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[Part 1]

Dead things in the woods have always fascinated Stiles. Not necessarily in a macabre way, but also not completely in the carrion, food way, either.

The night is hot and thick. He’s perched in a branch above a beast clawing symbols into the side of a freshly-killed doe, watching silently. It isn’t really as brutal a killing as it could have been, considering the size and shape of the werewolf, a hulking abomination of an omega, but there’s something off about it. Something rabid in the puffing breath, the stench of rot that has nothing to do with the dead deer. It scares Stiles enough to keep still and hidden in the low-hanging leaves far longer than normal.

He shouldn’t be here. His dad’s going to murder him if he finds out. On the other hand, though, he now knows what’s terrorizing the wildlife population of the preserve. He just has no idea why.

There hasn’t been a werewolf in Beacon Hills for nearly six years. And now they have two.

Granted, the other one he really likes. This one, though: not so much.

He waits until the wolf lifts its head, turns to go—there’s a split-second where Stiles is sure it’s seen him, their eyes catching in the dark, its nostrils flaring. But then it just snorts, swipes blood of its chin with a grotesquely clawed hand, and lopes away.

*

There aren’t many ways Stiles can communicate with Laura Hale without revealing his secret identity. There’s really only one, actually, and it’s kind of hit or miss. Right now they’re at a stage in their relationship where Laura feeds him bits of her sandwich and Stiles brings her half-tarnished shiny things he finds in the ruins of the old Hale house.

He doesn’t think about how scarring this might be until he brings her a marble, clear blue with ribbons of white through the center, and watches awkwardly as she breaks down and cries.

There isn’t much of a way to out-and-out warn her about the feral werewolf, though, without involving his dad or sending her a direct message.

His thinks about it as he sits at his desk, Econ homework forgotten on his open laptop, curser blinking after a short beginning paragraph of his essay. He’s painstakingly folding foil in the shape of a triskelion he knows he’ll probably never deliver. The Hale pack emblem. He’s seen it scorched all over the shell of the Hale house. He doesn’t know how else to tell Laura to watch her back—that underneath all the bile, blood and wrongness, the rogue omega still smells like Laura’s pack.

Stiles’s head jerks up at a knock on his half-open door.

“Hey, kiddo,” his dad says. “Everything okay?”

“Yep, peachy,” Stiles says, palm flattened over the foil.

His dad arches an eyebrow at him. “Really.”

Stiles nods. “Yeah, you know, doing some homework, dutifully observing the township curfew.” He squirms in his seat a little, the wings of his back itching.

“Right.” Sighing, his dad slumps along the doorframe. “Found anything?”

“Uh.” To tell or not to tell? “Mountain lion?”

“You and I both know there’s no mountain lion out there carving symbols into dead things, son.” He sounds disappointed in him.

“Information sharing is a two-way street, Daddio,” Stiles says, giving him a finger gun and ignoring the guilt building up in his gut. He’s had years of practice.

“I’m an adult and the Sheriff, Stiles,” he says tiredly. “I don’t have to share information with my teenage son.”

“Your teenage magic son,” Stiles says, “who may or may not have seen an unhinged feral supernatural creature painstakingly carving out a revenge spiral on a deer you probably haven’t found yet.”

His dad pinches the bridge of his nose and mutters under his breath, and Stiles doesn’t have to have supernatural hearing to know that he’s talking about him to Stiles’s mom. Your son is a menace, and, You’d be so much better at this than me. There’s a memory of her in the attic that sometimes answers back, but usually only Stiles can hear.

“What kind?” he says out loud.

“The deer? Probably a white-tail, but, you know, it was kinda hard to tell over all the mangling.”

“Stiles. Please.”

Stiles clenches his hands into fists and squares his shoulders, tells the fluttering up his back to cut it out—he’s way past the age where stress-shifting and ghosting on his dad is acceptable behavior. “Dad,” he says, “you shouldn’t get involved.”

“And you should?” his dad says, throwing his hands in the air. “You’re sixteen, Stiles.”

Stiles slumps in his seat, rubs his palms over his face. “Laura Hale is in town.”

“Hale,” his dad says. “Of the werewolf Hales? As in one of the three surviving Hale pack members? She’s doing this?”

“No,” Stiles says. “No, it’s something else. I just think… we should probably just leave this to her to clean up. I’m only watching.”

Stiles is a terrible watcher. He’s never been able to just watch.

“No,” his dad says, his expression worn and resigned. “It all makes more sense now. I’m gonna make some calls. You,” he pointed a finger at him, “will stay in your room tonight. No wandering the woods. No visiting Laura Hale. I’ll clip your wings if I have to.”

“But, but, Dad,” Stiles says, flailing to his feet.

“No, Stiles!” He grips Stiles’s doorknob. “No,” he says quieter. “The Argents are back in town, too.”

*

“She’s beautiful,” Scott sighs, chin in hands.

She’s an Argent, so Stiles instinctively wants to peck her eyes out. Those dimples, though, man. Stiles can kinda understand Scott’s infatuation. And Stiles can’t really tell Scott that the new girl’s family is made up of monsters. Some people might see that differently, but Stiles has always been on the hunted side of hunters. He knows enough about the Argents to know they’re some of the worst.

She’s sitting with Lydia and company for lunch and throwing doe eyes at Scott every time Scott manages to tear his own eyes off of her—it’s ridiculous and kind of endearing and a certain part of Stiles wants to see how this plays out. Maybe Allison will be less creepy than her dad and aunt.

When a teacher pulls Stiles aside after the bell rings and says he’s needed down at the admin offices, he shrugs at Scott’s worried face. He doesn’t think he did anything wrong. Today.

He says, “If she’s in our Chem class do not replace me, dude. That’s an unforgivable offense.”

Scott’s eyes go liquid. “Dude, never.”

They pinky swear, because they never stopped being actual twelve year olds around each other, and then Stiles makes his way down to administration to see:

His dad. Decked out in his uniform still, even though he was supposed to be off-duty four hours ago. He’s stone-faced and forbidding, and Stiles says, “I didn’t do it.”

His dad rolls his eyes, stance loosening. “You’re not in trouble, Stiles.”

“Oh, okay. Good.” He stuffs his hands in his pockets. “What’s up?”

Clasping the back of his neck, his dad starts steering him toward the front doors. “Signed you out for your doctor’s appointment,” he says meaningfully. “Did you forget?”

“Nope, no,” he says. “All remembering, all the time. It’s like a party in my brain.” They push through to the outside. The sun is bright, and Stiles stumbles down the steps after his dad. When they reach the cruiser, he says, “What’s really up?”

“Got a mauled human body this time,” he says darkly. “Forensics just identified her as Peter Hale’s nurse. I figure it’s time I talked to Laura.” He arches his eyebrows at Stiles over the top of the car. “And you are going to watch.”

“It’s what I do best!” Stiles says, sliding into the passenger seat and strapping in.

His dad snorts and gets behind the wheel. “I mean it. We need to know what Laura knows about her uncle, and you’re the best lie detector we’ve got.”

“Me and Laura are pals, no problem.”

“Uh huh. You’ll be outside. Observing.”

“Sure, sure.” Observing, letting Laura feed him fries, watching Tree House Masters with her—these are all things Stiles has aced over the past couple weeks.

“I mean it, Stiles,” his dad says, pulling out of the lot. “I want you safe and unrelated.”

Stiles spreads his legs, tapping fingers on his knee. “That’s not exactly my function, Dad.”

“Your function is to be a kid,” he says, his tone final.

His dad’s always hated his mother’s old Coven. It’s arguable that Stiles hates them even more than his dad—they’ve all got good reason to. But Beacon Hills was always Claudia’s territory, even if half the witches in the Northern California Coven hated her for it. If the wolves return for good, everyone’s going to have problems.

As if sensing Stiles’s thoughts, his dad says, “They don’t have any reach here anymore, Stiles. We have an agreement.”

Yeah, because the Nemeton was asleep, and the werewolves were gone and Stiles was nine—what else were they going to do?

“Deaton,” Stiles says, frowning.

Deaton’s been their compromise with the Coven ever since his mom died, but Deaton doesn’t like getting involved any more than Stiles’s dad wants him to be. He’s got an absolute hands-off approach to the supernatural that means he’s basically retired, and he lets Stiles do whatever he wants. It’s even odds if he’ll contact the old Coven about this or not.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” his dad says tiredly. “For now, watch from as far away as you can manage, and let me know if you think Laura Hale is working with her uncle.”

*

Laura Hale is not working with her uncle. That’s the main thing Stiles takes away from his dad’s talk with her, watching from a branch outside her open motel window.

She seems openly stunned about his nurse and shifty about her uncle’s whereabouts—but Stiles still doesn’t think she has anything to do with him.

“She’s clean,” he says, pulling his shirt back over his head in the passenger seat of the cruiser. “So, what now? Can we leave her to it, even if the Argents are back?”

“I need to drop you off at Deaton’s,” his dad says slowly.

“What, why?” The less they tell Deaton, the easier this is going to be to keep quiet on all fronts. “I thought I wasn’t getting involved. What if they don’t think Deaton is going to be enough?” Despite his sort of hands-on approach to Laura, he knows that if shit goes down, and the Coven doesn’t think Deaton can handle it, they’ll send somebody else here who can.

Stiles can’t actually do magic. Essentially, Stiles is magic. Half-human, half-familiar—Stiles knows that’s what eventually killed his mom in the end, even though his dad always tells him he’s what saved her.

“Deaton’s going to have to be enough,” his dad says, slanting him a look. “We can’t risk them finding out any other way.”

Stiles stares at the side of his dad’s face, the worried frown. “You think Peter woke up the Nemeton. To draw Laura here, and the Argents.”

His dad’s knuckles tighten on the steering wheel. “That’s what we’re going to find out.”

*

Deaton is in between dogs and agrees to back up his patient load in order to nod cryptically at them in his office. He promises to fully observe what’s happening with the Hales and the Nemeton before making any decisive action, either in Beacon Hills or with the Northern California Coven. Stiles believes him if only because for all the years Stiles has known him, Deaton has never actually made any kind of decision at all that doesn’t have to do with a family pet.

He says, “I have to gather some ingredients. Two nights from now, I’ll need Stiles to come back. I haven’t had enough magic to focus through a familiar in many years, and I imagine Stiles hasn’t been used like that since Claudia.”

Stiles’s face burns, embarrassed for reasons he can’t explain, and he clamps a hand on his dad’s knee when it looks like he might start yelling.

His dad shoots him a disgruntled look but keeps quiet.

It’s not like Deaton is fundamentally wrong. It’s just that Stiles’s mom had never ever actually used him as a familiar. The Coven burned crow’s wings onto his back when he’d been five, because that’s the only way they told his mom she could keep him.

And then her magic burned up her brain, because the Coven told her she could only have the one.

“Thanks,” Stiles says.

He knocks into his dad’s shoulder as they leave, says, “Come on, I bet it won’t be that bad.”

His dad sighs, scrubs a hand over Stiles’s shorn head and tugs him close to his side.

*

Scott comes over after school, bringing Chem homework and waxing poetic about Allison’s smile, hair, legs, voice, dietary restrictions: “She’s allergic to shellfish.”

Stiles cuts him off with, “They found a dead body in the woods.”

Dude,” Scott says. “Is that why your dad took you out of school?”

Stiles arches an eyebrow at him and says, “I had a doctor’s appointment.”

“But, like,” he makes a face, “you’re not going to make me go out looking for whatever did it, right?”

“No, Scott. No, I’m not going to make you go looking for a murderer.” Stiles has occasionally dragged Scott out to snoop on various crime-related activity he’s picked up from his dad’s police scanner, but he’s not going to get Scott into this mess if he can help it.

Stiles, on the other hand, is already in too deep.

“Besides,” Stiles smiles wide into Scott’s skeptical face, “we all have a curfew now.”

*

Curfews won’t keep Stiles from shifting and watching over Laura.

He follows her, flitting from tree to tree, and only the occasional cocked ear in his direction indicates that she knows he’s there.

And then in the distance he hears, “Stiles? Stiles!” and, “Oh shit, what the fuck,” and then snarling growls mixed with screams. Scott’s screams. The only thing that stops him from shifting back to human is the fact that Laura heard him, too, and she’s faster.

He thinks oh fuck, oh Jesus, when he finds her hunched over Scott’s body—he’s barely breathing, staring glassy-eyed up through the trees, bright moonlight making the slices through his chest seem like shadows. There’s so much blood, and Stiles almost hyperventilates himself into a change when Laura leans down and bites him.

Scott screams again, thin, high and reedy, like not enough breath can get through his lungs, and then he’s so still Stiles is absolutely sure he’s dead.

He doesn’t realize he’s practically screeching until Laura throws, “Shut up!” over her shoulder at him.

She gathers Scott’s hands together, clasps them over his chest and says, “Come on, come on,” and, “Oh, fuck, I’ve never done this before,” and, “This has to work, goddamn it,” voice thick and frantic.

Stiles perches on her shoulder and stares at Scott’s blank face.

He doesn’t know how long he’s been still, watching, listening to the panicked race of Laura’s heart, before Scott’s back arches in a wet, gasping breath.

Scott shoves Laura off him as he scrambles backward, feet catching on rocks and tree roots, eyes flickering with a yellow glow. “What the fuck,” he says. “Who are you? What happened?” He presses hands all over his chest, tugs at the bloody ragged ends of his shirt. “How am I alive?”

Laura just says, half-stunned, “Oh crap, I think I’m your alpha.”

*

Laura very obviously has no idea what to do with a newly bitten werewolf. After a couple minutes of panic, where Scott pats her back as she says, “Oh god,” over and over again into her hands—with a couple, “Derek’s going to flip out,” thrown in here and there—she pulls herself together enough to tell Scott he’s a werewolf.

He says, “I’d laugh in your face but I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be dead right now. Also,” he holds up a hand, “my nails weren’t this long before.”

Laura laughs for him, on the verge of hysterical. Scott stares at her like she’s crazy, but eventually, when she’s calmed down a little, he lets her lead him back out of the preserve.

Stiles almost forgets it’s weird that he’s riding on her shoulder until Scott throws an awkward hand toward him and says, “What’s with the bird?”

She shrugs, and Stiles launches himself up off her and into the sky.

*

Scott is the worst liar in the history of ever. It’s pretty endearing. Stiles has to hand it to him, though, he’s actually holding the werewolf half of him together pretty well—no accidental flashing of eyes or teeth, no almost killing Jackson in gym, or wolfing out when Matt sits with Allison at lunch. He’s weirdly mellow about everything, and given the level of oh-shit Laura was exhibiting the night before, Stiles is pretty sure it’s not because of her.

Stiles casually says over lunch, as Scott stuffs an entire roast beef sandwich in his mouth, “So what were you up to last night?”

Scott chokes and coughs pieces of bread all over the table and then says, “Nothing?” with half his face quirked up. “I mean, uh, homework. Yeah.”

Super convincing.

“Dad says there might have been another attack.” There wasn’t. At least not any that were reported. None besides Scott.

Scott freezes, water bottle halfway to his mouth. “Oh,” he says. “Cool.”

Stiles narrows his eyes at him. “Right.”

Scott rolls one shoulder and says, “And you stayed at home?”

It feels weird, dancing around this subject with Scott, but Stiles can’t come out and tell him that he saw the whole thing, and Laura probably encouraged—with teeth—Scott to keep his mouth shut. It hurts a little that Scott doesn’t trust him with this info, but on the other hand Stiles has been lying to him his entire life.

Lunch is awkwardly silent for three point two seconds until Stiles takes mercy on him and brings up Allison.

Then he thinks: shit, that’s going to be a real problem now, isn’t it?

*

Even though Stiles is technically a familiar—half familiar?—he’s never actually been one.

Standing in the back of Deaton’s veterinary practice, he rolls his shoulders and tries not to look as uncomfortable as he feels. He suspects Deaton knows anyway.

