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After the Night (the Morning comes)

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PART I: Nightfall

“The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too.
-Ernest Hemingway, Men Without Women

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define it yourself.”
-Robert Frost

“Remember: the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. Life's cruelest irony.”
-Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet

 

***

Life can be pretty confusing. Even more so when you’re a teenager, still trying to get to know yourself and trying to find your place in this world.

However, confusing reaches a whole new level if you have to deal, on top of your hormones, with supernatural creatures that are out to skin you alive or worse. Stiles figures that it can be argued that it gives life a spark of excitement and thrill, which he at first enjoyed a great deal when his life reached that level of confusing after his best friend got turned into a freaking werewolf. It seemed to him that all his dreams about superheroes and villains that he had as a small child were suddenly real and also now part of his life and he thought it was awesome. And it was awesome. Until it was not. Until he was confronted with the consequences.

What Peter Parker’s uncle said about responsibility was unfortunately very much true and he would have quoted it if he hadn’t felt the despair overthrowing his amusement at the situation. So he just sat and waited while his best friend was chained to the wall, mercilessly rattling against the cuffs, albeit in vain. He thought about breathing because his body seemed to need the reminder that oxygen was still something it very much required to function. He tried not to think about the guilt that started to swell in his stomach like a tumor, still growing.

It never really got better from then on. They just learned to deal with it. They dealt with Derek Hale and his new pack consisting of once insecure teenagers which the bite turned into arrogant, self-absorbed betas with no clue to handle their new abilities without being a total douchebag about it. They dealt with Jackson becoming a mindless puppet used for killing and, after that mess was sorted out, with him being a were-lizard with serious discipline problems and, well, his usual charming self. Stiles forced himself to accept that his long time crush Lydia would never reciprocate his feelings and was now mated to a guy, who hated Stiles' guts and would probably be delighted to see him gone.

After Gerard Argent wasn’t a problem anymore, they tried their best at becoming a real pack, one that’s stable, and a home for the members in it. But ‘they’ only actively consisted of Derek and Stiles. Which was really ridiculous, considering Stiles was human and not bound to the pack at all. But he had his best friend’s wellbeing in mind, which, he was sure, would be ensured if he wasn’t so stubborn and just joined Derek’s pack already. Scott, however, was determined not to see reason because he decided to think with his cock instead of his brain. Maybe it was unfair of Stiles to assume that Scott was only controlled by his hormones and not real affection for Allison Argent, but he was still too bitter about losing his first love to Jackson Whittemore to consider love to be the motivation. Love, in his eyes, didn’t exist anymore.

But it did. Because it saved Jackson from being controlled. It had to exist because his best friend was risking his life and the loyalty of the pack just to be with Allison, even though she was a werewolf-hunter and he was a werewolf. They were like the supernatural edition of Romeo and Juliette and sometimes that thought made Stiles want to puke. Because "Romeo and Juliette" was a tragedy. Even though their love was epic, in the end, it couldn’t save them from death.

They carried on with the weirdness their lives had become and there were even moments when Stiles felt whole again like everything was okay. Like just being was okay. Pretending to be fine was hard, pretending to be happy even harder. But he managed that just fine. Over the time, Stiles became a great pretender. Allison’s grandfather beat the shit out of him? No big deal. He’d crack a joke about it, about how lame that was and no one would call him out on the insecurity the incident had brought on. They’d just roll their eyes at him because he couldn’t be serious for one second if his life depended on it. Lydia almost died in front of him and he was willing to give his life in exchange for hers? Well, nobody needed to know that he still had nightmares about that time. He found his father drinking more often like he used to after his mom had died? He tried hiding the bottles of alcohol and flushed the contents of his glass down the drain when his father wasn’t looking, but otherwise continued lying to him and keeping him in the dark about everything. Even if that meant losing his only parent’s trust, it would keep him safe.

Fortunately, some of his efforts actually paid off, seeing as the pack grew closer with every passing day, every incident, every scarring experience. Even Scott was now participating in the training Derek had forced upon the wolves (and lizard). Sometimes he even brought Allison along and she slowly seemed to make her peace with the pack. Erica still wasn’t very fond of her and kept on bitching about her presence but Lydia was good at distracting her and because she was a goddess who could accomplish anything she set her mind on she forced the two girls to go on a shopping trip together. It was a trip that magically managed to set all the differences aside since compliments on each other’s style and good looks was a peace offering that couldn’t be put down lightly.

Peter was still creepy as hell and no one could forget how cruel he could be but after they managed to find his long lost daughter Malia (which was a surprise for all of them, Peter included) he seemed to find balance in his life and was now much easier to tolerate than before. Malia was a whole different story. They had to teach her to be a human again since she spent too much time in her coyote form. Her learning progress was slow but it was there and that was what really mattered after all.

Their pack was now much more stable so it was no surprise that they decided to let Jackson’s best friend Danny in the know. Danny was a real asset to their pack because not only was he the personification of calm and nice he was also able to hack into every system he so much as wanted a quick look at. Derek had told them time again and again that humans were very valuable to a pack because they kept the wolves grounded to humanity. And Stiles believed that. He just didn’t see himself as such a valuable asset.

In the end, the pack had become a family, but one without a place for Stiles. It was clear as day to the gangly teenager that he wasn’t as much wanted as he was needed. Peter once said that he was the brains of them. But now they had Lydia and Danny so his input was absolutely not necessary anymore. At best, he was an annoying spastic idiot to them, who could sometimes be amusing. At worst, he was a liability the pack couldn’t really afford but were unable to cut loose. Stiles really tried to accept that but it still freaking hurt. It hurt to know that Derek all but ignored him when he wasn’t forced to interact with him. It stung that Scott and Isaac became really good friends without including him. It nearly killed him to know that everyone just tolerated him because he was Scott’s best friend and knew about them being werewolves. But this was Stiles' life now and it were his choices that had led him to this point so he could hardly complain about it. He just put on a silly smile, made jokes and hid his shaking limbs with clumsiness. He really became good at pretending.

Of course, since Beacon Hills seemed to be cursed, their life couldn’t just stay calm. A pack of werewolves seemed to be a magnet for other supernatural creatures with the intention to mess everything up.

It began with people disappearing. Stiles knew something was up because his father was constantly exhausted and stayed longer at the station. The first missing person was a guy who made a camping trip. He never came back. The second was a local older woman who was last seen going into the woods to look for some flowers.

Derek, as their alpha, wasn’t willing to take any risks and so he sent his betas to scent the area and mark their territory. They found a strange smell but nothing that pointed to something unusual happening. Nevertheless, they took turns in running the perimeter to make sure that no threat managed to escape their notice.

Stiles, who was getting fed up with being utterly useless, began at this point to argue that the culprit might be human.

“This could be your average kidnapping chain-saw murderer who dismembers his victims and then eats them. Not everything is about the supernatural, you know?” he tried to make a point. Sometimes he was just being controversial to aggravate Derek because that was the only
time he got a reaction from him. If fighting was the only way to converse with the alpha, then he was more than willing to look for arguments.

Derek pinched the bridge of his nose as if it physically pained him to deal with Stiles. “Even if we’re dealing with a human, this could still escalate to becoming a threat to the pack. Murders draw attention. We don’t need attention.”

Stiles put up his index finger as if to reprimand a little child. “Ah-ah! There are no bodies so the police can’t be sure if the missing people were killed. But thanks for sharing your optimistic view, oh alpha mine.”

Now Derek looked positively annoyed with the conversation. “What’s your point, Stiles? What exactly are you trying to accomplish here?”

The teenager grinned slyly. “Well, in case we are dealing with a kidnapping chain-saw murderer, I am all too happy to remind you that my father works in law enforcement. If you still can’t connect the dots, let me spell it out for you. My dad is a cop, therefore he has all the information regarding this case. And I, as his curious irredeemable son, have a habit of sticking my nose where it doesn’t necessarily belong which would be coincidently this case. Capisce?” He even winked at the older man. It didn’t, however, evoke the reaction he had hoped for. It just seemed to make Derek even angrier.

“What could you possibly do that trained policemen can’t? You’re in way over your head, Stiles. Stop being ridiculous. This is none of your business, anyway,” he huffed and folded his arms to appear even sterner to get his point across.

Stiles would never admit it, but the last statement really got to him. Since when was the pack being in danger none of his business? Was this their subtle way to tell him he was no longer considered part of the pack? He knew that many of them wanted to get rid of him, but he was sure that Scott would defend him. Even if they were trying to get rid of him, couldn’t they at least throw him a goodbye party to thank him for everything he had done for them? The feeling of betrayal made him feel nauseous.

“None of my business,” he repeated hollowly. “That’s nice. Really, the skinny, defenseless human was always a joke, why not keep him out of pack business? Makes sense. It’s fucking heartless, considering I worked my ass off for this pack but, hey, it’s not like it’s unexpected. I’m actually surprised it didn’t happen sooner, what with all the barely concealed indifference towards me. No, wait, screw that! And screw you! I was the one who helped build this pack from scratch! I was the one who actually got your furry ass into gear because otherwise you would have just drowned in guilt and sorrow for yourself instead of getting your shit together and start becoming a passable alpha! Notice how I said passable and not good? Well, Mr. McBroodypants, you’re still far away from being a good alpha because you’re too scared to let anybody in! I get it, trust issues and all that because of your tragic past! But you now have a pack that you’re responsible for so it’s time to take Uncle Ben’s words to heart and act like the damn grown-up you constantly try to portray! And-“

Before he could say anything more and he was really just getting started, he was abruptly interrupted by a pair of lips that slammed against his own. His eyes were wide open and his senses were trying really hard to get it across to him that Derek Hale was indeed kissing him. His brain, however, refused to keep up and instead pressed the panic button, which caused the shutdown of every thought that before had whirled around in his head. He was all too much aware of Derek’s hands that had found their way to his neck and now moved to cup his jaw, thumbs rubbing circles on the sensitive spot behind his ears. Surprisingly Derek’s lips were a lot softer than he had always assumed. And he had spent a lot of time thinking about them lately. They were at least just as demanding as he had imagined them to be. Good to know that his fantasies weren’t completely unrealistic. Well, except for the fact that Derek Hale was kissing him for real and holy shit, what even was his life? Since when was being kissed even a possibility for Stiles?

They had to break apart for breathing which Stiles never in his life found such an annoying bodily requirement before.

“Shut up,” the werewolf growled as if his actions didn’t already indicate that he had no intention of letting Stiles continue talking. And Stiles didn’t mind in the least if he spent the time kissing instead of arguing. This was a development that the teenager hadn’t foreseen, but he wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Who knew when Derek’s emotionally constipated side resurfaced again? Well, Stiles considered himself to be a man that lived for the moment and maybe worried later about the consequences.

“I said shut up.” A rough bite to his bottom lip emphasized the order and it was then that Stiles realized that he had lost his brain to mouth filter and had just blurted everything he thought out loud. If he wasn’t already red as a tomato he would be now.

Since the last thing he wanted was for Derek to stop he forced his body to hold still and concentrated on being quite. Everyone who had met him at least once knew what a difficult task that was for him, but he somehow managed. His force of will could be pretty impressive.

His efforts were in vain, though, because Derek just sighed against his lips and leaned back. Stiles wanted to follow his lips, but a hand on his shoulder held him back. He should have known it was too good to last.

“You are part of the pack, Stiles. Stop doubting it.”

If his brain had functioned correctly he would have responded with “How can I not doubt my place in the pack? No one really wants me in it!” As it was, he was still too dumbstruck by the sudden kiss to be able to fathom words into a sentence.

“Go home. Wouldn’t want you to miss your curfew.” Derek even had the guts to smirk at him. It was not meant to be demeaning, but there was also no amusement in his tone. The lack of humor was really not all that unexpected from their alpha, even if he seemed happier these past few months than they had ever seen him. As small as the progress was, Stiles was proud of it.

“Sure,” Stiles replied. “But we should talk about the kissing business first? I mean, lip to lip interaction wasn’t on our daily schedule before, as far as I know. But there is definitely room for it, I guess, I could fit it in somewhere. Should I make appointments with your secretary?”

Sometimes Stiles would really prefer to be mute so his thoughts couldn’t leak out of him like water from a broken faucet.

Derek, since he was his usual expressive self, just flicked him on the temple and shook his head in exasperation.

“It was a good way to shut you up. You were spouting nonsense again.”

And, to Stiles’ disappointment, that was all he had to say about that. Never mind that it was Stiles’ first kiss (the first that counted, anyway).

“But-,” Stiles wanted to argue.

“It won’t be a recurring thing, Stiles”, Derek interrupted him sharply. “I just wanted to see if Erica’s method worked on others as well as it did on me. And it did. You really shouldn’t be that easily distracted.”

Stiles wanted to slap himself. Why was he expecting something different? The fact that he was seventeen and had just gotten his first kiss was telling enough. He really needed to learn to stay realistic. After all, what would a twenty-four-year-old with features chiseled by the gods want with a lanky kid with ADHD and the inability to stay still?

{}

After that massive letdown, his fear that the pack would decide to cut him loose had increased so much that he couldn’t sleep that night. Sleepless nights were not a strange concept to Stiles who mostly spent those researching random facts on the internet. Yes, the internet was the best friend to man, as far as he was concerned.

On that night, however, something different caught his attention. Normally he stayed off the social network because in no way was he ready to handle cyberbullying and seeing how unpopular in real life he was he didn’t want to take his chances. But it was just conventional to be on facebook and not even Stiles could escape the peer pressure to make an account. He had no idea what devil made him sign in that night, but it didn’t really matter, anyway. As soon as he saw the ad he knew what he was gonna do in his spare time. The pack shouldn’t be his life and the first step to becoming an independent human being again was to find a hobby. Without thinking twice about it, he wrote a message to the girl who had posted the ad on her wall. Surprisingly, he got an immediate response. Full of excitement he flailed in his seat, looking for a pen and a sheet of paper to scribble down the address.

That was how he found himself standing in a cellar on a Tuesday afternoon while a group of strangers scrutinized him from head to toe. He took in the group in front of him. It consisted of two very pretty girls, maybe a bit older than Stiles, one blonde the other with dark hair and of three guys, closer to Derek’s age than his own. One of the guys had a ponytail and a beard and looked impressively impassive.

“So,” Stiles began nervously, with his hands stuffed into his pockets to conceal that they were shaking. “Your band is seriously called ‘Ray of Light’?”

Maybe that was not the best opening, seeing as one of the guys' faces hardened immediately.

The blonde girl laughed, but her blue eyes were kind. “Do you have a better name?”

Stiles openly gaped then he ran his fingers through his hair. Thank god for his decision to outgrow the buzz cut. “It’s your band and I’m assuming you have a reason for the name?”

“We have,” the girl answered and offered him her hand which he shook a bit too enthusiastically. “I’m Lindsay, one of the vocalists. This is Zoey, guitar, and vocals,” she motioned to the girl with the dark hair.”Chandler, our drummer,” the guy with the ponytail nodded, “Zack, bass and vocals” the guy who looked the least welcoming, “and lastly Brad, piano and percussions and also my boyfriend.”

Brad, the boyfriend, looked like a jock that Stiles would hate on principal, were he in school right now. He was blonde, attractive and smug. He looked like the guy who got the girl in every rom-com movie known to man.

“So, Stiles, right?” Lindsay was still smiling at him and he kind of started to adore the way her blue eyes lit up when she did. “You want to write songs for us? Don’t get us wrong, but we’ve been looking for a songwriter since forever and it is really difficult to find someone who gets our music. We’ve just done covers before, but one does not get far without their own songs and none of us has really come up with something worthy.”

Brad scoffed at that and glared at Stiles as if he was the one who had just offended him with that statement.

“We could play something for you, just so you get a feeling of what kind of music we’re into,” Zoey suggested, already reaching for her guitar.

Stiles nodded and watched as the band members took their positions. Zoey tried a few chords while humming; Lindsay took the microphone in hand; Brad pressed a few keys on the piano and Chandler just swung his sticks. Zack just waited till the others were ready.

What Stiles then listened to was the most emotional and innovative rendition of Coldplay’s song “The Scientist” that he had ever heard. Lindsay’s voice was breathy but also very powerful and sweet. It was not an understatement to say that he was wondering if he had just met stars of tomorrow. They were good, really good. And he was determined to be part of their greatness.

“So, what do you think?” Lindsay asked shyly. How she wasn’t an arrogant diva was beyond Stiles because if he had the vocal range of this girl he would parade it around until everyone got sick of him.

“Well, I think I’m the right person.”

“Prove it,” Zack challenged him. “Surely, you didn’t come here unprepared, did you?”

Stiles never came unprepared for anything. He had a bag of mountain ash and wolfsbane in the trunk of his Jeep, just in case he ever needed it. He even had a wooden stake and vial of holy water in there, because he wouldn’t be surprised if vampires existed as well.

Lindsay nodded encouragingly as he gestured to the piano, asking for permission to use it. So he sat down on the bench and stretched his fingers. He was nervous, but the feeling of the keys under his fingertips calmed him down. It was familiar and reminded him of his mother who was the one who had encouraged him to learn to play the piano when he was little because she had thought it to be a good way to channel his energy. She used to sit with him and listen to him playing, sometimes singing along.

Without even thinking about it, he began to play the melody that had been ghosting around in his head for a while. The melody appeared to be stuck in his head so he could play it without sheets, but he was unable to find lyrics that went along with it. It was easy to lose himself in the music. He had always loved to play but had never been brave enough to join a band. Lately, he had been so consumed with the pack that he hadn’t even considered it anymore.

As soon as the last chord faded away he heard clapping and loud cheers. He looked up to see Lindsay and Zoey high-five each other, which he took as a good sign.

“Oh, you’re in. You are so in,” Zoey said and clapped him on the shoulder. “We meet every Tuesday evening at eight. Be punctual, newbie.”

“Wait! We can’t just accept him because he played one mediocre song!” Brad protested.

“Mediocre? That word is in your vocabulary? What, was it the word of the day on your calendar?”

“Boys!” interrupted Lindsay and held out her hands as if she could hold them apart that way. “Don’t be childish. He was great, Brad! Even though it wouldn’t hurt him to drop that attitude of his.”

She sent a pleading look in Stiles’ direction which he conceived as an apology for her boyfriend’s behavior but also a plea to overlook it.

Because he didn’t want to blow his chances with the band he nodded curtly. Brad was an ass, but he had learned to tolerate assholes years ago so he could deal with it.

“Guys? Are you down there?” A voice called out to them.

“Just my girlfriend,” explained Zoey, a smug smile on her lips. Then she called out, “Yes, sweetie!”

They heard her take the stairs and then saw her sprint over to Zoey. Stiles almost dropped open his mouth as he took in the dark-haired beauty before him. It’s been a while since he last saw such perfection of the human physique and he could tell you the exact amount of time since then because he was a nerd that counted the hours after having gotten his first kiss. If he wouldn’t know better he would say that she was Derek Hale’s female counterpart.

Zoey wasted no time to greet her with a kiss to the cheek. It was cute because Zoey was at least a head smaller than her girlfriend and had to stand on her tiptoes to reach her cheek.

“You’ve come just at the right time,” Zoey said, smiling broadly. She took her girlfriend’s hand and led her to where Stiles was still sitting on the piano bench. “Let me introduce you to our newest member. Laura, this is Stiles. Stiles, this is my gorgeous girlfriend Laura.”

They shook hands while Stiles pondered over the coincidence that Derek’s sister was named Laura as well. It was odd with the way they looked alike. Almost like siblings…

“Oh, fuck,” he sighed heavily.”Please tell me your last name is not Hale.”

And because this was his life where mere coincidences no longer existed, her eyes widened and she asked suspiciously “How did you know that?” Stiles just put his head in his hands and groaned. So much for doing something separately from the pack. Pack business seemed to follow him wherever he went.  

Chapter Text

The last year had brought many changes for Derek. Suddenly he wasn’t alone anymore. Even if he had preferred to stay alone – which he, of course, at that point very much had – he had a freshly bitten teenager and a rogue omega running wild in Beacon Hills on his hands so he couldn’t just turn his back and leave this damn place behind him. He should have stayed in New York and never looked back. But he couldn’t. Because he owed it to his family to protect their territory as the only survivor of the Hale pack. Well, as it turned out, he was wrong with that assumption. Because his uncle was able to heal with an alpha nearby and the alpha turned out to be Derek. No one was more surprised about that than Derek, honestly. He, of course, knew that the alpha powers of his mother had to go somewhere but after the fire he had been alone and still very much a beta. Derek had seen that as a good sign because it meant another Hale must have survived the fire. He just hadn't known who because they seemed to have left the town immediately. So when the alpha powers transferred to him as soon as he decided to take the training of Scott McCall in his own hands, he wept because it meant that his last living family member must have died before he had been able to find them. But then Peter awoke from his coma and there was no more time to grieve properly.

He also had to look for the alpha that had bitten Scott. But they never found him or her. Which was also the reason why the teenager was suspicious of Derek and hadn’t wanted anything to do with him for a very long time. It was only thanks to Stiles that Scott eventually came around. Derek was not ashamed to give credit to whom it was due. He just didn’t say it out loud.

Two betas didn’t make a pack, though, so he picked teenagers that would consider the bite as a gift and turned them. Originally, he had thought that he had made a good move but Scott and Stiles were not happy with him.

And Peter didn’t care. The fire had changed him. He was colder and crueler so no one, not even Derek, took the risk to trust him. In other words, his already small pack was falling apart. He had hoped that additions to the pack would help, but it had the opposite effect.

Scott was mad at him for turning teenagers and decided foolishly, once again, that he didn’t need a pack. To Derek’s surprise, Stiles was on his side and tried to get Scott’s trust in Derek back – well, not really back, because he hadn’t trusted the alpha to begin with, but at least to get Derek back in Scott’s good graces. It was hard work.

Derek also hadn’t expected his new betas to get so egotistical after the bite. The confidence gained through their new powers would have been a nice change, hadn’t the stupid teenagers decided to let it get to their heads. What was even worse was that Derek had no idea how to talk to them. He tried, but he was no conversationalist. Never had been. And that’s where Stiles came in and somehow saved the day with as many words as one could say in a minute. The annoying sidekick became a trusted advisor and Derek, the quiet and broody became Derek, the broody, and quiet alpha. Progress.

Now, the Hale pack was what Derek had intended them to be. They were a team. They could count on each other. Derek had even gained some parts of his original family back. Peter’s daughter and Derek’s cousin Malia was the newest addition to their pack. For a twelve-year-old she was smart and cunning but also very honest. Everyone tried to spend as much time with her as possible because she was the only child in their pack. It was, however, no secret that Stiles was her all time favorite. She had practically glued herself to his side ever since he had found her in her coyote form in the woods. As it turned out, her foster parents had died in a car accident four years ago and since then she had lived as a coyote in the woods. At the time of the fire, she had been two years old so they had no idea how she had been able to survive it, but Derek didn’t really care. All that mattered was that she was alive and now back where she belonged.

Derek was nearly happy with his life, even though he constantly expected it to turn worse any second. He would have been the happiest he’s ever been since the fire if there wasn’t his stupid attraction to an annoying witty teenager that slowly took control of his life. He hated it. He hated it because he couldn’t afford to waste time with something that was bound to end in a huge mess. After Kate, he assumed that he would never be able to love someone again, anyway. But he had been wrong. Why did he have to be wrong about everything? Now was, however, not the time to be thinking about a relationship. He still had to find the alpha that had bitten Scott. His pack still had many things to learn. He had to make sure that Malia found her anchor so she could finally get the education she deserved. There were still so many things to be done. His life was finally okay again so he wasn’t willing to risk it for an attraction that could only end in heartbreak. He liked Stiles, alright, but Stiles was just seventeen, for god’s sake. If he would pursue him it would make him no better than Kate.

The kiss had been a spur of the moment action, which he couldn’t quite bring himself to regret. It was just a kiss. As far as he knew teenagers nowadays didn’t consider a kiss a big deal anymore. Erica had kissed him, Scott had kissed Lydia and Isaac had even kissed Jackson once. It hadn’t been a big deal for them. Sometimes you get the urge to kiss someone and sometimes you give in to it, he figured. His hope, that one kiss would suffice, was pretty much smashed afterward. He wanted more. And he hated himself for it a tiny bit.

“Why is there a pack meeting today? I was planning to go on a date, I told you! Don’t you want me to get laid?” Jackson complained as soon as he entered the Hale house. It had been a really good investment to rebuild it. The pack loved to spend their movie nights there.

“I thought all it took for you to get laid was to watch ‘The Notebook’?” Isaac snickered. It was really nice to see him act so carefree around the pack. It had taken them a long time to get to that point.

“At least I get laid at all,” sneered Jackson.

“Congratulations, Jackson”, Erica said with a false smile. “It’s really an accomplishment to get laid by your girlfriend once a month. Gives your right hand a short vacation once in a while, doesn’t it.”

“Just because someone has a ladyboner for our alpha here-“

“Jackson!”

It was Derek that stepped in before someone got seriously hurt. Teenager bitch-fights were really something he never would get used to.

“There are children present.” He shot a meaningful look to where Peter and Malia were sitting at the coffee table, drawing with crayons. Another thing he would never get used to. Peter being an awesome father, who drew with his child, tickled it till it cried with laughter and read a good-night story every night. It was obvious that he tried very hard to make up for the years she had spent in the wild alone.

“Is it just me or has anybody else noticed that Stiles isn’t here yet? Normally, he is the first to arrive,” Lydia mentioned casually while inspecting her nails for any damage. How she managed to look like perfection every single minute in her life was a mystery.

She was right. Usually, Stiles would be an hour too early, just to play with Malia. They had started this weird card game which no one could get behind, except for the two of them. Derek suspected that Stiles had invented it just so that they could be secretive with each other, but he never said anything about it.

“Has something happened to Stiles?” Scott immediately sounded concerned. Sometimes Derek was really envious of the friendship between these two. They were both loyal to a fault to each other.

“Has he finally decided to tell his dad about us?” Allison asked with blatant hope in her voice. It was no secret that the pack thought that having the sheriff in the know about werewolves and other supernatural creatures would be an advantage for the pack. Whenever someone mentioned it, however, Stiles immediately changed the subject. They all knew his stance on that matter and it didn’t seem like he would change it anytime soon.

“No. But he’s the one who summoned you all here so, Jackson, you should go to him if you want to complain about your date night,” Derek told them.

“Doesn’t explain why he still isn’t here, though”, muttered Scott who still seemed to be concerned about his best friend.

“Don’t fret!” someone called out. “The person that you’re all waiting for in anticipation has finally arrived! And he comes with a surprise!”

“Stiles! Did you finally get a girlfriend or boyfriend?” Erica teased.

Stiles walked into the living room with an expression that told her that he was not amused. But then he grinned so brightly, it almost looked foolish.

“I should open a Lost-and-Found- office because it seems that I’m awesome at finding things and people. Remember when I found Malia?”

He winked at her which caused her to smile broadly. No one could really forget the day he found a coyote on a camping trip and claimed that it was a were-coyote. To their surprise, he had been right. To their glee, it had been one they hadn’t known they had been missing.

Jackson groaned. “Please tell me you didn’t bring a squirrel with you, just because you suspect it might be a person.”

Stiles looked offended. “I wouldn’t bring a squirrel with me! Why would I? You lot would just chase it and then probably eat it!”

“Could you two please stop wasting our time?” interrupted Derek, getting annoyed at their banter. Jackson and Stiles could argue for hours if no one stopped them. They really couldn’t wait that long for the news Stiles was about to convey to them.

Stiles looked at him incredulously as if Derek was the one who had hindered him from telling them what he had found. He really was frustrating sometimes.

“As I was about to tell you before I was so rudely interrupted,” he began again and glared at Jackson for a moment. “I found someone. They are waiting in the car. And nervous. So please be nice to them.”

He disappeared while the others started talking over each other. Their reactions were all quite different. Peter looked intrigued while Isaac and Jackson looked only mildly interested. Boyd was his usual calm self and, therefore, hard to read, but Erica looked kind of pissed. Changes never went well with her and she had never been all that welcoming to potential new pack members. Stiles had told Derek once that she had never fully overcome her insecurities and only put on a brave façade so no one would know how much the pack meant to her. She was so very much afraid of getting replaced that she mistrusted everyone she met. Scott, on the other hand, looked positively excited and Derek was sure he might have jumped up and down on the spot like a puppy hadn’t it been for Allison’s calming hold of his hand. They really made a good pair. Danny sat on the couch next to Lydia, who was varnishing her nails, and looked at Malia's drawings while silently smiling. Since he knew that werewolves actually existed, nothing seemed to freak him out anymore. Stiles found someone? Sure, bring them in. If they are psychopaths, we’ll get rid of them. If they are nice, we keep them. No big deal.

It wasn’t until two girls walked into the room that all action ceased and eerie silence engulfed them. For Derek, time seemed to have stopped. Even though he was a werewolf and pretty much indestructible, he felt small and vulnerable all of a sudden. It was getting hard to breathe.

Because he knew them. Of course he knew them.

“Laura? Cora?” he croaked out in a small voice. Weren’t he breaking down internally, he would have been embarrassed about it.

The taller girl started tearing up then. Before anyone could react she had thrown herself at their alpha and sobbed against his neck. Her arms clung to him as if she was afraid he would vanish into thin air as soon as she loosened her grip. It was truly an emotional sight to see.

The pack almost felt intrusive for witnessing such an intense moment.

Peter had left his place beside his daughter and moved slowly to stand next to the two hugging people. He beckoned to the second girl to come closer and clasped her in a tight embrace as soon as she was in his reach. His hand kept combing through her straight dark hair in a comforting gesture. She wasn’t crying, but her whole body was shaking like a leaf.

Malia was confused, though. So Stiles moved to her and rested a hand on her shoulder. He could tell that she was upset because she didn’t understand what was happening. In her eyes he could see the trust she held for him and he knew that she was silently asking him for answers. He smiled at her reassuringly before he said, “Malia, I would like to introduce someone to you.”

Without hesitating, she let him help her to her feet and guide her to where the two girls, Derek, and her father were standing. Both girls looked at him, then at Malia.

“Malia, this is your cousin Laura,” He motioned to the tall dark-haired beauty whose tears now overflowed. “I noticed that she can be quite bossy but don’t let that intimidate you. She’s really just all flowers and rainbows.”

At that, Laura’s lips formed into a smile and she laughed. It sounded like the first rays of sunshine after a storm.

Stiles then gestured to the girl with the straight hair. “And that’s your cousin Cora. She’s really good at silently judging somebody and I would know because she did it to me the whole ride here.”

Cora was standing a bit too stiff to look comfortable, but the tension in her face eased a bit after Malia nodded at her.
Stiles turned to the others, who had kept silent the whole time. “Everybody welcome to the Hale family reunion! I didn’t bring any cake, but we can order pizza.”

{}

Derek still couldn’t believe it. In front of him across the kitchen table sat his older sister, unscathed and alive. He could hear Laura’s heartbeat, see her breathing. She was back and it felt like she had never left. The hole in his chest started to close. And he knew that it would hurt all the more if he lost her for a second time. Living with a hole in his chest had been a constant reminder of pain but having a scar getting ripped open might just tear him apart completely. He swore to make sure he would do everything in his power to prevent that from happening.

And there was Cora. His baby sister who wasn’t so little anymore. In fact, she was the same age as Isaac now. Nearly an adult. And he hadn’t been there to watch her grow out of her childhood. He probably hadn’t been there for many important happenings in her life. It made him sad that he could never make up for that. But at least she was here now which meant that he would get to see her graduate, maybe see her off to college. He would get to spend her 18th birthday with her.

“You have lived in Boston for the last ten years? How did you get by on your own?”

Peter had never been one to prod a subject tentatively, instead he just chooses to cut straight to the point.

“I got a job in a bar as a waitress for the night and during the day I tried selling my paintings. It was hard in the beginning because Cora was just a child and I couldn’t leave her alone for too long. But we managed. We just couldn’t…. We had to get out of Beacon Hills after everything that had happened,” Laura answered, glancing fleetingly at Cora. She seemed so mature and confident. Derek assumed that she had to become an adult very fast because she had to take care of Cora and herself. He was so proud of her that he simply had to reach across the table to grasp her hand in his. She squeezed his hand for a moment and offered him a grateful smile.

“I assume that you were the alpha when you left. You took over the leadership. Your instincts then told you to protect what was left of the pack and so you moved away. It makes sense,” Peter deduced, never too humble to show off. Even though he was tolerable now he was still a dick sometimes.

Laura’s gaze hardened immediately. “Yes, I was the alpha. But I’m not anymore, as you can see.” She looked at Cora whose gaze was fixed on the tabletop. After a while, Cora nodded curtly. “There was an incident. We stumbled upon a ruthless pack and … well, it didn’t end pretty. We barely managed to make it out alive. But… Cora – she was injured pretty badly. And her wounds, inflicted by a mage or something, didn’t heal. So I gave up my alpha powers to save her.” Cora seemed to grow smaller at that like she felt guilty for it. “And I would do it again. I never regretted saving my sister.” The last part was obviously directed at Cora who then looked up and met the reassuring smile of her sister.

“I’m sorry. For everything you’ve been through,” Derek offered sincerely. “I’m glad you’ve made it. I’m glad you’re both alive.”

The siblings shared a look of affection. Even Cora seemed to loosen up a bit.

Peter’s curiosity wasn’t stilled, though. “Since when are you back in California?”

“We came back a year ago, I think? We both decided that we wouldn’t move back to Beacon Hills but that we would settle down close to it. Now we actually live in an apartment in Ashwick Valley, because it is bordering Beacon Hills but still far away enough to not be constantly reminded of our old home. We like it there.”

Peter seemed thoughtful for a moment. Then his eyes got a glint in them that signaled that he got a theory. “So you came back around the time Derek became the alpha. Interesting. Maybe you followed the pull of your alpha, even if it had been subconscious?”

Laura looked seriously surprised at that. Then she punched Derek’s arm.

“You’re an alpha? Way to go baby-brother!”

Derek grumbled some unintelligent things under his breath but did otherwise not react to her exclamation.

“We came back because it felt right. We had no idea that Derek was alive, let alone an alpha,” Cora stated coldly, clearly fed up with Peter’s questions.

Peter wasn’t taken aback by her rude behavior, though. He just smiled to himself. “Forgive me. I’m sure you had a tiring day. I just have one more question for you.”

Laura rolled her eyes but nodded.

“How did Stiles manage to find you?”

Derek peaked up at the question since he was interested in the answer himself. Stiles had always been a wild card and pretty unpredictable but this time he really had outdone himself.

Laura grinned mischievously like she knew something that they didn’t but wasn’t ready to share the secret with them. “Let’s just say that Stiles and I have mutual friends.”

Chapter Text

Coming home that evening felt like finally reaching sanctuary where Stiles could drop the brave façade and let his feelings break down the wall he had built years ago. It didn’t matter that they weren’t bad feelings that day, they were nonetheless overwhelming and keeping them in so long had exhausted him.

He was so happy that he could cry. His chest felt so full that it was nearly uncomfortable and if he could, he would scream till the happiness felt less suffocating. It was late, though, and he was sure his dad wouldn’t appreciate it if he had to listen to the complaints of their neighbors again. (It had only happened one time. And the spider had been astoundingly big so he had had his reasons to scream like that.)

After dropping his backpack on the floor in the living room he went into the kitchen to heat up their dinner. He thanked his lucky stars that there were enough leftovers from yesterday so he didn’t have to prepare dinner now. The energy that buzzed through his limbs would’ve not been very helpful while handling knives. The last thing he needed was another kitchen accident this month. The number of accidents that happened in their kitchen over a year would make even statisticians blanch.

Stiles heard the front door open and knew his dad was home. Right on time. Their dinner was ready.

The sound of the door closing was followed by footsteps and then by stumbling and a very bad curse word.

“Stiles! How many times do I have to tell you not to leave your stuff on the living room floor? Is this a devised plan to get me killed?!”

Stiles had never claimed to be a perfect son.

“Sorry, dad. I was in a bit of a hurry,” he apologized, trying to suppress the grin that was threatening to appear on his lips.

“Yeah, yeah. Have heard better excuses than that.”

His dad ruffled his hair for a short moment while inspecting the food (too healthy for his taste, to be honest) before he went to take a shower. When he came back, they ate their dinner in silence. The happiness Stiles had felt not that long ago flew out of his grasp like a balloon and all he could do was watch it regretfully and hope it won’t get stuck in a tree. Or something along these lines. Sometimes his metaphors just went in a different direction than he intended.

It hadn’t always been like that. There had been a time when Stiles could’ve talked with his dad about everything and nothing. They had been really close before the whole werewolf fiasco had started. Now there was just lies and silence between them.

The worst part was that Stiles could tell that his dad was genuinely trying to be understanding and supportive with whatever was going on with his son. He always made sure that Stiles knew that he was loved. That almost hurt more than the disappointment he could see in his father’s eyes every time he lied to him.

“If you got time tonight, we could watch the show you like so much,” his dad suggested. “The one about zombies?”

Stiles was so caught off guard by that, he nearly fell out of his chair.

“I… It’s not on TV tonight, dad.” He really felt bad for saying that. Even though it was the truth. Stupid TV programs.

His father didn’t seem to be disappointed. Instead, he grinned which only added to Stiles’ confusion. Sure, they could watch it on his laptop but his dad had never been a big fan of that. Why not use the TV for that? You know it was invented for that kind of reason, right, Stiles?

“I bought season one on my lunch break.”

At that Stiles responded with a broad grin.

It was really nice, bonding over a TV show they both seemed to like. It was not all that surprising to Stiles how quickly his dad got hooked. The main character was, after all, a cop too. And he had a son. (“How could someone name their child Carl? They aren’t even giving him a chance!” – “Really, dad? You really want to go there? Remember the name you blessed me with? The one we don’t ever talk about? Ever?”)

It was well after eleven pm when Stiles entered his bedroom and he still had homework to do, but it had been worth it. They had watched the first two episodes that night. Stiles really hoped this could become their tradition.

***

The rest of the week was pretty uneventful. He tried to get some information from his dad about the case, but his dad remained stern in not getting him involved. Normally, Stiles would have just pressed the issue until he got what he wanted but their relationship finally was what it used to be and he didn’t want to destroy it again so soon. He had to find another way to approach the case. Maybe he could do some investigations of his own. He had read plenty of detective novels to know how they operated. And he knew of the supernatural which would also benefit him. He hoped.

On Friday he drove to the Hale House, still amazed to see it standing in the preserve in its old glory. It didn’t look like the previous version, but that was not a loss. Stiles could understand Derek’s hesitance at rebuilding something that reminded him of all the loss and grief in his life but he was all for abandoning the train station and exchange it for a residence with indoor plumbing and electricity. He had been really proud of Derek when he had moved to the loft. It just hadn’t been big enough to accommodate Isaac and the other werewolves who needed a sanctuary from their homes once in a while. That’s when he had suggested rebuilding the Hale House. That was also when his back had gotten really intimately acquainted with the door of the loft. Seriously, did Derek make a habit of shoving people against doors when he was threatening them? If so, then what was he doing when he was facing his enemy out in the open?

It had taken some time convincing him of all the advantages but eventually Stiles had gotten Derek to see reason. His exact words had been:

“Maybe rebuilding the house will open wounds, Derek, yeah, I get that just fine. But sometimes you have to face the pain to start healing, you know? Get over it now. Otherwise the ruins of your old home might always haunt you, because you would give up all the good memories too, along with the bad ones. Do you really want that? The house itself isn’t what hurts you. It’s the state that it’s in. Now take the ashes and make something new out of them. Like Dumbledore’s bird does everytime it combusts. Hey, that’s a pretty good analogy, well done, me! What? Don’t you know Harry Potter? Have you been living under a rock these last few years? Ha, no in a train station. Which is not really better than a rock, Derek!”

He may have babbled a bit but he had gotten his point across and soon after they had started planning the structure of the new Hale House. Turns out that Derek had actually studied to become an architect but had quit before he could get his degree. Maybe, so Stiles thought, he could someday even pursue him to graduate. He was getting good at pursuing Derek Hale to do something. Of course, he would never use that new found talent to harm the werewolf. Sometimes the big bad alpha just needed a push in the right direction and that’s what Stiles was here for.

Since every member of the pack possessed a key to the house he didn’t deem it necessary to knock and just entered. It didn’t even feel like he was intruding anymore. The Hale House had become a home to all of them. Isaac even lived there permanently. They all had their own rooms with some of their stuff in it so no one really minded it anymore when one of them visited unannounced.

As soon as he had entered, Stiles shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on the coat-stand in the entrance hall. He then put his keys in the key bowl and shuffled into the living room. Before he could even call out and announce his presence he was getting tackled by a mess of brunette hair which resulted in him falling ungraciously on his behind.

“Stiles, you’re here!”

He really couldn’t hold it against Malia that she couldn’t control her strength when she was looking at him with her beautiful dark eyes, all adoring and happy. How could he be angry at her when he knew that she wasn’t that uninhibited with anyone else? Malia didn’t trust easily and very seldom showed what she was feeling. Except when she was with Stiles. It might have something to do with Stiles finding her when she was lost and alone. Anyway, Stiles really loved the devotion he got from her.

“Hey, how you doing, Malia?” He winked at her because he knew she would get the reference. After all, he had spent whole nights watching episodes of “Friends” with her when she was having nightmares. It was totally worth it, even if the scolding from Peter they both received every time the following day was truly terrifying.

“I’m still trying to convince Peter to let me go to school,” she told him, a sly grin on her lips. “I think I nearly have him where I want him. Not long till he’ll crack.”

Stiles laughed. “Only you would be able to manipulate the king of manipulation.”

She preened a little at that. “Of course.”

Stiles pushed her gently off of him and stood up.

“Hey, do you know where Derek is? I sort of have to talk to him. About stuff. Important stuff. But nothing serious, don’t worry.”

She looked dubious but then she just scrunched up her nose adorably. That was one of the reasons why Stiles loved Malia so much. She might be judgmental and rude sometimes, but she always took him serious and valued what he had to say. That didn’t, however, mean that she always agreed with him.

“He’s in the garage. Working on his car. He’s grumpy. More so than usual,” she answered, expecting him to see the connection of her words. And he did.

Derek working on his car meant that he wasn’t in the mood to put up with anyone. Everyone knew that Derek’s time in the garage was Derek’s brooding time. And he was about to interrupt that. What could he say, danger was his middle name. He was aware that Derek’s unwillingness to talk wouldn’t do him any favors in getting answers but he was simply too impatient to wait any longer.

Stiles knocked a bit too loudly on the door to the garage and didn’t wait for permission before he entered it. Internally he was freaking out because that move sure as hell wouldn’t put him on Derek’s good side. However, he intended to emerge with confidence and the right amount of vigor. Too bad that somehow stumbling over his own feet put a minor setback to his otherwise flawless entrance.

Derek, dressed in dark jeans and a wife-beater, then rolled out from under the Camaro and glared at him. He had oil on his forehead which Stiles found really distracting.

“What do you want, Stiles?” he all but growled. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Stiles scuffled hesitantly nearer to where Derek was, always looking out for any wolfy features to appear on Derek’s face. He was so not interested in getting his throat ripped out today by the alpha’s teeth.

“Sure I can see that! You’re all grimy and sweaty and stuff.” Obviously not the right thing to say, because now it was even harder for Stiles to concentrate. Why couldn’t Derek look disgusting like everybody else in that situation would? Life really wasn’t fair.

“Listen, I thought we should talk? I mean, I talk and you grunt and growl and let your eyebrows express your opinions. I’m okay with that,” Stiles started, waving his hands frantically in front of him like he was swatting a fly away.

Derek’s glare intensified.

“I just…,” Stiles had to gulp so he could continue, all the while chanting mentally ‘don’t be a coward, you can do this!’. “I just want you to know that getting kissed – well, you kissing me, specifically – was a big deal for me. A huge deal, actually. And I wouldn’t be opposed to repeating it. Not being opposed meaning being eager here. So yeah, I would really like it if we could kiss again. Maybe? Possibly?”

His hands were clumsily fumbling with the hem of his plaid shirt. It took everything he had not to break eye-contact but he somehow managed to stay strong and face Derek. The alpha’s green eyes had narrowed during his ramble and were now almost mockingly assessing him from head to toe.

“It doesn’t have to be right now!” Stiles added hastily. “It can happen any time you’re ready, whether that’s next week or next month. Or next year. Or in five minutes. That’s up to you!”

Stiles’ heartbeat sped up when Derek started to approach him. It would have been really annoying that Derek decided to walk extra slowly over to him just to stop in front of him to study him again if Stiles weren’t mesmerized by the way Derek’s eyes were fixed on his mouth. Then the alpha leaned in until their faces were only inches apart.

“If you were only interested in a kiss, I would do it. But you’re not. I don’t do feelings, Stiles.”

Stiles had to blink at that. Was that Derek’s way of rejecting him?

“What, are you Christian Grey now? Dude, do you know that you just quoted him? You’ve seen the trailer of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, haven’t you?” Stiles blurted out. He was too nervous to think straight.

“Shut up!” Derek hissed, clearly irritated.

“We can totally do that. The just kissing. It doesn’t have to be anything more. I’m fine with that. Yep, we could be kissing buddies. No problem with that. Absolutely none.” Except for the feelings I have for you.

Derek clenched his jaw so hard that it hurt Stiles to watch him. His eyebrows did that funny dance where they looked like caterpillars going on a journey. How he managed to look intimidating and not completely ridiculous while doing it would be forever a mystery to Stiles.

“Do I really have to remind you that you’ve been in love with Lydia for the last few years? What about the ten-year-plan?” Derek looked almost dejected while saying that. But maybe Stiles was just imagining things.

The teenager shrugged. “Well, things changed after her love for Jackson saved him. I mean, their love is the forever kind. I’m sure Disney asked them to sell them the rights to their story. Imagine a Disney movie with werewolves, though. Wouldn’t that be cute?”

“You’re not over her.”

Stiles groaned. “Not completely, no. Part of me will always love her. And why not? She is amazing, you know? But you’re amazing too! And you kissed me! Besides, you’ve been in love before, too!”

Again, the wrong thing to say. The argument was not going to end in his favor now. He knew that as soon as he saw how Derek’s face closed off and his eyes got that hard look.

“Exactly, Stiles. Exactly.”

The words were heavy and self-depreciating and they caused Stiles to flinch. He hadn’t meant to bring Derek’s past relationships up. Because that was an absolute no-go. It was Derek’s sore spot and now the teenager felt like an asshole for mentioning it. But the damage was already done so there was no point in beating around the bush anymore.

“Look, I know that that was a shitty thing to say. And I’m sorry for that. I’m just trying to make you understand… to make you see…” Frustrated because he couldn’t express rightfully what he meant he ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “There’s something between us! Something with the potential to become something really, really great. Like two very different melodies that create a perfect harmony when played together. And then they become one song. They are beautiful on their own but when they’re together they’re outstanding.”

Even though he was sure that his words got to Derek, the other just stepped back and turned back to his car.

“I only see the potential for disaster. I’m not taking that risk.”

At home, Stiles once again repeated that conversation in his head. Over and over. He wondered what he should have done different. But he knew that thinking like that was pointless. He told himself that this was progress. At least, he got his feelings across to Derek. Maybe they weren’t able to reach him yet but if he kept trying, they might someday. He could do that. He had been persistent in his love for Lydia; he could be persistent in loving Derek.

That night he used the police radio he had stolen from one of the more heedless deputies. It took a while to get it to work but when he finally had signal the message coming through the line caused his blood to turn cold.

One-eight-seven. Murder.

Chapter Text

Half a year ago, Stiles would have been forced to choose between going against all instincts of self-preservation to investigate the corpse himself or staying safely at home. And he would have chosen the first option. Because that’s the type of person he was. Curiosity killed the cat. He was the cat. By now there must have been only two of his nine lives left.

But now he had a third option, thanks to Danny. Having a tech-genius in the pack clearly had advantages. Advantages Stiles knew how to work in his favor.
It was thanks to Danny that he was able to install a camera that was small enough so he could hide it in his father’s sheriff badge. It was also thanks to Danny that he knew how to use it. Because otherwise he may have had the footage, but he wouldn’t have been able to watch it.

Stiles turned on his laptop eagerly and opened the app for the camera. He should also thank Danny for the easy access. After all, Stiles might be a nerd but he certainly didn’t know much about technology. He knew how to use the internet, how to play games and how to hide his porn folders. That was enough knowledge he needed to posses in that field.

On his screen a small window was opened which showed him his father’s shoes. Quickly, Stiles extended the window. What was his dad doing, looking at his own feet? He appeared to be bending over otherwise the badge wouldn’t be able to catch sight of this view. The pose reminded Stiles of his first hangover experience. And vomiting. Did his dad feel sick? Why?

Stiles didn’t have much time to worry because his dad started moving then. The view changed so quickly that it made Stiles dizzy. His dad must’ve stood up really abruptly.
It was a shame that he had no audio recorder but the whole plan had to be brought to action very quickly and so he had no time to think about other important stuff, like audio recordings. They would’ve been useful, though. Stiles really regretted not realizing that sooner.

Whatever. He didn’t need a running commentary. As it turned out, the sight alone was explanation enough. And also pretty gruesome. Now Stiles understood why his father had looked like he was sick. If Stiles were there, he wouldn’t have been able to restrain himself from throwing up.

The deputies and the sheriff were at a place that looked like a riverbank near the woods. Stiles was pretty sure he had been there before. Normally, though, the weak tide would have only washed twigs and leaves ashore. Not this time. Among those things was now a corpse of a male body. More precisely it was only what was left of the corpse. The legs and arms were missing. There were scars all over his body. His face was horribly contorted as if he had been in excruciating pain when he had died. It was a terrifying sight. This right there was stuff for nightmares and horror movies.

Even though Stiles wanted nothing more than to close the window and watch a Disney movie in which the heroes always won, he had to take a screenshot of it. When that was done, he closed his laptop and ran to the bathroom to throw up his dinner.

He actually had to force himself to open up his laptop again to get the photos on a USB-drive. He needed to show the others. There was no way that this murder had been committed by a human. Something dangerous was out there in the woods and he had to warn his friends. They might have better healing abilities than humans but he was sure that not even werewolves could re-grow limbs once they were torn brutally from their bodies. The image he had in his head made his heart race.

Without thinking twice he got into the jeep and drove. It didn’t matter to him that it was already dark outside. He needed to make sure they were all safe.

As soon as he arrived at the Hale House, he quickly switched off the ignition and jumped out of his car. He ran to the front door and fumbled with his keys. When it became clear that he couldn’t open the door by himself with his shaking hands he hammered rapidly on the door.

“Hey! Open the door! Human with terrifying news here! Heyyyyyyyy!”

No one answered to his scream, his knocking growing more frantic with each passing second. No one opened the door, either.

He tried again to open the door by himself. This time he forced his hands to stay steady enough to unlock it. It worked.

He opened the door so eagerly that he nearly fell into the entrance hall.

“Derek? Peter? Malia?” he called out, running from the living room to the dining room, then to the kitchen. No answer.

Now he was definitely starting to panic. He reminded himself that there was something called modern communication and calmed down a little bit. His fingers were shaking as he pushed the call button. Scott. Scott would surly answer his phone if Stiles called. No matter what time it was. Stiles was sure of it. He lost his faith, though, when he heard the voice of the mail box.

“Damnit, Scott!”

“You have to excuse him. He is quite busy tonight.”

Stiles felt his heart nearly beat out of his chest. Leave it to Peter Hale to surprise the living hell out of him.

“Why the hell didn’t you say anything sooner?” complained Stiles, a hand over his too frantic beating heart. Peter hadn’t even turned on the lights to announce his presence. And that was why he was being called a creeper by most of the pack.

“You interrupted one of my favorite parts of the movie we were watching. You can’t expect me to miss it, can you?”

“We? The pack?”

Peter rolled his eyes as if Stiles had just asked the most stupid question in history.

“No. Obviously, they’re not here. Do you think they would have let you panic by yourself in the kitchen? It’s just me and Malia.”

Stiles narrowed his eyes, getting impatient. He ran his hand through his hair, trying not to scream at the older werewolf.

“Then where are they? I’m not here for shits and giggles, you know!”

“They didn’t inform you? Huh, how unexpected. They’re searching for the alpha that bit Scott,” Peter told him calmly. He didn’t sound the least bit concerned.

“Why tonight?”

“Because they came across his or her scent. Now, if you’d be so kind to leave, I could continue watching the movie with my daughter. I’m missing all the good parts.”

Stiles was running before Peter had even finished his sentence. For a moment the older werewolf considered going after him. The boy had seemed to be terribly upset about something. He also didn’t make a run for his jeep, seeing as there was no sound of a car engine getting started, which meant that he was heading for the woods. Going after him and stopping him from getting himself killed would have been what a pack member would do. But staying behind with a child that couldn’t be left alone when an alpha was trying to destroy their pack was what any father would do. First and foremost he was a father. His daughter was his number one priority. So he stayed.

“Well, he doesn’t leave me any other choice, does he?” Peter sighed.

Stiles tried to ignore the stinging feeling of betrayal while he was running. It was under his skin, it itched like it demanded his attention. Every muscle in his body screamed at him to scratch it, to get rid of that tingly feeling. And he wanted to. God, did he want to. But there was no time to feel sorry for himself. He could pout over his friends keeping important stuff from him when he was sure that they were safe. Just because they were jerks most of the time didn’t mean he wanted them dead. Alive jerks were better than dead jerks, he figured.

He was stopped, however, when something snapped under his feet. His world began to spin as he was being lifted into the air. There was no ground under his feet anymore. For a moment he thought he was falling, slipping on a leave or something. He was clumsy and it happened often enough. But he never hit the ground. His vision was fuzzy from the movement but he knew that he was no longer touching the ground. A net surrounded him. It pressed uncomfortably against his back and his legs. He was trapped.

“Seriously?” he groaned, tugging at the net strings. “A trap? Whose idea was that?”

It had been his idea. Since he had no supernatural powers whatsoever, he figured he could use his brains to protect his pack. So he installed traps around the Hale property.
Now, though, he regretted informing the others where he had put the triggers to activate the traps. He had no doubt that he had Peter to thank for dangling from a tree.

“I will get my revenge, creepeter. Just you wait,” he swore solemnly with the moon as his witness.

If there was any chance he could get down there safely, he would have just cut the net with the pocketknife he carried with him at all times. But he was too high above the ground to not break any bones from the fall. He could grumble and swear all he wanted but as a strategist he knew when the time for retreat has come.

After his rescue, which he refused to address as such, he followed Peter back to the house and stayed there to watch a movie with Malia. He kept telling himself that one day he would be able to say no to her but after all the times he had caved in he knew that was just wishful thinking. At least they were watching a movie that he liked which wasn’t really all that great a feat considering that he liked movies in general very much. He was a bit surprised, though, to discover that Peter was as into the movie as his daughter. If Malia hadn’t been present, Stiles would have teased Peter endlessly about the fact that he knew every line of “The Princess Bride”. It wasn’t fair, though, to ridicule a man in front of his daughter and he would never stoop to that level so he just smirked to himself and tried to stay awake. But the excitement of the night eventually took its toll and so he drifted off into a restless sleep before he even knew it.

He awoke to someone shaking his shoulders roughly. A grunt escaped him as he tried to free himself from the forceful grip that kept him from a much needed nap but in his grogginess he stood no chance against the strength that held him in place.

“Go ‘way,” he slurred, trying to hide his face in a pillow. Maybe, if he ignored the person trying to separate him and sleep, they would eventually leave him alone? At least that was the tactic he went for whenever he was having problems. It didn’t have a high success rate, though.

The last thing he heard was a low growl before he was unceremoniously dragged from the couch. He hit the floor rather ungracefully in a tangle of limbs and a blanket that someone must have draped over him while he had slept.

“Dude, what’re you doing here?” It was Scott who asked that question but it wasn’t Scott who stood menacingly above him with a murderous look in his eyes. So he looked away from Derek and searched for the slighter frame of his best friend. He found him standing behind the couch he had just fallen from.

“What am I doing…?” It was then that he remembered that he hadn’t come here to watch a movie and fall asleep on the couch. The realization made him jump to his feet which resulted in him nearly falling face first to the floor because his legs got tangled up in the blanket. He was just lucky that Derek was there to catch him. Or, well, unlucky because now Derek looked like he regretted every decision in his life.

“They found a body,” he blurted out as if that would justify his being here. In his head, it indeed did. “Well, what’s left of the body. I have footage and everything. I’m warning you, though, it’s not a pretty sight. Anyways, we have to be careful. Something is out there in the woods and-“

“Stiles.” The way Derek could make his name sound like a swearword and an exasperated sigh was really impressive, in Stiles’ opinion.

“It must have been the alpha. We nearly had him, you know. We were so close!” Scott told him, looking dejected. For a moment, Stiles felt a pang of guilt. He knew how important it was for Scott to find the alpha and yet he had forgotten that it was still on their priority list. All he had thought about in the last few days was the case his father was working on.

“What happened? And why didn’t you tell me? I tried calling you, you know?” He tried to not sound accusing. He failed horribly.

Scott looked at Derek, unsure. If Stiles didn’t know better, he would think Scott was asking for permission.

“We’re talking about it tomorrow,” Derek decided, looking tired all of a sudden. “There will be a pack meeting anyway.”

Stiles wanted to object but before he could utter even one word, Derek turned his back on them and walked away.

“Yeah, just alpha away, you asshole. Show us lowly peasants who’s the boss,” Stiles muttered angrily to himself. He heard a snort beside him.

“Come on. We can stay here tonight. I planned to anyway,” Scott said and clapped his hand on Stiles’ shoulder. It was clear that he intended to go to his room but Stiles held him back with a hand on his arm.

“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. I, as your best friend, deserve an explanation first. We’re a duo, remember? Partners. Amigos. A package deal. Never one without the other. We’re supposed to do these things together. So going after the alpha without me? Not cool, dude. You could’ve at least told me,” he complained.

Scott sighed. His expression was really regretful for a second, then it became pitying. Stiles hated to see that expression being directed at him. It unnerved him and made him realize that things were not like they used to be.

“Derek found a mark on his window. It’s the symbol for revenge. You know, the one Peter left on the deer when he went on the killing spree. We followed the scent of the culprit into the woods but we soon discovered that it was placed deliberately to distract us and to guide us away from the house for a while. So we ran back, expecting to find our home in ruins or something. Instead we found you sleeping on the couch.”

“Revenge?” repeated Stiles incredulously. “Revenge for what? That asshole turned you into a werewolf without your consent and he wants revenge?”

“I know, right!” Scott exclaimed, smiling slightly. “This is like something out of a soap opera. Except without blackmailing and betrayals and secret identities.”

Stiles raised an eyebrow. “Dude, have you watched ‘Gossip Girl’ again? And don’t tell me that Allison forced you to!”

Scott smiled sheepishly at him but then his smile fell and his body tensed up. “I would’ve called you but Derek said that wasn’t necessary. He deemed it safer for you to stay out of it and you know that I can’t go against my alpha’s orders.”

“What about Allison, Lydia and Danny? The other humans in this pack. Were they allowed to help?” Stiles bit out.

Scott, who really didn’t deserve Stiles’ anger, looked at his feet. “Allison is a huntress. She can handle herself in a fight. And Danny has this awesome device that can detect anything or anyone because of their body warmth.”

It sounded like Scott was justifying Derek’s decision to keep Stiles out of it. It made Stiles all the more furious.

“And what about Lydia?”

“She’s a banshee. And immune to the bite. She had to stay close to Jackson, though.” If Scott thought that Stiles would just accept his reasons and maybe say something like “Oh, I see. Well, it’s good to know that they are useful to you and I am not. What should I make for breakfast tomorrow morning?” then he was very, very wrong.

“So you are the avengers and I’m Spiderman or what? I should be part of your group! In fact, I have every right to be part of this group! Maybe I don’t have the combat skills of Allison and maybe I don’t have the devices that Danny has and maybe I am not something special like Lydia but I am just as invested in the safety of this pack! You can’t just leave me behind and let me worry about you. That’s not fair! If something were to happen to any of you I would never forgive myself for not being there! Don’t you understand the need to protect the ones close to you? Well, I do and I am not willing to sit around doing nothing while you put your life on the line out there!”

Scott looked really guilty then and Stiles realized that it wasn’t fair to blame his best friend for Derek’s decision but he was just so angry and he needed to vent. He took a deep, calming breath before he spoke again.

“Look, I’m sorry for exploding like that. I know it wasn’t your decision to leave me out of this. I know, okay. Now is not the time for pack drama, anyway. We have other things to worry about.”

Scott looked up then. “What do you mean?” He sounded not only skeptical, but also cautious.

“The corpse, Scotty. The mutilated body of a man found by the riverbank. I am nearly certain that this wasn’t the alpha’s doing. It just wouldn’t make sense. Why would he or she start killing random people in the woods? The murder would do nothing to benefit him or her – for god’s sake, I’m calling him a her now, because, dude, women can be badass and she deserves to be assumedly female – and it’s not like it causes any problems for us. I know it’s our territory but as long as it isn’t certain that the killer is of supernatural origins the murder is not our problem. Then there is the fact that the man killed has been missing for at least two weeks now. If the alpha held them as hostages or as a message for us then she would have certainly let us know. But she didn’t. The dude just went missing and then turned up dead and without limbs,” Stiles thought aloud.

“No,” Scott protested. “No. It has to be the alpha, Stiles. It simply has to be. We don’t know what her plan is yet, but I’m sure she is just trying to confuse us. Maybe she wants us to think that it wasn’t her.”

Stiles would have smiled at Scott using the pronoun he had suggested if it weren’t for Scott’s frantic attempt to convince him that his assumption was wrong. It was clear that Scott was deceiving himself. He refused to even consider the possibility of another threat to their pack. And Stiles couldn’t blame him. His best friend had suffered long enough under the influence of the alpha. Every full moon they had to chain him and lock him up in the basement so he couldn’t follow the pull of his alpha or kill somebody. It hurt everyone to watch him fight his instincts but no one was as hurt by it than Scott. Scott, who saw himself as a danger to everyone he loved. It was no wonder that he wanted to be relieved of this burden. And Stiles wanted him to be free from it, wanted to see his best friend as carefree and trusting as he used to be. But he had to stay realistic.

“Scott, I know you don’t want to hear it, but I seriously doubt the alpha is involved in the murder. Especially if she is out for revenge. Logically speaking, I can’t exactly rule out the possibility that the alpha was the culprit but something about this case just irks me. Maybe it’s the fact that the victim had no scratch or bite marks. Either way, we can’t close our eyes to the possibility of something else being out there in the woods, kidnapping and killing people,” Stiles conceded, trying hard not to upset his friend any further.

Scott’s eyes abruptly turned to beta gold as he let out a snarl. Stiles had to actually take a step back because the sharp claws were a little too close to his face for his comfort. The golden eyes blazed with fury and fixated Stiles as if he was prey. This wasn’t by far the only incident that made Stiles fear his best friend but it was the first one that he felt guilty over.

“Whoa, okay! Let’s calm down. Scott, breathe. Concentrate on Allison. This isn’t worth losing control over. You know that. Everything is fine, buddy,” Stiles tried to soothe his best friend, holding his hands up. If he had a white flag he would wave it.

The beta panted as if he had just run a marathon but his claws and fangs disappeared and the amount of hair in his face decreased. Whether it was thanks to Scott thinking about his anchor Allison or Stiles’ words, Stiles was just glad that it had worked. But he was also worried. Scott hadn’t lost control like that since he had found his anchor.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry, Stiles,” Scott rushed to say. His eyes were wide with terror of what he had nearly done and it broke Stiles’ heart.

“Hey, it’s alright. We all feel the urge to kill each other occasionally. I’ve been told that I usually evoke that urge in people.”

He faked a laugh but he stopped when he saw that it just made Scott even more miserable.

“I can’t live like this,” the beta rasped. His hands were balled into fists. “Don’t you understand how important it is to me that we find the alpha? I could kill you on the next full moon, Stiles. I could kill anyone and I would probably even enjoy it.”

Stiles had to gulp down the rising sadness he felt.

“I know,” he said.

“The alpha and the body appearing in one night can’t be a coincidence. They have to be connected to each other. They have to be.”

Stiles knew that Scott was trying to be positive and who was he to deny his friend the hopeful ray of light that was optimism.

He nodded and clapped his best friend on the back.

“I know you want to prove yourself to the pack, Stiles, but… creating new problems won’t be the answer. Derek will be with me on this. If you want his attention then you should… I don’t know. I’m honestly not sure if anything you could do is going to change the way things are between you two.”

At this Stiles’ eyes narrowed. Of course he had told Scott about the kiss and about his plan to win Derek Hale’s heart. He started to regret that decision. “What do you mean?”

Scott sighed and measured him with a pitying look. How he hated that look.

“I don’t see you two happening. And I don’t think it’d be a good thing, anyway. You deserve better than him. And he doesn’t deserve you.”

“I guess that means that you refuse to come to our wedding, then?” Stiles joked, even though he felt like someone had just told him that everything he believed in was wrong.

“It’s Derek we’re talking about, Stiles. Nothing but pain will come of it. You’re not the type for something casual and he is too emotionally stunted to care about you the same way you already care about him. You’re my best friend and I don’t want you to go through that. He will ruin you.”

The worst was that Scott seemed to genuinely believe what he was saying. Stiles felt more affronted on Derek’s behalf than on his own. A man stamped from loss and pain was still a man with feelings, after all. And Stiles had lately come to realize that Derek felt deeply, maybe even more so than others. And maybe that had been his downfall when he was young and fell for Kate and maybe he grew cautious because of it and learned to guard his heart better than the crown jewels. Judging him for his scars and wounds that were no longer visible felt like judging a blind man for his insufficient view of the world to Stiles.

But Stiles was also able to tell that Scott was truly worried about him. His words weren’t bitter or deliberately offending towards Derek, they just spoke of a deep affection for his friend. It also told him that Scott would choose him over Derek in a heartbeat. How could he be angry about that? He just felt trapped between his own insecurities that Scott had managed to aggravate even further and his will to move his and Derek’s relationship to the next level. His insecurities were a well-known shadow that just grew longer with every year but his will was strong, it kept him going. He was always told that he was tenacious.

Chapter Text

Stiles knew that he wouldn’t be able to sleep that night. He felt it in his bones, the never ending vibration that kept him awake and moving. His doctors blamed it on his ADHD, but Stiles himself wasn’t so sure if that was completely true. The buzzing of his thoughts and his inability to stay still could be easily blamed on his ADHD, sure, but the restlessness at night was a side effect of the Adderall he had to take. He knew that taking his pill too late in the day may result in insomnia so he was always careful to take it in the morning. But some nights he still wasn’t able to lie down and sleep. Instead, he used to roll around in his bed, unable to find a comfortable position. He imagined that there was a hamster in his head that endlessly ran in his running wheel, never getting tired. His imagination was so vivid that he could almost hear the fast heartbeat of the animal’s tiny heart. It was unnerving. From his research, he knew that commonly hamsters had a lifespan of two to three years. So he started to count the days he lay awake at night, with the hamster in his head running. He was eight at that time. At eleven he constantly feared that he would hear the stutter of the tiny heart at night. He feared the lifelessness that would follow. But then he grew too old to believe that his mind was a hamster in a running wheel. And so he never knew if the hamster died and if it did, was there a different hamster running now? He once told his father about his theory and the sheriff had been so appalled by his son’s imagination that he forbade Stiles from ever getting a hamster. Stiles had been a strange kid.

Since it was likely that he wouldn’t get any sleep that night he walked into the kitchen to get a glass of milk. Because of his medication Stiles had been a tiny child, scrawny with awkward limbs. Other children used to laugh at him because of his size so his mother told him that every time he drank a glass of warm milk before going to bed he would grow an inch while sleeping. It had been a lie, of course. She just wanted her son to sleep better. But for Stiles it had become a habit, even if his mind reminded him that it was of no use. Whenever he felt small, he drank a glass of milk before going to bed.

For the second time that day he was surprised by Peter Hale appearing in the kitchen. This time, though, his heart didn’t nearly jump out of his chest for which he was very grateful. One should only have to endure such a scare once a day.

“How long have you been standing there?” he asked. He opened the fridge and was pleased to find it stocked up with groceries. Derek had remembered to go shopping.

Peter watched him pour a glass of milk, not even questioning his antics at who-knows-how-late o’clock. The older werewolf was leaning against the counter as if it wasn’t weird that he was still awake. Considering Peter’s weird manner, it probably wasn’t.

“For approximately five minutes,” the older man answered. Stiles raised an eyebrow at him. “After sitting at the kitchen island for about half an hour or so.”

Stiles sighed. “So how much have you heard?”

Peter smiled unashamedly as he admitted, “Everything.”

Stiles narrowed his eyes, thinking. “And you were just waiting here? How did you know that I would come here before going to bed?”

“Well, it was more of a hunch than anything but I was correct, wasn’t I?”

Stiles took a gulp of milk, considering whether it was worth it to insult Peter for eavesdropping or if he should just go along with it. He decided that he had already had his fair share of arguing for that night. “You ever heard of privacy? What if Scott and I had been making out in the living room? Is nothing sacred to you?”

Now it was Peter’s turn to raise his eyebrows. “If you had been making out, believe me, I wouldn’t have stayed here. But I have to admit that it would have been more entertaining than your marital dispute.”

Stiles shook his head. “Yep, still a creeper. So, is there a reason why you stayed up to wait for me? Are you here to comfort me? ‘Cause I’m not upset enough that I’d let you bad-touch me.”

If Stiles didn’t know any better he would have said that Peter looked like he pouted. But that was impossible. “You wound me. Have a little faith in me, Stiles. I am allowed to have an altruistic streak once in a while and it’s no secret that you’ve always been my favorite. So let me show you something. You will like it, I promise.”

Considering Peter’s manipulative ways Stiles should have been more wary of him, but he was simply too exhausted to contemplate the endless possibilities in which this situation could end in. Once in a while he had to allow himself to trust Peter. Besides, what harm could come to him in the Hale House, where he was surrounded by his pack? So he simply nodded and followed Peter. He was not that surprised that he had no idea where they were going. The Hale House had always been more of a mansion than a normal house and there were still a few rooms he’s never been in. They went to the basement which was mostly used for storage, but there was also the fitness room which Stiles had named “The Torture Chamber”. There was even a doormat that said so. These were the things that made a house homey, in Stiles’ opinion. Derek didn’t share his opinion.

At last they entered a room Stiles had honestly never seen, hadn’t even known that it existed.

“This is the only soundproof room in the whole house,” Peter told him as they entered. “Derek doesn’t like it when he can’t hear where his pack members are. He’s always been paranoid like that.”

Stiles would have surely replied with something witty, maybe he would have even defended Derek’s antics but he was too stunned by the sight that greeted him. One wall, the one to the right side of the door, consisted entirely of mirrors, like rooms in ballet classes usually do. There were so many canvas and paintings draped over the remaining walls that Stiles wasn’t even sure what the wallpaper looked like. But what really caught his attention was the white piano in the middle of the room. It looked majestic. He wanted nothing more than to sit on the piano bench and play some scales. That in itself was a strange desire to be had because he had always hated practicing scales.

“You… you know how to play?” he managed to utter.

Peter snorted. “Of course I know how to play. Why else would I own a piano? What about you? From your reaction I get the impression that you’re quite familiar with the instrument as well.”

Peter strode over to the piano and patted the bench invitingly. Stiles didn’t need to be told twice. He touched the piano rather reverently as if he were afraid of damaging it. White was an odd color for a piano but it was fitting for Peter. Stiles, though, preferred his pianos black.

“This room is my safe haven. No one but me ever enters it and I would prefer if it stayed that way.” The older man gave the teenager a meaningful glance at which Stiles nodded solemnly. He wouldn’t be the one to expose Peter’s secret. “I guess everyone thinks I use it as a storage room for my torture devices. As if I would be foolish enough to store them in plain sight like this. There isn’t even a lock on the door.”

“Hiding something in plain sight is rather efficient,” Stiles interjected with a grin. “Less suspicious that way. Though now I’m concerned that you didn’t deny owning torture devices.”

At that Peter showed him a wolfish grin. It was rather disconcerting to know that his teeth could be deadly if he wanted them to be. A long time ago the sight would have scared Stiles because he knew that Peter had no inhibition when it came to killing. His moral compass had been thoroughly jarred by the fire and Stiles was still not sure if he should be considered a sociopath or if acting indifferent was just his way of coping.

“I’m willing to make an exception for you if you prove to be worthy of her,” Peter said, looking at his piano. “Play something for me.”

“Her?” Stiles repeated, smirking slightly.

“Bethany. Yes, I gave her a name. A beauty like her deserves nothing less. Now play before I change my mind.”

Stiles wasted no time. He sat down on the piano bench which was incredibly comfortable. It’s been a while for him so he wiggled his fingers to warm up. We can do this, Beth, he thought once he had decided which song he would play.

It was amazing how easy it was for him to play it even though it was considered to be one of the more demanding piano compositions. Furthermore, he hadn’t played this one in years but it felt like his fingers never forgot. Some songs seem to stay with us, no matter how much time passes. It’s like they are engraved in our souls. Maybe that’s why Stiles felt like being home while playing it.

When he finished, Peter clapped slowly.

“I didn’t expect you to know Chopin quite that well. That was Raindrop Prelude, wasn’t it? I have to admit that I’m impressed. Finally, your long fingers are put to good use.”

It was an innocent enough comment but it caused Stiles nevertheless to blush ever so slightly. Damn his hormone ridden mind for its dirty thoughts.

“So, did I prove myself worthy?”

“You did,” Peter told him. Then he shrugged. “Though, I wouldn’t have been able to keep you from using this room, now that you know about it. But who am I to complain about a demonstration of what your talented fingers can do.”

Stiles was pretty sure that Peter was deliberately making those suggestive comments to rile him up. He tried really hard not to fall for it.

“Well, you could always threaten me to rip my throat out with your teeth.”

Peter smirked. “That would be a rather crude method. I’m sure I can think of other ways to make you obey. I prefer a more subtle approach. I don’t threaten, I coax til my victims beg to please me.”

Stiles was pretty sure that that was a really inappropriate thing to say to the underage son of the sheriff, even more so for a guy whose age was closer to his dad’s than to Stiles’. And he was a little appalled by it, he really was, but he didn’t feel threatened or uncomfortable. He might have felt that way in the past when he had found Peter’s antics disgusting and immoral. Admittedly, they were, most of the time. But now he understood them. He could get behind Peter’s reason for being the way he was. Maybe it was because they shared the experience of how it feels to be part of a pack and still feel utterly alone.

“I… Thank you,” Stiles said sincerely, looking up from the piano keys and into Peter’s cold blue eyes. What he found in them was compassion that no one would have ever deemed Peter capable of feeling. He was not sure why it was directed at him but he knew that a moment like this – a moment in which Peter showed vulnerability – was something close to a miracle.

There was nothing more to be said then. They both were kind of embarrassed by how sentimental their conversation had become and a quite agreement to never speak of it again was passed between them. Then Peter bid him a goodnight and added “Don’t fall asleep on Bethany. I don’t want your drool on my keys.” And then Stiles was alone. For a while, he played every song that came to his mind, whether it was classical or something modern like Coldplay. He played swing, blues and even pop music. Time was passing by and he felt the strain of it in his bones, as if every gone minute clapped him heavily on some part of his body to say goodbye. As he had predicted, he felt restless and unbearably awake. But he was also content. The music grounded him, kept him from drifting into the darkest part of his mind where he would be trapped with nightmares of monsters with no silhouette.

He didn’t know when he started working on his own song. The melody came along easily; it was like writing his own name on a sheet of paper. But the band needed more than just a melody. They needed a story. So he thought of Scott, who was his own slave, struggling for freedom, not even realizing that he saved them all by resisting but who was instead constantly weight down by the fact that the war was still not won. Scott, who had become a warrior but remained unable to kill anyone, unable to destroy. Who fought every battle by himself, but was never truly alone.

So he went frantically looking for paper and a pen to scribble down his thoughts, not expecting them to turn out as lyrics. But they did.
In the morning – though he didn’t know that it was already morning – he sat by the piano and played the first song he had written, singing along. It grew from timid and silent to confident and heartfelt.

Stiles had never thought of himself as a singer. That’s what his mom had been for. She had been the one to sing while he played and he could’ve sworn every time that she had the voice of an angel. But she was no longer here and he would never hear her singing again. So he had to sing himself. He couldn’t have been as bad as he thought at it because when the song ended he heard Peter clapping.

{}

They did, as Derek promised, hold a pack meeting the following day. Even Laura and Cora were present, though it was apparent that they weren’t too comfortable with being there. Laura looked determined but Cora’s eyes were shifting, as if she was looking for an excuse to leave. They all tried to include them but it wasn’t an easy task. Laura was at least curious about the things that had happened in Beacon Hills in her absence and so they were still explaining the kanima incident to her and how Scott became a werewolf against his will. Hearing the short version of everything they had gone through felt like looking at their life through a small window. Everything that had happened seemed to fit into the window, even though Stiles could have sworn the events were much bigger than that. Looking through the window now, they appeared to be small and petty.

Derek then officially started the meeting by telling them all about the mark they had found the day before and the hunt they had engaged in that ended only in confusion. Apparently, Cora and Laura hadn’t been part of the searching group that had gone into the woods, which made Stiles feel a little better about being excluded from it as well.

“So we have absolutely no clue what the alpha is after?” Laura asked and furrowed her brows. If there was ever any doubt that she was Derek’s sister, the resemblance of her scowl and Derek’s was too uncanny to deny. Hales seemed to be masters in conveying whole messages with just their eyebrows. Must be in their genes.

“The symbol on Derek’s window means revenge. That’s all we know,” Scott added, sounding frustrated.

“But why did the alpha leave it there? Are you sure you told me all the facts? I feel like there’s something that I’m missing.” Laura looked at Derek like a mother would look at a child that claimed to not have broken the vase.

“I’m sure she sent us on this weird chase to distract us from something and my guess is that that something is the body. Stiles told us yesterday that the police found the body of one of the missing people. It must be her doing.”

Stiles felt like it was his responsibility to disagree with Scott here and tell them all about his theory but he was torn. According to the bro-code he owed it to Scott to support him but he also had to consider what was best for the pack. He argued with himself internally on the matter while Scott told the others about what the police had found by the riverbank.

“What if it wasn’t her, though?” His mouth decided to speak before he had even made up his mind.
Scott looked affronted for a moment, then his eyes fixed him with a look that Stiles called “the sad puppy-dog-look” which was unfair because it made him feel really guilty.

“Why are you so sure the alpha is female?” Jackson asked, annoyed.

Stiles shrugged. “Just a hunch.”

Derek rolled his eyes, but ignored Stiles otherwise. Laura, though, seemed to be interested in Stiles' theory.

“What makes you think it wasn’t her?”

It wasn’t the support he had hoped for but it was better than the quick dismissal he had gotten from everybody else.

“Well, for one, there were no claw marks on the body. Hell, he was just a head and a torso when they found him. Also, he was found by the riverbank. Why would the alpha throw his body into the river which would just make sure that he was found? She might be Alphaba, the wicked werewolf of the west but I can’t see why she would do this. She certainly doesn’t benefit from the action.”

Allison smiled at his nickname for the Alpha and even Peter smirked. He felt really proud of it. It wasn’t like it took him an hour or so to come up with a witty name for her. And even if it was like that, he deserved a little recognition for his wit.

“We don’t know anything about the alpha yet. How can you be so sure that this behavior wouldn’t fit her profile?” Lydia challenged him.

