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Captain America and the Wolf's Crown

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FEBRUARY 22, 1944

When Scott was thirteen, his mother took him to see Gone With the Wind. The movie hadn't held Scott's attention because he had still been at the age where romance was something which only grownups worried about. Sitting in the dark of the theater, he had felt sorry for Scarlett O'Hara and everything she went through, and he remembered her weary grit at the end of the movie: "Tomorrow is another day." It stuck with him.

But after all that had happened since he had been Bit, Scott worried about tomorrow anyway. It wasn't a specific sort of worry, but a general nagging ache about danger lurking on the horizon. Perhaps he was feeling guilty because everything had been going so well for him and his friends, as ridiculous as that sounded. Comparatively, seniors whom he saw every day in class were getting ready to go fight the Nazis or the Japs. Unlike many of them, he had actually experienced extreme violence, so he understood what terrors they were going to face. He certainly wasn't looking forward to the possibility of being drafted after his senior year. But he had a long time before it became an urgent concern, though, as he wasn’t going to turn eighteen until October. Maybe the war would be over by then.

Still, as he walked down the hallways of the high school, he couldn't help but smile to himself. Nothing terrible had happened for months after the defeat of the Darach and the Alpha Pack. While Dr. Deaton had suggested that their ritual would bring supernatural creatures to Beacon Hills, rescuing Malia in October had been the only strange occurrence so far. Scott didn’t even count her recovery as a bad thing, since it had not only given them a new pack member, but it had also helped them come to terms with the immediate consequences of the ritual.

Since then, they had been able to live as normal teenagers, if you didn't count helping Malia adjust to civilized life, and even that hadn't been particularly hard. Some people might have thought that since she had spent eight years as a coyote, she would possess either the mind of a little girl or the mind of the coyote. What they wouldn’t realize was that she had actually spent eight years as a werecoyote; she hadn't been unaware of her own nature or unaware of the passage of time. In some ways, she was the most mature member of the pack as she had been exposed to matters of life and death for far longer than any of them, even the twins. The pack's task had been to help her apply what she had learned to human culture, which, unfortunately, frustrated her more often than not. She really did not understand modesty or chastity; Stiles had started dating her just to keep her from gaining a reputation as a loose girl. The first weeks of that relationship had been really entertaining for everyone in the pack but the two of them.

Scott chuckled at the memory but his humor quickly faded away into melancholy. He knew it was selfish of him, but he didn’t think it was fair that he was the only one of his friends who didn't have someone. He liked to tell everyone that he was completely fine with Allison dating Isaac; he thought he was doing a good job pretending to be okay with it when he knew he really wasn’t. They were happy together, and that was what was most important to him. It did mean that he'd be the only one of his group without a date for the Winter Formal.

On the bright side, at least no one was going to try to kill him at this year's dance. Hopefully.

Scott slowed his pace as he heard Stiles’ voice echoing from around the corner of the school's hallway. He had been listening for his friend, as he wanted to go over some math notes with him before class, so it was impossible to miss the anger that vibrated Stiles' voice. It wasn't his frequent humorous irritation; Stiles was truly angry and that always meant trouble. “Are you kidding me right now?”

Scott was startled to hear Jackson's voice answer Stiles. Jackson was being defensive, which was very strange for him. “Don't snap your cap; I’m just telling you what Lydia told me.” Jackson had reluctantly joined the pack, mostly because he really hadn't had much choice. Jackson’s parents had wanted to send him to London, but they had changed their minds when they heard the horror stories of the Blitz and the newspapers were reporting that the city still got bombed by the Nazis pretty regularly. “She’s just as angry about it as you are, but what can she do? Her parents are going to be at the formal; they volunteered to be chaperones.”

“We’ll figure something out. No one tells Scott this.” Stiles' voice implied violence if he was not obeyed. He may have been human, but he could be pretty intimidating when he put his mind to it. “I mean, did they actually say that?”

“No, I made it up.” Jackson sneered with exasperation. “It's what she said they said: they didn’t want her to be seen in public with that greaser anymore.”

Isaac laughed bitterly. “I’m surprised your parents haven’t said anything.”

There was a long, uncomfortable pause. Scott could imagine them all glaring at each other. Someone slammed a locker closed. It must have been Stiles, because he ground out another accusation. “Really? What do they say?”

“Like I care what they think of you guys.” Jackson answered hotly. “They didn’t notice when I came home covered with blood, so why should I care that they don’t like me hanging around you?”

“You’re avoiding the question, Jackson.” Stiles demanded furiously. Scott could imagine what his face looked like. Isaac seconded Stiles with a grunt.

“Whatever.” Jackson muttered. Another uncomfortable pause filled the air. Scott kept still so they wouldn't hear him; he shouldn't be eavesdropping, but he was curious. “You’re not going to give me any peace until I tell you, aren’t you?”

Stiles laughed. “It’s like you know me. Spill it.”

Jackson played it off as if it was no big deal; it's what he usually did when he was uncomfortable. “They don’t like me hanging around you guys, but I don't care. I haven't told them about ... things; I'm never going to. McCall’s mother might be okay with it, but I know them: they'd freak out. They’d drag me to every doctor they could think of, and it’d be all over for all of us.” Scott couldn’t see what was going on, but he could imagine it. Jackson had actually become worse at changing the subject since he started being pack. “You’re going to make me say it our loud, aren’t you?”

After a moment, Jackson sighed and continued. “Fine. Just remember, you asked for this. After all the riots, they don’t want me hanging around any Mexicans, especially one whose mother is ... a slut. They don’t want me hanging around Isaac because he lives with them and he’s a delinquent.” Scott heard Isaac’s sarcastic ‘no!’ in the background. “And they don’t want me hanging around you ‘cause you’re crazy. Happy now?”

“I’m crazy?” shouted Stiles, sounding crazy. “Crazy? That’s ridiculous.”

Neither Jackson nor Isaac spoke for a bit. Stiles suddenly blurted out: “Fuck you guys.”

Scott moved quickly to get there before things got out of control; Stiles had actually cursed. He wiped his eyes which had teared up for whatever reason before he went and then rounded the corner. “Hey! What’s the deal?”

“These two jackasses,” Stiles pointed at Jackson and Isaac. “Think I’m crazy.”

Jackson rolled his eyes and Isaac responded with an aggrieved, exaggerated sigh. “We didn’t say that, but you’ve been acting strange ever since … we know why, but Jackson’s parents don’t.”

Scott reached out and laid a hand on his arm. “No one here thinks you’re crazy, Stiles. You know that right?” He knew why Stiles had gained a reputation around town; everyone had heard about Claudia Stilinski. Few people had bothered to look beyond the gossip about her and because of that Stiles had become their new target. They equated Stiles, especially with his hyperkinetic disorder and other eccentric behaviors, with his mother. Things had gotten worse immediately after the ritual, when Stiles had exhibited similar symptoms.

Stiles grimaced. It always pained him, and he responded with fury. He wanted to keep lashing out, but instead he blew out an angry breath. “I just hate that word.” He did hate that word, but Scott knew that sometimes Stiles used it about himself.

“I know.” Scott offered a calming smile to the rest of them. “I’ve got bad news, though. I won’t be able to go to the Winter Formal. Gotta do something for Doc.” He hoped that Jackson and Isaac were so focused on mollifying Stiles that they weren’t listening to his heart. The lie-detection trick only worked when you were paying strict attention to the person talking. He also hoped they would interpret what he smelled like as disappointment for not being able to go to the formal.

Scott watched the telltale signs of relief and guilt flood over his friends. They wouldn’t have to tell him about Lydia’s parents. Jackson even turned around and said, without looking for him. “It’s not like we’ll miss you, McCall.”

“No big deal. Maybe next year, I’ll have a girlfriend.” He laughed out loud – a little too loud – and then went off towards chemistry. He didn’t want to see more guilt on Isaac’s face; he wasn’t sure why he had said that.

Scott had never been aware until quite recently, and only then because of all the riots, how strange it was to be one of the few Latinos in Beacon Hills - or, at least, one of the few who went to school. Of course he had heard the names they called Mexicans, but he seldom thought ‘Hey, they’re talking about me.’ He guessed the reason people were so sensitive right now was because of the riots in Los Angeles last summer, though, and maybe he was stupid, he hadn't thought it had anything to do with him. He didn’t even own a Zoot suit.

He sighed. There would be other formals, and while he knew Allison would dance with him if he asked her, he wouldn’t miss watching her come to the dance with Isaac. Just because he had stopped feeling betrayed didn’t mean he had stopped missing what they once had.

“Mr. McCall.” Mr. Harris's voice halted him in his tracks. It had been a shock when the chemistry teacher had shown back up after the Darach had been defeated. The pack had been sure he had been a sacrifice along with the others, and he still might have been; everyone could see the ugly scar across his throat. What had been more surprising was the change in his demeanor. He was no longer openly hostile to students, though he was still sour. Students still groaned when they got him for chemistry or physics, but the amount of time they spent in detention had dropped significantly.

“Uh, hi, Mr. Harris.” He turned to face the teacher, who was smiling widely. This sent a shudder down Scott’s spine. “I didn’t do anything!”

Mr. Harris smile got a tiny bit wider. Scott couldn’t tell if it was because of the fear the teacher inspired or some strange fondness Harris might have for him. After his return, the teacher's scent was always seemed fainter and a little bit off. “I know that. I happened to notice that you now own a motorcycle.”

“Yeah. It's a Harley-Davidson RL 45 that Stiles and I found. It was a wreck, but I put it back together last summer.” Scott wondered if Harris liked motorcycles. It wouldn’t be the first strange thing he found out about an adult.

“That's very industrious of you, and as a coincidence that happen's to be very good for me. I would like to hire you for a task that I need done. I'm working on a project with a friend of mine who lives near Mendocino, and I need someone to carry materials back and forth. I want you to do it; I’ll pay you forty dollars a trip. They will always be on Saturdays, and I'll usually need you to do it every week.”

“Wow.” That was a lot of money. “Thanks. I’d have to ask my mom, but …” He stopped. “I didn’t think you liked me.”

Mr. Harris stepped closer to him. “I may be petty and vindictive, Mr. McCall, but I am not stupid.” He touched the scar on his throat. “I may not have all the details, but I know enough to know that you have earned a little more consideration for your efforts on my behalf. You deserve this opportunity.”

Scott didn’t hear any lies there, and Mom and he could really use the money. “Okay. I’ll do it. On Saturday?” He would totally run it by Stiles first just in case there was anything that he should have asked about but hadn’t.

Harris nodded. “You know where my house is. Be prompt at 8:00 a.m., Mr. McCall.”

******

FEBRUARY 24, 1944

Lydia cornered him after school in the parking lot. “What's this about you not going to the Winter Formal?” She was wearing a boxy jade half-coat over a chocolate sheathe dress. It made him happy to see her paying attention to things like fashion once again. No matter how deep into the world of the supernatural Lydia got, the impression she made on the mundane world had remained important to her, and that was a good thing.

“I have things I need to do.” Scott said defensively. “It’s just a dance.”

“Scott McCall, are you lying to me?” Lydia smoothed her skirt with one hand. “I may not be able to listen to your heartbeat, but I'm pretty good at figuring those type of things out, and I don’t like my friends lying to me.”

“Why would I lie to you? You know it was gonna be awkward for me anyway, right? I mean, the last one was difficult for all of us, so why try to force myself to go to this one?”

“When did all my friends learn the art of deflection?” She scolded. “Yes, I know that it would be awkward. Last year was the absolute worst, but that is why this dance is so important! We can’t let this …” She gestured and he knew exactly what she was talking about. “… take over everything. And I want all of my friends there. Aren’t you my friend, Scott?”

“Of course!” Scott protested hotly. He looked over to where people were watching them. “Why don’t we go somewhere else and talk?”

Uh-oh. Lydia was giving him the you-think-I-don’t-know-what-this-is-about-but-I-so-totally-do glare. “Did my parents talk to you?”

“Huh?” Oh, no. “No, Lydia!”

“Are you not going to the Formal so I don't get in trouble with my parents? Because I can assure you that I don't care about that at all, no matter what my nineteenth-century parents think about it. They don’t get to pick my friends.” She grabbed him by the arm and pinched him with the other hand. “Scott McCall, you may be good at heroics, but you can't tell a lie to save your life. Look me in the eye and tell me the truth; I deserve it. You know how much I hate being kept in the dark.”

“Uhm.” Scott hated when he did things like this, but she was right. They had concealed things from her, so she deserved the truth, even if that made him seem like an idiot for trying to hide things in the first place. “No, your parents didn’t talk to me, but I might … have overheard something.”

“Do you so think so little of me that I would agree with my parents about you?” Lydia was furious. She squeezed his arm tightly with her hand. “You crumb!”

“No, I didn't!” Scott said lamely. “I just thought it might be nice for you to go to a Winter Formal without anything bad happening to you, like fighting with your parents or getting bit by a monster.”

Lydia clucked her tongue in annoyance. “You know they are going to take turns killing you when I tell them this. I am sure Allison will stab you at least four times.” She was smiling, but it was a sad smile, as if to say that this was their life. “You’re going to have to listen to Stiles for days.”

“You can’t tell them,” Scott spoke earnestly. “I don’t need to go to a dance for you guys to be my friends. I know you care about me; I do. You’re my pack. And there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you -- even not go to a dance so you don't get embarrassed in public.”

Lydia rolled her eyes. “You're such a chucklehead. Next time, ask me first before you decide to do something for me.”

“I promise. But I want you to have fun at the formal, and don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

******

FEBRUARY 26, 1944

Scott frowned as he walked alone through the city streets on the night of the formal. “I am definitely not fine,” he said to the air. It was freaking cold, and he was bored. He had neglected to tell his mother about not going to the dance. He did not want to make her have to lie for him to his friends, so he decided to get out of the house. It was very cold. Even with having a warmer body temperature than humans, he was freezing.

The streets were dark. Blackout rules were in effect, even though no one thought the Japanese would actually attack any more. At least that wasn’t bothersome to him; he could see easily.

“Way to go, McCall,” he muttered to himself. Finally, he decided to go to Derek’s old loft in the center of the city. Derek and Peter had gone with Cora to South America when it had become clear that Derek wasn't going to be able to avoid the draft for much longer. It had been the Hale family's practice to avoid human wars, and both Derek and Peter were 'legally' of draft age –- even though no one in the pack had any idea what their real ages were. They had left with a promise to return after the war’s end.

Strangely enough, Derek had been the one to suggest that the now-no-longer alpha twins use his loft. Scott had been amazed by this decision until a rather talkative Derek –- it could happen –- explained it in this way. “They want to earn a place in the pack? They want to make up for what they’ve done? Then I want them to wake up every day and remember what they did; I want them to see where Boyd died. I own the building, so it shouldn’t be a problem.” Before he left, Derek had given Deaton his power of attorney and given Scott a key as well should the twins become dangerous.

They had not, and Scott was glad for it. He was willing to let them try to redeem themselves, mostly because his pack had told him that they had changed sides before the climax of their fight with the alpha pack. They had also been seriously hurt in the battle against Miss Blake. It felt like enough for him to give them another chance.

After walking up the staircase, he knocked on the door. He would have called first but Derek had never had a telephone installed in his house. Derek's parents had been distrustful of telephones, and the former alpha shared their dislike. If he needed to, Derek would walk downstairs to use the payphone in the foyer.

Aiden pulled open the door, his face was grim. As he stood there watching Scott, anyone could see that he was tense and anxious, but he was trying to control it.

Scott decided to be friendly. “Nothing's wrong. Just visiting.”

Aiden frowned and walked away from the door. “Come in.” Aiden’s voice betrayed something very close to relief.

Scott came in and took off his jacket. It wasn’t as cold inside as it was outside, but any normal human would have been chilled by the room's temperature. “Is there something the matter?”

“No,” Aiden said carefully as if he was trying not to anger him. “I just never know when I see you if this is the day.”

Scott scrunched up his face. “What day?”

“The day you come to kill us.” Aiden shrugged and walked over to sit down on a chair.

Scott sighed and went over to sit next to him. “Why would you think that I might want to kill you? Did you lie about wanting to make up for what you did? Are you planning to attack us?”

“We’re not,” Aiden said. “Ethan and I mean it.” He seemed tired as well as anxious. “It's hard not to keep thinking that one of these days you are going to remember that we came into your territory and killed your friends and you’re gonna ask yourself ... why are they still breathing?”

“Can’t you just trust me when I say that’s not going to happen? We’re not like that.” Scott mentally added that he wasn’t like that. Stiles and Isaac were totally like that. “Where is Ethan, by the way?”

Aiden looked at him for a moment and said carefully. “Out with Danny.”

“Danny? I thought Danny'd be at the formal.”

Aiden snorted at him but studied the floor. “You really don’t know?”

Scott was totally confused about what he didn't know.

“They’re queers. I thought you would have sensed it.” Aiden shrugged. “Duke figured it out and had Ethan get to know Danny like I got to know Lydia. I’m sorry if we should have told you or something, but I thought you would have known. It’s kind of obvious if you pay attention.”

Scott was flabbergasted. He had known Danny for years, but he hadn't had any idea. He knew that men being with men was illegal and that it was against the Bible, but he hadn’t really thought about it at all. "Uhm. Sorry, no, I didn't sense it. It can be sensed? It … it doesn’t bother you?”

“I’m a werewolf; I don’t really care what humans think. It doesn’t make Ethan any less my brother; he’s still a better tracker than me and he’ll kick any of your betas' asses.” He noticed that Scott was staring at him. “Most born wolves don’t really think about it.”

“I like Danny,” Scott said slowly. “I like Ethan, too, even though you guys seem to think I don’t. So I won’t care either. It’s just hard to imagine.” He probably would think about it more when he had time. “So you’re just sitting here alone?”

“Not much to do. Girl I like doesn’t like me. If I get a real job or if I go to school, they’re gonna ask how old I am.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m twenty in human years,” Aiden shrugged. “But the Hales are right –- everyone knows that a werewolf joining the army is a recipe for disaster. It's hard enough if you're behind the lines, but if you get sent to the front ... ”

Scott listened as Aiden talked about the draft, but he finally realized was going on. Aiden was feeling trapped and lonely. Unable to leave; unable to stay; not really welcome in Scott's pack, not really welcome anywhere. Scott didn't want him to think like that. “I know you think that things aren’t going to change, but they can, and they will. Just keep doing what you are doing, and things will get better. You just have to work at it. Got any cards?”

******

Across the city, in his modest home, Adrian Harris was talking on the phone.

“Don’t worry, Dr. Woltzmann. The subject doesn’t suspect a thing; separate him from his little friends and he’s really quite stupid. But he is all that you need, I guarantee it.” Harris listened to the response without interruption.

After a minute, he rolled his eyes. “I trust that this will more than make up for the assistance you rendered to me, though I’ll be more than happy to continue working for appropriate remuneration. This town is going to see a lot of strange things from what I understand, and it might benefit you to have someone keep you informed.” The voice on the other end of the phone gave him what he wanted and Harris smiled nastily.

“Yes, of course. I’ll keep in touch.” There is a squawk on the other end. “Oh. Certainly. Hail Hydra.”

Chapter Text

MARCH 2, 1944

Steve, Peggy, and a soldier that must have been new to the unit – Steve thought his name was Kinnison – huddled down behind a strategy table that Steve had upended. A Hydra soldier had them pinned down with a machine gun from a position above the room. Cap turned to Peggy and the private and observed: “Did you see that beach out there?”

Kinnison went bug-eyed at the question. He did lose the panicked expression he had been wearing ever since the machine gunner had started firing. Peggy smirked at Cap with an exasperated fondness; she knew what he was trying to do. “Yes, I did, but right now, I am thinking of that file room," she quipped. "Enemy secrets first, beaches later.”

Steve donned his best leader voice. “Private, I’ve never been on a beach on a Greek island. I want to see what it's like. Do you want to? Then this is what we have to do. I’m going over the top of this table, Carter will go left, and while he’s trying to shoot at us, you're going to get in through that door. Understood?”

Private Kinnison gaped while glancing at Major Carter. Steve made a mental note to give him the ‘speech’ later. Kinnison swallowed nervously and nodded his understanding.

“On the count of three, let’s go.” The plan would work. Hydra soldiers were ridiculously loyal for some reason, and every one of them wanted to be the person who killed Captain America. Thus, it was very predictable that they would fire at him first, and predictability could be used in combat. Steve was confident he could block the machine gun’s bullets long enough for either Peggy or Kinnison to take the gunner out.

The fight was over quickly, but even though he was stronger and faster and tougher than everyone else in the fight, he was still breathing heavily afterwards. His ears rang from the sound of gunfire hitting his shield. Once the room was secure, Peggy immediately began sorting through the papers. Hydra installations had the annoying tendency to blow up once it was clear that they had been lost to the enemy.

Kinnison and he secured the perimeter while Peggy searched the file room. Steve smiled to himself when he heard Peggy start cursing like a sailor; Kinnison flinched. He felt bad because that meant that the Hydra soldiers must have destroyed most of the files; their cabinets were equipped with traps meant to prevent both enemies and allies from learning their secrets.

“Kinnison?” He could keep an eye out for enemies while still talking to the private. “I couldn't help but notice that you hesitated when I told you the plan.”

Kinnison looked down but he didn’t deny it. “Yes, sir.”

“I’m guessing your parents taught you that you had to protect girls, right? Well, that’s good. That’s really good, but they taught you that because most girls aren’t taught how to protect themselves. In fact, they’re taught that it’s wrong for them to be able to protect themselves. Well, Major Carter isn’t like that. I swear she could beat any man in this unit, even me. I also guarantee that if she sees you hesitating to follow orders because of her … well, it won’t be pretty. So, don’t do it.”

Kinnison gulped. “Yes, sir.”

Another soldier came in to let them know that the base was secured. Steve smiled; no running from an exploding complex today! He gave orders to start the clean up. He was about to go check the perimeter when he heard Peggy’s exclamation.

“Captain? Come up here. I think I found something … something quite important.”

An hour or so later, Peggy debriefed Colonel Phillips, Captain America, and their staff in their makeshift HQ on the island. Steve stared at the beach that was visible beyond the walls of the command tent; he hadn’t been completely joking about wanting to enjoy it.

“As usual, Hydra’s logistics personnel were very thorough in destroying all sensitive information,” explained Peggy. “But this time, one of them made a mistake. I can only speculate someone was working on this file when the attack began, and it slipped under the desk in the confusion. Unlucky for them, lucky for us.”

She put up on the wall a picture of a very sleek looking submarine taken from their own files. “This is the Jormungandr, Hydra’s prototype submarine. It's twice as fast as any other submarine in the water and is capable of remaining submerged for far longer than any of them either. It’s powered by that same energy source they’ve been using so effectively.”

Phillips snorted. “Well, Schmidt seems to be continuing with his penchant for pretentious names. It’s no joke though. Nothing can touch it, and everyone is very glad Hydra’s only got one.”

“So you found out something about it we can use to take it out?” asked Steve.

“Yes, along with something a little more interesting. This is an itinerary for the present mission of the Jormungandr. It left two days ago from its pen in Norway. Two things about this itinerary are very interesting.” She wrote longitude and latitude coordinates on the board. “This is the first one.”

Steve knew how to find a point on a map but he hadn’t memorized the globe. “That’s in the Pacific Ocean.”

“Yes,” agreed Peggy. “It’s right off the coast of Northern California.” That electrified the room. “The second one is even more important. According to this, there is a pretty good chance that Schmidt is on the Jormungandr.”

Colonel Phillips stood up out of his chair. “Why the hell would Schmidt actually be coming to the United States? That would be incredibly dangerous, and it’s not his usual behavior.”

“Which means,” Peggy stated, “that what he is after must be incredibly important.”

“But it also means that we have a chance to catch him,” said Steve. “Colonel, I’d like to request a trip home? If Schmidt’s there, I should be, too.”

Colonel Phillips weight his options while staring at nothing in the corner of the tent. “Alright, Captain, you and Major Carter get on a plane as soon as possible. This is a domestic situation, so you’ll have to coordinate with the FBI. You’ll love dealing with Hoover.” Supposedly, Phillips and Hoover hated each other. “The rest of the SSR will clean this place up and prepare for the next Hydra installation. You get a shot at the Red Skull, you end this.”

Steve gritted his teeth. Without Schmidt, Hydra would not nearly be as dangerous as it was; it had a lot of resources, but without Schmidt’s leadership, it’d be just another part of the German army.

MARCH 4, 1944

Stiles tapped Scott on the shoulder. “Hey, Hey, Scott? Class has been over for like three minutes.” Scott startled out of his reverie that was focused on the scene outside the window. He had been finding it hard to concentrate since the Winter Formal last week.

“I’m sorry. I’m just distracted.” Scott admitted and started gathering his books.

Stiles looked at the emptying room. The teacher had already left the room, leaving them alone. “What’s bothering you?”

“I’m fine.” Scott immediately regretted that. Recently, he and Stiles had promised each other to stop saying those words to each other unless they really meant it. “I meant it’s nothing big.”

Stiles stared at him. “Well it may not be big, but you didn't hear the bell, which is a new thing for you. Come on, spill it.” He had a look on his face that said he wasn’t going to give up on this. By his manner, he had obviously taken his Benzedrine this morning.

“Oh. Okay. It’s just that I am still a little shocked that Lydia’s and Jackson’s parents don’t like me.” The moment Scott said that, he realized that he had never told Stiles what he had overheard, while he did remember that his best friend was adamant that he not learn about it. Scott was really out of it today, and it was going to cause no end of trouble.

Stiles looked angry -- really angry. “That's because they’re idiots. They don’t even know you. Did you lie to me?”

Scott looked down at his books and got up so he would have a reason not to answer him. He was used to how Stiles thought, so he knew exactly what he meant by that non sequitur. Sneaking things past his best friend had always been difficult, but he was hopeful he could evade the consequences this time.

Stiles got in front of him, physically. “I know what you're trying to do, and you know that I know what you're trying to do, and you should also know that you aren’t going to succeed at doing what you're trying to do, so you're going to answer the question.”

“Yes. Sorry. I didn’t want to cause a problem.”

“Well, you just did.” Stiles's anger burned white hot. “You don’t ever do that. I know who you are, don’t I? You need to quit it with the martyr stuff, Scott.”

“It was just a dance.”

“You know,” Stiles began, “it starts out with just a dance, then it moves on to just a game, and then it’s just a friend, and then, it’s just your life. Sometimes I think …” He bit the inside of his lip. “You know what, why don’t you just agree not to do it again. Lydia is going to kill you when she finds out.”

“She already did,” Scott smiled ruefully. “She was just as mad as you are.”

“See. Lydia Martin agrees with me, which means not only am I right – and I am always, always, always right – but I am doubly right. So." He pauses. “What are you thinking about?”

“I guess I just like the fact that my friends hang around me even if I am a greaser.” He smiled as if it was a joke. He wasn’t going to tell Stiles about what Aiden had told him.

The joke did not land well at all. His best friend's eyebrow twitched in inchoate rage. “You ever say that word to me again, and I will take you out in the woods and leave you in a mountain ash circle for a month. I can’t talk to you right now.” Stiles stormed off.

Scott raced after him, asking for him to stop, but Stiles was still too angry. Finally, he just let him storm away. He’d apologize later. He wondered why Stiles was so upset; it had been a joke.

Jackson was right next to him, leaving his own class. “What’s Stilinksi’s problem?”

“Me, apparently.” Scott shrugged. “I’m not sure why. I’ve been making everyone angry recently.” He turned to Jackson, as if trying to gauge the guy’s mood. He wanted to ask him a question, but while they had grown to more than tolerate each other, there had always been an undercurrent of antagonism between them, even after Jackson had accepted him as alpha. “How are you?”

“It’s another day.” That was Jackson. He seldom let his mask of indifference drop in public unless he had to. He grabbed his coat and straightened his tie. His parents insisted he wear a tie to school.

“Hey, you got a moment?” Scott isn’t sure what he was doing right then, but ever since the night of the dance, he couldn’t stop thinking about things he had discovered that week. It nagged at him so much that he had just pissed off Stiles and now he might just piss off Jackson.

“Sure.” Jackson glanced down the hall. “Locker room?” It had been known that the basketball team basically used the room as their clubhouse when it wasn’t being used for other things. Champions had their privileges.

Jackson started. “I thought everything was quiet.”

“It is, it is, this isn’t necessarily anything bad or dangerous.” Scott hesitated. “I mean, it could be a problem, but … “ He wanted to ask, but it was hard. It was just so strange to him. He had heard about it only in veiled insults and scandalous stories about the big cities. “Do you know about Ethan and Danny?”

Jackson’s face went through a transformation – not the shift – but a parade of emotions, including fear, anger, and desperation. For a second there, Scott thought that Jackson was going to attack him but in the end, he didn't. It did take a few minutes for him to calm down until the beta could speak with mundane calm. “We don’t talk about it.”

Scott realized he was surprised at the non-answer.

Jackson’s voice was suddenly pleading. “We don’t talk about it. Please.” Scott had known how important Jackson was to Danny, but he hadn’t realized until he heard the emotion in Jackson's voice that Danny was as important to Jackson as Stiles was to him.

“Forget I asked, Jackson. I won’t talk about it again.”

******

MARCH 5, 1944

Scott was putting the dishes away from dinner as his mother was getting ready for work. Everyone else was doing something tonight, and several people had asked him to come over once his mother had left – since she always worked nights, he tried to spend as much time with her as possible – but he had refused them all. He did not understand why, but he was still listless.

“Mom?” He called out, suddenly. “Do you have time before you have to go into the hospital?”

“Of course, honey.” She came in and saw the look of consternation on his face. “What’s the matter?”

Scott came over and stood next to her. “Do people ever … do people not like you because you’re Mexican? Or because you divorced Dad?”

“Scott, there are always going to be people who are so insecure in their lives that they want to see certain other people as automatically below them. I don’t worry about them; I just feel pity for them, because no matter how many people they step on, they won’t get any stronger.” She rubbed his head. “You’ve encountered this before, you know.”

Scott just looked at her. He’s heard the slur before, but it had never been directed just at him. “I have?”

“You’ve told me about hunters who don’t follow a code. They hunt werewolves because werewolves exist. It’s the same thing, honey. It’s a self-serving hate.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Only worry about it when they have power over you – otherwise, it only poisons them.”

While Scott loved it when she talked like this -- he loved it because he is so lucky to have her -- he couldn't shake the feeling she wasn't telling him everything. “Mom, does anyone who feels that way have power over you?”

His mother smiled at him but it was sad and tempered by resignation. “I’d like to say no, but I can’t. There’s a reason I always have to work nights. But that’s not your problem.” She patted him on the head and went to get ready. She would need to leave soon to walk to the hospital.

Scott watched her leave. He had never asked before, and he wondered, for the first time, if he was really as oblivious as his friends teased him about being. His mother's answer made him listless and uneasy. Perhaps he should go out with his friends for the night. Stiles and Malia, Allison and Isaac were going to the theater double feature: the next installment of Batman and Lifeboat, the new Hitchcock picture. Lydia and Jackson were going to dinner with their parents and then dancing at the country club. Lydia had invited him to go with them. Sometimes she just had to prove her point. He had passed on that.

He found himself walking down the streets toward the movie theater. He wasn’t really in the mood to see a film, he decided, but he wasn’t going to sulk at home on a Friday night. He had a long drive tomorrow for Mr. Harris out to the coast. He found himself taking a longer route through the streets of Beacon Hills which meant he’d never make it to the theater in time for the serial, but Scott’s enthusiasm for the cinema was waning by the moment. Instead, he came to stand in front of a run-down building in one of the grimier parts of the city. He had heard rumors about the place; it wouldn’t hurt to check it out.

He was sure in the right place. Not only could he hear Lena Horne’s “Stormy Weather” coming from the top floor, but he definitely caught the scent of both Danny and Ethan. He hesitated only for a moment before he went in.

The bottom two floors of the building was some sort of industrial cleaning company that had long since gone out of business. It was dark, dusty and uninviting. A single stairway crawled up the side of the building on the inside, with only a single narrow bulb on it. There were no signs at all. You would probably have had to find it by knowing someone who had been there. It wasn’t a problem for him with his senses, but he wondered why they didn’t at least try to spruce the place up.

A man stopped him at the door. He must have been some sort of bouncer; he was big and glum. He didn’t ask Scott any questions, just looked him over and said “Five dollar cover.” That was an awful lot of money, and it almost made him turn around and leave, but his curiosity won out.

The room was darker than he thought it would be, but it was filled with noise. Beyond the jukebox – which was playing Glenn Miller’s version of ‘That Old Black Magic” – there was a dance floor, a line of booths along the side, and scattered groupings of tables. There were a lot of men here. Scott briefly glimpsed Ethan on the dance floor; he didn’t want to ruin his evening so he moved quickly to the other end of the bar.

He sat down, feeling vaguely uncomfortable, and just waited for the bartender to get to him.

“Well, you’re new,” the woman next to him observed. Actually, Scott realized it wasn't a woman, but a man dressed as a woman. And not just any woman, he was dressed as Marlene Dietrich from Desire. He had heard about these people as well: transvestites.

“Hi.” There was no need to be rude. “I’m Scott.”

“Oh, you precious lamb. I’m Pixie, and your first lesson for tonight is no one here uses their real name. Blackmail is a real thing, darling.” She laughs and imperiously waves for the bartender over. “Do you want a beer?”

“How’d you know I used my real name?” He asked, wide-eyed, and then admitted “I’m not old enough to buy beer.”

“When you’ve been here as long as I have, lambchop, you know when someone is playing the game, and you don’t even know what the game is. But if you didn’t want to break the law, you shouldn’t have come in here, no? This is your first time at the Jungle, isn’t it?” The man laughed. “And you have terrible timing.”

“Yeah, yeah it is.” Scott thought he would be more uncomfortable with a transvestite talking to him, but he could sense Pixie was just being friendly. It wouldn’t hurt to be friendly back. “I’ll just have a Coca-Cola though.” He wasn’t going to buy a beer when it wouldn’t do anything for him. “Why do I have bad timing?”

“Once a month, the Sheriff has to raid this place for public indecency,” Pixie explained as the bartender gets Scott his drink at the drag queen’s say so. “It should be happening sometime this weekend. If it happens while you’re here, you need to use that door right next to the jukebox. See it? All the fledglings and the married roosters use it; the Sheriff never puts a deputy out back.”

“He doesn’t?” Scott was surprised. He didn’t think that the Sheriff he knew would do something like that.

“Oh, no. He doesn’t want to ruin someone’s marriage or some child’s life, so he gives us plenty of warning with his sirens. He’ll arrest a couple of us, but he has to raid us if he wants to get re-elected. You can’t be seen as tolerating us fairies.” Pixie laughed. “I voted for him.”

“Huh.” Scott sipped on his drink. He hadn’t known about that; Stiles’ father had never spoken about it. But why would he?

As he was talking to Pixie, he realized that he must have been spotted at some point. Now Ethan was standing directly behind him. When he turned around, the werewolf twin stared at him with confusion, anger, and fear. “What are you doing here?”

“Relax,” Scott replied, calmly. “I’m not here to cause trouble.”

Ethan did not actually snarl, because everyone in the bar would have been able to see it. However, the snarl was clearly concealed within his words. “Can I talk to you? Outside?”

Scott told Pixie thanks and goodbye and then followed Ethan through another doorway and up to the roof. They were alone; while patrons of the Jungle could come up here for fresh air, this early in March it was still chilly. “Are you checking up on me?” Ethan did snarl a little bit when he said that.

Scott seldom pulled out his alpha authority among his pack; he’d much rather have them be his friends than be afraid of him. Sometimes, though, it was useful to do so, especially when friends like Ethan got too emotional. His eyes flashed red in response to the snarl. “Would there be a problem if I was?”

Ethan allowed himself to look ashamed for a moment. He began again, more conciliatory. “It’s not … it’s Danny. He saw you and he got frightened. He wasn’t expecting anyone he knew to be here. You know he’s got more to lose than I do.”

“I know.” Scott felt like shouting, but he didn't know why. He controlled it. “I don’t even know why I came here. I just … when Aiden told me, I just started worrying. You could get arrested, Ethan. Pixie was telling me about the raids …”

“I can handle them. I’m not going to stop seeing Danny, if that’s what you are trying to say.”

“No.” Scott suddenly looked into Ethan’s eyes and flashed red once again; he finally knew what was bothering him. “That’s not what I am trying to say. That’s not why I am here. You didn’t tell me this, and I want to know why. Did you think I’d hurt you? You think I’d throw you out of the pack? Call the police?” Now, he was angry, but not at Ethan. He was angry because he thought that if they could get all the supernatural trouble out of the way, everything would be all right, but the last few weeks had shown that trouble of some sort was always going to be there. Even if he was just human, even if he didn’t have to fight monsters, there was always going to be something else to ruin things. For God’s sake, there was a war on; in less than a year, he could be drafted and go kill people. Tomorrow, he was driving hundreds of miles just to make a few extra bucks. People were telling their children to stay away from him. It was never going to be all right.

Ethan wasn’t able to tell that he wasn’t the target of his anger. “I didn’t know. I’m just used to hiding it, and Danny is too. I couldn’t hide it from my brother, but … I’m sorry.”

"It’s fine if you don’t want to tell me everything about your life,” he said heavily. “But don’t think you have to hide things from me. If you don’t trust me, then this can’t work.” None of it can work. Suddenly, he just wanted to go home.

Both of them looked up at the same time as they heard the sirens. “That’s the sheriff, warning everyone he’s coming. Let’s get them out of here.”

Chapter Text

MARCH 17, 1944

“This is my first time in San Francisco,” Peggy observed on the sidewalk out in front of the FBI office, staring out over the bay. “I must say it's a very picturesque city.”

Steve swiped the overseas hat off his head and put it under one arm. “I was here once before on a bond tour. The city is old and young at the same time.” He craned his neck to look up at the rather nondescript building. “If we have any time after we’re done, I’ll show you around.”

“Old and young at the same time?” Peggy asked absently, taking her small notebook out and rereading a few pages. Steve knew she was reviewing what she had on the G-men they were going to meet.

“The city was founded in 1776 when it was a Spanish colony, but eighty percent of the city was demolished in 1906 by an earthquake. Most of the area we’re in right now is less than forty years old.” Even though he was talking about a terrible disaster, he was enjoying being in a city that had not seen war. It felt refreshing or maybe that was the warm spring day after a long winter.

“You know your history.” She looked up at him with a smile, but now it was time to go back to business. “How do you want to play it if they try to stonewall us?”

“Why would they do that?” Steve wondered out loud. “What’s Hoover got against Colonel Phillips anyway?”

“Colonel Phillips managed to keep Hoover in the dark about a major project until it was publicly revealed. Hoover took it as a snub, and he should have, because it was. Chester hates fascists, and he considers Hoover the closest thing America has to a closet fascist with power.”

Steve smiled because that certainly sounded like the colonel. “Which project did he hide?”

Peggy walked over and poked him in the chest.

“Oh. If we need a distraction, I guess I’ll give ‘em some celebrity razzle-dazzle so you can get what you need.”

“I’m somewhat disappointed. Usually, I’m the one who has to slide my skirt up a few inches to cause a distraction.”

Steve smirked. “My legs are better.” Their laughter drew some attention from bystanders as they entered the building.

The Assistant Director’s office ended up being like hundreds of other offices Steve had encountered during his time dealing with government bureaucracy in that it was determinedly non-unique. Harold Rickett had no personal items at all in view save for a single baseball trophy from high school. The years had not been kind to the assistant director, leaving him with nothing but a horseshoe of gray hair, a bulbous red nose, and a terrible personality. “We want to thank the SSR for alerting us to the possibility of espionage within our jurisdiction. The man to my right is Special Agent Fordham, who I have put in charge of the investigation. Is there anything else that you can tell us about what we should be looking for?” The assistant director was trying to be confident and secure, but instead he projected an aura of aggrieved antagonism.

“All the intelligence we had, you’ve been given, Assistant Director.” Peggy displayed her best we-are-fully-cooperating face. “May I inquire as to the steps you’ve taken to confirm that intelligence?”

Steve gave the Assistant Director his most winning smile, but he would follow military protocol. Peggy ranked him, so she got to speak.

“We've gone through our list of potential German espionage agents near those coordinates. We've asked the local shore patrols to heighten their watchfulness. We've performed standard surveillance of all possible landing areas. Nothing has come up so far.”

Steve noticed the involuntary smirk on Fordham's lips. Inwardly, he sighed. Yeah, they're stonewalling us. Outwardly, he smiled and played up accepting the news. “Well, that’s disappointing. We’ve traveled all this way from Europe. Any chance something will turn up in the next few days?”

Peggy was too good an agent to openly react to his words, but he was confident she recognized his phrasing as an indicator that the distraction was a go.

The Assistant Director tried to give them what he thought was a sagacious nod. “There's always a chance; we just have to be patient. Stateside, things tend to more a little slower. We have to get warrants and things like that.”

Steve decided to use his best aw-shucks demeanor. For some reason, people tended to forget he was from Brooklyn and not from the sticks. “I don’t suppose that you have time to give me a tour of the building? I’ve never seen real G-men’s offices.”

Special Agent Fordham agreed to it readily enough. Steve was still a celebrity from his movies and bond tours. Peggy asked if there was a telephone somewhere she could use, and Fordham volunteered to let her use his secretary’s. It was a subconscious attack on her authority, but Peggy smiled her best accommodating smile and went along with it. Steve was sure she would not feel at all bad for breaking into his office.

The agents might have been hostile to the SSR.’s mission, but they were more than happy to spend time with Captain America, and Steve dragged it out for as long as he could. He never realized that the work he had done in show business could actually be helpful in his new role.

When Steve and Peggy returned to the hotel that had been provided for them just as night was falling. While she disappeared into her bathroom – which she had already turned into a portable dark room – he arranged for dinner for two with room service. She was going to stay in there until the entire roll was developed, he just knew it.

He immediately recognized her anger when she finally emerged from the dark room. “This is so irresponsible.”

“Well, sure it is. Eat first, yell later.” They weren't in a war zone; they could live like civilized people for at least a half-hour. He had set up dinner on the room's provided table. Steve talked through most of the meal, telling stories of traveling in the western United States.

“So,” Steve said as he put the plates back on the cart. “How bad is it?”

Peggy started leafing through the photographs she had took of Fordham's files. “It wouldn’t be so bad if they showed the slightest understanding about how dangerous Hydra and Schmidt could be. They treated it as just another unsubstantiated report, performing minimal diligence, while ladling on some political corruption and ass-covering.”

Peggy set aside a stack of documents. “The first thing they did was check up on all their suspected German spies, even though in the briefing we sent them, we told them that Hydra maintains its own separate networks. I suppose if you respected their work ethic, you wouldn’t have to call it a complete waste of time, but I don't respect anything they did so that's exactly what I am calling it.”

“If Schmidt is coming here, Hydra would be sure to only use its own people.” He rested a hand on his chin. “Any leads at all?”

“I’m getting to that. The coastline area closest to the Jormungandr’s destination coordinates is a large estate, called Sanderling Roost. The Barker family owns it as well as the Barker Seed Company, the fourth-largest seed company in the United States. Sanderling Roost sits on three hundred acres and is comprised of four separate buildings – none of which can be seen from outside the property. Primary access is through a secure gate.”

Steve made a face. “That’s not suspicious at all.”

“I’d call it suspicious, yes, but hardly worthy of a warrant. Rickett isn’t totally stupid, just sloppy and incautious. The Barkers are politically connected to half the state legislature and the Governor.” She pointed it out on the copies she had made. “They are maintaining a discrete watch on the place.”

“Any possible connection to Hydra? To the Axis?”

“Hiram Barker III is the president of Barker Seeds and they’ve done business with all the Axis powers. There is also a non-business connection through Barker’s mother: Katarina Woltzmann Barker. She is a biologist – a geneticist, actually – born in Berlin in 1883. She immigrated to the United States in 1903.”

Steve frowns. “That’s not much. We should send it to HQ; see if they have any luck with it.” He hated the idea of investigating someone just for being from Germany, but leads were few and far between.

“I’ll send a copy of everything tomorrow morning.” Peggy handed him another list. “They have had an agent maintaining a watch on the main road for the last few weeks, but they haven't established around-the-clock surveillance. He’s followed up on most of the vehicles coming in and out on his watch, and only one of them seems significantly out-of-place.”

Steve looks over to where she is pointing. “Two Saturdays in a row a motorcycle arrives just before noon and departs soon afterwards. That looks like a courier to me. The Barkers are probably rich enough to use a bonded courier service. What do we have on that?”

“Here is where the ass-covering comes in,” muttered Peggy. “They’ve identified the motorcyclist. Scott McCall’s a seventeen-year-old from a small city about one hundred miles east of the coast called Beacon Hills. He’s the son of an FBI agent, so they marked him off as clean, even though no one has apparently talked to the kid.”

Steve made a face. “He might be clean, but why not check and make sure?”

“I can think of two possible reasons. First, they think so little of our information that they don’t want to embarrass one of their fellow agents by interrogating his son. Or second, they’re concerned that he is involved, and don’t want to embarrass the Bureau.”

Steve shook his head. “We don't care about embarrassing the Bureau. How do you want to play this? I’m thinking the best play is to split up. The submarine could arrive any day now; it could already be here. I'll go to Sanderling Roost and you check out the lead in Beacon Hills.”

Peggy gives him a mock-disappointed glare. “I am not particularly fond of children – adolescents least of all.”

“I'm being selfish, Major. If the Skull is here, I want first crack at him.”

Peggy sighed over-dramatically. “This means you'll definitely owe me a good meal at a fancy restaurant of my choice when this is all over.”

 

MARCH 18, 1944

It was not yet spring, but the day was warm enough that Stiles had forgone getting a ride with Jackson or hanging off the back of Scott’s motorcycle. No one was trying to kill them and hadn’t been for months. He could enjoy the day.

As he walked down the street, he saw Mrs. Fancone and Mrs. Thompson walking opposite him. He waved to them bright and cheerily, knowing that they would just pretend they didn't see him and pick up the pace. It never failed. He scared the old ladies; they never knew when he was going to snap. He told himself that he wouldn't let it bother him.

Of all his friends, he had the least reputation to worry about. Everyone knew that his mother had gone crazy and died, and that he was prone to rambling and unfocused behavior. They assumed that it was only a matter of time before he, too, was shut up in the nuthouse. The doctors had assured him that he had no sign of his mother’s illness – yet – and that he just had hyperkinetic disorder. The Benzedrine helped him focus long enough to do most things.

He did not mind it, really. Not anymore. People left him alone when he did not want to be bothered. When Scott had been his only friend, he could sometimes get overwhelmed by the isolation, but now that he was part of the pack, he had more friends. That was why he could honestly, and not sarcastically, wave at the old biddies that worried about him. The people who counted knew him for who he was.

He stopped by the mailbox on his way in. Just a few pieces today which were mostly bills for his dad, but there is one thing that brings a smile to his face. It was a letter from Argentina!

He hurried inside and tore open the air mail after tossing the other mail to their spot on the end table:

San Carlos De Bariloche
Argentina
February 21, 1944

Stiles:

I am fine. Cora is fine. We are enjoying it here.

Peter fell down a well. I talked to the doctor about putting him to sleep, but Cora would not let me.

How are you? How is everyone?

Derek

Stiles burst out laughing on the stairs up to his room. Derek’s sense of humor had improved since he had gone to South America. He rushed to get the jar he needed. The Hale family had allies and lands in Argentina, but with the war, things had gotten pretty tense between that country and the United States. The government considered Argentina’s neutrality an act in favor of Germany. Thus, Derek had had to employ an old trick of his family when writing a letter to the pack. They would use a special ink that would only become visible when it was coated with another herbal solution. Dr. Deaton had helped him make enough of both the ink and its solution to be able to read Derek’s letters and write some of his own without fear of any secrets being discovered by the government.

After carefully applying the solution, he had to wait ten minutes. This was not Stiles’ strong point, so he picked up a few books to read while it was going on, but what he actually did was stare at the words blankly in the book for ten agonizing minutes.

Please show this letter to everyone. What I said in the cover letter is true; we are fine. However, we miss all of you and we miss our home. The house here is large and airy and we do not lack for anything, but it isn’t Beacon Hills. Cora and I (and even Peter) look forward to the day we can go back . . .

Stiles read over the reports of Cora learning to ride a horse; it was actually harder for werewolves to learn to do that than for humans. Derek had taken it upon himself to expand the house in the Alto Valle region of the Rio Negro River Valley. Derek reported with some amusement that Peter was bored and frustrated with the situation; that made Stiles smile. Finally, he got to the end.

Before I close, there is a serious matter that Jackson, Scott, Isaac, Aiden, and Ethan need to discuss. As we told you before we left, the draft and the war present particular dangers to werewolves. Our family learned the hard way that werewolves cannot operate in standard military units. The stresses on even the smallest battlefields of the past lead to uncontrolled shifting, and military commanders do not care what phase of the moon shines when it comes to discipline. I know that some of you would want to do your patriotic duty, but it is just too dangerous for you, for your fellow soldiers, and for werewolves in general.

Peter is of the opinion that if Dr. Deaton can make a mild wolfsbane solution (the formula is on the next page) with which Scott could temporarily get his asthma to return, qualifying him as 4-F. But, as a family, we also sat down and talked about what else we could do. We are wealthy, and we do not really have many uses for that money. If anyone would like to travel to Argentina before they become eligible for the draft, we’d be more than happy to welcome them to our home (even the twins -- and even Stiles, if you want to come). This is not just for you and not just for us, but for our species. Please consider it.

Remember you are in our thoughts, as we hope we are in yours.

Stiles was always amazed at how eloquent Derek was when writing letters as opposed to the terseness he expressed in person. He had taken to writing him back letters that were just as long. He was sure that was the reason that Derek chose to write him rather than someone else. In the cover letter, he talked about all the normal things that someone would write to a friend living abroad: school, the war, his father, and all the relationships that would seem totally normal. He saved the important stuff for the secret half of the letter.

Derek:

You know that you are going to totally destroy your reputation as a moody and conflicted monster if you keep making such generous offers and writing such pleasant letters. You actually offered to pay my way to visit you in Argentina. Are you aware you did that? Have you been poisoned?

The last time we talked you asked me to keep you abreast of how everyone is doing. I am sure that it is because you value my discerning eye and understand how intimate my relationships are with the pack, and not because that you know I’m an incorrigible busybody who has kept tabs on the people who tolerate my presence.

Jackson is still Jackson only there are two of them. (Given his history, you can see how this might be a bit disturbing.) The one I call the Old Jackson is still an arrogant ass – everything is still a competition with him and one he is already winning. I call it the Old Jackson but it really isn’t – it looks like what he used to be and acts like what he used to be, but there is no fire. I would call it a mask, but if it is, it is a very deep mask. The New Jackson is just as competitive but he competes for us rather than with us. If we have to move quickly, he has to move the quickest. If someone is nice to Lydia, he has to be nicer to Lydia. Only the pack sees the New Jackson, and while it is much better than the Old Jackson, it can still be very, very annoying.

Lydia, because she is Lydia, likes both the Old Jackson and the New Jackson. They make good accessories. Do I sound jealous? I am not (or maybe I am a little bit). If I make it sound that Lydia is only defined by what Jackson does, than I am doing a very poor job or reporting. If anything, it is the other way around. Lydia has adapted her life in the way she had to when she wants to and changed the world when changing herself again is just not tolerable. The only things right now that she finds frustrating is the war and mastering her powers. Everything else is trivial. It is easy for me to see why everyone else too falls in love with her a little bit.

This next one is going to be difficult, because I have to admit that I was wrong and you and Scott were right and you know how much I hate doing that. If we weren’t going to punish the twins for Boyd and Erica, then keeping them around was the best thing to do, because they follow. They want to follow. It is not obvious unless you are around them for some time, but they will adapt, eventually, to however their leader acts. I know only what little bit they have told us of their lives, but the way have grown up must have made them like this. Keeping them here is wise – if they are going to live, I want them to follow Scott.

Isaac is doing very well. You should be very happy because that is all your fault. No matter how much guilt you felt for what happened to your pack, you have to know that what you did for him was a good thing. He has the strength now to ask for what he wants, and what he wants is to be wanted. He wants to be Scott’s beta and he is. He wants to be Allison’s boyfriend and he is. I worry about him if things change.

Allison and her father are doing well, though I suspect that she is still training. She gets more confident (and beautiful) every day. I thought that their training would distance her from the pack, but it hasn’t. She understands them objectively (something I admit I have trouble doing) and that actually helps. If the guys have to leave for war reasons, I am sure that she and Chris could hold the place down with Lydia’s and Malia’s help. Or even without it. If I am concerned about anything it is about how aggressive she can be; even she has recognized it. She has stopped being haunted by Kate, but she still worries that she could become her.

Scott is the one I am the most worried about. On the surface, nothing seems wrong; no one has any complaints. The truth is, though, that he is not happy, but more than that, he does not seem to see the problem with not being happy. It is not just him not being with Allison, as I think he finally understands what happened there. He does not react as if he deserves anything. For example, he overheard Lydia’s parents call him a wretched name, and he just took it. He did not even get angry, so I had to get angry for him. I yelled at him for being a martyr. I am not sure if this is an alpha thing or a result of the sacrifice, but I am concerned. Could you offer me some insight?

As for me, I am dating Malia, who I told you about. She does not seem to mind dating someone who is stark-raving buggo. (Do not worry; I shall toss myself into the nearest wall after I finish writing this, so stop thinking it.) The dreams have died down to a manageable level; they will not have to put me into an asylum at this rate. What I find most disturbing is that I have come to miss, to some degree, when things were trying to kill us. I felt useful then; I did not feel like Scott’s crazy friend. I do not think this makes me a bad person; I do think it makes me a little weirder.

Derek, enjoy your vacation in Argentina with Cora and the zombie. I am glad you are all safe there.

Stiles

P.S. We miss you though.

Chapter Text

MARCH 19, 1944

Peggy had risen before dawn; military regimen had a way of sticking with you, even if you weren’t on the battlefield. She had arrived in Beacon Hills long after nightfall the previous day, so there had been nothing to do but get a room at a hotel and get some rest.

Now, in her service dress uniform, she had taken a seat at the counter in the diner nearest the high school. One of the things she had learned during her espionage training was that the best way to get the lay of the land wasn’t to go through the official channels, but to talk to the pink-collar workers in the area. Some of them loved to talk, and they would not necessarily have the same agendas that local officials would have. She’d stop by the sheriff’s office later if she needed to do so.

“Here you go, honey,” said the waitress, a middle-aged woman with too much hairspray but a cheery smile. “Soft-boiled egg, toast and tea. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll take a wild guess and say you’re English.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh, don’t ma’am me, Honey. The name’s Darla.” The waitress laughs. “You’re a long way from home, and I hope we help you feel comfy while you're here. Are you going to work at Oak Creek?”

“Thank you, Darla. Call me Peggy. No, I’m doing other things for the Army. I didn't even know there was a base in Beacon Hills. What’s it like?”

“It's one of those camps for Japs living in America. It's just north of town. They tell us there’s no danger; the people there haven’t done anything wrong, but they need to be secured for safety reasons.”

Peggy shook her head. “No, I don’t have anything to do with that.” She looked over her shoulder. “I saw the high school; it looks like a new building.”

“Yeah, it is a beautiful new building. Spent a lot of money on it, and to have all those bad things happen at it, what a shame ...” Darla tsked. The door opened and a pair of teenagers entered, but what was most interesting to Peggy was that Darla paled at their appearance and brusquely switched topics. “Honey, I hope that all of your family at home is safe.”

“Why, thank you,” said Peggy, offering the waitress a smile. As she sipped her tea, she noted that the couple was heading toward a table near her. The young man was muscular with light brown hair and slate blue eyes wearing a sweater that Peggy knew meant he was an athlete; he followed a very beautiful red-haired girl in an egg-shell blue dress and a jade box jacket into the diner.

“We’re here, Jackson, because Mother has already used up this month’s coffee ration. I'm not going to sleep through my classes today, no matter how boring they are. You can eat, can’t you?”

The boy nodded. “Sure.” They slid together into the same side of the booth, implying a romantic relationship. “I can eat again.”

Peggy couldn't do much else until she finished her breakfast, so she watched the couple in the mirror that hung behind the counter. Darla’s awkward silence when the pair entered had piqued her interest. She opened a local paper in front of her while eavesdropping. Most conversations in restaurants and diners were secure, as people subconsciously respected other people’s privacy, but it also made it easy to overhear when there weren’t many people present, as people didn’t naturally moderate their voices.

Once the girl had got their coffee and the boy, Jackson, had gotten a plate of eggs, they talked about classes and dances – standard adolescent fare – but it was not long before the discussion became interesting.

“You coming out with us on Sunday, Lydia?” The boy named Jackson asked.

“Don’t I always? Allison and Stiles love to gossip with me while you boys and Malia do your thing.” The girl answered slyly. “I want to talk to them about a beach trip this summer. After school’s out, anyway.”

Jackson grunted and pushed a fork through the remainder of his eggs so hard that Peggy could hear the tines scrape against the plate. Lydia noticed it. “Is there a problem? Those eggs haven’t done anything to you.”

“What would you say if I told you I was thinking of taking Derek up on his offer?” Jackson said slowly. His voice was almost too low for Peggy to eavesdrop.

This quieted the girl, who put down her coffee cup. After a minute she tossed her head to one side. “I wouldn’t say that I'm totally surprised. It makes a certain amount of sense, after all. Have you talked about it with Scott?”

“Why do I have to ask McCall about it?” The boy snapped back, only to get a serious glare from the girl. “Yeah, yeah. I will. But …” Suddenly the boy turned to look at Peggy, as if something had drawn his attention. Jackson was still looking at her when he continued talking to his booth mate. “I was more worried about you.”

Lydia responded with nonchalance. “You think I'd not understand why you’d want to do that? I do understand.”

Jackson was still staring at Peggy’s back. “Done with your coffee, Lydia? We should go.” His voice was suddenly heavy with suspicion. Peggy wasn’t quite sure what she had done to arouse it.

As the couple put money on the table and left, Peggy got Darla’s attention. “What a pair of swell-looking kids. Who were they?”

“Oh, that’s Jackson Whittemore and Lydia Martin. Jackson’s the co-captain of the basketball team and Lydia is the girl that every other girl wants to be. The Whittemores and the Martins are kind of big deals in town.” Darla warmed to the topic. “I mean even after the weirdness, they’re the school’s sweethearts.”

“Weirdness?” asked Peggy innocently or as innocently as she could manage.

“In one of the games last spring, Jackson had an attack of some illness. He was dead right on the court!” Darla shared eagerly. “Somehow they managed to revive him, but it was very frightening. And Miss Martin had a nervous breakdown and ran around naked in the woods for two days! It was all the scandal.”

“Oh, my,” said Peggy. “That is weird.” She looked after them. “And they mentioned something about Scott McCall?”

“He’s the other captain of the team. He comes in some times with them. You wouldn’t expect them to be friends, but they form a tight little clique.”

“Why wouldn’t they be friends?” Peggy asked.

“McCall’s a nice kid, but he’s from the wrong side of the tracks, and the Whittemores and the Martins are from the top of the hill, if you know what I mean.” The waitress confided. “The kids seem not to care.”

“They usually don’t,” said Peggy. She paid her bill, left a generous tip, and resolved to drive by the McCall house and the high school before she went to the Sheriff’s Station.

“Okay, what’s the rush?” asked Lydia. “We’ve got a half-hour before we should even be worried about getting to school.” She slid into the seat of Jackson’s 1941 Lincoln Continental Convertible. No matter what happened, he loved that car.

“When I mentioned Scott’s last name, the lady in the military uniform’s heart rate jumped,” Jackson explained as he got the car underway. “And when I focused on her, I could smell gunpowder. She’s carrying a gun.”

“You think she might be a hunter? In the army?”

“I didn’t smell any wolfsbane or anything like that, and the only type of weapon she could be carrying would be a pistol.” He answered. “I just didn’t want to take any chance. Things have been quiet. I like quiet.”

Lydia put a hand on Jackson’s arm. “So do I.” She bit her lip. “About the other thing – about Argentina. You were worried about my reaction?”

“Yeah.” He clenched his jaw. “If I go, I could be gone for years. I mean, a lot of guys have to leave their girls to go to the army, but I don’t want you to think I wouldn’t care about leaving you.” He took a deep breath and pulled into the high school parking lot. “Look, Lydia, you read the letter, too. Derek knows what he’s talking about. Maybe, maybe if I got a state-side job, I could swing being in the army, but there is no guarantee about that, is there? I could put people in danger.” He looked down at the steering wheel. “And, I don’t think I could survive it if I were sent overseas.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t think I could kill for someone else, and they shoot deserters. I mean, that’s what I’d be doing right, killing other people on someone’s orders? I know it isn’t the same, but it feels the same. “ He sighed. “I don’t think I can put ‘used to be a murder-lizard’ on my application to be a conscientious objector, can I?”

Lydia smiled at him and kissed his cheek. “I understand. Why wouldn’t you ask me to go with you?”

Jackson looked surprised and also weary. “Why do I think that this question is a trap?”

Lydia gave him a friendly punch in the shoulder.

“You have plans, Lydia. I don’t think I have the right to ask you to sacrifice those plans for me.” He admitted.

“Maybe I want to sacrifice them for you?” She shot back and then shook her head. “No, I don’t. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t important to me.”

“Never said that.” He got out of the car. “And, yeah, I’ll talk to Scott, my alpha.” He rolled his eyes and shook his head in mock disbelief at having to say that. “I have to tell him about the possible hunter anyway.”

Peggy was seriously glad that she had stopped by the high school as she observed the students’ arrival with binoculars. There was a wooded hill overlooking the school, and she could see perfectly. It had not been hard to spot McCall’s arrival on the motorcycle that the FBI had described in their report.

The boy looked normal enough at first, but Peggy noticed that the rest of the student body, save for a select few, kept a respectful distance. It didn't look from her point of view that it was from a conscious fear but more like a subliminal avoidance.

She had driven by the boy's house. It was an older two-story house in a part of town that had seen better days, but it showed evidence that someone took care of it. So far, she had found nothing that would lead her to believe that the courier had anything to do with Hydra or the Red Skull.

But it was the only lead, and so she had to follow it up. She trusted the intelligence. The Jormungandr was coming here (or it already was here) and Schmidt was on it. She had to find out why, so when school was fully underway she went to the police station.

Still, her diligence had paid off when she sat down in front of Sheriff Stilinski’s desk. Unlike Rickett’s office, this one was full of touches revealed the sheriff as a family man, as a member of the community, and as a person. She much preferred this type of bureaucrat. What she appreciated even more was the picture of two boys on the shelf behind the desk. One of them bore a resemblance to the sheriff, but the other boy was Scott McCall. That changed the whole dynamic of the interview.

The Sheriff shook her hand. “Hello, Major Carter. What can the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s department do for you?” He smiled and gestured for her to have a seat.

“Well, as you know, there is a military internment camp set up just a little north of your city – Oak Creek?” She thanked Darla silently for mentioning it.

“I'm aware of it, major. I cannot say that I'm a fan. Several of the people in the camp are good people from this city.” The sheriff’s friendly demeanor cooled a bit. “But the law is the law.”

“Members of the military command in charge of the camps have heard of recent strange events taking place in the city, and they wanted me to check into them.” She smiled apologetically as if it is no big deal. “It is not an urgent priority, but it has to be done.”

The sheriff’s business face did not alter greatly, but there is a subtle change in his disposition. Peggy noted that he had moved to defense, but she could not tell why.

“Which events were you referring to, major? I can assure you that my department has done everything necessary to pursue those cases in order to extract justice.”

Peggy noted that convoluted phrasing. There was something going on there. “Look, sheriff, the last thing I want is to come into your jurisdiction and start off by offending you. We aren’t doing this because we doubt you or your officers. We're doing this because there is a war on, and we have to be very alert for Axis saboteurs and spies. If you'll simply go over your violent crime case files with me for the last eighteen months, I can take the notes I need and get out of your hair.”

The sheriff looked conflicted, but he did not try to stop her. In fact, he offered to volunteer to help. This suited Peggy just fine, even if the sheriff was trying to cover something up.

They spend the afternoon going over the case files. The more Peggy read, the more she understood that something important had happened here. There were three different spree killings over a period of eight months, most of them written down as ‘animal attacks’ though the statistical probability of there being that many animal attacks in a place this civilized was infinitesimally small.

“Sheriff,” she began carefully, “please don’t take this the wrong way, but you have had a hell of a year. Why didn’t you ask for help?”

“We had some help from the FBI,” admitted the sheriff, glumly. “Or what they like to call help. Things have quieted down now.”

“I understand. I couldn’t help but notice, and I hope you don’t think I am prying, that your son shows up on the witness list an awful lot, along with his friend.”

The sheriff paused across the table. His explanation sounded prepared. “My son has an active curiosity and due to being my son has greater access to police resources than other children. Given this, he tends to get involved in things that he shouldn’t, but I have never doubted that he is a good kid. His friend Scott is a very good kid, but he does sometimes get in more trouble than you would think for someone his age.”

Peggy replied with all the charm she could muster. “I’d love to meet them if I have time, sheriff. They sound like wonderful boys.”

The sheriff shot back his own charming grin. “Well, why don’t you? I can have Stiles set a place for you and Scott. It shouldn’t be a problem at all.”

Peggy couldn’t tell if it was a calculated move or if he was flirting with her. Either way, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Johann Schmidt did not like to surround himself with inferiors that he could not command. He believed he had evolved beyond the need to be polite in the face of buffoonery. He also knew he had long ago discarded the capability of being impressed by decadence and flattery. Finally, he knew that if he had to spend another ten minutes in the company of Hiram Baker III, he was going to twist the American’s head off his neck. At this time, he could not believe that he had traveled across the globe to sit in this ridiculous dining room eating ridiculous food and listening to this gibbering idiot.

Barker was going on and on about the possibilities that his family’s alliance with Hydra would create for both sides, sounding like nothing else but the overfed spineless bureaucrats that fed at the Fuhrer’s governmental table. Schmidt’s last dinner with people like that had been in 1941, where he had snapped a suit-clad whining pustule’s forearm for daring to touch him.

“Hiram,” broke in the old woman sitting to the right of his host. “I am sure Herr Schmidt is very tired from his journey through the oceans. Perhaps it might be better if you go and make sure the arrangements are ready to show him our prize.”

“Of course you are right, Mother,” burbled the seed magnate. “I will go and make sure everything is prepared. Will you bring him when he is ready?”

The old woman nodded. Schmidt had kept one eye on her throughout the dinner, after he had realized that she was watching him. Not with fear or respect, but blatant interest, as if she could not wait to cut him open and see how he worked. That type of naked ambition, Schmidt thought, could be useful.

“You will have to forgive me for subjecting you to that, Herr Schmidt,” said the woman coldly. “My son often confuses enthusiasm for competence. It's a habit of which I have not yet been able to break him.”

“There is no need for you to apologize, Dr. Barker,” he replied. “Eventually, a man must be responsible for his own behavior.”

The woman waved her hand dismissively, as if bored by the talk of her only son. “I'm sure you have more important things concerning you than child rearing. You have to have questions; why don’t you ask them?”

“I have read the information that you sent to Hydra; I am curious as to why you would just give us something as potent as the Wolf’s Crown. It occurs to me that you do not really need Hydra to utilize what resource you already have, nor do I think you have any loyalty to the land of your birth.”

Katarina Woltzmann Barker did not even frown at the accusation. The topic of loyalty was no more interesting to her than the topic of her son. “I am equally disinterested in the futures of Germany and the United States. Why I arranged for my son to send an overture to Hydra is because I sense an opportunity to pursue what I am interested in.”

