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The Guard and Red

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Derek was only a few hours into his third night shift of his new job when he had his first run-in with one of the notorious Beacon Hills vigilantes.

His new partner, Erica Reyes, had filled him in on the pair of vigilantes earlier; pretty harmless, reliably stayed out of law enforcement's way, don’t bother pursuing them, they always get away—a policy Derek had a fair amount of trouble getting behind. They were vigilantes, by definition taking the law into their own hands. That alone was reason enough to stop them, not treat them like fun city mascots.

But whether he liked it or not, that was the lay of the land at his new job as a deputy with the Beacon County Sheriff's Department, and if Derek had learned anything as an NYPD rookie, it was to not intentionally piss off every one of his new coworkers. So he dropped the subject.

At least until he skidded to a stop on a downtown rooftop to find his perp already handcuffed to a pipe, and a hooded man in red with one foot on the edge of the roof, preparing to make a break for it.

A number of things rushed through Derek's mind in that moment, but namely how much it pissed him off that he'd just chased some cocky asshole up ten stories, only to have a different cocky asshole take him down.

It was the one called Red, according to the internet. He was the less conspicuous one who wasn’t seen as much as The Guard (originally dubbed The Guardian of Beacon Hills and shortened over time), but he looked just as ridiculous jumping across rooftops. He always wore all black, aside from a deep red hooded vest strapped across his chest, his nose and mouth covered by black fabric. He looked like he was straight out of a comic book, and not necessarily in a good way.

Maybe in a delusional kind of way.

Red just looked at Derek for a moment from under his hood, winked, and then casually stepped off of the rooftop.

Derek ran to the edge, alarmed that he’d just witnessed the stupidest death of a vigilante ever, but he didn’t find a body on the pavement below like he’d expected. Red was clearly trained in some kind of parkour because he jumped from the ledge he’d caught himself on over to a lower cornice across the alley, then ran along it around the corner and out of sight.

Damn it, that was actually pretty cool.

* * *

The next night brought with it pack dinner, special this month because Derek was back from New York, and because he was the unofficial honored guest, he was required to attend no matter how many excuses he tried. And he’d tried a lot. Laura refused to accept any of them.

He wanted to see his family, he did, but Laura was actively trying to ruin his life in that way only an older sister could, and now his buffer of the entire United States was gone. Now she could mock him, hit him, and pry into his personal life to her heart’s content, and he wouldn’t be able to fake an emergency and close his laptop or turn off his phone to stop her. Not only that, but with her powers of interrogation combined with their father’s, there was no way he would make it out of this dinner with his dignity intact. They would find every little secret he didn’t know he had and eat them all with a fresh side salad from the back garden, all while making him feel greatly missed and deeply loved.

So he braced himself, triple-checked the bag of pastries and wine he brought as a bribe for mercy, and opened the front door to the Hale house.

“He brought a bribe, you owe me ten bucks!”

He turned right back around and closed the front door to the Hale house behind him.

Or, he tried. An irritatingly strong grip stopped it from closing and yanked his arm back inside, him following after it right into the crushing arms of Laura Hale, Future Alpha. He was ninety percent certain she’d had business cards printed. She planned ahead like that.

"You already stepped into the house, you can't leave until after dessert," she sang, and it said a lot about his family that they'd had to instate a law to keep people from ducking out of dinner early.

Derek may have been half the reason for the law coming into existence.

It wasn't his fault his family was a lot to handle, even for people who enjoyed loud dinners and constant socializing. Which Derek didn’t. Derek enjoyed quiet and a good book, and generally being left alone. He wanted to see him family, but only maybe two at a time. In public, where they couldn't get rowdy.

“You’re going to draw this out as long as possible, aren’t you?”

Laura beamed. “I found this amazing new bakery that makes custom cakes, so I got two for everyone to try, and three different coffees from the co-op. It’s fair trade coffee month and I’m behind on points, so expect to be getting a lot from me.” She took the bag of bribes from his hand without needing to ask if they were for her. She knew the drill. “I smell dobosh!”

“I’ll buy you even more if you let me leave right now,” he hissed, but it was too late; tiny feet thundered towards them through the living room and a dark haired whirl of energy launched himself at Derek, knowing he would be caught.

“Der Der!” Noah yelled directly into his uncle’s face—he didn’t do well with volume control when he was excited—and threw out his arms, so of course Derek had to stay.

They all timed this, he knew they did.

With his arms full of toddler, he had no choice but to follow Laura back into the house to be greeted and enveloped by the rest of the family. He couldn’t help feeling a little bit overwhelmed, he always did, but the wolf inside practically purred, finally being back with his pack after so long. It’d been almost a year since he’d been in town for Noah’s second birthday, and there wasn’t anyone in New York he’d been close enough to to come anywhere near this feeling. He had friends, good friends, but it just didn’t compare to pack.

Sure enough, when he got to the kitchen, Patrick shamelessly gave his son a high five for luring his uncle in. His wife Diana shook her head while digging through her purse, and Derek wasn’t surprised when she dug a five out of her wallet and slapped it against Patrick’s chest.

“One hug and you’re putty.” She gave Derek a disappointed look. “I thought you were stronger than that, Derek.”

Diana Ramirez was both the perfect addition to the family and way too good for Patrick. She was literally named after Wonder Woman and Derek was starting to believe that she really was an Amazon, because no human could possibly spend five years with his brother without some kind of superpower. They were a family of werewolves, there had to be Amazon warriors somewhere.

Derek just raised an eyebrow at her; she knew resisting her child was impossible, she exploited it constantly with everyone from family to strangers on the street. He was her usual ploy to get closer parking downtown.

"No one can resist this face." Talia came in to pinch Noah's chubby cheeks and he giggled. Then she laid her palm against Derek's cheek and pulled him into a tight hug, and he couldn’t help but tuck his face into her shoulder and breathe in the scent of pack and home.

“Welcome home, Derek,” she whispered, squeezing him a little tighter, and he felt his wolf fully settle at the touch of his alpha. However weird their relationship had become, she was still his mother and alpha, and that comfort had never wavered.

“What’d he bring?”

Derek looked up from Talia’s shoulder at his father’s whisper, and sure enough, Stephen and Laura were digging through his plea for mercy, pulling out the bottles of wine and little cardboard boxes from the best bakery in town, and arranging them on the counter.

“There’s dobosh in here somewhere, ugh,” Laura wrinkled her nose, “you went to Palladio’s? Songbird is way better. There’s no way New York tainted your taste buds that much.”

“Songbird is horrible, and you know it.” Derek pulled out of the hug to readjust his squirming nephew and assume a better battle stance. His family didn’t mess around when it came to food.

“You’re both wrong,” their father interrupted, giving the box in his hands a superior look. “Knight’s is the only bakery in town worth mentioning.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “Dad, oldest doesn’t mean best. That place is like walking into the 1950s of pastries, jello molds included.”

“Actually I think you’re all forgetting that Amadeus exists,” Diana cut in, dead wrong, “because that’s the only cafe in the city that matters.”

Cora scoffed as she walked into the kitchen and tossed her keys on the counter, freshly tanned from her latest rock climbing trip to Nevada. “People who live on the east side don’t get to argue about food. Your best restaurant over there is Taco Bell.”

“Don’t forget that aggressively Italian place with the copy of David out front and the lifesize charioteer on the roof,” Patrick added, and Diana smacked his hip for his betrayal.

“You loved that place, you thought it was hilarious. And it wasn’t that bad.”

“Yeah, but you were pregnant when we went there, and your taste was questionable those last six months.” He widened his eyes significantly at his wife and mouthed something that looked like gordita crunchwrap supreme, and she narrowed her eyes.

“You swore you’d never mention that.”

“Just wait until I tell your mother.”

“Do not. She would disown me.”

Patrick just gave her a shitty smile and then dodged the punch at his arm. He’d grown up as a human in a house of werewolves, getting knocked around with the best of them, but Diana had been in the military. She knew how to throw a punch.

Scott McCall walked in right at that moment, and narrowly dodged a punch right past his face.

Scott had never officially joined the pack, but he still came to the monthly dinners to keep communication open and everyone informed. Even as an omega, or whatever he was with his ragtag “pack” that Cora darkly chuckled over occasionally, he was living in their territory and Talia learned quickly that it was in everyone’s best interest to keep Scott up on things because he had a habit of getting involved. Initially they hadn’t, they treated him as they would any other harmless omega in the area: not pack, no information—but then he and his human friend stumbled into a dispute and almost got killed because they just didn’t know about it. Three times.

And those were just the times Derek heard about.

So Scott had slowly been absorbed into the Hale family, maybe like some sort of distant cousin. He didn’t have the same cut throat sense of humor as the Hales so he wasn’t quite a sibling, and he wasn’t as ruthless when it came to arguments or roughhousing on the full moons (which Laura always pouted about him not attending), but he was like their nicer, more smiley cousin.

“Are you guys talking about restaurants?” He looked like this was the absolute last conversation he wanted to be a part of. “Because I already told you, I refuse to participate in that ever again.”

Cora snorted. “You aren’t allowed to anyway. You like BDubs.”

“There’s nothing wrong with liking an average restaurant!” Scott protested, immediately negating his stark refusal to get involved. “Stiles likes their trivia night, it’s fun!”

The entire family collectively dismissed his opinion on that one.

He sighed. “You guys are such food snobs.”

“Tell me about it,” Diana said. She took Noah back from Derek like she could save him from the same fate. It wouldn’t work. Hales didn’t mess around with food.

They all continued arguing and bickering until Deucalion arrived, and then they could finally eat. They always waited until everyone was there, lest someone starve from getting to the table late. It was a legitimate concern in their house.

“Derek, it’s wonderful to see you again,” Deucalion greeted once they were all seated and passing plates. He accepted the bowl of salad held out in front of him, taking it from Cora’s hands without trouble. They’d all adjusted years ago to him always knowing exactly where things were or where someone was standing, though it had been unnerving for the first few months; werewolf senses compensated even more than they would for any other blind person.

“Talia tells me you’ve moved back to town for good,” he continued, and Derek nodded before he remembered.

“The city was getting a little too cramped for me. It was time for a change.” It was technically true, enough to avoid any lying tells, but it wasn’t the whole truth by a long shot.

“Well, all the Hales back under one roof,” Deucalion said with a wide smile. “I think that’s cause for a toast if I’ve ever heard one.”

Everyone else agreed so Derek held up his glass with the rest of them, and Noah punched his own cup over in excitement, but Derek couldn’t help but notice that Peter’s smile looked forced. He’d never been a big fan of Deucalion, but then he wasn’t a fan of much since the fire.

“And how’s the campaign going, Deucalion?” Laura asked once everyone’s wine glasses were safely back on the table and Patrick was mopping up his son’s spilled juice. Derek frowned at her. Campaign?

“I’m running for mayor in November,” Deucalion explained, turning to Derek as if he sensed his confusion. “I’m afraid I’ve run out of hobbies to keep myself busy all on my lonesome.”

“That’s quite a hobby to pick up out of the blue.” That was the nicest way Derek could possibly say, and what makes you qualified to run a city like Beacon Hills?

Deucalion just smiled like he understood the implication completely.

“I can’t say it’s exactly out of the blue. I do have some experience in local government back in England. Politics has always been a passion of mine, I’m just grateful that Talia is understanding enough to let me indulge.”

That put to rest Derek’s second question, which was: what the fuck do you think you’re doing running for mayor within another alpha’s territory? Even with his lax and big city habits towards wolf politics, it rankled his instincts.

“Well, you’ve always been a man with vision,” Talia said with a grin, and Deucalion laughed. “If anyone can see a brighter future for this city, it’s you.”

Derek had never seen two people make so many puns about blindness, and they did it constantly (there was no question where Laura got her terrible sense of humor), but there was always an underlying threat that if anyone else did it, Talia would disembowel them in five seconds. They were an odd pair.

“Speaking of bright futures,” their dad announced cheerfully, meaning what he was about to say had nothing to do with bright futures, “I have some exciting news!” He waited for everyone else to be as excited as he thought the announcement warranted, but they’d all learned years ago that his announcements were rarely as exciting as he made them out to be, so he finally just gave in and said it. “I think it’s time we revived the human pack bonding trips, so I have a campsite booked for the weekend of the full moon after next. Patrick, Diana—plan accordingly. I found a Noah-sized sleeping bag.”

Cora perked up. “What? Pack bonding trips? When are you going? I want to go camping!”

“No,” Patrick immediately called down the table. “The whole point is that it’s humans only. You get weirdly competitive and no one wants to watch you get your tent up first and then gloat about it.”

“I’m only first because you guys don’t know anything about camping! You’ll just hurt yourselves. Do you even know how to build a fire?”

Literally caught in the middle, there was no way their dad would stay out of it for long. “Hey, I’ll have you know I’m a fine camper!” he protested indignantly. Patrick waved him away.

“Dad, stay out of this, you used like half a tree trying to get one going last time.”

“It was all damp, it had rained recently!”

“And I know how to work around that!” Cora exclaimed—she really liked camping. And anything related to the outdoors.

“So does Diana!” Patrick looped his arm around his wife and pulled her into the fray. “She was in the army, she did all that survival training!”

“Actually I was never that good at fi—”

“Shh, I believe in you, honey.” He wiped a hand down her face, an intentional mockery of one of the many werewolf habits Patrick had picked up that Diana put up with regularly. She really was way too good for him.

“Are you a camping fan, Scott?” she asked around her husband’s hand, looking for any kind of distraction, and Scott was sitting next to her and the closest.

Caught by surprise, Scott swallowed his bite of food a little harder than intended and coughed for a second. “Um, the one time Stiles and I tried to go camping before I was bitten, the tent collapsed on us, we were almost attacked by a wild animal, and I had an asthma attack so bad I had to go to the ER. We haven’t tried since,” he added with a slightly embarrassed shrug.

Everyone else stared, more than a little horrified. They were no doubt picturing a young Scott, stumbling through the woods and unable to breathe, miles away from anything, chased by coyotes, or a bear.

“What happened?”

“His dad heard us yelling in the backyard and came out and got us.”

The tension around the table immediately broke, and Stephen swore quietly under his breath.

“You were in the backyard?” Cora had a very special skill of sounding just the right level of judgmental to make anyone want to completely undo every choice they’d ever made. “That’s not even camping.”

“We were eight!”

“And the wild animal?”

“His neighbor’s cat.”

Cora stared at him, then whirled around towards Talia. “Mom!” She pointed at Scott as evidence that she should definitely go on this human camping trip to save them all from themselves.

Talia choked a little on her salad. “Let’s leave this one to your father.”

He narrowed his eyes at his wife over Cora’s head.

“I say no werewolves.” Patrick shrugged. “Last time we all went, you guys just complained about the smell of campfire and whatever the people half a mile away were doing in their tent.”

Damn it, Derek had spent years trying to repress how he learned about that particular kink.

“Okay, but that was disgusting,” Laura reasoned. “I couldn’t not say anything.”

Diana leaned forward eagerly, looking around Patrick to her partner in crime. “What were they doing?” Laura would definitely tell her, because she loved telling that story.

But Patrick sat forward as well pointedly glanced between his wife and their son. “Let’s just say it was disgusting and leave it at that.”

“You are so telling me when we get home,” whe whispered, but the entire table could hear anyways.

“You’re disgusting.”

“You married me.”

“Okay, you’re adorable, we get it,” Laura groaned, then asked their dad, “Why are you so suddenly so interested in this human bonding thing, anyway? Why the full moon?”

“Believe it or not,” Patrick turned back from his wife, “jogging through the woods with you guys pinging all over the place isn’t exactly the highlight of my month.” He had never been one for athletics or anything too physical. He went to art school like their father.

“I just figured,” Stephen took over diplomatically and addressing the whole table, “that with our human population rising again, and Laura and David getting serious, it might be nice to start up the camping trips again.”

“Actually,” Laura started slowly, really drawing it out to stall, and then rushing out, “David and I broke up.” There were a few disappointed sounds around the table and laments that he was such a nice guy, most notably from their father. “It wasn’t working out, this has been coming for a long time.”

Stephen kept shaking his head, turning his attention to his one grandson, the only one, he liked to emphasize to his kids, like that would get him more, quicker.

“Derek and Rachel broke up too!” Laura protested loudly, and Derek’s head snapped up to glare at his sister, utterly and completely betrayed. He’d brought her alcohol and croissants, for fuck’s sake, this was completely unfair and against their longstanding, unspoken agreement.

She didn’t look the least bit sorry now that everyone was looking at him and the focus was successfully shifted from Laura’s lacking relationship status.

Noah was almost three and their parents wanted another grandchild to dote on. The pressure was on, and with Cora constantly running off without warning and no intention of settling down anytime soon, it was down to Derek and Laura. Every man for himself. This was war.

Their dad looked genuinely upset, enough to stop poking at Noah’s salad to make it look more enticing and put down his fork. “And I thought we were actually going to be able to meet her this time.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “Like you guys didn’t look her up the second Laura found out her last name. And don’t think I didn’t see that,” he added to Cora, who was very unsubtle about passing a twenty to Peter behind the salad bowl. Already caught, Patrick just held out a fifty and another twenty from, surprisingly, Diana was handed down the table. His family.

“One more month and I could’ve bought a new laptop,” Cora mourned, shooting him a glare across the rolls.

“Don’t take your laptop rock climbing and you wouldn’t need one.”

She kicked his shin.

“Or just don’t spend your entire paycheck on rock climbing trips,” their father put in like it was a novel idea and he didn’t suggest it every time Cora left for weeks at a time.

She widened her eyes in annoyance and changed the subject with all the grace of none. “I thought we were talking about how pathetically single Derek is.”

“How about how pathetically single Laura is?” Derek raised his eyebrows at his also pathetically single sister’s glare; if he was going down, he was dragging her down with him. Patrick just sat back to enjoy the show, married for five years and nowhere near the line of fire.

Laura got that mean smirk in the corner of her mouth, the one that meant hell for Derek and her trying to apologize to him later without actually apologizing. He always saw it coming but could never do anything to stop it.

“How about Derek’s new job defending the good people of Beacon County?”

And just like that, the jovial and warm atmosphere was sucked out of the room like a breached hull on a spaceship. Their side of the table got quiet for the briefest second before Cora and Patrick started up a forced and stilted conversation with Deucalion about the local debate over the crumbling riverfront, but the damage was already done. Laura abruptly shut up, Talia took a careful bite of her dinner, and the familiar pit of dread fell out of Derek’s stomach in anticipation of the same old argument starting up again; Derek’s career as a cop.

Talia hadn’t liked it eight years ago when he joined the NYPD, and she had yet to show any sign of warming up to it, let alone approving of it. They hadn’t even brought it up recently because the argument was always the same, so it had slipped into the background to be ignored, the elephant in the room that no one liked to acknowledge. Nothing put a damper on family dinners like the same old argument about Derek’s life choices: he was interfering with humans too much, he was putting himself at unnecessary risk of exposure, he was too far from the pack...

This time, though, there wasn’t an argument, which Derek was infinitely grateful for since he just got back, even if it just made him feel like it was looming on the horizon and left an unpleasant tension in the air. His mother apparently agreed, because she gave him a tight smile and asked pleasantly,

“How was your first week, Derek?”

“It was fine. Ran into one of the vigilantes last night.” A few heads around the table perked up at the change in subject, Diana in particular.

“Sweet! Which one?” And with that, all tension slipped into the background. Diana had that effect on situations.

“Uh, Red, the one with the hood.” Scott looked over at that, also interested, but he kept quiet.

“I want to meet one of the superheroes,” Diana continued. “Have you read their comic books? So good.” At Cora’s scrunched up nose, she added, “Hey, I was named after Wonder Woman. It’s in my blood to love superheroes.”

“Except they’re not superheroes,” Derek put in, and turned in surprised when he realized his mother had spoken with him. He continued, “They’re vigilantes, and they’re technically illegal.”

“Ugh.” Diana rolled her eyes. “You cops are no fun.”

*

Once dessert was finished and the dishes were cleared, Laura grabbed Derek’s arm before he could make his escape to the door. He’d been so close, just another ten feet and he would’ve been free to leave.

“We could really use your help on something, come on,” she murmured quietly so the rest of the house wouldn’t hear unless they were actively listening in. Derek was pretty sure that meant their mother could use his help on something, she just didn’t want to be the one to ask. Still, he couldn’t repair the crack in their relationship if he outright refused to do anything she (through Laura) asked, so he followed his sister down the hall anyway.

“So that’s why you’ve been so nice tonight.”

Laura turned with wide eyes, looking the perfect picture of innocence. “Derek, I have no idea what you mean.” She then swung open the imposing paneled oak doors to their mother’s study and waltzed in like it was no big deal.

Derek hesitated; no one entered the study without Talia present, this was her domain. It was the room the inner circle had always gone to discuss important issues the rest of the pack wasn’t privy to—countless times their mother had disappeared in there for hours with their father and Peter, sometimes alone, sometimes with delegations from other packs. Derek had only been in there twice in his life: once before he left for college to have a stiff talk about etiquette when living within another pack’s territory, and again when he came to visit after joining the NYPD for a weirdly formal discussion about his decision and the dangers of exposure as if he hadn’t learned that the hard way at sixteen.

Laura turned and rolled her eyes at his hesitation. “Get in here before anyone hears us.” She grabbed his arm and jerked him inside, closing the door after them. Immediately the sounds of family and pack were silenced in the soundproof room. “Mom wants this kept on the downlow for now so only me and Peter know, but we could really use some police input.”

Again, he wasn’t quite buying it. Laura was a licensed private detective in California and made a point to waltz through and around police red tape with a charming smile and a flourish, shrugging off any suggestion even hinted at by a cop. Granted, that was something of a necessity given that most of her clients weren’t exactly human and needed things done off the record more often than not, but still—she had never kept her less than respectful opinions of the police and their procedures to herself.

She walked around the large desk to the file cabinet and used their mother’s keys to open the top drawer. “So how much do you know about the vigilantes running around, The Guard, Red, and The Archer?” She sifted through the contents for a second then turned around holding a very full manilla folder.

Derek briefly thought back to the night before, Red casually stepping off the roof with a wink. He really didn’t like where this was going.

“I’ve heard of them.”

“Great.” She bumped the drawer shut with her elbow. “They’re the problem.”

She shoved aside some other papers and books on the desk to make space for the folder, perfectly at home in the study. That was an interesting development, because the last time Derek had been home, she was just as uncomfortable in the room as he was, keeping as still as possible and afraid to touch anything important.

Inside the file was a stack of pictures, what looked like some official police writeups, handwritten notes—a lot of things civilians shouldn’t have, even with a private detective on their side. Laura looked worryingly proud of herself.

“These two have been running around for over three years, what’s changed?” Derek asked, a little smug at Laura’s brief stare of surprise. The vigilantes had occasionally made the national news and despite what his family seemed to believe, Derek didn’t actually live under a rock in New York. “Why are you looking into them now?”

“Someone finally got a picture of The Guard’s face.” She flipped through the photos until she found what she was looking for: the vigilante turned to look at something towards the camera flash, his eyes whiting out the image over his face. The eye glare of a werewolf.

“Wouldn’t mom know about another wolf in our territory by now?”

“That’s the thing, she thinks he can hide it somehow, and not the way we can,” Laura explained. “Whoever it is has been living completely under the radar for at least three years, and we don’t know how.”

With training, a werewolf could learn to suppress their scent, and quiet and slow their heartbeat. It was a way to hide from other wolves or anything with exemplary hearing, and it was very difficult to learn. It also wasn’t so effective that it could completely mask a wolf’s presence from an alpha trained to detect them. Even their mother couldn’t make herself completely invisible to the senses, and she had practically perfected the technique.

“Crap.”

“Yeah.”

“So you want me to ask around the station, see if anyone has any ideas.” She didn’t want police input, she wanted an in.

“Exactly!” Laura nodded. “The Sheriff isn’t giving up anything about these guys, if they even have anything, and we haven’t been able to track them down. They can mask their scent and heartbeats, and city tracking is hard enough even with a trail to follow.”

“You haven’t been able to dig up anything either?”

“A PI license will only get you so far without a name, and I have too many other cases already going that I can’t drop for this. And even if Stilinski does have an ongoing investigation, I don’t have a good enough reason to be looking into it without bringing him in on everything, which mom absolutely refuses to do. Last time I asked, he told me to butt out and leave it to the department.”

Derek had to smirk at her disgruntled expression. Laura had a habit of demanding information and getting offended when she was told no.

“Are you sure he doesn’t know everything already? His son is best friends with a werewolf, isn’t he?”

“Until he gives us some sign he knows or it becomes unavoidable, mom won’t risk it, especially now that he's your boss. They’ve been friends for years and I don’t think she wants to rock the boat.”

Derek couldn’t help the guilt blossoming in his stomach; before Kate, they’d had a number of human allies in the territory who knew about them, even within the police. Now they were completely self-contained, almost cut off from the human population they were supposed to protect.

“So just ask around a little,” Laura continued, oblivious to his thoughts, “make yourself seem new and curious. Oh, and don’t even bother trying to get a physical description. Everything they have is completely useless.”

“You have it?”

“Yeah, and everything has come from bystanders who really aren’t trained to notice things like that. I mean, the descriptions they have are a joke. Look,” she picked up the summary of The Guard and began to read, “The Guard: Male, between the ages of twenty-two and thirty, Hispanic slash other,” she widened her eyes at him to really emphasize how unimpressed she was, “dark eyes, dark hair, between 5’7” and 6’4”, athletic build.”

“So roughly fifty percent of the male population of California,” Derek summed up.

“Red’s is about the same. White male, aged twenty-two to thirty, brown eyes, unknown hair, 5’7” to 6’4”, athletic build, some kind of parkour training. No description given to the police matches the next—one actually just says he’s a ghost ninja. And these don't even include The Archer, who exactly no one has seen ever."

Derek nodded, sending a cursory glance across everything spread out before him on the desk. “And how exactly did you get all this if the Sheriff won’t give it to you?” Hey, he was still a cop, even when faced with his sister.

“I know a guy.” She shrugged casually, but there was a self-satisfied smirk in there that Derek really didn’t want to know about.

* * *

What Derek remembered of Depot Town was his mother telling him to never go there.

It was the neighborhood around the old train depot that had at one point been a nice area in the center of town, but was now full of shabby brownstones, unsolved arson cases, and numerous break-ins. The central train station was relocated to the newer center of the city in the eighties, leaving the old depot to function as the neighborhood station that pretty much everyone avoided. It smelled like piss, stale alcohol, and trash, and Derek knew for a fact that people would walk to the next station to avoid it.

It also didn’t help that Mad Dog Mike had set up shop under the stairs and barked at people who walked past.

Mad Dog Mike was not a dog.

No matter how many times they brought him in for loitering or harassment, Erica rolled her eyes, he was always right back under those stairs, growling at passersby and wearing nothing but gym shorts and an old bra. Harmless so far, but unnerving during a late night walk home.

Now, for the first time in his life, Derek found himself in Depot Town, for—big surprise—a break-in.

“Now Derek, put on your best scowl,” Erica reminded him as she slammed the cruiser’s driver’s side door, her tone light and patronizing. “You need to make a good impression on Greta if you want to last here.”

Derek rolled his eyes but followed her up the narrow steps of one of many old brick buildings. The door to the apartment was squeezed to one side of a boarded up old deli with a realtor’s number advertised across it, and the abandoned building next door had the unmistakable soot of arson licking up around the shattered windows. The narrow alley between was probably the only reason this building hadn’t gone up as well.

“Who the hell is Greta, and why did you break three laws to get here first?” He wasn’t going to pretend he hadn’t clawed the door in fear when Erica drifted around the corner at First and Oak. Not slow, directionless drifting, but Fast and the Furious drifting. The illegal kind that could kill people.

“Greta is the unofficial ruler of the Sheriff’s Department. Her husband was sheriff like thirty years ago, and not to make you nervous or anything, but the last guy she didn’t like, Deputy Charles—he went down a month later, three blocks from here.” She said this with a gleeful smile and rang the buzzer for 2A, McGuinness printed neatly on slightly yellowed paper next to it. All of the other slots were empty. “I’m just making sure you’re here to stay before I get too attached.”

Derek was pretty sure Erica was just messing with him because she seemed just cruel enough to do that, but he still found himself standing a little straighter when Greta opened her door. He immediately regretted it when Eric smirked, and also because that made him awkwardly taller than the tiny, eighty year old woman who stood to somewhere around his sternum.

“Erica, dear!” Greta greeted happily, then nodded towards Derek conspiratorily. “I see we have another one. Come in, come in.”

She ushered them in and onto the sofa and Derek found himself in an oddly tasteful yet seventies living room, sitting on a mustard yellow afghan. Erica didn't seem to find this odd at all.

"So, tell me about yourself." Greta handed them both cups of tea that must've been ready and waiting and sat down across from them in an equally seventies arm chair. It took Derek a moment to realize she was asking him, until Erica nudged him.

"I just moved back to town from New York." It seemed like that was all he'd been telling anyone lately. Aside from the whole family of werewolves things, he honestly could say that his life wasn't exciting or particularly noteworthy. Which was a sad thing to realize sitting across from a complete stranger who, if Erica was to be believed, needed to like him or he would die in a month. Or something.

"Yes, and you're a Hale, aren't you?" He nodded; she was either plugged into the station gossip or his return had somehow spread around town. Or she'd read his nametag, he realized belatedly. "Lovely family, I knew your grandmother well. I even met you a few times when you were little.” He didn’t like the wink she sent his way one bit.

Erica perked up at that. “Do you have stories? Please tell me you have embarrassing stories.”

“Let’s just say that Derek here had an exhibitionist streak a mile wide.” She took an innocent sip of her tea, then continued with a sweet smile. “I am glad to see you grew into your eyebrows. You always looked so surly. Even as a pup you had a glare that could fry an egg.”

Derek frowned more out of surprise than offense on behalf of his eyebrows. Pup? Did she know? How would she know?

“There it is!” Erica cackled gleefully, pointing at his glaring face.

At this rate she wasn’t going to outlast Deputy Charles.

Luckily he was rescued shortly after by the Sheriff’s arrival, because evidently Greta was important enough to warrant personal visits. She let him in, waved off his concerns with a flick of her hand, and then Erica got to work taking a list of everything that was stolen. It wasn’t all that much, Greta had been the wife of a sheriff and was smart enough not to keep her valuables within easy access, but there were still a lot of keepsakes and small appliances missing.

Sheriff Stilinski wandered over to Derek, giving him a fatherly nod. “How’s your first week going so far? Erica didn’t tell you the Deputy Charles story, did she?” He looked like he already knew the answer.

“She’s very good at it.”

“Well, she’s had a few partners to perfect it on,” he said wryly. Derek couldn't help but notice he never actually said the story wasn't true. “You want to check the windows, I’ll take the door?” Derek nodded and moved across the room, grateful for the sheriff’s brevity and dislike of awkward small talk.

“John, I already told you, they came in through the living room window off the fire escape. Just like last time.”

The Sheriff sighed loudly. “Greta, I’m not going to waste my breath telling you to move again—”

“Wouldn’t do you any good anyway.”

“—but can you see why I’m worried?” he continued as if he hadn’t heard her dismissal. “It’s bad enough that Stiles lives here, and he doesn’t have anything worth stealing.”

Derek let the conversation fade to the background as he checked the broken lock on the window. It hadn’t been a neat job; whoever broke in wasn’t any kind of professional, so there would probably be some usable evidence out on the fire escape. He opened the window and climbed out, straightening one of Greta’s flowerpots before it toppled from his boot kicking it. He glanced around for anything immediately visible, checked inside to make sure no one was paying too close attention to him, then inhaled deeply, sifting through the scents of the city for anything unusual.

Someone’s scent lingered, still hanging in the air from the night before. It wasn’t the thief; the same scent was strong in the hallway, so it must have belonged to Greta’s upstairs neighbor, who spent a lot of time out on the fire escape for some reason. It didn’t smell like cigarettes or weed, or any of the usual reasons for sitting outside; just city air, faint remnants of charred wood from the burnt out building next door, and whoever lived there.

And their fear? He cocked his head and moved up the rickety stairs to the next level. The bars weren’t locked on the window, though they were closed enough that anyone passing on the escape would miss that. He pulled them open and focused on the scents around him that were stirred up; fear, stress, adrenaline, sweat—

“Problem out here, Hale?” Derek straightened abruptly. The Sheriff was leaning out of Greta’s window, eyebrows raised up at his deputy in question.

“Neighbor has loose bars.” He swung them closed with a gentle push and started down the metal stairs. “We should let them know if they’re home.” He paused when he noticed the Sheriff looked pained and tired for some reason.

“Stiles,” he sighed heavily then pulled his head back into the apartment. He shook his head, muttering to himself as he pulled out his cell phone and punched his finger around the screen.

So that was Stiles’ apartment then.

Derek had heard all about Stiles, all over town, from all kinds of people. Everyone at the station knew him as the Sheriff’s son and daytime bartender at Cliff’s, the local cop bar, Erica had known him since middle school, he was Scott’s best friend, and he was a perpetual thorn in the Hale pack’s side.

Derek had never met Stiles in person; by the time Scott had been bitten and the human came with like an unwanted infomercial buy one get one free deal, Derek was already in New York, and he’d always just managed to miss running into him the few times he’d visited. Before moving back to California, he’d only heard about Stiles through his family, and the guy wasn’t always painted in the most flattering light—though Laura thought he was the best thing since sliced bread, and that alone made him want to steer clear. Derek still remembered the pure glee on her face as she relayed the story of Stiles straight up yelling at their mother, powerful even for an alpha, for her unwillingness to get involved in the rising crime stats of the city.

Stiles did not sound bright.

When Derek climbed back into Greta’s apartment, the Sheriff was still lecturing his son on home security. If he listened he could hear Stiles’ uh-huh and yeah, dad, I know over the background noise of the bar, but it didn’t sound like the kid was planning on actually doing anything he was agreeing to. Why the son of the Sheriff lived in such a crappy part of town was beyond him, let alone why he was being so stupid about it if the fear and stress on the fire escape were his. He obviously wasn’t comfortable living there.

Erica was fighting back a grin as she patiently went over the list of things missing with Greta, and even Greta looked amused by the Sheriff’s conversation. She shook her head and sipped her tea like she was watching a daytime soap.

“Stiles, I don’t care how well you can see the stars with half the streetlights out, lock the damn bars or I will! And you won’t have the key!”

The Sheriff wiped a hand over his face with long suffering exasperation and worry as his son started lecturing about safety violations—still not actually agreeing to lock the bars, Derek noticed. He waited a couple minutes, listening as the diatribe ramped up to its finale, then rolled his eyes and cut off his son before another tangent started.

“Just lock your damn window before you get yourself robbed blind.” He hung up with an annoyed but fond love you after making his son promise to come for dinner Friday as punishment for his stupidity, though it didn’t sound like much of a chore.

The Sheriff took a calming breath that looked well practiced, and fixed Derek with a weary glare. “Don’t have kids.” He turned without waiting fro a response to say his goodbyes to Greta. “I’ll put someone on your street the next few nights to keep on eye on things.”

Greta was shaking her head before he even finished his sentence. “John, if I see a single deputy so much as pass by here, I’m withholding pecan pie this Thanksgiving.”

“Don’t think I’ll be able to keep them away.”

“If Howard could see you wasting resources on little old me...”

“Don’t give me that crap, Greta, Howard would’ve had a SWAT team camped out in your living room and you know it.” Greta just smiled coyly. “At least let me have Stiles stop by tonight to check things out. And you call him anytime something feels off, day or night.”

“I’ll do no such thing. That boy needs to sleep, not be worried about some old lady like me.”

"He'll just be up half the night on his computer anyways, might as well do something productive instead of whatever he does when he's not working or harassing me."

Derek wasn’t overly impressed with Stiles so far.

* * *

His new apartment was in Bricktown, in the historical district along the river. It was nicer than Depot Town, full of young couples and hipsters and microbreweries that weren’t actually all that good. It had old warehouses renovated into apartments, a lot of restored brownstones, a few parks for when the young couples had kids, and weekly farmers markets full of scraggly beards and man buns.

It was so vastly different from how Derek remembered the area—basically just as bad as Depot Town and another area his mother had told him not to visit—that his main reason for moving there had been the sheer novelty of it.

The novelty had worn off once his neighbors started making kombucha tea on the fire escape, right outside his kitchen window where there was always shade, and made half his apartment smell like sulfur.

(They seemed nice enough, and once invited him over for a welcome to the neighborhood dinner, but if that was how they made tea, he really didn’t want to experience their cooking, and certainly not after seeing how much tempeh they bought in one shopping trip.)

But despite the neighbors, he had a nice, cozy third floor brownstone apartment that was almost three times as big as the one he'd had in New York and half the price. It had a fireplace, hardwood floors, a breakfast nook that he still wasn't quite sure what to do with, and more space than he had furniture to fill it with. He let Laura talk him into a couple bookcases, a coffee table, and a TV unit so his small flatscreen wasn't sitting on a box, but he didn't want or need all that much. And the stuff he bought, he didn't really feel like putting together.

So there he was, back in Beacon Hills with a half empty apartment, a job, and surrounded by boxes of disassembled furniture and the faint smell of sulfur—and he was bored.

Derek was new to the Sheriff’s Department so he was pretty much scheduled through the month for crappy night shifts with Erica (he had no idea what she’d done to land herself there, and he didn’t really want to ask, because every question she answered devolved into a foreboding Deputy Charles story), which meant that during the day when he wasn’t sleeping or had a day off, he found himself sitting around. A lot.

He didn’t have a life in Beacon Hills anymore; he’d left California immediately after high school, as soon as he possibly could, and pretty much stayed away ever since. He hadn’t kept in touch with any of his high school friends (he hadn’t really felt much like hanging out and playing basketball after the fire and by graduation they hardly talked), the college friends he still talked to were all settled on the east coast with careers and budding families, and his closest friends were all on the police force back in New York City. Aside from his family, he didn’t really know anyone in town anymore, and his hobby of shifting into a wolf and prowling the forest didn’t lend itself to making new friends.

In a nutshell, it was all that, a combination of boredom and loneliness, that made him allow Cora to drag him to the city’s climbing gym on the west side of town where she worked between her many rock climbing trips. Upon This Rock was housed in an old abandoned church that had been renovated, and the climbing wall rose high up into the vaulted ceiling, with a hole to allow light from the stained glass window to stream in. It was definitely cool, and it wasn’t that he wasn’t interested in climbing, but...

He shifted his hips around, trying to subtly adjust around the harness, but it really just made it all worse. So much worse. He glanced around the practically deserted gym, made sure no one was paying attention, and started tugging and rotating everything back into place. He was still open to having kids some day, after all.

“Do I really have to wear this?” He immediately stopped adjusting and straightened up when Cora turned to glare at him again.

“Yes, you signed the waiver, you have the wear it. If you don’t, I’ll lose my job, and I still need a new laptop.”

“It’s not like anything would happen to me if I fell,” he muttered, half to himself and more than a little petulantly.

“Derek,” she lowered her voice without leaning in, “healing or no, falling from those heights still really sucks. Trust me.” She gave him one last look that clearly told him to leave the harness alone as she backed towards the climbing wall.

“Cora, have you fallen before?” She turned to grab one of the ropes hanging, ignoring him and his understandable concern as an older brother. “Is that why you came back early from New Mexico? Cora!”

*

He had to admit; even with werewolf strength and reflexes, climbing wasn’t as easy as he’d assumed. And he was also very thankful that it was still early enough in the morning that they were pretty much alone because he was stuck just past the halfway point, trying to navigate around the stained glass. And he absolutely refused to give in to Cora’s intentionally grating nagging from the ground, yelled up at him solely for the sake of being annoying and humiliating.

“Derek, there’s a hold to the left of your left foot! Derek! The purple hold! No, the other purple hold!”

She didn’t seem to be grasping that that specific purple hold was three feet away and his legs just didn’t spread that way. If there hadn’t been other employees working by then, he would’ve ripped the damn purple hold out of the wall and thrown it at her.

He craned his neck to glare down at her, and internally groaned when he noticed a guy clipping into one of the auto belays, which would bring him right up next to Derek. Of course. Of course he got an audience when he got stuck.

“Don’t look down here, look at the wall! Specifically at the purple hold by your left foot!”

He finally broke, gritting out through his teeth, “Cora, I’m going to kill you if you don’t shut up right now.”

It was quiet, barely more than a whisper, but she heard.

She beamed at him and tugged on his rope, jerking his pelvis up.

He’d made his decision; she would be dead by lunchtime.

He was all of two feet higher and still stuck when he smelled a familiar scent, which was odd this high up on a wall that was completely overpowered by sweat and chalk.

As a born wolf, it was automatic to catalog scents for future reference, and it was hard to forget one once it was committed to memory. So when the same combination of stress, anxiety, and adrenaline from Greta’s fire escape last week climbed up into his awareness, he knew it could only be one person.

He was honestly surprised he hadn’t run into the infamous Stiles Stilinski yet, given how everyone at work seemed to know him and see him constantly; at the bar, at the station, at the grocery store, they pulled him over for speeding on the backroads—again. The guy was everywhere, and Derek knew it was only a matter of time until they met.

From the way he was described, Derek was expecting him to be a scrawny, nerdy type, who never quite grew up or really left home (he’d gone to Berkeley and currently worked as a daytime bartender; that wasn’t exactly someone living up to their full potential). Erica constantly called him a little shit, the Sheriff called him kid, the other deputies joked about him wandering around the station and poking his nose into casefiles—he sounded like a sixteen year old pest who had to go to work with his dad to be kept out of trouble.

The well toned forearm reaching into his periphery and the large hand with long fingers flexing around a green hold suggested that Derek’s assumption had been wildly mistaken.

Stiles was not scrawny, and he was definitely not a kid, no matter what the Sheriff called him. He had strong, broad shoulders and lithe arms and pulled himself up the wall with the ease of someone who’d been doing it for years. He stopped alongside Derek, his brown eyes wide and bright with energy and probably way too much coffee and flashed him a lopsided and easy grin that did things to Derek’s stomach. He looked like nine kinds of trouble.

“First time?” he asked with a grin.

“That obvious?”

Stiles didn’t even blink at Derek’s bitter tone. “It probably wouldn’t be if you weren’t on the hard wall. This is a tricky spot.”

“The hard—Cora!” he yelled down, not caring if anyone heard.

“You’re doing great, Derek, don’t stop!” she called back with the encouragement of a helpful instructor and like she wasn’t the worst person on the planet. This was payback for losing her bet on Derek’s last relationship, it had to be.

