The house lay high up on a hill, overlooking Beacon Hills like a… well. Like a beacon. Stiles groaned at his own, thankfully silent, pun. “Are you sure this is the right place?” he asked, the car slowly rolling down the long driveway.
Scott grunted an affirmation. He still looked only half-awake and was blinking bleary-eyed out the window.
“I don’t even know why you’re so grumpy,” Stiles commented, putting the rental into park. “You get your mom’s cooking tonight, while I’m gonna have to make do with last night’s leftovers.”
Scott sniffed, lips forming a pout. “But I had to get up so early for the flight, and I didn’t want to wake Alison, so I left without my goodbye kiss and, ugh.”
Stiles huffed in annoyed disbelief, grabbing a thick file off the backseat and glancing at the first couple of pages. “This just proves that the more you have, the less you appreciate,” he murmured.
Pulling a face, Scott threw a glance at the tiny mirror in the sun visor and adjusted his tie. “Jealousy doesn’t become you, my friend,” he said. “Just because you’re the pack’s bachelor again doesn’t mean you have an exclusive right to be grumpy.”
“Oh, I think it does,” Stiles argued. “Look it up, I’m pretty sure it says so in the handbook for pack Alphas, right next to the entry for smartassery.”
Smirking, Scott stretched luxuriously. “You’re just jealous because I bagged the girl.”
Stiles shot his best friend a look. “Want to repeat that in front of Alisson?”
“Christ, no,” Scott exclaimed, pulling a face. “She’d rip my balls right off.”
“At least you’re aware of her superiority,” Stiles said, a bit more sharply than he’d intended.
Scott stuck his tongue out. “Cheer up, dude. There are other girls, you know.”
“Yeah, sure.” Stiles wasn’t so sure, but this was neither the time nor the place to discuss his recent break-up with Heather. “Focus, McCall. Can you sense the other Alpha anywhere on the premises?”
Scott frowned. “I’m not sure,” he murmured, a hint of red bleeding into his eyes. “If he is, he’s surrounded by his pack and could easily blend in with the others. I’d need to get inside the house to be sure.”
“Alright.” Stiles took a deep breath, slipping into the mindset of Dr. Stilinski, profiler extraordinaire. “Let’s do this then.”
It was a long shot, for them to even be here. Derek Hale had gone off the grid a little over three years ago – shortly after the death of his sister Laura – only to surface again as the temporary guardian of a bunch of orphaned werewolf kids, trust fund intact and all.
The whole thing had been very hush-hush, especially since apparently, Kate Argent had been involved in the tragic death of almost the whole Hale family. As Head Commissaries for the whole Beacon County, the Argents had an invested interest in sweeping the whole thing under the proverbial rug, which basically left Alpha Hale with a carte blanche for suspicious behavior.
“Not anymore,” Stiles mumbled as he pressed the doorbell. Beside him, Scott nodded as if he knew exactly what Stiles was talking about, a hint of best-friend creeping into their combined professionalism.
A few seconds after the cheery melody of the bell had faded away, a boy opened the door. He looked to be about six years old, and the first thing Stiles noted about him was how the welcoming smile slipped off his tiny pixie face when he caught sight of them.
“You’re not Lydia,” the boy said accusingly, light brown curls bopping as he whipped his head around and practically screamed for his Alpha.
Color burst in Stiles’ mind. Golden honey-scented sparkles danced in front of his eyes for a moment as the echo of the boy’s mental scream slowly faded away. Stiles winced, stifling the urge to wiggle a finger in his ear. Scott shot him a quick glance and raised an eyebrow, but Stiles shook his head minutely. He didn’t want Alpha Hale to know that he could hear their pack-speak.
“Hey,” he said instead. “I’m Stiles and this is Scott. We’re from the FBI, and we would like to talk to your, uh, to Derek Hale?”
Stiles watched as the kid took a step back, wary, but keeping himself positioned between them and the inside of his home, looking up at them with a defiant head-tilt. Brave little Beta, he sent on an whim, disguising his own thought patterns and sneaking the sentiment into the boy’s head, rather than the actual words.
Another boy suddenly appeared behind the curly-haired tyke. “Isaac,” the tall, dark-skinned Beta scolded, out loud and in pack-speak both. “You know you’re not supposed to open the door on your own.”
“I thought it was Lydia,” the smaller boy, Isaac, mumbled but immediately took the chance to hide behind his older packmate, peeking out from behind him.
The newcomer eyed them with the same wary distrust on his face as Isaac had, one hand coming down to bury itself in the younger boy’s curls. “Can I help you?” he asked, after a fault. The boy seemed to be in his early teens, but the eyes staring at the two FBI agents were ancient.
Scott cleared his throat. “Yeah, uh, look, we’re looking for your Alpha. Derek Hale. Is he home?”
“They’re from the effbi eye,” Isaac added helpfully.
The teen’s eyes narrowed. “Derek’s not here right now,” he said, voice cautious. “You should come back later, we were about to have lunch.”
As if on cue, Stiles’ stomach gave a hearty rumble. Startled, he clapped a hand over it, but any embarrassment he might have felt was countered by the high-pitched giggle coming from behind the older Beta.
Charmed, Stiles grinned at Isaac. “Whoops, looks like I should have had breakfast.”
Isaac nodded, peeking up at him. “Yeah. Cora says it’s the most important meal of the day. That’s why I always have cereal and pancakes both! But only if Cora makes them,” he added, talking softly, as if it was a secret, “’cause Derek’s look funny.”
“Ah,” Stiles said, nodded, keeping a straight face. “I see. Misshapen pancakes are one of the great tragedies of our time.”
Isaac nodded vigorously. “They need to be round and fluffy!”
The older Beta snorted, rolling his eyes. “Don’t let Derek hear you dissing his breakfast skills like this.”
Isaac’s eyes rounded. “I wouldn’t!”
Right away, Stiles began cataloguing every minute change in the small boy, profiling Isaac’s behavior for signs of abuse. What he got was a confusing mix of tells that suggested the boy had been a victim sometime in his life, but right now he radiated only feelings of safety and belonging via the pack-mind.
Giving Scott a small shake of his head, he resolved to keep an eye on Isaac when his Alpha was around, just to make sure nothing icky was going on.
Isaac was looking up Boyd pleadingly. “You won’t tell, right, Boyd?”
“Don’t worry, runt. I’ll keep your secret.” There was obvious affection in the older boy’s voice, even if his serious expression never slipped.
Relieved now that the threat of discovery was averted, Isaac looked up at Stiles and Scott. “You want some of my Lucky Charms?”
Smiling, Stiles was about to decline, when Boyd’s eyes went distant for a split second. Focusing his attention inward as well, Stiles was just able to hear the general gist of what the teen was saying to his Alpha.
They’re here. Come quick.
The answer, when it came, was just as to the point. On my way. Stall them.
Fixing the Agents with a hard look, Boyd stepped aside. “Derek will be here soon. You can wait for him inside.”
“Thank you.” Scott didn’t even try to sound anything but glad for the opportunity. Their presence had more to do with their superior’s desire to nail something on Hale, than actual evidence, and they relied on the pack’s cooperation.
Boyd lifted an eyebrow and waved them in. His whole demeanor screamed reluctant defiance. He obviously didn’t want to play host to them, but he was also sure that they had nothing to hide.
Stiles looked around surreptitiously, his profiler eye warring with personal curiosity. The house was big, but not overly so. It clearly had been built to accommodate a growing family, with all the added comforts of a modern home.
The news had made the rounds quickly when Derek Hale had refused to rebuild his burned-down estate. After his return to Beacon Hills, he’d sold the land to the County for a substantial sum and had bought this smaller house soon after.
If there was nothing else Stiles understood about the man, he could relate to that. A fresh start, leaving behind the tragedies of the past; it almost hit a little too close to home.
Taking in the various knick-knacks strewn around the foyer – baseball glove, a disheveled-looking Barbie, a few brightly colored toy blocks – he noticed that it had a cheerful atmosphere. Even to the casual observer it was instantly obvious that children lived here, and while what he could see of the house wasn’t by any means tidy or organized, it was clean and had a lived-in feel to it that he liked right away.
They followed Boyd and Isaac through a long hallway lined with photographs. Most of them were taken recently, the small yard in front of the house and the porch clearly visible in the background. Apparently, somebody had taken the time to snap a few pictures while the unorthodox sort-of family had moved in – the kids were all helping by carrying boxes and random pieces of furniture.
A few adults were in the pictures, too. Stiles instantly recognized Lydia Martin’s strawberry blonde mane. She was still the prettiest girl he’d ever seen and with a pang he realized that she must have been who Isaac had expected when he’d opened the door. In the snapshot, she was arm in arm with the proverbial dark and handsome stranger.
Stiles had seen a recent picture of Derek Hale before, but that one had been taken the night he was arrested for his sister’s murder. Hale had looked like a ghost then, pale to the point of looking sickly, his haunted eyes staring into the camera despondently. Just remembering that look sent shivers down Stiles’ back.
Now, though, in these pictures, Hale was a different man. He looked older and more confident, his features tempered by his experiences. But there was a slight smile playing around his full lips as he watched the kids’ antics, and the air of desperation was noticeably absent.
They made a striking pair, Hale and Lydia, and for once, Stiles was conflicted on who he found more attractive. Always before, Lydia had won by a landslide, but there was something about Derek that spoke to him on a primal level.
Ruthlessly quashing the faint tendrils of lust that began to coil in the base of his spine, Stiles turned his attention back to the house at large.
They passed a huge stairwell that led up to the second floor. High-pitched children’s laughter could be heard from above and the lingering smell of hot cocoa in the air told Stiles that at least some of the kids had had their snack early.
Walking one step ahead of him, Scott was trying to make conversation with Boyd. It was almost funny how an experienced and hardened FBI agent was being stonewalled by a teenager.
Isaac had run ahead, leaving a yelled: “I want SpaghettiO’s!” in his wake.
They had barely stepped into the huge kitchen when a resounding bang echoed through the house. Stiles jumped and fell into a defense pose, but neither Boyd nor Isaac even blinked at the startling sound.
Feeling a little foolish, Stiles pulled back the hand that had automatically flown to his holster. From the corner of his eyes, he could see Scott do the same.
Boyd was watching them with narrowed eyes. “Erica’s home,” he said by way of explanation.
And sure enough, only a few moments later a blonde whirlwind careened into the room at full speed. The girl was about thirteen, pretty, with the natural arrogance of a cheerleader.
Or a bitten werewolf, Stiles noted wryly.
“Cora!” She yelled. “I’m gonna rip your little throat out if you don’t give it back!”
When she saw Stiles and Scott, she stopped short. She ceased all movement so suddenly that it looked like she’d been hit by a tractor beam.
It was almost comical, the way her eyes narrowed and whatever beef she had with her pack sister immediately took a back-seat to what she perceived to be a threat in her home. “Who’re you?”
“I’m Scott,” Scott said and held out his hand, Alpha charm oozing out every pore. “Scott McCall.”