“And that would be, doctor?”

“Knowledge.” She replied with total conviction. “In the world Hydra would create, my work would no longer be hampered by small minds, fearful of invented morals or terrified of the unknown. I would be able to explore reality to its fullest.”

“And you wish to purchase a place in this new world by offering me a means to make it so.”

“That is exactly what I wish to do. I learned of Hydra and your goals long before I discovered the opportunity to empower the Wolf’s Crown. While I have no desire to use it for my own ends, I knew that the crown could serve Hydra well. Thus, I sent messages through secret channels to you.”

The Red Skull appreciated her candor and her ruthless approach to what she wanted. This he could use. “Tell me what the Wolf’s Crown could do for Hydra.”

“You have already read the briefs I wrote, so I will not go into tedious detail. My ancestor was an adviser to a werewolf pack in the Black Forest, a location known for its population of these supernatural denizens. He created the crown in order to capitalize on the emergence of a True Alpha. Such creatures are rare, and each of them is unique in their origins. The one from many centuries ago was renowned for his self-control; never once did he lose himself to the moon or the instincts of the beast. Always he was his own master.” The woman continued on with some relish. “The idea behind the crown was to share this self-control with members of his pack, sharing with them the strength that comes from such force of will.”

“I read that, but I am sure you have insight that a report lacks.”

“What amuses me, but reinforces the dictates of science, is that the Crown was a monumental failure in its original purpose. It didn't share the alpha’s phenomenal self-control with his pack; too late they learned that self-control cannot be imposed. Control, however, can be imposed. While wearing the Crown, the alpha had absolute control over every member of his pack. In addition, it allowed the True Alpha to extend the pack bond to any werewolf he met.” The old woman spoke with eagerness. “It's ultimate effect was greater than the initial goal. Thus do we learn from failure.”

“You're saying that this crown would allow one of these creatures to control any other werewolf. I saw your reports; that would give Hydra a formidable military force.”

“If you can bend the True Alpha wearing the Crown to your will, you will have such. Only the pure force of a True Alpha can make the crown work – other alphas would be driven mad by it, as it would also amplify the psychic imprint of the previous alphas from which they took their power. I would love to study such an event.” The woman became excited as she talked of applying science to the supernatural. “We are lucky that a True Alpha arose here and that he was brought to my attention; as I said, they appear approximately once every century. As I do not desire my own army of werewolves, but I do desire what Hydra can do for my own research, I offer this possibility to you.”

“Which is why I had to come,” said The Red Skull. “Hydra with werewolf shock troops would become unbeatable.”

“The question remains, though, Herr Schmidt, if you can bend this alpha to Hydra’s will,” the woman cautioned. “According to my agents, he is not like the one for which the crown was made. That alpha’s virtue was iron self-discipline. This one’s is compassion; a softer emotion.”

“Compassion is a weak emotion,” Schmidt chuckled, “but it can be manipulated, given the right levers. I will need access to all of your intelligence.”

Chapter Text

MARCH 19, 1944 (Continued)

Spring would not officially come for another two days, but already the forests of Northern California were filled with flowers and birds. Steve promised himself he’d come back here after the war was over. Who knew what the future held, but he felt he might be tempted to build a home here.

“Major Carter, this is Captain Rogers. Come in.” The shortwave radio crackled in the jeep. Steve glanced toward the road. He was sure that it would take some sharp eyes to see where he had parked from a passing car. “Major Carter, this is Captain Rogers. Come in please.”

“This is Major Carter. I copy. This is our daily check in. Word is ‘calliope.’ Answer? Over.”

“Roger that, major. Word is ‘potash.’ Who makes up these things? Over.” It was a running joke between them. He knew the clear words had to be easy to remember yet difficult enough for enemy spies not to guess them.

Peggy obviously decided to ignore the joke. “Steve, there is definitely something going on here. I don’t think I’m close to figuring out what it is, but I have several promising leads. How about you? Over.”

“The estate is designed for privacy, not defense. I’ve gone over the outside as much as I can. I’m thinking I should try to infiltrate tonight. Over.”

Steve waited, listening to the hiss and crackle of the radio. He knew that Peggy was giving careful thought to his request. He wouldn’t be upset if she didn't want him to; she had training in espionage, and he didn’t.

“Negative, Steve. Give me a day. Over.”

“All the time you need, major. Over.”

******

“Can I help?” Scott leaned against the kitchen counter as Stiles put dinner together. The turkey goulash wasn’t going to win any awards - especially since it was a recipe that Stiles had invented himself - but Stiles had had to cook for his father for so long that he had become pretty good at the basics.

“Nope. It’s almost all done, and not to put too fine a point on it, you’re really bad at cooking. Shall I list the things we’ve burnt in your mom’s stove?” Stiles didn’t even turn to look at him as he stirred one of the pots. “I wonder who Dad is bringing home. You’ve got your homework done?”

“Yes, Mom,” Scott answered snottily. “I don’t know; did he say anything? Maybe it’s someone new. Dr. Deaton said that people would be drawn here. Maybe he wants me to - I don’t know - interrogate them?”

“Or sniff their butts?” Stiles laughed at him. “Seriously, aren’t you a little worried about the woman that Jackson and Lydia ran into at the diner this morning? She could be a hunter.”

“All we know that she’s in the military, she carries a gun, and she recognized my name. I don’t know, maybe she’s a friend of my mom’s? Or my dad’s?” He suggested without heat. “I don't want to live like everyone who I don't know is dangerous.”

“Then I will leap to the conclusion for you! She’s not really in the military, she’s just using the uniform to get close to the pack and then she can shoot you full of wolfsbane!” Stiles lectured, but Scott could tell that it was only half-serious. “If you do knock her down and interrogate her and she turns out to be harmless, you can always blame it on your friend who’s the paranoid lunatic.”

Scott actually growled at him, which was such a rare event that Stiles put down the spoon. “It was a joke, Scotty.”

“You keep telling the same jokes, and they aren’t funny. You keep calling yourself that, and you aren’t crazy.”

“Everyone in the town thinks I’m just like my mom and frankly, after the sacrifice, I feel kinda crazy, though I am glad I get to sleep more now.” His voice’s tone tries to keep it light. “So, why beat around the bush?”

“Because you aren’t.” Scott said it like it was an order.

“Uhm, doctors might disagree with you there, but I won’t … I’ll try not to make jokes about it again.” Stiles turned off the stove. “Everything’s ready.”

“I can hear your dad’s car coming.” Scott offered quietly. “Let me carry that stuff.”

Stiles turned around to point out what he could carry and frowned at the look on Scott’s face. “Okay. If you are going to be all alpha-y on me, you’ve got to stop doing that.”

“Stop doing what?”

“Stop wearing the ‘it’s-all-my-fault’ face.’ I hate that face. It’s stupid. Not everything is your fault, Scott. If anything, it’s all our fault. If you want me to pretend to be sane, you have to pretend you don’t want to be a martyr.”

“You are sane, and I don’t want to be a martyr.” Scott obviously did not want to talk about it anymore and took the dishes into the dining room.

“See! Pretending!” Stiles called from the kitchen.

Scott gave Stiles a smile as he came into the room. “All right, you win. The dinner actually smells pretty great, Stiles. This shouldn’t be a problem at all.”

But when Stiles’ dad led Major Peggy Carter into the house for dinner, Scott and Stiles looked at each other like the damn had just burst. Later on, Stiles would joke that Scott should write a book: Awkward Family Dinners I Have Been To.

******

Of all the interrogations she had conducted, Peggy could honestly say that this one might have been not only the most pleasant but also the strangest. She sat in the home of a local American sheriff whose city was a possible contender for Murder Capital of the West Coast, eating a home-cooked meal with that sheriff, his teenage son, and his teenage son’s best friend, who may or may not be a Hydra courier. The house was comfortable, though not as tidy as it could have been. It could stand dusting a little more. Her mother would have said that it needed a woman’s touch.

At first, she concentrated on the sheriff, measuring his mood and deciphering his intent. It would have been strange if she had immediately focused on the McCall boy, especially since she had worked so hard to present herself as a harried bureaucrat checking off boxes on a form. The sheriff behaved as a gentleman, playing up the merits of their little city and the city’s children in particular. He was being charming in the way that acknowledged that he was talking with an attractive woman but carefully remaining within the boundaries of taste. The only flaw in his performance, to her eye as a trained agent, was his attempt to over-sell how normal his son and his friend were.

She felt he was deceiving her partially because his son, Stiles, was anything but normal, though that was not necessarily an insult. On the positive side, the boy was bright, inquisitive, and unafraid. On the negative side, throughout the meal, he was terribly unfocused, talking rapidly and breathing rapidly, and she noted that he had dilated pupils. The physical indicators suggested that he may be on amphetamines.

The boy was nicknamed Stiles because his given name was too hard to pronounce for most people. She had spent three months in Poland and could probably take a decent shot at it, but she suspected it was just easier for him to use the nickname among his peers. He currently rattled on about the recently concluded hunger strike by the Indian spiritual leader, Gandhi. “Twenty-one days without any food, can you imagine that? I can only barely imagine it because even on bad days when I don’t want to each anything, eventually I have to eat something! You’d eventually get hungry enough to eat your own shoe. The self-discipline required to do it would be enormous, and it would be even worse when you stop, because you can’t just start eating normally, you have to eat a little bit even though you have to be so hungry. Gandhi’s wife game a little glass of juice. Here, husband, you look like you’re going to blow away in a stiff wind, but have this glass of apple juice!”

“Stiles,” admonished the sheriff with the practiced tone indicating he had to do this often.

Peggy was charmed. “It’s no trouble at all, Sheriff Stilinski. I find what Gandhi is doing to be very interesting, even though, of course, I don’t agree with it.” She offered the boy an encouraging smile.

“Sorry. I may have taken Benzedrine before dinner.” Stiles reddened, ashamed, because he realized he had indeed been talking a lot. “I have a condition, but I wanted to make a good impression. Sorry about that, I know I can get a little c …”

Stiles jerked as if he had been kicked under the table. The two boys locked gazes from across the table. His friend was giving him a mild glare.

“I can get a little distracted. I’ll try not to monopolize the conversation.” Stiles finished lamely.

“Oh, I don’t mind at all.” She really did not mind. While she was sure that he could become annoying, it was enjoyable to be around someone who was so fearless when it came to other people. She turned the conversation to Scott. “And what do you think of the situation in India?”

Scott looked shocked like he was surprised he would be asked about something like this. “Uhm. I haven’t given it much thought.” He shrugged, looked at Stiles and then turned back to her. “I guess if you were going to rebel, that would be the best way to do it

Peggy moved on to the crux of the conversation. “Scott, I saw you have a motorcycle. That’s really nice. Did you save up money to buy one?”

“Yes and no.” Scott was a lot more interested in talking about his motorcycle than the Indian revolution. “Stiles and I found it in the junkyard, and we fixed it back up, buying just the parts we needed. It’s great.”

“Works like a dream,” Stiles added. “Scott drives it like two hundred miles every weekend!”

Peggy did her best surprise face. “Oh? I’m surprised your mother lets you drive so far.”

The sheriff put in from his vantage point at the head of the table, reinforcing the normal thing image he was pushing. “Oh, it worries Melissa a lot, but she won’t say anything.”

Scott looked at the sheriff and does his best guilty look. “I know, but I can’t pass up forty dollars a week. Mr. Harris, our chemistry teacher, is working on this formula with this doctor who lives north of Mendocino. He doesn’t want to wait for delivery men. It’s perfectly safe.”

Peggy whistled at the amount of money, but inwardly, she was calculating how this changed the situation. They seem like nice kids, and it was obvious that this Harris was using them. “You are going this weekend?”

Scott nodded affirmatively. “Yeah. I’m going to be on the road at dawn. It’s a long day, but I’m not sure how long Mr. Harris is going to need me to do this.”

Peggy felt relief. She now had another lead to follow. While she was completely convinced that the sheriff and these boys were hiding something, she was actually quite glad that they seemed ignorant of whatever Hydra was up to in California. She knew she could probably pull the truth out of them eventually, but time was always a consideration. The Red Skull wasn’t going to wait until she got a small-town family to spill its secrets.

She had one more question to ask as the sheriff walked her out. The boys were cleaning the dinner table away and she got her purse from the foyer. She noticed that it had been moved, ever so slightly, but a quick check showed that everything was where it should be. Someone had looked in there, but they hadn’t stolen anything.

“Thank you for coming to my house for dinner, Major Carter. Will I be seeing you back at the station?” The sheriff was being very friendly. She obviously had made a good impression.

“It’s a possibility. I do have one question before I leave you tonight. Mr. McCall mentioned his chemistry teacher, Mr. Harris? Wasn’t he involved in two of the three spree killings in the last year?”

The sheriff made a sour face. “You noticed. Adrian Harris has a habit of getting involved with the wrong people at the wrong time. You would expect more from someone who attended West Point. First case, if you remember, he unwittingly aided and abetted a murderess. Second case, he barely survived an attack. I never got a serious answer as to how he did that when everyone else died.”

“That is interesting, sheriff. I do so hate to bring up work after such a pleasant meal. I hope, for as long as I am here, we can work together.”

“You and me both, Major Carter. If you need anything, feel free to call me.”

*****

After the dishes were done and put away, Scott and Stiles were up in Stiles’ room, doing their homework. More precisely, Scott was doing his homework while Stiles was engaged in research.

Stiles room had once been a titanic mess of books and paper, but over the last year, Stiles had made an effort to get the mess under control. Every square foot of wall space was covered with bookshelves that Scott and Stiles had either made themselves or purchased from a second hand furniture shop. His dresser and desk stood back to back to one side of the room. Three walls of bookshelves were filled with the books that Stiles had carefully gathered. Where most teens would have pulp literature or school books, Stile’s shelves were filled with almanacs, dictionaries (including many specialty dictionaries), encyclopedias, travel guides, mythologies, and older books that only a trained occultist would be able to recognize. The fourth wall had been reserved for scrap books. Stiles had an intense interest in trivia and stories of faraway places, so he read newspapers and magazines a lot. He would go through the public library’s and the school’s library’s trash to snag discarded periodicals, which didn't help his reputation but he found irresistible. When he found an article or story he thought was interesting or useful, he’d cut it out and paste it in one of his scrapbooks. When the whole werewolf thing had started, he had made specific scrapbooks for supernatural occurrences.

Other people might have thought it funny, but Scott was always slightly in awe of Stiles’ ability to find information. It took dedication and practice and a mind that was able to see connections. He had even done this with limited resources, so the whole pack had taken to giving Stiles things for his library.

Scott looked up from the book he was reading for English. It wasn’t due until next Thursday, but why wait? Saturday he would be gone most of the day; Sunday was the full moon. “What are you working on?”

“I am trying to look up Major Carter’s division,” he replied, pouring over a book on the U.S. army.

“Her division? I don’t remember her talking about her division.”

“I know,” replied Stiles, “that’s why I went through her purse.”

“Stiles!” He was shocked, because you just don’t go through people’s purses, but Stiles always had a reason why he did things like this. “You still think she’s someone we should be concerned about?”

“People can still be threats even if they aren’t hunters,” Stiles observed from where he had a nose in the book. “She came here; she recognized your name; she’s armed; she has been looking through police cases in Beacon Hills. She could just be curious; she could be a threat. I’d rather know.”

Scott looked over at Stiles. He scratched his head. “How did you know that she was looking through the police cases? Did your Dad tell you?”

“Nope. I eavesdropped on them,” he answered. “I am sure my Dad will talk to me, once he puts his tongue back in his mouth.”

“She was pretty,” Scott answered appreciatively.

“Simmer down, lover boy. She’s older than Derek.” Stiles put the book to the side. “I don’t know what the abbreviation SSR means. It’s not in this book on the Army, but the book is five years old. I think I recognize it from somewhere. So … scrapbook time.”

Scott stretched out on the bed. The book, David Copperfield, had lost his interest fifteen minutes ago. He absently traced a pattern on. “Stiles, what do you think about Derek’s offer?”

“The Hale Argentine Getaway Vacation for Draft-Dodging Werewolves?” Stiles remarked without looking back from the scrapbooks he was sorting through. “I think that, all joking aside, it’s a pretty good idea. I’ve looked through the books that Derek gave me, and I have read the stories. Things have gone pretty bad when the Hales have joined armies. Of course, things have gone pretty bad for the Hales period, but it doesn’t undermine the lesson, does it?”

“I mean, if Jackson, the twins, and Isaac go, it’ll be just me and Malia.” Scott rolled back and stared at the ceiling. “I’m wondering if you can even consider that a pack.”

“What?” There was an angry squawk. “Aren’t you forgetting people?”

“Hey, you, Allison and Lydia will be at school – that’s all I meant.” Scott protested. “You are all smart enough to go.”

“You are smart enough to go, and Malia could if she wanted to. I don’t think she wants to. We can barely get her to go to high school.”

“I can’t go, and you know that. I don’t have the money, and I’ve got responsibilities here. I can’t just leave.” He wasn’t being upset – there were just things that were just true. “I’m certainly not looking forward to drinking that potion so I can pretend I still have asthma.”

“First, you aren’t going to Argentina?” Stiles put the scrapbook down. “I mean, you won’t really be losing your pack if you don’t go – it doesn’t work like that. But, I mean, you’ll feel the distance, according to every book I got from Derek. Malia is a coyote and they don’t feel the bonds the same way so she’ll be fine.”

“How will I feel?”

“Uhm.” Scott could tell that Stiles knew the answer, but he did not want to say. Scott gave him a ‘come-on’ look. “You should probably expect restlessness and irritability. You’ll want to be able to smell them and see them, but you won’t be able to. It’s probably not going to be pleasant. I’d recommend keeping something smelly from each of them, to be honest.”

Scott sighed. “I can’t go, especially if I have a way to stay. Someone has to look after this place. It’s my territory; it’s my responsibility. It won’t be so bad.”

“If we’re talking about responsibility, then Allison and I should stay too.”

Scott sat up with that. “You can’t say that. I know why you are saying that, but you two have opportunities to be more. I don’t want you two to feel that you have to sacrifice anything else.”

Stiles muttered to himself as he flipped the pages in the scrapbook. He was avoiding this fight again.

Scott didn’t say anything about it either, though he wanted to. He never liked giving orders, so he examined the bedspread again. “You thought about going to Argentina?”

“Of course not! You think I want to spend years in close proximity with the inimitable Hale trio when I don’t speak the language? I’d rather wrestle Himmler.” It was another joke. Scott was sure that Stiles had considered going. He always wanted to travel the world. “Even if I’m not declared 4-F, I’d never be sent to the front.”

Scott thought about making a joke of Stiles in a uniform, but he held back. It might be in bad taste. “Would you want to be a soldier, if you could?”

Stiles hummed at that. “If I felt I could help end the war? Sure. I don’t think most people want to be soldiers. I think they want to make sure the good guys win and the bad guys lose. I can understand that. I’d be doing it because the sooner the war ended, the sooner the people I care about wouldn’t have to worry about German invasions or Japanese bombs. It’s not that different than what we’ve been doing for the last eighteen months, Scott – protecting the people we love.”

Stiles looked up at the ceiling. “I don’t think I’d make a good infantry man. I don’t take orders well.” He turned and winked at Scott. “I’m opinionated and mouthy. I think I’d see the inside of a stockade rather than a battlefield. I think I could help with other stuff though, but I don’t know if anyone would trust me to do that.”

“I trust you to do that. You shouldn’t sell yourself short.”

“You’ve had ten years to get used to the whole me.” Stiles laughed. “I don’t think the war would last that long.”

Scott smiled at him. “Well, I have to get up early tomorrow. Don’t stay up all night researching, okay?”

“Yeah, boss. Sure.”

 

MARCH 20, 1944

Technically, Stiles hadn't lied. He had finally fell asleep on a scrapbook at 3:00 a.m., which wasn't all night. On the bright-side, he was so exhausted that he didn’t have any terrible rest-destroying dreams for once. He had a dream about penguins. Of course, they weren’t normal penguins, for why would you dream about normal penguins? They were man-sized penguins – friendly but they wanted fish and they wanted fish now. They were super-penguins.

Stiles sat up in bed, blinking in the half-light of the morning. He scrambled around the overfilled room to get to his scrapbook shelves. He knew the one he wanted, but he was still half-asleep and his pulse was racing like an unattended grocery cart rolling down a hill. He tore through the pages until he found the clipping from one of the conspiracy rags he occasionally read.

“Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no.”

Jumping up, he hurled, slid and almost tumbled down the stairs to the telephone in the kitchen. It rang but it was Isaac who picked it up. “McCall House.”

“Oh, shit.” Stiles realized that it must be after eight. Scott would already be on the road. “Isaac, Isaac, I need you to get everybody. Get everybody together now.”

“It’s Saturday morning. What’s the rush?”

“SSR, Isaac! SSR!” He repeated urgently. “The Strategic Scientific Reserve.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Get the pack together. Get it together now!”

Chapter Text

MARCH 20, 1944 (Continued)

Stiles took a deep breath as he waited on the mutinous pack in front of him to quiet down. It was a quarter until nine in the morning on a Saturday, and his panicked calls had summoned them all to the living room of the McCall house.

Jackson and Lydia were looking the most disgruntled, as it was clear they had stayed up particularly late the night before. Jackson looked like he had recovered, so it could not have been too late, but Lydia was looking particularly glassy-eyed and listless, though you had to know what she looked like normally to see that. It was most likely that Lydia was the one who was angriest, and Jackson was acting crabby to support her. They sat on the couch with the weak coffees Isaac had made.

Isaac sat on one of the chairs. He would probably have been up by now, so all he had to have done was brew the coffee and put some clothes on. Allison was right behind him, resting her hands on the top of the chair. She would already been up; Stiles knew that she ran ridiculous amounts of miles on the wrong side of dawn every day. That was another in a long list of reasons Stiles could never be a hunter.

The twins were leaning up against the living room wall. They did not look too happy, but Stiles suspected that this was less because the hour and more because the meeting was called without Scott there. Scott was the only reason they were pack, and they knew that few tolerated them otherwise.

Malia was sitting next to him on the floor; he had pulled a chair out from the kitchen. “All right.” Stiles took a deep breath. It was at this point at the pack meetings that Scott would call things to order and start pulling them together. Stiles would be chiming in with amusing and sarcastic remarks. He wished he could wait until Scott was back, but his instincts were telling him that it would be too late. He mentally repeated to himself: Be Scott. Be Scott. Be Scott.

“Uhm. I’m not the best at stuff like this,” he started, lamely. “I need you to hear me out. Jackson, you remember the woman you and Lydia ran into at the diner?”

Jackson immediately straightened up in anticipation, as Stiles expected he would. Jackson loved being right.

“Her name is Major Peggy Carter. She works in the SSR, the Strategic Scientific Reserve. She did not identify herself as such; I only knew it because I rooted through her purse while she was over to my house for dinner last night.”

This provoked different reactions, from Malia’s confusion over what the SSR meant, to exclamations from Isaac and Jackson about the major being over at his house, to Lydia’s and Allison’s disdain about Stiles going through a woman’s purse.

Stiles bit his tongue. He wanted to argue with them, but he knew that would waste valuable time. “Please, please, you can scold me about that stuff later. The point is, I found out from my Dad that her story was that she was making sure that Oak Creek was secure in our city, going over old case files with him. But, given her division and what Jackson discovered, I think she’s here for something else. You’ve heard the rumors about the SSR, right?”

The entire pack looked at him blankly.

“You‘ve heard of Project Rebirth, right? While no one officially is responsible for it, it’s said the Strategic Scientific Reserve was in charge of it.”

Malia piped up. “Should I know what that is?”

“No,” Stiles answered kindly. “This happened while you were still in the woods.” He looked around the room at the others and no one seemed to have heard of it. He lost his composure. “Oh my God, do none of you pay attention? Captain America? Project Rebirth? Super soldiers?”

“You believe in that stuff?” asked Aiden. “Wasn’t it just an actor in a suit?”

“No. No!” Stiles shook his head violently. “They actually succeeded in the process, but then a Nazi spy killed the doctor who invented it, so there was just one super soldier. Don’t you get it?”

“Is this like that guy who says the government new about Pearl Harbor before hand and let it happen?” asked Isaac.

“No, no. Father Coughlin is an idiot.” Stiles flailed about the room. “You don’t believe this? Most of you guys are werewolves! You don’t see the connection?” Without waiting for them to answer, Stiles took a deep breath and said as loud as he could. “You’re nature’s super soldiers. She’s looking for you. For all of you!”

Lydia was now fully awake. “That’s an interesting hypothesis, Stiles, but how would they possibly know about Scott? I mean, many of you guys haven’t been subtle, but you’ve not done anything that the government would notice.”

“I know. I have no proof, other than the major’s connection to the SSR, but I think this is important enough to just look into it. Guys, please believe me. I’m not barking up the wrong tree. I would wait for Scott to get back, but she could leave today, and then we wouldn’t know one way or the other.”

Malia tugged on his pants leg. “I believe you. What do you want me to do?”

The others were skeptical but – and Stiles was thankful for this – none of them said that they did not believe him to his face. Lydia finally spoke up. “Well, I'm up now and I see enough in what you say to worry me. So, what do you want us to do?”

Stiles’ heart warmed but he tried to not let it show on his face. His body did relax. “Well, as I said, I’ve got the feeling we don’t have much time. Allison, you don't mind picking a lock?”

Allison nodded. “Not a problem.”

“Can you take Isaac with you and go to her hotel room?” He gave them the name of the hotel and the room number, which he had gotten from the key in her purse. “See if she left any clues there. Jackson, Lydia and Ethan, if you can go to Oak Creek and see if she’s there and if she isn’t, can you find out if she’s actually stationed there? Malia, Aiden and I will follow my hunch: I think she’ll be paying a visit to Adrian Harris this morning. She was interested in him after talking to Dad.” He shrugged. “Now, we might find nothing, and then I'll have wasted your Saturday for nothing. We’ll meet at noon at the school, okay?”

******

Isaac followed Allison down the hallway. He was focusing his hearing around them so they wouldn’t run into this woman by mistake, though he had no idea what she looked like. “What do you think about this?”

“I think,” said Allison, carefully, “that this is how Stiles contributes to the pack, and we have to respect him for it. If the worst thing he costs us is a Saturday morning chasing down a bad lead, then are we really that bad off? You and I have both done far worse.”

“But you don’t believe that we’re being hunted by the government?”

“No. My family has enough contacts in the government to know if they were mounting a hunt for werewolves.” She pointed at the door down the hall. “There it is. Can you tell if she is in there?”

Isaac stalked up to the door. Ever since the end of the fight with the Darach and the Alpha Pack, he’d been practicing moving stealthier as well as using his senses. He put his ear near the door and listened for a moment and then shook his head. “If she’s there, she’s not breathing or moving.”

“Keep watch.” Allison got down on her knees to pick the lock on the door. “Hotel doors are easy if the hotel is cheap enough.”

Isaac tried to keep himself from watching Allison work on the lock, because she needed him to make sure they weren't surprised or interrupted. He couldn’t help it. though; he loved watching her. He tried to be smooth about it, but even after dating her for a few months, he thought that she was just so amazing. He couldn’t believe that they were going steady. He sometimes wondered what she saw in him.

And then there was Scott. He had pushed past the feelings of betrayal that had plagued him when he first started seeing her. Scott’s reluctance to be angry with him and his refusal to punish him had not made him feel any better. Scott did not treat him any different, but he felt different. It does not matter if the person you stabbed in the back forgave you; you still stabbed them.

Allison was finished. “Here we go. I’ll search. I’m going to abuse your hearing to make sure we get out before we are discovered.”

They slid into the room. “She made her bed?” Isaac said aloud. “Who makes their bed in a hotel room?”

“Military people,” Allison answered. “Be alert.”

Isaac stayed near the door, listening for people moving outside. Allison started a thorough search of the room, methodically and with purpose. “You’ve been taught how to toss hotel rooms?”

“Know thy enemy,” Allison replied brusquely. “Gerard may have been a complete bastard, but he was right about that. You can’t really keep to the Code unless you have facts.” She pulled out a leather case from underneath the bathroom’s sink. “Here we go.”

Isaac wanted to go over and help her look through the case, but she just nodded to the door. It would be awkward if they were surprised. His thoughts drifted back to Allison and Scott, but he came to a decision. He wouldn’t take Derek up on his offer. He’d find a way to stay with both of them; this is where he wanted to be.

“Isaac,” Allison said, breathlessly. “It looks like Stiles was right and wrong. The major here is looking for Scott, but it isn’t because he’s a werewolf. They think he’s a spy.”

Isaac burst out into a surprise laugh. “What?” The idea was so ludicrous he couldn’t process it.

“The trips he’s been making on Saturday. They think he might be a courier for an espionage ring.” Allison shifted through the papers quickly. “We should have known it was too good to be true. We need to tell the others quickly.” She caught his eye. “Turns out that Harris is a Nazi spy.”

Isaac shrugged. “Makes sense.” He opened the door for her and they ran out.

*****

Peggy drove past the home of the chemistry teacher, Mr. Harris. It was an unassuming house on an unassuming block. But then again, the requirement that spies live in palatial lairs happened only in Republic Serial movies. She considered how to approach the situation. If she had more time, she’d set up surveillance and get warrants, but she didn’t.

She checked the gun in her purse. It would be reckless for her to confront Harris directly. She should call for backup from the FBI, but she was not sure she could justify it. All she had was the hearsay that he had hired Scott McCall to make deliveries to an estate that may or may not be the destination of Hydra agents. It was enough for an investigation, but it was not enough for a warrant. She was going to have to do it herself and be prepared for it to go wrong.

She put on her best ‘I’m not a threat’ face on, walked up to the door, and knocked on it.

The door opened, but only partially; there was a chain keeping the door closed. She could only see part of the man’s face; he was getting to be middle aged, with sharp features, glasses, and a scowl. “Can I help you?”

“I’m Major Peggy Carter with the United States Army.” She showed him her identification through the crack in the door. Not only did it establish her authority, but it also gave her a reason to have her purse open and thus easy access to her pistol without seeming to be too aggressive. “I am looking for Adrian Harris.”

“I’m Adrian Harris,” the man said, defensively. “What can I do for you, Major?”

“I just have a few questions, if I could borrow a few minutes of your time.” She offered a bright smile. “They're pretty routine questions.”

Harris looks at her. “Very well.” He closed the door and she heard the chain being removed.

Sometimes, when you cut corners and improvise, things can go really well. Sometimes, they don’t. This was the latter case. When the door fully opened, Harris was pointing a pistol at her face. “Either you have terrible timing or I do, Major Carter. Please, come inside. No sudden moves and put your purse on the table by the door there.” As she stepped inside, he stepped back so she did not have to get close to him.

Peggy sighed inwardly. Behind Harris on the floor were three suitcases. He had been on his way out the door, which means that even though it had gone badly, she had still been right to press the issue.

“Now, close the door.” The chemistry teacher motioned with the pistol. “You couldn’t have waited a half hour?”

Peggy had been in this situation too many times to be more than just a little bit nervous. “You must have known we would have caught up with you eventually.” She noticed the scar on his throat; she had never seen a scar like that – how would he have survived a cut that deep?

“Have a seat on the couch. Eventually you would have caught up with me, I am quite sure, but it isn’t you I'm worried about. You don’t have any evidence to convict me. I'm an American citizen, and you can’t prove I’ve done anything wrong.”

“Providing material comfort to the enemy is a crime whether you are citizen or not.” She sat down. He was not stupid, she could tell, by the way he kept sufficient distance between them.

“Agree to disagree. Now, I have to decide what to do with you. Does anyone know you were coming to see me?” He remained standing and moved towards the window to check it.

Peggy didn’t answer him. She knew that Steve would check in this evening and eventually figure out she would have come to his house, but that could be hours.

Harris sneered at her. “You’ll find this will go much better if you cooperate. I have no intention of hurting any … humans.”

“If you want me to cooperate, then you need to fill me in on what is happening. Do you understand who you're helping? Hydra is the most dangerous organization in the world.”

“The only person I am helping is me, beyond repaying Dr. Woltzmann for her kindness.” He chuckled. “You don’t think I survived this …” He touched his throat. “… through sheer luck do you? Now, the books are balanced. Soon, I’ll be out of this wretched city and somewhere else.”

“This is kidnapping, if you hadn't forgotten.”

“Unfortunately true, but that is not yet an insurmountable problem. I've learned a lot in the last few years.” Both of them heard the approaching roar of a truck; keeping an eye on her, Harris went to the window and peered through the sheer curtain. “Conveniently enough for my point, here is Stilinski and his dogs now. It will probably be better this way.”

Agent Carter watched him from her position on the couch. “You aren’t actually going to shoot children, are you?” He might possibly do so, but she started calculating how quickly she could get to him.

“Be quiet,” he orders. “You’ll find out soon enough.” He walked over to the shelf where he had put her purse, picked up a vase and then dropped it. Peggy was dumbfounded by the action. It might have been a distraction, but there was no one to hear it.

Peggy scowled at her surroundings. The only things he had on the coffee table in the living room were magazines. On the end table at the other end of the couch was a lamp, but it was so far away that she’d be a sitting target if she went for it. She’d try it though, if he threatened to shoot other people.

There was the sound of pounding footsteps and the door suddenly burst open as if a battering ram had struck it, but it was instead a large young man, maybe a few years older than Stilinski. From her position on the couch, Peggy could see he was muscular and tall, with short cropped brown hair. Harris fired immediately, hitting him in the stomach. Peggy lurched to the other side of the couch and picked up the lamp.

“Not so fast, Major Carter,” said Harris. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if I have to.” He called out. “These are special bullets, Mr. Stilinski. I’ll put him down permanently if you and your girlfriend don’t get in here now.”

Stiles and a girl that Carter had seen with McCall earlier entered. Stiles was moving carefully but the girl looked like she was about ready to throw herself at the chemistry teacher.

“Aiden? How you doing?” The sheriff’s son was remarkably calm for someone being threatened a gun. Peggy was right; there was something strange about them. “Major Carter? Hi. You okay?”

The man named Aiden grunted in pain. “Where the hell did he get wolf's bane?” He tried to get up, but he gasped, his feet slipping on the pooling blood on the floor, and then he sat back down heavily. The girl knelt down next to him.

“I seem to be doing quite well, Stiles, though I am a bit confused about what is going on. If you’d be so kind as to enlighten me?” She was confused, but she was hoping to get Harris distracted.

Stiles was calm, she could tell that, but not unaware of the danger he was in. He looked at Aiden and then at the gun that Harris was using. “It seems Mr. Harris here is not only a terrible human being as well as a crappy teacher, but he's also working for the Nazis. It seems kinda stupid. Wouldn’t it be more convenient to work for the Japanese?” He takes a step forward and to the side, leaving the girl and Aiden on the floor together. “He also seems to not be as completely ignorant as he used to be, which is surprising.”

“At least I'm human,” sneered the teacher. “After the number of times your monstrous allies have dragged me into their wars, I was bound to pick up something wasn’t I? Today though, my association with you, their kind, and this city ends. You'll never see me again.”

Stiles shot a glance at the major to see if she had picked up on Harris's words. Peggy remained stoic. “How do you think you are going to walk away? I’m sure that if my Dad doesn’t catch you, the SSR will.”

“They can come after me all they want. It’ll never see the inside of a court room.”

“That depends, Mr. Harris,” Peggy countered, “On what information you gave Dr. Woltzmann and how it will help Hydra. You put the gun down and surrender and help me get that man medical attention, and I think you can get out of this with only a few years in jail.”

The girl spoke up. “Stiles, Aiden’s pretty bad. He got him good. We’re going to need a bullet.” She had been trying to stench the bleeding.

“I’m fine,” grunted Aiden. “You should just take him down.”

Stiles looked back at Aiden. “Okay, Malia. Aiden, shut up.” He turned back to Harris. “What the hell do you want? What do you get out of this?”

“That’s smart of you, Stilinski; if only you applied yourself as hard in class. What you are going to do is take my baggage out to my car, and then you are going to bring the carburetors of your truck and Major Carter’s jeep back in. Then, when I am safe in the driver’s seat, I will drop a bullet out of this gun so you can help that monster. Those two don’t move. What I get out of this is simple – I clear my debts, I get a life as far away from this hellhole as $50,000 can get me, and I get revenge on your entire menagerie.” He looked over at Major Carter. “I doubt that I will get in trouble with the G-men for sharing cookie recipes and entertaining stories of my students with a friend.”

“I doubt Hydra is paying you that much money for recipes.” Peggy’s been slipping sideways slightly every time that Harris looked elsewhere. She was going to brain him with a thrown lamp as soon as she could.

“Revenge.” Stiles wondered aloud and then he shouted angrily at Harris. “You sold Scott to them, didn’t you?”

“Again, with your intellect, you really should have applied yourself more in class. Fifty thousand for an idiot is good money, and then there is the added bonus of hurting all of you. If I understand it correctly, packs don’t too well without their alphas. By dinner time, he’ll be on a submarine and you’ll never see him again.” The teacher was crowing. Peggy took the opportunity to grab the lamp and lift it over her head for a toss.

She never made it, for the sight of the girl, Malia, and the wounded man, Aiden, transforming into snarling beasts with shining blue eyes blue, fangs and claws, stopped her in mid life. Harris took a step back, bringing the pistol to bear on them.

“You have a deal, Harris. Malia, put the teeth away and get his bags. I’m going to get the cars.” When the two monsters looked up at him, he said urgently. “We can’t help Scott is we’re in a standoff or dying from bullet wounds. Faster this jerk gets on the road, faster we can turn to important things.” Stiles turned to Peggy. “Major, you have to believe me, there are a lot more important things here than this drip. I’ll tell you everything, just let him go.”

Stiles left the house at a sprint, without waiting for anyone to answer.

Harris laughed and pointed the gun at Peggy, while moving away from the monsters and his own baggage. “Hurry up, Miss Tate. His blood is already beginning to turn black. You can put down the lamp, major. You see, there’s no reason for you to get involved in this.”

With this turn of events, Peggy had to agree, putting the lamp down. As much as it burned her to see this slime get away, the earnestness in Stiles’ voice convinced her. She had to understand what was going on. Things had gotten complex, but Harris was wrong. There was every reason for her to get involved in this.

Chapter Text

MARCH 20, 1944 (Continued)

Jackson sat in his beloved car down the narrow drive from Oak Creek Internment Camp. The camp had been built on the skeletal foundation of a never-finished factory complex. Started in the late twenties, all the money for its completion had been drained by the Great Crash. Since then, the place had sat rotting and unused until the government had confiscated everything. The camp was close enough to the Eichen House hospital so that they hadn’t needed to build an infirmary on the site; it was a money-saving gesture.

“Cheapskates.” Jackson was amazed at the contempt in his own voice. It was the same old contempt, the same old disdain, but it served a new, twisted purpose. Before, he would disparage things and people out of fear that some sharp edge would tear the mask he wore over the hollow behind his eyes; it kept people and events at a distance. Now, the disparagement kept things and people at a distance so he wouldn’t tear them with his sharp edges.

“I doubt they built it to last,” said Lydia speculatively. “I hope they didn’t build it to last; that would be simply too depressing.” Jackson knew she was trying to cover real feeling with her princess mask, but it did not deceive him anymore. Not only could she hear the approach of death, but she also had resolved to fight it. She was becoming more like Scott, a hero. He wondered, as he often did, when she would get tired of him.

Ethan gripped the back of the seat. “How do we want to do this?” Jackson noticed that while Ethan was just as aggressive as his brother – it was probably an ex-alpha thing – but he was always more polite about it.

Jackson bit his tongue. He felt like demanding how he was supposed to know, but he deferred to Lydia. He did not resent the fact that he wanted to do that. In fact, it made him comfortable. “We go up and ask to speak to her. We don’t need to explain it to them,” she replied.

The three of them did just that, going up to the gate where two soldiers were guarding the entrance. The soldiers were bored, as soldiers usually were when on duty. Lydia took the lead; she knew how effective a pretty girl could be.

“Excuse me; we’re here to see Major Carter? I’ve never been to a military base, so I don’t know what I have to do to get in.” She flashed her brightest smile.

The guards were appropriately dazzled. Jackson stared away from the gate and Ethan was bored. The younger guard rifled through a clip board. “I’m sorry. There’s no Major Carter here.”

“Oh,” Lydia expressed a flighty disappointment. “I guess he was just pretending to be something he wasn’t. How sad.”

Ethan turned to her and shook his head. There had been no reaction to the incorrect pronoun. Jackson started walking back to the car. This had been a waste of time and a waste of a Saturday.

The guards flirted back, asking what she did, and Lydia smiled at them, encouragingly but said she had to get going. “And you should really see a doctor about that cough.”

Lydia and Ethan left the two guards bemused at the gate, trying to catch up to Jackson. “Lydia, no one was coughing.”

Lydia stopped by the car. She took a deep breath and turned to look back at the camp, cocking her head to listen to something. “Wonderful. Because it is never just one thing.” She turned to the two boys. “That can wait until later. So, it is off to the school?”

Jackson groused at this as he opened the door for them. “This drive was for nothing.”

“Actually,” explained Lydia, “it was informative. If Major Carter’s cover story was false, that means that Stiles’ suspicions might actually have a basis in fact. But we’ve done all we can here.”

They piled into the car and start driving to the school. Jackson began to think about arguing that they should wait for Scott to come back before they did anything else. This was what his life had become, but it wasn’t all bad.

He shouldn’t have thought that. They had reached downtown when suddenly Ethan doubled over in the back seen with a grunt of that was equal parts of surprise and pain. He gripped the back of the seat so hard that Jackson thought that his upholstery was a goner.

“What? Don’t do that!”

“Aiden. Aiden’s been shot.” Ethan did manage to take his hands off the seat's back and put them to his stomach. “It’s bad. Right in the stomach.”

Jackson looked back at the pain on the twin's face and put his foot down on the gas. His parents were rich enough to afford to pay for a ticket. “Do you know where?”

Ethan shook his head. “It’s not like that. We just feel the same pain.” He had totally shifted, uncontrollably, by the sheer amount of pain that was being shared.

Lydia gave him an address. “That’s Harris’s house. I got it from Stiles this morning.”

*****

If Stiles believed he had hated Adrian Harris as much as it was possible to hate someone sitting in his chemistry class, it was nothing compared to the hatred that he felt now. It was so sharp and so bright that it felt like mini flares were going off behind his eyes. Harris loved every minute of it.

Stiles had presented him with two carburetors and Malia had gotten his luggage out to his car. Harris had dropped a bullet out of his jacket. When Stiles had demanded assurances it was the right type of bullet, Harris had just smirked.

He was thinking of appropriate revenge when he suddenly remembered he had a dying werewolf, a prone-to-violent-solutions werecoyote, and an Army major who may or may not be hunting said creatures in the house behind him. Graphic retribution could wait for a better time.

Sure enough, when he got inside, Aiden was nearly unconscious and already bleeding black, Malia was watching Major Carter with her claws out, and the major had her purse – though Stiles noted she had not pulled her gun. Which was good. Very good.

“Uhm, ma’am, or major, or whatever I should call you, we’ve got so, so much to talk about and it’s all super important but I really have to take care of my friend here, or he is going to die.” He hoped that this made him sound decisive and not spastic, but he was relieved when she just nodded in agreement. “Malia, you have to find some matches or a lighter.” He got down on his knees next to Aiden.

Aiden had that glassy stare of someone about to slip into unconsciousness. He muttered to Stiles, “I really miss being an alpha.”

“Well, I don’t miss you being an alpha. So you just stay awake while I get this bullet open.” Stiles pulled at the bullet but it would not open. He had seen Derek do this a half-dozen times. He slammed it against the ground. “Open up, damn it.”

“What are you doing?” demanded the major.

“A single bullet wouldn’t put him in danger, but my friend’s been shot with a poisoned bullet. We have to burn the poison out of him, but I have to get this bullet open.” He was beginning to get frustrated with himself; why couldn’t he open a stupid bullet?

“Here.” The major suddenly took the bullet from his hand and deftly cracked it open. She handed it back to him, while Malia arrived with kitchen matches.

Stiles hated blood and wounds. He suspected he always would, but he lit the bullet’s contents with the match and stuffs them hot ashes into the wound. He searched the wound for signs of healing; Aiden had gone unconscious, but his breathing was slow and steady, and healing had begun.

“Thanks.” He sat down and grabbed Malia’s hand. While he had never been the twins’ biggest fan, he had moved on past really wanting them dead and into only mockingly wanting them dead. “Uhm, okay, Major, there is a lot I have to fill you in on and you have to fill me in on and I tend to say everything that is on my mind at once. But I think time is of the essence, so …” He looked at Malia. “Why don’t we go into the kitchen and talk quickly. Malia, can you stay with Aiden?”

Malia nodded in response, though she was still eyeing the soldier. Stiles loved that about her; when he was in the thrall of an hyperkinetic episode, she always thought of it as normal.

In the kitchen, he and the army officer stared at each other. Finally, the major shook her head. “From what I have been able to tell, you and your friends have worked very hard to keep this a secret. I can understand this, to a certain extent, but there is no time. A senior member of Hydra, the Nazi’s deep science division, is on his way to California. From what Harris said, he is here for your friend. I need to know why.”

Stiles took a deep breath; he really had no choice. “Okay, many of my friends are werewolves. Werewolves form packs just like real wolves, because it makes them stronger, faster, better. All packs have an alpha, a leader. The alpha is the strongest, fastest, best werewolf in the pack. Once every century or so, a werewolf becomes a true alpha. My friend Scott is a true alpha. I don’t really know why they would want them, but I guess you and I could image all sorts of terrible situations.”

The major nodded in agreement once more. “All right. I don’t have time right now to be more than quite amazed how this has been hidden from us for so long, but I know that if Hydra wants your friend, I don’t want them to have him. I’m going to need to get to my jeep and then get another vehicle, since you gave my carburetor to Harris.”

Stiles shook his head. “Harris wouldn’t know the different type of car parts; I stole the second carburetor from the neighbor’s car. Your jeep is fine.“ He takes a step forward. “And I’m going with you.”

The major immediately put on a ‘you are too young/just a child’ face.

Stiles stepped in front of her, blocking her exit. “I know you can probably take me down no problem, but there are four reasons why you are taking me with you. First, you’ve already admitted you don’t know anything about werewolves. Well, I know a lot. Second, you’re probably not familiar with California or the shortcuts on the highways. How much time do you want to waste? Third, if anyone’s attacked Scott, he’ll be suspicious and on guard. He’ll trust me. Fourth and finally, you leave me behind and I’ll load up the pack in whatever cars we can find and go after Scott. Believe me, you don’t’ want to get between a pack and its alpha.”

Stiles could see the major doing the calculations. “I can’t argue with that, but you’ll do what I say, exactly when I say it. Let’s go.”

Stiles followed her out of the kitchen. “I’ll be right out.” The major went out to the jeep. He stopped to see how Aiden and Malia were doing. Aiden was breathing easier, but still out.

Malia was already scowling at him. “I don’t want you going alone with her. You should wait for the pack.” He had trusted that she was listening.

“I know, I know, but she doesn’t have time to wait, and I need to go with her. You need to do something for me.” He kneels down. “The FBI and the SSR can’t get Harris. He knows too much, and he’d sell all of you out to avoid jail time. You guys need to find him first, no matter what and … take care of him.”

Malia was going to make him say it. “You want us to kill him. Scott wouldn’t like it.”

Stiles rubbed at his face. “He sold Scott to the damn Nazis. Scott will get over it. I gotta go.” He bent down and kissed her. “Be careful. His bullets are nasty.

Malia nodded and grabbed his forearm. “Don’t be surprised if we follow you.”

Stiles waved her off and went outside. Following him would be very difficult for the pack to do since none of them but him knew where Scott had been driving too every weekend. He was sure they’d be angry at him too, but he did not actually trust the SSR or the FBI. Right now, he needed them to make sure Scott was safe, but they might come to the conclusion later that werewolves could help the war effort. The less exposure the pack had to government agents, the better.

“Repeat,” Peggy Carter spoke into the shortwave radio in the jeep. “The courier is the target. McCall is the target. Over.”

A voice crackled from the short wave. “I copy you. He hasn’t passed by today. We’ll stop him. Over.”

Stiles ran up next to the jeep. “Scott sees guns, he’s going to assume hunter. We thought you were one.”

Carter nodded in acknowledgement. “Steve, McCall’s unaware of the danger, but he might assume you are hostile. He is enhanced; be careful. Over.”

The voice over the shortwave responded. “Always am. Captain Rogers, over and out.”

Stiles’ eyes got big. “Was that actually?” When Peggy nodded, he took a breath and went on. “That’s good. Scott loved the movies.”

*****

As much as Scott was grateful to Mr. Harris for the opportunity, he had to admit that he was glad that this was his last trip to Sanderling Roost. He appreciated the money; it was going to come in handy. He also appreciated, strangely enough, the time alone to think about things. Sometimes, he felt a little overwhelmed around the pack, and the time alone had done him good. He also had, the first two times, been able to appreciate the scenery, but there is only so much you can see when you are driving past the woods at this speed. Now, the trip had become a chore.

Sunday, he was going to treat his friends to a matinee and dinner. He had had his time alone and now there was part of him that wanted pack. It was fantastic, he reluctantly admitted to himself, to find that there was something good about being a werewolf. The best part of being an alpha was the knowledge that he was never really alone, as difficult as that could be.

He was not so lost in his thoughts that he was unaware of the road block up ahead until he turned the corner. Two cars had been parked across the road to Sanderling Roost with four armed men in a remote part of the forest; it all screamed hunters to Scott. He hit the brakes and slid the motorcycle to a stop, but he kept it running. He was suspicious, but he wasn’t going to attack without provocation.

From this distance, he saw the guns come up. He heard the men identify themselves as part of the FBI, and that he had to turn off the motorcycle and put his hands up. He hesitated for a moment, because he hadn’t done anything and this must all be a big mistake and all he would have to do was talk to them. Then the part of brain that Stiles had taken over smacked him upside the head and explained that if the FBI wanted to arrest him, they would have come to his house, and while his father was a terrible person he still would have known if his son was wanted by the bureau. The Stiles part of his brain went on to say that they were obviously hunters and he needed to get the hell out of there right now before they started shooting at him.

He gunned the motorcycle and raced off the road and into the forest. The gunmen immediately begin shooting at him though he could hear people yelling at then to stop. He couldn't pay attention to it because even though he wasn't going at a high rate of speed through a forest, he still had to concentrate on not running into a tree. If he hadn’t had superhuman reflexes and the ability to heal injuries, it might have been the most suicidal thing he had ever tried, and he had allied himself with someone called the Demon Wolf.

He drove in what he thought was a large circle. He was not sure why he had chosen to do, beyond the fact that he wasn’t sure where to go. He was not going to drive straight back home, because the hunters were going to have had to know where he came from and if they wanted to ambush him again, they’d go that way. He’d have to take a long way home, but it was better than being shot again.

He was still trying to plan out his next move and navigate a forest with which he was unfamiliar while on a speeding motorcycle when he heard what sounded like something metal clanging against something hard. He tried to focus on it, but he couldn't locate the sound until that something metal hit the front tire of his motorcycle and knocked him and the bike ass over teakettle.

He might have laughed if he could have seen himself tumble through the air, the world spinning merrily through the goggles of his helmet. But then he slammed into the ground, landing on his left hand and feeling the bones in his wrist crack. He also felt the rear wheel of his bike land on his ankle, before he slid through the dirt and leaves to slam up against a tree. Pain shot through his body at all of those points, but he could already tell that none of them were going to be disabling injuries. He found it bitterly funny that he had learned which injuries would disable him.

Scott pushed himself up against a tree with an elbow on the same arm as his fractured wrist. It was already knitting itself together but the pain wouldn't stop as it did so. With his other hand, he tore off his helmet and threw it to the ground. He needed all of his senses. He balanced on one leg – all he needed was a minute or two to be fully mobile.

There was no visual sign of whatever had done that to his bike, but he could hear someone -- just one person -- moving through the underbrush out in the woods. They were pretty good; he could barely tell from which direction they were moving.

He glanced down at his motorcycle, long enough to tell that it was ruined. It would probably take all the money he had made driving this and the last three Saturdays to repair it. “My bike,” he said aloud in disbelief. All he wanted was a motorcycle and now it was gone and he hadn’t done anything. He and Stiles had found it, saved it, fixed it up, together. It was something boys did, normal boys did, and now it was just a pile of junk, just like everything else.

Scott knew he should run away; he knew he should use the woods and his senses to hide. It was the best play; it was the smart play. He took one more look at the wreckage of his motorcycle and roared. Let them come for him. Let them know they were hunting an alpha.

He was in full transformation and his senses were sharpened to their greatest degree. He could hear the hunter moving through the forest. He could smell the aftershave, the gun oil, and some sort of leather that he wasn’t totally familiar with. He was coming up on his right.

Well, if the roar hadn’t scared him off, then maybe a show of strength would. Scott picked up a fallen log and hurled it in the general direction of the hunter. It wouldn’t hurt him, but it would slam into the some trees, causing a good distraction. On instinct, he followed up the log. If the roar and the smashing wood hadn’t scared the hunter off, he would throw him around a bit.

He sprinted around the tree after the log had smashed into it and the distraction of the log wasn’t much of a distraction because the hunter punched him square in the face with enough force to make him stagger back. He shook his head to clear it.

“Son,” The hunter addressed him like he was playing truant. “You need to calm down before you make this worse than it already is.”

In a rage, Scott turned around grabbed the hunter by the shoulders and planned to push him back against one of trees. “You attacked me! You calm down!” Scott would regret the elementary-school quality of that comment later.

Scott was more surprised when the hunter actually stopped his momentum. He was still stronger than his opponent, but not by much. The shock cleared his head from the rage he was feeling. He had managed to keep his claws from hurting the other man, as he usually did but he was aware of the costume the man was wearing. He took a step back and as he did so, the man struck him with his shield. It knocked him back a good six feet and he went down on his hands and feet, clawing at the earth.

With his shield. Oh, God. He had seen the movies and the posters. He wasn’t fighting a hunter; he was fighting Captain America. Scott stood there as it settled in. This meant that the people who said they were FBI were actually federal agents.

Captain America took a step toward him. “McCall, I’m not sure what is going on with you, but you are in danger. You need to come with me, right now.”

For a moment, Scott was really tempted to do just that. He knew it was childish, but the man before radiated positive authority. It would certainly be easier. He couldn’t though; he knew what would happen if the pack became known to the government. Too many people worked too hard to protect that secret. He was the alpha, and so it was his responsibility. But he wasn’t going to fight a hero.

Scott turned and ran into the woods.

Chapter Text

MARCH 20, 1944 (Continued)

Steve watched the kid sprint away on all fours through the trees. He hesitated for maybe thirty seconds in a storm of wonder. The first thought that went through his mind was: That was a wolf man. He had seen the movie starring Lon Chaney two years ago with Bucky, though that time now seemed like some far-away age, and he had really enjoyed it. Of course, he hadn’t thought that wolf men were real when he was watching it. The second thought that went through his mind was: The kid was panicking. This thought jarred against the first one in his mind. He did not see why, as the kid had fangs and claws and seemed to be stronger than he was, and the only other person he had ever met who had been as strong as he was had been Schmidt. The final thought that went through his mind was more practical: He just ran in the direction of the enemy.

It was that final thought that spurred him into action. While the kid had a small lead on him, Cap had scouted this area out beforehand. There was a gulch between this location and the edge of the estate. It might slow McCall down long enough for him to catch up. He sprinted through the trees, moving with as much speed as he could manage in the forested terrain. He’d try to talk the kid down, but if he couldn’t he knew he would have to restrain him.

He spotted McCall up ahead paused at the edge of the gulch. The kid had obviously seen the gulch and was circling back to make a running jump over it. If he succeeded, Steve realized, he would be within a hundred feet of the manicured grounds of Sanderling Roost and whatever forces Hydra had there.

Steve calculated that he had one shot at this. When McCall rushed to make his jump, he matched his own leap, grabbing the teen around the legs, ruining the jump’s momentum and angle. They tumbled through the air, and Steve angled his shield to absorb the brunt of the impact into the side of the gulch. The pair of them rolled down the rough side of the ravine, McCall struggling to get free, while stones and prickly bushes tore at their clothes and flesh.

Steve scrambled to his feet at the bottom as he got to the bottom of the gulch. A quick search of the floor of the ravine indicated that no one had been there for quite a while. There was a narrow, rocky stream bed was surrounded by untouched vegetation. The heavy leather of his suit had thwarted the young spring growth of thorns that covered the sides of the depression, but he did have a cut on his cheek from a rock. It was nothing to write home about.

He didn’t have much time to think about it, anyway, as McCall had rolled to his feet as well. Running hadn’t worked, so it looked like the kid was going to try fighting his way out. With a roar of “Leave me alone!” the boy slammed a fist into his shield. The vibranium absorbed the force of the blow, allowing Steve’s answering roundhouse kick to land squarely, landing the wolf man on his back in the stream.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that.” He took a step forward, but McCall rolled out of the stream and once more onto his feet. The monster shook himself, and it was enough like a dog for Steve would have had to stop from laughing if the situation hadn’t been so tense.

As they clashed, Steve analyzed McCall’s fighting style. It was far more acrobatic than his, relying on unexpected angles of attack. It would have given the boy an advantage if he had had more practice, but he wasn’t compensating in his approach for the way Steve fought. This left the wolf man open to counterattacks. Steve had been trained to fight by professionals, and they had taught him to analyze the way his opponents fought to identify weaknesses. Most opponents would wear themselves out long before Steve even got winded. In addition to his inexperience, it was clear to the soldier that the boy wasn’t using his formidable-looking claws and teeth; McCall was trying to beat him without hurting him.

After a particularly fierce exchange that had both of them staggering for once, McCall paused with one hand steadying him on the side of the gulch. “Why are you coming after me?” It was a demand filled with frustration but Steve could swear there was an element of hurt to it.

Steve stopped his forward rush to attack. He'd take advantage to try to end this fight before someone got hurt. “Because we aren’t the only ones. The people you’ve been working for – the Barkers and your chemistry teacher – are working with the Nazis.” It was best to get it out in the open right away; it was obvious now why they wanted McCall, even if Steve still had trouble believing that the reason was even real. “Attacking you may not have been the best way to stop you, but I couldn’t let you reach the estate.”

McCall took several deep breaths; his claws retracted and his face returned to looking like a human. He now looked like a teenager who had been in a car wreck, clothes muddy and torn. He closed his eyes in frustration and not a little anguish. “You aren’t lying; this is so bad. Damn it.” He looked up at the Captain as if apologizing for cursing. “People aren’t supposed to find out we’re real.”

Steve slung his shield on his back. He was able to relax now that McCall looked human once again. “I can’t promise anything about that, but I know you don’t want to be captured by Hydra. So, how about we go back to my jeep and we get the hell out of here.”

McCall looked at the edges of the gulch and then back up at the sky as if trying to figure out the right thing to do. “Okay. I'll go with you to get away from this place, but …I'm not going to tell you anything. And I won't be going anywhere but home.”

Steve thought grimly that they’d cross that bridge when they came to it. “After you.” He gestured to the side of the gulch that lead toward the road and his jeep. He wondered if he could sneak the kid past the FBI or even if he should.

It was easier for the kid to climb up first, because when he extended his claws, he could make handholds. Steve didn’t think he’s going to bolt, though he had a plan in case the boy tried it. When he got to the top, McCall extended a hand to him to pull him up. As Cap reached for it, the kid looked up and cocked his head to the side. “What’s that smell?”

Steve could never figured out what he meant by that, as chaos broke loose when a machine gun opened fire from across the top of the gulch. In the spray, a bullet grazed his left thigh; while the suit helped protect him, it still hurt like hell. He saw McCall take a bullet in the side, heard his grunt of pain, and the sharp intake of breath. Hydra had arrived.

It would not have taken a tactical genius to realize they were in a dangerous position, balanced on the side of a ravine. With a bloody cough, McCall pulled on Steve’s hand with all significant strength and threw him up and away from the edge of the gulch. Steve twisted in the air – he’d done this type of thing before – and landed as gracefully as possible.

McCall had pulled himself over the edge of the gully rolled over onto his back after he had thrown him. He had gotten shot in the calf as well and started to try to crawl away from the edge of the gulch, towards cover. Steve scanned the other side of the gulch and his heart sank. There were indeed Hydra troopers there on American soil. He had to get McCall out of there, even if he was dying, and then come back to deal with them.

Before he could act on that plan, one of the Hydra soldier threw a grenade. He could tell that it wasn’t a normal grenade; it was the same strange technology as their other weapons. “Get down!” Steve shouted, moving forward and kneeling, using his shield to protect him from the blast. He wouldn’t get to the boy in time.

The grenade went off, filling his eyes and ears with light and sound. His shield took all the brunt of the force, but the wave caught some of his legs and part of his arm and tossed him back at least twenty feet. Steve tried to shake off the images burned into his eyes, tried to shake the ringing out of his skull. He knew he was a sitting duck like this, so he pedaled backwards into the underbrush. He had to fall back until he could recover.

His vision cleared enough for him to see that the Hydra soldiers were gone. He raced to where McCall had been, searching. It was probable that the boy was dead, but he needed to make sure. There was no body – not in the woods, not in the gulch.

“Damn it.”

*****

The rest of the pack was crowded around the two cars in the school parking lot. One was the car that Allison had borrowed from her father; the other was Jackson’s car. They were in various stages of distress and argument over the revelations that have been gathered that morning.

Lydia stood next to Jackson and his car. The werewolves could scent the fury coming off of her, but all anyone had to do was look at her livid complexion. “I am going to kill Stiles Stilinski. You will see me beat him to death with my shoe. He ran off with that woman and left us here.”

Isaac shifted nervously from foot to foot where he was standing near the front of the Argent car. Ever since they had reconvened, he had been aware of the now-almost-fully-recovered Aiden and Ethan staring at him, while Jackson pointedly was not looking at him. It occurred to him that they were all treating him like Scott’s second. To him, that had always been Stiles. He had never realized that they thought this way before; he didn’t like it. Allison, Lydia, and Malia could have cared less about hierarchy.

Isaac wanted to defer to Allison, who had actual training on how to be a leader, but he knew that while she could be persuasive and would take over if necessary, the wolves in the pack were looking instinctively to him. “Uhm.” That was a great start. “The way I see it …” He trailed off. “I mean, we can go after Scott as a pack, we can go after Harris as a pack, or we can split up. But if we go after Harris, we need to decide what we’re going to do with him.”

No one looked particularly impressed with that. “We know what to do with him. Stiles is right; if Harris is willing to sell Scott to the Nazis, then he’ll sell us out so they don’t hang him.” Someone told Malia that traitors were hung. “He has to die.”

No one looked at each other for a few minutes. Isaac toed the ground rather than try to take the lead again. No one could imagine a way to stop Harris from talking to the government without killing him, and no one could imagine that he wouldn’t do what Stiles said, and no one could image how bad it would be if the government suddenly found out about werewolves – hell, if everyone found about werewolves in a public trial.

The problem was Scott. They all knew that he would be upset that they hadn’t at least tried to find another way to stop Harris. He’d think that they let their anger at his treachery make the decision for them. Maybe he’d be able to think of a way to stop Harris. They had thought of them, but they all seemed too delicate and wishful thinking.

Isaac looked up and then met Allison’s eyes. She was looking at him as well; she had a grim look on her face and she nodded at him. She believed in him.

“We’re going to do both,” Isaac said suddenly. “Some of us will go after Harris; some will go to rescue Scott.” He takes a deep breath. “The people going after Harris will make sure he’s never found. When we get Scott back, I’ll tell him. It’s my decision.”

The twins looked at each other. Ethan grimaces and then nods. Aiden turns to the rest. “Let us do it. We’ve already done … something like this.” He didn’t look at Jackson or Malia. “Willingly.”

Isaac scowled at them, but then he rubbed his face with one hand and nodded.

Ethan looked over at Aiden. “We’ll need to fix the truck. He’s driving, and we don’t know where he’d drive to.”

“He’ll go to San Francisco. It’s the nearest place with an airport,” Allison broke in. “I’ll drive.” She put one hand on Isaac’s shoulder and squeezed. “We don’t have time to wait until you get the truck fixed; every moment we waste is going to mean he'll be harder to find.”

“Go.” Isaac felt torn. He wanted to go to Scott’s aid, but he also wanted to go with Allison. “Jackson, would you mind driving? The rest of us will go to … Sanderling Roost.” He said to the other two. “Allison got the name and location out of the Major’s hotel room.”

Jackson shrugged. “Since you asked, sure.” Everyone was nervous, but they piled into the cars anyway.

Lydia spoke from the front passenger seat. “Stiles must have known that we didn’t have any way to follow him, so he didn’t tell Malia for a reason. I get it; he doesn’t want more of us exposed to the government. So let us do everyone a favor and try to act inconspicuous? Just four kids on a nice drive in the country. Nothing scary about us, at all.”

******

Stiles learned something about himself and about Major Carter during the drive away from Beacon Hills. She was a really good driver, and she drove really fast. Neither of which bothered him, surprisingly. He knew that if he ever got a car, he’d be a really good driver, and now he knew he would also drive, really, really, really fast. It was fun.

The first half hour of the drive was pretty much silent, save for Stiles giving tips on short cuts to the major. He had studied the map when he knew Scott was going to be driving it. He hadn’t needed to, but he had gotten the urge one night. Now he was glad for his overwhelming curiosity.

Suddenly, the major turned to him. “You’re not a werewolf?” Given their speed and even with his enjoyment of it, he wished she would keep her eyes on the road.

“Nope. I was never bitten; I didn’t want to be. Probably for the best, I’d be a terrible werewolf.” He went on, bitingly. “Who’d want a clumsy, twitchy, crazy werewolf? I’d either go on a killing spree or accidentally burn the town down.”

“So, if a werewolf bites you, you become a werewolf?” Stiles glanced over at her. He realized she was trying to work through why these Hydra people were after Scott. That was probably a better idea than thinking about their rate of speed.

“Only if you’re an alpha. But any alpha can make werewolves like that, and I’ve not heard that there’s anything special about a werewolf created by a true alpha, so I don’t think that’s why they’d come all this way.” He clucked his tongue. “But Scott’s never bitten anyone, so maybe they know something we don’t know.”

“He didn’t bite those two I met? Or the rest of your … pack?”

“No. Scott never wanted to be a werewolf; the alpha who bit him did it without asking, but he was a total villain.” Stiles thought about Peter. He mentally flipped him the bird all the way in Argentina. “I don’t think that Scott wants to bite anyone; even though he’s pretty damn good at being a werewolf, I think he still hates being one.”

The major frowned. “Do you know why they might want a true alpha?”

Stiles looked at her and then looked at the road. It was easy to trust her until he remembered that she was part of the government. She’s not supposed to know these things. Yet, he knew so little of the people that were after Scott and that could be just as dangerous. It looked like if he wanted to get information, he needed to give it, but that was exactly what he was afraid of doing.

“Look, Mr. Stilinski, it has to be something important. The people here aren’t doing this for a minor benefit.” She turned her eyes back to the road. “I promise you that I have no intention to use this against you or the people you hold dear. I can’t promise more than that.”

“Call me Stiles.” He sighed. This was a disaster. “In order to understand what a true alpha is, you have to understand how the power of the alpha usually transfers in a normal pack. When an alpha dies by natural causes or in an accident or some hunter kills the alpha, the power usually goes to the beta that was closest to the alpha in spirit. Yeah, I know that sounds inexact, but it’s supernatural, not scientific. When an alpha dies at the hands of another werewolf, that werewolf becomes the alpha. It sounds barbaric, but they’re not just human; they're also wolves. In this case, a werewolf can become an alpha without another alpha having to die; it doesn’t happen often, but our advisor told us that it comes about through virtue and force of will.”

