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I Still Believe

Chapter Text

November, 2015

There is gunfire in the distance. Stiles feels each round in his chest like a second heartbeat, angry and erratic, eclipsing the weak thumps of his fragile human heart.

It’s hard walking in heels on the cobblestone streets. He hadn’t understood why Harris had insisted he take the long walk to the brothel dressed like this, but as heads turn in his direction he finally gets it. Humiliation paints his cheeks so red he might have been wearing the blush he’d refused only hours earlier.

A hundred people will see him before he reaches his destination, and Stiles will see himself reflected in their knowing stares. That’s what Harris wants, for Stiles to be broken long before he takes his first customer.

A wolf-whistle sounds from somewhere in the crowd and Stiles hunches over as if he could hide the fishnets and miniskirt and corset-top. His parents had drilled into his head for as long as he could remember that being an omega didn’t mean he was a woman. There was no need for him to wear a skirt or a top that accentuated those tiny buds on his chest. He had a body that was equipped to bear children, that was all.

But all omegas who end up in the prostitution trade have to dress like this, and listen as foul-mouthed customers mockingly call them princess or pretty girl. In this mean world, there’s nothing that makes men harder than humiliation.

Harris is waiting for him. “Took you long enough,” he says, reaching out to pull him over the threshold.

“Maybe you should have given me regular heels instead of these stilts. It was hard to walk.”

“Good thing you won’t be doing much of that.” Harris looks over him critically. “Where’s your lipstick, babydoll?”

Stiles’s teeth automatically clamp down on his lower lip. He’d agreed to minimal makeup, but when he’d applied mascara his terrified eyes had suddenly seemed to dominate his face. He’d bolted for the bathroom and gagged over the toilet for a full five minutes, and after that even the thought of more makeup had sickened him.

Harris grips him by the waist, thumb teasing at his chest— breast; he has to remember now to call them his breasts, since that’s what his customers will want to hear—until he sees the outline of a nipple. “I only put out perfect products, Stiles,” he says quietly. “When I tell you to wear your makeup, you wear it. Understand?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good girl.” The expression makes Stiles jerk, but it’s the loose, floppy reaction of an animal who has already been shot, receiving one more unnecessary blow. Harris raises an eyebrow at him. “Something wrong?”

Stiles shakes his head.

“Let’s go over the rules.” Harris takes his arm and leads him into the brothel. “Your first customer will be paying for your virginity, so it’s all right to cry if he hurts you, but after that I only expect to hear that you were smiling and begging for it like a good whore. Between each customer you’ll clean yourself up with the wet naps I’ve provided.”

“So generous,” Stiles mutters.

“What was that?” Harris’s grip turns painful.

“Ow. Nothing.”

“They’ll pay for the services they want, and whoever brings them to your door will relay their orders to you. If they want more when they’re in the room, that’s fine, but make sure the runner knows when they come back so the client pays me for it before he leaves. There’s lube in the room, but do your best to produce slick, because the lube comes out of your paycheck. You’re currently listed as available for any service. If you’ve changed your mind and want to make some things off-limits, your pay will be docked accordingly. It is unacceptable to refuse a client anything he wants. In here.” He pushes Stiles into a small side room.

There’s a bed, but Harris shoves Stiles down onto a seat in front of a cracked mirror. There are a few tubes and bottles strewn around and Harris grabs one. It’s lipstick, bubblegum pink. The room smells like cheap powder and cheaper sex.

Harris’s touch is rough as he applies the makeup. Stiles stares at himself in the mirror, watching the familiar disappear as Harris keeps talking. “The most important lesson, babydoll, is that you belong to me. I’ll sell you a hundred times over before we’re through. I know people whose appetites have them barred from every brothel in this country, and if I have to sell you to them to make you a worthwhile investment, I’ll do it without a second thought. You understand me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Say it with a smile.”

“Yes, sir.” The whore in the mirror smiles prettily.

Harris kisses him on his freshly painted cheek. “That reminds me…I think I’ll tell your clients you want to call them Daddy.” His eyes twinkle maliciously when Stiles’s head shoots up, teeth bared in automatic fury. “After all, you’re doing this for Daddy, aren’t you, sweetheart?”

Stiles wants to kill him. He wants to stab a high heel into his eye, choke him with the fishnet stockings, smash the cracked mirror over his head. “Don’t talk about my father,” he snarls.

Harris laughs at him, reaching out to caress his cheek. “Wouldn’t he be so proud if he could see you now?”

Stiles shuts his eyes. Over the past few years, when all they had was each other, his father would sometimes grab him up in a sudden, fierce hug. “Thanks for staying you,” he would say, eyes moist, or “Just don’t lose your spark, Stiles,” as everything else they loved was carved away. So Stiles stayed the same wisecracking goofball his dad loved, even when it felt like a thousand strong winds were trying to blow his spark out.

Now he might as well be taking that spark out into a rainstorm.

But he has to do this. There’s just no other way.

Harris sees the defeated slump of his shoulders and leans in, brushing away a clump of mascara. “There,” he says softly. “You’re ready. Now, tell me. Who’s my good girl?”

Stiles’s eyes are dry and blank when he meets the gaze of his pimp. “I’m your good girl, sir.”

He suffers another kiss. “On the bed,” Harris says, and Stiles obeys. Harris slaps his ass and leaves without another word.

Stiles squeezes his eyes shut and tries to breathe. He doesn’t know how long it will be before he gets his first customer, the one who will pay extra to take his virginity. Not long, he imagines. There might very well be a bidding war over it.

He is a product now. Something to be bought— no, rented. Used and discarded.

His breath shortens and strains in his throat.

How did he get here?

Five years ago, before the war, he never would have imagined this for himself. Then his mom was alive and his dad was free, and the only werewolf in his life was his best friend, who was more like a sweet puppy than the feral monsters described in the anti-werewolf war propaganda. He’d just been a sarcastic, too-smart-for-his-own-good kid, blissfully happy in his safe little life.

The werewolves and humans had always been segregated, separated by the ocean and prosperity. Luponia, the werewolves’ country, was the land of the wealthy and free. Ideria, where the humans lived, was decidedly less utopic. Years and years ago Luponia had offered its assistance and sent over werewolf families to live as emissaries, offering their advanced skills in the hopes of helping Ideria prosper.

One of those werewolves had been Stiles’s best friend, Scott. Stiles hadn’t minded coexisting with werewolves; he’d thought it was cool. He hadn’t understood that there were humans who didn’t like the idea of werewolves invading a country that was supposed to be free of such monsters.

Anti-werewolf groups started attacking embassies. Burning down homes, blowing up hospitals Luponian missionaries had set up in the poorest areas of Ideria, and, in what would prove to be the last straw, hijacking a military jet and attempting an act of terrorism on Luponia’s capitol. The bomb they’d planned on dropping had instead detonated midair over a small Luponian town, causing dozens of civilian deaths.

War had been declared, and the world might as well have ended right then.

The Ideria government— always erring on the side of tyrannical— became downright despotic. Prisons were stuffed full of anyone who might be accused of harboring werewolf sympathies, and taxes were raised so high to support the war effort that a week’s salary paid for maybe a loaf of bread and some broth.

His city was occupied by werewolves within weeks, and the soldiers the government sent couldn’t fight the enemy back. They’d lost the war before they ever started, but they went on fighting it, unwilling to surrender so soon.

It was a pointless war, and a painful war, and the Iderian citizens knew that the sooner the werewolves won the sooner their lives would go back to normal. Everyone with a modicum of sense privately longed for the day their country declared surrender. Stiles’s friend Danny had gone so far as to work as a spy for Luponian forces. He’d been caught and scheduled for execution, but the werewolves had smuggled him out of the country in time. Rumor had it that the werewolves continued to employ humans, keeping it well-hidden so the civilians wouldn’t face political retribution.

Werewolves looked after their own, and humans didn’t. Stiles had learned that lesson early.

His mom had gotten sick, and since most doctors had been recruited to the war effort, there was nobody to treat her. By the time they cobbled together enough money to get her to a specialist, her disease had advanced far enough that only a werewolf bite could have saved her, and werewolf healing was banned now.

She died the same week school had been shut down, only weeks away from his high-school graduation. If he hadn’t been an omega he would have been drafted to the war effort like all his friends. Except Scott, of course.

Scott. Stiles really can’t think about Scott, because if it hadn’t been for Scott his father would never have been arrested, and Stiles wouldn’t be here right now. He curls his hand into a fist around the scratchy white sheets on the bed and tries to breathe.

There’s a knock at the door and a girl leans her head in. “It’s time,” she says.

He jerks out a nod and the door pushes open. A soldier, wearing his rank on his coat, waltzes in, the button of his pants already undone and a holstered pistol at his side. “Look at you,” he slurs. “A virgin whore.”

“That’s me,” Stiles says almost soundlessly.

The guy sits heavily on the bed. “Take off my coat.”

Stiles does, letting his hands run over the man’s arms as the heavy jacket falls to the floor.

“Strip.”

Stiles stands and reaches down to fumble off the heels, then shimmies the miniskirt down his legs. His fingers are stiff as he unlaces the corset.

“Look at those little titties,” the man leers. Even his gaze feels dirty. “Come here so Daddy can get them all worked up.”

Stiles freezes with his hands at the waistband of his fishnets. The way the man said Daddy

“I said come to Daddy.”

A memory surfaces: being shoved away from John; a cruel voice laughing: “Look at him, crying for his daddy...

He knows this man.

This is one of the soldiers who arrested his father.

He takes a step backwards and hears himself say the one word he’s been forbidden: “No.”

Before he can regret it the man grabs him and throws him down, grinding his face into the bed. “I was going to make this nice for you,” the man growls. “But now you’ve gotten me pissed off.” His fingernails scrape over Stiles’s ass as he tugs at the fishnets. “Better get wet now, virgin, because I’m going to fuck you dry.”

Panic rises, and when the man lets up on him Stiles kicks out. The soldier stumbles backwards with a howl, scrambling for his gun.

Stiles dives forward, just trying to stop the man from shooting, but instead he ends up wrestling the gun away. He points it blindly, not quite realizing what he’s done until he sees the man’s eyes widen.

Holy shit. He just stole a soldier’s gun.

He is so royally, incredibly, completely fucked, and now he just has to run.

He grabs the soldier’s coat off the floor and puts it on, keeping the gun trained between his would-be john’s eyes. “Don’t worry,” he says as he edges towards the door. “I’m sure you’ll get a refund.”

The man spits blood. “I’ll kill you, you stupid whore.”

“I’m not a whore,” he says, and then he shoves open the door and bolts, catching a glimpse of Harris as he bursts out the brothel’s doors. He stuffs the gun into one of the pockets of the coat but keeps his hand on it, just in case. The guns they’d kept at home for protection had all been confiscated when his dad was arrested, but he still remembers how to shoot.

Harris is chasing him, shouting at him to stop. Stiles’s feet burn from their unprotected contact with the cobblestones and he ducks into an alley, hoping to lose his pursuer.

It doesn’t work.

Harris catches him halfway down the alley and slams him up against the brick. “You stupid bitch.

Stiles chokes.

“You attacked a soldier. That’s treason. Won’t the police just love to hear that? Your daddy will hang for it tomorrow.”

Stiles’s eyes widen with horror and he tries desperately to beg.

“You know what they do to omegas who break the law? They send them to the front lines to service soldiers. You’ll live out the rest of your days doing exactly what you just ran from.” Harris leans in until he’s all Stiles can see, smell, feel. “But you won’t be getting paid for it.”

“Hey!” Stiles turns to see two figures striding towards them. It’s too dark for him to make out faces but their steps are purposeful and their stances broad. “What do you think you’re doing?” the taller one asks, a scowl in his voice.

“This doesn’t concern you,” Harris says, fingers tightening around Stiles’s throat.

“You’re hurting him.” The man takes another step closer, walking into the light, and Stiles’s eyes widen.

Werewolf.

Harris sees it at the same time and lets Stiles crumple into a heap on the ground. “I’m a civilian,” Harris whines, hands up. “You can’t hurt me.”

“This city is filled with thieves and murderers. If your body is found here, a werewolf soldier is the last person anyone would suspect.” The man is speaking to Harris, but he doesn’t take his eyes off Stiles.

“This omega is the thief. I—”

“You’re going to run along now,” the werewolf interrupts. “And keep in mind that I never forget a face. If I see you again, you’d better be a law-abiding citizen, or I won’t be nearly so nice.”

Harris darts back down the alley and the werewolf drops to his knee in front of Stiles. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah,” Stiles croaks. He’s not sure why the soldiers had stepped in to help him, but he’s not going to look a gift wolf in the mouth. Still, his heart is pounding. He hasn’t been this close to a werewolf since Scott, and this guy is everything Stiles has been taught to fear— tall, well-built, so beautiful Stiles could stare at him forever. The perfect predator.

The werewolf gives him his hand and helps him to his feet. His companion, a female, watches warily. “I didn’t realize they were letting omegas into your army,” she says.

“What?” Stiles glances down at his coat and grimaces. “Oh— I’m not a solider. I just…borrowed this.”

The male’s eyebrow cocks and he nods at the gun dangling from Stiles’s pocket. “That’s a soldier’s weapon. Did you borrow that, too?”

Stiles thinks back to the frantic fight in the brothel. “Uh. This I stole.”

That earns him a snort. “From that man?”

“No. That man was…just someone I know.” Stiles doesn’t want to tell them who Harris is; what Stiles had almost become, but he sees the man look down at his fishnets and put two and two together.

A whore beaten by his pimp. A story these two have probably seen played out in this sin-soaked city a hundred times before.

“Will you be safe from that man if we leave you alone?” the werewolf asks.

Alone. He’s been alone for weeks. Now that he’s blown his one chance at freeing his father, he’ll be alone forever. “Probably not,” he admits, wincing as the true horror of his situation sinks in. “I’m… kind of on my own right now. He knows where I live.”

Maybe if he’s lucky the werewolf will take pity and put him out of his misery right here.

The man is quiet for a second. “Derek,” his companion mutters. “No more strays.”

“I can give you a place to stay,” the man says, his scowl the only sign he heard her. “In the werewolf camp. We have some humans there who work for us, all under the table. Nothing combat-related, either, so it’s not like you’d be helping us fight against your countrymen. You can stay there until you feel like that man won’t be looking for you anymore.”

Stiles gapes at him. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. You’ll be safe. No humans are allowed past the boundary lines without our permission.” The soldier must see Stiles’s doubt, because his expression softens. “You’ll be under my protection,” he says quietly. “As my guest.”

And then Stiles gets it. He clutches the coat around his naked body, face red. “Look, I know what this looks like, but I…I won’t do that. You’ve got the wrong guy.”

“Oh, boy,” the woman says, putting her hand over her mouth to cover a laugh. The man just stares at Stiles, confused. “Do what?” he asks.

“I’m not a prostitute,” Stiles says, more forcefully.

“He thinks you want him for a concubine, Derek,” the woman supplies.

The soldier— Derek— looks horrified. “That wasn’t what I meant. I wouldn’t… nobody will touch you, myself included. I promise.”

“Then why are you helping me?”

“Because I’m sick of seeing innocents die. Every day I watch human civilians get beaten and shot and left for dead by other humans, and half the time, when I help them, they only end up dying in jail as a traitor.” Derek is scowling again. “Look, it’s up to you, but if we can’t waste any more time. Do you want to come with us?”

It’s probably the stupidest thing he could do, but Stiles knows full well that Harris will be waiting for him back at the little squat Stiles has been staying in ever since he was thrown out of his house. And the werewolves have money— Stiles could work for them until he’s made enough to get his father out.

“Yeah,” he says softly. “I’ll go with you.”

Maybe it’s his imagination, but Derek looks relieved. A werewolf with a hero complex; who could have imagined it? “Good. Walk in-between us, so we can hide you from onlookers. It’s not far.”

“Okay.”

“I’m Braeden, by the way,” the woman says as Stiles steps close to his new protectors.

“And I’m Derek.” The man shakes Stiles’s hand. It’s warm, and solid, and the first kind touch Stiles has felt since they took his father. “You’re shaking,” he says. “Here.” He shrugs off his own coat. “It’s thicker than the one you have on.”

Stiles hesitates, thinking of the way the john had stared greedily at his chest. “Can you turn around? Not to be a prude, but…I don’t have anything on under this.”

They both turn obligingly, Derek blushing again. Stiles strips off the john’s coat, pausing only to wipe off his makeup onto it. Derek’s coat is much warmer, probably thanks to his elevated body temperature, and it’s lined with fur. Stiles has to bite back an orgasm-style moan at the feel of it.

“I’m ready,” he says. The werewolves turn back around and flank him, closing in so he feels safer than he has since the war started. “Gerard’s not going to like this,” he hears Braeden say softly.

“I don’t care. It’s done.” Derek looks down at Stiles. “Do you have a name?”

He considers giving a fake one, but for some reason he trusts this enemy soldier already. “Stiles,” he says, pressing a little closer into Derek’s side. “Nice to meet you.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

September, 2017

“Stiles,” Derek hears himself say as he wakes up. His room is pitch black and he bares his teeth and growls at the threat that had just been in his dreams.

The body in bed next to him shifts and a hand rests against his shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

Still half-submerged in his dream, Derek almost turns to seek comfort in his mate. He wants to cuddle Stiles close and breathe in the smell of him until he’s sure Stiles is safe. He hates when Stiles rolls out of his embrace as they sleep; with gunfire always sounding just outside he needs his mate close. If the enemy finds a way inside—

Then he inhales, and the dream dissipates, and he remembers:

The war is over.

He isn’t in Ideria anymore.

And Stiles is dead.

“Nothing,” he says shortly, pulling away from Kate’s touch. “Go back to sleep.”

She hesitates, but after a moment she turns away from him again. Derek puts his head back on his pillow and stares into the night.

#

Halfway around the world, Stiles is awake. He hasn’t really slept in three months, just sagged a little into a gray half-doze as the hours stretch by. Real sleep is too dangerous. He has to be alert.

When the sound he’s waiting for finally comes he snaps to attention and fumbles on the bed. “Shh,” he whispers. His shirt is already off; there isn’t a moment to spare. “No, baby, shh. Here you go, sweetheart.”

The cries stop almost immediately as the baby feeds. Stiles closes his eyes, petting the back of her head. He thinks they’re safe, but he listens carefully for a voice or creaking door. He’s always afraid that her cries might wake his neighbors. He’s hidden her existence from the world so far, but one mistake and it’s all over.

When she’s finished he raises her to his shoulder and pats her back. “That’s my sweet girl,” he murmurs. She likes it when he talks to her, he thinks. “Back to sleep now. We’re all right. We’re nice and safe.”

Her eyes flash at him in the darkness, a reminder of why he has to keep her hidden away. She’s too young to control her werewolf impulses, but if anyone saw, they would know right away what she is.

And they would kill her.

He shudders at the thought. “I love you, Clara,” he whispers, placing her back on the bed. She drops right off to sleep and Stiles curls around her, lost in her peaceful face.

She has Derek’s eyes in every way.

Someday he’ll make sure that Derek sees them.

That’s the promise he makes each day: that he will escape this place with her and get her back to her people. He will put her in her papa’s arms. Somehow, someway, he will save his daughter’s life.

No matter what it takes, he will find Derek again.

Chapter Text

November, 2015

Derek smells really, really good. Stiles tries to ignore it, but as they walk together to the border he keeps pushing his nose into the hem of Derek’s coat, chasing the scent he also catches coming off Derek’s skin.

Maybe it’s a werewolf thing. Scott had always smelled good to him, too.

Scott.

Thinking about his best friend, as always, makes Stiles’s heartrate pick up. Derek looks down at him, eyebrow raised. “You okay?”

“Peachy-keen.” Stiles shivers a little under Derek’s coat, not meeting the werewolf’s eyes. With every step they take closer to the werewolf camp, his doubts increase. If he’s caught with them, his father will pay for it first. “You’re sure nobody will know I’m staying with you guys?”

“Nobody will know,” Derek tells him, with such certainty that Stiles can’t help but believe him.

The werewolves flash some sort of ID to the guard at the watchtower and introduce Stiles as a guest. The guard takes a long moment to scrutinize the human, and Stiles stays wary— if the guard asks for a last name, or presses him on what Stiles is short for, he’ll bolt.

He just waves them through.

Stiles is shocked at how calm the camp is. There are soldiers hanging out everywhere, laughing and chatting with each other as if they weren’t in a warzone at all. “We don’t do a lot of combat fighting anymore,” Derek says when he catches Stiles staring. “We just shoot back when fired on. It’s a lot of waiting around for the war to end.”

“I know that feeling.” Stiles frowns. “What were you two doing outside the border line, anyway?”

Derek looks surprised by the question, and Stiles curses himself— he should know better by now than to ask questions of people who could snap his neck like a twig— but, to his surprise, he gets an answer. “A few of us go on patrol every night. Most of your…better-trained soldiers have been shipped out to heavier-combat areas, and the ones left would rather fight civilians than us. We’d rather not leave a city full of corpses when we go home, so we’re trying to keep the peace.”

Stiles studies him, trying to figure out if it’s the truth. “Sounds like putting yourself in unnecessary danger.”

“It saved your ass,” Derek mutters, and Stiles grins. Point to the werewolf.

“Human bunker,” Derek announces, slowing to a stop in front of a decent-sized structure. “There’s ten of you here now. Morrel’s in charge, she divvies up the chores for the most part. Just claim a bunk for yourself. There’s clothes in there, too, so feel free to grab whatever you want.”

“Cool.” Stiles is aching to take off his fishnets. “Well, let me give you back your coat before we say goodbye.”

“About that.” Derek hesitates, looking over at Braeden. “I know this is a little uncomfortable, but since I’m vouching for you, I do need to ask you a few questions. I’d like to put it off until tomorrow, but it should be sooner rather than later, before you’re introduced to the other humans. Like I said, the safety and identification of out civilian workers is taken very seriously.”

Stiles has a sudden image of being tied to a chair with a single flickering lightbulb overheard, Derek screaming in his face to try and figure out if he’s some sort of deeply undercover spy. “We can talk tonight.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Get it out of the way.”

Derek nods curtly at Braeden, who shakes Stiles’s hand and strides away. “We can speak in my private quarters, if you’d like,” he says to Stiles, looking a little pained. “I promise, I’m not trying to take advantage of you or anything. It’s just the only place I can guarantee privacy.”

“Okay.”

“And I can give you some pants.”

Stiles bites back a dumb I knew I’d be getting in someone’s pants tonight crack as he follows Derek past a few more bunkers. “In here,” Derek says, holding open a door for Stiles.

He steps in and blinks. There’s a single bed, a trunk, a desk, and more space than Stiles’s current flat. “Holy shit! This is all yours?”

“My private quarters, yes.” Derek busies himself pulling out a pair of cargo pants and a white t-shirt. “This will be too big, but here you go.”

Stiles catches the clothes. “What are you, like, the captain of the army?”

“Lieutenant general. Which is actually higher than captain, not like it matters. In this city, I’m second only to General Gerard Argent, who you’ll be meeting at some point.” Derek has his back turned while Stiles hastily changes. He’s pleased to find that these clothes have the same scent as Derek’s coat.

“Done,” Stiles says, and Derek turns. “So, you gonna make me take truth serum, or just challenge me to hand-to-hand combat until you’re satisfied the army would never hire someone as klutzy as me as a spy?”

That earns him a smile. “Not so much. Look, I don’t think you’d cause trouble for anyone here. But General Argent tends to get frustrated with me when I bring in civilians, and he likes to have more than just my gut instinct that they’re clean.”

“Why?”

“Because historically, I’ve been a pretty terrible judge of character.”

“Ouch.”

“I’m trying to fix that.” Derek coughs a little, looking a bit embarrassed “Any family in the army?”

“No. My dad is— was— the Sheriff of this city before the war started.”

“Was your father that man from the alley?”

“What? No!” Stiles actually laughs at that thought. “He was like thirty! Jeez, how old do you think I am? I’m twenty-one, dude.”

“Where is your father now?”

Stiles sobers fast. “In jail. Charges of treason.”

Derek looks interested at that. “Was he working for us?”

“No. He…it was my fault.” Stiles tries to make the words sound clipped and final, so Derek will leave it at that, but the werewolf just waits for more with his eyebrow up. Stiles sighs. “My best friend growing up was the son of a werewolf emissary. They lived right next to us all our lives. When the war started Scott’s dad got called away to the front lines, and he left Scott and his mom behind. At that point I don’t think he really knew how bad it was getting, but my dad heard through the grapevine that they were going to start detaining werewolves. First Scott and his mom went under house arrest. Then my dad heard that they were going to be arrested as hostages.”

“The government had most of their werewolf hostages killed,” Derek says quietly.

“Yeah. I knew that the soldiers and officials they’d held as hostages had all been executed. They’d left the innocents alone at first, but now they were arresting moms and kids and I didn’t know what they were going to do. When my dad told me about the warrants, I helped Scott and his mom sneak out. I got them to the wharf and put them on a boat for home. All my dad did was look the other way.”

“So why are you here instead of him?”

“We were their neighbors and their closest friends. They knew it had to have been us. My dad caught wind they were coming for him and told me not to confess to try and save him, because they didn’t have any proof, so they couldn’t do anything more than hold him. If I confessed to it, they’d have me executed.”

“They’d kill you for that?”

“They’ve killed better people for less.”

Derek looks sick. “And how long ago was that?”

“Three weeks.” He senses the next questions and answers it before Derek can ask, face burning. “It’s a waste for them to keep him in prison, feeding him on the government’s dime, and if a family member makes a sizable donation to the war effort the courts tend to find it in their hearts to release people. I needed money fast. Tonight I had a plan but I…I couldn’t do it.”

“Don’t be ashamed of that,” Derek says. “What you did was brave. Everything you’ve done is brave.”

Stiles laughs a little, embarrassed at himself. “A soldier shouldn’t be commending a civilian’s bravery, dude.”

“I carry a weapon. You’re carrying more than that.”

Stiles nods, twining his fingers and staring at the floor so he doesn’t have to look at Derek. “Next question?”

“You’ve told me what matters. I can vouch for you.” Derek hesitates, then comes over to sit on the bed beside Stiles. “I promise that you being here will not hurt your father. The war will be over very soon, and when it is the treaty both countries will sign will stipulate that everyone arrested for helping us will go free. I’m…pretty high up, so I have pull. If I have to, I can make sure that he’s exonerated.”

Stiles stares at the solider. This is officially way too good to be true. “Okay, seriously. Is this for real?”

“What?”

“Why are you being this nice to me? It can’t just be pity. I know I’m not exactly Superman right now, but I’m not that pathetic.”

Derek looks surprised, then annoyed. “I never said you were pathetic.”

“Then why? Why save me? Why bring me here?”

“You weren’t afraid when you saw I was a werewolf. You were more afraid of that human than of me.” Derek puts him a hand to stop Stiles from cutting him off. “If you’d been afraid of me, I would have chased off the pimp and then walked away. But you weren’t. And you were tough. I respect tough people. And— ”

“And?” Stiles prompts when Derek goes silent.

“Your smell.” The soldier’s scowl deepens, but now it appears to be purely embarrassment-driven. “I liked the way you smell. I’m a werewolf, and I’m led by instinct. Scent is how I get to know people first and foremost.”

They both like the way each other smells. That means they’re compatible, biological halves of a whole. “Okay,” Stiles says. “I believe you. Sorry, I just…you know, I’m not exactly rushing to trust people these days.”

“You can trust me,” Derek assures him, not breaking eye contact.

Goddamn, he’s good-looking. Stiles thinks about the soldier who’d almost taken his virginity tonight. He’d been nothing like this enemy soldier; nothing that Stiles ever wants touching him.

When the war is over, those will be the people left behind for him.

He doesn’t want to sell himself. But to offer himself, to someone like this…

“I know I acted like some blushing maiden when I thought you wanted me as a whore,” Stiles says, edging a little closer to Derek. “But…if you ever wanted someone to share this bed…”

“No,” Derek says abruptly, standing up so fast Stiles flails. “No, Stiles.”

It’s amazing how much the rejection stings. He tries to smile and play it off. “You prefer werewolves, huh?”

“I prefer love.”

Stiles glances at his hand for a ring and his neck for a bite, but sees nothing. Still, an alpha like this has to have an omega waiting at home for him. “Hey, I can’t argue with that. Forget I said anything.”

Derek doesn’t move. “You’re not obligated to give me anything.”

Stiles frowns. “I wasn’t offering because I felt obligated. God. Like sleeping with you would be some hardship. I just…I almost became a prostitute tonight. I almost sold everything, and I’ve never even been kissed before. I guess when you save something from being lost forever, you want to enjoy it before someone else can grab it, you know?”

Derek studies him, and then cracks his mouth in the slightest of smiles. “You’ve never been kissed before? You? Really?

“Really,” Stiles confirms, grinning back, relieved that Derek isn’t angry with him. “And I’m going to take your shock as a compliment, so thank you very much.”

“The idea that nobody’s kissed you in twenty-one years is ridiculous.”

“Hey, soldier. If you’re offering— ”

Derek leans over the bed and kisses him. “There,” he says when he pulls away. “You didn’t sell it, and I didn’t steal it. Exactly how a first kiss should be. How was that?”

Stiles puts a hand up to his mouth, eyes wide. “That was pretty great,” he says hoarsely.

“Good.” Derek takes his hand and pulls him up from the bed. “You look good in my clothes, Stiles. You look too good. You should go to the human bunker now.”

“Can I come back here?”

“Yes. Whenever you want.”

Stiles really doesn’t want to leave. He wants to jump into Derek’s arms and scent him; roll around in his sheets until his scent is clinging to Stiles’s skin. “Do you, like, need a personal dresser or anything? I could be your private servant, or whatever…”

Derek laughs for the first time. It’s a great sound, and it reverberates all through Stiles’s bones. “You’re not a servant, and no, I don’t need a dresser. But I do need someone to write my letters for me at night. After dinner, can you come here?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

Stiles heads towards the door, then stops and looks back, feeling way too bold for safety. “I look forward to sharing a few more firsts in here. Especially one in that bed.”

Derek shakes his head, already looking fondly amused, as if he’s known Stiles for years. “I told you, Stiles. I prefer love.”

“Is that a no?”

Derek smiles again. “That’s a maybe.”

#

Derek sits on the bed for a long time after the human omega leaves, nose buried in his own coat. Stiles had left his scent on it.

I liked the way you smell. He grimaces at himself. He’d never been so flustered around an omega before. God, he’d bragged. Lieutenant general is actually higher than a captain. He’s surprised he didn’t add: I also won my third-grade spelling bee and my cock is an inch and a half larger than the national average!

But he couldn’t help it. Stiles had smelled good. He’d smelled like things Derek had experienced all his life but never knew had a scent: ice water on a hot day, the thrill at the beginning of a hunt, stepping outside on the first day spring was in the air. And he’d tasted like honey when Derek had kissed him.

If he’d been a werewolf, and Derek hadn’t been at war, he would have called it a fated match and strutted around proud for the rest of his life that he’d found a perfectly compatible mate so easily. He’d nearly done it anyway as soon as his wolf had leaped inside him at the scent. It had taken everything in him not to rip that man in the alley apart for daring to put his hands on what was Derek’s.

Thank God he’d controlled himself. Humans don’t have instincts that are quite that strong, though Stiles had certainly seemed taken enough with Derek. Telling Stiles his wolf urged to mate probably wouldn’t go over as well as he was hoping.

It would be a terrible, stupid thing to fall in love with a human. Derek knows he’s supposed to hate humans, after what they did to his family, but he can’t. Maybe that’s why he goes out and saves them all the damn time.

Or maybe he’s just always been looking for Stiles.

He lets himself scent the coat again. He likes the idea of wearing it out on patrol, the way knights would carry a token from their lady into battle.

He’s an alpha and a werewolf and a soldier, not some lovestruck teenager, but when he goes to bed that night he has the coat under his pillow.

September, 2017

“Enough,” Derek snaps at Kate when she tries to help him do up the buttons of his shirt.

“My scent needs to be on you.”

“I thought that’s what last night was for.” Derek twists away from her and storms downstairs. He’s in a foul mood; has been ever since Kate arranged this interview.

When she’d told him the date of it he’d stared at her. “That’s the one-year anniversary,” he’d said pointedly.

“Yes. I chose it on purpose.”

“I’d like to be alone that day.”

“It’s a good day for an interview. It’s one year since you escaped certain death and came home. We need to celebrate it.”

That had made his eyes flash and his claws jump eagerly beneath his skin, looking for something to tear. “Don’t ever say that again.”

“Derek— ”

“Kate, if you ever use the word celebrate in conjunction with that day again, our arrangement is off.”

Her own eyes had flashed, but she’d wisely shut up without another word. He’d felt bad a few hours later and grudgingly agreed to the interview. Of course she’d had to take another mile from his inch and tell him that the interview would take place in their house, so they could give the reporter a tour, and they would need to share a bed for at least a night so their shared scents would be on it.

He’d agreed to Gerard’s proposal— a political match with his daughter, free of any romantic strings— so he would never have to share a bed. It had seemed like a good enough idea at the time, a way to make sure he never had to deal with awkward questions or omegas throwing themselves at him, wanting to mate the richest man in Luponia, but the wedding is only a few months away and Derek is dreading it more and more.

I’ll never share a bed with her again, he promises himself as he waits downstairs for the reporter. Or maybe he’s promising Stiles. He talks to Stiles in his head sometimes, even though he knows that keeps the wound fresh. He’d done the same thing with his family.

He should stop and make today the day he says goodbye, he knows. Today is one year since Stiles died.

Since Derek let him die.

Since Derek might as well have killed him.

By the time Kate brings in the reporter Derek is struggling to keep himself under control. He lets Kate handle the first few questions without any comment, just the scowl that’s now become signature in his media image. The reporter has clearly been prepped by Gerard, because he only has to answer a few cursory questions about his family, and then he’s largely ignored.

“What are you most looking forward to about married life?” the reporter asks Kate.

“Oh, the mating bite. Absolutely. Right, honey?”

“Right,” Derek says woodenly.

“Have you talked about children?”

Derek goes completely stiff, and there’s the slightest strain in Kate’s voice when she answers: “Not too much yet. Maybe someday!”

That’s not the answer she’s supposed to give, and they both know it. Kate had been the one to suggest they just tell the media she’s infertile to avoid any questions down the line, but she’s been shifting that position more by the day.

If Kate wants children, they’ll have to call this off, because Derek will never be able to give them to her.

It’s not that he doesn’t want kids, of course. He just wants very specific children. He wants to trace Stiles’s belly as it rounds and press his ear up against it to hear the heartbeat, echoing as if from another world. He wants to lay in bed with Stiles in the hour after their child is born and argue about who it looks like most. He wants a toddler with Stiles’s grin running clumsily and joyfully towards him, and he wants to swoop that little girl or boy up in his arms and press kisses into the crook of their neck and taste honey.

It’s the worst kind of wanting, because it’s what might have been, and what now can never be.

“So, Derek. We’re all looking forward to Gerard Argent’s presidential run in 2020— ”

“Which remains completely unconfirmed,” Derek says a little testily. He’d rather they go back to talking china patterns and wedding cakes.

“I’m always telling this one he should get into politics,” Kate says, patting Derek’s hand.

“Well, we’ve heard some rumors that Mr. Argent might be bringing you along as a VP candidate.”

Derek knows that’s what he’s being groomed for, even though he has little political experience. “Like I said, nobody has confirmed that Gerard’s going to run. And I’m fairly busy right now with my work.”

“Let’s talk about your work. You left the charity your family had started after you returned from the war. Some were surprised by that decision.”

“Unity Aid was created to help humans,” Derek says stiffly. “As I’m sure you’re aware, there are very few humans in Ideria left for us to help.”

“But Mr. Hale, there are several million humans left alive.”

“The murderers and the thieves and the scum are left. The innocents have all been killed.” He knows his eyes are glowing furiously but he can’t stop himself. “Unity Aid is currently sending food drops to sustain those who killed their own brothers and sisters to stay alive.”

“Surely there are some—”

“I read the same news reports you do. The supplies in the food drops are usually commandeered by a few people with power, who withhold it from other civilians. There are an estimated seven hundred deaths of starvation every week. The government has refused any other kind of aid, and they killed anyone who might have been a werewolf sympathizer, or any people with werewolf blood. And you know who had werewolf blood, don’t you? Babies. They tore infants from their parents’ arms and wombs, and usually killed the parent for good measure. The government that’s rising now is even more tyrannical than the one they had before. There are no more innocents in Ideria, and if there are, they’re living on borrowed time before a painful death. That’s the reality. Unity Aid wastes their time by dragging those lives out.”

The reporter clearly doesn’t like this answer. “So do you support the idea that Luponia should bomb what remains of Ideria?”

He never knows what will set off an attack. Sometimes it’s a car backfiring, or a certain smell in the air, or a dream that feel too real for safety. This time, it’s that image of bombs falling. He shuts his eyes, trying to find air, flashing back to the moment he let Stiles die:

Something’s happening—

Stay here, I’ll be back—

Derek, your gun— !

“It’s his PTSD,” he hears Kate say apologetically. “Sometimes he just gets a little— ”

“Is there something you can do?” The reporter sounds a little surprised that Kate is just sitting there while he panics. Kate’s going to make him pay for that.

“I’m fine,” he says. It feels like the words have to be dredged up from some deep place. “I’m fine.” He takes another few shallow breaths and forces himself to meet the reporter’s eyes. “Maybe you think Ideria can be saved,” he says coldly. “But if it were my decision, I’d blow them all to hell.”

#

“Clara, guess what? It’s the best day ever!” Stiles peers out the window blinds and then beams down at his daughter. “It’s raining!

Clara looks unimpressed.

“Rainy days are the best days because Daddy has an excuse to stay in with you! And if that rain picks up and is nice and loud, you get to cry, and nobody will hear!”

Even better than that, they’ll have some much-needed water. Now that the summer rainstorms have tapered off he’s been rationing past safety, and he was this close to having to choose between clean diapers and drinking water for himself. He checks to make sure his rain collectors are filling up, then turns his attention back to his child. “How about a bath tonight, Clara-boo? You promise not to scream the place down again?”

She doesn’t meet his gaze, just stares listlessly at the wall. He feels a pang of worry. He has a hard enough job keeping her alive, but she lives her whole life in this drab little tinbox, with almost nothing to stimulate her. It can’t be good for her mental development.

“Let’s look at our pictures,” he says, and whisks her over to the far wall, which is decorated with the dozens of pictures he’s salvaged from newspapers and magazines. The centerpiece, his most prized photo, is the one of Derek. He’d found it months and months ago, as he scavenged through a supply drop, looking desperately for something that had been left for him. The crates had been stuffed with newspaper to protect the supplies, and he’d looked down at the crumpled paper in his hands to see his mate.

Before that he’d assumed Derek was dead. It was the only explanation that made sense. Seeing his picture and reading the article saying Derek had been awarded some sort of national award for courage had filled him with a rush of joy and hope that had sustained him through his entire pregnancy.

He taps the picture so Clara will look. “Here’s Papa,” he says. “We love Papa, right? What do we think Papa’s doing right now?”

They play this game almost every day. He turns her to face the pictures he has cut out of elaborate Luponian nurseries. “I bet Papa is getting your nursery ready. Which one do you like? Do you want Papa to make you a pretty pink princess nursery? Or maybe a jungle nursery?”

Her gaze lingers on a nursery decorated with white and blue lambs, and he snorts. “You would like the sheep nursery, wolf-girl.”

She copies his smile, and just like that, it’s a perfect day. Her smiles, like Derek’s, are rare and wildly rewarding, and he’d been afraid when her two-month birthday passed without a single one that he’d passed down grief to her in the womb like radiation poisoning.

She yawns and snuggles in his arms, ready for naptime. The rain must be lulling her to sleep early— he’ll pay for it tonight, but trying to keep her awake now will only make her fussy. “Okay, sleepyhead. Let’s say night-night, Papa. Night-night, Grandpa. Night-night, Uncle Scott.” She needs to know the names of her family, even if she never meets them. “And night-night, Clara-belle. Maybe when you wake up we’ll be home.” He kisses her forehead as her eyes drift close.

He knows, of course, that Derek isn’t preparing a nursery for her right now. Derek has no way to know that he even has a daughter. But he’s lived in this fantasy for so long it’s more real than reality: Derek, having spent months tracking Stiles down, bursts through the door and carries them both out, apologizing for having taken so long. They get in a helicopter and fly away from Ideria, while Derek cuddles his daughter close and Clara smiles and coos and laughs as if they’d never been apart.

Maybe there’s a chance that could become real, if Derek is still looking for him. But he’s not willing to gamble Clara’s life on it.

He just has to find something of value, something he can trade the smugglers down at the wharf for so they’ll take him across the ocean to Luponia. He searches through the ruins of the city every day, praying for a jewel or a lockbox or something he can use.

He has until winter. He doesn’t think Clara, even with her high werewolf temperatures, can survive the frost. If he hasn’t found suitable payment by then, he’ll come up with another plan.

The only problem is that he has no idea what that plan might be.

He rocks Clara in his arms so she’ll sleep comfortably against his chest, staring at the black-and white image of Derek until it blurs before his eyes, and wishes for a miracle. Oh, Derek. Please find us.

Chapter Text

December, 2015

Stiles had thought that Derek had just invented a reason for him to spend several hours in his private quarters after dinner. Honestly, he’d hoped that write my letters for me was some sort of code for make out with me all night, but when he arrives the next day he finds a stack of paper waiting for him.

“Is your handwriting really bad, or what?” he asks as he takes a seat at the desk. Derek is wearing a tank top tonight, baring his neck, so the smell of him is strong and undiluted.

“It is, though that’s not why I need you. I’m in charge of communications here, but I’m not supposed to overuse my hands when I’m not at post. Writing seven or eight letters a night takes its toll and could keep me from reaching the trigger before the guy on the other side.”

“Shit.”

“Gerard’s orders. I used to ignore him and write them myself, but my hands are cramping pretty badly these days.”

Stiles grins. “I’m happy to take on any and all of your hand jobs, lieutenant.”

Derek rolls his eyes, fighting a smirk. “Start a letter, please. Date at the top. Salutation: ‘Officer Young…’”

Stiles turns his attention to the page, dutifully copying down every word Derek dictates. As the letters roll by, he realizes just how much of an honor it is to get to do this. Everything Derek says is coded, and Stiles couldn’t figure out what the information means if his life depended on it, but he knows he’s being made privy to some fairly important intel right now. Knowing that Derek already trusts him that much makes his stomach feel all warm inside.

“Last one,” Derek says after a while, his voice hoarse. “Salutation: ‘Dear Cora.’ Next line. ‘I miss you. I’m sorry it’s been a while since I’ve written. I’m still in Eichen, Ideria with Gerard. Not much new to report. Laura’s moving around up in the northern region, but last I heard she’s doing well. I know she misses you too. I saw a few monarch butterflies this morning and as always it made me think of Mom and Dad. Glad to know they’re still looking out for us. Please continue to keep out of trouble. I’m looking forward to the day all three of us are together again. Better stock up the fridge with pizza bagels now, smiley face. All my love, Derek.’”

Stiles finishes writing and pushes the paper over so Derek can sign it himself. He’s bursting with questions, but goes for an innocuous one first. “Smiley face?” he says, grinning. “You don’t strike me as that type of guy, solider.”

Derek laughs. “She always puts them in her letters to me. It’s an easy way to reassure her that I’m okay.”

“I’m guessing…sister?”

“My younger sister. I have two. Cora’s seventeen and back at home, and Laura, my older sister, is here. She’s non-combat, doing a lot of humanitarian work up near the capitol.”

“You kind of have a family history in the army, then?” He’s pushing now, he knows, but he can’t help it. He wants to know everything about Derek. The werewolf is fascinating to him, like a gorgeous work of art that’s nice enough to look at but even better to actually understand.

“Not really.” Derek sighs and busies himself with arranging the finished letters in envelopes. “My family is…pretty well known. We’re the Hales. My grandfather was Gregory Hale.”

Stiles has never been obsessed with the celebrities of Luponia, like some people, but he knows that name at least. “As in, the president?

“Years and years ago, when I was a kid, yeah. And, you know, we have money— ”

“As I read it, you’re the richest family in Luponia.” Stiles has read plenty about the Hales. “But you gave most of it to charity, right? Especially human rights charities. And— ” he stops abruptly, feeling like a complete idiot.

The Hales had been murdered. Anti-werewolf protestors had burned down the home they’d built in Ideria; the one they stayed in while they visited the country to help provide aid to starving Iderians. Talia and Marcus Hale, the parents, and several children had all died. Stiles hadn’t realized there were any that had survived.

“We were all in Luponia when it happened,” Derek says, reading his mind. “Me, Cora, and Laura. Keeping things running from our end. Nobody knew who was supposed to make the call and tell us, so we ended up hearing about it on the news.”

“Oh, my God.” Stiles feels sick. He doesn’t know how Derek can stomach being in the same room as a human, let alone kiss one. “Derek, I’m so sorry.”

“You didn’t do it.” Derek shakes his head. “It’s not something I really like to talk about.”

“Can I just ask— if you have so much money, why be here?”

Derek sits next to Stiles. “After the terrorist attacks, most people I knew who joined the army did so because they wanted revenge on the human race. Every human was the enemy to them. But I learned working with my family’s charity that most of you had been suffering ever since the terrorists came into power. Laura and I both felt like there should be at least some soldiers looking out for your interests.”

The moment feels raw and real and honest, and Stiles hears himself admitting: “I get scared sometimes, when I think about the war being over. Even if my dad gets out, I don’t know what it will be like here. We’ll have to rebuild as a nation, and God only knows who they’ll put in power. There’s no happy ending for us.”

Derek takes his hand. “We won’t leave you like this,” he pledges. “Stiles, I promise you personally, I won’t get on a plane for home until your country is at least on the right path. Gerard’s been in contact with the president and they’re hoping some of our troops can stay here and guide you through your first election.”

Joy floods Stiles’s body. “So…you might be staying for a while?”

“I might be, yeah.”

Their gazes stay locked for a moment, and then Derek stands. “I’ve kept you late. You should head out.”

“Same time, same place tomorrow?”

“Yes, please. Tomorrow we should talk about your family, if you want, since you let me go on and on tonight.”

“I didn’t mind.”

“I know.” Derek smiles, and Stiles realizes that everything he thought was a smile before was really just a smirk. This is a gorgeous, shy expression that takes up Derek’s whole face— twisting his lips, flashing his teeth, crinkling his dimples, sparkling in his eyes. “Thank you.”

He’d been hoping for another kiss, but when he leaves without one he doesn’t even mind. In a way, it feels like Derek gave him something better.

#

He meets Derek every day for the rest of that week. There are less letters to write, but he still stays later every day. True to his word Derek asks about Stiles’s family, and then shares more about his own. They share stories and jokes and tiny, intimate touches as the nights deepen.

On Friday, after the last letter is sealed away, Stiles clears his throat a little nervously. “So, every other Sunday the prison allows visitors. I was wondering if it’s okay for me to leave here tomorrow? Just to see my dad? I’ll come right back, but he’ll worry if I’m not there, and…” his throat closes up as he thinks about why he needs to go: to see if his father is still alive. John had been gaunt and bruised the last time Stiles had visited and as the prisons crowd more by the day things can only be getting worse.

“Hey,” Derek says gently. “You’re not a prisoner here. Of course you can go. I’ll take you to the border line out in the woods, so no one will see you coming or going. Just promise me that you won’t tell anyone you’re staying here, not even your dad.”

“No problem.”

“And be safe. I know I’m not your lieutenant and I can’t order you, but I’d consider it a personal favor if you came back alive.”

Stiles gives him a jaunty salute. “I’d never deprive you of your letter-writer, sir. God only knows what would happen if you lost me.”

“Yes,” Derek says seriously. “I could get tendonitis.

“Perish the thought. My hands will come back to you in perfect working order.”

Derek smirks at him. “They’d better.”

Stiles leaves early the next morning in the hopes of beating a mad crush of people to the prison. Even so, he’s surprised by how few people there are out on the streets. Come to think of it, there have been way less soldiers shooting over the border. Have the troops evacuated?

Because of the huge amounts of people under arrest, the government had co-opted what used to be a stadium to hold them. The prisoners are kept under the field, in what used to be storage rooms, while the actual playing field now boasts a set of gallows.

It’s free admission for a hanging. You can’t get a better deal on entertainment than that.

He steps towards the ticket-booth-turned-intake-desk and taps the glass. “Hi,” he says when the woman looks up at him. “I’m here to visit my father.”

“Name?”

“John Stilinski.”

She flips through papers on a grubby clipboard, then looks up at him and shakes her head. “Sorry.”

Ice floods his body. The shards stick in his throat and keep him from speaking. He can only stare at the woman in mute horror and appeal as she stares pitilessly back.

His dad. His dad is—

He might be out on the field right now, swaying in the breeze, bulging eyes seeing nothing. Stiles hadn’t been here. He’d let his father die, alone.

He hears a horrible sound come out of his mouth and his hand bangs against the glass so hard the pain reverberates through his wrist.

“Hey!” The woman stands up quickly, scowling. “I mean you can’t see him.”

“He…”

“He’s still in his cell. He’s just not allowed visitors.”

Stiles gapes at her, still feeling clogged by panic. “What? Why?” What on earth could John Stilinski have done to get himself into trouble? Sure, he’s where Stiles gets his smart mouth from, but he at least is able to control it.

The woman just shrugs and Stiles clenches his teeth together. “For how long?”

“I don’t know, indefinitely. Until they change their minds.”

“You have to tell me more than that!”

“No, I don’t.” She sits down pointedly and looks at the person behind Stiles. “Can I help you?”

Stiles kicks the booth in a temper and then storms away. There has to be some way inside, or at least some way to smuggle a note in. Maybe Derek can help him—

“Stiles? Stiles Stilinski? Is that you?”

The voice sounds so jovial and pleasantly surprised that Stiles looks up immediately to find it. A man is standing there, a huge smile on his face, cleanly dressed in a suit. “It’s me,” he says when Stiles looks blank. “Theo!”

“Oh— hey, Theo. Wow. It’s been a while.” Stiles gives him his hand to shake, mind reeling. Theo Raeken. He’d gone to middle school with Stiles and Scott. He’d been a weird kid, always trying to worm himself in where he wasn’t wanted. He’d tried to attach himself to Stiles for the longest time, claiming to be his best friend, but Stiles had told him off after Theo had mocked Scott for being a werewolf. He’d moved not long after that.

“I just got back into Eichen last week,” Theo tells him, smoothing a hand over his suitcoat proudly. “I’m been promoted up pretty fast through the army, and they’ve put me in charge of the city.”

“Wow.”

“I’m doing a tour of the prison today. It’s really a mess down there! Lots of changes to be made, but that’s what I’m here for.” Theo’s eyes sparkle, and, okay, the weird kid has become a weird adult. But Stiles perks up as he realizes how helpful Theo could be to him.

“Do you think you could help me? My dad’s down there— he was arrested on completely bogus charges, but I’m trying to get that worked out, and now they won’t even let me see him. If you could just let me down there…”

“Well, that wouldn’t be very smart of me.” Theo’s eyes keep twinkling at Stiles, as if he’s never enjoyed a conversation so much. “Seeing as how I was the one to give the order.”

Stiles feels like he’s being filled with ice again, and only now does he realize that something is seriously wrong. “You? Why? What did he do?”

“Him? He hasn’t done anything— he’s been a very good boy, taking his beatings without complaint. You’re the one who’s been naughty, Stiles.” Theo tsks at him. “You really thought we wouldn’t know you’re camping with the enemy?”

Stiles feels all the blood drain out of his face.

“My very first night in town I was hoping to find you, so we could catch up, and what happens? A spy comes and tells me you’d crossed the border line with two werewolves and never came back.” Theo sighs in disappointment. “Of course, we know the werewolves have been hiring humans, but this felt like a personal blow. I guess your friendship with Scotty McCall didn’t teach you what monsters they really are, huh?”

“Theo, it’s not like that. I’m not a werewolf lover. There’s a guy in Eichen, this guy Harris, and he was going to kill me. I just went with them to save my own life, but I’m not helping them, I’m not on their side, I’ve just been living there, please.” Stiles can hear himself babbling almost nonsensically, but he can’t stop. They’re going to kill his dad; he was so stupid to think he could get away with this.

“Oh, Stiles. See, I want to believe you, but actions speak louder than words, don’t they?” Incredibly, Theo puts an arm around Stiles and starts to lead him around the stadium to a secluded spot. “I like you, so I want to give you another chance. Take a deep breath, honey, come on. You’re no good to me if you keel over.”

Stiles sucks in a few breaths and looks up at Theo with watery eyes. Theo waits until he’s calm before he continues: “The werewolves think this war is just about over, Stiles, but it’s not. The second wave is coming, now that people like me have replaced the weak leaders we had before. This is the time to strike, when they least expect it.” His fingers dig into Stiles’s shoulder. “In this city there’s a werewolf named Derek. Do you know him?”

Relieved that Theo doesn’t know the specifics of Stiles’s time with the werewolves, Stiles just nods mutely.

“He’s important to them. He’s practically a celebrity back in Luponia— famous first for having a rich mommy and daddy, and now for having a dead mommy and daddy. They hold him up as the perfect soldier.” Theo smiles conspiratorially at Stiles. “So we’re going to kill him. And you get to help!”

Stiles can’t feel anything. He can’t even think. “How?” he whispers. “I’m not a solider…”

“I can’t tell you the whole plan right now, honey, we’re just getting started and you haven’t exactly proved yourself as trustworthy. All you have to do now is get close to Derek. Offer to clean his toilet if you have to, as long as you have private access to him. In two weeks pretend you’re visiting your father again, and come back here to tell me your progress. I want to know what he eats, when he sleeps, who he fucks. You devote yourself to his every move. Understand?”

Stiles nods.

“I know it might take a while, and that’s fine. You’re a useful spy for as long as we keep you there. If you can get me some decent intel out of it before we kill him, I’ll be very pleased. Just remember, the sooner you help me get Derek Hale into the grave, the sooner you get to see your father again. That’s fair, right?”

Stiles nods again.

“Good boy, Stiles! I knew your dad taught you right from wrong.” Theo leads him towards the main street again. “Run on back to them now. And I shouldn’t have to mention this, but…I have spies everywhere, Stiles. Betray me, and your father’s death will last for days.”

“Yes, sir.”

‘So good,” Theo praises, lifting Stiles’s hand to give it a gallant kiss. “I look forward to seeing you in two weeks.” A look of distaste crosses Theo’s face. “And Stiles? Just don’t let him fuck you, not even as a way to get close to him. That would be such a waste.”

#

Stiles sits alone his bunk after he gets back to camp for long hours, staring sightlessly at the wall. He can’t betray his father. He can’t betray Derek. He wishes like hell he’d just betrayed himself and fucked that soldier for Harris. Then he wouldn’t have to choose.

Derek sends for him at seven o’clock.

Stiles doesn’t go.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

October, 2017

“‘But if it were my decision, I’d blow them all to hell.’ Really, Derek?” Gerard Argent puts down the magazine he’d been reading from and frowns. “That was the best you could do?”

Derek scowls at the floor. He doesn’t like being scolded like a kid at the principal’s, especially since he’s already gotten some form of this lecture already. His assistant, Erica, had been furious at him once she read his anti-human words, probably because she’d been human before she’d gotten the bite years ago. Cora had bitched him out on the phone yesterday. Scott McCall, meeting Derek at a coffee shop outside the capitol, had just stared at Derek with his hurt puppy-dog eyes.

Letting Scott into his life was one of Derek’s greatest regrets. After the war had ended Scott had made the news as a crusader for human refugees. He’d explained that he was desperately trying to find his best friend, Stiles, who had to still be over in Ideria suffering. Derek couldn’t stand hearing Stiles’s name on the news every morning so he’d tracked down Scott to tell him his search was pointless.

Scott hadn’t believed him. He’d wanted proof. When Derek had given it to him the man had burst into tears and now was always trying to get Derek to talk about Stiles, so they could mourn him together.

Now he’s getting into politics, still spouting the pro-human agenda, and every time Derek sees him he thinks about Stiles and aches with loss.

“Do you disagree with the sentiment?” he asks Gerard, still refusing to meet his eye. He won’t apologize for this.

“You know I agree, Derek, but unlike you I have some tact! I spend my days trying to convince the president that bombing Ideria is a strong political move, and you undermine that by making it sound like you just hate them all on principle.”

Derek’s scowl widens. “The president’s never going to agree, Gerard. The way the war ended was an embarrassment to our country. He won’t risk starting it again.”

“You’re wrong there, Derek. Our intel has indicated that a new leader has risen to power now. Guess who?”

“No.”

“Your old friend Theo Raeken.”

Derek’s head shoots up, teeth bared instantly. “He survived?”

“The worst always do. And Mr. Raeken still hates werewolves. He’s been the one leading the hunt for any remaining werewolves left in Ideria— our soldiers really did leave quite a lot of gifts behind in various brothels; it’s downright disgraceful.”

“Most of our soldiers used human contraceptives with prostitutes, and those aren’t equipped to stop werewolf sperm,” Derek grumbles. “You know how potent we are. And it wasn’t just prostitutes soldiers slept with.”

He doesn’t say any more, but a part of him has always wondered if Stiles was pregnant when he died. There had been something about his scent that morning, so rich and fertile, that had made Derek want to protect him even more than usual.

Of course, that had been what killed him, in the end.

“Well, regardless, those children didn’t last long with Raeken in charge. He’s boasted about the werewolf infants he’s personally killed, and now that he’s rid the country of that little problem, he’s looking towards another attack on Luponia.”

Derek shuts his eyes against a growing headache. “But why? They can’t survive another war.”

“They’re not surviving too well right now. And Raeken is insane, Derek, you know that. Every dead werewolf is a feather in his cap. I’m trying to convince the president we cut him down before he grows too high.”

“How?”

“He’s actually making his way towards your old base city. We’re not sure what he wants there; maybe he thinks there are some more werewolf children that slipped past him, or he wants to attack the wharf, since we still have smugglers over there. Either way, it would be easy enough to bomb him out.”

Eichen, bombed again. Derek forces down his nausea at the thought. “Will the president go for it?”

“He’s waffling. There are a good number of civilians eking out an existence there— though as you so eloquently pointed out, it’s not much of a life, and they’re not exactly innocents. I’m hopeful that he’ll make the right call.”

“He should,” Derek says savagely. Theo Raeken. The man who took everything from Derek. Maybe, once he’s dead, Derek can finally find peace. “You just tell me what I can do to help it happen, and I’ll drop the bomb myself.”

#

Stiles stares in wonder at the gold chain winking in his hand. He knew he would find something eventually. He knew there had to be some hiding place in one of the bombed-out houses that the looters before him hadn’t found.

After all the weeks and months of fruitless searching, he’s finally hit literal gold.

He stuffs the necklace into a threadbare pocket, heart racing. Deucalion’s ship has been at the wharf for three days, which means he’ll be leaving tomorrow, and won’t be back for a month. He has to get down there now, even though it kills him to leave Clara any longer.

He has no choice but to leave her alone when he goes out scavenging. He waits until she’s asleep, then places her carefully on the bed and locks the door behind him. He’s never away for more than two hours at a time, and she’s such a good baby that usually she’s still sleeping when he gets back, but he always imagines her screaming without stopping until a neighbor finally breaks down the door to see what the hell that noise is.

He’d tried taking her out when she was a newborn, strapped to his chest with a hand-rigged baby carrier. As he’d walked into town he’d heard shouting and saw a soldier ripping a baby away from a woman Stiles recognized as one of Adrian Harris’s prostitutes. Stiles had stood there frozen, listening to the woman plead, and then—

He shakes his head against the memory as he runs towards the wharf. They hadn’t gotten Clara, that’s what mattered. Stiles had rushed her home and hadn’t dared leave with her again.

Tomorrow she’ll go outside again, so he can bring her to the ship that will take them both home. The thought spurs him the rest of the way.

Deucalion’s been a smuggler for as long as Stiles has been alive. The soldiers tried to keep him out after the war had ended, but he’d shot the ones sent to stop him and they hadn’t tried again. Stiles figures he has to be some kind of Luponian spy now— it’s not like there’s much of value here to smuggle out of the country now— but he doesn’t care.

He can see the men loading up the ship while Deucalion leans against some crates and smokes. “We’ve got a visitor, Duke,” one of them says as he approaches. “That omega who wants passage back home.”

Duke sighs hugely and stubs out his cigarette, sightless eyes turning in his general direction. “Smiles?”

“Stiles.”

“That’s a stupid name.”

“So you’ve told me.” Stiles holds up the chain, even though Deucalion can’t see it. “I’ve brought payment this time.”

There’s some laughter among the werewolves. “It’s nothing, Duke,” the woman says as she takes the necklace from Stiles. “Some cheap trinket.”

Stiles’s mouth falls open. “That’s gold!”

“Cheap,” the woman repeats. “Go buy some beans with it and stop borrowing us.”

Stiles turns towards Duke in appeal. “You promised if I brought you something of value— ”

Duke takes the necklace and rubs it between his fingers. “Of value to us, omega. We’re Luponians. I could pick this up at a department store back home.”

Stiles reaches down to his handmade holster and pulls out the gun Derek had left behind with him. He takes it everywhere he goes, considering it his second most precious possession after his daughter. “I’ll give you this, too.”

“It’s a gun,” the woman reports.

“We have a hundred guns,” Duke says dismissively. “Go home, omega.”

Disappointment feels like claws on his heart. “I’m begging you, Deucalion.”

“He’s crying now, Duke,” the woman sneers.

Stiles flips her off. “No, I’m not. But please— look, there’s someone waiting for me in Luponia. He’ll pay you anything you want, I swear.”

Duke sighs. “A thousand soldiers gave a thousand omegas the same promise. Nobody’s waiting for you. Forgot whoever it was and move on, all right? I’ll give you that, and nothing else, for free.”

“This is different.” Stiles doesn’t dare tell them about Clara, but he knows they can hear the desperation in his voice. “I’ll do anything. I’ll…you can sleep with me, if you want. I’m yours. Just please take me with you.”

Duke almost looks sorry for him. “Look, we’re not leaving right now, anyway. We’re grounding the ship and staying here until Raeken arrives.”

“Raeken?” Stiles shudders at the name and all the horrible memories it brings. “As in, Theo Raeken?”

“My sources tell me he’s on his way here, possibly because he wants to take us out.” Duke scowls. “He’s the one who’s been killing the werewolf kids. That piece of shit needs to die and we’re going to try and do it before we take off. If you can get me something I really need by next week, you can have passage. But don’t come back here unless you do or I’ll use you for target practice, got it?”

“When’s he coming?” Stiles asks urgently.

“Soon. He could already be— hey!”

Stiles snatches the necklace out of Duke’s hand and runs for home. Clara is still sleeping when he gets there and he cradles her to his chest, shaking.

If Theo is coming, his luck might have run out.

He knows, deep in his rational mind, that it’s paranoid to think Theo is coming right for him. Theo has no way to know that Stiles is still alive. But after everything Raeken has done; after everything he’s taken from Stiles, it only makes sense that he’d come now for his daughter.

Clara coos with her eyes still shut tight and he bends over her, mind reeling. He can feel her scenting him even in her sleep, reminding herself that she’s safe in Daddy’s arms. He reaches down to Derek’s gun in his holster and curls his fingers around it.

“Nobody’s going to hurt you,” he whispers to his daughter. “I promise.”

She makes another contented sound and slumbers on while he stares at the door, teeth bared, finger on the safety of Derek’s gun as he waits for the monster to come.

Chapter Text

December, 2015

Stiles has always been a little uncoordinated, the guy most likely to bang his hipbone against a table or trip over a cobblestone and faceplant on the ground, but in the days after he meets Theo at the prison he’s so desperate to avoid Derek he’s practically become a ninja.

He silently slips out of rooms when the werewolf approaches, hurtles over table and piles of laundry to get away faster, and, in one particularly agile moment, somersaults out a window in pure desperation.

He’d be seriously proud of himself if he weren’t so fucking miserable.

Eventually he’ll have to make a choice. He knows that, even accepts it, but he can’t just yet. He figures he can string Theo along for maybe a month by claiming Derek won’t let anyone close to him before Theo gets impatient.

And then…Stiles doesn’t know what he’ll do.

He doesn’t want his dad to die, but he knows full well that Theo won’t just let him out of prison and send them on their merry way. Helping Theo kill Derek will only be the beginning, and Stiles will be helping drag out a war that never even should have started.

Killing Derek Hale would be such a waste, a terrible, cruel, unnecessary tragedy. He’s a good man, and the thought of betraying the kindness he’d shown by taking Stiles in is sickening.

But then there’s John.

These thoughts swirl in Stiles’s head every minute as he desperately avoids Derek, well aware that what he doesn’t know he can’t betray. Derek has sent for him every night and Stiles has done everything as an excuse to stay away: shoveled over latrines and scrubbed dishes; cleaned guns and taken the meals to the sentries. Derek has to give up eventually.

Three days after the prison visit he’s folding an epic amount of laundry, thoughts only on what Theo might be planning, when he hears the door of the barracks open. “Stiles?” Derek calls.

Stiles freezes.

“I know you’re in here, Stiles. I can smell you.”

Stiles stands and inches his way towards the back door, throwing himself through just when he hears the floor creak as Derek approaches.

He’s silently congratulating himself on his stealth when a hand suddenly grabs his upper-arm. “Hey,” Derek says, scowling hugely. “What the hell?”

Never try to outrun a werewolf. Scott had taught him that a hundred times over. “You tell me, dude. I can smell you, Stiles? What are you, a fairy-tale witch?”

Derek’s eyes flash. “Did you forget that I’m second-in-command of this camp? When I call your name, you don’t fucking run from me. If one of my soldiers did that, I’d have them digging latrines for the rest of the war. If I was feeling nice.”

Shit, he’s really pissed. “Sorry,” Stiles says, not meeting Derek’s eye. “I’m crazy busy today.”

Derek folds his arms. “You’ve been avoiding me.”

Stiles makes an extremely unconvincing squeak of disagreement.

“I’ve had to write all my letters myself. Look at my hand.” Derek thrusts his dominant hand towards Stiles, still scowling. “It’s swollen.”

Stiles has to bite back a laugh at how injured Derek sounds about it. “Any sign of tendonitis?” he jokes weakly. “Maybe they’ll give you medical leave.”

“Why did you stop coming?” Derek’s angry mask slips, and he looks genuinely hurt. “I thought we were getting along. Did I…do something? Is it your dad? Is he okay?”

Stiles shakes his head and scrounges up a lie. “I appreciate how nice you were to me, Derek, but there’s no point in us getting close. You’ll go home eventually and I’ll stay here. I know plenty of humans who had a little affair with a soldier, but I’m not that omega. I don’t want to be anyone’s war story, you know?”