“Your reasons are not very convincing. I, however, find it very cunning that the body turned up in the same night that the mark showed up.”

He should’ve known that he needed better arguments to convince Lydia of his theory. She was too smart to just go along with a hunch he had. That’s one of the reasons why he’d had a crush on her for so long.

A thought crossed his mind then. “When did you scream? You must have screamed, right? He died a rather painful death. So when did you scream?”

He regretted his blunt question after he saw how uncomfortable it made her. “Yesterday. While we were tracking the scent.”

“What happened then?”

She started shaking, however unnoticeable it was. He noticed. Her green eyes got a distant look in them and her bottom lip trembled. Someone who didn’t know her wouldn’t see it. She had become very good in concealing the strain seeing and hearing horrible things put on her. But he knew her too well, he paid attention to her. As he always had.

“Could you stop playing detective here, Stilinski? Your daddy isn’t here to be impressed,” Jackson snarled at him and wrapped his arm around his girlfriend’s waist.

“Could you stop playing the douchebag? Oh, sorry, I forgot. That’s just who you are.”

“Shut up, the both of you.” Derek even flashed his red eyes at them, though they had no effect on Stiles. Stiles backed off, anyway. He might not be affected by the eyes but he still felt the power the alpha emitted.

“Lydia’s right. There’s no reason to think the alpha wasn’t involved in the murder. Until there is evidence to support your theory, we will concentrate on the alpha. And I’m not saying that you should be your usual reckless self and go and find evidence, Stiles. We really don’t need any more problems right now so stop causing them.”

Stiles felt really offended right now. His mouth fell open, ready to defend himself but he couldn’t find the words. Which was really ironic, considering that they usually tumbled out of his mouth as if he held them imprisoned inside of him.

Maybe the words wouldn’t come because he heard Erica and Jackson snicker at his expense and because Scott just looked really pleased and relieved at Derek’s words as if he didn’t care that they were degrading towards his best friend.

His eyes went to Peter, silently begging him for support but Peter just looked away. Laura looked pensive but she wouldn’t go against her brother’s wishes seeing as she was completely new to this. He certainly couldn’t count on Isaac because he would follow Derek’s wishes without questions and he also knew that it would upset Scott and Isaac would never do anything to upset Scott. Erica, Boyd, Cora or Jackson wouldn’t be on his side, either because none of them really liked him. Lydia and Danny could be persuaded to back him up on this matter but as long as he had no evidence they wouldn’t go against the pack. He was truly alone now.

“Seriously? You’re just going to dismiss a possible threat? There are lives on the line here! Do you really want to add their deaths to your list of failures, Derek?” He was seething but even in his fury he knew that he went too far with that comment. It was therefore no surprise that he found himself with his back against the wall and a furious alpha in his personal space.

“I’m not risking anything! I’m watching my pack!”

It was not a roar or even a shout. He said it surprisingly calm but the icy tone could freeze over hell.

“Why is he even considered part of this pack? He constantly argues and does whatever he wants, never mind the damages he causes. I’m fucking sick of it,” Jackson muttered, just loud enough for him to hear it.

The comment stung but he chose to ignore it. He had to. “Will you at least include me from now on? Or do you just need me for research?” He had to ask, for the sake of his sanity.

Derek loosened the grip he had around Stiles’ upper arms but he didn’t let go completely. It was maddening because it somehow reminded Stiles of their kiss and that Derek could be gentle if he wanted to.

“Jackson is right.” His heart sunk at the words. “You never follow my orders and you speak your mind even when it isn’t your place to do so. You’re a liability we don’t need right now.”

Stiles’ eyes widened and he shook his head in denial. “Are you kicking me out of the pack?” he croaked, his voice thick with emotion he tried to hold back.

Derek’s expression grew somber but the look he measured Stiles with told him that he shouldn’t get his hopes up.

“No.” He didn’t have time to feel the relieve wash over him because the next words left him cold and frozen. “But I expel you from all pack meetings until the matter with the alpha is resolved.”

{}

The saddest part of it, Stiles thought, was that his life didn’t change as dramatically as he would have expected. It didn’t feel like he just got kicked out, it felt like he had never been a part of it and just now got the notice. Scott still sent him text messages about school stuff and he was still allowed to sit at their lunch table where no one really paid attention to him. Jackson glanced at him with distaste and Lydia ignored him most of the time. Nothing had changed. So what was there to say about it? No one had protested against Derek’s order, not even Scott.

Not knowing what the pack was up to drove him nearly mad. It became a habit for him to look fearfully at his phone, expecting a call that would inform him of the demise of Scott, or Lyida, or just anyone of the pack, really. He cared about them all in different ways but he cared. He cared and that’s what hurt him the most.

{}

“I’m not telling you to go against Derek’s orders, Allison. I know it’s important for you to gain the trust of the pack and that you wouldn’t risk it. That’s not what I’m asking of you, anyway.”

He tried reasoning with Allison once. He just wanted her to update him about the things the hunters were up to. But she looked doubtful.

“You know I’m not allowed to share information with you,” she reminded him almost regretfully. Her hand rested soothingly on his forearm but all he could feel was the cold touch of her icy fingertips. It had been cold outside that day.

“Derek never specifically told you that you weren’t allowed to share information of the hunters, did he?” He thought that he sounded really desperate but he didn’t care. Not right then.

Allison gripped his arm tighter as if she was trying to reassure him. It didn’t work. Stiles wasn’t even sure what she was trying to reassure him of. That he was still important to her, the pack? That Derek’s decision might be hard on him but was for the best?

“Derek doesn’t want you to be involved, Stiles. And I don’t want you to be, either. I care about you, Stiles, I really do but I agree with him on this. I’m sorry.”

He gulped audibly. His last resort had been her. “Why?”

She sighed. “The pack is meant to be a unity. I had trouble understanding that once, too. But I get it now. There are ranks in the pack, there’s a power dynamic. The alpha is the leader, unquestioned, and trusted that they make the right decisions. I know that you have our best interest at heart but… Stiles, you’re so stubborn. You’re sarcastic and sometimes even really judgmental. You cause conflicts in our pack, Stiles, as much as it pains me to say that.”

He wanted to say something that would have contradicted that statement but he came up with nothing. It now became apparent that his fears had always been justified. They didn’t need him anymore and since no one except for Scott actually liked him he was no longer one of them.

He drove home that day, listening to sad songs and holding back tears.

{}

Band practice was a nice distraction but it was a struggle nonetheless. It seemed that once you got on Brad’s bad side, you could never redeem yourself in his eyes. Usually Stiles could deal with being the one someone didn’t exactly like but with everything that had been going on he couldn’t muster the patience to ignore the disdainful glares.

“Dude, if you would put as much effort in playing the piano as you put in making me feel unwelcomed you could be the next Mozart. Right now, though, you’re not even worthy of playing for a retirement home”, Stiles commented dryly. He actually had to duck the fist aimed at his face after making that comment. It was just Stiles’ luck that Brad was the aggressive type that could only settle a disagreement with the help of his fists.

“Boys! Boys!” Lindsay screamed at them, holding Brad back before he could lunge at Stiles again. She might not have the strength to physically hold him back but her glare actually made both of them freeze. Brad was muttering something under his breath, which, Stiles was sure, could only be swearwords directed at him.

“Oh my god, what are you two, five?! I know that Stiles could have really worded his criticism better but there was no need for violence, Brad! You should be ashamed of yourself for even thinking of hitting him when he is so clearly right! And Stiles, just because you’re in a bad mood doesn’t mean you can take it out on us! Gosh, I would put you both in the corner if we had one available!” She was actually huffing at the end of her tirade which didn’t surprise Stiles very much. Even though Lindsay did have a set of impressive lungs on her, she tended to use her whole body to communicate when she was angry and as a consequence she got tired of her own anger very quickly. It was one of the things that made him like her so much.

They decided to cut practice short since it wouldn’t have made sense to continue when everyone was so worked up. Those were Lindsay’s words, at least. Zack, Chandler and Zoey were actually pretty calm about it all. They took no one’s side and seemed rather indifferent to it all. Stiles might have been upset about it if Zoey hadn’t clapped him reassuringly on the shoulder before she headed out. Maybe everything wasn’t lost yet.

The lanky teenager sighed heavily and sat down on the piano bench.

{}

All in all, Stiles had had a really crappy day. Allison wasn’t willing to help him, Scott hadn’t come up to him to tell him that he agreed with Stiles and Brad now officially was on the long list of people that constantly felt the urge to hit him. His dad wasn’t home yet and wouldn’t be for the rest of the night. He had been called into work nearly an hour ago because they were short on staff. It was apparently flu season.
It was really no wonder that Stiles decided to wallow in his misery because that’s what you do when you’re alone at home and have no one to call. It might have been an exaggeration to say that he felt like the loneliest person on earth but he was allowed to be dramatic once in a while. He was a teenager, after all.

His plans were ruined, however, when his window slid open and a figure scrambled into his room. And although that was not an unusual occurrence he wouldn’t have thought that anyone of the pack was in the mood to deal with him right now.
He hadn’t expected Malia.

“What are you doing here? It’s late; shouldn’t you be asleep right now? What’s Peter to say about this? And why are you looking at me like that? With the big eyes, and the pale cheeks and… have you been crying?!”

Malia glared at him but remained silent. Her hair was ruffled and she was not wearing a jacket, even though it was quite cold outside tonight which told him that she had been running and that her visit had not been planned or even permitted by her father. Considering those observations there was only one conclusion to be drawn. She had run away from home.
Stiles closed his eyes, sighed and sat down on his bed.

“You want to stay here, Malia? I was feeling rather lonely, anyway,” he admitted and then he smiled at her and patted the spot next to him. She hesitated only briefly before she flopped down on the bed and looked up at the ceiling.

“No one tells me anything,” she honest to god growled. And that was one of the reasons why Peter thought she wasn’t quite ready for school yet.

Stiles had to snort at that. “Tell me about it.”

They lay next to each other, silently staring at the ceiling. Their arms brushed occasionally against one another but there was no body contact other than that. Stiles thought that it was his responsibility as the oldest to say something, anything. He fumbled with the words, trying to keep them in but they had a mind of their own.

“Did you know that New York University made an experiment and during it, a robotic fish got accepted by the other natural fish and then became their leader? I imagine Derek being the robotic fish sometimes. Makes sense, doesn’t it? His emotional expressions could fit on a tea spoon, is all I’m saying. And I’m not talking about his emotional range or capacity here, because that’s another topic altogether and I’m not one to judge that.”

Malia cocked her head and looked at him, her eyebrows knitted together. “Derek’s a werewolf, not a fish.”

“Oh, yeah, I know that. I didn’t mean it in a literal sense, I …. You know what? Nevermind.”

As much as he was pissed at the pack at the moment, he figured he should still inform them that their youngest was with him. Derek was probably already brooding and moody because he somehow thought Malia running away was due to his deficiencies as an alpha. Stiles didn’t mind that mental image so much because Derek might also reconsider Stiles’ banishment from pack business while beating himself up about Malia's disappearance and Stiles wasn’t beyond using that kind of manipulation in order to be allowed back to pack meetings again. Still, he wasn’t that much of an asshole and so he sent Peter a text, telling him that his daughter was at the Stilinski residence and would spend the night there.
Stiles lent Malia some clothes that were much too big for her but she didn’t seem to mind. Stiles was pretty sure that she actually sniffed them and then rubbed her face against the fabric as if she was trying to mingle his scent with hers.

What he didn’t really like was that Malia was strong enough to manhandle him into being the little spoon. If he had any dignity left that day, he would have protested but he felt drained and in all honesty he didn’t really mind it so much. No one was there seeing him getting spooned by a twelve year old girl anyway so what did it matter?

Chapter Text

The next day Stiles discovered that Malia still had trouble controlling the shift during the night. Maybe it was because her subconscious still lived with the rules of the wild and she, therefore, let her inner coyote take over while she was sleeping to protect herself. The nightmares she sometimes got weren’t really helping either. Whatever caused her the troubles, Stiles was the one who experienced firsthand what consequences her losing control had.

As soon as he woke up he went to take a shower and while looking in the mirror, he saw the claw marks on his back. He was a bit shocked at first because they were quite deep, but shallow enough not to bleed anymore. If Malia were to know about them, she would have felt guilty and self-conscious so he didn’t mention it to her. Nevertheless, he swore that he would work with her on it. Somehow he had to find a way to help her and with a little bit of luck maybe an extensive amount of research would suffice. He would start on that later, since he already had plans for that day.

Malia really wasn’t a morning person. She grumbled and growled and snarled at him and looked every bit the wild animal she sometimes acted as. Her mood lifted a bit after she had taken a shower, though. Stiles strongly suspected that might be the case because she had stolen one of his shirts again. Well, he didn’t mind. The one she was wearing right now – the white one with a little palm tree on the left side on the front – was too short for him anyway.

He made both of them french toast because he knew Malia preferred french toast to pancakes and then he tried to tell her as delicately as possible that he would have to drive her back home after breakfast. She took it surprisingly better than he expected – which just meant that her eyes were glowing blue only for a moment. Progress.

“Where is your dad?” she asked after she got into his jeep.

“Asleep. Came home an hour ago or so,” he explained to her.

Her question seemed to entail so much more than asking about the location his dad was currently at and he knew it. The long minute she kept eye contact with him told him that she was actually worried and that just made his heart melt. So he reached over to ruffle her hair and smiled; a real smile that time. She grumbled but she let him get away with it and leaned back in her seat as if she was relived.

Dropping her off at the Hale House turned out to be a longer ordeal than Stiles expected it to be. That could mostly be attributed to Isaac who must have sensed Stiles and Malia and opened the door, a hopeful look in his eyes. Malia hopped out of the jeep and passed Isaac without even glancing at him but the teen didn’t seem too upset about that. He just stood on the porch, his backpack in hand and stared longingly at Stiles’ jeep. If his stare wasn’t indication enough, him closing the door behind him didn’t leave any doubt in Stiles’ mind what Isaac actually was waiting for. Stiles wanted nothing more than to turn and drive away but the thing with Isaac was that one just wasn't able to be cruel to that guy without immediatly regretting it. Not even Stiles, who felt a dislike towards Isaac that was mostly based on his jealousy of Scott’s and Isaacs’ budding friendship, could turn him down in a situation like this. So he just rolled down his window and yelled at Isaac to get in at which the tall teenager smiled. In a blink of an eye Isaac was sprinting towards him and then opened the door of his jeep with such vigor that it made Stiles actually wince in sympathy for his poor baby.

“Derek’s in a bad mood today?” Stiles guessed.

Isaac looked startled for a second before he sheepishly rubbed his neck. “Jackson was supposed to pick me up today. I guess he forgot.”
Stiles tried really hard not to roll his eyes. Jackson forgetting something that had nothing to do with himself? Yeah, not really all that shocking.

“Why didn’t Derek drive you? He likes to spend his time at the school like the creeper he is, anyway.”

Isaac’s brows knitted together in disapproval. “He drove off early today. There’s a problem at Laura’s apartment. Something with the plumbing, I think. I didn’t want to hear the details about that while eating breakfast.” Then he thought of something and his eyes lit up.
“Oh, we should drop by at Erica’s and at Boyd’s! If Jackson forgot to pick me up, he’s sure to have forgotten about them too.”

Stiles waited for a sign that would indicate that Isaac was joking. He waited and waited and looked at Isaac for as long as the road permitted him. Isaac, though, was oblivious to Stiles’ incredulous glances. Apparently riding shotgun gave him the permission to change the music station because that’s what he was focusing on. As soon as he had found something that he liked, he started humming along, looking content and happy.

Stiles’ eyes twitched in annoyance. Is he for real? He can’t be fucking serious! They kick me out and now we play happy family again? What the hell?!

“Why would we do that?” Stiles could barely contain the distaste that sentence brought on.

“Hmm?” Isaac looked at him questioningly, as if he just remembered that he wasn’t alone in the car. “Oh, because they don’t have a ride. Obviously?”

Stiles took a deep breath, telling himself that Isaac wasn’t doing this on purpose. He told himself that Isaac had just started to let his walls down around the pack and that exploding in anger would only dash the progress he had made.

So he drove first to Erica’s and then to Boyd’s and let them ride with him to school. After greeting each other the three betas engaged in a conversation about the movie night they were planning to have on Friday which peaked Stiles’ interest because that was the first time he heard about that.

When he asked about it, Erica just threw her hair back in a coquettish manner and rolled her eyes.

The “duh” was implied in the gestures.

“We try to have a pack night at least once a month, Stiles. That’s nothing new,” Boyd said calmly.

Oh, he knew about that. He was the one that had suggested that, actually. That’s why it would have been nice to get invited to it or at least informed about it. He guessed that he was still welcome there, but no one had asked if he wanted to come so he felt unsure. Was he allowed to go? Did they expect him to come or were they hoping he would be too pissed off to consider going?

“Hey, since you’re coming along anyway, would you mind picking us up again? Jackson really isn’t all that reliable.”

It unnerved him greatly that Erica just assumed he would come to their movie night without being officially invited. What pissed him off even more was the way she said it. Like he was an inevitable evil they had to endure.

He gritted his teeth. “Sure.”

Erica smiled briefly at him, then she took Boyd’s hand and they exited the jeep and walked into the school like they were the power couple, even though they weren’t even together. He hadn’t even found a parking spot yet, for god’s sake! Couldn’t they at least wait for him? Isaac was nice enough to at least thank him and clap him on the shoulder before he strolled over to Scott who had just dismounted his motorcycle. The devoted worship in Isaac’s eyes with which he was fixating Stiles’ best friend made his heart clench. There was deep affection displayed in the way Isaac smiled shyly at him, lowering his head in order to make Scott not feel so small in comparison. Scott, though, only gifted him with a quick glance and a nod before his attention focused on Allison. The group of three was soon joined by Danny, Jackson and Lydia. Danny’s eyes lingered a little too long on Isaac to be considered a greeting but Isaac didn’t seem to notice. Stiles found it kind of ironic that Isaac was suffering of an unrequited love while causing another to suffer the same fate.

The group of friends then started to move towards the school, not even questioning if maybe one of them was missing. Stiles just stood in the parking lot, watching them, and suddenly he felt like he had become a bystander to his own life. He saw things that the others were oblivious to because he paid attention. It was then that the realization hit him and he discovered that being hit metaphorically was more painful than being hit in the literal sense. They might be his friends, alright, but they didn’t pay attention to him. They didn’t see him. Not really.

{}

The day dragged on and on, seemingly never ending. A minute felt like an hour and an hour felt like eternity. This, Stiles decided, was what hell must be like. Hell was like walking down a dark tunnel without ever seeing the end. He was moving but he felt like he was stuck.
The realization he had had that morning had shed light on so many things but the shadow it casted seemed to swallow everything up that Stiles had believed to be true. He no longer thought that his friends just weren’t aware of the unfair treatment Stiles was getting from Harris. They were aware; they just didn’t pay it any attention. He also no longer thought that actions such as interrupting his babbling, calling him an idiot, or simply telling him to shut up had an underlying fondness to them. They were simply what they were: barbed remarks to express their annoyance at him.

On his lunch break Scott had the gall to ask him what he should get Allison for their upcoming anniversary and Stiles didn’t even try to conceal the bitter bark of laughter that escaped him. Scott and Allison had been on and off for so long, he couldn’t even keep count on how long they’d actually stayed together. What anniversary was there to celebrate? Congratulations, we managed to stay together for a whole week without breaking up?

“I don’t know, Scott since I’m not exactly an expert in relationships seeing as I’ve never been in one. And as you informed me so kindly, the object of my affections won’t ever reciprocate my feelings, so why do you even ask me? Go and ask Lydia or something. Frankly, I don’t give a fuck about your anniversary.”

The hurt look Scott sent him after he delivered those harsh words made him almost regret them. But only almost. Because as much as it pained him to see his friend’s wounded expression, he hurt even more thinking about how he had been wronged. He was finally done with being their doormat.

“Dude, I was just asking. There’s no need to act like that,” Scott said, looking like a kicked puppy. Why did he think he had the right to look that way when it was Stiles that felt like his insides were ripped out of his body?

“No need, Scott? Well, there was also no need to exclude me from pack activities, wasn’t there?”

Scott groaned low in his throat. He sounded exasperated. “You know that wasn’t my decision. Besides, you’re not excluded from all pack activities. You’re still coming to the movie night, right? You’re just being dramatic.”

Stiles narrowed his eyes at that. “The movie night? You mean the one no one bothered to tell me about? Sure, I’m the driver, didn’t you know? Good thing I am at least good for something, huh?”

“Why are you so angry with me? I haven’t done anything to you!”

The worst was that Scott honest to god had no clue why they were arguing. For him, nothing was wrong because everything was like it had been for a long time now. The only thing that had changed was Stiles who nodded, feeling defeated.

“You’re my best friend, Scott. You’ve always been and probably always will be. But am I still yours?” he asked with a husky voice. He didn’t know why his voice betrayed him like that. It just wasn’t fair.

Scott looked startled. “Of course you are. What brought this on all of a sudden?”

His confusion had always been an endearing trait for Stiles but now it simply annoyed him.

“Forget about it. Today’s taco-day. So hurry up!” Stiles smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. Who would have thought that one could feel so hollow while clapping one’ s best friend on the shoulder and receiving a smile in return?

{}

Maybe he should have come up with a plan B because it seemed like his plan A was a complete failure. As it turned out, the door to the morgue wasn’t simply locked but could only be opened with a key card. As the son of a sheriff, Stiles, of course, had learned to pick a lock pretty early on because he had been a curious child that couldn’t be contained by the obstacles the law set up. All his tricks were of no use now, though. He needed the key card.

“Why can’t anything ever be easy?” he asked himself, sighing heavily. “I mean, come on!”

At least, he knew somebody who would be able to help him. Stiles winced at the thought. Persuading her to do so might be the biggest problem.

Mrs. McCall did have a shift at the hospital that day, thank heavens. As he walked up to her he ran through reasonable explanations for his request in his head. He came up with nothing. She seemed to sense that somehow, like every mother somehow seemed to be able to, and frowned at him.

“Hey, Mrs. McCall, what a coincidence meeting you here.”

Her eyebrows lifted so high, they nearly touched her hairline.

“What do you want now, Stiles?” She sounded resigned which Stiles took as a good sign. He smiled at her as he leaned towards her over the counter.

“I just wanted to visit a patient. You see, he was DOA for a while, with an inclination towards the first option. Seems his inclination turned into a certainty? Well, still, I would like to see him,” he said, trying not to cringe at his choice of words.

He received an exasperated look for his efforts which told him that she was contemplating whether or not he needed to be sent to a mental institution. For a moment, he really feared to get committed but then she shook her head and walked out from behind the counter.

“You’re lucky that visiting hours have just begun,” she said and then added quietly, so only he would be able to hear it, “Half an hour maximum, Stiles. I’m risking my job here.”

He nodded solemnly, his expression serious for a change. His request might have been pretty selfish considering the risk she was taking but it wasn’t beyond Stiles to use everything he could to achieve his goals. His way of getting things done was slightly upsetting, even to him but he could contemplate the state of his soul another time. Now he had to investigate a murder and when a Stilinski set up his mind to do something they couldn’t be stopped.

Melissa McCall handed him pale blue scrubs which he quickly threw on over his clothes before he was allowed to enter the morgue. He understood that she had to be cautious because of the security cameras so he didn’t complain. If it helped him blend in he would have even dressed as a slutty nurse.

“I might even be able to rock that look,” he murmured, envisioning the costume. Thinking it was one thing, but talking about it should definitely be reserved for a time when he wasn’t surrounded by dead people. The look Melissa shot him told him as much even though she probably didn’t understand his random comment.

As soon as he was confronted with the body, he actually wished he could go back to happier thoughts. The sight, even though the body was now cleaned up, was unsettling. Stiles tried as subtly as possible to hide the grimace on his face behind his hand.

“What struck the doctors as odd was that the cause of death was not the loss of blood, he drowned,” Melissa told him calmly, but something in the way she looked at him told him that she had the same suspicions that he had.

“Which means that he was still alive before he reached the river. But why didn’t he die of blood loss? His limbs got severed from the rest of his body, for god’s sake!”

Melissa pointed with a gloved hand to the stump of the victim’s arm. “His wounds were no longer open when they found him. Somehow, his wounds had closed without needing stitches. The skin seems to have regenerated itself unusually quickly. I would say that such a quick healing process would be impossible if it weren’t for my son being a werewolf now.”

Stiles’ eyebrows shot up. “He was not a werewolf, though, was he?”

Melissa shook her head. “Scott said no. But he must have been something for him to heal that quickly.”

Stiles tried to sneak out of the hospital without getting the suspicious glances that some of the nurses shot him. Apparently it was not considered socially acceptable for a teenager without family ties to a patient to hang out at a hospital as often as he did. To his defense Stiles would have liked to point out that he actually hated hospitals and would rather spent his free time in one of the cells at the police station but he could hardly tell them his reasons for being there, could he now?

“Stiles? Why are you wearing scrubs?”

The familiar voice caused Stiles to stop dead in his tracks and turn around, all the while thinking how he could talk himself out of this one.

“Lindsay, hey,” he greeted her, barely managing a smile. “What are you doing here? Small world, huh? I mean, I just saw you yesterday! How weird! Yeah, because coincidences like this happen, you know. They’re weird and make you think something is going on but there totally isn’t and it’s just paranoia because everyone nowadays just jumps to the conclusion that they’re being stalked! But it’s just a coincidence! I haven’t stalked anyone since the weird thing with Jackson and they eventually withdrew the restraining order.”

His face contorted in a grimace and he seriously considered slapping himself. In what world would that reassure anyone?!

Lindsay looked at him like had just grown wings and told her that he was cupid. And what was with him thinking about cosplaying today? He would never be able to get rid of the image now!

“Well, Nurse Stilinski,” she seemed genuinely amused about that, “I have a patient for you who is in serious need of your gentle bedside manner.”

Stiles, still in scrubs, got dragged away before he could even utter a protest which was a feat in and of itself considering that Stiles deserved the title of the fastest shooter of sarcastic comebacks in the wild west.

The sign on the wall told him that he was now in the pediatric wing and that made him slightly nervous. Being confronted with the inevitability of death was practically the slogan of a hospital but it was even worse when you were forced to acknowledge that birth and death could also only be separated by a very short life.

The laughter coming from the play room actually made everything worse for Stiles. His fingers fidgeted with the hem of the scrubs, getting sweatier from second to second.

“What are you waiting for? Come in!” Lindsay smiled encouragingly at him while holding the door open. The children inside had stopped doing whatever they had done before his arrival and looked at him curiously.

It was harder than it should have been to step trough the threshold but once he did he felt a sense of pride swell inside of his chest.
Lindsay took off the guitar that was swung over her back and sat down on a small bench that was obviously only constructed to hold small children.

“Guys, this is Stiles. He is a member of my band and also your nurse for the day. Feel free to ask anything of him that your heart desires! I’m sure he could even be persuaded to sing for you guys.”

Lindsay was positively very smug about her idea as Stiles got bombarded with various song requests. Most of them were Disney songs and Stiles couldn’t even deny knowing them because these were sick children and he could not lie to them. So he resigned himself to the fate of getting kicked out of the hospital because he was causing those poor kids’ ears to bleed.

To his surprise, the children seemed to actually like him singing songs to them and so he became bolder and tried to imitate the characters’ voices. It earned him several adoring glances from the girls and a bright smile from Lindsay.

One kid in particular seemed to have developed a strange attachment in the short time he had known Stiles. He was a tiny thing, pale and without hair and so horribly thin that it made Stiles cringe but his eyes were lively and bright. His name was Raymond but he preferred to be called Ray. It was then that Stiles began to get the answers to many of his questions.

After visiting hours were over, Lindsay got them both a cup of coffee from the crappy vending machine in the hospital.

“Ray got diagnosed with leukemia when he was five. He is eight now but the doctors aren’t very optimistic. They try to make it bearable for him, at least,” she told him, her eyes glazed over. Her pain was so graspable for Stiles that he could practically feel it compressing his own lungs. The only comfort he could offer her, though, was putting a hand on her shoulder and squeezing gently.

“’Ray of Light’ is an awesome band name,” Stiles offered sincerely.

Lindsay managed a real smile at that. Then she poked a finger into his ribs which caused him to jump away from her. The pout she received in return was almost comical. “You, mister, never told us that you could sing as well! That’s withholding important information which is a violation against our rules!”

“Wait, there are rules? Like, are they even written down? Awesome but kind of creepy. I didn’t accidently become a member of a cult, did I? Because my dad is the sheriff and that would really reflect badly on his career.”

Lindsay rolled her eyes. “I better see you here next week as well, Nurse Stiles. Same time. Consider it your punishment.”

Chapter Text

That week’s Stilinski family evening – the second since they started them – was a little awkward and tiring since father and son weren’t on even ground yet but knowing that the other was working on their relationship made it all worth it. Stiles had made mac and cheese and a bowl of fruit salad. They settled next to each other on the couch and watched the TV show, commenting on it every now and then. The Sheriff allowed himself to enjoy one bottle of beer while Stiles munched on a piece of melon. It was not perfect, but it worked for the two of them.

“Do you think we would survive a zombie apocalypse? Obviously, I would be perfectly prepared for it but what about you? Imagine you wouldn’t eat healthy now! You wouldn’t even be able to outrun a zombie and have you seen how slowly they move?” Stiles asked his dad while chewing.

His dad shoved him playfully. “I’m a cop, remember? I’ve been trained for things like this – well, not exactly things like the zombie apocalypse but I would still be able to handle it. I’m more worried about you, to be honest. They don’t seem like great conversationalists to me. So who will you talk to if most of the earth’s population can’t even string a whole sentence together?”

It’s not like anybody is even listening to what I’ve got to say now so it wouldn’t make a damn difference. He didn’t speak his thoughts, though. He really wasn’t in the mood to explain to his father how complex his friendships turned out to be.

“Sometimes I really don’t understand how they keep going. What is there to look forward to? I get the survival instinct and everything but at the end of the day how can they go to sleep, knowing they just have to survive the next day and the day after that. That’s a constant fight for survival, isn’t it and we all know that every warrior gets tired eventually. What happens then?” he asked, even though he hadn’t meant to start such a heavy conversation. He would have preferred to keep everything easy and relaxed that evening, but somehow it all came back to him dealing with the feelings of betrayal and abandonment that stirred his mind in such a dark direction.

His dad put the bottle of beer he was holding only seconds ago away and studied him thoroughly. Stiles was actually very embarrassed that he enjoyed having his dad’s full attention on him for once, but he couldn’t help it. It was very soothing to know that someone could decipher his babbling and realize that something was bothering him.

“Well, son, one thing I’ve learned is that things are always changing. You never know what tomorrow brings. Every bad day has an end. So we hold on as long as we can because there’s always a new day and a new chance,” his dad answered him, looking thoughtful.

“But what if it just gets worse? How can you tell someone that it gets better eventually when there’s no guarantee for it?”

Stiles was frowning and fidgeting with his fingers, never one to sit still. As the sheriff looked at him now he could still see the little boy who had too much energy and would constantly ask questions. His amber eyes were so very curious and reminded him so much of his wife that it was sometimes really painful to meet their gaze. Stiles looked so much like Claudia and he had the same gentle and caring manner that was disguised with fierce stubbornness.

Before he got to answer Stiles continued, “When something bad happens, everybody just tells you to move forward, to get over it. Time heals all wounds. I say that’s bullshit. Time going by just means forgetting, doesn’t it? But what if you can’t move forward? What if you’re drowning?” Stiles didn’t notice his dad’s flinch at that one particular word, “You get pulled into cold darkness, lose your orientation so you don’t even know anymore which way to swim to get to the surface. And your lungs catch on fire, you try to keep your mouth closed but eventually the reflex kicks in and you’re doing it anyway, just before you black out. It’s called voluntary apnea. And at that moment, everything stops hurting, everything’s over and you get sucked into darkness. But the pain is finally over. Why even try when you don’t know where the surface is and what awaits you there? Why not just-“

“Stiles!”

His dad had jumped to his feet during his rant, finally interrupting him. Stiles was heaving at that point, emotions barely contained and words still fighting to tumble out of his mouth because he was not getting enough air, the words felt like barriers in his airways and he had to get them out, he had to talk!

The look in Sheriff Stilinski’s eyes was wild and untamed, like a primal instinct to protect had taken over. Stiles wouldn’t have felt so frightened, though, if he knew who his dad was trying to protect – himself or Stiles?

The Sheriff seemed to notice his son’s discomfort because he immediately calmed down. Frustrated with himself because of his reaction he pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep, steadying breath. In. Out. There was no reason to react so strongly. No one was in danger. It was just one word. A word that evoked bad memories but only a word nonetheless. He had more important things to focus on right now.

“Those are not healthy thoughts, son,” he informed his son, concerned. “Did something happen? Do you want to speak to the school counselor? We can arrange something, there’s no shame in getting help, Stiles, if you’re plagued by depression.”

Stiles went pale and his eyes were so wide, they looked like saucers. “No, dad! I’m fine, I swear! I don’t need therapy or something. Just… I’m dealing with a few things right now and it’s kind of hard? But I’m not depressed or suicidal!”

His dad looked even more alarmed at the mention of suicide and Stiles wanted to kick himself.

Yeah, because not being suicidal would be something a suicidal person would say.

“I mean it, dad. I’m fine. I’ll get over it, eventually,” he assured him, gazing up at his father as sincerely as he could. At that, a little bit of tension left his father and his face looked softer, no longer strained but still worried. He looked carrying and understanding which made Stiles want to jump to his feet and hug his dad as tight as possible. He didn’t. They weren’t quite on that level again. And wasn’t that kind of sad, thinking he wasn’t in the position to get hugged by his own dad?

“You know that you can talk to me, right?” his dad asked tentatively. It was clear as day to Stiles that his father felt kind of lost right now.
“Always. No matter if I’m mad at you or if I’m busy. You’re my son and I love you, not matter how rocky our relationship is or how often you lie to me. I would just appreciate it if you don’t – lie to me that is. You need to know that nothing - nothing you could ever do or tell me can change the fact that I love you.”

If Stiles hadn’t felt crappy before, he surely did now. All he wanted to do was throw himself in his father’s arms and tell him everything. Tell him what had happened in the last year, why he was being so secretive all the time lately. It wasn’t because he felt that would be the best course of action because he didn’t. He wanted to tell him everything because being loved wasn’t enough. He wanted to relieve his father from the worry and himself from the disappointing glances. He longed for his dad to tell him that he was proud of him, like he had done before the werewolf thing had happened. But all those reasons were selfish and that’s why he did nothing. Making mistakes was okay, he was practically a pro at that, but he would be damned before he took actions out of the wrong motivation knowingly.

He tried to act casually, even though the moment was anything but and shrugged. “I know. And I love you, too, dad.” He hoped that the truth of that statement would be plain to see for his father, even though he was doing his best to conceal every other part of himself.

Sheriff Stilinski was soon left alone in the living room, his son making his way upstairs, hopefully going to bed. Being a single father, he couldn’t help but pick up a few unhealthy habits, like drinking too much alcohol or eating too much junk food. He tried his best, though, every single day. Still, he felt that trying wasn’t enough as a parent and that he was failing. He couldn’t really be blamed if he took a swig of whiskey every once in a while, could he? Some moments in life just called for the numbness the alcohol brought. Times like these, he decided, looking for the bottle.

As he sat there, his mind foggy but still not able to conceal the dread he was feeling, memories unfolded in front of his inner eyes, like a movie playing out.

{}

He wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to do now. There were two closed doors in front of him. Which one should he open, he wondered? He had to choose where he wanted to be, who he wanted to be. Father or husband?

And why did he have to choose in the first place? After all, he was both, husband and father.

But now he was torn. Because being one meant turning his back on the other role.

His heart was pounding in his chest. Blood was rushing through his veins so very loudly that he wondered whether it was destructive like a tsunami or as friendly as a wave a surfer would enjoy.

His son had taught him to think that way. He had taught him how to paint ridiculous but remarkably vivid pictures in order to describe something that's not related to whatever you're painting with words in the slightest. Somehow, it made for the best descriptions anyway. It was considered adorable when his son did it. It might be considered insanity in his case, though.

His son. The clever, bright boy who asked all kinds of questions in a single breath and actually waited until he got the answer to all of them.

He could hear him crying. He could only too well imagine him lying on his bed, legs drawn to his chest and hidden from view by a blanket. Because of the blanket he might not be able to breathe properly but he most likely didn't care as long as it protected him from the monsters in his room.

His son was prone to have panic attacks. If he had one now, the blanket wrapped around his head would suffocate him. During those, he often forgot to breathe on his own anyway.

With a sigh, Deputy Stilinski opened the door to wrap his son in his arms. He untangled the boy from the confines of the blanket and rubbed his back soothingly while the small body shook with sobs, struggling to breathe.

It took every ounce of his will power not to think about what would have awaited him behind the second door.

As he held his son, he kept his eyes closed in hopes of waking up from a nightmare. All of this had to be a nightmare. How else was he supposed to cope?

Once the boy had tired himself out, his small body fell limb. His sleep was far from peaceful, though. Sniveling filled the room and reminded the man in it painfully that he couldn't protect his son from the monsters after all.

Parents were only human, too, and bound to make mistakes. Some mistakes, though, felt like open wounds, engraved in the soul. They could come up with excuses for them, apologize, but they knew instinctively that nothing would repair the damage they had caused.

Deputy Stilinski stayed with his son that night, feeling the guilt eating away at his conscience.

They went through their normal routine the next day. Neither of them lost a word about what had happened the night before. They kept quiet about it, hoping silence would kill the memories.

They would come to understand later that it had killed something else as well. Everything came at a cost, even forgetting.

{}

When Stiles came home after school he knew instantly that someone was in his room before he even so much as stepped into it. Maybe he had been spending too much time with werewolves, who were able to sense an intruder because of their scent and heartbeat.

Stiles didn't have their enhanced senses, though. He just had a feeling that he wouldn't be alone in his room once he'd enter it. Dealing with supernatural creatures must have made him paranoid and vigilant.

The satisfaction of being right was taken from him before it could even settle in, though. He had to thank Derek for that.

"What are you doing here?!" he asked, irritated. Then he added, in a lower, grumpier voice, "This is private property."

Ah, nostalgia! How long he had been waiting for that moment to finally arrive!

Derek didn't appreciate his sense of humor. He just growled and shoved Stiles against the wall.

"Oh, come on! That's getting old! We could totally try some new positions!"

At that, the werewolf snorted. Stiles, as soon as the innuendo caught up to him, found himself flushing. Thinking before talking seemed to be a concept that Stiles could never really stick to, unfortunately.

Stiles tried to ignore that Derek's face was only inches away from his own. Now was really not the time to be reminded of their kiss but the memories were persistent and had seemingly made it their goal to be the number one thing on Stiles' mind.

Good thing that aggressively getting shoved against the wall also aggravated the claw marks Malia had unintentionally left on him which provided enough distraction for him to save himself the embarrassement of getting called out on his inappropriate thoughts.

Him grimacing because of it didn't go unnoticed by Derek.

"She hurt you."

So Derek was here because of Malia. It made sense. Relief poured through Stiles, who had thought that Derek knew about him sniffing around in the morgue.

"Not intentionally," he defended her. "She's still new to being human. It takes time for her to regain her control, I guess. Her subconscious is still in survival mode, which has to be rather tiring for her, don't you think? She needs support so don't even think about ordering her to stay away!"

From Derek's reaction, he gathered that he had hit the nail right on the head with his assumption. The alpha looked like he wanted to argue, but he kept silent.

"We should definitely work on that, though. She's too young for us to expect total control over her emotions from her so the thing with the heartbeat and anger might not work for her like it did with Scott. Besides, I can't just throw lacrosse balls at a girl. She would kick my ass for it."

Now, Derek looked annoyed.

"I'm the alpha."

Stiles rolled his eyes. "Yes, and I am human. Are we done stating established facts now? I'd like to get on with the problem at hand. I am mad at you, after all, so I'm not ready to converse with you like a civilized person. In fact, I'd prefer to throw you out right now, but, unfortunately, Malia is more important than our petty fight. So, back to the topic, please."

"I'm the alpha," Derek repeated like Stiles was an idiot and didn't get it the first time he had said it. "Malia is my responsibility, not yours."

That was the final straw. For Malia's sake, Stiles had tried to put their differences aside for a moment to solve the problem of her control issues together, but he certainly had to draw the line somewhere.

Stiles pushed against Derek's chest with all his might and even though the alpha didn't budge, he felt better after doing it. It was more meant as a statement than a threat, anyway.

"I don't care whose responsibility she is! She's my friend, part of my family even, and that's why I'm going to help her, you big jerk! Not every good deed is motivated by duty, dickhead! But maybe you've become too cold and distant to understand empathy!" he snapped.

His words had the desired effect and caused Derek to step back.

"I'm trying to protect her," the werewolf gritted out through clenched teeth.

Stiles started to gesture wildly. "From me?! Am I considered the enemy now?! I'm human, remember? I'm harmless! Well, mostly harmless! You're just bitter because she likes me better than you!"

To Stiles' surprise, Derek didn't get angry, which was a freaking miracle, considering that guy's short temper. Instead, he frowned, as if he was forced to deal with a petulant child that wouldn't see reason.

"You complicate matters," Derek said, looking at the floor.

Stiles' anger faded and was promptly replaced by the feeling of dryness in his throat. It was strange how a passionate feeling like anger would give place to a simple bodily discomfort so easily but considering how heavy his heart felt now that the anger was gone, he understood. Anger tended to be short-lived, but weariness settled in your bones to remind you of the battle you lost.

"You mean, ever since we kissed, I complicate matters," Stiles specified. "You think I'm a threat to the stability of the pack. That's it, isn't it? That's the real reason why you're keeping me out of pack business."

Derek's eyes then got a murderous glint in them, which honestly scared Stiles, but the boy refused to let it show. It was bad enough that the alpha could probably smell his fear.

"When I kissed you, I hadn't bargained for becoming your new obsession, Stiles! Bad enough that I had to witness how you semi-stalked Lydia. I'm really not interested in having a brat with an unhealthy obsession on my heels and disrupt the life it took a lot of effort to build!"

Stiles stared at him, shellshocked. Not only were those the most words he ever heard the werewolf speak in one go, but he also felt each one of them pierce him like a tiny needle.

"Are you kicking me out of the pack for good now?" he asked quietly. His heart clenched painfully at the possibility of his worst fears becoming reality.

Derek snorted while making his way to the window. He didn't even look back at Stiles while saying, "I can't keep you from your friends."

Then he was gone. Just like that.

"That's not as reassuring as you might think," Stiles whispered. Then he sat down on his bed and buried his head in his hands.

Maybe survival wasn't the worst fight one could ever face. Survival at least meant that the opponent was death and everyone knew that death could only be held at bay but never be defeated. Fighting life, though, was a different matter altogether and maybe the hardest thing because what was there to win?

Chapter Text

They had popcorn, seemingly endless amounts of food and soda, and a couple of DVDs. The living room looked cozy, the TV was ready and the kitchen emitted the smell of cookie dough. Normally, Stiles would have been the one to bake the cookies but he wasn't there yet so Isaac volunteered to take over the task for him.

Malia was sitting on the counter, watching him with narrowed eyes. Her hostility towards him made him insecure and uneasy, but he tried to ignore it. Her eyes seemed to burn holes in his back.

"It's Derek's fault that he isn't here," she grumbled.

Isaac refrained from turning around. He was man enough to admit that he didn't have the guts to face her and her fury. "Who isn't here?"

The growl he heard in answer told him that he had said the wrong thing. Why couldn't dealing with children come with a manual?

"Stiles," she growled. They both heard Peter clearing his throat from the other room at the sound. Malia ducked her head at that sulkily, which was almost an apology coming from her.

"He'll be in later, though. He's giving Erica and Boyd a lift," Isaac replied absentmindedly, trying to stir the cookie dough. How does Stiles usually do that?, he wondered. That shit is firm as cement.

He couldn't see it, but Malia's eyes were flaring with anger. He did feel a shudder, though, and wondered why he felt so cold all of a sudden. The cruel hand squeezing his heart could only be nervousness, right?

"You're all idiots!"

Malia jumped from the counter and left the kitchen to sulk somewhere else or so Isaac assumed.

"I'm so proud of her," Laura warbled with her hands on her hips while watching Malia. "Just twelve but already wise like me. I've always known that my brother is an idiot."

Isaac was not scared of her. Not in the least. If he found her a bit intimidating after watching her nearly chop off her brother's head because he insinuated she needed his help with the plumbing then it was only out of self-preservation. Besides, he was sure you already lost if you let them know your fear.

"Don't encourage her behaviour," Derek said, scowling. "It's not acceptable. Children are supposed to respect their elders."

He had originally walked into the kitchen to get the dishes and silverware, but he felt like he had to leave a comment, too. As the alpha, his input should matter, after all.

Laura didn't take his input all too seriously, though. "You sound like an old man, Derek. I know that's who you are, deep inside, but do you have to be one of those old geezers with a narrowed and prejudiced worldview? I mean, that girl is right. You ARE an idiot." She grinned and leant conspiratorially over the counter. "What the hell is going on between you and Stiles, anyway? I'm kinda new to this."

Cookies be damned. Now was clearly the time for Isaac to flee from the kitchen and so he did, without regret. They were werewolves, so they shouldn't get sick from eating cookie dough, right?

Unfortunately, that left Derek to fend for himself. From past experiences, Derek knew that this conversation most probably wouldn't end in his favour.

"He doesn't listen to me, as usual. That's all there is to it," Derek grumbled. He looked up from the silverware to meet Laura's disbelieving look. "Kinda like you're doing right now."

"It seemed to me like it was the other way round," Laura said, eyebrows raised. "But leaving your childish behaviour aside for now, do you really think that expelling him from missions and cutting him off of information was the right choice?"

"Missions," Derek repeated incredulously.

Laura simply ignored him and went on, "I don't really know him, but he seems like a curious guy. I think your decision is counterproductive because he will just investigate his theory on his own and I'm guessing that's not what you had in mind when you decided to go all censoring dictator on him."

"As long as it keeps him out of the actual investigation, I don't care how he chooses to waste his time."

At that, Laura threw her hands in the air. "Did you learn nothing from horror movies?! When someone decides to split from the group to investigate on their own, they end up dead! Always! That's kind of a rule, you know?"

Derek rolled his eyes and let the palm of his hands fall softly against the table, almost as if he would surrender to Laura. She would have been his alpha, after all, and he still wasn't used to the unfamiliar power balance between them. His instincts cringed at the action, but the human part of him felt like it was the right thing to do.

"I was never supposed to be the alpha, Laura! Don't act like I should know what I'm supposed to do when you are the one who has undergone all the teachings of an alpha and not me!"

Laura's gaze softened noticeably. She went to stand next to her brother to put a reassuring hand on the back of his neck.

"That's life, I guess. Play with the cards you're dealt with. That's all the advice that I can give you." She looked thoughtful for a moment but then she grinned mischievously. "Oh, and the goal of wooing somebody is not to make them mad at you. You're too old for pulling pigtails, Derek."

Derek raised his eyebrows, but he wouldn't meet his sister's eyes. "Who said anything about wooing?"

***

"Thank you, Batman."

Erica gave him a quick peck on the cheek before she jumped out from the passenger seat of the jeep. Boyd just nodded as if in agreement to that sentiment and followed her.

They didn't look back to see if Stiles would hop out of the jeep as well, making him feel like they didn't care either way.

He was just their means of transportation. That's what he had to remind himself of.

So he didn't get out of the jeep.

His fingers were drumming against the steering wheel in a rhythm that steadily grew faster and faster.

Then he made up his mind, set the car in reverse and pulled out of the driveway.

He didn't know where he was headed; all he knew was that he had to get away. He had to leave before he suffocated. The last thing he needed was the constant doubt whether he was welcome at the Hale House or not.

But who did he have left?

"You have me, you silly idiot."

Stiles let got of the steering wheel for a moment in shock which almost resulted in them crashing against a tree. The quick reflexes of the teenager saved them, though.

"Malia?! How did you get in the car? And, most importantly, when?!"

The twelve-year-old sat in the middle of the backseat of the car, her arms rigidly pressed to her sides. Her dark eyes met his with a stern expression through the rearview mirror.

"Erica and Boyd don't pay attention," she answered, unfazed by his confusion and panic.

"Jesus," sighed Stiles. "We talked about this, Malia. Noise! Alert people to your presence if you don't want them to die from a heart attack. Or, you know, from a car crash. That was really close."

"Sorry." She didn't sound apologetic.

"You're a really sneaky were-coyote. Has anyone ever told you that?" He had to suppress a grin. Encouraging her behaviour wasn't something a responsible adult would do.

"It's not my fault that everyone is so oblivious to their surroundings. They are werewolves, for god's sake. Why can't they ever use their senses?" she complained.

They shared a mischievous smirk though Stiles tried to hide his behind a cough.

"You're way too smart for a child."

"I'm not a child. I'm twelve. Nearly an adult."

"Whatever you say, kiddo."

He felt her kicking against his seat but instead of complaining, he giggled. Why couldn't everything be as easy as his friendship with Malia?

"Don't you want to watch the movie with the rest of them? I could drive you back," he offered sheepishly. He didn't want her to go back, but he also didn't want to kidnap her.

"Why would I want to spend time with people that annoy me?" she asked, puzzled. "That's why you didn't stay, right? I can understand that."

He really shouldn't feel so content hearing her say that. He should probably tell her that she should treat her family with respect. But he could understand only too well where she was coming from.

"C'mon, Malia, they're not that bad. They are only annoying some of the time."

"Hurting people you love without realizing it is a level of stupidness I'm not willing to put up with."

"It's stupidity," he corrected her absentmindedly and ignored her answering growl. "You're angry at them on my behalf? That's really nice of you, but not necessary. I'm a big boy, I can fend for myself."

Malia's eyes blazed with fury and her claws were gouging holes into the leather of his seats. He tried not to grimace at the sight.

"I think you're right. We don't know who killed that man and it's stupid to simply assume it was the alpha, just because that's the easiest explanation. That's why I decided to help you."

Alarm bells were going off in Stiles' head. He knew what this conversation was leading up to.

"Help me with what? I can handle mean people on my own, Malia. You don't have to protect me from them," he said, even though he knew that's not what she had meant.

"Don't treat me like I'm dumb!" she snapped at him. "I know you're investigating and I'm saying that I want to help you! I saw your board, you know, the last time I stayed overnight. You already have theories and I think they're ok. Better than what the others got, at least."

Stiles grimaced. The board was hardly concealed; anyone who went to his room would be able to see it and know instantly what he was up to. It really wasn't his smartest move not to hide it.

"Peter will have my head if something happens to you", he argued.

Malia smiled. It was not a smile you would expect on the lips of a twelve-year-old. "And I will have their heads if something happens to you. Knowing you, I say it's pretty likely that you get in harm's way. So I'm going to help you."

"You're just twelve! Isn't your bedtime soon?" he replied.

She actually had the nerve to stuck her tongue out. "What were you doing when you were my age? Did you behave, Stiles? Did you follow Daddy's orders to a T?"

When Stiles was twelve years old, he had kidnapped one of the dogs from the police station. He had named him Tipsy because his dad had told him that the dog could seek out an intoxicated person among a big crowd in just minutes. What he hadn't known was that the dog was trained in finding cocaine and that his neighbour was secretly dealing said beverage. One afternoon Stiles had followed Tipsy who had been nosing along the ground as if he was looking for something. The dog had led him to his neighbour's cellar entrance which, strangely enough, had not been locked. Stiles had always been curious, so he had opened it and followed the police dog into the cellar. What had awaited him there had been bags full of white powder. Even though he hadn't known what the white powder specifically was, he had had an inkling that it was something bad. Being a cop's kid will do that to you.

And that was the story of how Stiles had managed to get one of the most wanted drug dealers in Beacon Hills behind bars. He had nearly gotten caught by the criminal if it hadn't been for him falling down and being hidden from view but in retrospect he had been really lucky. His dad had been so happy to see him unharmed and alive, he hadn't even scolded Stiles for stealing the dog. Not much, anyway.

"Fine," he conceded. "Touché. You win. I'll show you what I've found out so far, but you have to promise to keep it to yourself. Derek won't be happy if he hears that I've made more progress than them. I talk to them as soon as I can attest my theory, though. Okay?"

Malia seemed satisfied with that and nodded. She then kept quiet the whole ride to the Stilinski residence, seemingly lost in her thoughts. The silence between them was amiable and almost tranquil and it gave Stiles the opportunity to think his decision over once again.

In all honesty, he was not happy with Malia joining in on the investigation because he feared for her safety. If he could simply choose a partner, he would have chosen Scott but his best friend was out of the question now. Stiles didn't even bother asking him, he already knew what the answer would be.

The first thing he did, after they had entered his home, was handing his phone to Malia so she could text her father about her whereabouts. The last thing he needed was an angry Peter breaking into his home.

Then he showed her the board he had been working on for the past few weeks. On the board was a police report about the two missing people and the photograph of the corpse they had found by the riverbank. Below the photograph, he had listed a few facts like:
- victim died of drowning but had various lethal wounds (which seemed to have magically healed)
- victim had been missing for a little more than three weeks
- victim had no disabilities or missing body parts documented prior to his abduction
- lethal wounds must have been inflicted by the captor -> why and how did they heal so quickly?

Malia stared at all the facts, slowly reading them out loud. She was not the best reader, for which she could hardly be blamed for since she had not gotten any form of education for over four years. Living in the wild hardly ever requested the skill of reading.

"Does that mean he healed like we do?" she asked Stiles, curious. He smiled at her deduction. She might not have gotten the same education as a regular twelve-year-old, but she was certainly clever.

"I considered that possibility, but I don't think it's likely," he answered. "If he had been a werewolf, he wouldn't have made the mistake to camp on another werewolf's territory, except if he had been feral. But a feral werewolf would' ve drawn attention to himself and from the reports of the locals and judging by his equipment I conclude that he had spent at least one week camping out there."

Malia's eyebrows furrowed in concentration. "But how did he heal? You don't."

Stiles pointed the pen at her and then set a big question mark on the board. "That's the big question, my girl."

"So, how do we get the answer to it, then?"

"That's where you're coming in," he said while a plan was already forming in his mind. He felt kind of bad for using her but she did offer him her help and he now realized that she could come in handy. "What do you think about thievery?"

"I call it borrowing," she answered immediately.

"We're on the same page, then." He smiled conspiratorially at her. "I have a favour to ask of you, my dear partner in crime. That is if you're up to it. It might be risky."

She glanced coldly at him, almost as if she felt insulted by him insinuating that she was too much of a coward for the task, whatever it was.

"Oh, I'm up for it. What do you need me to do?"

Chapter Text

Getting Malia to steal the bestiary from the pack was admittedly pretty low of Stiles, even in his own eyes, but it was also the best course of action. He couldn't ask for it or simply get it himself since he was technically not allowed to investigate the case anymore. As soon as he would ask for it, the pack would know what he was up to, so that was not a possibility. Malia, though, could just simply take it without anybody noticing because nobody would suspect that the twelve-year-old was even interested in reading it. They all knew that reading was the last thing Malia wanted to spend her free time doing. So she was the perfect person to "borrow" the bestiary without anybody suspecting her.

It was, however, not as easy to gain access to the USB-drive as Stiles had thought. He knew that Peter kept it in the library somewhere, but he was sure that the USB-drive was no longer in the same place as it used to be. Peter and he himself had been the ones to decide on the hiding place, after all, so it would be likely that Peter had placed it somewhere else for the time being in order to keep him from investigating. Even if he had not removed the USB-drive from its usual hiding spot, they had to take the possibility into account that he had. Derek could've ordered him to do it, after all.

Malia needed an opportunity to search the library but providing such an opportunity would not be easy. Both Derek and Peter needed to be out of the Hale House for their plan to work.

To Stiles' surprise, it was Malia who came up with a plan. She knew the one thing both men had in common was their high value of family so the best way to get them to leave was to stage a situation where their presence was needed at Laura's apartment.

Since Malia assured him that she had everything covered, he left the actual theft, or rather "borrowing", to her. Passing that responsibility on to her didn't only take a huge weight off of his own shoulders, it also made Malia surprisingly happy and proud. Maybe, so Stiles thought, all she needed for her to learn control was a hobby, something that reassured her that she was useful. A purpose. He would give that idea more thought once he had the bestiary, though.

On Sunday, Stiles got a text from Lindsay that told him that they would meet at the hospital. He ignored all the texts from Scott, only texted her back and grabbed his things, heading out.

His dad raised an eyebrow at him leaving so early in the day, but he didn't question it. It was likely that he thought he was hanging out with Scott and Stiles almost felt guilty for not correcting him. He didn't want to talk about the clash he was currently in with his best friend so he didn't actually tell him where he was going.

Not that it was a secret. Melissa would probably see him and she could let it slip to his dad, but he wasn't worried about that. Once the time came for it, he would explain. Right now, everything still felt too raw and open to talk about it.

Lindsay was waiting at the reception desk of the hospital, looking anxious. Her blond hair was in a messy bun, her clothes were wrinkled and she had dark bags under her eyes which were slightly red as if she had been crying.

Stiles walked up to her, wringing his hands. What was he supposed to say to her when she was so clearly upset? He was a man of many words but never the right ones.

"Hi," he said, sheepishly, hiding his hands in the pockets of his hoodie. "You okay?"

Well, that was one way of approaching the subject of her looking upset, he guessed.

She offered him a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," she reassured him while tucking a strand of her hair nervously behind her ear. "Just tired. It's been an exhausting weekend."

Stiles smiled sadly at her. "Yeah, I can see what you mean."

She looked kind of relieved after he said that so he supposed it was the right thing to say.

They walked to the pediatric wing, getting awful coffee from the vending machine on the way. Even though the taste of it was like dish water, they touched their cups in a toast and smiled. Stiles assumed that sharing an awful cup of coffee in the hospital would be their thing from now on. He kind of liked the thought, even though his taste buds recoiled in disgust.

"Ray relapsed on Friday," Lindsay told him in a quiet voice, looking a bit forlorn. "It was awful. He had to be hooked up to all those awful machines and moved to the ICU for a while. Today he got out of ICU and back in his old room. He still can't go home for another week, I fear."

Stiles felt his throat constricting at the thought of the small body being kept alive by machines, his too pale skin not really a contrast to the white hospital bed sheets.

"He's better now, though, right? He's okay?" he asked. Then he wanted to slap himself for asking something so stupid. That kid had cancer. Of course, he was not better or anywhere near okay.

"He's stable," Lindsay answered with a soothing pat to his arm. "But he flat out demanded that you visit him and how could I refuse him?"

"Me?! Why on earth would he want to see me? We only met once!"

"You left a bigger impact on him than you think. You know, we never really realize how much one minute, even one second, can matter because we think we have so many of them left. But he knows that isn't the case for him. I guess that's why he pays closer attention. In a way, he taught me to appreciate every moment in life, even those that seem insignificant at first."

"Wow," Stiles said, awed. "That was really deep."

"I'm more than just a pretty face, you know?"

Once they entered Ray's room, all air of ease seemed to have vanished. In fact, Stiles felt as heavy as a bag of gold.

"You came," Ray exclaimed, grinning brightly.

Stiles forced himself to smile and to stop thinking about the boy's illness. He was more than that and he had to remember that. "Well, one young man in here is rather hard to forget. Maybe you know him."

"Oh," Ray's smile fell immediately. "You're not here for me, then?"

Stiles cleared his throat awkwardly, mentally kicking himself in the butt.

"Uhh, yeah, I'm here for you - to visit you, I mean. What better company could I wish for? I mean, Brad Pitt suddenly blew off our lunch date but, since I get to be here instead, I guess that's not such a pity. I feel like that guy is always boasting about his success around me, anyway."

"You're funny," Ray told him rather seriously.

"That's what I warned you about, Ray," Lindsay reminded him. "I told you that he's weird like that. I knew that as soon as he's told me that he's never seen 'Treasure Planet'."

Ray's mouth dropped open and he let out an indignant sound. The utter disbelief on his face was almost comical.

"Inconceivable!" the kid exclaimed which startled a laugh from Stiles. He knew there was a reason why he liked that kid so much.

"Well, there is only one way to fix that." Lindsay walked over to her bag, that was sitting on the visiting chair and took out her laptop.

Ray grinned mischievously. "Yeah. And maybe, you can teach him to sing 'I'm still here'. It's one of my favorites and he didn't know it last time."

And that's how Stiles found himself sitting next to a hospital bed, watching a child movie on a laptop and having more fun than he had had in weeks.

***

Derek woke up to someone rudely poking his face. At first, he tried to turn away, but then his sleep-bleary mind caught up with what was happening and he grabbed the wrist belonging to the person that dared to bother him that early in the morning on a Sunday. His eyes, as foggy from sleep as they still were, blazed red at the intruder.

"Time to get up," the intruder had the audacity to tell him in an unforgiving voice.

He realized that the intruder was actually just Malia, who was looking down at him like he was the laziest guy she had ever met.

"My god, child, it's-" he gazed at his alarm. "only five thirty."

That didn't seem to deter Malia in the slightest. She just raised her eyebrows expectantly at him. "Yes. High time to get up. You're needed."

"I'm what?" Derek grumbled, already getting up. He wouldn't be able to fall asleep again, anyway, so he could just as well start the day early.

Scratching his beard, he walked over to his closet, getting dressed for the day. Malia still hadn't left the room.

"Cora called. There's a problem with the apartment again. I forgot what happened. It was too early. She woke me up," Malia informed him, growling slightly as she reminded herself how early she was awoken from her slumber. No child should have to get up that early on a Sunday.

"Why didn't she call me, then?" Derek asked, now dressed, looking for his phone. He hadn't gotten any calls this morning. "Who did she call, anyway? You don't have your own phone, as far as I know."

Oh no, he was getting suspicious. Maybe she should have thought this plan through before just going with it.

"I stole Peter's," she admitted, which was actually true. She had used it to text Stiles, but Derek didn't need to know that.

"Do we really need to have the talk about stealing again?" Derek received a glare in response. He sighed. "Fine, we talk about that later. But we will talk about that. Stealing's not okay, Malia, and I know that you know that."

He gave her one last warning look before he left the room and walked to the kitchen to get coffee. He planned on calling Laura after the first sip. No one could expect him to function properly before then.

"Why would Cora call Peter before calling me?" Derek muttered, glaring at his coffee. Malia, who had followed him into the kitchen, hopped on a chair and rolled her eyes.

"Because she knows you're grumpy in the morning," she replied. "Well, grumpier."

Fair enough. Derek wasn't exactly a morning person.

Malia knew that she had to think of something before Derek was fully awake and realized that she had made it all up. The panic began, though, when her father walked into the kitchen. He had always been an early riser. Malia wasn't even sure if he slept at all.

"Cora called me?" Peter asked with raised eyebrows. Of course, he had heard their conversation. That was just what Malia needed.

"Apparently," Derek said. Malia had to grind her teeth in order not to snap at him.

"Strange that I didn't know about that." Peter gave his daughter a knowing look.

"Because I answered the call, okay? Happy now?" Malia threw her hands in the air in exasperation. "Do you want to know what she said or not?"

Derek hid his grin by taking a sip of coffee. "Go ahead and tell us."

Malia glared at him but obliged nevertheless. "I think she said that the faucet broke or something because the water keeps on running. She's afraid it will flood the apartment and Laura's too proud to ask for help."

The werecoyote was sure that her explanation was plausible enough for both of them to insist on visiting the Hale sisters.

"Sounds like a job for Derek. He is the man to go to when it comes to cleaning pipes."

Derek nearly choked on his coffee in horror. "Shut up, Peter!"

"Cora asked for the both of you, though," Malia rushed to say. "Because it should look like you're just visiting. It would be a good cover if you said that you came to check out Laura's girlfriend. She practically lives with them."

Peter looked at her like he knew something was up but he couldn't pinpoint exactly a reason why he was suspicious. In order not to cause any further suspicions she met his gaze steadily, determined not to show how nervous she was. In order to hide her feelings, she thought about activities that calmed her down like running through the woods as a coyote. She knew he would pay attention to smell.

"What better way to start a Sunday. It's been awhile since I got to intimidate anyone intentionally. I'm looking forward to it," he exclaimed then to Malia's great relief.

"And Malia," he said to her, leaning against the kitchen counter, "keep the phone. In case you need to call us."

Malia had to suppress the urge to throw her fist in the air in victory. Mission accomplished. Well, nearly.

Derek wrote a note for Isaac and then the two adult werewolves left.

Malia patted herself mentally on the shoulder, congratulating herself to have called Cora earlier. She still thought back to dialling Cora's number, praying for her to pick up her phone. Her plan depended completely on her cooperation. Their conversation sounded as following:

"Do you have any idea how early it is?" came the grumbled reply from the other side of the phone line. Malia sighed in relief.

"Not early enough to be safe from a visit from Peter and Derek," Malia told her with a grin. The groan she got in answer was expected. "By the way, you have to break a faucet for me. If the two decide to visit you this early, they should have something to do, don't you think?"

"Sounds fair," Cora replied in a dark voice, clearly displaying how displeased she was with the early visit from her family on a Sunday. "You're serious, aren't you? Otherwise, I'd be very disappointed."

"Deadly serious."

Now Malia had, at least, two hours until her father and Derek returned and maybe three hours until Isaac would get up. Hopefully, that was enough time to find the bestiary.

***

At the end of the movie, it was pretty clear to Stiles that Ray was exhausted and could barely keep his eyes open. Lindsay shared a weak smile with Stiles before she said goodbye to her brother for the day and kissed him on the forehead. Stiles almost felt like an intruder, witnessing that heartwarming scene between the two siblings. At least, he tried not to stare.

"Stiles?" asked Ray, already half-asleep. Stiles leaned forward so that the boy didn't have to speak so loud to be understood.

"Yeah, buddy?"

"You'll be back, right?"

Stiles swore he could hear his heart break a bit at the vulnerability that was displayed in front of him. Following his instinct, he reached for the boy's hand and squeezed it gently.

"Of course. You introduced me to an awesome movie I had somehow missed. I owe you now so I think you're stuck with me."

Ray smiled, his eyes already closed. "Good," he whispered, satisfied with Stiles' reply. "See you soon."

"See you soon," Stiles echoed softly.

The two teenagers then left the room to let the sick child sleep. Again, they went for a coffee, even though neither of them wanted one.

"The coffee here is truly awesome," commented Stiles with a grimace.

"The best," Lindsay agreed. She then looked at him with a serious expression. "Thank you for today. You made him happy, you know?"

"It was nothing." Stiles felt a bit awkward. He didn't understand why she was thanking him. After all, he barely knew her and her brother. "Why did you bring me? Aren't you afraid that I could hurt him, let him down? Why would you trust someone you've known for two weeks with your brother, whom you obviously love very much? That doesn't make sense."

Lindsay was looking into her coffee like it held all the answers of the universe. "I saw you. After practice during which Brad was an ass and you were a smartass. You were sitting at the piano and you were looking so lonely that I thought to myself: Maybe he needs a reminder. And then I met you at the hospital and I couldn't resist introducing you to my brother. Because I thought that's what you needed." As soon as she saw the look on Stiles' face, she rushed to explain herself, "And I don't mean it in the sense: He needs to realize that he has a great life in comparison to others. That was not what I thought you needed to be reminded of.
I just thought that you needed to see that even though we suffer, we can refuse to be victims. We can refuse to feel helpless and weak. We can decide to look forward and create happy moments. It was a lesson I learned from Ray, so maybe you could too."

Stiles didn't know what to say. He wanted to thank her, tell her that she had seen him when no one else had but he couldn't find the words. The boy who used words as a weapon could not find any when they were meant to do good. What did that say about him?

"I'm glad you didn't think I was a total loser," he joked. "Just someone who needed a reminder."

"Well, I could still change my mind, you know?"

He laughed. "Of course. Smart people like you keep an open mind."

"See you Tuesday, then," she said, smiling and throwing the plastic cup in the trash can.

When he got home, Malia was already waiting for him. Proudly she presented him with the USB-drive.

Chapter Text

"My Lord, it is safe to say that the boy started to investigate. What are your orders?"

The person encased in a dark cloak bowed lowly while asking the question, not daring to look his master in the eyes.

Fingers were tapping patiently against wood while silence engulfed them that made the henchman very nervous. Surely his master wouldn't be upset with him because of the news, would he? He was just the messenger, after all.

"Very well. Let him continue," eventually came the answer. The voice was far more amused than the man had ever witnessed. That only added to his anxiety.

"Just... let him continue, my Lord?" he asked, not sure if he had heard correctly. "But we finally found him! We've been looking for him for years, we finally found him and now we do nothing?"

"Are you questioning my methods, Silas? Do you think your ways are better than mine? Do you think you should be in my position and I in yours?" his master asked, deceptively calm but he had stood up from his seat and was now walking towards him, which was not a good sign at all. Silas shivered in his cloak.

A force stronger than anything he had ever felt made him kneel at his master's feet, head bowed so low it was nearly touching the floor. His spine was aching like someone had just put stone after stone after heavy stone on his back.

"No, my Lord," he forced out through gritted teeth. "I would never question your decisions. I am solely devoted to you, believe me, my Lord."

"And you do well to remember that." The invisible weight on his back vanished and he was able to draw a deep breath again.

The man in the cloak agreed wholeheartedly and hurriedly before he got up, waiting to be dismissed. Then he walked away as quickly as he could without running.

"He will come to me," the man in the shadows, the master, said to himself. Fingers were tapping against the wood again. "He already swallowed the bait."

***

Stiles woke up with a sheet of paper stuck to the side of his face. Confused he grumbled something to himself and stretched his aching muscles, too late realizing that he was not lying on a bed but sitting on his office chair. That was why he lost his balance and promptly fell to the floor. At least, he was awake now for sure.

"Stupid gravity," he muttered while untangling his limbs and getting up.

He discovered soon what had woken him up. It was the most annoying, irritating noise he had ever heard and he longed for it to stop. His head was already pounding along with the steady rhythm of the noise. It was unbearable.

The noise came from his alarm clock. One look at it and his eyes were wide open. Muttering curses under his breath, he looked for a shirt and a pair of jeans to wear but stumbled instead across a young girl, sleeping soundly in his bed.

"Malia! Get up! We overslept! And I have to go to school! Damn, I'll be late for sure and Harris will have my head for it!"

Touching the were-coyote might not have been the smartest move, seeing as she immediately punctured his wrist with her sharp claws. Stiles hissed in pain.

"Could you, maybe, not maim me, please? I'm kind of in a hurry," Stiles told her through clenched teeth. The girl's grip was deceptively strong and painful.

As soon as she realized what she was doing Malia let go of him as if his skin had burned her and glared with a dark expression down at her own hands which still had claws.

"Don't worry. This could've happened to anyone. Have I ever told you that Scott nearly bit my arm off that one time? Yeah, that incident put a damper on our friendship but he's still my best friend. What's a bit of chopping off limbs between bros, right?" he tried to soothe her. It wasn't really working as well as he had hoped.

"C'mon, I'll make you breakfast," he offered. She nodded, got up and disappeared into the bathroom.

Stiles just raised his eyebrows at her antics. Then he remembered to throw a blanket over his glass board just in case a werewolf decided to bestow a visit on him or on his room. He would share with the class once he had enough information on the case to solve it.

And he was sure now that the victim was not some supernatural creature. He should have thought about the reactions of the werewolves immediately because none of them had ever questioned whether the victim was human or not. That alone should have tipped him off. Well, it never hurt to do your research.

"Did you find it?" Malia asked as soon as she had entered the kitchen. There was no time for a fancy breakfast today so she had to settle for cheerios instead. She didn't seem to mind so much.

"It? You mean whether the victim was human? Yes. I mean, yes, he is - eh, was, sorry - human. Derek would have reacted differently if that weren't the case. And Melissa knew that he wasn't a werewolf, which means that one of the pack must have seen the corpse", he answered, looking pensive.

Even though he was now sure that the victim was human, that still brought him no step further in his investigation. There was still the question how and why he could heal his wounds.

"Maybe he didn't heal... maybe someone healed them for him," he thought out loud. "Oh, did you know that apparently the saliva of a unicorn has healing powers? It sounds gross but it would also be very effective. Only I don't think that there's a unicorn somewhere in the preserve."

"I've never seen one, at least," Malia agreed.

"There are a few other possibilities but I'm pretty sure that no alpha is able to heal a human. I was right, then. Alphaba wasn't involved," he summarized with a smug smile. If only Derek and Scott were here to witness that moment! They wouldn't be able to argue with his conclusion.

"Maybe she has a unicorn for a pet," Malia said.

Stiles wanted to dismiss that idea and laugh about it like it was a joke, which he was sure it was supposed to be. But then he seriously thought about it. Why hadn't he ever thought about that possibility before? Not the possibility that Alphaba had a pet unicorn but that she had help. Suddenly, there were new theories forming in his head. He had a new lead to check out.

"Malia, you're a genius."

"I know. By the way, you owe me now. Do you know how hard it was to steal that thing? And now I have to put it back somehow without getting busted. You owe me big time."

***

Before he could even enter the school, someone was throwing him into the wall. That was a new record, even for him.

"Who do you think you are, Stilinski?" Erica hissed, her claws poking through the collar of his shirt and scratching his skin.

"I think you answered your own question, dude," he replied, not really considering that it might not be wise to aggravate an angry werewolf.

Not your best move, Stiles. What happened to 'Let sleeping werewolves lie'?

Erica's eyes flashed golden for a moment, a clear sign that Stiles should be carefully considering his next words.

"Why do you have to ruin everything? Derek wanted to bond with his family - the part that didn't die in a horrible fire and that he just got back - but then you - you have the audacity to ruin it!" Erica raged, slamming him against the wall.

Stiles hoped that nobody had seen that. He wasn't really popular in school so if someone saw him getting his ass handed to him by a girl, he would be even under Greenberg in the social hierarchy. And Greenberg's best friend was a cat named 'Wool' that he claimed was his soulmate.

"Eh, I have no idea what you mean? How did I ruin everything?! I was the one who brought them together in the first place!"

"Friday night was supposed to be bonding night! But you took Malia with you, just to spite Derek, didn't you? God, you're so childish, it actually hurts to watch."

"It's not like I kidnapped her, don't make it sound so dramatic. She didn't want to stay so she snuck right past you - what's up with your keen werewolf senses, anyway? Aren't you supposed to smell her or hear her or something? Maybe you've caught a cold. That would also explain why you're talking bullsh-"

He didn't even get to finish his sentence before his head was smashed against the wall. For a minute, he swore he saw stars and Batman riding on a dinosaur.

"What the hell is going on here?!"

Erica didn't let go of him, even though the coach was standing right behind her. She did loosen her grip, though.

"Nothing, coach," Stiles said, his voice only a little wobbly. "It's okay. I like it a little rough, right, my dominatrix?"

If glances could kill, he'd be six feet under and sharing a drink with Satan in hell already.

"Shut it, Stilinski. If I wanted to know about my students' disgusting sex life, I'd just stalk their social media pages. Now get your asses to class."

"Of course, coach. Already on my way. And I'll be sure to make a post about my newest sexcapade as soon as I get home."

And he'd get his ass to class as soon as the world stopped spinning.

Erica gave him one last glare before she was spinning on her ridiculously high heels and proceeded to walk into the school like she was on a catwalk.

Stiles tried to follow her but his reflexes weren't the best after he had gotten his head slammed into a wall, so he missed the door handle and ran straight into the door. He could hear other students laughing at him so he tried to laugh along to make it less awkward while at the same time getting the hell out of there.

As if that wasn't a horrible enough way to start a day, he actually was late to chemistry which earned him a sneer from Harris and detention.

Monday was already living up to its reputation.

During lunch break, he was actively avoiding Erica and the other betas in fear of a repeat of that morning's events. Human skulls were not made to be tennis balls for werewolves and Stiles' had already suffered enough abuse for the day. At least, he hadn't passed out.

As it turned out, he didn't have to worry about avoiding the pack because they were too busy giving him the cold shoulder to acknowledge him. For the first time, he considered that development a relief.

Maybe a break from all of them was what he needed. He couldn't back down now anymore, anyway. He had chosen to drive away the other night. And he swore to himself that he would come back once he could prove that he had been right all along. Then they would beg him to be a part of the pack. That's what he had to believe in order to function.

His phone vibrated in his pocket so he put the sandwich in his hand back on the tray to check it. He had a new message. At first, he feared it was from Scott. It wasn't. It was from Lindsay.

 

from: Lindsay

Don't forget Band practice tomorrow, seven thirty

 

Stiles had to suppress a grin. He wasn't surprised that Lindsay was one of those people who actually typed every word out.

He texted back immediately.

 

to: Lindsay

dn't worry. i'd nevr 4get. & i've finishd the song

 

from: Lindsay

Great! I can't wait to hear it. You going to sing it to us?

 

Stiles worried his bottom lip between his teeth. He wasn't sure how to reply. Never in his life had he ever considered singing in front of the Band. Singing in front of kids was okay, he could do that. But he would rather die than to sing in front of somebody who was near his own age. No thanks, his self-esteem didn't need any more crippling. Least of all from Brad the Dickhead.

 

to: Lindsay

R u kiddin? no way. u can read sheet music, right?

 

from: Lindsay

Ok. I'm not going to force you, even though there's nothing you have to be afraid of. I've heard your voice before, remember, and I thought you sounded great.

 

It was sweet of her to reassure him but Stiles still didn't feel brave enough to comply. The thought alone made him nauseous.

He was their songwriter. Nothing more was expected from him and that's the way it should be.

Chapter Text

His dad was already home when Stiles entered the house; a realization that caused him to grimace slightly because now he had to explain why he came home late. Monday really couldn't get any worse.

"I'm making dinner tonight," his dad announced but all Stiles heard was "I provide myself with a perfect opportunity to interrogate you because don't think I haven't noticed that something happened. I'm in law enforcement, son, of course I notice when my son's best friend doesn't make an appearance anymore".

Stiles threw his head back and his arms in the air in a silent prayer that his dad hadn't already talked to Melissa. He had spoken too soon when he had thought that Monday couldn't get any worse.

"You're late today. Did you hang out with Scott?" his dad asked.

There it is! The subtle but not so subtle approach of the subject! Stiles thought.

"No. Actually, I was in detention."

At this point, it would have been kind of moot to lie. Anything that counted as a distraction was welcome and if that happened to also be the truth, then all the better.

His dad looked at him with an expression of exasperation. "Again? What did you do this time?"

"I got one minute too late to Harris' class. You wanna guess why I know the exact amount of time? Well, because he actually had a stopwatch in his hands when I arrived in order to measure how much of his valuable time I'm wasting by simply existing, that's how much of a dick-"

"Stiles, Language."

"Dictator he is. What's wrong with that word? Not allowing me to use the word "dictator" is such a dictator-y thing to do."

His dad sighed, not trying to argue that point. "If you'd put the same amount of energy that you put in talking yourself out of situations in your studies, you would be valedictorian next year." He shook his head in fond exasperation. "Go, set the table. Then you can help me with the salad."

"Sweet, we're living healthy!"

Despite his sassy attitude, he did as he was told. It was very rare that his dad was home at this hour and even rarer for him to make dinner. Normally, they'd just get take-out or Stiles did the cooking. That might sound like his dad neglected his parental duties for most adults but Stiles never saw it that way. He knew his dad had a lot of responsibilities and work to do as the Sheriff. Despite everything, he was still an awesome father. Stiles could never fault him for not being there as often as he'd like but that doesn't mean that it didn't bother him.

