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it came from the trees

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artwork by the lovely Zera Henna (also on tumblr here)

 

BOOK ONE

VOLUME I 

No seriously.

It all starts with a stuffed animal.

No, okay, but the weird thing is that it actually starts with Peter Hale showing up on his doorstep with an eerie smile and a stuffed animal.

“What is this?” Stiles asks, narrowing his eyes in confusion and suspicion. “And what is that?” he adds, pointing to the stuffed animal in his hands.

“A present,” Peter merely says, and holds the stuffed toy with just his large left hand. “Happy birthday.” Then he adds, like an afterthought, “It’s a wolf. You like those, right?”

Stiles just stares at him. This is literally all he can do. This goes beyond the realm of bizarre.

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

No. That would be a definite no,” Stiles says quickly. Although Peter may appear to be harmless, well, Stiles is no idiot, and his father taught him better than that. He may not be as skilled at reading people like his dad is, but he can still see the word ‘trouble’ etched on Peter like neon lights.

Peter smirks and Stiles fidgets in his doorway as his cheeks grow warm. Not only is Peter charming, but he’s a Hale. Stiles has yet to really understand what that means since he’s only been in Beacon Hills a month, but he’s pretty sure that being a Hale or even associating with one is highly significant.

Stiles is virtually a nobody at the moment. He hasn’t really made any friends yet (not for the better lack of trying either). He’s basically at the bottom of the social ladder and he hasn’t got a clue how to make his way up. He’s a spaz, he knows this, but that’s something that worked in his favor back when he and his dad still lived in Los Angeles. Here in odd little Beacon Hills, it works against him. It probably didn’t help that they’d moved here in the middle of Feb-

No, wait.

Let's back up for a moment.

To put things in perspective: Peter Hale is a somebody. Maybe not celebrity famous, but like small town famous. He's got the looks, the money, and the charisma. He has an overwhelming presence about him that is hard to describe or narrow down using simple words like "devilish" or "witty" or even "manipulative". Though Stiles can still say those terms have to be true one way or the other.

So needless to say, it’s beyond peculiar that Peter “probably could land on the cover of vogue magazine just for being this good-looking” Hale, a sophomore college student at that, has gone out of his way to visit Stiles “would probably still be invisible even if he set himself on fire” Stilinski, a dweeb of a high school freshman, for his not-birthday.

It’s all very down-the-rabbit-hole feeling.

Peter, as strange as this all is, is looking like he can’t really understand why Stiles isn’t giving into his charms or at least licking the ground that he’s standing on, which is a reaction most people give to the Hales. Stiles likes to think he has a better sense of self-preservation than most people.

There’s not actually a severe warning bell going off in his mind, but there’s just something there. It’s almost like an absentminded feeling of caution toeing the line of adventure and peril. He can’t quite put his finger on it but his trusty gut is telling him to proceed with caution. He crosses his arms.

Peter’s smirk widens and he looks amused, as if he approves of Stiles’s apprehensive behavior. So, of course, he mocks Stiles’s stance like the younger man is the most entertaining creature he’s ever met.

It turns into a stare contest.

Peter doesn’t blink once. Seriously. Not once.

“What do you want?” Stiles asks, because as popular as Peter is, everyone knows that he’s bad news (in that way that they know but don't really actually know), and that he doesn’t do anything without expecting something back. He’s got a very anti-hero reputation. "What do you want?" he repeats, when Peter makes no move to answer.

“Just to be neighborly,” Peter says, trying for earnest, and failing. He’s wearing a fitted biker jacket with dark jeans ripped at the knees and a graphic t-shirt that says “M.O.N.S.T.E.R.” in gaudy, white comic sans letters. His face is unshaven but he wears it well, while his hair is slicked and neatly parted to the side. Nothing about him says he knows how to be neighborly.

Stiles snorts. “You don’t even live in this neighborhood.” Which is true. He lives in a gigantic house deep within the Beacon Hills preserve. It’s another one of those odd Hale things (or so Stiles hears through the grape vine in this small, chatty town). “Seriously, dude. What do you want?”

Peter shrugs slowly, like he has all the time in the world. “I heard you were good at giving advice and researching things.”

God, who was even talking about him? Stiles didn’t even think anyone knew he existed. “Who said that? And how do you know I like wolves? Not saying that I do, but —”

“You go to school with two of my nieces, and my nephew,” Peter interjects smoothly. “I think I’ve heard them mention you a few times.”

Unlikely. So unlikely.

Stiles knew exactly who he was talking about, too.

Laura Hale is a gorgeous senior who never wastes time on freshmen, outside of her sister, Cora, who always looked at Stiles like she wanted to punch him in the throat during their AP English, Biology, and History class.

Although...that could be because he’s always tapping or drumming his pens and pencils against his notebook or his desk. But the weird thing is that she sits all the way in the front, and Stiles sits all the way in the back, next to the windows. So either she’s got freakishly good hearing or Stiles is just that loud.

Then there is Laura’s little brother, Derek (the middle child), who seems permanently glued to a basketball. Or not so glued, because he spends a lot of his time dribbling it or using it to flirt with girls and guys alike. Derek is a sophomore, and well on his way to becoming the captain of the basketball team if all the rumors he hears in the halls are true.

Either way, Stiles knows for a fact that neither Laura, Derek, nor Cora have ever mentioned him in any of the ways that Peter is trying to imply. He’s never spoken to any of them. He hasn’t spoken to anyone really.

“You’re lying,” Stiles says, and edges back into his house, ready to shut the door and be done with all this weirdness. “And also, it’s not my birthday.”

“Close enough. Consider it an early gift,” Peter deflects cleverly, and Stiles doesn’t know where he’s getting his information from but he’s scarily right. “And you’re correct, I am lying,” he admits. “But you don’t make it easy for anyone to get to know you.”

Stiles makes a face. He’s not sure how to take that or what that’s even supposed to mean. “You’ve got six seconds before I slam this door shut,” he warns.

Peter grins and says, “You’re not being very polite, Stilinski. You could at least invite me in for a cup of water or a beer —”

“Six seconds are done,” Stiles decides and steps back to shut the door.

Peter quickly lifts his hand to stop the door from shutting, and wow, he’s weirdly strong. “Fine,” he sighs, like he’s disappointed that Stiles won’t play along. “What do you know about El Chupacabra?”

Stiles blinks as his mind starts tinkering away. “El Chupacabra,” he echoes. “I’ve read some stuff.” He narrows his eyes at Peter. “Why?”

Peter smirks in that self-satisfied sort of way. It looks positively vulturine. “Just hit a dead end in my research and I’ve got this paper that I’m trying to finish,” he airily explains. “It’s for my Folklore class.”

“Why not go to the library and ask a librarian? I hear they’re useful.”

Peter shrugs. “I get the feeling you're better suited to this task,” he supposes. “You seem like a smart kid. And I heard you got a quaint little library filled with subjects of mythology that could rival my own family library.”

“I have a small collection,” Stiles corrects, and it’s not so much his as it was his mother’s (she was a collector of some sorts), but same difference. He still doesn’t get how Peter just knows this stuff. “Just google what you need and hope for the best. Avoid Wikipedia at all costs.”

Peter scoffs. “You think I haven’t already tried that? Like I said. Dead end. I need more.” He cocks his head. “This paper is riding on a very important grade. You wouldn’t want me to fail, now, would you?”

Stiles has a hard time believing him at his word, but he doesn’t know all the facts and he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t interested himself. He sighs and loosens his grip on the doorknob. “Fine, come in.”

Peter doesn’t walk through the door. No. He swaggers.

Stiles is beginning to find him insufferable already. He gestures to his nicely decorated but messy living room and says, “You can have a seat. We gave our housekeepers the day off, so..."

Peter looks at him silently.

"...yeah, that was a joke. We don't actually have housekeepers. Uh, nevermind. I’m not much of a host. So if you should feel yourself dehydrated, please help yourself to some tap water we generously pay tax money for. Anyway, I have to go get my computer.”

“Or I could go up to your room with you?” Peter suggests with an odd look as he steps into Stiles’s personal space and just looms over him like a creep.

Stiles is uncomfortable. Really, really uncomfortable. “Uh, no. I’ll be back,” he says, leaning back so he can breathe a little. “And I would also like to remind you that my dad is the sheriff, so if you steal anything or try to murder me, um, there will be retribution. And...justice.”

Peter just stares at him intently.

Stiles tries to be as subtle as possible about his fleeing because Peter’s gaze is burning holes in his back. He breathes a little easier when he clicks his door shut and rummages around through the mess of clothes and books for his phone. When he finds it, he shoots his dad a quick text that informs him of his company, just in case this exchange with Peter carries on long after his dad’s shift ends. He then pockets his phone before he grabs his laptop, unhooking it from all its cords, and carries it down to the living room where Peter is standing by a window and looking out like he’s expecting company.

Stiles doesn’t even question it. “So what exactly are we dealing with here?”

Peter looks at him sharply. “What do you mean?”

“Your paper,” Stiles explains slowly with a frown.

Peter relaxes, and Stiles has to comb over his previous words to try and figure out why Peter had look at him like he’d caught him in a lie. Peter straightens and his face melts into an expression of indifference. “My apologies for monopolizing you like this,” he says, and who even says things like that? He's dressed like he’s punk rock but he speaks like it’s tea time with the Queen of England. “But I’m afraid this is really important. I know enough about the origins of El Chupacabra, and its general history. I’m not so sure about its breeding patterns. Or hunting patterns.” He pauses before he adds, “Any weaknesses would be useful too.”

Stiles frowns as he cracks open one of his books. “What kind of paper are you trying to write?”

“Need to know, Stilinski,” Peter murmurs as he twitches and turns his gaze back out the window. “You do me a favor and I’ll feel inclined to return it sometime in the near future."

Stiles sighs and dismisses Peter’s presence entirely before diving in. He doesn’t stray far in his research. He just jots down the things he thinks Peter is looking for on different colored note cards. Green being confirmed facts, yellow being useful but questionable information, and red for interesting but completely ridiculous and untrue material.

Peter sometimes looms over him like a creep, making thoughtful sounds before he returns to his post by the window. He doesn’t actually ever sit down in all the three hours Stiles toils away for him. Another thing he finds very abnormal.

His dad eventually walks in with two large pizzas, looking worn out as usual while he loosens his suit tie. Stiles can’t help but smile when he sees him; that excited bubbly feeling of ‘dad’s home!’ gurgling in his stomach (even after all these years, it never fails). Most people are probably used to their parents by the age of six, but call Stiles frugal because he’s the only parent Stiles has and he doesn’t plan on taking that for granted.

Peter straightens immediately and goes to shake his hand. “Sheriff Stilinski,” he greets. “Peter Hale.”

“Please, just call me Sheriff,” his dad jokes.

Stiles rolls his eyes as he gnaws on a pen cap.

“I hope you’re hungry. I wouldn’t want these pizzas to go to waste,” his dad says as he gestures to the boxes he’s sat down on the kitchen table. “You’re certainly invited to stay. You’d be the first guest my son’s brought home. I’ll admit, he’s had me worried.”

Peter opens his mouth, most likely to accept, but Stiles quickly interjects by saying, “Peter was just leaving, actually.” He shoves a stack of notecards into Peter’s hands before ushering him out the door quickly.

“It was nice meeting you, Sheriff,” Peter calls out from over his shoulder, sounding very amused with Stiles’s antics. When Stiles has pushed him over the threshold, he turns to face Stiles with a grin. "Do you know there's a cat that sits across the street from your house nearly everyday?”

"What?" Stiles blinks before shaking his head. "I mean animals usually can be found outside. Cats are one of them. They're not called Alley Cats for nothing. Though we don't have alleys but the term can still apply, I think."

"Yes, but this particular one is peculiar. Have you really not noticed?"

"No." And Stiles silently thinks, Nor do I want to. What is with this guy?

Peter hums thoughtfully but doesn't say anything more on the matter. Instead, he says, “Thanks, Stilinski. I’ll let you know how my paper goes.”

“Or don’t,” Stiles advises before slamming the door shut. He locks it for good measure and isn’t surprised that his father is looking at him oddly when he turns around. “What?”

“You tell me.”

“He gives me the creeps,” Stiles merely says before pushing past his father to make his way over to the pizza. He shoots his dad a look. “This is really unhealthy.” His dad gives him an annoyed look. “What? Did you flash your gun and badge before requesting every meat known to man be sprinkled over these pizzas?”

“I had a feeling you might say that. I’ve been eating all that organic crap you’ve been feeding me without fail, so I think I deserve this little slip,” his dad says as he steals the slice Stiles was just about to eat. “I’ll take it easy. But you should know that I invited Melissa and her son over.”

Stiles narrows his eyes at his dad.

Melissa McCall had been the pretty nurse who his dad had flirted (terribly) with when he took Stiles to get updated on all his shots because his current high school refused to accept him without them.

His dad just meets his stare head on. “Go straighten the living room. I won’t even ask about your room,” he says after a swallow.

Stiles huffs but he does what his father asks. He’s got good timing, too, because by the time he’s got the living room in order, the doorbell rings. He answers it because his dad asks him too.

Melissa greets him in some purple scrubs with a homemade blackberry pie in her hands. Her son smiles at him and Stiles can’t help but notice that his jaw is crooked.

Stiles moves out the way and lets them in, closing the door behind them. He’s not even surprised when his dad is waiting at the kitchen table with the good plates and cups like this was some kind of gourmet meal.

Melissa smiles and greets his dad and his dad gets all gooey in the face and that’s all Stiles can take before he begs off eating at the table so he can go into the living room instead. His father wouldn’t normally let him eat there, but Melissa’s got him so enthralled that he just waves him off without a glance.

Subsequently, Melissa’s son follows him, and they sit on the living room floor with their backs against the couch while Stiles channel surfs.

“My name is Scott.”

“Stiles.”

“Mom says you guys moved here a little bit ago,” Scott says with a mouthful of food. “You like it so far?”

Stiles shrugs and avoids really answering. “Do you go to Beacon Hills High? I don’t remember seeing you.”

“I’m thirteen,” Scott explains, and Stiles feels a pang of disappointment. Scott somehow picks up on it and adds, “But I will be a freshman in the fall.” He smiles wide. “So what are your favorite video games? I’m really into Dragon Age.”

“Oh thank god. A kindred spirit.”

Scott laughs.

Stiles discovers he has a lot more in common with Scott than what he would have thought. The fact that they are a year and a grade apart doesn’t dispel their instant connection. They hit it off, spectacularly so.

By the end of the night, Melissa kisses his dad on the cheek while Stiles and Scott exchange phone numbers, making plans to hang out over the weekend. Stiles tries not to think about why his dad and Melissa exchange these pleased and knowing looks when they do. He waves at Scott one last time and goes up to his room while his dad insists on walking Melissa to her car.

He stops short after he opens his door and sees the white wolf that Peter had brought with him as a ‘gift’ sitting on the middle of his bed like someone had put it there.

It certainly hadn’t been Stiles.

He also can’t help but to notice that his window is ajar.

---

The next day during AP Biology, Cora Hale approaches him and-

No, wait.

Let's back up for a moment.

To put things in perspective: Cora Hale is intense. She usually puts blinders on, ignores everyone, and paves a clear path through the crowd with just a stormy expression. There have been many occasions that (Stiles couldn't help but to notice) she'll be approached by girls and guys alike who she'll dismiss with one look or callous comment. 

Stiles has never known her to actively approach anyone about anything. And yes, she isn’t always unpleasant, but she always keeps to herself (unlike her other siblings, who were social butterflies by nature). But Stiles thinks it's because she prefers it that way. Cora is the calm and the storm, you know, those days in the summer with thick clouds in the sky, and even in the dry air, you wouldn’t help but to wonder if it would rain.

Which is why it kind of throws him for a loop when the next day during AP Biology, while Stiles is trying not to fall asleep as he roots around his backpack for the assigned homework, Cora Hale approaches him and says, “You’re Bilinski.”

“Stilinski,” Stiles corrects, trying not to take offense of her wording of it. He leans back warily when Cora pushes her face close to his. She smells like coconut and jasmine. “Or you can call me Stiles,” he adds lamely, nervous and confused.

Cora scowls, furrows her brow as her fingers slowly curl into fists. Her raven black hair is braided into two french braids and she’s wearing a grey sweatshirt with cupcakes and smiley faces over an a-line leather skirt with white sneakers. Her eyebrows are unfairly perfect, her winged eyeliner is flawless, and her burgundy lipstick looks like a religion. She's always obscenely well put together.

It makes Stiles want to cry a little.

Cora says, “Why do you smell like my brother?”

Stiles fumbles with his book bag. “What? Peter?”

“No, dumbass,” Cora says, and wow, rude, but that’s all she says.

The bell rings and everyone is forced to go to their assigned seats.

This doesn’t stop Cora from glaring at him the whole period.

Or in AP History.

Or in AP English.

Stiles can’t think of what he could have possibly done.

And also, what kind of nose does Cora have to be able to smell people on other people?

---

During lunch, Laura Hale sits down at his table with a knowing smirk that Stiles doesn’t get at all and says, “You’re cute.”

Stiles splutters and almost spits orange juice on Laura but she’s got freaky fast reflexes and she gracefully ducks out of the way in time. “Oh god, I’m sorry!” he says, completely mortified. He knows his face must be absolutely red.

Laura just throws her head back and laughs.

That doesn’t help Stiles’s dignity at all since-

No, wait.

Let's back up for a moment.

To put things in perspective: Laura Hale is like high school royalty. She's all soft pageant smiles as she floats through the hallways with her equally popular and beautiful clique like butter wouldn't melt on her tongue. Her very presence is peaceful, like a warm, breezy, summer day with the smell of earth in the air; those days when it feels as if nature itself could reach out with arms and hold you in the simplest embrace.

Laura likes to wear her hair long, like down to her waist and keeps it gleaming with a healthy shine. She’s wearing a purple v-neck sweater tucked in a pair of black high-waisted jeans. She’s got the kind of an elegant grace and shape to her (like a stage dancer). She definitely looks like she’s Derek's and Cora’s older sister, but some of her facial features are slightly different.

Stiles wonders maybe if they have a different dad or something.

“It’s okay, Stiles,” Laura says, and holy god, she knows his name and she even pronounced it correctly! “I heard you had a little run in with my uncle.”

“Uh, yes? Yes. I did,” Stiles stammers, nervous and he doesn’t know why. Oh wait. He does. He’s only talking to one of the most popular girls in school and trying so hard not to ruin it.

Laura hums thoughtfully before she says, “He gave you something, didn’t he? A stuffed toy?”

“Uh.”

“You should know that it wasn’t his to give,” Laura continues, ignoring Stiles’s expression of bewilderment. “You didn’t throw it away did you?”

“Why? Is it cursed?” Stiles asks. It would be just his luck to be in possession of a cursed artifact.

Laura snickers. “Nope.”

Stiles waits for her to elaborate. She doesn’t. “Okay, well…” He fidgets with his lunch tray. “Is it yours? Do you want it back? I can give it back. I have no problem with returning things. I’m like a librarian’s wet dream come true, and I’m going to stop before I say anything else to embarrass myself.”

Laura just smiles fondly at him.

Stiles stares dreamily.

“Did you cuddle it?” Laura asks suddenly, as her nose twitches. She smirks as she looks over her shoulder at Derek, who is glaring at them for whatever reason from across the room where he’s sitting with his basketball team.

Stiles hunches down slightly. His glare is almost as intimidating as Cora’s. Must be genetic. He says, “Did I cuddle what?”

“The wolf.”

Stiles feels his cheeks grow warm. Honestly, it had been an accident. He swears he shoved the thing to the other side of his bed before he fell asleep, but he woke up that morning with it in his arms and his nose buried deep in its fur. It had smelled really good, like vanilla and jasmine. “Um — no?”

For some reason, and it has to be coincidence, as soon as he says this, Derek glares even harder at him before he storms out of the cafeteria.

Laura snorts before she turns her gaze back towards him and just looks at him like she knows he’s lying. He probably shouldn’t have phrased it as a question. She says, “You’re cute.”

“Yeah, you said that already,” Stiles says and then he quickly backtracks because this is Laura Hale paying him a compliment. “I mean — thank you? Usually my grandma used to only say that but more in a like patronizing way. Not that I think you’re humoring me or anything. You seem to know what’s cute, and what’s not cute. Uh. Yeah.”

Laura doesn’t seem to mind the word vomit at all. She stands, leaning over the table to steal his apple and Stiles gets a faint whiff of jasmine and grapefruit. She takes a loud, juicy bite before she says, “It’s Derek’s.”

Stiles blinks in confusion.

“The wolf,” Laura elaborates in a cryptic tone before she strides out of the cafeteria with all eyes on her.

Stiles nearly swallows his own tongue.

---

His dad would say that once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is a pattern.

By the end of the day, Derek Hale corners him in the boys’ locker room-

No, wait.

Let's back up for a moment.

To put things in perspective: Derek Hale is the epitome of "boy-next-door". He has more of a laid back style to match his attitude. He wore things like padded vests over long sleeve henleys matched perfectly with a pair of joggers and the latest shoes. He's not so much soft-spoken as he is polite but Stiles has never seen him throw a fist or pick on the new kid like some of the varsity players on the swim team are infamous for.

Which is why Stiles is a little thrown that Derek Hale, after a very embarrassing and disappointing Lacrosse tryout, confronts him in the boys' locker room to ask, “Are you an idiot?”

“What? Hey, are you even supposed to be in here? You...uh…you’re a....”

Derek furrows his brow and leans closer, looming over Stiles so he can stare at him intently in the same way that Peter did the day before. But then he starts sniffing at Stiles before his mouth twists into a scowl.

Stiles swallows and jerks away nervously, biting back a curse when he accidentally knocks his elbow into the locker behind him.

Stiles is upset, okay? He’s been confronted with way too much hotness today and he has no idea what’s going on. One minute, he's invisible and now all three Hales have approached him and stared him down like he couldn’t be any more real. He stares at Derek with wide eyes and he tries not to think about how everyone is watching them with interest, instead of like, you know, reporting this confrontation to the nearest adult. Seriously though, his heart is beating like a drum in his chest because Derek smells exactly like the stuffed animal he still has in his bed .

Stiles feels his cheeks grow warm and he fidgets.

Derek glares at him and leans even further into his space which helps nothing . “I said, are you an idiot?”

Is he being bullied? Is this what being bullied feels like? Do people still even bully other people these days?

“No. I, uh, I’m not an idiot. I’m actually Stiles. Stilinski. Stiles Stilinski. And you, uh, apparently don’t have any issues with personal space. This is very personal right now. Did I do something? Is this about the —” And here Stiles makes sure to lower his voice, even though they are literally only talking about a stuffed animal, not drugs or anything illegal. “— the wolf? Because I had no idea. Peter just ambushed me with it, claiming it was a gift for my birthday but my birthday isn’t for another couple of weeks. Not that you care, because why would you care? You don’t care. I don’t care. It’s beside the point. I’ll—I’ll totally give it back, dude. You know, if it means so much to you. Which I can understand because I used to have this pillow that I couldn’t sleep without when I was little, so, you know, uh. Totally get it.”

Derek stares at him like he’s the most idiotic person before he shakes his head and says, “Stay away from my Uncle Peter.” And then he just leaves Stiles standing there, gaping like an idiot with his shirt halfway off without even mentioning the stuffed animal.

In hindsight, Stiles probably, definitely, should have known something was up.

But he didn’t.

Of course he didn’t.

Chapter Text

The rest of the week passes without incident and things presumably go back to normal.

Derek and Cora ignore him altogether (no surprises there, he doesn’t register on most people’s radar in this town). But whenever Laura sees him in the halls or at lunch, she goes out of her way to give him a smile, or a wave, or a wink, or even all three if it’s a good day. Lately, it’s been really good days with her. Seriously, he doesn’t know how he’s gotten to be so fortunate.

Stiles isn’t sure what to think of it, so he decides to not think of it at all. He’s a real advocate for ignoring a problem until it goes away. Not that this is a problem or anything because Laura Hale notices him now (this has to be some teenage milestone). It’s just confusing. Stiles feels as if he has become a punch line to some unknown joke, and he’s completely fine with never knowing what the joke is. Forced obliviousness either has to be his best or worst asset.

As for the white wolf — or as he likes to call it, ‘the stuffed animal of chaos’ — he puts it on top of his dresser and leaves it there until he can figure out what he should do about it. He absolutely does not touch it. He has a feeling that Derek or Cora or Laura would know if he did. So he doesn’t.

Stiles drowns his worries by diving into schoolwork, TV, comics and videogames (plus the occasional food mashup/experiment gone wrong; last week he’d made the grievous mistake of slathering nutella over some leftover hard shell tacos before cramming it with bits of bananas, olives, and hot dogs, which — yeah — was the worst of them so far. He didn’t leave the bathroom for almost three hours after that.) Outside of those wonderful life choices, he skypes and texts Scott from time to time. And by time to time, he means almost every night.

His dad is oddly out of sorts during that week, but Stiles knows from experience that it probably has to do with his work. Probably.

One symptom of his wandering thoughts is that his dad always gets absentminded with simple things. Like holding his coffee to his mouth without ever actually drinking a sip, or stirring sugar and cream in the cup until he’s forgotten just how much or how little he’s put in it (which in turn ends up with gallons of discarded over sweetened coffee going down the drain in the kitchen sink). Oftentimes, his dad will leave the faucet on even after he’s left the room, neither of them knowing why he turned it on in the first place. Or he’ll catch him staring at the TV without actually watching the TV.

The sheriff gets lost like that sometimes. He combs over the details of whatever case he has at the time almost obsessively. He treats the victims like family. It’s what makes him such a good detective.

Stiles is a bit intrigued by this unknown case that’s got his dad so wrapped up in his thoughts. He tries to ask, but his dad just sighs and gives him a sadly indulgent smile while telling him not to worry. As if Stiles is even capable of doing anything but. Which is why Stiles pulls up any recent local news articles he can find. He doesn’t find a treasure trove of weird activity, but he finds enough. Most of what the articles report center around the ‘strange disappearances of over a hundred household pets and wildlife animals’. Some newer articles say the animals that are found by locals and hikers in random spots within the woods are ‘slashed open and drained dry of all blood.’

Stiles whispers, “El Chupacabra…” to himself and feels silly immediately, slapping his laptop shut. He had spent hours perusing through all the online media outlets that Beacon Hills has to offer. He grabs his copy of The Hobbit and some post-it notes, because it’s Friday night and he has better things to do than psych himself out about some random coincidences that could just be some crazy group of occultists getting their freak on. (Which is more likely than a mythical creature doing it.)

Stiles totally doesn’t care and he loses himself to the realm of Middle Earth, and totally doesn’t care even more as he gnaws on his nails. He uses sheer will to concentrate on utilizing his post-its to mark his favorite places in the book he’ll want to revisit and explore.

It works for an hour before he’s up and at his computer again. He is only so strong.

He doesn’t get a wink of sleep until dawn, and by then he's sprawled across a pile of articles he had printed out. His body is covered in photos, and he’s surrounded by print-outs of anything that might even be a little bit connected to what’s been happening locally. A stack of papers to his right is pages upon pages that recount any past reports concerning El Chupacabra in other communities. He had spent hours sorting what could find online until he had a good collection that didn’t seem like total hoaxes.

Stiles jolts awake in the morning when his dad tosses a shoe at his stomach and he stumbles to his feet. He gets tangled in a pair of his jeans that had been tossed on the floor, trips and slips over some books and articles, and then lands back onto the carpeted floor with a loud thud and a high-pitched squawk.

His dad sighs.

Scott, who also happens to be standing beside the sheriff, laughs behind the back of his hand, like the traitor he is.

“Stiles,” his dad starts, and then pauses as he assesses the disaster area that is Stiles’s room.

Stiles bats away a piece of paper stuck to the side of his face and smiles innocently at his dad.

The sheriff sighs again and lifts his coffee mug to his lips as he mutters, “I don’t even want to know.” He takes a loud sip before he says, "This is why I tell you to clean your room. You could break your neck.” Then walks away.

Scott gingerly steps around the mess and makes his way over to Stiles. “I tried calling before I came over but you didn’t pick up so I thought — woah, dude. What is all this?” he asks suddenly as he picks up a magnified picture of a gutted bull terrier. “Um.”

Not what it looks like, Scotty,” Stiles promises as he snatches the photo away and throws it over his shoulder. “Remind me what we’re doing today?”

Scott blinks slowly, like he’s trying to process everything, and then says, “Freaks and Geeks?”

“Right,” Stiles says as he runs a palm over his buzz cut. “Marathon club?”

“Marathon club,” Scott confirms with a happy smile.

Scott had invited Stiles to join him and his friends for their monthly get-together during a Skype call. He had explained that it’s something they did every month: pick a series, watch it from beginning to end, and move on.

Stiles had never done anything like that, not even with his friends back in Los Angeles. He had been in mostly online communities, swapping manga or comics, and hadn’t really hung out with anyone that much outside of school. He had only had two friends: Emmanuel and Sebastian, but he doesn’t really feel like they should count for more reasons than he could name. So when Scott offered, he had accepted the invitation without thinking about it — but once he did, well, he started thinking about it.

“Okay. Let’s take ten to talk about the elephant in the room. Well, no, elephant is probably not — I mean it is but it isn’t. Or, you know, maybe I should — I mean I could, and, to be honest, I’m trying to. I’m not exactly used to the whole, you know, everything. So I’m not trying to make it into a big deal. It’s probably not a big deal, but I’m the type to talk about the things — well, I like to talk in general but —”

“Stiles, I’m lost,” Scott admits quickly. He looks like he’s been trying to find the right moment to jump in without being rude, which is okay because he’s not used to Stiles yet. Interruption is fair game and Stiles is never offended when it comes to that. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing...per se. Just. I have to say this because I just have to.” Stiles sighs and he might as well just say the exact thing he’s thinking. “It’s not going to be weird, right? You told your friends about me. I’m, like... older.”

“Not that old!” Scott instantly protests. “And they’re all around my age. Some are even your age.”

“Yeah, but, you guys are eighth graders and I’m in high school,” Stiles remarks carefully.

Scott’s brow furrows and he looks at Stiles with huge puppy dog eyes. “You think it’s lame?”

“No!” Stiles quickly says, and then adds, “I think I’m lame. You guys are probably really awesome and I’m just a dumb loser who couldn’t even make friends within his own age group.”

Scott still doesn’t look like he understands. “But we are in your age group.”

“I didn’t mean like that, I meant — like — you know, I’m in highschool, and I have no high school friends.” Stiles sighs and slaps a hand over his eyes when Scott gets this totally hurt look on his face. “I’m not explaining this right.” He drops his hand. “I don’t want your friends to feel weird because I’m hanging around.”

“Stiles,” Scott says slowly and he looks very earnest. “You’re one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. If I like you then they’ll like you. The fact that you’re in high school is a bonus.”

Stiles’s mouth fidgets uncertainly. “Really?”

“Totally,” Scott confirms, flashing his trademark sunny smile. “If anything, you make me ten times cooler just by association.”

Stiles grins shyly and shoves at Scott’s shoulder. “Alright, ease up — you’re really laying it on thick.”

Scott shrugs but he keeps smiling like he really needs Stiles to believe that he’s awesome.

Stiles stands and dusts himself off. “Give me thirty minutes and I’ll be ready to go.” He starts searching for his towel, and it takes him longer than it should have. He should probably really clean his room. Then again, this is a constant thought in his mind that he never follows through on.

Once he finds his towel by sheer miracle, he makes his way to the bathroom and takes his Adderall. It kicks in while he’s standing in the shower and he ends up staring at this one tile on the wall really intensely until the water turns cold and he’s forced to snap out of it. He quickly scrub himself down before the water gets to freezing temperatures.

Scott’s lounging on one of his blue beanbag chairs with a stack of articles in his hand. He looks up and says, “Dude!”

Stiles raises both his eyebrows expectantly before he shuffles over to his dresser for some clothes.

Scott waves the stack of papers in his hand and says again, “Dude!”

“Yeah, buddy, I’m here,” Stiles replies in amusement. He slips his boxers on under his towel and drops it once they’re on all the way. He struggles into a pair of jeans, hopping around, wishing he was coordinated with his hands and feet and — well, basically his whole body — because it would make his whole life much easier. And less embarrassing.

“You’re super into urban legends or something?” Scott asks, a meager amount of urgency in his tone. “Mi abuelo used to tell me and mis primos — wait, sorry. I mean, he used to say to my cousins and I, that these were real things to be afraid of. The legend of El Chupacabra was kind of one of his favorites. But they were just stories to scare us when he took us camping. You don’t — you don’t actually believe this has anything to do with what’s been happening here?”

Stiles pokes his head through his blue-and-orange striped shirt with a sheepish expression. “Well, it’s really — kinda? Sorta. Maybe? Yes and no. No and yes.”

Scott snorts and puts the papers down on the floor. “Nature, dude. It’s probably a mountain lion or something. We have those around here.”

“They don’t fit the pattern,” Stiles mutters to himself before he shakes his head and sighs. “You’re probably right. I just get worked up about things like this. I see something strange and I try to make sense of it. It’s genetic, really.”

Scott nods like he understands. Maybe he does

Stiles glances towards his window at the grey, sullen sky and says, “Should I bring an umbrella? It’s pretty cloudy out. Do you think it’ll rain?”

Scott is giving him a strange look when he glances back to him.

“What?”

“Nothing…” Scott says but the way he drags it out kinda makes it apparent that it’s definitely something. “I just forget how new you are around here I guess. It, uh, never rains.”

Stiles is sure the double take he does looks as unattractive as it feels. “One second, uh..." He takes a moment to scratch his head before he continues, "What do you mean it never rains?”

Scott just shrugs like it’s no big deal. Like it’s not a phenomenon. “I was born and raised here. It’s never rained. To my understanding, it never has, even before I came along.”

“I’m sorry I just have a hard time believing that with all the lush forests and vegetation around here, it’s not because of the result of nature’s sky tears.”

Scott laughs. “I don’t know what to tell you. There’s a mist that comes down from Mount Hebe  during twilight hours, and it keeps everything pretty replenished. It’s a good as rain.”

“Yeah but it’s not rain. Rain can’t just not be a thing when you’re not in the Sahara or somewhere equally dry.”

Scott shrugs again.

Stiles has a million more things to say about this but he just sighs, deciding to let it go for now. Maybe he'll bring it up with his dad.

“Oh, before I forget, your dad left and he wants you to text him and be home by ten. He also said you could spend the night at my house if you wanted and if it’s okay with my mom, but you have to call and let him know so he can come and pick you up in the morning.” He makes a face and then adds, “He also said you weren’t allowed to do anything until you did your chores, though.”

Stiles groans and falls backwards onto his bed, which turns into a pained grunt when his head hits the edge of a book. He peers over at Scott without actually moving anything but his eyes. The preteen is watching him with an amused frown. Stiles makes his best impression of a puppy pout and says, “Any chance that our status of friendship has reached a level where you help me out with things like this?”

“I can do the kitchen for you to make things go faster. But, dude,” Scott gives him a solemn look. “You’re on your own with your room and your laundry.” He offers his hand.

“Fair enough.” Stiles grabs Scott’s hand and pulls himself up.

Between them, they get everything done within two hours.

It’s a bonding experience of sorts. If sighing a lot and flinging clothes into the washer and dryer with no color separation is considered bonding. Which it totally is.

Scott drags him out of the house after the last load of laundry is thrown in the dryer. They climb onto their mountain bikes and peddle off, with Scott leading the way. They ride into town first, to stop at the local grocery store for some snacks, since Scott claims it’s his turn to host the marathon. Then somehow manage to make it to Scott’s house without dropping or spilling anything or eating dirt while attempting to juggle all the bags in an effort to keep their balance. Scott lives in a rambler house on a cul-de-sac full of, who he explained are retired Hawaiian dancers who decided to settle down here since the Beacon Hills feels kindred to them.

There’s a group of people waiting on Scott’s porch steps when they arrive.

Stiles takes a head count that comes to four girls and three boys.

They all stand and greet Scott enthusiastically.

A tall, dark-skinned boy says, “You’re late, McCall. We’ve been sitting out here for hours.”

“No you weren’t,” Scott begins to protest, but then he pauses. “Were you?”

They all share looks and snicker as Scott’s brow furrows deeper.

“Don’t think too hard, McCall,” says a boy with a perfect jawline and pretty blue eyes. He has one ear pierced, two small lines shaved in his left eyebrow, and he’s dressed like a backup dancer.

“Introduce us,” the girl besides him says. She’s dressed in nothing but pastels, wearing a powder pink oversized half-cut hoodie over some white lace high-waisted shorts and a pair of silver thigh high boots. She has a silver septum nose ring and her hair is in flowy beach waves the color of strawberry blonde. She looks like she runs a popular fashion trend blog.

“Oh, yeah. This is Stiles. Stiles, this is everybody,” Scott merely says. He starts pointing as he continues, “The giant on the end is Boyd." He points to the black male wearing a graphic t-shirt with some obscure indie band name. "Then Jackson, and his girlfriend Lydia." He indicates to the blond with the pierced ear and the girl with the strawberry blonde hair. Then he points to the boy with distinct Hawaiian features. “That’s Daniel, but we call him Danny,” he says.

Danny smiles with a slight wave. He's wearing a Looney Tunes track suit oddly enough, but it seems fitting. He has long hair that stops right above his shoulders and he has a sweet smile.

When Scott sees that’s all sorted, he continues, “That’s Allison, but we like to call her Ally.”

Stiles isn’t sure, but he thinks that Scott puts a bit of a lovelorn sigh with Allison’s name.

Allison appears to be the short, pale girl with long, curly, jet black hair that’s tucked behind her ears and stops at her small waist. When she grins, she has the most adorable pair of dimples that Stiles has ever seen. She’s wearing a white t-shirt with the Canadian flag under a red flannel button down and a black pleated skirt (and white gladiator sandals).

“Then there’s Erica,” Scott says, moving on.

Erica is a really lanky, tall but pretty girl that has the build of a ballerina dancer who dresses like a goth. Her platinum blonde hair, which is obviously dyed, sits in a messy bun above her head. She’s got smoky black eye shadow that makes her green eyes pop, and the black lipstick really makes her pale skin look almost like porcelain. She’s wearing a black, gently fitted, V-neck satin dress with fishnet stockings and burgundy ankle boots. She has more ear piercings than Stiles could ever dream to have (she doesn’t take pain well). Erica just smirks and winks.

Scott finishes, “Last but not least, that’s Malia.”

Malia's got honey blonde hair that's about as short as Danny's, and really thick eyebrows. She looks bored with everything. She's wearing a heavy metal graphic t-shirt and a pair of studded dark denim leggings with flip-flops. Her toenails are painted with smiley faces.

Then it get’s silent and everyone turns their attention to Stiles.

Stiles hopes he isn’t staring because they are all really good-looking. He has a problem with staring at attractive people, and right now he’s got a whole group of them looking at him in apprehension. That’s probably because he’s doing nothing but staring, like a complete weirdo.

“Is this One Tree Hill? Why does everyone in this town have killer looks?” Stiles blurts because he can’t help it and he’s not even exaggerating. He tries to get his point across by flailing his arms, bags in hand, groceries threatening to spill out. “Seriously, I call total b and s. There’s no way you guys are in junior high. You’re super aesthetically pleasing and we all know that we Americans are ugly trash.”

They all smirk. And just like that, the tension is broken, and they welcome him into the fold.

Scott unlocks his front door and they all pile into his living room to start their marathon of Freaks and Geeks.

Stiles ends up on the couch, crammed between a sprawling Erica and Malia. Malia puts her feet in Stiles’s lap like she has been his friend for longer than ten minutes, while Erica commandeers the bag of cheese puffs and watches the TV upside down like it’s no big deal. She goes to great lengths not to touch any part of him and he totally doesn't take offense to that because Malia seems to be making up for it by lounging over him like a lazy, affectionate cat.

Lydia stays curled up on top of Jackson in one of the loveseats, phone in hand and attention divided. Jackson keeps his hands planted firmly on her ass in a blatant show of possessiveness that Stiles hopes isn’t because he’s here.

Danny is sitting on the loveseat across from theirs, and he’s constantly texting.

Stiles has a sneaking suspicion that Lydia and Danny are texting each other.

Boyd sits leaning against the coffee table with his hand propping his head, completely enthralled by Lindsay Weir.

Meanwhile, Scott and Allison are lying on their stomachs, shoulders touching as they sneak glances at each other like clockwork.

Stiles isn't sure if they're in a relationship or edging their way into that territory, but the tension between them couldn't be any more blatant.

From noon to midnight, they watch episode after episode, pausing in-between to share their favorite scenes and characters, or to just generally murmur in anticipation. After a while they order some pizzas and everyone pitches in when the delivery boy gets there.

Stiles doesn't say much because he’s too busy watching them. He thinks about how nice it is to fit in again and feel like he belongs somewhere. It makes him smile when he thinks he'll have a clique come fall when they make their way into high school as freshmen.

The night wears on and Stiles has to call his dad because it’s looking like everyone’s staying over. He tells his dad he doesn't have to worry about picking him up in the morning. He can find his own way home.

Melissa strolls into the house sometime around three in the morning in some aqua-green scrubs and everyone greets her with a “Hey, Ms. McCall!” and she smiles like she isn't even a smidgen surprised to see them sprawled all over her living room.

Melissa disappears for a moment and comes back with a heap of pillows and blankets, which she passes out to everyone before bidding them a good night.

Everyone crashes after the last episode.

The house gets dark and quiet.

---

Ramona’s Old Fashioned Eatery on Mulholland Blvd is one of the most well known restaurants in, not only Beacon Hills, but all of the US of A. It’s even been on Diners Drive In & Dives , that one TV show hosted by Guy Fieri. A whole entire episode was even dedicated to the layout of their whole menu. It’s interior is cosmetically designed to look like a 50’s diner, with shiny red vinyl booths and checkerboard linoleum floors. Even the employees dress in vintage candy striped uniforms and paper waiter hats.

In the morning, Stiles is dragged to the infamous diner (apparently owned by Boyd's mom) with his new group of friends and they all cram into a booth together.

Malia asks for his phone and Stiles gives it to her with a curious frown, but she doesn’t do anything to it other than save her number. She slides it to Erica, who saves her number as well, before tossing it over to Danny, who shoots him a dimpled smile.

Stiles blushes but smiles back before hiding behind his menu as his phone gets commandeered by Lydia, who bullies Jackson into giving up his number too before they hand it over to Allison.

Allison chucks it at Boyd, and he catches it easily. Stiles sends them a mass text once he’s handed the phone back, so they all can have his number as well.

In the daylight of the diner, Stiles gets cocooned by the sound of laughter, of inside jokes, and of voices trying to talk over other voices. He doesn’t say much still, just being as observant as he can. He keeps waiting for this to feel awkward or to feel out of place, but it never happens.

Scott looks over at him from time to time with a smile when he isn’t arguing fondly with Boyd about something small and insignificant. His smile says, You’re okay with all this?

Stiles’s quiet grin replies, It’s cool. I like it.

Scott grins harder before he throws a sugar packet at Boyd and continues their faux debate. Allison leans into his side and Scott fumbles with his words and he flushes happily.

Lydia smirks as Jackson whispers something in her ear as she types away on her phone.

Malia and Erica arm-wrestle while Danny plays referee.

The waitress swings by eventually, disrupting the commotion of their commingling conversations to take their orders. After she leaves, Lydia turns a keen eye on Stiles and says, “Are you dating anyone?”

Stiles chokes on his next sip of water.

Jackson snorts and tosses him a napkin out of pity. “Relax, Stilinski. That wasn’t an offer,” he clarifies.

Stiles coughs and wipes his mouth before wiping the table. “I, uh — no? No. No, I’m — not, uh —”

“No old flames back home?” Erica asks with a mischievous grin. Her eyes are gleaming. “Fuck buddies?”

Stiles flushes. He feels incredibly self-aware all of a sudden. “No,” he squeaks before he quickly clears his throat. “I don’t — that’s not something I usually think about,” he admits.

“What? No way,” Malia says as she braids the end of her low ponytail. She eyes him. “I mean, we’re teenagers. What else is there to think about?”

“Our education?” Danny interjects, and huffs when Malia sticks her tongue out at him.

“Chocolate?” Allison offers.

Scott says, “Video games?”

“Designer handbags,” Lydia quips, sipping her water and texting at the same time.

Boyd says, “Food.”

Jackson says, “Cars.”

“No, I think about sex all the time,” Erica admits. “Are you gay?” Everyone fusses at her. “What? Danny’s gay. Malia’s gay. I’m kinda gay. Why can’t we talk about it?”

“Just stop,” Scott pleads and sends Stiles an apologetic look. “You’re making him uncomfortable.”

“We share everything though,” Boyd points out, but not unkindly. “Sooner or later we’re gonna know his business too.”

No one disagrees.

Stiles doesn’t know what to think. He’s both fascinated and horrified by their openness when it comes to discussing sexuality. This is definitely not how things went back in his old neighborhood. You either had someone or you didn’t, but what you did with that person was never discussed outside of social media.

“So, Stiles,” Allison says, because she is a godsend. “Tell us about Los Angeles. Why’d you move?”

Stiles takes the easy way out and talks about his dad’s promotion and how moving to Beacon Hills had been a huge part of it. He rambles about what life was like in Los Angeles, and the things he used to get up to with his old friends. He also has to explain that, no, he hasn’t met many celebrities. Thankfully, that’s the only thing they find disappointing about his life story.

The waitress comes back with their orders, and everyone’s attention shifts.

Eventually they all start talking about what series they should get into next. It becomes a toss-up between Doctor Who and Smallville.

They let Stiles have the final say since he’s new, and he chooses Doctor Who because he’s already familiar with it. And by familiar, he means it’s been sitting in his Netflix queue waiting to be watched for a year now. (But everyone’s an offender of an untouched Netflix queue).

They begin to make plans, wondering what they want to do next Saturday.

Boyd makes the suggestion that they should all go ice-skating, and since his dad owns the rink, they could reserve it privately for free.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Erica says, slapping her palm to the table like a judge making a final ruling. Everyone nods in approval, aside from Scott. He groans. “Come on, guys! You know I can’t skate!” he protests. Everyone ignores him.

Stiles gets distracted by a text from his dad informing him that they need to talk as soon as he gets home.

Malia asks, “Stiles?”

Stiles looks up and blinks when he notices they’re all staring at him with expectant looks. “Uh — what?”

“Ice-skating?” Lydia prompts.

“Oh,” Stiles says, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. “Yeah, sure. As long as it’s any time after my lacrosse practice.”

Jackson, Danny, and Scott perk up with interest, but Jackson’s the one to say, “You play lacrosse?”

Stiles makes a face and replies, “That depends on how you define playing.”

Jackson shoots him a look. “I define it as you being out on the field and using your feet to get the ball from one end to the other.”

“Well,” Stiles drawls. “I’m certainly out on the field. If you count handing out towels or water.”

Scott gives him a sympathetic look. “I’ve got hair trigger asthma. I feel you, dude.”

Stiles kindly doesn’t point out that it’s not the same because Scott’s excuse is actually valid. Stiles just sucks.

Jackson must think along the same line of thought, because he shakes his head and says, “That’s pathetic, Stilinski — ow!” His knee jerks into the table and it shakes with the impact.

Lydia glares at him and Stiles isn’t exactly sure, but he thinks that she just stomped on his foot. “Jackson, be nice,” she hisses.

Jackson glares back at her before he shifts his gaze away and then says, “Danny and I practice sometimes.”

“You should totally join us,” Danny adds with a wide smile. “Between Jackson and I, we can get your coach to notice you.”

Stiles nods, dumbfounded.

“Then you can vouch for us when we try out next year,” Jackson says with a smirk.

Everyone rolls their eyes, unsurprised by Jackson’s motives.

“Uh, sure — I mean, if I have any pull,” Stiles promises unsurely.

Jackson still nods and says, “We’ll text you,” before he plays rock-paper-scissors with Danny and Allison to determine who will foot the bill.

---

When Stiles gets home that Sunday, after being dropped off by Ms. McCall and Scott, he sees Mr. Henley (their next-door-neighbor) doing a bit of yard work in the front. “Hey, Mr. Henley. Doing some gardening?”

“If I have my way, Mr. Stilinski, this house will win the prestigious blue ribbon for ‘Best Landscaping’! There’s no way Mrs. Doyle from across the street will steal it from me again!” Mr. Henley explains from between two of the rose bushes he’s trimming. He pauses to wipe the sweat from his brow. He’s a man of average height, always suffering from farmer’s tan, littered with streaks of dirt and his wild, bushy eyebrows set in a determined furrow.

Stiles once joked with him that he keeps all his emotions in his eyebrows and he’s such a lighthearted man that he agreed. He grins and says, “You’ve got green fingers, Mr. Henley. If anyone can do it, you can!”

“Thanks, young man. Be sure to stop by some time. My wife would love to have you and the sheriff over for dinner. You both are such nice folks,” Mr. Henley praises before he disappears to the side of his house with his dirty hedge clippers.

Stiles smiles fondly as he continues into his own house. Based on the sounds he hears, he knows he’ll find his dad in the kitchen.

His dad is waiting for him when he gets home that evening. He’s got this nervous look on his face that Stiles isn’t used to seeing.

“What? What did you eat?” Stiles asks, and he makes a mental note to formally introduce himself to his dad’s deputies so he can have an insider who can inform him of when his dad is being less than square about his diet.

The sheriff snorts. “Nothing you wouldn’t approve of,” he replies, and he sounds a little bitter about it, so Stiles believes him.

“Okay, what’s with the face, then?” Stiles says, and really starts to worry when his dad makes a gesture for him to take a seat at the kitchen table. He sits.

His dad sits across from him.

Stiles folds his hands together and bounces his right leg for a few seconds before his dad stands up again and begins pacing the kitchen. “Uh, dad —”

He stops moving to say, “Give me a moment here, son.”

Stiles shuts his mouth and mimes a zipping gesture across his lips.

The sheriff goes right back to pacing.

Stiles scratches the back of his head before he leans back in his chair.

His dad stops pacing, turns to him, and oddly says, “You know how you always wanted a little brother?”

“Okay, that wasn’t what I expected you to say.”

“Just answer the question.”

“Um, yes? Vaguely? I don’t know,” Stiles says as he frowns at his dad before his gaze narrows. “If this is your way of breaking the news to me that Ms. McCall is pregnant, then —”

“What? No! Jesus, kid. No.” His dad rubs a tired hand down his face. He pulls out the chair across from Stiles and sits with a sigh. “The thing is — there’s been some recent developments.”

Stiles nods in what he hopes is an encouraging way, despite his confusion.

“And you should know that I would never make any major decisions without consulting you first, especially when it affects you,” his dad continues. Then he stops again, like he’s trying to find the right words.

Stiles figures he should be supportive and he says, “Whatever it is, dad — it’s fine. I mean, I was okay when you wanted to move. It sucked at first. Man, did it suck. Like it really, really —”

His dad gives him a pointed look.

“—anyway, it sucked but things are totally fine now. I’m adaptable. I’m like one of those animals that can do camouflage, or like that one lizard. What is it called? Didn’t they have a movie about it with Johnny Depp as the voice? What am I saying? Johnny Depp has been in a million movies. This one, though — it didn’t have Helena Bonham Carter in it, so that helps to narrow things down. I think they were in the wild west —”

“Stiles,” his father interrupts, sounding amused.

“Right,” Stiles says breathlessly, tapping the kitchen table with listless fingers. “I’m just saying that I’m totally on board with whatever it is you’re trying to tell me.”

“I adopted a kid.”

“You adopted a kid,” Stiles echoes. He blinks and sits back, letting his hands fall into his lap. He opens his mouth and then closes it. He opens it again but then closes it again.

The sheriff snorts. “Is that what it takes to make you speechless?”

“Not funny,” Stiles mumbles. “I’m processing.”

His dad nods in understanding. “Take your time.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Tell me about this kid. Why did you adopt him? Am I not enough for you? Just kidding. What’s his name? Will he being staying in the room that’s supposed to be your office but you never use it? Is he staying forever? Will he take your last name? Does he —”

“Whoa, whoa,” his dad says, lifting his hands, palms facing him in a ‘hold it’ gesture. “One question at a time. His name is Isaac Lahey, and he just turned twelve. He got mixed up in some bad dealings with his older brother and his dad. They’re both in jail now and Isaac had nowhere else to go. They wanted to release him to the state, but his therapist feared it would be the worst thing to put him in the system like that. He also, uh, grew attached to me over the past couple of weeks, which is understandable since I’ve been one of his only visitors while he stayed at the hospital. His therapist suggested that I think about taking him in. Well, I did, and I talked to him about it and he seemed receptive to the idea.”

Stiles nods and he begins to understand why his dad’s been so distracted lately. “So, is he — wait, what happened though? Why’d he have to see a therapist? Why was he in the hospital? What did his dad and older brother do?”

His dad looks really uncomfortable, but above all he just looks sad. Not a typical type of sad, either, but the type of sad he got after Stiles’s mother died.

Stiles hates that look. It shoots little pinpricks of pain straight into his heart and makes him want to cry. He quickly backtracks, “It’s none of my business. I’m sorry.”

“No,” his dad says as he shakes his head. “No, you’re not wrong for being curious. I’d rather Isaac talk about it himself then me. This is going to be a big change. It’s not just going to be only you and me anymore.”

Stiles hadn’t thought of it like that. “I don’t mind,” he says softly, and he really means it.

His dad smiles and huffs before leaning over to ruffle his buzz cut. “You’re a good kid,” he says.

Stiles blushes at the praise and grins, batting his dad’s hand away. “I learned it from the very best.”

“Right, butter me up, why don’t you,” his dad jokes.

“Now why would I do that? Butter is bad for your cholesterol,” Stiles counters, and snickers at the unimpressed look his dad gives him. “So when is he coming?”

“In a couple of hours,” his dad admits. “I got the room ready while you were gone. Well, come and see.”

Stiles follows his dad up the stairs and to the room that sits right across from his own. It smells like the walls have been freshly painted, and there’s new furniture. It’s all watermelon themed colors. Green walls, red comforters on the queen-sized bed sitting against the wall between the windows, black dressers and a work desk. The desk has a laptop, speakers and a printer crammed on top of its surface.

“Really trying to make him feel welcomed, huh, dad?” Stiles quips, and his dad knocks their shoulders together.

“I can afford to feed and spoil an extra mouth with my new position. Not to mention the fact that it comes with a great insurance plan,” his dad whistles. “What more could a man ask for from his nine to five?”

Stiles snorts. “I’m going to go make dinner. Any special requests?”

“Lasagna,” is his dad’s automatic reply. “And would it kill you to put some actual meat in it?”

“Ground turkey is meat.”

The look on the sheriff’s face suggests that he would like to strongly disagree, but knows better than to argue the point. He eyes his son before saying, “You’re really okay with this?”

“Dad, it’s fine,” Stiles swears. It's not the way he imagined being an older brother, but he was a bit excited at the prospect still. “I’m going to go see what we have for snacks. What will you do?”

“Sleep,” is his dad’s automatic reply. “Growing up means you never get enough of it.”

“You work too hard. I feel like I never see you that much anymore. Or maybe you're avoiding me,” Stiles jokes lightly.

“Spare me with that. Everything I do, I do for you, kiddo.”

Stiles laughs.

"Wake me when Isaac's here."

Stiles nods and watches his dad disappear into his room before he goes downstairs to start dinner. He’s putting the lasagna in the oven to cook. When he notices that there’s still a good thirty minutes left for it to sit in there, he decides to spend that time in the living room playing a few scenes of Assassin's Creed (Black Flag). He’s about to try and parkour the heck out of her latest escape attempt in the videogame when there's a knock on the door.

“Dad!” he yells and when there’s no response, he sighs and pauses the game. He jogs to the door and opens it before frowning. “You’re not Isaac.”

Peter lifts a brow. “I should hope not,” he replies. He holds up his left hand to reveal another stuffed animal.

It’s a black wolf this time.

“Oh, no,” Stiles says, sounding exasperated.

“Happy birthday.” Peter says brightly.

“Not this again.”

“You’re not opposed to black, are you?”

Peter.

“I admit, it’s still too early, but it’s almost April,” Peter supposes, ignoring the annoyed look crossing Stiles’s face as he eyes the stuffed toy in his hand with some consideration. “Anyway, about that paper. My professor didn’t find some of those facts useful.”

“This is why you need a librarian,” Stiles points out.

“I need you,” Peter simply says, staring at him very intently. “I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t of any use to me. Trust me —”

Trust you?” Stiles says with a snort.

“—I don’t waste my time lightly,” he continues, ignoring the jab. “I like you, Stilinski.”

Stiles makes a face.

“Now, are you going to invite me in so I can complain more formally or do we have time to go back and forth like this? Good evening, Sheriff.” Peter flicks his gaze up and looks over Stiles’s shoulder.

Stiles turns to see his dad standing at the top of the stairs. He doesn’t look too concerned to see Peter Hale at their door. Curious.

“Stiles?”

“False alarm,” Stiles explains with a frown. “Sorry.”

His dad just nods. He greets Peter briefly before he returns to his room.

Stiles turns back to Peter and says, “This isn’t a good time.”

“Something smells wonderful,” is Peter’s irritating response. “Lasagna?”

Stiles glares at him. “You’re not leaving until I help, are you?”

Peter smiles big and wide. It’s still somehow carnivorous in nature.

Stiles sighs and moves out of the way so Peter can glide in. He knows the faster he can get this over with, the faster he can get Peter to leave. Hopefully. Also, considering recent developments, he’s interested in hearing what Peter knows too.

Peter suddenly says, “I have to use the bathroom,” and he dashes up the steps before Stiles can protest.

Stiles times him.

Peter comes back three minutes later and sits down at the kitchen table before looking at Stiles expectantly.

“So what facts did your professor not like?”

“I wouldn’t call it dislike. It’s more or less that some of them were a dead end. Particularly the section pertaining to El Chupacabra’s weaknesses,” Peter explains.

Stiles frowns. “I don’t understand. I was dead on about that.”

Peter makes a face like Stiles isn’t as clever as he thinks he is.

“Maybe you’re not getting it,” Stiles huffs. “The very thing that makes El Chupacabra what it is, is the very thing that makes it vulnerable.”

Peter lifts a brow but he says, “So the fact that it mauls on defenseless animals in the dead of the night is a weakness?”

“El Chupacabra thrives on heat and darkness,” Stiles elaborates. “It can’t survive in the daylight. It’s a warm-blooded creature, okay? It’s like something you’d read out of vampire lore. Where a vampire would need warm blood to live, El Chupacabra needs it to survive, to stay at a certain temperature, I guess. I also have some suspicions about its ability to use scent as a way to see, kind of like moles or Sinopoda scurion do.”

“Sensory modality,” Peter murmurs, his face clearing of all annoyance, like something is clicking for him.

“Right,” Stiles confirms. “Which means it can only scavenge during the night. Less light, meaning it’s less disorienting to the senses.”

Peter smirks. “When you put it that way, it makes perfect sense.” He moves to stand but Stiles lifts a hand and he pauses.

“I’ve got some questions for you,” Stiles says.

Peter sits and leans back in the chair, threading his fingers over his stomach casually, and waits.

“Does any of this have to do with what’s been going on around here?”

Peter widens his feet a bit and says, “And what’s been going on around here?”

“The missing and then not missing animals?” Stiles clarifies. “You know? The ones that profile exactly the same as the other reports tangent to El Chupacabra sightings.”

Peter looks heavily amused. “So you’re saying that you believe a contemporary legend is real and has manifested itself in Beacon Hills?”

Stiles cheeks grow red because yes, he is kind of implying that. “I just think it’s a little too close to a coincidence that you happen to be writing this supposed paper about the very thing that seems to relate to these events.”

“Yes. Coincidence.”

Stiles feels his right eyelid begin to twitch. “I’m not stupid,” he mutters.

Peter snorts and stands. “Why would I be here if you were?”

“That’s the thing!” Stiles flails a bit. “Why are you here?”

Peter opens his mouth but then pauses with a frown. He cocks his head before he looks intently at the door like he's waiting for something.

Not even a second later, the doorbell rings.

“You should probably answer that,” Peter suggests lightly.

Stiles glares at him before he moves just to do so. He opens it to find a dark-skinned woman in a grey suit with her hand on a tall kid’s shoulder. The kid has blond curly hair like one of those cherub angels but half his face is covered with severe burns, like someone shoved him into a fire. He’s got his hands hidden from view in a grey hoodie with saggy pants. He’s so slender that he looks like he’s drowning in his clothes and he’s looks like he's ready to sprint at any moment.

“Hi. You must be Stiles,” the woman greets him.

“I must be,” Stiles says, and glances at who he now suspects is Isaac.

The woman straightens suddenly as she looks over Stiles’s shoulder and Stiles stiffens when he can feel Peter looming behind him.

“Ms. Morrell,” Peter greets. “Fancy seeing you here. Your presence in town has been scarce as of late. I was beginning to wonder.”

“Peter,” Ms. Morrell replies in a rather indifferent tone. “I was unaware you knew the Stilinskis.”

“Oh, I know everybody,” Peter airily states. “And everything.”

Ms. Morrell just looks at him blankly.

Stiles feels like there is some kind of second conversation underlying their words.

This town just keeps getting stranger and stranger.

“Well, I won’t keep you. I believe I hear the sheriff coming. Stiles, walk me to my car.” Peter ignores the beginnings of Stiles’s protests and gently pushes Stiles out the door and past Ms. Morrell and Isaac.

His dad is already at the doorway, ready to greet Ms. Morrell and invite her and Isaac in.

Stiles doesn’t even want to think about how Peter knew his dad was coming, because he’s too busy drooling over Peter’s red Lamborghini, which is parked behind his father’s squad car in the driveway.

“It’s custom-made,” Peter remarks as he pats the hood before he leans against it. “Maybe I’ll take you for a drive sometime.”

“Why does that sound so dirty when you say it?” Stiles accuses.

Peter snorts. “Oh, the teenaged mind. So warped with unbridled hormones. Even the most innocent suggestion is twisted into flirtation.”

Stiles rolls his eyes.

“I meant the offer as a friend to a friend,” Peter clarifies. “Besides, I have a girlfriend, and you’re not my type anyway.”

Stiles huffs. “Wow, how disappointing. Who’d you trick into dating you?”

Peter slaps a hand over his chest where his supposed heart is and pretends to be offended. “I need no devilry. And you might already know her. Her name is Kathryn, but everyone else calls her Kate.”

“Kate? Kate Argent? Laura’s best friend?” Stiles could hardly believe it. Kate was a bottle blonde with a bad attitude and Laura’s co-captain for the school’s cheerleading squad. She took ‘Mean Girls’ to a whole other level. And while she never gave Stiles any problems, he knew better than to not believe all the rumors he heard about anyone who was stupid enough to cross Kate. “How’d you manage that?” he asks because he just has to know.

“Not without difficulty,” Peter admits. “Assuming you mean with convincing Laura to let me. Outside of that, it was like cake. Ours is a forever kinda thing.”

Stiles would have loved to have been the fly on the wall during that conversation but he snorts at the other part of his sentence. “You’re something else,” he decides. “This is the last time I help you.”

Peter simply smiles. “Sure.”

“I mean it,” Stiles says because he really does. “Even your very intimidating nephew warned me about you. Well maybe not warned but the warning was implied — actually his voice was kinda monotone and growly at the time, so it’s hard to say if he even was — because I was trying not to burst into tears as he loomed over me in a very intimidating way—”

Peter straightens. “Derek? Derek talked to you?”

“Uh, yes. That is literally what I just said. But, you know, he didn’t really do a lot of talking. Mostly glaring and looming,” Stiles clarifies as he thinks about it. "It was a very nonverbal and confusing exchange."

Peter smirks suddenly. “I’ll text you.”

“What? How would you even text me? You’d need my number to — Peter!

Peter’s already climbing in his car and backing up.

“You better not have my number!” Stiles shouts as the car peels down the street and out of sight. He sighs and starts heading towards his house, and closes the door behind him when he gets inside. He makes his way to the kitchen to check on the lasagna.

His dad is giving Ms. Morrell a quick tour of their home.

Isaac is sitting quietly at the dining room table, looking at his lap and nowhere else. He looks very much as though he’d like to be invisible.

Stiles goes to the oven and pulls the lasagna out with an oven mit. He sets it on the stove and tests if it’s done by poking it with a butter knife. When he’s satisfied with it, he turns off the stove and begins cutting it up and serving it. He makes sure he doesn’t forget to grab the leftover salad from the fridge, because there’s no way he’s not going to serve at least some kind of vegetable with this dish.

Ms. Morrell sits down across from Isaac, so Stiles sits down across from his dad. She talks to his dad about grown-up things like the weather and the state of the country’s financial situation. Once or twice she asks Stiles for his opinion and Stiles tries his best not to go off on a tangent when he answers earnestly.

His dad just huffs in amusement when he does, used to his antics and overtly fond.

Ms. Morrell just smiles indulgently and thanks him for his input before she addresses Isaac, who just shakes his head and says nothing. She frowns with concern, but only briefly before she changes topics.

Stiles glances at Isaac throughout dinner and notices that he doesn’t really eat all that much. He just pecks at his salad and his lasagna, but he never really takes any serious bites.

Ms. Morrell stands, shakes hands with his father and then turns to him and comments on how much she liked his cooking. She says goodbye to Isaac, but he doesn’t reply. Then she asks him to walk her to the door.

Isaac just stands, eyes firmly on the ground as they both disappear into the foyer.

Stiles is curious about what they’re talking about, but his dad cleverly distracts him by offering to help clean the kitchen. He knows Stiles will protest about him touching the food because Stiles doesn’t trust him not to “accidently” drop it in the trash or something as an excuse to order out for lunch tomorrow.

Isaac comes back a short while later and just sits quietly at the table, chewing his fingernails as Stiles and his dad work around him.

When his dad is done with the dishes, he hides away in the living room with Isaac in tow and he turns on some kind of movie.

Peter texts him randomly, saying: Save this number. :))

Stiles ignores the advice and bakes some peanut butter cookies, because he has a craving for them. He brings the finished cookies into the living room, and lets his dad have two. He then offers to share the rest with Isaac.

But Isaac just shakes his head and curls up on the end of the couch, chewing his nails as he watches the TV anxiously, as if he can never really let himself relax.

Stiles eats way more cookies than he should before he has to tap out and save the rest. He bids his dad and Isaac goodnight before he wanders up to his room.

Guess what he finds.

That stupid black wolf and white wolf sitting on his bed side by side like someone (Peter) put it there.

Stiles changes into a pair of pajama bottoms and grabs his phone on his way to bed, then shoots Peter a quick text.

You’re not as funny as you think you are.

Stiles drops his phone on his pillow before he grabbing his copy of The Hobbit, picking up from where he had left off. His phone buzzes a moment later.

Who is this

???

Stiles rolls his eyes as he snuggles the wolves close before he lifts his middle finger and takes a selfie with them, sending the photo to Peter.

Peter calls him three seconds after he sends the text.

“What?” Stiles complains.

Who gave you my number?” Whoa, okay, that is so not Peter.

“Derek?” Stiles squeaks. He would recognize that voice anywhere. He fumbles to catch his phone when it slips from his sweaty palm. He barely manages to avoid it crashing to the floor and splitting into tiny shattered pieces. He thankfully catches it and presses it to his ear again. “Oh god, hello? Hello. Hi. Um. Oh my god. I thought — I thought this was Peter’s number. This isn't Peter's number? He texted me from this number and — and — why isn't this Peter's number? Isn't there a rule against that? The words fraud and identity theft come to mind. You can correct me if I'm wrong — I know I'm not though.

“God. This is just like Peter. Mind you, I've only known the guy for a few days so I can't really realistically say that this is normal behavior for him. It just — it just feels like normal behavior, you know? I mean the guy is shady three ways to Sunday. Or, uh, sorry. That's your uncle and I'm not trying to insult you by insulting him or anything. I just wouldn't — this has to be — yeah, um, I'm going to stop talking now.”

Derek is curiously quiet on the other end for a long while before he says, “I thought I told you to stay away from my uncle.

Stiles flails, not that Derek could see anyway, but he flails wildly in frustration. “Maybe you should tell him to stay away from me. Seeing as how he’s always the one to initiate our interactions. I don’t think I’m the problem here.”

Shut up.

“Rude,” Stiles mutters, flinging his hand up in an exasperated gesture and rolling his eyes. The nerve and audacity of this guy, seriously. It must run in the family. Or at least skipped Laura, because she appears to be the only nice and sensible one.

Why do you have my wolves?” Derek questions.

Stiles frowns and nearly kicks the stuffed animals out of his bed. But he doesn’t, because it’s not their fault that Peter sucks and Derek is being... Derek. “Also your uncle’s fault. I just — I don’t know how he keeps getting into my room but—”

He’s been in your room?” Derek growls, and whoa, that’s — wow. That really shouldn’t be as impressive as it is.

“I — not — I didn’t invite him if that’s what you think,” Stiles explains and he really shouldn't have to be explaining this but damn it, Derek makes him nervous and he either babbles out the truth or complete bullshit when he's nervous. “Why would you even care if he — it's not even like — I don’t even like Peter. He’s a menace. Swear to the sky. Look up the definition of menace and you will see your uncle's face.”

Derek huffs.

Stiles pauses at that. “Was that a laugh? Are you laughing? Am I funny to you?”

Derek merely says, “You’re odd.

I’m odd? How insulting. I'm not even the one —”

Why did you send me that picture?” Derek interjects calmly.

Stiles’s mouth hangs open for a moment and a dawning sense of horror creeps into his awareness as quickly as heat blossoms in his cheeks. God, he’d forgotten he’d sent that picture. He is shirtless in that picture. “It’s not how it seems,” he swears, voice cracking a little.

How does it seem?” Derek sounds amused.

“You know.”

No. I don’t think I do. Enlighten me.

Stiles blurts, “I’m not sexting your uncle!”

Derek goes quiet on the other end. Then he starts laughing very softly. “That’s what you consider sexting?

Stiles grabs a pillow and slaps it over his face as he groans. He wants very badly to scream. The ground needs to open up and swallow him. Seriously. He needs to magically evaporate into thin air. He mumbles, “You can go ahead and lose my number any minute now. There's no way I can be any more humiliated.”

Somehow Derek still manages to hear him and replies, “Or you can save my number under the correct name so you don’t mistake me for my uncle again.

Stiles freezes at that. “Uh — you — uh —”

Derek continues, “I have to go now. This has been fun, I guess. Take care of my wolves.” Then he has the gall to just leave it at that and hang up.

Stiles gapes and just stares at his phone, trying desperately to figure out what the hell just happened. His brain must be on autopilot because he manages to add Derek’s number into his contacts.

He’s still a bit delirious when he calls Scott and tells him everything.

Scott’s more interested in if there are still leftovers than he is about anything else. But he assures Stiles that everything will work itself out because the universe is strange but it puts everything in balance and, wow, Stiles didn’t even know Scott could be so deep. Scott has actual depths. But then Scott ruins the effect when he starts talking about this cheat code he found online for Dragon Age, and he’s adamant they should both try it.

Stiles just smiles and says, “Okay, buddy.”

This is how he decides that Scott is officially his best friend.

---

During lunch the next day, Peter strolls onto campus grounds looking like a million bucks. Or the lovechild of a pair of celebrities. Basically he looks like a model. He takes a seat beside his girlfriend, Kate (who is as equally good-looking as he is and it's like, super unreal). Peter aims a grin at Derek and Laura, who are sitting across from him, eating their lunch and looking unsurprised by his presence.

Stiles hunches down in his seat and hopes that Peter won't spot him. That hope is in vain, and only had a few seconds of life. He starts to feel Peter’s eyes burning holes into the side of his face as his pocket vibrates furiously, and he wishes he had stayed inside to eat.

He pulls out his phone and glances at the screen warily.

Peter texts: this is peter :)) 

save my number :))

stilinski :))

stilinski :))

stop being rude :))

i see you reading these messages :))

don’t ignore me :))

after all the trouble i went through to get this number :))

i had to beg derek to give it to me :))

he didn’t of course so i stole his phone :))

oh look derek is threatening to decapitate me if i don’t give him his phone back :))

he also has informed me that i am to never set foot in his bedroom again or yours :))

now he’s complaining to his sister that i keep stealing his things and giving them away :))

let the record show that i only ever took his childhood teddy bears or wolves if you want to be technical :))

i told him they’re in good hands and i would never just give away things like that to just anybody :))

that was a compliment :))

thank me for that compliment stilinski :))

now derek wants to know who i’m texting :))

should i tell him? :))

i told him :))

now he wont stop glaring at me :))

now he’s threatening to wring my neck if I ever speak to you again :))

my nephew is incredibly cute :))

did you save me some lasagna? :))

kate says hi :))

she thinks you’re cute too :))

oh look now Derek is glaring at the both of us :))

Derek texts: Stop encouraging my uncle.

Stiles sighs and drops his forehead to the table with a loud thud. He turns off his phone but he can still feel Peter’s smirk and Derek’s glare aimed in his direction.

Across the quad, Laura’s cackling is unmistakable.

Chapter Text

Stiles has no idea what it would be like to have an infant brother, but he’s losing such an adequate amount of sleep that it’s close enough.

To put it simply: Isaac gets these really extreme night terrors.

In the first three days of living with him, Stiles never knew how haunting a person’s scream could be in the dead of the night.

For three nights in a row, when Isaac screams, Stiles will jolt upright and tumble out of his bed in a drowsy effort to locate and identify the cry of distress.

For three nights in a row, he whips his door open and runs to Isaac’s room only to find that his dad is already there, cradling Isaac’s shaking form and shushing him.

For three nights in a row, Stiles exhales shakily and sags against the frame of Isaac’s door with such bone deep relief as his dad gives him a sad and apologetic smile. Stiles will just shake his head with an answering thin smile of his own before he turns and makes his way down the stairs and into the kitchen.

For three nights in a row, he’ll putter around the kitchen, grabbing a pot before pouring some organic milk in it and setting it on the stove to warm. He adds ginger, cinnamon, and honey, stirring it a bit before he grabs an apple from the fridge and carves it into neat slices. He sets it on a small dish before pouring the warmed milk into a mug and carries it all upstairs.

For three nights in a row, his dad will be sitting on the floor with his back against the bottom edge of Isaac’s bed as Isaac writes quietly in a leather-bound journal with the aid of the lamp on his nightstand. Stiles will hand Isaac the milk and the apple slices before he joins his father on the floor.

For three nights in a row, Stiles listens to the quiet scratching of a pen against paper, followed by a soft sigh and a sharp sniff. He listens as Isaac takes careful sips of his milk before chewing carefully on the apples with hiccupped sighs. Then there comes the clink of him putting the mug and the plate on his nightstand before he switches of his lamp. Stiles feels the motion of the bed move against his back as Isaac settles down for sleep again. His father once explained to him that Ms. Morrell thinks these nightly rituals are prudent to Isaac’s healing and recovery process. That Isaac should be aware that he’s not alone, and that Stiles and his dad bear him no ill will, only patient understanding and comfort.

For three nights in a row, he and his father will sit there on the floor, not saying a word, just breathing and listening to Isaac breathe, while at the same time offering their presence as a consolation. Stiles thinks of it like meditation. This goes on for about an hour before his dad carefully stands and checks Isaac before he nods at Stiles and then nods at the door. Stiles follows him out, and his dad closes the door behind him, but not all the way, leaving it cracked just in case he needs to come back.

For three nights in a row, his dad will rub the back of his neck, mouth moving to formulate an apology or to say thank you but Stiles will shake his head firmly and hug his old man, patting him on the back for good measure. He pulls away with a subdued grin before he waves and returns to his own room. He closes his door with a soft click and unhooks his phone from off its charger on his work desk before taking it to bed with him. He likes to keep it close in fear he’ll tune out his alarm because of his exhaustion.

It’s three in the morning on a Friday, and three hours later, Stiles wakes with groggy confusion before he switches off the alarm on his phone and throws himself out of bed before the temptation of falling asleep can get to him again. He grabs a towel so he can take a shower, and on his way to the bathroom he sees his dad up and about in his uniform, heading into Isaac’s room to wake him as well.

Usually his dad will let Isaac sleep as long as he can before he has to drag the twelve-year-old to sit at the station with him (not fond of leaving him in the house all by himself), but it just reminds Stiles that today is the day that Isaac starts his first day back to school. It’s a pretty big deal and, if Stiles is reading the implications right, it’s basically a milestone in Isaac’s recovery.

So Stiles takes his medicine, tries not to use up all the hot water because he’s got to be considerate to Isaac, and he jogs back to his room. He almost trips as he shuts his door behind him because his room is always a general disaster area. It makes sense when you think about it because Stiles is a scatterbrain so why wouldn’t his room be an equal manifestation of that? He kicks his way through a trail of clothes and presses different jeans and shirts to his nose in efforts to distinguish between what’s clean and what’s not and throws on what he deems is okay (which generally is anything blue or orange or both if he can get away with it).

Then he crams all his schoolwork in his backpack and pockets his phone before he sprints down the steps. He dumps his backpack on the couch and rolls up the sleeves of his blue plaid shirt before he sets to work with whipping together the best breakfast he can make. This pretty much means: toast, strawberry banana waffles/pancakes, turkey sausage/bacon, scrambled eggs and biscuits.

His dad comes ambling down the steps with a raised brow and Stiles greets him with a freshly brewed cup of coffee. He takes it and says, “What’s with all the—” He gestures to the spread of food.

“Isaac’s going back to school today,” Stiles says as he makes his own plate and sits down with it. “I think that deserves to be noted optimistically in some way.”

The sheriff takes a sip of his coffee as he cocks his head thoughtfully. “Yeah,” he sighs in pleasure before he smiles and pats Stiles on the head affectionately. “I think it does too. You're a good kid.”

Stiles butters his toast and drowns his pancakes and waffles in syrup while his dad fixes himself a plate.

“Paper?”

Stiles points to the counter where he put the newspaper.

His dad grabs it and shakes it out as he takes a seat across from him. "Well, look at that. Sunny skies all day today."

Stiles plays around with the order of the periodic table in his head as he shoves two slices of bacon in his mouth while his foot drums a subdued beat against the linoleum tiles of the kitchen floor.

His dad mumbles behind his paper, eating his food and drinking his coffee with typical absentmindedness.

Isaac eventually joins them. He’s wearing dark jeans with a grey t-shirt and a black scarf. Stiles has noticed that Isaac has this thing about scarves and he thinks that maybe Isaac is treating it like some kind of security blanket. He moves silently as he fills his plate with pancakes, biscuits, eggs and not much else.

Stiles still pens it down as a win because Isaac usually eats little to nothing. He smiles when Isaac sits down and says, “Good morning.”

Isaac says nothing but he flicks his gaze over to Stiles briefly before fastening it to his plate. He hunches over his food like he’s afraid someone will take it from him, but he eats gingerly like he has all the time in the world.

“Excited to be going back to school?” the sheriff asks from behind his paper.

Isaac says nothing.

Stiles moves to grab the orange juice and he fills up a cup for Isaac before he fills his own. “I’m sure your friends missed you while you were away,” he says.

Isaac stiffens and stops eating.

Stiles quickly backtracks. “So, seventh grade!” he blurts. “That’s — yeah. I remember when I was in seventh grade. It feels like it was yesterday. Science projects and decimals. Don’t get me started on Lord of the Flies. Though I'd take that over The Great Gatsby any day.”

Isaac says nothing still, but at least he starts eating again and his shoulders relax a fraction.

Stiles continues, “Dad, you remember my seventh grade science project?”

“No,” his dad grumbles bitterly. “And I certainly don’t remember having to pay over two hundred bucks to get the stains off and out of the living room furniture.”

“Heh, oh yeah,” Stiles says sheepishly. “I’m sure Isaac has much cleaner and neater ideas.” He turns to look at the quiet boy in question. “Not sure how they do it out here but back at my old school our science projects were due a week before school ends. If you want, or if you haven’t already done it, I can help you.”

Isaac doesn’t acknowledge the offer.

“Well, think about it,” Stiles suggests and he leaves it at that. He clears his plate and makes himself a second helping. He multitasks eating and texting Scott, as well as Danny, who’s extended the offer of practicing this afternoon out on the lacrosse fields of Beacon Hills Junior High.

Stiles graciously responds with acceptance before he finishes up his food and dumps his plate in the dishwasher. He then puts away any leftovers and sets to work with making his dad and Isaac’s lunch for them. He doesn’t bother with his own. He knows what he’ll be doing during lunch and it won’t be eating.

Isaac puts his plate and cup in the dishwasher and goes up to his room to get his backpack.

The sheriff stands and folds his newspaper up before he says, “I’m thinking of getting Isaac his own phone.”

“You should,” Stiles agrees. “In fact, why don’t we all get an upgrade?”

His dad huffs and shoots him a knowing look over the rim of his coffee mug.

Stiles just smiles innocently and takes his dad’s dishes for him.

“I got it,” his dad starts to fuss. “You go on. You’ll be late for school.”

“That’s a given,” Stiles confirms. “I plan on missing my first period anyway. I want to go with you when you drop Isaac off. I want to know how to get there anyway, you know, so I can pick Isaac up or drop him off when you can’t. Or I could just take on that responsibility. It’s no problem.”

His dad smiles fondly and shakes his head. “This is the only time I’ll make an exception for you ditching class. Go start the car for me.”

Stiles fumbles with his dad’s car keys when his dad tosses them to him. He shoots his dad a dirty look when his old man gives a hearty chuckle at his clumsiness. He crosses the foyer and strides out the door and down the porch steps to where his dad’s squad car is parked in the driveway. He unlocks the doors, starts the car and pops the trunk before he goes to where his mountain bike is lying out in the wet grass of their yard. He hauls the thing up, stumbles a few times before he gets to the car, and shoves his bike into the trunk as far as it can go. He gets the trunk closed with the aid of some elastic hook rope.

Stiles dusts his hands off in satisfaction and turns to head back into the house but he gets distracted by the moving truck parked just next door and the movers shuffling back and forth between the truck and the house. They carry furniture that looks like it came straight from the Victorian era and it makes Stiles wonder what kind of person or persons are moving in.

Stiles is very confused as to why the Henleys have left with little to no warning it seems. Not that they owed him any explanation, but he does wonder where and when they might have gone. They never really got around to accepting that dinner invitation they were constantly offering.

His dad comes out of the house with his backpack and Stiles gets distracted again. “You ready?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says and takes his backpack with a quick thanks. Then he says, “Hey, dad? What happened to Mr. and Mrs. Henley?”

The sheriff frowns in question and glances over at the house on the right. He frowns and says, “Huh. Didn’t know they were moving.”

“No,” Stiles corrects. “They already moved. Someone is currently moving in.”

“Really?”

Stiles nods.

“Huh.”

Stiles rolls his eyes and heads to his dad’s squad car and leaves him to his nonverbal speculation. He sits in the back because he’s fine with it and leaves the passenger seat open for Isaac when he comes.

His dad disappears in the house again, and comes back out with Isaac and his lunch in tow.

Isaac climbs in the passenger seat and buckles in.

His dad settles in the driver’s seat and spends a moment adjusting himself before he shifts the car in reverse. As he backs up out of the driveway, he says, “I’ll be home around nine, but you two can call me if you need me sooner.”

Stiles says, “Sure.”

Isaac says nothing.

The rest of the ride is spent with the three of them riding in silence as his dad’s radar beeps and chirps with a female dispatcher’s voice.

Stiles dismantles the Bills of Rights in his head and rearranges it in a different order before his thoughts goes off on a tangent about the gun politics and control policy in conjunction with the second amendment, and then that train of thought rides into a different tangent concerning the national death rate in heavily populated areas as a result of armed robbery.

It only takes ten minutes to get to Beacon Hills Junior High, which means that it’s only five minutes away from Stiles’s high school.

They all climb out and Isaac keeps his head down as they enter the school and walk through the halls in search of the main office.

Ms. Morrell is already waiting in the principal’s office for them when they arrive.

His dad turns to him and Isaac. “Why don’t you two wait out here for a moment,” he suggests lightly.

Stiles nods, even though he’s curious, and he goes to sit down in the reception area.

Isaac joins him, keeping his head low and his gaze firmly planted to the ground.

Stiles fidgets as he feels the stares everyone is sending Isaac. It bothers him how they whisper and stare at the burn scars all across Isaac’s face. It bothers him and he just knows it must really grate at Isaac. He’s not sure what to do.

Isaac looks so small and tense in his chair, clutching his backpack and the lunch Stiles packed for him like a lifeline.

Stiles, for the life of him, can’t think of anything to say, even despite being a motor mouth half of the time. He reaches out tentatively and places his hand over Isaac’s.

Isaac tenses further and stills.

Stiles doesn’t move his hand, waiting to see what he will do.

Isaac does nothing. He doesn’t say anything and he doesn’t even look anywhere else but his own shoelaces. But he also doesn’t push Stiles’s hand away either.

Stiles thinks maybe that counts for something.

Ms. Morrell and his dad, along with the principal, approach them.

Stiles stands but Isaac doesn’t budge an inch.

“Isaac,” Ms. Morrell says softly. “We’re going to your homeroom now. Are you ready?”

Isaac nods slowly.

“Okay. Let’s show Stiles and Mr. Stilinski your homeroom,” Ms. Morrell suggests.

Isaac stands silently and makes his way towards the door.

The rest of them follow.

His dad and Ms. Morrell talk in hushed tones, while the principal chimes in from time to time. The principal mostly just gloats about the school and praises her dad for allowing Isaac to continue his education there instead of one of the private schools. Stiles snorts because he knows his dad’s policy about public schools. He believes in the system of it because he went to them himself growing up. Of course the sheriff would be all for the funding and support of public education where other politicians and public figures such as himself would scorn and turn their attention elsewhere.

Isaac walks ahead of them with his head low and his shoulders hunched, and he moves like it’s a death march.

Stiles picks up the pace so he can catch up with him and he says, “So this is a cool school. Full of cool things and—school-y stuff.”

Isaac says nothing.

Stiles didn’t expect him to. He’s probably doing this whole ‘trying to be soothing’ thing wrong. He turns when Isaac turns and they walk up two flights of steps and down another hall. He’s not surprised that when they reach Isaac’s homeroom class, Malia is already lounging on top of a desk and chatting it up with two boys. When she sees him she springs to her feet with a grin and drags over her two male companions.

“Stiles!” Malia greets. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh you know,” Stiles says. “Just hanging around.”

Malia snorts and then glances at Isaac who shifts from foot to foot. “Hey, Isaac. Welcome back.” She offers a friendly hand in a gesture of high-five.

Isaac stares at it as he balls his own hands up into fists and hides them in his pockets almost shyly.

Ms. Morrell places a hand on his shoulder and he flinches noticeably. “Let’s walk over to your desk,” she says softly and ushers him away.

Stiles watches as his dad speaks to a brunette lady the principle introduces as Jennifer Blake, one of their full time faculty members. She has layered chestnut brown hair, a thin, dark blue dress with red birds patterned all over it and a soft smile made for the approach of younger children. She kind of reminds Stiles of the nice teacher from Matilda (Miss Honey).

“Stiles,” Malia says and he turns his attention back to her. “Aren’t you in high school?”

Stiles blinks in confusion. “Yes.”

Malia smirks at her two male companions, who are standing on either side of her. “See. I told you I knew a freshman.”

“It’s not our fault if we didn’t believe you,” the dark-skinned boy says. “You lie so much that I can’t take your word for anything.”

Malia rolls her eyes resentfully.

“Besides, why would a freshman want to associate with some lame ass seventh grader,” says the blond one.

Malia punches him in the kidney and he falls to his knees with a winded sound.

Stiles winces in sympathy but he marvels at how stealthily strong Malia is.

“I’m Mason by the way,” the dark-skinned boy says with a grin. “You’re really attractive.”

Stiles blushes and stammers.

Mason’s grin widens and he looks delighted.

“Ew, gross. Stop hitting on my friends,” Malia complains. “He’s out of your league anyway. I think he’s asexual.”

Stiles splutters.

“No way,” Mason says as he shakes his head. “I refuse to believe that.”

Malia opens her mouth to say something but the blond punches her in the arm. “Liam,” she snaps.

“Well don’t hit me,” Liam merely says, unapologetic.

They shoot invisible laser beams at each other with their eyes.

Stiles watches them in interest.

Mason wryly explains, “Step-siblings. They’ve been fighting like that for as long as their parents have been married. Like right around their sandbox days. It’s how they express their caveman love for each other. They give us middle schoolers a bad name in my opinion.”

“Ah,” Stiles says because that makes sense.

“Seriously though,” Malia grunts as she rubs her sore arm. “Why are you here?”

“Isaac,” Stiles replies. “He’s my — we’ve recently — he’s family.”

Mason and Malia look intrigued.

Liam seems not to care less. He’s still glaring at Malia. This kid seems like he holds a pretty mean grudge.

“Danny mentioned you were coming here anyway. Something about lacrosse?” Malia remarks.

Stiles nods. “Practice. Later. After school.”

“She introduced you to Danny? You introduced him to Danny? Why wont you do me the same favor? How come he gets to chill with Danny and I don’t?” Mason complains.

“Because he’s not gonna drool all over him and make himself look like an ass,” Malia quips.

“And neither would I,” Mason smoothly retorts before he glides away like he owns the whole school.

Malia snorts and waves a goodbye at Stiles before she drags Liam bodily to their seats.

His dad comes to retrieve him after that, and they say their final goodbyes to Isaac (who predictably doesn’t react or respond) before they exit the school. They climb into his dad’s squad car and his dad drives him to school.

Stiles pulls his bike free from the back and rolls it over to the bike racks after he successfully convinces his dad that he doesn’t need to be escorted inside. He locks his bike up and strides into the building, navigating the empty hallways to find his locker.

The bell rings, signaling the end of first period, so Stiles heads to his second.

---

“Here.”

Stiles jerks awake with a pained grunt when a heavy binder gets dumped on his stomach.

It’s lunchtime and Stiles is lying out in the quad under the shade of a tree. He was sleeping (and having a very great dream where Willy Wonka just gave him the keys and the deed to his chocolate factory), seeing as how he hasn’t been getting enough these days. He blinks through his pain as he rubs his stomach and sits up.

Cora Hale is looming over him with her arms crossed and her trademark glare. She's wearing some leather leggings with a soft cardigan pullover and some studded boots. Her hair is split into two messy pigtails. She looks like a mix between the girl-next-door and the neighborhood bully.

Stiles frowns as he turns the binder she's dumped on him over in his hands. “What’s this?” he asks, voice still etched with sleep.

“Notes, dumbass.” Cora shoots him an annoyed look. “You missed Biology, didn’t you?”

The question is rhetorical so Stiles politely does not answer. He’s still confused however. “You, uh, took notes for me?”

“No. I took notes for me. You can copy them,” Cora explains like she’s speaking to a brain-damaged child. She uncrosses her arms and puts her hands on her cocked hips.

Stiles feels his cheeks grow warm in embarrassment and he wipes a hand over his face to cover his reaction. “Thanks,” he mutters. “I didn't know you cared. About, um, if I missed or not.”

Cora gets this constipated look on her face and she glances over her shoulder with a scowl. It looks like she's glaring at Laura. “I don’t,” she denies. “But you’d do the same for me. So. There.”

Stiles opens his mouth to make an argument about how he wouldn’t, but that would be a lie because he totally would. He stands and brushes himself off. “I think the library’s got a copier,” he says.

Cora shrugs but she follows him when he heads inside.

The library is located on the first floor in the east wing of the school. It’s pretty busy around lunchtime so Stiles has to wait in line to use the Xerox machine. When it’s his turn, he quickly scans Cora’s notes before returning the binder to her.

Cora shoves it in her backpack with more force than grace and says, “I’m selling Kind bars to raise money for new instruments for the marching band.”

“You’re on the marching band?” Stiles asks, intrigued.

“I play the tuba,” Cora states flatly.

Stiles isn’t sure whether he’s supposed to laugh or not because he’s not sure if she’s being sarcastic. “You, uh...really play the tuba?”

Cora shoots him a dirty look. “Yes. So don’t make fun. It's not attractive.”

Stiles hands spring up and he fumbles with the papers in his hand. “I wasn’t — I don’t think — I'm not trying to make it sound like — I just, uh, think that’s cool. Music is cool. My mom used to be a music teacher, so — it’s all cool. Tuba, huh? That’s just, you know, something. You must really have strong lungs. I figure people who play wind instruments act as the mitochondria. Get it? Because the mitochondria is the powerhouse and this is why I'm not going to pursue a career in stand-up. Your dead silence only solidifies that decision and confirms my humiliation.”

Cora lifts a brow. “Your punchlines could stand to use some work. Do you want to buy a Kind bar or not? You should buy one. It shows school spirit. We admire that above all else in this teenage wasteland of homework and hormones.”

Stiles snorts. "That's funny. You obviously have a knack for humor. Well, dry humor."

Cora shrugs.

“So, Kind bars, huh? What kind do you have? Ha, get it? Kind? What kind of Kind—”

“Almond and coconut,” Cora says between gritted teeth. She looks like she’s getting over this conversation real quick, and also like she might punch Stiles in the throat.

“Um, I — don’t really like coconut,” Stiles mumbles.

“Once again, you should buy one. It shows school spirit,” Cora insists.

“No, I get your pitch. I totally do. And it’s a good one. Great even. It’s — when I said I don’t like coconut, what I really meant is that I’m allergic. Like kind of seriously allergic,” Stiles explains truthfully. “I could die.”

Cora glares at him and cracks her knuckles. “You should buy one. It shows school spirit. No one said anything about eating it.”

“Yeah, sure,” Stiles agrees quickly and fumbles for his wallet.

Cora snatches the five from his hand and shoves five Kind bars into his chest. “Don’t eat them, dumbass,” she warns before she storms off and harasses a Junior into buying twelve.

Stiles shoves the bars in his backpack, along with his photocopied notes and tries not feel like he’d just been bullied into buying some granola bars. He grabs his phone and shoots Derek a quick text that reads: Your sister is scary and aggressive and I strongly discourage a future in business, sales, or advertisement.

He shoves his phone in his pocket after doing such because he's not really expecting a reply back and he walks off to his next class.

It’s Algebra II and he really dislikes it. Mainly because he’s so crummy at math. Sure, he’s decent in the way that counts, but it’s only enough to get him by. He sits in his usual seat in the back and slaps his spiral notebook and a pen onto his desk before dumping his backpack on the floor. He chews on his bottom lip anxiously as his leg bounces.

His teacher comes in, turns the lights off as she sets up the Promethean board, and asks one of the students to shut the blinds. She begins the lesson on exponential and logarithmic functions.

Stiles gnaws on his pen cap as he takes notes with a frustrated frown. He’s not really getting it and he’s too shy to raise his hand to ask questions. It’s the anxiety of thinking how everyone will look at him if he dares to slow down the lesson with his inane questions. Well, he may need a tutor.

Halfway into class his pocket vibrates.

Stiles pulls out his phone as covertly as possible and glances at the screen from under the cover of his desk.

Derek texts: Who is this

Then: ??? 

Stiles feels his frown deepen. He didn’t expect Derek to reply, but he also didn’t think he’d be a jerk about it. Maybe he should have.

Seriously???

The reply is instantaneous.

Wanted to see what kind of picture you’d send me this time if I pretended not to know you.

Stiles feels a slow flush crawl up the back of his neck and up to his ears at the implications.

You’re not funny and I am very offended.

I’m very funny.

What are you bothering me for anyway?

There’s the Derek Hale he knows. Rude and blunt as ever.

Stiles tucks his phone between his legs for a moment so he can quickly write down the next set of notes his teacher has up. When he’s done, he grabs his phone to type his response.

Your sister terrorized me in the name of school spirit.

Which sister?

I have several.

Stiles feels the ‘idiot’ implied but not seen on the end of that text.

Cora. She bullied me into buying a Kind bar even after I told her I was allergic to coconut.

She bullies everyone. She's "charming" that way. Nothing new.

Peter already bought thirty off of her yesterday because she "passionately insisted".

Stiles snorts as he envisions it. His phone vibrates again.

You’re allergic to coconut?

Yes......?

What did you do with the bars then? I mean, since you can't eat them.

Oh no, make no mistake. I ate them, and am obviously texting you from an ambulance because I have a death wish and poor impulse control.

Cute.

Stiles flushes again and shoves his phone between his thighs again so he can catch up on the notes. His hand is unsteady because he’s shaking with nerves and he keeps replaying that last text over and over in his head. It was almost…flirtatious. He’s probably making it more of a big deal than it is. Derek’s no stranger to sarcasm, so —

His phone begins to vibrate aggressively.

Stiles picks it up and glances at the screen warily.

Where are you really?

???

???

???

Jesus, Stiles thinks. This guy refuses to be ignored.

Algebra II.

Who’s the teacher?

Mrs. Cassidy.

She’s a bad teacher.

I’d be surprised if you learned something from her. She was my teacher back in junior high. I survived because I was better at math than she was.

Stiles doesn’t know how to reply to that. His grade is currently at the borderline of a C.

What level of math are you now?

AP Calculus.

Geez, and Derek is only a sophomore. Stiles is both impressed and jealous. He gets an idea.

You should take pity on me.

How so?

Tutor me?

No.

Come on, dude. Be a saint. I’ll even pay you.

No.

Stiles frowns, and tries to quickly put it out of his mind (despite the engrossing disappointment). It was worth a try. He’ll find someone else.

I’ll tell Cora to ease up.

No promises that she’ll actually listen.

Maybe you should think about not making yourself an easy target.

That’s victim blaming and I won’t tolerate it.

Whatever.

Whatever to your whatever.

Stop texting me, it’s distracting.

Unlike you, I’m trying to learn.

Hey! I’m trying to learn too. I’ll have you know most of my classes are honors.

Yeah?

Sometimes I can’t tell with the way you carry on.

Stiles huffs but he replies with ‘Rude’ and pockets his phone.

Derek doesn’t text him anymore after that.

Stiles thinks it would be kind of ridiculous to be disappointed about that.

Luckily he’s not.

At all.

---

Isaac’s standing out front waiting for Stiles as he rolls up on his bike to the school. He’s clutching the straps of his backpack really tightly.

“Hey,” Stiles says breathless. He was peddling pretty fast. “How was your day?”

Isaac clutches the straps harder.

Stiles guesses that’s not a positive reaction. “I was going to go meet some friends out on the lacrosse fields. You can hang out and watch — or I could take you home. But then I'd have to stay because dad doesn't like you at the house by yourself.”

Isaac shrugs but he doesn’t say anything.

“Okay. Not sure what that means,” Stiles mutters as he considers Isaac. “We can go home.”

Isaac says nothing.

“Or maybe you’re fine with staying?” Stiles hedges.

Isaac still says nothing.

Stiles sighs quietly and starts towards the back of the school after he locks his bike up. He says, “I’ve got some granola bars in my backpack if you’re hungry. I don’t think we’ll be here that long, though.”

Isaac, unsurprisingly, offers no response.

Danny and Jackson are already warming up and stretching when they reach the lacrosse fields.

Lydia is sitting up in the bleachers, texting away on her phone as usual. Allison is sitting beside her and she’s look like she’s playing a game on her phone. She waves at Stiles with a dimpled smile.

Stiles stops to wave back but he stumbles when Isaac runs straight into his back, distracted.

Allison climbs down the bleachers and approaches them.

Isaac walks off quickly and sits down on the far side of the bleachers.

Allison frowns in confusion as she steps up to Stiles and glances to Isaac. She looks at Stiles.

