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An alien virus that rewrites human DNA is accidentally unleashed in a series of small towns and eventually larger cities. It kills 90% of those who come into contact with it (referred to as 'drawing the Black Queen'). However, 9% mutate into deformed creatures (known as 'Jokers') and the remaining 1% gain superpowers (known as 'Aces'). A percentage of the Aces are referred to as 'Deuces', acquiring useless or ridiculous powers. The airborne virus eventually spreads all over the world, affecting tens of thousands.

"We're getting another Joker."

Stiles' favorite pastime is to pop out at people from nowhere and scare the hell out of them. Right now, he's hanging upside down from an exposed roof beam.

"You're full of crap, no way," Scott says, who thwarts Stiles every time by being completely unsurprised by his sudden appearances. Stiles rolls his eyes, takes a breath and he's on the floor on his feet with a quiet phwoom.

"I'm going to figure out how you do that," Stiles says narrowing his eyes.

Scott shrugs, unperturbed. "What makes you think we're getting a Joker?"

"I read his file in Chris' office," Stiles says.

"Dude, you shouldn't do that. They'll start collaring you whenever you're in the complex."

Stiles pulls a face at the prospect. In the six years he's been able to, Stiles has gotten pretty used to the teleportation. He doesn't like that the Agency has a way of grounding him and he definitely didn't like that one time they tested it on him.

Stiles watches the conflict play across Scott's face. Scott's a well-behaved straight arrow by nature, but Stiles likes that he's able to nudge Scott into a darker place by appealing to his curiosity. "Okay, now you gotta tell me." Scott finally breaks, like he always does.

"I wouldn't want to get you in trouble with something as dangerous as knowledge," Stiles says, waggling his eyebrows and Scott huffs and jabs him in the shoulder.

"You could both just wait until he gets here," Lydia says from the doorway and Stiles does not squeak like a little girl. He's the one that surprises people, Lydia is totally not allowed to steal his shtick, especially because she's a Nat.

"Why am I always the last to know everything?" Scott grumbles, irked.

"Hey, you're the human lie detector," Stiles says. Technically, Scott's an empath but an interesting quirk of his power is that he can tell when people are lying, even by omission. "You're generally the first to know. Let me have this one." When Lydia clears her throat, Stiles amends, "Let us have this one."

Scott seems to contemplate that for a moment before he sighs and nods. "Fine, whatever."

Lydia leads them into the break room Scott had been heading for before Stiles waylaid him. Stiles would rather they use the bigger room upstairs with the giant television and gaming consoles but they're a relatively junior team and the older Aces tend to hog the good stuff. The smaller break room is kind of crappy, but it's theirs and their technopath, Allison, was able to juice the microwave so it could nuke a burrito in four seconds flat and be the exact same temperature all over and not lava in the middle and frozen on the outside.

It's pretty awesome.

Stiles hops up on the counter, swinging his feet as Lydia busies herself making coffee. She doesn't have any power, but she's terrifyingly smart and was able to cajole her way into the Agency's Wild Card program just with tenacity alone. Stiles and Scott accepted her as one of their own with minimal fuss. It didn't hurt that Stiles had a massive crush on her when they first met that had only faded with time and repeated rejections.

Plus the whole Jackson debacle, but no one is willing to bring that mess up around Lydia.

Lydia pours herself a bowl of cereal, the bland kind without candy or toys which, ugh, what's the point, while Scott's at the toaster. Isaac is next to stumble in, still wearing pyjama pants and an undershirt and looking like he fell straight out of bed and into the break room, which Stiles admittedly has done before, but he's pretty unique.

He also now makes sure to sleep fully dressed because of that little episode.

Stiles holds out his cup of lukewarm coffee, for some reason not even Allison can get their damn coffee machine to work properly, towards Isaac with a hopeful little grin. Isaac takes it, yawning while he holds it between his palms. When Stiles gets it back, the coffee is exactly the temperature Stiles likes it. Isaac has some mad control skills going on lately, even half asleep.

Apart from Allison, Boyd and Erica are the last of their little crew. Boyd usually sleeps till midday if they don't have a mission, but Erica strolls in about half an hour later, second set of feline ears on top of her head twitching. Stiles had made the mistake of calling her a Manga character when she'd been brought in two months ago and had woken up in a dumpster outside the complex for his trouble.

They'd reached a tentative sort of truce because Stiles always has another coffee ready when she breezes into the kitchen to hand over.

"I heard we're getting a Joker," Erica says, pulling up a chair as Scott makes an outraged noise. Isaac's looking at the tip of Erica's tail which keeps coming dangerously close to landing in the last of his cereal and it starts smoking as Stiles watches. Without missing a beat, Erica shoves Isaac out of his chair then dunks the end of her tail in the milk left in his bowl with a hiss. She takes it out and sucks on it with a thoughtful expression.

"Why do we need a Joker?" Isaac asks as he pulls himself back into his chair.

"Maybe the higher ups don't think we're..." Stiles curls his arms and flexes his, not at all inconsiderable for his naturally lanky frame thank you, biceps.

Erica growls and shows her claws. "We're plenty tough already." She looks pointedly at Scott and then Stiles. "Well, most of us."

"Hey, all teams need finesse. Scott and I bring the finesse."

"You bring the lame," Lydia says. A few months ago, she might have meant that, but now she grins at Stiles so he knows she's teasing.

"Not all of us can be cheetah-women or turn our skin to stone," Stiles says. Stiles can allow that Boyd is definitely handy to have in a fight and most definitely the baddest of their badasses. Stiles and Scott mostly hide behind him.

"Hey guys," Allison says, poking her head into the break room. "My dad wants to see everyone, pronto."

"About the Joker?" Scott asks, then ducks when Stiles throws a sugar packet at his head. He becomes an uncontrollable blurter whenever Allison is present.

"Stiles!" Allison snaps.

"Hey, it wasn't me," he protests, then when she narrows her eyes at him, he says, "Okay, it wasn't just me. Erica knew too and I certainly didn't tell her."

"Fine, just, c'mon," Allison says archly.

