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Sanctuary

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On his fourth day living in Beacon Hills, Stiles wakes up when his dad raps on his bedroom door. “Stiles! Get out of bed. You’re going to school!”

So that’s where they are in the push-and-pull of their father-son relationship today. His dad has reached the I Am Not Fucking Around stage again. A few more days and he’ll be right back at the I Am Not Going To Push You stage. Which Stiles likes a lot more than the I Can’t Bear To Even Look At You one that’s defined most of the last eight months, actually.

Everything hurts when he levers himself out of bed, but Stiles is used to that. It always takes a while to get moving again after everything’s seized up overnight. He doesn’t bother shower. Just drags some fresh clothes out of one of his unpacked boxes and pulls them on. His red hoodie is last. He pulls the hood up even though he’s still in the house, and thinks that no, no he can’t go to school today.

He heads downstairs.

When was the last time he was in the kitchen? Yesterday? The day before? His dad has made good progress unpacking. It takes Stiles three attempts to figure out where the glasses live now.

He pours himself an orange juice while his dad digs out the cereal.

“I thought I’d drive you to school,” his dad says. “Come to administration with you and get things explained.”

He waves vaguely.

“I can drive myself.” He has a Jeep now. He hasn’t really checked it out, but it was part of his dad’s bribery attempt to move them here to Beacon Hills.

“You’re not driving that thing until I get it checked out properly,” his dad tells him.

It’s just an excuse, and they both know it. If his dad doesn’t literally escort him into the school, there’s no way he’s going.

“Dad,” Stiles says, his voice wavering.

“No.” John Stilinski’s face is set. “You need to do this, Stiles. And the longer you wait, the harder it will get.”

Stiles stares down at his cereal so his dad doesn’t see his tears. “It’s gonna suck, though.”

His dad reaches out and clasps a hand around Stiles’s, making his spoon clatter against the table. “Come on, kid. Have you forgotten how tough you are?”

No, Stiles thinks, but have you forgotten how much of a freak I am?

 

***

 

The woman at the school office smiles too brightly when she sees Stiles, and a fraction too late. Stiles hunches over on the plastic chair and runs his tongue along the inside of his lower lip. There’s a line of scar tissue there that feels as thick as rope. Stiles is introduced to the principal, the vice-principal, and the guidance counselor. They all assure him and his dad of the school’s anti-bullying policy, and of taking into consideration the chunk of time Stiles missed at his last school, and of how BHHS is all about community and inclusiveness and a hundred other things that won’t count for shit once Stiles is in an actual classroom. Or worse, a locker room.

His dad gives him a hug and promises that he can call him if he needs anything.

And Stiles wants to tell him that yeah, he needs to not be here, but instead he nods and watches his dad, somehow unfamiliar to him in that tan uniform instead of dark blue, heading for the exit.

Stiles’s first class is Chemistry.

He sidles into the classroom and hands the teacher his pass for being late.

“Mr…” the teacher says, and frowns at the name. “Mr. Stilinski. Welcome to Beacon Hills. This is a classroom, not a crack house. Take your hood off.”

Stiles’s blood turns to ice.

“Holy shit,” one of the kids says in the silence that follows. “What happened to his face?”

 

***

 

What happened is that Detective John Stilinski was on a case. Some cartel or whatever. Stiles didn’t know the details, however much he badgered his dad. But these guys were scary, okay? Scary enough that everyone working the case, and their families, got a list of security tips. Check your car before you start it. Vary your day-to-day routine. Take a different route home. Make sure nobody is following you. Don’t answer your door unless you know who it is.

Don’t answer your door unless you know who it is.

Don’t—

When the doorbell rang, his dad wasn’t home but Stiles was expecting a parcel delivery.

When it was over, they dragged him onto the balcony of the third floor apartment where he lived and tipped him over the edge.

 

***

 

Stiles leaves the school at a run, tears blurring his vision, and panic threatening to choke him, to smother him. He doesn’t have a car, and he doesn’t even know how to get to the house from here, or to the Sheriff’s Station. He finds himself on a field behind the school, and he just needs to get away, and there are trees. A forest to lose himself in, and that’s what he needs right now. He needs to be alone.

He stumbles toward the trees, his hood pulled forward over his face.

 

***

 

Okay.

Stupid.

Stiles is pretty sure he’s lost. It’s only been a few hours, so his dad won’t be missing him yet, unless the school has called, but there aren’t any missed calls on his phone, and he still has a signal, so he’s not totally lost, right? His phone has GPS. Stiles would just rather find his own way out of the woods than have his dad have to organize a retrieval. Like today is enough of a disaster already, without adding a search and rescue to it.

He’s not going back to school.

He sits down on a moss-covered log, and shivers in the cool. He fiddles with his phone, catching glimpses of his face in the silver cover as he turns it over in his hands. He hasn’t really looked that much at his face since it happened. Just a quick glimpse every now and then. It shocks him, every time, how horrible it is. Not that he was ever a fucking supermodel or anything—ha!—but now he looks like he’s the origin story of a supervillian or something.

And every time he sees the scars, he feels it all over again. Every cut. Skin and muscle forced to split. The blade punching through his cheek. The strength behind it.

His heart starts beating faster, and he drops his phone onto the ground before he’s tempted to look.

He leans over, taking deep breaths and trying to remember to hold them.

It’s quiet here. Peaceful.

He doesn’t want to go back. He wants to stay here, and just…just stop. Just cease. Just close his eyes and never have to open them again.

Stiles has spent the last eight months in therapy. He knows what passive suicidal ideation is. He’s just never been brave enough to ask his therapists why they think it’s such a bad idea. Like, what would it matter if he just stopped? If everything just stopped? And then he thinks of the guilt that’s slowly been crushing his dad for the last eight months, and knows he could never leave his dad. Not like that.

He takes another deep breath and holds it.

Feels his building panic recede at last.

Okay.

Okay, so he needs to call his dad, probably.

He reaches down for his phone, except it’s not there. It’s not there. He drops to his hands and knees and scrabbles through the leaf litter looking for it. He dropped it, he didn’t throw it, but it’s not fucking there.

No. He’s not going to panic about this. He just needs to calm down, and take another look, because—

A twig breaks behind him, as sharp and dry as the snapping of a bone. Stiles spins around, landing on his ass on the damp ground.

The wolf steps forward.

 

***

 

“No,” Stiles tells the universe. “No, because I just fucking decided that I wasn’t going to kill myself, so you don’t get to do this!”

The wolf growls at him, thin lips lifting to reveal massive fangs.

Fuck.

 

***

 

You don’t run from wolves. Or is that bears? Stiles wishes he could remember. He also wishes he wasn’t on his ass, so he could climb a tree or something. But he’s pretty sure that any sudden movement will result in his immediate painful death.

He draws his legs up very slowly, and curls his arms around them. Buries his face in his knees, and squeezes his eyes shut.

Maybe if he gives it a few minutes, the wolf will get bored and go away?

A huff of hot breath against his shaking hands.

Shit.

It’s right there.

 

***

 

“We’re sending your dad a message, kid,” one of the guys said when Stiles begged them to stop.

It’s not the message they intended to send, he guesses. He wasn’t supposed to survive the drop to the ground. But it was still a message. Stiles sees it every single time his dad looks at him.

So much fucking guilt.

It’s unbearable, for both of them. Sometimes, at night, Stiles pretends to be asleep when his dad comes into his room and sits on his bed and strokes his hair like he’s a little kid. He listens to his dad’s breath hitch, and it takes everything he has not to cry as well.

Sometimes he wakes screaming from his nightmares, and his dad has to hold him down, his voice breaking every time he promises over and over again that he’s safe now. He’s safe. It’s over.

But it’s never really over, is it? Not when Stiles still has to shower with a towel over the bathroom mirror.

Not when every single day someone looks at him twice, or inhales sharply, or says, right in the middle of Chemistry, “Holy shit. What happened to his face?”

 

***

 

When the wolf clamps its jaws firmly around Stiles’s wrist, tugging his arm free, Stiles is pretty sure it’s some sort of prelude to attack. Except all that happens is the wolf tugs gently, and growls softly when Stiles doesn’t move.

“What?” Stiles asks it, voice shaky with tears. “You want me to get up?”

The wolf tugs his wrist again.

Stiles climbs awkwardly to his feet.

The wolf doesn’t release its grip. Just tugs again, and pulls Stiles into a stumbling walk.

 

***

 

“You’re not going to eat me, are you?” Stiles asks some time later.

The wolf makes a chuffing sound, and releases his wrist at last. Wolf drool. Stiles wipes it on his hoodie.

“Where are we going?” Stiles asks, peering around the woods. It looks exactly the same as the last mile did, but Stiles is a city kid. Not enough of a city kid to think that what’s happening here is in any way normal, but hey, he’ll take it. The wolf doesn’t want to tear his throat out, and that’s fine with Stiles.

The wolf trots forward a few feet, and then stops and turns to look at Stiles. It tilts it head on an angle.

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles tells it, a smile spreading over his face despite himself. “I’m coming.”

 

***

 

They come at last to a chain link fence, and walk along it until they reach a gate. There’s a faded sign on the gate that says HALE WOLF SANCTUARY.

“You brought me to a wolf sanctuary?” Stiles asks the wolf. “Seriously, dude?”

The wolf growls at him, then lifts it head and howls.

The sound sends shivers down Stiles’s spine. It’s so loud. It feels like it echoes, even though there’s nothing for the sound to really bounce off. Just trees. But it’s incredible, and more than a little terrifying.

Moments later, there’s a woman running toward them from the other side of the fence. She’s dark-haired, maybe in her twenties, and she’s wearing a khaki shirt with the same logo as the sign.

“You got out again?” she demands, unchaining the gate, and Stiles realizes that she’s talking to the wolf. “Mom is going to be pissed!”

The wolf huffs.

The girl flushes as she notices Stiles, like she suddenly remembers how weird it is to be talking to a wolf. Like Stiles is in any position to judge. Her gaze travels over his face, but there’s no sudden start of pity or revulsion.

“Hi,” she says, pushing the gate open. “I’m Laura. Laura Hale.”

“Stiles Stilinski,” he says. “I, um, got lost in the woods, and I think your wolf rescued me?”

Laura knocks the wolf with her knee as it sidles past her. “Yeah, he does that.”

The wolf growls and nips the air beside her.

“Troublemaker,” Laura tells it, and then smiles at Stiles. “You want to come up to the house? Make a phone call?”

Stiles toys with the strings on his hoodie nervously. “Yeah. Please.”

The wolf walks with them all the way to the house.

 

***

 

His dad is not happy that Stiles ran away from school.

“I said if you needed me, you call me.”

He’s also not happy about the cost of replacing Stiles’s lost phone, but promises they’ll go and get a new one on the weekend. Stiles doesn’t complain. Who has he got to call anyway?

He is happy to meet Talia Hale though, Laura’s mom, especially when she tells him they’re looking for volunteers to help out at the sanctuary. Stiles finds himself volunteered almost immediately, but he doesn’t mind that much. Wolves are cool, right? And he’d kind of like to see his wolf again. And Laura tells him that next time he comes over he can meet the rest of the family. Some of them are at work in town now, and some are at school, and her Uncle Peter and her brother Derek are, vaguely, around. Stiles figures that means they’re doing whatever it is that needs doing in a wolf sanctuary every day.

Stiles isn’t that great with meeting new people, but Laura and Talia seem nice, and it will be cool to come out here all the time and learn more about wolves and stuff. So yeah, he figures he can handle meeting the rest of the Hales.

He promises to come back the next afternoon for a proper tour of the place.

He and his dad drive back into town. Stiles waits in the car while his dad picks up pizza for an early dinner, and tugs his hood forward. It feels too warm and almost restrictive after his hours in the woods, feeling the breeze tickle the back of his neck.

Maybe he won’t wear it all the time. Like, just around the house and stuff.

“So a wolf saved you?” his dad asks later when they’re finishing the pizza.

Stiles shoves a piece of pepperoni in his mouth. “That’s weird, right? I guess they’re like domesticated or something? Can you even domesticate a wolf?”

“Hell if I know,” his dad says, smiling, and Stiles realizes this might be the first conversation they’ve had in months that isn’t about his injuries or his recovery or his future.

“Did we unpack the DVDs yet?” he asks.

“No, but I think I know what box they’re in,” his dad says.

“Cool. We should watch something tonight.”

His dad’s smile grows, and Stiles thinks he might be blinking back tears. “Sounds great, kiddo.”

***

 

The next morning when Stiles opens the front door he sees his phone lying on the porch. The case is slightly indented where fangs have gripped it a little too tightly, and the screen is covered in slobber, but it works.

Stiles laughs, because that’s just crazy.

Turns out he could use a little crazy in his life.

Chapter Text

When Stiles goes back to school the next morning—because nothing says disaster like a second attempt at a first impression, right?—he has a panic attack on his way to his locker. His dad, who’s with him again, steers him straight to the nurse’s office. Trust his dad to have already figured out the route there.

“Okay, kid,” he says, crouching in front of him while Stiles tries to remember how to suck oxygen into his lungs. “Just breathe, okay. Just keep breathing?”

Stiles remembers him saying something like that eight months ago, except he sure as hell didn’t sound so calm then.

Stiles nods, and closes his eyes.

The nurse’s office is a bland little room with a few beds separated by dividers. Stiles thinks he’s the only occupant until a kid sticks his head up from above one of the dividers. He has dark, worried eyes, and floppy hair.

“Want to borrow my inhaler?” Then he takes in Stiles’s dad’s uniform, and his eyes grow even wider, like he’s just offered Stiles crack. “Um.”

“It’s not an asthma attack,” Stiles’s dad says.

The kid vanishes behind the divider again, and Stiles hears the quick puff of an inhaler.

Stiles’s dad rolls his eyes.

Stiles huffs out a silent laugh.

“I think you’re missing homeroom,” his dad says at last.

“Can I go home now?” Stiles asks him, his voice cracking. “This isn’t gonna work. I mean, I tried.”

His dad looks old all of a sudden. He stands up, and Stiles can swear he hears his joints creak. “Kid,” he says, and sounds so helpless. “I don’t want to push you, Stiles. Jesus, I don’t, but we talked about this. Me, and you, and Kirsten.”

Kirsten was his therapist back in L.A. She still is, Stiles supposes, until he visits the one she referred him to here. Stiles liked her because she didn’t insist on being called Dr. Hanley, and also she still looked more like a college student than anything else. His dad had worried she wasn’t experienced enough, but Stiles had worked better than her than with anyone else he’d seen in those first few months.

“They won’t let me wear my hood up in class,” Stiles says, feeling hot tears slide down his face.

“Stiles,” his dad says, face crumbling a little. “The hood, it doesn’t…”

It doesn’t make a difference, Stiles knows. Not when people are close, like in a classroom setting. But it feels like it does. Like he can pull it tight and hide away. He’s not so exposed. He needs it

Stiles is aware that he can hear low voices from beyond the partition. The asthmatic kid, he guesses, and the school nurse.

“Dad.” He tries to keep his voice low, but it’s getting harder and harder as his panic rises. “I need to go home! Please!”

“Okay.” His dad runs a hand over his forehead, the way he does when he’s stressed. “Okay, let’s get you home.”

 

***

 

His dad has to work, so Stiles has the house to himself. He sleeps for a few hours, and then spends a while unpacking some more of his stuff, and taking the empty boxes downstairs for his dad to get rid of later. He’s not agoraphobic, not exactly, but he doesn’t like opening doors when his dad’s not home, even if it’s just to go and dump some boxes in the garage. He leaves them in the kitchen instead, then goes and starts to unpack the rest of the dining room stuff.

A dinner set wrapped in newspaper. Stiles can’t remember the last time they used it. It was his mom’s, he thinks. The pretty blue flowers have been stained by newspaper print, so Stiles washes the dishes before he puts them away in the dining room sideboard. There are other bits and pieces he doesn’t really recognize either, and doesn’t know where they came from. A glass platter. A weird silver container with its own scoop that looks really old, and was maybe used for sugar or something? A couple of dainty teacups, as thin as eggshell, that must have been handed down from someone because he can’t imagine either of his parents buying them.

When he’s done, there are still one or two boxes in the living room, but Stiles doesn’t want to touch them. He doesn’t know where his dad packed the photo albums or framed family pictures. He doesn’t want to see what he used to look like anymore. He’s not sure he can handle looking at his mom’s face either.

He flops onto the couch instead.

It’s okay, being alone, when he doesn’t have to have people looking at him. When he’s alone, he can just live inside his head and forget about his scars. He can be just Stiles again, not this sad thing that people stare at and make sympathetic faces.

He drags his laptop over from where he left it on the coffee table, and researches online schooling for a while. He’s pretty sure that’s what he wants. It’s more or less the same as what he did in the hospital, after all, and at home afterward. The only difference is he’d be getting his work online, instead of his dad collecting it once his friends stopped bringing it by.

He was hard to deal with in those first few months. He doesn’t blame them for not wanting to be around him. He would have got the fuck away from him too, if that had been an option. He’d thought about it. There’s a reason his dad still keeps his pain meds in his gun safe. Stiles hadn’t tried it, but he’d thought about it, and the line got pretty blurred there for a while.

He thinks about the wolf again. The way it growled when he said he’d decided not to kill himself. Animals can pick up on emotional distress, right? That’s a thing they can do. Particularly an animal from a sanctuary, who’s maybe used to humans and doesn’t see them as walking Happy Meals?

He digs his phone out of his pocket and feels the indentations in the case from fangs.

Yeah, but that’s not normal.

It’s been a while since Stiles felt the prickling anticipation of anything but dread, but he’s actually looking forward to going out to the sanctuary this afternoon, and seeing the wolves.

Well, that one wolf.

He wonders if he’ll be able to tell it apart from the others.

 

***

 

The old blue Jeep that Stiles fell in love with online makes a godawful sound between first and second gear, and shudders like it’s about to die, but then it rallies, and the shift between second and third is a hell of a lot smoother. The drive out to the Hale Sanctuary takes about twenty minutes, and at least five of that is Stiles backtracking because he missed the turnoff into the Preserve the first time and he has to pull over to the side of the road and check the map on his phone.

He told Laura and Talia that he’d come after school, so he’s a little early, probably, when he finally gets there. It looks very different approaching the place from the front entrance. There’s a small parking lot for visitors, and an information center, and a sign posted with the times people can come to watch feedings, or listen to talks and stuff. It’s the middle of the week, so there’s only a single session listed today, and Stiles has already missed it. His Jeep is the only car in the parking lot.

From the parking lot, there’s a path up to the entrance to the sanctuary, right by the information center. The road continues along to the right though, and it’s marked Private. Stiles jams his hands into the pockets of his jeans and walks up the private road. The road turns once in a sharpish curve, and Stiles sees the Hale house again. It’s a big place. There are a few cars parked out the front. The lawn is a little overgrown, but Stiles likes it. It blends in with the woods this way.

Laura opens the door and steps out onto the porch before Stiles can even reach it. Her smile is as wide and welcoming as he remembers.

“Stiles, hi! Where’d you park?” She doesn’t wait for an answer. “Next time just park up here, okay?”

“Okay.”

She flashes him a grin. “Want to see the wolves?”

 

***

 

The tour of the sanctuary is pretty brief. Basically the wolves roam the vast enclosures during the day, and really only come close when it’s time for feeding. They’re timber wolves, Stiles learns, although there are a couple of ring-ins there. Basically the Hales have created their own pack from wolves rescued from traps or traffic accidents, but over half the current wolves were born in the sanctuary. The ultimate aim is to get all the wolves either rehabilitated or prepared to live in the wild.

“So you run the sanctuary in order to not have a sanctuary?” Stiles asks.

“That’s basically it,” Laura agrees. “But we’re never going to run out of wolves, thanks to careless drivers and hunters.”

Stiles peers though the fence. In the distance, he sees a gray figure slinking through the trees. “So they’re wild?”

“Of course they are.”

Stiles feels in his pocket for his dented phone case. “But that one yesterday…”

“Remus,” Laura says, a grin tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“After Harry Potter?”

“What else?”

Stiles grins and looks at his toes for a moment. “But, like, he’s not wild, is he?”

“No,” Laura says. “He’s different.”

Stiles hooks his fingers through the chain link. “Where is he?”

“Oh, he’s around somewhere, I guess,” Laura says vaguely.

Stiles wants to ask her about his phone, but that sounds too crazy, right?

Yeah.

That’s too crazy.

 

***

 

“Okay, Laura says, pushing the door of an outbuilding open. “Sorry about the smell.”

It hits Stiles in the face. Not bad, exactly, but strong. Like a butcher shop.

“So, what we do in here is we prepare the meat for the wolves,” Laura tells him, waving at a stainless steel bench.

Stiles takes one look at the knives hanging from the rack above the bench and his heart freezes.

“No,” he says. He can feel the blood running from his face. Can feel the blade digging digging digging until his skin split. “N-no.”

And then he’s running.

 

***

 

Somewhere on the path between the outbuilding and the information center, Stiles stumbles, and a pair of strong arms catch him.

“Stiles!” Laura yells from somewhere far behind him. “Stiles!”

Stiles tries to push away from the man.

“Hey, it’s okay,” the man says. “Stiles, right? Just breathe, Stiles. Just breathe.”

 

***

 

He wants to go home, but Laura and her father, James, won’t let him. Instead they usher him back toward the house. Talia meets them on the porch, her expression grave, and moments later Stiles finds himself sitting in their living room with a cup of hot, sweet tea held in his hands.

He can hear the Hales talking in low voices somewhere nearby.

He bows his head, his hood pulled forward, and tries not to cry.

This was a mistake. A stupid, dumb mistake.

Stiles hears the click of claws on the hardwood floor, and looks up again just in time to spill his tea all over the coffee table as the wolf wanders toward him. A wolf. In the fucking house.

The wolf laps at the spilled tea, then sits back on its haunches and huffs at him.

“Remus?” he asks in a small voice.

The wolf huffs again, and then leans forward and sticks its muzzle in his face.

Stiles is too shocked to move. It’s like a really big dog? But also a really big dog that could absolutely rip his throat out. Which, fine, a really big dog could also do. But dogs are not wolves. Dogs don’t evoke the same blast of white noise in the back of his lizard brain that screams at him to run from the predator.

He reaches out tentatively and rests his hand against the thick ruff on the wolf’s neck. He thinks the rumbling noise he gets in return sounds a little like approval. Unless it’s a growl. What the fuck does Stiles know about wolves?

“Oh, good god,” Talia says with a huff of exasperation that doesn’t sound much different to the wolf’s. “You’re terrifying the poor boy!”

This time it’s definitely a growl.

“He’s okay,” Stiles says, turning his head to look at Talia. “I mean, I guess?”

Talia’s expression softens. “He won’t bite, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Stiles sags a little in relief. That’s exactly what he was asking.

Talia sits down in the armchair across from the couch. “Do you mind if I ask you some questions, Stiles?”

Stiles shrinks back. “Um, maybe I should just go?”

Remus flops down over his feet. So much for that.

“I don’t mean to be intrusive,” Talia says. “Your father seemed to think you’d enjoy volunteering here, and I’d like for you to do that. But clearly we need to establish some boundaries.”

His face burns. “I c-can’t be around knives. Or blood. Or heights.”

“Okay,” Talia says, and she doesn’t ask. Stiles figures that she wants to—everybody always wants to—but she doesn’t. When he dares look up again, the expression on her face isn’t curious, or pitying, or anything except calm. Solid. She has a presence that somehow manages to fill the room, but it’s not overbearing. It doesn’t make him want to cringe away. “We can find something else for you to do that doesn’t involve preparing the food.”

Stiles looks at her warily. It’s that easy?

Nothing is that easy.

“I think this was a mistake,” Stiles says, ignoring the way Remus rumbles. He tugs the strings of his hoodie, and can’t quite look Talia in the eye. “I want to go home now, please.”

Remus rumbles again.

 

***

 

It’s late when his dad arrives home from work. Late, and getting dark, and Stiles hasn’t bothered put any lights on. He’s sitting on the new couch in the living room, staring at the blank wall, and he doesn’t think he’s moved in the last few hours.

The couch dips as his dad sits down beside him. “Bad day?”

Stiles shrugs.

“Talia Hale called me,” his dad says. “She said you had a panic attack at the sanctuary.”

Stiles snorts. That wasn’t a full-blown panic attack. He didn’t even pass out. “I think, um, I’m not going to go out there anymore.”

“Is that really what you want, Stiles?”

He remembers the weight and the warmth of Remus pressing against his feet. “I don’t know.”

His dad looks so tired. “I know that moving here isn’t going to magically fix everything, Stiles. I know that. But you need to try, kiddo. You can’t just hide in your room for the rest of your life.”

Stiles turns his gaze to the wall again. “Why not? That sounds pretty fucking sweet, actually.”

Eight months ago his dad would have said something about his language. Stiles doesn’t know if he likes the way he gets a pass on it now, or if he hates it, or if it’s just a thing that doesn’t even matter.

His dad just exhales slowly, his breath shaking.

“I’m going to go to bed,” Stiles says.

“Did you eat dinner?”

“A sandwich,” Stiles lies.

“Okay. Do you want a sleeping pill?”

“Yeah.” Adderall to wake him up and get him focused every day. Pain meds to dull the twinges of the scars in his legs, in his pelvis, from the surgeries to put pins in his busted bones and joints. Sleeping pills to send him under again every night. Stiles is a walking pharmacopeia.

He waits on the couch until his dad comes back with a glass of water and a single pill and wonders, if he had to, if he could crack the combination on the safe.

He doesn’t want to, he thinks, but all his idle thoughts always lead back to that.

Could he, if he had to?

He swallows the pill down, and thinks about what a relief it would be not to have to wake up again in the morning.

 

Chapter Text

Stiles skips school on Wednesday, and tries again on Thursday. He’s late because he decided at the last minute that no, he wasn’t going to do this, but his dad got him to call Kirsten in L.A., and somehow now he’s waiting in administration while they sort out a late pass for missing home room and part of Chemistry.

“I’ll be in the parking lot if you need me,” his dad says.

“Dad, you’ve got work,” Stiles mutters, looking at his shoes.

“I think I’ll check everyone’s got enough tread on their tires,” his dad says.

“Way to make me friends,” Stiles huffs, but it feels good knowing his dad will be close.

When his dad leaves, Stiles really, really wants to go with him. Instead, he heads to Chemistry. Why the hell did it have to be Chemistry?

“Mr. Stilinski,” the teacher says. “Take a seat, please.”

He doesn’t say anything about the way Stiles is wearing his hood up today. Stiles takes a seat at the front of class—the only one left—and hunches over. It takes him a little while to notice that the kid next to him is trying to get his attention.

“Hey,” the kid whispers. “Hey!”

Stiles turns his head as much as he dares.

It’s the inhaler kid from the nurse’s office.

“I’m Scott,” he says.

“Stiles,” Stiles tells him warily.

The kid smiles and opens his mouth to say something else, but then the teacher is looming above them both. “Looking for another detention, Mr. McCall?”

It’s sort of a conversation killer.

Stiles is glad.

 

***

 

Stiles spends most of the morning dreading lunch. He was never exactly popular back at his old school, but he wasn’t unpopular either. It was a big enough school that it was easy enough to get lost in the crowd. Here, it feels different. Here, Stiles isn’t just some random kid. He’s the new kid. He’s the scarred kid. And he’s the Sheriff’s kid. That’s sort of the triumvirate of unpopularity, right? New, freaky, and a potential nark all wrapped up in one.

Stiles lines up for his lunch, his heart already pounding too fast because where is he supposed to sit? He tried to look around the cafeteria when he walked in, but he doesn’t want to look too obviously fucking desperate, right? Like he’s already got enough shit to deal with without becoming that kid.

He gets his tray, and turns around to scope out the cafeteria again.

There is a bunch of kids staring at him, talking about him. Someone even points. And then there’s someone waving from a table in the far corner, and it’s Scott.

“Stiles! Over here!”

Stiles forces himself not to walk too quickly. When he reaches the table, he sits down and sags with relief.

“We’ve got the same lunch period,” Scott tells him. “How cool is that?”

So cool.

So fucking cool.

Stiles wants to cry with relief. He feels too sick to even eat, but he pushes his food around with his fork, and shovels in at least a mouthful or two, and listens to Scott tell him all about the crush he’s got on the most beautiful girl in the school. Stiles doesn’t say anything much in reply, but that’s okay. Scott doesn’t seem to mind.

 

***

 

Stiles didn’t drive, so he texts his dad when school gets out and sits on the steps to wait for him. The parking lot empties quickly, except, of course, for Scott, who can’t get his dirt bike to start. Stiles figures they’re friends now, right? Or close enough. He walks over to him, the straps of his backpack digging into his shoulders.

“Do you know anything about bikes?” Scott asks, nose wrinkling.

“Not a damn thing,” Stiles tells him. “But my dad’s coming to pick me up. He could drop you home or something?”

“That would be awesome,” Scott says with a broad smile. “Your dad’s the new sheriff, right?”

Stiles nods.

In the fifteen minutes that they wait, Stiles learns that Scott’s mom is divorced and is working an afternoon shift at the hospital, where she’s a nurse. Scott is failing Chemistry and History, and he’s totally in danger of getting thrown off the lacrosse team because of it. Not that he plays much anyway, thanks to his asthma. He likes all kinds of music, and has a secret love for Katy Perry—don’t tell anyone though, dude!—and he’s not really into comics, but the movie of Deadpool was freaking hilarious, and he’s never seen Star Wars.

“How can you have never seen Star Wars?” Stiles asks him, amazed.

“Well, like I didn’t see the new one because I’d never seen any of the others, and I wouldn’t know who anyone was? And then it was like, I don’t know which order you’re supposed to watch them in, and there are a lot of them, you know?”

“You watch them in the order they were released,” Stiles tells him. “That’s the only way.”

When the cruiser pulls into the parking lot, Stiles’s dad looks surprised to see someone waiting with Stiles, but he schools his face quickly.

“This is Scott,” Stiles says. “He’s in some of my classes. His bike broke down.”

Stiles climbs into the back seat of the cruiser, and gestures for Scott to join him.

“So where am I taking you, Scott?” his dad asks.

Scott gapes at him through the grill. “Um, I live over on Maple Street. Wow. Just wait until the neighbors tell Mom I was brought home in a police car!”

Stiles’s dad laughs. “You want me to turn the siren on when we get to your street?”

“That would be incredible!”

True to his word, Stiles’s dad does it.

 

***

 

Stiles rides in the front seat the rest of the way home.

“Scott seems like a nice kid.”

“I guess.”

“You want me to pick up anything for dinner later?” his dad asks.

“Nah, I’ll just have a sandwich or something.”

There’s a look in his dad’s eye that means he’s not going to let this go, and sooner or later he and Stiles are going to talk about his routine, or lack thereof, but Stiles can see the moment his dad decides to let it go for now.

It’s been a good day, right?

Stiles might even have made a friend.

So his dad lets it go.

 

***

 

Stiles doesn’t sleep without pills. He doesn’t sleep that well with them, but what’s his other option? He wakes up in the middle of the night, sluggishly fighting the effects of the sleeping pill, and then he can’t go back to sleep.

This house doesn’t feel like home yet. Maybe nowhere ever will. The apartment… well, Stiles hasn’t stepped foot inside it in eight months. First there was the hospital, and then there was a new short-term place that his dad rented. No balcony. No blood stains. No memories of his mom either.

He can’t look at photographs of his mom, and not just because he misses her. It’s because in all those pictures everybody is smiling, and nobody is dead, and nobody has been cut apart and broken into shards and then sewed and glued and stapled back together.

Stiles stumbles out of bed and heads for the bathroom.

He doesn’t make it to the toilet in time.

Vomits all down his front, and all over the bathroom floor.

His dad finds him a while later, in a shower that’s starting to run cold, sitting on the floor with his gaze fixed on a crack in one of the tiles so that he doesn’t have to look at himself.

“You okay in there, kid?”

Stiles closes his eyes.

His dad opens the shower door a crack, letting the steam escape. “Stiles?”

“I threw up,” Stiles tells him.

There was a time, probably, when he would have squawked with outrage to have his dad looking in on him in the shower. But modesty was the first thing to go in the hospital. Stiles might not be able to look at himself, but a hundred fucking surgeons and doctors and interns and nurses have. A never-ending parade of them, day in and day out.

“You okay in there while I clean it up?”

“Yeah. Sorry I woke you.”

“It’s okay, kiddo.”

Stiles keeps his eyes closed, and listens as his dad fetches the sponge mop. The sharp scent of antiseptic reminds him of the hospital, even though his dad doesn’t buy the same brand. This one is supposed to smell like green apples. It doesn’t.

“Let’s get you out of there, kid.”

Stiles feels like a little kid again as his dad twists the taps off, and helps him to his feet. He’s wrapped in a towel, and patted dry. He can remember his mom doing this for him when he was small. Then his dad helps him dress in clean pajamas.

“You good to go back to bed now?”

“What time is it?”

“About three, I think.”

“Sorry.”

“Stiles, it’s okay.” His dad pulls him into a hug. “Want to sleep in my bed for the rest of the night?”

He can’t bring himself to say anything. Just nods, and lets his dad draw him along to his room.

 

***

 

Kirsten used to say that every day was a new day. It sounded like some sort of new age bullshit to Stiles, but the point was it didn’t matter what had happened the day before. Every day was a new chance to get it right, to make it a good day. Except, Stiles told her, if the clock reset every day, then even the good stuff didn’t count, right?

She’d narrowed her eyes at him. “I’m on to you and your pessimism, Stiles. You meatball.”

It was such stupid thing to say that he’d laughed.

She hadn’t felt like a therapist. She’d felt like a big sister or something. The sort of person who’d cajole and bully him into getting out into the world again, but never get pissed if he just couldn’t. He misses her, but a commute to L.A. every week isn’t really practical.

Stiles lies awake in his dad’s bed and stares up at the ceiling, and tries to remember that it’s a new day, meatball.

His rumbling stomach draws him downstairs at last. His dad is brewing coffee, and it smells fantastic. He’s also talking to someone in the kitchen, and Stiles draws back in panic, because his hoodie’s upstairs.

Too late.

He’s been spotted.

“Stiles, come and get some breakfast. Parrish was just telling me about this place down in Beacon Valley that makes lamb bacon.” He says it like it’s a blasphemy.

Stiles slinks into the kitchen.

The deputy looks young and kind of earnestly friendly. “Hi.”

Rght. His dad had an early start today. Stiles would have remembered that if he’d consulted the roster stuck to the refrigerator door.

“Hi,” Stiles mutters, busying himself at the counter so he doesn’t have to turn around.

“Lamb bacon,” his dad repeats.

“Um, it’s better for you, I think,” Stiles says. His hand shakes a little as he tips cereal into a bowl.

“Stiles, you’re a senior?” Parrish asks.

“Yeah.”

“How are you liking the school?”

“Fine.” He shrugs.

“Have you seen much of the town yet?”

“No.”

Stiles can feel the silent conversation happening behind his back. The one where his dad is silently apologizing for his monosyllabic replies, and the earnest deputy is probably being quietly baffled. Stiles has spent so long in silence in the last eight months that he can read every nuance of it.