“Don’t look at me. I have no idea either,” Stiles admits. He takes off his backpack and grabs his lacrosse stick. He’s already changed into some field clothes. “Can you give this to Isaac? I got some snacks in there that I gave him dibs on.”

Allison tucks a curl behind her ear and nods as she takes his backpack. “Is he —” She seems to be struggling with the words. “I just, I heard about what happened, you know?”

Stiles knows he shouldn’t but he can’t help it and he asks, “What? What do you mean?”

“Well about his dad and his mom being mixed up with some like heavy illegal drugs and they were a part of this international cartel until they double-crossed their dealer. I heard the dealer like sent some thugs after Isaac’s family and there was a fire. I think Isaac even had an older brother that died in the fire.” Allison looks over to Isaac. “I just feel bad, you know?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says quietly as his mind races. The guilt that he’s already been feeling has now doubled.

“Stilinski! Let’s go! We’re not going to wait for you forever!” Jackson yells and Danny shoves at him in reprimand.

“Uh, I better —” Stiles cuts himself off with a ridiculous gesture before he gets to work with setting his lacrosse stick together.

Allison just nods before she marches over to Isaac, who looks like he might flee. She sits down beside him and says something.

Stiles doesn’t get a chance to see Isaac not respond because Jackson’s huffing impatiently and dragging him by the arm onto the fields.

Danny is playing goalie.

Jackson lines up a streak of balls before he straightens and says, “Let’s see what you’re made of, Stilinski.”

Stiles nods and swipes up a ball before he sends it flying straight over Danny’s head, as well as the goal post. He groans.

Jackson claps a hand down on his shoulder with a smirk. “Obviously you’re not made of much. This doesn't surprise me.”

“Clearly.”

“Take a few laps. We’ll work on your endurance before we get to anything else,” Jackson decides before he takes Stiles’s place and starts whipping balls at Danny, making more goals than Stiles could ever hope to, even in his wildest dreams.

Stiles groans but he runs around until his whole body feels like it’s on fire.

It’s Danny who forces Jackson to take pity on Stiles and the three of them start doing other drills.

By the end of practice, Stiles feels sore in all kinds of places while it looks like Danny and Jackson barely broke a sweat.

Stiles collects Isaac from Lydia and Allison, who are being as friendly and chatty as possible with him, despite his lack of response. He says his goodbyes on his and Isaac’s behalf before they start walking home, grabbing Stiles’s bike on the way.

It’s dark and the street lamps are beginning to come alive.

The walk home takes fifteen minutes, and it’s spent in silence but Stiles doesn’t mind. He’s too tired to keep up a one-sided conversation anyway.

Isaac eats all five of the Kind bars he had in his backpack without a breath in between and Stiles has a sneaking suspicion that the kid loves coconut and chocolate. He makes a mental note to look up recipes. The thing about Stiles is that not only can he be blunt sometimes but he can also be invasive when he thinks it matters.

They reach the house and Stiles drops his bike onto the lawn carelessly as he notices the moving truck from this morning is no longer there.

The house next door is lit with lights and Stiles is nosey enough to go say hello. He tosses his keys at Isaac and says, “You go on. There’s still some leftover chicken and rice from yesterday. You can just toss that in the microwave.”

Isaac says nothing but his eyes do follow Stiles as he crosses their lawn onto the next.

Stiles trips up a bit as he stumbles over some garden gnomes with a mangled swear. He kicks the stupid things before he jogs up the porch steps and rings the doorbell.

Kalliope! Kalliope, the door!

Stop shouting! I can hear you just fine!”

“Go get the bloody door!”

“Alright! Alright!” The door opens and a tall but portly woman with wild grey hair and a big fat nose sneers at him. "Understand me perfectly, dear. I'm not interested. If you're selling cookies, I'm not interested. If there is a cause you want me to support, I’m not interested. If you're trying to pitch the good word — Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Buddha — I'm not interested. Got that? Not. Interested."

“Stiles. Stilinski. I live next door,” Stiles explains. “I’m your neighbor, not any of those other things. Just a neighbor.”

“So?” Kalliope sniffs. “Why would I care about who my neighbors are, silly boy? Do you see a sign in my lawn that says, 'Come one, come all'? No. So why would I care?”

“I guess you wouldn’t.”

"Exactly. My, there does seem to be some kind of a brain in that funny little head of yours," Kalliope huffs. "Ugh. Americans."

Another old and unattractive woman appears behind Kalliope, but she’s lean and very tall like a street lamp, almost taller than the doorway. “What's this now? What’s going on? Who is it?”

“Oh would you go away, Acantha! First, you demand I open the door when you won't, and now, here you come to stick your great big nose through it by being so meddlesome,” Kalliope complains before she gives a wet cough.

"Hush, yourself, sister dear. Mustn't hurt your little pea brain by using such pretty words." The one called Acantha takes one look at Stiles and grins almost predatorily. “Well hello." She has a startling amount of teeth. "My, my. You’re a juicy one, ey?”

Stiles suddenly feels unsettled. “Um.”

Kalliope snorts. “A bit too thin for my tastes. Like a weed.”

“Greedy. Of course he’s not to your liking, piggy,” Acantha huffs before she smiles at Stiles. “Come now, give me your name, precious. Don’t be shy. You’re so lovely.”

Stiles is officially creeped out. “Well I think I better head home. I just wanted to introduce myself. My dad, the sheriff, will probably come over and introduce himself. So — yeah…” He slowly backs away.

Acantha hisses suddenly and Kalliope’s expression sours. She slams the door shut.

Now look what you’ve gone and done, you big oaf. That was the sheriff’s son!”

“Oh bugger off! He won’t think anything of it. Mortal children are so stupid.”

Stiles flees, not interested in eavesdropping. He doesn’t let himself relax until he’s inside his house, locking the front door behind him, twice. He joins Isaac on the couch and says, “I think our next door neighbors are witches.”

Isaac doesn’t say anything but his spoon pauses midway to his mouth. Then he just goes back to eating and stares at the TV.

Stiles tries to follow the movie but he can’t stop thinking about how shiny Acantha’s teeth were or how the woman looked at him hungrily.

When his dad gets home, Stiles tells him all about the encounter and he can’t help but to notice the way his dad looks like he’s trying not to laugh. He promises Stiles that he’ll look into it when Stiles swears that they’re witches but Stiles doesn’t believe him.

---

Stiles spends most of Saturday sleeping in because he can and because Isaac, like the previous nights, shouts him and his dad awake in the middle of the night. Stiles doesn’t think he gets to bed until five a.m. and the next time he wakes up, it’s almost four and his dad is shaking him.

“Hey, kiddo, you with me?”

Stiles grunts.

“Listen, I have to work late. I probably won't be in until sometime tomorrow. I left some money for you and Isaac. Text or call me if you need anything.” His dad tosses a box onto his chest.

Stiles paws at in confusion.

“New phone,” his dad explains and smiles when Stiles springs up to hug him. He pats his back before Stiles pulls away and starts fiddling with his new phone immediately. “I got us all upgrades, per your suggestion. I went ahead and put Isaac’s number in your phone and he has yours and mine. I also bought him a bike of his own so he can keep up with you.”

Stiles nods.

“Are you still going ice-skating?”

Stiles nods distractedly.

“I’m assuming you’re taking Isaac with you. Just be sure you’re both in before eleven. Trust me, I’ll know if you’re not,” the sheriff warns. He makes his way out the door.

“Love you!”

“Love you too. Do your chores,” is his dad’s response.

Stiles rolls out of bed with his phone in hand and wanders over to Isaac’s room.

Isaac is lying on his stomach and writing in his journal, but he looks dressed for the day.

“Hey, I’m gonna knock out these chores and then I was gonna go ice-skating with some friends. Feel up to tagging along?” Stiles asks.

Isaac shrugs.

Stiles interprets that as a yes. He jogs down the stairs and wanders into the kitchen for a bottle of water. He notices the white marker board magnetized to the fridge with a note scribbled in his dad’s messy handwriting.

Boys, I left forty dollars for the two of you (twenty each). Isaac: clean the kitchen and the living room, and your own room if need be. Stiles: clean the bathroom and your damn room. I have no idea how you can stand it. Call if you need me.

Stiles snorts and notes that the kitchen and the living room look clean and orderly, which means Isaac has had plenty of time to do his portion of the chores. He’s not going to lie and say he isn’t thrilled that he now has help because he is.

He drinks his water down and gets to work with getting his room and the bathroom in order. After he finishes, he takes a shower and puts on some jeans and a stripped blue hoodie.

Scott texts him almost a billion times (he's really excited) before he pulls up in front of the house with his mom. He and Isaac climb in the back and he greets Melissa.

Melissa twists her rearview mirror so that she can see Isaac and says, "Hello, Isaac. You look much lovelier outside of the hospital. It's good to see you again under better circumstances."

Isaac shifts and fumbles with his seatbelt, looking for all the world like he wished Melissa wouldn't acknowledge where she knows him from or that she probably knows more that he'd like her too.

Stiles decides to lighten the mood in the car by saying, "Hey, can we listen to the radio? Anything but NPR. My dad's totally put me off to that."

Melissa nods and says something to Scott in Spanish.

Scott fiddles with the radio and puts it on what is presumably his favorite station.

Stiles glances over to Isaac, but he's looking out the window.

Melissa drops them off at the ice rink (V.M.B.'s Family Ice Center) without incident, and before they head inside, Stiles quickly introduces Isaac to Scott.

Scott gives Isaac one of his sunny smiles and says, “Nice to meet you, dude. I think I seen you a few times in the hall. Allison mentioned you too.”

Isaac fidgets and Stiles could swear he was blushing but he can’t really be sure because of the burn scars. He shifts from foot to foot like he’s anxious so Stiles gives Scott a pointed look and they all head inside.

Lydia and Jackson are already out on the ice, gliding around and doing moves Stiles has only ever seen in the Winter Olympics. He’s impressed.

Allison is still lacing up her shoes while Malia helps Erica untangle hers as they smirk at each other.

Boyd is sitting on the bleachers with Danny, sharing a huge bag of Doritos between them.

Scott leads Stiles and Isaac over to the shoe stand so they can pick out some skates for themselves.

Isaac declines after he stares at the different sizes like he wants to skate but can't convince himself to and he wanders back over to the bleachers to sit by himself.

Scott sighs sadly. “I feel bad for him. Is he always quiet like that?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says as he laces up his shoes.

“Man,” Scott marvels sadly.

“Yeah.” Stiles wobbles to his feet and huffs in satisfaction when his skates don’t pinch his feet uncomfortably.

Scott looks down at the skates in his hand, over to Isaac, back down, over again, back down, and then over again before he gets this resolute frown on his face. He puts the skates back and says, “I’m gonna chill with him. He shouldn’t have to sit by himself like that. I can’t skate anyway.”

Stiles smiles fondly. “Scott?”

“What?”

“You’re awesome.”

Scott smiles and gently punches Stiles’s side before he wanders over to the bleachers and sits down by Isaac.

Stiles makes his way out to the ice and glides around for a bit as Allison, Erica, Malia, and Danny do the same.

Boyd makes an announcement that he’s going to turn the disco lights on, as well as some music. Everyone starts shouting requests but he gives them all the middle finger and says, “My rink, my rules.”

“Boo!” Erica laughs.

“Unfair!” Malia adds as she skates circles around Lydia.

The lights dim in a wash of reds, yellows, and blues. Then the musical stylings of Ke$ha blares to life.

Stiles smirks as the others roll their eyes, seemingly unsurprised by Boyd’s taste in music.

Boyd joins them out on the ice and says, “Let’s play freeze tag. Not it.”

Danny, Stiles, Erica, Malia, Allison, Erica, and Lydia chime, “Not it!”

Jackson rolls his eyes because that means he’s it. He skates lazily for a bit, like he’s not even interested in playing along before he starts at them like a shark.

They come to the agreement that Lydia shall act as home base and give them immunity when they’re frozen.

Scott plays referee in the bleachers between the times he chats up Isaac, who fidgets constantly, but mainly from shyness.

Stiles evades Jackson as much as he can but the man is a beast on the ice and he gets frozen over a dozen times, and Lydia sweeps right up to him and taps his cheek with a wink so he can start skating again.

Its childish, but it’s funny and entertaining. Especially when Jackson really starts getting into it and starts up this competitive thing with Boyd, who, despite his large frame, has devil speed on the ice. This frustrates Jackson to no end.

The game ends when Jackson quits out of irritation and glares at them all when they laugh and tease him for it. The last thing they do before they get off the ice is form a train and skate around the rink as Blah Blah Blah blares through the speakers. When the song ends, they break up and start for the exit.

Once they’re back in their shoes, they all make their way over to Ramona’s Pizzeria (a place owned by Boyd's mom) across the street.

Since it’s a Saturday night, it’s pretty packed, so they have to wait a few moments for some tables to be put together for their party.

Scott takes the opportunity to introduce Isaac to everyone while they wait, and Stiles gets distracted by the fact that he can recognize his high school’s basketball team occupying the right half of the restaurant. They’re loud and boisterous, and it reminds Stiles that they had a home game tonight.

Among the crowd, Stiles locates Laura, who’s in a cheerleading outfit and conversing with her fellow cheerleaders. He remembers that she’s the captain and that Kate is her co-captain. Speaking of Kate — she’s totally giving lip to the bus boy trying to clean up their mess with a disgruntled expression.

Stiles tells his group that he’ll be right back and he makes his way over to Laura.

Laura brightens when she sees him and she shakes her pom-poms in his face cheerfully and says, “Hey you! What are you doing here?”

Stiles wiggles his nose because the pom-poms tickle and says, “Hanging out with some friends. Did we win another game?”

Cora slides up to them, band uniform and all. Her full lips are shiny with pizza grease, and she has a slice of pizza crammed with what looks like every meat on the planet on top in one hand and a red glass of dark soda in the other. She says, “You say ‘we’ like you contributed.”

“Nope, that’s just my school pride talking,” Stiles corrects. He pauses and frowns. “How did you even hear what I said in all this noise?”

Cora rolls her eyes and mutters, “Dumbass.” Then she wanders off to return to her bandmates, ignoring when Laura scolds her for being so rude.

Stiles is continually perplexed by that girl. He turns back to Laura and says, “What?” because Laura is eyeing him.

“You’re always wearing some variation of blue,” Laura supposes.

Stiles blushes because she’s actually noticed. “My favorite color,” he mumbles.

Laura grins and says, “I’m gonna have to start calling you Blue now.”

Stiles fidgets and rubs the back of his head sheepishly before he says, “What was the score?”

“Thirty to sixteen. Derek made most of the points, as usual,” Laura reports.

“Ball hog, huh?” Stiles supposes and he shakes his head. He can see that, even though he’s never actually seen Derek in action.

Laura smiles fondly at him and says, “Peter’s going to be mad that he missed you.”

Stiles points to his open mouth and makes gagging noises.

Laura laughs, “No really. He’s really fond of you.”

“Good or bad thing?”

“Depends,” Laura airily states with a cryptic grin.

“Where’s the creeper anyway?” Stiles asks as he looks around.

“He’s with Derek,” Laura says. “Derek gets pretty wound up after a game, so Peter stays behind to pull him back down to Earth.”

Stiles hums thoughtfully.

“You should come out to one of the games,” Laura suggests.

“I’m not a basketball fan.”

“Don’t let Derek hear you saying that.”

Stiles grins and he doesn’t know why but something about that amuses him. He kind of wishes that Derek would hear him saying that (just to get a reaction). “When’s the next game?”

“This Thursday. Right before the start of spring break. Another home game.”

Stiles huffs and says, “Can’t do it. It’s my, uh, birthday. I’m almost positive my dad’s gonna take me out.”

Laura perks up excitedly. “Your birthday’s this week? You goober. I’m going to have to get you something!”

“Please don’t,” Stiles protests earnestly. He doesn’t like people making a big fuss over him on his birthday because then he’s gonna obsess over returning the favor. He’s stupidly competitive when it comes to gift giving. “Saying happy birthday is enough.”

“Sure,” Laura says whimsically. She looks like she’s plotting something anyway and it’s worrying. “I hope you have a very good one. The best.”

“Uh, thanks,” Stiles says, a little caught off guard by her earnestness. “Why are you so nice to me?” he blurts and it isn’t something he means to say but his filter has been defected since birth.

Laura frowns and cocks her head. “Don’t say it like that. Like I’m some stuck-up snob.”

Stiles instantly stammers over an apology.

Laura lifts her hand to stop him and she smiles softly. “I am very picky about who I associate with,” she concedes. “It works against me sometimes because I often miss what’s right in front of me, and Stiles,” here she looks him straight in the eye. “You are definitely worth noticing.”

Red blooms in both of Stiles’s cheeks with indulgent pleasure and he suddenly feels lighter. Who doesn't like to hear that they matter? “I — that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me,” he admits quietly, which is probably a bad idea since it’s still pretty noisy in the restaurant.

Laura still winks at him like she gets it anyway. “You should come over for dinner sometime.” She adds, “Mom would love you.”

Stiles blinks at the invitation and something in the back of his mind is taking note of this moment as significant but he can’t quite put his finger on why that is. He says, “The offer is really tempting, but I have a feeling that Derek and Cora would glare at me the whole time.”

Laura waves it off and replies, “You let me worry about my knuckleheaded siblings. They’ve got the biggest hearts out of all of us but they’re also too stubborn for their own good. Just know that there’s an open seat for you at the Hale table whenever you want it.”

Stiles smiles shyly and nods.

Laura grins and shakes her pom-poms at him again. “Now go back to your friends. I’ve monopolized your time enough. I’ll see you at school. Come sit with me at lunch.” She blows him a kiss before she sashays back to her group of friends, dragging Kate away from the bus boy she’s waving a fork at threateningly.

Stiles heads to the other side of the restaurant and his own group of friends welcome him back into their fold warmly. They’ve already ordered four sets of pizzas (which is on the house, aka free, since Boyd's mom owns the pizza joint). Being friends with people in a small town is really showing its perks.

Stiles sends Derek a text before he starts eating and it reads: Congrats on the game.

There’s no response.

---

Isaac and Stiles carpool with Scott again when Melissa pulls up to the pizzeria fifteen minutes before eleven. Erica and Malia carpool with Allison, while Danny and Jackson carpool with Lydia, and Boyd has his older brother pick him up. But they all exchange numbers with Isaac before they all head their separate ways and Stiles is grateful for the welcoming even if Isaac isn’t as responsive to it. The twelve year old needed all the friends he could get.

Melissa pulls up to their house and she smiles at them kindly as they exit her car.

Scott sticks his head out the window and says, “Spring break is coming up. We’re going to do our marathon club at Jackson’s house this time.”

“Okay,” Stiles says and does his special handshake with Scott as Isaac wanders towards the house. “Should I bring anything other than myself and Isaac?”

“Change of clothes. We’re starting with the Ninth Doctor, but even if we spend the whole weekend just binging it so we can get to the latest, we still wouldn’t be able to get it done. We —”

Isaac yells and Stiles jolts in surprise and curses as his hand knocks into the car. He runs over to see what’s wrong and he doesn’t have to go far because he sees it as soon as his foot hits the first step of his porch.

There’s a creature gutted up in a heap at the front door, and it looks like someone used its blood to write ‘Welcome to the neighborhood, Sheriff!’ across the front door.

Stiles feels sick and Isaac stumbles down the steps and back to Melissa’s car, face ashen and pale. He doesn’t blame him. He just stands there, staring at it as his brain pieces together the anatomy of the wild thing. The creature has furry reptilian skin, with long, feathery spines that run from the back of its head down the spine, ending at the rump. The teeth on it though, god, it’s as terrifying as it’s long claws are. Its eyes are alien-like and stares at him with dead red pupils.

Stiles immediately thinks, El Chupacabra, and then grows furious as he thinks of who could be responsible for it as Scott jogs over to him in concern. He says that his mom has called his dad and he’s on his way but Stiles can’t stop staring into the dead eyes of the thing. He finds himself taking a picture of the scene and he attaches it to a text he sends Peter that reads: If this is your idea of a sick joke or some prank then you really need to get a new sense of humor.

When Scott notices what he’s taken a picture of, he begins to freak out and drag Stiles back to the car, almost in fear that the creature will somehow come alive.

Stiles doubts that possibility very much since its internal organs are strewn across his porch in vicious decoration. He lets Scott shove him in the back of his mom’s car with Isaac. He sits in a daze of shock as his mind races before his dad eventually pulls him out again as the street gets washed in the red and blue of police lights.

One of his dad’s deputies starts taking Stiles’s statement down when she learns pretty quickly that Isaac won't utter a word on the matter or be of much help.

His dad hovers the whole time out of concern before he walks off with the deputy to set up some kind of parameter, leaving Stiles alone on the curb with a shock blanket on. It hasn’t escaped his notice that his dad doesn’t seem surprised by any of this which makes Stiles wonder if his dad has been receiving these kind of threats ever since they’ve moved here. He’s unable to dwell on the thought long because there’s some kind of commotion and Stiles straightens when he recognizes Peter’s voice calling his name.

Peter rips his way through the yellow police tape his dad’s deputies have up and he storms up to Stiles with a wild look in his eyes. “Stiles—are you okay? You're not—are you hurt?” he questions urgently as he grabs Stiles by the shoulders.

Stiles glares at him. “Don’t pretend like you care. I’m not stupid. This has you written all over it.”

Peter snarls and the pure animalistic sound of it makes Stiles flinch. He says, “You think I had something to do with this? You really think I would be so stupid as to threaten you or your family? What kind of mons—”

“You’re a very good liar, so what am I supposed to think?” Stiles shouts back as his shoulders shake. He shoves at Peter but even though Peter’s lithe he’s still solid like a brick wall. He tries to wiggle out of Peter’s grasp and ignores the alarmed look in Peter’s blue eyes. “Let go of me! Let me go! You’re sick. You and your family of weird—”

Don’t,” Peter warns lowly and he snatches his hands away as he bows his head for a moment, hiding his eyes. His hands open and close at his sides as his shoulders tense. He straightens suddenly and glares at Stiles’s house like he resents it for even being there. “I didn’t do this,” he says calmly.

Stiles swallows as anger swells hotly in his throat. “I don’t believe you.”

Peter winces and whips his gaze towards Stiles. He opens his mouth to say something but he tenses with a dark look.

A second later, the sheriff approaches him from behind and claps a hand over Peter’s shoulder and says, “I think you better go home, son. I’m going to want to question you about all this come tomorrow morning since my son seems to think you’ve got some involvement.”

Peter nods tightly and clenches his jaw. He tosses Stiles one last look before he spins on his heel and whips out his phone, typing furiously on it before he presses it to his ear.

Stiles watches him go before he turns his attention to the arrival of forensics, who sweep across the porch and starts collecting the remains and taking pictures for evidence.

His dad tries to convince him into spending the night with Scott, but he refuses to leave, preferring to wait it all out so he can tuck away in his room. His dad sighs and leaves him be when he sees that Stiles can’t be persuaded. He wanders off to help his deputies herd the nosey neighbors away and run off any local news reporters.

Stiles shivers against the cold of the night and sits on the curb again as he waits for forensics to finish up.

Isaac joins him on the curb sometime around midnight and Stiles is a bit surprised by it. He would have thought that Isaac would have gone with Scott and Melissa. But here he is, sitting shoulder to shoulder with Stiles as he chews anxiously on his fingernails and watches everything around them warily.

Forensics finishes some time around three in the morning and by then Stiles is already nodding off when his dad gives him and Isaac the okay to enter the house after him and his deputies have swept though it to be sure there hasn’t been a break in or any other nasty surprises.

The three of them march quietly into the house and go their separate ways to tuck into their rooms to reflect.

Everything goes dark and quiet in the house, and Stiles lies awake in his bed, his mind plagued with the image of guts and blood. He can’t fall asleep without jerking awake a minute later to untangle from the beginnings of a nightmare. He edges along the start of a panic attack every time he snaps awake, never fully letting himself drift off because of an unknown fear prowling around in his subconscious. He tosses and turns until he huffs in frustration, moving to his dresser to grab those damn wolves and giving into the temptation of cuddling them close.

Stiles falls asleep embarrassingly quick after that with his nose buried into their faux fur, and he doesn’t wake until noon the next day; all because the smell of vanilla and jasmine calms his anxiety like nothing else can.

It’s both comforting and damning in its own way.

 

Chapter Text

On Monday, during lunch, Stiles lies on the floor of the music room behind a row of propped saxophones with his hands behind his head and the ends of his sneakers pointing in different directions as he drifts, blinking dazedly up at the unlit florescent ceiling lights. He hasn’t been getting any decent sleep. He has nightmares about what happened Saturday night. Sometimes, it’ll be his dad taking the place of that creature, or Isaac, or even himself.

He’s also been avoiding Laura and Cora, who’s been adamant about trying corner him in the halls to ask him about what happened. Surely Peter must have told them though. He must have laughed. They probably all laughed about it with him.

Stiles hates his new status in school, which makes him the talk of every grade level because of the incident. Where he was once invisible, another nobody in the crowd, a nameless freshman, well, now he’s starting to hear his name in everyone’s mouth as they stare and watch his every move. Like he’ll snap or break down in tears at any given moment. He tries to look as indifferent as possible or put on a brave face, but it’s hard. He knows about some of the rumors accusing him of doing it as some kind of prank for attention. That bothers him the most. As if he were even capable of such a thing.

Stiles stiffens when he hears someone enter the empty room and the lights turn on because they’re motion sensitive. He listens to light footsteps putter around with a soft sigh, followed by the clatter of an instrument being rearranged, a bench seat being positioned (and the creak that follows when weight is applied on top), and the ticking of a metronome. He turns and peeks out from where he’s hiding to see a short brunette with pale skin, flushed cheeks, long wavy hair and dark eyes the color of untouched coffee. There’s a beauty mark under her left eye that Stiles takes note of more than anything else. She’s pretty, and she has silver braces that are really hard to miss. 

“What are you staring at?” she asks without even looking at him as she positions her thin fingers on the cello cradled between her knees.

Stiles thinks about pretending he isn’t there but that seems senseless. He mumbles, “Nothing. Sorry.” He lies back down and stares up at the ceiling. “Just wanted some quiet.”

“You won't find any in here,” she points out as she begins to play. First slowly and softly, like she’s trying to ease into it, before she picks up the pace and her wand goes flying against the strings.

Stiles closes his eyes and loses himself to the music for a moment. It reminds him of when he used to hide under his mother’s desk in her music room and listen to her play the piano. He presses the memory out of his mind before his eyes get the chance to water or his heart gets the chance to get heavy and full with sorrow. He was really close to his mother and times like these made him long for the days when she was still alive.

The music is interrupted when someone new comes stomping into the room.

The brunette hisses and between gritted teeth says, “Kathryn.”

Stiles opens his eyes and blinks before turning his head to see Kate circling the brunette with a mean smirk. She's like a vulture circling a fresh corpse out in the oppressive heat of the desert.

Kate says, “How cute. It knows my name.”

The brunette scowls and her silver braces gleam almost threateningly. “What do you want? Other than to waste my valuable time.”

"Oh sweetheart..." Kate plays with her hair as she makes a 'tsking' sound before she slides her eyes over to where Stiles is. “I need a little privacy. So scram, Princess Metalhead.”

“Ugh!" the brunette spits, looking enraged, but she still packs up her things and snatches her backpack off the ground. "How typical. You know, this room is for everyone. You can’t just kick me out because you want to suck face with someone,” the brunette complains. “And my name is Paige. Not princess. Be original for once by not pointing out the fact that I have braces. There's nothing wrong with wanting to correct your teeth. You might benefit from that kind of work too. Just fyi.”

“Yawn. Bored now.” Kate dismisses Paige with the flick of her hand.

Paige glares at her and then glares at Stiles like it’s somehow his fault too before she makes a noisy exit, slamming the door shut behind her.

Stiles sits up before standing as Kate makes her way over to him.

“You and I need to talk, Stilinski,” Kate says as she stands on the other side of the saxophone rack. She fiddles with the mouthpiece of one and continues, “Laura’s paying me a hundred bucks to play the voice of reason, so listen closely because my boyfriend wont stop brooding over the way you’ve been ignoring his texts and calls.” She huffs and mutters, “I'm so over this high school bullshit.”

“I don’t want to talk to you or Peter or anyone,” Stiles says, wincing at Kate’s harsh language but he crosses his arms defensively. "So you can just go back and say you did. That way you can keep the money and you can leave me alone."

“Oh grow up, buttercup,” Kate snidely counters. “Get over your delicate, little feelings and use those two holes sitting on the sides of your head for their intended purpose."

Stiles exhales slowly and drops his arms to his sides so he can look at her expectantly.

"Good boy," Kate praises sarcastically. "Look. You need to face some facts here. Someone is out to get your dad, and it’s certainly not some twenty-two year old who has all his underwear imported from Malaysia because he’s that goddamn specific about the quality of the thread that gets to touch his rather impressive junk.”

Stiles makes a face, resentful over the visual she just gave him about Peter.

“I know what people say because people talk, and there’s a lot you’re not getting here because there’s so much more going on then what you think,” Kate goes on to say as she puts her hands on her hips. “This town was built on secrets, and honey, I know you’re feeling out of the loop, but trust me, ole Petey-Pie is the least of your worries. Do you know who my father is?”

Stiles blinks and says, “Yes.”

“And remind me who he is.”

“The mayor?” Stiles is getting really confused by the sudden turn of this conversation.

Kate smirks like she approves of his answer and she says, “Do you know how my dad got elected to office?”

“No, but I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.”

“Dirty politics,” Kate reports. “Before he was mayor, they used called him the Kingpin of Real Estate because he owns almost every piece of property there is in Beacon Hills. Do you know how my dad got his hands on all of it? Well, Gerard has his fingers in a lot of jars. I know at least what three of those jars are, and even then I don’t really know. He’s a crafty old man, and a bit of a control freak. You still with me, slim?”

Stiles blinks. “I, uh — think so?”

“His control on the real estate market helps him squeeze a majority of the votes he needs out of these halfwit, small town folks. Threats of foreclosure and evictions are what keeps him sitting so pretty in office. So, your dad’s little election as sheriff was done without my father’s knowing,” Kate clarifies. “My old man already had a guy in mind, when the old sheriff went and kicked the bucket. But then a few select members of this queer little town had your dad drafted in because he has a handful of skills that the other guy didn’t. One of which includes a firm backbone and a moral compass. Still with me?”

Stiles nods slowly.

“I’m not giving this information for free, you know,” Kate goes on to say. She tilts her head and eyes him like she's seeing right through his soul. “Between you and me, I care more about saving my neck than anyone else. However, I have this really annoying fucking yet all-consuming soft spot for the Hales, and I’m a little too into Peter to just sit idly by while you point your finger at the wrong people. You want to help your dad? Then start looking into why he’s really here. Start looking into how there’s a new election coming up for the mayoral position and how your dad being sheriff is screwing with my old man’s chances for another term.”

Stiles nods dumbly.

Kate smiles meanly and pats him on the cheek like she pities him. Then she dusts off his shoulders in a physical display of intimidation. “Peter does two things: he finds your weakness and he uses it to his advantage. But the little sap wouldn’t hurt a fly. To be honest, I guess you could say that I'm the muscle in this relationship."

Stiles can totally see that. He's fidgeting under the all too careful grip she has on his shoulders.

"My guy..." Kate pauses to laugh bemusedly at something Stiles doesn't really understand. She lets go of him finally. "He’s good at pretending to be the bad guy, you know? He’s got some history, sure, but don't we all. You think he’s voluntarily staying with his older sister and her happy little family? You do get that something happened to his parents, right? You think Isaac Lahey is the only kid to have ever lost everything in a tragic fire?”

Stiles feels his confusion wash into a foreboding cold. He watches, stupefied, as she tosses her hair over her shoulder and strides towards the door.

Kate pauses when she opens it and says, “You want to know why Peter bothers with you?” It’s a rhetorical question. “He’s very good at spotting potential. He bothers with you because you’re smart and capable, and also because you remind him of the little brother he lost. Maybe you should consider giving him a fair chance before you chase him off.” She leaves it at that and exits the room.

Stiles scrubs his face tiredly before he grabs his backpack when the next bell rings. He zones out for the rest of the day, utterly lost in his thoughts.

---

Peter is sitting out on the porch steps with another stuffed animal when Stiles and Isaac roll up to their house on their mountain bikes after school.

Stiles hands the house keys over to Isaac so he can head inside. He approaches Peter, who makes no move to stand, and eyes the grey wolf in his hand warily. “How many stuffed animals does Derek have?”

Peter flashes him a sharp smile and says, “Enough.”

"Enough for what?"

Peter just smirks.

An awkward silence falls over them.

Stiles fidgets. He doesn’t deal very well with awkward silence. “Your girlfriend is scary,” he says when he can’t find anything else to say.

Peter stares at him and says, “She’s a bitch.” Then he adds, “But that’s mainly why I like her.”

Stiles frowns at that. “That’s an odd preference,” he remarks.

Peter just sits up and grabs his wrist, positioning Stiles’s fingers to rest on the pulse on the side of his neck and under his chin. He stares at Stiles with meaningful focus and says, “Ask me if I had anything to do with what happened. If my pulse jumps, you’ll know I’m lying. If it’s steady, then it's the truth.”

Stiles fingers twitch against Peter’s abnormally warm skin and mumbles, “You feel like you have a fever."

"That's one way to view it, I suppose," Peter replies, and he has that same bemused expression that Kate did earlier. Like he's laughing at something that Stiles doesn't understand. "Ask me," he insists.

Stiles sighs and asks, “Did you have anything to do with what happened with what was left on our doorstep and the...message left?”

Peter’s pulse is steady when he answers, “No.”

“But you knew that thing was real the whole time?” Stiles asks. “I saw it, Peter. That wasn’t a gag. That was the real thing.”

Peter purses his lips and reluctantly grits out, “Yes.”

Stiles reigns in the urge to hit him and Peter suddenly smirks like he knows. It’s infuriating. “Now is definitely not the time for one word answers," he warns. "You were never really writing a paper, were you?”

That wipes the smirk off of Peter’s face. He sighs and says, “No.”

“Did you even really need my help? What were you trying to do anyway? Hunt it down? Capture it? Take pictures for money?”

“One question at a time,” Peter lightly suggests. His hands are twitching into fists where they rest on his lap.

“Did you need my help?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“You’re a fantastic sounding board, and your research skills are better than most.” Peter reluctantly adds, “Even mine.”

Stiles refuses to be thrown by the compliment.

Peter sighs. "Call it a test, if you will. One you passed thoroughly.”

Stiles frowns. “Do you even go to college?”

“Slightly off topic, but yes. Online mainly.”

Stiles switches gears again and asks, “What were you trying to do with the information I gave you?”

“Take it out to dinner,” Peter replies sarcastically and his pulse stutters but not significantly so. He says, “Capture it.” Steady pulse.

"But why?"

“Why not ?” Peter growls and his eyes flash dangerously and Stiles could almost swear he sees them change color but it has to be a trick of the light. “You saw it. Should I have let it roam free, pouncing on every deer and Pomeranian it crossed paths with until it started craving bigger game? Say an infant child?”

Stiles glares at him, but he gets it. “Why is it your responsibility to take care of that type of thing?”

Peter doesn’t answer. He smiles wolfishly and says, “Ask me something else. I don’t think you’re ready for that answer.”

El Chupacabra was hacked to bits on my porch and you don’t think I’m ready for whatever you and everyone else aren't telling me?” Stiles fumes and snatches his hand away out of frustration. “Screw you.”

Peter’s smile dims down into a flat line. “Believe me when I say that I want to tell you. But sister dear has expressly forbid me from doing such,” he explains, looking deeply annoyed. “Talia already thinks me a fool for involving you in this much, even though your father is sheriff.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” Peter says as he stands to his feet and stalks forward, right into Stiles’s personal space. “That you should talk to your father about why it is he took the sheriff’s position.”

“You’re the second person to tell me that today,” Stiles mumbles as he fidgets under Peter’s forceful gaze. “Why can’t you tell me since you know everyone and everything.”

Peter isn’t fazed by having his words thrown back in his face. “I told you. I can’t. I would, but I can’t.”

"Well how convenient for you, Peter."

Peter flashes him a sharp smile but refuses to be cowed by the sarcastic and accusatory tone aimed in his direction.

Stiles exhales his frustration and says, “Do you know who put that threatening message on the door?”

Something in Peter’s expression goes dark. It's like watching thunder clouds appear out of nowhere in a clear, blue sky. “I have some theories,” he says tightly.

“Yeah?” Stiles says and watches Peter closely when he adds, “Is Mayor Argent one of them?”

Peter looks caught off guard by the question and he scowls. “What did Kate say to you?”

“Not nearly enough, that’s for sure.”

Peter shoves the grey wolf at Stiles’s chest so he can retrieve his phone. “That woman is too trigger happy,” he mutters resentfully before he types a number into his phone and presses it against his ear. Then he walks away and towards his car, leaving Stiles there without a goodbye.

Not that Stiles cares, but he still had a few more questions he wanted to ask. He sighs as he watches Peter fuss into his phone before climbing into his car so he can peel out of the driveway and down the street.

Stiles treads towards his house and tries not to feel like he’s being watched. When he looks over to the neighbor’s house, he can swear he can see one of the curtains in the window flutter close quickly. He narrows his eyes before he unwillingly shrugs it off, too concerned with other things to really start in on his witch theory again.

He still locks the door when he makes it inside though.

Stiles thinks about everything that’s been said by Kate and Peter as he putters around the kitchen to start dinner. As he sets the pot-roast in the oven to simmer, he thinks about what he wants to say to his dad. He sits down at the kitchen table and does his homework as he waits for the pot-roast to cook through.

Isaac joins him a little bit later with his own homework and they work in tandem and in silence.

Stiles thinks that Isaac may be getting used to him and his dad because he’s a lot more open in subtle ways at home than he is everywhere else. He still isn’t really verbal or responsive, but Stiles knows that these things take time.

His dad comes in about a quarter to eight and the first thing he does after he greets them both is go straight to his room to change out of his uniform.

Stiles clears off his books and his schoolwork from the table, carrying it up to his room to dump on his bed. He returns to the kitchen just as Isaac finishes up and clears off his side before disappearing with it.

The table gets set and Stiles serves everyone and eats without waiting for them. Isaac and his dad eventually join him and digs in.

Predictably, his dad says, “How was your day?” The question is directed at Isaac, who just shrugs and concentrates on eating. His dad turns his gaze on him. “How about you?”

“Fine,” Stiles says delicately. “I was actually wondering if we could talk?”

His dad frowns in concern but he nods and it gets left at that.

Isaac clears the table for them and puts the dishes away into the dishwasher before he wanders into the living room to watch Dance Moms. He’s surprisingly super into that show.

Stiles puts the leftovers in some Tupperware before cramming it into the fridge and turning to his dad, who is sitting at the table with a patient sort of silence. He sits across from his old man and drums his fingers on the table as he thinks about how he wants to start.

The sheriff raises both his eyebrows and says, “What’s on your mind, son?”

“Why did you take this job?” Stiles blurts and silently reprimands himself for it. He was trying to build up to that question.

His dad looks caught off guard but there isn’t a lick of guilt on his features. “Because this town needed someone to look after it,” he puts simply. “Someone who wouldn’t turn a blind eye.”

“But what would you be turning a blind eye on?” Stiles probes. “Dad, what’s going on? I — you know you can tell me anything, right? Like even if it seems crazy. I have an open mind.”

His dad just smiles sadly. “I know. You’re like your mother that way.”

Stiles is quieted by this comment.

His dad sighs and leans back in his seat. “I don’t want you to worry about it. If that thing from the other night has you concerned about my wellbeing —”

“Dad, no,” Stiles interjects. “I mean, yes, it does. But it’s more than that. You get that I know what that thing was? El Chupacabra? Is this ringing any bells for you?”

His dad’s face goes through an interesting range of emotions before he settles on resignation. “You’re too goddamn curious,” he mutters, but he sounds proud. “Beacon Hills — it’s a special place.”

“How special? Are we talking like Harry Potter special or — does it — is it like the Hellmouth? Wait, are you Buffy in this scenario or is Peter? What am I? Am I Giles? I don’t want to be the Giles to Peter’s Buffy. I’d rather be Xander or even Willow. Even though I can’t do any magic.”

His dad looks amused. “You watch too much TV.” But then he says, “I guess that comparison isn’t too far off. The Hellmouth theory, I mean. It’s still a bit of a stretch, but it’s close enough. I’m still making sense of things myself. The last sheriff didn’t feed me much information with the manual he left behind, which has apparently been passed down since the town’s early beginnings. A lot of it’s outdated too. I’m stumbling as I go."

“Whoa,” Stiles says as he takes that in. He’s partially shocked and partially in awe. It’s pretty cool that his dad is hip to the supernatural world like this. “I’ve got so many questions —”

“No,” his dad says, shooting him down as gently as possible. “I’ve already said too much. You’re not even supposed to be asking me these kind of questions as is. It’s compromising to my job. This is about the safety of the people. That comes first.”

“But I’m your son,” Stiles complains. “I wont go running my mouth. I can keep a secret. Why can’t you tell me?”

“It’s for your own good,” his dad insists. “I can’t stop you from researching or piecing things together on your own but I don’t want you getting too heavily or physically involved. I had a firm little talk with your friend Peter.”

“Peter’s not my friend,” is his automatic response, as if distancing himself from Peter will help his case. It doesn’t. “And what does he have to do with this? Is he like a consultant for you? You know he’s been getting information from me right?”

Her dad’s eye twitches and Stiles silently wonders if he’s raising his blood pressure. “Just leave it alone, Stiles,” his dad warns. “Like I said, I can’t stop you from researching, but I’m constricting it to that. It’s going to stay at a level of pure academic curiosity. Understand? You let me deal with the rest, all right? I don’t want to have to worry about you.”

Stiles gives him a subdued smile. “So then I’m supposed to worry about you?” he retorts.

The sheriff shakes his head with a firm frown.

“Okay,” he says and feels a little bit bad that he’s partially lying. “But what about our next door neighbors? Are they witches?”

“Not as far as I can tell,” his dad says and, wow, okay. That means witches do exist. “Don’t worry about it.”

Stiles nods but there’s nothing to help the fact that he does worry about it.

His dad pats him on the shoulder before he moves to join Isaac in the living room.

Stiles goes up to his room and cracks his laptop open. He starts pulling up local news articles from the last eighty years and he dives in.

---

Two hours after midnight, Stiles feels led to connect the final dot of his research. He knows what he has to do in order to do that. So he slips on a hoodie and slips into his sneakers before he tiptoes over to Isaac’s room. He shakes the sleeping preteen awake with a wide smile.

Isaac narrows his bleary eyes at him in question.

“So, um — you wanna go and find a huge sacred tree trunk with me? You don’t have to but I’d rather not go by myself. Think of it as a bonding experience? There’s minimal chance of us stumbling into danger,” Stiles babbles and he almost laughs at the skepticism that creeps into Isaac’s groggy features. “Fine. Go back to sleep. I’ll go by myself, and you can lay in this nice warm bed and wonder if your wonderful, lovingly patient and kind big brother has been mauled to death.”

Isaac sighs softly and starts sliding out of bed to change into some warm clothes.

Stiles fist pumps and bounces on his heels as he waits for Isaac to get dressed. Then they tiptoe down the steps together and out the back door before rounding the house to grab their mountain bikes. Stiles has a flashlight he nicked from his father's toolbox carefully placed in his back pocket.

It’s cold and the pavement is damp, so Stiles takes care as he peddles his bike. As their community shrinks behind them, he leads Isaac to Scott’s house and he notices Melissa’s car is gone, which means she must be working a graveyard shift at the hospital. So he climbs the tree by Scott’s window before he climbs into the open window. He dives on top of Scott and savors the way Scott shrieks.

“Dude!”

Stiles rolls onto the floor in a fit of laughter.

Scott throws all his pillows at Stiles. “What are you doing? You almost gave me a heart attack. What time is it?”

“Two something,” Stiles says when he finally calms down. “Isaac and I were going to go into the preserve to look for what used to be a mystical tree maybe.”

Scott looks at him like he’s lost all sense.

“This is important!” Stiles swears and makes an ‘X’ over his chest where his heart is. “Do you want to come with us or be lame and stay here?”

Scott looks indecisive. “The preserve’s not really safe at this time of night,” he weakly argues. “I’ve heard — stories.”

“Nah, we’re good. It’s not even a full moon. It’s a new moon. Which, if you can believe the folklore, means that most supernatural creatures are at its weakest.”

“What?” Scott exclaims. “What do you mean most?

Stiles just throws a pair of jeans at him and it lands on the top of Scott’s head. “Just get dressed. I’ll explain along the way.”

Scott grumbles but he climbs out of bed and hops into his jeans before he goes in search of a sweater (and his inhaler).

Five minutes later they’re walking out his front door and meeting Isaac on the side of the house.

The three of them all straddle their mountain bikes and start down the road towards the preserve as Stiles visualizes the mental map he drew in his mind when he used Google Earth for directions.

Stiles yammers on and on about his confrontation with Kate, then with Peter, and his conversation with his dad. Then he tells him about how he read about all these strange happenings in Beacon Hills in old articles that just cover up the mythical incidents by writing them off as general animal attacks or an occult. But they’re not that at all. Some of them were the work of mythical beings (like El Chupacabra).

“But what do the Hales have to do with this?” Scott pants as he peddles his bike on Stiles’s left, while Isaac does the same on Stiles’s right.

“That’s the thing. I’m not that sure, but I think they’re like some kind of guardians or slayers or something,” Stiles supposes, as ridiculous as it sounds. It’s the only thing that really makes sense. “They work along with the sheriff to keep the town safe and stuff.”

“Whoa,” Scott huffs quietly. “Dude, that’s — whoa. Your dad!”

“I know,” Stiles agrees. He speeds up and veers off the road and onto a bike trail called the ‘Twisted Wolf Trail’. “We’re almost there,” he announces as they wind further and further down the trail.

Small branches snap and break under their wheels as they go deeper into the preserve. He stops suddenly and this forces Isaac and Scott to swerve to a stop. He climbs off his bike and throws it down as he dashes forward through a thrush of trees and into an open area. He pauses when he gets his sights on the final dot of his research.

Scott stumbles up beside him when he catches up, panting, and Isaac shoves his hands in his pockets as he looks around.

Stiles grabs the flashlight in his back pocket and shakes it on. He moves forward towards the huge tree trunk residing in the middle of the open area and he circles it, taking in every detail.

Scott draws closer and says, “So what does the old tree have to do with all of this?”

“Would you believe that none of the supernatural stuff happened until this tree was cut down? The tree was set in place by the founding tribes of this town back in the 1800’s. There’s this whole article covering its history, and as old as it is,” Stiles explains before he steps onto the focal point of the tree trunk. “There’s this legend that says that this tree used to be an actual living being. Some kind of Guardian that protected Beacon Hills before it was captured by some benevolent being.

"The being was something called a Trickster, I think, that trapped the Guardian in this final form.” He jumps down before he drops to his knees and crawls around, using the flashlight to look for some kind of insignia at the base of it. “I also read that tribes all across America used to come here and do rituals before it was finally cut down. Couldn’t find out what kind of rituals or what kind of tribes they were referring to though. I’m thinking maybe these tribes were not doing the nice kind of sacrifices,” he says. "And that's why they cut it down. To discourage whatever was happening here. It also stop raining around that time too, which must be really significant. But that's only a guess."

Scott shivers against the cold and says, “I’m feeling unsettled. Can we go back now? You’ve found your creepy, sacred tree. Let’s go back.”

“But Isaac's not ready to leave yet,” Stiles says as he continues to crawl along the edge of the trunk. He doesn’t miss the quick huff from Isaac and he smiles a little, pleased that he could solicit that response from the quiet preteen. “You guys are lame, you know that? Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“At home, safe and sound. Which is where I should be. Oh man, my mom would kill me if she knew I was doing this.” Scott sounds so very conflicted. “What if a bear springs out? What if it’s a coyote or a mountain lion? I don’t want to be mauled to death. Why did I let you talk me into this? An axe murderer could lunge out from the woods at any moment. I’m too young to die.”

“So are most animals in the wild, but you don’t hear them complaining. Mostly because they’re dead but — okay, I’m getting off topic. Don’t be so dramatic,” Stiles says as Scott shakes his inhaler and sucks in a puff of air as his panic triggers the beginnings of an asthma attack. Stiles stops and hunches down when he sees an inscription on one of the roots. He reaches out towards it, his palm growing curiously warmer as he does so. “Hey, I think I found — ow!” he cries as his hand flies up to the sore spot on the back of his head and his gaze flicks to the white stone rolling onto the ground and into the wet grass. He whips his head around in time to see Peter stepping out from the shadows with a triumphant smirk, bouncing another white stone up and down in his left hand. It should really say something about Stiles that he gets relieved when he sees it’s just Peter.

Scott, however, starts freaking out immediately and scrambles behind Isaac for cover.

Stiles rolls his eyes and says, “Scott, relax. It’s just stupid Peter.”

Peter cocks his head in amusement.

“Oh,” Scott breathes. He steps away from Isaac. “I’m Scott,” he says because why wouldn’t he say that. “I just would like to say thank you.”

Stiles groans in an embarrassment because he can see where this is going.

Peter looks intrigued though. “Thank me? For what?”

“For all the — don’t you slay the bad guys or things?” Scott asks, oblivious to the way Stiles is shaking his head rapidly in warning. “Stiles says you and your family are like guardians.”

Stiles groans again and smacks a hand against his forehead.

Peter looks unutterably amused. “Is that right?” He looks to Stiles. “Guardians?”

“I have a theory,” Stiles mutters resentfully, even though his cheeks are red. “You’re not exactly denying anything.”

Peter puts his hands behind his back as he smirks and he says, “You kiddies shouldn’t be out here.”

“And you should?” Stiles shoots back with a glare.

Peter merely shrugs. “Half of this preserve is owned by my family.” His smirk stretches out into a smug grin that’s all teeth and frankly rather frightening. “Guess which half you happen to be on?”

“He’s right!” Scott squeaks. “Which is why we’re leaving. Right? Stiles?”

“Fine,” Stiles huffs and jumps down from the stump. He aims the flashlight and his phone back towards the roots. “Let me just take a picture of something.” His tongue peeks out in concentration as he looks for the insignia again. He frowns when he can’t find it. “Wait — but it was right there.” He drops to his knees and leans closer.

There’s nothing.

Stiles sits back on his knees, baffled. He jumps a bit when Peter claps a hand over his shoulder.

“Come on. It’s time to go,” Peter decides and bodily lifts Stiles like he weighs nothing before righting him on his feet. He shoves Stiles in the direction of his bike. “Go.”

“But —” Stiles starts to protest and stumbles as Peter keeps shoving at him. “God, okay!” He marches stormily with Isaac and Scott trailing after him until they reach their bikes. Stiles isn’t surprised to see Peter’s Lamborghini rumbling quietly from where it’s parked on the side of the trail. He straddles his bike and says, “How did you even find us? How did you know we were out here? Are you patrolling?”

Peter walks backwards towards his car and says, “Let's just say...you’ve got an unmistakable heartbeat.”

Stiles makes an annoyed face. “That’s not funny.”

“Who’s being funny?” Peter tosses him a sharp smile before he climbs into his car and makes a gesture for them to start peddling. He trails behind them in his car as they peddle toward the main road.

“Dude,” Scott pants as he peddles beside Stiles. “He’s kind of scary. Are all the Hales like that? I mean I heard rumors but I never met any of them. They’re not all frightening, are they?”

Stiles snorts. “If not worse. Haven’t met all of them, but I’ve met enough, I think. Though Laura is pretty cool,” he supposes.

Peter follows them all the way back to Scott’s house, where Isaac and Stiles see him off.

Scott is unquestionably relieved when he notes that his mom’s car is still missing. He shoots Isaac and Stiles a thumbs-up before he disappears into his house.

Peter honks his horn gently and makes an impatient gesture for them to continue on.

Stiles rolls his eyes but he follows after Isaac when he starts peddling off in the direction of their street.

They roll up to the front lawn sometime later and they toss their bikes down as Peter pulls up to the curb.

“Go on without me,” Stiles tells Isaac quietly.

Isaac hesitates and glances over Stiles’s shoulder at Peter before he looks back to Stiles.

“Just go, I’ll be right behind you,” Stiles promises.

Isaac looks back at Peter thoughtfully before he shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans and treads toward the back of the house.

Stiles waits until Isaac is out of sight before he walks over to Peter’s car.

Peter lets down his passenger window so Stiles can lean into the space and he looks at Stiles expectantly.

“So that stuff that Scott said earlier about the — he’s my best friend, okay? I tell him everything. He’s not going to say anything to anyone else,” Stiles swears.

Peter drums the fingers of his left hand against the top of his steering wheel and calmly replies, “I should hope not.”

“He wont,” Stiles insists. “And — neither will I.”

Peter’s gaze flicks over his face as he wears a pensive expression and he says, “You don’t have to convince me of that.”

“Right,” Stiles says. “Because we have to remember that you approached me with all of this. So it’s your fault I know so much.”

Peter smirks slowly. “You don’t know nearly as much as you think you do.”

“Ugh, again with the cryptic remarks,” Stiles complains and points a finger at Peter’s face. “Why don’t you give me the missing pieces to the puzzle then?”

“Now why would I do that?” Peter says because he’s a jerk who doesn’t like to make things easy for Stiles. “Go inside.”

You go inside,” Stiles mutters before he glances over his shoulder at the neighbor’s house. “I think they’re witches. Can you confirm this? Because my dad wont.”

“I don’t think they’re anything,” Peter replies. He barely glances in the direction of that house.

Stiles shoots him an annoyed look. “Well isn’t there some way you can tell? You’re the slayer here.”

Peter quirks an eyebrow. “You are very misinformed.”

“Until you tell me something different or offer some other explanation that’s better than this theory, I’ll keep to this belief, thank you,” Stiles quips, unapologetic.

Peter sighs. “Go inside.”

“But the witches —”

I’ll look into it,” Peter interjects impatiently. “Go inside.

“Fine,” Stiles huffs. He moves to do just that but Peter reaches out really quickly, quicker than what should be possible, and grabs Stiles’s wrist, arresting his movement. “What?” he complains. “I can’t actually go inside if you don’t let me.”

“If I ever find you or your little friends out in the woods during this time of night again,” Peter says lowly. “I wont hesitate to send our watch dogs after you.”

Stiles stares at Peter before he says, “Are they — are they really dogs or is that a metaphor for some other kind of creature because —”

Peter just smirks.

“Okay,” Stiles quickly says. “I got it. Yup. Totally got it. No more stumbling onto private property in the dark. Nope.”

Peter releases his wrist, satisfied. “Good. Get some sleep. You’ve got a lacrosse game tomorrow.”

“What? How do you even —” Stiles watches in frustration as Peter drives off before he can even get the question out. He grumbles to himself as he makes his way to the back of the house to return his dad’s flashlight to the toolbox sitting at the back door. He grows quiet as he makes a stealthy retreat in the house and up to his room. When he feels like it’s safe, he grumbles to himself, disappointed that he was so close in finding just what he was looking for. He knows that the tree may be the key to unlocking so much. The thought swims around in his mind as he strips out of his clothes and climbs into bed to curl around Derek’s wolves.

Before he falls asleep, he gets this brief thought of naming them Chaos, Sly, and Truth.

---

It’s ironic really how while making breakfast that Tuesday morning he sprains his wrist. Don’t ask him how he does it because this is Stiles. He can manage the clumsiest feats without any effort. And it’s not like Coach Finstock is going to let him do anything but warm the bench, but two days before his birthday. Who gets a sprained wrist two days before their birthday?

Stiles Stilinski apparently. He’s just lucky it wasn’t his writing hand.

His dad had already left, so he has to fumble with the first aid kit by himself in a sad attempt of wrapping his own wrist before Isaac descends down the steps and wordlessly takes over. He wraps Stiles’s wrist like it’s an art form, and it makes something like distress settle heavily in his stomach when he realizes that Isaac can do it so well because he is familiar with doing it.

Stiles doesn’t ask as he watches him work. He bites down his tongue until he can taste blood and doesn’t ask.

Isaac secures the bandage at a point below Stiles’s wrist with a small metal clip before he wordlessly stands and switches off the fire on the stove, and then dumps the burnt bacon still simmering in the pan on the stove in the garbage. He puts the pan in the sink and turns on the faucet before he grabs two bowls, two spoons, and the box of organic grainless apple cereal Stiles tries to force his dad to eat from time to time. He makes Stiles a bowl and then himself. He pours milk in both bowls, dumping the spoons in before he takes his bowl to the other side of the table and eats silently.

Stiles feels something warm and fond expand in his chest at Isaac’s consideration. He turns in his seat and eats his cereal with his uninjured hand. When he’s done, he cleans up the mess he’s made with the first aid kit before he returns it to its designated spot under the sink in the upstairs bathroom. He then shoves all his school work and books into his backpack before he throws his lacrosse jersey on over his white t-shirt and marvels at himself in the bathroom mirror, eyeing the ‘24’ and then turning so he can look at his last name written across the back.

Isaac’s ready to go when he returns to the kitchen, and he’s clutching the straps of his backpack anxiously.

Stiles locks the front door before they jog down the steps and straddle their bikes, peddling to Isaac’s school like they usually do every morning. He says, “Thank you. For my wrist. I...thanks.”

Isaac just looks at him for a long moment before he rolls his bike over to the rack and locks it. He heads inside without a word.

Stiles watches him go before he starts for his own school.

---

In AP Biology, Stiles has a hard time paying attention because the wrist of his left hand aches like it wont quit, and it’s only first period. It also doesn’t help that he only got about thirty minutes of sleep.

His teacher hands out a pop quiz based on last night’s reading and Stiles is more than sure that he wont get anything other than a B. He rubs his forehead and passes his test toward the front when the teacher announces that their time is up. Then the teacher announces that he’ll be turning on the movie Contagion, and explains that they’re expected to take notes so they can write a summary paper about how the movie relates to what their doing in class at the moment.

“It’ll be due Friday, so use the grace period wisely,” Mr. Harris says as he glares around the room like they’re all the exact kind of furniture he hates. “Sit where you want.”

Stiles sighs and fishes for a spiral notebook and a pen before he slaps it on the counter of his station. The lights are turned off and the movie begins to play on the Promethean board as a light breeze floats through the room from the floor fan that’s parked by the classroom door slowly rotating from left to right.

Stiles chews on his bottom lip and bounces his leg under the table as his foot taps quietly. He fidgets on his stool as he tries to concentrate on writing down some coherent notes but his wrist aches and aches and aches.

Cora slides into the empty seat next to his with a put-upon sigh and grabs his injured wrist.

Stiles tenses in surprise, fully expecting her to do something mean like snap it or apply even more painful pressure.

Cora, true to her bewildering nature, does the exact opposite. She just holds it loosely with her right hand while she uses her left to take notes.

Stiles straightens when he notices that the pain in his wrist is slowly subsiding into a dull but ignorable twinge. He shoots her a quizzical look because Cora’s hand is like a hot brand, even through the bandages.

Cora doesn’t even glance at him when she says, “Human contact helps ease pain.”

“Plausible. But how did you know I was in pain?” Stiles questions, maybe a little too loudly because some of their classmates turn to look at them and Mr. Harris glares from behind his desk.

Cora shushes him and replies, “You’re easy to read. Obviously. You make faces.”

“What faces?”

“Very stupid, irritating faces — like you need someone to put you out of your misery,” Cora grits out and her fingers twitch around his wrist like she’s resisting the urge to do something violent. “The kind that always make me want to punch you.”

Stiles clamps his mouth shut and figures he shouldn’t press his luck with this one. He makes a mental note to research human contact and pain, because Cora is a Hale and that means something.

He just hasn’t figured out what.

---

Stiles exits his stupid second period class to find Cora waiting for him.

Cora shadows him during their next two classes (AP History and English) like it’s nobody’s business, and every time he begs her off with a promise to go to the nurse’s office for some Tylenol, she gets this constipated look on her face and says, “I don’t like the way medicine makes you smell. Now shut up and pay attention.”

Stiles, considering things, is very curious to know just what the hell that means and how the hell she knows what medicine smells like on people. But, of course, when he tries to ask, she always shuts him down with a mean glare or ignores him altogether even though she is practically holding his hand.

He can’t win for losing.

Stiles soon finds himself dumped at Laura and Kate’s designated table in the school’s quad at lunch. They don’t even seem concerned that Cora is pushing him around.

Laura greets him with a smile and Kate steals his jello without asking.

Cora sits down beside him with her own tray and grips his injured wrist again as she juggles eating and studying for her AP French class.

Laura snickers at his face.

“Is this not weird? Am I the only one who doesn’t find this weird?” Stiles questions desperately, almost delirious with how out of the ordinary this situation is. "Cora Hale is holding my hand but everyone and their grandma seems oblivious to this oddity. Am I in an episode of the Twilight Zone? I feel like I'm in an episode of the Twilight Zone."

“Awe, she likes you,” Kate teases as she goes to town on his jello.

“No,” Stiles disagrees. “She wants to see me trip on my face and co-mingle my tears with the blood of my broken nose.”

Cora snorts but she doesn’t comment with an affirmation or denial.

"Also, I was going to eat that," Stiles states with a frown.

Kate just says, "Dibs."

"You can't just say dibs after you steal someone's food," Stiles vehemently argues. "It's unconstitutional!"

Kate just shrugs and licks at her plastic spoon like a kitten licking up milk.

Laura says, “What are your birthday plans?”

Stiles exhales very slowly because apparently they were all just going to ignore his incredulity. He says, “I don’t know. Haven’t talked to my dad yet.”

“What would you like to do?” Laura asks.

Stiles shrugs.

Laura huffs. “Fine. Be difficult.” Then she says, “So, you have a game tonight?”

I don’t have a game. I’m just there to play benchwarmer,” Stiles reports. “I doubt Coach would even let me.” He lifts his injured wrist, the one Cora is still latched on to, and shows her what he means.

Derek chooses that moment to stroll up with his right hand in the pocket of his jeans while he cradles a basketball under his other arm. He frowns when he sees Stiles and then frowns even harder when he looks at Cora’s hand on his wrist.

Stiles gingerly lowers his injured wrist from view.

Derek sits down on the other side of Laura and furrows his brow before he lifts them as he looks at Stiles. “What happened to you? Did you trip over a feather or something?”

Stiles blushes, embarrassed and irritated by Derek’s obvious opinion of his coordination, or lack thereof. He simply says, “No.” and refuses to elaborate or confess to what really happened.

Derek just starts twirling his basketball on the pointer finger of his left hand in a way that seems effortless. He appears to be in a good mood.

“By the way, what’s this I hear about you and some kids stumbling onto our land last night? Peter says you were all over some tree stump like you were fishing for gold,” Laura questions as she chows down on a double cheeseburger.

Stiles watches her devour it in fascination. He’s never seen a cheerleader demolish red meat so enthusiastically. He says, mainly because he feels like he’s in good company, “Uh — no. I mean yes. But, listen, it wasn’t just any tree stump. It was a magical tree stump.”

Kate snorts and says, “Ooh. Crazy.”

Laura jabs Kate in her side with her elbow and says, “What makes you think it’s magical?”

“Just because,” Stiles mumbles as he pokes at his turkey club sandwich with the spoon he had been planning on using for the jello. He’s not all that hungry. Just tired. He yawns and scrubs at his eyes.

Derek tracks his movements closely as he tosses his basketball back and forth between his hands.

Laura says, “Just because what?”

“I’ve read things. You know. Stuff,” Stiles says, being deliberately cryptic for once.

Laura grins like she knows and starts in on her third double cheeseburger. She says, with her mouth full, “You should eat.”

Derek makes a disgusted face. “Gross, Laura. Who could stomach anything with your manners?”

Laura turns to him and widens her mouth to really give him something to look at.

Derek scowls and snaps his teeth at her finger when she tries to poke his nose.

Laura just cackles.

“He’s done it again,” Derek says as he stares at Stiles like he’s accusing him of something. “My Uncle Peter. He’s been in my room. What did he give you this time?”

“Uh,” is Stiles’s intelligent rebuttal. “A grey wolf? But dude that's, I mean — how many stuffed animals do you have?”

“Oh Derek never had a shortage of toys when he was little,” Laura answers. “He likes to cuddle. His most redeeming quality if you were to ask me."

"Weird, cause no one did," Derek grumbles.

Laura ignores him and continues, "You could always find him in a puppy pile with a whole animal kingdom of plushies.”

Stiles glances over at Derek for confirmation and Derek just shrugs, unashamed. “So you’re a fan of cuddling?”

Derek gives him a smile that’s all teeth and his gaze is knowing. “So do you, it seems." He leans forward a little, green eyes brimming with mischief. It sends a shiver up Stiles's spine. "How are my wolves?”

Stiles flushes all the way down to his collarbone. 

Derek looks unreasonably smug as he watches the reaction. He must know Stiles has been spooning them every night and his immediate silence probably just confirms it.

Stiles just hates him so much.

“My jello’s gone,” Kate says in pouty disappointment. “Bored now.”

Stiles pushes his tray over to her when he recovers from his mortification.

Kate starts eating his food without question.

Laura frowns in concern. “You didn’t eat.”

Stiles says, “I’m not hungry.” He rubs tiredly at his eyes again. “I’m too exhausted anyway.”

“Maybe you wouldn’t be if you weren’t stumbling around the woods like easy prey,” Derek remarks, unhelpfully.

Stiles mutters, “What I do in the woods at three in the morning is my business.”

“Unless it’s on our land,” Derek counters. “Then it’s called trespassing.”

“Yes, thank you. I know. But what I didn’t know was that it was private property,” Stiles retorts. “Not really my fault.”

“I doubt it,” Derek insists. “You’re clumsy and intrusive. It’s going to get you killed.”

“Yeah? Well —” Stiles fumbles with a comeback because the nerve of this guy. He doesn’t even know Stiles. He can’t just make snap judgments like that. As payback, he jabs him where it hurts and says, “Basketball sucks. It's highly overrated. And also, you are very mediocre at it.”

Derek bristles, predictably, as his basketball almost goes flying out of his hands in outrage. He stares at Stiles like he’s the craziest weirdo he’s ever met. “You — that’s —”

Laura cackles.

Cora even snorts.

Derek glares at them all before he storms off, annoyed.

Stiles pens it down as a win.

---

In the middle of that last period of the day, Stiles gets called to the main office. When he gets there, the receptionist merely points to the bench that’s parked right outside of the guidance counselor’s office.

Paige is already sitting there, fiddling with her phone and looking generally disinterested.

Stiles sits down beside her and he shoots her a friendly smile that she just raises a brow at before she ignores him altogether. The response is pretty fair seeing as how their last interaction wasn’t all that positive.

Paige sighs as she types away on her phone and says, without even looking at him, “What are you staring at?”

Stiles blinks, suddenly realizing that he’s been staring at her for the past minute and he says, “Sorry.” Then he says, “Also, sorry about Monday. Kate was wrong to kick you out. Especially since you were making what sounded like the most beautiful sounding music I’ve ever heard.”

Paige smirks. “That’s quite an apology.” She puts her phone down and looks at him while she licks at her braces (prodding mostly at the rubber bands connected at the sides). “Though, you’re stupid for associating with Kate. You know she’s bad news right?”

Stiles says, “Are we talking in a Mean Girls type of way or a Spring Break type of way.”

Spring Break. Unrated.”

“Oh,” Stiles says. He’s seen the movie more times than he’d like to admit. He had a (indefinable) thing for Vanessa Hudgens when he was younger. At one time in his life there was a High School Musical phase. “I wasn’t — we didn’t really — I don’t know what you think we were doing. We were just talking. She has a boyfriend.”

“You shouldn’t care what I think,” Paige simply thinks. “And everyone knows that her and Peter have a very odd relationship, so you might want to stick to a different argument.”

Stiles is surprised at the little twinge of defensiveness he gets on Peter’s behalf. But all he says is, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Paige just goes back to typing away on her phone.

“So,” Stiles says because he’s never quite done. “What are you in for?”

Paige thumbs pause over the screen of her smartphone and she says, “You did not just say that.”

“I did, actually. I say a lot of things,” Stiles remarks. “How long have you been playing the cello?”

Paige mutters, “Scatterbrain.” Then louder, she says, “Since I was six. My father is determined to live vicariously through me. I’m expected to enroll into Juilliard after I graduate. He’s just lucky that I enjoy the cello on my own.”

Stiles says, “You’re really good.”

“I know.”

“Well,” Stiles says. “I can play a little piano. My mom tried to teach me, but my attention span became a hindrance. My Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star would start to sound like A Whole New World midway through and then that would start sounding like Chop Sticks.”

Paige snorts. “Yes. That is a problem.”

Stiles smiles a little self-deprecatingly.

The door to the guidance counselor’s office opens and a Senior boy walking on crutches limps out with tears streaming down his face

Stiles becomes a little apprehensive to enter the office when Victoria Argent steps out and gestures for him and Paige to enter.

Paige sits in one of the cushioned chairs and Stiles sits in the other.

Victoria clicks her way around the desk and seats herself behind it. She shuffles a few papers before she types away on the keyboard of her computer and says, “Mr. Stilinski.”

“Present,” Stiles says softly because he would very much like not to be. She’s a rather frighteningly intimidating woman. It’s hard to believe that sweet, dimpled Allison came from her loins.

“I’m told by Mrs. Cassidy that you’ve gone to her with a request for a math tutor,” Victoria says, distracted. She’s eyeing the screen of her computer as she says, “From what I can see of your grades, you're doing remarkably well in all of your classes. Outside of Algebra. You’re on the borderline of a D.”

Stiles straightens at the information. “I am?”

Victoria doesn’t repeat herself. She says, “Paige is a Junior who’s succeeded in advancing all her math electives with the highest completion rate. She has agreed to tutor you. Are you amenable to this arrangement?”

Stiles glances over at Paige but she’s too busy eyeing Victoria’s name plaque with an indifferent frown. “Uh, yes.”

“Good,” Victoria simply says and presses down on some keys that causes a set of papers to expel from the printer she has in the corner of her office. She stands and clicks her way over to retrieve it before she brings it to Stiles. “This is an academic contract that you must go over and sign. Then you and her will come to an agreement about the days on which you will meet. If you fall out of compliance with these terms, Paige is allowed to drop you as a tutee and you’ll be forced to enroll into summer school. Likewise, if she fails you as a tutor, you will be assigned a new one. Understood?”

Stiles nods, already reading through the contract. The terms of it seems pretty fair, so he signs and dates it.

Paige does the same.

Victoria dismisses them before she moves to retrieve the next student.

As they walk out into the empty halls, Paige says, “Sundays are best for me. I work part-time, and have recitals all other days. That’s as flexible as I’m willing to get.”

“Sunday works,” Stiles agrees.

Paige tucks some of her wavy hair behind her ear as she holds out her phone for him. “Give me your number.” When he does, and she takes it back, she says, “I’ll text you so you can have my number. Do you know where the town library is?”

“I can figure it out.”

Paige nods before she abruptly breaks out into a happy smile, looking at a point over his shoulder. She brushes past him and jogs up to Derek, who greets her warmly with a hug.

Stiles doesn’t stick around to see them press their lips together.

The ache in his wrist is gradually returning.

---

Coach Finstock takes one good look at Stiles’s wrist before he shakes his head and sends him home.

He doesn’t even get to stick around for the game. It sucks. But he doesn’t say a word as he peddles to the Beacon Hills Police Station. He laughs resentfully as his eyes begin to water, and the sky starts to rumble above his head. 

Stiles blinks and looks up quickly at the grey clouds that seem to be forming but not a drop of rain forms. He waits and waits but almost rolls his eyes at himself when he realizes that nothing will happen. It hasn't probably rained for decades — why would it start now? He sniffs and the sky rumbles again.

He’s just really frustrated that he can be so easily dismissed — that his value to the lacrosse team is just so. He scrubs at his eyes before a tear can drop as he makes it to the front entrance of the station. He shoves his bike on the rack before he roughly locks it. Then he storms inside and peels off his lacrosse jersey — the jersey he wore for nothing .

Deputy Tara is there to greet him from behind the front desk with a wry smile. She informs him that his dad is in his office with Isaac.

Stiles treads all the way to the back of the station where his dad’s office is located and enters just as his dad is putting on his coat. “Don’t bother,” he says. “I’m not playing.”

His dad pauses and takes a good look at his face and he just knows. “Awe, hell. Son —”

Stiles shakes his head sharply before he sits down in one of the cushioned seats in front of his dad’s work desk.

Isaac is curled up on the couch next to a file cabinet with a schoolbook.

His dad still puts on his coat with a sigh and says, “Let’s go get some victory ice cream anyway.”

Fifteen minutes later finds them sitting in a booth at Ramona's Ice Cream Parlor across the street from Ramona’s Whole Foods the biggest supermarket in town. It makes Stiles wonder just how many buildings are owned by Boyd's family.

His dad is sitting across from Isaac and Stiles, ignoring the looks of disapproval Stiles is shooting him for ordering the double whammy sundae.

Stiles just pokes and pokes at his slice of Oreo ice cream cake while Isaac goes to town on a two-scoop coconut ice cream waffle cone.

His dad says, “I don’t want to give you two mixed signals.”

Stiles frowns as he stabs at a piece of Oreo. “How do you mean?”

“We’ll get to that, but first I want to talk about your wrist. How did you do that?”

Stiles blushes and mumbles something about "Eggs..." like that explains everything.

His dad sighs. “Alright. Is this why your coach sent you home?”

Stiles nods.

“That was unfair of him to do. But son, there will be other games. Don’t let that put you off. Life is going to be plenty full of no’s. You just have to learn to take them with a grain of salt,” his dad sagely advises.

Stiles nods somberly.

“Good.” Then his dad pins him with a look.

Stiles fidgets. "What?"

"I'll tell you what," the sheriff assures, straightening in his seat. “Now, don’t think because I’m playing nice by taking you and Isaac out for ice cream that I’m not going to bring up the fact that one of my deputies saw you two the other night with Peter Hale trailing behind you in a hard to miss hot red car. Care to explain why a soon to be fifteen year old and a twelve year old thinks that curfew or my rules don’t apply to them?”

Stiles nearly chokes on his own spit in surprise.

Isaac tenses beside him and his spoon pauses midway to his mouth.

His dad continues eating his ice cream without letting up on the ‘dad stare of doom’ he has aimed at them. “I can wait all night,” he informs between bites. “Apparently so can you.”

Stiles groans and hunches down in the booth. “Dad — it’s totally not — okay, I admit that it was wrong of me to do. But Isaac deserves total immunity because I forced him to go —”

“I highly doubt that you could force him into doing anything he didn’t want to. He may not seem it, but this kid is stubborn,” his dad interjects. “You’re persuasive, but you aren’t as persuasive as you think. If Isaac didn’t want to go, he would have stayed firmly in that bed where he belonged. The problem here is that he’s become entirely too fond of you and looks up to you like you’re the second coming.”

Isaac flushes and fidgets but he keeps his silence.

Stiles lets that sink in because heavens above Isaac likes him. He has proof now. He tries so very hard not to preen.

By the flat look his dad shoots him, he doesn’t do a good job. “You realize that being older means being more responsible.”

“The tree —”

“I don’t even want to hear about the tree stump, and yes, I had a little talk with Peter Hale when he came into the station for a different matter. He seems to agree with me that you acted irresponsibly.”

Stiles is going to strangle Peter.

“And what’s worse is that you put Scott and Isaac in harm’s way. Anything could have happened,” his dad continues. “With that being said, and because I consider myself a fair man, starting after your birthday, you're grounded until further notice.”

Stiles’s jaw drops.

“You too, Isaac. And believe me, I have plenty for you two to do during spring break. I’ll be leaving a list. There’s a lot of yard work I haven’t gotten around to but I’m sure you will,” his dad says.

Stiles looks to Isaac for some back up but he’s just accepting his fate gracefully. He shakes his head sharply at Stiles in warning as he keeps his gaze pinned to his lap.

Stiles closes his mouth and swallows down his rising protests before he crosses his arms and sulks.

“Smart kids,” his dad praises. “Finish your ice cream. It might be a while before you get anything good like this again.”

Stiles just stabs at it and firmly believes that his dad is enjoying this too much.

So unfair.

He fishes for his phone and types angrily while he still has the luxury of using it.

Stiles texts: Way to have my back you dick!!

Peter responds: :))

I got grounded indefinitely because of you and your stupid car and your stupid mouth!!

:))

You better not show your face for two decades!!

:))

I mean it Peter!!

:))

You’re dead to me!!

:((

Chapter Text

There’s an orange cat.

You know, one of those neighborhood cats you always see around?

The thing about it though is that it’s twice the size of a normal domesticated cat. Even more so for a street cat.

Or is it an alley cat? Stiles has trouble remembering these things.

Look, the point is that there’s an orange cat that Stiles always sees hanging around. Maybe not hanging around, hanging around, but, more like stalking. Like clockwork, every night around eight, it’ll sit across the street on the corner under the glow of a streetlamp and stare with its little cat eyes at the neighbor’s house (the one with the witches) and also at Stiles’s house.

It will sit there on its little hind legs on that curb like a king would on a throne and stare for a full hour, okay? Stiles doesn’t know any other alley cats that do stuff like that.

It’s Beacon Hills, sure, but still.

This type of thing is turning out to be a commodity.

Stiles notices the cat maybe a day after the next-door neighbors move in.

Then circumstances arise which cause him to forget the whole bizarreness of this orange cat.

But it comes back later to bite him. Boy does it come back to bite him. Okay, so maybe not literally but you get the point.

---

It’s late Wednesday night and Stiles, Isaac, and Scott are camped out in Stiles’s living room in front of the big screen TV as they marathon episodes of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers off of Isaac’s profile on the sheriff’s Netflix account.

Melissa and his dad had graciously allowed Scott (also grounded, his dad spilled the beans to Melissa) to spend the night over since neither of them would be able to be sociable for a while. Seeing as how Stiles’s birthday is only the very next day, his dad had taken the three of them to the store so they could get their fill of sugary confections and salt-loaded snacks.

His dad is the best, and Stiles savors the generosity while it’s still there because come Friday, there will be no more Mr. Nice Dad.

Isaac is crunching his way through a tall bag of pretzel sticks and M&M'S while he stares at the screen in rapt fascination. This kid has laser focus.

Stiles is sprawled out on the couch as he goes to town on a bag of sour gummy worms and skittles combined. His body is beginning to vibrate with the sugar rush, and he's close to seeing colors swimming in his vision. 

Scott leans back against the edge of the couch from where he’s sitting on the floor by Stiles’s feet with a bowl of caramel popcorn in his lap, and another double stuffed Oreo in the fingers of his right hand as he squirts yet another swirling tower of spray cheese on top, gross.

“Sorry about getting you in trouble,” Stiles mumbles as he licks sour sugar from his fingers.

Scott shrugs as he jams the cookie in his mouth, along with a handful of popcorn. He swallows and says, “It’s okay. I don’t mind. We’re kids. I think we’re supposed to give our parents a hard time so they can dish out punishment. Isn’t that how it all goes?”

Stiles smiles to himself before he knocks a socked foot into the back of Scott’s head. “You’re so deep, dude,” he jokes.

“Dude, I know! I have amazing depths,” Scott retorts before he stands and tackles Stiles onto the floor, still surprisingly mindful though of Stiles’s sprained wrist.

Isaac ignores their antics and turns up the volume on the TV so he can drown out their grunting laughter and the sound of their bodies thumping around and bumping into furniture.

---

The morning of Stiles’s birthday finds him at Ramona’s Old Fashioned Eatery, sword-fighting Scott with the use of their utensils as his dad sighs from where he’s sitting across from them in a booth by the window.

Isaac is cutting into his pancakes beside him and generally acting unmoved by Scott and Stiles’s childish behavior.

The sheriff is treating them all to a big breakfast before he herds the three of them off to school.

Stiles gives Scott an affectionate bro hug before he lightly hip-checks Isaac with an unapologetic grin that Isaac rolls his eyes at before he wordlessly heads inside the school.

Scott stumbles after him as they meet up with Lydia and Allison.

Stiles quickly climbs into his dad’s squad car and tells him to go before he can get ambushed by his friends because there is no way Scott wont run his big mouth about the fact that it’s Stiles’s birthday.

His dad drops him off in front of the school five minutes later without even divulging what the plans are for the evening.

Stiles is never a patient guesser. He doesn't dwell on it long because he’s navigating the crowded halls, keeping a wary eye out for Laura or Cora, or god forbid, Peter.

When he reaches his locker without incident, he lets himself relax as he enters the combination. The lock pops free and he opens the small metal door — Pow! — only to have a handheld confetti cannon blast off at his face and cover the whole upper half of his body with silly string, glitter, and blue and white confetti.

Stiles spits and blinks glitter from his eyes as people titter around him, pointing in amusement and watching as he tries to brush himself off. It’s no use really so Stiles gives up with a long-suffering sigh and grabs the books he needs for his first and second period class.

When he reaches his biology class, he stomps to the back and dumps his confetti and glitter covered books and notebooks onto his station as he fumes. He’ll have some choice words for Laura.

Cora comes striding into the room three seconds before the bell rings and she has on her marching band uniform. When she sees Stiles, she smirks.

Stiles glares. He has a gut feeling that Cora is the one responsible for his little locker fiasco.

When Cora doesn’t stop smirking the whole period, ignoring his glares this time around, he feels like that just really confirms it.

---

During second period, Stiles doesn’t bother taking notes because he’s too busy replying to all the texts blowing up his phone from family and friends. Lydia, Allison, Erica, and Malia sending him birthday emoticon after birthday emoticon, like they want to torture him. Boyd’s texts are mainly straight to the point: hb man enjoy it ;), as are Jackson’s: congratulations for making it this far Stilinski your not a complete moron!. Danny’s text is genuinely thoughtful: happy birthday. hope you spend it well. if you don’t then you have plenty more to look forward to (:.

Stiles doesn’t even know how Mason and Liam got his number but he suspects it’s Malia doing, and all their texts says is happy birthday dude!!! and not much else.

Midway through class, the school’s speaker system comes to life and a voice says, “Good morning, Beacon Hills High students and staff. I was paid one hundred and fifty bucks by a Peter Hale to give a shout out to freshman Stiles Stilinski. Happy birthday, Stiles. Everyone please show Stilinski today on this day of his birthday some love. The —”

“What are you doing?! You can’t be in here!”

“Grab the microphone, Barbara!”

“I’m trying, he’s struggling — don’t you run from me young man! That’s a detention!”

“For god sakes, turn it off. It’s still on!”

The speakers screech and everyone cringes before they turn slowly to look at Stiles, who groans and sinks in his seat as he covers his reddening face with his injured hand.

Mrs. Cassidy, in rare form, says, “Well, since our time has already been wasted, we might as well wish Mr. Stilinski a very happy birthday. Make it good, this'll be the only exception.”

Everyone snickers as they just do just that. They hoop, and holler, and cheer.

It's the worst.

And Stiles?

Stiles is going to strangle the life out of Peter.

---

It doesn’t get better.

Stiles feels like the butt of a joke as he cruises through the hallways, only to be patted on the back or acknowledged in some kind of way with all sorts of colorful birthday well-wishes. That staged announcement has officially put Stiles on the scope of everyone’s radar.

This is not how he wanted to be noticed.

And Cora is just yucking it up, smirking insufferably at him from her side of the room during their next two shared classes together.

Stiles glares at the front of the room, his grip so tight on a pencil that it threatens to snap.

Just like him.

---

At lunch it gets even worse, okay?

So much worse.

Laura and her whole cheerleading team climb on top of the lunch tables to do a choreographed — are you utterly serious — dance that Laura loudly announces is dedicated to her favorite birthday boy, oh god, why?

Stiles flushes all the way down to his toes as a few junior varsity players from both the lacrosse and basketball team carry over a small cake in the shape of 24 with fifteen lit candles as Laura and her evil mob of cheerleaders dance and dance and cheer to the beat of Katy Perry’s Birthday.

Stiles is mortified. His body is so hot with his blushing that he’ll soon melt into his shoes with the force of his mortification.

And you know what Derek does? That stupid plushie loving jerk records the whole scene with his phone as Cora cackles with her bandmates, wiping literal tears of glee from her eyes.

Stiles finally figures out what the Hales are.

They are demons.

---

Stiles has never been so happy to see the end of a school day. His arms are loaded with gift bags, a gigantic stuffed toy in the form of a blue and orange basketball (Derek really thinks he’s being funny with that one), and balloons. It wont fit in his locker so he has to carry it around with him, and if everyone wasn’t already paying attention to him, well they are now, which really isn’t helping his case.

He gets that Laura means well, but he could have done without all the razzle-dazzle. He really could have. They'll have to talk about this at some point.

It’s more than a relief when the last period of school is spent with every student crammed in the school’s gymnasium for a pep rally. For one blissful hour, Stiles isn’t the center of attention.

The focus is on both the basketball and the swim teams, who both have home games tonight. They announce each player and the students make a show of cheering (as it is a point of showing school pride). The cheering gets earsplitting when Derek is announced, and Stiles has to roll his eyes in grudging amusement as Derek cups a hand to his ear, pretending not to be able to hear them chanting his name. He’s got such a showy and smug attitude as he shoulders the student body attention like a king that’s due his praise. He can only imagine what Derek must be like at an actual game.

Soon after, Cora and the rest of the marching band steal the show when they perform a mash-up of Nicki Minaj’s Superbass and Maroon 5’s Payphone, along with Laura and her squad, who dance to the rhythm of their playing.

Laura and Kate do the kind of backflips gymnasts would be jealous of while Cora takes on a solo that blows all other tuba routines out of the water.

When the crescendo of sound ends, Stiles claps along with everyone else because that was one impressive display of entertainment.

Stiles is almost sorry that he’s going to miss the games tonight.

Almost.

---

His dad takes him and Isaac out for the best tacos in town at Ramona’s Taco Treasure (Boyd's family must be loaded) after they swing by the house so Stiles can deposit his gifts in his room for further inspection later. It is more than he expected to get, but he's never really been all that materialistic to begin with (except when it comes to books and comics).

Stiles gorges himself on chicken and steak tacos as his dad looks on in amusement while he and Isaac share a platter of loaded nachos.

His dad thinks its really funny when he pays a mariachi band to sing happy birthday in Spanish to Stiles as he takes pictures, which he claims will be framed and placed on top of his desk at the station for all to see.

When it seems that Stiles has had his fill of both tacos and the mariachi band, his dad sends them on their way. He says, “Okay, kiddo. Present time.”

Stiles frowns and takes the thin piece of paper his dad hands over to him. “Uh, dad — not to sound ungrateful but — I thought you said I wasn’t on punishment until tomorrow and this seems like —”

“Just look at the paper,” his dad says, forever fondly exasperated.

Stiles frowns again as he straightens the wrinkles out of the paper so he can read it. He blinks.

It’s a receipt.

For a driver’s ed class.

In the summer.

His dad chuckles as Stiles makes his way around the table and thanks him excitedly with a smothering hug. He hugs Stiles back before pushing him away gently. “Let Isaac give you his gift,” he says.

Stiles sits down and looks at Isaac expectantly.

Isaac hands him a pack of his favorite flavor of Fruit Roll-Ups, and a limited edition Spider-Man comic, the one he distinctly remembers yammering about during dinner three nights after Isaac first moved in. The fact that he had actually been listening gets Stiles so choked up that he doesn't even know what to say.

Isaac waits patiently regardless.

Stiles clears his throat several times before he says, “How — how did you get this?"

Isaac gives a humble shrug but taps the side of his nose before ducking his gaze.

"I just — I cant believe —" Stiles snaps his mouth shut before squaring his shoulders. "Can I hug you? I really want to hug you. The love I feel in my heart is demanding that we hug it out.”

Isaac keeps his gaze low, and he grins a little shyly, but he seems pleased that Stiles really likes his gift.

“Or I could just hug you spiritually,” Stiles swears, not wanting to make Isaac uncomfortable by forcing physical contact on him, even if it is affectionate gratitude. He's doing his best to learn Isaac's boundaries.

Isaac huffs but he doesn’t say anything as he reaches out and drags Stiles's plate closer so he can start in on the leftover steak tacos that Stiles hasn’t gotten to.

Stiles is so grateful to him for his gift that he hardly complains (as he would normally because tacos are his thing and he always means serious business when it comes to it), but Isaac gets a free pass.

Just this once.

On their way out of the restaurant, Stiles recognizes the face of one of his classmates from his last period class attached to one of those ‘M I S S I N G’ signs tacked to the restaurant’s bulletin board.

It dwells in the back of his mind for the rest of the night.

---

His dad doesn’t let them sleep in on the Friday that follows Stiles’s birthday. He herds them down into the kitchen and confiscates their phones, pointing to the newly installed house phone he has on the small counter between the stove and the refrigerator. Its a coral colored phone (made entirely of cheap shiny plastic), and it practically looks like some kind of toy phone from the 90's. The spiral cord connecting the phone to it's base seems to go on for miles and miles. You could practically jump rope with it.

Stiles feels inspired to tell his dad so, but since he's already in hot water, he refrains from doing so.

The sheriff also confiscates their laptops (including the brand new tablet he surprised Stiles with last night when they got home). He changes the password on the Wi-Fi, and on his Netflix account; locks every channel on their digital cable apart from C-Span, and removes all the game consoles from the living room because he is a crafty man. Since he already wouldn’t let Isaac nor Stiles have a TV in their room to begin with, there was no need to confiscate anything else.

“I will be calling periodically to ensure that you are where you should be. Once at noon, again at three, and once or twice before I come home,” the sheriff announces. “I should hear two voices when I call, understood?”

Stiles and Isaac nod drowsily, still wiping the sleep out of their eyes as they stretch with jaw-cracking yawns before blinking away the moisture in their eyes.

It’s spring break and they’re up at six in the morning.

Being grounded sucks.

“Notice that I have written a handful of household chores and yard work on the white board listed under your names,” his dad goes on to say as he gestures to the refrigerator like a model would to a brand new car on some kind of game show with glossy prizes. “I expect them to be done by the time I come home tonight, which will be around seven. Is that understood?”

Stiles and Isaac straighten at the sheriff's very pointed tone and nod again.

The sheriff nods, satisfied. “Make this easier on yourself, boys. If I get the feeling that you’ve learned your lesson, I might just grant you early release. It depends. Devices have to be earned back.” He exits the house without another word.

Stiles and Isaac go their separate ways and start in on their chores. It's alright at first, but Stiles gets anxious after a while just being by himself. Now that he's gotten used to having Isaac around, he's become kind of content with not always being at home by himself. So once or twice he'll (as subtly as he can) check up on Isaac and see what his progress is for his half of the chores (mainly just to reassure himself that the preteen is still there).

If Isaac notices, he says nothing about it — as he does with most things.

By noon, Stiles’s got a good portion done and he and Isaac are standing by the house phone in the kitchen with the sheriff on the other end. Stiles talks and Isaac just hums without saying actual words. When his dad is satisfied that they’re where they should be, he hangs up.

The completion of all of their assigned chores happens around four, at which time, Stiles tries to proactively think of what they can do to kill time since all their electronic devices have been sequestered.

No one should have to lounge around in the living room, bored out of their minds as they stare at the walls like zombies while C-Span drones on in the background. This is more government than what their young minds deserve.

“That’s it,” Stiles says, peeling himself from the couch. “I can’t take this anymore. My mind wasn’t made to be idle. I'd rather be forced to search for a piece of hay in a needle-stack — or is it needle in a haystack? Whatever, still applies.”

Isaac says nothing from where he’s curled up in the armchair with a string of mozzarella he's idly chewing on but he watches Stiles pace the living room floor with flailing arms.

“We have to do something. Something other than just waiting for my dad to get home,” Stiles moans, wincing when he accidentally knocks his knee into the corner of the coffee table. He hops around, gripping his knee with both hands before the sting of the impact dulls down into nothing. Then he resumes his pacing and says, “Here, throw out some ideas. Just throw them at me. Anything on your mind, just swing it my way.”

Isaac stares at him blankly as he bites off another piece from his mozzarella string.

“Awesome,” Stiles replies, clapping his hands together. “Those all sound like a fun ideas, but for now, we’re going to put that in the ‘maybe pile’.”

Isaac huffs in amusement, but he doesn't quite roll his eyes.

Stiles bounces on the soles of his feet. “I would suggest swimming but we don't have a pool and even if we did, well, I don’t know how to, so I’m not ready to die anytime soon. Um. But I think there’s a trampoline in the garage. It’s not put together but we can put it together. It’s pretty wide so the setup might take a while.”

Isaac shrugs but that's enough of a green light for Stiles.

The assembly of the trampoline takes approximately an hour because none of the instructions are in English, and lucky for them, Stiles knows enough French to get a general idea of where everything is supposed to go.

His dad comes home with Chinese takeout and finds them bouncing up and down, or flipping (mostly Isaac is because Stiles doesn’t have the coordination to flip) on the rectangle trampoline in the back of the house. “Be careful,” he warns, voice colored with fatherly concern. “You’ve already got a sprained wrist. No need to add to that.”

“Dad, it’s cool. It’s cooler than cool. It's ice cold,” Stiles pants as he bounces. “We’ve totally safety-proofed it!” He points to the net enclosure fixed to the edges of the trampoline.

His dad looks slightly skeptical but he shakes his head in dubious approval and disappears inside.

“Do that flip again,” Stiles excitedly begs to Isaac and cheers when the preteen does a perfect layout.

Isaac gives a showy bow that hides his small smile and Stiles laughs as he keeps cheering as much as Isaac keeps flipping.

After dinner, Stiles talks Isaac into camping out with him on the trampoline since it’s the perfect weather for it. They alternate between jumping around their blankets and pillows, to thumb wrestling (Isaac hasn’t got a chance, Stiles is pro at this), before they slip into some heated rounds of rock-paper-scissors (Stiles doesn’t stand a chance because apparently Isaac is pro at this).

From there they settle down side by side and gaze up at a cloudless starry sky.

Stiles points out different constellations in no real order and Isaac follows his finger as it jumps from star to star like a cat would if you jingled some string in front of it. He quiets down after a while and hums as he drums his fingers against his chest. He only notices fifteen minutes later that Isaac has fallen into a peaceful slumber beside him.

Isaac’s lying on his stomach and clinging to his pillow like he’s afraid it’ll be taken from him, as he does with most of his things.

It makes Stiles wonder sometimes.

He traces his eyes over the burn marks covering a good portion of Isaac’s face and neck, the delicate scarring of pale flesh looks almost pink and soft like an unripe peach. He gets this brief swell of greedy affection for the preteen, before it morphs into anger at how someone could treat or hurt Isaac in any way. Maybe it’s selfish or wrong of him to be glad that Isaac’s family is in jail, especially since he doesn’t know the whole story.

He kind of doesn’t want to.

Right before he falls asleep himself, he lets himself think about how much it’s going to suck to be on punishment when there’s no school, but he’s also grateful he’s not spending it alone.

---

No, but here’s the thing.

Isaac is awesome. Especially when he goes along with things without questioning it. Not that he speaks much, or at all — Stiles isn’t going to push — but he’s really enjoyable.

Here’s why:

After they finish some light yard work that Saturday morning, Stiles gets this idea that they should do some prank calls. It’s one in the afternoon and they’re sitting side by side on the kitchen floor.

Isaac has a phone book in his lap and he dials whatever number he wants to before he hands over the receiver. He’s also the one conducting the script for the prank calls using the whiteboard to wordlessly communicate what he wants Stiles to say (and boy does this kid have quite the imagination).

Stiles thinks Isaac is a comedy genius because he’ll have Stiles say things like, “Listen, buddy. Let’s get down to brass tacks here. There is — and firstly, let me just say I’m not blaming or accusing in you in any way — but somebody just keeps calling here and threatening to shave my poodle.”

The person on the other end starts fussing and Stiles has to cover his mouth as he snickers.

Isaac has an amused grin working its way onto his face as he continues to write on the white board. He aims the face of the whiteboard at Stiles and points.

Stiles nods quickly, clears his throat, and continues, “Sir! Sir! Sir, that is a prize dog and if anyone shaves my poodle we won’t be able to go to the nationals this year. Do you know what that will do to my reputation? To my family’s reputation? I come from a long line of poodle breeders, sir. My father was a poodle breeder, my grandfather was a poodle breeder, and his father was a poodle breeder. Try to understand — no, no, sir, listen. Are you some kind of new age cat lover? Is that what this is? Are you in on it too? Are you working for the cats?”

The person hangs up and Stiles falls over, choking back tears as Isaac hunts for another number so they can do it again.

It’s a woman this time and Isaac scribbles out a script on the whiteboard and makes Stiles say, “This is Obadiah from the cable company and I am calling to ask who in your house is downloading adult movies? Ma’am — ma’am, no — listen, I’m looking at it right now. Our system is showing that someone is downloading thousands of man on horse films and we are going to have to suspend your service.”

The woman on the phone starts screaming accusations at her husband and Stiles hangs up just as he starts to lose it.

They keep this up until his dad calls at three to check up on them. He seems amused and confused, if not slightly concerned, as to why Stiles keeps gasping out giggles as Isaac huffs out quiet little laughs. He hangs up on them when he can get no explanation and that’s the end of that.

Stiles says, “We should play fruit poker.”

Isaac says nothing but he shrugs.

Stiles learns to take that as the affirmation it is. He grabs a bag of red seedless grapes, and literally counts every single one and eats the last because otherwise it’ll be an uneven number before he divides it between them.

Isaac may be better at fruit poker than he anticipated, but Stiles gets his pride back when they switch over to UNO.

Stiles is king at UNO.

Isaac takes his losses with a grain of salt, quietly eating his share of winnings while he watches Stiles organize the UNO cards by number and color for no apparent reason after their last game.

After his dad calls around seven to say that he might not make it back tonight (while ignoring Stiles’s prying questions of why that is), Stiles decides to show Isaac how to make Mexican pizza with chili-spiced black-bean puree, tomatoes, olives, shredded lettuce and low-fat Jack cheese on a whole-wheat crust.

Isaac is an astute listener, and he seems to pick up on Stiles’s instructions really easily, so Stiles makes a mental note to cook with him more often.

They end the night camping in Isaac’s bedroom as Stiles looms on his knees by the window that faces the house next door and uses his dad’s binoculars to spy on the next door neighbors while Isaac lounges on top of his bed with a comic he’s borrowed from Stiles’s modest collection.

Stiles says, “I swear to god, they’re Witches. Or Casters. Definitely not Wiccan, though. There were a lot of those at my old school and they were a peaceful bunch. Did do a lot of protesting about the lack of Vegan options in the school cafeteria. Other than that...”

Isaac hums, which is major progress in Stiles’s books because he’s making sounds now — sounds at Stiles. He usually only bothers with sounds when his dad is involved.

Stiles is weirdly pleased that their relationship has progressed from nonverbal to slightly but still kind of nonverbal. He says, “But these guys...ladies...persons...I mean, them, or they — it’s like they never leave the house or come outside. Like ever. And I definitely never have seen them in the daylight. God, I wish I could look this stuff up. There’s something wrong with them.”

His dad had taken his encyclopedia of folklore and mythology as part of his punishment.

Stiles is pretty much out of luck until further notice. He glares through the binoculars and looks from window to window. “This isn’t just agoraphobia either because I can tell the difference between — oh dude, dude!

The neighbor’s back door swings open and two black boars come shuffling out.

Isaac is instantly at his side with a concerned but curious frown as he peers down into the backyard next door.

