Chapter 1: Spark
He remembers running. He remembers running until his shoes were wet with blood, the skin around his metatarsals shearing off and healing and rubbing bloody again as he ran. He remembers running for hours, for days.
He remembers the look on Deaton's face as the doctor had pulled him into the nurse's office at the school on base. How his mouth was serious in that way adults have when they're patting themselves on the back for doing something difficult. His brown eyes were dark with sadness and solemnity, his voice a rising buzz in Derek's ears.
He doesn't remember Deaton's words. Just the hum in his head getting louder and louder until he pressed his palms over his ears, his claws digging into the sides of his head as blood trickled down his neck.
He doesn't remember either how he got off base- he hopes he didn't hurt anyone, but he can't say for sure. The blood on his claws hours later only smelled like his own, but between the sweat and the rain, it's hard to say.
He prefers to believe he didn't cause harm.
He's not sure how far he gets before he's run through his shoes. Maybe a day, maybe two. He's slowed down, certainly, the last few hours, his heart pounding in his chest, in his head, a rhythm that doesn't let up, doesn't cease. The fields around the base give way to rolling hills, then to woods. He's fully shifted, knows it's dangerous, doesn't care. His mind is fighting with itself, the animal piece of him fully invested in running, in hiding, in survival, the human in him screaming out for his family, for death.
He hears hunters behind him twice; once right at the beginning, when he can still throw on a burst of speed and make it miles before they can track him again, then again on the second (?) day at twilight.
He's wearing thin, he can tell, his body eating itself alive as it tries to keep up with the demands of his enhanced metabolism and his unending exertion. He can no longer tell if the mocking laughter in his ears is memory or hallucination, if the images of the mangled bodies of his brothers and sisters along the creek-bed are warning or promise or dream.
He's been aware of the hunters for a few hours, but can't decide whether he cares or not. He's exhausted, hopeless, but the wolf in him keeps driving him forward, the last of his pack, searching for safety. The city in front of him seems at first a mirage, but it keeps getting bigger, and when his bleeding feet hit asphalt, he realizes that his wolf is smarter than he is. They'll find him in the woods, the farms, the pastures, but here in the wilderness of artificial scents and impervious ground he can get lost, and not be found.
He presses onward, each street, each alley another maze of screens and trash, people and vehicles and doors that open and bang in the night. He's lucky it's dark; he can't pull back his wolf, so he ducks his head and hopes for the best, too exhausted to get invested in whether he's seen or not. He keeps jogging, following his nose to the underbelly of the vast metropolis, the gangrenous heart where odors overwhelm and no one looks twice at who or what is hiding in the dark corners.
He makes it until the pale fingers of sunrise are creeping up the edges of the tall buildings, gilding the edges of the glass and aluminum with sickly light. It's the third dawn he's spent alone on this earth, and he'd hate it as much as the previous two if he could find the energy to care about anything beyond crawling behind a reekingly full dumpster and passing out.
Stiles sees him come in like some B-holo actor, his face all hairy and hideous, snout like animals Stiles has only seen in holos, wild-eyed and bleeding from every limb. Stiles stays still, confident in his camoscreen blanket's ability to keep him hidden unless he moves. The stranger doesn't see him, but Stiles isn't sure the guy would have noticed if he had tap-danced in front of him wearing coconuts on his skinny chest, to be honest. The guy glances around, red eyes flaring as he gives a cursory sniff, and then passes out behind and a little under the dumpster as thoroughly as Ama Lea does when she's been into the hooch.
The guy's still there when evening comes and Stiles wakes from his own sleep, and he hasn't moved. It looks like his face has changed, the furred and pointed ears having faded into rounded skin, but it's hard to see with the shadow of the dumpster on his face, and Stiles isn't dumb enough to get close. He'll give him another day, and then maybe he'll find a good long pole to prod the guy with, see if he's just died where he fell. It's the rainy season, the body won't start to smell any worse than the trash for a bit, so there's no hurry. If he's just asleep, maybe he'll get up and leave while Stiles is out. It's too early to tell, so Stiles shrugs to himself, carefully folds and hides his blanket under a bit of loose pavement, and heads out into the deepening night to pick some pockets, scam some credit machines, and try to stay alive for another day.
The guy's still there when Stiles comes back at dawn, but he's moved this time, shuffled further under the dumpster like maybe he's cold. Stiles pushes down any sympathy he might have. There's no place for compassion in this life, not if you want to survive. He's learned that lesson.
Nonetheless, he's careful to piss on the other side of the alley before he curls up with his blanket, so that it doesn't run down onto the guy where he's lying on the ground.
He wakes up in the middle of the afternoon to the sound of someone crying out, and for a moment he's lost in time, struggling out of his bed in his house, listening to his father's hoarse cries in the dark. He comes to himself halfway across the alley, blanket abandoned and arm stretched out to the crouched figure in front of him.
The fear is sudden and complete, sweeping over him like nausea, as he takes in the glowing eyes and elongated teeth in front of him. The stranger is clearly a mutant, a very likely dangerous one, and Stiles' jig might well be up.
“Hey. Hey, it's ok, dude. Just... pull those claws back in, ok, big guy?” Stiles raises his trembling hands and begins to back slowly away. “I'm not gonna hurt you, I'm not gonna tell anyone where you are, we're all copacetic here, just... take a deep breath for me.”
The stranger's eyes flash, and a low snarl puddles in the air between them. His eyes are vacant, and it's impossible for Stiles to tell if he's crazy or just delirious; still asleep, or awake and ready to rip out any available throat in front of him. Stiles freezes, one foot on the ground, one balanced on its toe behind him. If he runs, he has no doubt in his mind that this guy will catch him, and he can't imagine a scenario in which that ends well. But maybe... maybe if he just manages to calm the guy down enough, the stranger will pass back out, and Stiles can collect his things and get the hell out of Dodge. It'll be a shame to leave his spot; he's gotten it all fixed to his liking with little hideyholes and illicit vid feeds; but what can you do? Survival is the name of the game, and that game involves keeping his person in one piece.
“Ok, buddy, we're all friends here. Just... take a breath. Listen to the sound of my voice, ok?” Stiles forces himself to put his foot down carefully, holding his ground. He drops his hands from a warding gesture into a welcoming one, palms up and out. The eyes in front of him are still empty, flashing intermittently between blue and red, but the sound coming from the guy's throat is less of a snarl and more of a sob.
“That's it. Deep breath. You can smell me, alright? This is my alley, but you can stay here. I'm not gonna push you out. Just... maybe lay back down. You should go back to sleep. Lay back...”
Stiles has only seen a few mutants like this, ones that take the twisted appearance of wild beasts. There's some theories he'd seen on the feeds about mixed genetics, and throwbacks to evolutionary dead ends, but as far as he knows it's all inconclusive. He thinks this guy must be a mixer, though, because he may not have paid the closest attention in sci-class, but he's pretty sure humans and canids never really shared a branch on the old family tree. He's more than a little fascinated, but he'd feel better about his desire to touch one of those teeth if he knew he could do it and keep all his fingers, too.
The mutant has crept closer while Stiles stared at him, his nostrils flaring as he takes in Stiles' scent, and Stiles backs up involuntarily until he's flat in his corner, the rough plascrete pressing into his shoulder blades. The guy's still crouching, but he pushes himself into Stiles' legs hard, shoving at Stiles like a stray dog. He's skinny, Stiles can see the bones of his wrists and elbows in full relief where they hang out from the tatters of the guy's shirt, but he's still got a good 40 or 50 pounds on Stiles, so Stiles sits where the guy pushes him without much choice, and holds very, very still as the man? beast? kid? presses himself over Stiles' legs and buries his face in Stiles' side.
There's not much he can really do about it, not without risking life and limb, and while the guy smells unspeakably foul, he's also warm, so Stiles pulls the camoscreen blanket over both of them, and waits for night to fall.
Stiles wakes up well past dusk, the night sky artificially bright with the light from a thousand neon signs, the multicolored headlights of a hundred thousand hovercars. His buddy Scott says it's darker up high, where the rich folks live, but Stiles has never seen it. He's visited Scott, where he lives with his mom and the family they work for, but Stiles'd taken the Climber up the inside of the towers, and never got near a luxury like a window. Even when his mom was alive, their family was only ever low-mids; they didn't live on the ground, like he does now, and they had a hovercar, but they never made it above the 40th level.
The stranger has slid off his legs while they both slept, and Stiles' nose has adjusted, thank gods, so the rank stench of him is no longer as noticeable over the general odor of the alley. The guy still has an arm across Stiles' legs, though, so Stiles very carefully starts to lift the arm just enough to slide his legs out. The guy's wrist is all bone in Stiles' hand, and from what Stiles can see of his face, it's thin to the point of ill health. Without the weird facial hair and the enormous snarly teeth, his face is young, pinched and unhappy, maybe only a couple of years older than Stiles himself.
If he's a mutant, and he pretty much has to be, Stiles thinks, he's likely to have the enhanced metabolism that frequently comes with the assorted mutant powers. Which means...Stiles sighs internally as he gets his feet free and gingerly sets the guy's arm back down, which means that he's likely to starve to death, and soon, if he doesn't get help.
He should leave, Stiles thinks. He should just leave him here in the alley to die, no matter how badly he seems hurt, no matter how much of a sucker Stiles is for another loner in this shithole of his life. Stiles can't be around anyone else, it's dangerous, he knows this, he does.
He pulls himself free, resolutely looking away as the stranger's face twitches and his fingers reach before he settles back down. Stiles tucks the camoscreen blanket over him so he can't be seen, grabs his waist pouch, and heads out into the night.
His first stop is food- the Texican truck is in the next banlou over this week hitting levels 10-30, but the Japino truck should be down on the streets tonight, and that means he can talk to Danny. He heads over to the eastern base of the Trans-Bay towers, taking the back streets and walking swiftly through the shadows. His dark hood and dirt-stained clothes make him nearly invisible, but sometimes mutants can feel his effect on them as he passes in spite of his hard-learned control, so he tries to be as quick and silent as he can. That way, if they do notice, he's nothing but a fading shadow on their periphery- nothing special, nothing to notice, nothing here.
It takes him a half hour of solid walking to make it, the vast black wall of the towers rising above him into the semi-darkness and smog. His dad had said he could remember them being finished; they'd been started more than a hundred years ago, but completed when Stiles' father was a child. They'd held an open house on the top floors, running a shuttle from the ground past every level all the way up to the top, 500 floors above the surface. His father'd gone, eaten the hors d'oeuvres, and looked out of all of that glass. He used to tell Stiles about it at night, sometimes- how there were only other buildings below it, but none around it; how he could see a vast cloud ocean stretching out to every horizon; how the clouds had swept away for a moment, and showed the actual sea, dark and roiling; how, right as his shuttle-craft had started to descend, a white bird had flown past and screamed, and all the old babas on board had wailed and covered their faces in their scarves, and said it was a bad omen.
Stiles couldn't imagine it, not really. He'd seen the holos of what used to be, just like every other kid in school, but trying to imagine being out there, where the buildings stop, where there's not a wall on every side... it makes him shiver. He thinks he wouldn't like it.
The Jappino truck is parked at the 8th eastern corner, jets turned off and settled onto its struts, counters out and lights flashing. The menu scrolls through all their dishes, flashing holos of the most popular onto the few tables set up around it. Stiles makes his way around to the back, slipping between the plasment of the tower wall and the thin metal of the truck itself until he can knock lightly at the back door.
It takes a moment, but then the metal flickers clear, and a tanned face with dark hair and eyes blinks back at him. Stiles grins and waves.
“Danny! How's it flying, dude?”
The other guy rolls his eyes. “Stiles. Hi. What can I get you?”
Stiles wiggles in place, trying to decide. “I need...well, I need the usual, but twice as much.” He grins warily, trying to exude charm.
Danny's eyebrows shoot up. “Twice the usual? Fuck no, Stiles, you wanna get me busted?”
“C'mon, I'm good for it, you know I am.” He tries to keep things on the side of wheedling, rather than whining, but he's not sure how successful he is. To be honest, twice the usual isn't going to be nearly enough, not with a mutant's metabolism, but it'll be a start.
“No.” Danny reaches up a hand to pull down the rolling screen, but Stiles throws his hand against the field between them.
“Wait! I'll...” Danny looks at him expectantly. “I'll come in and sit with you for 20 minutes after you process my request.”
He hates trading on his own mutation this way, too aware of all the ways it can be used against him. But he's known Danny a long time, knew him when they both first started manifesting, knew him before Stiles' mother was... before his mother died. Their families go back. If he sits with Danny and boosts Danny's powers for even 20 minutes, there's no telling what advantages it'll give Danny and his family. Danny's hacking is already well above average because of his mutation, the way he can slip his will effortlessly into the programs, speaking to the machines like it's his mother tounge, but with Stiles' spark as gestalt...
Danny rubs a hand over his handsome face and thinks for a minute.
“With your help, I'll be able to hide how much I'm taking for you.” He eyeballs Stiles contemplatively. “And I might be able to catch the person who's been rifling through my security.” He chews his lip. “Thirty minutes.”
Stiles grins. “Thirty minutes, three times my usual, and two big plates of the plantain curry with rice.”
Danny glances at him sharply, then rolls his eyes and nods. “Fine. Come in.” He palms the button and the field dissolves into the air with a shimmer, and Stiles steps into the back of the truck.
He's been in it before, but not in years. Danny's bunk is in the same place, down the narrow hallway and in the top back left. It's tall enough to sit on cross-legged, with your head brushing the ceiling, so they clamber up and Danny removes the wall panel to display an impressive assortment of electronic interfacing. He unfolds his fingerscreen and, with a meaningful look at the flashing holo clock on the wall, starts tapping.
While the best things about Danny may indeed be his skill with the nets and his family's excellent food, his discretion and disinterest in prying are definitely close behind, Stiles thinks. They're technically close enough for Stiles' spark to definitely be assisting him, but Stiles is feeling generous, and a little sleepy, so he leans his head on Danny's shoulder as he types. He can feel the other boy shudder beneath his ear as the extra boost from the contact kicks in, hear his fingers tapping faster than before.
The time passes quickly, and it's not long before Danny's shaking him off to climb down from the bunk, Stiles' wristband in hand. He runs it over an eraser, and then back over to reset the info contained within. He clambers back up, holding it out of Stiles' reach as he makes grabby hands for the worn red plastic.
“Ok. I gave you three times the usual, because you just made me a lot of money, and I caught my little red-haired trespasser red-handed. BUT” he leans back further, keeping it out of reach, “you need to be careful. I was seeing evidence of sweeper bots in the system, so that means they're keeping an eye out for suspicious activity. Make it last, and mix up the places you use it.”
Stiles nods vigorously, and Danny passes it over, watching as Stiles snaps it back onto his wrist.
“I cleaned your info, too- you're now from the Fruitvale District, so try to do at least some of your acquisitions there, ok? And no one should be looking for this profile, it's completely new.”
Stiles throws his arms around Danny in a quick hug, pressing their faces together. “Thanks! I should be good for at least a couple weeks. I'll make sure none of it leads back to you.”
Danny rolls his eyes. “Oh, I've already made sure of that.” He gives Stiles a shove, and he falls off the bunk, landing in a laughing splay of arms and legs on the floor as Danny hops gracefully down. “Do you want that curry or not?”
He doesn't like to linger, especially not when he's carrying food, but Stiles pauses as he passes the Fruitvale Square, his eyes skimming over the flashing images and scrolling text of the massive holo-projectors that circle the inner area of the open space. Most of it he doesn't care about; the latest Toppers' flying finals, and the upcoming Topside mayoral race, but down in the bottom of the left screen he sees familiar looking pictures of a ragtag crowd of Middies with signs outside a KPHealth building, juxtaposed against the smiling and reassuring face of the senior Senator Argent. It makes his stomach hurt, but he forces himself to read the text below the waving signs: it's the same old thing, protesting the existence of the vaccines, the undisclosed use of them, the subsequent coverup. Stiles had heard the litany of crimes over and over from his mother as she raged about the government program and what it had done to her only son. Until the day when he hadn't heard it from her again, anyway.
He shakes his head and moves on, stopping at a dispensary on the edge of the Alacosta Transit line. He waves his wristband over the scanner, waits for it to register, then scoops the resulting disgusting protein bars out of the slot and adds them to his already heavy bag of rice and curry. The sky is starting to lighten with a glow that's different from the continuous neon sign-radiance, and he needs to get back.
He finds the guy where he left him, asleep under the camoscreen. He does seem to have shifted around, but he looks like he's not awake, and Stiles steels himself to have to figure out a way to either a) wake the mutant up without losing life or limb, or b) do without the screen for the night. As he's contemplating his options, though, the mutant's mouth moves, and a surprising light, sharp voice emerges.
“I can hear you standing there, you know.”
“Uh, yeah, um.” Stiles scratches the back of his head. It's their first words exchanged, and they're far more coherent than he'd expected. Well, on the other guy's part, anyway. “Yeah, so, I'm Stiles, and this is kinda my alley?”
The mutant's eyes flutter open this time, and he looks... crestfallen? resigned? something that makes Stiles feel instantly guilty. The poor guy's clearly still very much in the recovery phase. What would his mother think of him not sharing his territory with this poor critter?
“I can leave.” The guy starts to get up, and Stiles waves his arms hastily, the bag tipping and lurching from where it's hanging on his arm.
“No, wait, it's ok! I brought some food, you looked like, um, you looked like you could use some, so I've got some, here, just...” He thrusts the bag at the other guy and stays where he is, unsure of the wisdom of approaching. The guy eyeballs him for a moment before flinging a bony hand out from under the blanket to seize the bag. His eyes are light-colored and hypnotizing in the growing dawn, flickering warily at Stiles where he stands.
“So, um, I'm just gonna come...” Stiles waves his hands vaguely at the guy and the food, “I'm gonna come sit down, ok?” The guy's already shoveling curry into his mouth straight out of the bag, but he nods while chewing and flips the blanket back with his free hand so Stiles can slide under it. It's late enough in the year that it's cool when he stops moving, so he creeps over slowly and settles with his back against the wall, legs under the camoscreen. He reaches for the food, but the guy next to him growls, and Stiles snaps his arm back so fast he whacks his elbow on the wall and moans in pain. The guy is instantly contrite, dropping the food between them and ducking his head.
“Sorry! God, I'm so sorry!” The guy shrinks in on himself, his face falling, and Stiles thinks there must be so much more going on here than he knows about. He's barely exchanged ten words with this stranger, but already he wants to feed him, keep him warm, teach him how to live on the streets. It's painfully obvious that he's new and alone, and Stiles grimly thinks that he won't last long on his own, and well, Stiles can't help but remember what that was like, with his mother dead five years and his father killed in the line of duty. He'd survived by luck and quick wits, and this guy doesn't seem like he's got much of either.
“It's ok.” Stiles cradles his elbow for a moment, then fishes in the bag for the second container of curry, pulling it out and popping the lid. He lets the heat of the container warm his hands, his eyes closing as the smell of hot food overlays the stench of the alley. “Hey, um...”
Those light eyes consider him for a long moment, letting the silence stretch, before he finally shakes himself and gives a tiny shrug. “Derek.” The other guy's tongue trips over it, like it pains him to say. Stiles keeps his face carefully blank.
“Ok. Derek.” He puts the first container back into Derek's hands. “Here. Eat this. Then we're gonna get some sleep.” He nods with a lot more authority than he feels, but it's like his dad said, if you act like you have authority, everyone else will act like you do, too. Derek swallows convulsively for a moment, and Stiles realizes that he's assuming that Derek won't just bolt as soon as he's eaten as much as he can cram down his throat, but Derek gives a short nod before returning to shoveling the still-steaming curry into his mouth, and doesn't comment further.
The small amount of leftover curry is gone the first morning, but the zip-packed protein bars Stiles picked up the same day hold them for a bit longer. Derek's clearly trying to make them last, unwilling to rely on Stiles' charity, but his bodily needs win out, and Stiles is gratified to see him moving away from “emaciated” to “slim” to “could fuck you up.” He stays in the alley when Stiles goes out every night, or at least Stiles thinks he does. He's never seen any evidence that Derek does anything besides huddle in the corner under the camoscreen and skim the various links and feeds on Stiles' reader.
He's a mystery, is Derek, and for the first little while, Stiles is pretty content to let him rest and heal. He does haul Derek around the corner to Tia Yamana's when it's time for Stiles' weekly ablutions. Derek becomes extremely skittish at the thought of venturing forth, clearly warring within himself between the human desire to be clean, and the more animal desire to be safe and hidden. When they finally do venture out, it makes Stiles jumpy, because it means that Derek's eyes keep flickering colors, and his fingernails keep sprouting and then disappearing again as soon as Derek notices. He also seems to have a real propensity to want to sniff around corners, and growl menacingly when the crowd in the streets presses too close, and it drives Stiles to new levels of anxiety trying to get Derek to keep his mutant-wolfiness pushed down. He's clearly never had to keep it hidden before, and Stiles spends the whole trip convinced they're going to be nabbed off the streets at any moment. It's not good for his nerves, is what he's saying.