*

Stiles isn't sure exactly, but he thinks maybe the Argents got into the whole Wild Card thing as a family when Allison was infected and her mother had drawn the Black Queen. Stiles could relate to that, Allison's presence making the Agency thing less daunting when they bonded over their mutual loss when he'd first arrived. Gerard Argent, Allison's grandfather, had been head of their section when Stiles was recruited, replaced by his son and Allison's dad Chris when Gerard up and left eight months ago, taking a number of the higher powered Aces with him with no explanation.

Stiles had always assumed there were shady government organizations but had never dreamed he would be part of one due to a quirk of fate. The Agency had been set up to try and control the more powerful of the Wild Cards who were using their powers for the bad instead of the good and even though it was completely by accident, Stiles kinda likes the way his life has turned out, fighting the righteous fight alongside some pretty kickass individuals.

Stiles isn't looking forward to this new development though, since the only other Joker Stiles has ever met in person is Jackson, and that ended pretty badly. He and Lydia had been tight, but he'd disappeared with Gerard who'd been espousing some pretty troubling ideals before he left and Lydia hadn't ever properly recovered. In the last month he'd been at the Agency, Jackson had broken off his relationship with Lydia, spitting at her that as a Nat she didn't deserve to be with someone like him.

In short, total douchebag.

Stiles likes Chris though, and more importantly he trusts him. He doesn't think Chris will do anything that will compromise them. They're young so far as the other Ace teams go at the Agency, but Stiles thinks they're one of the best despite that.

Chris waves them into seats when they shuffle into the conference room, eyes them all and then sighs, throwing his hands out. "You all know already, don't you?" he demands. They nod mutely as Boyd slides into the room, late as usual and settles in the empty seat at Erica's right. "Fine, well, I can skip the spiel then."

"I'd like the spiel," Scott interrupts, holding up a hand like a kid waiting to be called on in class. "I only really got the gist of what's happening. No one would tell me anything."

"Okay," Chris agrees, hands on his hips and still glaring. Stiles rubs at his buzzing skin, always having to fight the urge to teleport out of harm's way when Chris has that particular look on his face. "As most of you know, we had the opportunity to recruit a Joker and he's going to be joining this team."

"Because we're so awesome or because the others wouldn't take him?" Stiles asks.

"Stiles!"

"Right, shutting up."

"As I was saying, we're very lucky to be getting him. I think he'll prove invaluable." The door to the conference room opens and a man who looks to be in his thirties is hovering just outside. Chris waves him in, smiling. "Oh, perfect timing."

"Him? He's like a million years old," Stiles protests and Chris throws him an exasperated glare.

"This is Peter Hale. Derek Hale is the one that's going to be joining your team. Peter is his Uncle and..." Chris looks at a little bit of a loss and Peter chuckles.

"You can call me Derek's... handler," Peter says.

"Why does he need a handler? Why are we taking someone on that needs a handler?"

"Why don't you come meet Derek?" Peter invites, giving Stiles an enigmatic little smile that unsettles him right down to his core. Scott puts a hand on Stiles' shoulder, a troubled frown on his face and Stiles isn't sure if it's because of what he's reading from himself or Peter.

*

"Holy... cow," Stiles manages to say when they're down at the loading dock and what emerges from the back of a shipping container is a massive black wolf with red glowing eyes.

"This is Derek," Peter says, smiling in a jovial way and digging a hand into the fur at one of the wolf's massive shoulders. The wolf shuffles sideways and cuts Peter what can only be described as an annoyed look.

"He's going to eat Scott."

"Why me?" Scott protests, smacking Stiles with the back of his hand.

"You're the slowest runner out of all of us except for Boyd, but he'd be hard to digest when he's all stoney," Stiles says. "I'm pretty sure that's going to become important at some point."

"You run slower than I do," Scott complains.

"Yeah, but?" Stiles evaporates with the usual phwooom and appears again closer to the large rolling door that leads outside the loading dock. Peter looks amused while the wolf, Derek, blinks and paws at the ground. "Sorry, right, no sudden movements?"

"Derek's perfectly..." Something strange happens on Peter's face and then he's grinning again. "Okay, I can't say he's safe with a straight face, but he's unlikely to eat any of you. I'm almost certain."

"Almost certain?" Isaac asks, looking like he might want to retreat to Stiles' safe distance himself.

"Ninety five percent," Peter says. "To my knowledge he hasn't eaten any teenagers, but then again if he did I suppose there wouldn't be much evidence left so-"

"Alright, enough," Chris says, clapping his hands together. "Remember that despite the way he currently looks, Derek is a human being. If any of you think it's funny to try and play fetch with him, I'll give him permission to eat you."

"Can he talk?" Boyd asks. He's a little braver than the rest of them, walks right up to Derek and holds a hand out for Derek to sniff at curiously. He does, then kind of nudges Boyd's shoulder which looks like a greeting but nearly knocks Boyd on his ass.

"Not... he hasn't since..." Peter kind of flails his hands a little. It's the first time he hasn't looked downright smarmy, more at a loss. "He has his own way of communicating."

"I'll bet he... oh hey, he's coming over here, fabulous," Stiles says, backing away until he's against the rolling door when Derek trots over and presses a wet, curious nose against his cheek. He reaches down and mouths at a corner of Stiles' overshirt, tugs until Stiles is nearly yanked off his feet and contemplating teleportation to somewhere safer, like maybe the closest war zone.

"Huh, he doesn't usually like other people," Peter says, his eyebrows furrowing a little.

"This is a good sign?" Stiles squeaks as Derek tows him back towards the others by his shirt, grumbling deep in his throat. He looks soft this close up, fur thick and plush but Stiles isn't about to push his luck any further by trying to pat the large monster that has a hold of him.

"Look, this has been fun but-" Stiles blinks and he's back in his rooms. He shrugs his overshirt off which has two large holes in the bottom and is pretty damp from drool. He knows it was probably rude to disappear like that, but the others can catch him up later.

Right now he has to have a very mild heart attack and then lay down for a bit.

*

Allison is the one to come find him later, which he's surprised by since it's usually either Scott or Lydia talking him down from minor panic-induced teleportation episodes. Stiles doesn't bother sitting up, just kind of shifts over when Allison drops down next to him on his bed. The Agency is pretty generous with their in-house accommodation. Stiles has a bedroom and bathroom all to himself.

"You okay?"

"Peachy. Just didn't feel much like being a chew toy," Stiles says. "Was Chris pissed?"

