Stiles hesitated, fingers clenching around the bottle's neck, chemicals still stinging his nose, eyes fixed on the rampaging monster circling his friends. He could still feel Peter's breath on his wrist, could see the curious gleam to his eyes.
Though this be madness, there is method in it, Stiles thought. He heard someone shout his name. He had one perfect moment, no more than a beat, to throw his molotov cocktail.
Throw the bottle and watch Peter Hale go up in flames for a second time.
His eyes met Peter's, and between one breath and the next, Peter was... running away?
Stiles' ears were ringing, he realized. His chest felt tight and strange.
People were shouting back and forth and back again. Stiles couldn't fully comprehend the words though. It looked like Scott was stopped by Allison, one of her hands gripping his elbow, her head shaking.
Peter knew what he planned to do. Peter knew he chose not to do it. Why couldn't Stiles do it? What did that say about him?
Jackson crossed in front of him and frowned down at him, almost sneering. "Stilinski, what the fuck? Did you freeze?"
"Did you miss?" Stiles snapped back. Rage rose up his throat, choking him. He shook his head, tried to shake off the foreign anger. Jackson was a dick, but he was hardly worth it. "Sorry. I think I'm not feeling well." There was something tangled up behind his chest, and it hurt. Was that where the anger came from?
It hurt like his mom dying, like his mom hating him and wanting him dead, like his dad drinking himself half to death and overworking to finish the job. It hurt like Scott leaving him behind, leaving him out, like Scott kissing Lydia knowing how he felt about her.
Stiles pressed a hand over his sternum. Hurt and sorrow and fear and loathing, and beneath it all, family, belonging, and something like hope.
Stiles looked up, and his eyes met Derek's from across the clearing. Derek's eyes flashed blue in what, for a delirious second, Stiles thought might be acknowledgment.
Acknowledging what, he wasn't sure he knew or even wanted to know.
"Dude, you look like you might puke." Jackson actually sounded worried. Probably warranted then. He felt clammy and weird.
"Feeling about the same," Stiles allowed absently. Maybe if he puked, he'd feel a little better? Could you vomit feelings?
"What are you even doing here, Stiles?" Scott asked. "It's not safe!"
"You're here, aren't you?" he returned, dismissive. Stiles pulled the sleeve of his dress shirt down to wipe off the bottle. He didn't want his fingerprints at a crime scene. If Peter was willing to leave, that meant Kate Argent was already dead.
"Yeah, but I'm not like you, Stiles. Not anymore." Scott's voice broke. "Not ever again, unless I can kill Peter."
Stiles stifled his own irritation at Scott's continued rejection of objectively the coolest thing to ever happen to either of them. Something in Stiles' chest was shifting and stirring at Scott's upset, and that took precedence.
Guilt, he thought. Dishonesty. Derek wasn't looking at either of them. He was looking fully away.
"Hey, Mr. Argent," Stiles said, tipping his head to one side. "You know if killing the Alpha that turned you will cure you?"
Mr. Argent glared, but reluctantly shook his head. "Enough hunters have tried; it either takes an extremely complicated process, or it's impossible."
"So, if Scott killed Peter?"
Argent's glare turned colder, which Stiles didn't think was possible. Impressive. "He'd become an Alpha."
Scott turned betrayed puppy eyes on Derek, who was still avoiding any eye contact. Such a bad liar. No commitment to his story. They'd need to work on that. "But you said!"
Scott's gullibility was, of course, a lost cause.
Derek shook his head. "It's a story. No one knows if it would work. Most bitten wolves see the bite as a gift. It's... It's a story used to dissuade a new Beta from killing their Alpha."
"If you lose your fancy new fangs for it, better not try for a power grab?" Stiles guessed.
Derek nodded, shooting a cautious glance at Argent. Argent seemed unsurprised and uninterested. So he already knew about the story.
Stiles looked around, skimming over the people present. Scott, Allison, Derek, Argent, and Jackson. Kate Argent's corpse, probably in the house. Peter Hale, somewhere in the woods, or heading back into town, licking his wounds.