Amazingly, they make it in and out with no incident, both of them much improved by some quality time in Tia's shower cube. Stiles bumps his wristband to Tia's and flicks some chits between them that have her pursing her lips, but then coming back an hour later with freshly replicated clothes for both of them, and a pair of shoes for Derek.
It's like bliss, bathing- it's the thing Stiles misses most about living inside, other than his parents. Regular cleanings, and more than one set of socks at a time. Derek looks like a completely different person with his hair washed clean of residual blood and dust and filth. It's soft, and falls across his head like the black chicken feathers Tia keeps from her roosters. His eyes in the daylight are soft, but haunted by things Stiles thinks he probably can't even imagine.
The problem with bathing is that it makes the alley seem even more rank, but Stiles doesn't dare keep it too clean. He doesn't want to draw any attention to his space, and really, now that he thinks about it, he should probably move on, with or without Derek. He's been here over a month now, and that's a long time to not be noticed coming and going. It's just that the location is so damn convenient.
Still, he thinks, better safe and inconvenienced, than registered and swept away.
He resolves to go scouting tomorrow.
It's three days later, and he's just finished checking out two potential spots for their imminent relocation when he realizes he's being followed. They're subtle, which is bad, because it mean's they're more than just opportunistic street goons looking to frisk him for his wristband and any weapons. He walks a little faster, sticking to the walls and overhangs of the buildings all around.
It's getting near dawn, the time when the streets are emptiest, folks out for the night having stumbled home while folks working the early shift are just starting to shuffle out. Generally, this emptiness makes it the safest time for Stiles and his particular mutation, but in this case, it means that it's going to be both much harder to lose his tails, and much less likely that anyone will help him.
He doubles back, walking quickly, ducking behind storefronts and awnings, following a twisting path through the underbelly of his neighborhood, but every time he dares a glance over his shoulder, they're still there. They don't seem to be herding him anywhere in particular, which is a small mercy, and there only seem to be the two of them, which is also good, but he's starting to get nervous about his inability to shake them off.
He ducks behind a covered replicator cart to consider his options.
He could head for the business district, try to lose them in the rising crowds of drones and shoppers. The problems with that are that he has to stay ahead of them long enough to get there, and also that he doesn't exactly blend in with the Lower-Mids working class anymore. Alternatively, he could head for the proverbial hills, and hope to disappear into the carts and cars of the markets. Disadvantages there include getting caught by store owners if he has to hide somewhere a little less... publicly accessible, and also the fact that the markets will be much quieter and emptier than even the streets at this hour, and thus, if he gets caught, a lot less full of assistance.
He peers out. They're close enough now that he can identify them; some of McCobb's goons. He curses under his breath. He'd done McCobb a favor once, once, when he was starting out, and ever since then McCobb will sometimes take a wild hair to try and add Stiles to his collection of pets. Stiles has managed to put him off so far, but someday he won't, and then he'll be a captive mutant in a collar, lending his spark to whatever nefarious or selfish purpose McCobb sees fit.
There is a third option. He's close to his alley now, only blocks away. He could make a break for it and head for home, and pray to all the gods that Derek's there; Derek is bigger, stronger, and scarier than Stiles is, and doesn't usually leave the alley, as far as Stiles knows. The downside is that then the goons will know where Stiles has been staying; but they were going to move anyway, so this would only speed things up.
It's a gamble. If Derek isn't there, he's pretty much f outu, but that's also a distinct possibility whichever option he goes with.
He risks another glance. The thugs have paused, looking carefully around. One tall and skinny, darker skinned with sparkling tattoos that ripple in a paisley pattern up his arms, the other pale and dark-haired, her face chirpy and disarming, but no doubt hiding a small militia's worth of weapons under her lavender coat.
No time like the present, he thinks, and goes bursting out of his hiding spot, running through the dimly lit streets as fast as he can. He hears their shout of surprise and the pounding of their footsteps behind him as an energy blast marks the wall above his head.
He pours on the speed, rounding the corners at a full out run, taking advantage of every tiny bit of knowledge he has about his own turf to dodge obstacles and hurtle forward. He can hear his heart thumping in his chest, the blood rushing in his ears, and the relentless rhythmic beat of them gaining on him as he sprints down the last piece of pavement to his alley.
He flings himself into the mouth of it, and Derek's already up, on his feet, claws extended and growling. He's the best and most ferocious sight Stiles has ever seen, and he has zero qualms about the way Derek grabs him and shoves him behind his wolfed-out bulk.
The goons seem to have other feelings about the figure Derek cuts, and they skid to a cautious stop in the mouth of the brick archway.
“Hey now” the tall one raises his hands and slinks carefully forward. “We were just having a word with Stilinski here. No need to get all worked up.”
Derek growls in a way that leaves no doubt in anyone's mind as to his menace.
“You tell McCobb he can fuck right off, you hear me?” Derek's crouching in front of him, still growling, and Stiles has a heady feeling that he's never felt out here on the streets, the sense that someone would defend him, protect him, challenge dangerous people on his behalf. “I've told him before, I don't want shit to do with him.”
Lavender Coat draws a weapon.
“I see you've made a friend.” She tips her head slightly to the side. “I'm sure McCobb will be very interested to hear about the...” she takes in Derek's teeth, claws, and twisted face “nature of your buddy, here.”
Derek moves faster than Stiles can follow. There's a quick crunch, a yelp of pain, and the clatter of the weapon skittering across the pavement until it hits the wall, and then the woman is clutching her wrist in pain.
“You will tell no one .” Derek's voice is a rumble, hissing slightly around his protruding teeth. He steps forward suddenly, making the two goons pale, though they hold their ground, and makes a big show of sniffing the air. “I have your scent, now. I can track you anywhere. And if anyone comes to find us...” he snarls long and low, stepping forward again to speak quietly a foot from their faces, “I will come to find you.”
Lavender Coat is backing away slowly, but her partner is a little slower on the uptake; he adjusts his stance, places his hand on a weapon just inside his cloak.
“You may be a mutant,” he spits at Derek's feet, “but I bet you still bleed.”
“Yes,” Derek says, over the sudden sound of cloth fibers parting. “But not like you.” five lines of red bloom on the man's shirt front as he staggers backward, clutching his chest in horror. Derek bares his teeth and crouches like a sprinter, letting loose a terrifying snarl.
The two goons go clattering out of the alley, shouts echoing behind them, and Stiles waits until they've gone at least a couple hundred feet before he bursts out laughing, reaching out to settle a shaky hand on Derek's back.
“Thanks, man, really. I thought I was a goner for a minute.” He smiles as Derek straightens up, his face sliding back into the sharp, pale, fully human features that are starting to seem so familiar.
Derek growls low and long again as he turns to face Stiles, his face serious as he pats Stiles down.
“They didn't hurt you?” His face is open, concerned. It makes Stiles feel warm, and a little silly.
“No,” Stiles shakes his head, and pats Derek's wide, firm shoulder. “No, I'm fine.” He smiles. “Thanks to you, so yeah. Thanks, buddy.”
Derek nods once, his eyes still searching Stiles' face.
“Here, see.” Stiles bites his tongue and swears, but in the next second his tiny file slides home, and the dispenser starts shooting out zip-packs like an over-excited pitching machine. Derek deftly plucks most of them out of the air as they go flying, then bends to pick up the few he missed and shove them into the large carry-all they've brought with them. Stiles pulls the tip of the tool back, letting the machine sputter out a last pack or two before going silent and displaying a sad red Error message across its shiny face. “I bet you could do this with a claw, I don't think you'd need my tool at all.” He squints critically at the slot, then at Derek's hand. “Yeah, I bet... we'll have to try it on the next one. Now...” he glances around carefully before wrapping the camoscreen blanket over them to confuse the cameras as they stroll out from under the dispensary's overhang, “now we go.”
They stride quickly off into the darkness, Stiles pulling them through several back alleys and through a couple of different markets before he feels secure enough to drop the blanket and fold it into his pack. It's not a perfect method; the blanket doesn't make them invisible unless they hold completely still, but the background ripple it makes when moving, while noticeable to the naked eye, is difficult to track on camera, and definitely obscures their identities.
They've made it down to near where Pedmant District and Mer't share a boundary, and Stiles steers them toward the dispensary at the end of the Lake complex. It's not one that he's used in the last month or so, so it should be unwatched, and he wants Derek to give it a shot before they move into Fruitvale and Stiles uses his wristband to get them the last of their supplies.
He looks around, can tell that Derek is doing the same with his mutant senses, which, Stiles would really love to know how strong those are. They're clearly stronger than Stiles' are, but then Stiles' mutation doesn't seem to have affected his senses at all, so that doesn't really mean much. Derek also doesn't seem to have the same distaste for smells that Stiles does; he's clearly aware when the dumpster they squat next to is getting particularly pungent, but it doesn't seem to make him gag the way it does Stiles.
They catch eyes, and Derek nods sharply, so Stiles catches hold of his wrist and pulls him toward the dispensary's overhanged recess. Really they're just asking for them to be scammed, Stiles thinks, the way they keep them all set back from the street like this, with a careful little lid over them to keep the scammers safe. Ostensibly it's to protect persons making legitimate withdrawals; you can't see if someone is using it until you're nearly upon it, and the narrow opening makes it easier to defend, even if it does also make you trapped. There are theoretically cameras pointed at each one, but they get disabled within minutes of being installed by other folks who have a vested interest in there being no record of who is using the machines for what. The city attempts to maintain and replace them maybe once a year, but they're no concern for Stiles.
He hadn't even known about the dispensaries at first when he came down to be a Grounder- they hadn't had them in the Lower-Mids where he'd grown up. You got your food from your in-house replicator, or if you lived with someone who was old-fashioned, there were occasional markets around where one could go and buy replicated food that wasn't programmed into the household units, or even the pretty rare True Food items. Stiles remembered his dad bringing home a small jar of tiny green things to his mom once for her birthday; capers, they'd been called, and his mom had been beside herself with excitement. Stiles thought they'd smelled god-awful, so he hadn't had any.
Kinda wishes he had, now. Oh well.
“Ok, see the slot?” Derek nods, considering the tiny opening where some helpful soul has already pried up part of the covering around the dispensary's input screen. “Try using your next smallest claw. The point you want to press is up, and slightly to the left. You don't need to do anything fancy to it, just give it a little pressure, and it should be good.”
Derek flicks his eyes at Stiles dubiously, but holds out a hand and pops the claw on his second-to-last finger, sticking it in the slot. His face is a study in concentration as he feels around, his finger bent at an awkward angle. He scowls, pulling his hand out. “It's not working. My claw's too big, and bending it back like that is going to crack it.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “C'mon, try again. Maybe use your littlest claw? You need to learn how to do this.”
Derek scowls, but obligingly pops out the claw on his littlest finger.
“In case something happens to me, duh.” Stiles shrugs his shoulders and tries not to shiver. It's late into the night and cold. “You need to be able to survive on your own. Besides.” He shrugs again, resisting the urge to scoot closer to Derek, who gives off body heat like a furnace. “You should probably strike out on your own soon anyway.”
The look on Derek's face is so stricken that Stiles raises his hands in protest without even realizing he's done it.
“No, no, it's just, I'm not...” He takes a breath, takes Derek's hand in his own gloved fingers, guides his claw into the slot, aims it unerringly up and left, then gives a gentle push. The machine obligingly spits out several zip-packs that fall to the stained concrete. “I'm not a safe person to be around.”
He makes himself let go of the warmth of Derek's hand, and bends to collect the packets, sliding them into his pack.
Derek's still staring at him, face pinched and tight.
“Stiles...” his voice is rough, “...I'm not either.”
Derek's expression is so earnest it's killing him, so Stiles rolls his eyes and hefts his pack, ducking his head to hide his burning face.
“Yeah, yeah, big scary sour-wolf. I've seen worse. C'mon.” He takes a steadying breath. “Next stop.”
There's a line at the Fruitvale dispensary he usually hits, which he doesn't like. Lines make him nervous, like crowds. Too much risk of him accidentally getting too close, tripping someone's mutation, and getting discovered. Derek has to have noticed Stiles' effect on him by now, or else he's too distracted by everything in his new surroundings and is just chalking it up to his new life, but Stiles has been happy to avoid the conversation thus far. He trusts Derek, and maybe that's going to be the last mistake he makes, but it's too late now. He pulls them around the edge of the square, moving quickly and keeping to the periphery. Derek seems perfectly content to evade attention with him; in the couple weeks they've been squatting together, he's never shown any inclination to be near any people other than Stiles, and that's frankly fine with him. The fewer people who interact with them, the safer they are.
The holo-screens are playing as ever, and Stiles scans them for anything relevant to him. Mostly it's Topside gossip and politics, but as he's half-watching, an announcer with blond hair and the distinctive Upper-Mids cheekbone markings comes on with a serious cast to her face.
“Three new attacks have been reported in the 250th Pedmant level this week, leading authorities to believe that the terrorist known as the Mutant-Maker is on the move. One of the victims was an eleven year old Topside female, who has since died from complications of her sudden mutation onset.” Stiles grabs Derek's arm and pulls him to a halt in the shadow of the closest building. He can feel his heart pounding in his chest, the thumpa-thumpa skipping with the sudden onset of nerves. The announcer continues. “Authorities are speculating that the criminal's actions may be in response to the latest wave of Hunter Party bills in Congress, two of which are expected to pass this November. Bill-0375A, sponsored by Senator Gerard Argent, Beacon District, calls for the registration of all persons who have received the vaccine, whether they have displayed mutant capabilities or not, for the general welfare of the public.” She clears her throat, her eyes scanning the tele-prompter as she continues. “0375B, its companion, calls for the registration of all unions between vaccinated persons, and automatic testing and registration at the birth of any child with known-vaccinated parents.”
Derek's giving him a funny look, but Stiles doesn't care. This means it's getting worse than he'd realized. If the Hunter Party has enough power to start pushing things through... that means the Mutant Defense Fund is losing ground. He grits his teeth, remembering his mother in her blue Proud Mom of a Special Child shirt kissing his cheek as she went off to the protest that killed her. Life is fickle, this he learned early; you're only ever an angry mob's stampede away from death.
Sometimes he thinks he smells her perfume in the street, and has to go sit in his alley for the rest of the night, waiting for the panic attack to pass.
“It's thought that the terrorist known as the Mutant-Maker may himself be a mutant, seeking revenge for the harm done to him as a child.” Stiles makes a face at the melodrama in her voice, but listens anyway as she continues. “However, this conflicts with reports of the victims which describe him as in his late 30s, well over the 19 year old age threshold for the oldest mutants. Doctors are testing blood samples from the victims, all of whom have been confirmed to previously be non-mutated vaccinated children, but who have spontaneously developed a mutation post-attack. Those who have received the vaccine are cautioned to stay in their own property as much as possible, and to travel in groups when moving about.”
The scene switches to a holo-vid of pro- and anti-mutant supporters fist-fighting at the base of the gates of the White House, and Stiles exhales hard, his stomach churning. Derek's still watching him, a perplexed look on his face. He wants to leave, to go back to their alley and hide for a week, but he can't. They can't. So he pulls Derek with him to the corner, and heads for another dispensary, glad of his strong, silent, shadow.
They've moved alleys once in the two months that they've been sharing space, but Stiles thinks they're probably overdue for another move. He's kept his mutation as quiet as he can; only going onto the streets at the emptiest times, making sure his skin never touches another's; but he's paranoid, and he can't help but feel that it's not unwarranted. The holos about the Hunter legislation are getting more and more dire, as are the reports of free-form Hunter parties roaming the banlous, sniffing out mutants and detaining them for tiny infractions. Derek's out picking up some more zip-packs and stopping by Tia's for a change of clothes; they've both realized that, for all that he might want to stay hidden as much as possible, he gets far too restless when trapped in an alley for hours and hours, and ends up making them both crazy. Stiles had stayed behind to try and update his feeds links because he wasn't feeling well, but now in addition to the sniffles, he's feeling watched, and he doesn't like it. He's been hiding under the camoscreen blanket all day, but it's not enough.
They need to move.
He packs their meager belongings into his carry-all; feed reader, blanket, extra zip-packs, his tool set. Then he waits for Derek to return.
Hours go by, and still there's no sign of Derek. Stiles is restless with the kind of irritable tension that comes with being not quite well. The dumpster reeks, putting out what feels like a continual assault on his nasal passages, and there are little rustles in the darkening corners of the alley that signal the evening rodents are coming forth. It's chilly, but he's too hot under the camoscreen, and he needs to take a piss, but doesn't want to move because his joints ache. He has no idea where Derek is, and it's making him progressively more and more anxious. He's not at all sure when or why he agreed to be attached to this random other mutant, this other drifter on the bottom floor of the Bay Cities megalopolis, but it seems like it's too late now, and he can't stop turning Derek's absence over and over in his mind. Is he hurt? Not likely; he's large, and well armed with claws. Did he get lost? Stiles supposes it's possible, but Derek's never indicated that he has any difficulty getting around before. Did he just up and leave? Probably not, because he didn't take any food with him, and he seems smart enough that he wouldn't just take off with no supplies. Probably, if he wanted to, he'd just take all the supplies- he seems like he has a pretty solid ruthless streak, for all that he's latched on to Stiles like a particularly sticky bit of refuse.
The thing that has Stiles thinking in circles, though, the piece that keeps tumbling around in his brain, all rough edges and pointy bits, is the thirty seconds of holo from the other night, the bit that used the words “hunters” and “on the rise”, and showed the Argent fleur-de-lis on the screen wrought in pale silver.
After three more hours, Stiles gives up. Something's clearly wrong- Derek should have been back a very long time ago.
Stiles is just going to have to find him.
He spends a few minutes debating whether he should take their packs with him; he'd like to just move tonight, leave this particular corner for another one, dark and undisturbed. But then what if he can't find Derek, what if Derek comes back and finds their things gone? He doesn't want to make Derek think that Stiles has skipped out on him, definitely doesn't want Derek to then disappear. It does mean that they'll have to come back once he's found Derek, but. Probably it's still the better choice.
He leaves their stuff all packed, tucks it all under the edge of the dumpster and covers it with the camoscreen, and sets off on foot.
He stops by Tia's, where she tells him that Derek did come by, but hours and hours ago, so he lets her light a candle under her portrait of La Virgen, and then heads out into the night. He doesn't have any particular pattern to his wandering, and he's honestly not at all sure what he thinks he's going to accomplish, but he feels better thinking while he's moving, sliding through the dim late-night streets under the cloud of glowing fog from the Topside lights, his skinny legs carrying him aimlessly through the humid dark.
He tries to think it through. His dad was a cop, he grew up with this shit. Think like the person you're trying to find, Stiles. What do you know about this guy? What would he do if something went wrong? Where would he go?
Not back to the alley, that's for sure, Stiles thinks. Derek seems almost more animal than human sometimes, owned by his mutation in a way that means it must've come on young, which is funny, since he's older than Stiles himself. He must've been one of the very first to show it, which would make sense with how strong it seems to be. So, if Derek's thinking with his wolf-man brain, then he wouldn't bring a threat back to his den. To Stiles. He'd try to lose it.
The thing about Hunters, though, is that they're good at traps. They know how to corner a panicked mutant, know how to drive them to ground. If they got a hold of Derek, they're going to be hard to lose, harder still to beat.
Stiles' heart quickens at the thought, his steps speeding up. He doesn't like the idea of Derek tracked and trapped, chased like an animal and hauled in for processing. He doesn't like it at all.
Neither would Derek. So where would he go?
Stiles lets his feet carry him into the red light district, where the bases of the buildings nearly touch, where shanty tents and overhangs sprout from every corner and available piece of wall. Oaksterdam's finest ply their trade here, offering anything you could think to ask for, for only a couple chits, just a few, oh, you don't have enough? Well, surely you have something to trade...
It's close, and winding, and would make the ideal place to escape a pursuit, were one attempting to do such a thing. Unfortunately, that also means it's nearly impossible to track anyone, and it's not a place that Stiles likes to be. The close quarters and handsy come-ons make him much more likely to be discovered, so he hurries even more up one byway and down another.
He's in the trap before he's even aware that he's sprung it, tripping over a stray prostitute's high-heeled boot that conveniently ends up right where his foot needs to be, and as he falls, he catches a glimpse of two well-armed figures walking up behind him.
They might not be after him, but he can't take the chance, so he flings himself to his feet and runs, his heart pounding with adrenaline as he sprints to the end of the row, diving left without a thought or a plan, his blood pumping to the sound of booted feet and muffled curses behind him. He takes a right, and then a left, diving for whatever way seems more open, and only realizes that it must've been set by design when he fetches up in a dead end, cornered as five figures in dark clothing advance on him from the backlit end of the short space.