Dinner was actually starting off as usual. They asked each other how their day went, gave the other a brief summary of the events happening on that day, explained in more detail the more awesome parts of it and ate the healthy food Stiles insisted was indispensable in prolonging the older man's lifespan.

Then, unsurprisingly, everything went downhill. You just can't expect a cop to drop a subject he might regard as relevant to the case, especially if the case was the cop's son's unusual behavior. Stiles should have known that he was being lured into a false sense of safety.

"So, what's up with you and Scott? Haven't seen him around much lately."

As innocent as the question sounded, he knew that his dad was onto something and, like a dog with a bone, clung to the first lead he got to finding out his son's secrets.

That was not a cop thing, to be honest, but rather a parent thing.

"You're awfully interested in my social life, daddio. Don't you think you're taking your responsibilities as a parent too far?" Stiles shot back, even though he knew that every attempt to dissuade his dad from the subject was futile.

His dad raised his eyebrows and leaned back in his seat, getting into his interrogation pose.

"Let me point out some things that lead me to believe my worries are justified and I'm right in confronting you.
For starters, you try to actively avoid the subject of your friends, even when you're rambling. Which, I admit, is kind of impressive, considering the things that usually slip through your brain to mouth filter on a constant basis."

Well, that was a valid argument. He was much more guarded around his dad regarding the things he said since he had become the keeper of so many secrets.

"Point Number two, I know for a fact that you and Scott are spending less and less time together. A development that is altogether very unexpected because you appeared to be joined at the hip since the day you've met. How I know about that? Well, son, you're not as subtle as you like to think. You keep looking at your phone, then putting it away after a moment as if it had offended you. You're waiting for a message that never arrives which makes your mood more sourly. You spend more time in your room than outside of it. If you get the message you've awaited so eagerly, the conversation usually ends after you texted back. Which leads me to believe that you and Scott don't have as much to talk about as you had before. Conclusion, you are not spending as much time together as before," his dad listed in a matter of fact voice.

Stiles nearly choked on the bite of broccoli he was chewing on. He coughed and swallowed the too big piece of the vegetable which caused him to grimace. How he hated to get caught off guard while he was eating. Interrogating someone while they were eating should be illegal, considering the risks of someone choking to death.

"Well, nice deductions you've got there, Sherlock. But that sounds very far-fetched to me. Texting is not the only form of communication, you know? I have a laptop and I know how to use it and there's a thing called skype," Stiles argued.

His dad smirked like he was about to drop an ace he had hidden up his sleeves. "And I talked to Melissa and she agreed with me. You two are spending less and less time together."

Naturally, when Stiles prayed for something not to happen, it was inclined to happen. He had practically jinxed himself with that move.

"And let's not forget about Point Number Three: the disconcerting talk we had last week. Now, I know that as a teenager, problems seem to be life or death situations and you tend to trouble yourself about the slightest changes. I'm not old enough yet to forget how high school works and what a scarring experience it can be if one doesn't fit in.
You've never fit in, Stiles. But you've never let yourself be dragged down by that. You didn't give a damn about whether someone thought it was weird that you could detail the entire history of the male circumcision." His dad's expression displayed equal amounts of pride and resigned acceptance. He was clearly reliving the last parent-teacher conference. "Up until now."

Stiles set down his cutlery, now more interested in the seams of his hoodie. So interested even that he started fumbling them as if he had never seen anything like them before.

His mind kindly provided him with the scene from 'Mean Girls' where the protagonist gets told how much her social life would depend on her decision with whom she was sitting at lunch. It even listed all the different groups, every single one of them. It would have been impressive if it weren't such useless information. Damn Erica for making him watch that movie at least three times.

His dad gave up his interrogation pose and leaned forward slightly.

"Stiles, I know that you and Scott have been best friends for years now and that you've never questioned whether your friendship would last your whole life long. But you're young, buddy, and your priorities change every day, depending on your mood. You're also at an age where dating starts to play a major role in your life. It's not surprising that your friendship has changed. That's just what time does, it changes things."

"So you mean to tell me that it's okay for Scott to abandon me because everything is constantly changing and I should get used to it?!" the teenager hissed, now clearly angry. His hands had now stopped playing with his hoody and smacked the table with enough force to make the plates and cutlery clink. The Sheriff didn't look impressed. He was regarding his son with a look of simple understanding that was almost too much to handle for the teenager.

"No, that's not what I was trying to tell you," the older man reassured him. "I was trying to tell you that one needs to have the endurance to accept the things he cannot change, the strength to change those he can and the wisdom to know the difference."

Stiles narrowed his eyes at his dad. "Hey, that sounds suspiciously like the motivational crap that is stitched on the pillows in our local doctor's waiting room."

"And maybe that's where I got it from," his dad conceded. "But that doesn't make it any less true."

"I think you paraphrased that. Or you quoted it wrong. Depends on how you look at it."

"Focus, son. I'm trying to have a heart to heart conversation here and you're making my job even harder than I expected it to be."

"Sorry. Please, continue giving me advice. You're master Yoda and I'm your young padawan, listening to you teaching me the wisdom you've earned during your time on earth. 'Much to learn you still have', right? By the way, that's how you quote accurately."

The older Stilinski rolled his eyes, but continued, "My point is that relationships change over time. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, you know, even if you think it's the end of the world right now. Friendships have ups and downs, like most things in life -"

"Except for time itself, right, because time is linear except if you're a time traveler."

He got glared into silence before he could talk about a possible multitude of alternate dimensions or people who claim to experience their life in a nonlinear timeline.

"As I said, most things have ups and downs."

"And reality shows really know how to exploit that concept and profit from it."

"For god's sake, kid, could you just let me talk?"

Stiles mimed locking his lips and putting the key away. He would have thrown it over his shoulder if he hadn't already planned the dramatic scene of him unlocking his mouth again. He couldn't do that if he threw away the key.

"Just- don't worry too much about it. If Scott has abandoned you for the time being, then don't just feel sorry for yourself. I bet there are enough other people that would love to get to know you better. You just have to give them a chance." Stiles was touched by his father's concern and wanted to say so when the man decided to ruin it all. "To see passed your snarky attitude, sarcasm and tendency to interrupt. Don't look at me like that. I'm a cop, it's my job to restore the balance and make sure people are convicted for their crimes. It's called comeuppance."

And that was exactly why his dad was awesome. The Stilinskis were a force to be reckoned with because they don't let anyone walk over them, not even family.

***

Since Stiles had taken the possibility into account that Alphaba had had help with the murder (or whoever the culprit was, he didn't want to commit himself to the idea of her being the murderer but she was definetely a suspect.), more puzzle pieces had fallen into place.

For instance, he had now an explanation why Lydia had screamed while they had already been chasing after the alpha. He had always wondered how Alphaba had supposedly murdered that guy while simultaneously fooling a pack of werewolves who had been already hot on her tail. Not even an alpha would be able to pull off something like that.

The time of death is presumed to be between half past seven and nine o'clock pm. He got to the Hale house at a quarter past nine pm. His father had arrived at the crime scene at half past eight. The pack had found the symbol on their window at around eight o'clock according to Malia. Then they had immediately taken off to follow the scent.

That left a time frame of hardly half an hour for the alpha to kill the victim. Which seemed unlikely as hell.

The victim had to be carried, which would be no problem for someone with supernatural strength and only a small inconvenience for someone without it. He had no limbs so even if he struggled, he would have been easy to restrain. However, he would have been able to scream, assuming he had been conscious.

A screaming victim wouldn't have been optimal for the murderer if he knew about the chase that was taking place by supernatural beings with enhanced hearing. And Stiles at this point very strongly assumed that they were aware of it. Since no signs of a gag or anything of that sort were found on the body, it was safe to say that the victim had been unconscious, at least during the time he was being carried.

As Stiles wrote all of that on his board, everything just became so much clearer to him.

A new question now came to mind, though. Since there was only an hour between the crime taking place and the police arriving, who had alarmed them in the first place?

There was hardly enough time for the murderer to kill the victim and then to disappear without getting seen by the person who had found the body and had called the police. In fact, it was nearly impossible.

Except if the person who called the police was actually also the murderer.

"I'm definitely on to something," Stiles murmured to himself while writing everything he came up with hastily on his board. "This case takes on very unexpected turns."

In his mind, he already set up a to-do list which currently consisted of two points: 1. Find out whether the call was anonymous or not
2. Talk to Lydia (it was possible that she had been the one to make the call)

When Stiles had finished writing and speculating, it was already half past one at night. Utterly exhausted he fell into bed, trying to shut off his mind which was still running through all the possible scenarios in which the crime could have taken place.

It was not a big surprise that he had trouble suppressing a yawn the next day. All his classes passed by him in a blur and he was surprised that his notes were unexpectedly useful, even if they concluded major mind jumps, unfinished sentences, random trivia and poor grammar.

Lindsay had texted him that he should come over to her house an hour earlier than they had agreed upon. He was not put off by that, quite the contrary. It was something he had looked forward to the whole day.

This time, he was not immediately led to the cellar by Lindsay's over the top motherly mother (seriously, every time he saw her she was wearing an apron because she was baking something and/or dusting or watching a cooking show).

Lindsay was grinning from ear to ear when he appeared at the bottom of the stairs. She stood up from where she was sitting on the piano bench to greet him.

"Here," she gave him two sheets filled with musical notes and lyrics. "Ray's favorite song. He instructed me to teach you how to sing it and I just can't say no to him. So here we are. I'll give you fifteen minutes to prepare. I even allow you to listen to the original once."

"'I'm still here' by Johnny Rzeznik," he read aloud.

"Wow, you actually pronounced his name correctly," Lindsay noted, impressed.

Stiles snorted. "My last name is Stilinski. What did you expect?"

She shook her head and smiled. Then she looked pointedly at the clock, telling him his fifteen minutes had already started.

While reading the lyrics to the song, Stiles already knew that he would like it. The words just spoke to him and he could relate to the message it sent out. In fact, it was kind of uncanny how fitting it was. It was like someone had written a song about what he was going through at the moment.

After his preparation time was over, Lindsay told him to close his eyes and stand next to her while she was sitting on the floor, intending to accompany him on the guitar.

"Forget about me or anyone really. Just let the music flow through you. Feel the song, be the song," she instructed.

"Aren't you taking it all a bit too seriously?"

He couldn't keep his eyes closed so Lindsay decided to blindfold him with one of her scarves. He felt kind of ridiculous, standing next to her with a scarf with bowties on it wrapped around his head but he had to admit that he felt less nervous now. Not seeing anything kind of gave him the illusion that no one could hear him.

"Okay. I'm ready. Prepare yourself for the worst debauching of the song you've ever heard," he warned her.

"No, I have faith in you", she told him. Then she started to play.

Stiles didn't miss his entry and actually forgot his nerves soon and lost himself in the song. He also didn't ruin the song. He made it his own, somehow, and it was utterly brilliant. Even if he'd never believe it if someone were to say that to his face.

Chapter Text

Derek wanted to scream but he had read somewhere that yelling at children wouldn't make them more agreeable to his request so he held himself back. But, oh, how he wanted to yell at Malia right now. What did those authors of guidebooks about how to raise a child know about were-coyotes anyway? Nothing, that's what.

"You just fletched your teeth at me and your eyes are still blue," Derek stated.

Malia just rolled her eyes.

They had been training for two hours already. She was exhausted and he still didn't let her off the hook for the day. The worst was that her father was just calmly sitting on the porch, reading a book and seemingly not paying attention to what they were doing. How could he be so calm when his nephew was clearly tormenting his daughter right in front of him?

"I don't care."

"Well, you should if you want to go to school any time soon!"

Malia was straight out growling at him at this point. Her pose was rigid as if she planned to attack him any minute from now.

"Maybe you're just a horrible teacher," she snapped, her voice full of venom. Derek honestly hadn't expected her to act so hostile towards him. This was not a childish disagreement or rebellion. The problem was rooted much deeper.

"Show respect to your alpha, Malia," Peter reminded her casually. He didn't sound like he honestly took offence to Malia's behaviour.

"But he's a horrible alpha!"

Horrible seemed to be her favorite word when it came to describing Derek, the alpha noted.

"Elaborate, oh daughter mine. You're not making a point by insulting him. You have to list arguments supporting your opinion in order to make it valid."

Derek glared at his uncle but was deftly ignored. Even as an alpha his authority was constantly undermined. How should he ever be anything but a laughingstock as an alpha if nobody listened to him?

Malia huffed. "He treated Stiles horribly. That's what makes him a horrible alpha."

"There are synonyms for horrible, my dear, but apart from that: Good point."

Why was he blessed with such a supporting family, Derek found himself thinking.

"I'm not treating him horribly. I'm just making sure he doesn't do anything stupid," Derek defended himself, trying not to sound petulant. He was the alpha, damnit.

Malia looked to her father with an expression that said 'Can you believe how stupid he is?'.

"You're making him feel like he's not welcome here, anymore!"

"I did no such thing. It was his decision to leave on Friday. We can't exactly force him to partake in pack nights."

To be honest, Derek had been rather surprised by that. He had expected the persistent human to annoy him till he finally caved in to his request.
Which he would never have, of course. Derek had made up his mind that it was best to leave Stiles out of pack business for now and he wanted to stick to that plan. Even when confronted with terribly cute Bambi eyes.

What he didn't expect was for Stiles to just give up and avoid them.

Malia looked to Peter, expecting him to help her since his advice hadn't worked. Here she was making valid points and Derek still didn't listen to her.

Peter seemed to understand the look his daughter was giving him, sighed and put his book away.

"Welcome to the real world, where people simply don't listen to logic. It's hard for people like us but we cope by becoming sarcastic," her father told her, a wry smile on his lips. She gave him a grin in response.

"I'm just trying to help you," Derek said grumpily.

"You're not good at it," Malia told him which was a kick to his ego.

Fed up with her behavior Derek pinched the bridge of his nose. If it wouldn't seem so childish he would stamp his foot, that's how done he was with all of this.

It was just so frustrating. He was doing everything he could, he made every decision with the intention to do what's best for the pack, but he still was a failure in the eyes of his pack mates. Maybe he was doomed to be a fuck up and should just pack his bags now and leave.

Peter seemed to sense Derek's resignation because he came over to them and actually partook in Malia's training.

"Well, kid, what do you suggest would help you learn control?" he asked her.

Malia didn't hesitate to answer, "Let Stiles help teach me."

"No," Derek growled.

"It's a reasonable request. They get along wonderfully and he grounds her," Peter argued.

Derek had to admit that he was right. But he just couldn't let her go through with it. Not after he had told Stiles that his help wasn't needed in a very rude manner, even for him. The boy would never let him live it down if he came begging him for help now.

"Isn't there something else we could try?" he asked her, trying to appeal to her so she would change her mind.

"No," Malia shot him down immediately. "What's your problem with him?"

"I don't have a-"

"Derek just doesn't know how to deal with his feelings, Malia," Peter interrupted him. "He's one of those people who ignore their feelings so they don't have to face the consequences."

"Why did I ever wonder why Malia doesn't respect me? It's clearly in her genes," Derek grumbled.

"That's dumb," Malia told him with a serious face.

"I know," Peter agreed with her, ignoring Derek's remark. "Laura thinks so too, but what are we to do about it."

"Yeah, how was meeting Laura's girlfriend? I'm curious."

Derek couldn't believe that they simply changed the subject from Malia learning control to Derek being emotionally inept to Laura's girlfriend.

"I like her. She intimidated Derek more than the other way round. It was amusing to watch," Peter said, which made Derek want to just walk away and never look back. "I'm gonna make dinner now. It's getting late, already. Malia, go inside and wash your hands."

She nodded, then she looked at Derek and narrowed her eyes.

"Talk to Stiles. You've been outvoted."

"Will that make you obey me?" he asked her, resigned to his fate.

She grinned. "We'll see."

Derek sighed. "I promise to talk to him, okay? Now get in the house and do as your father told you."

"Yes, alpha."

Even though she was a stubborn brat to him most of the time, he loved her and it was moments like this that warmed his heart. He wanted to ruffle her hair but she was already running inside, and she probably would have growled at him for it anyway.

He sighed again and then followed her inside. Erica, Boyd and Isaac were hanging out on the couch but when he entered Erica untangled herself from the mess of their intertwined limbs and walked over to him.

"Derek, you seem stressed. You look like you could do with a massage," she purred, lowering her eyelids seductively.

He knew what she was doing and he didn't welcome her behavior but he didn't know how to tell that to her so he just didn't. He said nothing, hoping her infatuation with him would go away with time.

"No, thanks," he declined, feeling uncomfortable but not showing it.

"Is there any other way I could help you relieve tension? I would do everything for the wellbeing of our alpha, you know."

Her hand had wound itself around his bicep, gently moving upwards to his shoulder. It made him feel tingly in the most uneasy way possible so he caught her wandering hand and removed it quickly from his body.

"You cleaning the house would help me relax immensely. You could start vacuuming the living room before dinner is ready."

Her flabbergasted expression was totally worth it, he thought. Maybe it would teach her that her method of seduction was just unwelcome and inappropriate.

"I'll be back for dinner. There's something I've got to take care of now," he announced, grabbing the keys for the Camaro. Better to get it over with sooner rather than later, he figured, while making his way to his car.

Stiles better not gloat too much about this development or Derek might be forced to emigrate to Mexico. At least, there he would have his deserved peace.

***

Stiles' day could have gone better. It wasn't so much the classes that made his day suck, the reason was probably that he felt utterly alone in school now.

Scott seemed to be mad at him because he hadn't answered any of his texts (Stiles had checked them, eventually. They were all the same, asking him why he's late to the pack night, then asking him why he drove away and eventually just Scott telling him that he should grow up. None of them were worth replying.)

Well, the others of the pack had never really cared about him before but now they appeared to downright hate him. They were looking at him like he was personally responsible for all the evil in the world, including the death of innocent cute puppies.

To be honest, Stiles was really hurt by their behavior but there was nothing he could do about it, anyway, so what did it matter?

He had to focus on other things, like the case or the band. As soon as he proved to them how useful he was they would welcome him with open arms, he was sure of it.

Stiles waited for the perfect moment which happened to be in the hallway to approach Lydia. She was at her locker, exchanging her history books for ones of another subject. Stiles wasn't sure which. He only had history and AP English with her.

"Hey, Lydia. You look dashing as always," he greeted her, smiling brightly.

It was true. She was wearing a blue blouse and a dark gray skirt, her hair flowing in soft strawberry blond waves across her back. She looked like perfection personified and it reminded him of the reason why he had fallen so hard for her when he was in third grade.

"I only have three minutes for you, so make it quick. What do you want?" she replied while checking her makeup looking in a little mirror inside of her locker.

"Straight to the point. That's what I like about you," he said, even though he actually wished that she would have greeted him like a friend and not act like he was an annoying fly that was buzzing around her head. "I have a question, I'll be real quick, I promise. Just - please, tell me the truth. It's important."

She raised her eyebrows while also refreshing her lipgloss. Seeing her lips so shiny was kind of distracting so he cleared his throat and reminded himself to focus on the task at hand.

"Did you call the police after you screamed?"

A dark expression clouded her beautiful green eyes and he immediately regretted asking that question.

With quick, precise movements, she put the lipgloss back in her locker and slammed the door close with a little more force than necessary.

"No, I didn't," she said as she turned to face him. Her expression was alarmingly cold. "I didn't even know who had died while I screamed. In fact, I saw nothing. It's not an exact science, you know?"

He gulped, feeling uncomfortable. Her eyes were watching him, scrutinizing his every move.

"Deaton didn't have anything for you to read up on your new powers?"

"No," she hissed. "But he's rarely helpful. Now, was that all? I actually have places to be and more important things to do."

He wanted to say so much more. He wanted to hug her and tell her that everything would be alright and that she could always come to him whenever her new powers gave her nightmares. He knew that it bothered her when her powers were pretty much useless and only sufficed to make her life a living hell.

But he said nothing.

Because she had already turned around and walked away. So he closed his mouth, gulped down all the words he had wanted to say and made his way to his own locker.

Before he could get there, though, he was halted by Coach Finstock.

"Bilinski! In my office, now!"

Arguing with the coach was something no student ever attempted to do twice because after doing it once you were bound to be so disturbed that a repeat was stuff for nightmares. So Stiles did as he was told, closing the office door behind him once he had entered.

"What's up, coach? I know you're probably upset that you couldn't read up on the details of Erica's and my relationship but I was too busy to write about that stuff on my facebook wall so -"

"Ugh, shut it," the coach told him with a stern expression. "You're actually here because the number of times you spent in detention is atrocious and it makes me look bad so I have to do something about that. So do something about that!"

"Yes, coach," said Stiles.

"The last game of the season is approaching and if you want to play then you better get your act together. I know you have the attention span of a squirrel but I also know that you're smart. Don't end up like my cousin. He spent half his life in detention and the other half in prison. That's no lifestyle."

Stiles' eyes widened comically. "That's awful! What did he do?"

"He was a waiter," Finstock said, waving him off. "You know what happens if you don't concentrate enough on your work? You bring a soup laced with thyme to someone who's allergic to thyme."

"That's not the reason he's in prison, is it?" Stiles asked.

"What? No!" Finstock laughed as if he had made a joke. "He pushed his boss down the stairs."

It was better not to ask. That's what every student had to learn when it came to Finstock.

Stiles shook his head and then straightened his pose to look even more sincere as he said, "Don't worry, coach. I'll do better."

Before he left the office, though, a thought flitted through his head and he found himself agreeing to it. With his hand already on the doorknob, he paused and said,

"I'm quitting the team, anyway."

After that announcement, he left. The coach was yelling after him but he ignored it. Whatever he was yelling was probably just him being in denial. But Stiles had already made up his mind.

He had never liked lacrosse. Scott was the one who had urged him to go to the try-outs because their only chance at becoming more popular was in making the team. And for Scott that had worked. He got to hang out with the popular kids and the girl.

Maybe it was time for Stiles to do the things he really enjoyed.

***

After school, he found himself standing in the preserve, looking intently at the screenshot of the crime scene he had printed out.

He had found the river and had followed it till he got to the place that looked the most similar to the print-out.

So now he was standing on a steep bank, looking down at the river that was the cause of someone's death.

He didn't know why he was shivering slightly. It certainly wasn't cold enough to cause that reaction. Besides, he was wearing a t-shirt, a hoodie, and a jacket so he couldn't possibly feel cold, even if it was October already.

There was something about the sight of the river that made him feel uneasy.

The soft babbling of the river should have made him feel relaxed but instead, he just felt agitated. He couldn't wait to get away from this place.

His mind was telling him that it wasn't safe here, as irrational as that was. When he closed his eyes, he could hear the faraway scream of someone, he could feel the cold of the water piercing his skin and his throat became hoarse as if he was breathing in water instead of air.

He opened his eyes and shook his head, trying to shake off that odd feeling as well. There was no reason to be so afraid of a river. None whatsoever. He just had to remind himself of that.

A little bit to his right was some sort of fox burrow, just big enough for a child to hide in. He wondered if he would fit in it so he tried it.

What could he say, he was trying to distract himself from his irrational fear and nothing was too ridiculous to achieve that.

He kind of fitted in it, but his lower half was still sticking out. Why he had crawled in there headfirst was a mystery, even to him. In hindsight, it might not have been his best idea. It was dark and kind of hard to breathe in there but he still felt safer than he had out there, looking at the river. Weird.

He knew that when he wiggled himself out of the burrow he had to be careful not to stumble down the steep by accident. The burrow was just too close to the edge to forget that possibility.

It was a little bit weird that the burrow didn't immediately descend like they normally do. Stiles knew that right now he was just lying in the entrance, the real burrow was even deeper into the ground. It made it possible that he was lying there, surrounded by soil and darkness, though, so he didn't mind so much.

To be honest, he wasn't really sure why he had come here. Yeah, there was the saying that a murderer always returns to the place where the crime took place, but he knew that would hardly be the case here.

He just wanted to see this place with his own eyes, even though the thought of it made him weary.

With a sigh, he crawled out of the burrow. The air was getting stale in here and he was beginning to feel like the burrow might not be as uninhabited as he had initially thought.

When he was finally free, he brushed off the soil of his clothes and straightened his aching muscles. He might have been longer in there than he had planned. Time didn't matter in the dark.

"What are you doing."

Turning around in surprise caused Stiles to lose his footing and balance. His body gravitated towards the edge of the steep bank and he knew he would fall down and land in the river. That knowledge caused him to panic, his heart currently located somewhere in his throat which made his scream sound strangled. His arms were flailing, looking for something to hold onto.

The feared moment of falling never happened.

Instead, he found himself being held up by strong hands on his forearms.

He opened his eyes which he had clenched shut in anticipation of the fall and met the annoyed gaze of Derek Hale.

Just when he thought he was safe, something worse happened. That was just his luck.

He closed his mouth that had dropped open in surprise and stepped away from the edge. There really couldn't be too much distance between himself and the steep to make him feel safe if he was honest.

"Derek," he said breathlessly. "Fancy meeting you here. What a fine day to enunciate questions like statements, don't you think?"

Derek still hadn't let go of him, which was both equal amounts of reassuring and disconcerting. He knew Derek wouldn't let him fall but the alpha also looked too pissed off to be safe from physical harm from him.

"Why are you here."

That didn't sound like a question, either, but the alpha was looking at him with narrowed eyes so he knew that he'd better answer anyway.

"I was just going for a walk. It's a beautiful day, the weather is nice and it hasn't rained for a few days so the earth is all dry and there is no risk of slipping - well, considering that it's me, not more risk of slipping than usual. I mean, what can I say, the leafs can be quite slippery -"

"Stiles," Derek growled. His grip on the teenager's arms tightened. "You decided to go for a walk. In the preserve. Where someone was killed not that long ago."

"Now that you put it like that, it does sound kind of stupidly reckless. Should have thought of that, huh? Well, I know better now."

Stiles wasn't sure if he wanted to free himself from the alpha's grip. He should want that because it would make him think more clearly and less like he belonged in the arms of Derek Hale. He was on dangerous ground here and he was not only talking about the steep.

"It also seems like we both like to live a stupidly reckless life since you're also out here all by yourself. Hey, does that also make you think of that Celine Dion song? Never mind. What are you doing here?"

Derek's enormous eyebrows furrowed in annoyance but he finally let go of Stiles so he probably didn't plan on inflicting bodily harm on Stiles. Stiles counted that as a win, as pathetic as it sounded.

"I've been looking for you for two hours," the werewolf told him accusingly. "I have a proposition for you."

"Are you gonna make me an offer that I can't refuse, sourwolf?" Stiles teased.

Derek looked at him like he was wondering why he hadn't let Stiles fall down the steep.

"Oh, tell me, Derek, I'm bursting with curiosity. I mean, what could be important enough to make you waste your precious time on me?" Stiles wanted to know.

Derek looked like someone had just told him that his favorite puppy had died.

"I want your help with teaching Malia control," the werewolf gritted out through clenched teeth like admitting to needing help caused him physical pain.

Stiles wasn't even trying to keep that smug grin from appearing on his lips. Maybe the universe had finally decided to grant him a reward for all the awful days he had suffered through. Whatever had caused this, he was grateful.

"Oh, so now you want my help? After rudely telling me that it wasn't my place to help and that you could handle it on your own. Seems like that didn't quite work for you, am I right?"

Derek's expression was downright murderous but Stiles wasn't afraid. Not now, when Derek admitted to needing his help.

The werewolf was growling lowly in his throat; A clear warning that Stiles shouldn't take it too far.

"Okay, okay! Don't get your panties in a twist, I'll do it. You might pop a blood vessel if you keep glaring at me like that. Don't your facial muscles hurt?" It was so hard keeping in the glee he felt right now. But he didn't want to appear that desperate so he forced himself to a glare of his own. "I'm not doing this for you, just so you know. I'm doing this for Malia."

"Don't you want to know what you get in return?" Derek asked him.

That was all it took to make the glare less forced.

"I don't need a reward for helping a friend!" he spat. "I don't know what caused you to change your mind but I'm guessing it didn't come for free. I'm not willing to make compromises when it comes to the wellbeing of someone I care about. Not that I'd expect you to understand that."

Derek nodded, and just as Stiles was about to turn around and make his way to his jeep, he was halted by a hand on his arm. Surprised Stiles turned around to look at the alpha.

"Let me accompany you back to your car. It's still dangerous out here."

That sounded more like a request than an order and it was spoken with a much softer voice than the alpha had used before so Stiles nodded.

They didn't speak all the way to the jeep. Stiles only broke the silence after he had opened the door to the driver's side.

"I would've helped her, even without you asking," Stiles told him quietly.

Derek didn't look mad at that. If Stiles had been looking at him he would have noticed the exasperated fondness in the alpha's eyes.

"I know."

***

At home, Stiles wrote a brief description of the crime scene on his board, even adding the fox burrow because he hadn't had time to examine his surroundings more closely before Derek had appeared and he didn't want it to look like he hadn't been paying attention.

Satisfied with himself, he let himself fall on his bed. He hadn't caught enough sleep in the last few nights because he had been so busy with the case. That's why right now, he felt utterly exhausted.

Before he could fall asleep, though, he was alerted by someone knocking on his window.

He was not surprised to see it was Malia. Without further ado, he let her in and then they both lay down on his bed.

Malia was grinning.

"I got my way. Derek caved in rather easily, after all."

"You are pretty persuasive," Stiles replied, a grin of his own appearing on his lips. "But you didn't have to change his mind, you know. I already promised to help you."

"It was worth seeing his face, though."

"Can't argue with that."

Stiles was awoken by soft whimpering some time later. It was dark in the room so his eyes took a while to adjust. He soon remembered that he wasn't alone and who exactly was sharing a bed with him.

Slowly he reached out a hand towards the struggling werecoyote so he wouldn't spook her. He made soothing shushing noises to get her to calm down a little. As soon as she stopped thrashing around wildly, he hugged her close to his chest.

"It's okay. I'm here. You're safe. You're not alone. You never will be," he told her. To comfort her, he was stroking her hair gently. He knew that being affectionate with her convinced her the fastest that she was no longer living in the wild.

Her breath came in gasps and he could feel her heart pounding frantically against her ribcage.

He could also feel that her finger and toe nails had elongated to claws because they were scraping slightly against his own skin. When she opened her eyes her blue eyes were illuminating the room. Stiles winced at the sudden brightness.

"Why can't I control it? I do have an anchor already. It's my pack, Peter, you, even Derek. But still..."

She looked dejectedly at her clawed hand. It made Stiles' heart clench in sympathy.

"I have a theory. Do you want to hear it?" he asked, still stroking her hair.

He felt her nod against his chest. It was too adorable for words.

"You have an anchor, that's true. I don't even think that finding an anchor has ever been your problem. You know why? Because you've learnt to be self-sufficient, you've learnt to make it on your own without the help of anybody. You're a survivor. That's why you don't really need an anchor. People need anchors to stay grounded and not lose themselves. But you are your own anchor. You're strong enough to get by with just having yourself. And that's admirable. But it also makes it hard for you to let people in."

He poked her nose playfully which made her growl. It was not intimidating, just cute. Similar to when a puppy growled at you.

"What am I supposed to do then to learn control?" she asked.

"Just because you don't need anybody doesnt mean that nobody needs you. That's what you have to remember. You know that I'd be lost without you. Who would I play 'Warehouses and Werewolves' with other than you, huh?" He was talking about the card game they had invented together. "Who would keep Peter in line besides you? And even more important: Who would annoy Derek and actually get away with it? We need you, Malia. Never question that."

She took a deep breath, her eyes stopped glowing and went back to being a gorgeous dark brown again. The claws on her hands and feet disappeared gradually.

"See? You're a natural," he said with pride.

Satisfied with herself, she settled down in his arms, ready to fall asleep again. Whatever had happened in her nightmare seemed to have lost the power to scare her. She felt safe here, surrounded by family.

Stiles started humming softly so she knew that he would wait for her to fall asleep before he himself drifted off to sleep.

"For one so small, you seem so strong. My arms will hold you, keep you safe and warm," he sang softly so he would not disturb her sleep.

Since he had met Lindsay his head was filled with Disney songs. That's probably why "You'll be in my heart" by Phil Collins from 'Tarzan' had been the first song that had come to his mind. Really, Lindsay was to blame for his sappiness.

With that thought in mind and a smile gracing his lips he fell asleep himself.

Chapter Text

When Stiles woke up it was to arms around his waist, holding him tightly and hardly allowing him any movement. He was a bit confused but not in the least complaining. Someone was snuggling with him in his bed - why would he complain about that?

But then he opened his eyes and all the peacefulness left his body as soon as he registered the figure standing in front of his bed, holding a phone in one hand in a way that looked suspiciously like the person holding it was taking a photograph.

"Oh, crap!"

The meaning of what he was seeing finally caught up to his brain. He shot up from the bed like someone had told him it was made out of maggots, nearly tripping over his feet in the process.

"Oh my god!", he exclaimed and looked accusingly at the person responsible for this early morning shock. "Can't you be creepy somewhere else? And maybe not that early in the morning?"

Peter's smile was anything but apologetic. "Forgive me, Stiles. But you two were too cute to wake up. And I needed a new wallpaper."

"What are you doing here anyway? Can't remember inviting you to our slumber party."

"Oh, but you should've. Imagine the fun we could've had."

"Oh my god, stop being creepy. It's too early. Malia, save me!"

The werecoyote was just growling while burrowing her head even further into the pillow.

Stiles shook his head at that and padded over to his closet, looking for clothes to wear that day. He gave Peter one last warning look that should tell him that he better not touch anything in his absence and then he made his way over to the bathroom to get ready.

When he emerged, Peter was sitting on his bed, stroking Malia's hair and trying to convince her that she needed to get up now.

"If you're this nice to her, she'll never cave. You have to coax her with breakfast," Stiles told him and winked when Malia snarled at his betrayal.

But that wasn't enough to express her disappointment at him. So she threw the pillow that hit him right in the face.

"I hope my dad didn't see you. I could never talk myself out of this one," Stiles groaned as he remembered his dad.

"Unfortunately, the Sheriff was already gone when I came here. Too bad. He would've made for delightful company. It runs in the family, I guess."

Stiles groaned again, this time in disgust. He DID NOT need to hear Peter Hale talking about his dad like that.

"Dad, you're upsetting Stiles. Stop it," Malia told him, finally getting out of bed.

She didn't often call him 'dad' because it was still so new and unfamiliar to her but she knew that it was his kryptonite. Peter's weaknesses were too easy to find, sometimes.

Peter held his hands up in apology but he was smirking. "You're right, dear. I apologize. So, how are you doing, Stiles? I haven't seen you in a while."

Stiles rolled his eyes, knowing that the apology was only for show and for Malia. Despite Peter's ethically dubious behavior, he was actually trying to be a good role model for his daughter.

"I... I quit the lacrosse team," Stiles told them, raking his hand through his hair.

"Thank god. That sport is awful."

"The coach won't let me off the hook so easily, I guess. He can't stop me, though. I've already signed my note of withdrawal and all. But now I need another extra-curricular activity and that will be a hard feat in an already ongoing semester. Crap, I did not think that through." He sighed. "I don't know what to do now, to be honest."

They were making their way downstairs now, Stiles with his backpack slung over one shoulder.

"Have you ever considered changing schools?" Peter asked.

Stiles almost choked on the pop tart he was currently stuffing into his mouth.

"What?! NO!" When he was out of mortal danger he sent Peter a glare. "Besides, BHHS is the only high school in Beacon Hills."

Peter didn't look impressed in the slightest. "Ever heard of the 'Saint Joanna Academy for Music and Art'? It's not that far out of town and it only takes you twenty minutes longer to get there."

Stiles wrinkled his nose in thought. "No. But it sounds kinda snobby."

"That's because it is," Peter answered. "But it's also one of the best schools in the county and guarantees a more than extensive education in music and art, something not every school has to offer. It's worth a thought, don't you think? Even more so for you. You have real talent, Stiles. I'd hate to see you waste it."

"Even if I thought about going there," Stiles said reluctantly. "Which I'm not! They'd never take me in now. I don't want to change schools anyway! Besides, that school sounds like it's really expensive. We could never afford that. So thanks but no thanks."

"We'll see," Peter said with an enigmatic smile on his lips. Oh, he was planning something, Stiles could practically hear the wheels turning in his head. "I'll get back to you on the topic. But now I think you should hurry if you don't wanna be late for school."

"Oh, crap!" Stiles exclaimed, waving goodbye to Peter and Malia who were now standing on his porch, and rushed over to his jeep.

***

If there was one thing Stiles was really good at then it was research. That's why it didn't take him long to discover that there had been more reported missing people in the area around Beacon Hills that had happened over the last few months.

Now, that was not what had caught his interest. There were too many cases about missing people in the world for him to think he should pay closer attention to them. But there was one thing that had caught his attention.

And that was the order in which the people went missing and, looking more closely, the line to Beacon Hills they created when being marked on a map. Assuming they were all kidnapped by the same culprit, then they had been gradually moving closer to Beacon Hills.

Now, that might have been a coincidence but the similarities between the cases were too much to just ignore.

In all the cases, the people vanished without a trace, there had never been a witness.

And in all the cases, the people going missing were alone when they vanished. Just like the camper and the lady who went missing while looking for flowers, the others were reported going fishing, for a walk, jogging in the early morning or something along those lines.

They all went missing while doing activities in or being close to the woods.

That couldn't be a coincidence. No, that was a pattern.

Stiles stacked the map with the pins for each case in it (which were forming a line to Beacon Hills) on his board, trying to see how it might be connected to his case.

There was never found a body in the other 7 cases. Not even the lady who went looking for flowers in the preserve of Beacon Hills had been found yet.

Why is this one different? Why did they find you, buddy?

It could have been a perfect crime. No one would have ever found a lead if the 7th body had never been found, just like the others never had been.

Which meant that the killer had finally made a mistake.

"A mistake," Stiles repeated, the wheels in his head turning. Frantically, he went looking for the screenshots of the crime scene he had made when the police had found the body.

He threw papers around, scrabbled around in his notebook until he finally found what he had been looking for.

He looked through the three photos he had printed out, trying to find something out of place. He was looking for the last clue, the last puzzle piece.

"Oh, c'mon!" he yelled, frustrated with himself. "There has to be something! Something I've missed!"

Minutes were passing by that he spent just looking at the photos, getting more frustrated as time went by.

Mad at himself, he closed his eyes, put the photos back in his notebook and closed it with a little too much force.

He was getting nowhere. It was, therefore, clearly time for a break.

It was high time for him to drive to the hospital, anyway.

Just in case, he took the notebook with him. Sometimes, one got a flash of inspiration in the moment one least expected. He wanted to be prepared for it.

Just as last time, he and Lindsay met at the reception desk of the hospital. Then, since it had become their habit, they both got a cup of horrible coffee from the vending machine. Stiles joked that he might upgrade from visitor to patient soon if they kept drinking that awful concoction they falsely called coffee here, at which Lindsay laughed. They took the risk anyway.

It was really nice to have a constant like that in his life, Stiles found himself thinking.

"Stiles!" Ray exclaimed gleefully as soon as they had entered the hospital room. There were a few other children sitting around his bed as well since Ray was too weak to be allowed over to the playroom.

Stiles looked around as if searching for something. "What, you must be kidding? Where? I have a few open tabs to settle with that guy!"

Lindsay rolled her eyes at his behavior while the other children were giggling.

"Are you our nurse today?" one of the children asked, a girl with a ponytail.

Stiles almost choked on air. He remembered the last time he had been around this many sick children while also wearing scrubs and being introduced as their nurse.

"No. And you better be glad about that! The best I could do is give you a band-aid. Seriously, I couldn't even put it on you, you'd have to do that yourself, that's how bad a nurse I'd be," he said while waving his hands around frantically.

"Flailing and failing, I see. That could be your slogan. Would look really nice printed on a T-shirt," Lindsay remarked impishly. That was a new side of her he hadn't seen before, but boy did he like it.

"I would be the best hero out there! I could be 'the Flailfail'. Is he flailing, is he failing, maybe both? You never know."

"You're both so weird," Ray said, wrinkling his nose at them. In his eyes, they must have looked like they were flirting or something. Which they weren't, Stiles was sure of it.

"Psssht!" the smallest of them scolded him with big eyes that were fixated on Stiles with awe. "Didn't you hear? He's a hero!"

That caused Stiles to burst out laughing. The kid just sounded so goddamn serious that it was hard not to find it hilarious. How had he never noticed how awesome kids were?

"Since we have a true hero among us lowly humans, what do we plan on doing with him?" Lindsay asked the group.

Some of the kids shared a mischievous grin. Then they started to shout, "Piggyback-rides!".

That's how Stiles was reduced to a means of transportation to small children but he actually didn't mind so much. Every time he heaved one of them on his back, they looked at him like he was the strongest man on the entire earth which was really nice for a change. Hanging out with a pack of werewolves, he was used to being the weakest. Right now, though, he didn't feel weak at all.

Ray was watching them and laughing along but Stiles felt really bad that he couldn't join in on the fun. The poor kid was supposed to stay in bed. His state of health was too fragile for him to be fooling around with the other children.

Soon the kids had settled on the floor again, looking expectantly to Lindsay and the guitar in her hands. Stiles went over to sit next to Ray, watching what would happen next curiously.

"You great warriors wore our hero out so now you have to choose a song to help him relax. I count on you guys," Lindsay said.

"That's easy. 'Hakuna Matata'"

"No! 'You've got a friend in me'!"

They were starting to quarrel which song was more fitting and they would have gone on and probably started a fight if Lindsay hadn't intervened.

"Guys, those are all great songs, okay, so calm down! Besides, Sasha, we sang 'You've got a friend in me' the last three times I was here, too. I think the other kids need a break from the greatness of the song, don't you think? We don't want to overwhelm them," she tried to appease the girl with the ponytail who was more adamant about her song choice than the others.

Lindsay was really good with children. They all obviously loved her.

They eventually settled on 'A spoon full of sugar' curiously, even though that song had never been open to debate. Somehow, Lindsay convinced them that that was what they all wanted to hear and it worked.

Most children were soon picked up by their parents since visiting hours were short and they wanted to spend some time with their kids too.

Ray had sunk even deeper into his pillows, hardly even sitting anymore. Drops of sweat had started forming on his forehead and he looked like even sitting upright was too much of an effort for him at the moment.

"Stiles? You owe me a song," he reminded the teenager, even though his eyes were already dropping close. He was so tired even though he spent most of his days sleeping nowadays.

Stiles somehow felt like laughing because the kid was slowly slipping away, life draining out of him with every breath he took and it was so obvious that he was only holding on to life with a thread that was getting thinner and thinner like someone was relentlessly pulling on it, and all the kid wanted was for him to sing. He felt like laughing but he didn't know why or how laughter was even possible in a situation like this.

He didn't laugh.

But he smiled.

"Yeah? I was kinda hoping you forgot about that," he said, his voice on the verge of breaking.

He couldn't face death through the eyes of a long-suffering person again. He couldn't watch while someone was drifting away from him because there was nothing he could do about it.

Solving a case couldn't bring back the dead.

Solving a case might not even mend his broken relationships with his friends.

But it was still something he could do.

Instead of just watching and waiting for the worst to happen.

"You don't like the song?" Ray asked, sounding disappointed. Stiles had to gulp down the sadness he was beginning to feel.

"That's not it, buddy. It's a great song with a great message. But it's kinda yours, you know? It's your favorite. It always makes me think of you, you know?"

"Lindsay says music doesn't belong to anybody. She says it's kind of like air. I think that's weird, though but I let her believe that because it makes her happy."

"You're a good kid."

"He just doesn't realize how right I am," Lindsay interrupted. The smile on her face was forced like it pained her but she believed that it was like cough syrup - in the end, it would make the pain more bearable, no matter how unbelievable it seemed at the moment.

"So will you sing it for me?"

"I could never say no to the way your eyebrows are uniting right now," Stiles said, pointing at the frown on Rays forehead.

So he complied and sang the song for him, trying to forget that the kid in front of him was closer to death than to life.

When he had finished, Ray had a bright smile on his lips but his eyes were closed.

"I knew you could do it. I'm never wrong," the kid told him, sounding satisfied with himself.

"Hardly ever," Lindsay corrected. She was stroking his cheek in a loving manner.

"I've just manifested my memento. If music is like air then I'll always be around if someone's singing this song, right? So I'll never be gone. I promise," he whispered in response, already half asleep.

Lindsay's eyes got teary and she choked on her laugh.

"See? I was right. And you're too smart for your own good."

They left as soon as the boy had fallen asleep. Stiles' hands were shaking slightly, overcome by sudden grief he hadn't felt in a while. He wanted to run away.

"It's not fair," he eventually found himself saying. His hands were clenched to fists at his sides, hopelessly trying to hide the tremor.

Lindsay was running a hand across her face, almost as if she thought she could wipe the sadness away. Then she looked at Stiles with eyes older than any person their age should have.

"No, it's not," she agreed quietly. "I was so angry when I first found out about his sickness. I thought that it was a joke or something and someone almighty - maybe the person religious people prayed to - was laughing about us somewhere. And I remember feeling the urge to punch someone because someone had to be responsible for this mess. Someone needed to get punished for our pain."

She was sniffing now, barely holding in a sob.

"I blamed the doctors. Because I thought they weren't telling us everything, that they weren't doing everything they could. But all that came out of it was that I was feeling even worse."

Stiles remembered the day his father sat him down to tell him about his mother's disease. The words had sounded so foreign, like a destination for a vacation in a far far away country. And in a way, they were. Because they took his mother away, eventually. Only to a place where he could not follow.

"I'm sorry I dragged you into this, Stiles. I didn't think about how it might make you part of the casualties. I - I don't know, I think I was longing for someone to share what I feel. For someone to understand."

Lindsay was honestly crying now, her hand pressed to her mouth to stifle the sobs.

"I would've understood anyway."

He didn't mean to be cruel and he almost regretted his words when she began to shake even worse. The guilt that was displayed on her face was almost too much to take. He hadn't expected her to understand.

"I'm so sorry. If I had known that you... If I.. I would've never..."

It had been eight years already since his mother's death. He shouldn't feel like it had happened just yesterday. The wound in his heart was closed, only a scar now but it hurt. It still hurt and it felt like someone was pressing against it to remind him of the pain.

Lindsay was breaking down in front of him and he was partly feeling responsible for it but he didn't know what he should say. So he just hugged her.

"You didn't force me to come here."

"But I blackmailed you," she sobbed into his shoulder, making the words hardly recognizable.

"Yeah, I felt really threatened by that. Almost thought about reporting you."

That made her laugh for a moment, even though it was not a happy laugh.

"You could've walked away sooner, you know? I would've understood."

The worst was that she really meant it. She really would've let him walk away, even if that meant dealing with the fall-out it would've caused all alone. Her brother was so very important to her, the last thing she wanted was to hurt him but she knew when she had messed up and it was her that had to take responsibility.

Stiles smiled because she didn't even know how much he admired her for everything she did. "You know, now that I got to know Ray, I wouldn't change a thing. Even if it means that I have to deal with losing another person to sickness. So it's really on me and not on you."

She broke free from their hug and tried to wipe her tears away with her sleeve. She looked so embarrassed now.

"I should've at least taken you out for real coffee before I left my snot on your clothes," she commented with a wry grin.

"Are you insulting the vending machine coffee right now? Because that stuff is incredible and I'd fight tooth and nail for its honor."

Her posture was more relaxed now, the smile looking like it took less effort to form it.

She was eyeing him with a level of fondness he certainly wasn't used to. People looking at him with exasperation and annoyance was an everyday occurrence so it mostly didn't bother him anymore. He didn't know how to handle it when someone saw him as more than a hyperactive spaz. Sure, Scott had always treated him like he was more than that. But his best friend had been distancing himself from him so much, Stiles hardly considered him part of his life anymore. And that was just sad.

"You know, since Ray's diagnosis it feels like it's constantly raining. It's cloudy and hardly ever sunny anymore. Don't get me wrong, it isn't just bad. Sometimes, there's a rainbow appearing in the sky. And sometimes I like the soothing rhythm of the falling rain. But it also feels like I have to be on guard all the time now. Because the puddles keep getting bigger with every passing day and I have to mind my steps very carefully so that I don't slip and drown in them."

He liked that she was trusting him enough to tell him those things and he also liked the way she described her feelings. He liked a lot about her.

That's why he wanted to tell her things too. He wanted to be just as open to her as she was to him. He obviously couldn't tell her about werewolves, though. Or even about the case.

The case. Puddles. Drowning. Rain.

The more he thought about her words, the more he felt like someone had just revealed to him something very important. And then, as if her words struck him like lightning, he had an epiphany.

"Oh my god! Of course! Rain! I'm such an idiot!" he exclaimed, already rummaging in his backpack, frantically searching for his notebook.

"What? What's going on?" Lindsay asked, confused and startled by his behavior.

"It had been raining that day! The ground was muddy and slippery! The water level of the river was higher," he said, more to himself. He couldn't expect her to follow his train of thought and he didn't mind that. She had given him the clue he had been looking for, even if it had been unintentional.

He looked again at the photos. And yes, indeed. The ground looked damp, almost muddy. There should definitely be footprints if someone had been standing on the river bank.

"They made a mistake. Otherwise, they would've never found the body. A mistake. A mistake," he spoke his thoughts aloud. He was so close to solving the mystery. So close now, he could already see it all come together in his mind.

"You're sounding kind of crazy right now, Stiles. What are you even talking about? Who made a mistake?"

He was only half listening to her concerned questions, too busy thinking about what his new discovery meant for the case. He was looking for a connection, something that would make him see the bigger picture.

And when he found it, his eyes widened in triumph and he took Lindsay's face in his hands to kiss both her cheeks in gratitude.

"Lindsay, light of my life, queen of all queens, you're a genius. You're everything I need and I'm never letting you go again because without you I would've never seen it. Without you, there's no sense or meaning in this world. That's how great you are!"

He was babbling now because he was so excited. He stuffed the notebook back in his bag, looking happier than she had ever seen him.

"I have to go now, I'm so sorry but I talk to you later, I promise. Call you tomorrow? Don't forget how great you are in the meantime," he rushed to say, hugging her one last time before he was dashing away like a man on the run. Lindsay was left standing in the corridor of the hospital, feeling confused and asking herself how she could've ever let her life get mixed up in the whirlwind that was Stiles Stilinski. She didn't regret it one bit, though.

***

While he was driving, he was still thinking about the case. He had solved it, he had finally figured it out and that without the help of the pack.

If that didn't teach them how useful Stiles was, nothing would.

He allowed himself to bask in satisfaction and pride. It was well deserved in his opinion. He had so little to go on but he had still figured it out.

Granted, he couldn't tell who the culprit was, but that was only a minor detail.

It was much more important that he now knew how the death of the victim stood in connection to the pack.

He just had to share his conclusion with the pack and they would be so impressed, they wouldn't even think twice about letting him in on pack business again. At least, not if they knew what was good for them.

When he arrived at the Hale House, he wasted no time to get in, fumbling with his keys in anticipation.

He was causing enough commotion with his entrance that he figured they would just come to him and, at least, see what he was doing here.

But no one came.

He wandered further into the house, expecting to find at least some of his pack mates lounging around in the living room.

Then he heard voices coming from outside, so he went through the back door and was met with the sight of Jackson, Isaac and Boyd wrestling on the ground. He felt inclined to point out how they looked like overgrown puppies but he remembered that he was here on an agenda. He could joke about their behavior later when he had already awed them with his detective skills.

"What are you doing here? I don't think anybody has invited you," Erica snapped at him, her fingers transforming to claws.

"Nice to see you, too," Stiles remarked dryly, not interested in dealing with her right now. "Where's Derek? I have something to tell you."

"Chaining up Scott," Lydia said, raising her eyebrows at him. "It's the full moon today, don't you know?"

Normally, Stiles would mark every full moon on his calender but he had been so absorbed in the case lately, he had completely forgotten how big of a deal that was to werewolves.

"Eh, yeah, no, must've overlooked that minor detail. Whatever, I know now what the revenge symbol means!" he announced, a proud smile stealing itself on his lips.

Jackson rolled his eyes at him. "Yeah? Let me guess. The revenge symbol means revenge? Wow, never would've guessed, thank you for your input. Now leave."

Stiles forced himself to ignore the mean comment. It was from Jackson, after all. He was used to him acting like a douchebag.

"Okay, so I might have been wrong when it comes to Alphaba's involvement in the murder but I figured it out, so I think I should be excused for that. That's not important right now, anyway. What's important is that we have to stop looking for the Alpha."

Everyone looked sort of offended like he had just insulted their great ancestors or something.

"Let me explain," he rushed to say before someone could comment. "Since the victim has unexplained healed wounds, it is safe to say that it's not an alpha's work. At least, not only. Someone bigger is behind all this. And there are more cases just like this one, only there are no bodies. Ergo, they made a mistake with this one."

He knew that he had, at least, the attention of Danny and Lydia now which was good enough for him.

"The body was found by the police at 8:30 and the estimated death was around 7:30 but you were already chasing Alphaba at around 8:00. So if Alphaba was the killer that left her about half an hour to commit the crime before she left the mark on the house. But someone must've also found the body and called the police without meeting the killer so it's nearly impossible for her to have killed him. I checked it out and the call went in at 8:00. Curious, don't you think?"

He was already talking himself into a frenzy, lost in his thoughts while trying to present them as clearly as possible. It was hard putting everything in the right order and explaining it in a way that would seem plausible to the pack.

"In a nutshell: Alphaba must've left the mark around the same time the victim had died. So she can't be the killer.
Who's the killer then, Stiles, and why the mark for revenge, you're asking me? I have an answer for that as well.
The victim was carried while being unconscious and then left hidden in a fox burrow on a steep bank above the river. I tested it. You could definitely fit a body without limbs in there. So-"

"What do you mean, you tested it? Did you crawl into a burrow?" Isaac interrupted, grimacing at the image.

Stiles huffed in annoyance. "Yes! And you're missing the point, as usual. Can we please focus on the important things? So, as I was trying to say, the body was left there but against the expectations of the kidnapper, he woke up, confused and panicked at finding himself in a dark unfamiliar place, I imagine. So what he does, of course, is struggle. Now I know from experience that the burrow is dangerously close to the edge of the steep bank. And it had been raining that day, so the ground was damp and slippery, which ultimately led to his demise. Because his movements caused him to slip out of the burrow and down the steep. Without limbs, he wasn't able to stop the fall and thus he landed in the river and drowned. That's why there were no footprints on the riverbank from a second party. Because there was no one there when he died. It was an accident."

"Assuming it happened the way you just said, why would someone hide him there in the first place? And who called the police?" Lydia asked, intrigued.

Stiles smiled at her, thankful that she hadn't dismissed him. "Those are the right questions. Because why would you leave someone you kidnapped alone? Given the time, I guess because the kidnapper had something more important to do and couldn't afford the victim getting found. Now you all were right. The mark and the body appearing in one night couldn't be a coincidence. So Alphaba was indeed the one who left the man at the burrow, so she could leave the mark on the Hale House. Now, why would she do that? Why wouldn't she take care of the body first? Only one explanation comes to mind: she was forced to act quickly. Why? I will come back to that question later. She left the body in order to mark the house but when she came back, the man was dead. So what does she do? She calls the police. There's no one else who could have made the call, it had to be the one who knew where the body was hidden. That means that she wanted the body to be found. As I said before, there are more cases similar to the ones in Beacon Hills. Meaning the culprit has a bigger agenda than originally thought. And they obviously have the power to inflict and heal wounds. That sounds dangerous to you? Well, because it is. I'm guessing that's why Alphaba betrayed them. She wasn't trying to get the guy killed, she was trying to save him. She left the unconscious man in the burrow because she got found out. So she goes and leaves the mark on our window. Don't you see? It's not a threat, it's a warning! Because whatever is behind all the kidnappings is strong enough that she's afraid of them!"

That was unmistakenly the longest Stiles had ever been able to rant without getting interrupted and he could've possibly gone on for another minute if he hadn't run out of breath.

"So we weren't able to find her because whoever is behind all this had already gotten to her. She knew she would get caught and that's why she told us that she would be punished," Lydia said, already seeing the connection.

"Yes!" Stiles exclaimed, glad that Lydia could keep up with him. Of course, she could. She was probably smarter than he was.

"That's ridiculous! That sounds like you just made it up. And why do you know all of this anyway? Weren't you ordered to keep your nose out of our business?" Jackson spat with Erica nodding along.

"Thank you, Stiles, for the information. Was that all? Because if it was, then you're certainly no longer needed." Erica's voice was pure venom and vile in a way Stiles wondered how he deserved it. What had he ever done to make her hate him so much?

Stiles looked to the others, hoping for support from them because after all, he had done them all a huge favor by figuring all of this out.
But Isaac was pointedly looking away, Danny held back as usual, Allison looked slightly annoyed and Lydia was still pondering over what he had just revealed to her.

No pats on the shoulder, no awe, not even a sincere 'Thank you, Stiles'. Nothing.

That wasn't how he had imagined it.

"That's it? I just saved all your asses by providing you with vital information! At least, now you know that we're up against something much bigger than we initially thought and that we have to be careful! Don't you understand? We can't just go looking for the alpha when something more dangerous already has her!"

Stiles wanted to scream, that's how frustrated he was.

Jackson glared at him. "Oh, don't act all high and mighty, Stilinski. We would've figured it out on our own. Lydia and Danny were already close to the solution. You're not as irreplaceable as you like to think."

Stiles was trying really hard not to show how much that hurt. He swallowed down the anguish and straightened his spine to appear not as vulnerable as he felt right now.

We can refuse to be victims.

Lindsay's words echoed in his head, motivating him to keep standing and not run away.

Don't let them treat you like this. You're done being a doormat, remember?

"Oh yeah? And how many of you would've lived to see it, huh? Time is kinda crucial when it comes to those things but whatever. It's not like the pack couldn't do without a disgusting lizard creature that has never fit in anyway," Stiles shot back, with just as much loathing.

He knew while making that remark that it was a low blow. Jackson had always felt self-conscious because he was not like the other werewolves and Stiles also knew how afraid of rejection Jackson truly was. He had just exploited the teen's weakness and used it against him.

When Stiles was truly angry, he was capable of cruel acts. Like a cornered viper, he bit when he thought it was his only chance to survive and his venom was always deadly.

Jackson's eyes began to glow blue and scales appeared on his skin. Before somebody could intervene, he was already pouncing on Stiles.

Sharp claws pierced his skin as they were wrestling on the ground. Stiles was, of course, no match for the were-lizard but that didn't stop him from landing a few punches of his own.

Distantly he could hear Lydia frantically yelling at them to stop and felt Boyd trying to separate them.

Boyd finally managed to stop the fight with Isaac's and Danny's help. Stiles had a bloody nose, a few scrapes and probably also a few bruises. Jackson's busted lip was already healing, much to Stiles' chagrin.

"What the hell, Stiles?! You can't just insult him on the night of the full moon! Don't you have an ounce of common sense?," Danny scolded him, inspecting his face.

Stiles freed himself from Danny's grip on his face, too angry to accept help from Jackson's best friend out of all people, as petty as that was.

"He deserved it!"

"Nobody deserves to hear that they wouldn't be missed if they died," Allison informed him coldly. "I think it's better if you leave."

Stiles let out an unamused laugh at that. He wiped at his bloody nose and nodded with a self-depreciating grin. "You know," he croaked out. "For once I agree with you."

He went straight to his jeep because he couldn't imagine facing that kind of rejection from Derek as well. He was done here.

When he was finally sitting in his jeep, he wasn't able to hold back the tears any longer.

While he was driving home, he thought about what Lindsay had said about him and how he should've walked away sooner.

"Yeah," he said to himself. "Why do I never walk away before I get hurt?"

Chapter Text

PART II: Midnight

 

“I'm like a rubber, you can stretch me and pull me, and I'll bounce right back, but if you stretch me too far I’ll snap. I'll put myself back together, but I'll never be the same.”
-Mya Waechtler

 

“When your tears become invisible, disappear.”
-Benny Bellamacina

 

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
-Albert Schweitzer

 

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”
-Maya Angelou

 

“Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside – remembering all the times you’ve felt that way.”
-Charles Bukowski

 

***

There were a few nights that could be qualified as one of the worst in Stiles Stilinski's life. For one, there was the night his mum had died.

For some reason, his memories of that night were blurry which he blamed mostly on the trauma it had put on him. What he didn't remember, he had pieced together with reports and the help of his dad.

Stiles' mother was ill, but she only found out about it four months before her death. That didn't mean that the signs hadn't been there, though. Sometimes Stiles googled 'frontotemporal dementia' to read about the symptoms again and again, just to remember that he had seen all of those in his mum's behavior but had never said anything about it. Whenever he went back to that topic he blamed himself for keeping quiet. Maybe the doctors would have been able to save her if she had gotten treatment sooner. If they had made her go to the hospital sooner.

Thinking like that served no other purpose than to torment himself, he already knew that. That didn't make it any easier, though.

It was no secret that Stiles' mother had suffered from a fatal disease and had died shortly before he and his father had moved to Beacon Hills. What wasn't so widely known, though, was that she didn't die from the disease. Claudia Stilinski actually committed suicide by jumping from the hospital roof with her son standing right next to her on the ledge. Maybe it was her hallucinations and all the other side effects of her illness that made her take such a drastic action or maybe she didn't want to wait around for the sickness to take her life. Whatever her motivations were, her death was the cause for many rumors and evil talk in the town the family had lived in, so Stiles and his dad had packed their bags to leave their horrible past behind them.

Stiles himself didn't remember witnessing his mother's suicide. His therapist had said that his conscious considered the memories too painful and had therefore buried them deep in his subconscious. He had warned the older Stilinski that just because Stiles couldn't remember the trauma didn't mean that he would never have to deal with it.

Beacon Hills was supposed to be a new beginning for them both. No one knew about their tragic past, they just knew that the new Sheriff was a widower raising his - at the time - 9-year-old son alone.

Since Stiles didn't remember the traumatic event, his father had never told him that he had been present for it even though all the therapists and specialists had advised him against that decision.

But just because he couldn't remember that he had been there, didn't mean that Stiles wasn't haunted by his mother's suicide. Sometimes he dreamed about her standing in her white hospital gown at the ledge with her arms spread as if she was about to fly. He dreamed about grabbing her hand and trying to tell her to stay. When he woke up, his arm was usually stretched out as if he could still reach her.

So even though Stiles didn't know how truly horrifying that night was for him, he still counted it as one of the worst in his life.

There were a few other horrible nights in direct relation to his mum's sickness before she had gotten the diagnosis but they were just as blurry as the night of her death. Sometimes that bothered him because he had no recollection of some of the worst nights in his life but he was also kind of glad about it. They just seemed like horrible nightmares to him instead of reality which made it easier to forget about them.

There were also a few newer additions to the collection of horrible nights like the one where they had to chain Scott up for the first time and all the other full moon nights that followed after that, really. Because Stiles knew that if it hadn't been for him, Scott would've never been bitten by the alpha.

Well, he could also count this night to his collection.

He wasn't able to sleep, not even a wink and that wasn't only because his face was stinging and the tears were still flowing down his cheeks, soaking into the pillow.

He had looked into a mirror as soon as he had gotten home and he had to admit that he didn't look as awful as he could've but that his dad would definitely throw a fit once he saw him. A black eye was already forming, his right cheekbone was bruised and his nose was slightly swollen and crusty with blood.

Even worse were the injuries that weren't immediately obvious. Like the bruising on his ribs, the deep scratches on his back and, worst of all, his broken heart.

He applied ice for about fifteen minutes on his black eye, put some arnica on the bruises on his ribs and his cheekbone, washed the blood from his face and changed his clothes.

He didn't know what to do about the broken heart, though. For a second, he considered researching on that topic because there had to be something that would stop it from hurting and numb the pain for a while. But all he found were suggestions that one had to feel the pain and not numb it in order to heal or whatever so he gave up pretty soon.

Wiki-how even told him that he should accept what had happened and understand that it's okay to feel sad about it.

Not like he hadn't already planned on doing that. That night he allowed himself to drown in his misery and sorrow and didn't hold back the ugly sobs. He allowed himself to feel everything he had stocked up somewhere inside of him when there had still been hope that he could make it better, that he could make them see how glad they should be to have him as a friend.

That hope was now truly and irrecoverably buried and so now here he was mourning. Because he had lost so much tonight. He had lost friendships, a place where he thought he belonged and the possibility of a future with the person he was in love with.

That was enough loss to make him feel like his breakdown was absolutely justified.

It certainly was enough loss to make him feel too hollow to sleep.

His eyes were wide open when his alarm was going off in the morning but he didn't bother turning it off.

He was just lying in his bed, staring at the ceiling and asking himself how everything could fall apart in his life when he had been trying so hard to hold it all together. Maybe his hands were too small and their grip too weak. Maybe he didn't have the strength to hold it all together and because he was delusional and stubborn he ended up getting torn apart.

He didn't plan on getting up. It was Friday and, therefore, a school day but he just couldn't stand seeing all of his ex-pack mates and having to pretend that he was fine. It was more than obvious that he was not fine. But he didn't want them to see that. To him, that felt like admitting defeat.

Surely he could be excused for skipping school for once. His face hadn't healed and was still hurting, anyway and he didn't feel like explaining himself. The kids in school would probably just believe their own stories instead of his and he really wasn't looking forward to hearing new rumors about himself. The last had been of him being schizophrenic which was an insult to him and all the people who truly suffered from that disease.

There was just one thing he forgot to take into consideration.

His dad.

"Stiles! You're late for school! Get up!"

The state of Stiles' emotional well-being, though, seemed to depend on him staying in a horizontal position. It was like his bones were telling him that they were being strained enough without him standing up.

There was a knock on the door but he didn't react. Then his dad was fed up enough to just walk into his room.

"What the hell happened to your face?!"

The fact that he was still keeping quiet was possibly the first thing that had tipped his dad off that something was very wrong.

Sheriff Stilinski rubbed his temples in frustration.

"Did you get in a fight yesterday? Goddamnit, Stiles, talk to me."

Since Stiles didn't know how to answer that he just kept quiet. Something he very rarely did, no matter how bad the situation was.

The older Stilinski sighed wearily and then said, "I'll be right back once I've called the school and informed them that you're sick, okay? And then we're going to talk."

When he came back, he brought an ice pack, a glass of water and a pack of painkillers with him.

"You do realize that you have to sit up to take that, right?" his dad said with furrowed eyebrows. Seeing his son so motionless was a new development and he honestly didn't really know how to handle that. He'd take the hyperactive kid over this lifeless one any day.

"It doesn't hurt that much," Stiles replied eventually but he actually did drag his body into a sitting position.

"It looks pretty painful to me," his dad said with narrowed eyes. "How'd you get that black eye? Looks like someone with a mean right hook did it."

Stiles took the offered pill and swallowed it, then he gulped the glass of water down in one go. It didn't make him feel better but that wasn't really the purpose here. The purpose was making his dad feel less useless in this situation.

"Yeah. And a mean left hook, too. In a nutshell: I got my ass handed to me," the teen said in a bitter voice.

"Do you want me to talk to someone's parents?"

Stiles wanted to laugh at that. Because what would that accomplish, even if his opponent hadn't been a supernatural creature? I'm here to talk to you about the short temper and anger issues of your son who's cursed with turning into a lizard on the full moon, which really doesn't help the whole anger management issue.

"I don't think that's necessary," he mumbled.

"Did you get him back for it at least?"

Confused, Stiles abandoned watching the floor which had been his main target to focus on for the last few minutes to look at his dad. He had expected to be scolded for getting into a fight but now he wasn't sure how to react.

"I tried. Which was probably what got me the black eye. Running my mouth wasn't the smartest decision, I guess."

His dad put a hand on his shoulder in sympathy which was even more confusing for Stiles.

As if reading his thoughts, the older man put on a grim and serious expression and said, "Look, kid, I'm not encouraging you to use violence in conflicts but I really hated how you've been acting for the last few weeks and if that was the final blow then I'm actually kind of glad that you stood up for yourself. Remember what I told you about change? You don't have to endure harsh treatment from anybody. I'm not happy that you got into a fight, don't get me wrong. There were better ways to handle the situation. But I'm not disappointed in you, either."

"You don't even know the whole story!" Stiles protested weakly. He didn't know why he wasn't just glad that he didn't get in trouble. Probably because he felt kind of guilty for the way the last night had progressed.

"I don't need to because I'm always on your side. Even when you're wrong."

It was too difficult to hold the tears back after hearing him say that. His dad had delivered those lines with a nonchalance as if it was totally natural to think that way. Stiles couldn't take the distance anymore and practically threw himself in his father's arms.

The Sheriff hugged his son back and rubbed a hand soothingly up and down his back.

"You do realize that I still have to punish you, right? Any suggestions?"

Even though he was still feeling pretty bad, Stiles couldn't help but laugh at that.

"You could ground me? There's nowhere for me to go anyway," the teen said, wiping the tears from his eyes.

"How would grounding you be a punishment? Malia comes in through your window and keeps you company."

"You know about that?!"

"I don't know why you always think I'm that gullible. I'm a sheriff and I'm not that bad at my job, you know?"

"No, of course not, dad! I just think that I'm cleverer than you."

His dad gripped the back of his head and shook it slightly. "Your punishment should definitely address your attitude problem. Maybe I'll make you take dance classes or something. That way you'll, at least, learn how to behave properly."

Stiles snorted. "Yeah, right. Our insurance doesn't cover that, dad. You sure you want to endanger everyone?"

That made the older Stilinski grimace slightly. "It's probably too late for you to learn grace anyway. Okay, how about a new sport? The swim team is always an option."

The teen smiled bitterly. "Let's keep it real, dad. I've never been athletic or even interested in sports. Yeah, I think baseball's decent but I still prefer watching to playing. I've only made the lacrosse team because they were in need of new players and because Scott wanted me to. But now - you know, I quit the lacrosse team. I'm not on the team anymore so now I'm even more of a nobody than before."

He expected his dad to be disappointed about that confession. Every father wanted his son to excel in at least one sport but he had failed at that. He was not graceful, he was not bulky, he was not strong - physically, at least.

Therefore, he was not surprised to see his dad wearing a pinched expression and rubbing his neck awkwardly. He told himself that he could deal with being a disappointment in one more point. He told himself that it shouldn't even be a surprise to anyone anymore but he was still afraid of the reaction he would receive.

"Son, where the hell did you get the impression from that you had to be a stereotype male high school student to get my attention? I mean, have I ever made you feel like you had to be on the team to make me proud of you? I didn't - I don't care about that, Stiles," his dad told him honestly, looking guilty. "I know you have many talents, I know that you're smart despite what some of your teachers say. And I also know that I'm always working and hardly ever here but - I'm not expecting you to pretend to be someone you think I would want as my son."

The teen's honey coloured eyes widened in pure disbelief at what he was hearing. It wasn't like he thought his dad was a bad father who had too many expectations for him but yet he had always had the feeling that the only thing he could do to show how grateful he was for his dad was being the ideal son. As ideal, at least, as he could be while constantly lying to him.

"I joined a band," Stiles admitted bashfully. He didn't know why he was so shy about it, to be honest. It was probably because he was still fearful about being rejected. It had happened too often lately to not think about that possibility.

His dad looked surprised at that but there was also a content glint in his eyes.

"I remember you playing the piano. You were really good at it once you were able to sit still long enough. You hated it at first because your mom always made you practice scales for at least half an hour but once you got the hang of it, you and the piano were hardly ever separable. You were always so eager to learn a new song," the older Stilinski remembered fondly. "Your mom used to tell me that you were a born musician and that she knew as soon as she saw you for the first time. Someone with those fingers had to be a pianist."

Stiles looked at his long, too bony fingers and wiggled them in front of his face which made his dad grin.

"Thank you for telling me that," his dad reached out to ruffle his hair playfully. He knew it was meant as a comforting gesture. "You know, I was in an 80's band when I was younger called 'The Preventions'. We were better than 'The Cure'."

Total silence engulfed them suddenly. Stiles almost forgot to breathe because of the shock while looking at his dad as if had never seen him before.

The tension in the room broke when the teen burst out laughing. After everything that had happened the night before, he hadn't thought it possible to ever laugh again. He was proven wrong and it felt like a small piece of him was put back into place.

"Did you- did you really just make a dad joke?"

"Hey, it was, at least, a good one," the Sheriff defended himself.

"Sure. Whatever helps you sleep at night."

To his great surprise, Stiles actually did feel better while talking about the band with his dad. It made him remember that his life wasn't empty now that the pack was no longer part of it. He was not empty. He might feel that way right now but he realized, while talking to his dad, that he would be okay.

"That Lindsay girl sounds a lot like your mom, you know? So headstrong, never accepting a no. No wonder you get along so well. You've got all that from her, too," his dad commented with a smile that wasn't entirely without pain. Stiles knew that it still wasn't easy for his dad to talk about his mother but he tried so she would never be forgotten. That's what they owed her.

"She's not as stubborn as you think. She's only that way when it's about music, I guess. In all other things, she's kind of subdued actually. Like, that's probably the reason why she's together with the biggest asshole I've ever met."

His dad already opened his mouth to reprimand him about his language but apparently deemed it a lost cause because he just raised his eyebrows.

"I mean, it's her business who she's dating, honestly. But does it have to be that dickhead? I don't really understand what she sees in him. Or maybe she's just more shallow than I thought," Stiles said, pensive.

It was at that moment that it occurred to him how little time Lindsay actually spent talking about Brad. She had never really mentioned him when they were together nor was she texting him or something. Now that he thought about it, it was also quite strange that she had never brought him along when she visited her brother in the hospital.

His dad groaned while rubbing a hand over his face. "Stiles, you just got into a fight. Please don't provoke someone else by stealing his girl."

Stiles had to laugh at that. Him and Lindsay? He had never thought about her that way! That thought hadn't even occurred to him!

"Chill, dad. I don't like her that way. She's my friend, I guess," he reassured his father. "I seem to be destined to only fall for people who will never return my feelings."

As usual, he had said too much. One of the topics Stiles had sworn to never talk about with his dad was his unrequited crushes, mainly because then he would have to explain who he had fallen for. Him falling for a 24-year-old with a grumpy 'I-look-like-I-murder-puppies-in-my-sleep'-look would definitely not be something his father would want to hear about.

The older Stilinski looked just as uncomfortable as Stiles was feeling. He was rubbing his neck again with a slight grimace on his face.

Every father probably hoped that their kids would talk to their mum about crushes. But Claudia wasn't here anymore.

"Son, I know that," his dad shook his head and abandoned that sentence to start anew, "There will always be people who don't realize how great of a person you are and most of them probably never will, either. And that's painful, I know. But you don't need to be recognized to be worth something. It shouldn't matter if someone sees the world in you, not as long as you know your own worth. Because one day someone will come along and they will notice. And it would be a damn shame if you burned out before then, you know? Christ, I have no idea how to explain that. Your mother was better with words. She was the one who told me all that, you know?"

Stiles rubbed at his eye - the one that wasn't hurting - in an attempt to hide the tear tracks and his embarrassment. The corners of his mouth were twitching slightly as if they tried their hardest to form a smile. They were still too weak to fight against the weight that was holding them down, though. For now, at least.

"A great Yoda you are," Stiles said, looking gratefully at his dad.

The older Stilinski smiled slightly and bumped his shoulder playfully against his son's. "I have the day off, you know? And we haven't finished watching season 2 yet."

Stiles had thought that it would take a miracle to get him out of bed today but all it took, apparently, was his dad watching TV with him. And while he was sitting next to his dad on their couch, his head resting on the older man's shoulder, he thought that sometimes someone's outstretched hand trying to help you get up again was miracle enough.

***

The woman was more animal than human as she was flinging herself around in pain on the ground. She was fighting for control but the sheer agony that was pulsing through her whole body had brought the wolf in her out and without an anchor, it was basically impossible to rein it in. But while she was snapping her sharp teeth and snarling she knew that she was looking at the true monsters standing in front of her.

They were watching her like she was an animal in a zoo and that made her even angrier.

The worst was that now that she had gotten caught, she would never see justice served for the death of her family.

The chains around her wrists and ankles, laced with wolfsbane, were the only thing holding her back and keeping her weak enough to make it impossible for her to break free.

"It's unfortunate that you choose to betray the Lord, it really is. Unfortunate but not altogether unexpected," the man with the cold blue eyes was saying. He was holding in a higher position than the other people present, that much she knew. She also knew that he wasn't the one pulling the strings. The so-called 'Lord' those lunatics were talking about she had never met.

"Isn't it disheartening to know that you've risked everything for naught? You played right into our hands without even realizing it. And that's the beauty of it, isn't it? That you thought you were finally doing the right thing but instead you ended up doing exactly what we were expecting of you?"

The man's taunting voice was filled with sick amusement. He enjoyed seeing her in pain way more than the others. The others were watching impassively as she suffered because they thought that she deserved her punishment. But this man wanted to inflict some pain himself, he wanted her to suffer under his hand. He was the cruelest of them all.

"It will happen as the Lord had planned it and it will be soon. But don't worry. You, of course, were included in the plan. As of now, you're not completely useless to us. After you've served your purpose, though... I wouldn't hold out too much hope for rescue if I were you. Once we got the spark-"

He was enjoying making her suffer so much that he didn't realize that he was exposing too much. One of the other men suddenly grabbed his attention by stomping too harshly on the ground and breaking a twig in the process.

The man who had seemingly lost himself in the pleasure of inflicting pain was brought back to the present then and stopped himself immediately.

She couldn't see his face but he was breathing heavily.

"Soon," he promised before he turned to walk away.

She was left there to suffer, slowly but surely losing her mind.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered to no one in particular while tears were streaming down her face.

Chapter Text

Derek was in a bad mood which was nothing unusual. What was unusual was that this time he actually decided to confront the pack about the reason for his bad mood so they were all gathered in the living room of the Hale House on a Friday evening.

The moon was still full enough that some of the werewolves (and werelizard) were feeling a bit agitated and wanted the spontaneous pack meeting to be over with as fast as possible.

The one who despised being commanded to be present the most was probably Jackson which he was very obviously showing by glaring at anybody who even quickly glanced in his direction.

Scarier than even Derek, though, was Malia, whom Peter actually had to hold back so she wouldn't just attack the pack. She was constantly growling at them, her eyes flashing blue.

"So, would anybody of you be so kind as to tell me what happened yesterday in my backyard?" Derek asked seemingly calm but the way his eyebrows were raised told them that he would cut anybody who dared to lie to him.

Isaac was biting his lip and avoided looking at anyone which was such a clear sign of guilt that it was pitiful to watch.

Derek had his arms crossed and was slowly giving them a countdown for an answer by tapping his fingers on his arm.

"So many volunteers but who shall I choose?" Derek's cold glance drifted over all of them but eventually settled on Isaac. The poor beta was terrified and looked up to their alpha with wide blue eyes and a slight grimace.

"Isaac, it seems to me that you're particularly eager to get that heavy weight lifted off of your shoulders by confessing so why don't I start with you? I'm sure you can tell me why Jackson had blood on his clothes when I came back from the basement. Please enlighten me."

He just had to pick the weakest link. That's what everybody who had been present for the fallout yesterday was thinking now. Isaac would never be able to lie or not comply to Derek's request. He was the least corrupted of them all, as unbelievable as that was considering his awful past.

"I...," Isaac started but then he had to gulp. "Stiles came by to tell us something?"

