Actions

Work Header

[Fight Forever, Won't Surrender] I Will Always Hunt You Down

Chapter Text

When it came to the world of crayons, Stiles’ best friend Scott McCall wasn’t exactly the brightest one in the box. The guy was tender hearted and rather naïve at best, at his worst a little bit stupid. His ideas were often poorly thought out and had gotten the both of them into trouble more than once.

Of course, that wasn’t to say that Stiles didn’t have his own faults. He was reckless and stubborn, always sarcastic, and sometimes bluffed so hard to hide his insecurities that he came across as a cocky dick instead of reasonably confident. He wasn’t immune from getting his own crazy ideas either, and had put them both at risk for a grounding on more than one occasion, but he’d never done anything like this.

Stumbling along in the chill of the late afternoon, Stiles cursed under his breath, scanned the ground for any kind of a sign that his friend had passed through this part of the Preserve.

Ever since Scott had come into the station with accusations of child abuse on behalf of their classmate Isaac Lahey, Stiles had been afraid that he was going to do something stupid. His father had conducted the best investigation that he could, but without testimony from Isaac and little more evidence than the few visible bruises that the frightened teen excused away, there wasn’t much that the Sheriff or the police department could do. After that Scott had started spending his lunches with the timid, quiet teen, and if it weren’t so obvious that Scott was right by the way that Isaac flinched away from any kind of physical contact, Stiles might have been jealous. As it was he worried about Isaac too, and was more than willing to try to find a way to help the kid out, but the other boy’s silence had been well and thoroughly beaten into him and he wasn’t cracking.

So what could they do?

Now Stiles, he didn’t have any problems pushing the limits. He’d done a lot of things that weren’t exactly kosher, and a few more that weren’t exactly legal. He was willing to sneak into the Lahey home, willing to put Isaac up in one of his dad’s empty safe houses, but even he knew which lines weren’t meant to be crossed.

Going to the werewolves out in the Preserve?

That was crossing the line.

And yet here he was, committing the equivalent of a werewolf felony by blatantly crossing the border into Hale pack territory.

His dad was going to kill him… that was, if the wolves didn’t first.

But when Scott hadn’t come home the night before, Stiles knew exactly where he’d gone.

Werewolf law wasn’t the same as human law. Legally, they could probably do for Isaac what Stiles’ father couldn’t. But what Scott was silly enough to think of as a simple favor, Stiles was smart enough to see as anything but. Their help would likely come at a hefty price, for the battered boy and Scott too, and that was only if the wolves decided not to kill him outright for walking into the middle of the Preserve uninvited.

Which, technically they were allowed to do.

It had been years since werewolves had come out to the world, but contact between them and the humans was still strained at best. Beacon Hills had only come to an agreement with the local pack and their Alpha Talia Hale after a brief but bloody war led by a rogue hunter family, the Argents. It had only ended after the death of the patriarch, Gerard Argent, and his daughter Kate at the hands of the wolves. Approached by the last of the family, Chris and his daughter Allison, the Sheriff had done his best to negotiate a peace treaty between the pack and the rest of the town, but once again he’d found his hands almost tied. There was only so much he could do when fear and speciesism raged on both sides.

In the end it had come down to segregation. The wolves stayed on their side of the line, and the humans stayed on the other. The Preserve belonged to the Pack and the town to everyone else. It was an agreement that did nothing to foster collaboration or ease between them, but it had been a long time since a member of either party had been killed, and for most that was enough.

Stiles was hoping that today wouldn’t change that.

As the first one to break the treaty and cross into Hale territory without an invitation in over six years, Scott had been pretty stupid.

As the second one to do it in as many days, Stiles was probably worse.

But he couldn’t leave Scott to his fate. He was afraid for his friend - honestly afraid - the guy had pretty bad asthma that could cut him to the ground if he was spooked. Being held hostage and threatened by a bunch of werewolves might actually be enough to kill him, even if that wasn’t their intent. So he’d done the one thing he’d promised his dad he wouldn’t do; pulled on his lucky red hoody and headed into the trees, leaving his Jeep to be found by the next deputy patrolling the service road that ran alongside the border.

“Stupid,” Stiles muttered, kicking at leaves and stumbling over a hidden tree root.

What was he doing out here?! There was no guarantee that the werewolves would trade him for Scott, no guarantee that he could convince them he was the better hostage.

And that’s what he would be.

A hostage, theirs to punish as they saw fit for breaking the law, breaking the treaty.

Stiles swallowed, felt his heart start to pound as his breathing began to come heavier.

He was ready for it - he’d told himself that. Ready to sacrifice his freedom as long as he got Scott out of there, as long as he could stop the pack from invading Beacon Hills and taking their revenge on any of the people there. He didn’t want to believe the stories, hated the bigotry and the prejudice that spoke of animalistic tendencies, that bred fear and whispered of murderous instinct, but it existed, and all stories had to stem from something, didn’t they?

No matter what his dad had taught him about fairness and equality, no matter how much he believed in those institutions himself, he was still afraid.

It didn’t matter that across the country there were packs living and working with humans openly in total cooperation, co-mingling easily without threat or fear. Didn’t matter that in places like New York and Chicago, in countries like Canada and Spain, werewolves were a large part of mainstream society, holding influential positions in politics and just as loved and supported as any human lawyer or senator could be.

In Beacon Hills, the road to equality had been strewn with far more blood than roses.

Stumbling to a stop, Stiles leaned over and clutched his knees, chilled and trembling inside his hoody as he tried to get his breathing back under control, tried to cut off the impending panic attack that was slowly creeping up on him.

“You’re safe,” he panted, reaching up to clench his fingers tightly around his left shoulder. “They can’t hurt you, you’re safe.”

Forcing himself to straighten back up, he scrubbed his hands through his hair, took a deep, steadying breath as he fought off the memories, the horror stories of the werewolf/hunter wars that were likely half lies on behalf of either side anyways.

“Ok. Ok, you can do this.”

Only, he wasn’t sure he could.

Looking around, he realized that he had almost no idea where he was. Oh, he knew he was inside the Preserve, pretty deep inside it too, trespassing on land that had belonged to the Hales long before the treaty had been drawn. That being said, he’d left the trail about a mile back, and the world inside the woods pretty much looked the same all the way through.

Only a wolf could find their way out of this.

But that was exactly who Stiles was looking for so he supposed that had to be his solution.

In all honesty he was surprised he hadn’t been surrounded already.

Of course, just because he hadn’t seen them didn’t mean that they were unaware of his presence in their territory, and judging by the way the hair on the back of his neck was standing up, they were starting to close in.

Swallowing down the knot in his throat, Stiles turned slowly on his heel, only to yelp and flail backward so hard that he landed on his butt in the dirt. Less than thirty yards away a tall, dark haired man stood silently between the trees, watching Stiles intently with eyes that glowed a bright, jeweled blue. The black leather jacket and the brooding scowl he wore did little to reassure Stiles that he wasn’t about to be murdered, and a nervous chuckle bubbled up out of his chest as he slowly raised his hands in surrender.

“Um, I come in peace?” he grinned, though his cheeks felt so stiff he imagined it looked more like the Joker’s half-hysterical grimace than anything approximating a smile.

“What are you doing here?” the werewolf asked, and yeah, ok, he sounded angry. “Huh? This is private property.”

“Yeah I know,” Stiles said in his most placating voice as he got slowly to his feet, but the man’s scowl only intensified. “I’m just… I’m looking for my friend.”

Tilting his head to one side, the blue faded from the man’s eyes as his scowl turned into something a little surprised, like he was considering the truth of his words. Stuffing his hand into his pocket, he pulled out something small and plastic, turning it in his hand before he lobbed it through the air. Snatching it up before it could hit the ground, Stiles’ heart skipped a beat as he opened his fist and revealed Scott’s inhaler, cracked but full.

“Yup, that’s him,” he gulped, lifting the inhaler to his mouth for a quick hit.

No response.

“Right,” he mumbled, rubbing absently at his shoulder. “Umm. Take me to your leader?”

Cocking an eyebrow, the werewolf crossed his arms over his chest, looked Stiles up and down. “You’re here to see the Alpha?” he asked in a tone of obvious disbelief.

“Yeah,” Stiles mumbled slowly. “I mean, that’s Talia Hale right?”

Alpha Hale,” the man snarled, and then the blue eyes were back and there were fangs in his mouth and claws on the tips of his fingers as he took a hard step towards Stiles, making him jerk and stumble.

“Yeah, yeah, Alpha Hale, exactly,” he agreed, hands trembling in the air once again.

Radio silence.

But then the werewolf was stalking forward and he practically swallowed his tongue in fright as the guy grabbed his elbow in a clawed, bruising grip, hauling him along like a recalcitrant child as he staggered after him trying frantically to keep up. He supposed it was better than being slung over the guy’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes, but not by much, and oh, god, where was he taking him anyway?

Slowly the trees and brush began to thin and he was dragged back onto the over-grown footpath that he’d lost a mile back, bringing them to the head of a shallow valley between the hills that ran parallel to the river and the cliffs along the southern side of the county. It bottomed out into a long, grassy clearing, acres wide and surrounded by the thick of the Preserve, dominated by a large, three story house, multiple smaller cabins and scattered outbuildings. It was rather pretty actually, the flat, sprawling lawns neatly trimmed, wooden planters of flowers adding splashes of color around the steps leading up to a large patio in back and a wide, covered porch around the front. The buildings were all sided in rustic white clapboard, doors and shutters painted a rich, matching blue, and Stiles was struck by the tidy, modern appearance of it all.

It… wasn’t what he’d expected.

Not that he got much time to take it in - the wolf clutching his arm had dragged him across the yard and up the steps before he could get in more than a sweeping, rapid-fire glance, and then they were across the threshold and inside the house and there was no going back.

“Mom!” the werewolf shouted, jerking Stiles down a hallway and into a modest, neatly organized library, all pale hardwood floors and walls lined with well-stocked bookshelves, and wait, what? Mom?!

“Derek, honestly, what have I told you about…”

Talia Hale pulled up short as she stepped into the room, stopping so abruptly that the man who followed crashed into her from behind and had to grab her by the waist to steady himself. Talia Hale, the Alpha of the Hale pack, because that was who she was, no mistaking it. She was lovely; tall and slim with thick, dark hair and bright eyes, but more than that there was an air to her that spoke of quiet command, of power and the kind of confidence that came with knowing one was both respected and revered. Talia Hale, regal and red-eyed, and apparently the mother of the werewolf beside him, who was apparently named Derek and who was thrusting him forward towards his mother and Alpha more gently than the gesture came across.

It was Stiles’ own clumsiness that made it look worse than it really was.

There was a rug on the floor, thick and intricate, and naturally his sneakers caught it as he tripped forward, sending him down hard onto his knees. And ok, yeah, that was not a position he was comfortable being in, especially in front of a bunch of werewolves, but maybe a little respect, a little submission would keep him alive here.

So instead of turning around to glare at Derek like he wanted to, Stiles turned his head away just a tiny bit, dropped his eyes to the floor and stayed where he was, tried not to tremble.

“Alpha Hale,” he murmured as politely as he could while keeping his voice steady.

His own heartbeat was like a base drum in the silence that followed.

“Derek,” she said quietly after a minute’s terrifying silence, completely ignoring his presence, which, rude. “What’s going on?”

“I found him out in the Preserve. He crossed the border. He said he’s looking for the other one.”

“Scott,” Stiles interrupted, unable to keep his mouth shut as fear spiked in his chest. “His name’s Scott. He’s got brown hair and asthma and a crooked jaw and I’m… just gonna shut up now…” he trailed off, suddenly acutely aware of the wolves staring at him.

Talia Hale tilted her head, one eyebrow raised rather imperiously as she trailed her ruby gaze over his kneeling form.

“What’s your name young man?” she asked, and ok, that wasn’t what he’d been expecting either.

“St, Stiles, people call me Stiles,” he stammered, and Talia made a small movement with her hand as she stepped passed him, one that he interpreted as allowing him to stand. Permission or not, he waited until she had settled into a wing-backed chair, knees crossed primly before he stood, moving slowly and deliberately as the two other wolves watched him like hawks, moved to flank their Alpha on either side. Her son, Derek, and another beta with brown hair and a smattering of freckles that he assumed must be her husband, David. He noted with interest that she was barefoot and casually dressed in jeans and a loose peasant top, her toenails painted bright pink, just a mom around the house, and please god, let her be in that frame of mind and not in that of a pissed off Alpha protecting her territory...

“You broke the law coming here Stiles,” she said carefully, her eyes still red and wary, and ok, maybe he wasn’t going to get that lucky. “Do you know that?”

“Yes ma’am,” he replied, keeping his eyes politely downcast.

“And yet you still came.”

“Yes ma’am.”

A pause, another heart pounding break in conversation as Stiles felt himself being studied from head to toe.

“Why?”

“For Scott,” he answered immediately. It wasn’t a reply he had to search for.

“He broke the law as well.”

“I know that!” he yelped, half dismay and half frustration, flinching when the betas’ eyes flashed blue and gold at his tone. “Sorry, I… I do know that. Believe me, if anyone respects the treaty it’s me. But I couldn’t leave the guy, he…”

“Broke the law,” Talia finished, and Stiles felt his shoulders slump.

“He’s my best friend,” he sighed. “Yes, he broke the law, I get it, but he did it with good intentions and he… he’s a good guy. I know you have every right to k… keep him here…”

“I have far more right than that,” Talia protested in a clipped tone, claws coming out to click against the wooden arms of her chair. “You’re not supposed to be here, you or your friend. We stay on this side of the border, you stay on that side - that was the agreement! That is how peace is kept!”

“Hey look, I’m not here to wreck that, ok?” he snarled, his anger and his anxiety finally lashing out, causing his fists to ball up and his stance to widen. “I’m not here to fight or to piss anybody off or get anybody hurt - Jesus, I came to make sure that didn’t happen!”

All three of the wolves paused, went visibly still, and Stiles felt fear clutch at his throat as he realized what he’d just done.

Oh god, this was the part where he got his throat ripped out wasn’t it? With somebody’s teeth…

“And how, exactly, did you plan to accomplish that?” Talia asked, her eyes narrowed and her fangs showing beneath her upper lip.

Stiles froze.

Ok, breathe, breathe, here’s your chance, don’t screw it up

“Charter four,” he choked before he could chicken out. “Article seven.”

He hadn’t been lying when he said he knew the law, knew the treaty.

Talia Hale raised an eyebrow, hid away a flash of impressed surprise that her husband and son had less success masking.

“Interesting,” she murmured. “But who are you to walk into my territory and demand renegotiations? The treaty made provisions for persons of position in Beacon Hills, not children.”

Swallowing hard, Stiles raised his chin, searched for a sense of pride that would help him to get the words out without his voice cracking on him.

“My legal name is Przemysław Stilinski,” he announced with a barely perceptible tremble, a sickening clash of fear and relief flushing thought him when Talia sat up in her chair and her betas shifted, looked at each other in surprise. “My father is John Stilinski, the Sheriff of Beacon Hills. And I’m here to take the place of Scott McCall as the requesting party’s collateral hostage for the duration of renegotiations.”

Chapter Text

Things got a little blurry for Stiles after that. The adrenaline was wearing off, leaving fear and exhaustion in its place, and he actually ended up going back to his knees again after being ignored for about eight minutes while Talia started barking orders. Hugging himself tightly, he tried not to shiver, tried not to give any more sign that he was practically falling apart at the seams than the fact that he physically couldn’t stand, but there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that they already knew exactly what kind of a state he was in.

Melting into a puddle had kind of given him away.

“Get him off the floor,” Talia muttered as she crossed to the large oak desk positioned beneath the library windows, and her husband, David - because it had to be David Hale from the way he’d trailed his hands affectionately over her shoulders - crossed to his side, lifting him by the elbow far more gently than Stiles had expected him to and guiding him to a straight-backed wooden chair in a corner.

He thought the werewolf might’ve also given him what could pass for an encouraging smile, but chalked it up to wishful thinking and his imagination.

“Derek, get your sister on video call,” Talia said harshly, and the younger man nodded before slipping silently out of the room. Meanwhile the Alpha was smashing at the keys of an old-fashioned landline, tapping in four numbers at a time, giving brief commands to come to the library, and hanging up to dial again.

Closed circuit, local line,’ his brain provided.

Must connect the main house with all the other buildings - apartments maybe, or offices.

Mayday, mayday, report to headquarters...

Luckily for Stiles, Derek chose that moment to slink back in behind him, causing him to jump an inch out of his seat with surprise but killing the hysterical giggles before they could fight their way out of his chest. The werewolf scowled at his startle response but Stiles was already beginning to suspect that that was his default face so he ignored it, instead taking interest in watching him set up a battered, sticker-covered laptop on the desk next to his mother’s hip. He could see one for The Violent Femmes, and was hit with the sudden recognition that, wow, the guy listened to one of Stiles’ favorite bands.

That shouldn’t be so weird.

But then he was booting the thing up and Stiles could hear the familiar jangle of a Skype call going through, and then there was a pretty, green-eyed brunette - clearly another Hale - smiling and waving furiously at him through the camera.

“Hey baby bro!” she cheered, resting her chin on her fist. “What’s up? It’s not Satur… woah, hey, who’s the cutie?”

Umm… Pretty girl say what?

Blinking dumbly through the webcam at the werewolf who was staring him down like he was Friday’s prime rib special, Stiles quickly schooled his face into an innocent ‘who me?’ when Derek turned back over his shoulder with a snarl and a flash of blue eyes. The girl in the computer squawked with protest when he grabbed the corner of the laptop and turned it away from him, angling it back towards his mother.

“Oh come on Derek!” Stiles heard her yelp with indignation. “You’re not gonna introduce me to your new boyfriend? I get it, you’re trying to make P…”

“He’s not my boyfriend!” Derek snarled indignantly, whipping the computer back around again so he could level her with what was no doubt an impressive glare.

“Laura that’s enough,” Talia growled, grabbing her son’s wrist and pushing him gently back so that she could angle the computer upward, and there was enough gravity in her tone that all teasing from the other end of the line was immediately cut off. “Derek, go sit with Cora please, she’s getting upset.”

Frowning, Derek none the less nodded, returned his sister’s melancholy wave, and ducked out once again.

Talia,’ Stiles listed off silently, trying to focus his attention with the list scrolling at the back of his mind. ‘David and Derek and Laura and Cora.’

He remembered some of the names. He’d been young when the wars broke out, young when they’d ended, but he remembered the nights his dad would come home, weary and worn beyond the physical, the nights when he would scoop Stiles up in a hug and hold on so tight it hurt. He remembered the names - Talia, David, the kids Laura and Derek. He didn’t remember a Cora, and he thought there’d been a Seth back then, but he wasn’t sure.

“So what?” Laura said as he tuned back in to the conversation. “He just came walking right up to the front door?”

“Didn’t make it that far,” Stiles huffed bitterly, and all three wolves turned to look at him, a range of emotions from impressed to amused to angry.

“Brave kid,” Laura murmured and Stiles felt his cheeks burn as he turned away to stare at the wall.

He didn’t feel brave, he felt stupid. Trapped.

“That remains to be seen.” The Alpha sighed heavily, pinched the bridge of her nose. “This is going to be a disaster,” she muttered to herself, but even Stiles heard it, and that wasn’t reassuring at all because what was she talking about that he had missed? “You need to be here for this Laura,” she continued, lifting her head. “Your father will pick you up in the morning. You should make it back by late afternoon - I think I can buy us that long.”

“Ok,” Laura agreed, nodding along. “I’ll email my professors, tell them there was a family emergency. But keep dad at home,” she added, and Stiles saw Talia’s eyes flash. “You’ll need him too. Send Nicky - he drives faster anyway.”

“All right then. If he leaves now he’ll be there around three - be ready.”

“I will.”

With one last lingering look at Stiles over her mother’s shoulder, Laura signed off and the screen went black. Closing the laptop, Talia turned around to sit on the edge of the desk, folding her arms tightly around her middle, and David was quick to move behind her and place comforting hands on her shoulders.

“Mom?”

Oh for god’s sake, how many kids did these people have?

A tall, slender young man, older than Derek, stood anxiously in the doorway, only coming in when Talia motioned him forward. He looked about twenty four or twenty five, had long, tousled hair, which, coupled with his family’s coloring and his neat, dark facial hair, suggested to Stiles that there was more than a little bottle in his blonde. He was followed in by two older wolves; one a little old lady draped in half a dozen colorful knit-shawls that oddly reminded Stiles of his grandmother, and the other a stocky, middle-aged man with tawny hair just starting to go grey at the temples and the air of a soldier, scarred and clearly blind in one eye, which had gone pale and milky.

Stiles almost choked on the clichés.

“Nicholas, I need you to go pick up your sister from school,” Talia commanded firmly, straightening up again and brushing her husband off. “If you leave now you’ll be there before sunup, and you can be back by early afternoon.”

The blonde didn’t protest, didn’t question the way Stiles would’ve, but then he suspected that with werewolf hearing, he’d probably caught everything he needed to know from the hallway. Still, it was a harsh order given without explanation, a little cold, a little callous, and even though she wasn’t his mom, wasn’t human, the way that Talia spoke to her sons made Stiles bristle.

“Take Laura’s Camaro,” David said, and yeah, that was better, calm, smooth, soothing. Quiet, trying not to squirm on the hard, wooden chair he’d been dropped onto, Stiles watched as the man stepped up and grabbed his son by the neck, pulling him down to press their foreheads together. “Make her drive on the way back so you don’t fall asleep at the wheel.”

“Yes sir.”

Giving his father a brief, tight hug, the young man nodded to his mother and then he was gone, bounding off through the house, and Stiles thought he might’ve whimpered if the glance spared him by the Alpha’s husband was anything to go by. What he wouldn’t give to hug his dad right now, to feel safe in the man’s arms the way he had when he was a kid. There was no guarantee he was getting out of here, no guarantee he’d ever even see his father again, and if he didn’t…

“Breathe kid,” David said, clamping a hand down tightly on Stiles’ shoulder, and he could feel the heat burning through the fabric of his hoody - liar, liar, liar - “Your heart’s going a hundred miles a minute.”

Stiles flinched and made some strange noise of protest because he wasn’t helping and the werewolf backed off, frowning as he withdrew his hand, but Stiles couldn’t care, he didn’t want to be touched, didn’t want to be sitting there…

Pulling Scott’s inhaler from his pocket, he took another dose, hoping it would calm his breathing, but the reminder that his friend was still hidden away somewhere in who knows what kind of condition…

“Where’s Scott?” he asked in a strangled sort of tone, his courage creeping back to him with its tail still tucked.

Talia turned to glare from where she leaned over the desk, a thick volume of what looked like case law cracked in front of her. The two other wolves were bent over the book as well, their gazes snapping over to him filled with annoyance, but also a little bit of surprise, a little bit of reluctant awe.

Oh right.

Alpha.

Angry Alpha, capable of turning you into sliced bologna with a couple of swipes if she wanted to…

Stupidity, not bravery.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, dropping his eyes again. “Um. Ms. Alpha, ma’am? Could you please tell me…”

“Where the hell is Peter?” Talia sighed with exasperation, cutting Stiles off.

Unsure what he’d done wrong that time, or who Peter was and why the hell he was relevant, Stiles raised his head just in time to see the other werewolves shrugging unconcernedly.

“We’re none of us Peter’s keeper, my love,” David said quietly, reassuringly, and Stiles had to give the guy credit because the look Talia was leveling him was enough to make his insides go to jelly. “He’s probably with Luca.”

“Damn it,” the woman hissed, pressing her fingers to her temples, and then she was turning to the scarred beta, pointing a clawed finger dead at Stiles’ heart. “Calvin, get him out of my sight,” she growled, and that didn’t sound good. “Take him down to the barn and leave him with the other one until I can figure this out. God knows this is just what we need - the whole town thinking we kidnapped the Sheriff’s son!”

“They won’t…“ Stiles began to protest, but he couldn’t finish the sentence.

Shit.

He hadn’t thought of that.

His dad might be smart enough to realize that Scott had trundled off on his own and that Stiles had followed in blatant disregard of his orders, but the rest of Beacon Hills likely wasn’t. There were still people in town who hated and feared the werewolves that lived on the other side of the boundary line, and would likely jump at the opportunity to accuse them of kidnapping, and that was to say nothing of the hunters.

Shit.

The soldier beta was watching Stiles with great interest as this realization played out, no doubt written all over his face. He’d crossed to Stiles’ side in the meantime, ignoring his reaction when he finally noticed his looming presence and flailed away, trying unsuccessfully to backpedal his chair across the floor, but instead of grabbing his arm and dragging him off like Derek had, he waited patiently until Stiles’ pride forced him to his feet without the rough encouragement.

“So we’re not gonna talk about this?” he asked with confusion and just a little meekly, looking around the wall of werewolf towards the Alpha, who had bent back over her book and wasn’t paying him the slightest attention. “What about the negotiations?”

“Come on kid,” the werewolf rumbled calmly, his voice low and hoarse like a smoker’s. “You heard what she said. Move it.”

Putting a light hand on his shoulder, he guided him firmly into the hallway.

“But…” Stiles protested, waving an arm in the direction of the rapidly disappearing library, but the werewolf didn’t let up, propelling him down the hall, past a dining room dominated by a massive, oaken table, and out a screen door into the backyard.

Sighing heavily, resigned to this fate at least by the time they stepped off the patio, he stopped pushing back against the hand between his shoulder blades and started walking properly, surprised when the werewolf immediately let go and fell into step beside him.

“Not worried I’ll make a run for it?” he muttered sullenly, mostly just to be bitter as he felt several pairs of eyes following their progress across the grass, a handful of werewolves pausing left and right to watch the strange human trudging through their backyard.

“Not worried I’d catch you?” the wolf asked in reply.

Calvin, he told himself. This one’s Calvin.

“Besides,” he continued, “From what I heard, you walked in here on your own two feet. Only a squalling little runt would go running back out again.”

“Right,” Stiles huffed, jamming his hands into his pockets, irked by the derogatory slant of the wolf’s statement. “So what, I should just skip merrily on down to the altar?”

“As you like,” he replied easily, steering them toward one of the larger outbuildings at the back of the property. “Would you rather squeal and bleat the whole way there like your friend did?”

Stiles steps faltered, a jolt of reality snapping over his nerves, but the werewolf didn’t even break stride.

“You seem like you’re made of stronger stuff.”

Unsure if he’d been complimented or marked as a better quality chew-toy, frightened by what had been implied about Scott, Stiles dragged his feet the rest of the way to the edge of the building, pausing when the werewolf climbed a set of rickety, wooden steps in front of the barn doors and turned the heavy-duty lock barred across them.

“Werewolf reinforced,” he said conversationally as his arms bulged with the effort of pushing back the door. “Full moons, this is where the kids stay that can’t control their shifts yet.”

Ok, that was horrible - and not just because there wouldn’t be any chance of sneaking out.

Not that that was really an option anyway - the wolves would be well within their rights to demand restitution or to lay waste to Beacon Hills if Stiles ran off.

No need to make things worse than he already had.

In the face of that fact, and in the face of Calvin’s challenge to his dignity, Stiles summoned up his courage, determined to walk into captivity on his own steam rather than be tossed in like a ragdoll.

Stepping around the werewolf who gestured grandly - the smartass - he felt his jaw drop. He’d been expecting a basement at best, a dungeon with barred cells at worst, but what he found was nothing more or less than your average college guy’s first apartment; a bunch of beat-up furniture and even more empty floor space. Oh sure, there seemed to be some teeth marks on most everything, but all in all it was a lot less horrifying than he’d anticipated.

Which… kind of summed up the trip so far - yeah, he’d been manhandled a bit and given the alpha death stare, a few vague threats, but he hadn’t been seriously hurt.

Maybe the stories were all bull.

That would be… yeah, that would be good.

“So this is it?” he asked shakily, a little bit dumbfounded and trying to hide the hope. “I just… hang out?”

Calvin shrugged.

“What about the negotiations?”

“When Alpha Hale feels you’re needed she’ll send someone for you,” he replied. “Don’t worry kid. I haven’t seen my Alpha that riled in a long time - you’ll be hearing from her.” Grinning around a mouthful of sharp teeth and shooting Stiles a cheeky wink with his blind eye, he stepped backward out the door and rolled it shut after him with an ominous and final thud.

“Great,” Stiles snarled between clenched teeth, his hands fisting. “Just freakin’ perfect. Way to go Stiles, great plan!”

“Stiles?”

Hand leaping to his chest to stave off the heart attack, Stiles whipped around just in time to be knocked to the ground by a dirty and bedraggled Scott, who had jumped out from behind a chair that dripped stuffing from several long slashes.

“Scott?”

“Stiles! Oh my god, what are you doing here? Are you ok?”

“I fine, except you’re sitting on my lungs,” he panted, and then Scott was scrambling off of him and dragging him upright so that they were sitting cross-legged close enough for their knees to touch.

“Dude, what are you doing here?” he asked again, and Stiles frowned, eyes finding the light bruise on Scott’s shoulder that peeked out from beneath his shirt sleeve, dried blood on his knuckles.

“What do you think I’m doing here?” he countered, irritation coming back in a flood. “You idiot, I told you not to come here!”

“What was I supposed to do?” Scott yipped indignantly, but then the anger went out of him and he visibly deflated, a terrible sadness dropping over his face. “Isaac’s my friend,” he said quietly, and Stiles sighed. “He needs help. Your dad can’t help him, and we can’t help him. What was I supposed to do?”

“Not this,” Stiles groaned, scrubbing his hands through his hair.

“He’s gonna end up dead Stiles.”

And that was it, the undeniable truth that he couldn’t argue.

Because if Isaac did stay with his dad, then yeah, he was probably going to get killed, or else hurt so bad he wouldn’t pull through it.

“Did you at least get a chance to tell them about it?” he asked.

“No,” Scott mumbled, and his voice almost cracked, and all Stiles could do was sigh and pull the guy in for a one-armed hug, try to hang on.

“They wouldn’t listen,” he said against Stiles shoulder, and yeah, no big surprise there. “They just grabbed me and hauled me into the house and then their Alpha was yelling and her eyes were red and I was pretty sure she was gonna kill me.”

“She could have,” Stiles scolded, unwilling to overlook that crucial detail. “You broke the law dude; we’re in serious trouble here. My dad too probably.”

“Well did they listen to you at least?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I think maybe.” Pushing Scott off, he stood up and started looking around, taking stock of what was essentially his prison cell for the moment. “I basically named myself an ambassador and invoked the right to renegotiate the treaty just to save my own ass. Honestly I don’t have anything to negotiate. But the Alpha was reading the case law when she had me dragged down here, so she can’t kill us until my dad’s here and has had a chance to talk to her.”

“That’s good I guess.”

“I guess,” Stiles muttered. Maybe, maybe not. Might not make any damned difference at all.

“You ok man?” he asked, turning back to his friend once a cursory glance of his surroundings told him that there was nothing around to be used as either weapon or escape route.

“Yeah, I’m ok,” he answered, moving to sit down on one of the battered couches. “I mean, they haven’t hurt me or anything.”

Cocking an eyebrow, Stiles looked pointedly at the guy’s shoulder, the backs of his hands before tossing him his inhaler. His voice was scratchy, his breathing uneven, but other than that he did seem ok.

“Oh that,” he shrugged, letting the inhaler hit the couch before he even tried to catch it, picking it up and taking a quick shot before shoving it into his jeans. “Yeah, that was me.”

“Tell me you didn’t try breaking the door down,” Stiles frowned, and Scott grinned sheepishly.

“It’s not so bad though,” he said, ever the optimist as he stretched out and threw his arm over his eyes. “Super boring, which means you’ve got a lot of time to think.”

“Doing much of that?” Stiles asked, his doubt evident in his tone. Clearly he wasn’t doing enough - he didn’t seem to have any idea how deep they were in.

“Shut up,” the other boy muttered. “Really though Stiles, they don’t seem so bad. Not like the stories anyway. I mean, they scare the hell out of me, but there’s a bathroom in the back and they fed me this morning, so. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”

Right.

Not as bad.

Collapsing into the creaky armchair, Stiles started chewing on the strings of his hoody, toes tapping anxiously on the concrete floor. Images flashed through his brain a hundred miles minute - the manicured lawns with their neatly kept flower beds, the well-stocked library, Derek’s computer covered in band stickers. None of it was what he had expected, and while he hesitated to think that he’d been imagining people living like animals, blood and dirt and no technology, it was still well beyond how he’d ever dreamed werewolves to live.

He couldn’t decide if that boded well for him or not.

A wolf might’ve just killed him straight out for invading its territory.

A wolf with the mind of a man might be able to think up something far worse.

Chapter Text

He didn’t know how much time had passed after that. It felt like hours, minutes dragging by one second at a time until he was sure he was hallucinating the tick of a clock. Scott had actually fallen into a light doze from his position on the couch, snoring softly, so Stiles didn’t even have a conversation to distract him or to mark the time with, and the longer he sat in the silence the more anxious he became. He wondered what could be taking the Alpha so long to decide on his offer, to apprise them of their fate. He wasn’t sure the delay boded well.

Just as he was ready to get up and start pacing, a low rumble announced the opening of the heavy doors, and Stiles was on his feet and facing them before they’d even opened a full inch. For his part Scott had jerked awake and gone rolling off the couch like some sort of fail ninja, ducking behind the furniture to hide like he’d totally forgotten the wolves could smell his fear, hear his heart beating. From the look that Derek and Calvin were shooting at the sneaker sticking out from around the piece of furniture, they were just as impressed as Stiles.

“Well?” he asked, and Derek flashed his eyes in Stiles’ direction but didn’t comment.

For his part Calvin appeared as unruffled as before and Stiles realized that he’d already come to count upon the man’s calm, unflappable exterior in a strange way. Stupid, since they’d only exchanged about five minutes of time and talk together, but the werewolf felt stoic and solid despite his battle-worn face, and that seemed like a good thing.

Stiles hadn’t even known werewolves could scar.

“Has your Alpha contacted my dad?” he asked again, sparing a glance for Scott who had come creeping out of his hiding place to stand nervously at his side. “Or his mom?”

“She’s agreed that calling for renegotiations is the current best course of action,” the older werewolf answered while neatly evading the question, and there was a hint of amused accusation in his tone.
“Not that she had much choice.”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Stiles said sarcastically. “But you know if you want to just let us walk on out of here instead, that’s cool too.”

“Just him,” Derek said gruffly, and then he was grabbing Scott by the arm and pulling him away, but not fast enough that Stiles couldn’t latch on to his other elbow first.

“Wait, what?” he demanded, refusing to let go and ignoring Scott’s plaintive whimpering as he tried to squirm out of Derek’s grasp. “Where are you taking him?”

“To the border,” Calvin replied agreeably, in total contrast to the spark of blue around Derek’s eyes, giving away some unrecognizable emotion. “Alpha Hale will give him a message for your father and then he’ll be sent on his way.”

“Why can’t Stiles come too?” Scott yelped, still fighting the tug of war, and this time it was Stiles’ turn to show his annoyance with a roll his eyes. “He can tell his dad himself!”

“Your friend is taking your place as collateral hostage until negotiations are over,” Derek growled. “He stays, you get to go. Now move.”

With a rough tug that seemed to require no effort at all, Scott was ripped out of Stiles’ grasp and shoved toward the doors, handled much less gently than he had been. The guy was staring back with the kind of look that prisoners wore on the way to the firing squad, and Stiles couldn’t help but feel an answering bolt of fear strike him hard and hot.

“Tell my dad I’m ok!” he shouted, just as the doors began to roll shut, but then they were slamming home and he was alone inside the building with nothing but his panic to talk to.

“Calm down,” he muttered, fisting his hands in his hair. “You got Scott out, that’s what you came to do.”

But now he had an even bigger problem.

He’d demanded negotiations, a redrawing of the treaty on behalf of Beacon Hills, and he had absolutely no idea what he was going to say once they started. He’d only wanted to save his friend, and himself if at all possible, and he wondered if Talia Hale already knew that. He was playing a dangerous game and there was no telling how many tricks his opponent had up her sleeve, where he only had the one under his.

Rubbing at his shoulder, Stiles flopped back down into the rickety arm chair and tried to think, tried to plan.

Problem was he only had half the pieces.

But if the wolves had kept their word then Scott was already on his way through the Preserve, back to the border where there was likely to be a whole road full of cop cars to greet him. Stiles had gotten a glimpse of the sky outside before the doors had been shut on him and night had well fallen, which meant that, at least by morning, their message would have been delivered and his dad would be preparing to bluff his way through a whole new treaty deal.

Oh, Stiles was so dead.

With that thought to comfort him, he took a page out of Scott’s book and tried to sleep, the emotional distress of the day dragging at him, wearing him down until he couldn’t quite keep his eyes open anymore. Hours passed as he drifted in and out, not nearly comfortable enough to be lulled fully to sleep. Every noise, every creak of the old building or distant voice sounded like a threat, even if it was just his imagination, and at one point he even thought he heard a long, echoing wolf’s howl somewhere far off in the distance. It was like being in a fever dream, a stream of half-lucid thought playing through his mind until watery sunlight began to pour through the single, tiny window high in the rafters and he came fully awake again, stiff and sore from sleeping curled up in the chair all night.

Stomach rumbling, he dragged himself upright and walked to the back of the barn, found the small bathroom that Scott had mentioned. There was no shower, but there was a toilet and a sink with running water and a small mirror above it framed in thick, heavy plastic, practical enough that he could pee and splash cold water on his face, slurp up a drink by sticking his head beneath the faucet. Straightening up, he dried his hands on the seat of his jeans, stared at his reflection. His face was pale, far more than usual, and there were light shadows starting to show beneath his eyes, huge and whiskey-colored and dull compared to the glint of a werewolf’s. He’d been growing his hair out ever since summer had started and was regretting it now, since it was matted and sticking out all over the place, even after he tried finger-combing it. He looked like a freaked-out mess, and it made him wonder what Laura had seen through the webcam the day before.

A pale, scrawny kid who was scared out of his mind? Someone who was weak, vulnerable, prey?

Swallowing hard, Stiles reached up and pulled aside the collar of his hoody, careful not to stretch the neck of his t-shirt. His fingers shook as he traced the scar there, thin, silvery, only just discernable by touch. A bite mark, a soul mark, there since the day he’d been born, and below that small black letters that had risen to the surface of the skin the year he’d turned thirteen in a neat, horizontal line of script along his collarbone.

He wasn’t sure he believed the legends, even though there was some pretty solid proof staring back at him in the mirror. Not a lot of humans were born with fang marks set into their shoulder anymore. The story went that only one wolf’s teeth would match that scar, that you belonged to them even before they gave you the bite, reinforcing the bonds that were just waiting to be activated. For years he’d hated not knowing, and then the words had come when he’d reached puberty, the first words that the wolf would speak to him and that was even worse. Suddenly he hadn’t wanted to know at all, didn’t want to be bound by fate to someone he’d never met. His mother and then later his father had done their best to help him understand the mark placed on him, to make sure that the prejudices held by the majority of the human race were not instilled in him, but the unhappy fact remained that Stiles was as good as property if he ever heard the words written beneath that scar.

In coming here he’d told himself that he’d be protected by the soul mark - that werewolf law prohibited harm to any bearing one - but in reality he feared he’d put himself at much greater risk.

You couldn’t be bonded to a wolf if you never met one.

Because that had been his plan, ever since he’d been old enough to realize that he wanted no part in the whole business.

Stay away.

Don’t go into the Preserve, don’t go near the border…

Just stay away.

Feeling a shiver roll down his spine, Stiles let go of his collar and readjusted his shirt, making sure that both the scarred bite and the words were covered.

Very few people knew he was one of the bonded, and he intended to keep it that way. The world wasn’t nice to people like him, could be just as prejudiced as they were against the werewolves themselves. There had been one other boy he knew, a kid named Matt Deahler, who had his own bite mark and was less than cautious in showing it off. He’d ended up being drowned when some cruel treatment at the community swimming pool had gone too far the summer they were in the fourth grade. Stiles was a lot more careful after that, made sure to wear a shirt religiously from that day onward, so in the end it was his mom, his dad, and his doctor who knew, no one else - not Scott or anyone.

And no one knew the words.

The four black words that had all the potential to end life as he knew it.

He’d made sure of that.

So unless he had to, unless it would save his life, he wasn’t sharing his dirty little secret today. It was his hidden gambit, his ace in the hole, and he was going to hold on to it as long as he could.

A dull creak and a rumble cause him to jump, spooking him out of his musings, and he did a nervous double-check to make sure nothing was visible, to make sure that his hoody wasn’t lopsided, before stepping slowly and cautiously out into the main room. Derek was standing at the open door, his hands in the pockets of his jacket, wearing a darker pair of jeans than before and a fresh shirt, looking like he’d shaved… his hair was even a little damp.