“Going to school today, Stiles?” his dad asks at last.

“I guess.”

“Call me if you need anything.”

“Okay.”

He doesn’t turn around again until his dad and Parrish leave.

 

***

 

School is okay. He doesn’t have Chemistry, so that’s a plus. And Scott is okay. Scott is actually probably a lot better than okay, but Stiles is too afraid to actually start to like him in case it all goes bad.

Everything does, in the end.

It’s important to stay small-drawn.

It’s better. Safer. If nobody can see him, then he’s not a target.

It’s hard to remember that though, when Scott invites him to come to his place after school and play video games. Stiles finds himself leaning towards him like a flower toward the sun, slowly uncurling, brittle petals opening up.

The bark of laughter from someone close by is as harsh as a chill wind. Stiles can’t even be sure if it’s directed at him, but he’s here, and someone’s laughing, and he can put two and two together, right?

“I can’t,” he tells Scott, fingers twisting in the strings of his hoodie. “Thanks though.”

He doesn’t know Scott well enough to read his expression.

“Oh, okay,” Scott says at last, and then doesn’t say anything much else at all while they eat their lunch.

 

***

 

The house is quiet and empty when Stiles gets home. It still doesn’t feel like home. Stiles wonders if it ever will, even when they finally finish unpacking. He sits at the kitchen table and does his homework. His chances of actually graduating are slim, he knows. Eight months is too big a chunk of school to miss. Even if he does graduate, his results will be pretty shit.

The rest of this year, his dad tells him, is the practice run. Stiles will get settled at school, and get back into the habit of studying and doing homework and assignments, and next year he’ll probably repeat his senior year. It’ll be a do-over.

Stiles tugs his hoodie sleeve down and wipes a damp mark off his notes. Then he wipes his wet cheeks. He doesn’t know why the prospect of repeating is so horrible to him. When it comes to social suicide, Stiles has already hit the jackpot, right?

Stiles shoves his notes away and goes to the refrigerator to grab a drink.

He’s so fucking tired of this.

He’s so tired of feeling sorry for himself, but every time he tries to shake it, it comes back and hits him all over again, and he doesn’t know how to make it stop.

He groans and sets his soda down on the counter.

His heart freezes when he hears a noise from outside. A creak of boards on the back porch. It’s a new house, so he doesn’t know if it’s normal or not, and it’s stupid stupid stupid because it’s not going to be them. They’re in jail, and Stiles isn’t a target here, and nobody is going to hurt him.

He peers through the window above the kitchen sink, but he can’t see anything, and he doesn’t hear the creaking sound again.  

Okay so.

Just his very overactive imagination, which has been plugged directly into his panic for the last eight months.

Stiles leans forward, the edge of the sink digging into his abdomen, until his nose is almost touching the glass.

The sudden blur of movement has him flailing backward, has him struggling to breathe, has his mouth open in a scream that won’t come out.

It takes a second for him to really see.

The face at the window isn’t one from his nightmares, although it probably should be. It’s a dark muzzle, and gold eyes, and fangs.

“R-Remus?” Stiles asks, the blood pounding in his skull.

The wolf drops out of sight again.

Stiles’s hands shake as he lifts the chain on the kitchen door and unlocks the deadbolt. When he opens the door a crack, he expects the porch to be empty. Because he’s finally stepped it up and moved onto full-on hallucination territory or something. But the door is shoved back a little as Remus pushes his way inside the kitchen.

“Are you stalking me?” Stiles asks him.

Remus hip checks him as he noses around the kitchen, and Stiles is sure it’s deliberate.

“You scared me,” Stiles tells him.

Remus bumps him again, more gently this time.

“You’re not a normal wolf,” Stiles says,

Stiles cards his fingers into the wolf’s ruff without even thinking, and then drops to his knees and buries his face in the thick fur. Remus leans into him, and he’s stupidly heavy. Heavier than any dog Stiles has ever met.

“Wasn’t even a bad day,” Stiles mumbles into his fur, and sniffles. “Just. Just I’m so fucking tired.”

Remus chuffs, and drags his cold nose against Stiles’s neck.

They stay like that for a long moment, until Stiles draws back and looks the wolf in the eye. Which he’s pretty sure is another thing a wild animal shouldn’t stand for. But Remus just gazes back at him steadily.

“You don’t care if I look like a freak, do you?” Stiles murmurs to him, and Remus leans forward and touches his nose to the side of Stiles’s face. A moment later he swipes his rough tongue against Stiles’s cheek. “Ew! Gross!”

But he doesn’t push the wolf away.

 

Chapter Text

Stiles?” There’s a thread of panic in his dad’s voice that softens and dies away as Stiles blinks his eyes open. “What are you doing, kid?”

“Wha—?” Stiles snuffles and sits up. He’s aching all over.

“Did you take anything?” his dad asks, sliding a hand down Stiles’s cheek, cupping his jaw. Warm fingers dipping lower to find the pulse in his neck.

Stiles yawns. “No. I fell asleep.”

“On the kitchen floor?” But his dad doesn’t argue, because the normal rules stopped applying a while back. He stands up and reaches a hand down for Stiles, and pulls him carefully to his feet.

“Yeah, I was…” Stiles gazes around. There’s no wolf here. Why would there be? That’s fucking crazy, and it’s not the sort of thing Stiles feels like he can just blurt out to his dad.

Was it a dream?

A hallucination?

Stiles rolls his aching shoulders and looks at the kitchen door. The chain isn’t on, but the door is closed and locked. Wolves don’t shut doors behind themselves, right? Jesus. He can’t tell his dad that he fell asleep on the floor with his arms around a wolf that may or may not be a product of his imagination, so instead he blurts out the first thing that comes to mind:

“I was looking for my cup.”

“Your cup?”

Stiles crosses to the counter. His soda is still there from earlier. The can is warm. “My Batman cup. It’s not up with the glasses. I thought maybe it was under the sink. And I was looking, and I got distracted and fell asleep, I guess.”

His dad frowns. “Your Batman cup?”

“Yeah.” Stiles tips his hot, flat soda down the sink. He curls his fingers around the edge of the counter and stares at his strange, mottled reflection in the bottom of the sink. “You remember. It came with a Happy Meal. Mom had to take me to three different restaurants because the first two ran out, remember? And all they had left was Robin.”

His dad’s hand on his shoulder is warm, solid. “I think you broke it, Stiles. I think it got thrown out years ago.”

It did, probably. Just a cheap plastic cup, but Mom said it made everything taste like victory. Because they’d been on a mission that day, his mom and Stiles, to get a Batman cup.

“What do you say, Stiles?” she’d asked him. “Are we going to settle for Robin?”

“No! Batman or bust!”

“She was great, huh?” Stiles murmurs, his voice cracking. He remembers sunlight when he thinks of that day with his mom. Remembers her tapping to the beat on the steering wheel, windows down, both of them singing along to the radio. He was about six, he thinks. Maybe seven. His whole world was sunny back then. His memories are dappled with light, dazed with it. The entire world was bright back then.

Sometimes Stiles thinks all he was doing was accruing some sort of giant cosmic debt, and that happiness he had back then—far more than his fair share, surely—has to be repaid. He’s been repaying it since the day she died.

“She was something, alright,” his dad says. He puts a hand on Stiles’s shoulder, and pulls him gently into a hug. “You and Claudia are the best things that ever happened to me.”

Something angry and ugly bubbles up inside Stiles, and he has to fight not to react. Not to say it: Did you ever wonder what you did wrong since the universe keeps destroying the things you love? Maybe Stiles isn’t the one with the debt to repay after all. Maybe John Stilinski is.

Stiles forces the hateful thought away, because he’s not naïve enough to believe bullshit like that. There’s no balance in the universe. It’s just fucking random, and that’s what makes it truly terrifying.  

“I miss her,” he says instead, and leans his head on his dad’s shoulder.

“Me too, son. Every day.”

Stiles and his dad have both been broken for a long time, in their own ways.

 

***

Stiles stays up late that night, getting sucked into a research spiral. It’s been a long time since he’s been interested in much at all, actually. He used to do this all the time. Staying up until two or three in the morning, fueled by nothing but enthusiasm. And sugar. Sugar as well.

Stiles chews on a Twizzler and squints at his laptop screen.

Remus should be a northern timber wolf. That’s what Laura said most of the wolves are. But then she’d also said there were a few other types as well. So he could conceivably be a red wolf, or an eastern timber wolf. They’re all types of gray wolf. Gray is a misnomer, Stiles learns. Gray wolves can be anything from red to black to white. And Stiles really doesn’t know enough about wolves to pick the subtle differences between classifications. But it’s pretty damn obvious that whatever type of wolf Remus is, at the same time he’s something completely atypical. Something totally different.

He checks the Hale Wolf Sanctuary website, and goes through the profiles of some of the wolves. Remus isn’t one of them. If Stiles were running the place, a wolf like Remus would be on every page. He’d be the damn mascot of the place.

Just…

Stiles isn’t going crazy, right?

Remus was here.

And he saved Stiles in the woods, and he brought his phone back, and he was here, and then he left and shut the door behind him, and—

Stiles groans and slams his laptop shut.

Yeah. He’s going crazy.

 

***

 

On Friday morning Stiles is surprised to find Scott waiting for him at his locker.

“Hey,” Stiles mumbles, unsure what else to say.

“Hey.” Scott’s smile is bright, and Stiles doesn’t trust it.

What the hell is wrong with Scott McCall if he’s being friendly to someone like Stiles? Like, does he think it will somehow make him cool, in that outsider kind of way? To hang around the freaky kid? Or maybe he just wants the inside scoop on all the scars, a gruesome story to tell his actual friends, and then he’ll be done with Stiles. Scott doesn’t seem like that kind of a guy, but what else could it be? He sure as fuck wasn’t drawn in by Stiles’s sunny and outgoing personality, was he?

Stiles walks beside him silently to class.

 

***

 

At lunch, a girl sits down at their table. Totally uninvited and, going by the look on Scott’s face, totally unprecedented as well.

“Hi,” she says. “I’m Cora. Cora Hale. Mom says I have to tell you to come to the house this afternoon because she’s figured out the perfect job for you.”

Stiles should refuse. He wants to. He should just ignore her, except seriously?

“Wait.” He raises his eyebrows. “Your name is Cora?”

“Yep.”

“And your sister’s name is Laura?”

“Don’t even,” she says with an exaggerated eye-roll. “I know!”

Stiles can’t help the snort of laughter that escapes him. “Is there a Dora as well?”

Cora blinks at him, her expression falling suddenly. “There was.”

The word is ominous, heavy.

Sudden tears gleam in Cora’s eyes.

Shit.

“I, um. I…” Stiles stutters.

Cora’s eyes widen. “My little sister. One day she just…” Her breath hitches. “She put on her backpack, and took her map, and went exploring and we never saw her again.”

Scott’s jaw drops.

“Oh my fucking god!” Stiles doesn’t know whether to laugh, or to punch her. “You’re evil!”

She roars with laughter.

“Evil,” Stiles mutters, and picks at his tater tots.

Cora reaches over the table and punches him lightly on the shoulder. “So I’ll tell Mom you’re coming?”

“Yeah,” he says, something loosening in his gut. “Okay.”

She flashes him a grin and goes back to join her friends at another table.

“Dude,” Scott says. “You know the Hales?”

“I guess?” Stiles shrugs. “Why? Is it a big deal or something?”

“The Hales basically own half the town,” Scott tells him. “They’re like stupid rich or something. I think like every second mayor we’ve ever had since the place was built has been a Hale.”

“Oh.”

Scott sighs. “I was like going to ask you if you wanted to study with me after school, but I guess you’re not free.”

“Why would you want to study with me?”

“Dude.” Scott makes a face. “I’m like failing almost every class, and you’re smart, right? I mean, when Mrs. Martin asked what a literary device was, you didn’t even have to look in the glossary.”

Stiles shrugs.

“I could really use a study partner.”

“Oh. Um, what about tomorrow? Unless you’ve got weekend plans or something.” It’s like the voice coming out of Stiles isn’t his own. Like he’s somehow skipped a few tracks and it’s taken him right back to where he was before everything. For a moment the realization that he’s actually doing this, actually putting himself out there like he’s normal, threatens to overwhelm him a little, but it’s too late. The words are already out there, and Scott is smiling at him.

“Dude, that would be great!” Scott pulls his phone out of the pocket of his jeans. “I’ll give you my number, and we can figure out a time that works.”

“Okay.” Stiles takes out his own phone.

There are only two names in his contact list these days.

Dad and Kirsten.

And now there’s Scott.

It feels like maybe this is a good thing.

 

***

 

 

 

Stiles is nervous when he heads back to the Hale Sanctuary after school, but he already told Cora he was coming, and this feels like something Kirsten would encourage. Getting out in the world and stuff. He stops in the parking lot again, unsure of his welcome, and begins the walk up the curving road toward the house.

He’s about halfway there when he realizes he’s being shadowed from the trees. A dark gray shape slipping along in his periphery, like something out of a horror movie. He almost expects it to vanish when he turns his head.

The wolf steps out of the trees.

“Remus?”

It lopes toward him.

“Hey,” Stiles says, reaching out his hand to the wolf, and curling his fingers through his ruff. “You’re real, aren’t you?”

Remus snorts like it’s a particularly dumb question, and nudges him up toward the house.

Talia is sitting on the swing on the porch, her legs crossed underneath her, and a tattered paperback in her hands. She stands up as Stiles approaches and sets the book aside.

“Again?” she demands.

She’s not talking to Stiles.

Remus chuffs at her.

“You’re going to get caught by the dog catcher!” she tells him, and he pointedly turns around and ignores her, settling on the porch and closing his eyes.

“Does he ever come into town?” Stiles blurts suddenly.

Talia’s expression is hard to read as she looks down at Remus. “I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”

“But it’s possible, isn’t it?” He feels anxiety creeping over him.

“Stiles?”

“Because either he was at my house last night, or I’m going crazy!”

Remus stands up and moves to his side, cold nose nudging at his fingers.

Talia sighs, and grips the wolf’s big head between her hands. “No,” she tells him, like he’s a puppy who’s just made a mess. “No.”

Remus growls softly, ears flicking.

“He’s not a normal wolf, is he?” Stiles asks softly.

“No, he’s not,” Talia says. “He’s too clever for his own good.” She bumps the wolf in the ribs with her knee, and points toward the sanctuary. “Go on. Get out of here.”

Remus huffs, and lopes away.

“So, I’m not going crazy,” Stiles says, his voice smaller than he intends.

Talia’s smile is fond. “No, Stiles, you’re not. He’s not like other wolves. He was raised with the family. He’s comfortable around people. Too comfortable. The escaping. The going into town. He’ll end up getting shot by some hunter if he’s not careful.”

There’s a real sadness in her expression now, and Stiles doesn’t know how to deal with that. He stares down at his shoes instead, and waits for Talia to collect herself. It doesn’t take her long.

“Okay, let’s find Laura and get you put to work!”

 

***

 

Stiles lands the job of changing the water troughs. Laura walks around with him, holding a rake to ward off any aggressive wolves that might encroach on them while they’re in the enclosures, but Stiles doesn’t need her protection.

Remus stays by his side the entire time, growling lowly when any other wolves approach. He’s like Stiles’s bodyguard. He’s not like the other wolves. Stiles knew it from the start but now, seeing Remus with the others, the contrast is sharp. The other wolves don’t seem to have the same intelligence. Like, Stiles can see they’re smart, for animals, but Remus… Remus is a whole other level. He tilts his head when Stiles talks like he’s actually listening, and responds with a series of chuffs and growls that sound like a proper conversation. A couple of times Stiles catches Laura rolling her eyes at the pair of them.

When they’re finished up, Laura tells him that he did a good job, and that tomorrow he can do it on his own. He just has to remember to close all the double gates behind him, and watch his back.

“That’s it?” Stiles asks dubiously. “That’s the safety instructions for working with wild animals?”

Laura snorts. “Oh please. Like Remus would let any of them get near you.”

Stiles smiles at that, and tugs gently at Remus’s ruff.

“Now, come on,” she says at last. “Let’s go clean up, and Mom says you’re staying for dinner.”

“I’m not…” Stiles bites his lip. What the hell is it about the Hales that makes them impossible to refuse? “I’m not great with people, Laura.”

Laura shrugs and laughs. “Don’t worry, Stiles. Neither are they.”

Remus falls into step beside them as they head for the house.

 

Chapter Text

Stiles washes his hands and face in the bathroom, avoiding the mirror. This bathroom is, he suspects, just one of many in the house, because last time he was here? Well, last time he was here he’d been ushered inside by James Hale, and then deposited on a sofa by Talia, and he hadn’t really got much of a look at the house. It’s big though. He twists the taps off and wipes his hands on his hoodie, unwilling to scrunch up the fluffy hand towel hanging by the sink. He remembers what Scott said about the Hales pretty much owning half of Beacon Hills, and figures that this is what old money looks like. A huge three story house surrounded by the woods, and hand soap that smells like pomegranates, according to the label. Stiles has no idea what pomegranates are supposed to smell like. It would be easy to tell himself that he doesn’t fit in here, with the Hales, with this house, but it’s not like they’re any rich-person cliché Stiles has ever seen before, right? Not when they run around in khakis looking after wolves.

Stiles spends as much time as he can in the bathroom, avoiding going to the dining room, but there’s only so long before it gets weird and they send someone to check he’s okay.

He closes the bathroom door behind him and trails uncertainly toward the dining room that Laura pointed out to him on the way to the bathroom.

Who even eats dinner in a dining room anymore?

That’s not where the TV is.

Stiles is worried it’s going to mean tablecloths and fabric napkins and proper silverware, but it turns out that it doesn’t. The only reason the Hales don’t eat in front of the TV is they wouldn’t all fit.

There are a lot of them.

Talia and James, and Laura and Cora. Talia’s brother William, and William’s wife Arielle, and a bunch of kids ranging from toddler to middle school. The difference between this and between Stiles’s usual dinner—reading something on his phone at the kitchen table, the only sound being the fork that scrapes through his microwave mac and cheese—couldn’t be more stark. It looks like Thanksgiving or something. A bunch of people, and food that comes out on actual platters and dishes. Vegetables and sides, and enough mashed potato to build a tower. And steaks. The Hales must be rich if they can feed a dozen people steaks every night.

Stiles finds himself sitting between Laura and one of the few empty seats at the massive table.

“Are you okay with cutting that up?” she asks him in a whisper.

Stiles reaches for his knife, fingers shaking as he curls his hand around it. “Yeah.”

It’s all about the juxtaposition, or something. Knives at dinner? That’s fine, as long as nobody goes waving them around. Knives anywhere else? No.

“Sorry I’m late,” someone says, and Stiles glances up before he can stop himself.

The guy is gorgeous. He’s maybe in his early twenties, and he looks like he just stumbled out of the pages of GQ. Which Stiles is beginning to realize is a Hale family trait.

He sits down next to Stiles. “Hi. I’m Derek. You must be Stiles.”

“Hi.” Stiles waits to feel the guy’s gaze following the path of his scars. It doesn’t. He just holds eye contact, smiles, and then turns away to snaffle the dish of beans.

Even the little kids don’t stare much.

It’s weird.

“Derek works in the library in town,” Laura says, reaching past Stiles to tug at Derek’s tie. “He’s a total nerd.”

“Shut up,” Derek tells her, wrestling his tie back, although there’s no heat in his tone.

“The Dewey decimal system gets him all hot and flustered,” Laura continues.

Stiles snorts, and Derek rolls his eyes.

“Mom! Laura’s being mean to me!”

“You’re both adults,” Talia tells them from the head of the table. “Sort it out yourselves.”

“Pistols at dawn,” Laura suggests.

Derek rolls his eyes again.

It’s nice. Stiles likes listening to the snippets of all the different conversations happening around the table. He likes listening to Laura tease Derek, and to Cora tell a surprisingly dirty joke to her father that ends with James blinking, and frowning slightly, and announcing, “I’m just going to pretend I didn’t understand that.”

“Dad, it’s—”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t understand that either, sweetpea.”

Sweetpea? In what universe is Cora Hale a sweetpea?

It’s nice, but it makes him feel a little lonely.

“Is Peter coming down for dinner?” Derek asks Talia.

Stiles notices the empty plate at the end of the table.

“I thought he would,” Talia says, and glances at Stiles.

“I got that book he wanted,” Derek says. “I’ll take it up to him later, I guess.”

“Or you could just give it to me now,” someone drawls from the doorway.

Stiles looks up, and drops his fork.

There’s a man standing in the doorway. He’s in his thirties, maybe, and he’s dressed in jeans and a v-neck. His eyes are blue, his gaze intense. There’s a smile playing around his mouth that somehow seems as sharp as cut glass.

He’s a Hale, clearly. Another Hale who’d be front cover gorgeous if it wasn’t for—

Stiles suddenly understands why none of the Hales have asked about his scars. Why they don’t make a big deal out of them. Why they don’t look at him like he’s a total freak.

Clearly they’ve have practice.

Because the right side of Peter Hale’s face is shiny and puckered and wrong.

Peter Hale is scarred as well.

What the hell happened to him?

 

***

 

This is what hypocrisy feels like, Stiles supposes. It feels like sitting and eating, and trying not to cast curious glances at Peter Hale, trying not to map the extent of his scars and speculate. It feels like biting his tongue instead of asking what the fuck happened to his face. It feels like a creeping sense of sick self-justification: Well, I have a right to ask, surely? When he knows that of course he doesn’t. His own scars don’t give him a pass on that. He knows, because he hated those people in rehab who’d tell him, unasked, all about their injuries, and then sit back and wait for him to share his own story, like it was some sort of quid pro quo deal and not the same gross invasion of privacy he got from everyone else.

It was none of anyone’s fucking business.

Stiles had not performed well in group therapy.

He watches his plate as he eats, and lets the conversations drift above him. He glances at Peter Hale a few times, and always finds the man looking back at him. His gaze is steady, and knowing, and it makes Stiles’s skin crawl, because what the fuck does Peter Hale think he knows about Stiles?

Peter Hale doesn’t know him.

Nobody knows him.

How can they?

Because sometimes—most times—Stiles doesn’t even know himself.

 

***

 

There are two very sharp lines of demarcation in Stiles’s life. One was when his mother died. One was when he opened the door without checking who it was. And the person he has become is allowed to look back, to study his old self and to marvel at how happy he was, how brash, how loud, but he can’t step back over that line. Can’t slide into his old skin like it still fits him. It’s a torn shirt, a frayed jacket, a pair of jeans with the knees ripped through. It has too many pieces hacked out of it to ever be worn with confidence again.

 

***

 

For all his staring, Peter barely says a word to Stiles. When Stiles is helping take a stack of plates into the kitchen, he passes Peter’s chair.

Peter turns his head to look at him, his gaze catching Stiles’s and holding him.

“It’s nice to meet you, Stiles.”

Something about his voice, his gaze, makes Stiles want to run like a rabbit pinned under a predator’s paw. Something about it makes him want to lean closer as well. To do what he’s wanted to do for months: just close his eyes and stop.

Peter Hale’s mouth twitches up in a faint smile that seems at once sharply rapacious and strangely regretful. It’s an odd combination.

“You too,” Stiles says, glad that his stack of dishes give him an excuse not to shake hands.

And that’s it.

 

***

 

Stiles thanks the Hales for dinner, and promises to come back tomorrow afternoon, and ends up walking down to his car with half a pie in a dish for his dad. It’s dark by now, but the lights from the Hale house cast a decent glow, and the moonlight is bright enough that Stiles doesn’t trip over his own feet.

He’s not surprised when Remus falls into step beside him, and nudges his hip.

“This pie is for my dad,” Stiles tells him.

Remus nips at the hem of his shirt.

Stiles relaxes a little when he rounds the bend. He can see his Jeep sitting in the parking lot and, more importantly, he can’t see the Hale house. He gets the worrying impression that if he turned around he’d see the silhouette of Peter Hale staring at him from a window or something, like a disfigured gothic hero, or a mad lady in an attic.

“Guess you’re not the weirdest thing about the Hales, huh?”

Remus snorts, and noses along the bottom of the pie dish.

“No!” Stiles holds it a little higher. “I told you, it’s for my dad.”

They reach the Jeep, and Stiles opens the door and sets the pie carefully down on the front seat. Then he closes the door again before Remus can follow the pie. Stiles leans against the door, and Remus sits and leans against him. Stiles curls his fingers loosely into Remus’s ruff and tilts his head back to look at the narrow band of stars winding through the treetops.

“That’s the Big Dipper, right there,” he says, and Remus huffs. “Orion’s Belt? No, wait. Aquarius?”

Remus bumps his head against his hip.

“Dude, I’m a city kid,” Stiles tells him. “You could hardly even see the moon because of light pollution. And regular pollution. I’m not used to clear skies and fresh air. And you know what’s really weird? The air here smells almost like those little pine trees you hang from your rearview mirror!”

He looked down in time to see Remus regarding him with a withering look.

“Your glare game is top notch, buddy,” Stiles tells him, and bops him on the nose. “Really exceptional stuff.”

Remus snaps half-heartedly at his fingertips and then, when Stiles laughs and gives him another bop for good measure, he stalks around the Jeep and pisses on the back tire.

Asshole.

 

***

           

His dad is home when Stiles arrives, but he clearly hasn’t been for long. He’s still wearing his uniform and his gun belt, and he’s ferreting through the refrigerator when Stiles arrives.

“I have apple pie,” Stiles announces, and sets it down on the counter. “It’s homemade, and it’s still warm.”

“Apple pie?” His dad’s face lights up.

“Yeah, I saved it from a hungry wolf and everything.”

His dad doesn’t even bother with a plate. Just grabs a spoon and starts to dig in. “I don’t even know if you’re kidding.”

“Me neither.” Stiles hauls himself up onto the counter, and swings his legs. “Work okay?”

His dad grunts.

“What?”

“Got a homicide,” his dad says at last. “They haven’t had a homicide in Beacon Hills in over four years, and it’s my first week, and a body shows up.”

“Sucks to be you,” Stiles says. “Sucks to be the dead guy more, I guess.”

“Dead woman,” his dad corrects.

“Got any leads?”

“Nope.” His dad doesn’t seem too worried. Stiles knows enough to guess why. His dad worked as a homicide detective in L.A. for years. He knows he won’t have to look far for the killer. It’s the husband or the boyfriend, right? The statistics don’t lie.

“Was it, um, bad?”

His dad knows what he’s asking. Was it violent? Was it bloody? Did it hurt? He sets his spoon down and reaches out to put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s always pretty bad, kid, yeah. She was shot in her house. Opened the front door and—”

Don’t open the door.

Don’t open the door.

Stiles’s vision darkens at the edges.

Don’t—

He sees them. Strangers. Strangers with knives.

He should never have opened the door.

Everything is so precarious. It makes Stiles angry that people don’t know that, don’t see that. They just go about their lives, stupid and happy, and they don’t even know that at any moment, at any second, it could all get ripped away. Their happiness, their life, their skin. Some monster could just tear it all away.

Stiles knows it.

He knows it with every heartbeat.

You’re safe now, his dad promises him after every nightmare, but that’s a promise he can’t make. That’s a promise nobody can make. The knowledge of it is written on Stiles’s bones, carved in deep beside the pins and staples that hold him together now.

“It’s okay,” his dad says, his voice low and calm in contrast to Stiles’s rising panic. “I’m going to arrest whoever did it, and put them away. Nobody’s going to hurt you here, Stiles, remember?”

“Yeah.” Stiles closes his eyes and draws in a shaking breath. His dad’s hand on his shoulder is warm, heavy. Solid. He opens his eyes again. “How do you do it though? How do you go to work every day and do what you do?”

His dad holds his gaze for a long while. “I don’t know how to answer that. Someone has to do it, I guess. You remember that time you had those blocks of yours? Those plastic blocks?”

Stiles makes a face. “No?”

“You must’ve been about two or three.” His dad lifts his hand from Stiles’s shoulder and scrubs his palm over his hair. “And you’d build these towers, almost as tall as you, and then you’d knock them all over and start again. That’s what it feels like sometimes, I guess. Just picking up the blocks and trying to put them back together.”

Stiles is silent for a moment, and then he huffs out a laugh. “Jesus. That sounds like something Kirsten would say. Like, at first it sounds all deep and philosophical, but then you think about it, and it’s just bullshit. Actually, that’s worse than Kirsten’s bullshit!”

His dad laughs. “Yeah, well, what do you expect? She’s got a PhD in bullshit. I didn’t go to college. But my bullshit’s free.”

“It shows,” Stiles tells him, but he can breathe again now.

“Can’t argue with that,” his dad says, and hands him the spoon. “Now help me finish this incredible pie.”

Yeah. That sounds like a plan Stiles can get behind.

 

Chapter Text

Stiles wakes up late on Saturday morning. He’s not used to sleeping in, but it’s almost nine when the buzz of an incoming text message wakes him and he drags himself out of bed. It’s been a long time since he slept through without a nightmare to wake him. It should feel good, but, unfairly, he feels more tired now than he does on only a few hours of sleep.

He grabs his phone. It’s a message from Scott.

You still free to study? I can come over whenever.

Okay.

This is okay.

Stiles takes a few deep breaths and replies: About 11?

OK! :)

Stiles sends him the address.

A hot shower wakes him up and then, while he’s dressing, he catches sight of the overflowing clothes hamper, and carries it downstairs to the laundry room. He used to do the laundry all the time, but in the last eight months it’s just been another thing left for his dad to pick up. And with the new job as well as a homicide…well, Stiles can deal with a load of laundry, right?

His dad has already left to go to work. There’s a note on the refrigerator, as well as a text message, both promising to come home immediately if Stiles needs anything. Stiles knows that coming to Beacon Hills wasn’t just about putting bad memories behind them. It was so his dad could run the show as well, instead of being part of someone else’s team. It was so he didn’t have to answer to anyone if he needed to leave suddenly. He probably didn’t mention that part in the interviews though.

Stiles checks the refrigerator, and then digs through the freezer hopefully.

If Scott’s coming over to study he at least needs some pizza pockets or something, right?

He texts his dad: Do we have any junk food? Studying with Scott later.

His dad replies instantly: What do you need?

That’s a no, then.

Stiles’s fingers shake a little as he types out the next text: I’ll get something.

It takes a few minutes for the reply to come, and Stiles wonders how long his dad has to think about what he wants to say.

Money in the tin under the sink. Closest store is on Fifth. Drive safe.

 

***

 

The trip to the store isn’t terrible. The cashier side-eyes Stiles when he walks in with his hood pulled forward, which is fair. Stiles looks like an armed robbery waiting to happen. Stiles loads up on Cheetos and pizza pockets and candy, and takes them to the counter. The cashier is bright and friendly when he gets there, which Stiles figures is either overcompensation for thinking Stiles was a robber, or overcompensation for how much his scars shocked the guy, or maybe people in Beacon Hills are just friendlier. Must be something to do with all the fresh air and lack of gridlocked traffic.

Stiles pays, and then heads back into the parking lot again. It’s a bright day, and he feels the stupid urge to pull his hood back and feel the sunlight on his face. Maybe, after studying, he’ll sit in the back yard for a while. Soak in a little sunlight.

“Don’t go mad with power,” he mutters to himself as he pulls out of the parking lot, but he can’t stop the smile spreading across his face.

He just went to the store on his own and bought junk food like it was no big deal.

Maybe, one day, it won’t be.

 

***

Scott arrives just before eleven, the spluttering roar of his dirt bike’s engine announcing him all the way from the end of the street. That’s good. It gives Stiles a chance to take a few breaths and assure himself that he knows who it is before Scott knocks on the door.

“Hey, Stiles,” Scott says. “I bought Doritos.”

“Cool,” Stiles says, and tries to remember how to do this. This casual friendly stuff. He steps aside and lets Scott in. “Um, so this is my place and everything.”

“Cool,” Scott says.

Stiles squints at the boxes on the living room floor. “Um, we haven’t really finished unpacking yet.”

Scott points to the TV approvingly. “The Xbox is out though.”

“That was like the first thing I unpacked,” Stiles tell him. “After the food.”

“Priorities, dude!” Scott beams.

Actually, the first thing was his pillow, he thinks. Not that it was packed away. That had stayed with him in the front seat of his dad’s car, all the way from L.A. to Beacon Hills. He’d kept it wedged between his head and his window, so he could doze as his dad drove. After spending so long in hospital, Stiles has a thing where he needs his own pillow now, or he’ll wake up panicking he’s back there.

But after his pillow, Xbox and food.

“So, um, what do you want to study?” Stiles asks, leading the way up the stairs.

“I’m failing Chemistry and History,” Scott tells him, trudging up after him. “Oh! Wait! My mom said I had to be polite and introduce myself to your parents and stuff.”

“It’s just me and my dad,” Stiles says. There’s a hook in the hallway wall that Stiles thinks that maybe the last owners hung a picture from. Just a hook, and a vaguely darker patch of wallpaper where the frame protected it from the sun. “Dad’s at work.”

“My mom’s working too,” Scott says.

Stiles glances at him as he pushes his bedroom door open.

“It’s just me and my mom too,” Scott says, and makes a face like it’s no big deal. “My dad left.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. My mom died. Strange how the attempt to say the words still feels like it can strangle him after all these years. It’s easier if they stay unsaid, and he lets Scott assume whatever.

Scott glances around Stiles’s room. At least it’s clean. It’s as clean as it’s ever going to be, probably, since he’s only just finished unpacking. For now, there’s a system. Everything is put away neatly. Stiles has successfully forced order onto chaos, but he knows it won’t take long until he has to open his closet carefully in case of an avalanche.

Scott dumps his backpack on the floor. “So, what do you want to study first?”

“I don’t mind.” Stiles shrugs. “Um, do you eat pizza pockets?”

 

***

 

They don’t study at all.

Instead they eat pizza pockets and play Xbox. Stiles doesn’t even realize how much time has passed until he hears a key turning in the front door, and his dad’s familiar steps in the hall a second before he leans in the doorway.

“How’s the studying going?” he asks with a knowing smile.

Scott looks immediately guilty.

“We might have got distracted,” Stiles admits.

His dad shakes his head. “Well, don’t mind me. I just dropped in to pick up my phone charger, and then I have to head back to the office for a while.” He raises his eyebrows. “But if you need—”

“If I need anything, call,” Stiles finishes for him. “I know, Dad.”

“Anything at all,” his dad reminds him. “Scott, it’s getting pretty late. Do you need to be home?”

“Oh,” Scott says, and sets the controller aside. “I guess?”

“Dude, he was just asking,” Stiles says. “Scott can stay for a while, right, Dad?”

“As long as his parents are okay with it.”

“My mom doesn’t finish until late,” Scott assures him. “And it’s a weekend, so my curfew isn’t until ten.”

“Cool,” Stiles says.

His dad looks at him with a smile, and then looks at Scott like he’s the Second Coming. Is Stiles that pathetic and lonely? Yeah, he’d prefer it if nobody answered that.

His dad digs his wallet out of his pocket, and pulls two twenties out. “For takeout.”

Stiles grabs the money. “Thanks, Dad!”

“Have fun.”

“Wow,” Scott says when they’re alone again. “Your dad is pretty cool.”