Stiles hands him the binoculars and they both watch the fat boars hobble down the steps and up the side of the house before they disappear out of sight down the street.

“What the hell was that?” Stiles asks. “Is that — do you think that was them? Did they shapeshift into some pigs? How evil. At least, I think so.”

Isaac huffs and hands him back the binoculars so he can return to his spot on the bed.

“I mean it,” Stiles grumbles as he watches the house through the binoculars. “They’re up to something. This is serious!"

Isaac makes himself comfortable on his bed and resumes reading the comic in his hands.

Stiles frowns in disappointment. "Man, why is no one taking this to heart but me? And there's only so much I can do now that we're grounded. And if — if I can’t follow them, then I’ll wait and see if they come back as themselves.”

Isaac doesn't comment on this plan.

Stiles stays faithfully by that window all night, even long after Isaac tucks in for bed.

The black boars don’t return until dawn, fur caked with mud and something else Stiles can’t quite make out.

His gut is telling him that he needs to keep an eye on this.

---

Sunday afternoon finds Stiles at the Beacon Hills Library. It’s the biggest library he’s ever seen. Okay, maybe not the biggest, but it’s definitely in the top 100.

When Stiles explains to his dad that he needs to leave the house for tutoring, his dad just drops him and Isaac off and says, “I’ll be back in an hour.” before he drives off to do weird dad stuff (whatever that entails).

Isaac goes straight to the manga/comic section while Stiles marches over to the reference desk to ask the lady sitting behind it if she can direct him to the study room reserved under Paige’s name.

The room is located on the fourth floor.

Paige is typing away on her phone when Stiles arrives and she doesn't look up as she points to the round table where she has a range of practice sheets spread out.

Stiles sighs and sits down before he gets to work. It takes him thirty minutes to complete all five worksheets, and ten minutes for Paige to go over them with a contemplative frown.

Paige says, “This is terrible.”

“I know.”

Paige snorts and says, “Now I have an idea of what you need help with.”

“Everything?” Stiles jokes and sits up as she starts making corrections with a strongly scented red marker.

Paige explains the corrections as she goes, and then she copies them onto some flashcards so he can take it home with him and study it. She then goes over them again until she feels confident that he understands.

Stiles is relieved to see that he is actually getting it, which makes him only trust even more in Paige’s capability.

Paige gathers her things and says, “Same time next week. Bring all the homework you've done so far.”

Stiles nods and watches her leave with her gaze back on her phone again (in the back of his mind, he notices Derek's name flash across the screen). But he hardly gives it any thought as he looks at the clock on the wall and is surprised to see that he still has five minutes until his dad comes to collect them. So he wanders down to the first floor and eyes the bulletin board.

He sees that same ‘M I S S I N G’ sign from the other night crammed between three other ones. An alarm goes off in his head coaxing him to take notice, and before he can let himself think about it, he’s glancing around discreetly before he yanks down the signs, folds them, and pockets them.

He doesn’t let himself forget to look up the Hales in the phonebook when he gets home so he can somehow get ahold of Peter.

The number listed is disconnected.

Stiles tries to talk his dad into giving him his phone back but to no avail.

Those folded missing signs he has in the back pockets of his jeans feel like tiny anchors.

He resigns to the fact that he’ll have to wait it out.

---

Monday afternoon goes like this:

Stiles is sitting out on his front porch steps with the Sudoku book Paige forced on him when Erica, Lydia, and Allison pull up and climb out of Mrs. Martin’s car. She waves at Stiles briefly from through the passenger window before she starts barking into her phone like she’s screaming at the actual phone and not the person on the other end of it.

Erica tries to creep up on Stiles and scare him (with no luck) while Allison shoots him a dimpled smile and knocks her fist lightly into his shoulder.

Lydia doesn’t say much of anything. She’s got bags under her eyes. She seems really subdued.

Stiles can probably guess why that is. He’s heard from Scott a while back that Lydia’s folks weren't doing so great, and it was looking like divorce was inevitable. He feels bad for Lydia. That kind of thing can suck.

“You guys are such losers for getting grounded during spring break,” Erica complains as she aims the slingshot in her hand at the leaves of the large tree in the Miller’s yard next door. She looks like a female version of Bart Simpson. “This is like visiting a friend in prison. And I would know — I’ve actually done that.”

“Why does that not even surprise me?” Stiles puts his Sudoku book down and gives them all his full attention. “Where’s the rest of the gang?”

“Well, as you already know, Scott is at the hospital with his mom because she doesn't trust him by himself now that he’s grounded. We sat with him for a quick second before Ms. McCall chased us off. Man, Scott was so bored, he looked close to tears,” Erica rambles and she sounds heavily amused. Her gaze is still focused on that tree though, like she’s waiting for something. “Boyd and his family went to Haiti for some kind of family reunion. While Malia is vacationing in Mexico in Cancun with her family. Danny and Jackson haven’t seen the outside of a workout gym, and we’re just here with you in all your grounded lameness.”

Stiles says, “Don’t be rude.”

“Don’t break curfew and get caught,” Erica retorts cleverly as she looks at him and releases the sling, sending a stone flying at a speed faster than a dart shot from a tranquilizer gun.

There’s a pained squawk, followed by the collapse of an owl.

Erica grins triumphantly, jamming her slingshot in her back pocket and stalks towards it like she plans on ripping it apart with her delicately slim fingers and eating it.

“Oh, come on, Erica,” Allison complains, looking a little green. “You have to stop doing that.”

Erica shrugs, licking at her front teeth like she's trying to root out a piece of food, and cocks her head as she pokes the immobile bird with her foot. “What? It’s just a bird. Oh, wait — I forgot who I was talking to. My bad, Ms. Viola Vegetarian.”

Allison glares as her cheeks warm with a healthy shade of red. "You can be such a dick sometimes," she complains.

“This is very true. However, how do you know I didn’t just balance the scales of nature? You wouldn’t yell at the owl for eating a rat, which I’m sure he did,” Erica says rubbing at the tip of her nose as if to rid herself of an itch. She shrugs at them all like she's made a valid point. “Whenever my dad takes me and my brothers hunting, he always says that there are no rules in the Wild Kingdom. No guilt in the Circle of Life. Survival of the fittest. You all know how that saying goes.”

“We’re not in the wild kingdom, and the Millers will call the cops on you if you don’t get off their lawn,” Stiles warns lightly, making a face when Erica picks up the dead owl like it’s no big deal before launching it onto the roof of the Millers house and out of sight. “You’re bad.”

Erica grins and shapes her hands into guns before shooting invisible bullets his way. Her grin widens when he goes along with it, pretending to be hit as he jerks his body with a pained sound. “The apex predator shows no mercy,” she intones with a deep voice.

Allison rolls her eyes as she drops down in the space to Stiles’s left. “So, um — where’s Isaac?” she asks, maybe a little too casually.

“In the house. Napping,” Stiles replies and willfully ignores the way she keeps glancing at his front door like she wants to go inside and find him. “We made some coconut ginger snaps and I think it wore him out.”

Ooh, I want some,” Erica says and grabs Allison by the hand so she can drag the brunette in with her. “Where is it?”

“Kitchen table, and sure, go ahead into my house. Make yourselves at home,” Stiles mutters, but mostly to himself since the two girls have already disappeared inside. He sighs and shakes his head before he notices that Lydia is just standing there at the base of the steps, her gaze pinned to the house next door with this sort of haunted look. “Lydia?”

Lydia twitches as her eyes begin to water. Quietly, almost like a whisper, she says, “Do you hear that?”

Stiles frowns with concern. “What?”

That,” Lydia insists lowly as her hands open and close at her sides. “Don’t you hear it? The whispers. Like they're in the trees. Voices of children. Weeping.”

Stiles stands and tries to listen. He can’t hear anything other than the sprinklers from across the street and the lawn mower humming loudly from two houses over. He walks down the steps until he’s right in front of her but she doesn’t look at him. “What whispers, Lydia? Are you talking about my neighbor's house?”

Lydia shakes her head as she folds her trembling lips together in a flat line. Her gaze is clouded in dread. Her shoulders start to quiver.

Stiles reaches out to touch her. “Lydia — what whispers? What are —”

“I have to go,” Lydia says quickly, flinching away. She seems at a loss, like she’s not altogether there. Her gaze is still unfocused. But more than anything, she appears freaked out. “I have to — can you tell them to come on or I’m leaving with — without them. I have to leave.” She turns and strides quickly to her mother’s car.

Stiles watches her wrench open the door and climb in. She stares straight ahead as she rocks back and forth, back and forth, back and forth before she claps her hands over her ears. Her mother immediately kills the call she's on to rest her hands on Lydia's shoulders, and it looks almost like she's trying to talk her daughter through a panic attack.

Erica and Allison come back out on their own.

“It’s not —" Stiles is a little thrown. His coherency is escaping him. "Lydia’s not feeling good, I don’t think,” he announces as he turns to look to them. "I don't really know what happened. She said she could hear —" He shakes his head. "I don't know what she said," he lies.

Erica’s cramming two cookies in her mouth and shrugs like she could care less as she wipes crumbs from the corner of her lips.

Allison looks towards the car with a furrowed brow, though. “Okay — yeah, okay. We’ll see you later, Stiles,” she says starting down the steps and brushing past him. “Erica, come on. We have to go.”

God,” Erica complains as she grudgingly follows. “Lydia having another one of her episodes again? I’m so sick of this. She needs like, professional help or something. She's always been so twitchy. I mean I get that she's autistic or whatever...”

Stiles watches the two of them climb into the car before it pulls off. He looks towards the neighbor’s house in question and watches as the curtains in the front window flutter close quickly.

---

On Tuesday morning, while Stiles is mowing the lawn, and covertly (but maybe not so covertly) watching the house next door, Danny and Jackson roll up on their mountain bikes with their lacrosse gear.

Danny says, “We heard you were grounded. We just want to make sure you’re not any worse off because of it, if that makes sense. We always practice whenever we can. So since you couldn’t come to us, we came to you.”

Stiles smiles and Danny gives him a dimpled grin.

Jackson rolls his eyes and says, “Alright, enough sappy shit. No slacking during spring break, Stilinski. Gear up.”

“Watch your mouth,” Stiles mutters but he jogs into the house and up to his room to change. He stops by Isaac’s room on the way back out and says, “Wanna watch me practice? I suck eggs, so it should be epic. Wouldn’t want you to miss it.”

Isaac huffs quietly but he rolls out of bed, slips into some sneakers and follows Stiles out the front door. He doesn't acknowledge Danny or Jackson (which isn't all that surprising).

Danny tries a few times to engage Isaac in some light conversation (elbowing Jackson to get him in on the action much to his reluctance) but the younger pre-teen isn't having it. He basically ignores everyone but Stiles as he gears up until Danny and Jackson get the point.

Stiles can't figure out if this behavior is because Isaac's shy or he's stuck up. Isaac sometimes reminds him of a cat.

“My backyard’s pretty decent,” Stiles supposes when he meets Danny and Jackson at the bottom of his porch steps. “Let’s go back there.”

Jackson makes him stretch and then forces him into suicides before they do some actual drills the moment they step foot in the backyard.

Danny guides him with a tender hand, patient and understanding.

Jackson is a lot firmer, more demanding and unyielding.

They come at him as a united front.

Isaac looks on at them like he pities Stiles, or maybe that’s just Stiles projecting.

Three hours later, Stiles is sprawled on his back like a starfish as he gasps wetly at the darkened blue sky.

Danny and Jackson leave him there with a list of things to do everyday on his own. Danny pats him on the shoulder and praises him while Jackson shakes his head at him like he’s hopeless.

They mount their bikes and leave.

Isaac is the one to drag him into the house and he shoves him up the steps towards the bathroom.

Stiles can take the hint.

---

On Wednesday, his dad has a day off and he takes Stiles and Isaac with him when he goes grocery shopping. Mainly because Stiles begs him.

“Hey dad, what does it say about me that this is the most fun I’ve had in what feels like forever?” Stiles asks as he goes flying down the aisle with the shopping cart he’s straddling.

“It says my punishment is working,” his dad replies as he drags his gaze back and forth between two boxes of cereals, bouncing them up and down like he's acting as a human scale. “I honestly don’t see the difference with this. They both taste like cardboard.”

“It’s heart healthy, and very high in fiber,” Stiles remarks as he rolls up and bumps into his dad's hip purposely with the end of the shopping cart.

Isaac dumps a box of cookies and creme pop-tarts in the cart.

Stiles puts it back and switches it out for yogurt flavored granola bars. He ignores the look Isaac shoots him and says, “Sorry, buddy. Can’t have anything in the house that’ll tempt the old man. You saw what he did to those cookies you made the other day. We want to keep him ticking for a little while longer. Unfortunately, he needs our help in order to do that because he’s got no self-control.”

“I have plenty of self-control,” the sheriff argues and tries to sneak a porterhouse steak into the cart (and when did he get that and where has he been hiding it?).

Stiles switches it out for five packs of tilapia instead once they hit the frozen food section.

“I’m the sheriff. I should be able to eat what I want,” his dad grumbles as he follows Stiles over to the produce section. He makes a face when Stiles starts comparing eggplants. “I am very sure that you are going to make those disgusting things into a pass for lasagna and I have to draw the line there.”

“It’s called eggplant parmesan. Also, experts believe that substituting meat regularly increases health faster than vitamin supplements taken daily,” Stiles argues.

“Lies,” his dad mutters. “I want you to stop reading things like that. I sure as hell will not be eating woodchips just because you read somewhere that some govermence scienticians gave it the okay.”

Stiles cracks up at that.

His dad smiles wryly. But then he frowns when Stiles puts more eggplants into the cart. “Stiles…”

“I’m prolonging your life out of love,” Stiles quips and tosses a variety of vegetables into the cart.

“I should have left you at home,” his dad complains. His dad throws his hands up when Stiles puts some asparagus in the cart. “That’s it. I’m getting some powdered donuts and you will damn well let me.”

Stiles snorts and watches his dad storm off, taking Isaac with him like he’s starting a rebellion or something. He turns his cart and collides right into Laura’s.

Laura looks really annoyed at first, but when she sees that it’s just him, her whole demeanor changes. She smiles so widely that her brown eyes light up with it. “Hey, Blue! Long time no see. You’re just the person I wanted to run into. No pun intended, of course.”

Stiles snorts at the irony but then he remembers Thursday and he frowns meanly. “I’m still mad at you,” he swears. "I told you not to do any of that kind of stuff. I was mortified. Cora was loving it, which seems to be a running theme that if I'm unhappy, she's happy, and if she's unhappy, I'm even unhappier."

Laura gives him a grin that could rival the Cheshire cat. "Sorry, Stiles. I just wanted to do something nice, and yes, I may have gone overboard." She raises her right hand like she's making a vow. "From now on, I'll do something very low key for your birthday." Then she wrinkles her nose and says, “Why do you smell like — do you have a cat — two cats, maybe?”

Stiles is getting to the point where when any of the Hales say things like this to him, he isn’t even phased. He says, “No. I don’t. Why? Are you saying I smell like a litter box?” He turns his head and sniffs at his shoulder. He doesn't smell a thing. “I took a shower this morning,” he says quietly, mainly to himself in question.

Laura’s nose is still wrinkled like the smell couldn’t be any clearer. Then she says, “Consider taking another, Stiles.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Thanks, Laura. You make me feel so good.”

Laura winks. “Don't be so sensative. It's coming from a good place. Oh! Next week is spirit week. I fully expect you to participate.”

“Spirit week?” Stiles echoes and it dawns on him. “Homecoming.”

Laura nods and says, “You should go.”

“It’s a dance, right? I’m terrible at those. Parties make me so nervous. I'm always never sure like how into it I'm supposed to be, you know. Like should I be socializing more, or do I just hover around until I'm included? Do I talk to the people I know? Do I try and go outside my usual circle? Does everyone see I'm trying to hard? Am I not trying hard enough?” Stiles rambles. “You see? It’s more stressful than fun for me.”

“You've certainly put a lot of thought into it, but I got your back. If you really overthink these things, then go with me and I'll distract you.”

Stiles blinks. “You want me to do what now?”

“Homecoming. You. Me. Together.”

Stiles stares at her and then looks around because he’s very confused about what’s happening here.

Laura waits patiently with an amused smirk.

“I — you want to — why would you want to go with me?” Stiles asks.

Laura counters the question by saying, “You don’t want to go with me?”

Stiles flushes because of course he does. He’d probably follow Laura into a slaughterhouse like a good little lamb if she smiled very prettily at him but she really doesn’t need to know that. He'll definitely have to keep the fact that he idolizes the hell out of Laura to his grave. It's just that...socially, she's everything that he'd want to be. “Isn’t there someone else you had in mind as first choice?” he presses, shaking off the thought.

“Yup,” Laura quips. “I’m talking to him.”

Stiles is understandably suspicious. "I meant an actual date."

Laura laughs. “Just sleep on it. No pressure or anything. Hello, Sheriff.” She flicks her gaze up and over Stiles’s shoulder. She cocks her head when she looks at Isaac, who shies away from her gaze by standing behind the sheriff. Then she wrinkles her nose with a teasing grin. "Huh. The cat smell is starting to make sense."

Isaac glares at her and hides further behind the sheriff.

Stiles is understandably confused.

His dad dumps a large container of powdered donuts in the cart as he says, “Laura. How are you?”

“Very well, thank you.” Laura looks at Stiles briefly and then back to the sheriff, then back to Stiles with a mischievous gleam in her eye before she says, “You know, it’s good you’re here. I wanted to ask if it would be okay if Stiles joined us for dinner this Saturday? We might go to homecoming together, and my mom will want to meet him beforehand if that’s the case. You know how parents can be these days.”

Stiles flushes as his dad lifts both his brows in surprise and then tosses him an appraising look that clearly relays how impressed he is that Stiles has someone like Laura asking after him like this. Stiles has never been the type to make nice with cheerleaders. He says, “He’s grounded, but — I’m sure I can make some allowances.”

Laura beams. "I certainly appreciate it. I've become very fond of Stiles."

His dad nods before he looks between them. Then he takes the cart and mutters something about heading towards the check-out line, dragging Isaac with him as if to give them a moment alone.

“You are just as devious as Peter,” Stiles accuses when his cheeks return to normal color. “Seriously. Are all you Hales this willful?”

“Most likely,” Laura supposes lightly. "You'll have to come over and meet the rest of my family to be sure, you know. Might help you understand us all a little better." She digs into her purse and writes down her number, along with her address on the back of an old receipt from the dry cleaners before she hands it to him. “See you Saturday. Let me know about homecoming, okay?”

Stiles watches Laura glide away, baffled and slightly stupefied.

It’s not until he’s helping his dad load the groceries into the trunk of his squad car does he realize that Laura’s cart had been filled with nothing but red meat.

---

All of Thursday and Friday finds Stiles and Isaac on their own. His dad mumbles something about grave robberies and that’s the most Stiles hears about it.

Stiles is so unbelievably curious about what’s been going on in the community. He’s hasn’t been able to keep track since his dad always nabs the morning paper before he can get to it (another crafty addition to his punishment). Plus his dad refuses to share any of what he reads, and he definitely doesn’t budge when it comes to his job.

So Stiles has to distract himself by baking like Martha Stewart, or monopolizing Isaac’s attention or trying to pick the lock of the basement door where his dad is keeping everything (his books, the electronics, etc.).

It’s so torturing. Stiles is forced to do math for fun. Math.

His only other source of entertainment is spying on the next door neighbors or timing that eerie orange cat when it sits on the curb across the street under a glowing lamp like some kind of character out of Harry Potter.

The two old women from next door never leave their house faithfully. It’s unnatural. Just about as unnatural as the black boars they let out every night, which Stiles is just a smidge suspicious could just be them in disguise.

But Stiles doesn’t know because he doesn’t have the equipment he needs to research.

It figures the one time Stiles kind of hopes Peter pops up on his doorstep, he doesn’t actually.

Life, at the moment, sucks.

---

Saturday evening, Stiles is forced to wear something nice by his dad because apparently first impressions are important. So he puts on some dark jeans, a dark blue button down shirt his grandma bought him like two Christmases ago, and a white tie. He feels awkward about it as he stands in the kitchen, trying to decide whether or not he should tuck his shirt in.

His dad approves from where he's settled at the kitchen table in his uniform, even though he does raise his eyebrows at how snuggly fit Stiles's shirt is. “Really trying to give Laura and her family an eyeful, huh?”

Stiles shoots him a look. "Funny, dad. Hilarious."

Isaac spares him a quick glance over another one of Stiles’s comics he’s borrowed as he sits on the opposite side of the table. He gives Stiles a once over, lifts a brow before returning his gaze to the comic in his hands like he couldn't be bothered to comment.

Stiles blushes anyway because that one look was enough and he just flails his hands because it’s the only button down he has and it’s not like that. Laura and Stiles have a platonic relationship. Platonic. Like brother and sister.

His dad leaves him alone and thankfully doesn’t say anything else as he rises to his feet.

Isaac continues reading as he follows them out the front door and settles in the back seat with Stiles when they reach the sheriff’s squad car.

Outside of when his dad stops by Ramona’s Flower Shop and buys a bouquet of tulips for Stiles so he doesn’t show up empty handed, the rest of the ride is spent with the three of them riding in silence as his dad’s radar beeps and chirps with a female dispatcher’s voice.

Stiles dismantles Hamlet’s infamous ‘to be or not to be’ speech in his head as a way to distract himself from how nervous he is. That line of thinking just jumps into a recalled scene from an old Godzilla movie (the one where it battles King Kong), before he ends up just thinking about Buffy and comparing her to Peter (once again).

His dad pulls down a private road once they reach the preserve and goes all the way up the drive until they reach a beautiful three-story house.

Peter’s sitting on the porch in a rocking chair. He’s lazily flipping through the pages of a large book (Montessori Learning in the 21st Century) on his lap.

There’s a gang of kids and preteens running around, chasing each other and tackling one another into the grass. Most of them don’t even have their shirts on (or their shoes).

Stiles glares at the back of his dad’s head because he feels extremely overdressed. “Let’s turn around. Say I’m sick.”

His dad snorts. "I don't condone lying, son. You'll be fine."

"Why do you hate me?"

"Stiles, it'll make a good first impression," his dad promises.

Dispatch to Sheriff Stilinski.”

His dad picks up and says, “Go ahead.”

We’ve got a 10-54 and a 10-57 being reported from Deputy Tara at Prairie Hills. She’s already at the scene. She’s requesting your presence. It's already generating a lot of media attention.

The sheriff sighs. "Well, it's Prairie Hills. We know what tax bracket resides there."

"Should I tell them you're on your way?"

"Please do."

"Copy."

Stiles perks up. “Dad — that’s a possible dead body and a missing person right?”

“How do you —”

“Can I come? If you’re taking Isaac, then I should get to come too,” Stiles argues.

His dad shifts around in his seat to glare at him. Then he climbs out and opens the back door for him as he shoves the bouquet of tulips in his arms. “You will not be rude. You’re staying here for dinner, and Isaac is going to be dropped off at the station. Now get out of here before I drag you out.”

“But —”

His dad gives him a look that has him stumbling out of the squad car.

“I’ll be back to pick you up later. Please behave,” his dad urges before he climbs in.

Stiles watches him turn the car around as he waves lazily. When he turns, all of the kids are watching him with curious eyes. “Uh —”

“Let’s get him!” someone shouts.

Stiles widens his eyes and squawks out an embarrassing array of sounds as they all tackle him into the grass like mini-football players. He let’s out a soft oomph as they pile on top of him, squirming like worms, and sticking their noses on different parts of his body and oh god is someone licking him?

“Okay, that’s enough. Scram, you little fiends,” Peter tsks as strolls over before he nods his head towards the back of the house. “I think Mr. Ravenhill found those accursed bubble sticks you're all so fond of. Go and check.”

Everyone climbs off of Stiles and runs towards the back of the house with excited yips and yells.

Stiles continues to lie out on the grass under the remains of mauled and shredded tulips. “Who is Mr. Ravenhill?”

“Our groundskeeper,” Peter merely says and pauses as if to say more. In the end he just shakes his head and eyes Stiles from his position on the ground. “Are you planning on lying there all evening?

“I should have known,” Stiles says dazedly. “That this wasn’t going to be some normal experience.”

Peter smirks and offers his right hand.

Stiles doesn’t take it. He rolls away and stumbles to his feet without his help. He sniffs and dusts himself off. “Who were all those kids?” he asks.

“More family. Cousins mostly. A few nieces and nephews included,” Peter explains as he shoves him towards the house. “It’s spring break, so the house is at its fullest capacity. Don’t you look nice? What’s the occasion?”

Stiles blushes and bats away Peter’s hands. “I — my dad made me wear this okay? Laura invited me to — wait, she didn’t tell you?”

“No,” Peter admits with a thoughtful frown. “This means she’s up to something. I’m hurt she’s not cluing me in. I do love schemes.”

Stiles rolls his eyes because that couldn’t be more true. “Where is Laura anyway?”

“Out and about with the other grownups, stalking this evenings kill,” Peter replies and flashes him a sharp smile that’s all teeth. “Derek and Cora are around if you want to say hi.”

“Uh — no. I don’t — no thanks. That's gonna have to be a hard pass from me,” Stiles says meekly. He has a feeling that if Peter didn’t know he was coming, neither did they. “The women next door to my house are — you remember when you said something about your library?”

Peter nods as he returns to the rocking chair and his book.

“Could I — do you think maybe it’d be okay if — I’d like to, you know,” Stiles stammers. "You said you had a collection of your own."

Peter looks deeply amused. “Sure. I’ll get one of the munchkins to take you,” he decides.

Stiles nods, unsure.

Peter turns his head and softly says, as if the kid is right beside him, “Tyson. Come show our guest to the family study.”

Stiles watches in amazement as a red-haired preteen boy with brown freckles and blue eyes appears from around the side of the house not even a moment later with an annoyed frown.

“Why do I have to take him? Will you pay me for this? I’m twelve now, I don’t do things for free anymore,” Tyson complains but he doesn’t protest when Peter tugs him close and whispers something in his ear. Tyson lights up and smirks devilishly with a snort as he glances at Stiles calculatingly.

Stiles is slightly worried. “What? What is he saying to you? Whatever it is, please don’t.”

Peter pulls away from Tyson with a blankly innocent face and returns to his book.

Stiles is super worried.

“Come on, dipstick,” Tyson says as he brushes past Stiles, taking care not to physically touch him in anyway, and heads toward the door.

“My name is Stiles. Stiles.”

“Good for you,” Tyson says as they walk inside and wow. It’s even nicer indoors then it is out.

Stiles marvels at the real warmth and homely feel of it all. Most homes you go to give off that synthetic “our house is better than your house and we’re proving it by how much materialistic stuff we have” vibe. But this place just feels so very lived in. There’s different toys randomly placed, as well as books that are cracked open like someone has just been reading them not even a second ago.

There are framed pictures on the walls and on the furniture. Different articles of clothes strewn here and there like they’d been tossed in someone’s haste to get them off. There’s musical instruments that are as randomly placed as the sports gear. Some things are even labeled with someone’s name on it, but most of it just has the inscription of some swirly kind of insignia or says Hale if not. The house is — it’s so — it feels just as alive as the people that reside there.

Stiles never thought it could be possible to fall in love with a place — with someone else's home. But he’s — he doesn’t know what he is. He just feels so very comfortable here. Like he belongs, or like he's been here before. It’s a float-y kind of sensation that borders on the resemblance of déjà vécu. Not that Stiles would personally know, but he’s read things (stories, accounts, etc.) and he figures this must be like that.

As Tyson leads him up a spiraling staircase and down the hall, past doors that are named with the person it belongs to, Stiles realizes that the smell of jasmine he always picks up from Laura and Derek and Cora and Peter is from this house. It smells heavily of jasmine.

Stiles follows Tyson through a set of double doors at the end of the hallway with that same swirly insignia carved into the middle of them. They open up to a large study lined with tall walls of bookshelves that are brimming with books — the spines of them different textures — and some of them are weathered and worn, while others are in perfect mint condition.

Stiles has found euphoria. It’s like a scene out of Beauty and the Beast.

Tyson treads over to a tall stepladder and climbs it. “Uncle Peter thinks you’d like this one the best.”

Stiles stands at the base of the ladder when Tyson motions him closer.

“Oops, look out.”

Stiles doesn’t have time to duck when the book comes flying at his face, and he falls onto his back with a groan and cradles his throbbing nose. When he pulls his hands away, he can see blood. He groans louder and cradles it again as his blood drips warm and sticky down his mouth and chin and onto his shirt.

“What did you do?” a voice growls from the doorway.

Stiles blinks away some watery pain as Derek falls into his line of sight. He’s staring down at him with his brow furrowed in annoyed concern. “I hope —” Stiles pauses so he can choke back another groan because the pain is intense. “I hope you’re not blaming me for this.”

Derek frowns deeper and says, “What are you even doing here? And I know Laura invited you, but I meant in this room. It was Uncle Peter wasn't it?” He doesn’t wait for an answer because he’s bodily lifting Stiles onto his feet and okay, are all of them this freakishly strong? Derek glares over at Tyson accusingly.

Tyson tries to look as innocent as possible. “It was an accident. I had one of those, um, those — clumsy slips.”

Derek gives him a flat look before he ushers Stiles out of the study with insistent hands and towards his room and then into it.

Stiles glances around, barely catching glimpses of the basketball posters on the walls before Derek shoves him into a large bathroom and onto the edge of the tub.

“Tilt your head forward. It’ll stop you from choking on the blood,” Derek says as he shuffles through the cabinets noisily for some kind of hand towel. When he finds one, he wets it with lukewarm water.

Stiles blinks wetly at the tiles on the floor until Derek looms over him with the towel before he drops to his knees and gives him an expectant look.

“Move your hands.”

“No.”

“I can’t help if you don’t let me see.”

“I don’t want your help so you don't need to see.”

Derek shoots him an impatient look.

“No,” Stiles protests as Derek wraps the impossibly long fingers of his left hand around both of Stiles’s wrists and geez, how big are his hands? “It’s broken. I’ll probably have to get cosmetic surgery because your cousin deformed me. Why are all you Hales so evil?”

Derek rolls his eyes and gently pries Stiles’s hands from his face. His eyes flicker over every detail of Stiles’s face in a way that makes him fidget.

Stiles feels his cheeks slowly fill with heat when Derek traces his pointer finger down the bridge of his nose gently before pulling his hand away.

“Not broken,” Derek decides quietly and stares at the blood on his mouth for two beats of silence, nostrils flaring. He leans forward a little like he’s hypnotized before he jerks back with wide eyes and tosses the towel at Stiles’s face.

It lands with a wet smack, and when Stiles tugs it off to complain, Derek has already vanished. He doesn’t get a chance to even question the other teen’s weird behavior because the door on the other end of the bathroom opens and Cora strolls in.

Obviously she and Derek share a bathroom.

He briefly wonders what that must be like and he gets this amusing thought of the two of them in some type of old western (cowboy) stand-off over who gets to take the first hot shower.

“Thought I smelled blood,” Cora says, grabbing his attention before his thoughts can really run away with him. She eyes him thoughtfully.

"You can smell blood?" Stiles mumbles skeptically.

Cora disregards the question to ask, “What happened to you?”

“Your cousin Tyson,” Stiles mutters disdainfully as he walks over to the mirror and starts wiping his face clean.

Cora snorts like she's not even surprised before returning to her room and slamming the bathroom door behind her.

Stiles stares at his reflection in the mirror and sighs at the spreading bruise forming on the bridge of his nose where the edge of the book made contact. Then he sighs even harder at how utterly ruined his shirt and tie is by the blood. He doesn’t even have a change of clothes.

Derek is sitting on his bed with his back to the headboard when Stiles exits the bathroom. He’s tossing miniature basketballs at the rim mounted to the wall by the bathroom door.

Peter strolls in and with a totally insincere look of concern, says, “I heard what happened.”

“I don’t like you,” Stiles fumes.

Derek snorts and makes another shot. Nothing but net. Show off.

Peter feigns a look of hurt. “Really? I was only trying to do something nice. It’s not my fault that Tyson took it upon himself to get creative. You should know that I punished him for it.”

Tyson literally walks pasts Derek’s open doorway with — are you serious — two scoops of freaking chocolate mint ice cream.

Derek lifts a brow, but he still seems a little amused.

“I am going to strangle you,” Stiles threatens.

“Why?” Peter looks genuinely confused but Stiles doesn’t buy it for a second.

“That’s not a punishment. That’s a reward, you potato with eyes,” Stiles complains, pointing an accusing finger at Peter.

Derek barks out a laugh and misses his next shot.

Stiles swears he hears Cora cackle in the next room.

Peter frowns, looking deeply hurt and appalled. “Trust me. That’s a punishment. He hates ice cream.”

Lies.”

“Derek, you should loan Stiles one of your shirts,” Peter airily remarks with an indifferent expression. “His current attire is in a rather unacceptable state.”

Stiles grits his teeth.

Derek suddenly looks uncomfortable. “I — that’s not — you have shirts too. Lend him one of yours.”

“I would but he’s not my size,” Peter says. Then he looks towards the windows. “I think I hear the others coming. I should probably lend a hand.” Then he’s gone before Derek can complain.

"Cora..."

"No chance! Just suck it up!" Cora yells from the other room.

Stiles fidgets as they’re left alone in an awkward silence. Since he doesn’t do so well with those, he says, “Its fine. I can — flip my shirt inside out?”

Derek makes a face before he sighs in resignation as he makes his way over to his dresser posted under his windows. He grumbles lowly as he yanks open the second drawer and rifles through it.

Cora cackles from the next room again, but it’s probably totally unrelated.

Derek marches over to him with a grumpy look and holds out a pea green short-sleeved Henley shirt.

Stiles gingerly accepts it but still asks, “You don’t — and listen, I’m not trying be annoying or anything — but you wouldn’t happen to have a different color because green really isn’t —”

Derek glares at him.

“Yup, this is fine,” Stiles says quickly, almost tearing the buttons of his shirt in his haste to get it off before remembering that it’d probably be a smart idea to take his tie off first. He would ask Derek, but he’s a little too prideful for that. He chooses to struggle instead.

Derek tracks his movements with a judging head shake. “You’re a piece of work.”

“Yeah. Top quality work,” Stiles mutters as he continues to wrestle with his tie.

Derek sighs and bats his hands out of the way so he can take over.

Okay, so, this is one of those unforgettable moments that will not be forgotten because Talia Hale walks into the room.

Stiles and Derek both freeze, and honestly out of context this probably seems shady, because Stiles is standing there with an open shirt and Derek’s hands are slipping off his tie like he’s been the one undressing him. Not to mention the blood on his clothes.

Talia crosses her arms.

Derek’s back goes ramrod straight and he removes his hands like Stiles is a well-lit fire he shouldn’t be touching. “We were — mom, it’s not —”

Talia raises her hand and he quiets immediately. She pins Stiles under her heavy gaze and says, “I know. I’ve dealt with Tyson.” She smiles kindly and Stiles finally feels like he can breathe. “You must be the Stilinski boy I’ve heard so much about from my brother Peter and my daughter Laura. But I’ve also spoken at great lengths with your father, and he tells me how inexplicable you can be.”

Stiles says, “My dad likes to exaggerate.”

Talia chuckles. “As do all parents,” she agrees. “Derek, why don’t you go downstairs and help set the table? Dinner’s just about ready to be served. Take Stiles’s clothes with you and give them to your Nana so they can be washed.”

Stiles quickly takes off his shirt after he manages to slip his tie loose before he hands it over to Derek in exchange for his clean shirt. He slips it on and watches Derek slide past his mother, pausing when she cups the back of his neck gently to whisper something in his ear.

Derek’s shoulders tense up before they fall meekly.

Talia kisses his temple before urging him out the door.

Stiles fidgets when Talia’s probing gaze finds its way back to him. He says, “You have a — very lovely home, Mrs. Hale.”

Talia smiles and whoa, Stiles can see where Cora, Laura, and Derek get their good genes from. She straightens with pride and says, “Well thank you for saying as much. And please, call me Talia.”

Stiles just nods dumbly.

“Come walk with me, I’ll introduce you to everyone,” Talia says, cupping a heated palm over the back of his neck when he’s within reaching distance and guides him down the stairs and into a huge living room filled with people.

Stiles gets introduced to what feels like a miniature community. Each of them looms in his space, darts a glance towards Talia, who gives a subtle nod (weirdly), before they touch his right hand with their own right hand in a firm grip (always his right hand for some reason) and smiles hospitably. On and on this pattern continues through a line of cousins, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers — one after the other — all of them with the same distinctive features of dark hair (or dirty blonde) and hazel (or blue) eyes. There’s only about four kids who have red hair and green eyes, but that’s it.

Stiles knows that he should be paying attention to the significance of these exchanges but it’s hard to do because Derek is watching him with a distracting amount of intent from where he’s leaning against the wall with huge fluffy wolfish looking dogs with black, white, and grey fur sitting at his feet, along with their puppies.

Stiles recognizes the breed as Tibetan Mastiff. He’s read an article about them through his old subscription of Zoobooks back when he was six and read practically anything he could get his hands on.

Talia notices his shifted focus, and after she introduces him to Nana Hale, who kisses the back of his right hand before patting it sweetly as his cheeks go a little red at the way Peter smirks when all the kids titter in amusement at the gesture, he’s ushered over to Derek.

Talia gives her son a significant look and says, “Walk your brother-cousins and introduce them to Stiles. Fifteen minutes. Not a minute later.”

Derek nods and straightens, whistling sharply until all the dogs are standing to attention.

Stiles watches in fascination as the dogs trail behind Derek in a perfectly neat line as they follow him out the front door. He stumbles after them and down the porch steps, out towards the thrush of the woods. He catches up with Derek eventually.

Derek says, “There’s a stream we like to take them to.” and he leads Stiles there.

When they reach the wide creek, the dogs sit on their hind legs and look at Derek expectantly. He smiles softly and nods his head towards the river like he's wordlessly giving them permission and they all scatter, barking happily.

Stiles watches Derek watch them with a fond sort of half-smile, and he smiles a little himself before he can help it. He turns his face away quickly when Derek glances at him. He says, “What are their names?”

Derek goes down the line, pointing to each of them, big and small, and starts with the fully-grown ones before he ends with the puppies.

Stiles says, “This — it’s so cool. I wish I — and they’re so well-behaved too. Do you ever sell — are they individually owned or —”

“Stiles,” Derek says, sounding amused. “You’re all over the place.”

Stiles closes him mouth and grins sheepishly. “Yeah, I — sorry. That happens.”

“I noticed.” Derek suddenly looks embarrassed and uncomfortable. He shifts away to watch the puppies fight over a stick. “Each of us have our own. They’re gifted to us at a certain...point in our lives — but it’s different for everyone as far as when it happens — it’s kind of a complicated process. They’re more than pets. More than companions.”

“They’re family,” Stiles supposes and that gets Derek to look at him with this surprised and complicated look on his face. “Is that why your mom called them your brother-cousins?”

Derek nods but he doesn’t elaborate.

“Which one is yours?” Stiles asks as his gaze jumps around to each one. He’s counted at least a dozen so far. There could be more, but he’s not sure. They’re all over the place.

“Guess,” Derek says.

Stiles frowns and shoots him a skeptical look. “How would I do that?”

Derek shrugs with an insufferable grin.

Stiles sighs and rolls his eyes before he thinks. His mouth fidgets with a grin as he gets an idea.

Derek eyes him warily, suddenly alert.

Stiles widens his eyes to say, “Hey...what is that?” and points.

Derek actually falls for the oldest trick in the book and looks.

Stiles wastes no time and tackles him into the ground.

Derek growls and rolls them over until Stiles is pinned under him. He looks grudgingly impressed as a medium-sized Tibetan Mastiff with white fur gallops over and assesses the situation with twitching ears. “It’s okay, Jordan,” he says and pushes away from Stiles to stand up.

Jordan cocks his head curiously before he brushes against Derek’s leg like a cat would and licks the inside of Derek’s palm. Then he noses his way around Stiles, snuffling at his shirt before he butts Stiles’s right hand affectionately.

Stiles smiles and scratches his ears as Derek watches quietly. He sits up as Jordan barks and sprints off to playfully wrestle with some of the other dogs. “So,” he says.

Derek looks at him questioningly when he doesn’t continue. He leans over and carefully grabs Stiles’s left hand with his left hand before he hauls Stiles to his feet like its nothing.

Stiles tries to look as serious as possible when he says, “Jordan, huh?”

Derek lifts his eyebrows before a bit of color starts to creep into his cheeks when he understands the implications in Stiles’s voice. “Shut up.”

“What?” Stiles says, and he’s going to milk this. “I think it’s cool you named your dog after one of the greatest basketball players of all time, oh my god, you complete fanboy.”

Derek’s flush deepens and he scowls but he doesn’t deny it as he grumpily crosses his arms.

Stiles laughs and says, “Did you think I wouldn’t get the reference? What did you used to name your stuffed animals then? Let me guess — all of the greats from the Harlem Globetrotters?”

Derek looks stricken, like he’s just been found out and Stiles just loses it. He laughs so hard that all the dogs shuffle over to him curiously and sniff at him inquisitively.

Stiles just pets them all, sniggering on and off again.

Derek threatens to throw him into the river if he doesn’t shut up before he marches back towards the house like the moody teenager he is.

---

Dinner is a lively affair, though Stiles had had a feeling it would be.

All kids under the age of thirteen have been shepherded into the kitchen where the kiddie tables are. Meanwhile, everyone else sits in the dining room around a long and wide oak table, which has names carved into it in a very untraditional way, but Stiles still likes it. It’s quirky but it fits the personality of this house, of this family.

Stiles is sitting between Peter and Laura. He doesn’t know how that happened. Black magic probably.

Derek’s sitting across from him, cradling his sleeping infant sister (Olive) in one arm as he uses his left hand to eat plate after plate of food.

And there is plenty of food.

There’s so much meat. From barbecued ribs to smoked brisket — everyone just has at it like there isn’t enough to go around. His dad would have had a field day if he were here.

The way they eat is unlike anything Stiles has ever seen. He feels like such a bird the way he knocks back two hamburgers, some potato salad, green beans, and spaghetti, in comparison to what looks to be everyone’s fifth plate of food.

“Lightweight,” Laura teases, starting in on her second pork chop and third burger.

“You guys have crazy appetites,” Stiles says lowly but he still notices the way they all shoot each other humored looks.

The lights begin to flicker as a wave of thunder crashes outside.

There’s some noticeable whimpering coming from the kitchen and Cora gets up from the table to go check on it when her mother okays it.

Derek shushes his baby sister when she squirms fitfully in his arms at another crack of lightening that make the house lights flicker again.

“That doesn’t seem good,” Peter remarks lightly as he chows down on a bratwurst.

Talia, who is sitting at the head of the table with her husband, moves to answer the house phone when it rings, and she disappears from sight into the kitchen.

The crack of thunder continues to rumble above their heads, and it sounds like it’s happening under them and not over. It’s strange and unsettling; and then there is a storm siren that rings off in the distance. It sounds like something you would hear when you need to be warned of an incoming national emergency.

Stiles is confused because he was under the impression that it never rained in Beacon Hills.

Talia returns and says, “That was the sheriff's department. They’ve been given the greenlight from the mayor’s office to issue an official lightning storm warning.”

Peter must notice Stiles confused expression because he explains, "We experience the occasional weather anomaly here. You see, just because it doesn't rain, doesn't mean we do not get thunder storms."

"Yeah, we're sort of famous for those," Laura adds. "Like tornadoes in the Midwest. Our lightening storms are just as dangerous. The bolts strike the ground more often than what should be statistically possible."

"And as a consequence, the whole town is urged to stay indoors until it passes," Peter finishes. 

Talia looks to Stiles and makes a gesture for him to join her in the kitchen.

Stiles follows her and they stand by the stove. “Is everything —”

“No worries,” Talia quickly interjects. “Your father asked that I allow you to stay for the night. I wanted to be sure this is okay with you, though there isn’t much choice in the matter. My brother and daughter were right. Lightening storms in this town is just as dangerous as tornadoes anywhere else I’m afraid. No one is allowed outside when the warning siren is on.”

Stiles nods slowly and tries not frown.

Talia smiles gently and hands him the phone. “Call your dad,” she says knowingly. She cups the back of his neck and gives him affectionate squeeze before she leaves him to it.

Stiles dials his dad’s number as he eyes all the finger-paint artwork posted on the doors of the fridge. He does feel a lot better after he hears his father’s voice. His dad assures him that he and Isaac are safe and sound, though they’re going to be holed up at the station until the storm blows over, which most likely won’t be until dawn. He promises to come get Stiles as soon as he can and he asks him to behave and to remember that he’s still on punishment, so no funny business.

Stiles rolls his eyes with a fond grin and he promises. He hangs up and returns to his spot at the table. He nods gratefully at Talia when she catches his eye and she smiles back before returning her attention to her mother as her husband kisses the back of her left hand lovingly.

The dessert that follows dinner is just as impressive, and everyone disperses when they’ve had their fill.

Laura commandeers him and takes him to the basement where they have an awesome little bowling alley and they play a couple of games as Stiles outlines in great detail how epically miserable his spring break has been so far.

The flashes of lightening and the crackling of thunder come and go (frequently interrupting their conversations).

Peter eventually joins them, but with a different book this time (Slaughterhouse-Five), and Cora worms her way into the game while butting Stiles out.

Stiles takes a seat by Peter as he watches Laura and Cora play a few games, and Peter informs him that Cora gets easily jealous over her big sister, and in response to the remark, Cora hurls her bowling ball at him, but he calmly ducks before he flips to the next page in his book like its no big deal.

Stiles has never seen anything like them.

---

Since all other rooms are filled to capacity, Stiles gets paired with Derek, who looks resentful and completely opposing of the arrangement.

Peter just pats Derek on the shoulder condescendingly before he strolls to his own room, which is on the third level of the house and right above Derek’s room (ironically enough).

Derek’s dad stops by to check on them just as Derek is shoving his comforter and pillows at Stiles. He says, “You boys have a good night. Derek, turn on the caption if you’re going to do something with your TV. Your mother just put your sister down.”

Derek nods and smiles warm-heartedly when his dad knocks their foreheads together affectionately before he exits the room, closing the door behind him with a quiet click.

Stiles makes a bed for himself at the bottom edge of Derek’s bed before he lays down and watches Derek attach a pull up bar to the doorway of the bathroom. He does like a million pull-ups before he drops down to his feet so he can putter around and get ready to settle down. He even lends Stiles a pair of his pajama bottoms before he disappears into the bathroom.

Stiles changes into them while Derek is in there and takes a moment to appreciate how polar opposite Derek’s room is from his.

For one, it’s neatly organized, almost compulsively. The color scheme is different too. There’s lots of greys and greens. He’s also got an impressive entertainment system in the corner of the room where his walk-in closet is. There are thick books placed here and there with no titles on them for Stiles to know what the content of them might be. There’s a flat screen TV mounted on the wall above an impressive collection of game consoles, DVDs, and video games.

Stiles feels a small surge of envy at how Derek seems to be rich in both loved ones and material things but it passes quickly because he realizes how obnoxious it would be to hold something Derek couldn’t control over him. He scrubs at his face tiredly as Derek exits the bathroom.

“What’s wrong with you?” Derek asks without looking at him as he turns on his TV, muting it quickly before he switches on one of his game consoles.

Stiles says, “Nothing.”

"Your face says different."

Stiles snorts bitterly. He's heard that before from Cora. "It's nothing," he insists.

Derek shoots him a look at the lie but he doesn’t push. He says, “What do you want to do? I don’t really care either way. Guest's choice.”

“Uh — I don’t want to pick because then I’ll be guilty of breaking the stipulations of my punishment and I swear my dad would know somehow. So you pick.”

Derek snorts. “How would that be any different? You’d still be here participating.”

Stiles shrugs as Derek cocks his head towards the door with a frown. He watches Derek walk over and open it, just as his dog, Jordan, trots through before hopping up on the bed and lying in the middle of it.

Derek closes the door again before he returns to his entertainment system. “How about a horror film?”

“How about not,” Stiles complains but Derek puts one on anyway with a taunting smirk. “Don’t turn off the —”

Derek turns off the lights, laughing quietly as Stiles makes a frustrated sound. He climbs into his bed and uses his controller to navigate past the menu and plays the movie as he texts on his phone.

Stiles hugs Derek’s pillow to his chest and gnaws on his fingernails as his heart hammers away in anxiety through most of the movie. He hates horror films for that reason exactly. It always feels like he’s toeing the line of a panic attack.

Derek says, “Relax.” like he knows Stiles’s heart is racing or something.

Stiles ignores him and kindly does not calm down. The killer is in the next room, how do they not see that? Oh god, oh god, oh god. He jumps with a choked shriek when the killer comes bursting out of his hiding place. The TV is muted and Stiles still jumps.

Derek sighs and starts throwing foam basketballs at his head.

“Oh my god, I hate you,” Stiles groans and uses Derek’s pillow as a shield.

Derek snorts but he doesn’t let up.

Eventually it distracts Stiles enough that his heartbeat goes steady and calm again.

Derek leaves him alone then, again, eerily, like he knows or something. He shows Stiles a bit of mercy by switching the movie off and going into his Amazon Prime account to switch on some ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns.

Stiles gets overwhelmed by the familiar smell of vanilla and he’s out like a light a second later, groggily noticing that the floor under Derek’s bed is crammed with all his stuffed animals like some kind of plushie stash.

---

Talia shakes him awake early the next morning and quietly says, “Your father is waiting for you out front.” She leaves a moment later when she’s sure he’s up.

Stiles rubs the sleep from his eyes and fishes for his jeans, doing his best not to disturb Derek, who is still sleeping soundly, shirtless and on his stomach with Jordan curled against his side.

Stiles gets this mean thought of wanting to draw on Derek’s face but he dismisses it and climbs into his shoes before he tiptoes his way out of the abnormally quiet house.

His dad’s cruiser is rumbling quietly in front of the house and Stiles slides in the back beside a dozing Isaac, who jerks awake when the car shakes after Stiles slams the door shut.

Stiles says, “Sorry.”

Isaac just yawns and stretches before he pauses and wrinkles his nose, shooting Stiles an odd look.

“What?” Stiles says and sniffs at his shirt — Derek’s shirt — the one he’s still wearing and forgot to take off. “Do I smell or something?”

Isaac shrugs and frowns like he isn’t sure.

Stiles looks at his dad, who’s concentrating on the road, and says, “Do I smell funny?”

His dad snorts. “No more than usual, son.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Ha, ha. Yuck it up, old man.”

His dad smiles but then frowns when he catches sight of him through his rearview mirror. “Jesus, kid — what did you do to your nose? Did you get into a fight? And what happened to your shirt?”

Stiles flushes, embarrassed. “No. I had an accident. That’s all.”

His dad sighs and just leaves it alone.

Isaac quietly rubs his nose with the back of his hand the whole ride home. His eyes are watery and red.

Stiles wonders if he’s allergic to dogs or something.

---

When Stiles meets Paige at the library in their usual spot for his tutoring session that Sunday afternoon, he notices right away that something is wrong. Her eyes are rimmed with red and puffy, the tip of her nose equally red and her voice hoarse.

Stiles tries to ask her what’s wrong, to assure her that they could meet some other time, but she’s adamant to see their session through.

Paige’s voice trembles the whole time as they go over some worksheets and old homework together. Even when she praises his concerted efforts, her voice shakes.

Stiles feels uncomfortable and guilty.

It’s not until Paige is packing up everything, assigning him more worksheets to practice along with a stack of flashcards of things he hasn’t picked up on yet, does she look him right in the eyes and says, “Derek told me you came over for dinner. You even spent the night. Do you think — that’s so completely — it's just — you’ve been here for two months and you get the red carpet treatment.” She lets out a hiccupped sob. “I have been dating Derek for two years and I can’t even hold a conversation with his mom, or his sisters, let alone be invited over for dinner. I understand how private they can be. I know they’re private. I’m sorry, I can’t —” She shakes her head and rushes toward the door as she starts to choke up. “I just don’t understand.”

Stiles doesn’t either.

Chapter Text

Monday morning finds Stiles off to a restless start.

He gets up earlier than he usually would to get ready for school. He’d done nothing but toss and turn all night because of the surmounting guilt he’d felt for Paige’s situation. It plagued his thoughts, and agitated his nerves. When the sun rises and he can no longer mope in a sinkhole full of anxiety (made of his own design), he decides to distract himself by cleaning his room.

It's a small accomplishment and he rewards himself with a long hot shower. It does slightly lift his mood a bit, but being under the hot spray of his shower dehydrates him in a way, makes him thirst.

So he climbs out when he’s squeaky clean and lightheaded, and wraps one of his towels around his waist. He’s still wiping sleep from his eyes when he treads down the steps and into the kitchen, body still wet, and dripping everywhere, probably leaving watery footprints in his wake.

Laura is sitting at his kitchen table in a bright red Elmo adult-size onesie, texting away on her phone like she’s been there all morning.

Stiles jumps and shrieks a little in surprise because, oh god, he’s naked under the towel wrapped around his waist.

Laura looks up at the sound, blinks, and then starts laughing.

Stiles feels his flush spread all the way down from his cheeks to his sternum. “Why are you in my house?” he demands as he awkwardly covers his chest with one arm.

Laura stops snickering long enough to say, “Your dad let me in before he left.” She nods toward the stove. “I made you guys some scrambled eggs with that nice gourmet moose cheese you got in the fridge. Didn’t realize your family was so fancy. That stuff costs like five hundred bucks a pound, right?”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Yeah, but it’s not a big deal because my dad gets it for free from the deli shop when he busted a robber that was trying to make away with their safe. So we're pretty much up to our eyes in cheese. Anyway, you’re the one that lives in a mansion,” he points out.

“Eh, tomato, potato,” Laura replies, waving him off. “Still think it’s you that’s got it made in the shade. Though I will say that this place is sadly lacking in meat. If that deli is so grateful, why aren't they floating you a couple of free steaks?”

Stiles says, “This is a heart healthy house.”

Laura hums, her nose twitching briefly, but the grin on her face is one of amusement. “Well, today is pajama day at school, so I took the liberty of getting you something.”

Stiles fumbles with the Cookie Monster onesie she tosses at him. “You bought — how do you even know my size?”

Laura just wiggles her eyebrows suggestively.

Stiles makes a distressed sound as he looks the onesie over. “At least it’s blue,” he mumbles. "And my favorite Sesame Street character."

“Of course. What do you take me for?” Laura scoffs before she brightens happily like an excited toddler. “Look, the feet even light up with every step.” She stomps her feet onto the floor very quickly and the edge of her footsies glow a yellow, red, and white.

“Hey, no way!” Stiles says and he claps the footsies on his pajamas together and sure enough they light up with blue and white. “Okay. That’s cool.”

Laura hums in agreement before she stands. “I bought some for Isaac too since Beacon Hills Junior High’s spirit week is the exact same as ours.” She flicks her gaze to the top of the stairs with a slight smirk, and when Stiles turns to look, he realizes that Isaac has been looming silently in the shadows like the shy introvert he is. “Good morning, Isaac,” she greets.

Isaac wrinkles his nose at her (like he smells something unpleasant) and quickly returns to his room.

“Huh,” Stiles says. “He’s usually just a smidge more polite than that.”

“Oh, you know what they say about cats and dogs,” Laura quips, sounding very amused.

Stiles frowns. “What does gender have to do with anything?”

“Oh, I wasn’t talking about gender,” Laura corrects cryptically. Quickly changing the subject before he can ask, she says, “You and I have to correlate all this week. Especially if you’re going to be my date to the spring formal, which means we need to present ourselves as a united front. By the way, I’m running for homecoming queen so be sure to vote and hand out these flyers.” She points to the table where there is a stack of glittery flyers with a tasteful picture of Laura on it.

Stiles can’t say that he’s surprised. “I get the feeling you do this often,” he remarks.

“You would not be wrong. This would be my fourth and final time going after the crown. I’ve plans to pursue prom queen too,” Laura says, like she’s warning him.

Stiles gives her a startled look. “You’re not — if that's an invitation — I won’t do prom. I’m a freshman and —”

“Relax, I’m not asking you. And I wont force you to go, even though I’d like to have you there since it’ll probably be our last dance together,” Laura says, cleverly playing on Stiles’s culpability. “But, anyway, I do want you to go to homecoming with me.”

“I’m still thinking about it,” Stiles admits because he honestly is.

“Okay,” Laura says softly, and she doesn’t push. “I’m going to head off. I’ll see you at school.” She starts for the door and opens it. She pauses in the doorway and says, “Oh! Before I forget, your dad told me to tell you that you guys aren’t on punishment anymore. He left the basement unlocked so you guys can grab your stuff.”

Stiles knows it’s rude of him to dart off without saying a proper goodbye to Laura but he’s been waiting for what feels like an eternity for this. He grabs all his electronic devices, and the old newspapers from the past week (his dad likes to archives them by date, thankfully) and carries it all up to his room, but not without informing Isaac of the good news.

He dumps his things on top of his neatly made bed and turns on everything, quickly locating his chargers so he can hook them up. He goes through his phone first, looking at all the missed calls, voicemails, and text messages. He doesn’t find anything significant so he deletes everything.

He takes a moment to throw some underwear on with a tank top before he climbs into the Cookie Monster onesie Laura got for him, zipping it all the way up to his collarbone and tugging on the googly-eyed hoodie. He runs his fingers through the short blue fur before he carries his laptop over to his work desk, along with his brand new tablet.

He sends a quick text to Peter because he’d forgot to bring this up when he was at the Hale house (that’s just how distracting those Hales are) and it reads: I thought you said you’d look into those old hags next door.

The reply is almost hilariously instantaneous.

Peter texts: Not grounded anymore, I see. :))

And I did. :))

And?

And nothing. :))

Not possible.

I sniffed around and I didn’t pick up anything. :))

You’re probably worrying for nothing. :))

You sound like my dad. You both have no idea how evil those women are. They have pigs.

So? :))

Pigs aren’t a cluing point for malevolence. :))

Have you seen them hack anyone to pieces? :))

Well, no, but still!!! My gut says evil. My gut is always right.

Also, putting a smiley face at the end of that question is disturbing.

How so? :))

Stiles rolls his eyes and doesn’t reply. He’s got an hour before he and Isaac have to leave for school.

He spends it researching.

---

Isaac refuses to wear the Garfield onesie that Laura got for him, and he just wears regular clothes. After Stiles crams everything that can fit in his backpack, they mount their bikes and peddle to Isaac’s school.

Scott’s waiting on the curb in front of the bike racks anxiously. He says, “Dude!”

Stiles climbs off his bike and replies, “What?”

Scott looks him over with a questioning look, even though he’s literally in some duck pajamas himself. Then he shakes his head and says, “Dude!”

“Yeah, buddy. I’m here,” Stiles replies in amusement.

“Dude, it's Lydia! And — and her — her family! Didn’t you hear? You’re dad had to have told you,” Scott says frantically. “Everyone’s saying she butchered her parents and ran off. But she wouldn't do that! I know she wouldn't!”

Stiles blanches. “What? What —” He thinks back to the Sunday paper he’d skimmed over this morning and how tired his dad had looked the other day. There had been a report about a possible homicide that bordered on what seemed like an animal attack just because of the gruesomeness of the wounds inflicted on the two bodies found on what was otherwise a quiet and lovely block. There were no mentions of names, or if anyone was missing but Stiles is beginning to realize that his dad may have had something to do with that exclusion of information. “She’s missing?”

“Yeah. Me and the guys were going to help the search parties look after school if you wanted to come. She’s been missing all weekend supposedly and no one can get ahold of her,” Scott explains and he looks conflicted. “I just — I can’t believe that Lydia would do something like that. I mean I know the stuff with her parents separating had to be tough and you know how she is. Well maybe you don't. She's got her quirks but still — it’s not — I'm telling you that she wouldn’t do that. I’ve known her for as long as I’ve known anybody else. She wouldn’t. She was actually my first friend before I met anyone else and she's —” He shakes his head with a solid frown as he gasps sharply, turning a little pale. "None of this is right. None of it makes sense!"

“Okay, okay,” Stiles shushes as Scott shakes his inhaler hastily so he can take a deep inhale in order to quell his oncoming asthma attack. “No, I get it. I believe that — well, I don’t know what I believe, but I’ll come with you guys to look. She...well, I think I heard Erica mention that she has autism?”

Scott gasps between sucking on his inhaler but he nods to confirm.

"That's why everyone so frantic to find her," Stiles supposes. He looks around and realizes that Isaac has already vanished into the school. “Listen — I have to go but, text me if you hear anything else. I’ll see you later.”

Scott nods quietly just as Allison rolls up in her parent’s car. She immediately springs out without saying goodbye to her mother or hello to Stiles, completely focused and determined to comfort Scott.

Stiles takes no offense to that. He thinks about how sweet that is as he mounts his bike again and starts pedaling towards his school. During the ride, he gets lost in his thoughts.

---

Stiles is on autopilot for most of his first and second period. He still passes out Laura’s flyers like a second thought, but mostly he just goes through the local papers, marking them with highlighters until his fingers are stained with red and green and yellow. He’s desperately trying to connect the dots. There’s a lot he’s missed out on.

For one, there have been a lot of strange grave robberies, and not any kinds where there are material things stolen, but where caskets have been unearthed and the bodies inside have their bones sucked clean. Apparently the forensics on the coroner’s report has identified the animal hair, teeth marks, and saliva left behind on the bones as ones found on Hylochoerus meinertzhageni, aka giant forest hog, oh god, he knew it.

Those damn Witches.

Not only that, like not only that, but there’s been a lot of people under the age of fourteen who have gone missing almost periodically around the same time those old hags next door to him moved in.

And now this thing with Lydia — it had to be related. Maybe she saw something that freaked her out or scared her off, but if they did manage to find her he’d have to question her about what happened because if he was going to bring this case to his dad, he would need proof and the only way to do that would to either have an eyewitness or hard evidence —

“Hey, space cadet!”

Stiles blinks and looks up from where he’s sitting under the shade of a tree out on the quad during lunch, teething the other end of a red highlighter in concentration. His lap is covered in old newspapers, marked up and down with Stiles’s messy and hasty handwriting crammed in the margins.

Kate Argent, who is outfitted in a Smaug onesie (unsurprisingly fitting for her personality), is staring at him with this questioning frown. “Christ, I’ve been trying to get your attention for the past minute. You get lost in your head or something?”

Stiles tugs the highlighter out of his mouth, lifts his head to spit the top in the air before catching it and shrugs.

Kate says, “Laura asked me to retrieve you. She wants to talk and you’re not answering any of her texts. So, come on. You know how moody those Hales get when you ignore them.”

Stiles blinks and glances at his phone, which is lit with all sorts of texts, not only from Laura, but from his dad and Scott as well.

Kate doesn’t wait for him. She stalks across the quad, students springing out of her way in fear and awe.

Stiles gathers his things and juggles it all over to the table that Laura and Kate are seated at.

Cora strolls up a second later in a Winnie the Pooh onesie with a tray filled with mostly cheese fries. She sits next to Stiles and eats without acknowledging anyone.

“So,” Laura says after a brief swallow. She’s eating her second chili-dog, and well on her way to the next. “I just wanted to ask you if you wanted to go to the costume shop after school since Wednesday is ‘cosplay as your favorite cartoon character’? Kate wants to do Josie and the Pussycats but I said —”

“I can’t,” Stiles interrupts and politely declines the carton of cheese fries Cora tries to push his way. He can’t eat when his mind is preoccupied like this. “One of my friends have — hang on, doesn’t Peter tell you about — do you know what’s going on?”

"I read the news." Laura has an odd look on her face that he can't quite place and she says, “My mom and Peter usually deal with whatever strange happenings are going on in Beacon Hills. I try not to think about it generally or get involved. I can't consider it my responsibility.”

“Amen,” Kate chimes as she goes to town on a vanilla pudding cup.

Laura rolls her eyes, but she's still got an odd expression twisting the lovely features of her face.

Stiles frowns and says, “Okay, I get that you read the news, but we know that they always skate around the issue. Aren’t you ever curious?”

“Not really,” Laura says, and her expression goes even funnier. She starts picking at her nails, avoiding his gaze. “Look, I’ll just pick you out something and drop it off at your house. Kate, help me pass out some more flyers. I haven’t hit up the swim team yet.” And just like that, the two of them flock off.

Stiles watches them with a new sense of awareness. He has a feeling that he’s hit a sore subject with Laura, but he doesn’t really understand why that could be.

Cora snorts beside him and says, “You’re doing those faces again.”

“The kind that makes you want to punch me? I have a face, Cora. It’s gonna happen,” Stiles replies, distracted still. “What was that about?”

Cora shrugs. She says, “Laura doesn’t exactly — she’s not like Peter or mom. She’s always been — maybe you can call it selfish, but that doesn’t really fit to what it is. You’ll have to ask her if she’ll sit still to answer. She’s got a good reason, I think, of why she tries not to get too mixed up in the oddness of Beacon Hills.”

Stiles makes a thoughtful sound at that. He makes a mental note to find out why that is, but for now, he switches gears when he spots Derek in a frog onesie by the double doors of the gymnasium talking to a very irate Paige, who is one of the only people not dressed for spirit week. It looks like they’re arguing and Stiles can pretty much guess about what. He says, before he can help it, “So Paige confronted me about spending the night.”

"And?"

"And so she was really bothered about it."

“She knows that wasn’t in your control, right? Scratch that. She'd have to know,” Cora replies, unmoved.

"Yeah, maybe," Stiles sighs. "Can't help but to feel guilty though."

"You're too sympathetic. That's gotta be exhausting." Cora eats her cheese fries, and mouth full, goes on to say, “Whatever her case is, let Derek worry about it. Not your problem. That's his girlfriend, not yours.”

“Uh — okay,” Stiles merely says. The corner of his mouth kicks up a but because the way Cora had said that had almost been comforting in a way. He sheepishly adds, “Can I borrow your notes? I didn’t — I wasn’t really all the way there at the time. I missed a few things.”

Cora doesn’t even look at him. She stabs at her cheese fries with a plastic fork that looks ready to break under the pressure. “Which periods?”

“Um — all of them? Possibly?”

Cora makes an annoyed sound but she nods generously. She dumps the rest of her food as they make their way to the library.

The last thing Stiles sees before he and Cora disappear inside is Paige storming off and Derek scrubbing tiredly at his face.

---

Stiles meets up with Isaac, Jackson, Danny, Allison, and Scott after school, and they all head to the police station on their bikes. They walk in and notice how all the deputies are suiting themselves with guns and preparing a gang of detection dogs.

The state police are talking to his dad, along with Talia and Peter, and they all have severe frowns on their faces like their discussing how they’re going to track down a bloodthirsty killer.

It makes Stiles uneasy that they’re drumming up that kind of a fuss over a thirteen year old autistic girl, who Stiles is convinced is completely harmless.

His dad spots them lingering by the doorway and he excuses himself with a frown. “Go home. All of you. This is a matter for the police.”

Scott is the first to object. “But Mr. Stilinski! We —”

“I’m sorry, kids,” his dad says, holding up his hands to put off any of their protests. “I can’t in all good consciousness let you participate. The Martin girl is a suspect, and could very well be an unsafe headspace at the moment. I won’t put any of you in harm's way like that. You leave it all to me, we’ll find her.”

They all complain louder.

His dad sighs and says, “If you really want to help. You can go through town and hand out these flyers.” He gestures to Deputy Tara, who pulls out a stack of ‘M I S S I N G’ signs with a headshot of Lydia’s face plastered on them. “I think it’s about time we put the community on alert anyway.”

Deputy Tara divides the stacks between them but Stiles follows after his father when he makes for his office. “Dad, I really think you should look into the witches next door.”

His dad makes a face and shushes him as he darts an uneasy glance around. He herds Stiles into his office before he walks over to his coffeemaker. “Careful what you say,” he warns sternly.

“Yeah, but your deputies know, don’t they?” Stiles counters.

“They do, but it doesn’t mean you’re supposed to. I already told you I don’t want you getting involved. Do you want to be grounded again? Should I have extended your punishment?” his dad questions with a narrow eyed gaze.

“No,” Stiles quickly says. “But dad, I mean — Lydia is my friend. Despite everything else.”

His dad doesn’t say anything to that as he pours himself some coffee.

“I just really think that the old hags next door have something to do with what’s been going on with the grave robberies and the missing children.” Stiles quickly adds, when he sees the darkening look on his father’s face, “I read the newspaper, okay? I didn’t — you said it’d be fine if I did it for pure curiosity!”

Academic curiosity,” the sheriff corrects tightly and oh boy, Stiles knows he’s on thin ice now. “You know what? I don’t want to hear another word about this. You leave the cases to me and you leave those old hags — women, alone. Unless you have photographic proof of their involvement —”

“The pigs!” Stiles interjects, flailing his arms wildly. 

His dad sighs as he adds sugar and cream to his steaming cup of coffee.

“Those black pigs I keep telling you about! I would have had a picture if all my electronic devices hadn’t been confiscated, which was fair, totally fair — please stop looking at me like you’re seriously thinking of taking them again.”

“I am,” his dad merely says before he sits down behind his desk tiredly.

“Yes, I can see it in your face. But dad please. I mean this town,” Stiles hedges carefully. “You know the history better than I do. The things happening aren't normal.”

“Yes,” his dad admits. “But I promise to do everything I can to keep it from escalating fatally. You also have to understand that I couldn’t drum up a search warrant without probable cause. Me storming our neighbor’s house with my deputies under my permission would look — you know how that would look, don’t you? Especially if they didn’t find anything?”

Stiles does. It wouldn’t be good for his dad’s reputation nor his position. He fidgets and tries to think about his options.

His dad says, “Son, I know you want to help. I appreciate it, but we both agreed you would stay out of this. This isn’t some game or hobby you can play around with just because you can’t sit still for a second. This isn’t like how you and your mom used to play around with cold cases like these for shits and giggles —”

Stiles tenses up completely and he stares at his father, inescapably hurt. He can't believe his dad is trying to trivialize his genuine concern like this.

His dad realizes his blunder and quickly backtracks, “No, that’s not what I — you know I don’t mean that you — I do understand that this is your friend and —”

“Right. Of course," Stiles interrupts curtly. "Just another dumb kid with a hobby. So, yeah. I’m just going to go hand out those flyers now since I can't sit still.” He storms out of his father’s office. He avoids everyone’s eyes and questions when they try to ask him what’s wrong and he just picks up his share of the flyers before marching out of the station.

They split up in twos, and Stiles pairs himself with Isaac because he prefers his company at the moment and he doesn’t have to worry about Isaac questioning his suddenly stormy mood.

He can’t believe his dad would go there. After all this time, when he knows that it still feels like a fresh wound.

For both of them.

---

Stiles and Isaac finish handing out the last of the flyers sometime around eight and they quietly peddle home. He’s still furious with his dad’s presumptions and dismissiveness. His hurt is burning like something uncomfortable and itchy in the back of his throat — like a hot metal coin he can’t even swallow.

It’s not until they’re inside the house does he feel bits of tension leaking out of him. Home is a familiar place. It is predictable, and because of that, it calms his racing mind in ways he can’t describe. Sometimes he needs that. Sometimes he needs to be confronted with familiar information so he doesn’t drown in the tidal wave of his thoughts when he feels most upset.

He has a problem with internalizing his feelings — his thoughts become a kingdom of disarray that would make even Sherlock Holmes weep — and he finds himself replaying the scenario over and over as if he could go back in time and change everything.

It can be uncomfortable when your ADHD is folded into an anxiety disorder.

Stiles attempts to rid himself of the emotional thudercloud looming over his head by making dinner first before he even considers going back to his research. He makes baked tilapia and brown rice with broccoli as a side. He doesn’t eat because he’s not in the mood but he enjoys watching Isaac clear his plate and indicate to wanting another.

Stiles lets that lift his spirits a bit more as he fixes Isaac another plate and watches him clear that one too. He notices the way that Isaac pays special attention to the fish like it’s the best thing he’s ever eaten. It’s a bit amusing, but he doesn’t question it when Isaac makes another indication of wanting more. At least he's eating more than he used to. Isaac is a bit on the thin side, and Stiles would love nothing more than to remedy that.

Isaac settles in the living room with all his homework when he’s had his fill and Stiles makes himself think about what he’s doing when he goes through the motions of putting everything away in storage containers before he cleans the kitchen.

He switches off the lights when he’s done and looms over Isaac to try and see just what it is the preteen is up to. There’s a small set of completed reading packets neatly placed on top of a blue folder on the coffee table. Beside that there is some decimals, mixed fractions, along with the order of operations math worksheets on top of a red folder. Next to that is a stack of science articles on top of a purple folder, and lastly some grammar study guides on top of a green folder. He's got his subjects very well organized.

Stiles, by what he can see so far, notices that Isaac has little to no trouble in his studies. He’s a smart kid, Stiles knows. It does him proud to see him successful in his schoolwork. He still says, because he feels like he should offer, “You know, if you ever need help, I’m here. I’m kinda iffy with math but that other stuff, I’m, uh, pretty pro at.”

Isaac’s pencil doesn’t stop moving as he scribbles across a history worksheet. But before Stiles can feel stupid for offering, he looks up and directly into Stiles eyes, and then he nods.

Stiles is pretty sure the grin on his face is ridiculous.

Isaac turns his attention back to his lap and continues to work quietly.

Stiles leaves him to it and goes down into the basement so he can grab his dad’s old roll-around bulletin and whiteboard combo. He drags it up the stairs (not without difficulty because who are we kidding this is Stiles) and he places it in his room, right by the wall adjacent to his windows. He goes back down in the basement for some tacks, some green, yellow, and red yarn, some whiteboard markers and a box of his mother’s old mythology books.

He purposely does not look at the grand piano still sitting under some tarp covering when he passes it to get to the stairs.

It’s been nine years and him and his dad still can’t look at it — can’t do much of anything with it.

When he reaches his room, he’s only partially surprised to see Isaac already there, sitting in one of his dark blue bean bag chairs with one of his own comics (Superman because that’s his favorite hero it seems).

Stiles doesn’t mind the company. He takes everything in his arms and dumps it in front of the bulletin/whiteboard. And because he has priorities, he starts in on all his homework first before he gives attention to anything else.

When he finishes, he takes some Adderall and starts cutting out news articles before he tacks it to the bulletin side of the board. He connects all the things he doesn’t understand together with a thread of red yarn (mainly the missing kids under the age of fourteen and the grave robberies). Then he connects the things that seem useful but he doesn’t know what to do with by using yellow yarn (mainly the radius of where all the missing kids lived versus where they were last seen). Lastly, he connects everything he thinks is significant to figuring out what exactly those old hags are or up to with green yarn (things like the DNA of animal hair and saliva identified at every crime scene, and the fact the crime scenes aren’t following any specific orbital lunar patterns).

Stiles flips the board over to the whiteboard side when he finishes and uses a brown marker to write ‘old hags’ in capital letters before he starts listing off their characteristics.

OLD HAGS

1. Butt ugly
2. Practices cannibalism???
3. Kidnaps children for occult reasons???
4. Possible shapeshifters that favors pigs
5. Eats the undead???
6. Do all their hunting at between midnight and dawn
7. May or may not be witches
8. It’s possible the weird orange alley cat might know something
9. Saturday was a new moon

Stiles puts the cap back on the marker and taps his chin thoughtfully as he gives the list a once over. Then he drops to his butt and starts rummaging through the old musty box containing his mother’s folklore books. He looks up any occult having to do with eating the undead, shapeshifting, and kidnapping children.

The problem is that there is lots of lore that deal with these three characteristics in particular. It puts Stiles in a frustrating stand still because it feels like he’s only one clue away from really solving this thing. He jumps to his feet and starts pacing as Isaac follows him with his eyes over the top of his comic book.

“God, what is it about them?” Stiles wonders as he scrubs his hands through his buzz cut. “What am I missing? What am I missing?”

Isaac hums and just returns to his comic.

“Not you too,” Stiles complains as he snatches the comic out of Isaac’s hands.

Isaac shoots him this startled and annoyed look.

“I’ve talked to Scott and my dad and Peter and you. It’s like no one cares! Why am I the only one taking this seriously? Why am I the only one that thinks that —” He stops suddenly as he’s struck by a thought. He drops the comic onto Isaac’s lap as he walks back to the board. “I’m not the only one,” he whispers faintly. He uncaps his marker and adds:

10. Lydia knew something

He stares at that line for the longest before he scrambles for his phone and scrolls through his contacts before he presses the name he’s looking for.

Go for Erica.

“What did you mean when you said that Lydia was having another one of her episodes?” Stiles asks without taking a breathe in between the words.

What?

“Monday when you guys came over. Before you left, you said that Lydia was having another one of her episodes again. What did you mean?” Stiles clarifies as he squeezes his phone anxiously before he returns to the whiteboard and poses his uncapped mark at the ready.

Erica gives a heady sigh. “I don’t get why I have to be bothered with these questions. I’m finally alone in my house and I was going to mastur—

Stiles makes a strangled sound as he flushes. “Please. Please do not finish that sentence,” he begs.

Isaac makes a face like he heard it too, and he kindly exits the room, leaving Stiles alone to deal with it.

Erica laughs meanly. “Fine, fine. I wont, but seriously — go ask Lydia about it if you really want to know.

“That’s not funny,” Stiles says immediately. Something in his mouth sours. “You — you know what happened don’t you?”

Nope. Been sick since Saturday. I didn’t go to school today, and plus, I don’t watch the news or whatever,” Erica says. “Why, what happened?

Stiles tells her.

Erica grows somberly quiet on the other end. “Fuck,” she finally says. Her voice sounds off. “That’s — that’s heavy. No one told me. That’s — wow.”

“I’m surprised no one told you,” Stiles says with a frown as he stares at the list on the whiteboard.

Yeah, well, I have two older brothers and each of them monopolize the house phone before I ever get the chance to. You happened to call on a good day. I don’t have a cellphone, in case that isn’t clear. My dad is the town’s coroner but that doesn’t exactly pay much. So basically I have to wait until I’m old enough to get a job to afford a phone of my own.” Erica sounds annoyed.

Stiles twirls the marker in his hand guiltily. “I — sorry.”

Erica says nothing.

“Do you think you could tell me what you meant? Please? I think I can help with this whole — with everything that’s been going on,” Stiles says.

Erica says nothing at first, but then she sighs. “So you know her folks were getting divorced right? Well, you probably don’t know why — or what really started the problems.” She goes on to say, “After she was diagnosed with autism, her parents threw money at everything they could to make her seem as normal as possible. Like they were embarrassed. I think they thought they were doing her a favor or something. Back when Lydia was like six, she and her old man went camping out in the mountains for some sort of radical outdoor therapy.

"Rumor is that they took a trail that was closed off to hikers and Lydia was attacked by some kind of wild animal. She never talks about how it happened or what it was. She was in the hospital for like weeks recovering. She still has the like claw marks up and down her sides, but anyway, she was different after that. She was oddly normal when she wasn’t pretending she didn’t have voices in her head. She’s always going on and on about how she hears something and it really fucks with her. She screams when she can’t take it, when the voices get too loud or something, but I thought she was taking medicine for it. Seems like she finally snapped and took her family with her.

“Don’t say that,” Stiles says immediately. “Lydia is — we’ve all got things that — I don’t think she’s capable of —”

Whatever. We all have problems. Lydia’s just another one of those rich kids who can’t cope because mommy and daddy didn't love her enough to look past her faults,” Erica interrupts, sounding annoyed again. “I have to go. Did you need something else?

Stiles does his best to quell his irritation at Erica’s indifferent attitude. He says, “Did she ever used to run off whenever she was having a — some kind of episode? Do you know where she might have gone? A place she would like to hide?”

Trust me, Stilinski. I don’t have a clue.” Erica hangs up after that.

Stiles sighs and pockets his phone as he stares at the whiteboard. When he gets tired of just staring at it, he turns off the lights and walks over to the window and waits. No black boar exits the neighbor’s house come midnight and that makes Stiles even more suspicious.

He leaves it be with a sigh and pushes the bulletin/whiteboard into his closet and closes the door. He doesn’t want to risk his father seeing what he’s up to.

---

Tuesday is Twin Day.

Laura intercepts him before the first period bell and urges him into a Dr. Seuss ‘Thing 1’ hoodie whereas she sports the ‘Thing 2’, while also presenting him with a crazy blue wig that matches the one already on her head.

Stiles doesn’t really want to wear the wig but Laura just smiles prettily at him and he knows he doesn’t stand a chance.

During lunch he helps her hand out cupcakes that say ‘Vote for Laura’ in purple frosting. It’s not so bad since she makes Derek and Cora, who are dressed as Mario and Luigi (mustaches and all) do it too. 

Stiles watches Laura jog off to harass the chess club before he sneaks a cupcake, jumping guiltily when a voice speaks up from behind him.

“Laura will kill you if she catches you eating her favors,” Derek says, appearing out of nowhere, tossing some junior girl and her boyfriend a charming smile. “Vote for Laura,” he says and gives them a cupcake before they walk off.

Stiles licks the frosting off his lips and tries to look innocent as Derek follows the movement closely with a furrowed brow and darkening cheeks (weird). “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I totally didn’t just stuff an entire delicious cupcake in my mouth. Even though I kinda worked for it and earned it,” he mutters. “Seriously, aren’t there some child labor laws about this?”

Derek huffs as the color in his cheeks fade away completely and says, “I doubt that’d stop Laura. She’s determined this year. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen how she is before prom.”

Stiles makes a face. “I think I deserve another cupcake.”

“Don’t,” Derek lightly warns. “I helped her make those. Stop pigging out on them. They're not for you.”

“Yeah, whatever," Stiles says as he waves it off in a disregarding way that has Derek's fake mustache twitching in annoyance. "You bake?”

Derek fidgets but he doesn't look particularly uncomfortable by the question; he does look guilty however. "Anyone with a working brain can use a stove," he mutters.

“Oh my god, you do,” Stiles accuses gleefully. “First the plushies, and the basketball names — now baking? There’s a whole other side of you, isn’t there?”

Derek gives him an odd look at that. “You really have no idea,” he replies cryptically. He seems amused almost.

Stiles doesn’t pay attention. He just says, “Baking. Wow. Baking.”

Derek suddenly looks annoyed and defensive, which is kind of a hilarious sight because he is literally dressed as Mario. “What? It’s not a big deal. Plenty of people do it. Even boys my age."

 "Even boys my age, he says," Stiles repeats sarcastically. "Like I don't totally get it. Like I'm not almost the same age as you."

Derek looks like he wants to say something about that but instead, he says, "It's not a gender thing. I don't care for gender politics when they dictate certain behaviors in excluding ways. Baking is...it’s just like chemistry and stuff.”

Stiles laughs and Derek looks kind of wounded. “Is that what Laura tells you when she wants your help with something? ‘It’s just chemistry’. Oh man. I’ll have to use that one.”

Derek glares at him and his fake mustache twitches again. “Shut up.”

“Rude,” Stiles retaliates.

Derek rolls his eyes and walks off without another word to go charm some more people with his unfairly attractive smile. He appears to be in a good mood, despite things, so Stiles figures things must have worked out between him and Paige. He’s relieved. He doesn’t have to feel slightly guilty anymore.

Over by the water fountain, Cora hassles the lacrosse captain until he swears he’ll vote for Laura. She smiles venomously and drops a cupcake in his hands before gliding away to repeat this process.

Stiles grins and shakes his head before he gets back to work. “Vote for Laura!” he says as he approaches a group of people playing Frisbee out on the grassier parts of the school’s quad.

---

On his way to pick up Isaac from school, Stiles finds a fifty-dollar bill. He kindly pockets it because why wouldn’t he? He rolls up to the school to find Isaac standing awkwardly between a cheery Scott and Allison, who are dressed as Flo and the other dude from the Progressive commercials for their Twin Day. Strangely enough, it appears that Allison and Scott appear to be fighting to gain Isaac’s attention, but he refuses to look at either of them.

“Hey,” Stiles says as he stutters to a stop. “What’s, uh — going on?”

Scott and Allison blush as Isaac fidgets between them and clenches the straps to his backpack very tightly. He seems to be very relieved to see Stiles and he quickly goes to grab his bike.

Scott and Allison watch him with these odd longing looks on their faces and okay this is super weird.

“So,” Stiles says loudly, purposely grabbing their attention. “Any word about Lydia yet?”

Scott grows somber and shakes his head no.

Allison is still watching Isaac unlock his bike.

“I guess that means they’ll be leading another search party to sweep through the preserve,” Stiles supposes.

Scott nods. “My mom and some of the other nurses have been keeping an eye out at the hospital. Plus she said they’ve been watching the patient databases for any of the other hospitals.”

“Good,” Stiles says just as Isaac rolls his bike past Allison and Scott, firmly avoiding their gazes as he starts out of the parking lot. “Uh — I better go.”

Scott and Allison nod distractedly as they watch Isaac.

“Okay,” Stiles drawls and turns to catch up with Isaac. “So, I’m curious — what’s up with you and Allison and Scott? Is there — do they like — are they making you uncomfortable?”

Isaac goes a little pink and shrugs but he doesn’t say anything.

Stiles isn’t sure what to make of that response. He changes the subject. “I found fifty bucks. Wanna hit up the arcade?”

Isaac nods and that’s exactly where they go.

---

They don’t make it home until eight, and oddly, there’s a literal gold coin placed strategically on the top porch step. Stiles stares at it, perplexed and intrigued as Isaac takes the house keys from his limp hands like he could care less about this discovery and disappears inside to use the bathroom and start his homework.

There’s an inscription on both sides of the coin that could possibly be a dead language or something else. It’s hard to tell because the coin looks ridiculously old. Like Pirates of the Caribbean old.

Stiles clenches the gold coin in his hand and looks up, only to be trapped in a staring contest with the creepy orange cat from across the street.

The cat’s eyes seem to glimmer, even under the glow of the street lamp it’s perched under. He starts to feel that stare all the way down into his soul and he has to tap out.

Stiles slowly retreats into the house and leaves the alley cat to its weirdness. He goes up to his room and places the gold coin on his desk before he takes a picture of it with his tablet. He uploads the photo to his computer and uses the internet in a attempt to locate it’s origins.

The results hit a dead end and Stiles is forced to look up a local antique dealer instead with the hopes he can get it identified.

He makes plans to go to the address listed after school.

---

Wednesday morning, when his dad think he's still sleep, he sets a bag left for him on the edge of his bed.

Things are still pretty tense between him and his father, so he waits until his dad exits his room before he climbs out of bed to take a look. There's a card stapled to it with Laura’s neat scrawl, which basically instructs him to wear the outfit. He starts getting ready for the day once he takes a peek at what the outfit is (though it looks familiar, he still can't tell who he's supposed to be).

He takes a shower and slips into the costume, but it’s not until he’s putting on the white hat does he realize that he’s cosplaying as Finn from Adventure Time.

Stiles huffs as he gives himself a once over in the bathroom mirror.

Laura thinks she’s so clever. She kinda is.

Isaac seems amused when he sees him, but true to his quiet nature, he doesn’t comment.

Sometimes Stiles would pay money to know what that kid is thinking.

His dad leaves the house with the morning paper and stiffly tells them to have a good day, and not to wait up for him (they’re still looking for Lydia) before he exits the house.

Stiles tries not to think about how it makes him feel to be at odds with his dad. He throws his attention at making himself a bowl of cereal before he and Isaac make their way out the door to head to school.

He makes sure not to forget that gold coin or the directions to the antique shop.

---

At the start of the school day, Stiles takes a moment to appreciate that Laura planned this whole cosplaying thing very well. She’s dressed as Princess Bubblegum while Kate is dressed as Lumpy Space Princess.

Cora is dressed as Marceline, while Derek is dressed as Jake the dog.

Stiles isn’t given time to really contemplate the arrangement of their costumes because Laura is shoving a box of campaign buttons into his arms. Some of them have her face on it, others just says ‘Vote for Laura’.

He really hopes that she wins because he’s not sure what she’ll do if she doesn’t. He roams through the halls with Cora, handing out buttons to student after student until the first bell rings and everyone disperses.

Cora walks with him to their first period class and Stiles watches as Paige frowns at a campaign button she has in her hand before she trashes it.

He tries not to think about the implications as Cora makes an impatient sound and drags him into the classroom.

All through AP Biology, the gold coin feels like it burns in his back pocket, whispering to the curiosity of his mind.

---

Stiles can’t even make it until lunch.

He uses the fact that he never asks to be excused midway during his fifth period class, Astronomy, (the period before his assigned lunch time) and he sprints to his locker to dump his books. Then he quickly heads to the boys locker room, which is thankfully empty, and he climbs out the window above the showers.

He doesn’t land gracefully, but he doesn’t injure himself either so that’s a win. He limps a bit towards his bike, trying to be as covert as possible so no one catches him, and he stoops low so he can unlock it.

“Hey.”

“Gee — sus!” Stiles yelps and sends his lock flying.

Derek catches it with minimal effort as he stands at the bottom of the curb watching him with a basketball under his arm. With a flat look, he says, “What are you doing?”

“Not —” Stiles looks from left to right as he thinks. “— ditching?”

Derek gives him an even flatter look that says ‘yeah right’.

Stiles gets edgy for whatever reason and so he does what he does best. Ramble pathetically. “I just — there’s this something that I — or not really something you can classify as a something — but it’s not a concept either, so it is physical — but it’s the reason I have to — because there’s a place — and this place has answers — I need answers, even though I’m sure, universally, all of us, in our own right need answers but — the place is not like that way in that sense though — and I was going — well not so much going because gravity is a — the world could be moving, not me — I mean the world is moving but I’m saying that  —”

Derek lifts his eyebrows with that particular face Stiles is starting to feel like is only reserved for him. The face that says he thinks Stiles is a crazy weirdo he has no chance of understanding.

Stiles sighs. “You know what? I don’t have to explain myself to you. Who are you? No one I have to explain myself to, that’s who. Besides, why are you out here?”

Derek huffs as he twirls his basketball on the impossibly long middle finger of his left hand. It’s kind of an entertaining sight since he is currently cosplaying as Jake the dog. “AP Calculus bores me. My teacher has gotten to the point where he doesn’t care if I show up or not since I’m averaging the highest in that class. They think they might have to start enrolling me in college courses.”

Stiles makes a frustrated sound because how dare he be so cool? “See! The fact that you even get to say something like that is — and with such a casual tone too, like it’s not a big — you know what? I don’t care. Nope. Don’t care. I’m not jealous either.”

Derek smirks a little. “I don’t know, Stiles. Kind of sounds like you are.”

“Whatever, I have no more time to waste on you,” Stiles promises and marches up to Derek to snatch his lock back before he puts it in his green backpack and mounts his bike. He points a threatening finger at Derek before he goes, and the effect gets lost because Derek straightens in amusement, like he’s humoring him. “You better not snitch on me. I’m not ditching, okay? This is an educational, uh, trip.”

“Oh?” Derek says. “Then you won’t care if I tag along.”

“Yes I would,” Stiles says quickly. “I so would. Stay here and be the better person.”

“I thought you said you weren’t ditching.”

“I’m not,” Stiles swears even though he so is.

“Look, I’m coming because I’m curious to see the things you get up to,” Derek admits as he goes and fiddles with a lock on a bike that Stiles isn’t even sure belongs to him. “It’s either me or Peter.”

“That’s low,” Stiles mumbles. “Fine. But you can’t tell anyone about this.”

Derek shrugs and mounts the bike after he drops the broken lock.

Stiles stares at it, wondering just how — he shakes the thought off because he really has no time. He peddles with Derek trailing after him, basketball under one arm as uses his other hand to steer.

The ride to Alan's Old Antiquities takes fifteen minutes, which is pretty good time considering.

Stiles drops his bike down in front of the shop and tries to peer through the dusty windows into the poorly lit store. He walks in and the bell chimes overhead to announce his arrival.

“I’ll be with you in a moment,” a male voice says from all the way in the back.

“Sure,” Stiles yells in return as he holds the door open for Derek.

Derek freezes right in the doorway and cringes taking a quick step back before he attempts it again. He cringes back quickly and just stands right at the doorway.

Stiles says, “What?”

Derek glares at the doorway like it’s offended him.

What?” Stiles repeats because he really wants to know what the problem is.

Derek grits his teeth and reluctantly admits, “I can’t come in.”

“What? Are you banned?”

“I can’t —” Derek intones slowly, like Stiles is an idiot. “— come in there.”

“Uh, any particular reason why? Are you like a shoplifter or —”

Derek shoots him annoyed look.

“Okay, okay,” Stiles says quickly, lifting his hands to soothe him because that question is apparently off-limits. He just files it down as another one of those odd Hale things he’ll think about later when he has time. “I’ll be — I’ll just be quick about this, okay?”

Derek says nothing but he backs away even further and frowns heavily.

Stiles lets the door close behind him and ignores the way Derek’s eyes are burning holes into his back.

He decides to roam the overcrowded shop while he waits for the owner, taking in the way the floorboards creek under his footsteps, or the general musty smell of something old or unused.

There’s furniture settled across the shop like it’s placed to be an obstacle course for the customers. The walls are covered in framed items like paintings, black and white photos, copper and silver coins, slightly torn or completely torn scrolls, and the like. There’s china dishes, and porcelain vases. There’s statues, and empty bird cages hanging from the ceiling — not to mention old looking weapons (guns, swords, etc.).

There’s a row of bookshelves adjacent to the front counter full of books. This catches Stiles’s attention but before he can wander over, a bald dark-skinned man with a goatee appears from behind a doorway of hanging beads.

“Hello,” he greets and eyes him. “How may I help you?”

Stiles fishes his pocket for the gold coin and he puts it on the glass counter display, which holds an impressive exhibit of jewelry (pocket watches, rubies, etc.). He says, “I — do you think you could possibly tell me what this is?”

The man looks at him before he flicks his gaze down at the coin. He reaches into the right pocket of his slacks and pulls free a silver jeweler loupe magnifying glass and presses it to his right eye as he picks up the gold coin with his left hand and brings it closer. He makes a thoughtful sound as he really studies the precious metal.

He says, “Where did you say you found this?”

“I didn’t,” Stiles says. “It found me, I guess you can say. Why? Is it — is it important?”

“Well,” the man replies noncommittally. “You have to understand that this is practically a relic. Based on the engravings on either side, or what I am able to make of it, this dates back to the eighth century, perhaps even earlier. These are Arabic inscriptions, which correlate to the Islamic Golden Age. Also, deriving from the materiel of the gold, I would definitely say it originated from a Persian empire.”

Stiles takes that in. He says, “Okay. Cool.”

“Very.” The man sounds amused.

“You, um, seem to know a lot about history and — yeah,” Stiles says lamely. He’s not really smooth at all.

“I know a few things,” the man concedes vaguely. "Textually."

“Right,” Stiles agrees. “So, say I had a question about some other things. Like — I’m going to randomly think of something — oh. How about folktales?”

“Folktales?”

“Yeah, uh.” Stiles tries to choose his next words carefully. “Are there any like stories about Witches or some mythology about Shapeshifters or creatures that eat the dead or kidnap children from that era?”

The man lifts an eyebrow and lowers the coin, along with the magnifying glass. “The earliest I can think to say is One Thousand and One Nights. It’s a collection of folktales from South and West Asia. You may recognize in its modern title as Arabian Nights. I’m not completely sure, but what you just described sounds a lot like a person who delights in the macabre. A Ghoul.”

“A Ghoul,” Stiles echoes faintly.

The man nods as if to confirm. “In ancient Arabian folklore, the creature preys on young children, steal precious items, and eats the dead. They take the form of the living person most recently eaten. They’re also known to shapeshift into bottom feeding animals.”

“Like pigs?” Stiles feels more sick than he does triumphant when the man nods. “But what if — if the Ghoul doesn’t eat a living person? What happens when they just eat the dead?”

“If it eats the dead then it will never change its current human form. Normally they would do this in order not to draw suspicion to themselves.”

“What about the kids? Why do they kidnap kids?”

“Ghouls have strong ties to Vampires. It’s believed that they were made from Vampires. Once turned, they would pay ode to their sires by collecting a herd of children for their masters to partake from when the masters themselves were no longer physically able to hunt.”

“Vampires,” Stiles croaks and presses at the corner of his eyes. He can feel a headache build.

“Yes. But its mainly a commodity of the male species of these creatures. They tend to be more loyal.” The man goes on to say, “The females however, are prone to do a type of nesting, or hiving. They turn the children. To do their bidding.”

Stiles is struck by a sense of foreboding. “Okay, so, the precious items. You mentioned they have sticky fingers when it comes to that. Would that be — do you think they would go for something like gold coins?”

The man nods.

“Why?”

“To the Egyptians the yellow blaze of gold was a symbol of the Sun God Ra. To the Inca people gold was the sweat of the Sun (and silver the tears of the Moon). In these early civilizations, gold was also an important provision for the After-Life,” the man explains. “For Ghouls, being creatures of the night, and also undead themselves, those gold coins would be the closest ties they can have to ever possessing something that’s as symbolically close to the Sun or the life they once lived. They are greedy creatures by nature, but in some ancient accounts, the female species were known to grant special partisanship to those who would present them with gold favors.”

“Like a Genie,” Stiles supposes as he grabs the coin and looks it over. “Uh, well.” He shoves the coin in his pocket. “Thanks but, I’m not looking to sell. I was curious. Just, curious. Always good to know what's something is worth from time to time.”

“Of course,” the man replies but he’s studying Stiles with a thorough amount of concentration. “I’m happy to have sated your curiosity. Feel free to come by anytime. I’m Alan Deaton.”

“Stiles Stilinski.”

“The sheriff’s son,” Deaton says thoughtfully, like this fact means something to him.

Stiles blushes a little and figures now would be the best time to exit. “Okay, well. I better get going since my free period is just about up. Thanks again.” He hurries to the door.

“Mr. Stilinski,” Deaton calls.

Stiles pauses and looks over his shoulder.

“While we’re on the subject, it might be educational for you to know that the only way kill a Ghoul would be by decapitation. Electricity and fire can often render them weak,” Deaton says. “Have a good day.”

Stiles nods faintly and exits the shop.

Derek is leaning against a meter with an annoyed frown.

“Now for what reason could you have to make that face at me? I told you that you didn’t have to come,” Stiles points out as he grabs his bike.

“What are you up to?” Derek asks instead.

Stiles fidgets. “What do you mean? I’m not up to anything. This was nothing but an educational trip.”

Derek doesn’t look like he buys it but he doesn’t push. He grabs his bike and mounts it before peddling towards school.

Luckily, they make it back right at the end of lunch.

---

Peter is sitting out on the porch steps when Stiles and Isaac roll up to their house on their mountain bikes after school. Peter glances briefly at Isaac before he focuses a narrow-eyed gaze on Stiles.

Isaac wrinkles his nose at Peter as Stiles hands the house keys over and he heads inside, giving Peter a wide berth when he marches up the steps like he really doesn’t want to make physical contact.

Peter seems amused but unsurprised.

Stiles doesn’t even want to know (except he totally does). He approaches Peter, who makes no move to stand, and says, “Dropping in unannounced yet again. But without a stuffed animal this time. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Peter says slowly with a meaningful look. “You tell me.”

Stiles sighs and crosses his arms. “Derek opened his stupid mouth, didn’t he? What did he tell you?”

Peter flashes him a sharp smile and says, “Enough.”

An incredibly loaded silence falls over them.

Stiles fidgets. “My gut is never wrong, you know,” he points out. “I knew something was up with —” He nods his head to the house next door. “— them, and I was right. I was a little off about my theories but a quick fact check cleared that right up. You know, since I took the time to do a little digging unlike everyone around me.”