Must be nice - Stiles would kill for a hot shower right now to work the kinks out of his neck.

“Let’s go,” he said shortly, and Stiles shrugged, expecting no more explanation as he stepped past him into the backyard and looked up at the sky, iron grey and cloudless.

It would rain soon.

“Any particular direction?” he asked, jamming his own hands in his pockets while Derek closed up the barn behind him. “Say… towards the border line maybe?”

Derek rolled his eyes, thrust his chin toward the main house.

Not a fan of sarcasm then.

Huffing in annoyance, Stiles started off at a march, fast enough the he was able to keep up with the guy this time once he fell into line beside him, which made for a pleasant change from the last little stroll they’d taken together. He thought about asking some more questions - he had about half a dozen saved up - but something told him he’d have more luck with another wolf; Calvin maybe, or David. Hell even the Alpha seemed more talkative than her broody son.

Ushered into the house, he was herded in the opposite direction of the library, past a large living room and the long dining table, into an airy, open kitchen where the smell of bacon lingered in the air and had Stiles practically drooling. There were two young girls at the sink, remarkably similar in appearance with honey-colored hair plaited into long braids that hung down to their hips, and they watched him with great curiosity while they washed and rinsed an enormous stack of dishes. The pack had apparently already eaten, no actual food in sight, and his stomach turned with disappointment, sure that he’d been brought in just to be tormented by the thought of pancakes and eggs, but then Derek was pushing him down onto a barstool at the island counter that separated the kitchen from the dining room and moving around to the other side, headed for one of two massive refrigerators situated between a walk-in pantry and a wall of cabinets. Doing his best to be still and unobtrusive, Stiles flushed when his stomach growled loudly and set the girls at the sink off into a round of giggles.

“Knock it off,” Derek rumbled, thunking a bowl down in front of Stiles before handing him a box of Cheerios and a half-full gallon of milk.

Not surprisingly this just caused the two to giggle even harder, something Stiles tried to ignore as he poured himself a giant bowl of cereal. Derek rolled his eyes, grabbed them both by the back of the neck in a way that seemed more affectionate than threatening and shoved them out of the room. Leaping at the opportunity to get out of their chores, they took off running down the hallway, laughter not fading until the sound of a door slamming cut them off.

Shoveling up his breakfast at breakneck pace before someone could decide to take it away from him, Stiles watched as Derek turned his back on him and picked up a dishtowel, started stacking plates in a cupboard. Stiles was sixteen and this guy couldn’t be more than a couple years older. So what, eighteen, twenty? It was weird - he walked around with his shoulders hunched like some kind of nervous kid, but the other half of him seemed so much older than that, too old, paranoid, wary…

He made Stiles nervous just by proximity.

What had happened to him, what had he seen that made him so cagey, made him flash his eyes in Stiles’ direction like he was afraid of what he was thinking? What made him force himself to turn his back on the human like he was proving something, to Stiles, to himself?

Because that was what he was doing.

Stiles could see it in the stiffness of his shoulders beneath his jacket, the way he would angle towards Stiles and then twitch back around again.

Moving slowly, Stiles stood and carried his bowl to the sink, intentionally brushing elbows with the wolf just to see what would happen, to judge the consequences. Maybe not the smartest thing, but he wasn’t disemboweled, so… success. For his part of the experiment Derek reacted exactly how Stiles thought he might, jerking away but attempting to cover it by turning to watch intently as he dunked his dishes into the sink full of soapy water and scrubbed them off, rinsing and stacking them in the draining rack. He thought there might be something just a little bit approving in the way the guy nodded at him before putting the milk and cereal away. Deciding to push his luck that much further, Stiles leaned back against the counter and crossed his arms, watching the guy closely.

“What now?” he asked, his eyes flicking to the clock on the wall above the stove. Going on ten. “Have you heard from my dad?”

“My mom’ll tell you,” Derek said, answered, nodding toward the hallway.

“Don’t you mean your Alpha?” Stiles asked, falling into step behind him. He wasn’t trying to be an ass this time, he was just honestly curious, and he figured it couldn’t hurt to be more informed than he was.

“She can’t be both?” Derek countered, and ok, point, but it didn’t help Stiles know how he should address the werewolf.

Talia, Mrs. Hale, Alpha Hale, Your Grand High-Alphaness…

Best to ere on the side of the cautious and respectful he supposed.

Alpha Hale it was.

And speaking of…

“Mr. Stilinski,” Talia greeted him, and he ducked his head, flicking his gaze left and down, showing a bit of his neck. The submissive gesture was instinctive not intentional, and Stiles wondered if it was her presence that brought it out of him or some deeper, ancestral warning at the back of his psyche trying to keep him alive.

“Alpha Hale,” he said quietly, and she seemed accepting of his address because there were no red flashing eyes today, no sharp teeth. Just a nod of acknowledgement, a gesture for him to sit, in one of the wing-backed chairs today instead of the torture tool he’d been put on yesterday.

Hesitantly he did as he was meant, watching as Talia stepped behind the desk she’d stood over the day before, took her seat and gestured for Derek to sit as well. Stiles wondered where David was this morning, or Calvin or the little old lady, but he supposed there was a significant amount of scrambling going on behind the scenes in preparation for the political talks about to begin. Still, he thought he might’ve been just a little bit more comfortable having either one of the betas present. Sure it would be one more werewolf in the room, but they’d both been fairly kind and seemed to counterbalance Derek and Talia’s attitudes.

“Your father contacted me as soon as he received my message via your friend,” she began briskly, all business now. He could see it in the way she held herself, in the smart navy slacks and white button down she wore in place of the casual cotton of yesterday. “He seemed rather displeased, if unsurprised.”

Stiles scowled.

The last thing he needed was an Alpha werewolf taking sides with his father, ganging up to ground him into oblivion.

Her tone was a little too judgmental for his tastes.

“Nevertheless,” she continued, “He conceded to having the renegotiations take place on this side of the boundary line and will be escorted across the border this afternoon. As collateral hostage, and as the one coming forward on behalf of Beacon Hills, I certainly hope you’re ready to speak once the tables have been opened.”

“What, me?!” Stiles yelped with disbelief, his whole brain suddenly snapped to attention.

Sure he’d been the one to initiate this stuff, but he’d been bluffing, and as she had so helpfully pointed out the day before, who was he? He was just a kid, a teenager with a loud mouth and a reckless friend, even if he was the Sheriff’s son. He’d read the treaty, most of it anyway, but he certainly didn’t remember reading that.

Talia raised an imperious eyebrow and Stiles fought to get his expression back under control, to calm his suddenly racing heartbeat.

“I trust that won’t be a problem Mr. Stilinski,” she added, and everything in her voice said that she thought it would be, but rather than hang him she was just going to hand him the rope and sit back to
watch him do it himself.

“N… no,” he managed around the lump in his throat, “No problem. I’ll… be ready.”

And he would, because he would have to be.

He had no other choice.

Chapter Text

Being left alone in the library did little to settle Stiles’ nerves. The illusion of freedom inside the house was somewhat shattered by the sound of a key turning in the lock as Talia shut the doors on him, and he had no delusions that the wolves wouldn’t come running at the first sound of the windows being pried open. So instead of searching for a way out he put his time to better use, his mind whirring away as he hunted desperately for a solution to the problem he was facing. He counted off the time by pacing, eleven marches down, a tight turn to avoid the bookshelves, and eleven back again, all the while wishing for a computer. His research skills lay deeply embedded in the gift that was Google, but four discarded ideas later his gaze landed on the heavy, leather-bound book Talia had poured over the day before, tucked neatly away in an encyclopedia of similar volumes.

Taking it down from the shelf with a grunt, surprised by its weight, Stiles cracked it open and quickly skimmed the contents list, found the fourth charter that denoted the manner in which grievances could be aired between the two groups; the humans in town and the wolves in the Preserve. Sitting down in Talia’s chair he pulled the book closer, his eyes darting across line after line of legalese but only really picking out the pertinent bits.

Should either faction cross into neighboring territory uninvited, recompense will belong to the injured party

Messenger status may only apply to persons of position sent at the behest of either party

Collateral hostage may be made of such persons by either party, and it falls to such a messenger to begin opening talks as a negotiator between parties

It wasn’t the neatest work he’d ever read, certainly not written by a lawyer, but meant to be understood and upheld by average people.

Still, he wished he’d had more time to plan.

Of course, if he’d had more time to plan he probably wouldn’t be here at all. This was Scott’s terrible, impulsive decision, to come running in here with empty guns blazing, and Stiles was the idiot side-kick who’d stumbled along after him.

“All right then idiot,” he muttered under his breath, scrubbing his hands through his hair.

Time to figure this out.

Unfortunately for him, time wasn’t exactly a real thing inside the Preserve. It had gone wonky on him ever since he’d stepped across the border, and save that one brief glance at the clock in the kitchen, there was little to mark true time. More than once he wished for his watch as he read through the case law, glancing at his bare wrist every few pages or so until he got fed up with himself and dived back into the book with his full attention, to the exclusion of almost all else. Shuffling in the hallway outside, dimmed voices, all came to him as if from under water, the house settled inside a thick bubble where time pretty much just stopped as the lines of small black print scrolled endlessly in front of him.

It was painful.

But it paid off, because by the time the click of the library doors opening startled him out of his laser point focus, he had it - his golden idea, his saving grace, his raison d'etre… or at least his reason for calling politics into play.

The whole thing was utter crap.

“Why do you always do that?” a low voice demanded.

“Do what?” Stiles asked, working to keep his voice level as he closed the heavy law book and turned a bit to face Derek, who was standing in the now open doorway and twisting a bottle of water between his hands, claws crackling against the thin plastic.

Derek flashed his eyes, scowled like Stiles should know what he was talking about before he stepped forward and placed the bottle on the desk.

“Here,” he muttered, shrugging off the question and his lack of answer with apparent ease, but the question prickled at the back of Stiles’ neck.

What had he been doing? Clearly something that was upsetting to the werewolf, and frankly with that being the case he’d like to stop doing whatever it was. Twisting the top off the bottle, he took a sip, his brain going back to the way that Derek watched him with something almost like suspicion, the way that Stiles jumped whenever the wolf appeared silently beside him.

Was that it?

Was he just… offended that Stiles had spooked?

It made a weird sort of sense - the dark young man was awfully silent on his feet and Stiles had practically developed a full-body twitch where he was concerned, startling every time he came into the room.

In an attempt to hide a bitter sort of smirk, Stiles lifted the bottle in his hand, this time draining half of it to combat the sudden dryness in his throat.

If he was right it was almost funny - a werewolf who was nervous of him, him, 147 pounds of pale skin and fragile bone whose only real defense against the world was sarcasm…

Well, almost his only defense.

Capping the bottle and putting it down, his hand went subconsciously to his shoulder, kneading the muscle through his thick hoodie. Unfortunately Derek was still watching him, sitting in the wingback chair on the other side of the desk and staring like he could see right through Stiles. Swallowing hard, he dropped his hand, probably too casually but what else could he do?

Bluff, he supposed.

Standing, he deliberately turned his back in the werewolf, lifted the heavy book of case law and slotted it back into place on the shelf.

“Why are you here?”

The question came quietly, hesitantly, and he wasn’t ready for it but he managed to keep himself from flinching this time.

“I told you,” he said keeping his voice low and flat and soft. “I came to get Scott.”

Turning around, he looked up just in time to see Derek cock his head to one side, his eyebrows drawn together tightly.

“You’re not lying,” he frowned, and the complete confusion in his voice took Stiles aback.

“How…”

“DEREK!!”

“Jesus, Laura!” Derek yelped, squeezing his eyes shut and hunching his shoulders where Stiles had to slap his hands over his ears at the screech that suddenly rang through the air. “Mom said no yelling in the house.”

“Oh please,” a tall, curvy young woman huffed, breezing into the library like she owned it. “Like that rule wasn’t made because of you.”

Getting to his feet, Derek practically ran across the floor, meeting his sister halfway to the hall where he wrapped her up in a fierce hug, swallowing her slightly smaller frame and burying his face into the curve of her neck. For her part Laura did much the same, fisting one hand in her brother’s leather jacket and gripping him tightly by the back of the neck with the other, her knuckles white. Rubbing her cheek vigorously against the side of his face, she took a step back but didn’t let go, just transferred her grip to Derek’s sleeve.

“How’s mom?” she asked quietly, and Stiles didn’t miss the way her brother’s eyes flicked to the ceiling overhead.

“Anxious,” he murmured, almost inaudible to Stiles’ human ears. “She’s moving fast, trying to cover all the bases. She’s worried about him.”

The thumb jerked over her shoulder had Stiles’ heart stuttering in his chest, his eyes going wide as Laura turned on him with a sharp, golden gaze, looking him over like a predator sizes prey.

“He’s cute enough but he doesn’t look like much,” she assessed, cocking her head in a way that looked exactly like her brother, and that alone kept Stiles from squawking his indignation. “What does he turn into?”

“Sheriff’s kid,” Derek shrugged, and Laura raised an eyebrow, and aw hell, now she looked just like her mother.

Stiles felt his heart thump again as he realized that of all the wolves in the house, this was probably the one that he needed to watch out for.

“She’s worried the town will think we kidnapped him because the other kid crossed the border.”

“Fair,” she conceded before turning on Stiles, planting her hands on the desk and leaning forward with sharp teeth showing behind her bright red lipstick. “That’s not what you plan on telling them, is it cutie?”

“N… no ma’am,” he stammered, and then a smile was breaking over Laura’s face and she was laughing delightedly and coming around the side of the desk to grab him around the shoulders and pull him against her hip in a terrifying hug, scrubbing her palm roughly over the top of his head.

“Aw, I like this one Derek,” she said, pinching him on the cheek before releasing him to gulp at the air, a light fear-sweat breaking out all over his body. “Can we keep him?”

Keep him? What?!

Stiles’ head spun.

These people were freaking insane!

Threatened by an Alpha, dragged around roughly by her recalcitrant yet nervous son, and now taken to by her loud, effusive daughter, so much so that she wanted to keep him…

He wasn’t sure which approach he hated more.

“But he’s already collateral hostage,” Laura whined, apparently in response to something Derek had said but Stiles missed. “Why not? He looks like he could be fun. What do you think cutie, wanna stay and have some fun?”

Stiles squeaked.

A manly squeak, but definitely a squeak.

“Me?” he asked in astonishment, pointing a finger dumbly at his own chest. “I’m not… I mean, I don’t… I mean, what kind of fun are we talking about, cause I’m still a minor. And breakable. Delicate… squishy human… ”

For a moment both werewolves stared at him with blank faces, flabbergasted by the jumbled mess that had just come rushing out of him, but then Derek was scowling and Laura was cracking up, elbowing him in the side.

“Oh come on Der,” she grinned. “Don’t be such a sourpuss! Your little stray’s hilarious! Smart too apparently; scrub him up a little and he’d make quite the…”

“Hey Laur, Mom wants you upstairs.”

“Oh thank god,” Stiles muttered under his breath, his cheeks burning as the blonde from yesterday - Nicholas - poked his head into the library. He looked rumpled and weary, not as much as Stiles had in the mirror that morning, but he had the distinct appearance of somebody who’d been in a car for too long.

“Guess I need to get up there,” Laura sighed.

Pecking Derek on the cheek, she shot Stiles a wink over her shoulder as she headed for the door, squeezing Nicholas’ arm as she passed and disappearing down the hallway. For a moment silence reigned and Stiles wondered if he shouldn’t do something to break it, tapping his fingers experimentally on the desk top.

“Listen little bro, I gotta crash for half an hour,” the man in the doorway said, dragging a hand through his long, thick hair. “Laura was freaking when I picked her up, so I had to drive round trip.”

“Is she ok?” Derek asked, and there was heartfelt concern in his voice.

“Yeah, she just needed to get it out of the way. You know what it’s like with her; next in line, keeping up appearances, all that jazz…”

“Yeah.”

For a minute Stiles thought he would say more but he only nodded, clapped Derek on the shoulder and ducked out.

“Come get me before it starts!” he called back over his shoulder and Stiles flinched.

For a no shouting in the house rule, there seemed to be an awful lot of it going on. It had definitely been a surprise to hear Laura accuse Derek of being the source of the rule.

“I wouldn’t you know.”

Derek turned, looked at Stiles with confusion and he didn’t blame him. He hadn’t been prepared for the words to come out of his mouth either, certainly hadn’t planned them. But they were out there now, so…

“Tell them you kidnapped me,” he tried again. “I wouldn’t… do that.”

“Why, because you’re honest?” the werewolf asked with a sneer, but he looked just a little bit pale and there was something around his eyes that was… troubling. “Humans lie all the time.”

Stiles bit down an angry retort, swallowed an accusation.

“Sure,” he replied instead, stuffing his hands into his pockets where he could ball them into fists unseen. “But you said you could tell. Was I lying?”

Derek paused, stared at him with a blank expression.

And then turned and walked out of the library without another word.

“Dick,” Stiles muttered, and a bark of laughter sounded from the hallway before Calvin walked in, a grin edging at the corners of his mouth.

“Derek’s not so bad once you get to know him,” he reassured, taking the younger man’s seat across from Stiles. “His bark’s a lot worse than his bite.”

“Dog jokes?” Stiles asked, brightening a bit at this first bit of levity he’d experienced since his arrival. “Really? Is cool for me to use them, or is it like, one of those group-inclusive things?”

“Eh, maybe give it a while,” the wolf said easily, kicking his feet out to slouch lower in his chair. “I wouldn’t open with it.”

“Right,” Stiles mumbled, all humor sucked right out of him as he recalled his earlier dilemma. He was supposed to speak soon, represent the humans to the wolf pack…

“You ready?”

Stiles swallowed, but straightened his shoulders and nodded.

The question had felt more like encouraging concern than fishing anyway.

“Shouldn’t be long,” Calvin said conversationally, but again Stiles had to wonder if it wasn’t reassurance on his part. He’d be happy to get this over with as soon as possible. “We were only waiting on Laura.”

“Why?” he asked, before he could reel the question back. It didn’t seem like his business, and he wasn’t sure why he wanted to know in the first place. The fact that he was making the effort to remember names, faces, personalities - he didn’t know if that meant something, if subconsciously he was preparing to be stuck here.

“She’s next in line to be Alpha,” Calvin answered after a bit of a pause. “What happens today… she needs to be a part of that decision. It affects the future of the pack, which makes it partially her responsibility.”

“Oh.”

The conversation that had passed between Derek and his older brother was making a little more sense now.

Laura just seemed so much more carefree than the rest of them, so much more lighthearted…

It didn’t fit.

Tilting his head to one side, Calvin glanced at the ceiling, raised his eyebrows before getting to his feet.

“Come on,” he said, gesturing Stiles up. “Your dad’s on his way.”

“Where are we going?” Stiles asked as he scrambled to his feet, nerves and eagerness rushing back in to make his stomach tilt.

“The school,” Calving replied, chuckling when he saw the surprise on Stiles’ face. “Not yours. Ours. The kids are mostly homeschooled now, since the war. A few have gone to college, like Laura, but most of them are still just pups. Anyway, it’s big enough to fit everyone inside; we’ve got it rearranged to hold the negotiations comfortably enough.”

“Everyone?” Stiles warbled, stumbling as he stepped outside onto the porch after the werewolf and going white as a sheet. “The whole…”

“Not all of us,” he amended, watching Stiles carefully, though there might have been something like amusement in his gaze too. “Not much for public speaking?” he teased.

“Shut up,” Stiles muttered before he realized what he’d done, but Calvin just laughed and started walking toward another of the buildings, this one long and low and L-shaped. Somehow it managed to have the look and feel of a school, and Stiles balked on principle at the door but followed him inside.

“There will be more than a few of us,” he warned. “Alpha Hale, Laura, David. Probably Derek and Nicky too. Three elders, maybe four more betas.”

“And you?”

Calvin paused, looked over his shoulder curiously before giving him a wry half-smile. “And me,” he said, and that shouldn’t have been reassuring but it was.

Pushing open a heavy door, Calvin gestured him through into what looked like a small, converted gymnasium, and Stiles was struck just as he had been earlier by the practical amenities, the contained sort of community he hadn’t realized existed out here. He wondered if it had been like this before werewolves had come out to the world, before the hunter wars and before the segregation, or if it had only been born out of necessity when the pack no longer had access to town.

Musings best left for another time he supposed.

Closer inspection of his surroundings revealed a long table at one end of the gym with several chairs placed around it, and it was clear where the divide between the two sides was. He assumed the left was his as there were far fewer chairs provided, but the presence of two extra, four in total, surprised him, and he wondered if his father was bringing more people. The mayor maybe, though Stiles doubted it. Mayor Reinbold was a largely absent figure, spending more of his time on a houseboat off the Baja peninsula than in Beacon Hills. No, Stiles’ father pretty much ran the town - it would be his job and his reputation on the line.

More interesting that that there were further extra places set, two short rows of folding chairs set up as though for the audience of a play, and Stiles swallowed hard. Sure, he liked to talk, but this was important, and he didn’t want to screw it up. The fewer wolves watching the less nervous he would be, and that at least would increase his chances of speaking with some eloquence.

Or at least coherency.

Musing silently on this thought, staring into space, he was vaguely aware of someone coming in with a cardboard box and unloading bottles of water at each place at the table, pens and pads of paper, and he wondered idly how long they expected this thing to last.

“When everyone’s here, let the Alpha sit first.”

Stiles blinked, turned to find Calvin standing at his side.

“Then you and your father. She’ll say something, explain why we’re here, and then it will be your turn. Speak to her, or Laura - don’t worry about anyone else. It’s unlikely they’ll talk to you anyways; it wouldn’t be proper.”

“Why are you helping me?” Stiles asked.

The werewolf shrugged, put his hands into the pockets of the dark grey slacks he wore. “Why wouldn’t I?” he asked. “It’s best for the pack, best for everyone if this is resolved smoothly.”

“Is that a threat?”

“That’s the truth. We had no interest in a war then and we have no interest in one now.”

And what could Stiles say to that?

He considered apologizing, considered once again professing his own desire for peace, but before he could open his mouth the doors were opening and his father was walking in, led by Talia Hale and flanked by two of his deputies.

“Dad!”

Sprinting across the gym he crashed into the man’s arms and practically collapsed with relief - he might be sixteen going on seventeen but his dad was still his super hero, his saving grace, the one that he could always count on, and having him there made Stiles feel safe.

That hug was totally worth the slap to the back of the head.

Chapter Text

“Ow! Hey!”

“Dammit Stiles,” John Stilinski huffed, planting his hands firmly on his belt as Stiles rubbed at the back of his head. “What did I say?”

“Which time?” he whined, hunching his shoulders as his cheeks grew hot. He was bluffing sure, but he still felt bad - he didn’t like lying to his dad, or sneaking around or deliberately defying him. The man’s disappointment - real or imagined - was a weight he carried around with him like a ten pound block of cement.

For his part the Sheriff just sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. Behind him two of his deputies stood silently; Tara, who he’d known since childhood and who was calm and quiet and kept her emotions controlled behind a sweet yet stoic face, and the young Jordan Parrish, who was new but steady, and who was quickly becoming one of his father’s favorites. Stiles noted with great interest that none of them were wearing their handguns, holsters empty on their hips, but they were there and that felt better. Stiles had come to trust each of them in the time he’d known them, his father most of all, and he felt significantly safer with the three of them at his back.

“Alpha Hale, I’d like to apologize again for my son,” the Sheriff said, still staring at Stiles like he could ground him into his next life with the power of his Dad-Gaze alone, and he felt another wave of shame sweep through him. “Believe me when I say that he certainly wasn’t raised to think himself above the law.”

“While I appreciate the sentiment Sheriff Stilinski,” Talia replied, sincerity and seriousness warring in her voice, “And while I’m sure that what you say is true, you can understand the predicament we still find ourselves in.”

“Of course.”

“Very good. Let’s begin then, shall we?”

Inclining his head, the Sheriff allowed the Alpha to pass, gripping Stiles tightly by the elbow and dragging him towards the table after her. In the time that he’d been staring at the floor shamefacedly, a number of werewolves had begun to fill the small gymnasium, maybe a dozen or so of them filing into the rows of chairs and all eerily quiet, watchful as Stiles and his father approached the table. Stiles touched a hand to his father’s wrist, held him back just long enough for David Hale to pull out a chair, first for his wife and then his daughter. Stiles pushed the gesture one step further and waited until David was seated as well, the little old lady and Calvin too. The latter gave him the barest of grim nods - approval on that front at the very least. That left only one seat empty directly to Talia’s left, an unknown that felt heavy and more ominous than it should.

Swallowing, he gave his father a minute nod before lowering himself into his seat, followed by the rest of his meager three representatives. Flicking a glance at his ‘audience,’ a little trill of anxiety splashed over him as he realized there were several more present than he’d expected, than Calvin had warned him about. He recognized Derek and Nicholas in the front row but none of the others - men and women both, all adults, most of whom appeared to be in excellent physical condition and in the prime years of their life, one more intimidation factor that Stiles felt like an actual slap to the face. Folding his hands tightly in his lap, trying to head his fidgeting off at the pass, he straightened his shoulders and did as he’d been told, focused his attention on Alpha Talia Hale.

“Sheriff,” she began, and holy hell that tone. “I’d like to thank you for coming and for agreeing to allow us to host these negotiations. Your son had formally requested a re-examination of the treaty between the Hale pack and Beacon Hills, this coming on the heels of a breech in that treaty by a young man, Scott McCall. Are we agreed on this, Mr. Stilinski?”

“Yes ma’am,” Stiles replied, putting as much politeness into his voice as he could with coming off as a smartass. Talia Hale still made him nervous, still intimidated the crap out of him, and even from the other end of the table he could see the ring of ruby red around her eyes.

“Very good. Then as Alpha I move to begin these negotiations on this day, time 2:07 PM.”

“I second that motion,” Laura said before Stiles could express his sudden confusion, her voice smooth and calm and holding none of the playfulness that it had before.

Saluting Talia with a pencil from around the corner’s edge of the table, Calvin ducked his head but cast Stiles the barest hint of a smirk before he began scribbling - apparently taking down the minutes of the meeting.

Smart.

But it made Stiles nauseas to think that anything he was about to say was being recorded, for posterity’s sake or otherwise.

“Ok,” he breathed, spreading his palms out flat on the table top. “First, I’d just like to say that I have the utmost respect for everyone here and have no intentions to come across as otherwise. Unfortunately, I’ve got it on good authority that I’m a sarcastic little shit and have a tendency to come across as more than a little patronizing when I get in the zone. So I’m telling you now that even if that’s how it sounds, I don’t mean it that way. It’s just how my brain works. I need to lay things out to understand them and I have ADHD and I haven’t had my medication in a couple… oh look at that. Ask and ye shall receive!”

Sighing, the Sheriff rolled his eyes, but there was Stiles’ little orange prescription bottle, slapped square on the table in front of him having been magically produced from one of his father’s pockets. Taking a minute to collect himself, his heart already racing in his chest, he snuck a quick glance around the room as he popped one of his pills into his mouth, cracked the lid on a water bottle and swallowed it down. There were a few poorly hidden smirks, a few looks of exasperated disbelief, and Talia Hale was staring at him with one of those perfect brows arched, but all in all, no death glares so far.

“Now that we’ve got that out of the way…” he mumbled. Picking up a pen from the table, he pulled a yellow legal pad towards his chest and quickly sketched an outline of what he felt he needed to say.

“So the way I see it, we’ve got a few different problems,” he began. “First, Scott. He crossed the border and broke the law, and yes,” he said, raising his hands when he saw Talia’s cheek twitch, “You guys deserve recompense for that. It’s obviously caused some pretty big issues, on both sides. Going off of that, the second issue we’ve got is this idea that the town thinks you guys kidnapped me in retaliation. What’s the situation there?” he asked, turning towards his father.

“Unfortunately that is what’s going around,” his father said regretfully. “I’m not sure how it got out or who leaked it, but I have the rest of my deputies working on controlling that situation right now.”

“Spectacular. So… what I’m going to propose here tonight…” Stiles said slowly, and he could feel his pulse start to race.

This was the important bit, the scary bit, and he was afraid of the explosion he anticipated, but after what he’d seen of the werewolves, brief as it was, and what little he remembered of the Hale family before the revelation and before the wars… it seemed like maybe this, this made-up, last-ditch effort that he was throwing off the cuff might come to mean a lot more, might actually work.

“This is crazy,” he muttered, dropping his elbows onto the edge of the table and pressing his face into his hands, leaning all of his weight forward, but then his father’s hand was squeezing his shoulder and he sat up again, shaking off the doubt long enough to say what he needed to say.

“Which is… really shitty,” he admitted in a stronger voice, clapping his hands together, “But it is what it is. I think it’s time to… reintegrate.”

Silence.

Utter. Dead. Silence.

“I mean,” he spluttered nervously, twisting his fingers together, “Segregation ended a long time ago right? I know we’ve got a pretty bad history in Beacon Hills and a lot of… bad blood. But the reason the town is scared of you guys is because of the separation, the secrecy. What you guys can do. Technically the law says you could have killed Scott for coming onto your property and I’m sorry Alpha Hale, but that’s insane.”

The Sheriff’s fingers dug into his wrist, a warning, but Talia waved the offense away, gestured for him to continue with a carefully blank face though around them there was a sudden surge of small, irritable movement.

“So I think we should rewrite those laws,” he said. “This is the 21st century; we should be able to find ways to interact without that kind of ultimatum hanging over our heads. And I know that something like this is easier said than done, but anything worth doing takes effort right?”

“Setting aside the rather fantastical aspect of all this Mr. Stilinski,” Talia said carefully - and that didn’t sound good - “It rather sounds like a concession on our part for your friend. You said yourself that you came here for him, for his life. In doing this we would be putting ourselves at risk - by your own father’s account there are people in this town that are not pleased by the comingling going on these past few days.”

“They’re afraid of the consequences,” Stiles countered. “Redraw the treaty. No vigilante justice, on either side. No more border wars, and you guys get access to the town. To people, to resources… that’s worth something.”

“Even if it were,” Talia said before he could rush in to his next point, “You must know the hurdles we would face. Thus far you have presented yourself as an intelligent young man Mr. Stilinski, but what you propose is a child’s dream. A fantasy. History does not wash away so easily - the risk alone that I would be exposing my pack to…”

“You’re right,” he conceded, “It won’t be easy, and we won’t be starting with a clean slate. There are going to be risks and there are… probably going to be setbacks. But I thought of that too.”

Sighing heavily, dragging his hands over his face because he knew, knew his dad was going to kill him for this, he shot the man a look of apology and bit the bullet.

“Because we broke the law, and because I do feel bad about… all this, I’d be willing to work as… ambassador, I guess. Negotiator.”

“You?” Laura sniffed, and there was that smile and the glint in her eyes that was somehow just as scary as if she’d shown him her teeth, and Stiles was a little surprised that she entered into the conversation so boldly without any reaction from her Alpha and mother at all.

“Hey, I can be persuasive!” he sniffed a little defensively, crossing his arms and doing his best to ignore the sudden stillness in his father’s body beside him. “Or at least… persistent.”

Stiles,” his dad growled under his breath, and he almost rolled his eyes because, duh, werewolves? They could still hear him.

“It’s fine dad,” he muttered, trying to communicate with his eyes before turning back to the Alpha who had honed her gaze on him, full crimson now.

“I’m the Sheriff’s son,” he said. “I’m… pretty well-known, but most of this town loves me.”

“God knows why,” his father muttered, and Calvin chuckled loudly, missing his Alpha’s glare because his head was still bent over his notes.

“Anyway,” Stiles continued, leveling his father with a glare, “At the risk of sounding like a conceited ass, if I’m responsible for representing you to everybody, that’s a huge plus in your corner. You’ll have someone supporting this that the town listens to, plus you’ll have law enforcement on your side.”

Here he paused to reach over and ruffle Parrish’s hair, more to reassure himself than anything, but the young deputy just grinned and slapped his hands away, grabbed him by the neck for a one-armed hug, the picture of ease despite the situation.

“Assuming you don’t paint too fine a picture of yourself,” Laura began with a bit of a smirk, and Stiles turned his attention to her though his eyes kept flickering back to Talia, “Assuming that. Why should they care what you have to say? What are you going to tell them about us that turns us from the monsters in the dark into oh-so-charming neighbors?”

“You guys aren’t…” he started to protest, but it was only a half honest objection. The rest was all reactionary obligation.

“But we are, Mr. Stilinski,” Talia insisted, picking up where her daughter had left off. “Reality isn’t nearly so important as perception, and the world has had a way of demonizing werewolves that makes that perception nearly impossible to contradict.”

“But, what if…” he started, and then he bit his lip, unsure why it was suddenly so hard to continue. “What if you helped somebody? Like, helped someone who really needed it?”

“Oh Stiles,” the Sheriff sighed, and Stiles knew that now the man knew for sure. “Is that what this is really about? Is that why Scott came out here?”

“Yes sir,” he mumbled, and then before he knew what was happening he was wrapped tight in a hug that was almost painful, his father’s rough, warm fingers curved around the back of his skull and pressing their foreheads together. Stiles wondered abruptly what it looked like to the werewolves around them, but the look on his father’s face was more important, a painful clash of sorrow and pride and regret.

“I’m sorry kid,” he said quietly, and his voice was low and rough and he could hear the tightness in his dad’s throat. “If I could, I…”

“That’s why we’re here, right?” Stiles joked, trying for levity and failing miserably. Returning his dad’s hug before pulling back, he cleared his throat and quickly swiped the back of his wrist over his eyes, rubbing away the sting before returning his attention once more to Talia and Laura Hale, who were watching him with careful, interested faces.

“That’s why Scott came here,” he said in an attempt to explain. “There’s a kid at school. Our friend, Isaac. His dad… his dad isn’t a nice guy.”

“And you want us to help him,” Talia said after a moment of silence, and her voice was softer and more gentle than Stiles had ever heard it and his head snapped up at the sound of it, intent on that show of concession. “How exactly do you propose that we do that Mr. Stilinski?”

But he didn’t get the chance to respond.

Outside the gymnasium, just down the hallway, a massive crash sounded, a small explosion compared to the contained quiet of the room. Two voices bickered back and forth as they got closer; one high and distressed, the other low and calm but clearly angry, and all heads turned towards the doors just in time for them to come bursting open, a tall, extremely skinny young man staggering backward through them with both arms up, barely managing to keep his balance.

“But baby you’re hurt!” he whined, still walking backward toward the table with no idea what was behind him. “You can’t…”

“I can,” a deep voice purred, and then there was another man striding into the room, all broad shoulders and sharp, white teeth bared in a wicked grin as he advanced on the floundering werewolf before them. “You can’t. Get the fuck out Luca.”

“What the hell?” his father hissed, and then he and both his deputies were on their feet, hands flashing to their empty holsters and Stiles felt his stomach roll because oh my god, the blood

Like, all the blood.

Clamping his hand over his mouth, Stiles fought back the surge of bile, the rush of fear that had his knees going weak beneath him. Bright blue eyes and a pair of black sweatpants, and everything else was blood. Shirtless, grinning, the werewolf’s entire upper body was covered in the stuff, red painting his skin in spatters and streaks, running down his arms and falling in droplets to the floor, and there was no way that all of it was his because even though there were four neat parallel slashes across his lower abdomen, enough to gut a lesser man, there was way too much red going on for him to still be standing if he was the only donor.

“Baby, please…”

Baring his teeth, the man let out a roaring snarl that had half that wolves in the room flinching, ducking their heads and directing their eyes to the floor, and Stiles practically had a damned heart attack. He could actually feel the thing jump in his chest, fear-sweat breaking out over his forehead as the werewolf widened his stance and flicked his hands, claws emerging from his fingernails with a snick as fangs grew long and sharp in his mouth. The other man stumbled, cringed, and then with a single, threatening step forward he was sent scurrying out of the gym, the door swinging shut behind him.

Straightening up with a smooth roll of his bare shoulders the werewolf smirked, retracted his claws and licked the blood from his fingertips, swaggering past the three cops like they weren’t even there and making his way to his Alpha’s side of the table.

“Where have you been?” she snarled, and the man rolled his eyes, flopped down into the empty chair beside her and examined his fingernails with an air of utter uncaring.

“Taking care of our little problem,” he replied in a smug voice, and Talia sighed.

“Sheriff, I apologize,” she said, doing something Stiles considered the height of stupidity by leveling the man with a glare, Alpha or not. “Please allow me to introduce Peter Hale, my brother and left hand.”

“Your enforcer, you mean?” Stiles squeaked, because holy Jesus, after everything he’d just said, after taking the stories with a grain of salt and looking at the treatment he’d received instead, thinking that maybe, maybe the wolves weren’t so bad…

Thinking that maybe this might work…

The wolf’s blue eyes flashed to his, looking out from a blood-soaked face and a slow, sinister grin curled over his mouth as he sat up and leaned forward, interest sparking all around him.

“You must be Stiles.”

Chapter Text

He’d always wondered what it would feel like, hearing those words.

He’d thought about it, imagined it, even fantasized about it once or twice before he’d developed a really good grasp of what having a soul mark meant, but he’d never said them out loud, not once.

Never heard them.

Never dreamed his heart would stop when he finally did, had never even come close to feeling the electric rush that followed.

And yet some small part of him had always known that if would be when, not if.

That no matter what he did or what he wanted, one day he would hear those words.

You must be Stiles.

He would wonder later if he had blacked out. It seemed impossible that the world could break itself down into slow motion around him the way it did, or that anyone, even a werewolf could move so fast. One minute those words were pounding in his ears, those four little black words spoken perfectly, exactly, and he was flinching from the sharp pain of his breath catching in his throat, his heart spasming in his chest before it began trying to hammer its way out…

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh nonononono

But he didn’t really have the time to panic. He’d barely uttered a curse of disbelief, his hand clutching unconsciously at his shoulder when Peter Hale sat bolt upright in his chair, his eyes sparking electric blue and following the movement, narrowing in on the curve of his neck. Stiles only just saw the flash of bared teeth and then the next thing he knew he was being pulled up from his chair and thrown backward, slammed violently against the wall of the gym with a werewolf burying his face in his neck, dragging in a long, uneven breath, as his bare chest visibly expanded and his hot breath bathed Stiles’ throat. With one thick forearm pressed against his chest, all he could do was shout in fear and alarm as claws came up and shredded the neck of his hoodie, slashing down toward his elbow, and then there they were, stark and heavy against his pale skin and staring them both in the face, four awful words and the thin, silver scars that fit the fangs snarling just inches from his face.

He couldn’t really hear the commotion beyond Peter’s shoulder - shouting, snarling, the crash of things being overturned - though some small part of him knew that the world hadn’t quite stopped existing. In that moment though it seemed like it had, the only thing left being the wolf before him, the electricity that snapped in the bare two inches between their bodies and stung at his skin, nothing but sheer terror coursing through his blood and burning up his brain.

Yeah, now he had time to panic.

“Get off, get off me!” he yelped, finding his voice as he tried to bring both feet up off the ground to kick Peter away, but the werewolf just surged forward, one thigh shoved between Stiles’ knees and his whole body pressing him back against the wall, unable to move or fight or get away. “Get mmph…”

Slapping his free hand over Stiles’ mouth, Peter snarled in his face, eyes hot blue and furious, teeth long and sharp.

“What the hell kind of game are you playing,” he hissed, and Stiles felt a new surge of panic rush through him as Peter’s hand dropped to his throat, pressed him back. “What did you…”

“Peter!”

Talia’s roar cut through the fear-fog as easily as Peter’s claws had cut through Stiles’ clothes, sliding through it as easily as a hot knife through soft butter. Peter froze with a snarl on his half-shifted face, still holding Stiles by the throat, anger practically radiating off of him and then all of a sudden he let go, Stiles’ legs buckling beneath him and sending him crashing to the ground as the werewolf towered over him with a look of sheer hatred in his eyes. Shaking his head slowly in disbelief, in fury, Peter pulled his shoulders back as though to attack a second time, making Stiles flinch, but then seemed to think better of it. With one last low growl, he turned around and stalked away, slamming back out through the doors just the way he came.

“Stiles? Stiles! Come on kid, look at me!”

Blinking, Stiles jolted, shocked to find his father kneeling in front of him and gripping him tightly by the shoulders. Even as terrified as he was he’d been unable to take his eyes off of Peter and had completely missed everything else that had happened.

It looked like a bomb had gone off.

There were chairs tipped over, the table shoved to the side sending pens and paper scattering, humans and wolves alike all on their feet. David, Nick, and Calvin stood grouped in front of his father’s deputies, their postures more protective than anything, and Talia Hale was standing three paces off with bright red eyes, her face pale and drawn and horrified, but suspicious too.