Deaton gives him a wry look and says, “We’re not going to do any heavy lifting. It’s a simple spell, you aren’t even going to really conduit any more of my magic than it takes scry.”

Which all means diddlysquat to Stiles, who’s never even seen a real familiar in action. He’s nervous, and the marks on his back are restless, making his skin break out in goose bumps.

Deaton arches an eyebrow and says, “This will work best if you’re already shifted.”

*

That night, he lets Deaton watch through his eyes. Listen in, as Laura calls her brother—worried about Peter, Kate Argent and the fire. Fly with him through the preserve, following as Laura tries to chase her uncle down.

He’s stronger for being unhinged; not quite an omega, even if he hasn’t submitted. They’re family, though, and that’s probably why Laura doesn’t see the blow coming.

He catches her in side of the throat, then shifts human as she stumbles backward.

He says, “I would have asked you to help me,” as she slumps against a tree, hand pressed against the open wound. He flexes his claws, stares, fascinated, at her blood on them. “But you wouldn’t know how to be this kind of alpha.” He steps toward her, half his face covered in shiny, puckered scars. “Don’t worry, though. I’ll get our revenge for all of us.”

Stiles can feel the pull of Deaton on his feathers, stilling his actions, as he watches in horror—Peter slashes at Laura’s side, digs in his claws even as her neck is healing.

“Peter,” she gasps. “Don’t. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Laughing, he stoops and hefts a hunter’s sword off the ground between them. “Oh, you won’t.”

In the back of Stiles’s mind Deaton says, There’s nothing you can do, and Stiles thinks: fuck that.

He rips away from Deaton’s invisible grip in a flutter of feathers, the sudden relief of pressure hurtling him downward. He swoops with a stuttered caw before he can hit the ground and aims right for Peter’s eyes.

He feels a second of absolute triumph as his claws scrape across Peter’s face, sharp beak aiming for the soft corner of his eye, and then Peter backhands him and Stiles feels a snap in his wing when he hits a tree.

It’s enough, though. Enough of a distraction for Laura to kick the sword out of Peter’s hands, flatten him on the ground with a roar and a hand through his chest. He is, disappointingly, not dead.

And then the hunters arrive.

*

Stiles spends the rest of the night cradled in Laura’s bloody but gentle hands as Chris Argent proves himself slightly more decent than his relations.

He eyes Laura warily, but seems to stop and listen to what she has to say.

“He’s not mentally well,” she tells him stiffly. “I think you owe it to us to let him try to recover.”

“He killed someone,” he says, shaking his head. “He was going to kill you.”

Laura’s mouth tightens and she steps close enough that the circle of Argent’s hunters around them lift and aim their guns at her. Argent holds up a hand, never taking his eyes off Laura.

She says, voice low, so only Argent can hear, “We both know that fire was no accident.”

“I don’t know that,” Argent says, but Stiles hears an uncertain waver in his voice.

“You owe us,” she goes on. “Me and Derek. You owe us, Argent. You can’t take Peter away, too.”

They stare at each other, wordless and hard. Stiles’s wing hurts and he has to figure out how to get home and how to explain this to Deaton and beg him not to go to the Coven. He doesn’t want to be a casualty now, after Peter’s been incapacitated. He caws, squirms just enough to get their attention.

Argent says, curiously, “Crows can be surprisingly loyal.”

“Crows are opportunistic,” Laura says. “I feed him, he brings me gifts. And saves my life, apparently.” She’s looking down at him like she can see right through him, like she knows he’s not entirely what he seems.

Argent kicks at Peter’s prone form and says, “What would you even want with him?”

Laura squares her shoulders. “He’s family. We’ll figure it out.”

*

Argent lets them go with a warning that he’ll be watching. That if Peter makes one wrong move, he expects Laura to take care of him, and if she doesn’t: they will.

The hunters melt back into the preserve, most of them glaring at them as they disappear, and Laura slumps down next to her unconscious uncle with a groan.

She carefully sets Stiles on the ground and he tries not to fall over.

“What am I going to do with you?” she says.

Stiles tilts his head and watches her with one beady eye.

She sighs, then tears off a piece of her shirt and attempts to straighten out his wing. The pain shoots white hot through his whole body, making him stagger. He bites her hard enough to taste blood and awkwardly hops a few feet away before collapsing. He’ll probably be healed by morning, but right now it feels like he’s ripped in half.

She says, resigned, “I’m going to have to take you to Deaton.”

On the one hand, Deaton’s probably going to give him an earful. On the other, Deaton can also give him painkillers and set his wing, so. He lets Laura scoop him up again, let’s her carefully lift him over her head and settle him into the scoop of her hoodie.

“First, though,” she says, “we have to lock up Peter.”

*

Laura locks Peter up in the dank, ash and mold ridden basement of the burned out Hale house, a holding cell that was probably once far nicer, for family wolves that went moon crazy, and then she calls Derek.

She grips the bars, slumps her forehead onto the metal, and says, “I think I fucked up, Derek.”

She says, “I can’t—I know you don’t want to,” and, “but please come home.”

 

[Part 2]

Holy shit, Stiles thinks, Derek Hale is beautiful. Like, incredible. Stiles is glad he’s shifted, or he’d probably be gaping unattractively at him, possibly with drool on his chin.

Derek Hale also doesn’t appreciate the wonder that is Scotty.

He scowls at him and says, “Really, Laura?”

Stiles half wants to peck at the hand that’s petting him and half doesn’t want to at all, because Derek Hale is petting him. And not even, like, the heavy-handed kind of petting Laura does when she feeds him. He’s gentle. He’s straightening out his feathers with strong, nimble fingers, and Stiles is in heaven. Stiles wants to live out the rest of his days here, perched on Derek Hale’s forearm.

“There was nothing else I could do,” Laura says, scowling, and Scott says, “Hello, standing right here,” with a disgruntled puppy-dog expression.

Laura narrows her eyes at Derek and says, “I made this decision, and now we have to live with it.”

“Seriously,” Scott says, bouncing his gaze from Laura to Derek, “I’m two feet from you. I don’t even need super hearing to be a part of this conversation.”

Derek rolls his shoulders, but doesn’t stop petting Stiles. He mutters, “I don’t like it here,” under his breath, ears pinking.

“Yeah, I—” Laura deflates on a sigh. “We really need you, okay?”

Derek ducks his head. His hand drops from Stiles’s feathers. Both of these things make Stiles feel inexplicably sad.

Derek says, voice hoarse, “Okay.”

“So, um,” Scott interrupts after a moment of tense silence, “I wanna ask you guys about my friend, Stiles.”

*

Laura says, “No,” and Derek says, “You have a friend named Stiles?” and Stiles bristles from indignation about both these things.

First of all, Stiles is an awesome name.

Secondly—Stiles can be a secret keeper. Stiles is totally fucking trustworthy, never mind the fact that he’s currently a creepy eavesdropping crow. Stiles recognizes and embraces his weaknesses.

Scott is stubborn, though, and he lifts his chin to a defiant angle and says, “Stiles is my brother. I won’t lie to him about this.” He makes a face, loosens his stance. “I don’t think I actually can?”

“First rule of being a werewolf,” Derek says, jaw clenched, “we don’t tell other people we’re werewolves.”

Laura places a hand on Derek’s shoulder, and Stiles can feel his whole body tense up underneath him.

She just looks at Scott and says, “No,” again.

“I don’t think you guys get it,” Scott says, impatient now, shifting back and forth on his feet. “I probably won’t actually have to tell Stiles anything. He’s going to figure it out.”

Stiles rustles his wings and caws, because fuck yeah he would. If he didn’t already know everything.

Laura looks at Derek, but Derek keeps sullenly quiet, and then she turns to Scott again.

“Scott,” she says, tone low and surprisingly gentle, “no one’s going to look at you and think werewolf, okay? Our family lived here for four generations. No one sees us and automatically thinks werewolf, not unless they already know werewolves are real.” She squeezes Derek’s shoulder, a solid, curious support. “No one.”

Scott’s entire face can only be described as mutinous. “Stiles will.”

*

Stiles flies to Deaton’s before he goes home, like he’s been doing every night ever since Laura had left him there after the fight with Peter, with bland assurances from Deaton that his wing wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked—would be healed up completely in a day or two.

Deaton had tiredly stared at him after he’d sent Laura home and said, “I’m not going to report you, Stiles,” and “I should have known better; you have your own mind,” and, “Here, come help me with this spell.”

Now, he alights on the windowsill of Deaton’s office, waits for him to crack the window and let him inside.

“The Nemeton has been busy,” Deaton says as Stiles swoops in. “I’m still not entirely sure how Peter Hale woke it, but at this rate of growth, Beacon Hills may be completely overrun by supernatural creatures within the year.”

Stiles stretches into a stressful change, shedding feathers and simultaneously wrapping himself up in a blanket from Deaton’s couch. “Also the Northern California Coven,” Stiles says.

Deaton nods at him solemnly. “Also them. Laura’s asked me to look into a small pixie problem that could get out of hand. I’m sorry to ask you to do this…”

Stiles waves him off. “Just give me coffee and a half hour.”

Stiles doesn’t mind helping Deaton. Deaton’s magic is weak and rusty, from both age and disuse, and the fact that he was never much more than an advising druid before. Before Stiles’s mother had died, and all she’d left was a box full of magic Stiles’s dad still keeps in the attic.

Deaton isn’t the kind of witch who needs a familiar, he’s not strong enough, but his work greatly benefits from Stiles anyhow. And Stiles will do anything not to be taken away from his dad.

When Stiles is a crow again, perched on his shoulder, Deaton says, “I’m not sure how much longer I can stop Laura from going to your father,” which startles Stiles enough to break the thread of excess magic seeping up from Deaton’s spell.

Deaton says, “Concentrate, Stiles,” with a sort of absent rudeness that means Deaton’s forgotten he’s half-human again. He does that sometimes.

Stiles squawks loudly in his ear and Deaton winces.

He says, “I apologize,” and briefly clenches his hands around the mountain ash table edge, stopping the spell. “I only meant—I’m not the Hale Emissary, and Laura knows it. She’ll want any and all of your mother’s records if she ever wants to find a new one.”

Stiles has been trying very hard not to think about the exact reason his mom had died, but he knows that’s probably not fair to either of the Hales, who lost everything too. He’s also trying not to think about the fact that maybe his mom could have saved them all if she’d had Stiles to help.

He settles down on Deaton’s shoulder, silently telling him he’s ready to begin again.

*

“This is private property.”

Stiles stuffs his hands in his pockets and tries not to swoon. Seeing Derek Hale as a person is strangely different from being a crow. The angles are not as extreme, for one thing, and for another: Stiles’s human body is fully equipped to have visceral reactions to Derek’s… everything. Wow. Stiles was not ready for this whammy of heat.

Scott grins and waves and says, “Hey, Derek.”

Derek scowls at him. He says, “What are you doing?”

“Oh, nothing,” Scott shrugs. “Just out for a stroll.”

Yes, Scott is a terrible liar, but Stiles admires his gumption. He’s very obviously daring Stiles to figure this all out. It’s possible he doesn’t realize this is a big fuck-you to his alpha.

Stiles watches Derek’s eyes go from hard to curious, looking at him, and his nostrils flare as the wind shifts.

He says, “You smell like you’re rotting,” and Stiles mentally face-palms—way to be inconspicuous, Derek.

And Stiles doesn’t smell like he’s rotting. He probably just smells like the chipmunk he snapped out of the paws of a fox that morning, who’d, okay, probably found it already dead, since it hadn’t been as fresh as it could have been. Maybe he smelled a tiny bit like something rotten.

Stiles says, “While that is a lovely compliment for someone you’ve just met, I refuse to take offense.” He would’ve, if Derek had said it in the kind of way that meant Derek was offended by him, but mainly it seems like Derek is just really bad at people in general. Socially inept. Used to staying in and brooding, possibly all alone in the dark. If anyone is going to accidentally give away the werewolf thing, it’s probably going to be Derek.

Stiles resolves to bug him as much as possible. This is a good plan.

*

The Hales get an apartment on the swankier side of Beacon Hills, and Laura tries to convince Stiles they’re Scott’s cousins when Scott flat-out refuses to stop bringing Stiles around. During that first week they watch movies and eat all their food and Laura and Derek try laughably hard to make it seem normal, while Scott does everything but flash his eyes and claws at him.

Sometimes Stiles leaves early, shifts, and then swings by as a crow. He sits on their fire escape and quietly works on the hole he’s been steadily making in their window screen and listens to Derek say, nerves in his voice, “He doesn’t smell right.”

Laura never rolls her eyes. Never sounds impatient with him. But she always says some variation of: “He smells like a teenage boy, that’s enough to put anyone on edge.”

What Stiles resolves to do, then, is to make Derek so used to him smelling different that he’ll never even notice it anymore.

*

Most days Stiles feels like he’s running on steam and coffee, the occasional late night with Deaton wearing him out faster than he’d thought it would. He sleeps, but not well. He’s too strung out, residuals of magic making him plateau on a thrumming live wire.

Scott says, “Are you okay, man?” as Stiles reverses out of his parking spot after school.

He shoots Scott a look. “Sure?”

“It’s just…” He can feel Scott shrug, “you look tired? And, uh, you hardly ate anything at lunch today. You’ve hardly eaten anything all week.”

Stiles tightens his fingers on the steering wheel and says, “I’m fine.” He turns out of the school, makes another right onto the road that skirts behind the preserve, and falls silent on the long winding way back toward Scott’s house.

“For real, dude,” Scott says after a couple minutes. “You’re so fucking quiet.”

Stiles huffs, tries to think of something other than the electric buzzing in the back of his skull—he needs to talk to Deaton, it’s like his magic is leaving fingerprints all over his insides—and then Derek Hale stumbles out of the woods and Stiles nearly hits him.

“Holy crap,” Scott says, bracing himself on the dash when Stiles screeches the Jeep to a halt.

Derek has a hand up, face pale, a bleeding arm clamped to his side. And then he just… collapses in the middle of the road.

“Holy crap,” Scott says again, and pops open the passenger door.

Stiles scrambles out too, tired feet tangling for a second as they hit the ground before the panicked beating of his heart shoots adrenalin through his body, making him buck up.

“Derek,” he says. “What the fuck.”

Scott looks up at him from where he’s crouched at Derek’s side. “He needs a hospital.”

“No,” Derek says on a groan. He stares blearily over Scott’s shoulder at Stiles, standing helpless on the side of the road. “Take me to Deaton.”

*

The wolf is officially out of the bag when Derek demands that Stiles saw his arm off.

“How about I call Deaton instead,” Stiles says, slowly backing away from the metal exam table. “Or, better yet, let’s wait for Scott and Laura to get back with a cure.”

Scott had texted Laura almost immediately, and then took off to meet her as soon as he’d helped Stiles get Derek inside the vet office.

At Derek’s black look, Stiles makes a half-hearted effort to pretend he still thinks Derek’s human and says, “Sawing your arm off will probably kill you faster, dude.”

“Don’t call me dude,” Derek says through gritted, extra sharp teeth. The flash of blue eyes startles Stiles for their color alone. Interesting. He tucks it away to think about later, when Derek isn’t so close to dying all over him.

“If you think I’m going to freak out about the werewolf thing,” Stiles says, then trails off with a shrug he doesn’t feel.

“I’m not trying to freak you out,” Derek says tightly. “I’m trying to get you to cut my fucking arm off before the poison gets to my heart.” He sounds slightly resigned and a lot afraid, and Stiles wishes he could do more than just watch the slow steady crawl of black through Derek’s veins.

He absolutely cannot cut off Derek’s arm, though. It’s not even a question of willingness, there’s just zero chance of Stiles being able to stay conscious at the first spurt of Derek’s blood.

Stiles is mesmerized by the wolfsbane spreading, the smell of it strong even underneath Derek’s skin. Derek is growling with the rhythm of his breath, a rolling, disgruntled purr with a single hitching break in the middle.

