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The Division

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They recruited him right out of high school. He doesn't know why he accepted, he. He just did. Maybe because at eighteen he'd already seen more death than a lot of people did by eighty, and maybe this was a chance to get around it, get ahead of it, put an end to it. Some of it. Death itself can't be stopped, not without something worse. Maybe he thought they'd show him how to be the something worse.

At twenty-six he's two inches taller and fifty or so pounds heavier and he can run a six and a quarter minute mile in full gear without much effort. He hasn't been back since his first leave after basic, but he calls his dad when he can. Flies him down to base for Christmases, Easter, the occasional long weekend, as long as he’s not in some literally godforsaken backwater fighting whatever hell vomited up this time, as long as he’s not halfway around the world with blacked out comms and a broken leg, although that only happened one time.

When Dad sees him these days he always skates his palm over the top of Stiles’ head, hair buzzed off like back in the old days, and tells him he looks good. It’s usually a lie. Even when he’s not fresh from a twenty hour trip in the back of a cargo plane, or worse, the front of a Humvee, even when he’s not sporting bruises and scratches and bites, about five years back on a job gone seriously bad he caught a set of claws to the face—he kept his eye, but the thin pale lines, first pink and then white, stark against his tan, he’s going to keep those too.

He just made staff sergeant. He’s the oldest surviving enlisted man in the division.


They were new, the first two units assembled in the year before Stiles arrived, mostly pulled from Recon, a few SEALs, they were hard motherfuckers but for this line of work you need to be more than just hard. A couple of bloodbaths and this one captain got the attention of this one colonel and said, this isn’t working, none of these troops have any experience with this shit, and apparently the colonel was like, and how the fuck do you suggest they gain experience? Which was a pretty good question, but the captain’s idea was, look at the locations we’ve been monitoring, look at at the civilians involved in the incidents, see who’s fit and of enlistment age. Make the pitch.

That plan netted the division its first dozen recruits and some civilian contractors; they helped with the nonstandard training, helped the division start to compile more data than just “shit is fucked, shit is so fucked, also bullets don’t work.”

 

Stiles was in the alpha class. It stopped being funny years ago.

 

Scott was angrier than Derek. Derek just looked betrayed and resigned, like he knew he was beaten, so why bother fighting back? But Scott was furious and it took Isaac and Boyd to hold him after he snapped Stiles’ head back with a solid right hook. Stiles spit blood and thought there was something in Scott that must still believe in their friendship, because if Scott had put his full power behind the punch, Stiles wouldn’t have gotten back up again.

“You’re becoming a hunter?” Scott yelled. “You’re becoming one of them?” And Stiles said, “It’s not the same, it’s a tactical counter—” and Scott said, “Oh my god, you’re already sounding just like them.”

“Look, I know it’s my fault,” Stiles said, “I know if it wasn’t for me, you would’ve never gotten bitten, and none of this. Well. Most of this still would’ve happened, because Peter’s still a sociopath, but—”

“We get it, Stiles,” Isaac said, his wide hand still on Scott’s chest and Scott’s eyes still blazing.

“Hasn’t the last three years proven that there’s worse shit out there?” Stiles demanded. “Hasn’t the last three years proven that sometimes your world can’t take care of itself?”

“Just go,” Derek said, and nobody said anything else. 

 

Maybe he accepted the division’s offer because he started this and he had to finish it.

 

He did try, he tried one more time, when he got back from BCT and he and Scott sat across the table from each other in his mom’s house like they’d done at least a thousand times before.

“You smell like guns,” Scott said.

“Cordite,” Stiles said. He had a fresh burn scar on the back of his neck from the rifle range, an ejected shell had landed between his skin and his collar and he hadn’t got it out fast enough.

“It’s—” Stiles started to explain, and Scott put his hands flat on the tabletop.

“I know what cordite is, Stiles.” 

“Why don’t you see that I’m doing this for the pack?” Stiles said. “Trying to clean up all the shit that’s out there before it shows up here and tries to kill us?”

“Why don’t you see that it’s just a matter of time?” Scott said, and his eyes flickered. “How long before they start sending you after packs that aren’t doing anything wrong? Magic users that aren’t killing people, aren’t doing anything but, but, making their gardens grow better or getting out of parking tickets?”

“Every power has the potential for abuse,” Stiles argued, and he felt hot all over. “It doesn’t mean it will be.”

“How long before they send you back here?” Scott asked. “Would you do it? Would you put a bullet in one of us?”

“You’re my brother,” Stiles said, and it wasn’t an answer, and they both knew it.

 

“Why can’t you just come up here for once?” his dad asks, and Stiles says, “Because it’s like a seven hour drive.”

“Or like a two hour flight.”

“You know it’s easier for me to make time for you here than it is to get time to come up there.”

John sighs. “People ask about you,” he says, and Stiles says, “Like who?”

He gets the occasional email from Patty, who’s been the day shift 911 dispatcher at the SO for as long as Stiles can remember; she says his dad has a picture of him on his office wall, a dress blues portrait that he’d had done just for that reason, so Dad could show him off. In it his chest candy runs down the left side of his jacket, and the then-new scars down the right side of his face. It's bullshit. Patty says she hopes he’s being safe wherever they’ve got him this time, she says not to worry about the scars from that IED, he’s still such a handsome young man.

He gets a Christmas card from Scott’s mom the second week of December every year, always signed Love Melissa and Scott in her neat round handwriting, even though Scott hasn't lived at home in years, not since Allison finished law school. 

“People,” his dad says defensively, but he lets it drop.

 

It’s not all blood and guts and ichor. Sometimes it’s fun. There was that joint op in Canada that time where nobody died and the targets were cleared and let off with a warning and then they hijacked a chopper and went snowboarding in Whistler for a week.

Sometimes it’s like the time in Cuba and how they got back to Pendleton and Stiles spent the first four of the post-mission mandatory ten days leave sitting in his bathtub in his apartment, back to the wall, his M40 across his knees.

Mostly it’s just a job. He’s got a good team right now, he’s got Curry, who looks like a wholesome white fresh-faced J Crew model and she is the toughest bitch he has ever met, and he’s got Gonzales, who never misses and can bluff his way into and out of just about anywhere. Rounding it out is Delgadillo, who everybody calls Padre, because he trained to be a Jesuit priest for a couple of years before he enlisted, and that shit comes in handy more often than you’d think.

The internal structure of the division isn’t Corps standard, because nothing they fucking do is standard, but the four-man teams are a good basic unit, and deployments are usually in small multiples, depending on the problem. More bodies is not always better. More bodies usually means more bodies.

 

When he looks back later he’ll wonder at the fact that it actually took eight years for the division to send a team to Beacon Hills. His clearance is nowhere near high enough to know all the sites and persons of interest that they’re monitoring, but if Beacon County wasn’t on that list from day one then they were fucking idiots. Not that brass isn’t, as a general rule, a bunch of  fucking idiots.

But eight years. If Stiles had had his way, it would’ve been his first op. He’d have run it solo, and he’d have run it for free, and maybe that was Scott’s prediction being right all along, maybe the day he got on that plane was the day he’d broken from the packs so completely that he didn’t even think twice about it.