“That’s what happened to Scott. He didn’t kill an alpha to become an alpha. In fact, he hasn’t killed anyone, even people who really, really deserve it. He tried really stubbornly to save anyone and bam – true alpha. You don’t know the whole story of the last year, so this is far more impressive than it sounds.”

“Then I am assuming the spree killings I read about were not normal spree killings, if there is such a thing as a normal spree killing.” Major Carter observed, obviously thinking about the police files.

“Yeah. Most of those murders were done by werewolves out for revenge, a madman controlling a monster out for revenge, and a darach – think evil witch – out for revenge. Huh. That’s a lot of revenge.” Stiles hadn’t thought about it like that or maybe he had and just hadn’t wanted to remember it.

Major Carter keeps driving. “I still can’t see the angle.”

“Sometimes you can’t, especially in things like this,” Stiles responded as if speaking from experience. “You have to remember – even the good monsters survive by hiding. They lie; they conceal; they destroy information. We have an advisor who is the most frustrating advisor in the history of advisors because it’s become his habit to conceal everything. And he likes us. I think.”

“Right.” She glanced at Stiles appraisingly. “Why are you involved?”

“Why are you involved with the SSR?” Stiles shot back.

Carter did not hesitate. “Early in the war I worked with code breakers in my native country. I saw brilliant men and women creating things that no one had dreamed about before. I realized then and there that it was going to be the side that developed new technology the quickest that was going to win this conflict, and I knew enough about our enemies that I knew it had to be us. When America joined the war, I requested a transfer to the SSR, because I knew my own country was in no shape to mount a focused effort in research and development. When I learned about Hydra – the Nazi Deep Science Division, the opposite of the SSR – I knew I had made the right decision.”

“I joined the SSR because it was the right thing to do. You talk about monsters, but I’ve seen what human monsters are doing right now across the world and I know what they are planning to do. There is a man who we believe is coming here for your friend, who would burn this world to the ground in order to create a new one. He has to be stopped, no matter what.”

Stiles sat silently for a few minutes as the jeep sped down the road. “Jeez, way to make a guy feel small, lady.” He continued only after studying the floor for assistance and finding none. “At first, I got involved out of guilt. Scott would never have been bitten if I hadn’t dragged him into the woods for the stupidest reason in the history of stupid reasons. Then, I was involved to protect my father and Scott from the claws and teeth of the monsters that are out there. Now, I’m in a pack. It feels good, being part of something.”

“I told Scott that I’d go to war, if I could, but it wouldn’t be out of patriotism or anything like that. I’d do it to for the same reason I’m ‘involved’ – to protect the people I care for. Not that they’d let me do that.” He shrugs. “4-F all the way.”

“I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but I don’t see why you would be classified like that.”

“I have hyperkinetic disorder. You’ve seen the symptoms: inability to focus and impulsiveness. When stuff like this happens, I can focus pretty well, but without my Benzedrine, I can’t maintain any sort of focus for long. I also have a history of madness in my family; my mom died of Pick’s Disease. There’s a good chance I’ll get it as well.” He shrugs. “The draft board told my Dad that most likely they’ll rank me 4-F. They don’t need crazy people in the army.”

“I wonder, young man, when you will get tired of saying that.” Major Carter observed.

“Get tired of saying what?” Stiles questioned. He wasn’t sure what she meant.

“That you aren’t needed. I will tell you what I saw today. I did not see a crazy person. I saw a person who knew exactly how to take care of an injured friend. I saw a person who was clear-headed enough to deal with a spy pointing a gun at him. I saw a person who was able to bargain his way into a military operation. I think there are a lot of people who need what you can offer, and I think I am going to need you to help resolve this situation with your friend.”

Chapter Text

MARCH 20, 1944 (Continued)

Hiram Barker fretted about the drawing room like a debutante whose date to the prom was late. He radiated anxiety and impatience. “Excuse me, Herr Schmidt,” he said, attempting to muster up both gravity and command. “I appreciate your willingness to visit us in California, but given that we now know the authorities know you are here, it might be wisest to return to the Jormungandr with haste.”

His mother, sitting in the corner while reading a book, made the smallest sound of displeasure.

“Mr. Barker,” Johann Schmidt announced in a voice used to command. He managed to keep the contempt out of it because he was a guest after all. It was only because he was a guest and Mr. Barker’s mother was a very interesting possible resource that the flabby American businessman wasn’t crawling on his hands and knees with a busted jaw. “I would have to ask you to respect my greater experience in these things. The appearance of Hydra troopers on the edge of your property can be explained away; in fact, I have my men preparing a plausible lie for you to give to your authorities. However, the sight of a boat heading out to sea in the middle of the day cannot be easily explained away. It is best if we wait until nightfall.”

One of the benefits of a lifetime of command was the ability to purge any situation of unhelpful idiots. The seed magnate immediately calmed down even though Schmidt's explanation made little sense even to him. “What can I do to help you with that?”

“The untersturmfuhrer here speaks excellent English.” One of his troopers snapped to attention. “You can go with him and help brief your household staff on the appropriate cover story. I am sure you can trust your staff’s loyalty, can't you?”

Barker nodded in assent. “That sounds like a great idea.” He looked at the officer and then headed off to do something that was truly, completely meaningless.

Schmidt smiled to himself. The manipulation of weak minds always put him in a good mood. He patiently waited for about ten minutes, until he almost forgot about Barker’s mother being there.

She finally broke the silence with a delicate cough. “I would like it understood that while my son may be gullible, I am not. His point was valid, though I suspect you have an ulterior motive for waiting.”

Schmidt's smile did not fade; the proper evaluation of competence also put him in a good mood. “I hope your son has excellent lawyers. I admit I did deceive him; Captain America’s presence means that the SSR somehow has divined my presence here, and that puts your family in danger. Let me assure you, madam, my men will make every effort to remove the traces of our presence here for both your protection and our own.”

Katarina Woltzmann Barker made a dismissive sound. “I can see to my own protection, and my son has been given all the tools he needs to protect himself. It is neither your nor my responsibility if he fails to make use of them. I am more interested in your motives for waiting until nightfall. You now possess all you need to assemble one of the strongest military forces the world has ever known; waiting here imperils that.”

“I've taken your word for that, Doctor, but your description is slightly incorrect. I have all the things I need except one: the cooperation of our prisoner. Given what you and your reports have told me of him, it might not be an easy task. He is probably just as short-sighted and sentimental as the individual from whose grip we just snatched him.” Schmidt smirked at the thought. “Gaining his cooperation is going to require not only a great deal of will, but, if I am not mistaken, a little theater.”

The woman nodded. “I see. You have something planned then?”

“You will find I always have something planned, madam.” He stood up. “Why don’t we pay a visit to our captive and I will explain it to you in greater depth. I also must admit that the delay is also due to a certain personal desire. I cannot possibly leave until I demonstrate to Captain America how badly he has failed. We have clashed once before, and the end of that encounter was unsatisfactory to me.”

The woman led him down into the basement. “What do you think of Captain America's enhancements?”

“We are the product of the same process, Doctor.” He watched her posture change; she was fascinated with the concept of manipulating the human body. “I am the prototype; he is the revised process. Unfortunately, he has chosen to be a painted mascot for fatuous demagogues.”

“I can see why that would irritate you.” She opened a locked door. The captured youth is lying on a table within a cage made of wood. He was not restrained, but he was not conscious either. There was an intravenous drip fastened to his arm.

Schmidt was not pleased about what he perceived as a lack of security around the boy, especially if he was as powerful as he has been made out to be. He glanced at the room in surprised and then looked at the doctor.

“The cage is made of mountain ash wood, also known as rowan. Properly set, most werewolves cannot even touch it, let alone break it. Given time and his full strength, the subject could get through it – that is one of the things that designates a true alpha – but he is not at his full strength at this time. Most cells designed for human restraint are not strong enough to hold an alpha werewolf.”

Schmidt approached the cage and opened it. To him, it felt just as normal wood. “Interesting. Not even a lock. Unnecessary?” He walked in.

“Yes.” She observed. “One of the things I had hoped to discover is exactly how the rowan tree affects lycanthropic physiology. That requires subjects, however. The emissaries are quite skilled at using the powdered form to create barriers. I have had to teach myself. It is ironic; werewolves are so powerful, and yet a line of ash on the ground renders them helpless.”

“What is in the IV?”

“It is a mixture of saline solution and aconite, commonly known as wolf's bane. It has to be calibrated pretty narrowly to keep him unconscious. Too much, and it will kill the subject or allow the subject’s wounds to kill him. Wolf's bane weakens most of a werewolf’s natural abilities.”

“Is the risk truly necessary? Considering the extent of his injuries?”

“Ahh, Herr Schmidt, if it hadn’t been for that solution, the alpha would have been fully recovered by now. He was only shot twice and the damage done by your organization’s disruption grenade was meant to stun, not injure.” She joined him in the cage. “The wound in his leg has already completely healed.”

“I would not have believed it.” He is a bit envious. “A naturally superior version of the super soldier process.”

“Do not be too quick, Herr Schmidt, to jump to that conclusion. There are plenty of weaknesses to go along with wolf's bane and mountain ash, especially the psychological dependencies engendered by their condition. As powerful as they are, they are enslaved by the moon’s phase. As powerful as they are alone, they are very dependent on the emotional support of pack bonds. If they ignore these things, the werewolf will be driven mad, becoming no more than an animal.” She observes. “There is always room for improvement in any process, natural or supernatural. From what I have been able to observe, the scientific enhancement you underwent is far superior.”

Schmidt could tell by the off-hand way she spoke that she was not flattering him. She was analyzing the situation and evaluating the phenomena in comparison. “Does that solution affect his mental state? Could you adjust the solution so he is conscious and mobile, yet weakened and disoriented?”

“I could do so, if I start working on it now. I cannot promise absolute efficiency, but I will try my best. Will this be part of your theater?”

The Red Skull smiled. “Yes. I shall see to the other preparations, but then we must trust that my dear Captain will play his role.”

******

“Oh, bother,” spat Major Carter as she and Stiles arrived at the FBI blockade of the road to Sanderling Roost. She pulled the jeep over to the side of the road. “I am going to need you, Stiles, to stay here for a few minutes. I have to deal with your Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Peggy did indeed have to deal with the FBI; Agent Fordham must have come up at some point, because she could see him there along with two other agents and Steve. What concerned her is the tell-tale damage to Steve’s uniform and the lack of McCall. While Stiles had impressed her with his perception and determination, she could feel the anxiety buzzing off him as they had driven along. She didn’t need a panicking teenager when she might have to get into a jurisdictional turf war.

“Yeah, I’m familiar with agents. I’ll wait.”

Peggy walked up purposefully to where Steve and the agents were standing. “Gentlemen, what’s the situation here?” She wished she could figure out a way to get Steve alone.

Agent Fordham, who knew he was in charge and whose first priority seemed to be to make everyone remember that he was in charge, spoke first. “According to the captain here, there are actually members of your Hydra organization on the grounds of the estate. They rescued the courier from our blockade.”

Steve glanced at her to stress the importance of his words. “That was not exactly my report, agent. I said that Hydra soldiers took the boy.”

Peggy knew better than to curse openly. “How close are we to getting him back?”

Fordham looked at the situation. “We can have a dozen agents up here by tomorrow along with a squad of soldiers. Tomorrow morning at the earliest.”

Peggy made eye contact with Steve, who shook his head. There were things they needed to talk about. “Can I get back to you, agent? I need to debrief Captain Rogers on the protocols for when we discover foreign hostile troops on American soil.” She headed back toward the jeep with Steve in tow, ignoring Fordham’s cries of protest. Of course, they’d try to make it about jurisdiction.

Steve muttered to her as he walked with her. “When you said enhanced, you weren’t kidding around. McCall’s a wolf man.”

“He’s not the only one,” she replied lightly. “What’s the chance that Schmidt and the Jormungandr are not actually here?”

Steve looked a little shocked at her witty rejoinder, but he continued to speak. “Those weren’t wannabes, Peggy. They were elite Hydra troopers armed with Hydra’s deep-science weaponry. The Skull has to be here.”

“But not for long. If that submarine, Johann Schmidt or Scott McCall are still here tomorrow, I'll eat your hat. We don’t have time to wait for reinforcements.” She gestured to the jeep. “The boy in my jeep is McCall’s best friend and a member of his werewolf pack. He pretty much blackmailed me into bringing him along, but I think it is for the best. He knows a great deal about these things.”

“Werewolf pack?” Steve asked incredulously. “Okay. I have to say, this is not what I expected to see in California.”

Peggy brought Steve and introduced him to Stiles. She observed that as much as Stiles was impressed with Captain America, he was more focused on the task at hand. She also noted that he was anxious, but nowhere near overwhelmed. A shared glance with Steve showed her that he thought the same.

After a brief discussion, Stiles rubbed at his face and released a torrent of sarcasm. “So, to summarize what you’ve told me. Members of the Nazi Deep Science division, Hydra – which is a totally cool name, by the way, and it was totally inappropriate of me to say that right now – led by the evil version of Captain America have come to the home of an American seed magnate on an advanced submarine to kidnap my best friend for some strange but no doubt nefarious reason about which we have no real idea. The FBI – God bless ‘em – won’t be ready to move until tomorrow morning, though you think that means they'll be long gone.” He looked up at the sky. “I shouldn’t have left the pack behind.”

Steve put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “We may not know why Schmidt wants your friend, but I will do everything I can to stop him. That’s why I’m here.” He glanced at Peggy. “If they’re here, they won't leave until after nightfall. We need to start moving before then.”

“I agree. I’d like to have more people to take down Schmidt and his troopers, so we’ll focus on freeing McCall.” She turns to Stiles. “You should take the jeep back to the nearest town.”

“Oh, no, no, no.” Stiles protested. “Don’t even think of leaving me behind. You need me! That brief rundown I gave you isn’t going to do much to help you figure out what they have planned. And that’s exactly what I’ve done for the last year: figure out things while people are trying to kill us.” He looked at both of them. “It really doesn’t matter, though. If you don’t take me with you, I’ll just go by myself. ”

Peggy put her hands on her hips. “Mr. Stilinski, I know that you are concerned for your friend, but you're a civilian. You’d be going up against seasoned troopers with weapons that could literally disintegrate you.” She knew that he was almost of an age where he could be called to fight, but he hadn’t been called, not yet.

“Major Carter, you know what’s dangerous? Hitting an alpha werewolf with a baseball bat is dangerous. Running from a kanima is dangerous. Taunting a psychotic elder hunter is dangerous. I’ve done all of that, and I know what I'm getting into. I also know that I ditched the pack to protect them, and if I hadn’t done that, they’d probably be here right now, and I wouldn’t need you two at all.” Stiles pointed at both her and Captain America. “But right now I do, because that guy in there is more than just my alpha; he’s my best friend. So I am going in there and getting him with or without your assistance.”

“Major Carter,” Steve said. “Peggy. I don’t understand a third of what he just said, but I understand the feeling behind it. We could use him.”

Peggy gave Steve some pretty serious side-eye. “Right, then. You’ll do what we tell you when we tell you to do it or I’ll tie you to a tree. That’s the deal.”

“Deal,” Stiles answered loudly and then muttered under his breath. “Though I am really bad at doing what I am told. It's a habit.”

Captain America outlined a plan to both of them. “Now, I suggest we get into the jeep, we tell Fordham that we’re going for food, and then we drive to an access road I saw a mile back. We hide the jeep and then make our way overland. It should take us no more than an hour. Sound good, Major?”

Peggy looked over her shoulder. She’d really rather try to force the FBI to help them, but she knew time was running out. “Let’s go.”

******

Even though the coast is closer to Beacon Hills than San Francisco as the crow flies, the way the roads are set up a driver would get to the big city long before they'd reach that part of the coast. If a driver wanted to drive to the coast directly west, they would have to loop either far to the south, or take narrow and twisting roads through the Mendocino Range.

This meant that even though they had farther to go, Allison and the twins would arrive in San Francisco before the others reached their destination. It was a long and awkward trip. Though it was Scott’s decision not to drive the twins out of the city once they abandoned what remained of the Alpha pack, not everyone was comfortable with them. Over time, they had worked hard to become accepted members, though Isaac had remained opposed to it. Allison was indifferent, but she tended to act remotely with them because of her relationship with Isaac.

Allison knew that was why she felt awkward, and she guessed why they were acting awkwardly. She was a werewolf hunter and the eventual Matriarch of the Argent family. That certainly could make formerly-murders alphas-turned-omegas-turned-betas nervous. She found herself appreciating that.

Allison drove the 1938 Ford Deluxe sedan down the roads to San Francisco. She had explained that the best approach would be to drop the twins off at the airport while she made calls to people who worked with the Argents in the city.

Ethan spoke up from the back seat. “This isn’t a complaint, but why do we think he won’t just try to drive somewhere? He has a car and a head start.”

“It's a legitimate question. We could be wasting our time, but if we assume minimal competence on his part, if he did decide to drive his way somewhere, we could never catch him. My family’s contacts might be eventually be able to find him, but they’re mostly focused on finding … people like you. “ She smiled and shrugged. “We're doing this because I am taking a guess, based on my training and what I know of Mr. Harris.”

Ethan looked out the window. “I never had Mr. Harris. Uhm, do you mind sharing why you think he’ll go to the airport?”

“Mr. Harris is suddenly rich; fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money. Mr. Harris used to live on the East Coast; he attended West Point. People tend, when fleeing, to go where they are comfortable. Driving across country is actually pretty tedious. Mr. Harris is also a pompous ass. I’m betting that he doesn’t think he should be made to drive. It’s what I have to go on.”

Ethan leaned back in the back seat, satisfied. “I certainly don’t have any better ideas.”

Aiden had taken the passenger seat in the front. He was always slightly more aggressive than Ethan. “So, are we going to have a problem afterwards?”

As with most of the pack, Allison liked Ethan a lot more than Aiden. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“We’re gonna kill this guy, Allison,” stated Aiden. “I’m not Stilinski’s biggest fan, but even I have to admit when he’s right. Harris has every reason to sell us out to the government and no reason at all not to do so if and when the G-men get him.” He tries to give her a glare. “Usually, your family isn’t really good with werewolves killing people.”

“I’ve actually thought about that,” Allison replied. “I don’t really have an answer, yet, mostly because I’m very angry. I try to think about these things without emotion. He’s a spy and a traitor and I have no idea why those Germans want Scott, but …” She gripped the steering wheel. “This is the type of decision I have to make.”

“Well,” groused Aiden, “I’d really like to know what you plan to do before we catch him, if we catch him.”

“This isn’t easy! I’ve learned that my family has procedures for dealing with government and law enforcement officials who learn of your existence. We don’t want people to know about you any more than you want people to know about you. We actually have people to take of this, through blackmail, bribery, or conversion into agents.” She sighed. “But Harris is not being hunted just by werewolves. He’s a Nazi spy, and while we have a lot of connections, we don’t have connections at that level.”

“Then we kill him!” snapped Aiden. Ethan sighed in the back seat.

Allison rewarded Aiden with a look. “Maybe. We have to think about what this means for us. I’m going to be the Matriarch one day, and you want to redeem yourselves, don’t you? You want to have a place where you don’t have to kill innocent people, and I need people to trust my judgment without being as ruthless as my grandfather.”

“He’s not innocent,” Aiden argued. “He’s a threat to all of us, not just me and Ethan. We volunteered to do this because we’ve killed people before.”

Allison responded with the same vehemence. “You’ve killed werewolves and you’ve killed hunters in combat. You’ve never executed someone.” At the twins’ startled response to that, she continued. “What? You didn’t think my Dad and I would do all the research we could once Scott let you stay? If you had killed innocent humans, things would have been different.”

Ethan sat back in the seat. “Okay. I suppose that makes sense. Then what do you think we should do?”

“I think we should find him, and if we can, we capture him.” She looked over at Aiden. “And if we can’t capture him, we do what we have to. But if we do capture him, I’ll call in my people and see what we can do. If we don’t have any way of keeping him secure and quiet, if that doesn’t work …”

“If that doesn’t work,” prompted Aiden.

“If that doesn’t work, I’ll take care of him myself.”

Allison was serious. She was dedicated to altering the Code, and she knew it would take time. She would actually see to it that everyone was protected. Maybe Ethan and Aiden were murderers, but Scott wasn’t and Isaac wasn’t and while Malia and Jackson had murdered, they were deserving of protection. She wasn't going to let a piece of human garbage ruin their lives.

Aiden looked nettled. “Probably for the best. Killing people at an airport would draw a lot of attention that we don’t want. I wish you had said something about capturing him before; I could have gone after Scott.”

“Aiden, don’t be such a dick,” Ethan had had enough. “You don’t have to play tough guy any more. We’re pack, and we’re in a pack that doesn’t care about how tough you are.”

Aiden shot his brother a glare and then settled down in his seat. Allison didn’t look at him, but she knew what this was about. Scott had told her that he was worried about Aiden feeling useless. Ethan had Danny, and now that Lydia and Jackson were back together, Aiden was on the outside. It wasn’t really her problem.

“I need you here. Do you know how much territory an airport is? You two have the training and skill to hunt him down. The rest of the pack are my friends, but you’ve been hardened by battle.” It was not exactly true, but it was not exactly false. “You don’t think I’d rather be up north with the others? But Harris cannot get away. We have to stop him.”

The Ford pulled into San Francisco Municipal Airport.

Chapter Text

MARCH 20, 1944 (Continued)

Steve felt relieved as he, Peggy and Stiles moved through the underbrush. His earlier scouting had paid off; he had a clear idea how they could get close to the main house of Sanderling Roost with a minimal chance of being seen. Peggy had always been better at stealth than he was, though he had learned how to move quietly when he had to. It was a pleasant surprise that no matter how twitchy Stiles was when he was relaxed, when he was focused on being unobserved, he could move pretty quietly himself.

He told Stiles as much during a hushed conversation when they took a brief rest before entering the estate grounds proper. “Really? I knew that Derek was just being a jerk when he called me an elephant. His lurking skills must have rubbed off on me.”

They decided that they had to go to the main house first. While the other buildings could be where they were keeping their prisoner, the chance that an outside could casually observe Hydra troopers were too great. Schmidt would want his own people looking over his prize.

They remained quiet as they got to the side of the house. Steve began to grow concerned; he caught Peggy’s eye and knew she shared his disquiet. He had been congratulating himself on a stealthy approach to the estate, but they had not had to stop once to avoid the eyes of either the Hydra troopers or the Barker estate staff. Schmidt knew that he was here, Steve reasoned. He’d at least have put the estate at higher alert. Either they had already left, which was going to be a disaster or …

Steve turned to Peggy as they reached the eaves of the main house and mouthed the word ‘Trap?’

Peggy nodded back at him. ‘Trap.’

They found a large cellar door that was the end of a utility drive. It was obviously designed to allow for a large delivery. It was secured by a heavy chain and a padlock. Peggy pulled out her picks that she carried, but Stiles reached out and took them. He whispered, “You two look like you want to talk. Let me get this.”

Steve assumed that Stiles knew what he was doing and drew Peggy aside, backs flat against the house in the twilight. “I don’t like this.”

“Either they are already gone, which is terrible, or he’s waiting for us,” Peggy replied. “I’d feel a lot more confident about making this call if I knew what Schmidt’s exact interest was in McCall. Since I don’t, I have to say that Schmidt wouldn’t take the risk to come here for something unimportant. We need to go in.”

Steve nodded agreement and pointed soundlessly at Stiles, who had just got the padlock open with a little flourish of achievement.

“He’s not a soldier; you won’t be able to order him not to come. You can’t stop loyalty like that. He has skills and knowledge we need and he is going in anyway; keeping him with us is safer for him and us.” She turned and drew her gun. “After you.”

Steve did indeed lead the way; he was faster, tougher and he had an indestructible shield, so it was essentially common sense that he went first. Peggy came up just behind him and Stiles followed, thinking clearly enough to close the doors behind them, even though it left them in the dark. Light from an entrance to a hallway gave enough illumination for them to navigate this basement, which seemed to be used for furniture storage.

Steve poked his head out into the hallway quickly. The hallway’s corridor was long and brightly lit. He could hear people moving around in one of the rooms off of it. He watched as two men left one of the rooms, carrying a wooden rack; that was the best way he could describe the object. It must have been made of heavy wood because it was not easy for the Hydra troopers to lift, all of one piece and about five feet on each side. He could not be sure what it was, but if Hydra was taking it, he wanted to know for sure. Motioning for Peggy and Stiles to stay, he crept down the hall and into the room where the two troopers had come from. It was empty of people, but full of things that he could not explain. He stuck a hand out and motioned for the pair to come to him.

Peggy and Stiles sprinted from the darkened room to the cell. While they were coming, Steve figured out that the wooden rack was actually one side of a cell. In addition to the rest of the cell, there was also a narrow bed with medical equipment next to it, including an intravenous stand. The set-up confused Steve, but the moment he saw Stiles’ face, he knew it wasn’t good.

“Son of a bitch.” Stiles tried to use anger in his voice to cover up his anxiety, but he failed. The timbre was closer to fear, the type of fear when you find out that the enemy is stronger than you thought.

“Less cursing,” Steve admonished, “and more sharing.”

“The wood is rowan, also known as mountain ash.” Stiles said quietly. “Many supernatural creatures can’t touch or cross a barrier of activated mountain ash. Scott can, but it takes a great deal of effort. Getting out of a cage like this would exhaust him.”

Peggy smiled, but it wasn’t a happy smile. It was a ‘Schmidt wouldn’t leave this behind’ smile. “Can you find anything else?” She gestures at the medical equipment.

Stiles went over to the IV, squirted some from the tube and sniffed it. “Great. It’s an aconite solution. That’s wolfsbane, just like Harris’s bullets, ma’am.” He turned around. “I don’t know the concentration. It’s poisonous to humans but really, really poisonous to werewolves. There are different types which have different effects; the same type might have different effects at different concentrations. Effects range from death at the high end to hallucinations and disorientation at the lower level.”

Steve and Peggy were giving Stiles the type of look they gave Howard when he was rattling on about his newest invention. Stiles was suddenly self-conscious. “Most of my friends are werewolves; I need to know this stuff, all right?”

Peggy looked at Steve. He could tell she was filing the information away for later use. “We need to follow those two when they come back. They’ll lead us right to McCall. Back into the basement.”

Steve nodded; he had already thought that was the best approach. He gave them some more instructions as they went back in. “When we go, we follow at the maximum distance, but we don’t stop. We get tied down, we’ll lose our chance.”

They waited in the shadows until the men came back. Steve kept an eye on the situation, waiting like a coiled spring to go after them. He saw Peggy looking almost bored; he knew she had much more experience in these situations. Stiles was not having the best time; he was quiet, but he was fidgeting. He looked like he wanted to run off right now to find his friend. Steve understood that; he always felt that way about Bucky. He rested a hand on the teen’s shoulder in support. Patience was going to be a virtue in this scenario.

It may have seemed like hours, but it was only ten minutes when the Hydra troopers came back to pick up the next section of the cage. They had already disassembled the hard part, so it only took a few minutes before the pair of troopers started carting another section down the hallway. Steve motioned for Peggy and Stiles to follow him.

It tended to be easier to follow people who were actually engaged in a task. As long as you didn’t get too close and make too much noise, you could get pretty far without being noticed. He kept his shield up, just in case there were guards where they were going.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Stiles grab Peggy’s arm and then make a gesture, his hand sliding down in a diagonal motion. He was right. The hallway was beginning to decline. Steve paid a bit more attention to his surroundings and realized that the hallway’s orientation put it parallel to the shorter sides of the rectangular layout of the house above. The hallway, in other words, was longer than the actual building.

Steve realized where they were going. Some form of underground location, probably bordering the ocean. He had missed it when he was scouting out the estate earlier. He gestured for Peggy and the boy to hang back a bit, as he saw the entrance up ahead and there didn’t seem to be many places to hide.

He ducked his head into the room and did a quick scan. He didn’t think he was spotted, and there was no immediate outcry, but even so, the situation was not good. As he suspected, an underground grotto had been turned into a boat dock; the style of the construction indicated it must have predated their involvement with international conspiracies. The dock and the railings were decorative, but it wasn’t cute any more. At the end of the dock was a motorboat on which the cage was being loaded. Standing at that end was an older woman that Cap didn’t recognize and Johann Schmidt. He had his false face on, which Steve preferred. The Red Skull’s red skull always squicked him out.

Standing about twenty feet from the end of the dock and the boat was McCall. He was being held by two Hydra troopers, but he had felt the kid’s strength before. They couldn’t hold him, but it was obviously the advanced Hydra rifle being pointed in his face that was keeping him under control. In addition, McCall was sweating and breathing heavily, his eyes glowing with their strange red.

There were two other Hydra troopers closer to this end of the dock, armed with submachine guns. Still dangerous, but he knew what he had here was a hostage situation. His primary focus had to be to free the hostage. He dodged back in and whispered the information to both Peggy and Stiles.

Stiles made a face as his friend was described to him. “Yeah, he’s drugged. I can’t tell you how he’s going to react.”

Peggy turned to the teen. “Do you think he’ll recognize you?”

“Yeah. No matter how screwed up he is, we’re still pack.” Stiles tried to sound very confident even while whispering.

Steve nodded. “Then this is what we are going to do.” He pulled his gun. “I’ll start by getting that gun out of his face. Hopefully, he’ll start fighting, while I run down the dock to help free him. Peggy, you concentrate on the guards at this end, while Stiles you try to get him to come to you, okay? Stiles find cover.”

They moved as close as they could, and then Steve held up a fist. One finger. Two finger. Three fingers. Go.

******

The Red Skull was beginning to get bored with the situation when a round shield bounced off the roof of the grotto and sliced off the front of the cannon held on his prisoner. Ahhh, right on time, Captain. He drew his hand-held plasma gun and turned to Dr. Woltzmann-Barker next to him. “Madam Doctor, please get in the boat. As the Americans say, it’s show time.”

The female scientist was ruthless and cool under pressure, but she was not a warrior. She did not argue but simply did as she was told. She would make a fine member of his organization.

As predicted, Captain Rogers was rushing down the dock towards them, while one of his guards at the doorway was down from what seemed to be a woman firing a pistol. She and a young man were hiding behind some of the boating supplies at the end of the dock. He could discount them for the time being. The werewolf, with the cannon out of his face, was acting aggressively but not effectively, tossing one of the men holding him into the water. Schmidt spoke in German: “You two handle the costumed fool. Leave the monster to me.” Switching to English, he taunted, “Surely, alpha, you can do better than that?”

Things were proceeding as he had planned. Captain America had scooped up his shield and was making quick work of his men, while his backup had been pinned down by his men off the dock. The werewolf charged toward him, enraged. The combination of the boy’s anger, the drugs coursing through his system and his failure to understand that he was fighting a superior individual led him to overextend himself. Grabbing the boy by the back of his head, he slammed him face first into one of the dock’s post, breaking his nose and staggering him even more.

From behind the crates where the woman was engaged in a fire fight with his man, the young man stood up and shouted “Scott!” but the woman pulled him down before he could be shot.

“You have strength, boy, but you lack experience in fighting an opponent like me,” Schmidt explained as he pulled the werewolf up by his hair and put an arm around his throat. “Now, if you want to survive this, you’ll stop struggling. You may survive a bullet to the head, but not a shot from this gun.” He placed the barrel of the pistol up against the teen’s temple.

The werewolf was drugged and angry, but he wasn’t suicidal. He stopped moving, placing one hand, claws out, on Schmidt’s arm.

“Captain!” the Red Skull called out. “Please stop beating up my men and remain where you are, unless you are willing to sacrifice this young man. Your allies as well will cease. My men will also cease firing.”

The American super soldier paused and took a step back from his outmatched men. “What are you thinking, Schmidt? If you kill him, I’ll make sure you never leave these shores.”

“That is a risk that I am prepared to take, Captain Rogers. Are you?” Schmidt chuckled to himself. He could see the fear creeping behind the other soldier’s eyes. Such weakness. How could they expect to win the war if they couldn’t sacrifice their own?

His men knew what they had to do. They got to their feet and limped back to the boat where Dr. Woltzmann-Barker was waiting for them. His enemy’s two allies left their cover and stood at the end of the dock. At the sight of the young man, his captive struggled and he tightened his grip. “That would be unwise …” Schmidt understood now; according to Harris’s reports, this was the alpha’s best friend. This was going to be too easy.

Rogers glared at him. “I’ll do what I have to, but I don’t need to hide behind others to get my way, Schmidt.” He shifted his shield slightly. “I also don’t see what Hydra hopes to get out of this.”

“That is because, as usual, Captain, you suffer from a lack of vision. What I hope to get out of this little confrontation are the answers to a few questions that will be very important to young Herr McCall here.” The werewolf actually growled at him; this was delightful. “When I have the answers I need, all will be revealed.”

He heard the motor boat start behind him. Excellent. He had well trained soldiers. At the end of the dock, the woman – Major Carter now that he had time to look at her – was holding the other young man back by his arm. “Here is the first question. So, young man, cell or cage?”

Confusion reigned in Rogers’ eyes and McCall grunted in his grip.

“You do not understand? Your future here in America is one of those two destinations, depending on whether you reveal your true nature to the authorities. You cannot escape dealing with them, whether or not you manage to capture me. If you manage to conceal yourself, you’ll be a spy, working with the notorious Nazi super soldier. If you do capture me, I will make that perfectly clear to my interrogators. I will wax poetic about the benefits of your assistance. If you do not capture me, you’ll become one of the scapegoats to cover the FBI’s incompetence. I did notice they are not part of the raid. So, you will find yourself in a cell.” He could feel the werewolf still beneath his arm.

“I won’t let that happen, Schmidt.” Rogers vowed.

“Yes, I am sure you will be able to do a lot about it in Europe, Captain,” sneered the Skull. “But even if your heroic soldier kept his word to defend you, would he be willing to keep your secret? Would he be willing not to tell his superiors what you are? After all, there had to be a reason the Nazis were interested in you, eh?”

There was a whispered conversation down the dock. The major and the boy were talking, but the boy was looking right at his werewolf captive as he was speaking.

“So, if you do not end up in a cell, you will end up in a cage. That’s where they put monsters, don’t they?” Schmidt felt the boy’s body tense beneath his grip. The clawed hand gripped his arm so hard that they poked through his uniform sleeve and drew blood. It was a small price to pay to humiliate Rogers.

“They won’t do that,” protested Rogers. He was a fool.

McCall whispered in a choked voice to the Captain; only he and Rogers could have heard it. “You’re lying.” Schmidt smiled, coldly. The boy wasn’t talking about what he had said; everything was going as planned.

“Won’t they, Captain? In Los Angeles, people who look just like this boy are being beat up because they wear the wrong type of clothing, and not a single authority stops them! In his own city, people are kept in a prison because their grandparents were born in the wrong country!” He chuckled and directed his words back to the werewolf. “If normal human beings can’t get justice from your government, why would it give it to a creature like you? So, boy, cell or cage?”

The werewolf snarled. “I don’t care. I won’t do what you want me to do, so let me go.”

All of his opponents, at least the ones that didn’t have a gun to their head, relaxed at McCall’s statement. Schmidt gloated; how foolish they were to think he had played all his cards. “All I want you to do is embrace your destiny,” said Schmidt. He tightened the grip on the boy’s throat. “I am not surprised from what I’ve learned that you would let yourself be imprisoned by people too weak to see your potential. I am surprised, however, that you would put your – what is it called – ah, yes! I am surprised that an alpha would place his pack in the same dire straits.”

With a great deal of pleasure, he watched the realization of his threat settle on the features of his opponents. The fear was even stronger than he had ever hoped, especially for teen called Stiles. “That’s right. You delivered all the reports that Mr. Harris wrote to us, so now I know everything he knows, and so will my agents in the United States. I know about the murderers, the perverts, and the freaks you call your pack. I know how many people your pack has killed. What do you think will happen when my agents reveal this information to the authorities?”

The werewolf looked at Rogers. Schmidt imagined the pleading in the teen’s eyes. At the end of the dock, the other young man was whispering in their direction. Schmidt didn’t have time to try to read his lips.

“What will happen to the girl who can hear death’s approach? The shamed hunter? The feral child? The killers seeking redemption? The ex-lizard – however that works – drowning in blood? The sheriff who covered it all up?” The Red Skull laughed right in the boy’s ear. “My men will place all the information in the right hands, and they’ll all have cells or cages of their very own. But don’t take my word for it – Captain America is standing right there. He can contradict me at any time. He can promise to stop my agents; he can assure you that what I have described won’t happen.”

Before Rogers could answer him, the werewolf shook his head and spoke not to him or Rogers, but to the other teen at the end of the dock. It was more of a growl. “I can’t think. I need a Plan B, Stiles.”

Rogers took another step forward. “Look, Schmidt knows I can’t promise anything. Major Carter can’t promise anything. It doesn’t work like that, as much as I wished it didn’t. But no matter how bad things could get, doing what this Nazi bastard wants isn’t going to be any better.”

“Oh, Captain,” sneered Schmidt. McCall had split his attention between his friend and Rogers. “I thought you would at least attempt to lie. So, here is the deal, monster. You and I are getting on this boat, and they are staying right here. You will make sure of that. As long as you behave, your pack is safe from Hydra.”

“Okay,” said the werewolf. “Okay. I’ll do it.” He shook the Schmidt’s arm off. “We’re going now. I don’t want to fight you, but I will if I have to.”

Rogers looked stricken. “I can’t let you go. You can’t trust him.”

The werewolf shouted. “I can’t trust you!” He lunged forward and put both hands on the shield, pushing the other super soldier back nearly twenty feet.

Schmidt used his pistol to keep Captain America at bay as he moved back toward the boat. Between the pair of them, Rogers couldn't get close. If he paid too much attention to the werewolf, he'd be shot. If he dodged the gun, the werewolf would be all over him. At the rear of the room, Schmidt saw that Stiles had grabbed Major Carter by the arm. Taking the opportunity, Schmidt motioned for McCall to jump down into the boat and he followed after.

The motor boat sped away and Rogers ran up to the edge of the boat, disappointment in his face. Schmidt smiled to himself; Rogers was a fool but not so big a fool that he would try to defeat him and McCall on a speeding motor boat. This trip had netted him the Wolf’s Crown, the alpha he needed to use it, and the beginning of a glorious revenge upon Captain America. It had all been worth it, after all.

******

Steve came back. “Damn it.” He was angry at the total failure of the mission. The Skull had gotten away with his prize.

Stiles shook his head. “It was a done deal. You’re not going to get a drugged-up alpha to do something that would hurt his pack. It’s not just reason you would be fighting against; it’s instinct and a powerful one. And, if that wasn’t the worst, Harris was a really good spy; if Scott has a flaw it’s his tendency to want to sacrifice himself for others. He’s done it before.”

“You don’t seem that upset about it,” remarked Peggy. “You were whispering to McCall to trust you.”

“I’ve got something better than just getting upset.” Stiles replied. “I’ve got a Plan B. You guys ever hear of something called a Nemeton?”

Chapter Text

MARCH 20, 1944 (Continued)

If he had been any of his other friends, Stiles would be beyond bored and frustrated by now. He wasn’t, because he had been witness to a sufficient number of territorial pissing matches between his father and other law enforcement officers. The FBI was furious that the SSR had gone into the estate without them, while Major Carter was unrepentant that she had done so. Her argument was simple: If they had waited until the next day, they would have found nothing.

Stiles leaned up against their jeep in the dark as the argument took place on the grounds of the Roost; he thought it was going pretty well, considering. Major Carter knew how to handle angry law enforcement. If they ever had some time to talk again, he would probably ask her about her experiences. Steve, on the other hand, was tense and angry standing next to him. He was taking it personally.

Stiles had to laugh. Captain America turned to him and said: “What?”

“Uhm. This is your first go-round with jurisdiction?” He felt oddly relaxed.

“I guess so. It seems to be …” Steve shrugged. “Why would you spend so much time fighting about who had the right to stop criminals and enemies first? We could be trying to figure out their next move.”

Stiles looked at the conflict. “The thing you have to remember is that no matter how talented or untalented a police man you are, no one goes into law enforcement to watch other people catch the bad guys. There might be a few policemen who are selfish pigs who only joined for the ability to beat people up and cash a moderately large paycheck, but that’s a small percentage. Most of them go into it thinking – I’m here to help people. Then they get to watch someone else screw up their cases or take the credit for the collar.”

“Does it matter who takes credit?”

“Turns out it does. It matters for retention, for promotion, for budget. You don’t crack enough cases, you won’t have a job, you certainly won’t get promoted, and some bureaucrat is going to argue that if someone else can resolve your cases, you don’t need that much money to do the job. My dad has to get elected; he knows that if the public thinks that FBI has to bail him out on any big case, people are going to wonder if he is right for the position.”

Stiles gestured at the gaggle of G-men from the San Francisco office. “One of those poor schleps is going to have to write a report to their boss about how the SSR found Nazi spies and actual German troops in California while the Bureau put two men watching a road. His boss is going to have to send that report to his boss who is going to have to send it to his boss and all the way up the ladder to J. Edgar. The more he can make it out that you and Major Carter were ignoring proper procedure, the less chance that his next posting will be in the Alaskan tundra.”

Cap glanced over at the argument where Major Carter was reading some agent the riot act. “I didn’t really think about it that way. The military is different, I guess.”

“Not going to say it’s easier, but I suspect it might be simpler when everyone can agree that the other side is trying to kill you. I know it’s simpler for me.”

“You’ve had a lot of things try to kill you?” Cap smiled.

“Not for six months. Wow. It’s really been six months?” At the hero’s raised eyebrow, Stiles went on. “Last year was really exciting, in an Oh-God, Oh-God-we’re-all-going-to-die way. I’m suppose I shouldn’t be complaining – you’ve been in the middle of an actual war.”

Cap laughed grimly. “The exact details don’t really matter if someone trying to kill you. It’s terrifying no matter where you are.”

Before Stiles could go on, there was a single howl in the forest. Everyone gathered at the entrance to Sanderling Roost stopped and listened. “Probably a coyote,” one of the FBI guys said.

“Oh, crackers.” Stiles slid off the jeep and looked around at the forest. “How the heck did they get here?”

“Not a coyote?” The captain asked.

“Yep, it is,” Stiles answer, keeping his voice low. “But also, my girlfriend. That means the pack’s here; she doesn’t have a car, and she can’t run that fast.”

“You don’t sound happy about it.”

Stiles scowled out at the night-darkened forest. “I’m going to have to explain how I let Scott get kidnapped by Nazis. I have a plan, but . . . I don’t know how they’ll react.”

“Aren’t they your friends?”

“It’s not …” Stiles bit his lip. “We’re all friends, but they’re his betas. Protecting their alpha is instinctual. It’s not really something they’ll have a great deal of control over.” He was hoping that not all of them had come. With Scott gone, there wouldn’t be any way to calm them down if they lost it. He also wasn’t sure sometimes if all of them were actually his friends.

“Want me to come with you? I can explain the situation.”

“No, thank you, Captain.” Stiles suddenly remembered he was hanging out with a superhero, and he suddenly blushed. “But, it was my call. I wanted to protect the pack from the government – I thought you SSR people were here to capture werewolves. I can explain it to them. I’ll be back.”

Stiles walked off. If he waited any longer, the pack might come for him, thinking he was in trouble. If he waited any longer, he might take Captain America’s offer up. He wasn’t looking forward to doing this by himself, but the point was to protect them from the government and, superhero or not, Captain America was part of the government.

He walked off into the forest, and while he wasn’t sure which direction he should be going, he knew they would find him. Sure enough, Malia found him sooner than anyone else. She came up to him with a concerned look on her face and backed him up against a tree.

He understood what she was doing. She was using all her senses to see if he was injured or sick. It was very intimate and he had had to explain to her that if someone saw her doing it in public, people would talk. “You could have asked me if I was okay.” He complained but without much heat.

“You would have said you were fine, even if you weren’t.” She sniffed. “I smell gunpowder and the ocean. What happened?”

“I don’t do that; I don’t say I’m fine when I’m not,” Stiles protested.

“Yeah, you do. Tell me what happened.”

Stiles sighed. “Who is with you? I don’t really want to explain my incredible failure more than once. I’ve got my pride.”

“Isaac, Lydia, and Jackson. Jackson drove.” She gestures with her head back. “They sent me ahead, because I’m the best at sneaking in the woods.”

“That you are.” He wasn’t just shooting lip service; she had the best woodcraft of all of them, thought that wasn’t surprising in the least given her history. “Where are Allison and the No-Longer-Evil Twins?”

“They went after Harris.” She bit her lip. “They volunteered. Where’s Scott?”

Stiles looked down at the twigs and stones lying on the dirt. “In trouble, but take me to the others.” Again, he certainly wasn’t looking forward to this.

She led him through the forest, explaining they had parked on a side road. He couldn’t see a damn thing until they got close enough to see the headlights. Lydia was standing in front of the car, framed by the lights and waiting patiently for them to return. Jackson was lounging in the driver’s seat, the door hanging open. Isaac was pacing. Stiles took a deep breath; Isaac would have to be the one to watch out for.

Lydia spoke first. “You had best have a very good explanation why you ditched us to run off with the military, Stiles Stilinksi.” At her words, Isaac stopped pacing and clenched his fist. “Though, you had best start off with what you know, or I think that Isaac’s going to lose it.”

Stiles took a deep breath. “Short version. Mr. Harris essentially sold Scott to a Nazi organization called Hydra. I don’t know why they want him, and I tried to get him out, but … I failed.” There was no other way to say it. “Scott’s been drugged and blackmailed, and he’s on a submarine to Germany.”

Their reactions were about as he expected. Lydia did not say anything; her brow creased in thought. While she had come a long way from the self-centered but secretly insecure Queen Bee of her sophomore year, she had never lost the rather useful trait of calculation. Stiles could tell she was simultaneously thinking of the possible ways to mount a rescue and managing the consequences should no rescue be possible. Her only show of emotion was to scowl at him, which he totally deserved.

Jackson let out an “Oh, shit,” in response. He was trying to look moderately unconcerned in the driver’s seat, but it was pretty feeble. He looked between Stiles and Lydia; he obviously had no idea what to do.

Malia was not as concerned as the others, though it wasn’t out of disinterest. Stiles wondered if she didn’t understand the danger posed by the Nazis. She knew the word well enough, she knew that they were fighting a war, but she still was a stranger to a lot of context. She did know that people were upset and that he was upset, and so she put a hand on his arm to comfort him.

Isaac had been the person he was the most worried about. “You did this,” Isaac growled, pointing a finger at Stiles. “You left us behind on purpose. If it weren’t for Allison, we’d still be back in Beacon Hills, wondering what was going on.”

Stiles thought about trying to lie for a moment. Everyone’s heart rate was probably rabbiting at the news; he could pass off an uptick with the terror-inducing facts of what exactly was going on. He was feeling guilty though, and there’s nothing like the self-flagellation of the truth. “I did. I was trying to protect you. I knew there were going to be government agents here, so I thought …”

“You were trying to protect us? How protected are we now?” Isaac was very angry. “What about Scott? He’s gone. You know that, right? He’s gone. He might as well be dead. You might just be human,” he sneered, “but you know what happens to a werewolf pack without its alpha.”

Lydia turned suddenly and looked at Isaac, her scowl switching targets like a machine gunner in a nest. Malia reacted to the venom in the beta’s words with a growl. Isaac ignored both of them.

“I know,” said Stiles quietly. He knew that Isaac was just trying to get under his skin and he knew he was succeeding. “You think I wanted this to happen?”

“I think that even after all this time, you still resent that Scott’s got friends other than you. You resent that he has a pack. I think that you’re still so desperate for him to be just yours that you wanted to rescue him all by himself, proving to him that you’re his best friend.” Isaac started moving forward and the hostility was so intense that Stiles took a step back and Malia grew her claws. “You were protecting us? Right. You’re so insecure that you would risk him to make yourself feel special. Well, now none of us have him. Satisfied?”

“You know what, Isaac? Go to hell.” Stiles knew this was partially motivated by instinct but he also knew there had always been a festering resentment. “You don’t have to believe me, but the only thing I wanted was to protect you guys the way Scott would want me to. And I may be jealous that I’m not really pack, but at least I don’t follow him around and scavenge his ex-girlfriends!”

Lydia pinched the bridge of her nose as if the world had disappointed her once again. “Boys.”

Isaac took one step forward and pushed Stiles back. It wasn’t at full strength, but it was enough to send him flying back into the tree. It was going to leave a bruise. Malia and Isaac squared off, claws out, shifted faces, anger at recent events directed at each other. Even Jackson realized that things were spinning out of control and tried to scramble out of the car to break it up.

It turned out that Jackson didn’t need to intervene because someone else did. A shield bounced off two trees and buried itself about three feet above Stiles head. “I know you are going through a difficult time right now, but turning on each other isn’t going to help anything.”

From his sitting position at the base of the tree, Stiles groused. “You guys are terrible werewolves. Uhm, so this is Captain America.” He pulled himself up. “These are … members of the pack.”

Isaac and Malia left off their confrontation to stare at the newcomer. Jackson looked super nervous; he always was the most careful of his identity.

“Your short version, Stiles, left off some interesting details,” the banshee observed quietly, sizing the superhero up.

“You told me that you didn’t want me to come, Stiles,” said the Captain, “not that I shouldn’t come. Look, I have no idea about what how your people work or what this means to you. But I do know that I saw two very brave men today. One of them gave up his freedom to protect the people whom he leads, and the other entered an enemy encampment unarmed to rescue another. Maybe some decisions were mistakes, but the important thing is that you stick together.”

Stiles had to admit that leadership was a skill he did not think he would ever master. Some people had it when they needed it, like Scott, but some people were able to change the entire tenor of the situation by speaking. Steve Rogers was one such person.

Jackson reacted to the speech with a shrug, but Stiles could tell that it stuck. “Well, what do we do now?” He looked at Isaac.

Stiles reacted to that on two levels. On the intellectual, reasonable level – he could be reasonable when he wanted to be – he knew that this was only right that the chain of command would shift. On the emotional level, he felt cold. He felt a little like crying. Jackson looked at Isaac; Lydia slid her eyes right off of him to the beta. Even Malia kept flicking her gaze back and forth between him and Isaac.

He was no longer Scott’s second. This was the price of failure.

Isaac was looking at the Captain, but when he realized people were looking at him, he stared at the ground. Stiles knew that Isaac was very uncomfortable right now, but sometimes you have to make decisions whether you want to or not. “We go home. We make a plan to bring him back.”

Stiles looked at the Captain. “I’ll have to come back later. I’m guessing the FBI still wants to talk to me.” Steve nodded to him.

Isaac looked at him and his eyes flashed their gold. “Fine. When you do get back, you’re going to tell us everything.”

Stiles nodded, he would. Malia stood up since they were no longer fighting; she had been the least impressed by the Captain’s speech. “I can stay with you.” She might not understand the reasons behind his feeling bad, but she could always tell.

“No, go home. I’ll be back soon, I promise.” He kissed her on the forehead and she reluctantly went with the rest. Lydia, too, gave him a knowing look but got into the car with the others.

The car drove off with the rest of the pack, while he stood and watched him.

“You had a plan,” said the captain. “You didn’t want to share it with them?”

“They don’t trust me right now,” he replied. “They never trusted me much in the past; Scott trusted me. I was Second because he wanted me to be. Can you blame them for not trusting me anymore?”

They started walking back towards where the FBI was probably still arguing with Major Carter. “I don’t know your history. I think that, given what you told me, they’re just upset.”

Stiles shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. There’s only one thing that matters right now.”

The captain nodded in response and left him alone. Stiles appreciated that.

Major Carter looked a year older when they finally caught back up to her. “Well, I’ve been able to attend some interviews with the suspects that have been arrested. They’ve been coached.”

“Will we be able to interrogate them?” Captain America asked.

“Not without FBI presence.” She looked like she wanted to punch someone. “And they don’t seem to know much. Stiles,” Major Carter grabbed his arm and took him out of earshot. “I did get something, but I can’t make much out of it. I’m hoping you can.”

“I’ll do my best, ma’am.” Stiles believe he couldn’t be doing much worse.

“According to one of the lesser coached maids, the Barkers made a big deal over something called the Wolf’s Crown?” She asked. “The maid didn’t know if it was connected to Hydra, but it is supposedly a magical artifact? Apparently, one of Barker’s mother’s ancestors was something called an Emissary and created it.”

Stiles sighed in relief. “I don’t know anything about the Wolf’s Crown,” he explained, “but I know someone who certainly would. Our pack’s Emissary.”

At their expressions, he continued. “Most werewolf packs have an Emissary. They’re advisers to the alpha, helping him or her manage the pack and helping them live in the human world. We need to go back to Beacon Hills. The Wolf’s Crown has to be the reason they were here.”

 

MARCH 21, 1944

The next morning, Peggy and Steve picked up Stiles at his house early Sunday morning. “Don’t worry,” Stiles said, “my Dad knows what happened now. If you need anything you can go to him.” He looked at Peggy. “He wants you to come over tonight, if you have time, so he can apologize for deceiving you.”

“That won’t be necessary, Stiles,” said Peggy. “I know the importance of keeping secrets.”

“Please come anyway. My Dad will be put out if you don’t.” He looked at Steve, who was dressed in regular army kit and nodded to himself.

“That’s an animal hospital,” said Steve, as if he can’t believe it. “He’s a veterinarian?”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “He loves that joke. He loves it. I got to warn you, it took me a long time to figure out that part of an Emissary’s training is protecting the secrets of the supernatural world. He’ll tell you exactly what you need to know and not one syllable more. In some packs, only the alpha knows the Emissary’s identity. If he doesn’t want you to know something, he’ll say something super vague and cryptic. I want to punch him like all the time.”

Peggy smiled reassuringly. “No offense, Stiles, but he’s not the only person trained in espionage. He’s waiting for us?”

Peggy thought that the neat, tidy animal hospital was oddly comforting, as was the veterinarian himself: a handsome bald man of indeterminate age with a calm disposition.

Stiles introduced them and explained the situation with Scott and Hydra. Peggy kept quiet during the explanation. She noticed two things. First, Stiles had a talent for extracting details from a situation. He made several deductions with the information that they have gathered that he must have analyzed himself. Second, that while the veterinarian, Dr. Deaton, was someone practiced in emotional control, he did have his tells. As the danger to the young alpha was explained, his stance stiffened and the eyes tightened, almost imperceptibly. He might not be willing to admit, but Peggy knew he cared a great deal about Scott McCall.

When they get to the Wolf’s Crown, Dr. Deaton startled. “If this is true, if this Schmidt person has the crown and is able to somehow force Scott to obey him that is extraordinarily bad news.”

Stiles looked at them and then back at the vet. “We kinda figured that, but could you explain why?”

“The Crown was a mistake; its creation is used as a teaching example for people like me of the dangers of meddling too much with the packs in our care. Has Stiles told you about how pack bonds work?”

Before Peggy could answer, Stiles jumped in. “Only a little. I, uhm, didn’t want to share secrets that I shouldn’t have. No offense, ma’am.”

Peggy shook her head. “No offense taken. I can completely understand why you wanted to keep things hidden.”

“An alpha forms bonds with the betas in his pack, both the ones he or she has bitten and the ones he or she accepts into pack. This bond is not just emotional, but it is also mystical. Both alphas and betas draw strength and stability from the bond. A pack of werewolves isn’t just stronger due to numbers; they actually grow physically stronger.”

Peggy looked over at Steve at that news; he had explained that McCall was maybe slightly stronger than he and Schmidt.

“However, pack bonds require maintenance. Bonds can become frayed or even severed by neglect or stress. An alpha who does not take the time to maintain them can find themselves without betas. This effectively limits the size of any werewolf pack. If the pack becomes too big, rivalries and time constraints begin to sever those connections.”

Stiles pointed out. “Like how Isaac transferred his loyalty from Derek to Scott.” He looked over at the soldiers. “Sorry. Not relevant.”

“What the Crown was intended to do was enhance the quality of pack bonds, allowing the betas of the alpha to share in not only emotional stability and physical strength but also mental strength. The alpha for which it was created was known to never have lost control on a full moon, for example. The idea was to use this crown to share that talent.”

“Oh,” said Steve to Peggy. “I don’t like where this is going.”

“You shouldn’t. What the Crown did, however, was not enhance the pack bonds, but impose them. An alpha wearing the crown would automatically form pack bonds with any werewolves he came across.”

Stiles eyes grew wide. “You could just steal another pack’s betas by meeting them?”

“Exactly, Stiles. And, since all it would take is a visual interaction with the alpha wearing the crown, the only limitation on the size of the pack would be how often they could see their alpha.”

Peggy and Steve looked each other and then Peggy turned back. “How many would you estimate?”

“I’m not a military commander,” observed Dr. Deaton, “but a full battalion would be the maximum size.”

Steve swore. “It’s a super-soldier program.”

Peggy was doing some rapid calculations. “There can’t be that many werewolves in Germany or German-occupied lands.”

“You’re forgetting the Bite,” said the veterinarian. “An alpha wouldn’t need to find them; he could make them.”

“Well, that’s not a problem!” exclaimed Stiles. “First off, Scott would find the whole imposed pack bond thing disgusting – you know how much he hated Peter for forcing it on him! And if there is one thing he hates more than mind control, it’s the very thought of giving people the bite.” He turned to the soldiers. “All his betas now were bitten by other alphas, except for Malia, and she was born that way.”

Peggy nodded in response, but now she understood the entire scenario at the dock in Sanderling Roost. It wasn’t just to tweak her and Steve’s noses. It was to begin the process of alienating McCall from his loyalties so he could be twisted to use this crown. “How do we stop it?”

“The crown can be destroyed like any other piece of wood; it is no more durable than a log for a fireplace.” The vet promised. “It wasn’t meant to be an item of war.” He paused. “Stiles, if you would do me a favor; there is a book in the basement that might be of use.” He wrote a title on a piece of paper and handed it to him.

“Sure, doc.” The teen disappeared through the doors.

Dr. Deaton looked at the two of them. “In addition, the crown will only work with a True Alpha. It magnifies the alpha power within its bearer. A regular alpha’s power bears not only the imprint of the present holder but everyone who has ever held that power before. The dissonance would render it useless and the user insane. Scott is the first True Alpha in over a hundred years.”

“Are you suggesting?” Peggy looked at Steve, who had the clenched jaw in his angry-at-injustice way.

“Major Carter, Captain Rogers, I love that boy like he was my own son, but I took an oath to serve the Balance. If this man could manipulate Scott into creating an army of werewolves, it would not only endanger the mundane world but also the world of the supernatural. That can’t be permitted.”

Peggy glanced at the door. “I see. I’ll bear that in mind, but I’m not going to jump to assassination quite yet. Tell me, doctor, how you would evaluate Stiles’ knowledge of the supernatural.”

The veterinarian looked at Peggy appraisingly. “There are people more intelligent than he is, but he has an openness of mind and a talent at finding connections that far exceed his peers. I have been considering training him to replace me as Scott’s emissary.”

“That might have to wait.” She looked at Steve, who squinted back at her. It was obvious that he didn’t know what she was thinking.

Peggy Carter was thinking that the SSR needed a resident expert on the supernatural.

Chapter Text

MARCH 21, 1944

Ethan purposefully entered her field of vision long before he got close to her on the concourse of the San Francisco Municipal Airport. He handed Allison a cup of cheap coffee in a paper cup, while keeping one for his own use. “Here. You’ve been up for over twenty-four hours.”

“So have you.” Allison responded. She appreciated the fact that he was wary enough of her to make sure he did not accidentally startle her, but she was not sure if she liked the insinuation that she was slowing down. “I’ve gone longer without sleep. Often.”

“I’m sure you have. I’d point out that I’ve got a stronger constitution, but this isn’t a competition. There’s no reason you can’t benefit from caffeine, even if I can’t.” Ethan had always been the easier twin with which to get along. He took a sip of his coffee. “Still no sign?”

“No sign,” agreed Allison. There had been no sign yesterday either. This could all be a waste of time.

“We could split up. I don’t know why you are convinced he’d come here.” Ethan said. “Aiden or I could go to Oakland Municipal, keep an eye out for him there.”

“Or miss him completely. Airports are huge and your sense of smell isn’t that effective with so many people in one place. We have to assume he’ll know that.” She does a sweep of the room. “Call it a hunch, Ethan, but I think he’ll come here. I remember him talking about this airport in class one day. He had gone to a conference and couldn’t help but boast about it.”

“I’d like to argue with you, but I can’t. There’s just too many ways this could go wrong. If he gets away … “

“We’ll deal with that too,” she assured him. “Where’s Aiden?”

“I think he broke into the roof of the terminal so he could keep an eye on the roads. We know what Harris’s car looks like and he has to drive here, if he’s coming here.”

“Good idea.” She smiled at Ethan. “I thought you were the thinker between the two of you.”

Ethan did not smile back. “Ha, ha. If you want to know, Aiden was actually better at school than I was. Especially math.” He sips his coffee. “People believe that just because he’s not as outgoing as I am, he’s not as smart.”

“I’m sorry. That was probably mean of me.”

“Not that mean. He’s always the one that wants to solve things alone ... I mean, just the two of us.” Ethan shrugged. “It’s always been that way. It makes him look like the aggressor. It worked for us before; I don’t think it works now.”

“Oh.” She knew it hadn’t been a great time for them since they decided to abandon Deucalion. “Are you …” She wondered for a moment if it was the best time, but she also knew that she was seldom alone with either of them. “Are you two ever sorry about the choice you made?”

“No. Gratitude only goes so far. He killed Ennis, and … did you ever think about what his endgame was?”

“Not really,” Allison answered. “We were pretty damn frightened.” That was the truth; it didn’t matter why the Alpha Pack had been doing what it was doing.

“I don’t think he had one. He was smart, he was powerful, he was right about a lot of stuff, but he was crazy. I mean, really, really crazy.” He shook his head. “We would have followed him because we didn’t have anywhere else to go, but there wasn’t a future, not with him. There was just an uncertain amount of time before he killed us or someone else killed us.”

Allison nodded. “I can certainly see that.” She had not stopped keeping an eye out for their prey.

“We’re just lucky that you guys eventually accepted us. We didn’t think you would because of your friends.” Ethan didn’t look at her.

“Scott’s like that; he believes in second chances. He gave me one; I tried to kill them too.” She put her hand on shoulder. “We’ve learned that it’s easier to do terrible things than most people think.”

Before Ethan could answer, he suddenly startled and looked up. “Aiden’s spotted him. “

“Okay. Just as we discussed. We approach him from three sides. I’ll go first, as he’ll probably think I’m the least dangerous. Once I have him, we bundle him to that storeroom.”

Ethan nodded in response. “On my way. Good luck.”

Allison was silently thankful that her father had trained on what to do in this type of situation: a dangerous opponent in a crowded public area. The standard practice was not to engage, but to follow the target out of the public area. However, when that wasn’t possible, there were techniques to allow you to get close to the target and neutralize it. It was dangerous with werewolves to do that, as a frightened werewolf could lose control. The idea was to give the impression that the situation was already settled and struggling against it would not only be futile but more dangerous.

Harris could be very dangerous. While he had more to lose by fighting, he had already shot Aiden with the intent to kill. He probably assumed that given the enormity of what he’d done, if he saw any of the Beacon Hills pack, they’d be coming for blood. They were most likely right; Allison was surprised that the twins had allowed her to try to capture him first.

She circled the lobby of this part of the airport. If Harris had to pick up his ticket, he’d have to come here. She moved past the security guard without nodding to him even when she caught his eye. Nodding to him would make him pay attention to her – the exact opposite of what she wanted.

She finally caught sight of Harris. She maneuvered to keep him in her gaze but hopefully somewhere he couldn’t see her. He only had one bag to check and he was carrying an overcoat over his right arm. He went to the TWA counter. She scanned the room and thought she saw the back of either Aiden or Ethan’s head. She knew there was a slight height difference, but she was trying not to stare and so she couldn't make sure. Hopefully, they were listening to his conversation with the teller.

Once he finished with the clerk, Harris checked his single bag and started heading toward the loading bay. She fell into step behind him. It doesn’t matter if he spotted her now, as long as he didn’t make a break for it yet. If she could get him, or the twins could get into position, there would be no way he could get away.

They were halfway through the hallway between gates when suddenly Harris stopped. “Miss Argent, I would commend you on doing a half-way adequate job of sneaking up on me, but you failed to account for the way glass can act as a mirror if something is sufficiently dark behind it. What are you doing here?”

Allison did not blink. “You know why I’m here, Mr. Harris. Did you think we’d let you do what you did and get away with it?”

“Let me? No. Actually stop me? Also no.” He turned around and when he did so, she saw that he had a gun pointed at her. He must have been carrying it beneath his coat all the time; right then only the barrel could be seen peeking out. “While these bullets aren’t poisonous to you, they’re still bullets. No sudden moves.”

“You’re going to shoot me in the middle of an airport?” She challenged.

“I will if I have to. I doubt you are here on your own. If shooting you keeps the hounds off of me, then that is what I'll have to do. Now, if you will step in front of me, you can escort me to my gate.”

Allison did as she was told. Harris wasn’t an idiot, but he also wasn’t trained. She was just as comfortable with the gun in her back as the gun in her front. She also understood she needed to keep him focused on her so he didn’t spot the twins. “I hope the money the Nazis paid you is going to help you sleep. He never did anything to you.”

“He was a moron gifted with power he didn’t deserve,” Harris returned the jibe. If there was one thing in which he was better than her, it was in cruel jibes. He smiled and nodded at the security guard over by the wall; it was an amateur’s mistake. “But if it makes you feel better, I’m sure that his new captors will make better use of them then he did.”

Allison got angry. “Did you know I’m a very good shot? There’s a reason I chose to get this close to you and that was because he wouldn’t like it if I just murdered you.” She took a calming breath and was rewarded by seeing Ethan coming up in the distance.

“Oh, was that part of your training?” Harris may not have seen Ethan. His eyes were on the boarding area for his flight. “I wonder what your family thinks of you playing whore for those monsters? They shouldn’t be surprised, since they don’t seem to be able to teach a girl like you her proper place.” His voice was cool.

“Did you think that one up in chemistry class,” she asked. She stopped moving. She had an idea what to do, but it was going to be dangerous.

“Ah, ah, ah.” He prodded her in the back with the concealed gun. “You need to keep moving. I wonder what your mother would have said if she knew you’d keep slutting around with these animals after her death.”

She saw Ethan ahead and he nodded slightly, pointing with his chin. However, she wasn’t interested in keeping Harris alive any more. “I know what my mother would have said. Nous chassons ceux qui nous chassent.“ Then she slammed the point of her right elbow into his throat. As he choked, she grabbed his right hand and forced him to squeeze a shot off into the ceiling.

Allison screamed in the girliest-girl voice she could manage. “Oh, help me! He has a gun!” Then she ‘fainted’, dropping to the floor and rolling away.

Harris staggered back. She hadn’t managed to crush his larynx, but Allison had made it hard for him to breathe or speak. He’d recover in a few, but she saw form her position on the floor the panic in his eyes, especially when he saw Ethan coming at him from down the hallway. He spun around and saw Aiden in the other direction.

If he had been a professional, he would have known to make a run for it, but he wasn’t a professional. He was just a school teacher who thought he was smarter than everyone else. He took a shot at Aiden which would have been hard enough normally but was impossible with a spasming throat in an airport full of screaming people.

