It was a bad plan from the start.
The idea was simple enough on paper – break into the Beacon Hills First National Bank, see if there was anyone squatting there, get out and call Scott and Derek to come do the fighting. Simple espionage. So, of course, Stiles had to go and fuck that up. He hadn’t counted on the Alphas being ready, waiting for him as soon as he stepped through the side door. He had a fleeting second to recognize the fist coming at his face and then he was down, out of the count.
He hadn’t even thought there would be anyone there. He’d picked up a noise complaint on his police scanner. The sheriff’s department had ignored it but he went to check it out anyways. Alone, unfortunately, just to see if it was even a valid lead.
It was valid.
“They said no one would come for them,” the man in sunglasses said as he circled the chair Stiles was bound to. Stiles’s face felt like it had swelled three sizes. He couldn’t see out of his right eye, and this was before they started torturing him. They hadn’t mentioned torture yet, but Stiles knew it was coming. “I didn’t believe them, of course, but I have to say I’m disappointed that they sent a human.”
Stiles clenched his teeth, partly in anger and partly in frustration. This was the Argent basement all over again. He should have brought backup – hunters or werewolves, it didn’t matter, just someone. Someone not him. But he’d felt this stupid desire to prove himself, had ever since Gerard had taken him down into that basement. He knew exactly why Gerard had chosen him. He was the weak one. The easy one. The human. And when Gerard had tossed him back on the street, it hadn’t even occurred to him to go back for Erica and Boyd. He’d slunk home with his tail between his legs and would have stayed there if it weren’t for Lydia.
He never told anyone about it – about his night in the basement. Never told anyone about Erica and Boyd being down there because as soon as it occurred to him, Chris had already let them loose and they were gone. But they weren’t gone. They were here.
“Let him go,” Erica said. Her arm reached through the bars of the vault she was trapped in – along with Boyd and another girl Stiles didn’t recognize. None of them looked good. Stiles blamed himself. He shouldn’t have left them. “He’s not a part of this. You can let him go. Please.”
The scary woman with claws on her hands and feet chuckled from where she leaned against the open vault door. “You don’t give up gifts like this,” she said. Her nails clacked against the concrete floor as she stepped forward. “Especially when they’re so prettily wrapped.” Stiles shuddered as her claws dragged over his cheek, just shy of drawing blood.
Sunglasses guy’s cane tapped the floor as he stopped in front of Stiles, cutting off Stiles’s view of the open vault and the werewolves trapped inside. Stiles’s chair was positioned in a large room outside the vault – probably what would have been the main lobby, judging by the counters arranged on either side of them. They’d put him facing the vault to taunt him – his goal just in sight but unreachable.
“Tell me,” sunglasses guy said, “when will the others arrive?”
Stiles stubbornly kept his mouth shut, or at least tried, but seconds later sharp claws dung into his shoulder and pulled down his back until the chair back stopped them. Stiles screamed. His arm felt strange – like it was on fire but also a little numb, disconnected. He wondered how many nerves the scary woman had just severed.
“I do suggest you answer quite promptly, dear boy. Kali is very impatient.”
That earned a chuckle from the big muscular dude who was sitting on one of the teller counters nearby, watching. There were supposed to be five Alphas but so far Stiles had only seen three.
“It’s okay, Stiles,” Erica called. “Just tell them, Stiles. Tell them and they’ll let you go.”
Sunglasses guy laughed at that, with similar sounds of mirth escaping from the other two. “Oh, no. We’re definitely not letting you go... Stiles, was it? No. You’re going to be our message.”
Fury washed over Stiles and he glared up at the man. He was sick of being the message. He spat as hard as he could, managing to hit sunglasses guy in the face. The man raised an eyebrow and casually wiped the spit away while scary woman – Kali – backhanded Stiles across the face.
Stiles saw stars for a moment before his head was forcibly righted. Kali’s claws dug into his scalp.
“That was very rude,” sunglasses man said. “Now I’ll only ask this once more. Where are the others?”
Kali’s nails started to dig in and Stiles grit out “not here.” Her nails retracted slightly and Stiles stared up at the man in sunglasses with blatant loathing. “They don’t know where I am, or that I found Erica and Boyd. They’re not coming so you’d better just get on with whatever message you plan to send because it’s just me here.”
Sunglasses man stared at him for a moment and then nodded. “If you insist.” Stiles’s eyes widened as the man flexed his free hand, showing off wickedly long claws. He barely had time to gasp in surprise as the clawed hand punched through him.
In the distance someone screamed but it wasn’t him. He made no sound as his body slumped forward, held upright only by the bonds tying him to the chair. It was like all the strings inside of him were suddenly cut, leaving him weightless, boneless, immovable.
There was a hole in his chest. He could see his insides and all the blood pouring out.
He expected death to be cold but instead he felt warm, like he was sitting close to a roaring fire. His eyes fell closed and he pictured himself as a child again, back when he used to go camping with his mom and dad. He remembered sitting way too close to the fire pit and roasting marshmallows until they came away blackened and flaming. He’d blow them out and then barely wait until they were cool before eating them off of the stick.
