The Doctor lands in Beacon Hills at 7.52 am on a Saturday morning, and he knows it's too soon.
He looks out the TARDIS doors at the burned shell of a house, where the wolf and his mate sit with their son, barely six months old; he could take him now, but they wouldn't understand. He's just been born, the first bit of calm before the storm that will follow – no. He won't take the child now. It's too soon. They aren't ready.
None of them are.
He closes the door of the TARDIS, and a moment later he's on his way again.
He doesn't see the wolf look up, eyes narrowed on the spot where he had landed.
The next time he comes, it's 9.23 on a Wednesday night; the boy is a year and a half old, and the Doctor is watching him as his parents teach him how to say their names properly, show him how to walk without stumbling over his own feet. He ducks behind a tree when the wolf looks up, even though he knows he isn't the most subtle of people, according to Rose.
The boy trips, and the wolf catches him, swinging him into the air with an affectionate growl. The Doctor leans against his tree, watching as the wolf passes the child to his mate and picks something off the ground. The child laughs again as he's handed it, his tiny hands coming together like thunder claps –
No, the Doctor decides, they aren't ready yet, either.
When he finds himself in Beacon Hills again, he's regenerated: new hair, new body, new face. He isn't sure what time it is, or what day, but he knows that the boy is two now, know by looking at him that he is loved and cared for, and that if the Doctor puts it off any longer, it won't matter.
The boy is moving things already, pushing things into his parents' paths to keep them trapped in the snack aisle of the grocery store, and his father scowls as he picks him up, stepping over the boxes. He scolds him for making trouble, and the wolf warns him against using his magic in public – it sounds like an old lecture, and the Doctor wonders how long after he was last here it started to manifest itself.
Probably not long, he thinks. But it isn't very strong yet. It probably won't be for a few more months. He watches as the boy's father kisses his forehead, and the wolf messes up his hair, sneaking a box of cookies into the cart, and tells himself that it can wait.
Two months, he promises. They can have two months.
He isn't ready yet.
The wolf is waiting for him when he lands the next time, arms crossed and scowling.
"Leave," he says, almost before the Doctor can even open the door.
The Doctor blinks, glancing around, and messes his hair up.
"Hullo!" he greets. "I don't suppose –"
"I know what you are," the wolf interrupts, and the Doctor falls silent. "You don't have any reason to be here. Our pack isn't hurting your precious time line. Leave us alone."
The Doctor frowns, rubbing the back of his neck. "Actually, your pack isn't the problem," he says. "Although really, you and your mate should probably choose a better pool of candidate to turn into superhuman weapons, just some food for thought –"
The wolf clears his throat. "If you aren't here about the pack," he says, "then what do you want?"
The Doctor glances at the house. He can see the boy playing with his father, see them tossing things for the other to chase down, one with magic and the other with more physical means; he can feel the wolf following his gaze, and hears him growling.
"My son?" he snarls. "What does James have to do with anything?"
The Doctor sighs. "Everything," he says, and straightens his shirt "Maybe if you just let me explain."
The wolf glances back at his son, and then glares at the Time Lord.
"Leave," he repeats, and this time the Doctor steps back into the TARDIS without a word.
He'll wait another month, he thinks. He can give them that much.
James wakes up to the sound of fire.
He's never liked fire much – he doesn't hate it as much as Alpha Daddy does, but he doesn't like the way it burns his face and his hands when he tries to play with it.
This fire is different, though. He knows that if he tried he could reach out and touch it, could make it dance like the people in those movies Uncle Scott likes to watch when no one else is home. But he can't - he's at Grandpa's house, and he isn't supposed to play like that at Grandpa's house. It's against The Rule.
He backs away from the window, still watching the fire, and bumps into someone's legs.
He looks up, scared, but it's just Alpha Daddy, wearing his This is Very Upsetting face. That's what Uncle Scott calls it, because James isn't very good at knowing what Alpha Daddy's thinking. Well, no one's really good at knowing what Alpha Daddy's thinking. Except Papa.
James gulps. "Affa Daddy?" he asks, tugging on his pants leg. "This is Very Upsetting?"
Alpha Daddy looks down at him, and nods. "Yeah," he says. "This is Very Upsetting."
Then he picks James up and holds him tight, and Papa comes in and picks him up.
"He needs a haircut," Papa says, and he pets James' hair. "What do you think, Jimmy?"
James wrinkles his nose and pushes the scissors across the desk and into the trash bin, and Alpha Daddy doesn't look at him and Papa laughs like crying and kisses his forehead.
"Alright, Merlin," he teases. "We'll hold off on the rusty blades of hair death for now."
Alpha Daddy puts his arm around Papa, and the three of them stand there for a while until James falls asleep.