“Hey, I don't want any trouble. I got my ID right here.” He makes a show of digging in his pocket, but the old man in the front of the group just laughs.
“Sure you do, kid. And I'm sure it's a very good fake, too.” He has a long black stick with him that he taps against his thigh as he walks slowly forward. He smiles. “But I'm also sure that it's a fake.”
Stiles doesn't make any effort to repress the shudder of terror. “I know us Mids aren't supposed to be cruising down here in the slums, but you know how it is,” he laughs awkwardly, “I'm just trying to get some fajna dupa, you know? Get some practice in. What's a guy supposed to do with all those pretty middies, anyway? Gotta learn somewhere.” He gives what he hopes is a salacious leer and grabs his crotch.
The old man just laughs. “Nice try, bachor .” Something clicks, and the stick he carries lights up with a sparking blue glow. Stiles feels his insides scramble all over themselves as they try to climb up his throat. “We know you're a mutant. You can come with us now, easy, and we won't be too hard on you.” His smile is all teeth, his eyes black and hooded in his round, friendly face. The face Stiles has seen on the holo-screens, smiling kindly as he suggests it's in everyone's best interests that the mutants just be shut away and allowed to live out their natural lives away from the rest of the vulnerable population. Gerard Argent's close enough now that he could reach out and touch Stiles if he wanted, and the plascrete wall behind Stiles' fingers isn't any closer to mercifully absorbing him than it was when he slammed up against it in the first place. The man has the sickly sweet smell of the ill, and it makes Stiles want to barf on his nicely polished shoes.
Stiles spits. “I ain't no fucking mutant. You got the wrong guy.”
The fist slams into his face out of nowhere, knocking his head hard against the wall, and at first he thinks the roaring sound is just the wind in his ears as he shakes his head dizzily and coughs a mouthful of blood down his shirtfront, but the sound doesn't stop.
He opens his eyes cautiously. The men have all turned their backs on him, spun around to face the source of the deep rumbling growl that has every hair on his body standing at attention. Blue eyes glow in a hulking mass at the end of the alley, just beyond the silhouettes of the hunters and their raised guns.
“Oh, fuck ,” Stiles swears fervently, pushing himself off the wall and sauntering toward the hunters. There's too many of them, he knows it, and they have special weapons. But maybe if he distracts them, Derek can get away.
“Hey assfaces , are you really stupid enough that you believe your own bullshit propaganda about the purity of the race, or do you just like having an excuse to come slum it down here with us bottom-feeders and get your rocks off by smashing in the faces of helpless kids before you haul them away?” They're turning to him slowly as he gets near, but the one right in front of him's still focused on Derek. This won't do. Stiles taps him on the shoulder, and the guy turns, gun lowering, face confused. Stiles wants to roll his eyes. They sure didn't pick this one for his brains. “Hey pendejo! Your mama had a better stache.” Stiles hauls off and punches him in the nose, thumb outside his fist just like his dad taught him, and can feel the crack of the bone underneath his fingers and the spurt of wet liquid before he's going down under a pile of fists and can only curl his arms around his head and pull his knees up.
There's a sudden break of air around him, and then the roaring sound from before is really loud and right above him, and he wants to cry, because Derek didn't run , and he should have gotten the hell out of here, but he didn't. Derek's shielding Stiles with his body, standing over him and swinging at the hunters, but Stiles can feel the vibrations of the blows raining down on Derek, see and smell the spark of the electric rod, hear the pained howls as bullets strike home. There's no doubt that his mutation is helping Derek already, or probably Derek wouldn't still be standing, but it's not going to be enough for long, so Stiles uncurls enough to frantically rip off his gloves and wrap his hands around Derek's ankles, skin to skin, and push . There's a surprised noise from above him, and then Derek literally shifts and grows under Stiles' very fingers, exploding in size. Stiles can't see him from his angle facing the ground, but the horrified sounds from the hunters are enough. There are some disgusting thumps and squelches, and then the sound of two pair of running footsteps, and Derek gives one last tortured-sounding howl.
Energy is still pulsing through Stiles, but he can't quite figure out how to stop it now, and he can't move either, waves of dizziness washing through him. There's a moment of silence, then a pair of clawed and furred hands gently pry his fingers off of Derek's... ankles? hind feet? and start to turn him over, at which point he finishes out his evening by listing to one side and vomiting copiously before sliding into unconsciousness.
When he comes to, it takes him a minute to recognize the ceiling of Tia Yamana's tiny public room. His vision's still a little swimmy, so he lets himself lay still and take stock of his various body parts one at a time. Head: hurty. Face: also hurty. Right hand: definitely sore. Throat: sore, and also his mouth tastes like his least favorite dumpster smells.
He must make some kind of noise, because suddenly there's a face over him, and he feels the first sense of relief he's felt in what seems like years.
“Hey, mijo .” Melissa McCall's face is crinkled in concern, her curly dark hair tied back tightly from her face. “How you feeling? You took some pretty good knocks to your noggin.”
Stiles pulls a hand up and prods gently at his face, wincing as he gets to his left cheek.
“Yeah, baby. He got you good.” She wipes his face with a cloth. “I gave you some painkillers two hours ago. You had a little bit of a fever too, did you know?”
He grimaces and waves a hand. “'s just a cold.” He braces himself and sits up slowly, forcing the nausea down carefully as he steadies himself against the wall.
Melissa watches him closely, then hands him a glass of water as soon as she can tell he's settled, then lets her face crumple.
“Stiles, I've told you again and again, you can come stay with us. You don't need to do this. Your...” she looks down and takes his hand, “this is not what your parents would want for you.”
He looks away. Tia's collection of feathers has grown, and is starting to spill off the mantlepiece.
“You know I can't, Melissa. A mutant in the Argent household?” He laughs, tries to smile at her. “I'm all for the hilarious cosmic joke on them, for sure, but I can't put you and Scott in danger like that.”
“Where could be safer?” She's gripping his hand and leaning forward now, dark eyes intense in her worried face. “There would be no other mutants to give you away.”
He shakes his head. “How would you explain me? Where did my parents go? And all it would take would be one of their captured mutants getting too close to me, and it'd all be over. Either the mutant'd spill in the hopes of getting it easier, or the Argents would notice that the mutant was suddenly so much more powerful, and start looking for why.” He leans his poor, aching head against the wall. “No. I won't. And don't come looking for me. I don't want to have to disappear again.”
She sighs and rubs his hand, reaching up to press her palm against his cheek before reaching for a small bowl of rice and a couple sticks. “Here. Eat something.”
It tastes like nothing, which is good, so he begins methodically putting bites in his mouth, one after another. He takes another drink, continues eating.
“I met Derek.”
Stiles coughs, stuck on a grain of rice, and Melissa hands him the water.
“He was here when I got here. Tia said he brought you in, didn't know what else to do for you. She knew to comm me, of course.” She looks at him consideringly. “I didn't know you had a friend.”
Stiles shrugs, feeling abruptly protective. He still knows next to nothing about Derek, and he doesn't really want to talk about whatever strange amalgamation of friend/co-squatter/helpmeet that Derek seems to be turning into.
“Yeah. He just showed up a couple months ago.” He purses his lips into something nonchalant. “He's quiet, helps pay the bills, and doesn't smell any worse than I do, so I kept him.”
Melissa nods slowly, eyebrows up, looking completely unconvinced.
“He was pretty beat up too, when I got here. I had to use a lot of bandages on him.” She eyeballs him shrewdly. “Good thing he heals so fast, or I don't think he would have even come close to surviving the number of bullets I pulled out of him.”
Stiles nods and swallows, then offers her his most disarming smile.
“Yep. Good thing.”
She rolls her eyes and pats him on the leg, then stands and stretches, her back cracking as she turns to reach for a bottle on the side-table.
“Here. Take these as needed with food for the next few days. If you're still throwing up or fainting in a few hours, you comm me, ok?” She leans in and pins him with her gaze. He gulps. “ Ok ?”
She nods, satisfied, and leans back up. “And come see me next week so I can check up on you both. Argent Jr. will be in DC for a vote on the latest bills, so it'll be safe to come to the house.” She leans in and kisses him on the cheek, her hand cupping his face as she smiles softly at him. “You're a good kid, Stiles. Take care of yourself.”
He forces himself to smile back.
They're sitting on the edge of the abandoned 880 overpass, careful to stay away from the rotting girders sticking out of the abandoned concrete, but high enough to dangle their legs. It's just past dark, and Stiles likes to look out at the endless sea of colored lights. From here they're in every direction, above, below, to every side, shrouded and beautiful in the ever-present fog.
“So.” He kicks his feet. “Thanks for saving my skinny ass. I didn't mean to get you trapped too.”
Derek shrugs, picks up a loose pebble, and skips it down the sloping road bed to the main street.
“They'd been tracking me for hours. I don't know that I could have lost them, even if you hadn't turned up.”
Stiles nods. It's no doubt true. The hunters are good at what they do, and are only getting better with every passage of legislation that favors them. He's been trying not to think too hard about what that's going to mean for him and his continued freedom and survival, but largely failing. As to what it means that Gerard Argent himself was down in the streets getting his own hands dirty, well. It can't be anything good.
“I wasn't even sure you were a mutant, you know?” Derek sounds vaguely perplexed, and Stiles laughs drily.
“Yeah. I'm a stealth.”
Derek's eyes are pale in the dim light, reflecting the colors of the neon signs on the next tower over. He nods slowly. “You have to be. You're never safe.”
Stiles lets his head drop and exhales. “Yeah. I'm not.”
“You're what, a... a boost? A catalyst? What you did to me...” Derek pops his claws absentmindedly and lets his eyes bleed into his mutation. They glow red now, not blue, and Stiles wonders what it means. “You boosted me straight up to alpha, and even now it hasn't gone away.” He sounds both shocked and amazed, and Stiles hurts to hear it.
“My mom used to call me a spark.”
“You're a valuable commodity.”
“Yeah. To pretty much anyone. It's why I stay mobile.” Stiles scrubs a hand through his hair. “Sorry about what I did. I've never tried it with anyone before. Usually I just let someone pay me to sit near me for a while. If I touch them, it's more effective, but I don't like that getting out. What I did with you...” He trails off, distracted by Derek watching him closely. “Skin to skin, and then I was panicking, and I just... I pushed it into you. I'm sorry if it fucks you up too much.”
Derek reaches out and hooks a hand over the back of Stiles' neck. “No.” He shakes his head calmly. “It's fine. It made me stronger, and saved us. And even now, I think. I'm still stronger. So together, maybe we can be safe.”
Stiles chuckles, because really, safe, it's such a pipe dream. But it is a nice one, he thinks. Safe with Derek. It's a start.
He shakes it off, setting his foot on a bent piece of rebar and pushing it back and forth as it groans.
“What about you? You must've been one of the first wave.” Stiles looks at him appraisingly. “I'm nearly seventeen, but you're older, and they only started vaccinating when I was eight. But it's so natural for you.”
Derek is shaking his head as Stiles trails off, his face a perfect study in rigidly composed.
“I was never vaccinated.” He pops his claws again, picking at them nervously. “I was born.”
“What?” Stiles' foot falls off the rebar, limp with surprise. “No you weren't. You can't be a mutant without having gotten the vaccine. The vaccine is what triggers the genetic changes in susceptible individuals. Everyone knows that.”
“No. My family and me... I've been watching the holos when I've been out. I didn't know about any of it, the vaccine, the mutation rates, the government cover-ups. The protests.” He takes a deep breath. “My family... I think we might have been the originals.”
“The what ?” Stiles can feel his mouth hanging open unattractively. “You can't be serious.”
Derek spreads his hands, looks up at Stiles from under his dark eyebrows.
“My whole family, they're all... they were all like me. Werewolves, they called us. Military, we were all military, or going to be. My parents, my older brother and sister. I was being trained, but hadn't gone into the field yet.” His face is stony, waiting to crack. “I saw some theory, they were talking about it on the holo, that the vaccine was made from the blood of a super secret military experiment?”
“No. No, Derek, those are just conspiracies. Those are just crackpots making shit up. That's impossible!” Stiles realizes his hands are waving in the air in disbelief, pulls them back down. “You can't be serious.”
Derek laughs bitterly. “Yeah. It's so much more implausible than me sprouting claws and fur, and ripping people to shreds. So much more unbelievable than a boy who can spark another person's powers, just by being in their very presence.” He rolls his eyes, and Stiles sticks out his tongue. “I think it was us. I think we were the ones that they used to make the vaccine.”
He picks up another pebble and skims it down the road.
“We don't get sick. We heal fast. They were always studying us.” He shrugs. “We always knew we were different, but I didn't know we were the only ones like us in the world. Until the vaccines, anyway.” He slides a sideways look at Stiles, reaches out and drags a finger down Stiles' arm, then focuses back down on his hands. “All the pieces fit. I can see why you'd try to make a vaccine from us. And.” He sighs deeply, staring out into the foggy night. “And I can see how it could backfire. A vaccine made from us to combat the plague du jour that was working its way through the banlous and the Lower-Mids, threatening to climb even higher. But a vaccine that carried maybe a little too much of us. A little extra piece that would make some people like us.”
Stiles feels like he can't breathe. He doesn't want to know, but he has to ask.
Derek's face grows dark, and he sinks his claws into his thigh to hide the shaking of his hand.
“There was a woman who worked with my parents. She was... she was our friend. She worked for the government, I'm not sure exactly how, but in some sort of supervisory role. But... she was a friend of the family for the past five years.” Stiles can't move for watching the play of emotions on Derek's face. “She was my sister's best friend, my older brother's confidant. She treated me like a kid, but I worshiped the ground she walked on.” Derek's voice is so quiet Stiles can barely make it out, and he can't so much as swallow around the lump in his throat. “She went crazy, and she killed everyone. I was at school when they told me; I'd stayed late for basketball practice. They called me to the office, and... and said that she'd arranged for my parents to be killed in action on their mission. That she'd taken a gun with wolfsbane bullets and shot my brothers and sisters.” He takes a deep shuddering breath. “I ran. I ran a long way, for a long time, while her hunters chased me. I don’t' remember all of it, but then I woke up in your alley, and there was you.” He looks at Stiles, his face full of anguish.
“They chased you to the city?”
Derek nods grimly. “Yes. And last night, they found me.” He picks up another rock and hurls it angrily down the street to crash into the roadbed, clattering the whole way.
“But that means...”
Derek turns his face to Stiles and nods once.
“Yeah. They're coming for me.”
Chapter 2: Flame
"Let me see."
Derek growls at him menacingly, but Stiles slaps at his protective hand and carefully pulls back the bandages wrapping Derek's ribs. Melissa had done a good job patching them both up, and between the haze of his own injuries and Derek's unwillingness to show weakness of any kind, it had taken Stiles longer than he likes to admit to notice that Derek wasn't doing so well.
He sucks in a breath, air whistling through his teeth as he takes in the sight of the wounds, a week old and suppurating, angry slashes visible through the bruising on Derek's ribs. He has no doubt that if it weren't for Derek's enhanced healing abilities, Derek would have died from the internal bleeding within the first day, but Stiles is concerned. Derek had healed a lot faster than this when he'd first crawled into Stiles' alley months ago. Something's clearly wrong here.
"Come on." He prods gently at Derek's side, and has his finger delicately held by a set of very sharp teeth before he can even blink. He scowls, and flicks Derek on the nose with his other hand until Derek releases his captive digit and retracts his fangs, making him ostensibly human again. "Let's go. I'm taking you to see Melissa."
It's nearly two hours of walking across from their current hidey-hole to the base of the towers where the McCalls live, so Stiles judges it worth the usage of their chit cards to take the street escalator at 7 th up and catch one of the Trans-Ex tube-trains on the 10 th level. He hasn't ridden one since his dad was killed because he doesn't like the sensation of being trapped or the thought that his location is easily tracked. But, Derek is very obviously not at all up for a two hour stroll, so Stiles pops a chiller and sucks it up.
Derek must not have ever ridden one, going by how he can't stop staring at everything from the sleek but battered shape of the train to the scrolling news feeds on the top of the walls to the wide diversity of the other passengers, people of every shape, size, demeanor, and variety of “poor”. Stiles has to yank his arm to get him into the right door, and then haul him over by the back of his sweat-shirt to press close as Stiles situates them against the inside of the car.
“ Settle. Stop looking around like a rubey. We might get made just from our chits being trackable, but we're definitely gonna get stopped if you keep staring at everything like a hells-damned yokel,” Stiles hisses out of the side of his mouth. “Be cool. Get your head down, and ignore everything.”
Derek slumps obediently beside him and looks contrite. Stiles rolls his eyes, and slides his gaze nonchalantly back to the new feeds. It'll have to be good enough. He thinks they're fine; no one in this teeming mass of humanity is paying them any mind.
It's not til they're climbing down from the station at the other end of the line, having disembarked from the tube and headed for the exit as fast as Stiles could reasonably drag them, that he finally gets close enough to the holoscreens to make out any of the words of the feeds that had played over and over during the 25 minute ride. He hauls himself up short, face turning involuntarily to gaze in shock at the screen.
“ Did she just say...”
“ ...volunteer to relocate to various living areas which will be more appropriate to their current safety and status. Again, we would like to reiterate that these moves are, for the mutant population, completely elective in nature. However, the Senate 's Mutant Task Force is indeed advising that all mutants take this under serious consideration, for the safety of themselves, their children, and their geno-typical neighbors.”
The camera pans over an image of lines of ordinary looking people standing patiently outside a large gated community. They carry boxes and bags, wear coats, clutch squirming children. Battered and bulging suitcases stand innocuously beside them. The camera circles above, then fades out into a still image as the news anchor folds her hands and looks serious in preparation for the next story.
“ Mutants and their families who wish to generously volunteer themselves for relocation are to contact their local branch of the Salvacross for arrangements. Your nation thanks you.”
She takes a breath, focuses her gaze on a different camera.
“There has been no further information found in connection with the continued unsolved serial attacks of the last month upon vaccinated non-mutants...”
Stiles doesn't hear what she says next over the noise of his pounding heart and the blood rushing in his ears. Voluntary relocation, his plump freckled butt-cheek. Everyone knows what “voluntary re-location” has historically led to, and it means his time on the streets is about to get a lot more risky. He thought he'd noticed more garda stomping through the banlous the past week or two, and it turns out he was right. He takes a couple deep breaths, willing the black spots of panic to move away from the edges of his vision.
“ Hey.” Derek is swaying on his feet and pulling grumpily at Stiles' sleeve. His voice is cross, and thick with fever “You said we shouldn't hang around in the open like this.”
Stiles shakes himself, and nods, taking Derek's overheated arm in his own.
“ Yeah. No, we shouldn't.” He pulls them down the steps, resolutely not looking back at the still-scrolling feed. “Let's go.”
"I thought you said Melissa and Scott were Lower-Mids like you."
Derek is sulking, it's the only word for it, and Stiles has to fight the urge to laugh at him for it. He's clearly in a lot of pain, and the infected injuries are probably messing with his head, but the result is a hulking mass of muscle pouting like a toddler before a tantrum.
Stiles rubs soothingly at Derek's back. "They are. But they work for a rich family, and so they live in the addition on the floor below." He pushes the bell to the servants annex, and remembers that Derek probably has no prior experience with Topsiders, and maybe is nervous about it. "But don't worry, the family keeps to themselves." He grimaces. “Well. Except for the daughter. Allison. But she and Scott have been hot for years. The rest of the family, though, no.”
The door slides open, and Stiles pushes Derek in through the opening before he can have any second thoughts, waiting til the door whooshes shut behind them before he turns to greet Melissa.
His first thought is that she looks tired, and she hugs him with something that feels a little too close to desperation for comfort. She pushes him back by the shoulders and looks him over, taking in the healing bruises around his face, down his forearms, and across his knuckles. Her smile is wan as she gives him a gentle shake.
"Looking good, kid. What brings you here?"
He smiles back, and shoots out a hand to grab Derek by the arm before he can slink away.
“ It's Derek. His injuries, from the fight. He's not healing well.”
“ Hmm.” Melissa frowns and looks at Derek appraisingly while he hangs his head in sullen acquiescence. “Ok. Come on in. I'll take a quick look at you first, Stiles, and then we'll see about Derek.”
Stiles frowns, wrapping an arm around Derek's waist to guide him down the hall. “He's pretty out of it. Shouldn't you check him out first?”
Melissa glances between them, then looks Derek carefully up and down and sighs.
“ Getting him patched up is probably going to take some work, and be hard on all of us. You'll be quick.” She turns to lead the way into the back of the small apartment. “I'd rather have him sit and take some fluids and pain killers to get prepped while I check you out. Then you'll be done, and I can focus fully on him.
