether they came for him or vice versa and any advantage was better than none. They knew where they were now but, unfortunately, the Alphas were perfectly aware of that. “Actually all it can do is hurt.”
Peter huffed out a breath, amused and loose. “A world of hurt is coming either way. Might as well be leading the charge this time.”
Derek’s nod was barely noticeable. “Fine.” It felt like hammering another nail in his coffin but he didn’t know of anything that wouldn’t.
It had been simple enough to get the plans to the Argent’s building. Erica was an attractive girl, who had no qualms about using her breasts like weapons. It was an effortless ruse that led to Isaac being able to slip in and out. Scott seemed grudgingly impressed that Derek had come up with a plan that skimped on the death and gore.
There were three air ducts, an elevator shaft and roof access that all seemed like promising means of ingress. Derek stood back, staring down at the blueprints and picturing all the horrible ways it could go wrong. Whatever happened, it would be his call that led to it.
The idea that he was never meant to be an Alpha nagged at him at times like these. He was the last option that made sense when it came to the Hale family and only because he was literally the last option – aside from a teenager and a power mad uncle who had trouble obeying basic laws of the universe – was he at the helm now.
“The roof,” Derek said gruffly. “If they do see us coming, at least it’s an open space, and we won’t be trapped if – when – they challenge us.”
“Not a bad strategy.” Peter actually sounded reluctantly impressed. “But it’s useless now,” he added with casual indifference.
Derek’s brow furrowed. “And why’s that?” he ground out roughly.
Peter’s head tilted and he stared at Derek like he pitied him. “Because they’ve come to us.”
Derek could hear them now, the distinct beat of five different hearts stationed at different points around his building, all steady and waiting. Derek’s fingers tightened into fists and the weight of not knowing what was coming settled heavily in his gut.
Boyd’s eyes were the first to glow gold, claws and fangs extending, and Derek appreciated that he wouldn’t have to ask them to fight. Though he wasn’t sure he saw much point in fighting at all. The Alphas were more powerful than Derek and his pack could ever hope to be.
Erica and Boyd had already ditched him once, Scott changed his mind on whether he was pack daily and Derek suspected Isaac would follow Scott, whatever he finally decided. He didn’t trust Peter as far as Lydia could throw him and Cora was an enigma. When she was around, all she had did was watch him with accusation and disappointment. Jackson hardly considered himself a werewolf, let alone the beta to anyone’s Alpha.
The sad fact was they didn’t even need an outside force to destroy them.
“Shall we?” Peter asked, eyes darkly amused. All the rest of them were fanged and clawed but Peter looked as if he was sitting down to coffee rather than preparing for battle. Derek suspected that was because he hadn’t yet chosen which side he was fighting on. If any.
Erica was the first to leave and, predictably, Boyd followed her lead. Derek was the last, save for Peter, and he didn’t really expect Peter would follow him.
Kali already had Erica by the throat. Scott and Isaac were tackling Ennis, moving swiftly around him and stabbing their claws in when he left himself unprotected, but they were getting cut as much as they were cutting. The twins were toying with Boyd and Cora, becoming one and then bounding off into two separate forms to play much the same game as Scott and Isaac were with Ennis.
Deucalion and Derek both stood on the sidelines. Derek’s eyes flashed red and he ran for him but Kali broke away from Erica and caught him with claws in his back. Derek roared as they stripped up from the inside and he whirled on her. He punched her in the breastbone and it was enough to push her back and dislodge her claws.
Derek didn’t stop to hit her again, gunning instead for Deucalion. He was knocked off course by Ennis, who had broken free of Scott and Isaac. He could hear Isaac’s rattling breaths that sounded like he had a punctured lung, likely caused by one of his own ribs. He couldn’t hear anything from Scott.
Derek pushed Ennis back, dragging claws down his cheek. Ennis caught his wrist, twisted it back and broke his arm. Derek howled and used his left hand to grab Ennis’ throat. It didn’t take much pressure before blood was pouring down his forearm from where his claws had sliced in.
He shoved Ennis off and pulled his hand away. The blood from the wound spurted out thicker and blacker. Derek was about to get a running start towards Deucalion when Erica screamed. It was a twisted, desperate sound and when Derek turned, Kali was trying to literally tear her in two.
Derek’s first and only thought was: Laura.
Scott got to Kali first and pulled her off from where her hands were dug into the wound in Erica’s side, stretching it open. Derek went straight for Erica, hefting her up into his arms, the broken one protesting at every shift of her weight. She was limp in his grip and her head lolled exaggeratedly. She was paler than Derek had ever seen her and her breaths were coming in sharp and short. She wouldn’t heal from this on her own.
Derek backed away, eyes red and fixed on Deucalion. They had to get her to Deaton now. The smirk on Deucalion’s face said he knew it, too. There was no way they were going to let him leave.
This was what they’d wanted. They wanted him to kill a beta and what better way to trap him into it than to injure one of them so badly that a swift death would be the kindest option. Derek could see Deucalion’s eyes glowing red even behind his shades.
The Camaro’s tires squealed into the alley, the side of it slammed hard into one of the, now separated, Alpha twins. Derek tried not to be annoyed by the dent left above the back wheel.
Peter threw open the passenger door. He leaned over the armrest and said tightly, “I think it’s time this party came to an end, don’t you?”
Derek gritted his teeth, yanked the seat forward and slid into the backseat with Erica while Scott, Isaac and Cora all crammed in next to him, sitting mostly on top of each other or wedged down on the floor. Boyd took the front and Peter reversed out and whipped onto the main road. He looked into the rearview mirror and asked, “Did you have fun? Meet anyone interesting?”
Derek glowered back at him. “Keep your eyes on the fucking road.”
Peter pulled a face. “Oo, touchy.”
Derek pressed his hand harder over the wound in Erica’s side, trying to staunch the blood that was making his fingers tacky and wet. No one spoke the rest of the way to Deaton’s and the air was tense and jittery.
Peter pulled into the handicapped spot and got out of the car. Boyd jerked the seat forward and ran around to Derek’s side before he could even push his own seat forward. He helped to get Erica out slowly, taking some of the pressure off Derek’s broken bones, and they carried her in together, through the front door.
Deaton didn’t come out to greet them as he nearly always did.
The mountain ash that lined the counter wouldn’t let Derek pass so Derek simply roared. That was all the warning he was capable of, emotionally drained as he was. Deaton sauntered out after a short moment and frowned as he looked at Erica. He broke the line with his heel easily. “Bring her back,” he said grimly.
Derek shifted her arm up higher around his neck and he and Boyd stepped through the swinging door. Derek froze as he saw who was sitting in the back room, dangling his feet off the counter.
He was wiping the fingers of one hand on his jeans and the other was holding a bag of Fritos. His eyes went wide when he saw the state they were all in. He hopped down off the counter, catching Deaton’s eye as he walked in. His gaze flicked back over to Derek as he and Boyd laid Erica down on the exam table. “Whoa, your idea of a good time and mine are wildly different.”
