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Other Words that Begin with "Co," like Confrontation, Coordination, and Confinement

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"Bilinski! Jackson! Change it up! Pronto!"

Jackson cursed and tugged off his helmet. He glared at Coach Finstock before turning his attention to Stilinski, who was flailing his way off the bench and onto the field.

He was being replaced by Stilinski, of all people. His game must have been completely off-kilter for Coach to make that call. McCall's game had been steadily improving since he made second line, but Scott was still sitting, and it was Stilinski who was replacing him on the first line for their scrimmage. He was the captain! He couldn't be replaced by a fifth-string spaz who couldn't even run five laps around the field.

Feelings of rage and disgust---at his own performance---built up inside of him, churning his insides until he could barely breathe past them. He needed to be good; he needed to be undefeatable. Instead, Stilinski was replacing him. It was…

"Hey, you okay?"

Jackson lifted his head and glared at McCall. "Mind your own fucking business."

"Sor---"

"No, actually, wait a sec," Jackson continued, inspired by the sight of McCall's dopey face. "How about you do your captain a solid and hook him up with whatever performance enhancing crap you're taking? Maybe before I beat the shit out of you. How about that?"

McCall's eyes widened. "Jackson… I told you. I'm not on anything."

"No? You and Bilinski just happened to improve overnight?" Jackson demanded. He clenched his hands around his equipment. "Give me the name of your dealer and maybe I won't beat the shit out of you after practice!"

"You've officially lost it," McCall said. "I can't… we're not on anything! I've been practicing at home and Stiles is running more and we're just working at it!"

"Right. From bench warmers to actual players in just a few months," Jackson scoffed.

"The only thing I've done differently is start drinking a tea that Doctor Deaton made me. It helps me breathe better," McCall said.

Deciding that McCall was useless until he admitted the truth, Jackson rolled his eyes and marched past him to sit on an empty strip of the bench. He'd get the truth, one way or another; if he had to follow McCall around town, he would. He needed whatever the doofus was taking to improve his performance. He needed to be the best again.

#####

"Well. That is… a shocking turn of events."

At Kahale's statement, Derek snorted and raised his eyebrows. Shocking was certainly one way to describe his encounter with Peter, but it in no way covered the whole jumble of emotions Derek had been feeling since the truth was revealed.

Kahale put his tea mug down on the end table. "Have you given any thought to how you'd like to handle this situation?" he asked.

"I don't know," Derek admitted. Kahale nodded and waited for him to continue talking. Derek sighed. "He's my uncle. The last of my family. But. He wants to kill people, and he wants power. He killed Laura. I… god, his face was the last thing Laura saw, and---"

"He betrayed both of you," Kahale said when Derek stopped talking, mid-sentence. "That is a difficult feeling to process and move past."

"You think I should forgive him?" Derek demanded.

Kahale raised a hand. "That isn't what I'm saying."

"Then…"

"When you think about the pack bond, what comes to mind first?"

Derek swallowed hard and looked down at his lap. "I try not to think about it," he confessed.

"Why? You had a healthy pack… you had a bond with Laura, surely?"

"I… after. I. I couldn't."

Kahale's eyes widened in what appeared to be surprise. "You closed yourself off?" he asked.

"I felt them all die---not like I was there with them, not like I was feeling the fire, but the bonds broke," Derek explained, still not looking at Kahale. "It was the worst thing I've ever felt. Ever. After… I couldn't reach out like we used to be. Laura… I couldn't put her through that. She needed to heal. And I didn't deserve the power of a pack bond."

The smell of saline caught Derek's attention before any sound did. When he dared look at his confidante, he saw that Kahale had tears in his eyes.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"How are you still sane?" Kahale asked. He smiled and shook his head. "I'm sorry, that's very unprofessional of me. Aside from your feelings of guilt and blame… I'm rather amazed you survived without the pack bond to ground you."

"Some people live as omegas," Derek protested.

"Yes, but not for long without a powerful anchor," Kahale argued.

"I could feel it if we were touching," Derek added. "It just wasn't… constant. Like before."

Kahale nodded. "That makes sense. Contact often strengthens power---with my gifts, too, through contact with the elements or the subject," he said. He reached for his tea. After a sip, he spoke again. "When you think of the pack bond you shared with you family, before the fire---"

"I don't."

"Don't you?" Kahale asked. "You still carry guilt for your presumed sins. They're related to that loss of bond."

Derek sighed. "Okay, fine. I think about the mistakes I made, but not… not them. Not the way it felt. Before."

"Why not?"

"Really?"

Kahale nodded. "Yes, I'd like to know your reasoning."

Derek bit back a growl, knowing Kahale wouldn't appreciate the threatening sound. Did he really need Derek to spell out how he didn't deserve to linger over the good memories? Did he not understand that he'd betrayed his mother, his alpha, and their family? Why did Derek have to explain that it broke his heart every time he remembered the warmth of his family's bond?

"It hurts," Derek said.

"When you tried to connect with Laura?" he asked. "Or when you try to remember what your pack was like before the fire?"

Derek bowed his head. "Always," he whispered. "It was my fault… I don't deserve---"

"Did you start the fire?" Kahale asked.

"No, of course not."

"Then why is it your fault?" Kahale asked. "Kate Argent had been decimating packs before tricking you and she continued doing it after you. You told me what Stiles discovered, and I've done my own digging to confirm that information. She would have found another way. Why does the blame only fall on your shoulders, Derek?"

"I could've told Mom, but…"

"Predators target children and other vulnerable groups because they are easiest to manipulate---especially when there is some other loss or trauma that isolated them from a strong support system," Kahale said. "You were dealing with a deep loss, after Paige, and you were unsure of your instincts. You probably knew something about Kate wasn't right, but you were scared---scared of being alone, of what she might do, of how your family would react, if your secret was exposed, or maybe just scared of being wrong. She manipulated you and pretended to be a safe distraction from your pain.

"And, I asked around. Very discreetly. But I still asked. Your mother's lawyer's daughter is one of my son's friends. She knew you were in trouble. She was trying to file restraining orders against the hunters."

At Kahale's admission, Derek felt as if he couldn't catch his breath. Talia knew?! Had Kate known her time was going to be cut short? Was that why---

"Easy, Derek," Kahale murmured. "I know it's a bit of a shock…"

"Understatement," Derek croaked.

"I'm telling you this so you know your pack was trying to protect you, no matter what, and that your trauma would not have pushed them away," Kahale said. "They were trying to help you."

"And I still got them killed!" Derek exclaimed.

Kahale shook his head. "Did you set the fire?"

Derek had heard a form of that question at least once a session. He'd gotten it twice, so far, during that appointment, and he knew he'd probably hear it again in the future.

He shook his head.

"Some day, I won't have to ask that question," Kahale said. "But I won't ever mind reminding you. This is important."

"I didn't set the fire, but I made it easier for her…"

"Maybe. But, she might have still found another way," Kahale argued. "And the other way might have killed you, Laura, and Peter."

"But---"

"The Peter you described and the Peter I remember aren't paragons of goodness and light," Kahale continued talking, reminding Derek of Peter's schemes and outlooks. "This new Peter may be colder and more vicious… but you told me about him trying to goad your mother into taking more territory, and about his scheme to 'help' you with Paige."

"Yeah," Derek agreed. "This, though… it's worse."

"Hurt animals---people included---lash out when they're threatened. He is acting from a place of fear and pain. He wants power so he won't be weak again."

Derek sighed and closed his eyes. He knew that. He understood Peter's motivation. His methods were wrong, contradicting everything the Hale Pack was supposed to be, but Derek understood. Kahale restating the facts---or the educated guesses---about his behaviour drove that point home.

"So. What do I do?" Derek asked.

"Well, now we come back to my questions about the pack bond," Kahale said.

Derek lifted his head and frowned at him. "Why?"

"Do you think joining and supporting Peter will foster constructive, nurturing bonds that allow a pack to flourish?"

"I don't know," he mumbled.

"This is why I want you to remember your bond to your family pack," Kahale explained. "If you think Peter can give you a bond like that, you may want to consider him as your alpha. If you think his actions are self-serving, if you think he does not have the heart of the pack and larger community in his thoughts… you may need to figure out an alternative course of action."

"How will I know?" Derek asked.

"Instincts, mostly."

After a snort, Derek said, "Well, great. Mine have been fucked for years."

"I suspect they've been improving the longer you mentor Stiles, as that seems to be a healthy relationship," Kahale commented, a small smile on his lips. "In the meantime, is there an alpha you can call? Someone you trust to give you honest counsel?"

"I… well, maybe the alpha who took us in after the fire?"

Kahale nodded. "Jeremy, right? You had good things to say about him."

"Yeah… he… helped. As much as I'd let him."

"Then, that's the homework I'm assigning for the rest of the week," Kahale said. "Call Jeremy, ask him to describe his role as alpha and anything else he thinks makes a good alpha, and see if those traits and goals line up with Peter's agenda. You don't need to take any other action before our next appointment. Just… gather enough information to help you make a decision that isn't ruled by guilt or grief."

"What if I decide to join with Peter?"

Kahale shrugged. "Then that's your decision and I'll still see you at our next appointment."

"Seriously?"

He smiled at Derek. "I won't tell you what to do. I'm helping you build a toolbox and fill it with tools that will help you when you're struggling," he said. "What you choose to build with those tools… that is up to you."

Derek sighed. He really wished therapy was about telling him what to do. He didn't need a toolbox; he needed instruction through or around the insanity in his life.

#####

When he brought Adrian Harris in for questioning, John had done it quietly. He didn't want to embarrass the man; he didn't want to cause trouble with his employer. No one was being arrested. All he wanted was information to help him stop Kate Argent from hurting any more people---but Adrian was not cooperating.

Werewolves were people, one hundred percent, in John's mind. If anything, they needed more protection because awful things kept happening to them. He knew that there were bad werewolves---just like there were bad humans---but he also knew that some were the product of cruelty or backwards thinking. Peter might not have been a good person before the fire, but he'd never broken the law as far as John knew. The fire---the attack---changed him. Hunters and their viciousness changed him. If hunters had acted reasonably and not killed almost an entire family, maybe Peter would be more mentally stable and maybe Derek and Stiles would be safe. If everyone could understand and get along… maybe hunters would be out of a full-time job.

He prayed he could put an end to the Argents' reign before they put an end to Stiles' and Derek's lives.

Frustrated with Adrian's attitude, John reached into his folder of information and withdrew an edited photocopy of Laura's list. Adrian gasped when he set it on the table, making it clear that Adrian at least recognised it.

"Laura Hale came to town asking questions," John said. "She wanted to know who killed her family."

"It wasn't me!" Adrian insisted.

"But you spoke with her," John said.

"Y-yes, she approached me. About someone she thought was a friend of mine."

"Tell me what you told Miss Hale," John said.

"She thought this person was a friend, but I'd just met her… really. It's nothing."

John sighed as he walked around the room. "Well, the Hale family would disagree," he said. Between Adrian making it onto Laura's list and Stiles overhearing him on the phone with Kate, John was sure their connection was more than that of two acquaintances. Since he couldn't argue that point without more proof, he decided to focus on the information he needed. He tapped the list and added, "Tell me what you two discussed."

