Derek was fifteen and still smelling of ash when he met Stiles.
He honestly doesn't know if Stiles remembers. He would've been ten – small and gawky but still ricocheting through life like he'd flailed out of the goddamn womb. Derek remembers watching with a numb sort of interest as Stiles ducked around the counter at the police station, flattening his back to the desk like he was the cat burglar to the doughnut box's fucking Crown Jewels. The dispatch lady had hidden her smile well but Derek hadn't missed the nudge of the doughnut box towards the hand that snaked over the partition. Nor did he miss the complicated flail of success when Stiles managed to snag the last frosted monstrosity out of the box.
He didn't laugh — he couldn't have, not that day — but he must have made some noise because Stiles looked up and startled like a splashed cat. Not that Derek blamed him. He'd seen himself later, alone in the hotel mirror, before his fist went through it. Dark hair turned grey with ash, face sunken and streaked with tears. A mess. Which was why it was surprising when Stiles took a breath, walked right up to him and offered him the freaking doughnut.
"It's jam," he'd said, voice clear and unnervingly sober. Too damn sober for bakery goods.
Derek still doesn't know why he took it, accepting the mess of icing and dough with fingers stained black. He also doesn't know why he broke the fucking thing in half and offered the bigger piece to Stiles.
"Share," he'd said, voice cracked. It'd been the first word out of him that wasn't a scream since he and Laura heard the howls.
Stiles — ten year old Stiles, who'd just slid under the police counter like a goddamn ninja in a bad comedy sketch — paused and considered, like this was a life fucking decision and not the slight risk of a cavity or two. Then he'd nodded, accepting back the piece, black fingerprints and all.
The doughnut had been dry and too sweet on his tongue but Derek had eaten it all anyway.
He hadn't known at the time, was too broken and spent to notice. It wasn't until he'd glared at his shattered reflection in the hotel mirror hours later, and blue flashed back instead of gold, that he'd realised. But by then, it was too fucking late.
The world is full of people who hate what they do. Line-managers, clerks, teachers – everyday people stuck in everyday jobs, loathing every morning with the rising of the sun and despairing with the setting of it. Abby? She's not one of those people. Not least because she lives by the moon.
"Please," the girl sobs, face tear-streaked and crumpled. It ought to make her unattractive, but Abby's always seen the beauty in desperation. And this girl? She wears it well. "Please just let us go."
Abby smirks, cutting a look across to Dana. Where the girl before them is all blonde hair and peach features under a cracking layer of makeup, Dana is darkness and razor wire; face sharp lines and hard stoicism. Abby has teased her about that look — the utter, stonewall seriousness of it — but even she can't dispute the results it gets. She should know – she was on the receiving end once upon a time.
"We're not going to kill you," Dana says, voice low, dark and fuck, Abby will never not love this. "Not yet."
The girl sobs, soft and perfectly undone as her chipped nails press into the leather of the boy's jacket. Oh, and what a boy. He hasn't said anything yet, hasn't even moved since he pulled the girl behind him. His eyes though – they're all but humming with his thoughts. Calculating; assessing. Abby already knows he's the one.
"We're going to give you a choice..."
Adrenalin is a beautiful thing. Stiles has yet to find a situation it can't get him through. Werewolves, Kanimas, psychotic old men. But the bitch of adrenalin is it has to wear off sometime. And then — then — the world freaking ends. The pain and exhaustion that've been clamoring at the locked door are suddenly left to tumble inside and make a giant mess of things. Stiles has crashed out hard before, dull aches pressing him into his mattress. This- this is different. Because along with the aches are coming sharp, targeted, knife-edge slices of pain.
Pain that's focused far too close to venerable internal bits for Stiles to be comfortable leaving them to heal themselves.
Stiles grimaces as he fingers the edge of what's sure to be one hell of a bruise across his side. He looks pale and drawn in the mirror. The parts of him that aren't technicolour at least.
Trust Stiles to cop a possible broken rib before the age of eighteen.
Actually, no. Trust Stiles to antagonise freaking werewolves on a semi-regular basis only to be laid out by a perfectly human, perfectly elderly dude. Funny. It's funny. Scott will laugh. Just as soon as Stiles gets around to telling him. Or anyone for that matter.
Stiles sighs, letting his shirt drop. No matter how it happened, he knows he's going to have to get it checked. If nothing else, he's sick of having a minor freaking heart attack every time he takes a deep breath.
Fifteen minutes and a mild case of paranoia regarding seat belts later, Stiles is knocking at the Vet's office door.
Seriously? The sign is right there.
"I know," Stiles calls, choking on the rest of his explanation, because what the hell is he supposed to say? Werewolf business? Breakable token human needs assistance?
The door opens before he decides on anything and it's only the possibility of puncturing a lung that keeps Stiles' instinctual surprised flail in check. "Heeeeey – ah – sorry to drop in – I ah-"
Deaton's face registers surprise for all of three seconds before his gaze zeros in — as everyone's does, and wow is he so over that already — on the side of Stiles' face. "Stiles," he says, his voice doing that zen thing Stiles used to think was creepy, back when Scott first got the job at the office and Stiles was convinced Deaton was building an army of zombie cats. "Are you okay?"
It's the exact same question Scott asked after Jackson defied the laws of mortality. The same question Stiles answered with a great big lie. Evil opposing teams, man – aren't they the worst?
Stiles is all ready to drive down that same road again. Tried and tested after all. But when he opens his mouth to reassure, to grin and laugh and wave the spotlight away, nothing comes out. Deaton's brow pinches downward and before Stiles knows it he's being ushered into the darkened building.