“ Is Scott around?”
He can see her shoulders tense at the question, a barely noticeable hitch in her step as she continues into the kitchen.
“ He's out. He might be back later, before you leave.” She sighs heavily, and fishes her medical kit out of the closet and sets it on a chair while she wipes down the kitchen table with a sterilizing wipe, then tosses it into the dispose-all. “He's dealing with some things.” She pats the sturdy table with her hand and plasters a cheerful smile on her face. “Hop up. Shirt off.”
It feels a little awkward, with Derek lurking in the corner, but he tries to ignore it. Derek must've already seen him naked, or at least nearly so, when he was hurt before, but Stiles hadn't known about it. Hadn't been awake and aware to make comparisons, or watch as conclusions are drawn.
He's noticed that Derek's attractive, of course; he'd have to be blind not to; but he's done a pretty good job of not dwelling on it, not letting it enter his sphere of Things That Matter To Stiles. Because it shouldn't- so what if Derek's good looking? At the end of the day, what difference does it make? Does it make them safer? Does it get them more food? If anything, it's a disadvantage, because Derek, once seen, is not easily forgotten.
He pushes through the weird and zips his jacket down and off, and pulls his shirt off over his head, wincing as it pulls at his still bruised side and arm. Melissa snaps her gloves into place and gets Derek settled into a chair with a glass of water from the replicator unit, pressing two different sprays against his neck that make him sigh in relief. She smiles tightly at him, then pulls the overhead light closer to shine on Stiles' face as she prods it with a shrink-wrapped fingertip.
“ Well, your cheek is healing up well.” She squints at him, and pokes his cheek again, turning his face to the light. He winces, but grits his teeth instead of flinching. “I think you did get a hairline fracture on your zygomatic bone here” she presses at the yellowed flesh on his left cheekbone, and he kicks restlessly at the table leg, “but it seems to be doing alright.” He exhales sharply as she turns away, the throbbing in his cheek mitigated by the grip Derek has taken on his hand, his face drawn and unhappy at Stiles' obvious discomfort. Stiles forces a smile and grips back, trying hard not to think about what Derek's family must have been like, that he's so ready to give support and protection at any moment, so heedless of his own safety or comfort.
Melissa turns back in time to squint at their interlaced fingers on the bare tabletop, but she takes his pulse without comment, makes him raise and lower his arms, peers at his opened mouth, and listens to his heart before thumping him on the back and nodding.
“ You'll do, kiddo.” She loads up a spray and presses it into his upper arm, and he sighs blissfully as the pain meds spread throughout his aching body. “That should keep you for the next 24 hrs, give your body a chance to recuperate some without the pain. Don't ” she shoves a finger into his face, “overdo it. Here, sit over here.” She pulls out one of the chairs next to the table and hands him his shirt before pulling over a small machine and producing a large jug from the replicator unit to plug into it. “I'm going to hook you up to this nutrient drip. I don't know what or how often you're eating, and I'm absolutely sure you don't drink enough, so you just sit still and we'll get as much in you as we can.”
Stiles grimaces. The nutrient drip always results in him feeling a bit like a water balloon, distended and sloshy all over, but he gives in gracefully, flopping into the chair and settling his arm into the cuff. He knows she's right, and besides, it's good for her to have the chance to fuss over him. He knows it makes her crazy that he won't stay; letting her see him and make sure he's ok every now and then is worth it to keep her happier.
“ Alright.” She sets her eye on Derek and pats the table again. “Your turn, Mr...”
“ Hale. Alright, shirt off, and up you get.”
Stiles can hear the small gasp she makes as Derek peels off his shirt, exposing the wounds, but she blanks her face immediately, angling the light for a better view.
“ You should have come sooner.”
Derek bares his teeth, but turns his face away. “I thought I would heal.” Stiles can see the rippling of the skin on his face as he controls the change, forces it back. “I've never not healed before. I don't know what's happening.”
Melissa lays her hands onto Derek's sides and turns him carefully so that she can see every angle. There are dark lines spidering up Derek's side from under the bandages, wrapping around his ribs and spreading onto his chest. They look painful, and Stiles bites his lip in anxiety as Melissa pulls away the wrappings. He wants to look away, but can't make himself do it, the curiosity overcoming his desire to not see.
Melissa's face is grim. “Well, Derek, there's good news and bad news, I'm afraid.” Stiles can see that Derek's claws are digging into the underside of the table where he's gripping the edge as Melissa gingerly prods at his side.
Derek sets his jaw. “Bad news.”
“Well...” Melissa takes one last look at his side, then shoots a sympathetic glance at Stiles where he's white-knuckling the chair he's slumped on, fighting the undertow of the pain meds that want to drag him into oblivion. “The bad news is that either I missed part of a bullet when I was getting all of them out of you, or else there was enough poisoned debris that getting the pieces of bullet out of you wasn't enough. Which....” she sighs, and looks away, then back, “means that I'm going to have to go digging around to find out.”
Derek visibly deflates, and Stiles feels a little sick.
“But! The good news is, I know what's causing this and how to treat it, and you should be fine once we're done here!” She claps Derek on the shoulder, making him flinch. “Ready?”
Derek doesn't bother to do anything other than bare his teeth and tighten his grip on the table.
It's quiet for a bit, the soft sounds of the replicator unit spitting out gauze and plasti-stitch, the quiet rustling of Melissa assembling her equipment. Stiles is starting to feel a little nauseous with exhaustion and the extra fluids starting to flood his system, so he leans his head back against the wall and lets himself drift a little, grounding himself into the feel of his tailbone against the hard plastic of the chair.
“So, Derek.” Melissa's voice is soft, reassuring. It's the tone of any professional trying to distract you. “You have a werewolf mutation.”
The table creaks as Derek shifts his weight, and Stiles slits open an eye to watch him as he tensely eyes Melissa.
“How do you know that term?”
Melissa shrugs. “I've seen a couple before. You're not common, but you're not the only one, either.”
Derek blows out a breath and hangs his head.
“No. Well, I might be now.”
Stiles isn't sure if it's his vision blurring or Melissa's hand shaking as she gently pushes Derek's arm up and out of the way.
“I doubt it. I've seen your wounds before, too- wolfsbane.” She makes a sympathetic face, and Stiles closes his eyes again so that he doesn't have to see the sickly color of Derek's skin. “I can treat it, but it's going to hurt. A lot.”
Stiles can't see Derek's face with his eyes shut, but he can picture it perfectly; the jut of the clenched jaw, the belligerent gaze.
“How do you know how to treat wolfsbane?”
“I'm not a Hunter, if that's what you're worried about.” Melissa's tone is sharp. “Ok, hold on. I want to make sure I got all of the shrapnel, so I'm going to have to use the scanner on you.” She sighs, and clicks a button, starting a low-pitched whine. “This is going to burn a bit.”
“Just do it.” The noise of the scanner kicks up as it passes over Derek's side, blipping once as it nears the end of its path. “I know you're not a hunter. If you were, Stiles wouldn't come here. He'd be locked up or dead.”
“He's lucky he's not one of those already anyway.” Melissa clicks her tongue, and Stiles can hear the sound of her setting the scanner down on the table. “Looks like one piece that I missed, but it's near the surface, so I should be able to cut it out quickly. Brace yourself.”
The table creaks, and Derek gives a sharp exhale, then there's the light clink of metal rattling into a dish.
“Got it! Ok, put your arm down for a minute, I need to prep the antidote.” Melissa's steps move off across to the counter, where there comes the sound of a cap snapping and the rush of the stovetop flame. “If they make a spray for this, I don't know about it.” Her steps come closer again, and Stiles can hear Derek's slow, purposefully even breathing. “This is going to hurt, but it'll just be for a moment, and then we'll get you stitched up, doped up and lying down.”
Stiles squeezes his eyes shut, wishes he could just give up and shove his fingers in his ears, but just clutches the arms of his chair instead. He feels a little like he's fallen into a nightmare, floating in this space between waking and sleeping, listening to Melissa and Derek talk about gruesome injuries like the non-existent weather.
“How did you find Stiles, anyway?” It's designed to sound like a casual question, yet it's clearly anything but, and Stiles heart clenches at Melissa's protectiveness of him. “How are you able to control yourself around his... spark?”
Derek is quiet for a long moment, waiting while Melissa finishes rustling her kit.
“It was hard, at first, because I couldn't tell that it was him.” Derek pauses, thinking. “But once I realized where the extra energy came from, I could anchor it to myself, and it wasn't difficult. He... control for me is instinctive. As long as I have something to center my focus, it's just like... like not forgetting to breathe. You don't think about it, you just do it.”
“Arm up. You ready?”
The table creaks again under Derek's weight. “Do it.”
There's the sound of Melissa's gloves on Derek's skin, and then Derek makes a guttural, clenched-teeth, howling sound that makes Stiles shrink involuntarily into his chair, and Derek must shift, because Melissa takes a swift step back, giving the room over to the sound of Derek's breathing.
“I'm sorry.” Her voice is contrite, sympathetic. “But it's the only way. Let me come back, and I'll sterilize and stitch you.”
There's the pause of a long moment where Derek's ragged breaths slow and even out, and then he must nod, because Melissa's steps cross the room again to the table.
“Ok, arm up, last time.” There's the swish of the sterile wipes coming out of their dispenser, and then Derek's sudden inhale as the cool dampness hits his skin.
“Why did you stay with Stiles? Why put you both at more risk, instead of striking out on your own?”
Stiles can hear the distinctive snick-splat of the steri-stitches as the pull the skin close and stick themselves into place.
“I don't know how I found him.” Derek sounds curious, but also sad, tired. “Luck, or instinct, I guess. I was running blind, I had nothing left but my wolf.” Melissa rips off a piece of tape and opens the pack of gauze. “And then...”
“Ok, hold still, I'm just going to get this on you, and then you can go lay down.”
“...it's not natural for us to be alone. My family... there were a lot of us. I don't know how to be alone.”
Melissa rips another piece of tape and sticks it to Derek's side.
“You can drop your arm. Now, go ahead and stand up.” The table groans as Derek moves off it, and Stiles cracks an eye open again to see the reassuring sight of Derek standing upright under his own power, albeit listing a bit to port. “So, Stiles is a convenient replacement? So that you don't have to deal with being on your own?”
Derek shakes his head, swaying dangerously and making Melissa put out a hand to steady him as she presses a spray to his upper arm.
“No. It's true that I want, that I need a pack. Pack is family, pack is safety. But... pack is not just anyone.” Derek's eyes are drooping, and Melissa gets an arm around his waist, his arm around her shoulders, and guides him toward the hallway. “I think my wolf led me to him. I think... I think Stiles is special.”
Melissa snorts, but her voice is fond as she gets Derek's feet onto the carpeted runner.
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess he is.”
Stiles waits until they're out of his sight-line before he forces himself upright, and disconnects from the machine. He's standing and halfway down the hall, driven only by a need to see Derek safe and okay, before he realizes what he's doing.
Melissa closes the door quietly as she comes out of the back bedroom, and Stiles can just glimpse Derek's pale form on the bed behind her as the door pulls shut.
“He's resting now, but he's going to be fine.” She steps forward, and puts a hand to his face briefly. “Oh, honey, I didn't realize how close you'd gotten.” She pats his cheek and smiles. “Really. Now that we've got the poison out of him, he'll heal up like new. He just needs some time for his body to kickstart.”
Stiles nods and follows her back down the hall and into the kitchen. He hooks a leg over a chair and sits, then watches as she bustles around the small room.
“What's wrong with Scott?”
She freezes, her hands in the replicator, back straightening sharply.
“Why would you think something's wrong, Stiles?” Her tone is careful, composed.
Stiles rolls his eyes at her back.
“Because you're afraid.”
She shuts the cover on the replicator slot and braces her hands on the counter, her body slumping in defeat. Stiles waits quietly. His dad would know what to say, what to do, but he doesn't. He just knows to be here.
She pulls out two mugs and drops a pinch of herbs from a jar into each one before flicking the tap to run boiling water to fill them to the brim, then walks carefully over to the table to place the cups in front of each of them.
Stiles wraps his fingers carefully around his mug, and watches her twist her fingers and clear her throat.
“Have you heard about the attacks?”
Stiles shakes his head.
“No. I'm behind on news, since from I got beat up. We did see a holo this morning about the” he twitches his mouth sideways in irritation, “ 'voluntary relocation' , but that's all.”
Melissa nods and sighs, peering into the depths of her cup.
“Your mother was one of the people who got the whole thing out in the open, you know? The vaccine effects, the coverup.” Melissa shakes her dark head, curls swinging side to side. “She wasn't the only one, of course, but she was very skilled with information, with reading between the lines, and following leads to their source. I always assumed it's part of what they saw in each other, what made them tick. They had similar minds.”
Stiles swallows hard and nods. He remembers his mom poring over scans and holos late into the night, making notes on her screens, mouth pursed and hair falling into her eyes. She'd done it all for his sake, to keep him safe, and had gotten herself killed instead.
He pushes it back. He can't afford to dwell on his parents, not since he's been alone.
“Well, it seems like someone else is good at finding information, too.” Melissa swirls her tea in her mug and takes a sip. “Apparently there's a person out there who has gotten the lists of who got vaccinated, but hasn't shown signs of being a mutant.” Her face tightens. “And this same person apparently has access to a serum that, when injected into a person who has been vaccinated, but has never shown signs of mutation, then triggers one.”
Stiles feels his eyes getting wide.
“That's... that's huge. What are they trying to do?”
Melissa shakes her head. “No one's really sure. Maybe it's revenge? Maybe it's a political statement?” She shrugs. “He's hit dozens now. They tried to keep it quiet, but the newsfeeds had started reporting on it before they knew where it was going, so it was too little, too late. The victims came forward, some of them, and talked about what had happened.”
“Gods, the Hunter Parties must be having a field day with this...”
Melissa looks at him and nods sharply.
“Yeah. It's a gift with a bow for them. There's just enough left unknown for them to spin it however they want. I think the current favorite is ' Crazed mutant gets revenge on helpless Topside children' ”.
“Topsiders?” Stiles leans forward in interest. “But I thought the vaccinated were all Lower-Mids?”
Melissa shakes her head. “No, not at first. That was part of the scandal, but you might not remember the details from when it broke. No, at first they gave the vaccine to all children, period. That went on probably for about three or four years, but then some of the first children started showing side effects, so they stopped vaccinating Topside kids, and hushed it up.”
Stiles nods slowly. “...but kept vaccinating the Lower-Mids kids in the meantime, hoping no one would find out.”
“Yep.” Melissa nods again, and pulls a face. “Who's surprised? I suppose we could give them the benefit of the doubt, pretend that they were counting on the larger good of preventing more outbreaks of the Swinpox, but... I think it was politics like anything else. The makers of the vaccine wanted their money, and no one really cares about the kids below the 50 th level anyway, never have.” She shakes her head and shrugs resignedly before meeting his eyes again. “But, the interesting thing about the Mutant-Maker”
Stiles laughs, and she grins at him. “That's what they've come up with? Really?”
“...the interesting thing about the Mutant-Maker” she continues, her eyes twinkling in her tired face, “is that he seems to be targeting Topside kids, which... I suppose lends credence to the political statement and/or revenge theory, but...”
Stiles reaches over and places his hand over hers as her face falls, and finishes her sentence.
“...but means he got Scott instead.”
She nods miserably, and sniffs loudly before reclaiming her hand and taking another drink of tea.
“I'm sorry, Stiles. I don't mean to make it seems so hopeless, I mean, (swear) , you live with a mutation, it's not like I think any less of you, or Scott, for it.” Her voice breaks at the end.
Stiles shakes his head, and looks at his mug. He doesn't remember drinking his tea, but it's mostly empty now, and the clot of herbs in the bottom makes him think of the clots of poisoned tissue Melissa had pulled from Derek's side. He pushes it away from him.
“My parents died for my mutation.” His voice is thin and bitter, and he doesn't bother trying to mask it with something kinder. “You're not wrong to grieve.”
She opens her mouth to speak, then closes it again and shakes her head.
They sit, lost in thought.
“Do you think” Melissa whispers after a long moment, not looking Stiles in the face, “do you think Derek can help him?”
Stiles goes to take a nap while he waits for Derek to wake up. He feels wrung out and sad, and even though the pain meds have had their needed effect, he feels achy all over, and old.
He doesn't usually mind his life that much, and even less now that Derek's around. He was never well-off anyway, so he doesn't much miss having things. The few items that he cared about are in a hidden vault deep in the storage lockers of the 20 th-30 th level Lawmen's Bureau, obscured by a looping trail of ownership that ensures their safety without letting him be traced. It was one of the first things he'd asked Danny to do. But the rest of it has been okay enough; he steals enough chits to keep himself safe and fed, he has all the same access to the webs and feeds that anyone else does through his illegal hookups, so he's entertained, and while he used to be lonely, now he's got Derek to talk to and show around and curl up with for warmth.
But lying here in Scott's room, on an actual mattress, having taken his second shower in a week, he lets himself miss it all for a minute; the safety of walls and doors; the smells of food cooked, instead of dispensed; the idea of more than one change of clothes. He thinks for a moment about the holos in the station; the lines of people waiting for bunks, for a mess hall. Being inside would be nice, he agrees, but at what cost? It's for their protection, ostensibly, but then it will be for containment, and then, who can say? What happens to them when the geno-typical public has forgotten their neighbors, their children, their different friends?
Nothing good, that's for sure, and Stiles is pretty clear on the fact that he doesn't want to find out for himself.
He misses his dad, and he misses his mom, and he misses Derek, who is sleeping in the other room, but hasn't been this far from him in weeks and weeks, and he knows things can never be the same, but he's tired of always being on the run, of having to be smart, and careful, and paranoid. He doesn't want to go back, but he can't imagine what his future is, other than short and depressing- and he doesn't dream big, doesn't want to be a Topsider, just- if he and Derek could get off the streets, that would... that would maybe be enough.
He falls asleep dreaming of it, of coming home to a room, to Derek waiting for him with a smile, to him touching Derek like a normal person, mutations gone.
He wakes to the noise of Melissa and Scott fighting in the kitchen, and struggles out of the tangle of blankets he's wound himself into, catching his hip on the dresser as his feet hit the floor and he trips. He rights himself, pulls the remaining fleecey throw from around his ankle and chucks it back onto Scott's bed before making his way to the door and slipping out into the hallway.
“Mom, no ! You can't make me leave like that!” Scott's voice is tight with anger, but also desperation, and for all that Stiles loves Scott like a brother, he knows better than to get in the middle of a McCall family fight.
“Scott, it is for your own good. You can't stay here, not now, it's not safe! You know that!” Melissa's tone is upset, but firm. She's not giving ground on this one, and Stiles breathes a sigh of relief. She's right, Scott can't stay here. Not anymore.
They don't hear him as he pushes through the door to Melissa's room, and creeps over to the bed. Derek's eyes are closed, his breathing slow, but Stiles can tell he's not asleep. He settles himself on the side of the mattress, pushing his hip up against Derek's side, and lets his hand reach out to push a piece of hair off Derek's forehead. Already he looks much better, his breathing no longer labored, his face no longer pale. The relief Stiles feels about this surprises him in its intensity; Derek had started as a handsome and dangerous unknown, but he's turned into a friend, a companion, and the thought of something happening to him, the thought that Stiles might lose him, too, had affected him a lot more than he had realized in the moment.
He doesn't realize his hand is shaking until Derek reaches up, eyes still closed, and captures it from where it's hovering over Derek's face. Stiles thinks Derek's going to open his eyes, say something, but he just brings Stiles' hand down to press onto his warm chest, letting him feel the strength of his steady heartbeat in silent reassurance.
Stiles isn't sure why he's whispering, especially with the shouting down the hall, but the dimly filtering light of day has passed over to the neon-lit glowing darkness of night, so maybe it's just that that's what one does in the dark.
Derek grins, drops his fangs. “Never better.”
Stiles smiles back and whacks him on the chest. “Liar. Melissa said it'll take you at least a day to be back to normal. But.” He lets his hand settle back where Derek had placed it. “I'm glad.”
Derek searches his face with those strange, pale eyes, and nods, then turns his attention down the hall.
“What are they fighting about?”
Stiles sighs. “I think Melissa is going to send Scott to stay with us.”
“As a groundie?” Derek frowns. “Why? Surely it's better for him to stay here, and avoid being in public? Especially til he learns control of his mutation.”
“You'd think.” Stiles nods ruefully. “Except for the part where the family she works for is one of the foremost families in the Hunter Party. You've heard of Senator Argent?”
Stiles can feel every muscle in Derek's body tighten beneath his hand, and Derek's eyes flash red as he tries to sit up.