The silence is unnerving and tragic, and finally Stiles says, “Fuck it, okay, let’s do this,” one hand reaching for the bone saw when Laura and Scott burst in.

“Oh, thank god,” Stiles says, stumbling backward again.

Laura just snaps at him, “Get me a lighter.”

*

“It was Kate,” Derek says softly after it’s done, Laura resting her forehead on his shoulder, hands pressed around the already healed wound.

“Fucking Argents,” she says, but her voice is still tinged with relief.

Scott says, “Wait, you mean Kate Argent? As in Allison’s aunt?”

Laura narrows her eyes at him, “How do you know Allison Argent?”

“Uh, we’re,” he swallows hard and backs up so he’s knocking arms with Stiles, “definitely not dating.” And they aren’t, not technically, but mainly only because both of them have trouble stringing full sentences together when in the same room.

Laura’s gaze zooms in on Stiles next, and he holds up his hands, palms out.

“Don’t mind me,” he says. “I’m just over here thinking how all the Argents’ creepy lurking around town now makes a lot more sense.” It made sense to him before, of course, but Scott probably had no idea why Chris Argent kept cornering them at the gas station and making pointed remarks about guns.

Derek says, “The Argents are Hunters. They hunt us.”

Laura wraps a hand around his nape and squeezes. “They have a code. Most of them—”

“You need to stay away from them,” Derek says to Scott, expression torn between fury and misery.

Stiles kind of wants to give him a hug, but is fully aware that Derek would probably break him in half if he tried.

Scott gets that stubborn tilt to his jaw and Stiles jabs him in the side before he can open his mouth.

He grins cheekily at Laura and Derek and says, “I’ll keep an eye on him. Now, I don’t know about you guys,” he gives them some finger guns, “but I need to go scrub my entire body down and then eat double my body weight in Rocky Road. You feeling me, Scotty?”

Derek’s tired gaze rakes up and down Stiles in a way that probably shouldn’t give him the shivers, but even covered in sweat and blood and poison Derek is achieving god-like levels of hotness. Stiles will take it.

And then maybe check up on him later when he shifts.

*

Things that come out of Stiles openly knowing about werewolves:

Laura sits him down for an adult conversation about keeping secrets and being pack, with low-key threatening of his person that Stiles takes with aplomb, mostly because a) she didn’t once mention his dad—who Stiles is admittedly rabidly protective of—and b) Stiles’s guilt levels are at an all-time high, especially now that Derek has taken to talking to him as a crow.

And it’s not like he tells him anything important, but it still feels incredibly intimate, getting pieces of egg and bacon and history, with a well-worn book open next to his breakfast plate. It’s the openness of Derek’s face, the way he accepts every bead or piece of foil or bottle cap Stiles brings him with a solemn ‘thank you.’

For Stiles the person, he reserves his most pissy barbs, the petty way he takes the last of Stiles’s favorite soda, how he snaps his teeth to get Stiles to give up any claim to a slice of pizza when Stiles comes in at the tail end of pack dinner.

And the crap thing here is that Stiles enjoys it. He likes getting Derek’s back up. He likes the way Derek’s a playful asshole when Laura’s not looking. And he likes the sensitive, thoughtful one-sided conversations he gets as the crow.

Derek’s usually the first one to tell him he looks like shit, too, when he’s too worn down from his work with Deaton.

“Do you ever sleep?” he says, bumping their arms together as they stomp down the apartment building steps. They’re being sent on a grocery run, since Laura got sick of their bickering.

“Up late living for the ladies,” Stiles says, grinning with too much teeth in an effort to cover his bone deep weariness.

Derek snorts, says, “Right,” but shoots him a worried look anyhow.

Stiles just shrugs, and hides the way his hands are shaking by shoving them in his hoodie pocket. He tells himself this is better than getting the Coven involved—better than Laura showing up at his mom’s house, demanding the ghost of her magic in the attic. It’s starting to get harder to believe that’s true.

He feels Derek’s eyes on him in the Jeep, the oppressive weight of the silence growing between them, but he doesn’t know how to make it go away.

Neither of them are on their game, and this is probably why all Stiles does is gape with shock when Derek gets tazed, arched back, face a rictus of pain on the other side of the Jeep, in the motherfucking dark side of the parking lot—he needs to use the street lamps more, he thinks absently, but darkness is a habit—and also doesn’t see the blow to the side of his own head coming at all.

*

Stiles wakes up groggy and hearing hoarse screams.

He notices first: he’s tied to a chair.

Second, he recognizes the ash and mold smell of the Hale house, and that he’s alone in a room with no windows. He can barely make out a half-burned door in front of him that should be relatively easy to get through. He twists his wrists, testing the ropes on his arms for any weakness.

Then the screams suddenly cut out and the echo of silence afterward makes him clammy and anxious.

He remembers: Derek.

He needs a plan. Or, okay, he doesn’t actually need a plan. He just needs to get out of there, and there’s really only one way to do it.

He’s never shifted while tied up before, but it can’t be much different than panic shifting with all his clothes. Pressing against the chair, he feels a flutter of movement from his pinned wings. Uncomfortable, but doable.

He takes a deep breath just as the door creeps slowly open in front of him.

There’s a dim bulb hanging in the hallway that throws the woman in shadows, but Stiles sees blond hair, a dark slash of a mouth, and a slim silhouette. Kate Argent, he presumes.

She says, “Well, aren’t you just adorable?” in a husky rasp. Her heels make a click-scrape sound on the crumbling concrete as she walks toward him. “Tell me, kiddo, did you know that Derek Hale is a monster?”

She leans over and braces her hands on his arms, so her face is close to his. She’s got a crooked nose, beautiful bones and mean eyes.

Stiles says, “The only monster I see here is you.”

She smiles, slow and wide. “He’s good to you, isn’t he?” she says, a thread of warmth in her tone that makes him nauseous. “Hasn’t shown you his claws yet?” Her voice gets smokier, with teeth. “Or maybe he has, hmm?”

Stiles fights not to flinch away when she runs light fingers up his arm.

She says, faux playfully, “Hard to ignore all the fine ways he’s grown into those muscles. I don’t even know if I can blame you for it.”

The screams start up again in the distance and she slowly straightens up, cocks out a hip. “And the fun begins again,” she says, still smiling. “I’ll leave the door open, so you can hear him better.”

The minute she disappears around the doorway, Stiles arches forward, letting pressure off his wings. He grits his teeth, breathes out, and then he’s caught in a pile of rope and clothes, losing feathers as he tunnels his way out, hops onto the back of the chair, and then catches air to flap out of the room.

He goes for speed over finesse, nearly clips a gangly, sharp guy as he takes a too wide turn, and then he’s up and out of the basement, up, up and up some more, barreling out a broken window and into the sky.

*

He goes straight for Laura, screeching loud and angry even as he rips at the hole in the screen he’s been working on in their living room window. He breaks through and dives at Laura where she’s watching him wide-eyed from the couch.

“What the—Crow?”

Stiles goes for her shirt, her shorts, her hair, tugging on anything he can get a hold of as she tries to swat him away. He hops out of reach, eyes darting around the room, looking for something, anything, to get her to follow him—he sees a photo tucked into the corner of a picture frame. A small one, with two little girls, one grinning gap-toothed boy, and a dark haired woman smooshing the side of his face with a kiss.

Stiles caws loudly, right in Laura’s ear, and then grabs for it with his beak.

He goes to the small table by the door, where they keep their keys, and then flies up to the ledge on top of the doorjamb when she makes a grab for him.

She says, “If you think I’m going to open this door and let you out with that,” and Stiles flies over her head and makes a break for it through his tiny opening in the screen.

It’s only a matter of seconds before she thunders onto the fire escape behind him, and then the chase is on.

*

They’re halfway to the Hale house before Laura calls out, “Wait, are you leading me somewhere?” and only the fact that Derek has been alone with Kate for god knows how long keeps him from stopping to laugh at her.

They’re three quarters of the way to the Hale house when Laura hears Derek scream.

She half-shifts and practically throws herself down the rest of the path, loping faster than Stiles can fly, and then flattens the front door and scrambles inside as a hulking black wolf. Stiles has never seen a full shift before, and Laura’s easily three times the size Stiles figured she’d be.

There are bodies strewn all over the floor in her wake. Stiles can’t tell if they’re dead or not, flying over them, and he doesn’t stop to check. He follows her down into the basement, hears the crunch and gargle of crushed throats filling with blood, the mangled aborted screams as she rips her way through Kate’s hunters with a single-minded, frantic focus.

Stiles has to admit, he’s kind of impressed.

They pass the room Stiles was being held in, and then down the corridor to where Laura’s been keeping Peter. She scrambles through the doorway with a deafening roar, and Stiles flies through just in time to see Kate’s smug face twist into fear and horror before Laura leaps at her and she disappears under her massive form.

Perched on a bar of the cell, Stiles has a split-second to wonder how any of this is going to seem to other hunters, and how they’re going to clean up all the possible dead bodies, before he hears a wet cough-laugh from the other side of the room.

Derek is bare from the waist up, dried blood all over his chest from slowly healing wounds, arms caught above his head.

Peter’s strung up next to Derek, a weakened shivering mass of fading scars, new wounds and blood. He’s slumped between shackles, but his mouth is stretched into a mad, manic smile.

Laura, still in wolf form, shakes Kate’s limp body before slinking over and nudging her head into Derek’s side with a whine.

“I’m fine,” Derek says through gritted teeth—he’s definitely not fine—“Did you find Stiles?”

Laura shifts. She’s fully naked, but only Stiles seems to even notice, and he pointedly doesn’t stare at her ass as she unhooks Derek’s arms and gently lowers him to the ground. “He’s not here,” she says, “His scent’s long gone.”

Derek heaves a breath, rubbing a palm along his ribs. His face is pale and sad, tilting into Laura’s, and he says, “Where else would they have taken him?”

Laura waves a hand toward Stiles. “Maybe Crow knows,” she says, but she sounds insultingly not worried about it.

Stiles huffs, flutters out his feathers and then flaps down to land gingerly on Derek’s shoulder.

And then Peter says, still with his slightly off-center, scary grin, “I hope you realize that thing is not actually a crow.”

 

[Part 3]

Stiles died before he was born.

As a fetus he was not viable. A much-loved, long-awaited-for failure from the womb. A fading and faded heartbeat. A bundle of cells that stopped reproducing, stopped growing, just shy of twenty-one weeks.

His mom felt it, knew it, before any doctor could prove it was true—and she poured everything she could into him to fix it, threading magic through her first familiar until her first familiar wasn’t there anymore: to shore up his failing DNA, his defects, whatever parts of him that was calling for her body to abort. They’d sobbed over him, his mom told him. His dad prayed, for maybe the first and last time ever in his life. And when the ultrasound showed him small and whole, when the doctor happily pointed out every finger, knee and toe, the open mouth, the pulsing valves of his heart, they sobbed some more.

And now he’s stuck in a metal cage in the Hale apartment, the sun rising across the large bank of windows across from him after a very very long night. With the cage too small to shift in, his only defense is being loud.

“Oh my god,” Laura says, blearily stumbling into the room with her hands over her ears, “shut the fuck up. You’re driving me crazy.”

Stiles screeches angrily and in a way that hopefully conveys how much he does not give a fuck. All of Stiles’s fucks, all of his guilt, evaporated after Derek clamped his hands around him and stuffed him in this motherfucking chicken cage.

Peter’s the only one who seems unaffected by him, but Peter is still weighed down by wolfsbane-laced shackles, and slinks around the apartment like he’s dying. And is also, by all accounts, certifiably insane.

Derek scowls at him and threatens to eat him, but he also gave him the choicest bits of raw meat for dinner the night before. This may or may not be because the only time Stiles is truly quiet is when he’s eating.

He knows he’s not the only thing that has them on edge, though—well, technically, it’s still him. Scott and Derek are worried because Stiles is still missing. Laura, when faced with Scott’s puppy-dog eyes, will admit she’s a little worried too.

So far they’ve apparently told his dad he’s with Scott on an epic gaming weekend, but the weekend is rapidly coming to a close, and if he doesn’t show up for school tomorrow morning, things are going to have to be done.

Stiles is tired, though. He’s never been shifted this long, and he’s never been stuck in a place so small, barely a wing-span across, and whatever magic is feeding this form is dwindling. All the screeching is taking a lot out of him.

It’s only when he gets quiet and still around mid-morning that they start looking at him like maybe he isn’t pure evil.

Laura pokes him with end of a pen through the bars, and Stiles doesn’t even nip at her, just fluffs his wings and gives her his best beady-eyed glare.

She says, “Well, he has been helping us, right?” staring at him over the top of her coffee cup.

Slumped in an armchair with a book open in his lap, Peter says absently, “It’s a familiar, children,” and it’s the first time the f word has been mentioned, like Peter’s been enjoying watching Stiles scream at them for nearly twenty-four hours straight. “Its witch has been helping you.”

*

“I talked to Deaton,” Scott says, bursting into the apartment a half hour later. “He said if we want to know about the crow we should probably let him out of the cage.”

Derek growls and says, “No.”

Laura slams her phone down on the kitchen counter and says, “Argent still hasn’t heard anything about Stiles.”

Stiles knows that Argent was livid about the hunters—only Kate and one other actually dead, though—and then slightly less livid once he realized Stiles was missing. Apparently he has a tiny bit of a conscious after all, despite all his innate creepiness.

“He’s not going to tell us anything even if he has heard,” Derek says. He’s got the kind of haunted look around his eyes that Stiles would be concerned about if he wasn’t being held prisoner for no reason whatsoever.

Laura presses a hand to Derek’s shoulder, slides it up into the crook of his neck and squeezes. She says, softly, “He probably knew far longer than anyone else what she was capable of.” Laura, from what Stiles can see, feels absolutely no remorse for ripping Kate Argent in half. “He’s going to help us with Stiles.”

Peter looks smug and gaunt, like Gollum with his fingers gripped possessively around the one true ring. He’s going to be trouble. He grins at Stiles like he knows exactly who he is, and is enjoying the hell out of all this chaos.

Laura takes a deep breath and says, “The only other witch Mom knew was Claudia Stilinski.”

Stiles makes the mistake of letting out a squawk at his mom’s name.

Oblivious, Scott says, “Stiles’s mom? But she’s…” He trails off, face scrunched up in confusion.

“Stiles’s mom,” Laura says slowly, staring at Stiles.

Stiles caws, watches the answering flare of red in Laura’s eyes. It’s kind of already too late to stop, anyway.

*

Peter shuffles over to stare at him like a weirdo after Laura, Derek and Scott take off to, most likely, break into Stiles’s house. The likelihood that his dad is still on duty is high, though, so it’s probably going to take them a while to find all of his mom’s magic paraphernalia in the attic.

Peter says, “This should make things interesting,” and opens the cage.

Stiles pauses for a wary moment—is Peter planning on eating him?—and then gathers up all his remaining energy and takes off.

Peter very helpfully opens the window for him, too.

*

To go home or not to go home, that is the question.

Home is safe, but home is also probably where the Hales are. Stealing his mom’s stuff. Which is totally not cool, and also not necessary—there’s absolutely zilch about Stiles in there.

Okay, so home it is.

When he gets there, he sits in the tree outside his window and worries at the decided lack of Hales in the vicinity. Not even a Scotty to be found. The attic gable looks untouched, and his dad’s cruiser is in the driveway, so it’s possible that his dad scared them off. It’s also possible that his dad just let the Hale pack have all the stuff Claudia kept safe for them. Including the key to the Hale vault. Ugh… good or bad? Stiles doesn’t even know anymore. He’s so fucking exhausted.

He wants to be human again. He wants to lie in his bed and sleep for a solid two hours and then maybe stare at the ceiling and think about how Deaton’s magic still tastes wrong in the back of his throat.

Scratch that: he just wants to be human forever.