Stiles rolled his eyes, his gut already telling him that his best friend was in for a surprise.
“Good for you,” Erica sneered, ignoring the hand that hovered between them. She turned to Boyd and hissed at him. “Can you please tell me why there are Feds in our house?”
The taller boy didn’t even twitch at the pure venom in her voice. “They’re here to talk to Derek.”
“Awesome,” she spit out over her shoulder, already half-way out the kitchen. “I’ll be in my room. Let me know when they’re gone.”
Boyd nodded. Fixing Scott with a hard look, he murmured a quick: “She’s got issues with law enforcement.”
That didn’t exactly come as a surprise to them. Stiles and Scott had both seen the various incident reports that Erica Reyes had accumulated, even at her young age. Since her bite, she’d been apprehended for a number of petty crimes but so far, nothing big had stuck.
Things had calmed down considerably since Hale had taken her in, which was the only thing that had aided Stiles’ Dad in his fight to keep the willful girl out of juvie.
He was brought back to the present by Boyd pulling a funny grimace, trying to distract Isaac. The boy was staring after his surrogate sister with big eyes. “Come on, you terror,” the teen said. “Let’s see if I can dig up some of those horrid SpaghettiO’s you so love.”
If he hadn’t been watching him so closely, Stiles would have missed the little hitch in Boyd’s stride. As it was, he was somewhat prepared for when only a heartbeat later, the broad frame of Derek Hale hovered in the doorway.
Stiles gulped. The man was a walking wet dream, wearing dark blue jeans and a tight, long-sleeved shirt that clung in just the right places.
“I thought I told you to stop buying that processed crap.” The dark voice stood in stark contrast to the smile Hale directed at Isaac when the small boy squealed happily and threw himself at his Alpha.
Hale fake-grunted and buried a hand in the boy’s curls. “Hey there, runt. Miss me?”
“Yes,” Isaac assured, craning his head back so that he could see better. “Loads and loads!”
It was cute, Stiles had to admit, but he wasn’t here to gush over the good-looking Alpha who’d opened his heart and home to a bunch of orphaned werewolf cups… Uh-oh.
“Derek Hale?” Scott inquired, sharp eyes narrowing as he took in the other Alpha. “I’m Special Agent Scott McCall and this is my partner Special Agent Stilinski.”
“Stilinski,” was the first thing the werewolf said to them, repeating the name as if to make sure he’d heard right.
Stiles suppressed a wince, forcing himself to look at the man directly. Derek Hale was even better-looking than his pictures had suggested. He was tall, but only had an inch or two on Stiles. His broad shoulders tapered off into lean hips and his eyes were an intriguing shade of hazel, darkening as he mustered them.
“That’s me,” Stiles croaked, a little after the fact. “Doctor Stilinski, to be exact.”
Hale inclined his head. “You’re the Sherriff’s son, the Fed that brought down my Uncle.”
Stiles nodded, meeting the other man’s gaze head-on. He wasn’t about to back down and show weakness, not about this, not when doing the right thing had cost him more than he liked to admit.
He was more than a little surprised when Hale suddenly relaxed and stepped forward, holding out his hand. “Thank you, Agent Stilinski. For doing what I couldn’t. I never got a chance to thank you last year.”
Grasping the hand almost a little too fast, Stiles gave the other man a sad smile. “Yeah, well, somebody had to. And please, call me Stiles.”
Hale raised an eyebrow. “Derek,” he grunted, frowning when Scott didn’t say anything.
About to elbow his partner in the side, Stiles froze when he actually saw his face.
Scott was staring at Hale, mouth gaping open. “You’re not an Alpha!” he blurted out.
Stiles winced as Hale’s eyes snapped toward Scott, every muscle in his body stiffening. He went from semi relaxed and sort of welcoming to battle-ready in a heartbeat. Baring his fangs the tiniest bit, Derek snarled under his breath, as much of a warning as he could get away with in front of Scott.
Reacting to the threat on instinct, Scott’s eyes glowed red in a hot flash. Stiles tensed, getting ready to jump between them should things escalate, but after a minute hesitation Scott suddenly backed down.
“Home turf,” he murmured, visibly trying to reign in his temper.
Stiles let out a sigh of relief. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Hale,” he croaked and cleared his throat. The tension in the room was palpable and it made him uneasy. “We had information that you were of Alpha status, but apparently that intel is incorrect.”
“Outdated,” Derek grunted. “I just filled out the paperwork this morning. Got legally classified as a Zeta.”
Stiles’ eyebrows rose. “That’s… unusual,” he said slowly.
Derek narrowed his eyes. “Mitigating circumstances. I’m sure my files are updated as we speak.”
Clearly, he wasn’t prepared to share anything else about the fact that he’d been given the legal and societal rights of an acting Alpha, even if his biological status was now that of a Beta. Stiles had heard of a few cases like this, but nothing in Hale’s immediate history gave an explanation as to why it would happen to him. He resolved to check the files later.
Half-hidden behind the bulk of Derek’s body, Isaac had been watching them intently. There was a defiant gleam in his eyes that stood in stark contrast to the way he had retreated as soon as Derek had uttered the first threatening sound. The expression was mirrored on Boyd’s face, Stiles noted with interest.
There was a lot of loyalty in this pack and it didn’t seem to make a difference to the boys that Hale wasn’t an Alpha anymore. It said a lot about Derek as pack-leader and Stiles intended to include his observations in his report.
“Sorry about the confusion,” Stiles said, a little flustered by his own reaction to this unusual pack. “We’re with the FBI’s SDU, that’s the -”
“- Supernatural Disturbance Unit,” Hale interrupted dryly. “I know it well.”
“Yeah,” Scott said, visibly uncomfortable. He glanced at Stiles. “We apologize for the intrusion and what happened, uh, before. We just need you to answer a few questions and then we’ll be out of your hair.”
Derek inclined his head.
Scott cleared his throat. “We’re here to investigate the disappearance of Malia Tate.”
“Darren’s daughter?” Hale seemed honestly baffled. “She was killed in that car crash, what, ten years ago? And now the FBI is interested in the case?”
Stiles pulled a face. “There have been some new, uh, developments in the case. We have reason to believe that Malia may have survived the accident.”
Somehow, Hale managed to look down at him, despite them being the same height. “You think she’s a werewolf.”
“It would explain some discrepancies we uncovered concerning the accident.”
Derek turned to Boyd. “Get Isaac upstairs, will you? You can grab him a fruit cup from the fridge.” The teen’s eyes were burning with interest, but even Stiles could see that Isaac’s eyes had begun to droop now that the adults were calm again.
Looking like he wanted to protest, Boyd met Derek’s no-nonsense stare and caved. “Yeah, okay.”
“Thank you, V,” Derek said, his voice warm. Picking up Isaac, he gave the boy a quick cuddle before handing him over to Boyd.
Isaac didn’t protest, but his tiny hand had taken hold of Derek’s shirt and he refused to let go. “De’ek?” he mumbled, head resting on Boyd’s chest.
Eyes flicking over to the two FBI agents, Stiles could practically feel how uncomfortable Derek was with letting them see this. But, consistent with what he’d observed so far, Hale swallowed his unease and cupped the small boy’s face. “What is it?”
“Will you play Hunter and Omega with me later?”
A grin grew on Boyd’s face as a hint of color appeared on Derek’s stubbled cheeks. “Yes,” the pack-leader answered a bit gruffly. “But only if you stay down for a full hour. Deal?”
Eyes at half-mast, Isaac nodded. “’kay. Love you.”
There was no mistaking the general softening of Derek’s whole demeanor as he murmured a soft, “I love you, too, runt.”
Stiles was enchanted. Everything he knew about Derek Hale was being refuted and the more he saw, the more he liked the man he had become.
Boyd was still grinning, gently mocking his pack-leader by saying, “I wove you, too, Dewek.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Derek grumbled, punching Boyd in the shoulder. The boy barely flinched, so it couldn’t have been that hard. Isaac never even noticed the exchange as he drooled on Boyd’s shirt, snoring softly.
“Get,” Derek said, the by now familiar scowl slipping back in place as he turned back to his guests.
Sobering as well, Boyd gave Stiles and Scott a short nod and was gone before either of them could react.
“So,” Derek said as he waived them over to the large kitchen table. His eyes had gone cold and he mustered them with something close to disgust. “Could someone please explain to me why you two clowns show up here unannounced and barge in when I’m not at home? That standard practice now at the SDU, or am I a special case?”
Scott bristled. “We didn’t barge in, Mr. Hale, we were invited. And don’t even try to pretend that you didn’t know what was going on from the moment we rang the doorbell!”
“Scott,” Stiles said softly, laying a hand on his forearm, feeling the tension there. He could practically feel his partner’s frustration and how it fed Derek’s paranoia. “Let me.”
Scott took a deep breath, turning away to stare out the window. Stiles watched him for a moment, making sure that he was okay. Once more he took note of how difficult it was for Scott to distinguish between being an Alpha and an FBI agent. It was both his partners’ greatest weakness and his biggest strength, in Stiles’ opinion.
When he turned his attention back to Hale, it was to find a thoughtful expression on the man’s face. His gaze was piercing as he took in both Scott’s recalcitrance and Stiles’ reaction to it and Stiles had a visceral feeling of recognition when their eyes met. Somehow, Derek seemed to know exactly what Stiles was made of and it was both terrifying and elating.
Confused, Stiles reached out for his pack-bond, sighing in relief when the familiar tingle of peppermint and thyme ran through his mind. Scott’s particular flavor had always been the most dominant one in the bond, even before he’d become a True Alpha.
Of course, Stiles was the only one who knew that. For all that everyone else knew, their pack-bond was just there, and it was only Stiles’ unique perspective that allowed him to feel the difference in the bonds he encountered.
It hadn’t been easy at first. He’d gotten more than one strange look when he’d first claimed that he was able to tap into the different pack-bonds of all the wolves he came in contact with. It was unheard of, even if there were plenty of humans that were part of a pack and shared – to a certain extend – the advantages of the telepathic connection.
But Stiles’ ability to tap into any pack-bond he encountered not only marked him as the freak of nature Lydia had always accused him of being, it also made him an invaluable asset to the SDU. He had spent years perfecting his technique and although it took a lot of concentrating on his part, he was now able to listen in and even talk to other wolves via their bond without getting too involved.
At least, most of the time, he thought ruefully, trying to ignore the pang of regret.
Despite the thrill of peeking into these other bonds, his own pack-bond with Scott had always been the most prominent and detailed one he’d ever felt, tethering him to the here and now far more effectively than Adderall had ever done.
Stiles let his eyes close for a few moments, reveling in the cool, fresh almost-scent of his pack. He didn’t try to speak to anyone in particular, he just let the sense of belonging and safety bolster him.
I still refuse to believe that our bond smells like toothpaste. Scott sounded a little disgruntled, and somewhere in the distance, Stiles could just make out a hint of amusement. It felt like Allison was distracted, but still vaguely aware of what her pack-mates were up to, while Chris and Deaton’s presence was more subdued, probably because at the moment, they had tuned the bond out as much as they were able to.