“Derek? Derek Hale?”

He turned back to Stiles, glowering. “Unfortunately.”

“I’m Stiles, Scott’s friend.”

“Charmed.” This was the last place he wanted to be having this conversation, and Cora seemingly agreed as she yelled up at him,

“Derek, enough chit chat, move it!”

He gave Stiles a flat look, because Stiles happened to be what was in front of his face. He nodded sympathetically.

“Yeah, she literally kicked me off the wall once. She’s a terrible employee.”

Derek’s pelvis jerked up again in revenge for the comment.

“If you could not insult her until I’m back on the ground, that would be great.”

“Dude, just use an auto belay," Stiles said. "I mean, they still kind of pull your ass up into your stomach, but at least they don’t have an agenda about it.”

Another jerk, this time harder. At this rate his dad wasn’t going to be getting any grandchildren out of him, married or not.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Stiles tipped his head back in a brief nod and added with a smirk, “Oh, and there’s a purple hold right by your left foot.”

He winked, reached up for his next hold, and then completely left Derek in his dust.

But with a full view of his very toned ass.

* * *

The second time Derek ran into Red was, much like the first time, a surprise.

His hearing was one of his main tools while on patrol, always listening for anyone coming up behind him, mapping heartbeats, how many people were in the next room. It was probably becoming a crutch, something he relied on too much like his mother had always told him not to, and he would definitely get a long lecture if she ever found out. But his mother wasn’t a cop and didn’t know how many times his heightened hearing had saved lives, his own included, so he wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. Or tell her, but that was neither here nor there.

Given just how much he relied on it, though, it was wildly unsettling when he couldn’t hear Red coming at all. He wasn’t just quiet, it was like he wasn’t even there.

One second he was parked in the cruiser, chatting with Erica while on duty, and the next there was a light thud, and a vigilante was squatting on the hood of the car, waggling his fingers in a wave. There had been absolutely no warning, and for the first time in his life, Derek jumped in surprise.

It took him a few seconds to recover, he’d just had a life-changing experience, but Erica was already out of the car and yelling.

“Are you kidding me, fucker? You better not have dented that, I refuse to get slammed for damaging department property!”

“Don't worry, I’m light as a feather,” Red drawled as he hopped off the car. His voice was oddly pitched, a little distorted somehow. It had a strange reverb, magic woven through it that made it hard to remember exactly what he sounded like, even though he’d just stopped talking. Whoever Red really was, he knew his way around magic, because Derek could hear nothing from him, even as he got out of the car too; no heartbeat, no breathing, not even the rustle of fabric when he moved.

He turned his attention to Derek. “We meet again, Deputy Hale.”

“Oh, god,” Erica muttered under her breath, no doubt at the flirty way Red’s voice deepened, even through the disguise. He winked at her.

“Don’t worry, Reyes, you’re still my favorite.” Oh lovely, he flirted with all of the deputies.

“I can die happy," she deadpanned. “What do you want?”

“I left you a present at Washington and Fifth.”

“Aw, how sweet.” Erica placed her hand on her chest, pretending to be moved, and Red coyly shrugged a shoulder in response.

“I try.”

*

Considering the last guy Red apprehended had been a purse snatcher in a back alley, Derek wasn’t expecting to see a sour man in a nice suit crouching awkwardly next to an iron railing, his hand hanging limply from black handcuffs. There was a crossbar on the fence that wasn’t high enough for him to stand comfortably but the ground was wet and dirty and his suit was visibly expensive.

“Good evening sir,” Erica greeted cordially as she slammed the car door behind her. “Is there anything we can help you with?”

Derek followed her over, doing a quick sweep of the area with his senses for the vigilante, possibly waiting for the cops to make sure his apprehended criminal was picked up and properly arrested. There were no unaccounted for scents around; just the man, Erica, the sidewalk, and whatever was cooking in the house the railing belonged to. A woman was watching from behind the window curtain. There were no extra heartbeats, no sounds of movement, it was like the man had walked up to the fence and cuffed himself of his own free will.

“Yeah,” the man sneered. “You can uncuff me and get Boy Wonder behind bars before he does something he’ll regret.”

“That wouldn’t happen to include handcuffing you to a fence, now would it?” Erica stopped just out of his reach, resting her hands on her belt and jutting her chin out in the typical douchebag cop stance that always got assholes riled up. “Can you think of any reason he might want to do that?”

“Because he’s a psycho?” The man's tone implied that to be the obvious answer and both of them to be idiots for not thinking of it themselves. “Look, you should be out looking for him, not interrogating me like a criminal. I’m the victim here—he jumped me from behind and took my phone and wallet.” He waved his arm down the sidewalk where, indeed, a smartphone lay neatly on the stoop of an apartment building. Derek went to retrieve it while Erica continued to have a gleefully patronizing conversation with the man.

“We’ll get right on that as soon as we’re finished here, so if you could just tell me what happened here, Mr…”

“Palomino,” the man supplied in an ugly tone, his face would probably match if Derek turned to check. “And I told you, I’m walking to my car, this fucking psycho comes up behind me, taps me on the shoulder, cuffs me to the fence, and then robs me.”

Derek picked up the phone and the slim black leather wallet beneath it, both obviously not stolen and in perfect condition. Like new. He toggled on the phone to make sure it was alright—it was fine, locked with a pin—and flipped open the wallet to check for cards and cash. All there and seemingly undisturbed. He glanced at Mr. Palomino’s license out of habit as he turned back and paused, because Mr. Palomino was actually a Mr. Oscar Lamarque of New Mexico.

The very same Oscar Lamarque the station had received an APB about the day before. So the vigilantes were either tapped into a police system somewhere, or they had someone on the inside of the Sheriff’s Station.

“Reyes.” Derek walked back over and held up the license for her to read. Oscar dropped all pretense of being the victim and just sort of sagged. He knew he was caught.

“Oscar Lamarque.” Erica turned to him with a slightly predatory grin, stepping forward to uncuff him from the fence. “You have the right to remain silent.”

* * *

If Derek thought tracking down the two vigilantes would get any easier after that, he was sadly, horribly, and wildly mistaken. He’d had a few (loosely described) run-ins with them, mostly glances of them perched on fire escapes to keep an eye on the arrest or a billowing corner of the Guard’s jacket around a corner as the squad car pulled up, but every time there was absolutely nothing left in their wake that could possibly help him identify them.

They didn’t leave any scent behind, for one, just a distinct nothingness Derek had come to associate with magic interference, and with their heartbeats hidden, he couldn’t even work from that. They weren’t just masking their presence as wolves from the local alpha (at this point, Derek wasn’t willing to rule out the possibility that Red could be a wolf as well), they were masking every sign of themselves completely. And they were good at it.

It wasn’t like a wolf suppressing some of their louder tells, they were just gone. Derek had looked right up at Red, just two stories above him on the roof, and felt nothing from him. He couldn’t even feel the normal awareness creeping up his spine when someone was watching him, and the second he glanced away, Red had vanished. Just faded out like he’d never been there to begin with.

Whether they were a threat or not, those two knew what they were doing, which was more worrying than Derek cared to admit.

So having found out all of nothing, it was somewhat reluctantly that he met Laura at her PI office. More that somewhat, he just flat out didn't want to go, because she expected him to have more information than he'd started with and he didn't. She probably already knew he didn't have anything, considering she made him wait in the front office for fifteen minutes with her surly receptionist.

It was intentional, he knew it was, especially with the shitty smile she gave him when he was finally allowed past the troll guarding the bridge.

“Found anything yet?”

He paused to give her a look at her damanding tone, then finished sitting down in one of the chairs for clients. “It's been one week since you asked me to do this.”

She turned up her hands in confusion. “Yeah, and I’ve closed three cases in that time and took on about twelve more. So what have you found?”

Derek glared and reported flatly, “It appears they can hide their presence.”

“We knew that.”

“Well now you know it even more.”

She rolled her eyes at his tone. “Oh come on, Der, you must’ve gotten something beyond that!”

“Laura, I’m trying, but I do have a job to do. I can't just chase after them while I'm on duty, especially not when I've only had the job for two weeks." And despite his rough hours, it was a job he would really prefer to keep.

"What about three weeks? Can you chase them down next week?" He continued to glare in response. "You're really not being very proactive about this. You'd make a terrible PI."

"Then it's a good thing I'm not planning to be one."

“Derek, this is serious.” She said, sobering, so Derek tried to be a little less of a shitty little brother and discuss it like adults.

“Then why aren’t you doing this? This is literally your job description.” She was a werewolf private detective whose clientele was almost entirely made up of the supernatural residents of the territory who couldn’t go to the police with their problems. Finding a mystery werewolf should be right up her alley.

She gestured grandly to the large stack of manilla folders on her desk, newspaper clippings and handwritten notes hanging out haphazardly. Then carried on gesturing to the wall of file cabinets to her right, and the other loose files piled onto the low bookshelf behind her.

“Did you not hear me say I’ve just had to take on twelve new cases, on top of the ones I’m already working? And they aren’t just the wife cheating with an incubus, either, three of them are murders that really can’t be put on the backburner. I need help.” Sometimes it was easy to forget that Laura handled almost all of the groundwork within the territory and kept an eye on anyone supernatural making trouble or ending up where they didn’t belong. As alpha, Talia handled the larger political issues, but everything had to be filtered through Laura to get to her.

“Okay, then why do you suddenly need to find this guy? It’s been three years and he hasn’t done anything, has he?”

“Not until a few months ago," Laura explained. "I'll email you the file, but it started with a few people killed by animals in the woods, and then three weeks ago someone was attacked on Fifth. Luckily it was just a scratch and they weren't turned, but they said they were jumped by a very hairy man with a disfigured face.”

“So you think The Guard has recently taken up biting people? Unless he’s an alpha, that doesn’t make any sense.”

“He's been an omega for a long time now," Laura said with a shrug. "Some wolves can’t handle it, it starts to get to them.”

“But betas don’t have the instinct to create a pack like that, they find one. If he was that desperate, he would’ve just gone to mom.”

“I don’t know, Derek," Laura interrupted, clearly incredibly stressed and frustrated. "He’s trying to be a superhero, that doesn’t exactly scream rational and well thought out life choices. Just find out who he is, and get him over to mom before he hurts someone else. Please.”

“Alright, I’ll try to find him," he quickly assured her before her eyes started flaring. "But you should’ve told me about the attacks in the first place, I didn’t know this was anything more than you being nosy.”

Laura sighed. “Mom wanted to keep that part close to her chest. We figured some wolf squatting in our territory would be enough of a reason to find him." Derek stared blankly and she rolled her eyes. “You’ve been in New York way too long. Remember how mom really doesn’t have an open door policy? And how this is a direct challenge to her authority as alpha?”

The thought honestly hadn’t even crossed his mind, Derek realized with a jolt. He’d grown so used to moving freely through New York, and other wolves doing the same, that he’d almost completely forgotten it could be an issue and usually was. Werewolves were sometimes killed over a similar affront.

“I think you could use a few more werewolf friends," Laura said sympathetically, and it finally sunk in that she was implying he’d become too human.

It wasn’t meant to be an insult, he could tell when Laura was insulting him, but how was he supposed to respond to being told he’d lost touch with half of who he was?

“I’ll get right on that,” he said, for lack of any other reaction, and stood a little too quickly.

“Oh hey, hang on!” Laura called him back, rifling through something behind her desk while pointing at him to stay put. He waited impatiently for longer than he intended to, but Laura finally handed him a colorful reusable grocery bag, stuffed full and presented like an honored gift. “This is for you! You have to take it, I’m your sister.”

He eyed her warily as he accepted it, but her face wasn’t giving anything away. It smelled like the co-op.

Because it was all from the co-op. Coffee, bread, a few really random vegetables he would have to work really hard to combine, fair trade chocolate, a few organic powerbars jammed in the bottom—he wouldn’t have to go shopping for a week.

He raised an eyebrow at her. “How far behind on points are you?”

She waved away his question. “You don’t understand, Derek, if I don’t go often enough, the cashier looks at me like I’m some yoga mom from the suburbs.”

He really didn't understand. “Then quit. Being a member of the co-op isn’t mandatory.”

That didn't calm her down. “If I quit, then she wins, and I’ll be just as bad as the suburban yoga moms. I refuse to be beaten by some twenty year old hipster with white girl dreads.”

“Why do you even go there if you hate everyone?”

“Because a good alpha is involved with both their pack and the surrounding community.” She recited it, like she’d been practicing, like she’d just been waiting for someone to ask her that.

“Is there a manual somewhere that you’ve memorized?” He didn’t bother pointing out that she wasn’t actually an alpha yet.

“Shut up and get out of my office. And be proactive!” she yelled as he let the door slam behind him.

Her receptionist glared.

* * *

Derek didn’t want to admit it, but what Laura said really did get to him, and it was only amplified as he continued on with his week and realized he was almost completely surrounded by humans. He worked with humans, lived among humans, all of his New York friends had been human—aside from two werewolves he would run with on some full moons—and the few budding new friendships he was nurturing were with humans. There was nothing wrong with that, but he was starting to wonder; if he’d forgotten how serious a territory encroachment was, what other normally basic instincts he’d just forgotten to have?

He felt like a part of him had been fading away without him even realizing it was happening, like his instincts had been dulled down to nothing, and that wasn’t exactly a good feeling. He didn’t know how to go about getting them back.

“What’s with you today?”

He looked up from clipping into an auto belay to Stiles, just starting up on the climbing wall. He was practically vibrating with energy, eager to get moving as he was every morning. No matter what day Derek went climbing, Stiles was either already up the wall or arriving at the same time, and Derek had been surprised to find that he didn’t mind the idle chatter as much as he would’ve expected. It was easy and low stress, and since Stiles already knew about his big secret, it wasn’t a constant dance around certain topics like it was with Erica.

“Nothing, I’m fine.”

“Yeah, okay. I don’t need to be able to smell emotions to tell that you’re having a shitty morning.”

“It’s just something Laura said. Nothing important.”

“As someone who has interacted with Laura before, I can tell that you’re full of crap. Your sister is mean and terrifying.”

Derek started up the wall after him, debating whether he wanted to dump his feelings all over someone he barely knew. But he did want some kind of feedback, and he knew anyone in his pack would tell him that he was too distant, and the only person he knew outside of his pack who also knew about werewolves was Stiles. His options were depressingly limited.

“She said I’m too human after being in New York for so long, and that I need more friends like us.”

Stiles didn't miss a beat. “Being human is a bad thing? And unless your mom is looking to expand, I doubt there’s going to be any new furry friends around for you to play with anytime soon. She’s kind of a hardass.”

Derek rolled his eyes at Stiles’ wording but still glanced over his shoulder at the rest of the gym out of habit. Cora wasn’t working that morning, so there was no one to overhear the conversation; it was practically empty this early anyways.

“Laura doesn’t have anything against humans, she just...” He debated between two holds while he thought about how to phrase it. “...doesn’t want me to lose touch with who I am.”

“Hey, I get it. My grandma only talks to me in Polish to force me to embrace my heritage. Like I’ll ever forget it with a name like mine.”

“What, Stiles?” Derek frowned. That didn’t sound like a name at all, let alone a Polish one.

“Nope,” he said emphatically, “and you’re never going to know what my legal name is, either.” He swung around to reach a hold around the corner. “Exactly two people besides my babcia know, and I have enough dirt on both of them to keep them from talking indefinitely.”

“You know my secret, it’s only fair.”

“I can think of at least ten other secrets of mine off the top of my head that I would rather tell you than my name.”

“Such as?” Derek prompted when he didn’t actually offer any of them up.

Stiles scoffed. “I didn’t say I’d actually tell you. My mystery and intrigue is the only thing I have going for me. Why’d you move back, anyway? Beacon Hills can’t be all that great after New York.”

Derek blinked at the abrupt subject change and blatantly obvious redirect. “New York isn’t all that great. And now I have a bigger apartment.”

“Probably smells better, too.” Derek shrugged—it was a close call, Beacon Hills just smelled a different and weirdly nostalgic kind of bad. “But seriously, why just up and leave your life like that?”

“A number of witnesses saw me survive something on duty that should’ve killed a person.” Something his mother would never find out about if he could help it.

“So? It happens. Parrish was in an old burnt out house when it collapsed on him, and he walked out totally fine.”

“It happened six times.”

“Ah.”

“They started calling me a supercop.” He regretted saying it immediately. Stiles choked on nothing and didn’t even try to hide his shit eating grin and excited eyes once he recovered. “Shut up," Derek ordered before he could start.

“Oh my god, you became WolfCop.”

“What are you talking about?”

“WolfCop! It’s a movie about a werewolf sheriff! Here comes the fuzz!”

“I will throw you off this wall.”

“I don’t even care, dude. I’m tied in and you’re WolfCop.”

“A rope is no problem for my claws, dude.

“Nope, still not working.” Stiles hung from two holds, mouth open in a stupid smile. “You’re WolfCop. Here to defend the good people of Beacon County.”

“I thought that was the vigilantes.”

Stiles’ foot slipped off its hold and he flailed for a second to catch himself before the auto belay did. Derek just watched. Served him right.

* * *

As had become a habit before going on shift in the evening, Derek stopped at Palladio’s to get coffee and a sandwich. Beyond having the best pastries, the bakery also had the best sandwiches, as well as the widest selection of mustard he’d ever seen under one roof. Laura was clearly just being stubborn about Songbird because she knew the owner personally and didn’t want to admit that one of her friends was subpar in any way.

While he waited in line he snapped a picture of the wall of mustard and sent it to her. He would make her admit it one day.

She called him immediately.

“It’s not good food if it needs that much mustard to be edible,” she greeted.

“It’s not good food if you consider flavor a bad thing,” he countered lightly. “Your bakery is abusive, Laura, you deserve better.”

“I think mustard is the abuser here, because it’s like getting punched in the face. Be strong Derek, you can leave it. I’ll help you.”

He held the phone against his shoulder while he ordered, debated mustards with the cashier for a second, then decided to take their recommendation in the end.

“Have a good one, Deputy,” she said as they finished the transaction, and he moved to the crowd of people waiting for their orders.

“You get a discount there, don’t you?” Laura demanded once he put the phone back up to his ear. “You go in uniform and they give you free things. I’ve cracked the case, you’re just easy to buy!”

“I do not, and they don’t.” He glanced over his receipt just in case, and no, there was no discount. “It’s called knowing your customers and being polite, not that anyone going to Songbird would know what that’s like.”

A man in front of him turned at the name and sneered. Derek just nodded.

“Whatever you need to tell your—shit!”

“Laura?” He heard a car door open on the other end.

“He’s running, I’ve got to go.”

And she hung up, leaving Derek staring at this phone and wondering exactly what she’d been doing the entire conversation.

“Derek!”

He turned as his mother’s surprised voice behind him, and there she was, still dressed in her suit, probably coming straight from her office. He couldn’t help feeling a little smug that his mother clearly agreed on his choice of bakery. They really did have the best coffee in the city.

Talia’s eyes flicked over his uniform briefly and her eyes softened almost sadly.

“Are you just getting off shift? I’m picking up dinner.” She let the invitation hang awkwardly, and he wished he was.

“I’m actually just about to go on patrol. Just picking up some coffee first.”

She smiled, smelling disappointed. “Well at least I raised one of my children right. I don’t know where I went wrong with the others.”

“You can’t be blamed for Laura. No one can help her.”

“So Patrick tells me.”

Derek’s number was called quickly—there was no discount but he suspected they bumped his sandwich up in the queue when he came in uniform—and he moved through the crowd to get the paper bag and coffee.

“Let me know when you’re free for dinner,” Talia said once he came back, moving towards the line to order. “Your father and I would like to see you. Without everyone else there,” she added with a grin. She knew he didn’t particularly like large gatherings.

“I’m working nights for the time being, but yeah, I’d like that.”

She leaned in to give him a quick kiss on the cheek and squeezed his neck reassuringly.

“Be safe.”

* * *

When Derek walked into Upon this Rock the next morning, Stiles’ top half was sprawled over the reception desk in the middle of the old church, chatting with the guy working and also watching the television mounted above. The local news was on, and it wasn’t until Derek got closer that he realized he recognized the subject of the report: a very familiar old house, one of the old battered Victorians in Avon Park.

Avon Park was the oldest neighborhood in the city, made up of the mansions built by the founders and pillars of the city in the late 1800s, including the Hales. It was just across the train tracks from the old tenement housing of Depot Town, Stiles’ neighborhood, and while it held some of the largest and most historically rich homes in the city, it was something of a ghost town and not considered entirely safe. Most of the mansions were owned by the Beacon Hills Preservation Society, just barely saving them from falling to ruin, but the Society didn’t have the money to properly maintain them, and any wealthy families crazy enough to move into the city didn’t want to risk living so close to Depot Town, or pay for the extensive renovations needed to make the houses habitable again.

The house on the news was donated to the Preservation Society as a gift in the 1960s by the Hales when the pack moved out into the woods to the then-new Hale house, the house Derek had grown up in. It was one of the first houses built in the city when the area was settled by the Hales and a few other families, and though they still made occasional donations for its upkeep, it had fallen into disrepair just like all of its neighboring houses.

According to the news anchor, Deucalion West had bought it from the city.

Stiles had his head propped up on the desk, staring at the television with a disgusted look frozen on his face.

Derek took out his membership card and slid it across desk, and Chad (according to his nametag) took it to swipe and get his rental equipment. He’d be buying his own equipment within the next week—there was nothing like smelling a stranger’s sweaty crotch at seven in the morning to motivate a bit of a spending spree.

“Derek, are you seeing this shit?” Stiles greeted, jerking his thumb towards the screen.

“Huh,” Derek answered, because he had to answer in some way even though he didn’t actually care one way or the other.

“Huh?” Stiles mimicked indignantly. “Huh? A madman just bought the birthplace of your family and all you have to say is huh?”

Derek sat down on one of the old pews by the desk to change his shoes. Stiles was already set to climb, wearing his harness and everything, he’d just been too riveted by an incredibly boring news report to actually do it.

“A madman,” Derek repeated flatly. “What exactly makes Deucalion a madman?” He tied his shoes quickly, eager to get up the wall and away from this conversation.

“Um, I don’t know,” Stiles started casually, then practically yelled, “everything about him?” He followed Derek to the desk to pick up his rented harness, then trailed along behind him to the climbing wall at the back of the old church. “I mean, have you seen him? The guy is serious skeevy. I met him once and had to scrub my hand for twenty minutes to feel clean again.”

Derek looked up from clipping into an auto belay to fix him with a look. “He’s not as evil as you make him out to be. At all, actually.” Derek stated as he started up the wall. He could practically hear Stiles’ eyes roll below him.

“Figures you would know him.”

“He’s one of my mom’s closest friends, why do you think she’s even letting him run?”

“Letting—wait, wait, you mean he’s a werewolf?” Stiles hissed, climbing quickly—impressively quick, actually—to catch up to him.

“Yeah, you didn’t know that?”

“Wha—no! Why would I have known that?”

“Because he’s at every pack dinner with Scott, I thought he told you everything.”

“Not the important things, apparently, which he will be hearing about later.” He waved that away for the future and refocused immediately. “Okay, so he’s a wolf, why is he here exactly? Is he in your pack? I've never heard of him being in your pack.”

Derek sighed. He wasn't mentally prepared for an academic lecture on werewolf customs. “His pack was killed by hunters and he and my mom are old friends. It’s not uncommon for alphas with no pack to live in other territories with permission.”

“Oh my god, he’s an alpha?” Stiles threw his head back dramatically, still holding onto the wall. “What about that sounds like a good idea?”

“It’s not exactly a risk.” Derek surveyed the wall above him, looking for his next place to go. Every hold close to him was at an awkward angle. “It’s like a grandparent living with your family. Since they have no pack they’re too weak to make any attempt at challenging the pack’s alpha.”

Stiles snorted. “Yeah, a creepy grandparent, who like, leers at you in dark rooms and makes thinly veiled threats.”

Derek gave up on his search to look back at Stiles. “Did he threaten you in a dark room?”

The fact that Stiles didn't actually answer the question said that the answer was probably no.

“I don’t know what it is, something about the guy just freaks me out.” He glanced down at exactly the wrong time and noticed that Derek hadn’t moved in a while. “That sloper is going to suck, go for the crimp to your right. The yellow one,” he added when Derek just looked at him blankly.

“Maybe it’s the accent," he continued as if there had been no interruption. “No one with an accent like that is up to anything good.”

The crimp was just as bad.

“English? I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of people with English accents who aren’t out to get you.”

Stiles huffed above him, long suffering and condescending. “Not me, your mom! Come on, he’s publicly buying one of the oldest houses in the city, that just so happens to have belonged to the pack that’s held the territory since practically before the city was even here.” He grunted as he reached for the high next hold and paused a second once he’d moved up, looking back down at Derek. “That doesn’t seem a little the king is dead, long live the king to you?”

“I don’t know, Stiles.” He paused on a jug hold—he actually knew the name of those—to rest for a second, more for show than actual necessity because he’d been climbing constantly for a while. People noticed things like unnatural endurance. “It’s a little hard to believe that someone I’ve known the majority of my life and one of my mom’s closest friends would actively be trying to kill her to steal her territory.”

“Why? People can turn on you in a second, you of all people should—” He cut himself off abruptly, but Derek already knew where he was going. “Sorry. That was shitty.”

“No, you’re right. I have terrible judgment.” He wasn’t about to deny it; his first girlfriend (if she could even be called that) had tried to burn his family alive and killed his sister, aunt, and cousin, almost killed his father and other sister. “But this isn’t my call, and I’m hoping my mother has better judgment than I do.”

“That still doesn’t mean he’s not up to something.” Stiles shrugged, turning back towards the wall.

Derek rolled his eyes, reaching to the right to move towards the other side of the stained glass from Stiles; he was hoping a little distance would discourage the conversation from continuing. It didn’t.

“I can’t even believe how much he sets off my impending doom senses—they’re very well attuned, you know, they’ve had a lot of practice.”

“What could he possibly be up to that he wouldn’t have done seven years ago when he first moved here?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never even spoken to the guy. You’re a cop, do the cop thing. Investigate, find out what’s changed in his life recently. Maybe he has to be mayor to achieve his domination.”

Derek stared across the window. “This is half about the accent, isn’t it?”

“Obviously, he sounds like a Bond villain!”

* * *

Derek honestly couldn’t say why he actually looked into Deucalion that evening. He was bored and had a few minutes at work with access to the police database, that could be a good reason if someone asked; he wanted to catch up on local politics, that was another. But whatever the reason, he hadn’t actually been expecting to find anything when he did.

It was supposed to just be a way to shut Stiles down next time he inevitably brought it up, just tell him once and for all that Deucalion was fine, he was being paranoid, and there wasn’t any reason to not vote for the guy. But then he found the article about the massacre.

It was fifteen years old, a headline about a large group of campers who were slaughtered by wild animals in the middle of the woods a few hours east of Beacon Hills. There wasn’t a whole lot to go on in the article, and no one outside of the local werewolf community would make the connection, but everyone who had been killed were in Deucalion’s pack, wolf and human alike.

Derek remembered when it happened, when Deucalion showed up at the newly rebuilt Hale house in the middle of the night. His mother and Peter had told everyone to go back to bed and no one had mentioned it again until Deucalion finally emerged from the guest room a week later, looking weak and pale and suddenly blind. At the time they’d been told it was hunters, and still reeling from Kate, Derek believed it completely and without question.

But now he had distance. He’d moved on, moved away, and he had a new perspective that wasn’t so tainted with grief and rage. Hunters didn’t imitate wild animals, nor did they usually wipe out entire packs and leave the bodies to be found later. They were precise and methodical, and to take down a pack the size of Deucalion’s, they would’ve had to be experienced and well established. That caliber of hunters didn’t leave evidence.

Derek sat back in his chair and glared at his computer screen.

The story wasn’t quite lining up anymore, but he wasn’t going to jump to any conclusions before he talked to his mom. There could be a number of reasons she changed the story, maybe to protect her kids from something worse, or even to protect Deucalion from their prying questions.

No need to tell Stiles yet and send him off on a conspiracy rant before he had all the facts.

“Hale, get your ass in the car!” Erica called across the room, and a few other deputies looked in his direction, grinning.

He gave her a look. She beamed back at him. He rolled his eyes but closed the browser and locked his computer to follow her out to the rear parking lot.

There were a few more a patrols out on the streets tonight because, as Erica explained, the NCs's were recruiting.

The NC's, Derek didn't know what that stood for if anything, was a gang down by the river who only let in members who managed to go head-to-head against one of the vigilantes and not get arrested. This led to something of a free for all in certain areas of town, where young people looking to prove themselves in a fight would patrol looking for the crimefighters, waiting for a chance to jump them. The hard part was, as they weren't actually in the gang yet and didn't have the notorious green patch on their jackets, none of these fighters were distinguishable from any other small group of young people walking down the sidewalk.

Erica grumbled the entire time she drove, complaining that this was a pointless endeavor, that any fight going on would immediately scatter the second the patrol car came into view, that all this did was cause a spike in civilian complaints about profiling--which, to be fair, was a serious issue if the sheriff's long lecture about it before they all left was anything to go by. Judging by the radio, not many other deputies were having much luck, but Erica shrugged it off as normal for recruitment night.

But Derek didn't like failure, so while he kept an ear on her ranting, he kept the other focused on the ambient noises of the city around them, trying to pick out anything out of the ordinary. Even doing that, it took a couple hours for him to actually hear anything. But when he did...

“Is that the best you got, Boy Wonder?”

“Stop the car!”

Erica pulled over and stopped without hesitation, turning to him for an explanation.

“I can hear a fight,” he explained quickly, taking off his seatbelt and already opening the door despite her protests. “Head west, it’s a couple blocks away. I’ll meet you there.”

And with that he slammed his door and took off running down the closest alley to cut through the block, following the sounds of a scuffle. He waited until he was out of sight to run inhumanly fast, darted across two mostly empty backstreets, and skidded to a stop when he saw them.

“Why does no one in the fucking city know any sidekick besides Robin?” Red was complaining as he held one guy in a solid headlock, watching the second warily for any movements. “Do you read comics? That’s not even an insult.”

The other man wiped blood from his nose and spit more onto the ground. “Whatever you fucking fag.”

“Wow, very original. Never heard that one before.”

The kid in the headlock must’ve hit him hard somewhere, because Red grunted in pain and released him suddenly. The guy ducked away quickly, moving to stand next to his friend to regroup, and no doubt coordinate an attack.

“Beacon County Sheriff’s Department!” Derek announced his presence, and the two kids startled violently. One recovered quickly and took off, but Red intercepted him while Derek focused on the kid still looking a little terrified that the police showed up. It was a good thing he would probably never make it into the gang, if this was how he reacted to one cop.

The kid made an aborted attempt at running, but turned out to be smart enough to realize that it would only make this worse for him, so he let Derek cuff him with no resistance as Erica pulled up in the car with the lights flashing. The other guy, however, was throwing punches and kicks at Red, who was blocking them, but he was slowing down. Derek wondered how many more of these little skirmishes he’d been caught up in that night.

“I got him,” Erica assured him, already taking off across the street towards the fight.

“Sheriff’s Department, both of you freeze!”

The kid flinched and gave Red an opening to get a hit in that probably would’ve knocked him out on any other night, but the vigilante was obviously tired and didn’t put enough power behind it. Instead of going down, the guy just stumbled back and then kept on going down the alley behind them. Red cursed loud enough for Derek to hear without trying, then took off after him.

Erica just waved at them dismissively. “Eh, fuck it.” She turned and saw Derek’s raised eyebrows. “We've got a description, and if Red doesn’t catch up to him, there’s no way I’m going to with their head start.”

Derek accepted the logic. He would've been able to catch him no problem if Erica wasn't right there, wouldn't have had to use that much superhuman speed to do it, but he wasn't looking for a repeat of New York in his own hometown. They would be able to describe the suspect if they decided that pursuing him was worth it.

He was more interested in pursuing Red anyway, who might still be in the area considering how beaten down he’d looked. He started to cross the street, away from the car and the kid locked in the backseat.

“Derek—” Erica started.

“Just one second,” he assured her. “I’m just going to make sure he’s okay.”

“Make it fast!” she called after him, but he still heard her muttering tiredly about handling crushes like an adult, which was so far off the mark Derek didn’t pay it any mind.

When he found Red he was leaning casually against the wall of an alley, half in the shadows and readjusting one of his gloves after the fight. At least, he was trying to look casual, but he was favoring the side where he’d gotten hit and trying to hide it. He looked up when he heard Derek's footsteps approaching and tried to straighten, but he didn't quite make it.

“Can I help you, Deputy?” Even hunched over to the side a little, breathing hard, he still forced that flirty tone into his voice.

“Are you alright?” was what Derek settled on; he really didn’t know what else to say, so he fell back on how he usually handled citizens after a call. In no situation was it appropriate for a deputy to flirt with a vigilante. “You took a few good hits back there.”

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

Once again, Derek found himself wondering if the Guard was the only wolf. Red had taken more than a few good hits, and they probably would’ve taken down most humans.

“Has that happened a lot tonight?”

“No more than usual.”

“Have you considered not coming out on recruitment night?”

Red huffed a sardonic laugh. “You know actually we did? Surprising, I know. But these guys are already amped up for a fight, and if they don’t have something to aim at, they just start making trouble for other people.”

“So you get beat up as a public service,” Derek said with a smirk. He couldn’t help it. “We’ll be sure to make a note of that in your obituary.”

Red paused, pulling one of the last straps on his glove tight, and for a second Derek worried that he’d gone a little too far, but then he drawled out, “Well, it’s about time the Sheriff’s Department hired someone with a sense of humor.” He let his hand fall down by his side and Derek instinctively followed the movement for any weapons.

Then he noticed the gun holster strapped around his right thigh. He hadn't had a chance to really look at him yet, the two were always on the move when they met, but it really was a real gun, not a taser.

“You got a license for that thing?” He nodded towards it, and Red followed his gaze down.

“Relax, boy scout, they’re rubber bullets.”

“Those still pack quite a punch.”

“Well, sometimes a fist just won’t cut it.” Derek raised an eyebrow. “Yes, I have a license, and yes, it’s registered.”

The thought briefly crossed Derek’s if he would be able to find him through his license, but that would be like finding a needle in a haystack in Beacon County. With the crime rates where they were, more people carried than didn’t.

“Never would’ve guessed you were such a stickler for the rules,” Red muttered, mostly to himself.

“I’m a cop, that’s literally the job description.”

Red’s eyes smirked.

“Oh my god, you’ve been waiting to use that line, haven’t you.” It wasn’t a question, but yes, he’d been just waiting for one of his siblings to give him grief about it like they did when he was younger. Years of being the goody two shoes of the family had finally paid off, he had the perfect comeback, and suddenly they didn’t care anymore.

“You’ve made my dreams come true,” he deadpanned, even though it was kind of true. That line had been just as satisfying as he’d always known it would be.

“Nerd,” Red shot back, with a teasing edge, but whatever he’d been about to say after was cut off by a woman’s voice crackling over his radio, tinny through the speaker in his ear, and so quiet Derek could barely hear it.

“Red, Fifth and Washington. I think they're trying to get Guard's attention.”

Not breaking eye contact, Red reached up to his right ear.

“On my way.”

He took a few steps back, eyes shining with the reflection of a streetlight, winked, and turned to run at the building behind him. He launched himself off the wall with his foot, grabbed onto the bottom of the fire escape, and hauled himself up with his arms until he could get a leg up. Then he was off, scaling each ladder until he reached the top, and disappeared over the roof, back up to his playground above everyone else.

Derek sighed and called in a disturbance at Fifth and Washington.

* * *

As had become customary after their night shifts, Derek and Erica continued their post-shift breakfasts even after they’d been moved to an early morning shift and now got off around lunchtime. Erica was thrilled because it wasn’t socially acceptable to have a beer with breakfast at seven in the morning, so seeing as the diner didn’t have beer, they moved to Cliff’s.

This move just so happened to coincide with Stiles’ daytime shift.

Derek had every intention of telling Stiles what he’d found out about Deucalion, just really quick before Erica came in, but then he noticed the odd posture, tight lines in his face. Stiles was holding himself carefully as he worked, his torso stiff and he wasn’t turning his head when he could avoid it. It was all very subtle, he was good at hiding it, but Derek had years of experience reading perps and victims.

“What’s wrong with you?”

Stiles didn’t even pause, holding a black mat from the bar over the sink to let stale runoff beer drain. It smelled awful. “We just ran out of Guinness at an Irish bar, I think I found asbestos in my closet this morning, and my rent is due in two days.”

Derek rolled his eyes He found himself doing that a lot around Stiles. “You’re hurt. What happened?”

“Fight with the treadmill at the gym yesterday. It’s fine.” The music was just too loud to listen to his heart and Stiles was too preoccupied with rinsing the mat to give any visual cues of a lie, but that was a pretty blatant fuck off and drop it answer. Fucking off and dropping it wasn’t really Derek’s forte.

“Did you get it checked out?”

“Yes, now would you let it go? Jesus, you’re worse than Scott.” He turned to fit the mat back under the line of faucets of draft beer.

“You can’t heal like we do, it’s normal to worry about human members of your pack.” No one was around to hear their conversation. The bar had just opened and was empty aside from two retired deputies having lunch over in front of the window, judging people walking past and chuckling about it.

“Well, that explains Scott, but I’m not in your pack, so you can relax,” Stiles reminded him with a look before changing the subject. “I’m assuming Erica’s coming, you want anything to drink before I start restocking for the lunch rush?”

Stiles wasn’t usually restocking the bar this early. Derek’s confusion must’ve shown on his face because Stiles explained a little bitterly, “Ben closed like an asshole last night and didn’t actually do anything he was supposed to do because he lives to make my life difficult in every tiny little way possible.”

Derek glanced down at the low fridge of bottled beers and chose the first one he saw from the meager selection available. Ben really did suck, whoever he was. He took his beer to one of the booths and slid in facing the bar, knowing Erica would want a clear view of the television behind him. Stiles slapped his cleaning rag on the counter with no shortage of frustration and disappeared into the back.

Erica came shortly after, sliding into the booth across from Derek and calling across the near-empty room for the barmaid to bring her a drink.

Stiles appeared with the most obnoxiously colorful frozen monstrosity Derek had ever seen and placed it exactly just next to the coaster with a low bow and a flourish. Erica beamed at him all the way back to the bar. Then she turned her sights on Derek’s beer.

“Are you really drinking that?

Derek frowned down at the bottle in his hand. “It’s a good porter.”

“Yeah, but I’ve heard of it. That means it’s below your standards.”

“I’m not having this argument with you again. I don’t judge your drink,” he glanced down pointedly at the rainbow umbrella and pile of fruit in her glass, “leave me alone with my beer.”

“Fine, but don’t let McKinney see you drinking that. He’d post it on Instagram as evidence.”

Derek glared. There was nothing wrong with liking good beer. When he couldn't get drunk from it, he had to drink for taste.

Even though he was paying attention to Erica and their conversation, Derek's eye kept wandering over to Stiles; the quiet grunt of pain when he hauled out a crate of beer bottles to refill the fridge, the clench in his jaw when he brought in a bucket of ice from the back, his stiff back when he carried out clean glasses. Whatever happened to him was affecting his daily life, and he was never shy about the stupid accidents he got into, so why was he being so evasive about it?

“Is Stiles seeing anyone right now?”

It was a logical place to start.

Erica froze in the middle of picking a chunk of pineapple out of her glass, then raised her head with a flat glare that rivaled Laura’s. “Hurt him and I’ll end you, and no one will find the body. I know all the best dumping grounds around here.”

Well, that was an interesting conclusion to jump to.

“What? No, I don’t want to date him—not that he’s not dateable,” he added quickly when her eyebrow twitched up into the murder zone. “I’ve just noticed that he always has a lot of injuries, and not everyday bruises.”

“Well yeah, he’s Stiles.” Erica shrugged, going back to her fruit. “He broke his arm in middle school returning a library book.”

“Has he ever bruised his ribs on a treadmill?”

“I honestly wouldn’t be surprised, have you seen him run?” she countered easily, then sobered when Derek’s face showed exactly how lighthearted he found the topic of domestic violence. “I hear what you’re saying, and I’m not dismissing it, but you don’t know Stiles like I do. He’ll pretty much do anything for the people he loves, regardless of his own safety, but he wouldn’t hide abuse. Especially if it’s from someone he doesn’t like enough to even tell his friends about.”

So if it wasn’t an abusive relationship, who else was beating up Stiles? Derek saw plenty of abusive fathers as a police officer but the sheriff just didn’t fit any of the profiles, thankfully, and he and his son seemed to have a fierce and protective love for each other. Stiles had mentioned rent, maybe he borrowed money from the wrong people? His father was the sheriff so it was perfectly understandable if he felt too ashamed to come forward after making a mistake like that. Derek didn’t know Stiles as well as Erica, but he realized early on that Stiles was the type to take care of things himself; if he was in trouble, he would probably get himself out, even if it killed him.

“I know what you’re talking about, the cuts and bruises and the scars,” Erica continued a little quieter. “But they’ve always been there, even in high school, and it’s not a longterm relationship turned abusive. Stiles doesn’t really do commitment, relationship-wise.”

Derek frowned and his surprise must’ve shown on his face because Erica nodded.

“Yeah, I don’t understand it either. I don’t think he’s gone past three dates with the same person since college.”

It really didn’t make sense, going on what he knew about Stiles. He didn’t seem like he would tolerate casual or superficial relationships with anyone; he just had a go big or go home kind of personality. Then again, maybe it did make sense. Having such a small group of people he cared about, it would be hard to let anyone else in to possibly disrupt or hurt that. Derek should know, he’d been wrestling with the same issue for almost fifteen years, when the last person he truly let in tried to murder his entire family.

“I’ll keep an eye out, but I really don’t think it’s an issue.”

“Thank you,” Derek said sincerely, and Erica narrowed her eyes at him.

“You sure you don’t want to date him? He swings both ways and I’ve heard from reliable sources that he’s great in bed. Very generous.” She winked.

Derek grimaced and definitely did not picture that. He didn’t. “Erica, I really don’t want to hear about whatever arrangement you two have, and I’m not interested in replicating it.” Not that it wasn’t appealing on some level, Stiles was definitely attractive, but Derek didn’t have the personality for a friends with benefits kind of relationship.

She shrugged, then froze, her eyes widening and her mouth dropping open in disgust.