Derek couldn’t quite hold back a snarl. He’d never enjoyed anyone trying to make light of serious situations.
Deaton tipped his head towards Stiles. “This is more your forte than mine,” he said generously.
Stiles set the bag of chips down on the counter and sucked one thumb into his mouth before wiping both hands on his t-shirt. He rubbed them together and stepped over to Erica.
Derek shouldered in front of her and his eyes flashed red.
Stiles didn’t look even marginally impressed. He frowned at Derek and said sternly, “Down, Fido.” Derek took a step forward and his growl got so loud that it reverberated off the walls. Stiles rolled his eyes. “Let’s lay this out, shall we? Me,” he pointed to himself, “capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound and knitting skin together with a snap of my fingers. You,” his finger poked into Derek’s chest, “impediment to that happening.”
Derek stepped aside, still growling. He didn’t trust this cocky Superman and it went against all his instincts to let him lay hands on any one of his betas. The only consolation he had was that if Stiles did try anything, he’d be dead before he could get out of the room.
Stiles smiled widely at him and said happily, “Welp, let’s get started then.” He looked over Erica with a clinical detachment and suddenly Derek didn’t doubt that he’d seen much worse than this. Stiles gently turned Erica’s chin with a finger so she was looking at him. “I’m going to put my hands on you, Barbie.”
“Erica,” Derek groused.
“Erica,” Stiles corrected without bothering to look up at him. It itched at Derek’s skin for reasons he didn’t understand. “I’m telling you this because I am very attractive and any scent-reaction you might have would be embarrassing for you in a room full of werewolves.” Erica actually managed to huff out a laugh and her eyes became more focused on Stiles, warmth bleeding into them. Stiles leaned back from speaking into her ear and brightened. “Try to steel yourself, my dear.”
He did as promised and pressed his hands to Erica’s side. His eyes sparked a cool, serene blue this time and the color ran down the lines of his tattoo. For the first time, Derek wondered how much of his skin it spanned. He shifted a little uncomfortably as he remembered that Peter had once known the answer to that.
Stiles drew back to reveal whole, unblemished skin. Only dried blood was left behind, on both of them. He held up his hands and stared at them with disgust. He looked back at the healed site of Erica’s wound and said with a sigh, “I suppose it was worth it.” He turned and washed his hands in the sink.
Scott took a step towards him, eyes narrowed. “How did you do that?”
Stiles grinned and placed his damp hand on Scott’s shoulder. He leaned close like he was sharing a secret. “Are you really going to make me say it?” Scott’s brows furrowed in confusion and Stiles rolled his eyes. He fluttered the fingers of his free hand. “Magic.”
Isaac cleared his throat, staring at Deaton. “Why can’t you do that?”
“As I’ve told you,” he said calmly, “I am not a practitioner any longer.” He gazed over at Stiles thoughtfully. “Even if I was, there are few who are capable of what Stiles is.”
Stiles shrugged. “I’m kind of the shit.”
Erica sat up and despite some residual shaking and her sickly pallor, she looked as well as she ever had. “How do you know this guy?”
Stiles tilted his head and smiled at her. “Right, we haven’t been introduced,” he said cheerfully. “Where are your manners, young lady? You get all hot and bothered over a dude and you don’t even bother to learn his name first? Scandalous. Victorian women everywhere are judging you.” Deaton frowned at Stiles as he held out his hand to Erica. She half-heartedly shook it, using all of her energy to keep the smile that was fighting to show from breaking over her lips. “I’m Stiles.”
“Erica. Not Barbie,” she said with a deadly smile. “Call me that again and I’ll rip your throat out.” She widened her smile so it showed her teeth.
Stiles winked at her. “You mean you’ll try.”
“You haven’t taken your pills lately, have you?” Deaton directed at Stiles’ back, the slightest bit of accusation in his tone.
Derek stopped, scenting the air. He would bet the others were as well. There was no medicinal scent on Stiles. He didn’t smell sick either though.
A guilty look flashed across Stiles’ face but it was gone by the time he was facing Deaton again. “I got distracted,” he said with a tireless grin. “As you know, that can, and does happen with some regularity to me.” Deaton didn’t look amused and Stiles flailed his arms towards Erica, arguing, “I’ve been solving near-death crises.”
“Momentary near-death crises,” Deaton said sharply.
“It’s not as if—”
The bell above the clinic door chimed and Derek froze, tilting his head towards the sound. His muscles tensed and his claws peeked out slowly as the footsteps drew nearer.
It was a moment before Deaton and Stiles could hear them too and they shared a look. Whomever it was, their heartbeat, scent, and breathing all pointed towards human. Derek knew better than most that those could be just as dangerous as any other creature. Maybe even more so.
The Sheriff rounded the corner, in full uniform. Derek would know him even without it. He had been there on the night of the fire, with kind eyes and gruff voice. From what Derek knew of him, he was a good man who was well out of his league when it came to the supernatural rumblings in Beacon Hills.
The wolves only tensed further when they recognized him. Erica was healed but the rest of them weren’t. They were injured, their clothes were torn and there were red lines of drying blood running down from the exam table and onto the floor. The Sheriff’s eyes darted over all of them, his expression growing darker and darker, before they landed on Stiles and he let out a rush of air.
“Jesus, Stiles. You’re barely here one day – one day – and not only have you already found all the werewolves in town,” Derek’s eyes widened, “but you’ve taken up with them all.” The Sheriff stopped walking over to Stiles long enough to point a shaking finger at Deaton. “I blame you for this.”
The expression on Deaton’s face was indulgent and amused. “Fair enough, Sheriff.”
“I told you I was here for a job, Dad,” Stiles whined while everyone else’s jaws – save Deaton’s and Peter’s – dropped.
“Dad?” Scott repeated in a squeaky voice. Stiles and the Sheriff ignored him.
“A job that ended yesterday if I recall correctly,” the Sheriff ground out, giving Stiles an exasperated look.
Stiles held up his hands. “Whoa, this,” he pointed around at the bleeding werewolves, “I had nothing to do with. I was innocently eating Fritos, I swear.” He pointed at the chip bag as though it was exonerating evidence.
“You are not getting involved in this,” the Sheriff said in a low voice and it sounded like he was reinforcing something he’d said before.
Stiles’ features went dark. “I don’t think that’s an option even if I do keep my distance from all this. Blinding people tends to get you on their hit list for life.”
Derek started. “You blinded Deucalion?”
Stiles opened his mouth to answer, his eyes wide and fierce and for the first time Derek glimpsed the power this cocky kid had inside him. It nearly made him fall back a step.
The Sheriff spoke before Stiles could. “Then get out of Beacon Hills.”
Stiles held his ground. “It’s been dangerous enough leaving you here unprotected.” His eyes hardened. “My scent is all over the house. He’s bound to find it sooner or later. I’m not running this time.”
The Sheriff ran a hand through his hair and huffed. “He nearly killed you the last time you confronted him.”