"He apologized on your behalf to Peter and Derek, said that you sometimes did that without meaning to."

"I love your dad."

"I'm pretty sure you're working his last nerve. You might want to ease up. He knows you broke into his office."

Stiles groans and drops a pillow over his face. "Is he really angry?" he asks, voice muffled. Allison plucks the pillow off him, looking concerned.

"He thinks you're acting out because of Grandpa. He keeps expecting to come and find your room empty."

"What? No way," Stiles says, sitting up. "I would never-"

"No, I know," Allison says quickly.

"It's just, Gerard was always so secretive. He never told us anything and then he disappears and I don't... I just don't want to be surprised again."

Allison looks sad and Stiles takes her hand on impulse. The whole business with Gerard had been messy and what's worse is that he's so far been silent. He'd left, taking the most powerful, unstable Aces and the handful of Jokers the Agency had recruited with him and it had been radio silence ever since.

It was like they were all left waiting for the other really nasty shoe to drop.

"Do you miss him?" Stiles asks gently.

"I miss who he used to be, not who he was before he left. He was just so... bitter," Allison says, squeezing Stiles' hand before letting go.

"I'll behave more, scout's honor," Stiles says.

"Just... My dad he, well, he doesn't exactly think of you as a son maybe but more an infuriating nephew? He cares."

"I know," Stiles says, starting to feel a little glum himself. Chris is a pretty noble guy and some of the stuff his father had been spouting before he pulled his disappearing act definitely wasn't. Stiles tries to imagine his own father going darkside and just can't. It's unfathomable but he's pretty sure at some point Chris would have felt the same way.

"So, he never really got around to explaining why he thought we needed the extra muscle," Stiles prompts. They're a younger team that generally gets the easier missions, people with minor powers that just don't know when to quit rather than being overtly malicious or dangerous. Boyd, Erica and even Isaac to a degree are enough of a deterrent for those that are looking to cause trouble to back down.

"He's worried because some Jokers went missing, just fell off the map completely."

"That happens though, right?"

"Maybe, but it was pretty deliberate. It was people who didn't have any family left or had very minor mutations. Class One's on the register or even zeroes."

"But-"

"Then, a few weeks ago, all at once a bunch of Aces, some pretty high profile people, went missing too. My dad thinks either someone is building an army or they're targeting Wild Cards. Either prospect isn't good. He doesn't want us walking into a trap unprotected."

"You think it's Gerard making his move?"

"Maybe? He knows everyone in this section though, all the powers and the weaknesses. He ran our teams for years. If he's planning something then we'd be the easiest to take out first. Dad wanted something he couldn't plan for, a contingency he doesn't know about."

"Makes sense," Stiles agrees. "He really thinks that giant wolf guy is going to protect us?"

"I don't know. He seemed to be pretty smitten with you."

"Shut up," Stiles says, falling back on the bed and pulling the pillow over his face again.

*

Stiles grabs Erica by the shoulders and teleports just as a chunk of debris about the size of a Buick hits the ground right where she was standing. From a block over, she pushes her hair out of her face, shakes concrete out of her hair and says, "Thanks!"

"No problem," Stiles says, watching her dash back towards the others.

There's what Stiles can only describe as a sort of blue Hulk punching buildings and throwing cars around downtown. The guy's a little more dangerous than what they normally deal with, but all the other teams had already been out and after watching the guy rampage around on the live news feed for a few minutes, Chris had agreed that they couldn't really wait.

"He hasn't hurt anyone yet, but he's going to," Scott had said, jabbing a finger at the television and Chris had finally, grudgingly allowed them to be loaded into the team van, all buzzing with excitement. It's rare they get to properly throw down and it's exciting enough to be on the news so they're all pretty jazzed.

That excitement lasted long enough for Isaac to be thrown into a street sign and Allison to nearly end up catching a bus to the face.

They've never had to kill anyone as a group. The other teams have to make that call a lot but they've never had to and Stiles can see on everyone's faces that it's a real possibility this time. They've been trying to bring the guy down and hold him but it's become clear that as a team they just don't have the resources to pin someone like this long enough for any of the other teams to get there and do a more permanent job.

Stiles is tasked with yanking people out of harm's way and he's trying to keep up, zipping around so much his head is starting to throb, but he's still only one guy. He'd almost missed getting Allison out of the way of the bus and that was when Isaac had been thrown. Isaac's out cold as a consequence and Stiles keeps glancing in the direction of the support van that he's been hustled to, worried.

Boyd tries to engage with his stone skin, but the blue monster just picks him up and tosses him aside like a toy, roaring. Stiles is so busy watching Boyd hurtle through the air, that he completely misses when a chunk of brick is pitched at him and collects him in the temple.

Stiles goes down like his strings are cut, dazed and bleeding. He tries to get himself out of the way but his head aches so much and he can't see properly. He drops until he's prostrate on the ground, staring up at an unmarked blue sky, a sky that's blotted out after a few moments by a large, furry face. "Oh, hey Derek," Stiles says, surprised. Derek makes a kind of acknowledging whuff, licks Stiles on the cheek and then bounds over him. There are the sounds of more roaring, a guttural kind of howl and then silence.

"My head injury has made me deaf," Stiles says to no one in particular, but then Erica's beside him, poking him in the wound and grimacing.

"Sleeping on the job. Typical," she says, offering him a hand up.

"Not sure I can move without puking," Stiles says, waving fingers around his temple. There's blood in his right eye that stings and also, gross.

"Are you okay?" Scott demands, jostling Erica out of his way.

"Ow."

"I'm going to get someone!" Scott calls, already running in the direction of the support van and Erica resumes her spot at Stiles' shoulder. She kind of scuttles sideways which Stiles would find pretty funny if his head didn't feel like it would crack open if he laughed when Derek reappears making a low whining sound.

"No, I'm cool," Stiles says, raising a hand and bumping a fist to Derek's nose. Derek hunkers down and sniffs at Stiles' neck, his face and Stiles reaches up to rub one of Derek's ears between his fingers while he waits for the medics to find him.

*

Stiles watches it a day later when he's cleared from medical. The news is playing it on a loop, the moment Derek jumps into the fray like some kind of avenging nightmare. As soon as he gets close to the blue hulk and bares his teeth, the hulk kind of hiccups and shrinks back into what looks like a ten year old kid who immediately starts bawling.