“Wait, wait, you think I’m sleeping with him?” She threw down her fries and sat back. “I love Stiles, I really do, but the guy’s like a brother to me. Also,” she held up her left hand and wiggled her greasy fingers; a gold band with a tasteful diamond glinted back at Derek, “I’m very much engaged, which you would know, if you had actual conversations like a normal person.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “Please don’t talk to Laura anymore. This is me begging you not to.”

“But she’s, like, totally my BFF!” She dropped the Valley Girl accent and gave him a look. “But seriously, I need some women in my life. The department is a total sausage fest, which is a lot less fun when you can only look.”

“I get the feeling that it’s safer for everyone this way.”

Erica just waggled her eyebrows like a lecherous old man at the back of a theatre. She was apparently over her crippling disgust about Stiles because she continued eating her fries right where she left off.

And on that note, how had he not known she was engaged? They’d been partners for over a month now, that should’ve come up at some point, regardless of Derek’s inability to have conversations. Maybe it was a recent development?

“How long have you been engaged?”

“Almost five months.” So not that recent. “I don’t wear my ring on duty.”

Oh good, he wasn’t a complete failure of a cop after all. “Do you have a date picked out?”

“Probably sometime in the spring.” Erica shrugged, unconcerned with it. “We haven’t actually started planning yet. We’re both busy and procrastinating.”

“Isn’t wedding planning kind of a long process? My brother and sister-in-law spent something like a year on theirs.” He could vividly remember the late night calls from Patrick, practically crying because even he couldn’t tell one stationary from the other anymore, and had spent an entire day staring at flower arrangements until he couldn’t see straight and his allergies kicked in. “It was stressful.”

Erica jabbed a fry at him. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid. Boyd’s grandparents have this beautiful small farm up in Oregon, and plenty of space for guests since it probably won’t be very big group at all. Neither of us are big wedding people so we’ll probably only invite family and close friends, keep it pretty casual. Don’t look so relieved, you’re coming.”

That was unexpected. He’d only known Erica a month and he was already on the close friends and family list?

“Assuming you outlast Deputy Charles, anyway.” She shrugged innocently, dragging her fry through a pool of ketchup.

* * *

After that conversation it became harder for Derek to ignore the injuries Stiles constantly seemed to be hiding, because Erica was right; they were always there.

They’d been climbing together for almost a month now, and he knew the way Stiles used his body, how he approached the wall and could easily pick out the easiest path for Derek but then completely ignore it himself for a harder challenge, getting to the very top where the holds were far apart and he practically had to jump to the next one. Or gloat while hanging from the ceiling of the bouldering wall while he face turned red at the effort of keeping himself there for longer than necessary just to show off. He relentlessly pushed himself like he had something to prove, it was a basic component of his personality.

But then there were the days he only scaled the wall once before leaving looking pale and exhausted, took an even easier route than Derek, or just didn’t come at all for a few days. It was after those missed mornings that he would come back a little slower, favoring one side, or not even making it halfway up the wall before opting to yell intentionally wrong instructions at Derek from the ground with Cora. He never acknowledged it, never mentioned that he was feeling under the weather, and blatantly lied anytime anyone asked, so Derek had just stopped asking. Whatever his injuries were from, whatever he did in his spare time, he obviously didn’t want to talk about it, and no amount of nagging would get him to break.

But it still hurt for some reason, that he didn’t trust Derek enough to tell him if something was wrong. It wasn’t a logical feeling, Derek knew that. They’d only known each other for a month or so, and most of that time was spent yelling at each other while hanging from a fake rock at seven in the morning. That didn’t exactly nurture overwhelming trust and deep, personal conversation.

Derek wanted there to be trust, he genuinely liked Stiles despite his infuriating approach towards everything and wanted to get to the point of actually calling each other real friends, but it was a slow and difficult process. He had his own hangups, and though he didn’t know all that much about Stiles’ life, the guy clearly had a number of trust issues himself.

So for the time being he kept quiet about it all, and tried not to let his surprise show on his face when Stiles offered to belay him instead of climbing himself. Whatever was going on in Stiles' life, Derek wasn't about to refuse an offer to not have a machine constantly pull up his hips because even though he'd gotten used to the feeling, Stiles was right; it did pull his ass up into his stomach.

They settled into this new arrangement easily--Derek climbing steadily higher while Stiles kept up a running commentary about his ass from the ground. Derek wasn't blushing.

“Whoa, did you get that from rock climbing?”

Derek ignored the conversation on the ground to focus on climbing. It was habit, taking in the things going on around him, filtering out what was important, and letting the rest fade from memory. The woman wasn’t talking to him, it wasn’t his business, and he would go insane trying to pay attention to everything going on around him.

But then it was Stiles’ voice that answered instead of taking on another line to his ode to climbing harnesses and asses, and then Derek couldn’t tune out the conversation even if he wanted to.

“This one?”

“Here, on your elbow.”

He knew the scar the woman was referring to; long and thin and standing out white against Stiles’ already light skin, cutting across the back of his elbow. He’d seen it plenty of times while climbing, idly wondering what had caused it, but never feeling comfortable about asking.

“Oh, that one. That’s from college when I fell out of my dorm window. Well, I say fell...”

Derek was too high up to hear his heartbeat or any other lying tells, but the way he seamlessly continued on into the story behind the injury made him at least want to believe he was telling the truth. But for every time Stiles laughed off a scrape or bruise, there were just as many times that he evaded answering or tried to distract. It was worrying, both that it happened and that Derek cared so much.

He was a cop, he reasoned, it was his job to make sure people were safe. No big deal.

And that was exactly what he was doing, as he continued to listen in to the horrifying story of college stupidity. He tried not to pay attention, he really did, it wasn't his conversation, but it was an instinct to tune in on the voices he knew well, and they were in an old church. It was designed for acoustics to make voices carry. It was impossible to ignore it.

“Why the hell did he throw the entire mattress down at you?” Her voice was annoying. A little nasally, piercing.

“Tequila. And trust me, I did not have these guns back then, I had no hope of catching that.”

Stiles would be the kind of person to call his arms guns.

“Well, I’m sure you’d have no trouble now, with those current guns.”

It was actually painful to listen to.

“You think?” Derek could almost hear Stiles flexing like an idiot.

“Impressive shoulders too.”

Yeah, she probably wanted to throw her legs over them.

He pulled his thoughts to a halt and blinked at the wall in front of his face. When the hell did he become so...catty?

Stiles would appreciate his word choice. He would also appreciate that woman, if his bad flirting was anything to go on. Or maybe he was intentionally trying to drive her away; that would explain the flexing.

Luckily the woman’s friend called her from across the room and she and Stiles said their goodbyes—without exchanging numbers. And if Derek let out a quiet growl when he heard her from the entrance complaining to her friend that “you’re such a fucking cockblock, Sarah,” no one was around to hear it.

Just like no one had to know that he stayed up on the wall for longer than necessary, wondering why the hell he’d reacted that way. He knew why he did, there was no mistaking the flare of territorial jealousy, but it’d been so long since he felt it, he just couldn’t figure out where it came from. Stiles was a friend, no matter what Erica thought, and whatever fritzing werewolf instincts were rearing their head would just have to get with the program.

But he also couldn’t help but notice that he had never actually told the woman that he was in a relationship, which seemed like it would be the correct response when being flirted with.

The abusive relationship was bumped down a slot on his mental list of Causes of Stiles’ Injuries, but it was definitely still on there somewhere.

Stiles resumed his long and terrible poem about Derek's ass right where he left off.

* * *

It was becoming normal for Derek to find himself picking up perps already handcuffed to various things, as it was for most patrolling deputies in the county. It didn’t happen all the time, but often enough that it was becoming a routine. He and Erica would arrive, he’d catch a glimpse of red or green nearby, and then they’d haul their arrest back down to the station—no muss, no fuss, as his dad liked to say.

It was a system, and even if he wasn’t really getting anywhere on the whole identifying the vigilantes thing, it was easy and predictable. He liked easy and predictable after the NYPD. Every once in a while a perp would get violent, bitter about being beat up by Batman and motherfucking Robin, and just as often they would have to chase down someone on their own, but for the most part, it was low stress.

Which was why he wasn’t expecting it when this time there was blood on the air that didn’t belong to the offender sulking in the backseat. It was on him, but it wasn’t from him, and since there weren’t any signs of anyone else having been involved in that certain magical void kind of way, it could only be from one of the vigilantes.

“Hale, where the hell are you going?” Erica called after him when he started to follow the scent down the street.

“Go ahead, I’ll meet you back at the station,” he threw over his shoulder, and knew he’d been heard when Erica fondly muttered, fucking weirdo, and started the car.

The trail led down a block and around the corner, into a dark alley between a pizza place and a closed down bookstore. It was a good hiding place if the intent was to hide from werewolves; the cacophony of scents from the restaurant almost completely covered that of blood, and Derek was only able to follow because he’d been so fixated on it.

There was a dim light above the backdoor of the restaurant, and that was the only reason Derek’s human eyes could make out the hooded figure across from it, steadying himself with an arm against the brick wall while he focused on what must’ve been an injury on his thigh, probably a bad cut given the bloody knife they’d found.

Whatever magic Red was using to hide his heartbeat and scent, it didn’t hide the careful and measured breaths he was sucking in through his teeth and letting out slowly through his nose, or the slight hitch everytime he tried to put weight on his left leg.

Derek didn’t hide his approach as he came closer, and could see the moment Red realized he wasn’t alone when his shoulders tensed and he tried to act like he hadn’t just been inspecting an injury that, while not bleeding out, was bad enough to keep him from leaving the area.

“Need a hand?” Derek greeted casually, carefully. Red didn’t try to leave or make any motion that Derek should, so he kept walking closer.

“It’s fine, I got it.” Derek stopped next to him and held out his hand. “I said I got it.”

“I can take the pain,” Derek said, keeping his hand right where it was.

“Yeah, so can Advil," Red snapped. “And that’s not really something you should be blurting out to random people on the street, there, genius.”

Derek was pretty proud that he managed to only roll his eyes a little. “You’re not a random person on the street and I know that you know what I am. So let me take your pain so you can get out of here before someone finds you passed out in an alley.”

“Thanks but no thanks,” Red finally answered, not unkindly, after a moment where he seemed to be really wanting to accept the offer. “Werewolf mojo always makes me lightheaded, and it’s bad for my image if I fall off a building because I can’t see straight. I don’t need that immortalized in comics forever, because Lahey totally would put it in.”

Derek pointedly looked both directions down the very deserted alley, and the empty street beyond. It was three in the morning and no one would be out in this neighborhood at this hour.

“Take a minute to let it pass. I won’t tell anyone.”

Red’s head lifted a little, like he was checking Derek’s face for sincerity, but the shadows under his hood made it too hard to see what his eyes were doing in the darkness. Derek could’ve transitioned to his beta senses, seen his face clearly and tried to commit his eyes to memory to help his family’s investigation, but his own eyes would’ve glowed blue and immediately given him away. And, he realized belatedly, he didn’t really want to see them right then. For some unknown reason Red was trusting him with this, not his identity but to see him at a moment of weakness, and Derek found himself weirdly reluctant to betray that trust.

“Tell anyone, and your healing won’t save you.” There was absolutely no sincerity in Red’s voice, more of a rote protest than an actual threat.

He undid the few velcro straps holding his glove on and tugged it off to bandages wrapped around his palm and between his fingers in preparation for throwing punches. He held out his hand somewhat hesitantly, and Derek carefully took it in his own, taking in his long, bony digits, calloused but thin and almost delicate, and the small scar traced across the pad of his middle finger.

Derek let himself absorb these tiny details for a brief moment, wondering if this time they would stick through the magic, and then focused and let his veins run black. There was the large cut on Red’s thigh, the pain sharp and new and dominating his nerves, but there were also smaller aches and old bruises, twinges in his ribs that had dulled probably weeks ago but still made themselves known. Derek pulled it all out gently, focusing on going slow and careful; the process wasn’t supposed to make either party lightheaded, so whoever was usually pulling Red’s pain had probably never learned the proper techniques and just tried to yank it all out at once.

Still, Red shifted, letting the brick wall behind him take more of his weight and sliding down a little.

“This is the worst high,” he whined pitifully and let his head droop forward, hiding more of his face under his hood. So Derek really hadn’t been successful at all, even being careful as he had. He’d never met anyone whose body reacted negatively in anyway to having their pain pulled; it had always been described as euphoric or an energy rush. It certainly hadn’t felt any different on his end.

“Need help?” he offered lamely after a moment of waffling back and forth on whether to say anything or just run. He wouldn’t actually leave, he’d told the vigilante that he would stay, but it was tempting.

“Nah, I just need a few minutes.” Red slid down the wall to sit on the ground, one hand still bare and exposed. It looked wrong and vulnerable against his dark clothing.

Derek glanced both directions again, inspected the ground for anything too disgusting, then plopped down next to him. It was only logical, he told himself; it would be irresponsible to leave him alone in that condition, when he looked barely able to defend himself should he have to. He was a cop, he protected people.

“You don’t have to stay,” Red said quietly after a moment of companionable silence.

“It looks less suspicious if you’re not just sitting in a dark alley alone.”

“Pretty sure that’s not true.”

“Pretty sure you’re with a deputy so it doesn’t matter either way.”

“Fair enough.”

And so they sat there in relative silence, Red occasionally swallowing loudly like he was trying not to vomit, and Derek keeping an ear on their surroundings in case someone wandered by. So far, only one person had passed by their alley, and they hadn’t so much as glanced in their direction.

At least until a quick and excited heartbeat jogged closer from Red’s other side, coming from behind the dumpster. Red still had his eyes closed, head tipped back against the brick, he didn’t even know anyone was coming.

Derek straightened from his slouch, looking past the vigilante into the darkness, tensing for a confrontation—only to be greeted by a big dog that had once been white, but was now covered in mud, squeezing between the dumpster and the brick wall. His legs and stomach were wet and brown from running through who knew what, and he smelled like literal garbage.

That didn’t stop Red, though, who finally took notice of their company.

“Hey buddy,” he greeted, holding out his ungloved hand for the dog to sniff. Even through the magic, his voice sounded exhausted as it softened.

The dog hesitated barely a second before he trotted over, nudging at Red’s hand in an invitation for pets. When that worked, he went ahead and came even closer, walking across the vigilante’s outstretched legs and standing between them with his side right in Red’s face. Red coughed, ducking his head around to stay out of the wet and dirty fur, but the dog was already too focused on sniffing Derek to notice or care. He just looked happy to have found people.

“Melvin," Red stated suddenly, still totally eclipsed by the dog.

Derek blinked, petting the dog to keep him from jabbing his smelly muzzle in his face.

“What?”

“Melvin. That’s what his collar says.”

Derek tried to look around Melvin to see the collar for himself, and failed. “Is there an address or a phone number?”

“Nope. Just Melvin.”

Melvin started panting happily, standing in a lap he was too big for and looking very pleased with his fortunes.

“I don’t suppose you want a dog, do you?” Derek half joked.

“Vigilantism doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for pets.”

“No roommates to take care of him? Significant other?”

Red let out a quick breath of a laugh through his nose. “People tend to get sick of me sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night to fight crime long before I’m anywhere near comfortable with telling them that I sneak out of bed in the middle of the night to fight crime.” He craned his neck to look over Melvin’s back. “Guess you’re going to have to take him, then. You two have really hit it off.”

“Why would I take him?” Then before Red could even start, “if you start making dog jokes, I’m—”

“Please,” he scoffed, “dog jokes are so beneath me. You’re the fuzz,” his tone had a slight inside joke quality to it, and Derek couldn’t remember why that was familiar, “you at least have to make sure he gets to an animal shelter.”

As if he could understand them, Melvin nudged Derek’s shoulder with his nose and gave him a happy, pleading look.

“Fine,” he sighed, standing up. He tucked two fingers into Melvin’s collar and held him back from Red as he got to his feet again. Without the pain in his thigh, he was moving quicker, but still holding himself carefully; the mark of someone who had their pain drained often and knew better than to confuse that with being healed.

“You’re a testament to your profession, Deputy.” Red quipped, pulling his glove back on and tightening the straps with practiced ease. “I’d say let’s do this again sometime, but I’d rather not get stabbed again for the sake of social interaction.”

“If you wanted company, you only had to ask.” It slipped out before Derek could stop it.

“Are you telling me I got stabbed for nothing? Well shit, let’s just get coffee next time, it’ll be cheaper in the long run.”

“I’m more of a beer and burgers type.” Why couldn’t he stop flirting right back? This was so inappropriate.

“Good thing I’m flexible.” Red winked, fucking winked, and pushed off of the brick wall with his foot to jump up and grab the bottom rung of the fire escape ladder above them. He easily made it up to the third story roof, moving quickly and quietly, impossibly light on his feet and almost acrobatic in his form. Then he paused at the top and looked back down over the ledge, and said in a tone that promised all kind of inappropriate thoughts in Derek’s future:

“See you ‘round, Deputy.”

And then he was gone, leaving Derek standing alone in a smelly alley, fighting off a boner and holding the collar of a very muddy dog named Melvin.

This was his life now.

Chapter Text

Since it was still only five in the morning, Derek took the dog back to the station to wait until the animal shelter opened again, and then spent three hours watching his coworkers shamelessly bribe Melvin for his affection with whatever food they could find. He was muddy and a little rough around the edges, but his tail didn’t stop wagging from all the attention until he wore himself out and took a nap under Derek’s desk.

Then he ushered him into the back seat of his car again, wincing at the thought of muddy paws on the upholstery, and sped off to the animal shelter, only to find Scott McCall behind the front desk.

He had no idea what Scott did when he wasn’t at the Hales’, he honestly didn’t know him all that well, but clearly he worked with animals at the shelter.

“Derek, hey!” He hid his surprise better. Then his eyes landed on Melvin and his grin faded a little. “Please tell me this is your dog or you have a place for him to go back to.”

“I found him downtown. Why?”

Scott looked shattered, but he moved around the desk anyway to kneel down next to Melvin. “We’re completely full here. I can call around to other shelters, but it’s getting cold, and people are calling in more stray animals than are being adopted.”

Derek didn’t ask what happened to make room.

He watched quietly as Scott did a quick exam—feeling the dog’s ribs, checking his mouth, looking into his ears quickly—and Melvin sat patiently, panting happily under the attention.

“Well he’s been neutered so he could be a runaway, and he’s in pretty good shape, so he can’t have been on the streets for too long. At a glance, he looks like he’s mostly just dirty, but I’ll know more once I check him over.” He clipped a leash onto Melvin’s collar and started leading him into the back, and nodded for Derek to follow. He was fairly certain he wasn’t supposed to be back there, but he went anyway.

“Can you find his family?”

“I’ll look for a chip and see if there have been any Samoyeds reported missing,” he opened a door labeled Treatment Room and let Melvin trot through and sniff around briefly, “if that doesn’t get anything I’ll put up a notice and an ad, but as terrible as it is, sometimes people just let their dogs go when they can’t keep them anymore.”

That was an incredibly depressing thought, so Derek opted to not answer—what would he say to that, anyway—and just stayed out of the way while Scott got Melvin cleaned, weighed, and examined more thoroughly. A vet came in briefly, verified everything, did a few last quick checks, the declared Melvin a happy and healthy pup and left Derek and Scott once more.

“No chip, no Samoyeds listed as missing,” Scott announced sadly, clicking around a little on an old computer. “I’ll start calling around to find a place for him, I think the Spring Valley shelter is having an adoption day in a few—”

“Can’t you take him?” Derek interrupted. He didn’t want Melvin shuttled off to some other shelter, and then to some strange family if he was lucky. He looked happy right where he was in Beacon Hills.

Scott screwed up his face apologetically. “Dude, we already have three dogs and Allison will kill me if I bring home another.” Then he added somewhat sheepishly, “Besides, you have to be pretty firm with Samoyeds or they’ll walk all over you, and our golden retriever doesn’t even listen to me.”

“You’re a werewolf.” Even a beta could take control of a dog, they were pack animals, they could recognize authority.

“Shut up.”

Derek sighed, looking down at the pitiful and hopeful eyes of the towel-dried Samoyed, still panting happily, which just made him look even more pitiful and hopeful. He looked like a fluffy little English orphan.

He was going to regret this. There was no way this was going to turn out well in the end.

“I’ll take him, then.”

Scott beamed. “That’s awesome, dude! Okay, I’ll get you the paperwork and a starter kit, we can grab him a new collar, some toys, I think we have a few books on Samoyeds…”

And before Derek really knew what was happening, he was pulling out of the parking lot with a damp muzzle resting on his shoulder from the back seat and a trunk full of brand new dog supplies.

* * *

Seeing as Red mentioned the Guard and Red comic books specifically, Derek figured that would be a good place to go for information. He honestly didn’t know why it hadn’t occurred to him before, he just assumed that they were completely disconnected from the reality in all but the name. But from what he’d found online, the authors seemed to study the vigilantes pretty intently, and they would be able to give him a different perspective from deputies and civilian witnesses. They dealt in character motivations and minute details and rumors collected from the internet, rather than hard facts and physical descriptions in pursuit of identities.

They’d also been writing the series for over two years; they probably knew more about the vigilantes than the police did at this point.

According to their site, Isaac Lahey did the story and writing while his high school friend and business partner, Vernon Boyd, did all the art himself, which was an impressive feat considering every issue was in full color and looked to be exceptionally well done. Since it was a small and local team, their address was listed right on the site, and it turned out that in this case, small and local meant two guys who rented an office in the historic district, so finding them took all of five minutes.

That was about where it stopped being easy.

“Sorry, man, this is our job.” Isaac shrugged, not looking sorry. “It’s not really a good business strategy to tell all of the story to some random guy just because he asked.” He puffed up his chest a little, raising his shoulders, like he was trying to block Derek’s view of the entire office with working panels and sketches tacked up all over. Not that he could really tell what he was looking at, the place was chaos.

The only space that wasn’t a disorganized mess was the corner by the windows where a man sat hunched over an angled drawing desk, dismissing their conversation and fully engrossed in his work. He hadn’t even looked up when Derek walked in. The wall behind him was neat and orderly, pages of panels and drafts aligned to a grid and carefully labeled with notes in two different styles of handwriting.

“How about telling some random deputy?” It was shitty, using his job like that when he wasn’t there officially, but he didn’t really care. He was still in uniform from the night before, he could look intimidating if he wanted. Even if he did have white fur clinging to his pant legs.

Vernon straightened at that, and gave Derek a critical once over before standing to come join them. He moved fluidly and with purpose, and was built like a brick wall who could probably give a wolf a real run for his money.

Isaac just raised his eyebrows, unimpressed.

“I’m pretty sure it’s even worse business strategy to tell everything to a cop, especially the way West and Santini are talking. We can’t make a comic book about superheroes who are in jail.”

Vernon gave Derek a flat look and crossed his arms. “Erica hasn’t said anything about the department launching a formal investigation, so how about you come back with a warrant if you want anything else from us?” It wasn’t a suggestion.

“Reyes? You know Erica?”

Vernon didn't so much as twitch. “You could say that. I’m her fiance.”

Boyd was not at all how Derek had pictured him; the way Erica leered at Parrish specifically, Derek had been expecting a pretty boy with big sparkly eyes and a winning smile.

“I’m her new partner.”

“Cool.” Boyd’s voice didn’t say he thought it was cool in the least. “Why are you looking into the vigilantes?”

“It’s a side project.”

“Well come back when your side project has something to back it up.”

And with that, he was effectively kicked out.

But even without talking to the creators, Derek could still try and parse out more information from the comics themselves, so he passed by the local comic book store on the way home and picked up all the back issues they had in stock, which was pretty much all of them. There was a huge poster for the latest issue in the front window.

They weren’t hard to find in the small and somewhat dingy shop; the series had its own small wall dedicated to it, marked with posters and proudly claiming the vigilantes as Beacon Hills’ own superheroes!

“Well, look who’s got culture.”

Derek straightened from flipping through issues to see Stiles lounging against the rack next to him, a couple comics in his hand and a smirk on his face. He glanced down at the issues in Derek’s hands and quirked a judgmental eyebrow.

“I stand corrected.”

“I thought you were a fan of the vigilantes.”

“They’re alright,” he shrugged looking weirdly pleased with himself. “Comic is crap, though.”

Derek looked down at the top of the stack of comics in his hand, at the carefully drawn depiction of The Guard standing proud against a white background. It really didn’t look all that crappy to him, though he couldn’t say anything about the story itself.

“I mean, the art is great,” Stiles added quickly, “but come on. Marshall del Mar and his brooding sidekick Arsenio Grimes? Lahey can’t put together an original story to save his douchey hipster scarves.”

Derek crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow in return. “This sounds oddly personal.”

“He punched me in high school. I’m obligated to hate everything he touches.”

“Were you asking for it?”

“Not the point,” he dismissed with a wave of the comics in his hand. “The point is that he punched me in front of Lydia Martin and half the school, and some day he’ll be sorry.”

Derek had no idea who Lydia Martin was. “This is starting to sound like a villain’s tragic backstory.”

“Yeah, maybe if Lahey’s writing it.” Stiles propped his elbow up on the shelf, going for a casual superiority, but winced and dropped it again.

“You okay?”

“Fine. Pulled a muscle in yoga.”

Lie. Derek had been listening for it that time, as he’d started doing any time he asked about one of Stiles’ injuries, and just like every other time, there was the distinct blip of nerves over being caught.

“You do yoga.” He asked instead of addressing it directly; it never got him anywhere when he did.

“What, a guy can’t do yoga?”

“A guy can, you don’t seem the type.”

Stiles gaped for a second, looking genuinely offended. “Hey, I’m great at yoga, thank you very much.” Lie. “In fact, I’m going to go do some of it right now." Lie. "To work out this pulled muscle here.” He gestured vaguely to his side as he started to back away towards the register to pay. “And tonight I’ll be nice and flexible after my yoga, and you can be tense and tight without it.”

Derek raised his eyebrows. Stiles flushed for a second, then seemingly decided to just go with it because he winked with a confirming nod as he kept moving. Then he tripped over nothing and nearly took out a very expensive Batman statue while hastily retreating.

If it weren’t for all the lying, it would be perfectly believable that Stiles was actually just beating himself up through the complete lack of control he had over his entire body. But with the constant dodging, redirecting, and cagey behavior, Derek was worried, and he was willing to admit that it went beyond the professional concern of a policeman seeing someone fall through the cracks of the system meant to protect them.

The only thing that accounted for everything was an abusive relationship of some kind, but Derek didn’t know how to even begin to approach the topic with him, especially if it was with someone Stiles was intentionally keeping a secret from his friends and family. He certainly didn’t act like he was in a relationship, the way he’d openly flirted with that woman at the climbing gym and threw around winks like he couldn’t help it.

Stiles’ cell phone dinged over at the register and he quickly read over the text before rushing out of the shop with a quick wave, leaving Derek feeling weirdly unsatisfied with that interaction. He’d been expecting it to continue, maybe talk to Stiles somewhere that wasn’t hanging from a wall or bothering him at work.

And to wrap up his frustrating and unproductive day, Derek got home to a passive aggressive note from his neighbors about Melvin’s barking taped to his door (and really? He’d had a dog for all of three hours.) and a destroyed shoe in chewed up pieces in the middle of the kitchen.

He ignored it for the moment, took Melvin out for a walk around the neighborhood to let him get acquainted with the area, and then settled down on the couch (already thoroughly covered in dog hair) with his comic book purchases to do research.

“Research”, he amended, with full air quotes, because the very first page of the first issue was two young guys running from an exploding warehouse. Stiles hadn’t been kidding about Isaac Lahey’s origin stories.

But despite the rocky and dramatic start, the comics weren’t actually that bad. They were fun, action packed and fast paced, and maybe Lahey's writing did need a little refinement, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad as Stiles made it out to be. The characters were a little flat to begin with, optimistic Guard and the considerably darker and straightlaced Red (so, the exact opposite of the Red Derek had interacted with), but they got better through the issues.

He recognized a few storylines from case files he'd pulled at the station, short and simple, and most were fairly self contained to a few issues before moving on. There were no supervillains yet, but it seemed like Red was being set up to go dark side at some point with his Machiavellian approach to crime fighting. That wouldn’t be his first assumption based on their interactions, but he could see how someone would consider it a possibility. Red had a fierce intensity about him, an almost obsessive drive to protect the city. It wasn’t all that much of a stretch to see that being twisted in some way for the right reasons.

Derek couldn’t comment on how The Guard was written, he hadn’t actually spoken to the guy. In fact, considering that Guard was the main character of the comics and seen the most by the public, photographed the most, he was surprised he hadn’t seen him in person yet. Beyond a flash of green out of the corner of his eye, it was like he didn’t exist.

If he really was a werewolf, which his mom and Laura were convinced of, then it would make sense for Guard to be avoiding him. He was squatting on their territory, he had good reason to be nervous about it. Derek just had to figure out how to get to him anyway.

* * *

“Boyd says you’re looking into the vigilantes,” was Erica’s hard greeting when Derek joined her in the cruiser for their patrol that evening.

“I am,” he answered carefully, shutting his door while half considering making a run for it before they were moving and he wouldn’t have a choice but to sit through the interrogation that was definitely coming his way.

“Why?” She pulled out of the lot before he took his chance; now he would have to tuck and roll on the highway, and explain how he came out unscathed when Erica undoubtedly came back for his body to finish him off. Her tone was not friendly.

“I’m doing it as a favor to someone.”

“Who, Deucalion West?”

Derek felt his eyebrows jump up in surprise before a creeping sense of suspicion settled at the back of his mind. “What makes you think I’d do anything for him?”

“It’s not such a leap. Everyone knows he’s an old friend of your family’s.” Did they?

“He’s an old friend of my mother, not me. I barely know him.”

“Well we stand with our boss, Hale. Remember that.”

“Is there something that makes you think I don’t?” Derek couldn’t help feeling assaulted and more than a little indignant. He'd never seen this blunt and hard side of Erica before, and this was a hell of a way to be introduced to it.

“You’re new and you’re asking a lot of questions about the Sheriff’s political weak spot. You’re making the station nervous. Stop it.”

“How are the vigilantes his weak spot, they have a comic book. A popular one.”

Erica groaned with feeling, gripping the steering wheel like this was some impossible feat she had to perform. “God, have you been paying attention to the election at all since you got here?” He gave her a look he hoped said no, he had not. He wasn’t even registered to vote in California anymore. “A big part of West’s platform is that he’s anti-vigilante, meaning he’s anti-Stilinski for letting them continue this long. He’s been praising that bastard Santini relentlessly, and I’m pretty sure he’s one townhall meeting away from officially endorsing him.”

Now that she mentioned it, he vaguely remembered seeing Santini for Sheriff signs stuck into a few yards and along the roads. He hadn’t actually seen the guy anywhere though, he had never even been mentioned around the department since he moved back. Probably because the entire department hated him.

No wonder Stiles was always railing against Deucalion and promising doom and destruction.

“It’s pretty much a given that West is going to win," Erica continued. "Everyone loves him for some reason, and his big thing is that the city just needs a fresh start across the board.” She rolled her eyes. “Putting in a new sheriff from Bumfuck, Oregon isn’t going to solve the problems around here, because Sheriff Stilinski isn’t the problem. He’s never been the problem, so when you start poking around his greatest weakness, yeah, we get nervous.”

A tuck and roll down the highway was looking pretty good at the moment.

Derek made sure she'd gotten everything out before reassuring her, “Erica, I’m curious. Masked vigilantes aren’t exactly a regular thing.”

“Well they are here," she snapped, "so get used to it and stop being so nosy.”

“I still don’t understand how you all consider it weird to be asking questions. In New York, it would’ve been suspicious to not ask about a couple kids running through active crime scenes.”

“Look, it’s a touchy subject. Some of us like ‘em, some of us don’t, but they are helping. The numbers prove it.” She took a turn a little sharply, and Derek’s hand found its way to the door handle. “I know you think they just swoop into crime scenes and contaminate all the evidence, but they don’t. They stay out of our way until we need them, and they can get into a lot of places we can’t—they aren’t boxed in by politics or red tape, and they aren’t held accountable by the public in the same way we are.”

Did she realize how bad that sounded?

“And the Sheriff’s really okay with letting a couple kids do his dirty work?”

It was something that had been bothering him since he’d first heard about the vigilantes, and then again when he’d met Sheriff Stilinski. He didn’t seem like the type of man to tolerate something as unorthodox and uncontrollable as a pair of vigilantes no one knew the identity of. Add to that the vigilantes’ obvious youth and things didn’t come out even.

Erica shot him with a glare. “You can cut back on the dramatics, it’s not like they’re his hitmen, and they’re hardly kids. And unlike you apparently, the Sheriff knows it’s not all black and white, and he’ll use whatever he has to keep the city as safe as he can.”

“Even if it means letting two wildcards who should be in jail,” Erica rolled her eyes at his emphasis, “run loose through the streets and potentially attack civilians.”

“Derek, they’ve been doing this for like three years now and they’ve never used undue force. They’re not just running around punching children and little old ladies at random.” She shook her head, now grinning at him. “Jesus, has anyone ever told you you have a real flair for drama?”

“I thought I told you to stop talking to my sister.”

“And I thought I told you that wasn’t going to happen. We’re BFFs, Derek, you’re stuck with me.”

Tuck and roll was still looking like a good option.

* * *

Despite her downright hostile reaction to Derek’s quote-unquote investigation, Erica actually went ahead and convinced Boyd to talk to him—actually talk to him, not just try to intimidate him right back out of their office. Derek didn’t know what made her change her mind, but he was grateful and didn’t want to push his luck by asking; Laura was starting to put more pressure on him, asking questions and texting him reminders constantly.

He couldn’t really blame her for it, there had been another “animal” attack the night before and the victim had only survived a few hours. He didn’t know all the details, he hadn’t seen any official report on it outside of the brief article in the newspaper, but large animals didn’t roam that far into the city. It was no doubt their mystery werewolf—Guard or otherwise.

Derek still wasn’t convinced that it was the vigilante running around, randomly biting people for no reason, but he was still going to look into it because he couldn’t honestly say that he wasn’t at least a little bit biased. Red had outright flirted with him, and he had flirted back and enjoyed it immensely. He wasn’t sure he was entirely objective anymore.

But he still had a job to do, so he pushed thoughts of that night in the alley aside and went back to the comic writers’ office. It was a nice day and Melvin needed a little attention, so he just brought him along and walked. It wasn’t overly close to his apartment, but the exercise felt good after being cooped up in a car for work and Melvin would be happy and hopefully sleep through the night without destroying anything else in Derek’s apartment. He could dream.

The only problem with walking, he realized too late once they were already fifteen minutes into it, was the Melvin hadn’t been in this part of town before, and had to stop and sniff everything. Extensively. And no amount of pulling and tugging on his leash could make him budge from whatever he found so interesting there. Derek wasn’t going to investigate any closer.

Which was why he’d been standing in the same spot for two minutes, eyes wandering around the street as he surreptitiously tugged on the leash every few seconds, trying to see if they could finally move on. Melvin perked up suddenly from sniffing a telephone pole and started wagging his tail, eyes fixed ahead of them on Scott, Derek realized when he looked over. And Stiles.

It was weird seeing him outside, just walking down the street with a cup of coffee (from Palladio's, Derek noted smugly--suck it, Laura) and completely at ease. He was usually so jittery when Derek saw him at the gym or the bar, on the move and rarely so settled in himself. But maybe that was because he’d never actually seen him with Scott. He’d heard all about their exploits, heard plenty from one about the other, but Scott only came to the Hales’ alone, and Stiles seemed to always been doing his own thing, involved from the fringes.

Now he could see that the two of them moved like a unit; when Stiles' footsteps veered to the side, Scott moved with him like it was an unconscious instinct; Stiles' hand flew out with whatever he was saying, and Scott dodged the coffee that sloshed in his direction. It was effortless and solid. They were a team.

“Derek, hey!” Scott greeted, noticing him first, and Stiles’ head snapped around so quickly it looked like it hurt before he grinned.

Given an invitation, Melvin shot forward, jerking his leash from Derek's hand and letting it bounce behind him as it tried to retract while in motion. Derek was too surprised by his reaction to do anything beyond watch, and Scott grabbed the leash anyways.

“Hey buddy,” Stiles greeted, holding his hand out for Melvin to sniff excitedly. “You’re looking better.”

“What do you mean?”

Stiles looked up, his heart skipped nonsensically as it so often did. “Scott told me you brought in Melvin in pretty rough shape. I’m glad he cleaned up well.” He squatted down to the dog’s level and got knocked back on his ass when Melvin jumped on him happily. His coffee splashed across the sidewalk when he threw the cup to catch himself.

Derek frowned. Melvin didn’t usually do that when first meeting someone. Especially when they weren’t giving him food.

“He looks great, man,” Scott said happily, scratching behind Melvin’s ears and not even trying to pull the dog off of his best friend. It looked like a happy mauling. "Have you guys been getting along?"

Derek briefly thought back on his lightly trashed apartment, the food Melvin managed to get no matter where Derek stashed it, and the three shoes from different pairs that were now unwearable.

"Yep."

Stiles pushed Melvin's nose away from his face as he looked up. "He walks all over you, doesn't he?"

Derek gave him a look, trying to come off as a very confident dog owner who was definitely in charge and the alpha male of the house. Stiles just snorted, completely unfazed, and stood up again.

"It's a good thing you're pretty," he said consolingly, clapping Derek loudly on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Scott’s dogs don’t listen to him either.”

Scott glared at the back of his head. “Don’t get cocky, it’s only a matter of time until they stop listening to you too.”

“Nonsense Scott,” Stiles threw over his shoulder while still smirking at Derek, “canines love me.”

Derek just stared, wondering where the hell that came from and why it had such an effect on the fit of his pants. But Scott didn’t seem to notice, because he kept talking to Stiles like he hadn’t heard anything and broke whatever kind of tension had just spiked between them.

"Stiles, pick up your cup, don't just leave it there."

“Thank you, Captain Planet,” Stiles snarked back without any real attitude behind it, bending down to swipe his now empty coffee cup from the sidewalk. “You’ve really made a difference here, the city looks better already!” He gestured grandly to the other bits of trash littering the side of the road and the overflowing trash can down the block.

“Don’t be an ass about it, just don’t make it any worse. I’ll even buy you a new coffee. See ya, man." Scott nodded to Derek as they started moving past and handed Melvin’s leash back. They were still bickering.

Derek waved, his smile strained and forced, because where Stiles' sweatshirt had ridden up when he bend over, he'd been able to see a large yellowing bruise on his side; it was old enough not to be an issue anymore, but it must've been bad when it was fresh. Probably from around the time when Stiles had stayed on the ground to belay for Derek rather than climb himself.

Why hadn't he said anything if it was that serious? And how had Scott not noticed?

*

Derek looped Melvin’s leash around a fire hydrant when he got to Isaac and Boyd’s; Melvin would have way too much fun in their studio, and he didn’t think they would appreciate dog drool all over their sketches and papers.

Boyd opened the door when he knocked, as straight faced as always, if ever so slightly less menacing.

“Sorry I threatened you out of the office,” he greeted with the barest hint of remorse, nodding him back into their studio with a tilt of his head. Derek had a feeling those were Erica’s words. “A lot of people come by looking to expose the vigilantes.”

“And if that happened, we’d be out of a job,” Isaac added from his desk. His laptop was open in front of him, and he looked up as he continued, “It’s a lot harder to sell a comic about two guys in jail, and I’m not cut out for office work.”

“I just don’t like it.” Boyd shrugged.

Fair enough. Derek would avoid paperwork too if he could.

“So Erica says we can trust you with this.” Isaac stood and crossed his arms; it might’ve been threatening if he wasn’t wearing an old man’s knit sweater and his hair wasn’t a blonde mess of bedhead curls. “She didn’t say why you want to know or what you’re going to do with this information, but she vouched for you. She’s never done that before.”

Derek tried not to feel smug about that, but he had always gotten the impression that Erica had been through a number of partners before he came along.

"So you guys are fine with answering a few questions?"

"Just as long as they aren't about the comic itself." Isaac nodded. "That part is so secret, Erica doesn't even know what's going to happen."

"It's so secret, Isaac doesn't even know," Boyd muttered as he moved back over to his drafting table, shaking his head a little.

"Hey, do I tell you how to draw?" Isaac snapped back. "I told you I have it all figured out!"

"Sure you do." Boyd humored him, and sat back with a flat look to watch Isaac glare.

Derek figured now was an excellent time to change the subject. “Can you tell me anything I can’t find online or in the comics?”

“Oh, you want the real stuff?” Isaac grinned, any annoyance at Boyd forgotten. “We spiced up their origin story for the comic, but as far as the real story, they just kind of showed up a few years ago. One night they were just there.” His eye sparked with excitement. “But, Boyd found a police report that mentions two suspects fleeing a crime scene, one wearing a green jacket, and the other a red hoodie. We think that was them before they were officially Guard and Red.”

“Police report? Do you have copies?” He hadn’t found anything like that, but he had only been looking for reports specifically relating to the vigilantes. He hadn’t thought to check before they were known. He wasn’t even sure what he would have to look for from that approach.

“Yeah, just give me a second to find them.” He jerked his head back towards a bookshelf full of loose papers, folders, and countless comic books with battered post-its marking pages.

“You’re not going to arrest them, are you?” Boyd finally spoke up as Isaac dug through papers. He was still eying Derek a little warily from his stool, and Derek wondered what exactly Erica had told him.

“I just want to talk to them about something.”

“They’re good guys,” he continued earnestly, a quiet fondness to his voice Derek hadn’t heard before. “They wouldn’t hurt anyone unless they had to.”

Derek raised an eyebrow. “You make it sound like you know them personally.”

“Red tried to save me once when they were just starting out and his mask fell down.” He shrugged. “Wardrobe malfunction.”

There was a crash from across the studio and Isaac ducked out from behind the shelf he’d been searching through, wide eyed and looking utterly betrayed. He let the landslide of books and papers fall to throw up his hands.

“Are you fucking kidding me, Boyd? You’ve known who they are this entire time?”

“I thought you didn’t care who they were.”

“Well yeah, not in that I want to get their autograph or anything, but do you have any idea how much easier this stupid comic would be if I could just ask how Guard is so strong, or what the fuck Red keeps in his belt? Or whether the Archer is male or female? I’m so sick of them just being a shadow on rooftops, and I highly doubt they’re actually a trained assassin from the shadow realm.”

“They wear masks and fight crime," Boyd said drily. "I don’t think they’re all that worried about the accuracy of your portrayals.”