Derek’s eyebrows furrow. “That’s bullshit,” he says calmly. “You’re lying to me, Stiles. I want the truth. Now.

Stiles feels himself starting to panic, and Derek must hear it in his heartbeat, because he looks genuinely worried. “Hey,” he says, suddenly gently. “Don’t— ”

“Derek. I need to speak with you.”

Stiles looks over to see Gerard Argent making his way towards them, a letter in his hand. Saved by the creep. He’s only met the general a few times, as he’s often traveling, but he knows enough to dislike the man. Gerard is clearly no fan of humans, and though he’s always nice to Derek he usually has a cold, appraising look on his face whenever he sets eyes on his second-in-command.

Right now, though, the expression on his face is just…tight. Maybe a little apologetic. It makes a chill go down Stiles’s spine.

“What is it, Gerard?”

“We should speak in private.” Gerard glances over at Stiles, and then away just as quickly. His heart kicks into overdrive again. They know. Gerard’s going to tell Derek that Stiles is working for Theo. Derek will probably kill him personally. Drown him in a latrine or something especially horrific.

“Is it something classified?” Derek asks impatiently.

Gerard grimaces slightly. “No.”

“Then just tell me here. I’m busy.”

“It’s Laura.” Gerard holds out the paper to Derek. “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this.”

Derek doesn’t take the paper. “Laura?”

“She’s been killed, Derek. Her entire team was bombed. Somehow explosives were snuck into the camp overnight— they must have been planning this for a while. Three of our teams throughout the country were killed today. Maybe more. We’re still getting intel in. I just received a message confirming that every member of Laura’s team was killed. I wanted you to hear it from me first. I’m so very sorry, Derek.”

“Laura’s non-combat.” Derek’s breath isn’t coming right. He’s trembling all over.

“I know. All the soldiers targeted were non-combat. They only killed aid teams, because they’re cowards and they knew it would be easier than attacking combat troops. We’re waiting to see if the government or an isolated terrorist group takes credit for it.”

“But she’s non-combat. There must be a mistake, Laura’s not— they were setting up a field hospital for Iderians. I just got a letter from her. Ideria doesn’t even have soldiers in her region. Laura’s team doesn’t fight. They’ve never had a single casualty.” Derek’s voice slides up and down almost childishly. “She’s non-combat.”

“Derek, I have the paper here. You can see it yourself. Laura Hale was killed in action early this morning.” Gerard’s voice is firm, as if he wants Derek to man up and accept reality. Derek’s hands shake as he takes the paper and scans its contents. A horrible silence stretches for what seems like a thousand years before Derek’s claws suddenly burst through the paper and he lets out a broken howl.

“I’m very sorry,” Gerard says again.

Derek’s face is white. “I need to talk to my sister. I need to talk to Cora. I need to tell her.”

“We’ll arrange a call for you. The information isn’t being made public yet so you’ll need to wait a few hours. I’m sure you understand.”

“I need to go home with her. We— the family plot— I need to plan a funeral.” The words come out in such a stammer they’re hard to understand.

“It was a bomb, Derek. There’s no body to bury.”

Stiles decides he hates Gerard Argent for saying it so sternly, as if Derek’s an idiot for not realizing.

“What happened today is extremely concerning. We didn’t expect attacks of this magnitude and we need to determine who is behind them and what they might be planning next. I’m afraid we can’t lose you right now.”

Derek seems to struggle with Gerard’s meaning. “I need to plan the funeral.”

“That will have to wait. You have a duty here. I wish that weren’t the case, but it is. Laura was a soldier, Derek. She would understand.”

“Yes. I understand,” Derek says. He’s been shredding the paper unconsciously and Stiles watches the scraps float to the ground. “May I go to my barracks, General Argent? I’d like to be alone for a while.”

“Of course.”

Derek walks away stiffly. He wraps his arms around himself and bows his head, still shaking, and when he walks up the steps to his barracks he stumbles and has to brace himself against the doorway,

“Well,” Gerard says after he’s disappeared inside. “He took that surprisingly well.”

Stiles stares at Argent in disbelief. Well? Hadn’t he seen Derek’s face? Hadn’t he felt Derek’s shock and grief in the air? Did he think just because Derek hadn’t burst into tears he wasn’t completely destroyed by what Gerard had told him?

He steps away and towards Derek’s barracks. Gerard grips his arm, far tighter that Derek had only minutes ago. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“To see him.”

“How dare you,” Gerard says softly. His voice is terrifying when soft and Stiles tries not to let his fear show in his eyes. “His sister was just killed by your kind. If you had any decency you’d stay far away from him.”

“I’m not like them.” “No?” Gerard’s eyes narrow and he looks Stiles up and down. “You know, Laura Hale liked to collect humans too,” he says, voice even softer, like the hiss of a snake. “She’d invited dozens into her camp. I have to wonder just how those explosives ended up past the border line. I have to wonder if Laura put her trust in the wrong innocent-looking human.” He leans in further. “I know it’s a mistake to trust any one of you. The difference between me and Laura Hale is that I’ll cut you down before you make a single move against anyone here. Remember that, omega.”

Stiles yanks away and forces himself to walk slowly over to Derek’s barracks. Is that what Theo wants from him, to sneak some kind of bomb into the camp and take out everyone here?

He shoves down the thought and cautiously pushes open the door. It might be that Derek can’t stand the sight of him right now, but Stiles can’t bear to leave him alone. After his own mother had died he’d tried everything to avoid his father and Scott: crawling into his mom’s closet, hiding under his bed, wedging himself into a corner of the attic. Finally, when there was no place left to try and disappear he’d crawled into his dad’s arms, crying so hard he shook, and realized that was the only place he’d wanted to be.

Derek is hunched over on his bed. He’s making a terrible sound, that low-in-the-throat moaning of pure overwhelming grief. His eyes are pleading when they meet Stiles’s. “She was non-combat,” he says.

Stiles registers that change from is to was and immediately joins Derek on the bed, wrapping his arms around him. His usually werewolf-warm skin is ice cold. “I’m so sorry, Derek.”

“She was…she was…”

“It’s not fair, Derek, and I’m so sorry. I wish I could bring her back for you. I know how much you love her. If that was enough, she’d be here right now.”

Derek makes a soft whining noise and then words spill out, all in a stammer: “She was always so worried about me. She told me our family couldn’t survive another death. Oh, God, I have to tell Cora. Cora’s in that house with all Laura’s things. Laura’s bedroom... I need to tell Cora to shut the door…it has to still smell like her when I go home. I had my mom’s pillow after she died and my dad’s shirts and my brother’s toys…I need something of Laura’s…I need…” Derek’s voice dissolves into the keening again, and Stiles knows it’s because what he needs is Laura, and Laura is gone.

Without thinking twice Stiles climbs into Derek’s lap and holds him. He lets Derek push his face into Stiles’s neck, scenting him, taking in the instinctual comfort of holding an omega close.

“We were able to bury the others,” Derek groans after several minutes. “It wasn’t much, but…I can’t even bury my sister, Stiles.”

He remembers that Derek had told him his family once heard from an old woman at a restaurant that the souls of loved ones come back as monarch butterflies after death. They’d laughed about it, but on the day they’d had their mother’s funeral a single perfect butterfly had perched on the casket for the briefest of moments before taking wing. “She’s flying now, Derek,” he whispers into the werewolf’s chest. “You don’t need to put anything in the ground. She doesn’t need her body anymore, because she’s a butterfly.”

“A butterfly,” Derek repeats, eyes shut.

“If anyone could come back, it would be her. I didn’t know her, but I know you. I know how much you love her. For as long as you do, she’ll be here. I believe it. I know it.”

They hold each other for hours and hours, until the thumping of Derek’s heartbeat under Stiles’s ear has finally steadied and his embrace is no longer desperate but something much closer to loving.

#

Stiles barely leaves Derek alone for the rest of that week. Mostly because Derek won’t let him. The only time they’re apart is when Derek is with Gerard Argent, discussing the recent attacks, and when he comes out of Argent’s barracks he looks so shaken that Stiles immediately reattaches himself to his side.

Derek struggles. He only cries once, when he’s on the phone with Cora, but after that grief escapes in little ways: tight, stifled whimpers, long periods of staring at nothing, hands that won’t stop trembling. He has nightmares, which Stiles only knows because he’s been unwilling to leave Derek even in sleep and has shared his bed every night.

He thinks it’s causing some whispers around camp, but he doesn’t give a damn, and he’d be happy to take on any werewolf soldier who wants to say something about it.

“I know you’ll want to go visit your father tomorrow,” Derek murmurs one night. Stiles had been taking some letters for him, but now that those are finished they’re sitting on the bed together. “Don’t think you can’t because of me. I’ll be fine.”

Stiles’s stomach twists. He’s lost track of time but he counts back and realizes that, yes, it’s been two weeks since Theo’s threat.

The idea of having to grieve for his father the way Derek grieves for Laura horrifies him, but he looks up at Derek and knows he can’t betray him.

“I have to tell you something,” he says slowly.

Derek doesn’t say a word as Stiles lets it all spill out. He doesn’t leave out anything, though he swears up and down that he hadn’t gathered any information that might be useful to Theo, and he isn’t going to try. “I understand if you want me to leave,” he finishes. “But I can promise you, I won’t ever work for them. I’ll let them send me to prison first. Get a double cell with my dad, maybe, so really it could all work out— ”

Derek cuts him off. “He told you to get close to me, and to tell him any other information that might be useful to him?”

“Yeah. That anything I might learn, for as long as he keeps me as a spy, he wants to know.”

Derek’s face splits into a grin. It’s so surprising that for a second Stiles worries he’s somehow spontaneously gone insane. He looks actually excited, with a spark in his eyes that Stiles hasn’t seen since Laura’s death. “Stiles, this is fantastic!

Stiles stares at him. “Fantastic like ‘I wanted my soldiers to have a live mark for target practice and now we can use you, you damn dirty spy’?”

“Damn right you’re a spy. Our spy, Stiles.” Derek grabs his hand, face alight. “You can give him false information! Gerard’s been looking for a way to get a man on the inside, now that they’re getting more aggressive. We know Raeken— he’s on the shortlist of people we think might have been responsible for the attacks, and if he’s trying to use humans in our camps as spies, that makes it all the more likely. If you can verify that— hell, if we can get you close enough to find a way to take him out— ”

“He wants me to kill you, Derek.”

Derek shrugs, clearly used to being a name on a hit list. “Well, you’re not going to, so who cares? What we’ll do is have you tell him you’re…let’s go with Gerard’s personal assistant. We’ll give you all kinds of false info for him, and then he’ll want to keep you here for as long as possible.”

“You think?” Stiles says doubtfully.

“It’s perfect. You know what this means? If you’re working for us, then when the war’s over you can get Luponian citizenship. The government’s granted it to other Iderians who risked their lives for us; why not you? You can come home with us, Stiles. You won’t have to worry about what it will be like here once the soldiers leave, because you’ll be safe a thousand miles away.”

“Are you serious?” Stiles’s heart pounds. “You’ll take me with you?”

“You and your father— once you’re a Luponian, there’s no way we won’t get him out.” Derek actually gets out of the bed and picks him up, swinging him around in a hug. “You can help us get Theo, Stiles. You can help us get the man who killed Laura!”

This reaction is so far from what Stiles was expecting that he isn’t sure just what to say. Theo isn’t stupid, and stringing him along with false information for what could be months sounds way more dangerous than Derek seems to think. “Wow,” he manages to say when Derek puts him back on his feet.

Derek hears the hesitation in his voice and his smile freezes. “I mean, if you want to. I know it’s asking a lot, but…imagine coming to live in Luponia, Stiles. There’s so much I can show you— the capitol building, and the monuments… and a few blocks from my house there’s this famous ice cream shop with one hundred flavors…”

“Oh, come on, lieutenant. You know full well that’s some unfair coercion right there.”

“No, kissing you would be unfair coercion, and I’ve resisted that.”

A joke! Derek’s making jokes again!

“And you can meet Cora,” Derek continues to rhapsodize. “A couple days ago I was thinking about how I wish Laura could have met you, because she would have loved you. And so will Cora. You don’t have to decide tonight, but this is the best thing that could have happened.”

Maybe it’s that Derek is looking happy when Stiles thought he’d never be happy again. Maybe it’s that Stiles is sick of the war and sick of missing his father. Maybe it’s just that he really wants to try all one hundred ice cream flavors. Regardless, he takes a deep breath, looks up at Derek, and says, “I’ll do it.”

Derek’s smile could have outshone the sun.

#

The next morning Derek fusses over him like a mom trying to get her kid ready for kindergarten. “I’d really feel better if you took a gun,” he says for the hundredth time.

“So Theo can see and know instantly that I’ve switched sides?” Stiles keeps his voice low, mindful of Theo’s warning that he has spies everywhere. Only Gerard and Derek know that Stiles is officially Team Werewolf— Derek had dragged him to Gerard’s bunker last night so they could make a plan for today.

Gerard had seemed extremely suspicious of Stiles, interrogating him for what felt like hours before he grudgingly pronounced himself satisfied with Stiles’s loyalty. Stiles has a feeling that if today goes horribly wrong and he ends up with his head in a noose Gerard won’t be crying any tears for him.

“Remember,” Derek says as they walk out to the border line together. “Just tell him everything Gerard and I came up with, and feel free to throw in a few anti-werewolf comments to really sell it.”

“I’ll tell him the entire camp smells like wet dog. That’s not even a lie.”

“How dare you,” Derek says in mock outrage.

They stop right at the line. “And if anything goes wrong, I will knock down every door of that prison to get you out,” Derek pledges seriously. “Don’t be scared. You’ll do fine.”

“I know.” Stiles loops an arm around Derek’s neck, pulls his head down, and kisses him hard. “Just in case,” he says when he lets Derek up for air.

Derek grins. “I’ll return that favor when you get back, okay?”

“Okay.” Stiles takes a breath and steps over the line, walking briskly into town without looking back.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

October, 2017

“Raeken is in Eichen,” Gerard reports, leaning into Derek’s office.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure. I have a smuggler over there who reports back to me. Raeken arrived this morning.”

“And? Are we going to bomb him?”

“Current sources say no.” Gerard takes a seat and steeples his fingers together. “My woman in Eichen, however, says that the leader of their merry band of smugglers— a former felon named Deucalion— wants to take Raeken out personally, so we may get lucky.”

Derek scowls. “I don’t like putting something this important in the hands of smugglers.”

“Nor do I, but this is the nature of politics, Derek. We’ll have to watch and see on this one.” Gerard frowns. “I liked having her over there to report back to me, but I think once their current trip is over we’ll have to bar them from returning. Mr. Deucalion is evidently thinking of starting up a little human trafficking business. Some Iderian has been begging for passage to Luponia and, according to my source, Deucalion is thinking of giving in. Once he brings over one, I’m sure it’ll be a whole boatload of people next time. What do you think?”

“We don’t need any more Iderians here. Stop them before they try.”

“Exactly the answer I was hoping for, Derek! I’m planning on making illegal immigration one of my main stances during the election.” Gerard stands again, looking pleased with his protégée. “I’ll keep you updated. Oh, and Derek? I know your agreement with my daughter is meant to be purely business, but it wouldn’t kill you to show her a little affection.”

Derek grunts noncommittally.

“I know you miss your human.” Derek looks up in surprise. Gerard has never spoken about Stiles in the past year. “But Kate’s a good girl, and I won’t have her with someone who won’t be kind to her. You understand?”

Derek nods. To his surprise, he feels guilty. He dislikes Kate— there’s a coldness about her that she tries too hard to hide, as if she thinks she’s getting away with something, but he’s not a cruel person. If Gerard is scolding him, Kate must be feeling honestly hurt by his behavior.

“That’s my boy. I won’t keep you any longer.”

Derek bends back over his work, head aching so strongly he pops a painkiller, and shuts his eyes so tightly he sees stars.

#

Stiles is sick.

Ever since Clara’s birth he’s obsessively checked her temperature and listened to the timbre of her coughs, terrified she’ll come down with something only a doctor can fix. So of course he would be the one to fall ill while she’s perfectly healthy.

He’s been feeling off for three days, but chalked it up to lack of sleep and poor nutrition— he hasn’t gotten a wink since Deucalion told him about Theo, and he’s felt too nervous to eat or drink much of anything. Then he’d looked down at his body and knew this was something far more serious than nerves.

He has mastitis in his left breast. It’s hot to the touch, and swollen, and when he’d tried to feed Clara it had hurt so badly he’d almost blacked out. It’s common in male omegas, since their post-childbirth breasts are much smaller and wider than a females, meaning milk gets stuck in the ducts, making omegas much more susceptible to infection.

He’s pretty sure that he needs antibiotics to treat this. Maybe Santa Claus will swing by and drop some off, along with a plane ticket to Luponia and a teddy bear for Clara.

It’s just not fair. He’s surviving against the odds, so his odds decrease? How does that make any sense?

He holds Clara, trying to get up the courage to let her feed from the left breast again. He knows it’s safe for her, but it hurts so fucking bad. Still, if she doesn’t feed, his milk might dry up, and then she’ll die.

He whimpers aloud, feeling his fever clog up his mind. He hasn’t been sick like this in years. He used to get high fevers when he was a kid. His mom would bring him a wet cloth and talk to him in a soft, high-pitched voice, like he was a baby again. He’d always cuddled with her and let her stroke his back until he fell asleep.

He wants his mom. He hates her for being dead.

And he hates his dad for being hundreds of miles away, and maybe dead too.

Scott never even looked for him after the war ended. He hates Scott.

Derek left him here.

He hates Derek.

He really, really hates Derek.

Clara whimpers. She can probably smell his sickness, because she’s a werewolf. A part of him tries hard to hate her for that, but he can’t.

Her whimper turns into a little cry and he winces. “Shh, baby. Don’t cry.”

She’s only picking up steam, he can tell. Frustration grips him. Why can’t she ever learn to be quiet? Why does he have to do all the work? “Clara, stop.”

Her face squishes up and she lets out a wail. As her lungs get stronger her cries get louder and he swears she’s going to pierce his eardrums and bring the entire city down on them. “Quiet!”

She keeps crying. From above him he hears footsteps come to a stop, as though someone is listening hard, hoping that what they’re hearing is a werewolf baby so they can collect the reward for her. He presses Clara’s face into his hot chest desperately. “Stop it, Clara! You stop it right now!”

The cries shut off. He feels her struggling against his chest and realizes in horror that she can’t breathe. He pulls her away instantly. She stares up at him and he waits for an earth-shattering wail of shock and outrage that doesn’t come. She looks stunned out of tears.

“Oh, God, baby, I’m sorry. Daddy’s so sorry. I didn’t mean to do that awful thing.” He’s afraid to hold her close again. “I love you, Clara. I’ll never do that again. Never, never, never. I love you.” He wants to burst into tears himself, but he holds back. He hasn’t cried in months, not since the day he’d felt her kick for the first time. He’d cried for wanting Derek to celebrate the moment with him, and the kicking had instantly stopped, as if she’d sensed it and already felt like a burden on his life.

He’d wanted to be strong for her. And now he’s failed that, miserably.

She sniffles and reaches up to him, so easily forgiving. He kisses her a hundred times in apology. He hates himself so much it’s like a second sickness.

He’d always thought, if there was one absolute truth in the world, it was that Clara was safe with him. He couldn’t be separated from his daughter. In complete honesty, that’s at least partly why he’s never told Deucalion about her— because he was afraid the smugglers would want the werewolf, but not the human. They might agree to take her, but leave him behind.

He can’t even bear the thought of that.

But maybe that’s for the best. Maybe he’ll never leave here, but that doesn’t mean she won’t. Because— and he usually never lets himself think this, but now he can’t stop himself— maybe there’s a reason Derek’s never come looking for him.

He reaches up to the scar on the back of his neck, where he’d once had a mating bite. Maybe Derek had broken their bond on purpose. Maybe he doesn’t want a human anymore.

But he has to want his daughter. He has to.

When he goes to see Deucalion again, he’ll bring Clara and beg them to take her. He’ll convince them that Derek will pay anything for her to make it worth their while. She’s one of them. He’ll make them take her, even if he has to sneak her onto the boat.

If he has to, he’ll let his baby go.

Stiles raises Clara to his breast and lets her latch. He bites his lip against the pain, taking it as penance, or maybe as a warm-up for the pain that’s going to come.

#

Eichen has really gone to absolute shit in the past year. Theo wanders the little shantytown market that’s been set up in what used to be the town square, looking down his nose at the various pieces of trash people are trying to sell to each other.

There are homeless propped up against walls of bombed-out buildings, fruitlessly begging. Disgusting. He considers taking out his gun and getting rid of them, but he doesn’t want to frighten his people. The elements will take care of them by the next week, anyway.

He knows he’s been recognized by the frightened little looks he’s getting. Good. Eichen is one of the most depressed places in Ideria, and it’s heartening to know that news of his power has spread even to here.

He sees a woman staring at him. There’s a toddler on her hip and she backs away, trying to look inconspicuous.

Well, well.

“Hi, there,” he calls over to her, freezing her in her tracks. “Is that your son?”

She nods, eyes wide. Oh, the number of times he’s seen that expression on a parent’s face. It’s usually followed by the begging, and the tears, and the terror.

“Let me have a look at him.” Without waiting for permission he turns the boy’s chin so he can look into his eyes.

Human.

He drops his hand and nods to her, watching her dart away before he changes his mind. Theo is surprised to find himself a little disappointed. It’s been weeks since he’s found a werewolf child, which probably means he’s eliminated them all. He doesn’t enjoy his work, of course, but there’s a certain satisfaction to ridding his country of a scourge.

There are clearly no werewolves here in this market. And, far more disappointingly, there’s no Stiles Stilinski.

Theo knows he’s foolish to still be searching down the omega, but he can’t stop himself. He needs Stiles. He always has. He’d let the omega get away a year ago, which had been unfortunate, but necessary.

He wants to make up for that now.

Stiles hadn’t tried to get to his father, and he hadn’t been in any of the refugee camps Theo has visited, and he certainly didn’t leave with the Luponian soldiers. If he’s still alive— and Theo is quite sure he is— he must still be in Eichen.

Yes, he’s here somewhere. Theo knows it. He’s always had a connection to Stiles, a clear mate-bond that the stupid omega had insisted on ignoring. He won’t be so dismissive of Theo now that Theo is the most powerful man in the country. Stiles is waiting in squalor, completely unaware that his savior is on the way. He’ll be a mess, but Theo won’t care. Yes, Stiles is going to be the luckiest omega in the country once Theo finds him.

Theo smiles at the thought and strides off to search somewhere else. He won’t leave until he’s tracked his omega down.

Chapter Text

February, 2016

“Admit that I’m a sexy spy,” Stiles says as he plants little kisses all around Derek’s jaw.

Derek hums thoughtfully and tips Stiles’s head up so he can kiss his lips. “Did I ever say you weren’t?”

“Sure, you say I’m sexy, and you know I’m a spy, but put it together. I want you to say that I have an aura of mystique and danger now that just drives you wild.”

Derek snickers against Stiles’s mouth, rude. “It’s kind of impossible to have an aura of mystique with someone whom you fart in front of a dozen times a day.”

“Well, maybe if we had something to eat other than brown bread and canned beans…” Stiles scowls and switches position so he’s spooning Derek from behind, lining himself up against the hole he’s spent the past twenty minutes teasing. The werewolf lets out a gratifying moan. “I’m dangerous now,” he insists. “I’m your secret weapon.”

Derek presses back into his touch. “Fire at will,” he says, and Stiles slides inside of him. He loves that Derek isn’t one of those old-fashioned Alphas who refuses to use Stiles’s dick as anything more than something to stroke and suck on special occasions. Derek loves letting Stiles fuck him, especially when Stiles spills inside of him so he can wear Stiles’s scent around all day.

And Stiles loves it too, loves working so hard for his Alpha, loves finding Derek’s prostate to make his Alpha feel so exquisitely good. It’s his second most favorite thing in the world, coming in just behind being fucked himself.

As an Omega he has slightly less staying power than Derek, and he only make a few thrusts before he’s coming. He doesn’t last as long, but his recovery time is faster, and when Derek immediately switches position so he can start working Stiles open himself Stiles can feel his cock valiantly trying to rise again.

“Oh, God yeah. Fuck, baby, fuck.”

“I’ll eat you out,” Derek promises, voice wrecked with lust. “But you know I can’t go any further tonight.”

“You don’t have to come inside me. Please, Der …”

“Once you get back tomorrow I will. As many times as you want. But you know the rules.” Derek kisses his shoulders apologetically and Stiles sighs, used to Derek’s over-paranoia but always looking for a loophole.

Derek never fucks him the night before a meeting with Theo. He’s worried the other Alpha, now that he’s so attuned to Stiles’s scent, will be able to smell Derek on him. Stiles thinks that’s probably bullshit— Theo’s a human, and surely his sense of smell isn’t that good— but Derek insists. Besides, if they didn’t have so many rules about when Derek is allowed inside of him, he probably wouldn’t be inside of Derek as often as he is, and he certainly doesn’t want to give that up.

And Jesus, does Derek have a talented mouth.

Once Stiles has punched out his second orgasm and the come-stained sheets have been kicked aside for tomorrow’s washing and Derek has dispensed of his own erection in a handful of tissues— such a waste, Stiles can’t help but think sadly, letting himself imagine for the briefest of moments what it would be like if Derek knotted him and got him pregnant— they curl back up in bed together. It’s routine to them now, and the idea of Stiles sleeping anywhere else is unthinkable.

Derek had officially taken Stiles’s virginity three months ago. It had been the night after Stiles’s third meeting with Theo Raeken, who had swallowed Stiles’s story hook, line, and sinker, and was so impressed with Stiles’s efforts he even let Stiles in to see his father on a regular basis.

As Derek had suspected, Raeken hadn’t made any move yet to act against Derek, since that would destroy his ability to use Stiles as a spy. Gerard and Derek had been very clever in the information they let Stiles pass on— every so often they sacrificed a supply vehicle, or leaked the identity of a spy who had already been evacuated to Luponia, so Raeken wouldn’t realize Stiles’s information was effectively useless.

Besides, if Theo had Stiles kill Derek then Theo and Stiles wouldn’t be meeting every two weeks, and Stiles has a feeling Theo lives for those hours. Theo definitely has a thing for him, which seems almost laughable right now, as he’s snuggled up tight against Derek.

“You should take some food tomorrow,” Derek mumbles after a few minutes. “Theo might let you take it in for your dad.”

“You think?”

“Can’t hurt to try.”

“Sounds good.” Stiles’s father seems to be doing all right, from what Stiles has seen, but he’s definitely too thin. “I wish I could tell him about you.”

He can hear the smile in Derek’s voice. “Yeah? What would you say?”

“Well, I’d have to tell him that you’re very, very good looking. That’s every father’s chief concern, that his kid is with someone hot.”

“Sure,” Derek deadpans.

“And then I’d tell him that you look all snarly and mean from a distance, but you’re a total marshmallow deep down. And I’d tell him that I’ve finally found someone more sarcastic than me, and I’d tell him how thoughtful you are, and how much I love your cuddles, and…look, my dad knows me, he’d be expecting something about your dick.”

“You love my cuddles?” Derek wraps his arms even tighter around Stiles.

“I do. I love them.” Stiles has been dropping that word more and more into their conversations lately, though he hasn’t been brave enough to just say I love you straight out. “And he’d be all suspicious that I’m being taken advantage of by some sweet-talking Alpha so I’d have to tell him how much I love your scent…how you smell like chocolate.”

Derek scoffs and has him pinned in a flash. “Take that back.”

“What? It’s true!”

“Stiles, I’m an Alpha, a werewolf, and a soldier. I think you meant to say that I smell like…I don’t know, leather and gunpowder or something.”

“Nope. Sorry, baby, you smell like chocolate to me. Specifically the chocolate-chocolate-chip cookies my mom would make for me every year when I got home from summer camp.” Stiles inhales, remembering. “I’d walk through the door and the whole house would smell like it, and then the three of us would eat the whole pan and I’d tell them all about camp. It was the best.”

Derek traces his finger down Stiles’s chest. “I guess I can live with that…if I remind you of something you put in your mouth…”

“No scent-marking, you tease,” Stiles says regretfully.

“Tomorrow.” Derek kisses him quickly, then falls back onto his side. “Don’t come back smelling like Raeken again.”

“I can’t help it. Dude’s grabby.”

Derek growls and presses his face into the crook of Stiles’s neck, where his scent is strongest. “I can’t wait to rip his throat out.”

Stiles scoffs but relaxes into the bed without comment, shutting his eyes. Derek has channeled all his grief over Laura’s death into hatred of Theo. Stiles doesn’t blame him, but a part of him worries that Derek lets that rage blind him.

There’s something about Raeken that just unsettles Stiles. He’s both unbalanced and self-possessed, wearing his sadism like a perfectly fitting second skin. He lacks something— a soul? A conscience? Social awareness? — but he’s managed to cling to power regardless, and that’s what scares Stiles more than anything.

#

As always, the streets are nearly deserted. Ever since Theo arrived Stiles has noticed the city seeming to shrink back into itself, with people taking refuge into their homes most hours of the day. He thinks it must be due to the soldiers Theo has out on the street— they seem like the absolute worst of the lot, and have tried to strip-search Stiles on more than one occasion. Dropping Theo’s name was the only way he got out of it.

The intake booth is empty when he arrives, but the entrance door is standing wide open. There’s no sign of Theo anywhere. He’s never kept Stiles waiting before.

Stiles takes a cautious step into the arena and his heart stops. There, on the field, are bodies. Dozens of them, lying in clumps, while a few gravediggers work on a mass pit right at the fifty yard line. More are hanging from the gallows, evidently the last of a huge group to be executed. No one has bothered to cut them down.

Stiles darts down the steps of the prison, so afraid he can’t think straight. Usually it’s a hub of sound and smells, but today it’s eerily silent. There’s nobody down here.

They’ve emptied the prison. They’ve killed the inmates.

Stiles’s dad was down here.

He lets the knowledge settle over him like a thick, suffocating blanket. He has to go down to the field. He has to find his dad before he gets dumped into that mass grave. He’ll take his father to the cemetery himself and dig a hole next to his mom with his bare hands if he has to.

He walks back up numbly and stands at the top of the stadium, staring down at the bodies, trying to find his father from here.

“Stiles? There you are!”

A hand grabs his shoulder and turns him around forcibly. Theo. “I’m sorry I was late,” Theo says, smiling widely. “I had a little errand.”

Stiles’s lips feel frozen. “What’s going on? Where is everyone?”

“Executive decision. I decided to start phasing people out of Eichen— prisoners first. Such a waste of resources, don’t you think? So final decisions were made for the inmates last week. They were either executed, set free, or transferred elsewhere for long-term imprisonment.”

So Theo didn’t kill all the inmates. Stiles’s relief is fragile. If his father had been released, Stiles knows he would have been out looking for him. “What happened to my father?”

“Well, now.” Theo wags his finger teasingly. “That information’s worth something, don’t you think”

“Theo. My father.”

“What will you give me if I tell you?”

“What did you do to my dad?” Stiles shouts.

Theo’s eyes go flat when he realizes Stiles won’t play along with him. “John Stilinski was accused of a serious crime,” he says, voice clipped. “Out of affection for you, I decided to go easy on him. He’s been sentenced to life imprisonment in the Yangley prison.”

Stiles’s knees go weak. Yangley is the worst prison in the country by far. It’s way, way far up north, hundreds of miles from any real civilization. Inmates have no visitation rights. People refer to life imprisonment as a “ten-year sentence,” because nobody survives longer than that. “Why, Theo? I’ve done everything you asked. You promised me—”

“That I wouldn’t have him executed, and I didn’t. I can’t break the law for you, Stiles, only bend it. By rights I should have let him hang.” Theo reaches out to fuss with a lock of Stiles’s hair. “Besides, I knew that if I set him free he’d snatch you up and probably disappear with you. You’re a grown man now, Stiles. You don’t need your daddy. It’s time to find an Alpha of your own.”

Stiles swats his hand away. “This is the end of our arrangement, Theo. I won’t spy for you anymore.” His mind is racing. There must be some way to help his father. He has to talk to Derek, and Argent…

“I’m well aware our arrangement is finished, Stiles. I won’t be needing your services anyway. My work in Eichen is finished and I’m leaving today.”

“You’re leaving the city in the hands of the wolves?” Something must be going on. Theo had insisted he would take Eichen back from the Luponians.

“Of course not.” Theo looks like a kid on Christmas morning and Stiles realizes he’s been waiting for this. “We did it, Stiles. The wolves here are finished, and it’s all thanks to you. You remember what we talked about last time?”

Stiles rifles through his memories frantically. He’d given Theo some coordinates that hadn’t actually led anywhere and gave false names for some new human civilians in the camp. Theo had asked if there was any way Stiles could be put in charge of the food supply and Stiles had quickly insisted he couldn’t, afraid Theo wanted to help poison the camp. Theo had asked if Derek had any travel plans in the next two weeks, and Stiles told him he didn’t. Then Theo had told him to keep an eye out for any plans relating to an attack by sea and that was it. “What?”

“We talked about the food supply. You said you couldn’t tamper with it because the food supply goes under lockdown when it comes in Sunday morning, and stays there until the werewolves sort it on Sunday afternoon. You also told me that the shipments for your camp are always stamped with your camp number in Luponian ink, so it couldn’t be swapped out. Remember?”

Stiles nods.

“And you described to me the way the supply is driven to the camp every week, by the same driver, in the same car, and picked up by the same soldiers at the dropoff, so you couldn’t intercept it before it entered the camp. When you told me that, I realized that the crates are inspected once before they’re driven to the camp, then once Sunday afternoon, after they’ve already been in your camp for hours. A crate came in this morning, didn’t it?”

Stiles nods, again, horrified as to where this is going. He’d left the camp just as the werewolves had returned with it. It had gone right into storage; Braeden and Liam were in charge of sorting the supplies later today.

“So if it were intercepted while in the supply truck and somebody snuck something inside…the werewolves wouldn’t know about it until after it had already been in their camp for hours, would they?”

Stiles’s heart goes nuts. “What did you do?”

“I added a bomb!” Theo laughs in delight. “God, Stiles, isn’t it wild? I set up a roadblock so the truck would be sopped, then had one of my best guys get in the back. He found the crate right away from your description, snuck it into a bag of grain, and resealed it! I was worried about the timer— imagine if the train was delayed— but it went perfectly. That’s why I was late, I was at the station making sure nothing went wrong…”

“Did it happen already?” Stiles croaks, darting past Theo to try and see if there’s a plume of smoke somewhere in the distance.

“No, I added a cushion to make sure you got away all right.” Theo grabs his hand and tugs so Stiles will look at him. “I have to tell you, when we’ve hit camps before we’ve used our human civilians as suicide bombers…usually without their knowledge, but that’s the price you pay for getting in bed with the enemy. That was my plan for you originally; I really was angry you’d let them take you in, but I couldn’t let that happen to you.” Theo reaches out to fiddle with Stiles’s hair again. “This is such a huge victory, Stiles. Derek Hale and Gerard Argent, both dead? This will cripple them— I’m going to be rewarded like you can’t imagine, and I want you with— hey!”

Stiles shoves him with all the strength in his body. Theo goes down, and Stiles doesn’t wait to see him get back up. He hears Theo scream his name in furious disbelief. He runs so fast his lungs should be burning and his feet aching, but he doesn’t feel a thing.

Derek’s in the camp there’s a bomb in the camp Derek Derek Derek Derek.

He almost cries with relief when he sees the familiar divider separating the camp from neutral ground. The sentries at post raise their weapons and he shouts, hoping their ears can pick it up from this distance, “Bomb! Bomb in the camp!”

He streaks past the border line and collides with Derek, who must have heard his voice and came running. “Stiles!”

“Derek, the food supply, Theo rigged it, he put a bomb in a bag of grain—” Derek grabs his hand and pulls him along until they get to the storage building. The crate is sitting there, looking perfectly harmless. Derek rips off the top and looks through, hands shaking slightly, trying not to set it off by accident. “I don’t see anything,” he says after a few tense moments.”

“Did you check all the bags? He said a bag of grain…”

Derek pulls open another bag and there it is: a small device, silent so the werewolves wouldn’t hear beeping, with a timer that’s just switched from 1:00 to :59.

They stare at it for a heartbeat, and then Derek looks at Stiles. “I love you,” he says, and before Stiles can process what just happened Derek is gone.

“No, Derek! Derek!” Stiles chases him, but he knows you never try to outrun a werewolf. Derek streaks into the woods with the bomb in his arms, hunching over it even as he runs to try and minimize the blast.

Braeden grabs Stiles and shouts at him, trying to figure out what just happened, and Gerard Argent is there looking frightened for the first time, but Stiles feels like he’s underwater. That fucking martyr; of course he would sacrifice himself for the camp. Of course he would. Stiles should have known that someone had to go down, and Derek would choose to be the one.

There’s a boom from the distance, close enough that the ground rocks beneath their feet but nowhere near close enough to do any real damage. Braeden is white and Gerard just stares after Derek, genuine regret on his face. Stiles just stands there thinking of Derek, and the way Stiles had used his chest as a pillow that morning, and the way he’d smelled when he’d held Stiles close—

Braden gasps and Stiles looks up. A figure stumbles back towards camp, looking like something out of a horror movie, skin all cracked and red and smoldering.

It’s Derek. Derek, alive.

He raises a hand weakly and they all three run towards him. Even though he’s racing werewolves, Stiles gets there first.

“Threw it,” Derek mutters, collapsing to his knees. “God, that was fucking close. Don’t ever let me burn like my family did, Stiles, this is the worst pain I’ve ever felt.” He groans, but Stiles can see the skin healing itself diligently, burned skin smoothing and lightening and becoming new again. “God, my hands are wrecked. You’d better not try to get out of writing my letters again, because my hands are useless.”

“Oh my God, Der. You’re alive. You’re alive.” Stiles is afraid to hold him while he’s healing. “That was the most insane thing I’ve ever seen. You’re completely crazy, you beautiful goddamn hero.”

“Good God, Derek,” Gerard says, staring down at him. “If I don’t get you a medal of valor for this…”

“I’d settle for some painkillers, honestly.” “I’ll get them,” Braeden says, disappearing in a flash.

Derek grips Stiles’s hand and looks up at him. “Nicely done on the warning, baby. We can share custody of my medal of valor.”

Stiles laughs shakily, imagining the private horror Gerard must be feeling at the thought of a human getting something so precious. “I would have been the big hero of the day if you hadn’t gone and upstaged me.” He holds Derek gingerly and Derek sighs, dropping his head onto Stiles’s shoulder in relief. “That feels good,” he murmurs.

Braden returns with the painkillers and a glass of water. “You need to go to the infirmary,” she says, and Derek doesn’t even argue, which is the surest sign he’s in serious pain. Stiles supports him as they walk together. There’s some applause, and lots of wide-eyed stares as the news of what just happened spreads around camp.

“The legend of Derek Hale grows,” Stiles teases under his breath. He still can’t believe Derek is still alive. He feels like he could fly.

“I did what anyone else would have done.”

“No, you didn’t. You saved us all. You’re absolutely amazing, Derek.” Stiles kisses a perfectly healed patch of skin on Derek’s neck. “And I love you too.”

Derek looks at him in surprise as Stiles deposits him on a cot in the infirmary. The nurse comes over with her arms full of bandages and cotton balls and what looks like rubbing alcohol. “I should almost die more often,” he jokes, voice a little feeble as the nurse closes in menacingly.

Stiles stands back a few feet so the nurse can work. “Once was enough,” he says.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

October, 2017

Derek feels like a fucking idiot.

He’d bought Kate flowers. Flowers. What the hell does he know about buying flowers for someone? He’d hoped to just grab some roses and get out of there, but the florist kept going on about arrangement and baby’s breath and whatever the fuck.

Kate’s in the living room when he gets home, flipping through some bridal magazine. “You’re back late again,” she says without looking up.

“I stopped at a store. I got these. For you.”

Kate looks up and sees the flowers. Her expression softens. “Derek, that’s so sweet. Thank you.”

He’s not sure what to do with them now, so he just drops them on the table. “I wanted to apologize for…my coldness towards you. I didn’t meant to make you unhappy.”

“I appreciate that.”

“But if you want more out a relationship then what we agreed on, I think you should tell me now, so we can go our separate ways.” It’s such a relief to say, honestly. He hadn’t realized how much this deal with the Argents was weighing on him; he should have realized it was making him unhappy.

“I don’t want out,” Kate says. The immediate disappointment is crushing, but Kate barrels on. “I do think it might be time to…renegotiate terms.”

The beginnings of a headache start just behind his eyes. He’ll be chasing it back all night with beer and painkillers, he knows, until he finally falls asleep early, knocked out by his self-medication. “Like what?”

For a moment he thinks he sees a flash of cold triumph in Kate’s eyes, as if she’s already won something, but a moment later there’s nothing there but hopeful innocence. “I want to have a baby,” she says, standing and stepping close to Derek. “I don’t need you to love me, but I’d like a child. Just one is fine. I have my heat cycles tracked, so you’d only need to knot me once to make it happen.”

Derek stares at her in horror. “Kate, I…I can’t. I’m sorry, but we agreed…”

“Don’t you want a little boy to ride on your shoulders, Derek? A little girl to fall asleep in your arms? I know you don’t want an omega’s love, but don’t you think a child could make you happy?”

Derek doesn’t know what to say. Yes, a part of him wants that, desperately. But he’s been so cold inside since he came back from the war, so closed off to everything, hardly able to find himself unless he’s drunk or tunnels deep into his mind with grief.

What if he couldn’t love his own child?

“Will you think about it?” Kate asks, putting a hand on his arm. He wants to shake her off and leave, telling her the deal is off entirely, but he hesitates. A baby would make Kate happy. God knows it would make Gerard happy; another Argent heir. Cora would love a little niece or nephew.

He can’t stand to disappoint people any more, even if he thinks this might be what destroys him totally.

“I’ll think about it,” he says quietly.

This time he’s sure he sees a flash of triumph, but it again disappears in an instant. “Thank you.” She sees him rubbing at his forehead and frowns sympathetically. “You want your pain meds, Derek? How about a beer, too?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

She slips off and he sits at the table, burying his head in his hands until he sees stars.

#

Stiles knows he needs pain medication if he’s going to continue nursing Clara. “Here’s a secret about your daddy, Clara-bear,” he says, stuffing the gold necklace into the pocket of his threadbare jeans. “I really, really hate shopping.”

Clara blinks sleepily at him from her spot on the bed.

“That’s why Daddy scavenges, because shopping the absolute worst. But today it’s unavoidable. You need your daddy at one-hundred-percent functioning, don’t you?”

He really does hate shopping though, especially now. There’s a market set up in the old town square, where vendors sell what they scavenged from the food drops. It’s a shitty thing to do, monopolizing the resources meant for everyone, but he can’t exactly call the Better Business Bureau and complain.

“I’ll be quick like a bunny,” he promises Clara. “Please don’t cry while I’m gone, no house parties, and make good choices, okay?”

She yawns.

“Sorry. Daddy might be a little delirious right now.” He rubs her belly until her eyes shut, then gives her one soft kiss and leaves, locking the door soundly behind him.

The market never fails to make him sad, with all the homeless people scattered around, dying so slowly it hurts to look, and various people begging heartless vendors for things they desperately need but can’t afford. He tries to remain inconspicuous, glancing over each table until he finally finds one with generic fever reducer and pain reliever.

“Hey,” he says, not making eye contact with the vendor; an easy way to keep the guy from remembering him. “Pain medication, two bottles of water”— that’s a luxury, but he can afford it today— “the Saltines, the shampoo, and the matches, please.” He desperately wants the disposable baby diapers, but he doesn’t want anyone here to remember he’s got a child somewhere.

The vendor eyes Stiles when he pulls the necklace out, trying to determine if he has any other form of payment. “I’ll give you the medicine and the Saltines for that. Nothing else.”

Fucking bloodsucker, well aware that Stiles can’t exactly split the necklace in half. “That’s bullshit.”

“No one else here sells medicine,” he guy says, looking pointedly at the feverish flush on Stiles’s cheeks.

The necklace is worth way more than what Stiles originally asked for, and they both know know it. Temper rises. “I’m taking everything I just said. And now that you’ve pissed me off, I’m taking two boxes of soap and that cheese, too. Got it?”

There’s a tense moment, and then the guy scowls and takes the necklace. Stiles scoops up his goods, feeling light with triumph. It’s the little things.

The walk back to his house feels exceedingly long, and he pops the pills on the way to get relief faster. The fever is really tugging at him now; he swears he has the feeling he’s being followed, even though there’s nobody there when he turns around.

Clara is fussing just a little when he gets back home. “Hey, you,” he says as he locks the door behind him. “I thought you were sleeping, huh? Did you have a bad dream?”

She settles when he drapes her over his chest and rests her head against his heartbeat. Derek used to like that too, he remembers sadly. It feels like a lifetime ago. “How about we having a little nap, together, huh?”

She’s asleep before he finishes talking and he yawns, moving her on the bed so he won’t crush her. He closes his eyes and finds something like real sleep for the first time in forever.

#

When he opens his eyes he feels normal again. His cheeks aren’t nearly as feverish, his mind is clear, and when he lifts Clara to his breast the pain doesn’t rival a thousand bee stings. “Phew!” he says to Clara, grinning, trying to provoke a smile in response.

Now he just has a figure out a way to win Deucalion over. Something of value. What could the smugglers possible want that he’s able to give them; something they can’t get themselves?

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could fly?” he says to Clara, tickling her a little to see if she might grace him with her first laugh today.

There’s a knock on the door.

Stiles freezes. There’s never been a knock on the door before. Never. Nobody comes to see him; nobody bothers him.

Had Clara been crying loudly when he was gone? Had someone overheard him talking to her? Had the vendor followed him here to take back his goods?

Please let it be a mistake. Let them leave…

The knock comes again.

He carefully walks Clara over to the set of drawers in the corner of the room. He puts her in the bottom and pushes it halfway closed. “Do not cry, baby,” he whispers. “Please, baby, I’m begging you.”

She smiles at him.

There’s a third knock ad Stiles crosses to the door, checking to make sure he has Derek’s gun. He doesn’t want to open it. He doesn’t want to see who it is; who is here to ruin everything.

“Hello?” a voice calls, the knob wriggling, and his stomach turns over.

He opens the door and stares into the face of Theo Raeken.

Chapter Text

May, 2016

“Omega! Hey, Omega! I’m talking to you!”

Stiles scowls and keeps his eyes straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge anyone who doesn’t use his name.

“Omega!” A hand grips his arm, too hard. “You deaf?”

Unbelievable.

“My name is Stiles,” he says slowly, making eye contact with the soldier to show he isn’t scared. “There are a lot of omegas here. I don’t know who you’re talking to if you don’t use my name.”

“Told you you should have called him Hale’s Bitch,” another soldier says, stepping up close to his buddy.

Stiles grinds his teeth. Ever since the attack on the base fighting in Eichen has massively picked up, and Gerard had ordered in reinforcements to help hold the city. Stiles had gotten spoiled with the Luponian soldiers he’d come to know and expected all Luponians to be kind, decent people.

This new batch of soldiers was not that.

“Did you need something?” He’s a little impatient— there’s a huge batch of displaced humans seeking shelter who showed up here today, and he’s been put in charge of sorting them out. The new soldiers, either unaware or uninterested in the work he’s doing, keep trying to recruit him to wash their socks or grab them a snack.

“Where’s Hale?”

“Helping reinforce the border line in the woods.”

“Go get him,” the soldier orders. “We need to talk with him about his restrictions on occupation.”

His frustration with them, always at high tide, hits tsunami status. “I’m not going to waste my time fetching Lieutenant Hale so he can tell you something you already know. You can only occupy homes that have been abandoned. Violators will be court-marshaled.”

The soldier’s eyes widen and his hand grips Stiles’s arm again, way too tight for a human to handle. “Are you trying to give me orders now, saper?”

Stiles tries not to react either to the grip or to the offensive word for humans, not-so-cleverly based on the scientific nomenclature homo sapien. “Just reminding you of the orders Lieutenant Hale has already given, sir. I’d hate to see you in trouble. If I lost your smiling face around here, it would be like a part of me died.”

“More than a part of you will die if you don’t learn to shut that smart mouth,” the other soldier says, leaning in menacingly.

Stiles glimpses something out of the corner of his eye and looks over to see Derek hiding in the shadow of the storage barracks, face murderous. He holds up a single finger to tell Stiles he has one minute to take care of this before Derek comes over to deal with the soldiers himself.

Stiles sighs and looks back at his tormentors. “Look, boys, you can waste your time fucking with me if you want to, but there are a thousand people in this city who want you dead. You really want to make that number one thousand and one? Because I know where you sleep.” He grabs the hand on his arm and forcibly removes it.

And you know where I sleep, he doesn’t have to add. Every soldier here knows he shares a bed with Derek. A part of him thinks they want him to go tattle to Derek; they’ve been looking for a fight ever since they arrived.

“You’re a little fuck,” the first soldier says, but they don’t bother to push it any further. He stands his ground and watches them stalk away to go harass one of the other humans.

Once they’re gone he walks over to join Derek in the shade of the building. “I’m taking you to Gerard,” Derek says immediately. “I want it reported.”

“Gerard just chucks my complaints as soon as I leave the office.”

“No, he doesn’t.” Derek frowns. “Does he?”

“Last time I went in he made a fake-sad face and was like, ‘Aww, poor Stiles, was somebody mean to you?’”

“I think you imagined that. That does not sound like Gerard to me.”

“He’s different around you. He likes you.” Stiles rolls his eyes, annoyed at having this argument again. “Look, they only come after me because they’re too scared to challenge you. In case you didn’t hear, they’re pissed about the occupation orders.”

Derek’s face gets a shade darker. As part of the attempts to hold the city, Gerard has decided to eradicate the respectful distance the werewolves have kept from the humans. Soldiers are now allowed to occupy homes in the main part of the city, to better be able to patrol it. Derek had partially countermanded the order by stipulating that the soldiers were only allowed to occupy houses that had already been abandoned, and couldn’t force humans out of their homes or live with humans against the human’s wishes. “Do they want the human civilians rising up against us? Right now they’re mainly on our side but if we start abusing them we’re screwed. Jesus.”

“Preaching to the choir. I guess all the nicest homes aren’t abandoned, so they can only find really run-down places to squat in.”

“How tragic that they don’t get five-star accommodations in the middle of a war.” Derek is clearly starting what Stiles likes to call a Glower Hour; his expression could melt rock. “When I think of the soldiers who have died for this war while these scumbags just fuck around…”

Stiles leans into him to calm him down. “Hopefully they all end up finding places to stay in the city and stop bothering us here.”

“I don’t want to let them loose on civilians.” Derek sighs and rubs his temples. “I have a headache again. This is the third one this week.”

“Aww.” Stiles lifts up and kisses his forehead, hovering there so Derek can get a whiff of calming pheromones. “Does the big bad werewolf need snuggles?”

That earns him a smile. “I’ll collect those tonight. I have so much to do right now…it never ends.”

“Okay. Be safe. I love you.”

“Love you.” Derek kisses him quickly and strides out of sight, into Gerard’s bunker.

Stiles doesn’t blame him for being stressed. Now that the fighting has picked up Derek has to be seven thousand places at once, and half of those places usually put him at risk for serious bodily injury or death. Stiles doesn’t like the new soldiers, but he knows they’re necessary. He’d rather have them at Derek’s back than nobody.

He gets back to work himself. With the city an active warzone, more and more frightened humans are fleeing to the werewolf camp, and Derek doesn’t have the heart to send them away. Gerard is pissed, but he’s away half the time, so there’s not much he can do. Stiles knows they have way too many; he has to make up weird odd jobs for them to do to be useful. A few volunteer as soldiers and he shrugs and sends them to Derek. Can’t hurt.

It’s late by the time he makes his way towards Derek’s barracks. He has a little headache himself and he just wants to fall asleep all wrapped up tight with his werewolf. It’s harder to fall asleep now that gunfire is always sounding through the night.

Derek is waiting for him, looking just as stressed as when Stiles left him. “Long day?” Stiles asks, kicking off his shoes and pants without any shame.

“As always. I have something for you.”

“Oh, yeah?” Stiles loops his arms around Derek’s neck. “In your lap?

“No. Something more serious.” Derek waits for him to sit on the bed before handing him a black service pistol. “This is one of mine,” he says. “I want you to carry it around camp from now on.”

Stiles’s stomach turns over. Sure, he’s comfortable around guns; his father had made sure of that. But they’ve taken on a new meaning to him ever since the war started. Before they were always just a silent reassurance, a comforting reminder that if he was attacked he could defend himself. Now every gun he sees has probably taken several lives and will take many more. “I don’t need that, Derek.”

Derek flips open the clip. “Yes, you do. Watch me, okay? I’m alternating bullets. The magazine can fit ten. Five are your standard jacketed lead. They’ll kill a human, but not a werewolf. The other five are wolfsbane pellets. Stiles, listen, this is important. If you shoot a werewolf with a wolfsbane pellet, you’ll kill him. Once it’s in their bloodstream and it makes its way to their heart, it’s over. If you shoot a human with a pellet, you’ll only cause minimal damage, unless you have it right up against their head.” Derek closes the clip. “When in doubt, shoot twice and aim for the vital spots.”

Stiles doesn’t want to touch it. “Derek, you really shouldn’t be giving me something that can kill werewolves.”

“I don’t trust everyone here,” Derek says simply. “They hate me. They hate me because I have money, and got to choose to do this and be a big hero, and they were forced to join up because they had no other options. They hate me because they’ve all had buddies die and be forgotten, but when my sister died she became a national martyr.” His eyes cloud over at the mention of Laura, as always, but he pushes forward. “They hate me because I don’t hate humans, and they think that’s naïve and leads me to make mistakes. They think I’m a traitor, and you’re a symbol of that.”

“But they wouldn’t…”

“They would. They think you’re less than we are because of where and what you were born. And I can’t focus when I think you’re unable to defend yourself against them.” Derek closes Stiles’s hand around the pistol. “You know how to take care of that?”

“Yes.”

“You promise me, if the time comes when you need to use that, you will?”

Stiles stares at it, trying to imagine pulling the trigger in another man’s face. He doesn’t answer Derek because he’s afraid the werewolf will hear the lie in his heartbeat.

Derek sighs and puts the gun on the nightstand. “Just carry it. Hopefully your self-preservation skills will kick in.”

“Okay, worry-wolf. I’ll carry it.”

“See?” Derek pulls him close and nuzzles the top of his head. “Isn’t it so much nicer when you agree with me?”

Stiles laughs and squirms under Derek’s playful caresses, glad to put the gun issue to rest. “Didn’t I promise to help you get rid of that headache, Lieutenant? Seems to me you’re just holding so much tension in your body…here, for example…” he squeezes Derek’s crotch.

“I’m so glad you mentioned it, civilian. My head is killing me. I would love if you could give it a few nice rubs, maybe some more kisses like you did this morning…”

“Poor head,” Stiles says, and slips his hand inside Derek’s pants to see what he can do.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

October, 2017

Derek is having a panic attack. He’s in his shower, kneeling on the tiles with the water running cold over him, and he can’t breathe.

This has never happened to him before, but Stiles used to get them. Maybe Stiles’s ghost has passed it along to him. Stiles was probably panicking in his last moments, wondering where Derek was; wondering why Derek was letting this happen to him.

He tries to remember how he used to calm Stiles down, but the words are useless as they stream through his memory. Shh it’s okay I’m here breathe with me just breathe you’re safe there’s no need to be afraid would I let anything hurt you everything’s all right just breathe with me baby just breathe.

He can’t breathe.

He doesn’t even know why it’s suddenly come over him like this. He’d had a lousy fucking day at work, for sure. Gerard had just gone public with his new staunchly anti-immigration views, and the protestors who already hated Derek for what he’d said in the article had shown up to protest outside the office.

It shouldn’t have bothered him but they’d been shouting all day, calling him a speciest, screaming statistics of the number of human civilians killed every day in Ideria. When he’d left for the day he’d seen a woman silently holding a sign in the air with bold lettering: No More Innocents? Pictured underneath were two human children Derek recognized from the news coverage months earlier. Their mother had attempted to smuggle them over to Luponia by getting them into a container on a Luponian cargo ship that had brought grain over to aid the poor, and one boy had suffocated before they ever reached shore.

The other had been sent back to Ideria alone.

It was only a month later that politicians, let by Gerard, forbade any contact other than overhead flying with Ideria, to prevent more refugees from sneaking over.

No. Not refugees. Gerard says they aren’t supposed to use that word. Immigrants.

He’d fled the protestors, trying to ignore what felt like sickening guilt in his stomach. He’d gone to the store to pick up Kate’s flowers, and then she’d wanted to talk, and—

We should have a baby.

That’s what he’d said to Stiles. That’s what Kate had said to him.

We should have a baby because I love you.

We should have a baby because we will never love each other.

The thought if it, of having a baby for all the wrong reasons, had made him want to be sick.

He’d fled upstairs without waiting for Kate to bring him his pills. He’s been in here for so long. Maybe an hour.

It’s been over a year, but he still wakes up every day with his heart pounding, hearing gunfire. If someone startles him at his desk he jumps, thinking he’s back on patrol with an enemy soldier taking him at advantage. And those protestors— he’d expected them to shoot. That’s what it was that had scared him so badly. They’d been screaming, like a mob, and now anything with the slightest bit of unrest he can only assume is about to turn deadly violent.

He just wants the war to die. Ending wasn’t enough. It’s never really gone away. He doesn’t want to see any more pictures of Iderians or hear any more stories of desperate immigrants. If there are still children over there clinging to life, God, yes, he wants to scoop them up in his arms and bring them here to be safe. But he knows Iderians now. They’ll open the gates for the children, but it will be the adults who storm in ahead. The adults who killed his family, and Laura, and Stiles.

They will destroy Luponia from the inside. They will come straight for him, the most high-profile war hero in the country. He will be back in the war, but this time it will be in his own country with nowhere to run.

He suck in deep breath after deep breath and feels as though the air evaporates in his lungs. There must be water in his ears, because the voice he hears calling his name from outside the bathroom door sounds as though he’s hearing it from miles away: “Derek? You’ve been in there forever. Are you all right?”

He doesn’t want Kate to see him. He’d offered up his house for her to live in, to sell the idea that they were a couple deeply in love, but he has to keep his boundaries.

The words telling her to leave won’t come out.

There’s a hesitant knock. “Derek? I’m worried.”

His mouth flops open and closed as he curls into a tighter ball.

“I’m coming in.”

“No!” he rasps out just as the door opens. He pulls himself up quickly, trying to hide, but he knows she must see how pitiful he is.

She stands there silently watching him as he turns off the water, grabs a towel, and steps out. “Long day?” she asks neutrally.

“Yeah. Headache.”

“Go lie down in the bedroom. I’ll get your pills. How many beers do you want?”

It really isn’t a good idea to have more than two with his pills. “Two,” he says.

She must mishear him, because five minutes later she brings up three, cradled into the crook of her arm. “Feel better,” she says, giving him the bottles of drink and pills.

“Thanks.”

She leaves, shutting off the light as she goes. He swallows his painkillers and drinks his beers, feeling the pleasant darkness rushing in as he swallows the dregs of the third bottle

#

Theo found him.

Theo is here, smiling brightly at Stiles, dressed in crisp clean clothes and looking utterly out of place in the surrounding muck. He’s wearing a badge with his name and title, and he has a gun holstered at his side, and a wicked-looking knife right next to it.

Stiles tries to step out of the house so he can close the door behind them and keep Theo from hearing Clara, but Theo blocks his way.

“Stiles,” Theo says, eyes tender. “You look awful, honey.” He raises his hand and fiddles with a lock of Stiles’s hair. He’d always liked doing that.

“How…how did you…”

“I’ve been looking everywhere! I’d searched Eichen for you right after the bombing, but when I couldn’t find you I assumed you fled with everyone else. I went up to Yangley to see if you were there— your father is still alive, by the way, or at least he was four months ago. God, Stiles, why would you stay here? It’s the worst place in all of Ideria. I thought surely someone as resourceful as you would have found another way…”

Stiles swears he hears the softest of whimpers from the drawer in which he’d stashed Clara and his stomach turns to water. “I know, Theo. It’s been awful, like you couldn’t believe. But I— I’m embarrassed for you to see me like this. Let me get cleaned up, and then we can talk, okay?”

“You’re out of your mind if you think I’m leaving you here for another second.” Theo looks distastefully at the mud coating his shoes. “After it took me so long to find you— I had to pay five different boys in the market to look out for you; thank God you went there today and one recognized you from my description and followed you home. I’m getting you out of here, Stiles.”

“That’s amazing, Theo. Great. Why don’t you go make arrangements and I’ll…pack.” His mind is racing. If he goes with Theo, Clara will starve to death. If he refuses, Theo might take him by force.

“The arrangements have already been made. Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to get you into my car and drive you up to my place in Catawaulpa. We can stay there for a few weeks until you’re back to yourself again. Then we’ll go public.” Theo laughs. “All my advisors are telling me I need an omega to humanize me if I’m going to take power— they were suggesting all these names, and I was like, ‘Guys, I already have an omega! I just have to go get him!’”

The last time Stiles had seen Theo he’d been spouting this same sort of thing: that he was meant to have Stiles, and Stiles was his, and nobody else’s. Stiles had been completely undersea then, lost in grief and shock, so he’d just laid there in a ball while Theo stroked him and cooed to him. He’d cried, he remembers, and Theo had taken that for love and gratitude.

He’d thought Theo would have gotten the picture when he had run away, but apparently not.

“Let’s go,” Theo says, tugging his hand. “I can’t stand to have you here for another second.”

Fuck, fuck, fuck. “Theo, I can’t really walk long distances, I’m too weak…can you drive the car here for me?”

Theo beams. “I’ll carry you!”

His mind races hopelessly. “I just need to…say goodbye to some people…” he tries.

Theo’s smile fades. “Stiles, what’s wrong with you? It’s like you’re not happy to see me.”

He can hear Clara whimpering loudly now, well aware that it isn’t time for another nap. She always gives him a little bit of a warm-up before she really gets fussy, but if he’s not with her in another few seconds she’s going to let it rip. “Of course I’m happy, Theo, I’m just so ashamed for you to see me like this.”

“You’re not still angry about your father, are you? I told you, he’s alive. You know I’m going to be the most powerful man in the country— I have the power to get him— ”

A sharp, impatient cry rises from inside his home and Theo stops short. Stiles feels all the blood draining out of his face. “Is that a baby?” Theo says softly.

“The neighbor’s,” Stiles whispers, blocking the doorway so Theo can’t see inside. “It’s always crying…”

Clara raises her voice and he hears a thud as she flails against the side of the drawer, wanting out. Theo’s mouth drops open and he forces his way inside, staring at the corner of the room. “Did you try to hide a baby in there when I knocked?”

“There are terrible people living around here,” Stiles croaks. “I didn’t want her to get hurt.”

“Why do you have a baby, Stiles?”

He can hardly think. “She’s an orphan. Her father died giving birth to her…I agreed to take care of her…Theo, please don’t worry about her, I thought we were going to leave together. I can give her to one of the neighbors. She means nothing to me. I want to go with you.”

Theo stares at the chest of drawers for another moment, then looks back at Stiles. “Bring her to me,” he orders calmly.

Stiles can feel desperate tears in his eyes. “Theo, please.”

“Get her, Stiles. Or I will.”

Stiles walks slowly over to the drawers, feeling himself shake with terror. Clara’s eyes flash up at him when he finally stoops over her, but she quiets once she’s in his arms, ear pressed against his heartbeat.

There is nowhere to run. Nowhere to go, except back to Theo. He walks her over, clutching her tightly in his arms, refusing to look directly at her so it won’t encourage her to flash her eyes.

When he reaches Theo the Alpha grabs her face and roughly pulls it into the light, prompting another shriek of fury. He makes direct eye contact with the baby. At this young they go by instinct, and direct eye contact is a show of aggression. They have to flash; they just can’t help it.

He watches her eyes flare at Theo and hears Theo’s hiss of disgust as he lets her go. She’s crying again now, maybe reacting to his racing heartbeat, and he clutches her tightly against himself.

“That’s not an orphan,” Theo says flatly. “She’s yours, isn’t she? You let one of them…what, did they use you as a fucktoy in the camp? Just passed you along from one soldier to the next?”

He shakes his head, curling over Clara. Seconds tick by while Theo just stands there, evaluating them both.

“It’s all right,” he says finally. His voice is gentle again. “Stiles, look at me. I’m not angry. I can forgive this. I know people had to do…awful things to survive. And I can’t blame you for connecting with it— I know you’re an omega and you can’t help it. I’m not going to punish you.”

Stiles looks up at him hopefully. “You won’t?”

“No. It’s fine, Stiles.” Theo puts his hand on Stiles’s cheek and strokes his thumb over the shadows under Stiles’s eye. “We’ll take care of this,” he says softly. “Give me the baby, Stiles. You can wait outside.”

Stiles’s brief spark of hope disappears. He shakes his head and backs away, pressing Clara into his chest.

“Don’t make this difficult. This is my job, Stiles. Give her to me and go outside.”

“I won’t,” he says, covering her head with his hand in a futile attempt to shield her. “You can’t have her, Theo. Please just leave us alone. If you care about me at all— ”

“I will not have werewolves in this country, Stiles. Either give her to me and go outside, or I’ll take her from you and make you watch. You don’t want that.”

Clara bumps her forehead against his hand. Her hand closes into a fist around his shirt and she blinks up at him, teary-eyed.

All of a sudden, Stiles isn’t afraid anymore. He doesn’t know what it is that makes him feel so brave, but his spine stiffens and he looks directly into Theo’s face. “I’m not giving you my daughter,” he says coldly. “You are not going to hurt her. She’s my child. She’s the most important thing in the world to me. I will kill anyone who puts a hand on her.”

Theo doesn’t like this sudden backbone, not at all. His hand goes to the knife at his hip. “You’re testing my patience,” he warns. “Don’t be stupid, Stiles. I know you. I remember when you wouldn’t even dissect a frog in science class. You are unable to kill, and the longer you fight me the worse it will be for the baby.”

Stiles shifts Clara into the crook of his left arm, leaving his right hand free. “You don’t know me. You don’t know what it’s like to love someone the way I love my daughter. The only thing I am unable to do now is let someone hurt her.”