Adrian swallowed hard and looked down at the table. "It was six years ago---and in my defense, it was before I'd gotten sober," he said. "I met her at a bar. We had… a lot of drinks. A lot. She---the person Laura was asking about---started asking me what I do. And she kept asking questions.

"Do you have any idea what that's like?" Adrian continued, his head rising to meet John's gaze. "To have someone actually interested in the topic of chemistry? After staring at all these vacant faces day after---"

Before Adrian could turn their interview into a thought piece about the uselessness of teenagers, John cleared his throat.

"Details," John insisted.

"Like I said, I talked. It was fascinating stuff. How you could melt away the lock of a bank vault. How you could dissolve a body, and get away with murder…"

"How you could start a fire and get away with arson?" John supplies when Adrian stopped talking.

Adrian nodded and sighed. "And a week later, the Hale house burned down."

The lack of concern one citizen could show others always bothered John, and Adrian's attitude did, too. If he'd been thinking with his head and heart, instead of with his dick, they might have been able to slow or stop Kate's plan---they might have been able to catch Kate and give Derek, Laura, and Peter some closure. Instead, Adrian had allowed himself to get caught up in a pretty face who bolstered his ego, and the Hales paid the price.

"You know, you could have said something," John said.

Adrian scowled. "And be an accomplice? It would have ended my teaching career!"

John bit back the comment he wanted to make---It doesn't seem like you care much about teaching students anyway---and decided to focus on the woman who ensnared Adrian's attention.

"So, you don't know her name or where she was from?" he asked.

Adrian shook his head. "No! Which is exactly what Laura Hale asked," he said. "I'll point you in the same direction that I pointed her."

He picked up a pen and drew a rough oval on the back of a nearby folder. Then, he drew a primitive replica of the design found on the pendant Kate had given Allison.

"What is this?" John asked.

"The necklace the girl was wearing," Adrian replied. "That's the symbol on it. I asked her about it---she said it was a family thing. You find the girl wearing that necklace, she's your arsonist."

"Murderer," John said.

"Excuse me?!"

John levelled his most serious face in Adrian's direction. "Arson happens to property," he said. He pointed at the pendant design. "This girl's a murderer."

Adrian paled and covered his mouth with one hand.

"You stay in town, and you make yourself available to my deputies if anyone has more questions---or a lineup for you to look at," John requested.

Adrian nodded.

John would have walked out of the room, leaving the door wide for Adrian to leave, but there was something… he couldn't put his finger on it. He'd thought he'd seen remorse on Adrian's face, but his eyes were all wrong for that sort of guilt---at least the examples of guilt he'd seen in all his years as a deputy and then as a sheriff. He was averting his eyes, but they were narrowed; his mouth was tense, pressed into a thin line. His shoulders were tense and raised. The more he looked at Adrian, John saw more anger than remorse in his body language.

Was it an act? Had he been a willing accomplice---so long as he didn't get caught holding the chemicals used to set the fire?

He only had a hunch. His gut instincts had been wrong before, but he was still likely to trust them because they'd saved his ass more times than he could count. He hoped, this time, he'd be able to get some justice for the Hale family. Patience and dogged detective work would get him through the six year old mystery. If Adrian had been willingly involved, John knew there was a good chance someone would give him up along the way instead of a full sentence. He just needed to find the evidence.

"You're free to go, this time, Adrian. I may have more questions for you later."

He snatched up the list, tucked it into the folder with the rest of his renewed investigation into the fire, and strode out of the interrogation room. From there, he made a beeline to his office. The interview was recorded---both video and audio---but John liked to write up his own notes as a way to process and analyse the conversation for potential evidence.

When he finished making his written observations, and started looking at information on the Argent family, he was interrupted by a knock on his door.

Tara stood in his doorway, holding two cups of coffee. He smiled; she tried to return the gesture but couldn't quite hold it.

He sighed. He knew what type of work affected her so much that she couldn't muster up a smile.

"Lahey? Or the couple over on---"

"Lahey," Tara confirmed as she came into the office. She put one cup on his desk and sat down in a chair as she cradled her cup. "We got a call from the next-door neighbours. Noise. They heard shouting and crashing. Like dishes."

John sighed again. "No probable cause when you got there?"

She shook her head. "His son seemed fine, denied anything happened, and Lahey was all charm and disarm and wouldn't let us look around. We couldn't force the issue, but… two calls last month, and now…? It seems like something's going on there."

"Could be," John agreed. "Right now, all you can do is make sure Isaac knows he can call you---or us. Let him know he can turn here for help. And, I'll try adjusting some of the patrol routes to double-back through their neighbourhood, too."

Tara nodded. "Thanks, Sheriff." She paused, sipped her coffee, and then started to talk again. "Do you think Sti---"

"I'll ask Stiles to be aware, maybe try to get to know Isaac a little," John agreed. "They might have a class together."

Some of their usual sparkle returned to Tara's eyes. Her smile lingered. John knew she wanted to barge into Lahey's home and pull Isaac out of there, but the law was the law and Tara always towed the line. She knew, like he did, that it might be harder to catch someone committing a crime by the book, by following the rules, but when they achieved their goal that way the charges tended to stick. He just hoped they had that kind of success for Isaac---and for Derek.

#####

"So."

"So?" Scott asked as he and Stiles trudged towards his vehicle.

Stiles huffed. In an attempt to earn back Scott's trust enough for him to actually listen, Stiles started making more of an effort to rebuild their friendship. They were sitting in class together, most of the time, but Stiles wanted more---even though he spent more time reining in his frustration than enjoying their time together. The next time Scott suggested a video game night, Stiles accepted and they made their plans to get together at Scott's house after practice.

Stiles' confidence in their friendship was lacking, especially since Scott lied and hadn't dropped his grudge against Derek, but he couldn't give up completely on all their history. He thought of Scott like a brother; even though Scott was being ridiculous, Stiles couldn't completely abandon him.

It helped that both Derek and his father supported the idea that he try to fix things between them. Derek thought the human might help keep Stiles connected to his human side; John hoped that whatever was going on with Scott wasn't the end of their years-long relationship. They both admitted to thinking that Stiles might be able to provide Scott with more perspective than that of the Argents, with whom he was spending more and more time; Stiles was worried about him, impressionable and in Kate's clutches, and he couldn't walk away without trying to help Scott navigate the dangerous waters into which he had swum unknowingly.

Life was so much more complicated than it used to be. He missed the days when video games and homework took up most of his time. He didn't hate being a werewolf, but he certainly didn't like having a friendship strained because of his new abilities and his friend's new girlfriend's family.

Life was also much more awkward---especially in that moment.

"Was it just me or was Jackson particularly pissed off today?" Stiles asked.

Scott snorted. "Wasn't just you. After you took his place in the scrimmage, he came up to me demanding to know where we got the drugs."

Stiles cackled. "I hope you told him about the tea the local veterinarian makes for you."

"I did, actually. He didn't seem all that interested in it."

"I think tea time might loosen him up a bit. Throw in a couple jam-filled cookies to get his sugar up, and maybe he'll just… chill," Stiles said.

Scott snorted again, nodding and grinning at Stiles.

He reached the jeep first; he unlocked the doors and threw his gear into the back compartment. Scott joined him at the back of the vehicle, adding his gym and book bags to the pile. Stiles inhaled deeply---partly to relax and partly to gain insight into Scott's mood---and didn't sense any fresh anger on him. He smiled and clapped a hand to Scott's shoulder.

"Video games?"

Scott grinned. "Yeah. I loaded up on snacks last night. We're all set."

"Sweet! I feel like I could eat my bodyweight in gummy worms," Stiles replied.

The drive to Scott's house didn't take very long, saving both of them from trying to come up with more conversational topics to tackle. When he pulled up along the curb, Scott flashed him a grin. Stiles smiled back; he hoped they could repair their friendship enough so that Scott would listen to his counsel again.

Scott's phone beeped, signaling he received a text. When he looked at it, his scent shifted into something… overly floral. It clashed with the spice Stiles usually associated with Scott and his house---and told Stiles that he'd probably received a text from Allison.

After typing a quick response (that may have included more than three emoji symbols), Scott pocketed the device. "You ready?"

"Allison doesn't need you?"

Scott shook his head. "Nope. That was just Kate sending both of us a message that she can't take us to the firing range tonight. Something with Allison's dad."

The idea of Kate molding Scott into any sort of hunter made Stiles want to growl.

"I… didn't know you were into… shooting real guns," Stiles said.

Scott shrugged. "It's fun. I tried a bow and arrow, like Allison uses, but a gun is easier," he said. "I guess Kate likes to hunt? Allison is nationally ranked in archery, and it's kind of their bonding thing."

"Hunting?" Stiles asked. "Like… Bambi?"

"I think so… I mean, what else is there to hunt around here?"

Werewolves and their families was what Stiles wanted to say. He elected to shrug and keep his lips zipped instead of telling Scott the truth.

"Kate said she might take us on a hunt soon, though, so I might find out," Scott said.

Stiles tried not to let his displeasure show, but it must have leaked out because Scott put his hand on Stiles' shoulder and squeezed.

"It's gonna be fine," Scott said. "I don't want to kill anything. It's just nice to be included, y'know? Like having more family."

"I… yeah."

Scott furrowed his brow as he withdrew his hand. "What?" he asked.

Stiles shook his head. "I'm sure it's nothing," he lied.

"You don't think Allison's family likes me?"

Stiles raised his hands. "No, no, I'm sure they do," he said. "I mean, you're awesome and they'd be dumb if they can't see and appreciate that."

"But…?"

He wasn't sure what he should say. Telling Scott that Kate was dangerous and crazy wouldn't do Stiles any favours with Scott or with Allison. Telling Scott that Kate sounded like a great person would put Scott in an even closer position with the crazy hunters. He looked down at the steering wheel and frowned as he considered his options.

"I just… want you to be safe---and careful," Stiles said. "If you think you're in a dangerous situation, you look after you and get your butt out of there, you got it?"

Scott snorted. "It's just the shooting range," he insisted.

"I mean in general," Stiles said, "not just the gun stuff."

Something of the seriousness of his feelings must have shown on his face because Scott smiled a small, warm smile.

"I promise," he said.

His heart was steady, without any quickening of pace or skipping of beats, and that was all for which Stiles could hope. He knew Scott might not realise he was in the middle of a dangerous situation, between his love for Allison and his trust of Kate; Stiles could only try to believe that Scott would recognise danger when he saw it and do his best to steer clear of it.

"All right. Let's go shoot some zombies or something," Stiles said. "Like old times."

Scott grinned and nodded. He took his gear from the back of the vehicle; Stiles didn't bother with his and used the time to send a quick text to Derek, keeping his packmate apprised of his location. While he knew Derek didn't care what he and Scott were spending their afternoon doing, Stiles wanted to keep Derek informed in case anything bad happened. They'd agreed to keep open lines of communication so that, if Peter appeared, one would be able to retrace the other's steps.

"Ready?"

Stiles looked up at Scott. He smiled and nodded.