"We almost..." Stiles says and Scott, hunkered beside him on the rec room couch, shudders a little.

"I couldn't get a read on him. It was all really irrational and I had no idea it was because he was a scared kid."

"You couldn't have known," Stiles says. "Besides, what could we have done differently if you had?"

"Like you said, we almost-"

"We didn't," Stiles says. "We're still a zero fatality squad, perfect record."

Scott offers a wan little smile and Stiles doesn't exactly feel reassured, even by his own words. He knows as they get older they'll be thrown into more dangerous situations and the end results won't always be the same.

"Oh c'mon, this makes it look like Derek was completely by himself. What a glory hound," Stiles complains, trying to lighten the mood and also he is kind of peeved. They never get coverage and the one time they do, it totally looks like a big black wolf drops from the sky and saves the day with zero assistance.

"You can see your foot," Scott points out excitedly and Stiles squints at the screen, can indeed see his sneaker bottom left, twitching a little as the excitement unfolds.

"Great, I hope my dad recorded it," he grumbles. "My foot's famous."

*

There's a scratching at his door what feels like only twelve seconds after Stiles face plants on his bed. He'd been planning to sleep for at least two solid days, maybe try for a third but it seems like he's not even going to get two minutes. "Go away?" Stiles tries, but the scratching persists and Stiles grumbles as he flops over and shuffles back off the bed.

He opens his door and then blinks. "Uh, hey Derek," Stiles says.

Derek makes a low whuffling sound that's almost like an inquiry and then pushes past Stiles and into his room. When Stiles turns around, Derek is already on his bed, flopped diagonally so his nose is hanging off one corner and his tail off the other. "Hey, no, bad Derek!"

Stiles crosses back to his bed and hovers for a moment, unsure. His dad had a police dog for a few months when Stiles was ten and when Cody used to get up on the bed, Stiles would just shove him off but he's not sure he would survive trying to do that to Derek.

"C'mon man, I'm really tired," Stiles whines, poking a tentative finger at one of Derek's large paws. It twitches and then shoots out, catching Stiles in the belly. Stiles curls over for a second, gasping. "Ugh, god, you're the worst," Stiles gets out.

Derek picks his head up, looks at Stiles with his tongue lolling out of his mouth. It's such a dog-like expression that Stiles is finding it hard to remember that underneath it all, Derek is still a person. It's more than likely he understands everything Stiles is saying and doing, the consequences of his actions. He's been forced into a form where he has very little ability to interact at a human level, dealt a Joker mutation instead of an Ace one. Stiles knows he's personally pretty lucky, that he could've ended up dangerous to others and himself.

"Look, it's not that I'm not grateful," Stiles says. Derek shuffles around so he's facing Stiles, head canted sideways. "I mean really grateful. Killing a kid is definitely something we will all happily live our lives without experiencing. Just, don't you have your own-" Derek shifts again and the bed groans ominously. "-reinforced bed?"

Derek puts his head back down on his paws, looks up at Stiles with large, soulful eyes. He should be immune to the puppy eyes because of Scott and his overuse of them, but when they're teamed with a puppy face and over-sized puppy ears it's just...

"Fine," Stiles huffs. He gets up and crosses to his couch that he's admittedly fallen asleep on a time or seven while playing Madden with Scott. He shoves chip packets, game controllers and books out of his way and then collapses.

*

Stiles wakes up an indeterminate amount of time later. He's on his bed with a large paw pretty much squashing his chest and hot, moist breath blowing across his face. Stiles idly wonders if he'd made his own, exhausted way back to the bed or Derek had just come over, picked him up by the scruff and walked him back like a wayward kitten.

He's thinking he should probably try and move back to the couch because he's likely to be mashed into Stiles paste when sleep gets claws back into him and tugs him down.

*

Stiles wakes up alone, with a still aching head and a feeling in his mouth like he's been licking the underside of something disgusting. He gets up and totters over to the bathroom, pisses then checks his face in his toothpaste spotted mirror, wincing at the spectacular shiner he's sporting. The cut he'd gotten from the flying chunk of brick wasn't that bad, held closed with a couple of butterfly bandages, but the bruising is another story.

He's going to have to avoid skyping with his dad for a few days.

Stiles pokes at his shiner mulishly for a few minutes, before he drags himself back out into his bedroom and finds Chris hovering in his doorway. His door had been sitting ajar when he'd woken up and Stiles was kind of disappointed to have missed Derek opening it with his large paws because that was some tricky shit right there.

"Allison said I should come talk to you," Chris says, only entering his room when Stiles gestures for him to take the desk chair in the corner.

"I'm fine, really," Stiles says. "Just a little banged up."

"That's not... she said you were worried about being kept in the dark. That's why you'd felt the need to take matters into your own hands the other day."

"Oh, that," Stiles says, grimacing. He'd thus far avoided getting into any real trouble about breaking into Chris' office but he's assuming that's about to change.

"You're protective of the others. It's admirable," Chris says instead, surprising him.

"Oh well, yeah. They can be a little... gung-ho."

Chris huffs, amused. "You could say that. We don't keep secrets to hurt you guys, it's to make sure you're safe."

"Yeah, I know," Stiles says.

"There comes a time though, when you have to level with the people under your authority," Chris continues and his face is serious, eyebrows drawn. "I brought in Derek to protect Lydia."

Stiles is completely thrown by that. "Lydia? Why? She's a Natural."

"It's true, she's unaffected by the virus, now at least."

"Wait, she's a latent?" Stiles has heard of that, people with the virus laying dormant in their systems for months or even years after the initial infection, curled deep down like a time bomb. The virus is now mostly eradicated, but there are people that are still affected by it. Blood tests show the presence of the virus and Stiles is aghast, because the virus has a ninety percent kill rate and that isn't good odds for anyone.

"No, not at all," Chris says. "It's a little hard to explain. Xenovirus Takis-A is so beyond our comprehension that it's closer to magic than science for us. Lydia was infected but when we tested her, the virus wasn't present. She had antibodies."

"What... does that mean?" Stiles asks slowly.

