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Red Followed a Howling Trail Littered with Silver Casings

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Red Followed a Howling Trail Littered with Silver Casings

 


 

 

Before she died Claudia Stilinski would tell her daughter about Little Red Riding Hood--the girl who ran with wolves.

 

“With gleaming ringed daggers she’d run in the night, fending off the hunters who followed her and her pack into the thick of the wood. And every night Red kept them at bay with her knives until the night of a lunar eclipse when the earth stole her wolves’ strength and rendered them mortal men.

 

From out the shadows they rose, like barbaric demons from Hell, and shot the wolves down with arrows, cut them in half with swords, and lit their dens with sulphuric fires.” Soft white hands traced the curved cheek of her enraptured child--who sat with breath held and wide fearful brown eyes.

 

“What happened to the wolves, Momma?” Her question was a trembling whisper.

 

Claudia’s smile was a slight tilt at the corners of her pretty mouth, “Do not worry, my Stiles, death never separates us from those we love. So for Red they were never gone; their bodies perished but their spirits remained. She surrendered to the hunters, poor Little Red, as she mourned the lives of her family and rode off with them in the dark--never to run with her red hood again.”

 

Stiles curled a hand in Claudia’s soft blue nightshirt and her breathing became panicked when she asked, “What happened to Red, Momma?”

 

Claudia traced the curve of her nose with an index finger and watched Stiles with an adoring yet far off expression as she said, “They say she was never heard from again, but those who believe say she still runs through thick forest floors on the nights the moon is at its fullest. They say she howls with all her might, hoping her love and anguish rattles the stars enough to remind her pack she’s never forgotten them. Reminding them that she loves them and will one day be with them again.”

 

“Like we love Papa and will be with him again one day?”

 

She picked Stiles up and placed her into bed, covering her little body with her well loved fraying handmade quilt, before Claudia dropped a lingering kiss on top of her hair. “The sweetest dreams to you, my love.”

 

“You too, Momma.”

 

***

 

Stiles woke to the sound of her aunt shouting at some driver who’d cut her off, and ran a hand over the lines pressed into her face from sleeping against the window. Next to her Allison’s iPhone was ticking away a mile a minute as she wrote out a quick text to some guy she’d started talking to before they made the trek from New York City to this Northern California nowhere town.

 

“So this is it, huh?” Beacon Hills was hardly impressive. Four years was the longest they’d stayed in one place and New York City was something Stiles had grown accustomed to; so the neat old suburban houses and lack of thousands roaming the street seemed bland in comparison.

 

“Seems like it,” Allison piped up and leaned over her side to get a look out of Stiles’s window. “I bet our fake ID’s would’ve worked here.” Stiles rolled her eyes and bumped Allison’s shoulder companionably before they both jumped as their Aunt Kate started hollering at yet another driver.

 

“You’re bitchy today, Kate,” Stiles mused with her cheesiest smile, to which Kate pursed her lips at Stiles and quirked an eyebrow at her through the rearview mirror.

 

“You would be too, Stiles, if your big brother and his wife stuck you with the kids.” Allison and Stiles did a simultaneous eyeroll-huff combination--Kate was always complaining she got stuck with “diaper duty” when they moved.

 

“We’re hardly kids, Kate--don’t forget Allison and I are legal to drink you under the table.” Stiles threatened with narrowed brown eyes.

 

Kate laughed, the full body laugh that made her aunt’s face light up and tended to make male heads turn so fast whiplash was a real possibility. “You could both try.”

 

“Challenge accepted,” Stiles and Allison chorused as they highfived. Kate grumbled something beneath her breath, but neither Allison nor Stiles heard what she said.

 

The house Aunt Victoria and Uncle Chris settled on was a rather swank six bedroom four bath home with all the amenities Stiles and Allison learned were “necessities” in childhood--like a study, formal and family living rooms as well as a formal dining area. Stuff Stiles remembered her mother never gave two hoots about, and tended to roll her eyes at whenever they had to relocate for the family business. Stiles didn’t care either way so long as there was food, clean clothes, a shower, and she didn’t have to share a bedroom with Allison--past childhood experiences with her snoring were enough for one lifetime.

 

She and Allison climbed shakily from Kate’s green Scion, and gave the quiet street a cursory look around before they both angled towards one another to let out short laughs. The neighborhood was far from the Fifth Avenue apartment they’d become accustomed to.  “It’s going to be weird sleeping in a quiet room, isn’t it?” Allison asked and Stiles told her she already had a soundtrack of night time traffic hustle and bustle prepared on her phone. “How long do you think we’ll be in this place?” Allison huffed as they both grabbed their bulging luggage bags out of the back of Kate’s car before dragging them across the circular drive and up the bricked front steps.

 

“I doubt long, your dad said this shouldn’t be more than a few months--I bet we don’t get half the shit unpacked before we’re loading back up in that awful, cramped car and leaving.”

 

Allison frowned while they made their way inside and stayed quiet as they walked up the curving carpeted stairs. On the top landing they began searching out their bedrooms--neither wanted to have to share a bathroom with Kate so Stiles and Allison settled on the bedrooms with an adjoining bath between the two. In silence they both began putting their toiletries away in the many drawers and the sliding mirror medicine cabinets.

 

“I don’t get why you and I couldn’t stay in New York; it’s not like Gerard wouldn’t have let us. The apartment’s paid for, we could’ve at least stayed until we were out of college.” Allison was always more upset about the moves than Stiles. She didn’t really mind the moving, Stiles found it adventurous and when the nights grew melancholy from the loss of friends she’d remind herself there were always planes and the internet, even if she never followed through with either. For Allison it wasn’t that simple--with each move she acted as if they’d never be able to go back to those old lives. It was like Allison believed they died and had to start a new life over, only to die again in a few short months. Stiles, much as she loved Allison, always thought she was a bit melodramatic.

 

“Hey,” she soothed as she wrapped an arm around Allison’s thin shoulders. “Maybe this is just for a semester? It’s not like we can’t just take off a little while and then go back. We’ve got the brains and good looks to weasel our way back in.” She smiled and looked up at Stiles with glassy eyes before Allison shook her head and said it was silly to act sad.

 

“I should be used to it by now, right?”

 

Stiles didn’t answer, she pretended to be starving and made her way down to the kitchen. Where the granite was so clean and shiny she could see her face in the reflection. So she ran her fingers across it leaving a greasy smear from the chip oil that lingered on her fingers since morning. Chris came in clearing his throat, making Stiles jump in a far guiltier manner than the situation warranted.

 

“Find a room?” Even after all these years living with them her Uncle Chris and Aunt Victoria still managed to make Stiles uneasy with their creepily bright smiles.

 

“Yeah, Allison and I took the one with the adjoining bath--after that incident involving Kate’s razors we figured that was safest.”

 

Chris laughed, and opened the fridge to retrieve a couple of beers for them, “That’s the smart choice. Pizza for dinner sound good?”

 

“Yeah, that sounds fantastic actually,” Stiles grinned while she twisted off her beer’s cap.

All in all it seemed as if this was gearing up to be another boring and uneventful move.

 

***

 

Allison had it in her head that they needed to get out of the house after a few days of unpacking. Stiles didn’t think there was much to see, and she didn’t feel like sitting in the local home improvement store for hours while Allison meticulously ran her fingers over glossy paint samples. In the end Allison won, as was usual, and Stiles climbed into her cousin’s silver Prius with minimal protest.

 

The drive into town was short; it wasn’t a full song on the iPod before they were parking in a space outside of Hale Hardware. Beach umbrellas, beach balls, pails, and little pink flamingos were standing guard near the entrance--Allison aww’ed and Stiles cracked a grin while she followed Allison inside. Her cousin was such a girl, even if she didn’t like to admit it.

 

A merry bell jingled as they pushed in the heavyly painted blue door inward and a young woman around their age looked up from a copy of Southern Living. “Good morning,” she said with a bright smile, “Is there anything I can help you with?”

 

“Paint samples,” Allison inquired hopefully. Another bright infectious smile lit up the shop girl’s face as she stepped away from her post at one of two checkout lanes and gestured for them to follow her towards the back of the store.

 

When they came to the stand of paint cards and small bottles of paint samples another woman was coming out of a door that read Employees Only with her eyes glued to a clipboard. “Cora,” she said before she glanced up to see Stiles and Allison. “Oh, sorry, carry on helping these two and come find me in a little while.”

 

“Is everything alright, Laura?” Cora asked with a curious tilt of her head. Allison wasn’t paying attention at that point as she was too absorbed in various shades of purple, but Stiles thought selecting paint samples was about as boring as watching paint dry. So she opted for watching other humans interact.

 

Laura was a rather tall woman with a slender build and dramatically beautiful facial features, but there was a soft kindness to her pale green eyes as she spoke, “Yes, everything’s fine--Uncle Peter’s just being his usual queenly self and is demanding we take another look at our inventory for October. He has this ridiculous belief that we won’t have enough snow shovels despite the fact fall is ages away.”

 

Cora and Stiles snorted at that together, and instead of being annoyed at Stiles’s intrusiveness both women laughed. “See,” Laura said with amusement as she gestured with her clipboard in Stiles’s direction, “Even the customers get it, but not His Highness. Anyways,” she stepped forward and patted Cora on the shoulder, “You get back to them and I’ll call you when I head back this way. Mom’s got something she wants me to take care of, but I should be done by lunch if you’d like to join me?”

 

“I’ve never turned down a free lunch, Laura, and I’m not about to start.” Before she left Laura shot Cora a look then wished Stiles and Allison a good day. Cora cracked a rather devilish grin at Stiles before she moved to help Allison decide on colors. But it didn’t seem like they’d be getting anywhere when both girls started talking about clothes, make-up, and movies; Stiles took that as her cue to leave. She shot Allison a text and told her to call when she’d finished up her shopping. Stiles was hungry and wanted to get a better look around town.

 

Stiles passed a bunch of shops: Hale Auto Repair, Hale Optical (Dr. David Wayne Hale II and Dr. Carla Hale), Hale Sports and Outdoor, Hale Garden Supply, All Hale Java, and Adventures Remembered. Neat brick buildings lined up in a lovely row with the occasional pops of vibrant color. Like the bright orange and white awning blowing in the wind over the door of All Hale Java, and the bits of blue surrounding the leaded glass windows of Adventures Remembered, it’s door, and the crooked tower that came out of the second floor.

 

Though she enjoyed the All Hale Java sign Stiles was a slight bit unnerved when she looked around and saw that most businesses in this small town had the name Hale slapped across their doors or etched across their windows. It was Twilight Zone levels of creepy. But Stiles brushed it off as odd and decided to check out the only store within reasonable walking distance without the word Hale on it somewhere.

 

Adventures Remembered turned out to be some kind of old book shop where warm sunlight fell through leaded panes of glass and glittered with dust motes. Stiles ran pale hands over the back of a deep violet velvet lined sofa that sat in the sunlight before she made her way towards the wall of bookshelves. Once there she allowed her fingers to skim across well worn spines, and breathed in the intoxicating scent of books. Though this was different than that new book smell--these were older and richer--these books smelled of adventure. “Clever shop name,” she whispered to the silence.

 

“Thank you.”

 

She hadn’t expected a reply, and so Stiles reacted in her usual way to surprises--she screamed. A very dignified scream. She whipped around with wild limbs to face an unimpressed expression, hand held over her heart where she could feel the rapid beat beneath her shirt and breast. “Jesus,” she panted, “You scared the shit outta me.”

 

“Not yet,” the unknown man said with a soft voice that didn’t match his fierce bearded countenance. With an easy grace Stiles envied he moved behind the mahogany counter, running his short nails along the glossy top, until he came to stand before a brassy antique cash register. “So what brings you in?” His pale green eyes were boring into Stiles, as if she were a wild animal he was sizing up for the kill. She shuddered beneath the scrutiny, but still gravitated towards him. It was an odd sensation.

 

“Just moved to town, actually,” she replied with a bit of unease, and he quirked a heavy eyebrow as if that was obvious.

 

“You don’t say,” he sounded rather bored as he idly tapped his fingers across the countertop. “Are you planning on grabbing something to read?”

 

Stiles bristled a small fraction at his obvious impatience, “Actually, I just came in to give the place a quick look around--I don’t know if you noticed but this is like the only building on Main that doesn’t have the name Hale plastered above it.”

 

His irritation was obvious when he bit out, “Is there something wrong with that?”

 

“Not if you like living in the Twilight Zone,” she shrugged, oblivious to the anger he spoke with.

 

He visibly tensed and his body was poised like a cat ready to strike, “If you’re not going to buy or borrow anything from this dump then why don’t you leave so I can get back to my job.”

 

Uh oh. Stiles hadn’t noticed the blatant signs--far too preoccupied with his ridiculously hot face and with thinking the Hales were weird to notice that this man had to be one. “Oh, shit, sorry--I uh--crap I really stepped in it this time, didn’t I?”

 

He didn’t reply as he moved out from behind the counter, and held eye-contact while he prowled around her. Stiles finally dared a glance down his body. Grease stained tight jeans and a dirty white T-shirt were usually the way Stiles’s more salacious dreams began, but this was reality, and reality was a beautiful yet cruel thing. This man was sex personified, with a bad-boy air about him, and had an ass Stiles could bounce a quarter off of, but he was giving out those signals that smart women, like Stiles, picked up on. His body language screamed You fucking wish. And damn did she wish when he grabbed her around her upper arm, hauling Stiles through the front door before slamming it behind them. He locked it with a finality, and muttered under his breath how he hated being in charge of the bookstore and hoped Laura found someone to run the damn thing soon.

 

He shoved past Stiles, and threw her a venomous look when he said, “If you ever feel like borrowing a book--there’s a public library a few miles north on Anderson Street.” She knew what he meant, don’t come back, but Stiles turned a curious look to the shop’s front door and thought Why the fuck not?

 

***

 

Chris didn’t understand why Stiles wanted to work in that particular bookstore. Generally, Stiles hated stores that were geared at attracting hipsters who liked to wax poetic about how they started listening to so and so band way before they were popular, and who thought it was still cool to wear a vest without a shirt underneath it. Chris said as much when Stiles was trying to plead her case over dinner that night, and Allison kept glancing between them with pitying looks thrown Stiles’s way.

 

It wasn’t unusual for Allison’s parents and their Aunt Kate to be overly protective. They tended to keep Allison and Stiles on a firm leash which usually meant they were required to ask permission  before getting a job. Which Stiles thought was fucking ridiculous seeing as she and Allison were twenty-two years old.

 

“It’s the life, Stiles,” Chris said in that placating tone Stiles hated in childhood and still hated now. “You and Allison could be targets; this business helps create enemies--we all know that, and we all remember what happened to your mother.”

 

It was a rotten move to bring up Claudia--even Kate, pillar of stone that she was, gave Chris a disapproving frown over the crystal rim of her wine glass. Though the reminder spurred Stiles to speak with conviction, “My mother wouldn’t have wanted me to hide. She would’ve wanted me to live.”

 

Chris sat his fork down, and chewed his roasted chicken with a thoughtful look upon his face. It was rather dramatic and over the top, but Stiles would never vouch for her family’s mental stability--they were, after all, in some sort of shady dealings of weaponry with “the government”. Stiles honestly assumed it was the Mafia with how often Chris packed them up in the middle of the night to move across country or to stay abroad in the summers. Finally, Chris shot a look toward Stiles’s Aunt Victoria and she dipped her head in an approving nod. With a sigh, Chris tossed his cotton napkin onto his plate and said, “Fine, Stiles, you can take the job.”

 

Allison jumped when she let out a whoop of excitement. Aunt Kate joined her in her wild cheering while Aunt Victoria looked on in silent amusement. Uncle Chris sat resigned and unhappy.

 

It was a brilliant night, as far as Stiles was concerned.  

 

***

 

Applying for the job had been a scant bit harder than she imagined. Adventures Remembered remained locked since her first visit, and she was growing more despondent as the days dragged on with the same outlook. A warm wind ruffled her hair while she peered through the large leaded window, and Stiles let out an irritated huff when she rattled the handle.

 

Behind her a police cruiser stopped, and a man in a tan uniform with a gleaming badge walked over to her. “Is there something I can help you with, Miss?” She huffed again when she turned to face him.

 

“I swear I’m not trying to break in. I’m not that kind of girl, at all! But I am the kind of girl who is becoming more and more frustrated because I want to apply to run this place.” She stomped her foot on the concrete with a little more force than was necessary. “I don’t really know anyone, and I can find nothing on the web about this place--it’s discouraging to say the least.” Then she added, as a morose afterthought that was more for her than this benefit, “I miss New York--everything was online there.”

 

He chuckled and appraised her in the usual manner one does when first meeting Stiles Stilinski, but his eyes were hidden by reflective sunglasses so Stiles couldn’t gage his expression. The officer jerked his head towards his cruiser and said, “Hop in, I’ll take you to the Hales.”

 

“Great,” she muttered but smiled at him with a false cheer when he looked her way, as if he’d heard. His front seat was littered with horrible take-out food wrappers, and Stiles wrinkled her nose as she tossed a violent yellow Big Mac wrapper to the passenger floorboard. “This is so not good for you, you know?”

 

Laughing he said, “Man’s gotta eat.”

 

“Man’s gonna have a heart attack!” She lectured and he shook his head of brown and silver hair as he steered them further up Main, heading into a business district Stiles and Allison hadn’t ventured into after Allison found Stiles brooding outside Adventures Remembered. They decided to head home and do facials (Allison’s idea not Stiles’s) while vegging out on ice cream (totally Stiles’s idea) that afternoon rather than hang around and explore more of the charming town center of Beacon Hills, California.

 

The cruiser pulled to a stop in the parking lot of a long strip mall that had little white business names painted on glass doors.

 

She followed him with a frown when she noticed another area of Beacon Hills had Hale plastered all over it. “Who the fuck are these people,” she mumbled while she followed the brown suit through a door that said Hale Industry.