Aiden dodge behind a pylon. He hadn’t transformed yet. There was no point so far away, and he was still moving faster than a normal human could. Harris whirled around to take a shot at Ethan, but he never got a chance. The security guard, whose shouts Harris had completely ignored in his panic, had pulled his gun and fired at him twice. The guard was a much better shot.

Allison watched him drop to the floor. Even as she started getting into the mindset of the helpless, screaming woman, she checked over his wounds. They looked pretty mortal to her. She said in a normal voice, knowing that the twins were experienced enough to pick her voice out from the screaming crowd: “Boys, I’m going to be interviewed by the police. Find his bag and make it disappear.”

She locked eyes with Harris. She found that she wasn’t upset. He was a selfish, arrogant monster who valued his own life above everyone else; his death would keep innocents safe. She watched the light leave his eyes with only the slightest twinge of remorse. Aunt Kate had been right; all she needed was a reason.

######

Scott woke up in a bed with a strange humming in his ears. He was disoriented for a moment, but then the events of the last day or days flooded back to him. Now he was surprised at being in a bed. He expected to be in a cell, but this seemed to be a small bedroom. It had little furniture, though.

He sat up in the bed and realized two things. The first was that whatever wolfs bane solution they had pumped into his body was gone and second was that he was complete naked under the blankets.

The next thing he realized was that he wasn’t alone. The other person in the room was a brown-haired, blue-eyed man who could have been his age. The teen wore large black-framed glasses and a uniform that Scott didn’t recognize. When he sat up, the other man, who had been dozing jumped out of the chair and saluted him.

„Guten Morgen, Sturmscharführer McCall, ich bin dein Ordonnanz, Hydra Beweber Linde!“ It was all so very snappy.

Scott rubbed at his face. He had no idea what to do; he didn’t think violence was going to solve anything. That terrible humming still bothered his ears. “Uhm. I don’t speak German.” He could recognize it, but he didn’t know the grammar or the vocabulary.

“I am sorry!” The young man blushed. “I forgot. I said, Good morning, Assault Squad Leader McCall, I am your aide. My name is Hydra-Applicant Linde.”

Scott was at a loss. This person was obviously a Hydra agent, but he didn’t look like he could kill a guinea pig. “You’re my aide?” He said it slowly.

“Yes, sir.” The young man saluted again. His enthusiasm might have been funny in another context. “I’m to assist you in getting used to your new position and help you while you are on board. I am to help you learn German and proper military protocol.”

Scott felt lost. What was this supposed to be? “Where am I? Where are my clothes?”

“You are on board the Jormungandr, sir. These are your quarters.” Hydra-Applicant Linde went to a small closet. “I have your clothes here.” He presented what seemed to be a uniform.

“I meant my clothes.” He wasn’t going to wear a Nazi uniform.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir. Obergruppenfuhrer Schmidt instructed me to tell that the clothing you had been wearing when you came on board has been destroyed.” He looked down at the ground. “I am sorry they couldn’t be saved.”

Scott swallowed. “Okay.” He guessed that he didn’t have any choice. He extended his hand to grab the uniform. “What’s that noise?”

“What noise, sir?”

“Could you not call me 'sir'? Aren’t you like, older than me?” He started putting the clothes on. “That humming sound?”

“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t hear anything. The Jormungandr is much quieter than other submarines.” Hydra-Applicant Linde responded to the other question. “I don’t know how old you are sir, but you are a Sturmscharführer, an Assault Squad Leader. I am an Applicant, which is the lowest rank in Hydra. I should always call you sir no matter if I am older.“

“I am not a Sturm … Assault Squad Leader.” Scott protested. Then he remembered where the noise might be coming from; he had gotten on a submarine. He was on a submarine. It wouldn’t have been totally cool if he hadn’t been kidnapped by crazy Nazis.

“Obergruppenfuhrer Schmidt instructed me to tell you that is your rank within Hydra. Every person on this submarine will treat as if you had that rank. For your own ease of mind, you should simply accept it.”

Scott was getting angry. He had agreed to go with that asshole, but he hadn’t agreed to play dress up. “Where is Ober-whatever Schmidt now?”

“He is on the bridge, sir. I am supposed to take you there, once you are fully dressed.”

Scott put on the strange flaring pants which Linde explained were called jodhpurs and a black shirt, but he wasn’t going to put on the military jacket or the hat that Linde tried to hand him. As he sat down to put on his shoes, he realized that the young man was staring at him.

“What is it?” Scott demanded. The soldier jumped. It was getting hard to see this guy as an enemy. He could have been a senior at Beacon Hills High, if not for the uniform.

“I’m sorry, sir, but is it true that …” He looked embarrassed to be asking this. “Is it true that you are a werewolf?”

Scott could have laughed if the whole situation wasn’t so outrageously horrible. He thought that his life had gone out of control when he was bit, but now an enemy soldier was acting like a fan in a German submarine under the Pacific. He tried to think of something sarcastic to say, but he wasn’t Stiles. He wished his friend was here to say something that would make it better.

“Yes, I am.” He finished putting on his shoes. “I’m ready. Please take me to him.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I was instructed not to let you leave the room until you were fully dressed.” Linde picked up the jacket as if he was going to put it on him.

“Well, seeing that I am a werewolf, I think I’ll just leave and find him myself.” He did remember that asshole’s scent. Scott went to the narrow door and then stopped. Outside of it was a line of mountain ash.

“I am sorry, but he ordered me that I must not break it until you are fully dressed.” He held up the jacket once more.

“Fine.” Scott felt like someone was playing with him. He didn’t know how long he would be able to put up with this. He thought about breaking the line; he could do it, but he knew he would be weak afterwards. He needed to stay calm until he figured out what these Hydra goons wanted. After he had put on the hat and jacket, Linde broke the ash line and they left.

If he hadn’t been a prisoner forced to dance on someone’s strings and if there hadn’t been this high-pitched noise driving him crazy, he would have found walking through the corridors of the Jormungandr incredibly cool. It was a submarine after all, something he had never seen but only read about in magazines.

Every time he and Linde passed someone they saluted him. He didn’t salute back, but Linde did. He knew the military was like this. Some of them even exclaimed “Hail Hydra” at each other. Scott did not say that, and he wasn’t going to say it. Schmidt could go play tin-pot dictator by himself.

The bridge looked like something out of a movie with radar screens and a huge lighted table. Schmidt was standing on one side of the table, reading something that looked like a report. When Scott and Linde came to rest, he glanced up without acknowledging either of them and went back to reading his report. The other members of the crew were busy at their stations, so they didn’t notice them either.

Scott understood what this was. It was a show of power and status. Schmidt was going to make him wait. His instinct was to walk over there and rip the report out of his hands and punch Schmidt right in the face. He held that feeling back down but it was getting harder and harder to keep a lid on his anger.

Ten minutes later, he was still standing in the same place. He was going crazy and Schmidt wasn’t even half-way through the report. He let out a growl – and not a human growl. Linde took a step back and the entire submarine bridge crew turned around and looked.

Schmidt looked up and slowly closed the report, setting it aside. He smiled. He had won that round. “Oh, Sturmscharführer McCall, I see you have woken up. Welcome aboard Hydra’s premier underwater vessel, the Jormungandr. What do you think of it?“

“It’s noisy.” Scott complained, trying to wipe the smug look off the man’s face. “What do you want from me? You made me wear this uniform, you given me a title, you’ve gotten me on this ship. Why did you take me?”

“All in good time, Sturmscharführer. Let us try to keep this civil, shouldn’t we? After all, we’re on the same side now.” Schmidt gestured to someone behind him.

“We’re not on the same side,” Scott ground out. “We’ll never be on the same side.”

“Give it time.” Suddenly, a photographer stepped out from behind him. The man snapped a picture of him and Linde, before Scott could react. The light dazzled his eyes. While he rubbed at them, the Red Skull went on. “My apologies. I didn’t realize that flash would be so bright. I know this is your first time on a submarine, so I made sure that Hydra-Applicant Linde would be able to help you find your way around.”

Scott could almost feel Linde smiling behind him. Such an enthusiastic little Nazi.

“As you can tell by this map, it will take us two weeks to arrive back in the Fatherland. For those two weeks, all I ask is that you begin to learn the German language, that you do not get in the way of the ship’s operation, and that you assist Dr. Woltzmann-Barker in her experiments.” Schmidt continued. “Your real work won’t begin until we are back on German soil.”

“You’re nuts,” Scott spat. He was so angry that he didn’t even bother trying to hide the claws emerging from his hands, the fangs or his eyes glowing red. He had half a mind to beat the crap out of Schmidt right here and now.

The rest of the submarine crew reacted to the sight of his transformation with alarm – several drew weapons. Linde gave a squeak of fear and backed up right away.

Schmidt seemed undisturbed. “Impressive as always, McCall. I bet you’re thinking that since we are in a submarine, no one will be able to use guns stronger than a pistol, and we are locked in close quarters with you. You have an edge on most of the crew in strength, speed, and healing capability. It might be possible for you to defeat to defeat the entire crew. There is also an outside chance that you might possibly beat me, but you have yet to see the full extent of my abilities.” It was not a boast. Scott got the feeling that Schmidt never boasted. “But there is one thing you lack – even if you could somehow figure out how this ship worked, it takes more than one person to pilot the Jormungandr. So unless you would like to swim back to California, you will behave.”

The last words were delivered with such an aura of menace that Scott snarled in response. His wolf was being challenged. But Schmidt was right. He had to play it Hydra’s way, for now.

But Scott was seriously beginning to rethink his no-killing policy. The Red Skull might be worth it.

Chapter Text

MARCH 21, 1944 (Continued)

Stiles was holding up pretty well, all things considering. He just had to ignore the panic and the sadness and the guilt until they went away. During times like this, it was important to keep moving. As long as you were focused on doing things, you didn’t have to feel the weight of what you had done or what you had failed to do, such as the fact that even now his father was telling Melissa McCall that he had failed to stop her son’s kidnapping. Escorting Major Carter and Captain America around Beacon Hills was a great way to keep busy.

Still, Stiles did not expect the first words of Steve Roger’s mouth to be quite so blasé. “That is certainly a very big tree.”

Major Carter must have caught his shocked expression and in response offered Stiles a wry smile. “Captain Rogers sometimes employs understatement in situations that require it, Stiles. I am pretty sure that he is more impressed than he is letting on. I certainly am. This is what you were talking about? The Nemeton?”

Deaton had insisted on coming with them when Stiles had explained that he had an idea to help them rescue Scott. “Yes.” The emissary went on to patiently explain the nature of the telluric currents much better than Stiles could have, he was sure. Deaton talked about its history and the function that the Nemeton had in regulating those currents. “If someone were to cut it down, it would destabilize the flow of energy in this entire area. Things around here could become dangerous.”

Stiles laughed out loud at the absurdity of that statement. “Become dangerous. You are saying it could be worse than evil druids and insane werewolves?”

Deaton coupled his reply with his trademark deadpan stare. “Yes.”

“So,” Captain America put his hand on the vast trunk. Stiles didn’t know what the superhero was feeling, but Stiles had always felt its strange pull, like the undertow at a beach. It had been worse after the sacrifice, which is what had given him this idea. “This is another power source, like the thing that the Red Skull found.”

“An accurate descriptor,” observed the veterinarian. “I don’t know what other source you are referring to, but the Nemeton could be employed for great benefit or great destruction, depending on the nature of the individual using it and the methods they chose to employ.”

“Its nature is something to bear in mind, but right now we have more important things to worry about.” Major Carter turned to Stiles. “You said you had an idea how we could use this to thwart Schmidt’s plans.”

“Yeah. The best thing to do would be to find Scott and get him away from Hydra, right? Without him, the Crown is just a piece of wood.” Stiles restated the basics of what they knew. “The toughest part is going to be finding him; he could be anywhere in the German-occupied Europe or even beyond. I’m hoping we can use this tree to find him.”

“As Dr. Deaton knows, Scott is connected to the Nemeton due to a ritual we did last fall,” Stiles went on without adding any detail; he really didn’t want to talk about the sacrifice with others. “It’s not the best situation, but I was thinking that the connection has to go both ways. We’re not only connected to it, but it’s also connected to us. We pull on each other. I’m proposing we make something like a compass. You can make a compass by suspending a magnet in a pool of water. It points toward north due to the pull of the world’s magnetic field.”

Dr. Deaton thought for a moment. “The principle is sound. A branch harvested in the right manner could retain the properties of the original tree in terms of that connection. It could indicate proximity and direction, though not with scientific accuracy. Would that be useful?”

Major Carter narrowed her eyes in slight disbelief and Stiles completely understood. Yes, werewolves were real, but now they were talking about magic sticks. “I need to make sure I understand this. Something from this tree would be able to tell us where McCall is? What would be its range?”

Captain America was letting the others talk, but Stiles could see the wheels turning in its head.

“Range wouldn’t be a problem,” Deaton replied. “It would be the sensitivity of the user. There would always be a pull towards Scott, but the farther away he was, the fainter the signal.”

“Peggy, given what we’ve learned, this could be helpful in other ways,” Steve interrupted. “We are spending a lot of time trying to locate Hydra bases, based off that single glimpse of that map I saw. If McCall is the key to this whole scheme, they’d try to keep him in the most secure locations – which would be Hydra bases.”

“I was thinking the same thing.” Major Carter looked at the tree. “Who would be the most sensitive? Who could use it most effectively?”

“Someone like me,” said Deaton. “Or someone like Stiles. He already has a connection to the tree.”

Stiles looked over at the druid, but he couldn’t read the man’s face. Stiles had suspected, ever since he first had the idea, that he’d be the best person to use it. It was his fault, after all. “Yeah, but I can’t go to Europe.”

“Actually,” Major Carter moved over to stand next to him. “I wanted to talk to you about that, Stiles. The Strategic Scientific Reserve is more than prepared to deal with whatever super-science that Hydra is working on. It is why we were created, and we have some of the most brilliant minds in the world. What we don’t have is anyone, and I mean anyone, who has the slightest knowledge of the occult and the supernatural world. I don’t know why; we probably excluded experts in those fields as cranks.” She smiled apologetically at Deaton.

“No offense, major. As you have no doubt learned by now, part of my responsibilities is concealing our world from yours. Anyone with actual knowledge and experience would have learned the danger of mixing the two worlds.”

“Right.” The British woman continued. “The problem is that Schmidt doesn’t care about that. He’ll use anything to transform this world into matching his vision. We need an expert on werewolves in the SSR, and we need it right now. We also need someone to help us stop Schmidt’s plan before he gets it under way. Stiles, I think that person is you.”

Stiles made a confused face. “Are you drafting me?”

“As you saw with the FBI, politics always rears its ugly head no matter what. If I were to ask, say Dr. Deaton here to join us, there would be questions about his credentials and his very purpose.” Major Carter looked at the Captain who nodded reluctantly. “You agree that we don’t have time for this?”

“No,” said Stiles. “No, we don’t.”

“But a seventeen-year-old private recruited to be my assistant?” The major continued. “No one would bat an eye, and you would be there to help us not only defuse Schmidt’s plans but also help save your friend.”

Stiles took a deep breath. He had become suspicious of things that didn’t look immediately dangerous. He thought about what she was suggesting. He’d thought about what he would be willing to do in the war, and he said that he would do something if it helped protect those he loved. What was this but exactly what he was talking about?

He glanced at Deaton, but the man had adopted his infuriating I’m-a-neutral-observer face. There was going to be no help from that quarter.

“You realize that I’ve got Hyperkinetic Disorder and a history of mental illness in my family. The whole town thinks I’m already insane,” he admitted. “I would most likely be classified 4-F by any draft board.”

Captain Rogers gave him a sincere smile. “So was I. It’s not about what you aren’t capable of doing; it’s what you can do.”

“We have to talk to my Dad. I also have to talk to my pack.” Stiles turned to Dr. Deaton. “How soon can you have the compass?”

“For strongest effect, it should be harvested on the full moon. One just passed, so it won’t be until late April.” Deaton looked apologetic. “I’m sorry.”

Major Carter shook her head. “I can arrange it to be shipped to us in Europe, but we can’t stay here for that long.”

Stiles nodded and walked off back towards the cars. “Do you really think I’ll be able to help?”

“Stiles, you’ve already helped,” the major responded. “Without you, I’d probably still be chasing Harris right now and Steve would have watched your friend drive right into the estate. We’d have no idea how to stop Schmidt’s plans for the Crown. We’d have no idea that there was even a threat until a platoon of werewolves showed up.”

“She’s right. But you are underage, so no one is going to hold it against if you don’t want to do this,” Captain Rogers explained.

“You’re wrong, Captain,” Stiles answered. “I’ll hold it against me.”

******

The pack gathered on the lacrosse pitch in the late afternoon. It was a Sunday, so no one but them would be there. Everyone was tired and stressed, and Isaac was trying his best to keep everyone focused on the problem. He looked over at Allison, sitting on one of the bleachers exhaustedly, and she rewarded him with a smile, as if suggesting he was doing a good job. He didn’t feel he was doing a good job.

Stiles, sitting alone on one part of the bench, had just finished talking about what he had experienced. He had even waved Malia away from where he was sitting, even though she seemed more than willing to take his side. Isaac was still so mad at him that he could barely look him in the eye.

On the other hand, he had no idea how to help Scott. No idea whatsoever. As strange as his life had become, the idea of a foreign power trying to use his alpha to create an army of werewolves left him spun around like a leaf in a thunderstorm.

Allison had also reported on the not-so-unfortunate death of Mr. Harris. She hadn’t even blinked when she told the story. The fact that the twins were totally in her corner didn’t make him feel good. Lydia, Stiles and Malia were unfazed by the story, while Jackson looked nauseous. He was the only one who felt like he had betrayed something important, but it was too late to change his mind. He’d made the call.

He understood, of course. After months of peace and quiet, where they had let themselves believe that things could get better, everything had suddenly just exploded. They had learned to trust Scott and to feel safe with his leadership, and now it was all gone. Isaac regretfully had to acknowledge that all they had left was him.

“So,” Isaac scratched at his chin. “What haven’t we talked about?”

“The FBI,” said Lydia, immediately. “Your friends in the SSR didn’t say anything to them about Scott or the Crown?” She demanded of Stiles.

Stiles nodded. “There is no reason for them to rat us out, and they don’t want the FBI involved in what they’re doing anyway.”

“Which is great as far as secrets go,” Lydia reasons. “But otherwise, it is not particularly good news for us. This means that if they don’t know about Scott’s werewolfness or Hydra’s plans for the Crown, they are just going to assume that Scott was a Nazi spy, working with Harris.”

Isaac felt himself pale. The FBI had no reason not to believe that, and, according to Stiles, they were already embarrassed. He might be mad at Stiles, but the human knew what he was talking about.

“Which means,” continued Lydia, “that they are going to come here and investigate everyone who was a known associate. That means they are going to look at us, hard. They are going to look at everything, including fugue states, mysterious deaths of relatives, police station massacres, misreported deaths, human sacrifices, people with no last names, girls missing for eight years, everything.” She was being very brusque. “They’ve looked at it before, but now they have motivation to make something out of it. We are in serious trouble.”

Isaac frowned. “You really think so?”

Lydia tosses her head to one side. “Let us consider the person I know the most about – me. Imagine these questions: Miss Martin, according to your parents and teachers, you were not friends with Mr. McCall until a year ago. Why did you become friends with him? This happened soon after you were attacked at the Winter Formal; did Mr. McCall have anything to do with that? Are you sure, Miss Martin, that you don’t remember anything about the two days that no one could find you?” She ticks things off on her fingers. “I have perfect grades, I am popular, I’m upper class, and I choose to hang out with a lower-class Mexican?” She scowls at the others at their reaction. “You know I don’t think that way, but that’s the way my parents think and that’s the way those FBI agents might think. I don’t have an answer for that they’ll believe. Maybe, maybe, my parents will come to my defense and get me a lawyer, or maybe they’ll push me to testify against him to save myself. I cannot really predict how they’ll act.”

Everyone looked at her but she kept on. “I am already thinking of a few ways I can hold them off, but they are going to come at us, and they are not going to stop. You’d be surprised what people will do when their careers are on the line.” She eyed Allison. “I know your family has serious political connections. Is there anything that they can do?”

“I can talk to my Dad,” said Allison, “but Gerard is the one who had most of the high-level contacts.”

Isaac growls. “He’s not going to use them for our benefit.”

“He might, if I and my Dad lean on him enough.” Allison replies. “But I can’t guarantee anything.”

“I think we have to leave,” Aiden said suddenly. Ethan looked up at him and there was an unspoken communication between them. Ethan knew what he meant and he wasn’t happy. “Ethan and I can leave. Just pack up and go in the middle of the night. You’re all natives here; you’ve got reasons to be here and reasons to know Scott. If two drifters suddenly disappear, then that’s where they’ll focus their attention.”

“But …” Ethan looked like he was going to start an argument.

Aiden locked eyes with his brother. After Ethan looked away, Aiden went on. “Look, we’ve done everything we could to be pack, but I know that most of you don’t want us here.” He stared straight at Isaac, who stared straight back at them. Isaac thought there was no reason to lie. “We all know how bad it is right now. It’s the least we can do.”

Ethan looked mutinous. “Just because you don’t have …”

Aiden snarled at his brother. “We can talk about that later.”

Lydia was looking at Aiden with a calculating glance. “It would work, if you are willing to do this. We can all tell stories of the mysterious twins who blew into town and then fled after Scott left. They’d have an easy target with no one to defend them – sorry, guys – but there is another problem. We’d be ditching Scott.”

Malia, who had been sitting apart from the others, finally spoke up. “He’s done for anyway.” The group rounded on her. “What? It’s true. Let us say that somehow we free him from an army and he comes back. They’re not going to suddenly forget that he’s a criminal. The only thing that could save him from the crime is telling them about werewolves, and you know he won’t do that.”

No one had anything to say to answer that.

“We know him,” Malia stated. “Do you think he’d want us to go to jail for no reason? We can’t change what happened; all we can do is make sure more bad things don’t happen.”

Isaac knew she was right. He wished she wasn’t, but she was. Nothing was ever going back to how it was. He turned to Aiden and Ethan. “I hate you two. You know I do. I know you’ve been trying to make up for what you’ve done, but you’ll never do that for me. But … that’s not what I’m supposed to do. And Scott wouldn’t want you to do what you want to do. You’ll be hunted even more than you are now. I don’t want you to leave the pack.”

Aiden shook his head. “Well … thanks, I guess, but it’s not like we can hide out in the Preserve for the rest of our lives.”

Jackson interrupted. “No. Just until June. I’ll take you with me to Argentina.”

It was the first time that someone said they were going to take Derek up on his offer. “I can’t be drafted. No one is going to order me to kill someone else, ever again.”

Lydia took Jackson’s hand and squeezed. They must have talked about it.

Isaac looked at the couple and then at the ground. Everyone had an idea about how to help but him. All he got to do was make the decisions. “Okay. Aiden and Ethan will disappear and hide out in the Preserve until June. They’ll go to Argentina with Jackson in June. Stiles, if your Dad agrees, you’ll join the freaking army. The rest of us will hold our territory and try to think of a way to bring you all back.”

Isaac tried to sound sure and he looked up afterwards to see if he had succeeded. Allison was smiling at him, and surprisingly Stiles and Malia were looking like they agreed. Jackson and Lydia were looking at each other and there was sadness and Aiden and Ethan were looking at each other and it looked like Ethan was about to punch his brother.

God, Isaac wished Scott was here.

******

“It is out of the question. You are not joining the army -- special unit or not!” His father was very angry, but Steve could tell it was only a manifestation of fear for his only son.

“Dad, in seven months, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”

“Then you can join in seven months!” The shout is one of desperation.

Steve looked down at his dinner plate. The sheriff had invited Peggy over for dinner in order to make up for lying to her; he was a gentleman like that. However, Stiles had taken this as an opportunity to explain the plan for him to join the SSR. Stiles had told them it wasn’t going to be easy, and he was right. It shouldn’t be easy, though.

“Dad, while I am so happy that your concern for me is enough to have you yelling in front of guests, you aren’t thinking this through. They need me. Scott needs me. It’s something I can do right now. Unless you think that I’m not capable of it?”

Steve winced. That was a low blow, but he understood the kid’s point.

“I want you to be safe,” the sheriff protested.

“I’ve not been safe for over a year, and that’s not your fault. Look, this is the best of everything for all of us. I get to serve my country, I get to work on my guilt issues, and you get to know I’m not on the front lines.”

The sheriff frowned and turns to Cap. “Not that I don’t trust my son, but I don’t trust my son. He won’t be on the front lines?” He should have directed his question to Peggy, but this wasn't a fight to have right then.

“We have plenty of people who fight. We don’t have plenty of people to tell us what we’re up against. Your son wants to help, and he can. I’m not going to promise that he won’t be in danger – this is war, after all.”

The sheriff sat back in his chair. “When would he leave?”

“Tomorrow,” Peggy stated immediately. She was always the pull the bandage-off-the-wound-quickly-type person. “It’ll take two weeks for the Jormungandr to get back to Germany. I want an actual plan in place with our units before they get there.”

Steve was surprised when the sheriff didn’t protest the speed of it. He realized that the other man appreciates direct reasoning. Beating the bad guys to the punch was a good reason.

Stiles suddenly looked stricken and Steve realized that the idea of leaving his father had just become real to him. He caught the boy’s eye and gave him a nod. It happened to everyone, eventually.

“I will sign,” sighed the Sheriff. “I thought this wouldn’t happen for another year. I thought I’d have more time. But you be careful, Stiles.” He pointed at him. “Because you need to come back. Do you understand?”

Everyone understood.

Chapter Text

MARCH 25, 1944

Isaac wished that umbrellas were cool. They weren’t cool; they were the opposite of cool. A boy carrying an umbrella was a ticket to an instant reputation as corny. He wondered, just for a moment, why he still worried if people think he’s corny, but he still did. Also, he’s wet and miserable from the constant rain falling as he walked back to the McCall house after school; the water had soaked the jacket he was wearing. He couldn’t wait to get inside.

Usually, he’d have reached the house by now, but with Scott gone and the motorcycle so much scrap metal, he’d have to walk home after practice. He would have had to skip practice to take the bus, and he didn’t want to do that. Maybe today he should have. Thankfully, he didn’t get as sick as much anymore.

He was aware of the sound of a commotion long before he’s aware of it by sight and scent. Car doors were slamming and people were muttering and shouting at each other. Isaac hurried his pace even more but he was careful not to break into a run. The whole pack was trying to be more subtle now that things weren’t trying to kill them.

He turned the corner onto the street where the McCall house stood only to be greeted by a sight that he’d only seen in the movies. There was a small crowd of cars blocking the street and a small crowd of people standing on the sidewalk out in front of the McCall house. It looked like there were three big cars and two of the sheriff’s patrol cars pulled up on the lawn of the house and then a couple of other cars parked haphazardly on the other side of the street. People wearing overcoats against the rain were moving to and from the house and deputies were keeping another small group of people back. Isaac stared at those people, armed with cameras and notebooks. They were the press; lead weights sank through his stomach.

What the hell were they doing at the McCall house? Well, technically, he should say it was his house, too; he was living there. The chill in his bones had nothing to do with the cold rain that was falling. He hesitated about going forward until he saw the Sheriff come out of the house. Stiles’ father had a look on his face like he was teetering between furious anger and despair.

Isaac started walking forward when he saw the Sheriff. He knew a few of the deputies, but he didn’t trust them. He could trust Stiles’ father, because after all, it was Stiles’ father. The man understood. There was no doubt that the Sheriff was probably upset that his son had joined the bleeding army. Of all of them, Isaac thought that Stiles would have been the last to go.

Isaac knew that this opinion wasn’t exactly fair. While Stiles wasn’t the most graceful or most athletic human he knew, he wasn’t nearly as helpless physically as some people – including Stiles himself – thought. In addition, the rumors about his mental health were absurdly exaggerated. The human could be a little unfocused and spastic, but he was still sharp. Still, his family history and the rumors might have been enough to get him a 4-F classification. It was moot now; Stiles was on a plane for Europe and Isaac realized he missed him. Isaac had never liked Stiles because Stiles hadn’t liked Isaac. Of course, Stiles would probably say that he hadn’t like Isaac because Isaac hadn’t liked him.

He had gotten half way up the block when the sheriff and his eyes met. The sheriff shook his head, quickly and carefully, which immediately signaled danger. Isaac stopped and cocked his head to one side. The sheriff spoke in a low voice, so only he could hear. “Hide, Isaac, now.”

Isaac didn’t need a second warning and sprinted to the other side of a nearby house. He didn’t think anyone was home, and it was in a good position so he could keep an eye on what was going on. Other than the Sheriff, he didn’t think anyone standing in front of the McCall house had seen him earlier.

He did not need to wait long to find out exactly what was going on. Three men in overcoats, looking serious and grim, emerged from the house, escorting Mellissa McCall between them. It confused Isaac until he realized that they were arresting her. Then he could feel his heartbeat race; he could feel the blood pounding in his ears. It was a small mercy that he was already hiding, because he shifted and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to stop it.

Isaac growled out loud. He didn’t care if anyone heard. They were going to put her in a car and drive away with her, and he knew he could stop a car. In the confusion, it wouldn’t take him long to take out three unknowing men and then free Melissa. The only thing that stopped him was he didn’t know what would happen afterward. He didn’t have the money to go on the run; he didn’t have any money at all. Acting violently would be soothing, but it wouldn’t solve anything, but even so he couldn’t stand this. He gouged the wall of the house he was hiding behind with deep rents. Someone was going to have some repair work to do.

The sheriff was casually walking in his direction. He had left his deputies and the people away. He began talking. “I know you can turn off your hearing, so do it now. You don’t want to hear they’re going to say, and it is all law-enforcement bullshit anyway. Meet me around the corner, Isaac, and I’ll tell you what’s really going on.”

As they led Melissa to one of the cars, the people with the cameras began taking photographs. A man in the overcoat headed toward the members of the press. Isaac was tempted to ignore the Sheriff’s advice and listen in, but given the problems he was having with control right now, he fought off that urge.

Forcing himself to leave the location, he met the sheriff around the corner and down the street. He was even more miserable in the rain. “What’s going on? Where are they taking Melissa?”

The Sheriff took a deep breath. “They are placing her in protective custody. That is a fancy way of saying they are going to take her to San Francisco and grill her about Scott supposedly being a German spy. It’s bullshit, but as you can see they invited the newspapers here. This tells me that this has really nothing to do with the case they are pursuing. They’re just trying to give the impression that they are doing something. This, Isaac, is called covering your ass.”

“They can do that?” Isaac growled at him. “They can just drag her out of her home to make themselves look good?”

The Sheriff put one hand on his shoulder to steady him. “Son, pull your claws in. It happens more often than you might think, and I’ve done similar things myself. Part of a cop’s job is to make people think they’re totally safe. I’m not excusing it; I’m just saying where the urge comes from. Getting angry about it isn’t going to help anyone.” He gave the shoulder a squeeze. “To be honest, they want to drag you in as well, so you need to get out of here, drawing the minimum attention to yourself. I’ve got calls into a lawyer I know to help Melissa, but they’ve got enough cause to interrogate both of you.”

Isaac let the Sheriff’s authority and care help get him back under the control. “If they can’t find me, won’t I be a fugitive? I’ve been a fugitive before and … Maybe I should go with them.”

“You feel up for that? They’ll push you pretty hard. They may be trying to save their careers after making a mistake, but they’re professionals. They’ll be better than I am at this.” The Sheriff was in father mode right now. “I don’t want to lie, it would be better for you than running and hiding, but it is going to be dangerous. You kids … you’ve given up too much. I wish I could protect you from this, but I can’t. In supposed espionage cases, the FBI can do whatever they pretty much please.”

“I can’t leave Melissa alone. Will you come with me?” He looked hopefully at the Sheriff, who nodded. Isaac knew that sometimes you had to stand and fight for what was right, and sometimes that didn’t mean physical fighting. The McCalls took him in and made them part of his family.

The Sheriff nodded. “Remember, you have the right to an attorney, so don’t say anything unless you and Melissa have one. I’ll contact Mr. Argent. He’s told me before that they cultivate relationships with certain lawyers just in case things go bad.” They started walking back towards the house.

“I can’t afford a lawyer,” Isaac suddenly said, conscientiously. He could have laughed, because he suddenly felt more frightened than he had been in a long time.

“It doesn’t matter. You’ve got people here who will help. You’re not alone.”

 

March 27, 1944

Lydia Martin had spent far too much time in her life in the preserve. She was neither an outdoorsy girl nor a werewolf, so she took it as a personal affront when she had to hike through the woods. On the other hand, she had gotten pretty good at it over time. At least, she knew when to wear comfortable shoes.

Today, she was sweating, and she did so hate to sweat, but it could not be helped. She trekked through to the woods to where the old Hale House used to be – torn down now by order of the county. When the war was over, Derek had promised to return and rebuild the house, but until then, it was slowly being taken down as part of a CCC project.

It wasn’t that she was overdressed; she knew how to dress for this type of weather – early spring weather where it could easily turn chilly with a passing cloud or the movement of time. It was the bags she was carrying. They weren’t heavier than she was used to carrying, but she wasn’t at a mall. Where were werewolves when you needed them?

She had left Jackson at home. She had business out in the woods and she really didn’t want to have to deal with the boy’s fragile ego. He was getting better she knew; he had actually volunteered to help people he didn’t like because they were pack. Such positive behavior should be rewarded.

She knew where she was going, but she was glad either way when she saw Aiden emerge from the hidden entrance to one of the Hale’s underground chambers. They had several different locations around the forest where they had placed secure locations.

Aiden had this look on his face that he was intending to be sour but then thought better of it. “Afternoon, Lydia.” He wasn’t the first guy who couldn’t get over her, and he wouldn’t be the last.

“Hello! “ She rewarded him with a smile. “Beware wailing women bringing gifts … and bad news. Let’s go down. I don’t want to talk about this out here.”

Aiden sighed. “Gifts I like. Bad news, not so much. What is it this time? Are the Japs invading?” He led her into the underground chambers. They were cramped and dark, but they were dry and safe.

“Funny you should mention that. I’m looking for volunteers to come with me to Oak Creek. When we were there with Major Carter, I heard something that I’d like to look into more closely.”

“Don’t you have enough problems without looking for more of them?” Aiden grumbled. She couldn’t blame him. If she had to live here, she would be murderous.

“Two things wrong with that question, Aiden dear.” She moved to the central chamber which basically served as the twin’s parlor, kitchen and dining room while they were ‘on the run?’ “First off, it is don’t ‘we’ have enough problems? You and your brother volunteered to protect us from that wretched teacher and you have basically become federal fugitives to protect the pack. I don’t think any of us would have any reluctance considering you or him part of our pack. Well, Isaac might, but he barely likes half of us as it is, so feel free to disregard him.”

Aiden was just a little taken aback. “Well … thanks.”

“I am not an ungrateful person, Aiden. I know who my friends are and what they have done.” She starts unpacking the bags in the dim light of the bulbs. “As for the second thing wrong with that question, I believe that ‘us not looking for trouble’ is what got us in this present trouble.”

Aiden moves to help her unload the bags. “What is this stuff?”

“Food. Clothing. Toiletries. Just because you are hiding out in the woods doesn’t mean you have to eat raw squirrel and use leaves in the bathroom. Please.” Lydia displays the items for him as she pulls it out, but she continues talking about her previous point. “We were all shocked that Mr. Harris survived the Darach’s sacrifice – no one greater than me – but we didn’t investigate about how he survived. There was a supernatural mystery that we thought was harmless and unimportant so we just ignored it.”

She held up a cardigan to Aiden’s form. “How harmless and unimportant is he now? Allison and you might have taken care of him and thank you again for that, but the consequences of us not being alert should be obvious. Ethan and you have given up your lives here for the next few years – maybe even forever – who can tell? Scott’s essentially the prisoner of an evil Nazi ubermensch and being dragged all over the world. Oh, Melissa McCall and Isaac Lahey were arrested Thursday night by the FBI.”

Aiden stared at her dumbfounded. “What the hell? Why?”

From the other room, they could both hear Ethan fall out of the cot that was the bed.

“They’re calling it protective custody, but they made sure that the press was there. The Sheriff was ready to shoot someone. Think about it – what’s worse than ignoring the army and letting German spies operate on American soil? Not having anyone to blame for it. Mr. Argent’s already sent a lawyer to help both of them, but that’s all we can do. We have to wait.”

Ethan came out, rubbing his eyes. “So we did this for nothing?”

“No,” said Lydia. “You didn’t do this for nothing. It’s still the best way to answer all the awkward questions that could only be answered by supernatural. But it is best,” she sighed. “It is best if we realize that we are no longer in a winnable situation. We are in a survival situation. We’re working to survive. The FBI isn’t a force we can intimidate or drive off. We have to endure them and then start rebuilding.”

Aiden threw a bottle of pop to Ethan. “Lydia brought us some good stuff. Rebuild to what though?”

“Do you want to stay in Argentina forever? You might, but I hope you don’t.” She let that hang in the air. “I hope both of you and Jackson and Derek and Cora come back. Peter can go screw.” It was not lady-like language. “That means that when you do come back, we’re going to have to have any warrants vacated. We all want Scott back, but we’re going to have to make sure that he can actually live here. We have to make sure that everyone understands that he’s not a spy. That’s going to take work.”

Lydia had gotten a little heated during that last speech. It had become clear to her over the last few days that she was simply displeased with this whole situation. She had thought about feeling guilty for not figuring out that they should have interrogated Harris earlier, but then she dismissed it. Placing the blame was a waste of time and energy.

“You two are doing your part; I hope you understand.” She points out. “And I will do my part while I remain behind. And part of that means that I am going to have to go and investigate Oak Creek.”

Aiden looked over at his brother. “I’m not going to argue with her.” He made it jokey, but Ethan didn’t laugh. Lydia could tell that things were still tense between them.

She had the answer for that as well. She dug into one of the bags and came out with an envelope. “Here, Ethan. This is for you.”

Ethan accepted it. She knew he would be able to tell who it was from before he even opened it. “How? How does he know to write me a letter?”

“I told him, of course.” Lydia made a moue of impatience. “I may not have known everything that was going on – which I am still cross about, by the way – but I can tell when something is going on with one of my oldest friends. It didn’t take very long to figure out that he was upset and pining over you. Really, Ethan – leave without saying a word?”

“I thought that if the G-men talked to him, he’d be too angry to try to defend me.” Ethan looked up fearfully. “What did you tell him?”

“I told him the truth – as much of it as I thought prudent at the time. There was no other way for him not to be mad at you. He wants to visit, but I told him that would have to be worked out between you two. Now, shoo. Go into your room and write a message back. While I’m content to be a messenger, I won’t be kept waiting.”

Ethan scooted off. Aiden went up to her. “Thank you for this. It means a lot to him. It means a lot to me.”

“We’re pack,” she said lightly. “That’s what we do.”

 

MARCH 28, 1944

The editor comes over with a copy of the paper, identical to the copy of the paper he has in his hands. The term that people used would ‘hot off the presses’ but these papers had actually been off of the presses to be room temperature. That didn’t keep his editor from being enthusiastic.

“Look, if you wrote this well every time I sent you to some small rinky-dink town in the North, I’d have you living up there,” Simon raved. “This is top-line shit, Miles. This is stuff that we need all the time.”

“It’s not going to win me the Pulitzer Prize,” Miles shrugged back. He was trying to play it cool, but he can’t help but be pleased by Simon’s praise. “You get a good story when you have a good story.”

“Oh, the writing isn’t going to get any awards,” stated Simon, “but the emotion, the hook! People are going to follow this story for as long as we push it. Any chance for a trial?”

“Honestly? I don’t know. The G-men were doing that thing they do when they act like have a big case but they don’t actually say anything, which tells me that they don’t actually have a big case, but they really, really need one. So, they’ll probably dig pretty hard.”

“It’s time like this that I feel pangs of conscience.” Simon stated with mock gravity. “As a journalist dedicated to the truth, I think that they should be given the benefit of the doubt and every effort made to defend them as much as prosecute them. As an editor who needs to sell papers to keep his job, I want ‘Nazi Mom and Her Kid Spies’ on the banner three issues a day. “

“I’ll do what I can, Simon.” Miles stood up and got his coat on. “Now, I’m going out for lunch. I’ll be back in an hour.”

The reporter took a copy of the AP wire report of the incident along with a copy of the newspaper with him as he went to his favorite automat for lunch. He always went to the same place, every day, for two reasons. First, this particular automat had the best pastrami on rye in the entire Bay Area. He didn’t know how they made it so well – it was an automat – but he just couldn’t get enough of it.

The second reason was that he needed to meet his contact. They did not know each other’s names. He had suspected that the man was a truck driver and moved across country a lot. Honestly, he had no idea why he had been ordered to make sure that the arrest of someone from an inconsequential town got wide recognition, but he knew there had to be a reason. He dropped the packet of newspapers and negatives for the trucker.

As they parted, he whispered “Hail Hydra.”

Chapter Text

MARCH 30, 1944

Colonel Phillips leaned forward at his desk in the headquarters tent. Early in his career as an officer, one of his senior officers had confided that having a neat and tidy desk was an effective way to intimidate soldiers. It had worked, but the moment the real war against Hydra started, he found it was better to look as if he was busy, that he didn’t have time to lay pencils in a line or have neat stacks of folders. The fact that he was indeed too busy to do that was also a contributing factor.

The truth was that Chester Phillips was worried. While they had destroyed two Hydra bases and had the lead on a half-dozen more thanks to the remarkably-more-useful-than-I-had-thought-he-would-be Captain America, the fact was that they hadn’t appreciably slowed the production of Hydra’s new technology. The bases had been defended, but Schmidt had shown that he was willing to sacrifice them for his ultimate plan. An ultimate plan about which Phillips knew nothing.

And now this report; Hydra was going to try to win the war by harnessing the power of folklore and monsters. The colonel shook his head slowly. “I’d have you two committed to the nuthouse …” He tapped the report. “Tell me what I just read isn’t real, and you two are playing one hell of an inappropriate prank.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Major Carter responded promptly. “We were pretty surprised by it ourselves.”

“Well, now we have to find ourselves a supply of silver bullets. Wonderful.” He pushed back in his chair. He was getting too old for this shit.

“Actually, silver bullets don’t do anything to werewolves and they’re really inaccurate,” said the pale, thin boy in a uniform behind them. “The myth about werewolves and silver bullets comes from one of the prominent hunting families. You see – I happen to know the Argents – and Argent is the French word for silver.” He, Carter and Rogers were just looking at him. “And over time, people came to believe that silver killed werewolves … when … it was …” The boy trailed off as he realized they were all looking at him.

Phillips demanded of his agents. “Who the hell is this?”

“This is Private Stilinski,” Rogers introduced. “We recruited him to help us with this matter. He’s an expert on werewolves.”

The colonel snorted and then pointed a finger at the boy. “He looks like he’s an expert on chasing skirts. You sure about this, Major?”

“Yes, sir, I am. Private Stilinski, why don’t you explain your qualifications to the Colonel. We did not mention you in the report, as this would be going into the official files.”

The young man stepped forward. “Uh, yes, ma’am.” He tried to salute. It was terrible, but he had obviously been practicing. “Sir, my name is Sti … Private Stiles Stilinski. Before all this happened, I was the best friend of the kidnapped alpha and a member of his pack. In the pack, it was kind of my job to research things that the pack needed to know. I volunteered to help because Major Carter explained that you didn’t have anyone who would know about these things.”

Phillips stood up and put his hands on hips. “What is it with my command and underfed youngsters.” He glanced at Rogers. “So tell me, private, what’s the chance that I have werewolves in my units already?”

“It is unlikely, sir.” The boy hesitated for a moment. “The born wolves I know of have always avoided military service, and they stress that bitten wolves shouldn’t do it either. Werewolves who are away from their pack too long grow unstable. They’re called omegas. Most of the stories you’ve heard of werewolves killing and eating people come from omegas. Also, it would be very hard for a werewolf in combat not to shift, let alone find reasons every month to disappear on the full moon. A unit like yours wouldn’t tolerate troublemakers, I think.”

“You’d be surprised,” commented Rogers, but he shut up after the colonel glared at him.

The colonel studied the boy. “I guess I don’t have any choice. I’d think that when I got to be a colonel, I’d have to accept bullshit a lot less, but I guess that isn’t always true. He’s your responsibility, Major. Where is he going to bunk? And why doesn’t he have a gun?”

Major Carter replied smoothly. “We haven’t issued him a sidearm yet. He did not go through basic training. I would like him to be bunked with Mr. Stark. He’s not meant to be in the field; we need him for his knowledge.”

The private opened his mouth to talk but Captain Rogers shook his head. The colonel smiled inwardly; talkers always had a problem with military etiquette. “Sounds good to me. Son, you are going to be available to any officer day or night for expertise in this. I’ve spent most of this war gettin’ the shit surprised out of me and that is going to stop. You’re dismissed.”

The private hesitated for a moment and then backed out of the room. He obviously had no idea where to go, so he wandered off in the general direction. As soon as the boy was gone, the colonel rounded on his operatives.

“Seriously? A seventeen-year-old expert? What the hell were you thinking major?”

“I was thinking, Colonel, that we need to know everything we can. This species is very determined to maintain its secrecy, and we don’t need an expert who tries to keep things from us. Private Stilinksi is desperate to rescue his friend, so we’ll have his cooperation.”

“How much time do we have before Schmidt has what he came for?”

“It’s impossible to say, sir. He can’t create his werewolf army without McCall’s help, which means he's going to need time to coerce him,” Rogers pointed out. “Everyone we talked to believe that it would be next to impossible for Schmidt to get McCall’s assistance. He seems a good kid.”

“And what do you think?”

Rogers shook his head. “I think no matter how good a kid he is, he's a seventeen-year-old child up against an evil, mass-murdering Aryan superman. He’s not going to hold out forever.”

“My best guess, sir, is that it’ll take at least two months, possibly a lot longer, but not long enough that I didn’t feel we should move with alacrity,” Carter explains. “It is the same with the tesseract and their advanced technology. We hit them and we keep hitting them until we find a way to stop it.”

“At least this has a primary target,” the colonel grunted at them. “I want that Crown destroyed top priority.”

“You don’t want us to try to reclaim it?” Carter queried.

Colonel Phillips shook his head. “I’m willing to do almost anything to win this war against the Nazis and Hydra, but I won’t resort to slavery and mind control. If we do that, we might as well put on the same uniform. You get a chance, you take it out.”

“Yes, sir!” answered Captain America, enthusiastically.

Colonel Phillips went out into the hallway, looked around and then came back in. “This next order is for your ears only. If you can’t get to the crown, but you get a chance to take McCall out, you do so.” He raised his hand. “I know what you are going to say but … this report. There’s a reason that you weren’t going to be allowed to go to the front, Rogers. Whoever gets super soldiers first wins the war. Hydra can’t be allowed to get that army. Do you understand?”

“I understand, sir.” Rogers looked him square in the face. “But I will only do that as a last resort. I had a chance to stop this, and I didn’t, so I’m not going to make an innocent person pay for my mistakes.”

The colonel waved them out of his office.

******

Stiles was able to navigate the camp pretty well; he only got lost twice. The fact that the camp was half mobile army camp and half reclaimed Hydra base on a Greek island didn’t help matters much. He only had to ask for directions twice.

The room he finally found himself in was cavernous and a total wreck. It must have been the base’s primary laboratory before the fighting had blown most of the work there to smithereens. Someone had undoubtedly cleared away space, but it was still a mess. When Stiles entered the room, a man in a pair of goggles walked up to him, holding something that looked like a space gun from the serials.

“Hold this.” The man, looking rather ridiculous in a lab coat, goggles and a jaunty moustache, shoved the gun into Stiles’ hands. “When I tell you, point it at that target and push that button.”

“Uh. Okay.” Stiles turned the space gun around in his hands. “I’m …”

“Wait a moment.” The man rushed back to the other side of the room and put up, on what looked like a make-shift eagle, a square of metallic looking fabric. He then backed away and said: “Now!”

Stiles pulled the trigger and blew the hell out of the wall. The space gun fired a bolt of blue energy. It must be a Hydra weapon like the ones that he saw the Red Skull fire.

The man in the goggles looked at him. “I’m sorry. Have you never fired a gun before? Please hit the target.”

“I’ve never fired a gun like this before!” Stiles protested.

“Neither has most of the world. Hit the target.” The man backed up. “Really. Do it again.”

Stiles managed to hit the target and blew the hell out of the shiny metallic fabric. He wasn’t sure what the result was supposed to be, but he believed from the scowl on the man’s face, it wasn’t supposed to be utter destruction.

“Well, that’s disappointing.” The man took off his goggles and walked over to Stiles, holding out his hands. He sighed. “If the metal is too expensive, we won’t be able to make sufficient armor. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about absorption and think more about deflection. What do you think?”

“Uhm.” Stiles said. “I think I don’t know what to think. What do you think I should think?”

The man turned to him. “Who the hell are you?”

“I’m Private Stilinski, Major Carter’s new assistant?” Stiles was actually intimidated by this person, whoever he was.

“Are you asking me? I assume you aren’t, but Peg’s got a new assistant! What does she need a new assistant for? Are you old enough to drive?” The man expected an answer. Stiles finally noticed he wasn’t wearing a uniform.

“Yes. I can drive.”

The man narrowed his eyes at him. “Then why are you here?”

“I was told I was supposed to bunk here. That I needed to square away my work, whatever that means.”

“Your work?” The man eyed him speculatively and decided to change tactics. “Howard Stark. Please to meet you.” He extended his hand. “What work would that be?”

Stiles took his hand and shook it. It was a firm grip. “You’re Howard Stark? You were the one who worked with Dr. Erskine?” He tried not to get overly excited. “That was really keen, what you did.”

Howard didn’t seem to be too interested in Stiles’ compliments. “Yes. I just told you I was Howard Stark, and I’ll answer your questions, if you answer mine.”

Stiles knew how to stretch the truth. He didn’t want to tell anyone about werewolves until Major Carter gave the okay. “I have insight into Hydra’s new super soldier program due to my history. I’m going to help the S.S.R. come up with ways to counter it.”

“New super soldier program? What!” Howard was excited and upset at the same time. “Why wasn’t I told about this?”

“They just found out about it a week or so ago? I’m not supposed to discuss details.” Stiles hadn’t actually been told who he could discuss it with or not, but he was determine to keep the secret from as many people as he could.

“Oh. Peggy and Cap’s California journey. Well, I will get the story from them. So, what do you need?”

“A place to sleep? None of my books have arrived. Do you need help now?” Stiles asked. He was trying to distract the scientist.

“You will absolutely regret offering to help.” Howard led them to the sleeping quarters where Stiles got one of his own. It was Spartan, but it was something he could live with. He got himself set up when Peggy and Captain America arrived after they had finished with the Colonel.

Howard confronted them immediately, though not angrily. “There’s a new super-soldier program? I am going to need details about it. Your new intern didn’t want to say anything.”

“That’s because, Howard, I told him not to.” Peggy frowned. “Private, you can share the details with Mr. Stark.”

Stiles looked at Peggy and Cap. He frowned. “Major, I understand …”

Steve put in. “Howard won’t abuse the knowledge he gets here. I trust him. You can trust him.”

Stiles then carefully summarized the events of the last month for Howard Stark. The play of emotions on the inventor’s face ran from is-this-a-joke to disbelieving to incredulous to excited.

“Well, that’s something we absolutely have to stop. “ Stark looked at the Major and the Captain. “I can keep my good friend here busy when you are off on your missions. Don’t worry about him.”

Major Carter looked pleasantly irritated. “Now I am worried. Howard, I don’t want to come back and find him in the hospital.”

“The hospital?” Stiles squeaked.

“That hardly ever happens,” Stark promised. “He’ll be fine.”

 

APRIL 1, 1944

Isaac sat in the interrogation room. The first time they brought him in here, he was calm. He was doing this for Melissa. The second time they brought him in here, he was frightened. They had kept him for days; were they going to charge him with something? This was the third time, and he was angry. The cigarette and cigar smoke was driving him crazy, and they hadn’t even started asking questions yet. He glared at the top of the interrogation table where they had chained his hands to it.

He’d been her for six days. He only had one set of clothes. He was bored to death. He had spent most of his time thinking of Allison and Scott, using them to keep himself under control.

Part of him knew that if he wanted to, he could break this chain and rip out every one of their throats. This would not help anyone. It would make him feel a good bit better though. He already knew what their questions were going to be. He hoped they would let him go soon.

Assistant Director Rickett and Special Agent Fordham entered the room. He had watched enough movies to understand they were sweating him.

Rickett sat down opposite him. “Hello, Isaac. Are you ready to cooperate today?”

Isaac gritted out. “I have been cooperating.”

Fordham, the bad cop in this negotiation, spat. “You’ve been lying to us. If you want out of here, you need to tell us the truth.”

Isaac gave Fordham his best intransigent glare. “I told you the truth. I’ve not been lying.”

Rickett opened up the same file they’ve been opening up during every interrogation. Isaac wondered why they even needed to do it anymore. They’ve must have read everything in there at least three times. They were trying to make him believe they already knew everything.

“How old are you, Isaac?” Rickett asked in a bored tone. It was the same questions every time.

“Seventeen,” he muttered.

“Your mother and father are both dead, right?”

“Yes. You know this.”

“Your mother died when you were six. Your father died just last year, didn’t he?”

Isaac muttered. “Yeah. It’s been over a year ago.”

“You had a brother who died, didn’t he?” Fordham demanded. “Camden?”

“Yes. You know this. Why do you keep asking me this?” Isaac demanded.

“We ask the questions here,” answered Fordham. “He died on the Arizona, didn’t he?”

Isaac didn’t answer. He’d already answered it before. He wasn’t prepared for the next question.

“What would he think that his brother was helping a German spy?” Fordham sneered. “That you could shit on his sacrifice?”

Isaac jerked on his chains in response. He breathed heavily for a moment, but he had been practicing ever since he had been brought in. He wasn’t going to shift. He wasn’t going to shift. “I’ve told you before,” he growled, “Scott wasn’t a German spy.”

Rickett pretended like he was bored. “I’d rather talk about your father, Isaac.”

Fordham burst in. “Your father was murdered. Someone totally slashed him up.“ When Isaac didn’t confirm or deny it, he went on. “You were a suspect in the crime, weren’t you?”

Rickett looked up at Fordham with mock concern without waiting for him to answer. “Yep. It was determined to be an animal attack. An animal attacked your father in his car in the middle of the city. You claim that this had nothing to do with you. Why did they suspect you?”

Isaac answered. “Someone thought they heard us fighting, but they changed their story.”

“Well, that’s not the only thing, Isaac. Turns out that there were many reports that you didn’t like your father disciplining you.” Fordham’s voice took on a sarcastic whine, implying that Isaac was being a baby about things. “He was too rough.”

“Was that true,” asked Ricketts. “Was your father too rough with you?”

Isaac glared at both of them.

“According to the first witness, he ‘kicked the crap out of you.’ You didn’t like that, did you? Is that how he got to you?”

Isaac was confused. “How who got to me?”

“McCall. Is that how he got you to cover for him? To help him? He helps you kill your father, arranges for the investigation to get derailed. You get a new place to live, new friends. I understand – it must be difficult for a Nancy like you to make new friends.” Fordham spat.

“What did you just say?” Isaac nearly shouted.

Rickett falsely chided his colleague. “Oh, I am sure a judge will be lenient on such a gentle soul, Fordham. This is what we think happened, Isaac.” He closed the folder. “You were tired of your Dad picking on you for being such a limp-wristed son, so you got with McCall and arranged for him or you to murder your dad and this other kid – Jackson Whittemore – to lie about it. Then he had you move into his house and you all became fast friends.”

Fordham replied nastily. “Or lovers. They say all those Nazis are faggots anyway.”

“That’s not true. You can’t say that!” Isaac whispered. He was trying to keep his heart steady. He clenched his fists. “You don’t have any evidence.”

“No, we don’t, do we, Boss?”

Ricketts continued. “No, we don’t.” He leaned forward. “But we have enough holes in the story of your father’s death plus nearly a dozen ‘deaths by animal attack’ to hold you for federal trial. Your buddy’s Dad can’t get you out of this. Eventually, though, it’ll go to court and the case will get thrown out. Given this is a federal case, this means you are looking at least four months minimum in Alcatraz before the trial begins.”

“You know how these cases are,” sneered Fordham. “The newspapers are all over them. The juicier the better.”

“I am afraid that most of California will hear the details of our story before you even get to trial.” Rickett said with false commiseration. “That won’t be very positive for your long-term reputation. But that’s what we have now, and that’s what we’re going with.”

“Unless you give us a different story?” Fordham suggested.

Isaac had kept his eyes closed and he lowered his head. For the first time in a long time he knew exactly what to do. “I have a story for you,” he said softly.

The FBI agents leaned forward.

“I’m only telling it to my lawyer. You two can go to hell.” Isaac spat on the table without looking up.

Rickett snorted. Fordham got back up. “If that’s the way you want to play it, fine. You want to take the fall, it’s your call.”

The FBI agents got up to leave. “Your lawyer will be here in a moment. Maybe he’ll like your story better than we do.”

Isaac waited until they were gone from the room to let out a breath. He willed his claws back into normal fingers.

Another man came in. He was old and thin, possibly nearing seventy. He had wild gray hair and spectacles that threatened to fall off his nose. He looked like the cliché of a lawyer and not a real lawyer.

“Hello, Isaac. You aren’t having a very good time, are you? My name is Melvyn Bettemann. I’m going to represent you in your case.”

Isaac looked at him. He didn’t seem dangerous. “Is someone helping Mrs. McCall?”

“Oh, yes. I’m helping with that as well. You’ll have to forgive me if it took me so long to get here. I was busy with hunting season.” He nodded significantly. “Now, let me review your case.” Bettemann started humming to himself.

Isaac relaxed. Allison had told him that her family had lawyers who knew all about the supernatural and that they relied upon when they had to deal with the courts. He wouldn’t have been able to trust a hunter’s lawyer, but he knew he could trust the Argents.

“I’ll do anything I can to help,” Isaac answered. This was a true answer.

“I know you will. Let me read what they have on you, please. It shouldn’t take too long.” The lawyer began reading the file quietly, his mouth moving along with the words. In a voice to quiet for anyone else to hear, Bettemann said. “They are probably listening, Isaac. If you can hear me, tap your right index finger on the table, twice.”

Isaac did as he asked.

“Good,” murmured the lawyer. “I know what really happened, and I know what they are going to say happened. You understand they’re trying to sweat you. That’s a problem.”

Isaac nodded.

“They’ll put you in the general population in Alcatraz, hoping it will scare you into cooperating. I'm sure that there's no one in Alcatraz that can actually hurt you, but you'll need to keep control. You almost lost in here, didn't you? When they kept trying to get you to betray your alpha.” Mervyn Bettemann kept his voice so low only Isaac could hear it. To everyone outside, he was reading the file to himself.

Isaac nodded once again. What else was he going to do? Lie?

“You are going to have to keep better control. If it helps, think that will help both Mrs. McCall and your pack out, but I am afraid you will have a rough time of it.” He looks up at Isaac and then back down.

Isaac repeated. “I just want to help, sir. That’s all I want.”

The lawyer looked down at the file once more. “Well, then, Isaac, you're going to have to endure prison for a while. And you're going to have to do exactly what I say. If I tell you to lie, you lie. If I tell you to say nothing, you say nothing. Can you do that?"

Isaac didn't feel upset. He felt happy. Finally, there was something he could do instead of just standing back and having other people do the work. "You bet I can."

Chapter Text

APRIL 2, 1944

If he hadn’t been a kidnapped prisoner on an enemy warship, Scott McCall would have thought that this was the coolest thing ever. He had – and this is something he never in a million years thought he would be able to say – traversed the Arctic Ocean underwater. It was like something out of science fiction magazines that he and Stiles shared when they were hiding under covers of a blanket fort with a flashlight. He had even managed to get a glimpse of the massive walls and columns of ice that marked the top of the world.

It was the bright spot in a trip that had tested Scott’s patience. He knew he was in trouble, and he knew it was big trouble, bigger than anything he had encountered before. If being kidnapped hadn't been enough, he was having trouble maintaining control. He had managed when he had lost Allison as his anchor to find a temporary anchor in himself, or rather, he had found a temporary anchor in his image of himself as human and not a monster who would just hurt people for no reason. But now he realized he didn’t mind the idea of hurting people like Schmidt, Barker, or the Hydra troops on the submarine. Part of him, to be honest, wanted to hurt them in a way he had only desired to hurt someone once before.

Since he’d been bitten, there had been many opportunities for him to lash out, but few of his possible targets had been people he truly wanted to hurt. When he fought with others, he had forced himself to push any anger and hatred he felt down to where it couldn’t control his actions. He had never wanted to become the type of person who would enjoy slashing someone open. If he had wanted to, no one would have been very upset if, in his rage, he had killed Jennifer Blake and Deucalion. If he had wanted to, he could have hurt Derek or Peter. But that was the point; in the end, hating Derek wouldn't have been fair at all, and while he had e nursed his hatred of Peter like a warm fire next to his heart, hurting them would have been one step down a path he didn't want to walk.

The only person he had every really wanted to hurt was Gerard Argent.

When he had time to think about it, it was actually silly for him to feel that way because Gerard Argent had the most reasonable motivation for his evil. He was trying to survive, to cure his cancer, and when the old man had stabbed him in the stomach and ordered Jackson to choke his mother, the actions were simply means to that end. Wouldn’t Scott at least be tempted to do that if he knew he was dying?

But the truth was that all the others he had fought against were motivated by injustices being done against them; he hadn’t agreed with their methods, but he could see the wrongness of the acts that pushed them forward. Jennifer Blake had done nothing to merit being slashed up and left for dead at the roots of the Nemeton. Deucalion had been a peace activist before he was blinded (He had heard the real story from Deaton). Derek had seen his family destroyed before his very eyes; it was no wonder he had been so violent and obsessive. Even Peter – even Peter – had been left burned and in a coma. As much as Peter used that to excuse his actions, it didn’t erase the fact that he had endured terrible suffering. He’d never forgive Peter for what he had done to him and to Lydia and to others, but he didn’t want to hurt Peter anymore.

Gerard Argent was different. Cancer was scary, but there were real options that he could have taken to prolong his life. He could even have gotten the Bite if he had bargained for it. But Gerard was so hateful, so ruthless, so uncaring, that he was unwilling to take even the slightest risk of not getting what he wanted. Gerard Argent believed in no one but himself, not even his family or the Code that governed it.

Scott thought even now of the old man sitting in a wheelchair in that dingy little apartment, spewing black ichor for the rest of his days. It was wrong, Scott knew, but he smiled anyway.

In the twelve days he had been on this submarine, he had come to realize a very important thing. As bad as Gerard Argent was, Johann Schmidt was far, far worse. Both of them killed and tortured for a goal, but the Nazi's plan was far greater. Johann Schmidt wanted to remake the entire world, and he would burn everyone and everything if they got in the way of his dream. Scott wanted to hurt him; he wanted to hurt everyone who followed him, who dared think like Schmidt did. Because, right now, the Red Skull was burning Scott's life away on the altar of his new world.

Scott had never daydreamed about killing anyone before. He didn’t like how good it felt; he didn't like how it made control difficult. You can’t anchor yourself when you actually want to lose control.

Scott looked up to see Linde looking at him in concern. “Uh. Where were we?” He was having his German lesson. Two hours a day, he sat with Linde and learned how to read and write the language. Scott had originally thought to refuse the lessons, but he caught the scent of terror coming from Linde. His “aide” would most likely get in trouble if Scott refused to do it.

Scott had relented for now. At least, he would have something to do while he sat on a submarine. It also might come in handy when he escaped. He didn’t have a plan yet, mostly because he’d never been outside of Beacon County in his life.

Linde smiled and brought him back to verb conjugations. Scott couldn’t figure Linde out. On the one hand, he was a German soldier, a Nazi, and a member of Hydra. On the other hand, he was young, pretty bright, and very friendly. Scott tried hard to make himself be angry at Linde, but there were times when he forgot to be. It was annoying.

Finally, as they were nearing the end of the two-hour class, Scott couldn’t avoid it anymore. “Why did you join Hydra?”

“I want to be an engineer.” Linde immediately replied. “But my family doesn’t have the wealth to send me to school. We lost everything after Versailles.”

“What has that to do with Hydra?”

“It has everything to do with Hydra!” Linde raised his voice enthusiastically, but then let it drop out of embarrassment. “You don’t know anything about Germany. You don’t know anything about Der Grosse Krieg.”

“Yeah, I do. The United States fought in it.” Scott knew several people who were veterans. He even knew members of the Bonus Army.

“But you didn’t lose it. You don’t know what that loss did to us, how we were betrayed by our own leaders.” Linde’s eyes suddenly were lit with fervor. “My family used to be well-off. We weren’t rich like the Jews, but back then my father could have afforded to send me to a good school. Now, we have nothing. My father has to work at a factory for a pittance. My mother works at a bakery. We didn't just lose everything, we lost the possibility of getting it back.”

“You weren’t even born--"

“That doesn’t matter. If I want to be an engineer, I had to find a way to learn. Hydra will teach me. And not only me; they’re making Germany strong again.”

Scott sucked on his teeth. There were no upticks in the man's heart so there were no lies. Linde believed that Hydra and the Nazis were making things better. “Even if it means taking me from my home and everyone I care about?”

Guilt flashed across Linde’s face. In a flash, Scott realized that it be the same for his aide; Linde was beginning to like him. “Yes. Even so. If your being with us allows Germany to win, then that’s what will happen.” It sounded like something he was taught.

Scott sighed. He thought that maybe he could persuade Linde that he was wrong, but what the hell good would that do? It wouldn’t do anything but make the man unhappy. It certainly wouldn’t help him escape.

After the lesson, it was time for him to go to the infirmary. It happened the same way every day. He would go to the woman, she would take a blood sample, ask him questions, and then he would leave. He didn’t hate Dr. Woltzmann-Barker like he did Schmidt, but he didn’t like her much either.

“What’s this for?” He demanded as he rolled up his sleeve.

“Research,” she replied without inflection.

The conversation with Linde earlier was still aggravating him and now her practiced disinterest in his existence as a human being aggravated him even more. As she leaned forward to take the sample, he reached out and grabbed her wrist. “You know, I think we’re done here.”

The doctor lifted her head and for the first time and looked him in the eye. Calculating.

“Schmidt is right about one thing and one thing only. I could probably kill every single person on this ship, but I can’t sail it back home. I gave in because I don't want to die. And I’m not going to get my aide in trouble by refusing to dress or learn German. But you? I don’t give a damn about you, so this … research … is done.” With his other hand he took the needle out of her hand and smashed it. His blood dropped down onto the table. “Anyone tries to take my blood again, I’ll break one of their bones.”

Dr. Woltzmann-Barker cocked her head to the side. She was mildly interested.

Scott was shocked that she wasn’t more upset. After all, wasn’t this her whole reason to join with Hydra? It didn’t occur to him until she pulled her arm free of his. “You didn’t need any more samples, did you?” When all she did was smirk, he growled. “You already had enough. This was his idea. This was about obedience.”

“You will find, young man, that it would be in your best interest to give in to the Skull. This isn’t high school. Herr Schmidt is apparently quite skilled at getting dogs to heel at his command.”

“I’m not a dog.” He snarled. “And I’m not going to give in. How did he bring you to heel?”

The geneticist did not answer. She simply began to pack up her medical equipment. “Farewell, Sturmscharführer McCall. In less than forty-eight hours, we’ll be in Germany, and we will most likely not meet again.”