Would you do it, Scott had asked, Would you put a bullet in one of us?

The thing was, Peter Hale wasn’t one of them.

He’s tempted to call Scott up, to call Derek, to find out how much they knew of what was in Stiles’ half-inch-thick briefing pack. He wants to believe they can’t possibly know, they can’t possibly have any idea, especially Scott, because he knows Scott, but what you know about a person between five and eighteen can change a lot between eighteen and twenty-six. Everything can change.

“Much as I would love, and you have no idea how much I would love, to just drop in through the skylight and put about a dozen wolfsbane 762s right in this motherfucker’s face, it’s never going to be that easy. Peter—”

“The target,” Curry corrects. She’s slicing pieces off an apple with her k-bar, and she pauses to point the knife at Stiles. “Don’t get emotional, Sarge.”

“Thanks, Becky,” he says, “for that invaluable input.”

“Call me that again and I will cut you up and feed you to the target,” she answers without blinking.

“Don’t get emotional, Corporal.”

“Ladies?”  Gonzales rolls his eyes. “Wheels up in an hour whether we got a plan or not, so maybe we should get on that?”

“The target,” Stiles says with some shade at Curry, “knows he’s being monitored. That’s a given. I don’t care what the intel says, he knows, because that’s just Peter Hale. He hoards information like a dragon on a pile of gold. The fact that he and the rest of the pack are being watched would be something he’d hold in reserve for the right moment to shove it in Derek, in Alpha Hale's face.”

Or Scott’s. The connections between the McCall pack and the Hale pack were only given a cursory summary in the briefing beyond their detente and origins. Most of it was even correct, which was somewhat surprising. Stiles hadn’t given them any of it.

“Small city, too.” Padre says. “The minute we roll up, everybody knows.”

“So we should just go in loud,” Gonzales says. “Let the motherfucker run. He can’t get on a plane or rent a car, his face and aliases are in the system, so we let all the local law enforcement know if he’s spotted outside the perimeter—”

“They call it in and do not engage,” Curry says with a nod. “We raid the apartment—he won’t be there, but we should toss it anyway. We raid the alpha’s house, close off all possible safe harbors.”

Stiles looks at his team, nodding slowly. “The Preserve is a problem. If he shifts and loses us in there, we’ll need a backup plan. I’m gonna see if the colonel will let us have Team Echo on standby for air support. If he decides to make a four-legged run for it, they can fly a grid and pop him from the air.”

Gonzales grins, and shoves a clip into his HK. “The hunt is on.”

Stiles doesn’t grin back.

 

They get flown up to the MCMWTC in Bridgeport with their gear and give the POGs a hard time about the Humvee they’re picking up; while Curry terrorizes the motor pool, Gonzales and Padre count off supplies. Stiles takes a deep breath and counts to twenty before he blows it out and calls his father.

“Stilinski,” John answers, all business but sounding tired. He’s one year into what he swears will be his final four-year term, and Stiles stopped harassing him about retiring a few months ago when he pointed out that Stiles had just reupped for his third four-year hitch and which one of them was a whole lot more likely to die with his boots on these days?

“Hey old man,” he says, and it makes his chest burn with fondness when his dad responds, suddenly a hundred percent brighter, “Stiles! I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon, what’s up, kid?”

There’s no point picking at the edges of the band-aid. “My team has a job in Beacon Hills. We’re leaving Bridgeport in the next five, we’ll be at your office in about two hours to make some arrangements. There’ll be a liaison choppering in by the end of the day with the paperwork, but we’re going to need immediate and complete cooperation from your department.”

He can hear his father breathing in the long seconds that follow; he glances over at the Humvee where Gonzales is slamming the back shut and Curry is standing in the open driver’s door. She raises her hand and makes the signal for wrap it up.

“What’s happening?” his dad says finally. Quiet. Worried.

“I can’t brief you over the phone, but the SO is going to be our first stop.” Stiles rubs at his eye with the heel of his free hand.

“Where are you staying?”

“We’re not,” he says gently. “Dad, this is. Our mission parameters. We. We don’t stop until it’s done. When it’s done, we go.”

“When what’s done?”

He hears Curry banging on the side of the truck. “Oscar Mike, Sarge!” she yells.

“I’ll brief you when we arrive,” he says again. “I love you, Dad,” he adds, and hangs up.

 

He knows what they look like, unloading out of the vee in front of the SO. Somebody actually slams on the brakes to stare; horns honk and there’s some shouting before traffic resumes its normal flow. Curry pauses on the sidewalk to adjust one of her thigh holsters, and a teenage boy trips and walks straight into a light pole. Stiles and Padre snort.

Stiles has always walked into this building like he owns it, but it’s different to be striding through the halls in black tac gear, boots loud on the tile, with three heavily armed operatives in formation behind him. He sees faces he recognizes, sees the moment they recognize him too; everybody is so stunned that they just move out of the way.

His father’s office door is open and the sheriff is leaning back on the front of his desk, waiting, he had to have heard the commotion, had to have known what it was. His arms are crossed and his jaw is set, but he looks good, less tired than he’d sounded on the phone.

“Sheriff Stilinski,” he says formally, and puts his hand out. His father pauses a moment, taking in the team, and then gives Stiles’ hand a firm shake.

“Sergeant Stilinski,” John answers. “Good to see you, son.”

Stiles softens a little, can’t help a brief smile. “You too, Dad. I wish it was under different circumstances.”

“What are the circumstances?” John says, cutting straight to the point.

Stiles gestures and Padre closes the office door behind them while Gonzales drops the blinds. “This is Corporal Curry, my second—”

“Sir,” she says, nodding.

“—Corporal Delgadillo—”

“Sir.”

“—and Private Gonzales.”

“Sir.”

“Seventh Marine Division, Special Team Delta,” Stiles finishes. He can give this speech in his sleep. He probably has.  “On behalf of the United States government, I am requesting cooperation from your department in assisting this team in accomplishing its mission objective. Cooperation may include direct assistance, but primarily will consist of information sharing and non-interference with the team’s mission.”

“Which is?”

“Kill or capture of Peter Hale.”

John doesn’t flinch, to his credit. “Peter Hale has been missing for over a decade,” he says. “What makes you think he’s back here?”

“The target never left,” Stiles says flatly. “He’s been living here under the name Hale Johnson since 2012.”

That makes his father shrink a little, and it makes Stiles’ insides knot up.

“And what’s he wanted for?” John asks after a beat too long.

“Classified, sir.” Stiles’ hand drifts to the grip of his right-side pistol, just a touch for grounding.

“And that’s all I’m gonna get, huh?” John rubs his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” Stiles says quietly. “Corporal Delgadillo is going to give you a quick rundown of our expectations from your deputies and staff. Team, we need to be ready to move in ten.”

“Yes, sergeant!” they answer. Stiles grabs his dad’s arm for a moment and squeezes, then turns and walks out.

 

Outside the air is warm and damp, it’s going to rain by the end of the afternoon, maybe sooner. Stiles takes some deep breaths and goes over the mission checklist in his head twice. Surveillance shows that the target is usually at home at midday. He won’t be there. Raiding the apartment is a waste of time, they should go straight to the big house, the rebuilt Hale house. They should’ve just set up a sniper nest four fucking years ago when intelligence started to unravel the pattern, and ended this shit.