His mom would be so upset about all of this.

After several minutes of quiet, Stiles finally flies down into the backyard, hops onto the porch, and shifts.

All his limbs feel heavy and worn, crouched naked on the rough planks of wood. He scrubs his hands over his face, presses cool palms into his eye sockets, shoves his fingers through his hair and clasps them together on the back of his neck. It takes a while to uncurl, stretch out his back, wincing at the aches that spark in each notch of his spine, and stumble unsteadily to his feet.

The back door is unlocked when he finally pushes through it, and his dad is sitting at the kitchen table, plate of scrambled eggs in front of him, a piece of toast halfway to his mouth. He lowers his hand slowly, blinking at him.

“Do I want to know?” he asks.

“No,” Stiles says tiredly, “but I’m gonna have to tell you anyhow.”

*

First: Laura apparently came by alone, no Derek or Scott in sight, and his dad gave her the big box labeled ‘Hales’ from the attic.

He shrugs, says to his coffee cup, “I’m not sure what’s in it, but nothing stopped me from taking it down.”

Right. Right, Stiles rolls his shoulders, as uncomfortable as his dad, because no matter how much they both don’t like to talk about it, there’s definitely something that his mom left behind that lives up there.

“Well,” Stiles says. “They’re probably going to be pretty pissed when they realize Peter let me go.”

His dad arches an eyebrow at him. “They’re going to figure it out. Most likely as soon as they know you’re not missing anymore.”

They’re going to hate him, he thinks. They’re going to think there’s something wrong with him, because there is. Stiles doesn’t want to tell his dad, but some days he feels like he’s dying inside. Like Deaton’s magic is scraping out all his human parts, like at some point his body—his human body—just won’t want to work anymore.

He probably has to tell Deaton that, but there’s never any time.

“I’m…” Stiles opens and closes his mouth, for once completely unsure what to say. He ends up hunched in on himself, rubbing the side of his hand over his nose. “I can’t even think right now, I’m so tired.”

He goes up to bed. He’ll deal with all the werewolves later.

*

Stiles flails awake some indeterminate time later. The setting sun is weak through his windows and his heart is pounding and Derek is sitting on the end of his bed.

“Jesus Christ,” Stiles says, clutching his chest, leveraged up on his side. “What the fuck, man.”

“Stiles,” Derek says, voice hoarse, and Stiles has a split-second to think, holy god, he’s going to rip me to shreds for this, before Derek has him flat on his back, a deep, resonating rumble in his chest.

“Stiles,” Derek says again, this time into the crook of his neck, words buzzing hotly into his skin.

“Uh.” Stiles tentatively brings his arms up and around Derek. He’s confused about many things, but mostly about the way Derek isn’t threatening him with his teeth. “Everything okay there, big guy?”

Derek shudders at the touch of Stiles’s hands on his back. He says, “I thought you were dead,” and oh.

Oh, wow. Fuck.

Apparently Derek trusts Stiles a lot more than he figured. This is going to make everything else a lot worse, isn’t it?

And then like some kind of motherfucking nightmare, Laura Hale looms out of the darkness of the hallway, red eyes gleaming. She says, “Derek, I need you to move away from Stiles,” in a sort of level calm that doesn’t match her expression at all.

Stiles involuntarily tightens his hold on Derek, and Derek makes a wounded sound in his throat.

“Derek,” Laura says, voice sharper. “Now.”

Derek heaves out a breath and Stiles’s wings flutter like mad under his skin, where they’re pinned against the bed, like they’re ready to shift the minute Derek lets him go.

Which is weird, but only in the sense that Stiles shouldn’t have any energy left to shift for days yet. A wave of magic rolls out over his body, warm and comforting like his mom’s love. This, he thinks, is even weirder.

Derek shifts backward, arms falling to his sides, and Stiles closes his eyes against Derek’s confusion, Laura’s anger, and rolls off the mattress on the other side—he shifts mid-movement, loose shirt slipping off his feathers, and then he’s Crow, sitting at the top of his open closet door, watching as Derek bares his teeth at him and growls.

*

One main thing comes of the Hales knowing what he is:

He doesn’t get to hang out with the pack anymore. He hangs out with Scotty still, because they’ll always be ultimate bros. Scott had shown up at his door, said, “Are you really not human?” puppy-dog eyes wide.

Stiles had shrugged and said, “Only half,” and a grin bloomed across Scott’s face when he’d said, “Hey, so, me too.”

They’d hugged it out and ate an entire pizza and Scott had fallen asleep on his bed while Stiles stared up at the ceiling and tried not to wish it’d gone this well with Laura and Derek too.

But Laura and Derek have trust issues, Stiles doesn’t blame them, so Stiles doesn’t get invited over for movies anymore.

It’s not…it’s okay, Stiles thinks. He just misses them more than he thought he would.

And then Gerard Argent gets into town.

*

His dad doesn’t want him to get involved.

“Gerard Argent is bad news,” he says. They’d found a body in the woods again—a drifter, this time, cut in half in that certain gross way hunters like to leave dead werewolves.

“Gerard Argent is unhinged,” Stiles says, nodding, “but he threatened Scott.”

“Did he threaten Scott the werewolf, or Scott the boy that might be dating his teenage granddaughter?”

Stiles throws up his hands. “Like it matters! If Scott were human he’d just be easier to murder.”

His dad sighs, leans heavily against the doorjamb to Stiles’s bedroom. “You’re just starting to look like a kid again. With regular problems, like math homework.” He stares pointedly at Stiles’s open textbook and empty worksheet on his desk.

“Deaton says he can probably cook up some protection spells,” Stiles says.

“Probably,” his dad echoes, one eyebrow arched.

Stiles grins faux brightly. “If I help.”

“Like you helped before,” he says, frowning, “when you looked like warm death for months.”

“The Coven—”

“Your mother’s old Coven isn’t going to know, not unless Deaton tells them, and if Deaton tells them I will shoot him between the eyes.”

“Dad,” Stiles says, slumping down on the corner of his bed. “You don’t mean that.”

His dad straightens up and moves toward him. He crouches down, clasps Stiles’s hands between his own, presses his thumbs into Stiles’s wrists gently and firmly, until he has Stiles’s full attention. He says, fierce but calm, “I absolutely mean that, Stiles. You are my whole world. I’m never losing you.”

Stiles eyes burn. He says, “Dad,” voice thick.

“There is nothing, nothing,” he moves his hands, tugs Stiles into a hug, “more important to me than you. Okay?”

“Yeah.” Stiles draws in a shaky breath. “Okay.”

They stay like that for long moments, and Stiles feels like a little kid, curled up into his dad, letting the sound of his heart drown out the world.

And then Stiles says, small, “I have to do this, Dad,” and his dad’s voice is just as soft on, “I know.”

*

Protection spells are an ongoing thing, apparently, and Stiles learns the taste and breadth of Deaton’s magic all over again, the constant low-grade nausea, the insomnia, the heavy-limbed disassociation with his human body.

He runs into Derek once, late at night in the grocery store.

Stiles is staring at the meat display. He doesn’t even realize Derek’s there until he says his name.

Derek hasn’t said his name in weeks.

Stiles wants to turn into him, the warm body just inches away, but instead he continues to absently read the sell-by dates on the packages of ground turkey. The ones marked for today are fifty percent off.

Derek says, “Stiles,” again, curls a hand over his arm, and Stiles’s knees nearly buckle. He’s not sure if it’s a Derek thing, or just pure exhaustion.

“Come on,” Derek says. “I’m going to drive you home.”

Stiles finally blinks over at him. “Why?”

There’s a tentative worried smile lurking at the corner of his lips, and Stiles thinks: it can’t be that easy. There’s no way Derek’s forgiven him for lying. For not being a real person.

Stiles says, “I’m sorry.”

Derek’s smile falters and falls. His hand spasms and releases, drops to his side, and Stiles is right. Nothing about this can ever be easy.

“Never mind.” Stiles shakes his head, braces a palm on the cold shelf of the meat cooler. “I’m fine.”

Derek hesitates. He says, “I really think I should drive you home. You look…”

“Devastatingly handsome? The epitome of manly assuredness?” Stiles grins, and the familiar shape of Derek’s answering scowl makes his spine straighten with determination. “Seriously, big guy. Can’t have your car smelling like me. Laura’ll be mad.”

“Laura won’t be—” He cuts himself off, huffs a breath of frustration, like he knows he can’t win. He says, “Fine,” and, “See you around,” before stalking off, and later Stiles pretends he doesn’t see Derek in his rearview mirror, following him home.

*

Gerard has yet to make a move that Stiles hasn’t seen. He knows he’s frustrated with Scott’s lack of response to his threats against Melissa. Furious that his son refuses to play along with his scare tactics to Laura and Derek. Rage-fueled and psychopathic that his precious daughter wasn’t revered as a goddess by the rest of the Argent family hunters, and was instead buried in shame. He’s dangerous and crazy, but so far Stiles has been able to protect everyone he loves.

Twice a week Deaton uses Stiles to strengthen the wards and spells surrounding the Hale pack and the McCall and Stilinski households, but Stiles knows something has to give before he does.

When he stumbles blearily in the back door of the vet clinic, Deaton looks up at him in alarm, pushes his glasses up his nose. He says, “Stiles. You look unwell.”

“Yeah, duh.” Stiles feels unwell, thanks very much. He feels like he’s skating that edge of possible flu, right before his stomach might give up and try to turn itself inside out. “Let’s just get this over with, okay?”

He knows he’s the one insisting on this now, but he trusts Gerard about as far as he can throw him, and Gerard may look like a five hundred year old mummy, but he’s heard evil adds at least a hundred and fifty pounds.

Deaton just continues to stare at him. “How long have you been feeling this way?”

“Forever?” Stiles doesn’t see the point in this. It doesn’t matter how he feels. It matters how effective he can be.

Deaton straightens up and says, “Take off your shirt. Let me see your back.”

“What, why?” Stiles clasps the front of his plaid together defensively. “No.”

Deaton ignores him, turns to his desk and sifts through his piles of books. He says, “I should have thought of this before. You’ve been able to hold a shift far longer than any familiar should.” He looks up at Stiles, eyes curious. “Stiles, you need magic to shift forms. I always assumed your mother helped you, and that you could draw from your natural surroundings when needed. Nothing but a pure current of energy would let you stay shifted for that many hours.”

Stiles blinks at him, hands still twisted in his shirt. “Huh?”

“Let me see your back, Stiles,” Deaton says again.

Reluctantly and sullenly, Stiles strips, making sure Deaton knows how very not cool this is.

Deaton says, “Well,” when he finally sees Stiles’s back. He says, “Yes,” faint awe in his voice, and then, “This is certainly unexpected.”

Stiles flinches at the cool touch of Deaton’s fingers, but doesn’t move away.

“Stiles,” Deaton says, slow finger tracing lines, “this isn’t a familiar mark.”

Something tightens in Stiles’s chest, like fear. “What is it?” He’s seen his marks before. When they were first burned into him. After his tears dried and his mom was still sobbing and his dad was cradling his head, big hands careful of the sore, throbbing blades of his back. He’d wanted to know, and his dad had held him up to a mirror, helped him see his reflection—black, terrible things, iridescent in the light, deep like fathomless holes in the shadows. Stiles had nightmares for months, before he learned to use them to shift.

He saw them that once, and never bothered to look again.

Marks are fixed. His were high up, mimicking angel wings, but Deaton’s hands, all his fingers now, are spreading down the small of his back.

Deaton says, “I believe you did this yourself, Stiles,” and his words aren’t accusing—they’re proud.

“What, uh,” Stiles swallows hard, throat dry. “What does that mean?” He turns around, hastily pulls on his tee, then over-shirt, hugging his arms around his waist, all while Deaton just grins at him.

Finally, Deaton says, “It means your body has been rejecting my magic. That’s why you feel sick. You’ve been fighting off foreign antibodies, and I kept feeding you more.”

That doesn’t sound good, but Deaton practically looks elated, it’s actually kind of terrifying.

“But what does that mean?” Stiles asks again.

“It means you should have mentioned feeling like this months ago,” Deaton says, slightly chiding. He starts packing up his materials, even though they haven’t even started for the night. “And it means we’re going to have to approach this completely differently. I’ve always wanted a protégé.”

“You have not,” Stiles says automatically, still completely fucking bewildered.

“You, Stiles,” Deaton goes on, blithely ignoring him, “are not a familiar. You are a spark.”

 

[Part 4]

Claudia Stilinksi was Talia Hale’s emissary for years before her magic started burning out certain parts of her brain. Everyone suspected something was wrong, but no one knew how bad it was until the night the Hale house was set on fire. Claudia never recovered, dying days later. Maybe she could have saved everyone if she’d had a familiar to use. Maybe not.

Stiles is sitting on the hood of his jeep outside the veterinary clinic, trying and failing to do anything with a pile of mountain ash Deaton gave him. Believe in the mountain ash, he’d told him. Deaton’s teaching abilities are absolute trash.

And then out of nowhere, Peter Hale appears next to the jeep and says, “I remember your mother.”

Stiles jerks back and almost rolls off the other side. “How are you here?” he yelps. The last he saw of Peter, the dude was still on house arrest. “Did you break out? Are you going to kill me?”

“Time off for good behavior,” Peter says, hands raised. “There’s a delightful Argent following me around. For my own protection, of course.”

Stiles says, “Yeah, okay,” and only kind of believes him when he sees the glint off what might be the barrel of a rifle from the edge of the preserve behind them. Cool beans.

“Anyway,” Peter says on a sigh. “I remember your mother. Lovely woman, you have her eyes.” He stares unnervingly at Stiles, and Stiles tries and fails not to squirm. “She had a crow. Big, handsome thing, with a slash of white down its throat.” He mimes the placement on his own neck, tilting his head back. “It disappeared some time before you were born.”

“You realize everyone already knows what I am,” Stiles says, hands balled up on his thighs. He absolutely doesn’t like anyone talking about his mom.

Peter swipes a few fingers down the dirty hood of the jeep, rubs them together with a curled lip. “The Hale box contained very few things of use beyond the key to our vault. But there was a single black feather. Practically buzzing with energy.” He pulls a small piece of cloth out of his pocket. “I thought you might like it back.”

Stiles’s hand is out before he can even think, but stops short of touching the handkerchief. This, Stiles thinks… this could be what talks in the attic, sometimes. He’s torn between wanting it back, and never wanting to have to hear it again.

Peter stares at him, speculative, eyes gleaming. “I could keep it safe for you. For the time being.”

Stiles’s fingers curl, but his arm stays up, like he can’t quite bring himself to turn it away. He says, “Dad said nothing stopped…He said the box wanted to be with Laura.” It’s almost painful to say, knowing what was in it now.

Nodding, Peter carefully tucks the wrapped feather back in his pocket. He says, surprisingly soft, “Laura would want you to have it back, too.”

Stiles blinks, stares up at the blue, blue sky. He thinks about the detailed wings covering almost his entire back, the purple-black feathers, etched like a fine, sleek tattoo. They move like they’re alive, grown even more since he’d stopped eating Deaton’s magic—he can flutter them up his shoulders and down the backs of his arms. He doesn’t need his mom’s crow feather. The spark of her magic is burning deep in his bones anyhow.

*

Stiles is pretty bad with magic. He’s terrible with anything that isn’t shifting, which seems to be as easy as breathing now, and lasts longer, and doesn’t leave him winded, tired or sore. It’s freeing, throwing himself into the air. Everything else is just frustrating.

“Don’t freak out,” Scott says, practically sliding into him as Stiles reaches for the front doors of the school.

He’s got restless energy to burn after staying late for detention, and a baggie full of mountain ash to practice circles with—ugh—so he grins at Scott and says, “What’s up?”

Scott catches his wrist, stops him from pushing out into the bright, sunshiny afternoon. Stiles stares longingly at the sky through the thin panes of glass, then takes in Scott’s wary expression and pleading eyes.