“You’d better hope we don’t,” Scott answered. He thought such a threat would sound hollow to his ears, but it did not. It sounded to him like he meant every word. He needed to get home; being here was beginning to make him think in ways he didn’t like.

 

APRIL 4, 1944

Stiles laid in his bunk staring at the ceiling of the tent. He was exhausted from the amount of physical labor he had done today. He had thought the tough part of being in the Army would be the battles or maybe being away from home. He was pretty sure those things would turn out to be true, but he also realized that moving five thousand men from an island in Greece to a beach near Jijel in Algeria was a monumental task all in itself.

In addition to the general aches and exhaustion, Stiles was feeling … small. It was stupid, and he knew it was stupid. He was a high-school junior. He was seventeen years old. But the events of the last year had given him the idea that he was capable. That he could be useful. The last week had demonstrated to him that he was neither of those things.

He didn’t grasp military protocol. It was understandable to a point, because he hadn’t been through basic training. Before, when he didn’t know anything, he was quick enough to be able to figure it out, but this was different. The protocol was based on tradition not on common sense, and it also required a certain deference to authority. When a superior office gave you an order, you followed it. Stiles had never followed an order without questioning it in his life.

But he had quickly realized that the protocol was important. This wasn’t Beacon Hills. It wasn’t even the big city. It was war, and as stupidly asinine as orders and leaders could be, it had to be this way. Stiles, however, couldn’t miraculously change himself overnight.

He had managed to help with moving both the headquarters tent and the intelligence tent with only being yelled at twice. The first was by an angry sergeant when he wouldn’t stop getting in the way of the trucks. The second was by an angry captain when he was spotted standing to the side in order to stop getting in the way of the angry sergeant. It was embarrassing.

He had helped. He had tried to help. He had taken his Benzedrine and he had done all he could. He was sure that all the real soldiers thought he was an idiot and a clown. So now he was staring at the ceiling wondering what the hell he was doing here.

At least he felt more comfortable with Howard Stark. Stark wasn’t military, he didn’t want to be military, and he could care less about military protocol. He appreciated that the SSR needed his unmatched genius to reverse engineer and create counters to Hydra’s powered weaponry. Stiles had also found out that Stark had been closely involved with Project: Rebirth.

He was still staring at the ceiling of the tent when the flap opened and the man himself appeared. “Stilinski!” He bellowed. “Are you asleep?”

“Uhm. Not anymore.”

“Great. I need your help.” Stark turned away and started heading toward his setup.

“But you’re not even unpacked!” Stiles got out of bad, slid on his shoes and followed him. “You don’t have anything put together.”

“That’s the problem!” Stark shouted back at him. “Stiles Stilinski, inspiration waits for no man!”

Stiles grumbled while he pushed himself off his bed and followed. Stark’s tent was set up but everything, from equipment to notebooks, was still in boxes. “What do you need me to do?”

“In one of these boxes is the Hydra tech gun. In another one of these boxes is an electromagnetic set up. In one final box is a spool of fine wire. We need to find them.”

Stiles sighed. “Do we need to find them right now?”

“Yes. I had an idea. I was looking for a material to absorb or withstand the plasma, but maybe there isn’t one. Maybe I should be looking for something to deflect the plasma, and maybe a low-grade magnetic field could get the job done.” Howard start ripping open the boxes. “Don’t just sit there.”

“I’m sitting here because I’ve done more manual labor in the last seventy-two hours than I’ve done in the last three years!” Stiles exclaimed. “I’m tired.”

Howard Stark stood up from the box that he was digging through. “I’ve only know you for a few days, but I think I am a pretty good judge of character. From what I can tell, you’ve been running with people that everyone else would be terrified of. You’ve helped them. Isn’t that true?”

“Yes.” Stiles fought off the urge to yawn.

“Was there ever a time when you were scared out of your drawers, but you stood by them anyway?”

“Yes.” That woke Stiles up a little bit more.

“Why did you do it?”

“Because I had to. Because they’d be hurt or killed if I didn’t.”

Howard Stark gestured with his hands as if that proved his point. “What you haven’t done is watched as a Hydra plasma rifle literally disintegrated a soldier in front of your eyes. I have. When that happens, there isn’t even a corpse to send him home to his mother. One minute, there’s a person and then there's nothing. Now I don’t know when the next day will be that we fight Hydra, but when we do, more men from this division are going to die. Maybe someone I know. I have an idea how I might be able to stop it. Do you think I’m going to wait until tomorrow?”

Stiles looked embarrassed. “No.” He moved to the boxes. “Sorry.”

“’Sorry’ is the most useless word in the English language. I never use it.” Howard went back into the boxes. “I prefer to talk about the future, not the past. The best word in the English language is ‘Eureka!’”

“Uh, Mr. Stark, that’s not English. That’s Greek.”

“No likes a know-it-all, Stilinski.”

Stiles labored into the night with Stark, finally locating the parts that they needed and setting up racks for the testing of it. To be honest, the science was so far beyond Stiles that he began to feel similar to the way he felt earlier that evening: useless. However, since he had decided to help, Stark wasn’t the least bit exasperated on him. In fact, a little after midnight when they had decided to take a break, he told Stark his fear that he didn’t know enough science to be helpful.

“Compared to me, Stiles, everyone in this camp is a moron when it comes to the basics of science. When I ask people to help me, I don’t need someone who is as much of a genius as I am. I’d be disappointed if I did that. I need people willing to help, willing to ask questions, willing to take risks, and willing to look stupid. You’ve been really good at all of those things.”

“Thanks, I think.” Stiles replied.

“You know what I mean.” Howard suddenly produced some food and a bottle of bourbon. He poured each of them a drink.

“I’m not eighteen yet,” Stiles protested.

“And yet here you are, working in an army camp where we could be bombed to hell at any minute. I’ll take the risk of being arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” Howard handed the glass to Stiles. “Drink up. We did good work tonight.”

“How did you get involved with all this? With the SSR and Project Rebirth?”

“I’ve always been an engineer; I don’t do much in terms of pure theory. I take other people’s ideas and I apply them. I was working on my flying car idea when I was contacted by Dr. Erskine. He was confident that he could use radiation to stabilize the effect of the super-soldier serum he invented, but he had no idea how to practically create and focus that much radiation safely.” Stark touched his chest. “He needed an engineer; he needed me. After Erskine died, I realized how dangerous Hydra could be.”

“Are they really that scary?” Stiles knew they were the enemy, but he was surprised at Stark’s vehemence.

“They’re fascists, Stiles. Some people think fascism is great because it makes the trains run on time or it makes everything peaceful and orderly. What they don’t understand is that the world isn’t about making things easy to predict or control. Life isn’t like that. It’s chaotic; it’s messy, but it grows. New things are created. New things like my flying car.”

Howard looked disgusted. “Fascists always have great reasons to do things. They’re going to make everything better. They’re going to fix the problems. They can find a lot of reasons to do they do, but in the end, they’re always going to destroy more than they create. Science can help free humanity from poverty, from disease, from drudgery, but only if it is alive, only if it is free to grow; Hydra’s going to turn Science into the chains that bind us. This is how I stop them.”

Stiles could think of a few people he had met who always had a good reason for doing the wrong thing.

Howard and Stiles drank and ate for another thirty minutes. Howard drank a lot more, but he was practiced at it. Stiles had two glasses and he was feeling a little tipsy. No, he was feeling a lot tipsy.

Stiles hiccupped and then laughed. “I haven’t felt like this since I …” He suddenly rubbed at his eyes; there was water in them.

“Since what?”

“I took my best friend out to get him drunk when he broke up with his girlfriend. I didn’t realize he couldn’t get drunk, and neither did he, and suddenly I was toasted and he was just angry.” Stiles took a deep breath and struggled to sit up. He didn’t realize why he was getting so emotional.

Howard looked shocked. “Your friend … this is the person that Schmidt kidnapped?”

Stiles nodded and sniffled.

“Werewolves can’t get drunk? Shit, no wonder people think they’re monsters. I’d be a monster too if I couldn’t get liquored up.” Howard was trying to be funny and lighten the mood.

Stiles chuckled. “I miss him. I’m afraid he’s never going to come back.” He hiccupped again. “I miss my dad. I miss home. I wish I didn’t have to come here. I wish none of this had happened. “

“Does it help that every man in every tent in this encampment feels the same way?” Howard asked.

“No. It doesn’t. I mean, you don’t know what my life has been like for the last year. I’m not scared. I mean I’m not scared for me. I’m not.” Stiles insisted. “It’s not like I’m going to in a battle. I’m a glorified encyclopedia.”

Stark made a snorting noise and poured himself another drink.

“Yeah, I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself. It’s just … everything’s so big here. It’s a war. I’m in Africa. I thought I did pretty well making it up, but now … it’s just so big. I’m not sure if I’m going to make a difference.”

“You already have, kid.” Stark took a big stiff drink. “If only to me. And I bet to Peggy as well. I know her; she always feel more comfortable when she knows what she’s doing.”

“I guess.” Stiles shook his head. “I think I should hit the sack. What time do you need me tomorrow?”

Howard Stark looked at the set-up. He needed to sleep, as well. It helped clarify his thinking. “As soon as you can. Bring me breakfast.”

Chapter Text

APRIL 7, 1944

Scott’s legs felt wobbly when he finally stepped back onto a cold beach, swept by hard winds and ocean spray. He had spent two weeks on a submarine and while it hadn’t felt particularly unstable, his body had still been able to tell that they were suspended in a liquid medium. Being on shore also gave him blessed relief free of the Jormungandr’s constant whine. He had never gotten use to the hypersonic whine, which no one else could hear, coming from the submarine’s high-tech engines.

That was all the relief he felt when he disembarked at Heligoland. Everything else felt like a nightmare.

First, the Red Skull had forced him to put on his Nazi uniform correctly. Most days, Scott deliberately left an article of clothing off or buttoned it incorrectly. It was a tiny show of defiance, which was all he could muster in such close quarters, but today Schmidt had promised that Scott wouldn’t be permitted to get off the Jormungandr unless his uniform was up to military specifications. Scott hated doing it, but he hated the thought of being kept on the submarine one more day than he had to.

When he reached the deck, Linde following behind him like a happy toddler, he saw that the entire base had come out to meet them. In addition to the standard German soldiers, there were row after row of Hydra troopers. It seemed ridiculous, but Schmidt seemed to eat up the servile obedience of the Hydra troopers. What made it worse was the respect that the soldiers showed him; Scott felt nauseous when the soldiers saluted him.

“Sturmscharführer McCall, you should salute them back,” Linde whispered in his ear.

Scott turned to the aide he never wanted nor appreciated. “I’m not going to.”

Hydra-Applicant Linde looked unhappy. “It will cause trouble if you don’t.”

But after all, that was the point, wasn’t it? The Red Skull may not be willing to kill him, but he could certainly make things uncomfortable for someone else, punishing an innocent for Scott’s stubbornness. Schmidt had threatened him with the tactic enough on the trip here. Scott sighed in frustration, but he returned the salute.

A flash-bulb from a camera went off. Scott hadn’t noticed the photographers waiting at the base of the ramp.

“You are now preserved for posterity, my dear alpha.” Schmidt appeared at his side, his salute far more sharp and military. Another picture was taken. The Nazi gave him a cold smile.

“What’s the point of all this?” Scott dropped his hands to the side.

“Power is like everything else. It requires tending. Displays such as this inspire loyalty among the troops and feed their motivation for advancement. It also makes them feel part of the new world we are trying to build while we go through the tedious process of building it.” The Red Skull gestured for Scott to go ahead, and they walked down the gangway to the docks. “Eventually, I am quite sure you will come to like it yourself.”

“Never.”

“You’re not the first person to tell me that. We’ll see.”

Behind the pair of them, Dr. Baker-Woltzmann appeared in uniform as well, but she looked as bored as Scott felt disgusted. The four of them, accompanied by the Jormungandr’s captain, left the submarine and ascended a podium set up on the docks. Scott thought about trying to bolt right then, but he was surrounded by thousands of armed men. He would just have to be patient a little longer.

Schmidt started giving a speech. Scott barely listened to it, because what Schmidt thought held very little interest to him and he would understand only a little of it anyway, even given his two-week crash course in German. He stood there, waiting for it to end, but as he did, he started studying the area around the pens, hoping to work out some path to escape. He had no idea where he would go in the middle of an enemy country, but anywhere was better than under the thumb of this fascist.

Finally, the Red Skull came to the end of his speech. There was cheering from the men; the Hydra soldiers had stood there like living robots but they burst into approval. Scott was creeped out by the whole situation.

“So, Sturmscharführer McCall, it’s time to begin your work for Hydra.”

“What do you expect me to do?” Scott decided that he was going to try to humiliate Schmidt in front of his men. He shouldn’t do anything for his captor. Well, he supposed that he was already dressing the way the Red Skull wanted him to, learning German the way the Red Skull wanted him to, and standing by silently the way the Red Skull wanted him to. But now he was going to make a different choice.

“If you’re going to build a pack that will help win the war for Hydra, you need to get started.”

“No, I don’t.” Scott shook his head. “My pack’s in California. I’m not biting anyone, so you don’t have a pack, I won’t give you a pack, and I certainly won’t help you win the war.”

“I thought you might say that.” Schmidt drew a combat knife, which he always carried with him.

“You’re going to fight me?” Scott shifted gladly. His transformation got an appropriate response from some of the faceless Hydra minions. “I’ll …”

“You’ll kill me? I’m not sure you have it in you, Sturmscharführer McCall. I think you’re weak. But, regardless, this knife is not for you.” With a swift movement, he stabbed Linde in the stomach. Shock transformed the applicant’s face. When the Red Skull pulled the knife out, the man fell down.

“What are you doing?”

“That particular location is a very painful one for a knife wound, my good alpha. And while it is a fatal wound, Hydra-Applicant Linde isn’t going to perish immediately. It will take perhaps ten minutes for him to bleed out.”

Scott couldn’t help himself. He knelt by Linde, trying to staunch the flow of blood. Yes, Linde was a Hydra soldier, but he was also a human being. Scott looked around desperately. The Red Skull was using a handkerchief to clean off the knife. Dr. Baker-Woltzman was staring on impassively. The captain of the Jormungandr looked bored. All the masked, helmeted Nazis were watching with various degrees of interest. “You’re going to let him die?”

“Technically, that decisions is yours. As I remember, it is only your bite that can save him.”

Scott’s mouth dropped open. “It’s not emergency first-aid! It can kill someone, especially if they’re weak!”

“True.” Schmidt gave him a condescending grin. “But he hasn’t been weakened enough yet to make that a sure thing. He probably won’t be really weak for another few minutes or so. Tick-tock.”

Scott turned back down to the man. Linde was still stunned and going to into shock. He was frightened. He didn’t want to die; he opened his mouth and a whimper came out. Scott felt his pulse quicken so far that he couldn’t call back the shift. This was obviously a trap; they’d use him to make themselves an army of werewolves. But could he really just sit here and let this … relatively innocent man bleed out? Could he?

“I can help you.” Scott said this reluctantly, angrily. “But you have to say yes.”

Linde had only joined Hydra to become an engineer. Yes, he really believed these fascist bastards would make the world a better place, but stupid ideas shouldn’t be a death sentence. Scott cursed the Red Skull under his breath; he’d find a way to be free. Linde nodded, slowly at first but then stronger and stronger.

Scott pulled the man’s clothing up to expose his torso. One side of his abdomen was a single, sharp knife wound, soaking both of them in blood. The other side of the abdomen was clear and unblemished skin. It felt nauseatingly familiar; it corresponded to where Scott had been bitten.

“Close your eyes.”

He hadn’t done this before. The taste of living human flesh in his mouth made him gag, but he bit through it anyway. Blood ran over his teeth and tongue. He drew back and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

“See! Even wild dogs can be brought to heel with the proper training, doktor.” Schmidt was gloating. “How long will we know if it has taken?”

Scott knelt on the ground, focused on Linde. He wasn’t going to answer the man.

“According to what I have learned, if the Applicant starts bleeding back within a half-hour to an hour, he’s rejected the Bite. Such a manifestation will probably faster with the primary injury. I would recommend you allow me to care for him, now that the Bite has been delivered.”

The Red Skull nodded, and the geneticist gestured for her bag and knelt down.

Scott saw red. He snarled at her. “Stay away from him.”

The cold woman lifted one eyebrow. “You’ve been forced to give the Bite in order to save his life. Will you not let me do everything within my power to keep him from dying?”

“You’re an evil person.” Scott backed away on his hands and knees.

“What a useless phrase.” Schmidt reached a hand down and pulled Scott to his feet. Scott was stronger than Schmidt, but not by much, yet there was nothing to gain in fighting him now. “You disagree with everything I believe in, yet you won’t take this opportunity to do your best to murder me. You’ve allowed me to manipulate you into doing something which you could barely conceive of doing minutes ago. Your weakness allows me to win. One could argue that you’re the evil person for not stopping me. After all, I’m right here.”

“Surrounded by a thousand troops!”

“True, but aren’t heroes supposed to be able to lay down their lives to stop their enemies? As I said, all useless words.” The Red Skull patted him on the head, like a prize spaniel. “You’ll learn the value of obedience in time.”

“Or maybe I’ll be brave enough to see how much of a superhuman you really are, soldiers or no soldiers.” Scott muttered.

Linde lived. Scott had a beta now. A beta that belonged to him but bound him one more step to Hydra.

******

APRIL 10, 1944

Stiles had taken one more step in the process of becoming a real soldier, or so he liked to think. He had been issued a sidearm.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of the space guns that the SSR had confiscated from Hydra. The ones they did have at the camp, Mr. Stark kept tinkering with in the tents that he called his lab. Stiles had been issued a standard M1911A1 pistol. Stiles held the heavy gun in his hand; its holster was buckled around his waist.

It felt like an important step it him. Sometimes, it seemed more like a daydream when Stiles had to tell himself he was in North Africa, when three weeks ago he was sitting at his father’s dinner table in Beacon Hills. But, as Major Carter had pointed out, wars moved fast.

Stiles wondered how everyone was doing back in Beacon Hills. He had sent his father a letter which he had wrote the first time he had some time to himself. With it, he had included a letter for Lydia. He wished he could have written Derek, but there had been no way to bring his invisible ink materials with him, and he was wary enough that a letter to Argentina might be read.

Derek wouldn’t be able to write him either.

He wondered if Lydia would write him back, or would Jackson be too much of a jealous boyfriend.

It was an unworthy thought. Lydia had never led him on, never pretended to like him that way, but she had become a friend. She had become someone he could count on. They all had, even Jackson. Even if the pack was still mad at him about his decisions, they wouldn’t be mad at him forever. At least, he hoped that they wouldn’t be mad at him forever.

He guessed he was just lonely.

The army wasn’t high school. Everyone knew what they had to do and most of them were busy doing it. He wasn’t idle either. When he wasn’t reading up on what Hydra was, he was reading on what the SSR was. He hadn’t even cracked the books that Deaton had pressed into his hands when they had said farewell. Then there was his work as a gopher and lab assistant for Mr. Stark. Then there were the discussions of werewolf knowledge with the Colonel or the Major or Captain America. Days could fly by without Stiles having time to think.

Yes, Stiles missed the closeness of the pack. He missed talking to people about what interested him or what annoyed him without their being a purpose to it. He missed just hanging out and playing the occasional pointless game. Soldiers had downtime, but they were usually drinking or tossing a ball at each other, and Stiles felt intimidated by most of them. They weren’t his friends; they weren’t people he missed.

He missed Scott.

Today, however, he had to learn to shoot a gun. It wouldn’t do any good if he happened to end up in a battle and did something terrible like shoot the wrong person. He had handled a gun before, once or twice. He was a sheriff’s son, after all. But his father hadn’t been overly enthusiastic about taking Stiles shooting. For reasons of safety, the Noah had wanted to keep his admittedly less-coordinated and hyperactive son away from dangerous weapons. He had meant to keep Stiles safe, but that hadn’t worked out too well, had it?

But his father had at least imparted to him that guns required practice. So after he had received his service revolver, he had dragged sandbags and a make-shift target out to the beach. The Mediterranean shone cerulean blue behind them, waves gently lapping on the shore. If he missed the target, the worst thing that Stiles could kill would be some fish.

He emptied the first eight-round clip at the target and didn’t hit a damn thing. Stiles rewarded himself with a string of the worst curse words he knew.

“Having trouble?”

Stiles turned quickly to see Captain America — he was out of red, white, and blue uniform and in normal military clothing, so he was Captain Steve Rogers — watching him from a stand of trees.

“I was really hoping that no one would notice my complete lack of skill with the firearm.” Stiles admitted, blushing.

Captain Rogers walked up it him, shaking his head. “Well, first, you’re holding it wrong.”

“Uh.” Stiles says eloquently. “I’m mostly trying to do this from memory.”

The captain shifted Stiles’ stance, and then moved his hands and arms until they were in the right position. “That’s going to give you more control. Also, aiming might be something to try.”

“I was aiming!”

“Well.” Rogers nodded good-naturedly. “Some people could possibly describe it like that.”

Stiles grimaced at the ribbing.

Steve began training Stiles on how to sight the pistol correctly. Taking your time and thinking about what you were doing seemed to be the major focus of it, which required a great deal of effort on Stiles’ part. When he finally pulled off another shot though, he hit the target. It wasn’t a bullseye, but it was far better than the results of his first clip.

“How is this even useful?” Stiles complained.

“What do you mean?”

“It took me five minutes of aiming to hit the target! The Germans aren’t going to wait patiently while I take aim at them! I’ll get somebody killed! I’m useless.”

“Yeah.” Captain Rogers slapped him on the shoulder. “You are pretty useless. Now.”

Stiles turned to look at him.

“You’re a clever person, Stiles. You know that there’s a lot more to firing a gun then pulling the trigger. There’s only one way to hit the target dead center, while there are a hundred-thousand ways to miss. Learning how takes time and practice.”

Stiles sighed. “I’m going to need a lot of practice.”

“Yes. United States Marines are among the most thoroughly-trained soldiers out there, and they had twelve-week basic training courses, which included basic marksmanship. Now, of course, they only get six weeks because of the war. Six weeks ago, you were sitting in chemistry class.”

The young man nodded. “Okay, I get it.”

“Do you? I didn’t come out of Project Rebirth knowing how to fire a gun. You have to give yourself time to learn things, because no one else is going to give you that time.” Captain Rogers became stern. “Everyone is far too busy for you to feel sorry for yourself that you can’t do something. So, if you mess up, you try again.”

“Yes, sir.” Stiles dropped his eyes to the ground.

“You haven’t done anything wrong, I’m just trying to warn you.” Steve turned more sympathetic. “I want you to be ready. Things can get bad. They will get bad.”

They took down the makeshift practice range together, carting the sandbags back over toward the entrenchment where Stiles had gotten them from. Then they headed back to the quarters he shared with Mr. Stark.

“How are things with Howard?”

“Oh, I like him. If he doesn’t blow me up.”

“Sounds like Howard.”

There were some rations there for lunch. Stiles was suddenly suspicious. “You brought me lunch?”

“It’s lunch time isn’t it?” Steve was deflecting. Captain Rogers may have been a superhero, but he wasn’t in Stiles’ league when it came to avoiding difficult topics through conversational evasion.

Meals-Ready-to-Eat were definitely the low point of life overseas. He would never complain about his father’s bad cooking again. At the thought of his father, there was a sharp pang in his side, but it passed quickly.

“So.” Stiles finished off what he imagined was supposed to be meat loaf. “What do you have for me?”

Captain Rogers didn’t try to deny it once he was caught. He disappeared into the tent and came back with a manila folder. “The OSS has a spy on Heligoland. It’s an island in the North Sea that serves as Jormungandr’s home base.”

“They’ve reached Germany.”

“Three days ago.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?” Stiles held his breath. He’d learned so much about the madman Johann Schmidt that he had several times fallen asleep worrying about Scott.

Steve sat down next to him. He hesitated, then he handed Stiles the folder.

Stiles opened it up to look at a sheaf of photographs. There was Scott, getting off the submarine. Dressed in a Hydra uniform. Giving the Hydra salute. Stiles shook his head. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“There’s an explanation for this. You were there in California. He didn’t go with them willingly.”

“Read the report.” Steve bent over and pulled a sheet of paper out for him. “Tell me make what you make of it.”

Stiles did as he was asked. “Well … fuck.”

Captain Rogers lifted an eyebrow.

“It’s Deucalion all over again.”

“You’re going to have to explain that.”

“Okay, last year, there was this alpha, Deucalion. He used to be this big reformer werewolf until an evil hunter burned his eyes out with white phosphorous arrowheads and, immediately after that, one of his betas tried to steal his power by murdering him. It made him totally flip his wig.”

Steve nodded. “I can see how that could happen.”

“He went off the deep end. He started calling himself the Demon Wolf and traveled around the country getting alphas to murder their packs and absorb their power. You see, he was still a visionary, he just wanted to turn all werewolf into power-mad freaks. He wanted to create a Perfect Pack, and you can’t have a perfect pack without the true alpha of this century, can you?”

“So he came after Scott.”

“Yeah. The thing about Deucalion it’s not simply physical power. He does have that; he’s scary strong. After all, he discovered a means to literally take another werewolf’s power by killing them in a certain way. Usually only a beta can steal an alpha’s power like that. But that’s the other thing, he’s also smart. Like, ha-ha, you-think-you’ve-defeated-me-only-to-fall-for-my-clever-plan smart.”

Captain Rogers let Stiles continue. Stiles stood up and started to pace.

“You see, if you knew Scott like I knew Scott, you would know the thing he hates above anything else is people killing people for power, so he’d never willingly join a bloodthirsty psycho like Deucalion’s Alpha Pack. So Duke had to get tricky. He offered Scott the one thing he couldn’t resist — saving people’s lives. A darach had taken his mother and my father …”

“What’s a darach?”

“Dark druid. Think evil witch.” Stiles waved a hand in front of his face. “All messed up ugly. One of Deucalion’s pack had hurt her real bad, so she wanted revenge. She was sacrificing people to the Nemeton in order to be strong enough to take Duke down. She had taken Scott’s mom and my dad, because it satisfied the requirements of the sacrifice.”

“This magic stuff bothers me,” Steve frowned.

“Captain Rogers, you can lift an automobile because you were injected with a purple liquid and bathed in radiation. It’s not that different.” Stiles commented sarcastically. “Anyway, after his mom was taken, Scott was pretty low. Deucalion offered his help to defeat the darach and save his mom and my father, so Scott went with him.”

“He gave himself up to this villain. I see.”

“I told him there had to be another way. I told him that, but … I didn’t have another way. I was the one … and now it’s happened again.” Stiles turned away and rubbed at his eyes. “This Skull guy is going to use Scott’s heart to twist him into doing his bidding.”

“From what that report says, most likely.”

“Scott … Scott doesn’t really care about things like power or tradition. He cares about people. If wearing a uniform and saluting people would stop the Skull from hurting others …” Stiles tried to swallow down his fear, but he couldn’t. It got stuck in his throat. “He won’t understand … he’ll save them no matter what. Oh my God, this is horrible. We have to do something. We have to do something now.

“There’s nothing we can do now.”

“I can’t sit on a beach, not when …” Stiles’ voice raised in volume. “If I had brought the whole pack to the coast, this wouldn’t have happened. This is my fault. This is all …”

“Soldier!” Captain Rogers shouted in a particularly commanding way. Stiles immediately shut up.

“I’m going to tell you this once. You’re a member of the United States military. Every single person who wears that uniform has a duty to fight against Nazis like Schmidt. You’re no different.”

Stiles opened his mouth but Steve interrupted him.

“Private, I’m not done.” Stiles clicked his mouth shut. “We have that duty because Schmidt and Hydra and Hitler and the Nazis will not stop at hurting the weak and killing the innocent; they will go on to corrupt the good. We’re all here to stop that, but no single one of us is more important or guiltier or more useful or more expendable than any other. Do you understand?”

Stiles decided not to argue, though he had several quips in mind about the captain’s personal contributions. “Yes, sir.”

“So, while I’m not unsympathetic to what happened with you and your friend, I don’t have time for your break downs. No one in the SSR has time for them. You want to save him? You take that blame, you take that panic, and you stow it. We need your wits, your knowledge, and your insight. We don’t need your tears. They don’t do anyone any good.”

“Yes, sir.”

Steve tapped him on the shoulder. “Good. Let’s get back to work.”

Chapter Text

APRIL 12, 1944

“Allison.”

Allison knew that tone in her father’s voice; it was simultaneously a plea for her understanding and an insistence that she obey. She had heard its timbre often enough in the last few weeks. She had heard it too often in the last year, really. “Yes, father?”

Chris Argent sighed as he signaled his turn down the busy street. They must have seemed completely out of place in the streets of San Francisco. Not many people drove trucks, light or not, unless they were in the military, in this part of the city. Especially not a black 1942 Dodge Power Wagon; that was the vehicle of a farmer. It would be troublesome if he got pulled over for reckless driving, and he didn’t need any more trouble today. “Please don’t do that.”

“Please don’t do what?”

“You’re acting like that woman in the movie we saw last night.”

“Bette Davis?”

“Was that her name?”

“Dad!” Allison grew fondly exasperated. “You know who Bette Davis is. I can’t believe you compared me to Fanny Skeffington. I’m not spoiled.”

Mr. Argent glanced over at her while they were paused at a red light. “You’ve spent most of today angry with me, and I’m a little stumped about why. We’re making progress.”

Allison turned to look out the window as San Francisco’s building passed the car. “You can’t think of any reason that I might be upset with you?”

Mr. Argent sighed once more. He pulled into the parking lot of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s building. “You’re learning what you need to in order to take your place as the Argent matriarch. That’s going to require you to spend a lot of the time meeting and listening to people you don’t particularly like.”

“I can deal with people I don’t like.”

He parked the car but he didn’t get out. She didn’t either.

“I can deal with people I don’t like, and, to be honest, I haven’t liked many of them. In the last week we’ve met two industrialists, a movie producer, four state legislators, two state senators and the lieutenant governor. Mr. Houser was pretty decent, but the rest were all … pigs.”

“Allison!”

“Well, they were!”

“They’re not pigs. They’re either scared by what we represent or they’re eager to have what we can offer — those are the type of men we have to deal with. They’re either going to be people susceptible to bribes or people who have seen what’s in the shadows in which we live. You’re going to have to learn to reassure men who feel this way that the Argents can protect them and those they care about.”

“You mean schmooze.”

“I mean reassure.”

“Fine.” She crossed her arms. “You’ve also called Hiram Johnson in Washington and any number of people at the Department of Justice and the War Department. You’ve had discussions I have not been privy to as well.”

“You made the decision; you can’t tell me to do my best and then get angry when I do. You wanted us to intervene on behalf of your boyfriend and your ex-boyfriend’s mother.”

Allison shot her father a look. “I’m not asking for you to do that because of what they mean to me, personally. And you know that.”

“I know.” Mr. Argent put his hands on the truck door. “But others who don’t know you might think that.”

“Oh, I understand. I also understand that Isaac and Melissa are innocent of what they’ve been charged with, just like Scott is innocent. And we know that the prosecutions are political in nature, so we have to fight them politically. Mrs. McCall and Isaac can’t protect themselves from the F.B.I. It’s our code.”

Her father nodded. “Yes, I agree. But none of that explains why you are so angry.”

“Because it’s really hard to learn how to maneuver politically, when I’m not in the room half the time.”

“Sweetheart, you’re the Matriarch, but you’re also a senior in High School.”

“And I’m a girl.” Allison crossed her arms.

Mr. Argent closed the door, came over, and opened the door. “They don’t share the same values as we do.”

“You let them push me out of the room. The next time some dumb ox tries to make me leave the room so you can talk about important things, I’m gonna hit someone.”

“That wouldn’t be wise, Allison. Even though you’re right, they are still going to think of you as a little girl, and I really can’t use our political clout to make them respect you and get the other things you want done, done. Like this meeting.” He helped her out and then closed the door for her. “Right now, our political influence is in a precarious position.”

“Because of Gerard.”

“Your grandfather made sure that most of the important connections were maintained by him personally. It was one of the ways he tried to freeze your mother out of her position. Until we have the chances to shift that perception, we have to keep up the illusion that he’s still in charge; that takes effort.”

Allison did not visit her grandfather as much as her father did. She didn’t like the stink; she didn’t like the private nurse; and she didn’t like that man who had done so many terrible things was now living in a lovely little cabin on Blakely Island with a beautiful view of the Rosario Strait in Washington. Keeping him there kept him out of the way, though, and that’s what they needed.

She checked her hair and makeup in the door of the building. She moved a few strands back into position and touched up her lips. She frowned.

Her father watched her. “Don’t hold back in this meeting.”

“You don’t want me to be the polite little girl?”

“Not this time.” Chris Argent held the door open for her. “We need to keep him off balance.”

Assistant Director Rickett was waiting for them in his office. He’s polite and courteous; he should be. The Argents had called in a lot of favors to have this meeting. Rickett’s eyes locked on her father’s, ignoring her, which was as these things usually went. Allison wonders if he’s going to ignore her presence or comment on its strangeness.

“Thank you for seeing us.” Mr. Argent shook the assistant director’s hand.

“It’s not like I had much choice in the matter. You’ve got a lot of power in Washington, Mr. Argent, if you can get Director Hoover to send a memo.” At least he wasn’t going to bullshit them. “Any friend of the Director is a friend of mine.”

“We’re simply concerned citizens, hoping to contribute during a time of national emergency.”

“Have a seat, please.” Rickett gestured to the chair, but then he glanced at Allison. “Pardon me, but isn’t it a school day?”

Chris opened his mouth to answer, but Allison got there first. “My grades are fine, and there are things far more important than a perfect attendance award.”

Assistant Director Rickett was surprised at her tone. He wasn’t used to young people talking to him like that. He look at her father, but Chris shrugged. “What could those be?”

“Correcting injustices,” Allison answered.

“Young lady.” The assistant director took a deep breath. He look at Mr. Argent and saw no help from that quarter. “I’m not sure what you mean, but you should know that the F.B.I. is dedicated to the pursuit of justice.”

“Which is why you’re holding two innocent people as Nazi spies, because you’re dedicated.” Allison returned.

“Allison, I’m sure that the Assistant Director thinks he’s doing the right thing —”

“Young lady.” He said those words again like it was all he needed to say. That she couldn’t possibly understand the inner workings of the bureau because she wore dresses and hadn’t been alive during the last war. “We have good reason to hold Mrs. McCall and Mr. Lahey.”

“Yes.” Allison nodded vigorously. “I’m sure that you do have good reasons, but I don’t think they have anything to do with justice. I think they have to do you with covering your own ass.”

“Do you let your daughter talk like that, Mr. Argent?”

“Only when she’s right,” Chris replied. “I wouldn’t have said it that way, but I do think that you have two people arrested as accessories to espionage when you do not have the slightest evidence that they had access to information that would help the Axis, had any contact with Axis agents, or profited by being Axis agents. I think you arrested them because you botched the apprehension of the real agents.”

The assistant director leaned back in his chair. “Then it seems we have a difference in opinion.”

“I think if you want to sit down and compare common beliefs about this case, there are a lot more important individuals that share my opinion than yours.” Mr. Argent turned to his daughter.

Allison knew that a stick is best paired with a carrot. “If you listen to what we have to say, we can help you get out of this situation with as little difficulty as possible. And the only thing we want in return is the immediate release of Melissa McCall and Isaac Lahey.”

The assistant director folded his hands over his lap. “That’s not as easy as you make it sound.”

Allison snorts. “It’s just as easy as it sounds. Law enforcement personnel drop charges all the time, and there’s the added benefit in that you already know you should drop those charges. I can only think that you’re stalling until the next big news story comes along so the public forgets all about this.”

Now the assistant director wasn’t just confused as to Allison’s presence, he was actively irritated by it. “Young lady …”

“My name is Allison Argent. You can call me Miss Argent.”

“Miss Argent, I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.”

“I think I know that the only Axis agent in Beacon Hills was Adrian Harris, and the only reason he’s not on the loose right now is because he managed to be stupid enough to pull a gun on a woman in an airport. But he was smart enough to evade you, wasn’t he? I think you are desperate to shift attention away from the gross incompetency your office has exhibited when you disregarded military intelligence reports of possible Hydra activity in California — yes, I talked to Major Carter — and the people I attended school with and their parents are the ones suffering because of it. I didn’t come here because it’s Take Your Daughter to Work Day. I came here because I know Ms. McCall, I know Isaac Lahey, I know Scott McCall, and I know Adrian Harris. I know what happened in Beacon Hills, and I also know that if you were forced to step into a courtroom tomorrow and present your evidence in order to get a conviction, any judge and any jury would laugh you out of it.”

Her father sat there, unmoving.

“So, you’ve learned how influential my family is. We can’t force you to release an innocent nurse and an innocent high school senior, but we don’t really need to force you to do that. All we really need — and you can already tell that we do have sufficient influence for this — is to have a judge schedule a preliminary hearing in the next few weeks. It would be easy to have my grandpa drop a line to his old friend J. Edgar to make sure no one in the bureau is in a position to stop it. That would be very embarrassing for you, so I want you to think very carefully about your next words to us.”

The assistant director did think about his words. He cracked his knuckles. “I don’t like being bullied.”

Allison shrugged. “If you’re going to keep hurting people to cover up your mistakes, you should get used to it.”

“Miss Argent, may I speak to your father alone?”

“Of course.” She knew when to withdraw. Her father would have no trouble forming a compromise with the man. She excused herself and waiting in the lobby.

She must have sat there for a half hour. Most of the agents were middle-aged men, and some were friendly and some leered, but most ignored her. She didn’t care.

Her father came out and she stood up. “How did it go?”

“They’ll be releasing Melissa as soon as possible.”

“And Isaac?”

Chris Argent frowned.

“Dad?”

“They’re holding him on Alcatraz.”

Allison stared at him. “Why?”

“I guess they were trying to intimidate him into giving up the names of more spies.”

She felt her fists clench. “That doesn’t explain why he can’t be released.”

Her father’s face fell. “There’s been some trouble.”

******

APRIL 14, 1944

Lydia expected Jackson to comment on the new decor in her room. If she had inherited anything from her mother, it was the urge to redecorate. It might seem shallow to other people, but Lydia never found it so. Her mother had taught her that who you were helped determine how you lived, and how you lived helped determine who you were. Interior design was a form of adaptation.

But he didn’t; instead, he looked more surprised at what she and Malia were wearing. “What is this?” Jackson demanded as he stopped a few feet into her bedroom. His eyes fell on Malia. “What is that?”

“They’re called uniforms, Jackson.” Lydia sniffed as she straightened the nurse’s cap on her head.

“I know what they are. Why are you and Malia wearing them?”

“We’ve joined the Red Cross!” Malia announced helpfully. “We’re volunteers!”

Jackson was at a loss where to take the conversation next, so he shoved his hands into his pockets. “Okay.” He looked helplessly befuddled, so Lydia decided to take pity on him.

“Malia and I have volunteered with the Red Cross mission at Oak Creek. Eight days a month, we’ll help take care of the sick and the infirm. We’ll cook them food, give them baths, do things like that.”

“Give them baths?” asked Malia.

“Give them baths?” echoed Jackson.

“Humans get sick, and when they’re sick, they may not be strong enough to take showers by themselves or get themselves to bathtubs. They need aid. I’ll show you how to do it, Malia.”

“You know how to do it?” Malia asked.

“I’ve seen it done, and it didn’t look that hard. My mother took care of my grandmother before she passed away.” Lydia felt the sad and fearful memories wash over her. She tried not to think of her grandmother much nowadays. She had enough to worry about.

“But … why?” Jackson queried.

“When volunteers can take care of simple tasks, it means nurses can spend more time on tasks that require skill. The quality of care improves.”

Jackson rolled his eyes. “I mean, why you two?”

Lydia tossed her head. “You don’t think I’m civic minded?”

“No. I mean, no, that’s not what I meant. I meant …” Jackson stuttered. Malia watched with interest. Lydia had resolved to teach her the intricacies of how to bait boys.

Lydia went over and helped Malia with her own nurse’s cap. “Helping out with the war effort is what every patriotic American man or woman should be doing, so that’s one good reason. Another good reason is I wanted to check out the feeling I got the last time I was at Oak Creek.”

“The coughing you heard?”

“Exactly.”

Jackson nodded and sat down on one of her chairs. “And helping with the sick at Eichen House allows you access to the people most likely to experience a terrible cough.”

Lydia smiled at him. “And people said you weren’t smart.”

“Who said that? Why are you bringing Malia with you?”

“I can be patriotic, too!”

Jackson snorted. “I’m sure you understand what the word means, but I’m not sure you could really experience it.”

“Probably not.” Malia grimaced in turn. “But I want to! People at school told me that Stiles is being very patriotic, and if he is, then I want to be patriotic, too.”

Lydia looked at Malia with fondness. While there were many things she still didn’t quite get, the werecoyote was learning quickly. She had turned to Lydia for clues on how to behave after Stiles had left. It was a better choice, but Lydia would never tell Stiles that.

“And, Malia has advanced senses that I might lack. If there is something strange going on at Oak Creek and Eichen House, she’ll help me discover it.”

Jackson looked put out. “What can I do?”

“Oh, honey, you’re driving us there.”

Eichen House had been built in 1912 by a private individual for the health and well-being of those afflicted with mental illnesses. From what Lydia had researched, its four stories could hold two hundred inmates. It had all latest psychological equipment, including hydrotherapy chambers, and a fully functioning medical wing. Once the war had started and the internment camp at Oak Creek had been built, its board of directors had offered to let the base use their facility as its infirmary. The rear entrance to the hospital was barely five hundred feet from the main gates of the camp, and there were even reports that tunnels built during the construction of the hospital were now linked to tunnels at the constructed camp.

Jackson dropped them off at the front gates and Malia and Lydia stood before the imposing building. He waved at them as he drove off.

A serious-looking woman in a nurse’s uniform came up to them. “You’re prompt. That’s good. Have either of you ever worked in a hospital before?”

“No, ma’am.” Lydia stated. Malia echoed her from behind.

The woman sighed. “I’m Nurse Schulder. I’m in charge of training volunteers, so you’ll be spending a lot of time with me. I’ll certainly appreciate it if I don’t have to spend too much time repeating myself.”

“We’re here to help,” Lydia smiled her brightest smile. “Not get in the way.”

“The first thing you have to learn are the rules for dealing with internees. They’re pretty simple, but we should go over them first. Please come with me.”

The two girls followed Nurse Schulder into a small office on the first floor of the hospital. Lydia and Malia sat down on two hard wooden seats, while the nurse took a seat behind the desk. She dug a single sheet of paper out of the desk. She could have just handed it to the two girls, but Schulder read them off anyway. The nurse didn’t elaborate on how they specifically applied to this camp.

Lydia wanted to snatch the rules from Nurse Schulder’s hand, but she didn’t. She sat there as the older woman read the rules off the page in the most monotone voice imaginable. All thirty-five of them.

Lydia sat there quietly with a smile plastered on her face, but as the nurse went down the list, she could feel her smile grow more and more fake. Malia’s attention drifted away from the lecture at about rule eighteen, but then Malia would not have caught much of the subtlety going on with it. The people had been told that Oak Creek wasn’t a prison, and that loyal citizens of Japanese descent wouldn’t mind doing their duty and going to the camps. But Lydia knew as the reading of the rules droned on that they had been lied to; Oak Creek was indeed a prison.

Nurse Schulder cleared her throat. “Rule number twenty-three. Male evacuees, including auxiliary police, shall not enter the barracks, apartments, dormitories or other quarters set aside for the exclusive use of the female evacuees, except when specifically ordered to do so by some Caucasian who is head of some Center Management Division and this may be done only when necessary to carry on work of the Center which cannot be done elsewhere.”

Malia popped back in. “Caucasian?”

Lydia frowned. “It means white people.”

“Oh. So boys can’t go into the girl’s area.”

“It means,” Lydia kept her voice from being too frosty, “that they are separating families.”

“A necessary precaution.” The older nurse observed.

Lydia didn’t bother to argue with the woman. She smiled and smiled and smiled until they were done. But she could feel the anger inside, building up. This was a prison for people guilty of only one crime — being born the wrong way. These people were considered untrustworthy and dangerous because of where their parents had been born or their grandparents had been born or their great-grandparents had been born. No matter which schools they had attended or how many years they had lived in their towns, they were alien; they were dangerous. It didn’t matter that they were teachers or grocers or farmers, they had been locked behind fences and gates because their skin wasn’t white.

She hadn’t drawn a connection until she was sitting in that hard wooden chair. Of the many things that she had dreaded since she had become involved with the supernatural world, one of the scariest had been the fear of being excluded because she was a wailing woman, a herald of death. For someone so desperate to control what others through of her, learning about her bloodlines powers had been the embodiment or her greatest nightmare: spurned by the world because of an accident of birth. In the throes of this dream, she imagined herself becoming like the banshees of folklore — mad women living isolated lives away from ‘normal’ people.

And now, that nightmare was incarnated in front of her, being inflicted upon these innocent strangers. The only difference between Lydia and the Japanese descendants was that she could hide what she was. They couldn’t; she felt a little sick.

They were imprisoned. Their lives were inscribed inside barbed wire for as long as the war lasted. They couldn’t date; they couldn’t celebrate holidays. Fathers couldn’t see their daughters without permission; mothers couldn’t see their sons. They couldn’t even ride their own bicycles without permission.

After the nurse was finished, Malia and Lydia left the office for the front yard to wait until they could have a tour.

“That’s why you have to get better at control, Malia. You don’t want this happen to you.”

“What?”

“What do you think that they’ll do if they find out werewolves exist? They locked these people up on the suspicion that they might be more loyal to a place most of them have never seen or a government that most of them have never heard of. What do you think they’d do to people like you?”

“They wouldn’t do this,” Malia stated with confidence.

“And what would stop them?”

“Because we’d fight back.” The coyote wiggled her claws at her.

Lydia snorted. “I guess you would.” She looked around. “Have you noticed anything weird?”

“Not yet. Are you sure that it’s going to happen here?”

Lydia nodded as they walked around Eichen House’s rather petty courtyard. “No one else but me heard the coughing that day. Ethan and Jackson have good ears. That clear a warning so far in advance means that there is going to be a lot of death here, and I can stop it. I have to stop it. I’d feel better if the whole pack was here, but that’s not possible. It’s going to be you, me, and Jackson.”

Malia frowns. “Of course I’ll be with you.”

Lydia gripped her hand in thanks. “To be honest, I’m a little overwhelmed. I’m not a leader. I’ve helped when I could, but I’ve never made the decisions when someone’s life is on the line. Scott’s kidnapped, Stiles is in Europe, the twins are fugitives, and Allison’s busy trying to get Scott’s mother and Isaac out of jail. That leaves the three of us, so there’s no other choice.”

“We could choose … not to do anything.”

Lydia put her hands on her hips. They were going up the steps into Eichen House. “Malia! These people are here against their will.”

“I’m just saying that there is another choice. No one is going to hold it against you if you don’t put yourself at risk.”

Lydia stopped. “Would Stiles not want to help? Do you not want to help?”

“I don’t know these people. I only know that I want to help you. If you feel you have to do this, then I’m going to do it as well. So let’s stop talking and go do something.” Malia took the lead and tracked down Nurse Schulder.

Nurse Schulder took up the rest of their first day as volunteers with a tour of the camp. It was much larger than Lydia or Malia had expected; there were approximately three thousand people interned at the camp, and surprising, Nurse Schulder remarked that this made it the smallest of the relocation centers. After that, they had a tour of Eichen House, specifically the areas that served as the camp’s infirmary.

“I didn’t realize that there were so many people here.” Malia wondered at the end of the tour. “It all seems so big.”

“According to the newspaper, there’s been over one hundred and ten thousand people interred,” Lydia mentioned. “People who up until three years ago were just like us.”

“They’re not just like us; Japanese culture is different. The internment is for everyone’s safety.” Nurse Schulder stated. “We’re at war.”

Chapter Text

APRIL 15, 1944

A cage was still a cage, no matter how comfortably it was appointed.

Scott had to admit that this particular cage had quite an ingenious set up. Hydra had taken a Sonderkraftfahrzeug 251, which he had overheard some soldiers call a Hanomag, and turned it into his new home. The halftrack had been designed for mechanized infantry, with room enough to carry ten men into battle and protect them from small arms fire and some artillery fire. Now, it served as a mobile prison cell. He had a bed, a chair, and a table that he could fold down from the wall. He even had a little stove that was bolted to the floor that he could light up if he got cold.

Hydra had also let him have two chests for his things. In the first one was his German language materials; he was expected to keep practicing until he could communicate with other soldiers. He kept up with his studies, but only because he would go mad with boredom otherwise. At least when he was an unwilling guest on the Jormungandr, he had had Linde to talk to.

The other chest contained all his clothes which were, without exception, Hydra uniforms. Scott had the choice to either look like one of Schmidt’s little stormtroopers or run about naked. Sometimes, he considered doing exactly that, but then he thought about what would happen if he pushed the Red Skull too far. Yes, the Nazi had invested a lot of time into kidnapping him, but Scott was under no illusion that he wouldn’t be put down like a dog if he proved to be too uncooperative.

Scott wanted to live. There were people for which he might give up his life, but he wasn’t going to get himself killed to prove that he was a loyal American. There would be a chance to escape, he knew it. He just had to be ready.

He’d make his break for it when his enemies became too comfortable. Soldiers fed him, three times a day, and he supposed he should be grateful that they didn’t throw it in a bucket and feed him like a dog. He got to sit down for a meal like any normal human would, with knives and forks and glassware. It startled him the first time they did so. In the adventure novels that he and Stiles had liked to read, you didn’t give prisoners knives, or they’d use them to escape.

He guessed they must know that he carried his own knives so supplying him with silverware wouldn’t make much of a difference.

Whenever they opened the door, the Hydra troopers did it in groups of four. Two would quickly take away the old meal and give him his new one, while the other two would cover him with strange-looking guns. Scott had been warned that these guns were an example of Hydra’s advanced technology. Even he might die if they shot him, so he decided not to risk it until he was sure his plan work.

But he watched. At each meal, he timed it by counting to himself — one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three one-thousand — while lying on the bed, offering no resistance. He would wait until he could see thick forests or a big city when they opened the door, and then he would make a break for it.

They were on the road again. They hadn’t traveled very far, in Scott’s estimation — maybe two hundred miles since they had gotten off the small boat that took them to the mainland. The good news was that he hadn’t seen Schmidt or Dr. Baker-Woltzmann since the boat ride four days ago. He appreciated it. The bad news was that he hadn’t seen Hydra-Applicant Linde — no, his name was Horst, and he was his beta — either. They were undoubtedly going to keep them separated as a means of controlling Scott. The only people whom he had seen had been these nameless Hydra lickspittles.

He felt the truck begin to slow, and Scott began to feel odd. At first, it was the feel of something metallic in the back of his throat. He remembered Erica talking about the aura she would get before a seizure. He didn’t have epilepsy, but something was wrong none-the-less. He felt … revulsion, but he couldn’t tell what it was coming from. Something was very wrong.

Finally, the truck stopped. It surprised him, because he didn’t think they were anywhere near the time for his next meal, but then someone rapped on the doors. A voice called out: “Step away from the doors.”

It was standard practice. He lay down on the bed; it made the troopers feel comfortable.

The doors opened and a sour smell hit his nose like a truck. He couldn’t place exactly what it was. It smelled like death and filth and unwashed bodies, overlaid with something chemical. He sat up.

“You’re awake!” The Red Skull was there. “Good. Put your boots on. As a proper host, I’m giving you a tour of a facility.”

Scott did as he was commanded. Schmidt was flanked by a dozen soldiers, so this was definitely not the time for an escape attempt. “Where are we?”

“Oddly enough, this is not a Hydra facility. This is run by an entirely different branch of the military, the SS-Totenkopfverbande.”

Scott had heard the phrase before: Death’s Head Units. “But why are we here?” Scott had slid his boots on and put his jacket on. Subconsciously, he had been straightening it the way Linde had taught him to do when he caught the Red Skull smirking at him.

“To gain perspective. Come along.”

Scott climbed out of the truck. There were a lot of soldiers surrounding Scott, making sure he didn’t misbehave, but Schmidt walked alongside him like they were old companions.

The wind shifted, and Scott had to put a hand over his nose.

“Oh!” More false joviality on the part of the crazed Nazi supersoldier. “I forgot that your sense of smell is far superior to a human being’s. My sincerest apologies. Welcome to the Hirschechtheit Concentration Camp.”

The place didn’t look like much at first glance, just low wooden buildings gathered around a central location. However, the details of acres of barbed wire, machine-gun wielding guards, and no trees or much greenery. The row after row of buildings were covered in tar-paper; they looked cheap and sloppy. It reminded Scott of a larger version of Oak Creek. “What is this place for?”

“This, Sturmscharführer McCall, is the epitome of humanity as it exists at the present. This is as far as the imaginations of the common man can reach.” The Red Skull started walking into the camp. Before he could go on, Schmidt met some functionaries at the inner gate. The officers discussed things in German, and Scott could only understand parts.

Meanwhile, the subconscious revulsion that Scott had begun to feel in the half-track and that overwhelming smell of the camp combined to keep him unsettled. Schmidt finally convinced the officers to open the gate and gestured for their group to go with them.

“You see, one of the ways our beloved Fűhrer …” Scott could hear the veiled contempt in Schmidt’s voice. “Our beloved Fűhrer rose to power by convincing the people of Germany that many of their troubles were caused by … lesser races. There races were less virtuous and civilized than the Aryan race, envious of the Aryan’s race superiority, and by means of parasitism or outright hostility, undermining the very fabric of German society.”

“You sound as if you don’t agree.”

The Red Skull chuckled nastily. “Who am I to argue with a house painter from Austria? His infantile brand of fascism helped plunged the world into war. That provided opportunity for me, I won’t lie about that, but I find the rest of his decisions — questionable at best.”

Scott let himself be led down the row of buildings while Schmidt talked about the failures of Hitler’s policies. He still couldn’t smell anything worthwhile but he could hear heartbeats in the buildings. A lot of them. “What do they do in there?”

“Why, they live in there,” answered the Skull. “For a given value of living.”

“Who are they? How many are there?”

“I think the population right now is near ten thousand. Most are political prisoners: Polish women, Russian Jewish women, enemies of the German state from all over Europe. We came here on a good day. The factories are closed. Usually they’re at the Siemens & Halske plant, making aircraft engines.”

Scott realized that they had to be being employed as slave labor. “Ten … thousand?”

The Red Skull sounded like he was talking about this year’s radish crop. “The number goes up and down, depending.”

The horror that he had subconsciously felt as they approached blossomed on his face. It looked like an orderly camp, but it was a prison, a prison for people who hadn’t done anything. “Why did you bring me here?” Scott demanded.

“The purpose of our visit is educational on several different levels. I have a lesson for you to take out of all of this, which I am sure you will get around to eventually, and you are going to help me out with a small problem.”

“Sure, I am.” Scott growled sarcastically and Schmidt laughed.

“I think you will, once we reach our destination. And here we are.” One of the last of the hastily-constructed building is their destination; the brown paper flaps in a spring breeze. A woman, dressed in dull gray clothing, came out of the door. At the sight of the officers, she looked hardened and terrified at the same time.

Schmidt gave her an order, calling her kapo, which Scott has learned was equivalent to foreman or production leader. He thought it could mean a little more than that after she went inside and screamed instructions.

Scott was still reeling from the … magnitude of what he was seeing. It was not quite real to him yet, but his senses were telling him that this might the worst place on earth.

“Do you hear her, Sturmscharführer? That woman is a prisoner here just like all the rest, but, at our command, she treats her charges like they’re garbage. Ahh, she has quite a pair of lungs.”

Scott looked up at Schmidt. He wanted to punch the Red Skull right in the face, but he couldn’t. He was surrounded by soldiers, and he wasn’t stupid enough to believe that being an alpha makes him indestructible.

“It’s a universal constant when it comes to humanity. Power is the only thing that really changes their world. Everything else — faith, love, duty — are excuses the weak give themselves for not having power. In the end, a human will do anything to anyone to get power, because they understand that everyone else is the same. What makes Hydra superior to all other organizations is we force ourselves to confront that truth.”

“But it’s not true.” Scott’s voice quavered, but it was not because he lacked conviction. He was afraid, suddenly, of this place. “People have been trying to tell me that since I got bit, that the only thing that matters is power. I’ve won every time, because I refused to act that way.”

“Really, Herr McCall? If you’ve won every time, why are you here, across the world from your home, enslaved and alone? It is because I wield the power I possess more effectively than you do. That’s something you can’t deny. If you wish to be free of me and of people like me, you must embrace your own power. Like the kapo did.” The Red Skull walked up the steps of the building and opened the door. “Come in and see.”

The room was dark; the beds cramped together, stacked three high. The smell of unwashed bodies and human offal was even stronger if that was possible. And the fear — it clogged his throat. How could anyone stand to be in this place?

Let alone children.

Scott couldn’t make himself move past the door. The children inside this building were filthy; hair matted and eyes vacant. They were starving and in rags. The woman had forced them to stand in a line.

“Why?” It was all he could say.

“Oh?” Schmidt seemed a bit confused. “They’re Gypsies. Or I supposed you should call them Romani. It’s only good manners to know the precise history of the things you are destroying.”

“They’re children!”

“I’m quite sure no one cares about that. But here is where you can help me. And help some of them.”

Scott wanted to spit and shout that he’d have nothing to do with this, but Schmidt hooked him triumphantly when he spoke that last sentence. It was a trap — he knew it was a trap — but it had bait that he couldn’t resist — the Skull knew that as well. “How?”

“It seems that this particular camp is being plagued by … animal attacks. Sound familiar?” Schmidt walks down the line of children. “I suspect that some animals are trying to mount a rescue. If you follow my meaning?”

Scott swallowed; there was only one thing it could be. He walked down the line of the children. It was there. At least two of these Romani children were werewolves — most likely born wolves. And the animal attacks were an attempt to rescue them. Scott walked to the end of the line, keeping his face as neutral as he possibly could in the middle of this horror. At the end, he turned and walked back outside.

There was no relief. This place was monstrous. He heard the Red Skull come out of the barracks. “You were right.”

“Excellent. So, you understand what the next step will be.”

Scott turned to him. He had his fists clenched in a deep, profound rage. To control himself, he focused on what the Nazi could possibly mean. “You want me to take control of the pack.”

“And that chemistry teacher thought you were slow.”

“No. I won’t do it.”

“I think you will.” Schmidt attempted to sound reasonable, but he was gloating. “These animal attacks need to stop. They’re hurting the war effort. If you take control of the pack, they’ll stop.”

“Why do you care about the war effort?”

The Red Skull smirked. “It will buy me the room to maneuver that I need to finish my own plans. And you’ll do it because it’ll save at least a single child inside that building. They’ll be free to join your pack as well, won’t they?”

“And if I don’t?”

His captor pointed over at a smaller group of buildings on the edge of the camp. “See that building over there?”

Scott turned. There were dark brick buildings, kept away from the rest. “What is it?”

“Those are the gas chambers.” Schmidt said from behind him.

It was at moments like these that Scott missed Stiles the most. Stiles was simply quicker at getting things. Scott nearly blurted out an idiotic question, something like what’s a gas chamber? Then he chugged his way around to the answer. That was source of the pervasive chemical smell he had received before, the scent and the feel of things that had unsettled him so. There was pain and misery in Hirschechtheit: violence, oppression, dehumanization, and corruption. But above all there was death. Death refined into mass productions.

Scott lost control. The victims of this camp may have cowered in their dingy barracks; the guards might have trembled and fled; but he roared none-the-less. It took them five minutes to bring him down

******

APRIL 16, 1944

Stiles would never tell anyone, but when he stepped out of the cab with the others and onto a foggy street, it was the first time in his life he truly felt like a grown-up. His friends in Beacon Hills were his childhood friends; he associated them with high school and before. When they did things together, when the pack was doing things together, it was a part of being a teenager. This was different.

“What is this place?” Stiles said to his group of companions. Five days ago they had gotten new orders, and before he could process it the S.S.R. was suddenly in London. Stiles’ mind was still whirling with the speed with which they relocated. Or maybe his mind was still whirling with the realization that he was somewhere he had always dreamed of going but never truly believed he would reach.

“It’s called a pub, young man, or public house.” James Falsworth said briskly. “Captain Rogers assured me that they had them in the United States. Thanks for that is due to the great number of Irishmen you have over there, a handicap which your countrymen seem to have quietly overcome.”

Corporal Dugan glanced over at both Stiles and Falsworth. “He’s from California.”

Stiles nodded. “Uhm. We don’t have pubs out in California.”

“Good God. Really? Captain Rogers assured me that you did have them.”

Stiles wasn’t sure if the Englishman was pulling his leg or not. “I’m sorry, sir, but Captain Rogers is from Brooklyn.”

“You don’t need to call me sir, my fine fellow. Though I am a major in His Majesty’s army, our little force here is egalitarian in nature, we are presently on R&R, and you are a guest in my country, so James would be fine.” He pulled open a door and ushered them into the place.

Gabe Jones slapped Stiles on the back. “Or you could call him Your Lordship.”

“Gabriel!” Falsworth sounded outraged. “I asked very politely that my title not be brought up.”

There was some inside joke, which Stiles didn’t know, but it set everyone was laughing. The Howling Commandos had decided to take advantage of their liberty and go drinking. Falsworth had recommended a certain place he knew and could speak highly of. When they had noted that Howard Stark was away seeing to personal business, they had kindly — and without any pretension of pity — invited Stiles along. Stiles had encountered all of them during their time together, but he hadn’t spent time with them socially.

Of all the Commandos, Stiles gravitated towards Private Jones, and Stiles carefully admitted to himself that there was a specific reason he did. Gabe, as he insisted people call him, could have been Boyd’s older brother. He was solid, intelligent, and emotionally astute. They were a boisterous, extroverted bunch and Stiles, strangely enough, tended to shrink back.

“James there is actually the Baron Falsworth,” Gabe whispered in conspiratorial tones as the Englishman went to get the first round. “But even though he’s an officer and nobility, he insists we treat him as one of the boys. He also owns this place.”

“For some reason, he wants to stick with us mutts,” Morita snickered. “He could get a cushy job here in England, but for some crazy reason, he likes slogging it through the mud with grunts.”

Lord Falsworth caught the tail end of it as he returned with a tray of glasses. “Those cushy jobs are terribly dull. I’d prefer a bit of the old rumble-tumble with these chaps, any day of the week.”

“To us!” Dugan offered a toast after snagging a glass, but everyone knew it was an excuse to get to the beer.

Everyone drank to it, including, Stiles. He felt a little dwarfed right now. He felt like a kid brother that had tagged along on an excursion with the real men. But no one in the Commandos had treated him like that.

“So, tell us about life in California!”

Morita grimaced in shock and disbelief. “I told you I was from Fresno!”

“Is that in California? I daresay I wouldn’t know. So, young Master Stilinski, do you know Jim’s family?”

Stiles stuttered. “No. No, I’ve never been to Fresno.”

“Why not?”

“It’s like 300 miles from my home.”

Somehow, Captain Rogers had managed to walk up behind them with his friend James Barnes while they were talking and no one had noticed. “You can fit two Englands in California, Falsworth.” He pulled up a chair and sat down. “I’ve been in Europe for a while now, and it’s really weird. I’ve met people talking about a four-hundred-year-old church, and that seems ancient to me, but it’s not a big deal to them. But most Europeans can’t conceive of how big the United States is.”

The conversation turned to geographical distances, with the Europeans in mock awe of the size of the United States and the Americans acting all wow-gee-shucks about the age of European landmarks. Stiles burst out laughing several times and, before he knew it, had finished half of the large beer that had been set in front of him. Back in high school, he would have been excited to drink something like this. The few times he had done so had been with Scott. At that memory, his excitement died.

Gabe turned to him without preamble. Maybe the man sensed the change in his mood. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, Stilinski —”

“Call me Stiles. All my friends call me Stiles.”

“Okay, Stiles. What’ve you been doing with Mr. Stark?”

Fournier said something in French about Howard that Stiles didn’t understand, but Gabe laughed. “Yes, aside from being a guinea pig.”

“Well … uh … I’m just kind of bunked with him. I guess it was the only place to put me.”

Dum-Dum Dugan raised both hands to signify that it figures. “So you aren’t a gee-whiz kid like Stark?”

Stiles seemed at a loss. “Not … really?”

Steve spoke up. “Stiles has a different area of specialty.” He looked across the table, catching Stiles’ gaze. “Tell ‘em what you want to tell them. I trust them.”

Six pairs of eyes turned to him expectantly, and Stiles was suddenly sweating. He didn’t want to tell them. He didn’t want to betray the secret of the pack, or the secrets of the supernatural world that he always felt honored to hold. But he didn’t want the Commandos to think that he didn’t trust them, especially if they were going to fight with them. He also didn’t want them to think they were crazy.

“Uhm … well … my best friend was kidnapped by the Red Skull.”

Bucky raised an eyebrow and nudged his friend. “He’s the reason you went to California?”

Cap took a sip of his water; he didn’t have any beer. “Yeah, Peggy and I didn’t figure it out until it was too late. But Stiles here is going to help us get him back.”

Stiles actually blushed at Captain America’s compliment. He had that earnest way of speaking that was like Scott’s, only ten times more impressive. He nodded.

“If you don’t mind me askin’,” Dum-Dum queried. “Why would that freak kraut want your friend so much that he’d go to California?”

Stiles fidgeted with his hands, wringing them together. Even though Cap had said it was okay, even though it might be important, this wasn’t his secret to tell. “Well …”

Peggy Carter’s voice broke through his hesitation. “Because he’s a werewolf.” She appeared at the table, looking simply stunning in a black dress, as if she was some high-class dame going to the opera. “And a pretty important one.”

There were no chuckles, as Stiles had expected. There were looks of disbelief from many of them, but no one openly refused Peggy’s statement. She had a box tucked under one arm and looked as calm as if she had just told them the latest Red Sox scores.

James Falsworth, however, was not one of the ones who disbelief. “A werewolf? That’s a pity. He’s a good chap, though?”

“Yes,” Stiles replied, a little stunned. “Yes, he is.”

“Well, that’s good. Nasty buggers, or so I’ve been told. You’re our expert on the occult, then?”

“Yes, and he’s very good.” Peggy interrupted again. “Would one of you gentlemen get me a seat?”

Stiles finally pushed himself forward. “Agent Carter’s right, and I’m here because I think that the person you all want to defeat wants to use my friend to give Hydra an army of werewolves. No one here wants that.” Cap shifted the entire thing to attacking Hydra, probably thinking it would be easier for the men to accept.

Jim Morita picked up his beer. “Okay. It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Everyone agreed to that.

Steve pointed to the box Peggy had. “What’s that?”

“Oh, I’m almost forgot. This arrived for you today.” She handed the package to Stiles.

Stiles had always been the person to tear his gifts open on Christmas Day. He wasn’t a totally grown adult yet. Inside the box was a piece of wood, maybe two feet long, carefully sanded, but not varnished. He picked it up and felt it tingle in his grasp. He knew what it was.

“Is that …” Bucky’s eyes grew a little bigger, though he tried to sound cool. “Is that a magic wand?”

“Oh, no!” Stiles ran his hand over the shaped wood of the Nemeton. “It’s more like a dowsing rod. Now I can help you find Hydra.” Now I can be useful, he said to himself.

Chapter Text

APRIL 23, 1944

A storm was coming in off the ocean. The dying sun sank into the clouds, turning the sky above it orange, but the sky below it was dark bluish purple, like an unhealed bruise. Allison watched it in the rear-view mirror.