The poor beta was so nervous that he was gnawing on his lip. That caused Derek to soften his stance a little bit while he motioned for him with his hand to go on.

Danny, who was sitting right next to Isaac on the couch, put a comforting hand on Isaac's shoulder to keep him grounded.

It was Lydia, though, who put the blonde beta out of his misery by answering in his place, "Stiles came over because he had figured something out and wanted to tell us. So he told us his theory to the murder, the alpha and the revenge sign and how they were all connected and I have to admit that his conclusion is brilliant. I'm actually a little miffed that he figured it out before me and without any help."

She then proceeded to tell the pack what Stiles had found out, even had to repeat some parts or go for a longer explanation when someone (like Scott) wasn't following.

"Then Erica and Jackson acted like assholes which resulted in a fight between Jackson and Stiles. Needless to say, Stiles didn't stay for the last bit of the party," she finished, raising her eyebrows at Jackson who was both stunned into silence and murderously glaring at her.

Laura looked at Derek, alarmed at the news of the bigger danger Lydia had just presented to them. "Oh my god, everything makes so much sense now! Bring that boy back, Derek! He's a genius for figuring all that out based on next to nothing!"

"Pah!" Malia exclaimed furiously. "You think he'll come back after you all treated him like dirt?! I don't think so! None of you deserve him! Not even one of you!"

To the pack's surprise, Scott just jumped up from his place on the loveseat next to Allison, darted over to Jackson and gripped the werelizard by his collar.

"You dared to attack my best friend?! My human best friend whilst in your lizard form?! What the fuck is your problem?! You could've seriously hurt him!"

He was shaking Jackson so forcefully that the beta's head smashed against the wall repeatedly. Derek was watching them for a short moment before he actually intervened and forced Scott into submission by flashing his red eyes at him. It wasn't like Jackson didn't deserve that, after all.

"He provoked me! Tell me, McCall, how many times have you nearly killed Stilinski, huh? Still up and counting?" Jackson shot back. This time, Derek had to physically hold Scott back from attacking the blonde.

"He told me that it would be best if I died, okay?! How was I supposed to keep my cool after hearing that? That's how much of an asshole he is! It was the freaking full moon too!" Jackson defended himself, raising his voice and throwing his hands around in a violent manner.

Lydia pursed her lips in annoyance at her boyfriend. "While that is true you forgot to tell the others how rude you were to him. You dismissed everything he said and basically told him that he is useless."

Jackson's betrayed look basically said 'Whose side are you on?'.

"I was just pissed that he couldn't keep his nose out of our business! I mean, he was told to stay out of it! We didn't need his help!"

Lydia raised her eyebrows at him. "No, you were just pissed that he proved once again how useful he is and that makes you feel inferior to him. And that's something you really hate, isn't it?"

"What the fuck, Lydia!" Jackson yelled enraged. He was already standing and heading straight over to her. "You absolute bitch! You always have to show off how smart and above everything you are! Why are you even acting like a saint here? You treated Stilinski like he was so far beneath you that it would take a microscope to even see him so just shut up, why don't you?!"

Lydia made an indignant sound at that. Then she fixated Scott with a glare and snapped, "Well, it's true that I was a little too cold to him but, at least, I'm not his best friend who never said anything when Stiles was insulted right in front of him!"

"Oh, don't put the blame on me! I was hardly even present the last few weeks because my control is slipping more and more! I just stayed away from him because I was afraid I might hurt him! What's your excuse?" Scott raged. His claws were already out and his facial hair had multiplied.

His breathing was irregular and his eyes were already glowing dangerously yellow. They all took a step back and away from him since they knew that Scott's control was highly unstable and the influence of his alpha had him nearly go out of his mind.

"Everybody calm down!" Laura commanded in a tone that allowed no further arguments. It reminded Derek of their mother. "Let me get this straight. Scott, you're Stiles' best friend, right?" The beta, still wolfed out, nodded slowly. "Okay, and you ignored him to keep him safe. Did you tell him that?" Scott shook his head guiltily. "Okay, I can maybe excuse your behavior. You thought you were doing the right thing. What about the rest of you, though?"

Isaac looked like a kicked puppy. "It's not like I didn't realize how mean Jackson, Erica, and Lydia were. I feel so - I mean, we could've intervened? I once saw Erica corner Stiles and throw him against the wall but I just walked by. I didn't know what to do at that time. And I thought: Well, he must have deserved that. Right? And that's what I told myself every time. Or that it's not so bad. Something along those lines, every damn time. Just so I didn't have to stand up against one of our own," he admitted while looking so disappointed in himself. He couldn't believe he had acted the same way like all the other kid's had when he had been abused. They all had looked the other way, hoping someone else would take care of that problem. And now he had done the same thing and it was even worse because he knew how much it hurt when someone who could've helped turned a blind eye on you.

"It's not only you, Isaac. I was the same. Stiles is always joking and smiling, I thought he could take it. And that was dumb because no one should even have to take that," Danny said with a sad smile directed at Isaac.

Derek, though, hadn't been listening to what Danny was saying. After Isaac had said the part about Erica hurting Stiles, he had stopped listening altogether, marched over to his beta, grabbed her neck and forced her to stand up.

"Ow, what's your problem, Derek?!" Erica complained.

"We never hurt one of our own, Erica, especially someone who doesn't heal like we do. Never!" he growled at her which made her whine. His eyes were red and his fangs showing and all she felt was the urge to hide away. When your alpha is unhappy with you, it feels like your parents just told you that they're disappointed in you.

"What do you mean 'one of our own'? You were the one who banned Stiles from pack meetings!" Jackson interjected to which Erica nodded along.

Derek rolled his eyes and glared at him. "So what, you all took that as a permission to act like assholes towards him? I just wanted him to stay out of the case because I thought it was too dangerous. And as it turns out, I was right! I never said he wasn't pack!"

"So it's okay that you treat him badly but when we do it we're the biggest assholes on the planet?" Lydia summarized with a sharp look directed at their alpha. The pack nodded in agreement.

Derek opened his mouth to defend himself but couldn't find the words, so he pressed his lips together in frustration and glared at all of them. Saying 'I'm the alpha and you're not, that's why' would have hardly been an effective argument.

"We thought that was just the nice way of telling him that he wasn't pack anymore," Allison said quietly. "I mean, he did what he's always doing. He argued with you, you were fed up with his attitude and he didn't step down. Like usual. But then you snapped and banned him so something must've changed, right? We thought that there was more to the story. And most of us wouldn't mind if he left the pack."

Scott looked horrified and a little ill at that. "Allison, how could you?! Did you forget how many times he helped us?"

Allison shrunk a bit at Scott's obvious disappointment in her. "It's nothing personal! I'm still on trial and I thought supporting the alpha would assure my place in the pack. I thought that was expected of me!"

"Don't worry, Allison. In the end, it all comes down to Derek acting like a jerk," Lydia said.

They all looked accusingly at Derek.

"As inept as Derek is when it comes to feelings, you can hardly blame your behavior on him. You're teenagers but still old enough to take responsibility for your actions," Peter shot her down.

"Gosh, this pack is a trainwreck," Cora commented from her place on the floor where she was studying. The whole time she had been here she had acted like none of them existed and just read the book about how Simone de Beauvoir changed the worldview on women.

"Agreed," Boyd muttered. It was the first time he actually partook in the conversation."Let's stop the blame game. It's childish. We are all at fault here, in one way or another."

Derek wondered why Boyd didn't talk more when he was so clearly the voice of reason. That guy was probably more mature than all the other teenager put together.

Too bad that half of the pack wasn't talking to each other anymore after this confrontation. Scott and Allison seemed to be on the verge of breaking up again, Lydia and Jackson were still looking at each other like they were trying to kill the other with glares and Erica refused to come down from her high horse and admit that she had been wrong.

Teenagers, Derek thought miserably to himself.

The one who seemed to suffer the most, though, was undeniably Isaac. The alpha could see that the teen was practically swallowed by guilt and not even Danny, who was still soothingly talking to him, could stop him from disappearing in his misery.

Derek felt truly sorry for the boy so he walked over to him and rested a hand on the beta's shoulder.

"Don't worry too much about it, Isaac. You're not defined by your mistakes," he told him quietly. Isaac looked up at him with wide eyes, a hopeful expression taking over his face. Then he nodded and forced himself to smile briefly.

It was easier for Derek to talk to Isaac than it was to talk to his other betas. He couldn't really explain why exactly. He guessed that it was because Isaac was always quick to regret it when he acted out of line and that he didn't let go of the guilt easily. That was something the two of them had in common.

Derek sighed, swallowing his own guilt at the situation and went to break up the fights that were still going on between some of his pack mates.

"You all messed up," he told them seriously. When he was met with incredulous stares and indignant exclamations, he conceded grumpily,"I messed up, too. And now look at us. Scott is still wolfed out. Can you change back?"

Scott shook his head miserably.

Derek sighed again. "It's probably best to chain you up again tonight, Scott. I'm sorry."

Scott growled slightly at the prospect of having to sleep in the basement again but he didn't complain. He longed for this nightmare to end. He wanted his life back and his best friend but now it seemed that he had lost both of them.

"We'll find the alpha, right Derek? We'll find her and then everything can go back to normal and I can apologize to Stiles," Scott asked with desperation in his voice. His shoulders were shaking slightly as if he was trying really hard not to destroy something. His hands were balled to fists.

Seeing his beta in that state made Derek's heart clench and wish that he could promise Scott that everything would be over soon. But making empty promises would help no one.

He nodded curtly, wearing a serious expression. "It's our top priority."

Scott then complied and went down to the basement where he would be chained up again. Allison followed him, trying to mend the broken pieces of their relationship and also because she wanted to keep him company.

Derek looked at the rest of his pack, all of them wearing sour expressions and most of them not even realizing what they had done wrong. It was so frustrating.

Just looking at them made him angry so he quickly dismissed them. He probably wouldn't be able to be around them one more minute without yelling his head off.

Jackson rolled his eyes at Lydia who refused to be driven home by him but he left eventually without her. Just like Lydia, Erica and Boyd decided to stay at the Hale House. Danny offered Isaac to stay with him for the night to get away from the drama for a bit which the beta all too gratefully accepted.

Peter took Malia upstairs so she could calm down which left Derek alone with his sisters.

"You're just going to let them off the hook that easily?" Laura asked, clearly irritated. "That's not how members of a pack should treat each other and you know it! You don't have to be the alpha to know that. That's werewolf pack 101, Derek!"

Derek clenched his teeth in annoyance. "Yeah, and what do you want me to do? Maybe I should just chain them all up in the basement? I'm sure the Argents would have a field day hearing about that!"

"But there's no picking order in a pack - or at least, there shouldn't be! This is unbelievable! You basically have a pack full of bullies, Derek! Do you want to be the alpha of bullies?"

Fed up with his sister's need to point out the obvious, the alpha slammed his fist on the table, succeeding in silencing her. Then he raked his hand through his hair in frustration and let out a huff.

"I know, okay! I know that. I already know that I fucked up. Once again."

Laura didn't even flinch at his outburst but her stern expression did soften a bit.

"Hey, I'm not putting the blame on you. Your beta was right earlier. Playing the blame game is childish," Laura said, holding her hands up to signify that she meant no harm. "The only thing we can do now is moving forward, right? We have to teach them how to be a pack because that's clearly something they haven't learned yet."

"Oh, I already have a new training routine in mind. If they thought they were going through hell before then I'm about to change their minds," Derek confided in her with a dark expression.

His sister started to grin sadistically like the maniac he knew her to be deep inside her heart. "Oh, I like that plan. I'm even offering my assistance. But what do you plan to do about Stiles?"

Derek's forlorn and guilty expression was answer enough for her.

***

Derek heard the heartbeat in his room before he even entered it. There were not too many options to choose from so he just expected to find Malia waiting there for him because he was sure that she still felt the need to curse him to hell for everything that had happened with Stiles. She was oddly protective of him but the alpha didn't mind that so much, and even less since he found out how the rest of the pack chose to treat Stiles.

It wasn't Malia, though, who was waiting in his room.

As soon as he had closed the door behind him, skinny hands surrounded his biceps and a body pressed against his own.

He wanted to recoil but since he was still not sure who he was up against, he only hardened his stance so he could fight the intruder off if necessary.

When her smell hit his nostrils, he actually wanted to recoil again.

"Erica, what are you doing here?"

His tone was strict and unforgiving because the last thing he wanted to do now was to deal with her. If it were up to him he would take a long vacation from all the teenage drama but since he was the alpha of that immature bunch, they were kind of his responsibility which meant that he couldn't just leave.

Derek Hale had always been known for making bad decisions and at that moment, he thought that turning teenagers was maybe the worst of them all.

"I wanted to make sure you're okay. You looked so fed up with everything," she said while her finger was trailing along his pecs.

He wanted to tell her that if there was something he was fed up with, it was her and the other betas but he kept silent. Angry words wouldn't make her understand.

He grabbed both of her hands and stopped her from touching him any longer. Then he turned on the light.

"I know you're mad at us. You're so stressed and we just made it worse, didn't we? But I can think of a way to work out all that anger and frustration," she purred at him, smiling seductively.

It obviously didn't evoke the reaction from him she expected, seeing as Derek was grimacing in second-hand embarrassment as if someone had told him a tasteless, unfunny joke.

"This has to stop. Right now," he told her sternly, his nostrils flaring in anger.

"You're right. Who wants to talk when there's something much better to do?"

That's when she jumped him, wrapping her legs around his waist and fingers clawing into his scalp. Her lips were pressed firmly against his own, moving and waiting for him to engage in the kiss.

She was waiting in naught. All that happened was that Derek pushed her forcefully away, causing her to land ungracefully on the floor.

The look in her eyes conveyed so much hurt that he felt the urge to just leave her there and run away from this whole situation. But he knew that wouldn't solve anything. Derek had to do something that he hated and that was talking about feelings.

But he had sworn that he would become a better alpha from now on and he couldn't just give up after not even one day of trying.

"Erica, there is nothing going on between us. There never has been and there never will be," he said, looking into her eyes to make her understand how serious he was.

She blinked uncomprehendingly, tears already gathering in her eyes.

"Why not? We could be the perfect couple! You're hot, I'm hot. We're practically made for each other!" she argued, her lip quivering.

Derek closed his eyes and took a deep breath so he wouldn't lose his cool and yell at her how incredibly stupid her argument was.

He had to be sensitive and understanding about this. That's what teenagers needed when someone told them that they were making a fool of themselves.

"Well, first and foremost of all because I simply don't like you that way," he answered through gritted teeth.

It was obviously the wrong thing to say because she started to cry in earnest then. Big fat tears were making their way down her rosy cheeks, making her look like the people in movies looked like whenever they were crying.

"How can you say that? You never even tried! You never even tried noticing me! You were always just too busy arguing with Stiles or making sure that he didn't do something stupid! Why is it always him?!"

Her voice was on the verge of screeching, hurting his poor oversensitive ears.

She was getting gradually more upset the longer she was talking, sobs already disrupting her speech. She didn't look as perfect anymore. Now she just looked like a heartbroken teenager.

"I cleaned the whole living room for you, just like you told me to! I even - even dusted the damn furniture! And- a-and then you just came home, s-smelling like him! How is that fair?! Don't you see that I'd do anything for you?!"

It was painful to watch how hard she was trying to gain control back again but her sobs were shaking her whole body and tears and snot were running down her cheeks.

Derek could hardly stand looking at her. Sighing deeply, he rubbed a hand across his forehead.

"Is that why you're so angry at Stiles? Because you think he's taking something that already belongs to you?" he asked, trying not to be disgusted by talking about himself as if he were something to possess.

Erica's mouth turned into an angry snarl which lost its bite because she was quivering so hard with suppressed sobs. "Why should he get everything?! He already gets the epic bromance between him and Scott, he gets to be the only one who can keep up with Lydia's intelligence, he gets to be Malia and Peter's favorite! What do I get? Where's my place, huh?!"

She had trouble articulating the words coherently but he was still able to understand her and it was then that he truly realized how Erica saw herself fitting into the pack.

She got along fine with the girls but she hadn't managed to become part of the friendship that had already existed between Lydia and Allison. There was really no one else she was particularly close to, even though Boyd was following her like he was her shadow.

Since he knew now that he was safe from getting jumped by her again, he got a box of tissues from his bedside table, crouched down in front of her and handed the box to her.

She accepted it with a wobbly smile and then wiped away the tear tracks and the snot disgracing her face. Her make-up was ruined, though, but she didn't seem to care about that at the moment.

The young girl in front of Derek was now painfully similar to the insecure, shy girl he had met almost one year ago. Without the make-up and her clothes, she was still just a girl that desperately tried to belong.

"We can't all be like Stiles. Believe me, I wouldn't be able to handle more than one," he told her, receiving a quick smile from her in response.

If Stiles were here, he'd know what to say to make her feel better. Derek had never missed him so much as he did now.

Because Stiles had always warned him that something like that might happen. He was the one who had told him to be suspicious of Erica's sudden self-esteem and that he better not believe that the insecure girl had just vanished after the bite.

Somehow, Stiles had always been able to understand people's feelings, even though one could hardly call him a sensitive person. Some of his personality traits were the exact opposite of each other that it should be impossible to find them all in one person. Derek would never understand how a person as direct and with no brain-to-mouth filter like Stiles could be so sensitive to people's emotions.

Struggling to find the right words, he sat down next to her, trying to find the right balance between too much and too little amount of body contact to give her comfort.

Thankfully it was her who broke the silence between them eventually, "I've always been envious of Stiles, I guess. I know it makes no sense because he's not even close to being as popular as Lydia or Jackson. It's not his popularity I envied. I guess I was just envious that he cared so little about it while I would have given everything for it. He never tried as I hard as I did. But still, he got a friendship some people could only dream of. And I was still alone."

She was sniffing slightly and rubbing at her red eyes as if to conceal her state of misery from Derek.

"I really shouldn't be surprised that you don't want me, either."

Derek clenched his hands together so forcefully that it was almost painful.

"I do want you, Erica. I want you as a pack mate, a friend, a part of my family. I didn't choose you because I was leafing blindly through the phone book and ended up pointing with my finger at your name. I chose you because you're stronger than you give yourself credit for," Derek objected softly.

"I imagined us conquering the world together as a couple. With our combined good looks, your impressive eyebrows, and my bitchiness everyone would've cowered in fear of us," she admitted with a self-deprecating grin.

He didn't know how to respond to that so he kept quiet. Talking wasn't his strong suit and that would probably never change.

It wasn't like she was expecting an answer from him anyway. It seemed like she was just glad to get that finally of off her chest.

After another moment of silence, she asked in a quiet, unsure voice, "Hey, Derek?" He grumbled lowly in his throat to convey that he was still listening. "We'll be okay, right? We all will be?"

Those were questions that were ghosting through his own head, haunting him along with the images of a boy with too many freckles and an oddly endearing upturned nose.

"I hope so," he answered, not able to lie to her.

He would try to be better. And once the problem with the alpha was resolved and they were all out of danger, they would get Stiles back. Or, at least, they would do their best in getting him back.

Derek was all too familiar with the sensation of losing someone important to you. He told himself that he would survive it if it happened again. But a part of him refused to believe that.

Chapter Text

They eventually agreed on Stiles' punishment being to clear out the basement on Saturday which was more than okay with Stiles. Somewhere around here, hidden by boxes full of stuff from their old home, was his old piano and he planned to celebrate its comeback into his life today.

Neither of the Stilinski men had ever bothered to unpack all of their old stuff since most of it was Stiles's mom's anyway and they hadn't been really eager to get reminded of their loss after moving in. With time, the stuff and the memories that were engraved in them had been forgotten and only served as dust collectors. Up until now.

Stiles really couldn't just back out of the task, even if he kind of feared what emotions it would evoke in him. It would be too hypocritical if he backed out because of bad memories, especially after he had basically forced Derek to confront his demons by rebuilding the Hale House.

No, he could do this.

He put on some music and wore the oldest worn-out clothes he could find in his closet. Just in case, he stored his bat next to the door, because he wouldn't be surprised if a raccoon or some rodent had been secretly living with them for years and if push came to shove he wanted to be able to defend himself.

The first thing on his agenda was to change the light bulb because when he tried to turn on the light, the bulb only flickered quickly before going out again.

With a flashlight in his mouth, a ladder under his arm and a new light bulb in his hand, he was ready to face his mission to bring the light back.

The first problem he encountered arrived pretty early in the form of a very unruly stepladder which just refused to keep standing. Almost every time he had managed to set it up it had collapsed again within minutes. He hoped that would change with his weight on it.

The flashlight was still in his mouth, clenched tightly between his teeth while he was climbing the unsteady ladder. He forced his legs not to shake too much but the prospect of falling already seemed to be a certainty in his mind so he was tense before he even started the risky climb.

Once he was high enough, he reached a shaky hand out to unscrew the defective light bulb and change it for the new one when he heard the first ominous creak. He grimaced around the flashlight, praying that the noise wasn't the first warning for his downfall. How hard could it be to change a light bulb, after all? He refused to become a worn-out bad joke.

His legs weren't the only ones that were shaking, though. The ladder, as it turned out, had legs made out of brittle old wood and began soon to wobble under his weight.

His curse was muffled, just like his scream when he felt the ladder collapse. He had little to no warning before he fell sideways but it was apparently enough for him to grab hold of something before he could hit the floor.

His eyes were closed but he knew that he was barely hanging on, dangling from a metal shelf of some sort. Shocked by the fall, he had opened his mouth which had caused the flashlight to fall down to the floor in a loud clatter, shattering into pieces of glass with the battery rolling around somewhere. At least, he had managed to screw the new light bulb in or else he would've been in total darkness right now.

But he had other worries at that moment. Like the fact that his collar had gotten stuck on a nail protruding from the shelf, making it impossible for him to let go of it without strangling himself.

"Tidy up the basement, he said. There's really nothing to it, he said," Stiles gritted out through clenched teeth, the strength in his arms dwindling alarmingly fast. "If I die down here, I'm gonna haunt the hell out of this house!"

Wasting the last ounce of his strength on talking was not one of Stiles' best decisions. His fingers slipped from the shelf, regardless of how much he tried tightening his grip and soon he lost hold of it all together.

His airways were cut off for a second but then he heard the almost cathartic sound of his shirt ripping. He was finally able to breathe again but had no time to appreciate it because it was stolen from him again as he hit the floor.

He opened his eyes just in time to see that the shelf was coming nearer, succumbing to the pull of gravity. Before it could bury him beneath it and all the stuff it had been carrying he managed to roll away.

The shelf collapsed only a few inches away from him.

With a huff of relief, he raised himself up on his knees, eyeing the mess with a grimace.

"Holy shit! Apparently it does take more than one Stilinski to change a light bulb and that's because of safety reasons!"

The contents of the boxes were spilled under the broken pieces of the shelf which Stiles was sure he would never be able to repair again. That thing had almost touched the ceiling, that's how high it was. Stiles was no stranger to manly duties like building furniture or fixing stuff with screwdrivers and drilling machines but he preferred having all ten of his fingers far too much to get even better acquainted with those duties.

Sighing at the prospect of having to clean up the mess he had just made himself and the one that had already been there in the basement before, Stiles stood up and brushed the dust off of his pants.

He then went back to work, trying to stuff everything back into cardboard boxes - new ones, though, because the old ones had gotten squished to death during the collapse.

When he came across a small notebook bound in a dark red hard cover, he stopped rocking out to Blink182's 'All the Small Things' and took a closer look at it.

It felt somehow familiar, holding the book in his hands, feeling the weight of its many yellow pages and the words written on it.

He didn't know that every page would be filled with fine, graceful handwriting but he somehow expected it. Curious as he was, he wasted no time in opening the book to take a look at whatever had been written down in it.

His fingers brushed over the grained paper as he felt an odd sort of loss at discovering that it was empty.

In hopes of finding something to read, even if it was only one sentence, he leafed through the book, growing more frustrated with every empty page he was met with.

Disappointed, he snapped the book shut again, already reaching out to pack it in one of the boxes when he noticed the engraving on its spine.

It took him a while to be able to read it, and even longer to pronounce the words softly under his breath.

"Iskra."

He followed the golden lettered word with his finger almost reverently.

The word caused a shiver to run down his spine and warmth started to bloom in his chest as if someone had finally changed the defective light bulb in his body and now he was filled with light again.

Somewhere in his memories he could hear a woman's voice pronouncing that word in a fond tone and he realized that she was talking to him. Someone had called him iskra, a long time ago.

"I miss you, mum. Every single day," he whispered to the book as if it was a tether that still bound him to her, carrying over his words and making it possible for her to hear him.

Since he had read the nickname his mother had used to address him with on the book's spine, he knew it was meant to be in his possession. She would have wanted it that way. So he took the time to carry it up to his bedroom and stow it away on his shelf. He would think of a better place more worthy of it later when he had finished clearing out the basement.

Clearing out the basement was, as it turned out, not a fun task but he just turned the music up and danced while packing everything into boxes and stacking them away in the corner. He considered building a fort out of them but thought better of it. He didn't need a repeat of the collapse of the shelf because he was sure this time he would get buried underneath all those boxes.

As he was moving his hips to the beat of a very energetic song, he heard the door to the basement open and almost stumbled over his feet while turning around.

To his relief, it was only Malia. Embarrassing himself in front of her wasn't as bad as it would have been if she had been anybody else.

The sight of his face, especially his black eye, made her growl. Faster than humanly possibly she dashed towards him, knocking him almost off his feet when she crashed into him. Her arms immediately wound themselves around his waist, nearly crushing him in her embrace.

"I hate them so much," she spoke into the fabric of his t-shirt.

He patted her head awkwardly. "If you're referring to the dust bunnies down here then I agree. Any more of them and I'd be thinking that I am walking on a cloud. On second thought, that doesn't sound all that awful actually."

The displeased noise coming from deep in her throat was indication enough that she didn't find it funny.

"Pack means family," she said curtly. He wanted to respond with 'Ohana means family, and family means that no one gets left behind' but he was sure that she wouldn't have gotten that reference.

"I know," he told her with a weak smile. Knowing that didn't really make it hurt any less, though and it certainly didn't help his healing process along either.

"But they don't. They just don't get it."

"They're just not as smart as you are, I guess," he replied.

"Stiles, you smell like something old and rotten," she said seriously, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

He shrugged. "That's just Eau de Stiles. A delightful experience, isn't it?"

"No," she disagreed darkly, seemingly upset with the way he was smelling. "Normally you smell like sunflowers, ink, grass and cinnamon. I like your smell."

He motioned to the boxes he had already stacked on top of one another and then to all the stuff that was still waiting to get stowed away.

"Sometimes cleaning up the mess in your environment is the only way to find what you're really looking for."

"So you're cleaning up," she said, sounding like he was committing an awful crime against humanity.

"Yes. Wanna help me?"

"Do I get cookies when we're done?"

"You'll get your payment based on your performance, though."

It took them almost four hours to make the basement look decent but their slow progress was mostly due to them making pauses, fooling around and dancing wildly to one song or another they especially liked. Stiles stubbed his toe two times and got a few splinters in the process but when they had finally managed to roll the piano out from its place underneath the boxes he felt like a warrior after a won battle.

He stood in front of it, gently uncovering it from the confines of a thick old blanket.

"Can you play on it?" Malia asked curiously. She held back with touching it even though he could see in her eyes that she wanted to. So he took her hand and placed it on the keys.

"Yes, but not now. It has to be tuned before anyone can play on it or it sounds like this," he explained and put a little bit of pressure on her hand, causing her to press the key. His eyes widened when the tone wasn't off. "Huh. That's kind of unbelievable. How can it still be tuned correctly after all this time?"

"Play something for me?"

She was looking at him with her adorable dark eyes, wearing an open expression for once instead of the guarded one that seemed to be her default setting. How could he say no to that?

He grabbed the small stool he had found serving as a storage area for a withered plant earlier and sat down on it in front of the piano, his fingers already lightly ghosting over the keys in reminiscence of songs he had played a long time ago.

"I'm still a bit rusty," he warned her.

Then he began to play one of his all-time favorite piano compositions. It was Beethoven's "Für Elise", allegedly written in dedication to a woman named Elise. The german composer Ludwig van Beethoven had never confirmed that myth, though, so there were still many theories concerning that timeless piece of music.

Stiles' mother had loved the melancholic but fast-pacing song because she said it described the joy and pain of loving someone perfectly. There was a part that sounded almost ecstatic but then there was also a part that sounded kind of angry.

Stiles mostly liked it because it was so rich in variety. The main theme, though, had always enchanted him, wrapping him in its melody and making him feel safe and protected.

He came back to the present when the last note had faded away.

"That was really beautiful," Malia said quietly as if afraid of destroying the sense of tranquility the song had created around them if she spoke too loudly. "How do you know when you have to press which key, though?"

"I can play some songs by memory, like this one. Muscle memory helps, too. For others, I'd need the musical score sheets, though," he explained to her.

"What else can you play?" she asked, mesmerized by the piano.

Stiles ended up playing for her until his dad came downstairs to tell them that dinner was ready.

Peter eventually came by to pick up Malia, only glancing briefly at Stiles' black eye but not commenting on it. He hummed in disapproval, but he was looking more thoughtful than angry.

"We have to use make-up to cover the worst. But it won't stop us," he mused, reaching a hand out to turn Stiles' head so he could look at his face at a different angle. "If necessary, we could make up a story of an accident."

Stiles stepped away from him, wearing a confused expression. "What the hell are you even talking about?"

Peter smiled enigmatically. "Don't worry your pretty, if a bit banged up head about it. This is all for your best, you'll see. Oh, by the way, don't cook dinner tomorrow."

As if Peter's behavior wasn't already strange enough, he, of course, had to go and say something like that as well. Stiles narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

"Why? Do you plan to have me dead by then?"

There was really no heat behind the words. Stiles already knew that Peter wouldn't harm him.

Peter rolled his eyes dramatically, guiding his daughter with a hand on her back to the door. "Don't be ridiculous. If you died tomorrow, it would be because of Laura's lasagne, which is, according to her, the best you'll ever taste."

Stiles followed them to the door, feeling a bit lost at the prospect of seeing them go. He had expected Malia to stay the night like she usually did when she came over. Now that he knew that wasn't the case, he longed to hold her back. At night, his doubts and self-worth issues would come back, he was sure of it.

"So you're bringing me Laura's lasagne over tomorrow, is that what you're trying to tell me?" Stiles asked, prolonging the time before their departure. In his mind, he was screaming, Don't leave me alone with my thoughts!

"No", Peter said, grinning smugly. "I'm bringing Laura and Cora over. We have something to discuss with you."

His answer raised even more questions but Stiles didn't have the opportunity to ask them all before Peter got into his fancy car. Seeing the Mercedes made Stiles really wonder how much money the Hales had.

As they drove off, Stiles felt confused and even a bit disappointed at the prospect of having to spend his Saturday night alone once again. Not even his dad was there to keep him company because he had to work.

At least, Stiles had the piano to spend his time with. He was feeling too restless for sleep again, anyway.

He used all of the music books he had managed to dig up. Most of them were focused on classical music and etudes and only a few had more modern songs in them. He had forgotten that his mum had gotten him a song book filled with Coldplay songs once for his sixth birthday. He also had one filled with movie soundtracks.

That was enough to keep him busy for a few hours.

He tried working on his own songs after a while, but inspiration just wouldn't come.

"How unfair. If I have to suffer from heartbreak, I should, at least, be able to write a dramatic song about it," he complained. But right now, all he got was the "Werewolves are suckers, even more than vampires"- song and even Stiles himself had to admit that it sounded unoriginal and boring and that's not even talking about the lyrics. It was hard to find a word that rhymed with werewolves.

After some time, he decided to catch a break and so he went upstairs to get the notebook. Since it was empty, he could just as well use it himself. He could try writing the lyrics to his first and only own song in it in hopes of inspiring his second.

Before he opened it, though, he ran his finger along the spine to find the engraved words. "Iskra," he whispered to himself. How he longed to hear her call him that one more time.

When he opened the book, the first page wasn't empty any longer.

Stiles' eyes widened in surprise and he leafed once again through the whole book but the rest was just as empty as the first time he had done that.

He must have overlooked that one tiny sentence before.

'Names have power.'

That was all that was written on the first page. The words, written in a beautiful, small handwriting, made Stiles frown.

He thought about the meaning of those words for a while but all that managed to do was making him even more confused. Since he got nowhere while thinking about them, he shrugged it off.

He grabbed a pencil and wrote "Stiles' song book" inside the book cover. It was a silly notion, really, because he intended to never show the book to another soul, let alone hand it over to anyone else. But somehow he needed the reminder that he had something in his possession that was his alone. Something he would share a very personal part of himself with.

It felt wrong, however, seeing his name written down in the book he had inherited from his mother. She had never called him Stiles, even though they had made up the name together after he had come home crying because the kids in pre-school had made fun of his real name.

So he erased it all again and wrote down his real name. Not just the first name, either. He used his full name, once again cringing at the amount of names he actually had. Who gave their kids more than two names? As if one difficult to pronounce name wasn't enough already.

His mother would sadly never be able to explain her reasons for that.

He sniffed a bit at the thought. His name had always been kind of a secret he only shared with his mother. It was their insider. Not even his dad had ever really gotten in on it, even though he was the only other person who knew of Stiles' real name and could pronounce it correctly. However, Stiles and his mother had bonded over the name. He remembered fondly that whenever he had felt sad, his mum told him what his names were standing for. She had said that she had chosen them because of their meanings and that he should never forget that they were meant to describe him and guide him.

It was kind of silly but he had believed her.

Maybe that's what 'Names have power' really meant, he found himself thinking.

"You really thought I was all the things that my names made me out to be, huh?" he asked the book as though he was talking to his mum. "I think you'd be quite disappointed if you were to know me now. I don't even come close to deserving those attributes. I guess, it's because I forgot about them completely. I'm sorry, mum."

Determined to do better now that he remembered what his names really meant, he wrote down the lyrics to his first song that he had written. His handwriting looked silly and childish compared to the elegant one of his mum's but that didn't bother him. He just felt kind of relieved that he could share his achievement with her this way.

One of the questions that had always haunted him was whether his mum would be proud of him now if she were still alive and the saddest part of it was that he would never get the answer. At least, he had his names to guide him now to become the man she had always intended him to be.

He closed the book, taking it down to the basement with him. It was already well after midnight but he had finally found his inspiration for a new song.

He tested out the harmonies, imagined how it would sound combined with other voices and instruments and basically wrote a whole score for the band. He managed to finish the song in one night, complete with lyrics.

As he played it for the first time, he felt that warmth in his chest again. It traveled down his spine, made his legs and arms slightly tingle with the sensation that could only be compared to the way it must feel if light made its way through your body.

He had never felt that way before.

When he ended the song with the words "after the night, the morning comes" he almost felt electrified.

As he lifted his hands from the piano keyboard he realized that despite the light bulb having gone out again it wasn't completely dark. There was light coming from somewhere to his right and when he turned his head to look at it, he opened his mouth in disbelief.

He must be dreaming. That was the only explanation he could come up with.

As he walked cautiously closer to the source of light, already reaching out a hand to touch it, he realized that it was looking like a small star, just hanging in the air and sharing its light.

As he got closer he managed to make out more details, realizing that his comparison to a star couldn't be further from the truth. It looked more like a small part of the sun.

He felt the warmth it emitted so he was not sure if it would burn him should he touch it.

One thing that he found very strange, despite the thing existing in the first place and somehow ending up in his basement, was that he didn't feel blinded by the light, even though it was glowing so brightly.

Throwing all thoughts of caution and logic to the wind, Stiles finally touched it.

All that happened as a consequence was that the thing started to glow even brighter, encasing Stiles in its shine.

To Stiles, the thing felt like it was made out of liquid sunshine, as silly as that sounded. It felt like a drop of water on his skin, only that it was not cold but warm.

"Hey there, little guy," he spoke softly to it. He realized that it was moving slightly, almost juddering in his hand. "Aren't you a curious little thing? If I'm dreaming then I deserve kudos for my imagination and my dedication to detail. How is it even possible to touch you if you're just a spark of light? A spark -"

He paused.

"Iskra," he said with a grin. "A spark. That's what you are! Holy shit, I'm holding a spark of light in my hand! What am I supposed to do now?!"

The realization caused him to panic and so he let go of the thing as if it had burned him. But it hadn't, which was another thing that didn't make sense to him. That thing was literally made out of light, yet it felt like liquid and didn't burn him.

As he let it go, it stayed floating in the air above his hand, flickering slightly as if in disappointment at the loss of contact. He felt a strange kind of sympathy for it so he reached out once again to let it rest in his hand. Immediately, the flickering ceased and it continued its constant glow.

"How do you manage to be so cute? I'm not even sure if you're a sentient being yet," he asked it with furrowed eyebrows. "And why am I so freaking calm about this? I should be freaking out but instead, I'm feeling calmer than I have in years."

Trying something new, he set the small drop of light down on top of his piano and watched in astonishment as it slowly dried up on the spot. It hadn't gotten darker in the basement, though. Instead, the piano was now glowing softly itself.

Curious, he played a few notes and his eyes widened in amazement. His old, cheap piano was suddenly producing the sweetest, purest and richest sounds and could now rival even the best, most expensive grand piano in existence.

"Yep, I'm definitely hallucinating. That's the only explanation. That's what I get for cutting back on sleep. I dream about something weird like this."

He shook his head at himself, grabbing his notebook. Then he made his way upstairs where he quickly fell into his bed to sleep. He apparently really needed it if he didn't want to go insane completely.

Chapter Text

They all were ordered to be at the Hale House at 6 o'clock in the morning on Saturday and were threatened with facing punishment if they were even one minute late.

Some of them didn't take that threat too seriously, though, which they would come to regret dearly later.

Jackson, of course, was late because getting up that early was worse enough and he just couldn't forego his morning regime of styling his hair and doing his workout simply because he wouldn't be punctual otherwise.

Allison was late too because it took her a while to get Scott to wake up so it was really Scott's fault.

Their alpha didn't accept any excuses, though.

Did he care that they had to get up early on a Saturday? No, in fact, he couldn't care less. Did he feel sympathy for those who looked dead on their feet because they were tired? He wasn't an early riser, either, but still, he felt nothing.

He let them line up in the backyard, spine straightened and head held high.

"As you can see, I've built an obstacle course for you. That's what we'll be doing today. And when I say today, then I mean the whole day, yes. At the end of the day your bodies will be in so much pain that you're gonna wish you were dead," Derek announced, eyeing them all sharply.

They started to groan in protest, even throwing excuses at him why they couldn't just spend the whole day at the Hale House. It was their weekend, they wanted to have fun! Why couldn't he understand that?

"I'm not dressed for this, Derek! You didn't say that I have to wear waterproof clothing! And is that mud there? I'm wearing Jimmy Choo sneaker, Derek! They're not designed for those circumstances!" Lydia complained.

There was indeed a patch of mud on their lawn with only a rope to help them get across it. The obstacle course looked like a military training ground to them. It was right out of their worst nightmares.

Jackson just scoffed at the sight. "This won't take us a whole day. Give me five minutes and I'm done! That's hardly a challenge that'd take me a whole freaking day!"

Derek raised his eyebrows in mock seriousness. "Oh, really? How about running the course blindly? Or while being bound to another person? Or backward, with another person as your eyes? Still sound easy to you?"

Jackson actually had to gulp at that.

"You will run the whole course five times, just to get used to it. Then we'll make it more interesting," Derek announced.

"Surely, only the werewolves have to run through that monstrosity, right? We're just human, after all," Danny interjected.

"You want to join in whenever something is going on, right? So why shouldn't you have to train as well?"

No one knew what to say to that so they all just grumbled some very rude words to themselves.

And then the worst hours of their lives took place.

At the end, they all wanted to kill each other, that's how great it went.

Lydia had fallen into the mud because Erica was, according to her, not cooperating when they had gotten bound together and kept complaining about it til the training was finally over. Danny had gotten more than a few scratches and bruises because some of the werewolves still didn't know how to control their strength. Isaac had a broken arm at the end of the day, which Derek had to set straight again. Allison's hair looked like a birds nest and her clothes were ruined which she blamed on Boyd being too tall for her to keep up. Boyd was the only one who actually didn't throw a fit at the end of the day.

They were all quarreling again because they hadn't managed to work together even once.

Derek was annoyed that they hadn't made any progress on their solidarity yet but he also felt pleased at seeing the state they were in when they ended the training session in the evening. Some of them were so worn-out that they didn't even have the strength to curse him to hell anymore.

All of them decided to stay at the Hale House that night because they were simply too tired to drive home. All in all, Derek considered it a success.

Nearly all of them got dismissed after the training session. With the exception of Jackson, Allison, and Scott, that it is.

As a punishment for being late, Jackson and Scott had the pleasure to engage in a one-on-one sparring session with their alpha which left them with various injuries to heal after it was over.

Allison's punishment could be considered worse by some. She had to make a run to the grocery store and buy the necessary ingredients for dinner which she then had to prepare all on her own, all of that before she was allowed to shower. At the end of the day, she felt so humiliated that she refused to talk to any of them.

It was already pretty late and everyone had withdrawn to their rooms to sleep the day off when Peter came back with Malia in tow.

Derek was sitting on his chair in the living room reading a book when they entered the house. Malia was looking rather grumpy which Derek guessed was due to having to leave Stiles.

"How was your day?" he asked her but he was only met with a glare from her. "You missed Jackson whining like a sissy because his hair got ruined. I bet you'd have enjoyed watching them suffer even more than I did."

It was an attempt to get her to talk to him again but it obviously wasn't working. He sighed.

"Will you ever forgive me?"

The fact that she didn't immediately leave the living room to run upstairs gave him hope.

She eyed him warily but sat down on the couch eventually.

"I don't know yet," she decided.

"Okay," he said, feeling a bit lighter. "What did you do today? You smell like dust."

She wrinkled her nose at that. "Cleaning up the basement."

"I can't even get you to clean up your room," Peter chimed in from the kitchen where he was brewing them all a cup of tea. "What sorcery is Stiles capable of? Does he blackmail you?"

Malia bared her teeth in answer. It was pretty clear to them that no one would ever be able to blackmail her, no matter how hard they tried.

As Peter handed Derek his cup of tea, they shared a brief smile.

If Malia weren't still so angry with Derek, she probably would have told him about the piano and that Stiles had played for her. Right now, though, she didn't think he deserved to know anything about Stiles. She was not his spy, after all.

"When do you plan to apologize to him?" she asked the alpha in a serious tone.

Derek almost choked on his tea. "You think an apology will do?"

Malia looked at him like he was the most stupid person she had ever met.

"No!" she growled. "You messed up big time, Derek! But pack means family and Stiles is my family but he's not pack right now which means that I'm not pack right now, either. And I hate that. I don't like that I have to choose."

Derek's features softened noticeably and he put down his cup so he could crouch down in front of where she was sitting on the couch.

"I know that this whole situation isn't easy on you. But you don't have to choose sides because we are all on the same one. Sometimes we mess up. You know, I've made wrong decisions while having good intentions. I never meant for him to get kicked out of the pack."

"So, if I'm making good decisions while having bad intentions, what does that make me?"

Peter smiled so brightly at his daughter's retort as if she had just won the spelling bee.

"I've never been so proud of her in all my life!" he exclaimed smugly.

Derek had tried to be understanding and amiable but now he was at the end of his wits. He pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration and huffed in exasperation.

"Just tell me what you want from me. That would save us all some time," he conceded in defeat.

A mischievous glint appeared in her eyes, promising nothing good happening in the near future. Derek felt like he was looking at Satan's little minion right now.

"A day without consequences for me, no matter what I get up to," she demanded seriously, holding out her hand for him to shake so that they could officially seal the deal.

Now Derek was sure that he had one of Satan's minions in his own family.

He knew that he was probably going to regret it in the morning but he eventually took her hand and shook it.

"I feel like I just sold my soul to the devil," he grumbled with an expression so dark his eyebrows looked like black clouds just before a storm.

"No, I would've needed your signature for that," Malia told him with a shrug. Then she jumped from the couch, gave Derek a brief hug and went upstairs.

"Your child is the devil," Derek said accusingly to Peter.

"They grow up so fast, don't they?"

***

The next morning found Derek once again sitting in his chair in the living room reading the same book as the day before. What could he say, it was Sunday and he planned to have a slow day.

The peaceful and quiet atmosphere was soon disturbed by a loud shriek coming from upstairs, followed by the sound of feet trampling down the stairs in a hurry. Huffing and puffing like the bad wolf in the fairy tale, Jackson stood in front of Derek with an enraged expression on his face, his nostrils flaring with each breath he took.

Derek didn't look up from his book. He had just arrived at a very suspenseful moment in the story and no one would keep him from reading further.

"Derek! Your demon cousin is evil! Evil! Do SOMETHING!!!"

Jackson kept on screaming at him but the alpha simply ignored him. The beta was finally fed up enough that he just took the book and smashed it on the couch table, not even caring about the murderous glare he received in return.

The glare didn't last very long, though. At the sight of his beta, Derek actually barked out a laugh. It was impossible not to.

Jackson's hair was pink. Pinker than a little schoolgirl's dream even.

"Don't just laugh, you asshole! Do something!"

"Do you have proof that it was Malia's doing?" Derek asked calmly, trying hard to keep the grin off his face.

Jackson opened his mouth to say something but no words would come out so he closed it again. His teeth were grinding together, producing a very disturbing sound.

"Well, not exactly- but c'mon! Who else could have done it?!" he sputtered angrily. "So do something about it, for fuck's sake!"

Derek simply reached for his book, not even sparing Jackson a second glance. He opened the book, thankful that he had remembered the page number or else Jackson would have had a much bigger problem on his hands than having pink hair.

"What do you want me to do about it? I could shave off all your hair if you want. That certainly will get rid of the pink," he suggested dryly.

Jackson let out a livid growl before he stomped away, obviously too fed up to deal with Derek's sense of humor right now.

***

Stiles had already set the table when Peter arrived with Malia, Cora, and Laura in tow. Laura gave him a kiss on the cheek in greeting before she carried the lasagne over to the kitchen.

They all sat down at the table, waiting for Laura to dish out the food. It was somewhat uncomfortable because Stiles had no idea what the purpose of all this was. He didn't know what they had in store for him and that made it almost impossible for him to sit still in his seat.

"Jackson has pink hair now," Malia suddenly announced. Then she hopped from her chair and showed Stiles pictures of Jackson's new hairstyle on Peter's phone.

Stiles had to laugh at Jackson's sour expression. "It looks like he has cotton candy for hair!"

Malia's grin could only be described as smug. She looked so pleased with herself that Stiles didn't even have to ask whose doing that was.

"You should've seen Derek's reaction after he found out that his whole wardrobe had been sprinkled with glitter. Whatever black or gray henley he decides to wear, he now will always look like an emo fairy with overcompensation issues," Laura told him gleefully.

Stiles was promptly shown a picture of Derek holding up one of his black shirts, his face rivaling grumpy cat. Stiles hadn't even known it was possible to look that pissed without exploding. His eyebrows were drawn so tightly together, they had practically united to one ominous dark cloud above his eyes which seemed to shoot thunderbolts at the camera.

Stiles laughed so hard that the soda came out through his nose. It wasn't his finest moment but he thought he could be excused.

"Revenge has never been so sweet," Malia commented on her own work with a sly grin.

"Remind me to never get on your bad side," Stiles said.

The tense atmosphere was broken after they had all shared a laugh over Malia's pranks on the pack. The werecoyote was proudly telling them about how she had put up plastic wrap around the beta's beds (also including the humans of the pack, of course) so that they couldn't move an inch when they woke up. It had taken a lot of plastic wrap to accomplish that but it had been worth it in the end. Some of them had been so confused they had thought they were still dreaming, saying the silliest things so they could get free. Boyd had actually thought he was held captive by a huge spider while Erica had thought she was possessed by the devil. Isaac was the only one who was spared from that prank because she didn't want to send him into a bad flashback. She might have been on her path to revenge but she wasn't heartless.

Instead, Isaac had been doused by ice cold water, raining down from a bucket installed at the door once he stepped into the bathroom.

Stiles hadn't felt this happy in a long time and though it wasn't perfect it was good enough for him right now.

Laura's lasagne was praiseworthy and he didn't hesitate to compliment her on it. God knows he would give his soul for the recipe. Seeing Laura's cheeks tinge slightly red in bashfulness made him realize that even someone as confident as Laura had weak spots.

"Stiles, Malia told me that you took up practicing on the piano again so does that mean that you've thought about my offer?" Peter asked casually but everyone could tell that he was anything but. He was here on an agenda, that much was clear to Stiles.

Stiles groaned lowly in his throat, resting his head in his hands. "So that's what all this is about. You're all here to get me to change schools, aren't you?"

He shot accusing glances to all of them, hoping they would feel ashamed of themselves. They didn't look like they were regretting it, though.

"Stiles, you might not know it, but Cora actually is a student at St. Joanna's AMA. She can tell you first-hand how your education there would look like. At least, listen to what she's gotta say, okay?" Laura pleaded with him. He could hardly say no to that since she had made him dinner so he nodded in defeat. He should have seen through this whole plot at the beginning.

Cora then proceeded to tell him about their curriculum and the courses they had to take. Basically, there were three branches you had to choose from. You could either set your focus on music, or on art, or on dancing. In some special cases, it was allowed to combine two of them but that was a really rare occurrence that required the acceptance of the majority of the school board.

Stiles learned that Cora had set her focus on music, especially on the violin. It was, of course, possible to learn more than one instrument if desired. There were also various extra-curricular activities like the school choir, the theater group, the school orchestra and the opportunity to get extra points by giving music lessons to children, performing for retirement homes, hospitals and pre-schools as long as the permission had been granted by the school board beforehand.

All in all, it sounded like a dream come true to Stiles. He would have the opportunity to improve his skills on the piano, maybe even to take up a new instrument and he was assured that they even offered courses for students who were interested in composing and songwriting. What more could he ask for?

"Okay, so what is the catch?" he asked them with narrowed eyes. "You can't seriously expect me to believe that a school like that would just accept someone like me during an already on-going semester without there being a catch, can you? So what is it? Is it the student fees? Because I'm gonna tell you, I can't afford much."

Laura laughed good-naturedly. "Well, the fee is nothing to look down on, that's for sure. But St Joanna's AMA offers full scholarships to the especially talented and I've been told that you're definitely one of them."

"What do you mean? How would you know that? What would I even have to do to get that scholarship?"

Peter leaned back in his chair, seemingly not bothered by the prospect of high student fees. Hell, Stiles was sure that he would be able to afford them easily for his daughter, should she ever decide to go there.

"You have a major advantage, Stiles, and that is Laura. She's on the school board," he informed him smugly. "So all you have to do to get the full scholarship is show your talent to the school board. It should be no problem for Laura to get you an audition for Monday."

Stiles' face immediately lost all its color. He was looking at them with an expression of pure horror, almost as if he'd just seen a ghost.

"I can't do that!" he protested, appalled at the sheer prospect of it. "I can't play in front of people! The last time I did, I was six and I vomited on stage. No one wants a repeat of that!"

That day had been engraved in Stiles' young mind as one of the worst in his young life. Since then, he always felt a bit queasy just thinking about having to play in front of people again. He could do it when it was only the band, no problem. He could do it with just Malia present. But not in front of a school board who would judge him based on his performance.

"Stiles, you were able to play Chopin just from memory and with only a few minor mistakes when you haven't practised for years. I don't think this should be any obstacle for you whatsoever," Peter reminded him calmly.

He was still panicking. His palms were sweaty and his stomach was turning upside down. Just because it didn't seem like an issue to Peter didn't mean that it wasn't one for Stiles. He even felt like barfing right now.

Laura took pity on him then and rested her hand soothingly on his shoulder. "Hey, don't worry, okay? You don't have to audition on Monday. You can have a trial week, attend the lessons and see if you even like the school. And then we can still make an appointment for an audition, okay? Don't sweat it."

"Now I'm just abusing my advantage of knowing someone on the school board," he said, trying for a smile. It didn't fool anyone.

"Trial weeks are nothing unusual, actually. Many kids who have thought about attending St. Joanna's AMA have partaken in such a trial week. The school board already knows about your possible future attendance so they won't mind, I promise. Since Peter presented your case to them, they actually can't wait to meet you."

"You start on Monday then," Peter stated, satisfied with himself. "Malia and I will pick you up. I'll bring your school uniform along. You don't have to worry about a thing."

Stiles almost nodded in relief when everything Peter had said caught up to him.

"Wait, I have to wear a school uniform?!"

***

When they all had left, Stiles remembered the strange dream he had had last night. It was weird how realistic it all had seemed to him. He could still remember it as if it had actually happened, even the details were clear to him. It was strange for a dream to be that memorable.

With his notebook in one hand, he went down to the basement to practice on the piano. Now that he knew he actually had to be good in order to make it in that school, he was determined to take up playing every day for a few hours just like he had as a kid. He couldn't afford to get rusty again.

He released a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding when he saw his old piano which was not glowing. He shook his head at his silly thoughts.

Naturally it was not glowing. Pianos generally didn't glow.

He warmed himself up by playing a few scales then he tried one of the more advanced piano pieces. It represented quite a challenge at first but after some time, he finally got the melody right. From then on, it was up to his motoric abilities to adapt. His fingers weren't quite as fast and precise as they had once been and sometimes he missed the key or he didn't manage to press all of them at the same time in order for the chord to sound right.

He was improving, though.

When he was done practicing, he decided to indulge himself by working on his own song again. The one he had written yesterday. He had thought about background singing and decided to add it to the score.

He was met with a surprise as he flipped the notebook open.

There was a new paragraph on a once empty page, written in the handwriting of his mother.

Chills were running down Stiles' spine but they weren't of the uncomfortable kind. It was like the goosebumps you got after listening to a breathtaking song. He felt a sense of awe rise in his chest.

The Spark is a part of you, my dear. You're only able to create it once you've found it in yourself. And from then on, you have to be careful. If you don't feed a flame, while constantly taking from it, you will find that it goes out pretty soon. Take care of your spark, iskra. Don't let yourself burn out.

He read that paragraph over again and again, trying to make sense of it. He flipped back to the first page of the book, looking for the first sentence his mother had left for him.

"So you're telling me that names have power," he whispered to himself. "And as soon as I spoke the word iskra that advice appeared in the first place. It was your nickname for me. And now there's a whole paragraph that hasn't been there before. What the hell is going on?"

He leafed through the rest of the notebook, looking for anything else that was suddenly written down in it. He found nothing.

It made him think of those video games where you had to get to the next level to unlock the next advice.

"So the spark was real," he realized suddenly. "It wasn't just a dream. And apparently it didn't just appear out of nowhere, either. But if I created it, how did I do it? And what the hell do you mean by burning out?"

There were so many questions whirling around in his head and even though it seemed that the notebook was meant to guide him, he felt even more lost after reading the paragraph once again.

Just then, the light bulb decided to go out again. Annoyed at the moodiness of that thing, he went to stand under the ceiling light, hoping it would change its mind if he talked soothingly to it. He started with complimenting its willingness to go along with the unorthodox working hours he had set up for it.

When all of his sweet-talk didn't work, he went down on his knees to plead. That's what his life had come to. He was pleading with inanimate objects just so they would do their job.

Suddenly, as if in answer to his pleading, his fingers started to glow and then, out of the blue, a drop of light like the one he had encountered yesterday was forming on his palm.

His mouth dropped open in disbelief as he felt the warmth and light emitting from that small thing invade the darkness of the room. His fingertips were tingling and the feeling of contentment spread through his whole body.

"You feel like a drop of positive energy. Is that where your power comes from? If you're really a part of me then you must come from positive feelings and thoughts, right?" He mused while inspecting it. The spark was just as he remembered it. Liquid and warm. Just holding it made him feel like he was experiencing something wonderful.

It didn't make a sound as it rested in his hand but the light it was emitting was as peaceful as if a pure voice was singing the sweetest words to him.

Softly he gave the spark a little push in the direction of the light bulb, anticipating what would happen next. The spark began to slowly and wobbly float into the air, gradually getting higher. It almost seemed a bit confused at the lack of direction given to it but eventually it reached its destination anyway.

As it touched the light bulb, it seemed to melt into it, sacrificing its own existence to give the light bulb enough power to produce light again. It was somehow the most heartbreaking thing Stiles had ever witnessed and the loss he felt as soon as the spark burned out was almost overwhelming him. He wasn't even aware of the tears running down his cheeks, that's how absorbed he was in the sacrifice.

To him, it felt like a small part of himself had extinguished along with the spark, dimming his world and letting shadows in. It made him feel vulnerable.

"I guess that's what you mean when you tell me to be careful of burning out," he mumbled while wiping away the tears.

Even though he felt exhausted after witnessing his little spark die out, he picked up the notebook once again. Two new paragraphs had been added.

You have to carefully choose which causes are worth giving up a spark and consequently a small part of your own light. We're not meant to burn forever, iskra. No one really is.
Even so, your spark isn't limited. Just as you can take from it, you can give to it. Feed your spark with light every once in a while because it can't shine out of its own energy forever. Our resources are limited, we're just humans after all. And if you find yourself stuck in darkness, iskra, don't forget that you're not the only one who can share light. It's just less obvious when other people do it. Kindness shines the brightest, iskra. Never forget that.

Chapter Text

"I look like an idiot."

"No, you don't. You look decent for once. Those plaid shirts weren't doing you any favors and now you actually have a figure! You're a bit scrawny, yes, but it goes with your disheveled nerd look. Besides, your ass looks great in those pants."

Stiles' eyes widened in horror. "Oh my god, why couldn't my dad take me?!"

"Because he is talking to your principal right now. Even BHHS would eventually notice if a student of theirs doesn't show up for a week, you know?"

Stiles had to force himself not say something rude because Malia was in the backseat and he couldn't just curse in front of her. But he really wanted to right now.

Beacon Hills High School had somehow mysteriously already been informed on Friday about Stiles possibly changing schools. It didn't take a great detective to know that something like that could only be attributed to Peter. That didn't sound all too bad because now Stiles didn't have any problems at school because of his absence. The reason why Stiles was so pissed about it, though, was because Peter didn't only hint at the possibility of him changing schools, no, he made it sound like a certainty. By now the whole school would know about him transferring.

"You're not my dad. You still need his permission to move me to another school, you know?" Stiles said moodily. He was not sulking, he was just stating facts.

Peter smiled at that. "Oh, c' mon, Stiles! You and Malia act like siblings, you can't blame me for feeling like a co-parent here. You may even call me daddy."

"Jesus, Peter! Your daughter is right there! Don't you want her to develop a healthy sense of family? At this point, she's bound to be damaged for her whole life!" Stiles exclaimed in a too high voice, feeling absolutely mortified.

Malia didn't appear to be fazed about the disturbing take of this conversation. "At least, he doesn't want you to call him mommy."

Stiles turned around in his seat to show her his betrayed expression.

"If I marry your father, I could be your mommy. Then we'd be a real family," Peter contemplated loudly.

Stiles was thankful when the school gate came into view and thus the conversation was put to a stop. Admittedly, Peter had managed to distract him from his fear and jittery limbs but if it came at the price of his sanity Stiles would've rather endured the nervous breakdown.

As they went looking for a parking spot Stiles fumbled tensely with his dark red - ("It's not dark red, Stiles! It's burgundy.") - blazer and pulled at his skinny tie in the same color. He felt so wrong wearing the fitted dark gray slacks, the white dress shirt, the damn blazer and the tie. He would never wear something like that normally, not only because he wouldn't even be able to afford it but because it just wasn't his style. He felt put on display. His shirts had always just felt comfortable while also hiding his skinny body. The uniform, however, hid nothing!

Even though he thought the school uniform was excessive and pretentious it was still pretty harmless when compared to the enormous school building that now came into view. Nothing could scream "School for the rich and extravagant only" louder than a building structured like a castle with a garden that probably required a gardener to keep the bushes in shape and a fountain with the school's patron as a statue in the middle. He wouldn't be surprised if someone dressed like a butler opened his door for him.

"This is a freaking castle and not a school!" he exclaimed while his heart threatened to beat right out of his chest at the sight.

Peter wasn't fazed in the slightest, he just shrugged like it was an everyday sight for him. "I already admitted that it was a bit snobby. Just imagine how good a diploma from this school would look on your college applications, though."

Stiles couldn't argue with that. If he managed to graduate from this school, he had no doubt that he would be faced with a shiny future. Maybe he could become a great movie composer, like John Williams or Hans Zimmer.

He shook his head to get rid of silly fantasies while they were walking to the principal's office. It was no use to daydream now, even more so if they were that unrealistic. He had written two songs; that didn't make him a composer, though. He was still far away from being put in the same category as his idols.

Peter was the one who did most of the talking, handing the elderly woman dressed in a tweed suit the permit with his father's signature. Stiles was feeling too overwhelmed anyway to even utter a single sentence.

The woman who he assumed was the principal stood up from her desk and made her way over to them to shake his hand. He did so hesitantly, not sure how much pressure he was supposed to apply to the handshake. He varied between too sloppy and too tightly which earned him a furrowed brow from the elderly lady. He cringed internally. Maybe he should have kissed the back of her hand like they did in the movies?

"Mr. -" She struggled for words, obviously trying to figure out how to pronounce his first name.

"Call me Stiles, please, sir." As he realized his mistake, his eyes widened and he rushed to correct himself, "I mean Ma'am! Ma'am, of course, everyone can see that you're a woman! And it's so refreshing to have a female principal at such a high rated school! Go, women rights! Right?"

He was flailing so much in his haste to right the situation, he never even noticed how close he was standing to one of the sculptures which he wasn't even sure what it was supposed to represent. Needless to say, he knocked it off from the antique-looking table it was standing on.

Malia reacted quickly and managed to catch the sculpture before it could shatter on the floor. Thank god for werewolf-reflexes!

Unfortunately, the sculpture did still find its end in Malia's hands, who just wasn't able to control her strength in that situation and ended up destroying the sculpture anyway. She looked so regretful about it that Stiles couldn't bring himself to feel mad about it.

He tried for a charming smile as he looked at the stunned principal. "Nothing a little bit of superglue can't fix, right?"

Peter looked at them both with a long-suffering sigh and rolled his eyes. He then smiled at the woman while guiding her slowly back to her desk. The poor woman looked like she would keel over any second, whether that was because of the loss of that awful sculpture or because of the display of surprising strength from a twelve-year-old wasn't really all that clear to them.

"My daughter has recently taken up karate lessons," Peter explained with a calm low voice that Stiles was sure would have made a younger woman swoon. "That was Neil DuCranier's 'Screaming Swan', wasn't it? What a fine eye you must have to recognize its true value when most critics wouldn't even spare it a second glance! We all should mourn the untimely death of such a timeless masterpiece! I'm inconsolable! You must allow me to compensate for it! I wouldn't be able to get over my feelings of guilt if you denied me that!"

They walked out of the office with Stiles wearing a grimace on his face because of the awkwardness he was still feeling, Malia with her shoulders slightly hunched because she had once again displayed a lack of control and Peter with a sour taste in his mouth because he had left a considerable sum of money behind in that office.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to," Malia murmured, her head lowered.

Peter put a soothing hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry about it, dear. What is worrisome is that woman's taste in art. Everyone knows that Neil DuCranier is a poor excuse of an artist. That sculpture looked more like his dying career than a dying swan."

"Well, we definitely left an impression on her, I say," Stiles said. "She's on the school board, too, isn't she? She'll never vote in my favor now!"

Peter raised an eyebrow but didn't appear all that bothered about how the introduction to the principal went. "In a perfect world, you would've been kicked out after you addressed her with sir. But we're not living in a perfect world and people are easily swayed by money. That woman won't damage your chances here. She thinks I could be a possible sponsor now, I doubt she wants to get rid of you."

They met Cora in the entrance hall, which had chandeliers and a marble floor. Stiles felt like he had entered Hogwarts, only sans the magic.

"Laura made sure that I've been assigned to be your mentor or something and show you the place," Cora told him, looking bored already.

Peter clapped him enthusiastically on the shoulder and Stiles knew it was time for him and Malia to go.

"Well, have a good first day at school, Stiles. I packed you lunch, by the way. So don't tell me I'm not an awesome mommy," Peter bragged while Malia hid her grin by keeping her head low enough for her hair to hang into her face.

Stiles didn't find it funny. He quickly opened his backpack and grimaced when he found an embarrassing lunchbox with dinosaurs on it.

"Well, that was disturbing," Cora commented as soon as her uncle and cousin had left. Stiles couldn't even bring himself to nod in agreement, he was still too hung up on the freaking lunchbox. He already dreaded what Peter could possibly have put in there.

From then on, the day didn't go as horribly as he had feared when he had woken up that morning. He followed Cora to all her classes, even tried to participate when he felt he was actually qualified to have an opinion on a certain topic.

All in all, it went really well, if one saw past his rocky start.

New problems arrived when they were going to the cafeteria to have lunch. Stiles soon realized that not all students were welcoming when it came to new students who had transferred from a public school. Rich kids were awfully arrogant. Some of them looked at Stiles with an expression that could only be described as a sneer.

One of those assholes even tripped him on his way in the hallway and he would have fallen down if Cora hadn't gripped his elbow in time. They were probably laughing at him right now because a girl had caught him like he was some damsel in distress. Not that he cared. He hadn't been that popular in his old school, why should it be any different here?

"Ignore them. They are assholes," Cora told him.

At first, he had been worried that he might damage Cora's reputation too but he had soon found out that Cora cared very little about her social status. She thought of most of her fellow students as a part of a primitive species only a little more evolved than apes, so she kept her distance to the popular crowd.

When they reached the cafeteria, Stiles saw a familiar face and felt a tinge of hope bubbling up in his chest.

Surrounded by what Stiles assumed must have been the 'popular crowd' was Lindsay, laughing at something a friend of hers had said.

"Don't bother. She won't talk to someone as low in the social hierarchy as us," Cora informed him coldly, glancing over to where Lindsay was sitting with a look of disdain.

There had to be a history between the two of them. Cora hadn't shown that much hatred towards any of the others, not even towards the asshole that had tripped Stiles.

"But I know her, we're friends," Stiles argued. Cora just shrugged and raised an eyebrow as if to dare him to prove her wrong.

So he decided to do just that. He made his way over to Lindsay, raising a hand to wave at her. As soon as she saw him, her eyes widened in recognition but her expression soon turned from joy to mortification. An extended arm stopped him before he could reach her, though.

He followed the arm to a bulky body belonging to a boy who was, at least, two heads taller than him. Stiles couldn't believe that guy was even a student here. Maybe he was a bodyguard?

"Sorry, dweeb, but I can't let you through. You're just an ant compared to them," he was told in a monotone voice like the guy was reading that sentence of a flip card or something.

"You know, ants can carry 5, 000 times their body weight which is approximately your body weight compared to mine. You should be scared of me," Stiles said, hoping he could win that guy over with his charming wit and sarcasm.

The guy looked unimpressed, not changing his stance. He still refused to let Stiles take even one more step towards Lindsay.

"You really want to test my strength, big guy? Are you really prepared to face that kind of humiliation? You can still back out now, just let me through. We can handle this the diplomatic way. You look like a smart guy to me. I'm sure we can come to an agreement?"

Mr. bodyguard just looked down at him like he was a bug that he could squish easily with his shoes.

Later Stiles would probably tell anybody who asked him about his version of the events that he went down with a fight and only didn't win because he didn't want to get suspended on his first day.

What really happened, though, was that Stiles got shoved so hard when he tried to get passed the guy that he fell onto his ass.

Him going back to Cora was just a strategical retreat. And maybe because that had really hurt.

"You're a fool for trying," Cora told him before she took a bite of her club sandwich. "That guy is known as Boulder around here. He could probably take on Derek and win."

Stiles sat down cautiously but trying to make it look like he was just looking for the best position to sit at the table.

"Hm, did you hear that?" He held up a finger and appeared to strain his ears. "Yep. I think that was the sound of Derek's ego crumbling to pieces. Damnit, Cora, do you know how many situps he has to do now to repair the damage?"

Cora rolled her eyes. "You're an idiot."

Stiles smiled because there was a fond undertone to the insult. At least, someone in the new school liked him.

***

Meanwhile, the pack had already heard about all the rumors regarding Stiles Stilinski suddenly changing schools. Most of them were pretty low-key, like the one where Stiles allegedly was shipped off to live with a distant aunt or something.

Then there were also the ones that sounded so far-fetched that not even a pre-schooler would believe them, like the one where Stiles had witnessed a murder taking place and was now in the Witness Protection Program which required him to move away to Alaska or Africa or somewhere else even further away. To be fair, that rumor mostly got spread because many students had seen the Sheriff leave the principal's office with a grim expression so they immediately jumped to their own illogical conclusions.

Scott was so shocked by the news that he ran into a door.

The talk about Stiles Stilinski vanishing from the school grounds of Beacon Hills High for forever was the trending topic of that day. No matter to which group of high school students you belonged to - whether the popular ones, the nerdy ones, even just Greenberg - everyone was, at least, mentioning his name today. It was really weird because most of them couldn't even say if Stiles had brown or blonde hair, let alone which color his eyes were.

With an accusing finger, Scott pointed at every member of the pack that crossed his path that day.

Jackson acted like he didn't care, shrugged his shoulders and looked daringly at Scott as if to say "What do you want me to do about it, huh?".

"You all realize that our chances to get Stiles back have minimalized themselves immensely now, right? I would even say that it is highly unlikely now that we even manage to apologize properly," Lydia snapped at them as if they were to blame for Stiles changing schools.

They were. But they didn't like to get reminded of the fact.

"Since when do you care? You never even really bothered to acknowledge Stilinski," Danny asked, a little confused at Lydia's new tone when it came to Stiles.

"Since he solved the damn case!" she hissed. "And since the stick in Derek's ass became a branch."

Danny nodded like that was a valid enough reason for him. Scott wanted to hit them all.

"Seriously?! You don't want him back because he actually saved your life, Lydia? Or because he has helped us so many times? I mean, you can't just decide that you want him back for your convenience!" he said furiously.

"To be honest, I don't want him back," Erica said almost reluctantly. She got glared at by Scott but all the others just rolled their eyes at her.

"Of course, you don't want that. He's the one who stands in your way to get a happy ending with our alpha so you clearly want him gone," Lydia stated coldly. Erica huffed indignantly.

"No, bitch. I don't want him back because you all still wouldn't treat him right if he came back now."

"Since when do you like that dweeb?" Jackson asked suspiciously.

Boyd stared Jackson down but Erica didn't let anything deter her anyway so his protection was well meant but unnecessary.

"Since I realized that I have no future with our alpha, you dickhead," Erica snapped. "At least, I got over my immature hatred of him. What about you? Are you still so insecure in your masculinity that you see him as a threat to your relationship?"

"I kind of miss him," Isaac admitted before Erica and Jackson could continue their fight. "I never even realized how he just fit in with us, with the pack. He's, like, a fundamental part of it all in order for it to work, you know? And now that he's gone, we're all falling apart."

They didn't argue with that, not even Jackson, even though he was huffing like he really wanted to say something but didn't know what.

Scott gifted Isaac with a grateful smile which made the teen slightly flush. Danny rolled his eyes at that but didn't comment on it.

"Let's not despair, guys. He changed schools, so what? It's no big deal. He's not unreachable now. We just have to try a bit harder now and actually put some effort into getting him back," Danny said nonchalantly.

"We don't have that much time, though," Lydia informed them all in a sharp tone. "We need to find the alpha before the Blood Moon or Scott is going to lose his mind. Whoever has the alpha is doing something to her to make her, and consequently Scott lose control. Now imagine the effect the Blood Moon would have on them both. We only have one month left. We clearly need his help."

"What do you mean lose my mind?! I don't want that! I can't become insane! How would I explain that to my mom?!" Scott started panicking.

"Time for us to beg on our knees for forgiveness then," Boyd stated like it was a well-known fact. He didn't sound the least bit bothered about it.

Silence settled over them and they all knew that their fate was sealed. They had to forget about their pride and take one for the team if they wanted the pack to work.

***

Stiles found his jeep standing in the parking lot and he knew that Peter must have driven it there. It was actually really thoughtful of him to do that because Stiles needed a moment to himself after that day and nothing managed to calm him down quite like a ride with his jeep did.

The day had been pretty nerve-racking for him so he decided to drive around for a bit. It wasn't like someone was waiting for him back home. His dad was still at the station and he didn't have any friends that would pay him an impromptu visit.

As he drove, he thought about this new chapter of his life and if he was even ready for it. It somehow felt like the old chapter wasn't quite closed yet.

The case still wasn't solved. Even if he told himself that it wasn't his problem anymore, that still bothered him. Could he really just walk away from it when it was so clear that the pack was in danger?

He wasn't part of the pack anymore, he had to remember that. He had to remind himself that they probably wouldn't even accept his help if he were to offer it to them.

"Why should I care? They don't need me. They told me so multiple times," he talked some sense into himself.

He had his own life now, one that existed independently from the pack. He had been pushed down and trampled over by people he had given his all to but not anymore. He had grown into his own person, he could stand on his own two feet without anyone's help.

And the realization that he could lead a life without them and still be happy was the important part in all of his personal growth. He didn't need their acknowledgment nor did he need Derek's affection.

He didn't need them. He didn't want to be needed by them either.

What he now sought was to be wanted.

He knew all of that now so he was kind of angry at himself when he found himself, all the same, standing on the steep bank again, looking over the river.

Why was he here when he had so clearly decided for himself to let the pack handle the case?

For a moment, he actually considered slapping himself for his inability to let things simply rest.

The sight of the river made him still feel uneasy so he once again hid from it by crawling into the burrow. It was stupid and he was well aware of that fact but that didn't stop him from actually doing it.

This time, though, he wanted to get further than just the entrance. Somehow he figured that it would be big enough to house his body. It was so far underground, he nearly fell into it.

Somewhere in his head, he compared himself to Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole.

To his surprise, the burrow wasn't just a burrow. It was more like an underground cave.

Since it was too dark for him to see anything, even with the beam of sunlight that came in through the entrance hole, he closed his eyes and concentrated on finding his spark.

It took him a while before he felt the tingly sensation in his hand and for the warmth to spread out in his chest but when he finally opened his eyes there was a small drop of light in his palm illuminating the cave. The spark was smaller than the last one he had been able to conjure but it was still shining bright enough for him to see in the darkness of the cave.

He nearly dropped the small guy in shock, though, when he heard a pitiful whine to his left. Cringing back and holding up his other hand in defense he hastily turned around, expecting to get attacked by something.

Nothing happened, though.

For a moment, he thought he had just imagined it but then he heard that whine again.

He took a closer look this time and found that the sound was actually coming from the ground. When he knelt down to see better with his limited light source, he was met face to face with the creature who had startled him with the noises it was making.

It was a fox.

It was lying curled in on itself on the ground, its snout hidden by its bushy tail. The sight made Stiles feel ridiculous for ever being frightened. The fox looked so cute lying on the ground like this that Stiles couldn't help himself but coo at it.

Slowly he crawled closer to the animal, trying not to scare it away. It was clearly awake because it let out another whine and it was then that Stiles was able to see that the fox was injured.

"Oh my god!" Stiles exclaimed as soon as he saw the horrible flesh wounds on one of its hind legs and on its side. He didn't need to be a vet to know that the fox would probably not survive the night. The sight of blood and the exposed bone made him feel queasy.

He could take the fox to Deaton but it was pretty likely that he would die on the way there.

The fox was watching him with pained eyes, clearly expecting him to take advantage of its weakness.

Stiles knew that the sensible thing to do was to relieve the animal of its misery and end its pain by picking up a stone and smashing its head in. He had no gun or weapon to kill the small guy fast.

He didn't want to go through with that, though. He didn't even know if he would be able to.

Desperately searching for another way to help the creature, he looked down at the glowing drop in his hand and thought it was, at least, worth a try.

With all his might he willed it to get bigger, to absorb more of his inner light in order for it to gain mass. Sweat was forming on his forehead because of the effort it took but he didn't give up, even when his legs were starting to feel a little weak.

The light in the cave grew brighter as the spark in his hand grew. Before it had just been the size of a raindrop but now it actually was as big as his thumbnail. It was all he could manage right now. The world was already spinning around him and black spots were dancing in his vision. If he took any more now, he would faint.

"I'm sorry, little guy. This is all I can do right now," he apologized to the fox as he let the drop fall down into its wounds. "Please let it work! Please!"

He knew it wasn't much but he had witnessed how powerful a small drop of the spark could be and he hoped with all he got that it would be enough to heal him.

He didn't even know if the spark was able to heal in the first place. But he hoped and he prayed.

As it had yesterday, the drop melted against the surface it was met with - in this instance, the fox' body. The light slowly passed over to the fox, making the animal glow softly. And as the drop of light ceased to exist and Stiles felt the same loss as he had yesterday flare up in his chest, the wounds closed themselves.

Stiles nearly collapsed in relief but also because that stunt had tired him out. He felt emotionally wrung out, like something had pierced him deep in his soul, splitting parts of it from him. He didn't know what happened to those parts that got severed but he felt the pain of it like a real wound on his body. It was painful and it made him vulnerable but he was also happy because the cause had been worth it.

The fox was visibly feeling better already.

It stood up then, its leg apparently completely healed, and limped over the distance to him. Its snout pressed briefly against his pant leg, allowing the animal to breathe in his scent.

Cautiously Stiles reached his hand out to pet the little guy. When it became clear that the fox would allow such an action, he picked the animal up and cuddled it to his chest for a moment. He was just so glad that he had been able to help him, even if it had come at a cost.

"I shall call you Burly from now on," he decided out of the blue. "Burly, you don't even know how glad I am to see you alive, buddy."

Since it was already getting dark, he made his way out of the cave/burrow which actually took a lot of effort now that he was weakened from the healing.

To his surprise, the fox followed him.

Stiles turned one last time around to look at the animal and smiled tiredly. "I hope we meet again. Until then, be careful, Burly."

The fox sat down in front of the burrow and watched him walk away. Its glow was vanishing with every passing second and soon no one would be able to tell what had happened to him. The animal stood up after a while and ran into the forest, happy to get to live another day.

Chapter Text

Stiles nearly overslept the next day which was really something because he had fallen into bed as soon as he had been home and out of his uniform.

Healing the fox had really exhausted him. He still felt the strain of it on his body and mind and it took him more strength than usual to get out of bed at all.

His body ached like he had run a marathon without warming up first, his vision was fuzzy and he had a headache the size of Texas.

Since his stomach didn't growl in hunger but in queasiness he decided to skip breakfast and learn instead more about the spark.

Like always he spoke the nickname his mother had given him out loud because he assumed that was what had unlocked the advice the last few times. To his luck, there was indeed a new page filled with his mother's handwriting.

You might have already realized that the spark possesses power. Since it is a part of you, it can, however, only be as powerful as you willed it to be. The spark is magical but it cannot make you a god. Magic follows the laws of balance that nature set. If you give, it will take from you. You do well to remember that, iskra. I know you are strong but even you are not invincible and if you take too much, you will find that the effects on you will be rather painful and could in some cases even lead to death. You're not the sun but you are meant to shine, even if it's not forever. Don't let yourself become a supernova.

A supernova is a rare astronomical event which basically only happened when a star in his last stage of life dies in one final explosion which releases such radiance that it seems like a new star is born but eventually the light will fade away.

Stiles could go out like a supernova if he wasn't careful. He could destroy himself by giving away his light just so it could shine the brightest for a short amount of time.