“You’re going to kill me?” Theo’s lips twist up in a smile. “With what, honey? Your bare hands? That baby doesn’t even have teeth yet, so she’s worthless as a weapon. You really want to make this a fight?” He pulls the knife out, holding it up so the blade gleams in the light. “I’ve killed dozens of werewolves like her,” he tells Stiles. His voice is so flat it makes Stiles’s stomach churn. “I’ve cut them out of wombs before they drew a breath, and I’ve ripped them out of their parent’s arms. I’ve studied them. I know how to make it painless, and I know how to make it hurt. I know how to make it something that will haunt you for the rest of your life. This is your last chance to spare her.”

Stiles pulls out the gun Derek had given him a lifetime ago and flicks off the safety. He points it squarely between Theo’s eyes, which widen in shock and anger.

“You have one of their guns? You dare threaten me with a werewolf weapon?” This seems to be making Theo angrier than anything else. “You kept that, even after they left?”

“Her father gave me this.” Stiles’s finger feels heavy and powerful against the trigger. “He wanted me to promise that I would use it when the time came. I have kept our daughter safe for the past year without having to use his gun, but I will, Theo. It holds ten rounds. I will put every one of them into you if I have to.”

Theo’s expression smooths over. “You don’t even know if it will fire.”

“It will.”

“You won’t shoot.”

I will.”

Theo takes a step forward and Stiles retreats. “You’re a traitor to this country,” Theo says. “I should have killed your father. That spoiled you, didn’t it? You think I’m soft, but I’m not. Your half-breed bastard cannot be allowed to live.”

Stiles’s teeth clench on each breath he takes. “Theo, if you take another step towards her, I will shoot you.”

“I am this country’s hope. I will bring us back from the brink of destruction. No werewolf will survive under my rule.” Theo takes one more step.

Stiles fires.

The first one connects but he pulls the trigger again, automatically, since he isn’t sure if the first bullet was steel or wolfsbane. The first one is clean through the forehead; the second catches his chest as Theo goes down.

Clara screams so loudly he can hear it over the ringing in his ears. There’s shouting from above him, and footsteps racing to see what’s going on.

Theo’s eyes are wide open, mouth round with shock as he stares up at Stiles.

No. Stares up at nothing.

Theo is dead.

“What the fuck? What the fuck?

Stiles looks up to see a man standing in his doorway, mouth wide open in shock. He’s finally meeting one of his neighbors.

“Is that— that’s Theo Raeken— Jesus Christ!

Stiles’s heart pounds. He bends over Theo’s body and pulls off his badge, stuffing it into his pocket. He flicks the safety of the gun back on and runs past his stunned neighbor, Clara held tightly in his arms.

Chapter Text

May, 2016

In the end, Derek is more right than he knew. The soldiers were already planning to come for Stiles. They get him later that night.

More often than not Stiles slips out of Derek’s bed just past midnight to grab a bottle of water from the kitchen next door. It would annoy Derek if he knew Stiles did it; he would probably bogart a whole case of water to keep in his barracks for Stiles, which is explicitly forbidden, and Stiles doesn’t want him to get into trouble.

Besides, the camp is usually calm during the witching hour, and there’s something cool and soothing about the night air. It’s become a routine for him, which would probably infuriate both his father and Derek to know, because once you have a routine anyone can use it against you.

They grab him just as he steps onto the grass and pull a pillowcase over his head, stuffing a clump of fabric in his mouth so all he can let out is pained, pitiful whimpers as they hit him in the stomach again and again. He thinks they’re using bricks or something, and one is holding his hands behind his back. Then they hit him in the face with something, and even the pain gets fuzzy.

He spares a distant thought for the gun he’d left sitting on Derek’s bedstand and then he waits to die.

Just after he takes another hit to the face he hears a recognizable howl coming from a little farther away. The people holding him up let go and he crashes to the ground, where he curls up into a little ball. There’s shouting, and some pained yells, and violent thuds against flesh, but that doesn’t last long.

He’s so delirious that for a second he thinks he really is smelling his mom’s welcome-home chocolate cookies, but then he realizes it’s just Derek. The werewolf picks him up carefully, pulling off the pillowcase and pressing his hands all over Stiles’s body to take his pain. He’s making a strange, panicked crooning noise, as if he’s trying to simultaneously comfort Stiles and himself.

“Those fuckers,” he says, stroking away the pain in Stiles’s jaw. “I’ll make them pay for this, I promise. Oh, God, Stiles.”

“I’m going to pass out now,” Stiles warns him, voice all garbled. He thinks he might have lost a tooth.

“Okay, baby. You’re safe. I’ve got you.”

Stiles rests his head against Derek’s chest and shuts it all out.

#

Stiles spends the day in and out of consciousness, being fussed over at the infirmary by a nurse who has only been trained in treating werewolves. Derek spends most hours there with him, but he has to leave occasionally to deal with the attackers.

The five men who had waited outside Derek’s barracks for Stiles are unapologetic. They claim they just wanted to haze Derek, give him a little beating like they all got when they first joined up. In the darkness, they hadn’t known it was Stiles walking outside. “He sure smelled like Lieutenant Hale,” one of them says, eyes malicious.

Derek wants to kill them with his bare hands. He’d had trouble resisting when he’d heard the soft cries coming from outside and realized what was going on, but he’d just left them bleeding in his rush to get Stiles to the infirmary.

“We need to make an example,” he says to Gerard after Gerard has dismissed the soldiers.

“That would be inadvisable. We don’t need to start taking away our own soldiers and do Ideria’s work for it.”

“We have thirty-five humans in this camp, Gerard. You think a single one of them can feel safe after this? It’s bullshit, and I want them punished.” Derek kicks back his chair and stands. There’s a churning mass of anger in his stomach; he aches to claw and rip and destroy.

“It looks like the ring leader is a private first-class. I’ll demote him down to private.”

Derek stares at Gerard disbelievingly. Stiles has always said Gerard clearly doesn’t like humans and will always choose him own over one of them, but Derek had never really believed it. Now he’s seeing something he doesn’t like at all. “And that’s all?”

“Civilians get hurt in wars, Derek.”

“Not like this.” Derek closes his eyes. He’d thought Stiles was going to die, and the terror he’d felt had been vicelike. After all the people in his life he’s lost he’d thought he would be immune to a feeling like that.

Maybe it’s because after he lost his family he still had Cora and Laura, and after he lost Laura he still had Cora. There was always some family left. If Stiles died, there would be no replacing, or supplanting, this sort of love.

“You brought him here.” Gerard stands as well, a cue for Derek to leave. “Everyone has had dalliances with a human, Derek, but you took this one too far. I think it’s time to release your catch back into the wild.”

Derek shakes his head, stunned at the callous assessment. “This isn’t a fucking dalliance, Gerard! I’m taking him back with us. I love him. How do you not understand that?” He feels like an ass as soon as it’s out— he knows Gerard’s mate died years ago. The remains of Gerard’s mate bite are still there, a wicked scar on the back of his neck.

Gerard, however, doesn’t even flinch at his poorly chosen words. “You’ve written a check you can’t cash. The Luponian government isn’t going to let every soldier bring his human boyfriend or girlfriend home. Letting Stiles think otherwise is just cruel.” Gerard nods towards the door. “You’re a good man, Derek. I think you know what you have to do.”

And Derek does.

#

The last time Stiles wakes up in the infirmary, his head is pillowed in Derek’s lap, the werewolf gently pressing his thumb against Stiles’s bruised eye to clear the last dregs of pain. “Hiya,” he says, yawning hugely. “Have you been taking my pain all night?”

Derek’s lip quirks. “It’s four in the afternoon.”

“Seriously? I’m out of it. Are we still in Ideria? What year is it?”

Derek gives him a real smile and bends to kiss him. “Did I get all the pain?”

“Yeah. I feel great.”

“Good enough to leave?”

“Yes, please.” He drops his voice. “I think the nurse wants to euthanize me, she’s so frustrated with my non-healing body.”

He’s a little creaky, so Derek helps him stand. The cots in the nurse’s office are nothing compared to Derek’s bed, but just when he starts thinking longingly about cuddling up there with his werewolf Derek takes a turn and leads him away from the barracks.

“Where are we going?” Derek probably reported the guys who attacked Stiles, and for all Stiles knows he’s about to walk into some sort of army tribunal to testify.

“We’re here.” Derek stops in front of one of the army jeeps and opens the passenger door. “I’ll give you a boost.”

Stiles frowns but allows Derek to help him into the car. “You’re not, like, trying to take me to a human doctor, are you? Because I really am fine. The nurse was like eighty-twenty that I don’t have brain damage.”

“She actually bumped that up to ninety-ten while you were out of it. She said you probably would have died in your sleep otherwise.”

“See? I’m totally fine.”

Derek looks at him as he starts the engine, eyes pained. “Next time you might not be.”

“Oh, come on, worry wolf. There won’t be a next time.” Stiles starts to get a bad feeling about this.

“Yes, there will be. Gerard refused to give your attackers any real punishment. They’ll do it again.” Derek takes a deep breath as they drive past the border line. “You’re not safe here anymore.”

Stiles feels an echo of the terror he’d felt during the attack. Derek’s kicking him out. He’s driving Stiles far away from the camp before dumping him, like a dog you don’t want to follow you home. “Derek, no. I want to stay. I’m useful here.”

“I’m sorry, Stiles.”

“No. Please, Der.” Stiles wants to scream. This is the end. This is Derek running away with the bomb all over again. “Please, you can’t just leave me in the city— I don’t want to be alone out there—”

Derek looks at him like he’s crazy. “Who said anything about you being alone?”

#

By the time they make it to their destination Stiles is fighting tears. He blames the brain damage he probably doesn’t have.

“I wasn’t able to scout it out,” Derek cautions him as he stops the jeep. “It might have been looted. It’s been empty for almost a year.”

Stiles just nods, unable to speak past the lump in his throat as he looks up at his house.

For some reason he hadn’t even thought about his place being one of the abandoned houses in the city for the Luponian soldiers to occupy, but Derek had. He’d kept any other soldiers from taking it as though he knew they would need this escape.

“Derek, are you sure?” he asks for the hundredth time. “You really don’t think Gerard’s going to discharge you or something?”

“He’s pissed, but I don’t care. I’ll watch the city, and I’ve promised to spend ten hours a week in the camp. I honestly felt like I was spinning my wheels there anyway; he says I’m too valuable to fight so what am I really doing?” Derek lifts Stiles out of the jeep. “We can write letters here as well as there, right?”

“Right.” Stiles clings to Derek’s arm. The house looks just like he remembers it from the day they’d taken his dad, but he’s a little scared to go inside. In the past year any number of people might have broken in and looted anything of value.

When Derek opens the door the first thing he sees in a picture. Their family portrait is still hanging on the wall, a little crooked and dusty but otherwise perfect. He remembers when his dad had put it up, Stiles trying to steady his legs on the chair while his mom gave directions.

His worry was for nothing. If any looters had broken in, they hadn’t taken what was really of value.

Stiles lets go of Derek and darts through the house, grinning widely. His room is just like he left it. His dad’s uniform is still neatly laying across his bed. The kitchen pantry is even still stocked with soup cans, which John had started hoarding once the ration allowance dropped so severely. “It’s all still here!” he yells to Derek.

“Is this your room?” Derek shouts back. “Either this is the only place that got looted, or you are seriously messy.”

Stiles runs back to him and finds Derek standing right in the middle of a clothes pile. “Get out of there!” He’s straight-up giggling now, feeling absolutely giddy.

“I like your posters.” Derek points to the one of a beefed-up Alpha. “I mean, I don’t know if I can complete with him…”

“Oh my God, I forgot about that thing.” Stiles leans against Derek. “I can’t decide what would be creepier: having sex with you in my childhood bedroom, or my parents’ room.”

Derek grimaces. “Is there a guest room?”

Stiles just snorts at him. “That’s cute, rich boy.”

“Hmm.” Derek wraps his arms around Stiles. “What if we took the mattress off your parents’ bed and put it in the living room?”

Stiles considers. “Still sort of creepy, but I like that you’re thinking out of the box. Let’s do it.”

They do.

#

Later Stiles finds a photo album and flips through it while cuddled under a blanket with Derek. “Here’s the day I was born,” he says, stopping at a picture of his mother holding a red-faced bundle.

“You were a tiny baby.”

“Premature. But a fighter, according to my dad.” He flips the page and traces a photo of his father holding Stiles for the first time.

“We’ll get him out,” Derek says softly, reading Stiles’s mind.

“I know. It’s just hard to think of him there. I wake up every morning wanting to go break him out. I know he’s a fighter too, but the thought of what they’re doing to him…”

“We’ll build him a guest house attached to ours,” Derek promises. “He can come over for dinner every night.”

“He’ll want to join your police force, I bet. Even though he won’t be as fast, or as strong. He’ll be at the gym every morning to try and beef up.”

“I’ll vouch for him.” Derek kisses the back of Stiles’s neck. “I need to ask you something,” he says, sounding a little nervous.

“Mm?”

Derek takes a breath. “Gerard and I were talking about what will happen once the war’s over. About getting you home with me. He said it might be more difficult than I thought— there are so many civilians we have helping us that the government can’t exactly offer citizenship based on that alone.”

Stiles swallows. “Okay.”

“But if we were bonded— if things were official— you would have a right to citizenship based on that alone.”

“Bonded?”

“Mated.”

Stiles loses his breath.

“Will you, Stiles? Will you be my mate? I know it should have been better than this; it should have been a whole ceremony with your dad and my sister there, but I just want to know that I’m not going to lose you— that our citizenship is incidental because our allegiance is to each other. I want that known. Because when the war ends, I need you with me. I need to take you home. Or I’ll never go home, not really. So?” He can feel Derek trembling against him. “Will you?”

A mating bite is the most serious commitment you can make to somebody. The science behind a mating bite is weak; some just throw science out the window and call it magic. It’s a bond, immune to distance— immune to everything, really, except death. Once one mated partner dies the bite, previously a white, almost glowing, mark on the neck, scars over. A bite can also be chemically destroyed, though the science on whether that completely removes a bond or not is dubious.

“Of course I will,” he says, rolling over to look at Derek. “I love you, Derek. I don’t want to go to Luponia because it’s better than here, I want to go to Luponia because it’s where you’ll be.”

Derek closes his eyes in relief. “I love you too, Stiles.”

“The bite won’t turn me, will it?”

“No. I would have to break the skin with my canines for that. For a mating bite I’ll use my incisors.”

Stiles grins. “God, how do you make even that sound sexy?”

“You just can’t be serious for a second, can you?” Derek brushes at Stiles’s flyaway hair, eyes locked on his neck. “Do you want to do it now?”

Stiles nods and turns over onto his side. There’s no point in waiting, after all, and he feels a sudden urgency, as though the thought of everything that might separate them is suddenly crowding in close. “Can you see well enough?” he whispers.

Derek traces the spot on the back of his neck, just above the knob of his spine. “Yes.”

“Do it.”

Derek kisses him there first, letting his lips linger, and then gently sinks his teeth into the spot. The pain is momentary and before Derek has even lifted his head away Stiles is filled with a driving need to return the favor and complete the bond. He straddles Derek, wrapping his arms around the sturdy body for purchase. “Mine,” he whispers into Derek’s neck before he bites.

Derek sighs as it takes. It’s like a sudden current, flowing all through and between them. Stiles swears he has a new pulse right there in the back of his neck. “Derek,” he says in wonder.

“God, Stiles. God.” Derek kisses him. “I can’t believe I found you; can’t believe I get to have you forever. I love you.”

Stiles burrows into him, needing closeness. Derek’s scent has gone deeper now, richer and even more calming. He doesn’t ever want to leave his side. “Don’t let go,” he whispers as Derek’s arms tighten around him.

“Never.”

He listens to the steady thumping of Derek’s heartbeat and realizes it matches the pulse he feels in his mating bite. Derek’s eyes are closed, lips curved in a serene smile, and Stiles has never seen his werewolf— his mate— look so peaceful.

“Derek?” he whispers after several long minutes.

“Mm, baby?”

“Gerard is going to be so pissed about this.”

Derek’s laughter shakes but doesn’t dislodge him. “Well, there’s nothing he can do about it now.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

October, 2017

Derek knows he doesn’t have a problem with alcohol. If he did Kate certainly wouldn’t be offering him a beer as often as she does, since she’s so unshakably concerned about image. He drinks more than he used to, certainly, but he doesn’t have a problem.

But he gets a little worried when he gets to his final tux fitting before the wedding and mating ceremony and realizes he’s drunk. He’s drunk, and there are reporters here, and he might have really fucked up.

It’s only two o’clock in the afternoon. How did he let this happen? He’d slept poorly, and then Kate had suggested he drink a beer at breakfast as a hangover cure, and then she’d started talking about the upcoming ceremony and that made him think about Stiles so he’d wanted another…

He hadn’t meant to get drunk but she’d put her finger on his scar and talked about how they’d need to make him an appointment for reconstructive work, because the scar was still more prominent than it should be, and they couldn’t have reporters trying to get a picture of his neck and asking why it looked like he’d been mated before.

Then he’d really wanted to be drunk, and his tolerance has been upped so much that he knew he’d need three, and…when had he gone for the fourth?

He stands bleary-eyed as two tailors fuss around him. There are three reporters here from publications he can’t remember, asking questions far too quickly:

“Mr. Hale, where will you be spending your wedding night?”

“Will you be exchanging mating bites before or after the vows?”

“What song have you chosen to play during the mating portion of the ceremony?”

Derek gives one-word answers when he can. He wants to tell them how idiotic all of this is. A tux, flowers, reporters, hundreds of thousands of dollars— all for a ceremony Derek once did naked under a blanket on an old mattress in a war-torn city.

Of course he’d never married Stiles officially; that had to be done by a Luponian vested with that power by the government. But marriage is widely considered to be less important than mating. Marriage is a piece of paper. Mating is so much more.

“Careful,” he grunts at the tailor working at his collar, aggravating his scar. They’ve been paid to keep quiet about it.

“Step down, Mr. Hale,” the tailor says, and he does. He stumbles over nothing and nearly falls on his face in front of the reporters.

“Christ!”

The tailors try to steady him, but he’s off balance. “Let me go!” he snarls at them, pushing one away a little too hard and nearly losing his balance again.

The reporters are silent as they watch him struggle. “Mr. Hale, are you drunk?” one asks after a moment, scandalized delight poorly concealed in her voice.

“What? Of course not. That’s ridiculous.” He hears himself slur the word and flushes deep red. “My shoes are too tight.”

“You’re not wearing shoes, Mr. Hale.”

For a moment he feels terribly trapped, and that makes him think of being back in the war. His face twists as his heart starts to race, and in the distance there’s gunfire, or maybe he’s just imagining it. The smiles fade from the reporters’ faces and he turns, unable to look at them. “I need this off,” he says too loudly. “I need…”

“Here you are, sir.” The tailors rush to help him.

His fingers are clumsy as he pulls at the collar. “Get out!” he roars at the reporters when he senses them still sitting there. “You think you can watch me get undressed? Leave!”

They scatter and he pulls off the clothes, heartrate just shy of panicked, imagining what the papers will say about him tomorrow.

He really wants a drink.

#

When he gets home Kate is in the bedroom, putting some kind of lotion on her legs. “Oh!” she says when she sees him, hastily covering her half-naked body with a blanket. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.”

She must have been pretty preoccupied, then, seeing as he’d knocked over a table on his way inside. “That’s okay. I wanted to talk to you.”

She scoots over and he walks to the bed, still bleary-eyed. He had forced himself not to drink any more since his fitting, but now he just sort of feels sick to his stomach and off-kilter. “I was thinking about what you said yesterday.”

“About having a baby?”

“Yeah.” He takes a breath. He knows he can’t go on like this anymore. He’s getting mated to Kate in two weeks. It’s time to put the past— put Stiles— to rest. Living this way, resenting Kate and pushing away Cora and sinking deeper and deeper into himself, is going to destroy him.

He needs something more. A new kind of love to sandblast through the blocked places in his heart.

“I want to do it. I think we should have a baby.”

Kate’s smile is so wide that for a second he feels good. He’s made her happy and she deserves that. “That’s fantastic news, Derek.”

“I don’t want to wait.” He’s afraid he’ll chicken out, or slide even deeper into his depression until there’s no pulling him free. “When’s your next heat?’

“Well…three days away. You don’t want to wait until after the ceremony?”

He shakes his head. He’s been dreading exchanging mating bites with Kate; if she’s pregnant, and thus smells more appealing to him, maybe it won’t be so bad. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to do it right away.”

“Okay.” She puts a hand on his cheek, but he freezes and she pulls away with an apologetic smile. “Three days.”

He forces a smile.

“How about I grab us some champagne to celebrate? If this works I won’t be drinking for nine months!” She looks so happy that Derek can’t refuse. It’s not like it’s hard liquor, after all; one drink won’t kill him.

Besides, his mating scar is hurting again, practically pulsing, like a fading ghost trying desperately to cling to life. He needs to make it go away.

Once she leaves he buries his face in his hands. I’m sorry, he thinks, to the person who is not here and will never be here again.

#

Stiles runs and runs without stopping. He swears he can feel everyone he passes taking up the shout of his neighbor:

That’s Theo Raeken.

Stiles has killed the most famous person in Ideria.

Now there really is no staying here. His neighbor knows his face; Theo’s advisors surely knew he was coming for Stiles. God, if they search his house they’ll find the pictures, the half-written and tearstained letters he’d tried to write to Derek—

They will execute him for this. Kill Clara and him both.

When he reaches the dock and doesn’t see the ship he nearly collapses, before he remembers that they said they were going to hide out until Raeken was dead or gone. “Duke!” he screams at the top of his lungs. “Duke!

Clara is still wailing at the noise and for the first time ever he just lets her cry. “I know you’re here, Deucalion! Duke!”

“You idiot,” a voice says, and a head pops up from under the dock. “You want to get killed?”

“I have payment, Duke. I have payment. Please.”

“Christ.” Deucalion scrambles up, accompanied by the woman. “Kali, kill him. His screaming is hurting my ears.”

“That’s not him, Duke.” Kali stares in fascination at Clara. “He’s got a baby.”

Duke chokes. “You’re trying to pay me with a baby, Niles? What the fuck?”

“It’s Stiles. And this is my daughter. She’s not the payment.” He holds up the badge he’d ripped from Theo’s chest. “This is. You said I had to find something you needed. You said you needed Theo Raeken dead. I killed him. Will you keep your word?”

Kali takes the badge, eyes wide. “It’s Raeken’s,” she tells Duke. “And there’s blood on his clothes…”

I killed Theo Raeken. You can hear it’s true in my heartbeat. If you leave me here, they’ll kill my child, and then me. Take us with you.”

“If Raeken’s dead they’ll come for us,” Kali tells Duke urgently. “Whatever you decide, we have to be out of here soon.”

Duke stares in Stiles’s direction, eyes somehow thoughtful even when blinded. “Is the baby a werewolf?”

“Yes.”

“Her father’s in Luponia?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“The capitol city, last I knew.”

Duke nods slowly. “That’s where we’re going.”

“He’s got money,” Stiles says desperately. He’s afraid to use Derek’s name; he’s not sure what its currency is with these people. “Lots of money, I swear. I’ll tell him you saved us and he’ll reward you.”

Duke nods at Kali and she swings back off the deck— they must be hiding in one of the caves underneath. “Here’s the deal. We’ll take the both of you and smuggle you off the ship into Luponia. We’ll get his address and drive you right to his door. He’ll pay us. Then we never have contact again, understood?”

Stiles is light-headed. “Understood.”

“You better keep that baby quiet. It’s a four-day trip home. I’d hate to feed you both to the sharks just to get some sleep.”

“I will.” Four days. He’ll be with Derek again in four days. He can’t believe it’s finally happening.

Duke sticks out his hand and Stiles shifts Clara so he can shake it. “All right, Slayer Stiles. Welcome to the crew.”

Chapter Text

May— September 2016

The fighting picks up just after Derek and Stiles leave the camp. The ten hours Derek promised Gerard quickly becomes twenty, twenty-five, thirty. When Gerard radios him he leaves immediately, well aware that failing to do so could mean the death of his every soldier in the city. He finds himself picking up a gun far more often than he ever had before. He’s not sure if that’s some sort of revenge tactic by Gerard, who was absolutely furious when he learned Derek had mated Stiles, or if things really are getting serious in Eichen.

He’d been in active combat before, but this is different. He never knows where the enemy is going to be coming from, and they have wolfsbane bullets now. He watches a soldier die right next to him, skin turning blue-purple as the poison takes hold. It makes him afraid of death in a way he’s never been before.

They get antidote pills they’re supposed to carry around with them, but the poison works so quickly that nobody has time to swallow. He has nightmares about it: only having seconds to stop death, but feeling his hand turn to lead or dropping the pill at the last moment.

When he does come home to Stiles he finds himself clinging to his mate. At night he wakes up if Stiles rolls out of his embrace and pulls him close again, unable to sleep without visceral knowledge of Stiles’s safety. He worries about guerilla soldiers following him home, so he takes long, dangerous routes away from the camp.

Stiles tries to make things normal. He has dinner waiting at home most nights, though it’s often gone cold by the time Derek makes it back. He holds Derek and lets Derek hold him. He never complains when Derek has to leave, though Derek sees the lines around his eyes deepen a little more each time.

The summer is hot but not unbearably so until one week in July. The heat swells with every passing day as if the summer has been storing it up and finally has a chance to spend it all at once.

It’s a bad week. The Iderians come at them with everything they have, taking sniper positions to try and catch them off-guard. It gets so bad Derek just lets his wolf take over. His wolf doesn’t enjoy killing, but he’s good at it, and he has to do it, so he does it, and he does it well. It’s a hunt for prey and nothing more. The wolf doesn’t have to think about the men going down when he fires; about the widows or orphans being made with one shot.

His wolf far prefers going home to his mate. He likes to nuzzle into his mate’s neck and be petted and kissed. He can forget about the hunting and the killing when he’s back in his den.

He’s more wolf than man that entire week, until the day it gets so hot he can barely breathe and he watches Braeden take a wolfsbane bullet inches from him.

Braeden is his friend, close to his pack, and for a moment he’s so scared he doesn’t feel like a man at all, only an animal. Then he sees her hand, already partially paralyzed by the spreading poison, trying to scramble at her hip for the antidote, and he springs into action.

He pulls out the pill from his own pocket, drops it in her open mouth, and strokes her throat to get her to swallow it down. She gags on it but there’s no time to get out his canteen for water. Her skin is already tinted purple as she swallows, eyes bulging.

Her heart stutters as the poison fights the antidote, and then her color slowly starts to return.

She lives.

The heat breaks the next day and the tide turns with it. Once they’re able to pinpoint the new guerilla tactics employed by the Iderians it’s much easier to anticipate the attacks. The Luponians are able to take out five times as many soldiers as the Iderians can, and there are no replacements being sent.

Gerard calls Derek into his office in early September to tell him they’re anticipating Iderian surrender by October.

“How certain?” Derek asks, afraid to hope. He wants to go home so badly, and the thought of being back by Christmas…

“All but guaranteed. The current leadership is aware they’ve lost the majority of their soldiers. There are no more reserves to pull from.” Gerard’s smile looks a little tired, and Gerard never looks tired. “I’ll be glad to see the back of this place. And then I’d be happy to never see another human again.”

“Gerard,” Derek scolds.

“You disagree?”

“Obviously.”

Gerard shakes his head. He still disapproves of Stiles; absence has not made the heart grow fonder. “You have less than a month to come to your senses.”

“That’s not going to happen,” says Derek, stung. “We’re mated.”

“See what that does for you when you’re fighting a three-year citizenship battle.”

“What are you talking about?”

“There is no guarantee our government will let an Iderian civilian on Luponian soil. We’ve lost many more soldiers than anticipated, Derek. There’s little love lost for humans back home.”

“But we’re mated,” Derek repeats. He’d thought once they made things as official as they could be there could be no question where Stiles belonged.

Gerard just shrugs and turns back to his papers. “That doesn’t make him one of us.”

#

Stiles opens the oven and peers inside. He decided to try and make his mother’s famous chocolate cookies to welcome Derek home, but given the lack of fresh ingredients he’d had to adjust the recipe slightly.

Specifically, he’d had to cut the eggs and butter, and he’d mashed up coffee beans with sugar to try and approximate chocolate. For some reason that had seemed genius an hour ago.

The toxic smell coming from the oven suggests otherwise.

Yeah, these sad-looking little pucks need to be buried in the backyard like evidence of a crime, or possibly blessed by a priest so they never come back to haunt him again.

He pulls out the tray, drops it unceremoniously on the counter, and opens the pantry again, looking for something else to make. Whenever Derek is away he needs to fill the time, because otherwise he just sits around, waiting to see if his mating bite will suddenly sear with pain. He lives in fear of knowing Derek has died in such a sudden, horrible way, and the relief he feels when Derek comes through the door is staggering.

He’s late again, but that’s normal. Stiles sighs as he shuts the pantry door. Derek’s been optimistic over the past few weeks that things are starting to die down, but Stiles has heard that before.

There’s the unmistakable sound of the key turning in the lock, and as soon as Derek’s scent hits the air Stiles instinctively relaxes. “Hi,” Derek says from behind him, wrapping his arms around Stiles to kiss his neck.

“Hi. Bad day?”

“No casualties.”

“Thank God.”

“Mm.” Derek keeps kissing him. He’s been more and more tactile these days, not like Stiles is complaining. Once he’s gotten his fill he just leans against Stiles, swaying them both back and forth. “We should have a baby,” he whispers.

It’s so out-of-the-blue that Stiles just laughs. “Uh, we should have a dozen. No, twenty-six. One for each letter of the alphabet.”

“We’ll never find a name for X.”

“Xena.”

“No.”

“Well, then, forget it. We’re staying barren.”

“I mean it.” Derek is still nuzzling him, suggesting he’d had a bad day despite the lack of casualties. “I think we should have a baby now.”

Stiles grabs Derek’s hand from where it’s currently, almost unconsciously, stroking his belly. “What? Now? In the middle of the war?”

“The end of the war. It’s almost over. And I’m not sticking around for reconstruction, not when I’ve got you to worry about.”

“How do you know it’s almost over?” The Iderian army has gotten into a pattern of falling back and then throwing everything they’ve got into one huge offensive. Too much confidence that this is the actual end just seems idiotic at this point.

“Gerard told me.”

“And you want to celebrate with a victory baby?” Stiles blinks up at his mate, totally bemused.

“I don’t want there to be any fight about your citizenship,” Derek says. “When a human and wolf mate, the chances of the baby being a werewolf are above ninety-eight percent. My countrymen will be more likely to accept you if you’re carrying a baby that they see as…well…a natural-born Luponian.”

Stiles puts the pieces together. “Gerard told you I won’t be welcome in Luponia, didn’t he?”

Derek grimaces slightly. “Something like that.”

“I don’t want to have a baby to be my ticket out,” Stiles says quietly.

“Don’t think of it like that. I don’t. As I was coming home I was turning it around in my head, and the idea of us having a baby…” Derek hugs him tight. “I love you,” he says. “That’s why we should have a baby. I’m so tired of fighting. I just want a family to love. If we never have a baby, if it’s just you and me together, that would already be more than I deserve…but think about it. Imagine our baby.”

Stiles imagines. He imagines being pregnant, having Derek stroke his belly just like he’s doing now, feeling the baby kick experimentally against his skin. He imagines holding the baby for the first time, Derek’s arms around the both of them. He imagines the baby toddling towards him, Derek’s expressive eyebrows squinched together with devout concentration on its face, before it tumbles beaming, into his arms.

“You really think now is the best time?” he says, trying not to let himself be blinded by the images.

“Hey, you said it. A victory baby.” Derek goes back to the nuzzling, damn him; this is no way to make an objective decision. “Imagine what your dad will say when we get him out,” he whispers, grinning broadly. “You’ve not only found him a son-in-law, but a grandchild too. My sister will lose her shit when I come back with a pregnant mate.”

“Der,” Stiles groans, tipping his head so Derek can kiss him in his favorite spot.

“You know I love you, right? You know I’m not leaving without you— I want everyone to know that. I just want everyone who sees you to know that you and I belong to each other.”

Stiles closes his eyes and just lets Derek stroke him. Is it too soon to have a child? He knows it will be a transition, going from Ideria to Luponia, and it’s not like he can just snap his fingers and free his dad; that will be a whole separate battle.

But the thought of being pregnant during it all doesn’t seem scary, or even particularly insurmountable. It would be something to look forward to; something to share with Derek as they build their new life together.

Oh, this is crazy. This is too crazy. But—

“Okay,” he says.

Derek freezes and looks down at him, eyes stunned and thrilled. “Yeah?”

“My heat is next week. We just…won’t use protection and see what happens.”

“Stiles! Oh my God, Stiles. This is fantastic!” Derek squeezes him, looking like he wants to pick Stiles up and spin him around the room.

“It really could be,” Stiles says softly, that beaming little face still dancing in his vision.

Derek grabs a cookie off the tray and pops it in his mouth, then grimaces and spits it out immediately. “Terrible,” he proclaims.

“Yeah, I know. Let’s hope I do a little better with what we get cooking in my oven.”

Really terrible,” Derek says, and kisses Stiles to get rid of the taste. When he pulls away he looks happier than Stiles has ever seen him. “We’re going to have a baby,” he crows with delight.

#

Stiles’s heat hits right on schedule. For the past year they’ve just been extra careful when he feels that sweet low churning in his belly that means he’s at his most fertile. The thought of not doing that and actually using his heat for its intended purpose only increases his symptoms and makes him anxious for Derek all day.

Gerard has started to evacuate some of the Luponian troops, which Derek is taking as a very good sign. More importantly it gets Derek out of the range of fire, and generally means he gets home at a decent time.

Stiles is waiting when Derek walks through the door. He has simple foods stocked beside their mattress, crackers and peanut butter for energy. He’s already played with himself a little so he’s slick and open for Derek.

The werewolf smells it and his eyes go lusty red. “Getting yourself ready?” he asks softly, locking the door behind him and pulling off his shirt.

“I’d rather you do it.”

“Well, if you insist.” Derek fumbles off his pants and nestles Stiles into his lap. His fingers press around Stiles’s hole, rubbing circles until they slip inside. Derek knows his body so well now and he makes it good, so good, stretching him open with silky strokes.

He’s wet and stretched enough that three fingers go in easy. “Good?” Derek whispers.

“The best. Perfect. More.”

“Hey, we’re just getting started. Gotta do my duty and make sure you’re stretched enough for my knot.” Derek shifts so Stiles can feel his erection already thickening. “And the knot is essential tonight, to make sure we don’t lose a single drop.” His fingers are warm inside of Stiles. “You are going to look so good pregnant,” he croons, and Stiles feels another flood of slick at the words.

When Stiles is wet and open enough Derek bends and starts laying little kisses on his stomach. “Get ready in there,” he says, making Stiles snort.

“You’re going to talk to my belly the entire time I’m pregnant, aren’t you?”

“I’m going to talk to our baby, yes.” Derek straightens up and waits for Stiles to get on his front. “It’s not fair you’ll get to monopolize him all the time. We’re going to whisper secrets and plot against you.”

“Hey, pal, I’m the one who makes the milk here. He’ll know where his loyalties lie.”

“Whatever you say.” Derek kisses his neck. “Ready?”

“Ready.”

Derek pushes inside of him. They’ve had sex without condoms before, but it’s always been a little hurried so they don’t get into trouble. Now Derek takes his time, working to hit Stiles’s prostrate as he thrusts deeper and deeper. “You feel so good in heat,” he says, and Stiles understands what he means: his body just feels open and hungry and alive, eagerly taking Derek in.

“Here we go,” Derek says after a languid few minutes, picking up in speed. “Knot’s going to form, baby. You okay?”

“Yeah.”

Derek comes for the first time and Stiles moans as he feels it fill him up just as Derek’s penis starts to swell. His own dick throbs but he holds off, wanting to wait until Derek’s fully locked in.

He’s never been knotted before but it feels incredible. The pain is surprisingly minimal; it’s relief-pain, like the moment after pulling a loose tooth. Derek comes again and Stiles feels it stay, plugged in by Derek’s cock. It’s all going to fill him up, looking for the egg to fertilize, and surely out of all those hundreds of swimmers one will hit gold.

“Now you, baby,” Derek says, so Stiles does, feeling blissful relief as he lets go. Derek is a strong, young Alpha, and he just puts load after load into Stiles. He feels full and the thought of staying that way for nine months, getting bigger and bigger as he grows their baby, makes him search blindly for Derek’s hand so he can squeeze it in silent elated gratitude.

Derek brings his hand to his lips, clearly having the same thoughts. “I’m going to take such good care of you,” he promises roughly as he throbs and shifts and spills in waves inside of Stiles. “I won’t let anyone touch you or my pup, not ever. I’ll keep you safe while you keep our baby safe; can’t wait to get you home where nothing can ever touch you...”

Eventually Derek stops coming but the knot stays swollen. He moves carefully so he can shift Stiles to a better position, back into his lap as he props up against the couch they use as a headboard. “Okay?” he asks again.

“Yeah.” Stiles feels sleepy. That’s a good sign. They say the body needs calm waters to help the sperm make its way to the egg.

Derek reaches down so he can rub around the base of the knot, taking any pain that might be there. His cool fingers feel good, really good, and Stiles even clenches down a little on the knot. Derek groans with pleasure. “Do that again and we’ll start round two right here.”

“No,” Stiles whines, rubbing his head sleepily against Derek’s chest. “I think you already bred me up good, lieutenant.”

“I think so too,” Derek says, his Alpha-side making it sound downright smug. “I think we just made a perfect baby. I’m going to love you both, so much, forever.”

He pets Stiles’s head, humming deep in his chest until Stiles is nodding off. When the knot finally goes down he pulls out, gets water for the kitchen for them both, and then gets out a fresh blanket for Stiles to snuggle under.

“Get your sleep,” he says, bending down by his side. “Let your body rest while it makes our pup.”

“Such an optimist,” Stiles slurs.

“Hey.” Derek’s grin in the dark is shit-eating. “If it didn’t work tonight, we just get to do that again. You won’t hear me complaining.”

Before he crawls into bed with Stiles he gives Stiles’s belly one more loving kiss. “Night-night,” he whispers to it, then crawls into bed with his mate. His arms pull him close, hand resting warm and protective just below the navel, and Stiles falls asleep feeling like it’s the first night of a brand new world.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

October, 2017

“Theo Raeken is dead.”

Derek looks up in surprise from his desk. He’s been a little blurry all day, unable to concentrate on much of anything, and about an hour ago he’d given up on work and started looking online at baby stuff. “What?”

“Raeken. He’s dead.” Gerard looks displeased about this, for some reason.

“How do you know?”

“I try to pick up their radio broadcasts,” he says shortly. “It’s been out for a while. Apparently the entire country is in mourning for their great leader.”

Derek blinks, trying to clear his head. “Was it us?”

“I don’t know. My smuggler over there must be back at sea, because I can’t make contact. From what I could gather from the broadcast, they seem to have some idea who it is and they’re hunting him down. If it was a human they’ll execute him and we can wash our hands of it. If it was a werewolf they might make war.”

Derek shudders at the thought. “You really think so? They barely have an army, and they have no funds. Declaring war would mean their destruction.”

“The snake eats itself to sate its hunger, Derek. They’re less intelligent and more violent than werewolves. They’ll drop a bomb on us while the President is still dithering about whether or not we should put them out of their misery. What a mess.”

“But this is what you wanted, right?”

“Oh, the damn things are like Hydra heads. This one is dead and two worse ones will spring up in his place. I wanted the president to let me bomb them, is what I wanted. I’d like to kill out the species entirely!”

Derek looks away too quickly and Gerard scoffs at him. “Really, Derek? You have any sympathy for the people who killed your Stiles?”

“Stiles was human too,” Derek says, so quietly that Gerard wouldn’t have been able to hear if he weren’t a werewolf.

“Well, sometimes you find a jewel among rocks. That doesn’t make the rest of the rocks worth any more.” This is a generous assessment coming from the man who once despised Stiles, but Gerard knows Derek won’t hear a single syllable against his lost mate now. “Remember that Stiles grew up with a werewolf as his best friend. That put him at a level with the humans we have as citizens here in Luponia— influenced to their better nature by us. He was one of the few humans who didn’t squat in his own hatred and jealousy of our species. I assure you, all of his ilk have been killed off now.”

“I know.”

“The only ones left alive are the ones who ordered the attack that killed him.”

I know, Gerard. I’m on your side. Please stop talking.”

Gerard considers him for a moment. “Why don’t you head home early,” he says.

Derek’s heartrate picks up. He doesn’t want to go home yet. It’s been three days since he’d agreed to have a baby with Kate. Her heat has already started; she texted him at lunch. She’s waiting for him.

He’s not ready.

“I still have work to do.”

“Pawn it off on an intern.”

“I don’t want to set a bad example.”

“Disobeying your boss is setting a bad example. I’m telling you to go.”

Does Gerard know about his deal with Kate? That would be a little too weird, but Gerard has never given him the day off before. He shuts down his computer and gathers up his things as slowly as possible.

For the past few days he’s been thinking about nothing but babies. Baby coos, baby feet, baby giggles. The images make him happy. Now that Stiles is dead and he’s pushed Cora well and truly away he has nobody to love, and he likes the idea of the simple, uncomplicated adoration he’ll shower on his own child.

But the happiness he feels never lasts very long, because there will always be Kate. They’ll share the baby, but not the love. He feels almost selfish, like she will be stealing part of his time with his baby, just by being there.

His baby. He should be thinking of it as our baby, but he can’t.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Kate. It’s just that she’s sometimes almost unconsciously cruel, as if it’s her default setting, and the kindness she shows him is something she has to work for. And, honestly, he’s not sure if that’s even true, or if he’s just determined to find fault in Kate, so she won’t steal any of the love he wants to keep saved up for a ghost.

Maybe it’s not fair to the baby. Its parents will never love each other.

His own thoughts make him so anxious that he drives around in circles for almost an hour. Eventually he forces himself to go buy Kate some more flowers, since she was so grateful the last time he did it, and then he drives home.

She’s not waiting downstairs for him and he hesitates. “Kate?”

“Bedroom,” she calls, sounding breathy, and his stomach seizes. He drops the flowers on the table and walks upstairs. As he walks he stares around the house, trying to imagine baby-proofing it. He know Kate wants to renovate, though he’s not sure what more she could possibly want. This is his family home, with priceless art on the walls and marble staircases and the world’s most luxurious carpet on the floor.

He’d trade it all for an old mattress and a moth-eaten blanket and Stiles.

Kate is on the bed, and— oh, fuck, she’s naked. Naked and touching herself. He feels like he shouldn’t look. He doesn’t want to look.

“Thank God,” she sighs as he approaches with his eyes to the floor. “I was starting to get so anxious…”

He swallows. “You, um…you’re ready to do it now?”

“Yeah. I’m already wet. I’m ready.”

He’s not, but he takes off his pants. He doesn’t want his shirt off; it feels too vulnerable, but she tugs at it so he pulls it off and tosses it aside. They’ve never seen each other naked.

She takes his hand and tries to guide it down. He snatches it away, face burning. “No,” he says. “None of…we should just do what we have to do.”

“Fine.” She spreads her legs wide. “Do it.”

He’s an Alpha in a room with an Omega in heat, but he’s not even hard. He grips himself, trying to stroke himself to fullness, and Kate huffs a little in annoyance.

“Sorry,” he says awkwardly, and then he leans over her to get into position. He supports himself against her waist, hand slipping to press against her stomach.

Her stomach.

It’s going to grow and swell with a baby, with his baby…but he already has a baby. He left it with Stiles, he knows he did; he let his mate die pregnant one year ago. He does not deserve a child now. His child is dead.

And if he tries to find happiness this way he will only hurt an innocent child, and Kate, and himself.

And this is not how it was supposed to be. He is not supposed to have a baby with a woman he does not love.

And what he knows now, deep in his gut, for a hundred reasons he can name and even more he can’t— he does not want this.

“No,” he says. He scrambles backwards, off the bed. “I’m sorry, Kate. No. No.”

He expects resigned acceptance, maybe tears, but instead her eyes flash and she grabs his hand. “You promised,” she snarls.

“I can’t.”

“You promised!” To his shock she tries to manhandle him back into the bed. She wrenches her hand between his thighs, forcing him into position.

“Stop!” He fights her for a moment, feeling his vision blur. He’s trapped again, and it makes him think of the war, and if she doesn’t let him go he’s going to lose control and hurt her.

She slaps him.

He can feel his shift building, his wounded wolf ready to claw and tear the enemy to pieces, and he just goes completely limp to keep from harming her in his struggles.

When she realizes he isn’t even fighting she lets him go and he collapses onto the bed, curling up like a child. His stomach twists and he curls even tighter, afraid he might vomit.

He’s sick. Maybe he’s just sick. Maybe he’s been sick for an entire year.

She stands over him, shaking with fury. This is the Kate he remembers from the early days, the one who didn’t try kind words to win him over. She reminds him of Gerard at his most outraged, when everything that stands in his path must burn to the ground. “War hero,” she spits at him.

He closes his eyes. He longs for a loving hand to cool his cheek or tuck the covers around him. But Stiles is dead and Cora has given up on him and Kate despises him now.

“You used to be an Alpha. Look at you. Pathetic. No wonder you couldn’t keep your Omega alive.”

Her words strike him deep but he doesn’t flinch.

“He was lucky,” Kate hisses, leaning in close to him. “He didn’t have to live with a pitiful, broken-down wreck for the rest of his life. I don’t get to escape you so easy. You could have at least given me a baby. I should at least get to be a caretaker to someone I love.”

“I’m sorry,” he manages.

She stares down at him for another long moment, then storms from the bedroom. He curls tighter and tighter into a ball.

Maybe he should have gotten help, real help, after he got back from Ideria, like Cora kept suggesting. She’d known he had mated an Iderian who didn’t make it out alive, and whenever she tried to talk to him about Stiles he’d shut down. She called it PTSD, but he’d fought her on it, and then just fought her in general until she finally gave up.

But he should be better by now. It’s been over a year, and it still hurts just the way it did the day Stiles died. He has been choking on self-pity and self-hatred for so long it is as though he hasn’t breathed free in a year.

He tries and fails to sleep. Kate comes back in a long time later, trying to apologize. She puts a beer on the nightstand. He doesn’t drink it, but he does swallow a few painkillers dry.

“I’m sorry,” Kate says over and over. She’s crying.

“I know.”

“I said such horrible things. I didn’t mean it, Derek.”

“You were upset. It’s fine.”

“Will you still mate me?” Kate asks, perching cautiously on the side of the bed.

He doesn’t look at her. “Yes.”

She exhales. “Thank you.”

Not for the first time, he wonders what she gets out of this. Is she really so happy to be a political pawn? Is it the thought of the Hale money? The entire thing baffles him.

“Maybe we can try again some other day,” Kate suggests as she gets up to leave. “It’s not the right time. I understand that. The only reason I got so upset is because… I really do want to have your baby some day. I hope when you’re ready you give me that chance.”

His baby is dead.

Sleep comes like a punishment. He dreams of monarch butterflies lighting on his hand and turning to ash all night long.

#

Stiles is exultant. The smugglers want to keep him below deck but he shakes them off and stands at the railing, face into the wind, holding Clara up so she can see everything.

She’s been inside nearly all her life and he watches proudly as she opens up like a flower towards the sun. He tells her the names for everything she’s never known: above us is the sun, keeping us warm. Below us is the ocean, taking us home. Inside us is hope, joy, and freedom, making us feel so alive.

He barely even sleeps for the entire journey. He doesn’t want to miss a second. He’ll be with Derek soon, and then he wants to find Scott, and finally meet Derek’s family, and work on maybe getting his father free…

But first, Derek.

“We’re going to see Papa!” he crows to Clara as the sun sets on the third day of the crossing. He’s waiting on deck for his first sight of the Luponia shore, then they’ll have to hide below so Deucalion can smuggle the two of them in safely.

Clara gurgles and puts two fingers in her mouth. He swears she’s gotten ten times more verbal since fleeing Ideria.

“Do you think you can master, ‘hello, Papa’ by the time we land?” he asks her, ticking her belly to see if he can finally prompt that first giggle. “I’ll even accept a ‘what’s up, pops.’”

She blows a spit bubble through a smile. It counts as a win.

“Your papa is going to be so happy to see you!” He’s so excited that he almost dances right over the railing. “He’s going to say, ‘Miss Clara, what took you so long? I’ve been waiting and waiting!’”

Something in the water catches his eyes and he practically squeals. “Oh my God, Clara! Look! Dolphins! There are dolphins down there!”

Clara peers in the direction he’s pointing and gives him a look that clearly says, calm your shit down, bro.

She is so like Derek.

“Hi, dolphins,” he sings, waving Clara’s hand at them.

“Hey, happy pill.” Kali grabs his shoulder. “Land ahoy. Time to take the freakshow downstairs.”

He squints into the distance and sees a foggy dark shape as the shore of Luponia approaches. Emotion chokes him, so he just silently follows Kali belowdecks. She directs him to a tiny room, the door appearing to just look like wood paneling on the ship, filled with newspapers and various garbage. “Wait here,” she says.

Clara mouths into his chest for milk so he feeds her, pleased to see that most of his infection appears to have cleared up. She’s four months old now; it’ll be time to start her on solids soon.

There’s a knock and Deucalion walks in. “We’ll hit shore in about an hour,” he says. “We made good time.”

“Okay.”

“Officials will search the boat. The three of us have to stay down here. They’ve never found this room before, so the baby has to stay quiet.”

“Trust me, she has practice. Why do you have to hide?”

“Outstanding warrants,” Duke says casually. “It’ll be dawn by the time we’re disembarked. Then we can work on the next part of your journey. Now, are you going to tell me who the father of that baby is?”

Stiles hesitates. It’s not like Duke can just chuck him overboard now, and even if he tries to extort Derek for money, who cares? Derek can pay it, and Stiles needs Duke to help him find where Derek’s living. “Derek Hale.”

Deucalion goes completely still. “The Derek Hale?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re lying.”

Stiles frowns at the complete incredulity on Duke’s face. “Listen to my heartbeat. Derek Hale is my baby’s father. We were mated and we got separated. He probably thinks I’m dead— somehow our mate bond was broken—”

Deucalion leans back against the wall. It takes a moment for Stiles to recognize the expression on his face as pity. “Look, Stiles,” he says, not even pretending to misremember Stiles’s name. “Derek Hale isn’t waiting for you.”

Stiles’s heart seizes. Something’s happened to Derek. It’s been months since he found that picture of Derek but he’d never dreamed something might have happened to him during that time. “What do you mean?”

“He lied to you. Hale hates humans. Hates them. Him and Gerard Argent are trying to blow what’s left of Ideria off the map.”

This is so completely contrary to the Derek Stiles knows that he just laughs. “That’s ridiculous. Derek runs a charity for humans.”

“Not anymore. He left it to go work for Argent. They’re saying the old man’s making a presidential run and Derek’s going to be his second. He’s Argent’s parrot.”

“No,” Stiles says softly, hugging Clara tightly. “He wouldn’t.”

“He just…here, look around. He did some interview Kali was reading to me. Look for a magazine— East Street Times, I think. His picture is on the front.”

Stiles scrabbles around in the mess at his feet until he sees it. Derek is on the front cover, eyes hooded and emotionless as he stares out. Next to him is a woman.

The caption: Derek Hale and his fiancée Kate Argent answer your burning questions, page 22.

His insides turn to ice.

Fiancée.

“Read the interview,” Duke says.

Stiles turns to page twenty-two. His mind races, tries to rationalize. How could Derek have found someone else in a year? A woman, no less? Derek had always told him he was attracted to male omegas exclusively—

Kate Argent. Argent. Gerard has done this…but Derek agreed.

He looks at the first line of the feature: “With their wedding and mating ceremony only one month away…

Horrified, Stiles checks the date and almost gags. Derek is getting married in less than two weeks. He skims the rest of the interview. Derek doesn’t say much, but when he’s asked about humans—

If it were my decision, I’d blow them all to hell.

This isn’t Derek.

It can’t be.

“Goddamn it,” Deucalion says after a few minutes of silence. “I was really looking forward to that payout.”

“I have to talk to him,” Stiles says, dazed. “There has to be some mistake.”

“Are you as stupid as Argent thinks you are? Derek Hale is building a political career on hating humans. If you show up on his door, he’ll just deport you and the kid right back.”

Stiles’s mouth drops open. “He wouldn’t. He can’t. They’d kill us both.”

“And that would be his problem solved.” Deucalion shakes his head. “Damn, Stiles, I wish you’d told me his name. I’d never have agreed to this.”

“He has to see me,” Stiles begs. “This is his child. Even if he’s…even if…this has to be a mistake. We were mated.”

“And now you’re not. And neither of you are dead. He broke the mate bond, kid. He didn’t leave you behind on accident.” Duke’s voice is gentle, a dagger wrapped in silk. “He’ll hand you back over to Ideria gift-wrapped.”

“He has to take her, at least. He has to take his own child!” He stares down into Clara’s face, into Derek’s eyes.

“A half human baby? Argent would drop him in a heartbeat.” Duke pauses. “You have a decision to make. You can take your chances with him and end up killing your kid in the process. You can go on the run— a human and a baby alone in Luponia won’t have a great shake, but you managed to survive in Ideria, so it’s possible you could make it for a while. Or…you could give up the kid. Put her on Derek’s front porch and run. He’ll realize she’s his as soon as he scents her, and I don’t think even he’s fucked enough to send the kid back over on her own to die. Plus, she’s a werewolf, so it wouldn’t hurt his image to take her in. No one would know she’s half-human.”

“Give up Clara,” Stiles repeats numbly. His daughter would be raised by Derek and Kate, while he…what? Hides in a hole again, only surviving and never living for as long as he makes it? He could try to find Scott, but it’s been so long since he’s seen his friend— what if Scott feels the same way as Derek?

“Like I said. Your decision. I can help you disappear. At this point I’m not getting shit out of this fuck-all, but I don’t want to see you dead.” Duke shakes his head and sighs deeply. “I really was getting excited for that money.”

They sit in silence for a long time. Stiles reads the interview until he has every word memorized. Kate Argent is very pretty, and she gives short, simple, sweet answers. He wonders what she smells like to Derek. Maybe Derek smells like chocolate cookies to her, too.

The ship is searched and Stiles holds Clara tightly, rocking her so she won’t cry out. He can’t stop replaying every moment with Derek. He thinks of all the time he’d said something to Derek, only to have Derek laugh at him and say, “I can hear your heartbeat, liar.”

But he could never hear Derek’s. He has no way of knowing if it was all a lie.

Derek never came back for him. Their mate bond was broken, and neither of them are dead. Derek is engaged and on record saying he hates humans. Stiles feels like he’s adding up two and two and getting seventeen, because he just can’t believe that Derek never loved him. He puts his fingers on the remains of his mate bite, feeling it thrum slightly under his fingers. Even when he takes his fingers away it aches like a phantom limb.

After several hours Kali comes and gets them. Stiles dresses in some of Duke’s old clothes to hide his scent and steps onto Luponian soil for the first time. They drive him somewhere and lead him to a small room. He watches Clara sleep there for a few hours, aching at the thought of letting her go.

To have his daughter be raised by someone who hates humans…

But it might be her only shot at a life.

Once the sun is firmly in the sky Duke and Kali walk in. “We found him,” Duke says without preamble. “He lives with Kate Argent about ten miles away. We can take you there now.”

“Now?”

“Yeah.” He swears Duke is evaluating him. “What do you want to do?”

Stiles traces the line of Clara’s cheek as she slumbers on. It wakes her and she grips his finger, beaming up at him. Her free hand pats happily at his mouth and then her own, and she squeals, delighted, as if she's just figured out that they're the same.

From the moment she was born, until the moment he dies, he will think first of her. Every decision must be made in her best interest. Even if it is against his. Even if it breaks his heart.

“I don’t know,” he answers quietly.

Chapter Text

September, 2016

Derek had wanted a lazy morning with Stiles the night after they try to conceive, but they’re jolted out of sleep early by a siren wailing in the distance.

“The fuck?” Derek says aloud as his eyes pop open, instinctively pulling Stiles close before he realizes there’s no immediate threat.

“Shush,” Stiles mumbles, sounding imperious even though he’s half asleep. His finger smacks over Derek’s mouth. “No talking.”

“Do you hear that?”

Stiles cracks his eye open. “That wailing?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve never heard that before.”

“Me neither.” Derek peers out the slats in the windows they’ve boarded up to prevent break-ins. The sun is up. “I think something’s happening.”

Stiles sits up. “Check your messages.”

Derek does. Gerard always either pages or radios him when he needs Derek to come to camp. There are no messages on his pager and when Derek tries to radio camp all he gets is static.

“I should go in,” he says reluctantly. He’d wanted to make them breakfast; they’d spent precious money on fresh bacon for this very occasion.

“Do you think it’s really bad? Should I come?”

Derek shakes his head immediately. If this is an attack he doesn’t want Stiles anywhere near the fighting. “No, you stay here. I’ll be back. I’ll leave the radio here and message you if I need to, all right?”

“Derek.” Stiles catches his hand when he stands. “Do you think it’s bad? Honestly?”

Derek snorts, knowing that will reassure Stiles more than anything. “It’s just a siren, Stiles,” he says. “I’m sure it’s nothing.” He bends and kisses his mate, running his fingers over the bite the way he knows Stiles likes. “I’m not going to go and get myself killed now. Not when we might be having a baby.”

And the way Stiles smells right now, so achingly rich and good, Derek is almost sure they accomplished their goal. He inhales once more. Usually he gets used to people’s scents, and only really notices it when he sees them again after a long period of time, but with Stiles every breath he takes is infused with the scent of mate and mine and love.

“I’ll come home as soon as I can,” he promises before he turns to leave.

“Wait, Derek! Your gun!”

He turns and sees Stiles waving a black revolver at him. “That’s the one I wanted you to keep,” Derek says. He hasn’t really pressed the issue; once he got Stiles away from the camp his safety wasn’t as much of a concern. Right now, though, the siren is kind of freaking him out, and if there’s one time Stiles needs to be able to defend himself with a weapon, it’s while he’s pregnant. “You might be shooting for two now, remember?”

Stiles makes a face. “That’s a dark joke, lieutenant.”

“Dark jokes for dark times, baby.” Stiles really does smell so good that Derek can’t resist one more kiss. “Be safe. Love you.”

“Love you,” Stiles calls after him, a yawn breaking the words. Derek locks the door behind him and stands outside the house for a moment while the siren keeps wailing in the distance. Despite that harbinger of chaos everything on the street is very still.

#

Stiles tries to sleep for about five minutes after Derek leaves, but the siren won’t shut up and now that he’s thinking about it he’s kind of hungry. He grabs the peanut butter and Saltines he’d stashed by the bed the night before and makes himself some little sandwiches, hand on his belly.

He doesn’t feel any different, really. Honestly, he’s not sure if he’s supposed to feel pregnant in some small way right now at all. He kind of wishes he’d paid more attention in biology class, because the thought of what might be going on inside of him is totally baffling.

After a few more lazy minutes he gets dressed, but he cups his hands under his shirt, imagining his belly curving. Derek had said he was going to look good pregnant…

Suddenly, from outside, he hears shouting. For a second he thinks someone must be getting attacked and he grabs Derek’s gun, but when he runs to the door he sees a military truck— an Iderian military truck— coming down his street. It’s going at a crawl and there’s a guy on top, shouting into some sort of speaker that blares his voice all down the block:

Get out of your houses! Get out and follow us! Leave your belongings and come now, or you are all going to die!

Stiles freezes.

#

Derek takes his usual route to the camp to try and prevent being tailed. It takes him almost double the time and he spends most of the trek through the woods, avoiding all main and residential streets, but he’s sure it’s kept anyone from finding his home and hurting Stiles so he intends to keep doing it.

Just as he breaks through the woods there’s a roar above him and he sees a Luponian military helicopter rising into the sky. He frowns. Are they evacuating more troops? That wasn’t the plan for today.

There are no sentries at post. In the middle of camp he sees another helicopters and the small plane Gerard uses for travel. Just as he jogs into camp the helicopter takes off. Braeden and Gerard are over by the weapons barracks and he shouts to them over the sound of the helicopter blades.

“What the hell is going on?”

“Oh, thank God!” Gerard sighs in relief and Braeden, much to his shock, grabs him in a hug. “We thought you were lost, Derek. They cut off all means of communication in the city and the soldiers we sent to try and find you never came back— they must have snipers outside the main roads…”

“What are you talking about? What’s happening?”

“Ideria has decided to end the war.” Gerard grimaces. “Grab a pack and get in the helicopter. We’re going home.”

Derek grabs his arm. “What?

“They’re bombing us,” Gerard says calmly. “They decided to mount one last offensive. They’re going to drop bombs on every major Luponian outpost in about thirty minutes. They made a mistake and bombed one camp too early, and we got the intel on their plans for the rest of us. There’s no time to get our other soldiers out of the city.” Something shifts and Derek can see Gerard’s cold fury at the casualties they will suffer; at the inglorious end to a war they were supposed to win ages ago. “We assume they know we’re evacuating, though, so they might just decide to bomb the city right now. It’ll mean loss of civilians— they’re apparently trying to evacuate where they can, but most of the people here will die, so they might just take a loss on the rest.”

Derek can hardly breathe. Why, why had he left Stiles at home? “I have to go back for Stiles.”

“Derek, there’s no time!”

“I have to!” His mind races. If he’s fast he can get to the house and make it back to camp in fifteen minutes. If he gets held up, he knows Eichen has a bomb shelter. He thinks he can get Stiles there in time. “If I’m not back in ten minutes, go without me.”

“Don’t be a fool!” Gerard shouts at him. “You’ll be shot in the street before you make it!”

“I’ll shift and run. You know how fast I am. I can make it.”

He can, he’s almost positive, and when Gerard nods his permission Derek nearly collapses in relief. “Go,” Gerard says. “Be as fast as possible. We’ll wait for as long as we’re able.”

Thank you.” He turns and starts to run, just starting to feel the pressure of his impending shift when there’s a terrible pain in his back and everything goes dark.

#

Stiles doesn’t know what to do. He can see other frightened people standing on their porches, huddled with loved ones and staring at the truck. It’s not waiting for them, just continuing down the street, blaring its message.

Something must be happening. Something bad. And if something bad is happening, Stiles wants to be with Derek.

He has to get to the camp.

He streaks off his porch and goes in the opposite direction of the truck. He takes the main roads, knowing that’s the quickest way. The truck must have already come this way because people are outside, a few wandering in the streets confusedly as they try to figure out what they’re supposed to do.

The siren keeps wailing. It must be some sort of emergency signal— he thinks he vaguely remembers it going off years and years ago, when a hurricane hit. There wasn’t room in the underground shelter for everyone but they’d gotten in since his dad was the sheriff.

Somehow he doubts this has anything to do with the weather.

There’s a roar from above him and he looks to see a Luponian military helicopter taking off. His breath catches. The troops are evacuating.

He’s almost there.

A car horn honks behind him and he’s so startled he trips over his feet and almost goes sprawling. “Where are you going, Stiles?” someone shouts. “The shelter is the other way!”

He shields his eyes against the car’s headlights and sees a figure leaning out of the car. “Get in the car, honey,” the person calls, and Stiles realizes he’s looking at Theo Raeken.

#

“What the hell are you doing?” Braeden shouts. She’s never yelled at a superior officer before, but Gerard Argent just shot Lieutenant Hale right in front of her.

“Relax,” Argent says calmly, holstering the gun again while Derek lays sprawled and unconscious a few feet away. “It was steel. I put it in his spine. He’ll be out for a little while, but he’ll be fine.”

“Why…why did you do that?”

“I’m not letting Derek Hale die here. Help me get him into the plane.”

Braeden hesitates and Gerard levels her with a deadly look. “Unless you’d rather stay,” he says coldly.

She spares a moment’s thought for Derek’s mate, and all the other humans in the city, and the soldiers Gerard insisted they didn’t have time to rescue. They’ll all be dead soon, but in a half hour they could rescue some. Gerard’s plane is large enough for the thirteen soldiers housed in the city, Derek’s mate, and ten humans beside.

But she knows if she tries to argue Gerard will just hoist Lieutenant Hale into the plane without her and fly off. One more deceased soldier listed as having been killed in the fall of Eichen won’t raise any eyebrows.

She helps Gerard carry Derek onto the plane. He leans into the cockpit and tells the pilot to launch while Braden straps herself in, staring at Lieutenant Hale in regret.

He’d been so happy ever since meeting Stiles.

The plane rocks as it rises into the air. Gerard walks calmly through the cabin and to the back, where he has a cabinet filled with weapons and medical supplies. She watches as he pulls out a clear bottle and a wad of medical gauze.

“What is that?” she asks over the roar of the engine.

“Trichloroacetic acid.” Gerard brushes back Derek’s hair to expose his mating bite. She’s seen Derek touch it for luck before going out on a dangerous assignment, or sometimes just reach back to caress it almost mindlessly, a small smile on his face. “I’m going to use it to break his mate bond.”

“You can’t!”

“Think, for once, captain! Derek will be regaining consciousness in about twenty-five minutes. Right when the bombs start falling on Eichen. You want him to be conscious when his mate dies?” Gerard glowers at her as if she’d personally suggested it. “I’ve experienced that. It’s a pain like no other, and I will spare him that, at least.”

Braeden hangs her head. She feels as though she’s being asked to condone something terrible, even though everything Gerard has done has technically been for Derek’s benefit. “He’ll hate us for this,” she says.

“We’ve done nothing. All he’ll know is that the enemy shot him as he attempted to shift. We had no choice but to load him into the plane. While he was unconscious, the mate bond broke on its own.” Gerard pauses with his hand on the bottle cap. “Say it. That’s an order.”

She takes a long, bitter breath. “Derek was shot by an enemy soldier. We had no choice but to load him onto the plane. The mating bond broke while he was unconscious.”

“Again. Say it until you heartbeat is steady.”

“Derek was shot by an enemy soldier. We had no choice but to load him onto the plane. The mating bond broke while he was unconscious. Derek was shot by an enemy soldier. We had no choice but to load him onto the plane. The mating bond broke while he was unconscious.”

“Good,” Gerard says. He presses the mouth of the bottle to Derek’s neck and tips it upright.

Derek jerks.

#

Stiles scrambles to his feet and puts a hand on his gun, ready to shoot if he has to. Theo is approaching him, hand outstretched. “Thank God I found you,” he says.

“Get away,” Stiles pants.

“Good God, Stiles! Why are you always trying to run from me? Are you still pouting about your father?” Theo’s grip is strong and he holds Stiles in place easily. “Do you understand that I’ve ordered the city bombed? I’m on my way to the underground shelter right now. Get in the car if you don’t want to die out here.”

Stiles hears a roaring, whooshing noise. They both look up to see a white plane gracefully rising into the air from the werewolf camp.

Gerard Argent’s plane.

Is Derek on it?