Stiles took in all of this from a state of completely detached fugue, as if he were no longer inside his own body. He could still feel the fear pounding in his throat, the ghost of Peter’s hand still wrapped lightly around it, pressed over his mouth, and he could feel his father’s fingers biting into his biceps, recognized the beginning stages of a panic attack.

“Shit Stiles, come on, tell me you’re ok,” the Sheriff demanded, his voice wobbling as his hands flew - testing knees, wrists, shoulders - and then his hand was gently cupping Stiles’ jaw and tilting his head to the side, peeling back the shreds of his hoodie to expose his neck, searching for bites or slashes beneath the blood Peter had left behind, and then he froze.

“Oh no,” he breathed. “Oh Christ, not…”

And then it hit.

Stiles’ heartbeat went through the roof, pounding against his ribs so hard he thought it might burst inside of him. Clutching at his dad’s wrists he began to hyperventilate, his chest heaving as he fought for breath, gulping at the air. He vaguely registered breaking out into a cold sweat, goosebumps sweeping down over his arms as his muscles went weak and his entire body began to tremble. He could hear his father’s voice in his ears but it was thick and low and dull, far away as if from underwater, and it didn’t matter whether he closed his eyes or not, all he could see was blood and bright blue eyes, staring at him like they could burn him to nothing if they just tried hard enough.

“Stiles… having a panic attack… know what that feels like, right?”

Swallowing again and again, his throat dry, Stiles shook his head rapidly, tightened his grip on his father and whined between clenched teeth, squeezing his eyes shut.

“Come on… breathe with me… need to count, ok?”

Count.

Ok, he… he knew that. Five in, seven out, right?

“…two, three, four, five,” his dad counted off, pulling Stiles’ hand against his own chest. “That’s it, good job. One, two, three…”

A few more rounds and the fear, the panic, the overwhelming certainty that something absolutely horrible was about to happen slowly began to fade. As his breathing evened out he was able to start responding, answering questions with at least a nod, and when he finally came out of it enough to recognize Jordan crouched beside him, to reach for his arm with full trust that the deputy would get him safely if shakily to his feet, he was shocked to find that the room had practically emptied - Talia, David, Nick, and Laura the only wolves left in the room. They were all staring but Stiles couldn’t bring himself to meet their eyes, to analyze the looks on their faces. After everything he was too exhausted and drained to try to process whatever emotions they might be feeling, be they pity or otherwise.

Hell, he was too exhausted to process his own.

“All right Stiles?” Parrish asked quietly, letting him go once he was sure that Stiles was steady on his feet.

Nodding silently, Stiles lifted his hand and ran trembling fingers through his hair, tried shyly to tug the tattered side of his zip-up back where it belonged.

“It doesn’t mean anything Stiles.”

Blinking, confused, he looked up at his dad dumbly, a sudden sense of unavoidable fate hanging heavily on his shoulders.

“It doesn’t have to mean anything,” he repeated insistently. Stepping up, he put both hands on Stiles’ shoulders in a gesture of comfort, but he could still feel his father’s hands shake. “We can walk away from this right now. Go home and it’ll be like it never happened. It’ll be fine Stiles, it’ll be fine.”

The pleading tone, the tremor in his voice should have been enough to trigger Stiles’ protective instincts, to make him grab on to his own control and shift into rationalization, into reassurance, but for the first time in his life Stiles allowed himself a moment of completely selfish freak-out.

“Fine?” he squeaked, shaky and high and scared. “Fine? I’m soul-bonded to a blood-soaked psychopath who just tried to kill me - how is that fine?!”

“Sheriff,” Talia Hale broke in quietly, and Stiles’ nerves were tangled and scattered enough that he turned in utter disbelief, his eyes huge and round with accusation and dismay.

God, what now?

“I’d very much appreciate it if you would join us at the house,” she continued quietly, and the commanding Alpha thrum was entirely absent from her tone. “I would be sure that your son is all right and I certainly have some apologies to make.”

“And a god damn explanation,” the Sheriff snarled, and to her credit Talia stepped back, bowed to his assertion instead of brushing it off as inconsequential in the face of her larger strength.

“A discussion is certainly warranted,” she murmured, and Stiles went cold as her red gaze fell on his shoulder, stuck like she could see through the shredded remains of his shirt to the words, the soul beneath. “But not here.”

Straightening up, she brushed her hands briskly over her hips, righting imaginary dust and wrinkles the way women often did, but the way she squared her shoulders read as nothing so much as a battle general. Nodding to her husband, to Nick and Laura, the three of them all eased back like they’d been given permission to relax after standing at attention, three little soldiers all in a row, and Stiles choked on a laugh. Laura met his gaze, raised her eyebrows as if to ask a question but he didn’t know what it was.

“Please,” Talia said quietly, making a sweeping gesture towards the door. “We’ll all be far more comfortable in the library.”

Stiles disagreed.

But his father and the rest seemed to take her word for it, because the next thing he knew he was being surrounded by a wall of BHPD olive green and shuffled off towards the house.

XXX

There was something about that kid.

Stiles.

It was quiet, unassuming, whispering to the dark, cold place at the back of Calvin’s mind where the wolf lived, alert and constant, but it was there. He didn’t know what it was and he wasn’t sure it mattered, but he could see and smell and feel it like it was a living, breathing thing young and ripe for sinking his teeth into.

He was… brave in spite of himself, in spite of the situation. Always squaring his jaw and walking right into it even though he reeked of the ozone of fear. It brought out a strange protectiveness in him that wasn’t quite like anything he’d felt before, a tug low in his belly that drew him in, pulled him closer. It had pleased him when Stiles had been able to joke with him in the library, had sparked warmth in his chest when the young man looked to him to be there during the negotiations, like his presence would be reassuring, comforting.

He hadn’t given the advice he did only to protect his pack. A part of him wanted to see Stiles come out on top of this, oddly enough. He didn’t know what the kid was planning, what he meant to propose to his Alpha, but a young human walking into werewolf territory and demanding negotiations all in the name of saving a friend… that showed courage, loyalty, intelligence… real teeth.

He was even more impressed when Stiles finally began to outline the changes he wanted to make to the treaty between his pack and Beacon Hills. It had been difficult to focus on taking his notes at first - that babbling little speech at the beginning just about had him cracking up, but he’d managed to contain it by biting his lip and flicking a glance at his Alpha, only to find her unamused. Laura at least seemed a little less uptight about it than her mother, a smile flickering in her dark eyes, but things had quickly gotten serious when Stiles began stuttering nervously about reintegration.

It was a touchy subject, one that had been coming up more and more often lately. The wolves weren’t exactly deprived out here in the Preserve - they’d been known and respected members of the community before the big wolf reveal so many years ago and their subsequent outing by the Argent family. They’d suffered tremendously during the wars of course, but once that dark time had ended and the treaty had been signed, little by little they’d been able to start rebuilding what could be fixed. They had electricity, running water, the internet for god’s sake, but it was still hard, being cut off from the town that his pack, his family had practically helped to build. They lived under constant reminder of the fact that they weren’t welcome in a place that had been their home for decades, generations, all because of what they were, their very nature.

They were in an interesting place now. Those who had been children during the wars were all on the cusp of adulthood - Derek and Laura and Nicky, Jeff, Steven and Brittany - and it was they who perhaps suffered most. Many of them had been traumatized by the fighting and the deaths, the injuries and scars, both physical and psychological, and beyond that they were now faced with the choice of staying with the pack or fighting their instincts and getting out. Leaving, going on to bigger and better things, cities where werewolves were as common and as welcome as any other. Laura had done that, moved almost seven hours away to study political science and debate, a degree with the potential to earn her a career in her most cherished hobby - arguing. The whole thing had her mother positively terrified that she was only a few short years from losing her protégé, the next in line to lead the pack, and then where would they all be?

So yes, integration, a desperate try for reducing the tension and bringing them all back together, give them back some opportunities a little closer to come had been on the table for some time now.

A bit funny really, that it took a stranger, a clumsy goofball with a fierce heart, to bring the matter right to their front door.

Talia was resistant of course, and rightfully so. The number of things that could go wrong, the risks they would be taking certainly warranted a high degree of thought and an even higher degree of caution. It had shocked the hell out of him when Stiles had offered up himself as ambassador, the word emissary echoed silently beneath the rather-more-human label. He hadn’t been the only one - even his Alpha had had to hold back her surprise. The Sheriff, a good man as he recalled, had given off a sharp, violent burst of charcoal angerfright but kept his countenance - Laura hadn’t been so quiet. But Stiles had risen to the occasion impressively, defending himself and proving once again his loyalty to his friends, a sense of what was right as he explained about the boy with the abusive father, a story that sent a splash of disgust ringing around the room. An act against family, especially violence against a pup, was once a crime punishable by death if the Alpha deemed it so.

Sometimes it still was.

That Stiles had leveraged that against them, unknowingly though it was, demonstrated intelligence, hinted at cunning, and there had been a dark spark in his eye that Calvin appreciated, that spoke to the wolf in him, warming his belly and rousing his interest.

All in all, he had been impressed. Intrigued. Eager for more and oddly hopeful.

For the first time Calvin wondered if they might really be able to come to an agreement on this, to achieve what three quarters of the country already had - the peaceful coexistence that had been shattered by bigotry and hate.

Leave it to Peter then to come waltzing in at the absolute bloody worst time, emphasis on the bloody.

All the same, you had to hand it to the man - he knew how to make an entrance.

He didn’t mind that Peter’d gotten rid of Luca. The whiny little runt rubbed almost everyone the wrong way, and Calvin had certainly had his fill of him. More than that, he wasn’t welcome in the negotiations, had made a big misstep in entering the room no matter the reason. The fact that he was only fawning around Peter, yipping about an injury the wolf would consider trivial, just made it that much more ridiculous.

No, it was the fact that he’d burst in looking like a god damned killer from an 80’s slasher flick that had pissed him off. The werewolves didn’t bat an eye - they all knew that Peter had been sent out to deal with the rather large male panther that had been making a nuisance of itself along the far edges of their territory. A pet that had been released after growing too big for its cage, it had started making aggressive passes at humans and werewolves alike as it began to go gaunt and hungry, and so Talia had dispatched Peter to take care of the problem. It was the cat’s blood he’d practically bathed in, that filled up the room with a hot-copper stench that made Calvin’s mouth water, but the humans, the Sheriff didn’t know that.

All they saw was a snarling, murderous animal - an image that the Hale pack had been working hard to live down.

Of course that hadn’t phased Peter.

Swaggering in like he owned the place, he’d taken his seat, mouthed off, and then all hell had broken loose.

Big shock there.

It seemed innocuous enough - a greeting, simple if a little smart-assed - but Stiles had gone as white as sheet, paling violently as his jaw dropped and his eyes went big as dinner plates. He didn’t understand, even when the young man reflexively clutched at his shoulder like he’d been shot, but apparently Peter had. He’d jerked upright like a livewire had run through the bottom of his seat, his heart skipping a beat before starting to race, only matched by the terrified kid across the room, and Calvin couldn’t remember a time when Peter hadn’t been the picture of perfect control.

The next thing he knew, the next thing anyone knew, Peter was across the room and tossing Stiles against the wall hard enough to knock the wind out of him, snapping and snarling and showing his teeth, and Calvin’s heart leapt into his throat as Peter buried his face in the curve of the young man’s throat. He didn’t have time to contemplate that striking fear, too quickly he was out of his seat and leaping forward along with half the rest of them. Peter was the threat, against Stiles and against the pack too, but Calvin knew better than to go for him straight on. He was the pack warrior, known for his scars and his ability to fight, but he’d never been able to beat Peter. Tamping down the instinct, he left the slavering werewolf to his Alpha, instead catching the Sheriff around the middle and holding him back despite the shouting and the swinging fists. In his suddenly maddened state Peter was likely to gut the human, authority figure or not.

On either side of him, David and Nicky had each grabbed on to a deputy, keeping themselves between them and the threat they strained toward, holding them back from certain death. Talia’s husband was pale and visibly shaken but Nicky gave nothing away but firm determination, and damn was he proud of that boy. But then Stiles was shouting and Peter was snarling, and over the Sheriff’s shoulder Calvin saw Peter’s claws shred the kid’s shirt and then a cold, dead weight settled into the pit of his stomach.

Oh. Shit.

Talia’s roar had him flinching, struggling not to fall to his knees and bare his neck to her, but it got the desired effect in that Peter dropped the boy and backed up, a leaping, tangled mess of emotion.

Not that he could blame him for that, holy Christ. A bond mate…

How did you even handle…

By walking away, apparently.

With one last vicious snarl, Peter turned and stalked back out the door, leaving a blast of arctic chill behind him. Calvin immediately released the Sheriff who went to his knees in front of his son, searching him over for injury before peeling back the mutilated collar of his shirt to expose the silver scar, the black tattooing that left no room for question.

Soul matched to Peter Hale.

Calvin didn’t begrudge the boy his panic attack - he certainly wouldn’t judge him for it. Fear was a useful emotion, meant to keep you safe - only an idiot would’ve accepted what had just happened with a sniffle and a shrug.

Still it was painful to see, to hear, his heartbeat skyrocketing and the scent of him going sharp and ashy with an edge of vinegar that stung at his sensitive nose. He thought to step forward, to pull some of it out of him, just to get him through the worst, but his father quickly seemed to be doing that job, keeping a tight, grounding grip on his son’s shoulders and speaking to him quietly.

An electric thrum ran down his spine and he looked to his Alpha, who nodded her chin toward the door, her red eyes grave and serious, and he was reluctant to go while Stiles was still in the throes of a panic attack, but he knew his place. Meeting Nicky’s eyes, a silent promise passed between them and then he was gone, sprinting out the door after Peter.

He caught him halfway across the valley that ran the length of the Preserve, on his way to his own apartments at the edge of the clearing. He was stalking along slowly, almost stomping, his head down and his shoulders high and tight. He practically radiated fury and want for a fight, enough that Calvin knew to approach cautiously and announce his presence from a long way off.

“Well little brother,” he hailed, jogging up to Peter’s side, “I’ve seen you pull a lot of shit over the years, but sending your bond mate into a panic attack…”

“Fuck off Vinny,” Peter snarled, the childhood nickname twisted in anger.

“You should go back,” Calvin pressed, careful to keep himself out of range of the swipe of Peter’s claws even as he kept pace beside him. “Fix this.”

“I don’t owe that little shit anything.”

“What are you so pissed about?” he demanded, coming to a stop, surprised when Peter turned to face him instead of just continuing his march. “He didn’t choose this anymore than you did, and neither of you can make it go away. What are you going to do if you don’t plan on facing that?”

“I’m going to shower,” Peter deadpanned, but there was a hollowness in his voice that Calvin recognized, ghosts dancing behind his eyes. “And then I’m going to go find my boyfriend and fuck him through the mattress.”

Calvin scoffed, crossed his arms and looked Peter up and down with skepticism through his one good eye.

“Boyfriend,” he snorted. “Luca got a promotion then did he? Last I knew he was nothing more than a good lay, a distraction until Talia gets sick of him and ships him back to Ohio. And that was just this morning.”

Slowly, a nasty grin curled over Peter’s face and he tapped at the corner of his own eye mockingly.

“Things change Vin. You of all people should know that.”

Chapter Text

Staring at himself in the mirror, Stiles felt entirely disconnected from his reflection, from his own body. It was a bit like being a passenger at the back of his brain, watching as his body went through the motions of movement automatically, his bare chest rising and falling in a slow, steady rhythm even though he felt like he was suffocating.

Talia Hale had led them silently into the house, gesturing Stiles into the little bathroom down the hall while the rest of the group filed slowly into the library. He’d locked the door behind himself more out of spite than any real hope for privacy or safety, and had stood over the sink clutching at the counter for a good five minutes before he began to settle back into his skin, felt weighted back to the earth.

At some point he’d pulled off his hoodie and his t-shirt, tossed the shredded fabric onto the lid of the toilet as he stared at himself, milk-white and trembling, his eyes huge and dark and haunted in his face. There was a stark, bloody handprint curled around the base of his throat, a little more smudged over the lower half of his face, and something jolted in him that had him scrabbling suddenly at the taps, soaking a scrap of his shirt beneath the faucet and scrubbing at his skin, rubbing it pink and raw even as he did a sloppy job, his muscles to tense and jerky to do it right.

Sucking in gasps of air, he twisted the cloth tightly between his fingers, trying to grab on to what little control he had left. He’d expected there to be claw marks slashed into his skin, curving over his shoulder, but it was entirely free of marks outside of those that had already been there - a thin, raised crescent bite and those four, black, scripted words.

You must be Stiles.

A harsh, half hysterical giggle scraped its way out of Stiles throat, exhaustion washing over him in a wave. His feelings about the soul mark and what it meant to be bonded had changed a hundred times over the years, again and again and almost always different, but one thing had always stayed the same - someone out there was supposed to love him. No matter the highs or lows, whether he thought it was a good thing or a bad thing, he’d always believed that someone was required by fate to love him. Obsessively, possessively, unhealthily, but still, the point stood.

Having Peter Hale speak those words had shattered half his world, and being attacked by him seconds later had shattered the other.

Stiles’ fingers were damp and icy cold when he wrapped them around his shoulder, traced the scar, the unmarked skin.

A tiny part of him deep, deep down snickered and sneered, because at least he’d gotten that much right.

Can’t hurt me asshole. Sucks to suck.

And he hadn’t not really. Even spun totally out of control, snapping and snarling and raging so close to his throat that Stiles was actually lucky he hadn’t pissed himself, Peter hadn’t been able to hurt him. The wolf had practically slashed his clothes right off his body, but there wasn’t a drop of blood, not a nick or a scratch or a line of red left behind by those razor sharp claws.

It was that, knowing that for sure now, that enabled Stiles to straighten his shoulders, grab his hoodie, and leave the bathroom without tumbling back into the depths of a panic attack, to shake away the last vestiges of adrenaline-tremble and wander up the hallway to the library where low, irritable voices hummed.

It wasn’t quite enough to make him raise his head though.

The full force of every pair of eyes in the room turning on him hit Stiles like a truck, heavy and too sharp, and it made his breath catch in his throat as he turned his hoodie in his hands, fingered the long, ragged tears at the collar.

“It’s ruined,” he muttered when he felt his father step in close to his side, felt his hand on his bicep, burning hot on his bare skin. “Good metaphor huh?”

“Stiles?”

“Wrecked, ruined, torn apart…” he elaborated, sarcasm coming to his defense as he finally looked up, eyebrows raised. “I don’t have a thesaurus with me but I could probably keep going.”

“Stiles that’s not…” his father began hesitantly, but then his determined Sheriff’s face settled and he gripped both of his shoulders tightly. “I’m not gonna let that happen,” he said firmly, insistently, and it cut at something in Stiles’ chest that the older man actually seemed to believe it. “This doesn’t change anything, you understand me?”

“Actually Sheriff, I’m afraid it does just that.”

Making a wide, pointed gesture in Talia Hale’s general direction, Stiles sighed heavily and dropped into the hard wooden chair he’d occupied earlier that morning, draping his hoodie over his knee.

God he was tired.

“If you don’t mind Alpha Hale,” the Sheriff gritted out, “I like a clear explanation of what the hell just happened. My son’s been attacked by one of your betas - I’m not exactly in the mood for politics or bullshit.”

“Of course,” the werewolf replied, but her eyes were glowing bright red and Stiles kicked the back of his father’s leg, a silent reminder not to antagonize anyone.

The Alpha was standing behind her desk with arms crossed, shoulders back, looking ready to declare war while Laura sat in a chair to her right, her whole body tense and small as she tucked one knee over the other and clenched her fingers tightly around her elbows. David and Nicholas Hale weren’t so tense, standing more loosely as they leaned against the bookcases side by side, quiet and out of the way, but they both had their hands in their pockets and Stiles suspected they were curled into fists.

Talia opened her mouth to speak again but before she could get a word out Calvin came stalking into the room with a scowl on his face, but the frown turned soft as he stopped in front of Stiles, reached out to take his chin gently between his fingers and tilt his face to one side.

Behind him Stiles’ father and both his deputies stepped forward, hands going automatically to their empty holsters, but Stiles failed to flinch, couldn’t summon the energy, so he just stared up at the werewolf with a glare, his only emotion a vague irritation at being touched so cavalierly after being thrown violently against a wall.

“All right kid?” the man asked, trailing his gaze over pale skin and Stiles sneered, risked shoving his hand away.

“Fine,” he snarled through gritted teeth, and Calvin’s eyes flickered gold as he grinned, teeth sharp and pointed beneath his lip.

“Calvin!” Talia snapped, and the werewolf turned with what looked suspiciously like a laughing shrug, shaking his head once at his Alpha before crossing the room to David’s side and planting himself in one of the wingbacks, legs spread wide to keep his boots planted firmly on the ground.

Sighing heavily, Talia pinched the bridge of her nose before giving herself a minute shake and coming around from behind the desk, approaching Stiles slowly.

“May I?” she asked, ignoring the Sheriff’s hard glare, keeping her eyes on Stiles instead.

“Whatever,” he muttered.

It was immediate, the word and the permission out of his mouth before he’d even thought about it. Years, years of keeping it a secret, shielding the words from literally everyone, and now he just couldn’t care anymore. It was small consolation that she had the good grace to look a bit ashamed of herself before stepping in close to his side and looming over him, her red gaze heavy on his neck. Her hand lit briefly on his shoulder and his skin flickered beneath her touch but he didn’t flinch, stone still but for the minute, automatic reaction.

Later he would be rather proud of that.

“You know what this is?” she asked, a fingertip tracing the scar and making an unpleasant shiver run down Stiles’ spine.

“Yes,” he bit out, jerking his shoulder away from her, relieved when she nodded and took a step back. “It’s a bond mark.”

“It is,” she agreed, slipping past Laura into her seat, smoothing down her blouse before folding her hands on top of the desk and leveling him with a firm, steady gaze. “And unfortunately those are my brother’s teeth.”

“You’re sure?” the Sheriff demanded, and beside him Calvin snorted.

“We’re sure,” he deadpanned, stretching out his legs and crossing his ankles. “Peter bit a lot when we were kids. We’ve both seen more of those teeth than we’d care to.”

“Enough,” Talia snapped, and Calvin ducked his head in deference, eyeing Stiles who had paled and shivered. Motioning with one hand, he beckoned Nicholas to his side, said something that sent the younger man nodding and slipping silently from the room.

“Stiles, Sheriff Stilinski,” Talia continued, “Please allow me to offer my sincerest apologies, and understand that I realize any words I can offer pale in comparison to what you’ve experienced here today.”

“Damn right!” the Sheriff barked. “You’re brother just assaulted my teenage son - I could have him arrested!”

“Sheriff, believe me when I say that that would only make things worse,” Talia said coldly. “For everyone involved, including Stiles. Unfortunately there is little I can do about the relationship between my brother and your son - the nature of a soul bond limits my control over the situation - but rest assured that Peter will be reprimanded appropriately for his behavior.”

Stiles watched silently as his dad opened his mouth to shout, the red creeping up his neck a tell-tale sign that his blood pressure was rising, but once again an interruption put the brakes on what could easily become an out and out brawl. It was Nicholas this time that brought them back down, offering Stiles a checkered flannel shirt in green and white.

“Should fit,” he said, waiting patiently until Stiles reached out and took it from him, shook it out. “We look about the same size.”

“Thanks,” he finally managed, and the guy offered up an easy smile before sharing a glance with Calvin and ducking out again.

His head was starting to hurt with the effort of tracking everyone coming and going from the room, remembering names and trying to decide whether or not he was getting a good vibe from one or the other so he quit trying, stuffing his arms into the shirt and buttoning it halfway up his chest. It was just a little too tight across his shoulders, but it was soft in a worn-in sort of way and it made him feel far less vulnerable than he had sitting there half-naked.

“Sheriff, you suggested that you take your son home and forget this ever happened,” Talia Hale said, pulling them back into the conversation neatly and succinctly, and with all the subtlety of an axe hanging over their heads. “Despite my brother’s reaction, and given the circumstances…”

Sighing, Talia’s eyes moved to Stiles’ shoulder once again.

“Given the circumstances I think it would be best if Stiles stays here.”

The silence that followed that statement couldn’t have been cut with a freaking lightsaber.

“Excuse me?” Stiles’ father said, deathly cold and calm.

“A soul bond is a complicated thing Sheriff,” she said, sagging back in her chair as a solemn frown touched her face, and for the first time Stiles actually felt a little bit of honest emotion from her. “There will be… consequences of this, both physical and emotional, for Stiles and for Peter. Now that the bond has been activated, now that their souls have recognized each other… you cannot simply pretend that this didn’t happen.”

“Consequences,” Stiles repeated, his voice rough and raw like he’d been crying. “What…”

“Shared emotions,” Talia replied, looking at him carefully. “Shared pain. There will be times when your psyche or your body will want to seek Peter out, will be searching for the connection you’ve only just started building. If you choose to ignore that, if you force yourself to stay away, injury and illness can and will follow.”

“How do you know that?” Stiles choked, desperation leaking into his tone. “How can you know that? I don’t even know him, he doesn’t even… You can’t know that!”

“We do know that Stiles.”

It was almost the first thing that David Hale had said to him directly, and Stiles might have glared if he wasn’t morbidly fascinated by the man suddenly rolling up his left sleeve, all the way to his elbow before clenching his fist and laying bare his own forearm, the neat block letters inked out in deep blue.

Took you long enough.

Stiles blinked, looked between the man and his wife, the Alpha who’s eyes had gone a little soft around the edges as she trailed her gaze slowly over her husband’s face.

Well hell.

XXX

Watching Peter stalk off toward his apartment hadn’t done much to quell Calvin’s irritation with his younger brother. He could be an utter ass when he wanted to, and it was clear that this was going to be one of those times. His vulgar comments about Luca were a good indication of that - every pack member old enough to know what sex was knew that the visiting ambassador from the Ohio pack was just a convenient bed partner to Peter - he was barely tolerated otherwise. Cursing under his breath, he flipped the bird at Peter’s retreating form and spun on his heel, marching back toward the house.

Bond mate, fuck!

At least it explained the tickles of intrigue Calvin had felt toward the young man, the strangely intense interest for a boy too young for him who’d come crashing into their lives with all the grace and subtlety of a rampaging elephant. Their mother had always said Peter and Calvin should have been born twins - they were far too alike for their own good. You wouldn’t think it to look at them, but stick them under the moon together and they’d been known to paint the woods red.

Shaking his head to rid himself of the sudden dark, animalistic thoughts whispering in his ears, he leapt lightly up the porch steps and let himself into the house, walking down to the library where his Alpha waited. Stiles was sitting shirtless in the nasty little chair Talia used when chastising the pups, pale and wide eyed with thin, watery blood dried around the corners of his mouth, but his brother’s handprint had been washed from the boy’s throat and that calmed him a little.

Heedless of the three law enforcement officers bracketing the boy, he strode up in front of him and grabbed him by the chin, tilting his head to examine the unbroken skin of his neck and shoulder, satisfying himself that Peter hadn’t shredded his skin as well as his shirt. The sneer and snarl he’d gotten in return had made him grin - the kid had a little bite in him, that was clear enough. His sister had snapped at him, rightly enough he supposed, but he didn’t give her any more of a report on Peter than to shake his head. Once she’d gotten her own satisfaction that the boy was indeed soul bonded to their recalcitrant baby brother - though really, that much was pretty damned obvious - the conversation turned to other things and all he could do was sit back quietly and listen, watch Stiles and ignore the way his hackles wouldn’t lie down.

He noticed the way the boy shivered, the way he hunched his shoulders, and he could only guess how vulnerable the kid felt half naked under all their eyes. A gesture and a few quiet words had Nicky ducking outside, running down to the apartment they shared and returning with one of his own flannel shirts for the kid, but the hard look the younger man shot him suggested trouble, and then he was gone again before Calvin could even quirk an eyebrow.

That was… concerning.

It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Nicky, or that he didn’t think the kid could take care of himself, but he could just imagine the kind of crap already brewing outside among the rest of the pack, the rumors already running rampant after Luca had run off squeaking and Peter had followed in a snarling, furious sulk. Toss in the fact that their borders had been crossed twice in as many days and the local Sheriff was on the grounds and you had a pretty good recipe for a quickly approaching disaster. He should be out there, doing damage control or at least directing traffic…

But Talia was in the middle of trying to explain what a soul bond was and Stiles was starting to panic and then David shocked the hell out of him by rolling up his sleeve and tilting his forearm toward the light, showing off Talia’s smart-mouthed first words to her husband so many years ago.

It wasn’t a secret, not exactly. Talia’s family knew, most of the pack, but a bond mark was a little bit sacred, a little bit intimate, and David was rarely open with his. Sparing a calculating glance for his Alpha, who was looking a little quiet and fond but not at all upset by the display, Calvin scented the air, searched for any distress on behalf of his brother in law. He needn’t have worried - the man was all butter and sugar and vanilla, the fading scent of sugar cookies that you got a lot from new parents, the scent of someone wanting to reassure, to calm or care for.

The kid seemed pretty good at getting that response from people.

It wasn’t going to help him at all with Peter.

Chapter Text

“So you’re telling me that unless he sticks around to play happy housewife to your psycho brother, he’ll actually be physically ill?” Stiles’ father demanded.

Grimacing, Stiles hunched in on himself, hugged his middle tight as tight as he could without splitting the seams on his borrowed shirt. He could understand and appreciate his father’s anger but he needed to reel it in - the bite in his tone had put the ruby flare back into Talia Hale’s eyes and Stiles was already starting to get the hint that that was not a good thing.

Not to mention, um, hi, he was still in the room?

“In part, Sheriff,” Talia admitted stiffly, with a great deal of care as though she were clinging to a very fine thread of patience. “Because of his natural instincts Peter is likely to suffer the greater discomfort, but yes, the larger the distance between my brother and your son, the more uncomfortable he is likely to be as well. That being said, I’m not suggesting that your son play happy housewife, as you so quaintly put it. A soul bond does not automatically entail a marriage, or even a sexual relationship. Some bond mates only share a deep and intimate connection of friendship, though I will admit that that arrangement is far more rare than customary partnerships.”

Sighing, she sat back and crossed her arms over her chest once more, for just a moment looking off into space like she could make herself be somewhere else, and that was probably the only thing that kept his dad from going off about age differences and the definition of statutory rape.

“Peter is not… traditional,” she said finally, flicking a glance Stiles’ way when he choked on a snort. “From the way he reacted I believe it’s fair to assume that he is likely to be uncomfortable with any type of relationship with your son, for more than one reason - ones I won’t share with you now. I would be speculating, and it would not be my place.”

Stiles didn’t think he cared. This wasn’t his fault - the jerk wasn’t going to be blaming it on him! And anyway. It wasn’t like he’d wanted this either. He hadn’t picked Talia Hale’s blood-covered psycho enforcer of a little brother for his soul mate. And Christ, what did it say about his soul that Peter was his perfect match?

The thought made him sick to his stomach, and his only consolation was knowing that the werewolf would apparently be getting the shorter end of the stick than he was when it came to the withdrawals.

“This is ridiculous,” his father said shortly. “I’m not leaving my son here, under any circumstances. You and I can work out the details of your recompense for the border crossing at a later date, Alpha Hale.”

“I assure you, Sheriff, the one has nothing to do with the other!” Talia snapped.

“What if it did?”

Stiles immediately regretted he words, shrank beneath the weight of all the eyes that turned on him, but his mind was already off and whirring, the question out before he’d even fully formed the thought, before he could stop it.

Oh god, what was he doing?

“Stiles,” his father said slowly, his voice low with a clear warning.

“Dad, it’s not like they planned this either,” he said distractedly, a place holder more than anything. He just needed a minute - pieces were coming together and he…

But it was true too.

The wolves hadn’t planned on this.

Peter certainly hadn’t.

And yeah, that cut a little, because again, what did it say about Stiles that his soul mate hated him, so much that he threw him against a wall before Stiles had even opened his mouth? Usually it took a few minutes, a bad pun or two before people wrote him off so strongly. And this was his bonded, his supposed other half…

And the guy hated him.

So yeah, things had kind of gone to hell in a handbasket, but if he could salvage something out of the mess…

“I’m not moving in,” he said firmly, facing Talia Hale straight on, and from the corner of his eye he saw his father rock back on his heels with relief. “But we were discussing options, yeah?”

Talia looked him shrewdly up and down before she answered, tight and controlled.

“We were.”

“Reintegrating the pack with the town, taking down the border laws.”

“And you wanted help for your friend.”

“I did,” he nodded.

Isaac.

If he was going to be stuck making visits out here just to keep himself healthy, maybe he could at least get something good out of it.

“Would you take him in?” he asked, a small, small part of him enjoying the flash of surprise that crossed the Alpha’s face.

“What relevance does that have on the current situation, Mr. Stilinski?”

Taking it as a good sign that she sounded just a little more curious than that unimpressed, Stiles squared his shoulders and tried to organize his thoughts.

“If you take him in,” he began, “It’s a gesture of good faith. You’re doing something good by saving a kid that needs help. At the same time, it’s a kid that will be living with you, learning about you, learning about the pack, and that’s a citizen of Beacon Hills who’s on your side, who can come into town and say, yeah, they’re just like everybody else.”

“And why would your friend agree to this?” Talia asked, which, ok, point.

“Because it gets him out of a horrible, abusive situation,” Stiles replied flatly. “But I get what you mean - I figure he’ll probably be pretty freaked and resistant to it at first, but I’m thinking…”

Frowning, he gave his dad an apologetic look before turning back to the werewolf.

“I mean, it sounds like I’m gonna have to at least visit right? If I come with Isaac, it’ll chill him out, I won’t be puking up my guts staying away from your psycho brother, and then that’s two people you’ve got on your side helping to smooth a transition into town. Although…” Swallowing hard, Stiles’ hand rubbed at the base of his throat. “After what just happened, I gotta tell you, I’m not so sure it’s such a good idea anymore.”

For a moment Talia’s face softened and the frown she gave him was a little more apologetic than he’d expected her to be capable of.

“I can assure you Stiles that my brother’s actions are the exception, not the rule,” Talia said quietly. “I require strict and consistent demonstration of self-control from my pack members. And I would apologize to you again. What Peter did was inexcusable, and I can promise you now, it will not happen again.”

Given what she’d said earlier about not having domain over a bonding, Stiles wasn’t exactly reassured.

“Anyway,” he said, forcing himself to drop his hand into his lap even if he couldn’t stop himself from clenching it into a fist. “Like I said, I’m pretty well known in Beacon Hills - if I’m spearheading this thing, people are gonna be less panicky about it. There’s lots of people who already think that we need to step into the 21st century and stop segregating you guys - I don’t think it would be that big a stretch if we wanted to try.”

“All that being said...”

Stiles jolted when he felt a hand clamp down hard on his shoulder, tight enough that he could feel the tension running through his father’s body, the hard lines of stress on his face that said he was putting everything he had into holding back.

“My son is not committing to anything right now.”

To Stiles’ surprise Talia Hale nodded in agreement, and he felt a tremendous amount of strain go out of his shoulders that he hadn’t even realized he’d been carrying. He could talk all the talk - it wasn’t uncommon for his mouth to run off without his permission - but he didn’t actually want to walk the walk. Any of the walk. At all.

“Of course, Sheriff,” the Alpha said politely, rising to her feet and crossing over to shake his father’s hand. Stiles was proud when his dad returned the gesture firmly and unflinchingly, looked the werewolf directly in the eye. “I’m certain there are legal and political sanctions you need to consider, as well as more… personal affairs. The type of reconciliation your son has proposed is something that I need to discuss with my pack as well.”

Oh. Right. That was probably going to be a Discussion when they got home.

All of a sudden Stiles wasn’t so sure that he didn’t want to stay with the werewolves.

Heck, with the way his father was looking at him, visits out here might be the only place he’d ever get to go again, what with being grounded into oblivion and all.

A shiver rolled down his spine as his gaze flicked around the room, watched Laura who was watching him with dark, quiet eyes, David, who had rolled his sleeve back down over his forearm and the first words his wife had ever said to him. Calvin had slipped out of the room some time before - the only werewolf that he - oddly enough - felt comfortable taking minor cues from. Without him, with his father and Parrish standing too far away to reach out a grounding hand, Stiles felt unmoored, dissociated.

What was he doing here, trying to do?

His… company wasn’t exactly a great bargaining chip, even if it did keep Talia’s brother and left hand from getting sick, even if it made the pack more… approachable to everyone in town.

“…be happy to escort you back to your vehicles myself,” Talia said, and Stiles jumped, startled by the fact that all of a sudden people were standing up and moving and they were actually going home. “I would also like to extend an invitation for you and your son to return on Saturday for further discussion. Will that be enough time for you Sheriff?”

“It should,” his father said gruffly. “Something like this, it’s going to take precedent, but I can’t promise anything. There are going to be people who are upset if this goes through…”

“The hunters,” Talia nodded.

“Yeah, and some of the citizens too. Primarily on principle, because we didn’t put this up on the ballot and let them vote…”

“Something to consider, as we move forward then. But to be discussed on Saturday.”

“Saturday.”

With a nod, Stiles’ father stepped forward and shook Talia Hale’s hand, turned and grabbed him by the arm and dragged him up out of his chair that he’d apparently become frozen in. The Alpha werewolf looked him over briefly, as if considering whether or not she should offer him her hand as well but in the end apparently thought the better of it. Which was fine with Stiles - he didn’t want to try and figure out a way to decline that wasn’t a complete slap in the face. He was just… tired, and he felt empty like he’d been hollowed out. He wanted to go home and sleep, and maybe wake up tomorrow morning slowly enough that he could forget, five, even ten minutes of thinking it was all just a bad dream…

As his father followed Talia Hale out of the library, Stiles moved to follow but stumbled to a stop when Laura made a tentative move towards him, a hand reaching out. He didn’t flinch away from it but he did freeze up pretty hard - sue him if he was a little bit gun shy right now. Laura offered him a sympathetic sort of half smile, full of far more understanding than he was comfortable with.

“Would it be all right if I…” she asked, gesturing for his hoodie, and he wasn’t sure what she meant, why she wanted it. It was his favorite, one he’d had for a long time and that was perfectly worn in, but it was shredded from neck to shoulder and what was he going to do with it now? Shrugging, he handed it over with only a minor pang of regret, turned his back on her and followed Tara and Parrish out. He could hear his father and Talia exchanging phone numbers up ahead, but it didn’t matter, he couldn’t care.

Dusk had started to fall and as they all stepped out of the house onto the lawn he bit back a shiver, the air damp and cool on the back of his neck. He could feel eyes on him, saw Calvin and Nick from the corner of his eye standing off at the edge of the valley, more werewolves grouped around awkwardly here and there but he kept his own gaze fixed firmly on the ground, watched the heels of his dad’s heavy work boots flash as they headed down a dirt worn path that functioned as a driveway. Halfway into the trees it forked off, the drive continuing on to the left and out of the Preserve and out of Beacon Hills, and on the right a smaller, more overgrown path that led out to the backroad along the side of town. It was almost completely overgrown at this point, disappearing underneath the bramble and overhanging limbs, but the rising moon and the last bit of daylight that lingered was enough that the humans could follow the Alpha who picked her way neatly along as though she took the path every day.

He would’ve thought that the further into the woods they got the more comfortable he would be, every step putting him one pace closer to the waiting cruisers and the safety of going home. It didn’t seem fair that the opposite was true, that the weight of the trees overhead seemed to hang on his shoulders, heavier and heavier with every stride, closing in around him and crushing the air out of his lungs. It was eerily quiet even with the snap and crunch of twigs and leaves under foot, his father’s heavy breathing, the tiny night sounds of birds and insects hidden in the dark. There was just a sort of hush to it, like the world had been blanketed, and he wondered if the others heard it to or if it was just his own senses being dulled by the adrenaline crash, the emotional exhaustion.

He almost jumped out of his skin when a howl split the silence.

He heard wolf howls before. A real wolf’s, on TV and at a zoo once, and then the werewolves.’ Some nights, especially full moons, the howls rose up out of the Preserve and the wind was just right to bring the music into town, and it would rise and swell for hours the way the ocean crashed against cliff rock. No one knew why they did it, but Stiles always suspected that it was a reminder. A reminder to themselves about who they were and to the town that they were still there. It was a beautiful sound, eerie, haunting, and this one was no different. It rent the air like a knife, cracked off the trees and echoed down deep in the valley back the way they’d come, and it was more angry and confused and forlorn than any that Stiles had ever heard.

XXX

Well, he had to hand it to the kid, he was practically a god damned strategical mastermind.