Only in comparison. Stiles replied, hiding his amusement when a pang of irritation flowed through the bond. Like every Alpha, Scott was incredibly protective of his pack, and the fact that Stiles could chime into another wolf-pack’s telepathic connection bothered him.
Better than dirt, I guess. Scott sent sulkily and for a second, Stiles flashed back to that other pack. Their scent had been earthy, a mix of fresh soil, sawdust and – strangely – popcorn. He’d come close then, to lose himself in them, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that Scott and the others still needed him, Stiles wasn’t sure if he’d come back.
You still thinking about them?
Stiles winced. You know I do. But I made a choice and I’m standing by it.
There was a long pause, and surprisingly, it was Allison’s voice that finally sounded in his head. We just want you to be happy, Stiles.
Yeah, well, he huffed, Right now, I’ll settle for content. With that, he resolutely tuned out the conscious part of the bond, turning back to Hale without even glancing at Scott.
If he had noticed the interaction, Derek didn’t show it. Inclining his head, the Zeta asked, “So, what makes you think I know anything about the missing girl?”
Stiles grinned. “Oh gee, I don’t know,” he teased. ”She’s a were-person, most likely trapped in animal form since the accident, and you just happen to run a half-way house for orphaned were-kids located right on the edge of the reserve. Not that big of a leap if you put it in context, huh?”
Derek looked like he’d eaten a piece of wolfsbane fudge. “Only one problem with your theory,” he said lowly. “I would never jeopardize my kids by taking in a stray without notifying the proper authorities.” He waved his hand in a circle, encompassing the whole house. “I’m sure you’ve seen the reports, mine as well as the kids’. For most of them, this is their last chance, their one shot at growing up in the closest thing to a family this fucked up system can give them. I’d cut off my own arm before taking that away from them.”
Captivated by the burning passion behind every single word, Stiles stayed silent. His heart was pounding in his chest, and suddenly he was hyper-aware of every move Derek made. It was like he was trapped in the other man’s gaze and there was a buzzing in his head that sounded vaguely like static, drowning out the minty flow of stray thoughts and feelings he’d so gotten used to just being there, until for one terrifying moment, Stiles was completely alone.
He was wrenched back, a jarring, harsh movement that separated him from Derek.
Scott’s frantic voice boomed through his head and in a flash, his mind connected to the bond again. It was alight with worry, all of his packmates suddenly there and focused on him.
Stumbling into Scott’s broad chest, Stiles leaned into his Alpha as he sucked in breath after frantic breath. “I’m okay,” he panted, both out loud and in his head. “I’m okay. Calm down, everyone.”
Do we need to come get you? Chris’ mental voice was matter-of-fact, but there was real concern behind the question.
Stiles bit back a smile. No, we’re good here. Just a misunderstanding.
Right, Allison sent dryly. Don’t let it happen again, Stiles, or we’re on the next flight out of Virginia.
Wondering at Deaton’s conspicuous silence, Stiles sent reassurance down the bond and pulled back to focus on the situation at hand.
Derek was standing stock-still. He looked stunned, even as he held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. His eyes were sharp as they flicked between him and Scott. “Been awhile since I met a ‘raigh,” he said softly.
“What the hell,” Scott hissed, moving so that Stiles was behind him. He was quietly furious in a way that flattered Stiles. “Explain what just happened here, Hale, or I swear, I’ll drag your ass down to the precinct’s holding cell and lose the key on the way back.”
Adrenaline fading, Stiles couldn’t help but snicker at his partner’s ridiculous threat. Widening his eyes innocently when Scott sent him a glare over his shoulder, he grinned at Derek.
He made it a point to trust his instincts, especially surrounded with were-people as he was, and his first impulse had been to reach out to Derek for safety.
Whatever had happened, there had been no malicious intent behind it. “I think Derek here figured out that I’ve been snooping around in his pack-bond, Scott. What was it you called me, a Ree?”
“’Reigh,” Derek corrected, voice soft. “It’s Gaelic, short for Sáirigh. Roughly translated it means intruder.”
“Ah.” Stiles grimaced. “I guess that makes sense. And I’m also guessing that this,” he gestured towards his head, “was your not so subtle way of telling me to fuck off. Am I close?”
Derek arched an eyebrow. “Something like that.”
Scott let out an explosive sigh. He looked tired, and Stiles could relate. It was barely lunch-time and he was already exhausted. Whatever he’d expected before coming here, it hadn’t been the emotional rollercoaster they encountered.
Derek abruptly stood. “I’m making coffee,” he announced and didn’t wait for their reply.
“Two sugars for me!” Stiles yelled after his retreating form “And cream! Lots of it!”
As soon as Derek was gone, Scott turned to Stiles, his face one big question mark. “Are you sure you’re okay, Stiles? For a moment there, I couldn’t sense you at all. It was like you were just, gone.”
Stiles shuddered. “That’s exactly what it felt like. I was totally cut off from our bond, as if I was stuck in some kind of vacuum. I’ve never felt anything like it; hell, I’ve never even heard of something like this happening.” He leaned into Scott’s warmth, inhaling the scent of his Alpha. “You know, all the times I complain about the lack of privacy and wish for y’all to just fuck off for a bit? I don’t mean it.”
“Yeah,” Scott breathed, pulling him in a lopsided embrace. “I know.” They sat like that for a while.
When Derek came back, he was carrying three cups of coffee, a small can of cream and a sugar bowl.
“Impressive,” Stiles couldn’t help but comment, grinning when Derek faltered and almost dropped the cream. He’d gotten most of his equilibrium back after reconnecting with Scott and he actually looked forward to eke out what it was Derek was holding back.
Gesturing them to a battered-looking dining table, Derek sat down and had inhaled half of his cup before their butts fully touched the chairs.
“Okay,” the Zeta said, his eyes unreadable as he mustered them. “Let’s start fresh here. Obviously, this is not how a visit by the SDU should go down and I apologize for the way it did.”
He sounded like he was reading a script, stilted and with the inflection of a robot. Stiles couldn’t help but think that whatever had prompted Derek to try and make nice with them had nothing to do with a genuine desire to cooperate with law enforcement.
Something – or someone – had drilled a deep-seated suspicion into the former Alpha, and it often came across as something bordering on dishonesty.
“We appreciate that,” Scott answered for both of them. “Start by telling us exactly how much you know about Malia Tate and the accident that killer her sister and mother.”
Derek bristled at the sharp tone, but swallowed it back with what Stiles assumed was an effort. “Not much. Darren was a friend of my Dad’s, but even before the accident he stopped coming around. I’ve never even met the girls.”
“What about Mrs. Tate?” It was just because he was watching so closely that Stiles noted the minute hesitation.
“I’ve met her.”
Which was pretty much a non-answer. “Derek,” Stiles murmured. “Every little detail could be important. Try to think of it from our perspective. This has been a cold case for eight years and our chances of finding out what really happened are pretty slim.” He took a deep breath, seeking and holding eye contact with the other man. “But if there’s a chance – tiny as it may be – that Malia is still alive, don’t you think we owe it to her and her family to do everything in our power to find her? Please, try to remember.”
Derek grimaced and rubbed a hand over his chin roughly. “Look, what I know is that Darren and his wife had problems, and whatever my Dad had to say about it, Darren obviously didn’t like much. So, they just stopped talking.”
Masking his surprise, Stiles glanced at Scott. This was the first they’d heard about marital problems between the Tate’s. “Have you seen or talked to Mr. Tate recently?”
Derek’s expression didn’t change. “Haven’t seen him since the funeral.”
Stiles nodded. Darren Tate was a recluse and pretty much spent all his time hunting or drinking.
Leaning forward, Scott took a long gulp of coffee. “’S good,” he commented. “So, I know this is kind of a long shot, but at the funeral, did anything strike you as odd? Something that, in retrospect, might have been of significance?”
Derek snorted. “It’s been eight years. What makes you think I’d even remember?”
Scott shot him a look. “You’re a werewolf. We notice things.”
“I was hardly in the state of mind to console a guy that just lost his entire family.”
“Why?” Stiles asked softly. “You of all people should know what that feels like.” It was a cheap shot, and he knew it.
Derek’s eyes flashed bright green, a peculiar color for a were that Stiles had never seen before. “What exactly is it that you want from me? Because the way I see it, everything you have is pure speculation.” He paused, giving them a chance to disagree.
Stiles squirmed a little under that intense glare. Derek was right, they had absolutely nothing on him.
“I thought so,” Derek continued. “So if that’s—“ He was interrupted by a long, drawn-out wail from upstairs.
Looking resigned rather than worried, Derek pulled a face. “Excuse me for a moment.”
Scott nodded. “Sure.” He barely waited for Derek to be gone. “I really, really don’t like him,” he complained, sounding a lot like his twelve-year-old self. “He’s an arrogant has-been Alpha–“
“– but I also don’t think that he has anything to do with Malia or the accident.”
Stiles stopped short. “Oh?” He managed. “How come?”
Pulling a face, Scott gestured towards a stray wolf plush toy that sat on one of the chairs. It was wearing a miniature leather jacket with a triskelion on the back. “I can’t imagine Derek putting at risk everything he has build here by hiding a girl he has no personal connection to.”
Though he was taken aback by his best friend’s quick turnaround, Stiles couldn’t help but agree. “Yeah. It’s amazing what he’s done with those kids. With all the drama in his life, it wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d crossed over to the dark side, you know?”
“Wouldn’t be the first perp to blame his crimes on a sob story.”
Stiles nodded, keeping an eye on the door. They were counting on Derek being distracted enough not to listen in, but he sent a mental feeler out to the Hale pack-bond anyway, smiling when he picked up a few snippets of the sibling drama going on upstairs.
“Derek really seems to have turned a corner,” he said, contemplative. “But still, there is a lot we don’t know about what really happened when Laura Hale died. From what I could tell from the reports, a lot of things should have been handled differently.”
“You think Hale is out for revenge?”
Hesitating, Stiles looked around the room. His instincts were telling him that there was a lot more to Derek Hale than anyone knew, but he’d sensed no malice in the man. “No,” he said finally. “I don’t.”
Scott nodded. His eyes were sharp and focused on Stiles, and for a moment, he could actually see what everyone else saw when they looked at Scott. Not the goofy kid that had fallen from Stiles’ bed in third grade and broke his arm when he landed on the Lego Death Star they’d been building all afternoon, but the accomplished FBI Agent, the dedicated boyfriend and soon-to-be husband, and he saw the resilient Alpha that had gotten their pack through some tough times these past few years.
“Thank you,” he said, giving Scott a crooked smile.
The Alpha frowned at him. “What for?”
“Oh, you know,” Stiles hedged. “Being you, I guess?”
Scott snorted, leaning in so that he could bump Stiles’ shoulder with his own. “You’re weird, Stilinski.”
He was spared having to answer when they heard Derek coming back down the stairs.
As he walked into the room, Hale had a sniffling boy in his arms and an identical one hanging off his leg and looking up at his twin anxiously. They seemed to be about seven years old and looked adorable in their Wolverine Pajamas.