“Damn it,” Theo whispers. “Oh, goddam fuck, they’re evacuating. We need to drop the bombs right now and hope we catch some of them.” He grabs Stiles around the waist and tries to force him into the car.

Stiles struggles frantically, still trying to get to Derek.

And then.

A moment of white-hot pain, a sudden seizing feeling like a heart attack, a thudding last throb. All right there on the back of his neck.

He goes completely limp as Theo bundles him into a seat.

The bond. The bond—

Derek

He feels nothing now. The pain had been awful, but this emptiness, the loss, the stillness where there used to be a pulse— it is like being trapped in a body that has just died.

He knows what this means but he cannot accept it. It is as though he is grasping at the awful truth but is afraid to actually hold it.

Derek.

Theo is shouting into some kind of walkie-talkie, then he leans forward and taps the driver of the car. “They’re dropping in five,” he says. “Get to the shelter now.”

“But sir— the trucks are still out there trying to gather civilians— ”

“I can’t contact them. We only left one wave open for communication, to cut the wolves off from each other, and I can only use it to talk to command.”

“They’ll die, sir.”

“I’d sacrifice ten of us to kill one of them any day,” Theo snaps. “Take us to the shelter.”

“Yes, sir.”

Theo sighs as the car starts up again. “Can’t believe I found you,” he mutters, stretching an arm around Stiles. “You really might be the luckiest omega out there, huh?”

Stiles barely hears him.

Derek.

Derek is dead.

#

There is nothing Derek hates more than waking up to pain. It disorients him so terribly he starts panicking before his eyes are even open, wondering where he is and what has happened to him.

The pain is all down his back and he groans. He can’t smell Stiles anywhere and he gropes for him, needing to comfort himself by pulling his mate close.

Then he remembers— siren, running, camp, bombs, Stiles.

He sits upright, the movement making pain radiate out from his back. He’s been shot. He knows what it feels like to recover from a bullet and this is it.

But there’s something else wrong. For a moment he wonders if he’s gone blind or lost a limb. Something is missing.

He keeps his eyes squeezed tightly shut against the pain as he reaches to the back of his neck. His fingers brush over something that should not be there.

His mate bite. But it’s…

Dead.

There’s no hum, no pulse, no warmth. He can feel a ridge already forming so the skin can scar over and try to erase what was there.

His eyes fly open and he looks into the pitying face of Gerard Argent. “I’m very sorry, Derek,” he says.

#

Very few people have made it to the shelter. Theo marches Stiles down and orders the door shut, even though the trucks are still making their way here.

Hundreds of people in Eichen are going to die.

And out there, somewhere, is Derek’s body. Stiles will never see him again.

Theo won’t stop talking to him. He thinks Stiles ran from him all those months ago because he was angry about his father’s sentence. It’s all right, he assures Stiles. He isn’t angry. Although it is a shame the plan to kill Derek Hale didn’t work.

Stiles curls up into a ball when he hears Derek’s name. Theo makes a cooing sound and wraps his arms around Stiles. “Don’t cry, honey,” he says. “You’re safe. You’re with me now.”

Stiles hadn’t even realized he was crying, but there’s nothing he can do now but let the tears fall. Theo hugs him, humming something lightly under his breath, as the shelter rocks with the first bomb blast.

#

Braeden will never tell anyone about the sounds Derek Hale makes when he realizes his mate is dead.

But she will never forget.

#

The survivors stay underground for nearly a full day. Most are shell-shocked, unable to believe that their friends and neighbors and family members were all killed by the government sworn to protect them. Theo explains that this was a necessary evil. The war has ended without Iderian surrender. Twelve cities in Ideria were bombed today, and while Eichen unfortunately had the most casualties, all who died for their country will be remembered as heroes.

Nobody seems particularly comforted by this.

Theo hasn’t noticed Stiles’s mark yet, and Stiles doesn’t want him to. When they’re finally allowed out of the shelter he makes a run for it. Theo is distracted enough trying to reach someone on his radio that he lets his attention slip.

Eichen is a wasteland.

The bombs didn’t kill everyone, but he sees people in various stages of injury. Some are missing limbs. Some are so covered in blood he knows it can’t be all their own. Some are just soot-streaked and glassy-eyed, wandering around calling out the names of loved ones like bleating lost lambs trying to find a shepherd.

The area where the werewolf camp was is completely destroyed. Stiles goes back to his own street, but it was close enough to a drop point that no homes are left standing. He goes to the ruins of his house and scavenges, finding nothing of worth but some scraps of pictures.

He has no pictures of Derek.

Derek seems faraway now. Stiles cannot believe that only twenty-four hours ago they were in bed together trying to conceive a child.

Even if he had been pregnant, the shock of his mate bond loss will almost certainly have ended it. He feels utterly bereft; empty of anything good.

Still, he doesn’t want Theo to find him. He finds a place to hide, near the docks, and stays there, staring out at nothing, feeling his mating bite scar over but never heal.

#

Cora cries when she sees Derek again. They’ve never mourned Laura together, and for some reason he finds that he’s unable to show any grief.

What he feels; what he’s felt ever since he woke up in the plane— it’s not grief. It feels like a physical thing inside of him. He’s always been fascinated by the way his veins turn black when he draws pain, but that’s what he feels like now: like he’s filled with a thick black tar.

He can’t stop replaying those last moments. If he had only brought Stiles with him; if he had only moved a split second faster before the bullet hit him; if he had only taken a shorter route to the camp…

Every time he has these thoughts and imagines how things could have been different he feels a second of hope, as if he could actually change time and fix everything, but then he crashes back to reality and realizes there is no going back.

His mate is dead.

#

Nobody comes to help the survivors of Eichen. People who can leave flee to better places, but most are stuck where they are. Stiles finds a shitty little place in a block of apartments that wasn’t hit and stakes his claim there. Every day he hunts for food and water, armed with Derek’s gun.

It’s the only thing Derek left him with.

That’s what he thinks until he wakes one day and gags up bile, even though he hasn’t eaten anything in almost a full day that could have upset his stomach. When he stands spots dance behind his eyes and he nearly goes down.

He puts a hand on his belly and realizes that Derek is not completely gone, after all.

#

Derek wins a Medal of Honor for running away with the bomb all those months ago. Gerard gets one too, for navigating so many soldiers out of Eichen. Luponia is in dire need of heroes. The war ended ingloriously, with far more casualties than anticipated. All solders not in range of the bomb drops were evacuated within two days, and reports come in that Ideria is in terrible shape. Their current leader is assassinated only days after the bombings as various factions try to rise to power. Orders are given that any werewolves, no matter their age, are to be put to immediate death.

Derek tries to rally himself. He wants to save Stiles’s dad; make reparations to the man he loves and let die. He asks Gerard for help, as a personal favor. Gerard, who has insisted on looking after him since they’ve returned to Luponia, checks for him, but only comes back with bad news. Anyone suspected, accused, or punished of being a werewolf sympathizer has been killed. Sheriff Stilinski is with his son now.

“They really do baffle me,” Gerard says softly after he delivers this news. “The humans killed off anyone in their species of worth.”

“They’re suffering,” Derek says numbly. He reads the reports he gets at his family’s charity. He’s not sure how much longer he can keep working there, though. He sees Stiles in every picture.

“The innocents are either dead or dying. They’ve devolved themselves— it’s survival of the cruelest. The human race, as it is now, is filled with murderers and cowards. If you try to help them, they’ll throw it in your face.”

Derek just grunts. He doesn’t want to talk about Ideria.

“They’re trying to come over here, you know. The leaders have spies posing as refugees. They’re still trying to kill us. If we let them over they’ll attempt domestic terrorism against us, right here in our capitol.”

“How do you know?”

“I work for the president. I know.”

Fear at the thought of war coming to Beacon Hills is the first real emotion Derek has felt in a month.

#

Soldiers return to Eichen to enforce new laws. Werewolves remaining in Ideria must be rooted out and killed. Anyone pregnant with a werewolf child will receive a cash incentive for willingly terminating the pregnancy.

Two weeks later the rules get stricter. Doctors must perform an ultrasound on any pregnant patients to ensure the child’s species and report findings of werewolves. Now terminations will be forced.

Stiles stops going outside during the day, afraid someone will smell the pregnancy on him. He is terrified for his child. Not only is the outside world determined to hurt it, but he’s weak; malnourished; heartsick. He does not think he will be able to carry this pregnancy to term.

It’s too dangerous for him to be at the food drops sent by Luponia when they first arrive, so he goes at night, when most things of value are gone.

It’s there, as he roots through newspaper for something of value, that he finds a picture of Derek and reads that his mate is still alive.

Maybe he should be suspicious that the mate bond is broken, or furious that Derek hasn’t already come back over to find him, but instead all he feels is joy. It’s so overwhelmingly strong that he swears it spreads all through his body, wrapping his womb in a protective second skin.

It sustains him for the next seven months of his pregnancy.

#

Luponia has attempted to let refugees into the country, but then one man who claimed to be a werewolf sympathizer fleeing the Iderian police, is caught attempting to bomb the Beacon Hills Underground.

Gerard and his fellow conservatives push for new measures. All of a sudden the Iderians asking for shelter are not refugees, but immigrants. They must be treated with suspicion, rather than blind pity.

The board of Unity Aid wants to fight these proposed new laws. They are not alone. A man named Scott McCall comes forward to put a human face on the refugee crisis— proving the old adage that one death is a tragedy while thousands are just a statistic. He talks about his friend, Stiles Stilinksi, who is probably facing certain death in Ideria. He begs the people of Luponia to save Stiles, and, by doing so, save all the people suffering under tyranny.

Derek can’t stand it.

He finds Scott and tells him his search is useless. When Scott doesn’t want to believe him Derek shows him the mating bite, now a rough and ugly scar on the back of his neck.

Scott cries, but Derek can’t. He just feels that same black tar, hardening inside of him.

He realizes he doesn’t want to grieve. He wants revenge.

When he gets home he resigns from Unity Aid and asks Gerard if that job with his office is still available.

#

Stiles makes Derek a father one rainy day in June. He stuffs rags in his mouth so he won’t cry out and thanks everything on earth and in heaven that his daughter is born in the middle of a storm, so her first screams are covered by thunder.

He cuts the cord himself and washes her in boiled rainwater. She is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. When she locks eyes on him hers flash, making him think of the lightning that illuminated the room when she was born.

He names her Clara, for Claudia and Laura, calling on her two guardian angels. He knows he needs all the help he can get.

She is so smart and curious about the little bit of the world he is able to show her. She discovers he hands quickly and uses them with delight to explore. She calms when he puts her ear against his heartbeat. She likes lullabies.

He can’t give her much, but he vows that he will give her a future.

He rocks her to sleep each night with stories of her Papa and Luponia and the wonderful world that is out there somewhere. He keeps himself awake trying to figure out how to get her there.

#

Omegas at the office and the gym and the fucking post office are always flirting with Derek. One throws away any concept of personal space and touches the back of his neck, fingers brushing on his scar. It nearly makes Derek shift right there in the coffee shop.

Gerard, as always, has a solution.

He suggests that Derek marry his daughter, Kate. They can pretend it was a secret romance for months and have the actual ceremony a soon as possible. It will be a god political move for them both, and this way Derek can always keep his first mate first.

When Cora gets wind of this arrangement it is almost the last straw. She’s fought with him over leaving Unity Aid and joining Gerard, fought with him about seeking counseling, fought with him in attempts to get him to tell her just what happened to the mate he was so in love with. “Don’t throw your life away on someone you don’t love,” she begs him.

“You don’t understand,” he tells her.

“It’s like you never came back from over there, Derek.”

Their phone calls, once almost daily, stop. Derek realizes that being this alone is even worse than what he had before. After meeting with Kate and realizing he can tolerate, but never love her, he agrees to Gerard’s arrangement.

He makes one capitulation: he will mate with her, but the bite must be on the side of the neck rather than the back as per tradition. He will let nothing disturb the raised white scar that still pulses sometimes as though it wants to tell him something, or as if it just wants desperately to live.

#

When a mate bond between two living people is broken, what happens?

Scientists have attempted to find a satisfactory answer, but the science of a mate bond itself is so frustratingly inconclusive that there isn’t much to go on. Most have concluded that a mate bond is like the soul itself: it can’t be proven, only known.

And, like the soul, some say that it can never be destroyed completely. Some might even say that between the two former mates there will always be a thin, invisible cord. That cord might be able to stretch across oceans and time and impossibility, forever drawing them inexorably to each other, so long as one person still believes.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

October, 2017

“I want to see the house,” Stiles says. He’s been sitting alone with Clara for a while but now he comes out to find Duke.

The smuggler is eating cereal. He turns towards Stiles. “And what do you want to do once you get there?”

“I don’t know. I just want to see.”

He can’t make up his mind but he feels as though he’s being tugged towards Derek. He has to at least see him, even if only from a distance. Maybe that one glance will be enough to tell him what to do.

Duke shrugs and snaps his fingers at Kali to get her moving. “Okay. Your funeral.”

#

Derek had hoped to sneak out of the house early the morning after the failed heat, but the painkillers make him sleep late and he finds himself dawdling in the shower. He has a feeling Gerard knows what happened and he doesn’t want to face his future father-in-law.

Kate is waiting for him downstairs, breakfast already made. “Are you feeling okay?” she asks, still looking like a whipped dog.

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Derek takes a bite of bacon but finds he isn’t hungry. If Kate wasn’t here he might grab a beer. Sitting alone with Kate feels awkward, and all he can think is that he’s sentenced himself to a lifetime of it. “I should get to work.”

“You could always play hooky, you know. Help me with wedding stuff— ”

“I want to postpone the wedding.”

He didn’t know that was going to come out, but it feels really good to say. Relief is like a weight coming off his chest.

Kate’s mouth drops. “Because of last night?”

It’s honestly not, so he shakes his head. “No. It has nothing to do with you. I’m just not ready.”

“People will talk,” she says desperately. There are tears in her eyes and it makes him feel like shit, again. “My dad will be furious, Derek.”

“I’m not breaking our contract. I’m just postponing.”

She leans towards him and he recoils, thinking she might try to kiss him. Fury darkens that pretty face. “But you promised!”

It’s the same thing she said last night, and it takes away any pity he was feeling. “I don’t want to argue,” he says a little coolly. “I’ll pay for any expenses postponing might bring. It’ll just be for a few months. I’m sure your father and I can come up with a spin for the media.”

“I’m not postponing!” she shouts at him, eyes flashing.

His flash right back. He doesn’t want this to become a fight, so he decides to do what he does best and run away. “I’m going to work, Kate. We’ll talk later.”

“Get back here!” she yells, but he grabs his briefcase and heads for the door.

#

“We’ll wait here for a few minutes,” Duke tells Stiles once they’ve reached Derek’s house. “Get back to the car as quickly as possible, because we won’t wait forever.”

Stiles nods. He feels sick to his stomach as he looks up at the home Derek and Kate Argent share. It’s huge, bigger than anything he’s seen pictured in magazines. The lawn is perfectly maintained. He wonders if Kate grows flowers out back.

What is he going to do?

Clara gurgles happily when he gets out of the car and into the sunlight. He clutches her against his chest, trying to hide her out of practice.

These might be the last few moments he spends with his daughter.

As he approaches the front door he can see a shape through the window into the kitchen. Kate. She’s leaning forward, clearly talking to someone he can’t see.

Derek must be in there.

He stops short, only inches away from the door. Derek and Kate are having breakfast together. Until now he'd never really believed that it was all true, but it hits him like cold water. He can’t go in there. He can’t let Derek see him.

But Clara…

He stares down at her. He could put her on the porch, ring the bell, and run back to the car. He does not know who this new Derek is, who hates humans so badly, but he trusts that Derek will take care of his daughter.

It’s Stiles who will suffer if he leaves her here.

He thinks of the pictures he’d shown her of Luponian nurseries. The stories he’d told her about her Papa. The Luponia he’d pained for her of the land where dreams come true, pure happiness and peace, everything a person could ever want. He’d promised all that to her; told her it was her birthright. She deserves it. To keep her from it would be the most selfish thing he’s ever done.

He lifts her and kisses her forehead. “I love you so much,” he whispers to her. “Please know that, somehow. You were my Luponia.”

She grips his shirt and coos. She does not understand the concept of saying goodbye.

He gives himself three seconds before he puts her down and goes.

One.

Two.

Th—

He hears footsteps from inside the house, fast werewolf steps. Before he can run, before he can react at all, the door in front of him is opening and Stiles is hit with the scent of chocolate cookies that means he’s finally come home.

There’s a sharp intake of breath, and then Derek whispers—

Stiles?

Chapter Text

October, 2017

Derek has finally gone crazy.

Either that or he’s dreaming, but he’s never dreamed of Stiles in Luponia before, only Ideria. He’s kept the memories and the grief in that faraway country, and now here it all is at his front door.

This might be a dream or a hallucination, but it’s certainly not real. Stiles is dead. And this apparition is not even the Stiles Derek remembers. The man on his front porch is gaunt, with skin the color of ash. His eyes when he stares up at Derek are absolutely terrified, but Stiles would never look at Derek and be afraid.

It’s not real.

“Derek,” Stiles says. It comes out in a little puff, like it’s been punched out of him.

He should slam the door. When he opens it, Stiles won’t be there anymore.

But he can’t.

He reaches out to see what happens if he tries to touch Stiles. His hand makes gentle contact with Stiles’s cheek. It’s warm and Stiles closes his eyes; leans hungrily into the touch.

When Derek inhales sharply, he can smell Stiles. He hadn’t been able to remember exactly what that scent was, could never recall it completely, but here it is. There’s something new mixed in, something sweet and clean. Lemon, fresh sheets, mountain air. A smell like pure happiness.

“Oh, God,” Derek says. This hurts. He can’t embrace the dream or delusion or whatever it is. The longer he stays, the worse it will hurt to return to reality. “God, I wish you were real.”

He can even hear Stiles’s heartbeat, rabbit-fast. Afraid. He always dreams of Stiles afraid. “I’m real,” Stiles says.

“No, baby.” Derek can feel tears in his eyes. This might be the worst nightmare he’s ever had, and he wants to wake up. The dreams always end when he remembers Stiles is gone, so he faces it head-on: “You died. You died in the bombing of Eichen.”

“You think I’m dead?” Stiles’s heartrate goes faster and faster. “That’s why you never came for me?”

Derek closes his eyes and tries to jerk himself awake, but nothing happens. It must be a delusion. “I will always love you,” Derek says. “But you’re not real.”

He hears an engine gun from the end of his driveway and he looks to see a car speeding away in a puff of smoke. Stiles turns too to watch the car leave and Derek can smell the anxiety pouring off of him in waves. When Stiles tries to smile it comes out as a grimace. “My getaway has gone away,” he says.

“Derek? What’s going on?”

Kate approaches from behind him, probably wondering why Derek is talking to an empty doorway. He hears her breath catch. “Who is this?”

“You can see him?” Derek asks stupidly, turning to look at Kate. There’s an expression of mingled shock and disgust on her face.

“You’re human,” she says to Stiles, eyes sweeping his filthy, malnourished frame. “You’re an illegal, aren’t you? I’m calling the police.”

“Kate!” Derek barks, horrified. Kate stops in her tracks, and from Stiles’s arms Derek hears a high, strong cry.

He looks back at Stiles slowly, his own heart beating out of time now. Stiles had been clutching a bundle so close to his chest that Derek hadn’t really noticed it, but now he realizes that Stiles is holding a baby. It’s reacting to Derek’s raised voice and Derek watches it burrow into Stiles, obviously well-used to finding comfort there. Stiles’s attention immediately shifts and he croons to it, rocking it gently until it stops crying.

It was the baby Derek had been scenting.

He hears himself make a pained, confused sound as he tries to understand.

Derek,” Kate hisses, striding forward with her hands clawed as if she’s going to yank Stiles into the house. “He’s an Iderian. We have to report him.”

The immediate terror in the air has Derek instinctively putting himself between Stiles and Kate, teeth bared at his fiancée. “Derek!” Kate says, shocked.

“Don’t touch him.”

“He’s an Iderian!”

“He’s mine!” Derek’s vision blurs as the wolf tries to break free, and he blinks until his heartrate returns to normal and he can breathe. “It’s Stiles, Kate.”

Kate’s mouth drops. Her eyes flicked from Stiles down to the baby and back to Stiles again. “No,” she says softly. “Stiles is dead.”

“I keep hearing that,” Stiles says. He’s close enough that Derek can feel his warmth; his breath against Derek’s neck. “I must have missed the memo.”

If Kate can see him, and Derek hasn’t been able to wake himself up…

Is this real?

“Go,” he says to Kate. “Don’t call anyone. Go upstairs.”

She hesitates, but Derek keeps standing in front of Stiles and the baby. After a moment she turns and storms up the steps.

He prods desperately at his scar. It’s still there, but he swears he feels something buzzing just beneath the skin, as if Stiles’s presence has woken it.

He turns desperately to face Stiles. “How did you survive?”

“I was in the underground shelter when the bombs fell.”

“But the bond…”

Stiles’s shoulders sag. “I…I was hoping you could explain that. I felt it break. I thought you were dead for the longest time. It was like my heart stopped.”

My heart stopped…

“I was shot,” Derek says. He’s stunned by the fact that he’s never considered this. “I was shot and knocked out when I tried to go back for you. Braeden and Gerard told me the bond broke then. Maybe my heart stopped for just a second before I started healing and that was enough.”

Is it possible?

If it is, then this is possible; this is real.

Stiles has been alive all this time.

Stiles’s eyes search his. “You didn’t do it on purpose?”

Derek shakes his head. The baby in Stiles’s arms makes a sound, stretching its hands into the air impatiently. Derek looks at it and it meets his gaze. Its eyes flash at him.

“Is that my baby?” Derek whispers.

Stiles shifts the baby slightly. “This is your daughter,” he says. His voice is shaking. “This is Clara.”

Derek feels like he’s falling. He reaches out to hold on to something but somehow he ends up pulling Stiles forward, into his arms, and then he just holds on to him. The baby makes a happy sound, maybe scenting Derek for the first time and realizing he’s her father. He can feel her nuzzling against him.

If I am dreaming, Derek thinks, let me die in my sleep.

“Don’t send me away,” Stiles says. He’s pressing his face into Derek’s shoulder and it feels so good, so right, so real.

“Never.”

“I missed you, Derek. I missed you so much.”

Derek cups the back of Stiles’s head. He can feel the scar and he wants to kiss it back to life.

The wind blows cold on them and Stiles shivers, without a single ounce of fat to keep him warm. Derek pulls him closer and Stiles looks up at him. “What’s a guy gotta do to get invited inside?” he asks, still only able to mock up a grimace where he’s trying for a smile.

Derek doesn’t want to let go, but he steps away reluctantly. “Come in,” he says.

#

The minute Stiles steps foot into Derek’s house he feels like he should run. Everything is pristine, almost sterile, and Stiles feels like a filthy chimney sweep or something.

But it smells like Derek. Not just Derek, though; there’s a sourness in the air that must belong to Kate. It makes Stiles want to step back into Derek’s arms and bury his nose in Derek’s chest so he can pretend that Derek is still his.

Clara is loving it all, though. She’s so smart, so instinctual, and she wriggles impatiently against Stiles, clearly wanting to have another group hug with her Papa.

“Let’s go into the living room,” Derek says. “Unless…do you need food? Water?”

He hasn’t eaten in a while, but he’s still pretty freaked out and he’s not sure he could keep anything down. “I’m okay.”

The living room is better than the magazines. Stiles sits down on a leather couch ten times nicer than any bed he’s ever had. Derek hesitates between the couch and a chair, as if he’s not sure if he should sit next to Stiles or not, and then he shakes his head slightly and takes the couch.

He hadn’t let Kate call the police. Surely that’s a good sign. Even if his explanation for what happened to the mating bite seemed a little too pat…

Clara watches Derek curiously. Derek swallows so hard Stiles can hear it. “May I hold her?” he asks.

It’s hard to let her go. Stiles has been clinging to Clara ever since Derek opened the door, still feeling stuck in that moment when he decided to give her up. Derek looks desperate for her, though, so he nods and hands her over carefully. She’s literally never been held by anyone other than Stiles before and he half-expects tears, but she just makes an interested sound and butts her head against Derek’s chest.

Stiles watches Derek fall in love with his daughter. The tight, pained lines on his face smooth over and Stiles sees a smile, more in his eyes than on his lips, since his mouth is hanging open slightly in awe as he holds Clara. “Hi,” he whispers when she smacks her little hand against his. He picks it up and kisses her palm, making her coo. He’s delighted when her eyes flash— “Oh, look!” he breathes, as if Stiles hasn’t had repeated heart failure over that little instinct.

“Yeah, she’s good at that.”

“She looks like me!”

“I think so too.”

“But she kind of has your face shape,” Derek says generously. “Is she…I mean, she looks so healthy. Is she doing well? She hasn’t been sick, or anything?”

“No. But she’s never been able to see a doctor— I’ve been doing the best I can, but…”

“We’ll get her to a pediatrician,” Derek says decisively. He’s still looking at Clara and he beams at her when she yawns contentedly. “Yes, that’s what we’ll do,” he coos. “We’ll find you a doctor, and a crib, and blankies, and toys. We’ll get you everything you need.”

Stiles feels sick. We, like Derek and Kate? Or we, meaning Derek and Stiles? He’s still not entirely sure what Derek wants to do with him. “You want us to stay? In your house?” He holds his breath, not quite sure what he’ll do if Derek says he only wants Clara.

Derek looks at him like he’s crazy. “Stiles, I’d prefer if you stayed in the same room as me for the next thirty years.”

“Both of us,” Stiles clarifies.

“Of course, both of you. I’m not going to chuck my baby onto the street.” Derek’s eyes light up when he says my baby. “You said her name was Clara? Does she have a middle name?”

“I didn’t give her one…but I wasn’t able to get her a birth certificate, of course, so it’s not like she even has an official name at all. I don’t even know what the date was when she was born.” There’s a heaviness in Stiles’s voice and Derek hears it. The smile fades from his face.

“How did you survive?” he asks quietly. “I don’t mean the day of the bombing. It’s been over a year, and all I’ve heard is the deaths of Iderians…they were killing werewolves…”

“We hid,” Stiles says simply.

Derek’s eyes are huge with regret. “If I’d known…”

“It was hard finding a way over.” Stiles watches Derek carefully, looking for a reaction. “I got the news pretty quickly that Luponia closed its gates to refugees.”

Derek looks like he’s been punched in the face. “You tried to come over before? Months ago?”

“I had to find smugglers willing to bring me. I didn’t have much of value to pay for the trip.”

“Oh, my God.” Derek looks down at Clara in wide-eyed horror. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” His heart actually hurts as it thumps against his chest. He needs to hear Derek explain himself. “At least Unity Aid was still sending food drops.”

“I’m not with Unity Aid anymore,” Derek says miserably. “I work for Gerard Argent.”

Stiles lets the words and the disappointment settle heavily. “So you’ve been helping keep refugees from Luponia.”

“No! It’s not like that, Stiles. The only Iderians coming over were terrorists. They wanted to bomb us, so— ”

“You wanted to bomb us, too, Derek.” Stiles’s voice is more brittle than bitter. “I read your magazine article.”

Derek looks sickened. “You were in Eichen,” he says slowly. “If we had bombed…”

There would have been no time to hide, of course. They would have died. Stiles watches Derek realize this. A shudder racks his frame, and out of habit Stiles longs to comfort him. “Why?” he asks instead. “You used to stand up for humans. What happened?”

“You died,” Derek says. His voice shakes. “You were killed by them. The only humans left were the evil ones. I never wanted to hurt any innocent people. Never. All I was hearing was about the people who were left— killing each other over scraps and still trying to get into Luponia to start the war all over again. Of course not all humans are like that; you’re not like that, but they were the only ones… It wasn’t about them being humans, it was just…” he struggles to find the right words.

“They’re not bad because they’re human. Look, I remember some of those soldiers— the ones who beat me? I didn’t blame that on them being werewolves.”

“I know,” Derek says quietly.

“I can’t trust someone who thinks I’m an inferior species.”

“I don’t, Stiles. I don’t. I don’t look at you and think human or Iderian. That’s why we decided to mate each other, wasn’t it? To say that our species and citizenship didn’t matter?” Derek’s voice is pleading.

“I can’t be the exception to your prejudice, Derek. I just can’t.”

“You’re not. But I understand how you could think that. I know that it was wrong. I was wrong.” Derek bows his head. He’s holding Clara close, as if he’s afraid Stiles might snatch her out of his arms and run. “Can you ever forgive me?” he asks quietly.

Stiles wants, so badly, to forgive him right here. He hates making Derek unhappy, but he’s just not sure who Derek is when he’s under the thumb of the Argents. Derek has chosen Gerard and chosen Kate and even if he thought Stiles was dead it just doesn’t feel right. “I think so,” he says after a few seconds. “I just need to make sure you’re still the same person I remember. I think you are, but after everything that’s happened…I just need a little time.”

Derek seems to be satisfied enough with this. He turns his attention back to Clara, who has discovered his stubble and is trying to see if she can rub it off. As he makes little nonsense sounds to her Stiles hears footsteps coming down the stairs. He looks up to see Kate going past the living room on her way to the front door. Their gazes meet for just a moment and there’s something so malevolent in her eyes that Stiles rears back.

Her eyes flash once and then the front door opens and closes as she leaves.

“Look at you,” Derek says. Stiles looks to see that Clara has given up on beautifying Derek and has her eyes closed, resting her head against Derek’s broad chest. “Someone’s tired,” Derek whispers, adjusting her so she’s laying more comfortably. He glances at Stiles. “May I keep holding her?”

“You don’t have to ask again, Derek. She’s your daughter too.”

Derek looks positively enchanted by this notion.

“Where did she go?” Stiles asks once Clara is well and truly zonked out.

“Who?”

“Your…that woman. Kate. She just went out the front door.”

“She did? I didn’t even notice. I don’t know where she is.” Derek is clearly far too preoccupied with watching Clara, who is smiling at something in her sleep, to spare a thought for Kate.

“You really have a bad track record with fiancés, Der,” Stiles mutters.

Derek’s head shoots up and he looks horrified again. “Fiancée. Fiancée. Shit, Stiles.”

Stiles has kind of been waiting for this. “I saw in the magazine. I guess congratulations are in order.”

“No! It’s not like that. There is nothing romantic between us, I promise you.” Derek is practically stammering, he’s so upset at the thought. “We agreed to get mated just as a political stunt. I’ve never wanted her and she’s never wanted me. Of course I won’t do it now that you’re back. It was all fake. We’ve never even kissed.”

Stiles gets trapped somewhere between hope and horror. He lets the horror lead. “Why would you do that? Why would you throw your life away like that?”

“You died,” Derek says desperately. “Or…I thought you were dead. I didn’t want to ever fall in love again. Maybe a part of me, not a conscious part, knew that you were still out there and pointed me towards Kate, so I would never be unfaithful…I don’t know. That’s sort of crazy, but who knows? Gerard suggested the engagement, and he’s done so much for me…”

“She lives here,” Stiles says, trying to parse it all out.

“Just for show. I’ll pay her out and end the contract. She has her own bedroom here, that’s how distant we are. God, I wish you could hear my heartbeat. I don’t love Kate Argent, Stiles. I love you.”

Stiles’s throat feels like sandpaper. “Still?”

“Forever.” Derek puts his free hand on Stiles’s knee. “I know you need time. But even if you had walked in here and spit in my face, it still would have been the best day of my life. I love you for everything we had before, and for protecting our daughter on your own for the past year, and for finding your way to me against all odds. I love you. I know you’ve had it impossibly hard, so just tell me what I can do. Tell me what you need.”

Stiles takes Derek’s hand and squeezes it. This is the reunion he’d been dreaming of, and he wishes it wasn’t tainted by that fucking magazine. “Some food would actually be great right now,” he says before he can get teary-eyed.

Derek immediately stands. “I’ll take you to the kitchen.”

#

Derek used to fantasize about his mom or dad or sister walking into his room and laughing at his protestations that this isn’t possible because they’re dead. “I escaped, silly!” they would always say, faces shining as though death were a big joke. “Of course I wasn’t dead. You really thought I was dead?”

That’s what this feels like.

He’s finally gotten a miracle.

And he’s going to fix his mistakes; he’ll make himself better for Stiles and his daughter. The distrust hiding behind Stiles’s guarded expression tears at him, but for the first time in a year, he feels hope. He can fix this, and be the man Stiles had loved, and then he will never be without his family again.

The bacon from breakfast is still sitting out, now cold and stuck in congealed grease. Stiles eyes it as though he’s just barely resisting hurtling over the counter and shoving it into his mouth. “You don’t have to eat that,” Derek says. “The fridge and freezer are fully stocked. I can make you anything you want.”

“I haven’t had meat in over a year,” Stiles says longingly. “I’ve barely had anything in over a year.”

“Then we should start you off with something light.” Derek hates to say it. He wants to make a five-course meal and feed each bite to Stiles until he’s put back every pound Stiles has lost, but he doesn’t want to make Stiles sick. He reluctantly hands Clara back to Stiles and opens the fridge to find milk.

Stiles makes a sound of surprise. “Did you have a party or something?”

Derek stares sickened at the rows and rows of beer bottles. Had Kate stocked all these for him? He hadn’t realized he’d been drinking so much. “No, I…it doesn’t matter.” He takes out the milk and slams the door a little harder than needed.

He finds oatmeal in the pantry, mixes it with the milk, and gets it started on the stove. Stiles’s voice had been raspy so he grabs the biggest glass off his shelf and fills it with ice water.

Stiles moans after he drains half the glass. “I’ve been collecting rainwater and boiling it so it was safe to drink. Actually having cold water…”

“Jesus,” Derek mutters. He’d never taken drinking water for granted before but when he fills up a glass for himself and drinks he makes sure to appreciate it. “So you weren’t getting much from the food drops? We didn’t think there were many civilians in Eichen, so I think those drops were pretty light in comparison to the ones for the big cities.”

“No. It wasn’t safe to take Clara, so I had to go after almost everything was gone. I mostly scavenged through abandoned homes, but that didn’t get me much in the way of food.”

“I don’t know how you did it,” Derek says honestly.

“I had Clara. I had to.” Stiles looks down at his daughter, expression soft. “She needed her daddy alive, so I did what I could to stay that way. We got through it together.”

Derek watches them quietly, too choked by love and relief to say a word. When the oatmeal is finished he adds in raspberries and some chopped almonds. “I can hold her while you eat.”

Stiles willingly passes Clara over and practically inhales the food. It feels almost indecent to watch so Derek just looks at Clara, marveling at how healthy she looks in comparison to Stiles. Still, her onesie is a little small, stained, and faded, with a hole right on the belly. He shifts her so he can pull out his phone and message his assistant, Erica.

“That was amazing,” Stiles says, leaning back with his hands over his belly.

“Do you want more?”

“Nah, I’m stuffed. But if you have a shower…”

Derek is relieved that Stiles looks a little more comfortable in his home. “Of course I do. I’ll give you a quick tour and you can use the master bathroom, all right?”

“Master bathroom.” Stiles finally gives him a real smile. “Such a rich boy.”

Derek grins back and leads Stiles out of the room. He makes quick work of the tour, avoiding Kate’s side of the house and his own bedroom— he hasn’t washed the sheets since the failed attempt to conceive, and he’s not sure if Stiles would be able to smell Kate on them or not. “Here’s the guest bedroom,” he says, opening a door to a room upstairs. “There’s just a bed in there, so we can probably turn it into a nursery.”

“That’s your guest bed?! Who do you have over, Jesus himself?”

“Nah, he prefers the couch. Total martyr complex.”

“Ha.” Stiles runs his hand over the comforter, naked longing on his face. “I guess I can suffer to sleep on this bed of nails, if I must.”

They won’t be sharing a bed. Derek understands, but the thought of Stiles being distant from him, even in such a little way, stings. He has to fix things. He will. “You want a nap before your shower?” Derek offers.

“You don’t mind watching Clara?”

“Of course not.”

“She might wake up hungry. Just come and get me if she does. Oh, and she’s probably due for a diaper change soon— I didn’t have time to grab any extras before I left so I’ve just been washing that one… we’ll need to get diaper crème at some point before she gets a rash.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Derek says. “You rest.”

Stiles hesitates, then leans over to kiss Clara’s head. “Be good for Papa,” he says before pulling back the cover and crawling into the bed. Derek stands there struck by the simple word. Papa.

Stiles falls asleep just as quickly as Clara had and Derek tucks the covers around him before quietly backing out of the room. Erica is messaging him like crazy, but he dials Kate’s number first. It goes to voicemail. “Hey, Kate,” he says, unsure of exactly what to tell her. “I’m sorry things got a little crazy this morning. We should probably talk. Call me when you get this.”

They will have to end their engagement publically, of course. He thinks he can probably claim some kind of humanitarian grounds to keep Stiles in the country, but if he’s legally married and mated to a Luponian— to Derek— he can become a full citizen. Only once he’s ready; it doesn’t matter how long he needs, because there is no war to tear them apart and they will be together for years and years and years. Years that once seemed interminable but are now filled with promise.

This is his entire life, returned to him as if the cosmos realized they’d taken it by mistake and sent it back with their sincerest apologies.

He’ll pay Kate out. He’ll pay her out well, he decides, feeling extraordinarily generous at this moment. He’ll buy her her own brand-new house, if that’s what she wants.

Gerard will be pissed. Oh, Gerard will be furious; there’s no way he can have Derek as a VP candidate now. But that’s fine. If Gerard doesn’t like it, Derek will just quit. He can quit! He’ll go back to Unity Aid. Or he’ll just take some time off to be with his family. Family, he’d thought he’d buried the word and the concept, but now it’s right here in his house and in his arms. His wolf howls with delight: Family mate mine pup family mine mine mine.

Clara stretches against him, waking up. “You all done with naptime already?” he asks, hoping she won’t cry when she realizes Stiles isn’t there.

She blinks up at him, then relaxes into a big smile when she recognizes him. It melts him. She reminds him of Cora as a little girl.

Cora.

He takes his phone back out. Clara tries to grab it, eyes wide with interest, and he laughs at her. “I’ll buy you some real toys,” he promises as he hits Cora’s speed-dial. He worries for a second that she won’t pick up— their last fight left them on almost irreparable terms— but just before it goes to voicemail she answers.

“Derek? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, Cora. I’m great.”

She pauses, voice suspicious when she responds. “You sound weird. What’s going on?”

“I have news. The absolute best news.”

Cora huffs into the phone. “Look, Derek, I’m about to go into a meeting for Unity Aid so we can figure out how to fight against your stupid fucking speciest bills. So I’m not really in the mood— ”

“You’re right, Cora-bella. You were right the whole time, okay? I was an ass, and I thought I had the right to be, but that’s over now.”

“Did you quit working for Gerard?”

“No. But I will, I think. Or at least try and get him to refocus his immigration views.”

“Wow, Derek. Did you see all the Whos in Whoville celebrating Christmas and grow your heart back to size, or what?”

“Something like that.” Clara is still trying to get the phone, probably hearing Cora’s voice coming out of it and trying to figure out how it works. He bounces her and kisses the top of her head, feeling so much adoration that he can’t stop beaming. “He’s alive, Cora. My mate. He’s been in Ideria this whole time and he got here this morning.”

Cora sputters. “Are you fucking serious?”

“And he brought our baby. He had a daughter while he was over there. Her name is Clara. I’m holding her right now.”

“Derek,” Cora says shakily. “Look, I love you, but are you sure this is real? You haven’t, like…snapped?”

Derek takes the phone away from his ear and holds it to Clara. “Say hi to Aunt Cora.”

Clara squeals in delight and tries to mash every single button. He takes it away quickly before she can accidentally end the call, prompting a displeased wail. “Real enough?” he asks, rocking Clara the way he’d seen Stiles do it to try and calm her down.

“Well, either you’re telling the truth or you just kidnapped a baby to aid in your delusion. Either way, I’m coming over.”

“Can you stop by the store and bring ice cream? Every flavor they’ve got. Stiles needs fattening up.” He actually laughs as he says the words. Stiles is alive, and Derek is going to take such good care of him. Everything will be perfect. His wolf, for the first time in a year, is content— the mate and pup that his wolf must have instinctually known were out there are no longer lost in the big world. They’ve come home to him.

“Papa has a family again!” he croons to Clara, smacking a kiss into the crook of her neck and tasting honey.

#

Stiles probably could have slept a year in Derek’s Guest Bed of Dreams, but he’s accustomed to light sleep and rousing at the slightest noise. He wakes up after only a few hours to the sound of fervent and creative cursing coming from downstairs.

It’s a woman’s voice and Stiles tenses, wondering if Kate has come back with police, but the voice sounds far too cheerful to be anything dangerous and he gets out of bed to investigate.

“Just warning you,” he hears Derek say as he approaches the stairs. “If you wake up my daughter’s father, or pass along that potty mouth to my infant, I will have no choice but to fire you.”

“You could help, you know.”

“Then I’d have to drop my baby, Erica. Do you really want me to drop my baby?

“I liked you better in your sadness coma, smart-ass.”

Stiles peers over the railing to see a blonde woman struggling under a gigantic crib, a sturdy-looking guy supporting it from the other side. There’s a changing table, several cardboard boxes on the floor, and Derek watching over the proceedings with a wide-eyed Clara in his arms.

Derek scents him and looks up. “Stiles!”

“Hey,” he yawns, making his way down the steps. “What’s all this?”

Derek looks accusingly at Erica. “Did she wake you?”

“Yeah, but please don’t fire her. I’d never heard the expression go fuck yourself on a horse’s flaccid cock before and I’m looking forward to stealing it.”

“Hey, this guy gets it.” Erica lets the crib drop and waves at Stiles. “Hi. Erica Reyes. Derek’s assistant. This is my mate Boyd.”

Boyd waves too, looking intensely focused on a wobbly slat in the crib.

“Derek says you’re from Eichen,” Erica continues. “I grew up in Tinsley. You know, like seventy miles south of there? Got the bite when I was ten and came over to Luponia.”

“You’re a bit?” Stiles asks, surprised. Back before international relations had soured Luponia had offered werewolf bites to heal terminally ill people. Most relocated to Luponia after turning, where there were better resources to help with the transition.

“Yeah— long story short, I had epilepsy, and one day got hit with status epilepticus, which means I had repeated seizures that fried my brain to the breaking point. It sent me into a coma. I didn’t have a family— it was only me and my mom, and she ran rather than pay my medical bills— so the State was going to pull the plug. Then Unity Aid stepped in and got me the bite. The Hales brought me over and fostered me for a while until I could find real parents. Me and Derek go way back. He got me the job as his assistant, but I can’t stand Gerard Argent, so thank God you’ve shown up or I would have had to quit all dramatically.”

“Wow,” Stiles says, impressed at finding someone who talks more than he used to.

“And I’m just the husband,” Boyd says, still trying to force the slat into place.

“Anyway, I’m pretty much the best assistant ever, so when Derek messaged me to say he’d suddenly acquired a baby I recruited Boyd to help me bring all this stuff over. Luckily for you our two-year-old just got his big-boy bed, so it’s all yours.” Erica throws a frosty look towards Derek. “And this will be reflected in my Christmas bonus.”

“Handsomely,” Derek promises.

Stiles grins and crosses over so he can take Clara. “You’ve been busy while I was sleeping, huh?”

“We sure have. Clara was my little secretary, weren’t you, Clara?”

“I think Clara’s earned her lunch. Dinner? I don’t even know what time it is.”

“Is he awake? Oh my God!”

A blurry shape suddenly skids into the hallway and throws her arms around Stiles without warning. “I had to take a call for, like, five minutes, and that’s when you come down! I’m so excited to meet you!”

“Hey, don’t just grab him like that!” Derek pulls the woman away, looking annoyed.

“Personal space isn’t a thing with family, Der-bear. Right, Stiles?”

Stiles looks at the woman in front of him and grins. He’s never met her, only heard her described by Derek, but she’s a little miniature of her brother. Cora Hale. “She’s right, Der-bear.”

“So you’re the person who’s been keeping my brother’s heart for the past year.” Cora shakes her head at him with mock sternness. “Thanks for finally returning it. We were all starting to miss it.”

“Total sourpuss without you,” Erica puts in as she lugs another box into the hallway. “Our toddler calls him ‘Meanie-Face.’”

“And I call him Gerard Jr., which is a serious insult these days.” Cora spares a quick glower for Derek before turning back to Stiles. “I have so much to ask you, once you’re ready. We could really use your voice at Unity Aid.”

“Cora,” Derek mutters warningly.

“Yeah, yeah, Derek, don’t rush him, I know. But you’ll be such an asset, Stiles— God, I’m so glad I get you and not Kate Argent joining our family! And you brought this little munchkin!” Cora squeezes Clara’s foot, beaming. “You’re both going to love it in Luponia. We’ll have to go shopping, and get lunch— ”

Derek rolls his eyes at Stiles. “Hey, Cora, why don’t you help Erica and Boyd with the last few boxes?”

“What? Oh, I know you’re trying to get rid of me. You’re lucky I’ve forgiven you for being such a shit, Derek. I really have to get going— I practically ran from Unity Aid to come over here and assist Derek through what I was sure was a mental breakdown. But I’m serious about doing lunch, Stiles!”

“Nice to meet you,” Stiles says, a little dazed, as Cora blows a kiss at Derek, plants a big one on Clara’s forehead, and zooms out the door.

“She’s become practically manic since taking over Unity Aid,” Derek says before Stiles can say a word. “I kind of left her in the lurch when I quit and it was a lot of responsibility to take on.”

“No, she seems great. It’s just been a while since I really talked to people like that. I wasn’t prepared.”

Derek’s eyes are all warm when he looks at Stiles. “I’ll protect you from the various crazies in my life, I promise.” He boops Clara on the nose. “Miss Secretary, take a note. All visitors for Daddy have to go through screening by me first.”

Stiles laughs. Then, to his shock, Clara laughs too, for the very first time. He stares at her, wondering what could have prompted it— then realizes that she’s never heard him laugh before. He’s cooed to her, and maybe giggled at her a little, but he’s had no reason to laugh, and before today she might not have even known laughter was possible.

His last stubborn, fearful misgivings give way. He did the right thing for his daughter by bringing her here. And right now, standing close to Derek, fed and well-rested, he knows he did the right thing for himself too.

“I should help Erica and Boyd get the stuff up to the guest room,” Derek says. “You can feed her wherever. Just yell if you need me. And I had Cora bring ice cream, every flavor she could find— all in the freezer. Help yourself.”

Stiles grins. “You are really working for my forgiveness and I’m loving the effort.”

“I will earn it,” Derek tells him seriously. “I promise you.” He leans in to kiss Clara. “You’re on break, secretary. Hold my calls. Oh, that reminds me.” He digs into his pocket for his cell phone. “I thought you might want to make this call yourself.

Stiles looks at the number Derek already has pulled up and feels his heart leap. “You found Scott?”

“He lives right here in Beacon Hills. We made contact after I got back from Ideria— he knows we were mated, and thinks you’re dead.” Derek looks like he wants to give Stiles a quick kiss too, but thinks better of it. “I’ll give you privacy.”

Stiles catches his hand and squeezes. “Thank you, Der.”

“It’s literally the very least I can do.”

Stiles wanders into the living room to make the call. His stomach gets all twisted up when it starts ringing and he pats Clara on the back nervously. It’s been two years since he’s talked to his best friend.

The voice that picks up is nevertheless so familiar and beloved Stiles feels tears spring to his eyes. “Derek? Is this a butt-dial?”

“Hey, Scotty,” Stiles says.

There’s a moment of silence. “Hey…Derek. Is this Derek?”

“Wow, dude. Save a guy’s life and he just forgets you entirely, huh?”

There’s an even longer pause, and when Scott speaks his voice is quivery. “Look, if this is anyone other than who I think it is…tell me now. Because this would be a crappy joke to pull.”

“You know what else is a crappy joke to pull? Putting fifty balloons filled with glitter in the teacher’s lounge. But man, we sure earned that detention, didn’t we?”

“Holy shit,” Scott says. “Stiles? It’s really you?”

“It’s really me.” He tips back his head so he won’t cry. “Hi.”

“Hi. Hi! Oh my God! I knew you weren’t dead! I fucking knew it!”

“Gotta love those werewolf instincts,” Stiles says. It feels good to reference an old inside joke, from when they were kids. He can’t stop grinning.

“You’re really alive?”

“One hundred and ten percent.”

“Where are you? Do you need help? Or food? Anything?”

“I’m fine. I’m great, actually— I’m with Derek.”

“Really,” Scott says doubtfully.

The idea that his best friend doesn’t approve of his mate— or former mate, or however Stiles is supposed to think of him— hurts a little. “Really. I’m at his house. I’m still kind of settling in, but I want to see you— ”

“Tomorrow? I can come tomorrow!” Scott is practically stammering with excitement. “I can’t believe this, this is the absolute best news ever— God, I’ve missed you so much, Stiles. The past two years have sucked without you. Oh! You can meet my mate! I got mated!”

“You did?”

“We had the ceremony last month— now I wish we had waited. You could have been my best man. I didn’t even have a best man— I knew that spot belonged to you.”

“Scotty, you big sap.” Stiles actually has to sniffle back tears. “Well, I can top that. I had a baby!”

“You’re fucking with me.”

“Nope. Her name is Clara. I named you godfather in absentia, so, you know, you better start stepping up to the plate.”

Scott practically shrieks on the other end of the phone and Stiles grins, holding Clara close and thinking that life cannot get any better than this.

#

Three hours later he sits freshly showered and wrapped in a robe that smells like mate and home and safety on a carpet more luxurious than a fur coat, eats ice cream with his baby on his lap, watches a shirtless Derek wrestle with a set of drawers, and realizes that, actually, life can’t get any better than this.

“You know,” Derek puffs, “you and Clara are really not pulling your weight here.”

“Uh, Clara weighs like twenty pounds. And I don’t even think I’m triple digits anymore. You shouldn’t have sent home Erica and Boyd, Mr. No I’m very strong I can do it myself.”

“I can do it myself,” Derek grumbles. “Here we go…there!” He gets the drawers up against the wall and nods at it, pleased. “Nursery complete.”

Stiles looks around at a room twice the size of his Iderian shack. “Clara deems it passable.”

“We’ll buy all new stuff for her,” Derek says, totally missing the sarcasm. “You think she’s ready for bedtime?”

Stiles looks down at his sleepy baby, freshly diapered in a disposable and dressed in a clean pair of cotton jammies. “I think so.”

Derek’s already set up her crib, complete with a mobile of little lambs. Clara looks a little freaked out once he puts her inside, since she’s not used to being caged in, but he keeps his hand on her reassuringly until she relaxes and smiles up at him.

“You had a big day,” he says to her. “And guess what, baby? Daddy doesn’t have to run out anywhere while you sleep. When you wake up, I’ll still be here.”

This is a bigger deal to him than to her, but she’s kind enough to smile at him again before she puts her fist in her mouth and turns over to sleep.

“She really is perfect,” Derek says quietly, standing next to Stiles at the railing of the crib.

“She gets it from me.”

Derek’s gaze is burning. “I know she does.”

Stiles’s cheeks tint at the way Derek is looking at him, and the way it’s making him feel inside. “I think I’m probably ready for bedtime too,” he says.

“Okay. I’ll give you privacy.” Derek grabs the baby monitor Erica had brought them. “I’m going to keep this in my room. You need anything, anything at all, just say my name, and I’ll come running.”

“You got it.”

“Goodnight, Stiles.”

Derek leaves, and Stiles is grateful that he hadn’t asked to sleep in the nursery with him— giving him space. Still, when he shuts off the light and gets back in the bed, he feels a little unsettled.

Derek is only a few doors away, in his own bed, and Stiles wants to be with him.

He tries to sleep, but can’t, and eventually he gets up, checks quickly on Clara, and pads down the hallway to find Derek.

The werewolf is sitting in his own bed, clad in pajamas, looking at his laptop. Stiles can hear Clara’s gurgling breaths on the baby monitor he’s put on the bed stand. “Stiles!” he says. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I just…couldn’t sleep.”

Derek nods. “After I got back from Ideria, the house seemed too quiet sometimes at night. I would nod off, and then think I heard shooting and bolt awake.”

“Yeah. And…I don’t know. I’ve been trying to find you for a year. Being here and not being in the same bed as you just felt weird.”

Derek’s cheeks redden and he pats the bed. “I’m looking at baby stuff online, if you’d like to join me.”

Stiles nods and crawls into the bed with him. Derek’s got a bunch of high-end cribs on the screen, fancier than Stiles had ever dreamed of, and they scroll through a few pages together in silence before Stiles speaks. “You’re wearing glasses,” he realizes.

Derek touches the black frames. “I get migraines. The glasses help if I’m trying to read at night.”

“They’re a good look on you, lieutenant.”

The nickname slips out and Derek stills. “I’m not a lieutenant anymore, Stiles.”

“Oh, yeah. You got promoted when they gave you that Medal of Honor, right?”

“No, I mean— the war is over. I’m just a regular guy now. I just want to be a citizen, not a soldier, or a war hero. I just want to be Derek Hale.”

“Well, that’s good enough for me.”

“I know. That’s why that’s what I want to be.”

Stiles is brave enough to lean his head against Derek’s chest. “So I won’t be calling you Vice President Hale any time soon?”

“No.” Derek’s hand hesitantly strokes Stiles’s hair, and when Stiles doesn’t object he does it again. “I’ll quit working for Gerard. I promise you, Stiles, I’m not a speciest. I don’t hate humans, or think they’re inferior. The idea of hating anymore, now that I have you back and my daughter here, just seems ludicrous. I know I can’t make excuses, not after what you’ve been through, but…I didn’t know myself.”

Stiles looks up at Derek. There’s gray at his temples and lines on his face and he reaches up hesitantly to smooth one out. “You’ve been through a lot, too,” he murmurs. “At least I had Clara. And at least I knew you were alive. It’s just, when I saw that magazine…I was afraid I’d really lost you. Not to another omega…I thought the man I knew was just gone.”

“He was,” Derek says a little shakily. “You’re not the only person who came back from the dead today, Stiles.” His thumb brushes over Stiles’s cheek, stopping at his lip. “I want you,” Derek says quietly. “I want to kiss you. I want to hold you. I want to be your mate again. Yesterday all I wanted was revenge on the people I thought killed you. I didn’t have names and faces for them, so I just told myself it was all the humans still alive who deserved my hatred. I don’t want revenge anymore, and I don’t want to hate. I just want you.”

“I want you too,” Stiles whispers. He hasn’t felt desire like this in a year and he wraps his arms around Derek, inhaling deeply. “You smell exactly the same,” he mumbles into Derek’s chest.

“I do?”

“Were you worried?”

“A little bit.” Derek’s nose nuzzles into his neck. “You smell the same, too.”

They stayed wrapped up in each other for a while, until Clara whimpers on the monitor and Stiles reluctantly lifts his head. “I should go,” he says. “I promised her I would be there when she woke up.”

“Okay. We’ll keep online shopping tomorrow?”

“Sounds like a plan.” Stiles lingers at the doorway. “Goodnight, Citizen Hale.”

“Stiles?” Derek’s face is very serious. “You better be here when I wake up, too. If this was all a dream I will be extremely displeased.”

Stiles laughs and takes one last long look at the man he loves. “I’ll be here, Der. There’s no getting rid of me that easily.”

#

“It isn’t fair!”

Halfway across town, in a home much smaller than the Hale mansion— to its resident’s eternal displeasure— Kate Argent shrieks and storms her way across her father’s study.

“Everything was going perfectly, I was only two weeks away from making it legal, and he shows up. You told me he was dead. You promised!”

“I told you there was little chance he could have gotten away to safety in time, and it didn’t matter because Derek was convinced he was dead,” Gerard Argent says calmly. “It isn’t my fault the little cockroach escaped the exterminator. I’ve done my part in making sure there was no way he could get over here, if he had survived. Don’t blame me.”

“You should have seen the way Derek looked at him. A filthy little human— God, if Derek hadn’t been there I could have snapped his puny neck. And the baby! Derek looked at it like it was the entire Hale fortune, right there!” Kate grabs a paperweight and throws it at the wall, fury an endless, never-crashing wave. “I did everything right! Just yesterday he was absolutely pitiful— I had him addicted to the wolfsbane beer, and he was popping the pills to get rid of the headaches the beer gave him, just like you said. It was working perfectly, and now it’s over. All because that little shit hid underground like the animal he is and didn’t die when he was supposed to.”

“Very unfortunate,” Gerard says mildly.

“And he’ll get the entire Hale fortune now— him and that little half-breed brat. It should have been ours, and now we’ll never see a penny, and it isn’t fair.

But now Gerard has had enough. “Whose daughter are you?” he snaps, sitting straight in his chair.

Kate blinks at him, angry tears in her eyes. “What?”

“Who raised you? It couldn’t have been me, because I wouldn’t have stood for a daughter who gives up at the first sign of opposition.” Gerard has lifted into a pose Kate knows well— the stern politician, the thundering preacher, the punishing father. “You think we should just abandon the Hale fortune to the human-lovers, Kate? You think we don’t deserve it anymore?”

“I didn’t say that, Father.”

“You want to throw away all the hard work our family has put into reclaiming what is rightfully ours?” Gerard’s voice drops to a growl. “Elmworth Hale stole the presidential election from your grandfather, Kate. Have you forgotten? His family built a fortune on being the spawn of a human-loving president, and shut down your great-uncle’s factory— the factory that was building our fortune— when they learned the Argents were using human labor. They took money from us, from hardworking Luponians, and gave it to the filthy sapers, and made themselves the richest family in the country doing it. You want to forgive that debt? You want to write off everything I’ve done? Have you forgotten your brother already, Kate?”

Kate’s cheeks burn and she quickly looks away from her father. Of course she hasn’t forgotten Chris. He’d been Gerard’s firstborn, his original tool. Gerard had puppet-mastered a relationship between Chris and Peter Hale, Derek’s uncle, planning for Chris to become a Hale through marriage and inherit the fortune once the others were disposed of.

Oh, Chris had been the absolute golden child for a long time— sacrificing his happiness to be with a sharp, sarcastic, devious man, the furthest thing from his type. All for the sake of taking back the Hale fortune from the filthy saper-lovers. Then the unthinkable happened.

Chris fell in love with Peter.

Kate will never forget the night he raged at Gerard, telling him that it was over; he was finally out from under Gerard’s thumb. He was going to tell Peter what Gerard was after and then he would never speak to his father again, not for as long as he lived. Kate had been terrified, cowering in a corner of her father’s study. Nobody yelled at Gerard, and she waited for her father to hit Chris or do something terrible.

Instead Gerard calmly opened his arms and hugged Chris. “Shh, son,” he said gently. “Of course the arrangement is off. All I want is for you to be happy. You finding love with someone is worth more than any fortune to me. You’re my son, Chris. You are what matters most to me.”

Gerard had never called Chris son before. Kate’s brother had been stiff for a second, and then he crumpled forward into his father’s arms, crying gratefully while Gerard patted his back.

Two days later there had been a horrible accident. A manufacturing defect in Peter’s car had caused a fire and the car exploded as Peter and Chris drove out for a day trip at the beach, killing them instantly. That was before the Hale name was synonymous with loss and Kate remembers seeing Derek Hale for the first time as the preteen cried for his dead uncle. Kate had been numb, unsure of how to grieve, watching her father for clues.

He never cried, not even when he delivered Chris’s eulogy. As they walked out of the church, following Chris’s casket, Gerard grabbed her arm. “Kate,” he said, too quietly for anyone to hear. Kate looked up to meet her father’s cold, cold gaze. “It wasn’t an accident,” he said.

No. Kate has not forgotten Chris. They’d ended up suing the car manufacturer for the defect that wasn’t there. They’d made a lot of money off that lawsuit.

And Kate had learned that nothing in the world came before her father’s wishes.

“After all the years I’ve been planning this,” Gerard continues. “All the work I’ve done. Arranging for the death of the Hales in that house fire— blaming it on terrorists and single-handedly starting the war with Ideria— but one little omega is too much for you to handle, Kate?”

Kate sulks at the floor. “Cora Hale is still breathing, last I checked.”

“Cora’s accident is already planned. The saper will not ruin things for us.”

“Well, I don’t know how you’re planning on getting rid of him. There can only be so many accidents before people get suspicious. Besides, Derek will probably never let him out of his sight. And even if we did get rid of him— Derek won’t be nearly as willing to mate with me.” Kate hasn’t dared tell her father that Derek had asked for a postponement before Stiles even showed up. He was angry enough after learning she’d lost her temper when Derek had chickened out of impregnating her.

But that was hardly her fault. Gerard had gotten worried that Derek wouldn’t leave his fortune to Kate, since he hadn’t fallen even the slightest bit in love with her like they had hoped, so he told Kate to get pregnant and secure her place in Derek’s will. It meant he thought Kate might not be able to fulfill her role, and that had scared her. Gerard had no use for someone who couldn’t do what they were commanded.

“You thinking that only proves to me that you lack the intelligence of our species, Kate. The omega will die, by our doing but not our direct hand. We will not be suspected. Derek will be bereft and left with an infant child. He will marry you simply to give the child a mother. The fresh grief will drive him back into the bottle and the pills, and he’ll die of an overdose in a few short years, as planned. A few more orchestrated drunken outings like last week’s fitting— good job on that, by the way; the papers ate it up— and the media will be predicting his tragic demise long before we actually cause it.”

Gerard’s voice is deadly matter-of-fact but Kate is stuck on one aspect of the plan. “I’ll have to raise it? Derek’s half-breed little bastard?”

Gerard rolls his eyes. “Exactly, Kate. It’s a half-breed. That means it will be naturally curious, as a werewolf, and entirely stupid and clumsy, as a saper. Nobody would be too terribly shocked if something terrible happened once it became mobile…a tumble down the stairs, or a fall into the swimming pool. With an alcoholic father, it would seem like an accident waiting to happen. Play our cards right and even Derek will think it’s his own fault. No one will look twice at you.”

Kate is mollified by the promise of the baby’s death. “Well, we’ll need to think of a plan fast.”

“I already thought of one— and checked to see if it would work— while you were having your temper tantrum.” Right on cue the phone at his desk rings, and Gerard beams at it. “Let’s see if my hunch was right.”

Kate watches warily as he picks up the receiver. Late-night phone calls are always a sign that someone is about to die. “Well?” Gerard says tightly. A moment later he relaxes, relief on his face. “You’re entirely sure? And they know he’s here? Have they— of course. I’ll expect the demand in the morning. That’s wonderful. I appreciate your help on this, and you’ll receive your payment. Goodnight.”

“Good news?” Kate asks hopefully as her father hangs up the receiver.

“Excellent news.” Gerard smiles coldly, fingers steepled together, looking just as presidential as he one day will truly be. “Prepare yourself to be Derek’s shoulder to cry on, Kate. Stiles Stilinski’s death warrant is as good as signed.”

Chapter Text

Stiles has forgotten what it feels like to get a good night’s sleep. He wakes up disoriented at first, confused as to how he fell asleep on a literal goddamned cloud, and then remembers where he is.

There’s sunlight coming through the windows and he bathes in it for a second before getting out of the bed and going to get Clara.

Her crib is empty.

Instinct has him upside-down with terror for a moment, but above the roar of his heartbeat he hears a happy shriek from downstairs. Clara is with Derek, of course. He can store away his old fears. There’s nobody within a thousand miles who could want to hurt her.

He finds them downstairs in the living room. Derek is showing Clara a bunch of old family photos, naming all the relatives she’ll never meet. It’s incredible how good they look together. A ready-made family.

“Hey, good morning,” Derek says when he sees Stiles. “I heard her getting fussy about an hour ago and I didn’t want her to wake you.”

“No problem. You must have ninja’d her out of there, I’m the lightest sleeper ever these days.” Stiles holds his arms out and Derek passes Clara over. The baby gurgles at him, eyes bright and alert, and tries to tug at his hair. He really needs to get that cut.

“Did you sleep all the way through the night?” he coos to her, tickling the sole of her foot to try and get another laugh. He’s tried to carve out time like this for them, but he’s always been afraid whenever he was with her. She must think that fear is part of his natural scent. The thought makes him sad and he cuddles her tightly.

“I got an appointment with my family doctor,” Derek says. “He can check out both of you whenever you’re ready. He even said he’ll make a house call in case you’re not up to going out.”

“He can treat humans?”

“Yeah. About .25 percent of Luponian citizens are unbitten humans, so someone has to know how to do it. You want breakfast?”

“Obviously.”

“Good.” Derek leads him back into the kitchen. “What do you want? Bacon? Sausage? Eggs? Burrito? Fruit? Parfait?”

Stiles blinks at him, feeling slightly overwhelmed at the number of choices. “Um…surprise me.”

Of course, to Derek, that means a little bit of everything. “You want juice?”

“Yeah.”

“Cranberry, apple, orange…?”

Picking one seems insurmountable. Derek winces when he sees the bewildered, almost trapped look on Stiles’s face and he grabs the cranberry juice at random. “Sorry,” he says. “I need to remember to take things slow.”

“It’s just, when you’re used to choosing between water and your own sadness for a meal, bacon vs. eggs is a toughie.”

Derek doesn’t laugh. He just looks pained. “Here you go,” he says, passing Stiles two squares of toast with peanut butter. “Start on that. I don’t want to stuff you too fast or you’ll get sick.”

Stiles’s stomach has shrunk enough that the toast pretty much fills him, up, but he takes a few bites of everything else when Derek sends it his way because he doesn’t like to think of it going to waste.

“Where’s Kate?” he asks around a mouthful of egg.

“I don’t know. I tried calling, but she didn’t pick up, and she never came back yesterday.”

Stiles swallows. “You don’t think she’s, like, calling immigration officials, do you?”

“No, but that wouldn’t matter. You won’t be deported. I have— ”

He’s cut off by pounding at the door and Stiles drops his fork, afraid again. “Is it police?” he asks as Derek peers out the window.

Derek is grinning. “No. Why don’t you answer it?”

Stiles hands Clara over and walks to the door, hands sweaty. As he pulls it open he gets a whiff of fresh grass and knows immediately who’s on the other side. “Scott!” he shouts in delight, jumping forward into a hug.

“Stiles! It’s really you!” Scott practically knocks him over. He’s always been such a puppy and Stiles laughs as Scott burrows into his neck, scenting him. “You’re really okay?” Scott asks urgently.

“I am now.”

“I missed you so much, Stiles. I can’t believe you’re alive. I could kill Derek for making me think…”

“It wasn’t his fault.”

Scott pulls away and tugs the person standing behind him into the house. “Let me introduce you to my mate,” he says. “This is Isaac. Isaac, Stiles.”