"We haven't found a single other person who was exposed to the virus and didn't either die, or develop a mutation. You're right that there are some people where the virus is currently dormant, but odds are most of those will die. Lydia is the only person we've ever found whose body fought off the virus successfully and developed protection against re-infection."

"Why the bodyguard, though?"

"We think maybe Gerard is trying to figure out a way to use Lydia's antibodies to ensure an infection of the virus that won't result in death, a way of guaranteeing a mutation, even an Ace result."

"He wants to infect himself, doesn't he?" Stiles asks and Chris sighs, leans forward and rests his chin on one fist. He looks tired.

"He thinks you guys got an unfair boost up the evolutionary ladder and he doesn't want to be left behind. He doesn't think the Ace hand should be dealt so randomly, that it should be controlled, earned. He believes that it should only go to those that deserve it."

"Those he thinks deserve it," Stiles grunts and Chris shrugs. "Even if he does it, even if he finds a way to infect himself and others in a specific way, he might end up with nothing more than a deuce power. He might just end up being able to levitate two feet in the air or grow his nails at will."

"The Jokers and Aces that have gone missing, they all had enviable powers and mutations, the kind of things you would have had on your wish list growing up if someone asked you what kind of superpower you'd want. Things like flight and strength and speed."

"You think he knows a way to engineer the mutation, to cherry pick what he ends up with?"

"Maybe. Like I said, it's more magic than science to us, anything's possible. He took Doctor Jensky with him and apart from Lydia, he was our foremost expert on the virus." Stiles is watching Chris' face carefully, so he doesn't need to be Scott to know that there's something else Chris isn't telling him.

"What?"

"Derek's here to protect you as well."

"Why?"

"A lot of the powers and mutations overlap. There's dozens of people who can fly, can shapeshift, that kind of thing. I've checked all the registers and I could only find a single teleporter."

"Oh."

"I should have told you, when he left Gerard didn't only take some of the Aces and Jackson with him, he took the samples of Lydia's blood we have in stock and a collar."

"A collar? As in a shock collar? As in the only thing that will trap me?" Stiles feels anger, real and clarifying thrum through him. This is why he snoops, because people hide important information all in the name of protection. The first virus outbreak had been so bad because the government had tried to keep it contained, and secret. If people had known, if he had known you could secondarily infect others after that first wave...

There's a rapping on his door jamb and Stiles looks up, sees Peter leaning in and smirking. Stiles wants to punch him in his smug face which he knows is irrational, he's barely met the guy. "Oh hi, am I interrupting something?"

Chris says no at the same moment that Stiles says yes and Peter grins at them, looking delighted. "Did you need something?" Stiles asks, finally relinquishing his iron grip on his anger long enough to feign politeness.

"I was looking for my nephew. Rumor has it I should check your room."

Chris looks at Stiles, surprised and Stiles huffs and waves his arms around, indicating the limited space he has to call his own. "If your nephew had his giant wolf-ass in here then I'm pretty sure you could see it from the doorway."

Peter chuckles. "Fair enough. If you do happen to see him, can you let me know? He didn't sleep in his own room last night and I worry." Peter sketches a little salute and disappears back out into the hallway.

"Is this something I should worry about?" Chris asks, frowning.

"I think you've done enough worrying," Stiles grumbles.

"Stiles-"

"It's fine, I know you meant well, but I'm pretty sure I get to be pissed at you right now because that collar wouldn't exist if it weren't for the Argents."

"We had to have a way to protect against other-"

"Teleporters? Apparently there aren't any," Stiles spits. He scrubs a hand over his head, frustrated and Chris stays prudently silent. "How do you know all this anyway? "

Chris looks uncomfortable for a moment before he says, "I know it might be hard when I ask you to trust me that I can't tell you that yet."

"More secrets," Stiles snaps, throwing his hands up.

"Stiles-"

"So, use me to draw Gerard out. Use me as bait."

"It's one option, yes," Chris admits. "I mean, the only other option is-"

"Lydia. Yeah, you can forget that."

*

"I don't like it." Stiles had gotten Chris' grudging approval to tell the others what was going on, and Isaac's fingers are sparking as he speaks, a sure sign that he's agitated.

"Believe me, I don't want to be used as the worm on the hook either, but we really need to shut down whatever the hell Gerard is doing and we need to shut down Gerard for that." Stiles sees Scott take Allison's hand between his two palms. She looks resigned rather than sad.

"I don't understand why you get to decide who puts themselves in jeopardy," Lydia snaps. Stiles had been tempted to keep the truth about Lydia's involvement to himself, but there's been too many secrets and he's sick of them. If they'd been more open, they might not have lost Jackson to Gerard, who had always been unsure despite his bravado if he fit in with them. Scott had told Stiles that he'd tried to talk to Jackson, sensing his growing loneliness, but he'd been unceremoniously shut down, Jackson actually avoiding Scott like the plague the last few weeks before he left. Gerard had probably already been in Jackson's ear by then and it was a case of too little, too late.

"That's one point we're not arguing about," Stiles says firmly.

"Gerard wants you, but he needs me. I'll force his hand, maybe before he's ready."

"You're the endgame Lyds. We can't risk it." Stiles watches the others mull that over and then all nod slowly. Stiles glances at the corner of the break room where Derek is hunkered, glowering. Stiles had wanted to include Derek, who was part of their team now, and Derek had just sort of shown up when Stiles had been thinking about mounting a search for him. "Derek, any objections? Raise a paw or forever hold your growls."

Derek curls up one side of his lip, exposing a long fang but doesn't make any other kind of response. Stiles takes that for a I don't like it.

"Right, well, Chris seems to believe that Gerard will try something the next time we're called out although he won't tell me how he knows. The R&D guys have got a tracking device that I can wear. Here's the hard part. You guys are going to have to let him take me."

Everyone starts talking at once, all except Scott who winces, hands going to his temples and it's Allison's turn to hold onto him.

"It's the only way!" Stiles yells over the top of them. When they quiet, Erica grinding claws into the table until Boyd picks up one of her hands and unmindful of the claws, folds it in his own, Stiles adds, "We need to take them by surprise. Apparently Gerard has a couple of bases and Chris' intelligence hasn't led to the one where he's holding the Wild Cards he's grabbed."

