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Downward Dogs of War

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“Hi, I’d like a one way ticket to LAX. It doesn’t matter where the layover is, as long as I get out of here sooner rather than later.” Stiles said with a wry kind of a grin, mindful of his busted lip and bruised cheek and he probably looked like a hot mess.

The check-in agent fixed a smile on her face even though he could tell his appearance made her kind of uncomfortable. “Sure, I’ll see what I can find for you sir.”

She tapped away at the computer for a minute, then looked back at him with professional politeness. “It looks like there’s a seat available on a flight leaving in an hour. The layover is overnight in Denver and the connecting flight leaves there at six in the morning local time."

Stiles barely kept himself from heaving a sigh of relief. Even if the wolves somehow managed to track him from the house as soon as they got out, which he assumed was probably around sunrise, he'd still be on his second flight by then, even taking time zones into account.  "Yes, that's perfect, how much?"

She consulted the screen again. "With tax and fees it comes to five hundred and seventy four dollars."

Which was pretty much what he'd pilfered from Gerard. "Sure," he said easily and counted off the bills like it wasn't a totally bizarre thing for him to do. "Surprising my dad," he explained, “I don't want him seeing the charge on my card, so I hope this is okay. It isn't a problem, is it? The cash, I mean."

It kind of looked like she thought it might be an issue but then he rubbed his cheek under the bruise and glanced behind him like he was nervous about something, which honestly he kind of was, and she forced her smile to stay in place. "No, it’s not a problem. Any bags?"

Stiles went through the whole song and dance, using his California ID instead of his Illinois one and in short order he had a ticket in hand and waved farewell to the woman who probably thought he was either a fugitive or a domestic violence victim. Maybe both.

He went around to the escalator, tension fixed in his shoulders and back even though he knew logically that he wasn't being pursued by anyone. Derek and the rest were trapped in an inescapable basement and would stay there until the moon had set. He kind of wanted to get out his phone to check when that was, but remembered the battery was almost dead, so he just focused on acting like he wasn't a threat to the general public as he went through the security line. It didn't occur to him until he was next in the queue that he probably should have put the mountain ash, which looked like some kind of dark nefarious powdered substance, in something other than his pocket before trying to travel across the country by air.

But whatever, the bored officers didn't choose to fondle him, though one younger guy kind of blushed when Stiles took off the scarf and jacket, revealing the purpled hickies on his neck. Actually that was probably why they hadn't chosen him, plus his oversized clothing and the fresh bruise on his face. So yeah, he made it through unmolested.

The airport was tiny compared to LAX or even Chicago’s O’Hare. Most of the shops were closing up, but Stiles managed to snag a bottle of water and some Reese’s before the nearest kiosk closed. He kind of regretted not borrowing, well, stealing, one of the Hale’s books before he’d left, and had to resort to either thinking about all of his horrible life choices, possibly his sudden flight home included, or go through the only thing he had on hand to entertain him, which was his numbers notebook since he wasn’t willing to pay to use wifi for his laptop just for the twenty or so minutes he had before boarding.

Numbers it was.

After a while after he’d first started working for Youngblood and West, going over his findings had kind of became a hypnotic sort of coping mechanism for Stiles. He could just follow the lines of text, chasing the numbers until they sort of blurred into a broader pattern that allowed him to see the true nature of the account and whether or not things added up as logically as they should have. That’s how he’d sorted out the Argent mess, which he actually might have solved sooner if he’d known where to look, which was apparently in their police records. So, that had been slightly unexpected, but most of the time all he really needed were the numbers he jotted down, and generally they flowed as predictably as he’d expect.

A part of him was anxious about the Argents, though, probably because of the horrific fallout that had come from confronting them, or, rather, being confronted by Kate and Gerard. And Jesus, he really had killed the guy. Well, him attacking Stiles and Boyd had killed him. Because apparently not only was mountain ash good for creating barriers, but it could actually be kind of weaponized if laid properly against the enemy.

Stiles flipped to the back of his notebook where he’d ripped out all of those pages while writing Derek’s letter and started a list of things he wanted to find out about his newfound abilities, with a column off to the side for what he’d already learned. The first was a lot longer than the second, but it was a place to start.