He knew now that he had to be careful. It was easy to take the warning from his mother serious when he was already feeling the after-effects of nearly taking too much. He might feel like a steamroller had just run over him but he was still alive.

When he made his way out of the house and to his jeep, he noticed a smudge of red in the corner of his vision. He turned around to see what it was and nearly fell over in surprise.

At the sight of the fox, he felt a little bit of warmth return to his chest and he knew that the sacrifice of his spark had not been a hasty and stupid decision.

He still felt the remnants of his spark in the fox. It almost felt like they were connected now.

"Can you feel it too?" he asked the animal as he crouched down to pet it. The fox was watching him with clever eyes and made a small motion with his head, almost as if he was answering in the positive.

"Well, as much as I'd like to stay here with you, I actually have to go to school now. Maybe we'll see each other later?"

It was a stupid question because the fox couldn't know when he would be back and it probably wouldn't sit the whole day here and just wait for him to return. He sighed in disappointment because he was really fond of that little guy - which might have been because he had given part of himself up to save him - and he was not having any illusions whatsoever that the fox could understand let alone return that kind of devotion.

Or maybe it could, seeing as it rubbed its head against his leg for a moment before it ran away.

The whole school day his thoughts were muddled and his concentration was nearly non-existent. Cora took one look at him and asked him if he wanted to go to the infirmary. Apparently he looked pretty sickly. He was pale, there were dark circles under his eyes despite the amount of sleep he had gotten and his hands were slightly shaking all day long.

He didn't need to go to the infirmary, though, because he wasn't sick. They couldn't help him there. He just hoped that his energy would recharge with time. After all, his mother had said that he could feed his light, that he could take from it and give to it.

He just had to figure out what light was feeding on. Or how, to be more precise, since he already knew that his light would just require even more light to not go out.

His mother's instructions weren't all that clear as it turned out.

When he got home, he almost contemplated skipping band practice for the day. He didn't feel up to it and he would much rather spend the time sleeping anyway.

Besides, to his surprise, Burly was beyond all expectations indeed waiting for him when he got home. The fox was apparently so glad to see him that he yipped and charged towards him, nearly knocking into his feet in enthusiasm.

Stiles couldn't help but find it cute.

He bent down and picked the small animal up, not caring how it might ruin his expensive clothing. Peter had almost bought him a whole wardrobe of it anyway so what did it matter if he dirtied that one set?

With the fox in his arms, he went inside, only to nearly have a heart attack when he noticed that he was not alone.

He would've dropped Burly if it hadn't been for the fox' claws digging into his arms. Burly had started to growl at the intruder, baring his teeth in warning. Stiles let him down so he could circle around the human's legs in a protective manner. Stiles felt touched, he really did, but he knew that he would not be harmed by the person Burly had deemed as the enemy.

"You know, forced entry is considered a crime, don't you?"

Scott probably would have grinned sheepishly if he weren't so perplexed by the presence of the wild animal in the Stilinski household.

"Dude, there's a fox in your house!" he exclaimed with wide eyes.

"No shit. I just thought it was our new rug but then it moved."

"But Stiles-! A fox!" Scott was waving his hands around dramatically as if it was a tremendous mistake on Stiles' part not to react more strongly to his observation.

"There's also a werewolf in my home and you don't see me freaking out, do ya?"

Burly was still growling so Stiles petted his head to signal him that it was okay and that the new person meant no harm to the both of them. The fox calmed down almost immediately. In fact, he started to make a noise that sounded suspiciously close to a purr.

"He likes you," Scott noted incredulously which Stiles found a little bit insulting.

"I am likable. Not that many people would agree with that," Stiles replied gruffly, his fingers combing through the thick fur of his new found animal friend. "Which makes me really wonder what you're doing here."

Scott had the decency to look guilty at that. He actually shrunk back on himself where he was sitting on the couch. His shoulders were drawn up to his ears and his eyes had that tormented look in them that made it really hard to not feel a bit for him.

"I can't act like an idiot forever without noticing it sooner or later," he said quietly.

"But the denial is strong with this one," Stiles muttered. He wasn't quite ready to accept that lame excuse yet.

"Not anymore," Scott assured him eagerly. "I was such an idiot and I'm sorry, Stiles. I'm the lousiest best friend in existence."

"You are," Stiles agreed.

"I just - I am hardly ever in control these days, I'm always feeling on edge, my dreams are crazy and I feel so murderously angry all the time now - But that isn't an excuse for me ignoring what's going on with you, I know. I just thought that I would do you a favor by staying away for a bit. You seemed so angry at me that one time in the hallway and I wasn't sure if I would lose it around you-"

Stiles held up a hand to silence his former best friend and Scott immediately stopped his rambling. To be honest, Stiles really couldn't bring himself to feel mad at Scott anymore. He knew that guy couldn't hurt a fly intentionally if his life depended on it, let alone someone he actually cared about.

"I have no problem with all these things though I would have liked if you had talked to me about it. You know I'd always help you, right? Me staying away from you isn't doing any of us a favor but I can understand why you would think that. The whole situation with the alpha has never been easy for you and I hate to see you like this too," Stiles conceded. "But Scott, you didn't believe me when I needed someone's support. You didn't back me up even once and no one else did either. I just thought that I could count on you and you - well, it seems, I was wrong about that."

Scott looked wrecked after Stiles had finished and it made Stiles feel a bit bad for his friend but he knew that needed to be said if they ever wanted to rebuild their friendship.

Scott nodded in bitter acknowledgment.

"I'm sorry."

Stiles knew that Scott was sincere and that he felt really guilty about how everything had gone down.

"We've hit a rough patch, Scotty. You don't have to look like you've caused the end of the world, okay," Stiles said after some time of Scott looking miserably at his hands.

"I just feel like messing up is the only thing I'm good at lately. First my control, then our friendship, now my relationship with Allison... Everything keeps falling apart and it's my fault."

Stiles sat down on the floor with his back leaning against the wall. He was facing Scott but they were almost sitting on opposite sides of the room. As soon as he had sat down Burly curled up next to him with his snout resting on his thigh.

"What happened with Allison?" Stiles asked even though that question caused a bitter taste to settle in his mouth. He was not a big fan of her at the moment.

"After I heard how the pack has treated you - Allison included - we all had a huge argument. And I and Allison kinda broke up, I guess."

Stiles was surprised at that. "Why?"

"Man, the way she treated you wasn't okay and - yeah, Allison might be the love of my life but.... you're my brother, dude. Brothers are for life, love sometimes isn't," Scott explained with a crooked grin.

Stiles had no choice but to return that grin weakly. That moment made it clear for him that they would be okay eventually. Maybe not in the near future but in time, everything would be alright again. They were both too invested in this friendship to simply walk away when things got rough.

"So what's that guy's name?" Scott asked after they had sat in comfortable silence for some time. He was nodding towards the fox that was now sleeping in Stiles' lap.

Stiles was massaging one of Burly's ears because the animal was just too cute to simply ignore it.

"Burlington Amadeus Ramsey III but he prefers to be called Burly," he answered. "I guess he thinks his full name makes him sound snobby. He is of noble descent, you know?"

"You've got to tell me the story of how you guys met sometime."

That's one of the reasons why Stiles knew they would be okay. Scott knew he couldn't just go back to the way things were before. He wanted to give Stiles the time he needed and he also knew that he had to earn his right back to simply assume Stiles would tell him everything. For now, they settled for "sometime" and not a specific date in the future which was okay.

"Yeah, one of these days," Stiles agreed.

They talked about unimportant stuff like lacrosse, video games and shows they've watched on TV for some time but then Stiles had to send Scott away so he could get ready for band practice. Scott didn't look offended and he didn't even ask what Stiles had planned for the evening, he just stood up, clapped Stiles hesitantly on the shoulder and left. He didn't even say when he would be back but Stiles was sure that he would be back soon.

He changed into his street clothes while Burly drank water from a low bowl. Stiles had also given him some stripes of raw chicken because the poor guy seemed to be hungry.

"You seem to be pretty young, you're at least not fully grown yet. And I've read somewhere that foxes are very social creatures. So where's your pack, little guy?"

He didn't get an answer, of course. It was quite clear to him that Burly wouldn't follow him if he had a family of his own.

"Aww, don't worry, Burly. You can be in my pack. I've lost my old pack too."

Burly followed Stiles out of the house but sadly he couldn't come with him over to Lindsay's. Stiles petted his friend one last time, reminding him to keep safe if he went to play in the woods. Then he got into his jeep with a heavy heart at the prospect of leaving the fox behind.

The warmth of the spark he felt when he was with Burly diminished more with every mile he put between himself and the animal but he knew that they couldn't just spend every second of the day with each other.

He doubted the animal would be happy about that anyway.

Stiles arrived at Lindsay's roughly half an hour before band practice began because he wanted to talk to her. That was the reason why he had changed his mind about coming here in the first place.

He greeted Lindsay's mother politely, declined when she offered him freshly baked cookies and milk and went immediately down to the basement.

"Oh, you're early today," Lindsay exclaimed surprised but her expression was tense. She obviously knew why he was here.

"So you're able to recognize me without the uniform? That's good to know. The uniform must have the same effect then as Clark Kent's glasses. I'm both Clark Kent and Superman, you know?"

"Stiles-" she began with a grimace but then she stopped herself.

"So, okay, even if you didn't recognize me yesterday or today, I'm kind of really ashamed of how you'd treat a random fellow student then. I mean, do you think you're above everyone else? Are we normal folks just too below you for you to converse with us?"

"Okay, okay! I get it, you're upset! Let me explain, goddamnit!" she exploded finally, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

Stiles raised an eyebrow, signaling that he was waiting for an explanation.

"I'm not a saint, Stiles," she huffed as she let herself fall into a bean bag. "You put me up on this pedestal because you think I'm just goody-two-shoes Lindsay who sings to sick children and probably poops rainbows."

She looked at him accusingly as if he was the one who had wronged her gravely.

"Look closely at my life, though. My brother is dying, my father is never at home and my mom thinks she has to be a housewife from the 50s to make up for every bullshit that happens in this family. Can you blame me for wanting, at least, my school life to be perfect? I mean, I was at the bottom of the food chain once too. But then I started to date Brad, an upperclassman and suddenly everyone wanted to be me."

"He's a pretentious, unimaginative asshole," Stiles felt the need to point out.

"I know," Lindsay admitted. "I mean, at first, I didn't. I was so in love with him and with suddenly being popular. I felt like my opinion did actually matter all of a sudden, you know? But I realized soon that Brad was not all I had made him out to be. He gets fed up with me when I say no because he wants to go further but I don't."

Stiles shook his head in incomprehension. "Why are you still together then? He doesn't even go to St. J's AMA anymore. You don't need him."

Lindsay shrugged her shoulder helplessly. "Force of habit? I don't know. I'm afraid I'm nothing without him. Right now everyone knows me as Lindsay who's dating a guy from college. Lindsay who gets invited to all the cool parties. Everybody wants to be like Lindsay. Yay."

Stiles had to laugh at the lack of enthusiasm she was displaying while imitating her groupies.

"Well, the Lindsay I've come to know is pretty cool. But the one I saw at school isn't. And frankly I don't want to even know the Lindsay in school because she sucks," Stiles told her with brutal honesty.

She cringed slightly at that but she didn't disagree with him. With a sigh, she let her head fall back and looked at the ceiling.

"I never thought our friendship would become a problem because you're part of my life outside school. I'm a totally different person when I'm not at school. But now you're part of my school life too and that messed everything up," she told him with a little bit of disappointment in her tone.

He kicked her bean bag in retaliation. "Well, I'm sorry, your highness. But life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

She snorted out a laugh. "Oh my god, you're such a geek! You're never gonna be popular with that attitude! Who quotes 'the Princess Bride' in this day and age?"

There was no bite to her comment so Stiles didn't snap at her. Somehow he knew that she was actually admiring him right now.

"Oh, come on, you love me! Don't be shy about admitting it! Let the world know how you feel about me! Scream it from the rooftops!" He grabbed her by the hand and pulled her to her feet. "It's not enough to take the one you love for granted. You must remind him, or he'll be inclined to say: How do I know she loves me?"

She rolled her eyes at his antics but she couldn't keep the laughter in. "Are you seriously singing that song from the movie 'Enchanted' to me right now? You absolute dork!"

"Don't go breaking my heart" he sang in mock seriousness with a hand pressed over his heart as if she had just pierced it with a sword.

"You've seen 'Ella Enchanted' too? Where the hell is your man card?"

"What can I say, I've been surrounded by dominant women all my life. At this point, even I don't know which one of them has my man card. But you know what, I'm doing great without it. And I'm still a manly man who's manly all the time."

She swung her hands around his neck and brought them closer. Then she kissed his cheek in apology.

"I'm sorry. I was acting like an asshole."

"So does that mean you're done ignoring me? Because I'm really done with being ignored," he told her seriously.

"You're so much better company than all my 'friends' from school, anyway. They tell awful jokes."

"And my jokes are all tasteful and classy," he agreed with her.

"Especially the knock knock jokes."

They had to stop fooling around when the others came over. Brad was already giving Stiles the stinky eye because he probably thought there was something going on between him and his girlfriend. Stiles really tried not to feel too smug about knowing that he wouldn't be Lindsay's boyfriend for much longer.

They mostly worked on the one song that Stiles had written with him just sitting and listening. Sometimes he had to correct some harmonies or change a chord but basically his presence was redundant.

Brad, of course, was the one who loved reminding him of that.

"Brad, you're annoying all of us with your constant nagging so could you please leave? If I wanted that kind of negative energy in my basement, I would've just invited my math teacher okay?" Lindsay finally had enough and pointed with her hand towards the door.

Brad's incredulous stupefied expression was worth all the insults Stiles had to ever put up with from him. With as much dignity as a guy as brainless as Brad could possess he left the basement, loudly shutting the door behind himself.

Chandler made that badabum-tss sound you heard on television whenever someone told a joke on his drums as soon as he was gone. Everyone looked at him quizzically.

He shrugged. "That's what a drummer does as soon as the joke is over and gone right?"

Zoey grimaced slightly at the joke but then she grinned and looked at Stiles.

"Well, congratulations, you've just been promoted to be our pianist."

Stiles felt a sense of panic at her words because he knew that being the pianist also meant that he would have to go on stage with them when they had their next gig. He gulped.

"Did I ever mention that I can't play in front of an audience? Oh, I haven't? Well, you accepted a sloppily done application then."

Chandler once again played his drums, this time annoying all of them.

"Seems like we're the joke now," he said simply.

Lindsay didn't look impressed. She just went over to Stiles and poked a sharp finger at his chest.

"It's high time to get over that fear, then. It's called graduated exposure therapy. It's going to be hard, you're going to suffer, you're going to sweat blood and tears but when we're finished with you, you'll be able to play on a stage and even enjoy it!" she promised him darkly. Zoey nodded in agreement and ripped a strip of paper from her notebook. She quickly wrote something down on it.

When she handed it to him, he realized that it was a date and hour.

"That's during lunch break," he said, confused.

"Damn right. You're gonna get acquainted with the ego-boost corner."

"I can hardly wait," he stated dryly.

***

When Stiles got home, he found Burly sitting on his porch right next to the door. His dad's cruiser was parked in front of the house, though, so Stiles really wondered what his reaction to the fox just waiting here had been.

Burly followed him inside and he didn't even attempt to keep him outside. He felt better already just being near him again, his spark refreshing in being in the near vicinity of what was once a part of it.

It sounded dumb, even in his head, but it was the best explanation Stiles could come up with to why he felt so at ease around the fox.

"Stiles, what is that?", his dad asked as he leaned in the doorway with his arms crossed in front of his chest. It was his 'I'm not going to allow this'- pose.

Stiles picked the animal up and held it right in front of his dad's face so he was confronted with the overly amount of cuteness before Stiles could ruin it by rambling.

"That," he said as he rested his chin on Burly's head. "is a fox. A very cute fox. So loveable. And so well-behaved. How can you say no to that face? Look at his face, dad! See how fluffy he is!"

His dad's face was creased in frustration and he sighed. "Aw, hell, kid. That's a wild animal you got there. It needs the forest. It needs - I don't know, its den, probably. What it doesn't need is a roof over its head and electricity."

"But I'm his pack!" Stiles argued. As if in agreement to that statement Burly whined pitifully and laid his ears flat against his head. "Look at him! He wants to stay here! He needs me!"

Stiles could see his dad's internal fight in his eyes and he knew that he had won. His dad rubbed a hand over his face in defeat and just shook his head.

Stiles beamed at him and gave him a quick hug, nearly squishing Burly between them in the process.

Later, the fox was lying curled up on his bed while he was writing something down into the red notebook.

He tried to list things that were possibly feeding his light. Up until now there was only one point listed, though, and that was, unsurprisingly: music.

It didn't change much but it had obviously helped him, seeing as he felt better now after band practice.

He would need to constantly play on the piano, though, to make up for the sparks he had already used.

It obviously wasn't enough.

Just when he flipped to a new page to write down more theories, he discovered a new paragraph.

Recharging light - or feeding it, as I've called it before - is different for every spark. It always takes a certain amount of concentration, inner peace and a sense of fulfillment, though. I'm not really sure how it works exactly, either, since there is no science to it. Magic doesn't work on certainties. With time, you will be able to tell how much of your light you can use before it becomes dangerous for you. You'll get a feel for it if you so will. I've been told that it all depends on inner strength. If you're strong enough, you can do many wondrous things. But how do you achieve strength, you're asking me? I think you can answer that for yourself, iskra.

Stiles scrunched up his face in disappointment.

"Well, that didn't really help me," he mumbled with a frown. "Hey, what happened to that first spark anyway? It wasn't painful when it melted into the piano so that means it didn't burn out!"

As if it had been waiting for him to notice its absence the little spark came floating in through the ceiling, almost like a shooting star but much slower.

Its brightness caused Burly to open one of his eyes tiredly.

Stiles was shaking his head in confusion. "Where the hell have you been? Were you just waiting for me to miss you? You're an attention seeker, aren't you?"

The spark stayed floating above his head, almost daring him to touch it. When he reached for it, though, it moved out of the way. He tried following it but it just kept avoiding him.

"Are you moody because I forgot about you? Give me a little credit here! I thought you were just a figment of my imagination!"

Unexpectedly, the little guy chose that moment to burst into a million pieces, all of them just floating around in his room. It looked like he had his own small galaxy full of stars.

Burly was now fully awake and chasing after some of the sparks who kept moving lazily through the room.

As magical and beautiful as the scene looked, Stiles was panicking slightly because his dad was just downstairs and could come into his room any minute.

He closed his eyes in concentration and tried imagining all the little floating sparks as an extended light source of his own inner light. When he opened his eyes, he found them all standing still.

He willed them to melt together and be one drop again and they did. They were under his command.

When it was just one drop of light again, he reached for it and willed it to melt into him. He felt himself absorb the warmth and saw the drop melting, making his own body glow for a short while.

Burly looked disappointed that his source of entertainment got taken from him so he just decided to gnaw on Stiles' ankle.

Stiles didn't mind that. He was smiling because he now knew that not all sparks that he set free were completely lost. Some might just come back to him.

Chapter Text

The ego-boost corner was as it turned out a place in their school where the students could do impromptu performances during lunch to show others their progress, what they can do or simply to settle an argument (it worked better than punishment for fights apparently).

There was even someone in charge of it and to Stiles' surprise and mild annoyance, that person turned out to be Zoey. Zoey had already graduated from St. J's AMA and was now working here as the director of the school choir. She was also simultaneously studying at the local community college to get her teaching degree.

"You can do this, Stiles! There's really nothing to it. You're just playing in front of people," Lindsay encouraged him while handing him a water bottle. He gulped most of it down in one go because he was so nervous.

"Why did you put a towel on me? I'm not sweaty. Oh, well, I am but now it's more obvious," he asked, eyeing the red towel over his shoulders warily.

Zoey was standing behind him, massaging his shoulders as if he was about to enter a boxing tournament.

"There are a few things that could go wrong, though," Cora interjected from the sidelines. She was still slightly pissed off that Lindsay had left her popular friends standing and had gone over to their lunch table instead. Stiles knew it had been a big break-through for Lindsay but he was glad that he meant enough to her to be a priority in her life, and even one that she put above her own popularity.

Lindsay glared her down for being unhelpful. "There's literally nothing you could do that would make your reputation around here worse. They all think you're here because of your connections to the school board. They are all already talking bad behind your back, no matter how horribly you mess up."

Stiles looked at her with wide panicked eyes. "That's not reassuring, like, at ALL. Please tell me you don't want to become a motivational coach in the future. And oh my god, did I mention that I can't do this?!"

"Try to look on the bright side," Zoey advised him. "If you don't mess up, you have a chance to improve your reputation. You think they will laugh at you when they see how good you are? I don't think so!"

"They won't?" Stiles sounded doubtful. In his experience teenagers could laugh at anything just to be spiteful. He had ADHD, he knew almost everything about being made fun of.

"Who cares if they do? They're just petty, then. But you will show them that you deserve to be attending this school! You are going to prove to them that you have more talent in your pinky finger than some of them have in their whole body!" Lindsay spoke with conviction. She was looking into the distance as if she expected to be a character in a movie.

"Hooray, you can do anything if you just believe in yourself," Cora said disgruntled. "Mary Poppins here will just use her magic powder on them if they're mean to you. Because the good guys always win."

Lindsay just ignored her and maneuvered Stiles over to the corner where a piano was already waiting for him.

His stomach was one big giant knot and his fingers were so sweaty that they would probably slip off the piano keys if he were to play now.

There was not a giant spotlight directed at him like in all of his nightmares but the scenario was still pretty similar. He felt like puking.

A few students were standing around the corner which was actually not even a real corner but just a patch of carpet that differentiated it from the marble floor.

A few more were sitting on the lunch tables around the so-called corner, talking quietly to each other and glancing over at him every now and then.

Nope, he couldn't do this.

So he didn't stop at the piano. Instead, he just marched on, almost breaking into a sprint as soon as he was off of the carpet.

Lindsay, Zoey, and Cora were left to watch him with furrowed brows.

"That could have gone better," Zoey commented.

Lindsay narrowed her eyes, internally embracing the challenge. "Oh, he can run but he can't hide. Tomorrow is another day and it will be THE day!"

***

"You talked to him?! Like, you actually talked it out like responsible adults without any maiming or mangling happening?" Isaac asked just to make sure he had heard correctly.

"Yeah," Scott answered him from his spot on the couch, crunching on Tortilla chips. "Why do you sound so surprised about that? I can act responsibly!"

It was hard to believe him when he was talking while chewing and spewing Tortilla bits around. Isaac grimaced slightly.

"Do you - maybe- think I could come with you? The next time you visit him?" Isaac asked cautiously as if he was expecting to be rejected.

Scott just shrugged. "I don't see why not, dude."

Just then, Jackson arrived, followed by Erica and Boyd. Lydia, Danny, and Allison were right behind them too.

"Has Derek another torture afternoon planned? I don't think I'm ready for this," Danny said in greeting, plopping down on the couch next to Isaac.

"I won't play along," Jackson stated with a dark expression. His hair was blonde once again but they all had enough evidence of the pink hair debacle to make fun of him for a lifetime.

"Well, you don't have to," Derek said as he was walking into the living room. "You can just sit here and act like a stubborn brat. Just be prepared to never see your signed baseball again."

"What?! Why, what did you do with it?!" Jackson yelled outraged.

Derek just ignored him. He was used to Jackson throwing a tantrum.

"I took something from all of you and hid it. If you want it back then you better stay til everyone has found their lost item. You can, of course, help each other since not all of you have enhanced senses. No one leaves before every item has been found. Are the instructions clear enough for you?"

All of them were wearing various expressions of shock on their faces.

"You went to our rooms and took something?! That's invasion of privacy!" Danny exclaimed indignantly.

The look in their alpha's eyes darkened. "I wasn't rummaging around or anything. I just took the first object that looked important."

They started the search with a few more complaints on their lips but they all knew that whatever they said would just fall on deaf ears. Danny and Isaac decided to team up, same as Erica, Allison, and Boyd. The most unlikely team was probably Lydia and Scott but Derek was kind of glad to see that they were not splitting up into their usual teams. The whole point of that exercise was to encourage them to work together and to get the werewolves to use their senses.

The only thing that brought on a headache for Derek was Jackson's refusal to work together with any of them. Since the fight between Jackson and Lydia was still going on, the beta had distanced himself from the pack even further. Derek wasn't quite sure what to do about that.

"Don't beat yourself up about it," Laura said as they both stood on the porch, waiting for the first team to make it back. "He'll come around eventually. I think this was a great idea. You're improving as an alpha. They need to learn how to be pack the hard way so don't yield just because they're unhappy with you at the moment. Later, they will thank you for not going easy on them."

"I know," Derek agreed quietly. "I took lessons in being evil from you and Malia. I would be surprised if they didn't hate me."

Laura punched his shoulder lightly. "They don't hate you! Not all the time, at least. They're teenagers, they probably hate the whole world sometimes. That doesn't mean you're an awful person. I bet some of them even like you."

She was saying all of that with a smile so he knew that she was just pulling his leg.

"Our time to prepare is narrowing down rapidly. The Blood Moon will be in a few weeks and I know that they all know what that means for them," Derek said with a frown.

Laura's carefree smile vanished from her face and was replaced with a serious expression as she nodded. "I know. I think Lydia, at least, has figured it out. She knows that they are keeping the alpha alive for a reason and it's no coincidence that the Blood Moon will be soon. They are planning something."

Derek's expression darkened considerably at the thought of what was to come. It was pretty clear to them they wouldn't be able to find the alpha within the few weeks they had left before the Blood Moon. It was too dangerous to just start looking for her anyway. All they could do now was to prepare themselves for the worst.

Derek didn't like it, he didn't like it at all because it was just too risky but there was no other option. At least, they had the hunters on standby, should they need them. That was an advantage they had on their opponents but it probably wouldn't make that much of a difference in the end.

Laura gently placed a hand on her brother's arm. "We can't leave Stiles unprotected just because he isn't pack right now. They could use him against us as you're well aware of. He needs protection."

"I already talked about that with Chris. He agreed to call in everyone he knows who owes him a favor. They should arrive over the next two weeks. We have too many humans who can be associated with our pack, the Sheriff, and Mrs. McCall included. Chris promised to put guards on them."

"You think that's enough?" Laura asked doubtfully.

Derek sighed. "I hope so."

"So you're not bringing him back into the pack because you want to protect him? I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad idea, Derek. What if it backfires?"

The alpha felt the heavy weight of all the lives that depended on his decisions on his shoulders and he wanted to get buried underneath it, just so he wouldn't have to worry about it anymore. But Derek was an adult and as such he knew that he had to carry the weight to the end.

His sister knew that Derek hadn't made that decision without seriously thinking about it so he was already aware of the risks he was taking. She could practically feel his thoughts fighting against each other to come to a solution that wouldn't cost a life. The battle was still going on, never resting.

She leaned her head on his shoulder in sympathy as they both sat down on the steps and waited for the betas to return.

***

Stiles felt like a disappointment because he hadn't been able to perform in the ego-boost corner. He felt like the corner didn't deserve its name anyway. It was not a corner but rather just a carpet. And his ego hadn't gotten a boost, it had just gotten even more trampled over. They should probably call it 'The ego-destroying carpet', that would be more accurate.

Lindsay hadn't been too upset about him chickening out at the last moment. She just assured him that they would try it again tomorrow.

And wasn't that just something to look forward to?

Stiles sighed as he made his way over to the hospital. It had been a short day for him, even if it had felt like a decade to him, so he figured he had time to spare for a visit to Ray.

Lindsay had said she had put him on the list of people who were allowed to visit so he didn't need her to accompany him. She was practicing with the school choir right now anyway. That girl practically had all her week perfectly structured into various activities, just so that she didn't have to spend too much time at home.

Stiles knew that he was bound to meet Melissa McCall on one of his visits sooner or later so he tried to act casually when she asked him what he was doing here.

"I'm just visiting a friend," he told her, hoping that she would believe him after all the times he had used that phrase as an excuse to snoop around. When she saw that he was heading towards the pediatric wing, though, she stopped eyeing him suspiciously and just let him pass. As strict as she sometimes acted towards him, Melissa McCall was awesome and Stiles was so grateful for her that he nearly went back to hug her. Maybe he could bring her flowers the next time he was over.

He knocked quietly on the door, just because it was common courtesy, not because it was necessary.

As he entered the room, Ray opened his eyes and smiled when he realized that it was Stiles.

"Hey, champ, how are you doing?"

It was not a question that was meant to be taken seriously, and they were probably both aware of that. Ray had gotten gradually weaker in the last week and could barely even step out of bed anymore without help. Even without a doctor's professional opinion, Stiles knew that Ray's days on earth were slowly coming to an end and the thought alone of that small body lying motionless in a casket caused Stiles' heart to freeze in his chest.

"I'm doing okay," Ray answered sunnily but they both knew that couldn't be further from the truth.

Stiles sat down on one of the visiting chairs and forced himself to smile at the boy.

"Lindsay told me that you're having trouble," the kid mentioned intentionally casual.

Stiles huffed in amusement. "Tattletale."

Ray tried sitting up but he was too weak for it so Stiles helped him. When he was satisfied with his position he eyed the older boy intensely with a frown.

"So I was told that you have stage fright, Stiles. How come?" he asked him seriously, almost acting like a therapist in an old sitcom.

"How come?" Stiles echoed incredulously. "Everyone has something they're afraid of without a proper reason. What are you afraid of?"

Ray put his head sideways slightly in thought. "I'm afraid of bees."

"Why bees?"

"They're so small but when they sting you it really hurts. And you can't even be mad at them because you just get stung but they have to die. I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel when they hurt me but get hurt because of me too," he explained.

Blue eyes were looking at Stiles pensively, almost as if they knew that they were revealing more than just the obvious.

"You know, you've made a really good point there. I think you just changed my whole worldview."

"See, I could tell you my reason. Now it's your turn," Ray demanded.

"Okay, you got me. Let me think about it for a minute," Stiles conceded, holding up a finger as a sign for Ray to be patient while he was sorting his thoughts.

"My mom died when I was a little bit older than you," Stiles started to explain. Ray's eyes widened in sympathy. "It's okay. That's not what I was getting at. It's just that my mom and I used to sit by the piano together for hours with me playing and her listening, sometimes singing along. Our love for music was something we both shared so whenever I'm playing the piano now, I have to think of her. And I guess the reason why I'm so afraid of playing in front of people is that I feel like I'm disappointing her if the people listening wouldn't like it. It's stupid - I know that."

Ray looked like he was thinking hard about what Stiles had just said.

"I don't think she would be disappointed in you, you know," he said after a while. "You remember her while you play, right? Everyone wants to be remembered when they're gone so I think she's happy whether you're good at it or not."

If the kid had any hair on his head, Stiles probably would have ruffled it now because he was so touched by the kid's statement. As it was, Stiles just rested his hand on a blanket-covered knee.

"I think you're right," Stiles told him while he nodded. "That's why I'm trying again tomorrow. And if it doesn't work then, the day after tomorrow. Your sister won't let me off the hook anyway."

Ray grinned in satisfaction. Then he shared secretively, "I think she has her wild time again. Mom says girls get like that once a month or so."

Stiles burst out laughing after hearing that. Kids were great because they could get away with saying stuff like that.

"Oh yeah? Thanks for letting me in on the secret, buddy. Want to hear one of my secrets?" he asked him in a hushed tone so he would appear even more like a secret agent.

Ray looked around the room, probably searching for unsolicited listeners. When he deemed it safe enough, he nodded eagerly.

Stiles leaned closer and whispered, "I can do magic."

"No way!" the boy exclaimed with eyes filled with wonder. As he realized that he had not whispered the words, he clasped a hand in front of his mouth sheepishly before saying in a much quieter voice, "I only believe you if you show me!"

"You have to promise me not to tell anyone else about it, though," Stiles said seriously. "What I'm about to show you is for your eyes only, okay? It's our secret."

Ray swore to keep it a secret with a hand solemnly pressed to his chest. It was the wrong hand so it wasn't resting on his heart but it was the intention behind the gesture that counted.

Stiles closed his eyes, hoping he was strong enough again to conjure at least a small drop of light. He wasn't sure if he had recharged enough already but he felt okay so he decided to try it anyway.

Warmth started bursting through his chest, traveling down his arm and making his fingertips tingle.

When he opened his eyes he was relieved to find a small drop of the spark shining brightly from where it was resting on his palm.

Ray's mouth had dropped open in wonder and his eyes were so big that they looked like saucers.

"Wow!" he said under his breath. "It's so bright! And it's not even hurting my eyes!"

Since he had discovered that he had control over it Stiles let the spark float into the air, causing Ray to smile at it.

He was so proud that he could make him happy that he went a bit overboard with the tricks he let the spark do, like making loops in the air or spelling out Ray's name which was also quite fun for him to watch because the spark dispersed like ink on a paper, creating a glowing word that was just hanging above their heads.

The drop was small but just like liquid, it could stretch out, even wider than its mass would have suggested was possible.

Ray was so in awe of what Stiles was showing him, he hadn't closed his mouth even once since Stiles had conjured up the spark.

"Can I touch it?" he asked hesitantly, his eyes filled with longing. How could Stiles have refused him?

He nodded so Ray reached out a hand for it. He wasn't strong enough to reach it so the spark crossed the last bit of distance between them itself on Stiles command. As soon as the two of them touched the spark jiggled slightly, almost as if it was ticklish or shy.

Ray giggled as well. "It feels like jelly but softer. Like jelly water or something."

Stiles thought that was a pretty accurate description. He had only ever called it 'a liquid drop of light' in his head but he thought he should add jelly water to it as well. A liquid jelly waterdrop of light.

With magical powers. He could never forget the magical powers.

Which, as he thought about it, might just be what could be able to help Ray. That theory wasn't so far-fetched, seeing as it had also been able to heal the fox. Granted, open wounds weren't the same as cancer but it was worth a try.

"Do you know why it's magic?" he asked the boy, catching the drop in his own hand again. Ray shook his head. "Because it has power. Do you trust me enough to try something?"

Ray furrowed his brows briefly but then he said with conviction, "I trust you."

Stiles smiled at him in gratitude than he thought of all the good things he had ever experienced in his life, hoping it would make the spark more powerful. He thought about all the things that made him calm like the first note he played on the piano or the feeling of falling into a freshly changed bed after a refreshing shower.

When he felt too exhausted to continue he let the spark float back over to Ray, this time touching his chest, though.

Ray looked down in awe as the drop began to dry, melting into him in the process. He giggled again because apparently it tickled when a spark dried up on your skin.

As he began to glow softly himself, he smiled so brightly that it was almost blinding. The teen had never seen the kid so happy and carefree.

"It doesn't hurt anymore," he told Stiles in a voice so incredulous as if he had just met Santa Clause. "I only feel warm! Stiles, it doesn't hurt! I don't hurt!"

Stiles felt so overwhelmed with gratitude that it took a lot of effort to hold back the tears that were threatening to spill over at the sight of the joyous scene.

The boy sat up without effort, looking so proud of it that Stiles let out a noise that was a mix between a laugh and a sob.

"I'm glad, buddy," he croaked out, trying to get his emotions under control again. "I'm really happy about that."

***

Jackson was slowly starting to feel desperate. He had been running through the forest for hours now and he still had no idea where Derek had hidden his baseball.

It made him angry that their alpha had the gall to just steal from them and that he was making them work to get something back that had been theirs to begin with.

Just because Derek was upset about Stiles leaving the pack didn't mean he had now the right to make them pay for it.

Admittedly, Jackson felt a little bit guilty for attacking Stiles because he knew that the human was no match for him in his lizard form. But Stiles had hit a weak spot, something he always managed to do, sometimes even without meaning to.

Jackson couldn't stand people who managed to pierce through his armor. Even less since he had become a werelizard instead of a werewolf and had killed a few people without even realizing it.

It was already getting dark and he was still running through the woods, growing more frantic with every passing moment.

He let out a scream in frustration.

Everybody else was most likely already back and just grumbling because he took so long to find his lost item. He imagined them cursing him to hell right now because they weren't allowed to leave before he hadn't returned to the Hale House.

Jackson clenched his teeth together in anger and misery.

He should have realized that he wasn't alone anymore but the turmoil of emotions that was crashing through his body made it hard for him to concentrate on his environment.

When a heavy hand landed on his shoulder, he couldn't help himself but wince.

Boyd was looking down at him, the bulking mass of muscles that was that guy's body appearing even more intimidating at dusk.

A little bit behind Boyd was Erica. Jackson realized belatedly that they were holding hands. Suddenly it made a little more sense to him how Erica had been able to get over Derek so quickly.

"What do you want?!" Jackson snapped at them as he remembered that he still had to look for his baseball. "If you're here to ask me for help, you can fuck off. I'm working alone!"

As always, Boyd kept a completely blank face, making Jackson wonder if that guy hadn't accidently turned into a were-robot or something.

Without a word, the tall werewolf handed him his baseball.

Jackson's mouth dropped open in surprise but he couldn't utter a single word. He was speechless.

"You know, Jackson, you don't have to act like a dick around us just to stand out. Especially not around us," Boyd told him seriously.

Then he turned around to Erica, sharing a glance with her that Jackson wasn't able to decipher.

"What are you just standing there for? C'mon, the others are already waiting for us!" Erica yelled back at him before they had even left his sight.

He gripped the baseball a little tighter and hurried to catch up with them.

"Thanks," he said quietly, intentionally not looking at either of them.

"You're pack," Boyd replied simply and for the first time, Jackson might have caught a glimpse of what it truly meant to be pack.

Chapter Text

Stiles woke up to pain and confusion. The pain was at the forefront of all his thoughts as it was spreading through his body, seemingly setting his insides on fire in the process. The confusion was just secondary.

He tried to remember what he had done before he had gone to bed. Hell, he tried to remember if he had gone to bed at all. He wasn't sure if he was lying in his own bed or somewhere else entirely after all.

Time didn't seem to exist in the world of pain he had found himself in. He had no concept of how long he had been sleeping or how late it was right now. It didn't really matter to him at the moment anyway.

He was burning, his body was on fire.

He couldn't bring himself to open his eyes. Was he even awake or was all of this just a dream?

He wasn't really sure if it was possible to feel pain in dreams. Maybe he should do some research about it once it was over.

But when would it be over? To him, it felt like he had been suffering for hours.

Did nobody see that he was standing in flames? Did nobody hear him scream?

He realized that he was not screaming. His mouth was closed. He couldn't even bring himself to scream, his lips just wouldn't cooperate.

The world seemed to be devoid of all sound except for a low whine but he wasn't sure if he himself wasn't the one producing it.

The spark is magical but it can not make you a god.

Balance.

If you give, it will take from you.

Those words kept ghosting through his head, making him dizzy. He tried to grasp the meaning but every time he reached out for it, it vanished into thin air.

Concentration was not achieved easily when you felt like your brain was melting.

Almost as if someone had heard his prayers, the pain dulled a bit which made him able to think again.

And then he remembered.

After visiting Ray, he had felt like death warmed over. His muscles had ached and his thoughts had been fuzzy. He had no recollection of how he had even managed to drive home but he had eventually found himself standing in his bathroom, looking at his reflection in the mirror.

He had been pale. He had been sweaty. He had looked like a zombie extra from the "Walking Dead".

But where was he now?

Since the pain had now reached a bearable level, he was able to concentrate on what his senses were telling him. His eyelids were too heavy to lift them up but he could feel the texture of a bed sheet under his hand so he was definitely lying on a bed. At this point, he just assumed it was his own.

His brain had almost caught up with all the events that must have happened before he had blacked-out so he was now able to understand why he was currently in this predicament.

He was only human but he had willed his spark to help Ray so he assumed that he was now suffering the consequences because he had not been strong enough to do so.

He had taken too much.

He was not on fire, not literally at least. No, he was about to burn out.

That realization caused him to panic. He didn't want to die, he didn't want to go out like this.

Not like a supernova, not with a bang but with a whisper.

Maybe he had been too cocky when he had thought himself powerful enough to cheat death. Because that was essentially what he had been doing. He didn't know how much time he had managed to provide for Ray but it was obvious enough that it had been more than was in his power.

He didn't regret it, he just wished he had known beforehand.

Because now he was just a dying light. A candle standing in the wind, fighting not to go out.

It was a miracle that it hadn't happened already. How long had he already been fighting it anyway?

"You're burning up," a raspy voice said.

He wanted to thank whoever it belonged to for stating the painfully obvious. He already knew that.

The voice sounded so far away, almost like he heard it while being held miles under the water.

It was funny that he felt like drowning when he was so obviously dying in heat, flames and smoke.

Something cool was placed on his forehead then. His mouth finally dropped open in a sigh in reaction to it.

There had to be something he could do. There had to be something to protect the light before it vanished forever.

It was funny that a line from a poem he had always liked ghosted through his head right then.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Right now, he was lost in darkness, though. Somewhere in this darkness had to be his light source, getting dimmer with every passing moment he took to figure out its location.

How was he supposed to find a way out of the darkness without something to guide him? He couldn't see, there was just nothingness. Everything was nothing.

Even though he should have felt scared at the prospect of being confined in darkness and nothingness forever, he actually felt kind of docile like a child that knew it had to succumb to sleep eventually as much as it wanted to stay awake instead.

And it sounded so tempting for a moment. No more pain, no more battles to fight. Just nothingness. No one to make fun of him. No one to treat him like he was worth less than the dirt under someone's fingernail. There would be only nothingness. And he would melt into it like the spark did when it was met with things and people. He would go out silently, slipping away without anyone knowing.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Another line from the poem flashed through his mind. He felt the instinct to fight for his life flare up at the words.

The darkness was not for him. He was meant to shine, weren't those his mother's words? He was not meant to burn out like this. He was not meant to burn out so soon.

He forced himself to look for the light, to inspect every corner in search of it, ignoring the pain it brought on. His mom had said he had strength so he had to utilize it now.

There was something flickering in the distance. He was not really moving because there was no ground to stand on, no place. He was beyond the physical realm so why should he be required to move?

The flickering light had grown so weak. It was hardly a flame anymore. But it was still there, light trying to prevail over the darkness that was threatening to swallow it.

The darkness had become oppressing as if it knew that he was here to support the light's fight against it. It was no longer peaceful and soothing, no, it suddenly felt like it was trying to suffocate him.

He wasn't ready to lose to it. The flame flared up in response to his determination to survive and he knew that he just needed enough strength to fight the darkness.

Stiles opened his eyes then.

When he adjusted to the dim light of the night illuminating his room, he realized that he was still feeling sick. He most likely also had a fever.

That's okay. I can deal with feeling sick. You have to be alive to be sick, right? I'm alive then. he reassured himself internally.

Or maybe he had said those words aloud because someone actually replied with, "Of course you're alive."

Stiles scoffed as the person who had said those words came into view. He must have a pretty high fever if he imagined Derek Hale kneeling next to his bed.

Maybe it was a fever dream. That would explain why his head was hurting so much and why his room was upside down. Also, he was pretty sure that he was floating above his bed and not really lying in it. Why else would he feel vertigo?

Fever-dream-Derek leaned over him, taking something off of his forehead. Apparently something had been resting there. Maybe it was his space helmet? Flying without a helmet was just reckless, after all.

Stiles closed his eyes for a second, just to check that his light was still fighting. He needed to be strong but how could he do that when he was feeling so weak?

Fever-dream-Derek's presence didn't do anything to make him feel stronger, either. In fact, it had the opposite effect.

And why exactly was that? Why did he let himself still be tormented over that one kiss and the rejection that had followed shortly after?

So Stiles suddenly decided that he was done pitying himself. He was done feeling like a victim because someone had treated him wrong.

Maybe, so he thought, strength meant confronting the demons that had been haunting you.

How convenient for him that he conjured up a hallucination of the person that haunted him the most.

"So, Fever-dream-Derek, I've got a few things to say to you and you have to listen because you're just a figment of my imagination," he began, but he had to interrupt himself to cough. When his coughing fit was over he resumed the speech he had prepared, "Okay, first, you kissed me. YOU kissed ME, not the other way round. So it was just cruel of you to give me hope, only to reject me immediately after. Who does that? Who actually treats another person like that, regardless of how they feel about them? Because it takes a certain amount of cruelty to pull that off. And I don't care whether you think I deserved it, whether it was some kind of personal vendetta you had to carry out for something I did to you - I don't care. Because nothing - nothing - could give you the right to treat another person that way. And yeah, maybe I'm not the one you want - maybe I'm not good enough for you. But I deserved to be treated like a human being. I deserve that. Everyone deserves that. And maybe the next time you kiss someone, you'll treat them better than you treated me."

Fever-dream-Derek's face got clearer with every sentence he said so he assumed that he was doing something right. He was fighting for his right to survive. He might have felt breathless after saying all of that while feeling like his lungs were collapsing on themselves but he was far from done. He had to carry on, he had to get all of his misery off of his chest in order for him to stop feeling weak. Strength, as he found out, didn't necessarily have to stand in direct relation to your physical appearance or health. Sometimes it was enough to stand up for the things you believed in.

"Secondly," he continued after taking a deep breath. "You're an asshole and I want to hit you. I think I want to hit your eyebrows. Or your stupid bunny teeth. Something that makes you so you. Not only because I'm angry and hurt. But also, because I still want to kiss you. I don't even know why I want that. I know I shouldn't want that. So yeah, I want to hit you for that. Because you started a chain reaction and you didn't even care enough to end it, to put a stop to it. It's like watching that domino stone challenge, where they all topple down and you don't really know what they're going to reveal. So I have to watch all the stones fall and anticipate what house of cards they will cause to fall down at the end. And I hate you for that."

Seeing fever-dream-Derek's face crumble in pain and guilt as he went on was not as satisfying as he had expected it to be. He just felt sad at the sight. Sad because he actually wasn't saying all of this to hurt him. He should have been mad enough to enjoy hurting him but apparently his hatred and rage had died down to resigned acceptance sometime during the last few weeks.

He was still not finished, though. There was one last thing he needed to say.

"And lastly, I think you owe me, at least, an apology. I don't care if you're truly sorry or if you regret it. Maybe you don't, maybe you think it's funny. But I still deserve that damn apology. So I can, at least, claim that Derek Hale had to admit to me that he wronged me. Maybe I'll even record it and watch it whenever I feel down. Maybe I'll make you go down on your knees and beg me for forgiveness. And then I'll turn you down. No, first I tell you that everything is forgiven and then I'll take it back! Just so you know how it feels. But you probably won't care about that. Regardless, I will cherish the sight of Derek Hale on his knees, begging for forgiveness and I have enough imagination to make it look like you're sincere."

Fever-dream-Derek looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer to his heart and then ripped it out just to show him how broken it truly was. Stiles ached in sympathy for him.

That was probably a sign that he had truly left his hatred for the guy behind him. The chapter was ready to be closed without ghosts of it clinging to him, only to come back to haunt him in moments of doubt.

"Okay, that was all. That's what I needed to say to you. And now, I should be able to move on or something. That's how it usually works. Oh, and Fever-dream-Derek? I like you so much more than the real one. Yeah, you're a real nice guy. A bit quiet, maybe. But thanks for being here. Thanks for helping me close that one unfinished chapter. Even if you're not real, it really helped to say all those things out loud. Talking to you has been really cathartic."

He couldn't stand leaving the Derek of his imagination behind looking so miserable and destroyed because that's not how he wanted to remember him. If he ever wanted to heal, it was important that there were no regrets left.

So he spent his last reserves of strength that were left in his tired and sick body to lift up his arms, take Fever-dream-Derek's face in his hands and bring him closer.

It started with a kiss and it ended with one.

But this time, there were no hard feelings afterward. No disappointment, no regrets.

It was a good-bye and a wish for a better future. Because despite everything that had gone wrong between the two of them, Stiles actually wished for Derek to have a good life. He wished for him to be able to love someone again someday.

The kiss was a simple one and didn't last very long. When it was over, Stiles closed his eyes again and found himself looking at his flame that was flaring brighter now.

The dark was less threatening as well. It meant that the fight was almost over.

Even though he hadn't been able to feed his light with happy experiences, he had brought it closure and a new will to carry on. Apparently that had been enough for now.

Forgiveness isn't always born out of kindness, he figured. Sometimes forgiveness was given to those who didn't deserve it for survival.

Regardless, it had given him enough strength to save his light from going out.

For now, the fight was over and he could rest.

***

When he woke up again, something furry was tickling his nose. As he opened his eyes, all he saw was red.

It took him a while to realize that it was only Burly who lay curled up on his chest. He lifted up a hand to pet him and noticed with satisfaction that it didn't take him as much strength to do that than it would have before.

His body was still mildly aching but it was bearable now. He had had colds that had felt worse than that.

Burly slowly opened his eyes, not really looking all that excited that someone dared to interrupt his sleep. When he looked at Stiles, though, he jumped up to his feet and pressed his snout against Stiles' face.

"Nice to see you too, buddy," Stiles said with a grin. The fox responded with a noise that sounded suspiciously like he was scolding Stiles.

Stiles grimaced and buried his face in Burly's fur in apology.

"You knew what was going on with me, huh? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to worry you," he mumbled, stroking along the fox' spine.

Just then, the door to his room was opened and his father came in. At the sight of his son and the fox cuddling on the bed, a wry smile formed on his lips.

"Hey, how are you feeling today, kid? You scared me for a second when I've found you lying in bed with a fever, you know? Although you didn't scare me nearly as much as you scared that little guy here," his dad said, sitting down at the edge of his bed.

"Better," Stiles told him and sat up with a bit of effort. He still felt pretty weak but that was only the aftermath of having a fever. "What day is it?"

"It's Thursday afternoon. You didn't miss much, don't worry," his dad answered, unconsciously reaching out to stroke Burly's fur as well. The fox practically preened at all the attention he was getting.

Stiles was relieved to hear that he had only missed a few hours and not whole days. It had certainly felt longer to him.

"I didn't believe you when you told me that that fox has grown attached to you. But after seeing him running around in circles and whining because he wasn't allowed to see you, I do. It's weird but considering that it's you...," his dad trailed off, implying that it was obvious enough that he didn't need to voice what was wrong with Stiles.

Stiles rolled his eyes. "Thanks for that vote of confidence, dad. I'm touched."

The older man grinned slightly. Then he seemed to remember something because his eyebrows furrowed slightly. "By the way, what happened to that neat shelf in the basement? You know that I've built that from scratch, right? That thing was practically indestructible."

The teen grimaced and actively avoided looking at his dad. "Uhh, it might not have been as indestructible as you thought? It couldn't even hold my weight without collapsing."

"Oh, well." The older Stilinski shrugged. "I've only got myshelf to blame, then."

Stiles and Burly shared a look before Stiles forced himself to laugh.

"Yeah, your jokes are getting better, dad. I'm proud of you," he lied. It was worth it, seeing his dad looking so proud of himself.

***

On Friday Stiles was already healthy enough to go back to school. Laura had called him yesterday evening and assured him that he could take Friday off as well and that the school was willing to grant him another trial week because of the day he had missed being sick. But Stiles had declined. He didn't need another trial week. The decision was already made.

When Lindsay charged towards him with determination he didn't even try to avoid her.

"Today is THE day, mister. There will be no more excuses," she told him sternly. He had to suppress a grin at her attempt to look intimidating.

"Did you bring what I asked you for?" he asked in reply.

She nodded vigorously and handed him the item. "I don't know why you think you need it but whatever helps you is okay with me, I guess."

He gave her one last smile before he walked over to the ego-boost corner. His hands were shaking slightly but, at least, they were completely dry this time.

He could feel some of the other students staring at him as he made his way to the piano. Some of them might have even been whispering to each other. He didn't know for sure because he never turned around to watch them.

Stiles just sat down at the piano, took the blindfold Lindsay had given to him earlier and put it on.

Then he began to play.

He played it safe by choosing a song most of them should be able to recognize. It was Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune".

As he played, he forgot the world around him. All that existed anymore was his music and the memories of his mother. It seemed to him like nothing else mattered.

When he finished, he wasn't even able to get the blindfold off before he was rewarded with clapping.

He didn't stay rooted on the spot. Instead, he fled as soon as he had stood up.

Lindsay welcomed him with a hug. She was smiling widely.

"Welcome to Saint Joanna's Academy for Music and Art. I'm the representative of our welcoming committee and in the name of our school's patron Saint Joanna I wish you the best of luck. May the muse never stay too long away from you," she recited as it was the tradition.

Stiles smiled in return.

Chapter Text

Stiles had learned his lesson after nearly burning out but that didn't mean that he stopped exploring his limits. His light was no longer in danger and he was pretty confident that he now had a feel for how much he was able to take before it would seriously harm him.

He was also pretty sure that the music helped him to recharge. Getting closure had played a pretty important part too.

There were no concrete instructions - a method that worked 100 percent didn't exist for recharging, just like his mother had told him. There was no science to it. So he had to be more careful from now on. Just because he had managed to survive this time didn't mean that he was invincible now.

Nevertheless, he felt proud of himself for overcoming the darkness because it meant that he had been strong enough. He had won. For the first time, he didn't feel like the weak little human who was surrounded by people much stronger than him.

He had powers now and even though they came at a price and would probably not do much against, say, a pack of werewolves that didn't matter to him. What mattered was that he was not useless, not helpless any longer. He was even able to do some good with the spark.

After the fever, he wasn't able to create a spark for a few days. He was just too drained for that. That didn't bother him all that much, though, because he was busy adjusting to the new school and the new classes anyway.

Since his performance in the ego-boost corner had gone over pretty well, he now felt ready to face the school board so Laura had already arranged an audition for him on Friday.

He only had a week to prepare but he didn't feel intimidated.

It wasn't like the possibility of failing wasn't present in his mind anymore, it just wasn't all he could think about. He knew that it could happen and that possibility bothered him but he also knew that it was more likely that he would succeed.

The ego-boost corner might deserve its name after all.

The real reason for Stiles' sudden growth of self-esteem, though, was the news he got from Lindsay about her brother Ray. Apparently Ray had made a very quick and unexpected recovery from his weakened state and was now allowed to go home. The doctors were confused because the cancer was still there but the kid appeared to be in no pain or discomfort whatsoever.

He was not healthy, Stiles knew that but, at least, he was relieved from all the suffering he had had to endure. That was enough for now.

And who knows? Maybe Stiles could hold the sickness at bay if he just kept giving a drop of light to Ray every once in a while? He didn't know for sure if that would work but there was hope now.

On the weekend, Stiles drove Lindsay and Ray to the nearest lake because the kid had never seen the ocean and there they could pretend that they were on a beach somewhere, getting a bit of autumn sun. It was too cold for swimming already but they didn't mind.

Together they sat on the hood of his jeep, passing around smores while watching the sunset.

Burly had, of course, also tagged along because apparently he was a master at sneaking into the jeep without getting detected by Stiles. Ray didn't mind that in the least. The fox and the kid soon became friends.

Maybe it was because they both shared a spark. Maybe it was just because they were both pretty likable. Whatever the reason, it was very cute to watch them cuddle on the back seat of the car.

On Sunday, Stiles got a text from Scott, asking him if he wanted to come over to play video games. The catch to it, though, was that Isaac would also be present which made Stiles reconsider his first choice of saying yes.

In the end, he decided that Isaac wasn't the worst company they could have so he confirmed.

He had anticipated that it would be awkward, seeing as Isaac and he had never really gotten along. They spent time together because they both liked Scott and that was all that had ever been their connection to each other.

Stiles would have never guessed that Isaac would actually try to make conversation with him. At first, it was awkward and uncomfortable because they couldn't find a topic they both were interested in. It was a forced attempt at bonding on both sides but it got better when Isaac revealed his love for anime.

Stiles wasn't really a fan of them but he had seen a few so he knew what Isaac was talking about. Who could have ever guessed that Isaac's favorite movie was 'Spirited Away'?

The afternoon passed by pretty quickly after that rocky start. Stiles actually had a pretty good time and realized that he had warmed up to Isaac a bit.

For the first time, Stiles thought that they could even become friends.

The conversations were kept pretty shallow and simple, though. No one asked Stiles for any details about his new school in fear of overstepping and no one mentioned how Derek had made them participate in a very own version of capture-the-flag the day before where there was not only the opposite team to win against but also traps set up that they had to avoid. It had been chaos. And a few more fashionable clothes had met their demise.

When Scott was called downstairs to help his mom with something, Stiles was left alone with Isaac in an uncomfortable silence.

They still had a long way to go before they could claim the other as a friend.

"Did you change schools because of us?" Isaac eventually blurted out the question that seemed to have been bothering him for some time now.

"Well, someone certainly is full of themselves," Stiles said dryly. "Yes, of course. The whole world is influenced by your actions, you're that important. Bless the poor soul who actually does something that wasn't prompted by the Hale pack!"

Isaac ducked his head in shame and looked down at his shoes.

Stiles sighed. "No, I didn't. I didn't transfer because of you. I did it for me. Because it's what I wanted, what I still want. Happy now?"

The blonde beta didn't look relieved in the slightest but his posture was less tense now.

"I would've wanted to hide away if I had been in your place. To leave and never look back. Run away like a coward," Isaac admitted quietly. "The pack is all I have now. I don't want to imagine how it would feel to be shunned by them."

"Glad that it was me and not you then," Stiles said bitterly.

At that, Isaac looked up from the floor they were sitting on and met the other teen's gaze. His expression was pained and his blue eyes had a haunted look in them.

"That's what I thought too, to be honest," Isaac confessed, obviously feeling guilty about it. "Better you than me. It's an awful mentality, I know."

"Thank you for being a dick. I hope you're happy that I'm the one who got voted out. Now you still have a chance to win 'Big Brother', congratulations!"

The blonde shrunk into himself, seemingly trying to hide from the world. It would have looked funny because of his height if he hadn't also looked so vulnerable.

"Yeah," Isaac agreed, looking lost. "I should've used my vote to keep you, though. Because I should be able to vote, too."

Stiles almost didn't believe what he was hearing. His eardrums must have busted without him realizing it and now his mind was just making things up in a desperate attempt to deny the loss of his hearing. To him, that sounded more likely than Isaac actually telling him that he regretted kicking Stiles out of the pack.

"If it had really mattered to you, you would've."

"It matters to me now."

Stiles let out a humorless laugh. "Kind of late for that, don't you think?"

"Is it?" Isaac seemed to experience a sudden burst of confidence then because he sat upright. "We're here, though. We're both trying."

Stiles stood up from the floor, his legs too jittery for sitting. He felt like running around the block just to get rid of that nervous energy that was coursing through his body. "I'm trying to rebuild my friendship with my best friend. I'm not sure what you're trying to do here."

"I'm trying to build a friendship too. One I didn't have before."

"You're not trying to get me back in the pack?" Stiles asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Isaac shrugged his shoulders. "I'm trying to get to know you better because you're very important to Scott. And because I actually think you're a cool guy too."

The hopeful expression on the teen's face was almost too much for Stiles to handle. How was he supposed to respond to that? Should he shoot him down, let his hurt pride and feelings take over? Or should he do the noble thing and actually give Isaac a chance to redeem himself since the guy so obviously needed it to get rid of the guilt?

To be honest, Stiles wasn't even sure if he was able to do the noble thing.

It would be so much easier to take revenge in making Isaac feel the same pain of rejection that he had endured. The cruel words were already forming in his head, his lips all too ready to shoot them out. And Stiles was sure that they would hit their target. Isaac hadn't learned to cover all of his weak spots yet.

But then Stiles remembered that he was the one who had decided to come here and spend time with Isaac. He had made that decision for a reason and that was because he had told himself that he had closed the chapter about the rejection already. Taking revenge now would only open it again.

He sighed tiredly. "You're not so bad yourself, Lahey. Who knows? Maybe you'll grow on me, like fungus."

Isaac's whole posture relaxed and a shy smile spread across his face.

Stiles wasn't a noble person. He didn't do it because he wanted to spare Isaac's feelings. That was actually pretty low on his list of reasons. On the top of that list, though, was the reminder that he was trying his best to give his and Scott's friendship a chance to heal and he knew he would only sabotage himself if he were to be cruel to Isaac now.

He was simply too tired of all of this drama. That was all.

***

The pack gathered together at lunch in school because Lydia had ordered them to and they were all too afraid of her to just not obey. Since her shoes had been ruined by Derek's new tyrannic training regime she had been on a war path.

It wasn't just about her shoes, either. She was smart enough to know that the time for games would soon be over.

"So, I'm sure we've all noticed by now that Derek has been extra grumpy this last few days and that we're all suffering because of it. He's nearly constantly stressed, he's bad-tempered and on Saturday he almost bit all of our heads off. What does that tell you?"

She looked at them all, giving them time to come to the conclusion themselves.

"Of course, he's annoyed with us," Erica said, rolling her eyes. "Even I am annoyed with us. We're not making any progress."

"What are we supposed to do, though? I have no idea what he wants from us," Danny interjected.

"To be pack," Boyd answered simply, not even looking up from his sandwich. He was so done with all of them, it was a wonder that he was even here.

"I don't think making us train to the point of exhaustion every weekend is the way to go here," Danny stated with a tired expression. He looked a little worse for the wear; obviously, the training hadn't done him any good.

"It's not only about being pack," Lydia hissed, annoyed at the turn of the conversation. "I'm talking about whoever that has Alphaba! Derek's move here is obviously to prepare us for the worst and I'm not okay with being a waiting target!"

"The hunters are gathering too," Allison informed them quietly. "I heard my dad talk to some of his old friends. They will be here soon."

Jackson narrowed his eyes. "How dangerous is this going to be if Derek is willing to cooperate with the hunters?"

Scott looked down at his hands in deep thought. It was obvious that he hadn't had a goodnight's rest for some time now because of the dark circles under his eyes. He was gripping the material of his jeans tightly just so that he wouldn't lose himself. It was getting harder to stay in control with every passing day.

"I can feel her so much clearer now," he muttered. "At night, I dream about blood, pain, and soil. Once I had a very vivid dream of attacking a small fox. When I woke up I could smell and taste the blood and I was so sure that I did something - but there was nothing."

Everyone grew silent after hearing that. They all knew that Scott was slipping away from them which made it all the more difficult to work on being a pack together. He wasn't the only one drifting away either.

Jackson and Lydia still weren't talking to each other if it wasn't strictly necessary. Allison had withdrawn from all of them because of her problems with Scott.

The only pair that had strengthened through all of this was Boyd and Erica.

"I never thought I'd ever say this but it would really hurt me if any of you came to harm in all of this," Lydia admitted after taking a deep breath. She stood a little taller now, almost as if she expected to get laughed at for that confession. "So we need to work together. Really work together. We need a plan."

No one laughed at her. They all nodded in agreement.

"Derek wants us prepared for the worst right? Well, I want that too. But I also want to know how he plans to do that so I'm for calling in an emergency-pack-meeting," Danny said in a serious tone.

"And we should tell Stiles about what's going on," Isaac added. "He deserves to know. We shouldn't keep him out of our business any longer. After all, he might be in danger too."

Lydia eyed them all and pursed her lips. "Well, now all we have to do is convince Derek to grant us our demands. He won't take us serious if we don't make progress as a pack. Up until now we all just complained about his new methods of teaching."

Jackson looked at her dubiously. "To sum it up: You want us to actually seriously work on becoming a pack."

She sent him a glare but nodded. "I know it's hard for you to understand the concept of caring about someone other than yourself but I think this shouldn't be all that hard."

"And how do you suggest we accomplish that? Apparently nothing has worked so far," Danny asked with raised eyebrows. Anything that didn't require him to endure physical pain was an improvement as far as he was concerned.

"Derek thinks we'll grow together by working us to the bone. Well, he's the alpha so I can't exactly disagree with him. But I think we also need to do something... more fun." Lydia pointed her finger at Erica and Allison. "We're going shopping today. I hope you're wearing the right shoes for that because I'm on a mission to find a replacement for my ruined clothes and I won't be stopped."

Erica looked less than thrilled even though she felt a little bit like smiling. She couldn't remember the last time someone had invited her along on a shopping trip. It had been way too long.

She squeezed Boyd's hand to convey her excitement to him while doing her hardest to look bored for the others. Boyd squeezed back slightly.

***

Malia didn't take Burly's appearance as well as Ray.

When she came over on Wednesday she openly growled at him, nearly changing into her full shift. Burly wasn't all that pleasant towards her either, seeing as he immediately started growling back at her while circling around Stiles protectively.

Stiles rolled his eyes at both of them.

"What is that?" she asked him, her voice full of betrayal.

"Malia, that is Burly, a fox as you can see," he introduced them. "Burly, Malia is not the enemy here. She's our friend."

Peter wasn't all that excited about meeting Burly either. He eyed the animal like he was something disgusting that the cat from next door had dragged in.

"Does he have fleas? By the way, your uniform is not meant to be accompanied by fox fur which is very out of fashion anyway," he commented while entering the Stilinski home uninvited.

Apparently they had decided that Wednesday should be family-dinner-day, disregarding the fact that they weren't related to each other and that it wasn't even close to dinner time.

Stiles huffed indignantly and picked Burly up to cuddle him to his chest. Even the thought of his fox dead and skinned, his fur used as a fashionable accessory was absolutely revolting to him and made him feel sick to his stomach.

"You know, you're creepy smile doesn't go well with your face either," he snapped in response.

Peter raised his eyebrows but said nothing. He just sat down on the couch, already making himself feel at home.

Stiles had the slightest suspicion that there was more to their sudden visit than they were letting on.

"Why are you avoiding your own home?" he asked them both. Malia had thankfully stopped acting like a wild animal. Instead, she had settled for sulking to express her displeasure.

"Derek's moping," Malia said curtly, eyes fixed on the fox. If she were a cat, her hair would stand on end.

Stiles made a confused face. "Isn't that, like, his default setting? What's so different this time?"

"Nothing, really," Peter answered casually. "Except if you count him staring broodily at the wall as if it had offended him, his family and his ancestors. Or maybe except for him working out nearly 24/7. His work-out playlist is obnoxious, by the way. If I have to listen to 'November Rain' one more time, I'm going to kill someone."

"So you're here to take refuge," Stiles concluded.

"Don't sell yourself short, Stiles," Peter rebuked softly. "We're also here because you're an acceptable cook and Derek has set our oven on fire in an angry attempt to calm his nerves by baking cookies."

"The kitchen burned down? Is everyone okay? And how the hell did he do that while baking cookies? Did he use cookie dough from satan or set the oven on 'not hell but damn close'?"

Peter shrugged. "It's amazing what Derek can accomplish with his angry energy. Usually, he's a decent cook but he can't bake to save his life. I don't know why making roasted chicken wasn't cathartic enough for him."

It was better not to ask any more questions. Stiles had to convince himself that it was none of his business anyway. He shouldn't care if the kitchen for which he had chosen the design had burned down or not. It wasn't like it was his kitchen. Even if he had spent many hours there baking or preparing snacks, he shouldn't care.

Peter glanced over at him briefly, his silence too unusual to ignore. Shaking out the memories ghosting through his head, Stiles threw a daring glare at Peter, challenging him to say anything about his reaction to the news.

As much as the older Hale liked to tease, there were certain lines he would never cross and he knew which topics were a sore spot for Stiles so he didn't torment him any further.

The red notebook on the couch table had grabbed his attention then and so he picked it up with quick fingers before Stiles could even protest.

Stiles' eyes widened in shock when he realized that he had left the notebook lying in the living room instead of hiding it away immediately after using it like he usually did.

"What do we have here?" Peter murmured to himself, opening the book.

Stiles set Burly down and jumped towards Peter, intending to snatch the book out of the werewolf's hands before he could read it.

Not in the least perturbed, Peter raised his hands just at the right moment for Stiles to miss, causing him to lose his balance with the momentum and land over Peter's lap.

Peter acted like nothing happened, caging Stiles in between his hands and his lap.

"Oh my god, let me go!" the teen protested, trying to wiggle himself free. "And stop reading that! It's none of your business!"

While the older man was flipping through the book, Stiles tried his best to turn around and snatch the book from Peter but he was no match for the werewolf's strength. Sometimes being human sucked.

Eventually, Malia had enough of their childish behavior and just plucked the book out of Peter's grasp with an angry glare. Her father just shrugged in response.

"Calm down," he said to both of them. "It's not like I could read it anyway. Whatever is written in there is in another language."

Immediately, Stiles stopped struggling. He wasn't sure if Peter was joking or not since he couldn't see his face. What he was sure of, though, was that Peter was lying.

As if sensing that something was wrong, Peter finally let Stiles up and out of his grasp. The teenager bolted away and threw a quick glare at the older man while snatching his book.

"Bullshit," he snapped angrily, pressing the book against his chest protectively. "It's in English, you damn liar. How else would I be able to read it?"

Peter leaned forward, looking intrigued. "Oh, really? Open it then."

And Stiles did. He was met with the familiar handwriting of his mother, the words she had written down already memorized in his mind because he had read them so often.

For the first time, though, he realized that they were not written in English. Instead, everything about the spark was written down in Polish.

"I don't understand," Stiles whispered, completely overwhelmed. "I don't even speak Polish. Mom tried teaching me for a while but then she died and-"

He couldn't finish that sentence because his throat closed up.

Because even though he had never acquired the language, he could understand just perfectly what his mom had written down in the book.

How was that possible? And how had he never before realized that what he was reading had not been English?

He tried reading the first sentence aloud - Names have power - then he looked tensely at Malia and Peter but there was no comprehension on their faces.

"You're aware that I have no idea what you just said, right?" Peter asked him with raised eyebrows, his tone soft.

Since Stiles looked like his knees were about to give out, Peter stood up and pushed the teen down on the couch. In an offer of comfort, the older man rested his hand on the back of the teen's neck.

"Breathe, Stiles," Peter reminded him firmly but gently, the grip on his neck tightening. "Your heartbeat's going through the roof. You have to calm down. Just breathe."

Burly was whining softly since he seemed to feel his agitation as well. The animal was rubbing his head reassuringly against Stiles' arm as if trying to remind him of his presence.

Having the fox near was calming to Stiles but it couldn't diffuse him completely from the shock he was experiencing at the moment. Absentmindedly he began to pet Burly's head.

Malia was sitting by his feet, resting her head on his thigh. She was looking worried. She had even forgotten that she had a problem with the fox. Her focus was on Stiles now because she might be just a kid but even she knew that he needed comfort right now.

"Are you back with us?" Peter asked him and Stiles managed a jerky nod. "Good. Now tell me where you got the book from."

"It's my mom's," Stiles defended it, knowing immediately that Peter was now wary of it and probably wanted it gone. "It's not like it's some witch's magic book or something. Mom wanted me to have it."

"I'm not going to take it from you," Peter assured him. "Even though it obviously possesses some power it doesn't appear to be dangerous. You can keep it. I just want you to tell me if something unusual happens, do you understand? Stiles, promise me to tell me."

Peter was eying him seriously, his stance making it clear that he wouldn't accept 'No' as an answer. Being a parent had taught him how to be a person of authority, Stiles guessed because he felt inclined to agree with his demand.

"I'm also not keeping secrets from my alpha, Stiles," he told him with a grim expression. "If I deem it necessary, I will tell Derek about this. I know you prefer to keep him out of this but I will go against your wishes if I think it's the better choice. In a matter like this, there's no room for petty feelings to stand in the way. I know you understand that since you're smart."

Stiles wanted to argue but Peter was staring at him so sternly that he couldn't find it in him to complain. It annoyed him a great deal that Peter was acting like he was responsible for him because Stiles already had a dad, he didn't need a second one.

But even though he wanted to rebel against Peter's orders, he found himself nodding along reluctantly. Deep down, he knew that Peter was right.

Satisfied with the response he had gotten, Peter clapped him on his back.

"I'm in the mood for roasted chicken," the adult announced. The serious tone was gone and replaced with the nonchalance Stiles was used from Peter. "I'll show you my secret to my famous baked potatoes. They're praiseworthy. I got the recipe from a friend while I was traveling through Europe and I've always wanted to pass it down to a family member."

Stiles nearly got whiplash from the sudden change of topic and atmosphere. Peter had changed from authoritative figure to his usual self so quickly that it was hard to believe he wasn't possessed or something.

"We're cooking together?" Stiles asked, confused. He got up from the couch, his legs were still shaking a bit. Leaving Peter alone in his kitchen was probably not a good idea so he followed the older man.

"That's what a good mommy does with her kids, isn't it?"

Stiles heard Malia snicker in the background while he himself grimaced. A groan escaped him as he ran a hand through his unruly hair.

His life was so weird. Just today he had found out that he could understand Polish and now here he was, playing happy family with a werewolf and his wild daughter.

At least, it never got boring.

Chapter Text

Enough was enough.

There was only so much dark and broody energy in your home that you could take before it was too much and you had to haul out the big guns.

In this case, the big guns went by the name of Laura Veronica Hale.

She found Derek in the training room, lifting weights while music was blasting loudly from the hi-fi system. From the looks of it, he had started the training at an ungodly early hour and hadn't taken a break ever since.

It was almost evening now.

She went over to the hi-fi system and turned the music off, not in the least impressed at the glare her brother sent her.

With a glare of her own, she stood towering over her brother, arms akimbo.

"Your home is like a sinking ship," she informed him, almost sounding bored. "Your crew is leaving and you plan on staying with the wreck because you're the captain. Just like an alpha would."

Derek raised his eyebrows because he knew that she wasn't here to compliment him.

"But oh captain, my captain!" she called out dramatically with a hand pressed to her chest. "Don't you know that the iceberg is melting already because of global warming? Oh, my captain, the catastrophe you fear won't occur! The obstacle is just a puddle of water, a mere drop in the big, wide ocean!"

Annoyed at his sister's antics, the alpha closed his eyes and huffed out a frustrated sigh. Then he just grabbed the remote and turned the music back on again.

Laura, of course, was not deterred in the slightest by her brother's repellent behavior and just unplugged the hi-fi system from the power outlet. She waved the power cord around like a cowboy would swing a lasso, all the while grinning in victory.

Derek's expression reached a level of darkness it usually only managed to achieve when he was faced with too intrusive salespeople.

Still, the scariest Hale was Laura, there was no doubt about it.

With a long-suffering sigh, she sat down on the mat next to the work bench, stretching her legs even though she had no intention of actually starting to work out too.

"Something happened," she declared, trying to touch her toes without bending her knees. This exercise always looked so much easier in the commercials about yoga classes. "And now you're upset."

Derek didn't answer. He just packed even more weight onto the barbell.

"You don't have to tell me," Laura told him with a shrug. She had given up the pretense and was now simply sitting on the mat, watching her brother. Yoga was overrated anyway. "I can put it together all by myself. It doesn't take a genius to know that you only ever get this agitated when it's about Stiles. You're like a teenager with a crush."

The barbell was set down with more force than was strictly necessary. It had actually more been dropped than set down. Laura was tempted to look for dents in the floor.

"Can't you just leave?!" her brother snarled at her.

"No," she replied softly. "Because I hate to see you like this. I don't understand why you won't let yourself be happy."

"I am happy," Derek said gruffly without looking at her. According to his heartbeat, he was lying. "Not now. But I am. Usually." Another lie. Laura cleared her throat. "Fine! I'm content." Not a lie this time.

"And that's what you're settling for? Contentment? That's no way to live your life, Derek! You could just as easily waste it if you don't strive for happiness! I don't understand why you would deny yourself something as simple as happiness!"

Laura's frustration with him was hitting a sore spot he didn't even know he had. Something in him just snapped.

"Because I'm not good at being happy!" he exploded finally. All of his bottled-up anger and self-hatred surfaced in one giant wave of words and gestures. "You know what happened the last time I got to have everything I wanted? Our family died!"

Once that confession had made it out, he couldn't stop. Not even the fear that after hearing the truth Laura would come to loathe him could stop him from telling her the whole story. He didn't want to live with this secret anymore. She deserved to know that he was the cause of all their suffering and that there was someone to blame for the fire.

And that was him.

Maybe he could give her closure. Even at the cost of losing her. He was so used to losing people he cared about anyway, what did it matter if it was one more? At least, that's what he kept telling himself.

He didn't dare to look at her as he told her about how he had started meeting with Kate, an older woman. How he had secretively snuck out to see her because he knew that their mother wouldn't approve of his relationship with her. He told her how naively in love with her he had been, thinking about running away together. How they had made plans to leave in the night. But then when she hadn't shown up at their agreed meeting point he had gone back home only to find it burning down. And he had known then that it had been his fault. Because he had trusted someone who ended up killing almost everything and everyone that was dear to him.

When everything was said, his hands were balled into fists at his sides. He avoided to look at her, fearing the hatred for him he expected to see displayed on her face.

Therefore, he startled when he felt gentle hands cup his face to make him look at her. Laura's eyes were swimming in tears as she brought his face level to hers so she could press a quick kiss to his cheek.

"Oh, Derek," she said, her voice constricted with the tears she wasn't shedding. Yet. "You fell in love with the wrong person. That happens. It happens every day, to so many people. That doesn't make you responsible for other people's actions. You're in no way to blame for the fire. That woman- She was sick, twisted. She was the damn iceberg, and you only saw what she was showing you. I hope she rots in hell."

Expecting the worst had worked out pretty well for Derek in the past because it was easier to pick yourself up again when you weren't crushed underneath the debris of shattered hope. It was so much easier to stand up again when nothing was wearing you down.

He didn't know what to do when something actually turned out in his favor. What was he supposed to do when the worst didn't happen? How was he supposed to react?

As if she felt his loss at the situation, Laura dived in for a hug, embracing him so tightly that his bones would have broken if he had been human.

"I fell in love with a woman named Jennifer Blake about three years ago," Laura suddenly confessed while wiping the tears from her eyes. "Cora didn't like her but I told myself that she doesn't like anybody and kept seeing her. Turned out, though, that Cora just saw her for who she really was."

Derek then got to hear the details to the story of how Laura had lost her alpha powers because she had trusted the wrong person. Just like he had. He learned that Jennifer had wanted revenge on another pack and had been sacrificing people to gain the power to do so. When Laura found out the truth and wanted to stop her ex-lover, Jennifer was furious and attacked the Hale sisters.

And Cora had nearly died because of her.

"You couldn't have known that she was practicing dark magic," Derek soothed her. "You did nothing wrong. She was the one who was crazy for revenge."

Laura nodded. "I know that. So how can you say I'm innocent when you blame yourself for making the same mistake? You can forgive me but not yourself even though we both were fooled. And I don't have the excuse of youth like you do!"

It was then that he realized he had been tricked by her. He furrowed his eyebrows in bitterness but didn't disagree.

A finger tapped against his eyebrows lightly, trying to get them to loosen their angry stance.

"A person gets more than one chance at love, Derek," she told him with a sad smile. "I heard what you told Isaac that one time. We are not defined by our mistakes, wasn't it? If mom were still here, she would kick your ass for giving advice you disregard yourself!"

Derek grimaced slightly as he imagined the scolding his mother would give him. She would probably tell him the same things as Laura had. They were so very much alike, it was like a part of his mother had never died. He saw her in Laura when she acted all wise beyond her years like she had right now.

"Oh my god! Look, you're smiling! Someone call the news!"

Well, he loved her but she could be annoying as hell.

***

There were many things that Stiles didn't expect to happen. He may not seem like it but he was pretty realistic. He knew what was in the realm of being possible and what would forever just remain a dream or a fantasy.

So finding out that he could do magic was a big surprise but one he could handle.

Realizing that he was suddenly able to read and speak Polish had been another surprise and one that was almost more shocking than the magic part. He still couldn't understand how he had never really realized when that change happened exactly. All he knew was that it had something to do with the notebook from his mom.