At least he’d see his mother again soon. He was going to miss his dad.
The warmth consumed him, burning away everything inside of him until all that was left was a cinder.
But from that cinder grew a spark and it kept growing, even as Stiles drifted into the void.
Derek shot to his feet as he sensed the sudden presence of two Alphas in the building. He had his claws out, ready to attack but Peter grabbed his shoulder, fingers digging in in warning. Derek turned to Peter, his eyes flashing red, but Peter wasn’t looking at him. Peter stared at the door and said “breathe.”
Derek did, taking one deep inhale and then frowned in confusion. Isaac stepped through the hole in the wall that led to his makeshift bedroom. His eyes glowed yellow as he stared at the door, sensing the threat but not trained enough to look beyond it. “What...”
Isaac’s question was cut off as the door slid open. Erica was the first one through, her bare feet slapping against the wooden floor as she flew into Derek’s arms. His arms tightened around her and he let his head fall forward as he breathed in her scent – pain, misery, ash, and soot. Boyd came next, a strange-smelling bundle of dirty cloth in his arms, followed by two twin Alphas. Peter and Derek stiffened at the same time as a fifth person walked through the door, a person they’d thought long dead.
“Cora?” Derek’s voice faltered on the word. For a moment, he thought he was looking at a ghost, but he could hear her heartbeat, steady and real.
Erica pulled back with a hesitant smile. “Yeah, it’s Cora. The Alpha Pack had her trapped with us.”
Cora shifted in the doorway, showing uncharacteristic hesitance. Erica’s hand slid to Derek’s back and she shoved him forward. That was all the motivation Derek needed to cross the distance between them, bypassing the Alphas to pull Cora into a crushing hug. He felt the tension in Cora’s body drain away and she hugged back after a moment.
“I’m not complaining,” Peter said, sounding closer than where Derek had left him. “But what are you doing?”
Derek forced himself to step away from Cora and face the Alpha twins. The twins shared a look before one of them spoke up. “We’re not here to fight. That was Deucalion’s thing. His plan, not ours. He’s gone so we’re going to get gone as well.”
Peter tilted his head, asking the question foremost on Derek’s mind before Derek could. “Why?”
The other twin pointed at the bundle in Boyd’s arms. “We don’t want to deal with that thing.”
“We took three of yours, you killed three of ours,” the first twin said. “We’re even.”
Derek’s eyebrows shot up and he turned to find a similar look of surprise on Peter’s face. Derek nodded once and the twins were out the door. He slid the loft door shut and leaned against it for a moment. He debated locking the door but he might need to call Scott or Jackson over, depending on what had the Alphas so afraid.
Peter was already peeking into the bundle. There was a wide grin on his face which could mean either something very good or something very bad. “What is it?” Derek asked.
Boyd pulled a bit of the fabric away – it was a torn shirt, Boyd’s likely since he was lacking one – and Derek’s frown deepened as he caught sight of the tiny red bird nestled in the fabric. Erica grinned and pressed herself against Boyd’s side as she ran a finger over the plumage that stuck up from the bird’s head. Derek moved closer, trying to get a better look at the bird. He’d never seen anything with such bold coloration.
“That,” Erica said as Derek, Peter, and Isaac all crowded around the bundle, “is Stiles.”
“We should tell his dad,” Scott said as he stared at the sleeping bird nestled on the breakfast bar in Derek’s kitchenette. Peter had fetched a soft wool sweater from somewhere and put it in a large bowl for the bird to sleep in. It – Stiles, technically – hadn’t woken as they’d shifted it from one nest to another, but Derek had the strange suspicion that it had gotten bigger somehow.
“And tell him what? Your son’s a bird now?” Derek pushed a hand through his hair. He was not prepared to deal with this.
The loft door slid open as Lydia and Jackson finally decided to show up, nearly an hour after Derek had had Scott text them.
“I think he’s cute,” Allison said. She sat on the opposite side of the bar, looking but not touching.
“Who’s cute?” Lydia asked, her attention snapping to Allison.
Allison pointed at the bird in the bowl. “Stiles.”
There was a loud thwump as Lydia’s purse smacked into Jackson’s chest and then she was marching forward with a rapid click of heels. She stopped at the edge of the counter, looked down at the bird, up at Allison, and then back down at the bird. She scooped up the bird without hesitation and cradled it in her hands as she examined it closely.
Stiles kept sleeping.
“Anisodactyl,” she said as she stretched out one tiny gold foot with four sharp rose-colored talons. “A predatory bird.” She let the foot retract and ran a finger over its face. “Thick bill so its diet is likely diverse.” Her finger trailed back over the bird’s head and flattened down the three whispy white feathers that stuck out from the bird’s head. “Long, thin crest. Bright plumage. According to signaling theory, this type of coloration – the red, yellow, and white – is meant as a warning, likely meaning that the animal is either dangerous or poisonous. Or both. But it could also be a means of sexual selection for the species.” She stretched out one of the bird’s wings. “Short, broad wings for high maneuverability.” She let go of the wing to run her fingers down the bird’s long tail feathers. “Long tail similar to quetzal males. Likely another sexual selection signal.” She flipped the bird over, made a hmm noise, and then returned it to its nest.