“’m sorry,” the boy on the ground sniveled, hiccupping after every word. “I didn’t mean it.”
Letting the sobbing boy snuggle into his chest, Hale brought a hand down on the other one’s head. “I know you didn’t, Aidan. Why don’t you try to apologize to your brother again, huh? I’m sure that’ll make him feel better.”
“Ethan?” The boy asked pityingly, reaching up to touch his brother’s back. “I’m sorry I said that Danny was stupid. I didn’t mean it at all! Danny is awesome!”
Lifting his head off Derek’s chest, Ethan looked down at Aidan. “Really?” he hiccupped and wiped his snotty nose on his shirtsleeve. Derek grimaced, but didn’t say anything.
Biting back a grin, Stiles fished a pack of tissues out of his coat pocket. Offering it to Derek allowed him to get up and come closer, and so he witnessed the twins’ reconciliation first-hand. For a moment, the Hale bond flared with their joy, and Stiles almost staggered back at the burst of honey and rosemary-scented warmth that flowed through his mind.
Instinctively, he reached out for something to hold on to, and then Derek was there, his strong grip centering Stiles as much as the psychic shield did that the Zeta projected.
Derek’s eyes were intense as they held his. “Kids,” he murmured. “They haven’t learned to control the intensity yet.”
Stiles nodded mutely, captivated by the boy in Derek’s arms. His eyes had flashed a golden yellow as soon as Derek had stepped closer to him, and before Stiles could even begin to protest, two small arms had snaked around his neck and suddenly the boy – Ethan, he remembered belatedly – had nestled himself into his arms.
“You smell nice,” Ethan murmured as he pressed his nose into Stiles’ neck.
Looking down helplessly, Stiles tightened his grip on the child. There was a peculiar expression on Derek’s face as he watched them. He was frowning, but the corners of his mouth were angled upwards in a way that suggested the beginning of a smile.
It was as if he couldn’t quite decide what he thought of his impulsive foster-son’s behavior, and to that, Stiles could relate. “Hey, you,” he said softly, relaxing into the impromptu embrace. “I’m Stiles.”
“I know,” Ethan murmured against his throat, and from the corner of his eye he could see Aiden nod as well. “We can hear you.”
Startled, Stiles looked at Derek and saw his own surprise mirrored there. “You can?”
“Yeah.” This time it was Aiden that spoke. “It’s like with Aunt Lydia, though, all muffled, except that sometimes I don’t like what Aunt Lydia is saying ‘cause then she gets all angry-like. But you’re not angry, are you, Stiles?”
“Um,” Stiles hedged. “No?”
“Oookay,” Scott said then, hovering near his shoulder. “I think it’s time for us to go. Mr. Hale, thanks for your time, and please, if you remember anything else, don’t hesitate to contact us.”
Strangely hesitant to leave even as he felt Scott’s urgency grow, Stiles gave Ethan another snuggle and then gently disengaged the boy and handed him back to Derek.
“Yeah, we should go,” he agreed a bit breathlessly. “Here’s my card, it, uh, has my cell phone number on the back, if you want to, uh. Call me.”
“Sure,” Derek said, sounding amused. Stiles cringed, turning hastily to go to hide the blush that stained his cheeks.
Bye, Stiles! he heard the twins chirp through the bond and then he and Scott were out the door and in the car. He didn’t even think about sliding into the passenger seat, he just handed Scott the keys without a word.
Stiles heaved a sigh of relief as they brought some distance between them and the house. “That was… unusual.”
“A waste of time, that’s what it was.” Scott sounded annoyed, a hint of reproach darkening his tone. “I mean, I get that you’re sympathetic to his cause and all, but was it necessary to go all gooey-eyed on the man?”
“What?” Stiles sputtered. “I wasn’t! I was making a connection, you jerk.”
“So that’s what the kids call it nowadays.”
“I didn’t know ‘the kids’,” he made little air quotes just to annoy Scott, “had a fancy name for profiling,” Stiles snapped. “Besides, it’s not like Hale would even look at me twice after the stunt we just pulled.”
“Ha,” Scott crowed, going from scowling to gleeful fast enough for Stiles to realize that he’d just been played. “I knew I was right! You like him!”
Flushing what had to be a deep red, Stiles turned away from his partner to stare out the window. “Jesus, shut up already. You’re an annoying furry-faced know-it-all, has anybody ever told you that?”
Grinning triumphantly, Scott said, “Didn’t even need wolf senses to figure out you got the hots for Hale.”
Stiles gave him the mental equivalent of the finger.
They drove the rest of the way in silence, which was unusual in and of itself. But after a while, even Scott’s smug expression disappeared and was replaced by a more professional one of deep concentration.
Stiles shifted in his seat. “You okay?” he asked finally.
Scott shrugged, eyes on the street in front of him. “Sure. Are you?”
Heaving another sigh, this one born of frustration, Stiles nodded, then shook his head, then nodded again. “Ugh,” he grunted. “I don’t know?”
“Yeah,” Scott said, and Stiles could feel him radiating sympathy. “You know, it’s okay. To look, or, uh, to hook up with somebody again. It’s not like it was your fault that Heather left.”
Except that it was, but Stiles appreciated Scott’s unwavering support in the matter, especially after what had happened with Duke’s pack. “Right. Because what I need in my life right now is another complication. No, thanks.”
“I’m just saying,” Scott mumbled. “You’re allowed to be happy. That’s all we want for you, Stiles.”
Thankfully they arrived at the police station before he had to come up with a reply. Stiles all but dove out of the car, almost dropping the case file in his desire to distance himself from the awkwardness.
“Careful there, Stiles. Wouldn’t want one of Quantico’s finest to get hurt on our watch.”
Deflating, Stiles turned around. “Parrish,” he grunted. “My Dad still keeping you on the short leash?”
Deputy Jordan Parrish flashed a quick grin, showing sharp canines. “You mean like the one Natalie keeps on the Sheriff?”
“Oh, burn!” Scott threw in with a cackle, just to pale as he threw a glance in the Deputy’s general direction.
Parrish looked at Scott and then at the shit-eating grin that Stiles knew was on his face. “He’s standing behind me, isn’t he.” It was a statement, rather than a question.
“Oh, yeah,” Stiles said, still smirking. “Hi, Dad.”
“Sheriff.” To his credit, Parrish managed to look only a little bit terrified at having been caught mocking his boss.
“Don’t you have a patrol to be on?” Sheriff Stilinski inquired, mild.
“Um,” Parrish mumbled, showing a bit of fur in his embarrassment. “I’ll be… yeah. Patrol.”
Chuckling a bit to himself, Stiles watched the Deputy go, waving at him when he turned to shoot him a murderous glare.
Although he’d never advertised it, it hadn’t come as a surprise when Jordan Parrish turned out to be a supernatural creature. What had been a surprise was the variety of forms he could assume, and it had taken Stiles a bit of discreet digging in the FBI’s X-Files to find out what exactly he was.
Apparently, Naguals were always abandoned at birth, which explained the fact that Parrish hadn’t even known what he was. He’d refused to join Scott’s pack – or any other for that matter – deciding to stay neutral.
Watching his Dad eyeing Jordan’s retreating form, Stiles couldn’t help but grin at the fact that the Nagual didn’t even blink at being ordered around by a human. Despite his best intentions, it looked like Parrish had become part of a pack after all.
“So,” he said when the engine’s rumble of the patrol car had faded. “How does it feel to be pack Alpha?”
“You noticed, too?” His Dad huffed in amusement.
“Hard to miss,” Scott interjected and clapped Stilinski on the shoulder. “From one Alpha to the other, how’s life treating you?”
“Good, now that you trouble magnets are out of my hair. It’s gotten a hell of a lot quieter in Beacon Hills since you left for Quantico.”
“Ha, ha.” It wasn’t the first time Stiles had heard The Rant as he secretly called it, but for some reason this time, it rankled.
And although he was glad that his Dad had someone looking out for him – a shifter even – who genuinely seemed to care about him, it intensified his feeling of estrangement. He’d hoped that coming home would help him regain his equilibrium, but instead he felt more lost than ever.
Maybe sensing his unease, his Dad waved them into the station. “Come on. We’ve cleared an interrogation room for you. Why don’t you get settled in, boys, and let me know if you need anything else, okay?”
A few minutes later found them lounging in a spacey room that contained all the niceties a budding investigation could warrant. They even had their own coffee machine.
“Man,” Scott commented as he looked around. “I wish all small-town Sheriffs were so accommodating.”
Stiles snorted. “He’s overcompensating. I’m sure if anybody knows how frustrating it is to be blackwalled, it’s my Dad.”
“Yeah. So, what’s the plan then?”
“Hell if I know,” Stiles said with a sigh. “This whole investigation is starting to feel like a giant cover-up. It’s as if nobody really wants to find out the truth about this girl.”
“Maybe they’ve got too much to lose.”
Stiles nodded slowly. “Yeah, but why? What is so important about Malia Tate that has a whole town keep mum about her disappearance?”
“Ah,” Scott said with a grin, “but if we knew that, this whole investigation would be over before it even began.”
Stiles pulled a face. “I think what we need to do is start from square one. It’s obvious that we missed something.”
Wrinkling his brow, Scott rummaged around in the stacks of files they had brought and pulled out a large map. Spreading it on the table, he used a felt pen to mark several spots in the Preserve. “This is where the accident happened, and this,” he made another cross, “is where the Tate house is. I’m guessing you want to start there?”
Stiles nodded. “Yes. I want to actually see it for myself. Studying crime scene pictures is one thing, but everything has changed around here since those pics were taken.” He grimaced. “Animal attack. If only they’d known about weres then, maybe things would have gone differently.”
“I don’t know,” Scott said thoughtfully. “It’s not as if rural suburbia is a paradigm for tolerance and acceptance at the best of times. What makes you think it would have been any different in Beacon Hills?”
“There’s something about this town,” Stiles answered slowly. “It’s like everybody here is predestined to have a connection to the supernatural… Anyway, I just want to get a feel for the case, you know?”
Inclining his head, Scott gave him a toothy grin. “I hear ya. You ready for a trip into the woods with the big bad wolf then?”
Laughing, Stiles grabbed his jacket. “Lead on, Fenris.”
It didn’t take them long to find the den. Despite the irrefutable evidence that Malia Tate was alive and quite possibly trapped in her were-form, proving their hypothesis right, Stiles couldn’t quite shake the feeling that they still were missing an important part of the puzzle.
Noticing Scott’s peculiar expression, he gave his partner a light shove. “You okay?”
Staring at the battered doll in his hands, Scott seemed to be light-years away and startled violently. “Huh?”
“What is it?” Stiles asked, curious. “Did you find something?”
“Not really,” Scott murmured. “It’s just… the smell, it reminds me of something and for the life of me I can’t remember what it is. Drives me nuts.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Bag the doll and what else you can find, and then let’s go. This place is creeping me out.”
Scott nodded and grabbed his evidence bags.