The only explanation he could come up with was that the notebook itself had to be magic too.

Since his mom had to have the spark too, he assumed that she must have given up one of her own to give to the notebook.

That meant that something of his mom was in that notebook, a small part of her own light that hadn't gone out after her death.

That realization made him treasure the notebook all the more. He took it with him wherever he went from then on.

He also started experimenting with what he could do. So he started splitting his spark up into many tiny pieces and spread them throughout his whole room once.

Burly nearly went wild, undecided which one of them he should chase after.

As it turned out, keeping them all in motion and under his control was a lot harder than he had thought. He had to be aware of every single one of them and concentrate on it or else they just did whatever they wanted. As someone with ADHD Stiles had a really hard time to not lose focus. Whenever he did, chaos just broke free. And collecting a wild spark that had broken free from him was not at all easy.

Sometimes it took him hours to get all of them back.

He swore that one of them was still hiding somewhere in his room.

However cool and exciting all of this was to Stiles, though, there was another unexpected event that managed to shock him to his core.

And that event was the pack appearing in his room on Thursday evening.

Well, not the whole pack. It was just Erica, Isaac, Scott, Boyd and Danny but it was still very unexpected.

In fact, Stiles was so surprised that he nearly stumbled over his backpack as he looked around frantically for something that might expose his activities to them. The last thing he needed was a spark still floating around somewhere while some of the pack were in his room.

"Hey, guys!" he greeted them with an awkward wave. "How nice of you to visit! Uninvited, I might add. Without permission to enter my room. Or even my house. Some might view that as a crime."

They had the decency to look guilty at that.

"We just wanted to ask you if you wanted to watch some movies with us on Saturday? And Isaac wanted to see Burly," Scott explained with an apologetic grin.

Speaking of Burly, the fox was viciously snarling at their visitors and snapping at their ankles. The werewolves were quick to avoid his sharp little teeth, though.

Danny didn't have so much luck and ended up with a fox attached to his foot.

Stiles grimaced in sympathy as he shushed Burly and commanded him to let go.

"Hell, I'm not even surprised anymore. What has my life come to?" Danny asked with his head lifted up so he was looking toward the ceiling.

Stiles picked Burly up and stroked his fur soothingly so he would stop growling at the werewolves. It didn't quite work but, at least, it managed to calm him down a bit.

"I'm sorry about him. He doesn't like new people."

Well, that wasn't exactly true because Burly had no problem with Stiles' dad, Lindsay or Ray. Stiles assumed that it had something to do with their connection to each other so the fox seemed to instinctively know which people were on Stiles' good side and which were not.

"He's really cute," Erica remarked with a shy smile that was so unlike the way she usually behaved around Stiles that the teen's mouth nearly dropped open in surprise.

"Which witch put a spell on you? You're all acting very suspicious. Did something happen?" Stiles asked with narrowed eyes.

Surprisingly, it was Boyd who answered since everybody else preferred to look at their shoes sheepishly.

"No spell. Just us, asking you if you wanted to spend some time with us. We were thinking about doing a Star-Wars-marathon."

His explanation didn't make Stiles any less wary of their sudden change in behavior. Even if they weren't under the influence of some spell, what had managed to change their minds since the last time he had seen them?

All of this seemed pretty fishy to Stiles.

"What do you need me for? Is it research?" he asked sharply.

Why else would they be nice to him?

Isaac ducked his head slightly but he didn't back down completely. He tried for a smile. "Well, actually we were thinking that having an expert among us while watching it would benefit us all. Scott, most of all."

The offended look Scott sent him was promptly ignored.

As they waited for his answer, glancing almost hopefully at him, Stiles realized that there really was no hidden agenda to their visit. They honestly just wanted to invite him to their movie night.

And that was just confusing to Stiles.

A few weeks ago, he would've been ecstatic at the mere prospect of them inviting him to one of their pack activities without even considering to say no.

Many things had changed since then, though.

Even so, he didn't have to think long about how to answer. "I'm sorry, guys but I already got plans for Saturday."

They all - except for Danny - heard his heartbeat and knew that he was speaking the truth. He indeed did have plans. The astronomy books on his desk weren't lying there as a decoration. He had promised Ray that they would stargaze, even though it was already too cold to do that. But he had the means to create their very own sky sprinkled with stars so he swore that he would keep his promise, no matter what.

"Oh," Scott said, trying for a smile but the disappointment was very clearly written on his face. "Maybe next time then?"

It would have been so easy to just tell them to vanish from his life. They deserved to hear that they weren't the navel of Stiles' world and that he was perfectly happy without them in his life.

It would be so easy to get back at them for every time they had taken him for granted or ignored him or made him feel like he wasn't welcome. They practically offered the perfect opportunity for revenge to him and the thing that struck Stiles as odd was that they knew it too.

What kind of man would it make him if he took a strike at someone who was showing him their weak spot?

Stiles sighed.

Being mean was hard when people were expecting it from you.

"Yeah," he found himself saying with a heavy heart. "Maybe next time."

Scott's shoulders relaxed in relief while Stiles himself tensed slightly.

It wasn't fair that it had been so easy for them to push him out of their lives but when he tried to do the same they started to hang on to whatever had once connected them.

Stubborn mutts.

A hiss broke through the awkward silence then, confusing the werewolves and the humans alike. Stiles felt a tug in his chest and knew what was the cause of the hissing sound but before he could make out where it was coming from the bottle of coke on his desk fell over with the bottle-neck directed at the pack.

They weren't even able to jump out of the way before the carbonated beverage had reached enough pressure to cause the bottle to explode. The pack screamed in unison as they were hosed with the sugary drink.

Well, at least, Stiles now knew where the last spark had been hiding.

He used their lack of attention to snatch the little spark that had surfaced from the destroyed bottle and squeezed it so tightly that it was forced to melt into his hand. One problem solved.

Or maybe even more than one problem because seeing the look of misery on the pack's faces managed to dispel his bitter thoughts.

"Woah," he said, doing his best not to grin. "That came out of nowhere! Do you guys maybe need a towel?"

None of them could really explain what happened but they were too busy moaning about their ruined clothes and sticky hair anyway to even think too much about it. As Stiles handed them some towels to clean themselves up the atmosphere was so much lighter.

It's a sort of karma, I guess, Stiles mused while helping Erica dry her hair.

Since they were all feeling gross after the coke incident, they decided to head home but not before setting a new date for the Star-Wars-marathon. Stiles promised to think about it.

"Oh, and keep safe, Stiles. It's way too easy to climb up to your window," Danny informed him. "I don't even have to be a werewolf to get into your room so you should really lock your window."

Something about that comment was odd. It might have been Danny's meaningful glance or the way he told him to keep safe as if there was something specifically to keep safe from.

"Awww, you're worried about me," Stiles teased him, causing Danny to roll his eyes.

"Just - please. I'm paranoid enough to install security cameras if I have to."

The werewolves had already jumped out of his room through the window so Stiles was left accompanying Danny to the door. That was something he rarely got to do since everyone else always felt the need to leave in the ninja way.

"You spend way too much time around creatures that go bump in the night. You're becoming just as creepy as them," Stiles told him.

Danny wasn't amused. "Stiles, you know just as well as we do that it has been quiet way too long. You worked on the case and I bet that you're still thinking about it."

"I thought the case was none of my business and that you didn't need my help?"

"That's just bullshit," Danny answered simply. "If there's something we don't need then it's our cocky attitude. We would be stronger with you than without you."

"What if I am stronger without you than with you?" Stiles challenged him. "I don't care about being needed anymore."

"So what? You prefer to get caught unaware and die just because you're holding a grudge against the pack? Don't get me wrong, I know we acted like assholes towards you and you have every right to treat us like we're air to you - but don't you want to be alive to do that? Because right now, our chances of survival are getting slimmer by the minute."

There was something Danny knew that Stiles didn't. Something that made him nervous, something that had made the pack think about the way they had treated him. It wasn't a spell that caused the change, it was a threat.

"What do you know that I don't?" he asked with a low voice. His dad was in the kitchen and he preferred that he didn't hear their conversation.

Danny obviously knew that he had made Stiles curious because his eyes got a mischievous glint in them. For the most part, though, he looked satisfied with himself.

"Come to our emergency meeting and we'll tell you. You don't have to come as a part of the pack. We also invited the hunters, Deaton, Ms. Morell and Mrs. McCall. Maybe you should also think about bringing your dad but that's up to you. I'm just giving you a heads up here."

"Sounds like you've got everything under control. You're obviously working on a plan for once instead of just barging into action. What do you even need me for?"

He couldn't manage to keep the bitterness out of his voice. To him, it felt like the position he had once occupied in the pack was filled and there was no place for him anymore now.

Danny shook his head slightly. "Ever thought that we want you there?"

To be honest, that was pretty much the last conclusion Stiles would've drawn. Nothing in their behavior in the past had ever indicated that he was part of the pack because they wanted him to be. He had been useful, he had made plans and worked his ass off just so that the chances of survival would look a tiny bit better for them.

But now, here they were, talking about working together so everyone would be kept safe. Not because they had to in order to survive but because they wanted the other on the same level.

It was kind of ironic that they had achieved what Stiles had been trying for all this time: They acted like a pack.

And they had managed to live up to the name - finally - without him.

Some unexpected changes were welcome from time to time but that didn't mean that they couldn't still be kind of bittersweet as well if you were too hung up on the way things had been in the past.

***

On Friday night, Stiles wasn't really feeling like celebrating even though that's clearly what his dad intended to do.

He had passed his entrance test to the new school and was now officially a student at St. Joanna's Academy for Music and Art with a full-paid scholarship.

His dad was so proud of him, still gushing about the faces of the school board once they had heard him play. He was adamant about it that a few jaws had dropped open in awe, that's how excellent Stiles' performance had been according to him.

It certainly didn't help that Peter was backing up that statement with verbosity, acting as if he had been the one who had taught Stiles everything he knew.

It was embarrassing but Stiles could handle that.

He didn't remember the last time someone had been this proud of him and he was basking in his success.

Laura, Cora, and Malia had been there as well, applauding so loudly that Stiles had trouble keeping a grimace off his face. They were meaning well but it was a bit too over the top for that tiny achievement. It wasn't like Stiles had just won a grammy or something, after all. But he allowed himself to feel like he had, just for this one moment.

He just wished his mom could've been there to witness that moment too.

He missed her so much, it still physically hurt sometimes. It felt like there was a part of him missing and nothing could ever replace it. And sometimes it was like a black hole, threatening to suck every bit of light in his life up and leave him in darkness.

It seemed that reading all of those astronomy books hadn't done his imagination any favors if he compared the loss of his mother to a black hole now.

Shaking his head at the thought, Stiles opened the notebook, all the while trying to keep concentrating on the sparks that were forming famous star constellations above his head.

He needed to have a few of them down tomorrow if he wanted to show them to Ray.

At that moment, the constellation of aries was floating above his head since it was one of the easiest to form with only 4 - sometimes even 5 - visible stars. He connected the dots with a thin line but it didn't look like a ram so he conjured up a few more sparks to finish the picture.

"There," he said, satisfied with his work. "Now it looks like a ram. Whoever saw those four lines and thought that they looked like a ram was clearly drunk."

Burly looked up at the ram just as it came to life - a creature of light that was now running through the air as if it was on a mountain.

He thought that the fox deserved to have his fun too and so he just let him chase the animal of light for a while. It clearly made him happy.

As he fondly shook his head while the fox was yipping full of joy, he turned to the inside of the book cover where he had written his full name down once.

He traced the first letter which was coincidently the same as in his nickname.

Softly, he whispered the name to himself, trying to see for himself how it would sound. He had never felt like the name belonged to him.

"Swietomierz"

As soon as he had uttered his name, the book began to glow brightly, encasing him in its light. It was blinding but it didn't hurt his eyes. His bedroom seemed to disappear as the light swallowed him.

***

When he opened his eyes again, he was in an unfamiliar location which was freaking him out. Under his bare feet was snow but he didn't feel the cold. The wind was blowing but he didn't shiver.

In front of him was a small house made out of wood. It was more of a cabin than a house, really. From the chimney came smoke so he knew that someone was indeed living in there.

He tried grabbing the door handle but his hand never met the surface. Instead, his hand went through the wood. He had become a ghost.

Trying to keep his breathing even in order not to have a panic attack, Stiles closed his eyes as he went through the door. He only opened them again once he had entered the house.

It was small, with very little furniture but it still managed to feel homey and safe. There was something in the way it was built, with all the places that had to be restored a few times just to keep the cold out that showed very clearly the devotion of the person living in it.

Whoever lived here had built this house by hand and had kept it in maintenance with all the materials as he or she had at their disposal. Which obviously wasn't much.

The fire in the fireplace was crackling softly as an old man was sitting in a wooden rocking chair in front of it. He looked worn out and tired - probably from working all day - but his hands were almost mechanically carving a piece of wood as if the activity took no effort at all.

Slowly, Stiles walked over to him and looked into the man's weary weatherbeaten face. It was hard to say how old he really was because it was obvious that whatever work the man was doing had left their heavy imprints on his body.

His hands were scarred but big and moving with precise and careful motions as he carved what looked to be a small figure. Maybe it was meant to be a toy for a child. It seemed like the man wasn't able to afford much else than what he could make himself.

As Stiles watched him work, he instinctively knew that those hands might look rough and strong but were also capable of being gentle and protective. He imagined them stroking through the dark hair of a little girl as he gave her his only blanket to keep her warm.

Looking into his eyes, Stiles was also able to realize that the man was blind. One of his eyes wouldn't open at all, the eyelid too heavily scarred.

Stiles ached in sympathy for this old man who was sitting all alone in the house he had built for a family who wasn't there anymore. All that was left was him.

Where was the little girl? She must be his daughter. Maybe the wooden figure was for her.

The wind from outside was blowing through the cracks in the walls, making the whole house shake slightly. The fire was flickering, flames throwing themselves around in a wild dance for survival.

The old man shivered but there was no wood left to feed the flames. All he had was the piece he held in his hands, meant for his daughter.

He didn't throw it into the flames, though. He just kept on carving, his hands slowing down as the fire went out. It was getting colder and he had nothing to warm him except for a thin blanket full of holes that was covering his feet.

Then the door opened and a smile stretched out across the old man's face. Even without the fire, some warmth seemed to have returned with
the newcomer.

As Stiles turned around to see for himself who had come in, he froze.

His mother saw right through him because he wasn't really there and went over to the old man. She pressed a kiss on his cheek before she grabbed the fire poker. As she tried to rekindle the flame, a spark shot from her hand into the fireplace.

This fire was warmer than the one before and the wind was of no threat to it.

***

Stiles blinked once, then twice. Then a few times more. His sight had been momentarily gone, probably because he got blinded by the bright light again. When it had returned, he was able to make out that he was back in his room again.

Burly was watching him curiously, his head tilted slightly to the left.

"What was that?" Stiles whispered to himself, still overwhelmed by this whole experience. To him, it had felt like he had travelled through time, back when his mother had been still alive and just a teenager herself.

That man must have been his grandfather.

He had never met the man but he just knew.

Burly and the ram - which was still there, to Stiles' surprise - were lying next to each other like old friends, looking at the book lying in Stiles' lap.

It was still open.

And also still slightly glowing.

The name he had once written down with a pencil was now engraved in the same gold as the word iskra was on its spine. It was also the source of the faint light emitting from the book.

Stiles was convinced that that must mean something so he grabbed an eraser and erased the rest of his names.

When he was done, the book began to shake slightly, almost as if in protest to that action.

"I don't care what you say. I don't deserve the other five names yet," he told it firmly, only feeling a little bit dumb for talking to an inanimate object again. This one, at least, seemed to be able to respond.

As if in answer to that, the pages of the book started to be turned as if an invisible hand was leafing through it.

When it stopped, Stiles realized that there was a new entry from his mother.

Swietomierz.
It was the name of my father too, iskra. I loved him very much because he was a brave and strong man with a heart of gold. But, oh, life treated him unkindly.
We had many strong winters to suffer through and my parents were barely able to feed themselves, let alone their children. I had four siblings but the cold of the winter took them all away except for one. My mother couldn't take it and so she followed soon after.
My father had loved her so very dearly; I was never able to figure out how he managed to live with the pain of losing her. The house he had built was his pride and even though it had many flaws and needed to be constantly worked on, he never gave it up. And he never gave up raising me, even though so many people were just waiting for him to drop me off at an orphanage.
My father took care of things and people he loved even if that posed to be the greatest hardship for him and that is what made him the best man I've ever had the honor to know.
I gave you his name so you would remember that this great man lives again in you. You have his bright eyes. And, of course, you also have his big heart. Never forget what your name means, iskra. Because you can be just as strong, enduring and caring as my father. The road you've taken after opening this book will be a painful one, my dear, and I'm so very sorry that I can't be there to help you. If you ever doubt whether I love you - and trust me, the time for doubt will come - then just remember the meaning of your names.

Chapter Text

When Stiles entered the Simmons’ household, he was greeted with a plate of baked goods and he didn’t have the heart to tell Mrs. Simmons that he didn’t want any. She was looking at him with the most peaceful smile he had ever seen on a person which made him feel like he had entered a children’s movie.

Taking one muffin was considered not even close to being good enough according to Mrs. Simmons who kept going on about how skinny Stiles looked and that he needed to put some weight on those bones so she just handed Stiles the entire plate. He managed to escape before she could force anything else to eat on him, though.

On the way up to Ray's room, he flinched when he suddenly heard a scream and something shattering. It sounded like a fight was going down in one of the rooms.

He hurried up the stairs, his heart thumping loudly in his chest while something else was destroyed. If a fight was indeed taking place, then it was a wonder why no one else in the house seemed to be disturbed about it. Considering the noise and the shrieks of anger, Stiles really couldn't understand why Lindsay's mom was baking downstairs while up here somebody was possibly dying. Since baked goods wouldn't help someone in mortal peril, he set the plate down on a windowsill to his right before charging towards the danger.

After hurriedly opening the door which stood between him and whatever horrible things were going on in the room, he dashed inside.

The shoe flying in his direction thankfully missed his head by a few inches.

"Charging in without a weapon to defend myself might not have been the best of ideas," Stiles mumbled to himself while hiding behind a shelf.

"Have you never heard of knocking?" Lindsay hissed. She was coming into view like a fierce and determined person in a supermarket that was looking for a product but couldn't find it.

The anger in her face was so off-putting that Stiles couldn't even find words to explain himself.

"Of course you don't! You're male! Boys don't know how to ask for entrance properly, they only know how to leave!"

Stiles knew a woman wronged when he saw one so he held up his hands in surrender, even though a remark about how sexist that comment was rested on his tongue.

"Oh, now you think you can play the victim here? Acting like you got attacked out of nowhere, aren't we?" She narrowed her eyes and pointed furiously to the door. "Use it the way boys like to use doors. Close it behind you without looking back, you damn asshole!"

He didn't need to ask on which side of the door she wanted him because even though her instructions weren't all that clear, the murderous look in her face was.

There was no hesitation as he stood up and left her room. The door crashed closed behind him with so much force that some pictures on the wall were dangerously shaking.

Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned, he thought to himself with a grimace.

Ray's head poked out from his own room, looking down the hallway until his gaze met Stiles'. The alarmed expression on his face spoke to Stiles on an unbelievably emotional level.

"You entered the war-zone, didn't you?" Ray whispered, obviously shocked. "You're lucky you're still alive! You didn't even have a shield or anything!"

They both took shelter in Ray's room where they were safe from the fury that was Lindsay. To be completely safe from her, they even hid in the pillow fort that Ray had built before Stiles' arrival.

"What's up with her?" Stiles asked in a hushed voice because the atmosphere demanded it. What kind of knight would he be if his inquiry about the dangerous dragon could be heard by just anybody?

"Her boyfriend dumped her," Ray answered very gravely.

Stiles hummed in acknowledgment and nodded.

Once that question was answered they dared to crawl out of the pillow fort because even though it was awesome it wasn't built for stargazing. They shut down the blinds so it was completely dark inside the room and spread out a blanket on the floor on which they could lie on.

As they lay next to each other Stiles conjured up the biggest spark he could manage and split it into many parts. He closed his eyes in concentration so they would form the first constellation he had in mind.

It was Aquarius, one of the biggest and oldest constellations. It was also one that wasn't very easy to find since it didn't have any particularly bright stars in it. You were more likely to find it far away from a city when the night sky was not dulled by city lights.

"This one is Aquarius and it's supposed to represent a handsome guy named Ganymede. Frankly, I don't see it. For me, it just looks like a horse. And what looks like the neck of the horse - the long line on the right - is actually his arm with which he is holding a vase. He was the cupbearer in Mount Olympus because Zeus found him handsome enough to serve the gods or something and in exchange they granted him eternal youth. They were quite conceited, those gods if you ask me."

The kid chuckled. "That's not how you tell a story, Stiles!"

"Well, then you better take over and show me how to do it correctly."

That's how the next hour went by. Stiles willed his sparks to form the constellations and together with Ray they told its story and then they watched it come to life above them, finally really portraying what it's meant to look like.

Creating a whole night sky above them was tiring and so Stiles became exhausted after a while and they had to stop. Nearly all of the self-made stars had ceased to exist now except for a few. They shone with an unrelenting brightness, bathing the two of them in a soft light.

"They are magic, right?" Ray asked as he turned over to look at Stiles. "They made me feel better. That means they can do anything, right?"

The way that question was phrased made it all too clear to Stiles that Ray was aiming at something and he feared that it was probably a request or a wish.

"Not exactly," Stiles answered hesitantly.

"But you made me feel better. You can do it for the other children too!" Ray argued.

There was the wish Stiles had feared. He wanted to close his eyes and look at his inner flame, somehow willing it to be powerful enough to grant that wish. But he knew that no amount of wishful thinking would ever be enough to make his flame blaze into an inferno. Even if it was possible, he didn't think himself strong enough to be able to control an inferno.

"I'm sorry. I can't."

Ray's brows furrowed in chagrin. He shot up from the blanket and moved away from Stiles.

"You helped me! Why can't you help the others too?! I know you can do it!"

One didn't have to be an expert in child psychology to predict that Ray was seconds away from throwing a serious tantrum and Stiles couldn't even find it in himself to blame him. The kid was just trying to save his friends.

In desperate need for something to help him explain, Stiles grabbed one of the remaining sparks and offered it to Ray on his outstretched palm. The kid eyed it warily, now definitely suspicious of the teen. The distrust in his eyes stung a bit but Stiles could understand where he was coming from.

Accepting defeat when your friends' lives were on the line was not something you did without fighting it first.

Eventually, Ray took the small spark and held it in his own hand. After inhaling deeply, Stiles closed his own hand around Ray's, forcing the smaller hand to a fist and thus caging in the spark.

Concentrating on the spark, Stiles tried to grasp its power, its very essence that gave it life in the first place.

Then he took his hands back.

"Open your hand," he instructed with a constricted throat because he already knew what would happen next.

Ray did as he was told and was confronted with a flickering spark. At first, the light it emitted was still bright but it was growing dimmer with every flicker. Soon the spark was not more than a declining glow until it eventually ceased to exist. It had lost the fight against the darkness.

The heartbroken expression the kid was wearing as soon as the spark in his hand had gone out made Stiles wish things were different.

"Where did it go?" Ray asked him with a small voice. His eyes were wide and filled with unshed tears. Stiles felt the same remorse and sorrow flare up in his own chest.

"I took back the power I gave it," he explained as softly as he could. It was not an easy task to speak in a soft voice when your throat felt like it was clogged. "That's the thing with these little guys, you see? They're only as strong as I am. And I'm trying, Ray. But I'm not strong enough. You getting better was a miracle and I'm glad that I was able to do that. But - I would need a thousand miracles or more to help everyone who needed it. So many people need miracles and I'm just one person. I'm not the hero you're making me out to be."

It might have been too much to ask for the kid to understand what he was saying. All the more so since he was still trying to grasp the complexity of his powers himself.

"I don't get it."

Tears were now making their way down Ray's cheeks. Stiles felt like the worst person ever.

"Let me tell you something," Stiles said urgently, waving for Ray to come back to the blanket. Sniffing slightly, the kid sat down next to him, hugging his knees to his chest to rest his head on them.

"I like to think of people as dots of light themselves, a little bit like a star. We all have that light burning within us. I even showed you mine. But I'm convinced you have that light too, it's just not that obvious. That doesn't mean that I can't see it, though."

"Where? Where do you see it?" Ray asked eagerly, looking expectantly at his own hands as if he waited for a spark to appear in his palm. "Can I do the miracle then? The miracle it would take to save my friends?"

Stiles gulped down the rising sadness. "No, Ray, it's different with you than it is with me. You see, the spark is kind of like a miracle because of its light. And you are your own miracle because of yours."

Ray's blue eyes became clouded with anger as he balled his hands into fists. "That's dumb!" he complained loudly. "That's dumb and you're dumb too! You lied to me! I don't have your magic!"

"Funny because I could have sworn that you made me feel better."

"Stop it! Stop lying to me!"

"I'm not," Stiles swore sincerely. "I know it's not the same. I wasn't ill or in pain or anything. But I was upset when I visited you in the hospital that one time. And you did your best to make me feel better, remember? You listened to me. And you know what? I suddenly understood what my mom meant when she told me that kindness shines the brightest. You shared your light with me and I shared mine with you."

"I don't wanna hear it!" Ray told him angrily while pressing his hands against his ears. "Liars are not allowed in my fort!"

That's where he crawled into after he had yelled at Stiles.

Talking to him would probably only make it worse so the teen decided to leave with a heavy heart.

That day, the Simmons' kids were obviously not all that delighted at Stiles' presence.

***

Stiles found out what was wrong with Lindsay on Monday in school when Cora who had never been that fond of the blond girl to begin with had bluntly accused her of having boarded the crazy train.

Lindsay and Cora then started a fight of epic proportions, which involved screaming, accusing someone innocent (Stiles) of being the cause of all evil, and things getting thrown. Unfortunately, the only things available to throw in the cafeteria are the food, the trays, and the cutlery. The last thing was thankfully only consisting of a fork and a spoon that day or the injuries caused in the following food fight that took place might not have been as minor.

When involved in a food fight, it was without a doubt wise to grab what ammunition you had in your reach and find the perfect spot for aiming at the people who were the bane of your existence and for hiding from said people when they then consequently joined the fight.

Stiles was not wise.

Since he was sitting at the table which started the fight in the first place he was one of the main targets and thus got bombarded from nearly all sides of the cafeteria.

What else was he supposed to do then give as good as he got?

Thankfully, his target was rather hard to miss.

Your height is not to your advantage in this situation, is it, Boulder?, Stiles found himself thinking just as the apple he had thrown hit the big guy on the back of his head.

Needless to say, all three of them ended up in the principal's office and got suspended for the day.

Peter had the honor to pick up all three of them since Lindsay's parents weren't available.

Once again, the werewolf had to deal with the snobby principal, probably bribe her again with a check so that the incident wouldn't leave a permanent mark in their school records.

He was even madder when they were all sitting in the backseat of his car, soiling the interior with their dirty clothes.

In the near future, they would have to wash his car, that much was clear to them.

Peter didn't care whether they wanted to or not, he just brought them over to the Hale House where he probably would finally scold them properly.

Before they were allowed to enter the house, though, he demanded that they washed away the worst with the garden hose in the backyard.

"It's nearly November! And water is wet and cold!" Stiles complained, wearing a grimace on his face.

"Next time, don't start a food fight!" Peter said simply, raising his eyebrows at them as if he dared them to challenge him.

Cora and Lindsay weren't talking to each other but somehow they shouted in unison, "Stiles started it!"

The accused held up his hands in defense, clearly offended that suddenly the two of them managed to agree on something. "Hey, that was an accident! Do you have any idea how hard it is to eat a kiwi fruit?! I didn't mean for it to hit you in the eye, Cora!"

"Well, but she certainly meant to hit me with the spoonful of tomato soup!"

"First of all, bitch, it was not a spoonful - it was hardly a drop that got spilled on your blouse, so calm the fuck down. Second of all, that wasn't tomato soup, it was red pepper-"

Before Cora could finish her sentence, Lindsay had already thrown herself at her and now they were rolling around on the ground, pulling at each other's hair.

Stiles did the only sensible thing: He took the hose and doused them both in ice cold water.

They were so thrown off by that action, they actually forgot what they were doing and focused their combined hatred on Stiles now.

"Hey, hey, I was just trying to help! I mean, Lindsay, you have pudding in your hair! Pudding! And Cora, have you even noticed that there are noodles tangled with your hair?"

Together, they managed to snatch the hose from the teen's hand and to get back at him by making sure he looked like a cat that fell in a bathtub filled with water.

The differences between Cora and Lindsay still weren't resolved, though, which was probably the reason why they were fighting over the hose now.

"Oh my god, give that thing to me!"

Stiles had enough and went between the two of them, effectively holding them apart from each other.

"Let's all calm down and talk like the civilized people we are supposed to be. Okay, I think you should start, Lindsay. So, what happened with Brad? I thought you two were through after you kicked him out?"

Cora scoffed at the mention of Lindsay's former boyfriend, which got her a cold glare from the blonde.

"That's what I thought too. But then he called me to clear things up and dumped me! He treated me as if I had been the clingy girlfriend which was why he never dared to break up with me even though he really wanted to! God, who does he think he is! I god damn broke up with him and not the other way round! Now everybody is pitying me because of the bullshit he keeps telling people!"

"What did you say?" Stiles inquired with a confused face. "I only got half of that."

Cora looked annoyed as she inspected his face. "That's because you got a fucking pea stuck in your ear, genius."

She grabbed his face, tapped it slightly to the side and clapped her hand against the upturned side of it, which caused the pea to topple down to the ground.

"Ouch!," Stiles exclaimed gruffly while rubbing his face. "You couldn't have done that more gently? By the way, I think I also inhaled some corn through my nose. If I catch a cold out here, I'm probably gonna sneeze up a whole salad."

"Oh, I'm so sorry your airhead of a boyfriend broke up with you," Cora said in a voice that more than strongly suggested that she was the opposite of sorry. "That must be so hard for you. After all, you abandoned everyone else in favor for him! I can't imagine the pain you must be going through!"

In the background, Stiles was sure he had heard someone mumbling "this is so much better than television!" but he was too focused on the two girls shoving him around in order to get to the other. It was a lot harder than it should have been for him to stand his ground.

"Okay, I'm sensing repressed animosity coming from your side, Cora. Maybe we should talk about that."

"I'm sorry, okay?" Lindsay yelled back at her, completely ignoring Stiles. It wasn't as if he was literally the only thing that was standing between them or anything. "I never thought you would hate me for that! I wasn't even aware that our friendship meant anything at all to you! You were constantly telling me that you didn't need anybody!"

Cora looked like she wanted to say something but no words left her mouth. As they were standing there, all three of them dirty and with their wet clothes clinging to them like a second skin, they realized how trivial their reason for that fight truly was.

"Well, I guess, you're here now," Cora conceded grumpily.

A small smile formed on Lindsay's lips. "Yeah, I am. And I don't plan on going anywhere."

"Aww, come here, the both of you! It's time for a group hug!" Stiles exclaimed, opening his arms exaggeratingly wide.

To his surprise, they actually complied and dove into his arms, hugging him so fiercely as if they feared he would disappear otherwise.

Suddenly, though, Lindsay jerked away as if someone had bitten her. There was a flush on her cheeks and she was biting her lip awkwardly. Then she put her hands hesitantly around Stiles' neck again.

"I'm sorry. I know it's a completely natural reaction but you surprised me. It's okay, though! You don't have to be embarrassed," she rushed to say.

Stiles was confused but then he saw the way her eyes were glancing down his body and comprehension and mortification took over his features.

"Oh my god, no!" His hand reached for his pants pocket from where he quickly retrieved the cause for Lindsay's reaction. "It's just a banana! I snatched it, in case I needed it if Boulder found out that I threw the apple and wanted revenge!"

He held the fruit up like it was a weapon.

The three of them looked at each other, stunned at the sudden turn of events. Then they burst out laughing so loudly, they scared away a few birds.

"Boulder? Do you mean Bob? The tall guy Vincent convinced to act as kind of a bodyguard for the cool kids?" Lindsay inquired between bouts of laughter.

Stiles had to bite his lip so he could keep the laughter in. "Are you seriously telling me that his name is Bob? He's - he's Bob the Boulder, guys!"

"Well, we certainly can't fix that," Cora dead-panned which threw them into another bout of laughter.

It took a while until they were finally clean enough to be allowed into the house but when they did, they all still had an amused grin on their face.

The scolding they received from both Peter and Laura wasn't all that bad considering how much fun the food fight had actually been in hindsight.

The adults were lenient on them, not that the teenagers were aware of that. Secretively, Peter was nearly as amused as the teenagers were and Laura was just glad to see that Cora had finally decided to make friends.

Derek's flabbergasted face, when he saw them all sitting in his living room and acting like a patchwork family in a sitcom, was also a bonus.

***

Eventually, Laura took Cora and Lindsay home and Stiles had gone upstairs to take a shower and change clothes. It was an advantage that Stiles still had some of his things stored in his own room at the Hale House or he would have been forced to borrow some clothes and werewolves were really weird about that because of how it would mess with his scent.

He exited the bathroom dressed in sweatpants and an old ratty T-shirt with the batman logo printed on it and he got startled so badly when he realized that someone was already waiting for him that he nearly slipped. He blamed the fluffy socks. Even though they were keeping his frozen toes warm and comfy, their grip on the floor wasn't the best.

"Are you trying to get me killed?! Is that why you're always so stealthy and just pop out of nowhere?! If so, please get the job done faster and spare my poor heart!" Stiles complained while rubbing his chest. His heart was beating so loudly, to the werewolf it must have felt like the hammering bass of some song in a disco.

Derek scowled. "Why do you always think I want to kill you? The undertaker of Beacon Hills hasn't hired me yet. He probably has enough customers without me helping his business along."

His dry tone caused the teen to let loose a sound that was a mix between a laugh and a cough. With wide eyes, Stiles looked at Derek, assessing the alpha from head to toe just in case he had missed an obvious sign that the person in front of him was not the real Derek.

"That was a joke," Stiles declared incredulously. "Definitely a dark one but - wow. You actually do have a sense of humor!"

The alpha exhaled loudly, almost as if dealing with Stiles was exhausting him already.

They were only standing a few feet apart from each other but somehow it felt like there were miles between them and that made Stiles feel slightly regretful. They hadn't been close before, either but there had always been some sort of unspoken understanding between them. Now, though, it seemed like that thread had been cut. Stiles actually had no idea what was going on inside Derek's head at that moment and it felt strange.

The silence between them grew heavier with every second that passed as they were just looking at each other. Naturally, Stiles felt inclined to break it before it managed to bury him beneath its weight.

"Did you need something? Or why are you here? Are you mad because of the mud stains on your floor? Because they're not as bad as you might think! After I cleaned it, you won't even be able to tell they were there in the first pla-"

"It's not that," Derek interrupted him, his eyebrows drawn together in a frown. "------"

He made a low sound that wasn't quite a growl. Stiles almost wanted to smile because even without saying any words, the werewolf was able to somehow express exactly what he meant. If someone were to ask Stiles about a talent of Derek, he would probably list that ability even before his persistent broodiness.

"Okay," Stiles said, unsure of how else to respond to that.

The alpha's nostrils flared unhappily, but the teen didn't know that it was out of frustration rather than anger.

"Danny told you."

Stiles' heart nearly stopped in shock. For a moment, he felt like he had betrayed his friend but then he remembered that he hadn't done anything wrong.

"About the meeting."

"He mentioned it," Stiles said, suddenly on guard.

"It's this Friday. At six. Don't be late."

There was obviously so much more that needed to be said between the two of them and that knowledge hung between them like spiderwebs. Maybe that's why Stiles was picturing an old abandoned house that was probably haunted by ghosts and memories when he thought of them as StilesAndDerek.

There was one thing Stiles needed to know, though, before he turned his back on the building that represented their relationship.

Derek who had already turned around to leave stopped in his tracks at hearing Stiles' voice.

"You actually want me to be there? Even though I'm not pack?"

Hazel eyes met amber ones in an intense gaze that seemed to hold so much more meaning than Stiles wanted to acknowledge.

"As far as I'm concerned, you'll never not be pack."

Chapter Text

Silas bowed deeply in front of his lord, careful in not upsetting him. The time had nearly come and the mood swings had started to appear again. No one was safe from the lord's wrath at one false word.

Their plan was slowly reaching its peak and it was no wonder that the lord was tense. Everything depended on timing.

"Hunters have arrived, my Lord. I can only assume that the Order will soon follow their tracks," Silas said in a low voice. The disgruntled expression he was wearing made it clear that he did not approve of this development at all. He was worried that their plan might fail, but didn't dare to say those words out loud in fear of getting admonished.

"I can hear your doubt."

There was no accusation in his voice but it nevertheless sent a shiver down Silas' spine. His master wasn't even looking at him but he had still seen right through his act. That's why Silas knew to fear his master. Once you had made a pledge to him, you were bound for life with no chance of escape.

"I'm merely worried, my Lord. Our plan is proceeding very slowly and depends on so many factors that are outside our realm of influence. I fear something unexpected may happen, that's all," Silas explained himself, trying to sound apologetic and self-assured all at once.

The master was still looking at the mirror, his back turned to the man kneeling before him.

"There are no certainties when it comes to magic, you fool. But how can I expect you to understand or even comprehend that? You're here to follow orders and not to think," Silas got reprimanded coldly.

Follow orders. Don't think for yourself. Never question what you're told. You wouldn't understand the grand scheme of things, anyway. Just do as you're told and everything will turn out in your favor in the end if you just do as you're told. You can be on the winner's side for once.

That's the mantra that had been beaten into him over the years so he really should've known better than to speak his mind. Why was there still a part of him left that doubted? What was it with his thirst for recognition that got in the way of his hunger for acceptance and a place where he belonged?

Silas shook his head as if to get rid of the silly notions that were dividing his mind into two separate, different beings. He was not supposed to be torn. He was supposed to be whole, efficient and functioning.

"I apologize. I spoke out of turn," the henchman said, mostly sincere. "What are your orders, my Lord?"

Once he had received his new orders, Silas nodded and left.

His master looked at his reflection in the mirror and snarled at it as if his own appearance displeased him immensely. The only thing that kept him from smashing the mirror was the importance of it.

His hands were clenched into fists with which he then attacked the mirror. The impact wasn't hard enough to destroy the mirror but hard enough to bruise his knuckles.

Very little patience did he manage to restore after that outburst, though. He was heaving with anger.

"Not all her power is lost," he told his reflection in an attempt to calm himself down. "I can still feel her. One of her sparks is still around. It's so much clearer now. It's my only connection. I can use that. And then, all of her power will be mine soon. I have to be patient."

***

Some people have the firm belief that life is supposed to be incomprehensible, at least for the ones living it. Nothing could be said about the point of view of the dead on that subject because nobody had ever managed to ask them. Maybe they didn't want to share their knowledge because they realized that they had paid for it with their lives. So if life was a question that could only be answered once you gave your own away, then Stiles preferred to remain clueless.

As far as he was concerned, life was the question and death was the answer. Everything in between was research, a field that he normally prided himself on being outstanding in.

He knew that research could be tedious and long-winded, sometimes even boring. And you always found things you weren't looking for; things that lead you astray. Sometimes one click could change your whole life, especially if it brings you to one of the strangest and darkest corners of the internet.

Well, Stiles found himself right now in one of these strange corners and even though he had an inkling why he was here, he couldn't explain how exactly he ended up in this situation.

"Mr. Stilinski, I have dealt with kids like you before."

Stiles suppressed a groan. When would he finally be allowed to go?

Miss Barks - ha, Barks, one had to appreciate the irony in his life - banged her palms on the table he was sitting at and glared down at him.

"Kids who come from a different cultural background. And when they start causing trouble they play innocent. You think you can use your exotic name to hide behind and claim that it was a misunderstanding, don't you? People with names that no one can pronounce," she directs her disgusted expression down to his school files, "probably learn how to build bombs before they learn how to walk."

Stiles was appalled that someone who was so blatantly racist was allowed to be around kids at all, let alone teach them. Zoey, who was in Miss Barks' office as well, coughed loudly, obviously showing how displeased she was with her colleagues' wording.

"Doris, that was absolutely uncalled for," she scolded her. "Stiles has done nothing to deserve such hatred nor has anyone else just because he has a different background."

She obviously wanted to say so much more about her colleagues' inappropriate behavior but it appeared that she was too insecure in her position as the director of the school choir to speak to a mathematics teacher that way.

Miss Barks ignored her.

"Just because you're white doesn't mean you're off my radar, Bambi."

She pointed her index and middle finger towards her eyes and then towards Stiles for good measure.

"Bambi?"

Since he had been sent to Miss Barks' office she had ignored every remark he made that was not an answer to one of her questions so he wasn't surprised that she simply disregarded his question this time as well.

Miss Barks took a seat in her chair, leaned back and folded her hands together in front of her chest as if she was praying. Or rather, like she was summoning Satan, considering her personality.

"It's all the sugar. Kids these days are consuming too much unhealthy food. I've been talking to the school board about this issue for years. Years. And now the situation has unsurprisingly escalated." She looked entirely too pleased about that development. Maybe she wasn't as angry about the food fight as Stiles had initially assumed. "That's why they finally listened to me. Everything I consider unhealthy has been banned from the cafeteria menu. I hope you're pleased with yourself, Bambi."

"Uh, what does that have to do with me? Why am I here again?"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "I'm greatly offended by your insolence, just so you know. Also, you will be the face of my campaign. Just like the nazis had Hitler, I have you as the person to blame for. Considering your origins, I'm sure you're familiar with the background of the second world war."

Zoey covered her eyes with a hand in second-hand embarrassment. "Miss Barks, please don't drag the nazis into this. What does that even have to do with anything?"

"European history, Miss Sanders. Bambi here was born in Poland, which means that his grandfather survived the Nazis and the concentration camps. I bet that boy was already kicking Nazi' ass as soon as he left the womb!"

Stiles' jaw dropped down in utter astonishment. "I was only born in Poland because of certain circumstances! My parents were already living in the USA when my mom was pregnant. I was raised here but even if I wasn't I have never done anything that would warrant that sort of treatment!"

"I was paying you a compliment, Bambi," Miss Barks defended herself. "And I think your rebellious behavior on Monday would say otherwise."

"It takes more than one student to start a food fight, Doris. Stiles is not entirely to blame for that disaster. And I think putting him on cleaning duty for the rest of the week is a sufficient enough punishment," said Zoey.

Miss Barks smirked to herself as she rolled out two posters that had been stocked in her desk drawer. On both of them was a picture of Stiles and next to his face was a sign where junk food was crossed out.

The first one read: "No more junk food! I'm gonna polish your eating habits!"

The second one read: "My ancestors survived the Nazis, you can survive a life without unhealthy food!"

"I'm using your rebellion for my own benefits. If you think that's immoral, that's your own problem. I hope one day you'll understand, though, that I've made you part of a great movement and the change we will bring will be a good one." Miss Barks leaned back in her seat with a satisfied grin. Zoey was grimacing. "Tomorrow, everyone will know who's to blame for the new rule."

It was Tuesday morning when Stiles had been in Miss Barks' office. It only took one hour, though, for the campaign to show its effect. Everybody was enraged and nearly everybody in the school blamed Stiles. The only ones who didn't glare at Stiles were Cora and Lindsay. Even the teachers seemed to be angry at Stiles!

"I'm dead! My life is over!" Stiles complained as he crawled out from the dumpster some boys had thrown him in. It was obvious that he wasn't welcome in the cafeteria anymore.

"Don't be dramatic. The only thing that died here is that thing on your head. And maybe my sense of smell," Cora said with her hands on her hips. She offered him a hand to help him stand up but otherwise kept her distance to him. He really must smell bad.

Whatever had been gracing his head fell to the ground as Stiles did a full body shake.

It turned out to be a small dinosaur that somehow had acclimated itself to living in a dumpster in order to survive.

Stiles didn't pay attention to it, though, and accidently stepped on it and thus the existence of dinosaurs in modern times was not found out.

As the week progressed, Stiles got humiliated and bullied in every way students with a narrow mind and the lack of creativity knew how.

Stiles suffered and endured the cruel treatment until one day he had enough. This day happened to be Wednesday, the same week his punishment had started.

During their lunch break, he stood up from his seat and climbed onto the table. He looked at his fellow students, put a fist in the air and opened his mouth.

"We will no longer be victims of our government! We won't stay silent any longer! So raise your voices with me and complain! We're teenagers, goddamnit, and it's time that we start acting like it!"

Soon, Lindsay and Cora joined him and so the three of them were standing on the table, looking at the crowd. It was such an important moment in their lives that they felt the need to sing.

The song of choice was "Another brick in the wall". "Old McDonald had a farm" had been an option but thankfully they had decided against it since they wouldn't stand for encouraging the vast consumption of meat in society any further.

Unfortunately, the bricks in the wall of the building got so offended by that song choice that they decided to finally lead their own rebellion against the humans and left their designated places.

Everyone in St. Joanna's Academy for Music and Art was buried under the collapsed roof of the building and news reporters were rushing to the place of the tragedy to be the first one to report about it.

They all died too because they starved while waiting for a statement from the bricks. One of them died after saying that they felt like they were talking to a wall.

After that, the world got thrown into chaos until eventually, the human race surrendered and bricks took over the reign of the earth.

Since then, no walls have ever been built again.

The End.

Chapter Text

PART III: Dawn

 

“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”
-Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?

 

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
-George Bernard Shaw

 

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”
-Aristotle

 

***

Everything was dark and he was floating. It felt kind of nice. There was even music playing softly in the background. It wasn't the kind of music you wanted to hear when you were flying but he decided that beggars couldn't be choosers.

He didn't mind that the song was the most annoying song he had ever heard and that it seemed to be stuck on repeat.

What was that man - or was it a woman? - even singing about? The lyrics sounded innocent enough but the way he/she sang them felt like they were being slowly tortured to death and happy about it.

The more he concentrated on the song, the stronger the pull of gravity became and so he found himself soon falling.

Frantically, he opened his eyes and sat up, only to crash head-first against a solid form.

"Ow. What the hell, Stilinski?!"

Cora was rubbing her forehead furiously, even though it was clear that she wouldn't even get a bump.

Stiles was in much the same position, only he was sitting on a bed while Cora was standing, slightly hunched over him.

Before he could even open his mouth, Cora already answered his question. "You're in the infirmary. Some asshole tripped you in the hallway and send you crashing into the wall. The head of a moose fell on your head, thus, you got rushed to the infirmary."

Stiles then discovered that the song in his head was actually coming from a tiny, really old radio station sitting on the counter next to his bed.

Now that Cora had explained what had happened, he could feel his head throbbing in pain and when he touched it, there was unmistakenly a small bump forming at the back of his skull. He grimaced slightly.

"Please tell me it's an artificial moose-head."

Cora had the audacity to grin smugly. "No. It was 100 % alive once before it got shot by a hunter and stuffed. I think it's cursed so now every moose you'll ever encounter in your life will try to kill you."

"Okay," Stiles said slowly, unexpectedly truly accepting his fate. "Not the worst curse. I have a few werewolves on my side to protect me. I'm not afraid. Besides, death by moose would actually be more awesome than death by something supernatural."

"You're so weird," Cora acknowledged with a raised eyebrow. "Did you know that you talk and wiggle around in your sleep? I don't know what was more disturbing. Watching you doing some weird interpretive dance or hearing you talking about nazis, dinosaurs, dumpsters and bricks. What the hell were you even dreaming about?"

Stiles' eyes widened comically and he exhaled in relief as he realized that all of that had just been a dream.

"So, I'm not the face of Miss Barks' campaign for a more healthy diet that was marketed with racist slogans? And I didn't get thrown into a dumpster? And bricks didn't take over the world?" he asked, just to make sure that all of that had just been something his mind had come up with.

"She tried, but they didn't let her get through with it for obvious reasons. I mean, I know she doesn't mean anything bad with it, but the things she says are racist, even if she practically admires you just because you're Polish. In her eyes, that means that you're made out of steel or something."

Since Stiles was feeling okay enough to go back to class, they both left the infirmary. As they stepped out into the hallway, it became apparent that one part of his dream had been reality: everyone blamed them for the new cafeteria menu. The looks they were getting were downright murderous and Stiles could have sworn that some students were making rude gestures with their hands in their direction. Cora seemed to be strangely proud of that.

"We are social outcasts now. Everyone hates us!" she announced, wearing a delighted smile.

Lindsay took her new place in the social hierarchy not as well as Cora, though. She was wearing a beanie so low that it nearly covered her eyes and was constantly gnawing on her lip while also muttering to herself that her life was over.

"I don't think we're allowed to wear hats," Stiles pointed out. They ate their lunch in an empty classroom, hiding from the wrath of their fellow students.

"The next two years are going to be hell. I'm in hell right now. Satan has finally decided to walk among us. Maybe I should start worshipping him, trying to get on his good side? I mean, if I'm in hell I could, at least, work my way to the top, right?" She looked at her two friends hopefully, her blue eyes glinting maniacally.

Stiles looked forlornly at Cora, not sure what to say in that situation. To Stiles' surprise, the werewolf took the matter of cheering Lindsay up in her own hands that she quickly wrapped around the blonde girl's shoulders.

"Hey, it could be worse," she said. Lindsay didn't look convinced. "You could be cursed by a moose."

Lindsay sighed. "I guess."

***

Band Practice on Tuesday got canceled due to Lindsay already having plans to eat at a restaurant with her family. Apparently, her parents were so awed by Ray's wondrous recovery that they decided to go celebrate. They even invited Stiles along, since they saw him as some kind of saint that had magically healed their son. Stiles paled when Lindsay told him that, thinking that they were closer to the truth than they probably thought.

Stiles had declined their invitation because Ray was still not talking to him and he didn't want to intrude on a family dinner. Whenever he thought about the young boy, his heart clenched painfully in his chest and he wondered what he was supposed to do. Lindsay had reassured him that her brother would soon get over his grudge but Stiles wasn't so sure about that.

Distraction from that problem came when Stiles' dad had to head out during dinner because of a desecration of a grave in their local cemetery. Once again, the camera hidden in the Sheriff's badge proved to be quite useful to Stiles and so he discovered that the grave in question belonged to the man that had drowned in the river.

Stiles looked to Burly, who was gnawing on a chicken bone. "I don't believe in coincidences anymore. Do you?"

The police, though, didn't seem to be all that suspicious about the case, which was probably best anyway. It meant that his dad would file a report and speak to family members of the dead man who's grave had gotten desecrated in case they wanted to keep the investigation open. Since there was little to nothing to go on, the police would soon close the investigation. It would be one of the cases that would probably get classified as a prank gone wrong and no one would ever assume that there was an ominous intent behind it.

No one was supposed to get caught up in the supernatural if Stiles could prevent it. Especially when there was an unknown enemy with unknown powers and an unknown motive out there. Stiles really hated knowing so little.

That was probably the reason why he decided that he needed to investigate the desecrated grave himself. And even though there were some major arguments that spoke against that decision, he didn't need a lot of time to make up his mind.

One of the arguments being that he had sworn to himself to let the case rest because the Hale pack was already handling it.

Another was that it would possibly put him in the crossfire and he would risk Derek's wrath.

What made those arguments eventually void was the realization that Stiles knew way too little about the unknown enemy to simply assume that they were only targeting the Hale pack. He needed to keep his dad safe and the only way to do that was gaining knowledge about what they were even up against.

This time, though, Stiles wasn't investigating alone. He had called in his sidekick.

Who, as it turned out, had invited another sidekick along.

"Scott!" Stiles hissed, annoyed. "Didn't I say you had to be discreet about the whole thing? Why does that translate in your head to Bring some friends along?"

Isaac shifted from one foot to the other, looking uncomfortable. Even though Stiles had dragged Scott a few feet away from him, he was still able to hear their conversation.

"Look, I have little control these days and I don't trust myself anymore. I need someone to keep me in check. And Isaac had already been over anyway," Scott explained, shrugging his shoulders as if he couldn't understand what the big deal was.

Stiles closed his eyes and sighed. "Fine," he conceded unhappily. "At least, he knows the cemetery better than anyone. Let's go already."

When they arrived at the cemetery, Stiles fished out a flashlight from his backpack but didn't turn it on. He instructed the two werewolves to scan the area, making sure that no deputies were stationed near the crime scene. He didn't expect there to be but it was better to be safe than sorry.

Only when they gave him the answer he wanted to hear did he turn on the flashlight and get out of the jeep.

Burly was following him close on his heels as he walked through the cemetery. The little guy had once again snuck into the jeep even though he had gotten told to stay behind, to Stiles' chagrin. He'd rather the animal was safely waiting for him at home, but Burly was stubborn that way. He probably thought that he had to protect Stiles or something.

As if Stiles needed protection while walking through a cemetery in the middle of the night. He was no noob when it came to things like that.

Though, it was kind of unsettling.

"This feels like the beginning of a bad horror movie," Isaac commented.

"Yeah, but dude, we literally are the monsters from horror movies. I don't think we have anything to worry about. Now, the glare Lydia sends in Jackson's direction nowadays, that's something to be afraid of," Scott reminded him with a crooked grin.

"Did they even break up? I don't really get what's going on between those two."

"I don't think so? I'm not really one to talk, though. My relationship with Allison has failed catastrophically. And I wanted it to work so much..."

"Scott, that's not your fault. You were a great boyfriend. And who knows? Maybe you're better off without her? I mean, there's plenty of other people out there..."

"But Allison was, like, the one, you know? She's it for me. She's my soulmate. There's no way someone could ever replace her."

Before Isaac could get the opportunity to make a remark - maybe even to confess his undying love to Scott - Stiles abruptly turned around, causing them to just as abruptly halt in their steps to avoid crashing into him.

"Guys, we're on a goddamn stakeout! Some stealth, please! You can gossip and talk about your feelings when we're done!"

They both looked down at their shoes apologetically and promised to behave.

Finally, they reached the grave they were looking for. It was not a pretty sight. Stiles actually felt goosebumps breaking out on his skin at the view presented to him.

The flowers and gifts the family had left there to honor the memory of their deceased loved one were trampled down and destroyed and the gravestone had been disgraced with scratches and swear words written in red paint.

"Some people have no respect for the dead," Isaac muttered darkly under his breath. Since he had worked at the cemetery for a while, this attack made him feel even more disgusted. People came here to mourn. It was supposed to be a sacred place. And now someone had had the audacity to ruin that.

Stiles slowly reached out a hand to touch the gravestone, pointing his flashlight directly at it so he was able to read the engraving. Not one swear word had overwritten the engraving.

"This wasn't done out of hatred. It's too clean. I mean, you can read every written word quite clearly. It looks staged. Like someone wanted it to look like a desecration," he mused quietly, the wheels in his head turning.

"How can you be so sure? Maybe they were in some kind of calm rage when they did it? I mean, the psychopaths in movies act detached too. Maybe whoever did it is emotionally dead?" Scott asked.

Stiles took a step away from the gravestone. "Only one way to know for sure," he said, turning around to face the two werewolves. "I hope you're wearing something old tonight, boys because we're about to get dirty!"

Scott and Isaac shared a weary look, both of them already foreseeing what would happen next.

"I'm going to hell for this," Isaac whined softly as he heaved another shovelful of dirt out of the small hole they had already accomplished to dig. "Why do you even have two shovels in your trunk? Do you just always count on the possibility that you might have to dig up a grave when you go out?"

"Not always. I get pulled over by a deputy way too often and I really don't wanna explain why I am equipped to bury someone in the woods. I only have them with me when I think I will need them. Like tonight," Stiles answered nonchalantly, standing next to the grave and watching them work.

Scott stopped digging and looked accusingly at his best friend. "That's why you wanted me to tag along! You needed me for digging!"

"Nothing like doing some physical labor to get back into your best friend's good graces again, amirite Scotty?"

Scott grumbled unhappily but took up digging again without hesitation.

It didn't take long until they had reached the coffin and together they managed to open it on Stiles' command.

"Oh my god!"

"Isaac! Stealth, remember?"

"Sorry. I'm just really creeped out, that's all."

Stiles could only agree with that sentiment. Instead of a corpse, they had found just an empty coffin. Someone had stolen the body.

"What now?!"

Stiles didn't know what to say to calm Scott down. Eventually, they settled on closing the coffin again. Then they buried it again, trying to make it look like before. Since the grave had already been desecrated, Stiles assumed that no one would notice that the grave looked freshly dug. The funeral couldn't have been that long ago either so he doubted that anyone would be able to tell what they had been up to.

Spooked by their discovery, Stiles picked up Burly and carried him all the way back to the jeep. He needed to know the animal was safe.

Isaac and Scott seemed to be equally shaken, seeing as they were being quiet until they were sitting in the car.

"What does that mean?" Isaac asked quietly as Stiles drove away from the cemetery. The heat was turned on because they all felt the chill of the night in their bones.

Stiles looked into the rearview mirror, watching the cemetery get further and further away from them. He only felt safe when it was out of his sight completely.

What does it mean?

Stiles wanted to know the answer to that just as much as Isaac did.

Why would someone want to draw attention to the grave by desecrating it when they intended to steal the body? Without the act of desecration, Stiles would have never investigated the grave. Nobody would have.

So what was the point of it?

And what would someone want with the body anyway?

There were too many unanswered questions. Even more so now than before.

"I don't know," Stiles confessed in a resigned voice. His knuckles went white as his grip on the steering wheel tightened. He felt so stupid. It was like standing in front of a half-finished puzzle while still being unable to see the whole picture. Instead of coming closer to the answer, it felt like he was moving further and further away from it. How was he supposed to see what the picture was if the distance between himself and the puzzle kept getting bigger?

"We'll figure it out eventually," Scott said optimistically. "There's still time. We always figure it out eventually."

"Yeah, we still got some time," Isaac agreed halfheartedly. "By the way, how are you doing, Scott? You're in perfect control today."

"Better," Scott smiled slightly. "I think I've finally gotten used to dreaming about soil and darkness. And there's never been anything as horrific as the dream about the fox, either."

Stiles felt Burly curl even tighter around his shoulders. At the mention of a fox, he seemed to have become more agitated.

"What are you even talking about? What dream about a fox?" Stiles asked, feeling confused. He was glad for the distraction, though.

"I've been having these dreams lately - I think, they're my connection to the alpha. Usually, they're quite clear but it's so dark that I'm not able to make out anything important. I know that there's soil. And a lot of pain. Sometimes they're taunting voices too, but I can never really make out what they're saying."

"That doesn't sound like a lot of fun to dream about."

Scott grimaced. "No, it's really not. One time I even dreamed about attacking a fox - just digging my claws into its hind legs to stop it from escaping and then tearing into it with my teeth-" Scott shuddered as he remembered the gory details. "Even after I woke up, I could still taste the blood in my mouth."

They had already arrived at the McCall residence as Scott had started to talk about his nightmares. That was rather fortunate too because Stiles probably would have slammed on the brakes in reaction had they been still on the road.

In a haste, Stiles turned around in his seat to meet Scott's gaze. The seatbelt was the only thing that stopped him from actually falling out of his seat because of his arm-waving.

"Did you have that dream before or after you visited me, Scott?" he wanted to know. There was no denying how worked up he was.

Scott looked perplexed, probably wondering what the point of that question was. "Uh... before? Shortly before I talked to you. That's probably a reason why I was so freaked out about Burly, I guess."

Scott jestingly stretched out his hand to pet the fox awkwardly, pleased when the animal let it happen without resistance. They were definitely making progress in getting along.

***

After Stiles had dropped Scott and Isaac off at the McCall residence, he practically broke every speed limit in his haste to get home.

When he was finally alone in his room, he lifted Burly from his shoulders and held him so they were at eye level.

"Were you the fox Scott was dreaming about?" Stiles asked him, voice not louder than a whisper.

The fox met his gaze steadily, almost as if trying to convey his answer through the look in his eyes.

Stiles wasn't convinced, though, so he decided to try something. He tried to remember the spark he had created in order to save Burly and then he imagined the animal as a part of the spark.

It seemed to be working.

The fox in his arms began to glow slightly, the light constantly getting brighter until it was encasing them both.

Stiles then got to experience Scott's dream himself, only from a different perspective. He was the one who got attacked.

The vision was so realistic that he even felt the excruciating pain that forced him to his knees.

When he opened his eyes, he was panting harshly, sweat pooling on his brow.

The pain was still coursing through his body but it was much duller now like an echo of the pain he had felt only seconds before.

Burly was whining lowly in his throat, pressing his snout to Stiles' face that was surprisingly wet from tears.

"I know where the alpha is," the boy told the fox with a weak smile. "Thanks to you, buddy. You were so brave."

In exhaustion, Stiles collapsed on the floor, not able to hold himself up any longer. The experience of sharing memories had weakened him immensely.

Burly curled up next to him. Stiles raked his fingers through his fur as he lay on the floor, carefully contemplating the next step. There was no time for mistakes. He had to make the right decision.

He couldn't make a decision without more knowledge about the enemy, though. He needed advice. Particularly, he needed advice from his mom. He needed to know more about what he could do.

But there was no new entry in the notebook.

He needed to speed things along because he didn't have the time to wait for a new entry to appear one of these days. The emergency meeting was in three days.

So he did the only thing that came to his mind. He conjured up a spark and let it melt into the notebook.

Chapter Text

As soon as the next advice came up, Stiles wasn't able to stop himself. He spent the whole night with the book, not realizing how the hours were passing by and night turned into day.

As you're on your way to figuring out your powers, I'm sure that you must have realized that you haven't reached your full potential yet. And that's because I've decided that you have to earn it. When I saw what harm could come to those like us, I was filled with the wish to spare you from all the pain I had experienced. So I made sure that your spark was locked away.
Please try to understand that I had your best interest in mind. People like us have great power within them, and there are others who will want that power for themselves. They see us as nothing more than power outlets - batteries if you so will. That's why sparks are rare nowadays. Remember: a star is always best seen when it's surrounded by darkness. So try to blend in, become one among many stars in the night sky.
In order to obtain access to your spark completely, you have to remember. Remember who you are, iskra, and what made you to the person you are today. Remember what I have locked away. This book shall help you with that task. Be careful, my dear.

Stiles' thoughts were racing inside his head, trying, like puzzle pieces, to fall into the right places.

"That's why I never noticed it before - why no one, not even the werewolves - have noticed it before. Finding the notebook unlocked my spark!" Stiles realized, looking wide-eyed at Burly because there was no one else there to share the shock of this realization with. The fox just tilted his head in response.

"But what does she mean with Remember what I've locked away? What the hell is that supposed to mean? I'm not demented. I don't have amnesia, either. What should there be left of my past for me to remember? I mean, I literally lived it, I've been there. I know what happened. So what does she mean? Maybe the book is supposed to show me like it showed me her memory of grandpa? Why does she have to be as vague as Obi-freaking-Wan Kenobi?!"

He was sure that was his best chance at regaining whatever his mother had locked away and he was sure that he was able to do it. After all, it had already worked with Burly. He just had to concentrate on the spark in the notebook.

Since one of his own sparks was now part of it as well, he should be able to affect it.

He closed his eyes and concentrated, trying to find the small source of energy in the book that had once belonged to him. His inner flame was reaching out, dancing around as if to summon the small spark it had lost.

He was so close already. His fingertips were already tingling with the power it took to reach out to the spark in the book.

He was almost there...

"Stiles! Kid, you're late for school!"

Just like that, his concentration was lost and the connection broke. Suppressing a curse, Stiles stood up from the floor and stretched his tired body.

One part of him was angry that he got interrupted, but the other part was shocked that he had lost any sense of time so completely that he had forgotten that his life still carried on without waiting for him.

"I know, dad! Sorry, I overslept," he yelled back, looking hastily for clothes while also walking to the bathroom to brush his teeth. There was no more time for a shower. He was lucky if he made it in time for the first period.

Burly watched him quietly, his gaze intense.

Once Stiles was ready for school, he snatched up the book and threw it carelessly into his backpack. Then he ran downstairs, foregoing breakfast, yelled goodbye to his dad and hopped into his jeep. The poor fox was left in his room since he had apparently completely forgotten about it. The animal whined lowly in his throat until the Sheriff finally registered what was going on and freed him from the confines of the teenager's room.

***

Stiles wasn't able to concentrate on any of his classes the whole school day long. His teachers were getting annoyed at him for spacing out, especially his piano teacher but he didn't care. School was secondary to him right now.

All his thoughts were focused on the notebook in his backpack as if it was calling him, tantalizing him with the wisdom and knowledge hidden inside its pages. The power he would gain by discovering its content was also a very big factor in why his hands were restless with the need to take it out of the bag.

His foot kept tapping the floor, driving all his classmates and the teacher insane.

His eyelids were heavy, nearly dropping close a few times but his agitation kept him awake. As he tried to think of the last night he had slept for more than four hours and came up with nothing he promised himself that he would go to sleep early today. He wasn't sure if he would be able to keep that promise, though.

Since Stiles was distracted that day, he missed Cora's partly worried and partly annoyed glances in his direction. She clearly knew that something was up with him but she didn't want to be nosy so she didn't confront him about his weird behavior. Besides, she didn't know him that well. How was she supposed to know for sure that this wasn't just one of Stiles' phases? He was quite an odd cookie, after all.

Lindsay didn't notice. She was too busy worrying about her social status. Her newest coping method was to stoically carry on and act as if nothing had ever happened. Additionally to her "I-don't-care"-attitude, she also decided to push a few people out of her way for good measure so everybody would know she was not someone whose integrity could be undermined by some bullies. Cora approved.

***

"Stiles, Laura asked you to drive me home. And with home she meant our apartment in Ashwick Valley and not the replica of my home that burned down while I was in it!"

"It's not a replica. It looks completely different than the one before," Stiles corrected absentmindedly, going through his bullet-list in his head. There were only a few things left to be done before he could go home and focus his attention on the notebook again.

"That's not the point! I can't see past the fact that it looks different now because the old one burned down! And my family burned with it!" Cora screeched angrily.

Stiles who had finally managed to notice her emotional state spared a quick glance at his furious front-seat passenger.

"Is that the reason why you avoid spending time with the pack?"

He knew it wasn't the most subtle way to approach that subject but he thought that being straightforward was the way to deal with Cora. She got fed up quickly and once he lost her attention, she would think what she wanted to think anyway.

As if he had called her out on some horrendous deed, she shuffled uncomfortably in her seat.

"It's not like that. I just don't like to remember... that night."

She looked like admitting that weakness felt like getting punched in the face. She probably would have felt less offended and indignant if he had punched her in the face instead of talking about something that made her uncomfortable.

Cora was apparently more like Derek than Stiles had assumed.

"You can wait in the car if you want," he offered, shrugging to show her that he really wouldn't mind if she did. "I don't know how long I'm gonna take, though. Could be up to an hour in the worst case. And Derek will probably call in an impromptu pack meeting anyway after I'm done talking to him. So he might expect you to be there too."

Cora's eyebrows knitted together in frustration as she heard about her options to deal with the situation. Uncertainty passed for the blink of an eye across her features but was soon replaced with determination. She nodded with a grim expression on her face.

"Fine, I'll come with you," she decided as she crossed her arms in front of her chest to show that she was only begrudgingly making that decision. "I'm not giving anyone the opportunity to think I'm hiding away like a coward, that's for sure. So let's just get it over and done with so I can go home."

In that moment, Stiles learned something very important and fundamental about the character of one Cora Monica Hale. She was a proud person. It was her pride that made her get up from the ground when she got pushed down. It gave her the will to carry on because giving up simply wasn't an option.

He smiled slightly. "Maybe you should also kick someone's ass to prevent anyone from thinking that you're scared. It's what Lindsay would do. I suggest you choose Jackson for that. Lord knows he needs someone to kick his ego down a notch."

He was pleased to see Cora cracking a small grin at his comment. "Well, it seems to work just fine for Lindsay so why not?"

"Make her proud. That's the least you could do for her."

Stiles squeezed Cora's shoulder reassuringly for a moment as they were about to enter the Hale House because he knew that even strong people needed to know that they didn't have to hide their pain. She responded with a halfhearted glare and bumped his shoulder roughly as she walked right past him and into her worst fear. Stiles' shoulder hurt but he had trouble suppressing a grin.

Naturally, since Stiles' old jeep could be heard by any werewolf a mile away, Malia was the first one to greet them. She practically threw herself at the teenager, reminding him with a sense of guilt that he hadn't spent time with her in a while. He hugged her back with a little more force than usual.

"You brought Cora," Malia said, measuring her cousin with a suspicious look. "She doesn't usually come here if she doesn't have to. Did you force her or something?"

Cora barked out a dry laugh at that. "I'd like to see him try to force me to anything."

Malia nodded in agreement. Apparently, that was all she wanted to know because she didn't ask for Cora's real reason for suddenly deciding to overcome her avoidance of the Hale House. It probably didn't matter to her anyway.

For a moment, Stiles actually thought about how he could get Malia and Cora to bond with each other. It was just wrong for them to be like strangers. They were family after all.

Cora rolled her eyes as if she had been reading his thoughts. "Quit stalling, Stilinski. It's time to face my brother! You're not afraid, are you?"

To be perfectly honest, Stiles was a little bit afraid of the conversation with Derek. For very valid reasons, as Stiles continued to tell himself. They hadn't talked to each other since Stiles had decided that he had to get over his crush on Derek Hale because it was futile and brought him nothing but pain. He had decided to move on. And he wouldn't go back on that decision. Or so he hoped. He wasn't really sure how his determination would hold up once he was faced with the real deal and not just a hallucination.

But since Cora and Malia were watching him, he just laughed and told them that the mere concept of him being afraid of Derek was ridiculous. Then, before they could call him out on his lie, he simply marched on toward the backyard where he was told Derek was chopping wood.

Stiles must have done something very horrible in a past life to deserve to have his first confrontation with Derek while the werewolf was showing off his muscled arms. Not that he was objectifying him or anything. He just thought that it was a cliché situation that showed off perfectly how masculine and productive Derek was while he was just standing awkwardly at the side, trying his hardest to feel strong enough to do the right thing.

To Stiles' luck, Derek actually had the decency to interrupt himself in his current activity as soon as he sensed Stiles' presence. He put the axe aside and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the other hand before he went to face the teenager. The only thing that gave away his surprise at seeing Stiles was the way his eyebrows were slightly raised.

"Stiles," the alpha acknowledged him in replacement of a greeting.

Neither of them moved closer to the other even though they were at a distance which was normally not usual for a conversation. But considering that one of them had enhanced senses, it probably wasn't all that strange in their case. Stiles only needed Derek to hear what he had to say anyway.

"I know where the alpha is."

That was not the way Stiles had wanted to convey the big news. Angry at himself, he closed his eyes for a brief moment and huffed out a breath. Now he had spent the whole car ride planning this conversation for nothing!

Ignoring the way Derek's body went rigid and how his eyes widened, Stiles waved a hand to express his annoyance.

"Can we reset? Maybe go back to before I said that? Because I had this really cool speech in mind which I'd deliver tantalizingly but with a whiff of mystery around me like a character in a movie. And the audience would think I'm really suave and stuff. I could've used pronouns and been very vague to keep up the suspense, you know? That would've been great."

Derek took a quick but thorough look at his surroundings, making sure nobody had heard them. Then he grabbed the lapel of Stiles' blazer and practically dragged him inside the house. He let go as soon as they were inside but didn't stop walking until they were in an office.

Stiles hadn't even known that there was one.

It seemed that even alpha werewolves needed a place to wrap up the supernatural business.

"How."

What should have been a question sounded more like a spat out word that had been stuck in his throat.

Stiles raised an eyebrow as he leaned against the wall, reminding himself that he had the upper hand in this conversation.

"The question you're looking for is 'Where?'. And I am - I mean, might be willing to answer you. Though a command like "Tell me!" would be more like you. Maybe you're just an imposter, wanting me to think you're Derek so I spill important information to you?" Stiles mused. He was actually surprised that the alpha hadn't already thrown him against a wall, demanding answers.

The older man's eyebrows knitted together while his eyes kept focusing on Stiles. He didn't reduce the distance between them, though, which was a clear sign that he was confused enough to not let his anger control him.

"Why are you evading my question?" Derek asked darkly. It didn't seem like he was trying to threaten or even intimidate Stiles. He was just displeased that he hadn't gotten an answer. Though Stiles couldn't understand why the 'How' appeared to be so important to him.

Stiles took a deep breath, readying himself for what he had to say next. "Because I don't think you have any right to know. Don't you realize that I'm basically offering you important information right now? You're in no position to demand anything from me."

Derek's expression darkened and his nostrils flared as he took in a sharp breath. At first, it seemed like he was moving towards Stiles but then he just crossed his arms in front of his chest as if to restrict himself from reaching out.

As soon as he was sure that Derek had realized he was right, Stiles took the few remaining steps to the desk at which Derek was standing. He stopped once they were standing right in front of each other.

"Okay, listen. There's one place I'm sure the alpha had been hidden for some time though I'm not completely sure if she is still there. Moving her would have been a big risk so I just assume that they didn't do that. I don't see any reason for that, either. Your best chance to find her is, therefore, to look for her there," Stiles explained.

"Where?" Derek gritted out, clearly annoyed that Stiles had finally managed to be as vague as possible.

Stiles smiled slightly. "There is the question I've been wanting to hear!" He received a glare for his gleeful exclamation but he thought it had been worth it.

Back to the matter at hand, he continued, "Above the river, at the place where the body had been found, there's a steep bank, as you probably remember. You saved me from falling down not that long ago. Well, there's a fox burrow, near the edge of the steep. And as it turns out, the burrow is actually a cave of some sort. I don't know how big it is but I'm pretty sure it reaches further back than I was able to see when I was there. I'm also pretty sure that there has to be a second entrance."

Stiles grabbed a sheet of paper and a pencil and began scetching how he thought the cave had to be structured. While he was drawing, Derek kept looking over his shoulder, his face awfully close to Stiles'. He didn't let himself be deterred by the close proximity, though.

"As I said, I don't know how big the cave is or how deep. I don't even know where the other entrance is. And I don't know what will await you there. But I'm willing to bet that the alpha is there," Stiles concluded as he looked at his drawing that looked like it had been done by a pre-schooler.

"Those are a lot of maybes," Derek said.

Stiles turned away from the drawing so he could face the alpha. It was then that he realized that their noses were almost touching. He tried not to flinch back in surprise.

"Did Scott ever tell you about the dream about the fox?" Stiles asked. Derek's face was blank. "Basically, he saw the alpha attacking a fox. A fox that lived in the fox burrow. The burrow that probably wasn't connected to the cave at all, until someone dug a tunnel. I don't think a fox would feel comfortable in a home that was bigger and unexplored, making room for enemies to inhabit it. Which must mean that the tunnel had been dug recently. The fox came back to a bigger home and went to explore it which in turn made him open for an attack from the alpha. The cave, separated from the burrow must have had an entrance too. Therefore, I think there's a second entrance."

The gaze Stiles was met with was intense, hazel eyes obviously pondering over what he had just said. They were still close enough that they were basically breathing the same air. Since Derek wasn't backing away, neither did Stiles. The teenager decided to stand his ground.

"How am I supposed to go along with this if I don't know how you've reached that conclusion?" Derek asked.

Now that there was no reason to look at the drawing anymore, Derek leaned back, creating enough distance so that they weren't evading each other's personal space anymore.

His hand came to rest on the desk, though, only inches away from Stiles' that hadn't let go of the pencil yet.

"You'll just have to trust me. I told you everything you actually need to know. Trust me because I've put my trust in you making the right decision here. I've been thinking about what to do next, about whether to act or not. But you know what? I don't know. I don't trust any decision I make in this case. But I trust yours," Stiles explained quietly. It wasn't like he was ashamed to admit that he trusted Derek. He trusted in Derek as an alpha to make the decision that was best for the pack. No matter what his feelings for him were or what had happened between them, this kind of trust in Derek had never been destroyed.

Something in Derek's expression changed. He was less tense and his eyes seemed to be warmer. If Stiles would have paid attention to it, he would have noticed that Derek's hand had distinctly moved closer to his own.

Dark eyebrows were raised slightly. "You're letting me handle this instead of solving this problem on your own? That doesn't sound like you. Maybe you're an imposter, wanting me to think you're Stiles."

Stiles wasn't able to hide the grin curving his lips. "Touché, Sourwolf. You got sassy in my absence."

The reminder of why they hadn't been working together on this case was all it took to wipe the grin off of Stiles' face. Here they were, acting as if nothing had ever happened and they were still on the same team. But the truth was that they were acting in their own interest. Derek and his pack needed to find the alpha and Stiles wanted to get rid of the responsibility of his new-found knowledge so he could focus on his powers.

There was nothing more to it.

And just like that, the easy atmosphere was broken and the air felt charged with negative energy once again.

Finally realizing how close their hands were, Stiles let go of the pencil and stuffed his hand into his pants pocket.

"Do with the information whatever you want. My part is done. Now it's in your hands," the teenager mumbled, not able to look at the alpha.

Now that he had said everything that he had come here to say, there was nothing that held him back. He was free to go. He was free to turn his back to the pack and move on. And that's what was best. He had promised himself that he would show some backbone by finally letting go.

As he turned to leave the office, a hand on his arm held him back. Startled, Stiles spun round on his heel, nearly losing his balance in the process.

"Stiles," Derek said quietly, looking at him in a way that told Stiles that there was much more to that word than just the application of his nickname in order to address him. There were probably whole sentences hidden behind it, maybe even a whole novel that expressed what Derek really wanted to say. The sad thing was that Stiles had no access to it.

"I'll see you on Friday, Derek."

Even though it seemed like Derek wanted to say or do something, in the end, he just let go of Stiles' arm and watched him walk out of the office.

Chapter Text

The pack had gathered at the Hale House in record time. They were all very excited to hear what made Derek call them in so urgently. That actually spoke a lot about the way the pack had developed. A few weeks earlier, most of them would have bemoaned the loss of their already limited free time. Now, though, they all were aware how serious their problems were and that they had only three days left to look for a solution.

"Oh, Cora! You're already here! I was just about to text you to ride along with Stiles," Laura exclaimed as she spotted her sister sitting on the Hale Couch. She had her phone in hand as if she was halfway through texting someone. Cora just shrugged in response.

"I thought she wasn't interested in our business," Jackson grumbled, obviously not pleased with her presence.

Cora didn't know all of them by name, but she definitely knew that the one looking like a model and acting like a douchebag had to be Jackson. So she stood up from her seat and walked over to him, measuring him with a cold glance.

"Oh, that reminds me," she mumbled to herself. Then, to everyone's surprise, she kicked out a leg that hit Jackson square in the stomach and sent him flying into the wall. Picture frames rattled as the blonde beta slid to the floor, a hand covering his stomach and his face turning slightly green.

"What the hell?!" Jackson groaned.

"Oh, what did I miss?" Peter walked into the living room but spared only a quick glance at Jackson. He had heard what had happened and was now slightly disappointed that he hadn't been present to witness that moment.

"Cora established her dominance over the territory," Malia told him, sounding bored.

"Damn right I did."

"Cora, language," Laura scolded.

Cora and Malia shared a sardonic grin and settled back on the couch together.

Danny reached out a hand to help his best friend up, all the while wearing a sympathetic expression on his face.

"Is this part of a new training method? Because I'm not sure if I wanna partake in that," he said.

"Cool it, dimples. I was just making a statement," Cora told him casually. Danny nodded, relief washing over him. Then Cora looked directly at Jackson, her eyes blazing with determination to challenge him if he were to say anything else about her being here. "I was here first, blondie. You do well to remember that."