Peter stares at him intently for a long moment before he says, “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Stiles blinks. “Okay, that was something I wasn’t expecting you to say. Actually if you want to go ahead and say that again, I will not stop you.”

Peter ignores the suggestion. He just stands and looks towards the house next door. “Tell me the plan.”

“Plan?”

Peter gives him a look.

“Okay, okay,” Stiles concedes and fishes the gold coin out of his pocket and holds it up for Peter to see. “I was going to try and bargain with them.”

Peter lifts a brow.

---

Under the cover of darkness, Stiles sits against the tall wooden fence on the grass with Peter as they wait. The plan is that Stiles is going to distract those horrible old hags while Peter sneaks into the house to either get some hard evidence that would give his dad the cue to take some judicial action, or possibly figure out the location of those missing children.

Hopefully, Stiles thinks, Peter wont be too late. Or that this plan comes to nothing.

Predictably, the door swings open around midnight and the clopping of hooves and snorts sound off as those two black boars exit the backdoor of the house.

Stiles waits a beat before he moves to follow them.

Peter reaches out and grabs his wrist. “Are you truly certain about this? Mistakes might prove to be fatal in this case.”

“I'm partially sure,” Stiles admits. “Look, all I know is that they wont do anything to me. It’s better that I distract them. They know I’m the sheriff’s son. I'm virtually untouchable.” He shrugs again. “Now go do the whole rescue thing while you still have a chance.”

Peter looks uncertain, like he wants to say something soft and sentimental but he shakes his head instead. He says, “Be careful. I’ll kill you if you let them kill you.”

Stiles gives Peter a look. “That was almost nice until you just kept running your stupid mouth, you weirdo.” He shakes of Peter’s hand and cuffs him in the shoulder. “You be careful too.”

"As if I could be anything but." Peter smirks before he climbs over the fence and sneaks into the old hags’ house.

Stiles meets Isaac out front and they mount their bikes so they can quickly trail the black boars who are predictably fast. He hadn’t wanted to involve Isaac in this endeavor but Isaac had seemed pretty keen about not being left behind.

The black boars lead them to the Beacon Hills Cemetery.

Stiles veers his bike off toward a tree and he hunches down as Isaac sticks close and they both watch the smaller of the black pigs waddle its way into the lowly lit graveyard.

The other noses around one of his dad’s deputies, who is sitting in a parked cruiser by the entrance of the cemetery, cramming some curly-fries in his mouth, none the wiser.

The black pig transforms abruptly, and takes the form of Kalliope. She kindly taps the window and waits for the deputy to lower the window questioningly before she blows softly into his face. A thick cloud of green fog escapes her mouth and curls around his head.

The deputy passes out within a heartbeat and Kalliope glides away in satisfaction.

Stiles waits a beat before he whispers, “Go to the car and make sure he isn’t dead. If he’s not, just wait for like, fifteen minutes, okay? If I’m not back before then, well, you know who to call.”

Isaac grabs his wrist before he has a chance to get away and there is a thorough amount of unease etched in his scarred features.

"Don't worry," Stiles promises, secretly pleased by the concern he can identify in Isaac's eyes. "I'll be just fine."

Isaac looks uncertain but he nods before letting him go.

They part ways and Stiles strides quickly into the cemetery as Isaac climbs into the passenger seat of the squad car.

Stiles spies Acantha and Kalliope huddled around an open coffin, sucking the rotted flesh from the bones of a corpse with greedy wet sounds. He gags a bit as he hunches behind a tombstone and watches as little by little their true form is revealed.

They have grey leathery skin stretched over skeletal frames, black beady eyes, elfish ears, thin grey hair and razor sharp talons on their hands and feet to match their bloody razor sharp teeth.

Stiles steadies his heart despite things, and he fishes in his pocket for the gold coin. He pulls it out and twiddles it between his fingers.

Kalliope stills suddenly and sniffs at the air before her black eyes whip over to the tombstone Stiles is hiding behind.

“What is it?” Acantha hisses wetly. Blood and shards of bones are oozing from the corners of her wrinkled mouth. "Why do you search the darkness so wildly?"

“I hear something precious,” Kalliope snarls. She licks at her upper lip as her head twitches to the side. Then she says, “Seems to me we have a little nosey visitor."

"Is that so? I do like company," Acantha cackles, crushing an already brittle skull between her claws. "No need to guess who. This scent is familiar."

Kalliope hisses in agreement and says, "Come out, stupid boy. I smell that gold on you.”

Stiles swallows but he stands and reveals himself. He slowly makes his way over as they track his movements like a hawk would a mouse. He says, “I hear you’re the two to go to for a favor?” He waves around the coin.

Kalliope and Acantha watch the coin greedily before they scowl at him.

"Clever, isn't he?" Acantha murmurs. She cocks her head with a smirk. "Children are never so clever. Special, this one. Different from the rest."

Kalliope merely scowls harder and says, “Hardly clever if he comes seeking us as we are. What do you want, stupid boy?”

“Nothing much. Just, uh — was kind of wondering why you came to Beacon Hills?” Stiles asks instead, stalling for time.

Kalliope mouth twists in displeasure. “That’s not a favor, you ugly child.” She starts prowling around him on all fours. "That’s a question."

Stiles swallows. “Yeah, well, the sooner you answer, the sooner I tell you what I want.” He waves around the coin and they watch it with distracted focus.

Acantha says, like she’s compelled to, “We were called here.”

“By who?” Stiles asks.

“Not by who, stupid boy,” Kalliope corrects as she continues to circle him. “This signal comes from no man. Nor woman.”

“What signal?”

“You know of what we speak,” Acantha counters. “You’ve come to it too. It called you. It calls to all it's kin.”

Stiles thinks back and it hits him. “The magical tree stump.”

Acantha and Kalliope give an ugly laugh.

Acantha says, “Not it’s given name. Not properly.”

“No,” Kalliope confirms. “Those foolish Druids call it the center of the world, they do.”

“The Nemeton,” Acantha clarifies, almost gleefully.

“The Nemeton,” Stiles repeats as he rolls the word around in his mind, and there's a whisper of curiosity that unfurls in his mind. There's a stirring in his gut that he's never felt before, like the awakening of something he can't name (something that's been lying dormant). “Why does it — is it just you that can hear the signal?”

“No,” Kalliope merely says as she continues to circle him. "It's not a sound, you vile boy."

"So it's like a vibration then?" Stiles asks, confused.

"No, not a feeling either. The signal is something beyond the senses," Kalliope adds. "Humans don't understand there is more to just tasting. More to just seeing or hearing. More to just scenting or feeling. There is an Echelon of Splendor that they will never get until they are in the throes of death. Then, only then, do they know."

Stiles has no idea what any of that means but he definitely does not want to die in order to find out.

“You ask the wrong things, you know,” Acantha remarks. “Come now, give me the pretty coin and I’ll tell you the future of the world. None of us are safe anymore. The Humans have war in their hearts for us all.”

“Such wicked plans,” Kalliope agrees. “Ugly, stupid, useless Humans. I hate them.”

Acantha hums in agreement. “Give me the coin, little darling. I’ll tell you of what’s to come. You’ll want to know. So many snakes in this town. They’re all poised to strike. I can be so sweet to you if you hand it over.”

Stiles is curious. They’re clever to play on his curiosity like this. He’s almost tempted to hand the coin over and get some real answers. But he just shakes his head to clear his mind of their seduction and says, “What did you do to Lydia?”

“This hideous child asks such boring questions,” Kalliope drawls as she slinks back over to the rotted corpse and begins to suck on another bone. “We’ve done nothing to that atrocious redheaded fairy.”

“It’s the feline therianthropic, not us,” Acantha adds, sounding offended. “Bad luck to kill a woman of the barrows. Why would we?”

“We wouldn’t,” Kalliope confirms.

Stiles feels his thoughts begin to swim with all this new information.

“We should eat him,” Acantha announces suddenly. “He’s not going to give us that coin. We should eat him and then take the coin.” She eyes him. "Yes, that'll do nicely."

“I vote no on that,” Stiles says quickly.

Kalliope huffs meanly. “Shut up, you repulsive boy. We wouldn’t touch you.”

“And why wouldn’t we, Kalliope?” Acantha complains. “He’s seen our true nature. Can’t let that stand. Oh no. Can’t let him run his delicious little mouth about that.”

“Honestly, Acantha. You mean you don’t smell it on him?” Kalliope remarks as she glares at Stiles like he’s the ugly vermin sucking on rotted flesh like chicken off of a bone. “Isn’t it a curious thing that our concealment charms didn’t work on him? He still gave us the side-eye when all the other dull-witted creatures of this town were so delectably dismissive.”

Acantha cocks her head as she takes that in to consideration. She inhales deeply in Stiles's direction curiously before her eyes flutter and she gives a frightening grin. “Ah, I see. How delightful,” she murmurs. “Too true you are, Kalliope. He’s been paying us far too much attention from the beginning. Not natural for Humans at all. But he's never been one, has he?”

“There’s never a proper concealment charm that works efficiently for Virtues. They’ll always discern the true nature of a person. I’ve always hated them for that reason,” Kalliope complains as she continues to glare at Stiles. “Well don’t look so confused. Don’t you know what you are, you imbecile?”

Stiles rolls the name over in his mind and tries to think desperately about what it could mean. “You think I’m a — Virtue?”

Kalliope gives an ugly snort of a laugh. “How utterly perfect. He doesn’t know. Imagine that. A clueless Virtue. It’s like poetry.”

Acantha smiles wickedly. “We should keep the ignorant Changeling then. I’m tired of this place anyway. Come, Kalliope, let’s run away with the little thing. Imagine what we could do.”

“Blood of a Virtue pays very nicely,” Kalliope agrees as they begin to stalk towards him.

“Wait, wait,” Stiles hastily says as he backs away, stumbling. “I thought we were here to bargain. Seriously, you don’t want to kidnap me.”

“Oh but don’t we?” Acantha counters. “Keep your silly little coin. You just gave us something far more valuable.”

Stiles runs and screams with his arms flailing, hoping that Isaac can take this as a sign that things are going wrong and call his dad for help. He doesn’t make it far because these old hags are fast.

Acantha tackles him into the dirt with a squealing growl and Kalliope blows a gust of nasty wind in his face. The smell of her breath is so toxic (worse than hot, raw sewage) that it makes his vision swim as his stomach churns with nausea.

In the distance, he makes out that eerie orange alley cat watching them from where it’s perched on top of a tombstone.

Kalliope blows in his face again.

The world goes dark.

Chapter Text

Stiles wakes up with both his wrists tied together and his mouth gagged with white hanging rope soaked in what smells and tastes like vinegar and oil. He’s lying on the center of the Nemeton in the middle of a circle of strategically placed (eerily deformed) black candles, blinking up at a starry sky.

This takes a moment for him to process, of course.

He’s never woken up like this before. He groans and sits up shakily, pleased to see that, although shoeless (and without socks), his feet aren’t tied together. There is, however, red wax melted between all his toes (causing them to stick together). He tries to wiggle them free but to no avail.

"That'll make some nice footprints for us to follow if you try to run, naughty boy," Acantha explains when she notices that he's awake. "Can track you anywhere with that, we can."

Stiles blinks and tries to tongue away the saturated rope from his mouth.

Acantha goes back to lighting the black candles one by one as she uses her free hand to burn some sage into the air (the smoke is thick and an auburn brown).

Meanwhile, Kalliope mutters a prayer over a long archaic looking blade she points from north to south, then east to west. She repeats this process as she circles the Nemeton.

Stiles makes an annoyed sound at Acantha as he stumbles to his feet.

Acantha looks at him sharply with her beady black eyes and warns, “Mustn’t break the circle, little one. You’ll be burned to a cinder. You’ll stay put like a good dear, yes? Wouldn't want those young bones to poof into ash. No, wouldn't want that. Such a waste for something so valuable. All the candles have been lit and it's tiny flames will keep you in where you belong.”

Stiles makes a distressed sound as he eyes the edges of the Nemeton when he stands to his full height. She was right. All of the black candles were lit but the flames didn't flicker at all. They were frozen, as if they weren't real at all. The only sensible thing to do would be to heed her advice since he didn't understand this kind of magic at all. He then looks around and out into the trees, hoping to see even a glimmer of help (maybe even some light through the trees where the Hale Manor might reside).

It’s dark and quiet, however.

The moon is sitting heavy amongst the stars in First Quarter, and the air feels moderately warm. It’s a perfect night, and it really clashes with Stiles’s current situation. It makes a chill of slight fear roll down his back like a bead of water. It makes something restless in his gut. He wonders if this is the moment he dies.

Stiles shakes his morbid thoughts away and thinks about Isaac and his dad and Peter. They don’t know where he is and he doesn’t know where they are. Oh man, his dad is going to be so pissed if he goes and gets himself killed. Or if he doesn’t and he somehow makes it out of this alive and somewhat unscathed then he’ll be grounded forever. Being grounded sounds like heaven right now.

Isaac had to have heard him scream. He’s smart. He’ll get help or something. It’s a silly hope to cling to but Stiles clings to it desperately.

He winces as he tongues at the rope tied around his mouth again. It tastes bitter with the heavy saturation of vinegar and oil. He tries to wriggle his mouth free once more as he bounces on his heels and weighs his options. Common sense is telling him to run but he can’t ignore Acantha’s earlier warning. He’s not sure what kind of ritual they’re performing, but he’s in no position to take any risks.

He wonders how far he’s from the Hale Manor. He thinks about how good their hearing is and he wonders if any of them can hear him when he begins to scream through the rope while jumping up and down.

“Quiet your tongue, you pea-brained nuisance,” Kalliope snaps; the blade in her hand winks at him dangerously with the help of the moonlight. “Acantha's burning sage and their as good as raising silencing wards. Can’t afford any interruptions with this.”

“We’ll be as quick as possible,” Acantha promises as she shakes off the last bit of brown smoke, like that’s supposed to be soothing or something. "We've got a Half Moon tonight."

"What luck," Kalliope agrees with a smirk. "First Quarter's good for summoning. Best time to draw things outside of ourselves and bring them to us."

Acantha takes what looks to be the bones of a human infant and the bones of an adult ox, crushing them together between her taloned hands until she’s ground it all into dust. She then begins to spin around with it over her head before she releases it around the visible roots of the tree like a flower girl would with rose petals as she waltzes down the aisle of a wedding ceremony.

Kalliope turns with the ancient looking blade and folds her hands over the hilt, pressing it back against her skeletal sternum as the sharp edge of the blade points up at the sky. She closes her eyes and begins to chant so fast that it barely looks like her lips are moving.

Stiles pants as the air grows sharp and cold, pricking needles of uneasiness into his heart as he watches with widened eyes as Kalliope’s body begins to vibrate like the wings of a hummingbird.

Acantha’s cold laughter echoes menacingly as she begins to vibrate as well and she continues to belly dance her way around the Nemeton without ever ceasing.  

Stiles makes another distressed sound as the hairs on his body stands on end with the fluctuating energy buzzing through the air and it's like being in a cave the way their voices seem to echo in his ears. He watches as the flames of the black candles lining the edge of the tree stump and keeping him enclosed begin to blaze brighter and brighter as though they have a life of their own.

There's a sheet of fog rolling in across the dewy grass.

Kalliope slices open her hand and drips dark green blood onto a pile of bones at her feet. She then drips some deep blue candle wax over them as she hisses something in archaic Latin, which makes the bones disappear under a thick puff of red smoke that smells sulfuric (like rotten eggs) when it reaches Stiles.

When the red smoke clears with the sound of a loud sigh, there’s a leggy and very naked dark eyed woman with long, wild and wavy (mud brown) hair, pupil-less eyes the color of red wine, and a blank but neutral expression. She lifts her hands and eyes them with a cocked head before she takes stock of the rest of her naked body. She's covered in streaks of dirt, and she looks like some kind wild woman who hasn't known civilization in years.

Kalliope and Acantha fall to their knees before her, keeping their foreheads pressed to the grass in a total sign of submission.

The woman eyes them with clear indifference and says, “For what reason am I to be sealed in Human flesh? Am I not a Foot Soldier to the King of Principalities? How insulting." She examines the back of her right hand with a grimace. "By whom was I called? To whom can I blame?”

Acantha’s voice trembles as she speak, “Look kindly on us, O Jezebel. Most beautiful of all the Fallen Ones —”

“Kindly?” Jezebel retorts as she stops Acantha's babbling before it can truly start. Her mouth compresses into a hard line. “Now what use is a low-ranking Demon to a decrepit Ghoul? I would say you'd find yourself in better company with the Vampires." She clucks her tongue. "Are you all out of wretched parasites to sponsor?" She cocks her head and narrows her pupil-less eyes. "Though now that I do gaze upon you..." She trails off with a thoughtful him. "Yes. You do look familiar to me. Lift your heads so that I may see your faces.”

“We can not,” Acantha swears. Her features seem to shrink in nervousness. “You do know us. But we have wronged you.”

“In return for your graciousness, we offer favors as recompense,” Kalliope promises.

Jezebel hums but the look of cold detachment on her face never changes. She says, “I think I do know you. And you have offerings? Laughable. I’ve yet to forgive you for the thousand gold pieces you stole from me some centuries ago when I still belonged to the World of Man and was seated on high. One could almost get nostalgic thinking on those days. How long has it been since I remember the taste of food or the desire to sleep and dream again?" Her expression grows more disdainful. "Tell me why I shouldn’t rip off your heads and burn you to ash.”

Kalliope rushes to say, “We have a Virtue! A true Paragon of motion and choice. One to provide enlightenment!”

“Ambiguous at that,” Acantha hastily adds. “He’s not chosen a field! He has potential.”

Jezebel inclines her head even further in interest at that. She drags her taciturn gaze up and over to Stiles.

Stiles feels another chill creep through him at her blank stare; there are whispers in the wind with voices he can't even separate or determine the source of. But it feels like it's all coming from her. There's a presence about her — around her. It all feels so very haunted. Like stepping foot in an abandoned hotel that was shut down because of all the uncounted/undetermined death. He bites down on the rope in his mouth. He bites down hard as an unsettling smirk spreads slowly across her mouth.

“Well done, monsters,” Jezebel praises, her voice shrill and strident. “The Benefactor will be pleased to hear of this. It’s just the founding stone we’ve been looking for to begin breaking the soil of the New World.”

“Yes. We’ve heard rumors,” Kalliope admits. “The Humans think they work in secret but we see all that they do. And we know of the Benefactor’s cleverness. You sit at his right hand and take delight in fulfilling the desires of his heart!"

Jezebel smirks. "What asinine assumptions," she accuses, scornfully. "You run your useless mouths, thinking that your words will act as your eyes but still you cannot see."

"This gift to you will help lift our blindness then," Acantha begs as she finally stands upright on her knees. "For this — can we — will we be pardoned in your New World?”

Kalliope straightens as well and adds, “A Virtue is quite a token of loyalty, a sign of a true Dominion, and we’ve come to you when we could have gone to any other. We need protection. Protection you and your master can offer. A fair exchange, would you not say, O Jezebel?”

Jezebel hums as she taps her chin thoughtfully. Her head cocks back as she looks down the nose at them. “Darling little monsters,” she says breezily as she lifts her hands, using some kind of telekinetic force to pick up Kalliope and Acantha. They levitate in the air with choking gasps, clawing at their own throats as Jezebel looks on in gleeful delight. “When has biblical history ever shown me to be fair?” She whistles sharply.

Stiles watches in horror as a pair of zombie Hellhounds break free from the soil at Jezebel’s feet with monstrous growls. They snarl demonically at the Ghouls suspended over their heads like steaks. Their fur is dirty, matted with guts, and as rotten as their eyes look (which glow like the headlights of a car).

“While I do appreciate this remarkable offering you’ve presented to me, I’m afraid this is where we have to part ways.” Jezebel releases them with a flick of her hands and they fall prey to the savagery of the Hellhounds. “Or perhaps it’s better said that you’ll be parting.”

Kalliope and Acantha scream shrilly as the Hellhounds rip them apart to pieces while they all sink into the ground as though caught in the throes of quicksand.

Stiles is shaking down to his toes by the time the ground completely swallows Acantha and Kalliope along with the Hellhounds. The ground normalizes as though nothing had occurred before at all.

Jezebel strides towards him as she tsks. “Poor thing. You’re shaking." Her words are as hollow as her blank expression. "I’m sorry I had to expose you to such violence, but that’s the way of things,” she unceremoniously reasons as she circles him and eyes the roots of the Nemeton. She smirks and reaches out before her hand gets zapped away by an invisible barrier. “Clever, clever, little monsters, aren’t they? I can’t get in and you can’t get out. What shall we do about this?”

Stiles swallows as he fidgets and struggles against his wrist bindings. He follows her naked form as she continues to circle him, testing the barrier over and over. His heart and mind are racing. Demons and Hellhounds and Vampires and Ghouls and Virtues. Just…dear god. This is more than he ever thought — more than he ever wanted to know.

This must be what they mean when they say to be careful what you wish for and all Stiles has ever wanted was to see the truth for what it really was. To understand what makes this town so different — so special. He’d wanted answers and all that it’s gotten him is some naked Demon, who he is pretty sure is the same person from biblical scripture circling him as if he were a prized jewel.

His vision is swimming with his panic and he drops to his knees under the pressure of how much he is genuinely freaking out. It probably doesn’t help his sanity to see that eerie orange alley cat spring out of the shadows, even larger than it’s usual size, and it hisses threateningly at Jezebel.

It’s appearance slowly transforms under the cover of the moonlight until it completely resembles an adult-sized beige-white lynx. It hops up onto the edge of the stump with little trouble and hisses warningly again at the naked Demon.

Jezebel laughs cruelly. “What a pretty little kitty. My hounds would enjoy having you in their throes. Split you open good, they would. Am I supposed to be scared?”

“No,” the cat replies and holy god — the goddamn cat can talk. Of course it can talk because what would make this moment anymore bizarre than that added effect? “But an acquaintance of mine might make you reconsider. How fond are you of the Leshy?”

Jezebel’s smirk disappears within an instant. “You lie. The Leshy are extinct.”

The cat just cocks its head as the ground begins to shake.

Stiles looks around for the source of the sound, as does a steadily paling Jezebel.

Then, like something out of Lord of the Rings, a giant of a man wearing fur skins and boots on the wrong feet bursts through the thrush of the trees, swinging a club made of mighty oak and vines. He has thick, bushy hair and a beard intertwined with flowers and butterflies. His skin is made of bronze and his eyes blaze with the fury of an ocean (blue and deep and forceful). He’s like a walking tree practically and when he roars at Jezebel, it sounds like thunder cracking in the sky.

Jezebel hisses, sidestepping every swing of his club before she spins away into a cloud of red smoke, disappearing completely.

The cat huffs in slight satisfaction before it peers over at a wide-eyed Stiles. “Are you okay?”

Stiles doesn’t answer. He really has none to give.

“I think he’s in shock,” the cat supposes.

The Leshy strides over as it shrinks down to a more normal height of seven feet, resembling more of a human male than a humanoid tree. He says, in a deep Scottish accent, “Aye, laddie. He's had a nasty surprise. Give him th' inside of your palm. That should wake him, ey?”

“I’m not going to slap him, Mr. Ravenhill,” the cat says, appalled. It’s wandering along the circle of candles, pushing at it with its paws. "He'll come to himself eventually I'm sure."

Stiles looks at the Leshy as the name clicks in his head. That’s Mr. Ravenhill? The Hales’ groundskeeper? Should he be surprised at this point?

Mr. Ravenhill shrugs as he shoulders his wooden club. He smiles thinly at Stiles, who balks, and says, “Dinnae be frightened, laddie. We sooner protect than harm.”

Stiles nods dumbly. He’s in shock still.

The cat says, “I’m not good with these protective seals, but it should be like disarming a bomb. Got to find the right wire to shut it all down.” The cat jumps to the ground and starts clawing at one of the exposed roots of the tree before it pops up again to the edge. “There. I think that will do something.”

Stiles stares at the cat.

The cat simply shrugs but it’s so weird looking because cats don’t shrug. “Try and step out of the circle. I’m going to go inform your father of your whereabouts. Mr. Ravenhill?”

“Aye?”

“Keep him company in the meantime please.”

“Aye.”

The cat sprints off into the trees.

Stiles hedges the edge of the tree stump, sticking his toe out and then his whole body when he doesn’t immediately go up in flames. He rubs off the wax between his toes by smearing it into the wet grass. He stands before Mr. Ravenhill awkwardly, still bound and gagged, and he fidgets.

Mr. Ravenhill reaches down and snaps the rope from Stiles’s wrists as if it was weak tape and says, “There then. Might comfy now, I gather.”

Stiles reaches behind his head to undo the knot of the rope gagging his mouth. His jaw flexes in relief when he’s able to rid himself of it. The corners of his mouth are sore and tender, and he wouldn’t be surprised if he has bruises. He bruises so very easily, and judging by the rope burn on his wrists, his mouth is probably not any better off.

“Uh,” Stiles says as he cranes his head and blinks up at Mr. Ravenhill. “Thank — thank you.”

“Its th' decent thing to do when yer in a pinch, boyo. There's nae a thing I wouldn't do fur a Virtue. Tis been so long since I been blessed tae see one. I count it up as an honor, young lord,” Mr. Ravenhill intones with jovial pride.

Stiles flushes at the title. “I, um — I'm not a lord or anything. I don’t really know what it means to be — uh." He's not even sure what he's trying to say. He rubs the back of his head sheepishly. "So. Um. You’ve met many Virtues before?”

Mr. Ravenhill nods happily, and his beard is so bushy that it’s hard for Stiles to tell if he’s smiling or not. “Aye, a many years ago when th' world was stowed with the lot o’ ye. Come, let's get yer nice 'n' warmed up then. I'll tell ye what I can about what I know.”

Stiles finds himself being herded off in an unknown direction and he wonders if he should be so trusting. But nothing in his gut tells him that the Leshy will do him any harm, so he obligingly enters a gauntly, thorny cabin covered in weeds and ferns.

The inside of it is more homely, well, in an odd fairy-tale way.

The furniture is largely built and obviously made to fit the dimensions of a rather large man. It’s pretty old century too. There’s not an electronic device in sight. Just a small fire in a large fireplace giving the cabin light, as the birds in the birdcages hanging from the ceiling chirp and flap their wings.

Mr. Ravenhill coos at every single one of them as he passes out some grain for them to eat. “Forgive th' noise. I dinnae entertain much company ootside o' th' Hales. I've a soft heart fur th' Wild Things. I luv th' birds most o' all.” He winks jovially at Stiles. Then he makes an indication to the large rocking chair by the fireplace. “Sit down. Sit down. I'll make us a cuppa while we wait fur yer Pa tae come 'n' collect ye. Then I'll get to them questions ye have aboot ye kind.”

Stiles sits and tries not to feel like a toddler sitting in a highchair. He watches Mr. Ravenhill putter around with a teakettle as the house quakes with each of his movements before he comes back with a steaming cup to present to Stiles. He accepts the cup with a thanks and lets it warm his shaky palms.

Mr. Ravenhill slips out of sight for a moment before he returns with a bucket of warm water colored pink by oils (it smells like roses) and some poorly knit socks. He kneels before him and lightly cleans Stiles’s dirty feet with his large hands and a sponge; and he's so gentle about it too — like he's handling paper thin china dishes.

Stiles wonders if this is a normality for the Leshy, and he figures it’s more than likely. The large man seems to be from a different time period where there's a heavy importance placed on this kind of hospitality.

Mr. Ravenhill dries Stiles's feet before slipping on the wooly and multicolored socks. He says, “There. That should do it, ey? I apologize fur th' stockings. I dinnae have anythin' yer size but I figured this would do. I get th' frilly things from th' wee Hale kiddies. They like ta knit clothes fur me so I can brace th' winter. Told 'em I'm used ta havin' frozen toes, but they mean well. I dinnae have th’ heart ta shoot them down when they offer.”

“It’s fine,” Stiles quickly assures, not wanting to be rude when the Leshy went through all the trouble. “Thank you. They’re, um, comfortable.” Which they are, but they’re also an eyesore.

Mr. Ravenhill nods, pleased. He takes the seat across from Stiles. “Drink th' cuppa, laddie. It'll keep th' bad dreams away when ye rest yer head tonight.” He gestures to the cup in Stiles’s hands and he waits until Stiles takes some careful sips of it, wincing at the bitter taste. “Ye've got some questions. Go on then, wee lord. Ask them,” he advises and gives Stiles his full attention.

Stiles fidgets but he says, “You — what are you?” He cringes a bit at his own wording. It feels ignorant to ask that way.

Mr. Ravenhill seems to take no offense to it though. He replies, “Nae a thing. But I suppose some would say I'm a Woodland Spirit. Others would say Forest Demon. But I'll tell ye I do mean tae harm no one unless they harm me first. I tak' care o' the trees and th' creatures in 'em only in th' ways that I can. Mostly I look after th' Hales and their wee ones. I've been a Guardian tae them 'n' theirs fur more than eighty generations now.”

“Whoa,” Stiles says for the better lack of having anything else to say. “What are — what are they?”

Mr. Ravenhill’s blue eyes twinkle with mirth. “If ye dinnae know then it's not my place ta say, laddie. Sorry. Ask another question. I promise ta answer it.”

Stiles quells his disappointment. “What is a Virtue? How many are there? How many were there? Am I — are they extinct?”

“Back when th' world was rich 'n' peaceful, and when Man 'n' Beast could commune with one another in respect, th' Virtues acted as judges ta maintain balance 'n' fix any troubles between Man 'n' Beast. They were glorious 'n' fair. They were keener than most. They could look at a ye 'n' spot yer innermost truths. That was needed back then. Man could nae take advantage o' Beasts 'n' Beast could nae take advantage o' Men.

"Virtues made sure that all was balanced. This is what ye are. Yer th' scales needed ta set things right. Ye have a pure knowing that keeps th' world from falling ta fire 'n' chaos.” Mr. Ravenhill sighs with forlorn nostalgia. “There's less o' ye now. Man stopped believin in th' Wild Things, and in th' Magic that made us all. When Man forgot, th' Beasts had ta hide. When they hid, there was nae need fur Virtues anymore. Then one day, Virtues were nae more.”

Stiles doesn’t quite understand but he feels a sadness suddenly. “What do you mean? They just disappeared or something? Like evolution? I —”

Knock, knock, knock.

Mr. Ravenhill stands. “That would be yer Pa. C'mon, young lord. Let's get ye goin'.”

Stiles is battling between disappointment and relief. He wants to know more — has to know more. He gets up and follows after the Leshy.

Mr. Ravenhill curls a large fist over the knob of the door but he pauses and listens. Before he opens it, he says, very quietly, “Listen, laddie. I can tell ye wantae tell yer Pa 'n' yer friends, but they cannae know until its the right time. Ye cannae tell them what ye are if they do nae already know. Tis nae safe fur ye 'n' tis nae safe fur them. Ye must continue ta be Human in th' eyes of them.”

“But I — I am Human,” Stiles says, but he's uncertain really as to what he is. He has so many questions.

“Aye, ye do have th' make of one, but yer more than that. Yer mind is more than that. Yer blood is more than that. Yer th' Emissary fur th' laws o' nature.  If yer on this Earth, tis fur somethin’ serious. We cannae lose ye now. Ye be careful with yerself. I will look after ye when I can if ye stumble in th' forests again. The cat-boy will mind ye too.” Mr. Ravenhill pats him a tad too gently, minding his own strength before he opens the door.

His dad is standing on the other side with red eyes.

It almost kills Stiles and he starts to apologize as he rushes forward but his dad just tugs him into a hug. The words die in his throat and he holds onto his father fiercely, hoping to communicate how much he understands.

His dad is shaking and he says, in a raspy voice, “Keeping me from all that red meat loses its significance if you’re the one to give me a heart attack.”

Stiles laughs wetly and holds his old man tighter.

Mr. Ravenhill lingers in the doorway and says, “I wouldn't mind th' laddie. He's got Fate on his side, 'n' Fate would never see him come ta any harm. Ye be on yer way now, Sheriff. Lightening storm's coming. I can smell it.”

His dad manages to pull himself away and he nods somberly. “Thank you,” he says. “Thank you for — thank you.”

Mr. Ravenhill says, “Tis nae a thing. I had someone I knew long ago, 'n' yer son reminds me o' her. Goodnight 'n' safe travels.” He shuts the door.

The cabin trembles slightly as the Leshy moves around.

His dad presses a hand between Stiles’s shoulder blades and pushes him towards his parked cruiser.

Stiles sits in the passenger seat, buckles in, and tries not to fidget as a heavy quiet falls over them.

His dad keeps his gaze on the road and he doesn’t say much himself.

Most of the ride is spent in a loaded silence. The radar beeps and chirps quietly until that sound is overcome by the sound of heavy thunder, which seems to come out of nowhere.

His dad drives a little faster, and the rumble of the engine adds to the silence.

Stiles fidgets. He can’t take it anymore. He says, “Listen, dad. I’m sorry — I know I put myself in danger. I didn’t think — well I didn’t really think at all that something would — but it did and I can see why you would want me to stay out of it because I almost — and Isaac. Is Isaac okay? I’m sorry, dad. I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have — but I did because I just — I was only trying to do what I thought was right thing. Please don’t be mad at me, I promise I —”

“Stiles,” his dad says softly as they pull up to the house. “Look.” He points to the commotion going on next door in front the neighbor’s house.

Stiles’s breath hitches as he watches through the windshield as all the families of the missing kids are reunited with them. Those missing kids, who are covered in ash and soot and some kind of black goop, are all account for. And they — they are healthy and whole and — and alive.

The parents and the kids are weeping all over each other as the deputies help herd them together and its obvious to see how important and tremendous this reunion must be.

And Stiles — he is — he’s partially responsible for that. He did that. He puts a hand over his mouth as a relieved sob leaks through. It’s so stupid and crazy but he’s just so happy, despite everything that happened tonight, and the trauma of it all — it’s nothing compared to seeing all those families being reunited with their kids who they probably thought were dead. God, Stiles had doubted it himself, he’d thought they were — there was no way to really know but there they are.

His dad reaches over and cradles him as he shakes. He shushes him and says, “You really think I’m upset with you? While I am sprouting some grey hairs over the fact you took a very risqué chance by confronting those — whatever those women were, I’m glad that you — well I’m not glad because it did put you in danger — what I’m trying to say is that I should be the one to say sorry. I should have listened —”

“No, dad,” Stiles croaks in protest, pulling away. “You didn’t know — they were using magic to conceal themselves. You didn’t know. You couldn't have known.”

“But still,” his dad insists. “I almost lost — I could have lost you because I didn’t want to believe — that’s not okay, Stiles. You’re my son and I would die before I let anything happen to you.” He uses his thumbs to brush the tears from Stiles’s cheeks and he fingers the rope bruises across Stiles’s mouth with an unhappy sound. He picks up Stiles’s wrists and strokes over the rope burns there.

Stiles chokes another sob at the tenderness his dad is showing him and he hugs his dad close because he can’t take it. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

His dad just pats him on the back. “It’s okay. You’re okay.” He rubs a hand up and down his trembling back. “You’re so much like your mother. She had gut instincts that I couldn’t understand half the time, and it sure as hell made her a better detective than me at times. She’d be proud of you too.”

Stiles chuckles wetly before he pulls away. He sniffs and says, “Did she ever — do you know what a Virtue is?”

His dad furrows his brow but he says, “I — well, I would hear your mother and your grandfather talk about something like that when they talked about you. I’m sure I asked too, but I don’t think she ever told me. She said it’s something that couldn’t be explained, and that it’s better I didn’t know until it was time to. Why?”

Stiles closes his mouth and presses his lips together with a headshake, even though the corners of his mouth are still a little tender.

His dad eyes him keenly but he doesn’t press. He says, “I think you and I have to agree to trust each other. This will make things easier in the future, and I won’t have to worry every second of every day if you’re in danger or not. Just — you’re older now and you’re more willful about what you believe in and what you feel you should do. Just tell me please if you think you might be doing something like this again. We’ll figure it out together.”

Stiles nods silently and receives his dad in another hug. “Peter is — is he — and Isaac —”

“Safe. Both of them,” his dad assures before he pulls back again. “Isaac called me to the cemetery, but you were gone. I started to track you but I got a call from the station saying this man called in an anonymous tip — it was about your whereabouts and that you were safe and sound with the Hales’ groundskeeper out on their property and I didn’t stick around to question it. I just drove straight to you.” He looks towards the huddled families, and the kids being looked over by the EMTs while simultaneously giving their statements to the deputies. His dad points to their front porch where Isaac is.

Isaac is sitting on the top steps, the bottom half of his face covered up by one of his longest scarves. He's watching the circus of commotion as he fiddles with the dark scarf around his neck anxiously.

Stiles is struck with an insurmountable amount of relief and he sags back against the seat.

Then his dad points to the end of the driveway of the neighbor’s house where Peter is cleverly commandeering all the media attention. “He and I agreed it would be better if he took partial credit to the discovery of the kids while I take the other half. Keeps you out of the media,” he explains.

Stiles snorts tiredly. “How did you convince him to only take partial credit?”

His dad just smiles briefly in quick humor before he goes serious again. “That basement — it was a horror show down there.”

Stiles can imagine.

“You want to tell me your version of the story?”

Stiles does, but he keeps out a few key components (like the fact he is some kind of judge/scale/equalizer?). He wants to tell his dad about it, but he’s not even sure he could explain since he can’t understand, and plus, it’s a keen possibility that his mother knew what he was too. If so, the fact that she didn’t tell her dad about it — well, maybe it would be a good idea to keep that tad bit of information to himself. Just for the time being. Just until he can figure it all out.

His dad listens to his account of things with an attentive ear, his face going a bit ashen at certain parts, but he refrains from saying anything. He does, however, seem unsurprised to hear about Mr. Ravenhill being a Leshy or that the cat spoke or that the Ghouls called Lydia a Fairy.

Then Stiles says, “Wait, so you really didn't know that those old hags had nothing to do with what happened with Lydia and her parents?”

His dad nods. “I’ve got my suspicions that the person or thing that left that message on our doorstep is also responsible for the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Martin. The pattern of claw marks fits both descriptions in a damn near identical way.”

“Claw marks?” Stiles questions.

“Possible,” his dad says with a sigh. “The coroner’s report also puts the wounds at the borderline of some special type of hunting knife, which is why I can’t be sure entirely if it was a person or — something else.”

Stiles rolls that around in his mind. “Since Peter and Talia seem to be your consultant on all things supernatural — what did they say?”

His dad shrugs. “Inconclusive.” He goes on to say, “They haven’t told me much of what they think. It must be significant because they’re keeping this pretty close to the chest. I have a feeling that it has something to do with Mayor Argent. That family gets particularly tight-lipped when it comes to the Argents.”

“Huh,” Stiles says as he glances over to Peter, who is still charming the media’s attention. He rubs at his eyes and says, “I’m tired.” because honestly, he is.

His dad seems to understand and they climb out of his squad car before heading to the house quickly since it’s still thundering.

Isaac stands to his feet immediately upon Stiles’s approach.

His dad opens his mouth to say something but one of his deputies calls him and he flashes both boys an apologetic smile before he walks away.

Stiles gets dragged into the house by Isaac and as soon as the door closes, the quiet preteen clings to him in a surprising display of affection. He’s not normally so tactile. Stiles hugs back when he notices that Isaac is shaking a bit and he immediately feels bad. “Hey, hey — I’m okay. I just —”

Isaac shakes his head sharply as he presses his face into Stiles’s collarbone. He presses his fingers to Stiles’s mouth in a silent request for Stiles to be quiet before he pulls his hand away and continues to hug the older teen tightly.

Stiles swallows over the lump in his throat. He’s starting to get some idea of how Isaac would feel if anything happened to him, and it makes him feel warm and happy, if not a little guilty.

Isaac eventually lets him go long enough so Stiles can go upstairs and take a shower.

Stiles avoids his reflection while he’s in the bathroom. He really doesn’t want to see the bruises on his face. He climbs into the shower with his toothbrush and scrubs the taste of vinegar and oil and bitter tea out of his mouth before he scrubs himself down until his skin is pink. He cries because he’s only Human (no matter what he's been told so far). The day’s events really crash into him and he cries until he can’t cry anymore, and that’s when he climbs out of the shower, red all over and emotionally drained. He goes to his room, grateful for the quiet, and he puts on some pajamas before he crashes facedown onto his bed.

Surprisingly, he dreams of nothing. It makes him wonder just what was in that tea the Leshy gave him.

He could probably use more of that in the future.

---

Thursday comes and despite the fact that Stiles has gotten a peaceful night of sleep, he still doesn’t feel up to going to school.

His dad seems to understand and he doesn’t force Stiles to go. He kisses Stiles on the top of his head after he comes in his room to check up on him and heads off to work when Stiles convinces him to go. He scoots to the other side of his bed and stares out the window and tries to think of nothing, which is a near impossibility for him. He doesn’t even realize that Isaac has elected to stay behind until the preteen comes into his room with quiet footsteps and climbs on the other side of his bed with a comic.

Isaac sits with his back to the headboard and he flips lazily through the comic.

Stiles falls asleep again without meaning to, and when he wakes up, there’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cup of milk sitting on his nightstand.

Isaac is nowhere in sight.

Stiles wipes the sleep from his eyes and sits up with a stretch and a yawn. He grabs the sandwich and the milk before he carries it down into the living room, where Isaac is already watching a marathon of Dance Moms as he sits curled up in his favorite armchair with his own plate of food.

Stiles sits down on the big couch and wrinkles his nose at the smell of fish. “What is — are you eating tuna sandwiches?”

Isaac just shrugs, which is his way of confirming, and he keeps his eyes glued on the TV.

"Dance Moms," Stiles mumbles, almost disdainfully. "I do not get your attraction to this show."

Isaac's response is to turn the volume up.

Stiles snorts and eats his sandwich. He doesn’t really like Dance Moms, but he bears it for Isaac’s sake. He moves to make himself another sandwich when the doorbell rings. He has a quick debate with himself about whether or not he wants to answer but he moves to the door with a sigh.

There’s a tall, very handsome blond with green eyes, outfitted in a police uniform on his doorstep and he greets Stiles with a disarming smile. “Hello. I’m Kyle Parrish. Your dad sent me by to check up on you and Isaac.”

Stiles nods faintly as they shake hands. He doesn’t ever remember seeing this guy around the station, and he practically knows all his father’s deputies. “I’m Stiles — are you new?”

Parrish blinks at the suddenness of the question but he appears to be amused. “I am new. Just started today,” he replies.

“You’re really young,” Stiles says because his brain to mouth filter is crappy. “I mean —”

Parrish laughs. “No, it’s okay. I get that all the time. I’m twenty-six,” he explains. His green eyes are bright with his smile. “A lot people can look as young as me if they just eat right and take care of themselves.”

Stiles straightens at that. “I like you. You should tell my dad that. He wont be convinced.”

“Will do,” Parrish says and flicks his gaze over Stiles’s shoulder. “Hello, Isaac.”

Stiles turns and sees Isaac looming by the doorway of the living room with a dark look on his face. He’s even more startled and confused when Isaac marches over and slams the door on Deputy Parrish before storming off to his room. “Uh —” He lifts his hands and waits to see if Isaac will reappear. "So what was that?" he yells.

Isaac is a no show.

Stiles blinks before he quickly opens the door.

Parrish looks a bit sad but unsurprised by Isaac’s rudeness, which is strange in a way. Maybe his dad told Parrish about how Isaac can be — but even then, he looks like he expected it.

Stiles says, “I’m sorry about that. He’s been — moody lately or something.”

Parrish smiles a little sadly. “Puberty, I think,” is his wistful response as he looks towards the stairs like he’s hoping that Isaac will reappear.

Stiles frowns and says, “Well, as you can see, we’re fine. Thanks for stopping by, Deputy Parrish.”

Parrish whips his gaze back and nods quickly. He then reaches in his back pocket for a pad of tickets before he rips one off and writes his number out across the back of it. “Here’s my number for — just in case of anything. Please give it to Isaac too,” he says.

Stiles takes it, despite the oddity of it, but Parrish seems harmless so he doesn’t worry much.

Parrish stiffens suddenly and steps back just as Laura and Peter start up the walkway towards the house. He frowns and steps further back when they reach the top of the steps and eye him with amused smirks and wrinkled noses.

“Kyle,” Peter greets pleasantly. “Or is it Parrish? It’s hard to keep track of what you go by these days.”

“Parrish is fine.”

Peter gives an amiable nod, like he’s humoring the deputy. “Well, I didn’t know you were back in town.”

“I just finished my last tour in Tokyo,” Parrish says stiffly. “Thought I’d come home.”

“Really?” Laura says with a vague hint of skepticism. “No other particular reason?”

Parrish almost glares but he doesn’t. “I guess something drew me back.”

"Or maybe," Peter lightly suggests. "Someone."

"Well I really don't think it's any of your concern either way," Parrish replies and squares his shoulders and his jaw.

Peter just hums noncommittally. "Ah, yes. Try as I may to change that. Your affairs hasn't really been my concern for a long time. You were the one to make that clear."

"It's at least nice to see you again, Laura," Parrish says, addressing her instead.

Peter expression folds into something bitter.

Laura grins a little like there’s some inside joke here. "It's nice to see you too. I was always your favorite anyway, right?"

Parrish huffs.

Peter says, almost tauntingly, "Careful how you answer my niece. It'll hurt my feelings to know your affections lie elsewhere now, Parrish."

Parrish looks like he's grinding his teeth to keep himself from saying something rude.

Stiles has no idea what’s going on.

An awkward silence follows.

The air feels fused with tension and Stiles knows he’s missing something. Like always.

Parrish breaks his staring contest with Peter and looks back to Stiles, ignoring Peter completely. He says, with a soft (if not forced) smile, “I’ll see you later, Stiles. Be safe.” He nods politely at Laura. Then he shoots Peter a less than friendly look before he jogs down the steps and towards his squad car.

Peter says, as he watches the deputy drive off, “You sure attract the most interesting company.”

Stiles gives him a look that gets ignored. “Well you two are here, so yeah, I guess that’s accurate.”

Laura snickers but she gets really quiet when she really takes a look at his face. She moves forward and presses her fingers the bruises around his mouth with an unhappy sound.

Peter’s eyes skirt to Laura at the noise before he looks at where her fingers are touching the marks at the corner of Stiles’s mouth and his own mouth dips into a frown. His hands twitches briefly and his voice is eerily calm when he says, “Invite us in, Stiles. I want to hear about what happened.”

Stiles has no chance to move out of the way because Laura ushers him into the house and towards the living room. She sits to his right on the big couch and presses the inside of his wrist to her abnormally warm lips. His cheeks go a little red at the affection and he fidgets while she slides her nose around the bruise like she’s looking for something.

“Vinegar,” Laura murmurs suddenly and lowers his hand to rest over her thighs as she cradles it in between her warm palms.

Stiles can’t help but to notice how long her fingers are when they cover his right hand completely.

Peter leans against the wall by the windows and peers out of them like he’s keeping look out.

Stiles tells them everything in the same way he told his dad, omitting a few details.

Peter frowns over at him when his account of the events end, like he knows Stiles is hiding something but he says, “What a shame that I didn’t get the privilege of tearing those ugly little bottom feeders to shreds. Imagine how delightful their carcasses would have made as confetti.”

Stiles winces at the imagery and says, “I’m okay, Peter. You don’t need to be — it’s fine.”

“It’s not,” Peter snarls, straightening with his anger and his eyes almost seem to glow with it (but that could just be a trick of lighting). He glares at Stiles’s bruises like it’s a personal offense to him. “I should have been there with you. You were almost —”

Stiles tenses up. He doesn’t like to think about that.

“Peter,” Laura says gently when she notices. She strokes a hand down Stiles's tense spine and the corner of her mouth twitches smugly when Stiles shivers and relaxes into it. “Just don’t, okay. I’m sure he knows. We all get it.”

Her voice seems to quell Peter and he grudgingly eases away the thunderous expression on his handsome face but his lips twist into a scowl. “They had those children locked in a disgusting cavern with a steel door. Covered in filth and starving. They might have eaten me if I gave them a chance.” He walks back over to the windows and crosses his arms. “Those things deserved whatever they got,” he mutters quietly.

Stiles is a little taken aback by the sincerity in his tone. He’s starting to get what Kate meant way back when she said that Peter is good at playing at being bad when he’s really soft and gooey inside. Okay, maybe she didn’t say that exactly but Stiles is playing with the creative license on the interpretations.

Laura says, “You should tell mom about the Demon. She should know in case something needs to be proactively done.”

Peter hums noncommittally before he walks off and into the kitchen with his phone.

Stiles follows him with his eyes and listens as Peter talks to Talia, relaying the events in the same manner he had.

Laura pats him on his wrist with a gentle smile to grab his attention. She says, “You missed out on an eventful day of school.”

Stiles knows she’s trying to distract him, but he still says, “Oh yeah?”

“Kate got into it with Paige. There was a fight.”

Stiles blinks at that. “What? What happened?”

“You let Kate tell it and it was premeditated assault,” Laura explains with an eye roll. “Kate and Paige have always been into it though — they've always been dancing around each other. But this incident proved to be the last straw because the next thing I know is that Derek is pulling Paige off of Kate and yanking the lunch tray from her hands, which she was using to beat Kate’s face in.”

Peter growls abruptly from the kitchen before he turns his back to them and continues to speak quickly into the phone.

Laura just smirks at Peter's back before she shrugs at Stiles. “Uncle Peter has been pissed about the whole thing. But Kate was furious. She’s a bully, yeah, and we all know she’s a bitch. I don’t think any of us expected for Paige to lash out like that though, and even I don’t think Kate deserved how Paige did her. Not even speaking as her best friend. This is a totally unbiased opinion.”

“Oh man,” Stiles marvels. “How was — what did Kate say?”

Laura runs a hand through her hair, pulling her long bangs back from her face as she thinks. “How it happened was that Derek brought Paige over to sit with us at lunch. But she was being all stiff and weird. Cora didn’t say much to her. She just rolled her eyes and wandered off to the ballot stands. Side note, the voting for homecoming started today. Anyway, so then it was just me and Derek and Paige and Kate.” She starts chipping some nail polish off her thumb as her finely arched brows furrow with thought. She stands up and goes to the other side of the coffee table. “So I’m right here with Kate and Derek and Paige are sitting on the other side.”

Stiles nods and watches her act out the scene with slight amusement.

“I’m trying to be nice to the girl because I really didn’t want her to feel any type of way, but she was, you know, giving me the cold shoulder. She seemed like she had a really nasty attitude about something but I just decided to be nice. I said, ‘Hi, how are you?’ and she just kept frowning and mumbling. So again, I said, even louder, ‘Hi, Paige. How are you?’ just in case she didn't think I was talking to her. She looks at me like this.” Laura does a face with an expression that’s faintly disdainful. “Then she says, ‘Fine. Thank you.’ And she goes back to eating her salad — well she wasn’t even eating it, she’s just stabbing it over and over with her fork. But, you know, I can take a hint. In my head I’m thinking, just leave her alone, she obviously doesn’t want to be bothered, so leave her be and let Derek deal with it.

“Which, okay, clearly Derek is beyond the stage where he can make things right with this girl. They’ve been dating for two years and I never really paid attention to her because she’s always kind of standoffish. She’s an introvert, and that’s fine, but I can remember way back when she was just starting to date Derek, I tried to talk to her and get to know her because she's dating my little brother but she kept brushing me off. I left her alone after that because I don’t bother with people who don’t want to be bothered with me, you know? But Cora told me that you told her that Paige came to you about how she was mad that you had dinner with us and spent the night, and that’s, wow, you know? Like grow up. She wants to be invited, but thing is, she can ask to come over at any time. She doesn’t need to make it seem like we’re the ones being dismissive. We may be really private but we’re not some snooty rich family that thinks everyone is beneath us. We’re just really careful about who we associate with and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Laura shakes her head. She sounds frustrated. “But so, back to the whole lunch fiasco — after I left her alone, that’s when Kate spoke up was like, ‘I don’t know why you bother talking to her when she’s got her cello up her ass’.”

Stiles snorts wryly and shakes his head because that is something that Kate would say.

Laura continues, “Then Paige mutters something so low that even I couldn’t hear, and Kate says, ‘Speak up, Princess Metalhead. You come over here and want to be rude to my best friend and mutter things under your breath like a scared little bitch’. Then Paige stands up and says, and listen, she enunciates every single vowel when she does it too, she says, ‘My name is Paige. You call me that one more time and you’re going to find something out.’ And then Kate’s like, ‘I don’t care what your name is. You keep up that nasty ass attitude and treat my best friend and her brother any kind of way, I’ll call you Asshole. Now how’s that?’. Well, I guess that was the last straw because that’s when Paige springs across the table with her tray and tackles Kate into the ground and Derek had to pull her off and I had to hold Kate back because she seemed just about ready to snap the girl’s neck.”

Stiles shakes his head in disbelief. He says, “Maybe Paige has got something deeper going on. Stress can make people, I don’t know, act out. Maybe there was something building up.”

Laura shrugs as she sits back down next to Stiles. “Honestly I never know what Paige’s deal is, but whatever. I’m willing, I guess, partially to give her the benefit of the doubt but she really needs to get it together. Because here is how I feel — if she has a problem with me or Derek or our family, at any point she can open her mouth and say something. It’s not about what you say but how you say it. I just think there’s always a better way to deal with things, you know?”

Stiles nods. “Did they get in trouble? What happened afterwards?”

“You mean after Kate screamed every swear word she knew?” Laura huffs dryly. “They got taken to the guidance office and from what Kate texted me, colorfully I might add, she and Paige have in-school suspension tomorrow and Monday.”

“Oh man,” Stiles says quietly. “That’s — wow.”

“Yup,” Laura agrees. “Derek’s been sulking like a wounded puppy that doesn’t know how to fix the problem. And honestly, I love my brother, he’s my heart, and it’s his life, but I can’t say that I’m in agreement with Paige’s behavior. It’s like you never really know a person until you see them when they’ve been pushed to their limits. I just — I don’t even know.” She sighs tiredly and uses her fingers to smooth out the wily hairs of her eyebrow.

Stiles gets that she really cares about Derek and wants him to be happy. That’s completely understandable. His relationship with Paige doesn’t sound very healthy. “I hear teenagers fall in love a whole bunch of times, and that each time feels like the end all, beat all,” he supposes thoughtfully. “Maybe Paige is it for him, who knows? Nobody’s perfect though. We’re teenagers. We’re going to do something stupid eventually, and Kate is no saint. Maybe she needed to learn that you can’t just say anything and everything to anyone without retaliation.”

Laura smiles at him fondly. “Listen to you, goober. Being all sensible and whatnot. Cora was ready to trash Paige. But then again, Cora doesn’t really like people. She’s a cactus that way.” She shrugs the corners of her mouth. “Maybe I’ll pay Paige a little visit so I can really feel her out. This could be a really bad misunderstanding that’s gotten out of hand.”

Stiles nods with a shrug.

Peter returns just as he’s pocketing his phone. “I wouldn’t even spit on the ground she’s standing on, let alone feel her out,” he scoffs. “You do realize you’re wasting your time.” He gives her a significant look. "My nephew has a better option in front of him, which I have hinted towards countless times —"

Laura rolls her eyes and stands. “That’s for Derek to decide. Not you or anyone."

"Yes, but you may find that I am a formidable matchmaker." Peter smiles with a frightening amount of teeth.

Laura argues, "You can't make people fall in and out of love when it suits you.”

“Perhaps. But Derek’s always been a little slow on the uptake when it comes to matters of the heart. He takes things for granted,” Peter drawls as he flicks his gaze over to Stiles.

Stiles frowns. "What?"

"Oh nothing," Peter sighs in that dramatic way of his. “You’ll be attending homecoming, I hope.”

Stiles shrugs. “I’m still thinking about it. Plus, you know.” He gestures to the bruises on his face.

“Purely cosmetic,” Peter dismisses. "You look lovely as always otherwise."

Stiles rolls his eyes.

Peter nods to Laura and indicates for her to follow him. “I plan on taking Kate. I’d like to see you there.”

Stiles snorts. “Tempting.”

Peter shoots him a flat look as he follows Laura out of the living room and towards the front door.

Stiles walks after them so he can lock the door.

Laura says, “Are you coming to school tomorrow?”

“I don’t really think so.” Stiles feels more than self-conscious about the bruises on his face. He doesn’t feel up to having to explain them to anybody or having everyone stare.

“Okay, well, not that I’m assuming that you agreed to come, but — my dress is purple. Something to consider if you wanted to coordinate.” Laura pats him on the cheek before she glides off.

Peter tugs his ear and smirks when Stiles swats at him like he’s a fly. “Stay out of trouble,” he implores before he moves across the porch, down the steps and out to the curb to climb into his car with Laura.

Stiles watches them drive off before he closes the door and locks it.

---

“Dude, they found Lydia!” Scott tells him later that night over Skype. Then he pauses, and says, “Your face! What happened?”

Stiles tells him everything because it’s Scott and he always tells Scott everything. Only this time, he doesn’t quite tell him everything. He keeps out the stuff about being a Virtue.

“Whoa,” Scott says. “No way. That’s — whoa.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees with a shrug. “Tell me about Lydia.”

“Oh, well.” Scott pauses to think. “They found her in an abandoned subway station covered in her parents’ dried blood. She’s — man, she’s not even okay. They had to take her to Eichen House once they cleared her of the charges. They’re saying that her parents’ death really messed her up.”

“What’s Eichen House?” Stiles asks.

“It’s a mental hospital,” Scott explains sadly. “It’s — dude, the worst people are in that place. Lydia shouldn’t be there.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says for the better lack of not having anything more to offer. “Maybe we could...visit?”

Scott makes a face. “I don’t know. That's a bit — I mean I love Lydia but that place gives me the creeps. We could call her?”

Stiles says, “She doesn’t have anyone now. Do you — like, you get that, don’t you?”

Scott seems to take that into consideration.

“It doesn’t have to be just you and me, you know. We can go as a group with the others. Really show support. The last thing she needs is to be left alone,” Stiles reasons earnestly.

“Okay,” Scott says quietly with a look of guilt. “Malia and Liam are still in Mexico though, so it’ll be us and everyone else. Well, maybe not Erica. She’s — I don’t know. How’s Isaac? He didn’t come to school today.”

Stiles huffs and says, “I’m glad you brought that up. He’s fine, but, uh — what’s up with you and Allison? Are you — do you guys have crushes on him?”

Scott blushes very deeply and that just answers it all.

“Dude,” Stiles bemoans with a helpless laugh. “What even? Aren’t you and Allison going out?”

Scott’s cheeks get even redder. “We — we’ve been talking about it.”

“And?”

“And we’ve been talking about it,” Scott fusses as he fidgets in embarrassment. “But we both want — uh...”

Stiles makes a face because he can pretty much guess where that sentence is going. “Aw, man. Am I going to have to chaperone Isaac from now on when you guys are around? This is bordering dangerously on polygamy.”

Scott scrubs at his flushed face. “You think I understand it? I’m thirteen, dude! My hormones are super confusing at this point.”

Stiles snickers.

“What about you? Why are you so — you like never seem, I don’t know. Do you have anybody you like?” Scott asks as the color recedes from his cheeks. “You never say much of anything about that.”

Stiles thinks about it before he says, “I think girls are attractive. I think guys are attractive. But I don’t — the gender doesn’t really phase me, I guess. Plus I have a whole bunch going on that I don’t really stop and think about how I haven’t even had my first kiss yet. It just doesn’t seem important right now.”

“Oh,” Scott says. “Well, it’s all cool. Maybe you need to like find that person that makes you want to think about those things.”

Stiles shrugs again.

“So Danny’s put me on to this swimming anime. I thought it was weird at first but then I really started to get into it. Anyway, you should totally check it out.”

Stiles listens to Scott ramble about something called Free! until it’s time for bed. They make plans to go to Eichen House on Saturday before they disconnect.

He grabs Derek’s wolves on the way to bed and he curls around them until he drifts off.

He jerks awake some hours later, gasping wetly for air, covered in sweat and shaking as he blinks through his tears.

Isaac is standing at his bedside with a look of concern before he wanders off.

Stiles’s teeth are chattering by the time Isaac returns with a warm cup of milk.

Isaac touches his hand to Stiles’s shoulder, very gently, almost like he's afraid that Stiles will fall apart under his hand, before he pulls away and steps back. He runs a hand through his curls, looking a little at a lost and like he doesn’t know what to do but he’s trying to help.

Stiles exhales and quietly says, “I’m okay. Thank you.”

Isaac stares at him for a long time. Then he reaches out slowly and pokes the tip of Stiles's nose with a curious frown as though he's testing some odd theory.

Stiles huffs and swats his hand away.

The corner of Isaac's mouth kicks up a little before he settles into a concerned frown again.

“I’m okay, Isaac. I didn’t mean to wake you.” Stiles sniffs and scrubs his arm across his face to dry his eyes and cheeks.

Isaac fidgets.

“I — was I screaming?” Stiles asks, and he winces when Isaac nods. “Is my dad home?”

Isaac shakes his head no.

Stiles sighs and leans back against his headboard, suddenly weary. “Go back to bed. I’ll be fine. The milk will help.”

Isaac, for once, looks like he wants to say something. But all he does is look at Stiles like he has nothing to give but he wishes he did. He clenches his hands before relaxing them. He straightens little by little, drawing attention to the fact that he’s always hunching, and he smiles softly at Stiles. Then he quickly turns and exits the room, closing the door behind him.

Stiles is left alone, sitting unblinkingly in the darkness of his room with the cup of warm milk in his shaking hands.

He’s dreaming about his mother again.

That hasn’t happened in years.

---

Friday is much the same as Thursday.

Stiles doesn’t go to school and Isaac stays behind to keep him company. He spends most of the day falling in and out of sleep because he’s emotionally exhausted. He doesn’t dream about his mother anymore, but the damage has already been done. Seeing her, even subconsciously, had been like a punch to the gut.

Isaac doesn’t leave his side much. He’s not like right there but he’s within reaching distance. Mainly he’ll lounge on Stiles’s dark blue beanbag chair by the window and play on Stiles’s tablet or read anything from Stiles’s modest little library. He keeps bringing Stiles food too, which is sweet, but Stiles doesn’t feel much like eating.

He’s sad.

He wouldn’t dare say depressed because that would be harder to navigate. He’s swimming in his thoughts and he doesn’t really have the heart to leave bed for half of the day. He keeps quiet and he broods. He answers his phone when his dad calls to check up on them, but outside of that, he doesn’t do much. He watches the sun paint shadows across his room as Isaac turns pages quietly on the other side of the bed behind him.

He manages to convince himself to take a shower when Isaac leaves him alone to go and make a mid-day snack. It’s three in the afternoon when Stiles steps out of the shower and takes his Adderall. He climbs into some clothes and walks down the steps, pausing when the doorbell rings.

It’s a great surprise when it’s Cora standing on the other side with her usual soft frown. She glances at his mouth and her frown deepens but she picks her gaze up and looks him in the eyes. “I got your homework. Didn't know how long you would be out for,” she says and brushes past him without waiting to be invited in.

Stiles closes the door and follows her into the living room where she dumps all his homework assignment and books on the small coffee table. “Wait a minute — how did you get — most of these were in my locker.”

"Everyone's locker combination is their birthday."

"Ah," Stiles says weakly because that's true.

Cora flashes him a razor sharp smile before she pulls out her own homework in a neater manner. “Mr. Harris wants everyone to do a paper about something. He says that everyone who earns an ‘A’ gets to take the trip out to Chicago for a walk-through of the Evolving Planet exhibit at the Field Museum. There’s no way I’m talking to any of those other idiots in our class, so you better get a good grade on your paper.”

Stiles grabs his AP English book and his homework as he settles down on the floor beside Cora. “Is that your way of saying that you’d rather go with me or not at all? Because if so, then I want you to know that I’m flattered and —”

Cora glares at the inside of her AP French book and says, “Take it however. You’re less annoying than most people, dumbass.”

Stiles smiles, preening. “Wow. I feel the same way. About myself. Not you.”

Cora rolls her eyes. She says, “What are you going to do your paper about?”

“I don’t know. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head,” Stiles admits. “What are you doing?”

“The biodiversity of the Hengduan Mountains,” Cora replies.

“Geez, that’s not intimidating at all,” Stiles mutters, impressed.

Cora just shrugs and starts in on her homework.

Isaac sets a plate of cookies on the coffee table and two glasses of milk. Despite his polite consideration of their house guest, he still wrinkles his nose at Cora, and Cora responds in kind by ignoring him like he’s not even there. Isaac wanders off to his room, as Cora eats the cookies with a low satisfied sound, and chases it down with the milk.

Stiles is midway through his AP English homework (fingers sticky with cookie grease and chocolate) when the doorbell rings again. “Now who is that?” he wonders as he slides everything onto the floor before he goes to answer the door.

It’s Allison and Scott.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I’m not even going to pretend that you’re here to see me.” He turns and shouts, “Isaac! You’ve got company!”

Isaac eventually joins them at the door.

“We brought you your homework,” Allison says and lifts the stack eagerly.

“Since you missed,” Scott adds, unnecessarily.

Stiles rolls his eyes again before he just leaves them to it and returns to the living room.

Cora catches him up on everything he’s missed in all of their shared classes with a patience he didn’t even know she had. She even stays for dinner, even though she eats almost half of the cheesy green bean casserole he makes while also ignoring Allison and Scott (who stay for dinner too). She packs up her things and leaves without so much as a goodbye.

Isaac silently walks Allison and Scott out when they ask him to, and they preen happily when he does, like two kids who are given the keys to a candy store. They hardly noticed the bruises on Stiles's body (too busy going ga-ga over Isaac).

Stiles cleans up the kitchen before he goes to pack up his homework and put it away. He carries it all up to his room and dumps it on his bedroom floor by his desk.

He pulls out the bulletin/whiteboard combo hiding away in his closet and he sets to work with dismantling everything on it.

By the end of the night, he’s thirty pages deep into a Google search on looking up everything having to do with Virtues.

He finds nothing.

Just as he's slipping into bed, Laura texts him pictures from the homecoming dance, mostly of her wearing a gleaming plastic crown and a triumphant smile.

---

Sometime around midnight, when Stiles is lying facedown on the middle of his bed with his copy of the Maze Runner, he gets a random text from Peter that reads:

What do you know about Mermaids? :))

What.

Mermaids. :))

What do you know about them? :))

Do you have a mermaid?

Maybe. :))

How.

How do you have a mermaid?

I said maybe. :))

Maybe I have a mermaid. :))

That depends on you though. :))

What does that even mean???

(* *)

Peter.

Do you have a mermaid?

(* *)

What’s going on?

(* *)

Stop replying with that face.

(* *)

!!!!

(* *)

Oh my god. I’m ignoring you now.

( _ )

Stiles doesn’t reply, but he grabs his tablet from off of the floor and starts researching Mermaids.

He sends everything he finds useful to Peter before he falls into a restless sleep.

He has nightmares about Hellhounds and naked Demons dancing around a orange tinted fire that reeks of vinegar and oil.

They don’t stop running on a loop in his mind until he cuddles around Derek’s wolves; the smell of vanilla and jasmine soothes the anxious spaces of his mind into a dull roar.

He ignores the implications. He just wants to sleep peacefully. That’s all.

---

Eichen House looks like one of those places you’d see in horror movies or read about in mystery/thriller novels.

It’s late in the morning on a Saturday when Stiles rolls up to the foreboding black iron gates with Boyd, Scott, Jackson, Danny, and Allison. They all fidget on their mountain bikes as they stare over at the intimidating structure of the gloomy hospital with apprehension.

The sky is grey, and subdued. It’s really like poetry. Sad, sad poetry.

None of them comment on Stiles’s bruises, which he figures must have something to do with Scott, who can sometimes be very mindful of Stiles in ways that matter the most.

“We should head inside,” Allison says, breaking the angst-ridden silence. “We’re not much use to Lydia hanging outside the gates like scared kids.” She climbs off her bike and pushes the gates open before she walks her bike up the walkway to the steps.

After they all lock their bikes, they enter the building and walk over to the reception area where a blue-haired nurse in pink scrubs is sitting with her feet propped on the desk as she files her nails.

Allison approaches her and says, “Hi, we’re here to see Lydia Martin.”

The woman behind the desk goes on filing her nails for a long moment like she didn’t even hear Allison. Then, she glances up slowly and looks at them all with an assessing stare. “How old are you?”

“Old enough,” Jackson retorts, impatiently.

The woman sighs and cracks open a binder as she indicates to the sign-in book. “Sign in,” she says as she picks up the desk phone and dials an extension.

Stiles is the first to sign-in and he frowns at the name that comes before his. It reads: Ines Reyes. He puts the name in the back of his mind to dwell on later because Jackson is herding him out of the way so he can sign-in next.

At the sound of clicking heels, Stiles turns to see Ms. Morrell approach them with a thin smile. She says, “You’re here to see Ms. Martin. The visit will have to be short. She’s still getting used to being here. Refrain from bringing up anything triggering. It goes without saying that the subject of her parents is off-limits. If you upset her, you’ll have to leave, and I’ll ask that you schedule your next visit with your parents chaperoning. Understood?” She waits for them to nod before she goes on to say, “Follow me.”

Stiles sticks close to Danny as they make their way down the halls and to the stairwell.

There are patients walking around everywhere, most of them in a daze, while others are hyperactively aware.

Lydia’s room is located on the fourth floor at the end of the hall.

Ms. Morrell opens the door and says, “Lydia. You have company.”

Stiles follows the others into the small room and is just as startled as they are at the sight of all the drawings covering every inch of the walls. They’re sketches of trees, rivers, stones, and mythical creatures darkened and detailed with black charcoal.

Lydia is sitting at the desk facing the wall with the barred window above. She’s wearing a mint green floral dress with white flats and a black birdcage funeral veil hat pinned to her hair, which is fishtailed and lying over her shoulder. She’s got a large sketching pad laid out on the desk and she’s drawing a blackened rabbit hole in large and noisy circles. She’s singing softly in Gaelic.

It tugs at Stiles’s heart, the song, and it makes his chest feel heavy and full of something unnamable.

Ms. Morrell says, “You have an hour.” She leaves.

Danny and Boyd sit on Lydia’s neatly made bed as they glance around at all of Lydia’s sketches.

Scott sticks close to Stiles as they watch Jackson and Allison approach Lydia.

Allison says, “Hey, Lydia. How are you?”

Lydia keeps singing softly as her right hand moves around and around and around, the stick of black charcoal is scraping loudly against the paper almost ominously.

“Lydia,” Jackson says, leaning forward in an attempt to get her attention. “Lydia.”

Lydia doesn’t respond. It’s like none of them are even there.

“Jackson,” Danny says. “Just — talk to her. Not like you want her attention, but try — just talk to her. Like we used to when she was — you know.”

“About what?” Jackson asks with an uncertain frown.

“Anything,” Danny suggests.

Boyd says, “Insects. Random, but a safe subject, I think. We can talk about that.”

Allison touches her hand to Lydia’s right shoulder

Lydia stiffens and stops singing.

Allison yanks her hand away with an apology and says, “Lydia, did you know that night butterflies have ears on their wings so they can avoid bats?”

“Did you know a slug has four noses?” Boyd reports.

Danny says, “The heaviest insect in the world weights 2.5 ounces.”

Lydia goes back to singing and drawing.

Scott says, “There are worms in Australia that are over four feet long. That's — kind of gross actually.”

Stiles snorts and says, “Lydia, you should know that the desert locust is the world’s most destructive insect. It can eat it’s own weight in food every day. Large swarms can gobble up to 20,000 tons of grain and plants in a day.”

Jackson says, “The earliest fossil cockroach is about 280 million years old. 80 million years older than the first dinosaurs.”

Everyone looks at him in surprise.

Jackson straightens and glares at them defensively. “What? I read it somewhere,” he swears.

You read?” Boyd teases and grins (unrepentant) when Jackson punches him in the arm.

Danny gives a dimpled grin as Allison hides her smile behind her hand.

Scott leans against Stiles as they watch Boyd trap Jackson in a headlock.

For a brief moment, everything feels normal.

---

Ms. Morrell, true to her word, comes to collect them at the end of the hour.

Stiles pulls Scott aside as the others file out and says, “Distract her for a moment. I need a little time with Lydia.”

Scott looks unsure. “I don’t know, Stiles. Do you think that’s a good idea? She didn’t even — she’s been singing the whole time we’ve been here. How do you know that she’ll even answer?”

“I don’t. But I have to believe maybe she might,” Stiles admits. “There’s still someone out there hacking people to bits and leaving threatening messages on my doorstep for my dad.”

Scott nods solemnly. He squeezes Stiles’s arm with a reassuring smile before he catches Ms. Morrell by the wrist and says, “If I hear someone calling my name and no one is calling my name, does that make me certifiably insane?” He pulls her away and out of sight as if he wants privacy.

Stiles waits a moment before he walks over to Lydia. She’s still singing and she draws in large circles against her sketching pad. He says, “Lydia. I know you — that this is the last thing you want to think about or talk about, and please don’t think I’m being insensitive, even though I am kind of being insensitive, but — do you remember who killed your parents?”

Lydia’s hand stops abruptly. She goes morbidly silent. She trembles as she lifts her head slowly and looks over at him with watery green eyes and a shaky bottom lip. “Cousin, cousin, you're so sweet,” she whispers. “Miss you dearly, we should meet.”

“What?” Stiles rolls the words around in his mind in confusion.

“Cousin, cousin, you're so sweet,” Lydia repeats softly, like a repetition. “Miss you dearly, we should meet.”

“Lydia, what does — what are you —” Stiles watches as she slowly rises out of her seat and walks towards him like she’s has no control over her motor functions.

“Cousin, cousin, you're so sweet,” Lydia says again, louder this time. “Miss you dearly, we should meet.” Her voice gets even louder. “Cousin, cousin, you're so sweet.” She’s panting now, looking at him with horror-stricken eyes. “Miss you dearly, we should meet.”

Stiles feels a sudden charge in the room, and a draft makes the papers lining the walls flutter like a heartbeat. They rustle as if a window has been left open.

“Cousin, cousin, you're so sweet!” Lydia screams as she begins to hit at his chest with her fists. “Miss you dearly, we should meet!”

Stiles falls back on her bed as she continues to hit at him. “Lydia! Lydia! Stop!”

Lydia screams and screams and the papers go flying, swept up in a funnel of wind as though the room is being hit by a hurricane.

Ms. Morrell runs in with two male nurses and they pull Lydia off of Stiles as she screams and screams.

Danny, Jackson, Scott, Boyd, and Allison all watch from the doorway with frightened and confused eyes.

“Sedate her!” Ms. Morrell yells over the howl of Lydia’s shrieks and the roar of the wind.

One of the male nurses jabs her in the neck with a needle.

Lydia stops wailing and slowly goes limp in the man’s arms as tears trail down her red cheeks. She looks at Stiles with dazed eyes and mumbles, “Cousin, cousin, you're so sweet. Miss you dearly, we should meet.” She’s out like a light in the next second.

Stiles stares, baffled, and Ms. Morrell grabs him by the arm and drags him out. She says, “I was very specific about you not upsetting her. You’re done here. None of you come back unless you have an approved appointment and a guardian.” She glares at Stiles first before she even turns her furious gaze on the rest of them and storms off.

They all watch her disappear back into Lydia’s room, closing the door soundly behind her.

Jackson shoves Stiles. “Thanks a lot, Stilinski. Just what the hell were you doing?”

Danny holds him back but he waits for Stiles to answer.

“I’m sorry — I didn’t mean for — I’m sorry,” Stiles stammers.

Jackson shakes his head and storms off.

Boyd and Danny rush after him.

Allison opens her mouth like she wants to say something but then she closes her mouth with a disappointed sigh and walks off.

Stiles scrubs his face tiredly as he curses under his breath.

Scott is staring at him with this odd look on his face.

“What?”

Scott says, “You’re bleeding.”

Stiles frowns and touches his face.

“No,” Scott says. “Your ears, dude. Your ears.”

Stiles reaches up and touches his fingers to his right ear before he pulls his hand away to see his two middle fingers stained with blood.

---

Later that day, after Stiles has cleaned the blood from his ears and from the sides of his jaw, he dives into his books for some answers.

He comes to it by the time his dad and Isaac return home from the batting cages because baseball is a thing that his dad and Isaac both enjoy.

It’s in his mother’s encyclopedia of mythical creatures: the Wailing Woman.

Lydia is a Banshee. A Fairy. A Messenger of Death.

Stiles keeps reading and reading and he’s struck by the fact that Banshees usually sing when someone has died, or wails when someone is about to die.

Lydia had done both today.

She had done both.

---

Paige doesn’t show up for their tutoring session on Sunday.

Chapter Text

When Paige doesn’t show up for their tutoring session on Sunday, Stiles tries not to think too much about it as he sits by himself in their usual spot at the library. He traces his eyes over the white walls as he tries to think about his next move. She could be sick or wrapped up in a family emergency. It would explain why she’s not returning his calls or his texts. He doesn’t have her address so he can’t just go to her house to check up on her or anything.

But he does have Derek’s number.

Stiles pulls out his phone and scrolls through his contacts before he comes to Derek’s name. He tries calling the other teen a couple of times but it always goes straight to voicemail. So he winds up shooting Derek a few texts before he pockets his phone and starts making his way out of the library. He goes to his bike and unlocks it before he mounts it without giving any particular thought to his next move.

The sun is burning brightly in the sky as puffy clouds sail across the yellow orb like cotton thick ships on a blue sea. He doesn’t want to go home because the house would be empty. His dad is out fishing with some friends and Isaac is at therapy (something to do with mindfulness or yoga) and it's detrimental to his recovery.

The rest of Stiles’s day is wide open. So he peddles lazily around town before he finds himself outside of the antique shop again. He locks up his bike and pushes through the door with the bell ringing predictably over his head.

This time around, Deaton is sitting on a tall wooden stool at the back of the store behind the glass counter display. He’s got some reading glasses on and he’s got a thick text book in one hand as he uses his other hand to underline passages with a purple highlighter. He says, without even lifting his gaze, “Mr. Stilinski. Back so soon. How may I help you?”

Stiles approaches the glass counter display and leans against it as he drums his fingers on the surface. “I’m actually — I was wondering, since you seem to have a modest collection, if you had books on rare and old subjects.”

“That depends,” Deaton says as he highlights another passage. “What’s the genre you’re looking for?”

“Mythology, mainly,” Stiles hedges. “You know, like — Virtues?”

Deaton pauses at that before he glances at Stiles with an assessing look.

Stiles tries not to fidget.

Deaton snaps his book shut and tugs off his glasses. “That’s a rare subject, indeed.”

“But you know about — I mean, you’ve heard of it, them,” Stiles reasons.

“In some circles,” Deaton confirms vaguely. “Very few of them, however.” He sets his book down and puts his glasses back on before sticking his highlighter behind his ear. “Follow me,” he says as he walks over to the rows of standing bookshelves. He goes down the fourth aisle and stops midway, hunching down to tug a book free from the bottom.

Stiles accepts the book when Deaton hands it to him. It’s not exactly a book, per say — it’s more like a thick leather-bound journal. There’s a sigil on the cover. He runs his fingers over the grooves. “What’s this?” he asks.

Deaton says, “It’s a triquetra, I believe. I’ve heard some say that it was a very important symbol to Virtues. That they would use it remind themselves of what they stood for. Usually it would be three things related to their field.”

“Field?” Stiles frowns and follows Deaton to the glass counter display. “What does — what field?”

“As you’re probably aware, there are what’s called the Seven Heavenly Virtues: Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness, and Humility. In the Hierarchy of what's to be known as the Upper Heavens, they rank at number five, right between Dominions and Powers."

Stiles silently echoes those names, a twinge of familiarity twisting in his gut.

"Now, these Virtues were believed to have been personified into physical form when all knowledge was available to both Man and Creature,” Deaton says. “This is during a time when all was known and nothing was hidden. There was a communion between Nature and Man and Creature and the Cosmos. It’s believed that Virtues paved the way so that the world could be in unity. They acted as equalizers, and as wells of knowledge, or envoys. They kept everything in balance in order to maintain the harmony. Now since seven is considered the number of completion, the Virtues split themselves accordingly, and depending on the matter at hand, two rivaling parties with an issue could go to the Virtue of Temperance. Or say a young Human woman who wanted to court a Goblin for whatever reason but knew nothing of the culture or how to do so, would then go to the Virtue of Chastity. And so on and so forth. Understand?”

Stiles nods as he rolls the information around in his mind.

“The story goes,” Deaton goes on to say. “That when a Virtue reached their sixteenth birthday, or for others it would be the nineteenth, depending on the progression of their abilities, they would choose a specific field. Say one would choose the path of both patience and charity — defining themselves as a Two — they would use the triquetra as a sort of guidance. An aid. A reminder. This reminder would be comprised of three things from those fields. So if one were to take on the path of diligence they would recite to themselves —” Deaton points to the top of the triquetra and says, “Persistence.” Then he points to the second corner on the left and says, “Integrity.” Then he brings his fingers over to the last corner and says, “Ethics.”

“Persistence, integrity, ethics,” Stiles repeats as he studies the triquetra. “Sounds like a mantra.”

“It often would be in the face of a great adversity,” Deaton says. “There are some who believe that if a Virtue did not remind themselves of what they stood for, then they would fall prey to demise and become a Vice.”

“Vice? You mean like the opposite of Virtues,” Stiles reasons. “Seven Deadly Sins.”

“Exactly,” Deaton says. He taps the journal. “This isn’t an encyclopedia. You won’t find blueprints or maps. Only detailed accounts recorded by the Virtue who experienced them. Think of it as a nonfiction short-story anthology in prose form.”

Stiles lifts his eyebrows and starts fishing for his wallet. “How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing,” Deaton says, surprisingly. “Think of it as a gift. I don’t get many visitors, and I have a feeling you’ll make more use of this than anyone who would gladly pay a quarter of a million for it.”

Stiles is speechless for a moment but then he says, “Thank you. I — thanks.”

Deaton merely nods. “You have a good day. And again, feel free to stop by anytime.” He disappears into the back with his book.

Stiles tucks the journal under his arm and exits the shop as he firmly places Deaton on his ‘Cryptic and Mysteriouslist. Given the reputation of this town, that list is probably only going to keep growing and growing.

He doesn’t go home still. He peddles out to the park and sits at a picnic table as the screaming laughter of children ring off in the distance from where they’re playing on the swings and the merry-go-round and the jungle gym. He begins to flip through the journal. Some of the entries are in Middle English, but the majority of them are in Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, Ancient Egyptian, Old Norse and Ancient Greek.

Stiles mostly sticks to the ones which are in Middle English because it’s kind of like reading Shakespeare. He keeps his phone in view in case Derek or Paige texts or calls him.

They don’t.

He ends up losing track of time, realizing that the streetlights are going to come on when it gets too dark to read. He climbs his bike and peddles home to see his dad deep-frying fish with Isaac. He rolls his eyes and lets it slide because he has no choice. He still makes a salad though. He vetoes any salad dressing since most of their food has been deep-fried.

When they sit down to eat, Stiles asks his dad if there have been any reported deaths and his dad lifts a brow at the morbid question but replies with a no. It should be comforting but it just distracts him all throughout dinner.

They end the night in the living room with Isaac curled up in his favorite armchair, his dad in his recliner and Stiles spread out on the big couch as they all watch What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

His dad falls asleep midway through, snoring softly as his chin dips towards the badge on his chest.

Stiles barely notices because he’s too busy swallowing back tears. He didn’t realize this movie would be so triggering to his own personal issues of death and family.

Isaac is — he’s quiet. But it’s not his usual air of silence. It’s a meaningful and weighty.

Stiles scrubs at his face with the end of his shirt as the credits roll onto the screen, and when he drops the hem he notices that Isaac is gone. He sighs and shuts everything off before he guides his sleepy father up the stairs and to his room. He takes his time tucking his old man into bed, huffing in fond amusement when his dad reaches out sleepily to knock a loose fist into Stiles's chin with affection, murmuring about how Stiles is such a good kid. Stiles smiles and slips out of his dad's room quietly, closing the door behind him with a quiet click. He stops by Isaac’s room and watches the preteen scribble away in his journal with a severe frown and shaky hands.

Stiles thinks about asking if he’s okay, or saying something really profound. He thinks about turning this second into a Hallmark Moment, or something like a serious scene on Full House or Boy Meets World, but he notices the way Isaac is holding himself so tightly and gnawing on his bottom lip like he wants to bite it off and Stiles thinks better of it. He walks away and hangs out in his room for a while. He doesn’t do anything significant. He stashes the journal of Virtues in his underwear drawer like some kind of nudie magazine before he sits at his computer and surfs the web for shoes, comics, games, and more books with the subjectivity of the supernatural while he listens to some alternative songs from his music library.

Isaac comes to his room around midnight. He stands awkwardly in the doorway looking like he feels misplaced, fidgeting with words unsaid.

Stiles closes his laptop and says, “You want to go outside and jump on the trampoline? I feel like breathing.”

Isaac furrows his brows at that but there’s a hint of a smile on his lips.

They quietly edge out of the house and into the backyard.

Stiles lets Isaac climb into the trampoline before he follows. He builds up his momentum as he stares at the (now empty) house next door.

Isaac does a few lazily flips before he just goes back to jumping.

There are fireflies everywhere and Stiles tries to catch some. He manages to trap one between his hands and he lets it crawl up his palm before pausing, spreading its wings and flying off to join its kind in the air again.

They jump and jump, the springs squeaking with their weight as the cool night air presses against their skin like a damp veil.

Stiles is panting when he says, “I get panic attacks sometimes.” Then he adds, even though Isaac doesn’t ask, “It’s like clamping your fingers over your nose and trying to breathe through a coffee straw.”

Isaac stops jumping.

Stiles stops too.

They look at each other.

Stiles says, “I don’t mind that you never talk to me. Communicating with you feels very valuable that way. Like I would never take for granted anything you said when you do say something.”

Isaac picks at his pajama bottoms as he looks at Stiles’s collarbone. He opens his mouth and exhales before he lifts his gaze to look Stiles in the eyes. He keeps breathing, in and out, in and out. Then he starts jumping again, his shoulders bowed in a relaxed line, his spine straighter.

Stiles smiles softly and starts jumping with him.

The crickets make a crescendo of sound in the trees and in the bushes. The fireflies fly and land and fly again, glowing and glowing like reachable stars.

Stiles pays attention to how clammy Isaac’s hand is when Isaac grabs his in a tight grip like he’s afraid that either of them will jump too high and somehow float up and out into space. He gives Isaac’s hand a comforting squeeze back and they look away from each other and up into the stars.

This is the moment when Stiles begins to think of Isaac like a brother.

---

Monday finds Stiles at his locker with Cora, who hassles him about the subjectivity of his paper for the AP Biology class until Stiles begs off the conversation.

Cora rolls her eyes and shoves a pack of blue twizzlers at his chest before she stalks off in a huff.

He doesn’t get a chance to thank her for the random act of kindness, and he sniffs at the candy after he opens it before he decides that it’s safe to eat.

He gnaws on the candy vines all through first period as Mr. Harris lectures over a PowerPoint presentation about the connection between mosquitos, DNA, and the transmission of disease.

A blue twizzler hangs from his lips as he draws triquetras in the margins of his study guide. His fingers are sticky and he’s pretty sure his tongue and lips are stained with blue.

On the other side of the room, Cora looks no better off with her grape vines.

---

Cora shadows him in the halls between their next two shared classes and Stiles doesn’t figure out why until he sees some sophomore girl staring at the bruises on his mouth. She walks towards him like she’s going to ask, but she freezes midway with wide-eyes and turns to walk in the opposite direction. When Stiles turns his head to question Cora about it, she’s got a vicious glare on her face still aimed at the girl.

That totally explains why it felt like everyone has been willfully ignoring his bruises for most of the day. Suddenly Cora has become a lot less intimidating — well, no, she’s still intimidating but like a fraction less.

Stiles says, “I appreciate the efforts on your part but you don’t have to do that. It’s sweet, but unnecessary.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking,” Cora denies as she tampers her glare into something more indifferent.

“So you haven’t been shooting everyone your patented 'stare of doom' when they look at me or look like they want to ask what happened to me?” Stiles questions.

Cora grits her teeth and says, “Hurry up, we’ll be late for class.”

“See that? That right there is avoidance and I would like to be informed of when our relationship goes through these big changes. So are we best friends now? Should I go to the jewelers and put in a request for a BFF charm bracelet?” Stiles teases as Cora scowls and herds him to their AP History class with warm insistent hands. She’s strong and they reach the classroom in no time. When they get to the doorway, he says, “Are we in the experimental phase yet? Has our bond reached the awkward bad touch stage? Seriously, do you want to make out a little? Just to see how it feels.”

“No, I want to rip your throat out with my teeth, dumbass,” Cora growls.

“Well, sure. I mean, if you’re into it. Whatever turns you on. I'll need to be persuaded though.”

Cora sighs and stalks to her desk.

Stiles grins and does a heart symbol at her all through class whenever she looks across the room at him.

When the teacher turns away to write something across the whiteboard, Cora lobs an eraser at him and it smacks him in the left ear.

He throws it back and ends up hitting the guy that sits behind her instead because his aim sucks.

Cora snorts and quickly ducks her head as Stiles does the same.

The guy glares at them both until the bell rings.

---

Lunch goes without incident. Stiles sits across from Laura and Cora as he chows down on turkey club sandwich with some curly fries. He glances around, actively seeking out Paige until he remembers that she’d be in in-school suspension.

He sighs very quietly.

Cora and Laura still pause their conversation to look at him questioningly like that sigh couldn’t be any more loud and clear.

Stiles smiles sheepishly and says, “Where’s Derek? I need to ask him something about Paige.”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Laura says, delicately.

Stiles straightens as he senses something amiss in her voice. “Why? Why? What happened? Who died?”

Cora stares at him in alarm. “No one. Calm down.” Then she mutters, “Though with the way Derek’s been acting all weekend you can hardly tell.”

“What happened? Is — where’s Derek?”

“At home,” Laura states as vaguely as possible.

“Sulking,” Cora adds because she’s not as subtle. “He reeks of depression.”

“Why would he — oh. Oh no.” It clicks. “Did they break up?”

Laura just shakes her head sadly. “If only it were that simple,” she says.

“That she-devil ran off to Vegas with some nobody and eloped,” Cora reports abruptly as she stabs at her salad like she wishes it were Paige's face instead. “Two years and she marries some rando she probably met online. I hope she chokes on his dick while they’re still on their honeymoon.”

Stiles splutters and nearly bites his own tongue in surprise. “She eloped?” he croaks. He looks to Laura for conformation and when she shrugs her mouth, he knows. “Why?”

“She’s a piece of shit, that’s why,” Cora huffs moodily, still stabbing her salad until her plastic fork starts breaking to pieces.

“That would explain why she missed our session on Sunday,” Stiles mumbles, still in shock. It also explains why Derek never picked up his phone or responded back to his texts. He flushes in mortification at his blunder. “When did you find out?”

“When she sent Derek a text that said she wouldn’t be joining him at homecoming while he was already there and waiting for her.” Laura straightens with her anger and she holds herself very tightly, like she’s got something inside her she’s trying to keep in. She tucks her long bangs behind her ears as her mouth wrinkles unhappily.

Stiles finds himself echoing the frown as he thinks about what Laura says. He thinks about Derek standing in a tricked out gymnasium, his back to the folded bleachers but never really touching. His handsome face washed with the colors of the disco ball as he watches the other couples press their bodies against each other to a slow song on the dance floor.

It makes Stiles sad.

Laura continues, “Then, like a true kick in the balls, she follows that text with a picture of her sitting in the guy’s lap with the marriage certificate, flashing her ring finger with a smile on her face like she won the lotto,” Laura says as she takes slow sips of her red slushie.

“How did she seem, I — how was she?” Stiles asks, because he’s stupid enough to ask. He’s trying to understand this. It all seems so — it’s beyond him.

“She looked drunk and bitter,” Laura quietly replies. She makes a disgruntled sound and says, “I literally took the girl out for lunch to get to know her a day before she ran off. She sat there and she played me, talking about how she wanted to spend the rest of her life — nope. Nope.” She stands suddenly and walks off.

Stiles watches her disappear into the school with some concern. He fishes his phone out of his pocket and shoots Derek a quick text that reads: I’m sorry about Paige. I didn’t know. Sorry.

Derek doesn’t reply. That’s no surprise. It’s understandable if anything. They’re not even friends. Why would he reply?

Cora stabs at her salad like she never plans on stopping.

---

The last thing Stiles expects when he goes to pick Isaac up from school is the black eye and the split lip. He almost twists his ankle in his haste to get to the preteen, who is sitting on the curb between Boyd and Jackson. He says, “What happened?”

Isaac doesn’t look at him. His gaze is locked on the laces of his shoes as his hands lay limply over his thighs. He’s got bloody knuckles.

Stiles is so angry that it feels like he’s going to crawl out of his skin. “What happened?” he snaps, but not at Isaac. He’s looking at Boyd and Jackson.

“Some stupid eighth graders tried to jump him in the locker room because the brother of one of the douchebags died from an overdose from the bad batch of drugs that Isaac’s dad sold to him,” Jackson says without even blinking.

Isaac tenses up even more.

Boyd shoots Jackson a look when he notices.

“What? That’s what the kid kept screaming as he and his stupid dick friends tried to stomp him to death,” Jackson says defensively.

Stiles swallows and swallows but nothing makes the burn of rage go away. He exhales and says, “Did he — was Isaac fighting back? Is he suspended?”

Boyd shakes his head. “It happened a few minutes ago. Scott and Danny jumped in when they found them and pulled them all off while Allison ran to get a teacher. They don’t blame him. The guys are going to be expelled, I heard.”

“He wasn’t even making a sound,” Jackson adds. “Isaac didn’t even fight back. He just — he let them.”

“But —” Stiles makes a silent gesture to Isaac’s bloody knuckles.

Boyd says, “He went off on a few lockers. Ms. Morrell had to calm him down. He wouldn’t stop punching them.”

Stiles presses a hand to his mouth and shakes his head as a sharp image of that makes its way into his head. He’s so — he’s so angry he can't even think. It’s not even Isaac’s fault. The things that Isaac’s family did — it’s not even his fault.

It’s no surprise at all when his dad pulls up in his cruiser and sprints out the car.

Boyd and Jackson move out of the way as the sheriff drops to a knee and speaks quietly.

Isaac keeps shaking his head at whatever his dad is saying to him.

His dad finally stands and squares his shoulders, looking as furious as Stiles feels when six boys are escorted out of the school by some of his dad’s deputies. “I’m pressing charges. You hear me? This is unacceptable!” he shouts over to them.

Isaac shrinks at the volume of the sheriff’s voice.

His dad glares at the other boys until they’re herded into the back of the police cars. He turns to Isaac and says, “We’re going to the station and we’re taking a statement.”

Isaac shakes a little.

Stiles touches his hand to his dad’s elbow. “Dad,” he urges.

“What?” his dad snaps. “This is — I’m not going to let this stand. They attacked him.”

“I know, just — calm down,” Stiles pleads softly and nods to Isaac.

His dad furrows his brow and looks at the preteen. He takes in the way Isaac is holding himself and he deflates. He scrubs a hand over his face tiredly. “Crap,” he mutters before he sighs. “I’m sorry, Isaac. I should have asked if — do you feel comfortable coming to the station?”

Isaac bows his head and shrugs meekly.

His dad rubs the back of his neck before he walks over and gently urges Isaac to his feet before he guides him to his cruiser.

Stiles says, “I’ll be right behind you. I’m going to take care of Isaac’s bike.”

His dad nods before he climbs into the car and drives off.

Boyd says, “I’ll help you.”

Stiles nods gratefully.

---

By the time he’s made it to the station, there’s a herd of angry parents waiting inside, demanding to speak to the sheriff to negate the charges being placed on their children.

His dad boldly approaches them with a sternly unapologetic expression and says, “I’m filing for restraining orders for what they did to my youngest. You’re lucky your kids are underage. I have half a mind to petition to have them tried as adults for the stunt they pulled today.”

There’s an uproar of protest and some other nasty remarks that Stiles doesn’t stick around to hear. He strides all the way to the back where his dad’s office is located and enters to find Deputy Parrish already there with an ice-pack and a disgruntled expression.

Isaac is firmly ignoring him. He looks uncomfortable.

“I can take it from here,” Stiles says, stepping in with a forced smile.

Parrish hesitates, throwing Isaac one last look before he pushes away from the sheriff’s desk. He hands Stiles the ice-pack before he exits, closing the door roughly behind him.

Stiles walks over to Isaac and leans back against the edge of his dad’s desk.

Isaac won’t look at him. It’s more heartbreaking then it is frustrating. He’d been making such progress. Now it’s like it’s back to square one.

Stiles says, “Do you know him? You seem like maybe — was Parrish giving you the bad touch?”

Isaac shoots him a look, it’s quick one, and a weak excuse for a glare but it still a relief for Stiles to see because it means he hasn’t completely withdrawn into himself.

“Okay, geez, I’m just worried,” Stiles jokes halfheartedly before he offers the ice-pack.

Isaac accepts it and when he presses it to the side of his chest with a wince he can't hide, Stiles feels a white-hot anger zap through him.

“They shouldn’t have done that,” Stiles says lowly. His voice is threatening to crack. “I don’t hate easily but I — I swear I hate them for what they tried to do. I know violence isn't the answer. It should never be but — Isaac, you should have fought back. You could have and no one would — we wouldn't have blamed you for it. I know you’re strong enough to —”

“Would it have helped, you think?” Isaac asks and Stiles jerks at the sound of his voice, suddenly aware. He sounds so much older than what he looks. His voice is steady, confident and clear. “If I fought back — and if I broke bones? Would that have made me feel good? To hurt them that way?”

Stiles is at a loss for words.

“No,” Isaac answers for him, and he's very gentle about it. More informative than scolding. He reaches out with the hand not holding the ice-pack to his side and places it on Stiles's knee (as if he needs the comfort). His blue eyes are searching Stiles's face for something and when he finds it, he pulls away and averts his gaze. “It’d be no different from what my dad used to do to me — no different from what his dad must have done to him, and I never want to be like that. Never. No matter what.”

Stiles nods dumbly.

Isaac doesn’t say anything else after that. He stares at the corner of the sheriff’s desk.

His dad comes in with Melissa and a doctor so they can look Isaac over sometime later. He tries to ask Isaac a few gauging questions but Isaac remains mute as ever.

The doctor stands with a concerned sigh and suggests that they take Isaac to the hospital because it’s looking like Isaac has some fractured ribs and a sprained wrist.

Stiles stares at Isaac the whole time but he just sits there quietly. From the way he carries himself, you’d never tell that he’d been in an altercation at all, and something about that makes Stiles sick because it so obviously a practiced habit.

They all exit the office and make their way to the hospital.

Stiles sits in the waiting area with his phone, keeping everyone updated on Isaac’s condition. His dad and Isaac come out a little while later.

Isaac has on a medical brace for his wrist and for his ribs, but he looks more comfortable than he had before.

His dad mouths something about pain medicine and they all leave the hospital to go home. He stops at a burger joint on the way and he buys them all burgers and some milkshakes.

They settle in the living room when they get home and they put Dance Moms on just for Isaac, but he’s so looped on pain medication that he practically falls asleep in his food and his dad has to carry him upstairs to tuck him into the bed.

Stiles stays downstairs, staring at the muted TV without really watching it.