"I can't even begin to count the number of ways this can go horribly wrong," Lydia says, flipping her hair over her shoulders and looking incensed. "He has five Aces on his side that we know of, god knows if he's recruited more since then."

"The guys he took with him were pretty high level. Are the other teams going to back us up?" Isaac asks.

"It's too much of a risk," Allison interjects. "We don't know if any of his recruits were left behind as sleepers inside the complex to guard against this kind of planned assault. This team is the only team we know is clean, that we can trust."

"What if we can't find you?" Lydia asks, turning to Stiles.

"You will. I'm totally trusting you guys to save my ass here. I know you can."

*

There's scratching at Stiles' door again that night. He crosses to it and opens to Derek, resigned to another uncomfortable night of being overheated and crushed. Derek doesn't seem in the mood to sleep straight away though, pacing the length of Stiles' room and throwing Stiles glances that almost look annoyed.

"I'll be fine," Stiles offers as his pacing begins to include Derek grumbling low in his throat. "And even if... it's worth the risk. I'm basically a glorified taxi most of the time anyway. If something happens, it won't be a big loss."

Derek freezes, fur on his shoulders standing up and Stiles steps back a little, concerned as a low grinding noise starts up.

"Dude, what-?" Stiles starts to say, then there's a horrible grinding sound and there's a naked man crouched in the middle of Stiles' bedroom.

"Holy crap!" Stiles yelps when the naked man, correction, the naked Derek stands up. Stiles flails towards his bed, grabbing up the top blanket and throwing it at him. Derek busies himself with tucking the blanket around his waist for a few moments, before he looks up at Stiles.

Derek is stunning, all thick eyebrows, dark hair and pale eyes. Stiles' own eyes keep catching on his torso, on the sharp cut of sternum and shoulders. Stiles dry-swallows, forcing his gaze back to Derek's face and then throwing out a hand, a plea for an explanation since he can't seem to talk past the desert his mouth and throat have become.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you," Derek offers. His voice is a little rough, like he hasn't used it in a while.

"I'm startled. Consider me well and truly startled and also what the fuck?"

"I just... I couldn't take you talking about you sacrificing yourself like that anymore. Like it doesn't matter, like you're not important."

"Holy crap, you're not a Joker at all. You're an Ace. Why would you let people think you couldn't shift back?"

"I have my reasons," Derek says, looks down at himself and then back up at Stiles with an embarrassed wry quirk to his mouth. "Could I get some pants?"

"Shit, yeah, of course," Stiles says, turns to his chest of drawers and yanks the second one open where he keeps his sweats. He and Derek are of a height so Stiles figures they'll work and tosses over a pair. Derek tugs them on and tosses the blanket back on the bed. Stiles offers a shirt also but Derek doesn't take it.

"Uh." Derek windmills his arms for a moment, scrunches his face. "I might have to work up to a shirt. I haven't worn clothes in a while. The pants feel weird enough."

"Okay," Stiles says, flails his hands at Derek's torso. "I mean, I don't think anyone would complain about... that."

Derek takes a step towards Stiles and Stiles backs up. Derek frowns, raises an eyebrow. "Seriously? I can be all over you when I'm a giant monster of a wolf but this scares you?"

"I'm not scared," Stiles says, raising his chin.

"Your heart's going a mile a minute. Either you're scared or... oh," Derek says, eyes widening. He blushes and it's the prettiest thing Stiles thinks he's ever seen in his life. Stiles digs fingernails into his palms, trying to reign in his stupid teenage hormones so he can deal rationally with this latest unexpected development in the saga that is his life.

"So, bipedal. Didn't see that coming," Stiles says.

"It's... complicated."

"Does Chris know?"

"No one knows," Derek says.

"No one? But... not even Peter?"

"No one."

Stiles takes that in for a moment, lets it settle down deep inside him. Derek is showing him this when he hasn't trusted anyone else with it. Derek trusts him. Stiles crosses his arms, toes at the floor for a second. "It doesn't change what I have to do."

"You don't have to be reckless about it," Derek argues. "You're so willing to take a bullet for Lydia that you don't see you're the one loading the gun."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just think about it. You're the smart one, you're the strategist. Why would Gerard want a teleporter in the first place?"

"Because I'm the only one? Because it's a pretty badass-" Stiles starts to say but then his brain clicks over, starts slotting pieces together, seeing the bigger picture. He's always been good at puzzles, thinking ahead.

Derek watches him, silent, letting him work it through.

"He's expecting me to give myself up. He's got a way to trap me with the collar but he's got... he took Jackson."

"Jackson's a Joker, right?"

"Yeah, he's like, half lizard but he has venom that paralyzes you."

"Is that all it does?"

"No, it... Gerard was working with Jackson before he left. In a small enough dose it makes people susceptible to suggestion, kind of like hypnosis in a drug form." Stiles paces his room. "Jesus, he needs Lydia but he can't get at her without major losses on his side. She's in here and it's a big ask to storm the complex."

"Except?"

"Except for someone like me," Stiles says.

"Not for someone like you, Stiles," Derek says. "You."

*

On his way to Chris' office, Stiles runs into Derek.

Derek who is dragging an unconscious Lydia along the hallway.

That's when he realizes that the large, black and grey oversized wolf in front of him isn't Derek. "Motherfu-" Stiles starts to swear and the wolf lunges at him, claws tearing into Stiles' shoulder.

Stiles falls backwards, his shoulder on fire with agony and he's slip-sliding away from the monster in front of him when it shrinks down, shrinks in and it's Peter crouched in front of him.

"I watch, I wait and I listen," Peter says. He scrabbles towards Stiles, still on all fours and Stiles tries to back away but he has the hall wall behind him. "I found out about the shock collar, that you can't just disappear when it's on, but I noticed something interesting when the cameras caught you, when Derek took down that large, blue child. You were hurt and you stayed put."

Stiles thinks about his room, about Chris' office, about being outside but he can't quite get a handle on his power, it slips out of his grasp with every dull, sickly throb of his shoulder. "So?" he grits out.

"It's pain, Stiles. It's pain that anchors you in place. Keep you in enough of it and you can't escape." Peter grins, lips and jaw streaked with Stiles' blood.

"Why are you... what do you want?" Stiles lets out a pained grunt as Peter leans over him, brings a palm down on his bitten shoulder and squeezes.