“Hey, hey! It's ok, stay down, you're safe, just...” Stiles presses down hard, and it's a testament to how weak Derek still is that it makes any difference at all to keeping him down. “Chill the fuck out. Melissa's family has worked for their family for a long time, Scott grew up with their daughter. They don't know anything, not yet.”
Derek relaxes infinitesimally, and Stiles lets up on the pressure he's applying to Derek's chest. “But you can see why it's not safe for him to stay here now.” He raises his eyebrows at Derek, and Derek nods sharply. “Yeah. So. It's the same reason I always refused to come live with her. I didn't want to put them at risk. But now Scott...”
Derek heaves a deep breath, and raises up onto his elbows. “She wants me to teach him to control his mutation.” It's a statement, not a question, and Derek's doing the thing with his eyebrows, where they seem like independent entities on his face, capable of expressing their own judgment.
“Yeah. He'll stay with us, until we figure out something better, and you'll have to teach him how to deal with it.” Stiles tries not to think about what it will be like. Having three of them exponentially increases their likelihood of getting caught, and especially with Scott not being used to life as a Groundie, as a mutant, always running and hiding. It's going to be hard, and if it weren't completely necessary, Stiles would be running the other direction as fast as his skinny legs could carry him. But there's clearly no choice, so he'll just have to make it work. “Can you?”
Derek shrugs Stiles' weight off his chest and sits up all the way, breathing with the effort, the sheet falling away from his bare chest so that Stiles can feel the radiant heat of him against his arm.
“I don't know.” Derek sounds dubious. “I was born this way. I don't know how to teach someone else to control it, not really. It's instinctive.”
Stiles lets his head drop to rest on the warm solidity of Derek's shoulder, and closes his eyes. The shouting has subsided, so they're going to have to go out there and face the music soon.
“Will you try?”
He feels the motion of Derek's cautious nod against his head, and breathes a sigh of relief.
“Scott, if you kick me again, I swear by the pubic feathers of Tia's vicious rooster I will fecking end you, do you hear me?”
Stiles may still have his eyes closed, but it doesn't matter, because he can sense Scott's pout as clearly as if he could see it in the full wan light of day.
“Derek's stealing all the covers.”
“Yes, and you've got your pointy heels in my shins. We are all uncomfortable here, ok? We are all always going to be uncomfortable here. Discomfort is the name of our particular game, and we, my friend, are good at it! Capiche ?” Stiles feels Derek's hand press his hip in quiet remonstrance, and takes a breath, lowers his voice. “Sorry. C'mere.” He pulls Scott closer to him, re-adjusts the insulation layer under the camo-screen blanket. It's a tight fit, there's no denying it, to keep all three of them hidden. Melissa's trying to get them another one, but Danny tweaked this one so good that Stiles isn't sure another will even come close to keeping them hidden. “Forget your Lower-Mid notions of personal space. We Groundies don't have such luxuries.” He grins, and loops his arm around Scott's waist. At least he's warm, squished up between the two of them, even if it means he's got Derek's bony knees sticking into his thighs and Scott's relentless heels in his shinbones. “And I told you, the camo-screen blanket needs to stay still for it to really work, so, you know. Quit fucking wiggling.”
Scott sighs gustily, but at least he stills, and Stiles lets himself drift off again, praying quietly that they'll make it through another day undiscovered.
“Like this?” Scott tries again to retract his claws, and Derek scowls.
“No. Like this.” Derek flicks his hand, and his claws sprout abruptly, wicked points gleaming in the light from the neon sign over their alley. He flicks his fingers again, and his claws disappear entirely, hands changing back to the long, pale, wiry fingers Stiles knows. “You have to find your anchor to control your shift.”
Scott sighs. “I don't know what my anchor is. I just feel so angry all the time. I hate it. I hate this !” He's got his fingers in his hair, pulling, and he looks so miserable that Stiles wants to go to him, but the last time he'd tried to touch him like this, he'd accidentally jumped Scott into what Derek called a full beta-shift, and scared the crap out of all concerned.
He keeps his distance now, from both of them, but he doesn't like it.
“What's your anchor, Derek? Maybe if you can tell Scott how to find his, it'll help.”
Derek goes still, his face dropping into neutral, and Stiles' curiosity is immediately piqued. He feels like he's learned so much about Derek watching him try to teach Scott, even if the whole process is mostly frustrating the bejesus out of both of them, and everything he learns just makes him want to know more.
“My anchor was my family.” His voice is low, and Stiles stomach plummets. Of course it was. It's so easy to forget, never having known them, that Derek was surrounded by family, always, that he grew up with siblings and cousins and had never been alone a day in his life until he ran and kept running, that having Stiles around is actually the literal least he's ever had.
Scott steps forward and silently lays a hand on Derek's shoulder, and Stiles gives a private thanks for his best friend's empathy. It's been hard for all of them, neither Derek nor Scott used to sharing Stiles with anyone, and both of them still nursing new losses and fighting territorial instincts. Scott's been more than a little unpredictable with the pull of the mutation settling, and Derek has a hard time not responding to Stiles' distress over Scott's upheaval, creating a lovely little feedback loop of stress and upset that only Stiles seems to be able to break. But at the end of the day, they're all trying, and Derek leans into Scott's touch and accepts it for what it is; freely given comfort and reassurance from one friend to another.
Derek takes a breath. “After that, it was my anger. The thing about your anchor is that it has to be the thing that you feel most strongly about- it has to be something that grounds you in yourself more than anything else. You have to learn to focus on it to the exclusion of everything around you, and it will pull you back to where you need to be.” He shakes out his arms and pops his claws. “Now. Focus on something, and try again.”
Scott takes a deep breath, and scrunches his face into a rictus of concentration. He flips his hand open, and his claws sprout, then disappear when he flicks it closed. Happiness breaks over his face as he begins to jump up and down, and even Derek cracks a smile before clapping him on the shoulder.
“I did it, I did it! It worked!” Scott is grinning ear to ear, making his claws appear and disappear over and over again. “Didja see, Stiles? I did it!”
“I saw, buddy. You're doing great! You're the best!”
Derek turns his face to Stiles so Scott can't see, and twitches a sardonic eyebrow at him, so Stiles rolls his eyes.
“Yeah, yeah, and Derek's the best, too. You're both the best.” He sticks his tongue out, and Derek smiles happily, turning back to where Scott's still happily popping his claws back and forth.
Stiles sets down his commscreen, a sudden thought occurring to him.“Hey Derek!” Derek turns back to him and makes a questioning face. “What's your anchor now?”
Derek blinks, then stares at him for a long moment before shaking his head and turning back to Scott.
“Ok, now. Try to do it with the teeth, too.”
“Hey Stiles.” Scott falls into step next to him as Stiles moves away from the dispensary he's just tricked into giving him two weeks' worth of rations on his fake card. Feeding all of them is getting harder and harder, as Derek's and Scott's advanced metabolisms force them to eat nearly twice as much as Stiles, so he's having to range farther and farther afield to load up on their provisions.
“ Dios mio , Scott!” Stiles punches him in the arm, then immediately shakes out his sore fist. “You can't just sneak up on me like that. I could've knifed you if I weren't carrying so much shit.”
“Sorry.” Scott contritely takes one of the bags of rations and slings it over his shoulder as they walk down around what used to be a lake. The scent of swamp gas is heavy on the air, and Stiles wishes he had something to plug his nose. He refuses to come down here in the early morning, because the low-rolling fog in the area is sticky and dank, and clings to his skin long after he's left the lake district. “I already took my stuff back, I just came out to look for you.”
Stiles deflates a little. Scott's always so nice, he feels like a jerk when he gets annoyed with him for all the little things Scott still hasn't adapted to about his new life. “Thanks, buddy. I appreciate it.”
“De nada.” Scott perks up. “Hey, do you remember Allison?”
Stiles rolls his eyes, and looks down around the corner before grabbing Scott's arm and hustling him across the wide street, dodging passing hovies as they go. “Of course I remember Allison. You've been chasing after her since we were three.”
Scott smiles. “Yeah...”
Stiles wants to bury his face in his hands to avoid seeing that look on Scott's face, but he also doesn't want to drop the straps of his carryall, so he just closes his eyes for a moment of respite.
“Ok. So, what brings up the Sancta Allia?”
“Oh, I saw her!” Scott smiles happily, and Stiles steals a quick look around before hauling Scott up by his shirtfront and shoving him into the nearest wall.
“You what ?” He hisses, his grip on Scott's shirt trembling. “You do realize, don't you, that her family wants you dead? How did you see her?” A sudden thought occurs to him, and he drops Scott's shirt in horror. “You didn't take her to our alley, did you? Gods, tell me you didn't.”
Scott straightens out his shirt with an affronted air. “No, I didn't, thank you very much. And we're in love; she wouldn't do anything to hurt me, no matter what her family says.”
Stiles wants to beat his face into the brick wall.
“You're in love with her. The only daughter of one of the head politicians who wants to see your kind rounded up and done who-knows-what with. Of all the girls in the world, you had to fall for that one. Do you have no sense of self-preservation?”
“It's not like that, Stiles.” Scott's voice is persistent, pleading.
Stiles grits his teeth. “Of course it's not.”
“Anyway, my point was, I saw her, and she thinks she might know something about the Mutant-Maker.”
“Oh?” Stiles lifts his face from where he's leaned it on the wall in surrender. “What's she know?”
“Well, more accurately, she knows someone who knows about him.”
Stiles narrows his eyes. “Who, Scott.”
“Well...” Scott's voice is hesitant. “Do you remember Lydia Martin?”
Stiles hasn't seen Lydia Martin since he was 13 years old, and she informed him that under no circumstances would she be seen riding the Trans-Ex with him, because only basics didn't have their own hovers, and she was not a basic, nor would she be seen with one.
She looks just the same as she ever did as she settles across from him in the sticky plascrete chairs behind Danny's family's truck, perfectly turned out and with more dignity than most people twice her age. Her hair is still the same lovely flaming hue, her eyes wide and green, but the fact that she has willingly come all the way to a Groundie food truck to talk to him and Scott speaks volumes to her dedication to taking down this Mutant-Maker.
Derek looks at him in surprise, and Stiles makes a face. Her pronunciation is flawless, of course, and she smirks at him as he rolls his eyes.
“What brings you down our way?” He smiles sweetly. “Paying a social call?”
“Don't be ridiculous, Stiles.” She folds her hands primly in her lap. “I'm here because I think that we” she looks carefully between him and Derek, “may have some mutual concerns.”
Derek's eyes narrow ever so slightly, and Stiles doffs an imaginary cap. “ Bien sur , milady. We are at your service.” Derek cuts his gaze at Stiles, and scoots microscopically closer. Lydia doesn't miss it, her eyes flicking between then. “We eagerly await the imminent dispersal of your wisdom.” He smiles again, and spreads his hands in welcome.
She rolls her eyes, takes a long drink from her tall glass to make them wait, then begins.
“As you may have guessed, I, like all of you except Derek” Stiles feels Derek's muscles clench where they're pressed next to him, but Derek doesn't move, “was vaccinated as a child. It was right after the Swinepox epidemic in '89 swept through and killed 13% of the population below the 50 th level, and that was only the latest plague to sweep through the banlous.” She takes a sip, and tosses a lock of hair over her shoulder. “Little though they may care for the lower classes, the government knows that diseases only respect the status levels up to a point, and they were eager to head the next illness off at the pass, so when the possibility of a vaccine that would boost the immunity of all children came up, they jumped on it. And thus, we all got vaccinated.” She fiddles with a ring on one long finger and smiles. “Of course then after a couple of years, the mutations started showing up, so they buried the evidence and restricted the vaccinations to the lower classes until they were found out.”
Allison nods in agreement. “I remember when the news about the mutations first came out, my mom wouldn't stop checking me over for changes.” She laughs, and ducks her head prettily, and Stiles feels the distance in class, status, and family yawn immeasurably between them. “She checked me every day for months, just to make sure I was still normal.”
“I was still normal. I've never shown signs of a mutation.” Lydia taps her fingernails rhythmically on the tabletop. “Until I was attacked last week by a madman with a syringe.”
Scott audibly gasps, and Stiles can't help but roll his eyes at him. Like that hadn't been obviously coming for her whole story.
“You were attacked by the Mutant-Maker?” Scott's eyes are round with shock.
“Yes, I was.” Lydia sucks carefully on her straw, pushing it down through the cracks in the ice chips to the bottom of the glass. “And I think I know who he is.”
Stiles forces himself to keep his voice even.
“Madame, you have our attention.”
Lydia refuses to say anything further while sitting outside, so after some impassioned pleading on Stiles' part, Danny agrees to let them come in. Scott and Danny have met a few times, and nod cordially to each other as Scott steps through the door. Allison smiles and shakes his hand before she follows Scott, and Derek trails along after. Lydia's up next, but Danny's eyes narrow as she approaches, and he braces his arm on the door, effectively blocking the entrance.
Lydia smiles prettily, and reaches up a hand to pat Danny on the cheek.
“Let us in, and I'll show you how I cracked your latest fail-safe.”
Danny narrows his eyes at her for a long moment, but eventually moves his arm to let her pass, dropping it again as it comes to Stiles.
“You better know what you're up to, Stiles.” Danny's voice is low and serious. “This shit could get us all rabbited, like, fast.”
Stiles nods in agreement, and shoves his hands into his pocket so that he won't fiddle with his shirt.
“Yeah. Yeah, I know.”
Danny moves his arm and lets him in, turning the door back to a steely grey behind them.
So there they are, sitting around Danny's low, white table. Stiles is acutely aware in the close quarters that he hasn't bathed in at least a week, and Scott won't stop giggling with Allison. Thank heaven for Derek; he's not swooning for Lydia, nor the giggling type, and his last bath was before Stiles', so he's at least an hour more rank.
Danny's replicator spits out some light green beverage in short decorative glasses, then melts seamlessly into the shadows, and as they finish situating themselves, Lydia flicks on the translucent holo screen which hovers above the table in front of them.
“There are two problems which we need to address. They're related, but I'm confident that we have the ability to do something.” Lydia looks seriously at each of them in turn, waiting for nods around the table before she continues. Danny and Derek look dubious at best, and Scott's face is sliding from disbelief into annoyance, but they eventually give in, and so she continues.
“The first, and likely easiest, problem to deal with is the Mutant Maker.” Lydia flicks her fingers at the screen, and several recent news feeds hover in the air in front of them, calmly circling so that each person at the table gets a moment's view in turn.
“Easiest?” Scott's tone is incredulous, and Stiles can't help but privately agree. Even if Lydia's claims to know who the Mutant Maker is are true, surely he is not going to go quietly when confronted with a bunch of teenagers brandishing his identity. “Even if you know who he is, how on Terra do we find him?”
Lydia gives a sharp, quick smile. “We'll get to that. Our second and larger problem is the Hunter Parties.” Stiles starts to open his mouth, but Lydia raises a perfectly polished and bejeweled finger and he shuts it with a snap. “Specifically, the Argents.” Derek growls quietly, and the hair stands up on the back of Stiles' neck. Lydia folds her hands carefully in front of her on the table and continues. “Basically, the choice is this: Sit back, ignore the Hunters and the Argents,” Stiles looks curiously over at Allison, who is staring intently at her hands in her lap, “and wait to get carted off to the” she raises her fingers and quirks them in the air, “'relocation camps', or” she drops her hands, “we take some risks, and act.”
Scott's beginning to look a little mutinous, and Stiles would be too, if he weren't too busy wondering what tricks Lydia has up her delicate baby-blue sleeves. It hasn't escaped him that none of them, save for maybe Allison, know what her mutation is, and he's absolutely certain that it plays into her plans somehow.
Scott resettles himself, crossing his arms and sticking out his chin.
“Since when do you care about Mutant Rights?” Scott's voice isn't exactly angry, but it's definitely challenging. Allison places her hand on Scott's knee and shoots him a warning look, and Derek emits a subtle warning rumble, but Lydia doesn't bat an eye.
“Since I became a Mutant, of course.” She lifts her chin a fraction of an inch to stare down her nose at him. “I've never claimed to be an altruist.”
Scott's mouth opens, then closes.
“What's your mutation?” Derek's voice makes Stiles startle. He's so used to Derek being quiet unless interacting one-on-one with someone that it catches him off guard to hear Derek initiate.
Lydia looks at him appraisingly and squares her shoulders.
“I appear to be some sort of psychic. I have not yet had time to complete thorough testing of my abilities and their range, but thus far I can confirm small amounts of telepathy, empathy, and a large ability, as yet unrefined, for precognition.”
“You're a seer?” Stiles can't help himself. “That's cool , I had no idea there were mental mutations like that.”
A flicker of frustration wrinkles its way across her face before she re-composes herself. “It would be cooler if it were dependable and predictable. That's why you're here.” She locks briefly eyes with Stiles, then shakes herself. “Even just your presence, yes? Interesting. But I'm getting ahead of myself.”
“Let's begin at the top.” She gestures rapidly at the holo-cone, her fingers pulling up what looks like a slew of assorted legal documents, security camera footage, and several blurry photographs from a desert area. “I was attacked six days ago. My assailant was a man, very swift and very strong.” Her voice is steady, but Stiles can see the faint tremor in her hand as she shuffles the images in front of her. “It was very quick; he grabbed me, pulled me to the side, and stabbed me with the syringe. I must've passed out instantly, and very hard, because I came to several hours later wandering naked in the park near my house.”
Allison reaches over to pat her hand, and Scott's face is utterly woebegone at the thought.
“However” Lydia reaches forward and zooms in on the security footage, twisting the image to give them a different perspective, “I did notice, before I stopped remembering anything, the nature of his mutation.” She shudders delicately, and Derek shifts uneasily beside him.
“He had... his face, it was...” she pulls her fingers in front of her forehead and scowls, “it was like a mask, an angry mask, and his ears were pointed and furred. His hands were clawed, and his voice was like a growl.” Her eyes are distant, and Stiles remembers suddenly that this was only days ago.
“What did he say?” Derek's voice is a harsh whisper, and Stiles can hear him breathing in a forced regularity.
Lydia turns to face him, her features twisted with anger and regret, and she must know what conclusion he's drawn, because she says “He told me, 'Tell Kate I'm coming for her; tell Gerard I'm going to expose everything he's done”, and then ducks as Derek leaps up and runs blindly from the room.
Stiles begins to climb upward from the floor to go after him, but Lydia turns her full attention to him, and says “ Sit , Stiles”, so he does, even as his chest clenches at having Derek out of his sight.
“It was easy enough to figure out who Kate is; a crazed mutant on the loose, looking for someone named Kate in the Topside levels while bent on revenge? Someone who has a connection to a Gerard?” She shrugs, and pulls up a photo of a well-dressed woman smiling at the camera. She's beautiful, but Stiles can't help but recoil. There's something mean in her eyes, something about the set of her mouth that makes her look deceptively sweet, and more than a little ruthless.
“But... that's...” Scott's looking shocked, but Allison's face is grim, and Lydia must've have warned her about this, or she'd be looking a lot more horrified, Stiles thinks.
“That's my aunt, Kate Argent.” Allison's tone is bitter, but composed. “She and my grandfather are two of the most prominent members of the Hunter Party.” She looks down at her lap and bites her lip.
Stiles narrows his eyes. “What exactly has Kate Argent been doing that has a crazed mutant out for revenge? And why haven't we heard anything about him saying things before? The news wasn't even sure if he was out for revenge or not.”
Lydia shrugs. “I don't know. Maybe he has said things before, and the victims have just forgotten. Maybe he's getting crazier, and I'm the first person he's talked to. I have no idea.” She minimizes Kate's picture before pulling up some of the documents. “But it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that he said it to me.”
Danny spins the display over to face him and squints at it.
“You got access to some of the secret military and financial feeds.” He sounds reluctantly impressed. “Not bad.”
Lydia nods grimly, her long hair brushing the table. “I had the proper motivation.”
The desert images are still hovering in the corner of the holo-cone, and Stiles keeps glancing at them, these open expanses of rolling sand. He's never seen a desert, only pictures of them in feeds. It's so strange, to look at a piece of land without buildings. It feels too empty, too exposed. Inherently unsafe.
“It seems our Kate had been consulting on a secret military project for the last six or so years, when she took over the reins from Daddy dearest. Six months ago, it was abruptly shut down, and all connections between it and the Argents were scrubbed from the record.” Lydia smiles sweetly. “Scrubbed from the record by someone who really didn't know what they were doing, fortunately. Never trust government contractors with information you truly need to go away.”
Stiles feels cold all over. Six months, government and military feeds, and the sick look on Derek's face as he'd run from the room. He rubs a hand into his hair and hangs on for dear life.
“They were doing genetic experimentation on mutants, weren't they?” Scott's voice sounds appalled, and Stiles is glad for the goodness of him, that Scott can be surprised by the things people do to other people. “ Ayma , did they create the mutants? The first ones? Are they the ones who created the whole vaccine?”