“He’s overcompensating,” Stiles says. “He would have dropped twice that amount if he thought it’d help me make a friend.”

Shit.

That’s more than he should have said aloud, right?

Except Scott doesn’t seem to mind. He only gives a goofy little grin and his cheeks pink up a bit. “I don’t really have any friends either, dude.”

“Really?” Stiles doesn’t believe that for a second.

“Some of the guys on the team are okay,” Scott says after a while. “But most of them are total dicks because I can’t play well because of my asthma.”

“Why do you stay on the team then?”

“I like playing,” Scott says, his nose wrinkling. “Even though I’m not great at it.” He brightens. “Hey! You should totally try out!”

“Nah.” Stiles tries for a smile that is probably more miss than hit. He gestures vaguely at himself. “All this here? Dude, I’m held together with titanium pins, which you’d think would make me super strong, but it turns out I’m totally fucking brittle. I’m not allowed to play contact sports.”

“Sucks,” Scott says, mouth twisting down.

Stiles shrugs.

“So.” Scott wrinkles his nose again. “Were you in an accident or something?” Then he flushes. “I mean, you don’t have to tell me or anything.”

Stiles thinks of Peter Hale, and the burning curiosity he’d felt to know what happened. Asking doesn’t make Scott an asshole. It just makes him human.

“I got attacked,” he says at last. “My dad was involved in this pretty major investigation, which made me a target. I mean, it wasn’t even personal, you know? They cut me up and threw me off our balcony.”

It’s more than he’s told anyone except the investigators and his therapists before, and he waits for a burst of panic that doesn’t come.

“Dude,” Scott says, eyebrows raised. “Sucks.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees, and finds himself smiling for some reason. “It really did.”

 

***

 

Scott knows the best place in town to order Chinese from, and, when he sees the hesitation in Stiles when the doorbell rings, answers the door when it arrives. They eat on the living room floor, open containers strewn around them, stuffing themselves stupid on dumplings and egg rolls.

When Scott’s phone chimes with a text alert, he moans and rolls around like a beached whale as he tries to dig it out of his pocket. “It’s from Jackson. Why the hell would Jackson be texting me? He doesn’t even like me.” Then he snorts. “Pretty sure he doesn’t like anyone.”

Stiles shrugs, smiling.

Scott’s frowns at his phone as he opens up the message. His jaw drops. “Holy shit.”

“What?” Stiles asks.

“Allison,” Scott says, looking up and meeting his gaze. “Her mom got shot. She's dead.”

Stiles doesn’t know Allison, but he remembers that she’s the girl Scott has a massive unrequited crush on. He doesn’t even know what she looks like, but he thinks Scott mentioned something about eyes like dark chocolate, hair like silk—but like curly silk?—and dimples like tiny little hearts. It had been a weird, confused sort of description. Scott will never be a poet.

“Oh,” he says, his heart thumping. “Oh.”

Scott bites his bottom lip, his eyes shining with sudden tears. “That’s horrible.”

So Stiles doesn’t know Allison Argent. Her heartbreak is at least two degrees removed from him, and only the most tentative connection to begin with. Stiles might sort of be friends with a guy who is in love with Allison Argent from afar. But Stiles remembers what it felt like to lose his mom. He remembers how his heart broke and never really healed at all. How the loss of her is still something that he feels every single day. He misses her like he misses the light in the darkness.

“Why would anyone want to shoot Mrs. Argent?” Scott asks, and he suddenly sounds very young.

“I don’t know,” Stiles says numbly.

Scott’s one of those stupid, happy people he was thinking about last night, isn’t he? The ones who are also so fucking shocked when something goes wrong. And Stiles is supposed to look down on those people for being naïve fools, because he’s smarter than that. Except it doesn’t give him any satisfaction now.

It probably didn’t ever, if he’s honest.

It felt good, for a little while, to hold everyone in contempt.

It doesn’t now.

“Poor Allison,” Scott says, and scrubs at his eyes with the ends of his sleeves. “Do you think she’ll be okay?”

“Sure,” Stiles says. “Yeah.”

It’s a lie, but it doesn’t feel wrong to tell it.

 

***

 

Scott leaves in time to make his curfew, and Stiles heads up to bed. He lies awake, and wonders if he should call his dad to come home and unlock the safe so he can have a sleeping pill. In the end he doesn’t bother. His dad’s working the homicide, and that’s more important than Stiles not sleeping. He probably wouldn’t sleep for long anyway. Sometimes the pills knock him out but he’s usually awake again a few hours later, sluggish and disoriented.

He gives up on sleep after about an hour, and heads downstairs again. The living room is still a bit of a mess, so he stacks up the empty food containers and takes them into the kitchen. He makes himself a coffee, hoping that will put him to sleep. Because of his ADD, caffeine is more of a sedative to him than a stimulant. He carries his coffee back into the living room and curls up on the couch to drink it.

He thinks of Allison and her mom.

He thinks of his own mom.

He thinks of the bare little patch of wall in the upstairs hallway where a picture must have once hung.

He uncurls himself from the couch, and approaches the unpacked boxes in the corner. Rips the packing tape off them so that they gape open. He recognizes the picture by the frame. Just a plain white frame that he thinks his mom bought at Target. He draws the picture out slowly, the glass glinting in the light.

It’s not a studio picture. His mom never liked those. She thought they were weird, with their fake backgrounds and their matching clothing and their awkward poses. She also thought they were stupidly expensive. This picture, Stiles remembers, was taken by one of the crime scene guys at one of his dad’s departmental picnics. The guy, Steve, used to bring his camera to everything. When he wasn’t working he went to his colleagues’ family weddings, and bar mitzvahs and quinceañeras. He spent so much time taking photographs of crime scenes, Stiles figures, that he needed the other stuff to balance it out.

He rubs his thumb over the glass of the frame.

His mom and dad are sitting on a picnic rug, laughing like Steve caught them in the middle of a joke. He did, maybe. And Stiles is sitting between them, six or seven years old, with a broad grin on his face. And ketchup.

His dad looks young and happy. His mom is beautiful. And Stiles has no scars.

A pang of want goes through him, powerful enough to bring tears to his eyes.

“I miss you,” he says to the people in the picture.

He takes the picture upstairs and hangs it carefully in the hallway.

Chapter Text

Stiles doesn’t have a plan for Sundays. Mondays to Fridays either involve psyching himself up to go to school, or avoiding it and spending the rest of the day under his covers. Saturday, with Scott, was unexpected. The day was more full than any other one Stiles has had in recent memory—except possibly dinner with the Hales—and now that it’s done Sunday seems more empty than it otherwise might have. Usually his dad tries to be home with him as much as possible, and moving to Beacon Hills to become sheriff was supposed to mean more weekends at home, and fewer crazy shifts, but… homicide. Stiles gets it. He knows his dad’s work is important.

He showers, and has cereal for breakfast, and then opens his laptop and goes to the Hale Wolf Sanctuary page. The schedule for the weekends is busier than during the week. There are talks and feedings and kids’ activities throughout the day.

Stiles weighs up the likelihood of having to deal with people against the possibility of actually seeing the Hales in action, and fifteen minutes later he’s in his Jeep headed out of town.

There are a few cars in the parking lot. So, okay, yeah, people.

Stiles gets out of the Jeep, pulls his hood forward, and walks toward the information booth.

“Stiles! Hey!” Cora is sitting behind the counter, playing a game on her phone. She waves her hands at him when he pulls his wallet out. “Don’t be a dumbass. You’re a volunteer. Actually—” She roots around under the counter for a moment, then produces a lanyard with a card on it that says STAFF. “Here.”

“Cool.” Stiles slips it over his head with a smile. “Except what if someone asks me something?”

“Lie,” Cora tells him. “Duh.”

“Seriously, what if I tell people that wolves fly south for the winter?”

“I’d probably have to marry you,” Cora tells him frankly.

Stiles laughs and flushes. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Derek’s doing story time at eleven,” Cora says, and waves him through the turnstile. “Trust me, you don’t want to miss it!”

What?

 

***

 

Stiles manages to avoid most of the visitors to the Sanctuary. He wanders down the paths, watching the wolves slink around behind the fences, and wonders where Remus is. It’s odd not to feel the press of his nose against his hand as the wolf falls into step beside him. But then, it’s probably a good thing that he’s not strutting around terrifying the tourists, right? What a pair he and Stiles would make. A scrawny, scarred kid and a huge wolf. Stiles wonders if he should start telling people he was attacked by a wolf. That seems like something Cora would approve of.

Not so much Talia though…

He keeps his distance from the visitors instead.

At eleven he wanders down to the picnic area for story time.

Derek is wearing face paint.

He has whiskers and fangs.

It’s ridiculous.

He’s surrounded by an attentive group of four or five little kids, faces also painted, and they’re sitting cross-legged on the ground and gazing at him in awe as he reads some story about a little wolf cub. He does all the voices. Of course he does.

And then, just when the story is about to end, Laura appears holding a wriggling little cub, and the delighted kids take turns to pet it and have their photographs taken.

Derek extricates himself from the group and comes over to stand with Stiles. “Not a word.”

“What?” Stiles asks innocently. “You’re adorable!”

Derek rolls his eyes, but Stiles chooses to imagine he’s secretly pleased.

“So, the cub,” Stiles says. “I thought you were all about rehabilitating them?”

“That’s actually a hybrid,” Derek tells him. “She’s half German Shepherd, we think. We won’t introduce her to the wild because we’re trying to keep the bloodlines pure. So it doesn’t matter too much if she socializes with people, since she’ll spend her life here at the Sanctuary.”

“Oh, cool.”

“You’re staying for lunch, right?” Derek asks.

“I don’t want to like overstay my welcome or anything.” Stiles scuffs the toe of his shoe through the dirt.

“You’re not,” Derek tells him with a smile. “Look, every Sunday Dad gets the urge to grill. He fires the barbecue up at around this time, and plants himself there until dinner. And we’re all sort of working around the place, so we just head on up to the house when we’re hungry, and he feeds us and sends us back.”

“Staggered feedings,” Stiles says. “Just like the wolves.”

“Except we prefer our meat cooked,” Derek tells him wryly.

“Really?” Stiles asks. “The whiskers and fangs tell a different story.”

Derek snorts. “Come on. Let’s go eat.”

 

***

 

There’s something about the Hales. It makes no sense that Stiles should feel so…not exactly comfortable, but safe around them given that he doesn’t really know them. In the back yard of the big house, James is working the grill just like Derek said he would be, and he doesn’t even look surprised to see Stiles appear.

“Stiles,” he says. “Let me guess. A burger, with red onion and cheese, and spinach and aioli. On sourdough.”

“Um…” That actually sounds awesome. “Yes, please.”

Stiles hovers by the grill while James cooks.

“You need to see Talia before you go today,” James tells him. “She’s found a bunch of Derek’s old shirts with the logo on them, and decided you might as well look the part while you’re working here.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“We should probably talk about paying you too,” James says, waving the tongs around for emphasis. “The volunteer stuff might look great on college applications, but it doesn’t put gas in that Jeep of yours, am I right?”

“Um, all I’ve actually done so far is fill the troughs,” Stiles tells him. “And eat your food.”

“You ate Talia’s food,” James tells him. “You haven’t eaten mine yet, Stiles, and it is going to blow your mind.”

He finishes putting the burger together and presents it to Stiles with a smile.

Stiles takes a bite, and wow. It’s good. Really good. “This is incredible!”

“Told you,” James says. “Derek. Same for you?”

“Hold the onion,” Derek says.

James sighs. “Philistine.”

It’s not until he’s wandered away from the grill to eat that Stiles realizes how incredibly easily James dodged the money thing. Still, if the Hales are determined to feed him and pay him for doing next to nothing, why should a little thing like Stiles’s guilt stop them?

He hears the squeak of a screen door, and looks up to see Remus slipping out of the house and padding down the steps into the yard.

“Hey, buddy,” Stiles says, breaking into a smile.

Remus chuffs at him and sits on his feet.

Stiles holds his burger out of reach. “Onions are bad for dogs. Go and annoy Derek.”

Remus bumps his head against his hip, and then stands and nudges him over toward the porch steps.

“Okay,” Stiles mutters. “I guess I’ll sit down here, huh?”

Remus chuffs at him, waits until he sits, and then slumps over his feet again.

“Idiot,” Stiles says, wriggling his toes in his shoes to make the wolf squirm. He eats his burger slowly, still unused to filling up so much when he’s been skipping so many meals lately. His meds and, yeah, his depression, are a real appetite killer.

“I used to cook for my dad,” he tells Remus, keeping his voice low so Derek and James don’t hear him. “Like, proper cooking too. Not just microwavable crap, you know?”

Remus tilts his head and looks up at him.

“Proper stuff,” Stiles tells him. “I had cookbooks and everything. It was like, I wanted him to know he mattered, right? That he didn’t have to come home and eat ramen. Sounds stupid.”

Remus growls lowly.

“Then, after I got out of the hospital, I stopped.” He tears a shred of sourdough off his bun and hands it down to Remus. Remus takes it gently. “Stopped a lot of things.”

Remus licks his fingertips.

“It’s good, right?”

Remus’s tail thumps against the ground.

“I think I’m gonna start cooking again,” Stiles says. “To help out more.”

Remus chuffs.

“Dad’s working hard on this homicide,” he says.

Remus’s ears twitch and flatten, and a moment later he gets up, sidles up the steps past Stiles, and pushes his way inside the house.

“More burger for me,” Stiles tells him.

Derek walks over toward him, and sits down on the step beside him to eat his onionless burger. He looks ridiculous, with whiskers drawn on over his stubble, and a big black spot on the end of his nose.

“Do you do your own make up?” Stiles asks him, trying to hold back a laugh.

“Shut up,” Derek says, and shoulder checks him.

“It’s super cute,” Stiles assures him.

“The kids like it,” Derek mutters.

“I’m a fan myself,” Stiles tells him.

“You should help out,” Derek suggests. “At story time.”

Stiles feels his smile vanish. He shakes his head.

“Does it really bother you?” Derek asks him, and he sounds so quiet and earnest that Stiles can’t hate him for asking a question like that.

“It bothers me how much it bothers other people,” Stiles says at last. “Dude, I don’t want to ruin kids’ story time with my sideshow freak shtick.” He snorts. “Try saying that three times fast.”

Derek’s smile seems a little rueful.

The screen door squeaks again, and Stiles twists around hoping that Remus is coming back. Instead, it’s Peter Hale who steps through the door. He’s barefoot, wearing jeans and a sweater. His hair is rumpled, but his gaze is as sharp and clear as Stiles remembers.

“Derek,” he says, as he steps between them. “Stiles.”

Stiles wonders if he’s imagining the slight emphasis on his name.

Peter walks over to the grill, and exchanges a few words with James. Derek watches them intently for a moment, a faint frown creasing his forehead.

“Stiles, your dad’s okay with you spending time out here today, right?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says.

From over by the grill, Peter Hale rolls his eyes.            

“He’s pretty busy,” Stiles volunteers.

“Yeah?”

“With a homicide,” Stiles tells him. He figures it’s hardly confidential if it already filtered all the way down to Scott last night. “Somebody called Mrs. Argent.”

Argent.” Something almost like fear flashes in Derek’s eyes.

“Yeah.” Stiles chews his bottom lip, running his tongue over the knot of scar tissue there. “Sorry. Do you know them?”

He forgets, sometimes, what a small town Beacon Hills really is.

“Our families aren’t exactly close,” Derek says, meeting his father’s eyes across the yard. Stiles gets the weird impression that James and Peter can hear what they’re saying. Derek drags his gaze back to Stiles. “You said Mrs. Argent. Do you mean Victoria?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles says, and shrugs, relieved he hasn’t thoughtlessly broken hideous news to any close friends of the Argents. “All I know is it’s Allison’s mom.”

“Shit,” Derek says softly, which yeah, okay, that seems like an appropriate thing to say when you hear someone’s been murdered. But Stiles gets the impression that there’s something else going on here. Something more.

It itches at the back of his mind like slowly-healing scar tissue.

Stiles doesn’t want to pick at it.

Doesn’t want to discover any damn thing that might make him look differently at the Hales.

Not when he likes them.

And not when they like him.

He glances over toward the grill again. Peter Hale’s gaze is steady, speculative.

Just another thing where Stiles feels like the significance escapes him.

 

 

***

 

James makes up a burger for Stiles’s dad. With extra salad. Stiles drives into town, using the map on his phone to make his way to the Sheriff’s Station. He sits outside in the Jeep with his hood pulled forward for longer than he should probably in the age of heightened security alerts, and then finally climbs out and heads for the front doors.

“Can I help you?” the guy on the counter asks.

“Yeah, hi.” Stiles looks down at his feet. “I’m here to see the sheriff? I’m—”

“The interim sheriff,” the deputy says.

“What?” Stiles makes the mistake of looking up and making eye contact.

The guy does an actual double take before he schools his features again. “Interim sheriff,” he corrects.

“Right,” Stiles rasps.

Right.

Stiles isn’t sure of what favors his dad called in to get hired by the Beacon Hills City Council when the former sheriff dropped off the perch. All he knows is there was something in the city ordinances that allowed the Mayor to make an emergency appointment until the next election cycle, and his dad was desperate to get them the hell out of L.A. He’d said there might be some friction in the department because of his appointment. Stiles figures that this asshole is one of the unhappy campers.

The doors to the station slide open behind him, and two more deputies walk in.

“Stiles?” one of them asks. “Hey.”

It’s Parrish. There are bags under his eyes, but he looks as friendly and earnest as he did the day Stiles met him. “What the hell is wrong with you, Lang? This is the sheriff’s kid. Let him through.”

“Interim sheriff’s kid,” Stiles mutters.

Lang glares at him, and hits the button that unlocks the door between the foyer and the bullpen. Parrish holds the door open for Stiles and ushers him through.

“The sheriff’s office is up there on the right,” Parrish says. “Can’t miss it.”

“Thanks.”

When Stiles knocks on the door and opens it, he finds his dad sitting behind a desk looking tired. But the second he sees Stiles he climbs to his feet and rounds the desk, expression suddenly sharp. “Are you okay? Did something happen?”

“Nothing happened,” Stiles tells him, holding the foil-wrapped burger out to his dad. “I brought you lunch. Mr. Hale made it.”

“You brought this here for me?” His dad must be tired, because his hand trembles when he reaches out to pull Stiles into a hug. “Jesus, kid. Thank you.”

“It’s just a burger, Dad,” Stiles mumbles into his shoulder.

They both know that’s not true.

Chapter Text

Stiles doesn’t feel like going to school on Monday morning—story of his life—but he gets a text from Scott saying his bike’s broken down again, and can Stiles maybe swing by his place and collect him? They’re heading for their lockers, pulled along in the stream of kids flooding through the halls, when suddenly everything stops.

The kids part like the Red Sea.

No.

No, Stiles thinks.

Like the girl waking through them is carrying some sort of contagion.

It can only be Allison Argent.

She’s pale and dark haired. Her eyes are a little red, her cheeks blotched. She’s holding her chin up though, and Stiles feels a fierce burst of pride for this girl he doesn’t even know, because fuck them. Everyone is staring, and fuck them, and Allison doesn’t even falter.

A red-haired girl detaches herself from a group of boys wearing lacrosse jerseys, and falls into step beside Allison. She hooks her arm through Allison’s, and glares haughtily at everyone else. If Allison is as proud as a queen, the other girl is some kind of avenging angel.

The girls sweep past them, and a part of Stiles wishes he could get carried along in their wake.

He wishes he had strength like that.

Wishes he didn’t buckle and break.

But then Allison, even in all the raw, uncertain stages of her grief, is still beautiful, right?

 

***

 

The red-haired girl sits next to Stiles at lunch, much to the displeasure of the square-jawed guy in the lacrosse jersey who is clearly six hundred percent richer, better looking, and more popular than Stiles. So of course he’s an asshole, right? Stiles can tell just by his sneer. Because who actually sneers apart from assholes? The old Stiles would have flipped him the bird. New Stiles remembers how fragile his bones are, and how it feels when skin splits.

“I’m Lydia Martin,” the girl tells him.

“Stiles Stilinski.”

“I know.” She says it like he’s an idiot.

Right.

He turns his face away and fiddles with the strings of his hoodie.

“So, Allison and I are going to eat lunch with you and Scott,” she announces.

“Why?” he mutters.

“Believe me, you two were not my first option,” she tells him, pursing her lips. “But she’s my friend, and she doesn’t need anyone to fucking ask, okay? You get that, right, Stiles?”

Right.

Yeah, he gets it.

 

***

 

Scott is some sort of trauma whisperer or something. Stiles expects him to be weird and awkward around the girl he’s madly in love with, but instead he just smiles and tells a rambling story about a litter of stray kittens he’s looking after at the vet’s office where he works some days after school. Allison just stares at him sort of blankly. She’s not listening, and Scott probably knows it, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s the tone of his voice, and the way he never stops to prompt her an answer. It’s the way he’s giving her the cadence of a conversation, the rise and fall of his voice.

It’s a sort of armor, Stiles thinks. Scott creates it, but it’s big enough to share.

Stiles eats his bland cafeteria food and watches.

Lydia scrolls through messages on her phone, looking bored, but her gaze flicks to Allison every few minutes.

Stiles thinks that might be a sort of armor too.

 

 

***

 

 

Stiles sheds school like a layer of skin, and drives out to the Sanctuary with the windows of the Jeep down and the wind rushing through the air vents. The radio is blasting out some cheesy eighties rock ballad—complete with overwrought saxophone solo—and Stiles thinks that maybe, if he saves up enough money, he should get a decent stereo put in so he can listen to his own music, and not whatever Larry at Beacon 106.8 wants to play.

It’s a nice day. The hot, bright edges of summer—less stark here than in L.A.—are starting to soften into something a little cooler. The nights will be getting colder soon, the air getting a bite. Stiles wonders what the Preserve will look like when the leaves begin to change.

Beacon Hills doesn’t feel like home yet, but it could. He’s not there yet, but the idea doesn’t make him want to dig his heels in and refuse or anything. He thinks that if he and his dad stay here—if his dad can do enough to win the election in a year—that he could make this town a home. He has the Hales, and he has Scott, and that’s a lot more than he had in L.A. where he pushed people away with everything he had, then hated them for going.

He’d even tried to push his dad away too, but his dad was too stubborn to do it. Or maybe too shell-shocked. It didn’t matter how many times Stiles screamed at him that this was his fault, his dad just stood there and took it. Stood there like a rock, while Stiles was the angry sea that crashed over him again and again.

Stiles isn’t sure now where all the anger went. He still gets bursts of it, flashes, but for a long while he’s been too tired to really feel it. Probably the only upside of his depression, actually. He’s been too tired to feel much at all, but maybe that’s starting to change. Until today, when he saw how numb Allison Argent was, he would have thought he was still at that point. But he’s not, is he? He’s eating, and he’s going to the store and the station, and he has a friend, and he has the Hales.

He’s doing better.

Not great, but better.

That’s enough for now.

He swings into the parking lot of the Hale Wolf Sanctuary, and climbs out of the Jeep. Okay, so Laura said he should park up at the house, but Stiles kind of likes the short walk up the private road. It gives him a chance to center himself, or something. There’s probably a term for it. Kirsten would know.

He’s almost at the house when he hears yelling.

“…because it’s dangerous, Peter!” It sounds like Talia. “You keep wandering around like that and you know what the Argents will do!”

Shit. Stiles stops dead. He doesn’t want to walk right into some family domestic. He doesn’t want to get involved. Neither does Remus, apparently, because the screen door at the front of the house suddenly clatters open, and the wolf skitters down the front steps. He stops when he sees Stiles, then lopes over toward him, tail between his legs.

“Sounds like trouble, buddy,” Stiles tells him. “You want to escape with me?”

Remus huffs, and tugs at the hem of his hoodie to get him moving back toward the parking lot.

“She sounds pissed,” Stiles murmurs.

Remus huffs, and tugs him off the road into the edge of the woods. Stiles follows him a little way in, wary of getting lost after that first day, but Remus stops when they’re still in sight of the road, and sits down heavily on the ground. A moment later he sinks all the way down, resting his chin on his front paws and looking sad and pathetic.

Stiles sits down beside him, and scratches behind his ears. “Hey, I’m sure they’re not angry with you, dude.”

Remus snorts and side-eyes him.

“What’s the deal with the Argents though?” Stiles mutters. “Like, why would they care what Peter does?”

Remus sighs heavily, and closes his eyes as Stiles tugs his ears gently.

“Scott says the Hales are like really wealthy and pretty much founded the town,” Stiles says. There’s something comforting about petting Remus. Something almost hypnotic. “Like small-town Kennedys or something.”

Remus chuffs.

“Maybe the Argents are like…”

Remus looks at him curiously.

“I don’t know, dude,” Stiles tells him. “Do the Kennedys have like sworn enemies? I should have gone with the Hatfields and McCoys, right?”

Remus licks his fingers.

“Peter is super sketchy though.”

Remus nips his fingertips.

“Hey!” Stiles pulls his hand back. “No biting!”

Remus huffs, and puts his head back down and closes his eyes. He looks so comfortable resting in the dappled sunlight that Stiles stretches out beside him. He gazes up at the sky, his arms crossed underneath his head.

“How cool are you though?” he asks, nudging Remus. “Like, you’re a wolf. How cool is it that I’m friends with a wolf?”

Remus yawns and stretches, then rolls onto his side. He rests his heavy head on Stiles’s abdomen.

“You’re the coolest,” Stiles tell him, tangling his fingers in his ruff. “No, wait. I have a wolf sidekick. Clearly I’m the coolest!”

Remus growls softly.

“What? You think I’m the sidekick? That’s bullshit and you know it.” Stiles laughs. “I’m clearly the superhero here. Like by day I’m just this kid that nobody notices…” And wow, wouldn’t that be incredible? Stiles swallows around the sudden ache in his throat. “But when crime strikes and Beacon Hills needs defending, I’m The Wolf, with my actual wolfy sidekick.”

Remus snorts.

“No, because what else would I be called? Wolfman’s already taken. And okay, The Wolf is pretty lame, but this is just a brainstorming session. We can come back to it. Nothing’s set in stone.” He bops Remus on the nose, just to make him snort again. “And anyway, nobody ever suspects me, even though me and The Wolf are never seen in the same room together, and look oddly alike except I probably wear glasses and part my hair on the other side. And have a German Shepherd that looks a lot like you.”

Remus sighs loudly.

“Dude, come on, you could be a little more enthusiastic!” Stiles finds the spot behind his ears that always makes the wolf melt and gives it an extra hard scritch. “Don’t you want to be a superhero?”

Remus sighs again.

Stiles stares up at the glimpses of sky he can see through the shifting canopy of the treetops.

“It’s really beautiful here,” he says.

Remus rumbles approvingly, and his tail thumps softly in the leaf litter.

 

***

 

Ants.

Ants are a thing that destroy Stiles’s calm. He shoves Remus off him and leaps to his feet, brushing a battalion of the little bastards off his arms and legs and then, feeling them in his clothes, he shrugs his hoodie off, tugs his shirt over his head, and shakes the living shit of out them.

“Okay,” he says at last. “At least there’s none in my jeans, right?”

Remus huffs in what Stiles chooses to believe is agreement. He holds Stiles’s gaze for a moment, then steps forward and presses his nose against Stiles’s hip, tracing along the top of a thick rope of scar tissue that disappears into his jeans. It matches the one above his groin.

“Shattered pelvis,” Stiles tells the wolf, fighting the urge to step away from the scrutiny, even if it’s from an animal.

It’s not his only scar. It’s not his worst scar. In the early days, in the hospital, he’d caught accidental glimpses of his patchwork body and wondered why the surgeons just hadn’t let him die.

He still can’t look. Not intentionally.

Remus whines.

Stiles pushes his snout away and tugs his shirt back on. He feels naked, exposed, and it has nothing to do with Remus being here, not really. This is just how it is now. Jeans and long sleeves to hide the scars on his body and limbs. His hoodie, pulled forward to hide as much of his face as he can. These things are necessary.

He pulls his hoodie on over his shirt. Lines the zip up with trembling fingers and tugs it up.

“Next time pick somewhere with no ants, huh, dude?” He gives a shaky laugh, and Remus shoves his nose into the loose curl of his fingers. “I’m okay. I just get weird sometimes, you know?”

Remus whines.

“Well, I say weird,” Stiles says. “That’s a euphemism for freaking out so much I forget how to breathe, and pass out.”

Remus gives a low growl, and snuffles at his fingers.

“I’m okay,” Stiles tells him. “I’m doing better. Dude, I’m totally winning this week. I just forgot for a second. So don’t go all fluffy puppy on me now. Where’s my snarky sidekick wolf, huh?”

Remus chuffs and shoulder checks him hard enough that he stumbles.

“Dude!” Stiles laughs, grabbing onto the wolf to maintain his balance. “You’re such a jerk!”

Remus freezes suddenly, staring intently at the road. A moment later Stiles hears an engine, and then the crunch of tires on the gravel of the Sanctuary parking lot.

“What?” he asks Remus.

Remus closes his fangs around Stiles’s wrist and tugs him gently further into the trees.

There’s something in the wolf’s stance that Stiles hasn’t seen before. A sort of thrumming energy, or hypervigilance. Something that makes Stiles take a note of the way the birds have fallen silent, and the air seems thick with anticipation. It’s like the world is holding its breath.

Remus releases Stiles, and circles around him. He positions himself between Stiles and the road.

Stiles hunkers down, his heart racing. He doesn’t know what he expects, but he trusts Remus. And he trusts that Remus isn’t fucking around here.

Remus growls again, and that’s when Stiles sees it: there’s a man walking up the road from the parking lot to the Hale house. He’s maybe middle-aged, but it’s hard to tell from this distance. He’s wearing jeans a dark shirt. He’s in good shape. His hair is light, maybe graying.

There’s nothing threatening about the man that Stiles can see, except for the way Remus is reacting.

The man stops suddenly, and steps into the first line of trees. He stares toward them, and Stiles can’t tell if they’ve been spotted or not.

Remus growls again, hackles rising.

The man stares for a moment longer, and then turns and keeps walking up toward the house. Moments later, the birds start whistling and twittering again.

“What the hell was that?” Stiles asks.

Remus paces back and forth, and then grabs the hem of Stiles’s hoodie and starts leading him toward the parking lot.

“What? You want me to go?” Stiles asks him.

Remus growls, and tugs harder.

“Okay, dude. Slow down!”

When they reach the parking lot, there’s a black SUV parked next to Stiles’s Jeep.

Stiles digs his phone out of his pocket and snaps a picture of the license plates.

Because maybe if he gets enough little pictures he can get a glimpse of the big one, right?

Because there’s definitely something weird going on here.

 

Chapter Text

His dad is home in time for dinner, and Stiles makes pasta. Not like anything special. Just pasta with sauce from a jar.

“Is this vegetarian?” his dad asks when he sits down at the kitchen table.

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “But only accidentally. We didn’t have any ground beef.”

“Shit,” his dad says, and drags a hand down his face. “I haven’t had the chance to get groceries.”

Stiles sits down across from him. “Um. I could?”

“Son, you don’t have to do that.”

“No, I know.” Stiles grips his fork tightly. “But I’m saying that I could.”

He sees the indecision in his dad’s eyes.

On one hand, his kid says he can do it.

On the other hand, if he decides at the last minute that he can’t, suddenly they’re out of food. And, probably more importantly, suddenly Stiles is facing another setback.

“Okay,” his dad says at last. “But if you don’t get a chance to go tomorrow afternoon, I’ll go on Wednesday.”

“Deal,” Stiles says. “How’s the investigation going?”

“Not so great,” his dad tells him.

“You mean it’s not the husband,” Stiles says, pointing his fork at him.

“He’s got a solid alibi.”

“What about the boyfriend?”

“Stiles,” his dad says warningly.

“Right. Confidential police business. Got it.” Stiles raises his eyebrows. “So there is a boyfriend?”

“No,” his dad says sternly. “And I’m not discussing this any further with you.”

Stiles ducks his head as his dad reaches out to scruff his hair. He shoves a few mouthfuls of pasta in.

“School good?”

Stiles shrugs. “I met Allison Argent today.”

“And this is why I’m not discussing the case with you,” his dad tells him.

“I know, Dad. But you know what’s weird?”

“What?”

“This afternoon I went to the sanctuary, and I heard Talia yelling at Peter about the Argents. She said if he kept wandering around like that, he knew what the Argents would do.”

“Wandering around like what?” his dad asks, brow creasing.

“I don’t know.”

“And what would the Argents do?”

“Dad. Dad, listen. What do you call a deer with no eyes?”

His dad rolls his eyes. “A no-eye-deer.”

“And what do you call a deer with no eyes and no legs?”

"A still no-eye-deer,” his dad grumbles. “You could have just said that.”

Stiles jabs a curl of pasta with his fork. “My way is more fun.”

“Idiot,” his dad says fondly.

It feels a little like the way things used to be.

 

***

 

His dad has an early night. Stiles watches TV for a while, and sends a couple of texts back and forth with Scott, and also with Cora, who has somehow got his number. She probably stood over Scott until he caved. He and Scott set up another time to study—and actually study this time, instead of play video games—whereas Cora just spams him with a bunch of Avengers memes. Which is cool, because he spams her right back.

He waits an hour or so after his dad’s gone upstairs to give him plenty of time to fall into a nice oblivious REM cycle, and then heads into his study. His work laptop is sitting in its bag on top of the gun safe. Stiles takes it over to the desk.

It’s too much, he supposes to hope that his dad’s carrying around the entire case file on Victoria Argent’s murder in paper copy in his laptop case.

He pulls the laptop out and checks for paperwork, but yeah, of course it is.

He opens the laptop and waits for it to boot up.

He enters his dad’s user name, and taps his fingers absently over the keys for a moment while he thinks of his password. His dad has never been particularly smart with passwords. Like never. Stiles had the parental controls bypassed on their cable TV by the time he was nine.

He tries a few variations on “Claudia” but nothing works.

He glares at the screen for a moment longer, and then tries “Stiles”, and his birth year.

Straight in.

He doesn’t know whether to be pleased at how easy it was, or disturbed.

He opens up the link to the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department, and navigates to the police database. He types in the license plate of the SUV from the sanctuary parking lot, and isn’t surprised at all when he gets the result:

The SUV is registered to Christopher Argent.

 

***

 

Lydia and Allison sit with them at lunch the next day.

Stiles thinks they must look ridiculous. He doesn’t talk, and Allison doesn’t talk, and Lydia doesn’t talk—she rolls her eyes a lot though—and Scott is the only one who talks.

 

 

***

 

Stiles has Chemistry for his last period. He skips, because Mr. Harris is a dick, and because Stiles is a Special Case. He’s sure it’s stamped on his file somewhere. He goes to the library instead, figuring that as long as he’s still on school property it’s not technically truancy, right? He loses himself in the stacks for a while, checks out a bunch of old yearbooks where the seniors have shoulder pads and incredibly floofy hair, and then texts Cora and asks if she wants to skip her last class and come grocery shopping with him.

She’s sitting on the hood of the Jeep by the time he makes it to the parking lot.