Scott stared at her with wide eyes and a sort of uneasy look. Derek felt similar though his face hopefully didn’t show it.
“I can’t believe you just dissected Stiles’s birdy bits like that.” Scott pulled the bowl closer to himself. “I mean, I feel like I should be blowing a rape whistle or something.”
Peter snickered from where he was perched on the stairwell with a thick tome in hand. “She was certainly... thorough.”
Lydia rolled her eyes. “I was just trying to figure out classification. I’ve never seen a species like that.”
“You wouldn’t have,” Peter said. “I doubt even the Argents’ bestiary covers phoenixes.”
Jackson’s head snapped up from where he was playing with his phone in an armchair. “That assface is a what now?”
“Hey!” Scott, Allison, and surprisingly Erica all leaped to Stiles’s defense. Derek made a mental note to punch Jackson later.
“He saved us,” Erica said, her eyes glowing. Boyd put a hand on her shoulder to keep her from lunging off the bed at Jackson. They’d both showered and changed into spare clothes of either Derek’s or Isaac’s, but they still looked a little rough. It would probably be a few days before their wounds fully healed. “He found us in that fucking vault. We would have been dead without him.”
Jackson held up his hands in submission. Lydia turned her gaze on Erica. “I assume your rescue has something to do with this.” She waved her hand at the bird. Scott petted its head and cooed quiet nonsense about how Stiles was a pretty bird, though Derek doubted Stiles was aware enough to register anything yet. The bird had been dead to the world since Boyd had shown up with it. Torpor, Peter had called it.
“He exploded,” Boyd said.
“Right after Deucalion killed him,” Cora added.
Lydia whipped around to face Cora, who leaned against the windows of the loft, holding herself away from everyone else. “Who’s that?”
Derek glanced over at Cora. Cora was staring off into the distance, like she didn’t care that there was a conversation going on around her, even though she’d just contributed to it. “My sister. Cora.”
“I thought your sister was dead.” The amount of glares leveled at Jackson was impressive. Cora’s eyes flashed, but she didn’t move.
“That was Laura,” Derek said through gritted teeth. “My older sister.”
“My bad.” This time the glares turned toward Peter, who was still focused on his book. Cora’s eyes widened and she let out a tiny gasp, barely audible even to his enhanced hearing. Peter looked up then and met Cora’s eyes. “I was feral at the time. Derek killed me, I came back better. I’m terribly sorry for what happened.”
Cora held Peter’s gaze for a long moment before nodding. Her eyes turned back to the spot on the wall she’d been staring at for most of the evening.
Derek sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “We thought Cora had been killed in the fire but obviously...” He gestured toward Cora to indicate her apparent living status. He had yet to learn how, exactly, Cora had survived the fire, but he didn’t want to bring it up until it was just them. Or at least them and Peter. “Deucalion and two of his pack were incinerated when Stiles...” A sharp pain ran through his chest at the thought of Stiles dying. Erica had given him the details when he’d asked, but he regretted it now. It painted a dark picture that stuck in the back of his mind, ready to haunt his nightmares. “The other two dropped off Erica, Boyd, and Cora before leaving town.”
Lydia pursed her lips and turned back to the sleeping bird. “Well that’s convenient. And unexpected.”
“He was like that, after,” Erica said. “There was this huge burst of fire. Like, it engulfed the whole room but the flames didn’t touch us. Then the Alphas were just gone, along with most of the furniture, and there was this giant scorch mark where Stiles had been sitting and this tiny little bird curled up on the floor.”
“He’s been sleeping since,” Allison added.
“Right.” Lydia walked over to sit on the barstool next to Allison. “So I assume we’re looking for a way to turn him back?”
“Why bother?” Everyone ignored Jackson this time.
Scott nodded. “Preferably before the Sheriff realizes he’s missing and starts a city-wide search.” Scott glanced over at Derek. “I still say we should just tell him.”
Derek growled in frustration and started to bite out a response but Lydia beat him to it. “That makes sense.” Derek raised an eyebrow at her and she rolled her eyes in response. She waved her hand towards the Hales. “Werewolves, born of were parents. Stiles’s mother is dead, right?” Scott nodded confirmation. “So, not a phoenix. That leaves his dad.”
All eyes turned toward Derek. He sighed. “Fine. Call him.”
“Do you honestly expect me to believe that horseshit?” Sheriff Stilinski glared at the assembled teenagers – and two older men – with his hand resting on his thankfully still clasped gun holster. He shot a pointed look at Scott. “I can’t believe you called me out of work for this. You should know better.” His gaze travelled over the assemblage. “Now someone better tell me where my son is and why he’s not answering his phone.”
Scott looked over at Derek with pleading eyes. Scott had elected himself the bearer of bad news but the sheriff hadn’t believed a word of his story, just like Derek expected. He stepped forward with his hands in front of him. “Please don’t shoot me,” Derek said, and then he shifted.