Scott says, “Seriously, don’t freak out,” again.

Stiles says, “You realize your words are having the exact opposite effect, right?” and shakes off Scott’s grip.

Scott sighs, puts his back to the doubles doors and pushes outward, waving a hand for Stiles to slip out before him.

And then Stiles sees them. Lounging all over the Hales’ Camaro, clad in black leather jackets like they’ve spontaneously joined a biker gang. Reyes going full Sandy with matching tight pants. Lahey perched on the hood, Boyd almost in fucking parade rest next to Derek. Derek, who has his legs spread, douche-y sunglasses sliding down the bridge of his nose, mouth sporting a grin like he’s got something to prove.

“Please, please tell me Laura didn’t bite a bunch of high school students,” Stiles says, frozen at the top of the steps.

Scott winces.

Are they crazy? Gerard Argent will slice every single one of these puppies in half and then hack out their hearts, possibly to skizzle them up for his dinner. This is the absolute worst time to expand.

Or the best, Stiles thinks semi-charitably, considering the strength of bigger packs. But he’s still calling bullshit on turning all the misfit teenage loners.

Stiles says, “This is going to end so bad,” and then starts down the steps to his certain doom.

*

Certain doom, of course, comes in many forms, and while this one starts out fairly innocuous, Scott’s disappearing act is getting old—fast.

He’s apologetic about it, but it doesn’t really help when Stiles knows he’s just going to hang out with Derek and Laura and the rest of the pack, and that Stiles is pointedly still being excluded. He’s helping protect them all, isn’t he? And sure, maybe he swore Deaton to secrecy about his spark thing, and maybe Laura’s caught him spying on them once or twice in the trees—can she blame him?—but his days are getting kind of lonely.

He gets school and lunchtime with Scott, but the only other sadly kind of social thing he’s done in weeks is work on a lit project with Lydia.

And since Peter woke up the fucking Nemeton, they have a little more than Gerard Argent to worry about. Not that the wily old bastard isn’t dangerous. So far their only edge is that Chris has a wary eye on him, and seems to be willing to sell him out if he gets a little too crazed.

So Gerard is there, a looming psychopath, but what Stiles really needs help with immediately is whatever has him pinned against this tree.

“Oh, hey, whoa,” Stiles says, and tilts his head back when a strong hand curves around his throat. Fun. There’s a thumb brushing along his jugular and he should be super panicked about that implication, but Stiles just feels kind of floaty. He knows that’s wrong, but he can’t quite bring himself to care about that.

Whatever it is isn’t big on explaining—it has way too many teeth in its mouth, hulking shoulders and Disney prince hair. Stiles would say he’s on the grotesque side of handsome, and for some weird, inexplicable reason that’s really turning him on. Huh.

And then the thing shoves its face into the join of Stiles’s shoulder and bites down.

The howling could be him, could be the monster, or it could be the supremely pissed off werewolf Stiles can blearily see rising up behind them, picturesque fog rolling out around him. His bare chest is heaving, muscles sweaty in the moonlight, eyes a neon ice blue.

Stiles slurs, “Oh, hey, Derek,” and then his blurry vision gets a little more black.

*

Peter eyes him from across the room, across from where Stiles is holding a towel to his neck and nursing the mother of all headaches. Scott is practically wrapped around his entire body, forehead pressing into the top of his spine.

Stiles says, “Vampires aren’t real.”

Laura ignores him and Derek makes a face.

Peter says, “Some vampires aren’t real,” still staring at him in fascination. “The real question here, of course, is why any one of them would want to bite you.”

Scott makes an indignant sound into his shirt without letting him go, and Stiles says, “Hey, I’m delicious, asshole.”

One of Peter’s eyebrows arches up. He says, “Would you be willing to put that to a test?”

Derek growls, long and low, and Peter holds up his hands, palms out.

“Magic tends to taste like magic,” Peter says with a shrug. “Vampires like their blood to taste bloody. Stiles should have been sulfuric. He should have been able to shift out of a thrall, not hold still and pretty for death. I find the fact that Stiles here had to be saved at all fascinating.”

Boyd, the only puppy currently in the room, frowns and says, “What do you mean?”

“It means,” Laura says, gaze skimming over Stiles briefly before settling on Boyd, “that Stiles has a habit of keeping things from us. And that he’s probably well enough to leave.”

“This is getting super old,” Stiles mutters under his breath, and Laura’s stare snaps back to him, expression damning.

He swallows hard.

They were friends once, right? Stiles sometimes wishes he was still just her curious, companionable crow.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says, and something small unclenches in his stomach when the hardness of her glare softens, just a tiny little bit.

And then Derek says, gruff, “Come on. I’ll drive you home.”

*

The ride is quiet, Stiles’s heart skittering in his chest, wound at his neck throbbing and raw. The puppies bring out the worst of Derek’s asshole tendencies, but here there’s just the quiet rush of his breath and little worried glances that make Stiles’s hands and wrists feel warm.

When they pull up in front of Stiles’s house, Derek puts the car in park and says, “What did Peter mean?”

Stiles shrugs.

Derek’s hands clench on the steering wheel, nose flaring in sudden frustration. He says, “You almost died, Stiles. What did Peter mean?”

Stiles picks at the frayed knees of his jeans. He squints at the porch light his dad left on, watches two moths dip around the bulb in a frantic dance. He says, “I’m not sure what to tell you. What you want me to say.”

Derek bites out, “You’re not human.”

“I am,” Stiles says, turning his head to look back at him. “Half human, half magic.” He taps himself on the chest, grinning a grin he doesn’t feel. “All boy.”

“This isn’t a joke, Stiles,” Derek says.

Stiles’s grin falls. “No. No, it’s not.” He pops open the car door, shoves one leg out. “Good night, Derek,” he says, before hopping out. “Thanks for driving me home.”

*

Stiles isn’t the greatest student. Both in school and with Deaton. His thoughts move too fast, he gets bored easy, and Deaton is the most cryptic motherfucker to ever live, even while trying to teach Stiles magic.

How can magic be so boring? Stiles really hopes it’s because Deaton has more experience in theory than practice. On the bright side, the less of a magical imprint they leave, the less reason the Coven has to come investigate. Deaton is supposed to be maintaining the natural balance here, not causing magical flare ups.

The Nemeton is a problem that Stiles is trying hard to ignore, but so far it’s still only a buzzing stump—new growth would be killer. Right now it’s just a low frequency beacon, like how it apparently drew in the freaking vampire.

He zones in on Deaton’s soft, impatient voice, saying, “This is simple Stiles. Try again.”

Stiles has been trying for an entire month. He can feel every hollow bone of his wings as they ripple under his skin, when they brush down past his elbows to tickle restlessly at the knobby joints of his wrists, but the ash is always limp, inert in his grasp.

“Maybe I’m just not what you think. This spark.” He ignores the way the words make his entire body tense, and gives Deaton a challenging glare. Maybe he’s just some kind of weird were-crow.

Deaton says, “You’re not a shifter or a were,” like he’s reading Stiles’s mind. “Any supernatural creature wouldn’t even be able to touch mountain ash.” Reaching out, he twists Stiles’s hand, taps the feathers on his forearm, watching with a crease between his brows as they flutter away from his touch. “You’re pouring too much into these.”

Stiles shakes off his grip. “So what?” He likes being the crow.

“You have to learn to control it.” Deaton looks him in the face and says, “Reel it back.”

“What?” Stiles says, confused.

“Fold back your wings. Can you do it?” Deaton is equal parts smug and curious. “Do you want to wear long sleeves for the rest of your life?”

Stiles stares down at his arms, the tiny etched flecks in each of his feathers, the way the overhead light gives them shadows. The exact painful realness of them are suddenly frightening to look at, and he swallows hard and closes his eyes. He says, “I don’t know if I can.”

“Of course you can,” Deaton says matter-of-factly. Stiles can hear him move away, can hear the clank of glass, the shuffling of papers, books. “Take some deep breaths, reel them back, and then give me a circle. Try again.”

*

The night Stiles gets beat up by an old man is both humiliating and terrifying, because according to Gerard Fucking Argent, his broken, bleeding face is a present for Laura.

Laura, who still leaves stores when he walks in, crosses the street to avoid him, and, he’s pretty sure, once keyed a jagged line down the side of his jeep. Maybe. It could have been Jackson, but Stiles likes to think about only one person that hates him at a time.

Lying on the cold basement floor of the Argent house, he thinks maybe Laura’s supposed to save him, and a well of hysterical laughter starts to build up in his belly. It takes him a few shameful minutes to realize he isn’t down there alone.

Along the back wall are Erica and Boyd, conscious but quiet, jaws clenched, eyes closed—shackled at hands and feet, wires sloping off their skulls, sides and thighs. Shit. What the fuck.

Stiles pushes himself up onto his knees, shakily gets his legs underneath him, using the edge of a table to pull all the way upright. He’s sore, his lip is split, his head aches, and he probably only has a spare few minutes to figure out how to get Erica and Boyd free.

Or not.

The sound of boots on the steps make Stiles’s back tense up, and then he’s staring into the surprised face of Chris Argent.

“Stiles,” he says.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, rolling his shoulders with a grimace. “So this is fun, but I’m getting my friends out of here.” He’s not afraid of Chris. Chris might not like him very much, but he knows he’s not going to shoot him in the face.

Chris’s expression hardens and Stiles’s eyes are suddenly drawn to the rifle he has gripped in his hands. Maybe he was wrong about the face-shooting thing.

But then all Chris says is, “Let me help.”

*

Erica and Boyd are like woozy puppies, their bulk unhelpfully limp when they finally get them free. An electrical current had been keeping them weak, wolfsbane in the chains made them bruise, and Stiles has to give Boyd’s face a little slap to get him mobile—they need to get out of there, preferably soon.

Chris helps Boyd to his feet while Stiles gives Erica his hands. The two werewolves lean into each other when they’re up, and then Chris eyes Stiles up and down, lingering on his rapidly swelling eye.

Chris says, “There’s only one way out of here. Are you ready?”

“No,” Stiles says, but gestures for Chris to lead them up anyway. He’s the least likely to get shot at first sight.

Stiles goes next, because there’s no rear to defend, and he’s pretty sure Erica and Boyd are still healing some broken bones.

Stiles hears Gerard before he can see him, stuck behind Chris on the narrow stairs. He hears, in Gerard’s dry mummified twang, “Now, Christopher, what do you think you’re doing?”

Chris’s back is all coiled, tense muscle under his shirt. He says, “We’re going to walk out of here. You should just let us go.”

“I have a feeling you’re not thinking about this the right way,” Gerard says.

Stiles wishes he had any eyes on the situation at all, but Chris shifts to block him even further—it’s cute, how he thinks he can use reason here. Cute, wrong, and likely to get them all killed.

Stiles has no idea how to use his magic. He can feel it, first in the expanse of his wings, and then in the tightening of them, the way they fold and bunch against his spine, letting magic pulse into his core.

He’s still on making a circle, because Deaton is a methodical bastard, and mountain ash isn’t going to do a freaking thing for them here.

Chris is always going to give his father the benefit of the doubt. It’s not like Stiles completely blames him—he’d do anything for his own dad, too—but there is absolutely no doubt here that if they don’t do something, at least one of them will die. Probably one of the wolves, but Stiles isn’t counting himself out of collateral damage in the midst of Gerard’s crazy.

Stiles takes a deep breath and goes with his instincts. Placing his hands lightly on Chris’s shoulders, he says, “Move out of the way.”

*

Stiles wakes up with a massive headache, cottonmouth, and a large gap in his memory that makes him think he must’ve drank a lot last night, until he opens his eyes to see Laura’s face hovering over him.

She has an arm around him, expression stricken, her other hand cradling his cheek. Her mouth is moving but he can’t hear her over the ringing in his ears.

He drags in a breath and starts coughing through what feels like grit in his lungs, curling up when it makes his whole body throb.

“…Stiles, stiles, can you hear me?” Laura’s voice is a stab of ice through his skull.

He looks beyond her into the darkening sky, the swirls of smoke, the shouts in the distance as his hearing pops in and out. He sounds like he’s talking inside a wind tunnel when he says, “Holy fuck, did I bring the whole house down?”

Laura’s answering grin is watery.

Something wet and warm trickles down the side of his face and he can’t feel his fingers.

He’s pretty sure she touches their noses together and says, “Fuck yes, you did.”

*

Things that Stiles doesn’t exactly remember happening:

Exploding the Argent house while simultaneously throwing out a shield to protect them all. A motherfucking circle, Deaton is going to be even more smug than usual when he finds out.

Laura pulling him out of the rubble when he collapsed after getting everyone else free.

Squishing Gerard like a bug. Gross, but apparently effective.

Laura has to practically carry him home, and it’s not until he’s settled on the edge of his bed, debating about letting her help him with his clothes, that he realizes he can’t feel his wings.

He stumbles back out into the hallway past Laura, legs baby-deer levels of unsteady, hands braced on the walls as he makes his way to the bathroom. He leans into the doorframe and tugs on his shirt, getting it caught around his head. He pants, exhausted, and then startles briefly when warm, gentle hands curl over his, then help him pull the shirt free.

He clasps it to his chest and twists his torso to stare at his back in the mirror. And there: small, nearly translucent lavender in the bright light.

Laura catches his eyes in the mirror, sharing a tentative smile. She says, “I don’t know, I thought they’d be more impressive,” and Stiles laughs.

*

“Magical exhaustion,” Deaton says. He looks at him over the edge of his book, glasses perched on the end of his nose. “You did blow up an entire house. I’d teach you to moderate, but I’m sure it’ll fall on deaf ears.”

“Ha ha,” Stiles says. His back itches. His wings are nothing like his old marks, but the smallness of them is still a grim reminder.

Deaton shuts his book with a thump, sending dust motes spinning. “Also,” he says. “I believe congratulations are in order.” There’s a tiny smile at the corner of his mouth. “Laura tells me she’s asked you to be her emissary.”

Stiles makes a face. He isn’t really comfortable enough in his magic to, like, properly emissary someone, but he wasn’t going to say no.

And then Deaton goes on: “There’s just a few concerns about the Northern California Coven that you’re going to have to address.”

 

[Part 5]

The Northern California Coven normally doesn’t give a crap about werewolf packs or their emissaries, but the Hale pack has the misfortune of having a Nemeton in their territory. The Coven gave Claudia hell for it for years, and it hadn’t even been active for decades.

Now that it's nominally awake, now that Stiles set off a sonic boom of magic that practically shook the whole state—they want eyes and ears in Beacon Hills, and apparently Deaton isn’t cutting it anymore.

“This is bullshit,” Stiles says.

Deaton says, calmly, “It is a challenge. You’re untried and they still view you as a familiar. If they can’t leash and use you, they’ll try their best to replace you instead.”

Stiles doesn’t understand how that doesn’t infuriate Deaton. Stiles doesn’t even really want to be an emissary, but he’s certainly not going to let some other witch saunter in here and just take over.

Bullshit,” Stiles mutters again. He’s got his hands cupped around nothing, just an invisible thread of his magic. He thinks about a rope, about a hula hoop, about a hurricane, and closes his eyes.

“Draw in instead of out,” Deaton says. “Make a circle in your mind. Hold it.”

Stiles is the eye. He’s the stillness, the shelter in a storm. He opens his eyes and everything around him has gone grayscale, shadows sharp, angles mellow, the sides of his vision a true black.

Deaton holds up a fat wax candle in front of him and says, “Now. Try to light this without burning my entire clinic down.”

*

In the wake of Gerard’s death:

Chris Argent offers a stiff-lipped truce with the Hale pack, while looking a little like it’s making him die inside.

They have a brief respite of supernatural baddies before the pixies come back. And bring friends.

And the Coven sends down a beautiful doe-eyed harpy to, as she so pleasantly informs them all, “…throw in my hat for the emissary position! A waking Nemeton requires the kind of firm hand I’m not so sure your Stiles is ready for,” while doing everything to belittle him except physically patting him on the head.

