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third time's the charm

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”Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: 'Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action'.”
- Goldfinger by Iam Fleming

*
*

One:

-

Fear and adrenaline surged through Stiles’ limbs, the terror-response beat beat beating in exact tempo with his heart: with feet pounding along the packed earth of the Preserve’s overgrown trails and the claw marks along his back throbbing with every step taken, the amber-eyed teen did his best in trying to get away.

The woods were supposed to be safe, the latest Big Bad dealt with weeks—months—ago. And while it hadn’t exactly been wise to go looking for specific plants while the sky above remained velvet-dark with lack of moonlight, only stars paving Stiles’ way, certain spells he’d come across online had called for supplies being picked under specific solar and lunar stages. So perhaps not wise in the way that regular wildlife still posed a threat (bears and cougars a legitimate concern in the Californian forest), it still should have been safe enough.

“No no no no no no,” the boy raggedly gasped as the telling sound of breaking branches echoed through the Preserve.

Stiles wasn’t outrunning it. It was getting closer.

He clutched his cellphone tighter, finger pressing down yet again on the speed dial shortcut he’d made for Scott years ago. Again: the phone made one ring, two rings, three rings—before abruptly cutting out. From prior experience, Stiles knew that Scott’s phone would ring fifteen times before switching over to voicemail—if the phone was off or the other teen wasn’t around to genuinely pick up.

Which meant—maybe, perhaps, a realization that Stiles didn’t want to acknowledge because it was yet another number added to the ever-growing list that left behind the sting of betrayal—that Scott was seeing his incoming calls and rejecting them without picking them up.

Again: Stiles pressed Scott’s speed dial.

Again: the call got rejected.

PICK UP--THE FUCKING--PHONE, SCOTT!” Stiles screamed between hoarse pants, rage a flickering bonfire that was slowly sparking to life within him: knowing, knowing, that Scott wouldn’t come, hadn’t responded to the texts and calls that the mole-kissed boy had left the True Alpha over the past month. He’s busy, Stiles had told himself, staring at the unanswered call log. He probably opened our chat history and typed up a text but forgot to send it, the teen thought, doggedly optimistic even as he typed out another text. He probably got caught up with homework, the boy lied even as the Skype video call request continued to go unanswered despite the fact that Stiles saw that Scott was online.

Again: Stiles pressed Scott’s speed dial.

Again: the call got rejected.

Rawhead-and-Bloody-Bones gave a low, sinister chuckle as Stiles burst through the edge of the forest—eyes blurry from fear-sweat and held-back tears, the ground had already disappeared beneath Stiles’ feet when the teen realized he’d come to the cliff’s edge of the ravine that bisected the Preserve, dividing the forest with county land on one side and Hale territory on the other.

Stiles screamed—

And then he hit water.

*

The teen was still waterlogged and more than three-quarters drowned when he was finally able to stumble up to Peter’s apartment. It was closer to the Preserve than the rest of the pack’s homes, and—besides—there was no way that Stiles could let his dad see him like this.

Bleeding and leaving behind foot-sized puddles, terror-stink still clinging to him despite the unwanted midnight swim he’d gone through, the doe-eyed boy was an exhausted, hurting mess.

He slumped against the older man’s doorframe, resting his forehead against the protective runes he’d carved in exchange for access to the Hale’s esoteric library, and pounded a fist on the door to get the ‘wolf to open up. The fact that the wards hadn’t come up to eject Stiles would have warned the older man that his witching hour visitor was someone that he knew. The insistent knocking guaranteed Peter would eventually open the door if only to avoid the wrath of his ninety year-old neighbor.

“There better be a good reason—“ Peter began with a snarl when the door finally jerked open, though the words quickly cut off when the ‘wolf’s teeth snapped shut.

“Hey,” Stiles began and offered the other man his best bullshit grin. “Don’t suppose you’d be willing to let me borrow your first aid kit? And your phone?”

Something that looked very much like concern briefly flared in Peter’s glacial-blue gaze, and the werewolf stepped aside to make room for the teen who pretty much fell face first through the doorway. Stiles managed to brace himself on the hallway table, limbs trembling at the realization that he was finally safe, and neither Peter nor Stiles mentioned the fact that the ‘wolf almost immediately invaded Stiles’ personal space to take on practically all of the teen’s weight.

“What happened?” Peter asked as he glanced the boy over, neon gaze lingering at the claw wounds that still bled sluggishly down Stiles’ back.