No wonder fate paired him up with Peter - if his little brother ever managed to get his head out of his ass and not be a completely terrible person, the two of them could probably do some real damage together.

But it was an intriguing idea, one that Calvin found he liked quite a bit. Even if Stiles resisted moving in all together, he would need to make regular visits and spend some significant time with Peter to keep the wolf from going feral. Talia had hedged that one carefully, downplaying the severity of what might happen if either Stiles or Peter refused to see each other completely. No need to scare the kid by telling him exactly what kind of depraved, raging beast his soul mate would become if they refused one another. Better for everyone then if the kid had another reason to do it, a better reason, to his mind at least, that helped someone besides the bond mate that had treated him so badly.

Beyond that, the young man’s idea had merit. The pack had lost… a lot in the war. So many. His sister was facing pressure from other packs to throw off what was seen as the bonds of Beacon Hills, the shackles keeping them locked to the Preserve and to outdated ideas of what was right and wrong, who was right and wrong. A two-fold plan, one that would end that separation between the werewolves and the humans and one that could potentially end in new pack members, fresh blood that was young and strong and committed to Talia for one reason or another. A good plan, one that quite neatly addressed the pack’s most pressing problems.

Having shared a look with his Alpha, one that spoke volumes, Calvin felt confident enough that she would hear the young man out and not make any rash decisions because of Peter’s earlier display, but he was still nervous about Nicky, the look his nephew had thrown him before heading back outside. He’d been unable to rein in the need to check on him and so he’d slipped out of the library and then the main house all together, though he was almost certain he would miss Stiles’ leaving. He would’ve liked to shake the boy’s hand before he left but there were more important things to consider, and so he’d stepped out onto the back porch ready to face down a mob, only to be met with a quieting breath of empty evening air. Nick was sitting on the steps, no doubt waiting for him, but he stood as soon as Calvin closed the screen door behind him, jerking his chin in a follow me gesture and strolling off across the lawn with his hands in his pockets.

“Talk to me,” he muttered under his breath, eyes scanning the length of the valley and narrowing in on his pack members, standing about here and there in groups of two or three, whispering behind their hands.

“When I came back up with the shirt they were all bunching up on the porch,” Nick replied, stopping and crossing his arms over his chest. “Bucky had his damned ear to the door. I hauled him off, and then when I came back out I told them all to get lost. Probably thought it was an order from mom.”

Sighing through his nose, Calvin reached out casually and clamped a hand around the back of Nicky’s neck, squeezed until he felt the young man relax. As David and Talia’s only human child, and now the oldest after their firstborn Seth had been killed, Nicky was sensitive about his place in the pack, his role. His word held almost as much power as Laura’s did, but he was unsure of its weight, unsteady, and it often showed.

“That’s fine,” he said quietly, giving him a little shake before letting him go. “You did fine.”

Even in the coming dark he could see his nephew flush at the praise before shaking off his mood, straightening his hunched shoulders.

“Anyway.”

“Anyway. Any sign of Peter?”

“Yeah. Heard him raging around for a while, trashing stuff. He came stomping out, twenty minutes ago maybe.”

“Alone?”

“Yeah. Hadn’t showered, still covered in blood. Sweats and sneakers. He hit one of the running trails, I assumed he was going to shift. I’ve got Jake tailing him - told him to hang back, just take a stroll and keep an eye out, make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

“Good boy.”

Nicky huffed, his breath puffing hot and white against the cooling air.

“Luca’s gonna be pissed,” he mumbled, and the sheer misery in his tone said everything that needed to be said about the other wolf.

“Luca’s gonna be insufferable,” Calvin corrected, his own voice hard and sharp with bite.

A moment of silence passed as both men shuddered, envisioning the temper tantrums to come from the child in a grown man’s body, the visiting liaison from the Ohio pack who believed that sharing Peter’s bed meant more than being a convenient piece of tail. Calvin had overheard him on the phone with someone from his pack, crowing about how he’d landed the Alpha’s left hand, the legendary enforcer Peter Hale, and it had taken everything he had not laugh outright every time he saw the little runt for the following two weeks. It was a joke, and he was only saved the guilt of Luca’s heartbreak by the fact that Peter made it abundantly clear he was only in it for the sex. When they weren’t going at it he avoided Luca, or challenged him directly the way he had today, snapping and snarling and glaring at the other wolf with a sincere and honest dislike that anyone could recognize as honest.

Everyone apparently except Luca, who appeared insistent in his belief that his future in Beacon Hills was already determined, involving a life of privilege within the pack and a long and happy marriage to Peter Hale.

He was going to be a little shit about this whole thing, worse than Peter even.

Perhaps it was time to start making hints to Talia that his time here was up, make a final decision and ship him back to the Midwest where he couldn’t bother anyone anymore.

But these musings were interrupted as suddenly every wolf in the yard snapped to attention, eyes on their Alpha who stepped regally out into the moonlight and led a tiny procession up the valley toward the drive, the little path that led out of the Preserve and away from Beacon Hills. She and the Sheriff were speaking intently but their voices were hushed, quiet enough to secure some small modicum of privacy outside of the library walls. Then came the two deputies, good people if their willingness to jump in against Peter in order to protect Stiles was any judge. And finally the boy himself, his head down and his shoulders high in Nicky’s borrowed shirt, gaze locked on the ground in front of him.

He looked like a man marching to the firing squad - anxious, terrified, resigned.

The silence was heavy in the air as they disappeared into the trees, the pack slowly drifting away back to their own homes now that the excitement had abated for the night. He and Nicky waited, lingered, stiff and still in the growing coolness of evening, until Peter’s pained, angry cry lashed up out of the Preserve and broke the quiet spell that held them.

“Head up to the house,” Calvin said softly, dragging Nicky in by the neck and scenting him roughly, rubbing their cheeks together until the younger man squirmed against his hold. “Get some sleep. Your mother’s going to want me.”

His nephew nodded, his eyes suddenly much heavier than any twenty-seven year old’s had a right to be.

“Night Uncle Vin,” he sighed, turning away to head off to the small cabin the two of them had been sharing for years, ever since…

Well.

“Good night kid,” he murmured, and then he was turning to, heading back up to the main house with a feeling like trepidation hanging heavily round his neck.

Chapter Text

He found his sister in the library, alone, sitting behind the wide oak desk that shouldn’t really be there. She had an office, upstairs off the master bedroom that she shared with David, but Talia had always had a way of taking over a room, if only by walking into it. Now she sat with her hands folded, proud, regal despite the circumstances, but her eyes were far away.

Calvin sighed.

Striding to the cabinet nestled between a pair of bookshelves, he took down a cut-crystal decanter and two matching glasses, brought it back to the desk and poured, three fingers each. Dragging one of the wing-backed chairs in close, he sank back into it, stretched out his legs before closing his eyes and breathing out, long and slow and tight.

“Well.”

Calvin huffed, smirked before opening his eyes, leaning forward to take a glass from the desk. Talia mirrored his movement, turned the glass in her hand before slouching in her own chair.

His sister never slouched.

Unfortunately for her, Calvin knew how to wait, had learned how to wait over long, painful years of being her brother, being Peter’s brother.

She’d lifted the glass to her lips before his spoke.

“I think that went well.”

Talia snorted, choked on a laugh and a slug of whiskey both and he smiled, an honest smile as his sister lifted a hand to her mouth and tried to stifle her mirth.

“Oh lord, it was a disaster wasn’t it?” she chuckled, her eyes shining, and for a minute they sat with the statement, sipping wolfsbane whiskey and getting lost in their own thoughts.

“It could’ve been a lot worse,” Calvin offered eventually, and Talia rolled her eyes, took another drink.

“It could’ve gone a lot better,” she countered. “Good god, the Sheriff’s son.”

“You like John Stilinski,” he reminded her.

“I do,” she nodded. “He’s a good man, not twisted by politics or swayed by racism and rumor. I was hoping that he’d come to collect Scott McCall himself, that we’d be able to talk. I never expected his only child to come marching in here like he owned the place.”

Calvin rested his glass on his knee, turned it between his fingers and watched the lamplight warm the amber whiskey inside.

“He’s something, that’s for sure,” he said quietly.

“You felt it.”

Calvin’s head snapped up at his sister’s accusation, narrowed his eyes.

“I felt something,” he growled, flashing his eyes at her and then immediately settling when she responded with a fond, indulgent smile. “Not a lot, but there was something there. Just… interest. More than I had expected there to be.”

“Mom always said you and Peter were far too alike for your own good.”

Calvin snorted, drained his glass in one long swallow in a bid to drown the sudden anger. He’d heard that all his life growing up, and a part of him could admit that yes, he and his baby brother were a hell of a lot alike. Still, Peter had always been there mother’s clear favorite, and while nothing so petty as jealousy had ever simmered between them, Calvin had struggled at times growing up to find his own place, his own identity between his future Alpha sister and his brother, the apple of his mother’s eye. It was one of the reasons he’d taken Nicky under his wing after Seth had been killed, moving him in to the house he’d built on the edge of the valley and for all intents and purposes adopted the kid as his own. He been drowning in the midst of the bloodshed and entirely lost, the least of his parents’ concerns when it came to their children or anything else, and Calvin shuddered to think the direction the kid might’ve taken if he hadn’t pulled him out.

“It’s nothing like he feels,” he muttered, reaching for the decanter to refill his glass, and then Talia’s when she gestured. “Jesus Tally, our little brother just soul bonded.”

The words came out in a rush, a breathy, disbelieving huff and for a minute they both froze, silent. It was as if they were both being hit by the reality of the thing for the first time, the seeming impossibility of it all.

“He’s not going to take this well.”

Calvin giggled, a hysterical little sound that bubbled up before he could stop it, hardly fit for a grown man to have made.

“He’s already not taking it well,” he pointed out. “Christ, he attacked the kid, and then he ran off to Luca… You need to get rid of him Talia.” Leaning forward, he put his elbows on the desk, stared her in the eye as he drilled a finger against the desktop. “He’s been causing problems since he got here, and if Stiles does start coming around it’ll only get ten times worse.”

“I’m well aware of the problems Luca has been causing,” she snapped. “But I can’t just ship him off like so much baggage. Our negotiations with the Ohio pack aren’t nearly resolved, and you know as well as I do the kind of pressures we’re facing right now. Besides, I’ve got a feeling that Stiles can take care of himself.”

“Maybe, but does he deserve that? Shit, I don’t want to deal with Peter most days, and it’s going to be a lot worse for him, you know that. He’s just a kid Talia, what sixteen, seventeen? He’s human, they don’t even consider him a legal adult yet.”

“Don’t remind me,” she groaned. “On the bright side I suppose that just means more access to his father for me.”

“Always a silver lining,” he snorted. “Trust you to take advantage of the man while he’s trying to make sure his son isn’t sexually assaulted.”

“In the Sheriff’s defense, I’m sure that at this point he’s more worried about Peter killing his son than an accusation of statutory rape.”

“Can you blame him? Christ, he stormed in looking like Norman-fucking-Bates, practically went for the kid’s throat…”

“I don’t blame him,” she replied demurely, setting her glass aside and sitting back in her chair. “And believe me, Peter will be paying for that little scene, the ass.”

Calvin snickered. Peter knew how to push all his sister’s buttons, and while Talia was perfectly willing to enforce her will and dole out a punishment where one was deserved, there was always something rather fond between her and Peter. By all rights she could literally tear him a new one for what he’d done today, but she was far more likely to hit their little brother with something more subtle, something that seemed unfairly light but that would humiliate him and drive him quietly insane. The last time he’d pissed her off she’d put him on babysitting patrol while all the older pack members went on a midnight run, and she’d been sure to load the kid’s up on sugar before they’d left.

“But this could work out for us,” she murmured, and Calvin instantly sobered. “When he brought up reintegration, god.”

“Leave it to some smart-mouthed kid,” he agreed. “You’ve wanted this for a long time.”

“And now he’s practically offering it up to me on a silver platter,” she snarled, shaking her head as her eyes glowed. “Everything we’ve wanted, everything we’ve been working toward, and all I have to do is sacrifice a teenager up to my little brother.”

“A fate so much worse than death,” he laughed. “Come on Talia, it’s not that bad. I’m not saying it won’t be absolute hell for a while, because, yeah, Peter will make sure of that, but he’s too smart not to drag his head out of his ass eventually. So Stiles has to come hang around the pack for a while until their bond stabilizes, so what? I like him, Nicky likes him. Give him to us. We’ll clear out a room for him, give him a safe place, show him around…”

“That only takes care of half our problem,” she sighed. “Setting aside the soul bond and the debacle that that will certainly be, without a doubt, we’ve still got all the rest of it.”

“He said he would help,” Calvin murmured. “We know the kind of influence the Sheriff has in town, the kind of reputation. He comes with the kid. And the other boy, Isaac…”

A low, angry growl rumbled up out of Talia’s chest and her eyes flashed again.

“We could take him,” he ventured carefully. “That law is old, ancient - hell, I doubt anyone even remembers it - but it’s still there.”

“But it comes at a price,” she bit back, her voice rough with emotion and just a little bit of Alpha-thrum. “We’re allowed to take him on the premise that eventually he’ll take the bite, become a part of the pack. If he agrees.”

“So what? Jesus Talia, we got wiped out after the wars. We could use new blood, someone young, healthy, strong. Taking him in, maybe even others, in addition to the political ties we get with Stiles, the possibility to abolish the borders and the separation between us and the humans… that would make the rest of our problems disappear. All the Alphas pressuring us, the packs hemming us in…”

Talia narrowed her eyes at him, trilled her claws against the desktop.

“Don’t even deny it,” he rumbled, his own eyes glowing gold. “The whole damn pack knows why Luca’s here. They can all feel it. They know we're on the edge of a fucking civil battle, that the fact the treaty still stands is a huge, flashing weakness in the eyes of all the other packs. We’ve been waiting for months, years even, for the call to defend our territory. This? This could fix everything.”

“You’re getting your hopes up,” she said in a wistful tone.

“And you’re not?”

“Oh no, I am,” she replied. “And that’s what scares me Vinny.”

Calvin sighed. Standing up, he crossed around the desk and waited for her to rise as well, wrapped her up in his arms and held her close, let himself sink into the heat of her body, the steady beat of her heart and the encompassing safety of alpha-sister-home.

“We have to take this chance,” he whispered into her hair.

“I know,” she murmured back. Squeezing the nape of his neck, she let him go, returned the alcohol to the cabinet and headed toward the door. “They’ll be back, whether they want to come or not. The soul bond will force that and there’s nothing I can do about it, as much as I wish there was. Until then, there are decisions that need to be made, and we’ll make them.”

Glancing back at him over her shoulder, her eyes were heavy and far away.

“Get some sleep,” she said. “Hopefully things will be a little brighter tomorrow.”

XXX

The ride back to the Stilinski household was eerily silent, given that Stiles had never had an easy time keeping his mouth shut. Tara and Jordan followed them at a discrete distance, blue and red lights flashing in the dark, and it felt strangely similar to a one-man funeral procession. They paused at the end of the driveway when the Sheriff pulled in, waited for him to walk down and speak to them quietly through the open window. Stiles stayed in the passenger seat, unable to drag himself out, watching his father’s silhouette in the side mirror as he gestured up the street. Sighing, he unclipped his belt, got out and shivered in the cool night air. His dad turned and Parrish waved, tossed him a smile that was somehow both cheerful and understanding before they pulled away, but Stiles watched it all with an incredible feeling of detachment.

“Let’s get inside,” the Sheriff said quietly, his hand warm but light on his unmarked shoulder, and Stiles nodded blankly.

Once inside the front door he kicked off his shoes without a thought, wandered deeper into the house and trailed slowly up the stairs. He could feel his dad’s eyes on his back, gaze heavy between his shoulder blades, but he made no move to stop him as he headed for the shower. He didn’t remember getting there, didn’t remember taking off his clothes or scrubbing down or brushing his teeth, but thought he must’ve because when he found himself staring at his reflection in the mirror, reading those four black words over and over again, his hair was wet and his skin was pink and he could taste mint on the back of his tongue.

He wondered if this was what going into shock felt like.

Fugue, maybe.

Or dissociation.

The shirt he’d been given lay crumpled on the floor, a splash of green and white, and he kicked it into the corner behind the bathroom door, an angry burst of movement that didn’t reflect the emptiness curled up heavy and cold inside his chest. Burrowing into the back of his closet he found a hooded sweatshirt, dark blue and thin with wear, pulled it over his head before hunting down a pair of shorts and some socks. He felt marginally better having the words covered, like he was wearing a Kevlar shell, but he could still feel the bite mark beneath the cotton, warm and cool and tingly all at the same time. He’d never been able to feel it before, not like this, and it was like…

He didn’t know what it was like.

It was like... those old nine millimeter photos that got double exposed, two images laid over each other all smudged and blurry and bright. He blinked and he saw red, felt bolts and flashes of emotions that weren’t his, and halfway down the stairs he had to stop and sit, put his head between his knees to swallow down the nausea and wait for the dizziness to pass.

Eventually he made it into the kitchen, where his dad was standing at the sink, pouring out two glasses of milk. There were jars of jelly and peanut butter on the counter, an open loaf of white bread, and the sight of a sandwich had never made Stiles choke up before but he supposed tonight was a night for firsts.

“Stiles?”

“I’m sorry!” he sobbed, and then it was like a damn broke and he was off and babbling at break-neck speed. “Dad, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean for this to happen, I didn’t want you to have to…”

“Woah, woah, easy!” his father rasped, his own voice tight and gruff as he stepped forward and dragged Stiles in to his chest, banded his arms around him and held him in a crushing hug. “Take a breath kid. You’re ok. We’re ok.”

A minute passed as he worked to bring his breathing back under control, curled up in the security of his father’s embrace as the man stroked his hand over his hair.

“Better?” he asked, and Stiles nodded, finally letting go and stepping back. “I know you’re probably not hungry but you need to eat something ok? You’re white, and I don’t want to have to call Melissa over here.”

“Is Scott ok?” he choked, clearing his throat and scrubbing at his cheeks with the back of his wrist.

“Worried about you, and probably grounded for the rest of his life, but yeah. He’s ok.”

Blowing out a long, slow breath, Stiles nodded and sat down at the table, forced himself to take a bite of the sandwich his dad had cut in half on the diagonal, the taste of childhood flooding him with nostalgia that somehow managed to make him feel worse.

“He’s the real reason you went out there, isn’t he?”

“Yeah,” he sighed, dropping the sandwich back onto the plate. “Scott’s an idiot, you know that. He would’ve gotten himself in some serious trouble out there.”

“Well, I’ll give you that one kid,” he replied, leveling Stiles with a Level Two glare, the kind that meant he was in trouble but had already reaped enough consequences to warrant reprieve from punishment. “But I can’t say you managed to do such a good job staying out of it yourself.”

“Was the only thing I could think of,” he mumbled, scrubbing his hands tiredly over his face. “Seemed like a good bargaining chip at the time.”

“For Isaac.”

“Yeah.”

“And everything else? Ending the treaty, taking down the borders?”

Stiles felt his hands tighten on the edge of the table, anger surging in his blood suddenly and unexpectedly, unbidden. He clamped his jaw down on the words that bubbled up in his throat, confusion and shame burning hot on his cheeks as he battled the strange reaction down, shoved it violently away.

“I’m not blaming you,” he heard his father say, his voice low and far away. “Honestly, I’m… I’m proud of you Stiles. You’re a smart kid, I knew that, but you think on your feet and the fact that you went in there after Scott... It was stupid, don’t get me wrong, but it was… brave. Loyal. You’ll make a damn fine man one day son, if you live that long.”

And just like that the anger was gone, replaced by pride and love and making him blush for a whole other reason.

“Thanks,” he breathed, swallowing at the lump in his throat. “And dad, I… I am sorry. I know this could be… really bad for you.”

“Don’t worry about me,” he replied gruffly, grabbing Stiles by the back of the neck and dragging him forward, pressing their foreheads together over the counter. “I’m the Sheriff remember? I’m good at what I do. We’ve actually been talking about this for a long time, working something out with Talia Hale. This might actually work out for us?”

“Really?”

“Really. Elections are coming up in November, that gives us what? Four, five months? If they take Isaac, not only is that big points in their favor but we can spin it as a trial run. Start reintegrating the pack back into town, start bringing people back and forth across the border. Then we can put it up on the ballot to make it permanent.”

Stiles stilled, stared.

“Huh,” he breathed. “Yeah. I mean, that… makes sense.”

“Told you,” his dad grinned wryly. “I’m good.”

“I knew that,” Stiles huffed, crossing his arms and sitting back. “Know that.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?” he muttered, looking away as his heart suddenly started slamming up against his ribs.

“Are you good?”

He didn’t respond.

“We have to talk about this Stiles. I can understand if you don’t want to, but it’s something we’re going to have to figure out.”

“You said we could walk away,” he pointed out petulantly. “You said it didn’t have to mean anything.”

“I was wrong,” he said quietly. “I wish I wasn’t, but apparently I was wrong. If staying away could make you sick, maybe even kill you…” The Sheriff hung his head. “God knows I don’t want to send you back there,” he whispered, his voice tight. “Back to…”

He shook his head.

“We’ll figure something out,” he promised. “Because I will do whatever I need to to keep you safe. You know that right?”

“I know that,” Stiles whispered. “Just… can we talk about it tomorrow? I don’t… I don’t feel so great, and I want a clear head when we…”

“All right. All right son, whatever you need.”

Getting to his feet, the Sheriff rounded the counter and pulled him into another brief hug before letting him go again.

“Get some sleep,” he said. “We’ll talk in the morning. And Stiles? I love you, kid.”

“Love you too dad.”

XXX

Soul bond, fuck!

Wrong, wrong, right but so fucking wrong - it never should’ve happened.

Not to him, not now, not ever.

Damn it!

What was he trying to pull, that little shit, showing up here, waltzing into werewolf territory like he belonged? Beacon Hills had been the ones to put up that god-forsaken treaty, the damned border that kept them separate and away. That boy, that child never should’ve come, never should’ve been here at all - those were the rules, that was how it worked!

And yet here he was, slipping around with teeth marks on his neck, words on his body he thought he was being so clever by hiding under bright, flashing red…

Hadn’t fooled him.

No, it had hit him like a wrecking ball, a full body-slam as soon as those words left his mouth, the name that he’d heard on every one of his pack members’ tongues as he came stalking back in from the trees, flush and burning with the adrenaline surge of his fight with the big cat and the run back to the valley. It was like drowning in that moment, the space of a heartbeat when everything stopped, before the anger came rushing in like breathing underwater.

Everything that followed after that was a blur of battling emotion, suffocating underneath the young, clean scent of teenager, sweat and fear and everything he loved, and it made him sick to his stomach as he stalked away across the grass, spat vicious words at his brother and tried to make it seem like he wasn’t running. It was lucky that he didn’t run into anyone else because he was looking for a fight, would’ve welcomed the chance to fall back into the biting and bleeding and the hurt.

That at least made sense to him, the things that he could smell and taste and touch, not the wide, expanding chill inside his chest that threatened to steal his breath and knock him to his knees. Shifting didn’t help the way it should’ve so he went back to the woods, ran and ducked and dodged through the trees, snapping and snarling and whirling on shadows as he raged back and forth through the underbrush. Whoever they’d sent after him was smart enough to stay well away, just on the edges of his senses, enough that he felt alone and that was for the best.

He wasn’t sure he wouldn’t tear into someone who got too close.

His heart was crashing around in his chest and his head was pounding, and he was hearing things he shouldn’t be, things too far away. Nausea rolled in the pit of his belly but he forced it down, anger sweeping through him fast and hot and making it that much easier to latch back on to his control.

Fuck!

This was wrong, this was wrong, this meant that…

No.

No, no it fucking didn’t.

This didn’t change anything, nothing that had ever happened and nothing that would happen.

That he would make sure of.

And if he howled that rage and hurt to a heavy, waxing moon, that was his devil to deal with.

Chapter Text

They don’t talk, not really.

Maybe it was the look on Stiles’ face, or the way he didn’t jabber and joke like he normally did the next morning. Maybe his father just didn’t know what to say.

Whatever it was, Stiles didn’t mind. He wasn’t ready to talk about it, to think about what it meant for him that he’d found his bonded. He’d spent so long walking around like it wasn’t reality, like it didn’t exist, that it was incredibly hard to remember that people knew - that his father and Tara and Jordan had all seen those words, heard those words out of someone else’s mouth.

To their credit they’d kept it quiet. When he went into the station with his father the next day he was ribbed good-naturedly by the other deputies and detectives, even one of the sergeants. It was the kind of teasing he’d get after any other stunt he pulled, not the tense, heavy silence you heard when a domestic violence victim got walked through the hallways or when somebody took a bullet. They knew he’d gone out to the Preserve after Scott, but that was all, and that was nothing they wouldn’t have expected or understood.

Speaking of Scott, he hadn’t been at the station for more than an hour before the guy showed up, crashing into him for a hug that felt too long and too confining for comfort. He babbled, asked again and again if Stiles was ok before running off at the mouth without leaving Stiles time to answer, and he didn’t mind that so much either. He admitted that he was ok eventually when Scott finally ran out of steam, admitted that he’d talked to the werewolves a little about Isaac, but nothing else. Not about the reintegration, not about the lack of decision, and definitely not about Peter.

Scott knew he had a bond mark, always had. They’d been friends for so long that there was no avoiding that. They’d met in the kindergarten sandboxes, years before Stiles came to realize what the scar on his shoulder meant, before he realized that it wasn’t something everyone would accept. He knew too that anyone with a mark like that would eventually find words inked onto their skin, the first words their bonded would ever speak to them, and Scotty being Scotty, cheerful and curious and naïve, had spent years asking after them, asking if they’d appeared and what he thought they would be, how he’d feel when he met his bonded, how he’d feel if he never did.

It took a long time, too long, but eventually he’d learned to stop asking. Years of questioning, years of not getting any answers in return, and finally he’d learned to stop. It was a habit that had stuck once he’d picked it up, thank god, so he didn’t even think to ask Stiles about it now. Really, the only reason he would was if he made the connection that Stiles had finally found himself in the presence of a werewolf for the first time, and for him there were more important things to think about.

Isaac.

The ‘adventure’ that had been their little foray into werewolf territory.

It made Stiles feel sick.

Knowing what he did it was hard to see the shiny sparkle that the experience seemed to have taken on for Scott. Hard, to sit there at the Parrish’s desk which he’d commandeered for the morning while the deputy was out working the speed traps and listen to the retelling of Scott’s side of the story, the marveling and the speculation and the fear that it was so easy for his friend to brush off now that he was safe at home with the whole ordeal behind him.

For Scott, right now, it was over, and he didn’t even have to think about the werewolves anymore, safe under the restrictions of his mother’s punishment, unable to sneeze without her glaring in his direction and demanding to know the cause. Stiles thought the hardcore grounding was warranted and the far lesser of the two punishments suffered between the two of them, because despite the threats, Scott’s would end eventually. Melissa was no monster, not like…

Stiles swallowed, glanced away from Scott’s complaining only to see his mother staring at him with wide eyes and a pale face from inside her father’s office. He’d told her, he could read it in the way she was looking at him, but that was all right. He couldn’t begrudge his father that. He needed someone to talk to and without his mom, well…

He was glad that his dad had someone, and he’d rather it be Melissa McCall than anyone else. She’d taken on as much of a motherly role as he would allow over the years, and she truly cared about him, as much as she cared about her own son. She’d seen him in the ER enough times to know that he needed it, had no doubt held a lot of impromptu emergency parenting sessions with his father late at night. Now she walked calmly to his side, took his face between her hands and pressed her lips silently to his forehead before collecting her son and dragging him away again.

“She’s taking him home,” his father said when Stiles slipped into his office a moment later and pulled the door shut behind him. “He’s not leaving the house unsupervised until school starts.”

“Ouch,” he muttered, more because he knew he should commiserate than because he really felt it.

“She said you’re welcome to stay over for a few days if you want. Alpha Hale asked us back on Saturday, that doesn’t give me a lot of time to get things together. I’m gonna be stuck here, and I don’t know if it’s… a good idea for you to be alone.”

He said it in a rush, in a calm, flat, normal voice, but it was just a little too fast to hide his apprehension. It made Stiles hunch up a little bit, pull his shoulders up and tuck himself into his hoodie, trying to make himself smaller as he sat in one of the hard wooden chairs in front of his father’s desk. He felt cold and unsettled and strangely hungry, and as much as it sucked he agreed with his dad.

“Yeah,” he said gruffly, drawing his knees up to his chest as best he could and resting his heels on the edge of the chair. “I don’t… I don’t know. I feel…”

He still didn’t know, frowned, then shrugged.

“It doesn’t matter. But I’d rather stay here, if that’s cool. I mean, I love Scott, and Mel, but I just don’t…”

“That’s fine Stiles,” his dad replied, and he was watching him the way he did when he suspected him of something. “Whatever you want, ok? I just need you to stick close to somebody ok? We don’t know how this is going to affect you yet, and with what she said…”

“No, I know,” he agreed, nodding and leaning forward, putting his feet on the floor and his elbows on his knees, rubbing his hands together. The fidgeting felt good, felt normal. “I get it. Honestly though I think I’ll feel better if I can just hang around you guys for a while.”

“Of course. You should probably be a part of this anyway, since you offered yourself up as some sort of juvenile ambassador…”

“I couldn’t think of anything else!” Stiles snapped, anger flashing through him sharp and hot, and his stomach rolled up into his throat when his dad physically flinched on the other side of the desk.

“Holy shhhh…” he hissed, immediately leaning forward to duck his head down between his knees, willing the emotion out of his body and away. It felt foreign, strange, too big, like the edges didn’t quite line up with the cavity inside his chest where it was trying to gnaw on his soft places.

“Stiles?”

“I’m ok,” he gasped, waving a hand casually but not ready to sit up yet. “I’m ok. I’m… shit, sorry dad, I didn’t…”

“Jesus kid,” his father breathed as he dragged himself upright again. “I know she said you might share some emotions but I didn’t think…”

“Not this soon huh?” Stiles huffed half-heartedly. “Not this… intense.”

“Not any of this at all,” the Sheriff frowned. “I hoped she was wrong, since…”

“Since Peter seems more interested in gutting me than anything else?”

And ok, wow, he hadn’t meant for that to sound so bitter, but hell. He was entitled to a little bitterness at this point wasn’t he? He’d pretty much just signed his life over to a werewolf pack that half the town had it in for and he’d been soul-bonded to Freddy frickin’ Krueger in the process. If anyone had ever earned an existential crisis it was him!

And his dad must’ve agreed, because he wasn’t calling Stiles on the comment, just looking at him with concern and a little wariness, the way he looked at the occasional jumper they got up on the Beacon Hills’ water tower, and didn’t that just piss him off?

“I just need a nap,” he muttered, scrubbing a hand through his hair and biting down on the anger that was bubbling up in his chest. “I’m gonna go sit at Parrish’s desk until he comes back, ok? Maybe curl up underneath it…”

“Stiles if you need to go home…”

“No, it’s fine,” he shrugged, brushing his father off. He wouldn’t sleep even if he did go home, and at least if he stayed here his dad could get some work done. “I’m just gonna work on some stuff for… all this, and if I really start to crash I’ll come back in here and commandeer your couch.”

This time he was met with silence, and maybe that was just as well, because he didn’t exactly know what to say and that just wasn’t like him. It was actually kind of freaking him out a little bit, so he made a safe retreat while he could, danced between desks and deputies back to the other side of the station floor where he curled himself up in Parrish’s chair and spent the next ten minutes spinning himself dizzy in an effort to forget.

XXX

Peter woke up with the taste of blood and earth in his mouth, and a cold, demanding howl ringing in his ears. Something was poking him in the kidney and there was a thin layer of morning dew clinging to his bare skin, making him shiver as he rolled over and pushed to his feet. It had been unseasonably cool the last few days, too cool for late July, but the chill and the damp was only one of the reasons that sent him searching for the sweats he’d lost the night before.

He had to backtrack, trace his own trail because he didn’t remember much after snarling out his rage at the midnight sky. Luckily his own scent was easy enough to follow, and there was a sharp, bright tint to the air that promised a quick return to sunny days. He scanned his surroundings as he walked, sure of where he was but surprised by how far he’d come, until he caught sight of a splash of black waving from a low hanging branch.

Snatching the sweats down, he dragged them on over his mud and blood smeared skin, heedless of the utter wreck he must be as he began piecing together last night’s events. He’d ditched Jake shortly after his little temper tantrum in the clearing, that much was evident from the scent trail. This was a good thing – not only was it insulting that his sister had sent a babysitter after him, but his cousin was a loudmouthed bastard who couldn’t keep a secret to save his own life, even when Peter was the one threatening it.

And Peter would have threatened him, because the fact that he could achieve a full shift, one that went all the way to the animal blood and bone, the natural pelt and instinct of a wolf, was a secret that he guarded jealously. Not even Vinny knew, and all appearances to the contrary, he was actually quite close with his older brother. They’d shared some damned good times between them before he’d gone and cozied up to Talia like an ass.

Peter scoffed, bared his teeth to the empty woods around him.

Just because their emissary had been killed during the wars, that was no reason for Calvin to go devoted beta soldier on him. Hell, Peter had been Talia’s left hand for years, even before the battles, before the Argent’s and the deaths, and he’d never let it affect him. He’d stayed snarky, snarly, surly, disobedient almost to a fault just because it was fun and because he could. But Calvin, no, he’d had to step up to play drill captain to Talia’s general, and lose his entire sense of humor in the process.

Dick.

Though he supposed he couldn’t put it all on his brother – his sister had an equal share in the blame.

She certainly had a way of demanding things from people.

Like she was doing now, her howl echoing up out of the valley a second time, harsh, entitled, threatening. She’d light into him when he finally got back, for crashing her little parley the way he had, for staying out all night…

For…

Peter snarled, his fangs sharp in his mouth as he scrubbed clawed hands over his scalp. There were leaves in his hair and bits of flora stuck to his back and his chest, rust-colored smears that smelled like rot and old copper flaking away from his skin when he moved, but screw it – if her highness was requesting his immediate presence she’d just have to suffer the sight and smell of him or she let him go to shower.

And eat.

As he bounded up the steps to the main house his stomach did a little tuck-and-roll, twisted angrily with neglect and Peter let out another irritable rumble. He was not looking forward to the dressing-down his sister and Alpha was about to dish out, and where normally he would just tune her out entirely, he had the feeling that this time his infraction had been bad enough that he might actually leave her library with some stripes.

Of course, he supposed he could always play the Bonded card - she’d have to shelve the claws and her pride then.

Peter stumbled, froze in the middle of the hallway with the sounds of a pack breakfast clattering away only steps from where reality had caught him, sunk in its teeth into him and shook.

Bonded, hell.

He hadn’t forgotten, of course he hadn’t forgotten, at least not while he’d been occupying his human brain. How could he forget, the skittish, skinny little human, the child that was all pale skin and slender, fragile limbs, huge, dark, damp eyes who locked up in front of him like a fawn tucked into the grass.

Sweet, tender, silent.

Prey.

God, how he hated him.

Walking around with those words under his shirt like they would change things, like they made any difference at all…

Well fate could just kiss his perfect ass – Peter made his own damned destiny and had since day one. If Talia wanted to play house with the local Sheriff then let her, but he wasn’t about to…

“Get in here Peter or so help me god…”

Chuffing out an irritated sigh, Peter rolled his shoulders, limbered up like a boxer and stepped into the library. Talia and Calvin were waiting for him, and tucked quietly into the corner his great aunt, who’d had taken on the responsibility of raising them after their mother’s mental trolley went careening off the track in Peter’s mid-teens. Though in her defense, she’d always been a few cars short of a full train… Perhaps that was why she’d loved Peter most.

“Oh good, all of us together again,” he sneered, strolling over to one of the wingback chairs. “It’s like Christmas.”

“Sit in that and I’ll kill you,” Talia hissed as he walked two fingers along the back of the pale blue linen upholstery. “God Peter, you smell like road kill.”

“I wasn’t the one who called a meeting before the sun had even risen,” he countered smugly, pleased he’d already gotten one up on her, as small as it was. “What ungodly hour is it anyway?”

“Not that early,” Calvin murmured. He was propped up against the wall between two of the bookcases, his arms folded tightly over his chest, and Peter narrowed his eyes in his brother’s direction, put on alert by his unusually withdrawn demeanor. He opened his mouth to make a scathing comment but before he could even draw a breath his sister ruthlessly cut him off.

“Shut up,” she snarled, her eyes flaring red. “Not one word out of you. You did enough damage yesterday – today you’re going to stand there and be silent until I’m done and then you’re going to do what I tell you and nothing else, get it?”

Peter arched an eyebrow, stayed silent, and bit back a grin when steam practically poured out of her ears.

Well she’d told him to be silent hadn’t she?

“We’re doing this,” she said, and it came out of her like a flood, those three words. “We’re doing it. We need it, have needed it, for a long time. We have a chance now, a real chance, and damn it Peter, you are not going to fuck this up, do you understand me?”

If it had been a flood in her it was like a tidal wave in Peter then - the anger. It flowed through him hot and powerful, something thick and sticky and searing in his veins where his blood should be and he felt it curl up in the pit of his belly and fill his chest and batter against the inside of his ribcage alongside his heart in a desperate bid to escape into the world and do some real damage. His claws and fangs unsheathed before he even called them, his beta half-shift sweeping over him and twisting his frame, lowering his forehead as he bared his teeth and snarled a challenge at his sister, lunged against his brother’s hands that were solid and steady against his chest.

“Fuck you!” he growled, the words thick in his mouth as his higher thinking fought to beat back his instincts for even that much control. “What the hell do you know about it Talia? If you think I’m going to stand around playing pawn on your chessboard…”

Talia roared.

Calvin flinched, jolted so hard that he let go of Peter to lower his arms, duck his head in submission. In the corner Great Aunt Cilla did the same, her long white braid twitching in the corner of Peter’s vision like a snake but he held firm, stood tall, didn’t bend.

He never had.

“Damn it Peter, I know this is hard for you, but you’re not the only one with something to lose!” she snarled.

For a minute an icy silence burned between them but it did nothing to cool the fire beneath his skin, the rage-hate-denial eating at his insides. Hands shaking, Talia scraped her hair back from her face, visibly collected herself. She almost never did what she’d just done, forced her will on the pack by putting the Alpha timbre into her voice and taking. It had clearly upset her, Calvin and Cilla too, but Peter couldn’t possibly care less just then, and he didn’t think he would anytime soon.

They’d gotten along just fine the last few years without Beacon Hills – he wasn’t going to be the martyr his sister thought she needed to bring them together again.

“I’m not throwing myself on your cross,” he bit out, fisting his hands at his sides, letting the pain of his claws cutting into his palms ground him.

“You’re going to show up on Saturday and do your duty as my Left Hand,” Talia hissed right back, her eyes still burning red. “You’re going to apologize to the Sheriff because I said you would, and then you’re going to sit and you’re going to behave, and you’re only going to contribute if you have something useful to say about the plans to reintegrate. You’ll do so calmly and respectfully and I swear to god Peter if you so much as look at that poor boy you traumatized yesterday I’ll shred your ass right there for him to watch.”

Taking a long, slow breath, she spread her fingers out across the top of the desk that stood between them, resolutely ignored the low rumble that he couldn’t stop from bubbling up between his clenched teeth.

“I know this must be hard for you,” she said again, and this time her voice was the low, soothing murmur she used with the pups, with injured pack members. “I know you must be confused. Angry. Maybe even a little… nervous. But Peter, we’ll find a way to deal with this that doesn’t involve you scaring the Sheriff’s only son and your soul-bonded to death, all right?”

Holding back a flinch at that phrase, those words, Peter glowered at his sister with gleaming blue eyes, all his anger and misery and betrayal burning hot in his stare.

“You don’t know anything,” he said quietly.

Then without another word, he turned and left.

Chapter Text

Stiles spent the next three days at the station, scribbling out draft after draft of speeches, plans, and strategies for what he’d dubbed Operation MoonMoon. The deputies and detectives had taken well to his presence – they always did – and so far none of them had asked why he was hanging around making a nuisance of himself and generally getting underfoot when he should be out tearing around enjoying the first few weeks of summer. He suspected Tara might have something to do with that, and he’d brought in three loaves of her favorite banana bread as a thank you, making sure he tucked them safely away where only she would find them. She’d shared later, but it was the thought that counted, and she’d returned the gratitude in much the same way Melissa had by pressing a kiss to his forehead before heading out on patrol.