The sheriff jerked backwards with a shout and fumbled for his gun as Derek hit the Beta shift, but his hand fell away from his holster and his jaw dropped open as Derek kept going, experimenting with how far he could push the Alpha shift. Peter’s eyes flashed blue and he nodded approvingly at Derek before Derek slowly shifted back to human. He rolled his shoulders to chase away the lingering ache of the change and crossed his arms over his chest as he stared at the sheriff.
“Okay,” Sheriff Stilinski said. He ran a hand over his face but that didn’t help him look any less flustered. “Okay, so werewolves are real.” He turned a skeptical eye toward the gathered teenagers. “And you’re all werewolves?”
Scott shook his head. “Not all. Allison’s a hunter and Lydia’s...”
“Banshee,” Peter supplied, causing several heads to turn his way. Lydia’s eyes widened before narrowing into a glare. “What? I thought you knew.”
The sheriff sighed. “I’m guessing you don’t mean hunter in terms of regular, legally-sanctioned hunting permits and seasons.”
“Not quite,” Allison said with a small smile. “Nous chassons ceux qui nous chassent. We hunt those who hunt us.”
“Great. Is there anyone my son is friends with who isn’t a supernatural being?” Allison started to raise her hand. “Or supernatural adjacent.” Allison lowered her hand.
“Danny?” Scott supplied.
The sheriff rolled his eyes. “Okay. Great. That’s one.” His eyes landed on the bowl on the coffee table. They’d moved Stiles there since it was easier to sit on the couches than to try and crowd around the breakfast bar. Derek was starting to question if the bird was getting bigger or he just kept misremembering its size. It filled half the bowl by now and it was a pretty big bowl. “So you’re telling me my son’s a bird now?”
“Only temporarily,” Peter said. His lips twitched upward, like he was trying to hide the humor he found in the situation. Probably for the best unless he wanted to get shot. “We hope. From what I’ve been reading, he should be back to his normal form in a few days.”
“At least it’s summer vacation.” The sheriff sighed again and stared down at the bowl. “He’ll be alright here? Until he turns back? I’m working doubles all week, but I can take time off if I need to be here.” He shook his head. “Jesus. A bird? How the hell do you take care of a bird?”
Scott jumped to his feet. “No. Don’t worry about it. We’ve got it. I know all about birds from working at the vet and Lydia’s been looking up stuff too. He’ll be safe here. We’ll watch out for him. Right, guys?” A chorus of assent sounded from around the room. Jackson wisely remained silent.
“Okay. I’ve got to get back to work.” The sheriff cast another lingering glance back at the bird in the bowl. “Call me if anything changes.”
“We will,” Scott promised.
The group remained silent until the sheriff had left.
Lydia stood with a huff. “Well, so much for that idea.” She turned to Peter. “What other books do you have?”
“Let me see.” Peter got to his feet while Scott groaned. Derek was tempted to echo the sound. Research had never been his thing. That’s what Peter had been for, before the fire, and then Stiles, after Derek had come back to Beacon Hills. Maybe he could let Peter and Lydia handle it? There surely weren’t that many books on phoenixes.
That left him with one other very important problem. What the hell was he going to do with a bird in his apartment?
Stiles woke up slowly. His head felt a little fuzzy and his whole body was just weird, like it didn’t fit the way it was supposed to anymore. He was sleeping on something soft, but there were hard edges to it that kept poking him in the side. He was tempted to keep sleeping, to let himself drift back into black nothingness. He was kind of hungry but he could maybe keep sleeping just a little bit longer.
Then his memory came back to him and his head shot up. He remembered the stabbing pain of Deucalion’s talons piercing through his stomach. He remembered bleeding. He remembered dying.
He was supposed to be dead, but he was obviously not and holy hell why was Scott so huge? He blinked and stared at Scott’s sleeping form. Scott was stretched out on a couch – Derek’s couch? – and yep, he was in Derek’s loft sleeping on... his coffee table? Stiles tried to stand and wobbled as the fabric – wool? – beneath him shifted and caught in his feet. His scaly, taloned feet.
What the hell? He reached out an arm to steady himself as he tried to climb out of whatever it was he was sleeping on. It took him a moment to realize the bright red wing filling the side of his vision was him. He flapped it, watching in awe as it moved under his command. He was a bird now? He died and came back as a bird? What the hell!
He stepped forward, talons curling around the edge of his nest, and then pitched out and over the coffee table as the thing shifted under his weight. It fell with him. The loud squawk he made as he dodged out of the way of the bowl, along with the clattering of the bowl on the floor, startled Scott awake. Several other heads popped up around the room, shooting up like prairie dogs. Each new movement caught Stiles’s attention and his head swiveled rapidly, trying to follow each new swirl of colors.
Shit looked weird. Like there was this strange glow around everyone and colors just didn’t look quite right and even the early morning sunlight was mesmerizing as it fell in rays across the loft floor. He knew Scott’s eyes were brown but there was a faint red glow over top, like he was werewolf and human at the same time. Stiles tilted his head and looked at each of his friends. There were weird colors around all of them and nothing looked right.