Stiles’ mouth curved into a smirk. “I gave as good as I got and I’ve only gotten stronger.”
The Sheriff gave him a long, gauging look before finally offering a sharp nod. “Fine,” he said gruffly. “But you keep me in the loop this time.” The Sheriff turned on his heel and dipped his head towards Derek. “Hale.” He looked around the room. “This is your pack?” He cringed a bit as he said it.
Derek really didn’t need the reminder that his pack was fairly pathetic.
The Sheriff leaned his head towards Stiles but didn’t take his eyes off the assembled teenagers. “It does look like they’ll need all the help they can get.”
Stiles grinned. “My thoughts exactly.”
So Derek had two more allies. Whether he wanted them or not. Stiles didn’t seem to care about Derek’s thoughts on the matter and his father followed wherever Stiles led, looming over his shoulder like a disapproving shadow. It didn’t look like he’d completely given up the ghost of keeping Stiles out of this entirely.
Peter stuck close to Stiles, talking in low tones with him in the corner or standing in the shadows behind his back like he was daring any of them to try something. It was relegated to a non-issue however, when the others took to him instantly.
Erica seemed amused by him and he had kept her from bleeding out so being friendly wasn’t much of a stretch for her. Boyd seemed mainly indifferent to him, which was mostly status quo for him. Cora hadn’t snarled at him once, which was practically a hug from her. Isaac was the only one who seemed a little wary but that was because Stiles and Scott seemed instantly taken with one another. They spoke the same language, which wasn’t something Derek could understand, and had similar temperaments.
Only Derek seemed to actively want him gone. Though that desire had dampened some since he’d found out about Stiles blinding Deucalion. It was hard not to find some goodwill for him after that revelation.
Peter and, grudgingly, Derek shared everything they knew about the Alphas with Stiles and the Sheriff, who’d gruffly introduced himself as ‘John’ after entering Derek’s loft.
Stiles didn’t reciprocate.
He frowned over the blueprints before moving away towards the window. He stared up at the half moon, resting the side of Derek’s coffee cup against his chin. Peter and the Sheriff were talking quietly over the table about their next move and the rest of the betas were fading fast. Erica and Boyd had already gone home for the night. Isaac and Scott were sitting on the couches, both of them stretched out and near sleep. Cora was watching them from the shadows, leaning against the banister.
Derek didn’t think she slept.
He walked over to Stiles and pitched his voice low. “How did you blind Deucalion?” he asked gruffly.
Stiles turned around and his mouth twitched into a tired smile. “State secret.”
Derek snorted, but it was mean and his eyes were dark. “It’s about the only thing you’ve done that’s made me like you.”
Stiles looked at the ceiling and his lips quirked up further. “Right, restoring your beta’s memories and keeping one of them from bleeding out, totally unworthy of likability.”
Derek ignored him. “How did you do it?”
Stiles drew in a deep breath. “I spelled a dagger and I gouged it into his eyes.” He tried to make it sound as anticlimactic as possible. Derek continued to watch him and Stiles tensed and added, “He still feels it every second of every day. Right now, wherever he is, he’s feeling a knife plunge into his face.” Stiles’ shoulders pulled in and his smile went dark and vicious. “It’s a small consolation.”
Derek could feel something like fear snaking up his back. “For what?”
Stiles’ eyes flashed deep red and the lights in the room flickered. “For killing my mom.”
Derek frowned, feeling wrong-footed. “I’m sorry.” He’d never understood why that was the proper response. He supposed people were apologizing for the universe in general and what utter shit it was, rather than taking on any personal responsibility.
Stiles shrugged but Derek could tell his nonchalance was feigned. The minute shaking of his cup gave him away. “You didn’t kill her,” he said simply.
Derek didn’t know what to say to that but Stiles’ presence grated against his skin less than it ever had, his heartbeat no longer thumping like a tattoo against the sides of his head. Derek nodded his head towards where Peter and the Sheriff were standing. “My uncle likes you.”
Stiles snorted. “Really? What gave that away?” he said with heavy sarcasm.
Derek shook his head. “I don’t mean he wants to fuck you,” he clarified bluntly. “He likes you.” Derek’s shoulders hunched. “I didn’t think there was enough human left in him for that.”
Stiles frowned thoughtfully and followed Derek’s gaze. “I know. It’s odd, isn’t it?”
Derek nodded, brow furrowed in heavy confusion. Stiles was a piece of Peter’s past and this was one piece that Peter apparently wanted to keep safe. It made Derek want to squirm out of his skin. Why was this kid, that Derek didn’t even recognize, more important to Peter than his own niece?
Stiles held out his coffee cup and Derek automatically took it. Stiles’ mouth widened into a slight grin and he rubbed his thumb and middle finger over his eyes before sighing and glancing over at Peter and his father. “I don’t think we’ll figure out anything further tonight.”
Derek grunted, annoyed that he’d been turned into a pack mule without realizing it. He set the cup down on the edge of the sill.
Stiles walked over and placed a leading hand on the Sheriff’s elbow. “I think it’s time to pack it in.” Stiles looked at Peter as he said, “We’ll come up with something.”
Peter nodded, sharp and certain.
Stiles stopped on his way out and looked back at Derek with an inscrutable expression. “Why do they want you to kill one of your betas by the way? Is it just to tear your pack apart from the inside?”
Derek shook his head. “They seem to think if I kill one, I’ll be unable to keep from killing the others.” It didn’t make any sense to Derek and it only made him warier of the Alphas than ever before. Killing their own pack, it went against every instinct. “Something about their power becoming mine.”
Stiles dipped his chin, looking thoughtful. He affected a shiver. “They’re like fucking Reavers. Once human and now so far gone that they’re feeding on them.”
“Exactly,” Scott piped up from the couch.
Derek hadn’t even realized he was still awake. This was what he meant, their own completely esoteric language.
Stiles snapped out of whatever loop of horror he’d locked into and he patted his dad’s back to get him moving again. “Well, that’s sure to lead to some truly terrifying nightmares tonight. We’ll see you around.” He gave one last wave and left the loft.
Derek was suddenly overcome with a bone-deep exhaustion and he barely made it up to his bedroom before he fell into a restive sleep.
Derek woke the next morning feeling like he’d only just closed his eyes. He squinted at his clock and the blurred numbers said 6:11. Derek flipped over onto his back and stared at the spinning blades of his ceiling fan. When he next glanced at the clock it was 6:43 and he rolled out of bed with a heavy sigh.
He came down the stairs and was surprised to find that he was far from the first one awake. His entire pack was sitting in his living room, speaking in quiet tones and snacking on his trail mix. Derek froze, staring at them in utter confusion.
“Ah, our fearless leader has arrived,” Peter said from the kitchen, teeth glinting behind a sharp smile.
Of course he wasn’t over with the others. Uncle Peter, not a part of the pack but with nowhere else to go and no one else to take him in.