 

At the front desk there was a ferocious looking blonde woman who couldn’t have been more than twenty-four arguing with an equally terrifying woman in her mid to late forties. Both were standing toe to toe in tall heels and shouting into one another’s face; Stiles winced at the anger that was flowing between them. Next to them Laura was watching with an exasperated expression, and the angry mechanic was standing at Laura’s side looking as vicious as the last time Stiles saw him.

 

“Deal with it, Erica!” The older woman shouted, “You are apart of this family now and this family works as a unit, if you cannot pull your weight then this unit doesn’t need you!”

 

“Mom,” Laura drawled in a rather bored fashion, “We’ve got company.” Her sharp green gaze lingered on Stiles with something akin to a question, but next to her Brooding Eyebrows narrowed his own green gaze.

 

Laura’s mother snapped her attention to where Stiles fidgeted behind the officer. “I’m so sorry,” she said as she approached them, with an apologetic smile, “I’m Talia Hale.” With a look at the officer she cocked a brow and said, “John, to what do I owe this pleasure?”

 

“This kid was hanging outside of your bookshop, complaining she couldn’t get in to apply,” John replied with a smile that was all fatherly warmth, or what Stiles assumed fatherly warmth was like.

 

“You’ve taken a shine to Adventures Remembered?” Talia asked with surprised brown eyes, and Stiles nodded more vigorously than she intended.

 

“Yeah, I thought it was a pretty cool place.”  She fiddled with the hem of her screened Avengers T-shirt while Talia watched her with a blank expression. “But if you aren’t hiring, it’s cool, I totally get it.” Stiles started to back away when Tall-Dark-and-Pissy stepped forward--ridiculous muscles rippling beneath his gray Henley--and sneered at her.

 

“We’re not hiring, now beat it--if you couldn’t tell we’re kind of in the middle of something.” He was in her space, towering with a murderous set to his eyes and almost sharp looking teeth.  

 

Stiles sneered back and shoved at his warm unyielding chest, “Yeah, I see that your mom doesn’t like your wife too well, big guy, but that’s no reason to throw your attitude at me.”

 

Surprisingly, it was Erica who let out a wild bark of laughter while Laura, Talia, and John stared at Stiles with varying degrees of shock. “I like this one, Laura, let’s keep her,” Erica smirked as she sashayed over to Laura and smacked her behind with a loud pop. “She gets under Derek’s skin--look at that vein pulsing in his forehead.”

 

“Shut it,” Talia snapped--an interested gleam in her gaze as she ran her eyes over Stiles and then flicked a glance over Derek.

 

Derek for his part appeared thunderous as he descended upon Stiles once more, those thick eyebrows of his were working overtime, “You,” he bit out. “Are the reason I have a bad attitude, every time I turn around there you are. Annoying with your constant chatter, and scent.”

 

“Derek!” Talia snapped and he moved away from Stiles, instantly cowed. Which was awesome as far as Stiles was concerned. Women who scared brick houses like Derek Hale were obviously a rare breed; so Stiles developed an instant girl crush on Talia Hale super badass mother of crazy intense Hale children.  

 

“Hah,” Stiles muttered, “Sorry to offend with my perfume, and irritate you with my stunning wit--you should quit being so annoying with your pretty face.”

 

Laura laughed as if she heard every word, but when Stiles glanced over at her she was kissing Erica and John was looking pointedly out the window. Talia went to Derek with quick confident strides, and whispered something to him. He jerked his head in a shaky yes, before he glared at Stiles and made his way out of the office. The glass door rattled a bit behind him when he slammed it shut.

 

Talia smiled at John and told him she could take it from there, but he said he’d hang around incase Stiles needed a lift. She smiled at him for his thoughtfulness and expressed her gratitude while Talia gestured for Stiles and Laura to follow her into the back of the office.

 

The room was warm with earth tones and smelled of clean leather. Stiles took a seat opposite a rich mahogany desk while Talia slid gracefully into the leather wingback opposite the surface between them. “Now, Stiles, the Adventures Remembered store is one that is very close to this town’s heart--so we need to go over some rudimentary questions and go from there.”

 

Stiles fidgeted but told Talia that was cool.  The smile Talia wore in response was very maternal and fond. Stiles wondered if maybe she’d fallen down the stairs and this was all just an elaborate dream she was having while she slept, comatose, in Bellevue as Allison fought Victoria and Chris to keep her on life support. The thought made her chuckle because only Stiles would dream up a hostile romantic interest for herself.

 

By the end of the afternoon Talia was handing Stiles the keys to the shop, and before Stiles could take John up on that offer for a ride back home Talia spoke. “Now, Stiles, you’re going to need some help.” Her dark gaze flickered over to where Erica was laughing playfully while Laura twirled a finger in her luscious blonde hair. “And I’ve got just the help for you--Adventures Remembered is more than just a book shop.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean,” Stiles asked, but Talia was cryptic and said something about looking in the back and going upstairs.

 

***

 

John was a nice old man, Stiles decided when he took her home. His laugh was genuine and his manner was friendly as he pointed out local hotspots to let Stiles in on the inner workings of small town life. She studied his profile that was lit by autumn sunlight, and noted the deep wrinkles around his eyes when he smiled--Stiles bet he was very handsome in youth as he was rather attractive now, and couldn’t help but wonder about the life he’d lived before he became a sheriff. It was something she often did while she looked at others; she always wanted to know what brought people to these points in their lives.

 

When they reached her house Stiles startled, but thanked him for the ride as she climbed from the messy cruiser.

 

It didn’t hit her until she’d reached the front stoop--she never told him where she lived.

 

***

 

Chris and Victoria said they wanted to see the shop she’d be running over dinner that night, and Stiles beamed. Their smiles were genuine when she said she’d love to because, honestly speaking, Stiles was rather proud of her new job. Allison pulled her close and hugged her tight while Kate rolled her eyes and pretended to be offended by their sappy chick flick moment.

 

The shop was dustier than Stiles remembered after she opened the door with the ancient brass skeleton key Talia passed over when they parted company. Allison peered around curiously and expressed her excitement when she spotted the antique cash register. Meanwhile, Victoria sniffed at the eclectic disarray of the books on the shelves, and Stiles assumed her aunt’s OCD was offended by the display. Kate made a comment about hipsters as she ran a hand along the countertop while she avidly took in the many details carved into the wood. Stiles had yet to really get a good look at them, but what she did recognize were a few Celtic symbols that she vaguely remembered from a Mythology course she took with Allison their freshman year at Columbia. The only reason they signed up was because the professor was sex on legs, and as a result Stiles skated by with a C and Allison did a little better with a low B. Chris, for his part, did that thing he tended to do whenever they were exploring a new place. He pulled out his chrome .45 and started to check for threats. Stiles and Allison shared a glance at his Bond like stealth. Stiles had to smother her laugh with her hand.  

 

If it wasn’t for his paranoia Stiles might not have discovered the small door at the far left side of the kitchen--hidden beneath grease stained floral wall paper with an invisible hinge. Chris pressed against the spot where he heard the wall was hollow and out popped the door. Stiles was in love in that moment, and followed him with eyes shining full of excitement up a twisting iron stairwell that was covered in thick cobwebs and dust.

 

It wasn’t much in the way of living quarters, but Stiles thought it was perfect when she saw the little iron balcony perched outside of a small set of french doors. Chris was frowning at the dust coating on the white mantle that surrounded a tiny hearth, but Stiles was exploring down the short hall--peeking in at the aged clawed tub and the cherubs that surrounded a rusting mirror. In the bedroom a brass canopy bed sat, like everything else, with a cover of dust and the signs of age. There was another room at the opposite end of the apartment that had a small walk-in closet and boxes of old baby clothes as well as a small wooden cradle. It pulled at something in Stiles’s chest as she ran her hands over the sparse remains of someone else’s life.

 

“I’m so moving in,” she breathed, and Chris shot her a frown from where he heard her.

 

***

 

They had an argument when they got back to the house about her moving. Chris was adamant she stay in the house with them, and Stiles tried to say she was tired of always listening and being made to be the person they wanted to see. It went on for hours, and only ended when Victoria came in to slap her hard across the cheek.

 

“You will cease this foolishness at once,” her aunt seethed as her thin red eyebrows dipped down to give Victoria a sinister expression. “Chris and I will discuss this matter then get back to you with our decision.”

 

“It’s not your decision!” Stiles raved with a defiance she’d never shown before that night; one that lived buried in her heart and never came out for fear of disappointing her last living relatives. “This is my life! I’m twenty-two years old and can do as I damn well please!” Tears ran down her red cheeks, and she shook on her long legs as she stared her aunt down.

 

“We will get back to you with our decision,” Victoria snipped in that cold manner of hers and slammed Stiles’s bedroom door behind her.

 

Allison slipped into her room when Chris and Victoria were downstairs half shouting at one another about Stiles, but Stiles didn’t look up to acknowledge her presence.

 

“Hey,” Allison whispered as she crawled into the bed next to Stiles, pulling the pale blue comforter over them. She touched Stiles’s wet cheek, and propped herself up onto an elbow to look down at Stiles’s blotchy face. “I think you’re going to find your path, and when you walk the world is going to shake with your steps.” When she saw Stiles’s small smile, Allison laughed and added, “Because, cuz, I know you are just that awesome.”

 

Stiles didn’t know what she’d ever do if she didn’t have Allison. “I love you, Allison.” Of all her family members Allison was the only one who Stiles could never leave behind; she was the sister she’d always wanted.

 

There was a soft set to Allison’s dark brown eyes as she smiled and whispered, “I love you, too.”

 

***

 

Over breakfast the next morning Kate was staring at Stiles in a rather intimidating manner. Kate had an odd gleam in her sharp gaze when she watched Stiles and ate a baby potato off the tines of her fork. “Gerard is coming,” her voice came out of nowhere, and all the while she kept her eyes trained on Stiles. As if she were searching for some sign of weakness, but in the aftermath of Stiles’s fight with her aunt and uncle she tried hard not to give Kate the satisfaction of seeing her weak.

 

Stiles was Gerard’s least favorite, and everyone knew it.

 

Beneath the table Allison gripped her hand and Stiles squeezed back--they both knew what Gerard coming meant--it meant something bad was about to happen. Much as Chris liked them to believe nothing sinister was going on, Allison and Stiles were not blind to the secrecy that shrouded their family. Beneath the false smiles and easy money they both knew there was something awful brewing.

 

***

 

Later that night, Stiles went to her dresser and pulled out the well worn wooden box her mother left her before she died. She hadn’t opened it since her mother’s funeral, but something compelled her to take it from it’s hiding place beneath her colorful cotton boyshorts. Stiles traced the elaborate tree that was burned into the grain and whispered a silent prayer to her mother--hoping that wherever she was she heard Stiles’s plea.

 

When she lifted the lid she could still smell the gardenia scent that lived in her mother’s warm skin. For just a moment Stiles could pretend her mother lived, and that this was just an awful dream she’d wake from come dawn. She’d be home with Claudia and would wake to the scent of cinnamon pancakes and warm apple cider.

 

But it wasn’t going to happen; she’d accepted that long ago when her tears ran dry and still her mother hadn’t come to ease the pain.

 

Inside was a leather bound journal filled with her mother’s intricate lettering, and as Stiles read the familiar stories she could hear her mother’s soft voice fill the space around her.

 

“Red met Wolf the night of Hunter’s Moon. In a forest illuminated with pale light she wandered with her bow held high and the distant echoes of lonesome howls, but Red was unafraid. For she’d been trained since birth to not fear the call of beasts. From the time Red could walk she’d been at her father’s side with a knife, rifle, sword, or bow learning the ways to hunt. Her father claimed it was to prepare for the enemy, and Red had always believed him.

 

Until that Hunter’s Moon. Until the night she met Wolf.

 

He stood beneath pale light with a glistening white coat that shone like diamonds and drew Red’s eye. His silver eyes followed the slightest movement of her person, and Red did not waver beneath his gaze’s intensity.

 

Speak, she said, For I know you are but a man beneath that hide.

 

Wolf shifted before her--a slow change from beast to man, and though she could have taken her shot Red never pulled the string of her bow back to strike. It would have been that simple to kill him, and yet Red had allowed him to change into his human skin without dealing harm. She was surprised at her own actions, but more at this wolf’s trust.

 

Later, Red would learn why this wolf showed her such vulnerability. She would learn, in due time, what it meant to be claimed by such a creature.”

 

Stiles remembered telling her mother that she wanted a wolf like Red’s and at that moment she could remember the sad laugh that escaped Claudia’s throat before she spoke. “A love like that is tragic and only ends in misery, my love, you’d do better with a prince than a wolf.”

 

Then, as now, Stiles thought a wolf was the best choice of all. Her long pale fingers traced the elegant loops of her mother’s hand, and Stiles let out a melancholy sigh before she closed the journal and set it back in the safety of the wooden box.

 

***

 

Gerard reached town less than forty-eight hours after Kate spilled the beans on his “random” visit. Even the weather seemed to anticipate the doom of his arrival and the floods came pouring from the heavens in a rather grim foreshadow of what Gerard’s presence would mean for Beacon Hills. Stiles took to hissing dire prophecies into Allison’s ear when they perched near the upstairs railing as Gerard and his two body builder guards came in through the front door--stoney expressions and M.I.B standard uniforms snug over their impressive musculature.

 

“Christopher,” Gerard’s gravelly monotone travelled through the air of the house, and sent a chill down Stiles’s spine. “I trust you’ve been well.” Nothing was ever a question with Gerard; it was more like everything was a command. Whether he was asking for the price of shoes or commanding an army of Satan’s finest Allison and Stiles’s grandfather managed to be scary as fuck. Allison always thought it was the sinister gleam of his brown eyes or the nasty twist of his “smile”. Stiles, however, maintained that it was the lack of soul that made Gerard so cringe worthy.

 

“As well as can be expected,” Chris replied with a rather blasé tone. “Why don’t you join me in the office for a drink and we can talk about the business you conducted in France.”

 

“Victoria grab Katherine and bring her into the study,” Gerard said as he slid down the hall toward Chris’s office.

 

Allison grabbed Stiles’s hand and hissed for her to follow Allison back to Allison’s room. They didn’t speak until Allison shut the door and collapsed onto the bed--her face an ashen white.

 

Stiles felt about as great as Allison looked. “What do you think they’re talking about?”

 

“World domination,” Stiles tried to joke in reply, but the words hung stagnant in the air between them. It didn’t seem like such a joke when it was a rather real possibility.

 

“I know I should be used to it by now.” Allison whispered, “But Stiles I,” she seemed ready to say something more but stopped. Stiles urged her to continue, and when she did Stiles didn’t feel like she was being completely honest. “I’m scared.”

 

Even though she felt as if she wasn’t getting the whole story, Stiles said, “I am, too, Allison.”

 

***

Stiles saw her grandfather later that evening. He was seated near the fireplace, a glass of red wine held loosely in his aged hand as he watched the flames. She thought she could sneak by him unnoticed, but Gerard was nothing if not extremely observant. It was a trait all Argents possessed, Stiles included. As Stiles tried to dash to the stairs he called to her in his gravelly voice.

“Stanisława,” Gerard said, and she cringed when she heard her given name roll off of his evil tongue. “Come, join your grandfather by the fire.”

 

Stiles knew better than to refuse, and so she went without protest to his side. He gestured for her to kneel beside him so that he could better gaze upon her face. His eyes were the same color as her mother’s, chocolate brown, only darker due to the coldness of his soul. She could feel their icy touch as he tracked the lines of her face, assessing every flaw and detail. In the lines of her face she knew he could read fear and labelled it in his mind as a weakness. “You look like your mother,” and everytime Gerard said that he managed to make it sound like a put down rather than a praise. As if the memory of Stiles’s mother was a dark stain he couldn’t remove.

 

Even so Stiles thanked him and smiled as sincerely as she could. He waved her off with a dismissive tone not long after that, and yelled for Kate. Stiles didn’t stick around to hear what they were discussing. She felt sick enough as it was from being on the receiving end of his glower.

 

***

 

Upstairs Allison was lying on her bed looking up at the blank ceiling. Stiles knocked on her door, but Allison didn’t look away from the ceiling or acknowledge the sound. Stiles took that as permission to do as she pleased. She went to sit by her and soak up Allison’s warmth.

 

“You were with Gerard, weren’t you?” Allison asked mildly when Stiles curved toward her and wrapped slim arms around Allison’s waist. She breathed in the sweet smell of Allison’s hair and relaxed against her cousin.

 

“I was--he called me over and did that thing he always does.” Stiles’s voice was small in her own ears, and she wondered how Allison managed to look at her with love when through the years Stiles managed to be such a burden. Allison was the kindness that Claudia’s death stole from Stiles at the tender age of ten, and she was the force Stiles would’ve withered without.

 

“He’s an idiot,” Allison muttered with a vehemence Stiles never heard from her before, and there was a distant look in her eyes when she added, “You need to keep away from him, Stiles.” Then quieter when she thought Stiles had fallen asleep Allison added, “You should stay away from us all.” And Stiles felt a cold chill tingle down her spine.

 

***

 

Even though she was bone tired that night Stiles didn’t fall immediately into bed. She went, instead to her dresser and pulled from it her mother’s old box.

 

Her fingers decided to locate an entry for her, and she frowned down at the page as she tried to concentrate on her mother’s beautiful penmanship.

 

I could smell you, Wolf told her as he climbed into the bed beside her, I could smell your anxiety and feel your terror.

 

We will never be able to walk without worry, Red told him while she held fast to the warm skin of his strong arms. He soothed her with gentle kisses against her temple while he reminded her what struggles they overcame to be in this happiness. She knew he was right, but the worry wouldn’t leave her and at night she raced through the darkness of her mind while shouting for mercy.

 

She didn’t believe in prophecy or foresight, but Red felt the pull of certain doom. Felt it in the circle of Wolf’s loving embrace and knew it as surely as she knew the life growing in her womb. There was destruction on the horizon. There would always be hunters looking to take Wolf for what he was. She knew they would strike him down, and reclaim her for themselves. The only thing that would spare her from immediate death would be her child; the sweet untainted being that would grow up without a father if the hunters found their den.

 

I’m scared, she whispered in the night, and for Red admitting fear was the ultimate weakness. But Wolf held her tighter, and nuzzled his nose into the fragrant hair at the back of her neck where he pressed soothing kisses.