He can’t stop thinking about Isaac's words or the sound of his voice while he had said them.

---

Tuesday should have been spent with Stiles at home with Isaac but his dad makes him go to school while he stays behind from work, which is unfair. His dad then he points out the fact that Stiles has been missing more days of school than he should. So Stiles showers, gets dressed, and goes to school, only to find himself staring at his locker like it’s a foreign concept.

Cora whacks him in the face with a pack of blue sour gummy worms and says, “Bioluminescence.”

“What?” Stiles says as he fumbles to catch the pack of candy before it hits the ground. “What?”

“The topic.”

“Topic?”

“For your paper.”

“Paper?”

“For Biology, dumbass.” Cora rolls her eyes. “Bioluminescence. You know? Pretty lights.”

Stiles snorts and tears the pack of gummy worms open before he shoves some in his mouth, wincing at the sourness. “So like fireflies and stuff.”

Cora shrugs and watches him eat her gummy worms with a quietly pleased look.

Stiles shakes the bag at her in offering but she shakes her head. “Sounds cool. I might go to the library after school. Want to come?”

Cora nods and drags him off to first period.

---

During Astronomy, when the teacher puts on an episode of Cosmos: A Space-time Odyssey, Stiles sends a text to Peter that reads: What’s the status on the Mermaids?

Difficult to say at this point. :))

Mr. Ravenhill and I believe there may be a nest. :))

What???

Peter doesn’t respond, no matter how many times Stiles texts him.

It’s slightly frustrating, but if Peter’s involved then it’s bound to be.

---

At lunch, Stiles calls his dad to check up on things at home and his dad assures him that Isaac is fine.

“Mostly sleeping. Those pain meds really keep him down,” his dad explains.

Stiles informs his dad that he’ll be going to the library after school and that’s the end of that conversation. He grabs a tray of food and brings it over to the table with Laura and Kate. He sits across from them before he glances around. “Where’s Cora?” he asks.

“She had to go to some kind of marching band meeting,” Laura explains as she snags the green apple off of his tray and takes a juicy bite.

Stiles is hit with a wave of nostalgia from the first time they first started talking and somehow he asks, “Derek is — he’s still depressed?”

“Yes,” Laura says with a heady sigh. “He hasn’t left his room once. Mom wont let me bug him. He needs to be snapped out of it.”

“He dodged a fucking bullet,” Kate grumbles, and Stiles is just now noticing that she has a fading black eye and that her hair is freshly cut into a pixie style. She looks like a hardcore Tinker Bell.

Laura snorts and knocks her shoulders into Kate’s. “You’re just bitter.”

“Damn right I am,” Kate confirms as she steals Stiles’s jello (again).

“You guys haven’t seen Paige yet?” Stiles asks as he twists his fork in his serving of spaghetti.

Laura and Kate shake their head no.

Stiles idly wonders if she’s ever coming back.

It’s probably selfish for him to want her too on account of how good she was at being his math tutor.

---

In the Beacon Hills Library, on the second floor, Stiles sits at a rounded table across from Cora as banners with books and words that encourage the patrons to read flutters over their heads while the ceiling fans cut the wind audibly.

Cora pushes a pen and notebook at him and tells him to write down a list of books he needs.

Stiles does what she says because its faster and easier than questioning her motives. When he finishes, he hands it back over and she takes it with a thoughtfully furrowed brow. Then she leans over and unzips her backpack before she tosses a shiny, royal blue bag of white cheddar popcorn at him. It hits his chest and lands on the table with a sound he can’t classify.

Cora says, “I’ll be back. Don’t move.”

Stiles watches her go, notebook in hand, as he tries to press the wrinkles out of the bag of popcorn with his fingers. He doesn’t open it. He’s pretty sure they’re not allowed to eat in the library.

Someone coughs between the bookshelves on the other end of the room.

A baby cries briefly before being hushed by a mother.

There’s a row of people sitting at a line of study cubicles pressed to the wall of windows. One of them is a tired looking college student who looks to be falling asleep into the cup of coffee in his hand while his other hand traces lines of red under the passages of a Xeroxed journal article.

Stiles looks away and finds someone else to watch. His thoughts jump all over the place with his assumptions of the people he watches — what they do, how old they are, what kind of life they lead.

Cora returns to the table with a black cart full of books. She divides the stacks between them before she settles back down on her end of the table. She shoots him a look when she notices he hasn’t touched the popcorn.

Stiles shrugs, but after a minute he opens the bag with a wince because the crinkle echoes loudly in the quiet space, but whatever, it gets Cora to stop glaring at him from across the table. He jams a handful in his mouth and Cora looks away with this peculiar expression of approval that he knows he has no chance of understanding.

He opens five books and places them in half circle so that his eyes can jump back and forth when his mind gets restless with the information of one book. He finds a lot of useful things about fireflies and fish. Its just that every time he gets up to go copy certain passages of the book, Cora will get this look on her face and he’ll plop right back down.

Cora uses her long fingers to pull her hair up into messy bun before she makes her way around the table to him. She says, “What do you need?”

Stiles is confused. “I’m not — I can do it.”

“What do you need?” Cora repeats and stares at him with this forceful gaze.

Stiles makes a noncommittal sound of confusion and frustration before he tears out a piece of paper from his notebook so he can scribble out the page numbers and section.

Cora takes it and the books he’s written down before she strides off in search of a copier.

Stiles grabs his phone and sends a text to Laura that reads: Cora is holding me hostage, I think. Or being very, I don’t know. She wont let me do anything. She’s hovering.

Cora handles things differently.

I don’t understand what that means.

Not sure I can explain. Our family has this thing we do when one of us gets injured. She’s just acting on instinct. She likes you. She wants to take care of you.

But I thought you said Cora doesn’t like people.

Yeah. People. You're not people.

What am I then?

Laura doesn’t reply and Stiles is forced to both wonder and worry. Do they know what he is? Is that why they’ve been so — do the Hales know what he is? God what are they? He’s been holding this question in his mind for the longest, but it’s taken so long to come back to it with everything else going on. He can’t seem to get a straight answer from anyone about that.

Cora returns with his photocopied packets and his books. She puts it in front of him and asks, “Did you need something else?”

Stiles shakes his head wordlessly and watches as she returns to her side of the table. It takes a long while before he can concentrate back on the text before him.

Cora doesn’t walk him home when they part ways when it gets late in the evening, but she does brush the knuckles of her right hand against the knuckles of his before she just walks in the direction of the preserve.

Stiles peddles his bike home only to find his dad and Isaac crashing in the living room with the TV flickering and basically watching them instead of vice versa. He goes to the linen closet and grabs some pillows and some thin fleece blankets. He tucks them both in before he goes into the kitchen to grab a bag of celery and a jar of peanut butter.

He carries it up the stairs with him and into his room, where he dumps everything in his backpack on his bed. He starts his homework, and once he’s completed it, he starts AP Biology paper. He finishes it sometime around midnight and gives it a once over before he sends it to his printer.

As it prints, he stumbles out of his clothes and over to his bed before he crashes, his mind swimming with bioluminescent facts and the odd behavior of the Hales.

---

On Wednesday, Stiles wakes to the smell of turkey bacon and burnt toast. He rolls out of bed and hits the floor with a wounded sound before he hops to his feet. He kicks his way through his clothes and throws on something that smells like it could be clean before he jams all his schoolwork in their designated folders. Then he jogs down the steps to find Lydia sitting at the kitchen table dressed in all black, her hair pinned up all neatly with a funeral veil on.

Stiles pauses in confusion. “Lydia? What are you doing here?”

Lydia slowly lifts a porcelain teacup to her lips and takes sips through her veil as she stares straightforward.

Stiles approaches the other side of the table and says, “Lydia?”

Lydia lifts her watery green eyes and says, “Cousin, cousin, you're so sweet. Miss you dearly, we should meet. What did I tell you?”

Stiles frowns in confusion and shakes his head. “I don’t —”

“What did I tell you? What did I tell you? What did I tell you?” Lydia repeats over and over and over. Her lips moving all the more faster each time before it becomes unnatural, like a thousand voices suddenly sounding off as one.

Stiles shakes his head and backs up when he realizes that something is wrong. He lifts his right hand and counts seven fingers. “This isn’t real. This is — this is a dream.” He backs up until he trips and falls on his back.

Stiles suddenly blinks up at a starry sky as he exhales, his breath rises like steam from his mouth. He sits up and notices he’s in an entirely different neighborhood, the rich suburbs (Prairie Hills), and he’s resting on his elbows at the end of an empty driveway. It’s the middle of the night but the block is unnaturally quiet. He stands to gaze over at a largely lit house planted on the side of a long driveway.

Lydia steps up beside him and says, “They only come out during the New Moon. They call it a Dark Moon. A potent time for their most powerful, destructive transformation.”

The night seems to get colder and the stars above their heads goes out one by one like the flame of a candle being snubbed.

The bushes and trees shiver but there’s no breeze.

Stiles’s lips part in shock and his eyes widens as he watches a bulky, large shadow-like creature with glowing yellow eyes scale the side of the house and hop onto the roof with its long claws. “What the hell was that? What the hell was that?

Lydia starts singing very slowly, the lyrics pouring out of her mouth like syrup, like she’s stuck in slow motion.

Stiles watches as the lit windows go out one by one. “Lydia,” he croaks. “Who’s house is this?”

Lydia says, “They only come out during the New Moon.” She walks up the drive backwards like she's stuck in the reverse loop of a video player. She continues to move this way until she's to the walkway that leads to the front door. She opens it and disappears inside.

The door closes behind her with a soft but ominous click and that’s when the screaming starts.

Stiles winces, stumbling back as it hits his ears in piercing shock waves. He cups his hands over his ears and says, “Wake up, wake up, wake up.”

The screams get louder and threaten to consume him like a shrieking tidal wave of horror. His whole body gets cold and he jams his eyes shut as he begins to scream back.

.

.

.

“— Stiles! Stiles! It’s okay! It’s okay!”

Stiles is still screaming when he comes out of the nightmare and he’s struggling against his father’s grip with wet eyes and restless feet. He blinks away another set of tears and notices that Isaac is standing in his doorway with this haunted look of concern on his face. Stiles shudders and clings onto his father’s arm as his body sags with bone deep exhaustion. His throat feels hot and raw.

It’s still dark out, but the sun is creeping over the horizon, painting veils of orange across a dark blue sky.

Stiles shudders again, cold in his bones but not in his skin.

His dad shushes him and pushes him back down gently, palming his damp forehead before he tucks the covers around his shaking body. He sits on the edge of the bed and rests a hand on Stiles’s shoulder. “You want to talk about it?” he asks.

Stiles shakes his head and at the movement, something warm and sticky slides out of his ears. He sits up and presses both of his fingers into the dips of his ears before he pulls his hands away to see blood staining his fingers.

“Jesus,” his dad whispers in alarm. “I’m taking you to the hospital.”

Stiles doesn’t protest, still shaken and in shock.

It had all felt so real.

---

Stiles is herded through a series of tests when they get to the hospital. All of them come up negative and the doctor evaluating him seems stumped that he can’t diagnosis the reason for Stiles’s ear trauma.

Stiles doesn’t offer any answers. He’s not so sure himself what it means.

The doctor gives him the okay to go home, sending him on his way with a prescription for some headache medicine and tells him to just take it easy for the rest of the day.

His dad seems unsatisfied by the lack of answers but he’s relieved that there’s nothing seriously wrong.

The ride home is silent and heavy.

Stiles shivers, forehead pressed to the glass of the window from where he’s sitting behind the passenger seat.

His dad keeps shooting him these concerned looks through the rearview mirror as he cranks up the heat for him.

Isaac is silent and watchful from where he’s sitting on the other side of the car.

Stiles lets the car rock him to sleep, but he jerks awake a second later in slight panic and he straightens.

His dad flashes him another look of concern as they stop at a red light and he cranks the heat up further when Stiles shivers again.

---

Needless to say, Stiles doesn’t go to school. His dad wont let him, not that Stiles would have argued the point anyway. He can’t go back to sleep. He doesn’t bother going back to sleep when they return home. He stares up at the ceiling for a long time before he peels his body from his bed and goes to take a shower just for something to do.

Isaac is sleeping on his side with his back to the door when Stiles walks by his room on his way back to his own room. He tucks into his room and slips on some clothes before he settles in the seat in front of his desk and he boots up his laptop.

His dad stops by his door on the way out. He’s dressed in uniform so Stiles can guess where he’s headed. He says, “I got a call. It’s looking like there was another attack.”

Stiles straightens at that.

His dad quickly adds, “I’ll tell you what I can when I get back.”

“Or you could take me with you?” Stiles proposes.

His dad gives him a look that says what he thinks about that suggestion. “I’m still getting used to the idea of involving you. I don’t think we’ve jumped to me taking you to crime scenes stage.”

Stiles doesn’t argue that. “Is it weird if I ask you to bring pictures back with you?”

His dad walks away at that.

Stiles sighs and pulls up a couple of websites that chronicle the happenings of the community. He peruses through any and all articles stamped with the same date as Saturday when he went to visit Lydia.

What he finds is an article about two other patients at Eichen House, who were involved in a murder-suicide that very day (two women). Apparently the women were rooming together, and one woman strangled the other with a knotted bed sheet before hanging herself with it.

Stiles wonders if Lydia knew. If she had felt it while it was happening. It sends a chill through him, and he prints out the article before he goes to his closet to pull out the bulletin/whiteboard combo. He tacks the article onto the bulletin board side before he returns to his computer to print out any articles having to do with the death of Lydia’s parents and her brief disappearance. Then he tries to track down any articles about the animal attack she suffered when she was little.

He prints all those articles out too and tacks them to the board. He’s staring at a black and white photo of Lydia’s house, the same house he had dreamed about the night before, when the doorbell rings. He blinks and looks at the clock on his nightstand. He’s been at it for most of the morning — it’s mid afternoon now.

Isaac is still curled up and asleep in his bed when Stiles passes his room to go down the stairs and answer the door.

Its Jackson, Boyd, Scott, and Allison.

Stiles can’t help but to notice that their eyes are rimmed with red. He’s struck with an uneasy feeling. “What? What happened?”

“I told them,” Scott says. “I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t have but I had to. Danny — he’s been — he’s in the hospital.”

“His whole family,” Boyd says, lost. “His little sisters, his moms. They’re all dead.”

“He didn’t show up to school,” Allison sniffs and hastily uses her fingers to catch the tears spilling down her pink cheeks. “So we thought we’d check up on him. Bring him his homework. God — there were body parts all on the lawn and on the porch.” She chokes on a sob and hides her face in Scott’s shoulder.

“You know what it is,” Jackson says, looking at him intently. “You know what’s doing it. You and you’re dad know.”

“I wouldn't exactly say — we don’t exactly know but we’re trying to figure it out,” Stiles explains. “How is Danny?”

“We don’t know. They wouldn’t let us — we’re not family and — he doesn’t even have family anymore.” Scott exhales shakily as he scrubs at his face. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I had to tell them because — it’s — it’s Danny.”

Stiles ushers them into the house and they all file into his living room. He watches them all settle down on his furniture with somber faces as he stands across from them with his back to the TV. He says to Scott, “So when you say you told them —”

“It’s not that much of a surprise,” Boyd interjects. “This town has always been, you know, strange. The last sheriff was — and the way he died had been — it’s not a surprise.”

“The Hales have always been odd,” Jackson adds, but he doesn’t seem to care. “When Lydia was attacked a long time ago, I kind of knew something wasn’t right. But I ignored it because who the hell wants to believe that the fairy-tales you think are fairy-tales are real things that go bump in the night?”

Scott takes a sharp puff of his inhaler. He looks a little green.

“Lydia saw something,” Allison says as she looks at Stiles with glossy eyes. “She saw something and it made her crazy and whatever it is that attacked Danny is the same thing.”

“I don’t know that for sure. It’s a strong possibility,” Stiles admits. “Why are you guys here though? Not to sound, you know, but why did you come to me?”

“If you’re trying to figure out what’s going on then we want in,” Jackson merely says.

“This thing is hurting our friends. We can’t just do nothing. We could be next for all we know,” Allison adds in a nasally voice. She sniffs. “I’m tired of pretending that there’s not something deeper going on.”

Stiles takes that into consideration but he says, “It’s dangerous. I’m not going to pretend that this is sensible. A part of me wants to say that we’re just a bunch of dumb teenagers. What can we do?”

“Scott told us about how you were able to help those missing kids. That you figured out what those old women were next door,” Boyd points out. “We’re saying we want to help too.”

They all stare at him and wait for a response.

Stiles sighs, and he suddenly understands how his dad must feel. He’s worried. This could get really ugly, really fast. “The first time was a bit of luck. I — almost didn’t walk away untouched.” He then says, “But if you’re as willful as me, you’ll do what you want anyway. So, fine. Follow me.”

They all file into his room and he shows them all the information he’s compiled together on the bulletin board, while filling them in on what he’s learned about Lydia and her being a Banshee.

Isaac enters the room midway through Stiles’s ramblings and sits on the floor between Jackson and Boyd at the edge of Stiles’s bed.

Allison and Scott shoot him quick glances, which Isaac valiantly ignores.

“Whatever attacked Lydia’s parents and Danny and his family is probably the same someone or something that left the threatening message on my doorstep,” Stiles says as he wraps it all up. “My dad said that the claw marks found on Lydia’s parents resembled the ones found on El Chupacabra, but it’s also could be from some kind of hunting knife.”

“Boyd and I can double back to Lydia’s place and see if we find anything there,” Allison suggests.

Scott frowns. “What about me?”

Allison gives him a small dimpled smile. “Scott, you remember when we watched Night of Living Dead, and we had to stop it ten minutes into the movie because you couldn’t stomach it? I think it would be better if Boyd and I went.”

Scott’s frown deepens.

“Stop pouting, McCall,” Jackson says. “You need to come with me. Your mom could probably sneak us into Danny’s room. If he’s awake, we can ask him about what happened. Your mom can be the lookout.”

“Why would she do that?” Scott asks.

“Because you’re going to tell her everything you told us,” Jackson scoffs, looking at the other teen like he’s an idiot.

“Great,” Stiles mutters with a sigh. “Let’s tell more people. Fantastic.”

“She wouldn’t believe it!” Scott protests.

“We’ll make her,” Jackson insists as he stands and drags Scott to his feet.

Stiles says, “I’m going to go see Deaton. He always seems to know a lot.”

“He’s definitely more than an antique dealer,” is the last thing Jackson says as he herds Scott out of the room.

Boyd and Allison climb to their feet and follow after them.

Isaac and Stiles are left alone. He says, “Did you want to come or —”

Isaac shrugs but he stands. He’s already dressed and ready to go, like he knew or something.

“You probably shouldn’t,” Stiles supposes as he gives the preteen a once over. Most of the swelling and bruises have gone down but hasn’t completely vanished. “How are your ribs?”

Isaac shrugs again and waits for him by the door patiently.

Stiles sighs and sends his dad and Peter a quick text that reads: Going out to do some investigating. Don’t be mad but Scott kind of told some of his friends what’s going on and they’re helping now. I’m pretty sure they wont say anything to anyone else. Other than Melissa McCall. Don’t be mad.

The responses he gets in return ranges from exasperation, annoyance, and finally acceptance with something that reads as an urging for all of them to be careful.

---

By the time Isaac and Stiles roll up to the antique shop on their bikes, Mayor Argent is already strolling out with a silver cane, his grey suit sitting on his tall form in a stiff way. He aims a politician’s smile at Stiles and Isaac, and Isaac tenses, stepping behind Stiles like he wants to shrink from view.

“Good afternoon,” Mayor Argent says, his eyes as sharp as his presence is intimidating. “You must be the sheriff’s sons. I don’t believe we ever had the pleasure of meeting. Gerard Argent.” He offers a wrinkly hand.

Stiles accepts it reluctantly and when they touch palms, a chill rides down the length of his spine. He snatches his hand back and flexes his fingers as he tries to place the feeling. His gut is going haywire right now.

Mayor Argent just smiles, white teeth gleaming with a predatory edge. He says, “You boys have a nice day. Stay out of trouble.”

One of his bodyguards ushers him off to the black limo parked by the curb. The limo pulls off and turns the corner, disappearing from sight.

“Okay,” Stiles says, almost shakily. “That was so — that felt so —” He doesn’t even have words because he's never experienced anything like that before.

Isaac drops his forehead to Stiles’s shoulder and exhales a trembling breath. This goes on for a few moments.

Stiles turns and looks at him with a concerned frown. “Hey, what’s wrong?” He searches Isaac’s blue eyes for an answer. “Did you know him? Is he someone you knew —”

“No. Not really. Not directly but my dad used to..." Isaac trails off with a faraway look that seems pained. He shakes his head quickly before he can really get caught up in whatever memories are swirling in his mind. "I don’t want to talk about that.”

Stiles snaps his mouth shut, once again taken back when the preteen uses actual words. He swallows down his questions and nods. “Are you coming?” he asks instead as he moves to enter the shop.

Isaac takes a deep breath and straightens. He glances to the shop briefly before he looks away and crosses his arms. He shakes his head no.

Stiles figures he just needs a little time to collect himself so he doesn’t push and he goes into the shop by himself. The bell chimes over his head and he strides to the back where Deaton is sweeping up a mess of broken glass. The glass counter looks like its been smashed open.

“Mr. Stilinski,” Deaton says before Stiles can ask about the glass. “What can I help you with?”

“I can come back,” Stiles says as he watches the other man continue to sweep up the mess. “Is this a bad time?”

“There is no good or bad time. Just time,” Deaton replies cryptically before he sets the broom aside and gives Stiles his full attention. “What can I do for you?”

“Uh, well.” Stiles tries to find the right words. “I’ve been reading a lot about Banshees and I was wondering if there has ever been any stories of Virtues and Banshees encountering one another.”

Deaton takes a moment to think before he says, “Some legends place Virtues and Banshees together in certain events or crises. They are two sides of the same coin. Banshees hear death while Virtues hear life. It’s said that they share a link because there may be a blood connection.”

“Blood connection?” Stiles repeats questioningly. “Like family?”

Deaton nods. “If ever a Virtue and a Banshee were found together, it’s only because they were born into a similar lineage, therefore this creates a supernatural tethering between them. Often how it happens is that they share a relation through a set of grandparents. Ultimately, what this means is that they’re cousins.”

Stiles finds himself jumping back to that moment in Eichen House when Lydia kept repeating that eerie rhyme at him over and over again. It dazes him — the thought that he and Lydia could possibly share a familial relation. He swallows and asks, “Have you ever heard any stories about twins who share a psychic connection where they can sometimes feel each other’s pain or share dreams? Do you think it’s possible for a Banshee and a Virtue to have a similar telepathic connection?”

“That calls for a complicated answer,” Deaton supposes. “If you give me a little time, I can do some research and see what I come up with.”

Stiles nods and says, “Also, on a completely different note — do you know of any creatures that like to rip its victims apart with claws or something of a knife that could do the same kind of damage? But it never like — takes anything or eats what it’s ripping apart — it just, you know.”

Deaton lifts both brows and says, “Sounds like either an incredibly intelligent animal or a sadistic sociopath. I’m going to need a little more than that to be completely sure.”

“Sorry that’s as much as I got,” Stiles admits.

Deaton nods and says, “Come back in three days, Mr. Stilinski. I should have something for you on both accounts.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says. “And if I suddenly have some other fact about the thing then I’ll let you know.”

Deaton reaches in his pocket and pulls out his business card, offering it. “Call me,” he advises.

Stiles takes it before he gives an awkward wave goodbye and moves to exit the shop. He and Isaac mount their bikes and start peddling with no clear direction.

He sends a mass text to the others to tell them what Deaton said about needing time to do some research.

When he and Isaac swing by the park, Allison calls him and informs him that she and Boyd hadn’t found anything important. He calls Scott to relay the message and Scott says that he and Jackson weren’t able to find anything out because Danny’s wounds were so severe that they had to put him in a medically induced coma.

It’s all dead ends.

---

Cora is sitting out on the porch steps with cup holder full of ice cream blizzards when Stiles and Isaac roll up to their house on their mountain bikes. She hands Isaac a coconut and chocolate one as he passes her on his way up the stairs and he pauses to take it, giving her a five-dollar bill in exchange.

Cora pockets the money and Isaac disappears inside the house with his frozen treat.

Stiles lifts a brow and says, “What was that?”

“An understanding,” Cora merely says and hands him a banana cream pie blizzard. “Eat that and tell me why you missed school.”

Stiles takes the cup of ice cream and relays the story between bites.

Cora eats her way to the bottom of two strawberry cheesecake blizzards and says, “Sucks.”

Stiles gives her an amused frown. “Yeah, sure. That’s one way to look at it.”

Cora shrugs. She says, “I have your homework for you. Did you finish your paper?”

Stiles nods and they make their way up the steps and into the house. When they settle in the living room, he asks, “Did Derek come to school? Paige?”

“No and no,” Cora replies as she unloads her backpack before she hands him all his assignments.

Stiles takes it with audible gratitude.

They work in silence until his dad comes home looking tired and wound tight.

Cora stands right away (like a soldier acknowledging their senior) and says, “Hello, Sheriff.”

His dad smiles tiredly and says, “Nice to see you, Cora. Will you be staying for dinner?”

Cora glances at Stiles and then away as she says, “I have to get home. But thank you for the invitation, sir.”

“Next time then,” the sheriff supposes.

Cora hums noncommittally and packs up her things before she slings her backpack over her shoulder.

Stiles follows her to the door to see her out.

Cora pauses in the doorway and asks, “Are you coming to school tomorrow?”

“Most likely,” Stiles supposes.

Cora nods stiffly as she looks him over. There's a moment when her gaze turns searching as she look him over from head to toe. She averts her gaze, and quietly says, “Your bruises are looking better.” Then she just walks away and leaves.

Stiles watches her disappear up the block as he rubs the back of his head in wonder.

---

On Thursday, Stiles and Isaac both head out together in the morning to go to school. Like always, Stiles will peddle to Isaac’s school first.

Scott and Allison are already out front with Malia.

“So, you’re back?” Stiles says as he comes to a halt at the curb they’re standing on.

Isaac rolls his bike over to the racks, locking it, and then meets up with Boyd before they head inside together.

Malia nods and says, “Cancun sucked, but my step-dad was like trying to enforce the whole family bonding experience. Mom was drunk off her ass the whole time.” She shrugs. “So. What did I miss?”

Stiles exchanges a look with Scott and Allison.

Allison grabs Malia’s hand and says, “I’ll break it to her.” before she drags the confused blonde away so they can chat in private.

Scott says, “Did your dad say anything when he came home?”

“Not much of much,” Stiles admits. “He told me what you guys said. Danny’s family was ripped apart and there were limbs everywhere in the house and out on the lawn and even floating in the pool in the backyard. Though —” He pauses.

“What?” Scott says with a frown.

“He says there was no sign of forced entry,” Stiles explains. “Which means whatever or whoever did it, well, Danny knew them.”

Scott marvels at that. “Oh man. Oh man — that means Lydia might have too.”

“No might about it. She did. Same deal at her house. No forced entry,” Stiles confirms.

Scott opens his mouth to say something but the sound of heavy metal overtakes the parking lot and when they turn to see the commotion, this big black monster truck looking thing comes flying through the parking lot, swerving to a stop dangerously close to where Stiles is standing.

Erica stumbles out of the truck with a scowl and slams the door shut over and over again.

A big bulky looking dude with a shaved head and a red paw-print tattooed just under his ear in the car screams, “Fucking bitch! Careful!”

“Fuck you, Carter!” Erica screams back as she stumbles back as the truck whips in reverse and flies out of the parking lot. She huffs and dusts herself off before she reaches down and starts collecting her books and homework, which fell out of her backpack during all the commotion.

Scott and Stiles share a look before they move to help the blonde.

“You must be feeling better,” Scott comments as he looks her over.

Erica is wearing a tight leather skirt with ripped stockings, a sheer top and a leather jacket with cheetah pumps. She blows a neatly curled hair out of her face and says, “Puberty hit me like a brick to the face.”

Stiles snorts and hands her a ripped up novel he vaguely recognizes (The Count of Monte Cristo) before they all stand. “How long were you sick for?” he asks.

Erica shrugs as she dusts herself off. “Hard to say. So what’s been going on in this shithole of a town since I’ve been confined to my bed?”

“Danny’s in the hospital. So is Lydia. Well, in a mental hospital,” Scott clarifies.

Erica huffs and says, “About time. That ginger haired Barbie has been on her way to the nut house. I spotted that coming a mile away.”

“Hey, come on, Erica. Be cool. That’s not something to make fun of,” Stiles rebukes.

“Whatever,” Erica merely says. “And what about Danny-boy? Why’s he in the hospital? Did he get the AIDs?”

Scott makes an alarmed sound.

Stiles rubs the bridge of his nose as he swallows down some choice words.

“What? I saw a PBS special. Or was it HBO? I don’t know, but Mark Ruffalo was in it and he was floating around. But whatever it was, there wasn’t enough sex in it to be honest,” Erica says as she looks at her watch. “Fuck. I gotta go. I’m supposed to meet up with the school’s guidance counselor. I’ll see you two dildos later.” She clicks off in her heels, turning heads as she marches into school.

Stiles stares after her and shakes his head. “Is it just me or is she more — you know — more.”

“No. Erica is — she’s always been like that,” Scott admits. “You just haven’t hung out with her as long as I have. It takes some getting used to. No surprise, really. You should meet her family. That was one of her older brothers who dropped her off.”

“Seriously?” Stiles says, startled. “That’s twisted.”

Scott nods before he gives Stiles a bro hug. “I’ll see you later. You coming to the lacrosse game tonight?”

Stiles shrugs. “I’ll text you.”

---

Beacon Hills High School gets two new transfers — sophomore students (Violet and Garrett) — and it’s the talk of the school. Rumor has it that they’re the new adopted children of Mayor Argent.

“Can’t tell what the old bastard is thinking,” Kate admits when they meet up for lunch. She likes them enough to confirm the rumor but she ignores everyone else who tries to ask. “He comes home with these two and tells me to make nice. What the fuck.”

Laura says, “What are they like?”

“Creepy as fuck, and sneaky as fuck.” Kate pauses as she considers that. “I guess they’re a perfect fit for my broken family.”

Laura bumps her shoulders with Kate and they share this look of significance.

Kate is the first to look away with a sigh. “I think they’re fucking each other. They’re always in each other’s room or sneaking out of the house.” She eyes Stiles’s tray.

Stiles hands her his jello because she’s going to steal it anyway.

Kate winks at him and smirks. “You know, on a different subject,” she drawls as she pops a jello cube in her mouth. “A little birdy told me that Paige is back in town with her new hubby.”

Cora looks up from her nachos and scowls. “Really? Maybe we should pay her a visit with a gift.” She straightens and pops her knuckles ominously. “I wonder if they’re registered at the gun store.”

Laura sends her little sister a look. “Don’t joke about that.”

Cora deflates and crosses her arms. “Whatever,” she says and stabs at her nachos.

Stiles scoots away a little. He says, “I actually ran into your dad the other day.”

Kate looks at him sharply, as does Laura. She says, “What happened?”

“Not much of anything. He shook my hand and smiled at me,” Stiles says. “When’s the re-election? I’m not going to vote for him.”

Kate snorts. “Like he’s ever depended on the votes. He’s got something up his sleeve,” she says. “You just wait.”

“That’s not foreboding in the least,” Laura remarks sarcastically. She looks at Stiles. “You should steer clear of him though. He’s — you can’t prove anything he is. Do you get what I’m saying?”

Stiles does.

The bell rings and they disperse.

Stiles goes to his locker and is disappointed to find that the latch is jammed. He has to put the books already in his arms down so he can use both hands to try and pry the latch back.

The bell for next period rings and the halls empty out.

Stiles grumbles out mangled swears under his breath as he pulls and pulls and pulls. He’s literally on the verge of breaking a sweat over this.

“Here, let me.”

Stiles steps back as a dark-skinned female with long, curly raven hair removes a bobby pin from her hair and begins to pick with the latch. “Uh, thanks.”

“No problem.” She smiles at him and wow, she’s really pretty. “I’m Violet.”

Stiles jolts a little at that. “Nice to meet you,” he mumbles.

Violet gets the locker to pop open. “There. It just needed a little something extra,” she supposes.

Stiles presses his lips together and nods. He steps up to his locker when she steps back and he quickly exchanges his books under her heavy stare. He straightens and closes the door, fixing the lock into place before he says, “Thanks. For that.”

“No problem,” Violet says. “Maybe I’ll catch you around, Stiles.” She gives him a once over before she glides off with a shrewd smirk.

Stiles’s gut twists and he’s got no time to think about it because the late bell rings and he has to sprint to class.

It's not until he's halfway into his class does he realize that he never told Violet his name, and yet she just knew.

---

There’s a moving truck parked just next door and there are movers shuffling back and forth between the truck and the house when Isaac and Stiles roll up to their own house on their mountain bikes after school. The movers carry furniture that looks like it came straight from Tokyo and it makes Stiles wonder what kind of person or persons are moving in.

“I hope they’re nothing like our last neighbors,” Stiles says as he drops his bike to the lawn.

Isaac does the same as he tracks the movements of the movers very closely. He wrinkles his nose suddenly and says, “Huh.”

Stiles whips his gaze over to the preteen. “What?" he questions. "What?”

Isaac shakes his head and shrugs before he starts towards the house.

“Isaac!” Stiles complains. “You can’t just say something like that and walk away!”

Isaac slams the door behind him in reply.

“Rude,” Stiles grumbles before he edges over to the neighbors lawn.

Suddenly, the movers carrying a couch in have to stumble out of the way because a family comes marching out. There’s an Asian woman fussing at what looks like her daughter in Japanese while the daughter fusses back as the father tries to placate them both.

The teenaged girl huffs and flails her hands at her mother before she stomps down the steps.

The mother shouts, “Kira! Kira! You step one foot off the lawn and you’re grounded for the next month!”

The girl named Kira freezes before her foot touches the sidewalk. She steps back and glares at her mother. “This is so unfair!

Her mother shouts something in Japanese at her before she storms back into the house.

The father says, “We love you, Kira. Please. Try not to upset your mother. This move was difficult for all of us.” Then he disappears inside too, probably to go and appease his wife.

Kira mutters something under her breath and crosses her arms before her gaze lands on Stiles. She blushes hotly. “Great. You saw all that and you must think we’re insane.”

“Nope,” Stiles denies. “Just hoping you’re not a Ghoul or anything like my last neighbors,” he weakly jokes.

Kira lifts her brow. “I wouldn’t be out in the sunlight if I were,” she points out as she tucks her long hair behind her ears and approaches him. “So you probably already know this, but I’m Kira. Kira Yukimura. Not a Ghoul. Just very, very frustrated.” She offers a hand.

“I’m Stiles. Stiles Stilinski. Also not a Ghoul,” Stiles says and touches his palm to hers, only to yank his hand back because he’s hit with some static shock.

Kira winces and blushes again. “Sorry. I — I’m like a walking conductor of electricity. I’m always shocking people. It frustrated my friends back home. ‘Pick your feet up, Kira! No wonder you always shock us. You drag your feet!’ Blah, blah, blah.” She huffs out a breath of air and mutters something self-deprecating in Japanese.

“It’s okay,” Stiles assures. “A little static never hurt anyone.”

Kira shrugs as she hugs herself.

“Well, welcome to Beacon Hills. I moved here not too long ago myself,” Stiles admits. “It’s an — interesting town to say the least.”

“I’ll need to see more of it to confirm. Mom’s taking me to register for school tomorrow,” Kira says. “You go to Beacon Hills High, right? I’ll be starting as a freshman, even though there’s like two months left of school.”

“I’m a freshman too,” Stiles says. “Maybe we’ll have some classes together.”

Kira smiles a little at that. “Yeah. That would be cool.” She glances over to his house and waves. “Who’s that?”

Stiles turns and he sees Isaac looming in the doorway. He sends the preteen a thumbs-up to assure him that everything is checking out so far. “That’s my favorite little brother Isaac. He’s handsomely shy.”

“Oh,” Kira merely says. She squints her eyes. “He does seem cute.”

Stiles snorts. “Yeah, when he's polite enough.” He then says, “Actually, I was going to go to a lacrosse game at his school if you wanted to come? It might be a good way to meet some people and make friends. That’s only if you want.”

“Uh, sure. I have to okay it with my parents but I’m totally up for it,” Kira quickly assures.

“Cool. I’ll see you in three hours,” Stiles says and waves as he makes his way to his house.

Kira gives him a bubbly smile as she watches him go before she runs into her own house.

Stiles opens the front door, startled when Isaac drags him into the house and into a tight hug. He awkwardly pats the preteen on the back. “Uh, Isaac — not that your hugs aren’t awesome because they are made of pure awesome, but if you could maybe tell me what I did to —”

“You called me your brother,” Isaac mumbles into his shoulder.

Stiles blinks and says, “How did you even — your hearing is crazy if you could —”

“Shut up. You’re just loud,” Isaac denies and he hugs him tighter. “Thank you.”

“Oh, uh,” is Stiles’s eloquent reply. “I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.”

Isaac nods before he pulls away and moves to hide away in his room.

Stiles huffs with a little grin and turns to close the front door, pausing when he catches sight of something.

The eerie orange alley cat is back, and it’s staring at the Yukimura house.

---

Stiles introduces Isaac to Kira more formally when they meet up on the sidewalk in front of her house and mount their mountain bikes.

Isaac just wrinkles his nose at Kira and starts peddling off.

Kira frowns questioningly at Stiles and he sheepishly says, “Sorry. It’s, uh — progress?”

Kira nods and they move to catch up with him.

The bleachers are pretty packed when they reach the lacrosse fields of Beacon Hills Junior High.

Boyd lifts his hand and waves them over from the fourth row.

Stiles quickly introduces Kira to them before they sit down. He ends up sitting between Kira and Boyd while Isaac somehow finds himself between Scott and Allison.

The game starts up and Kira asks him questions through most of it since she isn’t familiar with the sport.

Stiles tries to explain to the best of his abilities over the commotion of the crowd.

Scott and Allison hold up a glittery sign for Jackson as they chant his name in encouragement.

Kira jumps and clings to Stiles’s arm during the more violent altercations of the game but she blushes and pulls away as she mumbles an apology.

Stiles shrugs but he assures her that he doesn’t mind. “It’s what I’m here for, I guess. It was my idea to bring you so if you have to cut off the circulation to my arm it’s fine. I know how to suffer in silence for the good of mankind, or womankind in this case.”

Kira smiles shyly and her blush doesn’t recede until they’re both distracted by the game again.

During halftime, Boyd, Scott, and Allison go down to check on Jackson.

Isaac disappears to either get some popcorn or use the bathroom.

“Do you play?” Kira asks once it’s just them.

“Oh yeah,” Stiles says. “I’m a certified benchwarmer. Though I missed the last few games. I don’t think my coach even noticed.” He sighs and says, “What about you? Do you play anything?”

“Meh, some kenjutsu and a little archery,” Kira says with a meek shrug.

“Oh? I think you might have something in common with Allison,” Stiles supposes. “Scott’s mentioned that she does some archery. I think she competes at a national level over the summer every year.”

“Cool,” Kira says with a grin. “I’ll definitely ask her about it.”

Stiles nods. He says, “So where did you move from?”

“New York. You?”

“Los Angeles.”

“Wow,” Kira says and she doesn’t say much else because the bleachers are starting to fill up, signaling the start of the game again.

Isaac returns with a bucket of popcorn and glares at Scott when he tries to eat some. He shares with Stiles though and Stiles can’t help but to send a teasing grin at Scott, who just sulks.

Stiles grabs a handful of popcorn and offers it to Kira, who accepts it gratefully as she looks at him from under her lashes with a soft grin.

The rest of the game goes without a hitch and Jackson scores most of the points. They win by a landslide.

It’s not until Stiles is stepping down the bleachers, following after Kira and Isaac, that he notices Violet and Garrett sitting on the top row and watching him with identical smirks. He shudders and quickly moves to catch up with the others as they cast a vote to hit up Ramona's Pizzeria.

Kira gets along with the others swimmingly and they exchange phone numbers over huge calzones.

She smiles gratefully at him the whole time but Stiles returns it with only half the enthusiasm.

Violet and Garrett are sitting at a booth on the other side of the restaurant, and they don’t stop staring.

---

That night, while Isaac and his dad are safely tucked away in their beds, sound asleep, Stiles tears through a ton of articles in connection to Mayor Argent (the guy even has his own Wikipedia page).

He’s been mayor of Beacon Hills for a very long time, and before him his father was mayor, and so on and so on. Though he doesn’t find anything incriminating, he still doesn’t rule anything out either. He prints out every single article and tacks them to his bulletin board.

There’s something off about the guy.

Stiles is determined to figure out what it is.

---

On the morning of Friday, Kira rides with Stiles and Isaac as they peddle to his school. After they drop him off, they peddle to their school and Stiles gives her the grand tour before they part ways so she can meet her mother in the main office to start registration.

They don’t meet up again until Astronomy, and from there, he walks with her to lunch. It doesn’t surprise him that Kira turns heads wherever she goes, and everyone watches her with open interest because she’s very pretty and bubbly but she keeps grinning at Stiles like it’s just the two of them.

Stiles introduces Kira to Laura and Kate, who are outfitted in their cheerleading uniform. “Where’s Cora?” he asks when he notices she’s not around.

“Who’s Cora?” Kira asks, looking worried for some reason. “Is she your...girlfriend?”

Stiles snorts. “Nope. Not at all.”

Kira nods as her mouth fidgets thoughtfully.

“Cora’s practicing for tonight’s basketball game,” Laura says.

“Is Derek gonna show, you think?” Stiles asks because he’s curious to know.

Derek hasn’t shown up for school this entire week.

Laura shrugs. “It’s touch and go. I can’t say for sure.” She turns her gaze to Kira. “So, Kira. Where are you from?”

Kira pulls her gaze from Stiles and says, “New York.”

“Oh? I have some family there. What part?” Laura asks with an amused grin.

Kira rambles on and on about how her dad used to be a professor at Columbia University and how her mom was the Curator of Exhibitions for the Museum of Natural History while she, herself, had attended a private school. She looks at Stiles the whole time she talks, using her hands to animate her words as she smiles widely.

Stiles figures she’s probably making sure he’s paying attention, so he smiles back and nods politely while he eats.

Laura won’t stop grinning at him from across the table like she knows something he doesn’t.

Kate steals his jello (again) and rolls her eyes, bored with Kira and the whole conversation. She eventually picks up her pom-poms and skips off to make some idle threats to the members of the basketball team about winning tonight's game.

Kira stops talking suddenly and curses, “I forgot I was supposed to go to the guidance counselor’s office to check in about my schedule.” She starts packing up her things before she looks at Stiles and says, “We’ll meet up after school, yeah?”

Stiles nods and she beams before she scuttles off.

Laura snickers.

Stiles frowns and looks at her. “What?”

“You really have no clue do you?” Laura says. “You’re so adorable.”

Stiles flushes and sticks his tongue out at her. “I’m hot. Not adorable.”

“I’m sure Kira would agree,” Laura mutters, snickering to herself.

“What?” Stiles says.

“Nothing,” she says but she won’t stop laughing. She pulls out her phone. “God, Peter is going to have a field day.”

Stiles frowns and wonders what he’s missing.

---

Kira rides in circles around Stiles and Isaac on her bike as they all peddle home together. She babbles happily about her first day of school and all the people she’s met and how she’s considering either joining the baseball team or the swim team.

Mrs. Yukimura is standing on her porch with crossed arms. “Kira,” she calls in a firm tone.

Kira’s mouth dips and she peddles over to her house. She waves at Stiles and Isaac before her mother drags her into the house, fussing in Japanese.

Stiles says, “I’m going to go and visit Mr. Ravenhill. Do you want to come?”

Isaac nods.

Fifteen minutes later, Stiles is using the wooden knocker shaped like a bird to knock on the door.

The cabin shakes as Mr. Ravenhill walks to the door and opens it. He brightens at the sight of them. He says, “Good ta see ye, wee laddie. I wasn't expecting ta see ye so soon. Who've ye got there?”

“This is my brother Isaac,” Stiles introduces and doesn’t miss the way Isaac shoots him a pleased look as he goes a little pink.

“Aye. Nice ta make yer acquaintance, Isaac. Come in, come in.” Mr. Ravenhill moves out of the way so they can enter. “I'll put on a cuppa.”

Stiles moves to sit in the rocking chair by the fireplace as Isaac stares up at the birds in the birdcages with this sort of transfixed look on his face. It’s a little amusing.

Mr. Ravenhill must think so too because he huffs out a short laugh. “He's fond o' them birds. Nae surprise there considerin' his kind.” He carries over two steaming cups of tea and hands one to Stiles before he sets one down on the other rocking chair. He grabs a small bottle of cream and gives it to Isaac with a wink before he shuffles back over to the seat across from Stiles. “What brings ye by then, young lord?”

Isaac makes these please little mewl sounds as he drinks away at the thick cream he was given.

Stiles looks on at him in fond amusement while he blows on his tea before he says, “I was just wondering if you could tell me about Mayor Argent. You’ve been in this town as long as he has right?”

“Aye,” Mr. Ravenhill confirms as he furrows his bushy brow in thought. “I dinnae know what I can say aboot th' man. He's nae any good. Ne'er met a man who didnae get th' chill when he's around. He dabbles wi' th' dark things.”

“Have you ever caught him doing anything bad?” Stiles asks.

“Aye. But ye'll be wanting ta ask Lady Talia about that. Tis more ta do wi' her kinfolk then wi' th' good folk o' Beacon Hills,” Mr. Ravenhill advises. “Ye met th' man, I take it?”

“Yeah, and I got this really ugly feeling about him,” Stiles admits as he glances over at Isaac, who’s cooing at some of the birds with a milk mustache. Stiles smiles a little before he looks back to Mr. Ravenhill. “Are gut feelings natural for — um, me?”

Mr. Ravenhill’s blue eyes twinkle with mirth. He says, “Aye. That's yer instinct afoot. Ne'er dismiss it, boyo.”

Stiles nods in solidarity. “Do you think you can tell me more about the — you know.”

“Aye, but another time,” Mr. Ravenhill says.

Stiles is disappointed but he doesn’t push. “How old are you?”

“Old enough. Older than these trees, I gather,” Mr. Ravenhill supposes.

“Where did you come from?” Stiles asks as he takes another careful sip of tea.

“Th’ trees. But that's where most things come from,” Mr. Ravenhill reasons.

“What things?”

“Th' magic that made us, laddie.”

Stiles wrinkles his nose in confusion. “It came from the trees?”

“Aye, it cam from th' trees,” Mr. Ravenhill confirms.

“But where did the trees come from then?” Stiles asks, skeptical.

“Would ye lik' ta hear th’ stories? Come have a seat, Isaac. Ye'll be wanting ta hear th’ tales too,” Mr. Ravenhill says, motioning Isaac closer.

Isaac wanders over and sits between Stiles’s knees, devoting his attention to the Leshy.

Mr. Ravenhill says, “When I was no more than a bit of bark, my gran told me colorful stories about th' start o' creation. She said that th' Faceless were responsible fur how all things came ta be. Th' Faceless were four sentient beings o' nae specific form or gender or identifying qualities, what had decided, amongst themselves, ta construct a plane where they could coexist 'n' cohabitate peacefully. My gran said that it all started wi' th' best o' intentions 'n' th' darkest o' loneliness…”

---

Stiles and Isaac have to leave when it starts to get really dark outside. There’s a curfew now because of the recent attacks, so they depart from Mr. Ravenhill’s cabin with a promise to the Leshy of a future visit. They peddle down a winding trail and out onto the road, lost in their own thoughts.

They make it back to the house by the time the streetlamps come on and they drop their bikes to the grass as they march up the steps and into the house.

His dad is waiting for them with some pizzas.

“Any new developments?” Stiles asks as he takes a slice.

His dad shakes his head and says, “Still waiting on the coroner’s report and a debriefing with forensics.”

Stiles hums and reaches for another slice of pizza.

Isaac stacks a few slices on a plate before he carries it into the living room.

The sheriff follows.

Stiles sits in the kitchen a little longer and eats his food there. He thinks on the things that Mr. Ravenhill said, about the Faceless and how they made the trees so that they could cry on them and see what grew from the branches. He didn’t get far in the tale since they had to go, but Stiles is definitely interested in hearing more about this theory of creation.

He tugs free a can of soda from the six pack his dad bought and hops over the back of the couch, landing with a soft bounce as he realizes that Isaac and his dad are watching Frozen.

It’s a pretty decent movie, but Isaac and his dad are like super into it — so much so that they watch it one more time, and then once more. They don’t make it through the third time, though. They start falling asleep and Stiles, still wide-awake, rolls his eyes and ushers them off to bed.

He shuts down the entertainment system and turns off all the lights downstairs before he sprints up to his room and closes the door behind him with a soft click. He settles down at his desk and boots up his computer before pulling up anything he can about the Faceless.

He finds one or two things, but nothing substantial.

He shuts it and grabs his phone to put it on the nightstand before he grabs the journal of Virtues from where he has it stashed in his underwear drawer and begins to read.

At midnight, he gets a surprising text from Derek that reads: I’m outside.

Stiles blinks at his phone for a long moment before he sits up and slides off his bed. He slips on some socks and quietly makes his way down the steps to the front door. He unlocks it and shivers against the cold as he closes the door behind him while he steps out into the night air.

Derek is sitting on the top step on the porch. He’s wearing a letterman jacket and his shoulders are hunched, like he wants to shrink inside of himself.

Stiles walks over and plops down to his right. “Hey.”

Derek doesn’t look at him. He peers out into the street, tracing his eyes over the wet pavement, up to the glow of the streetlamps and from darkened house to darkened house. He shifts his feet and says, “What should I do?”

Stiles lifts his brows at that and blinks. He turns his gaze to the thin fog veiling the neighborhood. He shivers and says, “I don’t know.”

Derek snorts wryly. “I don’t know either,” he admits. “She felt like everything. She was everything. I don’t understand.”

Stiles is smart enough not to point out that this is something Paige has said to him also. Instead, he says, “Are you angry?”

Derek hunches his shoulders again and marries his eyes to his shoelaces. “I’m everything,” he whispers, and he sounds so lost and broken. He snorts bitterly. "At Least that's what it feels like here," he explains, patting a hand over his heart. 

Stiles feels a twinge of compassion pluck at his own heart. “Have you thought about maybe — what do you want to do?”

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Derek growls and he hits his forehead against his knees over and over. “I just — I don’t know. I came to the game tonight and I tried to play to see if things could be the same and to see if I could move on but my palms were too sweaty and it felt so loud and I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I missed every shot I made. It was horrible.”

Stiles brushes his fingers over the stubble of his hair as he eyes the gleaming trashcans at the end of everyone’s drive. He says, “You’re allowed to make mistakes. We’re only Human, or so I’m told.”

Stiles doesn’t really mean it as a joke but Derek still laughs and it sounds painful, like he hasn’t let himself laugh in years. “You’re odd,” he mumbles. "I can honestly say I've never met anyone like you." He picks up his head and looks at Stiles with wet hazel-green eyes.

Stiles sucks in a wounded breath at the sight and looks away as his thoughts scatter.

Derek’s eyes are burning holes into the side of his face.

Stiles says, “You probably don't want to hear this, but...it could be worse.”

“Worse?” Derek repeats, the question in his voice obvious.

“She’s alive. I know everything else sucks, and I know what she did was — I know. And it was. You should be sad and angry and everything else you want to be. Two years is a long time to center your life around someone else for it to just end like that.” Stiles stares at the wet grass on the front lawn. It needs to be cut. “But, despite it all — she’s alive. She could be, you know — but she’s not.” He swallows and tries not to think of his mother as he says, “There’s a lesser evil we have to be grateful for sometimes.”

Derek says nothing to that but he doesn’t stop staring at the side of Stiles’s face.

Stiles shivers again and rubs his arms. He’s only wearing a thin t-shirt and some pajama bottoms.

Derek takes off his letterman jacket and drapes it over Stiles’s shoulders, ignoring the other teen’s protest. “You're cold. I’m not,” he says as if it’s just that simple. "It's the least I can do for talking your ear off like this." He pulls away and stares out into the night.

Stiles clamps his mouth shut because his shivers die in the wake of the warmth that Derek’s jacket offers. The inside of it feels like how his clothes feel when he pulls them out of the dryer before it even comes to a complete stop. It smells heavily of vanilla and jasmine. “Thank you,” he says because it would be impolite not to. "I'm not expecting — you didn't have to give — just, thank you."

Derek says, “You’re the only person who hasn’t tried to bad-mouth Paige.”

Stiles shrugs. He doesn’t see the significance of it.

"After the handful of 'I told you so's' I've been receiving left and right, it's refreshing." Derek sighs and scrubs at his face before he keeps his large hands cupped over his eyes. His bottom lip trembles as he says, “I’m sad and scared that it'll never stop. I...still love her.” He chokes on a sob and it’s obvious it hurts him deeply to even admit this out loud.

Stiles feels tears well up in his own eyes and the gut-wrenching compassion and empathy he has for Derek is as overwhelming as it is sudden. He presses his trembling lips together as the first set of tears slide down his cheeks.

Derek jolts and drops his hands as he looks at Stiles through wet lashes. His brow furrows in confusion. “Are you..." He leans closer to Stiles as his nose twitches and he inhales sharply. "You are," he says in awe. "Why are you crying?” he asks.

“Because I’m sad for you,” Stiles says quietly.

"Why?"

"I honestly don't know, but you have to stop crying," Stiles says as he sniffs. "I'd take you being your normal rude self over this."

Derek laughs wetly and he looks at Stiles like he can’t believe he’s real. “You’re so damn odd,” he claims but there’s something almost soft and sentimental in the way he says it.

Stiles gives him a watery smile and shrugs with a great amount of self-deprecation.

"And I'm not rude."

"You are. Especially to me. I'm talking day one with that."

Derek huffs. "The locker room incident," he says, almost nostalgically. "That was a misunderstanding."

"Misunderstanding, he says," Stiles mumbles, mockingly. He rubs at his eyes tiredly. "Like it's too much to ask for you to be nicer to me."

Derek sniffs and wipes his cheeks dry before he exhales shakily. “Okay,” he says, and Stiles doesn’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but it feels important. “Okay,” he says again. He sniffs and stands, descending the steps and walking away without a proper goodbye.

Stiles watches as Derek travels up the walkway, over the sidewalk, off the curb and further up the street adjacent to his house. The streetlamps are lighting the way for him, and the fog swallows him in.

Stiles sits out on the porch for a long while after Derek disappears from sight, clutching the jacket Derek hadn’t bothered to take back and he laughs a little wryly at how strange his life has become.

He picks himself up and goes back into the house, locking the door behind him.

He puts Derek’s jacket on the top of his dresser by his wolves, and as soon as his body hits the bed, he falls asleep.

He dreams of trees.

Chapter Text

Sometime around eight in the morning on Saturday, Laura sends him a picture of Derek smiling and playing with his baby sister Olive and their cousins and their dogs with a text that reads:

I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU DID

BUT THANK YOU

Stiles huffs and rolls onto his back, rubbing sleep from his eyes. He responds:

I didn’t do anything.

He came by and we talked.

E X A C T L Y

APPARENTLY YOU’RE ALL IT TAKES

WE’VE TRIED EVERYTHING WITH HIM

AND NOW HE SMELLS SO DISGUSTINGLY HAPPY

Stop yelling at me through text. How do you guys know what emotions smell like? I didn’t do anything.

YOU DID S O M E T H I N G

HE’S ACTING LIKE HIS OLD GOOBER SELF

HE STILL GETS SAD RANDOMLY

BUT IT’S BETTER THAN BEFORE

That’s got nothing to do with me. Swear.

Derek is his own person. 

WHATEVER

I KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT

<3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Stiles rolls his eyes but he smiles indulgently for maybe like half of a minute. Then he shakes it off and sits up with a stretch and a yawn. He shifts and tugs free the journal of Virtues when he realizes that he’s sitting on it. He slides out of bed and tucks it away in his underwear drawer. Then he snags his phone from his nightstand and scrolls through his contacts before he dials out.

Hello?

“So I don’t mean to pry or bring this up randomly but my brain doesn’t follow the general rules of order and this just came to me but — how is your relationship with your grandfather and your — is she your aunt? Right? Kate? Am I getting that right?”

Allison pauses on the other end and there’s some shuffling before she says, “Yeah. She’s my aunt, but we barely talk. Same deal with my grand — with Gerard. It’s — my mom and my dad don’t talk to him either. Something happened — you know the fire with Peter and his family? Well my dad was pretty sure that Gerard had something to do with it and he just didn’t — that was the last straw for him. He kind of packed up and took off. Left my mom and I behind. He was going to take Kate with him but she didn’t want to go.

"Imagine that, right? Choosing your little sister over your wife and daughter. I...maybe I don't understand it. Why it was so easy to leave us all behind but beg to take her. Good use that did anyway. She wanted to stay and — well, Peter and Laura are here and I don’t think she wanted to be anywhere else. I don't think there is anyone in this world Kate loves more than them. My mom...she wasn't like me. I was jealous of Kate and hated her for a long time because of my dad.

"My mom understands my dad better than I do, always have, which is why, even after he left, she offered to let Kate stay with us but Kate’s always been, you know, she prefers the finer things and with Gerard she can do what she likes. She’s not much for rules and my mom definitely would have brought the hammer down, or however that saying is. But yeah, I don’t really even — we don’t really even speak to each other. Not that I hate her still or anything. We just...we've never tried to have a relationship with each other. And my dad just washed his hands of this town and everyone in — hang on, does this have anything to do with what’s happening? You think Gerard is involved?

“Could be,” Stiles admits and tries to place the guilt he feels for bringing up such a delicate subject. “I’m — sorry, I didn’t realize that — I shouldn’t have —”

No it's okay. I don’t treat it like a dirty secret. I’m not ashamed,” Allison says and she sounds so certain that Stiles is almost envious. “My dad bailed on us and I’m not going to protect him from that. It is what it is. My mom and I are fine. She’s dating again, which is stressful for me because I — I’m real protective of her and I think she's trying to forget — but even still, I don't think she'll ever stop loving  whatever. It’s whatever.

Stiles understands now why he keeps seeing Victoria with different men whenever she picks up or drops off Allison. He hadn’t really thought to pay that much attention or take notice, but he’d filed it in the back of his mind, as he does most things for later assessment. He says, “Allison?”

Yes?

Stiles, because his gut tells him to, says, “You’re probably the strongest girl I know in how you're facing a situation like that. It’s just — if you ever worry about — I don’t want to assume this or anything but, um. You definitely can hold your own, and, yeah. Sorry, that sounded a lot more coherent in my head which, ha, makes sense because everything in my head isn’t all that coherent sometimes but I still somehow make sense of it.”

Allison goes silent on the other end.

Stiles wonders if he’s said the wrong thing.

Allison quietly replies, and she sounds a little hoarse when she does, “That — thank you. I can't — you don’t even know how much I needed to hear — thank you. I’ve been trying hard.

“It’s okay, I think,” Stiles says, and winces at his wording. “I just mean that if you want to talk to me about — we’re friends, right? So you know that you can call me?”

Yes.” Allison takes a moment to breathe and gather her thoughts. Then she says, “Um, today Malia and Scott and me were going to go and visit Danny. Just for moral support and to check on his progress. I think Boyd and Jackson were supposed to come too. I’m not sure if Erica will — she’s never been fond of hospitals so I don’t think she will.

“Speaking of Erica — did anyone tell her what’s going on?”

No I don’t think — well I mean, she’s been distant, you know?” Allison explains. “I think at this point she’s even less interested than she usually is. It’s — yeah. I think something happened while she was out. Her family is, as you can imagine, very interesting, to put it very mildly. Whatever it was, she’s a lot meaner for it.

Stiles hums and takes that into consideration. He makes a mental note to call Erica as a friend and see about her.

Allison says, “Will you come? To the hospital, I mean.

“No, uh — I have that thing with Deaton. Then I was probably going to go see about Lydia,” Stiles says.

You made an appointment? I thought you weren’t allowed back after what happened last time?” Allison asks, confused.

“No, you’re right, I’m — I didn’t make an appointment. I’m still trying to work around that somehow but I have to — I have to tell her, you know. She should know what’s going on if she doesn’t already,” Stiles reasons as he starts rooting around his messy floor for some clean clothes. 

Allison huffs in amusement. “Don’t get in trouble. You can call us too if you need anything,” she points out. “You don’t have to do it all by yourself.

Stiles smiles at that. It is comforting to know. He says, “I’ll keep you guys updated on my progress, and we’ll go from there I guess. You keep me updated on Danny.”

Sure thing. You be safe.” Allison ends the call.

Stiles rubs at his right eyebrow before he yawns and shakes off any remaining exhaustion. He tosses some clothes he thinks are clean onto the bed and makes his way to the bathroom to take some Adderall and a hot shower.

An hour later, he’s stepping into a pair of jeans, slipping on a white t-shirt and into his sneakers, tying the laces before he slips on the blue Captain America hoodie Laura bought for his birthday. He makes his way towards the stairs and then down them to go into the kitchen where he starts making breakfast. He makes some wheat pancakes and a fruit salad because they have been really slacking in the eating healthy department. He eats his share of food in the living room while he watches Teen Titans on the TV and waits from Isaac and his dad to wake up.

His dad is the first to come down. He goes for the morning paper first before he even makes a plate for himself. The paper rustles when he shakes it out and he says, “Good morning.”

“Morning, dad,” Stiles replies distractedly and laughs at something Beast Boy and Cyborg do.

His dad walks over and pats him affectionately on the head. He says, “What are your plans for today?”

Stiles waits for the commercials before he leans his head back against the back of the couch so he can look up at his dad and he tells him his plans for the day.

His dad gets this complicated and difficult look on his face that says he’s still not comfortable with Stiles involving himself in the more serious matters of the community but he’s slowly swallowing his protests and sighing in resignation. He pats Stiles on the cheek before he turns away and goes to make himself a plate. He says, “Please be careful. My blood pressure is a mess when it comes to you.”

Stiles smiles up at the ceiling before he picks his head up. “I know who to call if things start to blow up in my face,” he says, just to hear his dad sigh again. “You love me.”

“God help me, I do,” his dad confirms, sounding both grudgingly amused and fond. “If your mom were here, she’d have a better handle on you, I gather.”

Stiles feels his mouth slowly lose its upward curve and he swallows. He says, “Yeah.” But he says it so softly he’s not sure his dad even hears him.

His dad shakes out the paper again behind him as his fork clinks against the plate.

Stiles goes back to watching TV, but it takes a full hour before he’s actually watching it and not just blinking at its general direction.

Isaac comes down sometime around noon, still rubbing sleep and gunk from his eyes before he walks over to the stove and piles his plate higher than Stiles has ever seen him do.

His dad also raises a brow in question but he doesn’t seem as surprised. “Welcome to the land of the living. I was starting to wonder about you,” he jokes.

Isaac shrugs and sits down across from him. He looks over to Stiles and nods.

Stiles smiles back and waves before he turns and goes back to channel surfing.

His dad says, “Isaac’s got a doctor’s appointment I’m taking him to shortly. I’ll drop him off at the library when I’m done because I have to go to work right after. You’ll pick him up?”

Stiles nods distractedly but his dad chucks a strawberry at the back of his head. “Hey! I totally heard you,” he swears.

His dad chuckles and says, “Just making sure.”

Stiles just grumbles before he turns the TV off and stands with a stretch. It's time for him to get going anyway. He makes his way around the couch, picking up the strawberry to blow it off and eat it on his way to the stairs (because five second rule) before he pauses to say, “What time will you be home?”

His dad shrugs. “Hard to say. I’ll aim for an early time but I’ll be pouring over some case files. There are some inconsistencies with the pathologist’s report which state the murders were done by a wild and possibly rabid animal, but the coroner has discrepancies with the wounds found stating that it should be ruled as a serial murder. Don’t get me started on what forensics is saying. It’s a real mess since no one can agree on anything.”

Stiles rolls that around in his mind before he says, “I’ll tell you what Deaton says. The guy really knows his stuff. He could shed some light on it.”

“Hopefully,” his dad says with a sigh before he folds the newspaper up. “Come on, Isaac. It’s about time we get going.”

Isaac nods and eats a little faster.

Stiles jogs up to his room to grab and pocket his phone. As he passes Isaac on the stairs, they high-five each other like it’s instinct and then he’s out the front door. When he gets midway down the porch steps, he jumps the rest of the way, sticking a wobbly landing before he’s righting his bike and mounting it.

“Stiles!”

Stiles pauses and glances over to where Kira is sitting on her porch steps with an acoustic guitar in her lap and a notebook in her hands. He shifts his bike around and peddles over, halting to a stop at the bottom step. “Hey, Kira. What’s up?”

“Just doing a little lyrical writing, I guess,” Kira says with a smile as she sets the notebook aside and places the pen on top.

“So you’re a singer,” Stiles reasons as he indicates to the guitar.

Kira nods happily. “I don’t know if I’m any good though. I’m decent. When I was little I had to beg my parents to pay for the singing lessons. My dad was all for it but my mom, predictably enough, thought it was a waste of time.” She shrugs as she strums a few strings before clapping a hand over it to silence the sound. “I learned how to play the guitar on my own, however — well, with the aid of some YouTube tutorials.”

Stiles snorts at that. “You can learn how to do anything from YouTube. One time I really wanted to know how they get toothpaste inside the container, but then it went from that to how they make ice cream sandwiches, and somehow from there I ended up on the other side of the spectrum, spending three hours watching Nova’s Becoming Human series.”

Kira laughs. “Yeah, I know how that goes. This one time I just wanted to know how you can like take some scotch tape and put it over your eyelid for a perfect winged eye, you know, and before I know it I’m like knee deep in conspiracies videos learning about how everything has subliminal messages and it just went so deep that I had to pull out of there.” She shakes her head with a smile. “But back to what we were originally talking about, um — if you wanted, I could sing a song for you?”

“Yeah, no, yeah, uh — that’d be cool,” Stiles says but he holds out his hands to stall her when it looks like she’s about to play something on the spot. “But rain check, because I have to — and I want to devote my full attention to and at you and whatever you sing — but it’s just that I really have to go. I don’t want it to seem like I’m — like those people who are being nice about wanting to hear their friends perform but secretly they don’t want to but you can’t just not say you don’t want to and — because I’m not. Saying that. I totally do. I’m ready to be wowed, which I’m sure you will do when you do your thing. You just seem like you have — like you — your voice is — heavenly, and okay I’m going to go because I’m — right. This is getting away from me. Sorry. I have to go.”

Kira’s cheeks are red and she appears to be flattered by his nonsensical rambling. “It’s totally cool — fine. I — yeah, another time,” she agrees.

Stiles shoots her a thumbs-up and she laughs as he shifts his bike backwards, almost stumbling as he tries to peddle off. He winces at his own faulty coordination and tosses Kira an embarrassed wave.

Kira stands and returns it enthusiastically as she watches him until he’s out of sight.

---

Stiles rolls up to Alan's Antiquities and locks his bike before he enters the shop. The bell rings predictably over his head and he makes his way to the back. He notes that the glass counter display has been replaced.

Deaton appears from behind a doorway of hanging beads. He says, “Mr. Stilinski. You’ll be happy to know that I came to some rather interesting conclusions,” he says as he lays a musty old book on the surface glass counter display. Before he opens it, he says, “At first I considered how you made a mention of a creature with claws with the capability of ripping its prey apart, but you also stated that there was the possibility that a knife might have been able to do the same damage as well. On average, if the wounds of a victim who had encountered something fairly large or as aggressive, it would prelude to a more...how can I put this? A mixture of something both human and creature in nature.”

“Like with Therianthropy,” Stiles says, already having some idea of where he’s going with this.

“Exactly. But more so than that,” Deaton says. “You see, there are all types of sublevels to consider. You have Cynanthropy, where dogs can become men and men can become dogs. Or Ailuranthropy, where a person can have the ability to turn into domestic cats, sometimes of enlarged size, or any feline form of their choosing. Then there's Theriocephaly, where an individual manifests into a certain creature by halves like Centaurs or Mermaids. Then we would also have to consider Lycanthropy and Nagualism. Now you can see where the dilemma really comes into play because any of these could be responsible for what you’ve described.”

Stiles finds himself thinking on the eerie orange alley cat. He has a hunch, but he says, “Tell me more about the Ailuranthropy.”

Deaton opens the book to an illustration of a crowd of people holding lit torches as they look onto the hanging of a woman who is midway into transforming into a large beast-like creature that highly resembled a cat. “In Europe, the folklore labels them as Witches, whether they were male or female, and even though they had no other magic ability other than being able to transform. There are some accounts from official church doctrine that bands them together in the age of Witch Trials.” He turns the page and shows another illustration of a tribe bowing down to a humanoid looking lion and a leopard. “In Africa, they were treated as deities. Some legends place them as royalty, or even as protectors from all the evils of the World and the Cosmos.”

Stiles is fascinated.

Deaton turns to a Chinese illustration that has a man using some kind of sword to strike down a child in the middle of transforming into a Bengal Tiger. “In India, and in Persia, and also China, there is folklore which would state that the ability of self-transformation is actually a hereditary curse, but the true nature of good and evil comes from the personality of the individual who inherits it.” He turns the page and this illustration is of a beastly tiger (practically the size of Godzilla) that is devouring a village of people. “In Indonesia and Malaysia, the belief is that the inheritance of transformation does not come unless there is cause for revenge. It’s may be interesting to also note that they make a claim that a Shapeshifter’s weakness is its own name.”

Stiles frowns, filing away all of this information to the best of his abilities before he asks, “Why would saying their name matter?”

Deaton considers the question before he says, “I suppose it’s a way to bring awareness to them. When they shift, they fall prey to instinct, and most of the time those instincts do not often involve moral consciousness or the ability to distinguish right from wrong.”

“Because there are no rules in the Wild Kingdom,” Stiles reasons.

Deaton smiles a little. “Exactly. That’s very insightful.”

Stiles rubs the back of his head and says, “I heard it somewhere.” He shrugs and indicates to the book. “Is there anything else?”

Deaton turns to the last illustration which is of an Aztec Shaman pointing its staff at a enlarged jaguar. “In pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations, the Priests and the Shamans wore the pelt of the animal they wished to shift into in order to become as such. The motifs often depict jaguars as the animal of choice because it’s representation was closely tied to the god of the night sky, Tezcatlipoca. But mainly their system of transformation was linked to the Mesoamerican calendrical system, which was used for divination rituals.”

Stiles jolts a bit at that. “That’s — you wouldn’t happen to have one of those, you know, lying around?”

Deaton appears just a smidge amused as he says, “Unfortunately no. It wouldn’t be of any use to you, as is. It’s a rather outdated system, and the astrology would have changed greatly from the time it was first created to now. Is there a reason you're asking?”

“I have this — theory about, um, something. Do you know any mythology about the New Moon? Or Dark Moon?” Stiles asks. “Just to clarify a bit, here’s a scenario — if a Shapeshifter, namely of the Ailuranthropy variety, were to only do its hunting on a New Moon, is there — would there be some significance to that?”

Deaton says, “Yes.” He goes on to explain, “You are aware that mysticism places an importance on the Full Moon? All of these ancient myths and old legends will agree that the gravitational pull is what affects the chemistry of nature. Greek mythology emphasizes on the folklore of Lycanthropy, which is subject to manifest on a Full Moon. This would come into play of what you're asking because there are legends that place Werewolves and Werecats at odds in the Animal Kingdom. A Full Moon finds a Werecat at its weakest, whereas a Full Moon would find a Werewolf at its strongest peak. Vice versa — a New Moon would find a Werewolf at its weakest, and the Werecat would be at its strongest peak. It is to balance the power between these creatures so they may keep each other in check.”

Stiles rolls that over in his mind with a thoughtful frown. “So a Werecat would do its hunting on a New Moon because it's most likely to...survive or endure confrontation if it ever crossed paths with a Werewolf?”

“Indeed,” Deaton confirms. “There would have to be a heavy population of either for this pattern to occur, otherwise either creature would hunt and thrive at any moment of its choosing. But if they are within proximity, they mainly try to give each other a wide berth, should there be an understanding from either Pack or Pride.”

“Right, because a horde of wolves is called a pack and a group of cats is called a pride and oh my god, I am an idiot,” Stiles says as he sinks his face into his hands. It hits him out of nowhere, like fireworks in his mind. “Oh my god.

“Is everything okay, Mr. Stilinski?”

“This explains so much, like — you don’t even know. With the hearing and the smelling and the weird like — weird behavior. How did I not notice — how didn’t I see — and there are like dozens of them in one house. Who even — who even does that? In California no less!”

“Mr. Stilinski —”

“And the stuffed animals, well that — okay I still don’t get what that was about but — they kept touching my right hand and — Isaac! Oh my god, Isaac. He looks at them like he can’t be in the same room and oh my god, that cats and dogs comment Laura made. I am an idiot.” Stiles starts pacing. “And Cora, she — because wolves bring food to injured pack members when they can’t — if only to — I’ve read about this stuff! Oh my god, and the — the Leshies, they — they only associate with wolves and Mr. Ravenhill has been a friend to that family for eighty generations, oh my god. I’m freaking out. I’m freaking out. My brother is a possible Werecat and I am freaking out!”

“Mr. Stilinski —”

“God, my dad probably knew — he knew this whole time and he should have told me, oh my god, it’s like a brick in the face how obvious — and I didn’t even — Virtues and Banshees and Leshies and Ghouls and Werecats and Werewolves like what the hell — is everyone in this goddamn town something? There should be a formal warning on the town sign. Like ‘Welcome to Beacon Hills! Population 30,000, but haha, not including all the mythological creatures!’ Like oh my god!

“Mr. Stilinski,” Deaton intones calmly.

Stiles laughs a little deliriously but he stops pacing. “Werewolves,” he says weakly as he flails his hands. “Werewolves.”

Deaton is looking at him in concern.

“Oh. My. God.” Stiles is suddenly furious. “I’m going to kill Peter. I mean it this time. I swear. This is the last straw. I might not be able to get my hands on some silver bullets but just wait and see what I can do with a silver spoon. He'll wish I —”

“Mr. Stilinski,” Deaton says, louder this time. “If you're quite finished, I may be able to clear up a few things for you.”

Stiles snaps his mouth shut and gives him his full attention.

“While I understand that this might come as a shock to you, and you seem to already be adapting well, there are others in this town who would not,” Deaton calmly points out. “Because while it may be heavy on the supernatural beings, the quantity of Humans residing in our community still outnumbers them in a threatening way. Do you understand? We can’t afford a panic. Not now while there is still peace.”

Stiles nods dumbly and swallows down his almost-nervous breakdown.

“Good, then I suppose we can end this charade of you coming to me out of general curiosity, and I can stop aiding you with my coincidental knowledge of the supernatural.” Deaton rolls up the left sleeve of his shirt, all the way to his shoulder, and shows Stiles the same kind of symbol of three-conjoined spirals that he recognizes seeing all over the Hale house.

“What’s — what is it?” Stiles asks as he steps closer to study it. “What are you?”

“It’s called a triskelion,” Deaton explains. “Sometimes it represents the three branches of life: Spirit, Mind, and Body. For the Hales, being as they are, it can be a grounding aid, a means to find control when they have no anchor to do so: Alpha, Beta, and Omega. For me, it’s a Druid symbol. It’s what I stand for: Construction, Preservation, and Intellect.”

Stiles inhales carefully before the wind rushes out of him. He says, “You’re a Druid.”

Deaton nods and rolls his sleeve back down.

“And you knew this whole time what I was,” Stiles says without a speck of doubt. He glances up to see Deaton confirm with a nod. “And you also know what’s going on in this town.”

“I have some theories, but I’m merely a helpmeet. I don’t share my insight unless called upon to do so, and I don’t interfere because that is no longer the way of my people. Perhaps, one day, when there is time, I’ll tell you why that is.”

Stiles scrubs his face tiredly as he tries to gather his thoughts into something less chaotic and sporadic.

“I can help you,” Deaton says suddenly. “Your abilities as a Virtue are beginning to come to fruition. You’ve noticed it as much as I have. I can teach you how to properly yield and engender them.”

Stiles drops his hands before he lifts them to scrub them through the stubble of his hair. “I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s what I want. It’s — I don’t know. This is a lot to take in,” he admits. He drops his hands again and says, “What about the — Lydia. You said you would see — or did you already know?”

“You and Ms. Martin share a genetic link, therefore you both have the ability to spark each other’s abilities in a number of ways,” Deaton merely says. “If she’s visiting you in your dreams, she may be trying to trigger yours without subconsciously being aware of her intentions to do so.”

“She’s so turned around,” Stiles says. “I want to help her and I don’t know how to. Can I?”

“With patience and understanding,” Deaton confirms. “Let her know that you understand what she is and what this is. Touch is also essential.”

Stiles frowns because that twinges something in his thoughts. “Why? She's...she doesn't like touch.”

“Because of the autism," Deaton says with a knowing. "That will provide some challenges. Again, patience is key. Touch is a...vital part of a Virtue’s abilities. You see truth through physical actions. Have you noticed?” he asks. “Never mind the fact that you can nearly discern the true nature or intentions of an individual, but with touch, you sense something more.”

Stiles exhales shakily because what Deaton is saying hits home hard. He’s always had what he’s called gut instincts about people. It’s only lately that touching people has become — he’s been trying to ignore it and right it off as something else but — that thing with Mayor Argent just confirms it.

Deaton says, “You might start to see bright threads of gold. Like the lines of Fate. I wont tell you what I mean because each Virtue identifies them differently. If you do, you must tell me because I’ll know for sure what your destined field is, and also because by then the choice of learning how to control and use your abilities or pick a field of your choice will be out of your hands.”

Stiles nods faintly.

Deaton says, “I’ll need pictures.”

Stiles blinks. “What?”

“Of the wounds left on the victims. If you want help identifying what kind of Were was responsible, I’ll need pictures. Do you think you can obtain some?”

“I can — no, my dad is — he could come by with them or you could meet him at the station,” Stiles suggests.

Deaton shakes his head. “I’m afraid that wouldn’t be safe for either your father nor I. You're not the only one who knows of what I am.”

Stiles thinks of Mayor Argent. “Okay, I’ll — I’ll get them.”

“Carefully,” Deaton advises. “I’m not the only one being watched.”

Stiles feels something cold and foreboding twist in his gut at that, and he can’t help but to think of Violet and Garret. “Mayor Argent adopted those kids to — spy on me, didn't he?”

“More like to keep track of a potential investment,” Deaton clarifies. “As such, again I would remind you to be careful. We wouldn’t want you to fall into the wrong hands.”

“Right,” Stiles says and he feels a headache start to build between his eyes. “I should — I’m gonna go and see about Lydia.”

“You’ll run into my sister. Just make her aware that you know,” Deaton suggests. “You'll have met her already. She’s the one who saw to Isaac’s adoption.”

“Ms. Morrell?” Stiles says and he tries not to be surprised when Deaton nods. “Right. Why wouldn’t she be involved?” he mutters, a little annoyed. He says, “Does Isaac know what he is?”

“That should be a conversation between the two of you, don’t you think?” Deaton counters before he picks up his book and disappears into the back.

Stiles exhales tiredly before he scrubs at the stubble of his hair and makes his way out of the shop.

There’s a black unmarked Chevrolet Tahoe with tinted windows parked across the street where it wasn’t before.

Stiles unlocks his bike with shaky hands as eyes burn into his back and he quickly mounts his bike to peddle in the opposite direction.

Thankfully, the truck doesn’t follow after him, but it still doesn’t stop him from looking over his shoulder every ten minutes just to be sure.

---

Eichen House is just as gloomy and menacing as the last time Stiles pulled up to its black iron gates. He pushes them open and they give with a metallic groan that only adds to the whole creep factor. He rolls his bike up the cracked concrete of the walkway and to the steps. When he reaches the top, he locks his bike and pulls out his phone. He sends a mass text to Laura, Peter, Cora, and Derek that reads: SO FYI I KNOW ABOUT YOUR FURRY ALTER EGO YOU ANNOYING CABBAGES.

And just to spite them, Stiles turns his phone off and pockets it. He enters the building and walks up to the front desk to sign-in.

There’s a woman in marigold scrubs with a white hijab on playing scrabble with a dark-skinned man in grey scrubs with a lip, nose, and eyebrow piercing. They look to be in their mid-twenties.

Stiles clears his throat after he signs in and says, “I’m here to see Lydia Martin.”

The woman in the hijab nods and scoots her wheeled chair over to the phone.

A few moments later, Ms. Morrell appears, looking competent and cool as always. “Mr. Stilinski. I thought I made myself clear about the stipulations of your visits. I don’t respond well to people who drop by unannounced.”

“I know. Sorry. But, um — I know,” Stiles says and gives her this sort twitchy look of knowing, which he hopes she can translate into something feasible.

Ms. Morrell just blinks at him before she says, “Follow me.” She clicks her way down the hall leading to the stairwell.

Stiles stumbles after her and when he catches up, he says, “So I met your brother — Alan?”

Ms. Morrell doesn’t look at him as she mutters, “Brother." A cold smirk passes over her face before completely vanishing. "Yes, Mr. Stilinski. I can tell.” Then she adds, “I’m guessing you’ve become aware of Beacon Hills’ rather preternatural situation.”

“Yup, yes, yeah — I totally — I’m all caught up. Kind of?” Stiles follows her up to the fourth floor and to the end of the hall.

Ms. Morrell pauses outside of Lydia’s door and says, “Fifteen minutes. No more than that. It may not seem like it but she’s actually safe here while she’s under my watch and I won’t have you jeopardizing that. I consider her my ward. Are we clear?”

“Crystal,” Stiles says quickly because she’s kinda very intimidating.

“Good.” Ms. Morrell unlocks the door and steps back so Stiles can enter. “Lydia, your cousin is here to see you.” She closes and locks the door after Stiles enters. “Fifteen minutes. Clock starts now.”

Stiles waits until he hears the sound of her heels clicking away before he really observes the room. It’s much the same as before, but the sketches on the wall look newly drawn. There are charcoal pictures of a large tree with a face carved into it. Pictures of the different phases of the moon. Pictures of fireflies. Pictures of Dragons immersed in fire. Pictures of graveyards. Pictures of eyes staring angrily into nothing and everything at the same time.

Lydia is sitting at the desk facing the wall with the barred window above. She’s wearing a bright red lace silk dress with nude stockings, no shoes, and that same black birdcage funeral veil pinned to her hair (which is pinned into a low sailor’s knot bun).

There’s a dark mahogany old time radio at the right corner of the desk with it’s back to the wall and the sound of it’s static floats through the room almost like an endless ghostly song.

Stiles approaches Lydia and sees that she’s knitting dead flowers into fuchsia-colored yarn patterned into a hang rope. He probably would have been worried if it weren’t so small and clearly not made to fit her neck. “Lydia,” he says as he sits on the end of her neatly made bed.

Lydia doesn’t even acknowledge him.

“Lydia, it’s — it’s Stiles.”

Lydia doesn’t pause her needlework.

"Yeah. Pretty stupid thing to say. You know who I am as much as you know who you are."

Lydia grabs another dead flower to add to another part of the knitted yarn.

The radio continues to hiss with white noise in the background.

Stiles takes a moment to think. He says, “I know what you are. I have a feeling you do too. You’re smart, I know you are. I just — I think maybe you tried to ignore it all because it was scary. I’ve read about Banshees and what they can do and the territory that comes with it. I can see how — I probably would have done the same thing, you know, ignoring it. I’m a fan of ignoring the problem until it goes away, but it never really goes away does it?”

Lydia says nothing; just keeps patterning the dead flowers into the miniature hang rope made of bright fuchsia yarn.

“I’m a Virtue. Whatever that means, I still don’t know. But I think you do,” Stiles supposes. He keeps watching her work. “So I’m sorry it took me so long to realize that we’re cousins. I — look, I figured that our grandmothers must have been sisters on our mother’s side. It’s just too bad we can't ask to confirm since your mom’s parents are dead and my mom’s parents are dead. And...they're dead. My mom. Your parents. The only people who could have given us the answers we need about our lineage.”

Lydia pauses her needlework so she can reach across the desk and turn the dial on the radio to switch over to another station, which only turns out to be more white noise. She still hums in satisfaction like she’s found what she’s looking for and goes back to sewing.

Stiles rubs at his temples as the veins in his forehead began to pound painfully. He says, “But maybe we don't need them to know that we share blood." He exhales shakily. "I want to help you, Lydia. And by the way you visited me in my dreams, well, I get the feeling you want to help me too. We can — we can help each other. Not just because we’re family. We can — I don’t know. I just want to understand what it is I’m supposed to do.” He drops his hands to his lap with a sigh. “Danny’s in the hospital.”

Lydia goes completely still.

Stiles knows an opportunity when he sees one and he scrambles to say, “His family — all of them — they were ripped apart. They were killed just like —” Yours. He doesn’t say it but the word is still implied.

Lydia’s hands begin to shake and that ethereal wind begins to circulate through the room, making the charcoal sketches flutter with animation.

“Lydia, please. If you know what — if you know who — just, anything that you can tell me. Anything.”

Lydia’s bottom lip begins to tremble as she slowly turns her watery gaze in his direction. Softly, she chants, “Lizzie Borden took an axe. Gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”

Stiles tries to process the words. “Lydia, I can’t — just tell me what you’re trying to tell me. I can’t with the nursery rhymes. Someone could die and I’d really like to avoid that. So —”

Lydia interjects and repeats, “Lizzie Borden took an axe. Gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”

Stiles would tear out his hair if it were long enough. “Lydia,” he implores, almost desperately.

Lydia throws down her needlework and grabs his hands with her cold and clammy ones. “Lizzie Borden took an axe. Gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”

Stiles’s breath hitches as a flow of energy passes from Lydia to him, and suddenly, in his mind, he can see the face of a man he doesn’t recognize. He’s got silver hair, a slightly aged and wrinkled face with thin lips, a big nose and dark eyes settled under thick eyebrows. It’s something about his eyes that really stands out to Stiles. He's seen those eyes before.

Ms. Morrell unlocks the door and steps in. She says, “That’s enough. Lydia, let him go. It’s time for him to go.”

Lydia stares at him with desperate and sad eyes. She hesitates before she lets him go and she settles back in her chair, picking up her needlework so she can begin again.

Stiles stares at her. “Who was that?”

Lydia doesn’t respond but her hands keep trembling as she does her stitching.

Stiles opens his mouth to ask again but Ms. Morrell grabs his arm and ushers him out of the room before she locks the door behind them. She then turns a stern eye onto him and says, “Don’t push her like that again.”

“I’m sorry but I’m just trying to avoid more death,” Stiles snaps. He’s frustrated and he doesn’t mean to. "She reached out to me. I didn't make her do anything!"

Ms. Morrell levels him with a look that makes him feel guiltily for losing his temper. “Go home, Mr. Stilinski. You’re no good to anyone like this.” She walks off, heels clicking soundly against the linoleum floors.

Stiles tries to avoid feeling the sting that follows her words but it’s of no use. He swallows and shakes off the deep shiver that’s settling into the marrow of his bones.

---

Isaac is sitting at a study cubicle with a manga on the second floor of the Beacon Hills Library when Stiles gets there after he has a quick cry on the side of the road on his way back (the sky rumbling above his head with the threat of rain he knows will not come). It’s not — he’d rather cry than have a panic attack. It’s the lesser of two evils and he does feel better afterwards so there’s something.

Stiles taps Isaac on the shoulder and the preteen stands, but pauses and cocks his head with a thoughtful frown as he really looks at Stiles.

Isaac says, very quietly, “You’ve been crying.”

Stiles shrugs but remains stubbornly silent about it.

"I don't like it when you cry. Who did it?"

Stiles sighs and says, "It doesn't matter." He scrubs a hand over the stubble of his hair before he drags Isaac into the closest study room. He closes the door for privacy and says, “I know.”

Isaac lifts an eyebrow.

“About — you know,” Stiles says, flailing his hands a bit with his words.

Isaac lifts another eyebrow.

“You’re a Werecat,” Stiles says bluntly as he sags against the rounded table behind him.

Isaac doesn’t blush. He doesn’t stiffen. He doesn’t look uncomfortable. He doesn’t react at all like how Stiles figured he might. He just says, “Not entirely.”

Stiles blinks at that.

“I haven’t reached maturity yet,” Isaac explains as he rubs the back of his neck and shifts his feet before adjusting his scarf. “I can still — there’s things I can do. My sense of smell and sound is better than most, and my strength is steadily getting — I kind of broke my doorknob this morning.”

“Oh yeah,” Stiles says as he thinks back. “I was wondering about that.”

Isaac shrugs sheepishly. “I wont be — it won't fully develop until I turn thirteen. I’m still...normal.”

Stiles processes that. The word makes him feels as uncomfortable as Isaac looks saying it. He says, “I don’t think there’s a such thing as normal anymore. It’s just — being. Does dad know?”

Isaac nods as his gaze gets shifty. “You’re not freaked?” he hedges carefully.

“No. I’m not exactly — just, you don’t have to worry about me looking at you any differently if that’s what worries you. It’s not an issue for me. It’ll take some getting used to, but, you’re still my painfully shy brother,” Stiles assures. "Everything else places as second in importance to that. Always."

Isaac rewards him with a slight grin before his expression goes somber and says, “What happened today? You smell a little — everything. Emotionally, that is.”

Stiles sighs and shrugs. “I’ve come to some rather monumental realizations. And I’ll even own up to doing a little stress crying on the way here.”

Isaac nods with a look of concern.

“I’m fine now. Well. I’m adapting still,” Stiles admits. “You know about the Hales, don’t you?”

Isaac wrinkles his nose like he can’t help it.

Stiles laughs a little. “That’s enough of an answer right there. What’s the deal with that anyway? Do you really not like each other?”

Isaac frowns but he shrugs. “It’s more complicated than that. They smell — not good to me,” he delicately states. “It puts me and my instincts on edge.”

Stiles does his best not to compare this explanation to the stuff he’s read from the Twilight series that one summer he will not mention. He says, “You know, you could’ve told me. Not just about you, but them too. That would have saved me a lot of head scratching.”

Isaac shrugs again, choosing a nonverbal response.

Stiles huffs. He’s so stupidly fond of this kid. “So,” he says. “The fish thing is suddenly really making sense now. Am I allowed to make fun of that or make any general cat jokes? Mostly puns though. I promise they’ll all be in good taste.”

Isaac rolls his eyes at that but there’s a vague hint of something happy and fond working its way onto his scarred facial features. He turns and exits the room.

Stiles follows after him as they make their way out of the library and to their bikes. After they unlock them and mount them, he says, “Do you think you’ll ever tell me what happened when — with your family? To you? The fire? I don’t mean to be — I just wonder sometimes. I want to know everything about you. But it’s fine if you don’t trust — if you don’t want to tell me.”

Isaac tenses and he grips his handlebars tightly. He takes a deep breath and releases it before he says, “I trust you, Stiles. You're important to me too. Just give me time.”

Stiles nods quietly and that’s the end of that. He says, “I’ve got ten bucks I found because I’m awesomely lucky like that. Race you to the ice cream parlor?” and he takes off without waiting for a response.

Isaac only wins because he’s a cheater.

Stiles makes sure to inform him of this as they sit down in a booth by the window with their creamy blizzard treats.

Isaac just smiles down at his ice cream the whole time that Stiles complains and he doesn’t bother defending himself.

---

Talia and his dad are standing out on the porch steps with their cups of coffee when Stiles and Isaac roll up to their house on their mountain bikes.

Stiles feels nothing but curiosity as he drops his bike to the grass and approaches them. He says, “Hey, dad. Mrs. — Talia.”

Talia looks marginally amused at the correction. “Stiles. It’s nice to see you again.” She turns her gaze over to Isaac, who fidgets restlessly from where he’s hiding behind Stiles. “Isaac. You too.”

Isaac doesn’t say anything. He edges towards the front door before he wanders into the house.

His dad looks after him with slight concern before he looks to Stiles. He says, “How did you find out?”

“Find what out?” Stiles says, acting oblivious on purpose.

His dad gives him a look. “Don’t be cute,” he warns.

“I just worked it out while I was with Deaton,” Stiles explains. “He’s a Druid, dad. Did you know?”

His dad simply nods.

Talia is staring at him intently, however. She’s stripping away at him with her hazel eyes and she’s looking beyond him.

It’s a powerful stare and Stiles feels his heart flutter anxiously because of it. She’s got a presence about her that makes Stiles want to — well, he’s not really sure but the urge is strong.

Talia makes a thoughtful sound as she straightens and Stiles can breathe a little easier as she shifts her gaze away and towards his father. “I know Deaton well,” she says and gives his dad her empty coffee cup, which he accepts with no complaint. “If he trusts your son enough to tell him of his status then it must be for a good reason.” She looks to Stiles again. “You know about my family and I?”

Stiles nods slowly.

“What do you think?” Talia asks, and her stare goes intense again and Stiles has to wonder if this is some kind of test. “No need to be nervous. I’m simply asking out of curiosity,” she assures.

Stiles flushes and rubs the back of his head, realizing she can scent his emotions. That’s going to take some getting used to. He says, “I don’t think it’s up to me to think anything. Should I — am I supposed to think something?”

Talia smiles with indulgent patience. “Most people have their opinions, and by all accounts, they have their right to them. It’s the impracticality or the idealization behind the opinion that concerns me. Humans either hate or fear the things they do not understand. Those two emotions can be devastating motivators.”

Stiles considers her words with a deep amount of thought and consideration. He knows she’s talking about history and how it's shown when discrimination over dissimilarities have driven mankind to act in the most gruesome and horrific ways. The Hales have a good reason to be as private and as careful as they have been. He thinks about the way that Hollywood and the rest of the world’s media have portrayed mythical creatures. It’s never been completely positive. There’s always been doubt — always an assertion of Human superiority — the idea that being Human overcomes all the evils of differences in species instead of the concept of acceptance and understanding.

It’s disconcerting.

“I want to ask you again,” Talia says, interrupting the flow of his thoughts. “Knowing what little you do about what I can do and nothing else. What do you think?”

Stiles feels like his answer should matter. She wants to know if he can be trusted with their most sacred secrets. He says, “I think I’ll have to ask questions that I’ve never had to ask before, but not because I’m afraid or anything like that, but because I want to understand. I want to be — sensitive, I guess, to the cultural differences. It’s all — it’s more about culture than it is about species, right? I mean, because learning about a species is just learning about the barriers that separates everyone and everything, but understanding culture is about making sure we recognize and appreciate those distinctions. Am I making sense?”

Talia and his dad both look pleased with his answer. She says, “You speak with age old wisdom, Stiles. Has anyone ever told you that? I can see why my brother Peter continues to seek out your counsel.”

Stiles flushes and fidgets.

Talia leans towards his dad, touching a hand to his elbow as she whispers something in his ear.

His father goes from looking surprised, to intrigued, and finally amused before he nods.

Talia is smiling when she pulls away, and she carries that smile as she looks to Stiles. “I imagine my family and I would very much enjoy a bit of your company for a night or two. I believe it’ll be an educational bonding experience.”

“Oh,” Stiles says weakly. “Yeah. Sure. Yes.”

“We should be on our way then. You needn’t worry about a change of clothes, I’m sure we’ll find something for you,” Talia says as she herds him towards her BMW X1, which is parked behind his dad’s squad car.

“Behave,” his dad says as Isaac reappears with an unhappy frown and his dad pats him comfortingly on the crown of his head when it looks like Isaac is about to climb in the car after Stiles. “Call me before you settle down.”

Stiles nods and waves at them both as he slides into the passenger seat, sighing at how comfortable the leather feels against this body. The car smells heavily of jasmine and he wonders if it’s a smell that’s unique to the Hales as a whole or to Talia in general.

Talia pulls out of the driveway and starts for the preserve. She turns on her digital radio but turns the volume really low.

Stiles figures it’s because her hearing is so sensitive.

Talia says, “You have some questions.”

Stiles looks over at her but her gaze is married to the road ahead of them. He says, “I — maybe a few.”

“Ask them.”

Stiles straightens in his seat and asks, “You follow pack dynamics?”

Talia nods.

“Does that mean — are you the Alpha?”

Talia’s lip curls in amusement. “Very observant. Yes.”

“Okay, cool.” Stiles shifts in his seat. “What does that make everyone else?”

“In my pack, they would be my Betas.” Talia puts on her blinker as she makes a right at red light. “Outside of that, just family.”

“So they can choose to be in your pack if they wanted to?” Stiles asks.

Talia nods. “Being pack is — it’s a choice, sometimes. Other times, well, that’s a little more complex. Depending on the situation, often when it’s life-threatening, the choice will have to be made on a whim.”

“How did you become Alpha?”

Talia smiles softly at his curiosity and says, “I inherited the power on my eighteenth birthday, as is the circumstance for born wolves.”

“So that means it can be taken or given? Is it mostly females that inherit the power?”

“The eldest daughter of an Alpha in each coupling often will inherit the power. In more rare circumstances, our sons will, but that’s not always the case since they would have to take the power forcefully or by misfortune. In saying that, the power can also be achieved if one kills an Alpha.” Talia stops at the last red light that comes before the long stretch of road that divides both sides of the preserve.

Stiles asks, “So Laura...does that mean she’ll become an Alpha when she turns eighteen? Is she eighteen already? How do you know the difference between types?”

“Laura will become an Alpha when she turns eighteen, much to her bereavement. She’s a work in progress,” Talia says with a worrying sigh. “We know the difference between each other by smell and also by eye color.”

Stiles breath hitches in awe when she looks over at him with red eyes. “Cool,” is his lame reaction because he’s too stumped to think of anything else to say.

Talia blinks and her eyes resume color. “Very,” she agrees with vague amusement. She says, “Alpha eyes are red. Betas and Omegas are gold. Sometimes blue, but there is a special case for that.”

Stiles nods eagerly as they pull onto a private trail. “You said wolves are born. Is everyone a Werewolf?”

“No. Not everyone. We have Humans in the pack. In the family.”

Stiles takes that into consideration. “Can they be turned if they wanted?”

“Yes. The Bite is a gift,” Talia says instantly, almost like it's second nature.

“Could anyone ask for it?” Stiles asks because he just wants to know.

Talia shoots him a curious look before she pays attention to the trail ahead of them. “Outside of family, we try to avoid doing so. It — there can be some complications. The Bite does not always take for Humans.”

Stiles goes quiet at that and his mind races to compare what Talia has told him and what he’s read mainly from gothic horror and fantasy literature. He says, “Do you — do you know what I am?”

Talia says, “Yes. But only because my first husband was a Virtue.”

Stiles blinks at that. He never would have guessed. He wants to ask, but he doesn’t because it doesn’t seem appropriate. He instead says, “Does everyone know?”

Talia waits a moment before she says, “Outside of Laura and myself, no. Rest assured, you’re identity is safe with us.”

Stiles says nothing to that. He’s not sure how to place how he feels. He’ll have to think about it later. For now, he says, “Is Peter trying to make me Pack? I feel like I’m being scented or — I’m not sure what you call it and I don’t want to assume. It’s just that he’s been —”

“I’m aware of what Peter’s been doing,” Talia gently interjects as they turn down the drive that leads to the house. “It’s instinctual. Oftentimes we identify potential pack members by a way of — there are no human words to fully explain this. You do share a connection with our family that goes beyond the rationalization of Human relationships. Perhaps the more time you spend with us, the more it will become clear. We consider you to be as close to Pack as one can be without the legitimization. The decision to solidify the link will always be left to you.” She pulls around the house and into a garage full of nicely new cars.