Together, they walked into Scott's house. Their first stop was the kitchen, to grab drinks and snacks; their second stop was the living room. Melissa made them move the gaming consoles out of Scott's bedroom after The Great (Terrible) Gaming Extravaganza Weekend of 2008, so someone could make sure they stopped staring at the television, drinking soda, and eating candy long enough to shower, sleep, and eat real food. In the past, Stiles had complained---to both Scott and Melissa---but he was glad for their being forced into a public area. He didn't want to smell whatever he and Allison got around to doing when they were allegedly doing their homework; he didn't want to smell how much their lives had changed between werewolves, lacrosse, girlfriends, and hunters.

Stiles got in an hour of playing and superficial conversation with Scott before the phone rang. He'd actually felt like he was laying the groundwork for a serious (although not completely truthful) conversation---and maybe, too, like he could get his understanding, chill, patient friend back.

But, then the phone rang, signalling that Allison was calling.

"Can we pause?" Scott asked. "I'll just talk to her for a couple minutes and then I'll finish… well, losing to you," he added with a gesture to the screen.

Stiles nodded. "Yep."

Scott caught the call on the sixth ring and hurried out of the room. Stiles tried not to track his progress through the house; he tried not to listen to their conversation. Despite his attempt at letting the sounds around him drown out Scott, Stiles knew he was on his way to his bedroom and that he and Allison were talking about getting together to watch a movie before Chris and Kate returned from whatever it was they were doing.

Talking about the movie turned into talking about the cookies Allison baked…

...and twenty-two minutes later, they were still talking.

Stiles sighed. He was not going to wait any longer. He was annoyed. He might be single forever, he might not understand the overriding power of a sexual relationship (and he knew theirs had taken a sexual turn, just by the smell of them in the hallways at school), but he didn't deserve to be put on hold. He tried. He would probably keep trying, because Scott had been a part of his family for so long. But, he was annoyed and hurt and he needed to get out of there before he did or said something he'd regret.

He left a note on the kitchen's message board---short, biting, and full of snark---and then he grabbed his car keys.

By the time he pulled into his driveway, he wondered if Scott realised he'd left---or if he were still on the phone with Allison.

#####

Jackson yawned as he waited in line. He needed coffee---all the coffee---and he needed it faster than the junior college dropout barista was delivering it to his customers. When he finally got to the counter, he rattled off his order of too many shots in their largest cup dosed with their most sugary flavour shot and imagined embedding his claws in the barista's---

He looked down at his hands. He didn't have claws.

Goddamnit! The dreams were happening when he was awake, too.

"Fuck my life," he muttered, rubbing a claw-free hand over his face.

"Did you forget your money?"

Snapping his gaze on the barista, Jackson snorted and reached into his back pocket for his wallet. He withdrew the very fancy credit card his father gave him---and he knew he shouldn't use it for something as small as coffee, but he wanted to demonstrate how much more superior he was---and passed it over the point of sale device with a flourish.

He walked out of the coffee shop fifteen minutes later, his overly sweet and overly strong drink clasped firmly in one hand and the keys to his Porsche in the other. He had twenty minutes to get to Danny's house where he was supposed to meet Danny and Lydia to work on their chemistry and biology homework for the week. He didn't want to go---it wasn't like he needed good grades when he was the captain of a winning lacrosse team---but he was still trying to make things right with Lydia after the way he'd been treating her for the last few weeks.

"Ever since that night… is this some sort of PTSD? Do you need someone to talk to?"

At the sound of her voice in his memories, he clenched his jaw and kept walking towards his car. She didn't mean to bother him, but she did. She was more perceptive than he thought she was; something had changed inside of him after the video store incident. He'd never claimed to be easygoing before the attack that night, but after it, there was a rage simmering inside of him that he couldn't source or explain. While Lydia might have been a little annoying before the attack, she recently achieved the ability of stirring his temper from zero to five thousand by only trying to show him that she cared about him.

He didn't want to push her away. She was one of the few people he could stand---and one of the even fewer he genuinely adored. But, every time she opened her mouth, her voice… it was somehow higher in pitch underneath her usual tone and volume, making his jaw clench and his ears ache. She trailed after him, trying to take care of him, and he felt trapped. He knew it was something in his own head, because Lydia was practically perfect, but he couldn't dial it down and get back to their normal.

Something was wrong with him, and that was a truth he didn't like to face. If he could keep his new issues a secret, maybe no one would notice, and---

"A little rosemary, sage, yarrow, and some other ingredients mixed in a salve would help you with that headache."

Jackson snorted. "Thanks, pal, but I'm not interested in any ya-ya sisterhood healing crap," he muttered.

His car was a few feet away, he was reaching out to open the door, and then he was being pushed into it with the weight of someone taller and stronger pinning him in place. After trying (and failing) to shove the person off of him, he looked up into a complete stranger's face.

"What do you want?" Jackson snarled.

"I want you to show me some respect," the man said through a smirk. "After all, I'm only trying to help."

"Fucking creep."

Jackson expected another shove or maybe a punch, but he did not expect the man's eyes to glow bright red.

"You should be more polite, Jackson, because you have no idea who you're dealing with."

The new sense of anger, usually so close to the surface, quieted as the man's upper lip curled into a sneer. Jackson stared up at him, wondering if this guy---if he was even human, at all, because those eyes were definitely not normal---and the fear he was trying to instill in Jackson was some sort of antidote to the rage.

"Now, I have a job opportunity for you," the man purred, stepping back and smoothing his hands over the front of Jackson's shirt.

"I don't need money," Jackson said as he glared at him.

The man smiled. "No, I guess you don't. But, I can offer you power and strength…"

"I'm already---"

The man lifted his hand that had claws, just like Jackson's hand did in his dreams, and he scratched them along the side of the car that had been parked next to his. Those claws tore through the metal, as if it were paper; when he lifted his hand, he seemed to be undamaged.

"What are you?" Jackson asked.

With a wide grin, through which Jackson thought he saw a glimpse of fangs, the man flourished his clawed hand.

"Better."

Jackson wanted to be better, too. If he were better, he could play better than the rest of his team, he could get scouted by all the top schools, he could be a star, he could be loved, and he could---

"You could be better, too, Jackson---I could make you better---if you do something for me."

"Wh-what?" Jackson asked.

"There's a classmate of yours… I'd like you to keep an eye on him," the man said. He held out a small rectangle of cream-coloured cardstock with a phone number written on it. "Take note of the details---where he goes, who he spends his time with, what he does---and text them to me. Start with that, give me good information, and I will consider finishing what I started in that video store."

Jackson's stomach churned. "That was you? I thought… they said..."

"A mountain lion? Really? Did it feel like a mountain lion was holding you down, sinking its claws into you?"

He swallowed and shook his head. He'd known… he'd been willing to believe the Sheriff, because the alternatives were supposed to be impossible, but he'd known, deep down, that something hadn't been normal about that whole experience.

"It was an accident, but I hadn't planned on witnesses," the man said in a quiet voice. "And now, I think we can take advantage of our situations, can't we?"

Telling the man to leave him alone wasn't an option. If the man treated the panels of that car like they were tissue paper, Jackson wasn't going to last long in any sort of physical altercation. As much as he wanted to be faster, stronger, and better, he wasn't sure he wanted to go all in with a guy who admitted he killed someone. Jackson might've been an asshole---but he wasn't a murderer. The promise of power, though, was something from which Jackson didn't think he could turn. Power could mean it didn't matter what was happening at home; power could mean he would have the strength and determination to reach his goals without trying to count on other people. Power would mean he was never weak again.

"What's the guy's name?" Jackson asked.

"Stiles."

Jackson groaned. Of course it was fucking Stilinski. Of course!

"He's pretty boring. You sure that's the guy?"

The man grinned. "Oh, yes. I'm positive if you watch him and pay attention, you'll realise that he's not so boring after all," he said. He brushed his hand against the side of Jackson's head, ignoring the way Jackson flinched. "And you should look into that herbal blend I recommended. A banshee coming into her powers can be painful for those around her who have… sensitive ears."

Jackson didn't understand any of what the man was trying to tell him. Stilinski couldn't have claws or fangs or glowing eyes. He was a twerp---not a magically strong creature. Even after the man left him alone, he couldn't figure out what the man meant.

Stilinski had power? What the hell was he still doing in Beacon Hills?! He couldn't be strong. No, he was weak---a flailing, spastic, idiotic, weak mess.

And what was a banshee? It sounded familiar, but… Jackson couldn't remember what it was.

Once he was alone, finally, he unlocked his phone's screen. There were two messages from Lydia because he was late. There was also one message from Danny.

I'll be there soon. Sorry. Fell asleep.

Jackson sent the hastily written text and slipped into the driver's seat. He'd swing by Stilinski's hovel, make sure that the nerd was there doing nothing exciting, and then he'd get back to his plans for the evening.

#####

After therapy (and a nap), Derek reached for his phone and scrolled through his meager list of contacts. He hesitated when his thumb hovered over the number for Stonehaven, not sure he could take hearing any of the other pack members' voices, and settled for Jeremy's private cellular phone number.

He'd spoken to Jeremy after finding Laura. Jeremy had stayed on the line with him as he howled, adding his own howls through the speaker of Derek's phone, and as he buried what he had of Laura with the rest of their family. He was a steady presence, but Derek wasn't sure if he felt ready to hear his calm, deep voice give him the answers to the questions Kahale had assigned him as homework.

"Derek."

As he registered the relieved tone in Jeremy's voice, Derek felt his insides tighten. His heart skipped a beat. He swallowed past the lump in his throat and tried to respond.

"Jeremy… hi," Derek whispered. "Hi. I…" He snorted. "Hi."

"Are you all right?" Jeremy asked.

"I… I don't know how to answer that," Derek admitted. "It's been a strange few weeks."

Jeremy sighed, a soft sound that wasn't expressing anger but more of a mild exasperation. "I've been following the news out where you are, and I almost sent Clay to you twice," Jeremy admitted. "What do you need from me?"

Derek closed his eyes. He remembered overhearing phone conversations between his mother and Jeremy; he remembered the photographs of them with Peter and a few other werewolves. They'd always been so happy together. If he told Jeremy about Peter, would he ruin those memories?

"Derek, start at the beginning," Jeremy commanded. "You told me there was a boy who was bitten."

"Stiles. Yes. He's… he is not a problem. He… he's been… supportive. Helpful. He and his father---who's the Sheriff out here," Derek explained. "Stiles… he deserves a better pack, but I'm trying to teach him control. And how to be safe. It's… it's complicated. His best friend is dating an Argent---"

Jeremy growled.

"Not K-Kate. Her niece," Derek said, quickly, before Jeremy grew too angry. "And Gerard's not here yet---from what I can tell."

Derek listened as Jeremy inhaled slowly. He could easily picture Jeremy sitting in one of the armchairs by the fire, contemplating what information Derek was providing and what his next question would be. In the yard, Nick, Clay, and Elena could be roughhousing if they could stand to be in the vicinity of each other without bickering. Antonio could be in the kitchen, preparing a feast, but he could also be in the chair opposite Jeremy. If he were there, he'd be listening, ready to offer his support, with a glass of wine or scotch in his hand.

"How is this… Stiles? That can't be his real name. How is he doing with the change?"