Scott’s mate smiles shyly at Stiles and offers his hand. He’s adorable, with a mop of curly hair and a whole set of dimples. “Nice to meet you,” he says. “From a former human to a current one, I’m glad you got out of Ideria safely.”

“You’re a bit?” Stiles can’t help but be surprised to be meeting two bitten werewolves in as many days.

“Yeah. I do a lot of advocacy work now. That’s how we met. I was assigned to show Scott around on his first day at work, and by lunchtime we were dry-humping in the break room.”

“Scotty,” Stiles whistles, impressed.

“Well, who can resist this gorgeous face?” Scott pinches Isaac’s cheek, looking at him downright adoringly. “I had all our future pups named by the next day. Emma, Hannah, and Benjamin.”

Isaac snorts and returns the look. “I said, five years before we have pups, sweetheart.”

The clear happiness on Scott’s face makes Stiles want to hug him once more. He remembers back when he honestly thought Scott wouldn’t make it out of Ideria alive, and, even if he did, Stiles certainly would never see him again. “I never thought you’d get into politics, Scott.”

“Well, I like to be where I’m needed. We work for Congresswomen Martin. She’s human— faced basically impossible odds to get elected, so we’re all completely in awe of her— and she’s pretty much the only politician with Iderian sympathies.”

Isaac looks past his shoulder and Stiles watches his brow furrow. “Though some are worse than others,” he says pointedly.

Stiles looks to see Derek, holding Clara like a shield. “Mr. Lahey-McCall,” he says quietly.

Scott, bless him, just takes the opportunity to squeal over Clara. “Can I hold her?” he asks Stiles excitedly, already holding his arms out.

“Of course.”

“C’mere, pumpkin,” he coos as Derek hands her over. “Oh, my goodness. Look at you. Look at you!” He looks at his mate, clear longing on his face. “Isaac…”

“Five years, honey,” Isaac says, leaning over Scott’s shoulder so he can tickle Clara under the chin. She basks in the attention, kicking out with one little foot and beaming at all her admirers.

“I can’t believe you had a baby,” Scott says. “She’s perfect. Were you seriously just in hiding for the past year?”

“Yeah. We just kind of laid low and did what we had to do. It sucked, but it’s over now.” He doesn’t want to talk about it, because the thought of it still makes his heart pound a little faster. “You want to sit?”

They go into the living room. Scott sprawls on the couch with Clara in his lap, letting the baby pat at his face. “She’s got your smile,” he says.

“She’s got my flailing limbs too, so watch out. You and your mom were okay, once we got you off Iderian soil?”

“We were fine. Thanks to you— I told her you were alive and she asked me to tell you again how grateful we are to you for what you did for us. She’s living like a hundred miles away— I moved to Beacon Hills at the tail end of the war, once it seemed like politicians were pushing an anti-human agenda.”

“Which unfortunately has only gotten worse,” Isaac says quietly.

Stiles can feel the tension between Isaac and Derek. Derek is hovering in the living room doorway, as if he knows he isn’t wanted anywhere near Isaac but he doesn’t want to leave them alone. “When did you turn?” he asks Isaac.”

“When I was thirteen.”

“Did Unity Aid bring you over?”

“They helped.” Isaac’s eyes slide to and away from Derek. “I came over with my mother. She needed to get out of Ideria— my dad was abusive. That’s how I ended up needing the bite. One day he just didn’t stop and I got messed up pretty bad. They actually thought I was too far gone for the bite, but it worked, somehow. Unity Aid paid our relocation expenses.”

“They allowed her to come over?” Stiles has always heard that Luponia refused to grant citizenship to human relatives of bitten wolves.

“Yeah, but only because I was still a minor. In Luponia you can only be a citizen if you’re a born or turned werewolf, or if you’re born on Luponian soil, or if you’re legally adopted by Luponian parents or mated to a Luponian. None of that was an option for her, obviously. They let her stay under this program called NPOL— Noncitizen Parents of Luponians. It didn’t make her a citizen, but it allowed her deferred action, which means she could get a job and pay taxes and they wouldn't deport her without cause. It was revocable at any time, but they almost never deported humans back to Ideria, so we didn’t think much about it.”

“I didn’t know about that program.”

“It’s rarely used now. We were fine for a while, but when things started getting really bad between Luponia and Ideria they did start deporting people who had NPOL protection. Not to mention the anti-human discrimination right here at home. My mom worked as a teacher, and they fired her. Then she wasn’t allowed to go to certain restaurants and stores, because businesses were allowed to deny services to humans if they had a ‘justifiable bias,’ like if they had a soldier family member or something.”

Stiles had lived through the prejudice Ideria showed against werewolves, but he hadn’t thought about something similar happening in Luponia. It makes the country seem almost tarnished to him, no longer the shining land of dreams he’d imagined. “That’s horrible.”

“My mom was losing it. She thought they’d deport her. She begged me for the bite, so she could become a citizen, but I said no— the bite almost never turns someone who isn’t close to death. She ended up paying a guy to give it to her. It didn’t work.” Isaac clears his throat and lets Clara grip his finger in her fist. “She died.”

Scott gives Clara to Isaac and then wraps his arms around his mate. “It never should have happened,” he says quietly.

“No,” Stiles agrees, sickened. “I’m so sorry, Isaac.”

“Did you know that five years ago four percent of our population was human? Now it’s less than .25 percent, because of all the deportations.” Isaac looks at Derek, eyes burning. “And that’s still not enough for our Secretary of Defense and his office.”

“I’m planning on resigning from Gerard’s office,” Derek says, meeting Isaac’s look.

“Are you?”

“Yes. I believed the work I was doing was protecting our borders from terrorist attacks. As Stiles has shown me, it actually kept refugees in need from fleeing. That’s unacceptable.” Derek takes a deep breath. “I won’t pretend that I’m not worried about Ideria rekindling war against us. For a long time, that was my only concern, and I would do anything to prevent that. But the work I was doing kept Stiles and Clara from coming home for months. I can’t in good conscience continue working there.”

“That’s great!” Scott says cheerfully, squeezing Isaac’s hand as if warning him not to start an argument. “I knew there had to be a human being in there, Derek. If Stiles fell in love with you, I was sure you had a heart, deep down.”

Stiles snorts, throwing Derek a mischievous look. “He’s actually a total sap,” he says. “Der-bear just loves his cuddles, right, Der?”

Derek looks mortified and quickly finds a subject change. “I’m actually going to try and enroll you in NPOL, Stiles. We can get Clara her citizenship pretty easily, and then you’ll officially be the parent of a Luponian. That should keep immigration officials away until…well, hopefully we can find more permanent measures.”

“What about my dad? I want to try and bring him over as soon as possible…I know Gerard isn’t exactly in any mood to do you any favors, but if he’s Secretary of Defense, is there anything he can do to get him out of prison?”

The color drains from Derek’s face and Stiles hears Scott draw in a quick, pained breath. Derek abandons his post at the door and comes to sit next to Stiles. “I…I don’t know how to tell you this, Stiles. I tried to get your father out when the war first ended. Gerard tried to find him, but…they executed all the prisoners accused of werewolf sympathies. I’m so sorry, Stiles. I didn’t think that you had no way to know.”

Stiles is numb. “My dad is dead?”

“I’m so sorry, Stiles. I’m so sorry.” Derek holds him tightly. “I wanted to get him out for you. I tried. I swear I did.”

“My dad’s not dead. He’s not. I— ” Theo had said John was still alive. He’d been alive weeks ago, at least. “Someone told me he was still alive. Someone who had reason to know. He’s alive— he has to be alive. Derek, I know he is. I know it.”

Derek rubs his back. “Okay,” he says, but Stiles can tell he’s humoring him. “I’ll turn over every stone to find him. If he’s out there, I’ll bring him here to you, Stiles. I promise.”

“If it was Gerard who told you that I wouldn’t trust it for a second,” Isaac puts in.

Derek just keeps holding Stiles, letting Stiles press his face into his chest until he feels a little calmer. “Maybe he made a mistake,” he repeats quietly. “I don’t think he would lie to me. I trust Gerard. But of course it’s possible that he made a mistake.”

Scott comes over to give Stiles a hug too, and then Isaac joins with Clara, and Stiles ends up in the middle of a big warm puppy pile. “Your dad’s smart,” Scott says firmly. “If anyone could survive against all odds, it’s him. Well, you too, but you already did that.”

“I’m just not going to believe it until I’m one hundred percent positive. I can’t believe it otherwise.”

“Yeah, I think that’s going to be all of our policy for now on.” Scott snorts. “How did the mate bond end up breaking between you too, anyway? You told me a little yesterday on the phone, but…I don’t think it’s possible for a bond to break that way, honestly.”

Stiles opens his mouth to answer when there’s a sharp knock at the door. Derek pulls away reluctantly and squints out the living-room window. “Shit,” he says. “That’s Gerard’s car.”

“With Kate?”

“I can’t see. Probably.” Derek sighs. “You stay in here. I’ll deal with it.”

He walks to the front door with his shoulders hunched a little, as if he’s trying to get up his courage. Scott leans in to murmur into Stiles’s ear: “You really trust him completely? If you want to come stay with us, we’d love to have the two of you.”

“You’re my sweet guardian angel, Scotty. But yeah. I trust Derek.”

“Hello, Gerard,” Derek says as he opens the front door. “Kate.”

“Derek.” Gerard’s voice is just as flinty as Stiles remembers. “We need to have a conversation.”

“I know. I’m sorry about the way our arrangement has ended. I’m sure we can come up with a suitable payment to compensate you both— ”

“This isn’t about that, Derek. This is far more serious. Please let us in.”

Stiles looks up and frowns as Derek steps back from the door, letting Gerard and Kate walk through. Gerard immediately walks into the living room as if he owns the place, looking down his nose at Scott and Isaac. “Ah,” he says. “I see Congresswoman Martin has already sent over a welcoming committee.”

Scott grips Stiles’s hand and glares up at Gerard. “I’m Mr. Stilinski’s best friend,” he says coldly. “I’m here for him. Not everything is about politics, sir.”

“Well, this is. It isn’t a conversation for outsiders, so if you’ll please excuses us?”

“Scott’s not an outsider,” Stiles says. “And hey, Gerard, good to see you, you look great, isn’t is crazy how I’m not dead, blah blah blah.”

Gerard curls his lip. Kate is standing behind him, looking downright demure today in a blouse and skirt. She keeps her eyes to the floor but Stiles hasn’t forgotten the look she gave him yesterday as she’d left. “As you wish, then. Take a seat, Derek.”

Derek does, on the couch next to Stiles. He feels a little safer sandwiched in between Scott and Derek, but his stomach churns a bit as Gerard and Kate sit across from him. “We have a problem,” Gerard says right off the bat. “Regarding Mr. Stilinski’s activities over the past month.”

Stiles blinks, bewildered, and Derek puts a protective arm around him. “All Stiles did was hide, and then find some smugglers to bring him over. He didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I’m afraid Mr. Stilinski hasn’t been entirely honest with you, Derek.” Gerard turns a hard look on Stiles. “He fled Ideria after assassinating Ideria’s leader, Theo Raeken. Didn’t you?”

Derek makes a choked, incredulous sound, but Stiles feels himself go completely cold. He hadn’t told Derek about killing Theo because he couldn’t stand to relive that moment when he’d seen Clara’s death in Theo’s eyes and just reacted. “I had to do it,” he says weakly.

Now it’s Scott’s turn to choke, while Derek looks down at Stiles in shock. “You assassinated Raeken?”

“It wasn’t like that. He was going to kill Clara, Derek. He found us and tried— he wanted me. He wanted to take me, but he said he had to get rid of Clara first. He was coming for her and I just…I had your gun, so I shot him. I had to do it. I had to.”

The shock is replaced with tenderness. “Of course you did,” Derek says, pulling Stiles close to him. “Shh, Stiles. You didn’t do anything wrong. You protected our daughter. Nobody could blame you for that.”

Gerard clears his throat pointedly. “Unfortunately, Mr. Stilinski was seen by a neighbor fleeing the scene with a baby. Because Mr. Raeken had told his aides he was going to see Mr. Stilinski, Ideria has already named him as the perpetrator. As you can imagine, the assassination of someone so high-profile— especially in these troubled times— isn’t exactly a crime they’re willing to pardon.”

Derek’s grip is practically crushing. “What are you saying, Gerard? Stiles is outside their jurisdiction here. He got away. It doesn’t matter.”

“It does. Because Ideria has already been made aware that Stiles fled to Luponia and is with you.”

“How could they know that?”

Gerard shrugs. “I imagine one of those smugglers who brought him over was paid for the information.”

Duke? Why would he or any of his crew betray Stiles like that?

“What are they going to do?” Derek asks, sounding frightened for the first time. “Try and come for him?”

“They don’t need to. They’ve already made a formal demand to our government. They want him extradited back to Iderian soil so he can face their justice system and answer to the crimes of treason and murder.”

Stiles hears himself make a quiet sound of horror. “No,” Derek says immediately. “That’s absurd. Of course nobody is going to extradite Stiles. He acted in defense of a werewolf, of an infant. What he did was heroic.”

“That’s not for our government to say. They didn’t ask politely, Derek. They made it clear that refusing to turn their citizen back over to his government would be seen as an act of aggression against them, and they’ll respond accordingly.”

“But they’ll kill me,” Stiles says numbly. “If you give me back to them, they’ll kill me the next day.”

“They have the right to exact their justice against their citizens.” Gerard shakes his head. “Mr. Stilinski committed a crime, fled, and came illegally to Luponia. Allowing him to stay would be putting the lives of every Luponian citizen at risk. The president has been doing everything he can to avoid another act of war. I’m sorry, Derek. The president has agreed that Mr. Stilinski must be extradited.”

Derek, Isaac, and Scott all start shouting at the same time. Stiles fumbles blindly for Clara and then just holds her tightly, trying to keep from panicking.

“You did this,” Isaac is saying over everyone else. “You’re the Secretary of Defense. The president would have consulted with you about this before anyone else.”

“I did my job. I don’t and can’t let personal feeling cloud my judgement when it comes to the safety of my country. I would have advised him the same way if Stiles were my own mate.”

“Damn it, Gerard!” Stiles has never heard Derek raise his voice at Gerard before. “You have to do something. After everything our families have been through together— please. I’m begging you to help me.”

“I’m trying to help you, Derek. That’s why I’m here.” Gerard looks at the baby clinging to Stiles, frightened of all the loud voices. “Ideria doesn’t just want Stiles back. They demanded the return of both the Iderian citizens who fled to Luponia. They want Clara, too.”

“No!’ Stiles feels the same surge of terror he’d felt when Theo had opened his arms for Clara. “You can’t let them take her!”

“Obviously nobody wants that to happen,” Gerard agrees. “They’re insisting that they simply want her back because she’s an Iderian citizen, but given the rumors of werewolf infanticide the president is loath to turn her over. Besides, they really want Stiles; the baby is just a bonus. Still, simply refusing might lead to an act of war, so I think I have a way to keep the baby safe.”

Clara whimpers at the racing of Stiles’s heartbeat and nuzzles into him. “Anything,” he says hoarsely, holding her as tightly as he can.

“Right now their only claim to her is that she was born on Iderian soil and her only known parent is undeniably an Iderian citizen.” Gerard looks at Derek. “We need to legally name you as her father. Mr. Stilinski will need to give up his own parental rights to her, to cut any remaining ties to Ideria. To really shore up her protection, Kate has agreed to file paperwork beginning adoption procedures. The child will be a werewolf with two Luponian parents, and Ideria will have no more claim to her.”

“But what about Stiles?” Derek demands. “We need to keep him here, not cut him off from Clara entirely. What if I married him? Right now, today?”

Gerard shakes his head. “Given Mr. Stilinski’s status, you wouldn’t get a license. I’m sorry. I’ve looked at this from every angle, and there’s no way to keep him here. Right now our focus should be on protecting the baby.”

“I’ll protect my baby,” Derek says savagely. “I’ll protect my family, Gerard, you don’t have to tell me how to do that. You’re no help on this, clearly.” He pulls Stiles close and kisses the top of his head, lips fierce. “I won’t let anyone take you, Stiles. I’m going to make some calls. I have contacts in the capitol. No one’s going to touch you, I promise.”

“I’ll call Lydia,” Scott says, jumping to his feet. “There’s no way she’d stand by and let this happen.”

“Kira does immigration law,” Isaac adds, standing as well. “I’ll see if I can get ahold of her.”

Stiles just sits still as Isaac and Scott bound out of the room, phones at their ears. He’d thought, stupidly, that once he was across the ocean he’d be free of Ideria. He’d thought he finally managed to make his daughter safe.

Derek is speaking urgently into his cell phone, one hand firmly on Stiles’s shoulder. “I’m at home, not work, so I can’t check. Yes, but he’s— it’s a past mating bite. The bond broke, but— I understand.” He puts his hand over the receiver. “I need to go check something on my computer, Stiles. I’ll be right back.”

Stiles nods and Derek hurries from the room. “I truly am sorry for all this,” Gerard says quietly.

Stiles doesn’t answer. He just stares at Clara’s button nose, mesmerized by the way she smiles at him.

“Stiles, look at me, please.”

He drags his gaze to Gerard’s face reluctantly and sees that it’s all business.

“You have a lot of people working for you here. Derek and your friends might be able to delay proceedings for a little while. I’d say they’ll successfully file a petition for a hearing on asylum today. That will take a few weeks to schedule. If you lose the hearing— and you will— they’ll appeal. They could drag this out for quite some time, but Ideria will never just lose interest and decide to leave you alone. Eventually, no matter how long it takes, you will be handed back over to your government.”

Stiles doesn’t want to hear it. He shakes his head and looks back down at Clara.

“Think about how you want this to happen. I’m telling you, as our nation’s Secretary of Defense, there is only one way it can end. You can choose the path it takes to get there. Maybe you’ll insist on keeping your parental rights to Clara, and both of you will be extradited back and killed. Maybe you’ll make your country wait, and they’ll decide to simply attack us on our own shore. Derek will go to war again, and maybe he’ll die. Maybe Ideria will just send agents of their own right here to Derek’s home, and they’ll kill all three of you in your beds. Maybe you’ll delay your extradition so long that your daughter will be old enough to understand what’s happening when they drag you out of this house. Maybe you’ll have to hear her screaming for you as they take you to your death. Or you could stop Derek and agree to go quietly. Give up your rights to Clara to keep her safe. The choice is entirely up to you.”

“Derek and I will take good care of her,” Kate says, speaking for the first time. “Don’t you want to know that she’s in good hands?”

Stiles looks at her, and she smiles at him, eyes cold as a blade.

“I will never give my baby to you,” Stiles says. “Never. And Derek would never allow it.”

Gerard makes an impatient sound. “Derek will fall apart once you’re gone. He’s done it before. Truthfully, that’s why Kate needs to adopt the baby. Derek will not be a fit parent for her alone.”

“He’ll go right back to the booze,” Kate adds. “Right back to the pills. You didn’t know that, did you? Just how deep he fell after he came home? I did everything I could, but Derek was a wreck. There’s no way you could trust him with a baby in that state.”

“And months of fighting the government— the cost, the stress, the way the country will turn against him when they see how he’s risking war over a human— by the end of it, he’ll be a husk. Think about your child, Stiles. I’m telling you that you cannot protect yourself. Nobody in this country will go to war for you.” Gerard pauses. “But you can protect that little girl.”

He hears footsteps on the stairs and seconds later Derek reenters the room, Scott and Isaac close behind. “We’re fixing it,” Derek says immediately. “We’re going to try and get you asylum. Our lawyer friend Kira is filing a petition for a hearing on it. They can’t extradite you while that’s ongoing.”

“Think about what I said,” Gerard says, standing up. “I’ll leave you to it. I wish things could have been different.”

“Gerard.” Derek’s voice is low with tightly contained fury. “I quit.”

Gerard’s eyes flash and he look annoyed for the first time. “Derek, you’re harboring a fugitive and risking the safety of our nation. Obviously, you’re fired. But for the love I bear your family— for the sake of my son Chris, who was almost your uncle— I will do everything I reasonably can to help you, I promise.”

Derek just nods and stands there watching Gerard and Kate leave. “Everything’s going to be okay,” he promises Stiles. “This is just a speedbump. What you did was so brave, and nobody’s going to hurt you for it.”

“We’re with you,” Scott adds, putting a hand on Stiles’s shoulder. “No matter what.”

#

Scott and Isaac leave to meet with Congresswoman Martin. They need evidence that Stiles is being unfairly persecuted, so Derek gets on his laptop to gather all the evidence he can find about Ideria murdering werewolves. Stiles paces the house with Clara in his arms, trying not to think about being sent back over to die.

He’s struck by a horrific thought. If Ideria knows he was the one who killed Theo, they probably took revenge on anyone related to him, in lieu of killing him directly.

His dad. They probably killed his dad.

He bolts into Clara’s nursery when he realizes it and cries quietly, pressed up against the bed with her. He wants to crawl underneath it. He wants a small, enclosed space, like their Iderian home. A place to hide. He feels as though panic tugs on him all through the day, urging him to get Clara out of danger. To run, and hide, and stay where nothing can hurt his child.

Derek coaxes him downstairs to eat, though even real food doesn’t hold much appeal for him at the moment. Stiles thinks about all those beer bottles in the fridge, and what Kate had said. The thought that he can’t trust Derek with Clara is abhorrent to him.

“Did you see anyone?” he asks after a few tortured silent moments. “After you come home and thought I was dead? Like, a psychiatrist?”

Derek wrinkles his nose. “No.”

“But you were in bad shape, weren’t you?”

“I was grieving. It was difficult for me to get over what happened. But I didn’t need a doctor.”

“Did you need something else?”

Derek looks uncomfortable. “What are you asking me?”

“I’ve read about PTSD. Lots of soldiers need a way to escape so they turn to pills…alcohol…drugs…”

“I didn’t have PTSD. I was grieving. Now I’m not. I took some painkillers for my migraines, and I would have a beer or two when I was feeling bad, but you don’t have to worry about that, Stiles. I’m fine now.”

“If they take me…”

“They won’t. So don’t even— ” Derek looks out the window and his lips go thin. “Goddamn it. There’s a car.”

“Who?”

“FBI.”

Police?

“Yeah. Kira warned me this might happen. They must not know we filed for asylum yet. I’ll take care of it.”

Stiles’s eyes bug out. The police are here. They’re going to take him and Clara and give them to their killers. “Derek,” he wheezes, terrified.

“It’s okay, Stiles. Go upstairs. I’ll make them leave.” Derek goes to the front door and walks outside so he can meet the agents on the lawn.

Stiles jumps from his seat, heart racing out of his chest. What if they don’t leave? What if they storm past Derek and grab Clara from his arms and take them both away?

He has to hide. He can’t let them find him. He just has to hide.

He grips his daughter and bolts.

#

Derek waits on the lawn for the agents, trying to stay calm. He wants to pick up the car and throw it, Hulk-style. That would keep them away.

It pulls to a stop in front of him and two agents get out. “Mr. Hale,” one says.

“Gentlemen.”

“We understand there are two Iderians on this property.”

“My werewolf daughter and my human former mate are living here. That’s right.”

“Mr. Hale, because Mr. Stilinski and, ah…” the agent squints at a piece of paper in his hand. “Unnamed Baby Stilinski…”

“Clara. Her name is Clara.”

“Yes— because they fled from the scene of a crime in Ideria, the Iderian government has requested they be returned to their homeland to face trial. We’re here to take them into custody until a final decision can be made.”

“Let me get this straight. You’re here to take a baby into custody? Did my four-month-old kill someone, or was she just the getaway driver?”

The agent winces in the face of Derek’s sarcasm. “This isn’t an arrest, sir. The president is trying to determine if the baby will be deported or remain in Luponia. He’d like them both to be in custody and remain under watch so we can guarantee their safety and keep them from fleeing again.”

“This isn’t an arrest, you said. So there’s no warrant?”

“No, sir.”

“Then you’re not taking another step. We’ve already filed for asylum. Nobody is getting extradited anytime soon, and they’ll both be staying here, under my protection. If you’d like I’ll put my house up as collateral in case they flee again, as you put it, but they won’t be leaving my sight until this is dealt with.” Derek glares at each agent, flashing his eyes deliberately at them both. “Understand?”

They exchange grim looks over the car. “We’ll speak with the president and see what he has to say.”

“Do that. And be sure you tell him that the baby in question is the great-granddaughter of Elmworth Hale, the former president of our country. That’s the four-month-old child he’s considering handing over for the slaughter. And the man he’s apparently already decided to let die is that child’s father, who acted to save her life. You tell him that. And tell him Derek Hale, the recipient of the highest military honor this country awards, will protect that baby and her father to his death.”

The agent nods. “Understood,” he says looking as if he’s not sure if he should salute Derek or just get out of there. He compromises by inclining his head in a spasmodic gesture and then ducking back into the car, his partner only seconds behind.

Derek watches them take off, arms folded. He feels a burning anger deep in his core that anyone is trying to take Stiles away from him, just after Derek has found him again. Stiles should be celebrated as a hero, and instead he’s being treated like a criminal, all to appease a country threatening war.

Derek shakes his head in disgust and walks back inside. “Stiles?” he calls. “They’re gone. You can come downstairs.”

There’s no response.

“Stiles?” He walks up the steps, focusing intently. “Where are you?”

He hears Stiles’s heartbeat, much too fast. Clara’s is calm next to it. They’re together, but Stiles is having a panic attack. “Stiles!” He looks in the nursery, the bathroom, his own bedroom, playing a hot/cold game with Stiles’s heartbeat. He walks past a tightly shut door three times before he realizes the galloping heartbeat is coming from inside there.

Stiles is hiding in a closet.

Derek feels as though his heart shatters. “Stiles,” he calls, putting his hands on the door. “It’s okay. They left. Nobody is going to take you.”

There’s no answer, just a racing heartbeat and the wheezing sound of hyperventilation. Clara is still calm but Derek imagines Stiles clutching her tightly to his chest, afraid to let go.

“Stiles, please come out of there. I’m right here. It’s just the three of us. Nobody is going to touch either of you.”

It’s not working and Derek shuts his eyes, looking for a new tack. “Clara,” he calls, letting his voice go light. “Are you and Daddy playing hide-and-seek with me?”

There’s still no response, but Derek slides down so he’s leaning against the door. “Clara, I need you to tell your daddy something, okay?” He waits. “I need you to tell Daddy that he was so, so brave when he got you out of Ideria. Some people think humans can't be brave, but your daddy was. Way braver than anything Papa ever did, even though I’m the one with the medal. And Papa can never repay Daddy for all that— keeping you safe and bringing you home to me. But I’m going to try. It’s my turn to be brave now. I’m never, ever, ever going to let anyone hurt you or your daddy. No matter what they try to do, we’ll stay together.”

He thinks he hears Stiles’s heartrate beginning to slow, and he takes a deep breath of his own. “I know I said and did some things before you came over that made me look like a bad guy. I’m so sorry for that. I’m going to make up for it. I don’t care about humans and werewolves and war, I care about my family. There will be no more violence. No more death. Just the three of us, together forever.”

He puts his hand against the door and imagines Stiles on the other side, as if he could send his touch through. “You and your daddy are my whole world. Nobody will ever take either of you away from me. If we have to, we’ll run away together. We’ll find some friendly grizzly bears and live in the woods. There’s only one way this won’t end, and that’s with us being separated.”

He hears Stiles’s breathing go from wheezing to ragged as it returns to normal. “I love you both so much,” he says. “You don’t ever have to be afraid, sweetheart. I lost your daddy once, and I’m never going to lose him again.” He waits for a few more moments, then says teasingly, “Now, Clara, I hate to be nitpicky, but this really isn’t how hide-and-seek works. You’re supposed to come out once I find you!”

The closet door pushes hesitantly open and Stiles peers out. Derek opens his arms and Stiles almost falls into them, pressing his face into Derek’s chest. His breath comes in sobs.

“It’s okay, baby.” Derek rubs his back and smiles reassuringly at Clara. “I’ve got you.”

“I thought…I thought…”

“I know, but they’re gone. They won’t come back. Nobody will ever take you away.” Derek presses a kiss to Stiles’s forehead. “I love you.”

Stiles shudders out a few more breaths before he finally relaxes into Derek’s embrace. “I love you too, Derek,” he whispers. “I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

Stiles’s petition for asylum is scheduled for one week after the demand is made and Derek tries not to show how much of a mess he is over about it. He, Scott, Isaac, Congresswoman Martin, and Kira Yukimura, an immigration lawyer, are devoting themselves to Stiles’s case, and he has to believe they’ll win, but an ugly voice in his head says they might not.

If anyone actually comes to the house to take Stiles Derek will simply rip their throat out with his teeth, of course, but he’d prefer it not come to that.

Rather than let Stiles see his concern, Derek does everything he can to make Stiles feel like he’ll be here forever. Health comes first. Dr. Deaton comes to the house to give Stiles and Clara checkups and makes so many exclamations of horror that Derek accidently rips a pillow in half. Clara is just a bit underweight for her age and will likely have some vision problems due to living in gloom for the first four months of her life, but is otherwise perfectly healthy. Stiles is malnourished, anemic, and has osteopenia. He’s immediately started on a strict regimen of vitamins and supplements.

Stiles isn’t ready yet to share Derek’s bed again, so Derek convinces him to make the second guest bedroom his own. He doesn’t want much in the way of furniture or decorations, but luckily Scott has some old pictures of Stiles and his family that he’d brought over from Ideria, and he donates them gladly. Stiles tacks them up all around the room and adds more that he takes with the camera Derek bought him: Clara grinning, Clara sleeping, Clara crying, Derek yawning, Derek laughing, Scott falling asleep on Isaac’s shoulder.

They spend a good chunk of the Hale fortune online for the nursery. Stiles gives it a lamb theme and Derek doesn’t even roll his eyes a little. Clara seems to like it, though her disposition is sunny enough that everything from jangling keys to Baby Einstein to a raspberry on her belly is enough to send her into paroxysms of delight.

Derek is surprised at how easily fatherhood comes to him. He’s all thumbs when it comes to changing diapers, to the point that Stiles ends up giving him a twenty-minute tutorial on it, and he’s impossibly bad at keeping soap out of Clara’s eyes when he gives her a bath, but other than that he thinks he does pretty well.

Being with Stiles is a little less easy. If it were Derek’s choice they’d be mated again immediately and go on as if they’d never been separated, but Stiles gets to have the final say. Stiles had said he loved Derek the day the agents came, and Derek had heard him tell Scott he trusts Derek, but there’s still a wariness there. He sometimes asks Derek questions that are meant to sound casual but clearly aren’t— how often he drinks nowadays, for instance, or just how long he’s known Gerard Argent.

It’s frustrating, because Derek feels as though the past year has just been a terrible dream, and now he’s awake, and it’s over. Maybe it’s having Stiles and Clara here, or the fact that he’s no longer working in the Secretary of Defense office, or just that he isn’t drinking nearly so much anymore, but he feels clearheaded and…settled, maybe. Less angry at the world.

His mother used to say that hatred was like the exhaust from a train: polluting the air around it, but vital in keeping the engine running. It had kept Derek running for a long time, but it had been taking him to a place he didn’t want to go.

Now he’s where he wants to be. He’s home.

“They’re still out there,” Stiles says the day before the hearing. He’s in the kitchen, peering out the window at the reporters camped out on the lawn.

Derek scowls. Ever since Stiles’s predicament had been made public the media had been doing everything in their power to get a picture or interview with him. Derek isn’t safe, either; everyone wants to talk about his broken engagement with Kate and his shameful secret lovechild. “Do they ever sleep?”

“They could at least mow the lawn or something. Pay for their keep.”

“Or they could dig a giant pit, jump into it, and fill the pit back in,” Derek grumbles. The reporters have been keeping Stiles from leaving the house and actually getting to see his new country, which drives him insane.

Stiles draws the blinds. “Sometimes I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”

“That was obviously a joke. A classic Derek goof-em-up.” Derek flips the vegetables he’s sautéing, smirking when he hears Stiles laugh. Each smile or chuckle he gets from Stiles feels like a victory.

“You’re sure I shouldn’t go tomorrow?” Stiles asks for the fiftieth time as he takes a seat at the counter. “It just seems insane for me to be hiding out at home while the judge is literally deciding my fate.”

Derek ladles the food onto the plates. “Kira’s orders. She’s worried that the judge might have some anti-human prejudice that will be more likely to influence her if you’re sitting right there. Besides, we want her to think that you’re still so weak and fragile you can’t leave the house.”

“I guess it might be a good thing. This way, if we lose, I can be ready to bolt.”

Derek puts down Stiles’s food and gives him a look. “But you’re not going to lose.”

Stiles smiles without humor. “Right.”

“Hey.” Derek leans across the table to take Stiles’s face in his hands. “You’re not going to lose. You’re going to be granted asylum, and Clara will get her citizenship, and this will be over. Then we’ll get to work on tracking down your dad.”

“Then we live happily ever after,” Stiles says.

“Right.”

Clara bangs on the tray of her highchair and Derek grabs her bowl of rice pudding. “You eat. I’ll feed her.”

Eighty percent of the vegetables end up in the garbage, but Derek can’t blame Stiles. He feels sickly nervous as well and when he finally heads up to bed his eyes won’t stay closed.

Public support is against them. He stopped reading poll numbers, but at last count something like seventy-five percent of Luponians were concerned enough about the threat of Iderian violence to support Stiles’s immediate extradition.

He’s confident in the case Kira has built, but he still tosses and turns and finally just gives up and hops in the shower a little after 3 a.m. Stiles is downstairs with Clara making breakfast by the time Derek is finished, so he clearly didn’t find much sleep either. They eat and make weak conversation and finally just collapse onto the couch together, Stiles tucking his head against Derek’s shoulder and Clara snoozing against his chest.

“We’ve got this,” Derek says firmly when the time to leave finally rolls around. “I’ll be home in a few hours, and then we’ll celebrate. Okay?”

Stiles nods and offers a wan smile. “Say good-luck to Papa,” he tells Clara. “He’s off to do battle.”

Derek gives his daughter a kiss and grabs his briefcase. “Love you both,” he says.

“Derek? I’d like a kiss too, please.”

Derek grins and gives Stiles the requested kiss. He’s trying to respect Stiles’s boundaries by not taking things too quickly, but when Stiles wants a kiss, he gets one. “I’ll see you soon,” he says before heading out to his car.

The radio is filled with political commentators speculating on the outcome of the hearing and Derek finds himself growling at the disembodied voices as he flips through the channels. He knows he needs to keep himself calm but he’s edging a shift by the time he finally pulls into the courthouse parking lot.

Kira meets him at the door. “How’s Stiles doing?”

“Good. Nervous. He wants to be here.”

“I know he does, but it’s just not a good idea. If we lose today I’m going to appeal, but if Stiles is present in the courtroom the judge might just decide to hand him right over to the Iderian authorities.”

“Are the Iderians here?”

“They were sent over two weeks ago to collect Stiles. They’ve stayed ever since to ensure Luponia isn’t stalling unnecessarily. It’s making people edgy, as you can imagine. Okay. Look calm.”

Derek settles on a dull grimace as Kira leads him into the courtroom. Scott and Isaac are already waiting at the table. He has half a second to notice Kate Argent sitting demurely in the gallery before the bailiff calls the court to order.

The judge walks to her bench and takes a seat, squinting at the motion Kira had filed. “So we have an Iderian citizen petitioning for asylum on grounds of political persecution?”

“Yes, Your Honor,” Kira says, standing. “Mr. Stilinski is facing immediate death at the hands of his countrymen, despite the lack of a fair trial.”

The opposing lawyer stands as well. “Your Honor, the Iderian government has already determined Mr. Stilinski’s guilt in the murder of their citizen and leader Theo Raeken. It’s not our place to deny them their right to exercise justice over their citizens.”

“There is no justice here, Your Honor. Mr. Raeken was attempting to murder Mr. Stilinski’s four-month-old child solely because she is a werewolf, and Mr. Stilinski acted in defense of her. Now Ideria has asked for both father and child back to complete the murder Mr. Raeken attempted, this time with our government’s compliance.”

“Your Honor, there’s no evidence Ideria plans to harm the child,” the other lawyer tries, but his voice is weak.

“Let’s talk about the baby,” the judge says. “It looks like you’re also petitioning for her to be granted citizenship?”

“Yes, your honor. The child is a werewolf and has been paternally claimed by Derek Hale.”

“Does she have any living relatives in Ideria?”

“We believe she may have a living grandfather, but he was imprisoned after saving the life of two Luponian citizens trapped in Ideria.”

The judge nods. “I’m going to go ahead and grant your petition for citizenship in regards to Clara Stilinski. There’s no point in sending her over to be raised by strangers when she has a father right here, and I’m not going to set a precedent of turning werewolves over to Ideria, given our recent history with them. Any objection, counselor?”

The opposing lawyer shakes his head. “No, Your Honor. I’ve spoken with representatives from the Iderian government and they understood that Your Honor might rule this way. Their chief concern is Mr. Stilinski.”

Derek exhales in relief. That had been easier than he thought it would be.

“Yes, let’s turn to Mr. Stilinski.” The judge looks at Kira. “I’ve read through your petition and the various briefs in support you’ve submitted. I’m not unsympathetic to Mr. Stilinski’s plight. The fact remains, however, that he committed a grave crime on his own soil and then illegally fled to Luponia, and now asks that we put our own international relations at risk for his sake. My duty as a judge is to think of Luponians, not foreigners. I don’t make this decision lightly, but I’m going to deny Mr. Stilinski’s petition for asylum.”

“Your honor?” The other lawyer clears his throat. “We’d like to request that you close this matter with prejudice so Mr. Stilinski can be immediately extradited to Ideria.”

Kira smacks her hand down on top of Derek’s to prevent him from rising furiously.

“Why would I do that, counselor? Petitioners for asylum have the right to appeal or seek other avenues within thirty days.”

“Your honor, the Iderian government is restless. They wish to put this matter to rest and grow increasingly concerned that our government is stalling. Our worry is that they may choose to act against us before Mr. Stilinski has exhausted all legal recourse.”

The judge frowns, thinking, and Derek waits with bated breath. If she agrees he’s going to have to run for it. Get to the house as quickly as possible and spirit Clara and Stiles to safety. “No,” the judge eventually says with finality. “I don’t like compromising the integrity of our judicial system to appease a country making threats. That comes uncomfortably close to negotiating with terrorists for me. I’m going to stand by my ruling, but Mr. Stilinski has thirty days to appeal before extradition.”

She raps her gavel and everyone stands again. “We did okay,” Kira says in his ear. “At least we won on Clara. She’s safe now. And I already have the paperwork for the appeal ready to go. This isn’t a disaster.”

It feels like a disaster, though. It feels like a door just shut in their faces, and now they need to find a window. Scott looks just as distraught as Derek feels and Isaac puts an arm around him comfortingly.

“Derek?” A hand touches his elbow just as he reaches the door. He looks to see Kate, expression smooth. “I’m sorry this happened.”

Derek sighs. He feels bad about the way things ended with Kate— she only came back to the house once, to move out her things, and otherwise they haven’t spoken. The media has been having a field day with her, too, but she’s stayed quiet. “Thanks, Kate.”

“My father is upset about the way you two left things. He’s doing all he can to see if this can be smoothed out without turning Stiles over. I just wanted you to know.”

“Tell him I appreciate it.”

She lets go of his arm. “I’m here whenever you need me, Derek. I won’t keep you any longer. You look absolutely exhausted— you should go home and get some rest.” She smiles sweetly at him. “Have a drink, for God’s sake. You look like you could use it.”

#

“We lost,” Stiles guesses as soon as Derek walks through the door.

“Well, we won one and we lost one.” Derek takes Clara from Stiles and gives her a hello kiss. “Congratulations, Clara. You’re officially a Luponian.”

“Thank God,” Stiles groans.

“And as for you…we’re appealing. So. It’s no big deal.” Derek has been chanting this mantra in his head the entire way home.

Stiles smiles without bitterness. “Just another speedbump on the road to happily-ever-after, right?”

“Something like that.” Derek considers going online to see what the pundits are saying, but his heart isn’t into it. “Let’s just enjoy the rest of the day. Whatever you want to do, wherever you want to go…”

Stiles looks out the window at the reporters still outside. “Got an invisibility cloak?”

“I have something better,” Derek grumbles, letting his fangs lengthen. In his current mood he’d happily rip apart a reporter or two.

“Who. Down, boy. The last thing we need is for you to go to jail for killing a reporter. Though you’d forever be my hero for doing it. Let’s just curl up under some blankets and watch TV.”

They do, but neither of them fully relax. Derek has the sickening feeling that they’re living on borrowed time and it scares him more than he wants to think about. He watches the way Stiles holds Clara, staring at her as if he’s trying to memorize her features. It makes him sick to his stomach.

Kira calls after a few hours to tell them that she’s filed the appeal, as well as a motion for citizenship for Stiles to try and delay the court’s final decision for as long as possible. Derek tries to get excited about it, but it means that all they can do is wait.

He’s terrible at waiting.

Stiles begs off to bed early and Derek wanders the house, unable to sleep, feeling as though there’s an itchy feeling in his belly.

Have a drink, Kate had said.

Maybe he will.

He grabs a beer out of the fridge and pops off the top so forcefully it pings off the ceiling. He’s managed to abstain since Stiles found him but his eyes practically roll back into his head with pleasure as he drinks. The fear goes numb by the time he finishes the bottle and he takes out another, hoping to stave it off for as long as possible.

As he drinks he starts to feel something else. An anger. A darkness, scratching away at him, like ants in his veins.

He remembers this anger. This is the way he used to feel all the time, when he thought Stiles was dead. Angry at the world, desperate to direct it anywhere he could.

It feels terrible. But it feels good.

He has a third beer and wishes some of the reporters had stayed outside past dark. He wouldn’t mind taking a swing at them. Blow them all to hell. He remembers saying that in his interview last month. That’s what he wants to do. Blow them all to hell. Everyone who tries to hurt his mate.

By the time the fourth— fifth?— bottle is finished, he feels shaky and sick and oddly paranoid. He wants to go check on Clara, to make sure she’s sleeping peacefully, but the ground sways beneath him when he walks.

Fuck, fuck. He drank way too much after a week of abstaining, and it’s making him sick. He can’t stand, so he gets on his hands and knees, pressing his face against the carpet in a desperate attempt to feel better.

He’s going to vomit.

He scrambles desperately into the guest bathroom and gags over the toilet. What comes out is black, and looking at it makes him so sick that he has to shut his eyes and just keep puking.

There hadn’t been time to shut the door and he hears footsteps in the hall, coming towards him. “Der? Derek!”

He groans and waves his hand at the door to tell Stiles to keep away.

“Oh, Derek…God, this looks really bad. What the hell did you take?” Stiles wets a cloth and presses it against his clammy forehead. “Get it all out, Der. Shit. I might call Dr. Deaton.”

“No!” Derek can feel his stomach still revolting, but he slams the toilet bowl shut and flushes, unable to look at it any more. “My fault. Had a drink. Couple drinks. Too many. My fault.”

Stiles keeps wiping at his face. It feels good, but the ants are still in his veins, making him unsettled with his own anger. He wants to hurt someone. Not Stiles, never Stiles, but someone else. Anyone. He hears that his breath is coming out in a growl, low and furious. It makes Stiles pause in his ministrations.

“Whoa…hey, Derek…your claws are out.”

He peers down through blurry eyes and sees that they are. Opening his eyes makes his head ache— his migraine is back. He’s supposed to take his painkillers when he gets a migraine but even in his altered state he knows that would be a bad idea right now.

“What did you drink, Derek?”

“Just beer. The beer in the fridge. Never…never got sick like this from it before.”

“Where did you get it? Who bought it?”

“What? Kate did. She did the shopping, before—”

“Don’t drink it again,” Stiles orders. “You’re a werewolf. You shouldn’t be getting this sick from beer. I think there’s something wrong with it.”

Derek feels too sick to argue. He wrenches the seat up and vomits again, choking for what feels like a solid minute until he can finally breathe. “Sorry,” he says thickly when Stiles hands him a tissue.

“It’s okay.” Stiles strokes his hair for a few more moments. “You were drinking a lot, weren’t you? Before I came back?”

Was he? He’d never felt out-of-control, he’d just drank whatever Kate provided to him to stop the anger and the grief…but it never had gone away, had it? “Yes,” he admits miserably.

“Always the same brand?”

“I guess. Like I said, Kate bought it.” He feels a little better now that it’s out of his system, though his head is still pounding. “God, that was stupid. I shouldn’t have had any, but I was pissed, and I was only going to have one, but…”

“You couldn’t stop,” Stiles guesses.

“Yeah.”

Stiles is quiet for a moment, then helps him to his feet. “All right, big guy. Let’s get you into bed. I’ll bring you up some water, okay?”

Derek nods and lets Stiles support him to the master bedroom. He feels utterly pathetic. Stiles drapes the wet cloth over his forehead and then runs downstairs to get him a glass of water.

“I’m really sorry, Stiles,” Derek mumbles when he comes back.

“I’m not mad. Get some sleep. You mind if I borrow your laptop? I want to look something up.”

“Go ahead.” Derek closes his eyes. It takes a while to ignore the pounding in his head, but eventually he drifts off to sleep.

#

Derek is being poisoned. Stiles is almost sure of it.

He stays awake half the night reading about the effects of long-term wolfsbane poisoning. Migraines? Check. Depression? Check. Disturbing personality changes? Check.

He’d thought that the Derek he’d seen quoted in that magazine article wasn’t the Derek he knew. Small wonder. He’d been swallowing mood-altering poison for the better part of a year.

Poison provided to him by Kate Argent.

Stiles had known there was something wrong with Gerard and his daughter. He’d just known that there had to be something evil at play here.

Derek sleeps late the next morning but Stiles is glad for it. He calls Scott on Derek’s phone and asks if he knows a way to test for wolfsbane.

“You’d have to send it to a lab,” Scott tells him. “Wolfsbane is a banned substance in Luponia—it carries crazy stiff penalties to grow or possess it.”

“Do you know a lab that could do it?”

“Yeah, I think so. Might take a couple days, though. What’s going on? Are you going to poison the judge or something?”

“I think the Argents have been poisoning Derek.”

Scott laughs, then pauses. “Oh, no. You’re serious.”

“I think they’re getting it into his beer somehow. He was vomiting black goo last night, Scott. And I was reading about how addictive certain strains of wolfsbane can be, and how they can change you into this irritable, violent person…I’m just saying, it fits.”

“Shit,” Scott mutters. “Okay. I’ll come by and take a can or two. I have some clout at the CSI lab outside of Beacon Hills— they can run tests for me under the table. Pour out the rest, okay? If Derek’s been drinking it for months…”

“Should I take him to a doctor?”

“Probably. God, what do I know about wolfsbane poisoning? This is absolutely insane.”

“Just get over here as fast as you can.” Stiles hangs up and looks at Clara, sitting in her playpen. He shakes his head at her, stunned. “And the hits just keep on coming,” he says.

#

Derek is grumpy when he finally comes downstairs. “Did you take the painkillers from my dresser?” he asks as he puts on a pot of coffee. “My head is killing me.”

“Yeah, I did. I don’t trust them. Sit down, okay?”

Derek does, looking wary. “I know I was stupid to drink that much last night,” he starts.

“I don’t think you really had a choice.” Stiles takes a deep breath. “I’m pretty sure there was wolfsbane in that beer, Derek. And I think the Argents put it there.”

Derek sits completely still for a moment. “Look,” he says quietly. “I wish I could blame my behavior over the past few months on some outside influence. But…”

“But you threw up black poison last night. Unless you drank an entire inkwell without telling me, something is going on. You told me you were angry and filled with hatred. You have migraines. You had trouble sleeping. It all fits with wolfsbane poisoning.

“The Argents wouldn’t do that.”

“I think they would! God, Derek, you’re always defending Gerard Argent, and I don’t understand why!”

Clara starts to wail at his raised voice and Stiles winces before he crosses to pull her out of her playpen. “Sorry, baby,” he whispers. “Daddy didn’t mean to shout.” He looks up at Derek. “I’m just really, really frustrated at the moment.”

“I’ve known Gerard most of my life,” Derek says. “When I was twelve my Uncle Peter started dating his son, Chris. Peter wasn’t the type to fall in love, but…he did. He fell hard for Chris. I remember the way he walked around all dazed, thinking about him.” A shadow crosses Derek’s face. “They were both killed in a car fire. The police at the scene said Chris undid Peter’s seatbelt in his final seconds, trying to get Peter out of the car. Everyone always said he was the spit of Gerard— if his last action in life was to try and save my uncle, that meant he was a good person, and so is his father. After that, Gerard was always over with us…my mom was a mess for almost a year; Peter was her baby brother. Gerard got us through it.”

“But, Derek— ”

“And when my family died in the fire, Gerard got us through that, too. He helped us organize the funerals, and managed to get their remains shipped back over here…and he protected me throughout the entire war. Everything Gerard has ever done has been to help me. I know we have our differences about humans, but he’s like a father to me, Stiles.”

“He tried to ruin you, Derek. He tried to change you. He made you weak, with the wolfsbane beer, and took the advantage to control you.” Stiles stops to take a deep, calming breath. “If the beer Scott’s going to test comes back showing wolfsbane, you won’t be able to deny it. Gerard Argent has been poisoning you. You. Cannot. Trust. Him.”

Derek’s shoulders slump and he rubs at his forehead tiredly. “Okay,” he says. “If the test comes back positive for wolfsbane, I’ll believe it. But I don’t want to fight about it right now, okay? With everything else going on…I really don’t want to fight.”

Stiles sighs and steps closer to Derek, so the werewolf can put an arm around him. “Okay, Der,” he says quietly. “We won’t fight.”

#

Two days later the test comes back positive for wolfsbane.

According to the analysis, if Derek had continued to drink the beer regularly for another few months, he would have had irreversible mental problems. The headaches would have worsened, his mood continuing to alter until he was almost unrecognizable. He probably would have ended up in such a state of despair and constant pain he would have either overdosed on his pills to try and escape it or just taken his own life.

When Derek reads the report Scott had sent over he sits at the counter, face white with shock. A part of Stiles wants to gloat, but he restrains himself. Gerard had wormed his way into Derek’s life good, and Stiles can’t imagine how he would feel in such a situation.

“Maybe there’s another explanation,” Derek says weakly.

“Derek.” Stiles shakes his head. Clara looks back and forth at her fathers, obviously sensing the gravity in the air. “No.”

“But this…this might have killed me. He might have killed me.” Derek covers his face with his hands, looking completely shattered. “After everything we’ve been through…”

“We have to take this to the police, Der. He has to be stopped.”

“No!” Derek’s hands fly away from his face. “We can’t!”

“Derek, he tried to— ”

“He’s one of the most powerful men in the country, Stiles, and we have no proof! If I go to the police and say I’ve been poisoned with wolfsbane— a plant only grown in Ideria and only harmful to werewolves— who do you think the police will suspect? The media is already saying you’re some…some murderous little gold-digger. If Gerard managed to fool me all this time, he’ll have a plan to hide the evidence of his crimes.” Derek’s face is the color of paste. “And he’s the Secretary of Defense— he could either save you from extradition or condemn you. He’s not outright working against you now because he wants me to think he’s still on my side. We need to find proof, real proof, of what he is, before we go to the police with it.”

“You think there’s more?” Stiles’s mouth is dry. “You think he’s killed other people?”

“I don’t know. But…if this is true…” Derek stares at the report again and then shakes his head and puts it facedown on the table. “I want him put away. We need to find something that means he’s locked away immediately— I don’t want him out on the street looking for revenge against us.”

Stiles shudders and Derek immediately wraps him and Clara in a hug. “We’ll investigate him and see what we can find. We’ll have to make sure we don’t tip him off. When I think of what he's done to control me, right from the moment I woke up in that helicopter...”

Stiles watches Derek face change as he goes through a whole series of emotions. Shock. Betrayal. Fear. Anger. “That son of a bitch,” he says softly. “He was with me when the mate bond broke. All the times he tried to stop me from being with a human…”

“Holy shit, Der. You think he broke our bond?”

“I knew something was wrong. I just knew it. He kept us apart all year.” Derek’s eyes flash. “All so I could marry his precious daughter— so he could turn me into his perfect VP candidate, his little speciest machine…”

Stiles wants to collapse in relief. Derek really believes him. “We’ll make him pay for it,” he says simply.

“Yeah, we will. Motherfucker.” Derek grips Stiles’s hand. “We have to focus first on your appeal. Erica’s still working in Gerard’s office; she was going to quit now that I’m gone but I’ll convince her to stay. She can spy for us on what, if anything, Gerard is doing to work against you.”

“We have a month until my next hearing, right?”

“Yeah. Plenty of time to gather our evidence.” Derek grins. “Hell, if we play our cards right, we’ll be exposing high-level corruption. We could leverage that with the court and keep them from ruling against you.”

“That is devious.

“Yeah, well, I was trained by the best. Without even realizing it.” Derek scowls again at the test results. “If you hadn’t forced me to see, he might have killed all three of us.”

“He won’t get the chance now.”

“Thanks to you.” Derek pulls out his phone. “I’m calling Erica.”

“I’m calling Scott.” Stiles pulls out his own new phone, just purchased for him by Derek. “He and Isaac have a bet on whether or not you’d be too stubborn to believe me.”

“Ha.” Derek strides into the living room.

A half hour later he walks back into the kitchen, grinning ruefully. “I just spent the past ten minutes listening to a song Cora made up called, I Told You So, Derek.”

“Can she teach me the chorus? I feel like it might become my theme song.”

“I had to talk her down from going after Gerard right now. I should have listened to her. And Erica. And you— you’ve suspected Gerard ever since Ideria. I can’t believe I was so blind.”

“Don’t blame yourself. He clearly manipulated hundreds of people to get where he is. We caught him before he could destroy us.”

“Yeah.” Derek sighs. “But when I think of the wasted time…”

Stiles buries his face in Derek’s chest, letting Derek be soothed by his omega pheromones. “Speaking of wasted time,” he says, suddenly feeling a little shy. “I know I said I needed time to make sure you were still the same Derek I remembered. Now I have my proof— you’re still my Derek, you were just…under the influence. I don’t think I need any more time.”

Derek stares down at him. “Yeah?”

“Yeah." Stiles clears his throat. Now that Derek has chosen Stiles over Gerard, and Stiles knows just what Gerard had done to manipulate him, the idea of spending any more time being cautious when they don't know how much time they'll have seems ludicrous. "If you haven’t gotten used to sleeping alone, I’d be happy to give up my single and share a bed with you tonight.”

Derek’s face transforms. “I’d be happy to have you,” he says.

“In more ways than one?” Stiles waggles his eyebrows.

“Not in front of the baby, Stiles.” Derek leans in until his lips are centimeters from Stiles’s. “But yeah,” he says softly. “Every way. Let’s show Gerard Argent just how much he didn’t win.” He brushes his lips just over Stiles’s, smiling when Stiles tries to deepen the kiss. “Save it for the bedroom, honey.”

“You know me, Derek, I just can’t keep it in my pants.”

“And I can’t resist putting it in your pants when you get me riled up. But there are only so many Baby Einstein videos we can put on to distract Clara, so control yourself.”

Stiles laughs and leans into Derek. He knows the threat of extradition and execution is a very literal sword over his head, and they now know they have an enemy right here in Luponia, but for a second none of that matters. For the first time since he’s arrived in Luponia, he feels fully, completely at home.

Chapter Text

At Stiles’s insistence, Derek sees Dr. Deaton to make sure the wolfsbane beer didn’t leave any lasting side effects. He’s uncomfortable being fussed over, and angry at himself that he allowed himself to be influenced by the Argents for so long. He also doesn’t realize until he’s completely cut off just how badly he wants a drink. Even with Stiles back in his bed he has nightmares about the war that end with him shaking and growling and unsure of where he is.

“I’ve been trying to tell you for months, Derek,” Deaton says when Derek unwillingly shares this. “You have post-traumatic stress disorder. The wolfsbane beer agitated it, but I think it’s the reason you began to drink in the first place. You’re combining that with months of mood-altering poison, and now withdrawal; of course you’re suffering. Headaches, mood changes, inability to sleep…”

“Even if I did have PTSD, I shouldn’t anymore,” Derek says, annoyed to hear that his voice sounds moody right now. “Stiles is back. The event that traumatized me wasn’t what I even thought it was.”

Deaton looks like he’s holding back a laugh. “That’s not really how it works, Derek. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. At least half of the soldiers who came back needed medication to help cope. Your friend Braeden had particularly bad flashbacks, I remember…”

“You treated Braeden?” Derek had been surprised and disappointed when Braeden had abruptly moved away from Beacon Hills two months after returning home.

“I did. We’re still in contact. She’s found a support group and she’s on Paxil— you might find it helps you, too, particularly with stress and depression…”

Derek wrinkles his nose. “What are the side effects of that?”

“Well…mild headaches, inability to sleep, and impotence, among a few others, though of course the side effects are relatively rare.”

“So I’m taking a pill that gives me the exact symptoms I’m trying to treat? Now I’m just paying for it?” Derek snorts. “No, thanks.”

“You scared of a pill, big guy?” Stiles says from where he’s sitting with Clara.

“Did you miss where he said impotence, Stiles?”

“Did you miss where he said stress and depression, Derek?” Stiles stands and walks over. He has his disapproval face on. “Until we know what’s going on with my immigration status, stress and depression are our at-home enemies. I’ll make sure impotence isn’t a problem, don’t you worry.”

Derek sighs. He doesn’t want to go on medication, but the thought of going to group therapy and talking about his problems with strangers makes him want to jump out of his skin. He looks at Clara, who has her head tilted a little as she regards him seriously. “I’ll take it and see if it helps,” he says, mainly to her. Having a baby is a constant source of emotional blackmail.

“I think it will,” Deaton says, pulling out a prescription pad. “And it’s good to combine the medication with homeopathic remedies. I can teach you some stress-relief techniques…”

Stiles grins wickedly. “I don’t think we’ll have any trouble with that.”

#

Stiles has missed sex.

He’s missed the white-out rush as he comes and the compulsive shudders that rack his body in the moments just before and after. He’s missed the way Derek wraps his arms around his midsection, anchoring him, grip tightening as he nears the edge. He’s missed the murmur of, “Come on, one more,” in the early morning, and the deep, contented purr in Derek’s chest once they’re finished and Derek is cuddling him as he falls asleep.

They don’t have a mate bond anymore, but that doesn’t matter when they’re in bed together. Derek even knots him, more than once, which is practically unheard of outside of mated couples. It happens so often Stiles starts to get paranoid about Clara waking up and crying, and him being unable to go to her because he’s literally stuck on Derek’s dick.

“Don’t worry about it,” Derek says dismissively when Stiles voices this fear. “If that happened I would just extend one of my claws and prick the base. The pain would make it go down right away.”

Stiles cranes his head to see if Derek’s bullshitting him. “You’d stab yourself in the penis to get to your crying daughter faster?”

“Of course.”

Stiles mulls this over for a second. “You’re a good father,” he says, straining to give Derek a kiss. Derek oofs, since they’re currently knotted together and even the slightest movement threatens serious penile damage. Stiles freezes immediately; he doesn’t want anything to happen to that gorgeous knot, now that he’s finally got it back.

It’s just so easy to forget what might be coming when they’re having sex. Gerard, deportation, execution; it all seems like it’s from another world. When he’s not in bed with Derek, and having to think about the various swords just over his head, he wants to curl up into a ball and hide, and that makes all of Derek’s alpha instincts come out and demand he try and make Stiles feel better. Which usually means having sex with Stiles. It’s the opposite of a vicious cycle.

“We should renew the mate bond,” Derek says one night. His voice is drowsy and sated with total contentment, the voice of an alpha who has done his duty: his pup is fast asleep and safe in her crib, his omega is provided for in every possible way (Let me feed you comes right behind let me fuck you in his constant battle to take care of Stiles, and they’ve just finished a truly excellent spinach pie) and he’d made Stiles come not once but twice. They’ve just finished riding the high of the knot and now Stiles is drifting, head against Derek’s chest.

“Someday,” Stiles yawns, pressing his forehead into the crook of Derek’s arm for a better pillow.

“I mean now. Soon, at least. We can do a proper ceremony if you want— we can’t do the legal marriage part yet, but we might as well fix what we lost.”

“Mm.” Stiles pretends he’s too sleepy to answer, because he doesn’t want to disappoint Derek. He knows they can’t renew the mate bond until his appeals process is over. If they lose, and he gets taken back to Ideria, he doesn’t want Derek to feel the moment of his death.

Derek can’t go through that again.

Kira is doing everything she can to delay final proceedings, but Stiles remembers what Gerard had said— Ideria isn’t going to just give up on him. Kira is hoping for the public fervor to die down, figuring a judge will be more likely to find for him if the country won’t hate her for doing so. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won’t.

During a strategy meeting Derek gets frustrated and says that Stiles should be getting thanked for his work helping Luponia during the war, and Kira has a new idea. A special program had been set up to grant citizenship to Iderians who had spied for Luponia in the war. Stiles could appeal for citizenship that way. The only snag was that he had to be approved by congressional vote, and no member of Congress wants to be accused of being a human-lover.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Kira says with determination. “The rehearing is a few days before Christmas. We’ll have the entire holiday to come up with a plan, if we need to.” #

The day before his rehearing Stiles walks downstairs to fix breakfast, pausing only to turn on the television and find a news channel. He stops on something called the Whip News Network and realizes with a sinking feeling that it’s some sort of panel, talking about him. There’s a picture they must have snapped on one of his rare forays outside the house, where he looks scrawny and shifty in Derek’s shadow.

“It’s just beyond me that we’re being asked to accept some sort of victim narrative,” one of the anchors is saying. Stiles sinks down into a seat, eyes glued to the television screen.

A blonde woman nods vigorously. “I’d understand if this was a child we were being asked to shelter, and there might be a tendency to say, well, he’s an omega, so we should protect him, but”—

“But we’re talking about a murderer!” one of the male anchors cuts in. “I mean, this is a violent person, let’s not forget that. There’s a culture of violence in that country, we see it in the way humans approach everything they do, and now it’s being brought right to our shore. Frankly, the mere fact that Ideria is trying to execute justice here is a sign that their struggling infrastructure is attempting to right itself, and the actions of Mr. Stilinski’s lawyers make it look like we’re interfering in that.”

“Exactly, Mike. To me it’s just all too pat, this explanation that he was acting in self-defense. Of course he’d say that, but what proof do we have beyond his word?”

“And this is my concern, Ella. I’m anticipating an argument that he had a Luponian child, so he’s owed the right to live in our country and take our resources. Never mind the fact that he’s a human, so many employment opportunities are closed to him, no, he’ll just live off Derek Hale for the rest of his life! I’m a proud Luponian, and I say that being the parent of a werewolf does not a Luponian make. It’s using your baby as a bargaining chip for a better life, and you have to wonder— did he get pregnant just for this reason? Derek Hale has been very quiet about their relationship. For all we know this was a one-night stand with a hole poked in a condom or a lie about a heat cycle, and now Hale doesn’t have a choice but to protect him.”

“Oh, I’d be very interested to talk to Derek Hale. Some people are commending his sense of duty, but this has tanked his political career. We thought we’d see him as our next vice president, the alpha mate of a gorgeous, well-connected woman, and now, what does he have?” They all nod sagely at this before one of the men speaks up again, a disapproving frown on his face:

“And what he does have, I doubt he’ll have for long. I just don’t see how any judge could rule for a single Iderian over the protection of all Luponians. Because, remember, that’s what’s really at stake here. Our international relations with Ideria are as tenuous as they’ve ever been. They showed us they have access to superior weapons of mass destruction, and their use of those weapons took the lives of hundreds of our brave soldiers. Every day that our country delays in returning Mr. Stilinski is another poke with a stick to a sleeping bear.”

“This ruling affects all of us,” the blonde woman says seriously. “Let us hear your voice, Whippersnappers. If Mr. Stilinski’s appeal tomorrow fails, he may take his fight to Congress. Write to your representatives and urge them to consider the safety of Luponians over one foreign human.”

“Jesus, Stiles. Don’t watch that shit.”

Derek walks in, scowling, while Clara sits on his hip and tries to tug his ear off with loving absorption. “It’s godawful demagoguery masquerading as news. They have a twenty-four-hour cycle so they have to find something to shriek about. Turn it off.”

Stiles does, but that doesn’t make the sick feeling in his stomach go away. “They’re saying Clara was some sort of Golden Ticket pregnancy I tricked you into.”

“Yeah, and before they got a good look at her they were saying I wasn’t really her father and you had paid someone to give your human baby the bite. They’re human garbage, Stiles. They’re like if a witch cast a spell on a blocked toilet and brought it to life. Everyone knows WNN is trash.”

Stiles shakes his head and takes Clara from Derek before she can seriously damage his poor ear. “If Clara was human, they’d have let her die,” he says. He’s shaking at the thought of it.

Derek puts out a hand to steady their daughter. “I wouldn’t have,” he says quietly.

For a moment Stiles spares a thought to all the babies who weren’t fortunate enough to be born werewolves, still suffering in Ideria. His despair must show on his face, because it’s immediately echoed in Derek’s eyes. “Hey,” Derek says. “Let’s do something fun today.”

Stiles cracks a smile. “Monopoly tournament or Dora the Explorer marathon?”

“Neither. Let’s get you out of the house. It’s ridiculous that you’re taking Vitamin D supplements instead of just being out there in the sun.”

“What if someone recognizes me?”

Derek smiles dangerously and lets his fangs extend, face bristling until he looks truly terrifying. “They’ll recognize me, too.”

“Don’t be scared of hairy monster Papa,” Stiles tells Clara, who only squeals delightedly and strains forward to try and tug at the new hair on Derek’s face.

“We’ll go to the zoo,” Derek suggests, obligingly letting Clara grab at his cheeks. “The best zoo in Luponia is just a few miles away. Every time I read Clara her Amazing Animals book and tell her there’s such a creature in the world as a lion that says roar, she looks at me like I’m trying to pull one over on her. What do you think? We’ll spend a couple hours, see the animals, grab some food, and head back here?”

Stiles thinks about it. It is absurd that he’s seen almost nothing of Luponia in the past two months. Even if they run into some anti-human werewolves, surely nobody would dare to start something in front of kids. “Let’s do it,” he says.

He feels the giddy joy of a jailbreak when they walk out the front door together. The presence of reporters has waned in the past month but a few have returned in preparation for tomorrow. They try to shout questions as Derek and Stiles make a run for the car but Derek keeps a tight grip on Stiles’s arm, reminding him to stay silent. Stiles tries to cover Clara so the flashbulbs won’t irritate her eyes.

At the car Derek opens the back door for Stiles and Clara, then leans in and kisses him before he can climb inside. “I adore you,” he tells Stiles, just loudly enough for the reporters to overhear, and then he helps Stiles buckle Clara into her car seat before shutting the door, getting in the front, and driving away.