But the guys who make the decisions are not the guys who do the thinking, and neither of them are the guys who get their hands dirty.

Stiles taps his earpiece. “Orion Two, this is Orion Leader.”

Curry’s voice comes back immediately. “Orion Two.”

“Two, are we good to go with the local authorities?”

“Sarge, this Marine would be good to go with the local authorities any day of the week and twice on Sundays.”

She’s swinging out the front doors of the SO as she says the last few words, and Stiles bites down on the inside of his cheek.

“Two, this is not a fucking game, how copy?” he says as she stops in front of him.

“Solid copy,” she says, having the decency to look at least a little chastised. Padre and Gonzales roll out a moment later, nodding at Stiles. They’re silent as they pile back into the vee, Padre behind the wheel this time. On the flight from Pendleton they’d drilled the map, and Padre basically had a photographic memory, he’d be able to drive them around the city like he was born here. Stiles would do it except he needed both hands free.

It’s quiet except for the sound of the engine, the sound of their breathing, of checking clips and tightening straps.

“I’m just sayin, Sarge,” Curry says as they turn into the alley behind Peter’s building. “Your dad is Grade A All-American Prime Cut—”

“If you finish that sentence—” Stiles threatens, and Gonzales snorts.

“They both adults, Sarge,” he says.

“He’s adult enough to be her goddamn grandfather,” Stiles snaps. He pushes his safety glasses up his nose, and Padre drops the vee into park. “Move.”

 

The target’s residence is one of five apartments above an art gallery in an older building, on one of downtown’s quote unquote historic streets. Stiles goes up the back stairs with Gonzales behind him, Curry’s up the front, Padre’s on the fire escape. They clear the landing, converge in the hall in front of the door with the brass number three on it, and Gonzales kicks it in.

There’s nothing for a few minutes except shouts of “Clear!” and it’s exactly like Stiles knew it would be, the target’s in the wind, there’s nothing here. He paces the living room, listens to the others clearing the rest of the apartments, to Curry calling for the locals to come secure the scene, tape it up and lock it down. They should’ve gone to Derek’s first. He would go to Derek. He’d trade on the connection, the family, play the faithful beta seeking protection. They should’ve.

He stops, and swings back around to the desk by the window. It faces east toward the Preserve; sitting there you could watch the moon rise over the trees. There’s a familiar glass jar, mostly empty, sitting next to a cup of pens and pencils.

Stiles taps his earpiece. “Orion team to me.”

 

The vet clinic only has two doors, front and back; Curry and Padre take the rear, Stiles and Gonzales go in the front. He vaguely registers the shouting and barking from the back but he’s too busy training his HK on Scott, Jesus Christ, Scott, who’s standing by the front desk wearing scrubs and talking to an enormously tall white man who’s holding a teacup Yorkie.

“On the ground!” Gonzales orders, pointing at Scott and then at the floor. The tall man clutches his dog and starts to fold himself downward, and Stiles shakes his head.

“Code Three,” he snaps, pointing at Scott, who’s still frozen in place. He turns to the civilian. “You! Out! Move!”

“I said on the fucking ground!” Gonzales yells, and the door’s bell rings as the civilian flees.

Scott’s in the middle of putting his hands up, his face schooled in that so-reasonable calm determination, he’s saying, “I think there’s been some kind of mist—” and Stiles can practically count it off as Scott realizes who he’s seeing under the tinted glasses and the scars, who he’s smelling under the cordite and the wolfsbane.

“Fuck,” Scott says, and his eyes go red.

“Don’t even fucking think about it,” Gonzales snarls, and shoves the barrel of his rifle right up under Scott’s chin. “Last chance. On. The. Ground.”

“It's all right, Scott,” Deaton says, and it’s amazing how he hasn’t changed in eight years at all, he’s not grayer or fatter or thinner, he’s just the same. White coat, blue shirt, soft brown eyes, that same steady voice. He has his hands on his head, Curry and Padre have him by the elbows, shoving him toward the front of the office.

Scott drops to the floor, fangs out, his fiery eyes fixed on Stiles. “So this is it?” he demands, even as he’s kneeling, putting his hands up behind his head. “They sent you to kill us?”

Padre pushes Deaton to his knees beside Scott; the team surrounds them and Stiles pulls the glass jar out of his vest, holds it out in front of him. It has a silvery-white circle painted on the side. “No, I’m here for your boss.”

Deaton doesn’t smile, but somehow he still looks like he’s smiling. “Lunaria.”

“Also known as moonwort,” Stiles says. “Also known as honesty.” He shakes the jar. “Also known as found in Peter Hale’s apartment, and if you knew what he was doing with it and still gave it to him, I swear on my mother’s grave I will end you, with or without orders.”

“I sold it to him,” Deaton says. “That’s all.”

“Do you know the whereabouts of Peter Hale?”

“I haven’t seen him in several weeks, not since he purchased that.” Deaton indicates the jar with a tilt of his head.

“What are you doing, Stiles?” Scott snarls.

“Do you know where he is?” Stiles repeats, cutting his gaze over to Scott. His words are punctuated by Gonzales bumping Scott’s head with his rifle again, and Scott lets out a low growl.

“Do that again,” Scott says, and shifts further, his brow ridges coming out and his claws curving yellow in the clinic’s fluorescent lights. “I dare you.”

“Yeah?” Gonzales challenges.

“Private!” Stiles barks. “If you taunt Alpha McCall one more time, it won’t be him you have to worry about, are we clear?”

“Yes, sergeant!”

“We’re here for Peter, that’s it.” Stiles lowers his sidearm, as much of a show of good faith as he can manage under the circumstances. “If either of you have any information about where he might be or where he might go—”

“Go kick in Derek’s door,” Scott says. “He’d love to chat.”

Stiles counts to ten. Fast. “Do you have reason to believe that Peter would be with Derek?”

Scott stares at him, and it’s hard, meeting an alpha’s eyes when they’re glowing red like that, so clearly not human, but Stiles has had practice. He always blinked first when they were kids, when they’d have staring contests across the lunchroom table, he couldn’t ever keep himself still enough. The Corps has burned off that excess energy, though, concentrated and focused what remains, and Stiles just waits, waits for Scott to be the one to give this time.

“I haven’t seen Derek in a few days, but nothing was out of the ordinary,” Scott says finally. He drops his hands, his features returning to their human default. “I haven’t seen Peter in... months. But if he knows you’re after him?”

Stiles tilts his head at Curry; she and Padre help Deaton to his feet. At Stiles’ nod Scott rises with a single lithe motion, takes a step away from Gonzales, toward Stiles.

“What did I tell you?” Scott says quietly.

“I don’t have time for this,” Stiles says, and he wants to, he wants to rattle off every thought in his head to Scott and he wants to have that fight they never finished eight years ago and Jesus, go have a beer and some burgers, but. “I just need to know if you have any information.”

Scott’s jaw tightens, but he shrugs. “Go to Derek.”

Stiles nods. “Team.”

Deaton calls out as Stiles is about to step out the door, calls his name in that same infuriatingly calm voice that made him so crazy when he was a kid. “What did Peter Hale do?”