Luckily, the Denver airport was bigger than the one in Madison, so Stiles was able to find plenty of shops still open despite the late hour. None of them sold the charger he needed for his phone, though, so he went in search of some provisions for the overnight stay and something to cover up the marks on his face and neck.

He finally managed to find a place that sold makeup about a third of the way through the airport. It was pretty insanely expensive, but the saleswoman was more than happy to help him pick out the right color to match his skin tone and even gave him some tips on how to apply the powder foundation and concealer. It kind of looked like she wanted to help him with it, actually, but in the end she just took the remainder of his pilfered crumpled bills and wished him luck.

When he went into the bathroom to put it on the other guys gave him strange looks, but no one questioned him because they were in an airport and people wandered around doing weird shit all the time during their layovers. The split lip was a lost cause, but at least the stark red on his cheek was less noticeable after he’d worked on it for a while. He slipped the compact and tiny tube into his bag and wandered around some more, tired of sitting, tired of being stuck in his own head, but afraid to put his phone back together and waste his battery listening to music or surfing the web or any of the other things he’d usually do to distract himself.

For some reason he was also reluctant to boot up his laptop, aside from the ten dollar internet connection fee. It was probably in part because as soon as he logged on he expected Scott to immediately try to have a face to face chat, and while Stiles was no longer concerned about his friend seeing the gnarly bruise, he was in an airport and didn't think his fellow travelers would appreciate Scott's unsubtle version of a frantic hello, which generally involved screaming and obscenities. So instead, Stiles settled for picking up a paperback bestseller, about the main character's intellectual journey or whatever, and read it as he walked back and forth around the mostly deserted terminal.

It must have been more engrossing than he'd expected because the next thing he knew they were calling his flight and he'd read almost the entire thing. His legs were a bit sore from all the walking, but he'd succeeded in distracting himself from the shitshow that was his life. No one stared at him when he boarded that time, well, at least not because of the bruise, which was still pretty well covered up. He did get some odd looks because of Derek's oversized leather jacket, though, but whatever, it was a nice jacket and surprisingly comfortable. The fact that it smelled like leather and Derek and comfort wasn’t too terrible, either.

He managed to finish the book shortly after takeoff, then passed out for the rest of the flight, his sleepless night and the previous days of frantic activity finally catching up with him. He jolted awake when the captain announced their descent into Los Angeles and had a dizzying moment of confusion before be realized what was going on and where he was.

Almost home.

Which was a bittersweet notion. He knew he’d have to tell his dad about what had gone on, at least the non-supernaturally-related parts. That wouldn’t earn him any favors from the man who was already skeptical about Stiles’ ability to keep himself in one piece even without him living in a city notorious for corporate fraud. So yeah, he wanted to go home, but he also kind of wanted to hide in a hole somewhere while the whole mess blew over.

It took awhile to disembark, but by then he had his phone out and on. He took a deep breath and dialed Scott.

Who picked up on the first ring. And that wasn't a good sign.

"Stiles where the hell are you? Your dad's been frantic! I tried calling Laura but she didn't pick up and-"

"Scott, woah," Stiles said, stepping off to the side of the hallway so other people could pass him. "Hey, I'm okay, I'm at LAX, actually."

"Are you serious? Your dad's there and he’s about to catch a flight to Chicago!"

Stiles swore and ran to the nearest outgoing flight board, apologizing to people he bumped into on way. "Scott, is it a direct flight?" he asked, skimming the names and seeing one that was set to take off forty minutes later. Of course it was in a different terminal.

"What? I don't know, I think so."

"Fuck, my phone's almost dead. I'll call you back with a pay phone if I don't find him in time. Later."

He didn't wait to hear his friend's farewell as he hung up and started jogging in the direction of what he hoped was his father's gate. Another good thing about airports was the general acceptability of people who weren't all that timely and had to run around the place to catch their flight. Stiles took advantage of that and sped through the crowds on a mission.