 

I will always be with you, he promised. Even in Death I will never be from you.

 

Mate, she whispered, reverent like a prayer and he spoke it with a similarly grave voice.

 

That was their promise. A love neverending.”

 

Stiles closed the journal and ran a loving finger along its spine remembering how fondly her mother spoke of her father when they were alone. Her mother loved him as Red loved Wolf. She glanced out of her window, and looked at the pale curve of the half moon while she contemplated leaving this life. She wanted to go find that happiness--a place, a lover, a home--where she truly belonged.  

 

“What would you do, Mom?” She whispered as she flopped back on the bed.

***

 

Laura called her in the morning, and Stiles fidgeted when she asked when Stiles planned on coming in and finishing up her final paperwork.

 

“I don’t know, my family is being really weird about it,” Stiles admitted when there was a lull in conversation and Laura seemed irritated with Stiles’s reluctance. Which Stiles didn’t blame her for; she was trying to run a business.

 

For a long moment Laura was silent before she said, “You know, Stiles, it’s your life. You have to carve your own path in the world.”

 

***

 

Stiles took a deep breath before she entered Chris’s office, and he looked up at her with a questioning expression when she began to fiddle with her hands.

 

“Is there something you want to say?” He sat back, snapping an old book shut before sticking it in the top drawer of his desk.

 

“I’m moving out,” she said with more courage than she felt. “I want to run the bookshop, and I want to live on my own. I can’t let you guys raise me when I should be the one to take care of myself.”

 

He gave her a hard look and gestured to the door, “Fine. Go then.” She felt like a failure and a disappointment when what little kindness lived in Chris’s eyes for her went out like a candle in a storm. “But if trouble finds you remember that you are the one who turned your back on this family.”

 

“I’m not turning my back,” she protested, but she saw the way he physically pulled away from her and Stiles continued to try. “Please, please, Uncle Chris, don’t make this out to be some sort of betrayal on my part.” He wore a sardonic smile and snorted.

 

“Leaving is betrayal, Stiles. When you leave this family--you don’t come back.”

 

Defiantely she said, “You welcomed back my mother.”  

 

“That was a complicated situation, and a rarity. Circumstances will be different with you.”

 

“What are you so afraid of?” She said with incredulity, and his smile was a thin line of anger.

 

“More than you will ever know.” Stiles didn’t like the sound of that, and went quietly when he gestured her out the door.  

 

***

 

Stiles didn’t have any friends, and she didn’t have much to claim from her room. First was her mother’s box, her clothes, the limited make-up she owned, her Macbook, iPod, a box of pictures, and shoes. Stiles decided to leave the posters and insignificant items she’d gathered over the years. It would all fit into a small car if she owned one, but she didn’t even have that and so she called the only local she sort of knew.

 

“Hey, Laura,” she tried with false cheer. “I am in need of a ride, and I know we aren’t like--uh--friends or anything, but I was sorta disowned for telling my family I wanted to do my own thing--and uh, yeah if that job is still mine I would totally be grateful.”

 

“I’ll send a car,” Laura said with a kind voice, and Stiles broke down to cry when she hung up.

 

***

 

Allison wasn’t home--no one was except for Chris--when Stiles made her decision and left. John was the one who came to pick her up, and she thanked him when he loaded her boxes into the back of his cruiser. Stiles didn’t give any notice that she saw her uncle watching from his study window. She kept her back straight and her head held proud as she climbed into the car.

 

When they were out of the neighborhood Stiles sniffed, in response John reached over and patted her long hair. “Let it out, sweetheart,” he whispered gently. That was all Stiles needed to break down.

 

The cruiser stopped in front of a quaint home in one of the older neighborhoods, and Stiles peered over at him with a questioning tilt to her brows. John chuckled, “Would you like to come in and have dinner? I can’t just drop a crying girl off in a new home without making her a home cooked meal.”

 

“Thanks,” Stiles whispered with feeling.

 

John made a delicious fish soup with a warm loaf of toasted bread. Stiles ate it with a pleased sound escaping her throat, and John laughed in a delighted sort of way when she told him it was the best soup she’d ever eaten.

 

“Old family recipe,” he confessed, and Stiles watched him with rapt attention as he cleared the table.

 

“Well your family is obviously awesome!” Then with a morose expression she glanced toward his living room, and mumbled, “I wish my family was awesome.”

 

“Some families are set in their ways,” he said when he reappeared silently, at her side, with a steaming cup of coffee. “They’ll come around one day. It’s pride that keeps parents from agreeing with their children. I imagine it must be hard to let your own child go create their own life.”

 

Stiles smiled at him gratefully and spoke down at her coffee, a little while later, “If they were my parents they wouldn’t be like this--my mom was the best. She believed in everyone, and gave everything a chance. My grandfather has always regarded her as weak and is of the opinion I share that weakness.” John had a grave expression on his face when she looked back up at him. In his blue eyes she could see a spark of regret, loneliness, and anger.

 

After a short contemplation he looked at her and spoke in a quiet tone full of genuine kindness, “I think you and your mother share a strength. Weakness is not in mercy; weakness is in fear and closed-mindedness.”

 

***

 

When he helped her carry the last of her boxes into the front of the shop Stiles thanked John. She hovered awkwardly near him for a second before she decided to throw caution to the wind and wrapped her arms tightly around him. She breathed in a scent that tickled warm and almost familiar against her senses, but didn’t chase the memory when he hugged her back with a fierce hold.

 

“You keep following your own path, Stiles, and good things will come to you,” he whispered against her hair.

 

With a warm smile she backed away, “You really mean that, don’t you?”

 

“I believe it,” he emphasised, “I believe in you completely.”

 

Her thanks was another bone crushing hug before she sent him on his way. As he left, John told her she was to call him at any time for any reason. Stiles felt better when she locked the door behind him. Despite the horrible scene with her uncle Stiles was lighter of heart as she made her way to the hidden apartment with some of her clothes and her mother’s box.

 

***

 

Laura came by at seven in the morning, and Stiles opened the door with a bleary expression. “Good morning, boss,” she murmured with a sleepy voice, and narrowed her eyes when Laura flashed her a grin and walked with a chipper step. Stiles hated morning people.

 

“Good morning, Stiles, ready for the first day?” There was an excited spark to Laura’s eyes, and Stiles didn’t mention it as she made her way to the kitchen to use the ancient coffee machine. John had been kind enough to give her a small canister of Folgers Original when he dropped her off the night before.

 

“I’ll be ready when I get some caffeine in me.” Laura barked out a laugh, and Stiles rolled her eyes when she came back to the front of the shop. “So what’s the deal with the kitchen and,” here she gestured to the large glass display case that served as a front counter (the one she didn’t fully appreciate on her first two visits).

 

“Didn’t we tell you?” The wicked gleam sparkling in Laura’s eye was telling, and Stiles frowned.

 

“Tell me?” She urged with a rather bitchy tone, but the wild smirk Laura wore spoke volumes about how amusing she found Stiles’s irritability.

 

“It’s a cake shop--the books aren’t really for sale despite what Derek tries to convince people. Mostly it’s a collection from the previous owners; they used to share their collection with others and made money off of baked goods, coffee, tea, and sometimes lunch specials if they were feeling adventurous.”

 

Stiles groaned, “I’m not much of a baker.” Laura gave her a look that said she didn’t believe a word of it, and granted it was a lie--Stiles was an excellent cook as were all the members of the Argent clan--but she didn’t want to bake. Stiles preferred to sit in an empty book shop and get paid. That sounded easy; running a bakery was a nightmare. Not that she personally knew the evils of running a bakery, but she’d seen enough Cake Boss to glean a bit of expertise.

 

“I’m sure you’ll learn.” Apparently, Laura wasn’t about to change the shop’s theme for Stiles’s sake.

 

She closed her eyes when Laura made her way into the kitchen and whispered, “Mom, when I said guide me to a better life I was not looking to get disowned nor was I looking to become Betty Crocker.” When she got no response Stiles huffed and went to find Laura.

 

***

 

Stiles got two new employees completely against her will, of course, because the two Laura thrust upon her were not who Stiles would’ve hired.

 

Erica, Laura’s wife Stiles assumed, was on thin ice with the Hales and this was her last chance at redemption in Talia’s eyes; so employee numero uno. Employee dos was Lydia Martin; a goddess among the mortals who was some sort of Hale family friend. She was on break from some Ivy League school Stiles didn’t care to ask about. Stiles heard her talking to Laura about some guy who went to London, but Stiles didn’t ask. She was pretty sure Lydia would kill her if she stuck her nose where it wasn’t wanted. And she liked her face the way it was, thank you very much, she wasn’t Allison but she wanted to keep her face intact.

 

Laura, when she introduced them to Stiles, said, “Stiles, my dear, meet your two new best friends.” With friends like them Stiles was certain she’d never need enemies.

 

***

 

A couple of weeks later, Stiles decided she’d rather kill Lydia and Erica. Especially, when the only faces she saw all day long belonged to those two. A few elderly people stopped to read their sign out front, written in  Lydia’s bubbly hand with neon chalk, and then they’d walk on. Stiles bitched about them beneath her breath, and shot Erica an ugly look from where she perched on top of the display case in a short leather skirt while knocking her fuck-me leopard heels together.

 

“Shouldn’t you hit the street to get the word out about the cakes?” Stiles asked her when Erica started filing her sharp red nails.

 

Erica laughed, and shot Stiles a look, “Do I look like the type who wants to walk around selling cakes?”

 

Stiles glowered, “No, why are you here again?”

 

“I’ve got a mother-in-law to appease. If it was up to me the only work I’d do would be in bed, but Talia isn’t satisfied with me being chained to Laura’s bed as a love slave.” Stiles made a face and Erica laughed again. She was half tempted to tell Erica she should just start up her own lesbian porn movies. Though, Laura didn’t seem like the type who’d ever want to share. The Hales, what she knew of them, seemed like a possessive bunch.  

 

Lydia wasn’t much better. She tended to sit in the small office on her phone instead of running numbers and inventory like she was supposed to; luckily Talia’s office kept the power, water, and gas paid and covered the food supplies. Stiles wasn’t sure this business could stand otherwise.

 

***

 

A couple of days later Stiles was seated in a comfortable leather chair opposite of Laura Hale, with paperwork scattered across her desk between them. Laura, Stiles noticed, was quite a deal kinder and more down to earth than her severe appearance suggested. She’d even venture as far as to say that Laura was approachable, and she thought they might even grow to be friends. Especially, when Laura smiled or laughed at something stupid that Stiles said. She always managed to seem sincere, and Stiles liked that about her.

 

As they were finishing up Stiles’s paperwork for a “company” vehicle and Laura was reaching for the keys to a banged up blue Jeep Stiles said, “So, why is this the only shop in town I’ve seen that doesn’t have Hale plastered on it somewhere?”

 

Unlike that vicious grease monkey Derek,  Laura didn’t mind her concern over the Twilight Zone-ness in town. Laura’s gaze was distant while she filed away the forms, and took her time before she answered. “It is sentimental to an important member of the family, and despite the fact my siblings and my uncle think it’s a money hole and a waste of time we keep it open because Mom’s the boss. What she says goes.”

 

“What about you?” Stiles asked with a rather curious expression.

 

“I think it’s human, and if she wants to keep it going she has more than enough money to do it with--she’s allowed to keep small indulgences.” Then her eyes flickered over Stiles, and something thoughtful flitted  across Laura’s face before she added, “She’s happy someone like you has taken an interest and is running the shop, and so she’s going to remain dedicated to helping you keep it going.”

 

Stiles accepted the keys after that without a word passed between them, and left to go check out her new car and get to work.

 

***

 

A few women passed by the front of the shop, and took little time to consider Stiles’s sign before the moved on. A few hours after their swift dismissal her prospects weren’t looking good. By one thirty she worried that her soup, rolls, and cakes would go to waste, again; Stiles was on the verge of admitting failure when the bells jingled on the door handle.

 

When she looked up a handsome tan man with a disarmingly crooked smile was walking into the shop; an eager look on his happy face.

 

“Hello,” she said a little too loud as she scrambled out from behind the counter--looking the very opposite of professional while she fell over herself in her haste to get closer to her first customer.

 

“Hey,” he said--the epitome of a laid back stoner in his stance and tone. Jerking his thumb over a broad shoulder he added, “I saw the sign out front, and thought I’d give the soup a try.”

 

Stiles didn’t mean to gush, she really didn’t, but in one sentence this nameless dude stole her heart and she jumped on him with a huge hug. “Thank you! Thank you! You’re the only decent person in this town besides Laura!”

 

He laughed, the sound was both infectious and warm, as he pulled out of her embrace and said, “Seriously, no one came in here? This smelled awesome down at the vet’s office, and I walked a half mile just to try it.”

 

Stiles smacked him on the shoulder and thanked him again before she directed him to one of the small round tables opposite the reading area of Adventures Remembered.

 

“I’m Scott,” he said with another of his crooked smiles as she handed him a bowl ladled full of tomato soup topped with sour cream, and gave him a little dish of rice with two rolls.

 

“I’m Stilinski, Stiles Stilinski,” she said with a cheeky wink and then asked what sort of beverage she could interest him in.

 

Scott, man after her own heart, said he’d love a cold beer but would settle for a water since he had to get back to work.

 

***

 

Scott became a regular--hell, her only regular--and Stiles had to admit she was platonically in love with Scott. She didn’t want to jump his bones, but she could gladly spend hours basking in his smile and listen to him talk about everything and nothing at once. He was basically her boy version of Allison. It was nice to have someone try to fill that void Allison left; of all her family Allison was the only one Stiles truly missed besides her mother and the father she couldn’t remember.

 

She bet Allison and Scott would like one another; Stiles hoped that one day soon she’d come around and slot herself back into Stiles’s life.

 

***

 

Halloween was approaching in a little over a month and a half--Stiles had decorated the shop for it at the beginning of September, but had no actual plans. She thought about asking Erica or Lydia what they thought, but Stiles guessed they had plans and figured working Halloween night wasn’t on their list of fun things to do.

 

Stiles pulled a blackberry pie from the oven, and sighed when she heard the jingle above the shop door. She set the hot pan down on a cooling rack, and walked into the front while looking down and wiping her hands on her flour covered apron, “Hey, Scotty.” Stiles’s voice was full of cheer, and then she looked up to see Derek watching her with an intensity that made her shiver.

 

Even so she didn’t cower, holding her head up high Stiles walked to the counter and said, “Oh, it’s you.”  

 

His smile was a small thing hidden in the corners of his mouth as he cocked his head and watched her with an amused gleam in his pale green eyes. Derek stepped closer to the counter, the shift of his leather coat was loud and Stiles caught the whiff of rich cologne coupled with Derek’s clean skin as he pressed in closer. “Is there something I can help you with, Mister Hale, or are you here to try and torment the pants off of me?”

 

A huff filled the space between them and Stiles could smell the cinnamon of his gum as the sound pushed over her. “What’ve you got?” He seemed rather amenable once the evil glare dropped off of his ridiculously hot face, and Stiles tried not to quiver at the knees. As far as out of her league went Derek was the sun and she was Pluto.

 

“Today it’s something that was apparently my dad’s favorite.” She quickly went to get a plate and didn’t bother to ponder the unsure expression her normally broody patron was wearing.

 

When she returned he stared at the plate in her hand with a rather surprised look. “Are you a picky eater?” She narrowed her eyes at him--picky eaters were the worst. Especially, when they refused to try the scant amount of Polish recipes her mother left from her father’s mother.  Grandma Stilinski was a treasure in the food department--Scott could attest to that fact.

 

“What,” Derek snapped vibrant eyes up to her face. He looked cute when he protested, “No, no, I’m not picky. It’s just I’ve had this dish before.” Then his usual cocky self was back when he smirked, “I wonder if yours will be half as good.”

 

“I’m charging you double for that,” she threatened, with narrowed eyes, and his laugh filled the room around them. Warm, bright, and perfect--Stiles was hooked on him in that moment. “I’m Stiles, by the way.” She felt rather foolish as she stuck out her hand; they had, in fact, met before but the circumstances at the time were less than stellar.

 

“Derek,” he said as he placed his dry warm hand in hers, and she noticed the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled wide.

 

Stiles was totally fucked.

 

***

 

After his first visit Derek started coming by with Scott most afternoons, and brought with him a dashing blond man named Isaac who always had childish delight sparkling in his blue eyes. Every so often a dark skinned guy named Boyd joined them, but usually he went home to see his grandmother for lunch and that made him Stiles’s hero. Burly men who were good to their families were always a hit with her; the guys who came in to her shop were ridiculous with their looks and amazing with their families. It wasn’t fair, and made her think she should’ve moved to a nowhere town sooner.

 

With the “hot brigade”, as Stiles took to naming them, came other locals and more customers. She was certain most of the women came in to oogle her sweet, sexy boys, but that was cool because Stiles was running out of food faster than she could make it.

 

She’d finally be able to take on the responsibility of paying for the shops expenses.

 

***

 

By the third week of September she was having to turn away customers due to lack of food, help, and sleep. Stiles was ready to curse Laura for her ridiculous idea to put Stiles’s humble culinary skills to the test. She decided Gordon Ramsey could dominate the kitchens of the world and Stiles’d be content to stay a novice.

 

The bells jangled when the door opened and Stiles groaned, “Not today, no food, the kitchen is broken...Talia’s has a much better selection of food and better staff--I promise.”

 

A deep chuckle startled her head off of the counter, and Stiles saw John standing in the light that fell through the window. “Sorry, sir,” she hastily said as she bolted upright to attention.

 

“No need to look so rigid on my account,” he said with a kind smile and a fond gleam shining in his blue eyes. “I only came in for a cup of coffee.”

 

“Coffee I can do,” she sighed with obvious relief, and told him to make himself comfortable while pointing to the velvet sofa.

 

“Derek told me you make a good dish of golonka with kapusta.” Stiles envied the way John said the words; he spoke them like a person fluent in Polish. The opposite of Stiles who tended to sound like a white girl trying and succeeding to butcher a language. Not that all “white” girls were horrible at foreign languages; Allison was fluent in French and Stiles was okay at it, but always managed to make it sound more Spanish than anything (she attributed that to four years of Spanish in high school).