Stiles climbs out when she comes to a full stop.

Talia makes her way around the car and stands before him. “You should know that they are aware you know of what we are. They’ll treat you accordingly, with your permission. We are very tactile, and I don’t want you to be uncomfortable. We communicate a lot through touch and through scenting. If it bothers you, I’ll talk to them.”

Stiles shakes his head no. He doesn’t want to mess this up because this feels pretty important. He’s curious enough to want to understand their culture. It’s a rarity he’s not looking to take for granted. He says, “If I — if there are some limits I have that I don’t already know, I’ll say something.”

Talia nods solemnly before she rests a warm palm against the back of his neck and squeezes comfortingly. “Come then,” she says and guides him to the side door that opens to a crowded kitchen full of kids.

Stiles recognizes some of them by face and then by name but Talia still reintroduces him.

All of them hedge closer, looking at Talia with wide eyes and when she nods, they ambush Stiles and tackle him onto the floor.

“Easy, easy,” Talia instructs the horde of Hale kids with firm and guiding hands. “Be gentle. You need only — ah, there, like that. No licking or biting.”  

Stiles can only lie there in amusement as the little ones squirm against him, hugging each of his limbs to their unnaturally warm bodies as they growl in satisfaction. Some of them stick their nose is odd places like by his ankles or his armpits or his ears. This silent exchange lasts no more than three minutes and Talia monitors the activity very closely, often with a tickled tone and a tender grin. One by one they clamor off of him when they’re satisfied with the scenting and they go back to whatever it is they were doing before (homework, baking, wrestling, etc).

Talia offers him her right palm and he takes it with his own because he feels like that’s what he’s supposed to do. She says, “Right hand is for greeting family and friends. Contact with the left hand is to signify a more profound intimacy, as one would have with their significant other, or their intended. So unless you plan on proposing, I would advise you to avoid making that kind of contact.” She cups a hand over the back of his neck. “I prefer to leave my scent-mark here to distinguish myself from the others as Alpha,” she goes on to explain as she gives the back of his neck a light squeeze with her right hand. "Most of our scent glands are in our hands. We are able to secrete different types of pheromones and other semiochemical compounds at will, whether it's something light or something loud. It's how we are able to leave long-lasting scents. Our right hands have odor-messengers which indicate information such as status, affection, and territorial marking. Our left hands, which is why it's important not to make contact unless it is on purpose, have odor-messengers indicate information such as mood and levels of sexual interest."

Stiles nods to let her know that he understands.

Talia guides him to the living room where some of the elder family members are. They greet Stiles warmly and much the same way as last time with each of them looming in his space before they dart a glance towards Talia, who gives a subtle nod before they touch his right hand with their own right hand in a firm grip. Unlike last time though, they touch their nose to the back of his hand briefly before they let go. On and on this pattern continues through a line of cousins, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers — one after the other.

Nana Hale is the last person he comes to and she smiles at him kindly as she says, “You’re very handsome. I’m sorry I didn’t make mention of that the last time you were here.”

Stiles feels his cheeks grow a little red. “Thank you. I — you’re really pretty. Your hair is — it’s like threads of lightning.”

Nana Hale barks out a laugh as the rest of them follow. “Oh, I like this one, Talia. We must keep him close.”

“We’ll do what we can, Nana,” Talia replies, amused.

Nana Hale kisses the back of Stiles’s right hand before patting it sweetly. “Go on then. You’ll find Peter, Laura, Cora, and Derek out by the river with the dogs. They’ve been yammering on about you all day. I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you.”

The color in Stiles’s cheeks deepen as they all shoot each other amused glances that he knows he has no chance of understanding.

Talia walks him to the front door and then out before she releases him and says, “Remind them that dinner is in an hour.”

Stiles nods before he goes stumbling down the steps with a garbled curse.

Talia looks on with amused concern. “Stiles, please be careful. Should I worry?”

Stiles’s blush brightens and he rights himself before turning to walk backwards so he can shoot her a sheepish smile. “Uh, no. I — I’ll be fine.” He trips over a rock and falls on his butt. “I’m fine!” he insists as he scrambles to his feet.

Talia says nothing but she watches him disappear into the thrush of the forest with quiet but fond mirth.

Stiles replicates the trail he and Derek walked the last time he was out here, and in no time he hears laughter and the sounds of joyful barking. He picks up the pace and stumbles his way through some bushes.

Peter is standing on the bank with Derek as they toss rocks across the expanse of the gentle stream where some of the more full-grown Tibetan Mastiffs are splashing around.

Cora is running around with a small group of dogs, playfully chasing them and being chased.

Laura is lying on her back with her hands behind her head as though she were sunbathing, feigning complete obliviousness to the fact that some of the puppies are whining softly as they clamor all over her, butting her cheek with their wet nose or wrestling each other on her chest, stomach, and legs.

“Your mom says dinner is in an hour,” Stiles announces as he draws closer to them. “And also — you guys suck by the way.”

None of them seem surprised to see him. He was probably stumbling around really loudly on the way to them.

“You suck for taking so long to figure it out,” Laura retorts, sitting up and causing a couple puppies to slide off of her and roll onto the grass with an annoyed yip. “What’s the word I’m looking for? Help me out here guys?”

“Willful ignorance?” Cora offers as she tosses a stick and watches some of the dogs run after it.

“Conscious obliviousness,” Peter says as he tosses another rock skillfully.

Laura says, “Determined unawareness.”

“Yeah, that sounds accurate,” Derek agrees as he skips a rock across the river. It jumps across the stream six times before it sinks.

Stiles looks at all of them meanly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was supposed to realize you were Werewolves. Is that something you try to make obvious to everyone?”

“Only the ones we really like,” Peter promises and Derek snorts, as does Cora and Laura.

Stiles rolls his eyes and gives up on the argument as Jordan jogs up to him and presses his wet nose against his right hand curiously before he gives him a happy lick. It’s not long before the rest of them come over to do the same and he makes it a point to pet every single of them while feeling like some kind of canine king with the way they surround him dotingly.

They eventually disperse and continue their jovial activities but Jordan sticks close to Stiles, looking as if he has no intention of leaving Stiles’s side.

Stiles doesn’t mind. He likes Jordan, even if the dog does remind him a bit of Derek (he's a lot nicer and affectionate though). He says, “So can you guys do the full Wolfman or — how does it work?”

Laura stands and brushes herself off. She stalks toward him with a mischievous grin. “Would you like to see?”

“Well, sure, if you’re not going to eat me or anything,” Stiles says, feeling the need to make that very clear.

“Don’t be stupid,” Cora says, sounding a little offended.

Stiles says, “Sorry.”

Laura circles him as she slowly shifts in different degrees (her facial features taking on more canine characteristics) and Stiles watches the process with widened eyes. When she’s fully transformed, she stands before him with golden eyes, elongated fangs, claws, pointed ears and no eyebrows.

“Why don’t you have eyebrows?” is what Stiles says because this is Stiles and why wouldn’t he say that?

Laura growls but it sounds suspiciously like a laugh.

Cora falls to the ground because she’s cackling so hard. Some of the dogs bark curiously at the sound and begin to jump all over her.

Derek’s got that look on his face again. The look that says he’s amused but he also thinks that Stiles is the craziest weirdo.

“Isn’t it interesting that out of the millions of questions he could be asking, he goes with the real winner and asks, ‘Where are your eyebrows?’ Wow.” Peter eases his way over with his hands in his pockets and a pompous smirk. “What a time to be alive.”

“Shut up,” Stiles says and watches as Laura shift back. “That was — whoa.”

“Pretty much sums it up,” Laura agrees with an amused grin. She plucks at the graphic of Captain America’s shield resting at the middle of his chest and says, “Nice hoodie.”

“Yeah? The person that got it for me has amazing taste,” Stiles replies with a half-grin.

Laura winks before she pulls him into a one-shouldered hug. Seeing as she has a few inches on him, she ducks her head down and presses her nose against the stubble of his hair with a thoughtful sound.

Peter walks over, hugs Stiles’s right arm, and then noses over Stiles’s collarbone through the fabric of his hoodie as Cora wanders over and presses against Stiles’s back before she hides her face against his left shoulder blade.

Stiles doesn’t say anything because he can pretty much tell what’s going on.

Derek turns away and continues to skip rocks, ignoring them completely.

The scenting with Cora, Laura, and Peter lasts approximately five minutes, maybe more, maybe less. He’s not good with time. Eventually they all pull away at the exact same moment with satisfied sounds before they disperse.

Laura loops her arm with Cora's before she says, “Oh yeah. Peter?”

Peter whistles sharply and all the dogs line up behind him. He moves his eyes over them like he’s silently counting and when he’s satisfied that they’re all there, he looks at Laura with a raised brow.

Laura says, “Kira.” and wiggles her eyebrows meaningfully.

Peter suddenly smirks, “Ah, thanks for reminding me.” He looks at Stiles. “So I hear you’ve made a new friend.”

“Sure.”

“She’s a pretty young lady?” Peter questions. "Easy on the eyes?"

Stiles narrows his eyes. “Sure.”

Peter hums noncommittally. “Well, I won’t spell it out for him. This’ll be much more interesting to watch if we just let things progress naturally.”

Laura snorts and Cora looks as confused as Stiles does. Cora says, “What the hell are you guys talking about?”

Laura pulls Cora along and says, “You know how Stiles can be adorably oblivious?”

Stiles says, “Hey! Stop calling me adorable!”

Laura ignores him as she and Cora disappear into the throng of trees to continue this line of conversation.

Peter huffs and as he follows after him with all the dogs.

Stiles is left alone with Derek, who is still skipping rocks. He walks over and says, “So. Um. How are you?”

Derek shrugs and tosses another rock. “Getting there,” he admits. "Or trying to."

“Right,” Stiles says for the better lack of having anything else to say.

Derek glances at him and says, “You don’t have to do that.”

“Do what? What am I doing? What's being done?”

Derek rolls his eyes and skips another rock as he says, “Act like you have to walk on eggshells around me. I get enough of that from my family. I’m not damaged or anything.”

“Never thought you were,” Stiles admits. “I’m just — I can be awkward sometimes. Didn't want to say the wrong thing. I’m bad with social cues.”

Derek frowns and looks at him. “You don’t seem like it.”

“Don’t I, though? You’re always calling me odd,” Stiles points out as he watches the other teen huff.

Derek grabs his left hand and drops some rocks onto his palm. “That’s because you are odd. That’s got nothing to do with your awkwardness or whatever. You’re not like — you’re just different. I meant it when I said I never met anyone like you. But I never meant it in a bad way.”

“Oh,” Stiles says weakly as he clenches the smooth stones in his hand.

"Yeah," Derek replies as he eyes him.

Stiles fidgets and says, “I don’t know how to skip rocks.”

“Not that hard,” Derek merely says as he releases Stiles’s wrist. “You just kind of cock your hip and flick your wrist. Like this.” He gives a demonstration.

Stiles tries to imitate it and fails. “Look at that. I suck. Who knew?"

"Don't be so negative."

"Fine, I'll be just medium negative then," Stiles snarks.

Derek rolls his eyes. "Just try again."

Stiles sighs and does. He fails. Again. "I don’t want to do this. Why do I have to do this?”

Derek shrugs but he keeps tossing rocks with an amused and slightly mean grin.

Stiles sticks his tongue out at him and steps back as he gives it another try. Nothing. “I don’t like this,” he repeats.

“You make a habit of not liking things you don’t know how to do?” Derek asks as he keeps tossing rocks like a pro.

Stiles makes a face at the back of his head. “Well, it would describe my relationship with math very accurately.”

Derek goes quiet and Stiles wonders if he’s said the wrong thing. Derek drops the remaining rocks in his hand and says, with a blank face, “Have you heard from Paige?”

“Uh, no,” Stiles says, startled by the question. “Why —”

“If you still need a tutor for math, I’ll do it,” Derek interjects before Stiles can even get the question out. “If you want.”

Stiles blinks at the offer, surprised. He says, “Do I want to be tutored by the Werewolf who could possibly be taking college level math by the time he becomes a junior? Is that what you’re seriously asking me?”

Derek rubs his nose with his left hand in a gesture that would normally be considered a sign of awkwardness, but is clearly only a way of hiding his smug grin and he says nothing.

Stiles rolls his eyes and says, “I have ADHD.”

“I know. Paige mentioned it.” Derek drops his hand from his face and something that looks complicated and painful flutters across his expression. He straightens and continues, “Sometimes you have this smell and it’s — you take medicine for it, right?”

Stiles nods.

Derek goes thoughtfully silent for a moment. Then he opens his mouth to say something but his head whips towards the trees with a furrowed brow. His head cocks before he flushes suddenly with a scowl. “Shut up,” he growls.

Stiles lifts his eyebrows and says, “I didn’t even —”

“Not you,” Derek says as his flush dies down. He rolls his eyes before he looks back to Stiles. He still seems a little embarrassed and annoyed. “Laura’s being a — never mind. She says dinner is ready.” He begins to heads toward the house.

Stiles stumbles after Derek as he keeps up a quick pace. When he manages to catch up, even after falling flat on his face when his foot gets caught by a tree root, he says, “So, this tutoring thing. Can we circle back to that for a moment?”

Derek slows down a little and glances over at him with a brow lifted in question.

“We’ll need to get it like some permission to — I just mean, Mrs. Argent is the one who set me up with Paige. I think it's — she should know I want to swap and — that general stuff.” Stiles fumbles over a rock but manages to right himself before he falls flat on his face again. He glares at the ground and then at his own feet.

Derek huffs in amusement.

Stiles says, “Also, if you’re going to be tutoring me, please don’t give me any basketball related scenarios. Seriously. That’s a deal breaker.”

Derek frowns like he totally was going to do just that and Stiles just ruined all his future plans.

Stiles laughs and says, “Oh my god, you totally were, weren’t you? You’re such a goober.”

“You sound like Laura. Please stop,” Derek complains as they reach the house.

“I like Laura. I don’t mind it,” Stiles counters and smiles when Laura appears out of nowhere when they enter the house and high-fives him with a wink.

Derek glares at both of them before he sulks off into the dining room like the moody teenager he is.

Laura just throws an arm over Stiles’s shoulders and says, “He’s just jealous of our bond.”

Stiles scoffs. “Yeah. Totally.”

Laura pauses as she looks towards the dining room. Her lips spread into a sly smile. “That’s not very nice, little brother,” she says.

Stiles frowns. “What? What did he say?”

Laura shakes her head and ushers him into the dining room so they can take a seat at the crowded table. She puts him between Nana Hale and Cora, who is holding her sleeping infant sister (Olive). Then Laura drops a kiss onto Nana Hale’s cheek before she wanders around the table to sit down at the middle of the table between Peter and Derek.

Nana Hale smiles at him briefly before she addresses her grandson-in law (Derek Sr.), who is sitting next to his wife, Talia, at the head of the table.

Everyone starts fixing their plates but Stiles glances to his right where Cora is and looks down at Olive, tracing his eyes over her little button nose, frowning lips and thick twitching eyelashes. She looks so much like a mixture between Cora and Derek that it’s unreal.

Cora catches him looking and says, “Want to hold her?”

Stiles starts to say no because he’s never ever held a baby before and he’s not even sure if he’s qualified to do so anytime soon but Cora is already sliding the little warm bundle in his arms. He freezes and tries not to panic when Olive starts to squirm.

Cora rolls her eyes and says, “Relax, dumbass. She’s just a baby.”

“Right,” Stiles says weakly and quietly starts to panic.

Derek looks over at him suddenly and Stiles vaguely realizes that his heart must be going haywire in his chest.

Cora strokes a hand down between his shoulder blades, making him straighten his posture and says, “Relax or you’ll freak her out too.”

Stiles shifts his arms in a more comfortable position as he exhales out the side of his mouth and focuses on calming his heartbeat before he hugs Olive close. She’s wrapped in a thin cotton white swaddle with an illustration of cherries patterned all over. Her tiny fists are covered with matching mittens and licks of dark and curly hair are peeking out from under the edge of the white cap she’s wearing. She stops squirming when his heartbeat resumes its normal pace, mostly because he’s too busy staring at how absolutely gorgeous she is, or how tiny and warm she feels in his arms, or how she smells so much of jasmine like her mother.

Stiles just really hopes he doesn’t cry because he may or may not be having a moment here and this isn’t even his kid. He blinks quickly as Olive turns her nose more towards his chest, namely the direction of his heartbeat with the cutest yawn he’s ever seen, and oh god, he might cry. He’s going a bit misty-eyed.

Cora looks over at him sharply, obviously because she can smell the salt lining his eyes and says, “Are you okay?”

Stiles colors a bit, totally caught.

Derek is staring at him intently from where he’s sitting and it’s not helping his blush at all.

“I’m fine,” Stiles croaks and quickly clears his throat. “Just — I never held a baby before.”

Nana Hale pats his thigh and says, “Don’t worry, dear. It happens to the best of us the first time. Peter wouldn’t stop crying the first time he held Laura in his arms.”

Something absolutely amazing happens. Peter makes this choked sound as he flushes and he hisses, “Nana. You promised not to ever bring that — oh, don’t you dare get smug, you smell insufferable, Laura.”

Laura puts a hand over her heart, feigning a look of flattery. “Awe, but Uncle Peter. That’s so very sweet —”

“Shut up,” Peter snarls but it loses its edge because he’s still flushing. He adds, when everyone starts to snicker, "You all are absolutely intolerable." 

Stiles laughs as softly as he can since he’s holding Olive and he marks this moment as one to remember forever.

Peter glares at him with a look of betrayal and everyone at the table starts really chuckling.

Stiles rocks Olive a little as he holds her a little while longer before Derek takes her away so that Stiles can eat. Does he eat quickly and very little just so he can steal Olive back? Yes, and he’s not ashamed to admit it. He even dismisses dessert in order to beg Derek to let him hold her again.

Derek rolls his eyes but he hands Olive over with an amused grin before he reaches across the table to cut himself a ridiculously large slice of strawberry cheesecake.

---

Stiles ends up in Derek’s room by the end of the night with Olive still in his arms because he’d asked Talia if he could hold her a little while longer and she’d agreed with this soft smile before Derek dragged him away.

Stiles moves to sit on the floor at the edge of the bed but Derek looks at him sharply and says, “Don’t sit on the floor with her. You can sit on my bed.”

“I didn’t want to intrude,” Stiles explains and moves very carefully with Olive as he settles on the middle of the bed.

Derek says, “You’re in my room. You’re already intruding.”

Stiles open his mouths to reply.

“That was a joke,” Derek adds before he can even get the chance to say anything.

Stiles huffs and watches as Derek hooks a pull-up bar onto the top of the doorway of his shared bathroom and removes his shirt before he begins to do a set of pull-ups. Stiles looks away quickly and down at Olive, who is still resting peacefully in his arms.

Derek does what sounds like a million pull-ups before he drops down to his feet to lower himself to the floor to do some push-ups.

Stiles arms are getting a bit tired at this point so he twists to the side of the bed and drops his socked feet to the carpeted floor before he leans back carefully until his back is touching the mattress. He shifts Olive onto her stomach as gently as possible and shifts her closer to his heartbeat because she seems to be soothed by the sound. He rests his palm over her back and stares up at the ceiling.

Jordan squeezes through the crack of the open door and hops up onto the bed with Stiles, sniffing at him before sniffing at Olive. He exhales abruptly and falls onto his side, pressing back against Stiles’s side as his tail wags lazily, whacking Stiles’s knee as he watches Derek grunt with his continuous up and down motion on the floor.

Stiles doesn’t remember falling asleep but he does and wakes when Derek’s dad is carefully extracting Olive from his chest. He says, “Sorry. Her mother’s ready to feed her and put her down for the night.”

Stiles sits up and rubs tiredly at his eyes with a nod.

Derek is sitting on the space before his TV with Jordan curled up beside him as he plays some kind of war game that Stiles immediately identifies as the zombies feature of Call of Duty with a headset.

Derek Sr. tucks Olive in the groove of his left arm and he uses his right hand to pat Stiles’s on the shoulder with a kind grin before he wanders over to cuff Derek over the head.

“Dad,” Derek complains distractedly as he removes his headset and pauses the video game. “You almost killed me.”

“Tough,” Derek Sr. merely says. “Say goodnight to your sister. We’re going upstairs.”

Derek stands and brushes his nose against Olive’s before he brushes a hand over her head with tender consideration. He pulls back and touches his forehead to his dad’s.

Derek Sr. starts to exit the room. “Night boys,” he says before he shuts the door softly behind him.

Stiles waits until Derek is settled on the floor in front of his TV before he asks, “Is your dad a Werewolf? He doesn’t carry himself like — he doesn’t seem — um, I don’t know.” He doesn’t mention that his touch felt different from the others, and much more like the touch of Hale members who Talia had pointed out as Human to him.

“Dad’s a Human,” Derek clarifies before he puts his headset back on. He doesn’t take the game off of pause yet. “Why?”

“Just curious,” Stiles admits. “Is he — is he Laura’s dad too?”

“No,” Derek says and he takes the game off of pause, making it very clear that the conversation is over. “Braeden, where are you? We gonna do this campaign or what?”

Stiles labels the subject of Laura’s dad as off-limits before he watches Derek play Call of Duty while he fusses and complains into the mic of his headset at someone named Braeden.

After a while, Stiles tucks away into the bathroom and fishes for his phone, turning it on. He sees a few notifications from missed calls and texts. Some from Scott and others from Allison that tell him that Danny is in stable condition but they still have him under to progress his recovery. The other texts are from when he sent that mass text to Laura, Cora, Peter, and Derek. He deletes it all before he sends a mass text to Boyd, Jackson, Allison, and Scott to inform him all that he’s learned from Deaton and his visit with Lydia. Lastly, he calls his dad.

I was wondering if you’d forgotten about me,” his dad lightly jokes.

“Never,” Stiles promises. “How are things at home? You guys better not be loading up on junk food.”

I wish. Isaac made us a Cobb salad. He said something about how you wouldn’t forgive him if he let me order a pizza,” his dad says, sounding both amused and annoyed. “I don’t think I like how you’re both conspiring against me.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Dad, please.” Then he says, “Listen, I need a favor.”

What kind of favor?

“Deaton wants pictures of some of the victims. He says if he could see the wounds, he’d be able to tell us what did it,” Stiles explains.

His dad goes quiet on the other end before he sighs and says, “Give me a few days, I’ll see what I can string together.

Stiles nods and remembers that his dad can’t see. He says, “Okay. Thanks.”

Goodnight,” his dad says.

“Goodnight.” Stiles sends Isaac a quick text that says ‘goodnight’ after his dad hangs up and he pockets his phone before he walks over to Cora’s door on the other side of the bathroom. He knocks and waits.

A medium-sized Tibetan Mastiff with red fur hops up excitedly at Stiles, trying to lick his face when Cora opens the door. She says, “Ginger, chill.”

Ginger whines at Cora like she’s making a complaint before she wanders back over to Cora’s bed and squeezes under it to hide from view.

Cora rolls her eyes and mutters, “Drama queen.” Then she drags Stiles into her room before slamming the door shut behind him. “We’re watching Ghostbusters,” she says and indicates to the totally cool looking indoor balcony above her bed that has a sea of pillows on the floor of it and an entertainment system mounted to the wall.

Stiles follows her up the white ladder that leads to the balcony and he has to carefully step over and around Cora’s younger cousins to find a space of his own. He grabs a silk throw pillow and hugs it to his chest as he lies on his stomach while Cora cuts the lights before turning the movie back on.

Bowls of popcorn and candy get passed around as Cora settles down beside him, close enough that their shoulders touch. She fusses at her cousins and shushes them when they get too loud, talking through important points in the movie.

Stiles finds it amusing and he snickers at how into the movie Cora is and how easily annoyed she gets when someone starts talking.

Cora kicks him lightly a few times every time he chuckles but she mostly divides her time between glaring at her cousins and her flat screen TV.

Midway through Ghostbusters II, Ginger worms her way between him and Cora.

Cora complains, “Tyson! I told you not to bring her up.”

“She wouldn’t stop crying!”

“You little dweeb. Of course she was. She smells the food, you butthole!” Cora snaps as she pulls the bowl of popcorn out of Ginger’s reach.

"Hey! You're the butthole, Cora!"

"Oh shut up."

"You!" 

Stiles smiles, watching them wrestle playfully before he shifts away and falls asleep. He wakes up boiling a couple hours later (around midnight) when the house is dead and quiet and he’s crammed between and under some uncomfortably warm bodies. He has to squirm free so he can pull his hoodie off for some relief. It doesn’t help much and he figures he might as well extract himself completely from this puppy pile. He does with some trouble and quietly crawls over to the ladder and down it before he tiptoes out of the room, through Cora’s shared bathroom and over to Derek’s room.

Derek is still up, leaning back against a pile of his pillows at the head of his bed in the dark of his room with nothing but the glow of his muted TV flashing shadows across the walls and the posters on them. He’s playing NBA 2K14 and Stiles is not even surprised.

“Don’t you sleep?” Stiles asks quietly as he closes the bathroom door behind him.

Derek shrugs distractedly. “Not really a pressing need when it’s the weekend,” he points out softly. “You couldn’t sleep?”

“I woke up under an avalanche of your family. Too hot,” Stiles whispers as he wanders over to the bed and sits on the floor at the edge of it. He frowns when Derek throws a pillow at his head. “Okay, rude.”

“You don’t have to sit on the floor,” Derek says and there is a definite eye roll in his tone that Stiles does not appreciate. “You can come up here with me. My bed’s big enough.”

Stiles leaves his hoodie on the floor as he crawls over to the other side of Jordan, who is sound asleep with his back pressed to the side of Derek’s right leg.

“Wanna play?” Derek asks after he finishes a game (which he wins).

“So I can get creamed? No thanks,” Stiles says as he makes himself comfortable over Derek’s covers and his pillows.

“You too chicken?” Derek teases with a distractingly smug grin.

“No, me Stiles.”

Derek rolls his eyes but huffs out a laugh. “Come on. Just one game. I’ll go easy on you.”

“Why?” Stiles complains as he starts to drift. It’s the smell of vanilla. He’s too used to falling asleep to that smell and Derek’s bed is so unfairly comfortable. “I’m sleeping now.”

“Not until you play me.”

Stiles frowns. “What’s with you trying to get me into basketball?”

“I pity you,” Derek says, jostling the bed as he slides off and goes to grab another controller. He climbs back onto the bed and hands it over.

Stiles takes it and grumbles unintelligibly. He sits up a little with a yawn, and while they’re picking teams, he says, “What’s the team you hate the most?”

“Spurs,” Derek says, almost like it's second nature, but then he shoots Stiles a look of suspicion. “Why?”

“Cause that’s the team I’m picking,” Stiles merely says and he does just that.

Derek scoffs and selects the Lakers as his team of choice which is no surprise at all because he’s not subtle at all when it comes to basketball and of course he’d choose that team out of some misguided sense of loyalty.

Stiles grins midway through the first game while Derek curses with transparent confusion. He takes pity on the other teen and says, “I forgot to mention that I’m unnaturally good at video games. It’s a superpower really.”

“You swindled me,” Derek accuses with a low growl.

Stiles laughs and slaps a hand over his mouth to quiet himself. When he’s calm enough, he says, “Dude, you’re losing against the team you hate. That’s just — I’m being super mean right now, but I feel a little sleep deprived so I kinda don’t care. You should have let me sleep — ha, I totally just winged a line from the Trek Reboot. Vindication.”

Derek sighs in annoyance but his lip twitches slightly and Stiles figures he isn’t too irritated.

They keep playing with Stiles winning each round by a landslide and Derek looks at him with a mixture of exasperation and grudging respect as he demands a rematch over and over.

Stiles fall asleep during their sixth rematch and Derek wins that round by default.

He doesn’t even care.

He just rolls over, hugs a pillow close and sinks deeper into sleep with the smell of vanilla cloying to the inside of his nose and curling in his lungs. 

Chapter Text

It’s Sunday and the first thing that Stiles thinks about before he even opens his eyes is cinnamon.

And thing about it is that not only does it colonize in his mind but it also settles in his gut and the pads of his fingers as if there were some kind of direct connection between these three.

The word unfurls, and then, it becomes all he can smell, all he can taste on the back of his tongue. It’s overwhelming. The word expands even more and begins to fizzle loudly in his mind like a newly lit road flare with a red flame, signaling his attention aggressively.

Cinnamon.

It’s like it’s all over him, in him — like a tidal wave. He sees darkness and he hears nothing. Every breath he takes fills his lungs with the heady sharpness of it, and it floods his mouth — it's on his tongue, between his teeth, on the roof of his mouth like a lingering spice he’s had way too much of. It’s everywhere, trying to consume him.

And then, just like a wink, all of it vanishes just as quickly as it came.

There’s nothing now.

Stiles doesn’t understand it.

His wet lashes flutter against his cheeks with his confusion as he slowly wakes to the noise of laughter, unnamable thumps and thuds, running feet, and streaks of sunlight pouring through the closed blinds to land on his face. Jordan’s resting heavily on his back, pressing his wet nose behind Stiles’s left ear with soft, quick breaths. He shifts and Jordan snuffles, sits upright, head cocked and tail wagging happily as he watches Stiles stand to his feet.

Stiles shoots the dog a small smile as he stretches contently with a yawn before looking over to where Derek is lying on his stomach, shirtless with head resting against a pillow cradled between his arms and the side of his face. Stiles can only see the back of Derek’s head but the slow rise and fall of his shoulder blades kind of clues him in on the fact that Derek is still sleep.

The Hale house is alive with noise and yet Derek still manages to be unconscious.

It’s a wonder.

The digital clock on the nightstand to his left reads: 11:00 am.

Stiles yawns again and makes his way to the bathroom so he can relieve his bladder. When he’s finished, he washes his hands and splashes some cold water on his face so he can wake up a little more. There’s a (still packaged) Captain America themed toothbrush sitting on the sink with a sticky note from Talia that reads: For Stiles. Laura says you’d prefer this kind. He rolls his eyes with a humored smile but he still uses it before exiting the bathroom and enters Derek’s room again to see that the other teen is still sleep. He doesn’t know how Derek does it. He’s the one with superior hearing and apparently he can tune out everything at will. But as Stiles grabs his hoodie from off the floor at the edge of the bed and slips it on, he notices something dark green in Derek’s ear. He makes his way around the bed to take a look because his curiosity gets the best of him at times and he realizes that Derek is wearing some heavy duty construction silicon ear plugs.

Well that explains it. Smart.

Stiles hums in amusement before heading for the door, Jordan jogging after him, and together they both exit Derek’s room.

“Watch out!”

Stiles blinks and steps back as Madeline, a seven year old with thick, curly hair the color of a starless night sky, brown eyes, and a dimpled smile, runs by him with a group of her cousins on her trail. They’re all holding buckets of water balloons and they don’t fumble once as they make their way down the stairs and out the front door with excited shouts — barefeet echoing in the distance. He waits a second before he makes his way down the stairs too but he makes a hard left to stride through the dining room and into the kitchen.

Peter and Tyson are sitting at the wide island counter planted in the middle of the kitchen on the side that faces the stove, sink, cabinets, and refrigerator.

They’re playing chess.

Laura is sitting at the end of the counter on a stool with a small white book and a calculator. Without looking up, she makes an indication for Stiles to take the seat adjacent to hers.

Stiles does.

Laura puts her book down and fiddles with the calculator as she smiles at him. “Good morning, Blue. Well —” She takes a moment to look pointedly at the time on the microwave and stove. “Whatever is left of it, that is.”

Stills huffs. “Your brother kept me up with his sore-loser-ness.” Then, in the very same moment he thinks it, he says, “Was anyone making something with cinnamon this morning?”

“Cinnamon?” Laura repeats slowly and blinks at him. “No. Everything we ate was either strawberry or banana flavored. Or both. We don’t have — cinnamon isn’t something you’ll find in a Werewolf’s house.”

Stiles blinks at that. “Why?”

“To put it simply, cinnamon for us is like pepper spray for Humans. It’s overbearing,” Peter explains without taking his blue eyes off the chessboard. He moves a pawn and Tyson makes a garbled sound. “The smell, the taste. Utterly repulsive. Tear gas would be more endurable.”

Stiles rolls that around in his head with some intrigue. He never would have guessed anything like that.

Laura is looking at him intently, her gaze searching, but he can’t tell what she’s thinking. She just says, “Why ask about it? The cinnamon, I mean. Why ask?”

“I don’t know. I just thought —” But the thing is that Stiles doesn’t know what he thought, which is why he doesn’t finish the sentence. It’s just so bizarre.

Laura is still staring at him.

Stiles decides to shrug because it’s easier than having to explain himself. It might not be the best thing to do but he decides to just cut the peculiarity of it out of his mind. Maybe he’d been dreaming vividly again. Hard to say after all. There are more pressing things he should be thinking about anyway instead of the anomalous out of body experience he’d had this morning with a spice. He shrugs again because Laura is still watching him.

Laura’s manicured fingernails drum against the marble counter top of the kitchen island and she looks like she wants to say something contrary but she just stands with a frown instead and fishes something out of the back pockets of her white ripped shorts. She places his bottle of Adderall on the counter.

Stiles fiddles with it before he looks at her with a raised eyebrow.

Laura says, “Your dad swung by earlier to pick up my mom for some consultation over something. He dropped those off for you before they headed off.”

Stiles makes a grateful sound because he had forgotten to grab them himself.

Laura gets him a cup of water to wash the medicine down. Then she retrieves a spoon, ceramic bowl, and box of cereal. “Eat. You missed breakfast,” she says. As she rifles through the fridge for some milk, Stiles notices that (like the kids and himself) she's barefoot.

Stiles takes his Adderall first because he always takes it first, and then makes himself a bowl of (what looks to be Reese’s Peanut Butter) cereal. He eats three bowls as he watches Tyson and Peter’s long chess session as Jordan sits at his feet like he’s guarding him. His wet nose presses against his barefoot when Stiles isn't paying attention to him and he always perks up (tail wagging happily) when Stiles looks down to shoot him a slight grin (even petting Jordan between bites).

Laura explains, even though he hadn’t asked, “This is a thing between them. Peter and Tyson. Every Sunday. Never fails. Chess, chess, chess.”

"Cool," Stiles mutters. Between bites, he says, "What are you working on?"

Laura looks up from whatever she's scribbling in her white book to press a few buttons on the calculator she has. She says, "It's a study in responsibility, or so my mom calls it. She sometimes hands over the finances of the house to me so I can learn how to manage things like budgeting for food or making sure everyone's needs are provided for. Things a good Alpha does."

Stiles notices she sounds very unhappy with this task. It makes him wonder.

Jordan suddenly straightens with a low sound, ears pulling back and forward as he whines before he darts off.

Stiles just assumes that Derek must be awake.

“My nephew is determined to win,” Peter clarifies as he captures another of Tyson’s pawns. “I admire his tenacity at least.”

“Shut up,” Tyson grumbles as he sinks his chin onto the palms of his hands and glares at the chessboard.

Stiles, because he likes to be helpful, says, “His rook is wide open and his left flank looks pretty shaky too.”

Tyson perks up at that and goes right after it with a triumphant grin.

Peter sends Stiles a dry look. “You’re a menace.”

“I do aim to please,” Stiles replies cheerfully.

“Thanks,” Tyson says. “And sorry about almost breaking your nose last time. What should I do next?”

“Apology accepted as long as we both agree on not having a repeat performance. Pawn on your left.” Stiles takes his empty bowl to the sink and washes it before he places it all in the drainer nearby.

Tyson makes an excited sound when he takes the piece. He urges Stiles to come over and looks at him with widely eager and expectant eyes.

Stiles observes the chessboard and guides Tyson skillfully until the preteen is destroying all of Peter’s strategically placed defenses one by one.

Peter looks extremely disgruntled but greedily impressed (if there were ever such a thing). “Perhaps I should be playing you,” he supposes lightly as he gazes at Stiles fixedly, ignoring the fact that Tyson has now managed to capture his queen.

Stiles salutes him with an impish grin and replies, “I’ve always been good at games. Except for poker. I am terrible at poker.”

Peter gives him a disarming grin that he's forced to blink dumbly at. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He looks to his nephew with a put upon sigh that does not conceal his obvious affection for the boy. “There then. Are we all done now? You might as well run along. I know you want to go gloat to the others about this. I can tell. You smell insufferable with your arrogance anyway.”

Tyson sticks his tongue out and gives his uncle the two-fingered salute, running off with a giggle when Peter playfully snaps his jaws at the preteen (eyes flashing gold).

Laura stands with a content stretch and says, “You ready to go?”

Peter nods and looks to Stiles. “Would you like to come?”

“Where to?” Stiles says curiously. He scratches his right elbow.

“Peter and I run the animal clinic on the edge of town. It was — well, it belonged to our dads. They ran it together,” Laura explains and she says nothing else about it.

Stiles is intrigued. He says, “Yeah. I'll go.” Then he adds, “Let me grab my shoes.” He makes his way through the dining room and up the stairs where he passes Cora.

Cora curls her long fingers carefully over his right shoulder (like she's minding her own strength) and says, “Derek and I are going into town for some laser tag, pizza, and ice cream with Aunt Rosemary. We’re taking some of the munchkins. You wanna come?”

“I would. I so would. That definitely sounds like my kind of fun. But I’m already going with Peter and Laura to the animal clinic,” Stiles says as he walks backwards up the steps.

Cora snorts as her hand hangs suspended in the air and she looks mildly disappointed. “Well. Your loss, I guess,” she merely says and continues down the steps and out the front door.

Stiles watches her go with a small frown before he continues his journey up the steps. When he reaches Derek’s room, he sees the other teen slipping on a green plaid shirt over his grey tank top as Jordan sniffs at his feet, wagging his tail jubilantly.

Derek ruffles his own hair with a little grin before he drops to a knee and spends a good minute rubbing his dog down while he coos praises with puckered lips that would look ridiculous on anyone else but of course Derek can manage to make it look so dignified and attractive.

Stiles does his best to rub away the amused grin forming on his lips as Derek pats Jordan’s side one final time before he straightens.

Derek takes a moment to look around and palms his pockets like he’s doing a mental check before he glances at Stiles with a greeting nod and raised brows. He stands and looks at Stiles like he's waiting for something.

Stiles merely shrugs.

Derek seems satisfied with this response and he nods to himself as he turns and grabs his phone and wallet from off his bed before he pockets them. He brushes past Stiles on his way out the door and softly says, “Later.”

Jordan sprints after him.

“Later,” Stiles returns maybe a second too late, skin feeling a little warm with the sensation of having Derek so close for only that split second. He decides not to think too much of it as he goes hunting for his shoes. He finds them on the other side of the bed (under it), caught between an elephant and giraffe plushie. This only reminds him that Derek has a literal kingdom of stuffed animals residing under his bed.

Peter and Laura are waiting in the garage for him, both of them settled in Peter’s hotrod red Lamborghini.

Stiles slides in the backseat and barely has time to put his seatbelt on before Peter is whipping his car in reverse and righting it. He lowers the windows and he catches Stiles’s gaze through the mirror as his eyes flash gold like whoa.

Laura says, “Prepare yourself, goober. Uncle Peter is a total speed demon.”

Peter revs the engine twice before takes off like some kind of racecar driver.

Stiles clutches the door, the seats, the roof, himself, and says, “Oh my god. Oh my god. My heart. My heart is in my throat! This is way too fast — too, too, too fast — I’m gonna pee myself — I am peeing myself!”

Laura just cackles and sticks half her body out the open window as they go flying through the trail and out onto the main road. She spreads her arms wide and whoops loudly.

Peter echoes the sound with breathless laughter as he drums his hands against his steering wheel.

Stiles thinks they’re crazy, but he also can’t admire how carefree they sound with the wind roaring through the open windows, touching his skin with a cool caress as the leather cushion under him trembles.

Peter’s neatly combed hair begins to float as the car shakes with the speed and Laura’s long raven hair flies everywhere in a stunning way.

Stiles forgets himself for a moment as he watches them. There’s an itch in the back of his mind and a quiet whispering in his heart that tells him that they need this sometimes. From what he knows about Peter losing some of his immediate family to a fire and Laura’s absent father (whether by choice or not), he can see why they’re doing this. They have a shared sadness that Stiles finds himself understanding.

He thinks about his mother, and the distance that will always be between them. It makes his whole body ache with misery and before he can let himself get lost in it, he squeezes his eyes shut and shouts along with them until his voice gets hoarse.

Laura claps when she hears him, and she cheers even louder in encouragement.

Peter drums his hands against his steering wheel even harder and howls in a completely human way.

Laura echoes it as the trees whizz by them on both sides.

Stiles finally opens his eyes and takes a deep breath.

Turns out he needed that too.

---

The Beacon Hills Animal Clinic is a modest looking place. It’s a small brick building with its own parking lot, marble sign, and glass double doors with lots and lots of shaded windows. In front of the glass double doors, there’s a preteen girl, who has waist length hair the color of charcoal and looks to be of some sort of mixed Indian descent, standing there with wet cheeks and her long arms full of a puppy Alaskan malamute.

Stiles notices right away that she’s a Werewolf because her eyes are glowing with gold, teeth slightly fanged and clawed fingers tangled into the short black and white fur of her puppy. She isn’t fully shifted but she looks well on her way to being.

Laura moves to unlock the doors quickly while Peter drops to a knee in front of the distressed girl and says, “Kali. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Peter!” Kali sobs with glowing eyes, her voice pitched with a deep tenor that sounds like it's coming right from the middle of her chest. “I don’t know. Simba-Bhupal won’t stop shaking. He threw up something black and had a seizure. I’ve never seen him do that!” She starts crying with thick and shaky desperation. “I wanted to call you. I wanted to call but I didn’t have your number. I only had the number for the clinic and no one was here, and my parents are both out of town, and it's just me and my grandpa, but he can’t drive cause he’s sick with fever since he's Human and so I ran all the way here by myself and I waited. I waited and waited and waited. Please, please help him.”

Peter shushes Kali as he straightens. “We’ll see what’s wrong and then I’ll be sure to give you my personal number and Laura’s too.”

Kali gives a hiccupping sob and nods hastily.

Peter holds open the door for her and after she steps through, he swiftly follows.

Stiles catches the door before it closes, and doesn’t hold it against Peter that he forgot about him in all his distraction. He observes the inside of the clinic in glances. There’s a high counter that makes up the length of the reception area, and at one end there is a small swinging door. There’s maroon cushioned chairs lined up against the walls by the front door, and planted around strategically placed coffee tables with kid-friendly animal magazines.

There are framed pictures (old and new) on the wall and they're of clients with their pets, smiling happily as if to say they made the right choice by coming here. There are also local newspaper review articles, some of them dated and others pretty recent singing the clinic’s praises. In the corners of the reception area are tall potted plants, some with flowers and some without.

Behind the front desk, mounted high on the wall, is a largely framed photo of two handsome man with their arms around each other's shoulder as they stand in front of the clinic. They look happy and bright. One has dark hair with soft brown eyes (the youngest of the two), and the other has blond hair with grey streaks (he's the older of the two), but the both of them stand fairly tall, shoulder to shoulder. The dark haired male is smiling wide while the blond male smirks as he looks down and not directly at the camera.

Stiles wonders if they may be Peter and Laura's fathers in the clinic's younger days. They certainly echo Peter and Laura's facial features very strongly. He stashes the question away in his mind and traces his eyes over the floor, picking up on the triangular pattern of the linoleum tiles. When he’s done eyeing everything, he makes his way to the back to a singular examination room with a waist high metal table where Kali’s puppy is lying limply on his side with his back to her. He seems to be struggling to inhale and exhale.

Peter’s long fingers trace gently along the puppy’s ribcage while Laura stands near the doorway, observing like she's waiting for instruction.

Stiles stands near Laura and watches as well.

Peter’s brow furrows and his nostrils flare as he hunches down with narrowed eyes. He buries his nose behind the puppy’s ear, down to its throat and he lingers there with a thoughtful, yet animalistic sound. He straightens and says, “Tell me everything you did with him today.”

Kali quickly says, “Nothing I haven’t done before. I woke up, fed him, and then I went on my morning run. I take him with me sometimes, even more now that he’s getting older because he’s starting to be able to keep up. I've just been trying to get in shape so I can get a podium finish for gymnastics since the summer competitions are coming up. So to reward him for keeping me company, we went to the dog park and I met up with Ethan and Aiden so our dogs could have a play date since their dogs and mine are around the same age and I swear I only looked away for a second. Simba-Bhupal wandered off and I don’t know. There was this blind guy sitting on the bench by himself and he gave Simba-Bhupal a treat or maybe what he thought was a treat. I don’t know. I — we weren’t even halfway home before Simba-Bhupal fell over. He’s been in pain and I can’t take his pain for some reason. He smells like he’s dying. Don’t let him die, please. Mr. Peter, please.” She starts sobbing again.

Peter reaches over and curls the fingers of his right hand around the small wrist of hers. He gives a comforting squeeze as his eyes flash gold and he says, “He’s not going to die, Kali. I’m going to make him better.”

Kali gives another hiccupping sob but she nods gratefully, like she doesn’t doubt it for a second.

“Laura, go get the ginger root, some smelling salts, and a dish with water,” Peter says as he straightens, growing tall, taller than Stiles has ever seen him be. There’s something shifting in his presence and it’s forcing an awareness onto Stiles. “Kali, listen to me,” he says in a calm tone. “You can’t take his pain because he’s been poisoned with something.”

Kali’s shoulders start to shake.

“Don’t,” Peter warns softly. “Don’t shift, just pay attention. I need you here right now. You’re bonded to him, yes?”

A tremor goes through Kali as she shifts back, but not without some trouble. She seems to swallow it down with some effort as she exhales shakily and flexes her human fingers. Then she says, “Yes. We are bonded. He is mine and I am his.”

“I was afraid of that,” Peter says lowly. His brow furrows with thought. Louder he says, “I haven't quite seen this kind of poison before. Though, if I had to guess, I would say that it's intended effects are for bonded pairs. If Simba-Bhupal should die, you’ll become ill immediately and two things will happen. You’ll either die because he does or become so weak that you’ll lose your lycanthropy altogether.”

Kali inhales sharply. "I would sooner die if either," she says passionately.

“I’m not going to let that happen,” Peter swears as he meets her gaze head on and it looks so intensely certain that it makes Stiles fidget even though Peter’s not even looking at him.

Kali hunches her shoulders before flattening them into a relaxed line. It almost looks like some kind of nonverbal exchange of trust. She says, “Do what you have to do. In this...I trust you.”

Peter nods and eases his eyes over to Stiles. “Kali, this is Stiles. It's his first time at the clinic. You should show him the koi pond. I think he might enjoy that and it'll give you a chance to get some fresh air. We still need you to have your wits about you for this delicate procedure. Laura and I will take special care of Simba-Bhupal.”

Stiles lifts his eyebrows, wondering silently at what exactly Peter is playing at.

Kali twitches and looks very much like she can’t stand the thought to be parted from her animal companion. She reaches out with shaky fingers and caresses Simba-Bhupal’s spine tenderly before she balls that hand into a fist, turning sharply and starting for the swinging doors that lead to the back door of the clinic before she succumbs to the urge to stay.

Stiles takes one look at Peter, who gestures with a nod for him to catch up, and he stumbles after Kali, wondering how he manages to let Peter loop him into these things. He passes Laura on his way navigating through a maze of cages full of a variety of domesticated animals and she gives him an encouraging thumbs-up with a slightly concerned smile not really aimed at him but most likely the situation in general.

He reaches the heavy metal door and uses what little upper body strength he has to push it open, quickly springing to the side as it slams shut with a resounding thud.

Kali is already at the other end of the alley that leads away from the parking lot in the front and towards a man-made trail that cuts through the trees.

Stiles jogs after her and only catches up when she stops in the middle of a silver metal bridge that curves over a large yet modest koi pond with floating lily pads and water so clear he has no problem making out the brightly colored fish or the murky bottom.

Kali folds her hands together and rests her arms over the railing of the bridge as though she were getting ready to recite a prayer. She doesn’t though. She just stands tensely as she glares down at the water below and the fish swimming around in it as if she blames them for her current troubles.

Stiles steps up beside her, but not too close because he doesn’t want to put her on edge or make her uncomfortable. So he keeps four steps between them and he leans forward as well, far enough that the metal railing is digging into his stomach. He white knuckles the railing because it would be just his luck that he’d somehow tip all the way over and fall into the pond.

Kali just goes on glaring at the water and the floating lily pads and the trees and the sun and at just about everything as her shoulders tense more and more.

Stiles wonders what she can hear, or if she’s listening in on things back at the clinic. He doesn’t ask though. He has no right to.

It would’ve been a pleasant day otherwise. The peaceful silence shifting between them is broken when the crickets chirp or the birds flutter about, squawking in the trees or giving a call to their kin to signal their position. Butterflies skim the wind.

A military plane passes overhead in the sky, flying low and towards some nearby base camp with a name that Stiles can’t quite think of or even really care to figure out.

The sun is smiling down on them with warm rays that are hot enough to remind Stiles that spring will be coming to an end quickly. With only a week left of April, and the month of May soon to follow, summer is just around the corner.

For some reason, Stiles blurts something like, “There’s gonna be five Fridays, five Saturdays, and five Sundays this year in August.”

Kali slowly turns a speculative stare in his direction.

Stiles ignores it, follows an orange fish with his eyes, and continues, “I think about that a lot.”

Kali cocks her head and gazes at him like she’s seeing him for the first time.

Stiles has actually gotten used to that since he’s been in Beacon Hills — only lately, not so much. His association with the Hales has kind of put him on the radar around town, but not significantly so. At least not yet, maybe. He’s not sure.

Kali says, “Pocketful of money.”

It's Stiles's turn to frown and he looks to Kali, who’s still staring at him with this sort of intensely searching gaze. “I’m sorry, what?”

“The five weekends thing,” Kali clarifies. “Chinese call it a ‘pocketful of money’. I read about that a couple of days ago and I thought it was really cool. We actually had a whole discussion about it in my Astrology class.”

“Oh. Huh. What a coincidence,” Stiles says. He rubs the back of his head. “Yeah.” He clears his throat and says, “Your dog has an...interesting name.”

Kali smiles sharply and Stiles mentally congratulates himself when he doesn’t gulp. She says, “My dad’s from Kenya. Mom’s from Bangladesh. I borrowed from both their languages just to name him ‘Lion King’.”

Stiles smirks, unable to help it. “That’s — really clever.”

Kali shrugs. “It’s my — was my favorite movie. But, whatever. Details. I was young. I think we're all a little stupid at that age.”

“Stupidity is ageless actually," Stiles supposes. "Being young, well, you see the world in a different way. I don't think that's necessarily stupid, you know, to wake up every day with the universe wide open to you, full of unexplored promise."

Kali continues to study him.

"I can never just pick one,” Stiles admits after a while, when the silence becomes too much. “A movie, I mean. There’s so many that I enjoy — though my particular choices tend to lean towards the ones with Robin Williams. He’s really — I like watching him. Always did. Kind of reminds me of parts of myself.”

Kali says nothing to that, though she does finally look away and out into the trees.

“Do you go to Beacon Hills Junior High?” Stiles asks because she seems young enough to.

Kali furrows her brow and she looks at him again. “No,” she says slowly. “I go to — don’t you already know?”

Stiles says, “What would I know?”

“You’re Pack, aren’t you? You smell like Hale Pack. You —” Kali stops abruptly as she cocks her head before straightening suddenly. Then she goes dashing off towards the clinic.

Stiles follows in confusion, which goes away when he returns to the examination room to see Laura leaning against Peter with a smile as they both watch Kali weep joyfully, arms full of a lively and healthy looking Simba-Bhupal, who’s licking the tears away from Kali's cheeks with cute little yips.

“Thank you, thank you,” Kali sobs with such bone deep relief, hugging her companion close.

Peter just shakes his head as he peels off the blue latex gloves on his hands and says, “Just be mindful, Kali. That could’ve been a close call. Teach him not to be so trusting of strangers.” He trashes the gloves and turns to Laura. “I’m going to take her to the dog park so she can show me where this blind man was. Then I’ll take her home. You’re okay to take over in the meantime?”

Laura nods and brushes the fingers of their right hands together. “Be careful.”

Peter rewards her with a sharp smile and returns the touch of affection as he says, “When am I never, dear niece?” He turns to a still tearful Kali and makes an indication for her to follow him. On his way out the door, he makes sure to gently tweak Stiles’s nose with a mean grin.

Stiles makes an annoyed sound, ducking his head back and swatting Peter’s hand away.

Peter’s grin just widens fondly as he glides through the doorway, out to the front and through the glass double doors with Kali.

Stiles waits until he hears the familiar rumble of Peter’s car starting and the grind of it peeling out of the parking lot before he says, “How did he do it? What did he do?”

“What he had to,” Laura supposes as she begins cleaning up. "Call it luck if you will."

Stiles walks over and picks up a piece of ginger root as he says, “He didn’t use medicine like regular veterinarian though.”

“No, we don't usually — our methods have always been a little unorthodox. We find the balance between science and magic, but that’s what makes us the best,” Laura explains and goes to the sink to fill up a bucket with soapy water before she carries it over to the metal table. She dunks a large sponge into it and begins wiping the metal examination table clean of a black sludgy-looking goop.

Stiles wrinkles his nose in disgust. It smells rancid. Like spoiled meat. “What’s that?”

“The poison Peter extracted,” Laura says and continues wiping it up. She doesn’t seem phased by it, which is kinda telling that this isn't outside of the realm of what they usually handle.

“I’d offer to help but, you know,” Stiles says with a repulsed expression.

Laura just smiles with a shrug. "I've got it pretty covered. You can stand there and look pretty."

"As if," Stiles huffs, cheeks warming.

Laura laughs and continues to clean with a cheery attitude.

“So between you two, who has the license to practice?” Stiles asks curiously. "Because I thought Peter was still in college and you’re still a month shy from graduation."

Laura says, “Peter’s certified. He is still going to college online, but that’s just to earn his Master’s degree in Psychology and Education.”

Stiles lifts his eyebrows at that. “I’m guessing he graduated high school early. Man, is everyone in your family geniuses?”

Laura shrugs modestly. "We do pretty well for ourselves, I suppose."

Stiles suddenly remembers something Kali said. “So I was talking to Kali and she seemed confused that I didn’t know what school she went to. Should I have known?”

“You wouldn’t have. She goes to the private school on the other side of town. And when I say private, I mean the admittance rate of Werewolves are pretty much at a ninety-nine percent range.”

“Whoa, you guys have your own private schools — wait, why don’t you and Derek and Cora go then if that's the case?” Stiles asks.

Laura’s got that closed off look about her. “After my dad died — when the fire that took our family was —” She doesn’t finish the sentence. It seems too hard for her to talk about. Too painful. “I just didn’t want to, Stiles. Mom didn’t fight me on it. She let me decide. Cora and Derek — well, that’s because of me too, I guess. They’ve always looked up to me and when I went to public school, they wanted to too. So they did. Following on my heels as always.”

Stiles rolls that around in his mind. “But the rest of your cousins attend those private schools, right? The rest of your family? Because I never see them anywhere else.”

“Yeah, they go to private school. It’s a preference most Weres have for their kids. You grow up being different and it’s just — there’s a community we have that’s all our own, so growing up, you know, our parents try to teach us how to survive in both our world and the Human world. But they want us to feel settled among our own kind first.”

“How many private schools are there?”

Laura says, “In this county? Four. One for preschool through junior high, and then if they wanted to continue on, there’s a high school. College really isn’t an option because you’ve got to leave the nest at some point, right?”

Stiles frowns. “You said four but you mentioned only two. Why?”

“Because two are exclusively for Werewolves and the other two are for Werecats,” Laura clarifies. “Across the country, I think there’s about two hundred. A hundred being for Werewolves and the other for Werecats. Outside of that, for other types of shifters, I’m not sure. Peter or my mom would be the one to ask. They really keep track of all that. They say keeping a peaceful understanding fluent through all the communities is important for survival. Oh, while I’m mentioning my mom, you should know that Kali thought you’d know since my mom is pretty much the superintendent for the two schools we have here, the two in New York, the two in Florida, the two in Texas, and the two in Alaska.”

“Wow,” Stiles says because he has nothing better say. That would partly explain why it seemed like the Hales came from good money. He’s starting to get that there are more Weres in the entire country or even in the world than what he initially thought. It’s an intriguing concept. Then he gets hit with another thought. “Earlier, Kali said something about trying to take her puppy’s pain. What’s — can you guys really do that?”

Laura doesn’t answer right away. She cleans up the last of the sludge, drops the sponge in the dirty black water of the bucket, and then she empties it out in the deep metal sink under the x-ray illuminators. She washes her hands quickly, dries them and walks over to Stiles before punching him in the arm.

Before Stiles can even cry out from the pain, her fingers are coiling around the skin of his wrist on his right hand. His eyes widened as the pain leaves him in black lines swimming from under his skin and into Laura’s. He watches her face cringe slightly for a moment before she sighs. He says, “That was — whoa.”

Laura lets him go with a thin smile. “Pretty much,” she agrees.

“But I could have done without that demonstration though,” Stiles points out. “You could’ve just said yes.”

“I prefer to demonstrate. Better you see than hear,” Laura supposes lightly.

“But it looked like it hurt you,” Stiles says with a frown.

“Rather me than you,” Laura says with a complicated expression he can’t work out. She brushes the fingers of her right hand against his. Then she brushes her nose against his flushed cheek and makes a thoughtful sound like she scents something on his skin. “Don’t worry about me, goober. I can take a little pain. Some evils are necessary.”

Stiles says nothing to that. He knows what she’s saying is true but he doesn’t quite agree. Plus he's a little distracted by her proximity and the way she wraps her heated palms against the sides of his neck, swooping her thumbs down towards his collarbone as though she's searching for the pulse resting just under his skin. “S-so, uh, what’s Peter planning to do with his degrees? Outside of working here, I mean. Is this a full time thing?” he says, changing the subject as she continues to slide her nose along the side of his face with a rumbling sound.

“Peter wants to be like my mom," Laura murmurs as she slides her lips against the tip of his nose before skating her own nose along his left ear. "He’s looking to principal the two schools we have here. I think the long-term goal is to take over looking after all the schools under my mom's jurisdiction when she retires. He’s doing this in the meantime, until he can find someone else certified to take over,” she continues softly.

“What about you?” Stiles asks in a whisper and notices how withdrawn Laura’s expression suddenly gets. She pulls away and Stiles feels instantly colder. He takes an instinctive step towards her before he can even stop himself. Then he flushes and steps back. Whatever kind of scenting she'd been doing felt good — relaxing. “What are you going to do after graduation?”

Laura doesn’t answer right away. She glides out of the room and over to the counter of the reception area, leaning forward with a heady sigh. She’s holding herself up by her forearms on the edge of the counter and staring listlessly at the glass double doors.

Stiles saddles up beside her and presses their shoulders together because now that she’s leaning forward they’re approximately the same height.

Laura says, “What my mother wants is for me to be a good strong Alpha. Find some territory to call home. Contribute to the Werewolf community in the most productive manner befitting my skills as a leader. Raise a pack of my own. Start a family. Do the Hale name proudly. Fulfill my obligations as a Daughter of our Great Mother, the Moon.” Then, as she continues, she speaks so softly that it forces Stiles to pay attention to her every word because there is now a weight in the air. “But what I want is to move to New York. Walk out to Times Square and spin around like a mystified idiot. Just like they do in the movies, you know. And I want to rent out a crappy yet affordable apartment that’s close to the corner of some diner I’ll be working at part-time as a waitress. Sure the tips will be bad at first but I’ll use my devilish looks and charms to really earn something. I’ll be rude back to those customers who are rude to me and I’ll have a boss who won’t even care because he likes me so much. He’ll say I’m like the daughter he never wanted.

"I'll make the finest pots of cheap coffee that customers will ask after because I know just how to add a little something extra. But I'll be terrible at soup and hot cocoa, no matter how simple it is. And when I’m not working my ass off to keep the hot water on so I can take long showers in my shitty bathroom, I’ll be out and about, auditioning for every single play there is. Certainly, at first, it’ll be all horrible scripts and I’ll be a background character in most but somehow I’ll work my way up to the top of the thespian food chain. And before long, I’ll have directors asking after me from left to right. I’ll make a name for myself on Broadway, and I'll snag my dream job, which is to play Elphaba in Wicked, and I’ll keep playing her until they run me off the stage with pitchforks and lit torches. That’s what I want, Stiles.” She exhales shakily as tears slide down her cheeks. “And I don’t want anything else.”

Stiles is surprised to see this side of Laura: open and vulnerable. She usually just keeps everything close to the chest like she's impervious to this kind of pain. He doesn’t even let himself think about it; he just pulls her close and hugs her. He says, “You should cry, Laura. You sound like you need to. I swear I won't judge. I myself enjoy a good cry from time to time. Best muscle relaxer I know.”

Laura laughs around a hiccupping sob as she buries her face in his shoulder and does just that. She mumbles things into the material of his hoodie; things he can’t hear or understand, and things he’s sure aren’t really meant for him. She cries with trembling shoulders, and shaky knees. She clutches onto the sides of his hoodie like she’s desperate and afraid, and like she doesn’t get to do this often. Her tears leak into his clothes but he could care less about the dampness he feels on his shoulder.

Stiles strokes her hair and the space between her shoulder blades. His heart knocks steadily in his chest but his eyes get a little warm and his throat locks up hotly. It’s the empathy he has for Laura. It’s the sudden swell of affection that takes him over and makes him says, “I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but...it gets better.”

Laura jolts suddenly like she's been zapped and pulls away from him. She looks at him with ruddy cheeks, reddened lips, and watery gold eyes burning brightly with shock. “What did — what did you say?”

Stiles fidgets, uncertain. His cheeks begin to grow red and he feels hot over all. “I — I said that it gets better.”

Laura stares at him for a really long time before she presses her left hand to her mouth, shaking her head as she laughs and cries at the same time, if you can believe it.

Stiles isn’t sure whether to take this as a good or bad sign.

Back in Los Angeles, he didn't have any female friends (outside of his mom when she was alive) and he really wants nothing more than to do this right. He knows how complicated it all is with Laura being a Werewolf and a potential Alpha at that, but sometimes he feels like he has a connection to her that helps him understand what she needs, however she needs it. And then when Laura starts to laugh breathlessly and reaches out to yank him to her, he lets out a sigh of relief as he pats her back with a shaky hand. She laughs and laughs and clutches him closer, and closer, and closer, burying her nose behind his right ear as warm puffs of air hits the side of his jaw with each exalted laugh she gives.

“God,” Laura says shakily after a quick cough. “You don’t — you don’t understand how much I needed to hear that.”

Stiles flushes down to his toes, pleased. He watches anxiously as she pulls away and goes about trying to dry her face with her trembling hands.

Laura laughs wretchedly, and it sounds a little snotty. “God, I’m a gross mess,” she says and sniffs.

"You're beautiful," Stiles says, almost on instinct, and flushes harder for his trouble.

Laura gives him a crooked grin and a wink. Then she rubs her reddened nose against the back of her hand before she sighs. “Hold on.”

Stiles watches as she rounds the counter and walks to one of the restrooms. She returns a moment later looking a little less puffy around the eyes and a lot brighter in her face. There is effortlessness in her movements that wasn’t there before and her posture has straightened tenfold. She looks like a queen practically, glowing so blatantly with her contentment. He tries really hard not to feel like he’s responsible for it (best to stay humble in these moments).

Laura stops right in front of him and cups her hands over his shoulders, tilting her head down slightly so they can meet eye to eye, and she says, “The last thing my dad ever said to me was, ‘I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but it does get better.’”

Stiles inhales sharply, winded, as shock floods his senses, making him hot and prickly all over while it puts him in a daze. “I — I don’t know why I — that wasn’t what — I hadn’t even heard that anywhere before. Laura. Laura. How did I know to say that to you? Why would I —”

Laura shushes him and rubs her hands up and down his arms. She chuckles but it’s filled with sincere sympathy. She says, “It’s okay, Stiles. My dad used to — he would say things like that too. It'd come out of nowhere, the things he'd say. Like the universe itself was speaking through him. Mom told you he was a Virtue too, right?”

Stiles nods dumbly.

“It’s just — it’s a part of the territory, I think. Virtues have good discernment and they're sensitive when it comes to certain situations and people and places and so on,” Laura goes on to say. “When I was little, my dad bought this bouquet of yellow roses and he gave it to me. He told me to give it to the pretty librarian with a shaved head and tell her something like what you told me. He said, ‘Tell her that you know it doesn’t seem like it now, but it does get better.’ And that’s exactly what I did, even though I didn’t understand it. The librarian, Mrs. Diamond, she looked at me with this face I’ll never forget and she starts bursting into tears.

"She asked me who told me to say that to her and I told her my dad did. Later on, when she attended his funeral, she came up to mom and I and she said that she’ll always be grateful for my dad’s kind words. Stiles, she’d been diagnosed with cancer, and when the chemotherapy started taking it’s toll on her, her husband left with their two children, and she got so depressed that she’d been thinking of committing suicide that very same night I gave her the flowers and told her what my dad said to say. Those words saved her life, and she’s still living to this day. She fought and won custody of her kids and my dad is responsible for that because he knew that all she had to do was hold on long enough for it to happen. He just had a gut feeling and he followed it. And I think that's what you're going to find yourself doing a lot.”

Stiles exhales quietly as he rolls that around in his mind. “I — I don’t know what’s going on with me — I don't understand.”

“It's nothing you should be afraid of,” Laura says and rewards him with a disarming smile. “It just means you’ll do some good for a lot of people. And we could use your kind of good in this wide wicked world of ours.”

Stiles scrubs the stubble of his hair and says nothing.

“No pressure,” Laura says impishly with a wink before she turns and leans forward against the counter, looking at the glass double doors expectantly.

Not even a moment later, a chubby woman with her chubby son walks in with two cages that have hamsters in them.

“Hi, how can I help you?” Laura says, straightening.

Stiles vaguely watches the exchange, but he’s just so lost in his thoughts.

His mind is a maze of queries.

---

Peter eventually returns and frowns for a second as he glances between Laura and Stiles as though he can detect their little heart-to-heart session earlier. If he does, he says nothing about it and takes over for Laura as the clinic begins to fill with a steady flow of clients and their animals.

Stiles stands off to the side, texting Scott, fetching things when Laura and Peter trust him enough to, or generally being useless as he watches Laura and Peter work. They’re really good at what they do. Especially Peter. He’s alert, polite, and very tolerant during these exchanges, no matter the age of the pet owners or what kind of questions they ask. And please believe that some of those questions they ask are either extremely stupid or so bizarre that Stiles has to roll his eyes and shake his head as Laura turns away with her silent laughter because Peter answers them with the straightest face and most neutral tone of voice.

It’s amazing really. A gift.

Around five or so, Peter decides it’s time to close for the day. He makes Stiles help Laura feed the sheltered animals in the back while he sets to work cleaning up his stations and the entirety of the examination room.

Stiles doesn’t mind helping Laura at all, mainly because all the animals they have (and there is a variety of them) are so well-behaved and affectionate. Even though no one asks him too, he gives each and every one of them gender neutral names aloud.

Laura finds it amusing and she doesn’t say anything to try and stop him. They meet Peter at the glass double doors out front and he locks the clinic up behind them as they make their way to his car.

Peter whips out of the parking lot and down the road. He and Laura don’t shout out the windows this time when he lets them down.

Stiles still clutches the belt across his chest tightly because Peter is a jerk who decides it’ll be a funny idea to speed in reverse when they hit the trail of the preserve that leads to the private drive of the Hale Manor. And although he doesn’t crash the car, Stiles still stumbles out of it with shaky knees after they’ve parked in the garage and he shoots Peter the strongest glare he’s got in his arsenal.

Peter just smirks and whistles his way over to the side door that opens to the kitchen, keys twirling around his long pointer finger.

Laura throws an arm over his shoulders and nuzzles her nose against his ear affectionately. “Cheer up, Blue,” she says, not without irony. “Sunday night is Wing Night!” She pulls away swiftly before she swats him on his bottom and jogs off.

Stiles flushes brightly in shock, quickly clutching his butt with a choked sound like he’s afraid that if he doesn’t protect himself she might do it again but she doesn’t look like she’s coming back. So he runs after her. “You can’t just do that, Laura!” he complains.

“Oh can’t I?” Laura cheerfully counters with a singsong voice and settles at the head of the table between Cora and Nana Hale.

This leaves only one other space open (the seat between Derek and Peter).

Stiles grumbles as he sits down and watches baskets of different flavors of wings and fries being passed around.

“What did she do?” Derek asks as he leans over the table to accept a basket of hot wings from his Uncle Jonah.

“Huh?” Stiles asks as he distractedly watches a basket of honey barbecue wings float from Cora to her Aunt Emilia. “Who did what now?”

Derek notices where his attention is and he urges his older cousin Delilah to pass him the other basket of barbecue wings but he doesn’t give it to Stiles right away. He actually keeps it out of Stiles’s reach.

Stiles makes an impatient sound. “What? What is it? What is this?”

“I don’t like to be ignored,” Derek merely says with a grin.

“So does most of the world’s population,” Stiles snidely replies and maybe he’s being a dick but he’s hungry and Derek started it first anyway so, completely allowed.

Derek doesn’t seem bothered either way though. His grin widens into a smirk and maybe if Stiles blinks hard enough he won’t find it as attractive as he does right now.

Stiles is totally experiencing hunger delusions like those people wandering in the desert or the wilderness or wherever — anyway, this is vexing.

Derek says, “Answer my question.”

Stiles makes a grab for the wings but Derek skillfully holds it out of his reach. He sighs. “Great, this is great,” he complains quietly. “I just want to eat like everyone else and you’re being rude. Okay, what? What? What question? I'm actively listening now. Not that I have a choice.”

Derek raises both eyebrows with a mean grin and says, “You were saying something to Laura about her not doing something. I just wanted to know what you meant.”

Stiles blushes and clamps his mouth shut. He’s so not explaining this in a dining room full of Werewolves. He’s just not.

Derek cocks his head questioningly at the spike Stiles's heartbeat makes in embarrassment and his brow furrows thoughtfully. He glances over at Laura, who is chatting animatedly with Cora before he looks back to Stiles. Then he looks back to Laura. He says, “What’d you do, Laura?”

Laura pauses her conversation to toss Derek an amused look. “Hm? What’s that Der-Bear?”

Derek scowls in disgust and says, “Don’t call me that. What’d you do to Stiles?”

Stiles sinks down in his seat as Cora glances between them curiously.

“Oh I didn’t do much,” Laura states airily as she shoves a few fries in her mouth. “I just gave him a gentle love tap on his cute little keister.”

Stiles feels the heat return to his cheeks with a vengeance as Derek shoves the basket of wings at him without another word, looking for all the world like he wished he hadn’t asked at all. Stiles is right there with him on that. He shoves the boneless wings into his mouth with as much dignity as he has left and tries to put the whole thing out of his mind.

Laura just blows kisses at them both before she continues her conversation with Cora.

It’s not until Stiles feels like he’s going to pass out from eating so many wings does he notice that neither Talia nor Derek Sr. are sitting at the head of the table like they usually are. He nudges Derek with his elbow and says, “Where are your parents?”

Derek straightens and darts a glance at Stiles’s mouth before he quickly glances away and towards the stack of empty baskets before him. “Mom’s out with your — with the Sheriff. Dad’s taken Olive to his parents ranch in Texas since they haven’t gotten a chance to meet her yet.”

Stiles is kind of disappointed that Olive’s gone. He had wanted to hold her some more. He’s probably too ridiculously attached to the baby Were. He then thinks over what Derek said. “Why did you say it like that?”

“What?” Derek says with a deepening frown. He’s starting to glare at the baskets ahead of him.

Stiles is hesitant to ask, but he pushes on, “You said, ‘his parents’ like they aren’t your grandparents. Usually people stuff like 'grandma' or 'gramps' when they refer to them.”

Derek’s mouth twists grimly before he replies, “They don’t actually approve of what we — they’ve made how they feel about us and what we are pretty clear. It’s not exactly —" He stops abruptly with a frustrated sound before he starts again. "The only reason they want to see Olive is because they think there’s a chance she may be Human. Like them. They haven't bothered with Cora and I after we presented.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, and feels sorry for even bringing it up. He frowns a little bit as a small bubble of anger fizzles in his gut on Derek and Cora's behalf. They shouldn't have to suffer such narrow-mindedness from their own dad’s family.

Across the table, Cora says, “Hey, dumbass. You’ve got sauce all over your mouth.”

Stiles shoots her a look, and just to spite her he says, “Where? Here?” He stabs his tongue into the left corner of his mouth. “Maybe you mean here.” He licks at the right corner.

Cora snorts and rolls her eyes, giving up on him.

Derek gives a heady sigh but he seems marginally amused. “Can you not, Stiles?”

“What? What’d I do, Derek?” Stiles asks, widening his eyes at the other teen innocently as he wags his tongue across his bottom lip.

Derek wrinkles his nose and huffs. “You’re a dweeb,” he says with grudging amusement as he snags a napkin off the table and high-fives Stiles’s mouth with it.

Stiles makes a disgruntled sound because the napkin sticks to his tongue and he has to spit it out. “Rude,” he complains and catches the napkin before it can drop to the floor. He licks it again and uses his own saliva to scrub the area around his mouth clean.

Derek tracks the movements with a raised eyebrow. “Are you six?”

“Are you?” Stiles retorts because he’s just that clever and he tosses the napkin.

“Nice comeback.”

“Thanks. Peter helped me with it.”

Peter pauses mid-sentence in his conversation with Nana Hale with a quiet snort and shoots Stiles an amused look before he goes back to speaking with his grandmother.

“Figures,” Derek simply mutters.

"What's that supposed?"

“Oh nothing. It's just that he’s as much as a dweeb as you are. Like minds, as they say.”

Stiles bristles at the audacity and says, “Stop calling me a dweeb. You’re a dweeb.”

Derek snorts like he can't help it with a slow grin and says absolutely nothing at all.

It flusters and confuses Stiles more than he’d like to admit. He feels like he just completely missed the point of something. “Right, well. Glad we got that established.”

Derek doesn’t stop staring at him with that unnerving grin but he nods like he's humoring Stiles.

Stiles clears his throat, pushes away from the table, and totally flees into the kitchen and out the side door. He breathes a little easier as he navigates his way through a maze of cars and out of the opened garage into the cool night air. It feels like a relief for his heated skin.

The wind feels good. He pulls his hoodie over his head and walks towards the back of the house where he’s pleased to find a modest playground. He goes to the swing set and sits down, swinging idly as he looks up at the cloudy night sky. He curls his fingers in the hem of his hoodie before he fishes his phone out of his pocket. He calls his dad and leaves him a brief message when his old man doesn’t pick up. Then he calls Isaac.

Isaac, predictably, doesn’t say a greeting when he picks up.

“Hey,” Stiles says softly. “How are you?”

Isaac says nothing. It sounds really quiet in his background.

Stiles smiles and says, “You know I can’t see you shrugging. You’re kinda gonna have to be verbal.”

Isaac shuffles on the other end and sighs. He says, “I’m fine, Stiles.

Stiles feels his smile widen. “Good, Isaac. That’s all — really good.” He pauses to think. Then he says, “How's life going? Broke any doorknobs lately?”

Isaac sighs again.

Stiles gives a short laugh. “I’m only teasing. Sorry. I’m just — don’t mind me.” He kicks at the ground to build his momentum on the swing. “Hey, Isaac. Do you miss me yet?”

No.

“Lies. Total lies. You adore me. I am your world. You miss my mindless chatter. It’s probably super endearing — hey, are you at home right now?” Stiles grips one of the chains of the swing with one hand while his other keeps his phone pressed to his ear.

No.” Isaac waits a few seconds before he adds, “Dad doesn’t like me at the house by myself. You know that.

Stiles falls off the swing with a choked sound.

Isaac continues like he doesn’t notice. “He was going to drop me off across the street at Mrs. Doyle’s house until he got off work, but I didn’t want to stay there because it smells like — you really don’t want to know. So I’m spending the night at Boyd’s because I asked.

Stiles sits up and rubs the back of his head until he stops seeing stars. “Dude — dude,” he says breathlessly. “You — that’s more words than I ever heard you say in one breath. And — and — you called my dad your dad — our dad. That's so — you're so —”

Isaac shuffles again, and he sounds a little flustered as he says, “Stiles, please settle down.

“Okay, okay,” Stiles says and he can tell Isaac is uncomfortable. “I just think — it's kind of — I like hearing you say — that we — you are family. You should, um, you know. Know that you're family. I’m sure dad feels the same. I sure do. I always have.”

Isaac says nothing. He shuffles on the other end again like he's fidgeting shyly.

“So are you and Boyd bros now? I feel like you guys are totally bros,” Stiles goes on to say, changing the subject. “But remember who your main bro is.” He points to himself. “You can’t see, but I’m totally pointing at myself.”

Isaac huffs in amusement.

Stiles grins happily. “What are you up two up to tonight anyway?" he asks.

Isaac says nothing.

"Can't see the shrugging, buddy," Stiles teases.

Isaac sighs like he thinks Stiles is being a handful and says, "Movies, games, food."

Stiles nods to himself because he approves. "Okay, I’ll let you go and do those bro things you were doing with Boyd. Goodnight.”

Isaac just hums.

“I’ll see you tomorrow because of course I'll see you guys tomorrow. And I can honestly say without shame that I miss you guys, which is like — it’s only been two days. How crazy is that? I’m growing too attached,” Stiles says as he rolls his eyes at himself.

Isaac gives a noticeable pause on the other end. Then quietly he says, “It's...not just you."

"I'm sorry, come again." Stiles blinks. "It almost sounded like you were implying —" 

"You're not the only one," Isaac states clearly and firmly. "Missing us all being together, I mean."

Stiles splutters with wide eyes. “You did! Oh my god, you did mean —”

Goodnight,” Isaac says like he's had enough and hangs up.

Stiles pulls his phone away and stares at the screen in annoyance, even though a swell of warm affection spreads through his chest, down to his toes. He stands and brushes himself off before he pockets his phone.

“BOO!”

Stiles yelps in fear, trips over his own feet, and falls to the ground with a mangled swear.

Laura cackles like the evil woman she is. It's easy to see where Cora gets it from.

“I hate you,” Stiles whines as he rolls onto his back and glares up at her.

Laura cups a hand over her ear and says, “What’s that I hear? Your heart beating slightly faster on the words ‘hate’ and ‘you’. Awe, you don’t have to lie, Stiles. We both know the truth. You adore me. I am your world.”

Stiles’s cheeks grow red because he's not ignorant to the fact that she may have been ear hustling his conversation with Isaac. He stares woefully up at the sky. “If I lay here...if I just lay here...will you go away?”

Laura snorts and drops down to the ground beside him and curls into his right side, throwing a leg over his thighs as she wraps his arm around her neck so she can lie comfortably on his shoulder. "You'll never be rid of me, goober."

Stiles combs his fingers through her long hair and hums at how soft it is. "Ah, yes. What a burden."

Laura growls playfully as her eyes flash gold for a moment.

Stiles huffs as she snuggles into his side and he says, “You’re totally scenting me, aren’t you?”

Laura turns her head and bites him in reply.

“Hey, hey! No biting!” Stiles reprimands as he tweaks her ear.

Laura snorts and keeps her nose buried in the spot where she bit him, rumbling contently.

Stiles goes back to combing his fingers through her hair.

It’s not long before Cora finds them. She doesn’t do much besides frown softly before she drops down and curls around Stiles’s other side until he’s properly sandwiched between them.

Stiles gingerly wraps his arm around Cora’s shoulders and relaxes when she doesn't try to gut punch him for it. She actually wiggles closer, tangles the fingers of her right hand in the hem of his hoodie as she buries her nose into the side of his neck, rumbling just as softly as Laura is. He can very nearly feel the vibrations in his own chest.

It's like being sandwiched between two soft vibrating furnaces.

Laura starts singing Firework by Katy Perry and she sounds so freakin’ good — even better than Katy Perry herself. She’s got a soulful voice that’s both breathy and smokey. She’s talented and Stiles has no doubts that she’d be able to go far if she actually pursued her dreams. He wants that for her.

Cora joins in, and she’s not really as good as her older sister, but she’s decent and can hold a tune at the right parts of the song.

Stiles squirms when they poke at his sides in a silent request for him to join in and they don’t stop until he does.

Somehow he ends up spending the next fifteen minutes with them, singing hit pop songs before they switch over into some Disney songs as they lie all over each other under a starry night sky.

Peter and Derek join them while they’re midway through singing Hakuna Matata from the Lion King.

Derek scoffs at their theatrics and goes to sit on the swings while Laura says, “Sing a song of beauty, Uncle Pete.”

Peter looks marginally amused. “Sure, anything for you, Laurie.

Stiles sits up on his elbows and says, “There’s no way you’re as good as Laura.”

Laura snorts, flattered.

Peter smiles with a frightening amount of teeth and says, “You’d be surprised, little Stilinski.”

“Prove him wrong, Uncle Pete,” Cora says as she tucks her hands behind her head but makes sure her hips are still touching Stiles's.

“I plan on it, Corral,” Peter retorts. He clears his throat for five minutes.

Derek boos and says, “Quit stalling, Uncle Pete.”

“Patience, Darren.”

Stiles is starting to think this saying each other’s name wrong is some kind of inside joke between them. Before he can even help himself, he asks, "What's up with you all calling each other the wrong names?"

"Oh it's a thing," Laura replies. "We have this Great Uncle who lives in Canada. His name is Demetrius and he comes down with his horde at the end of every summer for the Assembly."

"Assembly?" Stiles repeats with a frown.

"Our version of a family reunion. Every one in our family flocks over to our land in upper California and we show each other what we're made of," Cora elaborates. "Hale Family Reunion at it's finest."

"It's more like a Werewolf Olympics," Derek complains with a sour look. "Like we're supposed to prove to each other who's the best in our brood. Who's got the best Pack."

"Derek's just sore that our cousin Amelia beat him in the Run," Cora swears with a cackle. "The one year he loses and he swears the Assembly is nothing but garbage."

Derek growls at her as his eyes flash gold.

Cora snickers as her own eyes flare, unafraid to meet his challenge.

"Anyway," Laura drawls. "Great Uncle Dee has always been bitter that his mother, our great grandmother, Nana, decided to stay with us instead of with him and his pack up in Quebec. So he purposefully goes out of his way to say all our names wrong since we belong to my mom's Pack."

"Ah, yes. Uncle Demetrius has always been jealous of my sister since our grandmother showed her favor above the others despite the fact that she's not the oldest. Our mother was also no stranger to having many lovers, so you can imagine why the age difference between us all is so peculiar. But it wasn't until she met my father did she really decide to settle down. You also must understand that Nana had some very traditional values when it came to daughters fulfilling their roles as Alpha, and when my mother, as the oldest daughter, finally married and had children from that marriage beginning with Talia, she finally had a legitimate heir to whom she could pass the power on to.

"And during that marriage, my mother continued to have more legitimate children such as myself. So on and so forth, and well, there was some favoritism I admit. All the other children my mother had, most here and some not, well in the traditional sense are what one would consider...bastards, to put it lightly. Not that I care for such things, nor does Nana particularly anymore, as we all grow and learn from our mistakes, don't we? But it's still something our Uncle makes sure to never let my older brothers and sisters forget. You know, what and who they are — where they came from. Honestly, if my mother hadn't settled down with my father, then Uncle Demetrius would've had legitimate claim in challenging her for the Alpha position. But that, perhaps, is a story for another time," Peter supposes as he studies his claws like he's bored by it all. "Childish, really."

"You say that but it was your idea to run with the incorrect names whenever Uncle Dee is around," Derek points out. "Just to get under his skin."

Peter hums and squints his eyes thoughtfully. "No, I don't believe so. Doesn't really sound like something I would do."

"That's exactly something you would do, and you know it," Laura remarks knowingly.

"This is boring," Cora complains like she's over this line of conversation (Stiles is interested in hearing more though). "Sing, Peter."

Peter taps his chest and clears his throat six more times before he actually starts singing.

And you know what?

He sucks.

Dear god, does he suck.

Stiles gawks as Peter does a rendition of Ursula’s solo of Poor, Unfortunate Soul from the Little Mermaid. He sounds epically horrible, and he can’t carry a note to save his life, but he makes up for it in enthusiasm.

Stiles has to hold onto his sides, which are aching because he’s laughing so hard.

Laura is wiping tears of glee from her eyes and Cora is literally wheezing.

Derek is fighting back a smile, trying to look as annoyed as possible since Peter is circling him as he sings, shaking Derek on certain parts as if to get him into the song or to treat Derek as if he’s pretending that Derek is Ariel.

Either way it’s hilarious.

It’s hilarious.

---

When everyone is settling down for bed, Peter pulls Stiles aside and into the family study before he says, “Cinnamon.”

Stiles sits down in the armchair near the fireplace and frowns in confusion.

“It’s been bothering me all day ever since you brought it up,” Peter goes on to explain. “I didn’t realize until now why that was. It’s because now I recognize that every crime scene me and Talia have been to concerning the victims who were possibly clawed to death, it smelled like cinnamon. Not just on them but all through their houses — the Martins, the Mahealanis. Even your porch when El Chupacabra was left there with that message.”

Stiles minds starts cranking. “You should tell my dad or —”

“Already did,” Peter interjects, waving his phone. “Talia says that the forensics report shows abnormally high levels of Coumarin, which means they'd been force fed cinnamon. Not just any cinnamon, but Saigon. There’s only one place you can buy that in this entire state, and that’s at a Vietnamese spice shop right at start of the hiking trail on the Temescal Mountains.”

“Peter,” Stiles says, dazed with realization. “Peter, that’s where Lydia was attacked.”

“Lydia? Who is — ah, the Martin girl. The one immune to the Bite,” Peter murmurs thoughtfully and his eyelids droop in serious thought. “Talia kept an eye on her after news of the animal attack hit the local papers. When she didn’t turn, well, I got curious.”

Stiles stares at Peter, gauging his expression. “You know don’t you? About — what she is?”

“Yes,” Peter confirms, staring at him intently with eyes that say that’s not all he knows. “But that’s a subject for later. Right now, I want you to tell me what you’re thinking. You look like you were on to something.”

“Huh — oh. Yeah,” Stiles says as his mind tinkers away with a sudden thought. “So you said that the reports identified high amounts of Coumarin, right? But that kind of thing can cause liver damage, it doesn’t make sense. Why would someone force feed this kind of cinnamon to their victims before slashing them open?”

Peter lifts both brows in question.

“What’s the one thing that Werewolves can’t scent past because it’s a natural odor neutralizer?” Stiles says, flailing his hands as if trying to get Peter to see the conclusion he’s come to already. “Cinnamon!” he says. “You know what I’ve learned about cinnamon in my AP Biology class? It has the effect of thinning the blood thereby increasing blood circulation. So not only did they make sure no one like you or your sister could trace their scent, but they also wanted their victims to bleed out as quickly as possible. Which also means they were probably killed in short order. This person knows exactly what they’re doing and how not to get caught. They're perceptive.

Peter’s mouth dips dourly. “What if we could trace the purchase of this particular brand of cinnamon?”

“Useless. Dude, all they’d have to do is pay with cash. That’s as untraceable as it gets,” Stiles says as he clutches the armrests of the chair he’s sitting in. “The closest bets we have are Danny, Lydia, and Deaton. Danny’s in a coma. Lydia is unhinged and won't give any straight answers that aren’t grim nursery rhymes, and Deaton needs the photos from the crime scenes to be able to tell us anything useful. We’re pretty much at a standstill until we can figure something else out.”

Peter mutters under his breath quickly. He seems inordinately perturbed. “Fine, I’ll — research. See if something stands out.” He strides out of the study without waiting for Stiles’s response, already distracted with his thoughts.

Stiles doesn’t blame him for it. He’s pretty perplexed by the whole thing himself. All he really has to go off of is a face Lydia put in his head and a nursery rhyme that doesn’t make any sense. He sighs and stands, making his way out of the study too. He finds himself on the third level of the house, standing outside of Laura’s door, and before he can even knock, she’s opening it with a look of concern.

"I was just —"

"I know. I heard you coming." Laura drags him into her purple-themed room and shuts the door behind him. Her room is bigger than Derek’s and Cora’s. Her bed looks like it goes on for miles. She’s got posters of what he can assume is all her favorite Broadway musicals, and a few pop singers like Beyoncé and Lorde.

Against the wall by the open doorway of Laura’s private bathroom, there’s a huge sparkly dog bed with a big heap of Tibetan Mastiff lying in it, blinking slowly. There are letterheads against the wall above the grey-furred dog and it reads ‘Gumdrop’.

Stiles looks at Laura and says, “Gumdrop?”

Laura grins and says, “Don’t look at me. She used to be my mom’s dog but I kinda stole her. She’s super sweet. She used to be a surrogate mom to me whenever my own had to go away on business trips when I was little. She’s not as active as she used to be because she’s getting up there in age. She mostly lazes around in here with me or in Olive’s room. She loves babies.”

Stiles snorts. “Something we have in common.”

Laura flashes him an amused smile.

Stiles continues to look around her room.

Another thing that’s noteworthy is the fact that she doesn’t have a TV. She’s just got a computer station with two large computer screens, some speakers and a sleek looking keyboard with a wireless mouse. On the other side of the room, between her dressers and under a line of windows, she has an impressive stereo system, which she has her iPod hooked up to at the very top.

It sounds like some kind of a chorus line droning through the speakers.

I Hope I Get It by Marvin Hamslich,” Laura says, answering a question he didn’t even ask. She flops facedown on her huge bed and continues flipping through one of those celebrity magazines. “It’s one of my favorites.”

Stiles kicks off his shoes and crawls up on the bed beside her until their shoulders are touching.

Laura scoots her magazine over so they can both see it properly. She props her chin in her left hand and spends the next ten minutes pointing out her favorite celebrities. She gets real stars in her eyes when she comes to full body photo of Kim Kardashian. “Ugh, her body is phenomenal.”

“I guess.”

Laura sends him an incredulous look. “There’s no guessing about it. It is.” She sighs as she drags her brown eyes back to the photo. “What I wouldn’t give…”

“Nothing. You should give nothing because you don’t need to be anymore hotter than you already are,” Stiles grumbles as he drags over one of Laura’s pillows and hugs it to his chest. "Us normal people have to fall back on our personalities."

Laura throws back her head and laughs. When she’s calmed down, she says, “Thank you. I know I’m long and lean, but sometimes a girl wants curves — and not for reasons you think. But back to you though. You’re the first boy I’ve ever seen just shrug over Ms. Kim K.”

“She’s pretty,” Stiles acknowledges. “I just — her physique is intimidating. Any fantasy I’d have about us would only be of her crushing me or suffocating me somehow with her phenomenal body.”

Laura snickers. “Okay, what kind of girl do you like?”

Stiles shrugs.

“What kind of guy?”

Stiles shrugs again.

“Do you even — does it matter either way to you?”

Stiles shakes his head no.

Laura slaps the magazine shut and gives him her undivided attention. “I’m interested now. Have you ever dated anyone?”

“I’m fifteen,” Stiles groans and rolls onto his back so he can stare up at Laura’s ceiling, which is covered with glow in the dark stars and music notes. “I’ve never even really held anyone’s hand in a romantic way.”

Laura hums thoughtfully at that as she gazes down at him.

“It doesn’t bother me, you know. I — it’s not something I think about. I mean, I do think about how attractive people are, but I get — I’m easily distracted. There’s never been anyone that could hold my attention long enough for me to consider what it would be like to do — those kind of romantic things,” Stiles explains carefully and he really hopes she gets it because that’s as good as he can do with explaining it.

Laura says, “It’s all cool. I’m sure you’ll find someone special who does make you want to think about those romantic things.”

Stiles’s cheeks go a little red and he wrinkles his nose. “Don’t tease me, please.”

“I’m not,” Laura swears. “It’s just, for a second there, I thought you were like me and Isaac.”

Stiles feels his eyebrows shoot up at that. He turns to look at her and says, “What do you mean? What does that mean?”

“I’m asexual,” Laura merely clarifies.

“Oh,” Stiles says. Then blinks and wonders if he ever took the time to notice that. “How do you know Isaac is too?”

“We talk sometimes,” Laura admits. “I got his number from Cora —"

"Hang on, how does she have his number?"

"I don't know, Stiles. You'll have to ask them, but that's besides the point," Laura says. "I got his number after that day we ran into each other at the market. I could just tell. Sometimes you can, well, when you’re a Were you can tell. You can pick up on a person’s sexual orientation because it’s somewhat a chemical thing at the very least. He didn’t smell like any other hormone-ridden prepubescent teen I’d ever ran into by far. When you have a nose like mine and a face like mine, you kind of become aware of who’s attracted to you and by what degree. Isaac’s scent stayed neutral when he looked at me, never spiking up or down. He could’ve been looking at a firefly for all I could tell. I’m kind of the same way when I look at people. I mean sure, I recognize the aesthetics in others but there’s no real sexual appeal. Does this make sense?”

Stiles nods because it does. He’d never considered that maybe Isaac might have been different in other ways, outside of the preternatural things that is. He thinks back to the times he’s seen him with Scott and Allison, how uncomfortable he’d look or embarrassed. If Stiles has to make a good guess of it, he’d say it’s probably because Isaac can smell their attraction towards him, and he doesn’t know how to handle it. He’s really shy and quiet so Stiles can see the struggle of it.

Laura shifts beside him and says, “He’s a good kid. Handsomely smart.”

“You get him to talk to you?” Stiles says as he looks at her, a little envious. “Sometimes I can’t get more than six words out of him, and that’s on a good day.”

Laura shrugs. “That’s more than I get. We mostly text. I just figured he should be able to have someone to talk to if he gets confused or concerned about something.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says quietly and he feels guilty for even feeling jealous.

Laura pokes his cheek with a grin and says, “Don’t worry, Blue. He does adore you. It's obvious to anyone with half a brain. You’re his favorite goober."

Stiles blushes and bats her finger away. “Well, I should be. I should be everyone’s favorite,” he jokes. "I am a delight."

“Totally,” Laura agrees with an affectionate smile. She sits up and says, “Time for bed.”

“It’s pretty early,” Stiles lightly points out because it is only eleven, and usually he doesn't feel the urge to drift off until sometimes around midnight on the weekends, unless he’s just really tired or stressed out. “We don’t even have school tomorrow because of the Parent-Teacher conferences,” he points out.

“I know,” Laura chirps and takes off her shirt, making Stiles squawk in surprise and slam a pillow over his face so he can preserve Laura’s modesty. “But everyone else still has school, which means breakfast will be at six like it always is and Nana’s making crêpes and I will not miss it because she makes the best crêpes.”

“Never had a crêpe before,” Stiles admits, voice muffled by the pillow.

“All the more reason to settle down for the night. Okay, you can look now.” Laura sounds amused.

Stiles cautiously removes the pillow to see that, yes, Laura is indeed properly attired with sleepwear. He says, “I want to take a shower.”

“Go for it,” Laura encourages. “I’ll get you some pajamas. Towels and stuff are in the bathroom.” She slides out of the room with bare feet.

Stiles nods and makes his way over to the bathroom, pausing briefly to pet Gumdrop, who sniffs his right hand curiously before licking the back of it and settling down to rest again.

By the time Stiles has climbed out of Laura’s shower, most likely smelling like green tea (he had to shy away from the products that had coconut in them because of his allergies) since Laura has nothing but that type of body wash and shampoo. He notices his other clothes have been removed and there’s a pair of green pajama bottoms and a grey tank top folded neatly on the sink. He doesn’t have to guess too hard about who Laura might have borrowed the clothes from.

And wow, okay, there’s even underwear.

Stiles is more of a boxers type of guy, but apparently Derek’s more of a briefs kind. God, he doesn’t stop blushing awkwardly as he slips the clothes on. He expects it to feel stiff against his skin, but it's just as soft and comfortable as though it were his own clothes. He's not going to think about it. He cuts the peculiarity out of his mind before using his toothbrush, which Laura has kindly left for him. He rinses out his mouth, flicks off the light and makes his way over to Laura’s bed when she pats the space beside her with a wide smile while wiggling her eyebrows. He huffs in amusement but makes towards the bed.

Laura grabs him as soon as he sets a knee on the edge and drags him over, hugging him close to her chest so that he’s the little spoon. “Ah, this is nice. I’ve got a nice little cuddly soft Human. I’m gonna call you Squishy,” she coos, pressing her forehead against the back of his neck.

Stiles snickers and says, “You’re ridiculous. That’s totally from Finding Nemo.”

“Shh,” Laura hushes and hugs him closer. “Sleepy time now, Squishy.”

Stiles kicks her softly in retaliation but he eventually settles. He falls asleep just as Laura tangles their legs together and rumbles contently like a little motor engine.

---

Monday morning, Laura jumps up and down on the bed while singing the Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley because she’s kind of evil like that. They get dressed separately, and Stiles is pleased to find that the clothes he came in are clean but smell like they’ve been soaked in jasmine, though not heavily so. He figures it must be a Were thing (a scenting/claiming thing). Most of the Hales here smell like they have hints of jasmine on them (Talia being the direct source as Alpha) and it mingles with their own unique scent easily. It kind of makes Stiles feels like he belongs when they treat him just as if he were another member of their pack. He slips his clothes on with a content sigh and shoots Gumdrop a thumbs-up with a happy grin.

Laura exits the bathroom and sends him an amused look before she grabs Gumdrop’s empty dual food/water bowl, taking a moment to refill it properly before setting it beside the older canine. “Come on, we can still beat the rush if we move hastily.”

Stiles laces his sneakers quickly and follows her down two flights of steps until they’re in the dining room, which is swarmed with young Hale children of all ages and sizes. Most of them are outfitted in the uniform of their academy: the boys are wearing red polo shirts under a dark blue blazer, with the insignia of the triskelion on the left breast pocket, and khaki shorts, which are belted at the waist with a leather belt; and the girls have the same, only they’re wearing plaid skirts with no belts and knee high socks with mary jane shoes.

It doesn’t look like any of their parents are around, and Stiles wonders maybe if they’ve already left for work since it seems plausible, what with it being Monday and all. He’s never seen any of the kids eat at the big table and he figures this must be a thing they’re only allowed to do when most of the adults aren’t about.

Stiles soon finds himself settling between Sabrina and Tyson at the middle of the table. Like everyone else, they’re plucking at the edible fruit bouquets strategically placed within reach. He grabs a pineapple daisy dipped in milk chocolate with a cherry center for himself, and a couple of honeydew melon and cantaloupe wedges because those are his particular favorites.

The table fills up quickly and the dining room is abuzz with excited chatter, mostly over the events they’re expecting to do at their schools today. They swap homework sheets, and copy from each other, or fight over dipped strawberries with white swirls, or star-shaped pineapple slices dipped and decorated with a smiley face.

Stiles actually gets hit in the eye with a grape that was actually originally aimed at Tyson, who snickers at him.

“Oh, I'm so sorry, Stiles!” Gracie (Tyson’s younger sister) shouts from the south end of the table and lowers the spoon she used to hurl the grape. “Tyson, it’s not funny, you stupid dipstick!”

“Yes it is,” Tyson cackles, holding his sides. “Your aim sucks, and you’re a Werewolf.

Gracie growls in annoyance, eyes flashing gold briefly before she sniffs spitefully and turns her nose up at him. She starts talking to her older cousin, Clover (Stiles thinks he’s about fourteen or so), and she ignores Tyson completely, even when he starts flinging grapes at her.