No one spoke for most of the trip back from San Francisco. Allison seethed with too much anger to be polite, and Melissa seemed too drained and melancholy for small talk. Allison had shown up at the scheduled time, only to find that Rickett had released Melissa forty-five minutes earlier. He had done it in the shabbiest way possible, dumping Scott’s mother on the sidewalk in front of the branch office in the same clothes in which she had been arrested, with no identification nor any money. He had not bothered to explain to Melissa what was going on, telling her only that she was released from custody and free to go.

So Scott’s mother had stood there in a city far from home with no support for almost an hour. Allison had almost missed her sitting on a bench at a bus stop. If Melissa had decided to go somewhere else, they could have missed each other entirely.

Allison couldn’t believe Rickett’s cheap shot; it was beyond petty. If he was so angry about the Argent family twisting his arm and endangering his career, there were things he could have done to pay them back. But he hadn’t, because he knew how influential they were. Instead, the coward had taken it out on a woman that was emotionally traumatized and without the means to fight back.

Allison kept one eye on the speedometer, keeping the needle fixed on the highway’s limit. It was a game she had started playing with herself when driving, especially when she was emotional. Once the Sheriff had caught her doing seventy-five in a twenty-five mile per hour construction zone because she let her emotions carry her away. Micromanaging the Ford’s speed would help her temper cool.

The thunderstorm was going to chase the car all the way from the coast. Lightning, symbol of the gods’ anger, in her rear-view mirror. For some reason, it made the huntress feel better.

Finally, Allison felt calm enough to talk. Glancing to her right, she saw Melissa staring out the window at the passing terrain, her hands folded in her lap. She had barely moved the entire trip.

“Mrs. McCall, are you okay?”

Melissa didn’t answer immediately, so Allison kept driving. From the corner of her eye, she saw the other woman’s shoulders shake, briefly. Then she rubbed at her eyes and turned to talk to Allison.

“Honestly? I don’t know.”

Allison clenched her teeth. She wasn’t very good at comforting people. “I want to say that I’m sorry it took so long for us get you out of there.”

“You don’t have to apologize.” Melissa’s voice sounded like she was trying to be complimentary, but it came off as tired. She had probably tried to be reasonable and polite during her entire captivity and barely had the patience for it anymore.

“No, I feel I do. We should have moved quicker once we figured out what was happening.”

The other woman did not reply. She seemed subdued, frazzled, and distant. It was understandable, she’d been held without charges, without representation, and without news from the outside for just over a month. Allison forced herself to remain quiet. If Melissa didn’t want to talk, she wasn’t going to force her.

Five minutes later, Mrs. McCall broke the silence on her own volition. “Any news?”

“About Scott?”

Melissa nodded her head slowly.

“I’m afraid there isn’t.” Allison took a deep breath; there was no way to convincingly lie to Scott’s mother. “Stiles promised to let us know the minute the S.S.R. found anything out. He’s written two letters so far, but it’s only been … a month.” She finished lamely.

Taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Melissa crossed herself in prayer. Afterward, the silence lasted for about three more minutes. Mrs. McCall had to gather herself together to speak. “What about Isaac?”

The Argent Matriarch closed her eyes, briefly, for strength. She couldn’t keep them closed long as she was driving, and a car accident was the last thing anyone needed. Dispensing the truth was part of the job. Part of the responsibility. Even when she was hurting, too. “He’s still in custody.”

“Why?”

“My father’s still in San Francisco, he’s going to visit him.”

“Why didn’t your father come with you? Why wasn’t Isaac released at the same time?”

“Isaac …” Allison pushed on. “Isaac wasn’t being held in the same place you were.”

Melissa turned to face Allison full on. She didn’t ask the question. She didn’t need to.

“He’s being held on Alcatraz.”

Melissa burst out laughing. With a force of will, she stopped herself. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She then burst out laughing again. It was a dry, brittle laughter and the sound of despair. Allison gripped the steering wheel hard.

“Isaac is on Alcatraz. He’s in a maximum security prison with murderers and kidnappers and gangsters. Anyone would look at him and say he looks like a beautiful angel come down to earth, but they put him there none-the-less. Can you see him in stripes?” Melissa wiped at her eyes, which were filled with tears.

“Isaac can take care of himself. I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Oh, I know.” Mrs. McCall sounded a little hysterical. “He’s a big, bad werewolf. It was last month he went out to the preserve and picked a bunch of wildflowers for a bouquet for my birthday. I asked him why he didn’t just buy one at the florist. He told me that he could have bought a small one, but he spent an entire afternoon finding early spring flowers and picking them by hand so he could give me a really big bouquet. He’s just a boy. Like my son. My Scott. My Scott’s on the other side of the world in the middle of a war, kidnapped by Nazis. I suppose he can take care of himself, too, right? I mean, it’s not like he didn’t cry over the kitten that Deaton and he had to put to sleep in January.”

Allison listened to Melissa growing more and more upset. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make it sound like I wasn’t worried about them. I am worried about them. And I know you … you’re Scott’s mother, and you’re like Isaac’s mother, and you’re supposed to worry about them. But Scott is important to me and Isaac … is important to me, too. They’re going to be okay. We’ll do our best to help them be okay.”

“No, I don’t think they will be.” Melissa had never sounded so defeated. “Because even if they get out of the trouble they’re in, what are they going to come back to?”

“They’ll come home.”

Melissa looked sad at the tone of confidence in Allison’s voice. “They won’t have a home. I’m going to lose the house.”

Allison sucked in her breath. “It’s only been a month.”

“I’m a divorced Catholic Mexican with a son under suspicion of being a Nazi spy. No one announced it, but I was fired by the end of the next working day after I was arrested. Beacon Hills Memorial is not going to give me my job back. The best job I can hope to get is scrubbing toilets in some factory. That’s not enough.” She shook her head. “I’m done in Beacon Hills. Have you gone by the house?”

Allison paled. “Not after the first few days to get a few things for you and Isaac.”

“If I haven’t been robbed, at least every single window has been broken.” She sighed. “I’ll have to call my mother. I don’t want to call my mother. She hasn’t talked to me since the divorce.”

“Where does your mother live?”

“Ciudad Juarez.”

“You’d move there?”

“What choice do I have?” Melissa sounded resigned. “Rafael isn’t going to be able to help. Not only was he transferred to Miami, he was forbidden from coming out here when he heard about Scott and me.”

“I don’t know if you’ve been fired. No one checked. I don’t know if someone’s done something to your house. But Stiles is going to help get Scott back, and Isaac will be free in a few days.” Allison hoped. “They’re going to need you.”

“Allison.” Melissa’s voice was hard. “They’re going to need a place to sleep. They’re going to need food to eat. They’re going to need to go to school and to get jobs. Unless the people in Beacon Hills have suddenly become better in a month, I’m not going to be able to give them that there.”

“But …”

“But nothing. You don’t understand. You can’t understand. You’re … your family comes from old money. You can have multiple homes and drive multiple cars. You can call congressmen and apply pressure to the FBI. I think you’ve been living in the supernatural world for so long, you’ve forgotten what the mundane world is like. There’s a difference between the powerful and powerless, and it has nothing to do with the full moon.”

Melissa was crying once more.

“My boys. They’re doomed, you know? There’s nothing out here in the world for them. I had hopes that Scott might become an animal doctor like Alan, but that’s not going to happen now. I’ll be happy if the military doesn’t hang him! And Isaac … “She took a deep shuddering breath. “Sometimes, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better if that night in the woods …”

Allison looked over at her sharply. She couldn’t believe that Melissa may have been about to say what she thought Melissa had been about to say.

“You shouldn’t say that. You shouldn’t think that. I know you’re right about us. Maybe my family has been focused so much on the supernatural side of things, that we’ve forgotten what normal life requires. But we have money, and we have influence, and we’re going to use it to help you out. You’re not going to lose the house, and if you’ve lost your job, we’ll help you find another one.”

“You don’t have to do that. I … I’m just upset.” Of course she was upset. She was arrested for espionage, her sons imprisoned or kidnapped, and her face plastered in the newspapers. “You don’t have to do that.”

“You’re wrong. I do. We do.” Allison said firmly in a tone that brooked no dispute. “That is our Code. This — all of this! — suffering is being endured by people who lack the ability to do something about it. Scott and Isaac are werewolves, but what’s being done to them isn’t something claws or fangs or healing can fix. They’re helpless to protect themselves. What was done to you is something that you don’t have the resources to stop. You’re helpless to protect yourself. And the Argent family protects those who cannot protect themselves. If that means that this time we use money and influence rather than weapons, that’s what we’ll do.”

She reached out, steering with one hand, and took Melissa’s hand. “I promise you. You’ll get your life back. And so will your sons.”

By the time they got back to Beacon Hills, she almost believed it.

******

MAY 4, 1944

One of the unique things about the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was that inmates could have visitors only with the express permission of the warden. Unlike any other prison in the United States, there were no standard visiting hours on the island, and this included lawyers and family members. Only the governor or the warden’s superiors in the Bureau of Prisons could twist the warden’s arm to make him give permission to others, and none of them were not particularly inclined to do so. This gave the prison’s administration ample time to arrange matters to their liking and for their protection during the rare times they did allow visitors.

When visitors finally did get permission, they were shown to a cramped and uncomfortable location, which contained only a hard wooden chair and a desk, in front of a glass window maybe two feet on the side. One guard stood behind the prisoner and one guard stood behind the visitor. Discussion of current events was forbidden. Discussion of events inside the prison was also forbidden.

Chris Argent had to find a way to get around these particular restrictions, because current events and the conditions within the prison were the only things he really needed to talk to Isaac Lahey about. So he found himself in the Warden’s Office, making his pitch.

“Warden, the boy hasn’t been convicted of anything yet.”

“No, but he will be.”

Chris didn’t like how that sounded. “I’ve heard something went wrong at the prison. I’d like to know what it was.”

The warden pushed up his glasses. “He badly hurt four other inmates. According to the guards, he savagely beat them during work hours. He claimed it was self-defense, but he didn’t have a mark on him.”

The hunter frowned. “I trained him personally in combat. He doesn’t have to let someone hit him to qualify as self-defense.”

“I don’t allow any type of physical violence in my prison. I checked the prisoners out personally. This was no scuffle as sometimes happens between inmates. This was directed aggression.” The warden clucked his tongue. “I can’t even begin to consider a plea of self-defense until I figure out what truly happened in that room.”

“Isaac won’t say?”

“No. He refuses to speak to anyone about it.”

Mr. Argent looked at the many pictures above the warden’s desk. “I hope you’ll consider my next request. If I could speak with Isaac alone, I think I can get him to talk to you.”

“No inmate has unsupervised meetings on Alcatraz.”

“He’s not an inmate; as I said before, he’s not been convicted or even brought to trial. He’s not even an adult. He’s the youngest prisoner you’ve ever had here.”

The warden, Chris could tell, was a relatively decent man. “I told the FBI that he was too young for this place, but they were concerned about the possibilities that German espionage agents could free him.”

“They were concerned …” Chris growled. “… with getting pictures of Isaac being shipped off to the federal pen in the newspapers.”

They both fell into silence as the warden thought his request over. “It’s an unusual circumstance, and I’ll allow it under two conditions. You can meet him in the garden of my home as long as he stands within visual range of guards, and if he doesn’t consent to tell me what happened afterward, I’ll have him stay in D-Block until his trial.”

When dealing with the authorities, even Argents had to compromise once in a while. Chris Argent stood in the rather pedestrian garden outside the warden’s house. It was an overcast day, and even he could smell the sea and the dead fish and the gulls. He couldn’t imagine how overwhelming it would be for a werewolf.

Isaac wasn’t looking at him, but rather staring at the ground, dressed in his ill-fitting prison clothes. He had his hands clenched and plastered to his side. He looked pale, as if he hadn’t seen the sun for a long time. The most disturbing signs was a certain tightness around the eyes and mouth that Chris had seen before. This was a werewolf under stress; a werewolf that if he lost control was ready to kill anything that got in its way.

“Are we alone?” Mr. Argent asked.

Isaac nodded after a moment spent listening. While there were guards watching the pair of them, they weren’t close enough to overhear. They might not even notice should Isaac’s control slip a little bit.

“Tell me what happened.”

The werewolf winced and his shoulders dropped. Chris immediately recognized his mistake. He’d addressed Isaac as Isaac’s father would have spoken to him. This whole situation must have been agonizing to the boy, especially with his claustrophobia and his history of violent abuse.

He tried a different track. “We’re doing our best to get you out of here, Isaac. I can’t say when that will be. We’re …”

“The F.B.I.” Isaac growled.

“Yes. Rickett’s betting he can save his career on getting you convicted. He sent you here against standard policy in order to intimidate you into confessing and make it look to the public that you’re already guilty. Beating up your fellow inmates doesn’t help things.”

“So it’s my fault!”

“I didn’t say that.” Chris tried to put one hand on Isaac’s shoulder to reassure him, but the boy jerked away. “I don’t know whose fault it is, mostly because you haven’t told me what happened yet. And I’m going to need to know, because what happened is making your release difficult.”

“It’s Rickett’s fault.” Isaac toed the ground. “It’s his fault. He meant to do this.”

“How did he cause the fight?”

“You don’t know what it is like in here. You have no control over where you go, or when you eat, or what you do. You can play instruments in the band, you can go to church, you can read, or you work. That’s all, and it’s not enough. So, talking and gossiping with the other prisoners is … well, it’s very important.”

Argent hadn’t been in jail, but he had heard about it. Agents who worked for the family had suffered imprisonment before and been rewarded for their loyalty and their silence.

“Okay.”

“New person comes in, the whole block knows who they are before the door shuts on their cell. I’ve been in here for twenty-seven days, but they knew everything they needed to know the day I got here.”

The bitterness in Isaac’s voice was immense, and Chris was suddenly afraid. “You know it was Rickett?”

“Yes.” Isaac growled louder and his eyes flashed.

“Tell me. I’ll listen.” Argent was getting anxious. Isaac was a good kid, but he was wound tight. There was a reason that normal jails simply weren’t acceptable for criminal lycanthropes.

“You see, people don’t like sissies in here.” Isaac spat out the words. “And, apparently, neither did my dad, so the grapevine tells everyone that my dad was trying to beat the queerness out of me, so I had Scott murder him and became his lover and spied for the Nazis. It made me real popular, I’ll tell you. The only problem it’s exactly the story that Rickett promised to use when he tried to intimidate me.”

Argent kept his face neutral. Isaac had more control than he thought.

“So, I’m working in the laundry, because at least work makes the days go faster than staring at the walls, and these four guys come up. And at first, I think well, they’re just like all the other assholes in this place, wanting a go at the Nazi fruit.”

Isaac took a deep breath.

“But that’s not what they wanted.”

Argent had experienced some of the worst aspects of mankind in his business: criminals, sadists, and monsters. He had accepted working with them because it was a small price to pay to stop greater monsters. But it never sat well with him. He already understood what Isaac was going to say to him, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. That was where his experience ended. He didn’t know what to say to get Isaac to understand that what he did was fine, yet convince him that he had to tell the warden about it.

“So they came at me, and they … well you can imagine what they said. And they weren’t going to stop. They were going to …” Isaac didn’t swallow and suddenly he didn’t look broken. He looked … predatory. Argent had seen that look many times before. “I tried to call out for the guards. They weren’t far away, but they came in, saw what was happening, and then they walked away. They walked away! Because Rickett and Fordham told them I was an enemy spy and a pervert. The guards were going to let it happen, so I did what I had to.”

The anger of the wolf and the fear of helplessness had distilled into savagery.

“I broke them.”

“I’m not going to say that you didn’t do the right thing. You have a right to defend yourself.” Argent made his voice convey the seriousness of what he was trying to say. “But you need to tell the Warden a version of the truth.”

“A version? How?”

“I’ve told him that I’ve trained you personally in how to fight. I know I haven’t, and that was an oversight, which Allison and I will correct, but for right now you need to tell the warden everything and you need to make him believe it.”

Isaac looked mutinous.

“It’s going to be awkward, but if they bring charges against you, we may not be able to get you out of here. Do it, Isaac. Tell them all the truth you can.”

“And then what?”

Mr. Argent cocked his head.

“If I get out of there, then what? Do I go home and finish senior year? Did you forget where the F.B.I. is telling everyone I’m an enemy pervert?”

“Yes. You have the pack. You have Allison.”

“I thought you didn’t like me dating Allison?”

“I’m a father; I wouldn’t like anyone dating her, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about you. Melissa cares about you. Scott —”

Isaac growled once again. “You know that he’s in the same boat.”

“I know.”

“What’s he going to do when he come back? If he comes back …” The claws inched their way out of Isaac’s hands. “None of us asked for this — well, Jackson did, but he’s an asshole.”

Argent grabbed Isaac by the wrist. “Calm. Down. We can’t solve every problem all at once. So we solve one problem at a time. We get you out of here, we get you home, and then we figure out the rest. The only thing I need you to do right now is talk to the warden. Can you do that?”

Isaac didn’t answer.

“Isaac!”

“I can. Okay.” He looked up. “I need to get out of here. I can’t … I don’t know what I’m going to do if they put me in the Hole.”

“Let me see what I can do.” Argent gestured to the guard. “Be good. Be safe.”

Chris Argent left Alcatraz. He had planned to go back to Beacon Hills for a few days, but not anymore. This was turning into a crisis.

Chapter Text

MAY 16, 1944

Lydia pranced down the stairs tucking an umbrella under one arm before smoothing the skirt of her Red Cross uniform with the other. She had taken special care with it, even though it wasn’t nearly as fashionable as her other clothes and was made of far cheaper fabric. To Lydia, it meant something anyway.

Natalie was waiting at the base of the stairs for her, the very picture of a proper woman. She was wearing pearls even though Lydia knew that the only thing she was going to do tonight was listen to the radio and drink just enough wine to tolerate her husband. “Going somewhere?”

She stopped the tilted her head to the side. It was one of those questions that was not a question. It was an opening bid in a fight. Well, thought Lydia, it took her long enough. “Yes. The Sock Hop.”

“Young lady, why must you always be so impertinent?”

“Yes, because you ask questions to which you already know the answer. I’m in uniform, Mother; where do you think I’m going? Jackson and Malia are going to pick me up any minute now.”

“Before you go, I think you have the time to talk to me.” Natalie said firmly. “We should discuss … this.”

“This? I thought you would be proud of me doing my civic and patriotic duty by volunteering. I’m helping to win the war.”

“I am proud of you. I am simply wondering if there is … something else you could do.”

Lydia huffed and started to walk around Natalie, but her mother slid in front of her, blocking her way to the door. “We are going to talk about this.”

Ever since she was young, Lydia had managed to consistently wrap her mother and father around her finger. She was good at it. It wasn’t until freshman year, however, that she had realized that the primary reason she could get away with it was the strains in their marriage. In this house, Lydia was a battlefield; she was a prize in their struggles. From then on, she had used that consciously to get what she wanted. “So … talk.”

“You got your father to sign the permission forms.”

“I did.”

“He didn’t know what he was signing, Lydia.”

“If he didn’t, that doesn’t speak very highly of his powers of perception, now does it?”

Natalie’s frown grew. “We were talking —”

Lydia fluttered her eyelashes in feigned shock. “You and father were talking? That’s never a good sign.”

“We were talking and we thought we would ask you to get yourself reassigned somewhere else than Oak Creek.”

They were nothing if not predictable. Still, Lydia managed to keep the contempt out of her voice. “Why would I do that?”

Her mother opened her mouth and closed it. “We just think it could be dangerous …”

“Dangerous?” Lydia rolled her eyes. “Have you been to Oak Creek? No, of course you haven’t. You really think that I am in terrible danger from the grocers and the farmers and the shop girls and the homemakers that they’ve rounded up and put behind barbed wire? What do you think those people are going to do, Mother, bite me?”

“Lydia! Your sarcasm is unappreciated!”

“This conversation is unappreciated! Those people have been forced to leave their homes for no good reason whatsoever. They’re crowded together in tight quarters, far away from anything they’ve known, with only a few comforts they managed to stuff into suitcases. It’s the least I can do to help keep them healthy — I won’t say happy because they can’t be — until they’re allowed to go home.”

Natalie crossed your arms. “If you dislike me caring so much about you, then maybe —”

“This isn’t about me!” Lydia snapped. “You don’t care that I might get hurt, because you know I can take care of myself. This is about your friends. You’re worried about what the people you have dinner with will think about Natalie Martin’s only daughter bathing old sick Japs!”

“It is a concern, but not for the reason you think. It is about you; you’re getting to the age where young ladies should start thinking about marriage. We know you can get yourself a respectable husband: you’re pretty, you’re talented, and you’re sharp. But if you give yourself a bad reputation by hanging with … people of low reputation, you can hurt your chances.”

Lydia’s stare was icy. “And that’s all I’m good for, isn’t it? That’s all you really expect out of me: the type of husband I will attract. Tell me, mother, how did that work out for you?”

Natalie slapped her. Lydia took a step back, but the look of blazing anger on her mother’s face disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared.

“It’s because of what I went through that I am even bringing this up! Do you think that your father and I met by chance? It was all arranged by both sets of our parents to give us a match that was suitable. Do you want to marry someone who can’t take proper care of you? So you can end up cleaning and scrubbing and cooking all day?” Natalie’s anger wasn’t just directed at Lydia.

Lydia had never been slapped like that before. She was taken aback. She tried to regain her equilibrium. “Jackson …”

“You have to stop assuming that Jackson’s parents will agree to the match. You aren’t as highly thought of as you think you are. There’s all the problems with your grandmother, the problems with you and Jackson last, the … people you chose as your friends.”

“You mean Scott and Isaac!” Lydia’s anger overcome her shock. “They weren’t spies, mother; you’re smarter than that.”

“They still … come from the wrong type of people.”

“They’re my … my friends! They’re much better than the snooty women with whom you have tea once a week and read books together once a month, all the while tearing any of your companions who dares to leave the room for a moment!” Lydia shook her head. “You can’t control me. I don’t want to be like you. I want to matter!”

Natalie took a step back. Lydia hadn’t meant to be that cruel. There was no help for it now.

“I want to help these people, Mother. If people think that me aiding the dispossessed is a character flaw, then I don’t really care.”

Jackson mercifully honked his horn from outside.

“I’ve got to go to work.”

Lydia had put on her best face when she got into the car with Jackson and Malia. She didn’t want them to know about the fight with her mother. Her business was her business. In addition, she didn’t want Malia to think that her reputation as a strange, loose girl would hurt Lydia in any way, and she certainly didn’t want to discuss marriage with Jackson. Not yet.

Her investigation into Oak Creek had revealed nothing much yet, but Lydia’s instincts kept pushing her to be there. Something was going to happen; she could feel the weight of it when she thought about the camp. But even if she hadn’t felt the supernatural pressure of her gifts, she would have valued her work here. They needed assistance and not only with the sick people. Life was hard when your movements were restricted, when there were no teachers for the children and nothing for the men and women to do, but simply wait for an end to the war.

Malia was actually really, really bad with assisting the nurses and doctors. She was impatient and inexact, and a lot of her work had to be done over again. However, she was popular with the children and the younger internees because — in a way, this saddened Lydia — she simply didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. As a consequence, she spent most of her time doing things like pointing out birds and trees and flowers that the children didn’t know or bringing them arts and crafts projects. Malia couldn’t make up for the lack of teachers for the children, but she did help them stretch their legs and their minds.

Lydia spent more time with the older internees. She could handle their politeness and their simmering anger — sometimes both at the same time — as she made sure that people took their medicine and checked on people who were still recovering yet had been moved out of the infirmary.

Lydia had just finished helping a young lady with her some female issues. They barely had proper supplies. With a smile, she prepared to leave for Eichen House when something caught her eye. An older Japanese lady was playing go at one of the tables. With deliberate care, this lady would put a piece on the board. Two things drew Lydia’s attention. First, the woman was playing by herself what was a two-person game. Second, every time she put a piece down, Lydia heard it echo.

She stopped by the table and watched the woman perform several moves.

“It looks fascinating.” Lydia attempted to break the ice.

The woman looked up at her, calculating and remote. Then she lowered her eyes and said something in Japanese. Lydia had not had the time yet to learn the language, but she was damn well going to move it up on her list. This woman also spoke English perfectly well. She was being hostile.

“Have a good day.” Lydia turned to leave.

As she did so, a younger woman, looking about Lydia’s age was lounging by the door. “You must forgive Ito-san. She doesn’t like most people.”

Lydia looked over the young Japanese woman. She dressed with a sense of style and fun, even in an internment camp. “I don’t mind. I suspect she has plenty of reasons not to like Caucasians right about now.”

“If only she stopped there.” The other girl winked. “But she doesn’t like Japanese people much either.”

“It sounds like you speak from experience.”

The woman laughed merrily and stepped out of the dormitory. Lydia followed her.

“I do. She doesn’t like me very much, but I can’t blame her for that. She thinks I’m reckless.”

Lydia took in a quick breath. She wanted to know more about that older woman — she had grown to recognize when the universe was giving her a hint. “Well, are you?”

“I’m talking to you, aren’t I?”

Lydia paused. “Talking to me is hardly reckless.”

“Oh, I think it is. What’s your name?”

“Lydia.”

“Well, Lydia, I know that you aren’t here to help sick people. Oh, to be specific, you aren’t just here to sick people. I’ve been watching you for a few days, and you’re way too curious for someone who’s here to help.”

Lydia had thought she was being very discreet in her investigations. And since she hadn’t seen this woman before, she was even more surprised. “What do you think I’m here to do?”

“Don’t know. But I’m curious.”

“I can assure you I’m not here to hurt anyone.”

The Japanese woman studied Lydia as they walked across the camp. “I don’t think you are, either. And I don’t think you’re here to gloat. You’re looking for something. I know everything about this place, so maybe if you tell me what you’re looking for, I can help.”

“Help me? I don’t even know your name.”

“It’s Noshiko.”

“Well, Noshiko, I am looking for something, I just don’t know what it is yet. I know that sounds … crazy, but it’s true.”

The young woman — Noshiko — studied the lands outside the camp. “I have a good feeling about you. I’ll help you; if you help me.”

Lydia hummed. “What do you want?”

“More blankets, for one.”

“I’d love you to help you with that, because it can get cold here, but they’ve told me I can’t hand out more blankets. They’re rationed.”

“They’re hoarded. But I don’t need you to get them for me, I need you to just leave a certain door open when you get off work tonight, and I’ll do the rest.”

Lydia measured things. Leaving a door unlocked would be simple to accomplish, but she could get Noshiko in trouble. She could get in trouble, but she was here to help, and she hadn’t found anything except the mysterious go-playing woman.

“Deal.”

******

MAY 27, 1944

No matter much thought he put into it, Scott couldn’t figure out exactly where he was. Of course, he could tell that he was in a cell. That much was clear. It was much better a living arrangement than the mobile half-track. It had a real bed, a real table, real chairs, and a real bookcase. All of it was a strange mixture of Spartan and science fiction, but at least it didn’t feel like a mobile kennel.

It was still a cell though. There was only one door, and that door was constructed of a mixture of heavy oak and mountain ash. Even without that particular wood, its construction was heavy enough that it would cause him some problems to break it down. He might have been able to overcome the ash with time and concentration, but he couldn’t do both at the same time.

The window was huge; three feet tall and six feet wide. In the afternoons, the sun filled the room. However, he wasn’t getting out that way either — four-inch steel bars protected the glass. Even worse, the window looked out over a cliff that plunged maybe three hundred feet down a sheer cliff face.

He wasn’t going anywhere that way.

He had to appreciate what he had; at least, he could get up and walk around. He could read and write at the table or listen to a radio while lying on the bed. He could only understand a few words of the German announcers. His captors had also given him books in English in addition to his German language texts, so he could read for entertainment. It was a much better time than the half-track.

He didn’t spend all the time in his room. Every other day, he was able to go the showers. Other times, he just had a pitcher of water and a bucket to clean himself. Once a week, he was taken out to a small plateau, covered in snow, high in the mountains. It was cold and lonely, but it was outside. They still wanted his cooperation.

Linde was allowed to visit him for an hour each day. His beta had his own room in the facility, which Scott learned wasn’t a cell. There was always a guard just outside the room when Linde was there, so they couldn’t talk openly. Especially forbidden was any mention to Scott of where this facility actually was, but Linde could tell him this was the central headquarters of Hydra.

They would work on controlling the shift and finding the anchor. One day, Linde paused in trying to make his claws come out.

“I’m sorry,” he said in English.

“You’re doing fine. You should be fine by the time we reach your next full moon.” Of course, Schmidt had locked Linde up like an animal for his first one.

“No.” Linde said heavily. “I am sorry … I was used to make you … bite me.”

Scott looked down at the floor. “It’s the not first time I’ve been manipulated so someone could get Bitten. Did you know about it before hand?”

Linde shook his head vigorously.

“Then it’s not your fault. Don’t take responsibility for how other people use you without your permission.”

Scott could hear his beta’s heart rate increase. His claws began to poke out through his hands. Scott put his hand on Linde’s arm. Yes, the man had joined Hydra willingly, but he hadn’t treated Scott badly. “What’s the matter?”

“I was loyal, and he stabbed me.”

“Well …” Scott trailed off.

“It’s one thing to be taught that dedication to power will help shape the world, but … Schmidt would have let me bleed out.”

“No, I would have been the one to let you bleed out, Horst.”

“But you didn’t.” Horst Linde’s eyes blazed their bright yellow. “I …”

Scott squeezed Linde’s arm and looked over to the door. He didn’t need Linde to announce a shift in loyalty to him, though it had to be assumed that it would eventually happen. Scott shook his head. Linde followed his glance.

“Ja.”

“Now, we’ll work on focus.” Scott dropped his voice to a whisper. “You can hear me? Nod.”

Linde nodded in answer.

“Our hearing is so much greater than a human beings, we can talk like this without them knowing about it. I need you to stay on their good side, Horst. Can you do that?”

“Ja.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t think Schmidt or Hydra will let you be an engineer now. We’re in this together. Okay?”

Linde nodded.

“So, we’re going to continue our lesson at full volume. If there are things you need to tell me, you can always talk to me like this.”

They returned to talking as they should, teaching about anchors.

Between reading his books, practicing his German, listening to the radio, fruitlessly trying to plan an escape, and training his beta, Scott kept as busy as he could. Even so, they days passed slowly. They might have been tolerable, except for one thing.

Scott couldn’t stop thinking of the camp at Hirschechtheit.

It ate at him. He would be eating or reading or talking and he would suddenly think of the rows of dingy buildings with the paper flapping in the breeze. He’d be dreaming and he’d see the starved children. And always — that smell. It haunted him. It was in his hair, in his clothes, in his skin, even though he understood that he had washed enough that it was gone.

The morning after that last lesson with Linde, the door opened once again. Scott was startled — it was not on the schedule. Everything in this place worked with military precision. He put his book and pencil down and scooted his chair back.

Johann Schmidt entered. “Don’t get up, Sturmscharfűhrer.” Two other soldiers accompanied him.

“What do you want?”

“I haven’t seen you since we had our conflict at the concentration camp. I thought I would see how you were doing. I hope your time has been productive; mine certainly has been.”

Scott growled at him.

“Are you still smarting over the unfortunate physical confrontation that you … lost?” The Red Skull joked. “Don’t be too put out. You were outnumbered and overpowered.”

“I don’t care that I lost. I would do it again. That place was …”

“Wasteful? The product of banal little minds unable to perceive the truly important things in the world? In that, we agree.” Schmidt steepled his hands.

“Why did you take me there?”

“I told you. If I can resolve the animal attack situation there, I can keep the Fűhrer from interfering in my plans for a little longer. And if you help me with it, I can gain more soldiers for Hydra. And you can gain — betas, the term is?”

Scott glowered.

“You know what I offered you.”

Save at least some of those children. The born wolves included among Hirschechtheit Romani child prisoners. Scott clenched his fist, but he didn’t deploy his claws. He didn’t want to give the Nazi superman the satisfaction of seeing him provoked into losing control.

“I thought my attempt to kill you was answer enough.”

“You mustn’t lump Hydra in with the SS. They are trees that grow from the same root, but one is rotted with ignorance and stupidity, and the other is Hydra.” The Red Skull didn’t seem too upset by the death threat. “What bothered you about the camp?”

Scott was incredulous. “What bothered me about the camp? They don’t belong there. The SS have them locked up because of where they born, because of who their parents were, not because of anything they did! You’re using them as slave labor, and you are killing them.”

“I believe that the camp’s commandant only gasses the ones without value.”

The table creaked under Scott’s strength as he gripped the edge of it. His claws were out — damn the smug smile on the Red Skull’s face — and his fangs were out as well. Furrows appeared under his fingers. “Who are you to determine who has value?”

“The concentration camps weren’t my idea, but I could have made more of them happen, if I wanted them to. I can kill or not kill whomever I choose. I can go across the world and snatch up a stupid child who will create for me an army that will help Hydra conquer the world. How am I able to do this? Power. Power, my bright-eyed young werewolf. I get to say who lives or dies because I have an army of loyal men armed with the most advanced technology this world has ever seen.”

“I’ve heard this type of speech before.”

“And you’ll hear it again until you understand it.” Schmidt snapped his fingers and an aide brought in some manila folders. “You think only monsters would do what they are doing to the children in that camp, no?”

“I’ve met all sorts of monsters. What would you call the men who did that?”

A smile crossed his cruel face. “The United States government. Tell me, Scott, did you ever pay a visit to Oak Creek?”

“No.” Scott hadn’t. He’d been too busy fighting for his life from a variety of evil people.

“What is the difference between Hirschechtheit and Oak Creek?”

The alpha opened his mouth and then closed it. He thought for a moment. “I don’t know.”

“I’ve talked with our Japanese allies. Do you know how many naturalized American citizens have spied for them? None.” The Red Skull clucked his tongue. “Not a single one. So, their loyalty is being called into question not because of any action they’ve undertaken, but because of … how did you put it? They were locked up because of where they were born or because of who their parents were.”

Scott suddenly felt uncomfortable.

Schmidt opened up one of the folders and spread the pictures out in front of Scott. “Look familiar?”

The pictures were all of the place right next to his home town. Things weren’t exactly the same. The barracks were organized differently, and the walls had been painted white, but they were still row after row of buildings for the three thousand people interred at Oak Creek. Scott twitched with discomfort.

The werewolf took a deep breath and looked up at Schmidt. “I don’t see any gas chambers.”

The Nazi made a great show of leafing through the photographs. “It seems there aren’t any. Not yet.”

“There won’t be!”

“Are you sure about that?” Schmidt chuckled. “If the war started going badly, perhaps …”

Scott shifted in his seat and tried to look stubborn.

“Tell me, Sturmscharfűhrer, why do you keep the existence of werewolves a secret? Isn’t it because you are afraid you’d be hunted down and killed by a humanity which destroys that which they don’t understand? Or, perhaps, destroyed after being used as a scape goat for the inadequacies of society? If you think that what you saw at the camp was unique, if you think that something like that could never happen in Beacon Hills or Oak Creek, why not reveal your presence to the world?”

“Because … “Scott hesitated. “It’s not the same thing.”

“Mankind makes monsters of anyone when it’s convenient —Jews or Gypsies or Krauts or the infirm or homosexuals or werewolves — because, for small men, there is nothing quite like exerting power over other people.”

“And you think you’re different.” Scott tried to sneer, but it sounded weak.

“I use power for change, not to shift the blame. You could help me change the world into a better one. Better than the Fűhrer’s vision, better than your country’s vision. Better than humanity’s vision.”

Scott stood up. “They’re not the same!”

The Red Skull stood up in reply, not angry at all. “I leave this with you. Look it over, and we will talk again.” The leader of Hydra left the room.

Scott thought about tearing up the folders immediately. He shouldn’t even be considering playing Schmidt’s game. He picked up the photographs of Oak Creek. One of them had a line of Japanese children standing behind barbed wire. He stared at it until the image was burned into his brain. He put them back in the folder.

There was another folder, one that the Red Skull had not opened up. Scott’s hand hovered over it. This was a trap, but he was also curious. What did that madman think was in there that would work against him? He flipped open the folder.

There was a newspaper clipping: NAZI MOM AND HER KID SPIES. It was a picture of his mother being led away in handcuffs. There were pictures of policemen going through his home. There was a picture of Isaac being arrested. There were words and stories filled with things that didn’t make sense. The FBI had told everyone that he was a spy. That his mom and Isaac were spies. They were going to be tried. Isaac had been sent to Alcatraz.

His howl must have echoed throughout the base. He could have sworn he heard someone laughing.

Chapter Text

AUGUST 17, 1944

Stiles waited as patiently as he could with the other men — and one woman — in the second-wave squads. From the orchard, he could hear the steady, staccato retorts of gunfire and the infrequent explosions from grenades. His hands were sweaty and his throat dry and he felt like he was going to throw up. In other words, it was like sophomore year all over again.

He smiled grimly at the quite joke; at least he could still crack himself up. The truth is that, even though he was a soldier surrounded by some of the best soldiers on the planet, he felt more scared now than he had ever felt before. He had been in dangerous situations — he had run into dangerous situations — back home in Beacon Hills, but he had always had someone with him who he could trust with his life. That someone had always been Scott. Now Scott was on the other side of this war, a prisoner of the Nazis, far away and unable to help him. His father was even farther away, and the sheriff had no clue what Stiles being here, at this battle, meant. He was on his own.

He had always feared being on his own.

Now, he had to specify that he wasn’t alone. To his left, Howard Stark and Major Carter had put their heads together near the hedge, discussing tactics. He had also, in the last five months, met all the men assigned to the second-wave squads, including Corporal Strauss. Strauss went with him as Stiles could not yet read German quickly, and when trying to locate crucial war intelligence, speed was of the essence.

These squads were the clean-up crews of the S.S.R. When the division took a Hydra base, they moved fast out of habit. They had learned that the hard way; they had to get in, find intelligence, secure technology, and disable the self-destruct devices — and if they weren’t successful with disabling them -- they had to get out fast. Hydra bases always had self-destruct devices, and no one could be sure when the base’s commander would activate them.

By this, their fifth base, everyone had been well-trained in their jobs, yet Stiles still didn’t know them as well as he had known his pack back home. That means he had trouble trusting them. He knew Howard and Agent Carter most of all, and he trusted them to a certain extent, but they had their own highly important agendas to complete. They most likely wouldn’t be working anywhere near him, and they couldn’t spend time watching out for him.

So, yes, he was on his own.

He might have been more at ease with Cap and the Howling Commandos, but they were part of the first wave. Steve had this way of earning your trust that would have set Stiles more at ease, but Stiles wouldn’t be an asset to them. He’d be a liability. They took the greater risks in the thick of the battle.

Stiles checked his gun for the fifth time. It hadn’t unloaded itself after the last four times he checked it, but sometimes his pre-battle anxiety demanded its due. He secured his satchel which had his notebooks and his camera. Finally, he touched the rod of Nemeton wood. As always, he could feel its gentle tug pulling him and only him in Scott’s direction. It was soothing, because it meant that Scott was still out there, somewhere far away from this place.

“Still nervous?”

Stiles nearly jumped out of his skin. “Don’t do that!”

Major Carter laughed at him. “I would tell you to relax and that everything will be fine, but I’m not going to lie to you.”

“You could lie a little. I don’t understand why I feel this way. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this.”

She laughed again before squaring up, face-to-face. “What makes you think it goes away? It’s the same for all of us. Keep your head down when they’re shooting at you, keep your calm, and shoot back. You’ll take the south-most building.” Carter pointed it out to him. “I think there’s a good chance you’ll find something we need.”

“What makes you think that they’ll have anything worthwhile this close to the front lines?”

“Hydra believes in efficiency. They believe in redundancy. One of the reason I think they keep blowing up their bases is because they know that it won’t hurt their development efforts. We’ve crashed four bases of theirs so far, and while the amount of war material they’re producing has dropped, the quality of the weapons and the advances they are making have not.”

“You sound like you admire them.”

“No.” Major Carter smirked. “Don’t confuse honesty with admiration. Remember, Hydra values intelligence, ingenuity, and dedication, and they take those things and then twist them towards destruction and subjugation. It’s what makes Hydra the most dangerous organization in the world today.”

Stiles nodded. “Yeah. But do you really think they’ll have occult information here?”

“Maybe. Keep your eyes open for anything interesting, though, not just in your specialty. We’re relying on you, Stilinski. Schmidt respects only power, and he doesn’t miss any opportunity to get it.”

Before the conversation could continue, a sergeant appeared. “We have a go. Go, go, go!”

Stiles ran with the others toward their goals, sweltering in the mid-August. For a second, he wish he was at making the best uses of the summer before his senior year began instead of fighting in France as part of an invasion.

The campaign was a plan to free Chartres on their way to the liberation of Paris. Beyond its strategic location and its historic importance, Hydra had a facility which served as a processing center for new recruits from the occupied countries. Stiles was surprised at the numbers they processed. Hydra, as another form of Nazism, fed on the dispossessed and the discontent, but it didn’t stress German superiority to the exclusion of all else. It offered a way for many to not be a loser.

The S.S.R. hadn’t come here because this was a prime Hydra location. It probably wouldn’t have much advanced technology. It might have, however, clues to the location of the central Hydra headquarters. Phillips had become convinced that as useful as Cap’s brief glimpse of that map in Northern Italy had been, the true nerve center of their enemy lay somewhere unrecorded. Hydra had been very careful to not leave maps lying around, but the names of recruits could be used to track down unknown bases by espionage agents within Germany.

Stiles ran past a few dead bodies on the way into the southern building. The Hydra troopers he saw weren’t even heavily armored. He was glad; he saw a lot more of them then he saw of their own people.

His first battle had been a new experience for him. Unlike most of the other rookies in the unit, Stiles had seen a dead body before. He’d seen people ripped apart, garroted, throat cut, and impaled while he was still at home. But that first time, there was something about the scope of it all that bothered him. It seemed mechanical, industrial, in its elimination of life. He didn’t know the people who had died; he didn’t know the people who had killed them. He hadn’t actually shot at anyone or been shot at it, but he still shut down at the enormity of it all.

It had taken him a few weeks to feel better.

Now, he was used to it, if anyone could be set to become use to watching groups of people killing each other. With most of the resistance overcome, he ran to the brand-new two-story building. Once inside the doors, they began a rapid search of the first floor.

In the middle of a war, you can’t expect perfection. Even the best screw up. As Stiles and his squad — technically commanded by Corporal Strauss — burst down the door into a locked room, someone opened fire. Peering around the corner, Stiles was what must have been some sort of Hydra bureaucrat who had been stuffing papers into his briefcase.

“Surrender!” Stiles shouted in German. “We have you surrounded!”

Very few members of Hydra ever surrendered. Those that did were mostly the very young, recently recruited members or the older, more experienced members. The first hadn’t grown into full fanaticism yet; the older ones were far too cynical. Unfortunately, that meant neither were likely to know anything.

This was a fanatic. Armed with only a normal pistol, the man opened fire, and a bullet passed by very close to Stiles’ head. Stiles had no choice but to take out his own gun and fire back. The end didn’t take long; after all, it was five S.S.R. troopers against one Nazi bureaucrat. Stiles’ third bullet caught the trooper right above the left eye as he jumped up to fire.

Stiles paused and took a deep breath. He had just shot someone. Right in the face. It had happened so matter-of-factly, so without fanfare, that it didn’t seem real, even though the blood pooled on the floor.

He didn’t have time to worry about it now. He’d worry about it later on. He remembered his duty and started looking through the room.

From what he could piece together, the room was the site of interviews. Sturdy tables were arranged artfully throughout it, with two chairs for each table. The decor and the arrangement were obviously designed to put the possible recruit at ease, going so far as to include a rather large flower arrangement in a crystal vase.

He was about to move on when one of the flowers caught his eye. Stiles yanked a vase and dumped it out all over the table, the other men looking at him like he had gone crazy. He hadn’t. He picked up the stalk, even though he knew what it was.

“Wolf’s bane.”

The men still didn’t understand what he was talking about.

There was only one reason that Hydra would put wolf’s bane in an interview room; its presence would trigger a reaction. “They’re recruiting.”

“What?”

Stiles swore. “They’re searching for lycanthropes to recruit. I need every piece of paper in this room.”

Every member of their squad rolled up their sleeves and bent to their work. Stiles had been exaggerating — he didn’t expect them to get every single piece of paper, but the team searched through the different filing cabinets and desks. Stiles did too, but most of the time he was called over when the team found something that didn’t fit in with the rest.

They were still searching. Stiles had three stacks of files in front of him. The first stack was a list of top-level scientists recruited into Hydra from France and the Netherlands. The second stack were things that had given Stiles a gut feeling that something was wrong. The third stack is the one he tapped a finger on. His brows were drawn together in concentration.

Major Carter burst in. She looked a little harried, but she was put together. Once she saw that he had the men at work, she stalked over to his location. “Anything?”

“Four.”

“That sounds rather interesting, Private Stilinski. Four what?”

“Werewolves.” Stiles pushed the folders over there. He explained that the wolf’s bane blooms would trigger a reaction in any werewolf that got near them.

Carter frowned. She came as quickly to the same conclusion he did. “They’ve started recruiting en masse.”

“That means Scott’s buckled.” Stiles said bitterly.

“You don’t know that.” Carter said seriously.

“Why would they take an effort like this for a maybe?” Stiles pointed at the files. “Unless they were sure that they could control them.”

Carter clucked her tongue. “Take the files. But there are two possibilities. They’re looking for werewolves like this because your friend has refused to bite any of them. That’s a sign that he hasn’t given in. Or, you’re right, and Hydra’s found a way to coerce him. That doesn’t mean that hope is gone, it just means we have to do better.”

“I wish I had your optimism.”

“It’s not optimism. It’s practicality. If there are multiple scenarios, you focus on the ones that give you the best chance for effecting change. Now, show me what you have.”

Stiles swallowed down his own foreboding, and started going through the other files.

******

AUGUST 21, 1944

“Why am I the Argent Matriarch again?” Allison asked her father. They had stepped into the study for a break from the ten female relatives occupying their house.

“Because you deserve to be,” her father reassured her.

“Well, that’s a completely useless sentiment!” Allison snapped at her father in frustration. She had spent the last four hours making social talk with the ladies out there. Her face ached from the false smiles, and she had the taste of blood in her mouth from all the times she had bit the inside of her cheek.

Chris Argent raised both eyebrows.

“I’m sorry. You’re trying to be supportive and, here I am, biting your head off.”

“I understand, sweetheart. All of these women lead different households of our family. They’re all used to being obeyed and they’re all used to being the one to make the decisions. They’re going to have to get used to you.”

“Which leads back to the question — why me?”

Her father kissed her on the forehead. “The truth is, that there are two reasons. Way back in the 18th century, it was decided that the position of Matriarch shall be decided by primogeniture. Have you studied that in history class?”

“The right to rule and inherit descend through the line of the firstborn son. Or firstborn child.”

“In our family’s case, the first-born daughter. Your grandmother, my mother, was the first-born daughter of the first-born daughter of her line all the way back to the First Hunter, Marie-Jeanne Argent.”

“But Gerard?”

“Gerard was not born an Argent. He does come from a family closely aligned with ours. He took our name because that was how it was always done.”

Allison thinks back to what she knows of Gerard. “He must have hated that.”

Chris goes and pours them both a drink. “He didn’t mind. Gerard is ruthless and dedicated. He’ll do whatever he needs to do to get what he wants. He wanted to be part of the primary line of our family, and if that meant discarding his own family, so be it.”

He handed her a drink, and she sipped at it. It burned all the way down.

“As long as the first-born daughter has female descendants, the title of Matriarch stays in our line. From my mother to your mother to you.”

“But Mom …” Allison swallowed. “Mom wasn’t an Argent. How could she be matriarch?”

“When my mother died, Kate should have become the Matriarch, but she didn’t want it. She refused it; the first time in our history someone had refused the position. I always thought it was because she preferred hunting rather than the business of leading, but now I think she was doing it to please Gerard. While your mother was Matriarch — or more precisely, Matriarch Regent — she had less influence with the family because she didn’t carry our blood. That suited the old man just fine.”

“Why didn’t the other …”

“As long as you live, honey, you’re the Matriarch. Those are the rules. It’s one of the reasons that Gerard … wanted to get close to you.”

Allison’s cheeks burned with shame.

“Allison.” Her father spoke her name with gravity. “Allison, look at me. You did some bad things while he was manipulating you, but you realized what you had done and you fixed it. You saved lives instead of taking them, and, more importantly, you helped the people you hurt. Above all, that’s the second reason you should be the Matriarch. You’re strong, even as young as you are, even with as little training as I’ve given you, you’re strong enough to recognize the right thing to do. You’ve handled all the terrible things that have happened since your mother died with the same strength. Those women in there? They’re nothing compared to you.”

She downed the rest of the drink. “I’m glad one of us believes that.”

The other heads of households were in the parlor. The oldest of them commanded the most comfortable, most central seats. They sat with various postures, but none slouched. As Allison entered the room, they watched her with hooded eyes or pretended not to watch her. They had come from all over the world: two more from different parts of the United States, one from Canada, one from Siberia, one from Australia, and four from Europe. There were one household in Germany and one in Romania that couldn’t make it. Crossing enemy lines would be too much of a difficulty.

There was also an observer, a mean-eyed grandmother from the Calaveras family in Mexico. She had insisted.

Allison sat down in the chair that was her mother’s chair. It was position at the head of the room. She had made sure that everyone was comfortable, that they had drinks if they wanted them, and that they knew the names of who else was in the room with them. That was the easy part for Allison. This next part was not going to be easy; her father, as required, disappeared to another part of the house.

“Thank you all for coming. Let’s get to the serious matters. The purpose of this meeting you already know. I want to formally claim the position of Matriarch of the Argent family, with all the rights and powers that conveys. As is traditional, the leaders from all the households meet to acknowledge her. So here we are.”

“Yes.” Alois, her great aunt from France, tried her best to keep her face neutral, but the sourness creeped in at the edges. She resented being here, Allison could tell, and why shouldn’t she? Her country was being liberated as they spoke, and she was half way around the world. Allison had to remain strong in the face of hostility — they had had no choice but to come to her. “Though I suspect not many have decided to acknowledge you, yet. No?”

“I don’t see a reason why they shouldn’t.”

“Well, I hope you’ll forgive me if I say that there’s been some rumors.” Ellen was the head of the Canadian household, and if Alois was all the glory of the Old French domains, Ellen looked like a pioneer farmer. “Some of us have been discussing them.”

“Gossiping, really.” Tansy from Hot Springs supplied with the charm of a Southern lady.

“I’m sure I can answer any questions you might want to bring up.”

There was a momentarily uncomfortable silence. Alois, seeming to be a spokesperson for the group, or maybe her position as the oldest woman there gave her the authority, broke it. “You’re very young.”

“I am. I’m eighteen, which is rather young for the modern world. But I can assure you that I have been well trained by my father and mother, and I have faced some interesting challenges over which I have triumphed.”

“We’ve heard.” There was an agreeing murmur. “You didn’t mention your grandfather.”

Allison took a deep breath. “The time when my grandfather played a role in shaping me to be the leader this family needs is over. I need teachers, not manipulators.”

That was apparently the correct answer. The Siberian Argent — she had a great deal of Yakut blood in her from her appearance — leaned forward. “I’m sorry to hear about your mother.”

“She honored us all,” interrupted Mrs. Calaveras. “By doing what was right.”

“Did she?” Allison gritted her teeth. This was not the time for this argument.

Everyone else seemed at least marginally in agreement that Victoria was right for killing herself after she was Bit by Derek Hale. Allison kept herself composed.

Alois pointed a withered finger at Allison. “But that leads us to questions about your behavior, Allison.”

Allison waited patiently. She knew this was coming.

“We’ve been told that you dated a werewolf.”

“Two, actually. One I was dating, and one I’m dating right now.” Allison remarked primly. They weren’t going to make her go on the defense, even in the face of disapproving murmurs from the assembly of Argent women.

“You can see why this makes us doubt your judgment.”

“No, I really don’t. Do we follow the Code or not?” Allison demanded. “If we follow the Code, then a werewolf who doesn’t hurt humans and who follows the laws of human civilization is just as good as any other human being. Unless you mean to tell me that the Code was written only to cover our urge to slaughter creatures different than us?”

Allison had managed to get them angry with her, and she got angry with them. “Both werewolves, the one I dated and the one I am dating, have yellow eyes. They go to school, they go to work, and they go to church. They do every single thing that any other human does, and they haven’t hurt anyone. What’s the problem?”

“They’re animals.” The very British Argent spoke up.

“Animals can’t write. Animals can’t read. Animals don’t pay taxes.” Allison felt like she was scolding them. “We have to recognize that the Code as it was written by our ancestors was written at a time when most werewolves lived in rural areas far away from man. Now there are few areas that far away from man, and most werewolves live in towns like this one, among people like us.”

They were shocked. Of course they were shocked. “You’re talking about changing the Code!”

“Not at all. I’m talking about applying it in a way that makes sense in the modern world. We Hunt Those That Hunt Us — what does that mean? We started protecting humanity from werewolves because the farmer, the cobbler, the blacksmith, none of them knew enough to fight off a werewolf. And we’re still going to be doing that. But we also know what else is out there, which was not our problem, but we certainly don’t want it exposed to the public.”

Allison stood up to make her point. “Most of the werewolves in this town have fled or are planning to free. Do you know what drove them away? Not our family. Not Alpha Packs or Darachs. The Draft Board.”

There were chuckles spread throughout the room.

“I don’t think that’s funny at all. The world has changed. Werewolves can’t live out in the woods away from everyone, so we can’t pretend that they have that option. Just like them, we have to change to match the world, and that means we’re going to have to start seeing ourselves less as punishers and more as … protectors of both humans and werewolves.”

The chuckles were replaced by scoffing.

“Hear me out. What happens to a dog when it feels trapped? It comes out biting and clawing. The world isn’t go back to the time when all a werewolf had to do was run out into the forest. If we’re here to protect humans, than the next logical step is to cut the source of the problems off before it becomes a problem. Give those werewolves who want to live their lives as we do the ability to do so. We’ll save far more lives if we act before blood is spilled than we will if we act after.”

“You want to police them.”

Allison shook her head. “We already police them. I want to give them the chance to live according to our Code. They had the advantage when humans lived in little villages surrounded by deep, dark woods. Now, humanity has the advantage. They live in fear of being discovered, and a fearful person will do many terrible things. If they feel safe, then they won’t lash out. By protecting them from the parts of our world they can’t defend themselves against, we will protect everyone.”

“So, Senora,” challenged the Calaveras. “How do we do this?”

“I’m glad you asked that question. All of us have already developed political connections that allow us to do our jobs. We intensify them, and we make it clear to the packs that if they have trouble with the mundane authorities, they don’t have to fear us. They can come to us, because we don’t want any trouble either.” Allison took a breath. Now for the details. “There is also the added benefit of causing the smaller packs to be dependent on our aid …”

They talked late into the night. Some she convinced. Some were outraged. But none doubted that she had the strength of will to make the calls. She was the Matriarch.

Chapter Text

AUGUST 25, 1944

“Isaac. We’re here.” Isaac woke up as Mr. Argent pulled into the McCall’s driveway. The house looked the same as it did in March, which was the last time Isaac had seen it. He had fallen asleep as they passed through the outskirts of San Francisco. The last few days in prison had been so tense that he hadn’t gotten much sleep. Even though he knew better, he had waited for someone to tell him that he wasn’t being released, that it was all a joke. Now he was out, and the end to constant heart-clenching anxiety meant that he had relaxed in the presence of a werewolf hunter enough that he simply fell unconscious.

The world was strange when a werewolf was happy to see an Argent.

“Do you want me to come in with you?”

“No, thank you.” He thought he would try to smile to reassure Mr. Argent, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. After the man said something encouraging that Isaac completely missed, the black truck pulled out of the driveway and went off down the street, leaving him alone.

Isaac felt the sidewalk in front of the McCall House beneath his feet. It seemed real, but he didn’t trust it, clasping his small bundle of items in his trembling hands. He didn’t know why he still carried the thing. He hadn’t had the chance to bring anything with him when he had been taken away, and while in custody, he had accumulated only a few small items. Making a decision, he walked over to the trash can, ripped off the lid, and threw everything that reminded him of Alcatraz down inside it.

He turned back to the house; Isaac should go in and see if Mrs. McCall was home. But what if she wasn’t? Should he still go in? He knew where the spare house key had always been kept.

Yet Isaac didn’t move away from the trash can. Panic had blossomed in his gut, an insidious poisoned flower. He hadn’t had the time or the courage to ask Mr. Argent if Melissa still wanted him in her house. Mr. Argent probably would have laughed at Isaac, thinking the young man was worrying over nothing. Or maybe Mr. Argent would have said something that Isaac dreaded to hear: “Where else do you have to go?”

A voice in his head told Isaac that Mrs. McCall might not want him to live here anymore. After all, she now had many reasons not to want someone like him in her life.

Scott was gone, taken far away. No one could pretend it wasn’t because of the Bite. Why would she want another werewolf hanging around, a constant reminder of both her loss and the reason behind that loss?

And, of course, there was the fact that Isaac had failed to help her when she had been arrested. He had let Sheriff Stilinski take him in so he could be with her, so she wouldn’t be alone, but he had never managed to see her let alone be her support. She’d spent a month, or so he had been told, in a holding cell by herself, with no one to help her and no one to talk to.

Even if she could overlook these things, there were also practical matters. Could she even house Isaac? Could she even feed him? What was life like for her now? Yes, she’d been freed months ago, but what else had been done to her? He should have asked Mr. Argent.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the sidewalk stretch down the street. It would be simple. Isaac could just turn around, walk down the road, walk out of town and away from everything that had happened. He was a werewolf; he could get by anywhere. He could survive by himself and forget all this; he didn’t have to burden Melissa anymore.

Before he could make up his mind, the front door opened. “Isaac.” Melissa came out on stoop.

Isaac froze. He didn’t know what to do.

“What are you doing out there in the front yard? Come inside. I’ve made dinner.”

Isaac finally brought his eyes up to meet her. They were the same, exactly the same, as he remembered her looking at him the day before they were arrested. As if the five months that had passed had never happened, like he was coming home from school.

He desperately tried to form words but couldn’t until he finally grabbed onto something that he could force out. “Okay.”

She waited for him to come inside before closing the door, and Isaac was embarrassed about how awkward he was making this. Obviously, she wanted him here. There was an actual home-made dinner waiting for the both of them. Like they were a family or something.

“Wash your hands first,” she chided.

The words are spoken so much like his own mother would, he wanted to cry. Instead, he went into the bathroom and did as he was told. He noticed there were new towels on the rack. You didn’t have to rattle the toilet handle to make it stop working; that had been fixed. Things were better; that was not what he had expected.

Dinner consisted of his favorite meal: roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, and glazed carrots.

“You made this for me?”

“I did. I wanted it to be special when you came home.”

He stopped eating and stared down at his food. He sniffled.

“Oh, honey. What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

“I didn’t know …” Isaac couldn’t finish the sentence. It was too tender, too hurtful. He couldn’t open himself up to her.

Melissa got up out of her seat and came around to the other side of the table; he wasn’t looking at her directly. Finally, she placed her hands on his shoulders from behind. “I would never blame you for something other people did. You should never have been in that place. What happened to me and you was not fair. But you’re home now, and that’s all that matters.”

Isaac sniffled again.

“You’ll always have a home here, Isaac. Scott would never forgive me if I let you forget that.”

“Okay.”

He wished Scott was there to nod sincerely in that ridiculous way he had. Isaac made himself look up at her. “What about you?”

“Me? I’m fine. I have a new job. It pays better than the old one, though some of my patients scare me. I’m working at Eichen House.”

Isaac shuddered.

“It’s not so bad. I had to get some training for handling the more violent ones, but Mr. Argent put in a good word for me to the administrator. I also have to ride the bus to get to work, and you know how much I hate that.”

The younger werewolf did remember.

“Finish your dinner. I hope you’re not too tired this evening.”

“I’m not. I slept on the way back.”

“That’s good. You’re probably going to have a busy night, but first, let’s eat. I’m hungry.”

Isaac allowed himself to smile. “So am I.”

The food on Alcatraz hadn’t been terrible. That was as much praise as Isaac could muster; it had bland and cheap and mostly tasteless, but you could eat it without having to force it down. After so many meals like that, Melissa’s cooking was a phenomenon all to itself. He held himself back from shoveling it all down his gullet.

They exchanged small talk throughout the meal. They did not talk about San Francisco or the FBI or imprisonment. They talked about what Isaac would have to do about school, and what Melissa had to do in her new job, and what the rest of the pack had been up to.

“So …” He finished off his second helping. “Have you heard anything?”

“Stiles writes every week. He’s in France now, with the invasion forces. As far as they can tell, Scott’s being held somewhere in Germany. He doesn’t have much to share. Stiles says there’s plenty to be hopeful about.”

Isaac wasn’t fooled, and by the look on her face, neither was Melissa. Stiles would share if any of the news was good. But Scott was still alive — his alpha was still alive — he knew that in his bones.

“Then we won’t worry about it.”

They finished dinner and Isaac helped clear the table and started to do the dishes. It was … more than nice. They did it without talking, Melissa washing and Isaac drying.

There’s a knock on the front door.

“Isaac, I think that’s for you.”

“It … it is?” Isaac felt a stab of fear and then pushed it away. Melissa wouldn’t be so blithe about something that he wouldn’t like.

“I told the pack I wanted dinner with you first, but they gave me until eight, and it’s eight now.”

Isaac folded the towel and went to the front door. Jackson was standing there, frowning at him in mock disappointment.

“What?”

“I don’t know,” Jackson shrugged. “I’d thought you’d look tougher. Scars. Or an eye-patch.”

“I went to prison, asshole, not a pirate ship.”

From the depths of the house, Melissa raised her voice. “Language!”

Jackson pretended that he didn’t hear. “I don’t actually care, either way. You ready to go?”

Isaac blinked at him. “Ready to go where?”

“You didn’t think that we’d want to wait a couple of weeks before talking to you, did you? Loser. We’re meeting, all of us. Come on, I want to get there before it gets dark.”

“Give me a moment to change my clothes? These are clean, but they’re the same clothes I was wearing when I got here.”

“Fine. I’ll meet you in the car.”

Isaac turned back into the house into confuse and Melissa was standing there. He didn’t want to abandon her tonight, but she was already reading her mind.

“They’ve been waiting for you. Your clothes are in your room, and I’ll be here when you get back. Shoo.”

When he had changed, he went out to find Jackson waiting impatiently in the car. The other beta had driven here by himself, so he started the car immediately when Isaac climbed into the passenger seat. “Did you really think they wouldn’t be excited to see you again?”

“I … I didn’t think about it.”

Jackson rolled his eyes so hard that they could have fallen out of his head. “Isaac, I really believed that Allison was going to snap and start a killing spree if you weren’t released. The rest of them — except me, of course — were pretty worried about you as well.”

“You weren’t?”

“This surprises you? Anyways, you’ve always been tougher than you look.” Jackson shook his head sharply to cut off the conversation. “This day has already been unbearably long without us talking about our feelings. If you really want to cry or something, save it until we get where we are going.”

The car left the popular neighborhood where the McCall’s house was and entered the Preserve. The sun was beginning to dip down behind the hills and its orange fire was caught in the branches. Isaac eventually caught on to where they were going.

“The Hale House?”

Jackson grunted. “It was some place we all knew that other people would be reluctant to go. The only other landmark we could all find would be the Nemeton, but I think everyone drew the line at creepy sacrifice trees.”

In the distance, Isaac caught the glimpse of the hulking old wreck, but there were lights shining near it. He wondered if the Hale House had been rebuilt or something, but as the car pulled in he could see it was still in its gloomy state of disrepair. However, torches and a bonfire had been set up on the grounds of the old house, with blankets arranged on the ground. There was some sort of sign suspended between two poles.

It hit him like a jailer’s club. They’d thrown him a Welcome Home Party.

His jaw dropped; he was too stunned to be embarrassed. Part of him wasn’t that surprised, and that part of him would have pointed and laughed at the rest of him if it could. He’d been gone, and now he was back, and his friends were happy that he was back. What else would he expect but a party?

The other part of him — the part that had grown strong though endless days in his boring cell and creeping nights in the black horror of isolation — had been expecting rejection. It was that part of him that had frozen him in his tracks on the driveway. That part of him that had convinced Isaac that he was no longer any good to anyone, that he had never been any good to anyone, and that he belonged on that island with killers and thieves.

The girls had set up a cake with candles. It was the type of icing he liked; he had told Allison that. There was lemonade and cider and what looked like a … fiddle?

“You did this for me?”

“Yes.” Allison stepped forward. “It’s for you. All of us are glad you’re home. But it’s also kind of a good-bye party.”

Isaac blinked. “Someone’s leaving?”

Lydia interrupted. “Cake first. Then music. Then dancing. Then we talk about sad things. There is a way to do parties so that they’re done right. You lead off with food and introductions. Lahey, you’re going to be a gentleman, right?”

“Why wouldn’t I be a gentleman?”

The answer, of course, were the twins. Aiden and Ethan took this moment to appear at the tree line carrying what seemed to be an ice chest. Isaac almost slipped back into his standard muted hostility against them, but then he felt that old feeling vanishing. He had spent five months with hardened criminals. Most of the killers had made a point of letting you know that they had and so establish their credibility. They were often proud of the lives they had ended.

The twins had never done that, even when they were with Deucalion. They talked about the people they had killed if they were asked, but they never brought it up. They worried about revenge coming from other packs they had hurt, but they never asked for special treatment. If they were still here, that meant that they had been living under the Hale House for as long as Isaac had been in Alcatraz.

His hostility shrank to almost nothing. It would never be completely gone, because they had helped kill Erica and Boyd, but he could accept them now on his own and not just because Scott made him.

Isaac chuckled. “Okay, what do we do now? If you’re waiting for me to get things started, you’re going to be sorry. I’m even less of a people person now.” It was a lame joke.

“Please, as if I’d let someone else run one of my parties.” Lydia clapped. “Presents!”

Danny stepped out from where the cars were parked, carrying four presents. Isaac noted that Ethan’s face lit up at Danny’s appearance.

Allison laughed. “Lydia! You shouldn’t have!”

“Of course I should have.” Lydia proceed to place the party-goers, two people to a blanket. Jackson already had claimed the one for him and her. She made Danny sit with Ethan, and they both blushed about it, which Isaac didn’t quite get. She made Malia sit with Aiden, neither of them unhappy with it. Finally she pointed at Allison and Isaac and down to their blanket, as if she had to insist.

Isaac arranged himself on the blanket, trying to get comfortable on the hard ground. He didn’t offer to help Allison, because she wouldn’t appreciate. Yet, he was surprised when Allison suddenly took him by the hand. He had thought about her almost every night while he was away, and now he didn’t know what to do.

“I missed you,” she whispered.

A reply that he did, too, didn’t seem romantic enough, so he pulled her hand and kissed it. Her skin was warm in the August night, and smelled of candle wax, sugar, and because she was who she was, gunpowder.

Jackson made a gagging sound, and Lydia kicked him. “Enough of that.” But Isaac noticed that they looked at each other sadly, even though they were acting as they normally did.

Lydia bulldozed on, handing a present to Isaac. “This is for you. Allison picked it out, but I had to wrap it. She can kill a man at 100 yards, but she’s helpless when it comes to gift boxes.”

Isaac carefully tore the paper away; it had been quite a while since he had a gift. Inside the box was a sweater, soft maroon with a BH in white letters. It was a varsity sweater. “I can’t … I don’t meet the requirements.”