She came back out with a hot mug of coffee and even had some krówki on a small saucer for him. He eyed the candy with a wistful look before he thanked her, and something in her grew warm just being in his presence. “Where did you learn to make such candies?”

 

Stiles figured he expected her to say the internet, or from one of those exotic cuisine books they sold at most of those chain bookstores, and she preened under his stunned expression when she said, “My mother taught me.”

 

John leaned back in his seat, the picture of a content and proud parent, as he said, “I bet she’s proud.”

 

Suddenly, Stiles was overcome with a wave of sadness. “I’d like to think she is.” They sat in companionable silence for a long time after that, both drinking coffee and eating their candies. When John had to return to work he stood up, patted her head gently, and walked back out into the wonderful autumn air.

 

***

 

She climbed the stairs to her apartment slowly with a pop tart in hand, and flopped into bed with her mother’s journal. Funny how she’d avoided her mother’s stories since her death, but now Stiles was drawn to them. Ever since her family came to this nowhere town she felt as if she wanted to be closer to her mom, and wanted to recapture something Stiles felt was taken too early in her life.

 

The moment I saw you, I knew you, Wolf said as he wrestled Red to the damp forest floor. Her bow and arrows in a senseless disarray some feet from them and her daggers forgotten beneath the dirt--in that moment she didn’t feel powerless. She felt just the opposite; Red knew in that moment that she was the moon and this wolf would listen to any command she gave. And while she knew she could conquer the world with Wolf, Red only wanted one thing.

 

Kiss me, she demanded, breath frozen on the air, and he complied.

 

When they parted she whispered, when I saw you, I knew you, too.

 

It was true; the moment Red lowered her bow she knew she was forsaking her family and their code for the enemy. But Wolf would never be her enemy. She could feel the way their souls met in the space between them and mated. From that moment on there were no others for Red; there was only Wolf.”

 

Stiles rolled over on her bed and hugged her pillow to her chest while she wondered if her mother ever felt this lonely in their family. Sometimes, she wondered if her mother loved the stories of Red because Claudia could relate to Red so well. “What of it, Mom? She asked the near full moon she could see through her room’s tiny window. “Will I always be this lonely?”

 

As usual she got no reply.

 

***

 

Erica came in late-September wearing tight leather pants and a purple silk bustier; Stiles had to hand it to her, Erica knew how to turn heads. Lydia did too, but she was more prep than femme fatale. When they came into the kitchen Stiles cocked her head and worried over their matching grins.

 

“September means the annual Hale family harvest cookout.” Stiles shrugged in a “so-what” manner which caused Lydia to huff and Erica to grin, “So you are coming. Laura’s dying to have you meet the rest of us.” Stiles gave Erica a look, but the looks she received in return brooked no room for argument.

 

***

 

Scott accompanied her to the cookout and took her around the outskirts of town where they headed further into the woods that surrounded the northern border of Beacon Hills. Out here, when Stiles looked out of her window, she could see masses of stars as they spilled across the sky.

 

He directed her to stop her Jeep in the grass out front of a sprawling home--a home that made her aunt and uncle’s look cheap in comparison. When Stiles climbed clumsily from the cab she could hear music, laughter, and the sizzle of a grill. Uncharacteristically shy, Stiles followed Scott around back and gave a small wave when Laura shouted a greeting to her from beside a smirking Erica.

 

There were so many people. All of them looked at ease and happy in the presence of the others, and Stiles wondered if this was what a normal family was supposed to be--open, fun, and not shrouded in secrecy.

 

She accepted a beer from Erica when she joined Stiles, Scott, and Isaac by the outdoor fireplace not long after they sat. It was lit to battle fall’s evening chill, and Stiles breathed in the familiar scents of approaching winter with a happiness she hadn’t felt in a long time. “This is nice,” she said when she turned to Scott, “Thank you for bringing me.”

 

“Nah, man, thank you for coming! The family’s been dying to meet you.” His smile was warm and genuine as he hugged her to his side. She matched his grin with one of her own, and allowed him to lead her to a group with very few familiar faces.  

 

At the center of the group Talia stood with long dark hair and sharp dark eyes. She was like a regal beacon of power, and Stiles gravitated towards her when she and Scott approached. Her powerful gaze fell on Stiles and a slow smile spread, warm and inviting, across her lovely face, “So this is Stiles.” She said to the group gathered around her, and they all turned curious looks upon Stiles--who fidgeted beneath the scrutiny.

 

“Scott and the boys speak highly of you.” A man said as he stepped forward and extended his hand. Stiles blushed, and thanked him with a bright smile as she allowed him to clasp her hand. “I’m Peter. Laura, Derek, and Cora refer to me as the drama queen.” His blue eyes sparkled with laughter as Stiles grinned.

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Peter.”

 

“The pleasure is all mine, Stiles,” he said, and managed to make it sound as if he truly meant those words.

 

Talia moved to wrap her arm around Stiles’s shoulders and led her away from the group as she spoke, “Now tell me how much you enjoy running Adventures Remembered. I hear you have generated quite a bit of customers.”

 

“Polish food is quite the ringer in this town with the hotties.” Stiles said and Talia laughed;  the sound was bright and warmed Stiles’s heart.

 

“The Poles certainly do have great food, I’m glad you’ve given the people of this town something new to love.” She rubbed a gentle palm across Stiles’s cheek, “You’re a spark of beauty some of them have been waiting for.”

 

Stiles didn’t quite understand that, but she did love the completed feeling that utterance gave her. “Thank you.”

 

Talia’s smile was bright as she pushed Stiles in the direction of where Derek stood and waved at her son when he noticed Stiles approaching.

 

“Hey,” he said when she stopped next to him. They were surrounded by people, but Stiles felt as if they were alone when Derek’s eyes roamed over her. “So you met most of my family?”

 

“Yeah,” Stiles felt a warm smile tug at her lips as she glanced back over at Talia who was laughing with John, Peter, and other members of Derek’s large clan. “They’re wonderful.” He laughed and agreed.

 

“Yeah, they really are.” She looked back over at Talia while Derek pointed out his sister Cora at his mother’s side Stiles saw John looking at her. His bright blue eyes were tracking her, avid in a way that didn’t make her feel disturbed or upset. When he noticed her staring he gave her a wan smile that was full of lost hopes. It tugged at something deep in Stiles’s heart.

 

Derek drew her attention when his warm hand rubbed down her arm, and she startled at the casual touch. Scott and Isaac were very tactile with Stiles, and at times Boyd, Erica, and even Lydia, but Derek never touched her and he never did well with her touching him so the warmth of this hand shocked Stiles. “Do you want to get out of here?”

 

It was an odd request coming from Derek, but she found herself drawn in by the gentle tone of Derek’s voice and nodded numbly as her feet followed his path.

 

The woods were still as they approached, and Stiles could no longer hear voices nor the music from the party as they made their way through thick branches, further into the darkness.

 

Stiles stumbled over roots, but Derek shot out a strong arm to steady her and she held fast to him--breathing in the scent of his cologne and skin. She was grateful to the night for hiding the furious blush that blossomed over her cheeks, and hoped Derek couldn’t feel the way her heart was pounding in her chest.

 

“So this is like, um, your family?” She licked her lips and as her eyes adjusted she could make out the hint of his smile.

 

“Yeah, something like that,” he smoothed a hand over her cheek like Talia had earlier, and she swore she saw his eyes glow blue. Though Stiles chalked it up to the shine of the light from the moon. He pressed a soft kiss to her forehead and said, “Sometimes family is more than blood.” She let his words brush against her, and boldly reached out to wind a hand in his hair.

 

Stiles pulled him closer, and Derek moved easily with her guiding hand. Their kiss was dry, a press of warm lips in the cold night, but it managed to leave her aching with want. When he stepped away Derek pressed a chaste kiss to the corner of her mouth and led her deeper into the woods.

 

While they laid against the cold hard ground, staring up at the light of a half moon, in a still clearing, Stiles thought she heard the gentle call of distant howls. Derek grinned at her when she tilted her head back and echoed the sound.

 

***

 

That night when Stiles went home she pulled out her mother’s journal and flipped to yet another random page.

 

Sometimes I hate you, Red admitted, Sometimes I wish I’d killed you. This is so hard!

 

He gripped her by the arm and pressed her into the wall, breath warm against her throat and words hot in her ear, You think this is easy for me? You think I wanted to love you? I gave up everything for you!

 

And I you, she whispered back vehemently. Her hand went into his hair, and he hauled her close--mouth hot against hers as they tore into one another through their pent up rage and extreme desire. You’re my everything. He whispered that reverent word against her lips and she chanted it, over and over, as they shared the slick slap of skin and body heat. Mate, Red gasped when he bit down on the juncture of her shoulder and neck.”

 

Stiles fell asleep that night with visions of glowing eyes and the distant echoes of deep howls with the heavy smell of forest and damp fur.

 

***

 

Bright and early the next morning Stiles heard someone walking around her shop, and reached for the old wooden bat she’d found in the closet before she ventured from her bed. Slowly she tip-toed down the hall and peered into every tight space a body might hide--her heart was going a mile a minute as she descended the iron stairwell.

 

In the kitchen someone covered her mouth, stifling the scream she tried to make, and a familiar voice whispered in her ear, “Be quiet, Stiles.”

 

Allison looked frazzled as she glanced over her shoulder, but Stiles was too busy having a mild panic attack to notice the way Allison twirled a knife before sheathing it in her belt.

 

When Stiles regained composure and her breathing evened out Allison whispered, “I’m taking you to the woods.”

 

“That sounds vaguely ominous,” Stiles choked out with a half-broken laugh. Allison’s response was to grip her by the arm and drag Stiles out of the shop before anyone bothered to show up to work.

 

***

 

They were in the middle of nowhere when Allison finally stopped walking and dropped her duffle with a rather loud clunk to the forest floor. Stiles fidgeted when Allison pulled the zipper and revealed a small arsenal of weaponry. “It’s time to train you,” Allison whispered and she had an odd gleam in her eye that Stiles didn’t question when Allison passed over a ringed dagger.

 

“Train me to what,” she stared down at the knife warily.

 

“To fight for your life.”

 

***

 

On the drive back to her place Allison looked jumpy and told Stiles to stay hidden in the back seat, and went as far as to throw a blanket over her body. She kicked Stiles out in the back alley behind Adventures Remembered and told her to keep out of the woods at night. Stiles had no intention of going into the woods. Her lunatic cousin might be there.

 

***

 

Scott found her upstairs, and she shouted when he his hand landed on her shoulder.  His eyes were worried, “Are you okay, Stiles?” She clung to him with tight arms, and Scott held her back.

 

“Yeah, I’m better now,” she lied and believed Scott could feel her lie when he hugged her tighter.

 

“I missed you at lunch today,” he pressed a gentle kiss to her hair as she imagined an older brother would; she was thankful for his presence in that moment.

 

“I was out, doing a thing.” Scott’s arm dropped and Stiles gave him a watery smile when she said, “Lunch?”

 

His smile was gentle as he nodded his head, “Come on, I’ll treat you at Talia’s.”

 

***

 

Allison came some nights and stole out under the cover of darkness with Stiles. She’d drag her back to the woods and Allison would put a weapon in Stiles’s clumsy hand.

 

Some days before dawn Stiles would wheeze Stiles and ask, “Why? I think this training is meant to kill me.”

 

Without taking her eyes off the dark road home Allison would reply, “It’s meant to keep you safe.”

 

Stiles wanted to demand from what, but every time they stepped anywhere near that subject Allison would become even more cryptic, and Stiles got nowhere near the truth.

 

***

 

In the daytime Erica and Lydia began to show up more often. Stiles was starting to resent the company. They kept looking at her with understanding, and it irritated Stiles. She felt as if everyone around her was hiding something important from her eyes. She just wasn’t sure where to search out answers for this particular secret.  

 

The only one who seemed to calm the feeling beneath her skin was Derek. Ever since their kiss Stiles found his presence a comforting strength that helped hold her up under the crippling doubt.

 

More often than not, as the days moved from September to mid-October, he was there at closing, and would wait around until both Lydia and Erica left. The first two nights were awkward as she invited him to stay for dinner, but by the third she quit asking and just made him a plate. Something about her assumption made Derek grow bold, and the dinner was left untouched between them as he pressed her against the small counter of her apartment’s kitchen.

 

“You,” he whispered against her wet mouth when they broke with needy gasps for air. “You drive me fucking crazy.”

 

“Feeling’s mutual, asshole,” she groaned as she pulled him closer. She bit gentle nips along his stubbled jaw, “Now, kiss me like you mean it.”

 

He jerked her hips closer by the belt loops on her jeans and moaned when Stiles wrapped her hands in his hair to pull his face to hers. Their kiss was all need and raw lust with battling tongues, teeth, and almost feral snarls. It was the best damn kiss of her life (not that she’d had much previous experience to compare to). “Derek,” she moaned when his mouth went to her neck, blunt teeth dragging over her delicate skin.

 

“Damn it, Stiles,” he said when she rotated her hips against his; Stiles relished the hard feel of him through the layers of rough denim between them. “Don’t tease me.” Derek’s mouth was sloppy against hers as he spoke.

 

“I want you to eat me,” she whispered just as sloppily when she moved to his ear and bit against the soft skin of his earlobe. He was on his knees a breath later, opening her fly and pulling her jeans down her legs. Derek’s nose brushed against trimmed pubic hair where he breathed her in deep.

 

“Fuck,” he moaned as he began to mouth against her mound, not yet devouring, “You’re ripe for me, Stiles.” She didn’t know what that meant, but she figured it was good when Derek opened her thighs and began to tease her with his long tongue. Her hands gripped the counter’s edge as Derek sucked one of her lips into his mouth and bit lightly before he soothed it with wet kisses. Stiles bucked down on his face when he sucked her clit and rolled against it with a skilled tongue.

 

“Derek,” he bit at her lightly once again and Stiles’s knees began to shake, but strong hands held her hips firm.

 

He kept at it forever, exploring her, tasting, and groaning into her as if Stiles were the last feast of his life. Stiles loved every second of it, but soon she needed more than his tongue and cried out. “Up, up, come fuck me, please, Derek, please,” she begged over and over, until his mouth, sticky with her taste, kissed the babble silent.

 

He lifted her and she wrapped her legs around his waist. The catch of his black cotton shirt was eletric against her. Derek continued to kiss her until he laid her gently against her comforter. She bounced a little, but didn’t have time to think about it as Derek pulled off his shirt before he unbuttoned his pants. Her shirt came next followed by her bra, then Derek was on her, mouth blazing over her newly exposed skin.

 

“Com’on, big guy,” she groaned as she shoved his jeans down his thighs. Her voice caught

when she looked at his cock. Long, thick, uncut, and flushed like she imagined all those nights when her vibrator was the only friend to her pent-up need. She gave it an experimental stroke that pulled a growl from Derek.

 

“Later,” he pinned her down, and searched her eyes with his intense hazel gaze. “Now tell me you don’t want this.”

 

“Never,” she husked, “I want it, Derek, fuck, I want it bad.”

 

With a cocky grin he lined his cock up and began to press in. Stiles ached, and damn, it burned, but she wouldn’t tell him to stop. Especially when he soothed her hurt by putting his fingers between them to rub at her clit while he rotated his hips with precise thrusts that sent electric shivers down her spine.

 

“Harder,” she breathed when she wanted more, needed him deeper, but Derek smiled and didn’t comply.

 

Instead he changed angle and pace; it calmed the immediate fire of almost there but Stiles couldn’t complain as he continued to create sweet friction between them.

 

For hours he kept her on the cusp of orgasm, until she was crying for it. Tears formed from the overwhelming sensation of pleasure, and she wanted the rest; Stiles wanted him to tip her over the edge, she wanted his name to tear out of her throat when she came. So she begged.

 

“Please, fuck, Derek, let me--let me come,” her nails dug into his back, and she arched as he kissed the corner of her eye while he snapped into her faster.

 

“Come for me, Stiles,” he commanded on a growl, large hands that held fast to her hips with an intense grip. His thrusts were deep, hard, and precise; knocking the old brass headboard into the floral wallpaper with each moan she released. It was fucking awesome, as far as Stiles was concerned.

 

Her back bowed, her final thrust jerked up to meet his, and she screamed a word she didn’t recognize right away. But Derek must’ve known her meaning for he bent down to the juncture of her shoulder and neck; where he placed a brand with his teeth as his own orgasm ripped through him.

 

***

 

In the morning his arm was draped over her middle, and his breathing was a warm even rhythm against her neck. Stiles snuggled back into his naked skin, and traced the veins in his muscular forearm with one of her long thin fingers. Derek stirred and sat up; for one terrifying moment Stiles was scared he’d leave. She’d never done this before, after all, and in too many real life situations the guy left after he took what he wanted.

 

As if Derek could hear her rapid heartbeat he leaned over and kissed her with gentle lips and a soothing sush. “It’s okay, Stiles, I’m not leaving.” She realized then that she had a tight hold on his arm, but didn’t let go. Not until he laughed, “That’s fine I’ll stay here, but you aren’t allowed to get mad when I piss the bed.”

 

“Oh my god, gross, go to the bathroom,” Stiles shoved him from the bed and Derek laughed again. She watched his firm ass as he sauntered out of the room and down the hall. When she heard him messing with the sink she whispered, “Hell of a way to lose your virginity, Stiles, now you’ll be ruined for all others.” She sat up with a frown when it sounded like something in her bathroom broke.

 

***

 

She kicked him out after she made a simple breakfast of eggs, coffee, and toast. “I’ve got work,” Stiles protested when his hands undid her bra and his calloused fingers pulled at a nipple. “You’ve got work, too,” she groaned and couldn’t resist when he leaned in close for a kiss; a kiss that promised filth and hours of happiness.

 

“I’d rather work on you,” he murmured as he nipped along her neck, before he sucked greedily against the bruise he left the night before.. “Com’on, Stiles, I could show you the Camaro’s backseat, or hood. Fuck, I want to leave your scent all over that damn car.”