The plane was boarding when he got there, but he saw his dad straight away at the back of the line looking haggard and fearful, ticket in one hand and his soft leather suitcase that usually contained case files in the other.

"Dad!" he said as he approached and when the sheriff turned it looked like he'd seen a ghost before he dropped his bag wrapped Stiles in the tightest, best hug he'd had in ages.

"Jesus, kid, what the hell do you think you're doing?" he finally said, pulling Stiles back to look at him.

There were tears in his eyes and he smiled, his dad's eyes instantly going to his split lip. "I'm here and I'm okay," Stiles said because that was really the most important thing for the other man to know. "Oh, um, I'm actually here, like to stay at least temporarily, so do you still want to go to Chicago or can we head home?"

The older man shook his head wryly with a deep sigh, "You'll be the death of me, kid."

Stiles snorted, "I certainly hope not! Come on, let's get out of here. Oh, wait, did you check a bag, I don't know how to get it back if you did."

His dad shrugged, "Didn't really care to pack after I read about your latest exploits. Don't think that makeup is fooling me, either. I want to see that bruise when we get home, but for now you're going to tell me every single thing that's happened to you in regards to this Argent business, and don't even try leaving anything out Vyacheslav."

Yeah, as family reunions went it wasn't the best, but Stiles was finally where he belonged, so he couldn't complain. The storytelling, though, that was going to be the tricky part.

The sheriff, because that's who was asking him questions, made him start at the beginning, from when he'd first been assigned the account and his subsequent realization that the whole situation had been a bit strange, especially with the older auditors on his team being suspected of white collar crimes, and woah, Derek and Isaac had probably been the ones to figure that out and get them suspended. From there he talked about the numbers in a way that wouldn't make his dad's eyes roll up in his head from boredom.

"So you knew something was wrong almost from the start," he interrupted.

Stiles shifted in the passenger seat, "Well, yeah."

"And you didn't report it?"

There was definite judging going on. Stiles felt judged.

"That's not exactly how it works, Dad," he said with what sounded like a whine. There was no other word for it, he was a grown ass adult and he still couldn't keep from whining when his dad called him out.

"Uh huh," the sheriff said dryly.

"It could have been human error on their side or on mine,” he pointed out. “Plus, I'd just gotten a portion of another guy's stuff and then our second supervisor was canned almost immediately afterward, and then our third supervisor got food poisoning over Thanksgiving and we were kind of in over our heads from the start. I was trying to be thorough before accusing the giant, multi-industry company of cooking their books, okay?"

His dad raised his eyebrows. "Calm down, kid, I'm not saying you didn't do your job-"

"Uh huh," he mimicked.

"-I'm just saying that I don't know if you went about it the safest way possible. So, you knew the numbers were off and wrote it all down," he prompted.

"Yeah, and eventually I made the connection between the Lake Geneva factory in my notebook to the one that had supposedly been shut down like three years ago for some kind of ecological pollution or something. The thing was, the factory I'd been tracking looked like it was up and running, with all of the numbers perfectly balanced as if nothing was wrong at all, when it really wasn't supposed to be operating because of the court order, and it looked like the weird numbers were helping fund this place that shouldn’t have even still existed."

"So you made this discovery and what? Immediately contacted the police?" Because clearly that would have been the most logical thing to do, and what he knew he should have done, having grown up in the house of a law enforcement officer and all.

"Well," Stiles said with a wince.

"Goddamnit Stiles," his dad breathed, "did you at least tell your boyfriend? He’s a cop."

"What? No! Derek isn't my boyfriend," he protested to very obviously deaf ears.

"Uh huh. So?"

Stiles rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and looked out the window at the long stretch of highway in front of them. "I, uh, went for a run to try to work everything out and clear my head a bit. I was pretty sure about things, but didn’t know exactly how I was going to handle the grand reveal. That's when those guys showed up and attacked me."

"I read that police report, too," his dad said darkly. "Would you care to explain why you text me back from your not-boyfriend's phone and not your own in the early hours of the morning after that happened?"

"No," Stiles tried.

The sheriff gave him a look, then shrugged. "Fair enough."