“You played basketball for two years, Isaac, and you were part of the championship team. You deserve this.” Allison stated with authority, as she took it out and helped him put it on. It was a little warm for August.

“But how did you get it?”

“I had a talk with Coach.”

Jackson mimed a fist hitting his hand.

Isaac leaned over and kissed Allison on the cheek. Everyone else clapped. “Why this?”

“Because it says you belong here. No matter where you’ve been or where you go. You belong here in Beacon Hills, with me.”

He blushed and leaned over to kiss her on the mouth, but she was stopped by Lydia’s toss of the head.

“No making out yet. I swear Isaac, you’re acting like that cartoon wolf; I’m surprised your eyes didn’t pop out of your head.” Lydia joked. “Jackson you’re next. I hope our last friend gets here before we finish the cake and the presents.”

“We have … a guest” Isaac looked over at Allison.

Jackson held up his present. “You got me a book.”

“Yes, Jackson,” Lydia teased, but again everyone felt the hollowness of it. Lydia’s and Jackson’s masks were slipping. “You don’t know a lick of Spanish, and you’re going to need it in Argentina.”

Allison nodded. “Apparently, Lydia has made a new friend, and she’s decided the new girl deserves a night out.”

“She does!” Lydia confirmed and Malia agreed. “And now, you two. Danny, if you’d do the honors.”

They were halfway through unwrapping when all the wolves raised their heads.

“Someone is here.” Aiden said out loud what they were all thinking.

Lydia shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “I told you that someone was coming. Do pay attention.” Isaac watched her scan the tree line. “Oh! There you are, come on out.”

A beautiful Japanese girl stepped out of the forest. She strode over like she didn’t have a care in the world, though she must have been from Oak Creek and was actually breaking the law. Malia shifted on her blanket to give the girl room.

“Everyone, this is Noshiko.” Lydia turned and introduced each of them to her.

“Is this a good idea?” Isaac whispered to Allison. “I mean …”

“Lydia has a theory. She wanted to see if it was true.” Allison patted him on the shoulder. “Come with me.”

Wordlessly they got up and walked until they were far enough into the woods that they couldn’t be heard. Everyone must have assumed they wanted to spend some private time together.

“Malia and Lydia have been volunteering at Oak Creek,” Allison explained. “They met Noshiko there, and both Lydia and Malia expect that she might be more than she seems.”

“Supernatural?”

“Seems like it. Malia tried to follow her one night, and Noshiko lost her easily without really being aware that she was being followed. A normal human could never really lose a werecoyote like that.”

“Any idea what she might be?”

“Lydia and Malia have no idea, but since Lydia’s still convinced something terrible is going to happen at Oak Creek, she wants to win Noshiko to her side. Especially once everyone leaves for Argentina.”

That certainly explained what was going on. But Isaac was suspicious of the emphasis with which Allison had spoken. “Everyone?”

“I told you this was a going away party. Jackson and the twins will be heading there Sunday, right before school starts. Lydia’s been a wreck.” Allison brought a hand up to the side of her face and then looked away. She seemed suddenly unhappy, and Isaac couldn’t figure out why. She liked Jackson and she tolerated the twins, but she understood they had to go away for their own safety. The twins were nameless fugitives wanted by the FBI, and Jackson couldn’t face the draft. It was better that they left, so why was she upset?

Isaac shook his head as the answer came to him. “No.”

“Isaac!”

“No, I’m not going anywhere.”

“You’re going to be eighteen soon. You need to think about being force to join the army.”

“No, I don’t. I have a felony on my record. While thanks to the deal your father made, I only served four months, assault and battery still counts. I’m Four-F — morally unfit for duty. No one’s going to draft me.”

The look of hope and happiness on her face died slowly. She wanted him with her, but she began to understand the consequences of a felony conviction. “Isaac. That’s … that’s horrible!”

Isaac shrugged. “I didn’t lose anything important. I was never going to be a hotshot anything. I didn’t lose the pack. I didn’t lose you, did I?”

“No.” Allison kissed him then, one of those kisses you see in the movies. “You didn’t lose me.”

“Then I’m staying. Someone has to look after you ladies.”

He said it with just enough humor so she had to know he was joking. Allison punched him anyway.

Afterward, Allison became all stern. She could marshal up many arguments why he deserved to start again somewhere else, he knew. He had already made them to himself. He would always be looked down on in Beacon Hills. There wouldn’t be many jobs open to him. There wouldn’t be any school for him. His opportunities would always be limited. The Hales in Argentina would welcome him and they wouldn’t care what humans thought.

But she was here. And Scott, if he came back — when he came back, would come here. This was where he belonged, and he said as much.

The sternness fled and she turned soft. Allison took his hands in both of hers. “It’ll work out.”

“I know it will. You’ll need to tell me what you got up to while I was gone.”

Allison took a deep steadying breath. “Maybe someday when we don’t have anything else to do. I got what I wanted; I’m the head of the family.”

“Not exactly what you thought it was going to be, princess?” Isaac teased. He also pulled her close.

“If you don’t behave, I’m going to set my Great-Aunt Alois on you. You won’t survive it.” They kissed once more. “We should get back, the party’s for you.”

The party was in an uproar by the time they got back. Noshiko was covering her mouth in either amusement or shock, and Lydia was scowling at Malia, who was unrepentant. Jackson was pretending to be bored, Aiden was chuckling, and Ethan and Danny had their heads together.

“What happened?”

Lydia sighed. “Malia decided that my carefully designed plan to find out if Noshiko was one of us was taking too long and blurted out a demand that Noshiko tell us what she is, complete with eyes and claws revealed.”

“It worked,” a defiant Malia responded.

“There’s such a thing as subtlety. Noshiko, I’m so sorry.”

The Japanese girl had composed herself. “I accept your apology. I didn’t realize that there would be wolves in Beacon Hills.”

“I’m not a wolf, I’m a coyote,” Malia corrected.

Isaac smiled. Malia had not changed at least. As the group began to talk about serious matters, Isaac felt it. It was in the back of mind, in his gut, resting on his shoulders. He was among friends once again, and he was among pack.

Chapter Text

SEPTEMBER 11, 1944

They moved as wolves moved, rushing through the darkened forest. It was their forest now, control of it torn from the soldiers and the villagers. No longer did anyone come into this forest willingly after nightfall. No one dared. Solitary travelers on foot would emerge shaking with fright. Locals whose homes abutted up to it would report seeing figures lurking in the eaves. One driver reported being follow for miles by pairs of glowing eyes.

Soldiers, on the other hand, would disappear. It didn’t matter if they were alone or in pairs or in squads; those who entered the forest in uniform after nightfall would never be seen again. After so many victims, the local commandant had ordered that no military units were to travel in there during night in groups of less than a regiment. No matter how many daylight patrols had been made, no answer had been found to the massive casualties, and since the Allies had landed in France and the Russians had turned the tide on the Eastern front, there were no more resources to do anything more. The war was on the verge of being lost, and mysterious forests could wait until after it had been once again won.

His enemies’ caution frustrated Ruslo.

The plan had been simple. He had led his pack on the trail of their abducted cubs. They had crossed hundreds of miles and five countries to get to this place that stank of death and filth and evil. They thought they would kill anyone who got in their way and take their children back to where they belonged. His people, both human and wolf, were of one mind and one heart.

But that place, Hirschechtheit, was too heavily guarded. It was too big. They could probably get in, Ruslo was sure, but with the stench and the sheer number of people, he couldn’t be sure that he’d be able to find the children before too many soldiers arrived for them to fight. So, he retreated to this forest to think of a new plan, yet no new plan had come.

The pack took their rage out on any soldiers unwise to come near. At first, he had thought about letting the pack target civilians as well, but in the end he had refused. He was here to punish the Nazis for their wickedness, not become them.

Ruslo had never been prouder of his pack. Not one of them had complained about leaving the rest of their families behind for almost a year. Not one of them had complained about sleeping in the forest, of having to steal food like the lies the villagers had told about those filthy vagabonds, of failed plan after failed plan to get the children back. They were his pack, and they would die with him here if that’s what he wanted them to do.

He didn’t want to die. He wanted the Nazis to die instead.

Their prey tonight were two soldiers walking into the forest, like they didn’t have a care in the world. Were they not warned? Were they overconfident? Were they simply unlucky?

It didn’t matter, they were prey now.

There were twelve wolves in his pack, so he split them up. Four to the north of the prey, four to the south, four to cut off their retreat to the road. They were the tactics of the wolves whose power they shared, but they had never failed them yet. Ruslo wasn’t sure if this hunt would get him one step closer to saving their children, but he was going to smell their fear on the wind and feel their blood on his claws.

The men had paused in the middle of the woods, heedless to their location, when everyone was in position. Ruslo howled his signal and the trap was sprung, a net of fangs that would allow no escape. One pair of red eyes glowed in the darkness surrounding their victims, eight pairs of yellow eyes and three pairs of blue glowed in return.

The Nazis did not panic, nor did they draw their weapons. Instead, one stepped forward and answered Ruslo’s red eyes with a pair of his own. He turned slightly to the yellow-eyed beta next to him and said in very heavily accented German, “If I mess the words up, correct me.”

The beta nodded, obviously more frightened than the alpha.

“You wear the uniform of evil men.” Ruslo stated loudly. “You should die for that.”

“I do what I have to do.” The alpha returned with a strong voice. If he hesitated, it was because of his unfamiliarity with German. “After they took me from my home, they gave me no other clothes.”

Ruslo didn’t hear any lie. “So you’ve come to join us.”

“No, I haven’t. In fact, I want you to join me.” The alpha was just a boy. The Romani alpha must have had a decade and a half on him at the very least.

“You’re brave to come here, but you’re young and probably stupid. Why would we join you?”

The alpha turned his head to his beta who whispered something to him. “You’re not the first person to call me that, but if you come with me, I can give you something you want more than anything. I can free your children.”

There was an outburst of growling from the other werewolves surrounding these two in the woods. That was why they were here. That was why they had come this far. Ruslo held up his hand for silence. This had all the makings of a trick.

“I don’t know you. I don’t trust you.”

The young alpha deflated a little. He was disappointed, but he straightened back up, regaining his confidence. “How were you planning to get your children from Hirschechtheit?” He mangled the pronunciation, but they knew what he was talking about. “Haunting the woods surrounding it is only going to work for as long as you don’t kill too many people. Eventually, they’re going to get tired of you killing their men. Eventually, they’ll come with enough men to drive you out.”

“I’m sure they will try.”

“If that doesn’t work, they’ll elevate —” His beta whispered something to the alpha. “They’ll escalate. They’ll do something like burn the forest.”

“Let them burn it. My pack will never surrender to them.”

The younger alpha gritted his teeth. “Even if you all die?”

Ruslo snarled his defiance. “Yes.”

“You deserve better than to be another victim of this monstrous war. The wolves who follow you deserve better than to be numbered among the nameless dead. Your children deserve to see their parents.”

The Romani alpha could hear the conviction in the boy’s voice. “You speak of hope, but the only hope is that which we take. My people have been taught this at the hands of cruel men for centuries.”

“I wasn’t there during those centuries. Let me help you. If you agree to go with me, to work with me, then I can get your children freed. Listen to my heart; I’m not lying.”

Everyone in the pack had been listening to the young alpha’s heart. “You’re not lying, but that doesn’t mean I should trust that you’ll succeed.”

The younger alpha sighed. “I don’t know how to prove it to you. I’m not smart enough. I so didn’t want to do this.” He extended his hand to the beta next to him. The young man reached into the bag he was carrying and pulled out a crown. It was made of wood, carved by someone’s hand, and Ruslo could tell by the scent that it was very old. It had been fashioned into a pattern of wolves and thorny trees.

“What’s that?”

The young alpha sighed. “Something I wish had never existed, but tonight, it’s what is necessary.” He placed the crown on his head, flashed his eyes, and roared out a commanding howl.

All of his pack had been subjected, at one time or another, to the commanding howl of their alpha. It pulled on the bonds that existed between alpha and beta, between packmates, between family. An enemy alpha could instill fear in them, but this wasn’t like that.

Ruslo felt disoriented for just a moment as a strange and unknown feeling washed over him. Except it wasn’t really unknown, he had simply forgotten what it felt like. His mother, his alpha, had been dead for almost fifteen years, and yet he felt like he stood in her presence once again. Ruslo trusted this new alpha the way he had always trusted in her, and it felt that this new alpha trusted him the way she had always trusted him. The focus of his pack shift away from him and on to this new alpha, as if he had always been the leader, yet Ruslo found himself not caring.

“I’m Scott McCall. I’m your alpha now.”

Slowly, easily, they submitted to him. Some even bared their throats.

Scott, their alpha, spoke carefully. “We’re going to go meet some Hydra soldiers now. I need you not to attack them. Not yet anyway.”

“Why not?” Ruslo questioned him as he had always questioned his alpha. “You said you were going to save our children.”

Alpha McCall put a hand on Ruslo shoulder, reassuringly. “And we will. We’re going to save all of them, and we will destroy the men who abducted them, and all men like them. But not yet. They don’t realize what they’ve done, giving me this pack. So let’s go.”

The pack moved through the woods as smoothly as they had once hunted their alpha. They reacted to his presence, instinctually and completely. Scott looked back over his shoulders at them following them. Ruslo knew a little bit of English and heard him mutter something about being sick.

They emerged out of the forest to where German troops were waiting. Ruslo didn’t recognize their uniforms, but he could easily recognize the type of people who wore them. Faceless monsters. The man who stood at their head was beaming at them. He had the same privileged, superior attitude that Ruslo had seen from many Nazi officers — right before he killed them.

“I take it that your mission was successful.” The man, obviously in command of the Nazis, was looking at Ruslo’s new alpha.

“As I promised. Now you’ll make good on your promise.”

“Of course. I shall have their children released immediately, once you point—”

“No, Herr Schmidt. All of them.”

Schmidt tilted his head to the side. “Come again?”

“All of them. All the children in Hirschechtheit. You’ll feed them, clothe them, get them medical attention, and take them with us.”

The Hydra officer laughed. “That was not our original agreement. Why would I do this?”

“I’m changing the agreement. You’re the one who’s been trying to teach me about power, Schmidt.” The alpha snarled. “Right now, in the middle of the night, right here, out in the middle of nowhere, you have what — thirty men? I have 14 werewolves, including two alphas; I like my odds should I decide to get violent. Right here, right now, I have the power. Give me what I want, or I’ll kill you and every trooper here and then tear the barbed wire around that camp down with my bare hands.”

The alpha’s eyes glowed red, and the pack answered in unison. Schmidt considered for a moment, before nodding with a pleased smile. “You’re learning. We’ll see to it, immediately.”

They loaded up in the back of the trucks. Scott assured them that they would be safe. Ruslo stayed with him, only talking to the alpha when he was sure the humans couldn’t hear.

“We only have a few children in the camp.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Scott repeated firmly. “We’re going to take all of them. It’ll be worth the price.”

“What price?”

“The Red Skull will hold them against me. I know that. But I also know that he’d find another way to control me, even if I didn’t take the children. If I’m going to be manipulated, I’m going to save as many innocents as I can doing while being so.”

“This man … this Skull … he’s the one who captured you?”

“Yes, and he’s going to regret it.” Scott promised Ruslo and Linde, but also himself. “I finally understand how Derek felt, the satisfaction only a proper threat can carry.”

Ruslo looked up at him.

“I’m going to rip Johann Schmidt’s throat out. With my teeth.”

******

OCTOBER 6, 1944

The only sound in the tent was the hiss of the portable kerosene lantern. It was the only light as well, burning a little on the blue side. The shadows trembled whenever he accidentally hit the table the lamp was set up on. Even being in a world war hadn’t erased his clumsiness.

Stiles’ attention wasn’t on the tent, or the shadows, or the lamp itself. It was on the shining things in front of him. As he had finished each bullet, he had gently placed it in a row with the others. It was a line of death. Stiles stared at the bullets, thinking about what they meant.

He picked up another bullet in his gloved hand and the brush he was using. With slow strokes, he coated the outside of it. In a hilarious comparison, it felt like he was painting Easter eggs. He bit his tongue to keep from laughing. Or crying. He wasn’t quite sure.

Someone cleared their throat outside the tent. It was the equivalent of knocking.

“Come in!”

Captain Rogers, Major Carter, and Howard Stark filed in. They must have come from the mess hall, as it was dinner time. Stiles hadn’t bothered. Not tonight, though he was sure he’d regret it later.

“You had something for us?” Steve asked.

“Yes, sir. Yes, ma’am. I finally found a source for what I needed.”

“Is that where you went a couple of days ago?”

Stiles had driven down to the Lozere Department, to the House of Alois Argent. She hadn’t yet returned from the United States, but with the liberation of the area, he had been able to get what he needed from the French Argents who were there.

Howard Stark reached for one of the bullets. Stiles rapped his fingers with the back of the paintbrush. “Don’t touch those.”

“Ow!”

Steve and Peggy laughed and took a seat across from him.

Howard smarted. “They don’t look that special. Why shouldn’t I touch them?”

“Aconite poisoning is no fun, let me tell you. There’s not enough of it on the bullets to kill you, but the fever, paranoia and hallucinations can cramp your style. I can personally vouch for that.”

Stiles put the bullet in the row with the others with an audible tap of the metal on the wood.

Steve looked at them. “Poisoned bullets?”

“Yes. Most hunters use them.” Stiles sighed and laid the brush down.

“Aconite.” Howard scrunched his face in thought. “That’s also called … wolf’s bane.”

“Yeah. Myth says that wolf’s bane can hurt werewolves; it turns out it’s not actually a myth. Aconite is poisonous to everyone, but werewolves have a very strong allergic reaction to it. What type of reaction depends on the species of wolf’s bane, of which there quite a few, and the strength of the dose. These will be fatal.”

Howard reached out for a glove. “Let me see one up close. If we have to hand-paint these things, it’ll be hard enough to deal with one werewolf, let alone a regiment of them.”

Stiles pulled off his right glove and handed it to Howard.

The engineer studied the bullet. “This is a standard round.”

“Yes.”

As Howard held it up close, Peggy raised one eyebrow. “Are you okay, Stiles? You seem a little out of it.”

“I’m fine, ma’am.”

Steve shook his head, understanding. “This isn’t what I meant on the beach.”

Stiles kept his eyes fixed on the table. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Let me show you something else!” Suddenly full of energy, he got up on his feet and went to get a canister. It looked like something a mother would have in the kitchen.

“I don’t expect everyone to carry things around like this, but it might be useful if we capture one of … them.” Stiles said. “I was practicing, and I think I’ve got it down so I can be really, really impressive.”

The three of them turned to look at him, but Stiles really tried to avoid Steve’s eyes. It felt like Captain American was trying to search his soul, and Stiles didn’t need that — not now. So, instead, he pulled a handful of powder out of the canister and he pushed away all the doubts that ate at his soul, all the homesickness, all the fear, tossed it into the air, and he believed.

“What the hell was that?” Howard demanded. He got up out of his seat and went to study this. “That dirt-ash-whatever it was fell in a perfect circle. That defies a few laws of thermodynamics.”

Peggy, at least, had the nerve to look impressed. “What is it?”

“Mountain ash. It’s from the rowan tree. It was believed to be something that could protect people against monsters, and they’re right. The druids use it all the time. It took a while for me to use it like that, but — Morrell, eat your heart out!”

“It’ll stop a werewolf?” Steve queried.

“Yeah. They can’t touch it or break the line.” Stiles flourishes. “I don’t think it’s going to be something we can mass produce, but it could come in handy in a pinch.”

“Why not?” Peggy has gotten up and stuck her hand over it. Nothing.

“It requires — this is going to sound weird, but once you get past werewolves, what isn’t? — belief. Without the belief of the person using it, it’s just ash and wood.”

“That sounds like magic,” Steve frowned. He still seemed weird out by these things.

“It sounds like orgonic absorption!” Howard crowed. “I’ve never seen evidence of it.”

“Whatsit absorption?”

“William Reich had a theory that there is as yet unperceived level of the universe that creates order. The brain,” Howard was in the groove, “the brain is nothing more than a collection of wires and relays through which energy travels. He theorized that the energy of the brain is both electrical and orgonic! This material could possibly absorb this energy in order to spontaneously manifest order.”

“Right.” Steve said. “Magic.”

Howard snorted. “Science we don’t understand yet. So there’s something about this formation that werewolves can’t tolerate. What about other supernatural creatures?”

“Most of the more powerful ones can’t even touch it — Scott could, though. He …” Stiles trailed off.

The three of them waited for him to finish speaking.

“It takes a lot of effort on his part,” Stiles finished lamely and shoved the lid on the canister.

“Private.” Captain Rogers said seriously.

“I’m fine, sir.”

“When I told you that no one had time for you to break down, I meant it, but I didn’t mean that you couldn’t feel things.”

Howard looked between all three of them. “I’m missing something.”

“You’re doing your best with what needs to be done, private.”

“With all due respect, sir, I’m telling you how to kill my best friend.”

Peggy stood up from where she was examining the mountain ash. “Oh. I see.”

“Do you, ma’am?” Stiles tried to get his voice to stay steady. He opened a chest, yanked out a map and spread it on the table, knocking a few of the bullets over. “Every morning at dawn, every day at noon, every night before I go to bed, I take as close a reading as I can on Scott’s position with the Nemeton rod. He’s always traveling. Locations through Germany. Poland. Austria. Hungary. Switzerland.”

The other three studied the map. Stiles had carefully taken triangulated readings and plotted them.

“Stiles,” said Peggy. “This is great. We know that several of these locations are Hydra bases. Which means some of these other visited locations could be the base we’re looking for.”

“It might just mean he’s being moved,” Steve suggested.

“The people I visited are the world’s most prestigious werewolf hunters. They gave me a map with the locations of the most well-known packs in this part of Europe.” Stiles pointed out spots on the map. “Here, here, here, here, and here. Scott’s been visiting the packs. He’s working with Hydra.”

“You don’t know that.”

“What other reason would he have to go there? Would Hydra have to take him there? If they didn’t think he would take control of the packs, why bother?”

Captain Rogers put a hand on Stiles’ shoulder. “You can’t know what that means for sure. And even if he is working for Schmidt, that doesn’t mean you should give up hope. We’ve encountered Hydra’s brainwashing techniques. We’ve seen his spies manipulate and blackmail people.”

“Steve’s right.” Peggy moved to sit down. “Did you know that Adolf Hitler loves dogs?”

Stiles blinked. “What?”

“He loves dogs. And children. According to all the German press releases, he has a German shepherd named Blondi.” Peggy spoke dispassionately. “According to intelligence reports, nothing makes him happier than when he’s surrounded by children.”

Stiles locked eyes with her, curious to know what she meant.

“Bad people do good things, when they have a reason to do so. Good people can do bad things. But if I had the chance, I wouldn’t be putting a bullet in Adolf’s head because he was kind to his dog. I’d be putting a bullet in his head because his actions have killed and are killing a lot of people who don’t deserve it.” Peggy seemed matter of fact about it. “You’ve told us that your friend is a good person. We know he was kidnapped against his will. We were there; we saw him drugged. Right now, we have no concept of the torture or manipulation he’s undergone. So just because he’s doing things that look like he’s aiding the enemy, doesn’t make him the enemy.”

Stiles snapped back. “Ma’am, I just gave you the tools that you could use to kill him. If he’s not the enemy, what does that make me?”

“A soldier.” Steve spoke grimly.

Howard had disappeared and came back with glasses and a bottle of whiskey. “I know it’s tough, Stiles. The great horror of war is that it’s fought by individuals but not for them. It’s fought for causes. We don’t care — we can’t care — if one individual on their side is good or bad or misguided or innocent. We don’t have the resources to figure it out before we pull the trigger. Sometimes, this means killing a person regardless of who they really are. I mean, if I were the Nazis, I’d kill me, and not because I’m bad or good, but because I’m beneficial to their enemies and dangerous to them.”

“Sometimes, it’s hard to tell who exactly you’re trying to help, Howard.” Peggy was trying to lighten the mood.

“Please, Peg. I’m one of the good guys. It’s not like I’ve created an evil killer robot who plans to wipe out humanity. Yet.”

Everyone but Stiles laughed, and Howard poured drinks for all of them including Steve. Stiles still couldn’t face the line of bullets on the table, though.

“You know,” Steve began. “I’ve killed a lot of enemies in this war, since Italy.” He took a drink of the whiskey even though he couldn’t get drunk. “Some of them weren’t much older than you, Stiles. I have no way of knowing if they were Hydra fanatics or Nazi thugs. They could have joined the military to make their family proud, or to serve their country, or to get three meals a day. I don’t let it bother me that much, but it does bother me. It will always bother me.”

“I’ve appeared in comic books, you know. They help with bond sales.” Steve swirled his drink around there. “It’s ridiculous. No matter who I’m fighting in them, I never actually kill anybody. I always knock them out. If the bad guys die, it’s because they fell off a cliff or their machine backfired on them, something like that. And it’s funny and really silly. But you know, if I had a choice, I’d choose to be like that. I don’t enjoy killing.”

Stiles looked down. “Scott doesn’t either. That’s how it worked — he refused to kill people even when he had a reason to. I would have killed people. Immediately. Not because I thought it was the right thing to do, but because I’d be scared.”

They were silent.

“You’re going to kill him if you get the chance, aren’t you?”

“Private, I’ll say this.” Steve looked down at the bullets. “I always try to do the right thing. If there’s a way to save your friend, I will. But if it comes down to a choice between his life and Hydra having a werewolf army, I’m going to have to use the bullets you made.”

Chapter Text

OCTOBER 17, 1944

Oak Creek had been designed with a very large laundry. It was enough to handle the camp’s entire capacity of three thousand internees and the hundreds of guards and supervisors and then some. So even though they were denied freedom and basic dignity, at least the internees’ clothes looked amazing.

It also happened to create some of the few jobs that the internees could get. Of course, they were paid ridiculously low wages for the demanding work.

To add insult to injury, they weren’t trusted to do the work by themselves. They needed to be supervised, as the rules stated, by a Caucasian. Several times over the last months, Lydia had been asked to supervise the women folding the dried laundry and preparing it for delivery. She had never folded it in all her eighteen years, and she was tasked with monitoring women years older than her.

She didn’t refuse. She couldn’t, if she wanted to be permitted to work there, and she was still convinced that it was important that she be there. Instead, when she was put on supervisory duty, she did nothing resembling supervision. She worked with the women, folding the clothes and talking with them. She tried to speak as much Japanese as possible, though that was frowned on by the camp authorities. She always asked the women if they were comfortable with it, beforehand. In the months of working here she had picked up a good amount of the language coupled with personal study at home. She was confident she would soon be able to read it, though fluency was a long way away.

“Is there something wrong, Lydia?” Rinko asked.

“What?” She was startled out of her daydream.

“You’ve folded the same sheet five times.” Rinko asked playfully. It had turned out that Rinko wasn’t much older than she was. Once Lydia had demonstrated her respect for the internees and earned their acceptance by not forcing her way into familiarity, she had made a few friends and Rinko naturally become one of them.

“I’m sorry.” Lydia looked down. “I guess I’m pretty distracted today.”

“Something bothering you?”

Lydia wasn’t sure whether they were close enough friends yet to talk about sensitive things, but she understood how absolutely boring being locked in Oak Creek had to be. Information flowing into and out of the camp was scarce while leisure activities were few and far between, and so the greatest commodity between some of them had become gossip.

Lydia looked down at the sheet and added it to the finished pile.

“My boyfriend left.” She said, at last.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Rinko looked like she wanted to ask something, but she couldn’t.

“Europe.” Lydia whispered the lie. It was a violation of the rules to talk about troop movements, but she couldn’t really tell Rinko that Jackson was a werewolf who had fled to South America to avoid the draft. Even as she thought it to herself, it sounded so sordid, as if Jackson was some sort of criminal. But she felt it was the right decision, especially for him. He didn’t need to ever be compelled to kill for anyone. Above all, for her, he needed to be safe. Lydia could not tolerate the idea of screaming for him. It would destroy her.

“My man is in the 442nd.” Rinko said proudly. “He writes as often as he can.”

“I hope he’s doing well.”

“His last letter said he was going to France. He promised to bring me something.”

Lydia flashed a smile at Rinko. She hoped that whatever her boyfriend got her, it would be pretty. And that he would deliver it in person, somewhere far away from Oak Creek and Beacon Hills.

“I know it’s going to feel like the world collapsed,” Rinko observed. “But he’s thinking of you, I’d bet.”

“Thank you, Rinko.”

They finished folding the sheets and Lydia walked with the other women back to the barracks. As she said good-bye to Rinko, she felt Mrs. Ito’s eyes on the back of her head. The old woman had never warmed up to her, and Lydia had politely given the woman her space.

It was a disappointment. Go, as a game, was mathematically fascinating.

She moved up the walkway to Eichen House. She wanted to stop by the ward where Melissa worked before she went home. She had only see her alpha’s mother in passing the last four months. Lydia wanted to remind the woman she wasn’t alone.

It also helped to remind Lydia that she wasn’t alone, either. She had two good friends — good female friends — and she had friends at school and friends at camp. So the idea that not only was she missing Jackson, but she was also missing Scott and Aiden and Stiles and Ethan, was frustrating. She could have stamped her foot.

She shouldn’t be worried; she was doing the right thing. She was keeping Beacon Hills safe. She wasn’t some pining maiden distraught until the men came home. Damn it.

“Miss Martin?”

There was one of the guards standing near her. He was a very good looking young man. Lydia mocked herself internally for noticing.

“Yes, may I help you?”

“My name’s Rhys. I’m in the medic corps. I was wondering if you could help me with something?” He looked bashful, even though he was older than her and held a military rank. “Down in the motor pool?”

Usually, Lydia would have dismissed the request as rather creepy and not something a lady should do, but she recognized the blushing medic. Noshiko had told her, and only her, about him at the party. Lydia suspected it was a test of trust, and she had passed. She followed him down into those tunnels. They were creepy; she would never want to go down here by herself or with someone who meant her harm.

Noshiko was waiting for them both.

“I hope there’s nothing wrong.”

Noshiko took Rhys’s hand and he blushed at it. Noshiko had been right. He was a doll.

“I’m not sure,” said Noshiko. She and Rhys then related their overheard conversation between Dr. Liston, Merrick and Hayes. “I was going to follow them, but …”

“I told you that it’d be too dangerous!” Rhys exclaimed. He wasn’t being petulant about it; he was legitimately concerned with Noshiko’s health.

That was one of the drawbacks of keeping the secret of the supernatural. Noshiko had made it clear that no one was to let Rhys in on her secret, because he was leaving for the European theater in a few weeks, and she may never get to see him again. Kitsune were, Lydia had been told, extraordinarily long lived, and while the fox had strong feelings for the corporal, she had had strong feelings for many men during her life. She wanted to be free to choose what she shared with him on her own terms.

Lydia could not help but respect that. Banshees might not live as long as kitsunes, but they had their own unique challenges. Since Lydia wouldn’t be like her grandmother — she understood her power far more than Lorraine ever did — she was hopefully not going to be prone to the same mental instability. Even so, knowing when Death would come for everyone you cared about was a burden she was not yet used to, especially when many of the people she cared about were far away, in a war, in trouble, or a combination of all three. She could see the benefit of having complete control over her relationships. After she had explained it, the pack had agreed to keep Noshiko’s secrets.

“I’ve met those two. It shouldn’t be any problem to have them followed and find out exactly what they’re up to.” It would be very easy. Noshiko was experienced and very stealthy, but if anyone else could follow that pair without being noticed, Malia could. She was very clever and extraordinarily quiet when she wanted to be.

Rhys frowned. He was a decent person, but he was also very much a man. Women were fragile things to be protected. “Are you sure it will be safe?”

Noshiko rolled her eyes. “What can I do? He’s cute.”

“My friend is very good at avoiding being noticed when he wants to be.” Lydia misgendered Malia so Rhys would let it be. “We’ll find out what exactly they’re up to.”

 

OCTOBER 18, 1944

Malia loved doing things. When Lydia told her that they needed her to follow these two men and see what they were up to, she was overjoyed. It was something that took effort, something that would happen now. Before, everything and everyone had been waiting. Waiting for Isaac to come back. Waiting for the other boys to leave. Waiting for whichever event had triggered Lydia’s weird premonition at Oak Creek to happen. Waiting for Scott and Stiles to come back from the war.

She knew what the two men looked like, so she hid in the bushes until the truck they were driving rumbled out the front gate. Malia had learned how important rules were outside of the forest, so she had made an effort to learn all of them, even if they bored her to tears. There was no reason for them to be leaving.

With a well-timed leap she landed in the back of the truck. It wasn’t that particularly hard — the truck hadn’t got up a good head of steam. She dropped to the floor immediately. Neither man looked back; they were being just as oblivious as Scott could be.

She shouldn’t be critical of Scott, considering his situation, but the truth was that he had a tendency to be easily misled. She liked him, of course. She respected him. But she didn’t have the same regard that the other people in the pack had for him. Maybe it was their connection to him as friends or werewolves, or maybe it was just that no two people reacted exactly alike, but she didn’t feel left out by the fact that she didn’t miss him that much. She hoped he was doing well, but from what her civics teacher had told her, being captured by the Nazis was a very bad thing.

It was Stiles that she missed the most. Stiles would have made tonight’s mission fun. He’d be trying not to giggle as they hid in the back of the truck.

People cared about her: her father felt deeply for her. Scott looked out after her and taught her how to control the shift. Lydia made sure she was all right and taught her all the subtle — and sometimes confusing — points about being a teenage girl. She could hang out with Allison and Isaac and be comfortable with who she was. All of them together made sure she wasn’t miserable, but they didn’t make her happy.

Stiles made her happy. He got her, and she got him. When she was with him, she didn’t need to be taken care of as much. She fit.

It was funny. She was never this lonely when she was a coyote.

Merrick and Hayes’s big army truck rattled like a freight train and smelled of spoiled milk and motor oil. She could probably have followed this behemoth on foot in a light rainstorm, but she didn’t have to.

The truck came to a stop in what Lydia and Stiles had labeled a bad part of town. The two soldiers didn’t seem to be that worried, but then again, they were armed. Malia slid out of the back of the truck while they were approaching a warehouse, looking for some place to hide and spy on them. She imagined someone telling her that good girls didn’t do this. She refrained from giggling.

Contrary to some people, Malia could tell the difference between right and wrong, the way people living in human civilization saw it. The laws of the wild were different, of course, but she wasn’t living in the wild anymore. She wasn’t wrong; these people were wrong, and they knew they were wrong. The doors to a warehouse opened and three men came out to meet the two soldiers.

She heard every word of the callous and sordid discussion. All five men had to have understood they were taking medicine from people who had no other means of getting it, but they simply didn’t care. The residents of Oak Creek weren’t important enough to worry about. Money changed hands and the group split apart. Malia listened carefully, mouthing the names of the medicine, the amount of money, and the names of the three men.

After they had parted, she found herself closer to the sheriff’s station than her own home. She would walk there first and call Lydia, who was waiting for her. She suspected that Lydia would have her tell the sheriff, so it’d be convenient.

******

Allison scowled at the sheriff. She had her hands balled up into fists. She wasn’t going to yell. She wasn’t going to give any man in the Sheriff’s station the idea that she was a hysterical girl.

“What do you mean that you can’t do anything?”

Noah Stilinski looked up from his desk. “Okay, we’re doing all we can. I have deputies looking for the three men Malia described, but we can’t find them. They might have left the county already.” Malia was sitting on the couch in the Sheriff’s office, looking bored with the explanation. Lydia sat next to her, looking far more disappointed. Isaac leaned up against the wall, trying to look uninterested.

But Allison didn’t want the sheriff to be concerned about those three, she wanted him to be concerned about her. “And?”

“I’m Sheriff of Beacon County. If they’ve already left the county, which I think they probably would do as fast as possible, then they’re beyond my reach. And the story of a teenage girl overhearing a drug deal in the middle of the night is a little too far-fetched for me to warn the other sheriffs.”

“Why is it far-fetched?” Malia asked.

“Because single girls out alone at night in that part of town have to be prostitutes,” sneered Lydia in an over-dramatic fashion.

“I’m not a prostitute!” Malia was outraged.

“No one is saying that!” The sheriff flailed about helplessly, mimicking his son just a little. “Other law enforcement personnel are going to want concrete evidence.”

Lydia was relentless. “More evidence than an eye-witness?”

The sheriff shifted his eyes to the side. “Look, girls …”

“Or more evidence than an eye witness report from a prostitute.”

Malia shouted it this time. “I’m not a prostitute!”

“No one is saying that she’s a prostitute!” thundered Noah.

Allison steamed. She should be worried about what the deputies in the room outside thought of this discussion. “So, they got away.”

“It looks like it, yeah. That’s one of the problems in law enforcement, sometimes the criminals get away because we can’t cross boundaries.” The sheriff turned around in his desk and grabbed a bottle of whiskey and a glass. “But we have to follow the rules, or sometimes, innocent people become criminals.”

Allison was about to raise her voice, but then she thought of a house being burned because someone ignored the rules. “This is crummy.”

“I don’t disagree,” said the sheriff sadly.

“What about Hayes and Merrick?” Malia said. “There’s got to be a record of the truck being taken out. There’s got to be a record of the drugs that the camp is supposed to have.”

Lydia grimaced. “There would be.”

Noah took a shot of whiskey. “I don’t have jurisdiction there, either. This is a serious crime and Oak Creek counts as a military base, so the authority I should contact would be …”

“The FBI.” Isaac finished for him. “Sorry, but pass.”

Allison counted down from ten. Isaac was right — they didn’t want the FBI around here anymore, considering their previous actions and the amount of ire they probably had towards the town. “So let’s stop talking about what we can’t do, and let’s start talking about what we can do.”

The sheriff put his glass down. “The next time they steal medicine and sell it on the street, I can have deputies ready, and we can take them down. Selling illegal drugs, possession of stolen goods, theft of government property. If it happens off base — which it did this time — then I have jurisdiction.”

“Next time might be too late.” Lydia shook her head in frustration. “The moment Noshiko and the corporal told me about the doctor’s weird behavior, I could feel that this has something to do with my premonitions.”

“That’s not good, is it?” Noah made a face like he was eating raw asparagus.

“No. I first got these five months ago, but I don’t really know how these work. It could mean we have months or it could mean we have days. I don’t know.”

“Then we’ll act as if we have days. We’ll go to the camp’s administrators.” Allison decided. “They can’t possibly ignore people stealing drugs for their black market!”

 

OCTOBER 20, 1944

Turned out they absolutely could ignore it.

Dr. Liston sat on one of the chairs in the commandant’s office smoking a cigarette like he just hadn’t been accused of stealing government property. He looked bored. Allison kept trying to communicate silently with Malia. The werecoyote could have picked up on something to see if the doctor is nervous.

The commandant was a grey-haired old fart who seemed to seethe with resentment that he was guarding Nips in California instead of sending boys to their deaths in the Philippines. He had listened to the stories that the three girls had told. He turned to the doctor. “Are we missing any M&B or morphine?”

Dr. Liston acted as if he had barely been listening. “From what the men tell me, all of them have been delivered. I don’t actually handle the unloading or inventory myself. Of course, there’s been some theft.”

Allison narrowed her eyes.

Lydia smiled her best coaxing smile and simpered. “We can only tell you what we saw, Colonel.” Lydia could do what Allison wouldn’t do and Malia couldn’t do — play to the male ego.

“I don’t think you saw what you think you saw.” Dr. Liston observed.

“Oh, we did,” Malia said angrily.

Lydia interrupted her smoothly. “Oh, yes, we know it was dark, but we saw Merrick and Hayes with the boxes. At first I thought I would go up and say hello to them, but then I realized they were some real rough looking customers.”

The Colonel was frowning. “What were you doing out that late?”

“Midnight mass.” Lydia said without hesitation. “Malia is a godless heathen, so I’ve been trying to convert her.”

“I’m not …” Malia did not get it. “Dad says we’re Methodists.”

“As I said,” Lydia said playfully. “Godless heathens. But we’re sure it was Private Merrick and Private Hayes.”

“And you are sure it was our medical supplies.”

“Absolutely!” Malia stated. She described the boxes perfectly.

Dr. Liston narrowed his eyes, at the description. He was so intent on it that he missed Allison glaring at him.

There was a moment when Allison heard the commanding officer cough and she glanced over him. There was a moment when he could have done the right thing, but she could see it slide over his face: the resentment for these girls bothering him.

“We will look into it,” he decided, fooling no one.

“But, Colonel, with all due respect …” Allison began.

“No, girls. I’ve listened to your tale. We’ll take it from here.” The colonel stood up. “I’ll have Dr. Liston here do a full and thorough review of the drug supplies, and I’ll talk to Merrick and Hayes about taking trucks from the motor pool. But you ladies should go home. It’s a school night.”

They were dismissed. There was nothing else they could do but leave. As they left the commandant’s office and headed toward Allison’s car, no one was in a good mood.

“He’s not going to do anything, is he?” Malia asked.

“Oh, he’ll do something all right — he’ll ask the fox to guard the henhouse. Liston will make the evidence disappear from this side.” Lydia was furious.

Allison was also furious, but she was thinking of alternatives. It burned in her mind, but she wasn’t going to leave these people vulnerable.

It took them four days to finally figure out what was going on. That’s when the first case of bacterial pneumonia struck the camp.

OCTOBER 24, 1944

“It’s called the pneumonic plague.” Lydia had lectured them all. Allison wondered when Lydia found time to sleep.

“The Black Death?” Isaac exclaimed.

“No, that’s bubonic plague.” Lydia went on, tiredly. “Bubonic plague is in the lymph nodes. Pneumonic plague is in the lungs. But does it really matter?”

It didn’t really matter. Lydia’s premonition was coming true. Dozens of internees had come down with bad cases of pneumonia within a week after the girls had confronted the commandant. The confrontation had only succeed in having the Red Cross remove Lydia and Malia from Oak Creek. There were some weasel words about better utilization of their volunteer time, but it was obvious to the casual observer that the commandant had ordered their removal.

So the pack had convened at the McCall house, because they wanted to get Melissa’s opinion on what they should do. Noshiko had managed to find her way out of the camp and had joined them.

Melissa frowned. She had been through a lot in the last months, she was going through a lot now, but she couldn’t sit idly by while people died. “Without sulfa pyridine, people are going to die. Most likely the young or the elderly.”

“The administration has put in a request for more, but it could take weeks to get here,” Noshiko added. “Rhys saw the paperwork.”

Lydia’s words dripped venom. “People will be dead before it gets here, and all because they wouldn’t listen to girls.

Allison stood up commanding the attention of everyone in the room. “There’s no point worrying about the past. Let’s talk about what we can do in the future.”

“We can beat the crap out of Dr. Liston,” Isaac offered.

“I’d like that,” Noshiko seconded.

Allison shook her head. “That doesn’t help the sick people at all. There has to be something else we can do.”

“We can get them some M&B.” Melissa spoke with authority. They all looked at her. “I know that Beacon Hills Memorial keeps a good supply of it on hand for treating in-house infections.”

“They’re not going to just hand it over to Oak Creek.” Lydia pointed out.

“No. You’re going to have to steal it.”

Everyone in the room looked at Melissa. She stood there, her arms crossed, just as firm in her call. She looked so much like her son right then; Allison could see it. “Can you tell us where?”

“Yep. I’ll draw you a map.”

Noshiko spoke up from the seat she had been offered when she came into the house. “Unfortunately, there is another problem. Dr. Liston and the Colonel will no doubt confiscate the stolen medicine the moment they become aware of it.”

Allison wanted to suggest that the men wouldn’t do something that the men wouldn’t use the law to deny sick people medicine that could save their lives, but the two people in charge was one of the men stealing that medicine and the other who had turned the blind eye. It was a problem.

Unbidden to her mind, there was a solution. Dr. Liston and the Colonel could have … accidents. It’s not like they weren’t denying people life-saving medical treatment. Doing that was as good as killing them. It was dark, but why should she limit herself to supernatural monsters killing the innocent? There were plenty of human monsters who preyed on innocents, and they seemed to be immune to the rule of law as much as feral werewolves.

Allison pushed those thoughts away. She had given into the urge to punish before, and it hadn’t done anybody any good. Erica and Boyd had terrorized her and tried to kill Lydia and they had been part of the pack whose alpha had Bitten her mother, which required her mother to kill herself. She had every right to be frightened, resentful and angry. But attacking them viciously and handing them over to her grandfather to be ‘interrogated’ — there was no point in denying that she had known exactly what that had meant — hadn’t made her feel safe. It hadn’t protected Lydia. It hadn’t brought her mother back to life. It had done nothing but make her feel powerful for a few hours.

She wasn’t going to be the Matriarch to feel powerful. She was going to be the Matriarch to protect others. That’s the claim she had made to the other heads of Argent households, and that’s what she felt she had forced them to accept. She made them obey her by sheer force of will; the same ways Scott had become a True Alpha.

Force of will.

“Then we’ll just have to change their minds about that.” Allison turned to Noshiko. “Can you get me and my father into the camp without the soldiers knowing?”

Noshiko tilted her head to the side. “If you’re not completely clumsy idiots, yes.”

“Here is what I think we should do. Isaac, you and Malia will break into the hospital and steal the M&B they need and then bring it to Noshiko and I in the camp. Lydia, you’ll get yourself a camera and find a good place to set up outside of Oak Creek that will give you a clear shot of the central yard. My father and I will get into the camp, and we’ll convince the internees to strike. If the authorities try to confiscate the medicine, they’ll have to walk over innocent people to do it. And we’ll make sure that if they do, they’ll get attention that they absolutely do not want.”

Lydia smiled. “Direct action. I didn’t know you were a socialist.”

Noshiko thought about it. “They could get hurt or killed. The military could decide they don’t care what it looks like.”

“They could,” Allison said. “But I suspect that risking this beats watching their parents and their children die from a treatable disease. We can’t save everyone; sometimes we just have to help them save themselves. I’m bringing my father just in case they don’t want to listen to me because I’m too young or a woman. Is this plan okay with you, Noshiko?”

The kitsune thought about it. Lydia had told Allison that she could be centuries old. “Yes. It is better to fight than to wait to die. And I don’t really think they’re going to have any trouble listening to you, Miss Argent.”

Allison nodded her thanks. It felt like the world shifted under her feet once again, but this time, it wasn’t crumbling.

Chapter Text

To human eyes, the lights of San Carlos de Bariloche would have been like shining stars — bright but indistinct — pooled on the dark cloth of the horizon. Jackson’s eyes could see each individual light. The people walking the streets were like ants, but if he strained, he could tell one from the other. They were filing out into the night as the clocks crept closer to midnight, to complete their celebration of Christmas Eve.

Even though it was summer in the Southern Hemisphere, the wind off the mountain made him shiver as if he were home. Beacon Hills would only be a little colder this December. Everything else was different, especially the trees; the lengas and coihue didn’t smell anything like the pines and oaks of the Preserve. The mountains were to the west, not the east. It didn’t feel right.

Jackson dug into his pockets and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He had bought these in Mexico City, mostly to annoy the twins. He admitted that he wasn’t the best traveling companion. Smoking had also given him something to do during the long hours in the car, though, though it made the interior and his clothes stink.

He wouldn’t smoke them anymore. Cora had told him when he walked into the house that he smelled like a house fire. So, now, he took each cigarette out of the pack, one at a time, and crushed them until they were nothing but crumbles of tobacco and shreds of paper. They fell from his stained fingers to the ground.

“Homesick?” Derek asked from behind him.

“How do you do that? I’m a werewolf, too.”

“It takes practice.”

Another breeze came down from the Andes and it made the trees sigh. Some night bird made calling sounds in the distance. Inside the house, Jackson could make out Peter lecturing the twins on the proper way to do dishes.

“I am.” Jackson said it out loud. “I didn’t think I’d miss Beacon Hills at all. You know why I wouldn’t. But I am. I want to go back, and I can’t.”

“You don’t miss Beacon Hills.”

The lights down below twinkled. In the distance, there was a sharp retort of a firework. The celebration was beginning.

“You miss Lydia. You miss your parents. You miss your alpha.”

Jackson snorted in derision and crushed another cigarette. “That guy. What an asshole.”

“He grows on you.”

“Like a fungus.” Jackson chuckled. “Do you think he’s all right?”

“No.”

“Me, neither. What a shitty world.”

Derek sighed and Jackson felt embarrassed for a hot second. Then he remembered he had every right to say that.

“There are worthwhile things in it.”

“Like what?”

Derek put a hand on Jackson’s shoulder. “Listen.” So Jackson did.

Deep within the house, probably in one of the upstairs bedrooms, Jackson caught the sound of Cora brushing her hair. Maybe she was sitting before her vanity, maybe she was sitting on the bed looking out at the perfect darkened sky. “Oh, holy night, the stars are brightly shining …

Derek moved his hand and adjusted Jackson head. “Look.” So Jackson did.

Down by the shores of Nahual Huapi Lake, more lights had begun. The globos lifted off into the sky. A world war was raging and everything was terrible, but hope rose like paper lanterns into the sky.

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.

******

Lydia Martin stared at a glass of water. Of course, it wasn’t an ordinary glass of water. The water may have been something they got out of the tap, but the fine Steuben Baluster water goblet was not. The scented candles reflected in the water weren’t ordinary either. They were beautiful in their own way, just like everything in this room was beautiful.

The Beacon Hills Country Club was hosting its annual Christmas Eve dance. The decorations were exquisite. Real pine boughs and garlands were arranged artfully around the room. The lace on the table cloths was Nativity gold. The orchestra mixed only top quality dances with classic Christmas songs and even a few of the new hits, like “White Christmas.”

Larry Martin’s eyes were on the dance floor as he puffed a Lucky Strike. If Lydia deigned to follow his eyes, she’d be able to tell which blondes he was ogling, but she would never do something like that. Her father was such a pig.

Natalie Martin focused on her own wine glass. She wasn’t drunk by a long shot; she would never let herself go that far. She would drink quietly, steadily and purposefully so she could smile in front of everyone who was watching her.

“Merry Christmas,” Lydia said sourly.

“What’s wrong?” Her father immediately turned to her, suddenly concerned.

“Don’t be silly, dear,” Natalie replied to him. “She misses Jackson.”

Lydia blinked at the change in her parents. “Yes. Kinda.”

“I’m sure he and his parents know what they’re doing,” Larry advised. “It’s a smart move. He went through so much, and his parents wouldn’t want to pile on top of him should he get classified 4-f.”

“You care about Jackson?” Lydia founder herself on the wrong foot. She didn’t realize her father had put any thought into it.

“Of course he cares, Lydia. You care about Jackson, so that means we do.” Natalie defended Larry as if they weren’t miserable when they were together. “We just want you to be happy, and that means we want Jackson to be happy.”

“Oh.” Lydia felt at a lost. “I thought you didn’t like me with him.”

Natalie reassured her. “We want what’s best for you, and maybe we thought that you deserved someone easier than Jackson Whittemore. But it’s your choice.”

“Things are tough right now, pumpkin,” Larry advised. “For everyone, with the war and economy. Our only choice is to do what we can and be patient with the rest. Things will get better.”

“Now, it’s Christmas Eve! You should go dance with some cute boy; take off your mind off of missing Jackson. You look beautiful. I told you that dress brought out your hair. Mr. Bryant is looking very dapper.”

Lydia regarded her parents. “I will, if you’ll dance too.”

“Oh, we haven’t danced for years!” Natalie protested.

“We haven’t?” Her father looked puzzled.

“Not since Cousin Marjorie’s wedding.”

Lydia slid in. “And it’s about time you did again.”

Her parents got up at her insistence and they made their way to the dance floor. Lydia, as good as her word, went up and danced with that Bryant fellow or someone, she was barely interest. Faking interest was as easy as breathing to her.

Instead, she watched her parents dance under the Christmas decorations. They were good; they were more than good. They enjoyed it. They enjoyed each other. Why didn’t they do this more? Why were they growing apart when it would take only a little effort to stay together?

She finished her dance and head back to the table. She wouldn’t be like that. She would make not just a little effort. Like the way they had helped save those people at Oak Creek. She would always make her best effort.

The orchestra played a Christmas hymn to let the dancers take a rest. Lydia sang along with it under her breath “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

******

Snow fell in great fat white flakes. It stuck to the trees, it stuck to the ground, it filled the air, hushing sounds, and transforming a winter’s night into something wonderful.

The flakes got tangled up in Allison’s eyelashes. She brushed them off.

She brought the crossbow up to her shoulder. She wouldn’t need it, she didn’t think, but it’s always better to be carrying around an unneeded weapon than to need one and not have it. She barely left tracks as she walked through the forest. Below her, Oak Creek’s lights blurred in the snow. Everything seemed peaceful.

She had been doing this ever since they had forced the camp’s administration to accept the stolen drugs for their internees. Allison didn’t trust the people running the camp, so she was going to make sure they didn’t do anything fishy. It was pointless; Noshiko would have warned them if that had happened, but Allison felt compelled to see it for herself.

Once she was satisfied, Allison turned to make her way back toward her home. There was a heavy footfall in the snow and she brought her crossbow up to the ready. “Who’s there?”

“Don’t worry, it’s just me.” Her father stepped out of the darkness, clad in a heavy coat. The snow had begun to accumulate on his shoulders.

“What are you doing out here?”

“It’s Christmas Eve, Allison.”

“Do you think people like Dr. Liston or Peter Hale care about it being Christmas Eve?” She turned away and started walking down the path. “People like them are more likely to use the season to get they want. They don’t respect other people. They don’t respect their lives, and they don’t respect their beliefs. Why should I possibly think that they’re going to respect the holiday season?”

“I wasn’t talking about them.” Her father fell into step next to her. “I simply didn’t think my only daughter should be alone, tonight of all nights. You don’t mind if I patrol with you?”

Allison felt her heart expand and it must have shown on her face, for her father smiled back at her. She shook her head to tell her father that it was fine for them to patrol together.

Beacon Hills wasn’t that big. The population was about 30,000 and it was nestled down in the valley between two woody hills. Through the bare deciduous trees and the conifers, the Argents could watch over the entire town. The snow drifted down like a blessing of peace. It would have been easy to stop, to watch the snow fall. Still, they took one step in front of the others.

Sometimes, they passed near to homes where the people inside were still up. The children were asleep, waiting for Santa Claus, while the parents struggled to put together a bike or a dollhouse. They’d sometimes hear strains of music.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,” sang the radio, “for yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.

The music died as they kept walking. But there was nothing to see. All was peaceful.

Her father cleared his throat. “Do you want to go?”

Tears stung Allison’s eyes; between that and the snow it was hard to see. “Yes.”

The cemetery wasn’t much of a detour on the way of the home. It was even quieter than the rest of the city and that was saying something. Allison felt cold as she walked down the rows. She had dressed warmly, but it wasn’t that.

It was how much she hated this place.

She stood with her father before her mother’s grave and wondered if she had made her Mom proud.

******

Isaac held the door open for Melissa. He had driven here; Melissa wasn’t confident with her driving on snow. It had always terrified her. He, at least, had heightened reflexes and superior senses. They had reached their destination without any problems.

“Thank you, Isaac.”

“Are we on time?”

At that, the bell of the church started to ring to mark the midnight hour.

“Right on time, let’s go.”

Isaac could only barely remember attending church when he was younger. It was something that the Lahey family had only done while his mother was still alive. His father had had little use for the church after she had passed, and after Camden had left and then died as well, Mr. Lahey was openly hostile to any idea of a higher power. Isaac wondered if God and his father had worked their differences out in the afterlife.

Following Melissa, Isaac did what she did, but he didn’t really understand what he was doing. He hoped he wouldn’t embarrass her. Before he could, Melissa caught hold of his hands and squeezed it.

“This is worship, Isaac. It’s not a test. It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake; we’ve all made mistakes.”

The church was warm and lit with candles. Even though it was midnight, it was also full of people. Some were solemn, some were happy, but none of them were afraid.

He wished he felt the same way. He was afraid all the time now, no matter how often people reminded him that he wasn’t alone. It wasn’t a helpless fear. It was an angry fear. So much was in danger, and all he could do was wait. Every time he turned around, there were people he cared about who were threatened and all he could do is wait until he had a chance to do some little thing to help.

How long before there was no chance?

The priests and the singers and the children in their brilliant white robes walked past him. The choir raised its voice in song.

"Fall on your knees. Oh, hear the angel voices! Oh, night divine! Oh night when Christ was born."

Isaac fidgeted next to Melissa. He looked down at her, and she smiled reassuredly up at him. Her eyes were wet. “Are you okay?”

“Scott always came with me. It was … it was part of Christmas.”

Isaac didn’t know what to say, but he felt like he should say something. He stammered for a moment but then he remembered. “Then pretend.” He whispered.

“What, honey?”

“When it got bad at home.” He paused taking a deep breath. “I’d pretend it was just temporary. That Mom would be coming home soon with Camden. That my father would realize he was being mean and let me out of the freezer. That eventually the sun would go down, and when it came back up, we’d be a family again. I knew that it wouldn’t happen; I knew that my father was going to keep doing what he did, but it helped me get through it.”

“Scott is going to come home,” Melissa spoke and grabbed his hand. “I’m not pretending. I have faith.”

“I don’t.”

In the middle of the service, Melissa brought Isaac’s head down and kissed him on the forehead. “Maybe you could give it a try?”

******

“We should be out there, doing something!” Steve complained to Peggy. “Not sitting here and eating pudding!”

“I like pudding.”

Her dead-pan delivery broke him out of his rant. The S.S.R. was stationed in Marche, a beautiful little town in Belgium. Inside, they celebrated the holiday. The owner of the house had offered it to the famous Captain America when they had arrived. She was a lovely old lady with sparkling eyes and a bent back. When he had protested that he couldn’t drive someone out if their home during Christmas, the woman had insisted that it didn’t feel like home as long as the Nazis were in her country. The old woman would go and stay with her sister.

That gave Steve, the Howling Commandos, Peggy, Howard, and Stiles a lovely brick house to stay in during the latter weeks of December. It was much better than the tents. They could even use the kitchen.

So the S.S.R. was supposed to rest and recuperate in the city until they could get to the next Hydra facility, which would be the first one within Germany itself. However, then had come the enemy plan to reclaim the momentum on the Western Front, called the Ardennes Counteroffensive. The German plan was obvious — with armored divisions and aggressive tactics, they would recapture Antwerp, cutting off the Allied supply lines, and encircle a large number of Allied units.

Several division stood in their way, and one of them was the S.S.R. Steve wanted to lead the men to the relief of the American and British forces, but that had been vetoed by both Colonel Phillips and the Allied High Command. The S.S.R. would only get involved if the Germans reached Marche. This didn’t sit well with Cap, but it was a strategic decision.

Peggy got up and pulled the pan off the stove. “Hot chocolate is good, as well.”

“You’re humoring me.”

“I’m calming you down,” she replied. “One of the hardest orders to follow is the one to stand down when you know other people are dying. But they don’t give those orders without a reason. It’s been decided that we handle Hydra. They’ll handle the rest of the Nazis.”

“You’re right. It’s hard.” Steve took a sip. “And yes, this hot chocolate is good. Where did you learn this?”

“Rogers, contrary to what you might think, I was a girl growing up.”

“I didn’t say you weren’t!”

“Your tone might have implied that I was planning to be a soldier when I was five.”

“Weren’t you?”

“Yes, but that’s not important.” She came over to him. “It’s Christmas Eve, Steve. We’re not fighting tonight, and that might change tomorrow. So, why don’t you relax and drink your hot chocolate with me?”

Steve wished he could lean over and kiss her right then, but it wouldn’t be right. “So what should we do?”

“I saw a piano in the drawing room. I’ll play, if you’ll sing.”

“Singing?”

“You were a U.S.O. performer!”

“I was more of an actor and an acrobat.” He laughed.

It turned out that Gabe Jones could play the piano and that there was a collection of sheet music. Most of it was in French, but through a little digging they could find some Christmas songs that people recognized. Steve stood next to Peggy, his arm around her shoulders in what he hoped came across as a comradely feeling.

Truly, He taught us to love one another. His law is love and His gospel is peace

******

Stiles lay on the bed looking at the ceiling. There was singing downstairs. He could smell food. Real, home-cooked food. Not meals-ready-to-eat. He should go down there. It was Christmas Eve after all. Lying on a bed in an old lady’s spare bedroom being sad wasn’t doing anyone one any good.

But this wasn’t about doing anyone any good. This was about home. His father would be alone tonight, most likely working because if he wasn’t working, he’d have to go home to an empty house. Stiles could imagine his father with a bottle in his hand, staring at the chair in the living room where Stiles had sat.

He threw himself onto his stomach. What was he doing here?

He was being a soldier. He was helping to end the war. The people on the first floor were soldiers, too. They had families. They had homes. They were in the same situation he was. He got off the bed and headed downstairs.

Chains shall he break for the salve is our brother, and in His name, all oppression shall cease.

Stiles smiled from the staircase until they were down with the scene. “I hope, for your guys’ sake, the war lasts forever.”

Every single person gathered around the piano looked up at him, in surprise, from engineer to secret agent to superhero to commando.

“Because if you guys had to make a living by your singing voices, you’d starve to death.”

The joke landed precisely because it was unexpected. Stiles laughed out loud, maybe a little too loud, braying at the others. He still had it.

The dinner was ready. It turned out that Jacques Fournier’s skill with explosive actually came from his skill with cooking. Howard had flashed some silver around the town — paying extra — and found enough extra food to have a real Christmas dinner. They weren’t going to wait for Christmas day though — the Germans were getting closer.

They had started telling each other stories about the Christmas traditions of their families.

“So, Bucky’s family always put up a Christmas tree for me, even though I was way too old, and they never would have done it. I mean, I wasn’t even staying with them, but they insisted that when I came over, it would feel like home.”

“Steve, it wasn’t all for you!” Bucky protested. “I was a big fan of Santa Claus myself!”

“Buck, you were nineteen.”

“That was very nice of your family, Sgt. Barnes,” Peggy laughed. “Did you dress up as Father Christmas?”

“For the hundredth time, when we’re off duty call me Bucky. And no, I didn’t have the gut for it.”

Everyone burst out laughing. Then Dum Dum Dugan told a story about how his and his four brothers had been managed to get locked out of the house on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Claus to appear and that their mother had watched them from the window until it started to snow. She then let them in, gave them a hug, and gave them a swat on their backsides before sending them to bed. Surprisingly, none of them got coal in their stockings.

“So, Stiles, you have any stories about Christmas?”

Stiles winked at Howard. “Of course I do!” He thinks back to the best stories. He could tell the time when he got sick after eating way too many of his mother’s sugar cookies. He could tell them the time that he had discovered the Christmas presents in the closet, and his mother had made up a story about how she had asked Santa to deliver them early just in case she had to go back to the hospital.

The smile died on his lips. He blinked. He knew what story he could tell.

“Morning of Christmas Eve just two years ago, I was with my friend Scott at his house. He had saved up the money from working with the local animal doctor — he wants to be one of those — and he had bought his mother a vase. Well, I’m such a klutz that I dropped it. Scotty didn’t know, so I ran all over town to find one. I even got my father to help. And then I had to bust into his house through the second-story window to get the present in the tree while they were at Mass. Melissa was convinced they had been robbed when they got home, because I had tracked snow and mud over the house. Scott figured it out but he never said anything to his Mom. He was used to me always breaking things.”

Stiles kept the smile plastered on his face while his new friends joked about how he hadn’t changed that much. Stiles was thinking about that Christmas too. It was a shiny memory, something that he could keep with him no matter what, something indestructible. Because it was true — he was always breaking things.

Because sixteen days after that Christmas had been the Wolf Moon of 1943, and he had dragged Scott out to look for a body in the woods.

******

In the shadows of his quarters, Scott was sure he was forgetting something.

Biting winds whistled down the sides of the Alps and tore into this place. The days were short and bitterly cold; the nights were long and even colder. This bunker-like fortress had been built for him and his pack, so it was devoid of many comforts or necessities that other people might need. His pack were stronger than humans, hardier. They could deal with fewer lights, with cold showers, with rough beds. The Red Skull had named the place the Hundegrube, the Dog’s Pit. He was a very funny man.

Scott planned to make sure that it was he who had the last laugh.

If Schmidt thought that mocking him and his pack was going to get them to roll over — Scott smiled at the pun — he had another thing coming. This was his place, free of surveillance and human control. Yeah, there were a few Hydra soldiers here to ‘assist’, but all of them kept to themselves. They could feel it; in this place, they were the ones in danger. It would do for now.

It would do until he could figure out a way to rescue the children from the main Hydra base up in the Alps. The Hundegrube dominated the only reasonable line of assault on Hydra’s headquarters. Any army trying to reach Schmidt and his toys would have to go right past them. The Red Skull probably expected Scott and his pack to hold the passage.

They just might as long as the children were there. Any attempt by the Allies or the pack to storm the place would put them in danger.

But it wouldn’t come to that. Scott had a plan. Slowly, slowly, he had gotten not only the location of the children’s barracks but also a path to them. It had taken time and patience; Schmidt didn’t know about an alpha’s abilities to extract and manipulate memories through their claws. The Geneticist hadn’t know about it, either. Slowly, one Hydra trooper after another, he was building an escape plan. All he needed was time. It warmed his heart that all the pack was behind him, regardless of the crown.

Linde appeared at the door and waited for Scott to recognize him. Scott wished he didn’t do it, but he was military trained. At least Ruslo didn’t salute. “Yes?”

“Alpha, Herr Schmidt has made a request.”

“Oh, has he? What am I supposed to do this time?”

Linde shuffled in and took out a piece of paper. As was probably wise, as Scott’s pack grew, the Red Skull made appearances in person less and less. Schmidt wouldn’t be afraid, but he would be cautious. “As Sturmscharführer McCall has no doubt been told, the tide of the war has turned, but it is not yet settled. All resources for Germany need to be refocused for victory, and that calls upon us to make sacrifices.”

Scott growled. “He’s threatening to starve us and the children, go on.”

“However, in these dire times, we can alleviate the need for these sacrifices by contributing to the war effort. For example, there’s a scientist presently in Marche, Belgium, named Howard Stark. If he were to perish, it would do a great deal for Hydra’s purposes. Perhaps the Sturmscharführer would consider undertaking this mission.”

“We’re not fucking assassins, Linde!”

“Yes, Alpha.”

The wind continued to whistle outside. Scott gripped the chair of his arm.

“We’re not ready yet.”

Linde didn’t comment; he knew the plan and he knew how far it had gotten.

“We need more time.”

“This is war, alpha. People die all the time in war. If we do this thing for Schmidt, he’ll be satisfied that he’s making progress with us. He’ll ignore us.”

“Until he needs something else.”

“It’ll give us time.” Linde came up to him. “Stark’s just a single human.”

Scott suddenly wanted to scream. What the hell was it with the bad guys trying to force him to kill? Why was he the only person who could use this stupid crown? People should want monsters like Deucalion or Peter to decide between life and death. But there was no help for it; he was the one making these decisions, and he had to keep making them.

The alpha closed his eyes. He nodded. It felt like failure. It felt like he had finally, really, truly lost. “I’ll take our four best men.”

“Alpha, no.” Linde nearly shouted. “You can’t go. You have to remain here. You have to keep training the other betas. Only you can use your claws well enough to get the information the plan needs. Let me go.”

“I’m not going to make other people do it so my hands stay clean.”

“You can’t think about it that way. We’re at war with the humans. If any of us have a chance to get out of this alive, you have to be there to lead us. I’ll go with four others. I’ll kill this Stark and then come back.”