“But I am. And does this mean you’ve been drawing them true to life this whole time? Have I been staring at Guard’s face for two years without even realizing it?” Boyd gave Derek a long suffering look. “Don’t ignore me, Boyd, be honest. Is The Archer a man or woman?”

“I don’t know, man, it’s not like I regularly go have a beer with them.”

“Does that mean you irregularly go have a beer with them? Have I had a beer with them?”

“You sound crazy, Isaac.”

“That’s not answering the question.”

After exchanging numbers, a few legends they’d found online, and the file, Derek turned back towards home, not wanting to leave Melvin outside alone for too long. Even though Isaac and Boyd did a lot of research, kept up to date on sightings of the vigilantes and any internet rumors, there wasn’t a whole lot of concrete evidence about them. They filled in ninety percent with their own story, and dismissed most of the rumors anyway. Derek didn’t have a whole lot more than he’d started with, but he had a possible starting point, where the vigilantes might’ve begun.

His pleasant walk back home came to an abrupt and disappointing end when he saw Laura waiting for him outside his building, a reusable grocery bag brightly advertising the co-op packed full in her hand. She just raised her eyebrows at Melvin and watched them get closer.

“Do I want to know how you of all people ended up with a dog?”

“Do I want to know what’s in the bag?” Derek countered, digging his keys out of his jacket pocket while juggling Melvin’s leash and the file from Isaac and Boyd.

“Probably not, but you’re about to find out anyway.”

He sighed. “Let me guess. You’re behind on points.” She beamed as she followed him up to his floor. “How could you possibly still be behind on points with everything you’ve given me?”

“They’re demanding of their members, and don’t just tell me to quit! Cheryl will never let me live it down if I do.”

Derek paused on the landing of his floor. “Who the hell is Cheryl?”

“Don’t worry about Cheryl, I’ll deal with Cheryl.” She gestured with the grocery bag for him to keep moving. Something tore at the movement. “If you don’t want to be picking up gluten free biscuits from the stairs, you should open your door so I can set this down.”

He really didn’t want to be picking anything up off these stairs, so he led the way down the hall, held his breath past his neighbors’ incense, and let Laura push her way through his door to the kitchen.

He unclipped Melvin’s leash and followed her reluctantly, watching as everything she unpacked steadily filled his counter space. He had no idea how that much had fit into one bag, or where he was going to put it.

"Exactly how much money are you putting into this vendetta?" He asked as she just kept pulling out more and more items. This was all local organic produce from the farmers market she was dumping on him, and he held back a mournful sigh at the thought of trying to fit it all into his refrigerator. And it wasn’t just produce; there was fancy bottled juices made fresh that day, some kind of pasta salad, quinoa. If all this was the overflow, just how much did she have at her apartment?

"It’s nothing I can't afford, so shut up about it," she responded a little testily.

"Well are you going to stop this anytime soon? Because I do go grocery shopping regularly and I can't eat all of this before it goes bad."

"I'm staying involved with the community, Derek,” she repeated what was turning out to be her mantra. “Give it a try and make some friends, share your carrots. People love produce around here, it's a great ice breaker."

He had a wild thought of just how Stiles would react to his offering carrots, and decided against it. He would no doubt turn it into an innuendo with his stupid eyebrow wag.

Laura cut off that dangerous train of thought by shoving a bag of fair trade coffee beans at him, pumpkin spice flavor to match the season. He put it with the five other unopened bags next to the microwave.

“So how’s your investigation going?" she asked, revealing her true intentions. "And if you say you haven’t had time…” She was wielding a stalk of celery like a weapon, shaking it slightly.

Derek just held up the file, and she snatched it away immediately, celery tossed onto the counter like trash. She frowned, flipping through it quickly.

“What is this, arson?”

"I got it from the guys who do the the Guard and Red comics." She arched a judgmental eyebrow. "They put a lot of research into it. They think this is the vigilantes before they were the vigilantes."

"No way, their origin story?" Derek blinked. "What? I know things."

"Not comics, you don't."

"Blame Diana. So is this the first time they're mentioned? Does it ID them?"

"Don't you think I would've led with that if it did?"

She gave him a considering look. "Not really. You seem pretty buddy-buddy with Red lately, who knows what you're thinking."

He ignored that comment. He really didn’t want to go there with Laura, and he didn’t want to know which one of her many contacts throughout the city ratted him out.

"It's a report from an old factory down by the river that went up in flames three years ago. A witness saw two men fleeing the scene, one in a green jacket, and one in a red hoodie. Once they started going through evidence, they found that it was the base for some kind of new date rape drug, and the fire destroyed pretty much all of their product. The vigilantes appeared only a couple weeks later and apprehended the drug’s last dealer."

“This doesn’t give us anything about who they are,” Laura muttered as she scanned through the few pages, eyes moving with a practiced efficiency. She closed the file, frustrated, and tossed it onto the counter. “Come on, Der, you’ve been talking to Red, there’s gotta be something else you can tell me about him.”

"Well he's human, I know that for sure." She gestured impatiently for explanation. "He got hurt and I pulled his pain. He can use magic, but he's human."

"So you were close enough to touch him, can you at least describe his face?"

Derek could remember his feelings about what little of his face was visible; the tightness in his chest when Red’s eyes lit up when he made a bad joke, his fond annoyance whenever Red shook his head in mock disappointment when he didn’t respond correctly, the inappropriate thoughts that wandered through his mind whenever Red winked. He had all these reactions settled deep in his mind, but whenever he tried to remember the vigilante’s physical features, there was nothing. Just a vague blur where his face should be.

"I think he uses some kind of charm on himself. Every time I look away, it's like I forget all the details. I can’t even remember what his voice sounds like."

"Well that explains why the police have such a shitty profile on him.” She crossed her arms, frustrated. “So he can use magic and he's good at it too. Lovely. Anything else? What about the Guard?”

“I haven’t talked to him yet. I think he’s intentionally avoiding me, so either he knows we’re looking for him, or he just avoids all over wolves.”

“Either’s possible. Have you said anything to Red about it?”

Derek gave her a flat look. “Somehow I doubt he would react well to a cop of the local pack asking about his squatting vigilante partner.”

“Good point. Is there any other way to find Guard?”

“I don’t even know how I keep finding Red. He’s just...there.”

Laura shrugged. “So he’s got a crush on you—use it, find Guard.

“It’s not a crush, he’s just—” He thought back on the vigilante, trying to find a word that could sum up both his flirtatious and teasing interactions yet standoffish attitude, the way he’d mentioned his history of failed relationships. “—lonely. It must be isolating, what he does.”

Laura paused, giving him a sympathetic look; she’d been the only one in the family who knew about his own difficulties with dating and making friends. He loved what he did, but it’d been particularly difficult with the NYPD, when chasing down perps and running into high risk situations let more windows for him to accidentally reveal that he wasn’t exactly human.

“Derek, I’ve gotta be honest,” Laura started, not unkindly. “You said Red is human, so I don’t really have time to care about him and his own personal issues. We need to find Guard.”

“Honestly, they don’t seem like they’re much of a threat,” Derek said, as his cell phone started ringing. A selfie of Erica with a full open mouth of chewed up food lit up the screen, because he hadn’t quite figured out how to change it.

“Well that’s for mom to decide.” Laura shrugged passive aggressively, and Derek shot her another look as he answered.

“Hale.”

“Derek, hey, I’m not going to make it to work tonight. Boyd’s in the hospital.”

Derek straightened from slouching against the counter. “What? What happened?” How could Boyd possibly be in the hospital? Derek had just talked to him an hour and a half ago.

“He was attacked on his way home. It’s not horrible," Erica quickly assured him, "but he can’t really do anything on the painkillers they have him on. He might choke on juice and die if I leave him alone.”

“Who the hell attacked him?” Boyd had presence, he was a big guy who looked like he could do some damage if he ever put his mind to it. Who in their right mind would go after him?

“Some kind of animal, I guess? He actually said it was Chewbacca, but he’s on a lot of painkillers so I’m not going to hold it against him.”

She continued, talking about calling Parrish to cover her shift and probably some more things Derek should’ve been listening to, but his attention had already shifted to Laura. She had been listening; she had the exact same look on her face.

He finished the call on autopilot, already thinking through what he and Laura would need to talk about, and if asked he wouldn’t be able to say for sure what Erica had just told him.

“Derek, Guard’s the only unaccounted for wolf in the territory," Laura said, the second he hung up. "There’s no one else who could be attacking people like this and it’s only escalating. I think it’s safe to assume that he knows we’re looking for him, and he’s getting nervous.”

Derek hated that she was making sense, despite his every instinct that told him that Red was in the clear, and by extension his partner. But... “I just talked to Boyd less than two hours ago. That’s not a coincidence.”

“Then we should assume this isn’t random and that it’s a threat to us. We’re being watched, so get ready for this to only get worse.”

* * *

“Wait, you think the Guard’s the one attacking people?”

Derek glared over at Stiles and tried not to be offended by the mocking and disbelieving tone. He’d been hoping that once he laid it all out, Stiles would be on the same page, bounce ideas back and forth. He was good at that, Derek had learned over the last two months, making connections and taking them in directions no one else would consider. Even if they were in somewhat paranoid directions.

“There isn’t anyone else it could be," Derek explained. "Every other wolf is accounted for, and we know they’re in control.”

“You really believe other wolves couldn’t be hiding here? I mean, why would the Guard be biting people now after nothing for three years? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Other wolves wouldn’t have been able to enter the territory without my mom knowing it, so unless you know something I don’t, Guard’s the only one it could be.”

“Um, except the creepy-ass alpha in his mansion in the woods, you mean? Actually no—” he held up a hand, and Derek was hit with a wave of deja vu at the scar traced across the pad of his middle finger, accentuated by white chalk gathered around it “—the creepy-ass alpha buying your family’s old home in the center of town. One of the first thing invading forces do is take important sites of the locals and make it their own, it’s a power play!”

“You’re forgetting the fact that he has no reason for it, and nothing to back up a power play. Deucalion doesn’t have a pack, he’s completely alone. Challenging an alpha like my mother is meaningless suicide, and he’s not like that.”

“See the fact that he’s the only surviving member of his pack just makes him more threatening, I mean, can you say no surviving witnesses?”

“Can you say paranoia?” Derek shot right back.

“Hey, as a human constantly surrounded by werewolves, I think I’m allowed a little paranoia.” Stiles reached for a hold near Derek, swinging closer with a glint in his eye. “Someone’s gotta keep an eye on your furry asses.” His gaze flicked down meaningfully with a smirk. “Besides, I never trust anyone who’s the last of anything.”

“What if it’s the last person at the party?” Derek threw out as they started making their way up again, approaching the stained glass window where they would have to split.

“If they’re staying to help clean up, they want a favor. No one wants to stay and help clean up.”

“Scott offers every time,” Derek said a little shittily. Scott's offer was rarely accepted, because Derek’s parents still had an ingrained idea that a guest should never lift a finger, and if they had, then the party was a failure. None of his siblings had inherited that.

“Scott’s the exception to every rule,” Stiles allowed, “but when your entire pack of werewolves is taken out in a freak wild animal attack, then that should be examined a little closer.”

Derek froze, halfway up to his next hold. He’d just remembered what he found on Deucalion at the station before, so distracted by the vigilantes in the meantime. “My mom told us it was hunters.”

Stiles stopped abruptly and fought spastically with the auto belay for a second to get back down to Derek. When he managed, it had a manic energy in his eyes, the excitement of a new lead.

“What?”

“I was always told it was hunters, but an article I found said it was wild animals.”

Stiles adjusted for a better hold on the wall, settling in for an entire conversation, apparently. “When did you find this? What did it say?”

“A couple weeks ago. It just said that—”

“A couple weeks—” He swung over to smack Derek’s shoulder. “Why didn’t you say anything before? This is what we call relevant information, Derek!”

“It isn’t a secret that his pack was slaughtered.”

“Maybe not to those on the wolfy phone tree, but now there’s a question around how. Because hunters don’t imitate wild animals.” Stiles kept his voice low even though they were pretty much alone this early in the morning, but Derek was already on his train of thought.

“Hunters good enough to take out an entire pack don’t leave bodies, period.”

Stiles frowned. “So what, were they taken out by another pack?”

“They wouldn’t have covered that up with hunters. That usually only happens over territory disputes or revenge killings, either way the territory would’ve changed hands and as far as I can tell, it’s just been sitting empty and unclaimed for a decade.”

“Understandable. I wouldn’t want to set up camp in the place like thirty people died, either. Werewolf or not, there’s a reason that’s the start of like three quarters of all horror movies.” His eyes widened. “Are there werewolf horror movies? Like, horror movies made by and starring werewolves? Is there a whole subculture of film I’m missing out on by being human?”

Derek took a moment to acknowledge that this was the person he’d decided to spend his mornings with, who he wanted to become friends with. This was partially his own fault.

“Don’t be an idiot. We’re still actively hunted down. No one would be stupid enough to make a movie that could easily be found by hunters.”

“Good point, but how awesome would that be?”

Derek just gave him a look.

“Fine, let’s go.” Stiles started leaning back from the wall like he was done climbing.

“What? Where?” Derek glanced up towards the top of the wall longingly.

“To investigate.” Stiles said. The duh was implied by his tone. “Something’s fishy about our dear future leader, and I’m going to find out what.” He grinned with a worrying light in his eye, then immediately pushed off the wall and let the auto-belay catch him and lower him back down to the ground.

Derek hadn’t meant right then, he wanted to finish climbing.

“Derek, get down here,” Stiles said from the ground, not even bothering to raise his voice to keep up appearances. “I have to be at the bar in three hours and we have work to do!”

* * *

Even though they lived in the same building, one above the other, there was a massive and depressing difference between Greta’s and Stiles’ apartments. Greta’s had charm, it was lived in, and she obviously worked hard to keep it in good condition, as it no doubt had been when she and her husband moved in years before. It was a little worn around the edges, but it was homey and comfortable, and it didn’t really feel like it was in Depot Town.

Stiles’ apartment felt exactly like it was in Depot Town. In fact, it almost looked like it’d been abandoned for ten years before he moved in, which it may very well have been. The walls were slightly discolored, there were cracks in the plaster, he had less furniture than Derek, and it had an underlying scent of future respiratory issues if Stiles continued to live there for much longer. Derek thought he’d been exaggerating, but there may have really been asbestos.

It wasn’t that Stiles was a slob, letting mold grow or living in filth—everything about it suggested he was hardly there often enough to make much of an impact on the place, there weren’t even dishes or clothes lying around—it was just an old and rundown building that needed extensive work if it was going to remain standing.

“Coffee?” Stiles offered as he headed straight for the kitchen when they walked in, chucking his keys on a beat up wooden trunk that served as a coffee table without looking. The only other furniture in the room was a couch and a long, low bookshelf running along one wall, crammed with books.

“Yeah, black.”

Stiles snorted from the next room, and Derek heard him mutter, “you would take it black.”

He chose not to comment and instead took the opportunity to shamelessly snoop through Stiles’ things. He couldn’t help being curious, this was the first real insight into Stiles’ life that he’d had, because as outgoing and friendly as Stiles was, he was one of the most closed off people Derek had ever met. He should know, he’d been using a lot of the same tricks himself; deflection, distraction, turning conversations back on the other person. Stiles was friendlier about it, a little more smooth, but it was still happening.

So while Stiles banged around in the kitchen, doing a lot more than coffee should require, Derek slowly wandered through the small space, poking around the bookshelf with a critical eye (it appeared as though Stiles bought books at random, regardless of topic or genre), the band and movie posters taped a little crookedly on the walls, the few knickknacks scattered around—all in all, it was the bare minimum for looking inhabited, but based off of scent alone, Stiles was hardly ever there.

That just made him wonder where Stiles went at night after his shift at Cliff’s if not here, because the entire apartment had the stale atmosphere of abandonment. He wandered towards the short hallway to the bedroom, and it was only worse; there was no way the rumpled bed he could see through the half open doorway had been slept in lately.

Despite what Erica said, Derek bumped the abusive relationship theory right back up a slot, and this just solidified that concern. Stiles had too many suspicious injuries too often for it to just be his own clumsiness and lack of spatial awareness, and even if he was in some other kind of trouble, he probably would’ve at least been sleeping in his own bed. But living with whoever was abusing him would fit with the fresh bruises he often had in the mornings while climbing, the almost jittery energy he always had around him like he was always on guard for the next hit...

“You hungry?” Stiles asked from the kitchen, hardly even raising his voice.

“No, I’m fine,” Derek answered as he wandered back over to the window, taking in the fire escape outside and the burnt shell of the building next door. There were three windows along the wall, and only the one at the escape was clear of knicknacks, the sill scuffed and dirty from constantly being climbed through. That made sense with the heavy scent of Stiles outside Derek picked up his first time at the building, but why was he always out there? He lived alone, there was no reason for him to be sneaking out, even if it was just to smoke pot, which it wasn’t. There wasn’t a trace of marijuana lingering in the air.

“Okay,” Derek turned as Stiles came back in with two mugs held awkwardly in one hand with his long fingers and a scuffed up laptop under his other arm, a plate holding one of the largest sandwiches Derek had ever seen in his other hand.

He watched in a horrified awe as Stiles used his toe to scoot two coasters around the trunk before setting down the mugs, amazingly without spilling any coffee, and then put his laptop down between them before settling on the couch. He slapped the cushion next to him for Derek to sit. He plopped his plate on his knees, flipped open his computer, and took a massive bite of his sandwich while he waited for it to boot up.

Derek openly stared, not even trying to hide it when Stiles noticed.

“Wha?” He asked around his giant bite. Derek just looked at the sandwich in his hands and back to Stiles. He swallowed and looked a little indignant. “I just burned a lot of calories!”

“By climbing for an hour?” He wasn’t sure what else he could be referring to, he never smelled like sex in the mornings. Just anxiety and adrenaline and exhilaration.

“We can’t all have werewolf stamina, Derek,” he countered with a wink before taking another huge bite. “And I’ve seen how you guys eat, you can’t judge.”

Derek raised an eyebrow. “Funny, I’ve seen better manners out in the woods during a full moon.” Stiles wrinkled his nose and stuck out his tongue covered in half chewed sandwich. “You’re just proving my point.”

“Your face is just proving your point,” Stiles muttered nonsensically, putting his sandwich down to type in an excessively long password to log in to his own computer. He didn’t just capitalize the first letter and add the year onto the end, he was putting in a fully punctuated sentence and a math equation, by the looks of it.

His background was a picture of a fennec fox walking through the desert with its ears back. He didn't comment on it.

“Okay,” he opened the browser and didn’t address the background, “so when and where did Deucalion’s sketchy story happen?”

“You realize I already did all this, right?”

“Yes, but I haven’t.”

Derek rolled his eyes.

Stiles just shrugged and started typing in keywords, methodically narrowing down the results with a practiced ease until he found what he wanted. Derek absently wondered why he hadn't gone into any kind of law enforcement when he clearly had the mind for it. It seemed like the perfect thing for him, and would let him put his skills to use beyond eavesdropping and weighing in on cases other deputies discussed at Cliff's while he was bartending.

“Wait, where was it?" he asked, finally looking away from the screen. "There are like ten of these. How could this many people have possibly gotten killed in the woods in large groups? Does this actually happen outside of horror movies?”

“What?” Derek pushed him out of the way and turned the laptop to see better. Stiles flopped over to the side and kicked out in retaliation, but Derek was completely focused on the search results.

There were actually like three, from California, Oregon, and Nevada.

“These all happened within the last twelve years,” he murmured, more thinking out loud. That was a pretty narrow time span for that many freak animal attacks. Stiles picked it up like a conversation anyway.

“Since Deucalion’s?”

“Yeah, the latest was four years ago.”

Stiles pushed his way back in and leaned right up in Derek’s space. He batted Derek’s hand away from the touchpad and took over, clicked on a few articles and scanned them quickly before Derek could even begin to read them. He hated reading on computer screens, they messed with his eyesight.

“These all have the same MO. Every four years, a group of people, adults and children, clawed up in remote areas.” He paused on one article. “Were there any packs in northern Nevada? Black Rock kind of area?”

Derek paused, thinking back on what his mother had drilled into his head when he was a teenager, trying to get him to learn the packs around them and actually get to know the neighbors, so to speak.

“Louissaint, I think.”

Stiles’ head jerked up. “Louissaint as in Kali Louissaint?”

“Yeah, I think so. She was the alpha.” The alpha with the grotesque toenails he and his siblings made cracks about whenever anyone let their nails get too long. He was just surprised Stiles knew who she was, he hadn’t heard anything about her pack anytime recently. Maybe because they were all dead.

“Then we just found a connection,” Stiles said with a satisfied grin, “because Kali Louissaint is Deucalion’s campaign manager.”

“How do you even know that?” Derek asked with a frown.

Stiles snorted. “He’s actively working against my dad, you really think I haven’t looked up every member of his campaign team?”

Derek decided not to address that.

“So there’s another alpha in town.” There was no reason his mother or Laura would’ve kept that from him when he moved back, meaning they probably didn’t know about it.

“And I’m assuming your mom doesn’t know about her. But now we have two alphas with dead packs who are in town for some reason.” Stiles voice was steady, but nerves raced through his heartbeat for some reason. His heartbeat was always irregular, hiking up when he was perfectly still and calm. Nothing about him was consistent.

He looked up from the screen, squinting at a water stain on the far wall. “Why would an alpha be the only surviving member of their pack?”

“It’s possible they were attacked because their alpha wasn’t there," Derek mused, dipping his head to the side. "They would be weaker. Or the alpha only survived because they were stronger. It’s possible that they only became alpha when the rest of their pack died.”

“But Kali and Deucalion were alpha before, yeah?” Derek nodded. “Okay, so what if they—”

“They couldn’t,” Derek interrupted, knowing where he was taking that. It was a very human assumption. “Killing your own pack goes against every hardwired instinct a wolf has.”

“But betas have killed their alphas to take over.”

Derek sighed. It was hard to describe base instincts he’d had his entire life. “It’s different for a beta, they fill a different role in the relationship, but an alpha is responsible for their pack. There’s mutual protection, it’s instinctive to give your life to protect your pack. Killing them is…” Unthinkable. Impossible. A completely alien concept.

“Alright, then if it’s not the alpha and it’s not hunters, then what, is there some giant mutant ninja werewolf running around wiping out packs?”

Derek stared. “Do you actually listen to what you say?”

“Alright, fine,” Stiles snapped without heat, “what’s your brilliant theory, oh wise one?”

Rolling his eyes—he did that more with Stiles than with any other person he’d ever come into contact with—Derek thought it over, thinking through the way the article said it had probably been one animal, which made it all the more strange that someone hadn’t managed to take it down before everyone was killed.

“Maybe they...killed each other’s packs?” He was asking his own question as much as answering Stiles’, but it made sense the more he thought about it. Stiles’ lips parted as his eyes widened with the gleam of successful research. “There were three massacres, which pack was the third? The one in Oregon.”

“The other is,” Stiles leaned in, scanning over the names listed, then gaped at the screen, “son of a fucking bitch!”

“What?”

“Santini! Motherfucking Ennis Santini, the fucker running against my dad!"

* * *

Derek wasn’t sure who he should be wary of in the following days because neither party acted the least bit sinister. Deucalion still dropped by the house occasionally, he brought a present for Patrick and Diana’s anniversary the week before and then had his ass thoroughly handed to him by Talia in a chess game. He’d already explained the Old Hale House purchase, a surprise for the family and a gesture towards the hopefully brighter future of the city, whether he won the election or not; looking forward through restoring the past. Keeping Beacon Hills’ history polished and relevant.

It was hard to imagine that the man he’d known his entire life as another uncle could be bringing in alphas to undermine his mother’s authority, making threats against their pack. He’d always been right there beside her, supporting her decisions and backing her completely, it didn’t make sense that he would do anything behind her back like that. But, Derek hadn’t been able to get his mother alone to ask if she was aware, so until he had the full story, he didn’t want to start throwing around accusations.

But if Deucalion wasn’t the threat, and the demise of his pack really was just a horrible event, then it would have to be the Guard doing all this, meaning Red could very well be involved too. And that wasn’t something Derek wanted to consider either. He definitely had—of course he had, he refused to let himself be manipulated and used to hurt his family again—but he didn’t want to.

Just like he didn’t want examine his feelings for the vigilante bubbling up in his chest every time he saw him. He had to stay objective in all of this, no matter how many times Red winked at him said deputy in that tone. He knew first hand how easy it was to be blinded by his feelings, it was a major character flaw for him, but he was better now. He could move through them and be clearheaded.

He refused to be the reason someone close to him died. Not again.

Which was when Laura called, sobbing and trying to fight for composure to get her words out: her receptionist of four years was dead. Slashed apart in the middle of the day and left on the front stairs of her apartment building.

Considering how much time Derek spent glaring at the girl, cursing her existence, and letting Laura’s office door slam shut just to bother her, the news hit him harder than expected. Whoever was behind this was getting closer to them, their warnings getting more frequent and more personal. He was running out of time; he’d spent the last two months dragging his feet in favor of flirting with a masked vigilante, and now a woman was dead to send a message.

It was a good thing all the humans of the pack were about to leave for their camping trip two hours away, because otherwise Derek might’ve been tempted to do something crazy, like lock them in the holding cells at the station to keep them safe until this was all over. Outside of the territory and surrounded by witnesses was the safest they could possibly be, short of actually leaving the continent.

And Derek had definitely considered suggesting it. Camping in Tuscany would definitely be just as fun, if not more. Noah could pick up some Italian, he loved pasta.

Diana wasn’t having any of it.

“And you really don’t think we’ll be safer in a house full of half a dozen werewolves?” She arched an eyebrow dangerously. “You know what’s hard to defend against werewolf attacks? A tent. In the woods. Full of two artists and a toddler. Surrounded by all the other human families going camping for the weekend.”

“You might want to stay longer than the weekend, actually,” Derek suggested, and she countered immediately with,

“Noah will miss Halloween.”

“He’s not even three, he won’t remember it.”

She glared. “That’s not the point, Derek.

“I know it’s not, but they’re getting closer, Diana.” He put as much of a pleading tone into his voice as he could. “They’re going after humans, and it’s not much of a stretch that family will be next.”

Diana frowned, studying his face for a moment. “Derek, if you’re that worried about this, maybe we really shouldn’t go. I could help you guys, I’ve—” She trailed off as he shook his head.

“No, it’ll be better if you guys are as far away from this as you can get. You’ll be around other people, on neutral ground, it’s safer. Just—keep an eye out. Don’t go unarmed.”

She hesitated, but eventually nodded, not looking happy about it. “If anything happens, anything at all, you call me.” She held his gaze until he nodded, and then a little longer just to be sure.

“Take care of our family,” he said gently. “My dad and Patrick are useless without you. Especially Patrick.”

She smiled, though it didn’t reach her worried eyes. “Well, I didn’t marry him for his skill in a fight, that’s for sure.”

“DD!”

“Speaking of…” Diana’s smile widened at Patrick’s call from the front room. “His highness awaits.”

Derek grinned. “I’ve got to get to work, but I’ll see you in a few days. Or longer,” he added with emphasis, and she narrowed her eyes.

“We’ll see how things go.” Then, despite Derek’s well known aversion to hugs, she pulled him in quickly, squeezing around his ribs because she was almost a full head shorter than him. “Be safe, yeah?”

He hesitated for a second, then wrapped his arms around her shoulders to return the hug. “You too.”

* * *

For once, something went right in his life and one of Red’s arrests was called in over the radio a few hours later. He ignored Erica’s smirk when he responded that they were on the way.

The vigilante was waiting for them when they pulled into the parking lot, illuminated in the flickering fluorescent lights outside of the convenience store and slouching next to a very disgruntled and very large man next to him, who had one arm raised over his head and handcuffed to the bars on the store windows.

Erica sat back for a moment after she turned off the car, taking in the scene before them. She sighed. “I’ll talk to Alexis, you deal with Red.”

“Why do you hate me?” Derek grumbled as they both opened their doors in unison, more for show than actual dislike for the vigilante. In fact, it’d been awhile since he’d last seen him, he was almost starting to miss him. That, and he needed him to get to the Guard, as horrible as that sounded.

Erica just gave him a thumbs up as she backed into the convenience store to talk to the owner. Derek braced himself and turned towards the pair outside, noticing that way Red straightened when he saw him coming over.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to woo me with criminals,” Derek greeted, stopping a couple feet away and trying his best to look like an authority figure.

Red’s eyes widened innocently in the shadow from his hood and he looked over the surly man standing next to him like he had no idea how he’d gotten there. He turned back with the usual mischievous and flirty glint back in his eye.

“Sorry, I forgot the bow. Oh, wait!” He ducked back behind the ice freezer and straightened holding a length of yellow plastic that had probably been tied around a large box at some point, then he tied it in a neat bow around the poor man’s handcuffed arm. “There. Now I’m wooing you.”

The guy just gave him a long flat look around his arm. “What the fuck, man.”

Red didn’t miss a beat and answered without looking at him. “You robbed a convenience store, you don’t get to judge my life choices.”

“That’s not a fucking life choice, just ask him out like a normal person.”

“And where’s the fun in that, Dave?” Red snapped.

“Well excuse me for trying to make your life a little easier,” Dave huffed. It wasn’t really surprising that Red was on first name basis with criminals.

“If you wanted to that, you probably shouldn’t have robbed a convenience store, now should you?”

“Hey, I’m trying to make a—”

“Guys,” Derek cut in as Erica walked up behind him. “Can we focus here?”

She stopped next to him and cocked her head to the side at the situation. “Why is he wearing a bow?”

“Don’t ask.” Derek growled, just as Dave nodded towards Red and answered, “He’s an idiot.”

“Well excuse me for trying to have a little fun in life.”

“I feel like I don’t have to tell you that you’re looking in all the wrong places,” Erica deadpanned as she walked forward. “Come on, Dave.” She unlocked Red’s handcuffs and replaced them with her own, cuffing the man’s hands behind his back and leading him back to the squad car.

“Wooing me with criminals, huh?” Derek asked once they were alone.

Red shrugged. “Call me a romantic.”

Derek couldn’t stop the corner of his mouth from twitching up before he forced himself to sober and get focused. He didn’t have time to flirt, a woman was dead and Boyd had almost ended up the same way.

“How romantic would it be if I asked you for a favor?”

Red took a step closer, ducked his head briefly and looked back up in a way that no doubt would’ve been entirely devastating if Derek could see his face clearly. “That depends entirely on what it is.”

Oh no. It was that tone. There was no way this wouldn’t come off as using him for a favor, as an in to get to his partner, but they were running out of time; he needed to suck it up and talk to the Guard before someone else was attacked, regardless of his or Red’s feelings.

“I don’t know how to ask this without sounding terrible, so I’m just going to come right out and say it.”

“Alright.” He could hear the amusement in Red’s voice, and he almost didn’t want to continue because a deputy asking for a meeting with his partner certainly wouldn’t go over well, even without all of the flirting between them.

“I need to talk to the Guard, face-to-face. Can you set that up?”

Red stiffened, and the lighthearted gleam immediately shuttered out from his eyes. The moment was officially crushed into the cracked concrete. “Guard,” he said flatly. “You want to talk to Guard.”

Derek glanced back at Erica and lowered his voice. “Look, we know he’s a wolf, and a wolf is attacking people in the streets. I just need to talk to him on behalf of my pack.” Red shook his head a little under his hood and huffed out a laugh. “He won’t be arrested, I won’t be there as a cop.”

“What makes you think it’s him?”

“He’s the only wolf unaccounted for in the territory.”

The vigilante snorted derisively. “If you honestly believe that, then you’re more cut off from this territory than I thought.”

Derek frowned, about to demand an explanation, but Red was already starting to leave.

“Give me an hour and be in the alley on Liberty; around the corner, by the giant, neon pink, graffiti dick.”

Yeah, he definitely deserved that.

* * *

An hour later found Derek standing in a narrow alley, that was dimly lit and absolutely covered in years of graffiti. He wasn’t overly comfortable standing in a cramped dead end, next to a six foot tall spray painted dick, overwhelmed by the smell of old paint, which was no doubt Red’s intention. He didn’t seem above petty revenge.

The Guard dropped down from above him. Fifteen minutes late.

His outfit was more functional than Red's; a dark green jacket over a dark red shirt, with three white slashes across the chest like claws, black pants and boots. Like Red, the bottom half of his face was covered, the same dark red fabric pulled up over his nose. Even not being able to see him clearly with whatever magic surrounded him, Derek could tell he was smirking.

“Wow, it smells terrible down here," Guard commented mildly, casually glancing over the colorful walls and only looking back when Derek sighed.

This was definitely planned.

“I hear you’re looking for me,” he continued, standing tall in the dim yellow light from an old lamp above them.

“We need to talk.”

“About?”

“You’re trespassing on Hale territory. You haven’t formally approached the alpha nor have you requested permission to live here.”

“The Hales don’t own the city.” His voice had the same magically distorted quality as Red’s, indignant and angry.

“As far as werewolves are concerned, yes, we do.”

Guard cocked his head to the side. “Your pack lost any claim over it when you left it to defend itself against creatures people don’t even know exist.” He took a step closer, voice hardening. “Your family was the foundation of this city and you abandoned it.”

“The creatures here aren’t a threat to humans, my pack has made sure of it. Beyond that, the city is better off without us interfering.” He tried to turn it into a pointed hint that the vigilantes should take a step back from their activities and let his mother and Laura continue with their work, but either the Guard didn’t catch it or he just didn’t care. “We aren’t supposed to be so conspicuous, werewolves—”

“But they are a threat, and a werewolf is attacking people!” Guard interrupted loudly. “And if you think your pack is really handling everything else, you don't even know how much we've really done—the imps killing people down by the bridge, or the succubi who were selling their venom as a date rape drug. We had to blow that up to destroy it.”

That explained that initial police report about the warehouse. Boyd had been right about that one.

“Then you report these incidents to the local pack, you don’t squat in their territory and go after everything yourself.”

The vigilante rolled his eyes spectacularly. “I can’t squat in the territory I was born in. And we tried reporting it—to Laura Hale? The private detective who's supposed to be handling all of those reports? We tried it your way and nothing got done, so we took care of it."

Derek thought back to the mountain of files crammed into every nook of Laura's office, the way she took on more cases than any one person could handle and was constantly working, running from place to place. It was no surprise that some got lost in the shuffle. Especially since no one else lived up to her hiring requirements and she refused to take on someone who she would have to train in any capacity. She had freakishly high standards, and no one could meet them.

But if this had been going on since the vigilantes started three years ago, if the backlog was bad enough back then to warrant taking action, then Laura was in over her head more than she or their mother would ever admit.

“Look,” Derek tried for diplomacy, but it had never been his forte. “I get that you’re just trying to help, but just because the system is flawed doesn’t mean you can just go around it and do what you want. You're undermining the alpha of this territory, and no matter how long it takes, every report will be dealt with." He would make sure of it, because first thing tomorrow he was barging into Laura's office and finding her a partner or four, even if he had to do it himself.

“When, eventually? You're a deputy, your job is to protect people, could you live with eventually? Because eventually isn’t good enough for the people living here. Eventually isn’t going to stop people from dying while you guys try and sort out all of your paperwork. Eventually isn’t good enough for me, so if you want to try and stop us, fine. But your pack as no idea how much we do for them.”

“Then get in touch with the alpha and tell her. I'm a deputy, but I work within a system larger than myself, and whether you want to admit it, you do too. You have to understand that what you’re doing is undermining her authority and just making it worse. You’re a werewolf, you know what territory means and why this isn’t okay.”

The Guard nodded a couple times, more to himself, then he cocked his head when he looked back at Derek, and even through whatever masking spell the vigilantes used, Derek could feel his anger.

“Yeah, we’re both werewolves, but you know the real difference between me and you? I’m not a born wolf from a huge pack, I know what it’s like to be human and to feel completely powerless. And I don’t want anyone in this city to ever have to feel that way as long as there’s something I can do to stop it.”

He took a step back from the streetlight and turned to leave, effectively ending the conversation, and for a brief second, even through the magic, his eyes flashed alpha red.

Fuck.

* * *

The less than positive news warranted an emergency pack meeting the next evening, calling in everyone save Deucalion, who was at a campaign event that he couldn’t miss. Derek couldn’t help but be glad of that; they wouldn’t be able to talk freely about the issue if one of Stiles’ main suspects was in the room and close friends with the local alpha.

Everyone else was already there when Derek got up to answer the door to Scott, standing alone on the porch. There was something off about him, he was holding himself a little stiffly and there was something almost hostile in his eyes. Derek had no idea what he could’ve possibly done to piss him off since the last time he saw him, when he beamed and asked how Melvin was doing.

“Stiles is coming," Scott greeted shortly. "He just had to grab something from the jeep.”

Everyone else gathered in the living room and began their discussion, outlining what Derek had talked about with the Guard, the attacks, the date of the funeral for Laura’s receptionist so everyone could go pay their respects—Lucy, was apparently her name, and Derek felt a stab of guilt that even though he’d gone to the office a number of times and considered her an enemy of sorts, he hadn’t learned her name until after her death.

But even as the conversation continued, Derek couldn’t help keep most of his attention on the front door, waiting for Stiles to burst in. He was taking forever, whatever he was doing, and it wasn’t until Talia stiffened in his peripheral vision that Derek realized what it meant. Something was wrong, and there was a new wolf on the property.

Without a word he slipped outside, quickly scanning the area for Stiles but not seeing anything within sight of the porch. He checked around the driveway at the cars gathered, and sure enough, there was the distinctly dated light blue of Stiles’ jeep gleaming in the moonlight just behind Derek’s Camaro. But Stiles wasn’t in it, or even around it, and the faint stench of panic lingered. Derek turned his attention to the dark and quiet woods around the house, listening, directing his hearing out in the distance.

There was a snarl, then a strangled yell.

He was running before he even considered howling to his pack for help, completely focused on following the sounds of a struggle and Stiles’ panicked scent mixed with unfamiliar wolf. The omega had Stiles up against a large tree not too far away, his massive hand around Stiles’ throat, claws out, mid-taunt. Derek didn’t so much as pause, and between one of Stiles’ sluggish kicks and the next, he had the omega on the ground by his own throat in a satisfying turning of the tables.

“Who are you and why are you here?” Derek growled, letting his eyes glow blue. While he normally didn’t like to blatantly reveal his eye color, it sometimes came in handy. Like using them to prove that he was fully capable of carrying out his threats and would if things didn’t go his way.

The omega just bared his teeth in defiance, his own blue eyes flashing back.

“Why are you here?”

“Just delivering a message,” he choked around the forearm lodged in his throat.

“From who?”

The omega craned his neck to look at Stiles. Derek grabbed his jaw and forced his head back forward.

“Don’t look at him, look at me," he growled as he moved his thumb down against the omega’s throat, letting the claw extend towards his jugular. “Why are you here?”

“You don’t scare me, Hale,” he laughed. “You’re part of a fading dynasty. They’re coming for you and in a few days, you’ll be dead with the rest of your pathetic pack.”

Stiles coughed harshly behind them and Derek applied more pressure to the wolf’s throat as a new flare of rage burned through him. His claw pressed in, just a little more would kill him, but the omega was still laughing.

“Who’s coming?”

The omega wheezed in a breath, still smiling. “Why don’t you ask your little red friend?”

Derek’s claws ripped through his throat before he could think twice about it, and without the added strength of a pack, the omega would bleed out long before he could heal.

So Red was involved. Deucalion wasn’t the real threat, it had been the vigilantes all along, laying low, gaining power, building trust. He jerked his hand out, flicking the blood off into the dirt.

Red had been playing him the whole time, waiting until he lowered his guard, and Stiles almost died as a result. That wouldn’t happen again, that was for sure. He wasn’t going to lose anyone else because of a stupid crush ever again. He would kill Red, if that’s what it took.

He turned back to Stiles, still sitting at the base of the tree and holding a hand against a sluggishly bleeding cut at the base of his throat. The omega’s claws must’ve torn in when Derek jumped him. His eyes were still a little wider than normal but he seemed to have gotten over the shock of being attacked fairly quickly.

“Are you okay?”

Stiles breathed for a moment, glanced at the dead omega, and gave him a crooked smile like his heart still wasn’t pounding.

* * *

No one took the news particularly well.

Scott had Stiles firmly seated on the couch, a first aid kit from the jeep open on the coffee table and a tight frown on his face. The cut didn’t need stitches, but Scott cleaned it carefully and dabbed ointment on it while Derek told everyone what happened. Peter was already out in the woods disposing of the body; he hadn’t even needed to hear the story, he just took one look at Derek and left the house without a word.

“Great, now we have a feral omega to deal with on top of whoever is running around killing people?” Laura groaned, running her fingers through her hair in frustration.

“He wasn’t feral,” Derek corrected, thinking back on the omega’s intentional defiance and control while taunting both him and Stiles. “He knew exactly what he was doing.”

“But why would he attack our home when six werewolves are here? He would’ve been able to sense everyone.”

“Because he wasn’t trying to attack a wolf, he was sending a message,” Derek answered, unable to tear his eyes away from Scott’s careful hands on Stiles’ throat. He had to keep fighting down the urge to slap the hands away and take over himself. “From the vigilantes.”

Scott’s hand slipped, ripping a strip of medical tape from Stiles’ skin. Derek’s muscles jumped to intervene but he held back.

“Fuck, dude!” Stiles slapped him away, covering his neck and raising a hand like he was ready to karate chop whatever part of Scott came near it again.

“Sorry! Just, what?” Scott turned to Derek looking alarmed. “You’re sure he said it was the vigilantes?”

“He told me to ask my red friend. That doesn’t leave a lot of other options, and last night Guard made it pretty clear that he doesn’t think we’re doing a good enough job.”

“...so you don’t know any passionate communists?” Scott tried weakly. “Anyone recently sunburned?”

Derek glared while Stiles just looked proud.

“The omega said they’re coming for us,” Derek continued like Scott hadn’t interrupted, “and we only have a few days before our dynasty ends.”

“Well that’s not hard to figure out,” Laura said. “A new alpha looking to take our territory. Guard’s apparently an alpha now. He’s trying to form a pack.”

Talia sighed. “Then the deaths weren’t just omega attacks, they were rejected bites from an alpha.”

“Boyd.” Derek realized aloud when Laura met his eye. “Someone should go check on them.”

Cora stood. “I’ll go, I know him.”