His dad tried. He made sure that Stiles was eating, made an effort to get in something healthy with every meal without any blackmail or extortion. He took to keeping one of Stiles’ special pillows on the couch in his office, just in case he ever got overwhelmed with a case of the yawns and actually managed to drift off for a while around mid-afternoon, too tired from sleepless nights too keep going. Overall he was just busy, getting things together to write up the legal dockets, contacting the Mayor and a few other higher-ups who would do no more than click in their electronic signature without actually reading what he’d sent them. With Stiles’ help on the media end of things he’d made up a pretty decent press-release, which would go out after the meeting with the Hales and the offer they would make to Isaac, so on that end things were going smoothly.

The rest of it, not so much.

He still wasn’t sleeping well. He had almost no appetite, interspersed with sudden pangs of ravenous hunger that left him raiding Parrish’s secret snack drawer, an eclectic and somewhat confounding mix of homemade health food and sugar-filled junk. It put a little bit of a shiver down his spine that even while he was working himself up to a cavity with Rootbeer Barrels and mango fruit leather, all he really wanted was a nice, rare steak.

Stiles didn’t do rare steak.

Stiles like his beef well done, thank you very much, medium well at its pinkest.

He didn’t want to feel like he was killing his food a second time when he cut into it and it bled all over the plate.

On the bright side all of Parrish’s Twizzlers and peanut butter protein bites were a distraction from the cravings and the god awful aftertaste of precinct coffee, and the guy hadn’t even blinked that first day when he came in from working the speed traps to find Stiles slumped over his desk, flicking crumpled balls of notebook paper at the trashcan disconsolately with wrappers scattered all around him like fallen snow. Instead he’d just pulled up a second chair, actually folded a triangular paper football, and flicked it right at Stiles’ forehead.

Somehow he’d managed to be the most helpful through all of this. Weird, because he hadn’t really done anything at all. But maybe that was exactly it – he wasn’t acting like anything had happened, like Stiles was any different from who he’d always been. Instead he just went about his day, worked around Stiles when it was convenient and giving him the literal boot when it wasn’t, planting his black steel-toes against the edge of Stiles’ chair and sending him spinning away across the station floor, slipping behind the desk in his place and sweeping off the candy wrappers and the discarded notes and the eraser shavings without a word. He stayed the same old Parrish, all smiles and laughs and the occasional clever riddle, the fresh-faced rookie who smelled like peppermint because he always carried a pocketful in case he ran into a teary-eyed kid during the course of his day.

He was exhausting to be around – god knew how the Sheriff put up with him.

Honestly, who was that cheerful all the time? Like, even in the morning before he’d had his coffee?

It wasn’t natural.

Still, Stiles appreciated it. It was like getting out into the springtime after being depressed all winter and not even knowing you were until suddenly the dark and the cold and the damp burned away and you were like, oh yeah! I remember this. This is nice.

So for a while Parrish became Stiles’ little sun, and he orbited around the guy whenever he was on the station floor, making a pest of himself interrupting the guy’s paperwork and asking if he could try out the deputy’s Taser. So far no dice, but he’d been slowly wearing him down, and he wasn’t sure if the guy really was that kind-hearted or if his father had put him up to it or if he just didn’t mind having Stiles around all that much, but either way, he knew he was lucky the guy was around. To have all of them in fact - every officer who nodded at him in the morning or offered to grab lunch for him when they went out or let him stand behind the mirror to listen in on one of their interrogations. They didn’t know exactly why he was hanging around so much but it was clear that they all knew something was wrong and were doing their best to help, because even with Parish spreading sunshine and smiles like a contagious disease, Stiles still had his rainclouds lingering overhead.

It was never anything as bad as that first time in his father’s office. Never anything as… intense. But every once in a while there was something, something slick and cool brushing up against his skin like a wild pelt, emotions that didn’t quite fit inside him, weren’t quite right as the scent of wood and winter filled his nose, pine and ice and loam. It made him shiver, the want to lash out, the sudden need to bite, and the very alienness of it, the other nearly drove him to paranoia, as though if he dared look over his shoulder Peter Hale would be standing right there, blue eyes blazing and mouth soaked in blood.

Christ, his bonded was one pissy son of a bitch.

Hah.

Son of a bitch.

Get it?

Sitting in the passenger seat of his father’s cruiser Stiles rolled his eyes.

Dear god, he couldn’t even improvise a good pun right now.

Self-consciously, anxiously, Stiles fingered the tattered corners of the notebook paper in his pocket, folded tight into a tiny football like Parrish had taught him. In all the days since he’d come back out of the Preserve, out of all the drafts he’d scribbled down and then promptly scrapped, this was all he had to show for it, one slightly smudged and well-worn list of dog-jokes.

He’d originally thought to use them on Peter.

Calvin hadn’t said he couldn’t, just that he might not want to open with one, and Stiles was just 147 pounds of pale skin and fragile bone. Sarcasm was his only defense, that and some mystical werewolf law that prevented his bonded from gutting him like lake-trout.

Still, probably best not to provoke the murdering psychopath, right Stiles?

Right.

Besides, Calvin seemed like he might appreciate them more – at least that guy had a sense of humor.

That Nick guy seemed ok too, and David Hale.

Talia was just terrifying, though not like her brother was.

And Laura, well, he hadn’t figured her out yet. There was something a little bit scary about her - not like her mother but like she knew too much, saw too much.

Hell, maybe she just reminded him of himself.

Not that he was feeling all the much like himself anyway these last few days. Even without the occasional wave of not-my-anger floating around, he’d spent so many hours psyching himself up to go back into the woods that he may have actually done too good a job. As his father pulled the cruiser onto the shoulder of the dirt road that ran along the length of the Preserve, he felt cold, empty, shut off even from his own emotions as he geared himself up to face down the pack.

To face down Peter.

That asshole may have gotten the upper hand the last time, but Stiles had lost enough of his dignity that he wouldn’t be letting it happen again.

He might not be ready, but he was damn well going in prepared.

Armor.

Parrish’s black t-shirt that had the word DEPUTY stamped over the shoulders in white block letters and branded him with the protection of the Beacon Hills Police Department. Tough paired with dark wash jeans that actually fit and a pair of battered boots, and defiant in the absence of a jacket or a hoodie, no extra layers hiding the words on his skin or protecting his neck, nothing more to cover the bond mark than a single, thin layer of worn cotton.

Weapons.

Not the wolfsbane pepper spray that had appeared on his keychain two days ago, or the baseball bat made of rowan wood that his anxiety-fueled brain had begun researching estimates for.

No, he had his father for that part, his father, who would be carrying his service pistol this time even if Tara and Parrish were leaving theirs behind. Talia Hale was just going to have to deal with it because there was no way the Sheriff was taking chances with his only son after what had happened last time. That made him smirk a little, because it felt like they had a few up on the werewolves at this point.

Climbing out of the car, he pulled a round, red lollipop out of his pocket, ripped off the cellophane and threw it onto the seat before he slammed the door. His father frowned at him over the roof of the vehicle as he stuffed it into his mouth, the artificial cherry flavor bursting across his tongue as he wiggled it into the pocket of his cheek. It was one of those huge ones the size of a golf ball, and should last him till the end of this meeting as long as he didn’t start cracking his teeth on it.

Weapons.

“Why?” his dad deadpanned, and Stiles narrowed his eyes at the man, because he could guess at exactly what the Sheriff was thinking.

“Because I’d rather smell like cough syrup than anxiety,” he grumbled around the candy, shoving his hands into his pockets as he rounded the bumper. “Let the dick choke on that.”

“Jesus Stiles,” his father grumbled with exasperation, dragging his hand over his face. “Watch your mouth. I don’t want to have to shoot him.”

“Liar.”

Silence met his accusation and Stiles smirked smugly, wandered away toward his father’s deputies, who’d each driven separately and parked behind them on the edge of the road.

“Ready kid?” Parrish asked with a grin, grabbing him round the neck and dragging him in to scrub a hand through his hair.

Stiles frowned and slapped at his hands but didn’t shrug him off, fell in behind Tara and his dad who led the way down the little trail into the trees. It was the same one they’d taken on their way out, the one that connected with the little-used drive that led out of the Preserve on the opposite side, leaving the wolves with access to the highway. Somehow it felt more appropriate than driving in like anyone else might. All four of them were silent walking in and the trees above them felt too still, and the instinct to run fast and far away was tickling at the back of Stiles’ neck but the weight of Parrish’s arm slung across his shoulders grounded him, stopped his flight.

He wasn’t sure if he was grateful or pissed about that.

Didn’t matter though, because there was the path and there was Talia Hale looking pale and regal and maybe a little pissed herself, waiting for them as they trudged slowly out of the brush and onto the path. Calvin stood behind her and Stiles was a little surprised to find himself feeling something not entirely terrible settle inside him at the sight of the scarred, half-blind wolf. He was dressed a lot like Stiles was, heavy boots and dark jeans, and a black sweater with the sleeves shoved up to his elbows, a white t-shirt glowing beneath the v-neck collar, and Stiles didn’t hate that he was there, even as he hated absolutely everything else about the situation.

“Sheriff,” Talia greeted, shaking his father’s hand and making no comment whatsoever about his sidearm. “Deputies.”

Turning toward him, she made a half-aborted move forward as if to shake his hand too, but when Stiles didn’t move out from beneath Parrish’s arm she seemed to think better of it, stepping her feet together and clasping her hands in front of her.

“Stiles,” she said, calmly, respectfully. “I appreciate you coming; I’m sure this can’t have been easy for you. How have you been feeling?”

“Fine,” he ground out, refusing to drop his eyes or take the candy out of his mouth, and it wasn’t a lie because in the last ten minutes he had been fine, shut down as he was. And respectively, he’d been a hell of a lot worse, so, yeah…

Fine.

Talia’s eyebrows twitched and Stiles bit down on a sneering grin, tamped down the pride that surged in his chest knowing he’d thrown her even that much off her stride.

Behind the Alpha’s back, Calvin smirked for him.

“Shall we?” she asked, gesturing with one hand, and his dad nodded gruffly, falling into step beside her with Tara a silent presence on his other side.

Parrish cocked an eyebrow in question and Stiles shrugged, oddly chilled when the deputy took his arm back and so they could follow after. He liked the guy and so did his dad, so for him it was little like having an older brother around, and Parrish seemed to have an uncanny knack for stepping up when Stiles needed a little support. Even now, with Calvin falling in on his left Jordan stayed close, matching Stiles’ stride so that their elbows bumped as they walked, just one more point of stability and protective presence that he suddenly, desperately needed as they moved closer and closer to his own personal version of this could be hell.

“You smell like cough drops,” Calvin observed quietly as they walked, and Stiles flicked a glance at him, calmed by the blatant amusement on the man’s face.

Pulling the sucker from his mouth with a pop, he gave the stick a twirl and jammed it back in.

“Imagine that,” he said flatly, and Calvin barked a laugh.

XXX

Oh, he was a clever little shit wasn’t he?

Coming in with a strong police presence - one of whom was a young, attractive deputy keeping close and laying his scent on thick…

It was smart.

Sniffing the air subtly, Calvin could find no trace of attraction between the two, just a close concern, much like brothers would share, like he and Peter used to share. That was good - Peter might be stupid enough to flaunt Luca around, but if Stiles took the same route things could get bloody. His little brother didn’t share well and wasn’t likely to start now, even if he planned on rejecting his bonded.

Still, it was a good tactic - what little of Stiles’ own natural scent was getting through that was sufficiently covered by the thick, cloying, sweet smell of corn syrup and artificial cherries, his lips stained red and his cheek bulging where he’d slipped the sucker between his teeth. It was almost a little bit obscene - and there was no doubt in Calvin’s mind that Peter would be able to think up half a dozen filthy innuendos on first glance - but the greater purpose of it was clear.

No anxiety, no fear, no emotions were coming through at all, and somehow he’d miraculously been able to control his heartbeat when he’d told Talia that he was fine.

Because it had to be a lie.

There was no way he was actually fine with this. How could anyone be fine with this? The whole process of being bonded was jarring, just in its nature. Even Talia had taken a few weeks to get herself together after bonding with David - and they’d had their eyes on each other for some time before they’d ever spoken to each other, before they’d found out that they were fated to be.

Calvin liked the kid, but damn if he wasn’t glad it wasn’t him.

The valley was empty as they approached the main house. Talia had hustled her own family out early that morning, sending Derek and Cora along with David for the day. Laura had stayed behind of course, and Nicky was around too, keeping an unobtrusive eye on things and playing guard dog while his mother ignored his presence out of habit. Everyone else had been warned well away, everyone except Peter - and Calvin had no idea where he was.

As his Alpha sister led the small procession inside to the dining room, where today’s meeting would take place in a less formal, more welcoming setting, Calvin dropped to the back, shooting Stiles a casual, dismissive grin when the boy looked back over his shoulder for him. Scenting the air, listening hard, he cast around for his pack bonds, the thin, silent, gleaming threads of consciousness that tied him to his family, the men and women, the wolves that made up his pack, but Peter’s familiar thread was elusive and gave him no clue as to his little brother’s whereabouts. He certainly wasn’t inside where he was supposed to be, and that was only going to piss Talia off.

Sighing, he took the steps in a single leap and slipped inside, shaking his head as he went.

If his sister thought that Peter would apologize for his behavior - even if only because she’d ordered him to - she was going to be disappointed.

Well.

That wasn’t quite right.

Calvin doubted that she truly expected Peter to do as he was told.

She’d just be quietly furious when he didn’t.

Which left Calvin in the position of playing peacemaker.

It wasn’t a part he was naturally suited to - he was a fighter, a brawler, as his scars and his milk-blind eye attested to - and the mere thought of the task darkened his mood, causing him to flash his eyes and rumble irritably to himself as he entered the dining room. The lot of them were sitting quietly around the long, worn-wood trestle table; the Sheriff and his deputies grouped at one end, Stiles tucked neatly between his father and the young blonde deputy - Parrish, if the plaque on his uniform were correct. Talia and their great aunt Cilla sat at the other end, two spaces left open between them and the elder Stilinski. Laura was already seated on the right, a subtle bridge between the two factions, and Calvin bristled at being forced to sit next to his brother, whether to babysit or be a physical barrier between his brother’s claws and the man’s bonded.

Talia eyed him suspiciously when he came in, immediately alerted to his agitated state, and from the look Stiles was shooting him he was too, but Calvin just shrugged them both off and took his seat, the one nearest the Sheriff but still far enough away that he could jam it sideways and face the humans. He caught Talia glancing at the clock out of the corner of his eye, saw her lip twitch with an aborted snarl before she collected herself, folding her hands on the table and taking a settling breath.

“Sheriff, thank you again for coming,” she said, and her tone calm and level, even though her heartbeat was just a little fast and there was a spark of desperation in her scent, the smallest shadow of sweet, bloody want. “We’re here to discuss the dissolution of the standing treaty between the Hale pack and the town of Beacon Hills, do you agree?”

“I do,” the Sheriff responded stiffly, and beside him his son rolled his eyes, only prevented from scoffing aloud by the sucker wedged in his mouth.

“Very good,” Talia continued. “After careful consideration and a discussion with some of my pack members, I’d like to formally accept your offer to negotiate terms. We look forward to coming to a satisfactory compromise between us.”

“As do we Alpha Hale,” the Sheriff replied. “As presiding Sheriff and primary authority in Beacon Hills I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to a peaceful resolution myself.”

“Excellent,” Talia said emphatically, and something in her eased, the tension around her softening, so much so that Calvin and Laura too visibly relaxed. Aunt Cilla remained as still and silent as she ever was. “I have a copy of the treaty here,” Talia continued, spreading the document over the table, and smiling just a little when the female deputy leaned forward and handed an identical document to the Sheriff before turning her attention in Stiles’ direction. “I suppose the first step is to outline the terms and conditions of this renegotiation?”

“You take Isaac,” Stiles said immediately, pulling the candy from his mouth with a slurp. “Non-negotiable.”

“You do realize that your friend might refuse,” Talia said, and Calvin snorted.

It was more likely than not that he would. Ignore the fact that no one trusted the werewolves, that fear and slander had run rampant for years, this Isaac Lahey was still a scared, battered kid who had been conditioned to keep his mouth shut and his head down. He hadn’t been able to go to the police either. None of that boded well for his taking a chance.

“You let me deal with Isaac,” Stiles said flatly, and there was something dark and cold in his voice that made Calvin’s wolf sit up and pay attention. “You just make the offer.”

Talia looked him up and down, considered, nodded.

“I will. According to our laws, if your friend accepts, he’ll be considered prospective pack and entitled to the protection we can provide him, against his father and anyone else. He will be welcome to stay with us for up to a year, at which time he must determine whether or not he will take the bite.”

“Acceptable,” the Sheriff answered, but that much was standard protocol as far as the near-primeval law allowed. “I’d be more comfortable if we could bring the kid down to the station, make the offer there. Anywhere but his house really. Get him away from that father of his - somewhere he’d feel safer, more comfortable making an honest decision.”

“I would be happy to extend the offer at your station Sheriff,” Talia replied.

“Good. And then I guess we could let Stiles break the news to him, explain it a little bit. Since he’ll be…”

Doing something that no one was happy he’d be doing, if facial expressions were anything to go by, but Calvin couldn’t say for certain because down the hall the screen door slammed and every person, human and wolf with the exception of Laura, tensed up, eyes on the door as Peter came stalking in. His hair was a mess and he looked like he’d just dragged on a pair of sweats and a torn t-shirt off-hand, his neck and arms marked with dirt and grass stains. There was a bruise running like black and blue watercolors beneath the sleeve and collar of his shirt, likely poured over his shoulder and down his ribcage, and his face was set like pissed-off fury even though there was a nasty, smug sort of satisfaction glinting in his shock-blue eyes.

“Jesus Uncle Peter,” Laura coughed, her nose scrunched tight as he passed her and moved around behind Talia to get to his seat next to Calvin, and he had to agree.

His little brother smelled like a fucking brothel - all sweat and sex and filth.

So that was where he’d been - out in the woods in the practice ring, where the younger wolves trained and took rough-and-tumble swipes at each other while more circled up to watch. He must’ve found one of their younger cousins willing to go a round with him, or maybe several, enough to give him something of a real fight. His blood was always up after a scuffle, and no doubt Luca had been ringside, panting like a dog and salivating to cater to whatever itches Peter wanted scratched.

No doubt the representative from Ohio would be limping the next day, for more than one reason.

“Aren’t you getting a little old for this shit?” Calvin snarled under his breath.

The only answer he got was an elbow being driven discreetly into the side of his skull as Peter took his seat.

Chapter Text

Stiles thought that Peter Hale seemed a little surprised when he didn’t immediately break down into another panic attack, maybe even a little disappointed. Seemed surprised that he met his eyes too, that he didn’t cower or tremble or look away, just glared and sneered at him as best he could around the rock of candy in his mouth. Electric blue flickered in the man’s eyes and fangs showed under his lip, a low, menacing rumble rising up out of his chest, but Stiles just raised an eyebrow, unwilling to concede the staring match.

Surprised and pissed then.

Good.

First impressions aside, Stiles didn’t consider himself a wuss. He could be brave, up to and beyond the point of stupidity (see exhibit A - the present situation), and as much as he might bitch and moan he was a pragmatic little bastard at heart, one who could quietly devote himself to a problem and work it steadily and relentlessly, from every angle until he found the solution.

So yeah, in the last few days he’d done his share of bitching and moaning, but he’d also come to a few decisions, a few realizations, and he’d accepted the situation for no more and no less than what it was.

He was soul bonded to Peter Hale - psychotic, pissed off werewolf.

Fine, done.

Now work the problem.

He’d already gotten to work on step one - never show fear.

Now did that mean he wasn’t feeling it? Absolutely not. He had distinct, detailed, and recent memories of exactly what it felt like to be thrown against a wall by someone bigger and stronger and angrier than he was and held there, with teeth snapping inches from his throat and no hope of escaping whatever was about to happen. That plus the fact that he was a self-conscious, gangly, misfit of a high-schooler made him acutely aware of the gazes of others.

Stiles Stilinski knew when he was being sized up, when he was being targeted.

Maybe Peter had really done him a favor - forewarned was forearmed and all that jazz.

So.

Step one - feel it, don’t show it - his new motto.

Cover up the scent, keep your shoulders back and your head high, black and boots to put a little badass in your bearing…

Don’t drop your eyes.

Fake it till you make it.

He could do that.

Smirking, huffing a little laugh, he rolled his eyes and directed his attention back to the conversation that had already gotten to the down and dirty details between his father and Talia Hale. They were both dug in - he could tell by the set of his father’s mouth and the sharpness in the Alpha werewolf’s gaze, not red yet but gleaming with intent. As they bandied legal terms and conditions back and forth across the table it seemed that they were both intentionally ignoring everyone else in the room - ignoring Peter and Stiles at least - and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. It made him feel… isolated somehow, like he was alone in a narrow hallway with the guy even though Calvin was right there beside him, flicking glances back and forth between them and shifting every once in a while like he was maybe kicking Peter under the table.

And that was… weird, because Stiles sure as hell wouldn’t be risking his neck against Peter like that - but it was kinda nice and kinda hilarious too, and he couldn’t help snorting half a chuckle under his breath when Peter muttered something under his breath and Calvin responded by giving him a good slap upside the head. The two immediately turned on each other with snarls and flashing eyes, twisting toward each other in their chairs as hands gripped at shoulders and forearms, looking for all the world like two kids about to throw down behind the jungle gym - minus that fangs and claws of course.

“Would you two knock it off?” Talia snapped, and this time Stiles laughed straight out, because if that wasn’t a mom-voice nothing was, and the two men left off with glares and lingering shoves, surreptitious slaps that weren’t sneaky at all.

“God give me strength,” the Alpha complained, lifting her eyes briefly to the ceiling, and beside her Laura clamped a hand over her mouth, catching Stiles’ eyes and shaking her head minutely, eyes sparkling with mischief. Calvin caught her trying not to laugh and stuck his tongue out in her direction, leading to a burst of giggling that had Talia pinching the bridge of her nose.

These people were insane.

“Christ kid, you’re gonna fit right in here,” the Sheriff muttered, and Stiles turned on him with narrowed eyes.

“Excuse you?” he demanded, raising an eyebrow and drawing the sucker out of his mouth with a pop. “I am a delight, thank you very much.”

“Just pay attention,” his father grumbled, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Please?”

“What did I do?” he yelped indignantly.

“If we could return to the topic at hand?” Talia suggested. “I’m satisfied with the precautions you’ve laid out here Sheriff, however I still have some significant concerns.”

“Such as?”

“The Argents.”

The chill that fell on the other side of the table when that name tripped out of Talia Hale’s mouth was palpable, and Stiles had never felt anything like it in his life. It went all the way to the bone, sank down inside him and made him sick to his stomach. He couldn’t tell how much of it was coming from his new bond with Peter and how much was just sitting across from the rest of them but it was gripping and harsh and stinging, like putting bare skin against dry, freezing metal. A deep, low growl was coming from Peter and Calvin both this time, their jaws tight as fangs showed beneath their lips, and across from them Laura seemed to have shrunk in on herself, gotten smaller and younger and not nearly as sure of herself.

“Alpha Hale, I can promise you that neither I nor the law in Beacon Hills has any tolerance for any form of vigilante justice,” his father said, formally, carefully, and Stiles had a sudden flashback to the time he’d had to give the press release about the original treaty going into effect, older and heavier and more serious than he ever was. “If you’d like to facilitate a discussion with the Argents…”

The Alpha didn’t respond, only frowned slightly as if considering, and beside her Peter went abruptly still and silent.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he hissed, claws biting into the tabletop with a screeching crack. “You’re actually considering this? Well that’s just fucking great Talia - I’m sure that’ll go just as well as it did the last…”

“That’s enough Peter,” Talia snapped, and Stiles was more grateful than he could express that the firm, quiet demand brought her brother back under control, because he suddenly felt like he was about to faint. His heart was hammering in his chest and he couldn’t feel his fingers, and the hate that had swamped his veins was so strong he felt like he could actually kill someone in that moment.

Peter made barking, snarling sort of sound, an angry sound, but settled slowly back again, his claws ticking ominously against the splintered table. He was clearly agitated and Stiles too felt on edge, felt like all the hair on the back of his neck was standing on end. He could feel his teeth grinding down on the candy in his mouth and heard himself making a rough growling sound of his own deep in the back of his throat, a sound that had all the wolves turning to him with shocked, unnerved expressions.

All of them except Peter.

Peter tilted his head, narrowed his eyes, and Stiles swallowed hard, suddenly sure that he’d just given away a major vulnerability. His father’s hand on the back of his neck, gripping tightly, helped to snap him out of the staring contest, the strange haze of hot, suffocating anger that blanked his mind, and after blinking rapidly a few times, he shook his head, tried to focus.

“I can help with the Argents,” he said, addressing Talia but all too aware that Peter’s gaze was still sharp, honed in on him with deadly precision. “I know Allison - we go to school together. I can talk to her, maybe have her come down to the station to talk with you.”

Peter was growling again now, low and threatening, but this time everyone ignored him, Talia choosing to address the situation at hand instead.
“While I appreciate the offer Stiles,” she said, “I’m not sure how speaking with your friend will do any good.”

“Oh, so the fact that she’s the heir apparent to the family isn’t helpful?” he snapped, then squeezed his eyes shut, flinched like he’d been hit.

Jesus, focus, don’t let him get to you

“The Argents are a matriarchal family, yeah?” he tried again, not bothering to wait for an answer, concentrating instead on keeping his tone level. He knew what he was talking about this time, and he knew Allison. “Chris Argent’s wife Victoria died two years ago, supposed suicide. That left Chris in charge until Allison reached age of majority. She’s in our grade but she’s already seventeen. She’s been the deciding family vote for the last eight months.”

“We’d heard rumors about Victoria,” Talia said slowly, looking to the Sheriff for confirmation. “Christopher’s daughter is the new head of the family?”

“Yeah, I guess it was supposed to go to her aunt, but apparently she went cuckoo for cocoa puffs a while back and everybody thought it was best to get off that train before it wrecked.”

The werewolves stiffened, Talia’s face carefully blank, then another brush of anger-hate came across the table, concentrated this time, and Stiles swallowed down a wave of nausea.

Oh that fucker.

He was doing it on purpose now.

While trying to look like he was at least paying a little attention to whatever Talia Hale was saying, Stiles quickly began constructing a mental bubble, one made of thick, clear, imaginary plastic like the stuff his old boa snake’s tank was made of. Layer after layer, strong and solid, he pictured Peter’s emotions as bright blue laser beams being shot in his direction that hit the surface and bounced back off again, sound and light and everything else deadened inside the bubble as it got thicker and thicker.

When he was finally able to breathe a little easier, he turned to interrupt the conversation he’d tuned out of.

"Look I know you guys have some seriously shitty history with some of the Argent family,” he said, “But Allison’s different. Outside of being, like, disgustingly sweet, she’s a huge proponent of equal rights, breaking down barriers, saving the baby seals… She talks about “righting wrongs” in Beacon Hills all the time, does her reports and her papers on it, leads clubs. She’s like this huge activist that no one listens too. You need to bring her in on this - if only to head off the boatload of issues you’re gonna have as soon as someone makes accusations that we’re going behind their backs.”

"He’s got a point,” The Sheriff frowned, sounding unfairly surprised. “If we don’t involve them at all there will be someone out there who makes a problem out of it. Better to be proactive…”

A stinging sensation flickered over Stiles’ face, like being snapped by a rubber band, and he bit down hard on the inside of his cheek, trying not to show that he’d noticed. Jesus it was like getting his pigtails pulled - how old was this guy again?

Whatever, if he wanted to be a dick, two could play that game.

Settling back in his chair, Stiles closed his eyes and thanked his dad for all those therapy sessions after his mom died. He’d hated Dr. Moore at the time but the man had had his uses - Stiles came out of it having learned to compartmentalize like a champ. Wasn’t what he was supposed to be doing, but he’d spent his appointments learning how to tune in and out, how to lock his emotions away neatly and access them at will. Visualization was also a tactic he’d been encouraged to develop, so now it was easy to pull up the memory of every panic attack he’d ever had right up to the one Peter himself had caused. Knotting up every twisted rope of anger, fear, and anxiety, every gasping breathe of oh-shit-I’m-gonna-die, he packed them together like a snowball until they were dense and sharp edged, the kind of snowball he’d always wanted to lob at the back of Jackson’s head. Taking a slow breath, he lowered the invisible shield he’d built around himself, felt tentatively for the bonds stretching across the table, drew back, and fired.

Peter’s response was instantaneous and supremely satisfying - rocking back in his chair so hard Stiles thought for sure he was going over, he gripped at his chest with one clawed hand as his eyes went wide, pupils blown and teeth bared as he sucked in a hard lungful of air. He looked like he’d been hit with a truck and for a fraction of a second Stiles almost regretted doing it, but the remorse was so fleeting it barely registered. Coughing like he’d swallowed smoke, Peter shoved Calvin’s steadying hand off roughly, ignored his sister’s calling his name and shoved himself to his feet, fangs bared and eyes blazing.

“You little shit…”

“Peter sit down!"

The Alpha’s roar was deep and heavy with bass, making the air between them shimmer and shake, and Stiles felt the strange urge to shudder, to slip out from beneath the sound, but it forced Peter to still, to freeze at the edge of the table before he could come stalking around to slash Stiles open. The volatile reaction from the werewolf had Stiles halfway to his own panic attack for about two seconds before he remembered that hey, soulmate.

He couldn’t hurt him, no matter how much he wanted to.

“Damn it Stiles, what did I say?” his father snarled in his ear, but Stiles refused to take his eyes off his bonded, narrowing them instead.

“About what?” he asked sweetly with poorly affected innocence.

“About gaslighting your goddamned soul bonded!”

Oh yeah.

That.

“You laughed,” Stiles replied flatly, raising a hand to tick off points because screw it, the man had laughed when Stiles had idly brought the idea up earlier in the week. “You said it was awesome, that you’d love to see it, that it was probably not very smart, it could go horribly wrong, did I really think it was a good idea…”

“Yes, and?”

“And I still thought it was a good idea.”

“Oh for the love of… Alpha Hale, I apologize for my son,” the Sheriff said, raising both hands in a placating motion that Peter completely ignored - like he shouldn’t be the one getting the apology in the first place.

“Peter started it,” she shrugged, and Stiles immediately turned his head to widen his eyes at his father, just to emphasize the point as he shook his palm in the Alpha’s direction. “Though perhaps Stiles might like to take a walk, tour the valley…”

“Oh great, so now I’m getting sent to the kiddie table,” he muttered bitterly under his breath, rolling his eyes and shoving his sucker back into his mouth. “Real cute…”

Talia chuckled and Stiles froze in the act of getting up from his seat.

Idiot - she can hear you!

“Calvin, why don’t you join Stiles out at the kiddie table, show him around?” she suggested.

The other werewolf practically leapt to his feet, clearly relieved to be given permission to go. Snaking sideways, he slipped carefully behind Peter to head toward the door, baring his teeth silently when Peter rumbled at him and watched him leave, the challenge lingering between them. Soul bonded or not, Stiles was glad it wasn’t him, passing Parrish and his father quietly and giving the former a minute head-shake, declining the unspoken offer of an escort.

“Come on kid, let’s leave the adults to their grown-up talk,” Calvin grinned, a single tooth still showing sharp and white beneath his lip.

Placing his palm flat between Stiles’ shoulder blades, he pushed him gently toward the hallway, but unlike the last time when Stiles had been panicked and freaking and hoping desperately that he and Scott wouldn’t be killed he resisted, flopping lazily back against the man’s hand and digging in his heels. Laughing, Calvin moved his grip to Stiles’ shoulders and started shoving until he’d gotten him out the back door and onto the porch, letting go so fast that Stiles toppled backward onto his ass.

“Ow, dick!” he yelped, rubbing his hip and climbing back to his feet.

“Aw, now, are you sure you’re not confusing me with my brother?” Calving chuckled, one eyebrow raised.

“Seriously,” Stiles snorted, brushing of the seat of his pants. “Who pissed in that guy’s… whoa, wait, rewind!” Turning on the werewolf with a horrified gaze, mouth hanging open, he whizzed through every comment that had been made in the last week and couldn’t come up with anything to reassure himself. “He’s your brother too?!”

“Unfortunately,” Calvin smirked, rolling his eyes. Leaping lightly down the steps onto the grass, he waited for Stiles to follow before walking slowly down a well-worn path toward the center of the valley. “Talia’s the oldest, then me, then Peter. My little brother can be an ass, but he’s not… terrible. I mean he is, but... not like he’s been to you.”

“That doesn’t help dude,” Stiles muttered, kicking at the dirt and squirming a little. It was… weird, all of a sudden, knowing that Calvin was related to Peter, closer than just pack. Even if the guy was willing to admit that his brother wasn’t exactly a nice man. “Can we talk about something else?”

Calvin shot him a side-eye but shrugged none the less, stopping in the middle of the clearing and pointing back the way they’d come.

“The main house is the Alpha’s,” he said, “Talia’s. She, David, and her kids live there - Laura, Derek, and Cora.”

Turning around, he pointed to a smaller cabin just a few yards off to the right, narrow but tall, three, maybe four stories but compact and square, with a steep, slanting roof.

“Nick stays down here with me.”

“He doesn’t stay with his mom?” Stiles asked.

For a moment Calvin paused, frowning as he looked Stiles up and down, then shrugged once more.

“After the wars,” he began slowly, “After Seth died… Nicky needed to get out. Needed space to breathe. I had plenty of room, so he stays down here with me. Hell we’ve still got plenty of space - we’re cleaning up the loft for you.”

“For me?” Stiles asked, confused. “You don’t have to…”

“Trust me kid,” Calvin laughed, “You’ll need space to breathe too, especially being soul-bonded to my little brother. Besides, you should have a place anyways, a place that’s just yours while you’re here. It’s only fair.”

Shifting from foot to foot, mildly uncomfortable and disconcerted by the permanency of having an actual room of his own here, Stiles swallowed, looked around to avoid the werewolf’s gaze.

“What about the rest?” he asked, making a wide, vague gesture, because he would not, on pain of death, ask where Peter stayed.

“The rest of the pack bunks around in the different houses,” Calvin explained. “Some leave, find places in cities nearby, places that are more… accepting. Others go to college, like Laura, some leave and don’t come back. Most of us stay. The pull of pack is… strong. The bonds tend to keep us close.”

Well… great.

Not only soul-bonded to a werewolf, but tied down to the guy too.

Somehow Stiles doubted that Peter would up and move just because his new bond mate got accepted to college on the east coast.

“So we’ve got families, couples, singles that have bunked up as roomies,” Calvin continued, then he turned and pointed down to the far end of the valley, a smaller two-story tucked in beneath a huge spreading oak. “Peter lives by himself,” he said slowly, watching Stiles for a reaction, one that he was determined not to give away. “Well, usually.

Don’t ask.

It doesn’t matter - don’t ask.

“Luca’s got a guest suite up at the main house,” Calvin said, and his tone was rougher, more cavalier, just a little disdainful. “He’s a political contact, an envoy from a pack in Ohio. He’s treated to the best we can possibly provide under the circumstances, but he seems to have taken it upon himself to make everyone miserable.”

“Sounds like a real peach,” Stiles scoffed, remembering the tall, slight young man that had come barging in to that first meeting with Talia, bouncing around Peter’s heels and yipping like a Chihuahua. Strange that he should remember him with a flare of hot anger, his spine straightening and his stance widening, like he was getting ready to fight.

“Yeah,” Calvin muttered, mimicking Stiles’ pose and crossing his arms over his chest. “He’s a real winner and he’s coming this way, so buck up because if you back down for that little runt I’ll feed you to Peter myself.”

Stiles’ eyes went wide and he opened his mouth to splutter, but Calvin wrinkled his nose and bared his teeth in warning and he just had time to get his face back under control before turning to meet the werewolf that had come trotting down to meet them. He was… too much, too much of everything, too skinny and too clean cut, hair too styled and clothes too pressed. He looked like he should be on some runway in Europe, not out in the woods with a bunch of wolves.

Coming to a stop, he arched one neat eyebrow and looked Stiles slowly up and down, a measuring glance that ended with a overtly unimpressed sneer.

“So,” he sniffed, putting a hand on his hip, “I suppose you must be Stiles.”

Chapter Text

I suppose you must be Stiles.

You must be Stiles.

Must be...

It sent a lurch of nausea through him to hear those words, almost right but not exactly, close but not close enough and still way too close for comfort. A prickling rush of electricity ran down his spine and his entire body went cold, his words, Peter's words said in the foreign voice of a stranger, in a sneering, derogatory tone. It made him feel clammy, physically sick, and at the same time caused anger to swell in his chest like a sunburst because how dare this little shit come swaggering up and open his mouth like he had the right to say that...

Stiles felt his lips pull back off his teeth in what could only be described as a snarl, and for the briefest moment he wished he could grow the teeth and claws that a werewolf could, because for just a fleeting second his heart leapt with the intention of throwing this little bitch to the ground and tearing him up.

It was an intense surge of desire for violence that he wasn't prepared for and it nearly knocked him back on his heels. Clenching his teeth against a wave of vitriolic words he hadn't even realized he knew, he forced himself to ease back, to subtly drop his shoulders and straighten his knees, slightly bent in readiness, prepared to spring. He could feel Calvin relax beside him, the older man no doubt ready to jump in and pull Stiles away from a poorly considered and doomed-to-failure attack, but he was by no means calm. It was only every bit of steel in his spine, only Calvin standing next to him and watching on with judgmental eye, only how much he hated every part of all of this that kept him still.

Well, that and the haughty, sneering look on this man's face.

Some cold, angry part of him hissed in the back of his mind, predator-reptile uncurling itself in the face of prey, of a challenger, and Stiles fought the sudden urge to bare his teeth a second time. He didn't quite succeed, curling his lip in sneer because fuck this guy and his superiority, his undeserved self-confidence, his pathetic little claim on Stiles' bonded...

Woah, okay, no.

Nope.

Nuh-uh.

And again in Spanish, no.

He was not jealous of this guy, this skinny, too-sleek jerk who Stiles had already seen make an ass of himself – and no way in hell was he gonna be afraid of him either. Seriously, what did this guy have that Stiles didn't?

Besides teeth.

And claws.

Supernatural speed, strength, senses...

Yeah, besides that.

Well nothing, that was what!

Sure he was... good looking - objectively! - in a posh and polished sort of way, but Stiles had already found himself in that happy middle-place where he could lean toward either side of the fence. Track and lacrosse and a slow-moving growth spurt meant that his chest and shoulders were broad enough to go manly-athletic, but he was also lean and baby-faced enough that he could play up the twink thing if that was Peter's...

And again with the nope.

He didn't care what Peter's type was. It didn't matter.

Ugh, whatever.

Stiles might not be a werewolf, but he was smart enough to take this guy on.

Besides, he was pretty sure he already had Calvin and Laura on his side, which was more than he could say for Luca.

"Yeah that's right," he acknowledged, crunching the last of his sucker and gathering up all the best of his courage, his sarcasm. "Stiles Stilinski, as in Sheriff Stilinski." Raising an eyebrow, he blatantly looked the man up and down, forced himself to be unimpressed. "You're obviously not from here - how are you enjoying Beacon Hills, Mr..." Stiles trailed off, huffed an affected chuckle. "Sorry, no one's mentioned your name."

Luca sneered, an oddly delicate expression as though he'd gotten a sniff of something foul. Stiles caught the barest flicker of gold around his pupils and made a note of it – the guy's control wasn't a hundred percent. Would certainly make it easier to get on his nerves, but didn't bode well for his ability to keep his claws to himself, and despite his greeting there was no bond between them to save Stiles' skin.

"My name is Luca Patralia," the werewolf said proudly, drawing himself up to his full height and really? Grecian? That was the stellar bloodline that should make Stiles feel inferior? "And your father may be the sheriff in town, but he has no jurisdiction here."

Beside him Stiles felt Calvin stiffen and immediately recognized the younger werewolf's mistake. By declaring that the Sheriff had no jurisdiction over the pack, Luca was speaking in Talia's place, speaking for the Hales, and even Stiles could guess that that was a no-no.

"Interesting," Stiles hummed, glancing in Calvin's direction. "Since Alpha Hale is inside right now, negotiating with said Sheriff. Perhaps you should stop her, since you're speaking for her and all."

Something in him went sickly pleased at the sight of Luca going white as a sheet, the blood draining from his face as he realized what he'd done, the subtle threat in Stiles' words, and it urged him to press his advantage, to sink his teeth in and worry at the weakness he'd found.

"Even though the last time I checked you weren't actually pack..."

"I am an allied envoy here on official pack business," the young man hissed, painful red color flooding his cheeks and his eyes flaring, and Stiles had to clench every muscle he had to stop himself from taking a step back, from flinching away from the sheer anger in his words, the scramble to defend his actions. "I have every right to speak out, to be concerned! But you, who are you little boy? Who are you to come here and bring trouble, break rules?"