It was? Huh.

“So, yeah, then Derek let me take the SUV up to Wisconsin-”

“Don’t bullshit me, kid. What really happened?”

Stiles let out a shocked half-laugh. “Yeah, okay, so Isaac drove me up north in their SUV-”

“What about the rest of them?”

“They had to take care of some things back in Chicago. Oh, Boyd had gone to check it out first and was apparently kidnapped by Gerard Argent, who also had Charlie. Boyd had been tracking them when he was captured.”

“That wasn’t in the report,” his dad pointed out.

Stiles shrugged, “You’re right, it probably wasn’t. So Isaac drove me and then I uh, well I talked to you, as you hopefully remember, and sent my findings to a couple of the people on my team, and uh, then I hotwired the SUV and took off without Isaac.”

“Of course you did,” his dad said evenly.

Which. That wasn’t the reaction he’d been expecting at all, especially since he’d just confessed to having stolen another person’s property. He’d kind of thought his dad would at least yell at him or tell him exactly what laws he’d violated and woah, okay, that probably meant his dad didn’t actually believe him?

“What? Seriously, I called Allison and she told me how and I did it. I used the wire trick where you strip the red wire and the brown one and zap them together to get the engine to rev.”

The sheriff glanced over at him and frowned. “Stiles, if you’d hotwired that vehicle the way you just said, you wouldn’t have been able to turn the steering wheel.”

“Well clearly I did,” he challenged, folding his arms over his chest. “I drove it down the highway before Derek lo-jacked me and killed the engine.”

The sheriff snorted, “He did that to you? Good for him.”

Stiles frowned, “You know, people think you’re a super sweet guy and all, but I know deep down you’re really kind of an asshole.”

“Language,” he replied without any heat. He was grinning, the ass.

“Yeah, well, I certainly come by it honestly so, whatever. So yeah, then I got out and Kate Argent’s thugs rear ended the SUV and then they kidnapped me.”

“Back up, tell me more about this Argent woman. Chris has never really talked about his family, but I seem to remember her from when she and her parents lived here before you were born. She seemed kind of cold back then, like her mother.”

“She was something, alright,” Stiles said as he looked out the window at the passing landscape. It was vastly different from the wintery fields of Wisconsin and the sight filled him with a kind of comfortable nostalgia.

“Stiles? I know there’s more to this than what you’re telling me.”

He heaved a sigh, “Fine, Kate was showing an undue interest in me at work. She made me eat lunch with her in her office a couple of times, and I’m pretty sure she was hitting on me. Also, she was creepy as fuck.”

“You tell Derek?”

He scoffed, “Yeah, and jeopardize my career? No, of course I didn’t tell him. I didn’t tell anyone because that would have been a breach of contract, and grounds for getting me fired.”

Sheriff Stilinski was not impressed.

“Hey, I know you don’t like that I live in Chicago and all, but I do enjoy my job, okay? I’m good at it and it makes me happy.”

“I know, kid, but you’ve got to admit it hasn’t been the safest profession.”

And really, his dad didn’t know the half of it.

“Anyway,” Stiles continued, “I thought there might be a rivalry thing going on between the Hales and the Argents, at least for Kate and Gerard, not Chris or Allison that I know of. Derek told me about his grandparents being killed by Gerard’s wife and then Kate made some weird accusations about her own mom being killed in retaliation back when the Hales lived in Beacon Hills. So, it seemed kind of like a bad blood scenario gone crazy. That was pretty much confirmed with my kidnapping, though I don’t know if that was just Kate wanting me for herself or if she was sticking it to Derek, who is not my boyfriend but might have been at one point but that’s definitely not the case anymore and no I don’t want to talk about it.”

“So she kidnapped you?” his dad asked, though Stiles could tell he wanted to question him about the whole non-boyfriend thing and why that was the case and probably about what he was doing in California all of the sudden, but somehow managed to restrain himself. Stiles admired his restraint, but knew it wouldn’t keep forever.

“Yeah, she was pretty creepy about it, too. Apparently she’d been tracking me with some kind of a device in my jacket-”

His dad glanced at the one he was wearing and raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

“Nope, this one’s Derek’s, I stole it.”