Looking around one last time, Stiles let his consciousness drift for a moment. Deaton had taught him how to access the emotions of a place rather than a person, and even though it was still a bit too mumbo-jumbo for him to be comfortable with doing regularly, this time, Stiles was drawn to try it.
Loneliness was the first thing he felt, followed quickly by a wave of desperation and fear. But the most prominent feeling was an overwhelming sense of purpose that filled Stiles with dread.
“Whatever’s going on here,” he said under his breath, sure that Scott would hear him anyway, “it’s not just about a missing girl anymore.”
“Yeah,” Scott answered, his tone wry. He was holding up a torn and crumpled piece of paper. “I figured.”
Heart sinking, Stiles took what appeared to be a page from an old yearbook. On it, splendid in her usual cut-throat glory was Beacon Hills’ very own Banshee, Lydia Martin.
That night, as Stiles was sitting in his old seat at the dining table and feeling like no time had passed at all since he’d left, he couldn’t help but think back to everything he had learned that day.
The fact that Malia Tate had quite possibly lived in the woods for all these years, alone with the guilt of knowing that her Mom and sister had died because of her, sent a pang of sympathy through him.
But whatever had woken her up now was probably responsible for the general sense of unease that permeated the air. Something big was going down in Beacon Hills, and even the humans seemed to be affected. “Since when are you wearing your gun to dinner?” Stiles asked softly.
Startled, his Dad looked down at his holster as if just noticing that it was there. “Huh. Must have forgotten to take it off.”
Stiles nodded slowly. “How long has Natalie been on that class trip?”
His Dad grimaced. “Two weeks. She was supposed to be home tonight, but the bus caught a flat and they had to stop at a motel on the way. And Melissa had to pull more than one string to get out of the night shift so that she could be home to see Scott.”
“I thought things were better at the hospital now that she’s head nurse?”
“They are, but they’re swamped. Apparently, the number of accidents and work-related injuries have almost tripled in the last couple of weeks and don’t even ask me how many brawls and domestic fights we had to settle. I honestly don’t know what’s going on – it’s like all of a sudden, the whole town is going crazy.”
“Yeah, I noticed.” Rather than eating, Stiles chased a pea around the plate before finally stabbing it violently.
“So,” his Dad said as he clonked down a beer in front of him. “How did it go today? Did you make any headway?”
Stiles sighed. “We didn’t find anything that makes any sense right now. Although I can’t help the feeling that it all has to do something with the Hale case.”
His Dad grunted in acknowledgement but didn’t ask for details. Which was all the better, Stiles supposed. He had never been good at explaining his hunches. And that’s it all was, really, a lingering feeling that there was more to Derek and his tragic family history than what they already knew.
Or maybe he was just trying to justify his vested interest in the werewolf.
It was strange. In all his years with the FBI, he’d never felt like this. He had always prided himself on being the sensible one, the one that did the job and never got personally involved. By nature, Scott was far more impulsive than him and while his empathy often had Stiles sympathize with the people he investigated, he’d seldom been the one to lose his perspective.
Recent events notwithstanding.
Morosely, he poked at his food. “Dad, what do you know about him?” He finally asked.
“About Derek Hale?” his Dad repeated, looking curious. “Not much. Boy got dealt a rough hand in life, but he made the best of it. He’s taken those kids in when no-one else would, I can’t help but admire that.”
“Yeah,” Stiles murmured absently. “But what do you know about him as a person?”
Eyebrows lifting, his Dad looked at him sharply. “Do you really think he might be involved in something hinky?”
Stiles blew out a breath. “I don’t know, he might. Hale’s definitely got something to hide, but I’ve seen him with the kids, and…”
The Sheriff nodded knowingly. “It’s hard to imagine him doing evil when he dotes on a bunch of orphans.”
“Yeah.” Stiles sighed. “I tried really hard not to like him, keep a professional distance, you know? But literally the first thing he did was thank me for taking down his Uncle. He thanked me! I didn’t even know what to say.”
Nodding slowly, his Dad fixed him with a speculating look. “You know, you met him once. When you were a kid.”
His Dad grinned. “Yeah. It was at the Saint Patrick’s Day parade, you were five or six, I guess? You had this fascination with the big hats of the leprechauns and let go of my hand.”
“I remember that.” Stiles swallowed hard. “I got lost in the crowd and couldn’t find you. I was crying, and suddenly there was this really tall boy asking me what was wrong. I was hysterical at that point and couldn’t even tell him my name, but he found you guys anyway.” Thinking back, suddenly he could see the face of that boy in the man Derek had become. “Wow, I didn’t recognize him at all.”
Sneaking some more of the pot-roast onto his plate, his Dad smiled gently. “Your Mom was so relieved, she gave Derek a big smack on the cheek. I’ve never seen someone blush so hard in my life.”
Going through everything he knew about the man, Stiles wrinkled his nose. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around it. Derek Hale blushing? No way. “Well, I guess I’ve seen stranger things,” he murmured, mostly to himself.
“Stiles,” there was an odd note of hesitancy in his Dad’s voice that alerted Stiles to the fact that he probably wouldn’t like what he was about to say next. “Whatever you do, be careful with this one. Derek Hale might not have a lot of family left, but he has friends in high places.”
“I thought he was kind of a loner.”
His Dad hesitated but inclined his head in a half-nod. “In a way, I guess that’s true. But the Hale’s had a lot of influence-“
“- and money,” Stiles interjected, wry.
“Yes,” his Dad agreed, “that too. But a lot of people were unhappy with how things were handled when Talia and Rex died, not to speak of what happened to Laura. When you stopped Peter Hale – “
“You mean when I killed him.”
Looking at him with compassionate eyes, his Dad nodded. “Yes. Stiles, you know that you had no choice, right? The man was a murderer and on the fast-track to becoming one of the most dangerous Alpha’s in history…”
Holding up both hands in a warding gesture, Stiles gave his father a smile. “I know, Dad. It’s okay, really. Still doesn’t sit quite right with me, but I know that it was the right thing to do.”
“Good,” taking a swig off his beer, his Dad leaned back in his seat. “There are still a lot of questions left unanswered about Peter’s plan, though. I don’t want you to be the one poking the hornet’s nest.”
“Believe me,” Stiles huffed. “Neither do I.”
It was with mixed feelings that Stiles pulled out his phone later that night. Standing on the porch, backlit by the living room’s ceiling light, he stared out into the dark and asked himself if he was finally going insane.
It rang three times before it was picked up. “Hey,” a smooth voice said on the other end, and as if by magic, Stiles felt some of the tension flow out of him.
“Hi,” he breathed, sinking down on the porch step. “It’s good to hear your voice.”
“I would say the same,” Deucalion chuckled. “But it sounds like now is not the right time for meaningless flirtation.”
Squeezing his eyes closed, Stiles barely held back a sudden sob. “God, I miss you,” he rasped. “Why again did I decide to stay?”
“Oh, sweetheart. You know why.”
“But it doesn’t feel right, Duke! Ever since I started to use this damn ability, it’s like no matter where I go or who I’m with, I’m always the odd man out.”
Deucalion sighed. “You knew it wouldn’t be easy.”
“Yeah,” Stiles said around a sad smile. “I’m just so tired of it all, of having to try so hard.”
“You know you’ll always be welcome here.”
Stiles let the sincere warmth in the Alpha’s voice wash over him. “But?” he asked wryly, sensing the hesitation, even if it went unsaid.
“But I need you to hang in there, Stiles. You may just be in the right place at exactly the right time.” Deucalion paused. “Oh, and say hi to Derek from me.”
Startled into an embarrassed laugh, Stiles lifted the phone from his ear and stared at it for a long moment. “You know,” he murmured as he put it back. “I hate it when you do that.”
“Do what? Look inside your soul?”
“I may be unable to see, but I’m not blind.” Deucalion sounded so smug that Stiles couldn’t help but grin.
“Show-off,” he said.
“Don’t you know it,” the Alpha rumbled, his smooth accent flowing over the words. Despite himself, Stiles relaxed at the low tone.
There was a slight pressure in his mind and in a matter of moments Stiles slumped against the banister, his eyes drooping. “No,” he protested weakly, barely able to stay awake. “Don’t make me…”
“Get some sleep now, sweetheart,” he heard as he struggled to his feet and stumbled into the house. “It’ll do you a world of good.”
With some effort, Stiles made it as far as the couch. His last conscious thought before exhaustion claimed him was that it really, really sucked to be human.
He woke to the shrill sound of his cell squawking in his ear. “Guh-huh?” he grunted and tried to get it to stop by pawing in its general direction. Squinting at the too-bright display, he frowned at the unfamiliar number it flashed.
A split second later, he sat bolt upright, almost knocking over his Dad who barely managed to keep the cup of coffee he held from spilling over.
“’Time’s’it?” He gurgled, trying to detangle his legs from the blanket he didn’t remember covering himself with.
Chuckling, his Dad waved the steaming coffee. “Calm down, son, you’re not late. Although, how you manage to sleep like a log on this torture contraption is beyond me.”
Stiles yawned, flopping onto his back. “Duke made me,” he mumbled without thinking.
His Dad froze. “Deucalion?” There was a hint of accusation in his tone. “I didn’t know you were still in contact with him.”
“Fuck, Dad, don’t start,” he said with more force than intended. “I almost joined his pack not so long ago, of course I still talk to him.”
Blowing out a long breath, his Dad gave him a sheepish grin and offered him the full cup. “Of course you do. Sorry about that, it’s just that…“
“He symbolizes everything that went wrong in the last year.” Stiles finished, when his Dad trailed off.
“I know it’s not exactly rational.”
Stiles snorted. “Believe me, I get it. I can’t even say his name around Scott without him flying into a jealous rage.”
His Dad sat down on the coffee table, watching him take a long gulp of much-needed coffee. “We’ve never really talked about it. About what happened after the Hale case.”
Biting back a groan, Stiles stalled by taking another sip. Of course, his Dad chose ass o’clock in the morning to finally do this. “Not much to say, Dad,” he finally said. “I was a bit lost after the kill-shot, did some stupid things and managed to drive Heather away in the process. Duke, just… he was just there, you know? Listening, being there for me.”
“What about Scott?”
Stiles grimaced. “Yeah. I don’t know how much you know about Scott’s empathy levels, but let’s just say that becoming a true Alpha hasn’t exactly elevated them. Besides, he had other things to worry about at the time.”
“I guess it’s not easy to lose a member of your pack, even if Heather left in amicable terms.”
“It is certainly not,” Stiles said quietly. “Fuck. I love Scott like a brother, but some part of me still resents him for not letting me go with Duke.”
“Why did you stay then? If you wanted to go so badly, why didn’t you?” There was a wealth of sympathetic pain in his father’s voice, and all of a sudden, Stiles found himself being close to tears.
“It’s not easy to lose a member of your pack,” he said thickly. “Let alone two.”
Shaking his head in exasperation, his Dad wacked him gently on the back of the head. “I don’t remember raising such a self-sacrificing moron.”
“Ta-da,” Stiles said with a slight grin.