Weirdly enough, Jackson seemed to accept her reason for the attack and just nodded. He was still slightly green and not able to stand completely upright but he wasn't complaining about that. Cora had managed to shut up the number one bully in the pack.

All conversation ceased, though, as soon as Derek entered the living room. His expression was grim, his brows furrowed in thought. His posture was tense and guarded but he also carried the aura of someone who was sure of himself and his decisions. All in all, he made the perfect picture of an alpha that was prepared to do everything in his might to protect his pack. The pack felt themselves getting relieved of a tiny part of fear they carried around ever since they had been informed about the Blood Moon.

"Stiles found out where the alpha is," Derek announced, then held up a hand to stop the insistent exclamations that had broken out at the news. When it was quiet, he proceeded to relay to them the information that Stiles had given him.

"That's good news, I guess? I mean, the Blood Moon is on Saturday. We still have two days left. And now we have the means to get to her before then," Laura said, trying for a smile. Obviously, she knew that it wasn't going to be that easy.

"It could be a trap," Peter interjected. "Maybe they want us to find her."

"We didn't get any clues, though. Not even a trail of a scent after that night she left the mark. They couldn't have counted on us finding out where she's kept with so little to lead us to that conclusion," Lydia objected, her head held high.

"Yeah, that's one of the things that makes you really think how Stiles was able to figure it all out, then. Doesn't anyone else besides me think that's weird? Suspicious even, if you ask me."

"Shut up, Jackson," Cora snapped at him. "If you're jumping to conclusions that quickly, it's no wonder that he doesn't want to tell us how he figured it out. I've known him for a month now and even I'm confident to claim that Stiles would never do anything to harm this pack."

"So, what are we going to do, Derek? We have to do something," Scott addressed Derek, who had intentionally kept quiet and listened to the pack's discussion.

They all turned to him, curious what the verdict would be.

Derek cleared his throat, straightened his spine and then he finally declared his opinion on the matter.

"We can take the risk and seek her out. However, we don't have to rush into it. And we're going to ask Chris and the hunters for help, if necessary. It's best if we make that decision democratically. So, those in favor of taking action raise their hand now."

The pack was obviously not torn concerning that decision, seeing as all hands were raised. Derek was proud to see them act as a unity like he had always intended them to.

Derek gave a quick nod.

"Let's start planning, then. Allison, give your dad a call. I think, he has a few things that could come in handy. And, Malia, you're gonna stay at home, no matter what plan we decide on."

The youngest member of their pack growled at that, her eyes flashing blue. She quickly recoiled, though, as soon as Derek flashed his own red eyes at her.

Malia turned away to sulk but soon she found herself next to her alpha, listening to him giving her a task that was, as he assured her, the most important part of the plan.

***

Stiles sat with crossed legs on the floor of his room, eyes fixating the notebook in front of him. His room was dark, the windows closed and the blinds shut. If someone was to come in now, they would probably assume he was about to perform a satanic ritual or something.

Maybe the candles were an unnecessary addition. Stiles had known from the beginning that they wouldn't help but he wanted to create an atmosphere worthy of whatever magical things were supposed to happen. Sue him for being a little dramatic.

The thing is, Stiles had been sitting here in almost complete darkness for over three hours and nothing had happened yet. And this was already his second day of trying. The candles were more or less his attempt at appeasing the spark. Sparks probably loved candles.

Or so he hoped.

He didn't really understand why it wasn't working. There had to be a connection between himself and the notebook, he was sure of it. He could practically feel it, like a thin string that ran from the center of his chest to the bindings of the book. He felt it sizzle like electricity was running through the string.

The warmth in his chest was spreading and so he tried to channel it through the string and to the book. He imagined it in his head to look like a phone line. He sent his wishes and thoughts down the line, hoping to evoke a reaction from the book. But the conversation stayed one-sided.

Please, make me remember whatever it is you need me to remember. Help me. Show me. Anything.

The messages to the book were starting to sound like a mantra.

Maybe it was time for a different approach.

I know that I'm not supposed to force it. And I'm sorry that I thought I could manipulate you. You wanted me to earn my spark and the first thing I do is try to cheat. I'm so sorry. But please, let me earn it. I need guidance, now more than ever.

Though the desperation in this attempt was clear, there was also no way to disregard his sincerity. And the book seemed to sense that. There was a large part of him that only focused on the many possibilities the full access to his spark would open up to him but there was also the part of him that was afraid of having that much power. And maybe it was because of that fear that the book finally decided to respond.

For a moment, the book lit up like a beacon, making him flinch back at the brightness of the light. It was the first time that the light was blinding and looking at it directly was painful to him. Maybe that meant something but he decided to disregard that for now.

Before he was even able to reach out a hand, the book opened itself, page by page getting turned in a hurry until it eventually settled somewhere in the middle of the book. The page it had stopped on was filled with the writing of his mum but he never got the chance to read it.

A bright light was once again engulfing him, taking him somewhere else.

***

This time, he was not taken to some place he had never been before. He knew immediately where he was when he opened his eyes even though he had no memory of this place.

Above him, the night sky was cloudy with only a few stars peeking through the mist. The air was crisp and seemed to cut through his clothing with every sharp gust.

Just as last time with the snow, he didn't feel the cold. Goosebumps broke out on his skin, nevertheless. A sinking feeling settled in his stomach, making him want to turn his back on the scene before him.

He didn't need to read the description of it. The visuals spoke quite clearly for themselves.

He was on a roof, that much was obvious. It had to be the roof of a larger building and since it was flat, it was most likely one of a hospital. The markings of a landing spot for a helicopter only confirmed his assumption.

This was not what he had expected.

Immediately, he wished he could go back. He didn't want to be here. Not on this particular night.

But he found himself unable to close his eyes or even to turn away. It almost felt like someone was holding him in place, forcing him to witness what was going on in his field of vision.

There was a woman dressed in a hospital gown standing on the ledge of the roof. Her arms were spread like wings and maybe she planned to leap from the ledge and fly away like a bird. She wasn't wearing shoes or socks. Her bare feet were tapping slightly against the cold concrete, almost as if she was thinking about taking a run-up before her attempt of flying.

Suddenly Stiles was standing right next to her, looking up to see her face. He didn't remember moving.

She was looking down, not even acknowledging his presence. Her dismissal of him made him want to grab her arms and shake her until she turned to face him.

And that's what he did. Only it wasn't really his hand and he didn't even give his body permission to move. The small hand didn't belong to him.

"Mom?"

His voice sounded strange. Younger. Smaller. Unsure.

It occurred to him in that moment that it was also strange that he had to look up to her. When he looked behind himself and saw the shadow the cold moon- and starlight was casting, he nearly flinched. But he couldn't, of course, since he was imprisoned in the body of his nine-year-old self.

His body did flinch though when his mom barked out a rough laugh. She threw her head back, her voice getting lower the longer she was laughing. Stiles felt like recoiling from her. He was afraid.

"Look down," she ordered him. When he didn't comply because he was paralyzed with fear, she finally turned to him only to grab his small face roughly with her hands. She forced his head forwards, making his skinny body bend slightly so he had no other choice than to look down.

The height made him dizzy. He focused on a point in the concrete about six stores beneath him, imagining that he was looking at it because he was bending down to tie his shoelaces. If he were to lose his balance, he would fall and laugh about his clumsiness, so he told himself. Because he was on the ground. He was on the ground and falling wouldn't hurt him. Because he was already on the ground...

His reaction seemed to bore her after a while because she let go of him, bending forwards slightly herself as if she wanted to get a closer look at the ground beneath her.

Stiles felt his eyes fill with tears as he watched her. He was so afraid that she would tip over and fall. Her toes were already over the edge, wiggling slightly at the freedom of having no ground beneath them. He wanted to grab her and hold her back but his arms felt like someone had tied them to his sides.

The worst was when she started to sing the song. It was their song. He could feel his fingers moving to it, ghosting over an imaginary keyboard. The tears were now freely streaming down his cheeks.

"We're going to jump," she told him in between the lyrics about a boy lightening up the world by selling matchboxes on the street. "We're going to be free. Just you and me. Doesn't that sound lovely?"

He was shaking under the force of his sobs. His tiny younger voice kept repeating the words no and I wanna go home and please but he wasn't listening to it. His own voice was only background noise, not more than a distant echo.

She turned to him then, an eerily peaceful smile on her lips. Her eyes had a manic glint in them like she was about to burst from an emotion that wasn't familiar to him. Her hands were stronger than expected as they gripped his arms.

"You love me," she stated. When he didn't nod or agree with her, she got angry and began to shake him. "You love me! And you're not going to leave me! We're going to stay together forever, aren't we? Isn't that what you want? After all the pain that I suffered through because of you? You are an awful child, leeching the life from me! And now you repay me by leaving me?!"

She got down to his eye level and for the first time he got a clear glimpse of her face. Now he wished he hadn't.

"You owe me this," she whispered, staring at him intensely. "You killed me. You killed me, do you hear me? You killed me. And now we're going - you and me. We're going to cleanse you from all the evil that's in you. And maybe I will forgive you for taking my life from me. The water didn't cleanse you, even though I tried. But when we're flying - when you and I jump, we will be free. We'll be free from the evil inside you."

She sounded so sure and hopeful which was a stark contrast to the cruelty of her words.

I don't wanna fly, Stiles found himself thinking. He wasn't sure if those were the thoughts of his younger self or if they were occurring to him right now. I wanna stay on the ground with you. With you and dad. I don't want to go.

Just like that, the flight instinct in him took over and he broke free from her grip. She watched him carefully as he took several steps away from her and the ledge. Her eyes narrowed for a second in fury but then the expression of anger was replaced by one of content.

She smiled encouragingly at him like mothers were supposed to do before they sent their child off to their first day of pre-school.

"If you love me, you follow me. If you love me you get rid of the evil. And you love me, don't you? We're going to be together forever, aren't we?"

Then she took the final step.

***

After all his vain attempts to prematurely free himself from the memory he had gotten sucked into, he finally succeeded before he had to watch her fall.

Ripping himself out of the memory and free from the spell of the book was painful and a hard struggle, so when he surfaced again, he was panting harshly from the effort. The book got thrown against the wall harshly, whether that was because he had interrupted it or because he had thrown it himself he wasn't sure.

He fell back, crawling frantically away even though he wasn't sure what he was crawling away from. Fear constricted his lungs, cutting off his air supply like a rope around his neck. It felt like fear was an invisible person attacking him, punching him in the guts while strangling him to death.

Since he was consumed with panic, he didn't immediately notice the pain that was radiating from his hands. Only when he saw the small puddle of blood did he realize that his hands were bleeding because of a few shallow cuts whose origins he didn't know. Maybe he had literally had to claw himself out of the memory and had gotten a few paper cuts in the process.

The book was shaking slightly as if it was offended that Stiles kept his distance to it. At the moment, Stiles would prefer to throw it away for good so that he never had to look at it again. He told himself that the memory it had shown him wasn't real, even though it had already molded itself into the few blank spaces of his past. Deep inside, he couldn't deny that it was a part of him. But he didn't want to believe it.

There was a strange pull that came from the book, though. Like the string connecting the two of them got shorter and shorter, forcing him towards the book like a puppet on a string had to go wherever the puppetmaster wanted it to.

With shaking fingers he picked the book up and flipped it around so that he was able to read what was written in it.

He didn't even realize that he was smearing blood all over its pages, so engrossed became he with the one line that was repeatedly written over the twin-pages.

You didn't fly with me. Why didn't you love me enough?

Those sentences were burning themselves into his mind so even when he closed his eyes he was still able to read them. They would haunt him forever.

That was when he broke down completely.

***

Scott looked up from the screen of his cell phone, a frown on his face. The smile he had worn only seconds before slid off his face.

"Stiles won't come," he told the others, sounding disappointed.

At the news, Derek spared a glance at his beta and gritted his teeth in annoyance.

"Then tell him that he has to come over tomorrow. That's an order and not a request. If he refuses, I'm gonna drag him over here whether he wants to or not." His voice was gruff, but after the day he just had he really couldn't be blamed for his sour mood.

Scott nodded and immediately texted what the alpha had dictated him.

Danny looked dubious. "I really thought he would come. He told me he would."

"Well, whatever. Let him sulk. We have bigger problems on our hands right now," Jackson said.

He looked meaningfully at their guest who was still unconscious and currently getting chained up. Then he looked at the hunters who looked a little bit too eager and bloodthirsty for his comfort.

Chapter Text

The jiggling of keys was the first thing that alerted Stiles. The door got unlocked and opened, only for a moment, so that the one who had opened it could enter the home before he closed it hastily again. A cold gust of air came in along with the newcomer. Tonight was going to be a cold, cloudless night.

The footsteps were unbearably loud in the otherwise completely quiet house.

As they got nearer, Stiles tensed up, readying himself for the conversation he had seen go down a hundred times in his head already. He had seen himself jumping up from the stairs where he was still sitting right now, had seen himself run towards his father, eager to get the answers. All the eagerness had left his body since then, though. The mere idea of him being all enraged and agitated had drained him off all his energy. He had been livid and desperately anxious already. Now he just felt exhausted.

When his dad finally saw him, the good mood he had appeared to be in vanished and a grim expression darkened his face. His eyes immediately went to the red book that was lying one step below Stiles, right next to his feet. Comprehension dawned on him which was a sight that sparked up the anger in Stiles again.

"You knew," the teenager accused. "I bet you were supposed to have given me the book years ago, right? But you never did. Instead, you threw it in a cardboard box to rot away."

His dad's mouth opened as if to say something in his defense but then he closed it again without uttering a word.

He closed his eyes and sighed deeply.

Stiles wanted him to say that it was all a big misunderstanding, that everything wasn't what it appeared to be. He wanted a reason not to hate his own father.

But silence reigned over them.

And Stiles felt another connection - another string - being cut off.

He stood up, picked up the book and went down the stairs.

"What else do you know? What else did you just keep a secret from me? I mean, besides the fact that I was with her the night that she died."

His tone was cruel and cutting but he didn't care.

"What else is there you've kept from me? Do I have an evil twin I don't know about? Or am I the evil one and he's actually the good one? That would make sense since mom believed I was evil. She must have said something to you about that, right? Did she tell you how she would cleanse me? It sounded like she had tried before. What did she do, huh? Were you there to stop her or were you just ignoring it? WHAT DID YOU DO?!"

Sheriff Stilinski had stepped a few steps back in the face of his son's anger but he didn't look away, not even for one second.

"She wasn't stable, Stiles. She didn't mean it. It was her sickness that did that to her. And I meant to tell you - I tried that. Repeatedly. It never worked. Because she didn't want you to remember," the older Stilinski explained calmly with his hands slightly raised.

"Well, you didn't try hard enough then!"

"Think about it rationally! She died because of all of this! I couldn't lose you too, Stiles!"

Stiles' hands were shaking, his thoughts racing. There were the words he had feared the most. The meaning of them slowly eating him alive.

"She wasn't sick, was she? Not really," he whispered, appalled at the realization. "Frontotemporal Dementia - she didn't have it. She died because of what she was - because of her spark."

Sheriff Stilinski's forehead creased in anguish at the reminder of why his wife had to die. He visibly clenched his jaw, straining all the muscles in his face in an effort to hide the pain.

"I can explain everything. And I will, I promise. I should've told you sooner but I wanted to protect you. You have to understand that I did it because I wanted you safe."

"By lying to me?" Stiles asked incredulously. "You were supposed to be the person I could trust! You were supposed - you were supposed to be the good guy!"

"People are not just good or bad, Stiles. You're not a little kid anymore, you know that I'm not a god, I'm just human. And I've made mistakes. A lot of them, regarding my family. But I love you and your mom. I would've done anything - anything - to change things but how could I when I hardly understood what was going on? When I noticed that things were off," he had to stop to shake his head at himself and his inability to notice the obvious, "it was already too late."

"What happened to her? What... what really killed her?"

Stiles' eyes were filled with tears but he refused to shed them. To stop himself from crying he clenched his hands into fists, satisfied at the pain from the cuts that shot through his nerve system. It kept him grounded.

His father looked lost, like a captain steering his sinking ship in the middle of the ocean - there was no way to go but down.

"I don't know. She wasn't sure about it, either. She just told me that there were many dangers for someone like her - and you. That's why she took so many precautions when it came to you - so you wouldn't end up like her. She gave birth to you in Poland in the middle of nowhere. She chose your name carefully and only wrote the full one in the birth certificate in Poland. We registered you with only about half of your names in the US. All so that you were safe."

As he processed what he had just been told, his anger faded to resignation. He felt helpless in the face of his past because he couldn't change it anyway.

Names have power.

That sentence was still as confusing to him as the first time he had read it.

"Why does it matter? What's the thing with the names? Why is it so important?" As he asked he couldn't help but sound desperate. He needed to know. He needed explanations before he got lost in the shipwreck his life had become.

The Sheriff rubbed his forehead in thought but it was obvious in the way his shoulders dropped that he was glad that Stiles was listening to him instead of storming out of the house in anger.

"Your mother, she said that knowing the complete true name of an object or a person is essential in order to have power over it or them or whatever. And since you're magical, someone knowing your name would give them control over your spark or something. And that would be bad. Really bad."

"Because it would give them our power?" Stiles asked, trying to follow.

"Yes, exactly. That's why we gave you hard to pronounce names. That's why your mother changed her name to Claudia as soon as she became an American citizen."

"But- but someone still knew her name. Someone from her past. Right?"

"I suppose that's what happened," his dad said reluctantly, not liking the direction the conversation had taken. He didn't like talking about that subject. It reminded him how powerless he had felt when Claudia had fallen "ill".

Stiles looked at the book in his hands, remembering the time he had foolishly written all of his names down in it. Thankfully he had erased them. All but one, that is.

He clutched the book to his chest, even though he was loathing it still. It had shown him horrible things but it also harbored a lot of power. It probably carried one of Claudia's sparks, one of his own and most likely also the key to unlocking his full power. It was essential that he didn't lose it.

"Stiles," his dad began, a frown etched into his features. "I'm sorry. I never meant to deceive you. I just did what I thought was best for you. But I can understand why you're angry with me. Just - I know it won't make up for what I've done but I did it for you. Maybe someday you'll understand."

Stiles exhaled loudly, trying to keep himself together. He didn't feel angry exactly. He was too numb for anger. What he did feel, though, was the pressure of a powerful emotion compressing his lungs. It was like watching the sky turn dark as a storm was about to gather without a shelter in sight. He knew that he would have to face the precipitation eventually and there was nowhere he could hide.

"Don't worry," Stiles said with a forced smile as he shouldered his backpack, ready to leave. "I've gotten used to getting betrayed by the people closest to me. Hardly even hurts anymore." A lie. But no werewolf was there to call him out on it. "I have to go now. Scott's already called me a billion times. Don't expect me to be home before tomorrow. I'll be at the Hale House - oh that reminds me!"

Stiles turned around to face his father who was watching him with a pinched expression, obviously just waiting for his turn to speak so he could apologize again.

Stiles' hand - bandaged since the cuts were too many for a simple band-aid - was already on the door handle.

"The Hales are werewolves, some of the teenagers I used to call my friends are too - so have fun on your excursion to god knows where with Peter and Malia later! I'm sure you'll have a lot to talk about."

A secret for a secret.

Stiles told himself that he didn't feel bad as he left without giving his dad a chance to react to the revelation. Maybe he wasn't feeling angry at the moment but he definitely felt vindictive. And maybe he would regret striking back in that manner once he could think clearly again without his hurt feelings getting in the way. Right now, though, it just felt good to know that he had had the last word.

***

Scott hadn't left her side since they had chained her up in the basement, had been there when she first woke up even though it was only for a few minutes. Deaton had said that her body was weakened from torture and the wolfsbane on her shackles. And so Scott had waited. He had spent the whole night by her side, just observing her, trying to decide how he should feel about her.

He felt the pull of his alpha. But that wasn't the reason why he stayed.

Logically, he knew that she didn't deserve his sympathy. He should hate her for damning him with the existence of a supernatural creature that got hunted and hunted itself when it lost control.

He had never chosen this way of life. She had taken the choice away from him, had forced him to adapt to a new life he had never wanted - and probably would have never wanted if he had been asked.

Looking at her - at her tortured body - and seeing her face for the first time had given his feelings about her more depth, though. Seeing her human face - the face of a woman in her thirties - didn't agree with the picture of the wild animal he had always had in his head when he thought about her.

When he looked at her now, he could feel compassion for her. The hatred and anger were still there but it was shadowed by grief for someone who had lost enough to go feral and the need to understand.

He wanted to know her. He wanted to understand her.

That's why they couldn't kill her.

"Please, Derek. Even though she's the one who has bitten me without my consent, we don't know if she ever hurt anyone. She deserves a trial. She deserves to be able to defend herself before we judge her. That's her right as a human," Scott pleaded quietly with Derek.

The alpha of the Hale pack was standing with his arms crossed in front of his chest next to him, watching the unconscious woman with a sharp eye.

Right next to him was Chris Argent, also looking at the chained up woman with a critical expression.

"I was only able to gather more hunters because of the promise of killing a feral alpha. If you decide to keep her alive, they won't cooperate anymore. Whatever happens tonight, you'll be on your own. Consider that, Derek," Chris informed him at which Derek nodded.

"I know."

"I'm not saying I agree with them. Most of them were hard to persuade to even come here. I had to offer something to tempt them. If they don't get to kill her, they're going to leave immediately. My hands are tied."

"I understand," Derek said. "I appreciate all you've done for us, regardless of what we'll decide to do."

They waited until she woke up to make a decision. At the first sign of her regaining consciousness, the whole pack gathered in the basement, apprehensively watching how the scene would unfold.

Derek and Scott stood the nearest to her.

It took a while until she opened her eyes and another while for her to become aware of her surroundings. She growled and whimpered, obviously confused and scared but unable to move because of her condition and the chains.

They asked her who she was. They had to repeat the question a few times until she was able to comprehend what was asked of her.

"Lea... My name's Lea Lowry," she gritted out in a rusty voice. She coughed at the dryness of her throat. Her voice sounded raw and disused. They allowed her to drink a glass of water with a straw since her hands were tied together.

After a few more questions about her, they finally were able to make a profile.

She was born in a small town in Washington to a very old werewolf family - the Lowrys who were allegedly a big powerful pack before hunters killed most of them. Lea became the new alpha and gathered what was left of her pack and moved. They went on the search for the hunters responsible for their grief.

Derek and Laura shared a look, both blanching at hearing a story so similar to their own.

Their path of revenge was a bloody one, they learned soon as Lea continued, and the blood shed was mostly their own. Their pack diminished until only Lea was left.

"Can you imagine how it feels? To be responsible for someone and you're supposed to protect them? And then you're suddenly the only one left standing, with no one to save anymore. I was supposed to be the one to do everything for my pack. But they died instead of me."

She was snarling in anguish, her face half-transformed.

They all felt her pain and could understand where she was coming from and suddenly it was anything but easy to hate her. Scott had moved even closer to her while she had been talking, feeling the need to comfort her. He was still her beta, even if they didn't know each other.

It wasn't easy for Derek, who sympathized with her very strongly since his own experiences were similar to hers, to steer the interrogation in a different direction, away from her past.

"I... came to Beacon Hills because I was convinced the hunters were here. But.... I didn't mean to bite you... I was not myself anymore. I was alone and I felt the need... I needed someone, a beta. I wouldn't normally... You have to believe me. I'm so sorry."

She was looking straight at Scott who nodded in acceptance of the apology. Clearly, he couldn't find it in himself to be mad at her anymore.

"I didn't... stay sane? Yes, sane, though. You weren't my beta anymore when you became part of another pack - the connection was still there but it... it wasn't enough, I guess. And then I've lost control. I lost it just for one second. One second. But I became a monster." She sobbed loudly, her eyes glazed over with an image that would haunt her forever. "I didn't mean to attack him! But it happened. And when - when I was aware again, there he lay. With his arms and legs mauled and I knew that he was bleeding to death. I was desperate." She looked pleadingly to Derek, from one alpha to another. "I couldn't - there was nothing I could do. But then he came along and he offered me a solution in exchange for a small favor. And I agreed. I was just so desperate!"

They gave her some time to pull herself together but they had to press for answers. The hunters' patience for a decision was running thin.

"He was not alone. He was part of a group but I didn't know that at first. I didn't care about that, though, because he closed his wounds and the man I attacked survived. I should've been more wary of them but I was just so grateful. I didn't realize what monsters they truly were. And when I did, I tried to flee. And I took him with me - the man I attacked. I was trying to save him as a compensation for what I've done - but I failed."

Then she told them something they already knew.

She got found out so she hid the unconscious man while she was trying to create a trail that would lead the Hale pack to where she had hidden him because she knew that she would get caught. She left the revenge mark because it was the only thing that came to her mind in her panic.

But everything had been in vain because the man had died anyway. At least, the police had found him which was a small solace according to her.

"The thing is, they weren't really angry with me for what I did. They acted as if they had already accounted for my attempt to flee - as if they had been expecting it. But they still punished me."

"What makes you say that?" Lydia asked, intrigued.

"One of them liked to taunt me - he would try to make me suffer and sometimes he got ahead of himself and spilled more than he was supposed to."

"Who are they and what do they want?" Derek wanted to know.

"I don't know. I just know that they're very dangerous. But they don't really care about werewolves, except if they could use them to reach their own goals. And I think they're after a spark- no idea what that means, though."

"And what was your part in all of this?"

"They never told me. You got me out before I could find out."

Derek nodded. Then he looked at his pack, waiting if one of them had one more question to ask.

To his surprise, Scott was the one with the last question.

"What do you plan on doing now that you're free?

The chained alpha barked out a humorless laugh at that. "I'm going to die, don't act like there's another possibility for me, kid. I have no pack and no place to call home anymore so I might as well just die. I don't care as long as it's not as a pawn to those bastards."

Scott shot Derek a look that could only be interpreted as a plea to decide against killing her.

With a sigh, Derek turned to Chris and told him his decision. Chris nodded grimly and left to inform the hunters.

"I have one more information for you," Lea remembered suddenly, a devious grin forming on her cracked lips."It might just be what you need to defeat those bastards and give them what they deserve."

***

This time, Stiles didn't even have to knock or use his keys - he got pulled into the Hale House as if he was a beloved son coming home from war. He got hugged, kissed on the cheek, clapped amiably on the shoulder and compliments were being fired at him as if he had just won the Olympics or something.

He had never been greeted this enthusiastically, had never felt like he was the guest that needed to arrive for the party to finally start.

He had dreamed of it, though.

Surprisingly, now that he got to have it, he wished his dreams had been more humble. He felt smothered and uncomfortable at all the attention he was getting.

"What took you so long, Stiles? We were waiting!" Erica wrapped him up in a strong hug, pecking him on the cheek in the process.

"Stiles! You're a freaking hero! You saved my life, dude! No, seriously, you did! We never would have found her without you! I no longer am a danger to everyone I love and that's all thanks to you!"

Stiles could practically hear all the exclamation marks in Scott's happy rant. It freaked him out.

"You were right. I was wrong. I'm sorry. Don't let it get to your head," Jackson admitted grumpily, looking like he just had to tell his neighbor that he had overrun their beloved cat.

Now that was freaky enough that Stiles had to step back and scrutinize the lot of them from head to toe.

This was everything he had ever desired - to feel accepted and welcomed, to get a little bit of recognition and gratitude. But it had always been a dream just out of his reach.

"What in the ever loving hell is going on with you?" he exclaimed, puzzled. To him, it felt like he had stumbled through the door to an alternate universe. And he didn't like it.

"We're celebrating the fact that we're going to survive the Blood Moon and our guest of honor - meaning you - has just arrived. So stop standing around and celebrate with us!" Erica told him, grabbing his hand to drag him to the living room. Someone else pressed a solo cup into his hands, either not realizing that they were wrapped in gauze or just not commenting on it.

"Blood Moon?" Stiles repeated, not comprehending what that had to do with anything. "Is that... tonight?"

"Duh," Erica said with a bright smile. "For a genius, you sure ask dumb questions sometimes."

"And you're all so happy because...?"

"Because we got the alpha AND know what the evil guys are planning. We're on the winning side. The battle is practically already won."

"Yeah, dude. And we only won because of you. You were our MVP and that's even though you played from the sidelines! That makes it extra special. No more bench sitting for you, man!"

"Scott, you're not making any sense. At all."

Not even five minutes of him being their MVP and guest of honor and Stiles already felt like he needed fresh air. So as soon as they took their eyes off of him, he fled the scene.

He didn't get very far before someone else was demanding his attention, though.

Before he was even able to struggle, he had already been dragged into another room.

"Oh, thank god, it's you! Please tell me you haven't taken the same drugs as your betas. I need a normal person!" Stiles sighed in relief when he noticed Derek leaning casually against the desk. They must be in the office again, which meant business. That was something Stiles could handle.

"They're not intoxicated. Just euphoric."

"Bewitched, then? Under a spell? Whatever, they're acting weird. And you're way too calm about this," Stiles noted, alarmed. "Your eyebrows are way too relaxed. Which is not a good sign. Not at all. So you too, huh?"

Derek actually had the audacity to grin at Stiles' frustration and bewilderment.

"We found the alpha exactly where you said she would be. Not guarded, just shackled to the wall of the cave. And she's innocent, just like you said she would be. You were right by all accounts."

Talking about the alpha was probably safer territory than further investigating their reason for their sudden change of heart when it came to him.

"While I appreciate you admitting that I'm always right, I'm actually really interested in the context. Would you please fill me in?"

To Stiles' surprise, Derek actually complied with his request.

What he heard made his blood freeze in his veins and his mind tumble with questions.

"Chris Argent volunteered to look for a place for Lea. It's his attempt to make up for the horrible crimes his father and his sister have committed, I guess. She promised to keep in touch because of Scott," Derek told him but Stiles was only listening with half an ear.

"You lost the support of the hunters," the teenager stated, just to make sure that he got it right.

"Yes."

"Even though you were warned by Lea about the Night of the living dead as she called it?"

"We know how they attack. Lydia and Danny have designed traps for an occasion like this. We'll manage without the hunters."

Stiles shook his head in disbelief at the display of arrogance. "This whole thing screams trap to me, Derek. It doesn't add up. Nothing does. What about the stolen body? There's more to it... There has to be."

He felt almost relieved to see Derek's eyebrows furrow slightly.

"You mean the stolen body from the desecrated grave you investigated with Isaac and Scott?" the alpha asked, deceptively calm.

Stiles grimaced. He really should have known that those two gossipers couldn't keep anything to themselves. "Are there any other ones?"

"From what Lea told us, they're a bunch of lunatics. Their actions don't have to make much sense. Crazy people generally don't make sense. You're looking for a brilliant plan that's just not there. They're not the masterminds you are expecting, Stiles."

And maybe that was true. But there was just too much at stake for him to simply believe that he shouldn't look for meaning. He was sure that he was missing something. Everything had just been too perfect until now. Too planned. Too fake. Stiles felt more like part of a play that he didn't know the script to.

"I owe you an apology."

Stiles nearly fell over in surprise, not only because the words were unexpected but also because they startled him out of his thoughts.

Derek had left his position at the desk and had walked over to him while Stiles had been lost in his thoughts.

If he thought the pack welcoming him like a lost brother was weird, he nearly lost all his bearings when Derek got down on his knees in front of him.

"I owe you more than one, actually. And this doesn't seem like that horrible a punishment to me but you said you wanted it, so: I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the way I treated you."

Derek's not-Derek-ness caused Stiles' brain to short-circuit because it couldn't coincide the information it was receiving with its concept of reality.

"I never said- oh my god! You're Fever-Dream-Derek!"

At Derek's confused face, Stiles elaborated, all the while gesturing frantically, "I thought you were only a hallucination! I didn't think you were really there! Why would you be in my room, I mean, it was the only explanation that made sense. Wait - what were you doing in my room?"

Oddly enough, Derek refused to meet his gaze, acting as if he had gotten caught red-handed.

"I wanted to know how you were doing," he admitted reluctantly, the frown finally back on his face. Stiles felt better after seeing it. He had been faced with that frown so often, it felt like an old friend to him.

Maybe at another point in his life, Stiles would have savored this moment. Maybe he would have taken a photograph of it so he could show it around the pack later. He definitely would have felt pleased, maybe even happy. At another point in his life, this was all he had ever wished for.

He didn't quite understand what had changed since then to make him that indifferent to it. When exactly had everything that once had mattered and seemed important to him lost its appeal?

Parallax, he thought. I'm in a different position now. What appeared to be far away once is in my reach now.

"Apology accepted. Could you get up now, please? My day has been weird enough as it is," he said after a while.

The older man did get up, but reluctantly so. He was obviously wary of the lack of gloating on Stiles' part. Stiles couldn't blame him. He would be suspicious too if the roles were reversed.

"I was delirious when I said all that stuff. I'm sure I didn't even make sense half of the time. But I appreciate the sentiment. And I'm telling you now that there are no hard feelings left, okay?" Stiles awkwardly patted the werewolf's shoulder in a lame attempt to show the truth of his words.

Derek's eyes followed the movement of his hand, seemingly stuck at the sight of it.

"What happened to your hands?"

The gauze was clumsily wrapped around his cuts, one end of it sticking out from where he had just stuffed it.

Without asking for permission first or even awaiting Stiles' answer, Derek unwrapped the bandage to take a look at his injuries. He did the same with the other hand then held both of them with the palm turned upward to inspect the damage.

"Just a kitchen accide-"

"This doesn't look like an accident, Stiles!"

The thing is, with the blood dried, there was no denying that his injuries looked nothing like an accident. The cuts weren't random. They were forming a pattern, both hands symmetrical.

When seen together, the pattern looked like a hexagon, each corner connected to the opposite one with a fine line.

The symbol was oddly familiar and the realization where he had last seen it robbed him of his breath, felt like a punch to his gut.

The implication of what this meant was so clear to him now. This was the something he had been looking for. The something that built the connection to all the other puzzle pieces that hadn't seemed to fit anywhere before.

He couldn't breathe.

At the brink of his conscious, he was aware of Derek saying his name repeatedly and hands that grabbed his face to make him focus.

But all he concentrated on was his frantic heartbeat and the lack of air he tried to compensate by inhaling too much and too long. He forgot how to breathe and his mind was too panicked to do it automatically.

Panic attack.

Black dots were sprinkling his vision, making him feel like he was watching an old movie that slowly faded to black to signal its end.

Before the darkness could take over his vision completely, though, he was startled by the feel of lips pressing against his own. The surprise caused him to inhale sharply and then he was forced to hold his breath.

One second.

Two seconds.

Three seconds.

The kiss - if it could even be called that - ended and he was able to breathe again.

Strong hands were still framing his face while hazel eyes roamed over his face in worry.

Something in Stiles seemed to have snapped with the discovery he had just made - the last string had gotten cut.

Which was probably why Stiles felt like nothing mattered anymore. There was no ground to hold him now. He was floating in the air like a balloon.

And he decided then that if everything in his life had to perish, it better went out in a blaze of warmth and light.

Without strings holding him down, there was no need to stick to priorities and well-meant resolutions.

So he leaned back in and sealed their lips together for one last time. Because if there had ever been a time he had felt like he was engulfed in flames, it was when Derek had kissed him that one time, seemingly half an eternity ago.

Chapter Text

Kissing was quite... peculiar.

There was no simple way to describe it but one thing Stiles was sure of: It sure as hell was not as easy as movies will make you believe it to be.

Apparently, you had to be able to multitask if you wanted to be any good at it. Hand and arm coordination played a huge role too.

So if you were easily distracted and always fumbling and flailing like you didn't know what to do with your limbs, you were likely just as overwhelmed as Stiles was when you found yourself kissing somebody.

He wasn't even sure what he should concentrate on. Was it more important what his hands were doing than what his lips were doing? And what about his feet? Was he just supposed to stand still? Because if so, that might be the biggest problem for Stiles.

Fortunately for the teenager, the kiss was sweet and almost tentative, giving him time to get his bearings and get used to the overwhelming feeling of being so close to somebody else.

And that feeling was probably what had given kissing the reputation it had. Because it felt like nothing in your life ever felt like and it made you somehow realize that you were alive. It was probably the closest thing to magic one could achieve without being a wizard or a witch or whatever magical beings there were out there.

Stiles was hyper aware of the heat of Derek's hands that were cupping his jaw and of his thumbs that were slowly stroking up and down his cheeks.

He was so aware of them that he began to think about what his own hands should be doing. His arms were just hanging uselessly at his sides like they didn't belong to his body. He figured he should probably do something with them.

The first thing that came to mind was to put them around Derek's waist. That was what required the least movement so it was probably also the safest option.

Just as Stiles had lifted up his arms and was ready to put them slowly - extra slowly so he could watch out for a sign that showed that the alpha wasn't okay with that move - around Derek's waist, the other man decided to move even closer to him. Unfortunately, that's why he ended up getting punched in the stomach by Stiles, who slightly panicked at the sudden movement and started waving his arms around.

It couldn't have hurt him as badly as it had Stiles because he hardly even flinched. He did, though, break the kiss to stare questioningly at the teenager.

Stiles grimaced. "Uh, I didn't mean to? It just... happened? God, that sounds stupid! No wonder no one ever wants to kiss me for a second time! When I was fourteen, I had to kiss Nancy Drew in a game of spin the bottle and I ended up breaking her braces. Somehow! Don't ask me how I did that because I have no idea! It was awful, like nothing in the world ever prepares you for the mortification that is being an awful first kiss! I mean, I made that poor girl cry, can you imagine that? Everyone called me a Dementor from then on!"

Derek just rolled his eyes at him, clearly exasperated at his rant and then, just to prove him wrong, he pressed a chaste kiss on his lips before he leaned in so he could rest his forehead against Stiles'.

"Because your kisses are to die for?"

Stiles could feel every word against his lips as Derek's breath brushed over them in a ghostly caress.

It took a while until the words got reassembled in Stiles' brain in an order that made sense. The stupid fluttery feeling in his stomach had somehow infiltrated all his senses, including his hearing, just to mess with them.

"Uh, no. Because they suck the happiness and life out of people- wait! Did you understand that reference? You read "Harry Potter"?! You're a real boy now, Pinnochio!"

Derek snorted. "That's what you focus on? Me understanding a pop culture reference? What about the fact that I flirted with you?"

Once again, Stiles' limbs just moved without his own consent as if the only way for him to comprehend words was to act them out in some sort of dance. Stiles was convinced that his body had a mind of its own.

"W-well, one freak-out at a time. That's the only way to stay sane, dude," Stiles sputtered, forcings his arms to stop moving around. He really wasn't one to talk about sanity if he literally had to stop himself from accidently punching someone.

"And actually, a Dementor's kiss isn't deadly. It just makes you empty and soulless. A fate even worse than death."

Derek shook his head slightly at him which caused his nose to rub against Stiles' in an Eskimo kiss. It was an action that made Stiles blush because it somehow felt even more intimate than the kisses they had shared before.

It also made Stiles realize that the situation had gotten out of his control and taken a different direction than he had anticipated. He hadn't planned for the kiss to be the start of something. It was supposed to be an act of defiance against fate, one last chance to burn with life before the night was over.

The thought of what would happen after that night made Stiles' throat clog up.

"When do you have to go?" he asked quietly.

"Soon," the alpha answered with a sigh. He lifted his head and leaned back so he could look Stiles in the eyes. "Do you want to come with us?"

The question was a miracle because Stiles could clearly see the reluctance in Derek's eyes. He didn't really want him to tag along but he offered because he didn't want to make Stiles feel like he didn't belong with them.

Something had happened to Derek while Stiles had been away, something that had changed him. That realization made Stiles almost regret that he hadn't been there to see what could have had such an effect on the headstrong alpha.

A small smile spread over his lips as he brought his arms around the werewolf's neck. He shook his head.

"No. With my hands as they are right now, I don't think I'd be of much help," he answered. It wasn't a lie but it also wasn't his real reason for answering in the negative. Not that Derek would be able to tell.

At the mention of his injuries, Derek's eyebrows dropped slightly and his mouth tightened.

"You won't tell me what really happened to your hands," he stated grimly.

One of Stiles' hands carded through his dark hair. "No."

"Because I have no right to know."

"Because it's not like it matters," Stiles corrected with a wry smile.

Derek frowned. "Of course, it matters."

"Well, yes, it matters to me. What I meant is that it doesn't matter to you."

Derek's expression darkened even further, making it obvious that he wasn't pleased to hear that.

"Don't be offended. I'm not saying you don't care," Stiles appeased him. "Even though you kissed me, you're not soulless or empty. You never were. And I actually owe you an apology too. Because I thought that there was something to fix, that you were something to make whole again. And in my arrogance, I thought that I could help you with that, that I could save you. Which was bullshit. I just wanted to change you into someone who would want to be with me."

There was the broken look again, the one he remembered seeing on Fever-dream-Derek. He didn't want it to be there so he smoothed the lines on Derek's forehead gently with his fingers.

"You wanted a no-strings-attached kind of relationship which is a totally valid wish and no one has the right to tell you otherwise. I wanted more. So I tried to change you, telling myself that it was in your best interest. But I was wrong to treat you like something broken that needed to be put together by the love of another person. Because if I've learned anything at all in all of this, it's that you have to save yourself. Otherwise, you just end up dragging others down with you. But I didn't give you the chance to do that. I was selfish and tried to heal you myself when you weren't ready. I know now that you never needed my help. Just look at you and your pack now! You didn't need someone to fix you. Broken some of us may be but that doesn't make us less of a person, right? I'm sorry I didn't understand that sooner. "

The look in Derek's eyes was raw and open, more than Stiles had ever seen. They seemed to reveal everything that the werewolf had ever tried to hide behind his stoic mask. It gave Stiles almost the feeling that he should look away to grant the werewolf some privacy. But Derek didn't break eye contact with him, and neither did Stiles.

Before either of them could say or do anything, a knock sounded on the door, reminding them that it was time to part. Stiles removed his hands from where they were tangled in Derek's hair and let his arms fall back at his sides. Derek withdrew his hands that had previously rested on Stiles' hips.

With one last reassuring smile, the teenager opened the door and stepped out of the office. It only took Derek a brief moment of hesitation before he followed him.

Stiles watched as the pack prepared themselves mentally for what was to come. They didn't underestimate the danger as Stiles had first assumed when he had stumbled in on their little party.

"There's no reason to celebrate when everything's over," Isaac told him quietly. It seemed that he understood Stiles' confusion. "We'll be fighting against people that are already dead. There's no victory in winning against them, really. At the end of it, they'll still be dead. That's why we decided to celebrate before the battle. To remember what we are fighting for."

"We celebrated being alive, we won't celebrate surviving," Scott chimed in, now much more serious than before.

He then threw a wistful look at Allison who had already geared up and was holding her crossbow in hand.

Erica and Boyd were hugging in a corner, quietly whispering what seemed to be endearments and promises to each other. Stiles was really glad that they had finally stopped tiptoeing around each other and had managed to get together.

Lydia glared at Jackson and Jackson glared right back at her but then she suddenly threw herself into his arms and he caught her like he had only been waiting to hold her in his arms again.

Cora stepped into his field of vision then, blocking the sight of all the happy and not-so-happy couples around him.

"You better don't do anything stupid, Moosehead. If you get hurt I'll play Tiptoe through the tulips on repeat."

She threatened him with a hard, grim face but when she threw her arms around his shoulders he knew that she was just worried about him.

The song she mentioned must be the one that had played in the nurse' office. The memory made Stiles grimace. No thanks, he didn't need to hear that creepy song again anytime soon.

"The same goes for you. Without you, I have no one to protect me from vindictive moose."

The rest of the pack looked slightly confused at their conversation but Stiles and Cora just shared a secretive smile.

Laura hugged him as well, telling him to stay safe. Her eyes wandered from Stiles over to her brother and from the glint in them, he knew that she had an inkling what the two of them had been up to in the office. To his relief, she didn't comment on it, though, she just hugged him a little bit tighter.

"From what we know, there are seven of them. Their bodies might be dead, but whatever has taken over them isn't. There is no way to kill them, so don't risk your life and try," Derek reminded them sternly. From the looks of his pack, they had heard that speech a few times already. "We just need to get them to the warehouse district. Deaton has everything prepared. Don't take unnecessary risks. You all know which route to take. If something goes wrong, you immediately call for back-up. This is not a game, there are no winners or losers. If you need help, get it. Understand?"

The pack nodded.

Seven. Stiles finally understood. Derek was talking about the seven people who had been kidnapped by the same group that had held Alphaba and the dead man from the river captive.

"Danny, the communication devices work?" Derek addressed Danny, who was the only one who would stay at the Hale House to overlook the whole operation. He had set up everything he needed so he could stay in touch with the pack and watch over them.

"They do," Danny affirmed, grabbing Isaacs wrist to talk quietly into his wristband. The others in their pack raised a hand in response and pressed it against something that was lodged in their right ear, something that looked like a smaller earplug.

"Roy, come and get this goddamn cat," Lydia repeated Danny's words aloud, raising her eyebrows at him at the message he had chosen.

Stiles, though, cracked a knowing grin. "The first in-flight radio transmission. Nice, Danny."

Danny briefly allowed himself to return the grin.

The pack split up into their teams and headed out.

Stiles stayed with Danny for a while, trying to get more information which luckily Danny was willing to provide while he was watching his computer monitors attentively.

Now Stiles knew that Boyd and Cora would head over to the hospital where the first "living dead person" would appear - Stiles just decided to call them zombemons (a short form for Zombie-Demons). Laura and Lydia would be at the school, Isaac and Miss Morrell guarding the preserve near the Hale House, Jackson and Allison would be at the entrance of the small park that Beacon Hills had, Scott and Erica at town hall, Chris Argent and Lea somewhere near the start of the official hiking path in the preserve and, lastly, Derek and Deaton would be at the old paper mill where they would not only encounter the last zombemon but also prepare everything that they needed to get rid of the rest.

Stiles thought that it was awfully convenient how much information the alpha had been able to provide for them. It almost felt too good to be true, too easy.

He didn't share his thoughts with Danny, though.

"Lea said they would let them free once it's dark outside. Not very specific but it will do," Danny told him after he had listened to something Isaac had told him over the headset he was wearing.

"Right," Stiles said, absentmindedly. The time for him to leave had come now too. "Looks like you've got everything under control here, Q. And that's my queue to leave." He grimaced slightly after saying that. "Ugh, too many Q-sounds."

Alarmed, Danny looked up from his computer screen to stare with wide eyes at him. "Whoa, whoa, where are you going?!"

Stiles held up his hands in a calming gesture. "Chill, Danny-boy. I'm not going to bark in on their mission or anything, I promise. I just didn't expect something out of a spy movie to be happening tonight because I was not informed about it, remember? You didn't give me a heads up to cancel my plans so now I just have to go along with them. Tragic, but what is a man supposed to do, right?"

"I told you to come to our emergency meeting and if you had, you would have been informed. Don't blame me for your tight schedule," Danny muttered uncharacteristically grumpily. He then made a shooing motion with his hand toward where Stiles was standing. "Fine, go."

Stiles smiled warmly, not that Danny could see it with his focus on the computer screen.

"Bye, Danny. Keep them safe for me, would you?"

After Danny had nodded and said "yeah, yeah" with his attention still on the pack, Stiles knew that they were in good hands.

He left the Hale House with only the notebook in his hands.

***

Sheriff Stilinski took a bite of his hamburger, ignoring the guilty voice in the back of his head that told him that Stiles would eventually find out about his sin, and looked with narrowed eyes at the passenger seat of the police car which was occupied by none other than Peter Hale. In the backseat sat his daughter Malia, looking almost animalistic while tearing into the meat of her own burger with sharp little teeth.

"Something on your mind, Sheriff?" Peter asked, deceitfully amiable.

Jon didn't trust him, not since the man had asked him if he could take him and his daughter along for patrol since the girl apparently dreamed of becoming a cop herself. He couldn't refuse after everything the man had done for his son and because it would have been hypocritical of him since his own son had been on patrol with him countless times in the past.

"Does the full moon bother you?" he found himself asking, almost casually. "It's a clear night tonight so you can see the full moon in all its glory. Looks like it's a red one, too."

Peter Hale smirked smugly. "Not particularly. Why? Do you want to get your hair done? I hear the full moon is the perfect time for that, makes your hair grow faster and thicker apparently. Not that you'd need it, of course."

The Sheriff grimaced and looked away from Hale to focus on his daughter who was on her third burger already. Impressive, for a little girl.

***

They heard it before they saw it.

It might be undead or whatever but it moved like it had the grace of a newborn deer.

When it came into sight, Derek saw a creature that once had been a man in his twenties - from the way he's dressed he looked to be a university student.

There was nothing human about him anymore, though.

His clothes were dirty and had tears and holes in them, indicating that he had been wearing them for some time already. On the few patches of skin that were showing through those holes and tears Derek could spot bruises and scratches.

The worst about him, though, was his face. It was completely devoid of all emotion and color, making him look like a corpse if it weren't for his black eyes. It looked like his pupil had extended, even over the sclera. It gave him the look of a doll with black buttons for eyes.

Derek jumped out from behind the corner where he had been hiding, blocking the creature's way.

Its first reaction was to sniff the air, then it fixed its soulless eyes on him and grinned demonically. Its teeth were rotten and its gums a flaming red, making it look like it had already ingested something bloody.

Derek shifted, then growled at it while flashing his red eyes.

The creature took this as an invitation to attack.

***

"It's following us," Scott panted into the wristband. "Fucker is faster than it first made us believe."

The beta knew that Erica was tracking both him and the creature, but hidden from its attention. It was only following Scott, which was how they had planned it.

Scott, just like a rabbit, took as many sharp turns as possible to increase the distance between himself and the demonic thing and to throw it off a bit. He had to make sure that it continued to follow him, though and that it wasn't pursuing someone innocent instead. Movies might have biased him but he was sure that the creature looked hungry for human flesh.

"If you turn left now, you go through a small alley with no space to hide or dodge. Make sure the creature is far enough behind you so it doesn't get you. You're almost there, Scott!" Danny's voice resonated through the earplug.

Scott smiled grimly. "Thank god. You have no idea how hard it is to avoid human crowds when you're in the middle of town!"

***

It might not look like much but it was definitely stronger than Derek had anticipated. Its big advantage was that it didn't feel pain. When Derek broke its leg, it just popped the bone back in place and continued trying to tear into him with its inhuman claws.

Just before it was able to pierce his chest, the alpha managed to dodge its latest attack.

The thing seemed to learn with each failed attack and it got better. Soon, it would become a real challenge for Derek to fend off.

"Derek, Deaton is ready. You can stop now. Run." Danny told him through the ear plug.

"It's about time," the alpha grumbled, taking a disdainful look at his tattered and bloody clothes.

The creature tried to advance once again on him but this time, he just turned around and ran.

***

"Your daughter's eyes... they're brown, right?"

"Why, you're very observant, Sheriff. Good character trait for a man in your position."

Jon had to suppress a curse since there was a minor present.

"They just flashed blue!" he stated, refusing to admit how petulant he sounded.

Peter Hale just shrugged. "Must have been a trick of the light. Cold moonlight can create illusions, I've heard."

***

"And that ring of... powder is going to contain it? Unbelievable. That monster has fought me tooth and nail and now it can't step over a line of powder."

Derek stepped a little bit closer to the ring where the creature was captured. In vain, the monster tried to free himself from the confines they had tricked it into.

"Be careful," Deaton warned him. "This.. powder will imprison anything supernatural so if you step over it, you'll be caged in with the demon."

Derek crossed his arms over his chest and frowned as he watched how the creature bared its teeth and let out an inhuman screech full of outrage.

"I hope it doesn't learn how to break the barrier like it learned how to fight."

***

"She just growled! Like an animal! How do you explain that?!"

"A medical condition. Poor girl has to deal with this ever since the car accident."

"Bullshit," Jon gritted out through clenched teeth, his patience wearing thin.

"Swearing in front of a child? That's not how a good role model should behave. Do your superiors know?"

***

They managed, eventually, to cage all seven of those demonic walking corpses in with the powder Deaton had made.

Some of his betas looked a little worse for the wear, having come a little too close to the zombie-like creatures but none of them was seriously hurt.

"Deaton, hurry up," Derek told the vet harshly. "They are getting angrier. And stronger. If they continue like this, they'll be free again before morning."

He didn't like the way they were relentlessly fighting against the barrier, grinning like they were only a few more shoves away from breaking free.

***

Stiles took a deep breath before he stepped out of the jeep. Before his feet even touched the ground, though, something jumped on his back, causing him to almost lose his balance.

He was lucky that he was able to stop himself from crying out in surprise.

The culprit who nearly was responsible for him giving away his position turned out to be furry, he realized, as a cold snout pressed against the side of his face.

"Burly!" he whispered accusingly, lifting the fox by the scruff of its neck from his shoulders. "You shouldn't be here."

The animal let out a growl that clearly said, "And neither should you".

Stiles sighed as he set the fox down on the ground.

He nodded in defeat, knowing that arguing with Burly was pointless. Whether he liked it or not, the animal would accompany him on his last task.

They made their way across the graveyard, Burly walking so close to him that he was sometimes bumping into Stiles' leg until they stopped in front of a grave.

Stiles closed his eyes and willed himself to conjure up a little spark, his other hand gripping the notebook tightly.

The cuts on his outstretched hand began to glow, the small drop appearing like the blood drops when the cuts had been open.

He let it float over to the desecrated gravestone so that he was able to read it.

He found the mark almost instantly.

Like the cuts on his palms, it was a hexagon, with the opposing corners linked by a thin line. The lines split the hexagon into six triangles.

Stiles gulped but his throat was dry.

There was no doubt left.

To his right, Burly began to whine, obviously feeling through their connection what was going on.

"You don't have to stay," Stiles told him quietly, trying to appear brave. The truth was that he was scared and he would very much prefer not to be alone.

Burly, of course, seemed to sense that because he just stared angrily at Stiles at the mere suggestion of him leaving. Grateful, Stiles crouched down to scratch his ears.

"Well, Swietomierz, I've been expecting you. It's rude that you kept me waiting for so long. Where are your manners, boy?"

The cold, high, cruel voice caused goosebumps to break out on Stiles' skin and he immediately halted in his movements.

Before he turned around to face whoever was speaking to him, he swallowed down his fear. Then, he caught the spark, stood up and turned around.

There was not only one man waiting for him, it was a whole group. He counted twelve men, all standing in a semi-circle around him, wearing cloaks that hid most of their faces.

With false bravado, Stiles replied, "Sorry for my delayed arrival. Traffic was crazy. Also, it took me a while to arrive at the right conclusion. You were quite messy leaving clues, you know."

One of the men was slightly standing in front of his fellow henchman; Stiles assumed he was the one who would be talking on their behalf.

A cruel but pleased grin stretched out over that one man's lips.

"I see you brought the book. You pieced it all together, then?"

Before Stiles was even given the chance to answer, a few of the man had moved to grab him, two were twisting his arms behind his back, forcing him down to his knees, while another one snatched the book right out of his hands.

Burly, bless his brave soul, tried to defend Stiles and snapped with this teeth at them but he was no match for the men. One of them just kicked him away, making him wail out in agony.

Stiles gritted his teeth in anger and fought against the man holding him down, but their strength was clearly superior to his.

The book was brought over to their frontman, whose name was, unbeknownst to Stiles, Silas.

Silas took the book without looking at the man who gave it to him and opened it.

He laughed out loud at what awaited him on the first page.

"Oh, it was quite foolish of you to write your name into the book but how could you know that someone else's spark was in it as well? I think you have proven that you're smart. This one mistake shall not undo how far you've come. You followed our breadcrumbs like a hound on a trail."

"Do you expect me to congratulate you on your intelligence as well? For staging a case, for kidnapping eight people and guilt tripping an alpha to play along with your scheme? Because she actually did fulfil her purpose, by telling the pack all about the attack you've planned. You hid her where I would be able to find her, you dug a tunnel from the cave to the burrow so I would be able to make the connection. And you stole the body so I would investigate the grave and realize that you've already won," Stiles spat out.

Silas nodded appreciatively. "Oh, yes, you're smart." He stepped closer, so Stiles was able to make out his pale skin and his cold blue eyes. "You're right, it was all for you. Everything. Even the found body was part of our plan. And you played along so wonderfully too! As did that pack of mutts you're so fond of! We thought they would get in our way but it turned out that they didn't care about you as much as we thought. Well, the plans for their distraction were already well underway so it didn't matter."

"Whose spark is it?" Stiles asked. "The one in the book. Who killed my mother?!"

Silas' eyebrows rose in amusement. "Oh? So you know that your mothers' powers weren't entirely her own anymore near the end of her life? I'm impressed! But you didn't find out that piece of information in time, did you?" Silas' tone became condescending. "No, if you had, you wouldn't have written your name in the book and you certainly wouldn't have given one of your own sparks to it. What a pity. Your timing was simply wrong."

Silas shook his head as if he was feeling sorry for Stiles' circumstances.
"Be that as it may, my lord thanks you for the power you have so freely given over to him. And of course, for your name."

In desperate anger, Stiles narrowed his eyes, once again trying to free himself from the grip of henchmen x and henchman y.

"And where is your lord? Why is he not here with you? Maybe he is playing you like he was playing me? Someone who likes to think of such complicated schemes surley won't be straightforward to his underlings? Did he tell you his real plan or only what you think his real plan is?" Stiles countered, vile.

Silas looked thrown off for a second but then the anger took over the brief display of uncertainty.

"I think you're not truly aware of your situation. I should teach you so you won't make that mistake again."

With those words, he ripped the book in half - or rather , he tried to, but he wasn't strong enough so he only managed to break off one part of the book cover.

A sickening crunch broke through the night, followed by a wail of pure agony and a few broken sobs.

Stiles, though, wasn't aware of any of those things, he only felt the blinding pain shoot up through his leg, nearly causing him to crumble down to the ground if it hadn't been for the henchmen holding him up.

Through his tear filled eyes, however, he was able to make out the few sparks that flared up from where the book had gotten torn.

Silas seemed to notice it as well because he immediately blanched. Without further ado, he shoved the book at one of his men, almost acting as if he couldn't stand the sight of it anymore.

"Keep it safe," he told him in a strained voice. It was then obvious to Stiles that Silas hadn't anticipated what harming the book meant for the power it contained.

Destroying the book would mean setting the sparks in it free.

***

"Ok, I've had enough. I just saw your daughter snarl at me! I give up, just tell me that Stiles was right and that you're werewolves!"

That seemed to finally wipe off the smug look of Peter Hales's face, a small mercy considering everything the Sheriff had had to endure for that night.

"Stiles told you?" he asked incredulously.

Jon ran a hand trough his short hair in frustration, only seconds away from pulling it.

"We had a fight. And he wanted to get back at me. So the little hypocrite told me his secret."

"I'm actually a werecoyote," Malia chimed in from the back, happily gnawing on a chicken bone. Now that she didn't have to hide anymore, she let her beta shift take over, her eyes glowing blue.

Jon had watched the whole ordeal through his rearview mirror, asking himself internally if he had maybe gone insane.

Peter didn't pay attention to the Sheriff's potential existential crisis; instead, he focused on the fact that Stiles and his dad had been having such a bad argument that it had led to the boy exposing one of his best-guarded secrets.

"Your fight- was it because of the notebook?" Peter asked, trying to understand what could have motivated Stiles to such an uncharacteristic action and go against everything that he had valued before.

The Sheriff finally tore his eyes away from the girl that was more animal than human now and sent a surprised glance towards the older Hale.

"You know about his spark?"

Peter's eyes widened as he registered the Sheriff's words.

"Start the car, now! I'm gonna call Danny!"

***

Since he wasn't able to run away now, with the broken leg, the henchmen had finally let go of Stiles and ruthlessly dropped him on the ground, causing the teenager to bite his lip in an attempt to muffle his scream. He tasted blood.

"Your mutts are going to die soon," Silas then told him conversationally after he had spent the last few moments in silence. "You are being drained of your powers and our demons feed on it, get stronger. Soon, they will be no match for your pack of mutts. In a way, you'll be responsible for their deaths. Isn't that poetic? You came here to die for them and now you are the cause of their deaths!"

Stiles had no way of knowing if what Silas said was true but he didn't want to to take his chances and find out the hard way.

A plan was already ghosting through his head, he now only had to find the strength to be able to go through with it.

He had been their pawn from the start. Without even knowing it, he had given them everything they needed. The book had provided them with a connection to him and he had then written his name in it. As soon as he had put the spark in it, they had gained enough power to completely take over the book. And the murderer of his mom - the one who had taken over her spark - had now not only gained the last missing piece of it, he would also gain Stiles'.

And then all hell would break loose.

So Stiles knew what to do.

The only problem was that first he needed to get to the book but with his leg broken, it was impossible to get up and get it.

He tried influencing his own spark in the book so that it would float over to him but the connection to it had been broken. It felt like the other spark was oppressing his own, rendering it powerless.

Stiles felt so frustrated and at the end of his wits, he wanted to cry.

Before he could fall into despair and be tempted to give up, something unexpected happened.

Burly who had recovered from the vicious kick, had managed to sneak over to the guy in charge of the book and in an act of revenge, he sank his sharp teeth into his ankle. The henchman screamed and let the book fall to the ground in shock.

Burly took the opportunity to pick it up between his teeth and ran as fast as he could to bring it over to Stiles.

As soon as he had dropped the book in front of Stiles, the teenager gave him an encouraging tap on his back and screamed "Run, Burly, run!" at him.

For once, the animal did as he was told.

Clutching the book to his chest, Stiles managed to sort of sit up, heaving at the effort it took him. Victoriously, he grinned at Silas who looked panicked at the way the tables had turned.

Stiles once more took what little strength he had left and conjured up a spark. With his willpower, he forced it to turn into a flame, holding it dangerously close to the book. His intentions were clear.

"No, don't! Listen to me!" Silas pleaded hysterically, one of his hands clawing at his own face in desperation. "If you destroy it, your spark will be lost! You won't ever be able to gain the power that truly belongs to you! Think about it! A spark without a flame dies! You don't want that, do you?!"

"No," Stiles agreed slowly with him and watched how relief washed over Silas' face. Then he grinned. "But we can't always get what we want now, can we?"

And with those words, he let the flame feed on the paper, until it had consumed it in its entity.

Stiles sank to the ground, a gust of wind blowing over the flame burning inside of him. He watched it flicker and then - since it was an already weakened opponent - succumb to its fate. As it went out, it burst into a million embers that seemed too stubborn to die. But without the warmth of the flame, they soon turned to ash. In a way, it was like watching a very small explosion and in some tragic way - maybe in the way one felt when a beautiful flower withered away to become part of the earth that would foster a thousand more of it in the spring - it was the most beautiful thing he had ever witnessed. He was glad that it was the last thing he would see.

***

When the first demon was able to make it through the barrier, Derek was the first one to notice. He reacted immediately.

Before anyone had even realized what was happening, Derek had already wrestled the creature to the ground. It snapped and clawed at him but Derek kept fighting.

It had definitely become stronger, though, as was apparent when it managed to stab its claws into Derek's side. The alpha groaned in pain and with one last bout of strength, he threw the monster off of him. It crashed against the cement wall of the warehouse, audibly cracking its skull and a few bones in the process.

It only took a few seconds for it to recuperate from the attack and to stand up again.

They had no chance.

Some of its fellow monsters were already about to free themselves as well from the circles that had contained them.

Derek felt anger, resignation and grief swell up in his chest as he realized that his pack would die tonight.

Enraged at their once again unfair and cruel fate, he let out a loud growl.

"What are you waiting for?!" he snapped at his betas. "Run, now! I can't hold them at bay forever!"

But they didn't leave. Instead, they gathered in the perfect attack formation he had drilled into them during one of their training sessions, standing next to him, ready to fight at his side.

If there was ever a moment where Derek simultaneously felt proud of them for their loyalty and ashamed of them because of their stupidity to walk into certain death, it had certainly arrived now.

***

Unbeknownst to Stiles, the explosion wasn't something that only seemed to happen in his mind.

As soon as the book was properly lit on fire, it went off like a firework, sprinkling sparks left and right.

Those sparks didn't go out immediately.

They went after everything evil and made them burn with them.

They travelled at the speed of light, flew across the sky like shooting stars and arrived at the right time to burst in an explosion of light through the dead bodies to cleanse them from the darkness that had befallen them.

The pack watched as their opponents were permeated by a blaze of light before they crumpled lifelessly to the ground.

Chapter Text

"Danny, I need you to tell me where Stiles is. I know you're able to keep track of him."

Danny tried not to grimace because Peter's assumption was absolutely true. He should be able to track Stiles down since he had put a tracker on the inside of his favorite pair of red converse and Stiles practically always wore those.

"He's at the graveyard," Danny told Peter, then he asked quietly, "Why the hell is he at the graveyard? That doesn't make sense."

Peter didn't answer his question, he just relayed the information to someone else - probably the Sheriff, Danny assumed. He could hear the engine of a car getting louder, presumably because the driver was jumping on the gas pedal.

"What the hell is going on?!" Danny found himself asking. He didn't like this. Something was definitely wrong, of that much he was sure.

Ï

Somehow, Danny could feel the treacherous feeling of guilt sneaking up on him as he scolded himself for not keeping an eye on Stiles' location as well as on the pack's. He should have known that the teenager was up to something.

No, it's okay. They haven't planned anything near the graveyard. Stiles is probably fine, whatever the reason is for him being there. the tech genius repeated internally to calm himself down.

His thoughts and worries about his friend were soon interrupted by an incoming message from Derek.

"The mission has failed," he repeated incredulously, feeling his heart beat louder and louder in his chest. It felt like it was lodged in his throat.

He was so out of it that he completely forgot that he was still on the line with Peter who had probably heard Derek's incoming message as well.

Danny's hands were hovering over the keyboard, shaking slightly. He just needed to hack into the tornado warning system, nothing complicated for someone as skilled as him. It would take him about two to three minutes maximum. That was if he stopped hesitating and went to work now.

"Danny, listen to me," Peter said urgently. His tone was soft and reassuring, though, so Danny felt less stressed while listening to whatever the werewolf had to say. "Don't - under any circumstances - make the alarm go off. Did you hear me? Mass panic is the last thing we need right now. We have everything under control. You know that they are going to block the bridge in case of a tornado and we need to cross it to get to the graveyard. So don't activate the siren."

Without even thinking about the order, Danny found himself nodding along. "But what about the pack?"

He heard Peter open and close his mouth. It reassured him to know that he wasn't the only one who had a hard time making decisions.

***

Looking back, everything that happened seemed to be a dream sequence that was played at the end of a movie that wanted to spare its audience the gory fighting scene and the trauma of witnessing its favorite characters die. Instead, you were introduced to something that could have happened before you saw them all reconnecting in heaven. End of the movie. Roll credits.

But it wasn't the end.

Not for the pack.

Jackson was just about to be torn apart by two of the creatures who suddenly were strong enough to rip a rock into two pieces if they wanted to. He was shielding Lydia who was cowering in front of him, hanging on to his neck as if she was trying to protect him herself.

Scott was running towards Allison who had fired a few shots of her own, hitting the target that just continued as if the arrows stuck in their bodies was nothing more than a minor inconvenience. One of them had managed to sneak up behind her and was obviously planning to get rid of her.

Isaac was following Scott, keen on protecting him since he so obviously was only focused on Allison and completely disregarded his own safety.

Erica and Boyd were trying to assist Lea who had fearlessly thrown herself at one of the monsters. Even three against two of them, they appeared to be on the losing side.

Deaton was mixing something else into the powder that had previously been able to contain the creatures in hopes that it would enhance its effect and at least slow them down a little bit.

Chris had whipped out his gun but shooting the bastards was just as effective as the arrows had been.

Derek was busy making sure that Laura and Cora were safe so he bravely took the last two remaining walking corpses on by himself though his sisters were too stubborn to just let him handle it alone and tried to interfere on various occasions.

They were fighting but their strength lessened with every blow they took, with every hit they rolled with and it was soon clear that they wouldn't be able to keep fighting for much longer.

Derek knew that the battle was lost and so he raised his hand and screamed into the wristband, "Danny, Mission failed. Activate the traps. Make the alarm go off."

He was talking about the tornado warning siren. If Beacon Hills was about to get attacked, the people should be hiding to minimalize the casualties. It was their last attempt to save their town. The traps Lydia and Danny had designed were supposed to detain them. Hopefully, the hunters would take care of them in their place.

But the siren never went off.

What did happen, though, was something none of them could really explain.

At first, it seemed like a hundred shooting stars were flying across the sky, lighting up the dark night.

Then, it briefly felt like the end of the world was about to happen because the stars appeared to fall to earth like they were nothing more than raindrops.

They never hit the ground. Instead, they went straight for the creatures, smashing into them and exploding like a firework.

Sparks were flying around as the creatures were wrapped in a blaze of light that was strangely enough not blinding or painful to look at.

It was such a magnificent sight that time seemed to have stopped as the pack watched how the sparks continued to dance through the air while the corpses were collapsing to the ground, now devoid of whatever evil spirit that had possessed them.

It felt like they were watching a victory dance.

Deaton was the first one who was able to pull himself out of his awestruck state and reached out a hand to examine the sparks that had saved all their lives.

"Amazing," he said in astonishment as the little spark just rested on his palm, not harming him. "I've never seen so many sparks at once. Seeing even one is incredibly rare. They usually don't show themselves."

Derek focused on the corpses, making sure that they really wouldn't come back to life.

"Sparks? Like the one the crazy dudes were looking for?" Scott asked as he stepped away from his fallen opponent. Now that they weren't a threat anymore, it was hard to perceive them as anything other than victims themselves. There was absolutely no glory in winning, just as they had predicted.

"Where did they come from?" asked Lydia who appeared unfazed as if the whole incident had hardly had any impact on her whatsoever. It was a facade, though, as most of them had learned over the last few weeks.

"And what are they?" Erica accepted Boyd's hand and let herself be pulled up to her feet.

"They're beautiful," Allison commented, cautiously touching one that was just hovering in front of her. She felt warmth travel up her arm at the contact and suddenly she was filled with the boisterous uplifting feeling of holding a small miracle in her hand. She smiled.

"And very powerful," Deaton added. "If you were ever wondering how magic works and how werewolves are even able to exist, they are your answer. You could say that they are the magic. Every magical being has one, embedded into their genetics, part of the core that makes up their being. They're also a part of nature, as is the theory of all emissaries, which would allow some people the ability to manipulate them with spells and the like - you would label those people as witches or wizards, I assume."

"That doesn't sound very scientific."

"Well, Miss Martin, it's not supposed to. Magic doesn't follow rules. It makes up its own."

"If they are everywhere like you said, why were the evil guys looking for them?" asked Derek, who had finally torn himself from the sight of the dead people lying motionlessly on the ground.

"This is not the typical behavior of a spark. Seeing them without a body is just as unlikely as finding a heart lying around somewhere. They are supposed to be the core of something. You can't normally part them from the body they were inhabiting. They are not supposed to be able to exist without one. I've been wondering why they were looking for something that doesn't really exist on its own. I assumed that we were missing something."

Deaton's eyebrows scrunched together in thought. "Well, there is a myth that has told of something like this happening but... no, it can't be. The probability of that being true is very low..."

Derek clenched his fist at his sides and a low growl rumbled in his chest. "For once in your life, can you not speak in riddles and just tell us what the hell is going on?!"

Before Deaton could answer, Ms. Morrell pointed with a finger in a direction. "I think I know where they're coming from. Look."

Somewhere in the distance, a light broke through the darkness, even brighter than the ones all the little sparks had created together.

***

The graveyard of Beacon Hills was a place of death as it was the case for every graveyard in existence but tonight, it also became the place where a small battle took place and this battle left its fallen warriors lying motionlessly on the ground. The air was polluted by smoke and the stench of burning flesh. The ashes of paper were raining down on the dead men lying on the ground, covering the scene in a sheen of destruction and loss. It almost looked like it was trying to cover up whatever gruesome fight took place there.

Dying at a graveyard had something very ironic about it. For one, you went there to visit the deceased, not to become one of them. And if you were already dead at a graveyard, then you were there to be remembered and so that your memento could be honored. The people who died that night would not be remembered or honored. Quite the opposite, they're death would be seen as justice carried out by fate.

But there was one boy among them. He was lying in the center of the dead men, wearing a bright red hoodie instead of a dark cloak.

He was the casualty, the one who shouldn't be among those other corpses.

He was also the only one who wasn't burned.

His leg was slightly twisted, suggesting that it was broken. One of his hands was stretched out, almost as if he had been reaching for or maybe even holding onto something. But whatever it had been was no longer there.

The strange thing about him - the one thing that made him stand out - was that there was no obvious cause of death.

Although there was blood on his lip and on his clothes and his palms were covered in cuts, there was not nearly enough of it to suggest that he died from blood loss or that there was a lethal injury.

In contrast to the other bodies, his face wasn't the mask of horror, pain and regret. Instead, he looked peaceful as if he had expected and already accepted his fate.

Looking at his face, one would never guess how much he had been through to get him to this point. It just looked like he had been caught unaware and ended up dying in the crossfire.

Not that the man standing above him really cared how he died. Because he actually knew that the boy wasn't really dead. Not yet, anyway.

He bent down slightly so he could turn the boy's face in his direction. The sight made him angry and bitter but he forced himself not to look away.

"How very unexpected of you. Does power mean so little to you? Well, your action gave me an excuse to get rid of my men. They disappointed me. Instead of just bringing me the damn book, they let you destroy it. I'm telling you, good henchmen are so hard to find nowadays."

The hooded figure shook his head but felt very little remorse over what he had done to his own men. He made a clucking sound with his tongue as if to say that his deed was nothing more than an annoying but necessary task to him.

"Everything went according to plan, up until the point when you decided to sacrifice yourself. What a bold move. But don't you know that you can't win when you sacrifice the king?"

His grip on the boy's face tightened, clearly displaying how furious he really was at the way everything had gone down.

"Contrary to your belief, I need you alive so you dying would be a significant inconvenience for me. I hope you're aware that you've caused me more trouble than you're worth."

After a moment of him just staring at the unconscious boy, a spark began to form in his palm which he then moved towards the boy's unmoving chest.

Before he was able to let the spark make contact with the boy, something sharp pierced through the skin of his wrist, causing him to drop the spark.

It was a fox, biting him and clinging to him as if he was a lifeline. The little guy seemed really determined to stop him from what he intended to do.

"What a good little companion you are," the man cooed at it with faked cheerfulness. But then he just grabbed the fox by its tail and yanked it off of himself, flinching at the junk of flesh that got torn out in the process.

***

"Hey, it seems to come from the graveyard," Scott noted with wide eyes as they kept looking at the lights that were plunging the night sky in a soft yellow glow. The longer he looked at it, the more colors he was able to make out. There were shades of red, orange and a little bit of green mixed in it too, making it look like Beacon Hills had its very own version of the northern lights. It gave Scott the feeling of standing at the edge of the world and looking straight at the wonders of the universe. It also gave him the sense of looking at infinity and reminded him that he was only a tiny part of it all.

"What the hell caused it?" Jackson asked, flinching slightly as Lydia touched a still open wound.

"Norway is quite famous for its northern lights. Basically, northern lights are the result of huge quantities of particles originating from the sun during solar explosions and flares. Those particles then hit the Earth's magnetic shield and travel along it until they reach the poles where the magnetic shield is the strongest. There they interact with the upper layers of the atmosphere, releasing an energy that creates the northern lights. To explain it in words that you'd understand."

Scott looked at Lydia with an expression that told her that her simplified explanation had not been simplified enough. Since it didn't really matter to him how the lights came into existence, she just left it at that. One didn't need to understand science to realize how beautiful it was.

The sparks, that previously been swirling around in a small circle, suddenly seemed to become aware of the unusual event that was happening in the sky because they then all agreed to swish towards it.

Derek tried to catch one of them for further investigation but the thing just floated straight through him, leaving him with a warm, tingly sensation in his palm.

"Follow them," he ordered sternly.

Lydia and Allison climbed on their boyfriend's (or ex-boyfriend's) back and then the pack started running, leaving Deaton, Chris Argent, and Marin Morrell behind.

"How nice of them to leave us with the clean-up duty," Morrell grumbled under her breath, making Argent crack a resigned grin.

Deaton, though, was not reacting to their tedious task at all. He just kept looking at the lights in the sky, wearing a puzzled expression.

"Maybe the stories were true after all."

"What stories, Alan? You really need to stop being so vague," Marin said with a sardonic smile.

"Some scripts were talking about people with the rare ability to create sparks because they didn't just have one spark embedded into their genetics, they had the whole flame. Even so, they were generally known as sparks."

Deaton then shook his head.

"There is so little written about them, though, that I'm not even sure if they still exist."

***

The man was looking at the lights above them as well, unwillingly impressed at the persistence of the sparks. He knew that they belonged to the boy and would reanimate him as soon as they found a way to reconnect with him. But something was obviously blocking them.

"Momma's idea to save you seems to have back-fired now, doesn't it? How should you remember without the book? And how should you regain your sparks without remembering? It's an impasse. I guess you have to die, after all," the man noted with a tone of remorse.

Once again a drop of light began to form in his palm which he held stretched out over the boy's upper body.

This time, he was stopped by a gunshot and a sharp pain in his shoulder that caused him to retract his arm protectively.

"Step away from my son, you motherfucker."

The man didn't even have to turn around to know who the shooter was. A wicked smile was forming on his lips.

"Shoot first, ask questions later, huh? What an awful mentality for a man of the law," he taunted him.

Sheriff Jon Stilinski's finger was still on the trigger, the barrel of his gun pointing straight at the man a few feet in front of him. Peter was standing right next to him, trying to calm down his daughter who seemed to be seconds away from a breakdown at seeing her self-proclaimed brother in his motionless state.

There were only five heartbeats.

None of them belonged to Stiles.

"Step away from my son or I'll shoot your kneecaps," Jon threatened with an expression so unforgiving that even his deputies would be afraid of him.

His opponent held up his hands above his head and turned around to face him. He didn't, though, do as he was told and step away from the boy.

Jon couldn't see his face because his hood was pulled down so low that he could only make out his mouth which was curved in a hideous grin.

"You wouldn't shoot the only one who is able to bring your son back to life now, would you, Sheriff?"

A howl tore itself from the girl's lips as she sprinted forward before anyone could stop her, only halting when she had reached Stiles. She collapsed right next to him, her head resting on his chest as she strained her ears for a heartbeat that just wasn't there. Tears were running freely down her cheeks.

Jon clenched his teeth together in anguish, his trigger-finger itching.

"Jon," Peter addressed him quietly, his eyes fixed at his daughter who was weeping now. "There's no heartbeat."

"No," Jon shook his head in refusal. "No, that can't be. My son's not dead."

"Oh, but you know it's true. The book is gone, Sheriff, and with it the only chance for him to live. Someone should have told him what happens when a spark bound himself to a powerful object. Now it's too late for that," the leader of the group of dead men said, sounding insincerely apologetic. Then, in polish, he added, "Does that remind you of your poor wife, Sheriff?"

Another shot rang through the night, this one hitting the target in the left thigh, forcing him to fall to his knees.

It was followed by a guttural laugh.

Malia didn't pay attention to it. She felt like her heart had been torn out of her chest and carelessly tossed to the ground. Her skin felt too small for her body which was a clear sign that the full-shift was trying to take over. Once she would be not human anymore, the pain would dull down as she knew from experience. Then her instincts would take over, quietening her thoughts and feelings. It would be like numbing the pain with medication.