“That should at least stop any speculation that I’m just protecting you out of duty,” Derek says before Stiles can even ask.

“You sly dog.”

“I just don’t want there to be any confusion if we go in front of Congress. I want them to know that they’re deciding the fate of someone I love. Someone I would kill for. If that scares them into saying yes, so be it.”

The ride to the zoo is a treat in and of itself. The houses they pass are all done up for Christmas, with elaborate decorations just begging to be dusted with snow. Derek points out a few important landmarks: the Capitol, the church where his parents were married, Gerard’s house. It feels like a place that could be home.

When they get to the zoo they zip Clara into her winter coat and get her into her stroller. Derek drapes an arm over Stiles’s shoulder casually, but Stiles knows it’s meant to ground him and ward off anyone who might want to start something. “They’ve got a panda family,” he says. “Let’s start there.”

They do, and it’s perfect. There’s a baby panda— “It’s called a cub,” Derek says, the know-it-all— and he makes adorable little squeaking sounds as he pulls at bamboo. Clara wants to be picked up so Stiles holds her and shows her the mommy and daddy pandas sharing bamboo at the other side of the enclosure.

He could have watched the pandas all day but they move on. There are elephants, and Bengal tigers, which are Derek’s favorites, and giraffes, which make Clara cry for some reason. Stiles lingers at the gorilla enclosure when he sees an omega gorilla holding its baby tightly. There’s an expression on its face so human it takes his breath away. He wonders how many people in this country think he’s got more in common with this gorilla than with werewolves.

“What’s a baby gorilla called?” he asks Derek, unable to look away from the gorilla cradling its baby as if its afraid somebody might snatch it away.

“An infant. Just like humans.”

Stiles nods and looks down at the informational placards until he finds the gorilla he’d been watching. His name is Biro. He’d been rescued from poachers while pregnant, but his mate had been killed. There’s info on the animal welfare group that had rescued him and Stiles vows silently that if he gets to stay in Luponia he’ll make a donation every year.

“Let’s see the lions,” Derek says, tugging Stiles’s hand gently until he turns away.

The last exhibit is the zoo’s largest: a huge pack of gray wolves given a square mile to roam. Derek takes Clara and crouches by the fence. “Let’s see if we can get anyone to say hello,” he says, before closing his eyes and letting out a moaning call.

A moment later there’s a response, and about five wolves come to stand several feet from the fence. Derek grins. “Hopefully one’s a beta,” he says, before letting loose with a few snarls and huffs that must mean something to the wolves. Two show their teeth and back up but one ducks his head and comes closer. Clara’s eyes are saucer-round as she watches.

“Don’t worry,” Derek says without even looking at Stiles. “They’re used to werewolves calling them. If he comes close enough Clara can pet him. He’d never hurt a pup.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. If you put your hand through he’d probably bite it off and thank you for the snack, but Clara’s good.”

The wolf comes all the way to the fence and Derek growls at him to stay put. He takes Clara’s hand and puts it through the fence so she can pat the wolf’s snout. Clara coos happily, totally unafraid. “Atta girl,” Derek says proudly. “This is how you say thank-you.” He tilts back his head and howls.

The wolves in the enclosure echo him, their howls indistinguishable from Derek’s. Clara looks back and forth between Derek and the wolves, then tilts her head too and makes the most adorable sound Stiles has ever heard.

“Is she trying to howl?

“Trying and succeeding.” Derek pulls Clara’s hand back through, glowing with pride. “That was so good, sweetheart!”

“She sounds just like a puppy!” Stiles drops to his knees to join them on the ground. “Who let you be this cute, Clara-boo? Who told you it was okay to overload Daddy with cuteness like that?”

Derek howls again and Clara joins in, looking thrilled with her new ability. “You try,” Derek says.

“I’m not a werewolf.”

“She can’t tell the difference. Come on, chicken, let’s hear it.”

Stiles is like seventy percent sure Derek is just trying to humiliate him, but he rolls his eyes and tries to approximate the sound Derek had just been making. Even before he finishes Clara’s squeaking out a response howl, eyes bright with excitement.

“You’re actually perfect,” Stiles tells her seriously. “I know I’m not supposed to think my kid is better than anyone else’s, but you are flawless and that’s just a fact.”

She gurgles and holds out her arms so he can take her. “I guess if Papa’s going to teach you your wolf-language I really need to step up my game teaching you human words,” he says as they walk away from the wolves. “First is going to be daddy, of course. Then Daddy is always right — we’ll just pretend that’s one word. Then Papa, go buy Daddy some curly fries…”

“Speaking of,” Derek says, steering him towards food.

“You’re actually perfect,” Stiles tells him seriously. “I know I’m not supposed to think my mate is better than anyone else’s, but you are flawless and that’s just a fact.”

Derek laughs and steps up to order. Ever since Stiles had bullied him into the Paxil he’s been much more relaxed. The night terrors have stopped almost completely. Even though he must privately be a wreck about tomorrow's hearing he isn’t showing it.

Clara’s a little sunbeam today, too, and Stiles is incredibly relieved Derek had suggested this outing. She babbles happily as Derek and Stiles eat, waving her arms around as if she’s still losing her shit over the wolves. She’s drawing attention but nobody seems to notice the human father, just the beaming baby werewolf.

”Maybe you should take Clara in to court to plead my case,” Stiles suggests.

Derek snorts. “I’d like to see the government try and cross-examine her.”

“Seriously, she’d be a total star. ‘Your honor, Exhibit A is this adorable baby. I rest my case.’”

“Objection, your honor. This baby is too adorable. It’s unfairly prejudicial.”

“Are you saying you can’t handle the adorableness? Objection overruled!”

When they finish eating they exit through the gift shop. Derek wheels Clara over to the toys and Stiles amuses himself by trying to find his name on souvenir key chains.

Do you see him?

“Over by the key chains?”

“Yes!”

“Holy shit, Jay. It is him!”

Stiles’s back stiffens. Two people are talking about him, not bothering to lower their voices, as if they have no conception of how good a human’s hearing is.

“I can’t believe they let him in here.”

“He shouldn’t be allowed in public at all. Fucking murderer.”

“Let me tell you, if I saw him coming towards me, I’d snap his neck before he said a word. Self-de-fucking-fense.”

The other guy sniggers. “I’d vouch for you.”

“Hale’s not here, is he? I don’t want to start any shit with that guy, but…”

“You kidding? Hale’d probably thank you. Who wants to be saddled to that for the rest of their life?”

“Hey, baby. Any luck?”

Stiles turns from the keychains to see Derek, still smiling, obviously unaware of what the two men were saying. Stiles forces a smile in response. “I found you and Clara, but according to the keychain-makers, I don’t exist.”

“Aww.” Derek puts an arm around his shoulder and Stiles burrows in, needing to feel safe at this moment. “We could change your name to…Sam. You like Sam? Or…damn, they have a lot of keychains. Why do they have one with Squire? Who the hell is named Squire?”

Stiles looks into Clara’s stroller to see her happily gumming on the ear of a stuffed tiger. “Are you spoiling our daughter, Derek?”

“Unreservedly, but don’t you worry.” Derek reaches into a plastic bag and pulls out a plump stuffed panda. “I take care of you too.”

Stiles laughs and cuddles the toy. “Can I call him Der-Bear?”

“I’d be brokenhearted if you didn’t.”

They walk back out to the car, and if Stiles clings to Derek at all, Derek doesn’t say anything. He can’t help but wonder what might have happened if Derek hadn’t been there. If the werewolves had started something, Stiles would have been unable to defend himself— not only is he weaker than them, but any attempt to fight back would probably be taken as evidence of his violent human tendencies.

He’s equally glad that Derek didn’t overhear. The Paxil has relaxed Derek, but he still has a hair-trigger about some things. When he’s angry, he isn’t good at swallowing it. Usually Stiles can talk him down…but that might not be an option forever.

When they get home Clara is zonked out from the big trip, so Derek carries her upstairs to her crib. He comes down smiling. “She wanted Mr. Tiger in the crib with her. I put him on her changing table so she can see him.”

“She had fun today.” Stiles leans against Derek when he drops down on the couch. “Thanks for suggesting it.”

“We should do stuff like this more often.”

“Mmhm.” Stiles is quiet for a second. “Derek?” he says finally. “If things don’t go our way…”

“We don’t need to talk about it.”

“Just for a second, okay? If we lose tomorrow and they take me right away, or if we run out of options…you’ll be all Clara has.”

Derek shakes his head, face set. “I won’t let them take you.”

“But if they do, you can’t fall apart. I know that there were extenuating circumstances last year, but you can’t fall back into those habits. She won’t understand what’s going on. She’ll just know that she needs you. You have to take care of our daughter, okay? No matter what happens.”

Derek pulls him closer. “I promise,” he says. “I’ll always take care of her. It won’t be like last time.”

“It means you can’t want revenge. You can’t carry around all that anger. You’ll have to forget me.”

“No. I won’t forget you, not ever. Neither will Clara. But I won’t let the anger consume me again.” Derek kisses the top of his head. He’s shaking a little. “I will love her. I will take care of her. No matter what.”

Stiles nods and closes his eyes. Derek doesn’t let him go, not even after he’s fallen asleep.

#

They lose the appeal in front of the federal judge, but they get a stay of extradition for the holidays. Kira tells them to take some time to enjoy Christmas before they worry about going in front of Congress, and Derek takes it to heart. They celebrate Christmas Day with Scott, Isaac, and Cora, trying to convince Clara that her actual presents are just as much and maybe more fun than the wrapping paper they come in.

On New Year’s Derek gets Cora to babysit and takes Stiles to a bar where they can celebrate midnight. They get drunk, try to walk home, and end up having one a.m. sex in a public park. It’s a perfect night.

About a week after New Year’s Stiles is trying to feed Clara her carrots when there’s a frantic pounding on the door. Derek opens it to find Kira and Congresswoman Lydia Martin, beaming from ear to ear.

“Tell me I’m brilliant,” Lydia says, walking into the kitchen before Derek can even invite her in.

“You’re brilliant,” Stiles says agreeably. “What did you do?”

“Most of it was me, thanks very much,” Kira scolds, coming to join Lydia in the kitchen. Stiles watches the giddy look they exchange and wonders for a hot second if something is going on between them, but there are more important things to worry about. “We needed a proposal and two concurrences to get you a hearing in front of Congress. Lydia was our proposal woman, but we weren’t sure who would be willing to step up and concur.”

“I got Jackson Whittemore to be our first guy, and this morning I bribed Finstock— by which I mean, I brought him his favorite cupcakes and batted my eyelashes,” Lydia cuts in proudly. “You’re in, Stiles! Your extradition is officially postponed until after your hearing in front of Congress.”

“You’re brilliant,” Stiles says again. “Not to be a naysayer, but if it was hard enough getting three votes, how are we going to get the majority we need at the actual hearing?”

“This is where my brilliance comes in,” Kira practically squeals. “It’s written into the program that the hearing can be held up to five months after the original petition. It was actual put in there by anti-human politicians— they wanted to be able to delay in the hopes Iderians being targeted by their government would be killed or have to go into hiding before they could be granted citizenship. But I used it today to put off your hearing until June first. You’re completely safe until then, and we have five whole months to get the votes we need.”

“Five months?” Stiles practically jumps into Derek’s arms with joy. That’s longer than he’d dared hope for. “Kira, you’re a superstar. I think I love you.”

“I’m not even jealous,” Derek says, catching Stiles easily and squeezing him. “I think I love you, too.”

Kira blushes. “Well, there’s still plenty of work to do. I need you guys to find people to testify about Stiles’s pro-Luponia activities during the war. Derek’s word is good, but we need someone who isn’t sleeping with Stiles. No offense.”

“Braeden,” Derek says immediately. “I bet she’d be willing to come help. I just have to track her down.”

The four of them exchange thrilled, excited looks. Five months suddenly seems like an endless, glorious stretch of time. They can do what they have to do by then, surely. It strikes Stiles that he will learn his fate very shortly before Clara’s first birthday. It seems like a good omen.

“We’ve got this,” Derek says, squeezing Stiles’s hand. “Everything’s going to be just fine.”

#

As it turns out, tracking down Braeden is the hardest part of preparing for Stiles’s case. In the weeks after Kira gets it scheduled Derek tries everything to get ahold of his former comrade-in-arms. She has no phone number, email, or social media accounts. She’s gone completely off the grid.

“Deaton knows where she is,” Stiles says in early March. “Beg him to tell you.”

Derek tries. Deaton claims some sort of doctor-patient confidentiality at first, but as the weeks go by and Derek gets more and more desperate he slowly starts to give in. “Fine,” he sighs in late March. “Just please don’t tell her I gave you her number, all right? And if she isn’t willing to speak with you, don’t press her. She had a very difficult time after she came home.”

Derek thanks him profusely. When he calls it rings nearly to voicemail before a soft voice picks up: “Hello?”

“Braeden? It’s Derek Hale.”

She inhales sharply. “Wrong number.”

“Wait! I know it’s you, Brae. Don’t hang up.”

Her breathing sounds ragged. He doesn’t understand what’s going on. Braeden was one of the toughest people he’d ever known. “What is it, Derek?”

“I need your help. My mate, Stiles— he survived, and we’re trying to keep him in the country. I need you to come testify on his behalf.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

She hesitates, then almost whispers, “Gerard won’t like it.”

He frowns. “Are you afraid of Gerard?”

“Yes.”

It hits him: Braeden had been there when the mate bond broke. If Gerard had had something to do with it, she would know. “Did Gerard break my mate bond with Stiles?”

For a moment he thinks the phone has gone dead, but then she breathes, “Yes.”

A cold pit settles in his stomach. A part of him had never wanted to believe it. “Did he threaten you?”

“Yes.”

“Is that why you left Beacon Hills?”

“No.”

“Then why? Tell me, Braeden. Maybe I can end him.”

“I was investigating him,” she whispers. “I wanted to tell you what he had done, but I needed more information. I broke into his computer. I saw…” she makes a wheezing sound, as if she’s too terrified to continue. “Look on his computer. The one in his office. He has a separate virtual machine he uses when he wants to get rid of people. Don’t ask me what’s on there— you have to see for yourself. He’s involved in things you can’t imagine, Derek.”

“Did he know you found it?”

“If he did, I wouldn’t be here. He’d caught wind that I was starting to investigate him, and I saw on his computer that he was already planning an accident for me. I ran. There was nothing I could do to stop him. I don’t have money. I’m just a soldier. Maybe people will listen to you. But please— don’t say my name around him. I don’t know if he still wants me dead or not, but I’d rather not find out.”

“I won’t.”

“Don’t ever call back here. Please.”

The line goes dead.

#

Derek doesn’t want to involve anyone else in his investigation of Gerard, but he knows he can’t get into Gerard’s computer alone. His office is passcoded two different ways at night, and the computer is completely booted down. If he’s going to be able to see what’s on it, he has to do it during the day.

And that means he needs Erica.

Derek had taken a job with the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs office back in January at Kira’s suggestion, to have better access to the members of Congress they need to persuade. He’s been trying to avoid Gerard at work, but a few weeks after talking to Braeden he walks to the Secretary of Defense office just after lunch.

“Hi, Emma,” he says to the secretary. “Is Mr. Argent here?”

She nods and reaches for her phone. Derek looks up to see Erica, hovering near the fax machine. They meet eyes for half a second before she turns away.

They've been practicing this until they have it down to a science. She knows what to do.

Gerard comes out of his office quickly. “Derek? May I help you?”

“I wanted to talk with you about something.”

Gerard raises an eyebrow. “All right. Come into my office.”

“It might be better if we go somewhere else. This is personal as well as business, and it won’t necessarily be a quick talk.” Gerard had always been pretty strict about keeping personal conversations out of his office, and he never wanted people in there for very long. It had just seemed like a quirk before, but now Derek wonders just how many secrets he keeps in that room with him.

To his relief, Gerard nods. “The conference room, then.”

Derek had been hoping to get Gerard to the coffeeshop on the lower level of the building, but this is as good as he can get. He watches Gerard lock the door to his office before striding towards the small conference room several doors down.

“So,” Gerard says, dropping into a seat. “What can I do for you?”

Derek folds his hands together. “I’m sure you’ve heard that Stiles is appealing for citizenship under the Iderian War Heroes program.”

“I heard.”

“For his hearing in front of Congress, we need people to testify about his activities during the war. Since he lived in camp with us for some time, you would make a strong witness."

Gerard shakes his head. “I can’t get involved in this, Derek. I think I’ve been very good about not taking a side thus far.”

“I’m not asking you to take a side. Just testify truthfully about what happened. We were the ones who got him involved with Raeken in the first place.”

“That’s true. I could tell him that Raeken wanted to use Stiles as a spy, and we had no way to know whose side our little human was really on. Then they had some sort of falling out over a bomb placed in our camp— a bomb Stiles just so conveniently found out about shortly before it went off. Maybe I’ll mention just how suspicious it is that Stiles was one of the very few people of Eichen who survived the fall of the city. If I was cross-examined, I’m not sure I’d be able to keep from telling them my theory: that Stiles was always in league with Raeken, and killed him in a struggle for power.”

Derek stares at Gerard, bewildered. “You know that’s not true.”

Gerard lifts a shoulder. “Do I?”

“You said you would do whatever you could do help us.”

“Within reason, yes. I haven’t forced an extradition yet. I could have. I’ve allowed this to play out in court. You’ve had plenty of time with him— time that I’ve given you. Don’t ask me for any more. Your coming here today was inappropriate. I will not do political favors for anyone, especially not a human fugitive.” Gerard stands. “This meeting is over.”

Derek scrambles to his feet. “Wait, Gerard. If you’d just listen to me—”

“We’re finished talking. I have great affection for your family, Derek. I nearly joined it twice— once through my son Chris, and once through Kate, and perhaps I’ve let that fondness cloud my judgement when it comes to Mr. Stilinski. Remember the power I hold over his immigration status, and don’t press this.” Gerard’s eyes are cold. Furious, Derek realizes, at the very idea that Derek would ask him to help a human.

“I don’t want to leave things this way,” Derek says desperately, well aware that he hasn’t given Erica nearly enough time. “You’re like my father, Gerard. I hate that I’ve barely seen you or Kate since Stiles came. Please sit.”

“I have work to do. Goodbye, Derek.”

Derek scrambles after him. “Don’t take this out on Stiles, please. Just a few more minutes, Gerard— I just want to talk…”

Gerard looks at him for a moment, eyes narrowed, then he quickly turns and strides from the room. Derek is right behind him, mind racing.

The door to Gerard’s office is ajar and Derek heard Gerard breathe in sharply. He looks back at Derek for a moment and then strides in.

Erica is bent over the computer. “Oh!” she says when Gerard walks in. “Mr. Argent— ”

Derek skids to a stop behind Gerard.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Argent, I didn’t know where you were and the Secretary of State’s office needs your report on WMD sooner than expected— I was just going to email it over to them from your computer…”

“My office was locked,” Gerard says softly.

“Yes, sir, I have the keys to everyone’s office.” Derek can see Erica’s fingers moving frantically, closing out of whatever she was looking at.

“Nobody is to come into my office while it’s locked.”

“I understand, sir. I was just trying— ”

“If you do that again, I’ll have you fired and blacklisted from every position in the Capitol. Out.”

Erica nods and scurries past Derek. Gerard walks over to his computer and stares at the screen for a moment before looking up at Derek. “Ms. Reyes was your hire, wasn’t she?”

Derek nods.

“Curious that she stayed after you left.”

“She loves the work. Please don’t fire her. She did the same thing sometimes when she was my assistant. I’m sure she was just trying to help.”

Gerard nods at sits at his desk. “I believe we’re finished talking, Derek.”

“Yes, sir.” Derek leaves the office, heart pounding. Did Gerard know what Erica had really been doing?

By the time he gets to his car he has a text from Erica: I got into his secret VM. I was just about to copy his files onto my flash drive when he came in. I had time to shut everything down, so I don’t think he can tell what I was looking at, but I couldn’t get anything. I’m sorry.

He sighs in disappointment and texts back. That’s all right. You tried. Be careful around him for the next few days.

For the rest of the day he’s on-edge. For a moment in Gerard’s office he was sure that Gerard knew what he was up to, but if that were true, why would Gerard let him leave?

Braeden’s words ring in his head: He’d caught wind that I was starting to investigate him, and I saw on his computer that he was already planning an accident for me…

He thinks about Stiles and Clara, home alone, and decides to leave work early.

As soon as he reaches his front door he does his usual heartrate check and feels his own speed up when he realizes one heart inside the house is beating faster than normal. “Stiles?” he calls, shoving open the front door.

“Derek? Thank God! Come in here!”

Derek charges into the living room with his teeth bared, only to see Stiles sitting on the couch with Clara, the world’s biggest grin on his face. “Are you okay?”

“I’m great! Come here. You’ll never guess what Clara can do!”

Derek nearly collapses in relief. Stiles is just excited. “What?”

“Listen!” Stiles bounces Clara on his knee. “Come on, baby. Do it for Papa.”

Clara looks back and forth between Stiles and Derek, smiling sweetly but otherwise doing absolutely nothing remarkable.

“Clara, you were just doing it! Say it, sweetheart. Go on.”

Clara giggles.

“Claraaaaaa,” Stiles whines.

Derek shakes his head and reaches out to take Clara from Stiles. “Is Daddy going crazy?” he asks his daughter fondly.

At the words Clara’s face splits into a huge grin. “Dada,” she says happily.

Derek’s jaw drops.

“There we go,” Stiles says, punching a fist in the air triumphantly.

“Da-da-da-da-dada,” Clara sings, patting Derek’s chest and looking proud as could be of herself.

“You’re talking!” Derek coos. “You’re such a big girl!”

“Dada,” Clara agrees.

“How about Papa? You want to try saying Papa?”

She babbles, but doesn’t even come close to Papa. “A for effort,” Derek tells her anyway.

“Clara,” Stiles sings. “Who’s Dada?”

“Dada!”

“Right you are, my little love!” Stiles wraps his arms around Derek so he can beam at Clara over Derek’s shoulder. “Not even ten months old and she already knows who Dada is. Somewhere Albert Einstein is weeping, because the crown for smartest being to ever live now belongs to Clara.”

Clara giggles and smooshes her face into Derek’s shoulder.

“Did you spend all day teaching her that?” Derek asks as he rocks her gently.

“Try all month. She’s been stonewalling me for ages but today she just looked right at me, grinned, and said it. Don’t you worry, Der. We’ll start on Papa tomorrow.”

Derek chuckles and sinks down onto the couch. Stiles curls up next to him, looking just a little smug. “And how was your day? I doubt you granted the gift of language to any babies, but don’t feel bad. We can’t all be Dada.”

“Dada,” Clara pipes in, voice muffled by Derek’s chest.

Derek hadn’t told Stiles what he was planning, so Stiles wouldn’t worry. He considers saying something now, but Stiles is cuddled up against him and Clara is falling asleep on his shoulder and he is wholly, perfectly content. He doesn’t want to think about his investigation of Gerard. “Nothing special.”

Erica had cleared the computer in time, after all. Gerard has no reason to suspect him.

He'll find another way to take Gerard Argent down.

Chapter Text

Clara learns quickly that every new word she says earns her hours of adoration from her fathers, so she eagerly copies Stiles’s promptings to add Papa and no to her repertoire by the end of the week. Papa is a crowd favorite, based on her pronunciation of “Pa-PA!”, an imperious shriek that always brings Derek running from wherever in the house he might be.

By Monday, when she’s also learned bye-bye, Kira suggests they take their show on the road and Stiles bring her in to visit Derek at work. Derek has been making inroads with various congressmen, but Clara is far more persuasive than any grown man could be. Stiles agrees a little reluctantly. When he dresses her that morning he feels sick to his stomach, which is surprising and annoying. He'd thought he was over his taking-her-in-public anxiety.

They have a little dress rehearsal in Derek’s office. Clara is shy at first, hiding her face in Stiles’s shoulder and peeping out nervously at Derek’s coworkers, but once she realizes how enchanted they are by her she warms up. What’s that? her bashful smiles say. You’re all here to love me? Well, if you insist.

Derek takes them to the main cafeteria for lunch, where most members of Congress eat. Derek calls various people over to meet his daughter and, by the way their eyes flicker to and away from Stiles, Stiles is pretty sure each person is at least on the fence about how they’re going to vote.

Clara is an absolute champ. She suffers to be passed around, mixing her limited vocabulary with endearing baby babbles, brandishing the now-battered Mr. Tiger for kisses from whoever is saying hello. Whenever she gets fussy it’s always Stiles she cries out for, and he can see every Congressman’s eyes soften at the sight of an omega comforting his child.

She even cooperates with the perfect coda each time. “Say bye-bye,” Stiles tells her at the end of every encounter, and she chirrups, “Ba-ba,” with a little wave. Each victim— visitor— walks away looking vaguely shell-shocked by her adorableness.

“I might just take you home with me,” one Congresswoman coos as she holds Clara, tickling her under the chin.

“I’ll fight you for her.” Stiles wiggles Clara’s big toe. “You wouldn’t run out on Daddy, right, Clara-belle?”

Clara yawns and stretches her arms towards Stiles, begging to be taken back. “Guess she’s made her choice,” the Congresswoman laughs as she passes Clara over. “My little guy was like that at her age. It was like there was nothing in the world I couldn’t fix for him. It’s such a good feeling, isn’t it?”

“It is.” Stiles rocks his daughter. “It really gives you something to live up to. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her.” He pauses. “There’s nothing I haven’t done for her.”

The Congresswoman looks startled, as though she had forgotten just what Stiles has been accused of, and then her expression softens. “Well, who could blame you?” she asks gently.

“Devious,” Derek murmurs once the woman has walked away.

“I thought so.”

Derek checks his watch. “It’s quitting time here. You good to head out?”

“Sure.” Stiles grabs Mr. Tiger and lets Clara hold him while he gathers everything up. He can feel that someone is watching him and he glances around, wondering if they can get in one more Congressman before they leave.

Instead he sees Gerard Argent sitting alone at a table in the corner. His expression is blank as he watches Stiles, but there’s something about his eyes that roots Stiles to the ground.

“Are you ready?” Derek asks, pulling Stiles’s attention away. “Huh?” Stiles looks back at Gerard to see him bent over his plate as though he doesn’t even know Derek and Stiles are there. “Yeah.”

They meet a few more aides and a senator on the way to the parking lot. Clara allows them to coo over her for a few minutes before she calls for Stiles, prompting delighted awws. Stiles swears she knows exactly what she’s doing. “We should get you into acting,” he tells her on the drive home. “And the Oscar for Best Baby goes to…Clara!” He tickles her until she shrieks.

“Lydia’s pleased,” Derek says from the driver’s seat. “She figured most omegas would vote for you, but now we’ve got a substantial number of alphas on our side too. She says one more Clara visit about a week before the hearing and we’ll get the majority, easy.”

They’re giddy with success and after Clara’s been put in her crib they spend a glorious few hours romping in bed. “Easy with the teeth there, mister,” Stiles says lazily as Derek kisses his neck.

“Just marking you up.” Derek smiles at the dark hickey he’s left on Stiles’s skin. “You won’t let me give you a mating bite yet, so…call it an engagement mark.”

Stiles brushes his fingers over it, enjoying the shiver it sends down his spine. “Give me another. I want to look very engaged.”

Derek obliges. “You smell better every day,” he whispers, erection thickening as it prepares to go one more round. He puts his hands on Stiles’s hips to hold him still. “God, stop wriggling so I can fuck you.”

“Aw, Derek, I love when you quote Shakespeare at me.”

“I love when you sass me just before I knot you senseless.” Derek slides into Stiles, cutting off whatever retort Stiles had just been about to make and instead prompting an incoherent moan. “Yeah,” Derek practically purrs. “That’s what I like to hear.”

“Fuck,” Stiles groans. He feels delightfully buzzy and needy, so he guides Derek’s hands up to his nipples. Derek immediately starts pinching at them. “Someone’s sensitive today,” he chuckles when Stiles practically howls.

“God, that’s good. I could come just from this.”

“You won’t come a moment before I knot you. I’m not doing all this work for my own health.”

Stiles clenches down to hurry the knot along and Derek speeds up before finally popping the knot with a satisfied grunt. “Now you can come,” he commands, already reaching to stroke Stiles’s dick and make it happen.

Derek is filling him up just right and Stiles feels the drowsiness set in after only a few minutes. He loves falling asleep still tied to Derek; it makes him feel warm and safe and like he will never be alone again. “Love you lots,” he yawns as his eyes drift closed.

“Love you too.” Derek lets his lips linger on Stiles’s forehead until Stiles is asleep.

#

The next day Derek is late for work. Clara wants to feed him some of the apple slices he’s given her, and he’s so proud of her hand-eye coordination that he patiently waits for her to hold up each slice and give it to him. Then Stiles smells especially divine thanks to last night’s knotting, and their goodbye kiss practically becomes PG-13, and by the time he gets to his car it’s quarter past.

He can’t bring himself to care. His mind is always at home with his family; he might as well be there physically too. By the time he gets to work Stiles has already sent him a picture of Clara standing up in her playpen, with the caption: She’ll be walking soon. I’m not ready for her to be a real person. Make her slow her grow.

He grins and texts back: Give her a few weeks and she’ll be ready to put us in a retirement home so she can go to all-night ragers.

STILES: :( But she’s our baby :(

DEREK: She’ll be our toddler soon.

STILES: Why must you hurt me this way.

Derek snorts and sits down at his desk. He has a whole stack of emails he neglected yesterday and he gets to work, checking his phone every so often to look at new pictures of Clara Stiles is forwarding along.

It’s nearing lunchtime and he’s getting ready to give Stiles the usual check-in call when he hears shoes squealing from down the hall. Seconds later Scott McCall bursts into his office, face red and eyes wide. “Derek! You have to come with me right now!”

“What? What is it?”

“There’s a hearing— some kind of emergency hearing—starting in five minutes. I wouldn’t have had any idea if I hadn’t passed Kira in the hall. She didn’t have time to tell us; she only just found out herself.”

“What kind of hearing?” Derek demands, already jumping up from his seat.

“A hearing on Stiles. They want him extradited right now. We have to go.”

Derek runs. Scott is right on his heels, and Isaac meets them just before they make it to the judicial building. He doesn’t have time to think or be afraid or wonder what’s happened to cause this, he only runs as fast as his legs can carry him. He reaches the courtroom and skids into place beside Kira, who is frantically rifling through a binder.

“What the hell is happening?” he growls at her.

“I don’t know— I just got the email telling me I had to appear at 1:30.”

“All rise!”

Kira curses very softly as the judge walks out. “Fuck, it's Haigh. That’s the one judge I never wanted us to get,” she whispers.

“Why?”

“He hates humans. This is bad, Derek.”

“Do we have any motions?” the judge asks. His voice is cold and flat.

“I motion for a stay,” Kira says. “I was just informed about this hearing and have had no time to prepare.”

“We don’t have time to delay, your honor,” the opposing lawyer says. Derek looks over and sees that he’s not alone at his table. Gerard Argent is right beside him, eyes locked on Derek. He looks at Derek expressionlessly for half a moment, then his lips curve up in the slightest of smiles.

Derek feels sick. Gerard had known exactly what was going on when Derek was in his office. This is revenge.

“Make your case, counselor,” the judge says, nodding to the man beside Gerard.

“Your Honor, Mr. Stilinski has been in this country without standing for six months. We have made repeated excuses to his home country as to why we are preventing them from exacting their own justice on their citizen. Our nation’s Secretary of Defense, Gerard Argent, feels that if we continue to stall in this way, we risk international aggression. However, a sign of good faith, such as turning over a fugitive, may be enough to restore our relations to what they were before the war. In fact, Mr. Argent believes Ideria may still hold prisoners of war who will be released if we turn over Mr. Stilinski.”

Derek shakes his head furiously. That’s bullshit. Gerard has been saying ever since the war ended that all POWs were undoubtedly killed.

“I want to hear from you, Mr. Argent,” the judge says.

“Certainly.”

“Swear him in.”

The courtroom clerk brings a Bible to Gerard and directs him to place his hand upon it. “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

“I do.”

“Mr. Argent, why do you believe Mr. Stilinski must be immediately extradited?”

Gerard straightens his tie and his shoulders, and just like that, he has everyone in the courtroom in thrall. Derek used to be pulled in by his charisma, he remembers, but now all he feels is disgust. The curtain has been pulled back on the wizard. “Your Honor, I am the person in this country with the best and most current information on our relationship with Ideria. I fought against them, and now I guard our country against them. The humans have an insatiable appetite for violence. Ideria is a snake that will eat itself— or us. If we do not give them their own citizen, they will attack us. I am sure of it. We will never be their friend, but we do not want them as an enemy. Not again.”

“You believe turning over Mr. Stilinski will pacify them and prevent terrorist action against us?”

“As part of my duty to this nation, I have reached out to the current Iderian leadership. They have said as much. They are a base species, Your Honor. They do not understand the complexities of our legal system. They see us withholding Mr. Stilinski the way any animal would see that which withholds its prey. They are so hungry to feed their country’s bloodlust that they will eventually strike against us. Or we can pacify them now. Mr. Stilinski is no sacrificial lamb. He himself fell victim to his own animalistic nature and committed murder. Is it the job of this court to shield murderers?”

Derek is so angry he cannot breathe.

“What’s this about returning POWs?” the judge asks, looking completely unfazed by this speciest argument. Derek can hear Kira paging through her binder desperately, but he can’t look away from Gerard.

“While I can’t confirm the veracity of the claims, I have been told by Iderian leadership that they hold at least a dozen soldiers we presumed dead in their country. Once relations have been soothed between us, we can negotiate for their release. While we hold Mr. Stilinksi, Ideria is not interested in such negotiations.”

The judge flips a page on his desk. “I understand Mr. Stilinski is making an appeal to Congress under the Iderian War Heroes program.”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“You had contact with him during the war, Mr. Argent, as I understand it. What would you say his likelihood of success is? Was he an asset to our side?”

Gerard coughs delicately and Derek feels another surge of anger in anticipation. “Your Honor, the appeal to Congress is yet another stalling method, I’m afraid. Mr. Stilinski was not a war hero. If I may speak honestly, Mr. Stilinski was an omega who spread his legs for a soldier.”

“Derek Hale,” the justice clarifies.

“Yes. I don’t mean to speak ill of Mr. Hale, but he is a man of vices. The war was difficult on him. He abused alcohol, pills, and prostitutes. I should have put a stop to it, but I didn’t; I allowed him to carry on with the omega. I believe Mr. Hale is defending the Iderian now simply to protect his own reputation, but, despite my genuine affection for Mr. Hale, I cannot allow the lie to stand in the way of our country’s safety. Mr. Stilinski lived in our camp, ate our food, and paid for it with his body. Nothing more.”

“That’s a lie,” Derek snarls. He’s seeing red, trembling so furiously with the desire to shift and tear out Gerard’s throat that he can barely stand. “Stiles ran into our camp to tell us about the bomb. He could have blown himself up. He risked himself and his father by spying for us. He organized all our human volunteers. He—”

“Shared Mr. Hale’s bed,” Gerard says calmly, still looking at the judge. “Mr. Stilinski was a whore, not a hero. Just as he is now a murderer, not a martyr. He has done nothing to earn our protection.”

Derek grips the desk in front of him, feeling splinters digging into his fingers as the wood cracks. “You bastard.”

“That’s enough, Mr. Hale.” The judge pushes a paper to the side and shakes his head. “I’ve heard enough.”

“You Honor, if I may respond,” Kira starts.

“You may not, Ms. Yukimura. You and your client have wasted enough time.” The judge picks up his gavel. “It is the order of this court that Stiles Stilinski be extradited immediately to Ideria. I give federal agents the authority to seize him without delay and deliver him to Iderian agents currently waiting in Luponia to take him overseas. It is so ordered.”

The gavel falls and there’s a rustle throughout the courtroom, a sound like unsettled birds. Derek reaches into his pocket for his keys, eyeing the door. It’s all right. He’ll make a run for it, get to his car, and get to his house before the police. Stiles will only need a few moments to grab essentials. They’ll be out of Beacon Hills within the hour and head up to the country. He’s withdrawn plenty of cash just in case this moment ever came. All they have to do is hide right now, and they can figure out the next step together.

Across the room he sees Gerard say something to the lawyer, who then clears his throat. “Your Honor, we have a motion.”

“Yes, counselor?”

“We have reason to believe Mr. Hale and Mr. and Mr. McCall-Lahey will impede the efforts of the agents to carry out the will of this court and deliver Mr. Stilinski to his countrymen. We ask that they be preemptively taken into custody and held until Mr. Stilinski has been extradited.”

The judge tilts his head thoughtfully, and Derek feels his wolf rise up inside of him, terrified, as if he is being held back by a snare while hunters close in on his mate and pup. Before the judge can speak Derek turns and bolts for the back door.

There’s an exclamation of shock from the gallery but he runs, eyes on his escape. He’s inches from the door when a bailiff slams into him, wrenching his arms behind his back. He roars and tries to shift, struggling with all his might, until a pair of handcuffs, rune-printed to keep him from shifting, are slapped around his wrists.

“I think you just proved the point, Mr. Hale,” the judge says over the din of the courtroom. “It is so ordered that Derek Hale, Scott McCall-Lahey, and Isaac McCall-Lahey be held in custody until Stiles Stilinski is no longer on Luponian soil.”

This causes a commotion in the gallery. “Let him say goodbye!’ a woman shouts, standing over the railing. Derek dimly recognizes her as the congresswoman from yesterday who had said Clara reminded her of her own child. A few others take up the same cry, but the judge only shakes his head. “Quiet!” the bailiff holding Derek shouts.

“Court is dismissed,” the judge says, standing. Derek is wrestled towards the door at the front of the courtroom. Scott and Isaac are being handcuffed as well, and some people in the courtroom are still yelling at the judge. Its pandemonium everywhere, especially in his own mind.

The last thing he sees in the courtroom is Gerard standing still, smiling as he watches Derek be dragged away.

#

“You know, I’m gonna give this one to you,” Stiles says. “I thought your love of Dora the Explorer was a sign of bad taste, but this show is actually kind of great.”

Clara, standing in her playpen, twists her head around to give him a please don’t talk while my show is on look of exasperation.

She is so like Derek.

“Maybe I’m just biased because you kind of look like Dora. You want to go as Dora next Halloween? Daddy can be Boots, and Papa can go as Swiper…”

“No!”

No? Are you saying no like, no, Daddy, that’s a terrible costume idea; no, like ‘Swiper no swiping!” or no because you’re just a contrarian?”

“No!”

“Well, you got me there.” Dora ends and a creepy Claymation show that always makes Clara cry starts, so Stiles changes the channel quickly. “Here’s my concern, though. Where are Dora’s parents? Are they cool with her day job, or did she just up and peace out one day because they didn’t support her need to roam? If so, she’s a terrible influence on you. I don’t want to wake up one day and find you climbed through the window to go trek through the Amazon.”

Clara collapses onto her butt and grabs Mr. Tiger, ignoring him completely.

“Let’s continue this conversation at a later time.” Stiles reaches into the playpen to pick her up. She shrieks and tries to grab onto the side. “No, no, no,” Stiles chides. “Daddy’s the boss, and Daddy says no marauding with monkeys until after you’ve had your nap.”

She gives up fast and clings to him instead. The television chimes with a breaking news report and Stiles listens absentmindedly as he tries to feel if Clara needs a diaper change. “We have breaking news from the Capitol,” an anchor says. “A decision has been abruptly reached in the Stiles Stilinski extradition case. We’re going to go live to the Capitol building— Aaron, can you hear me?”

Stiles goes cold and looks up at the television.

“Mandy, I’m inside the judicial building. A scene of pandemonium here. Only moments ago federal court justice Judge Haigh ordered that Iderian fugitive Stiles Stilinski be immediately handed over to Iderian authorities and removed from Luponia.” A grainy video starts playing and Stiles sees Derek, eyes flaring from the camera, roaring in the arms of a stranger. “As you can see, Derek Hale attempted to flee the courtroom immediately following the ruling, presumably to go on the run with Mr. Stilinski. He was taken into custody along with Scott and Isaac McCall-Lahey.”

“What about Mr. Stilinski, Aaron? Is he there?”

“No, he’s not. As I understand federal agents will be collecting him from his home within the hour. Derek Hale and the McCall-Laheys will be held in custody until it’s confirmed Stilinski is no longer in the country.”

“What prompted this hearing, Aaron?”

“Well, Judge Haigh heard testimony from Secretary of Defense Gerard Argent, who advocated for Stilinski’s immediate extradition— ”

Stiles stabs down on the power button without realizing what he’s doing. The screen goes black and he stands there with Clara in his arms, staring numbly at nothing. His baby is talking to him, bumping Mr. Tiger against his face, cracking up at herself. He looks down at her and for a second he thinks about running. Derek has the car, but he could go on foot. Hide in the woods. Wait for Derek to be set free.

He wouldn’t last two hours with werewolves tracking him. They’ll find him and take Clara from his arms and drag him away. He’ll have to hear her screaming for him, just like Gerard had said all those months ago.

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. It rings and rings, and he starts to get worried that she won’t pick up. Finally a breathless voice comes over the line: “Hey! Sorry I almost missed you, I just got out of the gym— ”

“Cora, I need you to come watch Clara.”

She pauses. “Uh— okay. Now?”

“Yeah.”

“Give me like twenty minutes to swing by my house and change.”

“No, I need you here now. As soon as possible.”

“Is everything okay?”

“Everything is fine. I just need you right now.”

She sounds dubious. “If you say so. Be there in five.”

He hangs up and looks down at Clara. She can’t tell that everything has just changed. She’s still trying to give him a kiss with her toy, grinning at him with her eyes bright. “Let’s go, pumpkin,” he says, walking upstairs to the nursery. He just has to get her down for a nap. Hopefully he has enough time for that.

She’s in too playful a mood to be helpful when he changes her into jammies, but he doesn’t scold her. His chest feels tight as he does up the snaps. He just wants a little more time. An hour. He wants to read Clara a bedtime story. Write a note to Derek. Scream into a pillow. He’ll be ready in an hour. He’d placed so much stock in his borrowed time, and now the market has crashed and he’s left with minutes, speeding into seconds.

Clara wants to hold her tiger when he puts her in the crib, and for once he lets her. She squeezes it happily, always so easily pacified. He puts a hand against her cheek and feels the band around his chest tighten. He’s been prepared to say goodbye forever before, he’d thought, in Ideria and at Derek’s door, but the real goodbye is different from all those false starts. Then he’d felt fear, and now all he feels is grief.

“I love you the most,” he says. His throat hurts. “Thank you for letting me be your daddy.”

“Dadada,” she says immediately.

“That’s right, sweetheart. Night-night now.”

“Ba-ba,” she says, and closes her eyes. It only takes her a few moments to fall asleep. He stays there at the crib, feeling rooted to the ground. He remembers when he’d first brought her here and told her he would still be here when she woke up. Now she’ll never wake up to find him again.

Clara snuffles in her sleep. He bends over the crib to kiss her forehead and then forces himself to walk away. It’s a physical pain, as if he’s tearing something out of himself. Maybe he is. He imagines that a part of him will forever be standing over his daughter’s crib. He pretends it is the part that feels he will leave behind, and now he’s just a shell, facing the last part of his life alone.

He goes to the bedroom to grab the baby monitor, forcing himself not to look at Der-Bear on the headboard or the still-mussed sheets. The room smells like sex. The gun Derek had given him so many months ago is sitting on the bedside table, and for a second he wonders if he should just use it on himself, so Argent and Ideria won’t get to feel the satisfaction, but the gunshot would wake Clara and he’s too afraid to die.

He thinks about stopping to write something for Derek but he doesn’t know how far away the police are, so he just walks outside and stands in the driveway, waiting. Clara laughs in her sleep on the baby monitor.

Two black cars come screeching up to the house and he watches officers jump out, decked in riot gear and clutching guns. They seem surprised to find him just standing there.

“Mr. Stilinski?” one calls. “You need to come with us.”

He nods and clutches the baby monitor. “My daughter is asleep upstairs,” he says. His voice doesn’t sound like his own, but at least it doesn’t crack. “I called her aunt to come watch her. Can we just wait for her?”

The agents exchange glances. “We were told to take the baby with us. Once Mr. Hale has been released he can pick her up.”

Stiles shakes his head quickly. “Please. She’s asleep. I don’t want her to see this. Her aunt will be here any second.”

“We don’t know who he called,” one agent says to the others, as if he doesn’t think Stiles can hear. “Let’s just get this done.”

“Please,” he says again, and then he sees Cora’s car coming up the road. His shoulders relax in relief. “She’s here now.”

Cora stops the car in the middle of the road and comes charging. “What do you think you’re doing?” she shouts. “You don’t have any authority to be here!”

Stiles holds out a hand, seeing the agents’ fingers tighten around their guns. “They’re taking me, Cora. It’s done. They put Derek in jail. I just need you to watch Clara until they let him out.”

“No fucking way.” Cora stands in front of him protectively. “Get out of here,” she says to the agents, teeth bared. “Don’t come back.”

“Cora, I don’t want them to arrest you, too. Please go inside and watch Clara. Please.”

Cora looks at him with tears in her eyes. “I can’t just let them take you.”

“You have to. All I want is for Clara to sleep through this.” He presses the baby monitor into her hand. “Please, Cora.”

Her face crumples and after a moment she steps to the side. The agents come up to him. They have handcuffs, but they must realize they won’t need them. Instead they just take his arms and start to walk him towards the car.

“Wait,” Cora says. “Don’t do this. Just wait a minute.”

Stiles looks over his shoulder at her. “Tell Derek I love him.”

She chases them down the driveway, crying furiously now. “Please, stop!”

“Tell him to take care of Clara. Tell him that was the last thing I said, Cora. To look after our daughter. Tell him, okay?”

She nods, hands at her mouth. “I will, Stiles,” she chokes. “I promise.”

An agent ducks his head and forces him into the car. He closes his eyes, breathing shallowly, focusing only on his hummingbird heart trying desperately to escape its cage.

#

Derek rages. He shakes the bars of his holding cell; tries desperately to shift and break free. He roars for someone to come and digs his fingers, claw-free, into the wall as if he could tear his way out.

Nothing happens for the longest time, and then, finally, he hears footsteps.

Gerard Argent walks down the staircase and to the bars of the cell. “You can shout all you like,” he says pleasantly. “It won’t save your omega.”

Derek snarls. He swipes through the bars, forgetting he doesn’t have claws. Argent just leans back, a little smile on his face.

“You promised to help us,” Derek chokes out.

“Let’s drop the pretense, Derek. We see each other clearly now. You’ve known for a while that I had no intention of helping you. I don’t think you expected this, though. Go on. Ask me why. Ask me why your omega is about to die.”

“Why?” Derek growls.

Because you pushed me. I’m not an idiot, Derek. I know you figured out the wolfsbane beer— if you’d still been drinking it you would have been half-dead by now. And then you thought you could use Ms. Reyes to break into my office?” Gerard scowls. “What were you looking for, hm? It doesn’t matter. You’ll never do that again.”

“You tried to poison me,” Derek says.

“I did. You should thank me. I’ve given better men than you worse deaths.”

“What did you ever want from me, Gerard? Was it just about my money? You wanted Kate to get it all?”

“That was part of it.” Gerard wraps his hand around the bars. “But more than that— I wanted to see you suffer. The Hales took everything from me. The respect of the Argent name. Our business. Our fortune. My son.”

“Chris died in a car accident,” Derek protests. The word sparks something in his mind. What had Braeden said? Gerard had planned an accident for her…

“Chris died because he let himself be loved by a Hale, just like your precious Stiles. Chris got too close to your family and paid with his life. And now, after everything I’ve done to reclaim the Argent name, you think you can come for me again? You brought this on yourself, Derek.”

“I will destroy you,” Derek promises.

“No, you won’t. You’ll be too busy destroying yourself.” Gerard leans in. “It hurts so much worse to lose him now, doesn’t it? I let you have these months not out of kindness, but because I wanted to see you fall in love with him again. You played house with your little human and let yourself bask in the idea of family— that’s the Hale kryptonite, isn’t it? You all love so easily, so fiercely. You paint a target right on your chests.”

Derek slams against the bars, needing them to give way, but they hold firm.

“They won’t kill him right away, in case you were wondering. My sources tell me they intend to draw it out— to make it last for days. They want to make an example of him. It might take as long as a week before they put an end to him. I’ll find out first, of course, and I’ll let it slip to the media. You’ll have to hear about his death on the news, just like you did when Mommy and Daddy died.”

There is no threat or curse Derek can think of that is strong enough for a response, so he only snarls again, practically gnashing his teeth through the bars.

“And nobody, except you, will mourn him,” Gerard continues softly. “Your daughter will never remember him now. All because you couldn’t leave well enough alone.” He checks his watch “They’ll have him on the plane soon. Once he’s out of our airspace he won’t take another breath free of pain. And, knowing you, you’ll let yourself imagine every moment. If you’d like, I’ll give you more of the wolfsbane. I’ll let you escape the despair, so long as you be obedient and drink it all. Mix it with your painkillers and you might be dead before Stiles.”

Derek’s wolf rages, but he stands still, honestly afraid that he might hurt himself if he lets the fury inside of him loose.

“And I should add— if you ever try to tell anyone about this conversation, or about the information you were seeking in my office? Nobody will believe you. You’ve made yourself a joke. Or was I the one who made you a joke? Either way, you’re finished professionally. Now that any pretense of affection is gone between us, I’ll have Kate go public with the information that she broke your engagement before Mr. Stilinski even came back, due to your various addictions. After the violent little show you just put on upstairs, nobody will have trouble believing it.” Gerard smiles. “Maybe the state will decide you’re an unfit parent and take your daughter away. Yes, I think I like that idea. I should go start planning it.”

Derek finds his voice again as Gerard steps away from the bars. “You’ll die for this,” he says. The words sound like a prayer, low and reverent.

Gerard looks over his shoulder. “You really were such a disappointment to me, Derek,” he says softly, before he disappears up the stairs and leaves Derek alone.

#

The car ride might have lasted five minutes or five hours; Stiles can’t tell. Nobody speaks to him or even looks at him. There’s a heavy smog of guilt in the air.

Eventually they reach some sort of base. There’s a small single-engine plane already running and two humans standing there. One looks smug; the other exhausted.

“So,” Smug says as Stiles is marched out of the car. “The elusive Stiles Stilinski finally comes out of hiding. You have any idea how long we’ve been forced to wait here for you, you little bitch?”

Stiles looks over the man’s shoulder and doesn’t answer. The slap comes without warning, and if he wasn’t still being frog-held he would have gone down.

“Okay, now,” one of the Luponian agents says uncomfortably. “Let’s not have that.”

Smug gives a mocking bow. “Your land, your rules,” he says. “But we won’t be on Luponian land for very long, will we, Stilinski?”

“Stop it,” Exhausted says. “I want to go home.”

The agents release Stiles and he’s immediately grabbed by the Iderians. They force him towards the plane and for a wild second he lets himself imagine a car is coming over the horizon and Derek is jumping out to come rescue him. This is not happening to him. He is not going to die, because Derek would not allow it.

Then the airplane door shuts behind him, and he’s being handcuffed to a seat. The roar of the engine overtakes everything and he stares out the window slackly until the Luponian soil is nothing but a gray blur fading before his eyes.

#

It’s not much longer after Gerard leaves that the bailiff comes downstairs with the keys and unlocks the cell. Derek meets his eyes mutely and the man nods. “He’s off our soil,” he says, not unkindly.

Derek takes back the possessions they’d confiscated and walks up the stairs without a sound.

Scott and Isaac are reuniting as he steps back into the courtroom— Derek had been in the reinforced cells to keep him from shifting, Scott had been in general holding, and Isaac had been taken to a different area of the judicial building, as an omega. Scott’s face is wet and Derek watches as he hides his tears in Isaac’s shoulder.

Derek wants to break something. He wants to break everything.

There are messages on his phone from Cora, saying she’s at the house with Clara. He wants to be with his daughter, so he gets in his car without speaking to Isaac and Scott. He can see their headlights following him home, maybe needing to see for themselves that Stiles is gone.

Clara is crying when he walks through the front door, eyes looking washed-out as though she’s been at it for hours. She reaches for him and he takes her into his arms. She quiets down for a moment, but when she realizes Stiles isn’t with him she starts to wail.

Scott collapses onto the couch and buries his head in his hands. Isaac stands over him, looking vaguely stunned, like he still can’t quite believe what’s happened. Derek rocks Clara, patting her back mechanically. Eventually she sniffles into sleep, one hand loosely curled around his shoulder, as if she’s afraid he’s going to disappear before she wakes up.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Derek says after a few long moments of silence.

Scott looks up at him. “Time?”

“We’ll fly— going by boat will take too long. Argent has a private plane. We’ll have to steal it. Scott, Isaac— you know the layout of Ideria better than I do. I don’t need both of you to come with me, but I will need one of you.” Derek looks at his sister. “I need you to watch Clara for a few days. Hopefully only two or three. Any more than that, and you might be watching her forever.”

All three stare at him, various degrees of confusion on their faces. “Derek,” Scott says slowly. “What are you going to do?”

“What I should have done a year ago.” Derek glares out the window into the setting sun as though he can see the shores of Ideria, welcoming him back. “I’m going to go over there and bring him home.”

Chapter Text

Scott becomes Derek’s second-in-command simply by virtue of having his junior pilot’s license. Isaac agrees to stay at the house with Cora and look after Clara just in case Gerard tries to come after her in retaliation, but first he drives Derek and Scott to the private hanger where Gerard keeps his plane.

It’s easier than Derek expects, mainly because he’s acting on autopilot, and goes solely by instinct. He breaks locks with his hands and gets Scott to call in a fake flight plan for one of the other private planes so nobody will stop them once they take the plane out.

Scott sits in the cockpit, hands hovering over the controls. “Do we even know where in Ideria he is?”

“I can only imagine they’d take him to the capitol city. Slokachev.”

“I’ve never been there…”

“I have. That’s where my family’s Iderian home was.” The one that burned down. Derek used to spend weeks there, working with his family’s charity, but he hasn’t been back since their deaths. “The war might have changed it a little, but I’m familiar with the city and the surrounding area.”

Scott doesn’t comment, just nods and presses a few buttons. He sucks in a breath. “He’s got an autopilot route for Slokachev,” he says. “Why would he have that programmed into his plane? He doesn’t go there, does he?”

“I don’t know.” Derek thinks about all the times Gerard Argent disappeared for a few days, leaving Derek in charge of the office. He’d said it was for work, but travel to Ideria had been cut off for everyone since the end of the war. What could he have possibly been doing over there?

“I’ll have to wing it towards the end,” Scott mutters. “He probably has it programmed to end at some kind of landing strip, but we don’t want them to know we’re coming, so I’ll have to take her down somewhere else…”

“Map,” Derek says, finding one and unrolling it in front of Scott. Scott traces his finger until Derek sees something he likes. “There. It’s a former military base about twenty miles from the city. Should be abandoned still. We’ll have to run the rest of the way. If we leave now we’ll get there around two a.m. We can’t make it to the city, rescue Stiles, and get back all before the sun comes up, and if we take off while the sun is up they’ll be able to shoot us down. We’ll have to find a place to hide in the city and then get back once night falls.”

Scott swallows hard. “Ambitious plan.”

“You up for it?”

“It’s for Stiles. I’m up for it.” Scott turns to Isaac, waiting by the emergency door. “If I don’t come home,” he starts.

“You will come home.” Isaac kisses him gently and Derek quickly looks away. “We’re on a very important five-year plan,” Isaac says.

“Fuck five years.” There’s a protracted period of kissing noises that Derek steadfastly ignores, until finally Scott pulls away. “I love you,” he says, voice shaky.

“I love you, too.”

Isaac leaves and Derek seals the door before taking a seat next to Scott at the controls. “Let’s go,” he says.

Scott nods and the plane begins to taxi. Derek closes his eyes, gritting his teeth as the roar of the engine drowns everything out.

#

Stiles has to fight getting sick on the trip to Ideria. The plane shakes violently the entire way and more than once he half-expects it to nosedive down and pitch them all into the ocean.

That might not be such a terrible thing but it manages to stay upright.

His companions don’t speak much to him, but he picks up a few key facts: Theo’s successor is someone named Daehler. He’s the one who has been pushing for Stiles’s execution— a reminder to the citizens that lethal action against an official will never go unpunished.

Things are just as bad as they were when Stiles fled Ideria. That shouldn’t surprise him, but it is depressing. He’s leaving the world a worse place than it was when he was born.

At least Clara is out of there. He holds on to that as the plane makes a juddering touchdown on Iderian soil. They uncuff him and lead him from the plane to a waiting car, where he’s re-cuffed to the seat. He stares straight ahead until the car finally bumps to a stop on a cobblestone street.

“Well, look at this,” Smug says as he stares out the window. “You’re getting a real nice homecoming, Stilinski.”

Exhausted uncuffs Stiles and pulls him out of the car. There are people all lined up in front of what must be a prison, leaving only a thin walkway between the car and the prison doors. Standing at those doors is a man in combat dress.

“That’s President Daehler,” Smug says, but his next words are drowned out by a flood of boos from the crowd. Stiles blinks in surprise as his guards push him forward. A glob of mud strikes him in the face, and he gets it: these are civilians, here to humiliate him.

From the quick snatches he gets of their pallid, dull faces, he thinks they must be getting paid, or outright forced. There are a few cameras around; Ideria must have gotten the media back up and running while he was gone. They’re broadcasting his debasement as yet another message: stand up to us, and you’ll get the same.

Luckily their aim is off, maybe purposefully, so he’s only struck by a few stones and dirt clods by the time he reaches the prison steps. Daehler grabs him by the hair and for a wild, terrified moment Stiles thinks he’s going to be killed right here, so his blood can run down the steps into the street, but that’s not what happens. Daehler shouts about justice and honor, and the crowd cheers back feebly, and finally Stiles is passed off to a guard with a name plate saying Donovan and taken inside.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for you,” Donovan says as he twists Stiles’s cuffs cruelly to make sure they’re tight enough. “But we’ve been making plans for you, sweetheart— big, big plans…”

Stiles grits his teeth. He’s resolved to not say a single word until he’s killed. His last words were spoken to Cora and they were about his family; that’s what he wants.

“You should feel honored, omega. We’re not even going to hang you. Daehler’s decided to make a show out of it, so we’re going to saw your head off in front of a whole crowd. You like that, Stilinski? We’ll use a nice, big, rusty knife just for you. But you’ll wait here for a little while first. So we can play.”

The prison is dark and dank. He can hear groans coming from somewhere inside, as though somebody is being tortured, and it makes his stomach twist. He should have known they would want to drag this out.

“You get your own cell,” Donovan continues as he leads Stiles deeper into the prison. “If we put you in general population, they’d tear your ass up, and then there’d be nothing left for me.”

Stiles has to clamp down on a frightened sound on that insinuation, but it’s all the opening Donovan needs. He grabs Stiles and throws him up against the wall before leaning in, hand over Stiles’s mouth and knee in Stiles’s crotch. “You think you’re better than us, don’t you Stilinski?” he breathes. “You think sucking a Luponian’s dick makes you something? We’ll see if you still feel that way when you’re sucking mine.”

Stiles closes his eyes and tries to rear away. Something tells him Donovan isn’t being paid extra for the sadism; he’s just the sort of person who got drunk on his first taste of power and is now always chasing that high.

“You ran away to them after everything they did to us. I’m just sorry they didn’t let us have your half-breed. You miss your kid, Stilinski, or are you disgusted by werewolves, too?” Donovan slaps him. “You don’t want to talk to me? Huh?” He keeps slapping Stiles upside the head, dizzying him with the flurry of blows. “You don’t want to talk, Stilinski? What if I show you your special present?”

Stiles catches his breath as Donovan yanks him down the hall. They stop at a cell with a person curled up on the floor, covered in a heap of rags. The person’s hand is sticking out close to the bars and Donovan puts his foot through the bars to step on it. “Hey. Get up, you piece of shit.”

There’s a deep groan, as if down to the bones, and the rags fall off as the person slowly stands. Boney hands grip the bars to pull the person upright and for a second Stiles thinks this must be a very old man, too weak to rise.

Donovan flicks on his flashlight to shine directly on the man’s grimy face. He cringes away from the light, but Stiles still recognizes him instantly.

Dad!

He reaches for his father, forgetting he’s handcuffed. Donovan grabs him by the scruff of his neck. “No way, omega,” he says. “This is all you get. Look who I’ve got here, John. Look who finally came home.”

John Stilinski blinks blearily through the bars. Recognition, when it comes, seems to break him. “Oh, no, Stiles,” he croaks. He reaches through the bars with a shaking hand. “No, no.”

“Oh, God, Dad. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“We figured we’d let the executioner dull his blade on your father’s neck,” Donovan says, slapping John’s hands away from the bars so he staggers. “We’ve had a tough time keeping him alive, though— no werewolves here to help you out, huh?”

“I’m so sorry,” Stiles half-sobs to his father. “I tried to get you out, but Theo transferred you, and I didn’t know if you were alive—”

John shakes his head. “I love you, son,” he says. He can only grimace to approximate a smile, but at least he tries. “Don’t be scared.”

Donovan yanks Stiles away from the cell. “But you are scared, aren’t you, Stilinski?” he whispers. He shoves Stiles’s neck forward when he tries to swivel around and get one more look at his father. “Reunion’s over,” he says, sliding one hand in between Stiles’s legs. “Intake time.”

#

“Oh, fuuuuuuuck,” Scott moans as the plane dips towards the ground. He does something with the buttons on the board in front of him and the plane twists.

Derek looks at the tops of the trees they’re just barely skimming and tries to resist bodily throwing Scott out of the way and taking over.

“I see the base,” Scott says. “This is going to be bumpy, okay, hang on…”

Derek grabs the strap on the roof over his head and grips it so tightly his knuckles go white. The plane touches down, jarring him down to his bones, then taxis to a rough stop over the grass.

Scott looks at Derek with a manic grin. “I didn’t kill us!”

“Were you worried?” Derek croaks.

“Kind of, yeah. I almost shit my pants towards the end there. To be honest, I’ve only ever flown with professionals as my copilots, so…”

You still have to get us back,” Derek says between gritted teeth.

Scott winces. “Right. Uh…I was totally in control the whole time?”

Derek rolls his eyes and grabs the map. “We need to go northeast as fast as possible. If we start to get winded and we hit one of these smaller cities, maybe we can steal a car or something.”

Scott leans over the map with him. Derek wonders if it’s strange for him, being back in the land where he grew up. It feels a little strange to him; he’d been trying to forget Ideria even existed, and now he’s on its soil. “I can run it.”

Derek tucks the map into his jacket, right next to his gun, and nods. “Then let’s go.”

#

Donovan takes him to a room with a bunch of other guards. Some hang back, looking a little uncomfortable, but several swarm around him with grins matching Donovan’s.

“Look at these fancy Luponian clothes,” Donovan says, curling his fingers inside the waistband of his pants. “I like these— a little small for me, but I think I’ll keep them.”

He shoves them down, sliding his hands all over Stiles’s skin as he does so. “Arms up,” he orders, and Stiles obeys, not wanting to be held down and stripped. Donovan removes his shirt, tweaking his nipples as he does so. “These little briefs are so cute I almost want to leave them on. But we gotta make sure you’re not hiding anything in there.” He yanks down Stiles’s briefs, leaving him naked and shivering in front a five eager sets of eyes.

“Brace your hands against the wall,” Donovan orders.

Stiles does.

“Spread your legs.”

He closes his eyes, trying to pretend that this isn’t really happening to him, and opens his legs wide.

“Good omega.” Donovan spreads his ass cheeks and jams one finger into his hole, rooting around, scraping the nail inside of him. Stiles bites his lip so hard he bleeds. “I think something’s wrong with it,” Donovan says to his friends. “All this attention and it isn’t even getting wet for me.”

“Let me try.” One of the others shoves in and starts feeling inside Stiles’s hole. The fingers feel cold and foreign and he’s never been less aroused in his life.

They get bored with that when he doesn’t react and pat him down quickly before shoving him in front of a shower and spraying freezing, brackish water in his face. Donovan scrubs him with what feels like steel wool— “Gotta get the stench of Luponia off you”— then pulls him out without warning and dresses him in loose-fitting drawstring pants and a ripped t-shirt. “You get one blanket,” he says, shoving a rag like John had been clinging to into Stiles’s arms.

He hoped for a cell next to his dad, but instead he’s led far down the hallway to an empty cell that smells like mildew. Donovan shoves him inside and twists the key in the lock.

“Maybe you’ll be more talkative in a few hours,” he purrs through the bars. “You can stretch that ass out now, or we’ll just take you with no prep. Your choice.”

He leaves and Stiles curls up into a ball. They’re going to kill his dad because of him. He’d thought they would kill him within the day, but instead they’re going to torture him and rape him and make him watch his dad die.

He can feel himself starting to backslide into a panic attack and he forces harsh breaths to keep himself calm. They want to beat him down; break him into subhuman parts. He’s more than a prisoner. He’s a person. He has a daughter and a man who loves him and he will not forget that. They can’t break what he doesn’t give them.

And he’s sure as fuck not going to make it easy for them. He scoots himself into a corner. When Donovan comes back he’ll fight them off for as long as he can, and then he’ll just go limp. He won’t make a sound; he doesn’t want his dad to hear.

He pretends that Derek is here with him, and just imagining it makes him feel a little warmer. He closes his eyes and manages to drift off into a half-sleep, a drowsy meeting point of wakefulness and dreams. He thinks he hears Clara crying a few times, but he’s too sleep-paralyzed to move.

It feels like it goes on forever. Still, where he hears a clinking sound against the bars of his cell, his eyes snap open immediately, any trace of sleep gone.

Donovan is standing there, tapping the key to the cell against the bars. There’s very little light in the hallway, but Stiles can see he’s smiling. “Dreaming of me, Stilinski?”

Stiles turns his face to the wall.

“Me and the boys just played a game of cards— winner got first round with you. But guess what?” Donovan leans into the cell and drops his voice to an exaggerated whisper. “I cheated. That’s how much I’ve been looking forward to this, especially after that little taste of your ass I got earlier. You’re mine now, omega.”

Stiles forces himself to stay calm as he hears the key turning in the lock. It’s not happening to him. It’s not happening to him. He’s at home; he’s safe; he’s with his family. He’s not here. He’s not…

There’s a sudden gasping sound and he looks up to see Donovan in a headlock. The man struggles for half a second, then goes limp in the arms of—

Derek.

Stiles gasps in the scent of him, mind reeling. Derek drops Donovan and looks in at Stiles, fury warring with relief in his gaze. He finishes unlocking the cell door and steps through. “Are you all right?” he whispers.