Derek relaxed a little at the thought of Stiles and the progress he'd made. "He's got amazing control. Better than me at that age---which isn't saying much, because I had zero control as a teenager---and we've only had a few rough spots on full moons. Once, because of hunters. The most recent was the alpha calling him out," he explained. "Some sensory overload, but we're working on it. He's finding that running helps him keep his brain focused more than his meds ever did."

"Meds?"

Derek snorted. "He's not an addict---"

"I didn't think he was, but what you're suggesting is that there's an ailment or imbalance that the bite didn't help," Jeremy interrupted.

"He has one of those attention… I think it's ADHD," Derek supplied. "So, some issues with hyperfocus or a total lack of focus---especially at school, where there are a lot of people, scents, sounds. It's not an illness. It's just, from what I understand, a different way of processing information."

"Fascinating."

"Jeremy…"

"I'm sorry, Derek, it's just… it's unusual. I'm curious," Jeremy murmured. "What else is happening? Has there been any news about the rogue wolf?"

Derek swallowed hard against the lump that reappeared in his throat.

"Derek?"

"It's Peter," Derek said, his voice barely louder than a croak.

Silence followed Derek's announcement. He whined into the void, upset that he may have hurt Jeremy; he closed his eyes and braced himself for the anger that he was sure Jeremy would express.

When Jeremy spoke, though, he said something that Derek did not expect.

"Oh, Derek… I'm so sorry," Jeremy murmured. "I can't imagine how hurt you're feeling."

In the absence of anything useful to say, Derek spluttered. "You're not mad at me?" he asked.

"Why would I be?" Jeremy asked in response. "You aren't responsible for Peter's choices. I knew he disagreed with a lot of Talia's plans and policies, but I never would have expected him to… to…"

"To kill Laura?" Derek supplied.

Jeremy sighed. "Yes. He loved you, Laura, Cora, and---"

Derek let loose another whine and Jeremy stopped listing off his deceased siblings.

"He thought of you all like brothers and sisters," Jeremy said. "You were his family. And for him to do this… I can't… was it damage from the fire? Is he lucid?"

"He said he was out of his mind. That he didn't mean to kill her… in a sort of 'accidents happen' way," Derek explained. "But, Stiles said before Peter bit him, he threw a rock---and threw it badly---and Peter snorted. Even in his partial shift form."

"His sense of humour was always sharp," Jeremy commented. Derek would have smiled if the situation were not so dire. "But if he were deranged and feral, would he have stopped to see the humour in a particular situation?"

"That's what Stiles said," Derek admitted. "Plus, we figured out that either he or one of his nurses had set up Stiles to kill some of his friends a couple weeks ago."

"What?!"

Derek stretched out on the bed as he explained what had happened, between Peter, Stiles, and the others he'd lured to the school. Jeremy was usually so reserved, but he surprised Derek by cursing a couple times throughout Derek's retelling of events. He cursed more when Derek told him about their confrontation in the hospital, where Peter levelled an ultimatum at them, and then he fell silent. As Jeremy processed what he'd been told, Derek wished he had a glass of water; he felt like talked more that day than he ever had at any other point in his life.

"What are you going to do?" Jeremy asked.

After a snort, Derek said, "Well, this is why I'm calling, sort of. My therapist---"

"You're seeing a counselor! That's wonderful!" Jeremy interjected. "How… are they in the know, or---"

"He's in the know," Derek confirmed. "They're… his family, I mean, they're magic. Not druids or witches. Some sort of elemental power. His son has been helping Stiles. They seem to be good people."

"Derek, that's great. I'm so proud of you."

Derek felt two urges---one, to roll his eyes, and two, to bask in the praise of an alpha he knew and trusted---and worked hard to repress both of them. Jeremy had tried to get Derek to open up about the fire, but Derek had been wallowing in grief and shame and he didn't think he deserved help. He still wasn't sure he deserved help, but he wanted to try to be better for Stiles, who could be his pack if Derek didn't disappoint him too much.

"Anyway… I've been trying to decide what to do," Derek said, trying to avoid responding to Jeremy's words and his own thoughts on the subject of seeking help. "My therapist suggested I talk to an alpha who isn't evil---"

"Well, I'm flattered," Jeremy teased.

"---and find out what makes a good alpha or leader. I mean, I remember Mom. But she was my mother. And Laura… she was my family. I would've followed them anywhere. Peter is my family, but the things he's doing… he's killing---"

"I've seen the news," Jeremy said. He sighed. "I can't believe the mountain lion story is holding."

"Yeah," Derek mumbled.

"Derek, what you said tells me you know what makes a good alpha," Jeremy said, focusing on the point of Derek's call. "Your mother… she was formidable. For a woman---but for a person and werewolf, too, no matter their gender. She had a code. She stuck to it, even when it was difficult. She could have called for war, she could have killed any hunter that came within miles of Beacon County. But, she believed in peace and she believed in strength before violence.

"I don't doubt she'd have killed to save her pack---or to save anyone in danger---but she believed there is strength in negotiation and other peaceful solutions," Jeremy said. "She taught me a lot about being an alpha, actually. She was the one, besides Antonio, who supported me in my bid for alpha of this pack."

"She did?" Derek asked.

"Dominic died of a stroke, and there was no successor in place---not like with Talia and Laura's bond," Jeremy explained. "Malcolm wanted to fight for it. He tried to kill Nick… he tried to kill me and my supporters. I didn't have the alpha power---neither did he, but I knew he'd go out and get it from somewhere if he had the pack's support. I was afraid if we kicked him out, we'd be a pack of betas.

"Talia traveled to Stonehaven and took me out into the woods," Jeremy continued. "She reminded me that the true alpha isn't a myth---that anyone can become an alpha. Did you know she was a true alpha? Her father didn't think women should be alphas---even though his own grandmother had ruled the Hale Pack for eighty years---and he tried to send Talia away after his second wife finally gave him a son."

Derek blinked as he tried to process that information. As much as they'd been all about family, Talia had never spoken of her parents; Peter occasionally mentioned them, but never in Talia's presence. Derek had assumed it was because of grief, so he never asked how Talia became alpha.

"Is he still alive?"

Jeremy sighed. "No… she said the Nemeton blessed her with the opportunity to earn her power, and after she obtained it, she challenged him," he replied. "She would have let him live, but he tried to kill her when she showed him her back. She couldn't abide that. His wife… she tried to take Peter and leave the pack. She ran into hunters. Talia managed to save him---but was too late to save her. Then she met your father, and some of his small pack followed him when he bonded with her."

"I… I had no idea," Derek whispered.

In Jeremy's background, he was pouring a drink; Derek could hear glass clinking and liquid flowing. In his own background, Derek could hear the front door opening. He tensed until he could hear and recognise the Sheriff's tired groan as he pulled off his boots. Then, upon realising he was still safe, he relaxed back into the mattress.

"I imagine she kept her history quiet because of Peter," Jeremy said. "It was difficult for him. He was raised as if he were a boy king until Talia became alpha."

"That explains a lot, actually," Derek said.

"We've forgotten that the alpha power can be grown from a desire to protect and defend," Jeremy said, returning to the topic of Derek's question. "The archives here glorify bloody battles for power. But, packs lose alphas at the hands of hunters and at the whim of regular disasters. And the betas don't necessarily flounder if an heir bond wasn't created. One may rise, earning the trust of the pack, and they will be gifted with that power.

"You don't have to follow someone because they are an alpha," he added. "A good leader has the support and trust of their pack and the alpha power flourishes or grows from that. Dominance is about serving, too, not just power and control."

Derek frowned. He couldn't be a good leader. He couldn't---

"Derek, you need to trust your instincts," Jeremy said, interrupting his negative train of thought. "Do you think Peter will have Stiles' best interests in his heart?"

Without hesitation, Derek said, "No, he made that clear at the school. He wanted Stiles to kill his friends, Jeremy. As a test. That's…"

"Cruel."

Derek exhaled. "Yes."

"Who would you pick if you could grow your pack?"

"Jer---"

"Humour me," Jeremy insisted. "Hypothetically. You could beat Peter, you're strong. Or, you could---"

"I couldn't be a true alpha," Derek said, shaking his head. "I'm not… I'm not Mom. Or you. I ruined my pack! People like me don't become true alphas!"

Jeremy sipped whatever he was drinking before speaking. "Derek, you did not ruin your pack. You were targeted. Laura never blamed you… she blamed the Argents. We talked about the fire a few times and we knew you were never at fault. You are your mother's son, you have the ability to protect in your blood and the knowledge of leadership in your memories. You know what is right and what is wrong. You care about others. You could become alpha.

"So. If you do, who would you choose to grow your pack?"

"If… if I became alpha. If. They'd have to be people who would support Stiles as my second, as my right hand. I trust him," Derek said, as he struggled to put his thoughts and feelings into words. "Not too many to attract attention from hunters. People who the bite could help. Someone who is sick, or someone without people in their life---someone who understands the value of family. People who need protection as much as they want to protect others. Younger is better, because of the genetic transformation."

"Why?"

"Because power-hungry people are poor team workers," Derek replied. "Because people who need it are most likely to protect and defend the pack. Because those who can't accept that discretion and protection are key… they put the pack at risk. Because pack is important."

He felt like he was being quizzed at his parents' dining room table. He was sure he'd been subjected to a lecture about the bite as a gift after Paige's death; he just couldn't remember the conversation.

"It seems to me that you have a firm understanding of the hypothetical situation," Jeremy said. "Derek, Beacon Hills would be lucky to have you as alpha---so long as you continue to treat the role like a responsibility and respect it."

"You say lucky, I say screwed," Derek muttered. He sighed. "I'm glad Peter is alive---and conscious---but I wish he weren't. He's done terrible things, trying to get revenge for the fire. Laura should be here… Laura would know what to do."

"Talk to Stiles," Jeremy suggested. "Teamwork is important and this involves him."

"Yeah… yeah."

"Are you okay?"

Derek huffed. "I had a rough therapy session, and then you hit me with more truths and revelations," he admitted. "I don't know if I'll ever be okay again, to be honest, but I accepted that a long time ago."

"When this is over, come to Stonehaven. Or we'll come to you," Jeremy said. "I know you haven't been gone that long, but I miss you. Clay would love to see you, too. I'd like to meet Stiles and help you get settled. Plus, he should learn how to meet another pack on more informal footing."

"You'd come here?"

"I've been restraining myself ever since Laura left Stonehaven. I want to be there now, but I know you must feel territorial about your hometown," Jeremy confessed. "Clay and Elena are on notice, too, if you need reinforcements."

Derek didn't want Jeremy's pack to become one of the Argents' targets, so he never considered asking for help. But, he missed them, too. They'd been almost-pack since he and Laura turned up in Bear Valley.

"I… can I get back to you on that?" he asked. "With Kate here…"

"I know. I understand. But, if you're in over your head… you call or text one of us. We'll be on the next flight."

Derek closed his eyes. "Thank you, Jeremy."

"I'm here for you, Derek," Jeremy replied. "You may not be pack in the strictest sense of the word, but I always thought of your mother as family, and that extends to you."