"So, uh, what now?" Stiles asked, clapping his hands once. "Argents broke the code, Hales followed it, justice has been done, and a survivor of a supernatural hate crime and perpetrator of a vigilante spree killing has escaped," he summarized. "Do we all just go home or what? Should someone call the cops? Not me, obviously, my dad will kill me."
"I need to discuss the... developments with my wife." Argent sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "We make decisions together. That being said..." He turned and faced Derek. "For what my sister did... You have my regrets. I will see to it that you and your Alpha are left alone." He hesitated. "Or, that's what I'd like to say. The Patriarch will have final say. But that's the position I'll be supporting."
Derek's jaw clenched, but he nodded once. "I'll hold you to that. We have our laws, too, Argent. You'd do well to remember that."
Stiles bit his tongue. He had so many questions.
Argent turned. "Allison. With me. You get to explain to your mother what you were thinking tonight, and then I get to tell her everything else."
Allison, for a moment, looked like a normal teenager again, instead of a girl who'd just been through an undoubtedly traumatic event. She bit her lip, like she was already trying to think up how to weasel out of the trouble she was in. "How long will I be grounded for?"
"Until that question is nothing more than a faint memory," Argent said.
"Yeah," she sighed, "that's what I figured."
Scott took a halting step after her, but Derek put a firm hand on his shoulder. Scott shook it off angrily.
"Allison!" he said, "I'll call you?"
"Not likely," Argent snapped. Allison's eyes were soft and sad as she got into her dad's car. No one said anything until they were gone.
Scott watched the car leave until even his vision couldn't possibly see it.
"So if I get the bite, will I turn into a monster like that?" Jackson asked, breaking the tension.
Derek raised his eyebrows at Stiles. Stiles shrugged, snickering.
"Doubtful, dude. Scott never has."
"Why would you even want it?" Scott muttered. "It just leads to people wanting you dead."
"And super strength? Speed? Claws?" Jackson's smirk looked bemused. "Just because you aren't interested, doesn't mean others wouldn't be. Hell, if it could even make you popular, imagine what it would do for me?"
Derek was still considering Jackson as he and Scott argued the merits of lycanthropy back and forth. The knot behind Stiles' sternum felt curious now, instead of guilty. An improvement, and more confirmation, not that Stiles needed it at this point.
"Hey Jackson, drive Scott home? I need Derek to drive me to my Jeep." Stiles grinned, setting the wiped bottle down, and already walking toward Derek. "This way you can keep arguing about whether or not Jackson should become a werewolf."
Stiles was surprised when they both started to comply before thinking to argue with him. Before they could get much further than voicing a protest, Stiles was following Derek to his car and sliding into the passenger seat.
Derek peeled out before either of them could decide what to do about it.
Stiles' phone buzzed in his pocket.
"Allison," he announced when he unlocked the screen. "She says her dad will be by before dawn to collect the body."
Why was she texting him? Had she noticed something? Had her dad? Or was she just not allowed to text Scott?
Did Scott have his phone back?
Derek nodded. "Peter will have bisected it by then. So that's fine."
Stiles texted back an acknowledgment before putting his phone away. "Bisect her, like what the hunters did to Laura?"
"What better way to send our message than in their code?" Derek's voice was almost a snarl. The knot behind his chest pulsed with malice. Stiles could feel his own vicious satisfaction looping through the tangle.
"Ding dong, the witch is dead."
Derek snorted, and the knot returned to its normal. Derek had a sense of humor after all.
Stiles watched the trees pass darkly by outside his window. He had so many questions, he hardly knew where to start.
"Am I pack?" he blurted, completely without tact.
"Seems like it," Derek answered easily. "I'm surprised you could feel it. Is that why you didn't kill him?"
Stiles hesitated, but inevitably shook his head. "No, I think... I became pack by not killing him, if that makes sense." He pressed his hand back to his sternum. His voice was quiet when he asked, "Is it supposed to hurt?"