“Let’s do this, Stilinski,” she says with a gleam in her eye like they’re about to knock over a bank. She climbs into the front passenger seat, puts her sneakers up on the dash, and directs him to a grocery store near the center of town.

“So,” Stiles says when they grab a cart, “you should probably know that I asked you to come with me in case I sort of freak out.”

Cora shrugs, and drops a bag of bread into the cart. “You need bread, right?”

“Yeah.” Stiles checks his list. “Um, no comment on the freaking out thing?”

“Stiles, I remember when Peter got hurt.” Her expression clouds. “I remember how hard it was for him to leave the house. I see how people still look at him when he comes into town sometimes.” She shrugs. “I figured you weren’t asking me to come grocery shopping with you because you value my opinion when it comes to slightly bruised fruit.”

He can’t help the smiles that’s tugged out of him at that. “For the record, I do value your opinion when it comes to slightly bruised fruit. But also, thanks.”

Cora just flashes him her killer smile and reaches over to pluck the grocery list from his fingers. “Twizzlers, Stiles, really?”

“They’re for my dad!”

She narrows her eyes. “I know you’re lying.”

He laughs, and curls his fingers around the handlebar of the cart. “Come on, let’s do this.”

 

***

 

They stop for a while in the baking goods section, and Stiles grabs a packet of cake mix. The picture on the front looks pretty nice. And the steps on the back don’t look too confusing. He tosses it into the cart.

 

***

 

Since he more or less abducted Cora from school, Stiles figures like he owes it to her to drop her home, particularly because she hasn’t got a car.

“I’m saving for one,” she tells him on the drive out to the sanctuary, helping herself to a Twizzler. “I usually get a lift in the morning, and walk home in the afternoon.”

“It’s miles though!”

“Yes,” Cora tells him. “And when I was your age, I had to do it barefoot in the snow.”

He rolls his eyes at her.

“There’s actually a shortcut through the Preserve,” Cora says. “And sometimes I beg Derek to come and get me. Have you seen Der’s car? It’s the black Camaro. Like, I don’t even know why he picked a car like that. I think Laura’s nerd jokes were getting to him and he sort of panicked and overcompensated. But it’s a sweet car.”

“Your parents are rich though, right?” Stiles asks.

“Uh huh.” Cora shrugs. “But they have this obsession with making sure we all understand the value of a dollar.”

“Dude, I know that lecture!”

“Did you just call me dude?” Cora asks, and laughs uproariously around her Twizzler.

Her laughter carries them up the road to the sanctuary, through the parking lot, and onto the private road that leads to the Hale house. Stiles catches himself leaning forward as the Jeep rounds the bend, hoping to catch a sight of Remus.

Instead he sees a Beacon Hills’ Sheriff’s Department cruiser parked by the house. As Stiles drives closer he sees that “Sheriff” is written on the doors.

“What’s my dad doing here?” he asks, bringing the Jeep to a shuddering halt.

“Hopefully not investigating our truancy,” Cora says with a grin. She climbs out, slamming the door behind her.

Stiles follows her up the porch steps, wincing at the sharp pain in his lower back as he climbs the steps. He follows Cora into the house.

His dad is in the living room, with Peter and Talia and James.

“Hey, Dad,” Stiles says, his smile fading when his dad turns around to face him. He’s wearing his game face—his expression is serious, attentive and empathetic all at once—and Stiles immediately knows this isn’t a social call. “Um.”

“We’re almost done here, Stiles,” Talia says. She looks to his dad. “Aren’t we, Sheriff?”

“Yes, ma’am,” his dad says, his tone of voice a lot more bland than his gaze.

Okay. Ouch. Awkward. Stiles lets Cora curl her fingers around his wrist and draw him down the hall into the kitchen.

“What do you think that’s about?” he asks in a whisper.

She points him toward a seat at the kitchen table, grabs a ceramic container off the counter, and sits down beside him. “Choc chip cookie?”

“Hell yeah.” Stiles reaches into the container and grabs one.

“He’s probably here to ask Uncle Peter about the Argents,” Cora says. “Since somebody offed Victoria.”

Stiles chews on a mouthful of cookie. “What’s Peter got to do with that though?”

“Duh.” Cora snags a second cookie. “Who do you think burned him?”

“Wait, what?” Stiles’s jaw drops. “Allison’s mom burned Peter?”

“No, Allison’s aunt did,” Cora tells him. She narrows her eyes. “Kate. So they carted her off to the looney bin, and ever since then all the Argents hate us and blah blah blah.” She waves her hand dismissively, like Stiles hasn’t just walked onto the set of a particularly dramatic telenovela or something.

“Holy shit,” Stiles says.

“Cora,” someone says from the doorway.

Stiles twists around in his seat.

Laura looks serious. “What are you doing?”

Cora lifts her chin. It seems almost like a challenge. “What? It’s not a secret. Peter saved every single one of us that night. I think Stiles has the right to know.”

“Yes, but you don’t have the right to tell him,” Laura says, her voice firm. “Head on home, Stiles. I’ll take care of the water troughs today.”

Stiles knows a dismissal whenever he hears one, but something sours inside him to hear it coming from Laura. “Yeah, sure, okay.”

He stands up, and tugs his hood forward.

Brushes past her when she puts her hand out toward him.

He heads toward the front door, not even glancing into the living room where he can hear Peter saying something in a low voice to his dad. He pushes his way out the front door, and heads for the Jeep.

For a second he thinks the ignition isn’t going to turn over, and that he’ll have to wait for his dad to drive him home, but at the last second it catches and the Jeep rumbles into life.

It’s not until he’s heading back toward Beacon Hills that it occurs to Stiles that he didn’t even see Remus.

 

***

 

“Stiles?” his dad calls when he gets home about an hour later.

Shit.

Stiles opens his eyes and stares at his bedroom ceiling. He’s never noticed before, but there are tiny little holes in the plaster. It makes him think of model airplanes or something. He imagines an entire squadron of them hanging from fishing line from hooks in the ceiling, spinning slowly in the light.

“I’m up here, Dad!” he calls back.

His dad appears in his doorway. His expression falls. “Aw, hell, kid.”

“Yeah,” Stiles rasps. A tremor runs through his body. Apart from that, he can’t move. Well, he can, he supposes, but bitter experience has taught him not to. Everything is seized up. Stiles feels like he’s been twisted into a shape that his body’s not supposed to be in, his muscles forcing all his bones into the wrong positions and freezing them into place.

“You overdid it, huh?” his dad asks.

“Carried all the groceries in,” Stiles says. “Yay me.”

“Yay you,” his dad says dryly, and eases himself down onto the bed. “You want some Percocet?”

“I want all the Percocet,” Stiles tells him with a grimace.

His dad disappears, and is back a few minutes later with a pill in one hand and a glass of water in the other. He sits down on Stiles’s bed and helps lever him up to an angle where he won’t choke to death, and holds the glass for him while he swallows the pill down.

“You haven’t been doing your exercises, have you?” he asks. He sets the glass of water down on the bedside table, then shifts down to the end of the bed so he can tug Stiles’s shoes off.

“Not exactly.”

“Stiles.” A warning tone that Stiles really doesn’t need to hear right now, given that he knows how stupid he’s been, thanks very much. “Come on, kid. Do you want to go back to physio every few days?”

“No.”

“So do your damn exercises.”

“I know, Dad.” The Percocet is making everything nice and fuzzy at the edges. “Dad, why did Kate Argent burn Peter Hale?”

“Aw, kiddo. Go to sleep, huh?”

“Why though?” Stiles blinks down as his dad unzips his jeans and tugs them slowly off, and okay, yeah, that’s something he’ll be embarrassed about later.

His dad eases the comforter out from under him, then shakes it out over him. “Can we talk about this tomorrow, Stiles?”

“No, c’mon.” Stiles is starting to feel loose limbed again. The tremors running through him have subsided. His fingers loosen from their frozen claws.

His dad presses a hand to his forehead, then slides it over his hair. “Kate Argent wasn’t after Peter Hale, not specifically. She was after all of them, kid. All the Hales. Peter Hale caught her as she was trying to set fire to the house. She threw a can of fuel at him, and, well, you’ve seen the result.”

“Yeah.” Stiles feels tears sting his eyes. “Did he open the door too?”

“What?”

“Peter Hale.” Stiles sighs, and fights to keep his eyes open. “Did he open the door without checking too?”

“Go to sleep, kiddo,” his dad tells him, stroking his hair. “And tomorrow you’re gonna do your exercises, right?”

“Mmm,” Stiles mumbles as he drifts off into a boneless sleep.

It’s possible he dreams of fire.

 

Chapter Text

“Not going to school today,” Stiles mumbles from under his comforter when his dad asks. “My brain is too fuzzy.”

“Your brain is never too fuzzy, son,” his dad tells him, and pulls the comforter back. “Come on. You can take the day off school, but I’m not leaving you in bed to sleep all day and screw up your body clock. Get up and have a shower.”

Everything aches, and his back twinges as he slowly stands, but Stiles feels a hell of a lot better than he did last night. He waves his dad’s hand away. “I’m good.”

His dad hovers, probably thinking of all the times he’s literally had to pick Stiles up from the floor when he’s overestimated his ability to stand and move. “Use the bar in the shower, kid.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Stiles shuffles toward the bathroom.

He hates the bar in the shower, and the one beside the toilet that his dad installed the day they moved in.

“And do your exercises today!” his dad yells after him.

“I will!” he yells back.

The heat of the shower unknots his muscles more and makes him feel a little guilty. He probably is well enough to go to school, but he really doesn’t want to. And then he thinks of sitting with Scott and Allison and Lydia at lunch…

When he gets downstairs with his backpack slung over his shoulder, his dad raises his eyebrows at him.

“I’ll come home if I can’t handle it,” Stiles says.

His dad nods. “And if you need anything…”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “I’ll call you.”

 

***

 

In English, Ms. Poole is trying to explain the difference between matrilineal and matriarchal to a bunch of kids who really couldn’t give a damn, and Stiles is reading about Kate Argent on his phone. The Beacon Hills Chronicle has a story on the attempted arson of the Hale Wolf Sanctuary six years ago, although it’s light on details. Kate Argent was arrested two weeks after the fire, and charged with attempted murder and attempted arson and…

Stiles squints at his screen.

Statutory rape?

Okay, that was unexpected. Stiles can’t help glancing over the classroom to where Allison is sitting, and wondering just exactly how fucked in the head her aunt is. It’s probably not something he can straight up ask though, right?

In the end, there wasn’t a trial. There was a plea deal or something, and Kate Argent was sent to a psychiatric facility, where Stiles can only assume she spends her days looking like Hannibal Lector, wearing an orange jumpsuit and strapped to a trolley.

And Peter Hale was in an induced coma for weeks after Kate Argent attacked him.

Stiles wonders if his dad really thinks Peter shot Victoria in revenge for what Kate did to him.

Except that’s telenovela territory again.

Melodramatic blood feuds do not exist in real life, surely?

The Hales might hate the Argents—and who can blame them for that?—but it’s a big leap from hatred to considering them all potential targets for revenge, right?

And also, Stiles likes the Hales. He doesn’t really know Peter at all, but he can’t imagine Talia and James harboring a bloodthirsty sociopath in their midst. Also, Talia was scared for Peter, wasn’t she? Not scared of him. She was worried that the Argents were the dangerous ones, not Peter.

He glances across at Allison again.

She’s staring blankly into space.

Stiles knows that feeling.

And just maybe whoever shot Victoria Argent was some random person off the street. It happens. Not often, statistically speaking, but it’s not impossible.

Stiles wishes he could get a look at his dad’s case notes.

He catches Ms. Poole giving him a narrow look, almost drops his phone, and then spends the rest of the lesson pretending to actually pay attention.

He’s pretty sure Ms. Poole isn’t fooled for a second.

 

***

 

“Sup, losers?” Jackson says at lunch, pulling up a chair at their table.

Lydia sighs at him.

Jackson’s gaze is curious when it lands on Stiles’s face, but it doesn’t linger uncomfortably. “McCall, you sucked yesterday at practice.”

“Thanks,” Scott says, shrugging it off.

“If you suck that much at the game next week, I’ll personally kick your ass,” Jackson tells him.

Another boy sits down beside him. Stiles thinks he’s called Danny? He elbows Jackson in the ribs. “And this is why Coach made Jackson captain. For his inspiring pep talks.”

Stiles ducks his head and grins.

Whatever grace period Allison was allowed because of her grief has clearly worn off, in Jackson’s opinion. He talks loudly about lacrosse, and about his car, and about some party he’s hosting the weekend after this one. Stiles concentrates on his food, and pretends not to be listening. When a guy like Jackson brings up a party, it’s not an invitation, is it? It’s bait, and he’ll dangle it in front of Stiles for a little while, then pull it back and laugh.

Except he doesn’t.

“You guys should come,” he says, and sounds slightly bored.

Wow. Stiles totally gets how he and Lydia are perfect together.

“Really?” Scott asks.

“Whatever,” Jackson says. “I don’t care. McCall, let’s go. I want to run some laps before gym starts.”

“Okay,” Scott says. “See you later.”

Stiles gives him a half-hearted wave, and watches as he leaves with Jackson and Danny.

“It’s prom soon,” Lydia says after a moment.

“It’s prom in three months,” Allison reminds her.

“Yes, so now is the perfect time to start looking for a date,” Lydia tells her. “You don’t want to be single for senior prom. Don’t you agree, Stiles?”

Stiles fiddles with the strings of his hoodie. “Um, no?”

Lydia glares at him, but Allison smiles slightly.

“But, um, when you are looking, you should think about Scott,” Stiles says. “He’s pretty bad at lacrosse, but he’s really nice, and he’s cute.” He catches Lydia’s look. “If you’re into guys, I mean.”

And this right here, Stiles thinks, is just another fucking thing. Just another label to go along with new kid, and freak, and nark. And Stiles doesn’t want another label, except this one isn’t just something he can pretend doesn’t exist, or something that he can pretend is only the result of other people’s perceptions of him. This is who he is.

Lydia is looking at him narrowly, with her head on an angle. He feels like an insect being studied by a sharp-eyed bird.

Which I am, he wants to say, chin up and voice steady, but not exclusively.

He’s not brave enough to say that.

Allison catches Stiles’s gaze. “Lydia is currently obsessed with distracting me.”

Lydia huffs. “I’m going to get a soda.”

Her heels click against the floor as she walks away.

Stiles remembers when his mom died, the way it felt like he was faking his way through every interaction, from talking to his dad to buying a pack of chips at the store. Like he was an actor in a play, and he was aware he was acting, and the more he was aware of it the more wooden he got. Muscle memory wasn’t enough to pull him through a scene. Every word sounded hollow, and every action was wooden. He was stuck behind thick glass. Nothing felt real.

He felt the same after his attack, because what is recovery but just another word for grief?

“Doesn’t work, does it?” Stiles murmurs.

“No.” Allison holds his gaze for a moment. “It really doesn’t.”

 

***

 

In Math, Stiles texts his dad to see if he knows what time he’ll be home.

His dad is apparently in Blue Falls Valley—wherever the hell that is—following up a lead.

Do you need anything? I can be there in an hour.

No, he texts back. I’m good.

 

***

 

Cora’s waiting at the Jeep when school lets out.

“Need a lift?” Stiles asks her.

“Hell, yeah. Derek’s got some work thing he can’t get out of, and I don’t feel like walking.” She climbs into the Jeep.

They swing through the drive through at Burger King on their way, and grab some fries. It feels like such a normal thing to do, such a pointless teenage thing, but at the same time it’s a huge deal. Cora knows it too, Stiles guesses, but she doesn’t make a big deal out of it.

Stiles eats a handful of his fries and saves the rest for Remus.

Except, when they get to the Hale house, Remus isn’t hanging around like he normally does. He doesn’t come bursting out the front door when Stiles pulls the Jeep in. Instead, there’s someone sitting on the loveseat on the front porch, reading a book.

Peter Hale.

“Hey, Uncle Peter,” Cora says, and pushes through the front door.

Stiles doesn’t follow. He finds himself standing there instead, awkwardly holding his fries and shuffling his feet a little.

“Hello, Stiles,” Peter says.

“Hi.” Stiles holds the fries out. “Want some?”

Peter smiles slightly, and reaches out to snag a few. “Thank you.”

“So, um, I’m sorry if my dad was all invasive and stuff yesterday,” Stiles says, his mouth dry. “Like, I know that it’s not great when you have to answer questions about…” He gestures vaguely at his own face. “So.”

Peter’s smile grows into something like a smirk, and he tilts his head slightly. “If you want to ask me something, Stiles, just ask.”

“Right.” Stiles shuffles his feet again, and then meet’s Peter’s brilliant blue gaze. He’s attractive, for an older guy. Despite the scars, even. There’s something in him that radiates confidence, arrogance, even when it shouldn’t. It makes Stiles ache a little with envy, the way that Peter doesn’t try to hide himself away. The way he’s comfortable in his own skin, even when his skin looks like it does. Cora said yesterday at the store that she remembers how hard it was for him to go into town. Stiles thinks that if that was ever really the case, maybe it isn’t now. A part of him wants to grab Peter Hale by the shirtfront and demand to know how to not give a fuck. The other part of him remembers the question he really wants to ask. “You didn’t shoot Allison’s mom, did you?”

“Very direct,” Peter says, but there’s a note of approval in his voice. “And no, for the record of both Stilinskis, I did not. I wouldn’t have crossed the street to piss on her if she was on fire—pardon the expression—but I didn’t kill her.”

“You probably shouldn’t say things like that if you want the police to think you’re innocent,” Stiles points out.

“Oh, well in that case, the woman was a saint. An angel.” Yeah, he’s definitely smirking now.

Peter is kind of a jerk. Stiles warms to it more than he probably should.

“Stiles!” Cora yells from inside. “Do you want a soda?”

“I should, um,” Stiles says, and nods toward the door.

Peter picks up his book again. “It’s always a pleasure talking to you, Stiles.”

“Um, yeah,” Stiles says, because he’s not sure that in good conscience he can say the same thing. He escapes inside before things get even weirder.

 

***

 

Remus joins him when he goes down to the sanctuary to refill the water troughs.

“Seriously,” Stiles says, “what do you guys do? Roll around in the dirt and then go for a paddle?”

Remus huffs at him.

“Sure,” Stiles says. “You would never, right? Because you’re way better than these common wolves.”

Remus gives a pleased rumble and licks Stiles’s fingers.

 

***

 

Stiles is home by five. He texts his dad, but he’s still poking around in Blue Falls Valley. Stiles wonder how much he’ll be able to finagle out of his dad when he finally get home. Is it a break in the case? A suspect? A witness? Has Kate Argent escaped the psychiatric facility and been living incognito in Blue Falls Valley this whole time and nursing some sort of evil grudge this whole time over her sister-in-law Victoria?

Probably not.

It would just be a hell of a lot simpler if there was only one villain in the piece, right?

Life, of course, is rarely that straight forward.

He works on his homework for a while, and then makes a sandwich for dinner. It’s dark by the time he’s eaten, and he feels a stab of guilt for not doing his exercises like he promised his dad this morning.

Stiles half-asses his way through his exercises, knowing that the “no pain, no gain” thing is total bullshit. For him, it’s “pain now, and hopefully a little less pain later” which is a fairly crappy catchphrase for what’s admittedly a fairly crappy situation. The exercises aren’t exactly strenuous, but they hurt. They made him stretch in ways his body doesn’t want to. When he’s worked up a sweat just trying to do a couple of stretches and squats, he gives up and goes upstairs to shower.

He’s just stripped his shirt off in the bathroom when he hears the sound of glass breaking from somewhere downstairs.

No.

Everything freezes, as though Stiles has been plunged into a cold, black lake. No light, no warmth, and he’s sinking like a stone. There’s a vice around his ribs squeezing tighter and tighter.

No.

Men holding him down as he thrashes and screams and the blade rips through his skin.

No.

Stiles moves without even knowing how, stumbling along to his bedroom. With every step he expects someone to grab him, hurt him. He can barely breathe, and panic is threatening to suffocate him. His vision is darkening at the edges, and he can’t pull enough air into his lungs.

He closes his bedroom door behind him, trying impossibly to stay quiet, when the roar of blood in his skull is so fucking loud that the whole world must be able to hear it.

His bedroom door has one of those pushbutton locks. The sort that anyone can open with a butter knife. Stiles locks it anyway, and grabs his phone off his desk. He retreats into his closet, and sinks down into the darkness.

He scrolls through his contacts with shaky hands. Squeezes his eyes shut.

“Dad,” he whispers, tears choking him. “Dad, there’s someone in the house.”

Stiles?”

“Cora?” For a second Stiles doesn’t understand what’s happened, but then he realizes. Four fucking names in his contact list and of course he hits the wrong one. He can hardly speak anymore. “There’s someone downstairs.”

“Stiles,” Cora tells him. “Stiles, we’re coming.”

“Need to…” He hunches over, bile rising in his throat. “To call Dad.”

“We’re coming, Stiles,” Cora repeats. “We’re coming.”

The phone falls from his shaking fingers.

 

Chapter Text

He can’t breathe. The roaring in his skull is loud. He’s dizzy. He scrabbles for his phone, too afraid of making noise to dig deeply amongst his shoes and his comic books and all the other junk that’s already accumulated in the bottom of his closet. His shaking fingers map the toe of a shoe. He can’t find his phone.

He doesn’t know how long it’s been.

He can’t tell if he actually passed out for a few minutes or not.

His closet smells like vomit, but he doesn’t remember how that happened.

When his bedroom doorknob rattles, Stiles presses his fists against his eyes and rocks forward.

“Stiles? Stiles, it’s Peter!”

What?

Time moves in strange, shuddering ways. In stops and starts. Stiles blinks, and Peter’s opening the closet doors. Blinks again and he’s sitting on his bed and Peter is talking to Derek in the doorway. Blinks again, and the damp press of a washcloth against his face brings him back to the present for a moment or two.

“Someone…” Stiles is shaking uncontrollably. “Someone in the house.”

“There’s nobody in the house.” Peter’s voice is steady. “Derek and Cora are making sure.”

Stiles starts when the washcloth touches his bare chest.

Oh god.

His skin. His scars.

He flinches back, and Peter drapes his comforter around his shoulders, pulling the edges closed so that Stiles is no longer exposed.

He wants his dad.

He wants his mom.

He burrows down inside his comforter instead, and sucks in air too thin to sustain him. His silent tears turn to choking sobs, and he loses time again.

 

***

 

Streetlights flash past the window of the Camaro. Stiles blinks at them, but they refuse to come into focus. Stiles is leaning against Cora.

“His heart’s beating so fast,” she’s saying to someone.

In the front seat, another one-sided conversation is going on:

“Sheriff Stilinski? This is Peter Hale.”

Stiles can’t stop shaking.

“Der, can you hear how fast it is?”

“He’ll be fine,” Derek says, or maybe that’s Peter answering what must be his father’s inevitable question.

Stiles closes his eyes again.

 

***

 

Stiles wakes up in a room he’s never seen before, in a bed with what he suspects is supposed to remain a pristine white comforter but won’t be for much longer given that Remus is stretched out beside him, snoring.

There’s a lamp on the bedside table, turned down low enough that it’s not too bright. It softly illuminates the room. The eggshell blue walls. The closed wooden shutters. The painting of a woodland scene hanging on the wall, brought to life in hazy shades of mist and filtered sunlight.

Stiles rolls toward Remus, and buries his face in his ruff.

Remus snuffles awake, and rumbles as Stiles curls into him.

Stiles pulls the comforter up around both of them, and breathes into Remus’s fur until his panic recedes.

 

***

 

“Holy shit,” his dad says at the edges of a dream, and Stiles stirs. “Is that a wolf?”

Stiles is aware of Remus’s warmth, of his weight, of his solid, safe presence that pulls Stiles in like a black hole until he just lets go and surrenders to it. To the dark and the quiet, and to the lack of all fear.

“That’s Remus,” Talia says quietly. “Stiles is very comfortable around him, and Remus would never bite.”

“Stiles… Stiles doesn’t sleep through without his meds.”

I do, Stiles wants to tell him, but he’s too drowsy to even open his eyes. I do tonight.

“He’s fine,” Talia says. “If he wakes up, Remus will let us know.”

 

***

 

The morning brings Stiles an aching back, an empty bed, and a sharp stab of panic as he remembers last night. He throws the comforter back and eases himself up off the bed. He remembers too late that he’s only wearing a pair of jeans. He was halfway through getting undressed for the shower when it all happened. He reaches back for the comforter instinctively, and then notices the shirt hanging over the rail at the end of the bed. A red long-sleeved t-shirt. Stiles tugs it on gratefully. It’s a little loose, but that’s no surprise. Stiles isn’t built like a Hale.

He shuffles over to the door and listens for a while, but he can’t hear anything. He opens the door and tries to figure out where the hell he is.

The Hale house is big.

Stiles picks a direction and sets out, finding a set of steps that he descends carefully, hand on the polished wood rail in case he slips. He finds himself in more familiar territory once he gets downstairs: the stairs deposit him at the back of the house near the kitchen.

Wow. Which means there’s probably another set of stairs at the front, right?

At what point do you start to categorize a big house as a mansion? Stiles is pretty sure that more than one set of stairs pushes the house firmly into mansion territory.

He can hear voices from the kitchen, so that seems a logical direction to drift.

When he sticks his head around the corner, belatedly combing his fingers through his sleep-mussed hair, he sees his dad and Peter and Talia sitting around the kitchen table, coffee mugs steaming.

His dad is on his feet the second he sees Stiles, and enveloping him in a hug. “You okay, kiddo?”

Stiles’s heartbeat ratchets up as an echo of last night’s panic washes over him. He doesn’t know how to answer that question. Okay? Apart from the crippling terror that he’s not safe in his own house? Again?

His dad guides him over to the table and sits him down.

“John tells me you like pancakes,” Talia says.

Stiles nods. “Um, yes.”

“We’ve been keeping some warm for you.” Talia gets up and retrieves a plate of pancakes from the oven. Then she adds fresh strawberries and honey and a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream, which is definitely out of Stiles’s modest breakfast league, and sets the plate down in front of him. He’s glad there are only two pancakes, not a whole stack. Dad must’ve mentioned the fact that Stiles and breakfast aren’t the greatest friends these days.

“Thank you,” Stiles murmurs.

His dad lets him get a few mouthfuls down before he starts to talk.

“Someone threw a rock through the front window,” he says. His voice is calm, but it’s got an undercurrent to it. His dad clearly wants to track down and kill a motherfucker. “Maybe just kids, or maybe someone who doesn’t like the new sheriff, but there was never anybody inside the house, okay?”

Stiles swallows a piece of pancake with difficulty.

“I’ve already called a security company,” his dad says. “We’re getting shatter-proof glass and security screens in every damn window, and a new alarm system. And one of the tech guys from work is going to help me install security cameras this weekend, the sort that you can see on your computer or your phone who’s outside.”

“That sounds expensive,” Stiles murmurs, guilt settling heavily in his stomach.

His dad closes his eyes briefly before opening them again. “Don’t you worry about that.”

“In the meantime, Stiles,” Talia tells him, “you’re welcome to stay here with us.”

Stiles looks to his dad.

“Just until I get the security put in,” his dad says. “And until this damn case is solved and I can get back into working normal hours. But only if you’re comfortable here. Otherwise we can work some—”

“I can stay here!” Stiles exclaims, and then looks to Talia. “I mean, if it’s really okay?”

Talia smiles. So does Peter.

“It’s perfectly okay,” Talia assures him. “We’re happy to have you.”

“Thank you,” Stiles says, and then looks across the table to Peter. “Thank you.”

For last night.

He can’t quite say it aloud. He’s afraid that acknowledging his vulnerability, his panic, will kickstart it all over again. He needs to maintain the distance for a while, to work through what happened, and his reaction to it, without reliving it. And it’s such a narrow distinction when it comes to his panic attacks. It’s so easy to tip over the edge into blind, crushing terror.

Peter holds his gaze and nods slightly, and Stiles feels a rush of warmth for him.

Peter’s been here, right? Peter knows. Even without saying, Peter knows.

“I have to go in to work, son,” his dad says. “Walk me out?”

 

***

 

“This house is huge,” his dad says on their way to the front door.

From somewhere close by, Stiles can hear a little kid shrieking with laughter. The toddler, maybe? He thinks she’s called Boo. Which has to be a nickname. And he’s not sure if she belongs to James and Talia, or to William and Arielle.

“Right?” he says, mouth quirking up in a quick smile.

His dad stops, and turns, and puts both his hands on Stiles’s shoulders. “Are you sure you’re okay to stay here?”

“Yeah. The Hales are great, and I like hanging out with Remus.”

“Jesus.” His dad snorts. “I wouldn’t have believed that if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”

Stiles’s smile grows. “He’s pretty awesome.”

You’re pretty awesome,” his dad replies staunchly.

Stile snorts. “So anyway, I guess you don’t think the Hales have anything to do with Victoria Argent’s murder if you’re happy to let me stay here.”

“Obviously." His dad raises his eyebrows. “Although last night after Peter called and said he was bringing you here, I might have phoned the station and got them to run a check on every single one of them. Even the kids.”

“Ooh! I bet Cora’s got some petty vandalism in her past, right?”

“If she does, she’s never been caught.”

“Sounds plausible.”

His dad laughs, and then his expression grows serious again. “I mean it though, Stiles. If you don’t want to stay here, we’ll find something else.”

“Dad, it’s good here,” Stiles tells him. “They’re nice. It’s not even weird or uncomfortable or anything. I mean, there are a lot of them, but it’s not a big deal. Like the normal rules don’t apply or something.”

John smiles and shakes his head. “I should have figured that when I saw you cuddling a wolf in your sleep.”

“Right?”

They reach the front door at last.

“Okay,” his dad says. “I’ll come by tonight and see you, and bring you some clothes and your laptop. Anything else you need?”

“My phone? I dropped it. In the—in the closet.”

“Okay, your phone too.”

Stiles’s face burns. “I also might have thrown up in there?”

“I’ll take care of it.” His dad pulls him into a hug. “Stiles, I’m so sorry I was so far away. I should have been here for you.”

“I wish you had been,” Stiles says into his neck. “But I know you can’t be, too.” He pats him on the back. “Go on. Go and catch a murderer.”

His dad pulls back, and brushes quickly at his eyes. “I’ll see you tonight, kiddo. Love you.”

“I love you too, Dad.”

 

***

 

Stiles spends most of the day in front of the television. Cora is at school, and most of the other adults are at work. Talia is around though, and so is Peter, and Boo takes it upon herself to climb up onto the couch beside Stiles and chatter at him in a language it’s possible only other toddlers understand. She eventually falls asleep on his chest, splayed out like a chubby little starfish. Stiles doesn’t want to move her, even when his back starts to twinge.

Sometimes Stiles likes to imagine having a normal future. Like, he’s always assumed that at some point he’d be a dad. He doesn’t exactly know if there will be a mom in the picture, or another dad, but there would always be kids. He’s seventeen. It’s not like he wants kids with any great burning need or something, just that when he thinks of family, that idea has always included a kid or two.

Except now…

It’s funny.

He always figured that somewhere along the way these things would all fall into place. A partner, a family, a future. Stiles has never thought much about how to go about acquiring those things, but he didn’t think it would be hard. Most people do it, right?

Stiles isn’t most people anymore.

How is he supposed to find someone who will love him, when he can’t even look at his own face in the mirror? When he can’t live a normal life, because every day he’s dealing with chronic pain that the doctors say has to be managed. Not healed, but managed. This is his life now. Ugliness and pain and a reality where he’s too scared to open a fucking door by himself.

He closes his eyes, his throat swelling with tears he’s determined not to shed, and strokes Boo’s dark, downy hair.

He just wants to be normal. He never realized how fucking special that was.

“Stiles?”

Stiles jolts, his eyes flashing open, and winces as a sharp burst of pain radiates out from his spine. Cracked vertebra. He’s so lucky, all the doctors said. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to be walking. It’s never felt lucky.

Peter leans down over him, and picks Boo up. She grumbles sleepily, and he sets her down on the couch across from the one Stiles is laying on. Then he turns back to Stiles. “You’re in pain.”

“A bit.”

He wonders if he should be shocked when Peter reaches out and touches him. When he slides a hand under the back of Stiles’s neck and curls his fingers into his hair. His palm is warm though, and it feels good. It actually feels better than good. The pain in Stiles’s spine fades steadily, and he gets the same floaty feeling he does with Percocet.

“Wha—”

“Pressure points,” Peter says with a slight smile, which is weird, because it doesn’t feel like he’s actually using any pressure, but Stiles isn’t going to argue. “Close your eyes if you like. Take a nap.”

Stiles obeys. He feels like he’s sinking into a warm bath. “That feels nice.”

“I’m glad.” Peter’s voice is close.

Stiles opens his eyes briefly to find that Peter’s now kneeling beside the couch. “You don’t have to…”

“Just relax.”

Stiles closes his eyes again. Peter’s touch is nice. Stiles stirs uncomfortably when he realizes his body is reacting in a horribly clichéd way, but how long has it been since he felt this good? Of course his dick takes the opportunity to remind him it’s there.

And…he’s going to stop thinking about his dick right now, because that will just make it worse.

Instead he’s going to do exactly what Peter said, and take a nap.

He’s earned it.

 

***

 

When he wakes up an hour or so later, Peter and Boo have both vanished, and Remus is curled up beside the couch, snoring.

Chapter Text

Stiles was never that great around new people, even when he was younger. The combination of ADD and a failure to easily read social cues made other kids, and their parents, a little standoffish. Not that he didn’t have friends, but he didn’t have close friends. Things definitely got better when he was diagnosed and medicated, but he was still always the odd one out in a group, mostly because of his lack of brain-to-mouth filter, and his unholy love of snark and sarcasm. Then, after what happened, it felt like those parts of him had been torn out. He wasn’t sure he’d ever get them back. But the Hales treat him just like a normal person. There’s no moment of awkwardness when he says something self-depreciating. No moment of pity.

He fits in around the Hales, and never once gets the impression that they’re bending themselves into different shapes to make room for him. It makes sense, he supposes. There are twelve people living in the Hale house. The Hales must have learned from an early age how to deal with living in a crowd.

By the weekend, Stiles has learned some things of his own. He’s learned not to take Talia’s growl seriously when she tells him to put the laundry basket down and back the hell away from it. It turns out there’s a roster for chores, and Stiles’s name isn’t on it. He learns that Talia is fine with him helping out in the kitchen for meals, she just doesn’t want him straining himself by hauling laundry around. And okay, yes, laundry here is a whole other thing than at home where it’s just Stiles and his dad. With the Hales, it’s less of a chore and more of an industrial undertaking.

He’s learned that Derek inherited his love of books from his father, and that after dinner James likes to sneak off to the library and read. He’s learned the one rule James insists on is no electronics in the library. He’s also learned that doesn’t count for Boo’s Leapfrog tablet.

He’s learned that Arielle is doing a Masters in Environmental Studies, and that she survives it by drinking copious amounts of green tea. He’s learned that she’d rather spend her time working in the sanctuary than working on her thesis.

He’s learned that William is a baseball fan, and collects memorabilia as avidly as James collects rare books.