When Derek ended the call, a few minutes later, his heart felt both lighter and heavier at the same time. He wasn't sure if that was progress or stagnation; however, he took the sensation of lightness, akin to hope, as a positive sign.

#####

John parked his car in the driveway and rubbed a hand over his eyes. That morning, he'd hoped he would have good news---a clue, a lead, anything he could use to pin murder on Kate Argent---when he returned home at the end of the day. All he had to show for his efforts was a sneaking suspicion that Adrian Harris was withholding information and a mention of the necklace of which Allison was the current owner. It was a confirmation they were right, but it wasn't enough to take to a judge. To catch Kate, they would need to strike with fast force so she couldn't retaliate or prevent them from getting more information for the investigation. They weren't there yet.

He wanted Stiles and Derek to be safe. He wanted Beacon Hills to be safe. No one was safe with Kate Argent still on the loose.

He didn't understand hunters. Derek said they were supposed to adhere to a code but they rarely did, their hatred of other driving them to wipe out supernatural beings. These were naturally-occurring beings, as far as Derek could tell him; they were meant to be in the world. Hunters either didn't believe that to be true or they didn't care.

He did understand eliminating a threat. Human criminals often left law enforcement officers with no choice; those killings weren't usually treated as celebration, though, the same way some hunters seemed to rejoice in their work. No law enforcement officer would insist on wiping out a whole family in the pursuit of protecting the public; killing a child was unfathomable, unless there was no other course of action to take. Humans were offered psychiatric help; werewolves were tracked down and killed when they were in pain.

He wondered if he'd feel the same way if Peter Hale had killed Stiles instead of turning him.

He had no answer to soothe his worried mind.

Once he made his way inside the house, he put his gun in the safe and sat down to remove his boots. He groaned once both of his feet were free, sock-clad and resting on the cool floor. It didn't look like anyone else was home, so he leaned back and closed his eyes and tried to rest.

"No, he made that clear at the school. He wanted Stiles to kill his friends, Jeremy. As a test. That's…"

John opened his eyes as Derek's voice registered in his mind. It was low and muffled, suggesting he was in his room; John wondered about a guest for a moment before giving himself a shake and realizing that Derek was probably on the phone. He knew other people---like the pack who took them in after the fire---and the most sensible explanation was that he was on the phone.

He didn't want to eavesdrop so he stood up and ambled into the kitchen. He puttered around, pouring himself a glass of iced tea (and marveling over the fact that there was homemade tea with fruit slices chilling in his fridge), and doing his best not to listen in on Derek's conversation as he drank from his glass.

"I couldn't be a true alpha. I'm not… I'm not Mom. Or you. I ruined my pack! People like me don't become true alphas!"

John frowned when Derek's panicked, angry tone made his words easier to hear. He remembered what Derek told him about a true alpha; he'd made it sound magical and rare, like a unicorn, but whoever was on the other end of Derek's call must have said something that suggested it was a possibility.

He hated the way Derek thought about himself. The fire was not his fault. While he knew Derek had a long way to go before he was healed and stable, he was a good kid struggling under an immense weight and trying to survive.

John sighed.

And then, he frowned.

"If… if I became alpha. If. They'd have to be people who would support Stiles as my second, as my right hand. Not too many. But people who the bite could help. Someone who is sick, or someone without family. Someone who understands the value in family. People who need protection as much as they want to protect others. Younger is better, because of the genetic transformation."

John wasn't sure how he felt about Derek deliberately biting people to turn them---especially if they were younger. Consent issues aside, he remembered both Stiles and Derek telling him the bite either turns someone or kills them. He also wasn't sure Beacon Hills was ready for a group of werewolves; as much as he believed they had the right to live as people, he also believed more supernatural beings in Beacon Hills could be trouble.

Was it selfish or stupid of him to hope that Derek and Stiles would be enough pack for each other?

He gave himself a shake and left the kitchen. Eventually, Stiles would be home and John wanted to shower and change before he was faced with two kids with enhanced senses who could smell his day on his skin. He wanted to be able to tell them how his talk with Adrian went, but he didn't want them to know about the rest of his day.

The shower's hot water melted away the aches and pains of his job, while easing the stress of his concerns about Derek's and Stiles' collective safety. He almost felt normal when he emerged from the bathroom. He almost felt comfortable when he tugged on a pair of sweats.

And then his discomfort returned when he reentered the kitchen and found himself face-to-face with Derek.

"Sheriff."

Still bothered by what he'd overheard, John didn't correct him.

"Is everything okay?" John asked. He gestured towards the bedroom. "I heard you talking a little."

Derek nodded before he opened the fridge and found a bag of produce. "I… yeah. Doctor Mahealani wanted me to talk to Jeremy. Ask him about alpha stuff to figure out if I'm going to go to Peter or not."

John frowned. That hadn't sounded like what he'd heard---and that presented him with more concerns.

Would he leave Stiles and join Peter? Would he force or coerce Stiles to join Peter, too?

"What's the verdict?" John asked.

"I… he's my uncle. He's my only remaining blood family," Derek said. "He's also power and revenge driven and doing things I know are wrong---but I can't say I'm sad they're dead, either. They helped burn my family alive."

John sighed and nodded. It was clear to him---Peter was bad, no doubt in his mind---but he forgot how difficult it would be for Derek to see it that way. The Hales were werewolves, not military men or cops; they saw the world from a different perspective than he did.

"It's complicated, then," John said.

"That's putting it lightly."

Derek set up the cutting board and reached for a knife. He chopped onions, zucchini, and mushrooms effortlessly before turning to the stove and preparing a large frying pan.

When he put butter into the pan instead of spraying it with nonstick spray, John smiled. Derek glanced at him and smiled back---a small gesture reflecting their understanding that the butter should not be mentioned.

"Omelettes okay?" Derek asked. "Figured we could have breakfast for supper."

"I'll get the toast going," John agreed.

"There's real cheese, too," Derek added. "I picked it up on my way home."

"Perfect."

They worked in an almost companionable silence for a few minutes, John setting bread on a cookie sheet to be put in the broiler and Derek breaking and whisking eggs, before Derek cleared his throat.

"Is there something you want to ask?"

"Can you smell it on me or something?" John asked.

Derek shook his head. "No, you just seem tense," he replied.

John ducked his head, smiling sheepishly. "Oh. Right," he said. He moved around Derek to put the bread in the oven; once the timer was set, he turned and faced Derek again. "I heard some of what you were saying," he admitted.

Derek nodded and waited for John to say more. His shoulders were hunched and his head was bowed; he seemed to be waiting for negative words and John wished he hadn't had a problem with what he heard because he didn't want to hurt Derek anymore than he'd already been hurt.

"About biting and turning people," John said. "I… I'm not sure how I feel about that."

Derek's jaw clenched.

"Not sure how you feel about more monsters in your town?" he asked.

John raised his hands. "Derek, no, that's not it," he insisted.

Derek didn't react much to his words. Instead, he shrugged and turned his back on John to start to cook some of the vegetables he'd chopped.

While John was wondering what Derek was going to say or do, Derek said, "You shouldn't lie to someone who can hear your pulse."

John frowned. "I'm not lying!" he exclaimed. "I may not think it's a great idea for you to turn desperate teenagers, but I have never thought of you and Stiles as monsters!"

Derek poured some of the egg mixture into the pan and swirled it around.

"That, you believe," Derek said. "So, I guess the truth is somewhere in between."

"The thing about lie detectors is that they never tell you why someone's heart may beat more quickly," John said. "I worry about the balance between you and Stiles. I worry you're going to bite someone who dies. I worry you're going to bite someone who would rather destroy the town than help you build your pack---"

The oven beeped. Derek moved aside so that John could take out the tray, flip the slices of bread, and replace the tray on the top rack. Since embracing the fact that he was housing two werewolves, side dishes were often doubled or tripled to match their appetites. John knew, if he toasted the whole loaf of bread, Derek and Stiles would eat it all.

"And what if someone worse than Peter comes to town, and two werewolves can't stop him?" Derek asked.

"Is that a possibility?" John asked.

Derek shrugged. "We haven't stopped Peter yet."

"What if we can stop him, without you killing him?" John suggested. "What if the hunters shoot him---or I shoot him?"

"What if another alpha comes to Beacon Hills looking to take over the territory and finds two betas they can try to control?" Derek asked in reply.

John sighed. "One of you has to be the leader?"

"It's how a pack is strongest. An alpha protects and defends and supports," Derek said. "In return, the pack strengthens the alpha. A stable pack means everyone is stronger and steadier. We get into problems when we're lone wolves with no support or ties."

"But you two would have each other for support!"

Derek reached into the oven and grabbed the tray of toast with his bare hand. He flinched, but he withstood the pain of touching the hot tray until he could put it on top of the stove. He pulled his hand back, watched the burns slowly fade from pink to flesh tone, and then he curled his hand into a fist. John knew that Derek and Stiles still felt pain, and he hated that Derek hadn't reached for the oven mitt, but the healing was a remarkable feat.

"That's not how a pack works. You don't understand."

"Then explain it to me, please," John insisted.

Derek plated one omelette and put it in the oven once he checked that the broiler was, in fact, no longer running; he didn't say anything until he started cooking the vegetables for the next omelette.

"Do you know how we're hunted?" Derek asked. He glanced at John long enough to see the shake of his head and turned his attention back to his work in the pan. "We're usually separated from our pack. One member at a time. As children, Mom taught us to hide---to find the best hiding places, places no human could access---but she also taught us to track and to run. Because if we were separated, we were in trouble. As children, we need to be able to find someone like us, because we are stronger and safer together. Hunters will use noise and light and brute force to separate us. They can't take us as a pack, so they do everything they can to single the weakest from the strongest, one at a time.

"But, that hunting technique isn't unique to hunters. Wolves do it. Lions do it. Predators focus on one, and separate them," Derek said. "When we're alone, when we're already omega, with no one to protect us and fight for us, it's easier to kill us. There's no one coming. There's no one to loan us their strength. There's no one to howl to for reinforcements."

John went to the fridge to find the butter---he was not going to eat toast coated in that oily fake crap, he was going to have real butter, goddamnit---and tried to sort out his thoughts.

"You're not alone, though," he managed to say.

Derek shrugged. "Without an alpha to help complete the pact bond, we're two omegas."

"You're telling me you will turn---or kill---children, Derek, you can't expect me to accept that."

"Then, you can tell the Argents and have them come for me---but you better make sure you keep Stiles' name out of it," Derek snapped. "Because after they kill me and go after Peter---wiping the last of the Hales from the world---they will come after your son. They won't care that he's an innocent kid. They'll see an omega---easy prey."

John frowned and kept his mouth shut as he buttered the pieces of toast.

"The younger a person is, the better chance they have to survive," Derek said, his tone softer. "And we're supposed to pick people who would be helped by the change. People who are sick… people who are seriously injured. People who want family. Mom always said they have a better chance because they want it."

"Can they consent?" John asked. "Can a teenager consent to something so life changing without knowing---"

"You think I'd just bite them without telling them anything? About the risks? About the hunters?" Derek snorted and plated another omelette. "Just force them to be monsters, no matter what they want---that would be cruel. And it wouldn't make a strong, stable pack."