“Whoa, wait, what about Boyd?” Stiles flailed a little to get everyone’s attention again, batting Scott’s hand away again. “Vernon Boyd? Specifically of the fourth variety?”

“He was bitten yesterday.”

Stiles flailed even more. “Oh, my god, are you serious? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Boyd’s a brand freaking new werewolf and you’re leaving him alone with Erica?” He stood, probably intending to go to Erica’s himself, but Derek reached over and easily pressed him right back down onto the couch.

“Cora can handle it. You’re not going anywhere.” Stiles looked like he was about to argue. “You just got attacked to send a message, you’re staying right here for the time being.”

Derek was beginning to realize that he felt a lot better in life if he could keep an eye on Stiles at all times. He was trying not to think about it.

“I seriously doubt they’re going to send another message tonight, it was received loud and clear. Unless they have another suicidal messenger on deck, I’m pretty sure I‘m fine. Suicidal messengers can’t be all that easy to come by.”

He tried to get up again, and Derek pushed him right back down, mindful of his injury. “No.”

“He’s right, Stiles,” Talia cut in calmly. “The vigilantes are still out there, and with Stephen, Patrick, and Diana camping two hours away surrounded by other people, you’re the only human in the pack within reach. You’re a target.”

The front door opened and Peter stepped back in silently, smelling faintly of blood and fresh earth.

“Okay, well it’s not the vigilantes," Stiles argued, "and I’m not actually in your pack. He just grabbed me because I happened to be the only one outside.”

“Stiles, they don’t care whether you’re pack or not,” Peter interrupted patronizingly as he reentered the conversation seamlessly, like he’d never left. “You’re closer to the pack than the rest of the city and under our protection. That’s all they need to show us that we’re not as invincible within our castle walls as we thought.” He directed that last part at his sister, who gave him a look that promised a stern conversation in the future.

“So it’s fine if I leave then, because your castle walls won’t protect me anyway!” Stiles was starting to get agitated and tried to stand again, but Derek stopped him, and kept his hand on his shoulder this time. “Seriously, dude, back off. I don’t have time to sit around and listen to you guys be wrong some more, I’ve got shit to do.”

“We both do,” Scott agreed quickly. “We’re supposed to meet my girlfriend and some friends in less than an hour.”

He was lying. The signs were barely there, it might’ve just been the carefully vague wording, but Derek heard it, and probably only because he was standing the closest.

Stiles gestured to his friend in agreement. “We can’t just sit on your couch until this gets resolved, and I can guarantee that the vigilantes won’t come after me again. Because they aren’t the problem here, it’s Deucalion West and his alpha buddies.”

Talia and Peter snapped to attention at that. Derek just closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. He hadn’t been able to talk to his mom about that minor detail yet with Deucalion constantly around for campaign advice and legal matters.

“Deucalion. And his alpha buddies,” Talia repeated, her voice dangerously calm. Derek instinctively braced himself, and felt Laura do the same, but Scott and Stiles did no such thing. They were confronting a powerful and now pissed off alpha, and Scott just straightened in his seat, completely confident in what Stiles was saying.

Great, they were both idiots. Derek thought at least Scott had some sense.

“Ennis Santini and Kali Louissaint,” Stiles said. “I don’t know what it is yet, but those three are up to something, and it’s happening soon. Like tomorrow soon. They’re trying to throw you off with all of this, distract you with a few new wolves to deal with, keep you occupied and worried.”

“There’s no proof of that,” Derek reminded him, and Stiles’ hard gaze snapped over to him, utterly betrayed.

“Are you kidding me, Derek? They all have seriously sketchy pasts full of death and murder, and you’re saying they’re not even suspects?”

“Most werewolves tend to have pasts full of death and murder, it comes with what we are. And I’m saying a dying omega outright stated he was delivering a warning from the vigilantes. Right now, that trumps ten year old circumstantial evidence.”

Stiles gaped for a second, his mouth open and searching for words. Derek’s stomach twisted, he never wanted to see that look on Stiles’ face by his own doing, but he didn’t understand why Stiles was being intentionally dense about this. He so wanted Deucalion to be guilty that he was outright ignoring the evidence in front of them and the danger to his own life.

“That still doesn’t explain why Deucalion has called in other alphas without telling anyone," Stiles reminded them. "And then why he actively hid them. That’s at least enough to check them all out.”

“And I will,” Talia cut in. Her voice was reassuring, but it wasn’t doing anything to reassure Stiles. “I have a meeting with Deucalion on Halloween, I’ll discuss it with him then. In the meantime, we have more concrete proof that the vigilantes mean us harm, and that takes precedent here.”

Surprisingly it was Scott that answered, calm and confident. “Deucalion is up to something, and there will be proof. We can get it. You just need to trust us.”

Dear god, they were going to get themselves killed.

“Whatever you two are planning, no,” Talia said firmly, every bit the alpha she was. It was an order, and her orders were obeyed. “I will talk to Deucalion. You two will not go anywhere near him, Santini, or the vigilantes. You will sit right there where we can see you, and you will not move until I say you can.”

Whereas most wolves would nod, tilt their head, show submission and acceptance of an alpha’s order, Scott didn’t move beyond clenching his jaw. Derek didn’t have a formal connection to Scott, he wasn’t actually in the pack, but even he could feel the rage radiating off of him, echoing through him. It wasn’t something he should’ve been able to feel from an omega, it didn’t make sense.

Stiles just glowered, looking like he was going to go through with his plan either way. Scott, though, he was going to fight.

“With all due respect, you’re not our alpha," he said calmly, firmly. "You don’t have the authority to tell us what we can or can’t do. And we can help, we have a way to get proof, we’re just asking that you trust us with this.”

“And I’m telling you to leave it to us,” Talia responded, in kind. “People have died, this isn’t a game.”

“We never thought it was. We’re taking this just as seriously as you are, probably more so, and we’re not even asking you to do anything besides trust us and let us do this.”

“Tell me your plan, and I’ll consider it.”

“Whoa, wait a second,” Stiles cut in indignantly. “We don’t have to tell you anything—again, you’re not our alpha.”

“You do if you want me to let you leave.”

Stiles' eyebrows jumped up. “Oh, now we’re prisoners. Fantastic.”

“You’re not prisoners." Even Derek of terrible diplomacy knew the patronizing edge to his mother's tone wasn't going to be well received. "I just need to know that you two aren’t going to throw yourselves into danger. I’m not going to be the one explaining to your parents that you died when I could’ve prevented it.”

“You know what, fuck—” Stiles started, just beginning to ramp up to yelling, but Scott put a hand on his arm and he sat back, clenching his jaw and look mutinous.

Scott took over, his voice calm and diplomatic in comparison. “What can we do to make you feel better about this?”

Talia looked like she appreciated the effort, but knew it was going nowhere. “I’ve told you; tell me what you’re planning and what proof you expect to find.”

“And we told you we can’t do that.”

“Then I can’t let you leave.”

Scott glanced back to Stiles briefly, then straightened, looking far older than he was. “Alright, if you want proof right now, then fine.” He took a deep breath, bracing himself for what was obviously a big reveal of some kind, and Derek couldn’t help physically flinching back at the spike of pure panic from Stiles. “I’m—”

Scott!” Stiles interrupted sharply, widening his eyes significantly at his friend in the most basic and obvious sign of shut the fuck up right now. “Buddy, forget it, let’s just go.”

“We can’t just—”

“Yes we can.” He stood and Derek gripped the back of the couch to stop from pushing him right back down again, keeping him from doing whatever they were about to do. “Come on, they won't actually stop us from leaving. They don't want that kind of attention from the Sheriff.”

Scott hesitated, looking like he fully intended to stay and finish the argument, but with a final glance at Talia, he followed his friend out of the house all the same. It was no doubt Stiles who slammed the door.

The Hales sat in a heavy silence, broken only by Peter casually picking up a newspaper from the coffee table and opening it with a flourish. That seemed to be the last straw for his sister, who stood abruptly.

“No one go after them,” she ordered, then headed towards her study without another word. Her meaning was clear and unmistakable; Stiles and Scott had directly disobeyed, and now they were on their own. They were no longer under Hale protection.

Even though the storm had passed, the tension still hung thick in the air, until Laura was the first one to break the silence. Derek could tell she’d been holding it in for a long time.

“Sometimes I could just wring his little scrawny human neck.”

“Stiles was defending his alpha, and his alpha was defending his pack.” Peter shrugged, voice carefully neutral and eyes never leaving his newspaper. “That’s how a pack works. They just happen to be younger and more explosive about it all.”

“Scott’s not an alpha, no matter how much he thinks he is,” Laura said flatly, and with just Derek and Peter to hear, she didn’t bother trying to hide exactly how she felt about that.

She liked Scott in general, a lot, but one thing that always snuck out through the cracks was that she didn’t like his attitude, the way he conducted himself as an alpha with no authority to do so, while still serving as a pseudo member of the Hale pack. It was disrespectful to their mother, the actual alpha, their pack who had given him safety in their territory, and it implied that he was somehow exempt from the formal structure of the pack—all things taken very seriously by most established packs. His behavior was something of a slap in the face after they’d extended a formal offer for him to join the pack when he was turned, only for him to reject it.

Honestly though, Derek really didn’t care either way. Yeah, he was a little miffed that his family was being disrespected, but he was far less concerned with formality than his mother and sister were. It was no doubt from spending years in New York, where such rules of decorum were the barest hint of a suggestion that no one actually followed, instead of staying in Beacon Hills, steeped in family tradition and strong pack loyalties like the rest of the family had. All that was such a minor offence it hardly registered to him, especially when Scott and Stiles seemed to be in the habit of running out and provoking possibly murderous vigilantes.

Peter just folded his paper and set it down in his lap, joining the discussion properly. He gave Laura an appraising look.

“In terms of power, no, Scott is definitely an omega. But being alpha isn’t all about the physical. You can’t only have power, you need to have the personality and instincts of a leader, a strong and dedicated pack, a smart support system—things which are not easily faked. Things which Scott has,” he said significantly.

Laura scowled, and Derek got the feeling there was a previous conversation being referenced that he had completely missed. It wasn’t hard to guess at what it had covered.

Laura, for all her good qualities, liked to be in charge but she wasn’t a leader. She was stubborn, tended to think she knew best, only asked for help as a last resort (as in the case with the vigilantes and the mountains of cases filling her office), and had recently developed the habit of siding with their mother even when she didn’t agree with her. Derek had noticed it over the last couple month, comparing her to the Laura he remembered ranting about his mother’s reluctance to interfere with the crumbling city, the Laura who had disobeyed their alpha and opened her private detective business to do the exact thing Talia refused.

But now she didn’t argue, and her PI rebellion was worked right back into the pack’s system as a glorified complaint hotline.

As much as Derek wanted to side with his sister, he couldn’t help but agree with Peter. Scott had those leadership instincts; he was understanding, didn’t make snap judgments, listened to others (alright, listened to Stiles), never talked down to anyone, stood up for what he felt was right—not because it was what he needed to do for power, but because he wanted to. He had the presence of a leader, and there was a pull somewhere deep deep down inside Derek that made him want to follow.

But admitting that about his sister, his packmate and potential future alpha, it didn’t sit right, it gave him an uneasy knot in his stomach. It felt like a betrayal, like he was choosing Scott (an omega) over his own alpha and family. Add that to the fact that he was still consciously holding himself back from going after Stiles and Scott, and his instincts and conscience were a conflicted mess that he couldn’t even begin to untangle.

* * *

The tension from the meeting still hadn’t left Derek by the next morning. It’d stayed with him all through his shift, and he couldn’t stop glancing up to the roofs or down shadowed alleys even well into the morning, half hoping to catch a glimpse of Red so he could get some real answers. Maybe beat them out of him if necessary.

He couldn’t believe he’d been stupid enough to let himself get tricked like that again, after he’d been so careful for so long, keeping on guard with anyone new in his life. But he was bored, his life was mundane, and then a fun and mysterious and exciting man dropped in and he just threw all caution to the wind and let himself get caught up in flirty banter and those fucking winks. He was furious with himself, he’d grown complacent and nearly let the one other spike of life in his monotonous world be destroyed for it.

Stiles almost died the night before, and if Derek hadn’t gone outside to look for him, he probably would’ve been found in a similar state as Lucy; torn apart and left to rot on the forest floor, for the sake of sending a message.

With everything going on, his mother had put a ban on anyone in the pack shifting and going for a run, or even wandering outside of the city proper, so he had no other choice but to go to Upon this Rock and climb off his frustration rather than tearing through the preserve at top speed. He knew it wouldn’t really work, but it was better than sitting in his empty apartment and letting his mind wander back to what almost happened while Melvin tried to make him feel better.

He almost turned right back around when he saw that distinctive blue jeep sitting in the near-empty parking lot, like it was any other morning. Stiles had been pissed when he and Scott left—at the pack, at Talia, at Derek for not backing him up on Deucalion. He wasn’t sure he was ready to face that quite yet, but the need to see Stiles alive and in one piece, just for his own peace of mind, won out in the end.

He regretted it almost immediately when Stiles looked up from chatting with Steve at the front desk and the easy smile dropped clear off his face, but even seeing him pissed off at him was worth it.

Probably.

They walked through the old church together, heading towards the climbing walls at the back with their gear, side by side, and in a stifled silence; Derek because he wasn’t sure how to start talking, and half expecting to get yelled at in public, and Stiles probably just because he was pissed.

It wasn’t until Derek was starting up the wall that Stiles finally broke the silence.

“So?” He was definitely still mad.

“What?”

“It’s the night before the full moon,” Stiles reminded him as he pushed himself to catch up with Derek on the wall.

“I know.”

“Do you guys have any kind of plan to deal with this?”

“Deal with what, exactly?”

“The guy threatening your pack’s territory?”

“We’ll handle the vigilantes, just don’t do anything stupid.”

Stiles’ foot slipped off a hold and he scrambled briefly to keep from falling. “Wha—the vigilantes? You guys are seriously going after them?”

“Yes, we seriously are.”

“No! Dude, no, wrong!” He stretched his foot to a hold closer to Derek, and leaned in, lowering his voice. “Deucalion is planning something big for tonight, okay? And your mom is going to walk right into a trap if she doesn’t open her fucking eyes and see what he’s doing.”

Derek couldn’t help his gaze straying to the scabbed over scratches just visible under Stiles’ collar. The omega hadn’t held him tight enough to bruise his throat, but it was still a stark reminder that he easily could’ve been killed for no reason other than a powerplay—a message.

“Do you have proof of his diabolical plan? Because at the moment there’s a lot more evidence behind the vigilantes being the problem.”

Stiles faltered, his jaw working in frustration.

Derek raised his eyebrows, waiting for him to finally give whatever information he and Scott were sitting on, what Scott had almost revealed the night before. It was obviously something big, something Stiles wanted to yell at the world, but something kept stopping him and Derek wanted to shred whatever it was to pieces.

“I can’t tell you, alright?” Stiles finally said, and Derek couldn’t help his eyes falling to the side in an aborted eyeroll. “I just know they aren’t a threat. Trust me.”

“You haven’t given me a reason to!” he hissed, and tried not to let himself feel bad when Stiles jerked back a little and the excited fire in his eyes shuttered out. It hurt, being on the receiving end of his hard glare; Derek had only seen it directed at his mom and Laura before. He’d always considered himself lucky to be on Stiles’ good side. “I know you’re not telling me the whole story, and until you do, I have to go with the evidence in front of me, which says that the vigilantes are dangerous.”

“Fine, but even if you don’t trust me, then you should trust all the shady stuff we found in Deucalion’s past that points to him generally being a dick of homicidal proportions.”

“None of what we found is conclusive evidence. It’s a reach, trying to pin that all on him, and I’m going to need something a little more concrete than what you’ve put together about the one guy who’s a direct threat to your dad’s job.”

This was all coming out so much worse than he’d intended, but Stiles seemed to be intentionally blind to the fact that he almost died the night before, and that had only been the vigilantes sending a message. Derek didn’t know what they would be capable of when they went in for the kill, or who they would go after.

“Are you seriously saying I can’t be objective?”

“I’m saying you wouldn’t exactly be upset if Deucalion was suddenly taken out of the equation.”

Stiles craned his head forward in disbelief. “I’m not going to frame a guy, and I don’t know whether or not I should be flattered that you think I even could.”

“You’re not giving me a whole lot of options here. Just tell me what proof you have of this horrible plot and how you got it.”

He glared at the wall next to Derek’s head and then reluctantly admitted, “I got it from Red.”

Red again. Funny how his name seemed to be at the root of everything now that Derek paid attention to it.

“You’ve talked to Red? How?”

“We sat down over a beer, how do you think.”

Derek tried to tamp down the flare of anger at the thought of Stiles not only seeking out the vigilante, but succeeding and talking to him as well after he’d been on their hit list.

“And you actually believe him after last night?”

“You actually believe that douchebag omega?” Stiles threw right back.

“When it was outright stated that douchebag omega attacked you under Red’s orders and had no reason to lie about it, yes.”

Stiles pressed his forehead into the wall and thumped it against the fake rock a couple of times, frustrated and trying to keep his temper in check, but Derek could feel it ramping up.

“Derek, he wasn’t working for the vigilantes, he was sent by Kali—”

“And who told you that? Red?” He realized his voice was getting too loud, starting to echo through the large room, so he leaned in and continued in a whisper, “Stiles, the vigilantes are dangerous; they’re illegal for a reason. You might think these guys are your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but they’re not. They have their own agendas and you can’t trust them to always be on your side protecting you.”

The glint in Stiles’ eye told him that was exactly the wrong thing to say. “You mean kind of like the pack that was supposed to protect its territory and left ninety percent of it defenseless?”

“You know that’s not the same thing.”

“Oh, it isn’t? A force independent of the law and government, delivering its own justice and protection while hiding their identities? Gee, where could I possibly have gotten that idea? Thank you for correcting me, Derek, there’s obviously quite a difference.”

“The difference is that if people knew who and what we are, they would kill us on the spot. Hunters would come after us, and not just us, but our family too.”

“And the vigilantes don’t have families they want to protect? They don’t face the exact same dangers being targeted by gangs? I get that your mom is scared, your family has been through some serious shit in the past, but fear doesn’t mean you can just ditch your responsibilities. Especially when pretty much the entire city isn’t even aware that werewolves are a legitimate concern.”

“Stiles, it’s not fear, it’s caution; it’s knowing when to get involved instead of just throwing yourself and your pack at danger because it's there. My family has a lot to lose if something goes wrong again, we have to be cautious.”

“No. Caution is looking at all the angles but still proceeding. You’re all so scared of potential loss that you refuse to even make a move, so you don’t get to say anything when someone else picks up the slack.” He reached over and smacked Derek’s shoulder sharply. “Especially you, you went clear across the country.”

Derek was really getting sick of people throwing that back in his face.

“When did you become such a huge fan of these guys, anyway? Your dad’s the sheriff, shouldn’t you want him to be doing his job to the best of his ability instead of having to worry about a couple delusional kids running around looking to get shot?”

“I want my dad to make it home every day, and if that means some jackass in a hood getting shot instead of him, then so be it.”

He leaned back and let go of the wall, letting the auto belay lower him down while the yellow hold in Derek’s hand fractured under his grip.

* * *

Derek went on duty at seven that evening, and he hadn’t calmed down since. It was stupid, he kept telling himself; nothing was going to happen, no matter what Stiles said. The Hales were out in the city, making sure everything was quiet, there were plenty of deputies out on patrol in case the vigilantes tried anything after an anonymous tip had been phoned in, and Stiles was safe at his apartment for once. Not that Derek had driven by to check before his shift or anything.

Add to that the fact that Erica now knew about werewolves, that he was one, and that her fiance had just become one—it was probably the most stressed he’d been in an incredibly long time. And to make it all worse, Erica just wasn’t reacting to the news. She greeted him normally, bitched about the women before her in the line at her coffee shop, and then ordered him to their cruiser like usual. There was just no reaction, no hint at how she felt about it all.

The crushing silence, the anticipation of her addressing it, her hating him, never looking at him the same again—it was worse than all of that morning and yesterday combined.

“What is wrong with you tonight?” Erica finally snapped, flashing her high beams at someone heading towards them who hadn’t turned off their brights.

“I’m fine,” Derek said flatly, pretending his grip wasn’t slowly crushing the door handle.

“Oh yeah, obviously. Did you and Stiles have a fight or something?”

Something in the door cracked as he whipped his head around to look at her. “What are you talking about?”

“I mean he was all bitchy today at Cliff’s and didn’t want to talk about you in that way he gets when he’s pissed at someone. So, what’d you do?”

He forced himself to let go of the door and clenched his hand a few times to relieve the muscles. Okay, she didn’t want to talk about werewolves; maybe she was still processing the news.

“What makes you think it was my fault?”

She turned to give him an excited, wide eyed look. “Oh, so it really is a Stiles issue? I was just guessing. You guys are together?”

Damn it. “No.”

“But you want to be together.”

“Erica, I really don’t want to talk about this right now.”

“It’s as good a time as any.” She wheeled the car around and backed into a service road in the woods so they were just out of sight. This was a major speedtrap just outside of town, and somehow no one seemed to remember that there was always a patrol vehicle in the exact same place every night.

Erica turned off the lights, turned off the local station playing quietly, and turned down the department radio so they could just hear the constant chatter. It was the night before Halloween and pretty much everyone was on duty, looking out for trouble on Devil’s Night. So far it was all minor vandalism, save one case of arson at an abandoned house on the north side of town.

Derek made it five minutes in the pressure of silence and Erica’s patient waiting before he broke. On the less stressful subject, at least. He wasn’t going to bring up the whole werewolf thing if she wasn’t. Maybe they would never talk about it, and this was just her way of letting him know it wasn’t going to be a problem. He could dream.

“We had a fight.”

“You guys always fight.” She shrugged, still looking out at the road like she wouldn’t be able to see or hear anyone coming otherwise. He was grateful for it, being able to hide from her gaze. She didn’t pressure him or try to make this conversation anything more than what it was. It was one of the very positive ways she differed from Laura. “It’s what you do.”

“No we don’t.” He wasn’t sure why he protested, because he realized halfway through that she was completely right. “Not like this, anyway.”

“So apologize. Make it up to him.”

They watched a grey sedan pass at a completely respectable speed.

“I don’t know if I can.”

She rolled her eyes and finally looked at him, her face showing exactly what she thought of his dramatics. “Jesus, what’d you do, insult his jeep?”

No, just Stiles’ integrity, his objectivity, his research skills, and probably a number of his key personality traits for good measure.

“That probably would’ve gone over better.”

Erica stared at him for a long few seconds. “You killed someone.”

“Really?”

“For being so vague, you’re getting pretty pissy about me jumping to logical conclusions.”

“Logical.”

“You’re the one who did something worse than insulting—”

Derek cut her off with a raised hand, focusing on the sudden commotion over the police radio. He turned it up, trying to pick out codes for what was going on, but everyone was yelling over each other.

“The station.” That was the only thing everyone seemed to be in agreement on.

Erica was already pulling back out onto the road, tires squealing as she flipped on the lights and siren.

* * *

The smell of blood hit him before they even opened the doors, curling around his mind and taunting him; they were too late.

Derek could hear a few heartbeats, some still beating strong, some tapering off into silence even as they entered. He went first, bracing himself against the choking smell, and his stomach clenched at the sight of familiar bodies in khaki sprawled amongst desks, nametags he knew personally. There weren’t as many as he feared, most deputies had been out on patrol, but it was still enough to qualify as a massacre, and the department would probably never fully recover from it.

“Was it the vigilantes? The werewolf?” Erica asked quietly, right behind him. Her voice wavered, but she didn’t turn back.

“Yeah, I can smell him.” Whatever the Guard usually used to mask himself, he obviously didn’t care about hiding anymore.

“Is he still here?”

That made him pause. The vigilantes could hide everything that gave away their position; they could very well still be inside somewhere.

“Guard the doors, make sure no one tries to come in.”

She must’ve realized he wasn’t sure because she didn’t protest or sneer like she usually did when he gave an order. She nodded and quietly exited the building, already intercepting someone who had been about to enter.

Derek stepped over outstretched bloody limbs, making his way into the room, following what heartbeats he could hear between the silence of death. He heard a quick intake of breath behind him, then,

“Dad!”

Derek turned from the fallen deputies at Red’s modified but desperate voice (he was a cop’s kid?), but he only saw The Guard moving silently through the front office.

He snarled instinctively, a horrible idea because he was challenging an alpha, but the vigilante had already killed all these people and apparently was sticking around to make sure there were no survivors. There were, Derek could hear them, and Erica was right outside—he wasn’t going to let anything happen to them.

The Guard glanced up at him, his eyes flashing red in acknowledgement, but instead of attacking, or forcing him to submit, or even just reacting, he crouched down to check on someone sprawled half behind the front desk. They were already dead, but he carefully closed their eyes before moving on. His actions weren’t making sense; you didn’t slaughter this many people and then come through and check on them, give them some dignity in death.

Red was there too, Derek realized as the figure scrambled into the bullpen and dropped to the floor next to one of the bodies near the door. He shoved a deputy (already dead) away and frantically grasped at the body underneath, righting their head and pressing his gloved hand to their throat to find a pulse. He hunched over, inching impossibly closer to the body, and the light from the street reflected off of something metallic; Derek’s stomach twisted as he realized it was a Sheriff’s badge. It was Sheriff Stilinski.

“No, no, no, fuck!”

It took a long moment for his mind to process that Red was this upset over the sheriff and calling him dad, and that the sharp and panicked gasps for breath were coming from him. What he was seeing and putting together wasn’t making sense, he refused to believe it, even as some part of him was telling him to fucking do something because the guy was going to pass out at this rate, whoever he was.

Before he could get his own feet to move, The Guard was at Red’s side, his bare hands framing his partner’s face and forcing him to meet his eyes.

“Red, Red, he’s alive. I can hear his heartbeat, he’s just unconscious—Stiles!”

But Red didn’t seem to be hearing him, his eyes were wide and shining with panicked tears and his breaths coming in short, shallow bursts behind his mask as he fell back onto the floor. He clawed at it with a visibly shaking gloved hand, tearing the fabric down, away from his mouth, and the unmistakable moles dotting his cheek were revealed.

The realization hit for real with that visual confirmation.

Holy shit, this was Scott and Stiles.

The Guard pulled down his own mask and Scott’s wide, worried eyes flicked over to Derek for only a second before he nodded sharply towards the Sheriff and refocused his attention on Stiles. Derek took the cue and pushed down his own confusion to methodically check the Sheriff over for injuries. He found a cut in his hair, probably the reason for him being unconscious, and three claw marks in his side, and though would definitely need stitches and maybe surgery to make sure everything was intact that should be, they weren’t so serious as to be a risk for bleeding out. His heartbeat was slow and steady and there were no signs of that changing anytime soon. Still, he drew away some of the pain and turned his attention back to Scott’s soothing words.

“Stiles, your dad is going to be fine, he’s alive,” he was saying calmly, pushing back the red hood from flattened hair and ducking his head to meet his best friend’s eyes. “I need you to take a deep breath, just breathe with me, come on.” He took exaggerated deep breaths, nodding along slowly to encourage Stiles to do the same. “That’s it, and again, he’s going to be fine.”

Derek sat, his hand still against the Sheriff’s neck, trying to process so much information that he didn’t know where to even start reacting to anything. Scott and Stiles, the goofy kid and his confrontational and irritating best friend, were superheroes. They spent all day tripping over their own feet, fumbling their way through life with their stupid, tiny pack of two with no alpha, only to stand tall and defend their city with their lives on a nightly basis. It didn’t make sense, it shouldn’t make sense. The two halves didn’t fit together.

Only Scott was an alpha, somehow. Derek had seen his red eyes, felt the power radiating from the Guard that Scott somehow managed to hide constantly. It wasn’t just an omega and his friend, he had a proper pack, coexisting in Beacon Hills alongside the Hales, and they hadn’t even realized it. All the times Scott had turned down offers to join their pack, declined to go running, spar. Everyone had just assumed it was his reluctance to fully commit to his change in lifestyle, but he had not only committed, he’d fully adapted to being an alpha with lives in his hands and a superhero on the side.

Scott was the Guard and Stiles was Red.

Meaning that, unless they were phenomenally good actors who really did want to move in on the Hales, then the only person left who could possibly be responsible for this attack and those previous was Deucalion.

Deucalion, who his mother was meeting in private the next day to discuss his campaign.

Fingers wrapping weakly around his arm interrupted his frankly overwhelming thoughts and he looked down in surprise. The Sheriff looked up at him blearily, his eyebrows pulling together in confusion, before he rolled his head to the side to Scott and Stiles, still completely focused on each other. His hand moved from Derek’s arm over to Stiles’ leg, gripping his son’s shin above his boot where it was sprawled next to him.

Stiles looked over, still struggling to pull in long breaths, and choked on an inhale when he saw open eyes looking up at him. A dry sob of relief was the only warning Derek had to pull his hand away before Stiles practically threw himself on his father, tucking his face into his shoulder and clinging to him like he was the only thing keeping him together. His gloves creaked where his hands were fisted into the fabric of the Sheriff’s shirt, holding on tight and shaking with adrenaline and panic.

“I’m okay,” the Sheriff croaked out, tilting his head against his son’s and patting his side in a weak form of a hug. Stiles said something, broken and muffled into his dad’s shoulder, and the Sheriff’s eyes closed like he was in pain before he whispered, barely audible, “I know, son. It’s okay.”

Chapter Text

Derek happened upon Stiles on the third floor of the hospital in an otherwise empty waiting room, slumped awkwardly in a chair and fighting to stay awake. He’d changed out of Red and now, sitting there in jeans and a grey hoodie, he just looked impossibly small and fragile. Nothing about him even hinted at the crimefighter or confrontational pain in the ass that Derek had come to know over the last two months.

Erica looked back over her shoulder when Derek suddenly stopped walking. She glanced into the room, back to him, and explicitly communicated with just her eyes that she would do horrible things to him if he went in there and did anything to upset Stiles more. Derek raised his eyebrows in what he hoped was his trust me expression and held up two fingers—a promise to do her paperwork for the next two months if she finished taking statements by herself.

She held up four fingers in response, took his notes, smirked wickedly, and moved on down the hall.

And then Derek realized he’d committed to this and actually had to enter the room and talk to Stiles, who was kind of pissed at him at the moment, who was actually Red, the superhero Derek had kind of been building up a flirtation with before actively intending to kill him for hurting Stiles, and whose father and only living family was currently in surgery.

He was not qualified for this.

Stiles didn’t even notice Derek was there until he was standing right in front of him, and even then it took a moment for it to register before he dragged his lidded eyes up from the carpet.

“What do you want, Derek,” he sighed, voice soft and tired and sounding more defeated than Derek had ever heard from him. He rubbed the heel of his palm into his eye and blinked hard a couple times to wake himself up, no doubt preparing for an argument.

“For you to go home and get some sleep before they try to admit you too?” Derek suggested, trying to keep his voice light and not let his worry creep in.

“Fuck off.” Stiles rolled his eyes and tried to sneer like usual, but he just didn’t manage it. His face hung with exhaustion and everything about him sagged under the stress of the night, trying its damnedest to drag him off to sleep right there.

“I’m serious, Stiles, you look awful. Your dad’s going to be under enough stress as it is, don’t make him worry about you too.” It was a low blow, Derek knew it and Stiles’ unimpressed look communicated clearly that he knew Derek knew, but he held his ground all the same. “Did you drive here?”

He let out a silent breath of relief when Stiles shook his head, eyes mostly closed. Scott must’ve dropped him off after the two of them left the station, just before more deputies and paramedics flooded the scene.

“Good, I’ll drive you home.”

“I’m not leaving,” Stiles argued immediately, shifting in a futile attempt to get comfortable again while trying his best to dismiss Derek from his presence.

“Stiles, your dad needs to rest, they’re not going to let you in until visiting hours start again. You might as well get a few hours of sleep in a real bed and eat something that’s not from the cafeteria.”

“You know the cafeteria food isn’t half bad, actually. They’ve got great soup and paninis.” It was a truly pitiful effort as his usual flippant dismissals. He looked back up and said with finality: “I’m not leaving him here alone.”

Derek nodded, took off his jacket, and settled into the next chair over for the long haul; he promised Erica he would handle this, so he was going to handle this, god damn it. Stiles watched him out of the corner of his eye but didn’t comment. He just shifted in his seat again, straightening in an obvious attempt to stay awake longer.

They sat there in silence for a long time, Derek studying every inch of the framed impressionistic painting of a blurry lake hanging across from him, and Stiles desperately trying and failing to not fall asleep. He shifted around constantly, looking for a comfortable position while Derek had given up almost immediately and resigned himself to a very uncomfortable few hours.

The waiting room had the kind of chairs that were alright for maybe ten minutes, and after that were hard as a rock and dug into all the wrong places, no matter what. Stiles had to have been sitting there for over three hours now, and from the looks of his rumpled clothing, had tried every position imaginable.

But despite every effort of both Stiles and the chairs, it didn’t take long for him to drop off to sleep. Derek kept half an ear on his breathing and felt the gradual fall into unconsciousness that seemed like it shouldn’t be possible in that position, but was glad it happened. His neck ached in sympathy and he wanted to move Stiles so his head wasn’t at such a sharp right angle, but he was worried that touching him would just wake him up again. The guy really did need to sleep; it was creeping into three in the morning and he’d been going all night.

A nurse with dark curly hair came in a while after, looking tired but not like she was about to deliver bad news. She took in the scene, and shook her head with a worried and fond smile as she walked over. Melissa McCall, her nametag said, and somewhere in his mind Derek remembered that Scott’s mother was a nurse.

Without hesitating, she brushed hair back from Stiles’ forehead then shook his shoulder lightly. He didn’t so much as twitch, completely dead to the world.

“Stiles,” she tapped at his cheek lightly, then a little harder when he didn’t move. “Stiles.”

He jerked awake and looked around wildly until he noticed Melissa, then he scrambled up straighter, mouth open to ask the multitude of questions on his face, eyes wide and desperate.

“Your dad’s awake and coherent, and he’s going to be fine.” She was already pushing him back down in his chair before he got more than a few inches up. "But I have a few rules for you to agree with before you get to see him.”

“What? Melissa—”

“Stiles,” she countered in the same tone, not giving an inch. This was someone who was more than used to dealing with Stiles, and could shut down any attempt to worm around authority. Stiles just nodded reluctantly. “First, you can only stay ten minutes. Ten minutes,” she repeated for emphasis when he looked like he was going to protest. “He needs rest and so do you. Seriously, kid, you look terrible.”

Derek turned away to admire the use of pink and orange in the painting that he’d really taken for granted for the past hour, giving the two some sense of privacy.

“Second, you let me call Scott to drive you home. I don’t care if you brought the jeep, you’re in no condition to drive.”

Stiles hesitated on that one, starting to pull together a lie about Scott being out with animal control, looking for whatever got into the station, and really? They hadn’t told her about the whole superhero thing either? Did she even know her son was an alpha werewolf?

Scott wasn’t reachable at the moment; the Guard was out scouring the city, looking for whoever had done this and avoiding the Hales who were out looking for him. The werewolf was too fast for the security cameras to get a clear shot of before they went offline, but it was larger than a shifted Deucalion, more bulky—definitely another alpha, so it had to be Ennis. Unless they had another homicidal alpha on the loose.

Derek got the occasional text from Laura, updating him on their lack of progress, mentioning that they’d had a few glimpses of Guard but not Red, that they hadn’t been able to pin him down yet, and wondering why the hell Scott wasn’t answering his phone. That was going to be a fun conversation in the future.

“I’m taking him home,” Derek cut in, and if Stiles didn’t like it, then tough. He should’ve had a better lie prepared. “I have to get back to the station soon anyway.”

“Oh.” Melissa blinked, glanced at Stiles who was doing a rather poor job of hiding his surprise, then nodded when he flashed her a reassuring smile. “Okay then, my third condition, you don’t come back for at least twelve hours.”

Stiles’ smile dropped into an eye roll. His knee started to jiggle impatiently, like he was preparing to dodge Melissa and just go anyway.

“I mean it Stiles. You need to sleep. You’re not going to do either of you any good if you’re camped out in his room. He needs to know you’re taking care of yourself, or he’s just going to keep stressing out about it too.”

“Fine, now can I see him?”

She narrowed her eyes, staring into his, and Derek wondered if telepathy was a real thing. “Alright.” She turned to Derek as Stiles straightened, his back popping and cracking back into place. “You coming?”

Stiles turned to glance back, surprised, at the question. Derek froze for a second. There was no way he was going to be there for the conversation that was about to happen. He didn’t need to have much personal experience to know that no one should ever land themselves between two Stilinskis.

“I’ll meet you out front when you’re done.”

Stiles nodded and followed Mrs. McCall out of the room, the stench of nerves and worry wafting after him on top of the exhaustion and misery that had settled all around them.

Outside, Derek found a bench by the entrance and settled down to wait in the cool night air, finally letting himself relax and breathe for the few minutes before Stiles shuffled out through the automatic doors. He looked exhausted and wrung out and ready to collapse right there on the sidewalk. Derek stood and met him halfway.

“How’d it go?”

“He already knew—well, not knew knew, but he wasn’t surprised.”

It wasn’t until Derek answered, “Of course he wasn’t, he’s the Sheriff and your father,” that he realized how true that really was. There was absolutely no way Stiles and Scott would’ve gotten away with this for as long as they had without someone in the department on their side. They were good, but so was the Sheriff’s Department.

Derek had always found it odd that Sheriff Stilinski seemed to just not be interested in pursuing the vigilantes; never outright refusing, but never making all that much of an effort either. There was the ongoing file on them, cobbled together with shitty witness statements and halfhearted investigation by the department’s usual standards, but only the bare minimum needed to look like they were really doing all they could. Because if the investigation revealed the vigilantes to be Scott and Stiles, the Sheriff would have to do something about it.

“You could at least humor me for five minutes and let me believe the entire fucking city doesn’t already know.” Stiles tugged at his disheveled hair, reeking of frustration. “But I guess the whole fucking Sheriff’s Department was already humoring me—fuck, I thought I was so careful!”

“Nobody’s humoring you, Stiles, nobody knows about you. Hell, I’ve been talking to both you and Red for months and I had no idea.”

Stiles gave him a miserable smile, but he smelled a little less like he was spiraling into a breakdown. “You have to say that, otherwise I might cry on you and you’ll blue screen.” He headed off towards the parking lot without waiting for an answer, going in the complete opposite direction of the cruiser. Derek took a couple quick steps after him, grabbed his bicep, and set him on the right course beside him.

“You really have no idea how good you are, do you?”

“What? Of course I know how good I am! I cleared a gang of wendigos out of the old brickworks warehouse last year, you don’t do that without being good. But I need to be better.”

Derek’s head snapped up at that. Not at the obvious issues Stiles had with his own achievements, that could be handled later, but at the mention of wendigos. Laura had never mentioned wendigos, and she usually told him about any disturbances in the territory to keep him in the loop because she’d never really believed that he planned to stay in New York for long. If even she hadn’t known about the wendigos, just how backed up was her office? How old were some of those case files?

“Wait, you’ve been going after the supernatural on your own? Without Scott?”

Stiles gave him an odd look. “Uh, yeah, I kind of had to. We’re spread a little thin with all of three people covering the whole city.”

“No, you kind of didn’t. You should’ve told my mom, the alpha?” Stiles’ expression dropped into an unimpressed glare. “She would’ve helped you if it was such an emergency, she—how do you think it looks to other packs when the alpha of this territory isn’t the one formally defending it, but a human?” It was easier to disapprove on formal grounds rather than analyze why Stiles throwing himself into that kind of danger made his stomach clench and his wolf lunge to protect.

Stiles just rolled his eyes so hard his head followed the motion.

“I really couldn’t care less about your pack’s street cred, Derek. I told you, the city is ours. We defend it.” The dark edge to his voice crept in, the same tone Red had used when he made the same statement. So he maybe had more than a few issues.

“You know that’s not how it works.”

Stiles stopped in the middle of the lot and turned, getting right up in Derek’s space. “Then your pack needs to do something. You can’t pick and choose who’s worthy of your protection when it’s all supposedly your territory. I mean, I get why you guys pulled back—I do, you were protecting your own after something seriously shitty happened—but the problem with that is you don’t see this city as your own. Your mom does the absolute bare minimum to say that she’s doing something, but if she actually cared, she would have more than one person doing Laura’s job. Maybe then she’d actually see what’s already here, right under her nose. And yeah, your pack up in your mountaintop manor is safe, but the rest of us? We’re fucked and doing the best we can, but it’s never going to be enough if your mom doesn’t get with reality and work with us.”

“What do you want, Stiles, a werewolf Justice League? If we start fighting crime like you and Scott, then it’s a slippery slope to policing the city, and that’s not what packs do.”

“I don’t want you to run a werewolf police state free of crime, I just want a little trust and backup from time to time. Packup, if you will.”

Derek saw the attempt to lighten the mood, the offer to let the discussion come to a close, so he took it immediately. He didn’t want to be fighting with Stiles right then; it was too late, they were both exhausted and shaken, and he couldn’t make himself keep picking away at the shoddy defenses Stiles still had standing when every instinct he had was telling him to make it all better.

“I’ll bring it up.”

Stiles nodded once, visibly thrown off by the quick acceptance. “Thanks.”

They started walking again, Derek checking around them in the parking lot for anyone who may have happened to be wandering the sparsely populated parking lot at almost four in the morning. It was silent, aside from the occasional ting of a cooling engine and a slow beeping from a dying phone left in someone’s car.

“It’s a two way street, you know,” Derek said, once they were in the cruiser and on the main road. Stiles just hummed in response, whatever spike of energy he’d gotten from their argument fading fast. “If you guys want help, you need to stop with all the lying and the secrets.”

“It’s a secret identity,” Stiles murmured, face turned away and using the seatbelt as a sling for his head. He already sounded half asleep. “They’re literally half the description.”

Derek just rolled his eyes, knowing his point had gotten across.

* * *

Stiles was dead asleep by the time they got to Bricktown, where both Derek and Scott lived just a few blocks from each other, as they’d discovered one weekend at the farmers market where they were both taking refuge upwind from a table of fragrant homemade soaps. They both kept stubbornly going back because they liked the fresh produce; the stuff from the grocery store just wasn’t as palatable when you could still smell every little thing that had been sprayed on them.

Derek pulled into the only available street parking a block from his apartment and nudged Stiles awake. The window was wet where he’d been breathing on it the whole way there.