Stiles just stares at him, jaw hanging. Is he still asleep? Is this some weird whole-life-before-his-eyes hallucination?

Derek walks over to him and pulls him to his feet. He feels real enough, and his warmth is definitely real as he folds Stiles into a hug, surreptitiously checking for injuries. “Can you walk?”

Stiles finds his voice. “How are you here?”

“Stole a plane.”

“You stole a plane?

“Yeah. Can you walk? I can carry you if you can’t.”

Stiles is still kind of stuck on the stole a plane bit but he nods dazedly. “Where’s Clara?”

Derek looks at him like he’s insane. “Oh, I told her to stand lookout outside. She’s at home with Cora; what do you think? Scott’s taking out the other guards, though— I followed your scent to this cell; he’ll find us as soon as the halls are clear. We have to hurry. We need to be out of here before the sun comes up.”

“Out of here…?”

“I’m taking you home.” Derek lets go of his control for a second and clutches Stiles tight, kissing the top of his head. “You really thought I’d just leave you here?” he whispers. “Nobody will ever hurt you again, Stiles. Not while I’m still breathing. Let’s get out of here so I can take you back where you belong.”

“You came.” Stiles almost collapses into Derek’s arms when he realizes this is really happening. “I can’t believe you actually came for me.”

“Of course I did. I love you, Stiles. I’m not leaving without you this time. Everything is going to be fine, but we have to get out of here.”

Stiles lets Derek lead him out of the cell. Just before he steps through he looks down at Donovan’s prone body. “Did you kill him?”

“No.” Derek meets his eyes steadily. “Do you want me to?”

Stiles shakes his head.

“I heard what he was saying to you.”

“He didn’t hurt me,” Stiles says, looking away. His heartbeat is racing from adrenaline and fear and Derek hears it. He frowns and looks down at Donovan as if he’s seriously considering stepping down onto his neck and twisting his foot to snap bone. His hand tightens around Stiles’s.

“Guys! Stiles!

Running footsteps shuffle towards them as Scott comes into view. He collides with Stiles, wrapping him in a bear hug. “You’re alive!”

“I’m alive.” Stiles laughs shakily as Scott pushes his nose into Stiles’s neck. “I was only gone for, like, twelve hours, dude.”

“Feels like longer.” Scott looks at Derek. “Guards are out. I think I might have killed one— I didn’t mean to, but he was going for his radio— ”

“It’s fine. Stiles is safe. Let’s get out of here.”

“Wait!” Stiles frantically tugs the keys out of his cell lock. “My dad is here. We have to get him.”

“Your dad?”

“They were going to execute both of us. They’ve tortured him— please, Derek, I can’t leave him.”

Derek huffs a little in frustration. “Oh, sure. Why not? Double the jailbreak, double the fun.” He takes the keys from Stiles. “Which way?”

Stiles squints, trying to remember from earlier. “This way.” He leads Scott and Derek forward. Most of the cells are empty, so when he sees a huddled shape he breathes a sigh of relief. “Here.” He rattles the bars as quietly as possible. “Dad! Dad!

Derek starts trying keys in the lock as quickly as possible.

John stirs, clutching his rags around himself defensively. “Who— ”

“It’s me; it’s Stiles. We’re getting you out, okay?”

John blinks incredulously at him, then takes in the two werewolves behind him. His mouth drops, sort of crooked, as if his jaw has been broken and never set. “Scott McCall?”

“Hey, Sherriff.” Scott sounds a little teary. “I missed you. I’m sorry saving my life ruined yours.”

Derek growls in annoyance and just breaks the lock with his bare hands. John looks freaked out and scotches back a little.

“It’s okay.” Stiles hurries into the cell and lifts his father. It’s like holding up a bag of feathers and bones and he almost wishes he’d let Derek kill Donovan for whatever he role he played in hurting John. “That’s Derek. He’s…” he considers giving his dad the Cliff-Notes version of what Derek is to him, but honestly, even that would require way more time then they have. “He’s on our side.”

John leans against Stiles as if he’s not quite sure he’s real. “Are you telling me we’re not going to die, after all?”

“That is absolutely the plan.”

“Speaking of plan,” Derek says, impatience poorly concealed in his voice. “We’re about to go off the rails on it if we don’t get out of here now.”

“I’ve got you,” Stiles says to his dad, and they walk out together. John is in really bad shape and Derek takes over supporting him, stopping just short of scooping him up in his arms. They all head down the hallway, the door just coming into view when there’s a shout from behind them:

They’re getting away!

Without hesitation Derek grabs John up in a fireman carry, grips Stiles’s hand, and runs. “Scott!” he yells.

“I’m sorry! I thought I got them all!”

An alarm blares through the building and Derek swears fiercely just as the reach the end of the hallway. He grabs the doorknob but the door must have automatically locked when the guard triggered the alarm. “Scott, help me.”

They ram their shoulders into the door simultaneously, and nothing happens. John, still hanging limply over Derek’s shoulder, shouts in warning. “Guard!”

Without hesitation Derek reaches into his jacket and pulls out a gun. “Duck, Stiles,” he commands, and Stiles drops into a crouch. Derek fires over his head and Stiles looks back just in time to see the guard fall.

“Shoot the door,” Scott says.

“I can’t, it’s fucking steel. It’ll ricochet.”

“Is there a keypad?” John asks.

“Yeah.”

“Try pressing in the pound key for thirty seconds. It’s a manufacturer’s failsafe. We had the same kind of door locks at the Eichen prison.”

Derek does, and after an agonizingly half minute there’s a drawn out beep and the light flashes green. “Shit!” Derek breathes. “It worked!”

Derek holds open the door for Scott and Stiles. Just as they run through there’s more shouting, and another gunshot. Derek slams the door behind them and Stiles cries out. “You’re bleeding!”

There’s blood on his cheek and Derek raises a finger to touch it. “No, I’m not,” he says.

Stiles doesn’t understand for a second, not until Derek pulls the Sheriff off his shoulder and cradles him against his chest, pressing his hand against John’s back. Blood glints against his fingers and Stiles realizes in horror that his dad’s been shot. “We have to go,” Derek says. “I can help him, but we have to run.”

“My dad— ”

“I can fix it, Stiles, but they’re going to get past the door. We have to find a place to hide.”

Sure enough he hears the door rattle just behind them and Derek takes off down the steps, Scott and Stiles following close behind. Stiles is blind with terror. His dad has been shot. Is it possible that he could lose his dad now, after just finding him? Could the world really be that unbearably cruel?

Scott pulls Stiles in front of him just as the door behind them bangs open. There’s a hail of gunfire and Scott swears, keeping Stiles protectively placed between him and Derek.

“Left,” Derek shouts, and they swerve down a side road. This must be a residential area, and Stiles can see lights popping on. A few doors open, civilians leaning out in terror as the gunfire continues behind them.

“We need an abandoned house,” Derek spits over his shoulder, clutching John tightly so he isn’t jostled. “Maybe a cellar, or something— ”

“This way!”

Stiles whips his head around to see a woman leaning out her front door, waiving to them frantically. “Come on! We’ll hide you!”

Derek hesitates, but he must make a judgement call based on her heartrate. He shifts course and follows the woman inside the house.

“Into the back room,” the woman says, ushering them in. “Hurry…”

From outside Stiles can hear the guards shouting: “Did you see four men run this way?”

“They went down the back road!”

“They were running towards the woods!”

“They yelled something about a car!”

A whole chorus of voices shout out from the street, directing the guards away, even though Stiles is sure everyone on this block must have seen them go into the house. He looks at the woman who rescued them in confusion and she offers a weak smile. “You don’t deserve what they want to do to you,” she says, hurrying into the room with them and shutting the door. “We’ve all been terrorized by them. They’ll never get our help, no matter how scared they try to make us.”

Derek already has John on the bed, shirt off so he can assess the damage. It’s bad, Stiles can see. Really bad. John is unconscious, and blood is currently soaking the sheets and Derek’s hands.

“Dad,” Stiles moans, sinking down to his knees by his father’s side. There’s blood coming out of John’s nose. Black.

“I need water,” Derek says without looking up from John. “And towels.”

“Of course,” the woman says, hurrying from the room. She returns only moments later with a stack of towels and several water bottles. “I’m going to close the door,” she says faintly. “I’ll give you privacy.”

So they can say goodbye, she means. Stiles is sick. “Derek? Can you save him?”

Derek wipes away the blood so he can see the wound. His expression is grave. “I can save him,” he says. “But it’ll have to be with a bite, Stiles. He’ll bleed out within a few minutes otherwise.”

Stiles squeezes his eyes shut. He can’t make that choice. The bite doesn’t always take. His father is so weak. The werewolf venom will likely overwhelm his system and kill him.

“You have to choose, Stiles; I can’t ask him. But you have to decide now.”

It’s certain death if he refuses.

“Do it.” Stiles grabs his dad’s hand. “Save him.”

Without hesitation Derek grabs John’s free hand, raises the wrist to his mouth, and bites down. Stiles feels his dad’s hand twitch slightly in his own, as if reflexively letting something go.

“Did it work?”

“I can’t tell yet.” Derek presses his ear to John’s chest, one hand still clamped over his wound. Scott bends by Stiles’s side, white-faced.

“My dad,” Stiles says to him, feeling totally helpless. Scott is the only other person in the world who knows John like Stiles does. He used to say that John was more of a father to him than his own dad. “If I got him out just to kill him…”

“I know, Stiles. I know.”

Stiles presses his father’s hand to his cheek. “Wake up,” he begs softly. “Please, Dad, please be okay.”

They wait for what feels like a lifetime. Stiles thinks his father’s hand is starting to go cold, when Derek raises his head, relief etched on his face. “It worked,” he says hoarsely.

Stiles feels like his lungs can’t gasp in enough air. “Are you sure?”

“I can hear his heart. The wound’s stopped bleeding— once the change is complete it’ll heal over totally. He’ll be out for a few hours while he transitions, but yeah, Stiles. He’s going to live. He’ll be a werewolf forever now, but he’s going to live.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.” Stiles jumps up and kisses Derek. Now that the immediate danger is over he wants to bust out into wild inappropriate laughter. “I can’t believe you stole a fucking plane to come save me. I love you so much, Derek. And you, Scott. You saved more than my life. I love you both and I’m seriously the luckiest person to ever live, for getting to have the two of you in my life.”

Scott actually tears up. “Aww, Stiles. What are bros for, man? I’ll always be willing to commit grand theft aviation and mild treason for you.”

“And you’re my mate and the father of my child. Where you go, I follow. Always.” Derek kisses the top of his head.

“You went above and beyond the call of duty.” Stiles feels outrageously teary, so he sniffles his emotions back. “Thank you for saving my dad.”

A little half-grin flashes on Derek’s face. “Two lives saved in one night. Not a personal best, but I have to say this one is the most satisfying.”

“Don’t celebrate a win at half-time, Lieutenant. We still have to get back to Luponia.” Stiles puts a hand on his father’s cheek, relieved to find that it’s already warm. When his dad wakes up, it’ll be to a whole new body. They’ve never talked about taking the bite before, but Stiles has to believe that his dad would rather live as a werewolf than die here in a stranger’s home.

“We’ll stay here until the sun goes down, while your dad recovers,” Derek says. “We have the plane on an abandoned base about twenty miles away. Once it’s dark, we’ll run for it.”

“And then we go home?”

“And then we go home, and deal with whatever happens next together.” Derek looks at John’s prone body. “On the bright side…your dad just earned himself bona-fide Luponian citizenship. They have to protect him now that he’s a werewolf.”

“Holy shit. You’re right!” Any reservations Stiles might have had about his choice to let Derek give John the bite fly right out the window. He wants to cry with relief. His dad is going to be just fine; the Iderian government will never hurt him again. Once they have him on Luponian soil, he’s there to stay.

As for him…

“We’ll figure it out,” Derek says, reading his mind. “All I know is that you’re not leaving Luponia for the rest of your life, all right? And I might assign an armed guard to follow you around whenever I’m not there.” He carefully adjusts John so he’s laying comfortably, then pulls the covers up to his chin. “There. He can rest. And you…come here.”

Stiles goes to him willingly. Derek wraps him in a warm embrace, tucking Stiles’s face into his chest. The entire room melts away and Derek groans as he scents Stiles, holding Stiles so close Stiles can hear his heartbeat. “You’re safe now,” he promises. “Did they hurt you? Is there pain I can take?”

“You’re already taking it. They didn’t really hurt me. They just…they threatened. They tried to humiliate me. But I’m okay. Right now, I couldn’t be any better.”

Derek makes a sound of agreement and manages to sit down without jostling Stiles. He lets the omega nestle into his lap and presses soft kisses to Stiles’s forehead. “You should rest,” he says.

“Can I stay right here?”

Derek tilts his head up and gives him one sweet proper kiss. “Of course you can.”

#

It takes a while, but Stiles finally falls asleep. Once Derek is sure he’s out he carefully puts him on the bed next to his father and slips out of the bedroom to meet their mysteriously gracious host.

The woman is in the kitchen, a small room just off a living room with a crib and little else. There’s a little boy with her, probably no more than two years old, sitting in a high chair. She’s engrossed in a pot she’s stirring, so it takes her a second to realize Derek’s there. “Oh!” She puts a hand to her chest. “You startled me!”

“I apologize. I wanted to say thank you for helping us. We’d probably be dead if you hadn’t.”

Her eyes flicker over his shoulder. “The man who was shot…”

“He’s going to live.”

Her shoulders slump in relief. “That’s very good news. I made some porridge for you all. There’s not much— I don’t get much in the way of rations— but it should help you recover your strength. They haven’t started searching houses yet; I believe they think you ran off into the woods. If they start looking on this street someone will warn us and we can get you all somewhere safer.”

“Thank you.” Derek studies her. She’s obviously living in poverty and fear, but she risked everything for a man accused of treason and two werewolves. “May I ask why you helped us?”

She shrugs. “Just seemed like the right thing to do.” Her heartrate picks up a bit and she glances over at her son. Derek follows her gaze. The boy looks up from where he’s happily eating his own porridge and gleefully flashes his eyes at Derek.

“He’s a werewolf?” Derek asks in amazement.

“He’s my son.” The woman crosses to him quickly and picks him up out of the chair as if she thinks Derek is going to snatch him. He can hear her heartrate speeding. “His father was a soldier. He promised to take me back to Luponia with him, but he took a wolfsbane bullet and never came home.” She rubs the boy’s back, closing her eyes. “Stiles Stilinski is a hero to me,” she says quietly. “I hid my boy for months, terrified, waiting for the knock on the door. Daehler’s not much better than Raeken, but at least he doesn’t kill children. My son will never be accepted, but at least he’s safe.” She looks sharply at Derek. “You’re not going to take him, are you? I know he’s a werewolf, but he belongs here with me.”

“Of course I won’t take him.” Derek can’t believe there’s another werewolf child in Ideria. He wonders if there are more out there, in the shadows. “But there are ways both of you can come to Luponia. I can help you.”

She shakes her head. “I’ve heard the stories about Luponia,” she says with a sad little smile. “My soldier told me about how happy we would be there together, but he’s gone now. I’m no fool. Luponia doesn’t want humans. They didn’t protect Stiles Stilinski, and he had you to fight for him. Nobody’s there to fight for me.”

“But you should have more,” Derek says, looking around at the small kitchen. “You deserve more.”

“All I need is my son. If I go to Luponia, they’ll keep my boy, send me back, and I’ll be executed for trying to flee to the enemy. I know some others with werewolf children who have thought about just shipping their babies over alone for a better life. Maybe I’m too selfish for that. When he’s grown he’ll be able to choose if he wants to join his people, but for now he’s just a baby. He needs me.”

“Mama!” the boy shrieks, patting clumsily at her cheeks when he sees her tears. He twists to scowl at Derek, the mulish expression on his face reminiscent of Clara. “Bad man!”

“I didn’t mean to make you cry.” Shame is twisting Derek’s insides, not just for upsetting this woman but for believing all those months ago that there were no more no innocents and no more good left in Ideria. He’d assumed they’d all been killed, squashed out all at once like bugs, but of course they would fight to live. Of course they still do.

He needs to do more than fight for Stiles, he realizes. He has to fight for Stiles’s people. They’re a mix of good and bad, just like Luponians. It doesn’t matter what or where you’re born; it only matters who you choose to be. This woman and her boy deserve enough food to keep from being hungry, and a house with more than one bedroom, and the ability to leave their home without fear.

Everyone deserves that.

The woman wipes away her tears. “I’m being silly,” she says. “Forgive me.”

“Forgive me. You saved our lives. I shouldn’t have upset you.”

She shakes her head and looks out in the window into the bright morning sun. “You should stay in the back room. There aren’t any windows in there.”

“All right.”

“You can help yourself to the food. If you don’t mind, I’m going to take my son and go next door. I’ll come warn you if they start searching, but if, God forbid, you’re caught, they’ll kill me for harboring you…”

“I understand. Please go. I don’t want to put you in danger. We’ll be gone by nightfall.”

The woman nods and grabs a threadbare bag filled with diapers. “I hope you have a very safe journey, sir.”

“Derek.”

“Derek. And I’m Paige.”

“It’s a privilege to meet you, Paige.”

The woman smiles at him and slips out the door. Her heartbeat had been steady when she said she was going to a friend, and Derek trusts her. He ladles porridge into a bowl and walks back to the bedroom, where Stiles, Scott and John are all asleep.

He lets Stiles sleep for a while longer, thoughts on Paige and her son and the other Iderians who had risked their lives for Stiles. He wishes he could at least leave her some money, but all he has is Luponian currency, and that’s worth nothing over here. Different money, different species, different countries. It all seems so arbitrary and ridiculous.

Stiles snuffles awake somewhere around noon. “Dad?” he asks blearily.

“Still asleep.” Derek had adjusted Stiles so his head is in Derek’s lap and when Stiles relaxes Derek strokes his fingers through his hair. “Are you hungry?”

“Not really. I should be, right? But I feel kind of sick from sleeping on the ground, so give me a few minutes.”

“Okay.”

“We’re all still safe?”

“Absolutely.” Stiles hums, tilting his head a little so Derek can keep at the head massage. Derek chuckles and closes his eyes, tuning into the heartbeats of everyone in the room just to soothe himself.

His eyes snap open immediately. “Shit. Shit. Get up.”

“What is it?”

“Someone’s here. Scott, wake up.”

“What’s going on?” Scott yawns, getting up way too slowly.

“Someone’s in the house.

Stiles scrambles to his feet, looking queasy. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. I’ve got four people and five heartbeats.” Derek closes his eyes, concentrating again. The intruder’s heartbeat is a little muted, as if he’s in the living room. How had Derek missed him getting in? “Stiles, stay in here with your dad. Scott, with me.”

“It could be nothing,” Scott says uneasily.

“It’s not,” Derek snaps. “Gun out, now.”

Derek and Scott wait by the door. Derek counts down silently to one and they kick it open, aiming their guns at the empty room.

Scott’s nostrils flare as he checks for a scent. “No one’s here,” he whispers.

Derek gives Stiles a quick, warning glance, then shuts the bedroom door so the intruder can’t sneak past him. “They might be outside. The sound wasn’t moving, though, and it was close…” Derek takes a few steps forward, into the kitchen, and concentrates again. It’s fainter now than it had been a moment before— which means he must have left it in the bedroom with Stiles.

Shit.

He bolts back, relieved to see that whoever it is hasn’t made a move yet. Stiles is crouching by his dad defensively. “Did you see anyone?”

Derek shakes his head. He presses his ear to the floor— maybe there’s a cellar under the house. Or an attic…

He moves around Stiles, trying to find out where the sound is loudest, and then stops short.

Just to be certain he’s not imagining it he moves a few feet backwards, then presses up close against Stiles.

“Derek?” Stiles hand comes down nervously on top of Derek’s head as if he’s checking for a fever. “What are you doing? Do you know where he is?”

“Yeah,” Derek says. His voice is barely more than a whisper. “Found him.”

“Where?”

Derek closes his eyes, listening to the ocean-rush of the heartbeat. “Right here.”

“What should we do? Do we have to run?”

Derek shakes his head. “I don’t think he’s planning an attack right now. Maybe in a few months, when his weapons are a little better developed.”

“A few months? What the hell are you talking about?”

Scott bounds back in. “Derek, there’s no one in the house. I don’t see how anyone could have slipped in and out without us hearing…”

“Oh, he didn’t come in by himself.” Derek finds himself fighting a huge, shit-eating grin. “Stiles brought him. But I’m partly to blame, too, so I can’t be too upset. And it definitely wasn’t a result of anyone slipping in without notice.”

He hears the change in Stiles’s heartrate the moment he gets it. “Oh my God, Der. Are you saying…are we…?”

“Yeah.” Derek presses his ear up against Stiles’s belly, where he can hear the muffled heartbeat of their baby. “We are.”

He should have known. Stiles’s scent, his extra sensitivity— God, they’d been knotting constantly, like teenagers who believed you couldn’t get pregnant out of a mating. They hadn’t been nearly as careful as they should have been, and Derek is so, so glad.

They’re having another baby. Stiles is pregnant.

“But…but I didn’t even realize— if you can already hear it it must already be, like…a month?”

“I guess so. I didn’t hear it before you left, but I wasn’t really paying attention. It’s definitely there, though. I’m positive. Positive.” Derek stands and holds Stiles close, overwhelmed completely. Stiles is having a baby.

And Derek will get to be with him this time; he’ll get to witness his child’s birth. This is the moment they should have had almost two years ago, right down to the soil they’re standing on.

“I love you,” he says, breathing in deeply to wash himself in Stiles’s new scent. The change is subtle and sublime. Deeper, maybe, or richer; the difference between grape juice and wine. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too,” Stiles says, rubbing his head against Derek’s chest. It feels almost imploring, like a cat asking to be petted— as though Stiles just wants to be loved and cuddled and doted on for the next eight months.

Well, he will be. Derek is going to take such good care of him and his little growing pup. He kisses Stiles, feeling like everything terrible has disappeared. Another baby. Another family member for him to love forever.

“Wait,” Scott says. “What’s going on?”

#

Ninety-nine percent of the time Stiles is really glad that male omegas don’t have periods. The other one percent of the time such an obvious clue would be really great, since that might have tipped him off to the fact that he had willingly turned himself over to his would-be murderers with a microscopic baby along for the ride.

The thought that he almost died not even knowing he was pregnant makes him feel sort of dizzy, as if winded by the close call. He stays close to Derek for the rest of the day; probably some omega thing urging him to be within arm’s reach of his protector. Luckily Derek is only too willing to oblige. He gets pouty if Stiles leaves his lap, let alone line of vision.

“You know what this means, right?” Derek asks after he’s forced Stiles to eat some porridge. He keeps one hand over Stiles's belly the whole time and every so often he rucks the shirt up to give it a kiss.

“We’re going to have two babies under two years old? Like insane people?”

“No.” Derek rocks him a little, the grin he’s been wearing for the past three hours showing no signs of disappearing. “You just bought yourself eight months. Luponia won’t let a pregnant omega be executed.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. No one would stand for it.” Derek dips his head towards Stiles’s belly. “Baby,” he croons. “You just did what none of us grown-ups could do. You’re pretty impressive for being smaller than a pea.”

Stiles puts a hand on his still-flat belly, mind reeling. “Assuming we make it out of here alive,” he says, not wanting to jinx their return mission, “I owe you the world’s biggest, best blowjob for having such incredible super-sperm.”

“Gross,” Scott mutters.

“Gross,” a feeble voice confirms from the bed.

“Dad?” Stiles scrambles to get to his father. Derek had assured him that long periods of unconsciousness were necessary for the change to take hold, but Stiles has been waiting more anxiously by the minute for his father to open his eyes. “How do you feel?”

John blinks at Stiles. His eyes flash and he grimaces. “I’m all right, but where are we? I can hear thumping, and…like a whooshing noise— everything’s so loud.

“We’re safe, Mr. Stilinski.” Derek flashes his own Alpha eyes at John to try and calm him down. “What you’re hearing is all normal. I’ll teach you how to tune it out. You were shot when we were escaping the prison, and I had to give you the bite to save your life. Do you understand?”

Prison clearly hasn’t diminished John’s mental capacity. ‘I’m a werewolf?

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry. It was the only way.”

John furrows up his face. “Can I shift?”

“I’ll teach you how. I promise, you’ll be fine. The change can be overwhelming at first, but all the bitten wolves I’ve ever known say it’s not much different from being human. You’re still you, with some added abilities.”

“I’ll be damned.” John looks at Stiles. “Are you a werewolf too, now?”

Stiles shakes his head. “Still just me,” he says quietly.

John grins. “Good. God knows you cause me enough trouble without superpowers.” He sits up and opens his arms for a hug. “God, I missed you, kid,” he breathes when Stiles practically dive-bombs him. “Every day I wondered and worried. I knew I would see you again. I knew I wasn’t finished being your dad.”

“I thought you were dead.”

“Well, they gave it the old college try, but I was never in the mood to die.” John pulls away so he can look Stiles in the face. “You look so much older. You’ve been safe? I heard some rumors— they said you had killed someone and fled the country.”

“I did. I killed Theo Raeken. But I had a good reason.” Stiles looks at Derek a little helplessly. “I have a lot to tell you.”

He launches into a summary of the last two years, glossing over the sex and violence as best he can. His dad’s eyes flash, bug out, and water at various points in the story, and somewhere along the way he grips Stiles’s hand and doesn’t let go until Stiles gets to last night’s rescue and finally stops talking.

“You had a baby?” he whispers when Stiles finally finishes. “There’s really a baby over in Luponia?”

Stiles nods, glad that that’s the part his dad is focusing on. “Clara’s so beautiful, Dad. You’re going to love her. And…” He puts a hand over his stomach. “Derek just heard the heartbeat today. You’re going to have another grandchild.”

“You can hear, if you concentrate,” Derek says. “It’s the one that sounds kind of like it’s underwater…”

John closes his eyes and Stiles watches as a tiny smile appears on his face. “I’ll be damned,” he whispers again. “I’m so proud of you, Stiles. Come here. You too, Scott.” He wraps them both in a bear hug, nodding Derek. “And you, Derek. Welcome to the family.”

Derek blushes but joins the group hug. Stiles inhales the scent of his dad and finds Derek’s hand to give it a silent, thankful squeeze.

He stays there with his father talking softly for a while, until Derek ducks his head out of the bedroom to gauge the darkness level and decides it’s time to go. “I’m going to carry you, Stiles,” he says. “John, if you’re not up to running yet, Scott can carry you.”

“I feel like I could run for hours without stopping, frankly.”

“All right. Scott and I will be able to follow the trail we left, so make sure you don’t lose us, okay? We’re going to head straight for the woods and stay within the trees for as long as we can. Now that they know we’re here they probably found some wolfsbane bullets, so no messing around if you hear shots being fired. Okay?” Derek holds out his arms for Stiles. “C’mon.”

“This is weird,” Stiles complains as he puts his hands on Derek’s shoulders and lets Derek hoists him into a cradle. “Are you sure I can’t run with you? I don’t want to slow you down.”

“Letting you run would be slowing us down. You’re fine where you are.” Derek smirks down at him. “Don’t worry, I’m very strong. I won’t drop you.”

“You better not. I’ve got precious cargo in here.”

“Yeah, you do.” Derek gives him a quick kiss, then strides out towards the door with John and Scott close behind. He opens the door and streaks out, running so quickly the world blurs around Stiles. He has to squinch his eyes shut and turn his head into Derek’s chest to avoid motion sickness.

He thinks he hears Derek breathe a sigh of relief when they hit the woods, but he’s not going to look up to see just how Derek is avoiding the trees. The air is wonderfully cool on his exposed skin, tempered by Derek’s warmth pressed against him. It would almost pleasant if they weren’t literally running for their lives.

It’s incredible how long it takes before Derek gets winded, and even then he still moves faster than should really be possible. “Almost there,” he gasps finally, and Stiles feels safe enough to crack an eye open. He can hear John and Scott, running just behind them.

When they reach the plane Derek carefully lets Stiles drop to the ground. John has an exhilarated look on his face as he bends to catch his breath, and for a second Stiles is jealous. He doesn’t like being the weak one; the liability. Now he’s a different species from everyone he loves, and soon there will be one more werewolf baby in the family, outnumbering him even further.

But honestly, that’s a stupid thing to worry about right after he was pulled from brink of death. He shakes his head at himself as Derek opens the door to the plane and ushers him inside.

“Okay,” Scott says, heading for the cockpit. “Now we all say a prayer that we have enough fuel to get us home.”

“And a second prayer that Scott doesn’t kill us,” Derek mutters.

“I heard that! Co-pilots aren’t allowed to be negative, Derek!”

Stiles straps himself into a seat next to his father. Now that the actual moment of real, permanent escape is right here he feels sickly nervous. He half-expects to hear a hail of bullets suddenly riddling the plane from the outside.

“I have this terrible feeling like I’m about to wake up back in my cell,” John mutters as he buckles in his seat belt.

“Same.” Stiles takes a deep breath. “You ready to meet your new people, werewolf?”

John chuckles. “You’re my people, Stiles,” he says as the plane growls to life. “Always, and no matter what.”

The plane starts to roll over the grass. Stiles swallows hard, remembering the treacherous plane ride he'd taken yesterday. “It’s safe to fly while pregnant, right?” he shouts. “The pressure’s not going to, like, make my womb pop or something, right?”

“Good point,” Derek calls. “You hop out. We’ll come pick you up in eight months or so.”

The plane shakes as it lifts off the ground. Stiles watches in amazement as they streak past trees, rising above everything into the night sky. Eventually it all disappears, leaving only inky blackness all around them.

John leans over Stiles to look out the window. “I can see the ocean,” he says.

Scott flips on some kind of intercom and his voice booms through the entire plane. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have successfully escaped the Iderian airspace and we are going home.”

Stiles cheers. Derek howls and John joins in, looking thrilled with himself as he does so. The sound echoes around the tiny space, a wild sound of celebration as they leave Ideria together.

Chapter Text

“DADA!”

Stiles likes to think of himself as a stoic, masculine omega who never falls into the stereotype of a weeping damsel-in-distress, but when he walks through the door of his home and hears his daughter scream for him he bursts into huge alligator tears. “Clara,” he sobs. “Oh, baby. I missed you.”

Cora immediately rushes Clara over so Stiles can hold her, then promptly buries her face in Derek’s chest. Isaac nearly tackles Scott. “I was so worried,” Stiles hears him moan.

“Hey, like you said.” Scott wraps his arms around his mate. “I can’t go throwing off the five-year-plan now.”

“Fuck five years,” Isaac whispers.

Clara babbles excitedly to Stiles, hands moving in animated little bursts when the man standing just behind her father catches her eye. She gets shy quickly, dropping her head down to hide in Stiles’s shoulder.

“That’s your grandpa,” Stiles tells her, trying to get her to look up. “He’s nice, see?”

“Hi, Clara,” John says softly, smiling at her when she peers up.

“How about we let Grandpa have some Clara cuddles?” Stiles passes her over carefully. She looks a little betrayed at first, lip jutted out and tears pooling in her eyes, but after a moment she flashes her eyes at John and he flashes his right back. It must be some kind of werewolf-code Stiles isn’t privy to, because she settles down quickly after that. John rocks her, grinning hugely. “You’re the best surprise I’ve ever gotten,” he whispers to her.

“Has Gerard been here?” Derek asks Cora. They’d been worried that Gerard would have a squad of police waiting for them at the hanger, but they’d brought the plane in without incident and called a taxi from there.

“Yeah, he came with the cops a few hours after you left. It’s not good, Derek. A lot of people are really, really pissed. There was some talk about charging you and Scott with treason. You’re lucky that you made a few friends in Congress— people who thought the way they extradited Stiles was unfair. Otherwise you’d be in deep shit.”

“Well, they must know we’re back now.” Derek sits wearily down on the couch, his face set in the grim mask he’s worn since they touched down in Luponia. “They’ll show up here soon.”

Cora’s gaze flickers to Stiles and back to her brother. “Do we need to hide Stiles?”

Derek shakes his head. “Stiles is pregnant,” he says, finally smiling. “He’s not going anywhere. Not even Gerard Argent can order the death of a pregnant omega.”

“Seriously? Congratulations! Was this the plan all along, or what?”

“Just luck.” Derek looks at Stiles. “You and your dad probably want to shower and change into other clothes, huh?”

Stiles has a feeling that Derek wants him out of the way when the police come, so he nods and lets his father pass Clara over to Derek. John looks sort of dazed-eyed by the thought of a shower, or maybe just by the house he’s standing in. “You really live here?” he mutters to Stiles as they start up the stairs.

Stiles stops at the landing and spreads his arms wide. “Behold my kingdom.”

#

Derek is right. The police come for Stiles later that day, only to be turned away at the door by Derek, who informs them that Stiles is pregnant. Their sense of decency keeps them from taking a step further, but that’s not the end of it. They’re served with a subpoena to appear before a panel of federal judges later that same day. Derek, Stiles, and John are all called, which means they’ve clearly been in contact with the Iderian government, if they know that John is with them. The subpoena makes it clear that they will need to present medical evidence of Stiles’s pregnancy if they want to use it to keep him in the country.

Derek gets Stiles in with Dr. Deaton. They don’t have time for a full ultrasound but Deaton takes a blood sample, confirms the pregnancy, and gives them a tentative due date of February eleventh. Derek makes a surprised sound at that. “What?” Stiles asks him.

“That’s the date of the presidential election.”

Stiles has almost forgotten about the upcoming election. Gerard Argent was leading in the polls last he checked and he doubts that recent events have changed that. He puts a hand on his belly, wondering about what kind of world he’s bringing his second child into.

Derek reads his mind and takes his hand. “We have to get to the courthouse,” he says. “Don’t be scared. He’s not in charge yet.”

It’s supposed to be a closed hearing, but Gerard Argent is there. Stiles doesn’t look at him as they take their place in front of the panel.

The justices are clearly split on what to do with them. There are three— Justice Haigh, who wants to send Stiles and John right back over to Ideria, pregnancy and werewolf transformation be damned; the judge who presided over Stiles’s first hearing, who supports John staying but not Stiles; and one Stiles doesn’t know, who Derek later names as Lydia Martin’s adoptive mother and who argues passionately on Stiles’s behalf. Derek speaks for Stiles and John, but most of the time is spent with the justices fighting amongst themselves.

Eventually a decision grudgingly comes down: John is granted full Luponian citizenship, and Stiles has amnesty for the length of his pregnancy. “But the moment Mr. Stilinski is no longer pregnant, he returns to his home country,” Haigh booms, eyes in an ugly squint. “And Mr. Hale, if you follow him again, you will be an expatriate of this country, and the Iderian government can do what they please with you. Understand?”

Derek stares coolly at him and doesn’t say a word. After a long, uncomfortable silence, Haigh turns to Gerard. “Will you be pressing charges for the theft of your plane, Mr. Argent?”

Gerard turns icy eyes on them for a moment, then shakes his head. “Unfortunately, it’s not the sort of publicity I welcome right now,” he says. “Though, obviously, if it happens again, I won’t be nearly so generous.”

“We’ll dismiss, then.”

Gerard leaves the courtroom without a word to them and Derek snorts under his breath. “Probably running back off to Slokachev,” he mutters.

“What?”

“Oh, Scott saw that Gerard has a flight plan mapped in his plane for Slokachev, Ideria, even though I know he’s never had reason to go there.” Derek shrugs. “I just thought that was strange.”

Slokachev. The capitol city of Ideria, and, incidentally, where the terrorist activity had first started years ago. A werewolf have to be desperate or an idiot to fly directly there— the plane would be shot down before it ever touched ground. Stiles frowns as Derek leads him and John back out to the car. Why would Gerard have a route there already mapped?

It nags at him all the way home and through the rest of the afternoon. Gerard had used the plane during the war; maybe that was why. Why would he still have it programmed, though? He shakes his head at the thoughts as he puts Clara to bed. “Daddy is thinking way too much,” he tells her.

She grins and burbles at him happily, patting his nose. He pretends to snap at her fingers and she screeches with delight. He lets the nagging thoughts go so he can just enjoy this moment he’d thought he’d never have again with her.

Derek is slightly more perceptive than his toddler and he watches Stiles warily as he turns down the bed. “You okay?”

“I’m great. Just thinking.”

Derek tugs Stiles’s hand to pull him down to the bed. “Anything I should know about?” His hands sidle down to the waistband of Stiles’s sweatpants.

“No.” Stiles leans in, so Derek’s hands slip southward. “But plenty you can help me forget.”

Derek grins and pulls Stiles’s legs off the floor, then carefully lowers him on the sheets. “Have I mentioned how much I like the way you smell now?” he murmurs.

“You know, I think you have.”

Derek kisses his neck. “Have I told you how much I like the way you taste?”

Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones, but Stiles goes hard in a flash. “I don’t think so.”

“Surely I’ve told you how much I love you.” Derek’s hand finds him under the cover.

Stiles arches and loops his arms around Derek’s neck so he can hold on tight while Derek makes him come. “Tell me again,” he says.

#

“Do you remember hearing anything about Slokachev during the war?” he asks Scott the next morning. “We didn’t get a lot of news in Eichen. Was it occupied by Luponians?”

Scott looks up from his phone— his mother is coming into Beacon Hills to stay with John and he’s working out her travel details. John is already desperate to find his place in his new country; he’s upstairs right now looking at the requirements for the Beacon Hills police force. “It wasn’t occupied,” he says. “That’s where the terrorists were. What did they call themselves, the Kanimas?”

“Yeah.” Stiles shudders at the memory. The Kanimas had been mainly focused on killing werewolves, but the collateral damage to humans had been massive. After the war had started they’d gone silent, but as far as he knows none had ever actually been caught.

The house phone rings and Stiles grabs it off the end table. “Hello?”

“Stiles? It’s Doctor Deaton. Can you and Derek come in to my office right now?”

Stiles freezes at the strange note in Deaton’s voice. “Is the baby okay?”

“The baby is…yes. It’s okay. But I need you two in as soon as possible.”

Derek must have been keeping an ear on the heartbeats in the house because he’s at Stiles’s side in a flash. “We’re on our way,” he says into the phone, gently taking it from Stiles’s hand and ending the call.

“There’s something wrong with our baby,” Stiles whispers. He’s so scared he can’t breathe. Deaton’s voice had been so halting, as though he was reluctant to speak to Stiles at all.

“There’s nothing wrong.” Derek crouches down so he’s level with Stiles. “Deaton just said our baby is fine. I can still hear its heartbeat. Stiles.” He cups Stiles’s cheek. “Don’t panic, okay?”

“But why…why would he need us to come in?”

“I don’t know. But we won’t figure it out just sitting here.” Derek stands and pulls Stiles to his feet. “Scott, can you stay with John and watch Clara?”

Scott nods, face grave. Stiles feels numb as Derek supports him out to the car. He lays his hand over his still-flat stomach, horrified at the thought that something has gone wrong just under his skin. The irony swamps him; he’d managed to protect his daughter in the most dangerous place on earth, and now he’s helpless to do anything to save his second child, right where it should be safest.

“It’s okay,” Derek says, fingers tight on the wheel. “Its heart is strong, Stiles. It can’t be anything too terrible. Even if it has some kind of disorder…no matter what it is, we’ll still love it. As long as it’s alive, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Stiles nods tightly, hand still over his stomach as he stares out the window.

Derek insists on helping him out of the car when they reach Deaton’s, as though he’s an invalid. Deaton is waiting in the lobby for them, and he quickly escorts them back to a private room. “The baby is fine,” he says without preamble. “But I thought I should tell you in person.” He takes a deep breath. “It’s human.”

Stiles blinks. The words are so far away from what he expected to hear that they just sort of bounce in his head for a second, divorced from meaning. “Human?”

“Yes. The blood test confirmed it. This is…unusual, to say the least. Two werewolf parents can only have werewolf children, and only a very tiny percentage of pregnancies in mixed couples turn out a human baby.”

“But it’s fine,” Stiles clarifies. “Totally healthy?”

“For the moment— though these pregnancies, when they occur, often have complications. The consensus is that most self-terminate very early, before they’re even realized. Since you’re already far enough along that it has a heartbeat, I’m cautiously optimistic. Still, there’s a high rate of stillbirths and miscarriages. You’ll need to take it easy from now until you deliver.”

“Okay,” Derek says shakily. “See, Stiles? It’s going to be fine. I’ll take care of you. Our baby will be one of the lucky ones. I know it.”

Stiles sits, mind turning over this new information. After the initial relief of knowing he’s not in immediate danger of losing his baby disappears, something else sets in. Dread. “Derek,” he says slowly. “If the judges knew it’s a human, and not a werewolf…”

The decision to let him live for another eight months wasn’t just because he’s pregnant. It was because the judges assumed he was pregnant with a werewolf baby; something worth protecting.

If they knew it was human, they might change their minds. They might decide to let him die.

Derek gets it immediately. Stiles sees first the flare of revulsion at the thought of it, a look in his eyes as though he’s frantically trying to push the thought away. Then his eyes meet Stiles’s, and he nods slowly, accepting that it’s possible. They really might be so despicable. “Nobody can know,” he says to Deaton.

The doctor nods. “I assumed as much.”

“We’ll come in for checkups every week, if we have to, to make sure it’s healthy. But it can’t leave this room.”

“It won’t.”

Derek puts his arm around Stiles, seeing that he’s starting to shake. “Hey,” he says quietly. “I got you from Ideria before. I would do it again, a hundred times. Even if they try to take you, I’ll keep you safe. Both of you.”

“I know,” Stiles whispers. His mind is racing again. He knows he shouldn’t be letting himself panic; he’s much too fragile for that now. But this baby, even if it survives the pregnancy, is coming into a country that hates humans. It will live its earliest years under Gerard Argent’s presidency. It will watch the way its alpha parent and older sister navigate the world in a different, far more privileged way, simply because they’re a different species.

He almost feels guilty as Derek walks him back out to the car. He’s the human; he’s the one who passed this along. He didn’t choose it, but it’s happening because of him, and with this pregnancy there’s no better country to run off to. He can’t make anything better for this little human baby; he can only do all he can to bring it into the world safely.

What the world does to it then is out of his control.

Derek keeps up a soothing stream of words the entire way home, obviously hearing the funeral dirge of Stiles’s heartrate. He talks about specialty-ordered baby supplies, better suited to human development than werewolf. How they’ll need to watch the baby with Clara, to make sure she doesn’t bite without thinking. Special accommodations at school.

“Are you okay with this?” Stiles asks after a while, cutting Derek off mid-sentence.

“With what?”

“Having a human baby.”

“Yes,” Derek says without missing a beat. “Stiles, I will love him just as much as I love Clara. I promise you. It does not matter to me. As long as he comes out healthy, I don’t care.”

“Okay.” Stiles closes his eyes and leans back. He imagines that he can channel every ounce of strength inside of him down to his baby. “Okay.”

He believes that. He trusts that. If the baby makes it to term, Derek will love it just as much as he does his werewolf child.

If if the baby makes it to term. If. Like Deaton had said, there’s no guarantee.

And then he thinks of the ruling the justices had made yesterday. He’s to be returned to Ideria as soon as he is no longer pregnant. That means, if this pregnancy doesn’t make it to term, he’s finished. There will be no pity or second chance, just a straight trip from the hospital back to Ideria. It could happen within days or weeks or months, and if it does, he isn’t sure he would even want Derek to come save him. The thought of losing his baby…

When they make it home Stiles doesn’t want to see Scott or his dad— two more werewolves to outnumber his child— so he just goes straight upstairs to the bedroom. As a parent, all he wants to do is give his children better lives, but this baby will always have an uphill battle. It will be different from all its peers; targeted for prejudice; confused about its place.

And that— that would be a gift, because it might not even have life. It might not even be born.

His miracle baby. Cursed in the womb.

He sits there for a long time. After what must be an hour there’s a knock on the door and Derek pokes his head in. “How are you feeling?” he asks gently.

Wordlessly, Stiles shakes his head.

Derek sits next to him and holds him for a few moments. “Do you want Clara?”

Stiles thinks about it for a second, then nods. Derek stands immediately and disappears downstairs, returning with their daughter in an instant. Clara beams and holds out her arms to Stiles.

“Hi, Clara-Bear,” Stiles whispers, squeezing her in an embrace. She smells like baby shampoo and happiness.

“I told her you were feeling sad, so we drew some pictures for you,” Derek says, holding out two sheets of paper. The first is obviously Clara’s, blue scribbles delightedly marking every inch of the paper, with a few purples checks for variety’s sake.

Derek’s reads simply, in block letters, I Love You.

“I’m a lousy artist,” Derek says quietly.

Stiles laughs through the tears that sprung up instantly at the sight of it. “You’re amazing,” he says, putting his head on Derek’s shoulder. “And you, Miss Clara, are a regular Picasso.”

She claps, then busies herself by playing with her toes. He smiles at her, remembering all the moments he wasn’t sure she would make it. But he’d kept her safe and delivered her home, and that’s what he’ll do with his second child. No matter what happens, he’ll stay strong for his daughter and for Derek.

“She’s perfect,” Derek agrees. “And we’re going to have another perfect baby, Stiles. He’s going to be healthy, and he’s going to be human, and he’s going to be amazing.”

Stiles nods, and holds Derek around the waist. He has his family. No matter what, he won't be alone. “I love you,” he says. He kisses the top of Clara’s head. “And I love you.” He puts Derek’s hand on his belly, then clasps his own hand on top of it. “And I love you.”

His baby will be human. Maybe the world will hold that against him.

But his family never will.

#

Learning that he will soon be a father to a human child spurs Derek into tireless action to save Stiles and stop Gerard. Kira tries to revive Stiles’s hearing in front of Congress, but the votes they’d won are suddenly much less certain now that they know Gerard wants Stiles gone. In desperation, Derek goes directly to the members of Congress, barging into their offices and refusing to leave until they hear him out.

One of them— the woman who had shouted from the courtroom gallery that Derek should be allowed to say goodbye— looks torn. “Mr. Argent wouldn’t like it,” she says weakly.

“Who cares?”

“He’s going to be our next president.”

“You don’t know that,” Derek snaps, but it rings hollow. Of course she knows that. Gerard can’t lose.

“I’m not saying I’ll vote for him,” she says cryptically. “I’m just saying…I don’t want Gerard Argent as an enemy. He’d ruin my political career. Or worse.”

“You’re scared of him.”

She gives a single nod.

“Why?”

“I hear things.” She stares at her computer, refusing to look Derek in the eye. “He rose fast,” she says, as if to herself. “Years ago the Argent name was in disgrace, and now he’s going to be president. Lots went right for him, didn’t it? He was just always in the right place at the right time, and obstacles just…disappeared when needed them to.”

“Help us stop him,” Derek says, bracing his hands against the desk so he can lean in.

She grins a little ruefully. “Mr. Hale, have you ever heard the expression if you come at the king, you best not miss?”

“No,” he says flatly.

“It means you can’t strike at Gerard Argent and not kill him. He’s too powerful for that. He’ll destroy you and anyone else on your side. If you can bring overwhelming evidence that Gerard Argent has done half of what they say, then you’ll have him in prison and your mate safe at your side.”

“Overwhelming evidence,” he repeats.

She nods. “A confession would be enough. Anything less— well, I’d imagine that he can make it go away. He has before.”

“Great. I’ll get him to confess his crimes to the entire Congress. Maybe then I’ll arrange for the Second Coming and adopt a unicorn for my daughter.” Derek shoves away from the desk, undeniably irritated. Everyone is terrified of Gerard Argent, but nobody wants to actually help stop him. “Thanks for the help, Congresswoman Graeme.”

“Best of luck,” she murmurs as he leaves the office.

It’s late, too late to go back to his own office and work, so he heads for the car. He’s exhausted, and disappointed, and he just wants to go home. He wants to sit on his couch with Stiles’s feet tucked-up in his legs for warmth. He wants to play with Clara, with whom he has just discovered the wonders of airplane. This political bullshit hurts his head. He’s so busy bitching to himself as he gets in the car that he isn’t paying attention to anything around him.

He pulls out of the lot and heads towards the interstate. As he merges on he glances in his rearview mirror and gets the shock of his life. Someone is sitting in his backseat.

He swears viciously and the car swerves.

“Careful,” Braeden says calmly. “Just keep driving.”

“Jesus Christ, Braeden. What the hell are you doing?” He’s shaken at the sight of her and by his own failure to notice she was there. Some werewolf he is. “My car was locked!”

“I’m a well-trained soldier.” She keeps his gaze in the mirror. “I learned from the best lieutenant in the army.”

“I thought you left Beacon Hills.”

“I did. Gerard Argent was going to kill me, so I made him think I ran in terror. I’ve been investigating him ever since.” A trace of regret flits across her face. “That’s why I couldn’t be very helpful over the phone. I tried to point you in the right direction, but I assumed he was bugging your cell. He probably still is. Don’t worry, I checked your car— no recorders.”

“Why are you here now?” Hope rises in Derek. Maybe she’s found something big; something he can use to get Gerard thrown in prison.

Braeden shifts in her seat. “Gerard Argent is planning something, and I think it’s your death,” she says, as flatly as if she’s announcing the menu for a state dinner. “Yours and Stiles’s. Three days ago he forged your signature on documents naming Kate Argent as your daughter’s guardian in the event that something happens to both you and Stiles.”

Derek grips the wheel. “How do you know?”

“I gained remote access to his server. He saved an electronic copy to his files.”

“Nobody would ever believe that we would let Kate have our daughter. Cora would fight it— ”

“He also saved blueprints of Cora’s home to his computer. All the weaknesses indicated in red. He has an entire file dedicated to John Stilinski— the fingerprints he had to give when he got his citizenship, his blood type, his criminal history.” Braeden watches him through the mirror. “I can only guess at his plan, but I think he’s going to make it look like your father-in-law broke into her house and killed her. He’s a bitten wolf, after all. Gerard hates bitten wolves. This would be an easy way to make the country hate them, too.”

Derek swallows, sick to his stomach. “How is he planning on killing me and Stiles?”

“I don’t know. I just knew I needed to warn you.”

“You have proof of all this? You copied the files?”

She shakes her head. “It took me months to finally be able to hack in, and I didn’t have a lot of time— if he tried to access his server, he would have known I was there. I got a few files, and the password to his online banking, but everything else is all just circumstantial evidence. It doesn’t do us any good, especially since it’s all pointing to crimes that haven’t happened yet.”

Derek drums his fingers on the steering wheel as he takes the exit onto his street. “His financial records, huh? Anything interesting in there?”

She grins for the first time. “I was kind of hoping you could tell me that.”

#

Welcome to our learning farm! We have lots to show you!

“Oh my God, Clara.” Stiles resists banging his head against the wall. “I know that toy is helping mold your tiny unformed brain, but if I have to hear the song again I might go crazy.”

Clara waves her hand airily at him as she pushes herself around with her learning walker.

“I’ll give you twenty bucks if you give it up for the night.”

“No!” Clara trills happily, zooming into the living room as the evil toy cackles on.

Stiles shakes his head and chases after her. Her birthday is in a week, and with any luck some new toy will catch her attention more than her current noisy favorite. This, he supposes, is one of the drawbacks of a werewolf child; they need things that stimulate their senses. Maybe Baby No. 2 will be a little more Zen.

He’s trying to think positively that way. He’s just starting to show, and he keeps himself from imagining the worst. It’s all he can do.

“It’s time for dinner,” he says as he picks Clara up. “Papa will be home any minute, and then you can drive him insane with our learning farm friends, okay?”

She likes the word dinner, so she goes willingly into his arms. Headlights come in through the window and he squints out to see Derek’s car. “Right on schedule,” he says, hoisting Clara onto his hip.

When the front door opens, Derek isn’t alone. Braeden steps into the house with him, looking grim. “You shouldn’t stand in front of an open window like that,” she says without preamble. “Anybody could shoot you from the highway.”

“Uh.” Stiles looks at Derek for a clue as to why she’s here. “Hi?”

Derek draws the curtain close. “Braeden’s here to help us,” he says. “She’s been investigating Gerard behind his back. She got into Gerard’s computer. We’re hopeful that she might have something we can use.”

“Like what?”

“I can get us into his bank records.” Braeden takes a seat on the couch and pulls a banged-up laptop from her bag. “I know he pays people to do his dirty work, and I want to know who they are.”

Stiles joins her, still holding Clara, who is hiding her face at the sight of a stranger. Braeden gets up an online banking system and enters a whole string of passwords. “Too much security always backfires,” she murmurs as if to herself. “Never have so many passwords that you need to write them down to remember them.”

The screen fills with ledgers and Braeden whistles. “He sure does make a lot of monthly payments, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah, but does it mean anything?”

“Look for patterns.” Braeden clicks a few times. “Ah-ha. Look at this. Every month he makes a payment of…” Braeden frowns. “Well, that doesn’t make any sense.”

Derek looks over her shoulder. “What is it?”

“It says the amount is 1.75000 c/I/c. No dollar sign, and I don’t know what c/I/c means.”

“I do,” Stiles says. “When we were kids Scott and I would go to the bank with his mother sometimes. Whenever she made a withdrawal, that was on the form. c/I/c means converted to Iderian currency. It’s what a Luponian has to put if he’s sending money overseas. And Iderian currency works though decimal points, no dollar signs. It means he’s been sending $175,000 every month to Ideria.”

Braeden’s eyes widen and she clicks a few more times. “He’s been making that same payment every month for years. Though…it looks like the account it’s being sent to changed about eight months ago, see? Now it’s being sent to account 0000111, but it used to be sent to account 0000894. It’s the same amount, so it must be the same person, just under a different account. We just have to figure out who it is.”

“You have to look at the area code,” Stiles says past a throat that’s gone to sandpaper. “That’s how Ideria classifies accounts, with a four-digit area code first. Both these accounts start with 0000. That’s the area code for Slokachev. The capitol city. And the account he’s currently sending it to isn’t a personal one. My friend Danny was a hacker and he told me— the government treasury’s account is just the area code, plus three ones. He thought that was so idiotic, because it’s so easy to remember.”

Derek stares at him. “Are you saying that Gerard’s been directly funding the Iderian government?”

“For eight months. Eight months. Eight months ago Matt Daehler took power. And if he’s paying Daehler now, he was probably also paying Daehler on the 894 account.”

Derek glowers at the computer. “So who is Matt Daehler? Why has Gerard been paying him for years?”

Stiles leans in. He’s clutching his daughter tightly, like some kind of stress ball. “Braeden, can you find the very first payment he made to the 894 account?”

She nods and the numbers on the screen whiz past. Finally it settles and she points to the monthly payment. “Here. Jeez, this goes back a long time.”

Stiles stares at the date, then looks up at Derek. “Der, that’s the month before your family died. That’s when Kanima first started terrorizing Luponians.”

Derek’s face loses all color.

“Oh, my God,” Braeden whispers. “Before Kanima, Gerard was just a disgraced name working in the Department of Homeland Security. Then the war started and he…remember how quickly he rose? It was like he always knew where to be; where to find the best intel. The war made him famous. It made him the Secretary of Defense. It’ll make him President.”

“He engineered it,” Stiles says. “That route mapped in his place. He went there to make sure everything was going according to plan. I’d bet you any money that Daehler was the head of Kanima, and Argent made him Iderian’s leader as a reward for doing Argent’s bidding.”

“He was mocking my family,” Derek says, sounding numb. “After they took you. I thought he was just being hateful, but he…he was gloating.”

They sit in total silence for a few minutes, broken only by a blissfully-unaware Clara singing to herself.

“Gerard Argent turned everyone against humans,” Derek says flatly. “Gerard Argent killed my family. Gerard Argent started the war with Ideria.”

“He runs their government. And soon he’ll run ours.” Braeden pushes the laptop away. “We have to show this to someone.”

Derek shakes his head. “There is no someone. What we need is for him to confess.”

“How?”

“He really enjoyed taunting me when I was in that cell.” Derek scowls at the memory. “I need to get him to do that again. But this time, I’ll make sure he tells me everything.”

#

Miles away, Gerard Argent is sitting in his study with his daughter, drinking scotch without tasting it. “I’ll have a new job for you soon,” he says.

Kate looks up eagerly. She’s been chafing, with nothing to do to help her father’s cause, constantly asking what she’s done wrong to keep her from being useful. He’d molded her into a pathetic little creature desperate for his approval, unaware of how annoying that would eventually become. “What is it?”

“I’ve had you named as Derek’s baby’s legal guardian. He wasn’t go to do it on my prompting, so I went ahead and did it for him.”

Kate scowls. “I don’t want to raise a half-breed.”

Gerard raises his eyes to the ceiling. Honestly, Kate is even stupider than most omega females. She’s her mother through and through. “You won’t be raising it for long. Four years at the most. I think a tragic accident claiming my quasi-grandchild just in time for reelection would nicely secure the vote.”

Kate nods. “What about Derek and the saper?”

“Well, at this point my attempts to have the saper executed have been dashed, and I’m not going to wait any longer. I have no intention of letting their little miracle baby be born. So I’m going to have the saper killed right here at home, then stage a suicide for Derek.” Gerard shrugs. “Problem solved.”

“Soon?”

“Very. I got a bit ahead of myself with Derek in that holding cell. I’m afraid I may have let myself slip some things I don’t want him to know. I’d hate for him to start nosing around.”

“Good.” Kate settles into her chair, still scowling. “I hate that filthy human. Everything was going perfectly between me and Derek before he came back.”

Gerard surveys her over his glass. “Careful, Kate,” he says quietly. “You sound almost regretful that you didn’t get to marry Derek. I’d hate to think that you’re following in your brother’s footsteps by becoming fond of a Hale.”

Her mouth drops open. “Of course not!”

He only shrugs and takes another sip of scotch.

“I hate Derek Hale!” Kate’s voices rises into something like a screech. “I hate every Hale! I want every one of them, and every one of their friends, dead! I wish I could do it myself!”

“All right,” Gerard says, a bit unnerved by the strength of her outburst. “Calm down.”

She blinks back furious tears and drops back down into her seat, face red. Gerard drains his glass and takes a moment to pour himself another. It’s times like these, when Kate’s inherent instability rears its ugly head, that he misses his son. Chris had gone wrong at the end, yes, but for so much of his life he’d been a perfect soldier for his father.

Gerard…well, he wouldn’t say he regrets Chris’s death. It had to be done. He just wishes it hadn’t had to happen. He’d always assumed that he would have to sacrifice one child to ensure the other’s compliance. He’d just hoped, as he watched his children grow, that Kate would be the expendable one.

But she’s the child he has left, and he has to use her as best he can.

Perhaps this is the right time to really cement her loyalty. The election is coming soon, after all. He needs all his ducks in a row.

“Would you like to do it yourself?” he asks casually.

She sniffles and looks at him. “What?”

“Would you like to kill Stilinski yourself?”

A beatific smile transforms her from a madwoman into a lovely omega. That’s what he likes to see. “May I, Father? Really?”

“I think you’ve earned the chance.” He shrugs. “Of course, if you fail…I have no need of a daughter who can’t do what I demand.”

“I won’t fail,” she assured him breathlessly.

“Good.” He pours a glass for her. “You’ll have to do it when Derek is out of the house. Within the week would be preferable. I’d like to have Derek finished off and the baby in our custody before election season really kicks into gear. Some photo ops with the little orphan would go a long way.”

“Within the week,” Kate promises. “I won’t let you down.”

Chapter Text

“Look at the camera,” Stiles coos. “Clara, sweetie, look here!”

Clara laughs at him, eyes on the Play-Doh table in front of her. Stiles is trying to get some good shots of her to put up at her birthday party, but she’s refusing to cooperate.

“Help me,” he whines to Derek, who’s bent over his laptop, poring over the files Braeden sent to him two days ago. After they’d made their discovery she’d turned it all over to Derek, figuring he’d understand it better than she could. She hadn’t wanted to stay at the house, but promised to hole up somewhere close by in case they needed her.

“Clara, look at Daddy,” Derek says without even looking up.

Clara obediently turns to beam at the camera. Stiles gets four whole shots in before she gets bored and returns to her Play-Doh.

“I still say a birthday party for a one year old is unnecessary,” Derek murmurs distractedly. “We don’t even know if it’s her real birth date, and it’s not like she’ll remember it.”

“She needs to start socializing. I was one of those kids with no friends until I met Scott, and I don’t want her to be that way. She needs a best friend.”

Derek looks offended. “She has a best friend. I’m her best friend. And she’s mine. Right, Clara?”

“No,” Clara says, happily toddling over to show Derek her Play-Doh lump.

“That’s just sad, Der. Your best friend is your own baby daughter?” Stiles leans his head against Derek’s legs. “I know my mate is supposed to be my best friend, but Scott is kind of grandfathered in there. I guess you could be my co-best friend, and then I’ll be your best friend. That’s fair, right?”

“You’re my third-best friend.”

Third?

Derek ruffles Clara’s hair. “First.” He lays a warm hand over Stiles’s belly. “Second.” He flicks Stiles’s nose. “Third.”

Stiles scoffs. “Beaten by a fetus. That’s cold.” He holds out his arms for Clara, who beamingly tumbles into them. “Well, we have a secret handshake, don’t we Clara? Where is Thumpkin? Where is Thumpkin?

She loves this game and eagerly tries to copy him as he sings it and wiggles his fingers. They’ve just gotten to the whole family bit when Derek suddenly inhales sharply. Stiles looks over, hands falling still. “What is it?”

Derek is staring at the laptop. “I knew it,” he says. “He said something in the cell about how the Hales took his son away, and I didn’t know what he meant, but I just had a feeling…”

“What did he do?”

“He killed Chris and my Uncle Peter. Look.” Derek turns the computer around so Stiles can see the screen. “See that? It’s an email chain. It’s got all the details of my Uncle Peter’s car, right down to the registration number, and a price for how much it would be to fix the car. Five thousand dollars, with guaranteed results, half due as a down payment and the rest once the job was complete. And I checked his records— he paid $2500 three days before the accident, and the other $2500 the day after.”

“Why would he do that? To his own son?

“I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t expect Chris to be in the car.” Derek pushes the laptop away, face set like stone. “He cried with us right in this room,” he says fiercely. “That was when he first got close to our family. God. Maybe that was the only reason, and he did want Chris dead. I don’t know. I can’t get into the head of someone this evil. But if he killed his own child…” Derek looks for a moment at Clara, still in Stiles’s arms on the floor, and decisively closes the lid of the laptop. “I’m ending this. Today.”

“Whoa, hey. Are you sure you’re ready for that?” Stiles struggles to his feet, alarmed by the fire in Derek’s eyes.

“I’m not going to give him any more time to come after someone I love. It’s after four; he’ll be home. I’ll get him to confess.” Derek sees the expression on Stiles’s face and softens slightly. “And I’ll take my gun, so don’t worry about me. If he tries anything, I’ll be ready.”

“There has to be another way. You can’t just walk in there.”

“It has to be me. I’m the only one he’ll confess to.” Derek shakes his head resolutely. “I can either do it tonight, or in a week. There’s no point in waiting.”

“But..”

“Stiles,” Derek says quietly. “Tonight. No more waiting.”

Stiles sighs and gives in. “Are you sure there’s nothing I can do?”

“I’m sure. Stay here and stay safe, please. Where’s your dad?”

“With Melissa.”

“Okay. Doors locked. Call Scott if you want a bodyguard.”

Stiles scrapes up a smile. “You’re off to confront a psycho killer, but you’re worried about me?

“My three best friends are in this room. Take care of them.” Derek kisses Clara, then Stiles. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“Papa!” Clara squeals, holding out her arms. Derek kisses her again, puts his hand on Stiles’s cheek, and leaves the room with his shoulders squared.

#

As Derek drives to Gerard’s home, his mind is curiously blank. He’s not afraid that Gerard will do anything, only that he might not confess. If the man lies to his face, Derek isn’t sure he’ll be able to control himself.

Gerard’s car is in the driveway. Derek parks next to it and walks up to the front door, a faint buzzing in his ears. “Here we go,” he mutters aloud, then knocks.

It only takes a few moments before the door opens and Gerard looks out at him. “Derek,” he says. “What a surprise.”

“Can we talk?”

“Certainly.” Gerard steps aside and lets Derek walk in. “Why don’t we go to my study?”

Derek follows him upstairs. Inside the study Gerard takes a seat behind the desk, then gestures for Derek to sit across from him. “May I offer you a drink?”

“No, thanks.”

“All right. Just give me one moment.” Gerard quickly types something on his phone, then looks at Derek. “Well. I’d like to think you’re here to bury the hatchet, but I know that’s not true. You want some sort of mercy for your human, don’t you?”

“I wouldn’t come to you for mercy, Gerard.”

“That’s foolish of you. I’ll be the president soon enough. If it struck me, I could easily ensure that you get to live the next seventy years with Mr. Stilinski by your side.”

Derek feels his face rearrange into a smile, with absolutely nothing behind it. “You wouldn’t be president if people knew what you’ve done.”

“And just what have I done, Derek?”

Derek leans forward. “Uncle Peter’s car accident,” he says. “It wasn’t an accident, was it?”

Gerard actually looks startled for half a second, before he quickly fights it down. “Of all the things I expected you to accuse me of, that wasn’t one.”

“But it’s true, isn’t it?”

“Where did you get that idea?”

“From you.” Derek watches Gerard carefully. “You said the Hales cost you your son. You had to sacrifice Chris, didn’t you? Was he in on it the whole time? Did you convince your own kid to die for you, just so you could get close to my family?”

“Hardly,” Gerard says shortly. “Chris died because he got too close to your family. I had no wish to see him dead, but he failed me, and he was necessarily eliminated. He was very much like you, Derek. A nearly-perfect soldier whose heart got in the way.”

“I was never your solider,” Derek spits.

“Oh, but you were, Derek. We could have been great together! If that saper had never come back, you’d be married to Kate and on track to be the next vice-president of Luponia, just as I planned.”

“For as long as you let me live. Have you forgotten you were poisoning me?”

“For God’s sake, Derek. That was to control your mood. I would have let you live out my presidential term, at least.” Gerard steeples his fingers together. “I always knew you would be the Hale I could use. Your flaws are presented so nakedly. You’re the only Hale child who let your wounds scar, rather than heal. You hurt so easily that controlling you hardly took any effort. All I had to do was engineer the losses that made you putty in my hands.”

“You made me think Stiles was dead.”

“Yes. And I’m only sorry I didn’t make sure he was.”

“And my family?”

The ghost of a smile flits across Gerard’s face. “What about your family?”

This is the big one, the moment he’s been waiting for, but his throat is so tight he can barely speak. “Did you kill them?”

Gerard surveys him from across the desk. The temperature in the room seems to drop several degrees and Derek resists the urge to draw in on himself. “That was a stupid thing to ask me, Derek. This is what I mean about your flaws. Look at you, just prodding at that wound. Needing to know the truth about your precious family, no matter how much it hurts.”