John didn't know what to say. He knew he struggled with the concept of the pack---it sounded like family, but it also sounded like more than family---and he disapproved of the idea of a group of teenage werewolves running around town. Teenagers could be easily influenced and coerced; he suspected that was why Peter chose Stiles, unaware of how difficult a mark he'd actually chosen, and he was afraid Peter would continue to choose children. Derek was almost as susceptible; he was hurt, grieving and processing his pain, and Peter could take advantage of him.

"I might not even survive Peter, this is ridiculous," Derek muttered. "I don't know why everyone thinks I'm going to be the alpha. I'll probably be dead in two weeks---tops."

John opened his mouth. He wanted to tell Derek that he believed Derek could be an alpha, despite his misgivings about the pack increasing in size, because he was healing and growing and trying to be a better person. He couldn't find the words.

Before he could try, Stiles opened the door. He was muttering under his breath, but John couldn't hear any of what he was saying. Derek seemed to be able to hear him, though, if the set of his shoulders and the size of his scowl were any indication as to the subject matter.

"Allison?" Derek asked when Stiles appeared in the kitchen.

"Yep! She called. He got distracted. For, like, a while," Stiles said, frowning. "I think I might just have to love the guy from afar for a while---in a platonic, bro-like capacity. At least until he grows his brain back and realises what a jerk he's being."

John smiled a little. "Well, go wash up. I had a talk with Harris today… and I shouldn't, but I will share that with you both."

"Sweet! Detectiving!" Stiles hopped over to the stove and nudged Derek. "And omelettes! You guys sure know how to cheer me up."

"Crime solving and lots of food, yeah, you're a tough nut to crack," Derek muttered back.

The way Derek rubbed his chin on the top of Stiles' head seemed so human and so not human all at the same time that John needed to take a moment to process the sight of them. He knew they weren't inappropriate with each other; he wasn't sure about Derek, but he knew his son wasn't oriented towards that end of the orientation spectrum, and he couldn't see any signs of heightened romantic emotions between them. They weren't always in each other's personal space, either. But, every once in a while, they did something that caught him off guard---or something that struck him as almost too intimate to be completely human.

The way Stiles smiled and rubbed his hand against Derek's neck didn't help John's perception of their moment.

When Derek stepped away from Stiles, he pulled the other two omelettes out of the warm oven. He put the third on a plate as Stiles took the first two to the table; John joined in by playing the stack of toast and putting that with the omelettes. He expected Derek to join them, but all Derek did was put his covered plate in the fridge and gesture towards the door.

"If it's all right, I'm going to go lie down," he said. "It's been a difficult day. With therapy and everything."

John wanted to say something---again---but he couldn't bring himself to apologise for having concerns about Derek's intentions for their community. He knew they weren't finished; there was still plenty they both needed to say to resolve the situation. He also knew that Derek was probably feeling raw and needed some space.

Stiles' eyes widened. "Did Argent---"

"No," Derek interjected. "I had to call Jeremy today and tell him about Peter, so…"

Stiles nodded. "Yeah… sure. Makes sense. Can I pester you later?"

"Yeah," Derek replied.

After a nod to John, Derek turned and left the kitchen.

Stiles turned a sharp, critical eye to John. "What were you two talking about when I came in?" he asked.

"I… I guess… just werewolf stuff," John replied.

"That's it?"

John gestured towards their plates. "Let's sit and I'll tell you about Mister Harris and what he told me."

Stiles stared at him with his eyes narrowed for nearly thirty seconds before he nodded and acquiesced. John tried not to breathe a sigh of relief as he joined his son.

#####

Something was going on with his father---and with Derek. Stiles didn't know what that something was, but he was going to investigate and sort out whatever was causing the rift between them.

Derek never missed dinner. Once he realised he had a safe place, he admitted to Stiles that the evening meal time had been a sort of ritual for his family. The Hales would sit around a large table piled with dishes of food and they would eat and talk for at least an hour---but usually for almost three hours. He told Stiles that the Danvers' meal time had been torture as much as it had been a comfort, because they behaved the same way. He said he liked preparing food because it made them feel like pack when the three of them sat together.

For Derek to miss a family (or pack) meal, something had to have happened.

He waited. He waited until John finished telling him about Mister Harris identifying the Argents' heirloom necklace, and until they finished debating whether or not it was enough evidence to open a second investigation into the fire. And then, when his father was full of breakfast-for-supper, Stiles broached the subject as delicately as he could.

"What the hell happened before I got home?"

Delicacy was not one of his strong suits.

John winced. "We… has a conversation."

"Will Derek be leaving in the middle of the night as a result of this conversation?" Stiles asked.

"I hope not. I don't… we might disagree, but he'll always have a home here," John said.

"What was it about?" Stiles asked. "And don't tell me it was just werewolf stuff. That was bullshit."

"Language."

Stiles huffed. "Dad…"

John sighed. "He was talking with Jeremy about expanding the pack---if Peter is dealt with in a way that gives him that power," he admitted. "And I expressed… my concerns about that."

"What's the problem? I don't get it."

With another sigh, John asked, "You don't have a problem with more werewolves running around? With more of your classmates being bitten?"

His response didn't require much thought or hesitation. He leaned forward and put his hands flat on the table before speaking.

"Derek's not Peter, Dad. He's not going to lurk in the woods and attack random people," he said. "I'd be an idiot if I said I'm not concerned about who gets picked. But, that's more about my insecurities than my trust in Derek. I want a pack. It's like… a missing piece in me. I can feel it. It's smaller when I'm here, with you and Derek, but it's still there. I don't even know what it's like to have a real pack---so I can't imagine how big that feeling is for Derek.

"The bite heals. What if he bit Scott---to help with his asthma? Not that I'm advocating telling Scott that werewolves are a thing, because I think it'd cause problems with the Argents. But… Erica. She has vicious seizures. What if the bite could cure her? Would that be so bad?"

John frowned. "Well, I never thought about it from that perspective."

"So you overheard his conversation and freaked out," Stiles said.

"I admit to thinking about the idea of more werewolves as a parent and as the Sheriff," John conceded. "You were alone in the woods and you were attacked, Stiles---"

"Derek wouldn't do that."

John arched an eyebrow. "No?"

Stiles shook his head and pressed his lips together. With the way Derek spoke about pack, as if it were something special, Stiles knew Derek wouldn't abuse the pack's potential. He also knew Derek was afraid of being too weak---and wanted a pack to help keep him strong---but he trusted Derek to remember how a pack should function and to work towards that goal.

"He thinks of the bite as a gift," Stiles said. "He wouldn't force it on anyone."

Before John could say anything, someone rang the doorbell. Stiles tried to broaden his hearing, but he couldn't hear a vehicle or multiple people. There was just one person and they were quiet.

John patted the table as he rose to a standing position. "I'll go see who it is," he said.

As he shuffled past Stiles, he put his hand on Stiles' shoulder for a gentle squeeze. It felt more like an apology---the touch was somehow missing its reassuring weight---than any gesture meant to be grounding or supportive. Stiles nudged his head back into John's arm; it was his turn to offer reassurance. They'd work out their differences even if Stiles had to force the three of them to be in the same room. He would not let his pack fracture before it could be officially formed.

He had time to cram the last of the toast in his mouth and wash it down with his milk before John called out for him to come to the door.

Scott's scent reached his nose before Stiles could get there.

Pleasantly surprised, because he thought it would've taken a couple days and someone to point out what happened before Scott apologised, Stiles joined John and Scott with a smile.

"Hey, Scottie, what's up?"

"Can we talk in your room?" Scott asked.

Stiles shook his head. "Let's go sit outside. We can go 'round back if you want."

John nudged Stiles' shoulder. "You get a pass on the dishes tonight, so take your time," he said. "Just don't forget about your homework."

"Sure, Dad."

He started off, walking from the front step to the back of the house, patting his jeep's hood as he passed it, and Scott followed him. As Stiles tried to listen to his heart, he found its pace elevated but steady, so he probably wasn't under duress; his scent held notes of stress, but it was dull underneath the odors of love and lust Stiles had grown used to scenting on top of Scott's usual scent. It probably wasn't an emergency, but Stiles wasn't sure what to think about Scott coming to him straight after seeing Allison.

And he did see Allison after Stiles left the house. Stiles knew this because he could smell her---and wolfsbane---on Scott's shirt.

He spent a few moments wondering if Allison had started training yet, before Scott reached into his pocket and pulled out… something that resembled an arrow head, judging from the threads at the base and the shape of the pieces of metal, but seemed to have exploded.

"Do you know what this is?" Scott asked.

Stiles took it from his hand. It smelled more like gunpowder than wolfsbane, but there was a trace of aconite in the residue that coated the insides of the exploded shape.

"What happened to it?" Stiles asked, looking into Scott's face.

"I… well. I went over to Allison's, because Kate and her dad were out, and her mom's away," Scott said.

Stiles wanted to ask him if Scott noticed that Stiles hadn't been there when he left, but he decided that wasn't the important detail upon which he should focus. It was important, in the survival of their friendship, but the weaponry of the hunters was far more crucial to the survival of him as a living, breathing person---and to the survival of Derek, in that way, too. He had to move slowly with Scott, but the fear of being hunted required him to push for more information.

"Okay, but that doesn't explain…"

Scott sighed. "Yeah, okay. So, we were in her garage… she was showing me her new bow---Kate bought it for her---before we went inside. They came home sooner than we thought they would so we hid behind the car," he said. "She was teasing him for firing something that could catch people's attention. And he said they saved his life on more than one occasion.

"When they left, we got out of our hiding spot and saw that on the bench. But it was whole."

Stiles held it up, carefully pinching the base because the exploded parts made his skin itch. "Allison fired off a test shot?"

Scott nodded. "In the woods. We said we were going to get milkshakes."

"What did it do?" Stiles asked.

"It was like one of those grenades from the movies!" Scott exclaimed. "A big flash and a bang! Allison has no idea what it's for, but… I thought maybe you might know?"

Stiles frowned. "I… I don't, not exactly," he said. "But, I'm betting it's not something you can just buy at a store. Dude, you gotta be careful."

Scott's eyebrows furrowed before they climbed up towards his hairline, wrinkling his forehead in the process. "Careful? What do you mean?" he asked.

"Whatever Kate and Allison's dad are into… doesn't seem safe," Stiles explained.

"They're regular people, Stiles."

"Yeah, regular people who have custom weapons lying around. Regular people who carry concealed weapons even though California is a may issue state and permits are rarely issued for people who live in urban areas," Stiles said. "Allison is a sweet marshmallow but her family is dangerous, Scott. I don't want you to get hurt."

"You have no idea what they're like!" Scott shot back. "You're just jealous because they like me enough to include me in their family!"

Stiles snorted. "I'm really not."

"No? You wouldn't leap at the chance to---"

Scott stopped abruptly. Stiles suspected he knew where that train of thought had been going; he suspected Scott had been about to say something about a complete family, or a surrogate parent to replace the ones they both lost. It almost made Stiles laugh---in anger, one of his inappropriate laughs that acted as a response to feelings he couldn't articulate---because while Stiles' mother was dead, he knew she could never be replaced, and Scott was always on the lookout for a new father figure, even though his dad was still alive.