“Why’m I at Scott’s?” Stiles slurred, blinking fuzzily out the window at the very distinctive neighborhood corner store that was known for it’s wide selection of milk alternatives.

“You’re not, you’re at my apartment. Or, you’re about to be.”

“You would live here.” He didn’t make any moves to get out of the car, just turned his bleary gaze. “Why didn’t you just take me home?”

“You were already targeted once before, I think it’s safe to assume Deucalion knows where you live. He’s escalating his plays, I don’t think you should be alone tonight.”

“If he really wanted to come after me, I don’t think you being there would stop him.”

Derek gave him a flat look. “Humor me.”

“Consider yourself humored.”

That time, Derek just rolled his eyes and lead the way back down the block to his own brownstone apartment, ignoring the pointed look Stiles gave him as they passed by a used bookstore with a vintage bicycle in the front window.

It wasn’t until they were inside and Melvin was nudging against their legs that Derek realized that Stiles was the first person outside his siblings to set foot in his apartment, and then all he could think about was the overflowing laundry hamper and dirty dishes on the floor next to the couch because the IKEA coffee table Laura made him get was still in a box in the corner.

As were the bookshelves, the TV unit, and the bed frame.

His mattress was on the floor like a broke college student.

“Dude, haven’t you been back for like two months or something?” Stiles asked, eying the corner of stacked boxes.

“I just got those a few days ago, I haven’t had a chance to put them together.”

It was a total lie, and Stiles’ face wasn’t buying it. He gave Derek a look and proceeded to wander around the space, absently petting Melvin trailing after him while poking at everything he came across and filling the entire apartment with his scent and the sterilized remnants of the hospital still clinging to his clothes. He paused near the kitchen, and sniffed the air a couple times.

“What’s that smell?”

“Don’t ask.”

“You didn’t, like, lose an egg, did you?”

“I said don’t ask.”

Stiles held his palms up briefly and went right back to picking up things on the counter. He stared blankly at a can of protein powder, made a face at a perfectly good bottle of olive oil, and raised an eyebrow at the six unopened bags of coffee that proudly declared themselves free trade.

Stiles picked up one of the bags and shook it a little. “Mind if I steal a pot of coffee from you?”

“There’s not enough.” Derek deadpanned, trailing after him into the kitchen. “Shouldn’t you be trying to sleep anyway? You’ve had a long day.”

Hell, Derek had had a long day, and he wasn’t even the one who found his only family half dead on the floor. Just a large chunk of his coworkers, which he felt more than somewhat responsible for after ignoring every warning Stiles tried to—

He needed to focus on Stiles right now, not the crushing guilt rising steadily from the pit of his stomach after fifteen years. Stiles needed support and someone to watch his back while he slept, he needed—well, packup.

“Now you sound like Scott.”

“Scott’s a smart guy.”

Stiles snorted softly, with a quiet and fond smile Derek had never seen on him before.

“Take a shower and calm down,” he suggested gently (it was the Hale family remedy: showers fixed everything), “and I’ll grab you a blanket and pillow for the couch.”

Stiles nodded after a brief moment, suddenly looking even more tired, if possible. Like everything had caught up with him and was dragging him down now that he’d finally stopped for a moment.

“Fine. Bathroom?”

Derek pointed down the short hallway. “On the right. There are clean towels in the closet.”

He waited until the shower was running before taking a slow and steadying deep breath. Then he went to his bedroom closet for blankets, grabbed an extra pillow from his bed, and started to make up the couch. He just flipped the cushions; there was no way he would be able to get all the dog fur off of them in time. Scott had severely understated how much Samoyeds shed, and Derek would never forget it.

Just as he was tucking in a sheet, his cell phone rang across the room, buzzing over the tabletop where Derek had tossed it when he walked in the door. He couldn’t help sighing when he saw it was Parrish calling, but he answered it anyway. Everyone was having a horrible night, he had no right to crawl into a hole like he wanted to.

“Hale.”

“Hey, you’re still awake.” Jordan sounded like he was about to drop; he’d taken lead with the sheriff in the hospital, and Derek didn’t doubt that he hadn’t even sat down since the attack. “I know you just got off but we could really use a few more bodies here.” That was a tad darker than Jordan usually let his sense of humor get, even coming from a military background. “I mean,” Parrish faltered, realizing what he’d said, “fuck.”

“It’s been a hard night,” Derek assured him, “I’m not judging.”

“Still, someone’s got to try to keep it together over here. We’ve got reporters all over the place and families looking for answers—I’m not even sure what to tell them, a mountain lion? Edward Scissorhands?”

“I think they’d just about believe anything at this point.” He lunged to the side to block Melvin from jumping back up on the clean couch. They ended up in a stare off. “Do you need me to come in now?”

“In an hour or so? We have to rotate out Johnson and Nguyen, they’re just finishing up a couple statements. Erica said you’re with Stiles?”

“Yeah, I gave him a ride home from the hospital.”

“How’s he doing?”

“Exhausted. Pretty shaken.”

The water in the bathroom shut off, and the curtain scraped open.

“Sounds about right. Look, make sure he’s okay before you come in. I know he was really close to Tara and with the Sheriff…” Parrish trailed off. “Stay if you need to, I can find someone else. We’re all worried about him.”

They hung up as Stiles padded out of the bathroom in just a towel, looking a lot more uncomfortable than he had before he went in.

Derek tried not to stare, he really did, but he’d never seen Stiles without a shirt before and it was hard to look away. Not just because he was attractive—he was, with lean and tight muscles of an acrobat from years of scaling buildings and broad shoulders that made Derek think of Erica’s lecherous eyebrow wag—but because of the injuries; old scars and fresh bruises and scrapes.

Even after seeing him remove his mask in person, it hadn’t completely sunk in that Stiles was the superhero and vigilante Derek had come to know. Seeing the physical evidence, connecting the injuries Derek had noticed over the last couple months and the constant air of exhaustion that hung around Stiles, to the fights he’d seen Red engage in on the streets...it really drove it home. Stiles was Red. He wasn’t in an abusive relationship with a person, he was in an abusive relationship with a city. And while Red had seemed somewhat superhuman and impressive before he had a name and a face, now he just seemed so fragile, like he could break any second.

Derek's wolf surged against him to protect and fix and heal, to do anything to get the haggard and defeated look off Stiles’ face, and to clear the overwhelming scent of exhaustion and misery from the room.

Stiles gestured to the phone with his wadded up clothes, his free hand holding up the towel around his waist. “Was that the station?”

“Yeah,” Derek croaked out, raising his eyes to Stiles’ face. He shifted under Derek’s gaze. “I’ve got to get back, they’re calling everyone in.”

Stiles nodded. “Yeah, I figured they would. Uh, you mind if I borrow some clothes? If not, it’s cool, I know it’s a whole different thing for werewolves, there’s just,” he glanced down at his own clothes, still balled up in his hand, “my dad’s blood got on them somehow, I must’ve had it on me somewhere when I changed.”

“Of course,” Derek said quickly, already moving towards his bedroom to get a pair of sweats and a shirt—partially to help Stiles, but mostly just to get a brief reprieve from the crushing awkwardness of the situation. Their usual interactions consisted mainly of full force sniping and ribbing, with shields at maximum and both of them on even footing, but this was so far outside of that. Stiles was vulnerable. He was beaten down and exposed, and Derek felt that if he pushed the slightest bit, Stiles would fall apart right there in his living room wearing only a towel and his scars.

And God, the scars.

Derek had never seen someone so permanently marked before. As a werewolf he occasionally took a beating, that was a given, especially when he and his siblings were younger and full of teenage tempers and lacking control—but they all healed, and the humans in his life didn’t throw themselves into real danger. Even human cops didn’t have that kind of scarring in his experience. They had the occasional ding or scratch that never completely faded, or the stupidly-acquired scars from living life that they toted like a badge of honor at holiday gatherings, but Stiles was covered.

They littered his sides, his forearms and biceps, obvious defensive wounds from years of fighting hand-to-hand, and Jesus, did Stiles even have formal hand-to-hand training? Had he taken classes at one point, or had he just run out into the streets three years ago and started throwing punches, hoping for the best? No wonder he always wore shirts while climbing no matter how much he sweat, there was no way he wouldn’t attract attention, and how could the sheriff’s son explain all that?

Derek braced himself for a moment before leaving his bedroom, finding Stiles still standing in his towel and looking over the framed pictures of the Hales hanging over the small dining table. They were the only things actually on the walls, and they only were because Patrick put them up in a pleasingly haphazard but balanced arrangement.

They silently exchanged piles of clothing, fumbling a little with Stiles still trying to hold up his towel with one hand (the scars flecking his knuckles Derek couldn’t help but notice with a new awareness), and Derek immediately dropped Stiles’ shirt and jeans into the wash. When he came back Stiles was wearing his sweatpants and t-shirt, filling both out unfairly well and in an entirely different way than Derek did, sitting on the couch with a very smug Melvin in his lap. So much for clean sheets.

Derek really didn’t know what to say, so he just kind of stood there, contemplating the dirty dishes he could see in the kitchen sink.

"How many?" Stiles asked after a moment of silence, not looking away from his hands in Melvin’s fur.

Derek sighed, debated whether he should tell Stiles something that would just weigh him down even more. He was going to find out either way, but it was tempting to put it off for at least a few more hours.

"Five," he finally answered. Stiles always wanted honesty, not to be coddled. “At last count, five dead, four injured, two bitten.”

"Fuck." Stiles leaned forward into Melvin’s back, hiding his face for a few seconds. “This is all my fucking fault,” he ground out into his hands, his voice raspy with exhaustion and emotions from the night.

Derek frowned. “How exactly is this your fault?”

“It’s a warning for me to keep out of it.” Stiles raised his head, looking utterly miserable. “That omega last night was for me. He was Kali telling me that I’m not as smooth as I thought and that she knows exactly who I am. I thought he meant they would go after me, not—” he cut himself off and swallowed.

“You don’t know that for sure,” Derek argued, because Stiles was spiraling into a pit of guilt and he needed to cut it off. “Deucalion is trying to replace your dad, this might’ve been part of their plan all along; shake up the system and bring in a new guy to stabilize it. Not to mention that your dad is a friend of my mom, even if she never told him anything. They’ve worked together in the past, she endorses him in every election. If Deucalion’s trying to force her to surrender her territory, attacking her allies is a solid way to do it.”

Stiles just looked at him like he wasn’t buying his reasoning at all, and his mouth twitched in a tiny, weak smile. “That didn’t help at all, but thanks anyway.” He scrubbed his hands over his face and shook his head to wake himself up—the exact opposite of what he needed. “Okay, Scott and Allison are out in the city, but I can go meet Lydia, we need to come up with a plan—”

Derek reached out and grabbed his shoulder, cutting him off with a little shake. “No, right now you need sleep. My pack is out in the city too, and I’ll text my mom, but we need to regroup and come up with a plan together.” He hoped his tone was that certain mix of firm but gentle his mother had always been able to pull off, but Stiles just raised an eyebrow so he might’ve missed by a mile. “Get some sleep while I’m at work, I’ll pick you up, and then we’ll all meet at my parents’. You and Scott have a few things to clear up.”

Stiles grimaced. “Can’t I just try and go after Deucalion alone? It’ll be a lot less painful.”

“Just have Scott give her his puppy dog eyes and you’ll survive with only minor bruising.”

Stiles didn’t look any happier about it all. Derek should comfort him. He already had his hand on his shoulder, and that had gone well, but what did he do now? They weren’t really at a hugging kind of stage yet, and he couldn’t just shake his hand.

He patted him on the back.

It was an awkward gesture, a pat on the back; detached and seemingly uncaring, but Jesus, he was bad at this. Comforting, emotions, physical contact without a clear endgame—there was a very good reason all of his relationships ended early with unsatisfying goodbyes and neither party knowing exactly what was going on, and he was that reason. He was absolutely terrible at the physical aspects.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like touching people, quite the opposite, actually, and he would love to be able to do it freely without his own hangups. But little touches on arms, a comforting hand on his back—they didn’t bring comfort for him like he knew they did other people. They brought the memory of Kate and her flirtatious brushes and caresses that he now knew were solely to manipulate the instincts of his wolf even when his senses weren’t completely overwhelmed by her during sex.

It was an irrational fear, that he might unintentionally do something similar to someone else and hurt them in the end, but it lingered all the same. And Stiles, broken down and vulnerable, was the last person he wanted to inflict that on, despite every instinct to bundle him up in blankets and hide him away from the world.

So there he was, patting him on the back like he’d never made contact with another human being before.

Stiles blinked at him for a few seconds and Derek immediately regretted everything. He should’ve just taken Stiles home, why the hell had he brought him here? He was a fucking superhero, he could take care of himself. If he wanted to go out on patrol half delirious with exhaustion and grief, then he could do just that. Fuck it.

“It’ll be fine,” he said instead of actually comforting him like he wanted to, and his tone came out almost flat and cold—why did he sound so mean? “My mom will understand all this a lot better than either of us and since that’s not happening right now, you might as well get some sleep.”

He desperately wanted to do more for Stiles; make him some tea, give him a hug and hold on until he just finally stopped and gave his own well-being the kind of attention he gave to criminals and strangers on the street. He wanted to force him to take a day off from everything, take him to all his favorite places, and distract him from the constant stress and relentless rushing of his life and his responsibilities. He wanted to make him his favorite food and curl up around him in bed to keep him from running out in the dead of night where he could die any second. He wanted to—

Fuck.

He wanted to date Stiles.

This wasn’t harmless flirting with a faceless vigilante, it wasn’t just a crush or distantly appreciating his appearance and sense of humor from afar; he wanted to full blown relationship. With hand holding, and making dinner together, and napping on rainy days.

He so wasn’t ready to even try to unpack that revelation.

“Help yourself to anything in the kitchen, there’s a lot of vegetables,” he said quickly as he started to back towards the door, and he could see how confused Stiles was by the abrupt shift. “I’ve got to get back to the station, so just,” he had to get the fuck out, “make yourself at home. Or don’t. Water’s in the sink.” What.

And then he fled like the coward he was.

By the time he finished his second shift of the night and was rotated out, Stiles was long gone, and Derek collapsed face down into his couch that still smelled like him, like a mix of him and Derek, to sleep for a year.

Or for the two hours until the two packs had their meeting at his parents’ house.

* * *

The house felt crowded, even though there weren’t that many people actually there.

Cora was still at Boyd and Erica’s, answering questions and just generally giving them as much information as she could to prepare them for the full moon, away from the larger danger. Laura had taken the hospital, to talk to the two bitten deputies and give them The Talk and make sure they understood what was going on since they’d both survived being turned, so that left just Talia and Peter on one couch, and the miniscule McCall pack of Scott, Stiles, and Allison opposite them. Derek couldn’t help hovering in the middle, half expecting this meeting to come to blows before it ended.

It was starting too well. He was getting nervous.

“First things first,” Talia started. “Derek, how are things at the station? Do they have any leads on who did this?” That we need to cover up, was left unsaid.

“It’s hectic.” Was the only word he could come up with to describe the total devastation and chaos downtown. People had lost friends and coworkers, family, their boss was in the hospital; they were confused as to how whatever had attacked had gotten in, what had made it choose the station, how no one could’ve taken it out in time. “But the security camera footage showed it was a large male alpha, bald; probably Ennis Santini.”

Scott and Stiles’ heads both shot up at the mention of the security camera, eyes wide.

“He took out the system before you got there. No one knows anything," he assured them, and Stiles deflated in relief, running a hand over his face. He still looked exhausted, with bloodshot eyes and dark circles beneath. Derek’s couch smelled like him, but he clearly hadn’t stayed long enough to get any real amount of sleep, if he’d even slept at all. Just looking at him made Derek want to usher him out of the room and to the closest bed and make him stay there—by lying on top of him, if necessary.

“Why were you two there, and why don’t you want anyone to know about it?” Talia asked, looking between them and Derek with narrowed eyes.

“Unless there’s more to our Scott and Stiles than meets the eye,” Peter mused, pinning them with his unnervingly analytical stare. “What was it you two wanted to get off your chests this morning?”

Both Stiles and Allison looked to Scott, and he took a steadying breath before laying it all out there in true Scott fashion: quick and simple, and sorely in need of elaboration.

“Stiles and I are Red and the Guard. Allison is the Archer.”

The confession was met with dead silence. It clearly wasn’t what anyone had been expecting, as Talia looked blindsided at best while Peter seemed to be completely reevaluating the young adults in front of him.

Scott was tense but in control, Allison apprehensive and squeezing his hand a little tighter in reassurance, but Stiles’ heartbeat was all over the place. He was practically vibrating with nervous energy, clearly preparing for the worst and probably one unexpected twitch away from bolting.

“Derek said Guard is an alpha,” Talia finally responded calmly, once she prioritized her reactions. She’d once explained to Derek and Laura that it was an important skill to have as an alpha; no kneejerk responses, but the appropriate and most important addressed first.

Scott nodded and reached into the collar of his shirt to pull out a silver chain. Nerves poured off of Stiles as his knee started jiggling on the wood floor, making the china in the dining room cupboard rattle quietly as Scott bowed his head and dragged the necklace off from around his neck. When he raised his head again, his eyes were the piercing red of an alpha and the power in the room shifted from Talia to surge between them.

Talia straightened in response, her own eyes flaring red in acknowledgement of an equal, and in that moment the atmosphere changed as this became a formal meeting between two proper packs. Even Peter raised his chin in grudging respect, but his eyes were all sharp curiosity as he studied the scene carefully.

Their eyes faded back to their natural colors and they sat back a little, settling into their shifted dynamics uneasily, but they weren’t on the verge of potential bloodshed anymore.

Progress.

“You’re an alpha,” Talia finally said, stating the obvious, and Scott just nodded. “And you two are the vigilantes.”

“All three of us, yes.”

Talia sat calmly, taking it all in with surprising grace considering how their recent interactions had gone lately; blatant disrespect, lying, bucking orders. She was almost too calm, like there was an explosion brewing just below the surface—no wonder Stiles was still vibrating with nerves. Even Scott wasn’t unaffected by her calm exterior, and from where Derek stood he could see Allison’s hand on the alpha’s back, her thumb stroking back and forth across his shirt.

Scott was nervous, Derek realized with muted surprise. He was an alpha, he had a pack, he could easily challenge Talia for the territory and possibly win, but he wanted her approval.

It wasn’t surprising coming from Scott, but an alpha’s instincts were to carve out territory and dominate, and overcoming those instincts wasn’t always easy. It was impressive that he had not only hidden the fact that he was an alpha for an unknown period of time, but also fought every drive that came natural to his position.

“Why did you hide all of this?” Talia asked next, still giving nothing away. She was in complete control of her every reaction, and it was honestly terrifying. The last time Derek had seen her this type of calm, he’d told her he was joining the NYPD.

Scott took a calming breath and leaned back into Allison’s hand a little more.

“Well, Stiles and I both went to school in Berkeley, which is the Bennett pack’s territory, and they’re kind of...tightasses, a bout having other wolves living there? They have a lot of strict rules and regulations, constant check ins. So when I became an alpha in junior year, Stiles figured out a way to hide it so we could finish school without issue.” He hesitated, then added with a wince, “we didn’t know how you would react.”

“So you just lied.”

The building tension in Stiles’ shoulders finally snapped.

“Hey, we couldn’t take the chance, alright?” He sat forward as he interrupted, constantly on the defensive. “You’ve never seemed all that thrilled to have Scott as an omega in your territory—which is some bullshit, by the way, because he was only bitten because some psycho alpha got past your—” He cut himself off when Scott put a hand on his arm, and picked up again back on track, “Leaving isn’t an option for us. Our entire lives are here, our families, our jobs.”

Derek couldn’t help his eyebrow creeping up at the implication that his mother was cruel enough to force them to leave their home. She also ignored it, moving onto her next question for Scott.

“And how did you become an alpha? I don’t remember hearing of any alphas dying within the last five years.”

Scott’s eyes widened. “Oh, god no, I didn’t kill anyone!” He looked horrified at the suggestion. “It just kind of...happened.”

Peter sat forward at that, a gleam in his eye. “It just happened?”

“I mean, during junior year the three of us were attacked by something, we could never figure out what it was, but it just came at us. I got separated and when I finally found them Stiles was hurt, Allison was trying to hold it off, but it was practically on top of them, and I just…” He trailed off, shrugging a little like he couldn’t find the words.

“Leveled up,” Stiles supplied sardonically.

“Our very own Scott, a true alpha,” Peter murmured, looking at Talia significantly, then back to Scott with a fascinated intensity about him. Like he was looking at him in a whole new light. “A rare find.”

“Yeah, yeah, he’s not a Pokemon.” Stiles sat forward again defensively, drawing Peter’s attention away. “I know what you’re thinking, I saw that exact gotta catch ‘em all look on the playground all through middle school.”

Peter blinked at him innocently and backed off a little, but he hadn’t moved on from the subject at all. Talia cleared her throat to refocus the conversation.

“So you became an alpha and,” she paused, “became a superhero.”

Her voice held that distinct, explain your logic quickly or you’re grounded tone that only a parent could pull off.

Stiles wasn’t fazed in the least and just smirked, quoting with an honest to God wink: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Derek closed his eyes against a blossoming headache in his temples.

“And how did you hide that power?” Talia continued, ignoring Stiles’ sparkling wit. “And your heartbeat and scent?” When they didn’t answer immediately, she added, “You aren’t going to make me feel any better about all this by keeping things from me. I think I deserve to know at least some of the details considering how long you’ve been lying and taking advantage of our hospitality.”

She’d raised five kids before Thea died in the fire, and the house had always been full of family. She knew how to guilt trip with the best, and Scott folded in a second, his face crumpling. Stiles did not.

Scott turned puppy dog eyes on his friend, who just gave him an incredulous look back. Scott shrugged a little, Stiles narrowed his eyes. Scott pouted, and Stiles gave in.

“Fine.” He reached out and slapped his hand down on Scott’s necklace on the coffee table to drag it towards him. He held it up for everyone to see, letting the silver pendent fall and hang from its thing chain. “We use these, Allison and I both have one too.”

He balled it back up and pressed it into Derek’s hand since he was closest, his fingers brushing against the inside of his wrist as he pulled back. Derek ignoring the need to run his own hand over the tingling sensitive skin in favor of carefully untangled the silver chain to get a better look at the flat pendant hanging from the end of the necklace, tilting it into the light so he could see the etchings. He could make out a few runes he recognized, woven intricately with others he’d never seen in his life, but he had no idea what they all did. He could feel the power radiating from them, though; a low pulse thrumming through his fingers. It wasn’t a threatening power like Derek had felt in the past, but a quiet warmth, comforting as it curled around him.

“There’s some basic masking to hide our scent and heartbeat so anyone of the supernatural persuasion doesn’t hear us coming a mile away, and a few protections, but they don’t really do anything against a punch to the face.” Stiles was getting more animated as he talked, sitting forward to vaguely trace each rune he explained, fingers ghosting over Derek’s thumb. The pulse of power spiked gently each time Stiles touched the pendant.

“Scott’s is built around masking the power of an alpha, which is a real pain in the ass, by the way, and they all have one that, like, scatters your presence?” He squinted a little at his own explanation. “The translation is a little funky, but it’s really cool. These are the main part of our disguises since we can’t completely cover our faces because it’s too threatening and people wouldn’t trust us, so I just—” He paused briefly, looking for the word. “—mess with their senses a little. Make it harder for them to remember what we look and sound like.”

He winced. He knew exactly how horrible that sounded.

Talia studied the pendent in silence for a moment, then handed it to Peter, who took longer, committing it to memory and investigating every single detail.

“Well,” she started again, “I think it’s safe to assume that you’re Scott’s emissary.”

“Yes, well—not officially, like I’m not part of the secret underground emissary network, and I’m a bit more proactive than your standard model, but yes,” he wrapped up when Scott knocked his knee against with his own and coughed, “functional equivalent.”

“And the omega who attacked you?”

“A message for me, from Kali Louissaint. I’ve been meeting with her as Red for the last couple weeks, trying to figure out their angle. I don’t know how she figured out who I am, I’ve always been wearing my necklace.”

Derek glanced over at Scott, because just looking at Stiles was going to give him an honest to god ulcer at this rate, and saw the exact same worry and exasperation reflected back on his face. But none of the surprise; Scott had known what Stiles was doing all along and had let him go through with it. He didn’t like it, but he let it happen.

“Have you gotten anything from her so far?” Talia asked.

“Honestly, from what she’s told me, it sounds like they’re trying to push your family out so they can turn Beacon Hills into some supernatural utopia under their rule.” His voice took on a mocking tone. At the stunned silence that followed, he added more seriously, “I mean, I don’t know for sure, but they’ve been smuggling in a lot of people and creatures that you really don’t want running loose around your territory. Half of what we’ve been doing the last year is cleaning up after them.”

Talia didn’t latch onto the whole going after supernatural threats alone thing like Derek had. But then, he could reluctantly acknowledge that he was a little more invested in it all than he really ought to be. It was a little too tempting to gravitate towards Stiles and give him some kind of calming touch, an instinct Derek was wholly unfamiliar with given his history.

“And you thought the best way to do this was to start working with her?”

“Look, it was the fastest way we could think of. I knew they were planning something so I approached Kali and said I wanted in.” Derek found himself in a similar state as his mother, staring at Stiles in disbelief. “It wasn’t even hard, I just played up my frustrations with your family and made it really clear that Scott and I only started all this because you weren’t doing your job, and that my life would be a lot easier under a more proactive pack.”

“How has she reacted?”

“It’s hard to get a solid read on her, she’s got that sadistic kind of sexy going for her.” The corner of Peter’s mouth twitched up at that. “But she’s mentioned Halloween a couple times and wanted to meet with Red tonight specifically, but she’s probably betting I won’t show now.”

“Meaning you’re still planning on going,” Scott sighed, looking far less than thrilled at the realization. Stiles eyebrows jumped in confirmation, looking more confident than the racing anxiety through his body suggested. “No, Stiles, it’s too dangerous. Especially if she knows who you are.”

“Not for sure she doesn’t! Just because she sent an errand boy to threaten me here doesn’t mean she knows he found me. For all she knows, he got caught snooping around by the Hales and was killed for it, no Stiles involved.” He jerked his thumb at the siblings on the opposite couch when they were mentioned, but beyond that they didn’t acknowledge the other people in the room at all. The three of them were completely absorbed in their discussion as if they were alone.

Scott just kept shaking his head. “I still don’t feel comfortable sending you into that.”

“It’ll be fine! Allison can back me up.” Stiles gestured to her, and she nodded quickly.

“Lydia and I have been working on some new arrows that should take down an alpha no problem.”

“They have been, they’re super cool,” Stiles agreed with an excited look in his eye.

“Guys—” Scott looked like he regretted ever introducing the two of them “—this isn’t the time for a test run, we need something we know will work.”

“You doubt Allison and Lydia?”

“No, I just—” Scott growled in frustration, staring up at the ceiling with a why me kind of expression. Talia was holding back a smile, despite the situation. “I don’t want any more unknown variables than we already have!”

“Exactly! We don’t have enough information as it is and I have an in! It would be irresponsible not to use it!”

“I hate that I understand your logic!” Scott returned at the exact same volume, and Stiles just grinned like he knew he’d won.

Derek couldn’t just stand there and let this happen, especially since Stiles had skated over a number of key factors here specifically so he could get his way.

“Aren’t you going to mention the part where it’s highly likely they killed each other’s packs?”

Scott’s jaw dropped and Stiles’ shoulders winced before he turned to squint at Derek, probably for ruining his plans to go get himself killed.

“They did what?” Talia asked calmly, dangerously so.

“All three are alphas," Derek explained, "whose packs were killed all at once in a freak animal attack, each four years apart since Deucalion's pack was killed. Hunters don't imitate animals and there was no reason within the code for the pack to be wiped out like that."

"They didn't kill each other's packs." Derek turned at Allison's voice, who looked uncomfortable but sure. "When my parents let me in on the family business," she put a mocking emphasis on the phrase like she’d heard it a lot, “I had to do a ton of reading about every legend or myth my family had written about, and they really drilled it into me. It was only mentioned once, but I remember reading about something called an alpha pack.”

“That sounds a lot like a pack of alphas,” Scott moaned, and Allison patted his thigh consolingly.

“Because that’s exactly what it is. When an alpha kills their beta, they get stronger. If they kill their entire pack, they’re almost unstoppable. When those alphas form a pack together, they’re practically invincible.”

There was a tense and worried silence. Stiles dropped his head into his large hand and rubbed his temples before letting his hand drag down his face. He looked absolutely exhausted, even beyond how he'd looked when the meeting first started.

"Great, so we have an alpha pack and three new betas to deal with. Awesome. This is just fucking awesome."

Peter gave him a shitty smile. "You forgot the part where tonight is not just Halloween, when the divide between life and death is thinnest, but it's also a full moon. I'm not an expert on killing your own pack for power, but they might be even stronger than usual."

"Especially sitting right on top of a nemeton," Derek added. This just kept getting better.

“Not just a nemeton,” Peter corrected. “Beacon Hills sits on the most powerful nemeton on the continent. Why do you think the Hale pack settled here and has never lost it’s hold on the territory?”

Stiles groaned into his shaky hands. "I hate this city."

Scott glanced over at his friend, brow furrowed in concern, and Derek could empathize. Stiles didn't look well at all, and it had been well over twenty-fours hours since he'd slept—Derek wasn't going to try to convince himself that Stiles had slept at all at his apartment. He probably left right after Derek went back to the station.

His mom kept looking between him and Stiles meaningfully, her head just barely ticking towards the stairs when their eyes met.

Oh.

“Stiles, can I talk to you for a second?”

He didn’t wait for an answer, he just grabbed his forearm and dragged him off the couch and upstairs to the first guest room, shutting the door solidly behind them so he couldn’t hear anything from the meeting downstairs. His grip was immediately shoved off.

“What the fuck, Derek?”

"You need to sleep."

“Yes, thank you, I’m aware of that,” he snapped, “But we’re a little busy at the moment.”

“Yes. We are. You’re going to sleep for the next few hours, or you’re not going out tonight.”

Stiles gaped.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” He was pissed. That had definitely been the wrong thing to say. Derek was so bad at this, his mom should’ve handled it. "No, you don't have a say in that, because we're not your pack! You're not a part of this team, you can't just—"

"Stiles,” Derek grabbed his shoulder to get him to stop for a second, but he just shrugged off his hand, “I don't have to be part of your team to see that you're about to collapse, and going anywhere in your state is dangerous and reckless. If you were anywhere near well rested you would see that."

"But I can't take a nap right now, Derek! I'm the only one who's even spoken to Kali, she thinks she’s got me cornered which gives me the upper hand. I have to see this through."

"You're really not winning me over here." The thought of anyone cornering Stiles was enough to make Derek want to just knock him out right there to save him from himself.

“But you know I’m right!”

“We’ll send Scott instead,” Derek tried, knowing it would be shot down immediately. “If she tries anything, he can take her if he needs to.”

Stiles squinted at him like he seriously doubted his sanity. “Seriously? Can you imagine Scott trying to get information from anyone? He folds anytime my dad asks him a question, he can’t lie for shit.”

“But he’s an alpha, he’ll stand a chance against them.”

“And I won’t? Derek, I can handle this. It’s what I do, it’s how we work. I’m Batman, I sneak around and lie and deceive. Scott’s Superman, leading the people to a brighter tomorrow.” Derek couldn’t help but notice the sarcastic edge he put on Deucalion’s campaign slogan. “It works, it has for years.”

“While you kill yourself in the process?” Stiles opened his mouth to no doubt disagree, but Derek kept going. “Stiles, you’re about to pass out as it is, running out to face off against an alpha is the stupidest thing you could possibly do.”

“I’m not going to face off against her, I’m going to pump her for information, and yes, I’m aware of how weird that sounded.”

“And if it does turn into a fight?”

“I’ll have Allison with me.”

“Stop—having an answer for everything!” It just burst out, and Derek was so beyond frustration he didn’t even care how stupid that sounded. “Just let Scott do this one, trust him to handle it, and take care of yourself!”

“I can’t. I have to be out there, I have to watch his back, I need to have the information.” The way he said it made it sound like an internal mantra, like he’d been repeating it for years, which was concerning for a number of other reasons.

“Stiles, it isn’t your job to get all the answers. We can do this for you, we can watch Scott’s back.” He wasn’t entirely sure if that was the issue here, but it was a pretty good guess. “You just need to trust us to handle this.”

“No, I watch Scott’s back, because the one time I didn’t, he became a werewolf!” he bit out harshly, then snapped his mouth shut like he was just realizing what he’d said. He took a shaky breath. “I took off, I thought he was behind me, I wasn’t watching, and Scott’s life completely fell apart become of it. I’m not going to let that happen again.”

Derek frowned, processing his words. “What could you have possibly done? I heard what happened, you were a couple of sixteen year old kids who got attacked by an insane alpha. You two are lucky Scott was only bitten and not torn apart.”

“I should’ve stayed with him,” Stiles answered immediately, like he’d been thinking it over and over again this entire time, “or hey, maybe not have suggested going out into the woods to look for a dead body in the first place.”

“Stiles, that wasn’t your fault, and you know Scott would never blame you for that.”

“That makes it even worse. His life was complete hell for almost three years—I mean, it was honestly a miracle he graduated with grades as high as he did and I had to teach him half of tenth grade myself, and both our parents thought we were on all kinds of drugs, my dad had me pee in a cup a few times, that was awesome, Scott almost killed his first girlfriend on a full moon—that’s all on me.” He finally paused to breathe for a second, fingertips jabbed into his own sternum in self-accusation and eyes wide with manic exhaustion. “I did that to him, and he’s too good a person to even fathom that he should hate me for it.”

“Why would he hate you for something you had no control over? Unless you shoved him at the alpha and ran, you did everything you could.”

Stiles paused for a moment, then instead of answering directly, just asked, “Have you ever seen someone go through the transition from human to werewolf?” Derek blinked at the sudden switch. “Not the physical transformation, but the social aspects, the life adjustment.”

“Not really. My pack is all born wolves and we haven’t turned anyone since before I was born. My mother won’t bite anyone except under very specific circumstances.”

“Well, it’s a fucking nightmare,” Stiles responded bluntly. “I had to chain up my best friend in my basement almost every full moon and hope that it wouldn’t be the moment that he just finally lost it and killed me, or his mom, or my dad.” He stared Derek dead in the eye as he spoke, a confrontation even while bearing a vulnerability.

“Scott practically stopped living for two years because he was so terrified he would hurt someone, and I just couldn’t figure out how to help. It wasn’t until he met Allison in college that he got it completely under control with an anchor, and it’s a good thing too because I was this close to a mental breakdown—I might’ve actually had one, a few months in there are just a stressed and panicked blur. So no, I didn’t do everything I could, I didn’t figure it out, and I’m not going to make that mistake ever again.”

There was too much in there to get into immediately, so Derek focused on the important parts. The years of guilt, anxiety, fear, and self-esteem issues would have to wait.

“Why didn’t you tell my mom he couldn’t control it? She would’ve helped him.” Derek tried to keep his voice from sounding too judgmental, but Stiles and Scott had put themselves through so much more than they had to.

“What’s the main tactic for an out of control werewolf with no anchor? Submission, right? To their alpha? Scott didn’t have an alpha, and he sure as shit wouldn’t have submitted to your mother, no offence. He likes her, he genuinely loves your family, but he doesn’t agree with them on a lot of fundamental issues, this whole non-interference gig being like seven of them. It would’ve done more harm than good at that point.”

Derek nodded; that was a fair assessment, but ultimately they didn't know that for sure. It very well could've worked.

“So you, a human who knew nothing about werewolves, helped a brand new werewolf through two years of uncontrolled shifts, without any help from anyone, and you still managed to keep it all a secret and stay alive. Most people would call that a success, given the circumstances you were working under.”

“Most people wouldn’t have gotten into that situation, and success or not, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.” He grabbed at his hair and laughed a little hysterically. Derek was getting the impression that this was the first time Stiles had actually said any of this out loud, and also that this conversation was quickly moving out of his depth. Middle of the Atlantic Ocean out of his depth. Mariana Trench. “Who the fuck goes out to look for a dead body in the middle of the woods?” Stiles moaned into his hands as he dragged them down his face.

“Probably the same kind of person who wears a mask and fights crime at night.”

Stiles snorted, but came out from behind his palms to give Derek a wry look. “That doesn’t say much for the guy who flirts with the kind of person who wears a mask and fights crime at night.”

Derek froze, Stiles eyes widened in panic and he looked like he hadn’t meant to say that out loud.

“Not that you were like, flirting flirting,” he backtracked quickly, his heartbeat tripping over itself with embarrassment, “I mean I know we had that weird kind of flirty banter but I wouldn’t really call that flirting, well I guess it kind of is? But like it’s a whole different thing because you had no idea who I was, and that was kind of shitty—”

“Stiles.”

“—because I kind of feel like I was taking advantage of you, which makes the validity of the flirting pretty questionable, because, like, would you still have been flirting if you knew it was me all along? Is this technically a catfishing situation or is that only over the internet?”

“Stiles.”

“I should really look that up because I was intentionally misrepresenting myself I guess, even though it wasn’t expressly for the purpose of leading you on, that was just a plus—not that I was just leading you on, oh my god, that wasn’t the intention at all, that just kind of happened because you’re you and you’re attractive and weirdly funny, and you have a nice ass and adorable little rabbit teeth, and oh my god, can you please just knock me out or something, because I’m kind of freaking out and I can’t stop talking, and I might actually be starting to hypervent—”

Derek kissed him.

He stepped right up to him, cupped his face in his hands, and pressed their lips together, because Stiles was exhausted and panicking and on the verge of passing out, and Derek was frustrated and impatient, and he couldn’t think of any other way of getting the message through the solid wall of babbling.

Derek pulled back slowly, nervously, taking in Stiles’ wide eyes and parted lips as his mind visibly rebooted itself. He wasn’t really reacting, just blinking stupidly and staring at Derek. Until his eyes started to narrow and Derek’s stomach hit the floor, because he just fucked up.

“Okay, if that was just to shut up me, I’m going to punch you in about five seconds.”

“It wasn’t just to shut you up.”

“Really? Because aside from the questionable flirty banter with Red, you just kind of stared at me whenever I flirted, and you were on a warpath to kill Red but you also fucking took his pain and sat with him until I felt better. I can’t—” he took a frustrated breath, “you’re impossible to read and you’re blurring my lines and it’s seriously fucking me up, so if this isn’t actually a thing, I need you to never do that again.”

Was that really how he came off? Just staring blankly?

“It is a thing,” Derek rushed out after a panicked second of trying to untangle what Stiles said. He should’ve been more eloquent—told him about his dating history, that it was so much easier and safer to flirt with a masked shadow who was out of reach than a very real and touchable cocky grin who lived life like it was made to run into the ground—it was a pretty big moment, but he didn’t have the time to sit down and compose a sonnet. “It’s definitely a thing.

Stiles craned his head around like he’d misheard. “Like a thing thing?”

Derek frowned. “Yes?”

“Like a Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy thing?” He waved the idea away, “actually, no, she dies. And you’re law enforcement so I guess you’re kind of Commissioner Gordon to my Batman. No, that’s my dad. You’re much more Wolverine, and if I had to label myself I would totally be Nightwing, but you’re not a Barbara Gordon by any means, and Lydia is Oracle anyway—hey, and a redhead!”

His genuine glee about that fact was bordering on manic, his bloodshot eyes a little too wide.

“Oh!” He smacked Derek’s shoulder a few times, a little too hard, “oh, oh, oh, if I’m Nightwing you could be Huntress, the mafia thing totally applies to pack!” He paused and made a face. “Hunter?” His face screwed up more. “I didn’t think that thr—”

Derek gently raised his hands to cup Stiles’ jaw, brushing his thumbs over his cheeks in an effort to get him to calm down and focus on them and not on comics. Stiles shut up immediately, taking a small, calming breath and blinking quickly a few times. His eyelashes were practically fluttering with nerves.

“How about,” Derek suggested, pleaded, really, because there were a lot of foreign names being thrown around and he wasn’t sure what Stiles was ramping up to, expectation-wise. “We just be Derek and Stiles, and see where that gets us.”

He didn’t want a dramatic comic book romance with danger and intrigue, he just wanted this to work.

“Stiles isn’t really all that great in a relationship,” Stiles confessed quietly with a deprecating smile. “He’s kind of an asshole.”

“So’s Derek. We can work on it.”

Stiles nodded as a more genuine smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “I’d like that.”

Then his eyebrow twitched, and the natural smile turned down into his usual smart ass grin. The mood had been serious for longer than Stiles was usually comfortable with, and Derek was ready and waiting for his offhanded, “You know, we are in a soundproof—”

“No.” He cut him off before Stiles could even finish. It wasn’t a good sign that his lecherous eyebrow wag had turned endearing somewhere along the way. “You’re falling asleep standing up and somnophilia isn’t really my thing.”

“But it’s the perfect solution! We get to have sex and I can still get some sleep! Win-win!”

“It worries me that you seem to genuinely believe that.” He spun Stiles around by his shoulders, aiming him towards the bed. His parents wouldn’t mind if he crashed there for a few hours; it was probably safer than sending him home alone with the alphas on the loose looking for a new emissary. “Take a nap. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

Stiles twisted out of his hands and completed the spin back around.

“Compromise: you spend those few hours here, I promise to be a perfect gentleman, but then you also let me gently feel you up until I fall asleep.”

“A perfect gentleman.”

“You can’t expect me to be that respectable when you’ve just told me that this,” he gestured to Derek’s entire person, “could legitimately want and be all over this,” he gestured to himself, “in the very near future.”

“If you get in bed now, this could be all over that within five minutes—in the most PG way possible.” He was not having sex in his parents’ guestroom, which used to be his older sister’s bedroom. Not happening. Werewolves were a lot more casual about certain personal boundaries, but that kind of invasion of private space was somewhere Derek didn’t want to go.

He also knew the kinds of things Laura had gotten up to in this room, and there was no way he was tainting the start of his and Stiles’ relationship with all of that.

“I’ll take it,” Stiles agreed immediately, and pulled Derek with him as he backed towards the bed. He paused to kick off his shoes and jeans, gave Derek’s raised eyebrows an inconvincing innocent look, then gestured for him to do the same and hurry up about it before flopping back on the left side of the bed and pulling the blankets over himself like he lived there.

Well then.