He’s learned that Derek’s secret weakness is hot chocolate, that Laura is a closet Eurovision fan, and that Cora, just like he always suspected, is a criminal mastermind.

On Saturday morning Stiles wanders down to the kitchen.

“Hurry up! He’s coming!” Laura hisses.

Stiles leans in the doorway.

Laura and Cora are casually standing in front of the counter, jostling to block Derek from view. And Derek is doing something with strawberries.

“What’s going on?” Stiles asks them.

“Cake!” Boo shrieks from underneath the table. Her face is covered in frosting.

Laura and Cora sigh, and move apart.

Derek is placing strawberries on a cake. Stiles moves closer.

Happy bithday Stiles!

“Wow,” Stiles says. His heart beats faster. “How did you know?”

“I saw you throw that packet mix in the cart when we went shopping,” Cora tells him, slipping her arms around him and pressing a kiss to his cheek. “I figured it was for a special occasion.”

“Let me guess,” Stiles says. “You stole my wallet to get a look at my driver’s license?”

“No!” Cora grins. “I got Danny to hack into the school records.”

“Wow,” Stiles says. “Invasion of privacy and possibly criminal activity aside, thanks.”

Laura glares at Derek. “You forgot the R in birthday.”

“Shit.” Derek makes a face. “I’ll fix it up.”

Laura hugs Stiles. “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks.”

Derek’s hug is just as warm as Laura’s. “Happy birthday.”

“We’re having a party this afternoon,” Cora tells him. “Well, Dad’s getting the grill out a day early. I invited Scott to come over, but I didn’t know if there was anyone else you wanted to come?”

“Not really, I guess,” Stiles says. “Mostly just you guys and my dad.”

“Good,” Laura says, clapping her hands together. “Now, get your ass down to the sanctuary and check the troughs before we open. The wolves won’t want to wait just because it’s your birthday.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Stiles says with a grin.

“And fix that damn cake, Derek! Bithday! Jesus Christ. ”

Derek rolls his eyes at her and gets to work.

 

***

 

It’s good to see his dad laughing again. It’s been so long since Stiles has seen him smile or laugh without something behind it—some echo of sadness and grief—that Stiles almost forgot what he looked like when he did it. He feels a pang of guilt. For the last eight months he’s kept himself locked away, he’s let his dad be the only one close to him, and by doing that he’s kept his dad locked away too, hasn’t he? But now, over by the grill, his dad is laughing at something James says, and it makes the world seem a little brighter, even as it makes Stiles’s eyes sting at the same time.

“Dude,” Scott says with a smile, sitting down in the folding chair beside Stiles’s. “This burger is incredible!”

“Right?” Stiles agrees.

“And this whole place,” Scott says.

Scott’s wearing a button-up shirt and has his hair combed into an unflattering way. Apparently his mom wouldn’t let him visit the Hale house without looking “decent”. Scott and his mom have different ideas about what decent means.

“Holy crap!” Scott exclaims, because yep, here’s Remus, planting himself on Stiles’s feet and staring at Scott narrowly. “Dude, is that a wolf?”

Stiles leans forward to tug at Remus’s ears. Remus flicks them back and forth to try and escape—because clearly he’s all about trying to intimidate Scott and not look like an overgrown puppy—but eventually he just huffs and lets Stiles have his way.

“Yeah, I know, dude,” Stiles tells the wolf. “But you love it, right?”

Remus chuffs.

“He’s totally a marshmallow,” Stiles promises Scott.

“A marshmallow with big teeth,” Scott mutters.

Remus looks smug.

Stiles looks around the back yard. Most of the Hales are here. Boo and the younger kids are running around with a ball, and Derek is trying to referee and make sure Boo doesn’t get knocked over. Boo doesn’t seem to mind when it happens though. She just yells indignantly, then gets up and keeps going.

Laura is in line for a burger, and she’s pulled Stiles’s dad into conversation. Whatever they’re talking about, his dad is giving some sort of thoughtful, detailed answer.

Talia and Arielle aren’t here. Stiles’s birthday is a tag team event, just like Sunday lunch, because someone has to be on hand at the sanctuary. They have one or two part-time workers from town covering the ticket sales and the snack stand, but Talia and Arielle are still needed for the talks and demonstrations.

Derek has only just got back from Story Time, and he flatly refused to keep his face paint on even though it’s Stiles’s birthday.

Cora heads over toward Stiles and Scott, a burger in hand, and sinks down into the empty chair on Stiles’s other side.

“So, Allison asked me to go to prom with her,” Scott says suddenly, looking worried.

“That’s great, right?”

“Yeah.” Scott smiles but still looks anxious. “I like her a lot, but her mom just died. She’s probably not thinking clearly at the moment.”

Stiles shrugs, because he’s not certain if he can give Scott the reassurance he’s looking for. Of course Allison’s not thinking clearly. She’s drowning.

“I’m going to get a soda,” Cora says. “You guys want one?”

She waits for their nods before she heads off.

Scott relaxes slightly. “Sorry. It’s weird. I keep forgetting I shouldn’t talk about the Argents around the Hales, you know?”

Remus’s ears flick.

“Yeah, that’s some history there, apparently.” Stiles glances around the yard, but Peter’s nowhere in sight. Good.

“Yeah,” Scott says with a sigh. “And Allison isn’t like that, you know? I mean, her dad is kind of intense, and all the guns freak me out a bit—”

“The guns?”

“Yeah, he’s like a gun dealer,” Scott says. “There’s probably no way to say that where it doesn’t sound like he’s part of a cartel or something, but it’s all legal and everything. I think.” He shrugs “And I’m pretty sure he meant to be creepy when he just happened to be cleaning his guns when he was asking me who I was, and what my grades were like, and all that stuff. But her grandfather…” Scott makes a face.

Stiles catches James’s gaze from all the way across the yard. Jesus. Maybe they shouldn’t be talking about this here? Except there’s no way anyone is close enough to hear.

“What about the grandfather?” he asks Scott in an undertone.

Remus’s gaze is fixed on Scott. Or, more probably, Scott’s burger.

“He’s really weird.” Scott grimaces. “You know in like Mafia movies where someone offs the don, and then there’s this little kid all dressed up in his suit at the funeral, and everyone tells them they’ve got to be the man now?”

“Yeah.”

“I swear to God I came back from the bathroom and walked in on the end of that speech,” Scott says. “Except they’re not the mafia, and Allison’s obviously not a man.” He wrinkles his nose. “It was just really weird. And now her grandfather wants to take her on some camping trip or something next weekend, and her dad is pissed, and Allison’s upset, and I have no idea what’s going on with them.”

“Wow.” Stiles has no idea how to even begin unpacking all of that. And he doesn’t know Scott very well, not really, but he knows that Scott is a good guy, and that if he’s worried about Allison, then there’s a reason for it.

Scott shrugs again, and chews his bottom lip. He opens his mouth to say something, but then Cora comes back with the sodas and the conversation dies.

 

***

 

The Argent thing itches at the back of Stiles’s skull for the rest of the afternoon and Stiles isn’t exactly sure why. Just that there’s something there, and he doesn’t have enough information to make the connections he needs. He smiles through the rest of his party, gets legitimately overwhelmed when it turns out there are gifts, and flushes with pleased embarrassment when he cuts the cake as everyone sings.

“I’m proud of you, son,” his dad says, hugging him tightly. “Hell, eighteen. There were plenty of times you were growing up that I didn’t think…”

He cuts himself off.

“You mean like when I rode my tricycle down the stairs in the parking garage?” Stiles teases gently, because he knows that’s exactly what his dad means. The stupid, reckless stuff Stiles did as a kid. Not… not the other thing.

His dad laughs softly and kisses him on the top of the head. “Yeah.”

As the afternoon wears on, Stiles finds himself glancing back at the house more and more, and wondering where Peter is. When Scott leaves, Stiles feigns tiredness, and heads inside. He carries his gifts up to his guest room, Remus’s claws clicking on the hardwood floor beside him.

“Okay,” Stiles says. “Where’s Peter’s room?”

Remus stares at him, ears pricked.

“Don’t play dumb with me, buddy. Where’s Peter’s room? Where’s Peter?”

Remus makes an odd whining noise, and trots along the corridor to the stairs. Instead of heading down, they go up. Because of course Peter lives on the third floor. How else would he be able to look down on everyone?

Honestly. Stiles is expecting to walk into some Victorian labyrinth of scientific curiosities or something, but the third floor is as bright and welcoming as the second, and the door that Remus leads him to isn’t particularly sinister.

Stiles knocks gently, but nobody answers.

Remus huffs, and does the wolf equivalent of rolling his eyes.

“Peter?” Stiles calls and then, against all his better judgment, he opens the door.

It’s not a room, exactly. It’s more of a suite. The door opens into a cross between a study and a living room. It’s not messy, but someone definitely lives here. There are books on the desk, a laptop that’s charging, and a stack of bills and receipts that Stiles doesn’t look at too closely.

“Hello? Peter?” Stiles asks.

Remus pads forward into the bedroom, and leaps up onto the bed. The bed is unmade. The comforter is dark brown and mussed up. The pillows are creased. And Stiles immediately imagines Peter sleeping here, maybe tossing and turning a little. It’s a strangely intimate thought.

It’s also incredibly fucking creepy, given that Stiles just walked uninvited into the guy’s room.

“Remus, come on,” he hisses. “Let’s go!”

The wolf yawns loudly.

“Fine,” he says. “But I’m outta here before we get caught!”

He heads back to his room again.

Remus doesn’t follow him.

 

***

 

“It was Derek.”

Stiles looks up from his book, startled.

Peter is leaning in his doorway. He steps inside, and gestures to the bed.

Stiles is lying on his stomach, a position that he favors for reading but causes him to seize up faster than any other. He nods at Peter, and shuffles sideways a bit. The mattress dips when Peter sits.

“Happy birthday,” he says, as though it’s an afterthought.

“Thanks.”

Peter puts his hand on the back of Stiles’s neck, and Stiles fights not to moan aloud as the simple touch floods him with warmth and eases the tension he’s carrying in his body. It’s not quite pain, not yet, but it had been building toward it.

“It was Derek,” Peter says again. “That question you want to ask, about the Argents.”

Stiles flashes back to the newspaper report he’d read on his phone: statutory rape.

“He was sixteen. She used him to get close to us. She intended to kill us all.”

“Fuck.” Stiles closes his eyes and rests his forehead on his pillow for a moment. “Okay, but you know that doesn’t actually answer my questions, right? I mean, it just opens the d—it just raises bigger questions. Like why the hell Kate Argent wanted to kill you all.”

“Because she believed we are abominations.”

Stiles’s heart beats a little faster. “Why?”

“Because she was batshit crazy seems to be the popular choice,” Peter says, and Stiles can hear the slight smile in his voice.

“Just—” Stiles shifts slightly, and his lower back twinges. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Well, I suspect,” Peter says, sliding his other hand under Stiles’s shirt, and zeroing right in on his lower spine, “that’s the definition of crazy.”

Stiles can feel Peter’s thumb resting against a set of surgical scars. It doesn’t make him panic like it should.

“Victoria Argent was the one who handed her in to the police,” Peter continues. “That’s what Chris Argent told Talia when he visited the other day, apparently.”

Stiles starts. That, he did not expect.

“It turns out Victoria had a moral code after all,” Peter says. “Who knew?”

“I don’t…” Stiles doesn’t understand. He thinks of Scott, comparing the Argents to the mafia. He thinks of blood feuds and vendettas and things that have no place in the modern world, in small town California. He thinks of Ms. Poole his English teacher, for some reason, and then it snags in his brain: matriarchal versus matrilineal. “Was… was Victoria the head of the family?”

It sounds stupid to even say it. Because he doesn’t mean head of the family like the breadwinner, or the person who gets to carve the turkey at Thanksgiving, does he? He’s talking about something very different here. Something totally fucking anachronistic, except it makes a weird sort of sense.

“Yes,” Peter says simply.

“And now… and now Allison is? Except she doesn’t know what’s going on either.”

“Very probably.” Peter’s hand slides up his spine and then back down again, leaving goosebumps in its wake.

“Who are they though?” Stiles asks.

Peter’s hand trembles for a moment against the skin of his lower back. “Hunters.”

Stiles twists his neck to look at Peter, and his heart freezes.

Because for just a moment it looks like Peter’s eyes aren’t blue. And it has to be a trick of the light, right? Even if Stiles can’t figure out yet how. Because for just a second, just until he blinks, Peter’s eyes are the same yellow as a wolf’s.

Chapter Text

Breakfast at the Hale house is a controlled sort of chaos. Everyone digs in to help out. On his first few days, Stiles just sort of stood back and let it happen, but now he helps get the juice and the milk out of the refrigerator, and sets the table with Matty, one of the younger kids. It’s not much, but it stops him from feeling entirely useless.

Peter is usually late for breakfast, snagging a few pieces of cold toast and a coffee while everyone else is bustling to get out the door, but on Monday morning he’s already at the table when Stiles arrives. He’s helping Boo eat her cereal. It’s a mess, really.

“Good morning, Stiles. How are you feeling?”

“Fine.” Stiles quirks his mouth up in a smile. “Thanks.”

He didn’t really talk to Peter yesterday. He hung around with Remus instead, taking a series of short walks in the Preserve and bouncing his ideas and random theories off the trees.

He’d also gone to the sanctuary for Story Time, and sat back with his hood pulled forward while Derek read a picture book for the two little kids who’d been there. Something strange and protective had bubbled up inside him. Not for Derek now, so much, but for the echo of the teenager he could see in Derek’s face. Derek had been sixteen, and Kate Argent had manipulated him. He must have trusted her, and she’d tried to kill the Hales.

The why of that still prickles at the edges of his consciousness.

Abomination.

Peter had said she thought the Hales were abominations, a more laden word than simple hatred could match. There is something almost fervent about it. Something almost religious. Stiles is sure a word like that comes straight out of the Westboro playbook. He just doesn’t see how to apply it to a family like the Hales.

At school on Monday he’s quiet, and spends his lessons doodling in his notebooks instead of paying attention. At lunch he sits with Scott and Allison and Lydia, and Jackson and Danny again.

Cora doesn’t sit with them at lunch. She hasn’t even approached Stiles at lunch, not since Allison had started sitting with him and Scott.

Stiles looks for her out in the cafeteria, and spots her sitting with a group of kids at one of the far tables. There is a boy hanging over her shoulder, and Cora doesn’t look too impressed by him. As Stiles watches, the boy drops a hand onto her shoulder.

Cora grabs his wrist, twists his arm, and flattens it to the table. She says something to the boy that Stiles can’t hear but is unmistakably a threat. Her lip curls the same way Remus’s does when he growls.

The boy scurries away as soon as she releases him, clutching his wrist, and Cora gives a small theatrical bow to her laughing friends.

Stiles shoves fries into his mouth and watches, while his brain ticks over.

 

***

 

There are a hundred different pieces to the Hale puzzle, probably. A hundred little things that didn’t quite make sense when they happened, but the ability of the human brain to rationalize what it doesn’t understand, or to push it to the back of the mind, is amazing. And Stiles has pushed so much to the back of his mind when it comes to the Hales.

So much.

So many tiny little things. Little grains of sand that are hardly noticeable on their own, until there are enough to build a castle.

A returned phone.

A closed kitchen door.

“His heart’s beating so fast. Der, can you hear how fast it is?”

He knew from the start there was something different about the Hales.

Stiles is quiet at dinner. Quiet enough that he catches their concerned glances, their small frowns. Peter is the only one of them who is smiling slightly when he looks at Stiles.

He should be afraid, he thinks. Afraid of what is either the truth, or of the insane place his brain is taking him.

“Stiles?” Talia asks softly. “Are you feeling okay, sweetheart?”

“Mmm.” He chews on the scar tissue on his bottom lip for a while, and uses his fork to push his food around his plate. He wishes his dad was here, but of course he’s working late. He’s drowning in a case that makes no sense, unless someone rearranges all the pieces. Unless Stiles does. Unless he’s prepared to see a very different sort of picture than the one he expects.

“Are you sure?” Talia asks him.

Stiles looks her in the eye. “Are you human?”

In the sudden, shocked silence, Laura drops her water glass and it spills all over the table.

 

***

 

There’s no question that Talia Hale is the leader of the family. When she rises from the table and beckons Stiles to follow her, he doesn’t hesitate for a moment. There’s always been something commanding about Talia, even when she’s wearing jeans and a faded t-shirt.

Behind them, in the dining room, it’s still silent. And then Stiles hears the click of claws on the floorboards, and turns in time to see Remus slipping out behind them. Out of a room he hadn’t been in previously.

It’s all the confirmation he needs.

What was that joke he’d made? How nobody would ever suspect he was a superhero, even if he was never seen in the same room as his alter ego?

Yeah.

It doesn’t feel so funny now he’s been the oblivious one.

Talia leads him down the hallway to the library. She leaves the door open long enough for the wolf to sidle in after them, and then closes it.

“Come sit with me, Stiles.”

Stiles perches on the edge of the leather sofa. It’s worn and comfortable, patches of it more like soft suede than leather. It’s old. It’s used. The Hales are obviously wealthy, but nothing in their house feels like it’s just for show.

Talia sits down in the chair opposite.

The wolf sits on the floor in front of Stiles, yellow gaze fixed on him. Stiles’s fingers itch to reach out and touch, but he doesn’t. Feels too weird now, knowing.

“Werewolves,” Talia says quietly.

Werewolves.

“Oh,” he says, and waits to feel more surprised than he is.

“I should have known we couldn’t keep it hidden from you, Stiles,” Talia tells him with a wry smile. “You’re too clever.”

“I’ve just read a lot of comic books,” Stiles says, his voice wavering. He glances at the wolf. He doesn’t want to tell Talia how many clues Peter dropped for him. He figures she probably knows anyway.

“I’m sure you have a lot of questions,” Talia tells him. “But before I do my best to answer them, I am going to ask you to swear you won’t tell anyone.”

“I don’t really need a psych evaluation on top of everything else,” Stiles says, his heart thumping loudly.

“Oh, it’s not the people who would think you were crazy that worries me,” Talia says. “It’s the people who’d believe it.”

“The Argents.”

“People like them.”

“Hunters,” Stiles says, gaze flicking to the wolf and back to Talia. “The Argents are hunters, and that’s why Kate did what she did.”

“Yes.”

“And hunters are matriarchal?”

“Not all hunters. But the Argents, yes.”

“So Victoria was the one who made the decision to turn Kate in,” Stiles says. “And somebody killed her because of it.”

“Possibly, yes.” Talia inclines her head. She looks like a queen at the moment, regal and composed. “Kate broke the Argent Code by coming after us. Nobody in my pack has ever harmed an innocent.”

Stiles chews his lip again for a moment, frowning. “Okay, but you need to tell my dad!”

“Stiles, we can’t—”

“But you need to,” Stiles insists. “Because everybody will be looking at this like it’s one of you guys getting revenge on one of them, but it’s not. And my dad knows that, but he’s still wasting his time because he doesn’t have the big picture!”

“Stiles.”

“And what if it’s dangerous?” Stiles demands. “What if not knowing will get him hurt?” He rubs his forehead. “Holy shit. It’s the grandfather. It is, isn’t it? It’s Allison’s grandfather, and he did it because Victoria turned Kate in, and he couldn’t stop her making that decision because she was head of the family, but what? Why not six years ago? There’s a piece that doesn’t fit.”

He closes his eyes for a moment and sees a pair of dark eyes. A curl of hair. Dimples when she smiles.

“Allison,” he says. “Six years ago she was a kid. But now she’s old enough to run the family, so that’s why he waited until now to kill her mom. Fuck.”

The wolf rumbles.

Stiles’s breath rasps a little in the quiet.

“My first thought when Chris came and told me that Victoria was the one who’d turned Kate in, was that Kate must have got out somehow.” Talia’s expression is grave. “But she hadn’t. So yes, I think it probably is Gerard.”

“Then tell my dad that,” Stiles urges her. “You have to tell him.”

“Stiles, the only thing that protects us is secrecy,” Talia said. “The more people who know, the greater the risk.”

“Okay, sure, but it’s my dad.”

“Stiles—”

“What are you going to do?” Stiles asks, his heart beating faster. “Stop me from telling him?”

The wolf looks at Talia intently, and shifts so that he’s sitting between her and Stiles.

“Peter,” Talia says softly. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Stiles thinks—hopes—that she means she’s not a threat to him. Because what the hell does he know, really? The Hales have been hiding their true nature. What if it’s darker than Stiles imagines? Except… except that’s stupid. He’s been living with them. He knows instinctively that they’re good people.

Werewolves.

Whatever.

Except Stiles is fully ready to reevaluate his opinion, depending on what Talia says next. He holds her gaze steadily. “It’s my dad.”

Talia regards him silently for a moment, and then she sighs. “I’ll talk to your father. I’ll ask him to come over tomorrow. Do you really think he can handle knowing the truth?”

“He’s a Stilinski,” Stiles tells her with a shrug, relief flooding him. “We’re tough.”

Talia smiles at that.

The wolf gives a pleased huff.

 

***

 

All of Stiles’s courage leaves him the moment he gets out of the library. Instead of going back to the dining room to face the rest of the Hales he heads for the rear stairs instead, and climbs them as quickly as he can, pulling himself along by the rail. The wolf’s claws click on the steps behind him.

“I should be angry at you,” Stiles tells him. “Peter.”

Peter whines.

Stiles doesn’t know why, but he doesn’t stop when he reaches the second floor. He keeps going, seeking a different sanctuary than that provided by his sparse guest room. By the time he gets to the third floor his knees are hurting, and he’s not sure they’ll hold him up for much longer.

Too much, too soon, his physical therapist back in L.A. used to tell him, but Stiles has never been a patient person. It’s the ADD maybe, making him twitchy and forcing him to move even when his body can’t keep up.

He shuffles along to Peter’s door. It’s ajar. He pushes his way inside, Peter at his heels, and closes it behind them.

Peter trots through to the bedroom and leaps onto the mussed-up comforter. He tilts his head and looks inquiringly at Stiles.

“I should be angry with you,” Stiles repeats, but crosses the floor and sinks down onto the bed. He toes his sneakers off, and they thump to the floor. Peter settles in beside him, lying crossways to Stiles with his head resting on his abdomen.

Stiles reaches down and scritches behind his ears. “This is fucking weird.”

Peter huffs.

“I’m petting a grown man!”

Another huff.

Stiles closes his eyes. “I have two paintings on glass. One is Remus, and one is Peter, and when I put them over each other and hold them up to the light, they don’t fit together.”

Peter rumbles.

“I don’t mean the way you look,” Stiles tells him.

His feelings for Remus are simple and straightforward. Remus is awesome. Remus is fun, and ridiculously snarky, and way too fucking smart for an animal. Well, Stiles knows why now, right?

But Peter… Okay, well, Peter is snarky too. But there’s also a darkness in him that echoes Stiles’s own. They’ve both been touched by violence, scarred by it. Peter is complicated and confusing, and Stiles is drawn to him even though he doesn’t really understand the reasons. Was it instinct telling him that he could trust Peter as much as he does Remus? Or something different?

Should he even try and separate his feelings for both of them when they’re the same person? Or animal? Or whatever?

“You don’t have scars when you’re a wolf,” Stiles says, digging his fingers into Peter’s ruff.

Peter rumbles.

“No wonder.” Stiles’s throat aches. “No wonder you like being the wolf.”

Peter sighs.

Stiles’s phone vibrates in the pocket of his jeans, and he tugs it out and squints at the screen. It’s a text from Cora: Are you coming back downstairs?

No, he texts back. I’m thinking through some stuff.

You’re not leaving, are you?

If he’d even thought of it for a second, Cora’s text would have been enough to stop him. She’s his friend. She went grocery shopping with him, and she made Derek make him a birthday cake, and when he called her that night, she came without hesitating. That’s who she is. That’s what counts.

That’s what counts for all the Hales.

You can’t get rid of me that easily, Hale.

He thinks of her downstairs, and hopes that makes her laugh.

 

***

 

He wakes once in the middle of the night, gasping his way free from a nightmare. He must have been thrashing, he thinks, because his back is starting to spasm, and there’s a tightness in his core that always leads to everything seizing up.

The room is illuminated by silver moonlight.

“You’re okay,” Peter tells him softly, his fingers curled around Stiles’s wrists. “You’re safe.”

Stiles relaxes back into the mattress.

Peter releases his wrists, and slides a hand under the small of his back.

The spasms stop almost immediately, and the pain leaches away. Stiles blinks as he sees the black lines climbing the veins in Peter’s forearm before they fade into nothing.

“What’s that?” he mumbles.

“That’s your pain,” Peter tells him. “I’m taking it.”

“Does it hurt?”

“No.”

That’s probably a lie, Stiles thinks.

“Dude, you’re better than Percocet.”

High praise indeed,” Peter murmurs. “Close your eyes, Stiles, and go back to sleep.”

“Is Talia angry at me?”

“No.” He can hear the smile in Peter’s voice. “She’ll growl at you for a few days because you challenged her, but she could never be truly angry with you. She knows you’re right.”

“Have to tell my dad.”

“I agree.”

“Peter, you won’t let anything happen to my dad, will you?” he mumbles.

“No,” Peter says. “Not a single thing.”

Stiles drifts back off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Stiles chooses not to go to school on Tuesday morning. Not when his dad is coming over soon to speak to Talia. Because he knows his dad. He knows that as soon as he wraps his brain around the whole werewolf thing—and okay, that might take a while—that he’s going to want to see Stiles and make sure he’s okay. And then his dad can go and arrest Gerard Argent, and the whole thing will be over, and… and then what? Then Stiles can move back into the house in town? He feels a pang at that, and not just because today’s the first morning he can remember in forever where he’s actually woken up and been able to move freely without having to wait for all his muscles to unknot.

He just… the idea of going back to a mostly empty house scares him a little. Even when the case is over his dad won’t be there for Stiles all the time. And when Stiles is alone, that’s when his thoughts get crowded with panic. That’s when he finds himself sinking so far into his depression that he doesn’t even want to climb out again. Living with the Hales has been good for him. Good enough that the thought of backsliding scares him.

Guilt follows on fast from that fear. Good old dependable guilt. Because his dad has given up so much for him, and tried so hard to make a home for them outside of L.A., and Stiles can’t even imagine telling him to his face that he’s happy with the Hales, or as close to happy as he can remember being in forever. He loves his dad beyond words, but his dad can’t be there all the time.

Stiles is so used to his dad being all he has, that it makes him feel almost physically ill to realize that maybe that’s isn’t true. He doesn’t… he doesn’t want to push his dad aside. Just maybe, for the first time, he wants to let some other people in as well.

Stiles is jittery, anxious, and finds himself stalking off into the Preserve with Remus—Peter—at his side.

“If I fall down and hurt myself, you have to change back and fix me,” he tells the wolf. “Even if you’d be naked!”

Peter gives him a haughty look.

“Yeah, I bet you look pretty damn—” Stiles cuts himself off and snorts. “And I really need to remember that I’m not actually talking to an animal and you can understand every word that comes out of my mouth.”

Peter bumps his head gently against Stiles’s hip.

“How about we agree that anything I say to you in wolf form cannot be held against me?”

Peter chuffs.

“I’m taking that as a yes, just so you know.”

Peter nips at his fingertips.

They continue on through the Preserve. Stiles isn’t sure, but this might be somewhere near the spot that Peter found him the day he ran away from school. Of course the whole problem with the woods is that it all looks pretty much the same, right?

That is definitely not true for Peter. He stops sometimes to nose the ground, or check a tree like he carries some secret map of the Preserve inside him and has to check everything is in order, and Stiles wonders how much of him is the human in those moments, and how much is the wolf. Does he see the world in monochrome? Does scent become sharper than sight? How does the wolf see Stiles? How does the man see Stiles?

Probably…probably something Stiles should have clarified before climbing into his bed last night.

He flushes a little, and tugs a leaf off a nearby branch. He tears it into little shreds, and then rains them down in a shower of confetti onto Peter’s snout.

Peter looks unimpressed.

Stiles picks a piece of leaf out of his whiskers. “There. Better.”

Peter chuffs.

In the pocket of his jeans, Stiles’s phone buzzes. He digs it out to find a text message from his dad: Are you ok?

I’m good, he sends back.

Any idea why Talia wants to see me?

“Way to go for the million dollar question, Dad,” Stiles mutters. He hates lying to his dad. It’s never something he’s liked doing, and in the past eight months it’s become unthinkable. There was probably a time before that when Stiles lied as easily as breathing—about where he was, how late he was staying out, who he was hanging with—but now, no.

No.

She probably wants to formally adopt me, he sends back, cringing as he does it.

It’s a moment before he gets a response: I’m being serious, kid.

Stiles makes a face at his phone. He settles for a form of the truth he hopes will pass muster: I don’t know exactly what she’s going to say. But it’s important.

He’s sure that his dad will be frustrated as hell with an answer like that. Ok kid. I’ll be there in 15.

Stiles shows Peter the screen. “We should head back to the house, huh?”

Peter huffs in agreement.

Stiles takes a few strides through the trees, only to have Peter latch his teeth into the hem of his hoodie and tug him in the opposite direction.

If wolves could roll their eyes, Stiles thinks, Peter would be doing it now.

 

***

 

The sunlight spikes through the canopy in flashes.

A spider’s web gleams between two spindly branches.

Damp fronds curl out from a nest of ferns in a shaded hollow.

The air smells of petrichor.

The thin rubber soles of Stiles’s Converse crumble the brown leaves underfoot.

Peter’s paws are massive, soundless.

The birds still suddenly.

Stiles looks up.

A flash of light that isn’t the sun.

A high-pitched beeping noise that works up into an ear-blistering whine, and then nothing.

 

***

 

Stiles knows panic when he sees it.

Peter runs back and forth, body close to the ground, ears flattened and tail hugging his hind legs. He’s whining. He’s in pain.

For a moment Stiles doesn’t understand, and then he realizes it’s the high-pitched beeping. The sound that built up fast but went nowhere. It didn’t go nowhere, did it? It climbed out of the high range of Stiles’s human hearing, but Peter can still hear it, the ultrasonic sound pitched especially for him. Peter can still hear it, and it’s hurting him.

And then there’s a man with a gun.

Peter whines, ears flicking, and then growls and bares his fangs at the man who approaches. Positions his trembling body between the man and Stiles.

The man is a hunter, Stiles knows instinctively. Not a hunter with a beer gut and a flannel shirt, but a hunter. A balaclava. Tactical goggles. Gloves. He looks like a member of a SWAT team.

And then, like apparitions, two more men appear.

“Wait,” Stiles says, or maybe he doesn’t say anything at all. Maybe he can’t force the word out from underneath the heavy weight of knowing. Of knowing it won’t make a difference. Of knowing his nightmares are inescapable after all. “Please d—”

The man shoots him.

At least this time it was quick.

 

***

 

“You’re okay, kid,” his dad tells him over and over again. “You’re okay. Stay with me, kid. Stay with me.”

There’s an ambulance. How’d they get an ambulance all the way into the Preserve? The light shining through the round panels in the back doors is bright, and Stiles remembers this. This is L.A. He remembers the way he saw something fluttering outside the window, some bird, and it was only there for a fraction of a second, and it was such a random fucking thing to notice, and then it was gone.

“I’ve got you, kid,” his dad says. “I’ve got you, Stiles.”

 

***

 

Stiles comes to on a concrete floor. He’s not dead then. Or he is, and this is the most disappointing afterlife ever. Also, he hurts, so he’s pretty damn sure he’s still alive. He lifts his hand toward his neck where the man shot him, and discovers that his wrists are cuffed together. When his sluggish brain finally figures out he has to move both his hands at the same time or he’ll accomplish nothing, he finds the stinging bump where he was apparently tranquilized. Because Stiles knows sedatives. He knows what it feels like to wake up as though he’s fighting his way through dark water, struggling to break the surface.

He checks his pockets for his phone, but of course it’s gone.

Stiles takes a deep breath and holds it to try and ward off what seems like an inevitable panic attack, and tries to get his bearings.

He’s in a… a swimming pool? An empty indoor swimming pool? The concrete is gritty, coated in a layer of dust. There are no steps. No ladder. No way out.

Stiles’s heart races and his chest tightens.

“Peter?” he hisses softly, but there’s no answer. “Peter?”

Stiles hunches over and draws his legs up, and buries his face in his knees. There’s nowhere to hide here. No way out and nowhere to hide.

 

***

 

Back when Stiles was seven and avidly reading the Encyclopedia Brown books his mom had found in the used book store down the road from their apartment, a little thing like the idea of waking up in an empty swimming pool wouldn’t have bothered him at all. When he was seven, he was going to be a detective like his daddy. When he was seven there was no such thing as danger, just bigger and better adventure.

He was so sure of himself when he was a kid. A cocky little brat who knew that he might not be faster or stronger than all the other kids, but he was definitely smarter.

Stiles is the textbook definition of hubris.

He’s paying for it now in spades.

His throat aches with tears just pushing to be released, and he hurts. His elbows are scraped and bleeding and so is his cheek and the shell of his left ear, so he figures they basically lowered him over the side of the shallow end of the pool and let gravity do the rest.

At least they didn’t just throw him down, right?

Stiles blinks, and sees their faces again. Feels blood and terror choke him. Remembers sobbing at them please please no as they dragged him onto the balcony.

He doesn’t remember hitting the ground.

It seems like a moment like that should be big, but there wasn’t enough time for Stiles to process it. It was seconds. Or maybe there are parts his mind has cut out, like an old-time censor cutting frames out of film and patching the rest back together into a jittering jumping scene that no longer makes any sense.

He was on the balcony and then he was in the ambulance.

“Don’t give up on me, kid. Stay with me.”

And that bird, fluttering for a moment against the back window panel like a moth pinging against a lightbulb, and then it was gone.

And then Stiles was gone.

And then he was back and the pain was excruciating.

 

***

 

“What if the bird was the devil?” Stiles asks Kirsten once. And okay, he’s stayed up all night thanks to his nightmares, and he’s maybe taken too much Adderall since he managed to save one yesterday so he can double dose today—Kirsten should be happy he likes to make sure he’s alert for their sessions—but that doesn’t mean the question is invalid.

“The devil,” Kirsten says, and shrugs like, okay, meatball, let’s hear it.

“So what if you died?” Stiles asks her, bright with the idea of it now. He taps his fingers across his knee. “When it you died, but you made a deal with the devil? Imagine if he said, ‘You can go back to your dad, but it will cost you. For the rest of your life you’ll have to live in excruciating pain.’”

He laughs.

“Imagine if that’s what happened.”

 

***

 

It’s cold, and as the day wears on it gets colder. Stiles figures most of that is shock. He can’t see anything except the ceiling, and it’s a long way up. If he were a local, Stiles figures, he’d know exactly where he was. Abandoned indoor swimming pools can’t be exactly plentiful, right? Like, an old hotel, maybe? Or a health center or something? Somewhere with enough natural light that he can more or less judge the hours passing.

His dad would have met with Talia by now. He’d know the truth. And between them they must have figured out that someone has snatched Stiles and Peter. So they must be looking. His dad, and all of the Hales.