Stiles looks around with an are you seeing this? look, only to find everyone hanging on her every damn word. Well, everyone except Laura. Laura catches Stiles gaze, tilts her head and makes a this is some next level shit face that makes Stiles feel a little better inside.

She tosses her long, billowing coat aside as she stalks into the middle of the Hale apartment, turning to take in them all with a smile that makes Stiles want to throw up. How can anyone buy this sweet as pie shtick?

But Scott and Isaac are fighting over who gets to hang up her coat and Derek is staring at her like she’s the moon and all the stars and Stiles feels smaller and smaller until he disappears.

Huh.

He didn’t think he could do that.

He’s lengthened his feathers and spun them around himself before he can even think twice about it, and he faintly hears Derek says, “Where’s Stiles?” as he slips out the window and flies away.

*

Stiles isn’t giving up.

Stiles doesn’t give up. He retreats, occasionally, when it’ll benefit him to be strategic. When he can regroup and reassess and bitch to his dad.

“I leveled a building with my mind,” he shoves his hands through his hair, “and they send some, some floozy to take over my territory?” He paces back and forth in front of the fridge while his dad watches placidly from the kitchen table.

Stiles knows what the Coven thinks of him. Deaton says they think he’s an abomination. The fact that he’s basically his own familiar, his mother’s crow assimilated into his skin, acting in a more symbiotic way than is strictly traditional.

Jennifer’s familiar is a house cat.

A white fluffy thing that twined around her legs as she walked, gracefully avoiding tripping on it, and stared at Stiles with demon-black holes where its eyes should have been.

His dad says, far too reasonably, “You told me Laura doesn’t like her. I’m sure everything will be fine.”

Laura and Stiles have a secret handshake. They commiserate about how creepy Chris Argent and her uncle are over disgustingly rich IHOP pancakes. Laura has shown Stiles the vault. Stiles is not worried about Laura.

But Stiles is absolutely not going to tell Dad about his inadvisable and pathetically doomed crush on Derek Hale.

*

“She’s not so bad,” Scott says, chomping into his sandwich across the lunch table from Stiles. He swallows and stuffs a handful of chips in his face and Stiles is frankly in awe of how fast he can put it away. “And you’re, like, still in high school, it makes sense for the pack to have someone more mature.”

“I’m plenty mature,” Stiles says. He’ll be seventeen in a month and can perform spectacular feats of magic. That’s pretty damn impressive. Jennifer probably didn’t even have her demon cat at his age.

Scott cocks his head at him. “Don’t you want to have a normal senior year?”

“You’re a werewolf, and I can turn into a bird.” Plus: magic. Stiles has never been normal. He’s not even sure what normal is.

And if it was just the emissary thing maybe, maybe Stiles could let it pass. It’s definitely tempting to let go of that responsibility. Focus on his own training. Chill.

But Jennifer Blake is giving off weird vibes, her cat is a he-devil, she smiles too much, and Derek has taken to her way too quickly for someone who took almost two entire months to warm up to Scott. Scott, who cried when he accidentally ate a bunny last week and has a perpetual pocket full of lollypops for emergency cheer-ups.

“I’m not saying there’s something wrong with her,” Stiles says, “but there’s definitely something wrong with her.”

“With who?”

Stiles stares up open-mouthed as Lydia Martin pulls out the chair next to him and sits down with her tray. “Um.”

“Jennifer Blake,” Scott says, like this isn’t completely weird.

“Ms. Blake, the English substitute?” Lydia flips her hair over her shoulder, shakes her pint of orange juice and deftly stabs in the straw. “I don’t like her cat.”

Stiles can’t believe they let her have a cat in the school to begin with, he’s definitely calling foul.

Lydia says, “This isn’t Hogwarts, I can’t believe they let her have a cat in her classroom, let alone one that clearly wants everyone to die.”

“Right?” Stiles says. “Right?” He jabs a finger at Scott. “There’s something wrong with her.”

And, look, it could have something to do with the fact that Stiles spotted Jennifer and Derek at the diner last night, laughing over milkshakes. Derek laughing is weird. His eyes crinkle up and his bunny teeth flash and he shakes his head like he’s bashful. Jennifer flirts shamelessly with Derek, and Derek falls for every doe-eyed flick of her lashes.

And Stiles isn’t saying Derek shouldn’t laugh. Stiles is all for Derek being happy. But there’s truly something awful in the casual way Jennifer uses magic, how no one bothers to question the constant presence of her devil-cat, the Harry Potter levels of public magical mayhem—her teaspoon was floating, Stiles is pretty sure she beamed her order directly into the waitress’s mind, and okay, sure, maybe Stiles was spying a little too closely, but that was no reason for her to tie his shoelaces together under the table so he tripped and fell on his face when he tried to follow them out.

Scott frowns and says, “She just wants to help out. English was even kind of interesting today.”

Stiles opens his mouth to argue vehemently about Jennifer’s terrible reading of Siddhartha, when Lydia flicks her fingers at him.

“I’m not here to talk about Ms. Blake,” she says. “I’m here to talk about Reyes and Boyd and why Jackson thought it was acceptable to break up with me via text.”

“Dear god, please no,” Stiles says, staring at her in horror.

She narrows her eyes at him and says, “Tell me everything you know.”

*

Stiles bursts into the Hale loft and shouts, “Tell me you didn’t do it,” only to have his voice echo through an eerily empty room. He adds, tentatively, “Laura?”

Jennifer Blake descends the spiral steps leading up to Derek’s room in an overly-large t-shirt and a vicious smile. “Stiles,” she says, and Stiles wants to wrap his feathers around himself and claw out her eyes.

He forces himself to relax and clenches his jaw through a smile. “Jennifer.”

She looks evilly coquettish when she says, “What wasn’t Derek supposed to do?”

Sleep with you, you heinous bitch, Stiles pointedly doesn’t say. “I’m looking for Laura.”

“Laura left.” Her grin has sharp edges and her shoulders are tense when she leans against the kitchen counter. The t-shirt hits her mid-thigh, is a gray, cozy knit, and Stiles wants to rip it off of her and shred her skin to ribbons.

It’s possible his insane crush on Derek is coloring his judgement a little here.

They have a silent stand-off that breaks when the stairs creak, and a bare-footed, bare-chested Derek slumps down them, yawning, scrubbing a hand through mussed hair—he freezes mid-step when he sees them.

“Stiles?” He says. And then, just as bewildered, “Jennifer?” He eyes Jennifer up and down and she tugs on the end of the t-shirt, legs fidgeting, the first hint Stiles has seen that she’s not as cool and collected as she normally seems.

“Hope you don’t mind I borrowed your shirt after I showered,” she says, blushing.

Why were you showering here?” Stiles asks before he can help himself.

Jennifer pouts, full dark lips and a shine of probably completely manufactured hurt in her eyes. She’s good, Stiles will give her that.

“Stiles,” Derek says sharply, frowning at him.

Stiles ignores the ache in his heart and holds out his hands. “I’m just here to talk to Laura,” he says, “who is not here, so I’ll just be going.” And then he can’t help adding, embarrassment burning his face, “You know,” he swallows hard, “you kids be safe.”

Derek’s eyebrows arch in befuddlement, “Stiles, what—”

His hands go higher. “No judgement!”

Jennifer covers half her face with her hand and giggles.

Maybe Scott is right. Maybe Stiles is reading too much into this, and Jennifer just wants to help out, and Derek loves her for her kind heart and shapely legs and girl parts, which Stiles definitely doesn’t have.

Maybe Stiles is just being bitter.

“I’m, uh,” Stiles jerks a thumb over his shoulder, “just going to go.”

*

Stiles eventually tracks Laura down to middle of the preserve by way of Scott and Scott’s nose, where she’s busy throwing the puppies against trees. He doesn’t know why Scott was saved from that sort of training abuse, but it’s probably because Laura still feels guilty about how he was turned. She’s always putting afghans on him during pack nights and giving him the first slice of pizza and handing him tissues during A Walk To Remember.

When they walk into the clearing Stiles is relieved that Laura’s only sparring with Erica, Boyd and Isaac, but his heart plummets into his stomach when he sees Jackson lurking in the trees.

Stiles yells, “Isn’t this the kind of thing you should run by your emissary?” waving his hands around in monumental distress. Jackson. God.

Laura frowns at him. “What are you talking about?”

“Jackson!” Stiles says, pointing over to him. “What the fuck, Laura? Potential pack-mates should be discussed over IHOP pancakes, and if you had asked me I would have said hell no.”

Jackson is scowling, arms across his chest. He says, “Fuck off, Stilinski.”

Stiles says, “You broke up with Lydia with a text message. Douche-bags like you shouldn’t get to be werewolves.”

Jackson’s face blanks out in a way that Stiles immediately knows he fucked something up.

Laura has her hand across her eyes. Erica is snickering.

“What?” Stiles says defensively. “He’s watching you train, how is this a surprise?” He turns to Jackson. “Did you think they were all just coked-up junkies doing hardcore parkour? Did this seem normal to you?”

Jackson actually looks a little uncomfortable.

Scott blurts out, “Steroids.”

“Uh,” Stiles slants him a look, “little late to the excuse party, buddy.”

“No, he asked me where I got my juice.” Scott’s face is red. “I didn’t know what he meant at the time.”

Stiles throws his hands up in the air, imploring the sweet lord for some patience, clarity, or just, like a freaking break. He just wants a break from all this, okay? Jackson thought they were all on steroids. He totally gives up. He spins around and says, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.”

*

Bizarrely, Lydia ends up being Stiles’s confidant and voice of reason.

They eat tubs of ice cream in her bedroom and she says, “I love him, but my self-worth isn’t defined by him,” while sporting raccoon eyes and shoving spoonfuls of chocolate marshmallow in her mouth.

Stiles agrees in all ways except for the fact that he’s pretty sure his self-worth would boost up if he was actually dating Derek. That would be awesome.

He says, “He’ll be crawling back to you within the week. Do you think he can handle being a werewolf by himself?” He phsaws, because there is no actual way. Jackson’s going to get himself killed. As Hale pack emissary, Stiles is probably going to be the one to kill him.

Also: Lydia is amazing. He’s always admired her from afar, a beautiful, shimmering mirage, but up close and personal she’s amazing.

Lydia’s the first person to say, “Why would you want to give up being emissary? How is that a good thing?”

She’s the first person to say, practically drunk on sugar, “Derek Hale is an idiot if he prefers Ms. Blake to you. You’re,” she cocks her head and purses her lips at him, “adorable, in a dorky kind of way.” Her nose wrinkles. “Ms. Blake gives me the creeps.”

“Exactly,” Stiles says. Only, you know, “It might be nice to not have to worry about the pack?”

She arches a fine strawberry eyebrow at him. “Wouldn’t you worry anyway?”

Which, okay, fair point.

“Ms. Blake is toxic,” she says. “No one is that sweet without being rotten underneath.”

“I know you’re just being supportive,” Stiles says, staring down at his half-empty pint, “but I really appreciate the effort.”

Lydia isn’t his friend. They’ve been in the same class since second grade, briefly ate lunch together in middle school during Stiles’s math phase, but they’ve never been friends. Lydia was always too smart, and Stiles was always too much of a spaz. Still. This is really, really nice. Stiles needed this. He needs to take a few deep breaths without supernatural shenanigans hounding at him.

And then Lydia’s eyes roll back and she screams so loud and shrill Stiles automatically throws up a shield to stop from going deaf.

*

“Holy crap, a dead body,” Stiles says.

Lydia has led him to a dead body. Awesome. Truly, Stiles’s day couldn’t have turned out any better.

“Oh my god,” Lydia says faintly. “What am I doing?”

Stiles tugs out his cell phone. “I don’t know about you, but I’m calling my dad.”

Stiles is one hundred percent sure this is his fault somehow. Like he triggered Lydia’s latent dead-body-finding instincts by hanging out and being magical around her. His back itches in that telltale way, like he’s been sending out feelers, threads of magic. His leg jitters as he tells his dad where they are—the middle of the preserve—and what they found—female? Maybe? Stiles doesn’t really want to roll the body over to find out for sure—and then he hangs up with the distant sound of sirens already howling.

He needs to look around, see if there’s anything weird about this. The proximity to the Nemeton is telling. He should probably call Laura, too.

He eyes Lydia, still wide-eyed and white-faced. He clears his throat to get her attention.

She knows about his magic, about werewolves, about the Hales, but he hadn’t quite gotten around to telling her about the crow thing. He says, “So I’m gonna do a thing,” when she looks up at him.

“A thing,” she echoes, hand finally falling from her mouth to her clavicle.

“Yep.” He rocks back and forth on his feet.

“A magic thing?” She looks more curious now than sickly.

He pulls off his shirt and she takes a step backward, visibly alarmed. He says, “You could say that,” and then turns into a bird.

*

They don’t figure out the pattern until the third victim, and by then Stiles has the general idea of who’s behind the virgin sacrifices, Jesus, only no one else will believe him.

“I’m not just being a sore loser,” Stiles says to Derek’s skeptical face. “I haven’t even lost anything!”

Why he went to Derek with this instead of Laura is a mystery, or possibly it’s because he kind of wanted to rub it in Derek’s face and have him grovel at his feet, thanking Stiles profusely for saving him from this devil harpy.

It wasn’t his best decision. Perhaps most profoundly because the harpy herself is standing beyond Derek, outwardly showing an angelic mask of hurt.

Derek places his hands on Stiles’s shoulders and Stiles tries not to lean into his warmth. He says, “Maybe we should let Jennifer handle looking into the sacrifices,” like Stiles didn’t just accuse her of being the one behind them. “Don’t you have finals coming up?”

Why the fuck does Derek have to be reasonable all of a sudden? Where was this concern when Stiles was struggling through mid-terms, Christmas and a rampaging Yeti? “Okay, you know what, I need to talk to Laura.”

Jennifer reaches out with her long, spindly fingers and they feel cold and dead when they touch his arm. Or, like, clammy, at least. Gross, because any unwanted touching is gross. “Stiles,” she says, “all I’ve ever wanted to do is help you. Help the pack.”

Stiles snorts, and Derek’s eyebrows dart down into the V of doom. “That’s enough,” he growls, and Stiles backpedals at the unexpected harshness of his tone, ducking out of Derek’s grip.

Granted, he did just accuse his… girlfriend? Of murder.

Derek just looks surprised by the rapid beating of Stiles’s heart, and probably the sudden spike of fear adrenalin too.

Stiles isn’t afraid of Derek, honestly, but he has no idea what the fuck is going on.

Something’s wrong here. He can feel it.

Jennifer smiles at him, a flash of sharp viciousness before her lips go soft around the edges, and he shivers.

“Where is Laura?” he asks.

“I’m,” Derek shakes his head, brow wrinkling. “I don’t know.”

*

Scott finds Laura.

He tracks her down to the Nemeton. The Nemeton, previously a blackened, dead tree, then a buzzing stump, and now there’s a sapling, strong, tall and with a smattering of spring leaves growing out of the center of it.

Laura seems haunted, staring at it. She turns to Scott and Stiles and says, “This wasn’t here yesterday.”

Yesterday, when the third body was found by an increasingly agitated Lydia. At some point they’re gonna have to figure out her deal.

“Okay,” Stiles says. “So now we know what the sacrifices were for.” He doesn’t say that he can think of only one person who’d benefit from a fully active Nemeton. He’s still feeling that residual fear, and he’s almost entirely sure it’s because of what Jennifer might do, not Derek.

Laura narrows sharp eyes on Stiles. “Who did you say this Lydia was?”

“A friend,” Stiles says, narrowing his gaze right back.

They stare at each other for a long, tense moment, in which Stiles seethes about any implication of Lydia being responsible, and then Laura breaks the silence first, rubbing hands over her face and saying, “Where’s Derek? Why isn’t he with you two?” because even she knows it’s weird, that Derek would chose Jennifer over his own blood.