“Hey, buddy,” Scott said as he sat up. Stiles felt his body shiver – his feathers rustled – as Scott reached down with two hands to pick Stiles up and set him on the couch next to Scott. Stiles came up to Scott’s armpits. It was so weird how much larger everyone was than him. He wished he had a mirror. “You got bigger.” Stiles titled his head. He’d been smaller? How long had he been out? “And you’re awake. How’re you feeling?”
Stiles tried to say he felt fine but all that came out was a strange series of chirps. His head pulled back and tilted as he tried to figure out what had just come out of his mouth. He tried again, shooting for words but only getting chirps.
A very familiar snort sounded from behind the couch. “I can’t tell which is worse – his human rambling or his bird noises.”
Jackson. Stiles bristled, feeling the feathers all over his body raising. His wings lifted to bat at the air and Scott hastily ducked to the side.
“Whoa, man. Don’t listen to him.” Scott slowly reached toward Stiles. “He’s just being a jerk.”
Jackson barked a laugh. Stiles couldn’t see him but he didn’t need to. His voice was enough. “What’s he gonna do? Peck me to death?”
Oh, it was on! Stiles launched himself over the back of the couch, scrambling a bit as he tried to reach the top and then he was leaping off, wings batting ineffectually at the air as he tried to fly at Jackson. Jackson’s eyes went wide as he ducked to the side with a shout. His arm came up to block Stiles but that only gave Stiles something to latch onto. He dug his talons in and batted his wings, buffeting the side of Jackson’s head while his beak darted forward to bite at any piece of exposed skin he could find.
“Hey!” Stiles’s talons dragged through flesh as he was pulled off of Jackson. His feet found purchase on a new arm and he ruffled his feathers once before settling down, pleased at the bloody mess he’d left behind. Jackson was still on the floor, eyes wide with terror as he stared up at Stiles, though his wounds were sadly healing.
The arm Stiles was on moved so that Stiles was facing Derek – a very grumpy-faced Derek. Stiles tilted his head. There were all sort of strange colors floating around Derek. He didn’t even have names for some of the colors. Birds could see in ultraviolet, if he remembered correctly. Some could even see polarized light and magnetic fields. Was that what he was seeing now? Was there some kind of magnetic field that supernaturals emitted? Maybe that’s what auras were supposed to be. The red glow over Derek’s brownish-green eyes was intense. Derek’s lips were moving but Stiles wasn’t paying attention, entranced by the red and gold and orange swirling around Derek’s head, not like flames but almost like waves off of the ocean.
A finger poked Stiles in the chest and he squawked, feathers ruffling. Derek raised an eyebrow. Stiles wanted to protest that Derek’s face was distracting, but that might come a little too close to admitting that he had a huge crush on Derek and wanted to kiss his face. A wicked thought occurred to Stiles and he leaned forward to tap Derek on the nose with his beak. It was almost like a kiss. A little birdy kiss. The look of surprise that crossed Derek’s face was totally worth it. Derek shook his head and the look was gone.
“Are you listening now?” Derek asked.
Stiles nodded and chirped an affirmative.
“I want to hold him!” Erica hovered next to them. Stiles turned. She was all swirly golds and yellows and blues. She looked beseechingly between Derek and Stiles. For a minute, Stiles was puzzled. Since when did Erica like him? He guessed it was just the novelty of him being a bird. He would probably be all about playing with the pretty bird if it was someone else stuck in this situation.
Derek huffed and extended his arm a little. Erica raised her arm to match. Stiles cast a backward look at Derek before carefully stepping onto Erica’s bare arm, trying to be mindful of his talons. She squealed as soon as he settled on her arm and he ducked, wincing. His hearing was definitely better than it used to be. He wondered if it was as good as a werewolf’s. He tried to listen in on Erica’s heartbeat but there was too much going on for him to parse everything he was seeing, let alone hearing.
“Sorry,” Erica said. She sat down on the rumpled covers of Derek’s bed. It looked like her and Boyd had been sleeping there, possibly Isaac too. He wanted to make a joke about a little wolfy slumber party but no one would understand him. Erica ran a hand over the feathers on top of his head and he let out an involuntary coo as the thought of slumber parties and everything else fled his brain. It felt good. He leaned into the touch, selfishly enjoying the petting. When else in his life was he going to have a hot – if occasionally terrifying – girl voluntarily touching him?
“Stiles.” Derek’s voice pulled Stiles’s attention away. He opened one eye. If he could smirk, he probably would. Derek crouched down beside the bed, lowering himself to Stiles’s level. “Do you remember what happened? At the bank?”
Stiles flinched, shifted on his feet, and then nodded. He wanted to shy away from this line of conversation but that would mean moving away from Erica’s petting. If it was up to him, he would be firmly in the camp of remembering his own death.
“You died.” Stiles turned his face into Erica’s palm and she made soothing sounds as she pulled him closer to her chest. For probably the first time in his life, he didn’t care about his close proximity to boobage. “You exploded and turned into a bird. Peter thinks you might be a phoenix. Did you know that would happen?”