Scott hated the idea with every fiber of his being. Not only was he going to be forced to kill, he couldn’t even do it himself. A packmate, a friend, was going to do it for him. But there was no other choice; the Red Skull was not leaving him any.

“Do it.” Scott gave the order. He must have imagined it, but he felt something die. “Oh, and Linde?”

“Yes, Alpha?”

“You have to come back.”

Linde disappeared leaving Scott alone in the near darkness of his quarters. He felt drained, even though he’d never been stronger. What was going to come next?

It wasn’t until Scott had almost fallen asleep that he remember the thing that had been bothering him. It was Christmas Eve.

Chapter Text

DECEMBER 26, 1944

“Well, I hope that Cap is damn well enjoying this!” Howard complained loudly enough to be heard over the blizzard. Trunks cracked under the strength of the wind and weight of the snow, and branches whistled during the gusts.

“Howard, Steve isn’t responsible for the weather!” Peggy attempted to maneuver her body to give the engineer more shelter from the wind. The winter coat she had wasn’t heavy enough and the cold was soaking into her bones. She had to admit to herself that Stark had a point. As much as Captain Rogers had tried — and he had tried — he had made it quite clear that he was uncomfortable with their squad’s Christmas-time R&R while other men were fighting so close by. His complaining to the colonel had contributed to it being the day after Christmas and they were back to work.

The snow-laden gale continued to swirl around them viciously, even though Mr. Stark had chosen the cover of a tank perched on the side of the road. The engineer was trying to fix the radio with heavy gloves on, and it wasn’t working out too well.

The damaged radio erupted in a shower of sparks. “Damn it,” Stark cried and pulled his gloves off.

“Howard, don’t.”

“This radio isn’t going to get fixed if I have to fumble at it like a toddler eating corn-on-the-cob.” Howard yelled as sarcastically as he could in the wintry blast.

Peggy pulled out her pocket watch. With the temperature hovering around zero and the wind gusting to white-outs periodically, frostbite could set in within minutes. She’d give Howard exactly four minutes, and then she’d make him put his gloves back on even if she had to knock him out to do it.

Eleven thousand American troops were besieged in Bastogne and the situation was becoming more desperate with every hour that passed. General Patton’s Third Army had started its offensive in the early morning with the goal of break the encircling German units. Even with this emergency, nothing Captain Rogers could say had convinced Colonel Phillips to mobilize the S.S.R. until they had received an intelligence report about a small squad of soldiers wearing Hydra uniforms, severing supply lines and taking out the 101st’s pickets.

This squad’s last reported action was a raid against the relief force. The S.S.R. had mobilized toward that squads last known location only to find two tanks ruined and a third one operational but without radio communication.

Tactically, communication was vitally important when pushing through enemy lines. Without it, a relief force, such as Patton’s army, could find itself surrounded as well. Severed supply lines meant that there would be two sieges, and that wouldn’t be good for the Allies. Peggy found herself standing over Howard at the side of the road while he was trying to fix a broken-down radio, while Jim Morita, Jacques Dernier and Stiles Stilinski plus the tank crew kept an eye out.

Captain Rogers had taken the rest of the unit and were conducting a sweep of the forest on the north side of the road, combing the woods for the Hydra troopers. Honestly, in these conditions, it would be a miracle if they were successful. A snow squall had hit the area a half-hour before the S.S.R. arrived. Two tanks had been disabled on the side of the road and there were no signs of their crew. After the third tank crew investigated and found nothing, they had tried to call headquarters immediately. Someone had thrown an icicle and smashed their radio.

“There! We! Go!” cried Howard. “Success!” He slipped his gloves back on. “Just like a woman, all it needed was a delicate touch, gentlemen, and she’ll do what you want.”

Peggy hauled him up to his feet roughly.

“Just kidding, Major.” Howard apologized as he pulled on his gloves.

They left the radio operator to get to work; he was behind in his check-ins. There was nothing more that the five members of the S.S.R. could do, so for the present they huddled together behind a line of scrub. Private Stilinski, the youngest member of the S.S.R. there, was so cold that his teeth were chattering. Peggy resisted the urge to go over and make Stiles button up more. It would just be embarrassing for both of them.

Private Morita frowned as glanced at the falling snow. There weren’t many blizzards in Fresno. “Do we go join Cap?”

“Impossible to find them in all this,” Peggy made the call. “Without using the flare, we could walk right past them. Mr. Stark is also a non-combatant.”

“I can handle myself!” Howard protested.

“There’s a barn down the road about a hundred feet,” chattered Stiles. “We could get out of the wind at least.”

“That’s an idea!” Howard had his hands shoved into his armpits to get feeling back in his fingers.

Before Peggy could shoot that idea down, the tank commander came over to them. “Major Carter. I think you need to take a look at this. One of my guys noticed something weird on one of the other tanks.”

She allowed herself to be escorted to one of the disabled tanks, whose crew had disappeared.

The tank commander was a middle-aged man from Iowa, cheeks bright red in the weather. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” He explained that the tracks of the tanks had been disabled, which was why they stopped moving, but that wasn’t the frightening part. The frightening part were the long metal gouges on the side of one of the tanks. They looked like claw marks.

“Stilinski!” She shouted as she studied them. The tank commander pointed out that his man found other, similar markings on the other tank as well.

Stiles rushed over, and Peggy pointed at the evidence. It didn’t take the boy more than a second to nod quickly. He looked both stricken and excited. This was the first time that the S.S.R. had gotten any indication that werewolves were being used in battle. Private Stilinski seemed more interested in the damage to the tracks.

“What’s the matter?”

“Ma’am, even one of them is going to be pretty strong to break a moving tank’s treads. I can’t be sure but it could be the alpha.”

The major snapped out orders. “Lieutenant, get your tank on the road. The S.S.R. will take it from here. Morita, send off the flare.”

Peggy and Stiles went to rejoin Howard, as Morita and Dernier got to work on the flare. It was a two-man job, as the flare was big enough to summon the entire unit back, even in the thick of battle or the harshest storm.

“You think it’s McCall’s pack?” Howard asked, putting a hand on Stiles’ shoulder.

“Who else could it be?” The private sounded bleak.

Peggy pulled her pistol. “We’ve destroyed every major Hydra facility outside of Germany. It was only a matter of time before they hit back; maybe they’re hoping that the supernatural element will take us by surprise. But it also means that this is a trap.”

“A trap?”

“They didn’t disable two tanks and then leave a third one for us to rescue out of the kindness of their hearts. They wanted us to do exactly what — stop to help and then split up.”

The tank pulled away, leaving Peggy and the four of them with the four M5 Half-tracks. “We might want to get those started so we can roll out. Mobile targets are harder to hit.”

The flare roared into the sky, visible and audible for miles. They split up to start the trucks when a wolf’s howl broke through the noise of the wind. It was long and loud.

“Shit!” Stilinski exclaimed. “Shit, shit, shit. That’s close.”

Morita peered into the woods. “Are you sure? Oh, fuck!”

Peggy followed the corporal’s eyes to where glowing blue eyes tracking them in the forest. This was a clever ambush. In a move designed to draw them here, Hydra let themselves be seen. “We can’t leave until the others are back. Will the trucks be safe enough?”

“Not a chance. The trucks are too confined if we’re not moving. You don’t want to mix it up with them in a tight space, and their senses are ten times better than any human’s. Out in the open would be worse. We’d be sitting ducks. We gotta get to that barn; it’s our only hope.”

Peggy had brought Stiles along for his advice; she wasn’t going to argue with him now. The five of them sprinted from the trucks to a barn. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw man-shaped figures sprint from tree to tree in the snow, but it was hard to see and they were moving very fast.

The barn’s front doors were mercifully unlocked. The building was meant to hold carriages and horses, but there was nothing in it now. In the corner, Peggy could see the remains of an old fire and some empty MRE packages. American troops had used it to shelter recently. It made sense.

As they reached the safety of the barn, the white sky was split by more howls. Howard looked shocked. “There must be dozens of them.”

Stiles looked back. “You’d think so, but like wolves they can modulate sound. It’s impossible to tell their number by their howls. But I think I’ve got a good idea of their number. Five at least.”

“How can you tell that?” Morita demanded.

The private pointed and in the forest across the road, they could see five pairs of eyes, two blue and three yellow, glowing within the whirling clouds of snow. Stiles and Dernier darter forward and slammed the front doors closed, sliding the bar on. Dernier swore in French.

Peggy’s eyes swept the barn. There were three exits — one small door to the side, the large double doors to the front, and a closed window in the hayloft. It was not the most secure of places. “Private, how many wolf’s bane rounds do you have with you?”

“Four clips.” Stiles stepped up and handed her a clip.

“Give me another one, one to Jim, and one to Jacques.”

Howard protested. “I can shoot!”

“Yes, you can, but right now we need to give the bullets to the best shots.”

There was a sound of something heavy landing on the roof. Snow fell between the ceiling slats.

Private Stilinski had his jaw clenched as if he was approaching the guillotine. He whispered, “We’re surrounded. They’re faster than you. They’re stronger than you. I’ve got something I can do that will slow them, so if I tell you not to fire, don’t.”

The wind screamed as it try to force its way in. Peggy positioned herself in front of the double doors and the hayloft window. She placed Jim on her right, facing the small side door, while she put Dernier on her left. She put Stiles and Howard in the back. Even though they were inside the barn, their breath turned to frost in the air.

Dernier complained about not having enough explosive, but he was only covering his own fear. On the wall with the side door, there was the sound of claws scraping across wood.

“What are they doing?” Peggy whispered.

“Scaring us,” Stiles answered. He grabbed something in his hands. “Remember, once they get inside, they’ll probably be able to hear our heartbeats. It makes it hard to hide from them.”

Howard blew air through his nose. “Well, that’s wonderful.”

A minute — maybe two — went by and Peggy could feel the tension mount in her shoulders. She had her gun ready, but it would be better if the fight didn’t start until Captain Rogers and the others could get back.

There would be no more time for planning when the front door was hit with something large and powerful. The bar splintered as if it was made of rotted wood, and three werewolves charged into the room. They were shifted, as Stiles had described it, with fangs, claws, glowing eyes, and misshapen faces. They were too close!

“Hold on!” Stiles shouted and threw the mountain ash into the air, surrounding the five of them in a perfect circle. “They don’t have any guns.”

The werewolves charged forward but bounced off an invisible force in the air like a child on a trampoline. They were up immediately, growling in confusion.

“We don’t need guns,” said the leader in nearly flawless English, though his fangs did cause him to lisp a bit, once he had recovered himself. “All we want is Howard Stark.”

No one said anything, but Peggy wasn’t going to be shocked if Howard gave them away. The man was an engineer and not a trained fighter. His heart was probably in his throat. “I’m afraid that’s out of the question. I am Major Peggy Carter of the S.S.R. Why do you want Mr. Stark?”

“The one in the back in the nice coat.” The leader werewolf pointed at Howard. “Take him. None of the rest of you will be harmed, unless you resist.”

The two other werewolves rushed forward. Stiles gasped but when Jim raised his gun, he reached out and snatched at Morita’s arm, spoiling his aim. The werewolves were utterly surprised that the mountain ash repelled them once again.

The leader frowned as each of the werewolves had a pistol pointed at them.

“You weren’t expecting that, were you?” Stiles taunted.

He was about to continue taunting the werewolves, but Peggy cut him off. “Private Stilinski, please be quiet.” She was going to stall; now that it seemed that they weren’t in immediate danger, she wanted to take a prisoner. “You see we’re not as unaware of you as you might think. It might have been a mistake to lure us here.”

With a jerk of his head, the leader sent the other two werewolves prowling around the mountain ash circle. They were probably looking for some means to get at Howard. “A mistake? It worked, didn’t it?”

“Doesn’t seem like it.”

The werewolf roared at her. It was intimidating enough, and she’d seen shifted werewolves before. Morita, Dernier and Stark were very intimidated, but they didn’t break formation.

“We’ll complete our mission, one way or the other.” In German, which she spoke, he commanded the others. “I’ll keep them busy. Find something to throw across the mountain ash.”

The weight of the gun felt heavy in Peggy’s hand. Stark’s life was her highest priority, of course, but her duty was to think long term. She needed to capture one of these creatures in order to discover how far Schmidt’s program had gotten. “Not the talker,” she ordered and shot one of his subordinates. Dernier and Morita opened fire as well.

The werewolves were stronger and faster, but they weren’t able to dodge bullets fire by elite soldiers. The first bullets didn’t take seem to slow down at first, but then the wolf’s bane must act fast, because they dodge for the only cover which was outside.

“What have you done?” the enemy leader cried. He turned to check on the other werewolves, which became his biggest mistake. Pushing past Peggy, Stiles leapt forward and threw another one of his mountain ash circles, but this time it encircled himself and the leader. With blinding speed, the leader whirled and caught Stiles on the forearm, drawing blood with his claws. The force of the blow knocked Stiles out of the circle though, and he rolled over to the other side. He groaned, but he was still conscious enough to look back and see if the circle was broken. It wasn’t.

“Fire on anyone but him!” Peggy shouted and sent another bullet at the fleeing werewolves.

The leader clawed at the circle. A bleeding Stiles crawled back to the first circle he threw and was helped to his feet. There were still two wounded werewolves and two unwounded ones outside, that they were sure about.

But the situation changed once more as moments later as there was a howl and the sound of machine guns. Captain Rogers and the rest of the S.S.R. had returned. The trapped werewolf howled in a different way and there were the sounds of running.

Morita was attempting to patch up the slash on Stiles’ arms, but Stiles fought to remain conscious. “He just ordered a retreat.”

The captured werewolf scowled at Stiles. If looks could kill, they’d all be dead.

Peggy looked at the thin line of mountain ash. “Is that going to hold?”

“As long as I’m conscious, yes.”

She waited patiently until the sounds of the fighting were over, and Captain Rogers and others pulled open the doors to the barn.

******

The world was much stranger than he had ever believed growing up in Brooklyn. There had been days when Steve thought he might never live anywhere else but the small apartment he had shared with his mother. He would never do anything else but get a job in some factory or office and draw on the weekends. And yet, here he was — standing in a barn in Belgium interrogating a werewolf which worked for Nazi mad scientists.

Life sure wasn’t easy to predict.

Most of the troop were setting up a perimeter around the barn, as this would be the position of the S.S.R. for at least the next day. The core group had gathered within, studying their captive. The most interested were Bucky and Howard, who stared at the captive werewolf with naked interest. The others had believed what Stiles had said about them — after all, they’d seen the superhuman in Cap — but actually having evidence before their eyes was disconcerting.

After the initial fight was over, their captive — the werewolf leader — began to shift uncomfortably in his prison. Steve was about to ask Stiles if it was a side effect of being in the ring when the werewolf shifted back to human form. He was young — probably as young as Stiles was. The young German focused his eyes on a spot on the wall, and Steve, with a shock, realized he was uncomfortable being stared at.

For all his words to Stiles earlier, he too could forget that their enemies were human as well. The captive wasn’t nearly as fearsome without the claws.

Colonel Phillips, his winter coat hanging open, parted the gawkers and approached the captive. They had delayed the interrogation until he had arrived. “What’s your name, son?”

The leader’s bravado was receding rapidly. He blinked and shook his head, but he followed the rules of war. “Horst Linde.”

The colonel raised one eyebrow. “No rank?”

Linde shook his head.

“Well, if you aren’t a soldier, that makes you a murderer,” Phillips observed. “Private Stilinski, can werewolves be hung?”

“I don’t know, sir. We might have to try it and find out.”

Linde’s panic was visible only for a moment.

Phillips pushed on. “If you’re willing to talk, maybe we can avoid that, but we’re going to need some real information.” At the werewolf’s silence, the colonel shrugged. “All right, everyone else, go find me a rope and a big tree.”

“Wait.” The young man said quickly. “I’ll talk, but only if Captain America and this one stay.” The werewolf indicated Stilinski. Steve and Stiles looked at each other.

Phillips hooked a finger at Stiles to get him to come closer; he was operating in the dark, having the least amount of exposure to Stilinski’s world. “Well, young man, you’re wearing a uniform. That implies that you’re a Hydra soldier.”

“I’m not. They don’t give us anything else to wear,” Linde suddenly looked defiant.

The three men remained quiet — some of them had better poker faces than the other.

Linde turned directly to Private Stilinski. “I claim you as Emissary.”

“I’m not an Emissary!”

“You know what they know.”

Colonel Phillips snorted. “Someone want to tell me what in Sam Hill an Emissary is right now?”

“Sir, werewolf packs often have a human advisor to serve as a buffer between them and humans,” Stiles explained. “Many humans don’t understand the instincts that govern packs, and some werewolves have problems with human customs. When packs try to resolve things diplomatically, they often employ Emissaries as neutral parties to facilitate things. But I can’t be objective, so I can’t be an Emissary.”

“You can be what I say you can be, private.” Phillips eyes the werewolf. “You’ll talk if he acts as one of these people?”

“I won’t betray my pack, but the alpha trusts Stiles Stilinski more than anyone on in the world, which means so must I.”

Steve caught Stiles’ anxious swallow.

“You’ll act as Emissary for this interview.” Phillips was an experienced investigator. “So, would you mind telling me where your alpha is?”

Linde shook his head.

“Sir, he’ll never tell us anything that hurts Sc … the alpha. The instinct to protect him will be too strong. But that doesn’t mean he can’t tell us other things.” Stiles turned to face it. “Why did you come here?”

“The Red Skull ordered us to kill Howard Stark; intelligence reports put him at Marche. When we found you had left, we found a way to let you come to us.”

“Why does Johann Schmidt want Howard Stark dead?”

“We don’t know — he doesn’t tell the dogs anything.” Linde replied nastily.

Phillips grimaced, pulling his mouth to the side. “So you don’t consider yourself soldiers, and you’re not on good terms with Hydra’s command. That tells me that you don’t want to be where you are? Hydra has something over you. Is that true?”

“True. Very few humans are trustworthy.” Linde sneered.

That didn’t sound good to Steve; he broke in. “Johann Schmidt isn’t like most humans, which is exactly why we’re trying to stop him.”

Linde flashed his eyes at Captain America; there was more hostility for him than anyone else in the room. “Neither are you. But “You don’t have to worry about The Red Skull,” Linde growled. “You’ll never see him again, Captain; he’ll be long dead before you get a chance. The alpha will destroy him.”

Phillips jumped on that. “Well, that’s promising. Then why hasn’t he?”

The prisoner grimaced and then fell silent. He realized he had spoken too much.

“Your alpha,” Stiles put forward, “isn’t the type of person who goes around killing people.”

That matched Steve’s description and all the real intelligence they had gotten on the boy.

“That was before he understood all the wickedness of which humanity was capable.” Linde’s eyes still glowed their baleful yellow. “He understands now just how terrible you are. He’s more than capable of destroying the Red Skull, but you needn’t take my word for it. Once he gets done with him, he’s coming for you.”

Chapter Text

HEADQUARTERS

STRATEGIC SCIENCE RESERVE

OFFICE OF THE COMMANDER

January 2, 1945

 

My Dear Senator Brandt:

 

I write to you because I simply don’t have the time or the resources to deal with both Hydra’s plans for world domination and the staggering incompetence, vulgar mendacity, and destructive careerism of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover’s men have unwittingly but most assuredly enabled Hydra to develop a super-soldier program that might be able to match Project: Rebirth. You’ve always been a close ally of the S.S.R. and you did great work with Captain Rogers while he was with the U.S.O. With prompt attention, I hope you can help me undermine this new program before it creates serious problems for the Allied war effort.

You were briefed, as all members of the Committee on Military Affairs were, on the incident of Johann Schmidt kidnapping a young man from California, Scott McCall. This young man has a naturally-occurring medical condition that might be the key to a potential new super-soldier program. We took all possible steps to prevent Hydra from achieving its goals, confident from our investigations that the Skull would be unable to win the victim’s cooperation. However, due to some unforeseen tomfoolery of the highest caliber, the FBI managed to paint the victim of kidnapping as a Nazi spy and arrest the victim’s mother and foster brother. They made sure that his and his family’s pictures got paraded across the major newspapers. Of course, they ended up giving Schmidt exactly what they needed to win the victim’s cooperation. If you remember correctly, it was precisely this level of paranoia married to careerism that made me refuse to let Hoover in on our project in the first place.

Hydra’s program is still not complete, but it grows closer to completion every day. I don’t have the ability to correct this blunder on the FBI’s part, but you do. I’ve sent along documents supporting this plan of action.

Yours,
Col. Chester Phillips

******

January 3, 1945

 

Dear Isaac:

 

First off, I want to say that I’m glad you’re out of jail. I didn’t know. None of the pack told me about you being arrested. Maybe they didn’t want to worry me. I know you’re scoffing at that, but I’ve always liked you a little bit. I wouldn’t be such a fool as to tell you that to your face; I’d never hear the end of it. As you will never hear the end of it, when I come home.

And I do want to come home. I want to see all of you again. I’ve had enough adventure to last me a lifetime. Contrary to what you see on the screen and in books, being at war can be pretty boring. There’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, coupled with moments where everyone is trying to kill you. So, it’s pretty much like sophomore year. Only we have uniforms, and I don’t have to go to sit through Coach’s class.

I spent Christmas in this little Belgian town with the guys (and Major Carter). We had chicken — which is not actually a Christmas food, but hey, we’re in the middle of a recently liberated country — and hot chocolate and other great foods that we don’t have a chance of getting too often. It was a nice time. Captain Rogers really thinks that if things continue to go as they are, I’ll be spending next Christmas at home, with all of you.

And I do mean all of us. We’ve got our first real lead on Scott’s position, and we’ll be going to rescue him as soon as we can. I can’t claim that it’ll be easy, but it should come soon. I will let you know, though I hope you can feel it. Please let everyone else know.

I didn’t get to say this before I left, and I’ve not put it in my letters before this. I have to be honest; I could have said something before I left, but I was too ashamed. I’m sorry. I thought I made the best call for everyone when I went by myself after Scott, and I was wrong. Being here has taught me that even the best of intentions doesn’t prevent mistakes, and that best intentions wouldn’t make what I did any less wrong. I hope you guys can forgive me for it.

Stiles

******

January 3, 1945

Dear Lydia:

I heard in a letter from my dad that Jackson and the twins have traveled down to South America. I know it has to be very hard on you, being apart from Jackson after all you two have gone through to be together. I also know that you’re a brilliant, strong woman, and you’ll be able to handle it much better than I’ve been able to handle being away from my family and my friends. I’m always surrounded by people, but it’s not the same.

I know I said some things in the letter to Isaac that he should have shared with the pack, but there are things I have to tell you and only you. I can’t make you promise me from so far away, but I hope you’ll understand why I want you to keep this quiet.

The people in the S.S.R. are good people. One day, when I come home, I’ll tell you all about them. Captain America is just a really good guy. He’s a lot like Scott — you know when Scottie would say something outrageously heartfelt and outside you’d say “What a cornball” but inside you’d get all stupidly warm. He’s like that. And then there’s Major Carter, who reminds me of you so much, and all the others. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I like these people, I trust these people, and I believe in what they’re doing.

But when they’re in battle, and I’ve seen them in battle, they have to make calls, and I don’t know sometimes how they’re able to make the calls that they do. They have to be cold, and I’m worried something terrible might happen. I’m afraid I’ll see it. And I’m afraid you’ll feel it from all the way over there, so I had to write you. After all the things that we kept from you, you deserve this warning.

I hope that I’m wrong. Pray that I’m wrong.

Stiles

******

January 5, 1945

Dad:

Thanks for your last letter. You don’t have to keep telling me how proud of me you are. I get it. I’m doing what I have to do, and I’m doing it in uniform, and I’m doing it for my country and my friends. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but as the days go by, it doesn’t make me feel any better. It makes me feel like crap.

I’m sorry. I’d tear that part of the letter up and start again, but I’m almost out of paper and I won’t get any more until next month. I’ve been here for nine months, and I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve made friends, and I’ve fought in battles, and I’ve helped stopped the bad guys, but the one thing I came over here to do — the reason I left high school early, the reason I made you let me go — I haven’t done. I’m not even close, and it’s even worse.

I think that we might end up killing Scott.

We caught a werewolf when they were on a mission. Turned out that these Hydra assholes forced Scott to bite him by stabbing this kid and leaving him to bleed out right in front of Scott. That happened in April. According to this kid — when he’s not a werewolf he’s just this blond, blue-eyed kid that I can imagine playing lacrosse with me and Scott — those goons have been doing stuff like that Scott for months. You know Scott and his over-grown sense of responsibility, well, they’ve been using that against him. They made him choose between keeping his freedom or letting other bad things happen, and they watched Scott twist himself up in knots about it. You know what’s so funny? It’s exactly how I got Scott to misbehave when we were growing up. “You’re the one bitching that nothing ever happens in this town.”

The more we interrogate this guy, the more I see how Scott’s changed. What did I expect? The Red Skull is a super-villain, like all the people we watched in the Republic serials, and he doesn’t have any limits. I could blame him, but this happened because of my decisions — don’t tell me it’s not. My friend might be gone. When we hear the guy speak, Scott’s sounding more and more like Deucalion.

I don’t feel good, Dad. I have nightmares where I watch us gun him down. I want to come home.

Stiles

******

Mom:

I love you.

I haven’t written you before, because for a long time I didn’t have anything to write with, and then once I did, I didn’t know how I would even get a letter to you. I was a prisoner, and you were a prisoner. There didn’t seem to be much point. I don’t know if you know this, but Isaac was arrested as well. They did this to you because of me. I’m so sorry.

I don’t even know if this letter will ever reach you, but I’m going to write it anyway. I’ve learned a lot of things since they took me, and a lot of those things I didn’t ever want to learn. You told me if I could do something to help, than I need to do it. I have to. I can do something to help, and I’m going to do it, but I’m not sure if you would agree that I should. I’m not sure that anyone back in Beacon Hills would agree. But I don’t have any choice. Not anymore.

I’m going to do something because I have to. I don’t know if I’m going to survive it. I’m not trying to scare you. I just want you to know that I didn’t do it recklessly. I wasn’t suicidal. I did it because there are people who are worth protecting in this world, and that means someone has to risk their lives to protect them.

Even if I do survive, I might never be able to come back home. If that happens, then I want you to let everyone know that I care about them, and I’m sorry I wasn’t there to be what I should have been to them. Tell them I miss them. I miss you.

Your son,
Scott

P.S. I’m going to leave this where someone can find it. I hope after the war is over, someone will put it in the mail.

******

JANUARY 27, 1945 -- WOLF MOON

Stiles had been watching Captain Rogers for the last few days. Stiles hadn’t gone on the raid to capture Dr. Zola, but the private had certainly heard about the outcome. The entire division had heard about the outcome. James Buchanan Barnes had fallen to his death right from a speeding train right in front of his best friend. Bucky was dead, and the Captain was grieving.

Apparently, Steve Rogers grieved as if he had been born in Beacon Hills, which meant he pretended nothing was wrong. After one night at a destroyed French bar futilely drinking with Major Carter, he had floated about the camp with a fake smile on his face. He was like a ghost, trying to convince everyone around him that he was actually alive. No one was fooled.

On the other hand, this was the adult world. They had their jobs to do, so they let him cope with it on his own. Stiles had watched Major Carter especially trying to pretend she didn’t know how badly Cap was hurting. With the amount of emotion hovering between them, Stiles wondered if they would get together after the war.

About four days later, the camp was quiet. Colonel Phillips had gone to debrief Zola, hoping they could use him to find the main Hydra base. There was nothing else to do but prepare for the next battle. Stiles had been reading a book lent to him by the French-based Argents, bothering Dernier for the meaning of vocabulary he hadn’t yet learned. Jacques didn’t appreciate it — his brush with werewolves had shaken him to the core.

It was better now that Horst Linde was gone. At Stiles’ recommendation, he was being held by those very same Argents somewhere in France. They might have need of him again, so they had made an arrangement. Alois Argent would keep him for the S.S.R. until the war ended. Afterward, the call as to what would happen to the German werewolf would be hers.

None-the-less, Dernier’s mild dislike for the whole subject meant that Stiles had to find him when he needed insight on the word, and this night he had already been across the camp three times. Each time he went, he had seen Captain Rogers sitting in his tent, the one he had shared with Bucky, looking at … pretty much nothing.

Stiles was never the most empathetic of his friends. That had always been Scott. But there were a few emotions with which he was very familiar. This was one of them. He went to the door of the tent.

“How did she die?”

Steve startled. Stiles had surprised on a super-hero. Score one for him.

“How did she die?” He repeated, calmly leaning against the door frame.

“Tuberculosis.”

“That’s what she died from, not how she died.” Stiles wondered if he was being cruel. He could be cruel when it was necessary, and it was necessary in this case.

“I don’t know why I was surprised. It wasn’t sudden. It wasn’t unexpected. But I was still surprised.” Steve admitted, shifting to face Stiles. “She was a nurse, and she worked in the tuberculosis ward of our local hospital. I guess it was only a matter of time before she caught it herself. The funny thing …”

Stiles took a few steps inside the tent, now that the conversation looked like it would happen.

Steve stopped and dropped his tie over on the bed. “The funniest thing is that she didn’t get to go the ward of the hospital where she had worked for years. We couldn’t afford it. She had to go to the Brooklyn Home for Consumptives.”

“Oh. I’m going to sit down, okay?”

Steve nodded, and Stiles took a seat on Bucky’s bunk.

“Don’t get me wrong. The people at the Home did everything they could for her, y’know? She never said anything to them about the quality of care, but I always got the feeling she was about to get out of that bed and start showing them what they were doing wrong.”

Stiles nodded. He suspected that Sarah and Claudia would have been good friends.

“I’d get off of work and I’d go there, every day. I couldn’t imagine letting her lie there by herself, knowing what was going to happen. She tried to tell me to stop, or not to come as often as I could, for as long as she could talk.”

“Were you there when …?”

“Yeah.”

It was exactly as Stiles had already suspected. Death came for everyone, but there was something unique about a long, slow lingering death that marked someone’s soul.

“It’s terrible, how you die from consumption,” Captain Rogers admitted in a way that sounded nothing like he normally did. He sounded weak. Stiles wondered if he had ever told anyone this other than Bucky. “They’re drowning right in front of you. You knew I had asthma?”

“I read it.” He had made jokes to Scott about that being the reason he idolized Cap so much. Scott had never responded.

“So when she struggled to draw breath, I knew exactly what she felt like, and I couldn’t do anything. It felt like betraying her.”

Stiles hummed in agreement.

“How did your mother die?”

“Pick’s Disease.”

“I don’t know anything about it.”

“Areas of your brain start to shrink.” Stiles took a deep breath before continuing on. “Its progress is innocent at first. You start to have a little trouble sleeping. You get a little irritable. Then things start getting … difficult. Not that it wasn’t already difficult for her when she had a kid with hyperkinetic disorder.”

Steve watched him with sympathetic eyes.

“Then she started not being able to read or write. Her mind couldn’t make the words mean anything anymore. Then she’d have strange, vivid dreams; they were nightmares, really. She’d wake up screaming and my dad would have to hold her down. Eventually, she couldn’t tell when she was awake or not.”

“Did she remember you?”

“Oh, yeah. She remembered me.” Stiles said grimly. “She remembered that I was a monster trying to kill her. She thought I was watching her, looking for a moment when she was vulnerable.”

“I’m sorry, Stiles. That sounds horrible.”

“She died hating me, or at least the version of me that her disease created.” Stiles wiped his eyes.

For a moment, they were just two men who had lost their mothers. No one was a superhero, no one was an occult expert; no one had a rank. Silence reigned in the tent before Stiles thought he might as well reach the point he was trying to make.

“They don’t get it.”

“Who doesn’t get what?”

“Major Carter. The others. They don’t get that Bucky being gone isn’t about him, exactly. It’s about you.”

Steve opened his mouth to deny it, but he couldn’t, as Stiles had understood when he had come into the tent.

“They think you’re sad because Bucky’s gone, and you are because all the things he could have been will never be. Because all the things you two could have done together, you’ll never do. But that’s not the real problem, is it? It’s deeper than that.”

“I know.” Steve said plainly.

“They don’t get it because they can’t understand how you recreated yourself with him as part of you. When your mother died, she tore a piece out of you. I know because it happened to me, too. When my mother died, my father was still there, but he was so tired. He had been so strong for so long, coping with her delusions, trying to take care of her and me and be a good sheriff. Well, for a while, he sort of checked out. I don’t blame him, but it didn’t make it easy. Scott became …”

The private coughed and turned back to the captain. “You had a hole, and Bucky filled that hole. How did he do it for you?”

Steve laughed out loud. “You know it’s not easy to explain. He filled it by being there in a way no one else could be or wanted to be. He was … he was like one of your shapeshifters. If I needed someone to smack me upside the head and tell me to stop being stupid, he was there. If I needed someone to listen to me whine about my life and just accept it, he was there. If I needed someone to coddle me because I was weak. If I needed to someone to pretend that I wasn’t an asthmatic orphan. It was always Bucky.”

 

“Did you know that I signed up for the draft five times, using fake names? It’s a criminal act. Bucky hated it every time I tried; he thought I was going to get in trouble. But he hated the fact that I felt the need to enlist even more. Even so, he never tried to stop me.” Steve remembered fondly. “Whatever I needed, he’d be. Without hesitation. Without complaint.”

Stiles smiled at the story and then began his own. “Scott was completely different. I was the one who was all over the place. One week we were going to play baseball, another week we were going to be explorers, and another week we were going to fix automobiles. I don’t focus very well unless people are dying, it seems. And while I was careening all over the place, with these big plans and these bigger dreams, Scott was simply … there. I’d make fun of him sometimes, because he comes across sometimes as a little slow, especially when I was in the middle of one of my manias. I’d call him a dope or blame him for me not getting girls, but … I didn’t mean it. I never meant it. He was … he was my anchor.”

Stiles laughed at that. He laughed so hard he had to stop and wipe his eyes.

“It’s funny, you see, because werewolves need an anchor to control the shift, and I’m not one.”

Stiles sobered up.

“You see, Scott cares. It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t know you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a crook or a monster or a killer, he cares. Even if he was fighting you, even if you were hurting him. And I wanted that. I wanted someone who would care for me no matter how annoying I got. No matter how irritating I could be — and I could be very irritating. And he cared. And he kept caring.”

“I was so jealous, sometimes, after he became a werewolf. After he became important. Because there were all those other people, see, and he would care for them, too. But there’s only twenty-four hours in a day, right? There’s only so much time. And eventually, if he got to know all those other people, if he cared for all of them, maybe he’d stop caring for me. And I couldn’t deal with that.”

“I needed him, and he was there. Until the werewolf stuff finally stole him from me.”

“You shouldn’t blame yourself for something the Red Skull did.”

“You are obviously unaware of the Stilinski enhanced ability to take all the blame. Scott wouldn’t even be a werewolf without me. There was a dead body in the woods. I overheard my dad talking about it, and I thought, hey, wouldn’t it be neat to see it? So, of course, I’m going to take Scott with me because Scott always goes with me.” Stiles wiped at his nose after he sniffled. “He didn’t want to go. He wanted to be good and stay home and get a lot of sleep for basketball tryouts. But he could never say no to me.”

“Because he cares about you.”

Stiles noticed the present tense, but he didn’t comment. “So, you could say it was off-his-rocker alpha werewolf that was really to blame. Or you could say that he knew what he was doing when he said yes. But, in the end, it was my idea. It will always have been my idea.”

Steve looked down. “So you don’t agree with Peggy. She said I needed to honor Bucky’s choice.”

“Oh, she’s right. You do. Just as I have to understand that I did my best for Scott. But she doesn’t understand and I doubt she ever will that there’s no way you won’t think of that train every day. When you rebuild yourself — and you’re a hero, so of course you will — you’ll have to make it a part of you, as that night is a part of me.”

“You haven’t lost Scott yet.”

“How can you say that? You know what we’ve learned. You know what he plans. How can I possibly think that he won’t remember that I told him to trust me and then him be taken and twisted by that fascist maniac. I told him I’d save him — for once I was going to be the hero — and I failed him.”

Stiles saw Steve’s face harden, not into disdain or disbelieve, but into resolve. “You’re not going to lose him. I absolutely guarantee it.”

“How can you know that?”

Captain America stood up from where he had been sitting. “Because I just promised you, and a good man always keeps his word.”

Chapter Text

MARCH 13, 1945

Scott McCall had recently started to take strolls on the roof of the Hundegrube. He had been warned by more than one of his pack and a few sympathetic Hydra troopers that it was a weakness to come out to the same place at the same time every day, but Scott couldn’t help himself. The winter had been a long one, cold and dark, and at this time of day and in this place, you could feel the sun on your face and your shoulders as it swung over the peaks of the Alps. The first leaves opened on the trees and the land was stirring after a long sleep. Though the calendar said it was winter for another week, the scents on the air made it feel like spring.

Ruslo had taken to coming with him on these walks, because he took the warnings more seriously and made himself Scott’s self-appointed bodyguard. Scott didn’t mind, really. He hated being alone, anyway, even more than he did when he was at home. It also gave them a chance to talk without fear of Hydra listening in.

Scott inhaled deeply, held it, and then released it. “Any word?”

The Romani alpha shook his head. “Making contact with the werewolves in Alsace-Lorraine is very difficult. The dislike of my people extends to the French packs. We’re not giving up.”

“No, we’re not. We’ll find where the Americans are holding Linde, and we’ll go get him once we’ve dealt with Schmidt.”

Ruslo chuckled. Scott raised both eyebrows in response.

“No offense, alpha, it’s the way you said ‘Americans.’”

“What about it?”

“Well, you’re an American.”

Scott frowned and Ruslo immediately quieted. Was he? Maybe he didn’t consider himself that anymore. But that wasn’t his fault, was it? The American government had declared him a spy; who was he to argue with the American government?

“Maybe once. I have different priorities now.”

The sun was warm on his shoulders, and he wished he could enjoy it more. Scott had been thinking about the future to the exclusion of everything so often now that he hadn’t spent much time at all thinking about the past. Honestly, it was too painful. Once he had his people away from here, then he might take the time think about what he had lost.

He was startled out of his reverie by the sound of an explosion; it would have been faint, nearly undetectable, to human ears, but he and Ruslo heard it clearly. In the direction the sound had come from, there was a little puff of smoke rising above the trees. Scott’s eyes were a little sharper than Ruslo’s, so he caught a glimpse of something on the road that infuriated him. His eyes went red and he used a curse word the Romani alpha had taught him one night.

“What’s wrong?”

“The outer motor patrol is under attack.” Scott started sprinting for the ladder down into the courtyard.

“By whom?”

“Captain America.” Scott brought himself to a stop on the first few steps down. “Ruslo, it’s time. Go now.”

“I thought you wanted to wait for the full moon?”

“If the Captain is here, that means the S.S.R. is here, and that means there’s going to be a battle. The last thing I want is for the children to be caught up in anything like that, so you need to go now.” Scott began to descend once more. “I’m going to stall the Allies as long as I can.”

“You should be the one to go.” It was the same old argument made for the same old reasons.

“I don’t want to order you, but you have to trust me on this. If an attack is under way, and I suddenly disappear, it’s going to tip Schmidt off. You know what he’ll do if he thinks we’re about to betray him. So, it has to be you. I’ll catch up with you later.”

Ruslo looked at him with something that could have been devotion. Scott only wished it had been earned and not magically imposed. He hated the Crown as much as he relied on it. True Alpha or not, most of the people under his command were older and more experienced than he, and Scott understood that they would scorn to follow such a child. He promised himself he would never use it again once they were free of Hydra and the Red Skull.

“Be safe, alpha.”

“I will.” Scott assured him, and then they parted ways. Ruslo would immediately take ten of the biggest, most well-trained of the pack, go to the children’s enclosure within the main base, neutralize their guards, and spirit them out through the woods to an abandoned monastery that Scott’s scouts had selected months ago. Provisions had been slowly and carefully stored there. All Scott needed to do was give Ruslo the time he needed. The full moon would have been a better day, as Scott had been counting on his pack’s increased aggression to help them overpower the Hydra troopers and do what had to be done. None of his pack were naturally violent. But the S.S.R.’s arrival had ruined any chance of that happening.

He reached the nearest radio room, hesitating before the door. Scott wasn’t loyal to Hydra. He had told himself that again and again over the last months. He did what he had to protect the people who called him alpha, and if it looked like he was helping the Nazi bastards — well, looks could be deceiving. This decision — alerting the base to the approach of the Americans — would be another deception in a long line of them.

In the room Scott grabbed the intercom. “This is not a drill,” he said in German. “All troopers report to battle stations. Pack form up at the gate.” There. The die was cast.

He moved to the radio, where the operator was looking at him, expectantly. This wasn’t a werewolf, but just another Hydra trooper. Scott had not learned his name. “Contact headquarters. Tell them that Captain America is here.”

Scott wished there was a window he could look out while waiting, but the Hundegrube hadn’t been built for comfort; it’d been built to remind the occupants that they were less than human.

“Sturmscharführer?”

Scott closed his eyes. They insisted on calling him by that rank. “Yes?”

“You’re instructed to take him alive and bring him to the main headquarters.”

“Send my acknowledgement.”

Scott headed down to the gate. The only road from here to the main headquarters passed through Hundegrube. On either side of the Dogs’ Pit, minefields blocked the passageway. Unless the S.S.R. could fly, they would have to come through here. When he emerged out into the light of the sun, he could see the Hydra troopers preparing themselves for the Captain’s arrival. They had moved one of their tanks in between the outer pillboxes and squads were arranging themselves to give them a field of fire.

The pack waited for him by the gate. Over the last year, though necessity or Schmidt’s schemes, their numbers had grown to forty-three. Now that was down to forty-one, as two were lost in the attempt to kill Howard Stark. Linde was still alive; Scott could feel him, just as Scott could feel Isaac, so far away and wasting away in prison at the hands of the American government. Both would be freed; he swore it.

Honestly, with all the lore he had read, Scott could rightfully say he now had the largest pack in known history. They stood before him, expectantly. He thought about what he needed to say.

“In a few minutes, an American super-hero is going to drive up that road. We’re going to capture him, and then I’m going to take him to Schmidt. I want the men with me, and the women to …” He drew a blank. Hydra didn’t use women for anything but secretaries and nurses. Scott wasn’t the best at improvising. “Be prepared to help with the wounded.”

Alpha-beta bond or not, that earned him a few glares. He held up his hands and then whispered below the ability of humans to hear.

“The Allies are coming. I need you to do as we planned and grab everything that is important. The moment the attack begins in full, all of you are to go. Ruslo’s already left with the others to get the children. You’re to leave even if I’m not back from headquarters.”

If they didn’t like his lame attempt at a cover story, they certainly didn’t like the thought of abandoning him. Again, Scott felt the twinge of guilt that it was only because of the Crown. Thirty werewolves scowling at him pushed that thought away.

“I mean it.” Scott said more loudly and he flashed his eyes. “I need you to trust me in this.”

One by one, the werewolves submitted. The women peeled off as a group and went to their quarters. They’d be gathering the supplies that couldn’t have been shifted to the monastery without someone noticing it.

All that was left to do was wait.

When Captain America blew up the tank wedged between the two pillboxes, it was like a scene recreated from one of his Hollywood films or the bond-selling comic books that Scott had once purchased. Amazing, the Captain rode then his motorcycle up one of the pillboxes and dismounted it in mid-air, landing on his feet. The bike itself hurtled towards the gated doors that were part of the Hundegrube. Instinct drove Scott to dive away from the doors, which was good because when it hit, the motorcycle exploded.

He remembered his motorcycle being destroyed the day he met Captain America.

The super soldier charged through the yard, making short work of the Hydra troopers, even the ones wielding their advanced weaponry. He fought like a madman, slinging his shield around, tossing men like toddlers, blowing up two more tanks without slowing down. The Hydra troopers never had a chance.

“Shit!” One of the human troopers said next to Scott. They were intimidated, as they were supposed to be.

Scott pushed the man to the side; he wasn’t intimidated. “Out of the way, human.” The phrase sounded strange in his mouth, but he had to sell this. Arranged behind him, seventeen werewolves were watching the scene, each of them ready to spring into battle.

They wouldn’t need to. He was an alpha with forty-one betas. The Red Skull had been given incomplete information by the Geneticist. No one had told him that each beta made their alpha stronger. Each beta made each other stronger; his betas were all as powerful as alphas in their own right. Scott was now so strong that he felt he could survive a direct hit from one of the Hydra’s disintegrator pistols. He had carefully hidden that information from his captors.

Scott watched Captain America continue to fight his way across the compound. He moved forward, shrugging out of his coat, tossing away his hat, kicking off his shoes. As he shed the uniform, he felt the shift began, the terrible and yet exquisite pain as his body grew and twisted. He had alpha-shifted for the first time a few months ago after he had bitten three volunteers at the Red Skull’s insistence. It was the last time he had been in the presence of Schmidt without a full complement of Hydra troopers.

Scott had refused to look in a mirror or a picture of him in the alpha-form since then; he was terribly afraid that he would see a disturbing echo of Peter’s own alpha-form in it. Or perhaps he would be worse. He couldn’t help but recognize that he was far taller than Peter’s form, far larger, and that his face was almost completely lupine. He had a muzzle and not a maw.

His clothes never survived the transformation anymore, but it didn’t matter as he started loping toward his target. To his credit, Captain Rogers took him on as if he were just another threat. The side effect of the transformation made him less agile, so when he lunged at the super soldier and got a vibranium shield on the side of the face. That thing hurt. Lashing out with a clawed hand, his glancing blow sent the American spinning across the compound to smash into the side of a truck.

Scott roared and employed his speed to follow up that attack. He knocked the shield away and grabbed Steve Rogers by both arms, lifting him into the air. He brought his fanged muzzle into Steve’s face. “Surrender!” He ordered. He wasn’t sure if anyone could understand the words, but any sentient thing observing the battle could understand the intent.

******

“McCall, this doesn’t have to end the way you think it does.”

Steve had two lesser werewolves watching him while three more Hydra troopers held their weapons. One of the werewolves was holding his shield.

“How do I think this is going to end? In your opinion.” McCall was slowly putting on a new uniform after he had shredded his old one, unheeding of his nudity. The two werewolves — who Steve saw didn’t seem to be of German extraction — were nonplussed, but the troopers were intimidated by what they had seen of the alpha werewolf.

“You can come home now.”

“I’m sure you believe that, Captain. You sound just as confident the day you caught me in the woods. This time will be different. But giving up was the right call, because that means no one will rip you to pieces. I can’t promise what will happen when the rest of your forces arrive.” Scott McCall smiled at him, and it was the same smile that he had had in all the pictures they had taken from his house back home, only now the smile never reached his eyes. “I know they’re coming to kill me and my pack.”

“We’re not enemies, McCall.” Steve stepped forward once. The others watching him shifted, but the Latino shook his head. “When they come, you don’t have to fight for a cause you don’t believe in.” His eyes went to the smart black Hydra officer’s uniform the young man was donning.

The alpha must have felt Cap’s eyes on his clothes for he looked bashful and ashamed, if only for a moment. “They’re really big on uniforms,” he explained. With one hand, he ripped the metal Hydra insignia off, crushing it in his hand until it was unrecognizable metal. He let it drop to the ground. One of the nearby Hydra troopers objected, but he was silenced quickly by the snarls of more than a dozen monsters.

“You don’t need to work for them – or for him – anymore. You never should have.” Steve was not going to pretend that he had always done everything right. “Last year, I should have found another way.”

McCall held out his hand to one of the female werewolves who handed him the Wolf’s Crown. He set it on his head, and for a moment, he seemed a little taller. All the wolves’ eyes glowed. “No, I don’t.

Anyone could have sensed the tension between the werewolves and the human troopers. The intelligence was correct. Steve kept his words close, but he could save a lot of people’s lives if he could get McCall to stand down. “I’m sorry for what happened to you.”

“Well, that does me a lot of good. I wish I could believe you now as I believed you then, but I don’t really believe you at all. Does the FBI still put my face on wanted posters? Is my mother still in protective custody?” Steve was probably only person in the area to understand the last two words of that question, as they were said through an almost unintelligible growl.

“I don’t know.” This was true; he didn’t know. Peggy and Stiles had insisted that the best way to defeat a werewolf’s ability to detect lies was to simply not know the answer.

“Of course you don’t. Why would you care about that? Let’s get a move on. I have him.” McCall grabbed Steve by the arm and pushed him forward. In a strange move, the werewolf with his shield handed it to a faceless Hydra trooper. “You know, I had a job at the local animal doctor back home before this all started. Even though we needed the money, my mom insisted that I take some of it and have fun. Stiles and I would go to the matinee to watch the serials. Stiles would get so mad at the bad guys, when they started talking to the hero. He’d shout ‘Shoot him! Shoot him!’ He thought it was so stupid that the bad guys talked all the time.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Steve saw the other werewolves vanish quickly. Where were they going?

“Now that I’m the villain, I understand why they did that.” McCall opened the door of a military car. He pushed Steve in and slid in next to the seat. “Don’t try anything. But, every villain wants the hero to know why he is the villain. Funny, isn’t it?”

“You aren’t the villain.” Steve answered him. “You were set up to be captured, and you were manipulated when you came here. Linde told us everything.” He needed to keep talking, making the youth think he was trying to talk his way out of this. The alpha werewolf was taking him right where he wanted to go.

“Every single person in my home town thinks I’m a traitorous monster working for the Nazis!” McCall shouted at him. “I can never go home! How does that not make me the villain?” The alpha closed his eyes to regain control. “We saw your first movie, you know, that summer before the trouble started again.”

The car took off, heading toward the mountain. Something was off about this whole scenario, but Steve did think that McCall was actually being sincere.

“It was meant to sell war bonds, but you were pretty good in it,” the werewolf admitted. “And I thought, maybe if I was like you, I wouldn’t be a monster. I told Stiles even this, and he laughed at me. He told me I was already a good person.”

“It was just a movie,” Steve said pointedly. “It wasn’t real. Reality is more complex.”

“I needed it to be real. And eventually, I became a true alpha, and you don’t even realize how much you helped with that. You were my hero. After all, we were both asthmatic weaklings who became something more.” McCall kept his face pointed forward, but Steve was under no delusion that the alpha wasn’t focused on him. “After I was bit, all I wanted to be was to find a cure, to be human again. God, I must have driven the others crazy with my whining; I was so stupid.”

“Wanting to be human isn’t stupid.” Steve looked at the approaching headquarters, carved into the mountain itself. It would resist almost any assault, except one from the inside. His plan was working perfectly. McCall’s behavior screamed at him that he must have some for plan as well, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.

“I used to think that, but now, I’m not exactly sure. Should I be like the humans who thought that I wasn’t worth anything ‘cause I was a greaser? Should I be like the humans who make all my friends hide in terror of being discovered and killed? Should I be like the humans that splashed my mother’s face across all the papers, without a single shred of proof she did something wrong? Or maybe I should be like the humans who imprisoned my beta Isaac? My best friend Stiles is locked in a nut house, because of humans.

The werewolf’s voice was getting deeper; his eyes began to glow red; his fangs and claws extended as he spoke. “If that wasn’t enough, now I know what a body smells like when it’s being burned after it had been gassed to death in a concentration camp. You don’t see werewolves acting like that. And before you point at this being only the Nazis, I was in Dresden; I saw humans sweeping up other humans with brooms after the firestorm.”

Realization hit Cap — this was a show, and it wasn’t for him. McCall was angry, that was true, but he was controlling that anger. “Who are you trying to convince?”

McCall leaned over and whispered in Steve’s ear. “The Red Skull’s an evil bastard, but he’s not dumb. Bringing you to him will give me just the time my pack needs.”

“You don’t have to do this. We can get your people out of here.”

“You’re trying to make me trust you, to make you think you won’t treat us as Hydra does. I should trust America to know who the bad guys really are. Been to Oak Creek recently, Captain?” McCall snarled.

“Mistakes will always happen; that’s what it means to be human.”

McCall bit his lip. “You know, I hated the idea of wearing it, but now I’m glad I’ve wore the Crown. I’m glad I’ve learned that humans are all the same — at least werewolves don’t ask you to like them as they kill you. I’ve learned a lot, but what I’ve learned most of all is that I don’t want to be human anymore!

“You don’t mean that.”

The boy snorted. “Ask me that again, when your army tries to kill me. I’m better off with my own kind.”

“I’m not going to let you go down that path, even if I have to beat you out of it.”

“Let me?” McCall snarled. “How are you going to stop me? You’re a prisoner, and even if you weren’t …” McCall snorted, as if he suddenly remembered something from long ago. “I’ll kill any living thing that gets in my way!”

******

Scott pushed Rogers into the Red Skull’s personal command center, flanked by two Hydra troopers. Schmidt was there, sans mask, lurking in the shadows, looking as hideous as he always did. Scott forced Captain America to his knees.

“It looks like your mutts finally accomplished something.”

Scott forced himself not to react. When they had first met, Schmidt had been supremely self-confident. His goal had been to get Scott to use the Crown, to build up an army that would serve Hydra’s purposes. And to a point, the Skull had won. But as Scott had grown in power, Schmidt had become disdainful, always seeking to demean werewolves and Scott especially.

The Red Skull, for all his intelligence, his confidence, his superior strength and resilience, was nothing more than a bully. Schmidt had become jealous — of maybe even afraid — of werewolves, and so, like all fascist minds, had to belittle or lessen that which he couldn’t have. This would be the last time, Scott told himself, one way or the other. But he disciplined himself; the goal here was taking as much time as possible.

From the shadows of the room, Schmidt stalked forward. “Arrogance may not be a uniquely American trait, but I must say you do it better than anyone.”

The Red Skull and Captain America exchanged barbs after that and suddenly Scott realized how … pathetic Johann Schmidt was. Abraham Erskine had been dead for almost two years, and the Skull was still resentful of him. There couldn’t be two different people than Steve Rogers and this wanna-be world conqueror.

Scott had told himself that he wouldn’t leave without killing the Red Skull, even though he had never killed anyone. It would be fine, he had told himself, if this monster would be the first person. But as the Nazi beat a helpless prisoner, Scott’s resolve wavered. He’d be helping the humans if he did it himself, and he had already decided that he didn’t owe them anything. He wasn’t going to get blood on his hands for something as simple and as stupid as revenge.

“I can do this all day.” The bloodied Rogers defiantly looked up from his position on the floor. Scott had to remind himself that he hated Captain America too.

The Red Skull drew a gun. “Of course, of course, you can. But unfortunately, I am on a tight schedule.”

Scott heard the grapples hit the rock one right after the other. He heard the zip cords let go long before anyone else had. They had to becoming from the other rock face. One slip, and they’d plunge to their death. This was bravery. But it was also an attack, and Scott had no desire to be taken down during it. He surged into the alpha transformation, shredding everything he was wearing. The Crown slid off his head, but he caught it in his hand.

Schmidt tried to execute Rogers, but the super soldier had grabbed one of the Hydra troopers and maneuvered him in front of him. Machine gun burst into the room from the invaders. The Hydra heavy troopers next to Scott tried to get a shot off at him, but with one hand he pushed them both into the wall hard enough to break bones.

The Red Skull had already fled, either out of fear or out of the awareness that his plans were at an end. One of the invaders threw Captain America his shield and went off after him. One of the men, having a stupid moustache and wearing a bowler hat, kept firing at him. Scott didn’t take it personally — most people would fire at a ten-foot-tall wolf thing.

He didn’t need to hang around — he ran for it, moving fast. He was going to check on the children’s quarters. No one could stop him — not the Americans flooding into the base, not the Hydra soldiers with their advanced technology. He was far more powerful than any of them.

Of course, Schmidt had thought he was the smartest person alive. He had put the children’s quarters in the center of the base, farthest from any of the exits. The children were safe, fed, and had blankets, but that was all. It must have been terribly boring for them. What Schmidt didn’t realize is that on the other side of a solid concrete wall was a shaft built for air, water, and sewage circulation. It would take humans hours to get through it with chisels or drills.

But a pack of werewolves? Minutes.

Scott arrived on their floor. Hydra had female workers and a few guards for the children. When the small fight was over, the women had fled and the soldiers were … not in fighting shape. They’d need medical care, but none of them were dead. Now there was only a steel door between him and where the children would be.

The metal endured approximately thirty seconds.

He really didn’t think, or he would have left alpha form before he had entered the children’s quarters. He probably would have scared some of them to death. But he didn’t have to. They were gone, to a last, and the concrete wall was busted down. The plan had worked. How many times could he have said that a plan had worked in Scott’s life?

With a sniff and a growl, he realized he spoke too soon. There were humans coming down the hallway. Still, it wasn’t that big a problem. He’d rush past them, make a show, and they’d follow him rather than wonder where all the children went. Time. All that he needed was time. With a roar, he jumped out of the room and into the hallway.

“Scott?”

He was face to face with Stiles Stilinski. Stiles, who was in uniform. Stiles, who was carrying a gun. A gun with wolf’s bane bullets — he could smell them as clear as day. Stiles, who was surrounded by other American soldiers, all pointing their weapons at him.

Stiles, who had never seen him look like this. Like the monster that had chased them through the school.

It must have been ludicrous — a murder machine eight times the size of a human being frozen at the sight of a skinny private. Scott had all these things he planned to say to Stiles when he rescued him out of the asylum … and they all flew out of his head.

“Scott. It’s me. I’ve come to save you.”

His claws flexed. He thought he hated humans now, but he can’t say that out loud. He can’t do much of anything, not until one of the soldiers standing behind Stiles draws back the bolt on his machine gun and he growls at him.

“Stop that. Put your guns down.” Stiles sounded older. More serious. Scott wondered if he would have sounded the same.

Stiles took a step forward. Scott took a step back. It was more than ridiculous. He swung his head around and calculated the amount of time it would take him to reach the exit that Ruslo and the children had taken. But that would mean he would be running away from Stiles.

It was easy to think about things like that, but harder to put them into action. Now that it came down to it, he didn’t want to run away. Scott thought about grabbing his friend and taking Stiles with him.

“Scott, don’t run. Scott …” Stiles voice broke. “You don’t have to run. I told you to trust me, didn’t I? And yeah, I’m pretty freaking late, but I came. So … it’s time to come home. Everyone’s waiting for you.”

Scott growled at that in denial.

“I know what they told you, and it’s true.” Stiles took another step forward. Someone behind him made a noise, and his friend shot them a noise. “If you assholes really want to fight a super-charged alpha werewolf, you can because some of you outrank me, but I can pretty much guarantee that he’ll kick your ass, and I ain’t helping.”

Said werewolf wished he could smile, but he couldn’t — not in this form.

“Yeah, some stupid people did some stupid things to your mom and Isaac, but they’re home.” At Scott’s snort, Stiles looked hurt. “You trust me, don’t you? I know you’ve had to do things that maybe you didn’t want to, that you’ve learned things you didn’t want to, but all you have to do is show them that you’re not a monster, which is easy.”

He’s not sure if that’s true anymore. Stiles being here has thrown everything he thought he believed into doubt.

Stiles licked his lips. He was getting nervous. Maybe he was thinking that Scott wouldn’t listen to him again.

“You’ve got a choice, Scott, that you have to make right now. You’ve got that — that Crown and all the new pack that it gave you — or you got me and all your friends waiting for you back in Beacon Hills. I’m … I’m sure that you’re afraid, and that power you have now makes you less afraid, but the Scott you used to be didn’t need it. So you can either keep that or you can go back to being who you wanted to be all along.”

Only Stiles would say that, because only Stiles would know that. Scott hated being a werewolf. He hated the decisions and the violence and the fear. Power made it easier, but that’s what everyone he had ever fought had wanted — all the monsters who had come at him. Power. Peter had wanted it for revenge, Gerard had wanted it to survive, Deucalion had wanted it to be safe, and the Red Skull had wanted it to be superior. It was his chance — he could build an army of werewolves, and with that army, who could stop him? He could save everyone or he could destroy anyone. With such power, no one could take any choice away from him ever again. He looked down at the piece of wood in his hands — the Crown of Wolves.

It was his choice.

The thing crumbled like paper in his hands, and he tore it was nothing but unrecognizable chunks of old wood.

He shrank down, raising his hands, because there were still soldiers afraid of him. It was cold in this place, but he could deal with it for a while.

“Okay, Stiles. Let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

“Where are we going, Cap?”

Steve Rogers turned from the window of the quinjet to Sam Wilson who had been speaking from the pilot’s seat. Cap felt strangely at peace, even though the last two weeks had seen him become a wanted criminal, had seen him relinquish his shield, and had seen him leave his best friend behind in a secret lab in a foreign land for treatment. He had done the right thing in those cases, and he would keep doing it. He’d have no trouble sleeping tonight.

“We need some place for R&R. I intend to keep fighting, but even Avengers need time to get our feet back under us.”

Sam frowned wryly. “Why didn’t we just stay in Wakanda? That place was tight. No one was going to find us there.”

“I’m grateful to T’Challa for sheltering Bucky and promising to free him from Hydra’s brainwashing, but since none of us are planning to stop helping people, that means we’ll be acting in defiance of the Accords. We can’t be linked to his county. We don’t want to put the Wakandan people between us and the rest of the world.”

Wanda sighed. “It makes sense. Politics can be just as dangerous as killer robots.”

There was a quiet beep from the navigation center. The jet had reached the East Coast of the United States, passing over Florida in the dark of the night.

“So, I gotta ask the question again. Where are we going?”

“We need to reach a place where satellite tracking technology won’t be able to pick up this jet. According to Bruce, a powerful enough energy field could cover its energy signature from even Tony’s stuff, not that I think he’ll come after us. The jet’s too useful to abandon.” Steve had already decided this a week ago.

“There are a few place that I know of like that, but if I know them, so will Ross.” Sam was apologetic.

Steve went back and pulled out an old footlocker. “After the war was over and SHIELD was formed, they mothballed a lot of the stuff we found during the war. I got Fury to pull a few strings and bring some of the declassified material to the Tower, for reasons of nostalgia.” He chuckled and opened the rusty lock with his hand. What he was looking for lay right there on the top. Peggy, Howard, and Colonel Phillips had kept their word to the private.

Sam looked doubtful. “A piece of wood?”

“It’s … going to be useful.” Cap admitted. “This wood can lead us somewhere with a powerful enough energy signature that’s not on any government map. This … rod is only supposed to work for certain individuals, but if anyone can make it work for them, Wanda, I think you could.”

Wanda looked skeptical but she took it from him when he offered it to her.

“The person who used it essentially let it guide him,” Steve offered helpfully. “He called it a dowsing rod.”

The Scarlet Witch let her power flow out over the wood and then her eyes widened in surprise. “I can feel it. That way.” She pointed to the horizon. “What is this place?”

Steve didn’t answer, because he didn’t know how. It was a piece of a much larger world. When he had bet Fury that he’d seen it all, this was one of the reasons he had said it. It had occurred to him that maybe he should have looked into what had happened to the private and his friends earlier. He had resisted doing it. Given the way things had gone down in Bavaria, he didn’t want to find out that only tragedies had happened afterward.

Sam muttered to himself. “We’re taking directions from a twig.”

It took them four hours to reach California. Sam and Steve flew in shifts, while Wanda napped. Steve had an idea where they were headed, so she could get some much needed rest.

Sam had been watching him all through the flight. The Falcon was always too perceptive for your own good. “You’re not sure what type of welcome we’re going to get, are you?”

Steve sat up straighter. “Not really, no.”

“Why?”

“It wasn’t as bad as what we just went through with Tony, but one of the reasons I put up so much resistance to the Accords was I’ve seen bureaucracies grind people up and spit them out for its own purposes. During the war, there was this kid. I don’t know if we completely ruined his life, but the government tried its very best, and I played my part.”

“War isn’t easy for anyone, Cap. Both of us know that.”

“Yeah.”

They arrived over the Northern California town maybe a half-hour before dawn. As they crew closer, as Steve had suspected, the systems in the quinjet began to act up. Not enough to make them worry about crashing, but it might just be enough to cover their presence.

“See that forest, Sam? We need to find a clearing big enough for the jet as close to the location that this will lead us to.”

Steve woke Wanda up, and the stick nearly jerked out her hand when she tried to use it. She wasn’t surprised; she was used to this sort of thing. “There’s so much power here,” she whispered.

Sam did find a clearing very close to the location. It was a tight fit, especially with the stress the nearness to the power locus was putting on the jet’s advanced technology. Clad in civilian clothes, the three of them got out of the plane.

“The city’s not too far away.” Sam watched the distant lights of the small city nestled in the woods. “We can walk there, find a place to stay.”

Wanda, on the other hand, was walking in the direction the rod was pulling her, coming to rest before a huge angel oak tree. Steve found it as impressive as it had been in 1944.

“Where is this place?” she asked.

“It’s called a Nemeton, a gathering place for ancient druids. Apparently, in addition to being used for worship, the nemeta also regulate geomagnetic currents running through the earth.”

“No shit,” Sam breathed. “That would explain the interference. You just forgot to tell us about this?”

“Wasn’t my story to tell.”

Wanda approach the tree and placed her hand on it. Her powers flared, and red fire danced among the branches. “It’s amazing. It’s almost sentient.”

“Peggy and I were here during the war. I guess she decided to let this town keep its secrets. Just as well. We saw what the Tesseract did to the people it interacted with.”

The Falcon kept his distance. “So there’s this powerful tree right in the middle of the woods with no one to protect it?”

Before Steve could answer, a howl shattered the pre-dawn hours. “Well now I wouldn’t say that.”

Sam grimaced. “Me and my big mouth.”

“Wolves were just making a comeback in Sokovia before … it happened,” Wanda observed. “Are they coming back here? Or are they drawn to the Nemeton’s power?”

“Those aren’t wolves,” Cap said apologetically. “Everyone relax.”

In the dawn hours, the woods stilled. The protectors of the Nemeton were probably circling them, and Steve kept himself loose. It had been a risk coming here, but if he wanted safety, he would have signed the damn papers.

Scott McCall emerged from behind some trees. Of course, he was far older. But to Steve’s eyes he appeared to be a healthy man approaching fifty, not the ninety Steve knew him to be.

Figures moved in the woods behind the alpha. “Cap, he’s got back up.”

“It’s been a long time, Mr. McCall.”

“Yeah.” The older-looking man scratched the back of his neck. “I didn’t think I’d ever meet you again. I saw you on the television.”

“Mr. McCall, this is Wanda Maximoff and Sam Wilson. Wanda, Sam, this is Scott McCall. He’s a werewolf I encountered during World War Two.”

To be fair, Steve should have warned them, but he didn’t even know if there would be any werewolves around here. He had meant to keep the word he had given Stiles Stilinski and not reveal the nature of the supernatural to those who didn’t need to know.

Wanda and Sam looked suitably impressed or chagrined, he couldn’t tell.

“What are you doing here, Captain?”

“Would you believe that I’m on the run from the United States government and needed help?” Steve offered a small smile.

“I have to admit, that I wasn’t your biggest fan for a long time. It took Stiles a decade before he got me to stop being so angry.” Scott stepped forward. “I blamed a lot of it on you, when it wasn’t your call. As alpha, I’ve learned it’s sometimes hard to do the right thing. It’s hard to know what the right thing is. From the way your friends are looking, you didn’t reveal our secrets to anyone.”

“Nick Fury knew, but I’m not the one who told him.”

Scott burst out laughing. “Okay.” He thought for a moment, studying the three of them. “I’m sure you’ve got a story to tell, but if you need some place to stay, you’re welcome here. What do you need?” He walked forward and offered his hand to Steve. Captain America took it and shook it firmly.

Sometimes, the bad guys win. Sometimes the good guys win. And sometimes, winning isn’t actually the point.

“Well, this is going to be a little tricky …”