Scott makes an awkward face and says, “Jennifer thought it would be better if he stayed with her.”

Laura says, “Uh yeah, that woman is a straight-up meddling bitch.”

“And you thought it was Lydia?” Stiles blurts out, relief cascading all over his body. Finally, someone motherfucking believes him.

“I just needed to be sure.” She laughs weakly, exhaustion over the past month bleeding through. “I mean, two homicidal monsters running around… it’s not like our past year was easy anyway.”

“I’m voting for a summer pack vacation to Aruba,” Stiles says.

Laura claps him on the shoulder and then hugs him into her side. “When all this is done.”

*

Magic for magic, Jennifer definitely has Stiles beat. Add in the woken Nemeton and the fact that she’s possibly a murdering psycho, there’s a good chance Laura’s no thank you will fall on deaf, murdering ears.

Deaton also doesn’t have heartening news:

“I don’t think you understand, Stiles,” Deaton says, frowning. “Ms Blake is challenging you as Laura’s chosen emissary.”

“No, I got that part,” Stiles says. “But Laura doesn’t want her, so why won’t she just leave?” He’s really wishing, maybe, that there’s some kind of Coven loophole where they can make her.

“I’m afraid the pack, at this point, is irrelevant to her goal.”

“Because,” Stiles says, realization slowly dawning, “the Nemeton is her goal.” She’s probably going to try to kill them all. And where the Nemeton is involved, Stiles has learned, from both Deaton and his mom, the Coven really don’t care about the ways and means. “I’m going to have to accept her challenge.”

“You’re going to have to accept her challenge,” Deaton agrees, staring at Stiles over the rims of his glasses. “And you’re going to have to win.”

Stiles groans and drops his face into his hands. “I’m seventeen, I can kind of use mountain ash and I can explode houses when I’m mad enough. How am I gonna win any kind of magic fight?”

“We’ll work on it,” Deaton says, as infuriatingly calm as ever. “The important thing to remember, Stiles, is that when everything else is chaos, you’re the port in the storm.”

*

Jennifer looks practically gleeful that she gets to go through some kind of official channel for her massacre, Coven sanctioned and everything, and Stiles is even more sure it was her that kick-started the Nemeton’s power. Like that surge of energy will make the Coven back her even more, and they’ll probably overlook a small pack of werewolves disappearing off the face of the earth.

Deaton, playing some approximation of back up, squeezes Stiles’s shoulder in a silent buck-up, camper.

“Okay, you were right,” Scott admits as they prepare to face off against the backdrop of the burned out Hale house. “I’m pretty sure she’s evil.”

Jennifer has a smile like a jack-o-lantern—she’s really sort of ugly, when you pay attention. Ghost-white skin, too thin and gaunt in the twilight. Her eyes are almost as demon-black as her cat’s.

Laura tells him, “No pressure, Stiles,” and, “You know we all have your back,” gesturing to the puppies and Derek, a hulking mass of palpable guilt, and, “Just remember we’ll all probably die if you lose.”

“Right. No pressure,” he says, rolling his shoulders as Jennifer lazily saunters toward them from the other side of the crumbling porch.

Stiles draws in a breath with his wings, feels them flatten and still against the length of his spine.

Dark, ominous clouds roll in from the east, bruised purple and blue from the rapidly setting sun.

Beside her, Jennifer’s familiar expands into a lion. His mouth opens with thunder, and lightning strikes with his every step. He smells like ozone and rain, and Stiles has no idea what he’s doing.

Deaton’s unsurprisingly unconcerned beside him. He says, “She’s putting on quite an impressive show.”

“Uh, yeah,” Stiles says, and considers how cowardly it would look if he ran for it.

“Remember your wings, Stiles,” he says, a hand on Stiles’s arm. “Remember what happened when you poured all your magic into them. They looked impressive then, too.”

Stiles pauses. “I couldn’t make the circle.”

“You couldn’t make the circle,” Deaton agrees with a small nod.

“She’s channeling everything into her familiar,” Stiles says, speculative. This is all her magic, dazzling Stiles with roars so loud all his colors change. “So what you’re saying here is I have a chance.”

“I’m saying that I have no doubt the lion will rip you to shreds—”

“Your confidence in me is awe inspiring.”

Deaton holds up a finger. “But you don’t have to fight the lion to win.”

*

Stiles only has one chance at this. He’s got to hit Jennifer hard and fast, and then, uh, run for the hills if it doesn’t work. But it will definitely work.

It has to.

Be the port in a storm, he thinks, and gathers all his energy into his hands.

He closes his eyes on Jennifer’s laughter, feels a blast of lightning crack the ground in front of him. He throws out a circle of protection around his friends—the calm—hears the sneer in her voice as Jennifer says, “Oh yes, I’ve forgotten how amateur you still are.”

His wings tighten up even further, tucked under his shoulder blades, and he opens his eyes on a push outward—the storm.

Jennifer’s laughter turned surprised scream cuts off abruptly as she’s thrown like a ragdoll through the Hales’ front door.

“Okay,” Stiles says. “So that happened.”

The lion leaps at him, mouth open, and then morphs into a cat mid-pounce, slinking away with a disgruntled merrow.

“She’s pulling herself in now, Stiles,” Deaton says with a nod of his head. “Breathe in and out with the pulse of your magic. You’ll need to do the same thing again.”

“This would be so much easier if you actually taught me any spells at all,” Stiles grumbles. He takes a deep breath, flutters magic through his wings and then draws them back in, lets a ball of it build in the bottom of his chest.

“Spells would do you no good,” Deaton says.

“Are we sure about that?” Isaac says, pointing toward where the bride of Frankenstein is levitating in the doorway. Her hair is crackling in a sudden sweeping wind.

Everything around Stiles is still. It takes him a moment to realize its because he’s somehow frozen time. Oops.

Jennifer’s teeth are sharp when she smiles, but she’s still putting on a show. She obviously doesn’t take Stiles seriously, despite being basically punched in the face by Stiles’s awesome might.

He pushes up his sleeves and smiles back. His fingers sparkle when he cracks his knuckles. Okay, he thinks. Okay, now let’s really do this.

*

There’s an instant, right when he’s pinned against the half-crumbled wall of what used to be the Hale living room, his left eye swollen shut, and an ankle that he’s pretty sure is completely shattered, when he thinks this is the end. There’s a phantom chokehold around his neck, slowly squeezing the breath out of him.

Jennifer has a cut across her hairline, bleeding into her eyes like a horror show. Scorch marks blacken both her arms, and Stiles is ninety-nine percent certain he knocked out at least two of her teeth. There’s blood spitting out of her mouth when she hisses at him.

“I’m getting tired of you,” she says, her voice raw and panting.

Stiles barely chokes out, “Yeah, me too,” floods his wings with magic, twists into a crow and breaks out of her invisible grasp.

He spins out of the change as he arches over her head, manages not to completely collapse under the sudden weight on his broken ankle as he lands behind her, and then shoves her face first into the wall. Boom. “Take that, asshole.”

Jennifer growls like she’s going to explode, and Stiles takes a hasty step backward before thinking better of it and stepping forward instead. She’s intimidatingly tall, like a goblin, and Stiles hates her with a fiery passion.

He goes for his signature move and brings down the house.

*

The first thing he sees when he opens his eyes is Derek, and Derek’s eyebrows, and Derek’s beautiful scowl and chiseled, scruffy cheeks. He looks worried and angry and Stiles wants to squish his cheeks together in a fish-face, but he can’t feel any of his limbs.

Stiles smiles up at him and whispers, “Did I win?”

“Yes, Stiles,” Derek says, and he sounds weary and heartbreakingly sad. “You won.”

 

[Part 6]

It’s almost physically impossible for Stiles to relax. He has no concept of it. He’s always on high alert, this constant state of readiness. This is the way it’s been for pretty much his entire life—whether he’s in school, on the computer, watching TV, playing video games, sleeping. There is always, always dread lurking in the back of his mind, like something bad is going to happen.

This past year and a half has been a culmination of years of restlessness. He’s gone from crow to familiar to magic to emissary… And now he’s staring down Derek across from his hospital bed, trying to convince this yahoo to just bust him out already.

“I’m going to heal,” he says. Maybe not as fast as a werewolf, but definitely not as slow as these doctors are expecting. Even his ankle should be okay in a couple days.

Derek just frowns and says, “Your father can make that decision.”

Stiles narrows his eyes at him. “Then why are you here?” Seriously, Stiles expected Laura maybe, Scott for definite, a spare puppy or two lurking in the hallway, but Derek…Derek hasn’t been all that worried about him since the grand familiar reveal, and then there was the whole taking Jennifer’s side thing, so maybe Derek just feels guilty. Yeah, that makes sense. Derek likes to pull guilt around himself like he’s making a blanket-burrito on a cold winter day, and Derek essentially did fuck-all to help with the evil witch battle.

Not that Stiles blames him. It’s kind of a given that Jennifer did some kind of mind whammy on him—the one thing Stiles knows for certain is that Derek would do anything for his family, taking any side against Laura had kind of been a huge red flag.

Stiles picks at the nappy blanket over his legs and stares down at his lap and says, “You don’t have to babysit me. I’m fine.”

“You’re not—” Derek heaves a giant, put-upon sigh. “I’m not babysitting you.”

Stiles jerks his gaze up to him, takes in Derek’s red cheeks and bowed head, the dejected hunch of his shoulders, and thinks: definitely guilt. God. Stiles just doesn’t have the energy for this right now. He says, “You know this isn’t your fault, right?”

Derek arches an eyebrow at him and says, drily, “Try to sound a little more convincing.”

The tiny bit of not-quite-normal banter makes Stiles grin, even as he emphasizes, “It’s not.”

Derek shrugs. “Does it matter?”

“Well, duh,” Stiles says. “It matters a lot.”

And then there are too many beats of awkward silence between them, the background heart monitor echoing louder and louder until Stiles kind of just wants to rip out his hair and yell at Derek to go away.

He’d rather have, you know, sweet kisses or handholding or whatever, but Stiles was never going to get that from Derek, even before this mess.

Laura practically falls into the room just when Stiles is gearing up to throw Derek out, thank god, and says, “Hey, hey, hey, who’s ready to blow this popsicle stand?” She kicks at Derek’s chair leg and says, “Go run interference with the nurses while I get our boy dressed.”

“I don’t need help getting dressed,” Stiles says, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and grimacing, “but you may need to carry me home.”

*

“So what would happen if I chopped down the Nemeton?” Stiles asks Deaton, because so far that week they’ve gotten a gnome infestation, two ghouls, and a very stupid troll who luckily offed himself by falling into a ravine. It’s all annoying and not super serious, but Stiles can’t help but think how much easier his life would be without a supernaturally fast growing tree in the middle of the preserve.

“Very likely you’d be brought before the Coven and tried for treason,” Deaton says, without looking up from clipping a tiny yorkie’s nails. “If found guilty you’d have your head removed.”

Stiles throws his hands in the air. “Treason against who? Are you joking?” It’s very hard to tell with Deaton.

He rubs thumbs in the dog’s ears, then a cotton swab. “Beheadings are no joke,” he says, and his delivery is so blatantly flat that Stiles still can’t tell.

Stiles falls back against the backroom wall with a groan. He can’t catch a break.

“Was there an actual real reason you sought me out during business hours?” Deaton says, an actual honest-to-god thread of impatience in his voice.

At any other time, Stiles would relish that. Now, he just says, “I need a book about the fae.”

*

Strictly speaking, Stiles doesn’t think Lydia is fae. He thinks she’s fae-like, specifically of the dead, and the only reason he cares is because Lydia looks worn thin underneath her normal queen-ish veneer. She puts up a good front, but Stiles is used to noticing her.

It’s three in the morning, Thursday, two days after Deaton handed him a massive, dusty tome with suspicious leather covering, that Stiles finds: banshee. Huh.

Stiles absolutely does not want to be the one to tell her, but he knows he kind of has to.

“Why are you still up?”

“What the—fuck.” Stiles presses a hand to his maidenly bosom and glares at Derek from where he’s half in and half out of his bedroom window.

He’s got his surprised eyebrows on, which suggests he was maybe hoping to find Stiles already asleep, and Stiles doesn’t know how to respond to that kind of creeping. Probably not with delight. Stiles’s libido is kind of fucked up right now.

“Dude,” Stiles says, and again, “What the fuck.”

“You should be sleeping,” Derek says with a scowl.

“What, so you can watch me?”

Derek’s ears flush, and Stiles is not going there, nope.

He clears his throat and says, “Why are you really here?” and then Derek tells him something about will-o’-the-wisp sightings by the troll death-ravine and Stiles resolutely ignores the fact that it probably could have waited until morning.

*

Laura isn’t the mothering type, but she desperately tries to be anyway.

She sits Stiles down and presses her palms onto his knees and says, “Tell me what’s going on with you,” like she doesn’t already know that he’s basically working two jobs—station filing clerk and Hale pack emissary—helping Scott through summer school Chem, studying magic with Deaton, and living off hot pockets, Dr. Pepper, and daydreams.

He says, “If this is about the will-o’-the-wisps, I’ve got it covered.” They’re basically assholes, and Stiles is currently dealing with them by posting Do Not Follow The Glowing Lights signs all over the preserve. It’s a stop-gap, but Stiles has the barest of time for this shit. He’s hoping everyone will see the glowing, winking lights scattered over marshes and ravines and think toxic waste, keep away.

She squeezes his knees and says, “I know the Derek and Jennifer thing was hard on you—”

“Oh, fuck, no,” Stiles says faintly in horror. He’s not having this conversation with Laura.

To her credit, Laura looks just as uncomfortable as him. She says, “It’s just, well, Derek has problems with feelings—”

“I’d say that’s a Hale trait,” Stiles interrupts again, and Laura scowls at him and says, long-sufferingly, “Stiles,” only notice how she doesn’t actually deny it.

They stare at each other silently—they seem to do that a lot, Stiles is okay with this—and then after a good fifteen, twenty seconds of solid dead air Laura says, “I know a good place for milkshakes two towns over with those little mini juke boxes in every booth,” and Stiles says, “I’m in.”

On their way out the door she tries one more time with an almost desperate, “He gets this look on his face, you know, and he feels so guilt—”

“I will buy you two orders of curly fries if you shut your mouth and never speak of this again,” Stiles says. Derek feels guilty, not surprising and also totally none of Stiles’s business, obviously.

Laura spits into her hand and holds it out for him to shake, because she’s an animal, and says, “Okay, deal.”

*

In the summer months after the Jennifer battle:

The Argents hold up their end of the truce—with posturing from Chris and winking, adorable dimples from a Scott-smitten Allison—and all is quiet on the hunter front.

The Coven both hate Stiles’s guts and are also apparently slightly afraid of him. He gets the feeling that Jennifer was the best of their best, and they send down a white flag in the form of her broken familiar, which Stiles is fully planning to send back until the damn tragic cat looks him in the eyes and gives him this tiny, questioning meow.

“Fuck me,” he says, staring down at the pathetic, fluffy thing. He’s one half of the true devil, is the thing, but he’s sort of cute in a cats are bat-shit crazy kind of way.

“Do you want him?” he asks Deaton, because he kind of gets the feeling that having two familiars—his wings and a cat—would drain him more than is strictly advisable, and don’t think he doesn’t suspect that’s the Coven’s whole plan.

Deaton and the cat have a mild showdown, in which the cat rolls onto his back and bares his belly. He sighs and says, “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to keep him around.”

What also happens is that Derek loses his freaking mind and decides Stiles Stilinski, Champion of Beacon Hills, Destroyer of Pixies, Evil Witch Defeater, Hale Pack Emissary, can’t take care of himself.

“What is this?” Stiles says, struggling out of a summer cold fog to find Derek hovering over him with a steaming bowl of soup.

“Chicken noodle,” Derek says.