 

Stiles shoved him away with great reluctance and whispered,  “After work. I promise.”

 

***

 

Of course, work dragged on longer than normal; every minute sound made her long to hear Derek’s groans, and every presence in her shop reminded Stiles of the heat she felt from Derek’s skin. She wanted his eyes on her; wanted his hands to leave more bruises and claim her as his own. It was terrifying and exhilarating.

 

When she put the closed sign up Stiles was disappointed he hadn’t come into the shop. So she locked the door and pulled her hoodie tighter around her as she made her way across the dimly lit street to Hale Auto Repair.

 

Derek was in the garage with his back to her--rippling muscles tense and dirty beneath a once pristine wife beater. He stilled when she approached and his head turned as if he’d heard her silent footsteps over the sounds of his loud power tools. Stiles put her hands against his taut sweaty shoulders while she breathed in the glorious scents of motor oil, masculine musk, and the faintest hint of Derek’s deodorant and aftershave.  

 

She couldn’t resist the urge to lean forward and swipe her tongue across the damp surface of his lightly tanned skin. “God,” she moaned, and he dropped his tool while he spun around to cup her face in his dirty hands. “The day just wouldn’t end,” Stiles complained as her shirt and hoodie were ruined with grease from Derek’s touch. “Where’s the car you wanted to have me on?” He laughed against her lips, and led her towards the back of the shop while he closed the garage.

 

“Let me close the front door, and then I’ll come back to mark every corner of this garage with you.”

 

“This better not be an empty threat, Derek,” she teased as she pulled her hoodie hastily over her head, followed by her yellow T-shirt.

 

“I never threaten, Stiles; I promise.”

 

He wasn’t gone long, and pulled her close by her shorts’ pockets. “C’mere,” he whispered against her skin and she could detect the hint of spearmint gum on his lips when she kissed them. “I’ve been in a mood all day, Isaac said.”

 

“You seem like you’re in a great mood,” Stiles gasped as Derek deftly removed her bra with a practised ease.

 

“Now. You’re here,” he murmured against the column of her throat before he kissed down to the hollow where her shoulder met her neck.

 

“If I make you this amenable then I think we should fuck every single day for the rest of our lives, at least four times a day.” He nipped at her collarbone with a laugh, and Stiles bucked her hips up against his.

 

“Is that all? I think we should fuck all day, every day, until we die.” He managed to sound completely serious which made Stiles quiver as she drew demanding fingers down his strong back and pulled him closer.

 

“Much as I’d love to, I’ve gotta eat and shower--besides Erica tells me Hale wives don’t get to be sex slaves; Talia would disown me if I didn’t work.”

 

Instead of being completely turned off and horrified by her mention of his family Derek sucked harder at her delicate skin and moaned, “I’d tie you to my bed, Mother be damned.”

 

Derek pressed her against the glossy black hood of a new Camaro, and she didn’t have the sense of mind to examine the exquisite piece of machinery she was leaned up against. Somewhere along the way she’d lost her shorts to the dirty garage floor, and Derek wrapped her naked legs around his waist. “Hold me tight, I don’t want you to cut your perfect feet.” He bent to kiss against her knee and she felt her stomach flip-flop at the contact.

 

It was rather intimate. Sex, Stiles supposed, was an intimate act, but this was more than the night before. She was more exposed under Derek’s sharp gaze while he stood with his jeans open and his dirty wife beater lying on the car’s hood. He could see every flaw against the black hood, and Stiles wanted to shy away but he held her fast by the hips as he moved to kiss her breast. “I wish I had more eyes, more hands, more mouths,” he muttered against her pebbled nipple, “So I could worship all of you at once.”

 

“You’re so gone on me,” she laughed, trying to make light of the situation.

 

Derek wouldn’t let her; he gazed at her with the softest expression she’d ever seen on his severe face. “So gone,” he whispered before he began to press into her and swallowed the loud breath she breathed out.

 

From there on out it was the loud slap of sweat soaked skin, half choked moans, and whispered promises that Stiles was too delirious to hear. She came before Derek with a broken sob as she held fast to his back, and Derek followed her a few thrusts later with a grunt.

 

Their mess dripped thick and sticky on the hood of the car, but when Stiles went to clean it off with Derek’s discarded wife beater he took the thin fabric from her hand and whispered, “Leave it.” Then he kissed her shoulder and said, “Come on, let me take you home and put you to bed.” Stiles didn’t have it in her to resist such an offer.

 

Especially when Derek cleaned her in the shower, and kissed her forehead, cheeks, and the tip of her nose as if she were something to be cherished.

 

***

 

Lydia strolled in the next morning, her chiffon scarf blowing in the wind made from her hasty steps, and told Erica to make her a cup of coffee before she disappeared into the small space they designated as the office. The door snapped with a finality and Stiles poured the cup before thanking Erica for taking it to her majesty.

 

Erica helped Stiles with the display of cupcakes and pastries when she returned, but she was about as useful as Lydia most days. Stiles thought they’d both be better suited to the lifestyles of well kept wives, but Talia was determined that they would work. So Stiles became their last hope to prove themselves in Talia’s eyes. She was the bottom rung, and she stared over at Erica while letting out a melodramatic sigh.  Thick ruby painted lips stretched into a wide, predatory smile when Stiles threw her hair up into a hasty bun before she began to wipe down the front of the glass case. .

 

“Someone had a fun night.” Stiles blushed when Erica’s warm fingertips brushed over the thick burgundy bruise sucked into her neck. “Did Scotty leave this?”

 

Stiles laughed, “Scott? Not. He’s like a brother to me, or at the very least he’s a pet poodle. Last I checked I wasn’t into incest or bestiality.”

 

“That doesn’t tell me who did it,” Erica said while quirking one of her well sculpted eyebrows. She leaned back against the counter while Stiles double checked her orders that were scheduled for  pick up later in the day.

 

“Not important--it’s not a serious thing.”

 

Erica tilted her head, like she’d detected the lie, but didn’t say anything. Humming a little to herself Stiles set about dusting the old books in the front of the shop. Stiles’s eye caught on a faded gold cover. A rare tome of fairytales Stiles had never seen before.

Stiles walked over to the bookcase later, after Erica had wandered off, and slipped the well beaten spine from the fold of all the other titles. She peeked through it; a rapid flipping of pages as she leafed through it.  She was about to place the book back on the shelf when it slipped from her fingers and fell spread-eagle on the wooden floors.

 

Kneeling to pick it up Stiles huffed, and as she lifted the dusty yellowed book she glanced at lovely flowing script that read:

My Dearest Claudia,

As long as the words are written the stories will never die.

Never stop writing our history, and never stop believing that love can defeat all evils.

Yours Forever and Always,

Wulfric

 

Her frown was still in place when Lydia came out of the office a little while later to demand a salad. She stopped short when she saw the look on Stiles’s face.

 

“You look like someone shot your dog,” she commented.

 

Stiles rolled her gaze lazily toward Lydia and frowned.

***

 

Scott came by a little while later, ordering a salad and some soup; Stiles managed to grin at him but Scott could sense the difference in her.

 

“You okay?”

 

She thought about lying but something in her gut willed her to let Scott in--she blamed his resemblance to Allison. Some people just had that ease about them; they were easy to talk to, and Stiles wanted to hate Scott for being one of those rare breeds. But she just couldn’t when he looked at her with considerate brown eyes. “I feel incredibly lonely, and like there are so many secrets I’ve yet to uncover.” The longer she was in this town, the longer she stayed distanced from her family; everything around her was beginning to remind her of her mother, and the mysterious circumstances of her death. Along with all the half-truths about her father. It was disconcerting, being at the center of a puzzle she didn’t know how to start.

 

With a friendly and understanding smile Scott reached out to pat her shoulder, and with his usual ease said, “I think someone needs to come to the movies with me and veg on crappy food.”

 

Stiles laughed, “That sounds fantastic, actually.” Maybe Scott could distract her from the phantom remains of her mother.

 

***

 

They went into town after Stiles closed up early, and stopped at the theater to watch a screening of The Odd Couple--Stiles fell in love with Hale’s Silver Screen. Old films were her favorite, and according to Scott Derek’s great aunt also loved the classics so she refused to show new releases--she stuck to the oldies. Beacon Heights had a large theater with new releases, but Stiles told Scott she was perfectly fine with rewatching Walter Matthau movies.

 

After Scott treated her at a Chinese place before they went to Talia’s for cake. They made their way back to the shop Stiles was stuffed full of gooey chocolate cake.

 

Derek was waiting for her outside of the front door, and made short small talk with Scott after they climbed out of Stiles’s Jeep. Scott shot her a small smile and a friendly wave after he clapped Derek on the shoulder. He made a flimsy excuse, shooting Derek a coy look, and made his way home, on foot.

 

***

That night Derek pulled her close to breathe her hair deep. His kisses were soft, dry presses against her skin, and his hands stroked gently down her spine. “Did you have fun today?”

 

“Scotty took me to the movies because I was feeling kinda blue,” she replied with a soft sigh.  

 

“Are you feeling better?”

 

She gazed up at him and despite the fact she still hurt from the loss of her family Stiles could see she had gained something deeper than the bonds that ran between her and her own blood. In Derek’s pale eyes she could see her future, corny as that sounded, and in that future she saw barbeques at the Hale house, Christmases beside a roaring fire where Laura sat curled up in Erica’s arms and Peter watched on with fond eyes. A world in which there was a mass of little children running through the woods--children with Stiles’s moles and Derek’s eyes-- and she knew that this was where she was meant to spend her days. That in itself made her feel infinitely better as well as terrified.

 

“Yeah,” she whispered and Derek smiled before he stroked a gentle brush of fingertips down her bare arm.

 

***

 

Halloween was upon them soon enough, and with it came the smell of pumpkin pies and warm caramel. After school children began to flood the shop as more and more baked goods filled the display case. The cooler months meant more soup orders, and most days Stiles had large tubs filled for customers to take home for their evening meals. Usually, when a bright-eyed toddler pressed their happy faces against the glass Stiles would hand them a coveted sweet and wish them well as they went on their way with their family.

 

Erica smiled when one of the final customers waltzed out the door with a happier eight year old bouncing at a mother’s side. “I assume you’ll come around with Derek for the Halloween party this weekend?”

 

She figured he didn’t want her to go, since he hadn’t asked, and so she just shrugged. Erica did that thing where she rolled her eyes and sauntered closer to where Stiles stood totalling up the day’s profits. “You know there is an open invitation to all Hale events for you--since we all know you guys are fucking like bunnies every day.”

 

Stiles choked and accidentally ripped her paper with how hard she shoved the pen tip into the pad. “Oh my god, did you,” Stiles stopped and then she shook her head. “Nevermind; how the hell did you know?”

 

“Honey,” Lydia simpered as she sauntered out of the office, “The entire town would have to be blind and deaf for it to be a secret.” She poked Stiles in a particularly vibrant love bite Derek left over her collarbone a couple nights back, and Stiles flushed while Lydia smirked. “It’s not like Derek’s subtle with his caveman branding.”

 

“Yeah, and it’s no secret that he’s been less pissy since he’s been spotted slipping out your door most mornings,” Erica added with an evil cackle.

 

“You guys suck,” Stiles grumbled and tried to turn back to her books. She glanced over at Derek’s shop a little while later, and saw a green Scion idling with Derek standing beside it. He looked tense and aggravated, but Stiles didn’t really notice. She was too busy staring at the laughing face of her Aunt Kate. Though she’d told Derek some nights earlier that she was fine and good now, in this new life, seeing Kate rubbed salt in the still open wound of the truth.

 

She felt like unwanted garbage; easily tossed aside by people she once believed loved her.

 

***

 

Over dinner that night Stiles casually brought up her conversation with Erica and Lydia because she needed the reassurance of Derek’s presence and her newfound happiness, “So, um, Erica invited me to your family’s Halloween party.”

 

Derek glanced up from his plate, and intense green eyes studied Stiles with a rather guarded expression. The look was reminiscent of their first meeting, and it sparked worry in Stiles’s belly so she hastily said, “If you don’t want me to come I’ll totally understand.” Wide brown eyes tracked Derek’s stiff movements across the table, and she felt her heartbeat race when his almost angry body language remained.

 

“No,” he whispered, “No, I want you to come.” But something in his tone shattered the certainty she’d held in her heart about him just that morning, and Stiles didn’t like feeling as if the sands were slipping from her grasp.

 

After they washed up he put a hand over her shoulder and whispered, “Come see my place.” There was something dark between them now, gone was the lighthearted ease they had the night before.  

 

It made her ache for an intimacy she witnessed in others--a time when she first saw the way Erica and Laura gazed at one another. They’d been together since middle school Erica confessed the first week they began working together, and Laura would pop by to steal a kiss. Fifteen years from the time Laura was fifteen and Erica was fourteen; she said they’d grown up together since they were kids and Erica said she’d always known it would be Laura. She was only ever for Laura.

 

Stiles wondered if she was going to find that sort of loyalty, that sort of love one day. But she didn’t expect it now. Not with the rough scrape of exposed brick against her back and the warm water sliding over her shoulders and breasts, before it pooled at her stomach where her soft flesh hit hard abs.

 

“Derek,” she moaned as blunt teeth reacquainted themselves with the bruise on her neck. “Fuck, harder.” He snapped into her, making a hard wet slap where their skin touched and Stiles arched. Taking him, holding him deeper, and clawing at is back with bitten down fingernails as she met him thrust for thrust.

 

He breathed deep at the hollow of her throat and she felt a shudder run through her from his cool breath on her hot skin. Derek’s fingers slipped between them to help rub her off, and she keened when she came. While she rode out the waves of her orgasm she listened to the quiet groans Derek emitted, “Stiles, Stiles, Stiles.”

 

His bed smelled of the woods in autumn, and Stiles took a deep breath--held it in and relished the scent as it mingled with Derek’s clean skin. He was lying nude on top of the sheets next to her, staring at the ceiling. Shadows were thrown from the pipes overhead due to the golden glow of the street lamps below. Derek watched them with the concentration of a scholar mapping the stars.

 

She ran a hand down his smooth chest, felt the ripple of muscle beneath hot skin, and held his gaze when he turned hazel eyes upon her. He didn’t ask her to leave, and she didn’t go. They fell asleep touching each other’s stomachs, but it wasn’t the same comfort she knew from before.

 

In the morning Stiles made pancakes and Derek watched her eat over a hot cup of coffee. They didn’t speak and Stiles found the silence uncomfortable for once.

 

When she left she became scared. She didn’t want to feel for Derek--that was a sure a path to nowhere, and she wasn’t stupid enough to delude herself into believing that this would turn into something more than casual sex. Stiles couldn’t afford to hope this would be more--not after the way his eyes shuttered over and he became distant at the thought of showing her off to his family. Before their conversation the night previous Stiles would’ve told people they were more than just fuck buddies, but now she couldn’t say that with any soft of certainty.

 

So they fucked; that didn’t make Stiles Derek’s girlfriend. She felt a roll of sick in her belly when she left his loft; sex didn’t make her his girlfriend, no, sex made her his easy booty call. Tears burned a trail down her cheeks when she got to Adventures Remembered and worked open the lock of the front door. She felt so ashamed. Much as Stiles used to joke about wanting to be a kept whore with Allison, when they were growing up, the reality was much worse--this wasn’t what she wanted to be in life. As she glanced at her neatly decorated cakes and cookies with their monster inspired icing she fell to the ground. The Hales owned her now. This was what she had to show for it--Stiles was a girl kept in a neat shop, in a clean kitchen, making baked goods during the day while she pleased the Mistress’s son in the night.

 

Suddenly, the air felt too heavy and the world began to blur as her heart raced faster than it had any right to go.

 

Lydia shocked her out of a possible panic attack when she touched Stiles’s shoulder. “Oh sweetie, you’re so pale,” she whispered and in a rare display of maternal instinct hugged Stiles to her side while she led Stiles to sit on the couch. “Are you all right?”

 

“I’m alive,” Stiles replied with a tight smile, “Thank you.”

 

As if the somber mood had already passed Lydia held up a dress bag, and said, “Here. I got you a costume for the party.”

 

It was on the tip of her tongue to say she wasn’t going to go, but Lydia’s face was pinched as if she wouldn’t take no for an answer. So with a resigned expression and sigh Stiles took the heavy bag.  

 

***

 

She had a nearly empty case by the time she started cleaning up the shop Halloween night. Stiles loaded up the stray cupcakes and cookies before she closed up--to hand out the last of her baked goods to various passersby. There were a few of the high school lacrosse team walking up Main--masks on and laughing about something ridiculous, no doubt, but Stiles gave them each a sweet before sending them on their way and threatening them with bodily harm if they started tagging the town. She didn’t want John to have to deal with such crap. Humorously, most of the boys swore to be good with solemn expressions. “Good boys, I’ll tell Coach to go easy on you in practise when I see him Monday at lunch.”

 

She gave a couple cupcakes to a woman walking with her two kids--little girls dressed as Batman and Robin; Stiles could definitely get behind a mom like that. “On the house, Caped Crusader and Girl Wonder, have a Happy Halloween.” She waved, but the kids were too engrossed with eating Stiles’s cupcakes to acknowledge her. Their mom thanked her for them, and Stiles smiled as she watched them walk up the street, in the direction of the church at the center of town.

 

The town was lit with the orange glow of hundreds of jack-o-lanterns, courtesy of the Hale family, of course, and the antique lights that lined the street glittered. Fall was a thick scent on the wind, and a bittersweet pang shot through her as she instinctively glanced at Hale Auto Repair, when the sense memory took her back to the night in Derek’s bed. She hadn’t seen Derek since that last night together. The garage’s windows mocked her with their lack of light and warmth--reminded her of her unsure standing with Derek; Derek was substantial and real same as his auto garage, but his warmth was fleeting and uncertain like the lifespan of a lightbulb.

 

With a final morose glance at Derek’s shop Stiles turned back into Adventures Remembered and made her way to the door hidden in the shop’s kitchen wall.