Stiles stops. The door bell rings as it swings closed behind Curry. You mean aside from bite my best friend, murder a half dozen people, and psychically rape an innocent girl so that he could come back from the dead, he thinks. As if that weren’t enough for ten warrants?

“Do you really not know?” he asks quietly.

Deaton shakes his head. “I really don’t.”

“Then you’ll sleep better,” Stiles tells him, and leaves.

 

They pass Lydia’s old house on the way to the Hale property. She’s a post-doc fellow at MIT now, has been out east for almost as long as he himself has been gone, and Stiles is so fiercely proud, so glad that she chose her own life and dreams over this nightmare. He sketches a salute at the house as they speed by. The others notice but don’t say a word.

 

Derek’s waiting on the porch.

The rebuilt house is gorgeous, and far, far less Addams Family than the original; the sun is still shining in the clearing even as the warm rain is beginning to fall, but Derek is waiting on the porch, arms crossed, and as the team advances Stiles is struck with an almost overwhelming wave of deja vu.

“Hands up!” Padre is shouting. “Down on your knees!”

“Down!” Curry echoes.

Stiles sees the second when Derek starts to shift, when the movement that looks like he’s about to kneel turns into a crouch, ready to spring, and Stiles hesitates, he fucking hesitates. Curry doesn’t; Derek isn’t more than a meter into his leap when she plugs him in the chest with a modified XREP round.

His body hits the ground with a sickening thump.

“Clear the structure,” Stiles orders; Curry and Padre go for the stairs but Gonzales hangs back, confused. “Go around back and clear the fucking structure, Private.”

Code Threes are never to be handled solo, minimum of two operatives at all times. Gonzales should not take Stiles’ order but he does, hefting his rifle and jogging around the side of the house, and Stiles drops down beside Derek’s body, pulling the pins out of his chest and tossing the empty cartridge into the grass.

The XREP is non-lethal, even for humans, mostly, but werewolf physiology can get seriously fucked by electricity—which is, admittedly, why the division uses them. Derek is pale, groaning; Stiles checks his pulse and it’s rapid but strong. He should be okay. It’ll take a couple of minutes, but—

Derek’s claws close around Stiles’ throat and Stiles pulls his sidearm on reflex, barrel almost touching Derek’s forehead. He feels the pinprick of the clawpoints in his skin.

“You can pull that trigger,” Derek says around a mouthful of teeth, “but I’ll still have your spine in my hand before the bullet leaves the chamber.”

“I’m not here for you,” Stiles growls back. The rain is falling harder now, the sky getting darker. Water runs off Stiles’ cheeks.

“No?” It’s hard to tell, but he thinks Derek smirks. “You think attacking one member of my pack isn’t attacking me?”

“Structure clear!” Padre calls out and then he hears boots in the mud, rounds being chambered, shouting.

“Alpha Hale!” That’s Curry. “If you do not release—”

“Stand down!” Stiles orders.

“—Sergeant Stilinski—”

“STAND THE FUCK DOWN.”

“Stiles?” Derek blinks, face shifting back. “Stiles?”

Suddenly the claws around his throat are rough fingers, brushing over the line of Stiles’ jaw before releasing him. Stiles rocks back on his heels, choking on a sound that’s not quite a laugh as he shoves his HK back into its holster. “Yeah, Derek. Just Stiles.”

 

They don’t have time for this. They really don’t have time for this, but Stiles leads his team into the house anyway, the four of them standing dripping in the entryway while Derek grabs a handful of towels out of the laundry room. It’s surreal as hell and they don’t have time but they dry off as much as they can, listen to Derek say don’t worry about the mud on the floor, troop into the kitchen and refuse the offer of coffee, Jesus Christ.

“What did he do?” Derek asks, crossing his arms again, and Stiles has been in the military for nearly a decade now, he’s seen bigger, fitter dudes, but something about the way Derek’s built has always made him look like Everest standing above a pile of rocks.

“Where is he?” Stiles asks, suddenly so fucking tired.

“I honestly don’t know. What did he do?”

“When was the last time—”

“Yesterday morning. He came by to return a book, made his usual creepy conversation, and left. What did he do, Stiles?”

“Creepy how? What did he say?”

“Goddammit, Stiles.” Derek’s eyes spark red for a moment, and safeties click off all around them. Stiles ignores them. “I’ll answer every question of yours, all I want is this one in return.”

“Secure the perimeter,” Stiles orders the team. “Don’t go into the woods.”

“Sarge—” Curry protests.

“I’m safe with Alpha Hale.” Stiles looks at Curry, sees her frustration and confusion. This is not procedure. This is so far from procedure. “But this location is not secure, and he has information we need. If you question my orders—”

“No sergeant!”

Derek turns to Curry, gaze assessing. “I have six betas, not counting my uncle, who I presume you would recognize? There’s no reason for any of them to come here at this time of day, unless they’ve heard you’re here, but.”

“Non-lethal force, only if absolutely necessary,” Stiles says. “Move.”

After about a minute Derek cocks his head. “They’re patrolling the treeline. They walk like elephants.”

“They’re still pretty new,” Stiles says. “Average lifespan on this job is about three years.”

“You don’t mean that metaphorically.”

“I really don’t.”

“Deaton called to warn me. He said there was a military team after Peter, and that they’d raided the clinic.”

“Deaton’s a fucking shit-stirrer,” Stiles says, furious. “He could’ve said it was my team.”

“I don’t know if I would’ve believed him,” Derek says flatly. “Scott was right—”

“Scott was NOT right!” Stiles explodes. “Do you know how many innocent lives I’ve saved? Do you know how many good men and women I’ve buried on the way? We’re not here for your pack, we’re here for a fucking monster. We’re here because he just can’t help himself, because there are fourteen dead kids who deserve justice, and I will not stop until they have it, Derek. Okay? That’s what Peter fucking did.”

It’s almost funny, the way that Derek’s whole body goes slack, the way his face drains of color, and maybe Stiles would laugh if he didn’t feel so much like throwing up. Stiles leans heavily back on the counter, scrubs his palm over his hair.

“About four or so years ago, our intelligence branch, the ones that monitor supernatural activity for threats, started analyzing a possible pattern of deaths in this region. Centered in Beacon Hills, but throughout greater Beacon County, and as far away as Placerville.” Stiles doesn’t have to close his eyes to see the photos from the briefing, they flicker through his mind like a deck of cards being constantly shuffled.

“The common factors,” Stiles goes on, ticking them off on his fingers, “were age, 15 to 18, above average intelligence, popular, attractive. At that point it was all girls, although later boys too. All of them experienced a sudden, marked depression followed by suicide. On a full moon.”

He can see Derek putting the pieces together, not wanting to put the pieces together but unable to deny that they fit. Derek shakes his head anyway. “It. Teenagers kill themselves for a lot of reasons.”

“They do.” Stiles spreads his hands. “And our analysts acknowledged that, and factored it into their study. That’s the reason we didn’t show up here four years ago, even though it meant six more deaths. Connecting the pattern to a cause wasn’t as easy as going, well, obviously the fucking sociopath werewolf did it.”

“Stiles.”