Lydia looked up from the book she had in her hands. Derek recognized it as the hard copy of the Argent’s bestiary she’d translated. Jackson was sitting next to her, looking grumpy and blinking down at his knees with beady eyes.
Scott and Isaac were on the sofa, Cora standing just behind them and Boyd and Erica were in the armchairs opposite.
Derek walked over to stand at the head of the table, looking uneasy.
It was Lydia who broke the silence with a roll of her eyes. “Scott tells us you have a plan for the Alphas.” She furrowed her brow and twirled her hand around. “Or you’re in the process of a plan at least.”
Derek nodded, eyes narrowing. “We’re working on something.”
Scott shifted forward and corrected, “Stiles is working on something.”
Jackson and Lydia shared a look over the name. Apparently they hadn’t been brought that far into their confidence. Which would only help Derek now. “He’s not needed,” he said firmly.
Scott, Erica and – to Derek’s surprise – Boyd immediately stiffened and started voicing their disagreements over one another. “He’s the only person who is needed, Derek,” Erica said forcefully.
“We don’t even have a wisp of a plan without him,” Scott pointed out angrily.
Boyd moved in front of Erica, his voice even. “He’s hurt them once before. It’s more than any of us have done.”
Derek crossed his arms protectively over his chest. “I don’t trust him,” he gritted out.
Erica rolled her eyes. “You don’t trust anyone. None of us is willing to sit around waiting for something that will never happen.”
Lydia closed the book and placed it on the table in front of her. She looked around at them primly before settling on Derek. “I’m betting that, by now, this Stiles has a plan and we’d be stupid not to take part in it just because you are chronically incapable of showing faith in anyone.”
Derek clenched his jaw.
Scott stood and levelled Derek with an intense stare. “You have to depend on us the same way we have to depend on you, Derek.” Scott glanced around them and decided, “We choose to trust Stiles. We’ll follow him whether you do or not.”
Stiles was dangerous, with fire burned into his skin, but Derek understood the implication behind Scott’s words. He could order them to stay away from him and he would be disobeyed. Scott was telling him because he didn’t want it to come to that. “It’s on your head if he betrays us, McCall.”
Scott let out a heavy breath of relief and dipped his chin. “Fair enough.” He sat back down and waggled his phone. “Besides, I texted him about fifteen minutes ago.”
They barely waited another two before Stiles was strolling through the door with his father in tow.
“Surprised to see you again so soon, Sheriff,” Peter said from the kitchen, eyes narrowed and curious.
The Sheriff’s gaze cut over to him, distrust festering behind it. “I’m on indefinite leave until this is over,” he growled. He refocused on Stiles’ back, as though daring him to take a single step out of sight.
Stiles beamed at them and his brows quirked. “I’m resisting blasting an ‘Avengers assemble!’ so hard right now.”
Scott snorted from the couch and Derek’s scowl deepened. He really did not like him.
Stiles walked over with a skip in his step. He froze as he passed Lydia and whistled. “You must be the incomparable Lydia Martin,” he said, kneeling down and taking her hand. “Beauty, brains and a snappy fashion sense.”
Jackson growled from beside her, eyes flashing blue.
Stiles barely glanced at him as he said faux-sternly, “Easy, Rex.”
Lydia looked far from impressed. “Noticing my fashion sense? If you’re trying to convince me you’re straight, you’re doing a piss-poor job of it.”
Stiles winked at her. “Come on, Lyds, you’re too smart for labels.” He stood before she could respond. Derek’s skin itched with annoyance. Apparently Stiles would hit on most anything that moved. It irked Derek in some deep-set, indefinable way.
“So,” Stiles shared a look with his father, “we have a plan, of sorts.”
“We have no way of knowing if it will work, and we won’t know until we actually go through with it,” the Sheriff put in bluntly.
Stiles’ expression soured. “My father has chosen to take the optimistic approach as you can see.”
“What’s this plan?” Derek said, pulling attention back around to the matter at hand.
Stiles breathed in deep, catching the Sheriff’s eye. “We’re going to need a load of mountain ash, a place that’s more familiar to you than the Alphas – preferably one without a lot of hiding places,” he pointed at Lydia, “her brains and all the help we can get.” He looked up at Derek, gaze fierce. “Do you have any other allies?”
Derek was halfway through saying ‘no’ when Scott piped up. “We could ask the Argents.”
Derek’s growl was overrun by Stiles’ curious, “Victoria and Chris?” Derek’s brow furrowed as he stared harder at Stiles. Was there anyone this kid didn’t know? He watched as Stiles threw himself down on the couch next to Scott. Isaac grudgingly slid over so Scott could make room for him.
“Victoria’s dead,” Derek said gruffly. He considered it before adding reluctantly, “Gerard and Kate, too.”
“The latter I had heard about,” Stiles said with a smirk, glancing over at a self-satisfied Peter. He turned back to Derek. “Then I suggest we invite Chris into this little powwow.”
“And Allison,” Scott said before Derek could answer one way or another.
Stiles’ mouth spread into a slow grin and he waggled his eyebrows. “The Allison?”
Derek stared between the two. Stiles already knew about Scott’s epic love for Allison? Only Isaac’s face mirrored his surprise.
Stiles nudged Scott in the shoulder. “You neglected to tell me this was Allison as in Allison Argent. The Romeo and Juliet trope is overplayed as it is.” Stiles made an exaggerated face of disappointment and clapped Scott on the shoulder. “I expected something more original from you, Scotty.”
Scott grinned, honest and pure. It wasn’t something Derek had ever seen before. There had always been something in his eyes, dark and unamused, that wasn’t there now. “We’re star-crossed. It’s classic.”
Stiles snorted at the same time that Derek cleared his throat. It was supremely annoying how... distracting this kid was. “The Argents are werewolf hunters,” Derek said, since apparently everyone wanted to forget they were inherently on opposite sides.
“And we’re after some seriously well-equipped and badass werewolves,” Stiles put in with a shrug. “It’s a match made in heaven.” He slapped his hands down on his knees and stood up. It left Derek feeling off balance, the way Stiles couldn’t seem to sit still. “I suggest you call Chris and get him here ASAP. In the meantime, we can figure out where we’re going to hold the Ultimate Smackdown.”
Derek perked a dark brow. “Why can’t you talk like a normal person?” He hadn’t exactly meant to say that out loud but the question was still valid. These constant pop culture references distanced everything Stiles said by just a hair. But enough that, on a very fine and – truthfully – unimportant level, Derek couldn’t relate to it. He didn’t know why that bothered him.
Stiles just grinned at him, his eyes alight with amusement. It left Derek’s stomach squirming.
Derek left it to Scott to call Allison while his betas squabbled over the best locale. He rubbed a hand over his forehead, wishing he’d gotten more sleep the night before. The community center, the public pool and the movie theater were all considered and thrown aside. They kept coming back to the high school. It wasn’t ideal when it came to cutting down on places to hide but it was the only place they all knew better than the Alphas.