Derek followed suit, shucking his shoes and jeans and sliding into the other side of the bed, but that was about where his confidence faltered. This was brand new, barely beyond hypothetical, and it felt so much more important and fragile than any relationship he’d had in the past. It had been building for so long, scattered between him and Stiles and Red, but still trying to connect, and now they’d finally paused for long enough to catch up to each other. He really didn’t want to mess this up.

Stiles huffed out a laugh, reached one arm back blindly to pat around for Derek’s hand and when he found it, tugged it around him until Derek was flush up against his back.

Derek hesitated a moment, caught by surprise, then gently pressed his lips to the back of Stiles’ neck. Stiles squeezed his hand in return and wriggled his ass into Derek’s crotch.

“Go to sleep,” Derek murmured against his skin through a smile, tightening his hold around him to keep him still. Stiles scoffed, but all Derek could read from him was happiness—a little nervous energy, some anxiety woven through the stale scent of exhaustion, but overall contentedness with the day. They mirrored his own feelings on the matter, the sense that things were finally a little less hopeless now that everyone was finally working together.

Just a few minutes later, Stiles was dead asleep in his arms, Derek not far behind him.

* * *

He woke an hour later with his arm numb, an elbow in his face, and Scott at the open bedroom door. Derek froze, not at all sure how to proceed with the alpha of another pack catching him technically in bed with his emissary, and that emissary’s elbow still dangerously close to his eye, so he blinked at him like an idiot and hoped his heart wasn’t beating as loudly as it seemed to be.

He shifted away an inch, trying get into a slightly more dignified position or maybe just free his crushed arm, but Stiles just rolled with him and fell deeper into his chest. His elbow was still in Derek’s face. This wasn’t going well.

“Don’t even try to get away, dude,” Scott whispered from the door, looking more amused than angry. “He gets clingy when he’s asleep.”

“Is everything okay?” Derek whispered back, barely even speaking so he wouldn’t wake Stiles, but Scott heard it anyway, like he could no doubt still hear Derek’s pounding heart. He had just walked in on another wolf with his best friend and emissary, how was he not reacting to it at all?

“Yeah, no worries. We finished talking to your mom and were going to head out, but it looks like Stiles is fine here. He needs the sleep anyway.” He ducked out, but stuck his head back in to add, "Oh, tell him that Lydia wants him out floating by nine at the latest. And she threatened to do horrible things to his ass if he’s late.” He nodded with a crooked smile and left, shutting the door quietly behind him.

Derek stared after him for a torturously long few minutes, wondering what the fuck floating meant and half expecting him to barge back in and belatedly demand an explanation, but nothing happened. He couldn’t hear anything beyond his own nervous heartbeat and Stiles’ soft and steady breathing on top of him, dragging him back down to sleep.

He tentatively relaxed again, moving Stiles’ elbow and rearranging them back into their original spooning position that had worked pretty well all around. Stiles didn’t even acknowledge the movement beyond a soft snort as he settled back in again, pressing back into Derek’s chest like he was drawn there.

The second time Derek woke, it was by Stiles trying to untangle himself from his arms and the blankets. The room was darker than it had been when Scott checked in, and he was entirely too comfortable to let Stiles leave. He tightened his arms stubbornly, undoing any progress Stiles had made, and couldn’t help grinning when he heard a grunt of frustration.

“No, you don’t get to be both hot and adorably clingy,” Stiles complained, flopping back trying to crush him, but it really just made him even more warm and comfy and loathe to leave the bed ever again. “This isn’t allowed, I don’t approve. How can I leave when you snuggle?”

“You don’t, and I don’t snuggle.”

“This is literally snuggling, and it’s so not fair. I have crime to fight.”

Derek just tightened his grip further. “Don’t go,” he muttered into his back, then he froze, suddenly fully awake. He hadn’t intended to say that out loud.

Stiles stilled and his back moved with a deep breath, expanding and contracting. “I have to.”

“You’re going to get hurt.”

“I already have.”

Derek loosened his grip and Stiles rolled off him onto his side so they were facing each other.

“Derek, it’s going to be fine. It’s just a meeting, and Allison will be there to back me up.”

“They know who you are. This is just reckless.”

Stiles smirked. “Reckless is kind of my thing, in case you hadn’t noticed. My friends and I became crimefighters.”

“You couldn’t just do it the normal way and become a cop, could you.” It was actually surprising that Stiles hadn’t become a deputy under his father—though considering his propensity for lying, skirting rules, and playing fast and loose with the law, it was probably better he hadn’t.

“You’ve seen my ass in spandex. It would be a crime to cover all that with khaki slacks.”

“Speaking of your ass, Scott said Lydia wants you out floating by nine and that there were a lot of threats to your ass if you’re late.”

Stiles winced. “She knows me too well.”

“Threatening your ass. That’s what gets you moving?”

“I worked hard on this ass! Hours of squats and leg lifts.” He sounded genuinely offended, and Derek couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not. He twisted around to stare back at it mournfully. “I just wish Boyd could fully capture its beauty in the comics. I might actually read them.”

“You don’t read your own comics?”

“How narcissistic do you think I am?” Derek gave him a look that he hoped conveyed you were just waxing poetic about your own ass. “Fine, it’s because Lahey’s a tool, otherwise I totally would. And really, Arsenio Grimes? Terrible name.”

“Says Stiles Stilinski.”

“At least I actually sound like a superhero! Peter Parker, Scott Summers, Wally West, Stiles Stilinski—it totally works!”

“Of course it does. Just remember that your ass has just over an hour before it’s supposed to be out floating.” That might’ve been the weirdest sentence he’d ever said aloud, and as a werewolf, he’d said some pretty odd things. “What does floating even mean?”

“It’s just a patrol thing, no big deal.”

“Yeah, I got that, but what does it mean?” Stiles frowned as his voice became serious and more insistent. It was such a little thing, a minor detail, but it was just one more in a long line of bigger lies and secrets, and Derek didn't want to be kept out of it any longer. Especially if he and Stiles were going to be a thing. “If you want to do this, you’re going to have to start trusting me. I can’t just be left in the dark.” Not again. Not after his willful ignorance killed his own family.

Stiles studied him for a second, and something on his face must’ve conveyed how serious he was, because he actually gave him a straight answer.

“It just means that I don’t have a set zone like Allison or Scott, I go where Lydia points me, and tonight it frees me up to meet Kali.” He shifted his head on the pillow, cocking it to the side. “Why do you even care about this, anyway?”

Derek hesitated, but fuck it. This might very well be the last moment they had to themselves before all this was over; he might as well put it all out there, even though every instinct he had was telling him to keep it all hidden until he knew it was truly safe to reveal it.

“I care about you. I want to do what I can to keep you from getting hurt.”

Stiles eyes softened with fondness, then he spasmed a little and whined, “Don’t do that.”

Derek frowned. “Do what, care about you?”

“No, that part’s fine, you go right on doing that, but just don’t,” he waved his hand around vaguely, “get all overprotective, okay, it’s not going to go well for anyone involved. I’m going to do dumb and dangerous shit, you’re going to get mad—it won’t be good.”

“I can’t worry about you?” That seemed a little unfair, given that a large part of Derek’s makeup revolved around protecting his pack. Whether it was official or not, his wolf considered Stiles not only to be pack, but a whole lot more, especially now that they were...sort of dating.

“I never said that, but just don’t get that look on your face.”

“What look?”

“That look. That look like I’m some defenseless porcelain doll running with the big wolves.”

“Compared to the big wolves, you are a porcelain doll. You’re human and fragile when it comes to the supernatural.”

“Yeah, no.” Stiles propped himself up on his elbows, always just on the edge of defensiveness and reluctant to back down from it. “I’ve been doing this three years. I know what I’m doing, and it’s a serious dick move to assume otherwise just because I can’t heal as fast as you do.”

Derek pushed himself up on an elbow too. It was always best to be on equal footing with Stiles. Even while technically lying down.

“You know that’s not what I think.”

“Well, that’s sure as shit how it sounds. I’m good, I have the training, you’ve seen me out fighting. I’m not going to let the fact that I’m human stop me, and you wouldn’t have either before you knew who Red is. It’s a shitty double standard just because you know now, and it’s not fair to disregard my experience because I can’t lift a semi with my pinkie toe.”

Derek was fully aware of that. But knowing that didn’t stop him from wanting to protect Stiles where he could and keep him from throwing himself in danger. It was one thing to see Red out on the streets, fighting hard before taking off into the night with a wink and seeming all but invincible, but it was another thing entirely to see the physical evidence of all that on Stiles’ body the night before in Derek’s own apartment.

“You’re right. It is shitty.”

Stiles blinked at the quick agreement, his surprise dousing his ramping indignation, but Derek really didn’t want to be wasting their short reprieve with one of their spats. Anything could happen to Stiles out there with Kali, and Derek didn’t want this moment to be ruined with harsh jabs like it was any other morning at the climbing gym. This was quiet and private, and he wanted it to last.

“But can we agree to just accept that I’m going to worry and fight about it later?”

Stiles narrowed his eyes, pretending to mull it over. “Sounds doable. But we will fight about it later. Loudly, and I might hit you.”

“I might even feel it.”

Stiles narrowed his eyes and kicked him in the shin. He definitely felt it. “Dick.”

They let half an hour pass, just lying together and mildly insulting each other, falling back into their bickering even though Derek had wanted to avoid it, and then Stiles looked at the clock and groaned, flopping down onto Derek’s chest.

“You could just not go,” Derek suggested quietly, raking his fingers through Stiles’ hair. He melted a little, and Derek filed that away for the future. “We could wait until my mom gets back from her meeting and see what she says.”

“No,” Stiles groaned into his pecs. “We need all the information we can get, and not all from Deucalion. I’ve gone this far with Red, I should see it through.”

Derek tightened his grip on Stiles hair for a second, then let go, smoothing it back down into its usual disarray. “Be careful.”

Stiles raised his head and studied him for a second, eyes roaming over his face in the dim lamplight like he was committing it to memory one last time. The thought made his chest tight, made him pull Stiles forward into a bruising kiss bordering on desperate, and Stiles brought his hands up to cup the back of his neck and squeeze. It physically ached all over, and it felt like goodbye.

“Derek, relax,” Stiles murmured against his lips, then pulled back with a cocky and devastating grin that was all for show. “I got this.”

* * *

It was just a meeting, nothing would happen, Stiles would be fine.

Derek reminded himself of that yet again as he sifted through his mail on the way up to his apartment, not really taking in anything he was seeing. It wasn’t even important mail, anyway, just a few credit card offers, a donation plea, and a magazine addressed to his neighbors. Vegetarian Times, advertising the ultimate guide to tofu.

He shoved the magazine under their door when he passed, holding his breath through the cloud of incense that always hovered in this section of the hallway, and crumpled the note taped to his own door without even reading it.

It was no doubt about Melvin barking while left alone for the last five hours, and sure enough, he’d torn apart and eaten an entire loaf of bread, and Derek’s toothbrush was a mangled mess on the couch.

So he paced up and down the street with Melvin for half an hour, dodging trick-or-treaters, and then returned to his apartment to pace around there some more. He did a few laps, checked his silent phone, did another nervous lap around the main room, and wound up right back in the kitchen, glaring at six bags of fair trade coffee beans with Melvin at his heels.

There was still no news from Laura outside Deucalion’s office, so he had to believe that everything there was going according to plan in his mom’s meeting that she couldn’t be talked out of. She was determined to appear as though she didn’t suspect anything until the very last minute, and Derek suspected that she also really didn’t want to believe that her oldest friend was doing this to her.

Cora and Peter were at the Hale house, helping Boyd and deputies McKinney and Colt through the full moon. All three had been bitten by one of the alpha pack, and on their first full moon, they would be drawn to their alpha, susceptible to being manipulated. If they could keep them contained and teach them at least the beginnings of control, then that was one less variable Scott, Stiles, and Allison would have to worry about. Last he’d heard, they were all doing fine and didn’t need any more help from him.

He couldn’t go back to work, he’d just put in two shifts and was banned from the station by Parrish until he got some real sleep, and Erica was no doubt busy with Boyd if not sleeping off her own double. Derek hadn’t talked to her since the end of their second shift, when she slapped him hard on the shoulder for not telling her and then informed him that if she was going to hate him, it would be because he’s a hipster beer snob, not because he’s a werewolf, and then walked off with a jaunty wave. It was touching, but still, there was no reason to hate good beer.

In any other situation, he would’ve worked off his stress and worry climbing at Upon this Rock, but that just made him want to run out and find Stiles, which was exactly what he was supposed to not be doing. And if he just kept telling himself that, he would be fine. He could handle this.

It was frustrating and a little overwhelming, suddenly feeling this strong drive to protect and hold and defend after so many years of just...not. His years in New York had so dulled almost every pack instinct to barely noticeable, and being back with them in a time of stress and crisis, being with Stiles, finally having something to defend that he was so entwined with—he wasn’t used to it. He felt like a teenager again, still learning control.

But he couldn’t help any of it, not even the bubbling excitement about it all, because this could work. This could actually work.

The biggest obstacle for both of them in past relationships was their secrets, werewolf and crimefighter, always holding back a major part of their lives in case it all fell apart, and for Derek, the horrifying knowledge of what could happen when it did. That part was over and done with, they had already revealed that vulnerability and proven to be trustworthy with it; they didn’t have to worry about it anymore. Sure, they were far from functional, and they both still had a boatload of trust issues to work through after keeping secrets for so long, but the biggest thing that had always held Derek back, it didn’t matter with Stiles.

He practically dove for his phone when it rang, only to hesitate with a twisting stomach when he saw it was Scott. Good news or bad?

“Hello?” he answered warily.

“Stiles’ meeting is going south and we need to regroup. I’ll pick you up in five minutes.”

Of course.

* * *

By the time they got to wherever they were going, even as much as they were speeding, Scott’s car was a pit of misery and worry, both of them feeding off each other’s emotions while pretending to be calm about everything.

Scott pulled into a sketchy parking lot behind a tall brick building, and led the way in past the locked front doors to the bland and somewhat rundown lobby. There was an empty reception desk with nothing on it, a bank of mailboxes of which three actually looked used, and the rug leading to the elevator looked like it had seen better days in the eighties. As did the elevators, when the doors dinged open.

“What is this place?” Derek asked, eyeing the mostly empty directory and frowning when Scott hit the button labeled Beacon Security Solutions on the tenth floor, at the top of the building.

“Startup network security company,” Scott answered easily with a casual shrug that wasn’t fooling anyone. “They’re small but work with a few big companies in China. Pretty high maintenance contracts—lots of late night conference calls.” He gave Derek a significant look.

Oh, a cover.

Small tech companies popped up everywhere, in some of the oddest places; why wouldn’t there be one in a mostly empty office building near the center of town? Tech companies attracted young people of a very Stiles-esque appearance, overseas clients explained young people coming and going at odd hours of the night. It was a perfect base, and probably not connected to any of them by name.

Derek followed Scott out of the elevator and to a big metal door that didn’t look like it’d been opened in years. The place looked too industrial to be an office, the opposite of the boring lobby and probably the floors below. It was like the top floor had never been finished and someone just moved in at some point and adapted it to fit their needs anyway.

“What if someone actually wants your network security services?” Derek asked as Scott hauled the door to the side along metal tracks.

“Then they’ll be sent to our website where it says that we’re sorry, but we’re not currently accepting new clients.” A woman answered from inside, then turned to Scott and told him flatly, “You’re late.”

Scott winced. “I figured we could use some help, and Derek’s the only person not already busy.”

It took Derek a second for him to realize that he’d just heard the same female voice always talking over Red’s radio. He turned to the woman, intending to put a face to the voice, but did a doubletake at the huge loft he found himself in. Two stories, brick walls, massive windows overlooking the city, and more computers and wires than he’d ever seen outside of The Matrix. One wall was completely taken up by long, thin drawers used to hold architectural plans, but they were all labeled G, R, or A in marker on masking tape.

“I’d give you the grand tour, but we don’t have time right now.” He dragged his attention back to the small but attention-demanding redhead, and realized he was meeting Lydia—Stiles’ Oracle. She gave him a brief once over and didn’t look all that impressed.

Oracle and Nightwing had a thing, he knew that much about Batman, and now looking at the gorgeous and clearly intelligent woman in front of him, Derek couldn’t help but wonder how many similarities backed up Stiles’ comparison.

Lydia didn’t give him much time to linger on the thought. She turned on her heel—high heels, he didn’t know how she looked so put together at 11pm while all of this was going on, because he knew he looked like a mess—and led them back to her desk of computers. There was an unspoken order to follow.

As he walked further into the loft, towards a couple couches off to the left with clothes and books and personal items strewn about, the scent of Stiles grew stronger, overwhelming, almost. This was where he spent all of his time, not at his own apartment. He practically lived there, slept on one of the couches based on scent alone; he was so worked into the furniture and clothing that he’d permeated the wood of the floor. His life had become Red.

Lydia pulling out her chair from the desk made him snap back to attention, and she gave Scott a sharp look as she sat down.

“I called you as soon as things started to feel off, and I assumed you’d come straight back here—” her gaze flicked over to Derek, still unimpressed “—but luckily Stiles knows how to stall so they’re still talking.”

“Why didn’t you just go directly to him?” Derek couldn’t help but ask Scott. Stiles said Allison would be there to back him up, but there was no backup better than an alpha.

“Stiles has been meeting with Kali alone for weeks,” Scott explained quietly as Lydia did something at the computer. He looked just as unhappy about it as Derek felt. “We’re trying to keep this all going smoothly if we can, and having an unexpected alpha show up is just going to piss her off. Stiles can get out of this."

He gave Derek a reassuring smile, but he didn't feel all that reassured.

Lydia turned and glared them into silence. “Kali changed the meeting place at the last minute, and Allison hasn’t been able to get a clear shot, but she’s there. So far there hasn’t been anything beyond gloating and taunting. They’re playing with him, but I can’t complain if it’s buying Allison time to get to them.” She unplugged a headset from the monitor, and a slimey female voice, forced into a mockery of alluring, filled the loft.

“—know you can feel it, emissary; the power centered here. Whatever pack holds this territory holds old power. We’re going to take it, and you’re going to help us.”

“Yeah, not gonna happen,” Stiles’ voice drawled with a forced casual. Derek could hear the slight waver in his voice, and Scott shifted, biting his lip. “You can’t threaten me; you’ve got nothing on me and I’d die before working with you.”

Kali laughed coldly and a wave of dread rolled through Derek’s gut. That was the laugh of everything going according to plan.

“You think your druid tricks can fool me? I married a druid, I can see right through you, boy. I can smell you all over the Hales, and the deputy all over you.” Derek glanced over to Lydia’s arched eyebrow and Scott’s unreadable expression. They didn’t comment. “I know exactly who you are, and I know exactly who The Guard is.”

“Then if you're trying to make Alpha Hale surrender to you, you're barking up the wrong tree and you know it. We’re not in her pack.”

“Oh, we don't need her surrender. It would be neater in the long run, but it really doesn’t matter either way. We’re taking this territory tonight and it would really be in your best interest for you and your True Alpha to join us.”

Scott’s jaw audibly clenched, eyes dark with anger.

“Someone check in with Laura,” he growled, just as Stiles told Kali that Scott would never work for them and where exactly she could shove her offer.

Lydia opened a window on a side monitor and quickly typed out a message to Laura’s cell. Derek didn’t know how she had his sister’s number, and it wasn’t what he needed to be focusing on. Kali didn’t seem to be aware that Stiles was wearing a mic and they needed every advantage they could get.

“I think you’d be surprised,” she was saying, “what he’s capable of to save his partner from being ripped apart.”

“You’re not giving me a whole lot of incentive to cooperate, here.”

There was a dull thud and Stiles choked quietly as he was pressed against something by his throat.

“Fine. Here’s some incentive for you,” Kali’s voice was louder and clearer, leaning in next to his ear, “do what we say or I’ll rip your boyfriend’s head off right in front of you.”

“You’ll have to do better than that,” Stiles growled right back, voice strained through her grip.

“Maybe your father, then? Now that we have betas within the Sheriff’s Department, he’s redundant. He's about to be replaced anyway.”

This time Stiles’ voice took on a darker edge. “Touch him again and it’ll be the last thing you ever do.”

“Call Scott and I won’t have to.”

“Fuck you,” Stiles spat around the hand on his throat.

Kali hummed in disappointment, then there was a growl and a crack of skull meeting brick, before a short, breathy exhale as Stiles passed out. Scott flinched and Lydia’s eyelashes fluttered as she refused to react. Derek’s stomach flipped and twisted around, and he barely held back a whine at the back of his throat; why had Stiles decided to go through with this?

There were the sounds of shuffling and fabric moving for a moment, then silence as Lydia disconnected Stiles’ earpiece from their channel, a good idea if Kali found it and decided to listen in.

“They took him.” Allison’s voice crackled in. “They had a van waiting, and I can’t follow without being seen if Kali can see through the charm.”

“They?” Lydia asked.

“Ennis showed up, caught him off guard before he could get to his mountain ash.”

“Alright, head back to the loft. We’ll come up with a plan together.” Scott looked to Lydia. “Is there any good news? Has Laura responded?”

“No word from Laura, but Stiles’ tracker is still working and they don’t seem to have removed it. I don’t think they know it’s there.”

“If we know where he is, then let’s go get him.” Derek straightened, intending to lead the charge out the door, but Scott stopped him with a hand on his arm, his calm alpha power making Derek pause immediately.

“We need a plan first.”

“They’re going to kill him.”

“Not yet,” Lydia cut in confidently, coming around the table to stand next to Scott. “I haven’t felt anything, and Kali was still trying to convince him to cooperate. They know that a violent territory grab from a pack like the Hales isn’t going to go over well, but it will look better if a local is backing them, especially a True Alpha. They aren’t going to get Scott by killing his best friend and emissary.”

Derek forced himself to calm down, listening to what she was saying. It was logical and it made sense. Except…

“You haven’t felt anything?”

“I’m a Banshee. This isn’t the time,” she said dismissively as if it were old news. How the hell had his family missed a Banshee living in their territory, on top of three other alphas? “Even if this wasn’t about Scott, they’re not going to kill an emissary like Stiles.” Lydia was saying. “He’s a pain in the ass but he’s good, he’s creative, and they would need that to control their little utopia once they realize they're trying to bring together a lot of creatures that aren't supposed to intermingle for a reason.”

“We have time,” Scott said confidently, looking Derek dead in the eye with understanding and the same worry reflected back.

The computer pinged and Lydia moved back to read whatever it said.

“It’s Laura. Deucalion has your mom trapped.” She started typing. “I’m telling her to meet us here so we can coordinate.”

It wasn’t until Derek felt Scott’s hand on his shoulder that he realized how not okay he was with all of this. He glanced over and Scott just gave him a reassuring smile.

“We’ll get them back.”

He couldn’t explain why he believed him.

*

Allison returned surprisingly quickly, and Laura trailed in cautiously not long after. She moved straight to Derek, grabbing him into a tight hug for a moment before she stepped back and faced the others. She looked a little roughed up, but her jaw was clenched in determination as she met Scott’s gaze head on.

“Deucalion’s using Stiles to try and get our mom to formally surrender, and it sounded like that’s just the beginning. He’s stronger with his alpha pack and he could take out mom in a second but with the election coming up he doesn’t want this to be a violent powergrab if he can avoid it. He’s trying to do all of this as quietly as he can.” She paused, letting it sink in. “So what do we do?”

Scott looked to Lydia, who said with a steely gaze, “We take away his bargaining chip.”

“And we take away his power,” Allison added, straightening from one of the drawers labeled A with a handful of fresh arrows.

Derek felt a shiver creep down his spine as Allison’s heritage shone through in that moment, because she looked every inch the hunter her family made her to be. The same family that made Kate the twisted person she became.

“Let’s go get Stiles,” Scott said with a grin.

And just like that, their plan was coming together.

Lydia checked Stiles’ tracker to a warehouse ten minutes south of them on the river, down by the docks. She found a ground plan of the building, the surrounding area, even found a place for Laura to park her hybrid outside of alpha earshot. She was ruthless and efficient in her planning, and if Derek hadn’t already known, he wouldn’t have been able to tell it was one of her closest friends at risk.

It was a good thing too, because Derek couldn’t be that objective right then. It was his mother and Stiles on the line, not to mention his entire family and the city, but he couldn’t be concerned about that part at the moment. He’d never had this kind of trouble operating under pressure at the NYPD, but nothing there had been so personal either. This was a direct threat to everything he held dear, and his wolf was clawing at his restraint with a renewed rage. The instinct so dulled by the city was back and sharper than ever—he wanted revenge, and he wanted the alpha pack to pay for threatening what was his.

“The docks still have night security patrolling, so you’ll need to keep an ear out,” Lydia was saying, wrapping up the meeting. “I’ll stay here, keep an ear on the police radio and make sure you haven’t attracted any attention.”

Scott nodded and took over. “Allison, we need you to stay out of sight for as long as possible. I’ll give you my charm, it might be strong enough to hide a human heartbeat from Kali even if it doesn’t hide mine.” Allison nodded once, and he turned to Laura and Derek. “There’s two alphas, so I think between the three of us, we can at least make enough of a dent for Allison to take them out with an arrow. If they haven’t done anything to Stiles’ stuff, he can help too once we get him free.”

No one was suggested that Stiles would be anything other than fine.

“And you two,” Lydia interrupted, also addressing Derek and Laura, “try not to actually kill them yourselves, we don’t need any more alphas in town than we already have.”

Scott nodded a little sheepishly this time. “I’ll get dressed and then we can head out.”

“No, Scott,” Lydia said sharply, and Scott froze. “They already know who you are and Guard can’t be seen at something like this. Any way this ends, someone will die, and we need to be able to keep Guard as far away from this as possible. It’s bad enough that we can’t keep Red out of it.”

It took a moment for what she said to register, and even then, Derek wasn’t entirely sure he believed the conclusion he’d come to.

“Are you seriously talking about PR right now?” he asked, completely appalled that Lydia could be so callous as to nitpick about their reputations when Stiles and Talia were counting on them to get this resolved as quickly as possible.

“Yes,” Lydia snapped right back, head cocked with a glint in her eye. “Because someone needs to think about what will happen when this is all over. When you werewolves fight, you cause a scene. You’re going to attract attention and Red doesn’t exactly blend in. He’s going to be seen if he wasn’t already, so when one of you inevitably kills Kali and Ennis, who do you think the blame is going to land on?

“We can’t let it touch the Hales, your pack is too well known, they’ll be hunted down. A deputy?” She nodded towards Derek. “The election is in four days; Sheriff Stilinski will never be reelected after one of his deputies kills a mayoral candidate and his opponent. Even if we prove Deucalion and Ennis had it coming, it’s too big a stain this close to the polls opening. If it’s The Guard who kills him, there will be a scandal—he’s the Superman of Beacon Hills, he has his own comic book circulated nationally.”

“And Red is Batman,” Derek concluded reluctantly. They’d already had this planned out; maybe not for this exact situation, but they’d always planned for Red to take the fall if anything like this happened. They positioned him in just enough darkness for it to be believable, made him just enough of a wildcard that The Guard would be able to claim ignorance and keep his own reputation clean.

Lydia paused, giving him a brief reevaluating look, then nodded. “Exactly. We can make Red disappear if necessary, hopefully without revealing his identity, and handle the fallout.”

“Okay,” Scott stepped in, clapping once to try to ease the tension between Derek and Lydia. “Now let’s go get Stiles.”

* * *

Despite how serious the situation was with everything riding on this being a success, Derek was having trouble actually taking them seriously as they pulled into the docks in a light green Prius. Laura driving, Scott in the front seat, and Derek sitting in the middle of the cramped back with a backpack Scott grabbed from the loft for some reason, all three swaying with each bump over badly patched concrete.

Allison had taken her own mode of transportation, and Derek was fairly sure that she looked a hell of a lot cooler than they did.

It was a good idea, taking a car, because they didn’t know what condition Stiles was in, and if he was hurt or if any of them got hurt, it would be better if they didn’t have to carry anyone out, but still.

A Prius.

Stiles would give himself a hernia laughing at the image. Derek just hoped he would be alive to see it.

“Whatever you’re thinking about back there, stop it,” Scott interrupted, an order but still friendly and soft, and Derek realized that they could probably smell the nerves and sadness all around him. “It’s going to be fine.”

Laura’s eyes flicked towards him in the rearview mirror as she pulled into the parking spot Lydia gave them, and then they were piling out and it was time.

The warehouse Stiles’ tracker led them to was still in use for storage, and it was filled with massive shipping crates stacked neatly on a grid, forming aisles stretching out before them. Save for one quick and nervous heartbeat that could only belong to Stiles, the place was dead silent.

All of Red’s patrol gear had been stripped and piled next to the old boiler by the entrance; his belt, gun, a couple knives, little gadgets that Derek had never seen before. His radio earpiece was also there, flattened and cracked, the speaker popped out and dangling uselessly by a wire, crushed in a fit of rage, no doubt.

Scott crouched down silently to pick up one of the knives and slipped it up his sleeve.

They moved forward between two tall stacks of shipping crates that formed a narrow aisle, and when the reached the well lit main aisle of neatly stacked crates, they saw him.

Stiles was sitting against the base of a metal I-beam post in the middle of the warehouse, arms tied behind and tape over his mouth, bobbing around slightly like he had a song stuck in his head. His heartbeat was a little elevated, but steady; nervous but not panicking.

“Stiles!”

Derek and Laura both froze at the shout of relief, staring wide eyed at each other as Scott rushed forward. So much for stealth.

Stiles jumped a little and stared at Scott with a similar expression to Laura’s, a what the fuck are you doing, you fucking idiot kind of look. But Scott just ran right up to him, completely unconcerned with the fact that he’d given them away immediately, and ripped the duct tape away from Stiles’ mouth without any warning.

Derek winced as Stiles’ jaw dropped in silent pain; there had definitely been stubble when he’d left the Hales’ that evening, and he probably hadn’t shaved before running out on patrol given how little time he’d had.

“Dude, what the fuck?” Stiles hissed once he recovered. “You want to announce yourself a little louder, I don’t think Deucalion heard that across town.”

“It’s not like they don’t already know we’re here,” Scott shrugged. “I can hear them, they can definitely hear us.”

Them. Derek could only hear one extra heartbeat, and he could definitely hear Stiles’. If he wasn’t wearing his necklace—

A solid mass dropped down from seemingly nowhere, hitting the concrete behind Stiles and immediately plowing forward into Scott, sending him crashing into a large crate behind him.

Ennis straightened, huge and hulking, his head shaved and red eyes glowing in the dimly lit warehouse. He cracked his neck to the side in true bad guy fashion and started forward.

“Scott!” Derek called in warning, darting to intercept or help in some way while Scott picked himself up, but the hit came out of nowhere, with no warning of any kind. One moment he was running, and the next Kali’s fist was colliding with his cheek, snapping his head around and sending him to the floor. Had he been human, his neck probably would’ve been broken.

He recovered quickly and looked around, trying to get any kind of sense as to where she’d gone, but he couldn’t even hear her heartbeat. And then she was suddenly right in front of him, fuzzy around the edges and entirely without a presence.

“She’s wearing Stiles’ necklace!” Derek managed to yell out before she hit him again, and his head cracked hard against the concrete from the force.

“I can’t get a clear shot,” Allison said quietly over the radio from wherever she was. “Draw them into the main aisle if you can.”

Derek pushed himself up with the help of the crate he’d landed against, and started to back away, hoping that to Kali it looked like an attempt to get away rather than luring her into a trap.

“Don’t you stupid children get it?” she growled, stepping towards them slowly, letting her long toenails tap against the concrete with each step for the maximum amount of menace. The sound was the only way Derek could pinpoint where she was. “We’re trying to make Beacon Hills safer for people like us! Don’t you want to live in a place governed by us, for us? Where we don’t have to hide in the shadows and play by human laws like they could possibly do anything to stop us?”

Derek kept moving back, inching into the main aisle, hoping she kept moving with him.

“Do you have any idea how powerful we could be with the full power of the nemeton? With your archaic pack out of the way, we could be like gods. This city would be ours.”

There was movement behind her and Derek fought to keep his eyes where they were rather than look to Laura and give her away. She ducked back behind the crate hiding her from Kali, who seemed to be so focused on lecturing Derek that she didn’t hear the extra heartbeat just behind her.

“The city isn’t yours to take,” Derek argued, keeping her distracted.

“Because it belongs to the humans? Because they were here first?” she mocked with a cruel laugh. “Because it’s their city? They’re voting us into office.”

“I don’t think that counts when none of them know what you really are.”

“And they’re not going to. What are you expecting us to do, exactly, reveal our true nature in a cloud of smoke and kill any human who doesn’t leave immediately?” She stopped walking, just before the main aisle, and Derek heard Allison’s quiet exhale of frustration. She still couldn’t get a shot.

“We need them to keep this city running,” Kali continued. “They’re the drones, and causing a panic will destroy everything we’ve worked to build here, bring armies of hunters to our doors. The only way we can succeed is to keep the humans happy and oblivious, and your fucking pack—”

She was cut off by surprise as Laura threw herself onto her back and pushed her forward into the aisle with her momentum, but then she was twisting and thrashing, putting Laura in the line of fire just as frequently as she was herself. It was too great a risk to take a shot, especially when the necklace kept anyone from seeing Kali clearly to begin with.

There was a snarl of frustration, then Laura was thrown off with one last violent jerk. She flew off to the side and let out a grunt of pain as she landed, accompanied by the harsh sound of cracking bone.

Derek turned, trying to figure out where Kali was from where Laura had just been, but she was moving too fast and with Stiles’ masking charm, it was like staring into a fading mirage as she darted back and forth.

But then a black and red mass slammed into her from the side and sent her staggering away. With something solid to orient himself, Derek could see Stiles latched onto her back with one arm around her throat and the other holding the knife Scott picked up at the entrance. He must’ve slipped it to Stiles when he’d first run to him when they arrived, giving Stiles an opening to cut himself free.

Stiles leaned in to whisper something in the alpha’s ear, his face twisted into an ugly snarl, then he stabbed down, the knife piercing into her shoulder behind her collarbone. It started smoking immediately; the blade was covered in some form of wolfsbane.

Kali roared, one that could rattle bones, and even though she wasn’t his alpha, Derek felt something deep inside himself try to shrivel up and hide. She thrashed around violently trying to throw Stiles off, but he held on tightly, and then he jerked the knife to the side and the blade snapped off inside her shoulder. He job done, he let go just as she jackknifed forward, and he flipped forward to hit the concrete floor with a sickening crunch and a shout of pain.

Derek had never seen a knee take an impact like that before, and there was no way Stiles wasn’t seriously hurt.

But Derek could hear Kali’s heartbeat again, loud and fast from adrenaline and pain, and he could see her solidify again. Laying near Stiles on the concrete was his necklace, the chain broken and now unusable.

An answering roar to Kali’s from the other side of the room vibrated through the floor and Scott grunted as his body hit something solid by the sound of it. Derek tore his eyes away from Stiles, clutching at his left knee that didn’t look right at all, to Scott crumpled at the base of the wall and Ennis charging forward, fury blooming color across his face as he charged at Stiles down the long aisle of stacked shipping crates.

“I’ve got a shot on Ennis.”

It was Allison. Her voice was calm and steady, practiced, and a godsend in Derek’s ear from wherever she had found a vantage point.

“Take it.” Scott gasped out immediately, out of breath and outmatched in a one-on-one fight with a stronger alpha.

Derek only heard the twang of a bow and the arrow whizzing past him because he was expecting it and listening for it, then Ennis skidded to a stop to stare down at the shaft in his chest with a mildly confused and annoyed expression. He cocked his head and glared up to the windows along the high ceiling, smirking condescendingly.

Derek followed his gaze to the one open pane of frosted glass, where Allison had another arrow drawn and ready to go.

Still holding her eye, Ennis took a teasing step towards Stiles, then another, mocking her, testing her resolve. She didn’t so much as blink, which was more than Derek could say for himself with his heart rate inching higher and higher with each step the alpha took.

Why wasn’t she taking the shot? Stiles couldn’t do anything to defend himself with his knife in Kali and his leg unusable and himself looking to be in crippling pain, and Derek wouldn’t be able to get there in time if Allison didn’t do something already.

Ennis shook his head, chuckling, practically looming over Stiles.

Then the wolfsbane hit his system and the smirk disappeared.

He staggered, ripped the arrow out of his chest with a spray of blood and the sickening crack of broken cartilage from the arrowhead, but the damage was already done. His blood was turning black and thick, and with the shot landing so close to his heart, he would be dead in minutes.

“No!” Kali cried, still bent over on her knees and holding her shoulder, twitching as if having a mild seizure as her body tried to fight off the wolfsbane from Stiles’ knife.

Ennis tried to snarl, tried to choke out something, but instead he coughed up black blood and collapsed forward. The arrow clattered across the floor from his slack hand.

There was only a moment of silence, just a few seconds to take a deep breath.

“You pathetic children, I’ll kill all of you!” Kali roared, fighting back up to her feet. Her right side was covered with her blood from ripping her own shoulder open to take out the knife blade, dripping onto the concrete as she staggered forward, leaving red and black footprints in her wake. The shoulder was slowly knitting itself back together as much as it could with wolfsbane still in her system, but that didn’t seem to stop her at all.

She didn’t even bother with Stiles; he wasn’t a concern, he was incapacitated, he was human. She went straight for Derek and Scott with a single minded intensity to maim. She wouldn’t just kill them, she would tear them apart and enjoy it.

Scott stepped forward, blocking her from Derek, and met her head on, but when they clashed, she still had the upper hand. Even with Ennis dead, she had Deucalion giving her power; Scott was a true alpha but he was still the only wolf in his pack.

He blocked her claws aiming for his chest, but her other hand whipped around and punched him back into the crate behind Derek, through the crate, if the splintering crack of broken wood was any clue.

“I can’t get a clear shot!” Allison’s voice was small, urgent, frustrated in his ear.

Derek moved in front of Scott, trying to give him enough time to recover or for Allison to move to a new position, and Kali just sneered at him.

“Brave little beta.”

And then her iron grip was around his throat, moving too fast for him to dodge. She held him still, too strong for him to break out of, and raised her other hand with razor claws to finish him off. Derek kicked out but missed, and she laughed, then there was a bang from somewhere behind her and Derek fell from her grip.

It took a moment to register that it was a gun because that was the last thing anyone expected to find in a confrontation between werewolves.

Kali staggered forward a step, trying to brush off the impact in her back and keep fighting, still crowding in further on Derek and Scott, and the gun fired again. Her head snapped forward, and this time she fell, thick black blood already oozing from the hole in the back of her head.

Derek looked past her body to Stiles, half lying on the floor with his gun still raised and trained on Kali, the magazine of rubber bullets ejected and thrown to the side for more deadly ammunition. From the entrance, Laura swore in relief next to Red’s effects, the one who threw him the gun and spare magazine, Derek belatedly realized.

Scott let himself collapse back into the broken crate, muttering something to Allison over the radio full of love and assurance, but Derek was completely focused on Stiles because he was breathing just a little too fast and the gun was shaking, and his leg didn’t look quite right sprawled out in front of him.

Derek stood and Stiles’ gaze flickered over to him immediately, watching him come closer with unfocused and wide eyes.

He jumped a little when Derek carefully took the gun, guiding it out of Stiles’ hands and flicking the safety on before setting it down off to the side. He kept his movements slow and in sight and his hearing on Stiles’ heart and breathing; quick with adrenaline and fear, but slowly inching back down away from anywhere worrying.

“She—” his gaze flickered between Derek and Scott, then he blinked hard a few times and took a deep breath, pulling himself together. He looked steadier the next time he met Derek’s eyes. “She’s dead?”

Derek nodded. “Her heart stopped, she’s not breathing.”

Stiles mimicked his nod, more to himself, then asked, “Are you okay?”

Derek huffed out a surprised laugh, putting his hand on Stiles’ uninjured leg. It was as much to comfort Stiles as it was himself. “I should be asking you that.”

“You’re the beta who just went up against two alphas.”

“You’re the human you just went up against two alphas.”

“Exactly, they weren’t focused on me! They were actually trying to—”

“Guys!” Laura yelled, limping back over to them as her ankle stitched itself back together. “Could you maybe stop flirting for half a second and remember that we’ve got two dead bodies to deal with and that Deucalion still has our mom?”

“We weren’t flirting, we were arguing,” Stiles muttered somewhat petulantly, scooting back a little from Derek to lean against a crate so he wasn’t holding himself up anymore. He paused, tense, as the movement jarred his knee.

“It’s the same thing with you two.”

Derek didn’t even try to deny it anymore, he just followed Stiles’ movement like they were attached by a string, pressed his palm to the side of Stiles’ neck, and got a shaky smile in return.

“Laura’s right, we need to clear this up and get moving,” Scott was saying, “Get the car, we can get Stiles—”

He was cut off as lone howl carried out through the city, and Derek let out a breath of relief when he recognized it as his mother’s. She was alive, and Deucalion was dead. Peter’s howl responded in the distance from the house; everyone was okay.

“Deucalion’s gone,” Derek relayed to the rest of the group. His pack being killed must have given Talia the edge she needed to overpower him. “It’s over.”

Stiles let his head fall back against the crate, and Laura cursed as the room flooded with relief and easing tension. It didn’t last long, though.

"And you guys have to leave," Lydia said over the radio. It made Derek jump a little, having completely forgotten he was wearing it. He'd been so focused on the fight around him that he wasn't even sure if Lydia had said anything in the last ten minutes. "Security reported gunfire in your area and there are two units on the way. We don't have time for clean up, just leave the bodies and go."

"We have to get out of here," Derek told Stiles, whose radio was crushed on the ground with his other things at the entrance. "Can you walk?"

Stiles groaned through a laugh and gestured to his knee, that looked swollen and deformed even through his black pants. "Yeah, I'm gonna say no."

"I'll carry you. Laura—" He turned to his sister, but she was gone, already slipped out of the building.

"She went to get the car," Scott said, ducking down on Stiles' other side and immediately they grabbed each other’s hand, squeezing tightly, reassuringly, before letting go. "Is it only your knee?"

"It's the top concern at the moment—fuck!" Stiles' voice strained and he tensed up as Scott started probing around the swollen joint carefully.

Scott just glanced up at Derek pointedly and he got the message. He took Stiles' closest hand, fisted up in pain, and tucked his own up under his sleeve to draw it out through his forearm. He didn't take it all, he didn't want Stiles to get so light headed that he passed out before they got to someplace safe, but it was enough to take the edge off so he could breathe properly again.