“Derek, you wanted to know. I’m telling you. If you asked just so you could fucking pretend like you haven’t known for YEARS what he is capable of, then why are we doing this? Or do you not remember what he did to Laura? Or to Lydia?”

Derek huffs, throwing his hands up. “Always back to Lydia.”

Stiles moves before he’s even really aware of it, slamming Derek back up against the wall. He’s taller than Derek now, not as broad, but he knows what his body can do and how to use it, and this time it’s him with his hand around Derek’s throat. “If you are suggesting,” Stiles hisses, “for even one second that she deserved what he did to her—”

“You’ll what, Stiles?” Derek shows his teeth, his human teeth, but it’s still a threat. “Of course she didn’t deserve it. But you’re still as whipped as you ever were, huh?”

“You’re wasting my fucking time,” Stiles snaps, and pushes back and away. “Are you fucking stalling me? Is that what this is? Are you covering for him?”

“No,” Derek says, disgusted. “No, Stiles, if you’re right about this I’ll kill him myself. Again.”

“Why didn’t you finish the job ten fucking years ago?” Stiles shouts. “Not for me, not for Lydia, not for Laura, not for anybody but YOURSELF?”

“He was all I had!” Derek shouts back. “Jesus, I was a kid. I didn’t think I was, but I was a fucking kid, I was barely older than those little soldiers of yours, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, everything went wrong every single time, but he at least was constant. He came back, and he never left.”

Stiles feels sick, turns away and rubs his eyes. He can hear the time ticking by in his head, every second they’re losing ground. “Help us,” he pleads. “You have to know something, something maybe you don’t even realize, some idea about where he might be.”

When he looks back, Derek is still leaning on the wall, pinching the bridge of his nose. He shakes his head. “First tell me the rest of it. Tell me you’re sure.”

“Really sure.” Stiles rubs his eyes again. “Most of the kids, they suffered in silence, you know? Like Lydia did. Pretending nothing was wrong. Some of them left a few clues in passing, facebook posts about bad dreams, complaining to parents that they couldn’t sleep, that kind of thing. One of them, Carrie Craig, told the school therapist that she had this feeling that a man was following her, that he was coming into her dreams at night. They prescribed her anti-anxiety meds, and sent her home. She slit her wrists four days later. She was seventeen.”

He thinks about the pictures in the file again. Carrie Craig had been tall and dark-skinned with bright blue eyes and a heart-stopping smile, a cheerleader and in the honor society at Beacon Academy. She’d been accepted to Cal Tech. The bathmat in her bathroom had been fluffy and pink before it was soaked with blood.

“Still not much but circumstantial evidence, but then Emily Feldman... Emily was an artist,” Stiles goes on. Petite, curvy, piles of curly auburn hair. Loved terrible hipster music and comic books. “Emily’s drawing teacher got concerned that she was drawing the same man, over and over again. Emily said she dreamed him. When she died. The teacher gave the drawings to Emily’s dad. He gave them to our people, when we contacted him. There is absolutely no doubt that the man she drew was Peter.” Stiles smiles bitterly. “She was very talented.”

Derek looks like he’s about to vomit, and Stiles can’t blame him.

“That’s what he always looked for. Young, talented, smart. Attractive was a bonus, but the energy was the key. Jacob Mendes wrote in his journal that he felt like all his energy was being drained away, day by day. Mackenzie Taylor told his track coach that he felt like he couldn’t wake up, like he was more tired in the morning than when he went to bed. Jenny Nguyen—”

“Stop,” Derek says quietly.

“Jenny Nguyen was the most recent. Last full moon. She left a post on her Tumblr that said—”

Stop.”

Stiles watches Derek’s face for a moment, broken out of the impassive mask he always used to wear. There had been a time when he was sure Derek couldn’t feel anything at all. “Help us,” he whispers. “Help me.

“Orion Leader, this is Orion Three, how copy?” Padre’s voice over the comms sounds shaken, and Stiles spins toward the door, gun already in hand.

“Orion Leader on, clear copy. Go ahead, Three.”

“Sarge, thermal shows we’ve got eight Code Threes... no, seven Code Threes, one Code Four, approaching the perimeter from the main road in three victors, what are your orders?”

Stiles shoots a look at Derek. “Seven werewolves, one human,” he clarifies, and Derek looks relieved.

“That’d be my pack, and Scott and Allison, unless something’s gone really fucking wrong.”

“I thought you said none of them would be here this time of day.”

Derek gives him a look that’s so familiar, the what are you, stupid? eyebrows, that Stiles feels the slightly hysterical urge to laugh. “I said, unless they heard you were here. Which clearly they have.”

“Orders?” Padre repeats again.

“Orion Leader, this is Orion Two. Eight unconfirmed hostiles exiting the victors and entering perimeter—”

“Orders, sergeant!?”

Stiles taps his earpiece. “It’s the packs. Let them in.”

 

Stiles feels that wash of deja vu again when they’re all standing around Derek’s table, papers spread out, corners weighted down with coffee cups. They’d planned shit like this back, before; the faces around the room are a little different, but the sense is nearly the same. It’s just that now they’re mostly all looking at Stiles.

There’s Isaac, still between Scott and Derek, but he looks like he’s making it work. John Ridley, Isaac’s mate, is so gorgeous that he probably causes traffic accidents, and his sister Mary Ann isn’t exactly queen of the ugly prom. She’s looking at Padre like she’s thinking about picking him out of her teeth later. Boyd’s at the table with his mate too, and it’s hard, it’s so hard, not to compare Shana to Erica, with Shana’s thick blonde hair and sharp eyes and dangerous curves. Then there’s Cora, the last unlooked-for Hale, still with that air of damage, of not-quite connection in the way she gazes back at him.

Allison hasn't changed at all. Allison stands at the foot of the table, Curry and Gonzales flanking her; she’s holding her own Mossberg up next to Curry’s and they appear to be discussing the merits of pump versus autoload.

He meets Scott’s eyes, then Derek’s.

“Shana’s our best tracker,” Derek is saying. “She and Isaac are the fastest, too. If it comes to a physical fight, John, Scott and Boyd are your best bets for backup.”

“Not you?” Stiles can’t help but prod.

Derek doesn’t blink. “If I see him first, I won’t be rational enough to be of much help.”

There’s a charged pause, then Mary Ann says, “You’re sure he’s going to still be around here somewhere? Not halfway to Mexico? Peter’s a fucking coward.”

“How did he even know these guys were coming?” Isaac scowls at Gonzales, and Gonzales gives him a wink back. John snarls, and the next thing Stiles knows there are guns up and fangs out and he’s banging on the table yelling STAND DOWN. STAND THE FUCK DOWN, THAT IS A FUCKING ORDER.

“Enough!” Scott’s alpha roar makes the betas flinch and cower, even though they’re not even technically his. Allison winces, and rubs her ear. “Enough,” he repeats at a normal volume. “Stiles’ team have a job to do, and the faster we help them do it, the faster they’re gone.”

It hurts more than that long-ago punch in the face had.

Stiles braces himself, hands on the table. “All right, it’s going to be shit tracking in the rain for all of us, prints wash away, scents are all fucked up. We have air support but they’re twenty minutes out from the call, so if he’s on foot anywhere outside the city limits, you guys, the werewolves, are the best shot we have.”