Stiles huffed out a harsh breath through his nose and pinched his lower lip between his thumb and forefinger. “It won’t be easy creating a perimeter that large. We’ll have to set it up beforehand and hope it’s not disturbed before we can close it off, night of.”
Lydia pursed her lips. “There’s no way to protect it from being agitated?”
Stiles shook his head. “Not without drawing attention to it.” He looked up at Scott. “You said the twins went to school with you, right?”
“Then it’ll be gamble enough just having the ash there at all,” Stiles said, nostrils flaring. “No doubt Deucalion’s trained them the best he can against magic – the first lesson being detecting it.”
A knock at the door interrupted any further planning. The Sheriff was the one to answer it. Chris and Allison stood on the other side. Chris smirked and held up his hand to the barrier between hallway and loft. He looked into the apartment to stare at Derek. “Wards, Derek. Really?”
Stiles was dropping a fistful of trail mix into his mouth when he snapped his free fingers and the wards tore apart like they were made of tissue paper.
Derek shuffled his shoulders uncomfortably. It was a bit discouraging to see days’ worth of work ruined in mere nanoseconds, and with the ease of scratching an itch.
Allison breezed past him without a single glance and took the spot on the couch next to Scott that Stiles had so recently vacated. Stiles sent a thumbs up to Scott as she leaned in to kiss his cheek and Scott smiled back.
Chris, on the other hand, had frozen on his way in once he’d laid eyes on Stiles. His expression soured and he said bitterly, “Stiles.”
Stiles’ mouth curled into a winsome half-smile and his brows perked. “Heard about the demise of your murdering psychopath of a sister. I’d say I was sorry but it’d be a filthy, filthy lie.” He dipped his head towards Derek and for a moment ice flooded Derek’s insides. Stiles couldn’t know about Kate. Could he? His next words explained his attention and Derek could breathe again. “Derek here tells me your dad bit it, too. Shame, he was such a nice guy,” Stiles said, tone dripping with sarcasm.
Chris squared his shoulders and said tightly, “We hope he did.”
That made Stiles fall back a step. It was one of the first times Derek had seen him look uncertain. “You don’t know for sure?”
Chris shook his head and hedged, “Not exactly.”
They stared at each other for a long moment and the way they did felt... intimate. It must have felt that way to the Sheriff, too, because he cleared his throat as obtrusively as he could.
Chris glanced away, looking like he’d been caught out. He coughed and said, “I didn’t expect to see you back here.”
Stiles opened his mouth to respond but the Sheriff stepped forward and squeezed his shoulder, saying, “He does have some ties to the town.”
Chris smirked and again his eyes locked on Stiles’. “I suppose he does.”
Peter’s lips twitched and he joined the Sheriff in stepping up behind Stiles and glaring at Chris. He leaned in to Stiles but didn’t take his eyes off Chris. “And how do you know Chris?”
Stiles’ smile widened into a grin. “He taught me hand to hand combat many moons ago,” he said with a snort. His sense of humor was painfully immature, Derek thought with a roll of his eyes.
Chris shrugged a shoulder and said smugly, “Someone had to waste the time trying.”
Stiles’ eyebrow quirked, unimpressed. “I’ve only gotten better, you know?”
Chris pitched his voice low and leaned in to say warmly in Stiles’ ear as he passed him, “I would like to judge that for myself sometime.”
The Sheriff interrupted the moment with a hard, “As much as I enjoy watching my son get hit on by a man twice his age, I think we should get to the reason we invited you here, Argent.” If words were knives, Argent would be cut to hell.
Strangely, Derek felt the same about their blatant, not to mention wildly inappropriate, flirting. Apparently Stiles had a thing for older men. Derek was struck by the thought that maybe the person who had been breathing in the background on the other end of Deaton’s call had been an older man, too.
For some reason, the thought left him feeling wholly unsettled.
He had never thought of himself as homophobic before. Other people’s sexualities had never bothered him one way or another. He’d never seen why he should be concerned with something that didn’t directly concern him. But he couldn’t deny being put off by the idea of Stiles with a man, any man. He shook the thoughts away. “Now the Argents are here,” he said with an unhappy growl, “maybe you can let us in on this plan of yours.”
Stiles grinned up at him, a sharpness behind it while his eyes flashed a deep green. “We’re going to play thief,” he said with vicious satisfaction.
Derek couldn’t sleep. He joined the Sheriff in being as far from optimistic about this plan as possible. They were effectively trapping themselves inside the school with mountain ash for some kind of Battle Royale while Stiles and Lydia cooked up a magic spell that had precisely zero guarantee of working. It had never been done before. Stiles had said that about a half dozen times.
And that was Derek’s largest problem with this plan. All the risk was Stiles’. This was Derek’s pack, Derek’s home, he should be the one facing that kind of danger. If Deucalion figured out what Stiles was up to even a second ahead of schedule, there was no way he wouldn’t rip his throat out.
Stiles’ power would be diverted for the spell and he wouldn’t be able to protect himself from even the weakest of attacks. Derek pressed a fist to his forehead as worst case scenarios played out behind his eyelids.
Stiles’ warm eyes cut over to him and he said tightly, “You’re sure you can get them here?”
He looked utterly serious and there were definite nerves in the trembling of his fingers. There was still an energy and anticipation underlying every twitch of his muscles. He was impossible to pin down and the challenge appealed to some part of Derek he didn’t necessarily approve of. Derek pulled out his phone and grunted out, “I’m sure.”
He scrolled down his contact list and frowned before deciding to go ahead with it. He pulled up Jennifer’s info and typed out the message: Stay away from the school tonight. He didn’t know what they were. If anything. But he did know he didn’t want her dead, especially not due to some plan he’d engineered.
Derek glanced back up to find Stiles’ inquisitive look hadn’t gone anywhere. He sighed and explained, “They know I have no true ties to this pack. I know they think it’s only a matter of time before I decide power is better than the weak connection I have to a group of teenagers who, more often than not, hate me.”
Stiles’ expression turned into one of pity and, likely realizing it would only piss Derek off, he quickly looked away.
Derek got the feeling he understood the importance of pack better than most, as well as the fact that Derek’s being so broken had to be like torture. Especially considering he no longer had any family to truly speak of.
Derek obligingly pretended he hadn’t seen it. He paused walking past Lydia as she arranged some sort of geometric sigil in red sand. He glanced back at Stiles and said, “Keep him from doing anything stupid.” He frowned with his eyebrows. “I expect him to still be alive when all this is over.” The Sheriff would kill him if he wasn’t, Derek was sure of that.
Lydia smirked, her eyes shining like she knew something he didn’t. Derek didn’t doubt that was true. “I’ll keep him safe,” she said smugly.
Derek didn’t bother trying to decipher the look she was giving him, instead he walked the rest of the way down to the school. Allison and Chris were stationed just outside the perimeter. Chris was ready with ultrasonic emitters, in case any of the Alphas tried to escape the mountain ash boundary before it could be sealed off, while Allison had her bow and flash-grenade arrows. The Sheriff wasn’t far away from them, undoubtedly with wolfsbane bullets in his gun.