But she kept fighting against the transformation. She didn't want to forget him or her family. She didn't want to be alone in the wild again.

"You said-" she started but a sob made her stop mid-sentence. "You said, th-that I don't need anyone but it's... that's not true. I need you. Please. Please. Don't leave me!"

She was so absorbed in the spiral of grief that she didn't even hear the soft, limping footsteps coming nearer. It was therefore a real surprise when she suddenly wasn't the only one by Stiles' side anymore.

When she looked up with her tear-filled eyes, she spotted a smudge of red that soon turned out to be a fox. The animal was nudging the teenager softly with its nose but he still didn't move.

Malia realized that the fifth heartbeat she had been hearing belonged to Burly.

The fox and the girl shared a look of anguish.

Burly was the first one to break eye contact. He jumped onto Stiles' chest and made a husky barking noise that appeared to say "Wake up! There's no time for sleep now!"

When the boy didn't react to that, the animal came up with another approach.

With wide eyes from astonishment, Malia watched as Burly's nose began to glow. The animal then pressed it against where Stiles' heart should be beating, and the glow seemed to transfer over from the fox to the teenager.

One moment passed in silence. Then she heard it.

It was faint and weak. Irregular.

Fluttering frantically like the wings of a bird that was about to fly for the first time in its life.

A heartbeat.

***

There was only complete darkness. It surrounded him like a blanket but it didn't provide the same feeling of safety. Instead, he felt restricted and trapped. To him, it seemed that the place was closing in on him. He feared that he would get squished.

Maybe that's how death felt like.

If so, then movies and books had done a pretty bad job in preparing him for that.

If only there was a way to find some light, maybe he would have been able to find a way out.

But it was so dark that staring too long made him feel like he was being swallowed by it.

He didn't know how long it took - there was no sense of time here - so he just thought that it was just in time before he reached his breaking point, but suddenly there was light.

It was not much.

It barely was enough to enable him to make out the silhouette of his own hands.

But then he reached out for it, and when he came into contact with it, he was filled with warmth and the feeling of safety. He felt loved. He felt protected. He felt cared for.

And all those feelings seemed to spark something within him.

The light was hardly more than a spark itself but it was enough to rekindle his flame.

And as soon as the fire was back, flames dancing and reaching high enough to touch the sky or whatever it was that this place had, he was able to throw the blanket off of himself.

He was finally free to step into the light.

***

The man in the cloak, as well as the Sheriff and Peter unconsciously held their breath as the light engulfed the fallen boy.

"Welcome back to life, Swietomierz," the cloaked man said, pleased but surprised at that development. "How was being dead? Pleasant, I assume?"

The Sheriff used his state of distraction to his advantage.

"How about a first-hand experience?"

With those words, he fired the final, lethal shot, directed at the man's chest.

He never found out if he had hit the target, though, because the man just vanished into thin air.

No one had had time to react to him pulling out a shard of a mirror which had to be his way of disappearing.

Since the bullet never hit anything else, the Sheriff assumed that he had managed to shoot the bastard before he had been able to disappear to god knows where.

At the moment, he didn't really care.

Because Stiles chose that moment to open his eyes.

The first thing he saw was probably... nothing. Just darkness again. His eyesight was blocked by Malia's thick hair as she had thrown herself over him as soon as his heart had started to beat again.

"Whoa, dad, that was badass."

Jon shook his head, his face scrunched up in an effort to hold back the tears as he made his way over to his son. The teenager was awkwardly patting Malia's back, hoping to calm her down enough so that she would loosen her death grip on him a little.

The Sheriff took his other hand and gave it a nearly painful squeeze, clearly displaying relief that it was warm and not cold as it would have probably been before.

Even Peter, who was kneeling on Stiles' other side, looked like he was having a hard time getting his emotions under control. His eyes were a little bit glassy, almost as if he was restraining himself from crying.

He also seemed to realize something that shadowed his joy of having Stiles back.

"Stiles. Why is your heartbeat so weak and slow? That doesn't sound normal," he stated in a hollow voice because he probably already knew what it meant.

The facts that it took almost all of Stiles' strength to lift up his arms and that he was as pale as the moon were telling enough.

The implication of Peter's question wasn't lost on Malia who immediately backed away enough from Stiles to glare down at the teenager with wet eyes.

"No! I just got you back! No - just, no!"

Burly was whining pitifully, curling up on his chest and clawing at him like that way he would be able to keep Stiles from fading away.

Jon immediately knew how to interpret the small, rueful smile that spread over his son's face and the grateful, humble look in his heavy-lidded eyes.

"You're not dying, Stiles! Don't even think about saying goodbye!"

But Stiles's smile didn't falter, even if his heartbeat did. It kept stumbling like it was a drunk making his way home on foot but, at least, it kept going.

"Burly is sharing his spark with me," he whispered. "But-"

"It's not enough," Jon finished with a very dry throat. "It's not a long-term solution. He hasn't enough of it to keep you alive for much longer. You're still... still slowly burning out. "

***

When the pack arrived at the graveyard, the scene in front of them was so much to take in that it made their heads swirl. The horror of what had happened here was so clearly captured, it was almost like they were looking at a picture that unfolded into a movie right before their eyes.

Death hung in the air, the smell of pain was as thick as the smoke surrounding them. The beauty of the lights they had seen now felt like a Fata Morgana. It had made it appear like something wonderful and magnificent would await them but instead, they were faced with destruction and agony.

And that was only the picture of the past - the picture that told them what had happened here before they had arrived.

The picture of the present was much more heartbreaking.

Two grown men wearing the expression of a broken soldier kneeling beside a pale and battered looking boy with a fox lying on his chest. A girl was clinging onto him like he could vanish into thin air any minute from now. She was radiating grief and anguish that it was hard not to feel affected.

The worst was that this wasn't just a picture of strangers the pack could look at with detached sympathy.

Scott was the first one brave enough to stop being an uninvolved observer and stepped into the picture himself.

"Sheriff... what's going on? Why is Malia crying?" he asked curiously. Clearly, the impact of what he was seeing hadn't hit him yet. Then he noticed Stiles. "Hey, bro, what're you doing here? What happened here anyway?"

But nobody of the group found it in themselves to answer him.

Lydia was the only one who had an inkling of what was going on and why.

Instead of explaining, though, she just went over to the mourning group, sinking to her knees and rested a reassuring hand on Stiles' shoulder. She then gifted him with a rare grateful and sincere smile, though her eyes were reflecting pain and remorse.

One by one the pack followed her example, joining the small group and touching some part of Stiles' body to let him know that they were there for him.

The only one left was Derek.

Derek was standing completely still and if it weren't for the rise and fall of his chest and the sound of his heartbeat he could have been easily mistaken for a mannequin.

The alpha had never seen the teenager this quiet and unmoving which honestly scared him. Even when he had found him passed out in his bathroom with a high fever, Stiles had still moved around a lot.

It was painful to even look at him in this unfamiliar state of immobility.

He was not ready to accept what this unexpected change in behavior meant.

"You destroyed the book and now the sparks can't find their way back," the Sheriff realized in a monotone voice like it was not a shocking discovery at all but an unwelcome fact that was hard to accept. "You haven't remembered everything yet, have you?"

"No."

It was even more shocking to hear his voice which was nearly toneless now.

While the others looked confused, Lydia seemed to have caught up.

"Would remembering save him?" she asked in a pointedly detached voice. It was probably the only way for her to keep her emotions in check.

Jon gulped heavily. "It would gain him access to the sparks which he needs to survive. It's my best guess."

Jackson furrowed his brows at that. "Why the hell would he need them to survive? I've never heard of someone dying from a lack of sparks in their system."

"So all it would take to save him is to make him remember?" Lea asked suddenly, excitement taking over her features. "If that's the case then there's no need to look so gloomy. I know how to help him."

Doubtingly but with a hint of hope, Jon looked up and met her gaze. "How?"

"Alphas have the ability to infiltrate their pack mates' minds with their claws. I've seen an alpha take away a traumatic memory from one of her betas. Theoretically, it should work the other way around as well," she explained. "He is part of your pack, right?"

The pack turned their heads toward their alpha expectantly, waiting for him to answer.

The possibility of him having the power to save Stiles was what finally caused Derek to come out of his rigid state.

"Yes," he said without hesitating.

"Well, get your claws out then and come over here. There's no time to waste," Lea ordered good-naturedly, smiling elatedly. Finally, she was able to give them something back for saving her. "Everyone else should hold him down and take as much pain as possible. I've heard that it's really painful when the claws pierce your skin. Most of us should probably try to keep his leg stabilized. That looks like a nasty break."

Determined to do everything in their power to keep Stiles alive, the pack took in their assigned position, focusing their pain-taking ability on Stiles' broken leg, hoping to keep it from getting jostled when Stiles and Derek would go relive Stiles' memories.

It was the weirdest plan they had ever been a part of but they had never been so enthusiastic about doing their part.

Derek, with his claws now out, pulled Stiles with the help of the Sheriff up enough so that he would have access to the back of the teenager's neck.

It was high time to act but the alpha found himself hesitating. Stiles' heartbeat had slowed down rapidly and he was barely even conscious anymore. Derek forcefully making Stiles regain his memory was their last hope but still, the alpha felt reluctant to go through with it. It was a huge invasion of privacy, seeing as Derek would get to experience the same things as Stiles would. The worst about this was that they didn't even have the luxury of taking into consideration whether Stiles would consent to this or not.

Derek hated that this was their only option.

While everyone else was getting impatient and urging him to do something, the Sheriff gave him a look of understanding.

Jon briefly squeezed his shoulder. "It'll be okay in the end, son."

Derek nodded.

Then he dug his claws into the back of Stiles' neck, deep enough to draw blood.

The world around him vanished as he got sucked into darkness.

Chapter Text

When Derek opened his eyes, he was sure that he was floating. But that turned out to be wrong because when he took a step forward, he could feel solid ground beneath his feet.

The alpha felt like someone had drawn him on a sheet of paper and had had no time for a background yet. Derek was, of course, standing on solid ground, he just couldn't see it. In fact, he could see nothing. Only white background. Everything was white.

This made him unsure. He didn't know if his next step would still land on the ground or if he was in danger of falling. The uncertainty made him cautious.

After taking a few carefully chosen steps forward, he became aware of one color sticking out from the white background.

He followed the red string lying to his feet until he reached the beginning. With slow movements, Derek bent down to pick it up, almost as if he was afraid it would vanish if he moved too quickly.

When he came in touch with the string, it wound itself tightly around his left pinkie finger, tying a knot to ensure it would stay there. Thinking it was trying to harm him, Derek tried to cut himself free with his claws but whatever material the string was made of was undestroyable.

He gave up since it didn't actually hurt him.

Now, he felt connected. To what, he couldn't say.

But he intended to find out. So he followed it.

After a while of walking, soft humming had broken through the silence. It had been so completely quiet before, not even his footsteps had made a sound.

Derek strained his ears, trying to make out where the noise was coming from. He soon realized that it was coming from the string.

The humming got louder the further he followed the line and soon he was able to make out words.

It was a woman's voice - sweet and high - singing a soft and gentle tune in a language Derek wasn't able to understand.

She sounded happy, though, so the alpha assumed that whatever she was singing about was something uplifting and hopeful. Maybe it was a lullaby?

It was not necessary to understand the language in order to realize that the song was beautiful, anyway.

The string he was following made a sharp turn so Derek did as well. As he turned, a woman and boy sitting at a piano came into view, even though Derek could have sworn that there had been nothing there just a few seconds prior.

The woman had soft brown hair, sharp angular features, and warm brown eyes. She was smiling down lovingly at the boy who was maybe around five years old. It was difficult to say. He looked so frail.

They didn't seem to notice Derek so the alpha allowed himself to step closer. His presence didn't interrupt them from the song, almost as if he wasn't even really there.

Now standing right next to the mother-son-duo, Derek was able to make out more details, like the many freckles on the boy's face and how similar he looked to his mother.

It was really no hardship to make the connection to their identity.

Derek smiled and his eyes followed the boy's fingers which were moving over the piano keyboard. The red string had gotten wrapped around the boy's wrist a few times but didn't stop there. It was almost like he had just gotten caught up in it, like a kitten playing with a ball of wool.

Suddenly, the woman looked up from the keyboard and met Derek's gaze. Surprised, the alpha held himself completely still, fearing he had somehow disrupted their song. But even though the woman had stopped singing, the boy continued playing as if he hadn't even noticed.

Mrs. Stilinski - as Derek assumed - gifted him with a small, bittersweet smile. Her eyes were the same color as Stiles' but different in shape. They were just as big and wide as her son's, but more rectangular and heavy-lidded. There was a mole right next to her right eye and a whole constellation of them on her left cheek.

Their resemblance was startling.

Derek was snapped out of his thoughts when she reached a hand out to him, opening her fist to reveal a small golden key.

Unsure, Derek's eyes shifted from the key in her hand back to her eyes. He received an encouraging nod so he took the offered item and clenched his own fist around it, a silent promise that he would keep it safe.

She smiled one last time at him before she focused her attention back on her child.

Then, they both started to fade, becoming ghosts until they eventually just vanished completely.

Derek gulped, knowing he had been entrusted with something of immense value and so he clenched his fist even tighter around the key.

Then he set to continue his journey into the unknown.

Derek wasn't sure how long he was walking until - from one step to the next - his surroundings changed. It felt like he had fallen in a different picture.

He was in a classroom. The chairs and desks were too small for him to sit down so it was probably an elementary school. Children around the age of eight were talking loudly to each other, some playing, others just boasting to their friends about something that they may or may not have completely made-up.

The red string was still there and it led Derek to the child sitting all alone at his desk, eyes cast down and head hanging low.

Just like with the young child before, the string had wound itself a few times around the boy's wrist.

Stiles, Derek thought with a faint smile, comparing the smaller and frail looking body from before to the older version that he was faced with now. He hadn't grown all that much - he was probably one of the smallest children in the classroom. His limbs were too long for his skinny body and his skin sickly pale. In contrast to before, Derek was able to smell the bitter underlying scent of medication on him for the first time. Stiles must be at the age where he had already been diagnosed with ADHD and had started taking Adderall.

It didn't take long for someone to approach the boy.

"Hey, spaz!"

Derek turned his head to look at a snotty little brat wearing a mean smile on his face. Behind him, a few of his friends had gathered, watching curiously how Stiles would react.

The odd thing was that he didn't. Stiles twitched in his seat, making it obvious that he had heard him clearly, but he didn't look up.

Being ignored didn't sit well with the other boy.

He kicked the chair Stiles was sitting on with enough force to make it topple to the side. Reflexively, Derek reached out to catch Stiles before he could fall to the ground but his hand wasn't able to grasp anything. He was not really there, after all.

The other kids laughed as Stiles hit the floor which made the brat who was responsible for Stiles' fall smile even wider. He was obviously basking in the attention he was receiving.

What Derek would have given to have a physical form in that moment!

"Can't you pay attention when someone's talking to you?" the boy taunted. "Or is that too much for you? Are you too dumb to do that?"

More laughter. Derek really didn't see what was so funny about that. The boy's insults weren't even valid and Stiles had done nothing to provoke that kind of mean response anyway.

"Garry says that you're the worst because you never sit still. He hates sitting next to you. He says that you're always trying to crib from him."

"That's not true," Stiles finally defended himself. He stood up and met the bully with a challenging look. "Nobody's dumb enough to copy anything from Garry. He thinks the sky is blue because god painted it that way. When in actuality, the sky is blue because of-"

"Shut up, freak!" the other boy snapped, his face blotchy and red from anger. "You're so annoying! No wonder your mom couldn't stand you, either! My mom says that it's a miracle she didn't kill herself sooner!"

Gasps could be heard from the group of onlookers.

Then things escalated really fast. One minute, the bully was standing triumphantly in front of Stiles, glaring down at him and the next, he was thrown to the floor, the smaller body of the other boy on top of him.

If this had been a fair fight, Derek might have felt proud of Stiles for standing up to the bully. It wasn't a fair fight, though, seeing as the other kid had at least 20 pounds more on him than Stiles and had a few supportive friends who were all eager to join in.

It was one against three.

Once again, Derek tried to interfere but he was absolutely powerless.

Nothing he did was of any consequence.

No one reacted to him screaming at them to stop. His hands went straight through everything and everyone he tried to touch.

He was only there to observe.

When the scene finally cut away, Derek wasn't sure if he was supposed to feel relieved or not. He wanted to help but he also knew that he couldn't change what had already happened. He'd rather not see anything of that sort again because it pained him to be unable to do anything.

The only thing that kept him going was the thought that if he didn't, Stiles would die.

With a sinking feeling that something worse was about to play out before him very soon, he took up following the red string again, clenching the hand that it was tied to tightly to a fist. The word "suicide" rang in his head, an echo of the insufferable, young mocking voice of the boy.

Finally, he arrived at the other end of the string - which was unsurprisingly tied to Stiles' right pinkie finger. The question was if he was the real Stiles or just another memory.

Derek who had had at least 100 feet of string coiled around his arms before, realized with a start that the string had snapped together like a rubber band and was now tautly stretched between them . With every step closer he took towards Stiles, the string became shorter and also tauter. He was almost afraid it would tear if he didn't close the distance between them.

Stiles' back was to him so he couldn't see his expression but he didn't need to in order to see how tense the teenager was.

"I don't know if I can do this. I don't want to do this."

It wasn't until Derek stood next to Stiles - so close, their hands were almost touching - that he understood what Stiles was talking about. In front of them was a door. The werewolf didn't need to ask what purpose it served or whether it was locked. He just tightened his grip around the key in one hand and reached out the other towards Stiles.

The teenager tore his gaze away from the door and looked down at Derek's outstretched hand. It was the one that had the red string tied to it. Apparently, it was in that moment that he noticed the red string connecting them to each other for the first time, going by the way his eyes widened slightly as they shifted their gaze from Derek's hand to his own. Derek wasn't sure what the teenager thought of it but the vulnerable expression in his eyes almost made Derek drop his hand again. He felt like he was asking for something outrageous, something that was so far out of his reach that he should feel ashamed for even thinking about it.

Before he could retract his hand, though, Stiles' fingers touched his palm hesitantly, as if testing if Derek's offer was serious. Knowing that this was some kind of test but not knowing what he was supposed to do to pass it, Derek held absolutely still.

Maybe he should have said all the things that were ghosting through his mind right then. Like "I'm with you and I won't let you go. And I won't ever hurt you again just to protect myself. I'll be by your side until the end."

But words were treacherous, not more than castles on a cloud. You could paint whole worlds with them but just as easily use them for destruction. Words didn't bring meaning, Derek knew. Words were nothing more than shells - sometimes they contained everything their appearance promised, sometimes you got awfully disappointed when you found that there was nothing but air hidden inside them. Derek wasn't good with words. He had trouble wrapping what he really meant into the right shells without breaking something in the process. That probably explained why he was also awful at wrapping gifts.

He was, therefore, all the more relieved when Stiles eventually accepted his hand and intertwined their fingers.

"I already saw... I know how it ends. I really hope this is the last closed door that I need to open." Stiles gulped nervously. The hand Derek was holding twitched briefly.

Without further ado, Derek handed Stiles the key.

"It has already happened. I need to remember that. Whatever it is, it's in the past - it's behind me now. The past can't change me now, right?"

"Did knowing my past change me in your eyes?" Derek asked since he'd rather not answer that question.

A small smile appeared on the teenager's lips. "You were still a sourwolf to me. With sudden reasons for being sour, that is. Why, do you think we'll get reasons for why I'm so annoying?"

Derek had to force himself not to flinch. After what he had seen happening in the classroom, he didn't find that comment as funny as he might have before.

That Derek was not amused didn't go unnoticed by Stiles who had hoped that his joke would mellow their predicament a little bit. The smile fell flat.

It made Derek feel like an idiot because he didn't know what to say. There probably was a way to express what he felt but he just couldn't find the words to do it. Some people could have written a whole paper on it while he just stood there completely overwhelmed.

Still at a loss at what to say, the alpha just squeezed the teenager's hand and tapped his thumb against the other's.

Stiles took in a huge breath, mentally preparing himself for horrible revelations.

"I probably won't be able to see you. Because I will be me - past me, that is. I don't know how it will be for you. That's actually a pretty interesting question, come to think of it. Will you see it from an outsider's point of view? But how is that possible when you were never there in the first place? Lydia would have a field day analyzing this."

Even though Derek rolled his eyes at the rant, he was actually very grateful for it because it gave him comfort in knowing that Stiles was no longer upset enough to stay quiet.

"I'll answer all of your questions later if you open the door now."

Derek was getting anxious, thinking about how much time they had left to do this before Stiles would die.

"It's a deal," Stiles warned him with a forced smile. He was just as anxious as Derek but for different reasons. He obviously would have preferred to open the door in his own terms and in his own time, not under the threat of death.

Derek nodded seriously, without hesitation agreeing to the deal. He would have agreed to anything if it motivated Stiles to open the door.

With a slightly shaking hand, Stiles fitted the key in the keyhole and unlocked it. The door then opened itself but they couldn't see what was behind it because there was a light coming through the open door that was not hurtful but blinding.

Together they stepped over the threshold and into the light.

***

Surprisingly, what Derek saw next felt like scenes edited so they played one after the other, even though there was no context.

At first, he saw the young boy from the piano again, only that he was now at least one year older. He was running around in a garden without getting tired, his mother watching from where she was kneeling next to a rose bush, a pair of hedge clippers in her hand.

She was only halfheartedly trimming the bush, her eyes unfocused. Derek assumed that she was lost in her thoughts - ones that weren't very happy ones, judging by the fact that her forehead was slightly wrinkled.

The boy was foolish enough to think she was paying attention to what she was doing so he ran straight towards her and crashed into her back, wrapping his thin arms around her waist. The mother, though, got startled so badly that she cut herself with the clippers on her forearm.

From where he was standing, Derek had the perfect view to watch how the woman's eyes turned vacant, a dark shadow falling over her face. Her empty expression was frightening in how inhuman it looked.

Surprising both Derek and the boy, she shook him off of her brutally so he fell backward.

She didn't say anything, just stood up with her back to the boy. Her rigid posture was way too still for a human. There was no anger on her face, no sign of pain from the cut that was bleeding profusely.

Derek felt with the boy when he burst into tears. He himself felt quite scared of her, even if he didn't know exactly why.

His sobs seemed to snap her out of whatever trance she had been in. Quickly, she scooped him up from the ground and into her arms, smoothing a hand up and down his back and whispering comforting words to him.

When the boy had calmed down a bit, they went inside to get the first aid kit.

The next scene was in a child's bedroom. It was clearly night as evidenced by the boy sleeping soundly in his bed.

The only light was from the hallway coming in through the open door. On the threshold stood the woman, again eerily still. She was just looking at the boy, not doing anything else. Derek felt uncomfortable watching her. He wanted her to go away or walk into the room - anything but just standing there.

As if aware of the presence that hung above him like a gloomy dark cloud, the boy started to wake up. He sat up in his bed and rubbed his eyes, looking adorably puzzled and sleepy while doing so.

"Mom?"

But she didn't react.

"Mom?" the little boy asked again, now sounding scared. Even a child knew that this behavior of hers wasn't normal.

But then she just snapped out of it, tucked him in, gave him a kiss on the forehead and told him to go back to sleep.

There were more instances like those where the mother just seemed to temporarily leave her body. And Derek didn't think it possible because those were already frightening enough but it did turn worse. She eventually got sudden mood swings that seemed to turn her briefly into a completely different person. Sometimes she just started screaming out of the blue as if somebody was torturing her, sometimes she started ranting about horrible things or swore like a goddamn sailor.

If he had been able to, Derek would have taken the boy away from her while she was having one of her episodes. He wondered where his father was or the rest of his family. Where were all the responsible adults? Why was nobody aware of the stress the boy was under, of how much burden the boy now carried on his shoulder? It was all the more heartbreaking to watch how the boy tried to take care of his mother when she got like this, how he tried to calm her down by hugging her and telling her how much he loved her.

It was almost unbearable to watch even if the mother was all the more loving and gentle while trying to soothe her child when she finally snapped out of her episodes.

Derek wanted to hate her for the way she treated him but he knew that she couldn't help it. It wasn't exactly her who was so cruel to the boy, it was whoever she turned into when she had one of her episodes. And he could tell that she was just as frightened of them as the boy was.

Maybe she was ill. It was the only explanation for her behavior that Derek could come up with.

"Go and get yourself some help before you do something you'll never be able to forgive yourself for", Derek pleaded with her internally. Sometimes he looked at the husband - a deputy from the looks of his uniform - and willed him to finally acknowledge what was going on in his home. Because he was sure that the man wasn't blind to it, he had to have at least an inkling that something was wrong. But the man obviously thought that if he didn't address it, it might go away by itself eventually.

How wrong he was.

It started like a few times before with the mother standing in the boy's room in the middle of the night, just watching him. It was creepy but pretty harmless because she usually left after a few minutes.

Not this time, though.

Derek felt his stomach churn as he watched how she walked closer to the bed. She shook the boy awake who was understandably confused and disoriented. Her voice sounded so sweet and lovingly as she talked to him about how they had to get up and go somewhere. The boy nodded sleepily and took her hand. They both walked out of the house dressed in only their pajamas and light shoes. Thankfully, it appeared to be summer and the temperature was still high enough to not freeze to death in their light clothing.

With a bad feeling, Derek followed them along their walk through the woods. The boy was more stumbling along as he was walking, with only his mother's hold to keep him from hitting the ground. He dragged his feet, still more asleep than awake yet. In that state, he wasn't able to sense how wrong this whole situation was. He didn't question why his mother dragged him out into the woods in the middle of the night or where they were even going. He trusted her.

Derek shook his head in denial of all the horrible outcomes his mind so happily provided for him. This was not supposed to be happening.

The feeling of dread became all the more oppressing at the sound of the babbling of a river. It was getting louder and louder the further they walked into the woods.

Derek finally gave up walking beside them and ran in front of the woman so he could see her face. Maybe there was still a part of her left that didn't want to go through with this. Maybe she was still present enough to realize what she was about to do before it was too late.

But her emotionless face made him abandon all hope. She didn't even look human anymore. In a way, it reminded him of the walking corpses his pack had been fighting before.

Feeling utterly defeated and useless, Derek had to watch as the woman and the boy knelt down beside the river. They were still holding each other's hand, observing how the moonlight got reflected in the water.

The current was weak but at the place where they were the river was deep enough that the water would reach to his waist if Derek were to stand in it.

"It's perfect," the woman whispered excitedly, an unsettling smile flitting over her features. She then turned to her son. "Don't worry, słoneczko, everything will be alright soon. Once the water has cleansed you, everything will be alright. I promise."

Derek wished he could close his eyes but he was bound to watch, unable to turn away.

When the boy finally became aware of what was happening, it was already too late - she already had pushed him down face first into the water.

He struggled, tried to scream. His arms and legs were kicking out, hitting her in a desperate attempt to break free from her hold.

But she didn't react, didn't feel the pain his kicks caused. Her grip was unrelenting and so strong, stronger than he was. And his kicks became weaker, his struggling feeble.

Derek clenched his teeth in an effort to suppress the scream that was building up in his throat.

It felt like an eternity to him as he watched - waiting for the boy's body to turn motionless even though he knew in the back of his mind that it wasn't possible because he would've never met him when he was older otherwise. But he just felt so helpless at the sad scene before him that he was sure that something did die that night, something got destroyed. Maybe it was the child's innocence, maybe the woman's clean conscious. Maybe even the father's hope of everything turning out to be alright.

It was the father that was able to subdue her and drag his son back to the surface again. His wife lay on the ground, laughing maniacally and screaming how close she had been - how close they had been to free them all from the evil that had befallen them.

At first, the boy wasn't breathing. His heart was still beating but he wasn't breathing. It might have been the shock, it might have been the amount of water in his lungs but he was just staring wide-eyed at his father, mouth open but unable to draw in air.

The father was frantically pressing a hand against the small chest, again and again, until the boy finally threw up all the water he had ingested. He drew in his first breath, then another one and another one. Without ever breathing out. He started to sound like a fish that got pulled out of the water.

Derek knew the signs: Panic attack.

The father took his son's hand and pressed it to his own chest, breathing in and out in an exaggerated fashion so that the boy could feel the movement of his chest. He told him to listen to him breathing and copy him.

It seemed to work.

It didn't manage to calm him down, though. As soon as he was able to breathe normally, he started to wail loudly, sobs wracking his body. His father tried shushing him but the boy wasn't listening to anything he said, probably couldn't even hear him over his cries of misery and shock so the man just hugged him closer, rocking them both softly on the ground.

He pressed both of his hands against the boy's ears so he wasn't able to hear the crazy rant of his mother anymore. A man couldn't look more betrayed than him as he looked at his wife, unable to understand how a loving devoted mother such as his wife could turn into a psychopath who tried to drown her own child.

Derek could see it in his eyes that he blamed himself more for this than he blamed his wife. He knew because he had seen the self-hatred and guilt in his own eyes every time he had looked into a mirror after the fire.

Thinking of Sheriff Stilinski as he was today, Derek never would have guessed that he would find himself in a moment in which he was able to relate to the man. He had always idolized the man - seen him as some sort of hero who always did what was right and knew how to handle every problem that got thrown in his way. It had been naive of him, even more so since the Sheriff had once been forced to arrest him.

But now the illusion of the man being a hero was thoroughly destroyed. Instead, he had become someone that reminded Derek all too much of his own failings.

Just like Sheriff Stilinski, he had chosen to disregard the signs that something was wrong and waited for a change to happen without ever addressing the issue. They had both decided to wait it out, to ignore the problem and they had both paid dearly for it.

Almost simultaneously with that realization came the light and engulfed him in its brightness.

***

When he was able to see again, everything was just plain white again.

The only colorful thing was the red string that was still tied securely around his pinkie finger. It might have been his imagination but he could have sworn that the thread was now much thicker and sturdier than before.

Curious as to where the string's other end had ended up, he tugged slightly at it, hoping for a response.

He didn't expect to watch the stretched string fall limply to the ground, almost as if it had gotten cut.

Becoming frantic at the implication of that, he picked it up and began to run.

Running when everything surrounding you was white was kind of surreal because Derek was never sure if he was actually moving or not. He could be running on his spot for all he knew, without getting an inch closer to his destination. This was how running in dreams sometimes felt like.

He was surprised when he arrived at a whole spider web in which his own string was tangled up in.

This was a nightmare. It would take him ages to determine where his string was leading and he definitely had to untangle the whole web first. He didn't have that much time, though.

"Stiles?! Stiles!" he called out as loudly as he could. There was no response.

Instead, more strings from the net fell limply to the ground. They had to be attached to something before. Something must have cut them loose.

And whatever they had been attached to seemed to have been able to stay upright only because the strings were keeping it that way. Slowly, everything around him began to crumble, cracks appearing in the white. Darkness was breaking its way through.

Without the support of the strings, this whole world was collapsing, Derek realized in horror.

"No," he whispered. "Goddamn it, this is not over."

Determined to not give up, he tugged harder at the string. He tugged and pulled with all his might, almost like he was in a tug-of-war, gaining inch by inch more of the string.

After a while, he realized that the string was obviously connected to something underneath where he was standing and that he was now holding its weight. Should he let go of the string now, it would fall.

How he hadn't felt the weight before was a mystery to him but he just kept pulling.

It wasn't until Stiles - completely drenched to the bones - came into view that he understood. Stiles must have been underwater. He was coughing up water still, only hanging on with one hand to the string.

Derek felt like he was standing at the edge of a cliff that was invisible and Stiles was the one hanging off of it like a fallen climber.

He almost had the teenager in reach when he suddenly heard the most horrifying sound imaginable in that situation. The sound of ripping.

"Derek! Stop! The string won't hold!" Stiles screamed.

"It will," Derek disagreed, not stopping. He was now crouched down, one hand already reaching towards Stiles. Only a couple inches more...

The string tore even more, causing Stiles to bounce down slightly.

Derek hardly suppressed a curse.

"You need to let go," Stiles said at which Derek rapidly shook his head.

"Are you crazy?! That's a terrible idea."

Derek kept pulling, now more cautiously. He just needed to be able to grab Stiles' hand...

"I'm going to fall anyway! Just - just stop!"

Derek gritted his teeth in frustration. "Why is there no ground beneath you? Can't you just imagine one?"

For a moment, the panic slid off of the teenager's face and got replaced by annoyance.

"Yeah, sure. Should I imagine a unicorn on which we will ride into the sunset as well while I'm at it?" he retorted defiantly. "It's not that easy, genius. Nothing's grounding me because all my strings got cut! They were kind of like my gravity, I guess. Everything's just falling apart now."

He sobered up by the end of his tirade, once more aware of how dire his situation was. He didn't want to drown again but without the string holding him up, he would fall into the water.

Finally, Derek seemed to realize that his endeavors of pulling Stiles up were in vain because he suddenly stopped.

"Better not let that string break as well, then," he simply said and before Stiles could ask what that meant, Derek had thrown himself over the edge.

They were both falling now, the string contracting, pulling them together so they were finally able to grasp the other's hand with their own.

Together they breached the surface of a seemingly endless body of water, sinking further and further until they weren't able to tell how far away the surface was.

Derek was the first who began to struggle against the pull of the water, trying to swim up. Bound to Stiles as he was, his movements were restrained and he had more weight than just himself to carry.

Stiles did nothing to help with the alpha's attempt to get back to the surface. Oddly enough, he found himself mentally going back to his living room at home, remembering the conversation he had had with his dad there.

“You get pulled into cold darkness, lose your orientation so you don’t even know anymore which way to swim to get to the surface. And your lungs catch on fire, you try to keep your mouth closed but eventually the reflex kicks in and you’re doing it anyway, just before you black out. It’s called voluntary apnea. And at that moment, everything stops hurting, everything’s over and you get sucked into darkness. But the pain is finally over. Why even try when you don’t know where the surface is and what awaits you there? Why not just-“

Why not just give up. That's what he wanted to say then.

And suddenly it made so much more sense why he described horrible feelings always with the analogy of drowning, why he had been so afraid of the river.

Why he still avoided thinking about the incident with the pool - why he had hesitated before jumping in after Derek.

He had been drowning all his life without really realizing it. Ever since that moment his own mother had pulled him underwater he had been drowning, sinking deeper and deeper into uncharted depths.

No wonder no one ever heard him. No wonder he felt like he was floating, but simultaneously like something was pulling him down.

He had let other people add to the weight, causing him to sink even faster. And had he struggled against it, trying to swim against the pull that was sucking him in?

He was aware of Derek's movements becoming slower. Even an alpha werewolf couldn't keep up his strength without oxygen and he was getting weaker.

Derek seemed to realize that as well because he looked apologetically at him, knowing that they would never reach the surface in time.

The bottomless ground beneath them felt cold and threatening.

And Stiles did the only thing that came to his mind. He opened his mouth.

***

They both opened their eyes, coughing up water with their clothes clinging wetly to their bodies like a second skin but very much alive and breathing.

Derek braced himself up on his elbows, looking over at Stiles to make sure that he was alright.

"What just happened?" he asked in a husky voice, sucking in air into his aching lungs.

Stiles' chest was rising and falling rapidly as he lay on the ground. "I just realized that we were drowning and decided that I didn't want to." Maybe that made sense only to him, seeing as Derek looked as confused as if he hadn't gotten an answer to his question at all. "Huh. Realization truly is the first step to recovery."

After they had ingested enough air to be strong enough to stand up again without getting dizzy, they took in their surroundings.

It was Stiles' flame, flaring as brightly as ever. Dancing in the air around it were millions and billions of sparks and embers, glimmering softly in the darkness. They somehow cast a glow that was able to paint the world in color. It was a stunning sight.

"It's magnificent," Derek breathed out next to him.

Stiles was a little bit surprised at his reaction. Awkwardly, he shifted on his feet. "I thought the sight of fire might... not be so pleasant for you."

Derek snorted, having caught up on what Stiles was insinuating with that comment. "I'm not afraid of fire, Stiles. I wasn't there when the fire happened so I never really associated it with... the pain and loss."

"What are you afraid of then?" He winced slightly at his intrusive question. "Obviously, I'm afraid of drowning," he added with a bitter grin.

Derek flinched slightly at the reminder of what he had witnessed before. Almost instinctively, he reached out a hand towards Stiles, noticing the thin-worn string between them. The once sturdy string now looked like it would snap at the slightest pressure.

His hand came to slowly rest on the teen's nape. The contact made the honey-brown eyes snap up to his in surprise.

"I'm afraid of being too late. Of keeping quiet when I should have said something and of doing nothing when doing anything at all would have been the better option," the alpha admitted quietly, his voice grave in a way that made it sound like he just confessed to committing a horrible crime. "If I hadn't gone along with everything Kate had said like a love sick puppy - if I had stopped to think for myself for just one minute - my family might not have died. All the signs were there that Kate wasn't who she appeared to be but I chose to ignore it."

Stiles' eyes softened noticeably as he took in the pained expression of the other man.

It was somewhat startling how alike they were in their flaws. Both of them had been so afraid of one particular thing that they had fallen victim to their greatest fear.

Stiles had been drowning all along and Derek had stayed passive.

So Stiles decided to do them both a favor and reached out to catch one of the sparks in his hand. He then brought it closer to the string, letting it mend the frayed parts of it.

At Derek's questioning look, Stiles just shrugged. "I need to stay on the ground somehow. Can't really afford for the last string to break."

"What about the other strings?" The question was tentative, the hand on his nape wandering to the teen's face, now tracing a cheekbone.

"Gone," Stiles answered in a tight voice. He swallowed heavily. "I guess it's time for me to rebuild now." He let out a little laugh. "It's so easy to talk about it now, with the soothing light of the flame and the sparks surrounding me. But we can't stay here forever."

"Whenever you're ready," Derek simply replied. Now that there was no danger anymore of one of them dying, he didn't mind the delay. In fact, he probably would rather like it to remain here for a while. There was no one but the two of them, surrounded by something so beautiful and magical; it was hard to think about the aftermath of the night that would await them once they got back.

Stiles lifted up his hand and let it softly sweep over Derek's eyes, demanding them to close. The alpha obeyed to his silent command, only arching a curious eyebrow. Satisfied, Stiles closed his own eyes and rested his forehead against Derek's, his hands framing the alpha's face. It was easier to concentrate on them both while they were touching.

When they opened their eyes again, they were back in the real world.

Chapter Text

The first thing Stiles became aware of was the heavy weight on his left leg which made it hard to move around. He tried to wriggle himself out of whatever it was but as soon as he twisted his leg a little, sharp pain shot through his whole body.

"Don't move around too much yet," someone told him.

As Stiles' eyes slowly adjusted to the light, he was able to make out that the voice belonged to his dad.

"Dad?"

His own voice cracked to his embarrassment, his throat too dry to enunciate words smoothly. He cleared his throat and gratefully accepted the styrofoam cup filled with water from his dad.

"You scared us all to death, Stiles. If you pull off stunts like that one, your close watch on my diet is completely void, do you realize that?"

Now that he really looked at him, Stiles could see that his father was exhausted. There were bags under his eyes, his skin was pale and his hair a mess. It looked like he hadn't left the hospital room for a minute longer than he really had to.

"How long was I out?" Stiles asked, trying to keep his panic at the thought at bay. The last thing he remembered was lying in the graveyard, surrounded by the pack and his dad. What had happened since then?

More importantly, why was he still alive?

"It's been a day since... since the incident. Apparently, the... werewolves - and yes, we'll definitely need to talk about that when you're feeling better - went a little overboard with the pain-taking-thing. It knocked you out. Which is good, I suppose, because your leg was broken in two different places. The surgery took three hours, Stiles. Three. Long. Agonizing. Hours. You're lucky they managed to reconstruct the bone completely, considering how many splinters there were," the Sheriff explained with furrowed brows.

At the mention of his leg, Stiles looked down and found a massive looking, pink cast that enveloped his foot and went up until a few inches over his knee. He grimaced slightly. That one would be a bitch to move around with.

"Danny chose the color," the older Stilinski said with a small smile. But the smile didn't stay long before his features darkened again. "He's quite cross with you for saying goodbye to him like you were planning on not coming back."

Stiles gulped down the guilt, not meeting his father's eyes. What was he supposed to say to that? His decision to go on a suicide mission might look stupid from their point of view but it was the only option that had made sense to him at the time. No apology could make up for it, though, no matter what his intentions had been.

Jon Stilinski sighed deeply.

Then he rested his hand on his son's shoulder, causing him to look up and meet his gaze.

"The pack is waiting. They want to know what happened. But if you're not ready, I'll send them away. You just woke up after surgery, you deserve a little rest."

"Can you tell them to go away?"

He sounded unsure and tired and that was exactly how he felt. He wanted to cocoon himself in a blanket, preferably underneath a pillow fort and hide away from the world.

What he had seen of it in the last few days had just been too harsh and unforgiving and he wanted to turn his back on it.

"Sure, buddy," his dad answered him, not giving away whether he was pleased with his son's decision or not. He just gave Stiles' shoulder a squeeze before he stood up from his seat to go outside and tell the pack to go home for the day.

It didn't take long until he got back.

In his arms was a plump blue pillow which Stiles immediately recognized as his own.

Jon held it out to him with a small smile, the gesture as much a peace offering as an apology. His dad knew better than anyone else that he couldn't sleep well without his pillow and since his dreams would be restless enough from the horrible memories he still had to process completely, the pillow would be his best chance to get any sleep at all.

It was a small consolation in the general scheme of things but Stiles was grateful for it nevertheless. He hated hospitals.

"How long do I have to stay here?" he asked with a hint of hope in his voice that the answer would be what he wanted it to be.

His father sighed again. "Two more days at least. They wanted to keep you for three but Melissa talked to the doctor for you. She had an inkling that you wouldn't want to stay here longer than necessary. You have to follow the doctor's instructions faithfully after you're released."

Two days. That meant this night and the one after that. The thought alone made his stomach churn. How was he supposed to sleep here? How was he supposed to rest when everything reminded him of his mother's death?

The white walls, the clinical cleanliness, the smell of disinfectant... He couldn't stomach it.

He wanted to leave immediately.

"I could stay with you," his dad offered suddenly as if he had read his thoughts.

"You have work," Stiles pointed out with a dry throat. Not being alone sounded so tempting. They could stay up all night and play scrabble, or monopoly.... But no, he wasn't a little kid anymore. Wanting his father to stay with him would be ridiculous for a boy his age.

"You're more important."

"Dad, you can't afford to miss work! I'm sure the police has their hands full with the mess at the graveyard."

"No," the Sheriff shook his head, then he grabbed the newspaper he had been reading while his son had still been sleeping from the nightstand and showed it to Stiles. "They connected the death of the cult with the corpses found in the warehouse district and concluded that they're one and the same case. The newspaper calls it "a satanic ritual gone wrong". All the victims are being returned to their families so they can arrange a proper funeral for them. All the missing cases are considered closed now."

Stiles quickly skimmed the article, noting that they were only talking about seven victims found in a warehouse, and thirteen people dying from third-degree burns at the graveyard. But what about the man whose grave had gotten desecrated? What had happened to him?

The thought made him shudder. Everything had been planned and accounted for thus far. It was definitely not a coincidence that his body hadn't been found yet. Stiles had no doubt that he would surface soon, in the way the mastermind behind all this wanted him to.

"It's over now," his dad assured him, having noticed what had him worried. "They are all dead. Even the leader of that cult. I got him right in the chest. No one can survive a bullet to the heart."

"But there's no body. You should know better than to proclaim someone dead without seeing the body first! That's the mistake the heroes make in the movies but not in real life," Stiles argued fervently.

The Sheriff shook his head. "Doesn't matter. His corpse will show up eventually because there is no way he got medical help that quickly. Think about it. Hospitals have to report bullet wounds to the police so even if he somehow managed to get to one in time, we'd still get him in the end. You don't have to worry about him, I promise."

"That guy is like me - a spark! A really powerful one at that. He killed mom, don't you think he knows how to stay alive at his point?"

He sounded hysterical, only seconds away from hyperventilating.

"Stiles," his dad tried to calm him down. He gripped the teenager's hand tightly in his own. "It's gonna be okay. Even if he survived - which is not very likely - then I'm just gonna make sure that the next bullet does the job."

Stiles' chest was still heaving, his breathing deep and ragged like the many times he woke up after a nightmare. The panic had his heart in a tight grip, almost as tight as the grip of his father's hand on his own.

"You're a man of the law. You can't just act like a vigilante and carry out self-administered-justice just because the case got personal. You're not Batman," Stiles scolded his old man, trying hard for a smile but failing.

His dad sighed tiredly. "In some instances, the lines blur. There is no difference anymore between being a police officer and being a father. I can't just be one of them, I'm both of them at once. The law should be my priority... but as a father, my priority will always be your safety. There were times when I've failed you in this regard but - killing a man means nothing, nothing at all, to me if it keeps you safe."

Stiles had to gulp, his throat threatening to close off with the amount of guilt he was feeling.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered, tears gathering in his eyes. He tried to wipe them away before they could fall. "If I hadn't kept so many secrets - lied to you..."

A pained expression appeared on his father's face which made him feel even worse. Before he could spout off another apology, though, his dad had already gathered him in his arms, one hand rubbing soothingly up and down his back.

"None of this is your fault," his dad told him firmly, leaving no room for argument. "God, Stiles, I could've lost you that night. All that matters to me now is that you're alive. Everything else, we'll manage. I'll work harder, we're going to talk more - whatever is necessary. It's going to be okay."

Stiles didn't cry, he just let himself be held in the warm, comforting arms of his dad and if he clung to him a little harder than necessary, none of them were ever going to address it.

His dad ended up staying the night, breaking hospital policy and telling him stories about the land he was born in, about his mother and how happy she had been when she realized that she was pregnant with him. They even delved into not so happy parts of his dad's history and Stiles got to hear about his father's time serving the military, learned how much the deaths his dad had been responsible for still bothered him. In the eyes of many, his dad might have been a man with blood on his hands, a man who had acted out of duty. In Stiles' eyes, his dad was still the hero he had thought him to be when he was six years old.

***

Even when the sun had finally started to appear on the horizon, signaling that the night was over, the pack hadn't been able to feel the relief. They had felt their shoulders drop, they had heaved out a huge breath collectively that they hadn't been aware they had been holding. But even though all of those gestures indicated that a burden had been lifted off of their shoulders, they couldn't really feel free from it. The phantom pain of the weight had continued to haunt them as they had been watching the sparks fall from the sky like fallen stars.

The beauty of the occurrence had been just as heart-breaking as it had been stunning.

The moment Stiles had opened his eyes, the sparks had flown straight at him, diving into him like raindrops falling into the ocean - back where they rightfully belonged.

His amber eyes had had an unnatural glow to them, only for a moment, before he had slipped back into unconsciousness. They had all seen it, though.

And now they didn't know what to make of it.

This was Stiles - plain, old Stiles they had known for years. But suddenly it felt like they had never really known him at all.

Or rather, as if they could have if they ever had really taken the time to do so.

It was then that they all were really hit with the remorse for what they had been doing. The old saying that you only become truly aware of what you've got when you've already lost it was all too accurate in their case and made them flood with shame and guilt.

Even though Stiles had thankfully survived the night, it became all too clear that they had still lost him in some way as they got sent home from the hospital without being allowed to see him.

Strangely enough, the one they had expected to be most persistent that they see him right then and there was also the one who had ushered them all outside and snapping down their complaints. Derek seemed to understand why it was best to give Stiles some space and time alone with his dad.

They didn't ask him but they were sure it had to do with what the alpha had seen in Stiles' memories.

They were allowed to visit him the next day, though, since Stiles himself declared that there were things he needed to tell them. In all honesty, they were curious but they hadn't expected him to be so willing to talk about everything that had happened. He was in no way indebted to them. Hell, it was the other way round and they knew it too.

Naturally, the first to see Stiles was Malia, whom Peter had to drive to the hospital as soon as visiting hours had begun.

She ran into his room and threw herself over him while letting out a few sobs in relief at seeing him alive and awake.

Stiles had to suppress a groan of pain as he stroked her hair.

"Hey, hey, shh. Calm down. I'm okay. Everything's fine," he tried to soothe her but all his efforts were in vain. The only thing that convinced her was hearing his heartbeat so she spent a good ten minutes just pressing her ear against his chest, listening.

She didn't even mind that Burly had already been there before her (he had snuck in during the night, that little sneaky fox) and was now draped over Stiles' shoulders like a scarf.

Stiles continued to talk soothingly to her, even when Peter entered the hospital room.

"The pink does wonderful things to your skin, Stiles. I think you should consider wearing that color more often."

Stiles smirked as the older Hale took a seat next to his bed, using the exact same chair that his dad had vacated before he had gotten called into the police station.

"Don't compliment him," Malia growled, her face still pressed against Stiles' chest. "He doesn't deserve that yet. He very nearly left me behind forever!"

Pain flickered over Stiles' features and his whole posture tensed. It was easy to tell that he was dealing with feelings of guilt and remorse and so Peter Hale decided to let up on the scolding he had been prepared to do when he stepped foot into the room. Stiles was suffering enough as it was.

"You broke our deal, Stiles. How was mommy supposed to take care of you when you go behind my back?"

"I didn't break our deal!" Stiles defended himself. "There were no new developments with the book, not really. I already knew about being a spark before you made me promise that so I didn't really break it, strictly speaking."

Peter raised his eyebrows, not able to suppress the amused grin at the clever way Stiles had found to get around their deal.

Just then, the teenager seemed to realize something because his face blanched. "Don't call yourself my mom. It's disturbing."

Normally, Peter would've just continued to tease him but looking at the teenager's face, he knew that he had hit a sore spot. He didn't want to torment him any further.

Just then, Cora and Laura entered the room, the first stomping her way to his bed angrily.

"Stilinski, you've got a whole world of pain coming, just so you know. You big, massive jerk! What the hell were you thinking?!" Cora snapped at him, clearly furious. She boxed his shoulder none too gently but still not hard enough to actually hurt him.

"I'm sorry? Cory-kins? Don't be mad at me, please?"

He shamelessly tried to use the sad puppy-eyes on her and she had to admit, with a small, fluffy fox wrapped around his shoulder and a twelve-year-old girl hugging the hell out him, it was rather effective.

"You're such a moosehead, moosehead," she told him with narrowed eyes. Then she huffed and just made enough room for herself on the bed so she could cuddle up to his side that wasn't already occupied by Malia.

"You're still not escaping punishment, just so you know," she threatened him but he was none to worried about it since her head was resting peacefully on his shoulder and her arm was hooked around his own.

Laura took a seat at the foot of his bed and rested one of her hands on the leg that wasn't in a cast. Even she seemed to be in need of bodily contact today, no matter how composed she appeared to be.

Truthfully, Stiles didn't mind all the attention. For the first time since he woke up in the hospital, he truly felt at ease. Maybe that's what it felt like to be surrounded by family. He was home, no matter where he was.

He tensed up again a bit, though, when the rest of the pack finally joined them.

Danny, Allison, Lydia, and Jackson stood awkwardly in the doorway, just watching as Isaac and Scott immediately went over to the bed. Scott ruffled his best friend's hair briefly and gifted him with a lopsided grin.

"Damn, Stiles. What a night," he said.

Stiles couldn't help but grin in return. Scott almost made it sound like they had spent a night out partying instead of fighting evil and nearly dying.

Isaac patted Burly's head in greeting and gave Stiles a tentative smile.

"I guess we weren't stealthy enough to take us with you that time, huh?"

"I try not to make it a habit to take two gossipers with me to the graveyard," Stiles replied, not unkindly.

As Isaac reached that particular spot behind Burly's ears, the fox started to purr and stretched his head towards Isaac's hand.

"What, that thing is alive?" Jackson exclaimed in surprise. He wrinkled his nose, now aware of the animal's smell.

Stiles huffed in indignation and reached out a hand to pat Burly as well.

"How observant of you, Sherlock. But maybe you were talking about me? You never know when it comes to you."

Jackson's face darkened but he didn't reply. Instead, he lowered his head in shame, which surprised Stiles more than the lack of an equally barbed remark.

What was even more confusing was the sharp look Derek had sent to his beta, almost as if he was already scolding the blonde for the things he hadn't even said yet.

Speaking of the alpha, he was standing by the window, arms crossed in front of his chest and looking as serious as ever. There was a scowl on his face as he turned his attention back to Stiles.

Erica was uncharacteristically quiet which was rather odd as well. Allison and Lydia were still hanging back, almost as if they were afraid of coming closer.

Well, let's get this over with, Stiles thought. There really was no need to prolong the awkwardness so Stiles decided to address the elephant in the room.

After inhaling deeply, he started to tell them about the book he had found and what powers it awakened. When he started to explain how he found Burly - who at that point sent all of the werewolves a warning glare - he got interrupted the first time.

"Are you sure that's the same fox? I was sure he was dead... he was so heavily wounded..." Scott asked, looking guilty still over something he had had no control over.

Burly fletched his teeth at the reminder, although he probably had no idea what they were talking about. His level of perception was quite astonishing, something he had definitely gained through the spark.

"Yes, I'm sure. I found him nearly half-dead but I was able to help him. He's been by my side ever since. Right, Burls?"

Just as he turned his head to look at the fox, the animal did the same which caused his nose and Burly's snout to bump together. Stiles heard some of the others in the room aww as Burly briefly sprawled out his tongue to touch his nose. Stiles grinned but flicked the animal's snout in retaliation.

"Okay, fox-whisperer. Run that by me again. How exactly did you manage to nurse a mauled fox back to health?" Jackson asked, somewhat annoyed. It sounded like he had to fight hard to not roll his eyes.

"Well, if I hadn't gotten interrupted, I would've told you," Stiles said, just as snarkily. "It was an attempt out of curiosity - I didn't really know what the sparks could do, then - but it worked and Burly was completely healed. I guess giving him a spark also kind of formed a connection between us. I thought I'd never see him again but he came back to me the next day. And I'm glad he did. Without Burly, things might not have turned out so well in the end."

He continued his tale with the explanation of how he was able to find the alpha, all thanks to Burly. The animal preened at the praise, sitting with a straightened spine on his lap as if he was about to be handed a medal for his service to humanity. His furry white chest was puffed up with pride, his ears standing at attention.

Stiles smiled slightly but he was at the point of his story where the purpose of the evil guys would get revealed and since that topic was anything but funny, the smile faltered almost immediately after it had formed.

He tried to explain it all as comprehensible as possible for them since they hadn't all the knowledge that he had.

He started explaining that the spark may be very powerful but that it still entirely depended on him because it was basically an extended part of him. The book was supposed to give him back his full power but only in little fragments that he had to earn. He couldn't look any of them in the eyes as he told them that he had gotten impatient and so had decided to force a spark into the book in order to make it cooperate faster.

In the end, this decision had brought on his downfall and had nearly doomed the whole town to a horrible fate.

It might have been foolish to trust the book but to his defense, he had thought that it wouldn't harm him since it possessed only his mom's spark. Maybe everything would have been different if he had known the true circumstances of his mother's death. He certainly would have been more wary of the book then.

And maybe he would've figured out sooner that whoever had killed his mother and had taken over her power was still in control of that one spark. Maybe he would've never amplified that power with one of his one sparks if he had had reason to fear that someone else had access to the book as well.

But it was useless to think in hypotheticals.

"Wait - if this whole damn charade was because that guy wanted the book and consequently the spark in it, why didn't he just extract the spark? I mean, you said that that is a possibility and that you've done it before."

Surprisingly, the question came from Isaac who normally tended to stay in the background whenever important matters were being discussed.

"I guess he wasn't able to because he wasn't in full control over that one. The book was meant for me and that gave me a claim to the spark in it as well. Using her name couldn't change that fact. That's probably also the reason why he needed me to literally hand it over. Maybe if I gave it up, I'd also give up my right to the spark. I'm not really sure about that. The book was supposed to give me answers but..." Stiles had to gulp as he was reminded of what he had been forced to sacrifice. "it had to be destroyed so there wouldn't be anything left for them to take."

Peter raised his eyebrows as he thought of something. "Doctor Evil told us that you had bound yourself to the book - whatever that entails. Wouldn't that mean that destroying the book-"

"Would also destroy me," Stiles finished for him with a grim expression. "It's true. That's also how they broke my leg. In fact, it was thanks to that that I realized that destroying it was the only chance I had to deny him the spark. Mom's and mine. If they had gotten the book, they would've had a possibility to extract my names and, man, that's not something that should happen, like ever. I don't want to end up like a mindless man-killing puppet for the evil guys. No thanks."

"Who the hell is Doctor Evil?" Derek asked with furrowed eyebrows. He obviously was focusing on the most important information in Peter's question.

"He's the one that Austin Power is trying to defeat because of his evilness."

"Stiles." The warning growl had an underlying tone of frustration to it, so Stiles stopped fooling around.

"I have no idea. All I know is that he's dangerous, a spark like me but a million times more powerful and a merciless murderer," Stiles answered. "Dad says he killed him, though."

Not that Stiles believed that the mastermind behind all this was truly dead. He would know if he were, he was sure of it. Forging a connection to the book had also forged a weak connection between the two of them. If he were truly dead, the connection wouldn't exist anymore. But Stiles could still feel it, like a slight itch from a fading mosquito bite.

"If destroying the book meant that you would die as well, why are you still alive? It obviously was able to harm you, judging by your leg."

Lydia's question may sound cruel and heartless but Stiles perceived it as the practical and sensible question that it was. Logic was the only solace for people as smart as Lydia when the insanity of the world got to her. He could all too well understand that, seeing as he researched random facts to anchor himself when he couldn't sleep. There was a certain beauty to the knowledge that some things were indisputably true.

"Because me dying was never the goal. I could see the panic in the henchman's eyes when he realized what I was about to do. They never accounted for me dying. God, if I had, throwing their plans to the wind like that would have been worth it."

"No, it wouldn't have!" Derek snapped suddenly, absolutely enraged at Stiles' words. He had made his way over from the window faster than a human would have been able to. "Stop talking like that! It was an unnecessary risk you took. You acted impulsively, without thinking about the consequences. Stop acting that way, like you dying would have been just a means to an end. You dying isn't the solution to anything, no matter the problem and no matter how convenient for an answer it may be."

They glared at each other, both with a glint of defiance in their eyes. Stiles couldn't believe that Derek dared to talk to him like that. Like he wasn't aware what his decision had entailed and what it had very nearly cost him. It had never been his own life he had been all too worried about. What had made it a tough decision was the knowledge of the impact he would leave behind on all the people that cared about him. God, his dad would have been devastated. And Malia...

He was the first one to look away, the guilt too big a lump in his throat to withstand Derek's glare without choking.

"I didn't mean it like that," he conceded weakly. "I'm sorry."

"It's us who should be apologizing here," Danny interjected. "If we had been a pack to you than you wouldn't have felt like you needed to deal with this all on your own. Clearly, when left to your own devices, you finally figure out that you're much more powerful than us. Man, did we miss out."

Danny smiled slightly which was apparently so contagious that Isaac, Scott, and Erica broke out in a huge smile too.

"No kidding. Things never get boring around you, do they?" Cora chimed in smugly. "Since I've met you, I've gained a friend, was the leading general in a food war and I got to witness the health revolution you accidently set into gear. Not to mention that you got cursed by a stuffed moose. I've never had that much fun in school."

"And I've learned to control my shift! I even was in total control on the night of the Blood Moon," Malia announced gleefully, hugging him extra tightly for that.

"We've met Burly and been part of a stake-out at the graveyard. You made us dig up a freaking coffin. In hindsight, that was kinda awesome," Isaac said, happy to contribute his own adventures with Stiles. Scott nodded along enthusiastically.

"Glad that your adventures with Stiles were all so much fun while I got to deal with a prissy principal. And I had to compliment that woman's taste in art because you managed to damage her sculpture. Laura, have you ever seen anything so awful? How can you work with her out of your own free will?" Peter looked curiously at his niece.

"God, no. I'm so glad that thing's gone," Laura said with a laugh. "I didn't know I had you to thank for that, Stiles."

"Actually, it was Malia. I just knocked it off of its pedestal," Stiles corrected sheepishly. "She was the one who broke it."

"Yeah, after I caught it, jerk. At least I didn't call my future principal 'sir'."

"Hey, that was an honest mistake! Could've happened to anyone!"

As Laura, Peter, Cora and Malia shared a laugh, the rest of the pack felt pretty left out.

Cora was the one who noticed their vibe of envy because she smugly looked at them and said, "Well, you've all missed out, really. That must suck."

"Let that be a lesson to you. Leave someone to their own devices and they might experience the greatest, funniest, unbelievable, magical moments without you and you'll never be able to take that back," Laura shared her wisdom with them generously.

Jackson shifted on his feet, not meeting their eyes and Allison and Lydia dropped their heads in remorse. Erica looked longingly at the crowd that had gathered around Stiles' bed, not daring to step closer yet.

"Maybe we won't miss out so much in the future. It gets dull and boring without you way too quickly. It's not the same without you around," Danny admitted good-naturedly, not at all pressing the matter of Stiles coming back which Stiles was really thankful for.

He couldn't bring himself to forgive them so quickly after abandoning him so easily. He had more self-respect than that. But he also knew that holding on to a grudge wouldn't make him feel better about that.

"We'll see," Stiles said, not giving them any illusions whatsoever how he thought about them. "I can't actually say that my life has been boring without you. I even thought that I've been doing pretty well on my own until recently."

Their faces fell, except for Jackson of course, who acted like he couldn't even hear them. Their disappointment and guilt were practically oozing from their skin at this point. It didn't really help that their alpha glared them down as if they had been responsible for unskippable commercials on Youtube.

Stiles rolled his eyes at their dramatic reactions. In his eyes, they were all helpless, the bunch of them. "Aw, just come here and let me hug you to rejoice in the fact that we've survived the night against the odds. Show some appreciation to the ones who saved your furry asses already." He gestured with the hand that wasn't wrapped around Malia for them to come closer.

Erica and Danny didn't hesitate to accept the invitation and hugged him so tightly it was nearly impossible to breathe.

Boyd was more laid back and just bumped his fist against his own.

"Thanks for saving our asses, man," he even dutifully parroted. Stiles would have awarded him kudos if he had said 'furry asses'.

Lydia threw her hair over her shoulders, grabbed Allison's hand and made her way over to them.

"I missed the way your mind works. Being the most intelligent one is becoming tedious. I live for competition."

Coming from her, that was actually a real compliment.

Allison smiled shyly at him. All she said, though, was a quiet, "I was wrong before. So very wrong."

He wasn't quite sure to which time she was referring to - to the time she told him that he wasn't good for the pack or the time she had told him to leave - but he guessed that it didn't really matter.

She had been right. There had been no place for him in the pack before. And fighting for one had been futile because he had fought for a rank when all he wanted was to be considered family.

Honestly, right now, he didn't care whether he was considered pack or not or whether there was even a place for him in the pack.

He had a family now. Laura, Cora, Malia and even Peter had all stood by him when everyone else had turned their back on him. They just so happened to be a part of the Hale pack as well.

And Scott and Isaac were his friends, they had made an effort to get to know him and to help him. He knew now that he could count on them. They also just so happened to be part of the Hale pack.

With time, maybe even Danny could become his friend. Who knew? The future was an open book with unwritten pages.

He didn't know if he would ever see eye to eye with Jackson, if he could ever forgive Allison and Erica for shoving him out of the way so they could secure their places. Maybe one day he would look at Lydia without his heart aching at the reminder that she had basically ignored him whenever he wasn't convenient to her.

Maybe one day Derek and he could sort out their conflicting feelings for each other and come together as a beautiful melody he had once envisioned them to be.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Chapter Text

Winning one battle didn't mean winning the war.

Stiles thought about that at night, lying in the hospital bed. As predicted, he wasn't able to sleep. His past and his present were clashing together in a violent battle over who got to take control now that everything was out in the open.

Before, he had been just the foolish boy who ran with wolves. Who considered himself part of their pack. Always aware that he was their weakest link, always aware that he was the least needed one, the least useful.

And he had accepted the role he played.

But it was different now, wasn't it?

The past was overruling everything he was, tainting his present with ugly truths he had never been able to acknowledge.

And who was he now?

Was he someone to be feared and respected because he had power -because he could do what others only dreamed of being able to do?

When Stiles closed his eyes and concentrated, he could see the flame flaring brightly, sparks and embers dancing through the dark in silent worship of their source - the flame in their middle like a king among his peasants at a festivity.

At moments, it felt like the flame was in control of him and not the other way around as it should be. And that scared him.

It scared him because it made him doubt whether there was some truth to his mother's crazy tirades. If he couldn't control the power and the power instead was in control of him - didn't that expose him as the evil his mother had declared him to be? Didn't that mean he was a threat that needed to be taken care of?

As strong and stable as he had appeared to be in front of the pack, it was really all pretense. There was nothing strong about him now.

Here he was lying wide awake, too scared to close his eyes. Once again afraid of the dark like a little child.

He was quiet, not crying out to someone to help him as he would've done if he were a kid still.

But someone came to save him anyway.

The silhouette of the intruder was small and, therefore, not all that threatening in appearance but Stiles felt his heartbeat faltering ever so slightly nonetheless. Hell, he was scared of mere shadows right now. He probably would have felt threatened by a houseplant.

"It's me. I'm sorry to wake you."

He recognized the voice immediately and heaved out a sigh of relief. His fearful state was embarrassing but at least his visitor was not one to make fun of him. He was probably as scared of the dark right now as Stiles was.

"It's okay, Come here," Stiles sat up and beckoned Ray to come closer. The boy did so shyly. "What are you doing here? I thought you were feeling better?"

His honest concern about the boy was a welcome distraction from his dark and gloomy thoughts.

Stiles made some room for Ray on the bed, nearly waking up Burly in the process. The boy lay down next to him, his hand immediately reaching for the fox to pet him.

"I'm okay. It's just a check-up. My doctors are worried about me and I felt a little weird two nights ago," Ray explained calmly.

Two nights ago. The night Stiles had very nearly died. Was it possible that Ray had been feeling the effects of it, just like Burly was able to sometimes?

"I heard that you're hurt. I was really worried," Ray admitted quietly.

"I'm okay."

"You're in the hospital, though," Ray countered.

"I'm going to be okay."

Ray was silent for a moment. Then he asked, in a small voice, "Why couldn't you just heal yourself? You're magic."

Stiles and his dad had speculated about that as well because the sparks had healed everybody else before they had returned to him. Lydia and Allison had been pretty banged up before arriving at the graveyard but now there was not a single scratch on them. Everyone was alright now. Except for him.

"Well, I am the magic, right? Giving it to myself would be like taking a cookie out of my own cookie jar and giving it to myself. I'd just have the same amount of cookies that I had before. It makes the action of giving completely void," Stiles explained thoughtfully.

His mother had told him that the spark was about balance. Maybe not being invincible was supposed to humble him. Maybe it was supposed to keep his power in check, reminding him that he was still only human after all.

Ray seemed to think about what he said because he fell silent. When the silence continued to stretch out between them, Stiles was beginning to think that the boy had fallen asleep. It was probably pretty late, he didn't know the exact time.

But then Ray's hand snuck into his own and squeezed with as much strength as the boy was capable of.

"I- I didn't understand. But I think I do now. I'm so sorry that I called you a liar," Ray said, sniveling loudly. "I didn't think you could get hurt!"

Alarmed, Stiles looked at the door. He was almost expecting a nurse to enter the room because of all the noise but nothing happened.

Ray was still crying, making himself even more upset by the second. It broke Stiles' heart. The teenager sat up, switched on the bedroom lamp and hugged Ray.

"Don't cry, buddy. I'm not mad at you."

"You're not?" Ray didn't sound convinced.

"No, definitely not. You had a right to get mad. It's good that you did," Stiles told him, with a level of firmness that should convey how serious he was, that he wasn't simply trying to soothe him. "Bad things happen. They happen to us and to others. And we get angry about them. Because it's the only thing we can do about it."

"But I'm getting tired of being angry. Sometimes I just want... I don't know. I want to not feel. That'd be an awesome superpower to have, I think."

"Me, too," Stiles agreed. "But if nobody cared - if nobody got angry anymore - then heroes wouldn't exist at all, I guess."

Following his advice, Ray did get mad at that. "What good are heroes, though?! They can't do a thing! Look at you! You're in here, too, aren't you?!"

Again, Stiles looked anxiously at the door, praying that no one would come in.

Burly had woken up from the commotion and had taken to hiding under the bed. He didn't like the tension that was coming from both of his humans on the bed. It was disturbing his sleep.

"Well, isn't it nice to know that heroes are only human, too? That they're just like me and you? It means that we can be heroes too, doesn't it?" Stiles asked.

Ray's bottom lip wobbled with the struggle to keep in the sobs. His eyes were tear filled and wide, giving him the look of a scared animal. "I don't want to be a hero, Stiles. I'm too sad."

And Stiles could understand that feeling. He wanted to hide too. Turn his back on the world and every person that lives in it. He wanted to wallow in his pain and be angry.

"That's okay. I'm sad too. You can cry if you feel like it."

The tears did fall then. Not only Ray's but also his own. He had held them in long enough, doing his hardest to not appear weak in front of his family and friends.

But it didn't matter in front of Ray. The boy wouldn't think any less of him for it.

Burly came out of his hiding place then and jumped back onto the bed. He licked over Stiles' tearstained face once before he went on to do the same to the kid. As sad as he was, Ray couldn't help but laugh.

"Tell you what," the teenager said, wiping away the tear tracks on his cheeks. "Anyone who says that heroes don't cry is a liar. Being a hero is not a full-time occupation. So tonight, we cry and we hide. We get angry. Just shows that we care, right? And tomorrow, tomorrow, we'll be awesome again. We're awesome, wouldn't you say? We can't deprive the world of that. That'd be just cruel."

"Only tonight?" Ray asked. "What about the day after tomorrow? Do I have to be awesome then, too? That sounds like a lot of work."

Stiles smiled sadly. "Of course it's a lot of work. We'll try, though. Doesn't matter if it doesn't work. We don't have to be awesome all the time. That would make other people feel inferior."

"But we should try anyway?" Ray seemed to understand what Stiles was very clumsily trying to say.

"Yes. It's the only way. I told you once people are like stars, right? Well, we should at least try to shine. Or else, the night sky will be totally dark. And you never know when someone is lost and needs the light to find their way home."

"Because kindness shines the brightest." Ray nodded with a serious expression on his face, almost as if Stiles had given him an important task. "I promise to try. Do you promise too?"

"Cross my heart and hope to die."

***

They both kept their promise.

The next day, Stiles' hospital room was swarmed with visitors once again, but these ones were a little too small to take up much space.

The children Stiles had once visited were now the ones visiting him, which was kind of ironic but also very welcome.

When his dad arrived, he found them all drawing, the kids surrounding Stiles' bed and using it as a desk. Stiles himself had markings of watercolors on his clothes and face, his cast covered in hearts and signatures. He looked ridiculous.

Jon smiled at the sight.

Sasha was trying her best to criticize Stiles' unicorn but the teenager was having none of it.

"It doesn't even look like a horse! I have a horse, you know, her name's Melody. Horses don't look that way. And if it doesn't look like a horse, it sure doesn't look like a unicorn."

"Sure it does. Here's the horn," Stiles defended his drawing, pointing at the stick protruding from the creature's forehead. In all honesty, he knew that it looked more like a monkey with an ugly haircut trying to swallow a traffic pole but he wasn't ready to admit that.

"I like it," Ray tried to console Stiles. "It looks happy."

Well, at least Sasha couldn't argue that point. The big smile he had drawn on the unicorn's face was unmistakable.

***

Moving with crutches was the hardest thing Stiles ever had to do. It felt like he had gained two more limbs, and he already had had a hard time not stumbling over the number of feet that he was born with. To him, it felt like he had gotten upgraded from an AT-ST Walker to an AT-AT Walker and he said as much but no one got the joke, reminding him that he still needed to make his friends watch 'Star Wars'.

Normally, Stiles would use the crutches only when he really had to. He wasn't supposed to move around all that much, anyway, until they would finally get the cast off and replace it instead with a much lighter splint. He had another two weeks to endure the heavy weight of the cast, though.

So, yeah, Stiles tended to take advantage of that and made other people do stuff for him while he was goofing off on the couch. Not today, though. Today he had insisted on him being present for Alphaba's departure.

It was a big day for everyone, but even more so for Scott.

Lea and Scott had spent as much time as they could with each other, which wasn't much but still enough to grow attached enough to make the goodbye bittersweet.

Lea gave Scott her new address and phone number and promised him to keep in contact. She told him that he would always be considered part of her pack, even though he already belonged to another.

As Stiles and the pack watched the two of them hug and say their goodbyes, Stiles couldn't help but say, "It does feel like Scott is the kid of freshly divorced parents that decided to stay with his dad, doesn't it? He now gets twice the amount of presents at Christmas."

Derek, standing with his arms crossed in front of his chest, scoffed. "Don't make me the dad of this immature bunch."

Stiles smirked. "I didn't. But interesting that you immediately assume I was referring to you when I said dad. I think your subconscious is trying to tell you something, Derek."

Derek growled but the corners of his mouth were twitching slightly. "It's telling me to take away your crutches. Right now."

"You wouldn't dare!" Stiles cried out, waving one of them around. He nearly lost his balance because of that.

"I wouldn't bet on it."

But, of course, he didn't. He and Peter even helped Stiles climb the steps to the porch by just hooking their arms around each of Stiles' and heaving him up. Stiles only didn't complain because climbing steps still scared him slightly and because it was less embarrassing than being carried bridal style.

They were supposed to watch Star Wars but as Stiles was settled on the couch (he got the whole couch to himself for once) Peter suddenly announced that Alphaba hadn't departed without leaving a present for Stiles.

He handed Stiles a sappy 'get-well-soon'-card with animals with ridiculous looking casts and band-aids on it. Written inside of it were only a few short sentences.

You saved my life and I will be forever grateful. Please accept my gift of gratitude.
PS: I'm definitely keeping the nickname Alphaba.

Stiles frowned slightly, aware that he had the attention of the whole pack. They were all watching him closely, waiting for a reaction, probably also curious what the present might be.

"Why didn't she just give me whatever it is before she left?"

Peter smirked. "Well, seeing as you were busy keeping your balance out there, I think she assumed that you had your hands full already. Quite literally even. The present has a considerable mass, after all."

Stiles' eyes widened in mortification. "It's not a car, is it? Like hell I'll ever replace Roscoe!"

The oldest Hale rolled his eyes at the dramatic display of loyalty to a car that constituted only as a deathtrap in his eyes. "No. Since I helped her choose the present, it's something you'd actually use. A car would be wasted on you as long as your rusty mobile tin can exists."

Before Stiles could open his mouth to retaliate for insulting his baby, Cora groaned loudly, "Stop bickering and show us what it is already!"

Peter produced a neatly wrapped present out from a cabinet, surprising everybody with the width of it. It was as long as the span of Peter's arms. But what could it be?

Suggestions were thrown around as Peter dropped the package safely onto Stiles' lap. Maybe it was a fishing set? A shotgun? An ice-cream machine? ("How, Scott? Look at the shape!")

"She didn't have to get me anything in the first place, you know," Stiles muttered as he began to unwrap his gift. Why had she even decided to wrap it? It's not like it was a birthday present or anything. It only served to prolong the suspense and maybe that was the reason why.

As he unwrapped it, another layer of gift wrapping paper was revealed. This one was covered in the same ridiculous animals as the card. But there was also something written on it with a thick black marker.

I know that I didn't have to give you something. But you saved my freaking life. That's the most valuable thing I possess. So accept my goddamn gift of gratitude, damn it!

With best wishes, Lea Lowry (Alphaba, the wicked werewolf of the west)

"How did she- okay, I might not be as unpredictable as I thought," Stiles mumbled to himself after reading the message. A small smile threatened to break out on his lips. She really seemed to like that nickname.

"Open it already!" Cora urged.

Since the others were just as eager to see what was hidden under the wrapping, Stiles didn't tease them any longer. He was curious as well.

The revelation shouldn't have been as big a surprise to him, all things considered. After all, Peter was the one who had picked the gift, not Alphaba herself.

"It's... a keyboard?" Isaac said, looking confused. The others looked just as lost as him. Why would someone give Stiles a keyboard? This was like giving a snowboard to someone living in Hawaii, at least in their eyes.

"The best money can buy," Peter confirmed, looking like the cat that got the bird. Then he went back to the cabinet and brought out a keyboard stand which he set up right in front of Stiles. "It has 88 keys, over a hundred key touch levels - which also means it has touch sensitivity - and dedicated circuits for each key to trigger effects such as vibrato. It may not be Bethany, but it's the best on the market when it comes to imitating her sound."

While the rest of the pack still felt like they were missing something major to understand the significance of the gift, Stiles was hardly even able to process it all.

He looked completely overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, Peter just took the keyboard out of its package and put it carefully on the stand.

As if in a trance, Stiles' fingers immediately reached out for its keys, ghosting above them, not quite touching. He couldn't believe this was really happening.

"Thank you," he whispered, not sure if he could trust his voice not to crack.

Peter smiled. "Don't worry. She comes from an old, powerful and filthy rich family, so her bank account still has the same number range. She would've done more for you, considering everything you've done for her. Without you, she'd be dead. If the cult hadn't killed her, then the hunters probably would have. But you cleared her name before we were able to judge her. This is the least she could do to repay you for that."

"Try it!" Malia shouted, plopping down next him on the couch.

Stiles didn't need to be told twice. Without further ado, he switched it on and pressed a key. The clear note of a c resonated throughout the living room, almost as powerful in sound as a grand piano.

"Play my favorite," Cora prompted. "But the new version. The one you played the last time. Your own arrangement."

Peter visibly perked up at her last words, waiting patiently for him to begin.

And so Stiles did.

The pack had gathered closely around the keyboard, watching as Stiles' fingers slid over the keys in quick, precise motions, never failing their target. A sweet, haunting melody filled the room, piercing through their skin.

It seemed that playing was like second nature to Stiles - just as easy as breathing. Suddenly there was grace in his movements, there was confidence in his posture.

They discovered a whole new side of him.

Then the melancholic melody took an uplifting turn, triggering a smile - even from the most unwilling one.

As the pack became more enchanted by the second, Derek and Laura watched from the kitchen doorway.

Derek had to think of the tiny child he had found playing on the piano with his mother and was glad to make the comparison to the present. He could almost see the entire journey from then until now play out in front of him. Through the pain, the suffering, and the fear Stiles had managed to grow into himself instead of losing everything that represented him as a person. His resilience against the harsh views of the world that almost dictated you change - accommodate - if you wanted to fit in truly was a thing of beauty.

"It's not too late to tell him," Laura interrupted his thoughts, a soft smile on her lips as she regarded him fondly. "You don't need to punish yourself for what happened."

It was a good thing that the pack was too distracted to pay attention to their conversation or Derek would have felt the need to glare at his sister for talking about something so private not even ten feet away from the pack.

"I'm not," he told her, sure she would listen to his heartbeat. But he was telling the truth. "But now is not the time."

And the alpha truly felt like the timing would be conceivably bad if he were to tell Stiles what he truly meant to him right now. He could still clearly remember watching all the strings fall down to the ground, could still picture everything falling apart.

Stiles had told him that he needed to rebuild. And Derek would grant him the time to do that. All the while making sure that the string connecting the two of them would never fray again. Maybe even grow sturdier.

That's what he swore to himself right at that moment.