Stiles,” he said, exasperated, but not unfond.

“So yeah, they, Kate and her thugs, took me to the Argent’s Lake Geneva warehouse. The whole place was some kind of ammunition manufacturing plant, it looked like. I don’t know, it was pretty bizarre stuff. Then she took me back to where Charlie and Boyd were chained up and then Gerard showed up and made them like fight to the death or something. It was pretty surreal and I tried to stop them or do something, but then Gerard punched me and Charlie attacked him and he shot Charlie in the head right there in front of me.” And holy shit, he’d watched someone’s brains be splattered across the concrete and had barely even thought about it. Did that make him a bad person? A sociopath? Definitely someone in need of extensive therapy.

His dad’s hand landed on his knee and squeezed. “I’m sorry you had to see that, kid.”

“Yeah, me, too,” he said with conviction. “But anyway, I was kind of disoriented after the whole Gerard thing and Boyd was passed out and then there were these growls and somehow Gerard went down and when I turned to look Kate had a rifle pointed at me and the next thing I knew she was dead with her throat ripped out. I helped Boyd out of there and Derek, Laura, Isaac, and Erica showed up and took us to the Hale’s lake house.”

After taking a few miles to digest that information, the sheriff finally turned to him. “So, that was one version of events, now how about the truth?” he didn’t sound angry, though, just kind of mildly amused at Stiles’ shenanigans.

He was pretty well used to them, Stiles guessed.

But there was also a lot he couldn’t say, right? Well, he couldn’t really get into the whole werewolf mess, but he could maybe talk about his own?

“Okay, but first we’re getting In-N-Out, I haven’t had a real burger in months.”

They got cheeseburgers, and Stiles didn’t even lecture his dad when he got a three by three, probably because he ordered the same thing plus fries and a shake, and it was one of the more satisfying meals he’d had in awhile, in part due to the fact that he was no longer in mortal peril.

Once back on the road, their stomachs full almost to bursting, his dad brought up the whole now for the real version of events thing again and Stiles relented with a sigh.

“So,” he said, not quite knowing where to begin, or even how it would play out with what he’d already told his dad about what went on or whether or not it would make him sound all kinds of crazy, “apparently I’m magical and I was the one who killed Gerard.”

It was a testament to how much shit he’d put his dad through during his relatively short life that the man didn’t even flinch. He just continued to drive, keeping the car in the center of his lane and he was taking it rather well, actually.

“How hard did that guy hit you?” he asked without looking over at Stiles.

Or, you know, maybe not.

“Yeah, so this is why I told you that other story, which is still mostly true, by the way,” Stiles said, folding his arms across his chest in a squeak of leather and glaring out the window.

“So, what? You’re like that Harry Potter kid or something? Or are we talking more like Star Wars? Gandalf? Work with me, here, kid, I’m trying to understand what you’re telling me.”

Stiles couldn’t help it, he laughed and had to use a napkin to dab at the blood that welled up from his reopened scab on his lip. “I don’t know for sure, but that’s why Kate wanted me. She said I’d be useful to her and her dad, or something like that. They gave me this jar of ash, they called it mountain ash, and said it would protect me from being attacked if I believed it would. Charlie was acting really aggressive and tried to go after me, but Boyd stood up for me and I spread the ash in a circle around me and it seemed to work. Then Gerard shot Charlie and came after me and Boyd and I swear I didn’t touch him, but once he got to the barrier he just kind of flew back and hit a metal vat thing and fell to the ground dead.”

“So what really happened to your face if Gerard Argent didn’t hit you?”

He studied his hands for a second, then looked out at California’s mild winter landscape, snow free and still green. “That happened when Kate came in. She was about to shoot me with the rifle and I just, I don’t know, I closed my eyes and believed and then a bolt of lightning came in through the roof and struck somewhere inside the room. When I opened my eyes I was on the floor and my face hurt. Kate and the rest were dead and Boyd and I were okay.”

His dad nodded, but didn’t comment as they drove toward Beacon Hills.