Sharing a few moments of comfortable silence with his Dad, Stiles slowly emptied his cup. When his phone rang for the second time that morning, he groaned in annoyance and fished it out from under the blanket-pile.
Frowning when the same unknown number flashed up on his screen, Stiles waved it around and made a ‘gotta take this’ gesture. In answer, his Dad made a ‘gonna make bacon and eggs and yes, I intend to eat bacon’ gesture and chuckled as Stiles gaped at him, torn between protesting and answering his cell.
“Stilinski,” he barked into the phone, frowning.
There was a short pause. “It’s Derek. Hale.”
Stiles stopped short. “Uh. Hi.”
“You sound surprised.”
Rolling his eyes – both at his own fluttering heart and the gruff arrogance in Derek’s voice – Stiles once again sat down on the porch. The morning air was blessedly cool on his face and the first glimmer of dawn just began to peek over the top of the trees. “I am, yeah, to be completely honest,” he answered finally. “I didn’t think you had anything more to say to us.”
There was a moment of silence and then Stiles could just about make out Derek saying: “Stop playing with your food, E,” followed by a high-pitched cackle that had to come from Isaac.
Stiles refused to admit that what he felt right then was envy. “Something I can help you with?”
“Yes.” Derek’s voice was a bit muffled, as if he had jammed the phone between his chin and shoulder. “Could you come over to my house? There’s something here I need to show you.”
Stiles found himself nodding before Derek had ended his sentence. “Yeah, sure,” he said, going for nonchalant. “I’ll be right over.”
“Good. And Stiles?”
He shivered. There was something supremely satisfying about the way Derek said his name. “Yes?”
“Come alone. Please.”
Stunned speechless by the unexpected plea, Stiles could only listen as Derek hung up on him without another word.
Shooting off a quick text to let Scott know he’d pick him up later, he hurried into the shower. He was done in record time and slipped into the kitchen to steal a piece of toast barely ten minutes later.
“Rain check on breakfast, Dad, something came up. And no, that doesn’t mean you can eat all the bacon yourself.”
“Ah,” his Dad smirked. “But who is going to stop me, now that my hot-shot FBI Special Agent son is off to save the world again?”
“Jonathan Ilija Stilinski, you drop the bacon, right now!”
The crispy piece of meat fell from his Dad’s suddenly lifeless fingers. “Yes, dear,” he answered meekly.
Stiles burst out laughing. “Hey, Natalie, it’s good to see you.”
Natalie Martin grinned at him and walked over to pluck a rapidly cooling strip of bacon from the plate. Munching on it, she gave Stiles a tight hug. “I’m sorry I missed dinner last night.”
“That’s alright,” he reassured her. “Dad told me what happened. Did everyone get home okay?”
She winked at him. “Oh, yes. For a bunch of teenagers, they were up pretty early this morning.” She shuddered theatrically. “I guess they were all happy to leave that creepy old motel behind. Oh, hey, I just had an idea, why don’t we all get together tonight? Have a big ole barbeque with the whole gang? I’m sure Lydia would love to see you guys.”
“Sounds good,” he agreed. “Gotta go, sorry. Something came up, but I’ll call you later to let you know when we’re ready to leave, okay?”
She gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “Sure thing. I’ll make potato salad and I’m sure I can talk Melissa into bringing her famous apple pie.”
Once again glad that his Dad had had the presence of mind to realize that he and Melissa were better off as friends, Stiles nodded. “Great! See you later then.”
It was only when he was halfway up the hill that lead to Derek’s house that he realized that the usual flutter of excitement he felt whenever he got to see Lydia was conspicuously absent. Or rather, it was there, very much so, but it was related to the dark and handsome werewolf he was about to visit.
“Admit it, Stilinski,” he murmured to himself, “you’re already nuts for the guy.” He had a feeling that it was going to be a very interesting meeting.
As soon as he rang the bell, the door was thrown open and Isaac barreled through, slamming into his legs hard enough to make Stiles wince.
“Stiles!” the boy crowed, eyes sparkling up at him. “You came back!”
Grinning, he reached down to poke a little nose. “What can I say, I missed you.”
To his utter astonishment, Isaac instantly sobered. “I missed you, too.” With one last extra-tight squeeze the boy released him, running back into the house at full speed.
Stiles hesitated in the doorway, unsure if he was welcome yet.
He got his answer when Derek suddenly appeared before him, seemingly just stepping out of the shadows. “Stiles. Come on in.”
Just like the day before, the house was a mess, but it looked like somebody had at least tried to clear away some of the clutter. Quenching the thought that it had been Derek trying to impress him, Stiles followed the Zeta once again into the kitchen.
Without a word, Derek busied himself fixing up two cups of coffee; one black and one about half-full of cream and with two sugars. Stiles flushed with pleasure as he realized that Derek remembered how he liked his coffee.
For some reason, it didn’t seem odd to just stand there, leaning against the fridge and watching Derek putter away around him. The tight T the werewolf was wearing left nothing to the imagination and Stiles quite enjoyed the play of muscles clearly visible underneath the thin fabric.
Oh! Nice thoughts you’re having there, Stiles. Allison sounded amused, her mental voice saturated with golden contentment.
Wincing, Stiles turned down the emotions he was projecting over the bond. What can I say? he answered, going for nonchalant. I’m enjoying breakfast.
Right. Then keep on enjoying, but please try to remember that some of us are actually trying to sleep here, okay?
Smiling to himself, Stiles sent a quick wave of apology to everyone, easy to ignore when you weren’t attuned to the bond at the moment, but strong enough to be felt when you were.
Pulled back from his mental ministrations, Stiles was startled by how close Derek was. He smelled good, like a mixture of soap and fresh bread, underlined by the sort of musky scent Stiles associated with all werewolves. His eyes were also very blue, staring at Stiles intently.
“Uh,” he managed, after a lengthy pause. “Sure. Thanks.”
Derek nodded and began fixing up one of the oven-warm buns with jam. “Cora made them,” he mentioned. “She’s quite the baker, if she can be bothered to actually do it.”
“It’sch ghood,” Stiles mumbled around the first bite, more than a little bit unsettled by this approachable version of the taciturn man he’d met the day before.
Derek nodded and turned around to lean opposite him, sipping his coffee. The words ‘World’s Best Foster Parent’ were printed on the mug, just about visible between Derek’s fingers. Stiles almost choked on his next bite, unexpectedly moved.
Derek looked at him for a long time. “They’re not bad, my kids,” he finally said, a propos of nothing. “Right now, Boyd is taking Isaac to kindergarten. He doesn’t have to, but he likes being needed.”
Stiles inclined his head, wordlessly prompting him to go on. He had no idea where this was going, but he felt in his gut that it was very important.
Derek pulled a face. “What you have to remember is that they have been through a lot in their life. All of them. Hell, it’s a wonder Isaac talks at all, and the twins? They were barely socialized when I got them, and now they’re everyone’s champion.”
“You must be very proud.”
“Not really,” Derek answered, lips curled into a self-deprecating smile. “They did most of that themselves. As I said, they’re not bad, just scarred by their experiences.”
“What about Erica?” Something told him that it wasn’t like Derek to beat around the bush, so there had to be a point to this.
“Erica,” Derek said, grimacing a little. “She was neither abused, nor neglected, but she was ill for such a big part of her childhood that she barely ever got to be one – a child, that is. And Cora…” He made a vague gesture, eyes burning into Stiles own. It was clear that he didn’t want to spell it out, the death of their family a wound that would never quite heal.
“Yeah,” Stiles replied, voice quiet. “Boyd seems to be well-adjusted, though.”
Derek laughed, loud and unfettered, head thrown back and shoulders shaking. Stiles grinned, once again immensely attracted to the man. He didn’t quite get the joke, but Derek’s amusement was contagious.
“He sure seems that way, doesn’t he,” Derek finally said, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. “But you know what they say about still waters. He was always good at blending into the background – too good.”
Remembering what Derek had said earlier about neglect, Stiles blew out a long breath. It wasn’t a pretty picture the Zeta was painting for him and his heart ached for them all. “I’m glad you found them,” he blurted out, heart on his tongue with no censure in between. Blushing hard, he looked everywhere but at Derek, sure that he’d made a fool of himself.
The soft chuckle caught him by surprise, especially when an actual glance at the man’s face showed him a serious expression. “Try to keep that in mind,” was all Derek said before he suddenly turned to go. “Come on. There’s something I need to show you.”
A bit bewildered by the sudden change, Stiles followed Derek out of the house and into the huge garden that surrounded the property on three sides.
Sudden movement behind him had him whirl around, heart beating hard in his chest.
“What is he doing here?” Erica demanded, trying to look bored even as her eyes flashed amber. Behind her in the doorway stood a dark-haired girl that looked too much like Derek to be anyone else than his sister.
Curiously, Stiles put out his mental feelers. Trying to read them without being detected was a tricky thing, so he contented himself with the few glimpses he got. There was the usual confusion he associated with teenaged hormones, and a strange feeling of dread they were both exhibiting. They were definitely hiding something, but there was no malicious intent in them at all.
Relieved, Stiles watched with amused tolerance as Derek read them the riot act about not being on their way to school yet.
“Jeez, Der, you’re almost as bad as mom used to…“ Cutting herself off abruptly, Cora pulled a face.
If Derek noticed his sister’s sudden mood-change, he made no note of it. “Yes, I know, I’m a tyrant,” he grumbled, shooing them off.
The werewolf watched – and listened to – them walk away, as if to make sure that they were actually gone before he once again turned back to the garden. He’d lifted his face towards the weak sunlight filtered through the branches of the huge oak tree towering over them.
He looked resigned, a tragic figure that provoked a wave of affectionate protectiveness in Stiles. He cleared his throat. “I read in your files that you gave up your Alpha powers to save Cora’s life.”
Startled out of his deep thoughts, Derek turned his head and gave him a crooked grin. “It was a bit more complicated than that.”
“Sure it was,” Stiles quipped. “But, and please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, I’m pretty sure that you keep losing power still. Whatever you did to heal her, you’re still paying the price for it.”
Derek just looked at him.
Stiles grimaced. “I’m not saying this to threaten you or anything. It’s just that whatever is going on with you, it doesn’t just affect you. I know it’s none of my business–“
Stiles swallowed back a sharp retort, hurt clogging his throat. “- but I really want to help you.”
Derek sneered. “And why would a Fed care about what happens to me, huh?”
“Because,” Stiles said carefully, “I feel like you’ve drawn the short straw for a while now, through no fault of your own. Maybe I just want to make up for that.”
To his dismay, Derek’s face went completely blank. He gave Stiles a flat look. “Don’t bother,” he growled and was off the tiny porch surrounding the house in a flash.
Stunned by the abrupt change, Stiles followed him at a slower pace. He wasn’t sure what it was about his words that had made Derek shut down like he had, but he was anxious to make it right.
It didn’t make any sense for him to crave the man’s attention like he did, but for the moment, Stiles chose not to dwell on that too much. After all, his psyche was a fucked-up place at the best of times.