Tyson makes an unhappy sound but he stops bugging his little sister to mutter a spiteful apology that Gracie shoots him a forgiving smile for.

Sabrina pops a strawberry in her mouth and says, “It’s no fair you don’t get to go to school, Stiles.”

Stiles blinks and looks at her. He says, “Sorry? If I could — I would?”

Sabrina just rolls her eyes. “Well don’t apologize. I’m just saying. I wanna sleep in.”

“Tough,” Laura says from where she’s sitting across the table next to Derek, who has his head cradled in his arms, most likely sleeping.

Stiles is entertained by the thought that Nana Hale must make one hell of a crêpe if Derek is willing to wake up this early when he could be sleeping in.

Laura chews on some orange wedges as some of her little cousins play around in her long hair, braiding it or putting some of their school bows in. To Sabrina, she says, “Well, maybe if someone wouldn't stay up so late texting their little dreamy boyfriend, a Mr. Travis Justice...” She continues, "You'd probably get all the sleep you need then. You should go to bed when Aunt Rosemary tells you too."

Sabrina blushes with a groan like she’s dying and cups her hands over her ears. “Don’t say such evil things.”

“She’s your mother. You’re supposed to do what she says,” Laura points out sweetly.

“But you don’t always listen to yours,” Sabrina retorts (just as sweetly) and crosses her arms moodily.

Laura merely shrugs and the conversation is left at that.

Stiles watches in amusement as everyone straightens in their seats suddenly, as though they’ve been zapped, but the reaction makes sense soon enough because Cora and Nana Hale are exiting kitchen with silver trays filled with every flavor of crêpes there is. Together they pass them out and Laura has to elbow Derek awake.

Cora makes her way down the right side of the table as Nana Hale takes over the left. Cora serves Tyson, and then she skips over Stiles, and serves Sabrina.

Stiles frowns. “Um, Cora?”

Cora says, “You can’t eat these, dumbass.”

Stiles frowns even deeper. “Why not?”

“Oh my goodness, that’s right,” Nana Hale chimes from across the table where she’s serving Laura and Derek. “You know, it’s the funniest thing. I’ve always made these using coconut milk and I never would’ve thought twice about it until Cora mentioned that you had an allergy to coconut while she helped me make these this morning. So I made you a special batch. Derek, be a dear and go grab them. They should still be on the island counter.”

Derek, who’s cheeks are puffed out with nothing but strawberries and cream crêpes, grumbles in complaint.

Nana Hale cuffs him on the back of the head. “You be nice and treat our guest respectfully.”

Stiles can’t help but to tease and says, “Yeah, Derek. Where’s that famous Hale hospitality?”

Derek swallows the food in his mouth, pushes away from the table and shoots Stiles a withering look before he goes marching off towards the kitchen. He returns with a plate of peanut butter banana crêpes topped off with whipped cream and bacon shavings.

Stiles doesn’t hesitate to dig in and it is literally the best thing he’s ever tasted in ever, like wow. He repeats the feeling aloud.

Nana Hale sits at the head of the table with a smile and says, “I’ll take that as a compliment due.” Then she turns to Cora, who’s sitting beside her, and says, “Now where is that boy? Where’s Peter?”

“Nana, he said something about going to the mountains with his girlfriend Kate,” Tyson chimes between bites. “But that was late last night.”

"You're such an eavesdropper," Gracie accuses.

"Am not!"

"Are too!"

Gracie and Tyson go back and forth like this for the next few minutes.

Stiles, on the other hand, thinks about what was said. He shoves another forkful of crêpes in his mouth as he pats himself down for his phone. When he finds it he shoots Peter a text that reads: When you said you were researching, I didn’t realize that what you actually meant was you were going to circle back to those mountains!!! You better keep me updated on anything you find.

Peter's natural response is: :))

Stiles rolls his eyes at the predictability and pockets the phone again before he concentrates on clearing his plate.

Talia strides into the dining room from the kitchen, greeting her family affectionately when all the kids hop up from the table with an excited commotion. They surround her on all sides, kissing her hands or rubbing against her. She smiles at them warmly and drops kisses on their foreheads, or their cheeks, or squeezes the back of their necks affectionately. Then she says, “Alright, you guys, finish up. The bus will be here soon to pick you up. It won’t wait.”

They scramble back to their seats and begin shoveling their food into their mouths with great haste.

Talia saddles up behind Nana Hale before she leans down and accepts a kiss on the cheek from the elderly woman before she strokes a lock of Cora’s hair with tender consideration. She walks over to Laura and does the same before she drops a quick kiss to the crown of Derek’s head before ruffling the spot with her fingers. She smiles at Stiles from across the table and says, “Ready to go home?”

Stiles swallows the food in his mouth and shrugs with a nod.

“If you want, we can head out now,” Talia suggests. "Not that I'm pushing you out the door. You're welcome to stay for as long as you like."

There's a murmur of agreement around the table.

Stiles is completely warmed by their acceptance and he smiles. "Thanks, but I'm sure my dad and brother are anxious to see me. Another time. Thank you for having me."

Talia merely nods in understanding.

Stiles wipes his mouth clean and pushes away from the table.

Derek suddenly announces, “I’m coming too.” and he stands to follow his mother out of the dining room and through the kitchen to reach the garage.

Stiles takes a moment to give Laura a hug (which she milks like they'll never see each other again), and then he hugs Nana Hale, thanking her for the amazing meal.

Nana Hale just kisses the back of his right hand (as she is prone to do) when she grabs it and pats the spot sweetly, saying, “Don’t be a stranger. Come back soon. We enjoy you so very much.”

Stiles nods with a pleased flush before he gives Cora a quick hug that she doesn’t return because she’s too busy making a third plate for herself, but she does knock her head softly against his in acknowledgement. He waves goodbye at the rest of them (they return it just as enthusiastically) before he strides into and through the kitchen to head out the side door. He does pause for a moment to pet all the dogs goodbye since they’re huddled by the doorway with their bowls of food and water. He navigates his way to Talia’s car and climbs into the back seat because Derek is already sitting in the front.

Talia reverses out of the garage and starts down the driveway, out onto the private trail. She says, “Derek mentioned he’s going to be tutoring you.”

Stiles blinks as he fumbles with his seatbelt. “Uh, yes.”

Talia merely nods and leaves it at that.

Fifteen minutes later, they’re pulling into the driveway and parking behind his dad’s cruiser before they all climb out.

Stiles strides quickly so he can be the first to reach the door and he throws himself at his dad after he opens it.

His dad makes a soft sound as he keeps them upright with a chuckle, though he's not surprised by this kind of greeting. “Well, hello to you too, son.”

Stiles mumbles something similiar and hugs him tighter before letting go while he can still convince himself to. “Where’s Isaac?”

“Still at his friend’s house. He’ll be home tomorrow,” his dad reassures, patting him on the crown of his head before he urges him through the door and behind him so he can greet Talia and Derek. “I hope he didn’t give you too much trouble.”

Talia looks marginally amused. “Oh I don’t imagine so. Everyone’s quite taken with him in their own way,” she admits as she clasps a hand over the back of Derek’s neck. “This is my baby. Derek.”

Derek makes a face at the introduction but he straightens to his full height to offer his right hand to the sheriff and politely says, “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Stilinski.”

“Same here,” his dad replies, accepting the hand. “And please, just call me Sheriff. We’re all friends here.”

Stiles rolls his eyes and says, “Dad, will you stop making that joke? It’s losing value.”

“Never,” his dad vows with feigned seriousness.

Talia chuckles before she says, “Derek has kindly volunteered to tutor Stiles in Paige’s stead.”

Derek tenses notably at the mention of his ex-girlfriend and he drops his gaze to the ground with a grim frown.

“That’s very brave of him,” his dad jokes. “He does know how Stiles can be, right?”

“Hey!” Stiles says from behind him. “You don’t have to make it sound like I'm a terror and he already knows about my concentration issues, dad.”

“Just checking,” his dad quips as he lifts his hands to show he only means well. “Well, come in, come in.”

Derek steps through the door when the sheriff makes way for him and he brushes past Stiles to head towards the stairs.

“I can’t stay, though I would. I have to make some rounds to some of our schools,” Talia says. “Thank you for having my son. I’m sure he’ll be on his best behavior.” She shoots Derek a look from over their shoulders.

Stiles turns to see Derek roll his eyes with a silent nod as he jams his hands in the pockets of his jeans like the moody teen he can be sometimes. He turns back to look at Talia and she seems satisfied if not amused.

Talia reaches out and squeezes the back of Stiles’s neck as a final parting goodbye with a nod to the sheriff before she glides across the porch, down the steps and to her car.

His dad steps out the door and says, “I have to be heading to work too. You call me if you guys need something.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, a little disappointed. “You’ll be home early though, right?”

“I’ll be back in time for dinner. I still have those conferences to go to with yours and Isaac’s teachers. I’m expecting good reports,” his dad says with a look.

Stiles smiles innocently. “As far as I know, that’s what you’ll get.”

His dad rolls his eyes as he walks away and says, “I’ll pick up something on the way home tonight. Maybe from that taco place you like so much.”

Stiles perks up at that (he loves Ramona’s Taco Treasure). “Don’t forget the horchata!”

“I know what to get!”

Stiles snickers as he watches his dad climb into his squad car, back out of the drive, and roll off with one last wave. He closes the door and locks it before turning to say something to Derek, but the other teen is nowhere to be seen. He throws up his hands with an incredulous huff before he goes off in search of him.

Derek is in his room, walking around and picking up everything like he’s studying it or checking for some faults. He skims his hands over the furniture, and over the walls. He steps over to the dresser that has his stuffed wolves on top with an amused hum and pokes his letterman jacket before he moves on to fiddle with something else.

"You want your jacket back?" Stiles asks, even though he doesn't know why he would ask like that.

But Derek just shrugs, like there's no rush to retrieve his things from the sanctuary of Stiles's room. He merely says, “You’re not very organized.”

“I’m going to ignore the judgment I can hear in your tone,” Stiles retorts as he sits down at his desk, picking up his tablet so he can check his email for any local news notifications he’s subscribed to using the words ‘mauled/clawed’ or ‘animal attack’ or ‘Mayor Argent’. There’s nothing for the first two, but there is a few articles that outlines Mayor Argent’s plans to turn an abandoned car-making factory into something more useful that will be contributing to the community. There’s talks of him brokering some type of contract or deal with the company that makes Kind bars to turn the old factory into a distribution warehouse.

Stiles makes a thoughtful sound and wirelessly sends the articles to his printer to print. He sets his tablet aside, idly wondering why Derek’s been so quiet, and he pauses mid-movement when he realizes why.

Derek.

Hale.

Is.

Cleaning.

His.

Room.

“Uh — what are you — I don’t remember asking for room service — hey, put that down,” Stiles fusses as he leaps up and snatches his snow globe from the other teen, clutching it to his chest possessively. “Stop cleaning my room.”

“I can’t work in this kind of clutter. How can you?” Derek says and bypasses him to continue to clean his room.

“I work just fine. I enjoy the chaos I have created,” Stiles says mildly.

“I don’t,” Derek replies, picking up Stiles’s clothes from the floor and folding them neatly. “You can either help or keep complaining. Either way, I'm not stopping.”

Stiles grumbles fitfully for a long moment but he helps, only because he doesn’t want to run into any awkward situations where Derek finds his underwear or something equally mortifying. Between the two of them they get his room all cleared up with everything put in its proper place.

Derek skims the room with this look of satisfaction before he walks over to Stiles’s bulletin/whiteboard. He studies the articles with a furrowed brow.

Stiles leaps over, and flips it to the whiteboard side. “Don’t mind that. It’s um — yeah, a side project. So here you go.” He slaps a blue dry erase marker in Derek’s left hand before he sits down on his computer chair, folding his hands over his stomach as he gives the other teen his undivided attention.

Derek twirls the marker between his fingers skillfully like it’s a drumstick or something. He says, “What the last thing Pai — that you were taught?”

Stiles doesn’t miss the way Derek purposefully ducks around saying Paige’s name. He carefully replies, “Something about ‘if and only if’? Implications? Square roots, maybe? I think?”

Derek lifts a brow. “Okay,” he drawls before he taps his chin thoughtfully with the marker. He does this for a good minute. Then he says, “Here’s what I’m thinking.”

Stiles nods encouragingly.

“We should focus on the most common algebraic symbols,” Derek says and uncaps the marker as he starts making a list of them. He has really nice handwriting.

“You have really nice handwriting,” Stiles repeats aloud because apparently his brain wants Derek to know what it’s thinking.

Derek doesn’t stop writing but he says, “Sure. Thanks. I do what I can.” Then he writes the last symbol before he snaps the cap back on. He takes a step back to look at his handiwork before he looks to Stiles and says, “Give me the names of these.”

“That’s square root,” Stiles points out and his eyes bounce around in no particular order. “That one is the ‘if and only if’. I think that thingy right there is a radical? Um — add, subtract, divide — yeah, that’s all I got.”

“That’s not good,” Derek bluntly remarks. “You should know all of these. What was she teaching you?”

“Just how to solve for x and stuff. Oh, and I’m really good with squaring numbers, and somewhat cubes. I think because I enjoy doing those parts the most,” Stiles supposes with a shrug. 

Derek furrows his brow. “Switch places with me,” he instructs, handing Stiles the marker so he can sit down. When they do, he says, “What’s your least favorite thing about Algebra?”

“All of it.”

Derek gives him a look. “I mean what seems to be the hardest for you to understand?”

“Equations and formulas. I get it turned around in my head,” Stiles admits. “I never end up with the right answer.”

Derek hums thoughtfully as he considers it. He glances at the board and stares at it for a long moment before he says, “You like puzzles, right?”

Stiles blinks. “Uh, sure. I mean. Yeah, I like the challenge of figuring something out.”

“Well think of math like a puzzle. In fact, solving an equation is just like solving a puzzle. And like puzzles, there are things you can and cannot do,” Derek explains as he lazily twists the chair from side to side. “Write this on the board. This a list of things you can do...”

---

If Stiles thought that working with Derek would be anything like what he had with Paige, he was wrong, very, very wrong.

For one thing, he encourages Stiles to make mistakes because he believes that the mistakes will help him to remember how not to do something in a certain way. He treats everything they do like some kind of mystery or a puzzle, and he asks Stiles more questions than Stiles asks him, which is surprisingly helpful too. It gets Stiles to really think things through carefully and try to work it out himself instead of winging it until he’s being told what he should be doing, which is how it worked with Paige.

Derek’s also really good with keeping Stiles’s attention by appealing to that ambitious part of his brain that’s constantly chiming ‘what’s that, pay attention to it, that’s something interesting, do better’ and it makes Stiles file away anything he deems useful like he does whenever he’s trying to work out one of his dad’s cases. Stiles finds that he has no trouble absorbing the information after a while, even if it is still in a sporadic manner, especially since Derek treats it like jeopardy, giving him the answers with the expectation that Stiles replies in the form of a question.

Before either of them know it, the sheriff’s home with dinner.

Stiles and Derek dart down to the kitchen because they’re both equally hungry. Well, maybe Derek more so than Stiles, but that’s probably because of his Werewolf metabolism or whatever.

His dad is prepared though. He says, “I wasn’t sure what you'd like, Derek, so I got three of everything on the menu.”

Derek nods and says, “Thank you, sir. I’ll eat anything.” But then he wrinkles his nose and shoots the cup holder filled with Styrofoam cups of horchata a look and adds, “Except for that.”

Stiles shoves a taco in his mouth and snorts. “It’s the cinnamon, isn’t it?” he asks knowingly.

Derek just wiggles his eyebrows and it’s weird how expressive he is with them because Stiles totally gets that he’s says ‘yes’ without him actually saying it. He steals one of Stiles’s steak tacos.

“Yo! Whoa — that’s not allowed. Dude,” Stiles complains and hunches over his food protectively.

“I’m just keeping your math skills sharp. How many tacos do you have now?” Derek says with a mean grin as he swallows his food.

His dad chuckles and Stiles shoots him a look of betrayal as Derek steals another one of his delicious tacos.

Stiles makes an outraged sound and says, “If anyone else touches my tacos, they’re going to be counting how many fingers they have left,” Stiles warns, giving Derek a narrow-eyed look in particular.

“Lighten up, son,” his dad huffs as he powers through some chicken nachos. “There’s plenty to go around. You should be more courteous. He’s our guest.”

“Yeah,” Derek agrees, the taco-stealing traitor. “Where’s that famous Stilinski hospitality?”

“Oh, ha. Haha. Ha,” Stiles gripes, tone dripping with sarcasm. “Real clever. Didn't realize you were such a stand-up comedian.”

Derek shrugs his mouth at the same time he shrugs his shoulders and takes another one of Stiles’s steak tacos. He takes a generous bite while looking Stiles dead in his eyes and smirks.

“You’re the worst,” Stiles swears lowly, cheeks burning for a reason he can’t even name. He’s probably just really irritated. Yeah, that’s it. Derek is super annoying. He grumbles this over and over to himself like a mantra as he eats what little remains of his precious tacos.

His dad and Derek start up a debate over basketball that turns into something like waxing poetry until his dad and Derek are looking at each other like long lost friends reunited.

Stiles rolls his eyes and laughs quietly as he shakes his head. He wipes his mouth clean, pushes away from the table as he grabs two cups of horchata and says, “I’ll just give you two a minute alone.”

His dad and Derek shoot him a flat look that’s almost eerily identical and that’s when Stiles knows he’s absolutely done.

Stiles tucks away in the living room and tries to watch TV but that doesn’t work out because Derek and his dad totally takeover and turn on a stupid basketball game. It’s something like the Chicago Bulls versus the Boston Celtics. He doesn’t stick around to watch it because he’s honestly not into the sport. Lacrosse is more of his thing.

He goes up to his room and logs on to Skype to catch up with Scott for a bit since sometimes when they don’t talk for more than a few hours it ends up feeling like forever. They talk about Danny’s condition (which is gradually but surely improving), and Stiles feels an itch in the back of his mind that says he’s forgetting something but he can’t figure out what it is. He doesn’t get around to figuring out what it is because Scott lures him into a discussion about the direction of Naruto’s plotline and what it could potentially mean for how Kishimoto plans on ending the popular manga series.

Somehow they end up in a heated debate over who would win in a fight. Scott says Sasuke but Stiles is adamant Naruto would, ignoring Scott’s argument about how if Naruto wasn’t the vessel for the Nine Tails then he would be no more skilled than any other ninja in the Leaf Village and Stiles just goes off.

This lasts for a good hour before they decide to just agree to disagree because it’s not worth losing their friendship over the fictional lives imaginary characters. They trade a few cheat codes for a few video/online games they’re trying together before they part ways amicably.

Stiles calls Isaac and immediately complains when the preteen picks up. “You said you’d be home today,” he whines.

Sorry,” Isaac says quietly, but he doesn’t really sound sorry at all. He mostly just sounds tired and worn out. “Boyd’s mom wanted to take us to Six Flags and so she did. We’re still driving back. It’ll be late before we reach Beacon Hills.

Stiles frowns and scrubs at the stubble of his hair with his free hand. “Fine. Text me when you get to Boyd’s house or whatever. I’ll just worry if you don’t.”

Isaac just hums.

“Goodnight,” Stiles says and smiles when Isaac returns it softly before he hangs up. He’s about to put his phone on the charger when Laura calls him. He picks up on the third ring. “Hello?”

Chutzpah!” Laura says, sounding really annoyed.

Stiles blinks and spins in his chair. “What? Am I supposed to know what that means? Is that a new greeting?”

Laura scoffs and says, “No, but Cora is trying to make that pass as a word. We’re playing Scrabble.

Stiles makes a sound of understanding as he plants his feet on the floor so he can stop his chair from spinning.

Derek chooses this moment to stroll into his room like he owns the place, and he wanders over to Stiles’s bookshelf to sift through his modest collection of comics. He chooses a Batman one and makes himself comfortable on Stiles’s bed.

Stiles makes a face at him. “Shouldn’t you be on your way home?”

"I am home," Laura replies, confused.

"No, not you," Stiles corrects, distracted. "Seriously. You should head home, right?"

“Nope. Your dad I said I could stay the night,” Derek replies, flipping through the comic lazily.

Is that Derek?” Laura says in his ear, already knowing the answer. “Hey, Der-Bear! Miss you already. Cora’s trying to cheat in Scrabble.

Am not. Don’t be such a wimp,” Cora gripes.

Derek snorts.

Laura continues, addressing Stiles this time, “Cora told me to call you because you’d confirm that it’s legit.

“What?”

Chutzpah.

“Oh,” Stiles says. “Um.” He takes a moment to think. Then he says, “Yeah, sorry. It’s legit. We learned about it in our AP English class. It’s Yiddish. It can mean either extreme self-confidence or shameless impudence.”

Damn,” Laura swears lowly.

Ha! Suck it!” Cora exclaims. “That gives me 383 points. I win.

Laura starts fussing at Cora and Stiles doesn’t get to hear the whole argument because she hangs up on him midsentence.

Derek snorts again.

Stiles hooks up his phone to his charger, which is plugged into the USB port of his laptop, and he calls Kira. She picks up on the second ring.

Stiles? Hey.

Stiles snickers and says, “Yup. That’s me. What are you doing?”

Nothing, why?

“So you remember when you said you were going to sing for me? You should do that now.” Stiles glances at the timestamp on his laptop. It reads 9:27 pm. It’s still a reasonable hour. “Come on. You can perform while we jump on my trampoline. Or is that too gravitationally challenging for you?”

Kira laughs happily. “Nope, I am totally ace at singing and trampolines.

“Well let’s do it,” Stiles decides. “Meet you in five,” he says and hangs up when she agrees. He pauses when he sees a notification pop up on the screen of his phone with an invitation from both Laura and Cora to play Ruzzle. He accepts before he puts his phone to sleep and kicks off his shoes. He doesn’t usually like to jump on the trampoline with them on. He yanks his hoodie off and throws it at Derek.

Derek pulls it off his head with an annoyed face.

“You coming?” Stiles asks.

Derek furrows his brow and looks at him like he’s an idiot. “No. Why would I?”

Stiles shrugs and exits the room, making his way down the stairs, cutting off all the lights when he sees his dad isn’t around (probably already in bed or something), and he wanders out the back door. He jogs down the steps and climbs onto his trampoline.

Two minutes later, Kira joins him with her guitar.

Stiles hops around and says, “Alright. I’m all ears. Hit me with your best shot.”

Kira totally does. She sings the Skinny Love cover by Birdy and nails every note, not only with her voice but on her guitar as well. She’s got a very tempered voice. When she’s done, Stiles makes sure to cheer extra loud. She blushes, pleased.

“You ever consider doing YouTube videos? I bet you’d get a major following,” Stiles says with certainty.

Kira shrugs as she bounces around. “My mom wouldn’t approve. She’d think it was a distraction from my true destiny. Whatever that means.”

“Parents are weird,” Stiles offers.

Kira rewards him with another smile. “How was your weekend? I noticed you were away. I mean — not like in a stalking kind of way but — I just hadn’t seen you. Not that I was looking or waiting for you or anything. Oh god, am I creeping you out?”

Stiles just barks out a laugh as he jumps higher. “Nah. I know what you’re trying to say.”

The color in Kira’s cheeks slowly fades away and she looks at him from under her eyelashes with a shy smile.

“My weekend was eventful. I was at my friend’s house. One of them even followed me home like an annoying puppy,” Stiles says, glancing up at his window with a mischievous grin. He laughs fully when Derek sticks his head out the window a second later and glares at him. “Oh look. There he is. We call him Derek.”

Kira waves up at him. “Hi, Derek. I’m Kira.”

Derek just salutes her before he glares at Stiles one more time and disappears.

“He seems nice,” Kira supposes as she goes to the opening of the trampoline and sets her guitar on the ground before bouncing back over to Stiles. “My weekend was spent mostly unpacking.”

“Oh yeah?” Stiles says and grabs her hands, trying to get her to bounce higher with him. “My dad and I still haven’t really unpacked everything too. Mainly pictures but that’s because —” of mom. He doesn’t say it. He can’t. “— just because,” he finishes lamely.

Kira nods but she’s blushing again for some reason. She squeezes his hands and says, “I didn’t shock you this time.”

“Huh,” Stiles says as he realizes. “Do you think its because I’m made of rubber, and you’re made glue?”

“And whatever I say bounces off of you and sticks to me?” Kira finishes with a humored smile. “You’re a dork.”

“Okay, that’s fine. But we’re holding hands and the laws of biology states that now you’ve contracted my dorkiness too,” Stiles says with a mock serious tone.

“Oh really?” Kira laughs. “Now how will I find a husband?”

“We can marry each other,” Stiles supposes, feigning a put-upon sigh. “Think about it. We’ll be Mr. and Mrs. Lame-Dork.”

Kira tosses her head back and belts out an impressive laugh.

Stiles grins as he watches her, pleased with himself. “Your laugh is really colorful. I like it.”

Kira colors and stumbles suddenly, flailing her arms and grabbing on to Stiles until they both go crashing into the protective net and onto the grass with a painful thud.

Stiles groans and tries to worm free as Kira does the same. Somehow in all the commotion, they end up smacking their foreheads together, and hissing with a pained sound as they clutch the sore spots.

Stiles says, “God, we are such a hot mess right now.”

“The hottest,” Kira agrees as she manages to find her way out of the net. She helps Stiles out and they stumble a bit when he springs to his feet because when she pulls him, she tugs him harder than either of them expect. She blushes and says, “Sorry, I — I’m sorry. This is horrible. I’m such a klutz.”

“It’s okay,” Stiles soothes. “So am I. It was bound to happen sooner or later. What’s that one saying?”

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong?” Kira supplies with a fading blush.

“Yup. That’s the one,” Stiles says, snapping his fingers. “Murphy’s Law.” He chuckles. “That’s totally what I was thinking. You and I?” He points back and forth between them. “Total like minds.”

Kira ducks her gaze with another pleased grin as she tucks her hair behind her ears. “I’m sorry about your net.”

Stiles scratches the back of his head as he looks down at the mangled and twisted net. “Well, that’s what it’s for. We probably would’ve broke some bones if it hadn’t been there,” he supposes.

Kira opens her mouth to say something but her mom appears on their back porch with a sharp, “Kira.” Then she says something in Japanese that sounds suspiciously like a reprimand.

Kira’s mouth twists unhappily and she looks to Stiles. “I have to go. Thanks for the jam session and cushioning my fall.”

“I’m a good husband,” Stiles jokes and he smiles when Kira cheers up with a grin. “Go. Your mom’s glaring at me. I think she knows we got married without her permission,” he stage-whispers.

Kira blushes with an explosive laugh, smacking a hand over her mouth to stifle it before she grabs her guitar off the ground quickly, and stumbles towards her house when her mother shouts at her in Japanese again.

Stiles waves sheepishly at the Mrs. Yukimura when she gives him a narrow-eyed look that could potentially thaw ice. He turns away and kicks the mangled net under the trampoline, figuring he can swindle Isaac into helping him fix it later, before he strides up the steps and into his house. He locks the door behind him and makes his way up the stairs.

Derek is exiting the bathroom, using the back of his hand to dry his mouth. He says, “I couldn’t find an extra toothbrush so I used yours.”

Stiles jaw drops, appalled. “You’re lying!”

Derek grins wolfishly before he swaggers into Stiles’s room.

Stiles rushes into the bathroom only to find that his toothbrush is bone-dry, but one of the spares his dad keeps around for guests and family is lying off too the side. He pretends he can’t hear Derek snickering in the other room as he grumbles under his breath about unwanted, rude houseguests that think they’re so funny but they aren’t.

Stiles brushes his teeth quickly and enters his room to find Derek wearing a pair of his pajama bottoms and no shirt as he does some sets of push-ups. He flushes and complains, “You’re acting a little too at home. I didn’t do this at your house. I kept my polite little hands to my polite little self.”

Derek shrugs and rolls onto his back to do some stomach curls.

Stiles can’t even fathom the audacity of this guy and he grumbles while he goes about finding some sleepwear for himself. He changes quickly and climbs into his bed to settle down.

Derek follows not long after, settling on the other side, and lays on his stomach, facing his head away from Stiles as he tucks his arms below the pillow under his head.

Stiles sighs and says, “You could’ve turned off the light.”

“I could’ve,” Derek agrees tiredly.

Stiles rolls his eyes and slides out of bed to do it himself. He stumbles and falls twice on his way to the bed with a mangled swear. He glares at Derek in the dark when the other teen laughs quietly. He grabs Derek’s wolves off of his dresser and hurls them at him, missing horribly because it’s so dark and his eyes haven’t even adjusted yet.

Derek still makes a displeased sound, like they actually hit him or something. He gathers all three of them since they’re in reaching distance and he cuddles them close, nosing at their fur like he’s looking for something.

Stiles slides back into bed and watches him in amusement before he turns on his side (facing away from Derek) before squirming until he feels comfortable enough to just lie there and wait for sleep.

It goes quiet.

Then Derek says, "Here."

Stiles has no time to prepare before Derek is shoving two of his stuffed wolves in his direction. "Ow — hey, easy with Sly and Truth. They're soft, but they're not that soft. And neither am I for that matter."

Derek gives a noticeable pause in the dark.

Stiles flushes when he realizes what he let slip and he quickly turns away so he can hide his blushing face between the grey and white wolves taking up residence in his arms.

"You — you named them," Derek marvels.

Stiles just mumbles incoherently as his face continues to burn. He's going to melt right through the bed.

Derek doesn't say anything for a long time (which is worrying enough).

Stiles can still feel his gaze burning up his back and he fidgets.

Derek clears his throat a couple of times before he asks, "So, uh...which one is Sly, and which one is Truth?"

"God," Stiles whines, mortified. "Can't you let me die in peace?"

Derek laughs gently and nudges him. "I'm really not making fun."

Stiles scoffs but refuses to remove his pink face from the sanctuary of the stuffed wolves's bodies.

"Seriously. I just — I think it's cool," Derek admits, tone gentle. "Which is which?"

Stiles has to fight every instinct in his body that tells him to pretend to fall asleep so he can be done with this embarrassing situation. Instead, he takes a deep breath, lifts his head a little so he can blink lazily at his nightstand, and says, "Sly is the white one. Truth is the grey one."

Derek makes a thoughtful noise that almost sounds like he's impressed. "And the black one?" he presses.

"Chaos," Stiles reluctantly replies. 

"I'm guessing you named them after the situations you earned them in," Derek supposes because he can be annoyingly perceptive when he wants to be.

Stiles doesn't bother confirming it. He just shrugs as the color finally recedes from his cheeks and his ears.

Derek shifts on his side of the bed and Stiles feels like he can breath a little easier without Derek's gaze burning holes into his back.

It goes quiet again.

Stiles is drifting off to sleep to the sound of the crickets chirping outside his open window as the scent of jasmine and vanilla consumes his senses.

Derek decides this is the perfect time to say, “Wanna hear the best basketball joke in the world?”

“What? No.”

“Shh, I'm talking to Chaos, not you."

"I hate you."

"What's that Sly?"

"You are the Devil."

"Truth wants to hear it too?"

"I'm in bed with Satan right now."

"Well...if you three insist..." Derek goes on, like he can't hear Stiles at all. "Gotta give my wolves what they want."

"I vote no because I don't want to hear it."

"Tough luck. That's four against one, so I’m telling the joke anyway,” Derek decides. “Why can’t you play sports in the jungle?”

Stiles refuses to ask.

Derek just waits patiently.

Stiles purses his lips and sighs (his own accursed curiosity getting the best of him). “Why?”

“Because of the cheetahs.”

Stiles starts laughing even though it’s so not funny but he can’t help it.

"Get it? Cheetahs."

“Oh my god,” Stiles gasps, laughing harder. “I hate you so much for that.”

Derek hums but he sounds so unbelievably smug.

“Seriously. You’re the worst,” Stiles swears. He laughs a little bit more before he settles down. “Cheetahs,” he scoffs. “That’s awful.”

“You still laughed.”

“Nope. I had a mental breakdown.”

Derek snorts.

“Okay, I’m going to sleep now,” Stiles announces, snuggles closer to two of Derek's wolves, and closes his eyes to do just that.

---

The next day, while Stiles is in his Algebra II class (totally acing his quiz), Derek, like the dark-hearted person he is, sends him a text that’s basically just a picture of cheetahs.

Stiles gives an ugly snort that signals the attention of his classmates and he blushes, sinking down in his seat when Mrs. Cassidy gives him a reprimanding glare. He shoots Derek a reply that reads:

That’s not funny.

You still laughed, didn’t you?

You’re the worst. I’m taking a quiz. I don’t need this in my life.

Just admit that’s the best joke you ever heard and I’ll leave you alone.

Fine. It was funny. In a totally lame, freakish way.

See. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Now say I’m the king of jokes.

What? No way, you loser. I’m ignoring you now.

Stiles turns off his phone and forces himself to concentrate on quiz.

It takes a few tries, but he manages it.

Stupid Derek and his stupid jokes.

Chapter Text

During Astronomy, his teacher begins an exuberant lecture about the possibility of life on other planets, or even the odds of being able to inhibit those planets that can sustain life, should Earth fail to provide it’s natural resources. This is something his teacher does every week on Tuesday, and Stiles enjoys the laidback lecturing because he can just focus on some of his other homework and have a good portion of it done by the time he gets home.

In between doing some worksheets from both his AP Biology and Algebra II class, or doodling some triskelions and triquetras in the margins of his notebook, he texts Derek, who is still being ridiculously smug about the fact that he can send Stiles the picture of a cheetah a million times per second and still get him to laugh. Stiles is just about to threaten to block Derek’s number if he doesn’t quit it when Peter sends him a text that reads:

You know how you can be looking for one thing? :))

And you find something else? :))

But it’s still another thing you were looking for? :))

Please explain.

Well. :))

Concerning our little cinnamon-monster thing. :))

I’ve hit a dead end, even with doing some tracking throughout the trail that loops around the mountains and around the shop too. :))

But good news still. :))

I found the mermaid’s nest. :))

I’ve found them. :))

They’ve been staying in the Santa Ana River. :))

But a few of their more rebellious teens have wandered off. :))

Is this why you asked me about them in the first place? Did you encounter the “rebellious teens” or something?

Not in physical form. :))

But they haven’t been as careful as they’d like to think. :))

I think a few of them have been camping out in my family’s river. You remember the one. :))

Uh, sure?

Well the point I’m trying to get to is that this nest of mermaids have dwelled here for a long time, and they’re famous for being clairvoyants. :))

They might be able to help us with our problem. :))

Let me guess, we have to help them with their problem first.

You’ve always been more clever than most. :))

They could be of great help to us. :))

You just have to help me track down some of their kids, though, keep in mind that by this time they’ll have probably incited the spell they need in order to be able to walk amongst the land folk. :))

Oh great. So basically what would have been easy at first just got twenty times as hard.

I believe in you. :))

Don’t. I never agreed to help.

But you will. :))

Negotiable. Seriously negotiable.

If you say so. :))

I’ll be back on Thursday. :))

Kate and I have decided to stick around for a little longer. :))

Keep me updated on any new developments, either with the missing mermaids or the cinnamon-monster. :))

And be safe. If you let anyone harm you while I’m too far to do anything about it, I’ll shake you until go to sleep. :))

Dude! What the hell? That’s not something you say if you’re trying to show you have a heart!

Who says I have one? :))

Stiles rolls his eyes and shakes his head before he pockets his phone. He tries to catch up on the lecture, but his mind is already away from him.

God, this is his life now.

---

Laura’s at it again. She’s passing out campaign flyers for Prom at lunch.

Stiles can only watch her in amusement as he and Kira carry their food trays over to the usual spot. Derek and Cora are already sitting across from each other, fighting over some slushies.

Laura is wearing a purple tribal print romper with her raven hair falling big and beautifully around her shoulders. She’s totally wearing make-up too, not that she needs it, but Stiles has seen her use this ploy before back during Spirit Week when she was politicking for Homecoming Queen.

Cora reaches out and grabs Stiles when he makes it to their table, dragging him onto the bench in the space besides hers, which forces Kira to sit on the other side with Derek.

Stiles gently pries Cora's fingers away and says, “Kira, you’ve met Derek already since he stuck his big head out my window last night, and walked with us to school this morning. This is Cora. Our favorite prickly cactus.”

Cora, surprisingly, doesn’t glare at him for the introduction. She eases closer to Stiles until their sides are flushed together while she gazes at Kira intently like she’s trying to make some sort of weird point.

Kira blushes and shoots glances between them. “I — it’s nice to meet you, Cora. Stiles has told me such —” She seems to be looking for an appropriate word. “— things about you,” she finishes lamely and squirms for it.

Cora cocks her head with a light smirk as she throws her right arm over Stiles’s shoulder. “Oh really? How fascinating. He’s told me practically nothing about you,” she lightly replies.

Derek snorts around a mouthful of chili-nachos like he totally gets what Cora’s trying to do and he says nothing as he watches this whole thing unfold.

Stiles glares at him a little for it because he had expected Cora to be hostile but he never expected anything like this. She’s got her left hand on his thigh as she hangs all over him like she can’t hold herself up. He says, “Uh, yeah, I really haven’t got around to telling you guys how awesome Kira is.”

Kira beams at that.

Cora scowls and the hand she has on Stiles’s thigh twitches like she’s trying to keep her claws in.

Stiles squirms and carefully pushes her hand away, which helps nothing because her hand ends up right where it was again. “Um, Cora — is there something you want to tell me?” he asks.

Cora looks at him with a blankly innocent face as she lifts her arm off his shoulders to stroke the edge of his left ear. “I just, you know, missed you I guess,” she says.

Kira’s smile shrinks a little. She looks down and pokes at her salad.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I literally saw you over an hour ago,” he points out.

Cora shrugs and finally moves to start eating, giving Stiles room to breathe and really process her weird behavior. She’s looking smugly satisfied for some reason, and he doesn’t miss the way she shoots Kira these little glances.

Stiles looks at Derek for some clarification but he just smirks with a meager shrug. Stiles sighs and gives up. He’s too hungry anyway.

Two military jets pass overhead with a loud sound.

Stiles dips a chicken-strip in his small cup of ketchup and says, “They must be doing drills or something. I’ve seen those planes at least six times today.”

Derek shrugs again and Cora glances up like she’s waiting to see it for herself.

Kira just continues to poke at her salad like she doesn’t plan on eating it at all.

Stiles frowns with concern and he nudges her foot with his own until she looks up. “You want my slushie? You didn’t get one,” he says, because he’d noticed.

Kira smiles a little with a nod and accepts it. She glances over at Cora from under her eyelashes and she doesn’t stop grinning.

Cora looks ready to snap her plastic fork in half.

Stiles doesn’t get where all this tension is coming from. There's no reason why Cora shouldn't like Kira.

Derek steals a couple of Stiles’s fries since he’d finished his own. He says, “That quiz you had in math. How do you think you did?”

Stiles pulls his tray out of the other teen’s reach. “I need you to stop taking my food or we can’t be on speaking terms,” he warns. Then he says, “For once, I think I did really good, and I don’t usually feel confident like that.”

Derek smiles in an approving manner and Stiles gets a little distracted by how nice it is for like a split second. He says, “When did you want to go to the guidance counselor’s office so we can make it official?”

Stiles shrugs and goes back to eating his chicken-strips when he’s certain that Derek won’t take anymore of his fries. “We can go after lunch is over,” he supposes.

Derek nods and goes back to sipping on his slushie. By the color of his lips, it’s obvious he’s drinking the sour apple one.

Those two military jets pass overhead with a loud sound and Stiles watches them circle above before disappearing from sight again. His brow furrows as the back of his mind itches with something that’s almost like a keen awareness. It kind of feels like déjà vu almost.

Kira flags his attention away from the matter when she says, “So there’s this movie.”

Stiles looks at her and nods to show her he’s paying attention.

Kira looks a little nervous. “I just — it’s got Christina Ricci and it’s like a historical movie or whatever. She’s like this axe-murderer or something and — the reviews online looked positive — though I can’t really say for sure. You know with these kinds of movies it can be hit or miss and she’s been out of the game for what feels like a long time. Or maybe I just haven’t really been hearing about her other projects or whatever, but I think if they were any good they would have been worth mentioning —”

“Can you get to the point already?” Cora rudely interrupts and Stiles nudges her with his elbow warningly.

Kira flushes and clears her throat. “Right, well — I thought maybe, you know, if you wanted, Stiles — we could, um, go? Together?”

Stiles doesn’t answer right way. He’s thinking of everything he has to do this week. First, there’s the thing with the Mermaids. And then his father has to still give him those photos so he can take it to Deaton and get his input on the situation. Then there’s the class trip he and Cora are supposed to be taking this Saturday for their AP Biology class out to Chicago. He hasn’t even told his dad about that yet. Plus he wanted to pay Lydia another visit before he went out of town, just to check up on her and see how she’s doing. He worries sometimes.

Kira fidgets at his silence and says, “It’s okay if you didn’t want to —”

“No, no,” Stiles quickly reassures. “Sorry, I was just thinking. Checking my mental calendar. I don't know if — there’s just a lot of things I have to do this week.”

Kira looks like she’s trying to mask her disappointment.

Stiles makes it a point to add, “But next week I’m pretty wide open if you, uh, still wanted to go?”

Kira perks up at that and nods.

Cora says, “It’s been a while since I’ve been to the movies too. Why don’t I tag along?”

Kira presses her lips together and she looks like she’s trying to keep her expression neutral.

Derek snorts and says, “I don’t think that invitation was for you.”

Cora glares at him. “She doesn’t mind if I come.” She turns her glare to Kira. “Right, Kira? I mean, it’s not like it’s a date or anything.”

Kira chokes, face burning hotly, and says, “Nope. Nope. Yup, you should totally come. I’d — three’s a company, as they say. Okay, I have to go now.” She picks her tray and flees.

Stiles watches her stumble away with a frown. A gob of defensive anger strings around the teeth of his ribs and gets tangled up in a web of irritation. He looks at Cora who tries to look at him as impassively as possible. “Don’t,” he says. “Don’t treat her like that, okay? I get that you’re — that you don’t really like people much or anything, or you’re a certain way with people outside of your wolfy circle, but she’s really nice and funny and sweet and I like her. She doesn’t deserve to be pricked by your thorny personality.”

Cora purses her lips and she looks angry too. “I’m doing you a favor, dumbass. You really think she’s just wants to be —"

"Yeah, well, don't bother doing me any favors like that," Stiles snaps.

"Ugh. You know what? Forget it. I’ll let it blow up in your face while I’ll play the nice little Human.” Cora bats her hair over her shoulder and it hits Stiles in the face. “Don’t expect me to like her though because that’s not me. I don’t kiss people’s ass.”

“I don’t expect anything from you,” Stiles merely replies with thinly veiled frustration because that isn’t what he meant at all.

"Then what, huh? What would make you happy?" Cora snidely replies. "How should I be?"

“I’m not asking you to be anything you're not. Don't you get it?" Stiles exclaims. "I'm not asking — I would never ask you to change. I’m just asking you not treat my friends like garbage and really I shouldn't have to ask for that courtesy, Cora,” he says as he gathers all his things and walks away because he doesn’t want to say anything else he might regret later. His hands are shaking by the time he dumps his tray and he has to jam them in his pockets.

Derek runs to catch up with him. He doesn’t say anything, which Stiles really appreciates because he’s not up for conversation.

Together they go to the main office and sit on the bench outside of the guidance counselor’s office. It takes a little while for them to see Victoria because she has quite a line of people already waiting for her. That might have something to do with the fact that the school year is coming to a close. But when they do see her, it’s a quick process. She doesn’t ask many questions about what happened with Paige, partly because she seems to be in a rush and extremely busy as is.

Stiles and Derek sign their new tutoring contract and that’s the end of that. They exit the main office together and start a lazy pace through the (now empty) halls. They end by the stairwell, and Derek grabs his elbow so they can pause there.

Stiles raises both eyebrows and looks at him expectantly.

Derek says, “Cora’s not too complicated.”

“Well, I know that,” Stiles says with a questioning frown. He’s a lot calmer now than he was before, and he just feels more anxious than he does irate about their little falling out. "I just...yeah, I get it. I get how she is."

“Look, I’m not just saying this because I’m her older brother,” Derek clarifies, tugging Stiles closer like he wants this conversation to remain private, even though they are literally the only two people in the hall. “She likes you. She doesn’t really bother with people outside of our family. She’s selective like that. She’s always been rough around the edges and she’s selfish in the most unapologetic way. That being said, don’t expect her to apologize for how possessive she acts with you.”

Stiles fidgets with a heady sigh, and Derek’s words do nothing but leave him feeling weary, kind of like he’s been stretched too thin. “Yeah, I never thought she would,” he says quietly. 

“She won't,” Derek confirms. “But you were right to say what you said to her."

Stiles just makes a thoughtful sound. He's becoming emotionally tired over this.

"Cora thinks she can..." Derek pauses to find the right words. "Sometimes she needs to be reminded that it’s not okay to treat everyone with that kind of attitude. Mom does what she can at times, and Laura and I try to get on her case too. Sometimes Uncle Peter will say something to reel her in. She’s a tough girl, but she’s not a bad person.”

Stiles shakes his head. “I don’t think that she’s a bad person. I like how abrasive Cora can be. But Kira is — she’s a lot like me. When I first moved here it was — it’s just always hard to make friends. Or not feeling like you’re annoying everyone you meet because you stick out like a sore thumb.”

Derek cocks his head at that. “You think you stick out like a sore thumb?”

“Kinda? Yes? I don’t know, it’s just — I have a thing about that,” Stiles admits and tries not to fidget under Derek’s searching gaze. “I’m only — look, can we not talk about me? We’re talking about your sister and how she possibly scared off one of the best next door neighbors I’ve had in a long time?”

Derek looks amused. “Oh yeah. Peter told me about the Ghoul thing.”

“He shouldn’t have,” Stiles complains. “You’ve got better things to do than to hear about my crazy luck.”

“I thought it was funny,” Derek admits and smiles widely when Stiles glares at him. “I’m kidding.”

“And we’ve discussed that. You’re not funny,” Stiles grumbles and brushes Derek’s hand away because he's still gripping his elbow. “Now, are we going to go to class or are we going to —”

Bilinski! There you are!”

Derek and Stiles turn to see Coach Finstock striding down the hall towards them.

Coach Finstock says, “Listen, I need you here for the game tonight. I’m going to have to play you since three of our players came down with some weird freaky flu called dilutional hyponatremia or something, I don’t know. I kind of drifted in and out when their parents were talking to me.” He glances at Derek with narrowed eyes and sizes him up. “You’re not on my team are you? Jesus, I should really be keeping track of this.”

Derek shakes his head and says, “Lacrosse is not my thing. I’m on the basketball team.”

“That’s right,” Coach Finstock with a look of dawning and he shakes Derek’s hand with a zealous smile. “I was there at the game before spring break and I have to say you have one hell of a wrist.”

Derek smirks. “Well thank you for saying as much. I do what I can.”

Stiles rolls his eyes.

“You know, if you ever get sick of that court, you can come out to the fields and give it a try. We’d be happy to have you,” Coach Finstock says and he lets go of Derek so he can clap a hand over Stiles’s shoulder in a jilting way. “I can’t pretend I don’t need it.”

“That’s flattering, but like I said, I’m not much for lacrosse,” Derek reiterates with an apologetic shrug that’s not sincere in the least. “And since you were so nice enough to come to one of my games, why don’t I come to yours?”

“Or you could not,” Stiles suggests because he has a feeling that Derek isn’t offering to be nice. He’s offering to be rudely funny and probably to watch Stiles fumble around.

Derek ignores him but his smirk does widen which only confirms Stiles’s theory. “I’ve never been to a lacrosse game, but I think it’s about time I see what all the fuss is about.”

“Please do. It’s a rousing sport. Doesn’t get much credit,” Coach Finstock says before he looks to Stiles. “For the love of all things mighty, Bilinski. Please don’t be late.” And with that he’s off.

Stiles shoots Derek a look and says, “You’re not really going to come are you?”

Derek straightens, and he has just an inch over Stiles but he manages to use that to his advantage as he gives a wolfish grin. “It almost sounds like you don’t want me to come, Bilinski.”

“That’s because I don’t. I really don’t. I am not trying to be subtle about that at all,” Stiles replies honestly. “I’m going to eat so much grass tonight. I haven’t been to practice in forever. Maybe I should just phone it in to the hospital right now. Tell them to get that stretcher ready.”

Derek snorts. “You know, the main thing is that confidence is key.”

“Don’t try and be my Yoda about this,” Stiles mutters as he crosses his arms. “Confidence will mean nothing if the other players run me over.”

“Why’d you even join the team if you were worried about that?” Derek asks with a hint of exasperation.

“It’s — never mind, don’t pay attention to me. It’s just the nerves talking,” Stiles reasons with a sigh. “But seriously, are you going to be there tonight?”

“Yeah, but only because you don’t want me to,” Derek admits with a mean grin. “Laura and I will even make you a sign and everything. You know, really show our support.”

“Unbelievable,” Stiles mumbles, giving Derek a flat look. “You just get a kick out of messing with me, don’t you?”

Derek just shrugs the corners of his mouth at the same time he shrugs his shoulders. Then he says, “Later.”

“Later,” Stiles returns as he watches the other teen stride down the hall and disappear around the corner. His mouth twists thoughtfully as he wanders in search of his locker. He’s entering the combination when a chill zips up his spine, causing him to straighten and he turns in time to see Mayor Argent striding down the hall with Garret and Violet on either side of him.

They all look at Stiles as they pass him, and it feels like he’s watching it happen in some kind of eerie slow motion the way they all smirk slowly in unison as they eye him like they know something he doesn’t. The moment their eyes connect with his feels like it happens for an age because everything goes deathly quiet as they slowly glide past him with darkly ambitious eyes.

They eventually look away as they continue on in the direction of the main office, smirks still firmly planted on their faces as their pace never stutters and the sound of the world comes rushing through again, breaking through the momentary moment of mute stillness.

Stiles watches them disappear into the main office as something cold seeps into his bones and his gut twinges in alarm.

He can’t figure out what it is about them.

But he knows it’s nothing good.

---

When school ends, Stiles looks for Kira but she’s nowhere to be found. He has a sinking feeling that she might be avoiding him because of the whole lunch incident. He sends her a few texts to apologize and makes his way to his brother’s school on his bike.

Isaac is waiting out front with Boyd. And the thing is that they’re not even talking or looking at each other. They’re sitting on the curb, side by side with shoulders touching and with their hands folded together between their knees. They seem content to just sit there quietly and let the world continue to move around them.

Stiles finds it curious, but he doesn’t find it strange. He’s glad Isaac has found a friend in Boyd — someone who he can relate to in some way or another. He rolls to a stop before them and says, “Hey, Boyd. Is it fair for me to assume that you’re trying to steal my brother?”

“Yes, I think that’s very fair and accurate to assume because that is what I’m trying to do,” Boyd says with a sarcastic smile.

“Oh,” Stiles laughs. “Well at least you're honest about it.”

Boyd stands and claps their hands together. “Hey, man. I’m just keeping it real,” he says with mock sincerity as they release each other’s hands. “What’s going on with you, though? Got any plans tonight?”

“Lacrosse game,” Stiles admits and shrugs. “Other than that. No.”

Boyd hums thoughtfully just as Erica strolls up to them in a scandalously tight nylon dress. She says, “What’s going on, clits?”

Isaac fidgets and looks in the opposite direction with a frown.

Stiles makes a face and says, “Hey, Erica. Charming as always.”

Erica gives a curtsy while holding up two middle fingers before she digs into her cleavage for a cigarette and a lighter. “Seriously, though. Tell me you guys have some plans because I cannot hang with Jackson and the rest of them. Total downers. All they ever want to do is go to hospitals.”

“Yeah but the thing about that is that people who have friends in those hospitals want to visit out of concern,” Boyd explains and gives Erica this disgruntled look. “I don’t know why you’re acting shady, but you need to remember that you grew up with Lydia and Danny too.”

Erica flicks her thumb over her metal lighter and takes a deep drag as she lights the tip of her cigarette. She exhales a long stream of grey smoke in Boyd’s face. “Grew up, Vernon,” she replies. “That’s all we did. Grow up together. I wasn’t swapping tampons with Lydia, and I sure as hell wasn’t trading makeup tips with Danny.” She smiles sweetly as her cigarette hangs limply between her cherry red lips as she pats Boyd on the cheek. “Trust me, sweetheart. If it was you lying in a hospital bed, all bandaged up and bruised,” she says as she slides her hand down the side of his neck and to his wide chest. “I’d play nursemaid for you in a heartbeat,” she finishes with a wink and plucks her cigarette from her mouth to flick some ash off the tip.

“You know you could get expelled for that right?” Stiles points out.

Erica shrugs like she doesn’t care and she probably doesn’t. “Let’s go to the arcade. I got some clowns over there that owe my brothers some money for product and I’m about to cash out. Plus my dad’s being weird so I’m not ready to go home.” She sniffs and takes another drag from her cigarette. She seems bothered and anxious, if the way her feet always shift restlessly as her fingers twitch around her cigarette is any indication. She looks like she’s coming down hard from a caffeine high.

“I’m good on that,” Boyd says as he walks over to Isaac. They exchange a brief conversation before they do a little handshake that seems all their own and Boyd uses that grip to pull Isaac to his feet as they exchange grins. Then he turns away and continues, “I’m going to the hospital with Jackson. He’s been to see Danny every day, just as much as Lydia and you know, I don’t want him to be by himself since Scott’s gone to have dinner with Allison and her mom.”

Erica just sniffs again and flicks her cigarette as she scans the parking lot anxiously.

Stiles watches her and feels compelled to say, “I think I’ll hang back. Some gaming might do some good for my nerves.”

Boyd nods. “I’m sure you’ll do fine tonight. Jackson says you’re not half bad when you try. Maybe we’ll swing by later,” he supposes. He nudges Erica as he walks to his bike. “Don’t let her get you into trouble,” he warns.

Erica scoffs and smiles prettily, but there’s a razor sharp edge to it. “Me? Trouble? I don’t think that’s possible,” she quips.

“Yeah, yeah. You just better not get arrested for something dumb. Stop mixing yourself in your family’s mess. It’s not worth it,” Boyd urges as he mounts his bike and peddles off in the direction of the hospital.

Erica throws down her cigarette and stomps it into the cement with her heel before she looks to Stiles. “So. Just you and me.” Then she looks at Isaac, who is still looking off in the direction of where Boyd disappeared to. “And Mr. Mute too, I guess.”

“His name is Isaac,” Stiles says and reigns in his annoyance. He’s trying to be a good friend here and see what’s up with her. She looks like she needs someone to talk to because to Stiles, well, she feels kind of off and he’d like to know why. “If we’re going to the arcade we should go now. I’ve got a game later so that only gives me about two hours.”

Erica shrugs but she eases over to grab her bike before she mounts it and starts peddling lazily.

Stiles rolls over to Isaac and says, “Hey. You good to go?”

Isaac looks at him before he looks at Erica’s shrinking back with an unreadable expression. He says, quietly (like he thinks she'd hear), “I don’t like her.”

Stiles snorts. “I don’t think anyone does. But she can’t be all bad,” he supposes.

Isaac shakes his head. "She's — she feels off."

Stiles considers that and says, "Yeah, I kind of noticed that too."

Isaac's frown just deepens as he continues to gaze after her.

Stiles nudges him gently. “Get your bike.”

Isaac exhales quietly before he grabs his bike and mounts it.

Five minutes later finds the three of them in the heart of the business area (Uptown). The sidewalks are as busy as the streets are with all sorts of people walking around, either by themselves or with friends or family. The sun is gleaming down on them with winks of light that hit store windows and car windshields and any shiny metal thing.

Outside of the arcade stands a homeless man, his feet planted on the edge of the curb that marks the empty spot reserved for the handicapped, his dirty fingers curled around a scraggly piece of cardboard with the words ‘GOD IS DEAD! MONSTERS ARE ALIVE!’ scribbled across it. He doesn’t look to be too old, but he does have a deep tan and prominent wrinkles around his eyes. His skin is caked with smudges and dirt, like he’s been cleaning out a chimney. His hair is a wild bird’s nest of salt and pepper, but his clothes are immaculately clean.

What sticks out the most to Stiles is his red satin jacket. It looks shiny and new, and it twinkles with glossy streaks when he moves his body every which way with the passionate sermon he shouts at pedestrians as they pass him by in haste.

“The wicked is coming!” the man swears, mouth foaming slightly despite his split and dryly cracked lips. “Pray for your kids but they’re already dead! To darkness they’ll be dragged down. Guard your houses! They’ll take you alive and make you what they are! Pray! God is dead but pray!”

Erica comes to a screeching halt and this forces Stiles and Isaac to stop as well. She’s got a devious smile on her face as she says, “Ah, there. See? Just the man I was looking for.”

Stiles has no time to ask her what she means because she tosses her bike to the side and marches towards the homeless man like a girl with a purpose.

Erica shouts, “Yo, Frank! You damn bastard! Where have you been hiding?”

The sharp sound of those two military jets passing overhead rings loudly as if they’ve edged even closer.

The man called Frank looks at Erica with widely terrified eyes and he stumbles in his haste to get away, which is a mistake because he ends up falling flat on his face in the handicapped parking space.

“No, no, Frank,” Erica calmly reprimands as she strides over so she can press her heel to his throat to keep him down. “None of that.”

Frank chokes as he twists and jerks his body under her heel like he can’t get free.

“Where’s the money you owe Ricky and Carter? You’re lucky it’s me trying to peel your ass about this. Ricky and Carter?” Erica shakes her head. “Wouldn’t be so considerate. You’d be spitting out teeth by now, Frank. Or whatever left you have. But to be honest, that’s fair right? We drop two pounds of our best product on you without the cash advance and this is how you repay us? Come on, Frank. You know that shit doesn’t fly.”

“Please! Please!” Frank gasps and he looks around frantically at the gathering crowd who watch in interest with seemingly no intent to intervene. Some people have even pulled out their phones to record. “For the love of — don’t just stand there! Stop vining and do something! She’ll kill me — ah!

Erica grinds her heel down on his Adam’s apple as she retrieves her lighter from her pocket. She flicks it on and off with a smirk. “That’s a nice jacket you got there, Frank. It’d be a shame if something happened to it while you were still inside it.”

Frank gives a high-pitched whine and empties his pockets of all the money he has.

Erica lets up on him then, huffing as she watches him scramble to his feet before he sprints off. She gathers the money and pockets it as the crowd disperses now that the show is over. She takes a moment to unscrew the top to the cross she’s been wearing as a necklace and dabs something suspiciously white onto her pinky before she holds it under one nostril and takes a sharp inhale before blinking rapidly with a shiver. She wiggles her nose as she puts the cap back onto her cross.

Stiles strides over to her and says, “Seriously, Erica. What the hell was that?”

“Business,” Erica merely says with another sniff and wiggles her nose. What had seemed like a caffeine crash has now become startlingly clear for what it really is: a drug problem. “What? You don’t like the way I handled that? Should I have been more polite? Want to give me pointers on customer service?” She scoffs. “You need to relax. No one’s going to call the cops over some thirteen-year-old girl kicking down a homeless man. I just provided these small town fuckers with some dinner conversation.”

“They might call the cops if they think you and your family are dealing,” Stiles hisses lowly.

Erica blinks slowly at him before she gives him a smile that doesn’t even reach her brown eyes. “So what? You’re judging me now? Is that a threat I hear from the sheriff’s son? Trust me, asshole. You don’t want to try it. What my brothers and I do is our business, okay? Not all of us have nice homes and loving parents, so fuck you. I don’t need another fake friend hanging around me out of some moral sense of obligation. And yeah, I know that’s the only reason you came with me because you feel sorry for me, just like Scott and Allison and the rest of them do. Fuck you and fuck them.”

“Erica,” Stiles reaches out to touch her but she flinches away.

“Don’t,” Erica warns. “Don’t fucking touch me. Don’t ever touch me.” There’s water building up behind her eyes quickly. “You have no idea what I have to do to survive. You have no idea because while you’re sitting all warm and cozy with your poster family, I have to constantly fight off my dad every night he comes home drunk and covered in blood. So go ahead and tell your dad that my family’s dealing or whatever the fuck you think you have to do, but know that if I didn’t do it I’d be starving right now. I’d be living on the streets just like a bum. We do what we have to do.”

Stiles stares at her in shock.

“Yeah, that’s right. That’s what you want hear, isn’t it? You wanna hear the whole fucking sob story so you can be a good Samaritan and offer your shoulder for me to cry some pretty little tears on so you can go on and feel good about your life. Well guess what? I don’t need that and I don’t need you. I don’t need any of you doing me any fucking favors,” Erica says as her mascara begins to run and she looks so very broken. “Fuck you,” she whispers and storms past him to grab her bike and peddle off.

Stiles watches her go without a mind to stop her. He’s still dumbfounded. He had wanted to help Erica — wanted to be a friend. He was trying to be a willing ear but now he’s pretty sure that would have never been enough. Her barbed words had been like a bucket of ice, and suddenly, standing out in the middle of that parking spot with the rest of the world just passing him by, undisturbed, he feels so raw and foolish.

He’s never felt so unsure of himself.

Isaac grabs him and leads him to his bike, and together they ride home quietly.

Stiles is on autopilot. There’s something ugly like uncertainty expanding between the teeth of his ribcage like thick, heavy foam.

It stays with him for the rest of the ride home, and even longer then.

---

The game against the rivaling school is not going well at all. They’re dying out there, not only from the lack of skilled players, but because Coach Finstock is foolish enough to put Stiles in the goal post as goalie.

Stiles hasn’t caught a single pass, and that’s only grating his already bitter mood. His uniform is wrapped around him all wrong, and he’s sweating under his helmet because the field lights seem blindingly hot and bright.

Don’t get him started on the eyes of the crowd.

It feels like they’re watching him as if they know he has no idea what he’s doing. The grass under his cleats feels too soft and slippery, like he’s going to sink down into it like quicksand. His chest feels tight, too tight, like his heart doesn’t have enough space to thump. His palms are a damp mess under his gloves and his eyes are stinging from the salt of his own sweat. He shifts restlessly as he watches the other players run around, chasing after the ball and each other, never quite making it to either side to score a goal.

The horn signaling halftime comes like a relief.

Stiles clenches his hands around his lacrosse stick, twisting and turning as he stalks over to Coach Finstock who waves them all closer with a frustrated frown wrapped around his black whistle. He’s indicating heavily to his clipboard, which now has a new play scribbled across it. Stiles is barely paying attention to the words. He feels itchy and unsettled. He just wants to take a long hot shower and crawl into bed.

“— god sakes, Bilinski,” Coach Finstock bellows as he glares at them all. "Please keep your eyes open and catch the goddamn ball. We’re behind by a point but let’s not give them that opening."

Stiles just nods with the rest of them before they all disperse to grab a towel or a bottle of water or Gatorade. He pulls off his helmet and dabs at his forehead with a towel and looks towards the bleachers.

Jackson, Isaac, and Boyd are in the third row and they give him a nod and a wave that Stiles returns with less enthusiasm.

Laura and Derek are sitting on the far right at the top, and as promised, they’re holding up a large banner that reads ‘Stilinski is Our King!’. They wave at him and Laura shoots him a huge encouraging smile as Derek juts his chin with a small grin.

Stiles just waves at them too, and it’s as forced as it feels.

His dad, who is sitting on the first row, waves him over with a concerned frown.

Stiles goes, not even bothering to pretend that he’s even remotely happy.

“How you holding up, kiddo?” his dad asks, clapping him on the shoulder when Stiles gets close enough.

Stiles just shrugs. He’s given up on words.

His dad looks even more concerned. “Stiles — what’s wrong?”

Stiles shakes his head and shrugs again. He really doesn’t want to talk. He just wants to go home.

His dad must read it on his face and he opens his mouth to no doubt offer to take him home but the horn signaling the start of the game interrupts him.

Coach Finstock urges him onto the field and so Stiles puts his helmet back on and moves to go back out there.

His dad grabs his wrist, stops him, and looks him in the eyes as he says, “You are allowed to leave whenever you feel uncomfortable.”

Stiles freezes at that. That’s — that’s something his mom always used to say. She knew how uncomfortable public spaces made him feel sometimes (playgrounds, play dates, parties, etc.) and she always made it clear that they could leave at the drop of a hat if that's what he wanted.

“Son,” his dad intones. He’s treading carefully. “You don’t owe them anything. Nothing at all. We've discussed this before — there's no guilt in putting yourself first.”

Stiles feels warmth gather at the corner of his eyes. He nods very quickly to show his dad that he understands.

“If you wanted to leave, I’d take you away. No questions ask. To hell with it all,” his dad says and presses his forehead against Stiles’s helmet. “Okay, Stiles? You don’t have to stay.”

Stiles presses his lips together and he hugs his dad fiercely.

“I’m proud of you,” his dad continues. “If you don’t want to go out there then don’t go out there unless you want to. It’s your choice, Stiles. It’s always your choice, and they’re your feelings. Yours alone. Don’t let anyone else make you feel guilty for how you decide to deal with them.”

Stiles smiles and inhales deeply before exhaling. He finally feels comfortable enough to breathe. He pulls away and says, “Thanks, dad. I think — I know I needed to hear that.”

His dad pats the side of his helmet affectionately with a nod. “You’re doing great,” he promises.

Stiles nods and straightens, shaking off all the negativity before he jogs back onto the field to the goal post. The warmth of his dad’s words kind of shelters him and he can’t feel anything but loved, the guilt of earlier marginalizing into something manageable. He feels slightly less small when he stands in that goal post again and he tracks all of the players’ movements with his eyes, ready and willing to really try this time.

Stiles will never be able to explain how his hands somehow know what to do when one of the rival team’s powerhouse players come rushing down the field at him with determination written in hard lines across his massive body. He stands there gaping, kind of frozen, completely sure he’s about to mess this up, but he finds himself ducking left to scoop the ball out of midair when its hurled at the corner of the goal post. But, holy god, he does it.

Stiles catches what would have been the winning goal for the other team, and the crescendo of clapping praises jolts him out of his shock in time for him to brace himself as his teammates barrel into him with their enthusiasm, lifting him up with roaring cheers. But Stiles is looking at his dad, who is cheering for him with such glowing pride and it floods Stiles with such a sense of accomplishment and joy.

When he’s settled on his feet, he staggers out of from the cluster of his teammates, who won’t stop patting him on the back and shoulders. He stumbles all the way over to his dad who receives him with open arms. He says, “Dad, dad! I — dad, did you see that? Oh my god, dad.”

“I know, I know,” his dad replies as he squeezes him close, his tone interlaced with mirth and pride. “That was amazing. Stunned the hell out of me.”

Stiles pulls away and bounces on his heels anxiously. He’s got all this energy now that he has absolutely no idea what to do with but he doesn’t care. This is his moment. This is a moment he gets to keep forever because he did something he never thought he’d be able to do at least until he was a junior or senior but he did it and it felt so good.

Jackson, Isaac, and Boyd descend from the bleachers to offer congratulations.

His dad excuses himself with a promise he’ll be waiting in the car when he’s ready to go, and walks off with Isaac, who offers Stiles a quick grin meant only for him to see.

Jackson actually looks genuinely impressed, but of course, he makes it about him by saying, “Looks like all that time I put in with you paid off.”

Boyd nudges him and shakes his head.

“What?” Jackson says, looking as unapologetic as ever. But then he gets solemn. “Danny would’ve said something sappy about how you’ve always had it in you. But, you know. I’m sure you’ll tell him all about it when he’s — you know.”

Stiles nods. He understands perfectly well what Jackson is trying to say, but the other teen deals with emotions about as well as a toddler who’s being forced to swallow syrup medicine does. He says, “Thanks.”

Jackson nods before he makes an indication for Boyd to follow. “Let’s catch a practice together some time, Stilinski. Can’t have you slacking,” he says with a cocky smirk before he wanders off with Boyd.

Boyd says, "Congrats, man. Good one."

Stiles watches them go before he turns to see Derek and Laura approach. He offers them a modest smile. He says, “What did you think?”

“It was interesting to say the least,” Derek supposes with grin and he shrugs. “Still not into it. But your performance at the end was inspiring.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Didn’t think you’d be into it, but I guess that’s as much as a compliment as I’m going to get from a basketball fanatic.”

Laura snorts and pinches Stiles’s cheek. “Don’t mind, Derek. He can’t be bothered when it’s not about him. I thought you were awesome! And that last move with the goal? Flawless,” she compliments.

Stiles smiles widely and swats her hand away. “Yeah. It was so — thanks.” He looks down and says, “Nice...banner?”

“You like?” Laura says as she holds it up higher at eye level. “Derek helped me make it. Wouldn’t stop complaining the whole time about how the glitter was getting in his hair and on his shoes, but you know, he’s a drama queen so I just tuned him out.”

Derek makes a wounded and offended sound.

Stiles snickers. “Well I appreciate the efforts.” He pokes at the sign and some glitter pops off and he adds, “I’m really digging the irony, though.”

“I’m a total Potterhead. I won’t even deny,” Laura confesses with mock seriousness. “Next time I’ll make shirts though. Really show my support.”

“Uh, you don’t have to do that,” Stiles says with an amused frown. “Seriously. Please don’t, Laura.”

“What’s that? A dozen shirts? All in blue? Rhinestones included? I don’t know, that’s a tall order, but okay,” Laura says because she’s ridiculous.

Stiles laughs and pushes her gently. “Okay, that’s not cool. Firstly, I know you heard me because you’ve got hyper-hearing, and secondly, if you make those shirts anything like you just described, I will leave town and never look back. Minimum wage in Hawaii is sick, I hear.”

“Oh, what a cute threat,” Laura coos with a wink. “Fine. I’ll just make a modest, like, small and exclusive number of shirts. For family and close friends.”

“Don’t make the shirts,” Stiles pleads and tries to be stern about it but he’s smiling so hard that it’s almost impossible. “Come on, Laura. Be cool. Don’t."

“What? But I was going to do like glow-in-the-dark meets lite-brite and had this mutant child and that would’ve been your shirts,” Laura teases and smiles widely when Stiles laughs. She looks to Derek and says, “I just really don’t understand how he doesn’t want that.”

“Something so gaudy and obnoxious?” Derek counters and feigns a considerate look. “He obviously doesn’t know what he’s missing.”

“Right? Obviously,” Laura agrees.

Stiles snickers and shakes his head. “Okay, I’m done with this whole conversation. I have to go, my dad’s waiting. Bye. Bye. Please don’t do the shirt thing. Bye.”

Laura pulls him into a hug that lasts longer than it should (but Stiles doesn't mind) and she lets him go when he complains about the way she grinds her knuckles into the top of his head. She tweaks his nose before she leaves him be. She waves at one of her fellow cheerleaders in the bleachers before she climbs the stands to have a lively conversation.

Derek cocks his head and says, “You seem better then you were before.”

Stiles blinks, thrown, and says, “What does that mean?”

Derek shrugs. “You just looked like you were down about something earlier. Laura and I both noticed but she didn’t want to bring it up. I’m a lot more straightforward though, so, I’m bringing it up,” he says as he lifts both eyebrows brazenly.

Stiles huffs and rubs the back of his neck sheepishly. “Yeah, I had — earlier I just kind was thrown off about something someone said to me. It was like — you know when you try and come at something with the best intentions and it blows up in your face?” He drops his hand with a sigh. “Yeah, well, I kind of had that moment and it really bummed me out. I basically — it just really threw me.”

Derek crosses his arms and flicks his gaze over Stiles’s face like he’s searching for something. “You can’t always get it right,” he supposes but it’s almost profound the way he says it. “Sometimes you got to take the good with the bad, I think. Grain of salt, and all that.”

Stiles feels his mouth twist with an amused frown. “That’s deep, man.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “You’re better at this then me. I thought maybe I’d try and say something that would strike a chord. I don’t know. We’re friends and friends say meaningful stuff to each other.”

“Meaningful stuff,” Stiles echoes with undisguised mirth. “Right.”

Derek gives a heady sigh.

“Okay, sorry. It’s just — thanks. That was — helpful? Maybe, I don’t know, we’ll work on it,” Stiles promises with a humored grin. “And the feeling’s mutual, about the friend stuff, I guess. I didn’t know we decided to be friends.”

“We have an unspoken bond, can’t you tell?” Derek states, giving Stiles the flattest look.

“Not really, to be honest. I still haven’t quite forgiven you for the taco incident, so…” Stiles says and shrugs in a ‘what can you do?’ kind of way, but by the way Derek rolls his eyes again he can tell the other teen knows he’s joking. “Okay, but I really have to go. I guess I’ll catch you — when we catch each other. Do you wanna do some math stuff tomorrow?”

Derek looks indefinably amused. “Sure. Before first period, though. I have basketball practice right after school.”

“Priorities,” Stiles snorts and starts backing away. “Later.”

“Later,” Derek returns before sprinting up in the bleachers to join his sister.

Stiles doesn't bother to watch them, the stands are mostly empty by now with only a few people lingering around. He makes his way quickly to the parking lot where Isaac and his dad are waiting in his dad’s rumbling cruiser, back and front taillights shining brightly even under the heavy glow of the tall street lamps.

Stiles doesn’t feel as hot as he did before, but it’s still a relief to him to slide into the backseat with Isaac and feel the blast of the car’s air conditioner, compared to how damp and humid the night air had seemed.

Isaac is leaning against the door on his side of the car, looking up and out of the window like he’s trying to count the stars because there’s nothing else of particular interest going on.

His dad shifts into drive and they’re pulling away from the curve to head home. He says, “That was a really good game.”

“You think so?” Stiles asks, suddenly giddy again at what he’d managed to accomplish. He fidgets in his seat with a grin when his dad glances at him in the rear view mirror. “I thought I’d puke when I first went out there.”

His dad hums thoughtfully at that and keeps his eyes on the road ahead of him. “Pre-game jitters,” he supposes. “Happens to the best of us. I got them all the time back when I played football, but, Jesus, that seems like forever ago.”

Stiles snorts. “You’re not that old.”

“Old enough,” his dad argues. “You wanna stop somewhere?”

“We still have leftovers,” Stiles points out because they do. He and Isaac had cooked a tuna casserole earlier that afternoon before the game. Isaac had had about three servings of it and Stiles had been too down at the time to really tease him for it. He continues, “We don’t need to stop anywhere.”

“Fine then,” his dad says. “If that’s what you want.”

Stiles sinks back against the seat and lets the silence seep in between the chirp of his dad’s radio. “Dad, what do you do when — if you know someone is in trouble and you want to help but they don’t want you to?”

His dad stops at a red light and says, “That’s a tricky one. Depends on the trouble they’re in. If it’s immediate, you kind of want to get it taken care of right away. If it’s something else, well, sometimes you can’t help people if they don’t want to be helped. You just have to keep letting them know that you’re ready to help when they need it. Why?”

“Nothing, I, um,” Stiles says, choosing his words carefully. “I have this friend who knows this friend and they have a drug thing with the family.”

Isaac glances over at him with this knowing look.

His dad looks at him sharply through the rearview mirror. “Stiles, if someone is selling you drugs or —”

“Dad,” Stiles says, flailing. “I’m not — it’s not like that. I just have this friend who knows this friend who I think might be in trouble but I don’t want to make it worse.”

His dad deflates partially. He moves the car when the light turns green. “You know there’s a such thing as anonymous tips, right? You can tell me enough without having to tell me everything and I’ll see what I can do. How’s that?”

Stiles nods rapidly and tells him about Erica, keeping it short and simple because for whatever reason, the whole thing seems to be making Isaac uncomfortable.

Maybe it hits too close to home.

His dad makes a promise to look into it cautiously and that leaves Stiles feeling better about the whole thing.

They pull up to the house and his dad parks the cruiser in the drive before they all climb out.

Stiles is surprised but happy to see Kira sitting out on her front porch steps with her guitar. He tells Isaac and his dad to go on in the house without him and that he’ll be in shortly, while ignoring his dad’s speculative looks, which he sends between Kira and Stiles like he’s trying to get a read on the situation. He doesn’t comment though, and he follows Isaac into the house.

Stiles makes his way across the lawn and over to Kira, but not without tripping over the garden hose with a mangled swear. He leaps to his feet with an embarrassed flush that Kira smiles softly at and he stands at the bottom of her porch steps as she stays seated on the middle steps. He says, “I’m sorry about earlier.”

“It’s okay,” Kira says with a light shrug. “I mean it’s not okay but, you know. Uh, Cora approached me after school and dragged me to the ice cream parlor before grilling me with questions. She paid for the ice cream, so — even though she didn’t apologize, I guess that was her way of doing it.”

Stiles laughs a little and rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah, that sounds like Cora,” he supposes. “She’s a — tough girl to figure out.”

“I noticed,” Kira merely says. “She’s actually not so bad.”

“No. She’s really not,” Stiles quietly agrees. “Are we — I mean, we’re good, right? You and I? I just wouldn't want you to think that I — that, that kind of behavior is okay with me.”

Kira furrows her brow.

“And I just — I’d hate for it to sour our friendship if — you’re really cool and I don’t want you to think that I hang around with jerks, which I kind of do, but please believe they’re jerks with pure hearts of gold,” Stiles promises.

Kira grins and says, “We’re good, Stiles. You have a good quality about you that I think gives you a fair instinct about the company you keep. Cora is — she's some kind of something. But you're okay — we're okay.”

“Cool,” Stiles says but he can’t help but to notice that she still seems subdued for some reason. “Are you sure? Because —”

“I got into it with my mom again,” Kira explains, stalling his worries. “I just — don’t worry about it.” She gives a heady sigh. “That woman drains me.”

Stiles makes a sympathetic sound. “Well, um — did you still want to see that movie next week? I’m still game if you are, and we totally don’t have to bring Cora if you preferred not to.”

Kira exhales a quiet laugh and wordlessly nods.

“Okay,” Stiles says. “Well I guess that’s that then. Movies next week, sans Cora.”

Kira smiles and ducks her gaze down to her guitar, which she strums listlessly for a moment before slapping a hand over it to quiet it before she says, “How was the game? I’m sorry I missed it.”

“It’s fine. The game was — it was —” Stiles moves his hands around with an unintelligible gesture and Kira laughs at him for it. “Just, you know?” He makes a fist and punches it in his open palm and makes another gesture. “Like that. But better. Better than what I expected, at least.”

“Great. That’s really great,” Kira remarks sincerely. Her mouth fidgets with a fond smile and she bites the corner of her lip before she says, “I should get inside. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Stiles nods and watches her go before he makes his way to his house, swatting his way through a cluster of fireflies that always seem to like to gather around his house lately. He locks the door behind him and moves to tuck away in the bathroom, ridding himself of his uniform before he climbs under the hot jet of the shower. He lets the steam settle in all around him so he can breathe it in, turning the temperature down when he begins to feel lightheaded and flushed.

An hour and a half later he climbs out, wet and pink, but clean. He wraps a towel around his waist and gathers his dirty uniform on his way back to his room. When he gets there, he dumps it all in his laundry basket before he slips into some sleepwear. He notices a manila envelope resting innocently on the middle of his bed with a sticky note that has his dad’s messy scrawl scribbled across with the words: These are as many photos as I could get without rousing any suspicion. Don’t make me regret this. Use with caution.

Stiles stuffs the envelope into his backpack and switches off his lights before settling down into bed with future plans of delivering those photos.

That night he dreams about a raging sea of black water.

---

Early Wednesday morning, two hours before the start of school, Stiles drops Isaac off at his school for early morning breakfast before he peddles into town to see Deaton with the spare time he has before he has to meet up with Derek in the school’s library.

Deaton seems to be restocking his book collection when Stiles arrives, and they exchange brief greetings before he hands over the envelope. He says, “If I wanted to catch a Mermaid or something...how do I do that?”

Deaton lifts both eyebrows as he carries the envelope over to the glass counter display and stands on the other side of it. “That would depend on the form they’re in.”

“Well, say they did the full-Ariel and were walking around on a fresh new set of legs,” Stiles says, making a motion with his hands that doesn’t really equate to his words. “What then?”

“It also depends on where they’ve come from,” Deaton says.

“The mountains?” Stiles offers, unsure if that’s helpful.

“Ah. I see. Then you need no longer refer to them by Mermaids, because in human form they become Nymphs,” Deaton clarifies. “As Greek mythology will tell you, they are famously beautiful creatures, yet treacherously selfish at heart and attention-seekers. In order to remain in their human form they thrive on three things: carnality, intemperate dynamism, and music.”

“Sounds like your typical high school party,” Stiles jokes.

Deaton, however, looks less than amused when he says, “Yes.”

Stile blinks. “Wait — you can’t actually mean —”

“Yes,” Deaton repeats. “Nymphs are easily located at parties, and as you so cleverly stated, even more likely a high school or college party.”

Stiles exhales a long stream of air as he fishes for his phone. “Peter’s going to love this,” he mutters as he texts the older man. “Thanks.”

“It’s my pleasure,” Deaton merely replies. “I’ll examine these pictures thoroughly and tell you what I find.”

Stiles nods before he gives a light wave and exits the shop. He mounts his bike and peddles to school. He locks up his bike and notices there’s not a lot of students or teachers wandering around, which is understandable because it’s still pretty early. He heads inside and makes his way to the library.

Derek’s sitting in the corner, doodling idly in his notebook, long legs stretched out underneath the table.

Stiles walks over and sits across from him, dumping his backpack next to Derek’s on the floor. He says, “So you get invited to parties a lot.”

Derek blinks and straightens, feet knocking into Stiles’s in the process, but he doesn’t apologize for it as he lifts a brow. “Yeah. Sure.”

Stiles nods as he drums his fingers on the surface of the table and casually asks, “Have you been invited to any lately or heard of any that have already happened in the past?”

Derek looks at him evenly for a long moment before he cocks his head and replies, “What are you getting at with this?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Stiles says as he widens his eyes innocently. “This is just one friend asking another friend about their social life because said friend is interested in having as equally as a good of a time, if not more.”

Derek leans forward slowly and rests his forearms against the table as he says, “You realize you can’t lie to a Werewolf, right?”

Stiles flushes and flounders for a bit before he chokes out, “Lying? Me. Lying. First of all, how dare — this is just an outrage — that you would accuse me of — I would never — okay, damn it, I am. Stop looking at me like that."

Derek rolls his eyes and motions for him to continue.

Stiles explains, "Peter’s got me looking for some Mermaids or Nymphs or whatever, and since you’re you, I figured you know about parties and stuff.”

“Parties and stuff,” Derek repeats flatly as he gives Stiles a skeptical look. “Why would I know anything?”

“Your face is — you have what the folks call — there's just a way you — I mean, you’re popular,” Stiles struggles to explain. “Why wouldn’t you know?”

Derek snorts and leans back, and he’s wearing that stupid cocky grin that never fails to irritate Stiles beyond reason. He says, “I think you gave me four different compliments without actually giving me those compliments.”

Stiles rolls his eyes and counts to five before he says, “Okay. Now that we’ve properly stroked your ego here...can you please help me out?”

“Well,” Derek says and leans forward again. “Sunday night, some freshman named Greenburg threw a party at what everyone thought was his lake house. Turns out he just broke into the place, but anyway, he had a ton of people come out, including a few of my teammates. I think some of yours went too. A lot of people ended up getting sick with something called dilutional hyponatremia. You know there’s a rumor floating around about that. Maybe your Mermaids had something to do with it.”

“Oh my god,” Stiles says as it hits him. “Dilutional hyponatremia.”

Derek furrows his brow and lifts them as he shakes his head questioningly.

“Dilutional hyponatremia!” Stiles repeats as he flails his hands. “Also known as water poisoning.”

Derek cocks his head at that. “I guess that just confirms it then,” he supposes.

Stiles fishes for his phone and when he finds it, he shoots Peter another text with his discovery. He says, “Alright, one last thing. Do you know of anymore parties coming up?”

“I heard something about a college party on the other side of town,” Derek offers with a shrug. “I can get more details if you need.”

“I need. I so need,” Stiles assures as he puts his phone away. “Okay, enough about that. Let’s do the math stuff. Mrs. Cassidy passed out this study packet so we can have something to prepare for finals, which, by the way, I’m mortified of.”

Derek snorts. “Just show it to me and we’ll figure it out.”

Stiles digs into his backpack for the thick packet and he slaps it down in front of the other teen. He gives Derek his attention earnestly, drifting off once and a while but Derek drags him back by pressing his warm fingers down on the pressure point of his left wrist while asking him targeted questions that Stiles has no choice but to answer just out of genuine interest or confidence.

Though sometimes his line of thought gets derailed when Derek smiles with frank indulgent pride whenever Stiles does something or answers anything correctly.

Stiles feels something light and frothy expand in his stomach like thick soapsuds tickling at his insides. But because it’s so blunt and baffling, the sensation being entirely new to him and all, he just does what he always does when he can’t quite deal or assimilate.

He pushes it down — like way, way, down until it’s deep and as far as it can go, and then he stubbornly ignores it.

---

Apparently Stiles and Cora aren’t on speaking terms still, if the way she ignores him through all their shared classes and avoids him at lunch is any indication.

That’s fine. Totally fine. He’s not the one in the wrong here.

Cora can have as much space as she wants to have in order to get over herself.

Stiles distracts himself from the issue by helping Laura pass out cookies frosted with a picture of her smiling face on them as she looks down.

Kira’s such a good sport that she chips in too.

Stiles is more amused than anything when he notices the way people tend to flock to her more than they do to him.

It’s probably her killer smile and her bubbly attitude.

Two military jets pass overhead with a loud sound.

Stiles cups a hand over his face to shield his eyes from the sun as he tries to follow them. They zip by so fast that it’s no use.

A sophomore girl with freckles and braces edges over to him with a shy smile and takes a cookie from his tray.

Stiles mumbles, “Vote for Laura.” before he glances back up to the sky.

Six minutes later, those two jets make their rounds once again.

---

Stiles takes Isaac with him to Eichen House when both their schools let out, but he makes sure to ask the preteen if he’s really fine with it.

Now, sitting on their bikes in front of the vine-covered iron gates, Stiles asks again, “You sure you’re okay to come in?”

Isaac shrugs and picks at a limp weed coiled around one of the rusted bars of the gate.

“Seriously, Isaac. If you don’t want to come in, I’d understand,” Stiles assures. “I just — it’s a creepy place and I’m trying to be sensitive here and I don’t want to do anything that’s triggering to you and —”

Isaac straightens suddenly and he looks upset, like he’s been woken from a good dream. His mouth scrunches in annoyance and he says, “Don’t assume.”

Stiles kind of stares at him with parted lips.

Isaac deflates then and looks away. “I don't think you do it on purpose. But...sometimes you make these assumptions about what I've been through and it's...I know I haven't shared enough with you for you to understand, so that's partly my fault. But I only ask that you don't treat me like — like I'll break at any moment. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could handle it,” he goes on to say. “Don’t assume, okay?”

“Okay,” is Stiles’s snap response because he doesn’t want to make an idiot of himself and he really shouldn’t be assuming. “Sorry.”

Isaac nods once and that’s the end of that.

Stiles pushes the gates open and together they make their way up the walkway, to the cracked steps, and up to the top where they lock their bikes. After they make their way inside, they sign in at the front desk and wait for Ms. Morrell (who shows up a little less than seven minutes later).

“This way,” Ms. Morrell says as she glances between Isaac and Stiles coolly before spinning on her heel and striding down the hall. She doesn’t lead them to the stairwell, but rather to the double doors that lead out to the courtyard.

The courtyard is an enclosed space that resides at the heart of the facility. Its clean-cut bushes, trees, and grass are obviously well looked after. There’s an orderliness to it that clashes with the wandering disorderly patients who walk about in a sort of dazed state, mumbling unintelligible noises and conversations to themselves, or even to each other. Which still isn’t coherent because by the way it sounds, two patients talking to each other often have differing responses, and it only seems like they’re have two different conversations.

It’s less cloudy today, and the afternoon sun looms brightly in the sky, making things seem blaringly brighter and more contrast.

There’s a large water fountain on the far end of the courtyard and Lydia is sitting on the stone bench that faces it under a shedding cherry blossom tree. She’s wearing a strapless ivory jumpsuit, her strawberry blonde hair spilling over her delicately pale shoulders like a curly waterfall, and that same black birdcage funeral veil pinned to her hair. Her feet are bare, but like her fingernails, the toenails are painted with a deep plum color.

Stiles sits down in the space to Lydia’s right while Isaac walks along the edge of the water fountain, the light of the water reflecting against the scarred features of his face. Stiles wonders if he’s looking at the coins in the fountain — if there are any coins in there to begin with. He’d like to think that even mentally unstable people have things that they wish for.

Lydia’s gaze stays straightforward, even as she draws what looks to be a crying mother in a hijab cradling her limp toddler with the large drawing pad in her lap and the stick of charcoal in her right hand. There are steady streams of tears rolling down her pink cheeks, and something about the way she doesn’t wipe them away makes Stiles find it to be striking in its own way.

There’s something to be said about someone who lets you see them in all their pain without trying to conceal it.

Lydia’s not broken, he realizes. She just feels more deeply now.

Stiles looks down and studies the sketch curiously and, even though he’s sure to get no response, asks, “Who’s that?”

Lydia stares unblinkingly at the fountain as her hand never ceases. It’s amazing how detailed the drawing is because she’s not looking at it at all.

Stiles needs to get to a point where he can stop being surprised by the things his cousin can do. He traces his eyes over the sketch and notices that the mother in the picture has teeth that are slightly fanged, and the hands she has buried into her toddler’s pea coat are lengthened into claws. He realizes with a slight jolt that Lydia is drawing Werewolves.

Lydia's hand finishes with the mother and daughter, so she begins to work on the background, which quickly forms into two gathering mobs: a line of policemen and a line of protesters — both on opposite sides.

Stiles furrows his brow as he tries to take in the implications.

Lydia starts singing the National Anthem softly as a slow breeze glides through the courtyard, making her hair come to life against her pale shoulders.

Stiles isn’t sure what to do, so he lets her be. He scoots over until their shoulders are touching and he watches Isaac sit on the edge of the water fountain while two tittering female patients wander over with shy smiles and a bouquet of ripped flowers, which they present to him in no form of graceful fashion.

Isaac still accepts them with a wordless nod and he doesn’t complain or look uncomfortable when they sit on either side of him, eyeing him curiously as they mumble into their fingers.

Stiles stiffens in surprise when Lydia rests her head on his shoulder. She doesn’t stop singing though, so he figures he should talk to her about something. He decides to tell her about how his week has been going so far, about his time with the Hales, about Erica, about the Mermaids, about the lacrosse game, about Kira, and about Danny’s progress.

Lydia tenses up more and more all throughout Stiles’s narration and he can’t figure out why. She has stopped singing and drawing, which makes it obvious she’s really listening, so he doesn’t stop talking but he pays special attention to her behavior.

Ms. Morrell comes to retrieve them nearly an hour later. “I believe that’s enough for today.”

Stiles nods and reluctantly eases away from Lydia with a gesture to Isaac, who stands with some soft goodbyes to his new friends and he seems a little thrown when the two females begin to sob. He takes a quick moment to soothe them with encouraging words and it makes Stiles smile to see him really try.

Lydia reaches out suddenly and yanks Stiles close so that she can whisper in his ear, “Underneath their skin lies an Animal. Don’t let it fool you.”

Ms. Morrell pries her hand from Stiles’s shirt. “Okay, Lydia. That’s enough.”

Lydia lets Ms. Morrell stand her up and usher her away but she never takes her eyes off of Stiles’s. Their eyes meet within the instance she shakes her head, and again, strangely enough, it’s like seeing it happen in slow motion, and suddenly all he can hear is the leaves whispering in the trees, the splashing of water in the fountain, the sighing wind, and the groaning of the tree branches. It’s like that moment in the hallway with Mayor Argent and his creepy orphan children.

It kind of freaks Stiles out because he’s becoming hyper aware that it’s not just a mental thing — something that’s just happening in his head — but it might be something else entirely. Like Spider-Man in most of the comics that Stiles reads, it’s like he’s got his own brand of spider-sense where time slows and the noise of the world either fades away or becomes startlingly clear.

Isaac touches his shoulder and Stiles gasps sharply as he snaps out of it and blinks rapidly as things come into focus at normal rate. He turns to see Isaac looking at him with concern, and the preteen quietly says, “You stopped breathing.”

Stiles exhales and inhales, just to feel himself doing it, and he realizes that his heart is racing in his chest. He curls his shaky hands into fists at his sides. “Let’s go,” he mumbles and makes his way quickly out of the building. He has a hard time getting his bike unlocked because his hands are still shaking so bad, and he feels a little lightheaded.

Isaac kneels down beside him and rests his warm hands over Stiles’s to arrest his movements. Then he pulls the older teen into a hug, laying his hands flat against Stiles’s shoulder blades and ducking his head low so he can rub his forehead against Stiles’s collarbone. “Please breathe,” he whispers. “Breathe.”

Stiles swallows and takes some shaky breaths before he clutches Isaac close as he shuts his eyes. He’s having a panic attack and there’s no use in pretending it's anything else but that. He does as Isaac asks and he breathes, but he does it carefully. He takes slow inhales and even slower exhales until his chest doesn’t feel tight anymore, until his heart isn’t pounding like it might pop out, until his hands aren’t shaking like they’ll never stop.

Isaac waits a beat after Stiles has calmed down before he pulls away, but not completely. He eyes Stiles from head to toe with focused determination, his brow furrowed, and his mouth set in a prominent frown. He pulls away some more and drops his hands to his thighs as he looks Stiles in the eyes. “Better?” he questions.

Stiles exhales with a nod. “Better," he confirms. "Thanks,” he says, cheeks heating a little in embarrassment.

“You’re my brother,” Isaac mumbles as he ducks his gaze away shyly while he picks at a loose thread on his jeans. “I care when you’re not okay. That would — it does matter to me.”

Stiles smiles and presses his knuckles into the curving line of his mouth when it feels like the smile might completely overtake his face. He just gives up and lets it be as he throws his arms around Isaac in an enthusiastic hug. “You're my favorite,” he swears. "My absolute favorite." Then he adds, “Don’t tell dad.”

Isaac huffs out a small laugh and just pats Stiles on the back before he gently urges the other teen to let him go.

Stiles rewards him with a smile as they stand. “Come on,” he says. “I still want to visit Danny before we go home.”

Isaac nods and they unlock their bikes before carrying them down the steps, rolling them up the walkway and through the black iron gates before mounting them so they can peddle into the heart of Beacon Hills where the hospital resides.

Jackson is already there in Danny’s room with Allison and Malia.

Scott’s visiting his grandmother, apparently, which is why he’s absent.

Boyd’s already come and gone.

Stiles takes the chair beside Jackson’s and he quietly studies Danny’s prone form. He’s bandaged up pretty tightly and there are all kinds of tubes running to and from his body as the heart monitor chimes steadily with Danny’s vital signs.

Malia moves to sit on Allison’s lap so Isaac can sit down since there are no other chairs.

Allison squirms under Malia’s weight, but she makes no general complaints about this seating arrangement, though she does wrinkle her nose with a dimpled smile when Malia starts playing with her hair.

Isaac takes the seat, leans back, and folds his hands over his stomach as he watches the way Danny’s breath fogs up the oxygen mask placed over his bruised and swollen mouth.

Stiles watches Jackson watch Danny with a furrowed brow while Malia and Allison animatedly recount past stories, all of them with Danny as the main character.

Jackson only speaks up once and awhile, but it’s only to correct them about their facts on a certain memory, or to generally add to it with something that he deems important for him to say.

Stiles settles in his seat with a sad smile as he watches their interactions with a slightly whimsical mood.

It’s hard, however, to ignore the faint buzzing in the back of his mind trying to flag his attention.

It’s like he’s forgetting something.

Through the open window, the sonic booms of those military jets making their rounds again causes Stiles to fidget even more restlessly.

The buzzing gets worse. It’s like a horde of drunken flies smacking against the inside of his skull, looking for a way out.

Stiles twitches and bounces his right leg as he chews on his fingernails anxiously.

Isaac is probably the only one that notices.

---

Later that night, Stiles relays his conversation with Deaton to his dad over some cheesy hamburger helper that his dad actually makes (since he’s pretty good with that kind of stuff, outside of grilling). It kind of became a necessity after his mom died, and his dad needed to be good at a few throw-together meals like sloppy Joe and tater-tot casserole when he wasn’t ordering takeout because Stiles was seven when she passed and still too young to manipulate the stove without adult supervision.

As Isaac rises to make himself a fourth helping of food, Stiles looks across the table at his dad and says, “So I want to go to that party.” His dad’s face goes severe with disapproval and Stiles quickly adds, “But I was thinking maybe you could saddle me with one of your deputies. Preferably one who doesn’t look like a cop and could still pass for a college student.”

“And you think you can?” his dad counters with this look that never fails to make Stiles fidget. “I’m going to be straight with you right now and say that I’m not comfortable at all with this idea. You could be putting yourself in danger.”

“That’s — undeniably true,” Stiles reluctantly agrees as he pokes his fork at a piece of softened macaroni. “But the worst I could get is water poisoning — at best! But, you know, I don’t really think I’m their type. They tend to go after the more good-looking ones.”

His dad looks at him like he’s an idiot. “You and I are going to have a talk about your self-esteem issues, but for now, I’ll agree to this little plan. Only because —” his dad quickly adds before Stiles can do a victory dance. “— only because you’ve asked me to include one of my deputies, which I’m assuming is because you realize you’ll need a chaperone, and also because, strangely enough, whether I’m comfortable or not, I trust that you know what you’re doing. I have to at this point because I’m starting to get that you’ll sit there and argue with me until I go along with what you want, and if I don’t then you’ll just go and do it anyway.”

Stiles flushes guiltily and mumbles something like, “I totally respect your wishes.”

His dad just huffs and says, “Parrish. He’d be the man you’d want with you. He’s the youngest deputy we’ve got.”

Stiles perks up at that and nods. “Cool. So I’ll call him, or you can explain and then I’ll call him.”

“How about you let me talk to him, and then I’ll have him call you so you guys can touch bases,” his dad suggests.

“Yup. Yup. That’s totally — yup.” Stiles shoves a forkful of food in his mouth before he asks, “I’m not sure when the party is but I can ask Derek to see what he found out.”

His dad nods and takes his plate to the sink. He walks over to the steps but pauses to say, “Also, while you’re at it, tell Derek we’ll have to go fishing Sunday morning instead of Saturday. Something came up. Goodnight boys.”

Stiles is left to blink after his dad and he looks over to Isaac, who just lifts a brow and shrugs. They finish their food in silence and clean up the kitchen together before they go their separate ways.

Stiles tucks away in his room and goes hunting for his phone after he changes into some sleepwear. He dials Derek’s number and when the other teen picks up, he says, “Why are you going fishing with my dad?”

Derek snorts and replies, “Well hello to you too, Stiles. Yes, my day was good. Basketball practice went phenomenally. My free throws are definitely on point.

Stiles rolls his eyes.

I got more information about that party,” Derek goes on to say. “It’s hosted by fraternity Zet Pi something, something. Anyway, it’s gonna be themed. My buddy mentioned something about it being one of those marker parties.”

“Marker party?” Stiles repeats in confusion.

It’s where you bring your own marker and draw all over everyone. You can write your number, or maybe scribble some sage advice. Your favorite lyric or poem. Sometimes people get really mean with it and doodle dicks and whatnot,” Derek says and Stiles is envious of how casually he explains it, like he’s speaking from experience. “It’s happening this Friday. I’ll text you the address.”