“I think he’s still in town,” Derek says, dropping his finger down on the map of the downtown grid. The side of his hand brushes against Stiles’ fingers. “If you closed off his apartment... But he would have a backup. He’d have another place, someplace probably right in plain sight.”

Stiles stares at the map, and Derek’s broad hand, and wills himself to think. Think.

“Where do you go?” he murmurs, mostly to himself. “When you can’t go home?” Apartment blocked off. Pack house blocked off. Where.

Derek grabs his arm, and Stiles jerks his head up, shocked. Derek’s eyes are bright, but human.  “That’s it,” he says urgently. “Home.”

 

The whole reason, Derek explains, that Peter and his wife Tracey were at the main house the day of the fire, was because they’d given up their apartment but the house they’d been building wasn’t ready yet. The place was on the far side of the Hale property, not quite in, but close enough to not matter, a subdivision that was going up at the time. It would’ve been perfect for newlywed werewolves, backing onto the woods but still part of a neighborhood.

“The house was never completed, and a lot of the other houses nearby were foreclosed on during the mortgage crisis,” Derek says. “Some of them were torn down, others are just blighted. There’s pretty much nothing there now. But that was their, that would’ve been—”

“I get it,” Stiles says. He remembers that neighborhood, there had been a couple of empty pools that he and Scott may or may not have skated in as kids, and when he glances down the table, Scott’s looking at him like he remembers the same thing.

“He’ll be there,” Derek says with conviction.

“We need to move now,” Stiles says, nodding at his team.

“And us?” Scott says. He has his hand on Allison’s elbow.

Curry looks at Stiles, her eyebrow up. He nods again. “Follow. Secure the perimeter, make sure that if he breaks out, you take him down.”

Scott’s expression flickers, a change so quick that Stiles can’t place it, and Scott looks to Derek. Something else passes between them, and then Derek is nodding his head. “You heard the sergeant,” Derek says. “Let’s go.”

 

It’s stupid, and Stiles should’ve known, Stiles really should have known, should’ve recognized the play as it was being called. But he didn’t, and he’ll berate himself later; right now all he has time for is to scream motherfuckers! and scramble toward the fight.

Because a pack of werewolves on familiar ground, running in a straight line, of course they’re going to move faster than a vehicle taking the roads, even on the shortest possible route. Because Scott and Derek, of course they’re going to try to prove a point or some stupid, stubborn fucking thing, of course after all these years, they’ve finally learned how to work together and Stiles is going to shoot both of them if they survive this.

The rest of the pack at least is doing what they were told, everyone except Allison at least half-shifted, ringing the house in the rain. Stiles wonders what the sound of the fight is like for them, how it feels to hear their alphas howling and snarling like that. It makes him want to tear his own skin off. Mary Ann, her black eyes gone gold, grabs Stiles as he breaches their circle; his boots slide in the mud but he keeps his feet.

“Let me go, or you will fucking regret it,” he threatens, and behind them Curry racks her shotgun.

Mary Ann releases his arm, but she shakes her head, teeth flashing. “This isn’t your problem anymore,” she shouts over the thunder, over the crashing from the house, and Stiles almost laughs.

“It was mine long before it was yours,” he shouts back, and runs for the house, which is of course when Derek’s bleeding, half-conscious body comes crashing out through the boarded-over front door.

“Well, that was a pathetically poor showing,” Peter drawls, kicking his way out behind him, and he’s got Scott in a headlock, claws at his throat. “Hello, Stiles.”

“Hey, Peter,” Stiles says, his sidearm raised and trained on Peter’s forehead. “Good to see you. You’re looking great. That diet of teenagers is really working out for you.”

“Shoot him!” Scott yells. “Fucking shoot, Stiles!”

“This is a bit familiar,” Peter says, tightening his clawed hand. “You weren’t the one with the gun that time, though, you were the one with the—”

“Firebombs,” Stiles finishes. “Lydia’s special recipe.”

“Lydia.” The way Peter says the name makes Stiles’ whole body feel like it’s covered in oil. “How is my darling?”

“Wouldn’t know. Haven’t seen her in years.” Stiles blinks water out of his eyes. “Our guys were never really sure how much energy you were getting from those kids, but it’s got to be a fuckload, huh? You beat the fuck out of two alphas and I don’t think you even broke a sweat.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere, Stiles.” Peter flashes a bit of fang. “Are you trying to provoke a monologue on how and why I did it? Are you supposed to be James Bond in this scenario?”

“I know why you did it.” Stiles takes a step to one side, trying to get a better angle, but Peter moves to match him. Thin trails of red run down Scott’s throat. “You’re not supposed to be here. You’ve been clinging to a life that doesn’t want you, that’s gotta be exhausting.”

“I really should’ve bitten you when I had the chance,” Peter sighs. “Or killed you. Six of one.”

“Stiles!” Derek’s staggering to his feet, or trying to; he gets halfway up and then slips back to his knees.

“SHOOT,” Scott screams and something whizzes by Stiles’ cheek, an arrow; it embeds in Peter’s shoulder and as Scott breaks away from Peter’s grip, Stiles pulls the trigger of his gun until it’s empty.

 

Most of what happens next is just automatic, Stiles’ training taking over; phone calls, sitreps, arrangements. He thanks Allison, he pats Scott on the arm. A chopper lands in the abandoned cul de sac and Teams Echo and Charlie stream out like black ants, moving over the scene with practiced efficiency. He hadn’t known the colonel had put Charlie on standby as well. He wonders if that speaks to a lack of faith in his team, or a fear of what Peter had been capable of. He’ll probably never ask.

There are missions that drag on for weeks, when the only things that keeps you going are caffeine pills and discipline, and there are missions like this one, over in less than a day, flying from one frantic minute to the next with no pauses in between.

Stiles will take the long ops any time.

He sits in the front passenger seat of the Humvee and towels the rain off his face. Another chopper is coming in with the damage control team, they’ll debrief the packs, the local law enforcement. He’ll text his dad.

“Sarge?” Curry asks from the driver’s seat. She, Padre, and Gonzales seem to have gotten in without him noticing.

He swipes the towel over his face again. “We're Oscar mike,” he says. “Back to camp at Bridgeport.”

“Stiles...” Padre begins.

“Wake me when we get there,” Stiles says, and settles more firmly into his seat. He closes his eyes.

 

Flying commercial is close to the worst thing any human being could be asked to endure; he can’t remember the last time he’s had to deal with this civilian shit. He has to change at LAX too, which is a nightmare, but a treat compared to the flight from there to Sacramento. He’d rather be crammed in the belly of a transport with four dozen Marines stinking of week-old sweat and piss and blood than in Economy with a chatty old lady who keeps digging her sharp elbow into his side on his left, and on his right, a man in a Hawaiian shirt who falls asleep immediately after takeoff and drools on Stiles’ shoulder.

At the rental car counter they don’t have the normal SUV he’d reserved, but they do have an Escalade; a half hour and several arguments later he drives away in a BMW. It doesn’t feel nearly as safe and familiar as the Explorer would’ve, but it handles like a fucking dream on the curves. It was kinda worth making the manager cry.