"Gerard Argent has something I want. I now have something he wants." Peter looks back at Lydia with an expression that could be described as fond if Stiles didn't know any better.

"Back away from him, right now." Peter looks up and away from Stiles, sees Derek standing at the end of the hall. He chuckles as he uncurls, making sure he's still over Stiles.

"Nephew! You're a lot less... fuzzy than I remember."

"Shave and a haircut," Derek says. "I feel like a new man. Now, step away from Stiles."

"You don't understand. I'm doing this for our family," Peter says and Stiles rolls his head so he can see Derek, see him falter when he takes a step forward.

"What?"

"Remember Kate Argent, Derek? Before the Agency was founded the Argents had a very different job. They were tasked with rounding up all the afflicted citizens on government order to tag and bag them. Remember a small house full of infection in the forest? Remember Kate leading the sanitation squad?"

"What has that got to do with Stiles and Lydia?"

"I made a deal with Gerard. He'll hand over Kate's location when I hand over Lydia. He might not need Stiles to secure Lydia with me helping him but he'll still be an extra little incentive for him to keep up his end of the deal since Stiles is so...unique. Fortunate running into him like this."

"I'm not going to let you leave with them," Derek says. As he talks, his eyes start to glow red and his fangs elongate. Peter chuckles and then he's also changing. He leaps over Stiles and barrels into Derek whose shift isn't quite as fast. He's still changing when Peter collects him and they tumble away.

Stiles pulls himself along the corridor until he reaches Lydia. He checks for a pulse, breathes out a shaky sigh of relief when he finds one. Stiles stands, then tries to lift Lydia with him but he cries out, his shoulder and the arm attached to it useless. Stiles slumps to the floor again, closes his eyes.

"Stiles, get out of here!" Stiles hears Derek yell and he looks down the hallway to see Derek is still mostly human, holding off Peter's dripping jaws and throwing Stiles a desperate look. "You can do it, I know you can!"

Stiles grabs onto Lydia, pushes the pain in his shoulder away and moves.

*

"Stiles!"

Someone is shaking him and he wants to tell them to stop because it's kinda making him feel like he's going to puke. He doesn't manage the words but he does manage a kind of flailing with his arms and the person lets him go. He's slapped hard on the cheek and Stiles' eyes unstick all at once. "What the hell?" he yelps.

Lydia's sitting crouched next to him, arms hugged around her middle and concern on her face. Stiles blinks because there's currently only emergency lighting to see by and the sound of the complexes alarms, a steady, ear-splitting beat. "What happened?"

"Gerard's raiding the place with a bunch of Jokers and the Aces that left with him. Peter must have been feeding him intel because most of the senior Ace teams are out on missions at the moment. He took the opportunity for what it was."

"Who's left?" Stiles croaks, sitting up gingerly.

"Basically? Just us."

"Seriously," Stiles groans. "Do you know where the others are?"

"I don't even know where I am. Where did you take us?"

"I didn't... have an exact location in mind? Just away. We're still in the complex though so that's something."

"I've never seen this part before."

Stiles lets Lydia help him to his feet. She makes a distressed noise when she notices his shoulder but he waves her concern away, knowing they have bigger problems. If Gerard is inside the complex, he's there for Lydia, possibly desperate since Peter failed to snatch her quietly. Peter must have been Plan A and they're seeing Plan B being enacted.

"I think we're in the old-" he starts to say and that's when there's a hissing from above them. Stiles feels something pierce the back of his neck and he swears as his whole body goes numb, legs going out from underneath him. He's flat on his back when he spots movement, a figure dropping down from its perch amongst the pipes bolted to the corridor's ceiling. "Jackson?"

Stiles hears Lydia inhale sharply as the figure resolves itself into Jackson. He has a fine patina of scales over his visible skin, a long tail curving out behind him. Jackson's handsome in an alien way and Stiles isn't sure why he wasn't classed an Ace rather than a Joker, other than the fact that he can't pass for unafflicted in society. It's always been a sore spot for Jackson, affecting him more than any of them realized because he'd left with Gerard.

"Jackson," Lydia says, automatically reaches for him. He snarls and she freezes in place. "Jackson?"

"I'm supposed to find you and take you to Gerard," he says, reaching out a hand to grab her wrist. Lydia doesn't struggle and Stiles watches, unable to move or stop him. "I'm supposed to..." Then he smirks and it's the old self-satisfied smirk that he used to have on him whenever they would play Lacrosse, Jokers versus Aces and he would kick their asses. "Poor Gerard has no idea that I don't play for his team."

"What are you-?" Lydia starts to ask, then squeaks when Jackson pulls her into a fierce hug.

"Sorry I scared you," he says. "Chris knew Gerard was trying to recruit internally but he didn't know why. I volunteered to be convinced to join him and then when he decided to leave I had to go or risk suspicion."

"You've been a double agent?" Stiles asks, incredulous. "Why'd you paralyze me?"

"I needed you still long enough to explain."

"You're the worst," Stiles complains. He's starting to get pins and needles all over his body though and he grimaces. "Doesn't it usually take longer than this to wear off?"

"I only gave you a quarter dose," Jackson says.

"How come you didn't warn us about the invasion?" Stiles asks sourly.

"Gerard might talk a good game, but he still thinks Jokers are scum. I'm not part of his inner, trusted circle. I didn't know where he was keeping the Wild Cards he'd kidnapped and I didn't have time to get a message to Chris today. I just had to come along so I could make sure you guys were okay."

"So, is there a plan?" Stiles asks, sitting up slowly.

"You guys stay down here. This area isn't on the schematics so you're pretty safe. Gerard won't know to look for you here."

"Why did I teleport here?"

Jackson waggles his tail. "Chris got me to dose you before I left, implanted this place in your subconscious so that if you ever panic-teleported you'd end up here instead of Siberia or something."

"He what? Why don't I remember that?"

"Stiles, you think you know everything but you really don't know even an eighth of the sneaky shit that guy does."

"What are you going to do?" Lydia asks, clutching Jackson's hand to herself.

"Help the more useful members of your team stop the incursion and hopefully trap Gerard. If I see Scott I'll send him down here." Jackson settles Lydia next to Stiles again, who's finally able to sit up under his own steam. "If anyone comes down here that isn't a member of your misfit family, you go Stiles, do you understand? You don't look back."