He hadn’t been paying attention to where he was going, so it was only when he stood directly in front of it, that he noticed the small shed nestled in between a cluster of old fruit trees.
He shivered in the cool morning air and was a bit envious of Derek, who was wearing only a T-shirt and didn’t seem to be feeling the cold at all. He soon forgot his discomfort, when Derek heaved open the shed’s creaky wooden door and waved Stiles forward.
“This looks like…”
“A nest.” Derek confirmed, voice tight. “It’s where Cora and Erica hid the Tate girl. She must have been here for weeks without me noticing.” Once again, he sounded like the grumpy guy Stiles hadn’t missed at all. Despite the fact that he couldn’t see Derek’s face, it felt like a gulf had opened up between them, an emotional distance that hadn’t been there before.
He couldn’t bear it. Stepping closer, he didn’t stop to think as he laid a firm hand on Derek’s shoulder. His thumb rested right on the spot where the shirt ended, and he could just about feel a hint of warm skin.
Squeezing a little, Stiles caught Derek’s eye. “Thank you for showing me this. It must have been hard, to trust an SDU Agent.”
For a split second, Derek’s mind blazed with emotion and Stiles almost staggered back at the intensity. They were gone as soon as they had come, as if Derek had locked away that awful maelstrom of fear, anxiety and mind-numbing panic deep in the corner of his consciousness. “They just tried to protect her,” he rasped, pleading, traces of utter desperation ringing clear. “I swear I didn’t know, not until this morning…”
“It’s okay,” Stiles whispered, crowding closer to the man until they were sharing one breath, standing almost nose to nose. “I know they were just trying to do the right thing.”
Derek closed his eyes, swaying even closer. “I can’t lose them, Stiles,” he breathed. “They’re all I’ve got left.”
“No-one will take those kids from you, Derek, I promise,” Stiles rasped, reinforcing his conviction with a mental push.
Derek shuddered, making a low keening noise deep in his throat. Some of the tension left his shoulders, tight muscles relaxing under Stiles’ fingers.
“You’re alright,” Stiles murmured, bringing up his free hand to cradle Derek’s face. It felt right to comfort the werewolf like this, as if they’d known each other for years instead of hours. “Just breathe with me.”
Another slight shiver ran though the broad frame, and like a rapidly deflating balloon, Derek leaned forward even more, forcing Stiles to take the brunt of his weight, their foreheads touching.
They stood like that, motionless, for a long time.
It was the sudden ringing of Stiles’ phone that pulled them out of their trance-like connection, the sound harsh in the peaceful quiet of the garden.
Stiles twitched, and in the blink of an eye, Derek was gone, retreating a few steps with a bewildered expression on his tired face.
Already, Stiles missed the man’s warmth. He tried to keep eye contact as he fumbled his cell out of his pocket and answered it without checking who it was. He didn’t even get to say his name before Scott’s agitated voice burst forth over the tinny speaker.
“We just got a missing person’s report. It’s Lydia, Stiles. She didn’t come home last night.”
“Lydia?” Heart plummeting, Stiles met Derek’s questioning gaze with wide eyes. He nodded at the werewolf, indicating that it was okay to listen in on the call. “Who reported her missing?”
“Her fiancé,” Scott responded.
Stiles stopped short. “Oh. I didn’t know she got engaged.”
He could practically feel Scott’s eye-roll. “Sure you do, she even invited you to her wedding! Come on, Stiles, focus. I know your high school crush on her never went away, but whatever’s going on here is now more than a shifter gone rogue. Jackson is positive that she’d never go anywhere without calling in first.”
“She wouldn’t,” Derek added quietly.
With a start Stiles realized that of course, Derek would know Lydia as well as anyone, having been her Alpha for over ten years.
Stiles frowned. “Where are you?” He asked Scott, moving toward the house.
“At the station. Jackson’s here, and so is your Dad. They’re ready to head a search party, so get your ass in gear before we leave without you.”
“Scott, the picture.”
“Yeah,” the Alpha said, under his breath. “I know. If her disappearance has something to do with Malia Tate, we’ll have to find out quick. Just get here, okay?”
“On my way.” Disconnecting the call, Stiles walked up to Derek at a brisk pace. “You are joining us for the search, right?” he demanded. “If Lydia’s been missing since last night and she spent all that time out there somewhere…”
“She’s not dead,” Derek said sharply. “I’d know if she was.”
Trying to get his emotions under control, Stiles nodded slowly. “That’s good to know, at least. Can you reach her at all?”
Derek’s focus turned inward. “No,” he said after a lengthy pause. His voice was cool, no hint of his earlier vulnerability showing. “It’s like she’s there… but not. Something’s interfering with the bond.”
Stiles scowled. “This is all very strange. Why would Malia take Lydia? To what end? And where would she take her…?” he trailed off, staring at a convenient oak leaf on the ground. “Let’s go to the station. While I’m not a fan of traipsing through the woods on the off-chance of just stumbling over a missing person, it’s better than doing nothing.”
Derek gave him a look.
Stiles gulped. “What?” he squeaked, unnerved by the flat stare.
“What were you talking about earlier? You said something to Scott about a picture?”
Stiles grimaced. “We found an old yearbook photo of Lydia in Malia’s old hangout. Damnit,” he hissed. “We should have warned her yesterday.”
“You don’t know that she was taken against her will.”
Stiles rolled his eyes at the werewolf. “Hell of a coincidence if she wasn’t.”
That prompted a lip-twitch that was almost a smile, so Stiles counted it as a win. Again, he didn’t dare to further investigate his desire to get a reaction out of the reserved man, although he had a feeling that at some point, he would have to stop and reflect on his behavior.
He was alerted to someone else’s presence when Derek suddenly stiffened, his sharp gaze flying to a shadowy spot close to the edge of the property. “You can come out now,” he warned with a growl. “It’s not like I can’t smell your perfume.”
Stiles sniffed but couldn’t make out anything else besides Derek’s subtle odor and the smell of damp grass. He watched with interest as Cora and Erica stepped out into the sunlight, both wearing similar expressions of surprised chagrin.
“I thought I sent you off to school.”
“Yeah, well,” Erica snapped, “your range isn’t what it used to be, so we doubled back.”
If it weren’t for the concern, he felt emanating from her, Stiles would never have guessed that her words were anything but an acidic diatribe.
“Watch it, I can still kick your ass, sprout,” Derek grumbled, but there was obvious affection in his tone.
“Der’?” There were tears in Cora’s eyes and with her lower lip quivering, she looked all about five years old. “You know what we did, don’t you?”
Derek and Stiles exchanged a knowing glance. “I found Malia’s hiding spot, yes.”
“It’s all my fault! It was my idea to bring her to the house. It just, I don’t know, it felt right to help her. Derek,” she sobbed. “Derek, I’m so sorry…”
Half a heartbeat later, she was engulfed in her brother’s arms. “Calm down, Coralee. It’s not your fault, all right? You did nothing wrong by helping Malia.” He pressed a quick kiss on her bent head. “I only wish you had told me about her sooner.”
“We wanted to,” Erica piped up. She looked embarrassed rather than distraught, but her eyes were glued to the Hale siblings and jealousy flowed from her in dark, sticky waves, “but she made us promise not to tell, said she wasn’t quite ready to join our world yet. She’s been,” she hesitated. “I guess, she’s been not quite right from the beginning. I figured it was just that she’d spent so long with no contact to other humans at all, but…” She spread her hands in a helpless gesture.
“Girls,” Stiles interjected, acutely aware that all of a sudden, three sets of glowing eyes were focused on him. “Lydia is missing. Do you know anything that could connect her disappearance to what happened to Malia all those years ago? Cora, what did you mean when you said she was not quite right?”
“It was weird,” again it was Erica that answered. The blonde Beta had inched ever closer to Derek, her whole demeanor typical for a Beta asking for forgiveness. “At first, I didn’t believe her when she told me about the dreams being real. I mean, she was stuck in her coyote form for so long, I figured it was no wonder that she had some strange dreams, you know? But then, she started talking about the burning man telling her to do stuff…”
“Yeah, and sometimes it was a young boy, too, a wolf, like us,” Cora added. “She was really scared in the beginning, but after a while, it was almost like she looked forward to dreaming. That’s why we brought her here instead of letting her stay in the woods. She’s been sleeping a lot lately.”
Stiles listened with growing horror. A dark suspicion was rising inside of him, and with every word he heard, it became more likely to be true. “The burning man…” he murmured, swallowing back the bile that threatened to rise. “A werewolf…”
Looking up, he could see the same realization in Derek’s eyes. “Peter,” they both said at the same time.
Stiles called Scott from the car. He was hanging on for dear life as Derek raced along the rough, dirt-packed road, bringing them deeper into the woods.
The girls were in the backseat, grim with the knowledge that they were – at least in part – responsible for putting Lydia in danger. Stiles couldn’t help but be moved when a glance in the rearview mirror revealed that they were holding hands.
“Stiles, where the fuck are you?” Scott suddenly bellowed in his ear. “Jackson is about ready to call in reinforcements!”
“Scott, listen. We know where Lydia is-“
“What? How…? Where?”
“Shut up and listen,” Stiles commanded, yelping when he was thrown against the passenger side door. “Watch it, Derek! I’m the only human in this car and I’d like to not die in a fiery crash, alright?”
On the other end of the phone, Scott was cursing. “I swear, Stilinski, if you don’t tell me where the fuck you’re going right this second-“
“The old Hale house,” Stiles yelled over the roar of the Camaro’s revving engine. “If I’m right, we’re in for a nasty surprise, so I’d appreciate some manpower.”
There was a moment of silence. Just when Stiles was about to check if he’d lost the connection, Scott spoke up. “Do we need SUWAT?”
Stiles swallowed hard. The Supernatural Weapons and Tactics unit was a last resort. The teams were entirely manned by Hunters and armed to the gills with everything their Druids could come up with, weapon-wise. Although their official purpose was de-escalation, in Stiles’ opinion, they weren’t real in calming down a cornered were-person.
He had an intense dislike for the risks the SUWAT members took, so it was with a heavy heart that he said: “Yes. But tell them to send Braeden’s team.”
“Good thinking,” Scott approved. “You want me to run?”
Stiles immediately shook his head. “No, I need you to stay with my Dad and the others. I have backup here, but I don’t want you guys running into a trap. You know how bad cell reception is in that place.”
“Yeah, okay.” Scott sounded reluctant. “Too bad you can’t talk to Parrish, huh?”
Stiles gave the mental equivalent of a shrug. “Wrong species.”
“Right. We’ll be there ASAP. No heroics, you hear me?”
Stiles laughed sickly, vaguely aware of Derek shooting him a concerned look. “Yeah, I’ll do my best.” He hung up before he could completely embarrass himself. Checking his surroundings, he was highly aware of the familiarity of the landscape.
They were close.
“You ready for this?” Derek’s voice was quiet, barely audible.
Stiles gave him a determined nod.