"No, I wouldn't leap at the chance to bond with Mister Argent and his crazy sister Kate," Stiles said. "He came to the house, y'know? Asking questions he has no business asking. He was armed. Scared the crap out of me---and didn't seem too concerned about that. He's not a good guy, Scott. And Kate? God, you have no idea. She is certifiable. The things she's done. But you just lap up the attention and ignore all the warning signs! They are going to get you killed and all you can think about is how pretty Allison is and how lucky you are to get a second family! Your first family? Your mom? Me? We are going to lose you in a disgusting hunting accident---or worse, to jail, because you'll get arrested for shooting or killing someone while your precious new family just skates out of town!"

Scott clenched his jaw. "You have no idea," he growled, sounding particularly werewolf-y for a human. "You have no idea what she means to me---or what her family means to me. Just because you can't get a girlfriend---"

"Omigod! This is so not about girlfriends!" Stiles exclaimed. "You could be in trouble. Do you understand that?!"

"I am not in trouble. Allison is a good---"

"Hey, I said that. I know Allison is a good person."

As the scent of burning rage intensified, Scott took a step towards Stiles. "It's just her family that's bad news, then," he said. "You have no right to talk about them like that! They are good people and they care about me!"

"Scott, this is not normal," Stiles said, holding up the arrowhead. "You came here because you know it's not normal."

"That doesn't make them evil!"

Stiles knew he wasn't going to win. Allison was giving him kisses---and sex---and Stiles couldn't compete with that. He sighed. "Fine, Scott. Believe what you want," he said. "But, I tried to warn you. When you get in too deep, with them, my I'll help you hide the body card is not valid."

"I don't need you!" Scott shouted.

He marched off, heading back to the front of the house. Stiles listened as he picked up his bike, hopped on, and pedaled away and down the street. Then, he sat down on the back step and tucked his face into his knees.

The Argents were going to ruin Scott. Stiles wouldn't be able to save him. He was losing his best friend.

Derek landed on the grass and padded over to him. Without prompting, he sat down and put his arm around Stiles' shoulders. The gesture was stiff, but it was appreciated. He leaned into Derek's body and inhaled slowly.

"You tried, and you'll keep trying," Derek said. "This isn't the end."

"He… he… he was so mad," Stiles croaked.

"Well, you insulted his epic love. But, when the honeymoon phase passes, maybe he'll listen," Derek responded.

"I lost control," Stiles continued. "I never should have said those things about the Argents."

Derek snorted. "No, probably not," he agreed. "But, you didn't say anything that revealed anything about us."

"But, I basically told Allison I think her family is bad news, because you know Scott's gonna tell her what I said," Stiles groaned. He rubbed his forehead against his knees. "I told Allison I believed her. She said her parents were good people, when we were talking about Scott's issue with you, and her dad's concern about you in my life… I may have mentioned that your families didn't get along, and---"

"That's putting it mildly," Derek muttered.

"I'm scared for Scott," Stiles whispered. "I tried to fix things, and he came here which was huge, but I just made it worse!"

"You're trying and that matters," Derek said. "Plus---and I know it's not the same, but---I've learned, with the therapy thing, that sometimes people don't want to be helped."

"But you're going. And it's helping?"

Derek made a soft noise of affirmation. "Yeah, but I didn't want help until recently," he said. "Laura and Jeremy tried to get me to talk. I couldn't. I… I didn't want their help."

"What changed?" Stiles asked.

"Someone got bitten by a werewolf," Derek admitted. "And I don't want… I don't want to do all this alone. I still think I don't deserve help, and I'm afraid I'm going to fail him, but if I want a pack---no matter the size---I have to try."

Derek's words loosened the knot of anxiety in his guts. Instead of ruining the moment with awkward eye contact, Stiles went with his instincts and leaned into Derek. Derek's heart was steady and slow; his scent was warmer, somehow, but in a good way instead of anything close to a burning odor.

"Thank you," Stiles whispered. "I am very glad I don't have to do all this alone."

"We're pack, right?" Derek asked. "Means we're never alone."

"Pack," Stiles agreed.

#####

At first, Jackson was sure he was going to die of boredom while following Stilinski. He had new friends---who cares?!---and he and McCall weren't speaking---big whoop!---but apart from that, Stilinski was one of the least important or interesting or entertaining people on the planet. Jackson had no idea why he needed to follow such a ridiculous excuse for a human being.

They had a lot of the same classes, so at least the job was easy. And it was a little strange that McCall looked so angry, any time he looked at his little buddy, but Jackson did not care. It couldn't possibly be important.

It had to be a test---something to see how obedient Jackson could be. He had no intention of obeying the guy with the claws and fangs and glowing red eyes, but if that guy could give Jackson what he needed to be perfect, he'd pretend to play along until he got the power he needed to even the playing field and ensure his success.

He failed the test after school. He waited until Stilinski got in his ramshackle rust bucket, fully intending on following him to his next stop---probably home---but, as he turned to pull out of the parking lot, his precious Porsche stuttered to a stop. He snarled and cursed, slamming his hands against the steering wheel.

When Allison's father came to his rescue, with McCall and Allison in the back of his sport-utility vehicle, he thought he would get some sympathy and then brush them off so he could call a tow truck. Mister Argent had other plans, forcing his way under the hood of his precious car; Jackson did not like being manhandled, and the way Mister Argent focused some of his attention on the scratches on his neck made him even more uncomfortable.

He went straight from that encounter to a run-in with the guy with the claws and red eyes---who didn't like that Jackson had lost sight of Stilinski but seemed amused when Jackson mentioned the issues with his car. After that, he saw Allison's aunt following him as he walked around town. Her actions made him wonder how accidental it was that Mister Argent appeared when he was having car trouble.

His boring day was shaping into something a little more interesting---although he wished people weren't so concerned with what he was doing, because it was beginning to make him feel more uneasy than he usually felt.

Jackson caught back up with Stilinski near a local diner. He was carrying two meals, heading in the direction of the Sheriff's Department, so Jackson followed him. He kept almost half a block between them, not wanting to fail in his task by being recognised; but when the sidewalk became a little more crowded, he had to shorten the distance between them so he could keep Stilinski in his sights.

Stilinski discovered him at the intersection before the Sheriff's Department. Jackson wanted to snarl and rage---he'd done everything right, for fuck's sake---but he schooled his face into a calm expression and glared at Stilinski when he accused Jackson of following him.

"I have better things to do with my time, Bilinski," he protested.

Stilinski snorted. "Apparently not," he said. He leaned in and sniffed the air. "You've been keeping bad company, too."

He sniffed the air. He did something that the man with the claws had done. While Jackson stared at Stilinski, trying to figure out why he didn't use his powers to be better than the loser he was, Stilinski was looking past Jackson's shoulder.

"Well, you're in trouble," Stilinski said as he leaned away from Jackson. "And I don't want you bringing any of that trouble to my family. So, why don't you go home? Or to Lydia's?"

"What do you mean, I'm in trouble?"

"You think the woman following you is doing it because she likes your cheekbones?" Stilinski asked. "You think the guy who put you on my trail is gonna offer you a rewa---oh, shit, that's what he said he'd do, isn't it? Man, you're a dummy."

Jackson's temper flared at that accusation. He was going to win, he was going to get the power the dangerous man offered him, and he would never have to worry about failure again! Stilinski didn't understand. He had the same powers but he did nothing---he was a waste of space!

Before he could land the punch he felt compelled to throw, to knock some sense into the idiot in front of him, Stilinski's hand caught his fist. Jackson snarled and yanked his hand back out of his grip.

"You should be careful," Stilinski said, his voice quiet and calm. "No one you're helping cares if you live or die. Not the creepy guy, and definitely not the hunters following you."

Jackson hated that his insides clenched at Stilinski's words. "Hunters?" he asked. "Why would hunters be after me?"

"Some hunters go after prey a lot more dangerous than Bambi," Stilinski said. "Like the man they probably saw you meeting with."

"And you think they're after me?" Jackson asked. He snorted and straightened his shoulders to hide the way his insides were roiling. "I'm not an idiot. I know how to keep a secret."

Stilinski laughed. "Yeah, sure. Remember that when they're torturing you for information on the creeper and then slicing you in half," he said. He stepped away from Jackson and adjusted his hold on his bags of take-out. "Be careful, dude," he added before he turned around and headed back on his path to the Sheriff's Department.

Jackson realised he may have been in over his head. But, like he did any time he felt overwhelmed, he focused his eyes on the goal and charged ahead with his plan.

#####

When his phone started buzzing, Derek had only just evaded the two hunters lurking in the woods outside his family's home. He pushed the button on the side of the device that would stop its buzzing, and he hurried along a path that didn't smell of wolfsbane until he reached a small grouping of bushes and trees that would block sound from reaching human ears.

Stiles called. He left a voicemail, but Derek didn't waste time listening to it. Instead, he called Stiles directly.

"Dude!"

"What?" Derek asked. "Are you---"

"Jackson has been following me all day, he reeks of Peter and Argent, and Kate's following him," he said, his voice quiet and hurried. "I tried to warn him, but I think Peter offered him a little deal. Something he said, something I said---and his reaction to it."

Derek sighed as he peered through the bushes, trying to keep track of his surroundings. It sounded like something Peter would do, using a human to do his bidding, and Derek knew from Stiles' stories and his own experiences that Jackson had ambitions and believed himself to be better than a lot of people---all the while reeking of anxiety. Peter could have sensed that in him and preyed upon his weaknesses. Jackson could provide him with information on Stiles, and Derek by association, as well as on Scott and Allison.

The Argents were on the hunt for a second beta---a beta who was smaller than Derek. It made sense that they'd look at students, especially those of a small group lured to the school at the alpha's manipulation. Jackson was angry, generally, and rage could seem like a symptom of the bite if they didn't know he was always angry.

"Where are you?" Derek asked.

"The lobby at the Sheriff's Department," he replied. "Brought Dad dinner, but he's out on a call."

Derek took in a deep breath. That was good. Stiles would be safe there until Derek could get to him---until he could take Stiles back to the house and keep watch for hunters and Peter.

"Stay there," Derek said in a quiet voice.

"Where are you?"

"In the woods," he said. "Came out trying to find where Peter's hiding. But hunters are all over the place. They seem to be camped out in the house or nearby. Stay there until Jackson goes home. She should go after him."

"Yeah… yeah. That makes sense," Stiles agreed. "You're gonna be careful, right? I mean, don't do anything stupid. Just… be smart and safe and---"

"I got it," Derek promised. "I'll see you soon."

He ended the call as soon as Stiles vowed to be careful, and then he pocketed his phone. If he listened past the sounds of the forest, he could hear the hunters. They were coming closer, but they were still far enough away for him to double back behind them to go to the ruins of his childhood and figure out what they were doing there. He hadn't been there since he was invited to live with Stiles and his father; there were no signs of his recent presence in the house. He had no idea why they were camped out there---and he wanted to know the reason.

Once he figured out their strategy, he could slip out of the forest and hurry to Stiles. He'd be safe surrounded by deputies, until he could get to Stiles' side.

#####

"Have you and Derek bro-hugged and made up yet?"