Deaton locks up after him, moving with the same sure smoothness he always does. The man's zen could fuel a small monastery, seriously. The back office is small but uncluttered. Deaton gestures him to a hard-backed swivel chair before perching himself on a short stool, and Stiles almost wants to applaud the dynamics of it – making sure Stiles is above him, in power and at ease-
Stiles jolts, hissing as he jars his ribs and yep – there goes Deaton, noticing freaking everything again.
"I'm sorry, I can't go to the hospital or my dad will find out and he already has enough to deal with-"
Deaton cuts him off like a pro. "What's wrong?"
Stiles sighs, climbs to his feet and gingerly pulls up his shirt in lieu of explanation. Deaton does well – there's no gasp, no grunt, no nothing. "I just need to know if anything's broken." Stiles says. And he hates this – hates that he let this happen-
"Stiles, I'm just a veterinarian-"
"Bullshit," Stiles spits before he can stop himself. He feels the shame cut a strip off him a second later as Deaton blinks — just blinks — like Stiles could pull out a freaking revolver and it still wouldn't phase him. God. Stiles groans, dropping his shirt to smack a heavy palm over his face. "Sorry - I'm sorry, I just can't-"
"It's okay," Deaton says. Stiles can practically feel the calm gaze, even as he fixes his own on the tiles at his feet. Black and white – that must be a bitch to keep clean. An ice-cap melts before Deaton speaks again. "Come out the back - I'll do what I can."
The breath Stiles lets out is his easiest since Gerard landed the first kick.
Deaton knows Beacon Hills like he knows breathing. It's an instinctual thing; one born of responsibility and dedication. He knows the forests, the people, the animals.
He knows the blood.
That more than anything else had been behind the decision to let Gerard run. The old man may have been twisted, but he was beaten, and if Deaton knows anything, it's the look of a man that will stay gone. As far as Deaton is concerned, the less blood shed in Beacon Hills, the better.
But then came Stiles. The boy who ran with wolves, now running to him. It didn't take much. Deaton is good at getting people to talk and well, no one can ever accuse Stiles of being quiet.
It'd spilled out, a jumbled mess of a story, hitching occasionally when Stiles flinched at particularly probing touches. And frankly, that alone might have been enough to prompt Deaton to action. He's known Scott a good number of years now and he's not the only one in town who's learned the hard way that when you care for one of the duo the other comes packaged. Seeing Stiles' normally blazing eyes shuttered had kicked a long-buried hornet's nest, one that's settled between Deaton's shoulder blades and even now sees his jaw clench.
Yes, vengeance for vengeance's sake could have easily been motive enough. But then Deaton will never know. Because for all he feels the need to protect Stiles for the boy's connection to Scott, it's Stiles' connection to Derek that sees Deaton crouched in the dark alley, pressing one gloved finger into a pool of black spread across the pavement.
"You're not planning on getting your hands dirty are you?"
Deaton doesn't startle, but it's a near thing.
"I do what I have to," he says, standing. It's been a great many years since he and Morrell worked together and although she puts him on edge, he'll admit that of all the options the situation warrants, she is probably the best.
Morrell quirks her head at him. "Good, I never liked you being retired anyway."
Deaton nearly snorts. Retirement. It's a special kind of dream for people in their position. "Whoever said I was retired?"
Morrell doesn't answer, but he doesn't miss the smirk as she follows him out of the alley.
It doesn't take them long to track Gerard. The spatters of black shine thickly under the sickle moonlight. They find him at the docks, pressed brokenly against a stack of crates, still leaking black and shuddering.
Deaton stands over him, throwing Gerard's pallid features into shadow and he doesn't need a werewolf's nose to pick up the acrid stench of sickness. The eyes the old man turns up to him are watery and pale, but still sharp. It only takes him a moment.
"I know who you are," he says, voice rough and weak. Deaton crouches, watching Gerard's eyes slit as the light slices back over him.
"Then you know why I'm here."
Gerard laughs, a wet, hocking sound that puts Deaton's bones on edge. "Do you though?" The look Gerard levels him with is one of triumph. "I've done nothing that strays into your jurisdiction."
Deaton doesn't blink. The weight of Morrell's eyes on his back suddenly takes on a physical presence.
"You hadn't," Deaton corrects.
Gerard frowns. "There is nothing against taking the bite."
"No," Deaton agrees. "But the people you hurt in the process matter."
"The people-" and he understands then. Deaton can see it in the way Gerard's irises suddenly thin.
Deaton unsheathes the knife, the hornet's nest buzzing as Gerard's eyes flick down to it.
"How- I couldn't have known-" he protests, sunken body cringing backwards.
Deaton's heard many a similar argument in his life, most at the sight of the very blade now in his hand. His answer to all of them has been the same. "It doesn't matter."
Chris Argent has always been a hunter. He was born to it; raised on gunpowder and wolfsbane. It's a title he's always carried with pride – a source of strength; his symbol. It's a title that's slipping away from him – falling through the cracks of reality like so many before it.
Brother, leader, husband...
They're slipping from him like cards from a deck. Not an hour earlier, as he folded his daughter into his arms — trying and failing to feel anything but utterly helpless — he'd thought soon... soon he'd have nothing at all.
The next loss is almost expected.
The vial is small, glass carefully stoppered and contents a thick syrup red in the glow of the streetlight. To anyone else it might seem a morbid warning — leaving a vial of blood on someone's doorstep — but Chris knows better. Has been taught better. It's the one sign every heir to every old house knows and it's the one sign that every one of them dreads.
Chris lets son slip away from him, the feel of it numbing as his fingers close around the vial. In it's place though, another title rears – one Chris doesn't really know what to do with.
Head of House Argent.