This isn’t going to last forever, and Stiles isn’t going to have a panic attack, because his dad and the Hales will be here to rescue him soon. And Peter. Peter too.

He shuffles over toward the corner in what must be the shallow end. Shallow is definitely relative. Stiles can reach the top barely, but that's as far as he can reach, even if he jumps. Jumping jars every fucking bone in his body when he lands again—he can feel the shockwaves reverberating in him for a long time afterward—but he had to try. He sits, in the end, wedged into the corner with his knees pulled up, bones aching, sharp bursts of pain traveling up and down his spine, and rocks back and forth as panic shifts and bursts around him like flurries of black snow.

He’s okay.

He’s okay.

He’s—

The sudden raw sound that cuts through the air chills him. It’s coming from somewhere close. It’s not a howl, not quite, and it’s not a scream either. It’s something caught between the two, like the man it came from.

“Peter,” Stiles whispers as the sound dies away.

He hears the sudden crunch of boots on grit, and turns his head in time to see one of the hunters approach the side of the pool. Balaclava. Tactical goggles. Some sort of AR-what-the-fuck-ever pointed right at Stiles, little red laser dot settled right over his heart.

What are the chances it’s a tranquilizer this time?

Stiles slides his trembling hand over his heart, for all the fucking difference it will make.

A second man approaches the edge of the pool. He’s not wearing a balaclava and body armor. Just Sears jeans and a button-down shirt. Stiles isn’t dumb enough to mistake him as anything less than deadly though.

He murdered his own daughter-in-law, didn’t he?

“Hello, Stiles,” the old man says. He folds his arms over his chest as he stares down into the pool, his thin mouth turned up in a smile. “Well now, aren’t you in a world of trouble right now?”

Yeah.

Gerard Argent might be a twisted, hate-fueled homicidal fucking maniac, but he’s not wrong.

Chapter Text

“Katey was born to be something special, you know,” Gerard Argent tells Stiles, and a wistful smile turns up the corners of his mouth. “And she almost was. She almost did it!”

Stiles curls his trembling fingers around his legs and thinks that if his heart beats any faster he’ll pass out. He breathes in through his nose, out through his mouth, because if he loses control of his breathing here, if he passes out, it’s all over. He needs to stay awake. Needs to engage. Needs to, or he’s nothing. Just meat. Just dead weight.

“She almost killed the whole damn pack!” There’s a light in his eyes that wouldn’t be out of place on a television evangelist, or a demagogue. Gerard Argent is a man who clearly believes that right is on his side.

“Please,” Stiles says, his voice shaking. “Please let me go home to my dad.”

“But you know, Stiles,” Gerard says, and Stiles has never hated anything more than he hates the way his name sounds coming from the man’s mouth. “You know. And you planted yourself right in the middle of the Hale pack anyway. You’ve chosen abominations, monsters, over your own kind.”

The only monsters Stiles has ever met have been human.

“Please let me go home,” he says again. “Please.”

He’s been here before. He’s been in the place where he knows beyond doubt that he’s going to die. A balcony railing, an empty swimming pool. They’re the same place. The place where Stiles ceases to matter, ceases to exist, where all his dreams and all his thoughts and everything that is him is about to be scattered on the wind. He exists only in this point in time. Only ever in one single point in time. He has no power to turn back the clock and take back what’s been lost, just as he has no power to ensure he will live.

Wanting is never enough.

Kirsten always says stress isn’t about the things that happen, it’s the feeling of having no control over them. Kirsten was always telling him to write to-do lists. Sometimes Stiles’s to-do lists were short—

  1. Get out of bed today.

—and sometimes they weren’t, but it felt good to have them, to know exactly what was expected of him, to know what he needed and what he was capable of, and to take control of his day.

Stiles struggles to breathe.

  1. Live.

How though? How does he do that?

My dad is the sheriff,” he says, voice cracking.

“You think that’s a threat?” Gerard asks him, and his tone of amusement makes Stiles’s stomach clench. “He didn’t scare me when he came to see me in Blue Lake Falls, and he sure as shit doesn’t scare me now.”

“He’ll know it’s you,” Stiles says. “He’ll know.”

“I don’t care what he knows.” Gerard narrows his eyes. “And you’ll still be dead.”

Stiles’s vision is starting to gray out, and he’s sucking in too much air. Filling his lungs with it until there’s no room to pull in any more, but it’s not enough. He can’t breathe.

“Why?” he rasps. “I didn’t do anything to you!”

“I’m doing you a favor, Stiles,” Gerard tells him. “Bad enough you run with wolves. Bad enough you fuck them.”

“I don’t—”

Gerard sneers. “I’m killing you before they turn you into a monster too.”

He and the masked hunter move away from the edge of the pool, away from Stiles’s narrow line of sight, and then he’s alone again.

He chokes for breath and sobs.

There’s no arguing with hate like that.

Stiles is already dead.

 

***

 

Stiles has never felt like more of a cripple in his life.

When he finally hauls himself to his feet, every fucking step hurts.

He can reach the edge of the pool at its shallowest end, where he can see the rusty marks in the side of the concrete where a ladder must have once gone. He can put his arms over the edge, the cuffs on his wrists clanking together. He doesn’t even need to stretch up to do it.

But he can’t fucking lift himself out of the pool.

He stands there and sobs instead.

 

***

 

It gets colder as the day draws on and dusk settles in. Darkness gathers in the corners of the pool, and the shadows play tricks on Stiles’s eyes. It’s been what? Half a day? Longer? Will his dad and Talia even be able to find them?

He’s cold and thirsty. He hurts. He tries lying down for a moment, curled up to stretch his back gently without overdoing it, but he can’t hold the position for long before his pelvis starts to ache. He shifts to his other side, which doesn’t help at all. In the end he props himself in the corner of the pool and closes his eyes.

He wants to lie down, but he knows that’s a mistake.

Lying flat is the worst thing he can do if his body’s already aching. He’ll seize up in minutes.

He wraps his arms around his knees and counts his breaths.

Waits for something to happen.

 

***

 

It makes sense if it’s a war. An ideological war that’s spilled over into bloodshed. Abominations and monsters. It’s all very Old Testament, but then so is Gerard’s fire and brimstone. It frames Gerard’s hatred in terms that Stiles can understand, but it also means that Gerard is a zealot. He thinks Stiles is the enemy because he’s a friend of the Hales. Stiles doubts there’s anything he could say to make him reconsider that assessment.

Gerard thinks he’s fucking a werewolf.

Stiles shivers in the cold and wishes that it was true. He thinks of Peter’s touch, which has always been a warm, healing touch, but warm could become heated, right? At least in Stiles’s fantasies. Of course, the reality is that Stiles’s can’t fuck. His base levels of pain, his new normal, usually takes all his focus away from his scant libido anyway. The last time he jerked off he ended up in a Percocet-induced sleep for hours afterward because he got the back spasm from hell. He wonders if it would be different with Peter. If Peter could draw his pain away at the same time, and Stiles could actually move without hurting. He still couldn’t be exactly vigorous—lack of pain doesn’t mean lack of damage—but maybe it would work?

Just another useless fantasy. Another lost opportunity.

Peter probably doesn’t even look at him like that.

Who would?

But it’s a nice fantasy. Stiles figures he might as well hold onto it until the end.

 

***

 

It’s dark and cold, and Stiles shivers on the floor of the pool while he listens to Peter make that noise that oscillates between a howl and a scream. It’s close. Maybe only a room or two over, with a closed door between them? It’s hard to judge. Sound is distorted and echoes strangely in the empty pool.

Peter is hurting.

When the silence comes, that might be worse than the noise. What if it means Peter is—

A sudden thin beam of light pierces the darkness, and dances on the bottom of the pool, zipping back and forth like a drunk firefly until it finally settles on Stiles’s dusty shoes, then flicks up to his face. Stiles squints, and lifts his hands to shield his eyes.

The beam of light bounces, and then there’s a sudden scrabbling sound as a body slithers into the pool.

Stiles flinches back.

“Dude?” someone hisses. “Stiles?”

Stiles squints past the light into a very familiar wide-eyed face, and figures that yeah, he’s gone totally insane now. Because this makes no sense. “Scott?”

 

***

 

“Oh, jeez dude, you’re so cold,” Scott whispers as he helps Stiles carefully to his feet. He pulls his jacket off and wraps it around Stiles’s shoulders. “Come on, let’s go.”

Stiles lets Scott shuffle him toward the edge of the pool.

A moment later, a face, pale in the gloom, appears over the edge. Dimples like hearts, Stiles remembers, when Allison smiles at him and holds out her hands to him.

“What… what’s going on?” Stiles whispers up at her. “What are you guys doing here?”

She takes his cold hands in her own. “Try and stay quiet, okay? This is probably going to hurt.”

Stiles opens his mouth to tell her that she can’t possibly lift him, but it turns out she totally can. She starts in a squat at the edge of the pool, her hands gripping his, and then stands slowly while Scott makes a stirrup with his hands and gives him a lift up. It hurts, but not as much as he expects, and then he’s stepping smoothly forward onto the side of the pool, and Allison’s grip is loosening, but she’s not letting him go.

Scott scrambles out of the pool with an ease that makes Stiles sick, launching himself onto the edge like a seal beaching itself, and then pulling his legs under him and rolling easily to his feet.

“What the fuck are you guys doing here?” Stiles whispers.

“I asked Allison if her grandfather was a mafia don,” Scott whispers back. “Turns out he’s not, but we weren’t sure what he was, so we decided to do some investigating of our own. We followed him here.”

Stiles’s jaw drops. “I’ve been rescued by the Scooby gang?”

“Dude, unfair,” Scott hisses. “Allison is a total badass!”

Allison smiles tightly. “Turns out it runs in the family.”

She reaches up into her hair and pulls out... a bobby pin? Fiddles with the lock on the cuffs for a moment, and then they're off. Jesus. Where did Gerard find them? At the dollar store? 

Stiles tugs his hands back from hers, and shivers. “I hope you take after your mom, and not your grandfather.”

“I do,” she says, and Stiles wishes he knew her well enough to read her better.

“So,” Stiles whispers, looking between them. “Are we all up to speed on the werewolf thing?”

“Dude,” Scott gasps, eyebrows raised. “Right?”  

Stiles agrees wholeheartedly. “Right?”

“There’s one down the hallway,” Scott whispers urgently. “Totally real!”

“It’s Peter,” Stiles says, twisting his fingers in the front of Scott’s shirt. “It’s Peter Hale. It’s…it’s Remus.”

Scott’s eyes go wide. “Dude.”

“Guys, we need to go!” Allison says in an urgent undertone.

“We have to save Peter,” Stiles whispers back.

“Stiles, I brought my crossbow,” Allison tells him. “Those guys have guns.”

Stiles feels his eyes stinging. “We have to save Peter!”

“Stiles,” Scott says, his eyes big. “Bro. Let’s get the fuck out of here, and call your dad and whoever, but we can’t just walk in there, okay? We can’t.”

Stiles nods, and meets Allison’s gaze. “You know he killed your mom, right? Your grandfather?”

“Yeah.” Her voice is as soft as a breath. “Turns out tonight’s the night when nothing’s too crazy to be off the table.”

“Let’s go,” Scott whispers, taking Stiles’s arm and ducking under it so he’s supporting Stiles’s weight.

It takes Stiles a moment to find his feet. It would be easier, probably, if he was more evenly supported, but Allison treads quietly ahead of them, leading her way with her crossbow.  

Stiles’s heart freezes when he hears the howling scream come from somewhere close.

Peter.

Every instinct in him wants to turn toward the noise, to get there as fast as his broken body can manage, but Scott and Allison are right. They need to get out, regroup, call for backup and hope to hell that Peter will be okay while they do.

Stiles will never forgive himself if he’s not.

He stumbles a little as he moves, and Scott tightens his grip on him.

“I’ve got you, bro,” he whispers.

Like, they played videogames and ate lunch together, and suddenly Stiles ain’t heavy, he’s his brother? Or some bullshit. How the fuck is Scott McCall even a real person?

Stiles grits his teeth and forces his body to move.

Allison and Scott seem to know where they’re going. They head for a door at the end of the room. Not the main doors that lead into the rest of whatever this place is. This door is smaller. When they get close Stiles sees the words STAFF ONLY painted in flaking white paint on the door. They skirt carefully around a pair of decaying pool loungers, and Allison leads the way through the door.

A dark narrow corridor that smells of dust and stale chlorine.

“What is this place?” Stiles whispers.

“The old sanitarium,” Scott whispers back.

What the fuck is a sanitarium, even? Probably not the point to be focusing on right now. Not when he has to focus on putting one foot in front of the next.

Stiles can hear Scott starting to wheeze, either from the dust or from the exertion of helping Stiles. He turns his head in time to see Scott press his inhaler to his mouth and suck in a deep breath.

Great pair of action heroes they’d make. One of them can’t walk and the other one can’t breathe.

Scott flashes him a smile as he shoves his inhaler back in his pocket.

“Shit,” Allison hisses suddenly, and comes to a sudden stop as the hallway ends at a T-junction. “Back. Go back.”

Stiles doesn’t need her to confirm it to know the truth. Their exit is blocked.

They turn and head back toward the pool.

“Kid’s gone!” someone shouts suddenly, voice echoing strangely in the empty pool.

And now they’re trapped.

There’s a small room off the corridor. Allison opens the door, and holds it for them while Scott and Stiles shuffle inside. Stiles can’t make out much in the darkness, but it seems to be full of old machinery and smells even more strongly of chlorine. The pump room, maybe?

Allison closes the door and turns the lock.

It doesn’t catch. Just swivels uselessly.

“Hide,” she whispers. “Hide, and call your dad!”

They’re like rats caught in a trap, Stiles figures. He and Scott squeeze in behind the old pump, and Scott pulls his phone out of his pocket. He unlocks it and passes it to Stiles.

Stiles has never been more grateful that he has his dad’s number memorized, and doesn’t just rely on it being in his contacts’ list. He sends a text:

This is Stiles. At the old sanitarium. Gerard Argent + 3? All heavily armed. I’m hiding with Scott and Ally. They have Peter.

The door rattles suddenly.

“Do they know you’re here?” Stiles whispers to Scott.

Scott shakes his head, eyes wide.

Stiles looks up at the ceiling. There’s a maintenance hatch right there. Stiles would never be able to get into it, never be able to move through it, but Scott and Allison can.

He squeezes out from behind the pump, and joins Allison where she’s holding the door shut.

He jerks his head, and her gaze lifts to the ceiling.

“Someone has to hold the door,” she whispers.

“I’ll do it.”

He can see her hesitate.

“You know the layout,” Stiles says. “You’ve seen how many of them there are and what weapons they have. Tell my dad, when he gets here.”

Allison reaches out and squeezes his shoulder softly. Then she hardens her mouth into a thin line and nods, and steps back into the darkness behind the pump.

Stiles leans against the door, unsure how long he can hold it.

Long enough for Scott and Allison to get into the ceiling, he hopes.

 

***

 

The hunters aren’t as gentle getting Stiles into the pool this time. Something cracks when they push him in and he hits the concrete, and Stiles lies there, stunned, the pain flashing white in his vision. He can’t move. He can’t move, but it’s okay. He’s not going to panic, because it’s okay.

Scott and Allison are safe.

Dad’s coming.

The Hales are coming.

For the first time since he’s been here, the lights in the ceiling flicker on one by one. They’re bright, and Stiles lifts a hand to shield his eyes.

“It’s true what they say,” Gerard Argent says, stepping close to the edge of the pool. “In time of great stress, the human body can do the impossible. People lifting cars to rescue those trapped underneath. Running faster than they ever have to escape danger. Or even cripples managing to haul themselves out of pits. I didn’t think you had it in you, Raggedy Andy.”

Stiles sucks in a stinging breath and doesn’t respond.

“What? Is that not a reference you’re familiar with?”

“No, I got it,” Stiles manages. “Patchwork and stitches. Funny.”

Gerard laughs, at least, and then his expression hardens again. “Try it again, Stiles, and I’ll have my associate here put a bullet in you.”

Right on cue, one of the masked hunters steps up to the edge of the pool, into Stiles’s line of sight.

“Right,” Stiles says. “Not trying it again. Got it.”

“Good,” Gerard says. “Personally, I’d hate to see you die like that. Not when I’ve got something so much better planned.”

Stiles’s heart skips a beat.

“I’ll bet he’s afraid of fire,” Gerard says with a smile. “Don’t you think?”

Stiles hears a whirring noise, like something being unspooled rapidly, and doesn’t know what it is until the metal end of a fire hose clanks over the edge of the pool. A second later, liquid begins to dribble out of it.

His heart freezes as he catches the sudden sharp smell in the air.

It’s not water.

It’s gasoline.

Chapter Text

Stiles tries to roll onto his side and get his knees under him, but he can’t. There’s a sticky patch of blood under his head, but, more worryingly, his spine feels like it’s made of jagged glass, nerve endings twisted around it like barbed wire, and every attempt to move sends white pain ripping through him. He landed badly—like there’s a good way to land on concrete?—and he can’t move. And even if he could, where the fuck is he going to go anyway?

Down the deeper end?

Because last time Stiles checked, liquid flowed downhill.

He shifts his legs as the stream of gasoline runs toward him, and sucks in a choking breath as he feels it soak into his jeans and shoes.

There’s as clank as the hose is pulled back, but it’s not being removed, just redirected. Stiles barely has time to close his eyes before he’s sprayed with it. It burns where it hits his skin. The fumes are overwhelming. The rising panic is worse.

“Do you think he’ll do it, Stiles?” Gerard taunts. “Do you think he’ll leap into a fire to save you?”

Stiles’s eyes burn, and he shakes his head. Refuses to answer. Can’t even think about it because of the panic crowding him. Sour bile rises in his throat, but he doesn’t want to open his mouth to spit it out, because the taste of gasoline will be worse.

“Let’s find out, huh?”

Stiles shivers when he hears the roar. Not a howl this time, not a sound of pain, but of rage. It echoes inside the room, inside the pool, and Stiles looks up to see him standing on the edge of the pool.

Peter.

But not Peter as he knows him. This Peter isn’t a man, and isn’t a wolf. This Peter is caught between the two. He’s naked, covered in a pelt shot through with black and brown. The pelt is thin on his chest, and thickens when it gets lower. His face is ridged, grotesque, his ears pointed. He roars again, and his mouth is full of fangs.

He’s terrifying.

He looks like a monster.

His eyes flash when he looks at Stiles, and Stiles’s heart clenches. Those are yellow eyes. Remus’s eyes. Stiles opens his mouth to say something—he doesn’t know what—and instead an ugly sob wrenches out of him.

Peter turns his shaggy head and growls threateningly. He paces up and down for a few steps on the edge of the pool, bristling. His fingers are claws. He’s lethal.

“Go on, Hale,” Gerard mocks. “Or are you a coward?”

Peter growls again.

“Don’t,” Stiles says, his voice a hoarse whisper. “Don’t come down here.”

Peter turns his head to look at him, and his shoulders slump. Their gazes catch, and Peter lifts his chin.

“Don’t,” Stiles whispers again.

Peter leaps into the pool.

 

***

 

The monster becomes the man as Peter steps toward Stiles. The fangs vanish, the claws retract, the hair recedes, and it’s Peter who kneels over him. Peter with his scarred face and his bluer-than-blue eyes.

He slides his hand under Stiles’s neck, and the pain begins to flow away. Then Peter leans down, looming closer, and Stiles closes his eyes reflexively. Peter’s mouth presses against his left eye, and then…is that his tongue?

What?

Before Stiles even has time to process that, Peter’s licking his right eye clean too.

Stiles’s clothes are covered in gasoline and Peter’s naked. How the hell else was he supposed to get the gasoline off him? Makes sense, for a wolf.

And then Peter’s lifting him, one hand behind his back and one under his knees. He carries him further to the deep end, leaving a trail of gasoline behind them that soaks through the layer of dust on the concrete surface of the pool.

“They’ll just burn us both now,” Stiles whispers.

“I know,” Peter whispers back. “I’m sorry.”

“My dad’s not gonna make it in time, is he?”

Peter doesn’t answer him. Doesn’t lie to him.

“You could still get out,” Stiles says.

“What?” Peter raises his eyebrows. “And miss spending a few more minutes with you?”

He knows why.

He knows that if Peter tries to get out now, they’ll only shoot him anyway. The whole point of Gerard giving him a choice is that it isn’t really a choice at all. Or forcing him to make the decision to die in a fire after all, just like Kate wanted six years ago. But surely bullets are preferable to fire? And not even just to someone with Peter’s history, because this? This is fucking barbaric.

He raises a hand and puts it on Peter’s shoulder. Digs his shaking fingers into the muscle there in a useless attempt to anchor himself.

There’s so much he wants to say, so much he needs to convey to Peter right now. How scared he is, how sorry it’s going to end like this, how safe Peter made him feel, how happy. So much to say, but Stiles can’t find any words.

It’s going to hurt.

It’s going to hurt worse than anything ever has before.

Don’t they both deserve better than this?

Stiles draws in a shuddering breath and cries.

“Close your eyes, sweetheart,” Peter says. His smile is shaky. “Close your eyes and go to sleep for me.”

 

***

 

When he was a little kid, Stiles used to dress up in his mom’s skirts—long enough on him to be dresses—and he and his mom used to dance around in the living room, pretending they were ballerinas. Mostly it would end in breathless giggles, both of them laughing on the couch and tickling each other.

Stiles read once that the thing where you see your life flash before your eyes when you’re about to die—that’s not some sort of highlights reel to ease you into death. It’s your brain trying desperately to make connections, to find something, anything, in your past that you can apply to save yourself now.

So the fact that all he’s got now is that memory of him and his mom spinning around and making their skirts fly out… well, that just means his brain’s coming up empty, right?

 

 

***

 

“Keep your eyes closed, sweetheart,” Peter whispers to him.

Stiles swears he hears the rasp of the lighter.

“Keep them closed for me.”

 

***

 

Everything happens so quickly.

Stiles’s eyes flash open when he hears the sudden thump, and he stares over Peter’s shoulder at the dead hunter lying in the pool. There’s an arrow through his throat.

Gerard’s standing on the side of the pool. His hand, holding the lighter, is shaking. It makes the flame dance. “Allison? What the hell are you doing?”

She’s out of Stiles’s line of sight, but her voice rings clear. “Learning the family business. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

Gerard laughs, and holds the lighter out over the edge of the pool. “This is what I wanted.”

There’s a burst of gunfire.

The whoosh of another arrow.

Someone grunting in pain.

And the lighter drops out of Gerard’s hand and into the pool.

Peter is fast.

So fast, even with Stiles in his arms.

The flames rush toward them, but Peter’s already leaping. Already clearing the side of the pool and landing heavily, Stiles held tight, in a crouch on the floor. Peter is angled so that his body is facing away from Gerard and the rest of them, so that he’s shielding Stiles.

There are flames reflected in his blue eyes. The shiny, puckered scar tissue on his face gleams.

Fumes, Stiles thinks. Could still—

He doesn’t even have time to finish the though before Peter’s moving again, carrying him away from the fire, from the danger of burning. He’s heading for the main doors, not the utility corridor, and whatever the hell is going on now it’s proving enough of a distraction to the surviving hunters that Peter is no longer their main target.

Peter growls as Stiles squirms and tries to see over his shoulder again.

He only gets a glimpse, but it’s enough.

The flames in the pool cast the entire room in an eerie, nightmarish light.

Allison is pointing her crossbow at her grandfather. Scott is by her side. He’s bleeding? His right hand is clutching his left upper arm, and blood is welling between his fingers. He’s pale, but his face is set.

There’s another hunter on the ground, an arrow protruding from his cracked tactical googles. Jesus. Allison’s a crack shot.

Gerard is framed by the fire in the pool. He’s staring at Allison, wearing that same mocking smile on his face that Stiles will see forever in his nightmares if he actually survives this, and he’s got one hand held—palm out—to the surviving masked hunter.

Stop.

Hold.

No.

The hunter has his firearm trained on Allison.

And for just that moment, everything is frozen. Frozen, and hanging by a thread.

And then the main doors burst open before Peter can reach them, and all hell breaks loose.

 

***

 

If Stiles could slow this moment down, replay it frame by frame, he would. There’s too much happening, even for Stiles’s brain to keep up. Suddenly his vision is filled with wolves—some are the strange half-shifted form that Peter was a little earlier, and some are full wolves—and suddenly Stiles is being bundled to the ground, Peter still looming over him, and Cora—that’s Cora underneath the fangs, right?—doing the same.

Stiles hears shooting, yelling, growling, and he struggles to see around them. Then there’s a hose shoved in his face, and Stiles flinches back instinctively before he realizes that no, this time it’s water. He hadn’t even realized how much his skin was burning until the water is cooling it.

Cora runs the water through his hair, over his face and hands, his clothes.

Stiles feels like a battlefield casualty with Peter and Cora crouching over him while he’s missing everything. Everything except the noise.

It’s so loud at first that Stiles can’t even hear whatever Peter is telling him over and over again.

And then—

The flames in the pool are dying slowly, and Stiles wonders how much longer they would have burned if he and Peter had been down there.

And then it’s so quiet.

Stiles can hear someone crying.

Peter,” he whispers, and Peter turns his bright blue gaze on Stiles, his expression grave. Stiles shoves at him, his heart racing. Is it his dad? It can’t be his dad. “Peter, let me see.”

He grabs Peter’s wrist, digging his fingers in, and Peter helps him to his feet, finally moving out of the way so that Stiles can see past him.

He sees Gerard, a thin trickle of blood running down his temple. Derek and James and William have him surrounded. James has a hand wrapped around his throat, and he looks like he’s giving serious consideration to just snapping his spine. Stiles could probably get behind that.

The surviving masked hunter is on his knees, hunched over and clutching his stomach. Laura stands beside him, fingers spreads, claws dripping. The guy might not be surviving for much longer, actually.

Allison is on her knees too, her crossbow discarded. Her shoulders are shaking with sobs.

There’s a man with graying-hair kneeling beside her. Stiles recognizes him from a lifetime ago, from that day in the woods outside the Hale house when Remus stood between him and the man: Chris Argent, Allison’s dad.

They’re leaning over the prone body of a boy Stiles has heard struggling for breath plenty of times before already.

“Scott,” he says, choking on the name.

He stumbles forward, and there’s his dad, coming out of nowhere to catch him.

“Scott,” he says again, and his dad is helping him forward, and, oh God. It looks bad. It looks really bad. Scott’s shirt is soaked in blood. Stiles can see it pooling dark in the hollow of his collar bones.

Chris is pressing his hands against Scott’s chest, putting pressure on the wound. Scott’s shaking, his twitching fingers twined with Allison’s. His lips are moving, but Stiles can’t tell if he’s trying to talk, or if the movement is convulsive.

His eyes widen when catches sight of Stiles, and he smiles, and who the hell is this guy again? And what the fuck did Stiles ever do to deserve him?

And then he coughs, and splatters his face with blood.

Stiles drops to his knees. He takes Scott’s other hand. He can’t look at Allison. Can’t, or he’ll break.

“Talia,” Chris Argent says, voice low, and his pale gaze flicking toward her. “If you’re going to do it, do it now.”

Something passes between the hunter and the wolf that Stiles doesn’t understand, and then Talia is kneeling beside Stiles, and reaching out to put a hand on Scott’s cheek.

“Scott? Can you hear me?”

Scott doesn’t answer. His eyes fail to focus.

“Do it,” Chris Argent says, his voice rough.

Talia turns Scott’s face toward her gently, then leans over him. Her face transforms as she moves, her eyes flashing red and her fangs extending. She buries those fangs in Scott’s neck before Stiles can even scream.

 

***

 

“What the fuck is going on?” Stiles rasps, his voice cracking.

“She’s turning him,” Chris Argent tells him. “If he survives, he’ll be one of them.”

Abomination, Stiles thinks, just to test the word. It’s hollow. It’s meaningless. It’s bullshit.

“Alive?” Allison whispers, hope shining in her tear-filled eyes, and yes, that’s the word that matters. That’s the one that counts.

Her father nods sharply. “He’s a strong kid.”

Talia leans back, wiping her bloody mouth on her shirt.

“Holy fuck,” Stiles whispers, lifting a shaking hand to his mouth. “Come on, Scotty, come on.”

“Give them some space, kiddo,” his dad says, drawing him to his feet.

Stiles leans into his dad’s embrace, and hugs him as tightly as his aching body will allow. Then he squeezes his eyes shut and says into his dad’s neck. “Um, so, werewolves.”

“Apparently.” His dad lets out a strangled sound somewhere between a laugh and a desperate attempt to claw back the scant remains of his sanity. “Oh, Jesus, kid. Jesus. I thought…””

“Me too,” Stiles tells him. Me too.”

 

***

 

“Imagine the bird was the devil,” Stiles told Kirsten once. Imagine if it offered him a life of excruciating pain, of heartbreak, of depression, of anxiety, of panic attacks, of fear. But imagine it said he could have his dad in return.

Stiles’s answer is yes.

Every fucking time, yes.

 

***

 

His dad has to stay at the scene, to figure out what to do with the dead bodies.

Talia and Laura take Scott away. He needs to be with his alpha when he wakes up, Talia says. Stiles is totally going to ask what an alpha is tomorrow.

He leans into Peter’s embrace, and savors the warm hand on the back of his neck that steals away all his pain. He’s cold though.

“Go home,” his dad tells him. “Get warm. Get clean. Get some sleep.”

“What about…” Stiles swallows, and raises a shaking finger to point toward Gerard Argent. “What about him?”

“I don’t even fucking know,” his dad mutters.

Stiles thinks he knows, maybe, a fraction of a moment before it happens. Before Chris Argent puts a hand on Derek’s shoulder, and nods at him. Derek knows as well, Stiles thinks, because he steps aside.

“You think you can intimidate me, Christopher?” Gerard asks, that same low tone of amusement in his voice as always. “You spineless little fuck. You never even stood up for Kate.”

“I follow the code,” Chris says. “So did Victoria.”

He raises his arm, points a gun right at his father’s face, and fires.

Stiles blinks, and watches the dark blood spreading out from underneath the old man’s skull where he falls.

Well then.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, right?

 

 

Chapter Text

Stiles dozes in the backseat of the Camaro, leaning against Peter. He plucks at the soft fabric of the track pants Peter is now wearing, and mumbles something that turns out to be not exactly words: “Wherepannnsthough?”

“Are you asking me where I found these pants?” Peter asks him. “After everything that happened tonight, you’re thinking about my pants?” He lowers his voice. “Or lack thereof.”

Cora snickers from the front seat.

Stiles struggles to keep his eyes open as Peter draws his pain away. His hands are shaking. He can’t stop them. “Mmm.”

“Derek keeps a spare pair in his trunk,” Peter tells him. “It’s the only sensible thing for werewolves to do, given the unforgiving nature of indecent exposure laws.”

Stiles tries to smile at that, but he can’t remember which way his mouth should move, and it’s getting harder and harder to breathe.

“Peter,” Derek says from the driver’s seat. “Does he need the hospital?”

Stiles’s breath hitches at the thought of it. The cold air, the stink of antiseptic, the tests and the needles and the scans and the drugs and the way everyone gets to look at him, to touch him.

“He’s fine,” Peter says. “A little high at the moment, and a hell of an egg on the back of his head, but no new breaks.”

Just the old ones, then? The ones that can make Stiles ache just thinking about, except Peter’s pulling all the pain away before it even touches him.

“Almost there,” Peter says, his voice low. “We’ll get you home, get you warm. You’re okay, sweetheart.”

“Don’t let me go,” Stiles manages, slurring the words.

“I won’t,” Peter tells him. “I won’t, Stiles.”

 

***

 

Stiles is barely aware of his embarrassment when Peter carries him all the way up to the third floor and into his private bathroom. It takes all his concentration to stay standing. He hardly has time to feel a flash of shame before Peter is settling him into the bath. Stiles draws his knees up and hunches over. Peter wets a washcloth and squeezes warm water through his hair, over his shoulders. It tickles a little, but at the same time it’s soothing, and he closes his eyes and loses himself in the sensation.

Pushes away all thoughts of naked, and ugly, and Gerard’s sneering Raggedy Andy.

“Will Scott be okay?” he asks, when his shivering finally subsides.

Peter leans back on his knees, and tilts his head as though he’s listening for something. He smiles slightly. “Yes. He’s alive, and he’s turning.”

“How do you know that?”

“We have a pack bond,” Peter says. “It feels a little like everything’s shifting to make room for someone new, like cracks appearing in the dirt before a new shoot breaks the surface.”

“And he’ll be okay though?” Stiles presses.

Peter slides the washcloth over his shoulders. “He’ll be fine. Talia is a good alpha. She’ll teach him control.”

“He got shot in the chest, Peter!” Bile rises up in his throat at the memory of Scott lying there, coughing up blood.

“And his wolf will heal him,” Peter says gently.

“It can do that?” Stiles blinks, and water runs down his face.

“There are very few injuries we can’t heal,” Peter says. He touches the side of his face for a moment. “Had Kate not made sure her fuel was laced with wolfsbane, I wouldn’t have even had scars in the end.”

“Wow.” Stiles lifts his hand as well, water dripping from his fingers, and touches Peter’s cheek. The scar tissue is smoother than it looks. Then, catching himself, he flushes and pulls his hand away. “Sorry.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Liar,” Stiles tells him steadily. “If you don’t mind how you look, why do you spend so much time as a wolf?”

“I never said I don’t mind how I look.” Peter smiles and shrugs. “But I don’t mind if you touch me.”

Stiles’s face burns, and he ducks his head to break eye contact. “Oh.”

Peter stands up and tugs a towel off the rail. “Come on, let’s get you dry and into a warm bed.”

Stiles aches and feels as shaky as a newborn colt when Peter helps him step out of the bath. He angles his body away as he dries himself, embarrassed but also glad of Peter’s closeness. He doesn’t trust his own balance at the moment, but it’s also more than that.

They came so close tonight… so close to dying, and Stiles doesn’t want to be alone.

Peter helps him step into a clean pair of track pants that are a little baggy for him, and threaten to slide off his hips, and then leads him back out into the bedroom.

The comforter on Peter’s bed is turned down, and Stiles doesn’t even hesitate before shuffling over and curling up onto the bed.

“I’m going to shower,” Peter tells him, “and then I’m going to go and get you something to eat and drink. Don’t fall asleep yet, hmm?”

“Okay,” Stiles mumbles into the pillow, but he’s such a liar. The bed is warm and comfortable, and he drifts off to the sound of water running in the bathroom as Peter showers.

 

***

 

It’s dark when he wakes up and finds himself curled into Peter’s side. His head is resting on Peter’s chest, and Peter’s arm is around him. His stomach growls.

“I told you not to fall asleep,” Peter says, and Stiles hears the smile in his voice. Peter shifts, stretching out his free arm and reaching for something on the bedside table.

It’s a plate of apple slices.

Stiles is too lazy to sit up. He takes a slice and chews it. The juice bursts onto his tongue, sweet and full of flavor, and his stomach growls again. Stiles eats another two pieces before he waves the plate away.

“Is my dad okay?” he asks.