“Cool,” Stiles mumbles as he sits down at his desk and boots up his laptop. He pulls up Google and starts perusing though recent articles having anything to do with the military.

Derek says, “And how was your day?"

Stiles blinks and pauses. "What?"

Derek huffs, amused. "Your day. I told you about mine."

"Yeah, but...I thought you were being sarcastic."

"Of course not," Derek says, cheerily. "I'm more than happy to tell you what I get up to. Return the favor. How was your day?"

"Oh, um." Stiles scrambles for something to say. He didn't quite imagine the conversation going this way. "Pretty okay. I visited...friends. Um. Yeah."

Derek makes a thoughtful sound.

Stiles fidgets in his seat. Not sure what else to say.

Derek breaks the silence by saying, "I’m fishing with your dad because my dad likes to fish too, and I’ve never been. I just made the suggestion that the three of us go together. Does that bother you?"

"No," Stiles quickly says because he doesn't want the other teen to get the wrong idea. "It's cool. I get it. Uh. It's fine. I was surprised, that's all."

"How’d you find out anyway?

“My dad told me to tell you that your trip is being rescheduled to Sunday morning instead of Saturday. So. Yeah.”

Derek hums thoughtfully. Then he says, “I’ll let my dad know. I have to go. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.

“Kay."

"Later."

"Later,” Stiles replies, distracted because his online search leads him to YouTube. He barely remembers hanging up before he’s zoned in on a news segment about how the military presence in America has grown exponentially in the last two years, almost if they’re expecting some kind of civil war to breakout.

“— it’s crazy, you know? I’m taking my kid to school and all of a sudden I see these weird looking tanks being escorted down the streets with some armed soldiers. And like, you’re gonna ask about it, right? So I did and one of the guys, the soldier, he says that ‘oh it’s nothing’ and they’re like doing drills and whatnot. Something about standard procedure,” some guy in New York says. A CNN news reporter has stopped him on his way to his car and the woman asks him about his thoughts concerning the heavy military presence. “But you do wonder like what kind of procedure requires them to do these kind of drills? Not to mention I’ve been constantly seeing those, what is it? Stealth fighter jets or drones? Yeah, like — what the hell is that about? Is there a war going on that we don’t know about? Like let me know, man. Let me know.

Stiles switches tabs and watches another video while he scrolls through the list of recommended videos that pop up on the side and selects related video after video, until it all becomes the same story.

The Department of Defense is not only arming each state with new weapons of war, but they’re giving it to local and state police, as well as the national guard — and these people are being trained to use them in the same ways a soldier would be taught to fight overseas.

Stiles would really like to know why, but he can’t find any answers for that, and he eventually gives up and goes to bed. All he does is toss and turn, though. His mind is too anxious with this new information. He thinks about the picture Lydia drew. He thinks about the sign that homeless man, Frank, held up. He thinks about the things the Ghouls and that Demon talked about weeks ago. He thinks about what they could have meant when they mentioned a New World.

He thinks and he thinks and he thinks until he can’t stop thinking.

He doesn’t get much sleep. His mind is alive with questions, and there are no correlating answers to put them to rest.

---

Thursday morning, just as Isaac and Stiles are exiting the house to meet Kira on the sidewalk so they can ride to school together, Peter and Kate pull up in his flashy red car with a pair of matching designer shades, and sharp grins. They look like a pair of well-dressed sharks.

Stiles looks to Kira and Isaac as he says, “Give me a moment.” He rolls his bike over to the passenger side of Peter’s car and says, “You guys look like high-priced drug dealers. What’s going on?”

“We’re here to treat you to breakfast,” Peter merely says. “Also to discuss certain things.”

“I have to take my brother to school,” Stiles points out.

“Get your cute little friend Kira to do it,” Peter suggests dismissively. “This is important.”

Stiles scrunches his mouth in annoyance before he returns his bike to the lawn and walks over to Isaac and Kira. “Okay, so — I need a favor,” he says. “Do you mind taking Isaac to school? It’s just that — something super important came up and I would not ask otherwise.”

Kira says, “No, it’s fine. It’ll give us a chance to bond.” She nudges Isaac with a sunny smile.

Isaac just lifts a brow wordlessly and starts peddling to school.

Stiles sighs and shakes his head when Kira looks at him. “It’s — that’s progress. I totally owe you one.” He reaches out and hugs Kira quickly before he stumbles towards Peter’s car. He slides into the backseat and buckles in.

Kate says, “Awe, wasn’t that cute?”

“Tooth-rotting, really,” Peter drawls as he switches gears and drives.

It’s only a few minutes later that they’re being seated by a waitress in a booth next to the windows at Ramona’s Old Fashioned Eatery on Mulholland Blvd . 

Peter and Kate sit across from Stiles, huddling close to share a menu, even though they were given two. Kate spends most of the time combing her fingers through Peter’s hair as she whispers in his ear.

Stiles doesn’t even want to know because whatever she’s saying is fueling the wicked smirk plastered on Peter’s face. Stiles’s eyes dart down to his menu and when he decides on what he wants, he closes it and sets it down.

Deputy Parrish strolls into the diner a moment later with a slight look of befuddlement as he approaches their booth.

Peter’s smirk just widens as he straightens. “Ah, Parrish. Nice of you to finally join us. Please sit down. We were just about to order,” he says and turns to make a gesture at their waitress.

Stiles scoots over to make room for Parrish, who glares at Kate and Peter before reluctantly sitting down. He offers Stiles a tense smile before he picks up a menu and scans it anxiously.

The waitress saddles up to the booth with her pen poised at the ready over her small notepad.

Combined, Peter and Kate’s order could probably feed three more people.

Stiles’s order is a lot more modest. He just wants the raspberry peach short stack of pancakes.

Parrish just asks for a cup of orange juice.

“Now that wont do,” Peter drawls. “It’s my treat."

"Yes," Kate adds as she grins. "You know how Peter loves to spoil you."

"Careful, dear," Peter warns lightly as he shoots her a look that goes ignored. He turns his gaze back to Parrish as he smirks again. "Order anything you want.”

“What I want is a cup of orange juice,” Parrish replies as he looks at Peter evenly. His whole vibe is still hostile. “But thanks for footing the bill for it.”

Peter’s smirk only widens.

Stiles clears his throat and fidgets when the tension between them escalates. He says, “So is there a reason why we’re all gathered here? I have school in about forty minutes, so if we could get to it then that would very helpful.”

Peter doesn’t break his staring contest with Parrish as he says, “I heard there was a party you wanted to go to. Well, the Sherriff was kind enough to clarify. I, of course, am offering my assistance in capturing our runaways.”

“The Mermaids,” Parrish states, point blankly. "You want to lend a hand with reeling in the Mermaids?"

“They’re in human form, so — Nymphs,” Stiles lightly corrects but he doubts anyone notices.

Peter hums noncommittally before he finally flicks his gaze away to look at Stiles. “You’re not going to that party,” he simply says.

“What?” Stiles protests, hackles immediately rising. “But — you can't juice me for info and then yank me out of the situation like I have no right to it!"

"Absurd," Peter replies, unmoved. "We all have a part to play, and yours has ended. I would think you would be thrilled. I know how reluctant you are when it comes to social engagements."

Stiles can feel his cheeks heat out of anger and embarrassment because of that personal jab. "This is different and you know that."

"Ah, yes, I know a lot of things," Peter agrees. "And one of those things is that you are not going."

"You are such a dick," Stiles snaps, trying his hardest not to throw a tantrum. "You’re the one that got me involved with this in the first place anyway!”

“That's true, more or less. But I didn’t ask you to be directly involved. I'm afraid that won't do at all. There's a chance it could become rather unpleasant. Which is why I think it's best to take the reigns on this one myself,” Peter decides and Stiles does not get this guy at all. “College parties are more my area.”

Kate grins as she bites the knuckle of her thumb and who knows what she’s thinking.

Stiles is fuming.

“So why am I here?” Parrish asks.

“Because I still need you,” Peter replies. Then adds, “Unfortunately.”

Parrish glares and clenches his jaw.

Stiles softens his own glare at Peter to glance between them. He may be upset by the turn of events, but he's still curious enough to ask, “Is he a — are you like — what’s going on?”

Parrish and Peter both look at him.

“Are you a —” Stiles makes sure to lower his voice as he glances to the handsome deputy. “— a Werewolf?”

Parrish blinks, taken back by the question.

Kate snorts, while Peter looks heavily amused.

“What?” Stiles complains as his cheeks grow red. “Am I missing something?”

“You’re missing everything,” Kate cryptically reports. “He’s not what you think.”

Stiles stares at her before he stares at Parrish, who shifts awkwardly. “Then — what are you?”

“That is the question, isn’t it?” Peter remarks as he cocks his head. “Care to enlighten him, Jordan? Oops. I mean Kyle.”

Parrish glares at Peter venomously before he slides from the booth with a thunderous expression. “I’m done here. Phone it in if you need anything else from me,” he hisses before he storms out of the diner.

Stiles stares after the deputy’s sulking form before he turns his frown to Peter. “I have no idea what’s going on, but I know enough about you to know that what you did was pushing it,” he states knowingly.

Peter shrugs and doesn’t deny it. “We’ve never seen eye to eye,” he supposes.

“Untrue. They used to be best friends, way back when,” Kate chimes as she texts away on her expensive smartphone. "Almost as close as lovers."

Peter glares at her. “Kate. That’s too much.”

“Whatever,” Kate huffs. “Don’t deal a low blow if you can’t handle one.”

Peter rolls his eyes and pulls away from her as their food arrives.

Stiles cuts into his pancakes angrily and says, “Seriously, I’m being kept in the dark about a lot of things as is. Can you tell me what the deal with Parrish is?”

“Ask him,” Peter says, deflecting — his mood seems to have darkened. “Hurry up and eat. I’m dropping you and Kate off as soon as we’re done here.”

Stiles sighs but he eats.

Looks like he isn’t going to that party after all, which, whatever.

He’s got to pack for his trip to Chicago anyway.

So.

He totally doesn't even care.

---

At lunch, while Stiles and Kira hand out large campaign buttons with Laura’s face plastered across them, Cora pulls him aside and says, “I get it okay? I won’t — I’ll be better about how I treat your friends.”

Stiles feels both of his eyebrows shoot up at that. It sounds as close as an apology as he’ll ever get from Cora. He says, “Yeah? You can stand to be decent for a little while?"

Cora glares.

Stiles lifts up both hands to show he means no harm. "That’s all I’m asking.”

Cora gives him a hard look before she sighs. “Fine, then,” she says as she fidgets with a scowl. She looks a bit cagey. “So are we good or what?”

Stiles grins, amused. “Why? Did you miss me?"

"Don't be stupid."

"Be honest. It just burns at you when we’re not on speaking terms, doesn’t it?”

Cora gives him a flat look.

“You’re not denying it,” Stiles points out before he perks up and touches her hair. “Hey, you colored your hair.”

Cora nods and leniently lets him fiddle with her hair before she bats his hands away. “Sabrina did them for me. She’s pretty good.”

“Yeah. She is,” Stiles agrees as he studies the tips of her hair, which have been dyed purple. “You ready for the trip?”

Cora gives him a look. “Didn’t you hear? That’s been canceled.”

“What? Why?”

“Apparently there’s like some major unrest right now. Some cop shot a toddler and then her mom, so people are going in with protesting and looting.”

“Wait, wait — when did this happen?” Stiles asks as his mind begins to tinker away.

“It started yesterday, I think,” Cora says. “I — hey, where are you going?”

Stiles bolts into the school and heads to the Teacher’s Lounge because there’s sure to be a TV.

There is, but the lounge is crowded with teachers as is, all of them watching the huge flat screen mounted high up in the corner of the room. All of them have a range of emotions painted across their faces, from shock, to horror, and disbelief.

Stiles stands by Mrs. Cassidy and asks, “What’s going on?”

Mrs. Cassidy, without prying her eyes from the TV, says, “I don’t know. They’re saying an off-duty cop shot a toddler and then her mom for no apparent reason. But his department is stating that they were attacking him like animals and he had no choice. Now there’s an outcry for justice for the killings because they believe it was violent act of discrimination because the mother and daughter were Black Muslims but others are saying it was because of something else — I don’t know. They’re declaring Martial Law in Chicago.”

Stiles turns to look at the screen right in the moment a picture of the victims are shown, along with the officer being accused, and it’s like a bucket of ice has been dumped on him.

It’s them.

The mother and the daughter that Lydia drew — it’s them.

Chapter Text

The rest of Stiles’s classes for the day aren’t really much like classes at all. His teachers just use their Prometheans boards to show them about the events currently happening in Chicago through their choice of news channel.

It’s baffling.

It’s almost like looking at another country. The police march through the streets with camouflage uniform and guns in their hands, pointed up at the peaceful protesters as they spray the area with orange pepper spray. There are also candles and flowers and fake swaddled babies being left on the sidewalk where the mother and daughter were killed. Witnesses give accounts of the events since this particular incident happened just outside of a diner. A lot of them say:

The little girl and the mom had been sitting in the back,” a black elderly woman says with several microphones hovering near her mouth. She’s got thick, toffee colored glasses that make her look like a bug. “I remember her mouth and fingers were sticky with some kind of chocolate — I’d found it so adorable at the time. She’d started crying out of nowhere. Held her own head, you know — she cupped her hands over her ears like this.” The old woman demonstrates. “Then she started wailing something awful, you know, like she in pain, but the momma tried calming her down. She looked confused too. So she took the little girl out the front and she had to stop, I guess. She stopped right out in front of them windows and she got on her knees in front of the little girl. Look like she was saying or asking, you know, asking her what’s wrong? What’s wrong? She looked so confused because the girl wouldn’t stop screaming and shaking, then finally that officer came on to check on them I guess, asking to see what the problem was, and you know, also maybe to make sure the mother hadn’t been hurting the girl, but next thing I know, the little girl wrapped her little body around his leg and she gets to biting at his thigh. And the officer screamed as clear as if it had been some savage dog or something and he pepper sprayed the girl but she started to crawl up his body like a little monkey — that’s when I heard it. Four gun shots. Little girl went down, then the momma came at him. Again, four gun shots. Both them lay on that sidewalk and — we all kinda knew.

The granddaughter of the old woman, speaks up with an angry frown and says, “I don’t care if that officer had probable cause. A bite to the leg isn’t some kinda go ahead to execute a little girl and her mom out in the middle of the day on the street. I'm a nurse for a mental ward and half of my shift is spent fighting off patients half my size, with twice my strength but not once do I ever have to use a gun to put them down. Mind you, this was a little girl. She clearly — and you heard what my grandma said — she wasn’t right from the start. She was having a fit, and I don’t know because I’m not a doctor or anything, but the little girl could have been dealing with something that made her react that way. We don’t know cause neither the mom nor the little girl is here to say, and that, to me, is what’s so awful. I just know I don’t feel safe. I might sneeze, you know, and one of them officers will shoot me down too.

There are more accounts, and they’re shown between the cutaways to the downtown streets of Chicago, though that’s not where all the peaceful demonstration happens. All of that happens in Grant Park, where there are masses of citizens from all walks of life. They’re linked arm and arm, never faltering with their march as they cry out for justice. They hold up signs that say the same thing: HUMANS ARE THE REAL MONSTERS.

The sight of it is particularly jolting to Stiles because it carries the implication that Weres have come to a point where they seem not to care to hide themselves anymore. But none of them have been caught shifting, however, or in any other form. Outside of Stiles and perhaps anyone else who may know of the existence of all the Mythical Beings, people may take the signs as pure irony instead of what it really is.

Not everyone is peacefully protesting though. Some of the more opportunistic citizens of Chicago are using this standoff as a chance to loot, or create more tension amongst the opposing sides. By the time Stiles reaches his last class, things have escalated so fast that all power in Chicago has been cut off while everything (businesses, hospitals, etc.) have been shut down to encourage the submission of the discontented crowd.

Not only that, but the local and even national media sent to cover the events have been disbanded. His teacher is forced to go on twitter and follow the #Chicago tag. The bell rings and Stiles quickly snatches his backpack from the ground and heads to his locker to dump all his books since he hadn’t been assigned any homework in all his latter classes, and he’d finished all his assignments from his classes that came before lunch.

The volume of voices carry through the school (as students pour out of their class and into the halls like a river), all circling back to the topic of what's happening in Chicago.

Stiles navigates the crowded halls in search of Kira as he starts whistling and he finds her by her locker chatting with a couple of girls that Stiles recognizes from the softball team. He doesn’t want to interrupt so he stands off to the side and sends Kira a wave when Kira tosses him a grin before she turns back to the small group of girls flocked around her, who also glance over at Stiles with curious eyes.

"It's Stiles, right?" one of the girls call over. She has honey-brown curls that fan around her reddish-brown face like a halo. "You moved here like a month ago?"

"More than a month ago, but yes," Stiles answers in kind. "I'm sorry, what's you name?"

"Nicolette," is the reply, and it's followed with a wink. "I'm the captain of our softball team. You should come to our games sometime. Kira needs all the support she can get."

"Oh, yeah, sure," Stiles says, unsurely.

Nicolette doesn't say more than that. She turns away with a sly grin and murmurs something to the other girls. Then, there’s a moment when they all eye him with interest, puffing up to toss him disarming smiles that kind of throw him to be honest.

Stiles straightens against the lockers and rubs the back of his neck awkwardly as he nods at them all with a polite smile.

They all turn away with a giggle and say something to Kira who blushes but rolls her eyes with a happy grin.

Stiles doesn’t have to wait long after that because Kira shoos them off with a promise to see them at practice on Monday. He pushes away from the locker he’s leaning against just as she closes hers and pauses his whistling. “So,” he says. “Baseball.”

Kira nods happily as she bites her bottom lip and bumps their shoulders together. “I know! I’m so like, gah! And it’s last minute of course, but I talked to the coach and she’s been super nice and cool about it. Even with there being a month left of school — I just — this is so good,” she rambles as they make their way out the exits. “I’ve never played softball though.”

Stiles laughs because he’s not even surprised. “I think I have an old bat somewhere in the basement. We can, I don’t know, give it a try if you want.”

Kira beams and nods as they head over to the racks so she can unlock her bike.

Stiles begins to whistle again as he watches all the students and teachers disperse from the school and the parking lot. Then he follows Kira as she mounts her bike and starts peddling lazily since Stiles doesn’t have his bike to keep up. He whistles for a long minute before he says, “So you heard about what’s happening in Chicago?”

Kira’s smile shrinks and her expression goes somber. “Yeah,” she says quietly. “It’s awful, isn’t it? I mean, I just don’t understand how people can do the terrible things they do.”

Stiles hums noncommittally. “It’s a bad situation,” he says as they walk along the side of the road towards Isaac’s school. He starts whistling softly again.

“That’s funny,” Kira says.

Stiles stops whistling with a frown and says, “What is?”

“The way you’re whistling —”

Heavy metal music blasting from an overbearing monster truck down the road behind them cuts Kira off mid-sentence as it comes whipping down the road.

Stiles gets a warning chill that sinks into the bones of his hands and makes them stiff. All the sounds of the forest zeros out, leaving him in a muted silence.

There’s an instance where the truck seems to pass in slow motion, giving Stiles enough time to see the two hardened faces of Rick and Carter, Erica’s older twin brothers, with their shaved heads, bulky body-building bodies and a tattoo of a cat's paw print under their right ear. The only difference between them is the fact that Rick has a claw shaped scar across his mouth and chin.

Finally the truck grinds away and the world comes into focus again, and Stiles inhales and exhales a little shakily as Kira grabs him with a look of concern but they spring away from each other because the touch feels like they’ve both been zapped by a small spark of electricity.

“Crap. I’m sorry,” Kira says, fingers twitching as she shakes it off. “I thought I was over doing that — damn. You okay, Stiles?”

“Fine,” Stiles mumbles as he rubs at his elbow. He can still feel the feather-like touch of static on his skin. It feels like pins and needles almost.

“Well, sorry again, but that’s not what I meant,” Kira says as she shifts off of her bike so she can bodily face him. “Before that. You had — you were — you stopped breathing,” she says, fingers twitching at her sides again. “What’s wrong?”

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Stiles says as he scrubs his face tiredly. “I don’t know what’s going on with me. I mean I do but I don’t.” He wants to tell her — wants to share everything just to have someone who he can really talk to about it. But he can’t because he knows it isn’t sensible and also because how could she understand? He drops his hands with a sigh. “Maybe I’m just tired,” he says because what else can he say? Not the truth, that’s for sure.

“Maybe,” Kira supposes but she still looks concerned like she can pick up on his mood and everything he’s not saying. It makes him fidget but she turns away and begins walking again. “So,” she says. “What are your plans for summer?”

“Driver’s ed,” Stiles responds, grateful for the change in subject. “Hopefully I’ll pass with flying colors.”

“God, I wish I could do something like that,” Kira says with a whimsical sigh. “My mom would never let me. She’s so lame. I mean I love her with everything in me, but she is so frustratingly close-minded about so much. It makes me wonder how she and my dad ever got together because they’re such opposites.”

“Opposites attract,” Stiles offers with a wry grin.

Kira snorts. “I never really believed that.”

“Yeah, me either,” Stiles admits. “I think it’s more to do with two people being able to complement each other. Coming together to show the best of the other person and not what they’re lacking of but what they can do for each other when they’re together. Kind of like —”

“Peanut butter and jelly,” Kira offers with soft smile. “Two different things combining for one purpose, even if you can enjoy them just fine on their own, it’s more about how those two things can be at their best when together. It’s an awesome duo.”

“Yeah!” Stiles exclaims and snaps his fingers. “I swear, sometimes it’s like you’re reading my thoughts. That’s exactly what I was — you know? Only, you worded it better.”

Kira shrugs with a smile, pleased.

Stiles chuckles a little and bumps their shoulders together. “Listen to us. Getting sentimental over food.”

“It’s the best thing to be sentimental about in my opinion,” Kira says with a dramatic, dreamy sigh. “Like cheese — do not get me started on cheese. I could write a thousand sonnets about cheese.”

“I can write two thousand about tacos. But, you know, that kind of commitment isn’t for everyone,” Stiles teases.

Kira laughs. “Oh, that sounds like a challenge to me, Mr. Stilinski.”

“Only if you think you can meet it, Ms. Yukimura,” Stiles responds in kind.

“Okay,” Kira says, pausing just as they reach the parking lot of Isaac’s school. “You still going on that trip?”

“No.”

“I didn’t think so,” Kira says as she taps her chin before she perks up. “How about this? Two thousand sonnets about our favorite foods by Sunday, and — loser has to pay for both the movie and the winner’s choice of restaurant.”

Stiles pretends to really mull it over before he sticks out his hand. “You got yourself a bet.”

Kira shakes his hand and they both ignore the light static shock that passes between them at the contact. “Just to warn you, I have obsessive tendencies. I won’t let up for a second.”

“Yeah?” Stiles says as he lets her hand go. “Well, so do I. In fact, in the last six seconds I’ve thought of like ten different sonnets.”

“Only ten? I’m at twenty-three,” Kira brags, flinging her hair over her shoulder as she rolls her bike along the curb that leads to the front of the school.

Stiles mutters something resentful to himself for a quick moment before he jogs after her. He sees all his friends conversing and he smiles when Scott brightens with a happy expression. He laughs a little when Scott steps away from Malia and Allison to pull him into an enthusiastic bro-hug.

“Dude,” Scott says as his arms tighten around Stiles. “Dude!

“Yeah, buddy, I’m here,” Stiles answers with an amused grin and they pull away from each other.

“Dude, you heard about Chicago, right? I mean, that could’ve — you were supposed to go,” Scott points out and his brow furrows with real concern.

Stiles rubs the back of his neck as he pulls away further. “Yeah, that’s true too — well, I’m — I didn’t go. So there’s...that, I guess?” He shrugs and glances over to where Isaac is sitting on the curb between Jackson and Boyd.

Jackson and Boyd seem to be having a conversation over him, but Isaac doesn’t necessarily appear to mind at all.

Stiles then glances over to where Kira is chatting happily with Allison and Malia.

Malia’s playing with Kira’s hair like she can’t help herself, while Allison keeps Kira’s attention with her dimpled smile and short replies.

“What do you think?” Scott says as he coils his fingers around Stiles’s left elbow to flag his attention. “About Chicago — what do you think?”

“A lot of things,” Stiles admits with a heady sigh as he scrubs a hand over the stubble of his hair, which actually, isn’t so much stubble anymore, but it’s growing into that awkward phase between being grab-able, and yet not. He begins to wonder if he should cut it for the oncoming summer but he shakes the thought away and drops his hand before he can truly drift. “Lydia drew a picture before it all even — just. I don’t know. I’d already seen the mother and the daughter when I went to visit her the other day. And I just — I don’t know. It means something.

“You think it was an accident like they’re trying to say?” Scott questions with a deepening frown.

Stiles huffs and lifts his eyebrows as he shakes his head. “Honestly — my gut says there’s more to it than what we’re being shown. Possibly even — premeditated.”

“No way,” Scott says, taken aback. “You think it was planned?”

“More or less,” Stiles confirms as he bounces on his heels. The whole thought of it makes him anxious. Something warm is twisting in his gut. He glances around for a moment before he says, “How’s — has Erica seemed — how does she seem?”

Scott’s brow furrows at the question. “Uh, the same, I think? More distant but that’s not — she’s been like that for a while now, so I don’t think that’s anything to even pay attention to. Her brothers came and picked her up a little before you and Kira arrived, and they were all screaming at each other.”

Stiles rolls that around in his head. He wonders if his dad has looked into that whole situation like he said he would. It makes Stiles a little nervous but he tries not to let it overwhelm him. He whistles thoughtfully.

Isaac suddenly tenses and straightens as he glances sharply at Stiles with an expression Stiles cant quite place.

Scott momentarily distracts him by saying, “I think everyone was trying to go visit Lydia. Did you want to come?”

Stiles pauses at that. Any other time he’d say yes, but for some reason, he has a strange, pressing urge to go home — if not to see if there are any new developments with what’s happening in Chicago but for some other reason. It feels important. He says, “Not this time.”

Scott nods like he understands, and maybe he does. He usually gets Stiles in his own way. He says, “Okay, that’s cool. I’ll say hi for you, and uh — actually I wanted to ask about Kira.” He lowers his voice to say, “Does she know about everything?”

Stiles shakes his head. “That’s a conversation I’m actually trying not to have. No reason why I should pull her into the thick of everything.”

Scott twists his mouth thoughtfully but he doesn’t say anything.

Stiles wonders what he’s thinking. He knocks his fist lightly into Scott’s shoulder and says, “Don’t think too hard.”

Scott scoffs and straightens. He says, “You don’t have to tell me that. It’s usually my motto.” He grins really quickly before he adds, “You know, maybe I’ll skip this visit too. I can always, I don’t know, see Lydia some other time. Actually that sounds really dismissive when I say it out loud, but it’s just that I feel like we haven’t been hanging out as much because of everything that’s going on. Does that make sense?”

Stiles smiles and throws an arm over Scott’s shoulders. “Yeah, man. That makes perfect sense. I’ve been feeling like that too.”

Scott smiles sunnily. “Okay, let me just tell the others we’re bowing out and I’ll grab my bike.”

Stiles nods and watches him go do just that. He rocks back and forth on his heels and begins whistling softly again but he stops as soon as he notices the way Isaac shoots him another odd look. He makes a mental note to ask about that because he wants to know what that look means.

Everyone begins to disperse with parting goodbyes (taking care to acknowledge Stiles as they do) and before long, it’s just him, Isaac, Kira, and Scott left in the parking lot.

But even they don’t linger.

Stiles chooses to ignore the familiar sonic boom of those military jets passing overhead and engrosses himself in a light banter with Scott over Marvel’s cinematic depiction of Elektra and where they went wrong (or how they could have done better).

Kira even offers a few clever remarks that immediately win Scott over.

Isaac keeps mostly to himself.

---

Laura, Peter, Cora, and Derek are lounging on Stiles’s porch steps when he and Scott, Isaac, and Kira finally make it to the house. Stiles is used to them dropping by unannounced, and he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t curious as to why they’ve come by this time.

Isaac tosses his bike on the lawn, skulks up the steps and into the house, avoiding each Hale he crosses paths with as usual. He’s got his own copy of the house key so he doesn’t have to wait around for Stiles to toss it his way anymore.

Kira saddles up beside Stiles alongside her bike with undisguised curiosity that he recognizes instantly because he’s worn that expression more than enough times since he’s been living in Beacon Hills and he sends Scott a desperately significant look.

Scott, like the true best friend he is, picks up on it right away and hooks his arm with Kira. He leads her towards the back, talking over her when she starts to protest and says, “Hey, you know, there’s a trampoline in the back and I don’t trust myself to jump on it without supervision…”

Stiles waits a moment until he’s sure they’re gone before he strides up to the bottom step of his porch. He glances at Cora and Derek, who are sitting at the very top, leaning against each other, before he flicks his gaze to Laura, who’s sitting on the middle steps to the far right beside Peter, who is leaning casually against the railing with crossed arms.

Peter wastes no time in saying, “I take it your girlfriend doesn’t know about Beacon Hills’s more mystical side?”

Stiles ignores him and focuses on Laura, who has red-rimmed eyes. He says, “What is it?”

Laura looks so angry and desperate. “You’ve seen, haven’t you? They murdered them.”

Stiles doesn’t even have to ask who she means.

“I want to go to Chicago. Mom’s against it. I have half a mind to go anyway,” Laura swears lowly. “We should be there! We should be standing with them. They were one of ours! They're asking for a fight and I'm having a hard time reasoning why we shouldn't.”

Peter says, “Don’t be ignorant about this.”

Fuck you!” Laura snaps as some tears spill over her cheeks (and there is a moment where everyone seems startled by the outburst). “We should be there. This matters.”

“I never said it didn’t,” Peter states calmly as he holds a neutral expression, but his blue eyes darken calculatingly. “But going when you don’t have explicit permission? Now that’d be a mistake, defying your Alpha like that,” he says with all seriousness. “I don’t always agree with Talia but she does usually know what’s best.”

Laura makes a disgusted sound and sniffs as her mouth twists with frustration. She stares at Stiles like she can see beyond him, and it strikes him how alike she is to Talia in that way. Quietly, so very quietly that he has to strain to hear, she says, “Tell me what to do. I’ll — anything. But you have to tell me. Tell me.”

Stiles inhales suddenly in surprise at the surge of white-hot certainty that slashes into his gut that he has to take a step back because something about the way she says her shaky petition strikes a chord in him that he wasn’t aware he had and Laura stares at him so intently like she just knows how to reach inside of him without even making any physical contact.

Peter frowns as he glances between them and he straightens abruptly in alert.

This causes Derek and Cora to straighten as well and their brows furrow at the change in the air.

Laura doesn’t take her watery brown eyes off Stiles. She doesn’t even blink. Not even for a second. It’s bewitching.

Stiles exhales slowly as a wind sweeps by, shaking the leaves of every tree on the block, as well as making the grass shiver. The sound of it intensifies in his ear. He can just — he can hear. He can hear it all, as clear as day.

There’s the constant slap of the sprinklers from across the street and the sharp rotation of the blades of a lawnmower hacking away at the grass from the lawn that’s down the street on the corner. Then it’s the rubber of wheels grinding against the asphalt, as well as the whirring of a motor engine as the cars make their rounds up and down the street. It’s the busy scramble of squirrels and the squawking of birds in the trees. It’s the clicking of bugs buzzing by or burrowing into the dirt. It's the sound of gravity.

God, he can hear gravity.

It's a roaring sound (like the whirring of a vacuum).

It’s too much, all at once, out of nowhere.

This heightened sound makes Stiles cringe and he has to cup his hands over his ears because all of them begin to combine and crash into each other until he can’t distinguish one from the other and god, the sound is so startlingly loud. It’s like glass breaking against glass while knives are being sharpened in the background and he wants it to stop because he can’t take it — just stop, stop, stop, stop —

..iles…St…es…il…Sti…Stiles!

Stiles gasps and blinks dizzily as he stares up at Derek with wet eyes, breathless with his confusion.

Derek’s hands are twitching over his wrists as he flicks his gaze over Stiles’s face anxiously, searching. He’s gently coaxing Stiles’s hands away from his ears. “You’re okay,” he says quietly and he waits for Stiles to nod numbly before his expression darkens and he glares over his shoulder at Laura. “What did you do to him?”

Laura’s face is twisted with guilt. “I just — I only wanted —” She presses a hand over her mouth, looking horrified. “Stiles, I’m sorry. Oh Mother Moon — I’m so sorry.”

Stiles doesn’t know what to say. He feels — he’s not sure how he feels. He can’t stop shaking. It’s like being a nerve: raw and exposed. She’d done something to him and she’d known what she was doing. She extracted some kind of truth that he had not consented to give. He clamps his trembling lips together as he fights back a wave of nausea. This is something he’d never expect from Laura. Peter on a bad day, maybe — but not Laura. There would never have been a need because Stiles trusts Laura — trusted Laura.

Derek rubs soothing circles with his thumbs into the inside of his wrists and he looks at Stiles like he wants to help but he doesn’t know how.

Stiles shakes him off and takes a step back. He wants all of them gone. He can’t — he needs them to leave. His voice is hoarse when he speaks, and he gets a sinking feeling that he might have been screaming but he can’t remember. “Go to Chicago,” he rasps, looking at Laura with wet eyes. “You wont be able to take a plane so you’ll have to rent a car.”

Laura says, “Stiles, you don’t have to —”

Don’t interrupt me!” Stiles snaps and he has to swallow down the swelling anger trying to bubble up in his throat. “You don’t get to — this must be what you wanted so you better listen to what I have to say.”

Laura’s bottom lip trembles and she remains quiet all the while looking pitifully chastised. She shakes her head at Cora when the younger Hale growls and glares at Stiles. She takes a protective stance in front of Laura.

Derek just glares at both of his sisters warningly.

Peter raises a brow at them all and looks openly intrigued by the developments unfolding before him but he’s smart enough to keep any comments to himself.

Stiles swallows again and curls his shaky fingers into fists until his cuticles are digging into the soft flesh of his palm. He continues, “Get a large vehicle because a few of your family members will most likely want to come, but you’re also going to have to stock up on food because there will be a need for it. Keep it simple: water, nonperishable items like what you would buy during a storm when you know there will be no power, and wait to buy milk when you’re close enough because they’re using tear gas to keep everyone under control. I don’t know if that kind of stuff effects you but there are Humans who will be there and it will effect them. The milk will help.

"So help them. You need allies. This is a delicate situation that could get very ugly, very fast. No matter how many Supernaturals there are or may be, Humans will always outnumber them. Outnumber you. No good ever comes from fear and panic, we know this from Human history alone. We drop bombs on things we don't understand. Our first instinct is to exterminate.” He pauses as his mind races. Then he says, “Take Peter with you because that’s the only way you’ll get Talia to agree to it. He's a diplomat at heart, and a very clever wordsmith. He can smooth things over if needed. Besides,” he says as he turns his knowing gaze on Peter. “He knows there’s more to the situation in Chicago than what’s being shown and he wants to investigate because there’s something about it he recognizes.”

Both of Peter’s eyebrows shoot up at that but he doesn’t deny it.

Stiles begins to feel drained but he continues because he has to for the sense of urgency that’s festering inside of him has yet to flee. “Like it or not, you're going to have to be a leader, Laura. If only in this situation. Try not to let your emotions get in the way from making the smartest decision. Be brave, and hold yourself accountable for as many losses as you would with victories. If you fail this, don't take it personal — just try to stay positive from start to finish, despite how things look or seem at the moment."

Laura nods slowly.

"You can’t bring Cora,” Stiles firmly states.

Cora begins to valiantly protest but Laura lifts her hand and the motion makes Cora stop short.

Stiles scrubs at his face tiredly with both hands. “You can’t bring her. She’s not — she wont be able to keep herself in check and its safer that way. There’s too much enmity on both sides. The police are too aggressive and Cora’s got a temper not suited for this type of thing. Derek should stay behind too because Talia and Nana Hale will need help looking after the kids when the parents leave with you.

"And be careful because like I said, this will put you in command and every decision you make will matter. Things in Chicago might take a turn for the worst but concentrate on keeping peace. Instigating the negative focus will be bad, and there’s no cause for chaos. Not when there’s still the potential of reaching an understanding. I —” He stops and measures the looks on all their faces. They’re staring at him like he’s a completely different person, which is no surprise because he feels like one. He feels like he wants to crawl out of his skin. “That’s all. That’s all I got. I’m tapped out.”

Laura shifts and glances over to Peter, who gives a simple nod and herds Cora and Derek to his car, which is parked in the driveway. She waits until they’ve climbed in before she steps up to Stiles and tucks her long bangs behind her ears. Her voice is shaky when she says, “I’m sorry.”

“I know,” Stiles says, because he does. “But I can’t — I need us to be — Laura, there’s this ugly feeling inside of me that I don’t know what to do with because you forced my hand in a way I was totally unprepared for.”

Laura’s eyes mist over wetly and she nods with trembling lips. She sniffs and brushes her mouth over the knuckles of her right hand. “I really shouldn’t have done that. It was a betrayal to your trust, and I’m sorry. I hope you know that.”

“You have to be careful,” Stiles replies instead. He’s sort of numbing himself to this situation because he can't take the conflict of being pressed between anger and sympathy. “Make friends in Chicago, but be careful. I don’t — this feels major and you should just be careful.”

“Stiles,” Laura whispers and looks at him with a helpless look. “Please know that I’m sorry.”

“You said that already,” Stiles says flatly. His next words feel sour on his tongue. “You can be sorry a hundred times over and I would still be — I am angry. You don't get to make me feel like I shouldn't be. You should go. Be careful.” He eases around her and flexes his fingers as he climbs the porch steps.

He doesn’t watch Laura slide into Peter’s car, nor does he watch the red vehicle reverse out of his driveway and take off. He’s too busy crouching down to pick up a bar of black soap wrapped in plastic and thin white nylon twisted package string. He frowns and turns it over in his hands as he straightens, glancing around before he carries it into the house, up the steps and into the bathroom before setting it on the sink counter.

Stiles has to splash his face with cold water and resist the urge to cry. It’s only a slight relief that when he glances up at his reflection, cheeks pink and face wet, he doesn’t see a complete stranger.

For the first time in ever, he knows exactly how Lydia feels. He hadn’t liked that at all — that overwhelming assault on his senses. As a Virtue, he’s not sure what he’s capable of but after that incident just now, he’s not sure he wants to know. It left him shaken and stunned — afraid.

Stiles sighs and pushes away from the sink to exit the bathroom. He tucks away in his room and crawls under the blankets of his bed. He squeezes his eyelids shut until they’re completely scrunched and the pressure of holding them like that causes him to see little flecks of light and colors. He focuses on it with all his might just because he’s desperate to wipe his mind of anything tangible.

He’s never been so grateful for silence. 

---

Two hours later, Stiles climbs out of bed lethargically, wiping sleep from his eyes and escaping the tomb of heat he’d encased himself in while he was twisted up in his sheets under his comforter. He doesn’t even remember falling asleep but he does feel a lot better for it. He also feels famished, like he hasn’t eaten in days, and he stumbles to his door with an annoyed sound when he’s realized he forgot to take off his sneakers. He rubs at his eyes again with a jaw-cracking yawn as he staggers down the steps, his equilibrium a little off for whatever reason, and he makes his way to the living room where Scott is taking up space and lounging on the big couch.

Stiles sits down on the floor next to Scott’s hip and stares at the TV until he recognizes what’s being played. “Why are you guys watching Strawberry Shortcake?” He twists his head to look at his best friend.

Scott has his hands folded together behind his head, looking comfortable and at ease. He shrugs with a sheepish grin. “It was either this or Young Justice. We took a vote on it earlier. Isaac and Kira double teamed me, so.” He shrugs again. “She had to leave to go home ten minutes ago.”

Stiles snorts. He glances over to see Isaac curled up in his favorite armchair, enthralled. He really questions his brother’s taste in television. His stomach gargles loudly and he blushes a little when Scott snickers.

“Isaac made some tatter tot casserole,” Scott offers.

Stiles makes a desperately grateful sound as he climbs to his feet and makes his way into the kitchen.

The glass baking dish is still resting on top of the stove, and half of the casserole is already gone, so Stiles gets what he can before he pops it into the microwave. He idly takes note of the time (7:34 pm) before he takes his food out of the microwave to cool. He gropes himself for his phone before he sits down at the kitchen table and he sees a few missed calls from his dad, Kira, Cora, and Deaton. None of them leave him any voicemails, but they do text him when they see he’s not answering.

His dad’s text reads: Working a double shift, won’t be home until tomorrow evening. Scott can spend the night, I talked to his mom. I left some money for food. If you're still going to that party, please be safe.

Kira’s text reads: TRIED TO STICK AROUND TO WAIT FOR YOU TO WAKE UP BUT YOU WERE SO UNCONSCIOUS I HAD TO RETREAT SO UM I GUESS ILL SEE YOU TOMORROW AND DON’T YOU FORGET OUR WAGER BECAUSE LIKE I AM LIKE SO AHEAD OF YOU BECAUSE WHILE YOU WERE NAPPING I WAS WRITING DOWN FIFTY NEW SONNETS XD

Cora’s text reads: You and I need to talk about some things because Laura and Peter refuse to tell me what the hell that was earlier. C A L L  M E.

Deaton’s text reads: Mr. Stilinski, I believe I may have found something. Seeing as I was unable to get in contact with you, I’ve decided to take the matter directly to your father. There’s no time to waste. We’ll talk soon.

Stiles frowns and lingers on that last text before he scrolls through his contacts and calls Cora. When she picks up, he says, “Are they gone? Laura and Peter and everyone else?”

Yeah,” Cora replies but there’s a question in her voice. “It’s just me, Derek, and Nana. And the munchkins too but they’re out back playing. Mom’s gone to do something — she didn’t really say. I feel like she's meeting up with your dad. Why? What is it?

“Nothing, well — nothing,” Stiles says, even as his mind tinkers away, and he quickly barrels on before she can interrupt. “I need you to text me Kate’s number.”

Okay…” Cora drawls. “Sure but —

“We can talk later about that. Not now. Please,” Stiles says. “I have to go.” He ends the call and focuses on eating his food as he stares at his phone waiting for Cora’s text. It comes two minutes later but it’s also followed by a text from Derek that reads:

What are you up to

???

Stiles chews slowly and doesn’t bother to linger on wondering how Derek always seems to know when he’s plotting something. He just responds with:

Don’t worry about it. But just please. Don’t. Tell. Peter. I mean it.

Fine.

Stiles frowns.

That was almost too easy. He narrows his eyes at the screen of his phone.

When Derek doesn’t text him anything else he just texts Kate a quick message before he sets his phone on the table with the screen facing down and finishes up his food before he goes to make himself another helping. He doesn’t notice that he’s completely finished off the casserole until he moves to make another helping. He stands there for a second, staring at the empty dish, thinking about how he’s still hungry but also how he doesn’t normally gorge himself like this (outside of tacos but that was always pretty much a given).

Stiles frowns before he grabs the dish, rinses it out, and places it in the dishwasher. He makes himself two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and eats them like they’re nothing, but it’s not until he’s finished his third sandwich does he really start to feel vaguely satisfied. He’s too worried about overdoing it to keep going, so he retreats into the living room and talks Scott and Isaac into playing Need for Speed with him.

They switch the games around when Isaac and Scott get tired of being bested by Stiles and he’s lenient enough to let them.

He’s only trying to pass the time until —

Honk, honk!

Stiles blinks and stands before he eases over to the windows to peer out and sees Kate sitting in her shiny black Jaguar with the top down, texting away on her phone as she waits for him. He turns away to address Scott and Isaac, who are looking at him curiously. He says, “Okay, so, here’s the thing —”

Isaac shakes his head disapprovingly.

Stiles guffaws and flails his hands. “I haven’t even said — never mind. Look, I’m going to a college party to track down some Mermaids,” he explains.

Scott blinks hard at him like he’s fighting down a double-take. “You’re going where to do what now? Mermaids? Why are there Mermaids?”

“Technically, in Human form, they’re Nymphs,” Stiles supposes. “I’m going to a college party to — well I haven’t really thought about what I was going to do but —”

“Does dad know?” Isaac interrupts rudely but he doesn’t even blink. Stiles is starting to think that Isaac is getting way too familiar with him.

Stiles secretly likes it.

Isaac continues, “If dad doesn’t know, maybe you shouldn’t.”

“I told him what I was trying to do,” Stiles protests because he did. He just never mentioned that Peter tried to talk him out of going, which, let’s be honest, he would have ended up going anyway because Peter doesn’t have the final say in what he does. “He knows.”

Isaac doesn’t appear to be convinced.

Scott just looks confused all around.

“It’s all good,” Stiles promises and ignores the sound of Kate’s urgent honking. “Everything will be totally fine.”

"You say that in every situation that turns out to be the complete opposite," Isaac mutters, almost resentfully, but there's no ignoring the underlying concern there.

The doorbell rings.

Stiles rolls his eyes and goes to answer it.

Kate stands on the other side wearing a high-waisted, aquamarine pencil skirt with a slit down her right leg, and a sleeveless white crop top with matching pumps. She’s showing so much skin, which makes her look far from being the high school senior she is. She pops the gum in her mouth obnoxiously as she lifts a finely arched brow. “You’re not going anywhere with me looking like that.”

Stiles frowns and looks down at himself. “What’s wrong with what I’m —”

“Yawn. Bored now. Don’t even bother asking that question,” Kate interjects and eyes him with a shake of her head.  “Excuse me,” she says, flicking her hand at him. She waits for him to step out of the way so she can slide through and swagger towards the stairs. She briefly acknowledges Scott and Isaac with a smirk before she clicks her way up the steps.

Stiles quickly chases after her and he has to guide her away from Isaac’s room because she mistakes it for his.

Kate clicks her way over to his small walk-in closet, flinging the door open and waltzing in as she talks to herself.

Stiles pretends not to hear the flippant remarks she makes about his taste in fashion.

Kate pops her head out of his closet a moment later and says, “First chance we get, we’re taking you shopping.”

“With whose money?”

“My father’s of course,” Kate says, rolling her eyes like it’s so obvious. She disappears in his closet again. “The old man’s filthy rich, and he’d hardly notice if someone were dipping into the vaults.”

“Uh, that’s — tempting but no thanks. I’m fine with my taste in clothes,” Stiles says as he sits at his work desk and boots up his laptop and his tablet. He makes a quick work of scanning his emails and notifications for anything significant before he cruises through Twitter for some updates about Chicago.

“You can keep your tastes but even most people have church clothes,” Kate calls out from the closet. “I don’t see one button down in here that’s not plaid.” She starts chucking his clothes out of the closet like she’s making a pile of what she wants to burn with some gasoline and a match.

“I like plaid,” Stiles grumbles, mostly to himself as he scrolls down the news feed. There appears to be some kind of candle vigil going on along the Lakefront Trail. “Always trust the plaid.”

“Even I have church clothes,” Kate remarks. “And I’m agnostic.”

“Not surprising,” Stiles mutters, mostly distracted. He finds himself thinking about Laura and Peter and wondering how far they’ve made it crossing state lines with a good portion of their family.

“Okay,” Kate breathes like she’s just ran a marathon. “I think I found something suitable.” She holds up a pair of ripped jean shorts, a stripped blue tank top that says ‘Edgar Allan Bro’ (this had been a gag gift from his friend Emmanuel last year on his birthday and he’d worn it once to be ironic), a blue beanie hat, some black-framed hipster glasses (god, he doesn’t even know where that came from because he doesn’t even need or wear glasses), and some blue flip-flops.

Stiles almost gags. “I’m going to look like such a douche.”

Kate smiles predatorily. “Exactly. You’ll fit right in. Welcome to college.” She drops it all in his lap. “Get dressed. You got five minutes or I’m ditching you and going to that party myself,” she warns before she glides out of the room, slamming the door shut behind her.

Stiles manages to struggle his way into Kate’s carefully picked outfit in under three minutes (while almost spraining his wrist and breaking his nose in the process). He doesn’t feel any less unsettled when he uses his last two minutes to give himself a once over in the bathroom mirror. He may look like a ‘bro’ but damn it, he can’t deny the cleverness of Kate’s intentions because he appears less like the high school freshman that he really is. He appears to be more like a nerdy college freshman. So, you know, bright side.

Stiles sighs and flicks off the lights as he heads towards the steps then down them just as Kate starts in on the car horn. He waves a quick goodbye to Isaac and Scott on the way out.

“Dude!” Scott says when he sees him and he falls off the couch from laughing so hard.

Even Isaac looks like he’s fighting down a smile, but he just uses Scott’s momentary distraction to take him down in the game (Lego Marvel Super Heroes).

Stiles doesn’t linger. He quickly locks the door behind him on his way out and jogs down the steps.

Kate never lets up on the horn, even as she stares at him pointedly as he makes his way to her car.

“You’re going to wake the whole neighborhood,” Stiles complains as he buckles in.

“Good.” Kate wastes no time putting the car in reverse and backing out onto the street. She turns up the volume on her radio and blasts Miley Cyrus’s Do My Thang. After the song ends, she lowers the volume and says, “I heard you and Laura had a falling out.”

“Did Cora say something to you?” Stiles asks, hunching down in his seat as bounces his right leg and begins to gnaw on his fingernails.

Kate shoots him a look before she glares at the road ahead of them. “Don’t be stupid. Laura and I have been best friends since our sandbox days. She tells me everything. She sounded pretty wrecked about the whole thing.”

Stiles fidgets and drops his hand to pick with a loose thread on his shorts. “I’d rather not talk about that,” he says because his feelings are complicated on the issue. He’d probably know more about how he felt or where he stood with the issue if he understood what exactly it was that Laura had done, which, yeah, they’re totally going to have to talk about that when he’s not so pissed or troubled.

Kate seems to sense his shifting mood, so she says, “There’s three of them. The Nymphs. Two boys and a girl. The Mermaids in the mountains never said as much but it’s obvious in some ways.”

“Peter tell you that?” Stiles asks.

Kate looks at him like she wants to hit him. “How far do you think my head is up Peter’s ass? No, I figured that out on my own. It might interest you to know that between us, I’m actually smarter than him. He’d be six feet in the ground before he ever admits to it or ask me for help. He’s got his pride. Most men do. Peter just conveniently gets me to come along with him on most of his mischief. You know it was me that found those Mermaids in the first place, right? Of course you don’t. Peter would never say because then he’d have to acknowledge the fact that he’s not the smartest person on the planet.” She scoffs. “Peter can be stupid like that. He’s lucky he’s so pretty.”

Something about that makes Stiles smile a little and he huffs out a reluctant laugh. “Both of you are ridiculous,” he supposes.

“Probably,” Kate concedes as she turns down a street full of brick town houses. “But he’s the only person I know that can deal with my shit, and in this crazy world of ours, sometimes that counts for something.” She pulls up to a curb. “Do me a favor. Run up to that house and ring the bell.”

“Why?”

“Because if I do it, Parrish won't answer the door and I know his ass is in there,” Kate says as she flips down her sun visor so she can preen over her reflection.

“This is where Parrish lives?” Stiles asks as he glances over the black iron screen door settled over a small stoop, which is wedged between some well-kept bushes.

“Yes, now go and convince him to come with us. Because of what happened this morning with Peter, he’s acting skittish and now he refusing to — just convince him to come. We need him. He’s got valuable skills,” Kate merely says as she fiddles with her radio. “And when I say valuable I mean he’s hot as fuck and he makes good bait.”

Stiles stumbles out of her car and makes his way to Parrish’s front door. He rings the doorbell three times and waits.

The porch light comes on and a second later the door swings open.

Stiles squeaks because he finds himself at the wrong end of a shotgun.

Parrish (who is shirtless) relaxes when he sees who it is and he quickly sets the gun aside so he can unlock the screen door. “Stiles,” he says with a furrowed brow. “What are you doing here? Is it — how’s Isaac? Is something wrong?”

Stiles shakes his head rapidly when his tongue won’t cooperate. It takes a minute before he can blurt out, “Holy crap! What the hell? Who did you think I was?”

Parrish grimaces and his mouth tightens but he doesn’t say. He pauses as he eyes Stiles’s attire with raised eyebrows.

Stiles flushes and fidgets. “Don’t say anything. Your face says it all. I know,” he grumbles.

Parrish looks vaguely amused but he clenches his jaw when he notices that Stiles isn’t alone. He glares over at Kate and Stiles turns in time to see Kate blowing him some lewd kisses.

Stiles laughs a little nervously as he turns away. “So, um, you have any plans tonight?”

Parrish flicks his gaze back to Stiles. “Not particularly, but I have a feeling you’re about to change that.”

Stiles rubs the back of his neck sheepishly, doing his best to look everywhere but Parrish’s naked chest. “Well,” he says. “No pressure.”

Parrish lips curl a little at that before he sighs. “Give a few minutes. I’ll trail you.”

Stiles nods and quickly returns to Kate’s car. “Should I have told him we were using him as bait?” he wonders aloud.

Kate snorts. “Better he doesn’t now,” she replies before she leans over and pulls down her glove compartment to fish out a stick of gum. “You ever play Easy Pitch?”

Stiles frowns and accepts the piece she offers him as he shakes his head no. He shoves it in his pocket for later.

“It’s something me and Peter play from time to time when we go on stakeouts,” Kate goes on to explain as she pops the gum in her mouth after spitting out the old one. “Basically, it’s like — say you and I were out together, and we saw this girl, well I would go up to the girl and ask her some fielding questions based on what I was looking for. If she seemed innocent enough, I’d tell her all your charming qualities until I’ve convinced her you’d be worth her time. Then I’d send her your way so she can give you her number, that way you’d know she checks out. Easy Pitch.”

“Okay,” Stiles drawls. “Actually no. I don’t get it.”

“Unless you have a better way of singling out the Nymphs, I’m all ears,” Kate says. “Play the game and we can send each other people who we’ve given the all clear to. Narrows down suspects.”

“Oh.” Stiles can’t say that it isn’t a good idea. But he’s going to have a hard time socializing because parties like these usually aren’t his thing. Actually parties in general aren’t his thing. But at least it helps to know that he’s not the one trying to get the numbers for himself because that’s just a disaster waiting to happen.

Kate shifts gears just as Parrish exits his house wearing a simple v-neck shirt with some fitted jeans and he strides across the lawn to his car. She snorts and pulls away from the curb, saying, “He would drive a Mazda.”

Stiles doesn’t get what’s so significant about that but he doesn’t ask.

Kate drives without saying much else. She definitely doesn’t drive like Peter does. She’s more calm and aware, if not laidback. She constantly glances at her rearview mirror as if to make sure that Parrish is trailing them like he said he would.

When it looks like they’re getting close, driving past the actual college campus to head towards the more student-oriented neighborhood, Stiles says, “You’re not going to tell Peter about this are you?”

Kate smirks and says, “Duh. He doesn’t need to know everything. It would serve him right, wouldn’t it?”

Stiles silently agrees and when she parks they both climb out. “So what’s the story? I mean what’s the angle we’re playing with this Easy Pitch thing?”

“Well,” Kate drawls. “You can say I’m a newly signed model looking for a no-strings attached type of thing. And I’ll say you’re a photography major with that whole tortured artist thing but you’re worth a try because you’ve got a massive —”

Stiles splutters.

“— heart,” Kate finishes in amusement. “What?”

Stiles just shakes his head and flushes.

Kate snorts. “You’re just adorable, aren’t you?” She makes grabby hands at him. “Give me your phone.”

Stiles does and watches in amusement as she takes a selfie before handing it back.

“So they know who to look for,” Kate explains before she aims the camera lens of her phone at him.

Stiles just stands there awkwardly and waits for her to finish. When she takes longer than necessary, he opens his mouth and says, “What are you —”

Kate takes the picture with a smirk. “There. Perfect.” She eyes the picture. “You know you got such an obscene mouth. It’s criminal. I’m sure when I flash this picture to our targets they’ll come running to find you so they can see if you’ll let them take those lips for a ride.”

Stiles flushes again and pockets his phone when she hands it back over. “You make me sound like a hooker,” he grumbles.

“What’s so bad about that? Everyone loves someone who’s willing to go downtown, if you catch my meaning, which I think you do,” Kate drawls, wiggling her eyebrows in a ridiculous leery manner.

Stiles just gawks at her before he snaps his mouth shut and steps away from her car, turning his gaze to watch Parrish climb out of his car instead for something else to focus on outside of how obnoxious Peter’s girlfriend is.

Kate puts on some red lipstick as she clicks over to Parrish. “Keep an eye out for some obnoxiously good looking guys. They might be the Nymphs we’re looking for. Well, two out of three. I’m gonna go mingle and get drunk,” she decides.

Parrish grabs her elbow with a disapproving frown. “You’re underage, Kate,” he reminds, concern coloring his tone. "Peter wouldn't like —"

"Oh and you suddenly care what he likes, then?" Kate fires back with a mean grin. "Would it hurt you so much to say that you're worried about me?"

 "That's not — I didn't mean — of course I care what happens to you," Parrish stammers, looking uncomfortable. "But Peter —"

"What about Peter? He's got the good sense to know I can handle my own. And I'm eighteen now," Kate presses, angling her body more towards him. "If I want to drink, I will be drinking. But don't worry, if I feel like I want to get handsy with someone, I'll come find you."

Parrish flushes and quickly lets her go. "Kate..."

“Tough titty said the kitty,” Kate replies with a wicked grin. “You’re off duty, officer. Relax. Worry about him, not me.” And with that she walks up toward the fraternity house practically overflowing with college students who are practically half-naked, body littered with all sorts of interesting things like phone numbers, words, and so on.

All of them are clinging to red cups and to each other as they loudly mingle over the pulsating bass thumping from somewhere in the house.

Stiles can vaguely make out the song being played (Turn Down for What).

Parrish saddles up beside him and says, “Never went to college. Enlisted straight out of high school. Don’t think I missed much.”

Stiles snorts and says, “You’re fighting every judicial instinct in you that wants to card them, aren’t you?”

“It’s almost painful,” Parrish admits as he eyes the crowd warily. “Don’t drink anything offered to you.”

“I know,” Stiles says. “My dad already gave me this talk.”

Parrish just nods stiffly and makes a gesture towards the house.

Stiles walks a little bit ahead of him, eyeing different people of interest as he navigates between them. He’s not sure what to look for specifically — maybe the Nymphs will be obnoxiously gorgeous like Kate said. That’s not saying much though because there’s a lot of good-looking people at the party as is and Stiles has never been one to discriminate when it comes to beauty.

He sighs as they enter the house and the blare of music crashes over him like a tidal wave. He winces and tries not to think about the incident earlier as he seeks out the kitchen, figuring it’ll do as a proper not-hiding but kinda hiding spot.

There are others hanging around but it’s not as crowded as every other inch of the house.

Parrish scopes out the area like he’s looking for a potential threat and when he finds none, he turns to Stiles and says, “I’m going to walk around. See what I find.”

“Okay,” Stiles replies. “I’ll text you if I find something.”

Parrish nods before he disappears.

Kate sends him a text that reads: where r u?

In the kitchen.

good stay there

sending a couple of grls ur way

let u kno when we swtch off

Stiles pockets his phone and waits, trying not to look as awkward as he feels. He grabs a red cup off of the sink counter (it smells really strong and he’s not sure what it is) and he holds it for appearance’s sake.

A dark-skinned female with a busty figure, large hoop earrings and a short curly afro wanders around the couple making out and grinding against each other on the refrigerator. She makes a disgusted face and heads to the sink (where Stiles is currently standing near) and glares in the sink and then around. She looks at Stiles with narrowed eyes and points to the sink as she says, “Ey, did you see a cup of cognac sitting here? Cause I just dipped out for a hot second to go to the bathroom and I could’ve sworn I —”

“Oh, yeah,” Stiles says and hands her the cup in his hands. “I sorta picked it up and, um, I didn’t really know what to do with my hands so — don’t worry I didn’t drink it.”

“Uh huh,” she says, narrowing her eyes further. She sniffs at it before she just pours it down the drain. “No offense to you but I ain’t stupid. I don’t take chances.”

Stiles pushes his glasses further up his nose. “I don’t blame you. At all. You can never be too careful these days.”

“No you cannot,” she huffs in agreement. “And it sure don’t help your case hanging out in the kitchen with those two mid-coitus on that ice box. You know the party’s out there right?”

“Yeah. Which is why I’m in here,” Stiles confesses.

A look of dawning passes over her face. “You like my sister, Braeden. She the same way. Most people can't handle her temperament in polite situations cause she ain't polite to begin with. She’s kind of an undercover freak, if you catch my meaning. Real into that whole BDSM scene. She’s a Dominatrix. Using the money to put herself through this fancy preparatory academy up in New York. Refuses to let our mom help her pay but, you know. Some people got too much pride when it comes to things.”

Stiles coughs weakly and wonders why the name feels familiar to his ears.

She takes his coughing as a sign of dehydration so she walks over to the fridge and shoves the couple out of the way to retrieve some bottles of orange soda. She brings it back over and hands one to Stiles before she leans against the sink and says, “I’m Danielle Journey by the way, but everybody calls me Journey. Family calls me Danielle. Mom and sister call me Danny.”

“Stiles.”

“Interesting,” Journey says. “So, Stiles. What’s your major?”

“Photography,” Stiles says, thinking about what Kate said. He twists the top open on his soda and takes a generous sip before he says, “Yours?”

“Genetics, Biophysics, Psychology, and Anthropology,” Journey chimes. “I’m basically like Charles Xavier, only not quite as bald-headed, blacker, and sadly without mutant powers. Also note the lack of wheelchair under me.”

Stiles perks up at that with a slight grin. “Maybe you just haven’t presented?” he jokes lightly.

Journey smirks. “If only. But if I’ve learned anything about those kind of mutations, it’s that they have the tendency to surface around puberty. Though I suppose you have your late bloomers.”

“You’re the expert,” Stiles supposes with a full grin. “So do you read the comics or are you a fan of the cinematic interpretations?”

Journey wrinkles her nose. “Never could get into the movies. Did enjoy the cartoons though, you know, way back when. As for the comics?” She throws her hands up and says, “I’ve read and collected as much as I could get my hands on ever since I was a shorty. They’re the reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Stiles nods. “That’s cool. Like really cool. I mean I’m not as dedicated but I’ve skimmed a few issues and I’m pretty familiar with the timelines in both Marvel and DC. What’s your favorite character?”

“Ororo Monroe aka Storm,” Journey admits. “Everyone always expects me to say Professor X but nah. Storm is my spirit animal, and it don’t hurt that she’s such fine piece of chocolate. They were right to pick Halle Berry for that role. I’d wife Halle Berry, I don’t care that they say she crazy. I can do crazy. I can do crazy all night long in every position imaginable.”

Stiles laughs without really meaning to.

“What about you though?”

“Halle’s pretty but I wouldn’t wife her,” Stiles replies and chuckles when Journey rolls her eyes. “No, but I’ve always favored Spider-Man.”

“Amazing or Ultimate?”

“Amazing for sure.”

“So you must be into Garfield’s interpretation?”

“Well I —”

Two leggy brunettes enter the kitchen and swagger over to them. They grin wickedly as they begin to scribble their names and numbers across his arm and the side of his neck.

Stiles stammers and blushes as Journey shoots him a confused but amused look.

One of the girls says, “Call me.”

The other says, “Maybe I can pose for you sometime.”

Then, they’re gone.

Stiles stares after them before he looks at Journey.

“Man, I don’t even want to know. Get back to what you were saying,” Journey says with a lenient grin.

Stiles sighs gratefully and begins rambling about how perfect Andrew Garfield was for Amazing Spider-Man (how he doesn't get much credit for it). Well, in between the random flirtatious interruptions of people Kate sends his way. He flushes knowingly when they all look at his mouth with this odd gleam in their eyes and Stiles avoids wondering what Kate could have possibly said to them.

Journey takes the peculiarity of the situation in stride and she refrains from questioning or commenting, which Stiles immensely grateful for. She commandeers their conversation after a while by going on a rant about how she prefers Miles Morales in the Ultimate comics and how she would cast Jaden Smith or Childish Gambino to play the role. She then gives Stiles this appalled look when he confesses to not knowing who Childish Gambino is.

In the midst of Journey’s raving reviews to Gambino’s latest rap album, Stiles gets a text from Kate that reads:

k switch now. ur turn. ill b nxt 2 my car.

Stiles sighs and informs Journey that they’ll have to shorten their conversation without elaborating why.

Journey just lifts a brow and asks for his phone, which she puts her name and number in. She explains, “At least this way I’ll know for sure you won't brush me off. You didn’t seem too interested in your little fanclub when they came to mark you up. And maybe when I ask you out for dinner you’ll actually say yes.”

Stiles gets flustered and doesn’t know what to say. He feels partially guilty that she doesn’t know the actual truth about him. She’s really pretty and loud, if not intimidating, but he’s prone to admiring those kinds of traits in people. He would take her up on the offer if he weren't so underage. Boy, what a mess.

Journey just winks, flattered that she’s made him speechless and she hands him back his phone. “You’re a cool guy, even if you are twiggy. I’ll have to take you to a buffet if you do decide to take me up on my offer. Look up that album I was telling you about and let me know how you like it,” she says before she wanders off with a wave.

Stiles waves back dazedly as he pockets his phone. He shakes himself out of his stupor and makes his way through the house (which smells heavily of alcohol and weed intermingled with the stink of markers), flashing Kate’s picture at guys and girls alike.

He orbits the dining room first, moving around the house in a counter-clockwise motion until he ends up in the crowded living room. He tries to feel for some kind of nautical vibe, but he doesn’t sense anything otherworldly about any of the drunken college students he encounters. It’s actually a relief to his social anxiety that they’re intoxicated because they don’t really focus on him so much as trying to stay upright or not puking on themselves.

Stiles is ready to give up and call it a night, drained from his interactions with so many personalities, when his sense of smell is suddenly overwhelmed by the scent of fish and sea salt. Everything starts to slow down and Stiles turns his gaze to the open doorway of the living room just as the blaring sound of dubstep zeros out completely, only to be replaced by the sound of water. Well, it’s more like the sound of ocean waves rocking back and forth gently.

That’s when he sees her.

She’s tall and willowy, strikingly beautiful — more stunning than what should be normal. But that’s exactly what it is: abnormal. She has long, shiny dirty blonde hair that reaches to her tiny waist in gentle curls. She has leafy green eyes wrapped in thick dark lashes, a pointy button nose and cushy lips coated with some kind of lip-gloss. She’s easily the prettiest woman in the room and she becomes something he wants to watch. She’s wearing black/cream allover floral print denim overall shorts with ripped and frayed accents, and underneath she’s got a ripped up shirt that has a graphic of the movie Heathers on the front of it. She’s got no shoes on and unlike everyone else, her creamy white skin has been untouched by a marker.

That’s when Stiles knows.

She stops at the bottom of the steps and glances over her shoulder at him. She stares at him for a long time with a searching gaze before she turns away and continues up the stairs, or rather, gliding up them like some kind of gorgeous apparition.

Stiles blinks and grimaces as the sound of the world returns to him as quickly as it left. Time passes normally once more and he’s staggers into a group of giggling, tipsy girls who are a bit too handsy for his tastes. It takes a minute for him to extract himself before he stumbles after the Nymph, who he names Heather in his head just because of her shirt and also because he doesn’t know what her actual name is.

He makes it to the top of the steps and he looks left and right down the long hallway, unsure where he should even start. He starts on the left, opening and closing every door (sometimes hastily closing with an apology because some of the rooms are being thoroughly occupied). He makes it to the end of the hall and carefully creeps inside the dark room. He flicks on the light but he sees it’s a mess of clothes, school books, cameras (old and modern), and lingerie. On the walls there are photos of all sizes but their mostly black and white candids of random people of all ages and sizes.

Stiles frowns as he steps in the room because for whatever reason, there’s also an abundance of Paige’s picture on one lone wall. It sends chills down his spine and fills him with a sense of alarm. These aren’t artistic shots — these are the kind of photos someone with a disturbing obsession would take.

A dark shrine of fixation.

Stiles whips his gaze to the other side of the room where there’s a closed door. He sees a shadow move through the bottom crack of the door and before he can be reasonable or talk himself out of it, he moves to open the door. Then he freezes.

He expects to see Heather.

What he finds instead is Paige.

She’s on the floor, back to the side of the tub, head thrown back on the edge with her bare legs spread out before her across the fuzzy carpet. She’s wearing nothing but an oversized t-shirt (which she’s drowning in because it fits her like a short white dress). She looks nothing like how he remembers.

She’s so small now, so skinny — practically bordering on anorexic.

And her face — god, her face. It’s a mess of bruises.

Her right eye is blackly swollen shut, and her lips are cracked and split and bruised at the left corner. Her long pale throat has an impression of bruises that take the shape of fingers like someone has been choking her. The fingers of her right hand twitch around a used needle that is still sunken into the inner crease of her elbow on her left arm, which already has a network of track marks.

Stiles presses a hand to his mouth as a wave of nausea and horror passes through him. Through his shaky fingers, he says, “Paige?”

Paige moans weakly, her lashes flutter with the deep eye-roll she gives.

Stiles scrambles over to her and carefully pries the needle free from her grasp before tossing it aside. He cups his hand behind her head to lift her up some as his other hand presses around her face. She’s burning up but breaking out into a cold sweat and she looks so out of it. He feels his heart lurch when he realizes that it’s very likely that she’s overdosed on something.

Paige moans again as she starts to shake.

“Oh god,” Stiles croaks and fights down his panic as he scrambles for his phone to dial 911.

Paige suddenly jolts upright and lurches to the side as she vomits blood onto the floor before passing out.

Stiles makes a desperate sound as he picks her up (bridal style) and runs out of the room with her in his arms. He runs down the steps and out the door, ignoring all the bewildered stares as he carries Paige all the way over to Kate.

Kate’s giving a speech about condoms and consent to a group of jocks and frat boys but she straightens in alarm when she spots him. She takes in Paige’s state and the pink wetness of Stiles’s cheeks before she grits out, “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles sobs desperately and the sky begins to rumble above them. “God, she’s — something’s wrong! We have to get her to a hospital!”

Kate looks conflicted but she sighs heavily and spits, “Shit. Shit. Shit.” She unlocks her car doors and helps Stiles ease into the backseat with Paige still in his arms. “God damn it. Watch her head.”

Stiles sniffs with a nod and clutches Paige as he watches her face desperately. The sky gives another rumble. “Come on,” he says. “Come on, come on, come on.”

“Okay, okay,” Kate replies and scrambles for her keys before she starts the car. It’s only a second later that she’s peeling down the street in the direction of the hospital as she dials the hospital on her phone. “Yes, hello? I’m calling about an emergency…”

Stiles drowns out everything, focusing so heavily on the way that Paige breathes shallowly until all he can hear is a weak heartbeat and not the sound of wind rushing around them as Kate speeds. He begins to shake as he realizes that her heartbeat is beginning to dip dangerously. He makes another desperate sound as he clings to Paige’s skeletal frame helplessly.

Through his wet lashes, he sees a small bundle of something shimmery unfurl in Paige’s chest where her heart is and lines of silver like threads in a spider web begin to flicker in different directions as though they’re connected to different things. One of the threads seems to go from her to him and it’s thicker than the thread that goes from her to Kate, which is really wiry and thin.

Kate shakes him and Stiles is forced to snap out of it when he realizes that they’ve arrived to the hospital and all of the silver threads disappear like they never even existed in the first place as the sound of an ambulance rings in the distance.

Kate has them parked in the driveway of the hospital E.R.

A horde of nurses pry Paige from his arms to lay her out on a stretcher before they usher her inside.

Stiles sniffs and quickly climbs out of the car to follow them. He recognizes one of the nurses to be Melissa McCall and she’s placing an oxygen mask over Paige’s slack mouth. He tries to follow them all the way but Melissa stops him at the double doors of the restricted wing and lets the door close behind her after she assures him that they’ll take good care of Paige.

Stiles finds himself sitting in the waiting area, ringing his hands nervously while Kate paces the length of it as she talks on her phone to god knows who. He doesn’t pay attention; he’s too busy thinking about how pale Paige looked when she spewed blood from her mouth or how red her lips had looked afterward.

It leaves him feeling rattled.

Melissa keeps him informed about Paige’s progress and in between that Stiles calls Scott when Isaac doesn’t pick up to inform him of what happened. He tries to call his dad but it keeps going straight to voicemail, which is unnerving as it is worrying. He texts his dad, even after leaving him a gang of messages until his phone dies from overuse, which leaves him to do nothing but bounce his leg anxiously and stare at the muted TV mounted in the corner.

Melissa seeks him out one last time before she clocks out for the night and informs him that Paige is in critical condition but she’s stable.

Stiles is thinly relieved and he thanks her before he watches her disappear around some corner. He leans back in his chair and thumps the back of his head against the wall behind him to stare tiredly up at the buzzing fluorescent lights.

He idly wonders about Parrish and how he’ll react to being ditched if Kate hasn’t already informed him about where they are. Then there’s a brief moment where he thinks of Heather.

As his eyelids dips, his last thought before he falls asleep is: This is going to kill Derek.

---

Someone gently shakes Stiles’s shoulder and he scrambles upright out of confusion, wiping the drool from his chin with the back of his hand before he fixes his glasses, which are sitting crooked on his face. He must have been sleeping with his mouth open because his tongue feels like cotton, not to mention the fact that his back is killing him. Must be from the contortion of how he was trying to spread himself across the hard wooden arms of the row of chairs lined up against the wall. He rubs his eyes tiredly before he blinks up at Derek, who is looming over him with a cup holder of coffees.

“Hey,” Derek says it so very softly like he’s afraid of speaking any louder. His brow is furrowed but his expression is very neutral. "Didn't mean to startle you. Here."

Stiles quickly accepts the cup of coffee offered to him as he watches Derek anxiously from under his lashes. He takes a careful but generous sip before he cringes and pulls the cup away to sniff it. “This isn’t coffee,” he says with a frown.

“Hot cocoa,” Derek says as he hands one to Kate as she clicks by with her phone still pressed against her ear. She accepts it with a wordless thanks before she scowls and hisses into her phone.

Stiles watches her leave with a deepening frown.

“Peter,” Derek supplies when he notices. He’s looking at Stiles intently, gaze searching. “He’s furious she took you to that party.”

“Tough,” Stiles mutters before he takes another sip of his hot chocolate with a sigh.

"Yeah that's what she's saying basically," Derek says. "How is it?" He nods to the cup in Stiles's hand.

"Good," Stiles replies between sips. "Really good."

"You were shivering," Derek remarks suddenly, like he can't help it. He seems distracted somehow. "While you were sleeping. I just...I thought it might help."

Stiles pauses at that. It is doing a good job with warming his insides. He’s not exactly dressed to withstand the chilly temperatures of a hospital. "Thanks. You didn't have to."

Derek shrugs.

“How did Peter know I was — you didn’t tell him did you?”

Derek shakes his head no. “You asked me not to.”

“You don’t usually do as I ask.”

Derek shrugs again but he doesn’t deny it. He sits down on the edge of the coffee table in front of Stiles and begins drinking his own cup of hot chocolate as he stares at Stiles’s bare knees like he’s lost in thought.

Stiles has no idea what to say to him at this point because he not sure about what Derek knows. “Um,” he says, scrambling for something as he fiddles with the rim of his cup. “Did Kate call you?”

Derek nods silently but he doesn’t look up from Stiles’s knees. “Mom dropped me off a few minutes ago. She wouldn’t let me leave the house when Kate first called. I was — I went a little — she made me wait until I calmed down.”

“Oh,” Stiles says weakly before he clears his throat and shifts in his seat. “What did — um.” He isn’t trying to tiptoe but he really doesn’t know how to approach this. “What do you know about what happened?”

“Enough,” Derek says lowly as he catches Stiles’s eyes. “It must have been a shock. To find her like that."

Stiles's tongue feels too heavy to confirm. It's only...well, Derek is being way too calm about this.

Derek continues, "Are you okay?”

Stiles could almost laugh at the irony. “You’re asking me if I’m okay? Derek. This isn't about — what would it matter how I feel?”

Derek shrugs wordlessly but it looks like he has a lot more to say than he's letting on. He takes another sip of his hot chocolate as he tracks his eyes over Stiles’s face and he stays silent.

Stiles stares right back at him. Sometimes he can’t begin to understand the other teen.

Derek looks away before he says, “Paige’s family is sitting with her now. They said I could — that it would be okay to —” He stops short and takes a deep breath before he releases it. “I’m going to go see her for myself in a minute.”

Stiles nods and gulps down his hot chocolate for the better lack of having anything else to say. He feels anxious and nervous for some reason — maybe on Derek’s behalf since the other teen doesn’t seem to be reacting to the situation much. He fiddles with his cup as he chews on his fingernails. He glances around and notices that the waiting room is a little more occupied than it had been last night.

It's full of antsy children who dance energetically in front of their sleep-deprived parents, who nod into their cups of cafeteria coffee.

Stiles can smell the lemon wax and bleach spread across the newly waxed linoleum floors. Everything around him suddenly seems so abrupt and there. Maybe it’s the glare of florescent lights that chase away every shadow or the smell of ‘clean’ or the sanitizing cold. It makes everything about the hospital feel so final and real and unchangeable.

Derek straightens suddenly and drinks down the last of his hot chocolate before he crushes the cup as he stands. Then he walks over to a garbage bin and trashes it before he waits.

Not even a moment later, a tearful older couple approaches Derek, putting their hands on his shoulder as they say something to him that makes him stiffen. Then he’s rushing down the hall.

Stiles gnaws on his thumbnail and tries not to take that as a bad sign. He blinks and stands quickly when the older couple approaches him.

“You’re the one that found our daughter?” the mother says with wet cheeks and shaky hands.

Stiles nods wordlessly.

The mother bursts into sobs and clings to him as she mumbles her gratitude.

The father looks a little embarrassed and uncomfortable as he pries his wife away from Stiles. He says, “I’m sorry. She’s — we both are very grateful that you found Paige when you did. We hadn’t heard from her in weeks and we’d wondered.”

“I just don’t understand,” the mother says, choking on her tears. “What kind of monster does this to such a sweet and innocent girl? She would have never —” She cuts herself off with more sobs.

“We’ve contacted the police,” the dad says. “If you’re feeling up to it, could you give them a statement about all of this? We want to file a restraining order against her husband. We’re thinking of pressing charges but we need enough to bring to court.”

“Yeah, of course,” Stiles quickly agrees.

Paige’s father shushes his wife with comforting sounds as he leads her to u-shaped reception counter where a pair of deputies are waiting.

Stiles makes his way over as well and tells them everything that he can, with every detail he can remember. He makes sure to mention the state of the room he found her in and the things he’s noticed before he gives them the address to the fraternity house. Just basically anything he thinks will help.

He returns to the waiting room when they no longer have need of him and he sits beside Kate, who’s furiously typing away on her phone with a prominent scowl. He doesn’t ask. He just glances up at the TV mounted in the corner and watches the news. It’s nothing about Chicago, but it’s mostly fluff pieces.

The time on the wall clock reads: 7:56 am.

Stiles turns to Kate and says, “My phone is dead.”

“I got a charger in my car. I can take it if you want,” Kate offers but she’s already holding out her hand expectantly.

Stiles fishes his phone out of his pocket and gives it to her as he watches her stand. She walks off and he’s left to sit there by himself. He tries to watch the news a little more while taking idle sips of his (now cold) hot chocolate but he gets restless after a while. His stomach gurgles, so he stands and goes in search of a vending machine. He manages to get lost somehow as he navigates through the corridors and just as he’s about to flag down a nurse for help, he spots Derek exiting a room at the end of the hall.

Derek paces the width of the floor back and forth several times as he scrubs his hands through his hair, chest heaving until he punches the wall with an angry cry. He then stumbles back into the opposite wall, covering his face with his hands as he sinks down the length of the wall slowly with shaking shoulders and he drops to the floor.

It’s like a punch in the gut to Stiles. He can’t explain why. He and Derek aren’t even that close but that doesn’t seem to matter to his heart, which feels like it’s dissolving in his chest. He walks to the end of the hall, not even sure what he means to do, but when he reaches Derek, he just plops down right beside him.

Derek doesn’t acknowledge him, so lost in his grief. He continues to sob so very quietly into the palms of his hands. His knees are curled close to his chest and the back of his neck and the tips of his ears are a rosy color.

Stiles carefully, as if Derek might break under his touch, puts his right hand on Derek’s left shoulder. He can feel the way the older teen is trembling through that bit of contact and it makes something uncomfortable and hot swell in his throat. His chest is tight with his sympathy and his stomach twists restlessly as he listens to the way Derek tries to quiet his whimpers.

It’s a long time before Derek can fully stifle his sobs, and even longer before he lifts his head so he can stare at the ceiling with misty green eyes and wetly flushed cheeks. He keeps swallowing every five seconds, like he’s got something caught in his throat, and he sniffs as often as a person with hiccups would.

Stiles pulls away and folds his hands together in his lap. He takes a moment to look into Paige’s room through the open door and he eyes her prone form searchingly. She’s drowning under a network of tubes and it looks like her left hand has been set in a cast. He lifts his eyes up so he can look at the monitors crowding around the head of her bed but he can’t make heads or tails of what the vital signs mean. As long as her chest is moving up and down then everything is okay, he silently supposes.

Derek sniffs twice and says, “She’s pregnant.”

Stiles looks at him sharply with surprise.

“Her parents said that the doctors — if you hadn’t found her when you did —” Derek doesn’t finish the sentence, he’s choking over the words, but then again, he doesn’t really need to.

Stiles is afraid to ask but he does. “Is it...yours?”

Derek tenses up and snaps, “No!” Then he deflates and, more softly this time with a touch of sadness, apologetically repeats, “No.”

Stiles gnaws on his thumbnail as his mind explodes with new questions.

Derek scrubs at his face tiredly before he runs his fingers through his hair like he’s trying to tame it but he still looks so very out of it. He says, “I barely recognized her when I saw her. I didn’t even — she’s not the same. She doesn't smell the same.”

“I know,” Stiles says around his thumbnail and winces at his wording. “I mean, I agree that she doesn't — she looks different. I thought the same thing when I saw her.”

Derek growls and his eyes flash an amber color. “I should find that asshole and rip him apart.” His shoulders begin to shake. “I spent so long being angry at her, wishing that —” He stops and shakes his head sharply. “But she didn’t — didn’t deserve that. None of it. None of this.”

“No, she doesn't,” Stiles agrees but he glances around quickly. “But you have to calm down, okay? You cannot wolf-out right now. Time and place, dude.”

Derek scowls but he shuts his eyes like he’s meditating. His hands flex at his sides and he exhales slowly before he opens his eyes again. They’ve returned to their original color.

“And also, I get the whole revenge thing,” Stiles continues as he looks back to Paige. “But it’s not going to solve anything. Sometimes the rules of the Wild Kingdom don’t apply. You’ve gotta let the cops sort it out. Her parents have already gotten them involved.”

Derek crosses his arms with a deep frown but he doesn’t say anything.

“It’ll work out,” Stiles assures.

Derek looks at him. “How do you know?”

“I guess I don’t,” Stiles admits. He turns to look at Derek. “But I’d like to believe so. I have to.”

Derek flicks his gaze over Stiles’s face like he’s searching for something. Then he says, “I didn’t know you wore glasses.”

Stiles frowns at the sudden shift in conversation. Then he just frowns in confusion before he groans when he remembers what he’s wearing. He takes the glasses off to fiddle with them as he replies, “I don’t, but Kate saw fit to dress me this way for the party. I feel like such a poser.”

Derek looks almost close to smiling but he doesn’t. He continues to scan Stiles from head to toe. “You have a lot of phone numbers written on you,” he mentions before he looks past Stiles and down the hall to the other end of the corridor.

“Only because they all thought I was some sensitive photographer with a massive heart and um, pretty lips,” Stiles clarifies lightly, cheeks reddening when he remembers the actual words they used to describe his mouth. God, if he could never do anything like that again it’d be too soon.

Derek snorts and takes Stiles’s glasses so he can put them on himself. And of course, he looks really, unfairly nice in them. He leaves them on as he glances back towards Paige’s room, his expression darkening into something more melancholy.

Stiles doesn’t like seeing Derek so downhearted. Its just something about the way when the other teen is happy, he just looks like he deserves it and that he never takes it for granted. But when he looks sad, he really looks sad, like he’s lost and confused and he doesn’t know how to make it better or if it will get better. It makes Stiles’s own heart achingly heavy.

They sit there on the floor across from Paige’s room for what feels like ages as nurses and doctors and patients pass them by. They sit there as Paige’s parents return to sit vigilantly at her bedside; the father with his arms around his faintly weeping wife.

Derek doesn’t move to go back into the room. He just watches from a distance with that level of quiet focus he has about himself sometimes.

Stiles manages not to fidget so much or ramble unnecessarily about something because he’s feeling anxious. He doesn’t really have a mind to, not with Derek sitting beside him. He’s entirely too focused on what the other teen is doing (which isn’t much at this point) that he forgets about himself. He gnaws on his thumbnail as he glances at the side of Derek’s face as subtly as possible.

It’s probably a couple of minutes before Derek huffs and, without even looking at him, reaches out with his left hand to press Stiles’s hand down and away from his mouth. He says, “Don’t do that.”

“What am I doing?”

“Watching me like I’m going to explode.”

“I don’t think that,” Stiles quickly assures and unconsciously brings thumbnail up to his mouth so he can chew at it but Derek stills the movement. “I don’t,” he repeats.

Derek finally looks at him. “I’ll be fine. You can leave if you want. I appreciate everything. You don't have to worry.”

“Uh,” is Stiles’s eloquent reply and he goes a little pink. “It’s not that I — we just — we’re friends and I just want to be sure you’re okay."

"I'm fine."

Stiles barely catches himself from making an annoyed sound. "You're not, and that's — I get it."

Derek just looks at him without saying anything.

Stiles finds himself fidgeting. "I mean I — I'm allowed to worry about you,” he insists.

Derek nods leniently, like he’s the one doing the comforting here.

That just kind of exasperates Stiles as much as it causes him to be bemusedly fond over the other teen.

Derek says, “Thanks. And I am okay. If I’m not, then I will be. I’m going to stay here. She might — maybe she’ll wake up. We haven’t talked since — and that's —” He stops himself short and he gets a little frustrated with his articulation. His brow furrows and he opens his mouth to try again but then he cocks his head suddenly and looks past Stiles. “Your dad is here.”

Stiles turns his head. He doesn't see anything. But then sure enough, his dad is turning the corner at the other end of the hall some moments later with a tired expression. He fumbles to his feet (excuses himself) and quickly makes his way to meet his dad halfway.

The sheriff pulls him into a hug when he’s close enough. “You okay?” he asks.

“I’m fine,” Stiles mumbles into his shoulder before they pull away from each other. “I had — it’s been a little jolting but, yeah.”

His dad nods. “I wanna take you home,” he says. “I tried calling you back but your phone’s off. Here, your friend was nice enough to give this to me so I can return it to you.” He hands Stiles his (completely charged) phone. “I have a few things I want to tell you.”

“Oh. Okay,” Stiles says and he pockets his phone after he switches it on as his dad sidesteps him to stride down the hall towards Derek.

Derek quickly stands to stand face to face with the sheriff. His expression goes somber and he nods to whatever it is being said to him from the older man.

Stiles watches them curiously as his dad claps a hand over Derek’s shoulder before walking away.

Derek is left staring down at his feet like he’s thinking really intently about something.

When his dad is close enough, Stiles asks, “What did you say to him?”

“That’s between us, kiddo,” the sheriff carefully deflects. “Let your old man have his secrets.” He steers Stiles through the halls and past the waiting area where Kate is still stewing and scowling at the face of her phone like it’s personally offended her.

“Hang on, dad,” Stiles says and he quickly jogs over to the older teen. “I’m leaving now, but, have you heard from Parrish? Does he know —”

“He found the two boys,” Kate interjects as she looks up at him. “He’s taking them home now. Though we haven’t managed to find the girl.”

“I did,” Stiles blurts. “I forgot to mention with everything going on, but I saw her. I lost track of her but I know what she looks like now.”

Kate hums thoughtfully at that as she twists her phone idly in her hand before tapping it against her chin. Finally she sighs and says, “We’ll touch bases about it later. Not much we can do now. If she saw you then she’ll probably make it a point to avoid being caught.”

Stiles nods.

“All right, well,” Kate says as she straightens. “I’m going to stick around a little longer. In case Derek needs — in case of anything.”

“Okay. If anything happens, just, let me know,” Stiles urges before he walks backwards and returns to his dad’s side when Kate nods. They exit the hospital and then climb into his dad’s cruiser before his dad pulls off. “So you wanted to tell me something?”

“Yes,” his dad confirms as he turns on his blinker to turn left at the oncoming traffic light. “I’m going to have to summarize because I have to get right back to the station. But that friend of yours, Deaton, well he made a few things clear. He says that the reason I was seeing such conflicting results in the autopsy reports is because the coroner who performed them was being deliberately vague. The wounds were from an animal, not any kind of hunting knife.”

“The coroner was trying to throw you off?” Stiles questions as he thinks on it. “But why?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out for the last twenty-four hours. We have him in custody at Eichen House.”

“Eichen House? Why Eichen House? And who is he?”

“Ines Reyes,” his dad says. “You remember that girl you were telling me about? The one with the drug problem? Well this man just so happens to be her father. You should also know that when I put out a warrant for his arrest and sent a couple of my deputies out to retrieve him, he locked himself in his office and cut out his own tongue.”

Stiles inhales sharply at the gruesomeness of it. “Why?”

“That’s something I’d like to know too,” his dad admits. “That’s why we had to take him to Eichen House. Deaton suggested it. He believes his sister can sort it out, I don’t know. I placed him under heavy surveillance while he’s being treated by not only her but a doctor as well. He really butchered his tongue because whatever he had to say he didn’t want to be forced to say it. Used a razor made of mistletoe and gold. Couldn’t make sense of it but Deaton and Dr. Morrell seemed to know why.”

Stiles shakes his head as he thinks on it. “So you think it’s him? The one who’s been doing the killings?”

“Like I said before, hard to say,” his dad says. “I’m going to have to really dig deep with this one. I’ll need to talk to everyone he’s ever known. Figure out what kind of habits he had. Talk to his kids. His coworkers. His neighbors.”

Stiles doesn’t say anything to that. He’s curious, but he’ll save his questions for Deaton when he gets the chance to seek the older man out. “I’m not going to be seeing much of you this weekend, am I?” he asks quietly as they pull up to the house.

His dad sighs and puts the car in park. “I’m afraid not,” he says and reaches over to rest a hand on the crown of Stiles’s head. “Don’t worry. It’s the territory that comes with the job, and if your old man is as good as he thinks, I’ll have this all sorted out in no time. I just have to put the pieces in its proper place. But don’t you worry, okay? And I mean that. I think we got our guy so you don’t need to go nosing around about it.”

“I guess so,” Stiles mumbles and resists the urge to tell his dad that it just feels like they’re missing something. He’s got that anxious feeling again, like he’s forgetting something. It’s buzzing about in his head like horde of little fruit flies clouding around his brain.

His dad is looking at him imploringly. “Look, son. You’ve got a month of school left. Maybe you don’t need these distractions. I worry about you. I worry that what I do has an effect on you and Isaac. I just want you two to be comfortable.”

“We worry about you too,” Stiles says. He tries not to think about the fact that because he’s a Virtue, there’s probably no chance he’ll ever have a normal life. “You don’t need to worry about us, dad. We’re — we’ll be fine.”

“That’s what I hope for,” his dad says with a sigh. “I know how you can be. I know I’m asking a lot for you to take a step back and trust me with this. But you’d really be adding a few more years onto my life if you just focus on all that normal teenage stuff like school and videogames and junk food or whatever you kids do. Just promise me you’ll at least try.”

Stiles looks away and feels conflicted. He doesn’t say anything for a while but when he does, he tries to be as genuine as possible as he says, “Yeah, okay. I’ll — try my best.”

“Good. Come here.” His dad pulls him close and into a quick hug before letting him go. “Now go on and spend some time with your brother and your friend. I have to get back to work.”

Stiles climbs out of the car and gives his dad a hasty goodbye before he makes his way up the porch steps and into the house. The door is already unlocked, and by the loud gaming sounds coming from the living room, he can guess that’s where everyone is.

Well, it’s mainly Kira and Scott to be exact. They’re playing Mortal Kombat and Scott appears to be losing epically.

Kira pauses the game when she notices him looming at the edge of the couch and she flashes him a happy smile but frowns in confusion. “Why are you covered in numbers?”

Stiles blinks and straightens as he looks down at himself with a groan. He’d forgotten. “Oh, uh — I was at this party,” he vaguely explains.

“Okay,” Kira merely says but she looks like she wants to ask more questions about it. She doesn’t in favor of saying, “Did you still want to help me out with the baseball stuff?”

“Baseball stuff?” Scott says, interested. “I’m good at baseball stuff.”

Kira snorts. “Are you, really?”

“Yeah,” Scott confirms, puffing his chest out. “What’s there to figure out? You have a bat and you use it to hit the ball someone throws at you.”

“Dude,” Stiles snickers. “You deserve a Ph.D. in sports.”

“I know, right?” Scott exclaims happily. “I’m a well of knowledge.”

Kira laughs at that while Stiles rolls his eyes with a grin. He says, “Where’s Isaac?”

“Upstairs. Sleeping,” Scott answers.

“Well I’m going to go take a shower. There’s a bat, I think, in the basement. You guys can try and find it. Do you know where the batting cages are?”

Scott nods before he stands and helps Kira to his feet, jolting in surprise when she gives him a slight shock.

Kira flushes in embarrassment. “Sorry. I do that a lot.”

“It’s okay,” Scott quickly assures. “It didn’t hurt.”

Stiles lifts an eyebrow at his best friend and glances between them. He doesn’t miss the way Scott sends her these little moony-eyed looks. The same kind he sends Isaac or Allison from time to time.

Wow, it’s amazing how quickly Scott develops crushes.

Stiles snorts and leaves them alone as he makes his way up the stairs and to his brother’s room.

Isaac’s curled up like a lump under his covers.

Stiles climbs onto his bed until he's hovering on his knees over the preteen and pokes at his shoulder, waiting until he hears him make an annoyed sound. He grins and says, “Wake up. We’re going to the batting cages.”

Isaac grumbles and buries himself further under his covers.

“Well we’re not going now now, but as soon as I hose myself down and get dressed we will. You should probably get ready too,” Stiles suggests as he bounces to shake the bed and his brother (who gives a muffled complaint) before he jabs Isaac’s shoulder one last time. He climbs off the bed and turns to exit the room. He totally doesn’t expect to be hit on the back of the head with a pillow. When he whips around to shoot Isaac an offended look, the preteen just hides from view under his covers but there’s no mistaking the way Isaac's shoulders are shaking under the duvet. “Oh, real funny,” he mutters and throws the pillow back, missing horribly.

Isaac just snickers quietly like he knows.

Stiles throws up his hands and tucks away in the bathroom. He turns the gauge on the shower to set the right temperature before he strips down and climbs in.

It takes a full hour before he can get clean, and none of his soap seems to work. He gets frustrated after a while and the water is starting to go cold. There’s a moment where he peeks out from behind the curtain and stares at the bar of black soap he left on the counter the other day. He stares at it for a really long time before he sighs and climbs out to get it.

He probably shouldn’t but he takes his chances.

And guess what?

It works.

Not only does he manage to rid himself of the marker stain, but his skin actually looks brighter. Like he’s glowing. But not like freaky alien glowing, just more like someone who spent the whole day doing a mud bath kind of glowing.

It’s curious. Very curious.

He tacks the soap on his mental list of things to be researched.

---

Stiles, Kira, and Isaac trail behind Scott on their bikes as he leads them to Beacon Hills Park District (#3) so they can make use of the batting cages. They lock up their bikes before they walk to one of the cages.

Scott wanders off to go get some tokens for the machine, while Isaac goes in search of a concession stand.

It’s not as busy, maybe because it’s still early. It is the weekend, so there’s that.

Stiles leans back against the fence as he watches Kira lace up her cleats before she puts on her pink and black softball helmet. He smiles a little at how giddy she looks when he hands over his metal bat.

Kira smacks her helmet with the end of the bat as she bounces on her heels with a growl. “How do I look?”

“Adorably fierce,” Stiles laughs.

Kira goes red but she beams proudly. She pokes Stiles in his side with the end of the metal bat until he’s forced to jolt away with a laugh.

They chase each other for a bit and somehow Kira manages to coerce Stiles into giving her piggyback ride. He puts her down when Scott finally returns with a handful of tokens.

Kira lets Scott usher her inside the batting cage while she tosses Stiles an amused look over her shoulder.

Stiles responds with two thumbs up as he watches.

Isaac saddles up beside him with two trays of nachos and some hotdogs. He offers one of the trays to Stiles before he silently eats his portion as he watches Scott drop a few tokens in the pitching machine.

Stiles doesn’t realize how famished he is until he’s midway into his second hotdog.

Scott pauses to say, “Ready?”

Kira curls her hands over the handle of the bat and positions it over her right shoulder, widening her feet and bending her knees slightly. “Ready!”

The pitching machine whirrs to life and spits out the first ball.

Kira swings and her aim is true but something really weird happens. A current of electricity goes up the bat and it goes flying back into the fence behind her, magnetized.

Stiles chokes in surprise and he drops his food in alarm because the bat stops right where his face would have been if the fence hadn’t been there.

The ball Kira had hit slams into the pitching machine with such destructive force that it must knock something loose because it goes haywire all of a sudden, speeding up and whipping balls everywhere.

Kira squeals when a few baseballs hit her helmet, her thigh, and her right boob. She gives a pained sound and tries spring out of the way, dodging the balls like they’re on fire. “Turn it off! Turn it off!” she shouts and tries to dive out of the way.

“I’m trying!” Scott swears, looking panicked, slapping and punching at the machine to get it to stop.

Stiles turns to Isaac and says, “Go get some help!” before he rushes inside the cages to try and extract Kira, but he too gets pelted with baseballs. They feel like well-aimed punches on his body, and he barely makes it to Kira before he shields her body with his. He grunts in pain as the balls fly at them.

One of the park’s engineers rushes inside the batting cage and powers it down.

Stiles falls on his butt beside Kira and they lean on each other in relief. “Okay,” he pants and winces as the gravity of his bodily pain really gets to him. “Show of hands. Who even knew that would happen?”

Kira gives a pained laugh and falls backward, sprawling herself across the ground like a starfish as she stares up at the blue sky through the front of her helmet.

Stiles sags against the fence behind him and waves off Scott’s concerns before he watches his best friend rush over to Kira with ample worry.

Isaac strides over to Stiles, looks him over silently for a long minute, and then just plops down beside Stiles to finish his nachos in peace. “I’m glad you’re okay,” he supposes between bites. “But you’re paying me back for the food you wasted.”

Stiles snorts.

Isaac gives him a look.

Stiles rolls his eyes when he realizes that his brother is being completely serious. “You’re impossible,” he mumbles but he’s more amused than anything. "I could have died just now."

Isaac just shrugs and turns his attention to his nachos again. “You didn't die. And your allowance is higher than mine. I’m allowed to inconvenience you,” he states magnanimously.

Stiles just huffs and lets his brother think what he wants. He sighs and fidgets as his body twinges with different aches.

His gaze lands on the bat above his head (still magnetically stuck to the fence) and he tries his hardest not to wonder at the peculiarity of it all.