For a long moment, Derek said nothing. Stiles could feel his regret in the center of his chest, swirling without end.
"No," he said, finally. "No, it isn't."
Stiles closed his eyes. Betrayal and pain and longing and absence. All buried beneath guilt and despair. He couldn't tell what was his, what was Derek's, and what was Peter's. It was all the same.
"Do you hate him?"
"I should." Derek's voice remained soft. "Sometimes I do. But he was my favorite uncle. Laura never liked him much, but I hated to leave him all alone here. She made it an order, and I couldn't refuse."
"She was your sister."
"And my Alpha." Derek shook his head. "I loved her, but I didn't always agree with her. I don't..." He sighed. "I don't understand why. Everyone else I knew the reason, but even if she never liked him, he loved her."
"Did you ask?"
"I didn't want to, and I never got a chance anyway." Derek turned toward the parking garage without Stiles saying anything or pointing the way. "If you're serious about this... You're not exactly entering a stable pack. Peter, he's insane."
"Got away with a few too many murders for me to agree with you there. Crazy people can't plan like this." Stiles thought of his mom, whose crimes were limited by opportunity and chance. An isolated stairwell, a bathtub, a hallway before Dad was home. "And you said he needed a pack to stabilize. At least two. That's us now, right? Since Scott said no, and I said yes?"
"You're not even going to think about this, are you." Derek didn't even sound disappointed, just resigned. Derek turned into the correct garage and drove up the ramp. "You're just going to join a broken pack without a moment's pause."
Stiles didn't know how to explain it. Peter scared him, of course he did, but the pain in his chest, the bond slowly settling into place, it felt right. It felt like it belonged there. Like he belonged. Peter had offered him a place, and Stiles accepted it on his own terms.
It was a terrible idea. It could only lead to destruction. Calamity. Ruin.
"With a moment's pause," Stiles corrected. "That pause was what got me in." He beamed until Derek sighed. "And besides, dude, come on, I'm not about to cut off just anyone's arm, all right? I don't like blood. That makes you special, sourwolf. And now it's official." He turned the full force of his widest grin on Derek. "You're stuck with me now."
"Crazy fucking teenagers." He pulled into the space beside Stiles' Jeep and parked. Stiles waited. "But... thank you. For helping. And... for staying. I'm sorry we don't have a better pack bond to offer you. I don't know what you must be feeling, but it can't be pleasant."
"Not generally, but the gratitude feels nice." Stiles wanted to wrap himself up in the feeling. When was the last time he felt this appreciated? Down to his core? It was so warm and soft, he could just bundle himself up in it and never come back out.
Derek shot him an anxious look, and before Stiles could track the motion, a hand was rubbing over his buzzed head and down to give his neck a single squeeze.
His skin buzzed at the contact. The feeling of gratitude, of appreciation increased ten-fold. "That was weird." Stiles blinked, heart beating harder in his chest, cheeks flushing. "Do it again?"
Derek huffed, but obligingly rubbed his hand over his head, almost petting him. Stiles felt like he was floating, and also like he might cry.
The knot in his chest loosened and relaxed. There was still a lot tied up in there, but it didn't feel as immediately pressing, almost like Derek had draped a blanket over it all.
"I'm gonna want you to do that all the time, I think," Stiles decided. "And it doesn't even feel like a sex thing."
"Good?" Derek wrinkled his nose. "It's a pack thing, not a sex thing."
"Makes sense. Thanks for the ride." Stiles looked at his Jeep. "Know anything about hotwiring cars?"
Derek opened and closed his mouth.
"Actually, I do. And I'll help you, but no. I won't tell you why I know."
"Damn. Reading my mind?" he grinned.
"Just your face. Now, come on. Let's get this over with."
Stiles followed him out, still buzzing with untapped energy, warmth flooding through him.
Stiles tucked his screwdriver into the glove compartment, and stepped out of his car. It was nearly dawn, and his dad's cruiser still wasn't back.