“Everyone got back a little while ago,” Peter tells him. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Apart from the fact Allison killed those guys?” Stiles asks, his heart starting to race again. “And Chris shot his father! What’s my dad gonna do? He can’t lose his job, but he can’t tell the truth either! What if knowing about you guys puts him in danger? He could get hurt.”

Peter cards his fingers gently through his hair. “He’s not going to get hurt, Stiles. And he’s not going to lose his job.”

“How do you know that? My dad is all I’ve got!”

“Stiles, even if that were true…” Peter exhales slowly. “Did you worry about things like this before you were hurt?”

“After… after my mom died, I did. Then I got better. Then…” He squeezes his eyes shut to try and forestall the rush of panic. “And I don’t even know what this is, with you. I don’t even know how you see me.”

“Open your eyes, Stiles,” Peter said, his voice firm.

Peter’s eyes are so beautiful..

“I don’t see a victim,” Peter tells him. “I don’t see a child.”

“What then?”

Peter’s smile is self-depreciating, maybe regretful. He huffs out a laugh. “If I say it, you might run.”

Stiles’s stomach flutters, and his face heats up. “I might not.”

Peter still doesn’t say it. Instead, he hooks his fingers under Stiles’s chin and angles his face up. Then he leans down and presses his lips gently against Stiles’s. It’s brief, over so quickly that Stiles isn’t even sure he can call it a kiss.

Peter leans back again. “I was drawn to you the moment I met you in the woods.”

Stiles frowns. “But?”

“But yesterday you still thought I was a wolf.” Peter squeezes his neck gently. “Let’s take it slow.”

“People who say things like ‘Let’s take it slow’ are the sort of people who don’t know there’s a sword hanging right over their heads, and it could drop at any time.”

“Stiles.” Peter curls his fingers in his hair. “That’s not what’s going to happen. It didn’t happen tonight, and it’s not going to happen in the future.”

Stiles’s eyes sting. “It can, Peter! Because one day you’re just living your dumb, stupid life, thinking that everything’s just fucking great, and then--” His breath hitches. “And then…”

“And then you open the door,” Peter finishes for him.

“Yeah.” Tears squeeze out from under his eyelids, as hot as gasoline. “You open the fucking door.”

If it’s delayed shock that finally hits him, Stiles doesn’t know if it’s from tonight or if it’s from eight months ago. He curls tighter into Peter’s side and cries long past when he can be sure what he’s even crying about, and Peter holds him close and says nothing.

Probably because he knows there’s nothing to say.

 

***

 

Stiles wakes up with a vague headache and sore eyes. Still one of his better mornings, actually. Despite last night, he’s not hurting anywhere near as much as he should, and he has no problems shedding his borrowed track pants and pulling on the jeans and shirt and hoodie that have appeared, magically clean and folded, at the end of the bed.

He heads downstairs carefully. His feet are a little cold, but he didn’t want to risk socks and polished floorboards.

“Stiles!” Cora greets him at the bottom of the steps, and pulls him into a hug. “Oh, wow, you smell like Peter.”

“What?” Gross!

“It’s a wolf thing,” Cora tells him, grinning. “No secrets now, Stilinksi! You’re in the know!” She takes an exaggerated sniff. “Wow, did he rub himself all over you?”

“I regret everything,” Stiles mumbles, his face heating up.

“I can also tell if you’re lying,” she says smugly.

“Shut up.”

“Stiles is awake!” she yells toward the kitchen. “Come on. Derek’s making pancakes, because Mom and Laura are dealing with the whole Scott thing in the basement.”

“Is he okay?”

“Yeah, but Mom says it’s pretty intense for a bitten wolf at first, so they’re sitting with him in the dark and playing rainforest sounds and Enya.”

Stiles raises his eyebrows. “Really?”

She snorts. “Apparently you can’t tell when I’m lying though. Mom and Laura listening to Enya? Really, Stiles? Jesus.”

She pulls him into the kitchen.

It’s crowded.

Stiles’s dad is sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of pancakes in front of him. Boo is on his lap, and Matty is sitting beside him squirting syrup all over his own plate. Derek’s at the stove with Arielle helping, and William is working the coffee machine. James stands up as Stiles and Cora enter, and gestures at Stiles to take the seat he’s just vacated as he carries his plate over to the sink.

Stiles sits down. “Hey, Dad.”

“Hey, kiddo.” His dad hangs onto Boo with one arm and reaches out with the other to clasp Stiles’s hand. “You sleep okay?”

Stiles flushes.

“Uh huh,” his dad says dryly. “And don’t think we won’t be having that talk real soon.”

There’s a scritch of claws on the floor, and Stiles turns around in time to see a very familiar wolf backtracking quickly from the doorway.

“Uncle Peter’s scared of Sheriff Stilinski!” Matty announces gleefully.

Derek sets a plate down in front of Stiles. “And so he should be,” he says with a soft smile.

“The Stilinskis are badasses,” Cora agrees, edging a protesting Matty off his chair so she can steal it.

Stiles’s dad snorts, and his cheeks pink up a bit. “So, kiddo. Going to school today?”

“I don’t…” Stiles wrinkles his nose. “I think I might skip? I feel like, okay, but my head’s in kind of a weird place?”

“You need to call Kirsten?”

“I don’t think she’d be much help right now,” Stiles says with a wry smile. “With all this.”

“You’re probably right.”

“What’s going to happen to Allison and her dad?” Stiles asks, shoveling a piece of pancake into his mouth. “With the, um, death toll and stuff?”

His dad’s expression hardens for a moment. “There won’t be an investigation. The bodies won’t be found.”

Stiles tries hard to read his dad’s face. “Dad… are you serious?”

His dad is a cop. He’s a good cop, and he’s also a good man, and Stiles knows how much he hates cops who bend the truth, let alone cover up something like this. His dad is the most ethical guy Stiles knows. This… this is a big deal. It can’t be easy for him.

“I am absolutely serious,” his dad says, expression grave. “As far as I’m concerned, they got exactly what was coming to them.”

Stiles jolts a little with surprise. Oh, okay then. Maybe not as difficult a decision as Stiles thought.

His dad sighs. “Of course it means Victoria Argent’s case goes unsolved, which is not a great start to my term as sheriff.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about that, John.” William sets a coffee down in front of him. “I’ve been on the city council for three terms now, and I’m thinking of running for mayor in the next election cycle. Beacon Hills has a long history of voting Hales into local office. I’ll endorse you.”

Stiles’s dad raises his eyebrows. “So you’re the guy I’ll need to talk to about the department’s abysmal overtime budget?”

“It starts already,” Cora intones ominously, and William smacks her lightly on the back of the head.

Stiles finishes his pancake, and takes the plate over to the counter.

“Another one?” Derek asks.

“Nah.” Stiles sets his plate down in the sink and shuffles closer to Derek. “It was good, thanks.”

“You need to eat more.”

“Dude, no.” Stiles makes a face. “I have hollow baby bird bones. The last thing this crazy train needs is some more luggage in the caboose.”

Derek raises his eyebrows.

“Does it make your inner librarian angry when I mix my metaphors?” Stiles asks with a grin.

“It makes me want to beat you over the head with a dictionary,” Derek tells him with a shrug.

Stiles laughs, and moves closer to him. “Are you okay?”

Derek flips a pancake. “What?”

Stiles lowers his voice, although he’s starting to suspect that’s kind of pointless in this crowd. “Last night. It must’ve brought up some stuff for you. Are you okay?”

“Peter tells me I’m a work in progress,” Derek says, his smile soft.

Stiles looks him up and down. “He’s lying. Clearly you’re a masterpiece.”

Derek hip checks him gently. “Idiot. Sure you don’t want another pancake?”

“I’m good.” He flashes Derek a smile. “I’ve got to go and see a man about a dog. Or a dog about a man.”

“Dog jokes aren’t cool, Stilinski!” Cora yells after him.

Stiles just laughs and keeps moving.

 

***

 

“Are you really too scared to shift back and face my father?” Stiles asks, sitting on the front porch and watching the wolf slink through the trees. “Don’t ignore me. I know you’re listening!”

Peter’s ears flick back.

“I’ll whistle,” Stiles threatens.

Peter growls at that, and prowls back toward the house. He lopes up the porch steps and sits down heavily next to Stiles. Then he sighs, and stretches out, and rests his chin on his front paws.

“We’re not even doing anything,” Stiles says. “We’re taking it slow, remember? And I’m eighteen. So it’s not like he can stop me.”

Peter gives him a dubious look.

“Okay, fine, so he could stop me with his whole disappointed dad routine,” Stiles says. He leans down, and puts his mouth close to Peter’s twitching ear. “Wanna know a secret, though?”

Peter chuffs.

“He won’t.”

Peter rumbles questioningly.

He won’t.

Not just because Stiles is going to tell him how Peter can take his pain. How he hasn’t needed as much as an aspirin since staying with the Hales. And not just because Stiles sleeps without nightmares now. Not just because Peter is able to fix the things that Stiles thought were broken in him forever. Not just because Peter knows the same depths of pain and terror that Stiles does, and neither of them have to explain.

But also because Stiles can see the faintest glimmer of something he hasn’t in months, like dawn slowly creeping in on the edges of a dark horizon.

It’s happiness.

And as soon as the light of it reaches Stiles’s eyes again, he knows his dad won’t do a single thing to get in its way.

Chapter Text

It’s after dinner and Stiles is sitting on the living room floor. He’s leaning back against Peter, bracketed by his legs. Peter, in turn, is leaning against the couch, idly making twists out of Stiles’s hair, sliding his thumb against the back of his neck to draw away the tiny tendrils of pain that bother him, and making him eat grapes against his will. They’re really nice grapes, but Stiles is still full from dinner. He suspects a Hale conspiracy to fatten him up.

Right on cue James stretches out on the couch and rattles a box of choc chip cookies in his face.

Stiles grumbles at him and takes one.

Peter huffs out a silent laugh.

Cora is lying on the floor beside them, on her stomach, swinging her legs in the air as she watches the TV. Matty and one of the little girls—Stiles is a horrible person and can’t remember which twin it is—are picking beads out of a container and only half paying attention to the movie as they make some sort of complicated friendship bracelets. Stiles is already wearing two.

It should feel a little weird, not just sliding so easily into the family, the pack, but sitting here pretty much plastered to Peter, and nobody so much as blinks. Like whatever this is, it’s a natural progression of everything that’s come before. Whatever that was. It’s simultaneously the easiest and most complicated thing Stiles has ever dealt with in his life.

“You’re thinking too hard,” Peter says gently, and presses his mouth to Stiles’s temple.

Stiles closes his eyes, and warmth rises through him. Half embarrassment, probably, for having that happen in front of an audience. But half something else too. Happiness again, bubbling up from some place deep inside him.

He opens his eyes again when Derek stoops to scruff his hair on his way to the couch.

“What are we watching?” Derek asks, sliding in under James’s legs.

James shrugs. “Some teenage nonsense. I don’t know.”

Derek snags a cookie.

It’s weird. Not just the thing with Peter, but the fact that at this very moment Scott is in the basement with Talia and Laura, and Stiles has no idea what’s happening down there. All he knows is that when he asks, Peter tells him the pack bonds are still settling, and that Scott’s doing fine.

As far as Stiles knows, Scott’s mom is on night shift so she hasn’t noticed he’s not at home when he should be. It makes him think of all those times his dad worked through the night on some case or another, and Stiles had already left for school by the time he dragged himself home. Sometimes they could go days without seeing each other at all. It hadn’t felt weird at the time but now, living in a house full of people, Stiles wonders how he never noticed before that he was lonely.

He rests against Peter, and watches the TV and dozes.

Stiles feels the moment they sense something. It’s like that day in the woods when every bird stilled suddenly. His heart beats a little faster, and Peter lays a hand over it.

“Car,” he murmurs.

Wow. That’s a hell of an advanced warning system. It’s at least a few minutes before Stiles hears the crunch of tires on the gravelly road that leads between the parking lot of the sanctuary and the Hale house.

James pulls his feet out from under Derek, and eases himself off the couch. “I’ll get it,” he says.

No wonder Stiles never even made it as far as the doorbell. Do the Hales even have a doorbell? If they do, it has to be just for show. No wonder there was always someone on the porch waiting for him whenever he turned up.

“Argents,” Derek says, standing. He offers a hand down to Stiles. Stiles takes it, and braces himself for pain that doesn’t come when Derek helps him up.

Peter stands, and puts his hand on Stiles’s cheek. The gesture makes Stiles feel incredibly small and incredibly powerful at the same time. “I’ll be upstairs.”

Stiles meets his gaze. “You’re not going to talk to them?”

Peter’s smile is a little wry, a little regretful. “I can’t imagine what we could have to say to each other, Stiles.”

Stiles nods, and watches as Peter leaves the room. Derek heads after him.

Stiles hears the front door open, and the low exchange of voices. He glances at Cora gaze, and wonders if she can hear what they’re saying. Then the voices draw nearer.

“The alpha is still indisposed,” James is saying as they step into the wide doorway of the living room. “I will speak on her behalf.”

It’s a strangely formal turn of phrase, Stiles thinks, but maybe this is a strangely formal situation. William has appeared out of nowhere and has positioned himself close to James. And Cora is herding the kids though the French doors into the adjoining dining room.

Chris Argent gives a jerky nod. He is wearing dark jeans, a dark long-sleeve shirt, and dark shadows under his eyes. His face is stubbled, like he hasn’t shaved today. And his gaze is wary, guarded. This is a den of wolves to him, Stiles thinks, and wonders what it feels like to knowingly walk into it.

The Hale house has never felt like that to Stiles. The Hales haven’t.

Stiles’s gaze falls on the discarded container of beads on the floor.

James regards Chris quietly for a moment, and his eyes flash gold before he says, “Take a seat, Chris. Stiles, why don’t you and Allison go and grab a soda?”

Right. Like this is a study session or a playdate or no big fucking deal. Chris Argent, from a long line of werewolf hunters, is standing in the living room of the house his psycho sister once tried to burn down. And there must have been years of enmity before that, generations after generations of it, that all came to a head that night. And last night too. Chris had made the right choice back in the old sanitarium, but it’s not a magic cure all for all the hurt that’s been done. It could be a foundation though, if they let it.

Stiles meets Allison’s gaze over her father’s shoulder, and she smiles at him hesitantly. It’s her hesitation that gets Stiles moving. He owes Allison his life, and Peter’s too. Why the fuck isn’t he already hugging her?

She laughs a little, breathless and surprised when Stiles moves past Chris to embrace her.

“Come on,” he tells her with a grin. “I know where the cookies are kept too.”

 

***

 

Three cookies each into their conversation, Stiles sinks another marshmallow into his hot chocolate and feels physically sick at the idea of consuming that much sugar. He pushes his mug away instead, and leans his elbows on the table. It’s a lazy posture that will cost him some movement later.

“So, how are you holding up?” he asks Allison.

She quirks her mouth and those amazing dimples appear. “Um, okay, so yesterday I found out my family comes from a long line of werewolf hunters, that my mother was murdered by my grandfather, and that my Aunt Kate doesn’t suffer delusions, she’s just a bloodthirsty killer. Oh, and that my grandfather wanted me to be one too!” She grabs his mug and fishes the marshmallow out with the spoon, slurping it down. “And also, I killed two people, my dad shot my grandfather in the face, and a cute boy I barely know stepped in front of a bullet for me!”

She slumps back in her chair and stares at him wide-eyed.

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “That was probably a really dumb question.”

She surprises him with a laugh. “And how are you holding up?”

“Oh,” Stiles says. “You know. Found out werewolves were a thing, got kidnapped, thought I was going to be burned alive, then I got rescued by two kids from school I barely know, and one of them got shot because he stepped in front of this girl he’s been crushing on forever.”

Allison’s smiles fades. “I know he has.”

“Is it a bad thing?” Stiles asks.

“Stiles, it’s a lot of pressure.”

“I don’t think Scott is the kind of guy who would want you to feel obligated to date him,” Stiles says, and shrugs. “Ally, I’m pretty sure he didn’t do it to impress you. That’s…” He snorts. “I’ve known the guy for like two weeks or whatever, but that’s not Scott.”

Allison shoves another teaspoon of half-melted marshmallow into her mouth, and shows Stiles a tentative smile. “No, it’s not, is it?”

 

 

***

 

Scott McCall isn’t the first werewolf Stiles has met, but he is the newest. Stiles isn’t sure what he’s expecting when Talia and Laura finally lead him out of the basement. Fur and fangs, he guesses, and a lot of it. What he gets instead is the same kid who played video games with him, and ate Chinese takeout, and was his first real friend at Beacon Hills High. He gets dark eyes, a crooked grin, and a slightly sheepish look like Scott’s kind of sorry to have gotten mortally shot and then turned into a werewolf, and he never meant to cause such a fuss.

He gets a hug that almost squeezes the life out of him before Talia gives a soft, warning growl and Scott gasps and says, “Sorry, dude! I’m kind of really strong now!”

Stiles laughs as Scott sets him down.

“Listen!” Scott exclaims, and takes an exaggeratedly deep breath. He holds it, and then exhales heavily. “No wheezing!”

Stiles raises his eyebrows. “No bullet either, bro!”

“Right?” Scott flashes him a broad grin. Then he spots Allison standing close by, and immediately flushes bright red. “Hi, Allison.”

“Hi, Scott.”

Stiles knows when it’s time to make himself scarce.

 

***

 

Stiles lies in Peter’s bed that night and texts his dad. His dad is working late again tonight, and Stiles feels a rush of guilt at that. When he’s back on a decent schedule, what if he asks Stiles to come back to the house in town? So far his dad hasn’t pushed the issue. He hasn’t mentioned anything about the new security screens and the cameras and the alarms, but Stiles knows that his dad isn’t the sort of guy who’s forgotten something like that. What if his dad’s waiting for him to bring it up?

“I’m not enjoying your heartbeat at the moment, Stiles,” Peter says from where he’s working on something at his desk in the adjoining room.

“What?” Stiles splays a hand over his chest. “What’s wrong with it?”

“You’re getting stressed,” Peter tells him.

“Well, pardon me for providing you with an unenjoyable heartbeat,” Stiles mutters under his breath. He scowls at the doorway to the adjoining room and then flails when Peter suddenly appears.

“One day we’re going to discuss exactly how acute werewolf hearing is,” Peter tells him, leaning against the doorjamb and smirking. “If I can hear your heartbeat, Stiles, of course I can hear you muttering away like an angry little goblin as well.”

Stiles sighs, and sets his phone aside. “My dad’s on night shift. I’ve been texting him.”

“And?” Peter folds his arms over his chest and raises his brows.

“Don’t give me all that.” Stiles waves a hand in his direction.

“All what?”

“The whole foldy-armed confident bullshit,” Stiles tells him. “Since last time you saw my dad you skedaddled like a puppy that had peed on his carpet.”

“Discretion is the better part of valor,” Peter says with a smirk.

“I don’t think that means what you think it means.” Stiles holds out his hand and makes a grabby gesture in Peter’s direction.

Peter pushes himself off the doorjamb and wanders over to the bed. He sits down and curls his fingers through Stiles’s.

“Why didn’t you hear Kate?” Stiles asks suddenly.

“What?”

“You guys, tonight. You heard the car, and you knew it was the Argents.”

“All cars have a slightly different sound,” Peter tells him. “Chris has driven here before, remember? And he was invited tonight. Who else would it be?”

“But the night Kate came…”

Peter’s gaze slides off Stiles and rests somewhere in the middle distance. Somewhere in his past. “We’d never had dealings with the Argents. We knew they were hunters, they knew we were wolves, but we’d never done anything to cause them to come after us. Their code? We hunt those who hunt us. Our pack has never harmed humans, not in living memory.”

Stiles squeezes his hand a little tighter.

“That night…” Peter clears his throat. “Nobody heard her approach the house because Gerard had taught her how to move like a hunter, and she came on foot. Quietly, no louder than a fox.”

Stiles feels bile rise in the back of his throat.

“I was working late,” Peter says. “In the library, luckily. Everyone else was asleep. I was tired, probably. Distracted, because Derek and I had fought that afternoon and he’d said he was staying overnight in town with a friend.” He laughs. “A friend.”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles whispers.

“She smelled like him,” Peter says. “That’s how she got so close. I thought he’d slunk home with his tail between his legs, to apologize, but when I opened the door…”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles whispers again. “I shouldn’t have asked. I’m sorry.”

Peter squeezes his hand, and shudders. He pulls his gaze back and meets Stiles’s eyes. “She’d circled the house with mountain ash. Even the exits to the tunnels that nobody was meant to know about. If the fire had caught…” He smiles. “Well, if it had caught anything apart from me, we would have had no way to escape it.”

Stiles’s eyes sting.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Peter says at last, and sighs.

Stiles nods.

Peter draws a deep breath. “Back in the old days, werewolves used to coat their claws in wolfsbane before a challenge, so that any wounds they inflicted would scar. It was a badge of honor not just to inflict scars, but also to wear them. A sign of a warrior, of someone who had fought for their alpha, for their pack. A sign of strength.” He reaches out with his free hand and cups Stiles’s cheek. His thumb rubs against the knot of scar tissue on Stiles’s bottom lip. “In the old days, Stiles, you and I would be heroes.”

“Being a hero is probably overrated,” Stiles says, mouth quirking.

“Probably,” Peter agrees softly.

They don’t talk again for a very long time.

There doesn’t seem like there’s anything to say.

Stiles falls asleep that night cuddled up against Peter’s chest, with Peter’s arm around him and his hand curled warmly around the back of his neck.

 

 

Chapter Text

Stiles goes back to school on Friday, nervous of it in a way that feels almost nostalgic. It’s stupid. Everything that’s happened should be world altering, but here’s high school, just the same as always. Here are the same kids as the week before, gazes sliding over Stiles’s scarred face as they try to see everything without making eye contact. Without having to acknowledge to the freak, or maybe to themselves, that they came to the show just to stare at him. Everything that’s happened should make Stiles feel stronger, right? Should make him feel like he can cope with anything? Which is unfair, because it doesn’t.

Same old school.

Same old stares.

Focusing on Scott is a good way to keep his anxiety from ratcheting up into panic.

Scott seems to be doing really well, but he’s a little jittery as though he’s had too much caffeine. Which Stiles has learned is actually impossible for werewolves. They metabolize everything too fast for caffeine or other stimulants to have any effect. Which means no werewolf keggers down by the lake in summer, basically. Scott was crestfallen for like half a second when he realized he’d never be able to get drunk, but the whole breathing and being alive thing more than compensate.

“Is school always this loud?” Scott whispers to Cora as she walks with them to their lockers. “I can hear everything. And the smell!” He makes a face.

“Tune it out, McCall,” Cora tells him. “Remember to focus on your anchor.”

“Right,” Scott says, and closes his eyes for a second. “Got it.”

Stiles isn’t really sure if he understands what they’re talking about. Peter tried to explain, but Stiles got the impression he didn’t really understand that well either. Because the Hales are born wolves. They grew into their control the same way as they grew into learning how to talk, or how to walk. It was a natural progression for them. It’s been a long time since there was a bitten wolf in the pack, and none of the Hales have any firsthand knowledge of how difficult it might be.

But Scott, Talia says, is doing very well. Well enough that she declared him fit for school, and he doesn’t appear to be in any immediate danger of shifting and going feral. Just a little jittery.

Cora doesn’t have many classes with them, but between her and Stiles and Allison they’ve got Scott’s schedule covered.

Still, Stiles is actually a little surprised when they make it through the day without a hitch. He’d kind of been expecting some sort of catastrophe. It seems par for the course lately, but apart from a moment in chemistry when Scott sneezes and his fangs appear—nobody was looking, thank fuck—it all goes surprisingly well.

Okay, so the cafeteria has run out of curly fries by the time Stiles gets there, but it’s not the biggest blow he’s been dealt this last week.

“Sup, losers?” Jackson says when he slides into a seat beside Lydia and surveys the table with a haughty look. “Jesus, I can’t believe you were all out sick together. Did you guys all give each other mono or something?”

“Wow. I should be so lucky,” Scott says with a bright smile that gives absolutely no fucks.

Jackson gives him a narrow, speculative look and Scott doesn’t elaborate.

Stiles and Allison exchange a grin.

“Ugh,” Lydia says, elbowing Jackson. “Ignore him, please. He’s just pissed because none of you have said you’re coming to his party on the weekend, even though you’re ‘losers’.”

“That’s not even true.” Jackson rolls his eyes. “But you are coming, right?”

Lydia rolls her eyes right back at him.

“Do you guys want to?” Scott asks them.

“Sure,” Stiles says with a shrug. “I’ll come. Ally?”

“Okay.”

“Whatever,” Jackson says, but his posture relaxes a little, and he throws an arm around Lydia’s shoulders.

Stiles eats his lunch and smiles at Cora across the cafeteria, and thinks that maybe this is what it’s like to have friends again. Even if one of them is a dick.

 

***

 

He misses Peter. It’s tragic and pathetic, and Stiles tells Mr. Harris he needs to see the nurse urgently, and he sneaks away to the bathroom instead to send Peter a text.

I love you, I think.

He hits send before he even realizes what a monumentally stupid thing that is to say via text message. At least he’s already in the bathroom, right? He doesn’t need to go far to find a toilet to vomit into.

When his phone buzzes, Stiles almost drops it.

I love you too, sweetheart.

Stiles’s face does something weird because it can’t tell if he’s trying to laugh or cry. The rest of him doesn’t know either.

And he definitely needs to talk to his dad.

 

***

 

Scott heads home after school, since it’s been too long since he checked in with his mom. Also, Allison is coming over so that Scott can help her with her English homework.

“So I’m pretty sure I won’t be much help at all,” Scott worries aloud, chewing on his bottom lip. “I’m barely scraping a pass and she’s on a solid B. Why would she want to study with me?”

“I have no idea,” Stiles tells him, wondering how he hasn’t connected the dots on this yet.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess.” Scott slings his backpack over his shoulder and heads toward the parking lot.

“That boy’s an idiot,” Cora says, appearing out of exactly nowhere, but there’s something approving in her tone.

“Right?” Stiles agrees.

“He’s made of sunshine and optimism and all the things I hate,” Cora says.

“Aw.” Stiles puts an arm around her. “It’s okay. We can still hate the happy people together.”

She fist bumps him.

They cross the parking lot together, and of course the Jeep—which Stiles insisted on collecting before school—doesn’t start.

Stiles groans. “Well, I guess something had to go wrong.”

“There’s my little pessimist,” Cora says, and pets the Jeep on the fender. “I’ll call Derek.”

 

***

 

Stiles is pretty sure that all the girls leaving school and at least half the guys swoon when Derek pulls up in the Camaro, wearing his leather jacket and aviator glasses. Stiles should have guessed there was something supernatural going on with the Hales the moment he saw Derek. Librarians don’t look like that. Not in any world that follows the rules.

Cora climbs into the back seat, leaving the front for Stiles, which means he can stretch out a little, and doesn’t have to contort his spine into a pretzel to climb out again.

“Can we go by the station?” Stiles asks. “I need to talk to Dad.”

“Isn’t he coming out tonight?” Derek asks, pulling out of the parking lot.

“I need to talk to Dad before I talk to Peter,” Stiles says, drawing a deep breath. Peter, who loves him. Strange how it all feels a little scarier when he puts a name to it, even though the feeling itself hasn’t changed. Maybe it’s the weight of expectations? Maybe Stiles is afraid that if he labels it, he’s setting them both up for failure.

Yeah, he needs to talk to his dad.

Derek just nods and gives him a slight smile.

The still unfamiliar houses and storefronts of Beacon Hills flash past as Derek heads for the Sheriff’s Department. Stiles wonders if the town will ever feel like home, or if that feeling is reserved for a three-story house on the edge of the Preserve with a wolf sanctuary attached.

Derek finds a park right outside the Sheriff’s Department.

Stiles climbs out of the Camaro. He remembers the last time he was here, and tugs his hood up. Pulls the cords tight so that it tightens around his face. It’s not so bad though, walking in with a Hale at each shoulder.

Parrish is on the counter this time. “Hey, Stiles,” he says. “Good to see you.”

“Hey.”

“You here to see your dad? He’s free.” Parrish hits the buzzer and lets them all through.

“Thanks.” Stiles heads through to his dad’s office, Derek and Cora trailing after him. “Um, maybe you guys could wait out here or something?”

There’s a bench outside the sheriff’s office, running the length of the window. It sort of looks like the place where you’d line up a bunch of perps. Derek and his leather jacket look surprisingly at home there. So do Cora and her smirk.

His dad’s door is open, but Stiles knocks anyway and then sidles inside.

His dad looks up from a stack of files, and raises his eyebrows in an unasked question.

“I’m good,” Stiles says, and shuffles his feet a little.

His dad looks him up and down, and rubs his forehead. “Close the door, son.”

Stiles does, and turns the lock for good measure.

His dad leans against his desk and folds his arms over his chest. “Something we need to talk about, Stiles?”

Stiles can’t even answer that. Can’t even nod. Whatever the hell he thought he was going to say on the way over here, it’s all gone. This is a choice he can’t make. He’s not ready for this. He can’t. Can’t. His hands start to shake, and there’s a vise pressing on his chest, and his dad’s expression changes instantly and he’s on his feet with his arms around Stiles.

“Breathe, kiddo,” his dad says, his voice stern and gentle at the same time. “Come on. Breathe.”

Stiles remembers those words from another time. Remembers how desperate his dad sounded. His breath hitches at the memory of that, and he buries his face in his dad’s shoulder.

“Okay,” his dad says, and rubs a hand up and down Stiles’s back. “Don’t cry. Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out, huh?”

Stiles nods, but makes no attempt to move out of his dad’s embrace.

“Did Peter do something?” His dad’s voice hardens, and he takes Stiles by the shoulders and eases him back so he can look him in the eye. “What happened?”

Stiles scrubs at his cheeks with his sleeves. “He sent me a text. Said he loves me.”

His dad’s face does something complicated. “By text?”

“I, um, I texted him first.”

His dad sighs. “By text, son? Really?”

Stiles clears his throat, and sniffs. “Not the point of this meltdown, but I’ll note your disapproval for future reference.”

His dad snorts. “Right. Okay.” He squeezes Stiles’s shoulders carefully. “Peter’s a lot older than you, Stiles.”

“I know.”

“A lot,” his dad repeats. “We’re not just talking a couple of years.”

“I’m legal,” Stiles says, lifting his chin.

“I am very well aware of that,” his dad tells him. “And that’s not what I’m saying. It’s not that you’re only just eighteen, kid, it’s that Peter’s got almost two decades on you. Two decades of life experience. That’s a big gap to bridge at any age.”

“Dad.” Stiles draws in a breath. He takes one of his dad’s hands and presses it against his scarred cheek. “I think the one thing we’ve got is shared life experience, okay?”

His dad’s eyes shine, and he blinks quickly. “Right.”

Stiles swallows. He can’t remember the last time he let his dad touch his face without flinching away from the contact.

His dad holds his gaze. “You’re here to tell me you want to move in with the Hales.”

“I—” Stiles’s eyes flood with tears. “I don’t know.”

“Aw, kid,” his dad says, voice tinged with regret. “Of course you know. If you didn’t already know, you wouldn’t be so upset.”

“I’m sorry!”

“Hey.” His dad lifts his hand to smooth Stiles’s hair back. “Come on. It’s not exactly out of left field, you know. For the record, I think you’re moving too fast here, kid. I do. But I’m not going to stop you. And I’m going to visit you, every damned day. Twice, probably.”

Stiles gives a choked laugh.

“And I’m going to come out there and talk to Talia, and Peter. Whether it’s man to man, or whether I need to smack him over the snout with a newspaper, he is going to listen.” His dad pulls him forward into a hug again. “And your room will always be waiting for you back at the house if you need it.”

All of a sudden it feels like too much. Like Stiles isn’t ready for this. He needs his dad. He needs Peter too, and it doesn’t seem fair that he has to choose between them like this. Hasn’t the world already been unfair enough to Stiles? And then guilt crowds in on top of his anxiety, because he’s alive, and his dad is alive, and Peter is alive, and Scott is alive, and Gerard is dead, and what right does Stiles have to demand more than that? He’s already been given the impossible, hasn’t he?

“I’ll come by tonight after my shift and talk to the Hales,” his dad says. “Because you might be eighteen and legally an adult, but you’re still my kid, okay? You’re always going to be my kid, and I’m always going to be your dad.”

“Okay,” Stiles mumbles into his shoulder. “Love you, Dad.”

“I love you too, kiddo.” His dad presses a kiss into his hair. “And I’m not done with you yet. I’m going to hound you every day about your homework and your exercises and your appointments. I don’t give a damn whose roof you’re living under. That’s always gonna be my job.”

“Good,” Stiles mumbles.

“And tomorrow you can come over to the house and we can pack your stuff.” His dad hugs him tighter for a moment. “Maybe just a suitcase for now, huh?”

“Okay.”

“Okay,” his dad echoes, voice sounding rough. “Okay.”

They stand silently for a long moment. Stiles doesn’t want to let his dad go, and he thinks his dad probably feels the same. If it hadn’t been for the sudden commotion from right outside the door, God only knows how long they would have stood there.

 

***

 

“Derek!” Stiles’s dad bellows as he wrenches open the door. “What the hell is going on?”

Stiles, heart beating fast, leans out past his dad to see.

Derek is standing with his fingers around the throat of one of the deputies. The guy is shoved up against the wall, and Derek looks about a single heartbeat away from wolfing out and ripping the guy’s face off.

Parrish and another one of the deputies have their tasers out and pointed, and Cora is showing them her palms.

“Derek!” Stiles’s dad bellows again, striding right up to him and pulling him away.

Stiles knows enough about werewolf strength to know that Derek lets it happen.

The deputy sags back against the wall, gasping for breath. It’s Lang. The guy who sneered at Stiles the first day he came to the station. The guy who insisted on calling his dad the interim sheriff. He opens his mouth to say something, but Cora speaks first.

“You did it!” Her eyes are blazing.

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”

“Liar,” she says. “You threw the rock through the Stilinskis’ front window!”

Stiles heart clenches.

“That’s bullshit!” Lang rasps.

“I sc—saw you,” Derek says.

Scented, Stiles thinks wildly. He was going to say scented.

“So did I,” Cora says. “And so did my uncle.”

Parrish and the other deputy have already holstered their tasers, and they’re looking at Lang like maybe the Hales’ crazy accusation isn’t all that crazy after all.

“Cora, Derek. Take my son home, please.” Stiles’s dad doesn’t take his eyes off Lang. “Deputy Lang, give Parrish your gun and badge, and get your ass into my office. Now.”

Cora grabs Stiles’s hand and draws him toward the front of the station. Derek glares at Lang for a moment longer, then strides after him.

“Your dad is so badass,” Cora whispers gleefully, and Derek nods.

Stiles is too shocked to answer beyond a weird, strangled laugh.

Cora and Derek are pretty damn badass themselves, actually.

Chapter Text

Stiles feels wrung out by the time Derek gets them all home. He leaves it to Derek and Cora to explain to Talia what happened at the station, and folds himself into Peter’s embrace instead. Peter’s chest rumbles when he growls.

“I should rip his fucking throat out!”

“Peter,” Talia says calmly. “Take Stiles upstairs, please, and leave this one to the sheriff.”