The others were already inside, disguising their heartbeats and scents with clever little tricks of Stiles’. Derek dialed Deucalion’s number at the penthouse above the Argent’s apartment. A voice dripping with confidence answered, “Derek, how can I be of assistance this evening?”
“I’m ready,” Derek said bluntly, refusing to rise to any bait. “I’ll be at the high school.” He hung up before Deucalion could get in another word.
He nodded to the Argents and said, for better or worse, “They’ll be here soon.”
He wasn’t disappointed when Deucalion and his four Alphas arrived after a scarce few minutes had passed. They were already sporting fangs and claws. Derek roared and matched them.
“You’ll need to kill at least one beta here if you mean to join us,” Deucalion told him around sharp teeth. “Unless you’re going to try to convince me you already have?” His gaze over the edges of his sunglasses was sharp and knowing.
“They’re inside,” Derek growled.
Deucalion wouldn’t be able to sense them with the spells in place but hopefully he would think it was due to distance rather than subterfuge.
Deucalion’s fangs retracted and he turned back to look at his lackeys. He grinned and faced Derek once again. “We fully expect a trap, you realize?” The other Alphas gave off braying laughs. “You’re just so terrible at being an Alpha, Derek, that we’re as far from intimidated as it’s possible to be.”
Derek straightened up and tilted his head with a smile. “I was kind of counting on that actually.” He turned and ran back towards the school as quickly as he could and Derek was pleased to hear the sound of five sets of footfalls following him. It meant that Lydia and Stiles would be able to sneak down to the ash line and close it.
One set stopped dead and Derek hoped it was because the twins had joined but when he turned back, it was to see Deucalion frozen, scenting the air. Shit. Derek had to get to him. He spun to change direction but Ennis caught him hard in the shoulder. Derek tumbled and rolled, skidding onto all fours, roaring.
Deucalion was racing for the ash line on the other side of the building and Derek could see Stiles running down the length of it. The boundary hadn’t been closed with the first attempt. The ash had been disturbed somewhere else in the night and Stiles’ only hope was to find the break, pray it was the only one, and close it before Deucalion got to him. The words ‘suicide mission’ rang in Derek’s head.
Deucalion was gunning for Stiles and the only chance Stiles had of completing the barrier, was if Derek got to Deucalion first. He started to run for them, only to be caught around the ankle by Ennis. Derek roared and slashed him hard across the face. Ennis growled but his hands flew to his face and it was enough of a distraction for Derek to break free and run for Deucalion, who had one hell of a head start.
Stiles had found the break in the line but Deucalion was bearing down on him fast. Stiles pulled out a fistful of ash from the bag slung over his shoulder. He dropped it with a start as Deucalion’s mouth, huge and bloodthirsty, broke open for him. Stiles fell back on his ass, hands splayed behind him and heart pounding hard while Deucalion snapped at the barrier that weakly shimmered into existence. The ash had fallen where it was meant to. Mostly.
Deucalion roared when he realized he’d missed his opportunity by scant seconds and he clawed at the wall of magic. “You.” His voice was inhuman and so raw and fierce that it was difficult to understand.
Derek watched Stiles’ chest heave but even his obvious fear didn’t stop him playing with fire. He crawled forward on his knees and put his face right up to the barrier, a vicious grin spreading over his face. “Me,” he hissed and his voice was just as cutting.
Deucalion’s head whipped around in realization and his sightless eyes landed on Derek. He lunged for him and caught Derek in the side with his teeth. Derek howled but he couldn’t break Deucalion’s hold. Everything colored with a red haze and he vaguely heard Stiles say something under his breath, something with soft consonants and hard vowels and Deucalion pulled back with a deep groan, doubling over.
Derek ran before Deucalion could collect himself, trying to get back to the school. He just had to keep him distracted from Stiles long enough for Stiles to get back to the sigil and perform the spell. It didn’t matter if Derek died in the process, so long as this didn’t end up being a pointless exercise.
He passed Allison and Chris who had Kali cornered and snarling and he could vaguely hear the sound of gunshots inside the school. There were snapping jaws and hard thumps coming from the basement. He broke through the double doors but was still in the main hall, Deucalion on his heels, when Deucalion stopped, as though yanked back by an invisible string.
His eyes narrowed and he turned to look through the patterned window on the doors, back at Stiles. Even though they were nearly half a mile away from him, Derek knew Deucalion would be able to see him clearly. He dropped his chin, eyebrows furrowed curiously and he said in a hushed tone, “And just what do you think you’re doing, Stiles?”
Stiles’ voice boomed out over the distance and it was cheeky and fierce and every inch the Stiles that had so confidently strolled into Derek’s loft like he’d owned it that first day. “You’ve taken something that doesn’t belong to you, Duke. Didn’t your mother ever teach you that stealing is wrong?”
Deucalion’s thin lips flitted up into a grin. “Funny, isn’t it? You, mentioning mothers.” His eyes burned red and even Derek was tempted to rip out Deucalion’s throat for the taunt.
Stiles just laughed, short and breathy. “Yes, well. I did have a mother who knew right from wrong. I think I’ll make her proud today, don’t you?” The sounds of fighting that had been building to a crescendo around and below them had tapered off completely. There wasn’t a person or wolf who could hear them, that wasn’t hanging on Stiles’ every word. “I think I should take. It. Back.”
“What are you—” But the connection was severed before Deucalion could finish the question.
Derek wasn’t sure what he’d expected when the spell began but it wasn’t this. This was far more satisfying than he’d hoped it could be. He watched as power leached from Deucalion in painful jolts, like electric currents being run – visibly – through his body. He stared down at him with vicious pleasure.
Every single one of the betas Deucalion had killed – that all of them had killed – were unwittingly taking their revenge now. It wasn’t natural for one wolf to have that much power, to amass his own kin’s strength and it wanted to tear out of him. Stiles had come up with the idea to rip it away. Lydia had found a description in the bestiary of witches who had stripped a wolf of his Alpha rank before so they knew, in principle, it could be done and they set about creating their own spell. Or curse, more aptly put. And it was a fucking masterpiece.
Deucalion staggered as fatal blows never felt etched into his skin. Every death his stolen power had helped him escape befell him now. Slash marks carved into his jaw and neck; puncture wounds bled through his shirt; his leg dropped out from under him as the musculature grew mangled and unusable.
Stiles’ voice emerged from nothingness and this time it was whispered and low. Derek wouldn’t have heard it at all if he hadn’t been standing close enough to get Deucalion’s blood on his shoes. “I told you I would be the end of you,” he said, like he was tearing a bite out of Deucalion’s flesh with the words.
Deucalion’s eyes burned the fiercest red Derek had ever seen before the light in them was snuffed out.
Derek stood there, stunned. It had worked. Their plan had actually worked. It suspended belief, honestly. Which was when Derek heard Lydia scream.