Stiles frowned, but trudged up the front walk, yawning hugely. He unlocked his door, felt a hand grip his shoulder and shove him inside, the door clicking shut and locking behind him and his assailant.
Except that the knot in his chest was loosening again, and his panicked pulse was quickly slowing back to baseline. Something in him seemed to sing at the physical contact.
Peter's thumb brushed his neck. Stiles tipped his head slightly to give him more room.
"I can't stay long," Peter said, rubbing his cheek along the top of Stiles's head. "I won't be able to show my face for at least another week, if not longer, but I wanted to make sure to mark you before I disappear."
He pulled a step back, and Stiles just managed to stop from throwing himself at his Alpha. Peter was smiling when Stiles met his gaze.
Stiles still felt floaty amd dazed from the contact, but his brain was running a mile a minute in a tight circle, unable to think past one stumbling block.
"I could have killed you."
"I know." Peter looked pleased.
"I could decide to kill you again."
Peter's smile didn't waver, pride winding through the knot behind his sternum.
"I'm counting on it." He rubbed a hand over Stiles' head, fingers massaging the scalp. "You'll keep me on my toes. I'd offer you the bite again, but you don't need it, do you? Not now that you have the thing you most wanted from becoming a wolf."
Protection. Safety. Belonging. "I wanted to be Pack."
"And now you are, clever boy." Peter caught his chin, tipping his face up until his throat was bared. "I wonder, will you bring me Scott? The Whittemore boy? Lydia Martin?"
"You want a bigger pack?"
Stiles could feel greed and something ruthless and calculating curling around his heart.
"There are still Argents to deal with." Peter released his chin. "Whatever Christopher thinks, the Patriarch will not take such an insult lying down." Peter's smile sent a hot chill through Stiles.
Puppetmaster, Stiles thought. Kate didn't act alone.
"Okay. But you'll keep anyone I bring you safe." Stiles wouldn't lose anyone. None of them could stand to lose more family. Not after what they'd all been through.
"Of course." Peter's eyes flashed red. Stiles bared his throat on instinct. "I protect what's mine, Stiles." His pleasure sang through the bond between them. "That's all the time we have for now, dear boy. Time for bed."
Stiles stepped back into Peter's space, wrapping his arms around his chest. Stiles pressed his nose into Peter's shoulder. He smelled like the Preserve. The bond settled further than ever with the prolonged contact.
"Good boy." Peter gripped Stiles' neck and squeezed firmly. Stiles thought his legs might give out, but he barely managed to keep himself upright, leaning harder into Peter.
"Gonna freak out about this in the morning," Stiles mumbled into his shoulder.
"That's okay. Derek will be around to help you settle." Peter released his neck and pulled away, turning Stiles toward the stairs with a slight push. "Now, bed."
Stiles hummed, and obeyed. Distantly, he felt something else stirring within him, but it was gone by the time his head hit the pillow.
"Stiles?" a voice said, a small hand shaking his shoulder. He stirred, confused. His neck ached, and he didn't know why. "Stiles, Lydia would like to speak with you."
Stiles bolted upright, startling the nurse back a step. "She's awake?" He was in the hospital. Of course his neck hurt from laying in the shitty plastic chairs like he was.
"She is. And she wants to talk to you." The woman frowned, disapproving. "You have until the doctor is ready to run more tests. She's still recovering, so don't overdo it."
"Yes, ma'am!" Stiles hopped to his feet and hurried into Lydia's private room. Lydia was still hooked up to a number of monitors and an IV. Seeing the dark circles under her eyes, the pallor of her skin, made something inside him twinge. His hands clenched uselessly at his sides.
At Lydia's gesture, he closed the door behind himself and took a seat beside her bed. She considered him in silence.
"My nurse said you've been here every day after school since I was admitted. And Jackson said that you called him and told him where he could find me." Lydia's eyes were dark. Stiles faltered. He wasn't expecting an interrogation so soon. "You saw it, didn't you. The thing that attacked me."