Stiles pulled his face away just enough to shake his head. Him? A phoenix? That was at once terrifying and awesome. Weren’t phoenixes supposed to be all fiery? He looked down at his feathers. They were just a normal, if slightly shiny red. He craned his head around. He had an impressive set of tail feathers but they were definitely not on fire.
Stiles’s head shot up to meet Derek’s gaze and he chirped rapidly, growing more and more frustrated as the words he wanted to get out wouldn’t vocalize properly.
“Whoa.” Derek held up both hands and Stiles forced his beak shut. He had a beak. This was so weird. Possibly number one in weird things that have happened in Beacon Hills, closely followed by his best friend being bitten by a crazed werewolf... who later came back to life. Okay, so definitely top ten, somewhere. He had no clue. “I’m guessing this is all as new to you as it is to us, but Peter and Lydia are looking into it.”
Stiles turned and looked up at Erica, hoping she’d get what he was trying to ask.
“Deucalion’s dead,” Erica said, and something inside of Stiles settled. He leaned against her chest. “Kali and Ennis too. The twins – Ethan and Aiden – took off after they dropped us here.” At least he didn’t have to worry about pissed off Alphas trying to kill him a second time.
Derek cleared his throat to get Stiles’s attention. “Do you know how to turn back?”
Stiles tilted his head. He sidled down Erica’s arm, away from her calming touch and tried to imagine being himself again, being human. He pictured himself as he normally was – all awkward angles and scrawny limbs. Nothing happened. He moved back and chirped.
Derek sighed. “I’ll take that as a no.” He pushed his hand through his hair, making the colors around him spin off in spikes of violet and red and black. “Do you know anyone in your family who would know? Your dad had no idea about...” He waved his hand in Stiles’s direction.
Stiles’s eyes widened and he squawked in alarm, nearly falling off of Erica’s arm in horror. They told his dad? He was chittering without realizing it. Shit. Shit. What was he going to tell his dad? How could he even begin to explain any of the last year?
Erica’s free hand came up to steady him, stroking down his back until he settled. It was strange how her touch was so reassuring when not too long ago she’d hit him in the face with part of his own Jeep. He looked down at the scratches on Erica’s arm and tried to apologize. It came out as a low trill.
“Hey. No worries,” Erica said. “They’re already healed.” She wiped at the skin, rubbing the faint bit of blood away to show him that the skin was whole.
He ducked his head, half hiding it under his wing with another low trill. Erica laughed and kept petting him.
“Stiles.” He looked up at Derek again. “Your family?”
Stiles huffed, sending his chest feathers ruffling.
“Here.” Scott walked over and held out a pad of paper and a pencil.
Stiles flattened his head and glared. If he had palms, his face would be in them.
“Children.” Peter came down the spiral staircase with a laptop in his hand. He opened the machine up and beckoned them over. There was a blank Word document ready.
Stiles hopped off of Erica’s arm and walked over to the machine. It felt weird walking on the table, kind of unnatural. He supposed walking wasn’t exactly the normal mode of transportation for a bird.
He reached his hand out before realizing that his feathers weren’t going to do much against the keyboard. He pulled his wing back and hopped up onto the edge of the machine. He stretched out his foot, but he couldn’t reach the keys while still seeing what he was hitting. With a sigh, Stiles shuffled back onto the table and used his beak to peck out adopted.
“What?” Scott sounded almost betrayed that he didn’t know.
Derek frowned. “Your father didn’t mention that.”
Stiles resisted the urge to roll his eyes, not really sure how that would work as a bird, and hit enter followed by dad doesn’t know I know. Stiles looked pointedly at Scott before typing he thinks i'm not ready to know.
Scott looked guilty. “I can keep a secret.”
Everyone looked at Scott. Allison sighed and patted Scott on the shoulder. “No, honey, you can’t.”
“Well there goes the family idea,” Lydia said. Stiles tilted his head in question. Lydia regarded him for a moment. “Unless you know who your real parents are?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jackson stiffen. Stiles shook his head and then typed abandoned. no records.
Something almost like sympathy crossed Jackson’s face before it was quickly hidden behind his usual frown.
“Dude,” Scott said. He walked up to the table and ran his fingers down Stiles’s back, making Stiles coo involuntarily. He didn’t mind, really, since it felt good. Everyone could just form a petting train and he totally wouldn’t mind. Except Jackson. That would be weird. And maybe Peter. He was unsure on Peter. Scott kept talking, pulling Stiles out of his weird thoughts. “You should have told me. You didn’t have to be alone with that. You were there for me through my parents’ divorce. I would have totally been your support system. Whatever you need.”
Stiles tried to shrug. It came out more like a flap of wings. He cooed instead, trying for a soothing sound. Allison smiled, at least, and he was pretty sure Erica had hearts in her eyes. Erica’s fingers twitched towards him like she wanted to pick him up again but she refrained.
“So assuming your parents are still alive,” Lydia said. Stiles flinched. He tried not to think too much about that possibility that they’d purposefully left him. It was something that had haunted him when he’d first found out, shortly after his mother’s death. He’d gotten over it, sort of, but he still had this lingering fear that people were going to abandon him. “We don’t know who they are or where they are.” She looked over at Derek then Peter. “I don’t suppose you know any phoenixes personally that we could call?”