Stiles blinked, traded a carefully unimpressed, skeptical look with Calvin.

"Didn't we just go over this?" he asked, feigning concern. "I mean, I thought the whole pack knows who I am by now."

Calvin scoffed, crossed his arms and offered Stiles a toothy grin.

"Believe me kid, the pack knows who you are. You're all anyone's talking about."

"So, what? Were my sentences not short enough? Implications too subtle?"

"Are you calling me stupid?" Luca snarled, all his posh accent and detached superiority falling away as his eyes flared and he bared his teeth in indignation.

"Yup, too subtle," he muttered.

Shrugging casually, he took a step in retreat, disguised as redirecting his attention back to the infuriated werewolf, raised his hands up in a placating manner. He could feel his heart thundering against the inside of his chest, felt the hair standing up on the back of his neck and wondered if he'd gone too far because shit, this was a werewolf in front of him, perfectly capable of slicing him like bologna and Stiles had just pressed some pretty big buttons.

Too bad he'd never had a good grasp of self preservation.

"I mean, I'm just saying. You might be an envoy, but as an objective third party it kinda looks like your pack ditched you up here without protection or plans to bring you back..."

And whoops.

Apparently that was the line.

Growling, Luca lunged forward and lashed out with a clawed hand, aiming for Stiles' face.

To anyone else it might look like he stood tall, unafraid and ready to take it, but really it just happened so fast that he didn't have the time to react. One second the man was glaring at him with a hot, petty sort of hatred and the next he was going for the throat. All Stiles saw was a glint of gold eyes and sharp, white teeth before Calvin caught him by the wrist, twisting it neatly behind his back with a short, commanding snarl. Luca jerked in his grasp, struggled, swung around in an attempt to claw at the older werewolf's face, but Calvin just turned and tightened his grip, resulting in a sharp crack, a pained yelp, and another vicious snarl. Digging in, Calvin bared long, vicious fangs, roared in Luca's face as he pressed him down, forced him toward the earth, but the smaller man refused to yield, raised his free hand and...

"Luca!"

One word.

One word and the world stopped.

At least it felt that way.

Peter's voice rang out sharp and clear across the valley, sending a chill shock of electricity down Stiles' spine. The hair on the back of his neck stood at attention and his stomach swooped, anger-anxiety-fear flooding his system even as Calvin and Luca froze, their brief, violent tussle ended as Calvin shoved the man roughly away. Instinctively he took a step back, aligned himself with the scarred, battleworn Hale who'd just leapt to his defense as Peter came stalking across the grass, looking like the embodiment of murder.

"What the hell are you doing down here?" he snapped and Stiles went cold, sure that his bonded was barking at him until Peter grabbed hold of Luca's coat collar and jerked him backward.

"I was looking for you baby," he whimpered, ducking his head in a gesture of submission so fake that Stiles actually let a little sound of disdain escape him.

Luca's head snapped up, his eyes boring into Stiles like he was trying to set him on fire.

"But then this child - he would accuse me, insult me... and your brother, he sides with him. A human, an outsider. Baby, he broke my wrist," the werewolf whimpered, cradling it in his free hand and lifting the limp appendage like some macabre courtroom exhibit.

Stiles sneered, sucked in a breath to defend himself in a burst of righteous indignation, but Peter flat out ignored him, looked to his brother with burning blue eyes and tight jaw.

"Little shit's forgotten his place," Calvin growled, his good eye flashing gold. "An envoy holds no seat at the Alpha's table."

Peter's eyes narrowed, fury hardening his features as his brother's meaning became clear. He turned on Luca slowly, a low rumble emanating from deep in his chest, and Stiles' thanked god that look, that quiet, controlled anger wasn't being turned on him. His knees were already wobbly, his nerves jumbled by Peter's proximity, his flash-fire emotions. He wasn't sure he could handle that.

"Get back to the house," Peter said, calm, quiet, deadly.

Yeah – like those first two were fooling anyone.

"But baby..."

"Now. I told you to finish drawing up the status agreements, and so help me god Luca if you don't have them done by tomorrow morning I will personally make sure Talia takes it out on your ass instead of mine."

"Peter..."

Barking a challenge, Peter took a threatening step toward the younger man but once again Calvin stepped in, placing a hand flat against his brother's chest to stop his advance.

"Leave it," he suggested lightly, staring Luca down. "If it's too much to ask for him to do his fucking job we'll just inform the Castellanos that we are dissatisfied with his services and that, while we appreciate their offer, we feel it unwise to accept at this time."

Luca went white and wide-eyed so fast Stiles thought he would faint, but then he was swallowing hard and ducking his head in an acquiescent nod, turning around and trotting off again the way he'd come, only looking back to send Stiles a wicked glare that promised payback.

Well great.

He was just making friends all over the place wasn't he?

For a moment silence and stillness reigned as the three of them watched Luca's retreat, then Calvin turned to him with a toothy grin and clapped him roughly on the shoulder.

"Well done," he praised, and Stiles felt his cheeks go hot.

"Thanks," he mumbled.

Suddenly nervous, shy, he angled slightly toward his soul-bonded and shoved his hands into his pockets.

"Um..."

Chuffing a short snarl, Peter shook his head rapidly and stalked away without another word, trailing quickly after Luca.

"Right."

"Don't worry kid," Calvin sighed, this time squeezing his shoulder gently but firmly. "Peter's no different from the rest of us – he doesn't actually like Luca either."

"Sure," Stiles shrugged, going for nonchalant and failing miserably when his voice came out hoarse and stilted. "Anyway. Thanks, for that. Stopping him, I mean. Didn't really mean to piss him off that much..."

"Hell that was a thing of beauty kid," Calvin snorted, chuckling as he folded his arms across his chest. "Technically he is a guest, and a visiting envoy, so there's not a lot the pack can do to knock him down a peg. You just did what every one of us has spent the last month dreaming about – you'll be a silent hero by the time the sun goes down."

"Jesus," Stiles hissed under his breath, planting on hand on his hip and scrubbing the other through his hair in frustration. "And here I was planning on keeping a low profile."

Calvin barked a laugh, started heading back toward the main house.

"Yeah good luck with that. Anyway, Luca was out of line. If my sister heard what he'd said, if she'd seen him go after you the way he did, he'd be limping away with a lot worse than a broken wrist."

"Should we tell her?" Stiles asked, chewing his lip and falling in line beside him.

"Not if you don't want to. She'll hear about it before the day's over."

"Yeah, but I provoked him..."

"Oh bullshit," Calvin scoffed. "He's a grown man – he should be able to handle a few harsh truths. And it wouldn't matter either way – he has position as a representative of an allied pack, but he's not our pack. He has no say here, no vote, no right to dole out warning, threat, or punishment. He's here to relay communications to the Castellanos in Ohio, that's all. Talia could make an argument for killing him after he tried to jump you – a human under her protection, in her territory. Peter too."

Stiles steps faltered, his heartbeat skipping.

"Why?" he demanded, confused. "I mean, I get it with Talia – she's your Alpha. But why would Peter..."

Calvin slowed, stopped, turned to Stiles with an unreadable look on his face.

"Because like it or not, you are his bonded," he said quietly, smoothly. "You're human, not mated, not pack - not yet at least. That means you're vulnerable. Attacking a werewolf's bonded is a serious offense, and one not often committed, because bond mates tend to be... protective. Territorial. Aggressively so."

Stiles sniffed, rolled his eyes and started up the porch steps.

"Yeah, pretty sure I don't need to worry about that happening."

Behind him Calvin followed, catching the screen door before it swung shut and speaking too quietly for him to hear.

"I think you can count on it kid."

Chapter Text

Laura Hale had known from the age of five that she would be an alpha one day. She could feel it in her bones and in her teeth, knew it from the way she bristled and bucked against her mother's orders when she was mad. By all rights her oldest brother Seth should have been the one to take over rule of the pack when Talia Hale finally decided to step down, but Laura had always known in her heart that somehow, some way, it would be her.

She'd carried a lot of guilt for that after his death, for her imagined responsibility in what had happened, and she'd only just begun to deal with it these last three years by getting out of Beacon Hills and getting away, from her home and her pack and all the terrible memories there. Going to college in Southern California, where the political climate was radically different and werewolves were treated just like anyone else had done wonderful things for her confidence, made her stronger and more outspoken and happier, and while being called home, being initiated into the grooming process that would prepare her to be Hale Alpha was bringing up a lot of that old hurt, she felt more prepared than she had just a few short months ago.

A good thing too – she'd need every bit of courage she could summon to fill her mother's shoes one day, and to stand strong beside her until then.

Now this new thing being brought to them by the doe-eyed cutie she'd accused Derek of dating in an attempt to spark some jealousy felt like chance, smelled like change, and just like she'd known that one day she would look in the mirror and see red eyes staring back at her, she knew that this would be her legacy.

So she paid attention.

Asked questions.

Cut in and interrupted her mother without hesitation, because she knew what she was bringing to the table and what she risked by sitting back and keeping silent.

It should have felt wrong, would have, but she could sense her mother holding back, keeping quiet, letting her take a lot of the lead, and it bolstered the confidence in her, made her more sure in her words, in her arguments.

"With all due respect Sheriff," she said, the calm quiet of her tone hiding anxiety, fear, and hope in equal measures, "Are you sure you have the authority to pull this off?"

Across the table, John Stilinski huffed a weary chuckle and scrubbed his hand over his face, a little more aged and uncertain since his son had followed her uncle outside.

"Don't think I haven't thought it," he replied, and his heartbeat was strong and steady underneath.

She admired him.

He'd reacted much better to what his son had brought about than Talia would have, had it been her or Derek or even Nick.

"But to answer your question," he continued, "Yes, I do."

Frowning, he looked her up and down, flicked a glance in Talia's direction before steeling himself.

"When the wars started..." he began carefully, and Laura suppressed a flinch, but she suspected he saw it anyway. "A lot of it was the hunters. I won't deny that there were civilians in Beacon Hills who participated – I can't deny that, as much as I wish I could – but it was led by the Argents."

"We know that Sheriff," Talia said quietly. "We appreciated what you did to help. I appreciated what you did."

John tilted his head just a little, a melancholy look on his face before he nodded, and Laura bit her tongue because she recognized that maybe this part of it was between her mother and Stiles' dad, not Alpha Hale and Sheriff Stilinski. She'd been young during the wars, just a teenager, too young to really understand everything that was happening, but she remembered the kind-hearted deputy who had done his best to stop the bloodbath, who had been the very first one to go charging into the Hale house during that final battle, when fire bombs had set the valley ablaze.

The scent of painful memories tickled in her nose and the Sheriff shifted in his chair, cleared his throat.

"The point is, I don't think we'll have as much resistance as we're expecting," he said, his voice tight. "Beacon Hills is mostly good people, and the treaty..."

"The treaty was something put in place at our request," Talia acknowledged, "With our safety in mind. We're aware that we were the party to push it in the first place Sheriff, more to keep the humans out of the Preserve than the werewolves out of town."

"Understandable, given the circumstances," he murmured. "Don't mistake me Alpha Hale, Miss Hale – we'll certainly have some people who aren't too happy about this, but overall? I don't anticipate any significant problems, especially if we get the Argents on board."

Laura swallowed, felt her body go ice cold as instinct, all her natural reactions told her to run, and she found herself completely incapable of speech as she fought down a tremble.

Maybe she wasn't ready for this.

"That's something I'll have to discuss further with my pack Sheriff," her mother said, and the subtle bite in her tone made Laura shiver.

"I understand, and I assure you that ultimately it will be your decision, but I have to throw my hat in with Stiles on this one. Allison is a good kid, and what she and her father have accomplished in the last few years... it's impressive. She's even changed the family motto. We protect those who cannot protect themselves."

"I'll take your opinion under advisement."

Her mother's tone was cool enough to put ice to shame, but the Sheriff just dropped his eyes, bit down a smile.

"All in all, I should be thanking you," he said. "For what you're willing to do for the Lahey kid. It's more than I can do, and thank god for that, because the kid needs the help."

"Will he take it?" Laura asked, the conversation now safe enough for her to join in again.

"He hasn't so far. But the kid's not stupid. He knows the limitations of the system, knows what could happen if he reported the abuse. Chances are good that nothing would come of Iit and he'd be stuck facing whatever punishment that bastard of a father could come up with for him. Otherwise he'd be placed somewhere, and hell, that might end up being even worse. Why trade a known devil for an unknown one?"

"We are an unknown devil Sheriff," she said, and this time it was her turn to frost the air. "Worse. We're werewolves."

"There are worse things in this world to be," he argued, and shit, yeah, she did respect this man. "And anyway, Scott and Stiles aren't the only ones worried about the kid. He's not as careful about hiding his bruises as he thinks he is. There are people in town who will appreciate what you can do for him."

"If he takes the opportunity," Talia reiterated with a sigh before straightening her shoulders. "Laura will make our offer by the end of the week, if you can accommodate us."

"Of course," he nodded. "The sooner we get this ball rolling the better I should think. Gives me time to deal with Reinbold and the elections. And just between us, I've got bigger issues to deal with."

Laura smirked, opened her mouth to laugh because she did like Stiles, already felt the weak tendrils of a bond forming with him despite their limited interactions, but before she could make a sound the screen door clattered open and the scent of the kid and her Uncle Vin came sweeping down the hallway, followed by a chuffing, playful sort of argument and then they were both stepping back into the dining room and pulling out chairs side by side.

Suspicious of the quiet, Stiles narrowed his eyes, looked around the room and frowned in his father's direction.

"Why do I get the feeling that we're interrupting something?" he asked shrewdly.

"Because you are," the man replied, and Stiles scoffed in his throat, rolled his eyes.

"Great," the kid muttered under his breath, slouching and crossing his arms over his chest. "Not wanted any damn place anymore."

It was quiet, too quiet for the human Sheriff and his deputies, but Laura caught it and so did her mother, eyes flaring red as she scented the air, likely for blood or bruises.

"Where's Peter?" she demanded, turning to her brother.

"Yeah, he ran out of here like someone snapped a mousetrap on his tail," Laura snickered, remembering the way her uncle had cursed under his breath and bolted so fast he almost tipped his chair.

She wasn't sure what had happened but she felt like it was only fair Stiles heard what happened, since he didn't get to see it.

"Probably riding Luca," Calvin said with a shrug, and Laura wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Trying to get him to finish those damned briefs. Worthless little shit would rather spend his time taking swipes at the kid than doing his job."

"What!"

The exclamation by her mother, the Sheriff, and both his deputies was nearly drowned out by the snarl that ripped its way out of Laura's chest. She hadn't been prepared for the strange surge of possessiveness that burned in her chest, that made her want to kill something.

That little fucker, threatening her... her...

Her what?

Talia blinked, flicked a glance at her from the corner of her eye before sending a wave of calm rippling down their pack bond. It settled her, made her feel more in control, and thank god for that because the tips of her claws were biting into her palms and she could feel her eyes burning gold as she fought to stay in her seat.

"It wasn't a big deal," Stiles shrugged, his cheeks pink as he shrugged his shoulders, bounced his knee under the table. "I maybe mouthed off a little – I wasn't..."

"Stiles," the boy's father sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, but her uncle brushed him off.

"He didn't do anything wrong Sheriff," he assured. "Luca was out of line, and you can be sure the problem will be dealt with."

"Jesus," Stiles muttered, slouching in his seat, almost below the edge of the table. "You already broke the guy's wrist – that wasn't enough?"

Once more, Laura felt anger swell up in her throat, felt her beta shift threaten, because if Uncle Vinny had gone so far as to break Luca's wrist he must have deserved a whole lot worse.

"Stiles I apologize," her mother said, for what felt like the millionth time. Laura thought her mother might've apologized more since meeting this kid than she had in Laura's whole life. "It's unacceptable for you to face threat here, and not only because of the... circumstances. Rest assured I'll be dealing with the problem."

"Whatever," Stiles mumbled, and this time Laura could hear the weariness in his voice. "I don't really wanna deal with... all that right now if it's all the same to you. I mean if you guys are done here I'd rather just go home."

"I think we are," the Sheriff said, making the decision for them, and she didn't blame him.

Stiles looked pale and exhausted and he smelled a little like defeat, and it wasn't a good look on him at all. It bit at something inside of her, made her chest feel tight, squeezed at her heart, and prompted her to do something she wasn't sure she was going to do until that moment. So while the rest of them began to stand, make their goodbyes and plans to meet over a meal to discuss the final details, she quietly excused herself and slipped upstairs to her childhood bedroom.

She'd learned to sew when she was young. Knit and embroider too. It was a requirement in her mother's household – a hobby that required patience, attention to detail, delicate handwork – something to teach control to young pups who had difficulty sitting still. Most of the pack dropped their chose activity as they got older, but Laura had stuck with her, even dallied with the idea of becoming a fashion designer before she realized just how much she loved law.

Point was, she was good, pretty good anyway, even if she did say so herself.

What she'd done with Stiles' shredded hoodie was pretty clever.

Instead of fixing, trying to undo the damage wrought by her Uncle Peter's claws she'd patched it with white, used thick, black lacing to cross-stitch over the tears. She hadn't attempted to close the gaps, rather, she'd enhanced them, made them even more evident with an effect that looked like surgical stitches, and she could only hope that the gesture wouldn't be seen as a mocking one.

Dropping quickly down the stairs, she found the dining room deserted, strained her ears to follow her mother's progress as she led the group of humans back toward the drive that led out of the Preserve. Letting the screen slam behind her, she shouted Stiles' name, sprinted across the lawn when the kid looked back, waited for her while the rest of the group continued on. By the time she came to a skidding stop in front of him she still didn't know what to say.

"Um, here," she fumbled, shoving the hoodie into his hands, watched with a strange sense of trepidation as he held it up, cocked an eyebrow and fingered her handiwork. "It's just... they're something to be proud of," she said in a rush, all defensiveness that didn't make any sense.

She shouldn't be scared of this guy, he was just a kid! But...

"You survived something," she said. "You survived Uncle Peter. Anybody should be proud of that."

For a moment silence reigned and Laura's cheeks burned with embarrassment, horrified by her own urge to run. Stiles was frowning, staring at her like he was trying to figure her out as his fingers traced over her painstaking stitches, but then his shoulders dropped and all the tension went out of her spine like he'd given her permission to relax.

"Thanks," he said, slipping into the jacket and leaving the sides open over his black t-shirt, hands shoved into his pockets, and Laura actually laughed with relief.

He looked like a little red riding hood standing there, all defiant and mildly irritated, and it was reassuring in all kinds of ways it shouldn't be. Strong, brave, clever – maybe she wouldn't need to worry about this one.

And she did worry.

About Derek, who had always been sensitive and who was so badly broken by what has happened, by the way Kate Argent had taken advantage of him and all the misplaced guilt that came with it.

About Cora, who for so long had been a symbol of their future, their fear.

Even about her Uncle Peter, who was a different person than he used to be, carrying around so much pain and anger that she sometimes wondered how he could stand it.

"My uncle," she said before she could stop herself, the words unplanned and unbidden. "He's not... a bad guy. I know it looks that way and I don't blame you if you kind of hate him right now..."

"I do kind of hate him right now," Stiles said, serious and firm but without too much heat. "No offense, but your uncle is kind of a dick."

Laura barked a laugh, smiled, wide and open and honest and it felt like the first time in a long time.

"Yeah, he is," she admitted, "But he was always one of those guys you kind of liked because he was a dick, you know? Like, he was charming about it and made you laugh and you still knew he cared about you even if it didn't sound like it..."

Laura trailed off, caught up in the rush of memories and warm, aching emotion until Stiles' hesitant, curious question brought her back to the present.

"So what changed?"

She wanted to tell him.

Instead she shook her head.

"It's not my place to say. But would you maybe give him a chance? I know it's a lot to ask but, just try to remember. He's not a bad guy. He's just... dealing with stuff. He'll come around, I promise."

Stiles frowned, bit his lip, then stuck out his hand for a shake.

"Fine. But I'm holding you to that."

Chapter Text

Smart mouthed little shit.

Too smart for his own good, too smart for Peter's good.

He'd figured out the bond a hell of a lot sooner than he should've, and used it with more success than even some of the born wolves Peter had seen raised up. He hadn't expected any kind of retaliation when he began letting little snaps of anger and irritability out, when he relaxed his control just enough to send the emotion zipping down the thin, fragile thread growing between them. When the kid didn't react, smoothly ignored him like he might a petulant child Peter felt his resolve harden, and he'd started poking with a little more intent, jabbing at him on purpose, demanding some kind of reaction though he didn't know what or why.

Stupid.

Should've just ignored the kid – he didn't mean anything anyway so why had he even bothered?

He'd obviously been begging for attention, panting after it like some horned-up two year old, sniffing after his father's deputy and rolling around in his clothes, curling his tongue around cherry candy, all sickly-sweet and staining his lips red like blood, slutty little...

Oh and then he'd brought up the Argents, and if Peter hadn't wanted to kill him before he did now.

His sister was an idiot for thinking this would work, for thinking they could re-assimilate with Beacon Hills after everything that had happened. He hated her for that, for forgetting, for forgiving.

Under no circumstances would Peter trust the Argents, not after what they'd done, and be damned with whatever Stiles was stupid enough to think he could do, whatever friends he'd made with the littlest Argent girl. Peter would slaughter them all before he watched them destroy his family again, and if Talia was stupid enough to think he would wait this time she had another thing coming. She'd made him her left hand, her enforcer for a reason, and he wouldn't be kept back this time, a guard dog rendered impotent on the end of a chain.

At least his brother understood, his niece.

Calvin because of his own place in the pack, his place fighting beside Peter and because of Nicky.

Laura because of her fear, because of Seth and because of Derek.

You'd think that would be enough for Talia too, but there she was, sitting across from the Sheriff and working all the ins and outs of bringing Christopher Argent here, his daughter.

His only comfort was knowing that the war he and his daughter had started had claimed Gerard Argent's life, that Kate had met her end with Peter's claws in her throat. At the time it had been a poor consolation prize – Peter had been so crazed with pain and grief and anger he'd hardly gotten to enjoy the bitch's death. Only later, years later, when all the hurt had faded to a dull, constant ache could he truly appreciate it, did the phantom taste of her blood on the back of his tongue offer him some solace when he woke up sweating and snarling from nightmares he only wished he couldn't remember.

And now Stiles, sneaky little brat, coming here with Peter's bite on his skin, knowing exactly what it meant, what could happen...

He was smart, he'd proved that much.

He knew, he knew what he could do, what he could take, what he could force from Peter and no way in hell was he going to bow to that little shit, no matter what he wanted.

When his brother walked him out it took everything Peter had not to follow, not to stalk him out into the trees and take right back, his independence, his fucking autonomy, his right to make his own damn choices, but he did it. He sat and he listened and he glared at his sister with all the hate that bubbled in the pit of his belly, and he promised himself that he wouldn't do it again, that he wouldn't sacrifice himself and give up everything that was his for his sister's philanthropic ideals.

And the whole time, despite his anger and his insistence, he knew that he would.

He'd fight for his pack, die for his pack, kill for his pack...

He owed that much and more to some of them.

And anyway, things were different now.

He didn't have the same kinds of things to lose anymore... no matter what Stiles was after.

Christ he loved the way that kid's name sat in his mouth, hissing S's rolling off his tongue like a snake's, spit with venom...

Oh it was stupid.

He wanted to hate him, he really did, but the soul bond was already doing its job and as much as he wanted to he couldn't.

A part of him too, the part that was still sane and not so bitter, not so burned by what had happened knew it wasn't really the kid's fault, knew that Calvin had been right when he said that Stiles hadn't asked to be soul-bonded either.

Hell, who would?

Sure there were people out there who had become fanatics when werewolves were revealed to the world, groupies that fetishized what they were, their simple nature, but Peter didn't think even they would be willing to put up with him.

And maybe Stiles hadn't asked for it but he'd still come here hadn't he? He'd broken the law, the written rules and the unspoken agreement, came trotting in here knowing exactly what he was hiding under his shirt and the risks he was taking.

If he'd just stayed out of the fucking Preserve they wouldn't have this problem.

Both of them would've gone on living in total ignorance of the other, never to meet, never to...

Well, it didn't matter.

It was too late for all that, thanks to him, and anyway, Peter was no pup. He could handle this, he could deal with one fragile little soul bond, one young, stupid kid who didn't know anything and had no idea who he was toying with, a couple bites of weak emotion...

Until suddenly it wasn't anymore, until it was sparking, flaring, fear spiking in his system and what the hell was Calvin doing out there?

Peter shoved back from the table and stalked out of the room without a word, left the meeting without permission or playing down to his sister, but she was more than used to that kind of thing by now, didn't even glance in his direction when he passed behind her and headed for the door. The Sheriff stammered, stuttered, lost his place in whatever little speech he'd been giving – Peter hadn't even been pretending to pay attention – but he didn't really care about that either. The man might be carrying his gun this time but he wasn't carrying anything stronger than standard nine millimeter bullets, and let's see him stop Peter with those.

He didn't follow though – stupid, no matter who he thought he was trusting with his son. Peter could take Calvin, he knew that, even if he was younger. Calvin knew it too, and since both of them were unwilling to really hurt the other, each for their own reasons, it had made their childhood fights an interesting spectacle. Still did as a matter of fact. Peter was always willing to take it a step farther, but never so far as to actually maim him – at least not yet. Thus far his aptitude for proving himself an ass seemed to know no bounds, and god help him if he dared to stand between Peter and his bonded.

Wait...

Peter snarled, let the screen door slam behind him as he stalked across the grass.

See, that right there was exactly what he was pissed about.

Fucking bond, already throwing him off, already making him feel.

Peter didn't like dealing with his own emotions, let alone someone else's.

But the fear was still crackling in him, fire burning through his veins and quickening his pace and then he was across the lawn and there was Luca, and oh Peter was going to kill him. He'd told that smarmy little shit to finish the briefs, to sit his ass down and do his fucking job because if Talia got on him again for Luca's crap Peter was going to break something – like maybe Luca's neck.

But no, there he was, in the middle of the damned valley for the entire pack to see, looming over Peter's bonded like anyone would be intimidated by his smug, skinny ass. To the kid's credit he didn't flinch, stood tall and defiant and something almost like pride tickled at Peter's senses but he shoved it brusquely away, until suddenly Luca lashed out with his claws unsheathed and Stiles didn't even flinch.

Peter did.

Fuck if he couldn't help it.

Panic surged in his throat hot and sour like bile and his heart kicked into overtime and for just a second he was actually afraid in his own right, not because of some second-hand emotion. If he could've moved fast enough he might've slaughtered the visiting envoy politics be damned. Could've done it, would've done it, and they couldn't even charge him with it because it would be completely within his rights to gut Luca where he stood.

Thank god for his brother, who'd rather be a lover but made a better fighter, who caught Luca's wrist and broke it before Peter could shout a threat...

He envied Calvin for that, just a little.

"Luca!"

Everyone jerked and paled at the sound of his voice, the violent anger that rang through in his snarl. Peter wasn't entirely sure exactly what happened next, what he said or what Luca said – all of it happened in a haze of red fury, the threat Luca had made, the implications the little fucker made by presuming to make a claim on the pack's behalf...

A snarl and a snap, a slightly more eloquent threat made by his brother sent him scurrying off again and Peter should have followed but something stuck his feet to the ground, some part of him desperate to know that the kids was ok, to talk to him as easily as his brother did, and a part of Stiles must've felt the same way because he tried, tried to talk to Peter but it was enough to break the spell and free him, free him from the fear and the control just enough that he could run from it.

XXX

He spent the next three days sulking, sulking and skulking and running around making as much trouble as he could. Perhaps it was childish but it made him feel better, and honestly that was all he was really looking for. He avoided Luca because Talia and Calvin would expect to find him with the Ohio pack's ambassador, because he was still champing at the bit for a fight and the scrawny little son of a bitch didn't stand a chance against him when he was really angry. He might have let Luca get in his licks before, when he was looking for a rolling, biting romp through the sheets, but those days had been coming to an end long before Stiles had showed up. The werewolf was quickly outstaying his welcome with everyone, not just Peter, and he wouldn't trust himself within twenty yards of the bastard without inflicting some serious injury.

So he kept to the woods, ran and climbed and hunted, wandered miles out into the preserve where he could shed his human skin and wear his pelt without worrying that he'd been seen, that he'd be caught. He lived as a wolf, feeding on small game and chasing buck for the hell of it, sleeping through the hottest part of the day and keeping cool down in the river, in the dim thickets that smelled of earth and loam and wildness. There he could be himself without the pressures of his position, could ignore the pull of his sister's demands and call of his responsibilities.

It was immature, a temporary solution but he didn't care – for three days he could forget about Stiles by getting out of his head, living by his wits and his instincts and the rules of fight or flight or feed.

Not that his instincts would let him forget.

More than once he caught himself at the edge of the border, stalking along the lines of the Preserve that looked out over the town of Beacon Hills, tasting the air and snarling to himself when he couldn't sense what he was looking for. Marking the boundary lines made him feel better, reinforcing the warning that kept others from encroaching on their territory, but it wasn't enough to settle him. He only slept after he'd run himself weary, until the tingling sense of anxiety and apprehension that lingered in his belly calmed.

Later he understood it better, knew that the low thrum of unease he felt was Stiles' unease, that he slept when Stiles slept, but at the time it didn't matter.

Eventually though his patience ran out and his self-disgust got to be a little more than he was willing to tolerate, so he shifted back to his human form and went stalking back home, scattering his pack mates left and right as they got the ever-loving-hell out of his way.

At least some of his packmates had a brain in their head.

He felt infinitely better after a shower, scrubbed down till he was pink and clean and had schluffed off enough of the scent of soil and pine and river water that he could focus, that his fur and his fangs and his claws didn't prickle at his skin and teeth and fingertips. Luca was nowhere to be found thank god, leaving the little two-bedroom he'd claimed at the end of the valley quiet and empty. Too empty actually; the fridge and the cupboards in particular. Throwing the windows open to air the place out – it had gone warm and stuffy and stale while he was away – Peter dragged on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and headed up to his sister's house to raid the kitchen, electricity tickling at the base of his spine.

He thought it was just the wolf clinging on, unwilling to let go just yet.

He didn't realize that wasn't it at all until he rounded through into the kitchen and came face to face with Stiles.

The kid jerked, went pale, immediately shut down on everything he was feeling, leaving Peter feeling abruptly cold and bereft. It was rather impressive actually – he'd only gotten a snap second's feel of surprise his appearance caused before there was nothing left. He was sitting at the dining table kitty-corner from Nicky, both of them turned toward Calvin who had his ass planted up on one of Talia's granite counter-tops. The dick must've known he was coming, would have heard him or scented him before he even entered the house but he'd clearly kept it to himself, whatever conversation the three had been having sharply cut off as he entered.

Flashing his eyes at his brother, he ignored the other two as he walked past the dining table, into the open kitchen where he dug through the cabinets for a bowl and a box of cereal, the fridge for a jug of milk.

"Hey Uncle Peter," Nicky greeted casually, and where normally Peter would've snarked at the kid, grabbed the nape of his neck to give him a rough, affectionate shake, this time he just grunted, jerked his chin in a nod of acknowledgment.

"Your pet sycophant's been making a nuisance of himself while you were gone," Calvin said as he poured, a nasty little needle under his skin, an accusation, like Luca was Peter's fault.

"Fuck off Vinny," he rumbled flatly, shoving a huge bite of Cinnamon Toast Crunch in his mouth and clamping down hard on any desire he had to turn, to stare at the kid, to back him up into a corner and press his face to the curve of his throat and breathe him in, feel his heart start to rabbit as his scent flared with sharp, citrus-anxiety.

His brother just laughed.

"Where's Cora?" he demanded, but it was Nicky who answered, jerked a thumb back over his shoulder while Calvin snicker-snorted on the counter.

"Out front with Derek," he said.

Nodding, Peter headed for the front door, taking his bowl with him and shoving Calvin off his perch as he passed.

Chapter Text

"So, um..." Stiles began hesitantly after Peter's disappeared and he feels like he can breathe again, after Calvin's picked himself back up off the floor. "Cora's your sister right?"

"Youngest of two," Nick nodded, but the smile he shoots him is hesitant and doesn't quite reach his eyes. "Me, I'm the middle child. Brother and a sister on either side."

Pausing, he huffs a silent, melancholy laugh before he tilts in his seat and digs a wallet out of his back pocket. His movements are sharp and jerky as he flips the leather open, the least graceful thing Stiles has seen of the werewolves since he's got here, and suddenly the air in the sunny, open kitchen is thick and heavy and there's a chill on the back of his neck. Calvin's gone still, all the mirth gone from his face as he watches his nephew with a wary eye, but Nick's too busy staring at the photo he's carefully drawn out to notice.

There's something painful in the silence that's fallen so fast and absolute while he traces the photo with his fingertips, but then he clears his throat and passes it over, speaks in a voice that's gone gruff and harsh when Stiles accepts.

"Seth was the oldest," he says, words short and sharp as Stiles holds the battered family photo reverently. It's battered and creased and worn soft at the edges from how much it's been handled, but he can still see the resemblance between the four oldest Hales, years younger than Stiles will ever known them.

"Laura came next," Nick continues, "Then me, then Derek. Cora didn't come till after; she'll turn six in a few months."

Stiles doesn't speak - it doesn't feel right to - and he tries like hell not to do that math in his head. Instead he hands the picture back, watches Nick take one more look before returning it to its place in his wallet. Calvin crosses around behind Stiles without a word and wraps his hand tight around Nick's neck and he seems to take comfort from the gesture, even though Calvin's knuckles are white and he's grown his claws, the tips pressing deep into the younger man's skin.

Stiles licks his lips, swallows.

He hadn't mean to bring up... this when he'd asked about Cora, he just...

Shit, he'd just wanted to know who it was that Peter was actually willing to seek out, who he was actually willing to look for. It was curiosity and sick, awful jealousy that he wasn't sure was his and he didn't understand it but he'd needed to know and he'd asked before he thought better of it.

Now as he watches Nick clear his throat and duck out of his uncle's grasp, walk to the sink to pour himself a glass of water, he feels like he should apologize but he doesn't know how. Once he's downed half the glass though the guy shrugs and throws him a smile that's even cheaper and more plastic than the first, but Stiles sure as hell isn't going to call him on it.

"After," he tries again, staring into the glass, "After what happened..."

Calvin clears his throat, his good eye bright gold and Nick blushes, looking scolded.

Stiles frowns, his chest suddenly tight and heavy knowing that something's being kept from him.

"After what happened Peter took a shine to Cora," Calvin explains, taking a seat at the table. "She was... kind of a surprise, for everybody involved, but she's had him wrapped around her little finger from day one."

"Really?"

It's Stiles turn to blush when the two Hales turn on him with unreadable expressions, shocked somehow by Stiles' disbelief. It wasn't meant to be rude or cruel, he just... he couldn't see it. He'd almost been angry, just a little at the thought that Peter was headed off to find some woman he hadn't even met yet, which was stupid and ridiculous and didn't make sense, but knowing that Cora was a little five year old girl...

It just didn't fit.

Peter was... loud and rough and aggressive, and just... not that guy.

"He's her godfather you know," Nick says off-handedly, pulling Stiles out of his spinning thoughts. "Didn't even ask my parents, just forged their signatures and filed the paperwork three days after she was born. They didn't even find out until she was like, two and a half."

"Well that sounds more like him," Stiles mutters, then kicks himself because duh, werewolves.

Calvin's snickering and Nick's grinning, still kind of sad, but it's better, at least a little bit. Hell, this hadn't even been on Stiles' radar when he'd come over today.

"Anyway, she's always been his favorite," he says, shrugging off the melancholy with a brusqueness that's unsettling in it's sudden and contrary appearance.

Stiles almost admires it.

For his part Calvin laughs, loud and more like him, helping to dissipate the discomfort and the awkwardness as he slings an arm around Nick's neck and drags him in close, scrubbing his hand over the guy's messy blonde hair.

"And you're mine," he says fondly, "And Laura's your dad's and Derek's your mom's. So it all works out."

Stiles grins, chuckles as Nick slaps his uncle away and stands up, straightens his shirt even as he casts him a glare.

"Laugh it up new blood," he says, and his teeth are showing sharp through his grin and it's teasing but there's an edge of wicked warning there too. "But I'm not the one with Peter's teeth on my shoulder."

Stiles gulps, trills his fingers along the table top nervously.

"Eh, don't worry about it kid," Calvin smiles, getting to his feet and dusting his hands off on the thighs of his jeans. "My brother's bark is worse than his bite."

Stiles coughs up a laugh so hard and sharp he chokes on it.

"Yeah right," he scoffs, and Nick and Calvin share a grin that says they're having a joke at his expense. "Somehow I doubt that."

"Well, we'll see. Listen Nicky, you're mom's got some work for me – show the kid around a little huh? Should be done in an hour or two."

"Sure thing Uncle Vin."

It's strange, being abruptly alone with Nick when Calvin steps out of the room. So far the guy's been cool, seems calm and laid-back compared to the other Hales – except maybe for David, who looks like armageddon wouldn't ruffle him. It's not that he makes Stiles nervous exactly, it's just... odd.

The whole thing's odd.

It's the first day Stiles is here in the Preserve with no particular purpose behind his visit, the first time he's come just to spend some time there, holding up his part of the agreement to slowly become a part of the Hale pack and maintain the... thing he and Peter have going on. It's only been a few days but he already feels a little logey, a little tired, nauseous, hungry...

Doesn't mean he actually wants to see Peter, to hang around him, but just stepping foot into Hale territory he feels better.

Hates himself for it, but he feels better.

Then Peter'd actually showed up in the kitchen, looking like shit himself, and damn but that had been satisfying.

He didn't know if he was relieved or pissed when the man refused to look at him, disappearing again without a glance or a word in his direction.

"Wanna see the house?" Nick asks, and he feels himself get up and follow him out the back door without actually acknowledging the question.

Still, seems like he should say something - they guy did just share something pretty deep with him despite the fact that he's practically a stranger, and Stiles remembers with a pang of guilt the way Derek always seems to be waiting for him to mess up, to say something or do something cruel or accusatory.

"Calvin said you live with him?"

"Yeah, for a few years," Nick shrugs, subtlely guiding him across the grass to the boxy little house Calvin had pointed out during Stiles' earlier visit. The front door's unlocked and he hops the porch steps in one go, holding the screen for Stiles to duck past.

It's cool inside, an air conditioner humming somewhere deep in the house, but the first floor is open and bright, large glass windows making up more of the walls than the walls did. Stiles finds himself standing in a little corner entryway, kicks his shoes off before following Nick further inside. The guy points out the kitchen and the attached breakfast nook, rounds the only wall to show off an impressive living room stuffed full of couches and fluffy armchairs, all grouped around a massive flat screen and approximately five different gaming systems. It's crowded and lived in, dishes in the sink and beer bottles on the counter, dvds and magazines on the coffee table, and Stiles finds himself feeling oddly at home in this place.

"There's a bathroom down the hall and one more up here," Nick says, starting to climb. "Second floor's the two bedrooms and Uncle Nick's office. "Fair warning – stay out of there. He hates paperwork and it shows."

Pushing open the first door off the stairs, he laughs when Stiles peers inside and nearly misplaces his eyebrows they climb so high at the mess.

"Right?" he chuckles, pulling the door closed again. "He claims it's controlled chaos, organized disaster – says he knows where everything is. Me, I think he's full of shit, but it keeps my mom off his tail."

"What's it like anyway?" Stiles asks suddenly as they turn to climb the next flight of stairs. Nick pauses, turns to lift an eyebrow of his own and Stiles feels his cheeks burn.

He hadn't meant to ask this either.

"Being a werewolf I mean," he clarifies, and oh god, that sounds even worse. "Shit dude, I didn't mean it like that."

He doesn't know how to feel when a wide, sunny smile cracks across the guy's face and he barks the most honest laugh Stiles has heard out of him so far.

"Didn't know I was passing so well," he says with a grin, starting to climb again. "Just as human as you man. Always have been, probably always will be."

"Seriously?" Stiles asks, surprised and strangely excited. "I didn't know that was a thing."

"Sure," Nick shrugged. "Not super common, but there's always a chance two werewolves could have a human child. One out of five's pretty close to average."

"Cora's a werewolf too then?"

"Yup. Hasn't quite got her shift down yet, but that's pretty common too. She'll have it squared by the time she's seven or eight."

Finally at the top of the stairs, he steps aside and gestures Stiles in front of him, into a wide, empty that took up the entirety of the top floor. He could feel his breath catch in his chest a the sight of it – it's a gorgeous space, nearly all windows and skylights, the afternoon sun pouring in warm and golden across dark, hardwood floors and the bright green of the woods pressing in along the back and sides of the room through the glass. The loft clears half of the house, open to the living room below, the ceiling high and vaulted, and it's more than he deserves.