Stiles didn't know what he was supposed to say. Scott wouldn't want her to know. Probably neither would Allison. But Peter hadn't said anything. No orders, no commands, no directives.
Stiles was pretty sure that meant he was allowed to do what he wanted.
"I did call him, and I did see." He wanted to tell her the truth.
"Did Jackson tell you anything else about that night?"
Lydia hesitated. "No. He told the doctor that you called him. Not me. I haven't seen him yet."
"Right." Stiles looked down at his hands, rubbing his wrist. "The thing that attacked you was an alpha werewolf. He let me call Jackson in exchange for me cooperating with him to save his Betas, um, his Pack." Stiles risked a glance up to see whether or not she believed him.
Her expression was glacial. "Do you take me for a fool, Stilinski?"
"No. Never. That's why I'm telling you the truth." Stiles leaned forward. "The Alpha bit Scott and turned him into a werewolf. He was what was chasing us in the school that night."
"You're insane." But she didn't sound as self-assured as he was used to.
"And Scott's a former asthmatic who's on first line." He narrowed his eyes. "You really think his chronic asthma just got better? We both know you're smarter than that, Lydia."
Lydia's façade cracked. She was afraid, he realized. She was scared. And he was an asshole. Shit.
Stiles raised his hands, backtracking. "I'm sorry, I'm not going about this the right way. We don't have much time right now to talk, but if you want to know more, I can tell you everything that's been happening over the last several weeks." Stiles let his eyes drop to her abdomen.
"I was told that the bite either turns or kills, but you're clearly alive, and if you still have the wound, you haven't turned, either."
Lydia's hands curled around the sheet. "What does that mean?"
"I don't know. I didn't know someone could potentially be immune. I'm new to all this, but clearly you're special." Stiles scratched the back of his head. "I've started looking into it, but my source doesn't know much either."
Lydia closed her eyes and let out a slow breath. "Right. If you find anything, let me know. Otherwise, I'll find you when I'm ready. But for now, I want to be alone."
"You have my number." Stiles shot her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "And Lydia? I'm glad you survived."
"Yeah," she said quietly, "me, too."
Stiles flopped backward on the grass. "Seriously, Derek, I thought the bite turned or killed! What's with this third option shit?"
Derek huffed. "How the hell should I know? Ask Peter when he gets back. He knows more of our history than I was ever taught."
Stiles groaned, flapping his arms about. "When will he be back, though? It's been ages! And does he even know about Grandpa Argent being in town?"
"It hasn't even been a full week, Stiles. And of course he does." Derek sounded irritated. He felt pissed. "You think I'm gonna keep things from him when this town is infested with Argents?"
"No, you're right, I'm sorry." The pack bond in his chest lost some of its edge. Stiles rolled onto his stomach. "I'm not doubting you, I'm just feeling antsy. He's been gone for way too long." The knot in his chest felt worse than when it first formed, tight and irritated.
"I don't like it either, but he insisted that it was important. He's..." Derek sighed. "He said he's getting his affairs in order. Whatever that means."
"Oh, no, no, that makes sense." Stiles rolled back over and found an interesting cloud to watch. It looked like a duck. "He was catatonic for years, he needs to make sure he can reenter society without anyone asking questions. The lack of scarring will also be a problem. Oh, plus he needs access to his accounts and any of his things that may have survived the fire. Did any of his things survive the fire?"
"Stiles." Derek interrupted.
"Yes?" Stiles tried to arch his neck to see Derek, but couldn't manage it. The duck cloud was now more of a whale.
"Do you ever stop thinking so hard about everything?" Derek sounded exasperated. He felt almost fond.
"How often does that get you in trouble?"
"Does it ever get you out of trouble?"
"I'm alive, aren't I?" Stiles grinned. "Scott wasn't figuring this shit out on his own, you know. And you weren't exactly helpful the first several times we met you."
"You accused me of murdering my sister." Derek pointed out. Stiles could hear the lift in his eyebrows.