Kali was still alive. Worse for wear, but alive, and headed straight for Stiles. Kali backhanded Lydia hard across the face as she moved to stop her. Her body went limp almost instantaneously. She didn’t slow at all as she made straight for Stiles, who didn’t move. Why wasn’t he moving? What had the spell done to him?
Stiles’ constant reminder of ‘it’s never been done before’ reverberated in Derek’s head.
Derek had started towards him before the panic had truly set in, but it was obvious now that Stiles was weak. The barrier had fallen as soon as the spell was cast because he couldn’t sustain the power – the belief – it took, and now he could barely stand on his own two feet let alone put up any kind of wall between him and Kali.
One arm was hanging awkwardly at her side, like it’d been popped out of its socket, and there were claw and bite marks over seventy-five percent of her body but it had only been enough to maim and not kill. She bore down on Stiles and her mouth drew wide, wider than any human’s could go, fangs growing and eyes burning red. She was going to kill him unless Derek got there.
He was barely fifty yards away when she sunk her teeth deep into Stiles’ side. Blood gushed out over her mouth and Stiles’ scream was hoarse and broken. Derek dug his claws into her face and dragged upwards and pushed forward until he could feel brain. She didn’t even have time to react before she hit the ground, ugly and deader than a fucking door nail.
Derek roughly dragged Stiles up by his collar as he knelt down. He was angry and... terrified by turns.
“I’m fine,” Stiles choked out but the words were garbled around the blood trickling down from the corner of his mouth.
“Shut up,” Derek spat. He pulled up Stiles’ shirt for reasons even he didn’t understand. He’d seen her do it but he needed to see the proof to believe it was real. You could see every individual puncture wound of each one of her teeth, even beneath all the blood and the tattoo that invaded even here. It curled around his sides from his back, snaking up his chest along the edges of his torso. The thick, black lines spanned so much of his pale skin. Derek couldn’t begin to imagine how his back looked, which seemed to be where the tattoo originated from. “You’ll either turn or you’ll die,” he said. He managed to keep his voice steady, much to his own surprise.
Stiles shook his head and it lolled dangerously. “I won’t turn,” he said with certainty, not a single stutter in his heartbeat. Derek’s throat seized. He knew what would happen now. Stiles’ body would reject the bite and his blood would turn black and pour out of him in purest agony. He placed his hand on Stiles’ shoulder, veins turning black as the plain flowed away from Stiles and into him. Stiles’ grin was bloody. “I knew you liked me, Sourwolf.”
“Shut up,” Derek said again. If Stiles was going to die, at least Derek could make it as painless as possible for him and, when it was done, he would get up and move on just as he always did. He only hoped the kid’s father wouldn’t come to watch.
Stiles blinked and his eyes opened and closed separately. Derek looked away. Stiles placed his hand over Derek’s and shook his head again. He jutted his chin forward and Derek could tell it was taking all of his energy to focus on him with the intensity he was displaying. “I’m fine,” he said clearly and the words weren’t as slurred, though they were just as believable as the first time he’d uttered them. Stiles smiled and looked down at the tooth marks in his skin before locking eyes with Derek again. “Watch,” he said firmly.
Derek stared down at the bite but nothing happened. It bled nonstop and the shine from the school’s security lights made it look like the torn flesh was ripping further. Derek wanted to stop looking but then he might have to meet Stiles’ eyes again, watch the life extinguish in them the same way it had in Deucalion’s. Somehow Derek didn’t think it would be nearly as easy to take this time around.
He watched the wound rise and fall, expand and contract with each rattling breath Stiles took, when the ink on his side shifted. Derek fell back onto his ass. The ink curled over the wound, like the spirals of his own triskele, sparking a cool blue. Where there had been hard lines of a tribal tattoo there were now soft swirls that moved in time with the slow pulse of Stiles’ heart.
“Magic,” Stiles choked out, voice tight as he clenched his stomach. Whatever the lines on his skin were doing, it wasn’t painless. “You think I’m crazy enough to get a full body tattoo?” He huffed. “I would rather not look like a gang member, you know. It would’ve made getting a job ten thousand times easier, trust me.”
Derek stared in awe as the marks began to fade as though someone were going over them, back and forth, with a crappy eraser.
“I’m marked by magic, my mom used to say.” Stiles snorted. “No one ever expects it to be so literal.”
Within minutes, the bite was gone completely and Stiles winced but propped himself up nonetheless. He staggered into a standing position and the first thing he did was stare at Kali and her destroyed face. He glanced back at Derek. “Thanks for that, by the way.” He wiped bloody hands on his jeans and coughed badly enough that it upset his balance.
Derek steadied him automatically. “Was it always that big?” he asked, nodding at the tattoo.
Stiles laughed outright. “Hell no. It used to be a little thing in the small of my back. The older I get, the more dictatorial it gets. It’s fighting for control of every inch of my beautiful, beautiful skin,” he said with an exaggerated pout, rubbing a thumb over the ink that was now firmly planted on his neck – perfectly inert. So much so that Derek almost doubted that he’d seen what he’d seen.
He opened his mouth to say... what, he didn’t know, when he heard the sounds of people running towards them. Scott was leading the charge. Jackson stopped and hefted Lydia into his arms. Her heartbeat was calm and even. She was knocked out cold and she’d probably have one hell of a headache when she woke up, but she’d be all right.
Scott didn’t stop until he’d pulled Stiles into a fast hug. He stepped back and held Stiles by the shoulders, blurting out quickly, “We heard Lydia scream and we thought—” which was when Scott noticed the still-tacky blood on Stiles’ shirt and the rip that was so clearly from a werewolf’s teeth. Scott grabbed at the hole and tugged. “Shit. No, no, shi—” He finally coaxed his shaking digits into enough cooperation that he could pull up Stiles’ shirt... where there was nothing but unblemished skin. And yet he was still painfully human.
Derek heard the collective breath taken by the group assembled. They really had taken, all too quickly, to this kid. The Sheriff trudged forward and dragged Stiles into his arms. “You take a lot of risks, kid,” he said gruffly, squeezing him tight.
Stiles grinned. “And no worse the wear for it. I like the lesson it teaches little children – there are no permanent consequences to anything you do!” he said brightly.
The Sheriff smiled back, somewhat exasperatedly, at him. It was clear, though, how much he respected and loved his son judging by the warmth of his gaze.
Stiles smacked his lips and looked at all of them like now all the fuss was over, he couldn’t figure out why they were all still standing around. “I don’t know about all of you, but I am starving. And considering we all look like we’ve been down at the O.K. Corral, albeit with more claws and teeth than guns—” Stiles nodded at the Sheriff, “no offense, Dad – I’m thinking delivery?”
Derek bit down on a surprised snort. Not one of them, good guys or bad, was sporting a bullet wound. Stiles was just dick enough to point that out. Derek tried, and failed, not to find it amusing.
The Sheriff glowered at him.