“Is it true?”

“Yes,” Gerard says calmly. “Of course it is. They were part of a larger plan, if that’s comforting. I personally recruited every member of Kanima and paid them for their troubles. Each order they received came directly from me, including the order to kill the Hales. The camp bombing that killed your sister was also on my directive. I’ve now ensured that they have top-level positions in Ideria’s government. Once I’m president, I’ll negotiate a peace treaty with them.”

Derek shakes his head. His throat hurts. “This was all so you could be president?”

“All so I could get what I deserve; what the Hales took from my family so long ago. We are descended from wolves, Derek. Animals that kill for food, for power, and for sport. I won’t apologize for living my life based on the very principles of evolution that made our species possible.”

“You’re worse than an animal. You’re a monster.” Derek shoves back his chair. “Is that all? Are there any more truths you want to gloat about, or are you finished?”

“I think that will do,” Gerard says softly. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m leaving.”

“Oh, Derek.” Gerard sounds disappointed. “You know I can’t let you leave, don’t you? Not after you heard all that.”

“You’re going to kill me?”

“Yes. If it makes you feel any better, you weren’t long for this world anyway. You’ve sped up your own demise, but not by much.” Gerard shrugs a shoulder carelessly. “I’m not stupid; I can’t have you trying to take everything from me now.”

“Trust me,” Derek says. “I only took what you just gave me.” He reaches up to his ear and carefully detaches the device that’s been buzzing there ever since Isaac fitted him with it an hour ago. Gerard goes very still when he sees it and Derek gives him a grim smile. “You know what your fatal flaw is, Gerard? You need recognition for everything you do. Even the crazy, horrific things. You just couldn’t resist.”

Gerard stares at the tiny device when Derek puts it on the desk, then looks up to Derek with eyes so furious they nearly burn a hole right through him. “You recorded this conversation? You think that will matter? I’ll smash this after I shoot you.”

“You’re too late. Congresswoman Lydia Martin called a special assembly meeting tonight. The entirety of Congress gathered to hear evidence of your crimes against Luponia and humanity. You just broadcasted your confession to them, live.” Derek taps the recorder. “Did you get all that, Lydia?”

There’s a brief crackle of static, then a tinny voice from the recorder: “Loud and clear, Derek. Federal agents are approaching the premises. Mr. Argent, we advise you to go quietly.”

“No,” Gerard says faintly. “No, this is…you’re lying.”

Derek shakes his head. “Congratulations, Gerard,” he says quietly. “You’re finally getting what you deserve.”

From far away he hears approaching sirens.

“You son of a bitch,” Gerard says, and before Derek can blink he yanks open a drawer on his desk and pulls out a gun. Derek watches it rise as if in slow motion and moves as fast as he possibly can, grabbing Gerard’s arm and twisting it desperately. Gerard howls in pain and the gun clatters to the floor. Derek shoves his elbow into Gerard’s neck, driving him facedown onto the desk.

“No more,” he says. He’s panting, though not with exertion. “You’re finished, Gerard. No more killing.”

Gerard shakes under him. For a moment Derek thinks he must be sobbing, but then he raises his head and Derek sees that he’s laughing. ‘That’s where you’re wrong, Derek,” he wheezes. “There will be one more death. Because even when I lose, you don’t get to win.”

Something flashes in his hand, and for a terrified moment Derek thinks he has another gun— but then he realizes that Gerard is holding his cell phone, open to the message he had sent right when Derek had first entered the study.

TO: Kate

Kill Stilinksi. Now.

#

Stiles is a wreck. Derek had been keeping him updated over the last two hours as he got wired up and arranged for the congressional meeting to hear Gerard’s confession, but it’s all been silence since he actually entered Gerard’s house.

He knows it will probably take a little while, but as the moments pass without a sound from his phone anxiety builds up inside of him.

To distract himself from it he reads Clara a few bedtimes stories, patiently letting her help turn the pages, then puts her into pajamas. “Let me tell you, kiddo,” he says. “You’re a precious miracle to all of mankind or whatever, but the first year of your life has been very stressful for Daddy.”

She stiffens and peers over his shoulder with sudden frightened intensity. He snorts at her; her werewolf senses are forever making her freak out at things he can’t hear. “What, wolf-girl? Did the neighbor’s dog bark or something?”

She whimpers and clings to him. He kisses her forehead and gently disengages her so he can put her in her crib. “Go to sleep, and when you wake up, Papa will be home all safe and sound and the bad guy will be in jail. And guess what else? It’ll be your birthday!’ He turns on her nightlight and blows a few kisses before turning off the light and gently shutting the door.

Still no messages from Derek.

He sighs and heads towards the bedroom. He’ll take a shower; that’ll kill like ten minutes at least. He’d been happy enough to let Derek have a turn risking his neck, but this waiting-at-home shit is the worst.

He steps through the door of the bedroom and sees Kate Argent standing by the bed, the gun Derek had given him over a year ago in her hands.

He immediately stops and turns to flee.

“Don’t you dare.”

Her voice is soft but venomous and he freezes, calculating in his mind whether or not he can get to the nursery and down the stairs before she catches him. She could shoot— but he’s never changed the bullets in that gun. There’s a fifty percent chance the next bullet coming out is a wolfsbane pellet, and if he’s shot with it from long-distance it won’t kill him.

“Close the door,” she says, and after the briefest of pauses he knows he can’t take that chance. Running might very well kill Clara.

He reluctantly steps into the bedroom and shuts the door behind him. “Kate,” he says, trying to sound unafraid. “What are you doing? Can’t we just talk?”

Her lips curve up. “Sorry,” she says, flicking off the safety. “But your time in Luponia is over.”

#

Derek flees past the agents streaming into Gerard’s office. He’d wanted to stay to watch the arrest; wanted to laugh in Gerard’s face as they took him away, but as soon as he sees the text he grabs the recorder off the desk and bolts. “Lydia!” he shouts into it. “He sent Kate to kill Stiles. I need police at my house, now!

He nearly falls down the stairs as he desperately dials Stiles’s cell phone. By the time he reaches his car, he’s hit voicemail.

No, no, no.

He tries again, and when there’s no answer he calls Scott. Streetlights blur past him in rapid-fast streaks. “Get to my house,” he rasps when Scott picks up. “Kate’s going to kill Stiles.”

He presses his foot down on the gas, the car shaking with speed, and prays he isn’t too late.

#

“I have to say, you leaving your gun out like this is really helpful,” Kate says, keeping it trained between Stiles’s eyes. “I brought my own, but this gives me some nice ideas for staging.”

In his pocket, Stiles’s phone starts ringing. Kate’s eyes narrow when she sees Stiles’s hand move. “Don’t even think about it. Take it out, put it on the floor, and kick it over.”

He does, and she dismissively kicks it under the bed. “Good,” she says. “It’s nice to see you’re in the cooperating spirit.”

“Fuck you,” he spits.

“Uh-uh.” She takes a step closer to him. “You want to cooperate with me, Stiles. See, I can stage this two ways. The first is nice and simple: I make it look like you committed suicide over the stress of your impending deportation and execution. Now, if you decide to fight me, I’ll have to make this look like a home invasion— some maniac who broke in to rob Derek or just to take out a saper leech like you. Of course, a random act of violence wouldn’t leave anyone alive in the house, would it? So if that’s the route you want to take, I’ll have to take a little trip down to your daughter’s room. Is that what you want?”

“No,” Stiles croaks.

She nods, pleased, then takes one hand off the gun and points at the bed. “Sit here. Do you have any paper? I’ll let you write a goodbye note, if you want. Or we can just get right to it. Your pick.”

“Kate, I’m pregnant. Please don’t do this. I don’t know why you want to hurt me, but we can figure this out, all right?”

“Don’t bother.” She grabs his arm and roughly jerks him onto the bed. “If it’s any consolation, Derek will be joining you very soon. But don’t worry. I’ll make sure your daughter is in very good hands.”

From downstairs he hears the front door open and slam closed. Kate’s eyes widen and she drags Stiles up, pressing the gun into his forehead, then over his heart, then settles on pushing it into his stomach. He moans, trying to wriggle away as best he can to protect his baby, but she holds him firm.

“Stiles!” Derek barks, throwing the door open. He freezes when he sees Kate with the gun to Stiles’s belly.

“Fuck, Derek,” Kate says, sounding legitimately frustrated. “Now I have to kill you, too?”

Stiles closes his eyes.

#

Derek doesn’t know if he’s ever been so scared in his life than the moment when he throws open the door and sees Kate holding Stiles. The gun pressed against Stiles’s body is his own, he sees; Stiles has kept it in their bedstand, just in case he should need it. Fuck, why hadn’t Derek checked the bullets? He isn’t sure if it’s wolfsbane or steel next in the chamber. If Stiles is shot with wolfsbane he’ll likely survive, and the baby, thank God, isn’t a werewolf, so the wolfsbane won’t affect it either— but he can’t take that risk.

“You don’t have to kill anyone,” he says, putting up his hands. “You don’t want to do this, Kate. You can’t get away with this.”

Kate rolls her eyes. “I’ll make it look like a murder-suicide. Stiles shot you, then himself. My father will make sure nobody asks any questions.”

“Your father has been arrested. The police are on their way. We can help you, Kate— you don’t have to go down for his crimes. But if you shoot Stiles, you’ll be in prison for the rest of your life, right alongside him.”

Kate stares at him. The gun slips, ever-so-slightly. “My father’s been arrested?”

“Yes. I watched it happen. It’s over for him, Kate. Let it end here.”

“You’re lying,” she whispers. “No— he can’t have been— not my father…”

“Kate,” Derek says slowly, alarmed by the sudden twitch in her face.

“No— no! I was going to do this for him— I was finally going to do a job right for him! This isn’t happening, he can’t be arrested, it can’t be over!

“Hey,” Derek says, trying to sound soothing. “It’s all right, Kate. They’ll let you talk to him. Just walk out of the house with me now and we’ll wait for them, okay?”

“I don’t want to talk to him!” she screams. Her hand is shaking so fiercely he hopes for a moment she might drop the gun. “This is my fault; if I had just been better, if I had been able to help him like he needed— I’ve always failed him and now it’s over, we’ve lost, and you…I let the Hales beat my dad!” Her eyes well up with tears. “He’ll never forgive me for this,” she sobs.

“Of course he will, Kate. It’s all right. You’re his daughter—”

“I am his soldier. I am his tool. And he has no need for a useless tool.” Kate’s eyes flicker around the room, then rest at some faraway point over Derek’s shoulder. “Forgive me,” she says, and Derek isn’t sure who she is talking to, and before he has a chance to ask Kate fires a single shot into Stiles’s side. The echo has not even faded when she raises the gun to her temple and pulls the trigger.

Derek dives forward, eyes stinging and mind racing as Kate and Stiles fall together into a heap. He can barely comprehend what just happened, but he can only hope that Kate shot Stiles with a wolfsbane pellet. If it missed his womb he’ll be all right; it’ll hurt like a bitch but Stiles can survive pain. Maybe this is why their baby is human, solely so it can survive this exact moment. It was meant to be this way. Stiles got the wolfsbane.

But the first thing he sees when he reaches for Stiles is Kate’s dead face, eyes wide and sightless, lips blue from the wolfsbane poisoning.

Kate got the wolfsbane.

And that means Stiles got the steel.

“No, no, no,” he says, searching out the wound blindly so he can clamp his hands over it. There’s so much blood. “Oh, God, Stiles, no. Stay with me.”

Stiles’s breath comes in wheezes. There’s blood at his lips. “The baby,” he rasps.

Derek tries to listen, and for a moment all he hears is a wild whooshing noise he can’t understand before he realizes it’s just in his head. He blinks and focuses. Stiles’s heartbeat is weak, and just under it is another. “It still has a heartbeat,” he promises Stiles. “She didn’t get your womb. Its heart is still beating.”

But there’s so much damage, and the heartbeats are so weak and he doesn’t know what to do.

From downstairs he hears the doors slam open; pounding feet racing up the stairs. Somewhere Clara is bawling in absolute terror, and Scott must have come in just behind the police, because he’s shouting for Stiles. “We need paramedics!” someone barks at the door, but Derek can only focus on Stiles. He’s so pale. He hasn’t always been this pale, has he?

“Derek,” Stiles whispers. “Derek, the baby…”

“Its heart is still beating, I promise. It’s still there, Stiles. Please hold on. Please, please. I love you. Please, baby, we’re finally safe. Don’t you dare leave me.”

Stiles’s eyelashes flutter against his cheeks. Derek can feel the pump of blood out of his side starting to slow, and there’s a glassy cast to his eyes. A look of pure heartbreak passes like a shadow over his face. “I love you,” he struggles out. A blood-slick hand tries to take Derek’s; to pull it away from his wound.

“No. No.” Derek keeps his hand there stubbornly.

“Just hold me,” Stiles whispers.

No!” Derek can hear fumbling at the door, paramedics approaching too late. He can’t hear the baby’s heartbeat anymore, and Stiles’s eyes are closed now, and there’s nothing to do but the last thing; the desperate thing; the only thing.

His teeth find the dying pulse in Stiles’s neck and he bites.

#

Gerard is having a difficult time controlling his temper.

He’d allowed the agents to take him from his home in handcuffs and bring him to this ridiculous holding cell. He knows they’re searching his house now, turning it upside down for evidence of his crimes.

They’ll likely find plenty. That’s his fault. He could never bring himself to get rid of anything; he wanted tangible proof to look over and remind himself how hard he’d worked for everything he had. But that’s all right. This is certainly a setback, but he’s sure there’s some way out. He always finds a way.

There’s a babble of conversation at the station as radios squawk on and off. He focuses in, partly out of boredom:

“It’s bad,” someone is saying. “They’re taking the human to the hospital, but they’re saying he was shot right in the side and lost a lot of blood. Sam says he doesn’t think the poor guy will make it. And he was pregnant.”

Gerard smiles at this news. Kate hadn’t failed him, then. He’s pleasantly surprised. He supposes they’ll bring her in, now. That might work to his favor. She’s mentally unbalanced; it’s clear just by looking at her. They won’t put her in prison, just a mental institution for a few years. Then, even if he’s in prison, the Argent name will continue. He’ll still have a child out there to carry on his work.

For the first time, he’s glad to have her as a daughter.

About ten minutes later one of the policemen unlock the holding cell door and comes through. “Mr. Argent,” he says coldly. “We’ll be interrogating you shortly. We’re still getting everything in order here.”

“I understand.”

“I thought you should know. Your daughter, Kate Argent, is dead.”

Gerard blinks at him. “I beg your pardon?”

The officer stares back at him pitilessly. “She’s dead. She committed suicide after shooting Stiles Stilinski.”

Gerard snorts out a laugh, turning his head away. They’re trying to upset him. Of course Kate hasn’t done something ridiculous like that. Kate can’t wipe her own nose without his say-so; she certainly wouldn’t go and kill herself. “I don’t believe you,” he says dismissively.

“It’s true, Mr. Argent. Police on the scene confirmed it. She shot herself with a military-grade wolfsbane bullet and was killed instantly.” The officer waits to see if Gerard has anything else to say, and when there’s nothing but silence he steps back to the door of the cell. “Just thought you should know. We’ll be back soon to begin your interrogation.”

He leaves, and Gerard sits there alone, staring at nothing. There’s a sudden pain in his palms and he looks down with annoyance, surprised to see he’s digging claws into his skin.

Ridiculous. Kate isn’t dead. She wouldn’t kill herself right after finally taking care of the human. She did just as he asked her to. She didn’t fail him. He’s proud of her. He doesn’t say that much, but she’s earned it now. She’s proven herself to be a true Argent.

He’ll tell her as soon as he sees her.

#

Derek is in the back of the ambulance with Stiles. Everything is so dark and loud. It stinks of blood.

“I gave him the bite,” he says, over and over again, as if someone just needs to hear him say it to fix everything.

The bite doesn’t always take.

Either the person is too close to death, and the werewolf venom isn’t strong enough to fix them, or the person isn’t injured enough and the venom overpowers their system and stops their heart.

With John it worked so quickly. Derek could hear his heart become stronger within minutes; life returning like magic. He bit Stiles maybe five minutes ago, or more. He isn’t sure. Time feels like wet sand through his fingers, clumping and falling through, leaving nothing behind. Not like the blood, staying and sticking and staining his palms.

Stiles’s blood.

“I gave him the bite,” he repeats, and watches as paramedics bend over his mate and argue about how to best treat a human.

The ambulance stops and they rush Stiles out. Derek chases after them, still tracking the weak thuds of Stiles’s heartbeat. He can’t hear the baby’s. He doesn’t want to think about it.

“You have to wait here,” a nurse tells him, stopping him from following Stiles into the operating room.

“But…” Derek’s hand claws at the back of his own neck. They don’t understand. He doesn’t have a mating bite anymore, to tell him if Stiles is still alive. There’s nothing he can do but wait for someone to come and tell him if Stiles is dead. He can’t do that, not again.

“It’s all right, honey. They’re taking good care of him. You have to wait.”

He shakes his head and tries to strain past the nurse while the doors of the operating hallway swing close. He can’t leave Stiles alone. He needs to be there with him. Stiles cannot die; that’s what he has to tell the surgeons. Stiles always survives, and he’s full of life, and he can’t even stay still when he’s sleeping. Stiles cannot be stiff and silent and empty. Derek has seen death before, been ravaged and robbed by it but they cannot let it take Stiles. They need to know.

Stiles cannot die, because they are finally safe from Gerard. It’s their time to be happy. They are mates, best friends, parents and partners. What they have cannot be severed by a bullet. They are two perfect halves of a whole.

They’re meant to be.

“It’s okay,” a nurse says gently. Her arms are around him, and Derek realizes he’s collapsed to the floor. “Shh. They’re going to take care of him.”

Derek closes his eyes so he does not have to see Stiles’s blood on his hands. He gasps in ragged breath after breath, waiting for the doctors to come and tell him that Stiles’s luck has finally run out.

Chapter Text

June, 2016

Stiles is perfectly, totally content. Derek is with him tonight, far from the fighting . He’d scrounged up bread, cheese, and butter, and Stiles had managed to make them grilled cheese sandwiches, which they ate in the living room as they argued about whether cheddar cheese was better than mozzarella. Their argument had, as always, reached an impasse when the sandwiches were gone and the fucking began, and now Stiles is snuggled up against Derek, still flushed from his orgasm. The house is still and peaceful.

“Fuck,” Derek says after a few long, sleepy moments. “I bruised you again.”

“What?” Stiles looks down at his body and sees the light marks where Derek’s fingers had pressed too tightly. “Oh. Don’t worry about it. I like them.”

Derek flicks the back of his head. “Don’t like them. That’s weird.”

“They don’t hurt. They’re just nice to see, when you’re not here. Like a mating bite I can actually look at.”

“I’d rather your reminders of me didn’t look like domestic violence.”

Stiles grins and grabs Derek’s hand, circling the wrist with his fingers. He knows that no matter how tightly he squeezes, no mark will remain. Derek’s body is always primed to heal; he comes equipped with a shield against the world.

“Do you ever wish I was a werewolf?” he asks Derek.

“Hmm? No. Why would I want that?”

“I don’t know.” Stiles shifts a little to find a more comfortable spot for his head against Derek’s chest. “So I wouldn’t be fragile?”

Derek snorts so violently he nearly blows Stiles off the cot. “Fragile? Calm down. You’re a strong, healthy adult male.”

“But I’m not like you. I’m always going to be weaker.”

“Not in any way that matters.”

“Debatable.”

“Stop it.” Derek flips Stiles onto his back neatly, cradling his head so he lands gently. “You’re not weak, Stiles. You don’t need to be a werewolf. You were born strong.”

“Don’t try to flatter me.”

“Don’t hunt for compliments. You’re not fragile. You never could be.” He puts his index finger on Stiles’s collarbone and traces all the way down. “Steel core,” he says, before taking Stiles in his hand and kissing him so he can’t say another word.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

June, 2018

When Kate holds the gun to Stiles’s belly the terror blinds him. He feels impossibly fragile, a simple machine that could so easily be shut off. Derek’s face reflects the panic Stiles feels and Stiles watches him try to reason with her.

Then Derek tells her that Gerard has been arrested, and she falls apart, but doesn’t let Stiles go. He can feel her shaking; feels the gun jabbing into him, and the instant before she shoots, he just knows.

It doesn’t even hurt. There’s just a feeling like he’s taken a huge gasp of air but can’t let it out. Then there’s another gunshot, and he’s falling, and he’s cold. He’s so cold.

He reaches down to where he’s so cold and feels blood all over his hands. He can’t breathe. He doesn’t even know where he is.

“No, no, no,” he hears Derek say.

Derek.

Gunshots.

War?

Thoughts and memories flicker like dying bulbs in his head.

He is with Derek in Ideria…

He is being dragged away by Raeken…

He is alone, curled over his stomach, feeling his baby kick…

“The baby,” he manages to say aloud, choking when something warm rises in his throat. The baby. Derek’s baby. She’s so little and Derek has to get to her before Stiles dies. He can’t leave his baby all alone.

“Its heart is still beating,” Derek tells him, and for a moment Stiles doesn’t understand. The baby was already born, wasn’t it? He’d named her Clara. His little girl, his Clara…

No, there was another baby. The human one; the one he’s been trying to keep safe.

The one he’s supposed to take with him now.

He feels tears in his eyes— or maybe it’s blood. He can’t tell anymore. He can feel all the warmth and hope and life leaving him through that gaping hole in his stomach. He’s going to die. This time there is no second chance and no mistake and no rescue. This is the end.

“Derek, the baby,” he tries to say. He wants to tell Derek that if there is a life after this one, he will take care of their human baby. It’s okay. At least they’re going together. Derek will stay here with Clara, and Stiles and his second child will wait for him on the other side of existence.

He wonders if Heaven keeps humans and werewolves apart.

“Its heart is still beating,” Derek says again. That’s Derek. Refusing to give up; refusing to face what’s right in front of him. He wants to tell Derek that he loves that about him. He loves how brave Derek is; how stubborn; how loving. Why had he never told Derek those things? So many words between them, and now there are only time for a few more.

“I love you,” he says. He tries to put something more into the words, something that will last, but his voice is weak. He can barely feel Derek’s hands on him now.

He’s slipping away. He can feel the chasm opening between them, growing larger by the moment. Greater than the ocean; than the distance between countries. He is leaving Luponia once and for all, and he doesn’t want to go. He doesn’t want to die.

Don’t let me go, he thinks, but Derek can’t make him stay. He knows that. But he’s scared. He’s so scared. Derek’s hand is still clamped over his stomach, trying to slow down this terrible dying. If he can’t stay, he just wants it to be over.

“Just hold me,” he begs, trying to pull Derek’s hand away. Numbness steals through him, clouding his mind again, taking everything but the fear: the last thing that he is allowed to feel.

Derek, hold me and don’t—

When the bombs fall, Derek, come back for me—

Don’t leave me here, Derek, don’t let me be alone—

Derek calls his name from somewhere far away, but Stiles can’t respond.

And then he feels something, like a tug on his lifeline. He’s too detached from his own body to feel pain, but it’s…something. Something warm. Something strong.

It catches hold of him, stilling his departure. Where once he was falling he is now suspended, hovering in the darkness, waiting for something greater than himself to decide if he stays or goes.

#

Derek waits in the hospital corridor, time bleeding out so he has no idea how long he’s waited. He wants to find a phone so he can call home and make sure Scott’s still with Clara, but he’s afraid that as soon as he gets up the doctor will come out to find him.

Did the bite take?

He buries his face in his bloodied hands and waits, knowing that these torturous minutes might be very precious soon, because they were the last moments when he didn’t know that Stiles was dead.

“Mr. Hale?”

He looks up eagerly and sees a doctor, scrubs streaked with Stiles’s blood. “Yes,” he says, voice scraping his throat.

“Come with me.”

Derek stands and follows the doctor numbly, away from the other people waiting. He doesn’t want to think about what the doctor is going to tell him. They go to a little room; not a hospital room where Stiles is waiting, like he’d hoped.

The doctor takes a deep breath and looks evenly at Derek. “The bite didn’t take,” he says quietly.

Derek feels his nails bite into his skin as though he is trying desperately to hold on to something. He should have known. A part of him did, when Stiles hadn’t turned in the ambulance—

“I’m sorry, Mr. Hale. We tried, but there just wasn’t enough werewolf venom to turn him, and we were worried that if we tried to force the change it might have stopped his heart. It’s such a delicate balance, you know, and we thought if we gave him any werewolf venom we might have lost him completely. Fortunately there was enough to save him and the baby, but— ”

“He’s alive?” Derek interrupts, mouth dry.

“Yes, he’s alive. He’ll recover. The bite healed most of the damage.” The doctor looks mournful. “But he’s still human. I’m sorry.”

“You think I care about that? You think— ” Derek bites off the rest of his sentence, too choked with relief to bother getting angry. “How is this possible? I thought the bite always either turned or killed the recipient. How could it just…heal him, like that?”

“Because he’s pregnant. As you know the bite works in two stages— first it heals, then it turns. The bite had to do double the work in this case. It had to keep two hearts beating. There was no venom left for the transformation— for either of them.”

Derek closes his eyes, dizzy with relief. “Can I see him?” he asks quietly.

“He’s still unconscious…”

“I don’t care.”

The doctor nods and leads him from the room.

#

Something is extremely wrong. Stiles feels like he’s lying under a thick smog. It hurts to breathe and when he tries to move his fingers it’s like they aren’t even there.

Then he remembers the gunshot. The blood. He’s dying—

He struggles to open his eyes but all he sees is gray. Pain thuds through his head and it’s like there’s something sitting on his chest, keeping him from breathing.

Dying sucks.

He feels a gentle pressure on his forehead. “It’s okay,” Derek’s voice says. “You’re okay.”

Aww. Derek’s watching him die. That’s sad.

“If you can hear me, Stiles, you’re going to be fine. You and the baby are both going to be okay. It’s over.” Derek squeezes his hand. “You’re safe now.”

Derek says he’s safe. Safe. He hasn’t felt truly safe in a long, long time, but there’s something in Derek’s voice that makes Stiles believe him.

“Can you hear me, Stiles?”

Stiles concentrates every ounce of effort in him on opening his eyes. It hurts like a bitch but Derek finally takes shape, leaning over him anxiously.

“Hi,” Stiles croaks.

Derek grins in relief. “Hi.”

“Water?”

“Here.” Derek leans away for a second, then holds a cup to Stiles’s lips. He drinks it as quickly as possible, nearly choking on it.

“Easy,” Derek soothes, wiping a few spilled drops from his chin. “You’ve been out for a while.”

“How long?”

“Two days.”

Stiles’s eyes widen in horror. “I missed Clara’s birthday?

Derek snorts, slapping his hand over his mouth to hold in his laughter. “She’ll forgive you,” he says once he’s recovered. Then, like he can’t stand waiting for another second, he leans over and kisses Stiles, lips a few shades shy of desperate. Stiles returns it as best he can, gripping Derek’s shirt, holding himself close against Derek until he feels wholly alive again.

“You scared the shit out of me,” Derek says simply when he finally pulls away. “I had to give you the bite, you know. It didn’t turn you— you’re basically a medical miracle. You and the baby are both still human.”

Stiles is surprised to find that he’s grateful for that. “It’s still alive? The baby is really okay? It was already such a high-risk pregnancy…”

“I’m sure. Deaton’s been running tests to make sure. He says the baby is in beautiful shape— there’s no medical precedent for this, so he can’t say for sure, but he thinks receiving werewolf venom might have been just what the baby needed to get it through. Its heart is so, so strong.” Derek puts a reverent hand on Stiles’s belly. “He tested for the sex, too. I needed— I had to be able to picture our baby, to really believe it was okay. Do you want to know?”

Stiles grins. “Yeah.”

“It’s a boy.”

“A boy,” Stiles repeats in wonder. His little human. The baby he thought would never see the light of day. Knowing its sex suddenly makes it seem realer, and a feeling of peace floods through him. He still has seven months to go, but something tells him his little guy is going to be just fine.

“What happened to Kate?” he asks, holding his breath as he waits for the bad news. He knows how this goes. Gerard has made bail, or has talked his way out of the charges. Kate is probably on the run somewhere.

Something like sorrow flares in Derek’s eyes. “She’s dead. She shot herself with a wolfsbane bullet, right after shooting you. As for Gerard…he’s been arrested and he’s in jail now.” Derek hesitates. “There’s been a lot going on while you’ve been unconscious. The country is…a little tumultuous.”

“How so?”

“Word of what Gerard did spread pretty quickly. Everyone knows it was him— a werewolf— that orchestrated the attacks on Luponia and blamed them on Ideria. Most Luponians have been concentrating their hatred on humans for years because of those attacks. But the enemy was never Ideria. It was right here at home.”

Stiles shuts his eyes, thinking of all the dead and dying in Ideria; all the Luponian soldiers killed on foreign soil. “He did a lot of damage before he was unmasked,” he says quietly.

“Yes. And now we just have to hope the people of Luponia are willing to undo that damage.” Derek takes Stiles’s hand. “You’re been granted citizenship,” he says. “Congress was willing to extend it immediately once the news broke that you were going to survive, but I thought you deserved more. I asked them to go through with the hearing under the Iderian War Heroes program. They did yesterday and found that you distinguished yourself as a hero in the Luponian-Iderian conflict and earned the right of Luponian citizenship.”

Stiles blinks in amazement. “I’m not going to be deported?”

“No. Never. You’re a hero to this country, both for your work during the war and your help in investigating Gerard. You can imagine, the people who hated you because Gerard told them too— well, they feel pretty bad now. This whole mess has caused a lot of soul-searching.” Derek shakes his head, eyes faraway. “People kept saying that Iderians weren’t like Luponians. Humans were completely different from werewolves. There was something different in you— something evil, and stupid, and weak. Dangerous. But all along, the really dangerous one was right here. Everything we thought you caused— we caused.”

“Gerard caused,” Stiles corrects. He’s sick of generalizations; blaming an entire species for the acts of a few rotten beings. That can never lead to anything good.

“Yeah. But we enabled. I don’t know, baby. The world’s a mess, but I’m just glad you’re still in it.” Derek brushes hair away from his forehead. “A lot of people want to visit you, when you’re up for it.”

“Clara?”

“She’s with Scott and Isaac.”

“I want to see her.”

“I’ll make the call.” Derek stands, then bends to give him a quick forehead kiss. “Hey, Stiles?” he says softly. “We won.

Stiles grins. “I always knew we would,” he lies.

#

Derek was right— the world is a mess right now. Luponia isn’t sure what to do now that they know it was Gerard, and not Ideria, that caused all those years of turmoil. The news that Gerard had puppet-mastered the current Iderian government makes its way overseas— some in power flee without Gerard telling them what to do. Others, including Matt Daehler, find themselves facing a revolution. No Iderian wants a leader controlled by werewolves. Rebels are attempting to depose Daehler by force.

His home country is at war again. It makes Stiles sick. People are trying to flee; desperate to escape with their children— but the Luponian borders are still closed to refugees.

“They’re going to put it to popular vote,” Derek tells him three days after Stiles returns home from the hospital. “First, whether to admit Iderian refugees, and second, whether to administer aid to Ideria as they attempt political stabilization.”

“What kind of aid? Soldiers to help depose Daehler?”

“No. Daheler won’t hold; they’re projecting the rebels will overtake him by the weekend. But after that, Ideria won’t have a leader. The last thing we want is for someone power-mad to take over and make things even worse. Luponia could help them run a fair election, rather than just watch power go to the guy with the biggest gun.”

“If Ideria will even want our help.” It still feels strange to say our; a part of him feels like he doesn’t belong to Ideria or Luponia yet.

“Hopefully if we open the borders to refugees they’ll take it as a sign of goodwill. But I’m worried the vote won’t pass. People are still so scared.”

“That’s not a very good reason to let people die,” Stiles says quietly.

“I know.” Derek looks sideways at him. “Some people want to hear from you,” he says. “You’re a refugee. You survived a lot. People don’t know what to make of you— this nation’s heroes and villains have all switched places over the past week.”

“Me?” Stiles turns the idea over in his mind. Ever since he arrived in Luponia he’s been content to lay low, staying right here in his house while the world fights itself to death outside.

He’s been so scared, for so long.

But like he’d said to Derek, that’s not a very good reason to let people die.

“Okay,” he says slowly. “I’ll do it.”

There’s no time to waste with the vote looming, so Derek manages to arrange for an interview the very next day. Stiles spends half the night sick with nerves. He knows he’s safe now, a newly-minted Luponian, but he doesn’t know if this new country will ever truly accept him. Silence is, as it always has been, the safest option for him. But he thinks of all the people still suffering in Ideria; the woman with the werewolf son who had risked her life for his. They deserve more than silence.

“I can’t believe it’s almost been a year, Derek,” the reporter says when Derek lets in her the house. Stiles swallows down another wave of nausea. He knows this is the same reporters who interviewed Derek and Kate; who dutifully reported Derek’s anti-refugee stance.

“A lot has changed,” Derek says tightly.

Stiles stands to greet the woman and her photographer, passing Clara over to Derek. His heart races as he sits again, fighting the urge to take Clara back so he can cuddle her like a shield.

The reporter begins simply enough, asking Stiles for his account of the war and the months afterward. Stiles tells it all. He doesn’t exaggerate anything— there’s no reason to.

“So there was plenty of human-on-human violence,” the reporter says after Stiles tells her about his father’s arrest and beatings in prison.

“Yeah. Absolutely. But humans didn’t become violent because they were human. There are good humans and bad humans, just like there are good werewolves and bad werewolves. I think that’s the first mistake Luponia made— assuming humans were fundamentally different from werewolves, and so our suffering didn’t need to be considered. I understand why people wanted to think like that. When you live in privilege, the idea that people in other parts of the world face unimaginable suffering just seems wrong. It can’t be a part of your world. So you tell yourself— that’s not your world. Those people aren’t like you. It couldn’t happen here.

“I know that the people of Luponia have been afraid for a long time. I don’t blame them for that. But I don’t think fear should be the deciding factor when it comes to giving aid to others. And that’s why I think the borders need to be reopened to refugees.”

The reporter nods, accepting the quick segue into the meat of the interview. “But the borders were closed to prevent human terrorists from coming over and attacking us on our own soil. Can you guarantee that won’t happen if we don’t open them again?”

“No. I can’t guarantee that. And I agree absolutely that the government’s job is to protect the safety of its citizens over anything else. But…the world is in turmoil. Maybe it always will be; maybe this is our status quo. And unfortunately, terrorists will probably always find a way to do their worst. Closing the borders won’t stop them. In the end, all closing the borders does is sentence people to death in exchange for an illusion of safety.”

The reporter makes a little moue with her mouth, as if she’s not convinced. “But Luponians have to think of Luponia first.”

“That’s not what this is.” Stiles shifts in his chair, trying to put his frustration into words. “Luponia is a country that values freedom, and love, and hope. But if Luponia says that only the werewolves are allowed to have those things, and the rest of the world just needs to suffer because they didn’t have the good fortune to be born here— then freedom, love, and hope aren’t being valued at all. If you believe in freedom, you have to believe it’s for all people. If you believe in love, you can’t say some people deserve to be hated. If you believe in hope, you can’t take it away from an entire population. Values can’t be hoarded. Only shared.”

“Is that our job, though?” the reporter baits him. “To fix the rest of the world? You wouldn’t have liked it if we had invaded Ideria years ago to force our way of life on you.”

“Oh, God, no. But when people are suffering under terrorism, and you have to decide whether to turn your back or extend your hand, think about what side you want to be on. Because if you refuse to help those people, and keep them in the arms of the terrorists, I don’t see how that’s not putting yourself on the terrorist’s side. You’re making a deal with the devil; giving them victims in the hopes they won’t come after you. I think Luponia is better than that.”

“We can’t save them all.”

“No, but we can condemn them all, by keeping the borders closed.”

“And what if allowing Iderians shelters does bring an attack on our shore, and the war starts up again?”

“I don’t know. I would hope that a humanitarian act wouldn’t bring violence. But I can’t make a guarantee.” Stiles looks at Clara, sitting peacefully for the moment in Derek’s lap. “I hate war," he says passionately. "Nobody hates it more than me. I hate that it makes human lives currency, and a government has to decide how many should be spent to pay a debt nobody understands. I hate that it tears people apart and leaves scars on everything and everyone. I hate it, and I hope I never have to see it again. All I want is to be safe, and to make my family safe. But there are hundreds of people just like me out there. All they want is safety, too. How can I pay for my safety, and my life, and my liberty with their blood?"

Clara yells for him, hearing the pitch of his voice. He shuts his eyes tightly, shaking his head when the reporter asks if he needs to take a break. “I got lucky,” he says when his heartrate has returned to normal. “I got really, really lucky. And every person who was born in Luponia, and not Ideria— they were lucky too. But that doesn’t mean we have some unique right to life and safety that others don’t have.”

She nods, encouraging him to continue.

“Those who say we shouldn’t help the refugees don’t see the refugees as people like them. They’ve found some characteristic about them that seems dangerous— but that’s not real. It’s just looking for a reason to hate people. And that’s what the terrorists do. We should look for the threads that bind us, rather than focus on what separates us; that’s a value that matters. So I say we have to help Ideria, if we want Luponia to be a country worth protecting.”

The reporter looks at Derek. “Do you have anything to add?”

Derek nods and comes to sit next to Stiles, passing Clara over. She beams at Stiles, pressing her face into his shirt, and he wishes he could do something to make sure she never has to know war again. “We’re all one world,” Derek says. “That’s more important than being one country. Just because humans aren’t exactly like us doesn’t mean they don’t feel the way we do and know fear the way we do and love the way we do. They need our help. Thanks to Gerard Argent and the war, we contributed to their suffering. It’s time we try and put an end to it.”

Stiles reaches for Derek’s hand and squeezes. “It’s time,” he says. “Let’s open the borders.”

#

Stiles exercises his first privilege as a citizen of Luponia three days later, when he votes yes on opening the borders. He stays up late that night with Derek, watching the news as the results slowly comes in, and nearly cries when the final result is announced. The vote passes by nearly a thirty percent margin.

“Unity Aid’s going to be swamped,” Cora says to him the next day. Today is Gerard Argent’s arraignment and they’re all eating a fortifying breakfast together before going to the courthouse. “We could always use more hands over there, you know.”

Stiles swallows a bite out of a cinnamon roll the size of his head. “Seriously?”

“Why not? You have to do something to keep yourself busy for the next seven months.”

“It’s a good idea,” Derek supplies, leaning across the bar to grab Clara’s sippy cup. “I’m going to have my hands full at work with election season, and it’s about time we got Clara into daycare so she can start socializing…”

“I’ve already applied to the Beacon Hills police force,” John adds. “Time you get off your butt and contribute to society, kiddo.”

“Jeez, give a guy two weeks to recover from a gunshot,” Stiles complains, but he likes the idea of working with Cora. It’s true that the people of Ideria are going to need massive amounts of aid and he’d feel like a hypocrite if he just sat back and let others do the work.

Derek, still a little bit more tactile than normal, smooths his hands over Stiles’s shoulders and kisses the top of his head. “You ready?”

“Yeah.” Stiles stands, reaching for Clara’s baby bag, which is immediately snatched out of his hands by an anxious Cora. “No heavy lifting,” she scolds him.

“Then give me my peanut. She’s not heavy at all, are you, Clara-boo?” Stiles lifts his daughter from Cora’s arms. He’d been a little wary at the thought of taking her to watch Gerard’s arraignment, but the federal prosecutor wants them all in the courtroom to present a united front. They’re hoping Gerard will plead guilty and spare them a trial.

Stiles buckles Clara into her car seat, Cora and John taking seats on either side to entertain her on the drive. Stiles gets in front with Derek. As they drive he stares out the window, still trying to reconcile the country he sees with the concepts of permanence and home.

“Look at the sky,” Derek says. “I can’t remember the last time it was that blue.”

“Booo,” Clara tries, shrieking in delight when the entire car applauds her.

Scott and Isaac meet them in the parking lot of the courthouse. There are reporters and photographers already waiting, shouting questions at them until Clara cries and buries her face in Stiles’s neck. Derek flashes his eyes and growls, clearing a path up the stairs and inside. “Scary wolf,” Stiles says, resting his head against Derek’s shoulder as they take seats in the gallery of the courtroom.

“Very,” Derek agrees, immediately belying his own words by making a silly face at his daughter and wiggling one of her toys in front of her until she stops sniffling.

The courtroom fills up quickly, everyone wanting to see the country’s fallen idol. When the side door opens so Gerard can be brought in everyone holds their collective breath at the sight of him. His shoulders are stooped, mouth an angry little slash. He doesn’t look at anything but the floor as he’s shuffled into place at the defense table with a team of lawyers. Stiles can’t take his eyes off of him, even as the judge enters and they all stand. He knows that Kate Argent was buried without ceremony last week. Gerard had not been given leave to attend.

The judge clears her throat. “Mr. Argent, given the number of charges we have today, I’m going to read all the charges against you at once. At the end, I’ll ask how you plead. Do you understand?”

One of the lawyers has to nudge Gerard before he mutters, “I understand.”

The judge nods and settles in her seat. “Gerard Argent. You are charged with treason against your country, to wit, the nation of Luponia. You are further charged with murder in the first degree in the death of Chris Argent. You are further charged with murder in the first degree in the death of Peter Hale…

“Murder in the first degree in the death of Talia Hale…

“Attempted murder of Derek Hale…

“Attempted murder of Stiles Stilinski…

“Lying to federal officials…”

“Chemical assault meant to sever the bond of a mated individual, to wit, Derek Hale…”

The judge reads on and on until her voice goes hoarse, naming nearly every member of Derek’s family and people Stiles has never even heard of before. The courtroom is completely silent. Nobody can look away from Gerard, whose shoulders slump further with every charge, as if each crime is a weight he can no longer shake off.

“Mr. Argent, how do you plead?”

A shudder racks Gerard’s body; the last feeble stirring of pride. His voice trembles on one more lie: “Not guilty.”

A murmur sweeps through the crowd, muted and sad, like wind across a field. Stiles closes his eyes. There will need to be a trial now, and he’ll have to testify. He grimaces at Derek, who only shakes his head in response. They shouldn’t have expected anything more from Gerard. He’ll never accept responsibility for his sins.

Gerard does not look at anyone as the judge sets a date for trial and the guard pulls him out of the room. Clara had been quiet all through the short proceeding but when it’s over she starts babbling happily to Stiles. “I know,” he says in response to whatever she’s trying to tell him, holding her tightly as they start to make their way out of the seats. “Let’s go have some fun now, okay?”

“Maybe it’s a good thing,” John says once they’re back in the car headed home. “I know you don’t want to have to testify, but— if he’d pled guilty, they would have dropped some of the charges. This way every single person he hurt will get their justice.”

“That’s true,” Derek says, staring intently out the windshield at that blue sky. “I want a jury to hear about my Uncle Peter, and Chris Argent, and what he did in Ideria. I don’t want any of that to be forgotten.”

The car falls silent again, but there time there’s a bit more peace to it. Stiles reaches for Derek’s hand and Derek holds it over the console for a moment before he drives them the rest of the way home.

#

Later that night Stiles is hit by his first pregnancy craving and he scrounges in the fridge for pickles and mustard as Derek puts Clara to bed. He remembers having weird cravings all through his first pregnancy and having to miserably swallow down rainwater and stale crackers instead. As he eats from the jar in the living room with his feet up he cheerfully pats his barely-there bump. “We’re going to have a good time together,” he tells the baby.

Derek walks in and, to his credit, doesn’t say a word about Stiles’s choice of snack. “Clara’s asleep. And good news. She’s learned a new word.”

“Oh yeah? What?”

“Well, as I was reading her her bedtime story she pointed to the drawing on the page— it was a cow, by the way— looked up at me and said, ‘Poop?’”

Stiles almost chokes on his pickle. “I didn’t teach her that one.”

“No, I blame Scott. He’s always so careful not to curse in front of her that whenever he’s about to say shit he corrects it to poop at the last second. That would be the word she picks up.”

“What a tiny little miracle she is.” Stiles holds out his jar. “Pickle?”

Derek heroically fights off a look of revulsion. “No, thanks.”

“Your loss.”

Derek caps the jar for him and returns it to the fridge. “I want to talk to you about something,” he calls from the kitchen.

“Is it about Unity Aid? Because I was thinking I’d take Cora up on her offer. I wouldn’t mind having something real to do during the days.”

“I’m glad. But no, that’s not what I was thinking.” Derek sits next to him on the couch and pulls him close. “So I was crunching the numbers and I’m pretty sure your risk of imminent death is pretty low now.”

Stiles grins. ‘Is it really? What a concept.”

“With that in mind— I don’t see any reason that we shouldn’t renew our mating bites. At this point it’s more of a formality than anything, but I miss that connection. I know why you wanted to wait, but I’m not planning on letting you go anywhere, so I think it’s time.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, startled. He’d stopped thinking about the lack of a mating bond. He and Derek are just as close now as they ever were during that mated period in Ideria, but Derek is right— there’s no reason to wait anymore.

Stiles had refused to do it while there was still a chance he may be executed, but, honestly, it had gone beyond that. He’d been afraid to let himself be that vulnerable again; to open himself up to the kind of pain he’d felt when the bond had been broken. Not to mention the pain when he’d thought Derek had turned his back on Stiles…

But it’s worth it.

Derek will always, always be worth it.

“You’re right,” he says. “Let’s do it.”

Derek looks down at him. “Now?”

“Why not?”

Derek grins. “You know, I can’t think of a single reason,” he says, fingers brushing over Stiles’s mating scar. “You want to go first?”

“You do it.”

“Okay.” Derek tips his chin up first so he can give Stiles a kiss. “I love you,” he says once he’s finished.

“I love you, too.”

“Thank you for finding me.”

“Thanks for still being here when I did.” Stiles turns his back to Derek, tipping his head forward so Derek has access to his neck. Derek kisses the scar first, lips almost painful. Then his teeth find the grooves he’d left two years earlier and Stiles feels it, deep in his belly. It’s not a feeling of coming back to life, like he’d expected, but more of something waking up, as though the bond had been sleeping all this time but always believed it would return again.

Chapter Text

February 11, 2019

Stiles is out of his mind with pain. He hears himself wail, long and guttural. “Derek,” he moans when it’s over. “Der…”

“I’m here, Stiles.” Something cool touches his forehead.

“Derek, you have to…you have to go…”

“I’m not leaving.”

“No, I need you to check…the results are probably in by now!”

“Stiles Stilinski-Hale.” Derek leans into his line of vision, scowling hugely. “I am not going oh for two on the birth of my children. You can find out who won the election later.”

Stiles tries to argue but another contraction grips him. His son had surprised everyone by arriving on his due date, despite every indication that he would be hanging on for another week at least. Stiles’s water broke right after he’d finished casting his vote in the presidential election.

Now, eight hours later, Stiles is dying to know who won. After Argent was no longer a viable option all sorts of candidates had scrambled to fill his position. It had come down to a pairing Stiles considered just Argent-lite, and Congresswoman Tara Graeme, who had chosen as her running mate the first ever human VP candidate. Stiles’s vote had of course gone to Tara and Lydia, and as of the last time Derek had checked it was too close to call.

“I see the head,” his doctor says from the foot of the bed. “Let’s have another really big push now…”

Stiles bears down and moments later hears a high, shrill cry. “Congratulations,” the doctor says. “It’s a boy.”

#

Fifteen minutes later Stiles sits on the bed with Derek, staring into the wrinkled red face of their son. “You’re so perfect,” he coos to the baby. “Look how perfect you are. Derek, did you see his little fingernails?”

“Yeah, I did. But let’s look again.” Derek is staring at his newborn with the look of dazed adoration Stiles remembers from when he first brought Clara home. “By the way,” Derek says as an afterthought. “Graeme and Lydia took the ticket.”

Stiles had forgotten about the election after he’d first set eyes on the baby. “That’s fantastic. Should we name the baby after them? Martin Stilinski-Hale?”

Derek makes a face. “I still like Daniel.”

“But they’ll call him Danny, and I already know a Danny.” Stiles thinks about it while the baby squints up at him. They’d discarded many names over the past several months, with a short list remaining. “What about Nathaniel?”

Derek considers his son. “That’s not bad. I like that.”

“Nathaniel Peter Stilinski-Hale.”

Derek nods. They had already agreed to honor his uncle through their son’s middle name. “I think that’s perfect.”

Stiles feeds Nathaniel and they grudgingly let the nurses take him away in the bassinet for some sleep. In the morning they have a whole slew of visitors and well-wishes sent from the new vice-president herself while Stiles leans against his pillows like a king, thinking how different this birth is from Clara’s. His firstborn is brought in by John last and placed on the bed with Stiles, so she can snuggle against his side and gaze down with awe at her brother. “Baby!” she says.

“This is your brother Nathaniel,” Stiles tells her.

“My baby?”

“Our baby, yes. He’s your little brother. That makes you a big sister now.”

“My baby,” she says in satisfaction, gently patting his head.

Derek crouches down by the bed so he can put a hand on her back. “Your little brother is human like Daddy, Clara. So you have to be very careful and never, ever bite him. Do you understand? You don’t ever bite Nathaniel.”

“No bite,” she parrots. She’s young enough that an accidental bite probably wouldn’t break Stiles’s skin, but if she bit the baby he wouldn’t stand a chance.

“Good girl.” Derek kisses the top of her head. Nathaniel, who had been sleeping contentedly against Stiles’s chest, yawns hugely and cracks open his eyes. Clara squeals with delight and flashes her eyes at him.

“Hi, Nathaniel,” Stiles says softly.

“Hi, Naniel,” Clara echoes happily. “Hi-hi-hi!” She cuddles even closer to Stiles so she can watch her brother in fascination. Derek grins, obviously relieved at how well she’s taking her new sibling. Stiles grins back and shifts so he can make room for Derek on the bed. “Puppy pile,” he says as Derek joins them.

The day passes blissfully until they’re discharged and head downstairs to the car together. Clara whines a little when she wants her carseat to be rear-facing like Nathaniel’s, but Derek just raises an eyebrow at her and she quiets down.

Nathaniel is certainly a crier— Stiles isn’t sure if he cries more or less than Clara had, since every scream then had been so perilous that he’s sure he’s exaggerated them in his memory. Clara grimaces and covers her ears when the baby starts wailing on the way home. “It’s okay,” Stiles says to her after he finally soothes Nathaniel down to a low sniffling. “Babies cry. He can’t help it. We still love our baby even when he’s loud.”

Clara chews her lip, still studying her brother with fascination. “Me a baby?”

“You mean did you use to be a baby? You were. You used to be just as little as Nathaniel.”

“Pictures!”

“Well, we don’t have any of you when you were very tiny.” Stiles falters. He never thought about telling his daughter about her start in life, and he isn’t sure what she should know. He settles for saying, “But you were very, very cute. And Daddy and Papa loved you right from the start, just like Nathaniel.”

She beams at him. “Clara love Daddy and Papa too!”

Clara wants to show her brother around the house when they get home so Stiles obligingly carries the carrier up the stairs and to Clara’s favorite rooms. Nathaniel is thoroughly uninterested in the various toys Clara tries to show him. “Nathaniel won’t be able to play with you until he’s bigger,” Stiles cautions.

“Okay, Daddy. Bedroom!” Clara dashes into her bedroom, recently wallpapered and decorated to look like the solar system. “Naniel sleep!”

“Nathaniel has to sleep in the nursery. Remember when you helped us decorate?”

Clara’s lip trembles and she spreads her arms wide. “Share!”

“Trust me, Clara-belle, you really don’t want to be sharing a room with Nathaniel right now.” Stiles sniffs the air, immediately realizing that Nathaniel has just filled his diaper. Seconds later the baby starts wailing. “Someone needs a change,” he says, whisking the baby off to the nursery. Clara is in the midst of potty training and frankly Stiles is praying she picks it up quick. Two sets of diapers sounds like an absolute nightmare.

That night it takes a while to wrangle a hyped-up Clara into bed and by the time Stiles makes it back to the bedroom Derek, who was on Nathaniel-duty, is already waiting. “Someone’s a tired Daddy,” Derek says.

“Exhausted.” Stiles strips down to his boxers and collapses beside his husband. “Think we can get in a quickie before one or both starts crying?”

“Not on your life.” Derek shuts off the light. “Personally, I’m looking forward to life with a newborn, after I missed the first four months of Clara’s life.”

“And I’m looking forward to letting my newborn cry without fearing for his imminent death. Isn’t it nice we can joke about these things now?” Stiles fumbles in the dark for a kiss before immediately dropping off to sleep.

Less than two hours later he’s jolted awake by an insistent scream from the baby monitor. “On it,” Derek grunts, immediately climbing out of bed. Stiles leans back against the pillow and is just falling back to sleep when he hears a tremulous, “Daddy?” from down the hall.

He hides a grin in a yawn. A Daddy’s work is never done.

Clara is sitting up in her new big-kid bed, eyes wide and tear-filled at the sound of Nathaniel crying. Her werewolf hearing means there’s no way to keep her from it, but Stiles makes a note to see about buying a white-noise machine or something that might help. “Sick?” she asks worriedly as Stiles sits on the edge of her bed.

“No, baby. He just can’t sleep through the whole night like you. He probably needs a diaper change and in a little while he’ll be hungry. He’s too little to ask for what he wants so he has to cry.”

She doesn’t look convinced so Stiles stands and hoists her onto his hip. “You want to go see him?”

She nods, sticks two fingers in her mouth, and rests her head against Stiles’s shoulder as he carries her into the nursery. Derek is hushing Nathaniel but looks up and smiles. “Your big sister came to say hello,” he tells the baby.

Stiles carries her over to Derek. She leans over and kisses the top of Nathaniel’s head gently. “Okay to cry,” she tells him. The baby quiets a little, but starts up again whenever Derek tries to put him down. They stay there for a while, lit by the soft glow of nursery night-lights, with Derek rocking Nathaniel and Stiles rocking Clara.

“Sleepy now, Daddy,” Clara whispers eventually.

“Okay, sweetheart. Let’s go back to bed.”

“Kisses, Papa.” Clara holds out her arms beseechingly for Derek, who kisses her forehead. Stiles starts to carry her out, only to be interrupted by a tug on his shirt. “Bugs,” she begs Derek through a yawn.

“Night-night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

“But if they do, hit ‘em with a shoe,” Stiles finishes, ignoring Derek’s look of exasperation; knowing Clara she’ll happily start whapping shoes at imagined bedbugs in the middle of the night.

Clara sighs happily and snuggles against Stiles’s shoulder. “Do bugs for Naniel,” she tells Derek as Stiles takes her back to her bedroom. He tucks her back into bed and waits until her breathing evens out before he returns to the master bedroom. This time he’s the one waiting for Derek, and he’s nearly dozed off again by the time Derek slides under the covers next to him.

“Did you do the bugs rhyme for Nathaniel?” Stiles whispers.

“You know, I actually did. Though I kept out the unnecessary violence.” Derek tugs Stiles close. “I like him,” he whispers. “Let’s keep him.”

“Oh, good. I didn’t save the receipt.” Stiles forgoes his pillow and rests his head against Derek’s chest instead. “We can switch off kiddos at the next call.”

“Sounds good.” Derek holds him close and Stiles drifts off, awash with gratitude that his family are all here and happy and, above all, safe.

#

September, 2019

“Old MacDonald had a farm!”

“EIEIO!” Clara shrieks as Nathaniel bangs his tray in delight.

“And on that farm he had some…”

“Fish!” Clara supplies.

“Fish! EIEIO! With a glub-glub here and a glub-glub there! Here a glub! There a glub! Everywhere a glub glub! Old Macdonald had a farm! EIEIO!”

Nate, just shy of seven months, drools all over himself with delight, while the two-year old dances around the kitchen yelling “EIEIO!” at the top of her lungs.

Another lovely day of chaos.

Stiles wipes at Nathaniel’s face with a cloth, not-so surreptitiously checking the time as he does so. He’s working from home today, but if he can get Nate and Clara down for their naps at the same time he might have a stab at finishing some reports for Unity Aid. Ideria is about to have its first free election, which should stabilize the economy, but Unity Aid has been working overtime for months to get help to the many areas depressed by the war. Cora is heading over there herself soon. Stiles isn’t ready to go back even on an aid trip, but maybe someday.

“Finish your apple slices,” he tells Clara as he hoists Nate out of his high chair. He’ll get his son to sleep and then wrangle Clara into bed. He knows that he needs to start phasing out afternoon naps, but not today. Not today.

He hears a blaring sound coming from halfway across the kitchen. “Phone, Daddy,” Clara tells him as she chews around the skin of her apple slices.

“Can you grab it, sweetie? I’ve got Nate.” It’s Derek’s ringtone, so he’s probably just calling to check in on his daughter anyway.

Clara skips across the kitchen while Stiles checks to see if Nate needs a diaper change. “Hi Papa! I did finger paints today! Daddy said I could put it on the fridge but I said Papa has to say so.”

Stiles tries not to laugh. Somehow Derek managed to declare himself the decider of whose artwork gets to be honored on the fridge. Currently magnets are holding up five from Clara, two from Derek, and none from Stiles, because apparently his don’t pass muster.

“Daddy!” Clara sings. “Papa wants you!”

Stiles shifts Nate to one arm and takes the phone. “You want me?” he leers.

“Stiles.” Derek’s voice sounds kind of funny. “Call your dad and get him to watch the kids. The verdict’s in.”

#

Stiles meets Derek outside the courthouse. He’s pacing, hands held into tight fists at his side. Ever since Gerard’s trial began he’s been much tenser than normal and Stiles is so, so glad it’s finally over.

“It’ll be any second,” Derek tells him. “Scott and Isaac are already in there.”

Stiles nods and takes Derek’s hand to try and calm him down at least a little. Derek is worried about the verdict, though Stiles is confident Gerard is going to go away forever. It’s been a tough trial. Due to Gerard’s age and his many victims they’d ended up deciding to have just one trial, which means the prosecution had to prove many, many different charges in a short period of time. Stiles and Derek both testified and say through particularly brutal cross-examinations. Gerard is trying to claim he was set up by domestic terrorists. It’s bullshit and everyone know it…but Stiles will be glad to ehar the verdict anyway.

Inside the courtroom, which Stiles will be perfectly happy to never see again in his life, Scott and Isaac have two seats saved. Gerard must have just arrived. He’s in a suit, but he looks so old Stiles is surprised he’s able to sit up.

Finally the judge enters and the jury files in. “Have you reached a verdict?” the judge asks.

“We have, your honor.” The jury foreman stands. “On the charge of treason against the nation of Luponia, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On the charge of murder in the first degree of Christopher Argent, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On the charge of murder in the first degree of Peter Hale, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On the charge of murder in the first degree of Talia Hale, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On the charge of murder in the first degree of Jonas Hale, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On the charge of murder in the first degree of Tyler Hale, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On the charge of murder in the first degree of Ella Hale, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On the charge of murder in the first degree of Lucinda Hale, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On the charge of murder in the first degree of Jordan Hale, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On the charge of manslaughter of Marlene Argent, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On two counts of attempted murder of Stiles Stilinski, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On two counts of attempted murder of Derek Hale, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On the charge of soliciting for the purpose of committing murder, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On the charge of chemical assault against a mated individual for the unlawful purpose of destroying a mating bond, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.

“On four counts of lying to government officials, we the jury find the defendant guilty as charged.”

Stiles can feel Derek exhale at each charge. At the front of the courtroom Gerard is nearly bowed in half, as though he truly cannot bear the weight of it all any longer. “Mr. Argent,” the judge says. “Do you understand the charges as they have been found against you?”

“Yes,” Gerard croaks.

“As part of the agreement between parties we’re going to proceed directly to sentencing. Have you consented to this agreement?”

“Yes.”

“The charge of treason carries with it a mandatory life sentence, to be adjusted to the death penalty at the discretion of the judge. You could also be executed for each count of murder in the first degree, particularly as four of those counts are the particularly heinous murders of children. However, it’s my understanding that you…haven’t enjoyed your time in prison, isn’t that right, Mr. Argent? So I think it’s more fitting for you to remain there. I’m going to sentence you to life for treason and each charge of murder in the first degree, forty years for the manslaughter of your wife, twenty years for each count of attempted murder— that’s forty for each— twenty years for the solicitation charge, fifteen for the chemical assault, and five for each count of lying to officials.”

Stiles adds it up. That’s nine life sentences and an additional one hundred and seventy-five years. Well. That should certainly do it.

“I’d also like to inform you, Mr. Argent, that the court has been presented with evidence that your son Chris was secretly mated to Peter Hale at the time of his death.”

Gerard’s head shoots up in surprise. Stiles doesn’t look at Derek. He knows that the “evidence” has been the brainchild of Derek and some of their friends. It isn’t real, but this is the only way Derek could think of to honor two of Gerard’s earliest victims, at unrest for so long.

“The court chooses to accept that evidence, and to accept the petition to posthumously charge Christopher Argent’s legal name to Christopher Hale.” The judge looks down her nose at Gerard. “Nobody should have to be tainted by your name.”

Gerard sits there, cowering under her gaze. “Court is adjourned,” the judge says, banging her gavel, and Stiles watches as Gerard is taken away forever.

#

June, 2022

For Clara’s fifth birthday, she wants a pirate theme. Stiles tries to be glad that she’s bucking stereotypes, seeing as she presented as an omega a year and a half ago and should by tradition therefore be demanding a pink princess party, but creating a pirate-ship cake is way harder than he expected.

He’s sweating over the fondant when Derek walks in, having just left a costume fitting with his daughter. He looks at Stiles with a tricorn hat, an eyepatch, and a sad little parrot wobbling on his shoulder. “Arrgh,” he says flatly.

“Shiver me timbers, captain. Are you on the hunt for booty?”

“Don’t finish that joke, please.” Derek looks critically at the mess in front of his mate. “Why are you making Clara a coffin cake?”

“It’s a ship!”

“Where are the sails?”

“In Development Hell. They won’t stop collapsing on me. I keep trying to stick in the main one, but no matter what I do it won’t stay up.” Stiles waggles his eyebrows. “If you know what I mean.

“You’re gross,” Derek says, stealing a bite of icing and then kissing Stiles before he can complain.

Derek’s phone rings and he checks the screen before grimacing. “Lydia. She knows I’m not at work right now, honestly.”

“Oh, boo-hoo, the vice-president won’t stop calling me. Humblebragger.”

Derek makes a face at him and answers. “Hey, Lydia. No, I’m in my kitchen. Okay. I have, actually, but not today.” He wanders into the living room and Stiles returns his attention to the stupid Jolly Roger flag, determined to get the damn thing right.

Derek walks back into the kitchen a few minutes later, a funny look on his face. “Lydia’s decided. She’s going to run for president once her term is up.”

Stiles exhales. That’s a big move. Lydia’s well-liked as VP, but having a human president would be a huge step for a country that stopped just short of outlawing all humans only a few years ago.

“She knows it’ll be tough,” Derek says, reading his mind. “Which is why she wants some recognizable, young, and popular as her running mate. Someone with legacy, who’s shown firm support for human rights.”

Stiles’s jaw scrapes the floor. “You?”

“Yeah.” Derek looks completely stunned. “She wants me to be her vice-president.”

“Holy shit, Der.” Stiles has to find his way to a seat so he can digest this news. “Did you say yes?”

“I told her I had to think about it. I mean, I was supposed to be Argent’s running mate, you know? I’d kind of resigned myself to that, and now to do it with Lydia…would I be any good at it?”

“Yes,” Stiles says with certainty. “You’d be amazing. If you think you’re ready— and I think you are— you can do it.”

Derek stares at him. He’s still wearing the pirate getup, but the look of naked fear on his face is decidedly un-pirate-like. “Would you be okay with it? I feel like we just escaped the spotlight— it would be a huge step for the kids.”

“Derek, I’ve already followed you halfway across the world. Of course I’ll follow you to the presidential mansion.”

Derek nods and falls silent for a moment. “I’ll need some more time to think about it,” he says eventually. “But…I think I should do it.”

#

March, 2023

“So what are your duties here as the VP’S mate?” Scott slowly spins in one of the chairs Stiles just had delivered to his executive suite.

“Look cute, apparently. And be philanthropic, which, you know, all I do is charity work through Unity Aid. So I’m super-perfect for the job.” Also manage Derek’s schedule, the mansion, and keep two rowdy kids from accidently causing an international incident at state dinner, but, you know, details.

“Well, you’re killing it, buddy.” Scott checks his watch. “I’ve really enjoyed marinating in luxury here, but I’ve got an eight-months-pregnant mate at home who needs backrubs and kisses. See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah. We’re having dinner with my dad and your mom, right?”

“Right. Which, seriously, if they don’t announce that they’re getting mated, I’m going to throw an intervention. This is getting ridiculous.”

“Seriously. We all know they’re together.” Stiles rolls his eyes and waves Scott goodbye. “See you.”

Once Scott is gone Stiles returns to his work, interrupted only once by a frantic Nate and Clara, who have discovered that the kitchen staff are more than delighted to make them whatever treats their little hearts desire. Stiles accepts the chocolate airplane they bring him and then send them off to the playroom, promising that Papa will be home tonight to tuck them in. Derek was on a trip to Ideria but he should be getting back any minute.

Sure enough Derek walks into the suite not more than a half hour later, shedding his coat. “Hi,” he says, immediately tugging Stiles up for a kiss. “Missed you.”

“Missed you too.” Stiles takes a breath. “Did you hear the news?”

“Hmm?”

“Gerard Argent died today.”

Derek raises an eyebrow. “Suicide?” Argent has tried a few times, to the point where he had to be placed on twenty-four hour watch. He really hates prison.

“No. Just old age. But at least he got to see you become vice president.”

“Yeah.” Derek is lost in thought for a moment, then shakes it off. “Well, good. I’m glad he’s done with, finally. How are you feeling?”

“Good.” Stiles nestles into Derek’s embrace. “This is my third time, you know. I’m basically an expert.”

“I know, but I still get to worry. One whole pregnancy without a near-death experience doesn’t seem like so much to ask for, does it?” Derek strokes the barely-there bump of their third surprise baby. They certainly hadn’t planned to have another child right after Derek was elected, but their marathon sex seesion during the stress of election season had once again proved more powerful than birth control. They’re happy, and the country will love having a baby in the presidential mansion, so they’re just rolling with it.

“Clara and Nate want bedtime stories from you tonight. But I have a request from Nate that you do funny voices like Daddy.”

“But you’re so much better at them than me.” Derek sighs. “The things we do for our children.”

Stiles laughs. Boil rainwater for drinking, kill a country leader, plead with a smuggler, take a werewolf bite, read a bedtime story. “Yeah.” He rests his head against Derek’s chest, enjoying the way his mating bite hums at the contact. “If only they knew.”