“Apparently Rawhead-and-Bloody-Bones decided to make the Preserve his new home. I don’t think he liked me very much—he didn’t seem impressed with my witty banter and seemed to enjoy my spell repertoire even less,” Stiles quipped back, hiding a wince as the older man directed him to sit on the bathtub’s edge.

If he’d been looking away, Stiles would have missed it.

But he wasn’t, so it was easy enough to spot how Peter’s eyes widened just the slightest bit.

“Scott never told you? Deaton apparently gave out the warning two weeks ago,” the ‘wolf eventually said, straightening with the first aid kit held between two claw-tipped hands. Stiles slowly gave a shaky exhale at hearing Peter’s words, and the teen glanced away to stare unseeing at the abstract, tiled design of the bathroom wall. His fingers curled tightly over the bathtub’s rim, knuckles going bone-white and bloodless, and Stiles very carefully refused to feel.

“No. Scott never told me.”

*

Two:

-

Stiles was about to step around the corner of one of bookshelves that filled the high school’s relatively small library, several books for his Composition class’s research paper balanced precariously in his arms. He stopped, though, before he was fully visible:

“Have you thought about what movie we should watch for pack night?”

Kira’s voice was cheerful, question genuine as she leaned over to look over the math problems Liam had been working on during their conversation. Even as she made corrections in red pen so that the younger teen could see where he’d deviated from the equations, the kitsune continued: “You know that the rule of thumb is to have the pick made by Wednesday so Lydia has enough time to find it before the meeting.”

Stiles could hear Liam’s eyeroll from several feet away.

“Whatever, it’s fine. I can always stop by the video rental place on Main before heading over to Scott’s on Saturday. It’s no big deal. Hey, wait—go back a little bit. That’s the part that I got wrong on the last test.”

The bubbly girl hummed a little in inquiry even as she brought over a scratch piece of paper to go through the problem more slowly, showing the steps bit by bit in an effort for Liam to understand where it was that he went wrong.

Stiles, though—

He stepped back into the shadows provided between the book stacks, squatting down momentarily to put aside his research material. His phone was slid from his back pocket, newer and sturdier than the model that’d been lost to both the river and Bloody-Bones, and it took just a moment to tap open Stiles’ texting app.

The pack group chat remained blank; the last message he’d received in the chat was from Lydia, and that had been three weeks ago. And yet there was apparently a pack meeting scheduled for Saturday—one that he hadn’t been invited to. Just as there had apparently been a new threat to Beacon Hills—one that Stiles hadn’t been privy to until he’d been literally running for his life from it.

Don’t, Stiles demanded to himself, thumbnail digging in deep along the pale line of his index finger. Don’t think about it. Not yet.

*

Stiles settled cross-legged on his bed, favorite pillow flopped over his lap. The teen fiddled with the edges of the pillow, rubbing the material between his fingers in an effort to self-soothe. He was afraid; he was resigned; he already knew what to expect—but curiosity had always been Stiles’ particular vice and, though he was already aware of what he’d find, he still needed to know for sure.

He closed whiskey-hued eyes and deep a deep breath. Meditation had always been difficult for the teen: quieting his thoughts was nearly impossible, not when they flickered through his mind, quicksilver fast and erratically darting to and fro like a school of fish. ‘Clear your mind, Potter,’ said Snape’s cold voice. ‘Let go of all emotion…’ Stiles couldn’t help but think, and the teen felt a bitter sort of kinship with Harry Potter each time he settled down to try and meditate. But there was no choice this time around—Stiles needed to know, and it was with a grim sort of determination that he stepped into himself, closing his senses to the world at large before going down… down… down.

His Spark was a fiercely burning bonfire—more forest fire than the ember Deaton had alluded to. Warm and welcoming and so deeply a part of himself that Stiles still couldn’t understand how he’d never realized that this was within him. Couldn’t picture himself without his magical core, not anymore—couldn’t imagine living a life without that extra Spark, magic dancing at his fingertips.

The teen paused in his inner exploration, finally coming to the part of his magic that had always felt like the rough fur of a wolf pelt, the cool touch of a full moon’s kiss upon his face, the iron tang of blood upon his tongue:

This was the part of his magic that sang of pack and Emissary and family and belonging.

And the packbonds were shriveled up, decrepit things—broken off and brittle, dead and gone long ago. Even the connection that he must have had with Scott once-upon-a-time ago was rotted through, perhaps the first bond to break.

Only one remained—reminding Stiles of the familiar scent of cedar-layered cologne, the sharp exhilaration that came paired with a bantering partner that could keep up, the quiet of chess nights paired with hours-long research sessions, the knowledge that Stiles would say ”Help me.” and Peter would immediately listen.