Peter shook his head. “I’d thought they were a myth, honestly.”
A girl Stiles didn’t know stepped forward from the shadows by the staircase. Stiles vaguely recognized her from the bank vault. “There were rumors of something like that when I was in Brazil. Something out of the old Mayan and Aztec remains deep in the mountains.” She looked at Stiles with a blank expression that reminded him a lot of Derek. “I can make a few calls.”
Stiles looked between her and Derek. There was definitely a resemblance.
Derek sighed. “That’s my sister, Cora. She was in the vault with Erica and Boyd.”
Stiles cooed. That made him think of something. Stiles hopped back over to the keyboard. how do you guys shift.
Derek leaned forward to read the screen and then shrugged. “For me, it’s always been instinctual, like shedding your clothes. You just move from one form to the other.” He looked around at the others.
Scott frowned. “I didn’t really have to think about it too much. For me, the problem was always not shifting when I didn’t want to. It was just there, inside of me, waiting to come out.”
Stiles chirped. He remembered helping train Scott to control the shift. They’d done a lot of stuff with controlling Scott’s heartrate and finding him an anchor. If he was anything like that, then having an anchor would help him control his shift. Assuming he could shift. But then that could be easy because his anchor was obvious. He focused on hugging his dad, on being human and talking and imagining how much trouble he was going to be in when he saw his dad next. Nothing happened.
He pecked at the computer. but i have an anchor and it’s not working.
Derek raised an eyebrow. Peter tilted his head. He seemed fascinated with the whole Stiles as a bird thing. Or really, just the phoenix thing. Peter seemed like the guy that would have a menagerie of mythological creatures if he could get away with it.
“Who’s your anchor, Stiles?” Peter asked.
my dad. duh. Like he even had to think about that. His dad was the last family he had left. The only family that had wanted him. Even if they were on the outs, his dad would always be his rock.
Peter smiled. “You know, it’s not always that simple. Close family or pack is often a strong anchor, but for some people, it just doesn’t work that way.” He looked up at the sky through the long wall of windows, as if contemplating the rising sun. “For some unknown reason, it just doesn’t click the way people expect sometimes. Perhaps you should try focusing on different people in your life.” Peter’s smile turned sly and he looked back at Stiles again. “Like Miss Martin, perhaps.”
Both Jackson and Stiles protested at the same time, and then stared at each other. Stiles shook his head. He’d thought himself in love with Lydia once upon a time but Jackson’s resurrection had put the last nail in that coffin. He didn’t even want to think about who else could be his anchor besides his dad. His love for Lydia was gone. His friendship with Scott was legendary, but it didn’t seem to have the right oomph that an anchor needed. He looked around the room, at all the gathered people in his life – his only friends, really. His eyes stopped on Derek and then quickly moved away. That path led to wreck and ruin.
He huffed, feathers fluffing around him and hobbled over to the edge of the table. He was so done with this conversation, and the hunger he’d felt when he woke up was increasingly making itself known. He hop-fluttered off the end of the table. Erica, Boyd, and Isaac shifted out of the way as he hopped his way over to the refrigerator. Once he’d reached his target, he turned back to face the crowd and squawked.
“Aww,” Erica said. “Is someone hungry?”
He was fucking famished and told them so in a cacophony of noise that caused most of the werewolves to wince. He shut up as soon as he was sure he got the point across. He didn’t want to think about anchors and transformations and being abandoned as a baby anymore. He wanted food and sleep and maybe some more feather pettings.
“Fine,” Derek said as he stomped over to the kitchenette. “We’ll feed you.”
Erica lifted him up onto the counter and started petting him again while Derek cut up some fruit. Stiles preened. It was nice being the one taken care of for a change.
Stiles blinked as he became vaguely aware of being picked up. He lifted his head and peered up at Derek. He chirped softly. It was dark out and he didn’t want to wake anyone who might be sleeping. Though he wasn’t sure who was sleeping. It didn’t sound as noisy as it’d been this morning. Maybe some people had gone home? He could imagine Lydia at the very least wanting to sleep in her own bed, and Erica and Boyd probably needed to reunite with their parents.
“If you want to keep sleeping on the counter, be my guest,” Derek said.
Stiles chirped again and leaned against Derek’s broad chest. It was nice being able to do that and not have it seem too weird. At least not as weird as it would be as a human. Derek barely tolerated him as it was, he doubted Derek would have any interest in reciprocating Stiles’s schoolboy crush. But he was a bird, probably would be a bird for who knew how long and he could allow himself this one small comfort.
Derek’s fingers scratched lightly at Stiles’s neck, earning a slightly louder coo. Derek smiled down at him. “You know, you’re pretty cute like this. A lot more affectionate, too.”
Stiles froze. He looked up at Derek and Derek looked right back with that stupidly handsome face. Something inside of Stiles broke. He felt warm all over, like he was full-body blushing and then he was blushing because he was standing naked with Derek’s arms still around him. They both stared at each other for a moment before Stiles squeaked and dove for the bed. He grabbed the top blanket off and wrapped it around himself before he could accidentally flash Derek with any more naked skin.