Stiles ignored it. “So, food. At Derek’s,” he said, without even looking to Derek for confirmation, “Pizza?”
Scott let out a massive groan. “Oh my God, yes.”
“Pineapple,” Boyd put in instantly.
Erica rolled her eyes and huffed. “Anchovies.”
“You are disgusting, Reyes,” Jackson said, hefting Lydia up higher. “Green peppers. And mushrooms.”
Erica glared at him. “And you call me disgusting?”
Stiles clapped Derek on the shoulder and grinned while his betas continued sniping over toppings. “Sounds like you’ll be lucky if you spend less than sixty bucks on our victory party.”
Great, so not only was his loft being invaded – again – but he was apparently funding the intrusion. Derek growled at Stiles and, happily, it was intimidating enough that he snatched his hand back.
Derek was surprised the pack didn’t want to go back to their own homes, at least to shower and change, before coming over but he couldn’t deny that there was some sort of pull to solidify the victory. Together.
Stiles followed Derek into his bedroom and pulled at the tatters of his shirt. “What about it, Grumpy? You pity me and my near-death experience enough to lend me a new shirt?”
Derek grumbled but pulled a moss green t-shirt, that was a bit too small for him, down off its hanger. He didn’t let on that he was willing to acquiesce to the request yet though. “You can’t fix it yourself,” Derek perked a brow, “with your magic?” It was said mostly to be sarcastic and obnoxious but Stiles just shrugged, staring around at Derek’s room as he hadn’t had a chance to adequately explore it before.
He answered, only half-focused on it, “Magic, it’s—it’s like you have to have a full, manual understanding of the task you’re trying to perform before you try doing it with a cheat, you know. I still can’t sew, can’t even grasp the mechanics of it, and the spell reflects that lack of skill.” Stiles expanded when Derek just continued to stare blankly at him. “You don’t necessarily have to be able to do it – like I can’t physically rip the beta power from an Alpha – but you have to be able to wrap your mind around it.” He squinted one eye and pulled up a shoulder. “If that makes sense.”
“It doesn’t,” Derek told him gruffly. He turned and held out the shirt for Stiles.
Stiles grinned and pulled off his overshirt, dropping it on Derek’s bed, before tugging off his t-shirt and throwing it somewhere near the foot of Derek’s closet. He turned away from Derek to shrug on the new one but Derek stopped him.
He could finally see the full extent of the tattoo. It was a phoenix. What Derek had thought were tribal markings, the ones that curled over Stiles’ sides and up his neck, were actually the feathers of its wings in sharp, geometric shapes. Derek gazed at it in awe, resisting the urge to touch his fingers to the ink. Every shift of Stiles’ muscles or breath that moved through his torso made it look like the thing was alive and breathing on his skin. And, Derek knew, there was a chance that maybe it was.
Its head was thrown back, beak open, chest puffed out, talons curled, while lines that were clearly from the feathers of its tail dipped beneath the waistband of Stiles’ jeans. The wings spread out everywhere else.
Stiles stepped away from Derek and pulled the borrowed shirt all the way on. “Huge, right?” He snorted. “Pain in my fucking ass I can tell you that.” Derek stared at the twisting, twining lines down his arms that were usually hidden by his second shirt. It made him look older and dangerous. “Can you imagine explaining this to anyone without being able to tack on ‘oh, and, uh, it’s magical.’ It’s a bitch, let me tell you.” He picked up his overshirt again and shrugged that on, too.
Derek’s hand clenched on thin air. Exactly how many times had Stiles had to explain this to someone? How many people got to see this much of him?
Peter walked in before Derek could respond. “Pizza has arrived,” he said, annoyingly formal. He stared at Stiles and waited until Derek grudgingly left the room to grab him by the scruff of his neck – which Derek turned around to watch him do. “You always were idiotically brave,” he said harshly.
Stiles winked. “Or bravely idiotic.”
The pizzas barely lasted a full fifteen minutes before they were utterly laid to waste. Derek hardly felt like moving. In fact, only Stiles and the Sheriff stood. Stiles looked around at all of them with a genuine smile. “It was fun as hell plotting the death of psychopathic werewolves with you dudes but, deed done, I think it’s time I head back to Boston.”
Derek started. He had nearly forgotten, and in barely any time at all, that Stiles wasn’t a part of them. Not really. He’d only fit in surprisingly well. He could tell by the sour looks on his betas’ faces that they’d forgotten, too.
Scott was the first up. He stuck out his hand, which Stiles shook, before deciding on a hug anyway.
“I’m going to miss you, man,” Stiles said happily. He squeezed Scott’s shoulder. “You’ve got my number, Scotty. Don’t be a stranger.”
Derek didn’t know how old Stiles was but he had to be in his early-to-mid twenties. At least now when the pack made... insinuations about him hanging out with a bunch of teenagers, he could toss Stiles back in their faces as a distraction.
They all said goodbye to him in turns, only Erica and Lydia’s as heartfelt as McCall’s, but even Jackson managed to grumble something out. Stiles had bonded with all of them it seemed. He’d accomplished in a few days what Derek had yet to manage himself.
It left him feeling far from endeared to the kid.
Still, he stuck out his hand for Stiles to shake, though he couldn’t keep his lip from raising in a sneer. “I... appreciate the help.” He wasn’t sure it was true, but it felt like it might be one of the better things he could say.
Stiles huffed, amused, and slid his fingers into Derek’s for a firm, quick shake. “Thanks for the shirt, Sourwolf. I’ll see you around.”
With that, Stiles practically skipped out the door while his parting words rubbed uncomfortably against Derek’s skin. Likely because they weren’t true and the lie somehow bothered him.
The pack, and Allison and Chris, didn’t stay long after Stiles had left and Peter slinked off to, undoubtedly, go be evil and inhuman without his influence around.
It was for the best though. They didn’t truly know anything about Stiles, and what they did know was enough to leave anyone wary. He was too powerful, too capable and too unchecked. He wasn’t someone Derek felt entirely safe being around and having him out of Beacon Hills left Derek relaxed for the first time since Stiles had come into it.
That night, he slept better than he had in weeks.
Derek didn’t remember it until two days later, when he was looking for his old boots in the bottom of his closet. Stiles’ stiff, bloody, tattered shirt was crumpled in the corner exactly where he’d thrown it. It had some stupid logo on the front and it was a soft, faded blue in color – like Stiles’ eyes when he healed someone. It looked like it had been through the wash numerous times, which probably accounted for the fade. Derek didn’t want to toss it into the laundry, knowing it would probably only tear more if he did, but something made him pause when he went to throw it out.
He ended up hanging it on the same hanger that was vacant from the shirt Stiles had taken. He didn’t know why he was keeping it and he didn’t want to explore the why either. It still smelled like Stiles, like ash and electricity and energy made scent, like the way the smell of a lightning storm hung in the air just before it hit.
Derek moved the hanger near the back of his closet and dragged out his boots. Within a few days, the bloody t-shirt – and Stiles – had slipped his mind completely.