"Which I apologized for. And I am sorry. I didn't have all the facts yet, and I was trying to keep Scott from getting killed." Stiles shrugged. "Next time, I won't involve the police immediately."
Derek snorted. "That's reassuring."
Stiles shrugged. "I can't give you much more here. This is what you've got, pal."
"I guess you'll just have to do."
Derek sat down on the grass beside him, scratching his scalp absently. Stiles pressed up into his hand, the knot in his chest loosening at the contact.
"How did Scott manage to skip out on all of the Pack instincts?" Stiles asked. "I mean, I feel like I'm touch starved, and it hasn't even been a week!"
Derek shrugged, his hand still resting on Stiles' head. "Some people take to it better than others, I guess."
Stiles hummed. Speaking of instincts. He hesitated. "I have... It's a weird question."
"Even for you?"
"Even for me." Stiles winced. "It's also embarrassing, so please don't make fun of me?"
"Fine." Derek squeezed his head as if to reassure him further.
"Okay, so like, I've been in love with Lydia Martin since the third grade. I... Do pack bonds..." He took a breath. "I don't think I'm in love with her anymore, and it's kind of freaking me out a little. Pack bonds wouldn't completely change how I feel about someone, would they?" Stiles turned his head to look up at Derek.
Derek looked befuddled. "Um. No. Not usually. Your feelings for her are just gone?"
Stiles nodded. "I still like her, like as a person, and I care about her, but until a week ago, if I was in the same room with her, my brain was just the Lydia Martin Channel. I could hardly speak to her, I was so caught up in it. But when I saw her, things felt... normal? Abnormally normal. Like, I felt a connection to her, but it wasn't... It wasn't the same at all. I had a conversation with her. Like a normal person!"
"A connection... like a Pack bond?"
Stiles shook his head. "No, it wasn't... It wasn't the same as that either. There was just... something." He winced. "I'm sorry. I have no idea how I'm supposed to describe it. It's similar but different. Not as intense or... grounded? It felt wispier, I guess. Less physical?"
Derek dropped backwards, shifting until they were lying side by side. "I don't know. Peter might. I'll ask him about it, if you want. Next time I hear from him."
"Please." Stiles covered his face. "I don't think I can say all that again. Especially not to Peter."
"He might need to ask you questions." Derek bumped their shoulders together. "The bond you feel to us is physical?"
Stiles blinked, turned his head. "Yes? It's bodily, like, I feel it in my chest, like a tangled knot around my heart."
Derek didn't say anything, but he felt sad. After what felt like a long time, he said, "It shouldn't be tangled. I'm surprised, though, that it feels physical to you. I thought it might not, since you aren't a wolf."
Stiles pondered that. "Humans don't normally feel the bond this much?"
Derek shrugged. "One of my cousins, Maddy, she was human; she described the pack bonds as a song, something she could hear at the back of her mind when she needed the reassurance."
"Do you feel them in your chest, too?"
Derek shook his head. "I couldn't describe it. It's... It's different for wolves, I think. Bodily, but also not. Some people visualize the connections, but... I never learned how. I just feel them. Peter always teased me about it when I was a kid, said I was missing out."
Stiles perked up. "What does he visualize them as?"
Derek hesitated. "I don't know if it's still true, but... When I was young, he told me his pack bonds were stars."
Stiles flustered, but couldn't figure out why. He wanted to feel his pack bonds more consciously, figure out what he was experiencing more clearly.
"Do you think Peter would teach me how to visualize them better?"
"Yes," Derek answered quickly. "He'd probably give you anything you ask for."
Derek faltered, looking perplexed by his own surety. "Why? I... Actually, I don't... I wasn't thinking when I answered. I don't know. I just know that it's true."
Stiles tucked the information away. It might be useful someday. It certainly wouldn't hurt, having an Alpha who would do as he asked because he asked.
"I'll ask him when he gets back, then." He'd need to make a list of things he wanted to ask at this rate.
For just how long was Peter going to be gone?