Scott’s waiting on the steps of the little house he shares with Allison; it’s just a few blocks from his mom’s place, maybe a ten minute drive from the clinic, fifteen from the building where Allison has her law practice. He looks the same. Stiles can’t get over how everybody looks the same, when every day his face reminds him of how much he’s changed.

Once Scott would’ve given him shit about the fancy car; now they just share an awkward bro-hug and Scott asks if he’s staying at his dad’s.

“Yeah, I don’t have to report back til midnight next Sunday.” He shrugs, stuffs his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “Thanks for meeting me.”

“No problem.” Scott leads the way into the house. “I only had to reschedule one appointment.”

“Sorry,” Stiles apologizes anyway.

They end up on opposite sides of the kitchen table, just like before, but Scott doesn’t look angry this time, just sort of resigned.

“I read the statement you gave,” Stiles opens. “Where you said you and Derek still considered your actions to be the best course under the circumstances.”

“We do.” Scott drums his thumb lightly on the tabletop. “It was sovereign pack business. You guys had no right—”

“Then who was going to take care of it?” Stiles sighs. He wishes he had the energy to be pissed off. “You didn’t even know anything was wrong.”

“Your division—” Scott says it like a curse. “—could’ve notified us of the problem and let us handle it, instead of sending in the stormtroopers.”

Stiles huffs a half-laugh. “You finally saw it, huh?”

“Saw what?” Scott says, brows drawing together. “I’m talking about the Nazis, what are you talking about?”

“The Imperial... You know what, never mind. We’re not fucking stormtroopers, of either kind, we’re. We’re—”

“You treat us like animals,” Scott says. “Like we have no rights. Like we’re not human enough for the law to apply to, you just decide who lives or dies based on, on what?”

“You know what, if you go out and rob a bank, you’ll get a trial by a jury of your peers,” Stiles says hotly. “Doesn’t matter if you’re a witch, a werewolf, a vampire, I don’t care what. That’s a human crime. The human law can handle it. How would you put Peter on trial for what he did? Well, your honor, the accused used a rare and ancient magic using herbs and moon cycles to—”

“And that’s why we would handle it!” Scott brings his palm down hard on the table, and the noise rings through the room. “Our own laws, our own punishment.”

“You can’t have it both ways!” Stiles leans forward. “You have every single human right that I do, but you can’t claim those rights and then say you also want the freedom to, to act as vigilantes within your community!”

“But that’s exactly what YOU do!” Scott’s face is getting red, but his eyes, at least, are still brown. “You just accept your orders. You just drop in to a place and kill whoever they don’t agree with, without any due process at all.”

“That’s not it at all,” Stiles argues. “Like, like one time in Colorado. There were these hikers getting mauled by this, well, she wasn’t exactly a bear. Or a woman. It’s complicated. Anyway, the point is, she had new cubs in her den and she was just protecting them. We went in, we talked to her, we got the park rangers to close the nearby trails... It was fine. Like, it wasn’t fine for the four hikers, entirely, but they all lived. Everybody lived.”

“That’s just one example.”

“Do you want the Canada story? Because that’s a great story, but it’ll take a while.”

Scott sits heavily back in his chair, sticks his hands in his hair and rubs at his scalp. “So maybe you don’t blindly follow orders. You. What about the rest of them?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles admits tiredly. “I just, the things I’ve seen. There’s a lot more evil shit that doesn’t have anybody like you or Derek to fix it than you can even dream of, and that’s. That’s why I believe in what I do, Scott.”

They stare at each other for a long time, and that’s when Stiles starts to see it, the age, heavier stubble than when they were teenagers, creases at the corners of Scott’s eyes, deeper laugh lines around his mouth. Stiles almost laughs himself. Who knew werewolves could get wrinkles?

“I still don’t like it,” Scott says at last. “I still don’t trust the people you work for.”

“And what about me?” he asks quietly.

Scott hitches one shoulder. “I guess you’re okay.”

They’re up and moving before Stiles even finishes the thought, colliding into a tight embrace. Scott’s arms are almost painful around Stiles’ body and he knocks his head into the side of Scott’s. “I missed you so fucking much, you jerk,” he whispers.

“Fuck you, I missed you more,” Scott answers. They don’t let go for a long time.

 

“I recognize your scent this time,” Derek says, opening the door before Stiles has a chance to knock. He drops his hand.

“Heyyyy, glad to see you too, big guy. Good to know you’re still a freak.” Stiles pushes his sunglasses up on top of his head.

Derek’s face twists into a complicated expression before finally settling on exasperation that might even be called fond. “Come in. I’m just saying, before. It was all wrong, it’s better now.”

Stiles steps into the cool entryway, looks around the way he hadn’t had a chance to before, not beyond a cursory assessment. It suits Derek so much more than that hideous loft had; it's shady but not shadowed, full of golden wood and earth colors. There’s an Indian blanket thrown over the arm of a leather recliner visible in the room to the right. He wonders if it’s from John and Mary Ann’s tribe, if it would be rude to ask.

“Is it?” he asks, turning back to Derek. “Better?”

“Yeah,” Derek rasps after a beat too long. “Quieter for sure. I keep looking over my shoulder, expecting him to be there with some snide comment.”

“It’s only been a few days,” Stiles says, making a vague gesture.

“I know, it’ll pass. This isn’t my first time.” Derek’s mouth goes tight.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles sighs. “I really am sorry.”

“I know,” Derek repeats. “Come on, sit down.”

Derek ends up in the chair with the blanket, Stiles opposite on the huge deep sofa, its cushions covered in soft dark green corduroy. He wants to groan, it’s so comfortable, nothing like his crappy Craigslist special back in Oceanside.

“Look, a lot of shit was said,” he says, and Derek shakes his head.

“I don’t blame you.” Derek looks down at his hands. “I'm grateful. It was a long time coming. Too long, you were right about that. And the longer I let him go, the harder...”

“You don’t have to explain, I get it.” Stiles leans and puts his elbows on his knees. “For the longest time, the only family I had was my dad, and Scott. Scott’s mom on the days when she wasn’t throwing me out of the house for being a pain in the ass.”  That makes Derek snort softly, and Stiles grins for a second before letting the expression fade. “So yeah, I get wanting to hold on,” he says. “But you’ve built an amazing pack, and a gorgeous home, you know, yeah, shit was rough as hell in the beginning and there are people. People we wish were still here. But.”

“How did this happen?” Derek asks, and leans forward. He tries to fit his fingertips to the scars on Stiles’ face, but they don’t quite match up.

Stiles doesn’t pull away, but it’s a near thing; he can’t tell what’s more startling, the change of subject or the touch.

“Uh. It was. Guy. Changed into a jaguar.” He makes a claw of his fingers.

“Right, I see it. A paw, not a hand.” Derek changes his touch, flattening his palm along Stiles’ cheekbone, fingertips brushing his hairline.

“Yeah, he knocked me down, almost punctured my eye. And let me tell you, it is really hard to stab a clawing, spitting animal in self-defense when your depth perception is shot to shi—”

Derek pulls him forward, off the couch, so when their mouths come together Stiles has no choice but to land on the floor, or in Derek’s lap. He splits the difference, knees bumping Derek’s and then sliding down to kneel at Derek’s feet while Derek keeps kissing him like it’s the last thing either of them are ever going to do.