 

Hot water stung her chilly skin as Stiles stepped beneath the shower’s spray. A day’s worth of work and sore muscles melted away and twirled the drain of her old clawfoot tub. Long fingers pressed against chipped tiles near the small window in her lone bathroom, and she thanked every deity for the invention of indoor plumbing. By the time Stiles finished her skin was pink, and the cold air stung her when she left the safety of her steamy bathroom.

 

Eying the ridiculous costume on her bed Stiles dried herself and pulled the fabric to her. Lydia was of the firm belief that dressing like a whore on Halloween was for teenagers and attention whores so she’d shelled out a small mint for her and Stiles’s costumes. The red cloak was soft and heavy, brushing the floor with the lip of it’s hem even when she held it as high as her arm could reach. The dress was better, it wouldn’t catch the dirt and twigs that littered the preserve, but was still daunting. A mass of ivory, frilly fabrics with a red and black leather waist cincher Stiles wasn’t sure how to tie. She grew warm the moment her dress went on, and in a sudden burst of girly pride she did a small twirl before the mirror. The brown boots with their small heel Stiles ignored in favor of her red Chucks. Grabbing her basket she went to the kitchen, loading it full with three pies, Talia’s cookies she made special,  and closed the wicker lid before settling one bottle of wine on top.

 

Locking up she headed to her Jeep and debated pulling up her hood, but decided to leave it until she got to the preserve.

 

She wasn’t sure what Derek had planned for the evening; Stiles wasn’t sure if this would be the “official girlfriend meeting” for his family.  It seemed too soon, despite the fact they’d been going at it for months. Stiles assumed Derek wasn’t ready to give up his singledom for her. She assumed he liked to prowl around terrorizing young desperate virgins with his unattainable good looks and cause postmenopausal ovaries to explode with daring grins. He was such an asshole like that. Despite herself Stiles smiled as she thought about him and bumped along a dirt road that she thought led to Derek’s family home.

 

Near the old shell of what was once a glorious house Stiles’s Jeep stuttered to a stop. In full swing some distance off was the sounds of merry making and the smell of a glorious bonfire. Fuck, she thought before she turned her car around to try and find a road that led to the Hale house; not bothering to worry over the terrible remains hidden along an offbeat path in the preserve.

 

Scott was on her the moment she stepped from her rusted blue carriage and took her large basket easily from her hand. “Come on, we’ve got jello shots.” Stiles couldn’t stop the smile from forming when she saw Scott’s mischievous grin. If anything Scott and the others would make sure she had a great night. Who needed Derek fucking Hale?  

 

That was how she wound up in Scott’s lap, hours later, around the bonfire, laughing about everything and nothing with the few remaining attendants. Erica and Laura were in charge of the bottle of Jack. They passed it over to Stiles and Scott after every few swigs that they’d pull from it, and Stiles was a lady who had manners so of course she didn’t tell them no. Even though Lydia kept telling her she should probably slow down.

 

Scott nosed at her neck, tickling the skin at the hollow of her throat, and breathed her deep. She almost compared him to Derek, but Stiles knew Scott would run his mouth to Derek’s family, if given the chance. He was a sap like that; Scott liked to say she was good for Derek when they were alone, and since she started her thing with Derek she believed him--until they shared that night at Derek’s loft.  Derek looked like one of the many men her family warned her and Allison about their whole lives; he would’ve been a prime candidate for the “stay away from boys like him” talk Uncle Chris gave since they hit puberty.

 

But she didn’t want to think about Derek, who’d been suspiciously absent for most of the night. Talia, Cora, Peter, and various other family members Stiles had yet to remember didn’t make any indication that she was someone Derek praised and shared with his family, and as the hours wore on her hopes fell. So Stiles decided to turn her attention on Scott, and smiled bright as she teased him. He teased her in kind. Scott was the best friend a girl could ask for.

 

Peter said something about Little Red being at the wolf’s mercy, sometime later and Scott’s laughter rang loud in her ear. They were used to people trying to make them more than what they were at lunch time when he’d saunter in, and Stiles would cheer in delight at his presence.  So to egg their current spectators on Stiles tilted her throat to the side and told Scott to stake his claim. He left a large hickey that nearly rivaled one of Derek’s and she laughed before they gave each other small pecking open mouthed kisses that Lydia rolled her eyes over. With another laugh Stiles shoved him away, and gathered her hood to pull over her head in dramatic flare.

 

“Red’s going for a walk,” she said in a mock serious tone. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

 

“Watch out for wolves, Red,” Laura whispered, and Stiles shivered under the intensity of her beautiful eyes. “You never know what lies beneath a sheep’s clothing.”

 

***

 

She found herself back at the burnt out shell of that once glorious house she stumbled upon, before she made it to the Hales, and clumsily climbed up the rickety porch stairs; unaware of the dangers surrounding a dilapidated building. Inside there was what used to be a formal sitting room, and the remainder of a green velvet lined sofa--Stiles sat on it, oblivious to the way it groaned beneath human weight.

 

There was a sound from her left and she turned; Derek was standing there looking at her with intent eyes. Stiles couldn’t help whispering, “Grandmother, what big eyes you have.” A drunken giggle left her throat as she beckoned him closer with a tired wave of her hand. All previous hurt forgotten thanks to her drunken state.

 

He played along as he stepped nearer, his signature leather jacket rustling in the cold air, “The better to see you with, my dear.”

 

Her grin stretched into something predatory and coy, “What big ears you have.” Long fingers with bitten down nails traced the delicate curve of his ear as Derek’s face shadowed her own.

 

His hand was under her many skirts, warming her thigh as callouses caressed over her skin. “The better to hear your moans, my dear.” She shivered when he mouthed at her breast through the thin ivory cotton of her dress and he breathed hot over her pebbled nipple, “Didn’t anyone tell Red she shouldn’t wander through the forest alone without undergarments--you never know what sort of wolves will be waiting to devour you.”

 

She spread her legs wide when his thumb ran over the seam of her, exposing her flesh to his ministrations as she watched his beautiful eyes in pale slivers of moonlight that came through the holes in the ruined ceiling. “What big teeth you have,” she gasped, rotating her hips to take his fingers as he worked them into her.

 

His eyes were on the spot Scott left and he bared his large white teeth at the mark--it made Stiles feel warm and wanted. She preened in the face of his jealousy. “The better to mark you with,” he husked before devouring the skin Scott bruised--leaving a darker brand there and Stiles was wet for him when he crawled on top of her.

 

“Come on, Wolfy, show Lil’ Red what you’re made of,” she demanded as he hiked up her skirts with a rough tug, and pulled the scooped collar of her dress down to expose her breasts.

 

The sofa groaned through their rough coupling, but survived and in the light of morning when Stiles woke she stretched across the dirty tacky feel of the old velvet. Derek was gone, and she smiled ruefully at his lack of presence. Gone like a lone wolf in the night.

 

***

 

The next forty-eight hours would forever be the worst two days of her life.

 

Beginning with an empty shop, the day dragged on without the usual signs of life. No one came in, not even Stiles’s employees and she frowned when lunch breezed by without the usual appearance of Scott. She tried to chalk it up to hangovers; they’d all been more than ass over tit the night before, and not everyone could wake up clear headed like Stiles. It was her one superpower; the ability to never be hungover.

 

By the day’s end she didn’t think the bells at the top of the shop’s door would ring, and so Stiles slinked off to the kitchen to save what she could for the lacrosse team before she began to clean the dishes.

 

When the last of the pots was clean a familiar chime sounded above the door, and Stiles rushed out to greet the person standing there. She expected Scott or Derek or even John, but the person she saw made her skid to a wobbly stop as her eyes grew wide with fear.

 

Gerard stood with his usual cool poise and intimidating grace while dark brown eyes scanned slowly over every surface around him. Stiles trembled when that assessing gaze fell on her, and she backed up when she saw Gerard’s eyes narrow at that place Derek loved to keep well bruised.

 

“Stanisława,” her name sounded like rough gravel as it tumbled off of his tongue, and Stiles tried her best not to cow down as he approached. “I’ve heard you’ve been playing with wolves.” His long fingers dragged along the back of her velvet lined sofa, and Stiles felt her brows draw together in confusion.

 

“What? Wolves?” Her curiosity and confusion was sincere, but Gerard turned on her with a vicious snarl and came at her with a speed most grandfather’s don’t possess. But most people didn’t have Satan himself as a grandfather.  

 

“Do not play dumb with me, bitch, I know the signs.” He pressed a thumb into the angry purple bite and hissed, “I’ve seen them before.” Then with an eerie gleam in his eye he whispered, “Where is your wolf?” He looked around again, as if he expected an ambush from the shadows where nothing but dust gathered.

 

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” Stiles tried hysterically when Gerard’s hands wandered up her throat and began to tighten over fair skin. Her fingers pulled at the backs of his hands and she found his grip was like iron; it didn’t budge.

 

When she thought she would die at the hand of her own grandfather Stiles sagged, and felt the hot sting of salt in her eyes. She wanted to cry for Derek, but something stopped his name from falling off of her tongue, and when Chris came she was grateful she could spare another life from whatever fucked up business her family was concocting.

 

“Let her breathe, Gerard,” Chris commanded softly. “You cannot lure a wolf without a call.”

 

Something sinister twisted Gerard’s lip when he snarled, “No, but the wolf would feel her death and that would spark within him the desire for revenge. Hate is a powerful motivator, Christopher.”

 

“We do this by the code,” came the insistent tone Chris often used, and Gerard let up on her windpipe. Stiles gulped down deep breaths and choked when too much came into her too soon. Gerard stepped back a half step, but held her arm firm as he marched her out the door. Chris wouldn’t look her in the eye as she stumbled by. Stiles was forced into the back of Chris’s SUV and had a gun pressed to her temple as they drove out of town toward the preserve. They went further than Stiles had ever driven, and she allowed morbid scenarios to filter through her mind as she thought about which Hale, if any, would be the lucky one to discover her. Stiles’s bet was on Scott, though he wasn’t a Hale. It would be a perfect fit of irony as he was the first to discover her in her new life and so he would be the one to discover her in death.

 

***

 

They turned onto a road that looked rather old and forgotten. It wasn’t promising when about three miles down the engine was killed and Stiles was roughly pulled from the backseat. The light of the full moon cast an ominous glow as she was forced closer to the burned out shell of a house she fucked Derek in not even a full twenty-four hours before.

 

Gerard forced her to kneel before the gray wooden steps, and Stiles swallowed when he hissed at her to “Call” her lover. She didn’t know what that meant and said as much; he pistol whipped her for that and screamed that she was a liar. At that point Stiles began to cry, and begged him to believe her. Salt and slim coated her face as she whimpered and pleaded before him; her weak attempt at escape caused her to fall over and get a face full of dried leaves.  The stomp of boots came closer and Stiles whimpered pitifully when Gerard promised her more pain, but Chris stepped in before Gerard hit her again. Thankfully.

 

“Lock her up, the wolf will seek her soon enough.” Gerard nodded at two lackies Stiles hadn’t seen lurking in the shadows, and they lifted her from the molded earth before they marched her into the spooky house. She was shoved down charred stairs, and face-planted onto a hard, damp concrete floor.  

 

It was a dank dungeon of a basement, and Stiles shivered as they dragged her into what appeared to be a cell. Manacles and other torturous devices littered the rather large space; the objects offered her no comfort. Stiles shouted when they shoved her toward a low chair, tying her to it with rough twine that bit into her soft skin.  

 

Hours passed as she listened to the monotonous sounds of water dripping a steady tired rhythm against the stone floor. Stiles had long since given up on trying to undo her bonds. Her wrists burned with the smallest movement, and the twine was tacky with her blood which caused the rope to grip against the cuts her bonds created. She tried to move as little as possible while the hours passed, but it was hard when every noise made her jump. Occasionally, she heard the heavy footsteps of her uncle, grandfather, and their hired hands. Her fight or flight reflexes kicked each of those times, and Stiles would fight her bonds despite the pain.  

 

Lighter steps came down the stairs when the moon was up at its highest point, and Stiles felt alert as she strained to hear what was happening. She scrambled back when Kate sauntered in wearing a particularly feral grin.

 

“Look what the cat dragged in,” her laugh was deranged and dangerous. “If it isn’t little Stiles.” She tried to jerk away when Kate clamped a firm hand around Stiles’s chin and tilted her face up as she forced Stiles’s head to cock to the side. “Someone’s been busy,” Kate whispered while she ran a gentle finger across the bite on Stiles’s neck. “Allison,” Kate called, “Come look. I told you she was her mother’s daughter. Betrayal runs thick in the blood.”

 

Allison came forward with a blank face. Stiles tried to plead with her cousin, but Allison stayed cool as an ice queen as she too ran a look over Stiles’s mark. “What does this mean,” Allison asked Kate, instead of giving any more attention to Stiles who, in her hurt and anger, began to cry once again.

 

“It means we wait, Allison. The wolf will come.”

 

***

 

Stiles was so tired. The sky seemed lighter outside of her small window, and she wondered if dawn was about to come.

 

Of course it came and went without water or food.

 

When night was upon them, hours later, Kate appeared again with Allison, and Stiles was, once more, marched out of the cell at gunpoint.

 

It was a torrent of pain the minute she was forced to her knees, in the grass. Kate’s booted foot crushed down over her wrist, and Allison’s smashed her ankle. “Scream,” Kate commanded, and Stiles bit down on her tongue to stop the yell. A cold laugh tumbled out of her aunt’s beautiful mouth and filtered through the cold night air. “You’ve got guts, like my dearest dead sister, but it’s not going to save you.”

 

The way she yanked Stiles’s arm, until a bone snapped, had Stiles screaming as tears streamed down her face into the soft bed of leaves surrounding her.

 

Kate twisted more and another shout tore out of Stiles. “Please,” she begged, “please!”

 

“Call your wolf,” Kate hissed when long minutes, perhaps hours, had passed and all Stiles could emit was hoarse whimpers.

 

“I don’t have a wolf,” Stiles pleaded, “I don’t know what that even means!”

 

“Kate,” Allison tried, but Kate ignored her and slammed her foot into Stiles’s shoulder.

 

Stiles would never understand how the sound that left her then came to be; it was a forceful push that rattled the trees and sounded like a cross between a lion’s roar and a wolf’s howl. It burned her raw throat and echoed well into the darkness. After it tumbled out of her throat, brown eyes rolled up into the back of her head, and Stiles swayed on her knees--she blacked out before her head hit the dirt.

 

***

 

“We have to tell her,” Talia was yelling, eyes red and stance hostile as she invaded John’s space. Her hands were clawed, and ready to inflict harm.

 

John didn’t look in the least bit intimidated by Derek’s mother, and that was a rare find in a wolf--even an Alpha, but John wasn’t the typical Alpha.

 

“No, we don’t,” his eyes flicked over to Derek, the irises were glowing silver and Derek cast his eyes downward in immediate submission. “Leaving her alone is the best option. The safest option.”

 

“She’s safe with us--with you--” Talia argued as she shoved him. “Quit acting as if this is for Claudia! If she were here she’d make you listen to reason! This is the last bit of her, Wulfric, you cannot allow her legacy to disappear at the hands of Gerard! You cannot allow the line of your father and his father before him to be lost to the world of hunters! For the love of Lycaon.”

 

His snarl shook the walls of their home, and Derek saw his mother’s fearlessness when she didn’t so much as flinch. “You,” his words were pure venom, “Have no right to speak to me that way. You will never have a right to assume what Claudia would’ve wanted! Nor do you have the right to tell me how to deal with my own child!”

 

Talia’s mouth twisted into an ugly frown, and Derek could tell she was gearing up for a rant of epic proportions, but before the words could leave her mouth an unfamiliar howl echoed through the night.

 

“Stiles,” John and Derek whispered together. Faster than his eyes could detect John shifted before Derek. His giant white wolf form dashed out the back door. Then a moment later, Derek and his family followed.

 

***

 

Derek’s anger boiled in his veins when they stopped in the clearing before his old house. There the Argents stood with arrogance, in the place where they tried to spill the blood of Derek’s family.

 

“And so,” Gerard purred in that terrible tone that filled Derek’s nightmares alongside Kate’s horrible laugh. “The animals have come.”

 

Behind him Derek saw Stiles lying on the ground, still as death, and he felt his hackles rise as a snarl tore out of his throat. He wanted to make them hurt, make them scream, and make them bleed for her.

 

Kate’s laugh was loud in the clearing around them, her boots crunched over dead leaves as she stalked closer. She wore that smile that haunted Derek, the one that was pure seduction with the underlying threat of destruction. It made him feel sick to know that he’d ever found her beautiful. “Well, well, Derek, looks like you had more to do with little Stiles than what you said.” Her expression was a mockery of pity as she simpered, “But we all knew better than that--we could smell you all over the bitch, and you aren’t exactly subtle with the biting, are you?”

 

Laura spoke with an angry snarl, and Peter was throwing out cutting remarks, but Derek didn’t hear either of them. He only had eyes for Kate, and his hatred boiled in his veins when he saw that she was what stood between him and Stiles.

 

A warm hand fell against Derek’s shoulder, and he relaxed a slight amount when he smelled John’s familiar scent. “Gerard,” he snarled by way of greeting, and Derek was glad he wasn’t the only one who was hell-bent on breaking Gerard’s neck.

 

“Ah,” Gerard’s smile was a wide maniacal stretch of old lips as he raked his eyes over John’s naked form. “Wulfric, the prince Alpha.” His laugh was anything but kind when he threw his old head back, and Derek tensed, snarling again, at the sound. “At last I have the pleasure of making your acquaintance.”  Gerard motioned with a casual arm behind him, at Stiles’s prone form, “I missed you at the Christening.”

 

John didn’t rise to the baiting; instead he doled out his own cutting response, “Funny, I missed you at the conception. Oh, right, you hadn’t been invited.”

 

Gerard’s cold blue eyes narrowed to angry slits, “I’d have killed you myself if I’d known that bitch would roll over for you.”