“No, I mean,” he rubs a hand over his forehead, and Derek immediately puts down the bowl on Stiles’s bedside table and says, “Do you have a headache? I can…”

He wiggles his fingers and Stiles slaps his hand away weakly.

“I’m fine,” Stiles says. He’s not exactly fine. He’s both cold and hot, aching all over, bone-tired, stuffed up, and wishes Deaton had a Hogwarts potion book hidden somewhere.

Derek tugs up his blankets and sneaks his hand up against Stiles’s neck, but the pain relief is too good to complain about. He groans into it and closes his eyes.

“Okay?” Derek says, voice soft.

Stiles’s sleepy, “Sure,” is mostly obscured by a massive yawn.

There’s a thumb petting his throat, Stiles is almost completely certain of it.

Stiles says, half-heartedly, “Wait, your soup,” but Derek just shushes him and says, “Go to sleep Stiles. I’ll make more.”

*

Stiles is doing okay.

Senior year is looming, Deaton is teaching him to use the elements, there’s been a downtrend in tree growth on the Nemeton, Lydia did not completely freak out about the banshee thing, the puppies are all mostly leashed by Laura. Scott is dating Allison with the approval of her father and Laura. His dad had the privilege of bringing Melissa into the supernatural fold.

Derek and Stiles are banter buddies again, and Stiles tries not to stare too hard at Derek’s ass. He knows it’s gross, to push any kind of an agenda when all Derek obviously wants is to be friends. Stiles is doing good like this.

And when it gets to be too much, he can turn into a crow and hang out with the birds for a while.

He’s doing so okay that when things actually take a nosedive he’s totally blindsided.

It starts with a missed pack meeting by Derek and ends with Stiles blacking out after Laura tells him that the reason Derek isn’t there is because he’s on a date.

He doesn’t actually remember much of what happens. Apparently he called down some rage-lightning and shorted out his own Jeep.

Shit.

His dad is going to be so mad.

*

In the blur of time between Laura saying, “Derek’s on a date,” and, “oh my god, Stiles, it was a joke, Jesus Christ, this was the only time Derek could get an appointment to get his hair cut!” Stiles recognizes that he’s completely lost it.

He’s killed his jeep. In a jealous rage of some sort. Where he’s a ticking time bomb of uncontrolled magic.

Deaton tells him he needs to focus and meditate, but Stiles knows he just has to get the hell away from Derek. Form some perspective. Not kill anyone by accident. Because of course, of course, he’s in love with him. Why wouldn’t that happen? Derek, my girlfriends all dick me over, Hale. Derek, the leather-wearing badass cinnamon roll who was secretly just as upset as Scott about the bunny-eating incident. The asshole jerk with a heart of gold. Ugh.

And even though everyone can guess what triggered Stiles’s emotional explosion, it seems like no one actually told Derek about it.

That’s the only reason Stiles can think why Derek would show up for their bi-monthly movie date that has never been an actual date with a bag of pre-popped popcorn and a six-pack of chilled Dr. Pepper.

Stiles blocks his way into the house and Derek cocks his head and says, “Stiles, what…?” and when he tries to push past him their faces get so close that Stiles can’t help but stare at his mouth. It’s not his fault, okay, it just happens.

Their noses are nearly touching and Stiles can feel Derek’s warm breath on his cheek and when he darts his gaze from Derek’s mouth to his eyes, Derek’s staring at him just as intently. Maybe more, like a wolf sizing up its prey.

His eyes flash a brilliant neon blue in the porch light.

Stiles can’t help asking, voice hoarse, “What happened to them?”

Derek blinks, an extended squeeze of his eyelids, and says, “You don’t want to know.”

He doesn’t move, though, and when he finally opens his eyes again they’re hazel, green rimmed with blue, almost gray where they mix, with flecks of gold.

Stiles’s hands itch to grab the front of Derek’s shirt and pull him in, slide arms around his waist, bite at his lips. Stiles has never kissed anyone before in his life, and he has never wanted to kiss anyone more.

He says, “I do, though. Want to know.”

The grin that suddenly spreads across Derek’s mouth is not nice, and the chest that presses into Stiles’s space is a diversion tactic, Stiles knows this. Derek leans forward and brushes their cheeks together, rough and hot. “Trust me,” he says.

Stiles says, “I do,” with all his heart, breathing in the sweat and salt on the curve of Derek’s throat, nudging into him, and Derek jerks back like he’s been shot.

Stiles’s heart pounds and his fingers throb. God, god. Fuck. He shouldn’t have done that. Right?

But Derek just looks defeated, standing a foot away from him in the doorway. A kind of angry-sad that makes Stiles want to eat his own heart, stuff his feelings back in a box where they can never make Derek look like that again.

Derek says, “I killed the first person I ever loved,” and then, with that motherfucking bomb dropped, just turns and walks away.

*

Admittedly, the person to go to is not Peter, but Stiles goes to him anyway. He knows he’s the least likely to ask invasive questions, because Peter likes to cloak himself in the illusion that he knows everything there is to know already.

He tells Stiles, “It’s not as ominous as it seems,” with a sly smile.

“Were you always this much of an asshole?” Stiles asks.

Peter’s eyebrows arch. “More or less. Now, do you want to hear this story or not?”

Stiles is going to hate himself even more for this, but he nods yes. And then Peter tells him a more or less believable story about Derek and his first girlfriend, Paige.

*

“Dude,” Stiles says to Scott, walking side-by-side in the preserve, shoulders knocking. “Dude.” He honestly doesn’t know what to do with this information about Derek. He wants to talk to Scott about it so bad, but it feels like some sort of betrayal, even if he got the information second hand to begin with.

And then it’s too late to say anything anyway, because apparently the vampires are back.

Scott says, “Oh no,” and Stiles just smiles dreamily, because the one in front of him has eyebrow ridges and a crooked nose and apparently Stiles is really into that right now.

Scott grabs his arm and says, “No way.” His fangs drop and he growls.

The vampire grins, showing off rows of razor sharp teeth, like a shark.

Stiles says, “The pale, gaunt thing is really working for you, why don’t you step closer to me so I can stab you in the heart.” He thinks about what Laura said about vampires from the last time, and how stabbing them in the heart actually doesn’t do anything, but if you bleed ‘em out you can weaken them enough to get their head lopped off… There’s not much that can come back from that.

“You?” the vampire hisses derisively, sauntering forward a step.

Stiles makes a come at me bro hand motion.

Scott growls again in warning, but Stiles says, “Chill, man, I got this.”

It’s not like Stiles can completely shake off the thrall, but he knows what he’s doing. If the vampire will just get close enough to bite him, everything’ll be fine. So fine.

“Stiles, I don’t think this is a—” Scott’s words cut off in a yelp as the vampire takes a flying leap at them.

Stiles isn’t going to lie, it’s kind of impressive. And then he throws out a mountain ash circle and traps him.

Scott stares at him incredulously and says, “So what do we do with him now?”

Within the circle of mountain ash, the vampire has lost most of his appeal. He’s got limbs like a spider, a starving hollow to his cheeks, and a desperate, vicious glow to his eyes.

“I don’t know, dude,” Stiles says, shrugging. For all his talk, he doesn’t really have the stomach to bleed this sucker out. “But we should probably call Laura.”

*

“You are an idiot,” Laura says.

Derek, standing behind her, is uncharacteristically silent on the berating Stiles front. He’s usually first in line to call Stiles on his bullshit.

“Hey,” Stiles says, “I trapped him, didn’t I?” Derek didn’t even have to come rescue him. Which, in the state Derek’s in, is probably good.

The main thing Stiles took away from his chat with Peter is that Peter was probably skewing most of it to make himself look one hundred percent more favorable than he actually was. There’s no way Derek would’ve gone along with Paige getting bit without her consent, either, or talking to his mother and alpha. Getting a strange alpha to chase her down? That just doesn’t seem like anything that Derek would do. Peter on the other hand… Stiles is pretty sure Peter was fucked up way before the fire.

But right now Derek thinks that he thinks that Derek actually killed his first girlfriend on purpose. That must be why there’s a slump to his shoulders that’s particularly heartbreaking. Ugh. He’s going to have to talk to him.

It’s going to be terrible.

Stiles says, “So I’m feeling a little shaky here, Derek, can you drive me home?”

Derek says, “Yes,” because he’s a gentleman, even though he can probably tell Stiles is blatantly lying about the shaky thing.

Or not, because, you know, vampire. Death by beheading. Stiles isn’t really going to get used to that.

He feels a little lightheaded on the way to the Camaro, and lets Derek hold onto his arm.

*

The drive home is silent, with Stiles tapping fingers on his thighs and trying to figure out how to bring up Paige without actually bringing up Paige. He doesn’t want to talk about the love of Derek’s life. He wants to talk about how fucked up losing her made him, but he doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that Derek will probably never love anyone like that again.

Ugh.

The street lights throw bands of gold across Derek’s face as they slowly drive down the main drag. He looks like a noir film, sharp cheekbones, shadowed chin, gorgeous, expressive eyes. Stiles still doesn’t know how he’s going to function for the rest of his life, seeing that every day, because he realizes he can’t distance himself from him. There’s no way that’s happening, both because of the pack and Stiles’s role in it, and because Stiles doesn’t actually want to lose their bi-monthly movie not-dates, bickering over what apples to buy, and fighting over the last slice of pizza.

He’s going to have to work on the jealous rage-blackouts.

They turn onto Stiles’s street, and suddenly he’s running out of time. He would put it off, but he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to see Derek get any smaller from the weight of whatever this is. Like he thinks he’s let Stiles down.

He panics when Derek pulls to a stop in front of his house and blurts out, “So did you really think I’d blame you?”

Derek’s brow wrinkles as he turns to look at him. “For what?” He turns off the car and the dome lights pop on. He looks fluorescent and confused.

“For, like,” Stiles flails, steadily warming up to his in-your-face approach, like he’d be capable of doing anything different anyhow, “anything? At all? In the history of ever?”

The tips of Derek’s ears pink. He presses his mouth together and ducks his head. “I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff, Stiles.”

“Uh yeah,” Stiles says. Derek’s maybe fucked up more than the average teenager, but he’d been specifically targeted. Because of what he is. “Kids are idiots sometimes. Nothing that happened was your fault.”

“What do you know about anything?” Derek says, more angry red than embarrassingly flushed now. His hands are clenched into fists on his thighs, and if Stiles didn’t know that he’s a complete marshmallow, maybe he’d be scared.

“Enough,” Stiles says with a shrug. “Pretty sure you can be excused for things adults tricked you into doing when you were fifteen. And the Jennifer thing involved magic, dude.”

Derek half turns away from Stiles and glares off through the windshield. There’s a tick in his jaw that Stiles wants to smooth away, so he sits on his hands instead.

“Look,” Stiles says softly, still staring at Derek’s profile, “I get that my telling you this does nothing for your, uh, psyche or whatever,” Derek’s going to need years of therapy for that, and Stiles is honestly surprised Laura hasn’t forced him into it yet, “but I just wanted you to know that I don’t blame you, okay?” He’s sure Laura doesn’t blame him either.

Derek snorts, but his mouth looks softer.

Stiles punches him lightly in the arm. “So stop looking like a kicked puppy around me, okay? I get it, but, like, you and me are good.”

“We’re…good,” Derek says flatly. The dome light finally flicks off, and he turns to look back at Stiles. His eyes reflect the soft light spilling in the windows, making them shine eerily.

Stiles clears his throat. “Yep, yes.” He pops open the passenger side door, and Derek doesn’t even blink at the sudden flood of light again.

“Stiles,” Derek says. There’s a gravely rasp to his voice that does something to Stiles’s insides, and Stiles scrambles to get out, where he can breathe.

“Stiles, wait,” Derek says, and Stiles is halfway up the walk by the time Derek unfolds himself from the Camaro and rounds the front bumper.

Stiles says, “Bye, Derek,” spinning around to walk backward, so he can keep an eye on him, and Derek stands there in his too long sleeves and over-styled hair, expression kind of pained, if you know how to read him.

He says, “Laura told me about the rage-lightning.”

“Oh, did she?” Stiles says, freezing up. Crap. He’d been holding out hope that she would never mention that ever. Stiles specifically thought nobody was telling Derek anything about that, honestly, this is a betrayal of the highest order.

Derek falters. His stance becomes less sure. Stiles hates that.

Stiles starts toward him again, hands out like Derek’s a startled bunny, and says, “Hey, no, I mean. It doesn’t have to mean anything?” There is no lack of friendship between them. Stiles is resigned to his fate. He’s going to revel in it, someday, being Derek Hale’s buddy. Just because he isn’t exactly there yet doesn’t mean he gets to creep Derek out with his feelings. He would never want that to happen.

“It doesn’t,” Derek says, and somehow looks even worse. God.

Stiles says, “Obviously it means something. To me.” He stops a good three feet away from Derek, careful to give him his space. “But I’m not going to be weird about. I’m going to meditate—”

Derek arches a supremely skeptical-looking eyebrow.

“I am.” He takes a deep breath. “I can handle rejection like a big boy, Derek, you don’t have to worry.” He stuffs his hands in his pockets and prays for a swift mercy killing, thankful that at least the darkness hides the total tomato red embarrassment of his face. “I would dearly love it, though, if we never have this conversation ever again. I will pay you in magic and pancakes and granny smith apples, even though they’re gross.”

“I…” Derek’s entire face crumples. “What?”

“What, what?” Stiles says. His shoulders have been steadily climbing up to his ears, and he feels like a hunched up gnome. Inside lies frozen pizza and his dad’s whiskey, he kind of wants to mute all his feelings with a food coma and then drown himself in liquor.

Derek says, haltingly, “Stiles. What kind of… rejection… are you handling?”

“Obviously.” Stiles swallows, throat dry, because fuck everything. “Obviously the kind where I’m in love with you, and you’re not—”

Derek can be aggressive when he wants to be, Stiles knows this. Part bravado, part ‘giving the masses what they expect,’ and probably part old-school Derek, when he was young and cared deeply about sports and not wolfing out while heavy-petting in the back of his mom’s borrowed SUV.

That’s the way his mouth feels on Stiles now, like he wants to bite him in half, like he wants to swallow all of Stiles’s sounds. His hands on Stiles’s face are warm and heavy, and Stiles clings to the front of Derek’s shirt to keep from melting into the ground. The growl in Derek’s throat makes Stiles’s belly turn over, and he’s half-hard by the time Derek backs off, dropping his hands from Stiles’s cheeks to his hips, tilting their foreheads together.

Stiles says, “So,” arms tingling, the wings on his back tickling under his skin—he wants to burst into flame, like a phoenix, he wants to wrap his wings around them both and hide from the world, and he wants Derek to kiss him again. “Not a rejection?”

Derek still looks half full of wonder when he says, “No, Stiles. Never one of those.”

 

[Part 7]

The breeze is turning cool as Stiles flits from branch to branch, following Laura at a respectable twenty yards away. She knows he’s there. She keeps sending him looks, like she can handle herself, but Stiles knows Laura, and he knows how she never handles emotions well, and the last thing they need is her trying to rip Satomi’s face off.

They’re on a diplomatic mission, and the betas are twenty yards behind Stiles, and Stiles is the only one who knows why this mission is so important. He scouted ahead days ago. He turned his eerie magic eye on Satomi until she shouted at him to get down and talk like a man.

There’ll be anger, probably, and Derek’s definitely going to handle it better than Laura. Stiles is going to have to do damage control, find an appropriate pancake place for a cool down, soothe ruffled fur and let Laura pretend not to cry on him in a public bathroom. He doesn’t have to be magic to see all this happening in the days to come.

No one ever thought there’d be another Hale to find. This is going to break them, and also hopefully put them all back to together better.

For now, though, he falls back, against the wind and the whirl of dying leaves. They have another hour or so of walking.

He flies down and lands on Derek’s broad shoulder, claws careful, and lets him carry him the rest of the way.