Stiles brushed his fingers over the packbond before shifting to clutch almost desperately at it even as he stared out over the desolation of all the rest.

*

Three:

-

“Hey, Stiles. I was hoping that you could translate something—we found this book, and I think that it’s going to be important, but it’s in Polish and I know that you still talk to your grandparents—“

Stiles glanced up as Scott climbed through his bedroom window; it wasn’t long ago that the dark-eyed boy with the crooked jawline would have been tripping over his own feet if he had attempted such a thing, going ass over teakettle the moment he tried to slip over the windowsill. That Scott was gone, dead and buried the moment that Peter’s fangs sunk into his side—but, then again, people changed (sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically) and it wasn’t as if Stiles was the same person, either.

The amber-eyed teen spun absently in his computer chair, the toe of a sneakered foot controlling the back-and-forth movement. Stiles shifted, slouching against the backrest, and propped a chin against a fist even as he offered his one-time brother an unblinking stare.

“Does this have to do with the ‘wolf Summit you’re supposedly attending next month?”

Scott froze, brows furrowing at the warning that laced Stiles’ voice. “Yeah,” the teen began, suddenly cautious as his predatory instincts warned of the danger that lurked below. He’d seen Stiles get like this sometimes, especially when someone else had well and truly pissed him off. Scott had never had it directed at himself, though. “But—“

“I wasn’t supposed to know about that?” Stiles interrupted and let his lashes drift to half-mast, whiskey hue glowing from beneath the dark fan. “Or about the witches coven that made a pit stop in Beacon Hills two months ago? Or that Rawhead-and-Bloody-Bones decided to haunt the Preserve for several weeks last month? Or the gargoyle pack that holed up in the sewers a week after that? Or the pair of omegas that came through a week and a half ago?”

Scott stilled even further, and crimson began to flood his gaze as his instincts screamed threat! at him.

“There seems to be a lot of things lately that I’m apparently not supposed to know, Scott. Up to and including pack meetings. Care to tell me why that is?”

Stiles shifted forward in his chair, something sharp and feral—features a souvenir from his time with the nogitsune—flickering across his expression, and Scott snarled as his eyes flared fully red.

“And, maybe while you’re at it, you can also explain to me why the packbonds that used to tie me to your pack—to you—are less than ash? Or perhaps the reason why that is goes back to the fact that I hadn’t been told about the Summit or the witches or Bloody-Bones or the gargoyles or been told about the pack get-togethers or the fact that no one responds to my calls or texts anymore or the fact that you finally show your fucking face when you want something from me?”

Stiles smiled.

(Finally let himself feel: desolation, betrayal, bitterness, resignation, loneliness, and rage rage rage.)

Get out.

The wards ejected Stiles’ one-time best friend.

*

Stiles sprawled out over his bed, sheets rumpled and pillows tossed every which way. He stared up at the ceiling of his room, gaze distant as he lay lost in thought and emotions: there was something cauterizing in getting to confront Scott after weeks of denial, silence from the others’ and a slowly dawning realization despite the fact that Stiles had done everything possible to not think about it. But the encounter with Bloody-Bones had been the last shattered mirror, and Stiles was left to stare at all of the broken pieces of what once-was that surrounded him.

Perhaps it was either the pity or the understanding that had briefly flared in Peter’s eyes that made Stiles acknowledge the fact that I’m not welcome anymore. But the fact that Stiles still had a packbond was a steadying realization, a security blanket that the teen clung to even now with a desperate grip—warm and secure in the fact that not everyone had left him behind, that someone still wanted him, still welcomed him, took care of him when he showed up bleeding and hurt. And it was Peter’s understanding at both of their realizations that helped soothe some of the sting, even now.

The teen’s phone buzzed with an incoming text and, considering the fact that Stiles had methodically gone through his contacts to block everyone except for two numbers—

He reached over and thumbed open his text app.

Zombie Wolf: Just renewed my Amazon Prime account and I know you’ve been wanting to watch Good Omens. If you’re not here in twenty minutes, I’m starting without you.

Stiles took a shuddering breath and reached up to press a hand over his eyes, refusing to cry even as he tightened his hold on the sole packbond that was left to him.

if u even think about it, im gonna turn you into a wereFROG. no lie. nanny crowley will be v. impressed.

Amusement shuddered along the bond, and Stiles felt like he could finally breathe.

 

::end::