 

With a cruel laugh John crossed his arms, “Really? I’m surprised, Gerard, I was under the assumption that you trained your whores to do just that.” His gaze lingered on Kate and then trailed, almost bored, to the old house, “Isn’t that why Kate took Derek to bed? Isn’t that the huntress's way; entice a wolf with sex, tease them with skin, and get them to spill all of their family’s well guarded secrets? Claudia was only doing as she was taught.”

 

“She wasn’t taught to love animals,” Gerard hissed, his sword suddenly unsheathed. In the distance Derek could hear his family as they circled the clearing, hidden in the trees.

 

“No, that she learned on her own.” John crouched, ready to shift at a moment’s notice, and growled, “Now release my daughter, and I will allow you to leave these woods with your head still attached.”

 

Kate cackled at that, and Derek heard his mother snarl in response to the sound. “You’d allow us to leave? How terribly optimistic of you; you might’ve been strong enough to take on my sister, but you’re out of practice and I doubt you could defeat this family.” Her confidence was disgusting, but Derek had to admit they were one of the best hunter families, and were known as the cruellest.

 

“As usual, you overestimate your abilities, Katherine. None of you are half the hunter Claudia was.” John was equally confident, and as the last Alpha of Lycaon’s pack he had the lineage to give him such confidence.

 

“Now, now, Kate,” Gerard whispered with a gentleness that was calculated, “Wulfric is right; we aren’t nearly as strong as your sister was. Not many hunters laugh in the face of death, and welcome it easily to protect a wolf.”

 

Derek stiffened, and cast a casual glance a John. His face remained impassive, as if this wasn’t news to him. Gerard continued, his eyes alight with the prospect of goading John into violence, “How did it feel when you felt your mate die, Wulfric? I put the bitch down in a forest like this one, and I heard the howl tear out of her--were you far enough away that you couldn’t hear it?” Gerard sneered and casually maneuvered his sword, in a show of dramatic flare, “No, I imagine not. A wolf always hears their mate, but they cannot always find them, can they?” John stiffened at Derek’s side, and he wondered how much more John would take before he shifted and tore out Gerard’s throat. “I put her down with my own hand. She was a strong bitch, and fought me ‘til the very end. She even spit in my face when I told her I’d stop the torture if she’d give up her wolf. You know what she told me, Wulfric? She told me to burn in hell.” Gerard laughed, and the sound was full of pride, surprisingly,  “She laughed when I gutted her, and I watched the life fade from her eyes; until all that was left was the glow of the moon against the glassy surface of her irises.” He turned and spat in the direction of Stiles’s prone form, “That little bitch is just like her, same eyes, same defiance; I wonder if she’ll laugh when I gut her, too.”

 

Derek didn’t realize he was running until he felt the hot sting of Gerard’s blade as it cut across his bicep. He didn’t slow down. Derek’s only thought then was to protect Stiles; even when Kate smacked a hard metal stick against him, shocking him with thousands of volts of electricity. If he was going to die, Derek would die protecting his mate.

 

Kate was above him, a cruel twist of a smile on her face as she said, “Oh, sweetie, it’s a shame I’ve gotta put you down; you grew into that body. I’m torn between killing it and licking it.” Derek snarled, and she tisked at the sound.

 

As she raised her gun Derek covered Stiles with the bulk of his body, and closed his eyes, praying to all that would listen for her to survive this without harm and without a life full of fear. The thunder crack of a bullet rang through the clearing, but Derek didn’t feel pain, and when many moment passed without a hint of hurt he chanced a glance up. Kate staggered with a hand clamped over her shoulder as Allison stepped closer to her aunt; her gun raised. A determined gleam shining in her brown eyes; eyes that were similar to Stiles’s.

 

“Back off.” She said, her eyes never left Kate as if Allison viewed her as a threat. “Stiles has done nothing wrong. The Hales have done nothing wrong. And Wulfric has most certainly done nothing wrong--the only evil I see in this clearing is that of my family.”

 

Kate was angry as she stepped closer to Allison, but she stopped when Allison’s grip on her weapon showed that she wasn’t messing around. “I did as I was told,” Kate seethed.

 

“No one told you to try and murder innocent people; children, helpless children, were lost in that fire, Kate.” Allison’s voice broke over her words, as if she was hurt at the thought of hurting innocent wolf children.  

 

“Monsters, Allison, you know what they are capable of.”

 

“Monsters kill for the pleasure; nothing in any of the Hale’s history shows that they would turn feral and cruel.” Allison’s laugh was full of a weight she couldn’t shake; Derek understood that feeling well. “You speak of these packs, these families, as if they are full of this need to maim and kill--when there has only been one pack, in all the years we’ve been doing this, that I’ve see that apply to. Most who went feral were Omegas, but not these families whose idea of wolf fun involves hunting deer together. I’m starting to believe that we are the monsters.”

 

“You can’t mean that, Allison,” Kate said with feeling, and for once Derek felt something akin to pity for her. She was a product of her raising, and she couldn’t overcome her family’s hatred.

 

“Yes, I can,” she whispered, and then she put her gun away after she gestured to Derek’s mother. “This family owes you a debt, Alpha Hale. There were lives stolen, and I offer my family’s blood as retribution.” She knelt before Talia, and bent her head in submission, “I only ask that you spare Stiles. She knew nothing of wolves, and knew nothing of my family’s fight with them. In all things she is innocent.”

 

Talia cast a glance at Peter. Peter who lost a son and a mate in the flames, and nodded at him. Faster than Kate could react Peter was on her, and his mouth tore out her throat with disgusting wet sounds. She didn’t have time to scream. It was very anticlimactic, and yet it was a fitting end for her, Derek believed.  

 

Gerard, Derek finally noticed, was being held down by Chris and Victoria before John who was once again human. “You, too, may have your revenge,” Victoria said to him, but John looked drawn as he stared down at his kneeling enemy. In the lines around his blue eyes Derek saw the pain of years without a mate, without his cub, without the comfort or stability of a loving anchor. His mother often whispered how sad it was to see him this way, and often times she would speak of a wolf Derek couldn’t remember.  

 

“Killing him won’t bring her back, and it won’t make me feel anything close to better--I ask that you do with him what you see fit.” John bowed at Chris when he spoke next, “Claudia loved you best. She always felt that she had betrayed you the most, and I could tell from her stories that you were the only thing she missed from her old life. Gerard stole something from you, Christopher Argent, and I give you my right to take revenge--for it is your right as well.” Derek thought John was the strongest Alpha he knew, for even in the face of his enemy he sagged and didn’t take revenge. He wasn’t driven by anger, and that was a rare trait for a betrayed Alpha to possess. Derek didn’t know Claudia, but he knew Stiles and he could see a lot of John in her.  

 

John shifted back to his wolf form, and sat like an obedient dog--ever watchful--as Chris came to face his kneeling father. “I trusted you when you said that it was an accident, even though I knew better. I trusted that even you, the cruelest man I know, couldn’t turn his gun on his own daughter.”

 

“I would kill my own son if I had to, Christopher, and I’d kill her again if given the chance.” Derek could see why Gerard was proud of Claudia’s defiance; it was a trait she’d obviously inherited from her father.  

 

A single shot to the head was all it took to rid the world of Gerard Argent, and long after the shot rang out Derek could still hear the cold sound of Gerard’s laughter.

 

***

 

The aftermath was strange. to say the least, Derek stood with Stiles cradled in his arms as they walked in a group--of hunters and wolves--back to the SUVs parked all over the area surrounding the old Hale house. Allison went to take Stiles from Derek’s arms and on reflex he snarled. He pulled her body closer to his chest, and rubbed his cheek against hers--the instinct to scent her was strong in the aftermath of recent trauma.

 

“She needs a doctor,” Allison said with a weary sigh, “Regardless of your instincts, you need to let me get her to the emergency room.”

 

Derek passed her over with a flinch, and pressed a lingering kiss to her temple when she was out of his hold. “Take care of her.” Allison rolled her eyes and grabbed his wrist with a surprising strength for such a slim woman.

 

“You can come to the hospital with us, idiot, but you’ve got to get cleaned up first. You look like you were involved in a massacre.” He felt the weight of fear he’d had lift, and Allison offered him a gentle smile as she added, “I’m sure you’ll be the first person she wants to see when she wakes up.”

 

***

 

He didn’t remember going home, and he didn’t remember the shower; Derek went through the motions like a person on autopilot. Nothing registered until he got to the hospital. The irritating sting of antiseptic burned his nose and all the beeping monitors gave him a headache, but none of that mattered when he entered Stiles’s room. She was hooked up to IVs and had a doctor standing at her bedside when he entered the room. Her scent alone was enough to calm the jittery anxiety of his wolf.

 

“This is Stiles’s fiancé,” Allison said when the doctor looked ready to tell Derek this was a family only meeting. She smiled gently at Derek and waved him over.

 

Without missing a beat the doctor continued with his assessment of Stiles’s injuries, “She’s got a cracked rib, some minor head trauma, a twisted ankle, a broken arm, and two fractures in her hand. Luckily, she didn’t sustain any serious injuries. There were no signs of forced sexual assault; so we will just have to wait for her to wake-up to see if she can recall what happened and give the sheriff a statement. We’ve got her bloodwork at the lab, but it could be a few hours before we know anything on that end.” It always unnerved Derek; the way that doctors could coolly assess injuries as if they were as boring as the weather.

 

“Thank you, Doctor Sampson,” Allison said with a polite tone and Derek didn’t say anything, he was too busy stepping closer to Stiles’s bedside; running a hand over her bruised face.

 

“You hurt her,” Derek said when he and Allison were alone. Doctor Sampson’s hard-soled shoes were a fading clack-clack as he moved down the hall, on his way to tell more patients about their “insignificant” injuries.

 

“How could you tell?” She didn’t try to deny it.

 

“I saw you flinch when he mentioned her ankle.” Derek understood why she had to and didn’t need her explanation, but even so Allison gave him one.

 

“I had to sell it. I couldn’t win against them if it was just us, and I knew they’d want her to call you--hell I’m the one who suggested it. I knew if your pack was there we could save her from a bullet to the brain.” She had a fond look on her face as she looked at Stiles’s pale, sleeping face. “She’s my sister, for all intents and purposes. When I found out the truth about what Gerard did to Aunt Claudia I couldn’t stand idly by and allow that to happen to Stiles, too.”

 

“Thank you,” was his soft reply, and after that she didn’t have anything more to say. So they sat in companionable silence as they waited for Stiles to wake. Every few hours Allison would go to Stiles’s bedside and would rub chapstick over her cracked lips. When night came she ran a brush gently through Stiles’s long hair. Derek was grateful that there was at least one caring member left in Stiles’s dysfunctional family--seeing how awful and broken the Argents were made Derek glad he was born to such a loving family. They had their spats, but he couldn’t recall any ending in the slaughter of another. It was odd to think that he was born a monster, but there were the ones who turned out to be ruthless killers.

 

***

 

Scott came by with Isaac when morning broke across the sky, and he sat ridiculously close to Stiles’s bed while Isaac moved to check on Derek by the window. “I’m sorry I couldn’t keep you safe,” Scott whispered, and he resembled a sad pup who’d been caught breaking a window with a baseball. “I hope you forgive me.”

 

Derek’s throat felt too tight or he would’ve told Scott it was his own fault for leaving her alone. Scott was too good a kid to be weighted down by the burden of Stiles’s current predicament. He’d always been there for Stiles, like a loyal sibling, and Derek decided he’d tell Scott how grateful he was to him--later when he was less likely to break down and cry.  

 

***

 

It took two days for Stiles to wake up, and she only did when John finally had the time to come to the hospital. Derek wanted to be pissed that he’d spent so much time away from his own daughter, but he knew that covering up a double murder was hard work and that was the only thing that made Derek forgive him. That and the constant sorrow that lingered around John’s eyes.

 

Stiles’s brown eyes fluttered open the moment John’s hand touched her forehead, and if he hadn’t believed it before then Derek did at that moment; John was truly Stiles’s father and Alpha.

 

“J-John?” She croaked with a dry throat, “I--hey--how the hell did I wind up in the hospital?” It was only slightly amusing to watch her in her ever present energy as her mind worked at a thousand miles a second to find an answer.  

 

“Hey, kiddo, we found you beaten in the forest a few nights ago.” At Stiles’s alarmed expression he smiled in a fond way Derek had never seen, and whispered, “It’s okay. You’re aunt and grandfather were killed when they tried to use firepower when the police tried to bring them in for questioning.”  

 

“Oh,” was all Stiles said, and she sagged against her stiff hospital pillows in something akin to relief. Then her gaze traveled to Allison, and she seized up with fear. John was the one who got her back under control with a calming sushing sound, as he hugged her to his uniform covered chest.

“S-she...” Stiles gasped and pointed at Allison. In response the room began to reek of regret. Allison lowered her eyes in shame, and Derek placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. She did what she had to in order to keep Stiles safe.

 

“Stiles, Allison was the one who helped us find you, along with her father and mother.” John brushed long brown hair away from Stiles’s face, and traced a gentle thumb across her cut cheek. Derek could see the faint hints of black that snaked up his arm at the contact, but Stiles didn’t seem to notice; she was busy trying to get her breathing back under control. “They were trying to save you from the crazy that seemed to spiral out of control--Gerard and Kate,” how John said their names with such gentleness Derek would never understand, “Were going off  the deepend, and believed, for a long time, that you were the focus of their deluded conspiracy theories.”

 

She let out a long, dark chuckle as she flopped back against her pillows, and Derek watched her slim fingers as they played with the plastic tubing connecting her to the IV. “I always was the odd one of the family, and Gerard’s disdain for me was never a secret, but it still sucks.” Stiles moved to grab John’s hand, and gave him a  weak, watery smile as she whispered, “Even though he was always awful towards me...I still wanted to be something sacred and cherished to the only grandfather I’ve ever known.”

 

Derek wanted to tell her how cherished she was; he didn’t want her to believe her worth ended with a psychopath like Gerard Argent. He didn’t want her to think Gerard’s beliefs were law. But he refrained for the time being. There would be time for that yet, a lifetime--if he was lucky.

 

***

 

Stiles was ordered to stay a few more days in the hospital. Derek thought Melissa had quite a bit to do with that, and maybe she did it for Scott. He’d been a complete mess since Stiles was taken. Derek heard him confess to his mother that he should’ve stayed with her; even though they all knew he had no way of knowing that she would be taken. Scott took too much responsibility upon himself; Allison was a lot like Scott in that regard. Most of the time Derek had been with her she hadn’t been much better. Derek would hear her whisper apology after apology to Stiles as she slept.  

 

Derek wanted to stay with Stiles in the hospital, but Talia ordered him home, and Derek was defiant but he knew when and when not to challenge his Alpha. This wasn’t one of those times. Talia and the rest of the family needed the familiar scents of one another to calm the restlessness of their wolves. They came close to more casualties, and a lifetime would never be long enough to forget what they’d lost the first time they tangled with Argents.

 

The house was alive with tension when Derek walked through the front door, and he felt his muscles tighten from the energy. In the kitchen his dad stood at the counter, a glass of scotch in his hand, and beside him Laura’s claws gleamed menacingly beneath the bright overhead lights. Cora was seated at the table with Peter, but Erica was absent--Derek briefly wondered if she’d been sent to watch over Stiles; they were all on high alert after all the mess. John was the only one in the room who looked calm, even Derek’s mother was poised for a fight.

 

“We owe her the truth, Wulfric,” Talia snarled, and Derek squashed the desire to sigh. His mother was a stubborn Alpha, but so was John.

 

“I owe her nothing,” John replied with the boredom of a person speaking about watching paint dry.

 

“She’s your daughter.” Talia insisted, and Derek agreed, but he kept silent.

 

“She is a virtual stranger, and how I deal with her is none of your business.”

 

A snarl left Laura then, and Peter shot her a warning look but the damage was done. John would’ve had to be deaf to have missed it. “You would do well to remember your place,” he growled as he approached the place where Laura stood with the proud air of a future Alpha swirling about her. “I might be a lone wolf, but I am still more powerful than you could ever hope to be, Laura Hale. I gave your mother the position she holds, I gave her everything at the insistence of my mate, and I have the ability to take it all away.” His clawed hand was at Laura’s throat, a promise of what would happen if she continued to challenge him, and he whispered, “I am not as forgiving as your own Alpha; so when you stand in my presence I expect you to know your place.”

 

Laura looked grudgingly respectful when he released her, and Talia snarled at Laura in warning when she looked as if she might open her mouth once more.

 

When a tentative peace reigned in the kitchen, Talia faced John and said, “I know seeing her here hurts you, Wulfric, but you have to realize she is not the Argents...nor is she Claudia, and she doesn’t deserve your indifference now.”

 

“She doesn’t need to know, Talia.”

 

“She’s a mate,” and they all knew that changed things. She was Derek’s, as surely as he was hers, and even if she left Derek’s soul would always follow.

 

“She can be unmated.” That was a horrible lie, but none of them challenged his word.

 

Talia shook her head, and  watched with sad brown eyes as John took his leave. He didn’t spare Derek a glance on his way out, and he slammed the door so hard Derek thought it might crack.

 

“What a stubborn fool,” Peter sighed.

 

“He reminds me of another stubborn fool, I once knew,” Talia whispered and ran a hand over her weary eyes. “But we can’t do anything until he makes a decision. Her Alpha is still John, and he’s right...I owe him too much to challenge his law.”

 

It made Derek angry, but he knew she was right so he dragged himself up the stairs to his old bedroom to sleep. He needed to sense his pack after such a long and trying weekend.

 

***

 

Stiles was released the next afternoon, and Derek was the one who went to pick her up. Allison was settling some paperwork to get her own apartment while her parents were long gone to the next possible hunt. But Derek didn’t mind; he wanted to get her for the simple fact of being in her presence. It calmed his wolf and reassured him that she was, in fact, fine.

 

She didn’t resist the wheelchair her doctor made her leave in, and was strangely subdued on the ride to her apartment. When he parked the Camaro next to the curb on Main, Stiles snapped out of her odd silence and said, “Oh, we’re here.”

 

Derek could scent the disappointment on her, and he touched a gentle hand to her thin shoulder. Stiles turned wide eyes on him, and Derek leaned closer to her--slow enough as to allow her the opportunity to pull away. When she didn’t he placed a chaste kiss upon her mouth, and asked if she wanted to go in.