"You really didn't have to do this," he mumbles awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. "I don't..."

"Everybody gets a place," Nick says firmly, crossing his arms and shaking his head. "That's what it's like Stiles. Being a werewolf, even if you're not, that's what it's about. Pack, the collective. Here or not, like it or hate it, you're my uncle's soul bonded."

Pausing, he looks Stiles up and down, must be watching him for a reaction.

"I know you haven't figured out what that's gonna mean for you yet," he says slowly. "Either of you. But it doesn't matter ok? You're pack now; me, Laura, Uncle Vin..."

He trails off, looks away out the windows toward the valley where his family's homes range out across the clearing and Stiles can feel the weight of what he's trying to say, knows he'll never really understand this guy, can't understand.

"I get it," he says quietly, but Nick laughs and he'd back to that half-hearted sound that's starting to break Stiles heart with how casually it comes out of the guy's mouth.

"No you don't," he argues. "But you will. Before it's done... you'll get it."

XXX

He's quieter after that, withdrawn. He apologizes by rote for the fact that there's no furniture in the loft yet, that there's still some stuff stored up there. Stiles wanders around into the corners, reaches out to touch some of the sheeted pictures against the wall and finds out that they're canvases, paintings. Apparently the loft used to be the guy's studio and Stiles feels ten times worse for taking the space than he did before, but the guy just shrugged him off, said he doesn't use it anymore.

Doesn't make sense though.

When Stiles touches the paintings, pulls them out from the wall to look he gets almost nervous, steps up to his side silently and unseen and he almost calls him on not being a werewolf. He takes the paintings gently, sets them back against the wall before he can get a better look at the dark colors, the slashes of blacks and blues and purples and the pale, ethereal glow of a silver-grey moon. He promises to get them moved and out of the way before Stiles comes back, whenever that will be, and then promptly shuts up about it.

After trudging back down the stairs Stiles follows his lead and they flop into opposite corners of the couches, turn on a baseball game. It's a rerun but Nick's rooting for the Mets, at least over the Phillies anyway, so that's all right. It's a little uncomfortable – the guy's mind is obviously somewhere else, but Stiles tries to leave him to it. When his stomach starts to growl loud enough for both of them to hear, he shoves him lightly out the door and points him back at the main house before disappearing back inside.

Stiles can't really blame him but damn if he isn't a little resentful. He feels like he's navigating a minefield here and it sucks, and no, he's not exactly friends with anyone here, not even Nick or Calvin, not yet, but he's not exactly comfortable wandering around alone either. His dad would be pissed if he found out – he hadn't wanted Stiles coming over here at all. He'd made him promise to stick with Talia or Calvin, Laura if he had to, and now here he was with his hands shoved in his pockets as he stomped across the grass, shoulders thrown back like a challenge.

Stupid, especially since he's pretty sure that Luca guy's dumb enough to come after him again, but he just keeps reminding himself that he's got a hidden talisman under his shirt, an ace up his sleeve, and he feels a little better.

The kitchen's empty and he's grateful for it. Means he can take a minute to catch his breath, to try to settle... whatever this is. Hell, he feels like he's on a roller coaster and he hasn't even seen his soul bonded but for a second.

Peter he's kind of counted on to be an emotional shit-storm... his family not so much. The guy's got history a mile long and enough baggage to shut down O'Hare, any idiot could see that, but here Stiles is waltzing around thinking avoidance is a solid line of defense.

Maybe he is an idiot...

A giggle and the unmistakable thump, thump, thump of kid feet stop that train of thought and thankfully cut off what feels like the beginning of another panic attack, and then suddenly there's a little girl skidding a stop on bare feet just inside the kitchen door, staring at him with huge, wary eyes and looking so much like Derek and Laura both that she can't be anyone but their baby sister. She's the cutest thing he thinks he's ever seen, tiny and pink cheeked, dark hair curling around her ears, yellow sundress grass-stained at the knees and toes dark with mud, and she's glaring at him with all the defiance a five-year-old can manage.

"Hi," he says carefully, curling his fingers in a wave as she edges sideways toward the fridge.

Frowning, she turns away from him and tugs the door open, bends down to open a crisper drawer at the bottom.

"Oh, so you're gonna ignore me now too?" he asks of the little girl's back, a sudden flash of irritability and stupid, stupid disappointment making him bitter. Guess she was her uncle's favorite. "Nah, don't worry about it, it's cool. Everybody else is being weird, why not..."

"She's deaf you ass."

Chapter Text

Heart lurching up into his chest, Stiles nearly flails backward as Peter's voice cracks through the air like a bullwhip, so cold and sharp and dry as ice it hurts. He's standing just to the side and behind him in the doorway that leads off to the hall, and Stiles takes an automatic, involuntary step to the right so that he's facing the werewolf as he advances into the room. He's looming, large, glaring and entirely unimpressed, and Stiles is pretty sure he's never felt smaller as Peter steps around him with a sneer, approaching his niece and touching her lightly on the shoulder. The little girl turns around with a 500-mega watt smile for her uncle, raising her arms and bouncing on her toes in clear demand, and what happens next nearly blows his mind.

Like flipping a switch, Peter's entire countenance changes as he goes from growly serial murderer to doting godfather, and Stiles' heart skips a couple beats in his chest. He was attractive before, ok, yeah, Stiles could admit that the deepest, darkest part of his mind had registered that, but this is something completely different and entirely unfair. The guy bends down and scoops the little girl up into his arms, burying his face in her neck and making her giggle as he tickles her cheeks with his stubble and a playful kiss. Shifting her onto one hip, he lifts his hand and speaks slowly, the little girl's eyes watching his mouth and fingers move intently.

"What are you looking for sweetheart?"

Stiles isn't sure – it's been a long time – but he thinks she makes the letters for juice, and as he stands there like a stunned idiot with his mouth hanging open, Peter bends at the waist with a dramatic swoop, causing the toddler to shriek with laughter before he straightens back up with a juice box in his hand. She claps as he kicks the fridge shut and plops her down on the counter to poke the little plastic straw into the box, smiles when he hands it to her. Her fingers move quickly and fluently in the sign for thanks, and Peter presses a kiss to her forehead, his face softer than Stiles could have imagined possible.

He doesn't realize he's drifted closer until Peter suddenly starts to rumble, his eyes glowing steel blue as a growl bubbles up out of his chest. He's leaning forward just a little, his feet spread in a subtle fighting stance as he places himself at an angle to the little girl, ready to pounce, and Stiles comes to a stop with a sharp pang – hurt, shock, jealousy flashing through his body like heat lightning.

Peter's supposed to look at him like that, protect him like that, not...

Oh for god's sake, get a grip Stilinski!

Scowling at his soul-bonded, only just managing not to stick his tongue out, Stiles turns back to Cora who's watching the interaction with uncanny interest. He hasn't practiced his American Sign Language since he was twelve, when his younger cousin moved away to Ohio, but it's just like riding a bike right?

Here goes nothing.

HELLO CORA. MY NAME IS STILES.

He has to think about it, pauses a few times when his fingers refuse to cooperate, but he must manage well enough because the little girl smiles like he's hung the moon and this time she does wave back at him, fast and exuberant with all the innocence of childhood. She fingerspells her own name – C O R A - happy to make a new friend, to meet someone else she can communicate with. She doesn't realize that Peter's standing next to her with his mouth open softly, staring at Stiles in confusion, in astonishment, in fear.

It hits him like the ocean, little waves one after the other, there and gone again almost before he can recognize them, but mostly he just gets the idea that Peter's stunned and a suddenly nervous. It's... it's the most human response Stiles has gotten out of him so far, and despite his best efforts he feels something inside of him thaw just the littlest bit toward the werewolf. It makes him want to touch the guy, to reach out and feel something solid instead of these fleeting, unsettling emotions. His eyes land on the wide breadth of Peter's chest, covered this time not by blood but by a long-sleeved v-neck Henley, forest green, smudged with earth, and it's a little hard to breathe.

Slowly his gaze trails up to meet the man's eyes, which have faded back to a darker, duller blue, and he doesn't know what shows on his face but Peter licks his lips, stares, and for the space of a moment everything stops. Stiles can feel a mirror of his own heart, a double beat pounding inside his chest, racing before Peter's mouth ticks up at the corner in a sneer, a silent little snarl. Scooping Cora into his arms again, he skirts around him before carrying her across the kitchen and down the hallway, disappearing into the backyard.

Stiles can only breathe again when the screen door slams behind them.

What... was that?.

Jesus, was that their version of a... a moment?!

"Hey Stiles."

"Damn it!" he yelps, whipping around and clutching at his chest as one more werewolf sneaks up on him. "Bells! Bells for all of you!"

Laura lifts an eyebrow, clearly biting back a laugh.

"What, uh... whatcha doin?"

Sighing, breathing against his pulse, he flops into a dining chair and drops his head into his hands, scrubs them through his hair.

"I don't even know," he groans, folding his arms on the table and burying his face in his sleeves. He's not wearing the slashed and sewn hoodie, just a black and grey one because it hadn't really felt right, but now he's not really sure if he regrets that decision or not.

Wearing armor, sure it would help him feel stronger, more prepared, but it's an aggressive opening play and he has no idea how Peter would react to it.

And... as much as he wants to hate the guy, or even just ignore him, he... he doesn't.

A part of him, and yeah, it was probably a part that was largely swayed by the soul bond, that part of him wanted...

God, he didn't know what he wanted.

It was almost easier when Peter was there in the room, close enough to feel. Kind of a cop out, but the emotions were clearer when he was around, identifiable. Stiles had never really given much thought to what it would be like when he finally found his soul mate, what kind of a relationship they would have, and while he'd certainly never imagined this, he didn't exactly have an ideal in mind either.

He's saved the agony of trying to figure it out when his stomach remembers itself and makes its demands known with a snarl that could go tooth for claw with Peter's.

"Hungry?" Laura asks, but the smirk on her face as she turns to the fridge says she's well aware it's an unnecessary question.

"You don't have to feed me," he grumbles with a blush, irritated that Nick had sent him up here alone in the first place. What kind of person just starts pawing through a stranger's cupboards anyway?

"Oh look at him, he's so cute," Laura simpers to herself, laughing as she turns back around to pitch a green apple and a plastic-wrapped cheese stick at his head. "You've got a lot to learn about werewolves cutie pie. We eat like, all the time, anything we can sink our teeth into. I've gotta admit, you've caught us in a weird lull – normally there's always someone in here. Cooking's pretty much twentyfour seven, but I'm shit at it so this'll have to do you."

Joining him at the table, she watches him closely as he turns the apple in his hand, rubs the skin to a bright shine on his shirt.

"Seriously though," she tries again, her tone easily, casually honest. "If you're hungry while you're here just swing through. Nobody's gonna blink if you go through the fridge, and if you actually go so far as to make something you'll have more friends than you ever bargained for."

"There's a list too," she adds, jerking her thumb over her shoulder at a little pad of paper stuck to the fridge with magnets. "If you need anything or use anything up just write it down."

"Why does it sound like you're trying to convince me to cook?" he asked, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.

Laura laughed.

"I told you," she said, "I suck at it. If you jump in, I'll get kicked off the rotation – no more burnt spaghetti Sundays for us. And believe me, a well-fed werewolf is a happy werewolf. Feed the pack and you'll be a favorite in no time."

"Doubt that," Stiles mutters, flicking his gaze toward the hallway where his bonded had disappeared.

"You'd be surprised," she smirked. "My Uncle Peter might be the kind of heathen who eats a raw steak with his fangs and his fingers, but he's got a secret sweet tooth. The way to man's heart is through his stomach after all."

"Who says I wanna go looking for his heart?" Stiles sniffs, getting to his feet and pinching the bridge of his nose when she opens her mouth to respond. "No. Stop. Let's just quit while we're both ahead shall we? No more puns, no more adages. I'm going home; please tell your mother that Isaac and I will be waiting for her at the station on Friday afternoon. If she'd like to speak before then, she can call me on the phone like everyone else."

He told himself he wasn't flouncing off, but that's totally what he was doing. He's irritated again, or maybe it's Peter, or maybe it doesn't really matter. His conversation with Laura, her hinting suggestions that he should curry favor with her uncle via dessert had rubbed him wrong, and as he trudged down the hall toward the back door and the freedom of getting out from under this roof he can feel the man's presence looming up again. He doesn't want to meet him in the hallway, get caught inside the door frame, but fuck it he's not going to run away or back down either.

As he reached the door and pushed it open he hears Laura snickering behind him and he turns to glare, even though he can't see her inside the kitchen. It's the thought that counts, and right now he wants nothing more than to stick his tongue out at someone and tell them to go to hell. Unfortunately he's still a natural klutz and not looking where he's going, so when he drops down onto the porch it shouldn't surprise him that something tangles up his feet and pitches him forward, Peter's annoyance and disgust flaring inside his chest like a flush of cold water as he knocks into stumbling, yielding flesh.

Ass.

"Hey watch where you're..."

Before he can finish snapping he's gotten himself turned around and aw, shit, it's not Peter and... oh god, is that a cane?

"Oh my god, I am so sorry," he apologizes frantically, his cheeks burning and his stomach dropping into his shoes.

It's a girl on the porch behind him that he's tripped into, eighteen, maybe nineteen, porcelain pale with dark, riotous curls and wearing a large pair of dark, designer sunglasses. She's got a white cane in her hand and jesus, he's just a total ass today isn't he? Like, the worst kind of foot in mouth...

"You're not..." he spluttered, "I didn't know... I am so sorry."

"I'm fine, I'm fine," the girl smiled, bright and pretty and unconcerned as she made shushing motions with her free hand, tossing her hair back as she laughed.

"Seriously, I thought you were... someone else," he mumbled, drowning in embarrassment now. "Guess I'm the one who needs to watch where he's going."

"Well, one of us really should," she chuckles. "But it's ok, really. Just an accident. I'm Paige by the way. You're Stiles right?"

She's sticking her hand out in front of her waiting, and Stiles hesitantly meets it, shakes.

"Ohhhhh, you've heard of me," he groaned.

"All good things," she laughed, "Don't worry."

"I doubt that," he mutters, and her smile goes a bit shy, a bit young.

"Well, maybe not all, but mostly!" she insists brightly. "And after the way you told off Luca you're on the rise, so there's that!"

"I guess," Stiles replies, and he can't help but grin a little bit himself. It's reassuring, and her cheer is infectious – he can't help but feel a little better. "What's that guy's problem anyway?"

"No one really knows," she said, leaning in a bit and lowering her voice confidingly. "But we're beginning to suspect it's just his personality."

"Well that bodes well."

Paige laughs, her hand finding Stiles' forearm and hanging on for balance. He really doesn't mind – the touch is actually kind of nice; warm, gentle, grounding. There's nothing hesitant or manipulative or curious about it, it just feels... honest.

"You're funny," she grins. "Cute too, from what I hear."

"Oh god, who have you been listening to?"

"Reliable sources all," she says, tipping up her sunglasses to wink at him, eyes warm and brown and bright, if a little unfocused. "But if I told you, I'd have to..."

"Hey Uncle P..."

Stiles jumps when Derek suddenly comes barreling through the screen door behind him, hollering for his uncle, but it seems like Paige knew he was coming. The guy actually stumbles when he catches sight of them, his boots thudding to a stop on the wooden porch, his eyes going wide when they land on Paige, words trailing off as his cheeks go bright red. For her part Paige is blushing prettily too, pale pink, her face tipped down and a small, secret smile touching the corners of her mouth.

"Hello Derek."

"Um... hey, hi... Paige."

Ohhhhh-k?

"Sorry, I didn't..." Derek stammered, then he ducked his head, rubbed the back of his neck before folding his arms defensively over his chest. "Didn't know you were out here. I, uh... I gotta, go help my mom."

Jerking a thumb back over his shoulder, the guy beat a hasty retreat, and if Stiles didn't know any better he'd say the guy had his tail tucked between his legs. Next to him Paige sighed disappointedly, and suddenly he remembered the first time he'd heard Laura's voice, in the library over Skype. She'd been teasing her brother about how cute Stiles was, about how he'd brought a boyfriend home to make someone jealous. Was that...

"It was nice to meet you Stiles," she says, but this time her smile is a little sad, a little strained. "You'll have to excuse me – I need to speak with Laura, but I hope we'll have time to get to know each other better soon."

"Nice to meet you too," he says quietly, then watches her disappear into the house, stands staring at the door with a hideous feeling of resignation settling in his belly.

This. Day.

"Say it."

"Say what?" Peter asks flatly from where he's kneeling in the dirt several yards away, clawed fingers turning the earth in the stone-edged flower beds surrounding the porch.

"I don't know man, whatever you're going to say."

Turning, Stiles does the only thing he can do, faces the man head-on, defiant and unapologetic. The guy saw the whole thing, it's not like he can play it off.

"That I'm a shit person, even when I'm not trying," he says, ready at this point to start a list, tick it off on his fingers. "I don't even know what I did to that guy."

Peter snorts, rolls his eyes and makes a quick sign to Cora, who's sitting beside him in the dirt with a little trowel in her hand, passing her uncle flowers from a plastic greenhouse flat.

"Don't flatter yourself," he scoffs, his head down as he tucks a purple bellflower into the hole he's dug."My nephews are self-sacrificing morons – they'll all guilt themselves to death one day."

"Just your nephews?"

Peter's head snaps up so fast he catches Stiles in the act of cocking his eyebrow, looking Cora up and down and studying the way she's interacting with the man.

"Cora's a baby," he snarls, his eyes flashing. Stiles stares him down, refusing to look away until the guy shrugs, reaches for another plant. "By the time it matters she'll know better."

Yeah, and you'll make sure of it.

"Laura, she might not look it," Peter continues, almost conversationally, and Stiles listens with wary caution, not nearly as fooled by the werewolf's tone as he is distracted by the way his shoulders roll beneath his shirt as he leans his weight forward on his knees. "But she can be a stone-cold bitch, just like her mother."

"And Nick's like Calvin."

Peter looks up, tilts his head and narrows his eyes.

"Maybe you're not as stupid as you look," he finally says.

Well fuck you too dick.

Sneering, Stiles turns on his heel and walks away, throwing a sign up over his shoulder that anyone could recognize.

He's halfway home before it clicks – the reason why so many of the Hale pack are so damaged, deaf and blind and wounded, physically and psychologically. It's the first time he really feels the reality of what the war has done, and he has to pull over and dry heave before he feels well enough again to drive the rest of the way back.

Chapter Text

It's easy, the kind of easy that makes you nervous because surely nothing can be so simple.

On Friday Stiles swings by the cemetery where Isaac works for his dad on the pretense of visiting his mother's grave. He doesn't – he's not sure what to say to her just yet – but it's a good excuse. He finds the guy huddled inside a long-sleeved zip-up even though it's late-July, mid-nineties, and there are shadows around his eyes that he can't place – bruises from lack of sleep or an excess of slaps. The skinny blonde seems kind of dazed, like he's not even hearing what Stiles says, and follows along like a little lost puppy when he suggests they take a walk, maybe grab a coke at the diner.

He ends up feeding him a vanilla malt before casually nudging him in the direction of the station – kid looks like he needs to gain about twenty pounds. As easy as he's come, Stiles guesses he'll balk at going inside so he plants his ass on the lawn out front and makes idle conversation about absolutely nothing until he sees the tension in Isaac's shoulders ease just a tiny bit.

It doesn't go away entirely, of course it doesn't.

He never loses that haunted, paranoid look, his shoulders hunched and his head ducked.until Stiles mentions the werewolves. That certainly seems to grab his attention, especailly the bit about how Stiles has found his soul bonded and been spending time out in the Preserve. He asks what it's like and Stiles tells him the truth – weird, awkward, but... good.

Better than he'd thought it would be.

He tells him what he knows about Calvin and Nicky, Talia and Laura and Derek.

Doesn't tell him about Peter – that's not important – but as much as he can about the rest.

About how they're abolishing the old treaty, eliminating the borders, reassimilating the town of Beacon Hills with the Hale Pack of the Preserve.

About how the pack will be offering asylum to a select few individuals, and later, if they so choose, the Bite, and a permanent place within their pack.

Isaac pales and goes wide-eyed, rocks up onto his knees like he's ready to bolt, but then suddenly there's a black Camaro pulling up in front of the station and Laura and Talia Hale step out, the first in casual jeans and a loose, flowery top, the latter wearing a smart, pin-striped suit. The younger looks friendly, easy and approachable, her mother like a force to be reckoned with, and Stiles can't help but approve of their tactics.

Talia nods in his direction before heading inside, no doubt to meet his father who will be waiting.

Laura makes her way easily up onto the grass, smiling and opening her arms like an old friend, and Stiles is so surprised by it that he's prodded to his feet, meeting her a few scant yards from where Isaac watches incredulously only to be drawn into a light hug. Laura's smiling and smells like fucking sunshine, and Stiles is absolutely stunned when she rubs her cheek against the curve of his throat, the most blatant scent marking he's received thus far.

"Hey Stiles!" she grins brightly, letting him go so he can step away and get his personal bubble back. "What'cha up to?"

"Hey Laura." Raising his paper cup, he gestures behind him at Isaac, who's still staring in silence. "Just hanging out with my friend Isaac, having a milkshake."

"Ooo, yummy, can I have some?"

She doesn't wait for an answer – she sneaks it from his hand before he has the chance, sips from his straw and does a little happy dance. It's be super cute if it didn't make him a little nervous, make him wonder what the significance of sharing food was with werewolves, make him wonder what Peter would have to say about it.

And well, that thought just pisses him off, so he waves her away when she offers it back and lets her have the rest, which she accepts with a smile and a kiss on the cheek.

"Hi Isaac," she says, toning down the cheeriness just a little, something else Stiles approves of. Sitting down on the grass beside the other boy, she crosses her legs, a picture of calm and safe. "I'm Laura Hale. I don't think we've ever met, but I'm pretty sure you knew my brother Derek a long time ago."

Isaac licks his lips, looks caught between being charmed and terrified.

Yeah, Stiles knows that feeling.

Laura, well, she's looking at his eyes and his sleeves and the way he holds himself and Stiles can tell from the way she holds herself that she sees it too.

"Listen cutie," she sighs, setting her cup aside and rolling onto one hip, turning to make sure he knows he has her full attention and reaching out to place one hand on Stiles' knee. "I'm going to tell you the truth ok? You know I'm a werewolf right?"

Isaac hesitates, then nods.

"Good. You know who my mom is?"

"Yes ma'am."

This time Laura hesitates, looks surprised and shocked by the respect being directed toward her, but she recovers quickly.

"Did Stiles..."

"I told him about the treaty," Stiles says, jumping in as quietly and unobtrusively as he can. "About what's coming."

"A lot of change huh?"

A moment of silence passes and Laura holds both Stiles' and Isaac's gaze for a minute, a feeling passing between them that none of them can identify. It's fear and hope and disbelief and lots of other unnameable stuff, but Stiles is struck by the concept of Laura's world being turned upside down the most, like being tackled on the lacrosse field.

He's not the only one who's life is changing.

She's the one out here with them for a reason – she's going to be Alpha one day soon, these changes will be her changes, Isaac her pack, and Stiles...

He doesn't know what he'll be.

"We're changing things Isaac," she says quietly. "Me, Stiles... we're going to find a way to make this work."

Sighing, she draws up her knees, hugs them to her chest, lets a little of her own vulnerability show.

"We've got a lot to fix," she admits. "Got a lot to work on."

Lifting her head, she suddenly takes on all the dignity and confidence of her mother and in that moment she's beautiful.

"But we're going to do it," she says, proud and determined. "We're going to change. My pack, we're going to be a part of this town, of this world. And I want you to be a part of my pack."

It takes some talking.

Isaac almost panics, almost runs, but something about Laura seems to soothe him.

She knows all the right things to say, and all the things she shouldn't.

She doesn't talk about his dad.

She doesn't talk about his bruises.

She doesn't talk about what might happen to him when he goes home that night, having been seen in front of the police station.

She does tell him he'll be safe.

Unlike Stiles' dad, she and the other werewolves have the ability to keep that promise.

He doesn't believe her at first – that's easy to see. Stiles doesn't necessarily blame him. It's even easier to see that his resistance falters the more she talks, that she's slowly convincing him of the Hale's ability to exploit the loopholes of the law, to offer him a place of his choosing where the Sheriff can't take him forcibly.

He can come to them, live under their protection, and he doesn't have to admit a damned thing.

She's good - Stiles has got to hand it to her.

It almost doesn't seem fair.

She's playing on his emotions, his fear, the threat of his father looming over his head, but she's not forcing him. She's giving him the choice, a mostly rock solid safety-net. All he has to do is jump, and Stiles knows he will even before he does it.

Hell he's ready to jump himself.

She talks about what it means to be pack.

About the bonds that slowly build and grow between them.

She talks about what it's like to never be alone.

By the time they're done talking Isaac is standing in the circle of Laura's embrace and sobbing against her shoulder, and Stiles can't say that her eyes are dry either. She's holding the shaking teenager like she feels personally responsible for him, and he wonders if this isn't the start of something much bigger than he'd originally realized, if this isn't the beginning. At first glance she doesn't really seem like the mothering type, too young and too cheerful and too care-free, but the reality of it is that if all goes to plan, Isaac will belong to her. It will be her who gives him the Bite, her who both commands and earns his allegiance as a member of the Hale pack.

It's not surprising that she's looming over him just a little bit, protective mama bear.

No, the only thing surprising is that Stiles notices any of this at all.

He feels positively sick, like his chest is being cracked open, his ribcage being split and his heart squeezed. He wants, like he's never wanted before, needs. All this talk of home and pack and the closest of familial intimacy, of bonds and brothers by blood and bite, it...

Fuck, it hurts.

He hasn't felt like this since his mother died.

He misses the look Laura shoots him, follows her into the police station like a robot. Isaac is small and flinching beside her where she's got an arm around his waist, keeping him close, but his chin is up and it's Stiles that draws alarm when they step into his father's office. The Sheriff and Talia Hale both get to their feet, concern on their faces as Laura settles Isaac in a chair and turns to him as well. He doesn't know he's pale as milk, doesn't know he's clammy or that his hands are shaking, and he brushes his father off when he rounds the desk and takes his face between big, rough hands.

"I'm ok," he mutters, then decides to say screw it and grabs his father around the shoulders in a tight hug.

The man hugs him back with something almost like surprise, and when he lets go and Stiles steps away, Talia Hale takes a step closer like she would do the same. She doesn't, and again the specter of his soul bonded seems to be standing behind his shoulder, watching him, but they nod at each other and everyone takes their seats again. Laura ends up next to him on the couch, Isaac on her other side, and the press of her thigh against his is just a little bit soothing.

Not nearly enough to make him feel ok, but he'll take any relief he can get.

They talk.

He doesn't listen, but he knows they talk.

His father is explaining the legality of the new treaty, the elimination of the borders and the show of good faith that the pack will offer the town by taking on new members, Isaac included. They don't really talk about why the pack needs new members, about how their numbers are down because of the war and how they're facing political pressures from other, surrounding packs, or how it will be the abused, the week and the vulnerable and the endangered that Talia and Laura Hale swoop in to save.

They don't talk about it.

They don't have to.

It's the ghost in the room, the giant pink elephant that they don't have to point out because for fuck's sake it's sitting right there.

Isaac might not grasp the delicate intricacies of it, all the details, but he's not stupid either.

He knows what the hell's going on.

And here, now, with a werewolf beside him holding his hand and another in front of him with the Sheriff at her back, he seems to realize that this is his chance.

That unlike before, he could make a break from his father and really, truly get away.

It's as much of a guarantee as anyone could ask for, surely more than Isaac ever thought he would get – that much is written clearly across his face. He hardly listens to the terms and conditions, the fact that after a year he would have to make a choice, accept the Bite that would make him a werewolf or leave the pack for good. All that doesn't matter. What matters is what happens now; that he can walk out of this police station, get into Laura's car, and be taken away from this.

There's something dark in the guy's eyes that Stiles can't name but that he can feel even over the nausea rolling around in his stomach, the desperate need to curl up in a ball and whimper. By the time the talk is over, by the time his dad is shaking Talia Hale's hand and she's signing a stack of papers and Isaac is once again being held close by Laura as she runs her long, pink-painted fingernails through his curly hair, Stiles is sweating bullets and so light-headed he almost loses his balance when he gets to his feet. He feels his lips pulling back of his teeth in a snarl when Talia lifts a hand to steady him and she immediately backs off, actually drops her eyes which shocks all of the aggression right out of him.

Then he remembers.

Soul bonded.

It's stupid – it's not like he ever forgets.

It's always there, Peter's always there, but sometimes it hits him a lot harder than others.

He belongs to someone now, whether he likes it or not, and with that revelation comes another that gives his world another good turn.

Peter's staked a claim on him whether he likes it or not either.

Stiles is standing here thinking about the future, how the bond will change everything that might come, but Peter, he's caught in the present. Stiles is upset that he can't really go out and find a boyfriend or a girlfriend, that he'll have to incorporate his bonded and the pack into his college plans, all these things that haven't happened yet. Things he can't really miss or regret yet because he hasn't had them.

Peter, he's established, an adult, a real person with a real life. He's got a family, a place, a boyfriend, presumably a job...

This bond fucks all that up.

It doesn't make him feel bad for the guy, not much anyway. It doesn't excuse how he's behaved, the things he's said and done.

But...

Stiles thinks maybe he understands him just a little bit more.

He's still a dick.

"Isaac's going with you guys right?" he asks, interrupting whatever conversation is going on around him.

Talia hesitated, nods, and Laura squeezes Isaac's hand.

"Mind if I bum a ride?"

"Stiles?"

Stiles turns to his father, weary and weathered, frightened and worried and worst of all resigned.

"I'm just gonna go hang out for a little while," he says, lies sitting sour on his tongue. "Make sure he gets settled in all right."

His dad is staring at him - doesn't believe him, he can tell – but he sighs and wraps Stiles up into another hug.

"All right kiddo," he murmurs in his ear. "You call me, if anything happens, you understand me?"

"Yes sir."

"I'll make sure Stiles is taken care of Sheriff," Talia says quietly. "I suppose it's of little consolation, but my brother looks even worse."

Stiles chokes a laugh.

Just a few days before, hell, even earlier today, that would've made him feel a hell of a lot better.

Now?

Shit, now he doesn't even know.

Shaking his head, he brushes off the questioning looks and grabs the bookbag he'd stashed in his dad's office that morning. Laura seems to take that as her cue and leads him and Isaac back out to the car while Talia finishes up with his dad. He's surprised when she cajoles the both of them into the tiny back seat, climbs in behind the seat after them. She gets herself into the middle, grabs each of their hands and holds on so tight it almost hurts, but the pain is real and anchoring and perfect. It cuts through the claustrophobia and the nausea and the fear of an uncertain future, keeps him present in the moment, the scent of her perfume and the clean leather of the seats foremost in his mind.

Eventually Talia comes down the walk and climbs into the front seat, starting the car without a word. Backing out, she flicks a glance at the three of them in the rearview mirror and Stiles sees tremendous pride in that brief look.

He's kind of proud of Laura himself.

What he doesn't realize is that once he turns away to the window, she looks at him just the same.

Chapter Text

By the time Talia Hale pulls Laura's camaro up in front of the pack house out in the Preserve, Stiles is feeling sick as a dog.

Yeah, pun intended.

He wobbles out of the car only just catching his weight on the door, pale and clammy and cold, his stomach doing the god-damn hokey pokey inside his belly, and he must reek like nausea and sharp, acrid sweat because Laura and her mom both flinch minutely when the breeze turns. He knows they don't mean it but it makes him feel even worse, so he bites down on the need to shake or puke or shout and squares his shoulders before he follows Laura up the steps and into the house. She leads Isaac into the kitchen and sits him down at the table, tosses Stiles a warning look that has him doing the same while she dives into the fridge and comes back up with two bottles of ginger ale. Stiles takes his and cracks the top without hesitation, and he's a little surprised when Isaac does the same, but on second look he doesn't seem so good himself, ashen-faced and hugging himself, and yeah, Stiles knows that feeling.

Whole world turned upside down, threatened by the person who's supposed to take care of you?

Check, check, double-check.

Yikes.

Talia is leaning against the counter, tapping at the screen of her cell phone before slipping it into her pocket, glancing over them both before turning to her daughter.

"Derek will be down in a minute," she says, and Stiles doesn't miss the way Isaac's eyes flick toward the hallway. "Isaac, the Sheriff and I will be going over to your house in an hour or so to speak with your father. If you'd like to make a list, I'll make sure we collect any of your things that you'd like."

The kid blanches, starts to tremble, and Stiles feels a strange wave of despondence come over him. He cares, yes, he's sympathetic, but very suddenly he feels too exhausted to care. A deep, instinctive part of him recognizes that he's done his best, all he can do, and that he's delivered Isaac safely to his Alpha. The thought will startle him later but in the moment it feels easy and natural and right and he doesn't fight it, just lets himself drift in a haze for a few minutes, nearly asleep sitting upright.

A few minutes later Derek comes clomping into the kitchen with Cora on his hip and nearly trips himself he stutters to a stop so fast. He clearly remembers Isaac and Isaac remembers him – there's a mutual exchange of names in incredulous tones before an awkward silence falls. Derek takes a seat at the table when his mother prompts him with a look, and Stiles is struck by how young he seems, his own age instead of the eighteen or nineteen he's got to be. It makes sense when Laura explains that Isaac will be staying with them, that instead of sending him out to one of the other pack houses he'll be bunking up with Derek. What she doesn't say is that she's pairing them up in some kind of kindergarten buddy system – not that she has to. It's clear to everybody in the room, and Stiles is surprised that they both take it so well.

Course, it's not exactly the same is it?

Not even close.

But it's a good idea so he doesn't say anything; Isaac will hopefully have an ally here in Derek, a friend to talk to and show him around, which takes a ridiculous amount of responsibility off Stiles' shoulders. He's already done so much, gone through so much in saving Scott at the start of all this, in trying to fix things for so many people that he hadn't even considered the reality that bringing Isaac to the pack might not be the end of it. Sitting here now, at the Hale dining table still feeling lost and a little out of place in his own right, he knows there's no way he could handle walking Isaac through this too.

That's what he'd promised, what he'd planned, but he can't do it.

And really, it's too much for anyone to expect of him.

He can barely function himself as a human being right now – he doesn't have much brain power left to devote to turning Isaac into a real boy.

A small hand patting his leg makes him blink, pulls him out of his thoughts, only to find Cora standing beside him with a cautious look on her face. She signs hello and her name and he pulls together enough of his wits to sign hello back. The smile on her face is worth the effort and she pats him again, on the cheek this time before running around the table into her mother's arms, pointing in his direction and signing too rapidly for him to interpret. Complicated emotion makes his head pound so he doesn't try, just goes back to Isaac in one last-ditch attempt to care. He and Derek seem to be getting along just fine though; the taciturn werewolf has spoken more words to the other boy in the last five minutes than he has to Stiles the entire time he's been here, and isn't that just adorable.

Jerk.

And where the fuck is Peter anyway?

Surprised again by the abrupt mood swing, the irritable aggression that leaves him making a cranky, rumbling sound, Stiles pushes to his feet and jerks open the backpack he's brought along, pulling out the red hoodie that Peter had shredded and Laura had stitched back up.

"Where's your uncle?" he asks as he stuffs his arms into the sleeves, settles it over his shoulders like armor.

He doesn't know who he's talking to but it's Derek who answers, after checking in with his mother again via another quick, wary glance.

"Out back," he says nervously. "On the gaming field."

Stiles feels something dark flare in his gut, a churning mix of disgust and anxiety and angry, jealous hate. He doesn't know exactly what happens out there but he knows that 'gaming field' is definitely a euphemism, that the last time Peter came back from it he'd kept Stiles and everyone else waiting and Laura had accused him of smelling like sex. He's not an idiot – it's easy to put the pieces he has together, to fill in all the rest – but he is surprised he cares so much. He wants to march right out there and deck the guy, throw him to the ground and snarl at him in front of all the werewolves watching, especially that smarmy little bastard Luca, but he's smart enough to know how much of a bad idea that is.

Smart – heh.

That's why he finds himself shoving through the screen door and leaping down off the back porch before anyone can caution him against it right?

Smart, hell, he's a god-damned idiot.

It's not hard to find the field. By the time he hits the edge of the trees along the southern end of the valley he can hear them, the dull thud of clashing bodies and the low, raucous snaps and snarls of cheers and jeering. It's a hair-raising sound and his feet hesitate on the thin path worn into the woods from hundreds of werewolves passing back and forth along it, but he squares his shoulders and keeps going.

If there's one thing he's learning fast about all this, about being soul-bonded to Peter Hale, it's that he can't afford to be hesitant, can't afford to show fear.

When he steps into the little cleared field all ringed around with heavy trees and brush he's composed, calm and flat and cold. All attention is immediately drawn to him, or nearly all anyway. The two men inside the middle of the grass-worn ring don't spare him a glance, even as every other man and woman grouped up around the circle turn on him with hot, eager eyes. He doesn't quail, doesn't flinch, but he doesn't give them any other satisfaction either, ignoring their curious stares and not paying them the slightest attention. It's a lie, of course it is, he can feel every single one of them staring, salivating, and every nerve he has is tensed to fight or flee, but outside he manages a serene picture of casualty and he thanks all his gods he manages to pull it off.

Across the way he spots Calvin and Nicky, standing along the sidelines with their arms crossed over their chests. They don't look too pleased, actually look downright grim, but Stiles doesn't think it's directed at him so he slips carefully between the small clusters of on-lookers and joins them. He's greeted with a couple of silent nods and a firm clap on the shoulder before they both turn back to the fighters in the ring, and he knows what he's going to see even before he turns.

Because of course it's Peter.

Who else would it be, what other kind of luck would he have?

His soul-bonded is shirtless and filthy, covered in earth, gleaming and streaked with sweat, darker rivulets running down his sides that even an idiot like Stiles can recognize as blood. A hurricane of emotion sweeps through him - irritation, anxiety, aggression, arousal - and he folds his own arms with a sneer as he gives in to the desire, the need to look his werewolf over, to catalogue his injuries even as the man stalks his opponent around the ring. There are four neat parallel slashes arcing across his collarbone, very similar to the claw marks he bore on his abdomen the first time they met, and the way he moves suggests that he's favoring his ribs on the left side, but he looks whole and hale and hearty, like he's enjoying himself entirely too much.

Looks hot doing it too, the fucker.

As a rule Stiles isn't all that cool with gratuitous violence, at least outside of an action flick, but as he watches he can feel himself pulled toward the ring, right along with everyone else who have circled up around the fighters, wolves drawn in and waiting for the kill. That hot, eager aggression is sizzling across his nerves and he's leaning forward on the balls of his feet before he knows it, gaze darting hungrily back and forth as Peter hunts his challenger. He doesn't recognize the wolf he's squaring off against, can only take his measure against Peter, and finds himself oddly unconcerned by the fact that he seems twice the size, younger and maybe even faster.

The fight seems to have been suffering a lull upon Stiles' arrival, but it quickly picks back up again when the larger werewolf attempts to land a vicious kick to Peter's ribs. They snap and snarl and the wolves around them howl their encouragement, while the fighters slash at each other with sharp claws. It's fast-paced and vicious and brutal, punches meant to bruise and break, slashes that draw blood, and Stiles is shocked and ashamed to find that he's... kinda into it. Everything is sparking hot in the pit of his belly, all eager aggression and shit, bloodlust, and as Peter lands a particularly nasty hit, his elbow coming down hard on the back of his opponent's neck with a crack, Stiles actually finds himself snarling with bared teeth right along with everyone else.

He manages not to yip, not to slap his hand over his own mouth in surprise but only just. Calvin is looking at him with a cocky, arched eyebrow and Nicky is out and out laughing at him, but at least he doesn't feel like he's gonna puke or pass out anymore.

So he got a little caught up, so what?

It's not like he's... you know, cheering for the guy or anything.

Unfortunately his outburst seems to have drawn Peter's attention because he spins tight on his heel, bent low with his hands slightly out to his sides, eyes hot and flashing, teeth sharp, and stares. It's like time stops for a second and how cliché is that, but ok, maybe in that moment he is rooting for him.

Doesn't really know what that means to a werewolf, as a werewolf...

As a human, maybe he just doesn't want to be soul-bonded to a whimp.

Not that he really thinks that of Peter – if he didn't already have an abundance of evidence to the contrary what happens next would cement the fact in his mind.