The Doctor lands again in the middle of the storm. It isn't loud or bloody or even especially intimidating; in fact, it doesn't look much different than when he last was here. But he can feel the difference, can feel the cracks in the universe and the strains on time, and he knows that he's put this off long enough.
The street is quiet, his footsteps hovering in the stagnant air like ghosts. Fear hangs in the atmosphere like a poison, thick and deadly, and he shudders as he glances over his shoulder. As peaceful as it seems, this is a war zone; he recognizes the feel, if not the look. Neater, calmer. But just as painful. Just as broken.
The door opens before he can knock, and the wolf is standing there. His son is asleep in his arms, clinging to his jacket like a lifeline. He's been untouched by the foreign magic, but not by the war; the Doctor can feel the pain in him, in all of them.
"You should come in," the wolf says, and steps back.
The inside of the house is crowded and dark; wolves and humans are scattered about, asleep and guarding in turns, but all turn towards them as they pass. The wolf signals to those that keep watch, little more than a glance towards the Doctor and a quick shake of his head, but they stand down, and the wolf leads the way up the stairs and into a deserted bedroom.
Well, mostly deserted, at least, since there is one person there. The boy's father is standing over the desk, scrolling through articles on a beaten laptop, but he straightens when he hears them on the landing, turning to glare at – well, at the Doctor.
"Time Lord," he growls. The Doctor smiles.
"Hello," he says. "Quite the operation you've got going on here, there must be, what, six of you? Seven?"
"Eight," the wolf corrects, handing the boy over to his father. "Three werewolves, five humans. Not as many as some groups farther south."
Eight, the Doctor thinks, and winces. He has waited too long, if they can only manage a pack of eight.
"How have you survived?" he asks. "You can't have moved around much, what with your son."
"James," the wolf snaps. "His name is James. And we haven't had to move at all." He strokes his son's hair. "Allison let us move in when everything started – well, started. The place is protected from seven degrees of supernatural bullshit. Not even Sherlock Holmes could have come up with a way to penetrate this fortress."
The Doctor glances back downstairs. "And yet you have half your pack up playing guard," he muses. The boy's father growls.
"Safe doesn't mean stupid, Time Lord," he says. "Even Argent admitted his hideaway wasn't completely foolproof."
The Doctor smiles. "No," he agrees, "I suppose not." Then he runs a hand through his hair. "You know why I'm here."
The wolf nods. "It's crossed our minds," he says. "I don't suppose there's any point in saying you're wrong."
"I'm sorry," the Doctor says. The wolf scowls.
"No you aren't," he says, and his mate's arms tighten around their son. The boy shifts, looking for comfort, but he doesn't wake; he's obviously become use to sleeping in his parents' arms. "You say that. I imagine you say it a lot. But after a few decades of watching people die, of sacrificing the few to save everyone else – you don't even know what sorry is anymore."
And truth be told, there's something to that.
"I never wanted it to end like this," the Doctor tries again, and this time the wolf lets him go. He steps back, wraps an arm around his son and his mate, rests his forehead against the side of his head and watches his son sleep.
"It doesn't matter," he says, and his voice is hollow as he reaches out, stroking his son's hair. "It has to end your way, or not at all. Doesn't it."
It's a rhetorical statement, but the Doctor's never been one for rhetorical statements.
"Yes," he says. "It does."
The boy shifts again, blinking awake, and looks up at his parents.
"Alpha Daddy," he murmurs. "This is Very Upsetting?"
His father swallows; the Doctor can see his Adam's apple bobbing up and down. "Yeah, kid," he says. "Go back to sleep."
The boy glances at the wolf, and curls closer to his father. "Alpha Daddy, why is Papa crying?"
The Doctor places one hand on his head, and this time no one stops him.
When Merlin sleeps, he dreams.
He dreams of laughing wolves and dancing fire, and of watching quick fingers slip colorful boxes in strange metal wheelbarrows. He dreams of affectionate growling and being swung so high and fast that he almost feels like he's flying, and of sad eyes and blue boxes that are too loud and wake him up and take him away from his pack, and large hands that ruffle his hair and make him forget.
He used to wake up weeping after those nights. But he's almost thirteen now, tall and wiry, and he knows that crying out will only cause problems for his mother, so when he feels himself start to cry he bites his tongue until he can almost taste blood.
Then he rolls over, and buries his face in the hard brick of his pillow, breathing in the smells of old ash and straw and wood, feeling the coarse cloth of the blanket over his neck and the shallow warmth of the dying fire at his feet, and tries to remember that this place is his home, and that he's safe here, with his mother and with the people of the village.
Two and a half millennium and thousands of miles away, Stiles Stilinski leans his head into Derek's shoulder as they open their eyes to a life returned to normal, and try to pretend that their world hasn't come crashing to a sudden, violent end.