"It's dislocated," Scott said, surprisingly calm about his best friend's knee looking like that. "I can pop it back to help with the pain for now, but you have to go to the ER tonight. You need x-rays."

Stiles let his head fall back and swore passionately.

"My mom's working, I'll call her and let her know we’re on the way. I brought you clothes, we'll get you changed in the car." That explained the backpack he'd grabbed from the loft.

"Guys, I can't stall the cops any longer, you've only got a few minutes," Allison warned, sounding a little out of breath. Derek really didn't want to know how she was buying them time, he really didn't.

The quiet humming of Laura's hybrid pulling up outside announced that she'd returned, and she muttered for them to hurry the fuck up, but Scott didn't let any of that show on his face, completely focused on Stiles and keeping him calm and from moving his leg.

"Okay, on three." Scott nodded at his partner, still so soothing and confident. Stiles’ hand twisted around to grip Derek’s forearm tightly. "One—"

There was a sickening pop and before Derek could begin to manage the sudden surge of pain, Stiles passed out.

Chapter Text

“Stiles, use your crutches!”

“Scott, stop nagging me, it’s fine!”

"Scott, get back up here!"

And that was how the McCall pack announced their arrival at the Hales' two days later.

After giving everyone a short break to get sorted and caught up and medical attention, the two packs were meeting officially for the first time in true werewolf fashion; over a mountain of food that could've fed half of Beacon Hills for a week. Possibly two.

Talia answered the door with Derek at her side—she was the alpha and he was the most familiar with the McCall pack, making it less formal than if Peter were there—expecting to find Scott standing on the other side as was the tradition, alpha meeting alpha. Instead, there was Lydia and Allison, looking very put together and polite, and a bemused Boyd and Erica just behind them. Stiles was hobbling up the front steps while Scott, the alpha, was still at his car, wrestling a pair of crutches out of the small back seat.

"I would like to formally apologize for our alpha," Lydia greeted, somewhat testily, "and his complete inability to adhere to tradition of any kind."

"He wouldn't be Scott if he let standing on ceremony come before his pack." Talia smiled at them, and Derek could tell she was rearranging her plans for the day based on that. She'd originally had a more formal plan, like this would be a meeting with an established pack with a traditional hierarchy and actual knowledge of pack politics. These traits could not be applied to the McCall pack in any way.

She ushered them into the front hall, making sure to give Boyd a warm welcome—he looked uncomfortable being there after politely declining their offer to join the pack. He truly appreciated the offer, he'd said, but he'd grown up with the world of superheroes, his father was killed in action; their brand of removed protection from afar wasn't something he could get behind. It was no surprise to anyone that he'd joined Scott's pack instead.

A shrieking warcry came from inside the house and Noah charged out of the living room, always eager to greet company and still a little high on the rush of camping out in the woods for four days, even though they’d gotten back the day before. He launched himself at Boyd, even though they’d met all of once the day before. He caught him easily, nodded along to a stream of excited toddler chatter that didn’t actually make much sense, then let him back down when Noah had apparently finished his report.

“Noah, let them actually get in the door first,” Patrick chided his son as he followed his path from the living room, trying to wrangle him with one arm in a sling—not for any nefarious or supernatural reasons, he’d just tripped down a hill while packing up their campsite.

Noah wriggled out of his arm and changed tactics, corralling everyone out of the hall while yelling, “Come with me! Come with me!”, pushing at their legs until the whole group was enveloped into the ongoing party and thoroughly charmed by the kid.

“We should just make him the official welcoming party,” Talia said dryly once she and Derek were alone again.

A car door slammed and Scott jogged over quickly, pausing briefly to prop the crutches up under a very annoyed Stiles. He greeted Talia with a wide and bashful smile that would’ve made it hard for even Deucalion to lecture him on pack politics, and then the two alphas moved into the party too, leaving Derek alone at the open door.

Stiles was the last up on the porch, now using his crutches and not looking happy about it in the least. His left leg was straight and immobilized in a brace, visible where his jeans were pulled tight over it from his calf to halfway up his thigh, and it looked like he was still getting used to wearing it. Bitterly.

"Need a hand?"

"I got it," he snapped irritably, clunking past Derek into the house.

Derek just held the door patiently while he fought off a smile. Stiles was here. He was a little banged up and moving slowly on his knee, but he was alive and here, and that was really all Derek could hope for after the last few days they’d had.

Even after Deucalion and his budding alpha pack was gone, the clean up and managing of the situation that followed was almost as stressful as the threat itself. A mayoral favorite was found dead three days before the election along with one of the candidates for sheriff, and the only person seen anywhere near them before was a very conspicuous vigilante. To say the story took off across the country was an understatement.

It was all over the news, almost as much as the upcoming midterm elections, and reporters had been crawling through the city looking for a scoop ever since it happened. Countless people on the street were stopped to be asked whether or not they’d seen the vigilantes themselves, Deucalion’s past was being dragged out into the spotlight (which made all werewolves in the area nervous and Talia had been on the phone with other alphas day and night), the attack at the Sheriff’s Station was suddenly a national tragedy instead of a blurb in a ticker at the bottom of the screen.

And all that wasn’t even including the boom in popularity of the vigilantes and their comics. Every time Derek and taken Melvin past the small comic book store, it was packed; apparently nothing sold comics like one of their heroes committing murder—and as far as the news channels were concerned, it wasn’t even a question. To them, Red was a murderer, and they were calling for his immediate arrest.

Derek could see every bit of Stiles’ stress on his tired face, in the frustrated and tense line of his shoulders as he clunked into the living room, and even in his evident exasperation when Diana rose from the couch and pulled Cora with her so he could sit, but he thanked them and sat all the same. Scott appeared from nowhere, moved Stiles’ leg to the coffee table, then disappeared into the crowd just as fast as he’d come, dragging a hand across Stiles’ shoulders as he passed.

Stiles looked up and back at Derek over the back of the couch. “Are you just going to stand there and let me sit here all alone like a loser? I’m injured Derek, you have to take pity on me.”

He rolled his eyes but sat down next to him anyway, their thighs just barely touching on the loveseat.

Stiles looked tired but...settled in a way Derek had only seen a few times, calm. He’d always been thrumming with energy during their morning climbs, and how could he possibly still have that kind of energy after running around the city all night? It shouldn’t have been possible for him to still be going that far into the next morning, it was excess, it was—it was adrenaline, Derek realized, feeling stupid for not recognizing it before.

He’d been going climbing almost every morning to work off his adrenaline from the night before, probably so he could run home and sleep for a few hours before going to the bar for his day shift. And who knew if he even had time to sleep more between work and going back out on patrol. That couldn’t possibly be healthy for a human, getting that little sleep. It was amazing that Stiles hadn’t collapsed yet, assuming he hadn’t in the past.

Derek couldn’t help but think that if they went forward with their relationship, he would make Stiles take a few days off every once in a while, and he definitely wouldn’t be going climbing to work off his excess energy.

Shit, he could not be going down that train of thought in a house full of werewolves, half of whom he was related to.

Subject change. He needed a subject change, because Stiles was sitting right next to him and his scent and presence was seriously not helping the situation.

“How’s your dad?” he threw out, a little rushed. That was good, it was safe. And nothing made him feel guilty like thinking of boning his boss’ son while he was still recovering in the hospital.

Stiles squinted a little at the abrupt question, but went with it anyway. “He’s good, he’s back at home and Melissa is staying there a couple days to help him out since it takes me ten minutes just to get up the stairs. And since my apartment is on the third floor with no elevator, I’m staying with Scott and Allison because theirs is on the first.” He raised his voice slightly and added in Scott’s direction, “And so Scott can mother me twenty-four seven!”

Scott just shot him a wide grin and then mimed something across the room that made Stiles pull a face in return. He turned back to Derek.

“I have to eat now so I can take my pain meds. Doctor’s orders.”

Derek watched for a few seconds as Stiles started the long process of levering himself up with one of his legs bound completely straight and a coffee table in the way.

“Do you want me to—” He stopped at Stiles’ glare. But he still kept an eye on him as he made his way through the dining room into the kitchen, moving from furniture to doorframes to keep his weight off his knee while completely ignoring the crutches that were propped up against the end of the couch. He hesitated a second before following; he didn’t want to hover, but he couldn’t help wanting to be near Stiles. If only to make sure he didn’t fall over.

When he entered the large kitchen, Stiles was holding a glass of soda in one hand and a beige biodegradable plastic plate (Laura’s doing) in the other, and staring, dumbfounded, at the sheer amount of food covering the counters, the island, and the breakfast table.

“How do you even get this much food on such short notice?” he demanded, not even checking to see who had followed him in.

“We’ve got connections,” Derek answered vaguely, because even he didn’t really know. His mother had always just...made it appear.

“You’ve got an entire Costco—actually no.” He held up his empty plate like an extension of his usual gestures. “Costco wishes you guys were members.”

Derek grabbed a plate himself and started piling on whatever food he came upon first. He wasn’t picky and he was hungry. “We’d clear them out for Noah’s next birthday alone.”

Stiles snorted and poked around a few large bowls of different types of salads, while Derek moved around him and went straight for the meat. He paused when he felt Stiles’ judgmental gaze on his growing mound of steak, and raised his eyebrows in response before dropping a heavy slab onto Stiles’ plate. It almost bent the plastic.

“Protein promotes healing,” he explained with a shitty grin.

“Is it too early in the relationship for puns about meat?”

Derek flushed—because dick jokes in his family’s kitchen that they would definitely be able to hear—and was about to respond when Scott’s yell of, "Stiles, crutches!" from the other room cut him off. Stiles let out a long breath with wide and annoyed eyes.

"Would I be the alpha if I kill him? Because I'm gonna kill him."

“Alphas don’t like to see their pack members injured,” Derek explained. “He’ll back off in a few days.” When you don’t still smell like pain and medication, he decided to keep to himself.

“Well he’s never been this bad before, and if it doesn’t pass today, someone else is going to die,” Stiles muttered without heat and started back towards the living room, holding his plate in one hand and the edge of the counter with the other, trying to keep off of his knee as much as possible. As the crutches he refused to use were literally made to do.

Derek picked up Stiles’ forgotten glass of soda—Scott was insistent that no one let him have any beer on the pain medication he was taking and even sent a text about it—and followed him back out of the kitchen, watching his slow limp carefully and trying to not make it obvious he wanted to layer Stiles in bubble wrap just as much as Scott did. It was clearly something he didn’t appreciate, and he would probably like it even less coming from anyone else but his best friend. Even if that anyone else was his...theoretical boyfriend. Future boyfriend. Tentative boyfriend? More than friends-friend?

Needless to say, their possible relationship hadn’t really been a priority with both Stiles and his father in and out of the hospital, the human Hales returning from their trip, new betas to train, the deaths at the Sheriff’s Station to work through, managing the news of a prominent local politician and his campaign staff being found dead, and navigating the process of the McCalls becoming a proper pack. In fact, as disheartening as it was to admit, their relationship ranked at the very bottom of the list, just above Derek’s still unassembled IKEA furniture and his neighbor’s kombucha tea on his fire escape.

Instead of returning to the full party in the living room, Stiles stopped in the dining room where it was a little quieter and more private with the swinging door closed, sitting in a chair and pulling out the one next to him to prop up his leg. He looked up, waving for Derek to sit across the corner from him, then caught sight of even more food arranged before him.

“Really?” He flailed a little, gesturing at it all.

Derek had never seen someone so agitated over a basket of rolls.

Stiles ate a few bites of food and took a small plastic bag from his pocket, that had a single pill. Derek figured it was to keep a container of them from rattling around in a room full of nosy werewolves, but when he noticed Derek’s glance at it, he explained,

“Scott is even more of a tightass about pain medication than my dad is, even with a new beta to worry about.”

“How’s Boyd adjusting?” Derek had been meaning to ask.

“Surprisingly fast. Apparently he took a lot of martial arts when he was little so he’s got crazy good control, and I’ve gotta say, that totally explains the whole zen master sensei thing he’s got going on.” He waved his hands around in a way that didn’t convey zen in the least. “But Scott is still working with him on shifting and all that crap.” He paused. “He’s redesigning our outfits. I think Lydia’s hoping rebranding us will help things blow over. New and improved—now with fifty percent less death!

“Only fifty?”

“Isaac won’t stop calling to ask questions. He’s on my list,” Stiles said darkly with narrowed eyes.

“You guys told him?” That was surprising; Stiles had sounded like he didn’t want to be involved with the comic at all, the way he’d shrugged off his counterpart Arsenio Grimes and all but sneered at the comics and Isaac himself.

“Boyd wanted to, and Lydia thought having some control over the comics would be beneficial, which she’s definitely not wrong about.”

Derek could hear the discomfort in his voice; he was trying to be objective, but it wasn’t quite there.

“And how do you feel about that?”

“I don’t know—it’ll be helpful in the long run, and make Boyd’s life a lot easier as far as trying to hide things.” He noticed Derek’s frown and elaborated, “He wants to start patrolling with us once he’s solid with control. He’s such a geek about superheroes, he probably already has his outfit made and a name picked out.”

“I didn’t ask whether it would be helpful, I asked how you feel about it.”

Stiles sighed. He’d probably been hoping that Derek would just accept the subject change and drop it. Derek was onto him.

“It’s just—” he picked up a roll from the basket, frowned at whatever topping was on it, then put it on his plate anyway “—a lot of people know now, I’m still adjusting.” He opened his mouth to say something else, but was cut off but a sudden coughing fit from the kitchen.

“Derek!” Someone coughed sharply, and Derek stood up to look through the kitchen to the hallway, where Laura was leaning into the doorframe and gesturing from them to come over, pointing between the two and then at her feet.

Stiles sighed, not looking happy about moving again, but he got himself up all the same, waving off Derek’s hand with a small head shake. Still, Derek walked right beside him all the way to his mother’s office, ready to help if needed, since Stiles once again ignored the fact that his crutches were just in the next room.

Scott, Talia, and Peter were already talking in the office when the got there, and Scott immediately cut off whatever he’d been saying to hold out his arms in a what did I tell you gesture at Stiles.

“Dude, crutches.”

“I’m fine, Scott. Lurch has got it covered.” He jerked his thumb back towards Derek, but still moved to sit next to Scott on the couch.

“Now that we’re all here,” Talia began, ignoring Laura making herself comfortable in the alpha’s chair, “we just wanted to touch base with your pack, make sure we’re all on the same page from here on out, fill you in on the progress we’ve made the last couple of days. But first off, I think I owe you an explanation." She paused, gathering her thoughts, then stated bluntly: "I didn't handle the fire well."

Derek physically flinched. His mother never mentioned the fire.

"We didn't just lose members of our family, we lost our sense of safety within our own territory, and I've never been able to find mine again." She paused again, and Derek realized she didn't have this speech planned out. She always planned out big announcements, making sure the wording was perfect and everything was clearly communicated—she was a lawyer, after all. But now she was talking about herself, her own feelings, something she never did, and she was laying down the vulnerability of uncertainty to a room full of people.

"But instead of repairing my connections within the city and building a new foundation, I followed a most basic and frightened instinct and cut them off completely. I closed my ranks to those I thought I could trust and refused to let anyone new in, and in doing so I closed in someone who knew how to exploit my weaknesses and was determined enough to do it. I panicked fourteen years ago, and I let that fear drive my decisions for far longer than I ever should have, and you've all had to bear the brunt of my mistakes. This city has had to bear my mistakes, and I intend to never let that happen again."

"Mom..." Laura started quietly, but Talia held up a hand to stop her from continuing.

"Laura, you've had to take on more than you could ever handle on your own, and expecting you to be able to run that office by yourself was foolish and inconsiderate. You—"

"Mom," Laura interrupted gently. "Seriously. We can talk later, alright?"

Talia nodded, seeming to remember where she was and who was there. Stiles and Scott just looked incredibly awkward sitting on their couch, and Derek didn't know what to do with his hands.

"Well," Peter clapped lightly, effectively breaking the heavy atmosphere. Derek wanted to thank him. "As touching as this moment has been, and as much as I love to see my older sister have to apologize, I think it's time we move right along. Talia?"

He gestured to her, and she sniffed once and composed herself quickly, moving from mother to alpha in a second. It was always a fascinating change to watch.

“Right. Peter and I went to Deucalion’s home to clear out anything we don’t want to police to find, and even without what we destroyed, there’s no doubt that he’ll be considered a criminal in the public eye once the Sheriff’s Department releases the evidence.”

“But Red is still being blamed for all three deaths,” Scott said. “How is that progress?”

Stiles pointed to Scott. “My dad said I have to go in and answer a few questions as Red. A couple security guards at the docks saw me with Kali earlier that night.”

“But if we emphasize Deucalion’s criminal past and play our pieces right, we can change the story to fit the evidence,” Peter explained. “Suddenly a vigilante killing a political team in a warehouse becomes a hero trying to stop an illegal deal and getting caught in a dispute between the two parties. All it takes is the right evidence.”

“But people saw Red with Kali at the docks beforehand, and they all said he didn’t look like he was being forced to be there,” Scott emphasized. “They know he wasn’t there to stop it.”

Stiles nodded, looking small and nervous as the conversation about his future carried on around him, his uninjured knee jiggling anxiously.

“Circumstantial at best.” Peter dismissed the issue, waving it away, completely unconcerned with it.

“If they spin it right, circumstantial is all they need,” Talia reminded her brother. “But I have an excellent lawyer who’s in on everything. He knows how to make anything disappear. No one needs to worry about this.”

That didn’t stop Stiles. “Can he disappear eyewitness testimony, a national scandal, and all of the investigative specials about the Guard and Red all over the news?” His voice rose steadily, panic creeping in. He grabbed Scott’s shoulders as he was sitting closest and shook him a little. “I can’t go to prison, Scott, I’m the son of a Sheriff and I have big Bambi eyes! A number of shady-ass people in dark alleys have told me so—” Laura choked on nothing “—and I just implied a lot of unfortunate things that I didn’t mean—”

“Stiles!” Scott cut him off, mirroring his friend’s position and squeezing his shoulders reassuringly, making sure he was being heard. “You’re not going to prison. We’ll leave the country and go underground before I let that happen.” His voice was so confident and his face so earnest that it was impossible to not believe him. Then he frowned. “What do your eyes have to do with anything?”

Stiles looked at him fondly and sighed. “Never change, Scott.”

“Mr. Stilinski’s eyes aside,” Peter interrupted, getting the conversation back on track, “Talia and I found plenty of evidence tying him to a number of unsavory activities. I’m sure there’s a gang of ruffians around here we can pin it on.” He pointed at Derek, “Maybe those traffickers down by the river. I’m sure we can find something tying them together, some deal they’ve made, and you know politicians never keep their campaign promises. It was only a matter of time until someone got angry about it.”

“The NC’s?” Derek thought it over. “It could work with the right evidence. We’ve been trying to take them down for a long time, but I don’t know how you could—”

“Don’t worry about the evidence. It’ll all be in place by Monday.”

Derek just frowned at the completely lack of reaction from his conscience.

That probably wasn’t good.

“Dude.” Scott frowned disappointedly at Stiles, finally catching on.

* * *

A week later Derek finally had enough time off to get to his parents’ house to have dinner. It was a long week, full of double shifts to cover gaps in the schedule and fielding questions from the sheriff who was back on desk duty. Anytime Derek walked by his office, it seemed, he was calling him in for a new question about werewolves; how to handle having two new werewolves in his station, what he could do to ease the transition while still remaining heavily skeptical about it all, whether the guy in the holding cell was actually a werewolf, and really just any question that could possibly be asked about werewolves.

There was no doubt where Stiles got it.

But that was finally over, and he could have a quiet meal with just his parents like he’d been meaning to do since he moved back. Only to find Scott’s car sitting in the driveway and the alpha walking down the front steps.

“Hey, man,” he greeted casually with a nod and his phone pressed to his ear like he wasn’t just waltzing out of Derek’s childhood home.

“Hey,” Derek responded automatically, because he had no idea what was going on and any other reaction would’ve just been confused staring. No one had mentioned anything about another meeting to him, but Scott’s car was the only one there, so it couldn’t have been a big one. Was Stiles there too, hobbling behind him?

No, he wasn’t, because he could hear Stiles’ voice answering on the other end of Scott’s call as he backed out of the driveway. When Derek opened the front door, there was only the lingering scents his family and Scott’s recent exit.

He frowned, and followed his mother’s heartbeat to her open study doorway, where she was shuffling papers into a folder behind her desk.

“Why was Scott here?” he asked as he shut the door behind him.

“We were just smoothing a few things out, talking,” his mom answered cryptically, and no wonder he’d never paid much attention to Stiles’ vague answers, it seemed like everyone around him had been doing it his entire life. He was used to it.

“Everything okay?”

“Of course.”

He narrowed his eyes at her, trying to figure out what that tone of voice meant. She sighed.

“Everything’s fine. We’ve been talking.”

“About?” He didn’t really have any authority to ask, and it really wasn’t his business, but he felt oddly protective of Stiles and Scott. He didn’t like the idea of his mother making plans for them without his knowledge, whether he had any right to that or not.

“We’ve been talking through his decision to lie all these years, making sure we’re on the same page as to how we’ll be moving forward.”

That sounded incredibly ominous. Everything had sounded fine the week before, with her calling in favors to help Stiles and the lack of talk of either party getting the hell out of the territory.

“But they’ll be staying, right?”

She seemed genuinely offended at the question. “Of course. I wouldn’t dream of asking them to leave their home, especially given their extracurriculars. But now they’ll have to give us weekly updates, keep us informed, run a few things by me when necessary, work with Laura.” She tapped the folder in her hands to even out the pages and placed it neatly in a stack to her left. “We were just agreeing to a few terms.”

“That explains why Stiles wasn’t invited to the meeting.” If Stiles had been there, there was no way Scott would’ve left smiling, and his mother probably would’ve been indulging in a stiff drink. Stiles and sharing information hardly belonged in the same sentence, let alone in the same room, and he would go to great lengths to avoid it. Derek had learned that first hand.

“Stiles has enough on his plate at the moment. Scott will fill him in later.” The once everything is agreed to and he can’t interfere was heavily implied. Because if he could get around making deals of any kind, he would.

“Scott was calling him as he left, I’m sure Stiles already knows.”

“Then it’s a good thing he can’t move very fast on his crutches,” Talia sighed, rubbing her temples briefly. It was a side of her Derek didn’t see often, tired and stressed, and managing a massive pile of problems that came with the last week’s events.

It probably didn’t help that Derek was very clearly attracted to one of those problems.

She must’ve smelled his guilt because she looked up again immediately. “What’s wrong?”

“You can’t tell?”

She smiled sadly. “You’ve always been harder to read.”

He snorted. Erica never seemed to think so, and neither did Stiles for that matter. For all that he complained about Derek being a blank wall, he’d always been alarmingly accurate when he guessed.

“Derek,” his mother started a little hesitantly, but then she committed to the conversation they’d needed to have for years and folded her hands on the desk in front of her. “You’ve always been more self-contained than the rest of the pack. After the fire I figured you just needed some time to work things through yourself and then you would come back to me, but you just kept getting further away.” Literally, he’d gone clear across the country. “My greatest regret is that I didn’t reach out to you sooner.”

“I thought you just didn’t want me to be a cop.”

“Of course I don’t want you to, you’re putting yourself at risk. But honey, that’s not me being an uptight alpha, that’s me being your mother. I want you to be happy with what you’re doing, even if it makes me worry.” She bobbed her head back and forth. “Well, I don’t want you to want that, but you’re happier than I’ve seen you in years. I would never want to take that away from you.”

“So you’re not mad about Stiles? And me?” he asked, not wanting to push his luck but needing to know before they moved forward.

It was something he’d been worried about, given their rough history and the fact that the guy lived to undermine authority of any kind. It wasn’t a trait overly valued in the Hale family, especially when the authority being undermined was the alpha’s.

“Why would I be mad?” she asked, genuinely confused, which both made Derek confused and hesitantly relieved. “I hope you don’t think I dislike Stiles or disapprove of him in some way. I quite like him, actually, even though he lives to make my life difficult and gives me stress headaches on a weekly basis.”

“I think he has that effect on everyone,” Derek grumbled, picking at his sweater sleeves. It came out moodier than he’d meant and his mother picked up on it immediately. Of course.

“Is there a problem? He hasn’t done anything, has he?”

Derek grinned at her sharply defensive tone. It had been so long since he’d heard it, years of both of them walking on eggshells around each other. It was nice talking with her again, really talking, about personal things not related to the pack, and seeing her humor again. It was almost easy to fall back into how things had been when he was a teenager—not there yet, but getting closer than it had been in fifteen years. Since Kate.

“No, well, yes—but nothing like you’re thinking,” he quickly assured her when her eyebrow twitched up dangerously. Why did every woman in his life have the dangerous eyebrow raise in their arsenal? Everytime he tried it he just got smirked at, as if to say yeah, cute. “I just don’t think he trusts me. He still doesn’t tell me anything and I haven’t gotten to really talk to him since the meeting.”

The meeting almost a week ago between the Hale pack and the now-official McCall pack.

It was frustrating on a number of levels; the crisis was over, the alphas were gone, they could finally start that relationship Stiles had seemed so enthusiastic about, but the moment they had the opportunity—nothing. Aside from all of five sporadic texts, it was like he dropped off the face of the planet; he couldn’t go out on patrol with his knee (and Derek refused to admit that he still found himself glancing up at rooftops while out on duty), he couldn’t go climbing, and the one time Derek had tried to find him at Scott’s there hadn’t been anyone there—but just outside he’d picked up Scott’s call on the second ring.

Talia’s expression softened.

“Derek, I know it’s hard being with someone you think doesn’t trust you, but keep in mind that Stiles has been keeping secrets for three years, at least. Probably longer, I wouldn’t put it past him, the little shit.” Derek couldn’t keep back his startled laugh. “But keeping secrets on that grand a scale, for both him and Scott, that’s not an easy habit to break. If you like him and want this to work, give him time, but you need to talk to him about it too. I know talking things out isn’t a Hale family trait,” she added with a deprecating smile, “but do try.”

“He barely answers my texts, how am I supposed to talk to him?”

“Honey, I saw the way he was looking at you. If he’s not throwing himself at you yet, I think it’s safe to say that he’s just busy. Stiles is dealing with a lot right now, and so is John. Just make yourself available and open and he’ll come to you when he’s ready.”

Well when she put it like that, then yeah, it was painfully obvious that he was being an impatient dick.

She stood. “Now let’s go, your father was talking about cooking tonight, and we can’t let that happen.”

* * *

“—aren’t just tying people up anymore, and where do we draw the line between a so-called superhero and a vigilante?”

“They were never superheroes, Grace, this has always been vigilante justice and they should’ve been found and arrested the first time they started running around in masks. I can’t believe the local police have let it get this far.”

Derek heard his television while he was still climbing the stairs to the second floor, and once he reached the third floor landing, he recognized the familiar heartbeat, calm and quiet, but somehow in his apartment after almost a week of no contact.

He let himself in and there was Stiles, lounging on his sofa with his dog in his lap, both of them working their way through last night’s leftover takeout samosas. Melvin would be farting all night. Stiles had his leg up on the IKEA coffee table that hadn’t been assembled when Derek left for work that morning, and the small television was perched on its new unit with the news on, talking about—surprise—the local superheroes.

Even though the murders were now the work of a gang called the Fixers, and Red officially wasn’t a person of interest anymore, truth spread slower than scandal. A homicidal vigilante was more interesting so all the stations were carrying on like it was Red, stringing through one “expert” after another.

Derek didn’t know who the man currently being interviewed was. He looked like the usual “intellectual” paraded around on news shows to cling to the moral high ground; nice hair, nice glasses, nice suit, nice face, probably from a nice university.

“I’m not glad that these people are dead without a trial, even if they did do all the things that have come to light, but I am glad that something has happened to finally bring this debate to the table for serious discussion. We’ve been laughing it off for three years like they’re harmless kids, but now what’s the difference between Red and a murderer? Or any other citizen who decides someone should die? The mask? We have a legal system put in place for a reason, and he’s circumvented it to issue his own brand of justice, which has apparently become execu—”

Derek tossed the remote back onto the couch, and Stiles leaned his head back to look at him upside down. The smell of misery and stress around him started to dissipate a little.

“I was going to do something sexy and romantic for when you got back, but we haven’t actually started dating yet, so I assembled your furniture.”

“Close enough.” Derek shrugged, and yeah, when he checked the usual box corner, the boxes were all gone, the cardboard nowhere in sight and replaced with a pile of Melvin’s toys that he was usually tripping over.

“Hopefully your neighbors don’t mind that I filled their recycling bin too.”

“They make fermented tea outside my window, they can deal with it.” He rested his forearms on the back of the sofa and leaned down to Stiles, their faces just inches apart.

“Wait, they drink that? I thought it was like, a harvested organ.”

“It smells like it is.”

“There was something solid floating in it.”

“It’s probiotic,” Derek quoted his neighbor blandly.

“It’s smashed on the concrete,” Stiles corrected, then blinked up at him innocently. “I was carrying so much cardboard, I couldn’t see where I was going.”

Derek stared down at him, at his stupid, unconvincing innocent face and let himself enjoy the swelling in his chest, the pleasant kind of nerves in his stomach, the smile breaking out at this endearing idiot who committed an act of vandalism for him. He just went with it, and leaned down and kissed him. It didn’t have the panicked heat of their first kiss, or the dramatic goodbye of their second; it was a short and sweet press like they’d been doing it for years, and it just felt right and good after everything they’d been through.

“My hero,” he drawled, effectively ruining the moment before Stiles could.

“Oh my god, you are so corny. I officially hate you,” Stiles groaned as he pulled Derek back down for more. “That’s not cute at all, I’m leaving right now.

He didn't leave for three days.

* * *

EPILOGUE

When Erica had mentioned “the small farm in Oregon” that Boyd’s grandparents owned, she hadn’t been entirely honest.

It was a massive farm in Oregon that Boyd’s grandparents owned, so big and well known in the area that they were in high demand for weddings, and a few wedding guests had already gotten lost across the huge property and had to be retrieved. Including the bride and groom, though that one might've been intentional.

Someone made the mistake of letting the small and simple wedding plan slip in front of Lydia, and now there were lights in every tree, and lanterns, and a reception set up in a large and renovated barn full of comfort food that was deceptively simple and unbelievably good (Lydia knew a chef in Los Angeles who owed her a favor—or four). Basically, it had turned into every rustic wedding Pinterest dreamed about, and Erica and Boyd had never looked happier.

Though they had both initially felt a little uncomfortable with having such a big wedding, Lydia had kept it within their budget and they’d both realized that their circle of close friends and family had expanded considerably since their engagement. Both their extended families had come, the Hale and McCall packs were there, and the majority of the Sheriff’s Department, and looking at them moving through the crowd, talking and laughing with their guests, no one would ever guess this was anything but what they’d always wanted.

So everyone packed up and made the trek up to Oregon, in separate cars, somewhat driving together—meaning that they occasionally passed each other on the highway and yelled childish taunts the whole way. Or Derek assumed it happened the whole way; he and Stiles had to take a long detour to work off Stiles’ restless anxiety over leaving Beacon Hills for three days for the first time in years, meaning they found a secluded scenic drive through the woods and then Derek took him apart so thoroughly in the cramped backseat of the Camaro that he slept for the rest of the drive.

After six weeks of letting his knee recover (the longest anyone managed to hold him back) and a surprisingly touching social media campaign that Stiles loudly denied tearing up over, Red had returned to his city, leaping across alleys and jumping from rooftops—with a knee brace to keep everything where it should be. But that also meant a complete readjustment to not just everyone close to him knowing and trying to keep tabs on him, but also rearranging his life to make everything fit now that Derek refused to let him run himself into the ground with exhaustion anymore. It was rocky for a few weeks in the middle there, especially after Derek had gotten used to having Stiles all to himself at night while he was healing, but they’d finally settled into a rhythm.

Stiles just always seemed to forget that they had a real team behind them now, a proper support system. The sheriff constantly coordinated with them, Derek and Erica were the “official” vigilante liaisons within the department, and Melissa was finally brought up to speed and made sure Stiles didn’t fall apart (after a very stern lecture about trusting his care to his friend whose only medical experience was working at an animal clinic). Within the Hale pack, Laura and Lydia were working (fighting constantly) at the PI office to streamline the process of reporting a supernatural crime, getting the relevant information to Talia and to the vigilante team or the sheriff when necessary. And now out on the streets, Boyd was a part of their team, taking his share of patrol shifts and officially dubbed Centurion by the public.

(Stiles sulked about this for a week straight because they literally named me after the color of my hoodie—and not even the good one—and Boyd gets to be fucking Centurion. Unbelievable.

Boyd didn’t say anything, he was just quietly smug throughout, but Derek could tell that the inner comic nerd inside him was downright giddy.)

They weren’t just a tiny pack of four trying to do everything anymore, something Stiles needed to be reminded of often. Especially since going to Erica and Boyd’s wedding in Oregon meant a weekend away from defending Beacon Hills, and taking time off wasn’t something that Stiles did. Ever.

Derek had to fight the impulse to physically hold him still as he moved restlessly in his chair all through the wedding reception. He was fine through the hectic last minute preparations and the actual ceremony when he had something to focus on, but now that he was left to make small talk with their table companions, he was thinking of everything that could possibly be going wrong back home, and he wasn’t allowed to check because Scott had taken his phone. He wasn’t handling it well; Derek could tell by the thoroughly chewed cocktail straws littering the table and the knee knocking against his.

He thought dancing might help distract him, give him an outlet for his nervous energy, but of course a slow song came on just as they stood up. So there they were, swaying slowly on the dance floor in their suits, the picture of romance while Stiles continued to silently work himself up into a nervous breakdown.

"Would you relax?" Derek murmured against his ear, running a hand down his lower back and feeling the tension through his jacket.

"I am relaxed," Stiles immediately snapped back, but his fingers kept drumming against Derek’s shoulders. If this continued, there was a good chance Derek would be thwarting an attempt to leave in the middle of the night. He made a mental note to hide the keys to the Camaro when they got back to their cabin.

“Scott and Allison will be back on patrol tomorrow, and they can more than handle it. It’s been awhile since you had a night off and the city won’t destroy itself if you aren’t there for three days.”

Stiles finally nodded reluctantly, accepting that to be true but not happy about it.

Luckily the Hustle came on shortly after and Erica snatched him away, defending the good people of Beacon Hills all but forgotten in favor of choreographed group dances. Lydia must’ve been physically restrained somewhere for the song to have made it past the first five seconds.

The night carried on in much the same way, with every cliche wedding reception song sneaking into the playlist, and somehow Stiles and Erica managed to outlast everyone else. Without werewolf stamina, Derek had been sure they would’ve had to tap out somewhere around YMCA, but they just kept going while their actual werewolf significant others sat at a table together and marveled at their life choices. Or at least Derek did, Boyd just looked stupidly in love with his wife.

After that, the party started to wind down with slow dances that Derek somewhat reluctantly joined back in for because he knew Stiles liked it (“if he’s still having a good time, don’t try to end the night,” had been Laura’s expert advice before their first date, and he’d stuck to it ever since), until Stiles grew tense in a different way, the quiet and subtle clenching that meant his knee had had enough after a full day of activity without a brace and it was time to call it a night.

His leg healed months ago, but even with the brace and constant strengthening exercises, there were some days when the wear and strain caught up and all he could do was keep off his leg, catch up on sleep, and try not to aggravate his knee too much while slapping away Derek’s offers to just take the pain.

He’d lucked out, not needing surgery, but it was made clear to him that if he wasn’t more careful, that could easily change. So he took nights off instead of running himself into the ground like he used to, and let Scott, Boyd, and Allison cover the city while he and Derek had a nice night in.

And if Derek sometimes had to hide his radio so Stiles wouldn’t try to keep tabs on what was going on, well, it was a work in progress.

“Let’s go, I’m tired,” Derek said instead of waiting for Stiles to admit his knee was bothering him (he wouldn’t), tugging him away from the sparsely populated dance floor and out of the barn into the night.

The music was quieter and set a much calmer atmosphere outside, with the area softly lit by lights in trees and lanterns. No one was talking loudly or running around, and there were only a few people scattered; a small group smoking and chatting, a few couples wandering between illuminated trees, two little girls in princess dresses trying to climb one low hanging branch to get to the lights. It was peaceful, and exactly what Derek needed after such a long and busy day of loud music and socializing.

“I’m surprised you lasted as long as you did, old man,” Stiles said as he loosely linked their fingers together. He was trying to sound smug, but he was leaning a little heavily into Derek’s side.

“You’re tired too. I saw you yawn at least four times in the last hour.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I could keep going all night.”

“You’ll be asleep in twenty minutes.” Derek herded him towards the path into the woods with a few tugs on his hand, as he was veering off towards a couple deputies who were still going strong with the open bar.

“Oh yeah? You wanna bet? Just name your terms.”

“Big words coming from the man who cried like a baby when Erica walked out,” Derek shrugged casually.

“I did not. Besides, you weren’t even looking at me, you were looking at Erica—and it’s a good thing she’s married and her husband is twice your size, otherwise I’d be worried.”

“You should still be worried. Boyd’s cousin has been giving me the eye since we got here.”

“What? Which one?” Stiles twisted around to glare back towards the party. “I’ll defend your honor with a duel. Or is it defending my honor since I’m the one getting jilted?” He turned back to Derek looking genuinely perplexed. “Does it count as defending your honor if you don’t feel like your honor has been offended in anyway and you’re actually quite okay with the one supposedly doing the offending?”

“I think it’s just the principle of the thing.” Derek still got a little kick out of the fact that he didn’t even miss a beat anymore. “And it’s Claire.”

Stiles grimaced. “Nevermind, she’s got at least fifty pounds of muscle on me.” He patted Derek’s shoulder platonically and gave him a firm handshake. “Sorry, big guy, it was nice while it lasted. You’re all hers now. Don’t invite me to the wedding, it’ll just make it weird.”

Derek cocked his head, feigning offense. “You’ll fight thugs in the dead of night but you won’t fight one person for me? Is my honor worth that little to you?”

“She’s a professional construction worker, Derek. I’m pretty sure I saw her move a tractor for Lydia earlier. By lifting it." He leaned in conspiratorially. “Just marry her, do what she says, and we’ll continue our illicit affair under the cover of night like any respectable Russian romantic heroes. We’ll do the Spider-Man kiss in dark alleys, it’ll be great.”

“You almost broke your neck last time you tried that.”

“And if that fire escape had been up to code it would’ve been romantic as shit, I’m not seeing the issue here.”

“How about—” Derek glanced back around the field of people quietly drinking and laughing and tugged Stiles behind an outlying smaller barn, in the dark and out of sight to the side of the path “—we get out of here, avoid the whole Claire issue altogether,” he boxed him in against the wall and Stiles hummed in approval, “and you can defend my honor properly.”

“Pretty sure you mean defile,” Stiles murmured, a little breathless, as Derek moved in to press kisses to his jaw. “What I have planned cannot in good conscience be called defend—”

“Dude!”

They jumped guiltily and Derek hid his face in Stiles’ neck for a second, preparing himself, before pulling away to meet his alpha’s disapproving dad stare. It had developed over the last six months as Scott settled even further into the role and the twenty year old Liam was welcomed into the pack (who was still in school and not allowed to fight crime under any circumstances). The look even worked on Stiles, if used in conjunction with the sad eyes of betrayal, which were powering up as he said,

“You promised you wouldn’t do this!”

Derek stayed quiet for the moment, not trusting himself to say anything that wasn’t an innuendo now that his mind was on that track. Stiles never had any problem switching tracks and, as usual, was more than up to the task of handling the situation.

“Scott, have you seen Derek in a suit.”

Maybe not.

“Yes, all day," Scott said, "and somehow I’ve managed to restrain myself.”

"Well, you've always had much better restraint than I have, you should be glad I held out past lunchtime.” Stiles frowned. “How did you even find us that fast?”

Scott faltered looking incredibly guilty, and that was when Derek noticed the second heartbeat and suppressed giggles.

“Allison?” he called.

She stepped out from around the corner, holding her shoes in one hand and the bottom of her long dress in the other. She didn’t look anywhere near as guilty as Scott and wasn’t even trying to hide her shameless smile or flushed cheeks anymore.

Scott floundered for a second, crooked jaw hanging open, then threw out, "Just save it for your cabin. There are children present. And don’t think I won’t come stop you if I hear anything."

He shot them one last warning look before getting out of there as quickly as he could, Allison jogging after him and laughing. Derek didn't blame him; if the roles were reversed, he wouldn't want to smell all that on Scott either.

“It’s creepy that you would listen for that!” Stiles called after them, then muttered, “what a little…” He didn’t get any further with that train of thought because Derek dove back in to nip at his jaw and get him refocused on their own public indecency. It was really not the time to be thinking about Scott.

But, Derek realized once they got going again, Scott had better hearing than he did and would probably be able to hear them, even if they tried to be quiet.

And if Scott could hear them, so could Talia, and this was definitely something that his mother never needed to know about his life.

“Wait, wait, wait,” he pulled away, and Stiles let his head fall back with a groan. Bastard. He knew how much Derek liked his throat.

“Oh my god, if we get interrupted one—”

“We can’t stay here.”

“Derek, the kids won’t come over here, it’s fine.”

“No, but I’m ninety percent sure my mother can hear us.” He cocked his head to listen towards the party. “Someone just won fifty dollars off of us.”

Stiles’ head snapped back up at that, looking horrified. “Okay, yeah, let’s save it for the cabin.”

“Another ten bucks.”

“I hate your family so much.”

It would be hard, pun fully intended, to save it for the cabin, because Derek and Stiles had been given the one furthest from the rest. The property was littered with odd little cottages for wedding guests and theirs was in the middle of nowhere, at least a ten minute hike from the main house. It was romantic with its rustic furniture and view of Mt. Hood in the distance, but inconvenient with Stiles’ knee, even though he’d reassured everyone it was fine and that no, they didn’t need to switch cabins with anyone. And then he’d ranted to Derek that he was a superhero, god damn it, not a ninety year old grandpa with a trick knee.

Grandpa with a trick knee or not, it was already bothering him as it was after a full and active day without the brace, and he really didn’t need a ten minutes hike on a dimly lit path to make it any worse.

They sat there for a moment mulling over their options, still thoroughly tangled in each other against the barn, and still thoroughly hard. Derek shrugged.

“If I carry you we can be there in half the time.”

“Deal.”