Taking advantage of Peter's momentary distraction, his larger opponent attempts to end the fight only to have his ass handed to him. Peter actually smirks before he ducks the blow aimed at the back of his head, turns and pile-drives his challenger into the ground. What follows is a beating of the first order; Peter proves himself a cunning and devious fighter, getting down and dirty to make up for the difference in size and strength. He clearly has the advantage in years, experience and cleverness, and delivers a lesson that seems to go a little further than necessary. Stiles is pretty sure he hears cartilage pop as Peter rips an arm from its socket, and then Calvin is suddenly wading into the fray, designated bouncer-cum-referee, and pulling them apart.

Peter strains against the hand on his chest, snarling down at the man lying in the dirt, panting and clutching at his shoulder, one eye swollen shut and blood streaming down his thigh, but he's spitting curses and rolling to his feet unaided a moment later, so he can't have been that badly hurt right? Except then someone's yanking his arm back into position with a wet crackle, so yeah, maybe a little too far.

Peter takes a step back away from Calvin's hand and suddenly things go calm, the energy from the fight draining away now that it's ended. His opponent hobbles out of the ring and the wolves set up a howl, an obvious cheer for the winner before two more step up, ready for the next match.

Jesus, they do this for fun?

The thought occurs to him that he ought to be frightened, nervous at the very least as Peter turns on him with pupils blown huge and dark, bare chest heaving as he pants, but he can't seem to convince himself to feel it. Instead there's more eagerness, more itchy aggression, and a creepy, messed-up arousal making his jeans feel way too tight as the man takes a few sharp strides toward him before movement in the corner of his eye makes it all fade away.

The world goes quiet as Stiles' heartbeat pounds in his ears, his eyes narrowing and his lips pulling back from his teeth in a silent snarl as he spots Luca sauntering forward from his place on the other side of the field, sidling slowly toward his soul-bonded and leading with his hips. He's got a flirtatious little smirk playing on his lips, over-played and sickly-sweet, and Stiles has the sudden urge to claw it right off his face, but finds himself supremely satisfied with the way Peter strides right past him, his gaze never once leaving Stiles' face for Luca's. The skinny, smarmy werewolf looks dumbstruck and Stiles feels his mouth curl into a wicked, nasty smile.

Mine bitch.

He regrets the thought as soon as it crosses his mind because Peter is suddenly looming over him, big and broad and half-naked, streaked with blood and sweat and testosterone, and fuck does he smell good, all pride and male and victor. It takes everything he has not to waver towards him, not to curl up underneath the strong slope of his shoulders and lick a stripe up his throat, and that's... actually kind of disgusting because the guy is in desperate need of a shower.

Stiles shouldn't be able to smell him anyway, not like that. It's intricate, strong but delicate, emotion and intention instead of just sweat and stink. It's pretty obvious that Peter's tracking Stiles' scent too, or maybe just the reflection of his emotional state, because his pupils suddenly open up even wider and he starts a low rumble deep in his chest, leaning in even closer to Stiles' neck and drawing in a deep breath.

"You reek like my niece," he snarls, his voice full of gravel.

"Which one?" Stiles asks, cool and sweet as arsenic, just because he can, just because he refuses to cower.

Idiot, remember?

Peter chuffs, a short, sharp, harsh sound, his eyes dropping to trace along the stitches that curve over the shoulder of Stiles' jacket, cover his bond-mark. Without another word he turns and stalks off, and because Stiles is an idiot he follows, making sure to send Luca the smuggest smirk he possesses first. He can feel the werewolf's gaze hot and hateful on the back of his neck and he knows better than to taunt an enemy, a bully, but he can't help himself. All the lessons he's learned avoiding Jackson Whittemore and the other lacrosse jocks seem to have flown out the window, and that's cause for serious concern.

As he trots after his bond-mate, several safe yards behind, he wonders what the hell he's doing chasing after a werewolf, one who doesn't seem to care for him too much either. It feels like suicide going after him, even with a safe ten yards between them, but as the man's feet turn toward the little house he keeps at the end of the valley the distance closes and that safety narrows. Peter allows the screen door to slam closed behind him as he disappears into the house, even as Stiles' shoes clomp loudly up the porch steps behind him, but he hasn't locked it, hasn't turned and sent Stiles away with bared teeth and hot words.

That's gotta mean something right?

Oh god, please let that mean something.

He really doesn't wanna be gutted for following Peter home like a little lost puppy, physically or emotionally.

Stiles takes a deep breath, his hand on the door, and pushes inside.

Chapter Text

It's cool inside, dim and quiet, and it's a relief after the hot, bright afternoon. Stiles hadn't realized how much tension he'd built up in his shoulders out there at the arena until he steps into the calm, solitary hush of Peter's house. All those people, those werewolves, all those eyes on him and on his bonded, on the both of them together... he hadn't really felt how much that bothered him until now, now when they're all gone and he's standing by himself in a neat, cozy little living room and the full weight of it rolls off of him.

The house is nice, not at all what he expected, which strikes him strongly because he hadn't really been thinking about Peter or his house at all. Now he thinks that he'd been expecting posh, modern, glass and stainless steel and impressionist art on the walls, which doesn't make any sense because all he's really known of Peter is sweat and blood and aggression. Instead the living room feels uncomfortably homey, worn in and normal, and it throws him so much that he kind of just stands there and forgets where he really is.

Much like Calvin and Nick's place, there's a lot more furniture than seems necessary for one (ugh, two) individuals, driving home once more the sense of pack that Stiles hasn't gotten a real grip on yet. It's strange thinking of Peter as anything but a loner, even within his own family, but the evidence is right there in front of him; two full couches and a double-wide, overstuffed armchair. There's a huge flat screen TV on the wall flanked by towers of DVDs – not all that surprising but the gaming system is. It's old, classic Super Nintendo, but Stiles sees Tetris and Mario Kart and Mortal Kombat II. The walls are lined with bookshelves that are jammed full; books and an eclectic array of knickknacks ranging from a tiny bronze dinosaur to fossilized sand dollars to old Navajo pottery.

It's like looking at the hidden side of his soul-bonded's personality, a glimpse of Peter's vulnerable underbelly, and it shakes him.

More than anything, the stack of coloring books and box of crayons scattered across the coffee table makes his stomach clench, and it feels a little too much like guilt for Stiles' liking.

A creak startles him and he turns with a jump, his heart stuttering in his chest as Peter comes trotting down the stairs along one side of the entryway, wearing a pair of boxers and very little else, a towel slung around his neck. Stiles takes an involuntary step back, fear skittering across his nerves, and for a minute he flashes back to being thrown against the wall, a rough hand over his mouth and a knee between his legs. It's panic, and it's stupid because maybe Peter has been a dick and maybe he has been pushy and maybe he does make Stiles anxious as hell, but he's never threatened anything sexual, never pushed to take.

That's like, the virtual opposite of Peter's MO, but he still reacts - to being entirely alone with him, to being boxed in, to the sheer amount of muscle and scarred, bare skin on display. He doesn't mean to, doesn't expect to, but he does react, and he kind of hates himself for it.

Peter?

Peter doesn't react at all.

In fact he completely ignores him, doesn't even glance in his direction even though Stiles is pretty sure the spike in his scent has to be sharp and acrid and incredibly strong.

Nothing.

Not a look or a sniff or even a tilt of his head in Stiles' direction, and he can't decide if he's happy or disappointed by that.

He's... glad Peter hadn't advanced on him, hadn't taken advantage of what is obviously a fear and a weakness, hadn't even done so much as to sneer at him or aim a sharply barbed joke in his direction. On the other hand he... he kind of wishes he'd said something, even just paused on his way to the bathroom to look his way and make sure he's not freaking out.

That scares him too.

Maybe more than anything else.

That somewhere deep down he might want a relationship one day, that regardless of what happens he still wants Peter to be concerned about him and to care that he's upset, to do something to make it better.

That's...

That's messed up.

He knows practically nothing about this man, who's got to be fifteen years older than he is at the very least, who's been through more than Stiles can possibly imagine, who's life he's interrupted and who clearly resents that fact.

He can't believe, in his logical mind, that somewhere deep down he's begun to want something out of this.

The sound of the shower knocks him out of his stunned and unsettling thoughts, and for the first time he easily recognizes the pale tickle of irritation and unease as Peter's and not his own. It hits him once again that Peter didn't choose this anymore than he did, that soul bonds are not the romantic ideal that fiction and rumor make them out to be. That reality is harder, harsher than stories, that soul marks can be incredibly disruptive, even destructive to someone's life. That life, Peter's life, his life existed before any magic words were spoken. Peter had a home and a family and a pack, a job presumably, a boyfriend, all of it long before Stiles ever came along.

Who is he really to take that all away from him, to expect him to incorporate someone he isn't obligated to like or love, into all of that?

It's not fair, and for the first time he thinks that maybe he truly understands Peter's anger that first day, his resentful reaction to the discovery of their soul bond.

If he were older, more mature, more established in the world, he might've reacted the same way.

He knows this of course, has thought about it before, even earlier today at the station, but he's never truly felt it the way he's feeling it right now, standing in the middle of a living room with the man's life spread out on display all around him.

Letting out a shaky breath, Stiles moves further into the room, takes a careful, hesitant seat in the corner of the couch. He doesn't know exactly why he's here or what he hopes to happen, what he expects to accomplish when Peter comes back out, and he has no idea if he's doing the right thing or not by staying, but he doesn't know what else he could possibly do.

Leave, let them continue on like they have been?

It doesn't even seem feasible.

Seems like if they do, they'll be at each other's throats sooner or later, and that this time it'll be for blood.

He just... doesn't know what kind of olive branch he can offer.

So he kicks off his shoes and tucks himself up as small as he can get in the corner of the couch, tucks his hands into the pockets of his clawed-up hoodie and waits.

XXX

Peter's confused.

His head's a mess, his heart's a mess, and it's been a long time since he's felt like this.

He hates it, hates feeling like some untested pup, hates feeling like his packmates are staring and snickering at him behind his back, and he doesn't know how to make it stop.

So he goes back to the training fields, finds the youngest and most naïve of his cousins, the biggest and dumbest of his uncles, and he hammers them into the ground. One after the other, over and over, if they get back up he puts them down again. It's good, it's familiar, and it makes him feel more like himself, strong and confident and sure-footed. Powerful. Dominant.

Then Stiles shows up and it's all worse, a messy tangle all over again.

His instincts kick up immediately, despite any and all efforts to tamp them back down, and the wolf in the back of his head demands that he fight even harder, that he put on a show, that he win. Damn if he'll let his mate see him loose, see him forced to show his belly and cower to another, and as much as he hates it, hates that word and using it in reference to that child he cannot help himself, cannot stop himself.

He tackles his cousin to the ground and kicks his cocky ass.

There's blood and fists and violence, and the only reason he's not utterly disgusted with himself is that the little shit signed up for this, running his mouth and then being stupid enough to step into the ring with him for a fight. He knows he's taking it too far but the smart-mouthed little shit's still trying to get up, and no way that's going to happen until Peter's satisfied he's learned his lesson. Looking over at the sidelines, he makes eye contact with his soul-bonded, his fucking soul-bonded, and rips his cousin's arm out of its socket.

It's vicious and it's nasty and it happens with a wet, rough crackle and it fills him with an incredible amount of smug, stupid pride. Then that bastard Vinny is dragging him away from his prey and he's trying to get back to him, to finish it but it is finished, and his pack are howling and his heart is slamming against the inside of his chest and it's done, it's over, and the kid, the god damn kid is staring at him with hot, dark eyes and smelling like arousal and he hates that too but he still stalks toward him, like some kind of weak-willed addict who can't control himself.

He senses more than sees Luca start toward him but doesn't even flinch, doesn't offer him a modicum of attention. He's never deserved it, and the way Stiles smirks over Peter's shoulder makes it worth the bitching out he'll get later. Peter steps right up into the teenager's space, looms over him, watches how his eyes trail over his throat and his shoulders and growls, scents Laura on him and Cora too, and hates that because it smells so fucking right.

He snarls and sneers and is begrudgingly impressed when the kid snaps right back at him, follows on his heels and has the balls to walk right into his house without an invitation. He doesn't know how to get rid of him, doesn't know how to tell him to leave, and more than anything just wishes he could kill him, disappear him, erase that fucking mark on his shoulder and take back those stupid words and never lock himself into this with whatever god-forsaken werewolf magic chose him for this fate.

He's filthy and he reeks and he's covered in blood and sweat and mud, but that's one problem he knows how to solve. He jogs up to his bedroom before the kid's made it inside, avoiding him as best he can. He thinks about clothes, about how to do this, and pisses himself off that he's even trying to figure out a way to accommodate the kid who's driven him to this place of self-doubt. Shedding his clothes, forcing himself not to shiver, he grabs his towel off the closet hook and heads back downstairs.

He's in Peter's living room.

Just... standing there.

He doesn't care, he shouldn't care – it's not like there's anything out there he's embarrassed of or doesn't want anyone to see. At the same time he doesn't want Stiles to see any of it, wants him in his home and doesn't. It's nauseating, the dichotomy of it, the emotion of it, and he can't bear to stand in it any more than he absolutely has to, so he heads straight for the bathroom and locks the door behind him. He actually has to lean against it a minute to quiet his pounding heart, to get his breath back and swallow down the panic that tastes like hot, sour bile in the back of his throat.

Fucking kid, fucking soul bond, he's actually scared out there, and Peter doesn't know what of. That makes him nervous, makes him... makes him guilty, and that's the last thing he wants to feel. Sure, he hasn't been a peach, has scared the kid good a few times, but he's never actually hurt the little shit. He can't, he wouldn't, but he knows his word on that means nothing, and he can feel his wolf ravaging his insides demanding he go out there and fix his shit, make this better.

It makes him positively sick.

So he showers, fast and rough, and even though the water's ice cold his skin is pink when he gets out from how hard he's scrubbed. The tingle's almost painful as his healing kicks in and his body tries to heat itself back up, but he's clean and his head's a little clearer, if only because he's emptied it like a trashcan. Pulling on the sweats and the hoodie he'd left in the linen cabinet that morning, he brushes the acid out of his mouth and avoids looking at himself in the mirror.

He doesn't know what he expects to find when he comes back out.

Maybe it'll be Stiles and maybe it won't – all he knows for sure is that it damn well better not be Luca.

It is Stiles though, curled up in the corner of his couch looking nervous but cozy, out-of-place but common-place, just the way Peter feels. He doesn't want him here but a part of him does, and he doesn't know which part. He doesn't know if it's just the soul-bond or if he's actually starting to like the kid, doesn't know how far consent actually goes. It's heavy and uncomfortable in the pit of his stomach and he doesn't know what to do, and he hates it, hates it, doesn't know how to fix it and needs to fix it.

The kid's just staring off at the wall, won't even look at him, isn't even fidgeting like he normally seems to do, and that hurts. It reminds him of a rabbit, small and quiet and dark-eyed, waiting, waiting, and it hurts something deep inside of him, makes the predator cower.

He doesn't think that's ever happened before.

So what the fuck do you do?

He goes to the kitchen. Gets a bottle of water, hesitates, flexes his claws, and grabs a second one. He could offer it to the kid, hand it to him, throw it at him, but he doesn't do any of those things. Instead he steps up quietly beside him, close enough that he could run his fingers through his hair and squeeze the nape of his neck and he wants to.

But he doesn't.

No, he just sets the bottle down on the end table beside the arm of the couch, doesn't look at him, doesn't speak to him, and retreats to his arm chair to curl up in as tight a ball as he can without looking like he's doing just that. Flicking on the television, he finds an episode of The Twilight Zone and tries to turn his head, and his heart, decidedly off.

Chapter Text

He...

He doesn't know how to leave.

He's not sure he should leave.

Hell, he's not even sure he wants to, and how messed up is that?

His jaw had practically hit the floor when Peter had set a bottle of water down on the end table beside him and crawled into the overstuffed armchair sitting kitty corner to the couch. He curled up like a... like a kid, like a puppy who knows he's not supposed to be on the furniture and doesn't make a sound, just turns on the TV and ignores him like it was totally normal for Stiles to be here, when he should be demanding Stiles get the hell out of his house, his... his den.

He's not sure how he feels about that – expecting to be kicked out, not being kicked out, being allowed to sit there in some kind of silent solidarity or... or...

Well the one good thing is that he's able to watch the guy, to out and out stare and not really be called on it. Peter's staring at the flatscreen like old reruns of The Twilight Zone are the greatest thing to ever hit primetime, and he has to feel Stiles' eyes on him, has to, but he doesn't react, doesn't snarl or squirm or blush or... or anything.

Just sits and lets it happen.

He's attractive, yeah, he is.

That's the first thing that hits him, that he can't deny any more. It's weird for Stiles, to be thinking like that, him, who's still a few months away from being a legal adult in this state, who's never been on a real date and who's still a hardcore virgin. Growing up with a soulbond, he'd known there was a chance he might meet his mate, that they could be male or female, that they could be younger or older but the reality of it so much stronger than he'd expected. Peter... Peter is an adult, a full-grown man with a complete, settled life and here's Stiles, just a... just a kid, an interruption, a completely unformed human being.

Human disaster really.

But he's pretty.

Sleek and suave but nothing like Luca, not that way. Rough, tough, entirely masculine, muscled arms and shoulders, neat facial hair, and there's something about his mouth that fascinates Stiles. Sharp, cutting words, sly, cunning grin, strong white teeth that grow long and sharp but... but he's seen him smile too, seen him softer, with Cora.

And here he is, curled up so tight in soft cotton sweats and a t-shirt, so different from how Stiles had first seen him, snarling and snarking and covered in blood that he almost looks... vulnerable.

For the first time he actually wonders what the truth is, wonders what the reason is.

Because, he realizes, there has to be a reason.

A reason why Peter was so angry when the bond was first revealed between them, a reason he's so vehemently opposed to any kind of interaction with Stiles at all.

He seems too smart for simple hatred, too intelligent for unfounded anger.

Stiles isn't sure if that makes him feel better or worse.

All he knows is that very suddenly, very strongly, he wants to curl up next to the werewolf and cuddle.

Just... sit against his side and breathe, experience the heat of his body, the scent at the curve of his throat, not to speak or think or discuss it, just... feel it.

And that scares him, because he doesn't know if it's him or the bond that makes him want it, doesn't know...

He wonders what Peter would do.

And that...

Well.

That more than anything tells him it's time to go, because he knows himself, knows his own curiosity.

Now that the idea's in his head, he'd risk getting snapped at or pissing the guy off again or upsetting himself to learn the answer.

"I have to go," he murmurs, before he knows he's going to speak at all.

Peter doesn't move, just flicks his eyes in Stiles' direction, catches his gaze and holds it, too hard, too long, bright and blue and intense and he can't breathe.

"Sorry."

Stupid, to apologize. He doesn't know what he says it for, what he means, and he hates how confused Peter makes him feel all the time, even though it's not really the guy's fault. As he gets to his feet and heads toward the door he almost wishes Peter would stop him, for any reason, just to break the silence that had gone from being so comforting to being so awful but of course the werewolf doesn't, contrary bastard. He just watches, just stares, just lets the weight of his eyes hang heavy on Stiles' shoulders until he's out the door and away, crossing the grass at a clip. There are werewolves scattered all over the place, the ones from the field, like they're waiting to see if he'll come back out of the house alive, and he forces himself not to run, not to spook.

He walks with purpose, strong, holds his head high.

Fake it till you make it.

Laura meets him on the porch.

"I was just coming to get you," she says, sounding a tiny bit confused. "How did you..."

"I didn't," he replies quickly, and he doesn't even think about it, just catches her by the elbow, turns her around, and pulls her inside with him, like that's totally normal and ok. "Where's Isaac?"

"Upstairs with Derek," Laura replies, the two of them marching up the hallway in some sort of matching lockstep. "He's kind of latched on to him, which is fine by me. Derek will watch out for him, and he... he needs a friend."

"Sounds good," Stiles says carefully. He can feel the extra tension suddenly bubbling around, but if Derek can be Isaac's Jiminy Cricket through all of this it's one less responsibility on his shoulders. "Did you..."

"We went to his house, me and mom," Laura explains, leading Stiles into the empty library and closing the door behind them, sitting down behind her mother's desk. "Spoke to his father."

"How did that go?"

"About as well as you'd expect," Laura huffs, watching Stiles drop into the chair across from her. "A lot of yelling, a lot of threats. He was drunk, really drunk. Your dad tried to calm him down but he didn't shut up until..."

"Until your mom went all Alpha wolf on him?"

"Yeah. She told him, about the reintegration, about how we would be inviting people to join the pack. I... Stiles..."

He narrows his eyes, suddenly realizing how pale Laura has gone, how her hands have started to shake.

"Stiles there was a freezer, in the basement," she chokes, and her eyes are wet and her voice breaks and he feels himself erupt into a cold sweat, goosebumps rushing down his arms. "There were... clawmarks under the lid and..."

"Jesus," he breathes, flicking his eyes at the ceiling, thinking about the boy upstairs and how the hidden bruised were only the half of it.

"I claimed him Stiles."

His eyes snap back to Laura and now she's got tears rolling down her cheeks, her hands gripping the edge of the desk, long, sharp claws popping against the wood.

"We were packing up his stuff, and his dad was screaming that we couldn't just take his son. And I... I told him..."

Leaning forward, Stiles reached slowly across the desk and covered her hand with his own, laced their fingers together when she turned it over and held on.

"What did you tell him Laura?"

"I told him Isaac wasn't his anymore," she says, suddenly cold and flat and calm, lifting her gaze to meet his with eyes that burned gold. "He's mine."

Stiles feels the pause of silence against his ears like a concussive drum beat, a flinch of his nerves because this is it. This is the moment when everything starts, when the first of the pieces begin to click together, and how strange that it's Laura and not Peter. But it is her, the next generation, the new alpha, and Isaac her first chosen, and Stiles very suddenly feels like he's been knighted, appointed position in a pack that hasn't quite taken shape yet.

He grips Laura's hand and they hold each other's gaze and a subtle understanding seems to pass between them, an acknowledgement that this exists, that this had begun. He sees himself at her right hand and Peter on her left, and that thought intrigues and terrifies him in turns, but before he can open his mouth, before he can confess the door to the library opens and Talia Hale steps in, stalls in the doorway with a look of shock on her face before it passes and turns to something too much like maternal pride for Stiles' comfort.

"Stiles," she nods in greeting as he slowly lets go of Laura's hand, sits back in his chair, and it's so different, the way he feels now as compared to their first meeting that he can't ever believe he'd knelt for her, even if it was only a week or so ago, even if this new sense of position is only seconds old.

"Alpha Hale," he replies, because there's no need to get a big head, no need to get stupid. "I hope things went well with Mr. Lahey?"

"No, not well," she huffs, the ghost of a bitter chuckle, but she stands there next to the desk without shooing Laura from her chair, appears to speak to them both as equals which is just trippy, and Stiles' head is already upside down. "But all the proper paperwork is filed and the rules followed. Isaac is our responsibility until such time he chooses otherwise. The Hale pack are his legal guardian until this day one year from now, when he'll determine if he takes the bite."

"His dad gets that?"

"I doubt it," she says, and there's the slightest sneer on her face, the barest hint of disgust. "The man was drunker than a skunk; it was disgusting. Didn't even know where his child was. He took a swing at your father – he's in the BHPD drunk tank."

Stiles sighs, scrubs his hands through his hair.

"He's not going to take this well in the morning."

"No."

"Are we ready for this?" Laura asks quietly, and she's looking at Stiles, not her mother. "Are you ready for this?"

"I'm ready," he nods. "He's gonna throw a fit, yeah, absolutely, but... people know what he's like. They know... they think they know what he did to his kid. They'll be glad Isaac's safe, even if it takes them a while to... wrap their heads around the rest."

"Your father said he'll be doing a press junket in four days," Talia says, crossing to one of the bookcases and rifling through the titles. "Once news has had time to spread."

"It won't take that long," Stiles scoffs, "But yeah, I know. I've got a speech." Then, considering as he looks at Laura, "How's your public speaking?"

"I'm studying for the bar," she answers, her grin suddenly sharp, her eyes bright. "I know how to win a jury."

"It's a jury you'll need to win," he sighs. "You'd be going up on trial up there, we both would be, and my dad. I..."

He stops, bites his lip, looks at both Laura and Talia, who stares back.

"I think you should talk to Allison," he says. "I think she should be there. I know... I know you guys don't have a reason to trust the Argents but..."

"But times are changing," Talia finishes.

Laura's gone small and quiet and doesn't reply.

"We'll consider it," she says, stepping across the room to place a book on the desk in front of her daughter, to place her hand on her shoulder. "I need to find Calvin – Stiles, if you'd like a ride home..."

"Think I'll walk," he declines, and now that she's mentioned it he is ready to go home. "Thanks."

Flicking a glance at her daughter, Talia nods once and leaves them, the tension lessening as she goes.

"Holy crap," he breathes, slumping down in his chair as is muscles go noodly. "This is..."

"Yeah," Laura mutteres before clearing her throat, wiping her cheeks and sitting up straight. "Betcha never thought you'd be doing this."

"I wondered."

Laura cocks an eyebrow, gets up and crosses around to sit on the edge of the desk, right next to him.

"How's that going?"

"Pfft, I don't even know," he grumbles, crossing his arms over his chest and looking away. "I mean, I get that I'm a fucking interruption, ok, but nobody will tell me why he hates me so much."

"He doesn't hate you."

She says it quietly, sounds sheepish and sorry, but Stiles isn't feeling terribly charitable and he rolls his eyes.

"He doesn't Stiles. I... I know it must suck, not knowing, but... it's his story ok? It's not fair for me to tell you, or my dad or Nicky or anyone but Uncle Peter. Hell, I'm not even sure if I'm right about... what I think this all is. Just... this is weird for you? Scary? Well it is for him too. He might be... prickly about it, but that's what it really is. He's just scared."

"Of what?" Stiles scowls miserably, heart-heavy. "Of me? I'm not..."

"I know," she says, and then her hands are on his shoulders and she's pulling him up and hugging him, her face tucked beneath his chin in the curve of his throat. "And he will too. Just... try to give him some time ok? This thing with the Argents... it'll be hard for him. More than... maybe more than for any of us. He'll take it out on you but don't let him ok? He does better when you call him out, is better."

"I don't wanna hurt him," Stiles whispers, horrified to find his heart in his throat and his eyes stinging.

"Then don't," Laura says simply, pulling back and patting him on the cheek. "Talk to him. Or... at him, if that works better. Bring food. He doesn't like to show it but pack matters to him, family, especially Cora. Be a part of this Stiles. I'm not... asking you to marry him or anything but... I like you. You... you could be a part of us."

She's picked up the book now, the one Talia had placed in front of her on the desk, a slim, leather-bound volume and she's turning it nervously in her hands. Stiles' heart is thundering against the walls of his chest and he knows, he knows what found-family means, has grown up in the precinct with dozens of 'aunts' and 'uncles' and 'brothers.' He knows what this means.

So he takes it, slips it gently from her hands and tucks it under his arm.

"I think you should do the press conference with me," he says. "I think the two of us..."

"Yeah," she says with a wet smile, and very suddenly she's the prettiest, shiniest girl he's ever seen. "Yeah I think so too."

"Cool. I'm uh... I'm gonna go then. I've... got some reading to do."

Laura chuckles, hugs him again, quick and light, two friends saying goodbye for now.

"You're sure you're good to walk home?" she asks as they head back down the hallway toward the door. "I need to check in on Isaac."

"Yeah, I'm good. It's not that far, and my dad's probably got a deputy lurking around that blind corner on Lake Road. Can always bum a ride."

"Sounds good. Listen text me ok?" she says, flicking a glance at the book under his arm. "Or Uncle Vinny."

"Sure."

He hesitates then, lifts his hand and drops it before finally reaching up to touch her cheek, the curve of her shoulder. He does it lightning quick, not sure if it's the right thing to do, but she smiles at him and waves as he steps out the door and It's enough. She didn't take his arm off anyway. Like maybe he was suppo...

"Ooph."

Reaching out, he snags the arm of the guy he's just crashed into, steadies himself before he lands on his ass.

"Aw come on man, haven't I..."

But it's not Calvin like he thought, it's Peter, and fuck but there's electricity shooting up his arm from his fingertips where they're curled around his bare forearm, thick and solid in his grip.

Stiles drops him like a livewire – cause hell that's what it feels like – takes a step back and licks his lips.

Peter's rumbling, low, deep in his chest, but it's an idle sound, like he doesn't even know he's making it, his eyes on Stiles' shoulder where the tears of his jacket have been stitched together, hiding his soul mark and he abruptly feels more naked than he ever has in his life.

His heart stops in his chest when Peter grabs him by the back of the neck, drags him in close. He doesn't bury his face in Stiles' neck the way Laura does, doesn't touch him at all but for those burning points of contact, his fingers tight on his nape, but he can feel the werewolf's breath on his throat, gentle puffs against hyper-sensitive skin, the fine hair all standing straight up. Low snarl rumbling in his ear, the scent of him, clean and cool like wild mint, his hand sliding around the front of Stiles throat, too close, not close enough...

And then he's gone, screen door slamming behind him, leaving Stiles behind to try and catch his breath.

Chapter Text

Emissary.

It's a word that's heavy on his tongue, foreign yet familiar, powerful.

The book he'd brought home with him is old; thin, yellowed pages bound in leather, covered in four distinct hands, chronicling the history of the Hale Pack. It's a book of magic, of nature, of politics and negotiations and small, quiet domesticities, and he understands immediately why Laura had given it to him.

He's terrified.

Humans, humans with a little something more, a Spark inside them that connects them to the larger world... the thought sends an electric tingle racing up his spine as he clutches the book in his hands, knuckles white. He can feel Peter's bite mark on his shoulder like an ache, feels a tug in his belly that's pulling him inexorably back toward the Preserve, but he stubbornly stays put, makes his way through the book slowly and carefully despite the shaking in his fingers.

It makes sense, and the sucky part is that he'd done it all himself.

He'd gone to the Preserve that day to fetch Scott back, he'd set himself up to negotiate with the werewolves, he'd placed himself at Laura's side, the Alpha-in-training, and put himself in a position to help her, to become her...

Her emissary.

He doesn't know if it's right or wrong, if he's even capable of it, but in any case he's done it to himself.

As he sits at his desk paging through the book he realizes that he's already made a kind of decision, and not only about this.

He's decided that he needs to try, to do his best, by himself, by his town, and by the werewolf that fate has bound him to.

So he makes a start.

He calls Allison Argent, explains the situation, and is relieved by how eager and excited his classmate sounds about the possibility of a reconciliation between the Hales and Beacon Hills. He takes the initiative to extend an invitation on behalf of the Hales (possibly his first official act as Emissary), to meet and discuss the press junket his father will hold, the revelation of the new treaty, and when Allison agrees he thanks her and hangs up.

Well.

That bit was easy enough.

But it's Allison isn't it? She's young, Stiles' generation, had had no part in the war for Beacon Hills and had been kept as far from the family business as possible for many years. They're both so... disconnected from it all, so unable to really understand the horror of what had happened...

Can they possibly try hard enough, feel enough, be enough to make this work?

He's damn well going to try.

And not... not just for him.

He sees the fear in Laura's eyes. The way Derek flinches and holds himself apart. The scars on Calvin's face, the silence in Cora's tiny hands, the anger in Peter's heart.

They all deserve the chance to heal, as much as they can.

Stiles sighs, scrubs his hands over his face and closes his eyes.

Hell, he's in so deep already, caring about these people...

People.

That says it all right there doesn't it?

When he'd first gone into the woods he hadn't thought of them as people had he; just as werewolves, just as danger. Some of them still make him nervous of course, still make his heart thump, but it's nothing like it was. He isn't afraid for his physical safety, isn't afraid for Isaac's. They're people; mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles... just people.

Good people, who've been badly hurt and are coping the best they can.

And well, Stiles knows something about that doesn't he?

He calls Laura next.

"Hey," he says nervously, tapping his fingers along the edge of his desk. "You told me to call."

"Stiles? Are you ok?"

"Yeah," he sighs, rolling his shoulders. "Yeah, I'm ok. Just... can you talk?"

Girl must be a genius cause that was hella vague. He knows it was, but he doesn't want to say Peter's name, doesn't want him listening in. That's the whole point, and Laura must get it, because there's a minute pause before she answers, the click of a door.

"Yes. Yeah, I can talk."

"I called Allison," he says, quick and abrupt, because if he doesn't get it out he'll turn chicken and hang up. "I'm sorry Laura, I know I don't... I don't know anything about all this, not really but..."

"Thank you."

"What?"

Stiles blinks, stares at his computer screen, confused and anxious, but Laura takes a deep breath and lets it out slow, says it again in a voice that's far steadier than it was the first time.

"Thank you Stiles. I don't... I don't know if I could have done that myself. I don't know if I would've been... brave enough."

"What? No, you're... Laura?"

"It's just this is hard," she whimpers, and very, very suddenly it sounds as if she's about to cry. "I know it's something I have to do, if we're going to make this work, but I... I'm only twenty-three Stiles."

He licks his lips, his heart sore.

"I... everything that happened... we lost so much. And now I'm supposed to be the next Alpha, I'm supposed to protect them, but I don't know how and I..."

"Woah, hey, hey," he says soothingly, sick and miserable for her. "Laura. It's gonna be ok."

"We thought that before," she hiccoughs. "We all thought that. Stiles, my mom was the most amazing Alpha ever, how can I..."

"Laura," he says firmly, his heart pounding. "Stop. We can't change what happened ok? If I could I..."

He hangs his head, pinches the bridge of his nose.

"But I can't," he mumbles. "And you can't either. But listen to me – we can be better, ok? We can change things, we can try. God, look at what you've done already, you've saved Isaac's life Laura. I believe that."

"Really?"

"Absolutely. His... his father would have killed him ok? You saw what was down in that basement you... you know what would've happened. But you and your mom, you took a chance, you were willing to try and change things, make things better. That's what you're doing Laura. You're making things better."

"Not without you," she says, a little choked, sniffling, but calmer than she had been a moment ago.

"You've got me," he murmurs, and oh god he doesn't know what he's saying but it feels all kinds of right and he... he doesn't know any other way things could possibly go. "You've got me. Allison's gonna come over to my house tomorrow, just her, to talk. You should come too. If you can't, or if... if you need to bring your mom she said that's fine, but..."

"No, no I can do it," Laura interrupts, and yeah, that sounds more like her, chin held high. "Thanks, Stiles, I... I can do it."

"Yeah, I believe that too," he replies, and he's grinning even though her voice is still a little shaky. "Listen, I won't leave you alone with her ok? Your emissary should be there with you anyway."

"Wha... really? Stiles, do you..."

"No, I really don't," he laughs, shaking his head. "I mean it... it makes sense. It... feels right. Like it's what I'm supposed to do, who I'm supposed to... be."

"I felt it, when I first saw you," she murmurs into the phone, quiet and far away. "Not on the computer, but in the library. It was like... I don't know, puzzle pieces..."

"Yeah."

He knows what she means.

"So listen, Dr. Deaton, he was you guys' old emissary right?"

"Ugh, god, the vet," Laura groans, and he laughs, pictures her wiping her face and tossing back her hair, squaring her shoulders. "Yeah. He probably has some stuff that will help. Fair warning though, he is the literal worst."

"Why, what..."

"Nothing, just human," she grumbles. "But seriously. Literal. Worst. He talks in riddles, never gives you a straight answer, wanders off in the middle of a conversation..."

"Sounds fun."

"Yeah, good luck with him. If you want someone to go with you..."

"I'll let you know."

"Good."

"So hey, are you gonna be ok?"

"Yeah," she sniffs, "Yeah, I'm good."

"Good. Maybe um... Maybe go ask your uncle for a hug," he suggests, and then immediately wants to bang his head against the wall. "Tell him I said you deserve it."

Laura laughs, wind chimes, do the burning embarrassment and confusion is almost worth it.

"Thanks Stiles. I'm sure Uncle Vin's around here somewhere."

Now it's Stiles turn to laugh, because it's easier like this, with her teasing him.

Safer.

"Cool. So yeah, um, two o'clock tomorrow. Do you... do you want me to come get you, or..."

"No, that's ok. I can drive. I'll... I'll be there."

"Awesome. Hey listen, text me, if you need to ok?"

"I will. Thanks again Stiles."

"No problem. I'll see you tomorrow ok?"

"Kay. Bye!"

Welp...

That was exhausting.

Forcing himself out of his chair, he crashes into the bed face-first, groaning loudly into his pillow. This all sucks so hard – there's too much...

God he's tired.

He doesn't even know if it's his tired or Peter's tired, and that just makes it worse.

Whining, he kicks his feet childishly against the bottom of the mattress before shoving himself up and out of the bed again. He doesn't have time for this. There's too much; too much to do, too much to sort out in his brain, and if he just lays here nothing will get done.

Like, seriously, nothing.

He won't even sleep.

He'll just lie there chasing his own mind in circles, and he hates that he feels so freaking unsettled because he strongly suspects it's Peter's fault somehow – either because the werewolf is going through another bout of epic man-pain or because he's just not here.

God, so stupid, he does not want to cuddle Peter Hale ok?

Just because it would be so much easier to think if he was still back on the guy's couch, sitting beside him pressed hip to hip, that doesn't mean anything.

Just because he'd told Laura to go find the guy and get a hug, doesn't mean anything.

Whatever.

Research is his wheelhouse – he's got this.

First thing's first, he shoots Scott a text asking him to make him an appointment with his boss. His friend is understandably befuddled, but Stiles will go out and rent a damn pet if he has to, and insists that he make him an appointment the next morning, first thing. That done, he grabs his keys and runs up to the local hobby store. Perks of being a small town – there are little family-owned specialty shops all over the place. He grabs finds a sketchbook remarkably similar to the one on his desk back at the house, thick like a book, hardcover wrapped in a faux leather, soft to the touch. The pages are blank, two hundred and fifty of them, and it's enough.

It's enough for a start.

Grabbing a fistful of pencils and a regular spiral notebook, he forks over his cash and climbs back into his Jeep, ready to go back home. It's a strange feeling - this is his town and he knows it well, better than most after all his years of mischief and mayhem. This needing to be home, to hole up somewhere solitary and safe...

Well, he recognizes the instincts of a werewolf easily enough, even if he doesn't want to acknowledge them.

He stops at the grocery store out of more irritation, more stubbornness. He refuses to cave to a sensation that feels more like running away than anything else. He has no wounds to lick, no vulnerabilities to hide away, and can't justify this thing inside his chest as anything else. He trolls the aisles with no thought in his head but recipes, scrolling through the mental cookbook he's been keeping tucked away in the back of his head since he was twelve, since he'd become the primary chef in his household.

His conversation with Laura tickles at his memory – feed the pack.

He wants to.

That's the strangest part of the whole thing – he wants to.

He feels the need to do it, the desire to do it, and this is one instinct he doesn't want to fight.

As he picks up all the ingredients for a pot roast dinner – potatoes, carrots, onion soup mix, and thirty dollars' worth of beef (yikes) - he considers the implications of what he's about to do. It feels... risky somehow, more important than it should be, and he has no idea what he's really getting himself into, but he's going to do it and he's going to try...

tiles sighs, moves out of the produce into the baking aisle.

He is not thinking about courting his soul bonded, he's not.

He just...

He doesn't know what he's doing.

Hurrying through the last of his shopping, he heads home and spends an hour or so puttering around downstairs, putting away the groceries, then building some chicken Caesar salad wraps for his and his father's dinner. He makes a pitcher of lemonade and sticks it in the fridge, then makes sure the house is suitable for company; straightening, vacuuming, and picking up all the stray socks and newspapers he can find.

It's as good as things are going to get.

Trudging up the stairs, he clears his desk with a careless sweep of his arm and sets out his stuff, sits down and sharpens the pencils. He's halfway through scribbling a list of questions he needs to ask tomorrow when his phone chimes, and he picks it up without a thought, assuming it's Laura.

It's not.

It's an unknown number, just four words.

Don't do that again.

Stiles smiles, which is stupid, but he can't seem to stop himself as he rubs his thumb over the screen, tucks the phone into the breast pocket of his flannel, the weight of it comforting against his chest.

He hadn't considered that Laura would rat him out when she went to her uncle for a hug, but he can't say he minds, even if the man's words are rather... prickly.

That had been her word right?

Prickly?

It fits.

But he suspects Peter may have needed the hug as much as his niece.

He just wishes...

Well, he kinda wishes it could have been him.

Shaking his head, unwilling to examine that thought to closely, he opens his new sketchbook and smooths his hand over the first blank page, picks up a black inking pen and neatly sums up his new life.

Bestiarum Vocabulum of Emissary Stiles Stilinski-Hale