Lydia shifts to the side and lets Derek creep past her back into the room. He settles next to Stiles, pressing up against him, and Stiles is shaken enough that he presses back, not sure if he's comforting or being comforted. Derek smells faintly of salt and bile, his hands trembling lightly.
Lydia frowns. “I haven't finished digging up all of the connections yet. The web runs deep. But it's safe to say that...”
“Kate was one of our supervisors. She was friends with my sister, she was... close to me.” Derek takes a long breath, and Lydia flicks up one of the desert images, one hiding behind the others in the splayed file, a still shot of preternaturally large wolves laying limp and lifeless across desert sand. Derek's voice is harsh and anguished, his body trembling where it's pressed against Stiles' side. “She killed my family. She orchestrated the murders of my parents and brothers and sisters who were away, and the ones at home, she shot herself.”
Lydia nods, her face furious with rage and sympathy. “And according to the Argents' own memos, the only two survivors of the Hale pack were Derek Hale...”
Derek eyes widen in shock as he thinks for a moment, turning his face downward, and Stiles can see the red glow of his eyes, “...and my uncle, Peter. He wasn't a wolf, and so they wouldn't have killed him at the same time as everyone else.” Derek blows out a breath and lifts his face up again. “Maybe they thought he would help them?” He shakes his head. “He's got to be stopped. If he's found a way to turn vaccinated people into mutants, he'll keep going until there's no one left. It won't just be anger at Kate, not just revenge.”
Lydia frowns, and watches as Danny pulls up the military records of Peter Hale. “What do you mean?”
“He always thought...” Derek spreads his hands helplessly, “he thought we were better. He wasn't one of us; he was too emotionally unstable to withstand the initial tests that my parents underwent, so he was a supervisor and liaison instead.” He reaches out and flicks up a still from the file, four adults raising glasses in a lab, a fifth man in a lab coat standing beside them with a straight face. “He wasn't a mutant. But his wife was in the program with my parents, and my cousins were born mutants like the rest of us- Peter was so amazed, so impressed, with the changes in his sister and her husband, and then with my older brother and sister when they were born, with the ways his own children were different” Derek's face is stricken. “My aunt and my cousins were shot by Kate. I had thought Peter was, too.”
“Wait, Peter wasn't a mutant?” Allison looks surprised. “How is he one now, then? He is, isn't he?”
Lydia nods firmly. “Yes. There's no question.”
“I don't know.” Derek shakes his head. “There was some theory that the mutation might be transferable by a bite from an adult mutant, at least for the initial group, but the only people who could have bit him were my parents or older sister, and they...”
Lydia nods, and Stiles' stomach hurts.
“So, someone else was in on this.” Danny states, already pulling up dossiers on the people mentioned in the top-secret Hale file. “But who?”
An hour and a half later, Stiles feels like he's had his brain put through a sieve. Scott and Allison have collapsed backward onto the floor. Lydia is still flicking rapidly through profiles of terse looking men with weapons on the holo-cone, pushing occasional profiles over to Danny for perusal and reaching over to flick Allison on the bottom of her bare foot until she sits up.
“Allison, you need to talk to your parents. Do whatever you have to do to get them to look at the evidence we have.”
Allison nods slowly, looking dubious but determined. “My father is conservative, but he's the most rational and calm of them all. I'll talk to him first. He and my grandfather clash a lot, and Kate's always on Gerard's side.” She looks pensive. “I don't know how willing he is to stand up to Gerard, though.”
“We'll make it easy for him.” Lydia's thumbing swiftly through documents, pulling up bits from different feeds. “I think we can blow this thing wide open. You go home, talk to him, tell him what we've found.” She meets Allison's eyes. “I'm giving him the courtesy of notice so that he can get out in front of it, position himself to take over the Party, but if he is unwilling, we will go public with everything.”
“I understand.” Allison stands, and reaches down to pull Scott to his feet.
“Scott, I need you to take these medical files to your mother. See if she can theorize based on the information we've found how the anti-vax serum works, and whether it could be how Peter became a mutant.” Scott nods seriously. “Escort Allison home, talk to your mother, then meet Derek and Stiles in your alley. We don't want you all seen coming and going from here at once.”
Scott reaches down, grips Stiles' shoulder and smiles. “I'll see you in a bit, buddy.”
Stiles forces himself to smile back. “Yeah, you will. Hurry up.”
He watches them go before he turns his attention to Lydia.
“Lydia, why are you doing this?”
She presses her lips into a thin line, and tucks her feet under her skirt.
“I'm angry,” she says finally, her fingers opening and closing in the fabric covering her legs. “I'm angry that I was attacked and changed. I'm angry that there are people who, because of this change that I had no say in, want to put me away behind walls and keep me there for other people's safety. I'm angry that my very existence is now putting my family at risk from armed thugs.” She thinks for a moment, and tips her head. “Also, I don't like bullies, and Gerard Argent is the biggest bully out there.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “Gee, Lydia. You couldn't have thought of any of this before?” He thinks bitterly of his mother, going out to protest in the streets, the way his father would look coming home from work after a day of having to combat anti-mutant riots. “Some of us have been like this for years and years.”
“No, Stiles, I couldn't have.” Lydia's face is angry as she turns to face him. “I'm sorry if that disappoints you, but my existence is not predicated on your need for nobility in your friends.”
“I don't give a shit about your nobility. All I want to know is how I can trust you, when you've only just decided in the last ten days that mutants are no longer beneath you.”
Lydia shrugs. “You can't. Not really. But you can't trust anyone.” She eyeballs him carefully. “You already know that.”
Stiles takes a deep breath, pushing the thoughts of his parents to the side, feeling the weight of Derek's bulk beside him.
“Yes.” He drops his gaze, then lifts it again. Her eyes aren't green in the muddy light, they're more the dark grey of a wet roadbed. “So, what, then? We use each other for mutual benefit?”
She holds his gaze. “Do you have a better suggestion?”
“My better suggestion is to work together and trust each other, but alright. I'll take what I can get. Mutual beneficiaries it is, then.”
“Good.” Lydia glances at Derek, still slumped silently against Stiles' side. “That leaves us with one last thing.”
“Finding Peter.” Derek's voice is a sub-vocal growl, and the hairs on Stiles' arms rise involuntarily at the sound of it.
Lydia looks sharply at him. “You are not to go after him, do you hear me? If you go to him, and the Hunters get both of you, they can just bury all of the evidence. We need you alive and functional.”
Derek just growls, but it's apparently enough to satisfy Lydia, and she turns back to Stiles, pushing up her sleeves and flicking the holo display to off.
There's a flicker of uncertainty in her expression, but it's gone in the blink of an eye, and she reaches out her slim hands to him.
“Ever since he turned me, I get flashes of him. Where he is, what he's doing.” She shudders delicately. “I think with your... spark... I might be able to focus on him, see where he is. I need your help, Stiles.”
It goes against all his instincts to do it, even now, when he's used it to pay Danny and save Derek's life. Lydia is new in her mutation, it probably hasn't even settled yet, and who even knows what he can do for a mental mutation like hers, he's never even seen anything like it.
He pushes up his sleeves, and braces his elbows on the low table, leaning forward to hover his hands below hers. Her eyes are dark green and vast, and she tilts her head forward in anticipation.
He closes his fingers around hers.
It's like nothing he's ever experienced before- Lydia's mutation captures him and drags him under, pulling him with her as her mind goes flying from image to image, a nauseating blur of Peter baring his teeth and a dark alley, multicolor flashes of news feeds and Gerard Argent's face, the stab of a needle into her flesh and the sensation of freezing smog on her bare skin as she comes to in the park. And then they're zooming forward, past the afternoon they've just spent in Lydia's small lounge, and outward, down to the ground levels, her mind homing in on Peter's recursive looping tracks.
It's like a beacon, this sense of him, and he is subsumed in Lydia's rage, feels it flame along his skin as they pull inevitably to the mad wolf. They find him hiding in the burned out husk of a warehouse, snarling in the dark as his red eyes glow. Lydia gives a sharp gasp, and pulls them back to her sitting room, yanking her hands away and slapping them hard onto the surface of the table as a slow grin splits her face.
Stiles turns his head and passes mercifully out onto Derek's legs.
Derek's been brooding all night, ever since they got back from Danny's, and Stiles is, frankly, sick of it.
“Come here.” He holds the edge of the blanket up and yanks on Derek's sleeve. It's late, and he's tired, and his head still throbs from Lydia's use of it. It's like a hangover from Tia's bathtub gin, but without the fun being drunk part.“What are you going to do, stand guard all night? Come down here, I'm cold.”
Derek just shakes his head.
“Oh my gods, really? No one is asking you to be a martyr, you know. We're not gaining anything by you making yourself cold and noble here.” Stiles shivers, and yanks on Derek's sleeve again. “Come on .”
Derek turns his face and growls quietly, his eyes flashing red, and it hurts unexpectedly that Derek would turn on him like this.
“Fine. Casse-toi, buddy. Freeze your wolfy ass off, see if I care.” He shoves himself down next to Scott, who grumbles in his sleep but doesn't wake.
He can hear the reluctance in Derek's voice, but he ignores it.
“Stiles, we're not safe.” Derek flings an arm out, gesturing broadly at the building-obscured horizon. “Peter's out there somewhere, and he's my family, my responsibility. How can I just let that stand?”
“ Hmph .” Stiles rolls over abruptly and shoves up onto one elbow, bringing himself eyebrow level with Derek's bicep. “We're as safe as we ever were before, and you slept then.” He glares at Derek's dark shape. “You better not be thinking of going after Peter on your own. I will hunt your furry ass down myself and kick it if you do.”
Derek scowls. “Why should I do what she says? Why do you all trust her so much?”
“I trust Lydia about as far as I can throw her.” Stiles shrugs. “But there's no reason for her to betray us. And...” he pauses for a moment, then shoves his forehead against Derek's arm and closes his eyes. “She reminds me of my mom. My mom was a lot nicer, of course, and a lot less amoral, but...” he feels Derek's warm hand come up to rub across the back of his head soothingly. “But my mom was strong like Lydia is, focused and kinda scary if you're not on her side. I know it's silly, but...”
“It's not silly.”
“It is, actually, and probably dangerous.” Stiles drops his head to his arms and rubs his face against his shirt-sleeve. “They're not the same at all, and it's a stupid reason to listen to someone. But, I don't have any reason not to trust her either, so. There you go. Now fucking just... come here .”
Derek sighs gustily, but gives in, lying down beside Stiles and Scott and snugging up against them, using his bulk to weight the edge of the blanket down. They've got a decent windbreak, but it's chilly still, and Stiles squirms happily in the middle of all the body heat.
Derek's still lying stiffly, but Stiles decides he doesn't care, and shoves around until he's warm enough, comfortable enough, and tired enough, and then falls asleep between one breath and the next.
Stiles wakes in the night because his back is cold, and shuffles up more closely to Scott in front of him. The blanket keeps flapping over them, and he rolls over to try and get Derek to pin it back down, but when he reaches out to the place where Derek's warm bulk should be, there is only the wind and the empty pavement.
He hauls himself up, making Scott whine and roll over in his sleep. Stiles tucks the blanket back in around him. What should he do? Where has Derek gone? He feels sick. There's only one place Derek would have left for in the middle of the night, and it's only because he knows that Stiles would have insisted on coming with him.
Stiles touches the spot where Derek lies. It's still warm. Not gone long, then.
He doesn't wake Scott. If he does, Scott will insist on coming, and then he'll also get hurt or captured or whatever the hell has happened to Derek and is about to happen to Stiles. The irony of him refusing to wake Scott for the same reasons Derek refused to wake him is not wasted on Stiles, but he promised Melissa he'd keep Scott safe, and he's not about to go back on that.
He grabs his belt and knife, and slips out the mouth of the alley into the early night.
It doesn't take him long to catch up with Derek. Stiles knows where Peter is, of course, he's seen it in Lydia's head already, and so where Derek must have had to track him by scent and stealth, Stiles can run it in his sleep, winding down through the dank byways to the remains of the marshes, heavy air rising around him as he shivers in the damp.
He slows to a jog, clinging to the slimy walls to keep himself as invisible as possible, ears straining for every sound.
It doesn't take him long, and yet it's just long enough. He sees Derek at the end of a street suddenly, lit up by floodlights, and he dives for cover just as the first tasers hit Derek's chest, sparking with electricity and making Derek's body shudder and howl. Stiles grits his teeth, rubbing the hot tears impatiently from his cheeks with his fist as he creeps as close as he dares. There's nothing he can do as the net comes down over Derek, trapping him in place as the Hunters close in. There are too many of them, and they're armed to the teeth, kicking at Derek as he curls into a ball.
Stiles bites his lip bloody, close enough now to hear the men talking and laughing and congratulating themselves, but not close enough to touch.
“Derek, you idiot, I told you not to do this.” It's a hissed whisper, but he knows Derek can hear him. “You left me, you absolute fuck, and I told you not to.”
Derek howls mournfully, long and low, until someone kicks him in the head to shut him up.
“What do we do with him now, boss?”
One of the men steps forward, the putative leader, and sneers down at Derek's tightly curled form.
“Take him to the camps. They'll deal with him there.”
The others nod, and pull the net tight, wrapping the fine wire mesh tight so that it can't be damaged by claws or teeth.
“Alright boys, load him up!”
The back of a van is opened, and Stiles scurries afterward, skirting the edge of the lights. There's nothing he can do, nothing, and he knows it, but it's killing him to watch Derek be carted away, helpless and alone.
“Derek!” They heave him into the back, slamming one of the doors. “Derek, we'll come for you! Hang on!” He thinks he sees a flash of glowing red eye before the second door is slammed and the lights come down.
“Derek, I'll find you.”
Slipping into the camp is easy. In fact, Stiles isn't even sure that you could really call it “slipping in” at all, since he and Scott “slipped in” by registering themselves and riding the buses right in through the front door like every other poor mutant schmo in the Trans-Bay area. Through the dingy metal grates and past the uniformed watchers and in and in and in, every step an easy, unfettered stride away from freedom.
You could call it infiltrated, maybe? He'd really like to hang on to the belief that they're somehow secret agents, double-crossing the evil overlords and laughing in the face of danger.
He'd sure rather believe that than believe what it feels like, which is that he is finally shit out of options, and throwing himself on the mercy of conformity and governmental sanction, blinding his eyes to the wrongful deaths and hoping, like every other hapless peon in this camp, for the best. The best in the face of the armed guards patrolling the grounds. Guards pulled, no doubt, from the Hunter Party's loyalists, so he's trying to keep his hopes low.
The processing is embarrassing and dehumanizing, but he can't bring himself to care, really. After so long running from the authorities, chasing his own needs, covering his tracks and hiding to keep himself safe, he can't quite compute this new world where he's willingly signed his name on a legal form. His legs want to run, to flee, his well-honed instincts rebelling at being in this crowd of other people, so close packed and so visible, but he's caught between knowing that his search for Derek starts here, and feeling the soul-deep apathy of having given up, given in.
They take his blood for testing, confirm he's a mutant and disease-free. They go through his pack, confiscating several of his tools, but missing his blanket and illegal feed-tappers, so that's good. He's allowed to keep his change of clothes, and is issued a code for the food and toiletries replicators. He's well over-due for the latest vaccines, so they press several sprays to his arm and herd him off to the showers, where he's scrubbed to within an inch of his life by the auto-bots, and sprayed with several different chemicals, one that makes him sneeze violently. He gets dried off and dressed, reclaims his pack, is stamped with an ID chip on the back of his neck, and wanders blinking out into the sunny courtyard.
He finds Scott on a bench in the corner, head between his knees and a wide berth of space around him.
“Hey buddy, what's up?”
Stiles approaches cautiously, settling down on the bench and resting his hand on Scott's back. He takes a moment to marvel distantly at the cleanliness of his fingernails, pale fingers spread against the rough grey fabric of Scott's jacket. He feels a little floaty, but he has for days now, and he thinks it's possible that he's just been in kind of a sustained panic attack since he first discovered Derek was gone.
“I can't control it.” Scott is clenching and unclenching his fists, his voice a snarl past his fangs. “I just... I keep thinking that... that we're going to die here, that I'll never see Allison or my mom again, that...” his voice trails off into a desperate growl.
“Hey, hey.” Stiles scoots closer on the bench, bumps his shoulder into Scott's. “They're not going to kill us.”
“No?” Scott glances up, eyes are still a luminous yellow, but breathing a little more slowly.
Stiles scoffs. “Have you forgotten what we are?” He laughs grimly. “I'd like to see them try. They have guns, sure, but you've got fangs and claws and super-healing.” He gestures around them. “Who the hell knows what else everyone else here has? Ain't shit they can do to slow us down.”
Scott lifts his head and smiles tentatively. “Huh, yeah.” He pauses, looks around the courtyard at their mingling mutant brethren. “I guess that's true.”
“Yeah,” Stiles nods, “and even if they wanted to, I don't think they would actually try it. There're too many of us at this point. We're not just some small group that no one cares about, especially now with the Mutant Maker stabbing Topsider kids. People with power have mutant relatives now, and it would jack the govs up to have something bad and news-worthy happen to us.”
Scott takes a shuddery breath and straightens up to sitting, his eyes fading back to brown. “What are they doing with us, then?”
Stiles frowns. “I'm not sure. At a guess, hoping people forget about us, I think. Then, who knows?” He shrugs. “Danny said something about the funding leading back to KaiPer and the Hunter Party medical subsidiaries, so in the long-run, maybe testing? Treatments? Nothing good, but. We're not gonna die here.”
“We're not going to die here.”
“Nope.” Stiles nods as energetically as he can muster. “And if they try to kill us, we'll be long gone anyway.”
Scott's shaggy head pokes down over the bunk from above him, and Stiles can't bear admitting that it's been five days since they had their wristbands scanned, their teeth checked, their bunks assigned, and he still hasn't found hide, nor hair, nor scurrilous rumor about his missing wolf.
He rolls over, and hears Scott sigh and shift on the squeaky frame above him.
“I've been talking to some of the people in the other bunkhouses. No one's heard anything, but some of the folks have been here over a month now, and they're not happy about it. Some of the guards shot at a kid in D Hall last week, he's ok, but the guard nearly got real fucked up.” Scott's voice is almost cheery, and Stiles never can figure out whether Scott's optimism inspires or irritates him more. Tonight he's cold and achey, the absence of the warm body beside him an open sore, so he's going with irritates. “I think... I think we can get everyone to agree to bust out. I don't think it would take much. And the guards... they have stun guns and bullets, but I haven't smelled any wolfsbane, and there aren't many of them in the first place. I don't think they've done the math and really thought about how many geno-typicals they need to control a group of mutants. And with your boost...” The bunk squeaks as Scott leans up onto his elbows in excitement.
“Shhh, gods , Scott, keep your voice down!” Stiles kicks at the bunk above him in sudden frustration. Scott always thinks the best of everyone, which is an admirable quality generally, hell, one that Stiles himself admires. But it's also one that means he's never really fully understood Stiles' potential to be a pawn, a useful tool to the more powerful, because Scott himself can't imagine ever taking advantage of someone. “You know how dangerous it is for me here, all these mutants who could sense me if I slip even a little bit. Keep your big mouth shut!”
“Sorry, sorry.” Scott's voice is genuinely contrite, and Stiles is too tired not to forgive him. He's spent weeks barely sleeping, spending every waking hour looking for and worrying about Derek. He doesn't have any energy left to spend on aggravation toward his only ally. “I'll be careful, I promise.”
“Yeah.” Stiles digs his toes further into the cold, hard mattress. “Any other word?”
Scott sighs, shakes his head slowly. “No. But don't worry; he's got to be here somewhere. We'll find him, Stiles. I promise.” His voice is earnest, sincere.
“Yeah.” It's a lie of agreement, they both know that, but Scott lets him get away with it, and Stiles is grateful for it. He can hear Scott settling back down above him, the soft noises from the other sleepers around him. In the chilly, damp, dark, Stiles clutches his government-issue pillow and tries not to hope.
It's at breakfast two days later, as Stiles is choking down a sticky pile of replicated grits and a third cup of “coffee” and trying not to watch Scott murder his own sticky ration of government-issue white goo, that his mouth falls open unattractively as he catches sight of Allison's lovely face, drawn and serious as she stands slightly behind her father. Chris Argent is addressing the crowd, looking tired and old, his suit impeccable, but his hands braced on the podium. So they don't shake, Stiles thinks. His blond hair has been fading blond for years, but his eyes that usually spark with challenge from behind his father's shoulder have gone wan and flat.
“The extensive corruption that has been brought to light regarding my father, Gerard Argent, has come as a great shock and a tremendous sorrow to my family.” Chris' voice is steady, but his eyes are red-rimmed, and Stiles feels a faint twinge of sympathy toward him. He quashes it immediately. It is this man's family and all their cronies who led, directly or not, to the deaths of Stiles' parents, and for all that Allison seems nice enough, Stiles will never forgive her family for what they've done to him, and every other human like him. He swallows hard against the bit of egg stuck in his throat.