 

“I wanted to go home with you,” she admitted with an almost sheepish expression, “But I wasn’t sure if that was something you’d want.” Stiles sat wringing her long hands in her lap, and she pulled her split bottom lip between her teeth.

 

It made Derek feel like a dick. There was still quite a bit between them that was damaged and full of lingering doubts. Derek wanted to promise her this was real, and wanted to make her believe that they could overcome these trials of their supremely fucked up world together. He couldn’t, however, because she wouldn’t believe him without the whole truth, and he wasn’t in a position where he was able to give her the full story.

 

“Sure,” was what Derek finally settled for in response.

 

***

 

The first night home Stiles slept with her long arms wrapped around Derek’s waist, and her face buried in the thin cotton shirt over his chest. She whimpered in her sleep, and Derek thought he heard her cry out about knowing no wolves, but he let it go. He pulled her closer to press a kiss to her sweat damp hair as he whispered promises he didn’t know he could keep. Promises that swore she would always be safe.

 

***

 

Stiles didn’t go to work the next morning, and Derek was hardly surprised. She seemed different when it came to Adventures Remembered, withdrawn and frightened was an apt description. Derek figured she had the right to be--that was the place she was taken from before she was abused for two days. So he didn’t press her with senseless questions about if she would go to work; all Derek could offer was a kiss, and asked if there was anything in particular she wanted him to get.

 

“My daggers,” she whispered with a skittish glance around, “My mother’s notebook, and some clothes.” It hurt his heart to see her so withdrawn.

 

“Sure thing,” Derek replied before he ran gentle fingers over her cheek, and through her sleep rumpled hair.

 

***

 

It was tense and quiet in the shop that day. Isaac stood around, picking through random tools, while he wore a rather morose expression. Boyd wasn’t much better as he went through the motions of an oil change as if on autopilot. The atmosphere wasn’t much better when Scott came in at lunch. He just sat on one of the grease covered stools, and stared across the street at the closed shop. Scott looked like a kicked puppy, when he sighed he sounded no better. Derek didn’t realize, before then, how one bright presence could bring such life to this small town. His mother was right when she decided to let Stiles run Adventures Remembered; Stiles was something special, and she brought something they’d been missing to the wolves of Beacon Hills. He wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but he knew it was something he didn’t want to live without.

***

 

The place’s scent was full week old food, that threatened to become a health hazard, when Derek opened the shop door. He sent a quick text to Erica telling her that she and Lydia needed to get here to clean up the funk. For once Erica replied with a simple got it instead of her usual long bitchy rant-texts.  She must’ve sensed the volatile balance of keeping Stiles and not spooking her with the truth. John was making it hard on all of them, but he was her Alpha and until he gave the go-ahead they had to respect his wish to keep Stiles at the fringe of their secret. Derek didn’t see this ending well, but he knew, better than anyone, that mistakes were the best tools for learning.

 

Stiles’s bedroom looked like it always did when Derek was there; clothes were strewn haphazardly across the floor, and there were piles of books with well worn spines near the neatly made bed. Her daggers were with her journal, on her cluttered nightstand, and Derek didn’t know what she’d want to wear so he gathered what he could from the floors--deciding that was good enough. He knew how to use a washer and dryer after all.

 

When he opened the lift’s grate and entered his loft Derek heard Stiles move quickly to the stairwell that led to his bedroom. So he called out to her, letting her know it was safe, as he went to the small closet where his stacked washer and dryer was stored. Her steps were a familiar pattern against his sealed concrete floors, but Derek didn’t turn around to greet her. He just kept at the task of filling the washer until she muttered a quiet hello.

 

“I put the daggers and the journal on the kitchen counter,” he indicated the small pile with a tip of his head, and Stiles gave him a vague gesture which he assumed she did in thanks. “Why don’t you go lie down? I’m going to finish up here and shower before I start dinner.”

 

Her brows drew down with her frown, but she moved out of the room without complaint which left Derek to wonder how long they’d exist in this odd limbo. Perhaps this was his penance for being such an ass before everything went to hell.

 

***

 

Not long, apparently, for two days later Stiles was yelling at him after she’d dropped a dish and Derek suggested she go sit down while he cleaned the mess up. “I’m not made of fucking glass!” Stiles raged, and Derek let her shove him. He took her hard slaps as she beat against his chest. “I want you to stop acting like I’m different now!” Her tears left a salty taste in the air.  

 

“I’m not,” he tried in feeble protest.

 

“Liar! If you can’t deal with me now, just fucking tell me! I’m so tired of not being able to read what you want.” She sounded resigned and so much older than she was while she leaned against the wall. “I want you to look at me like you did before that stupid night in your bed.” A sob left Stiles’s throat, “I want you to want me like you did before I fucked it up by getting attached.”

 

Derek frowned. He remembered that day; it wasn’t one he was proud of now. He’d let Kate get inside of his head and whisper treacherous things about Stiles’s intentions.

 

I bet you thought you were her only, but she fucks like a good little whore--always so willing, so patient in her wait to destroy you.

 

He wanted to believe Kate. It made this relationship less terrifying. If Stiles was with him to kill his family he could deal with that--what Derek didn’t want was the overwhelming weight of crushing need for her. That was the sort of destruction he wasn’t prepared for, but she had destroyed all the small pieces of his heart just by existing. She took all that was him and replaced it with the total sense of her.

 

So he pressed closer to her, ran a soothing touch across her cheek before he lifted her chin, and looked her in the eye. “You ruined me.” Her face fell, but Derek kissed her mouth, to silence any protest, as he added, “And when we thought we wouldn’t find you I knew if you were gone then I’d be gone too.”

 

She laughed as she wrapped her long arms around his neck, and whispered against his lips, “No takesy-backsies, dude.”

 

Derek rolled his eyes, “Don’t call me dude.”

 

***

 

A couple of weeks later, after they’d built their tentative relationship into something less unstable Stiles had a nightmare. Which wasn’t terribly uncommon since the Gerard and Kate incident, but they were always unpleasant. And were made more so when Stiles lashed out at him in her sleep, as she did now; only, it wasn’t nearly as gentle as her previous attacks. This one involved a dagger. One Derek didn’t manage to dodge before it was plunged into his shoulder.

 

Which, as luck would have it, was the exact moment Stiles decided to wake.

 

“Oh fuck!” She screamed, and Derek tried to get her to calm down, but she was already lunging for a phone and calling John.

 

“Sheriff--holy fuck balls Derek don’t touch it--yes! It’s me, Stiles, um--can you like, oh I dunno, come help my boyfriend? I kinda stabbed him in my sleep with a dagger?” She was kind of cute when she was running around like a chicken without a head, but Derek was more concerned with how to deal with his rapid healing. If she saw she would definitely know something was amiss.

 

Even at a distance Derek could hear John tell her he was on his way, and he tried not to groan. This was definitely going to become more complicated, and painful. John already wasn’t amused with the Derek fucking Stiles situation.  

 

***

 

Stiles wanted to accompany him to the ER, and werewolf or not there was no person on earth who could stop Stiles when she was bound and determined about something. It was a trait Derek was growing increasingly fond of.

 

She explained the entire situation to the (mostly) werewolf staff, and was told everything would be alright by Melissa when she started sobbing hysterically. “Derek’s tough,” Melissa promised, “I’m telling you, he’ll be fine.”

 

He didn’t need stitches, but the doctor put them in for Stiles’s benefit, and Derek hissed each time the needle pressed through the layers of tissue. “You’re gonna be okay, big guy.” He hated how completely enamored he was with her in that moment. She’d stabbed him, and he still considered the night one he’d look back on with fond memories.  That’d be a laugh, one day, for their future kids.  

 

“I promise I’m not going to keep the daggers under my pillows anymore.”

 

Derek smiled, “Good, because these stitches suck.”

 

“Such a wimp,”  Stiles teased with affection. He smiled because it felt like she was coming back to herself.

 

***

 

When she went to dress his “wound” a day later Stiles stared at his skin in shock. Neat stitches were criss-crossed over perfectly healed skin and she sputtered at the sight. “Holy fuck, dude, are you part Wolverine or something?”

 

Derek couldn’t help the harsh bark of laughter that left him then, and when he calmed down he shook his head while he said, “Yeah, sure, something like that.” She went to put the first-aid kit up, and Derek heard her muttering about how she really fucking a secret superhero. He smiled at her ridiculousness.

 

***

 

One night after work, Derek came in and saw Stiles curled up in the corner of his couch with her mother’s journal open at her knee. She was like that most evenings when he came back--curled up on the sofa while dinner sat warm and inviting on the stove. Derek wondered if this would be the rest of their lives, or if she had any intention of going back to work, to school, to something, but he didn’t dare break the fragile understanding they had. He didn’t ask and Stiles didn’t offer up information. It was a nice little relationship full of denials and half truths. He didn’t press her because he knew what it was like to be unable to be honest or ready to deal with the shit life dealt.

 

So what he did when he came home was walk over, kiss her fragrant hair, and tell her how lovely she looked before he thanked her for the meal. Her smile was less vibrant that night as she gazed up at him, but Derek didn’t worry over such stuff--he assumed it was one of the rougher days.

 

When he came back from the kitchen with a bowl of stew Stiles was sitting with a thoughtful look on her face. Not long after he sat beside her, she stood, and went upstairs to read in his bed. Derek sighed, but ignored the tension in favor of the evening news and his delicious meal.

 

***

 

Allison finally convinced Stiles to go shopping one afternoon, and Derek decided to spend the day deep cleaning the loft. When he got up the stairs with a mop and bucket he spotted Stiles’s mother’s journal lying on the bedside table, open to a select entry.

 

He knew he shouldn’t; it was private and sacred, but his curiosity got the better of him. Too often he caught her frowning down at the words, and he wanted to see what ruled Stiles’s private thoughts.  

 

“Red knew Wolf was different, but sometimes the differences were glaring and things that were not easily ignored. For instance, when he growled at all who came within a few paces of her--as if he were some rabid attack dog. Or when he would hold her at night and the sharp points of his claws would leave slender, bleeding scratches in her skin. Then there were the nights when the moon was full. Those nights she would arch for him, and tremble beneath him while his eyes flashed silver.

 

Wolf was different, but she didn’t care. To Red, Wolf was perfect.”

 

He smiled down at the old yellowing pages, and wondered if Stiles would still love him so deeply when she discovered the truth. As he leafed through the journal Derek believed she would wind up knowing sooner rather than later. Stiles was a smart girl, and the howling trail her mother left was littered with glaring clues that glittered like silver casings. He just hoped she would prove to be as tough as he’d always heard Claudia was. Derek didn’t want to think that somewhere along the way there would be a journal full of longing in the place of his warm and welcome embrace. He wouldn’t want that for his mate.

 

When Stiles came back she offered him a soft smile, but around her eyes was a ring of obvious doubt. She was already hot on the trail; he could tell.

 

That night Derek spent the night sleeping on his uncomfortable sofa.

 

***

 

A few days after reading more of Claudia’s journal Derek decided he needed to speak with John. He walked into the sheriff’s station with the intention of demanding he tell Stiles the truth, but he forgot his previous purpose when he saw Stiles standing toe to toe with John in the hallway.

 

“Don’t lie to me,” she whispered furiously, “I found old photos hidden behind the books, in  a secret nook...I just want to know if you’re my father.” It sounded as if the words were forced out of her. Derek wanted to chase away the doubt that laced her voice, but they weren’t back to that level of comfort with one another. At this point he wasn’t sure they ever would be. They’d lost so much ground in the past few weeks, and his dream life with Stiles was starting to look like a pipe dream.

 

“No,” John’s lie was a soft whisper, “I’m not.”

 

Stiles wore a falsely cheery smile, and said, “Well, thanks for clearing that up then.” Her eyes were bright with unshed tears when she rushed passed Derek, and he was officially done with this shit.

 

“You,” he seethed as he approached John, “Are the worst fucking thing to ever happen to this planet.”

 

“Mind your tongue, boy, or I’ll rip it out of your head.” There was nothing left of his gentle demeanor when he stepped closer to Derek.  

 

Derek dared to flash his eyes, and allowed his claws and fangs to lengthen, “Fucking try it.” He challenged like a fool, but he didn’t care, Derek was a fool for Stiles and he’d defend her in any way he felt necessary.

 

John’s shift was always sudden, fluid with a grace that even Talia lacked in her change. He gave Derek no time to react before he was tearing the holy hell out of his flesh, but Derek tried to give back as good as he got.

 

He was a tattered mess, trying in vain to hurt John, when they heard Stiles’s scream.

 

It was like a terrible B-rated horror flick. They charged in only to find Stiles holding her hand against her chest as another frustrated scream ripped out of her throat as she kicked at her battered Jeep. It was too late to shift back, they realized, when wide brown eyes stared at them in shock.

 

Beta form changed them, but not enough for her to keep from recognizing who they were. Stiles stumbled back and fell into the side of her Jeep. “I--uh--oh god...this is...this is for real?”

 

John shifted back first, and with a sigh approached Stiles. “Come on, kiddo, I suppose there is a lot we need to discuss.”

 

***

 

He went to his mother to have her help him heal the wounds he’d gotten, and when he went back home later that night Stiles’s stuff was gone. Just like that their fragile life together seemed to be over.

***

 

Weeks passed without word from her, and each night Derek’s wolf drove him to the window where he would sit, howling for her presence. By the time his throat was raw he always wondered if she felt his call. Derek certainly felt her absence.

 

***

 

Just before Christmas her shop was open and running. Isaac lit up like a light at the sight of her, and even Boyd looked less severe when he saw Stiles standing out front with a broom. Her smile was bright while she talked with some older locals, and called for Erica to bring cookies to some of the kids that were hanging around.

***

 

Derek lacked the courage to go in and see her. Everyone else did, and they always came back with good food along with Stiles updates. Most of the time pitying glances accompanied the information that was brought. He’d spend late nights in the darkened office of his shop, just watching as she, Erica, Allison, and Lydia closed up for the night. He’d strain his ears to listen to them speaking, and would smile along with them when they all giggled about Scott’s obvious adoration for Allison. It was rather ridiculous and obvious when that idiot always went on about her perfect smile or the fragrance of her hair. He was like a kid with a crush, but Derek was sure if he were more honest with his feelings that he’d be just as bad as Scott when it came to Stiles.

 

Tonight they were all gathered around the old display counter as Allison and Lydia tallied up the day’s profits. “So what’s the deal with you and your dad?” Lydia asked with her ever present candor.

 

Stiles shrugged with a nonchalance Derek didn’t buy for a second. “Dunno, he’s weird. I guess I’m weird, too.” She smiled when all of them snorted about that, and Derek snorted, too. “I mean, he’s nothing like I imagined. And he’s definitely nothing like my mom’s journal portrays him so I don’t know how to deal with him.” Stiles sighed as she drummed her fingers against the countertop while she added, “I don’t think he wants to deal with me either. I guess those months when he came to check on me and was nice were just him feeling out if he wanted this.” She shrugged again. “I mean, who the hell knows, maybe he sees too much Argent in me to be totally cool with filling that role, or maybe it’s just been so long that he doesn’t see the point. Hell, he’s almost twenty-three years too late to play daddy, but I’d really like it if he did. I mean, fuck, I’ve always wanted a dad.”

 

Erica wrapped her in a hug before Derek heard her press a soft kiss to Stiles’s forehead, “You’ll always have us, and Derek, you know.”

 

Her laugh was bitter in response, “Yeah, Derek, the other lying wolf. He also seems eager to forget all about me.”

 

“Oh, sweetie,” Allison whispered, “You’d be stupid to believe he could forget you.” That was true. For a smart girl Stiles didn’t seem to understand what her mother’s journal said about mates. If she took the words for what they were then she would know that there would never be another for Derek. Even if he held other bodies; Derek would never love another person the way he loved Stiles.

 

***

 

It was Christmas-Eve when she came to him. Derek was closing the shop, and her place had been closed since noon, due to the holiday. The streets were cold and empty as they stood there in awkward silence. She glanced up at him, with the golden brown gaze that Derek dreamed about each night. “I brought you a gift.” Her bottom lip was being chewed relentlessly by her teeth, and Derek could tell she was doubtful of how he would react to her presence.

 

“You didn’t have to,” was his immediate and soft response.  

 

“No,” she agreed with a short laugh, “But I wanted to.”

 

It was his favorite cake, chocolate with fudge icing, and he wondered how she knew. As if sensing his thoughts Stiles said, “Your mom told me this was your favorite. She seemed eager to help when I was wondering what to get you.” The smile she wore was tentative and she smelled eager for approval.

 

“Is there more?” Derek asked with a mix of hope and trepidation.

 

Stiles tilted her head down while she opened her arms wide, “All I’ve got left is me, dude.”

 

Derek smiled, warm and inviting, “That’s all I’ve ever wanted.” She was in his arms a moment later, mouth wet against his as she opened up to him with a soul raping kiss. He lost himself in the sensation of her body, the taste of her tongue, and the scent that still lingered, faintly, in his sheets. When she finally pulled away from him, Derek smiled at her in adoration as he said, “I also want you to quit calling me dude.”

 

Her laugh was a cackle as she whispered, “Never, dude, never.” She gave him another deep kiss before she knocked his shoulder with her hand,“Just wait until I start with the dog jokes--I feel like there is a lifetime worth of harassment in store for you.”  

 

If that was the only downside to this relationship Derek figured he could deal with that.

 

Later they would deal with the hard stuff--his past with Kate, her mother’s death, her father’s indifference, his wolf, their bond, and all the other things that might threaten to shake them. Though, Derek didn’t think much would shake them now, when she touched his ears and smiled as he nipped at her wrist.

 

“Come on, Big Bad, take me home and make love to me.”

 

“Anything you want, Lil’ Red.”

 

“If this is our new version of foreplay then I totally approve.” Derek rolled his eyes at her ridiculousness, and swept her up into his arms.

 

“Shut up, Stiles.”

 

“You know you love it,” and he couldn’t deny that she was right.