John looked up from his work and plucked one of the carrot sticks from the styrofoam container than should have contained a burger and fries but only held a turkey sandwich and sliced vegetables. He crunched on it as he studied his son and tried to think of a way to address the question.

His relationship with Derek was still strained. They'd never gotten around to resolving their conflict. He tried to bring it up in the morning, after Stiles left for school, but then he'd gotten a call to come to the station earlier than expected. He suggested they talk about it later---and Derek agreed. John had no idea how their conversation would go; he hoped they could find some common ground so they could understand and accept each other.

He was also thinking he might need to go back to Doctor Mahealani to help him process the changes in his life and learn how to embrace them fully and honestly.

"Why are you here pestering me?" John asked.

Stiles shrugged. "Just wanted to see you."

"Stiles…"

"What? Can't a son be interested in his father?" Stiles insisted. He waved a hand towards the pile of folders on John's desk. "Anything good in that stack?"

John snorted. "Hardly. A couple noise violations, some trespassing out by the property that used to belong to the Hales, a domestic disturbance, and some speeding tickets," he said.

"The trespassing is probably the hunters," Stiles supplied. "I called Derek. He's out trying to find Peter… ended up near the house. He said hunters were out there."

"He… what? Should we---"

"He seemed fine," Stiles interrupted.

"But, Peter could---"

"I know. But he promised he'd be back. I trust him to honour that," Stiles said, interrupting again. "I mean, I'm worried. But. He's not fighting, he's just… snooping."

John frowned and rubbed his hand over his forehead. "Between you and Derek… I'm just always going to be worried," he admitted. "You'll call me when you hear from him again?"

"I think he's coming here for me," Stiles said.

John leaned back in his chair as he nodded. The report of Tara's latest trip to the Lahey residence caught his eye; he groaned, remembering that he hadn't yet mentioned the boy to Stiles.

"What?" Stiles asked.

"Ah, it's nothing."

"You don't have nothing face. Or nothing smell," Stiles protested before taking a bite of his sandwich.

John grimaced. He was still struggling to get used to the fact that he lived with two people who had super senses; Derek had assured him that they did their best to tune out most details, or else they'd risk constant mental overload, but John worried about how much they were gleaning about his daily activities from the scents and sounds of his person. Every time he thought he accepted everything about having a werewolf for a son, there was something---like their super senses---to remind him that his son was more.

"Well… do you have any classes with Isaac Lahey?" he asked.

Stiles frowned. "Yeah. I sat with him in chem class today… since Scott's still wicked pissed at me."

"Language."

After a roll of his eyes, Stiles said, "Sorry. But, yeah. He okay? In trouble?"

"I don't know," John admitted. "What sort of vibe do you get off of him?"

Stiles shrugged. "He kind of smells like fear. But he seems kind of… kind. Maybe a bit of an… ayyyhole, too. I don't know. He's hard to read."

"Well, people are complicated," John said. "We're rarely one thing."

"Ain't that the truth," Stiles agreed, giving John a flash of his golden eyes before a small, and almost apologetic, smile.

"You're still Stiles to me."

John smiled when Stiles' ears turned pink.

"Anywaaaay… what's going on with Isaac?" Stiles asked.

He shrugged. "I just… worry about him, I guess. Think he could use a friend---or at least a friendly face," he said.

While nodding, Stiles ate a slice of zucchini in two bites. He swallowed and said, "Sure. We can go with that for now."

"Hey, I let your excuse about wanting to visit me slide," John insisted.

"I figured you'd get back to that after dinner."

John chuckled. He had planned on bringing up that subject again; his son knew him well.

"Mieczyslaw…"

Stiles flailed and grimaced. "Ugh, god, don't say that so loudly! Someone might hear you," he hissed.

"Then tell me what I want to know and I won't ruin your street cred."

"Jackson's been following me around all day. He reeks of Peter and both Chris and Kate," Stiles confessed. "Kate was following him. Derek figures I'd be safe here until Jackson gives up and goes home."

John frowned. That was not what he expected to hear. If Kate saw Stiles do something suspicious, she'd be in a much better position to notice it while following Jackson Whittemore who was following Stiles. He also didn't like the idea of Peter being involved; it sounded like Peter found someone to follow his orders but John knew he could have bitten Jackson, too. He knew Jackson wasn't a bad person, but he didn't trust that Jackson's goals were in line with the idea of peace and safety for Beacon Hills. He didn't know how Jackson as a werewolf would work out for Stiles or Derek, either.

"Was he… bitten?" John asked.

"I don't think so," Stiles said. "He only smelled like Peter touched him. Like, in general. He didn't feel like a wolfie."

"But?"

Stiles sighed. "I think it's coming. I think… I think Peter offered him the bite if he follows me around and reports back. He reacted weird to something I said."

"That's unsettling."

After a snort of laughter, Stiles said, "I hope Peter enjoyed the information about my fight with Scott and my narrowly escaping detention in chemistry."

Even though he was worried, John smiled. "I'm sure he did," he said. He picked up the phone receiver on his desk and dialed the deputy at the front of the department. As soon as Deputy Tyhurst answered the call, he said, "Jim? Can you do me a favour and check outside for loiterers? And any out of place vehicles?"

"Sure thing, Sheriff," James Tyhurst replied.

John put the receiver back in its cradle and smiled at Stiles again. "If it's clear, you go straight home. If Derek shows up here, I'll send him to you," he said.

Stiles nodded and took a bite out of his dwindling sandwich. Instead of doing any work, John returned to picking at the vegetable sticks. He missed the days when he could have fries with his sandwiches; raw, sliced vegetables just weren't as tasty as a plate of hot, fried potatoes.

"Do you… I mean, you can hear my heart beating, right?" John asked. "It's healthy?"

Stiles gestured towards his container with a flapping hand. "As far as I can tell with my many years of online medical research. And I'm trying to keep it that way, Dad," he said.

John rolled his eyes. "Stiles…"

"Nope! I might have a pack at some point but they will never be you," Stiles said with a shake of his head. "I only have one dad and I'm aiming to keep him around for as long as possible."

"I love you, too, Mieczyslaw."

Stiles grinned at him over the last of his sandwich.

When the phone rang, John answered it on the second ring. James told him there was no one hanging around outside the department. He hung up the phone after thanking his deputy; he looked at Stiles and smiled.

"All clear?" Stiles asked.

John nodded. "Looks like it. Be careful and watch your surroundings," he said. "And call---"

"Call you when I get home?"

"Yeah," John agreed.

"Will do!" Stiles said, leaping to his feet. "You want the last of my veggies?"

"Don't you dare force more carrot sticks on me."

Stiles' grin returned, lighting up his face, before he disappeared through the door and headed towards the front of the building. John tracked his progress as best as he could with his normal senses, chuckling to himself as he closed the container and reached into his desk drawer for one of the secret cookies he had stashed there.

A little sugar would be all right. Stiles didn't say he heard a problem with his heart, after all.

#####

Drip… drip, drip!

Zzzap!

Stiles groaned as his body relaxed from the spasm that came with the white hot shock. He tried to close his mouth, sliced his lip on his fangs, and groaned again.

Drip!

He tried to wipe his mouth of the metallic fluid. His hand couldn't move. The car accident must have been worse than he---

Zzzap!

A car accident wouldn't leave him hanging shirtless and upright, underground, with his wrists and ankles shackled---

He was in serious trouble.

The last thing he remembered was driving home. He had been almost a block away from home, when a large vehicle crashed into the side of his jeep. The impact startled and jarred him; he knew he hit his head a couple of times, but he hadn't lost consciousness until something stabbed into his neck and burrrrned.

Everything after that experience was a blur. He still didn't feel completely right.

Zzzap!

Stiles groaned again as he raised his head. He looked around at his surroundings through blurry eyes. Someone may have drugged him, but he knew he was in a dungeon and he knew it was beneath the charred remains of Derek's childhood home. Nowhere else smelled like so much damp smoke and fear. He had no idea how Derek could have lived there before Stiles conspired to have him stay with him and his father.

Thoughts of Derek and his dad made his heart lurch in his chest. Did they know he'd been abducted? Were they looking for him? How long had it been since the accident?

Zzzap!

Peter would've been the culprit if he weren't drugged and being electrocuted every few seconds---or if there weren't guns and knives on a nearby table. There was a good chance he'd end up in Peter's clutches at some point in the next few days or weeks, but Stiles suspected Peter would rely on his strength and predatory nature to keep Stiles in check.

He was most likely being held by one of the Argents---and that terrified him. Chris had shot him with an arrow without even knowing who he was. And Kate… Kate was the devil.

Stiles tried to tug on the chains, but they were too heavy and too secure. Brute force was never going to be his forté, and he accepted that even as he wished for some of Derek's muscles so he could bust out of there before his captor returned.

Zzzap!

During every pause between shocks, he could almost retract his werewolf visage, but then that control upon which he relied would vanish as the next pulse skittered along his nerves. While it also affected his muscles, because he noticed the way he lost control of what was tense or loose with every shock, he wondered if the goal of the electricity was to keep his fangs out and his eyes glowing---or to make him look more like a monster---in order to justify their actions.

He was so, so screwed, no matter the reason for the added wiring.

Stiles wasn't very religious, but he thought a silent prayer out to the powers that may be to send some help.

Zzzap!

The powers that may be decided to send Kate with company, instead.

"What is this place?"

Drip!

"It's super creepy…"

At the sound of Allison's question and Scott's statement, Stiles hung his head and whined. One of the last things Stiles never wanted to happen was Allison and Scott getting dropped, head-first, into the dangerous world of werewolf hunters. All joking aside, Allison seemed so sweet and kind, and Scott was too important to Stiles, despite their recent issues. Neither of them should have to bear the weight of taking a life.

Kate had other ideas.

Zzzap!

As they walked closer to the chamber where Stiles was imprisoned, he could hear Kate talking. They were feet away, just on the other side of the door.

"Let's start with the basics. You know how every family has its secrets? Ours is a little different…"

The door slid open and Kate ushered Scott and Allison inside the darkened chamber. The new odors combined with his fear and rage almost made him vomit; the lust Scott and Allison shared was drowned out by their sour anxiety, but their scents were almost completely overpowered by the arousal wafting off of Kate. She was enjoying the moment entirely too much for her to be considered decent.

Zzzap!

She turned on a large spotlight and aimed it at Stiles. He could barely make them out beyond the lamp's aura, but the scents and sounds filled in the parts of his situation that he couldn't see.

Kate was excited. It didn't matter what Scott and Allison were feeling because Kate was running the show and she was loving it. Her heartbeat was steady and fast; she was gearing up for her kind of fun. Stiles was probably going to die in a messy, used heap of blood and his own body parts that she got off on removing from his body.

Stiles was probably going to be the next werewolf she brutalised.

Zzzap!

"Isn't he beautiful?" Kate purred.

Allison gasped. Scott was silent.

Stiles lifted his head high and forced himself to look at his attacker. Kate was probably going to destroy him, but he wouldn't give her the satisfaction of hearing him beg and plead for his life. He would use his head and he would be brave; he would look for a way out while facing his imminent death with as much honour as he could muster.

With that idea in mind and his determination gathering strength, Stiles roared.