“Gerard Argent has eluded custody so far, but rest assured that we will find him, and arrest him,” Chris continues, his manner practiced and cold, “and he will stand trial for his horrible and senseless acts of violence, his financial double-dealings, including the use of tax-payer money to fund experimentation on children, and his indirect involvement in the inciting of the riots of '93 and '95.”
Chris drops his greying head slightly and takes a long breath, then straightens his shoulders and speaks again. It's an interesting move he's making here, Stiles thinks. Chris has never been the golden child of the Argent dynasty, for all that he followed his father into the Senate while his sister has remained an unpredictable dilettante. With Gerard gone, the mantle falls logically and reasonably to Chris, but there are many in the Hunter Parties who would rather see the more charismatic Kate succeed to her father's power and position, and this will leave Chris in a very tenuous position.
“My sister, Kate Argent, has also thus far escaped capture.” The holoscreen flashes a photo of Kate Argent in the upper right corner, a 3Der, and rotates it slowly as Chris continues speaking. It's the same one that Lydia had pulled originally, taken as some sort of official portrait, carefully coiffed and impeccably presentable, in spite of her subtle murder-eyes. “She should be considered armed, dangerous, and completely unstable. Any citizen who encounters her, or thinks that they know her location, should not attempt to confront her, but rather should contact authorities immediately, so that she, too, may be brought to justice.”
Allison leans forward and whispers in his ear, and Chris covers the hover-mic with one hand while he nods, then whispers back. She shakes her dark head emphatically, and pushes him back to face forward, plastering a faint smile on her face and looking demurely downward.
“Furthermore, going forward, the Argent family will no longer be affiliated with the Hunter Parties.” The gasp that goes through the assembled watchers in the hall is audible, and a low hubbub of shocked conversation arises, making Stiles strain to hear Chris' next comments. This is a far bolder step than he would have expected from Argent Jr., and he revises his opinion of Allison upward. She's clearly been the one able to persuade her father to make this move, and it can't have been easy.“We will henceforth be known as the Protector Party, and we will seek to protect the rights of all citizens from threat, fear, and unwanted government interference.” His face is sharply serious, and he looks around as if daring any of the smaller Hunter factions to make a move. “We invite all of our former Hunter Party allies to join us; to recognize the ways in which we have been pulled astray from our true calling by a madman, and to re-evaluate what our service to this great nation shall be.” Chris glances back at Allison again, and at her slight nod, turns back to the crowd. “We will take questions at a press conference this afternoon. Thank you for your time.”
“And that is the Hunter Party, excuse me, the new Protector Party's leader, Senator Chris Argent!” The announcer sounds impressively chirpy, and Stiles has to wonder if she even actually reads the news she reports, or if it all just goes straight from her eyes on the teleprompter to coming out of her perfectly dyed mouth without filtering through her brain on the way. “Riots have broken out across the East Megalopolis, San Angeles, and the Trans-Bay, as peaceful Mutants Rights protestors celebrating the downfall of Gerard Argent have clashed with anti-Mutant Hunter Party supporters. The National Guards have been deployed to restore order, and residents are advised to remain in their homes at this time.” She smiles again, her dimples flicking into view. “And now, in sports!”
The rest of her announcement is lost in the resulting clamor throughout the mess hall, some mutants sitting stock-still in shock, others diving into swift, jubilant exhortations, still others weeping openly at the news that the Hunter figurehead, in place since the rise of the party, has fallen.
Scott spins back to face Stiles, his dark eyes shining in his warm face.
“She did it!” he crows, reaching across to grab Stiles by the arms and squeeze, his face wreathed with smiles. “Allison did it! She got her father convinced, and now they've gone public! Isn't she amazing?”
“Yeah.” Stiles smiles, but it feels forced. He's happy for Allison, of course he is, and he's happy for all of them. This is the biggest step forward he's seen in his lifetime for his kind. But it doesn't bring his family back, and with Derek still missing, the victory tastes like ash in his mouth. “Yeah, she's amazing.” He sets his fork down, and chugs his coffee, then picks up his half-full plate and empty mug to take to the waste receptacle. “I'll catch you later, Scott. I'm gonna go out again.”
He can see the edge of Scott's face start to fall, but he turns his back and heads for the doors before it can finish.
It's late that night when his comm-screen gives the telltale buzz of an incoming transmission, so he sneaks it out into the latrines to accept the call from Lydia. He slides his finger over the interface, and her image floats up above the screen, eerily see-through in the dark.
“Stiles.” She looks around briefly. “The latrines? Ok, I'll keep this short. You don't want anyone walking in on you.”
He nods, not sure how well she can see him in the dim room.
“We saw the Argents' announcement.” His voice is terse and tired, but he doesn't feel the need to pretend with Lydia the way he does with Scott. She doesn't need his moral support to achieve her goals, or his good opinion. It's kind of a relief, if he's honest. “Allison's done her part.”
Lydia purses her lips, but Stiles can tell she's pleased. “Yes, that went better than expected. Victoria is apparently very unhappy; Allison says she's unclear how much her mother knew, and she may be a problem in the future.”
“Yeah,” Stiles nods, “she wasn't there for the announcement.”
“No,” Lydia agrees, “and it's well known that the Argents' marriage was orchestrated for political reasons, so it's hard to tell where Victoria's loyalties will play out. But, for the moment she's toeing the line.” She smiles indulgently. “Allison's got Chris wrapped around her finger, so I'm not worried about him, and he's the face of the family now that Gerard's gone down.” She twirls her hair absently. “I can work with this.”
Stiles sees her finger tick off a little note to herself on her own screen, invisible to him. He knows Lydia has an end-game here, and he's also rather sure he doesn't know what it is. It doesn't matter, though- they're on the same side for now, and he hasn't had the luxury of planning ahead for years. He's used to taking things as they come, even if he will never really be happy with it.
“Have you found Derek yet?” Lydia peers around the darkened latrine from her disembodied position above the screen, as though Derek might be hiding in a corner, lurking and ready to pop out and surprise her. Stiles shakes his head.
“No. Nothing. Scott's been charming everyone he can, but no one's heard of or seen him as far as we can tell, or if they have, they're not talking.” Stiles rubs his hand over the back of his head, smoothing down the non-existent cowlicks and pressing his thumb into the tendons at the base of his skull. “Lydia, when I saw them take him, they said for sure that he was going to the camps, and I know you said that Danny confirmed the same transport came here that night, but what if we're wrong somehow? What if they took him somewhere else?” He pulls his hand down from the sore spot on his back of his head where he's rubbed a bald spot down to his scalp over the past couple weeks. “I've searched the intake records, but haven't been able to get into the offices yet.” He drops his eyes. “I'm going to try to get enough time alone tomorrow to crack the feeds in and out of this place, see if I can't tell if he's passed through or not.”
Lydia nods, but he can see the reservations on her face. “Remember that they might not have registered him. They grabbed him off the streets, they're probably not feeling too constrained by regulations.” She closes her eyes for a moment, and he can see her thinking through endless possibilities, calculations, processing information faster than anyone else he's met. She opens her eyes and shakes her head briskly. “He's still there, Stiles, somewhere. He's got to be, there's nowhere else they'd take him. You need to find him. He's important, and there are a lot of sides that would love to make him their pawn.”
Stiles feels his face harden. “You think I don't know that? Don't worry, Lydia. I'm gonna get him back.” Stiles shakes his head grimly. “I'll find him, Lyds. I will.”
Scott wakes him early the next morning by flinging himself onto Stiles' bunk and bouncing, ignoring Stiles as he rolls over and buries his head under his pillow. He hadn't been able to sleep for a long time after his talk with Lydia, lost in mental cycles about where Derek could be and why, and how on earth Stiles was supposed to find him.
“Stiles.” Scott pokes him in the ribs, and Stiles punches out blindly, connecting with Scott's bicep and immediately having to shake his hand out and swear. “Stiles. Come on, you'll never guess who I found. Stiiiiles.”
It's not Derek, or Stiles would already know. But he's still intrigued against his will, so he forces himself up, drags a hand across his pillow-marked cheek, and blinks in the daylight at a face that's both familiar, and completely not.
“You're not Derek.” he manages finally, pulling himself into consciousness as he finds his gaze met by huge, dark eyes.
“No shit, batman .” The girl laughs and shakes her head. “Who's Derek?”
Stiles finds himself shaking his head. “A friend. Just...someone we've been looking for.”
There's a flash of pain across the girl's face, and her canines sharpen and drop. “We're all looking for someone here.” She speaks around her teeth with no difficulty, none of the lisping and stammer that Scott evidences. She must've been changed by the vaccine like him, maybe early on. “Or looking not to be found.” Her eyes are glowing yellow, and she flicks her claws out, and Stiles is wary of her in a way he's never been of Derek or Scott.
He swings his legs off the bed, only just noticing that there are two other teenagers leaning a little too casually around the small bunkhouse.
“I hate to tell you, but look around,” he throws his hand wide, gesturing at the bunks around them, the wider row of bunkhouses and halls and latrines. “That ship has fucking sailed and sunk.”
The girl throws back her head and laughs, retracting her teeth and claws, but leaving her eyes the same unnerving yellow as she holds out her hand. “Point. My name's Erica. You are?”
“So, I was trying to use my senses, like Derek used to tell me to do, and I noticed that Erica smelled different from the other mutants.” Scott wrinkles his nose.
“All the mutants smell different than the normal humans” the blonde boy by the window snarls, and Scott holds up his hands in apology, “sorry, the geno-typicals , but Erica smelled like Derek, and like me.” Scott laughs. “And then I startled her, and she sunk her claws into my shoulder, and then I knew she was the same kind of mutant as us.”
Stiles looks around at the three of them. The blonde boy is roughly the same build as Erica, also wiry, but Erica holds a softer frame that in no way makes her seem less formidable where the boy is tall and lanky. The second guy is large and dark, not as tall as the blond one, but broader and stronger, with clever eyes.
“And you all also share the wolf mutation?”
They glance between each other and nod, one by one.
“It makes a certain amount of sense that, in a large population, there would be some instances of repeating mutations.” The bigger guy, Boyd, shrugs his shoulders. “It also makes some sense that the original mutation, the one from which the serum was derived, would crop up more often than others.”
Stiles nods. Boyd's right, of course. The law of averages would indicate that there must be some repetition in mutant skills. He wonders briefly if there are any others out there like him, like Lydia. He doesn't know if he would want to meet them, if there are.
“You also have the heightened senses? The smell, the hearing, the ability to track?”
Stiles looks at Scott, then closes his eyes, trying not to succumb to the wave of helpless dread that washes over him.
“If Derek were here, you would have sensed him.”
“Is this Derek also a wolf?” Stiles shares a swift warning glance with Scott, then nods. It's not a good idea to expose Derek's part in the origin story of the vaccine, but they've got nothing to lose by admitting the nature of his mutation, and maybe these three can help them search.
“Yeah. He's like Scott, like you guys. Tall, dark. You seen him?”
The blond one, Isaac, steps forward hesitantly. “No, not seen him. But...” he takes a quick breath, and looks at the other two for confirmation. “We were all brought here about a month ago, and found each other pretty quickly. There are a few other mutants who are animal-shifters, like us, but they keep to themselves.”
Stiles nods, forcing himself to remain calm. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Boyd takes up the story. “We identified them all pretty quick, and each other, but then a while after, maybe...” he thinks, “maybe two weeks ago, they brought in a new load, and we smelled another one. There was a disruption, we went to check it out, and we saw some guards bringing in a bag, like a body bag.” His face pulls into an angry twist, and Stiles has to push the spots out of the edge of his vision, and force himself to listen as Boyd continues. “They had some poor mutant in the bag, and he smelled like one of us.”
Erica's growling softly while Isaac's eyes flit between gleaming gold and human blue in anxiety. Scott's hand is heavy on his shoulder, and Stiles tries to focus on that, and not the words Scott is whispering in his ear.
“Stiles. What if this means he's dead? What if it's already too late.”
Erica is already shaking her head, showing no shame at her blatant eavesdropping.
“No, there was no blood. The bag smelled drugged.” She shows her teeth, her face a mask of regret. “We would have done something if we could, but there were too many of them. But if it was him, he wasn't dead. Not then, anyway.”
“No,” Boyd agrees, “and there was the woman, too, remember?” He gestures with his hand, “about this tall, and kinda dark blonde? She was supervising, was talking to the guards about how she was looking for the Mutant Maker, and that maybe this delivery could help her find him.” He pauses, and Stiles feels the first flash of hope he's felt in weeks and weeks. If Derek is a source of information, he may yet be alive. “And then they dropped the bag at her feet, and she said, 'Don't hurt him, ' and then she laughed, and told them 'that's my job '.”
Stiles can feel his fingers clutching hard in Scott's shirtsleeve, and he knows his face is a study in premeditated murder, as he takes a deep breath.
Scott is growling low and hard, and the other wolves' eyes flash lamplight gold in response.
“Kate's got him.”
He jerks awake to the hissed whisper of his name in the dark dorm. Someone across the room snores raggedly and rolls over, mattress squeaking sharply in the darkness. His eyes open to the sight Lydia's face beside his bed, eyes wide and a finger to her lips. He opens his mouth, and she shakes her head sharply, so he closes it and climbs carefully off his bunk, pausing briefly to make sure that Scott is still asleep above him, and then creeps after her out the door and down several hallways.
The silence hovers tensely as they reach the end of the far wing of the barracks, and she presses a tiny electronic lockpick into his hand and gestures at the door. It makes him want to laugh, using his ill-gotten skills to break them into a... what seems like a glorified linen closet inside a guarded detainment camp, but he's sure there's a point to the subterfuge, so he follows her in and pulls the door behind them.
“Lydia, what the everloving hell are you doing here?” Stiles runs his hand over the lighting pad on the wall, making the overhead fluorescents flicker into life. “If they find out you're one of us, they won't let you back out.” He paces the tiny space, straining his ears to hear if anyone is coming after them. “These are dangerous people out there, all of them! You're putting all of us in danger. What the hell? Why not just comm?”
She rolls her eyes and crosses her arms impatiently. “Do you really think I didn't take any precautions in coming here? I'm rich, not stupid.”
“Fine, good, but if you're not stupid, then you know how risky it is for all of us!” Stiles knows he's getting too loud, but he's been on edge for days, for weeks, for the past five years, and he's not doing so good at reining it in anymore. “What. Are you doing. Here.”
Lydia huffs out a breath, then produces her comm-screen from a pocket and pulls up a schematic.
“Danny did some digging, and found the old plans for this camp back from when it was in use in the 20th. We think there's something here. But first,” she tucks the commscreen under her arm and holds out her hands. Stiles can see that she feels as reluctant about what she's clearly asking as he does, but her lip is set determinedly in the way that seems to signal impending doom for any daring to oppose her. “I need you to help me find Peter again.”
There's a brief moment of clarity in his brain where time stops and gives way to the fury coursing through his body. He turns on her, leaning in and gripping her by the arm until she winces. “Are you really saying to me that you have something that could help Derek, Derek who has been missing and alone and suffering for weeks, and you are going to hold it over my head until I help you on your little vendetta? You're going to make him the sacrificial lamb for Peter's slaughter?” He can't find the words, but doesn't want to be touching her suddenly, and drops his hand from her arm. “You disgust me. All you care about is to getting what you want, and anything else, any one else, comes second.”
She scowls at him, but doesn't give an inch, lifting her chin even as she rubs at his arm. “Don't make me your convenient villain just so you can be a hero, Stiles. I'm perfectly willing to help you, and Derek. But as soon as I tell you what you want to know, you'll be off without a thought in your head for anyone but Derek, and you won't pause a moment to help me.” She steps forward and prods him in the chest with a pointy fingernail. “So yes , I am blackmailing you, if that's the word you want to use. I'd call it sound strategy,” she shrugs a bare shoulder, “but whatever suits you. And I'm not going to apologize for looking out for myself. No one else is going to. I'm going to survive, with you or without you, so make your choice. Are you going to help me, and get what you want? Or not?”
There's an edge of admiration in his blind rage, but neither of them matters as much in this moment as the hope of finding Derek. He hates it, he hates being used like this, but it will be worth it if he gets there in time.
He holds out his hands for her to take.
It's not quite as disorienting this time; either Lydia's more controlled now, or Stiles' mind has adapted to her since the last time they did this. It's still overwhelming; fragments of equations mixed with cheerful music, approximately a million carefully notated lists, and brightly colored clothing images that make him think of a flock of startled birds in flight, all underlain with a steely grip that squeezes on his spark and pulls . They spiral out, just like last time, and Stiles would close his eyes if he could, but there's no shutting out the vertigo as Lydia casts out her mental net and waits for Peter's location to light up like a beacon amidst the sea of a thousand souls.
A flash of red to their right, and Lydia's off, zooming in as she pulls more of his mind to hers, flashes of madness, stabbing needles and howls in the night. Oh , Lydia says, as a familiar face floats into view, so that's how he did it . Stiles thinks the face belongs to the man in the lab coat from the photos of Derek's parents, and he looks first disapproving, then frightened, then horrified, then resigned. He vaccinated himself, then made the lead scientist create a serum that would set off the vaccine. He tested it on himself, no wonder he's unstable . A frisson of fear accompanies her words, and Stiles can't help but follow her logical conclusion of wondering whether the anti-vax serum itself will result in instability. She pushes it back, and focuses in on Peter's location.
It's only seconds before Peter's aware of them, and Stiles wants to quake with fear as Peter turns his twisted mind to Lydia, a slow smile blossoming as his mind sniffs around the edges of her link.
Look , Lydia whispers, and flashes a blindingly quick series of images of the camp. Look, you've found Kate. Here she is, hiding from you. But you can track her down . No, Stiles thinks, trying to pull his hands from Lydia's, but she digs her fingers in hard, no, stop, don't tell him where Derek is. Stiles can feel Peter's interest sniffing around them, pulling on the link. Lydia gasps, then pushes one last time. Come, we're all waiting... There's a sudden ripping, the scent of blood and decay, and a fearful roar rushes through Stiles' mind, making him yank his hands from hers to cover his ears as they both fall hard to the floor.
It takes him a long minute of lying on his back and breathing slowly before the pitch and roll of the world slows enough that he feels like he can right himself. He sits slowly up, wincing as he crawls on his hands and knees over to Lydia. She's unconscious, a small drop of blood running down her upper lip, and he can't help the tears that well in his eyes, because it's just one more setback in finding Derek, and he beats his fists on the floor in frustration.
Her pulse is fast, but steady, when he puts his fingers to her throat, and her breathing is normal. He wishes he could comm Scott to help him, but the dampening field in these buildings mean Scott's un-jumped-up comm will never pick up his signal. He takes a deep breath, shoves Lydia's commscreen into his own pocket from where its fallen to the floor, and scoops her up in his arms. He says a quick prayer that they won't get caught, and slips out the doorway into the hall, heading for the bunks as quickly and quietly as he can.
He's sitting on his bunk the next morning with Scott, tapping furiously at Lydia's commscreen. He'd had to use his own comm to talk to Danny for over an hour, but together they'd managed to unlock hers. He can only imagine Lydia's fury when she wakes up, but right now she's still unconscious in Erica's bunk, being watched over by the other three wolves while Scott and Stiles try to access whatever it was that she had found.
Stiles clicks on yet another file, then uses his fingers to zoom in, his heart picking up speed. It's blueprints for their whole camp, dated 1943.
Scott whistles under his breath. “That's it! Here, bring it up!”
Stiles flips the image so that it's floating in the air above the screen. “Look.” He traces a reverent line from the back of the building they're in to a small, underground rectangle. “This building used to be the main headquarters. And because this camp was built before the Cold War, they added a nuclear bomb shelter to it a few decades after it was built, right down here.” He taps a bitten nail against the outline of the little box. “It got erased from the blueprints in the 21s; I guess someone bought the camp, and wanted a hidey-hole.” He pulls in as much air as his lungs can stand, vibrating on the bed as Scott claps him on the back. “That's it, Scott. That's where they're keeping Derek.”
He's halfway off the bed and about to run, but then Scott's fingers are gripping his arm, pulling him back.
“Wait, Stiles, you can't just go running in there without a plan. We have to take this one step at a time.” Stiles twists, baring his teeth, but Scott holds him fast. “Here, look.” He pulls Stiles back to settle on the bed and peer at the diagram. “See? It looks like it's one room, but they've got some sort of built in closet, or maybe a toilet, that sticks out and gives the whole thing a funny shape. If you wait till they come out, you might be able to sneak down and hide yourself on the far side of it, so they won't notice you as quickly.” Scott bites his lip, his big eyes dark and earnest in his face. “The most dangerous place is going to be on the stairs- there's no way to hide, there.”