Eventually Stiles needs air; he breaks away gently, squeezing where his hands had come to rest on Derek’s thighs, and Derek keeps nosing at his ear, his hair, his neck. Stiles gurgles out something like a laugh. “If I’d known that was even remotely a possibility, I’d have come back here a lot sooner.”

Derek lifts his head, dragging his lips along Stiles’ cheek as he does. “It was a lot more remote, until recently.”

He sighs and bends his neck, letting Derek rest his chin on the crown of his head. He knows what this means, kneeling like this in front of an alpha, especially when that alpha has just kissed you and rubbed his face all over yours. He knows what this means.

“I’m not a kid anymore,” Stiles says softly.

“I know,” Derek answers. His lips move against Stiles’ hair. “I still hate what you do.”

“I know.” Stiles pulls back enough to look up, to meet Derek’s eyes. “And I can’t. I have three and a half years left on this enlistment, and I can’t promise I won’t, you know, again.”

“Scott thinks we should try for treaties, for some kind of... autonomous supernatural self-rule.” Derek shakes his head. “He’s an idealist. And married to a lawyer. Shit, they’ll probably pull it off.”

Stiles kisses him then, hard, digs his fingertips into Derek’s legs. “Let’s talk about it later.”

 

They fuck on the sofa, getting off like teenagers with hands and friction and way more laughter than Stiles had ever imagined. He can’t remember the last time he laughed in bed with somebody. He can’t remember the last time he sprawled out naked with somebody on a weekday afternoon, sun filtering warm through the windows as they rocked together. 

He knows for sure he’s never been picked up and flung over anybody’s shoulder five minutes into the afterglow, leaving him to pound useless fists against Derek’s massive back as he’s toted up the stairs to the master bedroom.

“I am a goddamn United States Marine,” he shouts at the flexing muscle under his cheek. “I am a fucking warrior, I am a motherfucking devil dog, put me the fuck down you son of a goddamn fucking—”

Stiles hits the mattress with a whump. The little bounce that follows is just insult to injury.

“—bitch,” he finishes, breathless.

Derek walks up the mattress on his knees, stopping astride Stiles’ hips. “Watch your mouth about my mother,” he says, running his palms up Stiles’ sides. “Devil dog?”

Stiles reaches out, grabs at Derek’s wrists. “It’s a Marine thing,” he says. “The dignity of my warrior spirit is gonna suffer around you, apparently.”

“Uh-huh,” Derek murmurs, raising his hands and bringing Stiles’ with them. He licks over Stiles’ wrist, and Stiles shivers.

He lies there and lets Derek pet him, trace all his scars. There’s a bad one high on his left thigh, from the same job as his face. That had been close; Derek seems to know without asking, and spends what feels like hours working over it with his mouth. After he’s done he manhandles Stiles over onto his belly, kisses the thankfully shallow stab wound on his shoulder, follows the talon marks across his flank. He holds Stiles down and rims him till Stiles is close to tears, begging to be fucked, not caring how it sounds, how raw and desperate.

They finally shove back together, Derek fitting inside him like something perfect, something made for his body. Stiles claws at Derek’s arms, his fingers leaving red lines that disappear instantly; he bites at Derek’s shoulder and Derek shudders and moans.

He remembers the night the jaguar priest slashed him open, the blood pouring from his face, his leg, his arms. The man’s body had fallen away, to the side, and lying there on the jungle floor, Stiles could see the stars through a small break in the canopy. They looked like they were getting closer, he’d thought, as everything started to go black. He’d wondered if that’s what dying was.

When he closes his eyes, Derek’s throat under his lips, the heft of Derek’s cock inside him, Derek’s hands tight on his wrists, the stars are right there.

 

“I’ll be back when I can. Every time I can.” He throws his ruck in the back of the car. “I promise.”

“Don’t think it escapes my notice,” his dad says, “that now that you’ve got a boyfriend up here, you’ve suddenly got a more flexible leave schedule than you’ve had for the past eight years.”

Behind him, Stiles hears Derek smother a cough. “Can’t you just accept this fortunate turn of events?” he says, giving his dad a wide, bullshit grin. “And hey, think of all the free legal advice and pet care you can get now that Scott and I are speaking again.”

“Scott and I,” John says, rubbing his forehead, “were never not speaking. Leaving aside the fact that I don’t have a pet.”

“You should get one,” Stiles says. “Uh. Not a cat.”

Stiles,” John and Derek say at the same time.

He drops his hands by his sides, blows out a deep breath. “Look, I just. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I will be back. That’s the best I can do. That’s my life. You guys know this.”

He’s had this conversation with his dad countless times over the years; he’s had it with Derek five times in the past ten days alone. He’s gotten it from Scott twice already today. He’s not looking forward to all the times he’s going to have it again, the stress of knowing that someone is worrying about you, of the war between wanting them to relieve you of that burden and knowing how selfish it would be to ask. Because Stiles has been the one left waiting, spent years praying to everything and nothing that his dad would make it home each night, and there’s a strange comfort in that fear from both sides of the equation, in being loved and loving enough to feel it.

Derek slips his arms around Stiles’ hips from behind, bumps his forehead against the back of Stiles’ neck. Werewolves move fast. Instinct, pheromones, whatever it is; it’s overwhelming and it’s amazing and it’s suffocating and it’s perfect. He takes hold of Derek’s forearms and squeezes.

“I don’t wanna look at this,” John says, grimacing but with a twinkle in his eye. Stiles breaks free and hugs his dad fiercely, feels him press a kiss to his temple. “Be safe. Call me when you can.”

“Love you too,” Stiles answers, and turns away to swipe at his eyes.

Once his dad’s back in the house, Stiles lets Derek mash him up against the side of the car, lets him scent and paw and kiss for as long as he can before finally, gently, putting his hands on Derek’s face. “I gotta go. If I miss check-in—”

“Maybe they’ll throw you out and you can come home.”

“Not quite.” He kisses Derek slowly, so slowly, and then pushes him back to arm’s length. Any closer and they’ll just start over again. “I’ll see you later,” Stiles says, opening the car door and sliding inside.

He drives away. He doesn’t look back.

 

It’s hard to hear over the noise of the plane’s engines, but they still shout at each other anyway, making what passes for conversation. “Sarge, how’s your daddy?” Curry asks with leer, and Stiles punches her hard in the arm while Padre and Gonzales laugh like hyenas.

“What?” she yells. “I know, I know you said he’s got a bad heart, but I swear, I’d be so gentle with him. I’d even sit nice and easy on his face so he wouldn’t have to work too hard.”

“I fucking hate you, Becky,” Stiles yells back. 

“Orion Leader, this is Zeus One, we are over the drop zone. Repeat: we are over the drop zone. Over.”

The back of the plane opens slowly, like a huge mouth, the wind roaring through the cargo bay, and it’s suddenly impossible to hear anything that isn’t over comms. “Solid copy, Zeus One. We are in position. Over.”

“Orion All, on my mark. Three. Two. One. Mark.”

Stiles grabs his straps and runs out into the night.