He'd turned back. How? How had he turned back and why right then? And without clothes. Where were his clothes? Shit. Stiles may be freaking out a little bit and it didn’t help that Derek’s eyes were flaring red as he stared at Stiles sitting wrapped in a blanket on his bed. Stiles was naked on the man’s bed. He was never going to live this down. Ever. He was going to die and on his tombstone it would read “naked on Derek Hale’s bed”.
Derek shook his head, letting the red bleed out of his eyes. If Stiles didn’t know any better, he would think Derek was blushing. He didn’t have his special birdy vision to help him see in the dark. “Let me... Ah, let me just get you some... some pants.” Derek disappeared upstairs.
Stiles smothered a hysterical laugh with both hands. Oh, God, he was going to lose it. He may have already lost it. Shit. He was naked. Derek saw him naked and Derek said he was cute and Derek gave him affection. Breathing was not going well for him at the moment. No, bad timing. He would not pass out naked on Derek’s bed. That would just be too much. Stiles was so glad the others were gone because he did not want to have his current freak-out with an audience.
Oh, except he did have an audience. An audience of one, thank God, but that one was Derek.
“Hey, it’s okay. Calm down.” Derek pulled Stiles’s hands away from his mouth and somehow just having Derek hold his hands was enough to send a shiver down his spine. But at least he was breathing again and Derek had brought him sweatpants and a t-shirt so he would be imminently not naked. That was at the very top of his to-do list. No more naked time. Very soon. “That’s better,” Derek said and oh, God, his expression was so soft and perfect. “Just breathe. It’s okay. You’re back to human. This is great.” Derek started to stand. His hands fell away from Stiles’s. “We should tell your dad. He’ll want to know you’re okay.”
“You’re my anchor,” Stiles blurted and then instantly regretted it. He had no idea why he said that. He shouldn’t have said that.
Derek froze for a second and then nodded, like all of this was normal. “Okay. We probably shouldn’t mention that to your dad just yet, but that’s good. That you have an anchor. That’s...” Derek’s eyes did that red flashing thing as his voice trailed off.
“...good?” Stiles finished. He could feel hysterical laughter building up in his throat. He forced it down. He was not going to lose it. Not in front of Derek. He could lose it later, at home, in private.
“Yeah.” Derek moved to sit beside Stiles on the bed. His hand brushed against the side of the blanket, not quite touching Stiles but it looked like he wanted to. Stiles could practically feel the warmth from Derek’s body next to him. He wanted to lean into it. He had no idea how Derek would take that. He had no idea about anything anymore. He was a fucking phoenix and Derek was his anchor. “I... um...”
Stiles turned away. “It doesn’t mean anything.” He could hear the lie in his own voice but he needed to give Derek an out. He had to give Derek an out because otherwise he was going to dive right down the rabbit hole and get his heart broken. “I’m sure a lot of people have... um... friends as anchors.”
Derek poked him in the side. Stiles’s eyes widened as he turned back to face Derek. What was with all the poking today? Derek did not poke people. Derek did not poke him. “It doesn’t have to mean anything,” Derek said, his eyes on the verge of bleeding red, “but it could. You’re cute in this form as well, you know.”
“I... um...” There should be words. He should be saying words. Like ‘yes’ repeatedly, but his mouth didn’t want to work.
“Just fuck and get it over with,” Isaac shouted from the other room.
Stiles’s face burned and he tried to hide himself in the blanket. Strong arms wrapped around him and pulled him down on the bed. The blanket covering his face was peeled back. “We’re not going to fuck,” Derek said, his eyes flashing on the last word. “Not yet. Not until you’re ready.”
Stiles nodded. What else was there to say? What else could he say?
“Maybe we could get some sleep for now and call your dad in the morning?”
Sleep sounded good. Sleep with Derek sounded even better. There was just one problem. “Can I put on some pants first?”
Derek laughed. It was an amazing sound and Stiles wanted to figure out how to make it happen again and again. “Yes, you can put on pants.”
“Cool.” Stiles shimmied to the edge of the bed and pulled the sweatpants on while keeping the blanket wrapped around himself. Then he let the blanket drop and pulled on the t-shirt.
When he turned back around, Derek was already in bed. He held up one edge of the covers in obvious invitation. Stiles blushed as he crawled in. He tried to leave ample space between them, but Derek just snorted and pulled Stiles the rest of the way over, until his head was tucked under Derek’s chin. Stiles’s hands pressed against Derek’s bare chest. He was pretty sure he could die of happiness right now. Except for that whole part where he apparently couldn’t die and he really didn’t want to incinerate Derek.
“Go to sleep, Stiles.”
He could do that. Sleep was good. He could worry about all the rest of it tomorrow – about Derek and him being a phoenix and his dad. Tomorrow. For now, Derek was a warm presence against his front and he just wanted to curl into that warmth and let go. So he did.
He couldn’t see it, but he was pretty sure Derek was smiling as they both drifted off to sleep.