Stiles groans at the thought of all those damned stairs, but before he even has time to ask Peter to draw his pain away Peter is sweeping him up into a bridal carry and striding up the steps.

“I told my dad I’m moving in with you,” Stiles says when they reach the second floor and keep climbing. His stomach clenches. “Probably should have told you first, huh?”

Peter smiles at him. “To be fair, sweetheart, I think the only person who didn’t already know you’d moved in with me was you.”

Stiles opens his mouth to argue the point, but then Peter’s setting him down gently in the foyer of his room, and Stiles sees his spare hoodie hanging over the back of the chair. He sees his laptop on the desk, next to Peter’s. The notes for his half-started History assignment are stacked on top of Peter’s bills. The bedroom is no better. The socks he wore in bed last night before his feet got too hot have escaped the end of the bed and are lying on the floor. His pillow from home is lying beside Peter’s. Peter’s dresser drawer is half-open, and one of Stiles’s graphic t-shirts is hanging out. How long has he shared a drawer with Peter?

Okay, so Peter has a point.

“And as soon as we can get your father to realize he’s moved in as well, the better.”

“What?”

“Stiles, the man has stayed over in a guest room for three nights out of the past week.”

“Only because of exceptional circumstances, like Gerard Argent trying to kill us!”

“Of course.” Peter smirks. “And every other night when he’s stayed so late that it seems like a waste for him to go home only just to turn around and come back for breakfast.”

Stiles blinks. “Shit.”

“Obliviousness is clearly a family trait.”

“Normal people don’t go around sneakily trying to add you to their family without telling you!”

Peter puts his arms around him and nuzzles his neck. “And now we’ve got you, and you’re stuck with us.”

“Promise?” Stiles asks.

Peter pulls back and smiles. “I promise, Stiles.”

 

***

 

It’s easy to settle into life with the Hales. His dad visits often enough that Stiles barely has time to miss him, and is usually around for either breakfast or dinner, and some days both. That’s the thing about a family the size of the Hales, Stiles thinks. One more person can easily add to the crowd.

Stiles starts attending school regularly. It’s hard to think of a reason to miss a day when he wakes up pain free, or with only a few twinges and aches that Peter eases in moments. And while Stiles is probably never going to actively like school, he likes hanging with Scott and Ally and Lydia and Danny, and fine, okay, even Jackson. And it’s amazing how the other kids are less likely to stare and whisper when Jackson’s glaring at them, just fucking daring them to do it. Jackson is basically a dick. Stiles is just glad he’s decided to use his powers for good instead of evil. Also, it’s hilarious to watch Jackson get so damn frustrated when Scott suddenly turns into a lacrosse champion. Literally. He helps win so many games that the coach names him co-captain. Stiles is pretty sure they can hear Jackson’s scream of despair from three counties over.

 

***

 

The days grow shorter and the nights grow cold. Stiles likes to bundle himself up under as many layers as he can, and cuddle Peter for warmth. Peter is like a personal space heater, and Stiles is used to waking up plastered over him. The first time he wakes up with morning wood though…

It shouldn’t be that surprising. He’s an eighteen-year-old guy who spends his nights curled up with a man with more abs than strictly necessary. Except Stiles has been so used to pain being the only thing his body can produce that when it happens he freezes in shock like he’s twelve years old again and sweet Jesus what the hell is happening to his dick? At least this time he doesn’t run screaming to his dad because he thinks something’s broken. That’s a conversation Stiles never wants to relive.

He curls away from Peter instead, and closes his eyes and wills his erection to go away. Then he climbs out of bed and sends an email to Kirsten and quietly panics until she emails him back: You obviously care about Peter and he cares about you. Don’t let your fear stop you from exploring a sexual relationship, meatball.

She also sends a bunch of links about building healthy relationships, about practicing safe sex, and, more interestingly, about managing sex with a disability.

He’s not ready. Not yet, but he’s getting there.

 

***

 

Scott starts spending a lot more time with the Hales. Eventually they give him a Hale Wolf Sanctuary shirt and a staff lanyard, and just let him find something useful to do. Scott loves working the ticket booth. He’s a lot better with customers than Cora. He and Stiles often hang out behind the counter, rearranging the brochures and maps and working on their homework between customers.

“So, Chris is inviting me and my mom for dinner this weekend,” he tells Stiles one afternoon. “Should I be weirded out by that?”

“You should be mostly weirded out it took you this long to realize you and Allison were dating.”

“Dude, she’s totally out of my league!” Scott exclaims happily.

“Does your mom know about the whole wolf thing yet?” Stiles asks curiously.

“No.” Scott’s shoulders slump. “I was going to tell her, but after that last report card I thought I should maybe not dump too much on her at once?”

Stiles is secretly glad Scott is pretty much failing. His mom has threatened to make him repeat his senior year. Stiles suspects Scott knows how much he really wants that to happen, so that Stiles isn’t without all his friends next school year. He suspects Scott is intentionally tanking his classes, despite his mom’s despair. It’s amazing, really, but not altogether surprising. The guy took a bullet for Allison. What’s repeating a year of school compared to that?

“It’s weird though,” Scott says. “Like Mr. Argent is working through a whole lot of stuff at the moment, and I can’t figure out of he likes me or not. Like sometimes I don’t know if he wants to hug me or strangle me.”

“Is that because you’re a werewolf, or because you’re violating his daughter?”

Scott turns bright red. “Um, maybe both?”

Stiles laughs.

“Like, I think Allison is my mate, you know?”

“Are you a pirate now? Or British?”

“It’s a wolf thing,” Scott tells him, and waves a pamphlet in his face. “We have mates. Like she’s not just a girl I love. The wolf part of me has like a claim or something.” He makes a face. “That sounds creepy.”

“Little bit.”

“Like.” Scott screws his face up. “Like the wolf works on instinct, right? It feels the pull of the moon. That’s what it’s like. Allison is like the pull of the moon. She’s this force of nature, and the wolf understands that, and just goes with it.”

Stiles swallows. “Do all wolves have mates?”

“I don’t know.” Scott’s expression shifts into something a little guilty. “Um, you could ask him?”

“What? Who? What?”

“Dude,” Scott says with a sigh. “Peter. You could ask him.”

“Yeah, no, um.” Stiles rearranges some pamphlets. “Maybe.”

A few minutes later when Peter wanders down in wolf form to collect him, Stiles pushes the question out of his mind. He waves goodbye to Scott, and walks with Peter up toward the house, and thinks that maybe he doesn’t even need to ask, because maybe, just like I love you, Stiles already knows. Maybe he’s been following the pull of the moon too, in his own way, for weeks.  

 

 

***

 

It takes about two months for Stiles’s dad to realize he’s pretty much living with the Hales. Stiles thinks it happens when they need him for something at the station and Parrish calls the Hales’ house phone before even bothering with John’s cell.

“Aw, hell,” his dad says as the realization washes over him, and Stiles laughs so hard it hurts.

 

***

 

On the night before the full moon, Stiles overdoes it. He’s been helping Laura and Arielle extend one of the enclosures at the sanctuary--some vet up in Oregon has contacted them about two wolf cubs that were brought to him after their mother was killed in a traffic accident, and if they survive he wants to send them to the Hales. They can’t be just thrown in with the established pack, and will need to be introduced slowly while at the same time they’re still being weaned from bottle feeds, so Arielle has planned to give them their own run behind the main enclosure, so they can see and interact with the other wolves from behind the safety of a fence. Stiles helps hold the posts in place while Laura and Arielle put the fence together. It shouldn’t be that much effort at all, but by the time they’re halfway through he has to stop.

“Stiles?” Laura asks worriedly, and helps him back up to the house when she realizes he can’t straighten up.

Peter runs him a hot bath, then kneels beside him and takes his pain while the hot water eases his cramped muscles and aching spine.

“Just because you’re not hurting anymore doesn’t mean you’re not doing damage,” Peter tells him.

“I know.” He wants to cry, and it has nothing to do with the pain. He just feels useless. “Dad’s gonna be pissed because I haven’t been doing my exercises.”

Peter helps him out of the bath, rubs him down with a towel, and leads him to the bed. Stiles reaches for his clothes, but Peter growls.

“Lie down. I’m giving you a massage.”

Stiles is used to Peter’s touch, but his stomach still clenches. Because touch is one thing, but touch and scrutiny? Stiles isn’t sure he’s ready for that.

“Close your eyes,” Peter tells him. “Just relax.”

Right, because it’s that easy. But he lies down on his stomach, the towel still wrapped around his hips, and shivers a little in the cool.

Peter’s hands on his shoulders are so warm. Stiles squeezes his eyes shut when Peter’s hands slide gently down his spine, over the surgical scars on his lower back. It makes him feel weird that Peter doesn’t even hesitate to touch them. Then he shifts down lower, digging his thumbs and fingers into Stiles’s thighs, and then his calves. Stiles shifts a little, blood rushing to his dick, and his breath hitches.

“Just relax,” Peter murmurs, working his way around the knots and whorls of scar tissue on his knees. It doesn’t hurt, of course, but Stiles’s body tenses in the expectation of it. It’s only doctors and nurses who’ve touched him so closely before, and those associations are full of the memory of pain.

Slowly, Peter works that tension away, and Stiles melts a little into the mattress.

Peter returns to his shoulders, fingers digging into the muscle, and the moan Stiles lets out is almost embarrassing. Peter presses a kiss to the back of his neck, and Stiles tries really hard not to grind his dick into the bed.

“Turn over for me now, sweetheart.”

Stiles freezes. “Peter, I don’t…”

“What is it you think I’ll see?” Peter asks him softly. “Your scars? Your erection? Your eyes?”

His eyes, yes, and everything he’s trying to hide in them. Mostly how fucking vulnerable Peter makes him feel, how weak and needy. Heart beating fast, Stiles rolls over.

Peter holds his gaze. “You’re beautiful, sweetheart. There’s nothing of you that you need to hide from me.”

He rests his palm over Stiles’s heart, and then begins to trace the scars on his chest, on his sternum, on his hip. All the places that Stiles usually hides under layers of baggy clothes. The patchwork stitch-job the surgeons did after he broke so many bones they thought he wasn’t going to survive at all. Survive, or walk, or one day bare his body to the gaze of someone he loves. The fear of rejection is still there, even though Stiles knows it’s irrational.

He lets his eyes slide shut when the intensity of Peter’s gaze becomes too much, and concentrates on breathing while Peter sweeps his hands over his body, seeking out every scar to touch gently, to map with his fingertips, to know.

When Peter’s fingers slip under the edge of the towel, Stiles’s breath shudders out of him.

“Is this okay?” Peter asks.

Stiles nods, and keeps his eyes shut as Peter tugs the towel open.

Peter slides his fingers along the thick, raised scar just above his groin. The one courtesy of his shattered pelvis.

“Beautiful,” he says quietly, and then circles his warm fingers around Stiles’s dick.

Stiles’s eyes flash open, and he almost jack knives off the bed Peter leans in, and meets his shocked gaze questioningly.

“Please,” Stiles says. “Yes, Peter, please.”

Peter smiles, licks his lips, and leans down.

Holy shit.

Everything turns white.

 

***

 

“So, that was embarrassing,” Stiles mumbles, naked and loose limbed in Peter’s lap.

“What was?” Peter asks, teasing him with kisses against the line of his jaw.

Stiles curls his fingers in Peter’s hair and tugs his head back so he can scowl at him. “The way I came in like five seconds?”

“You’re being too hard on yourself,” Peter says with a smirk. “It was easily ten seconds.”

Stiles’s face burns. “Asshole.”

Peter laughs.

Stiles leans forward and presses his mouth to Peter’s. Run his tongue along Peter’s bottom lip, and shivers. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Peter says back, as easy as breathing.

Stiles shivers again. “Um, so now we sit here and wait for something bad to happen, right?”

Peter raises his eyebrows. “You watch entirely too many terrible movies.”

“True.”

“I love you,” Peter says. “You love me. We love each other, and look, the sky isn’t falling.”

Stiles leans in for another quick kiss. “Peter, are you my mate?”

Peter holds his gaze. “Does that idea scare you?”

“No,” Stiles says. “The sky’s not falling.”

“Good.” Peter smiles. “Then yes, you’re my mate, and I'm yours.”

And even if the sky were falling, Stiles knows, Peter would still find a way to protect him.

Chapter Text

 

 

“This isn’t what I had in mind, kid,” his dad says as they follow the trail through the woods. Peter trots ahead of them in wolf form, Cora at his side. She’s a tawny-colored wolf, fast and sleek. Up ahead, Stiles can hear the kids screeching with laughter.

Stiles flashes a smile at his dad.

“When we left L.A. I thought I was bringing you to some place quiet,” his dad says. “Some place we could both catch our breath. I thought I’d get a house, a place with a yard for once.” He snorts. “Maybe even get you a dog.”

Stiles laughs, and Peter flicks his tail up indignantly.

“I never even imagined something like this,” his dad says as the trail ends at the lakeside.

It’s a sunny day, but there’s a chill in the air. Not that werewolves give a damn about that. The kids are shrieking and splashing in the water. And not just the kids. As Stiles watches, James breaks the surface of the water, roars at Matty, and drags him, struggling, underneath. A second later he reappears, flinging a laughing Matty out deeper into the lake.

“Jesus,” Stiles’s dad says. “Werewolves play rough.”

It’s a rare day off for the whole pack. Laura fiddled with the sanctuary roster so that none of the Hales need to be there this afternoon. So they packed a picnic lunch—one big enough to feed an army—and headed off to the lake.

“Stiles!” Scott yells from the shallows, where he appears to be attempting to drown one of the twins. “Come in!”

“No way, dude!” Stiles yells back. “I can tell from here the water’s freezing!”

Peter latches his jaws around Stiles’s wrist and tugs him a little further along the shoreline, where there’s a nest of blankets and pillows waiting for him. Everyone else is making do with blankets alone, but sitting on the ground without any support is a recipe for disaster.

Stiles eases himself down, blinking in the sunlight, and Peter stretches out along his side.

It doesn’t take long for Stiles to soak up the sun’s warmth, and to unzip his hoodie and shrug it off.

Peter rests his chin on his abdomen, snuffling for a moment against the thin fabric of his long-sleeved t-shirt.

Stiles props a pillow under his head, curls his fingers in Peter’s ruff, and dozes, sun-blind, to the sounds of laughter and splashing.

 

***

 

He dreams a little, he thinks, in that weird moment between awake and asleep when his thoughts drift into some place where it seems like the fantastical could be real, and consciousness melts a little at the edges. He’s warm in the sun, and he can hear kids laughing, and he nudges Peter’s head off him just long enough to pull his shirt off too, and then drops it in a tangled pile on top of his hoodie.

The sunlight feels so good on his skin.

Peter licks his fingertips approvingly.

Stiles dozes off again.

 

***

 

In movies, sex is something that happens organically. Eye contact, and a kiss, and then the music swells while the beautiful people clench the sheets and gasp, and the camera pans away. Even in porn—and Stiles has watched a lot of porn—there’s no awkward moment between wanting it and doing it. There’s no shoving down pants and getting them tangled around ankles, and having to ask your partner to take them the rest of the way off because you can’t bend down and do it yourself. Stiles has never felt less fucking sexy in his life, less sexual, than he does when he’s sitting on the side of the bed and Peter is kneeling before him to untangle his pants and underwear from his feet.

Stiles wants this over, which isn’t a great way to approach things, but this isn’t foreplay. This is assisted fucking living, and he hates it.

He and Peter have talked about this. Hell, he and his dad have talked about this. His dad even made him finally get his shit together and go and see the Beacon Hills physical therapist that was recommended to them back in L.A., and sat in on the first consultation to make sure that Stiles mentioned he was planning on becoming sexually active.

“Just because he can take your pain doesn’t mean you can’t get injured,” his dad had reminded him on the humiliating car ride to the hospital. “So yes, kiddo, if you won’t ask about which positions will work for you, I damn well will.”

And he damn well had.

Seems kind of dumb to waste all that embarrassment for nothing, right?

Stiles takes a deep breath and tugs his shirt off.

Peter stands, and it takes Stiles a moment to remember that he doesn’t have to avert his eyes. He’s allowed to watch Peter undress. Allowed to let his jaw drop when Peter tugs his shirt off, and his abs actually ripple. When Peter undoes the fly of his jeans Stiles doesn’t know what he’s watching more: Peter’s strong, powerful hands and the way the tendons move, or what he’s unveiling when he opens his jeans.

Holy shit, that’s a nice dick. Big, uncut, and hella intimidating even at half-mast. Stiles has always loved guys with big dicks in porn. Turns out the idea’s not half as exciting when he has one of them standing in front of him, and Stiles is supposed to somehow fit that thing inside him.

“Just relax,” Peter tells him. “Nothing’s going to happen that you don’t want to happen.”

Stiles knows that. He trusts Peter. It’s just that wanting doesn’t automatically translate to courage.

He takes a deep breath and lies back, feet still on the floor and eyes closed.

They talked about this. About what Peter would do. Still, when Stiles hears Peter open the bedside drawer, and then hears the snick of him opening the lube, he can’t stop himself from flinching.

“Shh,” Peter says, hands on Stiles’s knees as he kneels between them. “I would never hurt you, Stiles.”

“I know,” he whispers on a breath.

Peter eases his knees apart.

The first touch of the lube against his hole is cold. And also embarrassing, and is Peter looking at him down there? Stiles screws his face up, and then quickly schools his features in case Peter’s looking at his face instead, and tries to remember how to breathe. Peter eases his finger inside him gently, and nothing hurts, but nothing feels good either. Just weird and slimy and gross.

Fuck. Stiles wishes there was some way to climb out of his head right now. Maybe he’s not ready for this after all, because it’s not—

And right then Peter crooks his finger and pegs his prostate.

Stiles lights up, eyes flashing open and dick jerking to life, and a million tiny bubbles of pleasure radiating out from deep inside him.

“Ah, there it is,” Peter says smugly, and Stiles doesn’t even have to look at him to know he’s smirking proudly.

Stiles will have to remember to call him an asshole later, when he’s not busy trying to figure out how to rock his body onto his finger. And then his fingers, because Peter adds another one. The stretch burns a little, but only for a fraction of a second, and Stiles can’t tell if Peter’s taking the slight sting away, or if his body is adjusting.

Stiles moans, eyes fluttering closed again as pleasure sparks through him. He reaches down to curl his fingers around his dick, keeping his fist loose. Teasing himself, because he doesn’t want to come yet. Not until Peter’s dick is inside him. He’s sure of that now.

Peter adds more lube, and keeps moving his fingers inside, stretching him and readying him. Stiles doesn’t know how long they’ve been doing it when Peter adds a third finger. The burn isn’t as sharp this time. He tilts his pelvis up, wanting more.

He feels loose. He wants this.

“I’m ready,” he says, opening his eyes. “’M’ready.”

Peter smiles up at him, and withdraws his fingers slowly. He helps Stiles sit up, and then climbs onto the bed. He stacks the pillows behind him, and leans back against the headboard. Stiles settles himself down on Peter’s thighs, knees digging into the mattress.

“Okay?” Peter asks him.

Stiles flushes and nods.

“Want to get me ready, sweetheart?” Peter presses the tube of lube into his shaking fingers.

Okay. Yeah. He can do this. Stiles bites his lip and squirts some lube out onto his fingers. Then, hand still shaking, he reaches down between them and curls his fingers around Peter’s dick. Peter sucks in a sharp-sounding breath, and his eyes half-close in pleasure at the touch. Stiles, emboldened, tightens his grip and jerks his fist along Peter’s shaft.

“Fuck,” Peter says, and groans. He reaches out and cups a hand behind Stiles’s head and pulls him in for a kiss. “We can finish like this, or we can keep going.”

“I want to keep going,” Stiles whispers against his mouth.

Peter grins, and nips at his bottom lip. “Get me nice and slick then.”

Stiles slathers some more lube onto his fingers, and coats Peter’s dick. He has no idea how much lube is enough, or too much, but Peter puts his hand over his to stop him.

“Ready?” he asks.

Stiles feels like a gymnast who’s attempting some tricky move for the first time in his life, and half expecting it to end in shattered bones and bloodshed. He nods, and lifts himself up onto his knees. He shifts forward, Peter’s hands on his hips guiding him into place. And then Peter’s holding his ass open and guiding him back down, and the big, hot head of his dick is pushing against Stiles’s entrance.

“Holy shit,” Stiles moans as he settles back and Peter fills him slowly. He feels pressure, but no pain, and he twists around as much as he can to see the black tendrils climbing up the veins in Peter’s forearms.

“You’re so tight,” Peter tells him, and kisses him again.

It’s good.

It’s so fucking good.

Pleasure coils tighter and tighter inside him as he rocks slowly on Peter’s dick. Peter’s hands under his ass take most of his weight, and help to ease him into a gentle rhythm that won’t overexert him now and leave him in agony later. Werewolf strength: the one thing he couldn’t tell his physical therapist about. Peter doesn’t thrust up into him. He lets Stiles set the pace.

Stiles curls his fingers around Peter’s shoulders, and digs them in when he feels like he’s going to fly apart at the seams. His dick is throbbing and his balls have drawn up tight, and he’s right on the edge of coming.

“So beautiful,” Peter tells him, his eyes flashing gold. “You’re so beautiful, sweetheart.”

Stiles rocks back into him, deeper, harder, and shivers. His eyes are stinging, but for once it’s not pain or misery overwhelming him. He leans forward to get the friction he needs on his dick as their bodies press tightly together, and Peter kisses him.

“I’m close,” Stiles whispers. “God, Peter, so close.”

“Come on, sweetheart,” Peter tells him. “Take what you need.”

Stiles comes, gasping and shuddering, his entire body lit up with pleasure. He tightens around Peter as he does, and slumps forward, barely registering that Peter’s coming too, and maybe everything is perfect.

“I love you,” Peter whispers to him, pressing kisses against his face. “My beautiful mate.”

Stiles echoes the words back breathlessly, his trembling fingers lying softly against the scars on Peter’s face.

 

***

 

It’s months.

Months before Stiles works up the courage to ask the question that’s been burning deep inside him since the night in the old sanitarium. Peter can tell, he know. So can the rest of the Hales. Stiles asks a lot of things about werewolves, about what they can do, about how the shift works, about how it feels, but he never asks the question. He’s afraid, he thinks. Afraid that maybe he’s asking it for the wrong reasons. Afraid that maybe it’s not something he has any right to ask. Afraid that maybe Talia will say no.

Afraid, too, that she’ll say yes.

The towel that he hung over the mirror in the bathroom he shares with Peter slips down one day, and Stiles doesn’t replace it.

He stares at his body in the mirror—lean, and pale and scarred. He meets his own gaze. Raises his fingers to touch the scars on his face, and discovers that ugliness doesn’t mean what he thinks it did. He doesn’t have to see a victim in the glass. Not when he can choose to see a survivor instead. It’s maybe a less dramatic realization than the entire werewolf thing, but it alters his worldview just as fundamentally. He raises his chin and regards himself carefully. Waits for cracks to appear in his resolution that will mirror the scars on his face.

Nothing happens.

He finishes dressing and heads downstairs. He can hear the kids playing somewhere in the house. Can hear Cora laughing. Can hear Derek telling her something in a low voice. He can hear Laura in the kitchen, humming. He can hear his dad talking to Peter, and Stiles leans toward their voices like a flower toward the sun before he heads toward the library instead.

He knocks softly on the door and opens it.

James and Talia are sitting together on the comfortable old couch, fingers entwined loosely as they both read.

“Can I talk to you?” Stiles asks, his heartbeat skipping.

James stands, and stops to squeeze Stiles gently on the shoulder before he leaves.

Talia smiles and gestures to the space beside her.

Stiles sits, and twists his fingers in his lap for a moment. He stares at his feet, at the faded Turkish carpet, and it takes all his courage to lift his gaze and look into Talia’s eyes.

“Stiles,” she says softly. “Just ask me.”

He flushes at that, because of course she knows.

“I just…” He swallows. “I just wanted to know what would happen if you gave me the bite. I mean, if that’s something you would do if I asked you. I know I’m not dying or anything, and I know I’m not really family, but—”

“Of course you’re family,” she tells him. “You’re pack, Stiles. I think you’ve been pack ever since Peter found you in the woods and brought you home.”

Stiles flushes again, warmth flooding through him. “But I don’t know if this is something I’m allowed to ask for.”

“Stiles.” Talia reaches out and takes his hands. “The bite is not without risk. You’re young, and you’re healthy.” She holds up a hand to forestall any objection he might make to that assessment. “Healthier than Scott was, I mean, when I bit him. So there’s no reason to think the bite wouldn’t take.”

Stiles heart thumps loudly.

“Do you know what happens when we shift, Stiles?” Her expression grows grave. “Every bone in our bodies snaps, and reforms. That would make your first transformation exceedingly difficult, I think.”

Stiles feels sick at the thought of his bones snapping. He thinks of all the pins and bolts and metal pieces inside him, holding his bones together. They’d have to go somewhere, right?

He nods. “But after that…”

“After that, you’d be stronger than you ever were before.”

Stiles nods.

“Talk to your father,” Talia tells him. “Talk to Peter. Decide if this is something that you want. And remember, whatever your decision, that you’re always family. You’re always pack.”

“Thank you,” Stiles says. “Thank you, Alpha.”

That night, curled up against Peter’s side, he dreams of being strong enough to run with his pack under the full moon.

 

Chapter Text

The pain is excruciating. It burns through his blood like acid and Stiles thinks, in his last scorching moment of lucidity: I shouldn’t have done this.

 

***

 

“It sounds risky, kid,” his dad says when Stiles tells him what he’s decided. There’s worry in his eyes, but no censure.

“I know,” Stiles says, sitting on his dad’s bed and looking at the picture of his mom on the nightstand. Their family portrait—the one Stiles put up in the hallway of the house in Beacon Hills—is currently hanging on the living room wall downstairs, the three smiling Stilinskis surrounded by the Hales. His mom would have loved them, Stiles knows. “It’s a big risk, but it’s a chance for me to be strong, Dad. To live without chronic pain.”

“Peter can—”

“I know Peter can take my pain,” Stiles says. “It’s not just about that though. Do you know how carefully I have to hold myself? Like, all the time? Do you know how long it takes me to walk up and down the stairs, because I can’t trust my body to move the way I need it to? I can’t give Boo a piggyback ride. I can’t play lacrosse with Scott. Some days I can’t even put my own fucking backpack on because my shoulders have seized up and I can’t lift my arms.”

His dad sits down beside him and puts an arm around his shoulders.

“You remember what the doctors said?” Stiles asks him. “It’s about learning to manage my expectations, and to live with my limitations. And it took me a while, Dad, but I think that’s what I’ve been doing.”

His dad hugs him tighter. “You have, and I’m so proud of you.”

“Okay, but now my limitations aren’t the same,” Stiles says. “My expectations aren’t. If there’s a chance I could be healthy again, shouldn’t I go for it? Or am I asking for too much? What if I’m tempting fate by wanting this?”

“I can’t tell you what to do,” his dad says, and huffs. “God knows I could try, but it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. I hate the risk. I hate the idea of losing you, kid. But in your shoes?” He closes his eyes briefly. When he opens them again, they’re shining with tears. “Kiddo, in your shoes, I’d jump at the chance too.”

 

***

 

“You got this, Stilinski,” Cora says, and punches him lightly in the shoulder.

Derek nods, and reaches out to tousle his hair.

 

***

 

Alan Deaton is the Hale pack emissary, and also the local vet. Stiles tries his hardest not to laugh at that, but it’s a near thing. And once Deaton tells him exactly how this will all play out if he decides he wants the bite, laughter is the furthest thing from his mind.

 

***

 

“I love you just the way you are,” Peter says, and flicks a card onto the pile.

“I know that,” Stiles answers steadily. He tugs the comforter around his shoulders and flips his own card onto the pile. “But I also need to know that you’ll support me, if I ask for the bite or if I don’t.”

“Unfair,” Peter says.

Stiles raises his eyebrows.

“I’d support you whatever you decided to do,” Peter tells him. “If you wanted to throw everything in go and live in a yurt in Mongolia, I’d be saddling a yak in a heartbeat.” He smiles. “If you’re looking for an unbiased opinion as to what you should do, you’ve come to the wrong man. But if it’s my support you want, then yes, always, and in everything.”

Stiles nods, and sets his cards down. He can’t even remember what game they’re playing, to be honest. “Tell me why I shouldn’t do it.”

“You know exactly why.”

The bite, Talia told him, on rare occasions, may be fatal.

“Now tell me why I should.”

Peter leans in and cups his cheek. Tilts his head up for a kiss. “Because, sweetheart, you’ll make a magnificent wolf.”

 

***

 

There’s a mattress in the basement. It’s covered in a thick, comfortable blanket.

“It’s okay, Stiles,” Laura tells him. “Mom and I will be with you the whole time, okay?”

“Okay.” His throat is dry when he swallows.

Talia cups his face in her warm hands, and holds his gaze. “No-one will think any less of you if you want to go back upstairs.”

“No. I want to.” Stiles swallows again, and looks over to where Deaton is waiting. He has a folder of Stiles’s x-rays in front of him, and a checklist of exactly what pieces of titanium and steel and plastic—screws and bolts and implants—need to come out.

Stiles tugs off his shirt, and pushes his jeans and underwear down.

It’s cold in the basement.

Laura sits beside him on the mattress, and holds his cold hands in hers.

“You remember how Peter found you that day?” she asks him. “And brought you back to us?”

He nods.

“He’ll be waiting for you, Stiles. Don’t forget that.”

 

***

 

It burns. His bones twist and snap, and Stiles screams. His vision whites out, and when he can see again the world is red, and Laura and Talia are holding him down and Deaton is cutting into his thigh with a scalpel. Everything stinks of blood. Stiles screams again as his skin splits open, and Deaton digs his fingers in to retrieve the two titanium bolts that had been holding his femur in place.

He falls back on the mattress, crying and wailing and trying to throw them off.

That’s two, his brain tells him.

That’s two.

And there’s seventeen more to go.

 

***

 

He’s going to die, he thinks. He’s not strong enough for this. Deaton warned him. He said a first shift should take minutes at most, but Stiles’s might take much longer. The wolf would be fighting to shift, but his body wouldn’t be able to do it, not until all the hardware was out. And Deaton is working as quickly as he can, but Stiles isn’t sure he can hold on long enough.

He doesn’t want to die in the Hales’ basement.

He curls his fingers around Laura’s wrist, and blinks as claws—his claws—dig into her skin. “Tell my dad I’m sorry.”

“Stiles.” Talia leans in close. “Don’t you dare quit now.”

The wolf inside him clambers to obey his alpha.

The boy inside him can’t hold on.

 

***

 

The first thing he hears in a heartbeat.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

Everything seems brighter, louder. Everything smells so much stronger.

Blood. Sweat. Salt. Stale air. Laura. Talia.

Stiles blinks up at the ceiling, twitching away as Laura wipes his face with a damp washcloth.

“’M’alive.”

“Good job,” she tells him with a smile.

Stiles runs his fingers down his chest, to his abdomen and hips. He feels his old surgical scars, but no new ones. Nothing where Deaton cut him open to pull the pins and screws out of him.

“I healed,” he says. “Laura, I healed.”

“Yeah, you did,” she says, her smile transforming into a brilliant grin.

 

***

 

Stiles walks up the basement steps, trailing his fingers along the wall out of habit more than anything. He’s not going to fall. He doesn’t know this body yet, but he trusts it more than the one that was held together with stitches and prayers.

It’s late, he thinks. It’s difficult to tell, because Stiles has never seen light quite like this. It feels like it should be darker than it is. His eyes, he realizes. Holy fuck. He can see in the dark. Are these his normal eyes or his wolf eyes? Will he have yellow eyes like Peter?

Stiles feels the pull toward Peter. Any maybe he can hear his heartbeat too, above the sound of all the other heartbeats in the house. They fade into background noise when he centers himself—lucky, or he’d go crazy, right?—but he can still hear one heartbeat. It beats to the same rhythm Stiles’s heart does.

Stiles remembers what Scott said about Allison. About the pull of the moon.

He understands that now.

But first…

His dad is sleeping in one of the armchairs in the living room, because of course he’d never go to bed. Not when there’s worrying to be done. How many nights did Stiles wake up to find him sleeping next to his bed in hospital, long after Stiles was out of danger? Because his dad had needed to be there.

Stiles knees down on the floor in front of him, and puts his hand on his knee. “Dad?”

His dad starts awake. “Stiles?”

Stiles hears his dad’s knees creak as he pushes himself down onto the floor. Hears his heart racing. The scratch of stubble against Stiles’s cheek when his dad hugs him is as loud as scrunched-up cellophane.

“Oh, Jesus Christ. Stiles.”

“I’m okay, Dad.” He laughs, because he almost can’t believe it himself. “I’m okay.”

“You’re okay,” his dad repeats, over and over again, and Stiles doesn’t know which one of them he’s trying to reassure.

 

***

 

Stiles opens the door to the rooms he shares with Peter. He can see all the way through to the bed, and gives a tiny growl of disapproval that the comforter appears undisturbed in the moonlight.

“Peter?” he calls, moving into the bedroom.

He feels Peter before he sees him. Maybe even before he scents him? Everything is new, and Stiles still hasn’t figured out how to sort through the sensory overload of his new abilities. Everything is right on the sharp edge of being a little too much, and Stiles discovers he’s digging his claws into his palms. His claws. He hisses at the sting, and tugs his claws free. The scent of coppery blood is overwhelming, but by the time Stiles even thinks to panic about it, the skin in his palms has knit closed. And then he feels hot breath on the back of his neck, and hears the thump-thump of a heartbeat that synchronizes exactly with his own.

Stiles turns, his chest rumbling.

Peter’s eyes flash gold, and Stiles feels the entire universe suddenly skip a beat, stop, and then fall gently back into place, the fit better than it ever was before. Everything feels so right, and so sure. Here is his Peter. Here is his mate. Here is his anchor. His wolf surges toward him.

Peter holds him close, and he smells so good. Stiles nuzzles against Peter’s neck, sniffing and darting his tongue out to taste the scent of him: musk and salt and warmth and fresh cotton and home.

“How do you feel, Stiles?” Peter asks him, pressing kisses to the top of his head.

“Strong,” Stiles murmurs, claws snagging in Peter’s shirt. “Alive.”

Peter draws back a little so that he can look him in the eye. His eyes flash gold and he smiles. “Sweetheart, I have so much to show you.”

***

 

Stiles still has his scars.

That’s all.

The rest is…

The rest is gone, like dust on the breeze. A few missed visits with his physical therapist, and eventually Stiles drops off the books. The insurance company sure as hell doesn’t make a fuss about not paying for any more appointments with specialists. Stiles emails Kirsten a few times to let her know he’s doing well, and if he ever accepts that invitation of hers to catch up when you’re in L.A., meatball, he’ll need to remember how he looked, how he moved, back when he was hurting.

He still has his scars, but they don’t count for much.

He’s got his dad, and his pack, and Scotty. He’s got Peter.

He’s got his whole life in front of him, and it’s brighter than the moon, and Peter is teaching him how to run like a wolf.