Stiles sighs, and scrubs his hands through his hair. Scott's right, this won't be easy.
“We need a distraction.”
“You want us...” Erica begins dubiously, arms crossed and leaning against the window frame, “to lead a rebellion in the camp. As a distraction.”
“Yes.” Scott grins excitedly. “That's exactly what we want. We need you to get enough people to revolt that you can take over the people-loaders and get everyone out.”
Erica throws her head back and laughs, her bright hair shining in the faint sunlight from the window behind her. Isaac looks a little shell-shocked, but Boyd is nodding from his position next to her.
“I did used to work in public transit,” Boyd says softly, a grin spreading across his face. “Those cattle cars practically fly themselves, anyway. I bet we can find a couple other people who can get them up and off the ground.”
Scott beams approvingly, settling a hand on Stiles' shoulder as he fidgets helplessly, fighting against the forced inaction of the last several hours. “You'll have until dinner time tomorrow to get organized. That's when Danny says that Gerard leaves Derek with the guard to go have dinner. We'll need the disturbance to occur then.”
Erica's teeth drop at the mention of Derek, and she steps deliberately forward, making Stiles want to shiver. She looks far more deadly than Derek ever has, even at his fiercest alpha peak.
“Explain to me why you don't want us helping to rescue him. How is a pack of wolves not useful to you?”
Stiles doesn't so much as bat an eye. “Because he's being held in a very small space, by a very small number of well-armed people. Trickery and timing will get much further than brute force.”
Isaac is nodding reluctantly, and he shares a glance with Scott before he steps forward to stand beside her.
“If the way we can help this Derek guy is by giving you a distraction, then we'll give you the best damn distraction we can make, right guys?”
Boyd nods deliberately, no hesitation in his agreement, and Erica looks troubled, but doesn't disagree.
“Alright,” she says after a moment, “we'll do it. But” she smiles slowly, “let's give this lost, lone wolf a little piece of encouragement.” She lets her eyes flare yellow in the afternoon light, and tipping her head back, opens her mouth and howls. The other wolves join in, one by one, and even though Stiles can hear the sounds of the guards running steps underneath the piercing sound, it fills him with unexpected hope.
Derek , he thinks, we're coming .
It's deep twilight as he waits behind the guardhouse, eyes on the forgettable grate in the cracked concrete several feet in front of him. Stiles can't sit still, can't stop picking at his shoe, chewing his lip, bouncing his foot.
The idea was that Erica and Scott and the others would lead the charge at dinner time, having laid the plans all day, building on the groundwork and connections Scott's been making the whole time they've been here, and hope for the mob mentality to carry a critical mass out to the transports, where the few lazy but unfortunately well-armed guards could easily be overpowered. But thus far, there's been nothing, no sound, no fury, no distraction.
The grate in front of him creaks slowly open, and Stiles jumps nearly a foot, catching his elbow in the side of the building as he lands, biting his lip till it bleeds to not make a sound.
The first person to exit the stairway is a guard, young and bored, but with a rather large stunner-gun, so Stiles doesn't discredit him entirely. Behind him is an older man in a suit, and even though it's getting too dim to make out his features, Stiles is certain that it's Gerard Argent. They step out, and Gerard produces his comm from a pocket, flicking his fingers rapidly across the screen. The guard looks bored, turning his back on Senator Argent to lazily scan the perimeter.
Suddenly the guard twists his head back to the building, his hands going for his rifle, and Stiles hears it a second later, a building roar that crescendos in an enormous wave before bursting out of the building as the doors fling outward under the pressure of a thousand stampeding mutants. The guard begins to shoot, shouting into his comms for backup as he bravely runs toward the melee. The mutants are clearly heading straight for the transports, and Stiles catches a momentary glimpse of Boyd's wide grin as he runs past.
He tears his eyes away from the mayhem unfolding behind him, trying desperately not to think about what the shouts and screams and shots behind him mean, and looks up. Gerard has walked swiftly over to the corner of the building, is checking around it while talking on his comm. Stiles' heart jumps and settles somewhere near the base of his throat, just high enough to choke on.
He's got to hurry.
Gerard disappears around the corner with one last barking command into his comm, and Stiles dashes out from behind the guardhouse to the grate, grabbing on to the metal ring and heaving it upward. It swings more easily than he expects, nearly knocking him over with its silent enthusiasm to open, and then he's looking down at a dimly lit flight of stairs. He risks a quick glance over to mob, who wreaking sheer havoc in a way that somehow reassures him, and then he's in, descending quickly, pulling the grate shut above him.
He's halfway down the dank flight of stairs when he starts to be able to hear voices, so he slows his steps and moves as quietly as he possible can. There's a door at the bottom that stands a little ajar, an edge of light visible beyond the sharp edge of the metal. He creeps toward it, grateful that the steps beneath his feet are concrete, and not anything that will flex and creak.
“Alright, Derek, I believe you.”
There's a sudden zapping sound, and a throaty howl that has Stiles flinging himself against the side of the stairwell so that he doesn't go diving heedlessly through the door. He scrapes his knuckles bloody on the rough-poured wall behind him as his heart pounds in his throat.
“You're not the Mutant Maker.” Another zapping sound, another jagged howl. The rooms down here must be sound proofed as well as bomb-proofed; Derek's voice sounds like he's been shouting for days, shredded and hoarse, muffled and alone. “You're probably not clever enough for it anyway. You always were a follower, weren't you? Patiently waiting your turn, letting your parents set the terms, fighting with your brothers and sisters, but never too much, never too badly.”
Kate's voice, by contrast, is silky-smooth and rich, deeper than Stiles would have expected, and more than a little unhinged. Derek growls viciously, and Stiles presses himself to the door, trying desperately to see past the view of the wall that the opened crack gives him.
“You must know the Mutant Maker is, though, don't you?” Kate's voice is a sing-song croon that raises all the hairs on the back of his neck. “It's not your parents. I dragged in their bodies myself, all cold and covered in sand.”
Derek makes a tortured noise, and Stiles shoves his bleeding knuckles in his mouth to keep himself from screaming.
“It's not your older brother; he was there with your parents.” Kate sounds bemused. “And your sister Laura, my own best friend...” Kate's voice turns high and girly for a moment, the mocking tones of a teenage girl, “she fought. I was proud of her. But I shot her anyway, because she's like you.” This time the zapping sound is followed the snap of something long and thin against skin, and Derek's howl is garbled and weak. “She was an animal, an experiment gone wrong, a freak, an abomination against nature just like you.”
Suddenly there's a sound of something smashing, heavy things clattering to the floor.
“ Why haven't you broken ? You were never this strong before.” Kate's voice is shrill and furious, and the zapping sound echoes louder and with a higher pitch than before. “Tell me! Why are you like this? What made you an alpha? What is your anchor? Tell me! ”
Derek's voice is reedy, barely audible in response.
“What? Speak up. Gods, you're not even worth the electricity I've been using on you. What a waste of a pretty face on such a mindless lump of abomination.”
Stiles reaches out to push open the door, praying with his heart in his teeth that it will open soundlessly. He doesn't remember how exposed he is until a hand grabs him by the back of his hood and jerks him up several steps, leaving him grasping futilely at the neck of his shirt as he gags and chokes. He's slammed against the wall, his head knocking against the cold cement so that he sees bright lights at the edge of his vision.
“ You . You're the same little miscreant from weeks ago in the alley, aren't you?” Gerard Argent smells like death, his eyes dark in his pale face. “You fucking little brat. You cost me some good men, interfering with our capture like that. What the hell are you doing here?” He gets his fists in the front of Stiles jacket while Stiles is still coughing, and slams him against the wall again. “I'll teach you to fuck with me.”
The fist catches Stiles mostly off-guard, but he manages to turn and duck his head enough that the blow glances off the side of his head instead of connecting with his cheek the way it was intended. He lets himself go limp in Gerard's grip, pulling his arms up to protect his head, and takes a knee to the gut that has him gasping and choking onto the stairs. Gerard lets him drop to the steps, kicking him viciously in the ribs as Stiles plays unconscious, blood dripping from a spot on his lip where his teeth have cut open the skin.
Derek howls brokenly again, and there's suddenly a much louder answering howl from immediately outside the grate.
“Fuck.” Gerard kicks him one last time in the shins. “I'll deal with you later. Kate!”
Gerard takes off at a run down the stairs even as the grate is ripped off the opening to the stairwell, slamming the door behind him. The thing that comes barreling down the stairwell is hardly even recognizable as humanoid, huge and hairy and dis-proportioned. Drool hangs from its jaws and it stinks of refuse and fresh blood. It doesn't even notice Stiles where he lays absolutely still on the stairs, leaping over him and kicking him hard in his thigh with a back foot as it goes. The door poses only the flimsiest of obstacles to it, heavy piece of metal though it is, and Stiles can hear the horrified shouts as the creature flings itself through the ragged opening it makes as it rips the door from its hinges.
There's commotion that Stiles can hear, but not see, as he hauls himself upright and digs in his shirt for the camoscreen blanket, pulling it over and around him and hobbling painfully to where the door used to be. The tableau before him is surreal, the horrifying creature having transformed halfway back to human, long pointed ears and dripping fangs protruding from a face that unmistakeably bears the stamp of Derek's genetics. Gerard has his gun drawn and his back to Stiles, and Stiles has heard him shoot twice already, but the bullets seem to have had a negligible effect on the mutant that must be Peter Hale. Kate is in the corner to Stiles' right, gun out and trained again on Peter, and Derek... Stiles swallows hard and creeps through the door as slowly and carefully as he can. Derek is chained to the far wall, head down and bleeding from a hundred small wounds and the remains of several larger ones. It makes Stiles hurt just to see him, but he can't stop now, so he walks slowly and carefully toward Gerard, willing him to step forward just a foot so that Stiles can slip behind him.
“Peter Hale, I should have known.” Kate's voice is practically gleeful. “How nice to see you in the flesh again, even if you seem to have traded yours down since the last time we met.”
Peter snarls viciously. “Mutants are the future. We're an improvement, an evolution. We are better than you will ever be, because we are not afraid to change.”
Kate's laugh is harsh. “You were never a mutant before. You couldn't handle it. You were rejected from the program.” Peter takes a calculated step toward her, and Gerard moves with him, gun hand steady.
“I was denied my rightful glory, but my time has come, and now I am bringing change to the whole world. We shall overcome indeed, and the only humans left will be those too weak and cowardly to accept the new reality of the mutant supremacy.”
“You are truly insane if you think we're going to ever let you walk out of here. Your time is done.” Gerard takes another step, and Stiles slides behind him, eyes trained on Derek. If he can just get close enough... His shins throb madly, and he can't straighten all the way up on account of the pain in his gut and ribs, but he's getting closer, ever closer. “We're going to put you down like the rabid dog you are.”
“I guess you do have some family left after all, Derek.” Kate's voice is saccharine, and Stiles freezes, just a foot away from Derek's manacled leg. She's looking his direction, but with the poor lighting, she seems not to have noticed him. Derek's nose is twitching, though, and Stiles hopes Derek still has the wits not to give him away.
“Family.” Derek's voice cracks as he spits the word. “No family of mine kills children, or makes mutants out of the unwilling to build on a political cause.
“Oh, Derek.” Peter sighs, and turns to Kate, tone conversational. “He's such a child. He doesn't understand that we're superior to all of you, that this is our rightful destiny.”
Stiles takes the final step, and closes his bare hand around Derek's ankle. He can feel Derek flinch as the energy goes flowing through him, and Stiles leans forward to press his head against Derek's thigh as he pushes his spark into Derek as hard as he can.
Derek gasps and goes rigid, suppressing the pain and shift of wounds healing all over his body, eyes flashing a sharp red as his fists clench and unclench silently with the power coursing through his body. Stiles can feel him taking deep breaths, oxygen all the way into the bottom of his lungs like it hasn't been there for days. Stiles pushes again, harder. He can feel the blood running down his lip, but it's not enough, not til Derek's free.
“You say that like you think you're getting out of here.” Gerard cocks his gun. “You're not.”
Peter simpers at him. “My work has already begun. The balls I've set in place go on with or without me. In the meantime...” he turns, and in a flash he has Kate lifted high in the air by her throat, her feet kicking fiercely at him as she pulls at his fingers. Gerard shoots him, and Derek kicks his feet free of his fetters, unnoticed in the unfolding scene. “I'm going to kill her, and I'm going to kill you. And then the mutants, my kind, will take over this land.”
Gerard shoots him again, and Stiles gives one last push as Derek rips himself free of the bars. Stiles can see Gerard and Peter turn in surprise, but he's too busy fighting the haze rippling over his vision to think much of it as Derek grabs him under the arms like he's nothing and makes a break for the stairs. Derek's muttering something under his breath that sounds an awful lot like “Out, out, out,” and Stiles just has time to turn his head and see Peter with a wide grin and a round metal object in his hand before a massive blast is sending them flying the rest of the way up the stairs.
He comes to on his back, the night sky thick and grey overhead, with Derek's fully healed face staring down at him before rubbing into his throat. Stiles gets a hand up to clutch in Derek's unruly hair, and lets himself lay there and shake apart for a long moment before he levers himself carefully to a sitting position, his ears ringing incessantly and his lip pulling against its forming scab. Derek is pressed all up against his side, solicitously careful of his bruised side and leg, and Stiles pulls him close in, warm and solid and the most reassuring thing in his world.
They sit there for a long time, listening to the sounds of running and shouting elsewhere in the compound, not moving from the protective lee of the guardhouse.
Erica finds them just after dawn, walking out from the bunkhouse with a wobbly Lydia on her arm.
“You found him.”
Her voice sounds faint and tinny, filtered through a tin can over the still-present buzz in his ears, but he bobs his head in agreement while Erica and Derek unsubtly scent the air in each others' direction.
She nods. “Good job. What about the others?”
It's Derek who answers, a frown pulling his face together. “They're dead.” His voice is flat, and Stiles remembers that, for all his foibles and insanity, Peter was the one piece of family Derek had left. “My uncle blew them and himself to pieces.”
Stiles puts his hand on Derek's leg, and Derek shakes himself.
“I knew he'd kill Kate, and I'm not surprised by Gerard, but. I never thought he'd...” he turns his face away, and Stiles finds his gaze drawn to Lydia's careful stillness. “It just didn't seem like him.”
“For some people, the payoff is more important than the cost,” Stiles says, and Lydia glances sharply at him before blanking her face and turning away. He eyes her slowly. “I guess we'll never know exactly what or who set him off.”
“No.” Derek sighs, and slumps against Stiles. “I guess we won't.”
“Come on.” Erica throws out a hand to help haul Stiles off the ground. “I hear Scott's got some things to report. Let's get the hell out of here.”
“Yeah.” Derek stands, and takes Stiles' other hand, supporting him carefully as he puts weight gingerly on his injured leg. “Lets.”
Scott's image is waving excitedly from where it floats above Lydia's commscreen. “Look!” He gestures widely around him to streets teeming with people chanting and waving signs.
Stiles rubs his eyes. “What exactly... happened?”
Scott grins, and Boyd's head pops up next to him to give a quick thumbs up before melting back into the crowd.
“Well, we got everyone into the transports.” His face falls abruptly. “Well, almost everyone. We lost a few in the run. The guards were surprised, but not enough.” Stiles nods somberly, and waits for him to continue. He doesn't regret the decisions they made, but it sickens him and saddens him deeply that people died. He saw Derek's face when they helped the remaining few who did not go collect the bodies; Derek will always blame himself, even if the fault is Lydia's and Stiles'. “So...” Scott sighs, then straightens up. “It was good that we got as many out as we did. We saw govs heading for the camp right after we took off. I don't know if Gerard called them, or if the guards did, but if we'd just broken out and waited around, there'd be a lot more dead now.” He shakes himself, re-focusing on his surroundings. “Anyway, we flew all night, and came into the edge of the Trans-bay Capitol Sector just at dawn. It was Boyd's idea” he pauses to search the shouting, marching crowd behind him, but can't find Boyd. “It was Boyd's idea to stop here, cause what were we going to do, anyway, carefully drop each one of us carefully back at our own homes?” Scott laughs, his dimples showing. “So we stopped. And then we got out. And then... well, there a lot of us all walking, and it woke some people up, so then they came out and started walking, and well...”
Stiles wants to smile, but he's not there yet, washed out raw and distracted by the sight of a woman in the crowd with his mother's straight, dark hair and sharp profile.
“You started a march. On the Capitol Sector.” Lydia's tone is completely flat. “And people are joining you?”
“Yeah! Thousands of them, they're pouring out into the streets!” Scott turns his commscreen upward, making the holo projection lurch sickeningly until it's displaying a sea of hovercars at various heights. “And it's not just the Lower-Mids, either! There's some Topsider cars in there!”
“And what exactly are you going to do?” her voice is now begrudgingly curious as she leans in, tucking a strand of red hair behind her ear.
“We're marching to the steps of the Capitol building in Davimento District, and then we're going to meet with Allison as the representative of her party, and ask for equal rights!”
The cheering and shouting in the background is at a fever pitch as the crowd sweeps Scott along, stomping and surging forward, Scott waving happily at his commscreen before it goes dark.
“Well.” Lydia brushes her hands briskly together and stands, straightens her skirt. “That's that. I'll go get my things, and then let's get out of here. We don't want them to take the capitol without us!”
She doesn't wait for their response, just turns and strides off down the hall, her shoes making a perfectly timed clacking that echoes behind her.
Stiles turns and buries his face in Derek's neck. It's warm, dark, and smells like home.
Derek rumbles in assent, and wraps an arm around Stiles shoulder as he nods, rubbing his cheek against Stiles' soft-buzzed head.
“...and so we celebrate our second annual National Mutant Rights Day, a day designated to celebrate the hard-fought efforts of our parents, our siblings, our friends and neighbors.”
Lydia's voice would carry perfectly well even without the hover-mic that floats above the presidential podium, but she likes to use it for appearance's sake. He can feel Stiles begin to fidget beside him, and discreetly takes his hand, sliding his fingers into Stiles' long, thin grip.
“It was fifteen years ago today that the Mutant Maker, Peter Hale, killed the corrupt and violent Gerard Argent and his insane daughter Kate, and then himself, in the climax of the Mutant Segregationist Era which gave birth to the rise of the New Day Act, proclaiming all mutant and geno-typical persons equal and protected under the law.”
Stiles relaxes infinitesimally, his fingers warming in Derek's hand, and Derek can't help but smile. Fifteen years and several months on, and he still can't believe his good fortune in the wake of unthinkable tragedy. He'll never have his family back; he'll spend every day of the rest of his life missing them. Likewise, Stiles' parents are still dead, and nothing will ever change that. But now... he winds his fingers into Stiles' and holds them close. Now they have each other.
“And now, my Secretary of State will introduce our new initiative in the ongoing challenges that face us in this great nation. Please welcome Allison Argent.”
Lydia steps back, applauding firmly as Allison steps forward, elegant in a dark suit with darker boots, and adjusts the hover-mic's position. She wears the Argent crest on a silver necklace, but the traditional fleur-de-lis has been crossed over with her own sigil, the upward pointing bow and arrow.
“Thank you, Madame President.” She steps up to the podium, exchanging quick cheek kisses with Lydia as they pass.
“Gentlepersons and citizens of all stripes,” she begins, and Derek can see Scott beaming from further down the row to his left. “In the interest of continuing to firmly establish and to ustly balance the equal rights and equal protection of our dear country, it has become clear to us that we must create and appoint a task force who will be the ultimate authority when it comes to mutant protection, defense, and discipline.”
The crowd has gone quiet, hanging on her every word. Cameras zoom through the air to get a better angle as she gazes around the large press amphitheater. Derek can see Erica rocking back and forth on her toes at the other end of the line from Scott. She and Stiles are the same that way, no patience for anything other than going, going, going.
“Thus we have created the first all-mutant team, charged with the pursuit of, defense of, and execution of justice for mutant-kind. These individuals have proven themselves possessing of the highest caliber of bravery, intellect, and responsibility. They have shown themselves time and time again to be selfless in the face of danger, creative in the midst of necessity, and unwavering in the discernment of right and wrong.”
She turns to look up and down the line of them, smiling and raising an arm to gesture at them all as they stand there, motionless and waiting.
“Named in honor of the women and men that we now know were the first of their kind, the family who courageously gave all of themselves to our country, and were cut down by evil-doers before their time...”
Stiles tightens his grip on Derek's hand, and when Derek turns his head, Stiles' smile nearly blinds him. His heart skips the same beat it always misses when he remembers that Stiles is his, now, and has been ever since they met; his rock, his friend, his safe place. He raises Stiles' hand briefly to his mouth and smiles back.
“I present to you, America, the Hale Pack!”