"Jackson-" Stiles starts to protest but Jackson just takes a moment to squeeze Lydia's hand again and then he's gone. "Benched, typical," Stiles huffs irritably.

"Really? I don't know about you but I wasn't planning on sitting down here and letting our friends get killed for us," Lydia says imperiously.

"That's my girl," Stiles says, grinning. "Help me up."

*

The lingering affects of Jackson's venom mean Stiles can't yet teleport, so he and Lydia very carefully make their way to Lydia's labs. She sets about mixing up a few molotov cocktails from the various bottles in her cabinets and hands Stiles a tranq gun loaded with small darts. "What's in these?"

"A synthetic version of Jackson's venom," Lydia says. "I just finished it."

"Does it work?"

"Derek let me test it on him. He went down in eight seconds which was longer than I thought it would take so I increased the potency."

"Badass," Stiles breathes and Lydia gives him a winning smile. "Who are those for?" he adds, inclining his head at the lethal bottles Lydia is holding.

"Gerard or Peter, maybe both if we're lucky," she says grimly.

"Fair enough."

They make their way towards the sound of fighting. They find Isaac grappling with a woman with blue skin first. She has scorch makes on her face and Isaac's arms are encased in ice up to the elbow. Stiles shoots her in the thigh and she slumps sideways, Isaac sitting up and raising an eyebrow at them as his hands glow orange inside his ice gloves and they break apart.

"Nice timing," he says, standing and brushing himself off.

"Do you know where the others are?" Lydia asks.

"Down near the panic rooms. They think Lydia's been locked in one of them for safe keeping." Isaac cuffs Stiles on the shoulder. "Nice to see you're not dead despite rumors to the contrary."

"You thought I was dead?"

"Gerard's guys are saying he found you first and put a bullet in you. Thought maybe that would make us weaker or surrender. It's had... the opposite effect. Derek's a little... he's more scary than usual and that's saying something."

"Well, I'd hate to miss watching you guys avenge me," Stiles says.

*

The others have mostly brought down Gerard's forces when Stiles, Lydia and Isaac find them. Peter is human again, slumped over with a large gash on his forehead but still breathing. They'd had to step gingerly around some remnants of Derek's fury that didn't look particularly human anymore and will haunt Stiles' dreams for a long time.

Chris is hunkered outside his office, holding a crossbow across his knees and he startles when he sees them. "Stiles! We thought you were-"

"Yeah, I know." Stiles says, smirking and Chris shakes his head ruefully.

"Stiles?" The voice behind him is more growl than word and Stiles spins just in time to be picked up and squeezed so hard he swears his ribs creak.

"Derek, I'm really fine," Stiles wheezes and Derek sets him down but doesn't let go of him, fingers tipped still with claws tangled in his shirt and Stiles figures that if he and Derek are going where he thinks they are, he's going to be replacing clothing, a lot.

"Gerard? Did he-?"

"Got away with a couple of Aces," Chris spits, looking murderous. "Don't worry, we'll find him. Jackson said some of the people he left behind know where he's keeping his prisoners and one of the other teams is already on their way. Gerard doesn't know it but when he left he was also wearing the tracking device that was meant for you."

"Jackson was right. You're scary sneaky," Stiles observes. "Is everyone okay?"

Scott appears beside him. He looks at Derek uncertainly for a moment before he wraps Stiles in a relieved hug, ignoring the fact that Derek is still not letting Stiles go and instead working around him.

"Everyone's okay," Scott says. "Erica's in the infirmary but she's just got a couple of cracked ribs. Allison and Boyd are with her and Doctor Milling. Derek and Jackson took out most of Gerard's people."

Jackson appears beside Lydia, who hooks an arm through his and smiles up at him.

"I can't believe you didn't tell us Jackson was our undercover guy," Stiles complains, kicking at Chris' foot. "I was having some pretty uncharitable thoughts about him."

"What's new," Jackson huffs and Stiles looks at Jackson, at his almost pretty skin and preppy, jock haircut. Meets his blue, very human gaze and knows that while Jackson might be a total jerk, he's their jerk and Stiles feels guilty for not seeing that sooner.

"I could eat a million hot pockets," Scott says brightly, breaking the tension.

"I totally think we deserve the good break room after this," Stiles says.

*

"You squirm less when I do this to you as a wolf."

An hour ago, Derek had been scratching on his door and Stiles had expected to open it and see as his big furry self, but instead it had been hot human Derek smirking at him. Currently, Derek is pinning Stiles to his bed with his arms and legs, not really doing much except partially squishing him and nosing at his jaw.

Stiles likes the fact that they skipped the whole will they, won't they dance Scott and Allison have going on and instead Derek just came to his room and landed on him, all content and entitled.

"I was going to say that as a wolf you weigh more but I'm not sure that's true. You're certainly more likely to kick me in the balls with one of your massive paws so I tend to stay very still."

"How's training going?"

Stiles wriggles around until he can free an arm so he can rub a thumb between Derek's furrowed brows. "It's necessary."

"I don't like it."

"I know, but pain training is really necessary. I can't be rendered useless if I get a scratch." When Derek makes a displeased noise, Stiles digs his other arm out so he can hug Derek properly. "Don't worry, I'll keep warning you so you can make yourself scarce. Strangely enough, you're the only one that doesn't want to watch it. I'm surprised they haven't set up bleachers in the training room yet."

"I'm sure Scott doesn't want to," Derek corrects and Stiles makes a sour face.

"He can't be anywhere near it, but then he said he can't be anywhere near us lately, that he's starting to get confused boners."

Derek laughs, quick, bright and startled and then his hands edge up along Stiles' bared ribs. "So, you can't teleport when you're in pain, but there's something that makes you teleport involuntarily, right?"

"What? No there's-ah! No! Who told?" Stiles exclaims when Derek digs his fingers in, finding his most ticklish spots without mercy. "This is going to end-"

"-badly!" Stiles finishes, finding himself standing in the good break room in just his underwear. "Oh yeah, ha ha, very funny," he grumbles when Isaac and Boyd pause their game to stare at him from the couch.

Stiles, resigned, crosses over to them and flops down. "So, what are we playing?"