Derek looked skeptical, but he didn’t comment on the fear he undoubtedly could smell on him, especially in such tight quarters. “Erica, I want you to be on the look-out for the Sheriff’s posse,” he said instead. “Keep them away if things get hairy. Cora, you try to find Lydia and Malia and get them to safety. That’s your number one priority, do you understand me?” He waited for them to nod. “If something happens to me-“, he warded off their immediate protests with a sharp wave of his hand. “No. We all know it’s a possibility. You know the drill, but I need you to take care of the boys. They’re too young to understand, especially Isaac. Not matter what,” he paused and threw an unreadable glance at Stiles, “you can trust Stiles. He’ll help.”
His throat tightening, Stiles tried to catch the werewolf’s eyes. “Derek…”
“We’re here.” Throwing the car into park directly in front of the destroyed house, Derek was out the door in an instant, never looking back. Swallowing down a wave of cold dread, Stiles followed him.
Of course, they were too late. Just as they walked up to the old Hale house – the exact place where almost a year ago, Stiles had killed Peter Hale in self-defense – they saw a dark, stumbling figure emerge from the burned-down husk.
“Jesus,” Stiles whispered. He was sick to his stomach, memories threatening to overwhelm his sense of the here and now. It had been broad daylight then, too…
Jerking back to awareness, Stiles was immediately conscious of two things. First, he was very close to a panic attack, and second, he was currently cradled in Derek’s arms, Derek’s lips hovering over his.
His oxygen-starved brain was very amused by this. “Are you going to kiss me?” he slurred.
Derek furrowed his brow. “Only if you stop breathing again.”
Stiles grinned. “Pity.”
Derek’s eyes widened, and his mouth formed a surprised ‘o’, probably against his will. He was just about to say something when a smooth, all-too-familiar voice cut into their little world.
“Ah, ah, ah. If I were you, I’d keep my hands off this one, Derek. He’s a firecracker, and unfortunately, not in the good way.”
It was almost comical, the way Derek’s face lost all expression. His eyes darkened, turning them an awful shade of gray. Slowly, he released Stiles, straightening from his crouched-down position to face his Uncle.
“Peter,” he acknowledged. He sounded exhausted. “What have you done to Lydia?”
Peter Hale gave his nephew a sunny smile. It was a grotesque sight, pulling at scabbed-over scar tissue, testament to the fact that Stiles’ bullet had propelled him right into the fire that had raged in the old house during their fight.
Then, it had seemed like poetic justice for Peter to die in a fire after he’d gone to such length to recover from one. It had always boggled Stiles’ mind, the knowledge that the man had killed his own niece just to gain power.
“Oh, you mean the Banshee?” Peter said pleasantly. “She will be alright, don’t you worry. Malia is looking after her.”
Craning his neck, Stiles made sure that the girls were keeping their distance. The last thing he wanted was for them to get in the line of fire, werewolf healing powers be damned.
Using the fact that the two older Hales were distracted by their battle of wills, Stiles inched his hand towards his holster. His conscience was screaming at him to not make the same mistake again – to kill again, even to save others – but he also knew that letting Peter get away was not an option.
Sliding his fingers along the familiar handle, he deliberately shifted on top of some branches as he unlocked the safety, hoping to cover up the sound.
When Peter stirred in reaction, Stiles was up and off the ground in a flash, gun at the ready. “Don’t move,” he ordered, proud that his voice didn’t waver. Much.
To his consternation, Peter laughed out loud. “See?” he crowed, winking at Derek. “I told you he was a live one. Always good for a surprise. Do you realize that he’s also a Sáirigh?”
Derek didn’t react. His gaze was glued to the gun in Stiles’ hand, but the relief Stiles had expected to see on his face wasn’t there.
“Of course you do,” Peter continued, stretching as if he’d just awoken from a long nap. “I bet you threw him on his ass when you caught him snooping around in your pack-bond, huh?”
“Stiles,” Derek said, moving into the line of fire. “Put away the gun.”
Behind him, Peter cackled. “So, blood actually is thicker than water then. I always knew you had it in you, Derek.”
“Get out of the way!” Stiles cried out, dismayed by this turn of events. Betrayal curled in his gut and he felt like a teenager instead of a grown man. “We can’t let him go, you know that. Think of all the harm he will do.”
“I know,” Derek said around a wry grin. “That’s why I’ll take care of him. You did what you had to last time, but I won’t let you do my dirty work again. He is my responsibility.”
There was a lot more to that statement, Stiles felt it in his bones, but for the moment, he had no choice but to trust Derek.
Stiles nodded, almost imperceptible, and lowered his gun with a stifled sob. In the same heartbeat, Derek turned, meeting Peter’s battle-cry with a roar of his own.
The fight was short and vicious.
Realizing that Derek’s diminishing power forced him on the offensive right away, Stiles braced himself, trying to lend him strength. He could practically feel the effort it took for Derek to force his body into Beta form, while Peter pranced around, half-burned face healing rapidly.
Had he been in top form, Peter would have been no match for Derek. As it was, though, the only thing that kept Derek on his feet seemed to be sheer will-power as he was pummeled by well-placed kicks, deep slashes welling with blood.
All too soon, Derek was sprawled on his back in the dirt, bleeding profusely. He seemed dazed, unable to defend himself when Peter knelt beside him, barely out of breath himself.
From the corner of his eye, Stiles could see the girls’ eyes glow amber, both of them ready to defend Derek with their lives. It was with a sense of utter despair that Stiles heard the Zeta talk to them via the bond.
Get out of here. Take the boys and run. Don’t let him get near you.
Staring down at the gun he was still holding, Stiles made a decision. No matter the cost to his soul, he couldn’t let Derek die like this, even if that meant going against the man’s wishes.
In the end, though – obvious enough to satisfy Stiles’ sense of irony – it was Peter’s arrogance that was his downfall. Instead of going for the kill when he had the upper hand, he glanced over to see if he had an audience. “Too bad,” he murmured as he raised his hand, claws gleaming red. “Together we could have ruled the world, Derek.”
Derek snorted. “Go to hell.” In a swift motion that was almost too fast for Stiles eyes to follow, he threw his body off the ground and in one precise move, he slashed Peter’s throat.
Blood gushing immediately, the man gurgled out his last few, labored breaths and fell over slowly, landing face-forward in a small puddle. He didn’t move again, even when Derek grabbed his shoulder to turn him to his back, revealing sightless eyes that stared up into the blue sky.
He looked to be quite dead, but Stiles wasn’t about to take chances. Stepping up, he fired four clean, precise shots right between the eyes. “Double tap,” he said lowly.
Struggling to his feet, Derek let out an amused snort. “Good idea.”
Cora’s scream was the only warning they got before a whirlwind of claws and teeth suddenly jumped on Derek’s back, driving him to his knees when he’d just managed to get up.
“Get off him,” Stiles exclaimed, stunned by the viciousness of her attack. He wasn’t about to shoot her, though, so there was nothing he could do to stop her.
Erica wasn’t so inhibited. Hissing like a pissed-off housecat, she grabbed Malia and threw her to the ground several feet away. She almost seemed surprised by her own strength.
Stunned, Malia stayed where she was, her dark hair in total disarray.
“Malia!” Cora cried out, a wealth of betrayal in her voice. “Why did you do that? Why help Peter in the first place? He was a monster, Malia, a murderer. He killed my sister in cold blood!”
Malia slowly blinked. She looked like someone awakening from a deep sleep, her cloudy eyes clearing as she focused on Cora. “I,” she whispered. “I had to. He told me I had to. He’s the only family I have.”
“Family,” Cora repeated, incredulous. “What do you mean? The Tate’s are your family, not Peter.”
Something nagged at Stiles. He was sure that he was overlooking something, something that had to do with all the clues they had accumulated over the course of this – admittedly strange – investigation.
“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” Lydia’s voice was sickly sweet, her tone implying that she was mildly disgusted with their collective stupidity. She was standing in the doorway of the ruin, looking a little worse for wear but thankfully appearing to be unharmed.
Stiles studied her unashamedly. She was older than the 18-year-old he remembered from his high school days, radiating maturity and a sense of belonging that Stiles couldn’t help but envy. Her strawberry-blonde hair was shorter than it used to be, but her eyes still sparkled with intelligence and sharp-witted humor.
“Aunt Lydia!” Erica exclaimed and ran over, throwing herself into her arms. “I’m so glad that you are okay.”
Lydia smiled at the Beta. “I knew you guys would come for me. I don’t know what it was that Peter had Malia do to me, but it cut me off from the bond. That was a little,” she shivered, “unpleasant.”
“I still don’t get it,” Cora murmured, her amber eyes never leaving Malia’s prone form. “We helped her, and still she betrayed us.”
“She only did what she thought was right for her family.”
“Fa-“ Stiles started to say, only to stop short. He slapped a hand to his forehead.
“Ding, ding,” Lydia intoned, showing white teeth as she grinned at him. “Why, Stiles, you didn’t used to be so slow. Maybe they should have trained basic deduction at Quantico rather than teaching you all that fancy Creature Behaviorism.”
“It’s good to see you, too, Lydia.”
“Are you gonna let the other kids play or is this a private party?” There was an unfamiliar sharpness to Derek’s tone.
Facing him, Stiles wrinkled his brow as he tried to think of a way to break the news gently. For once, he was at a loss for words.
Erica beat him to it. “Peter was Malia’s father, wasn’t he?”
There was a look of almost maternal pride on Lydia’s face as she nodded. “Yes, he was. There were rumors that Darren wasn’t her biological father, but they were never confirmed. He certainly never acted as if she wasn’t his.”
“So,” Cora inquired, looking adorably confused. “Malia is what, my cousin?”
“That’s why you felt compelled to help her,” Stiles groaned, everything finally slipping into place. “And since Peter was versed in all things Druid, he must have found a way to establish a link between him and her before he died. I bet this was his plan all along. He would have come back stronger than ever.”
“That’s it in a nutshell.” Still keeping an arm around Erica, Lydia joined them to stand next to the body of her tormentor. “Can we make sure he stays dead this time?” she muttered, wrinkling her nose. “Anyway, I have felt something prodding at me for weeks, but I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on.”
Derek gave her a stern look. “Why haven’t you told me about that?”
Lydia rolled her eyes. “And what would you have done? Called the Banshee helpline? I didn’t even know what was going on, and besides, I figured you had bigger problems at the time.” The look on her face was almost apologetic.
Frowning, Stiles inclined his head. “So, you knew it was Peter the whole time?”
“Of course not, you moron,” she snapped. “If I had known, Peter Hale would have been a pile of ashes weeks ago. No offense,” she added, giving Cora and Derek a shrewd look.
She ignored Malia, but it didn’t seem like the girl had even heard her. “None taken,” they answered in unison.
“Look, I had a feeling that there was someone out there trying to use me and my powers for their own purpose. But I’m not sixteen anymore and I have total control over my abilities; I sure as hell won’t be manipulated by a few dreams and hallucinations. Of course, I never figured on there being a second pawn.”
“I’m not a pawn.”
Startled, they all turned towards Malia. Stiles felt pity well up in him as he took in her bedraggled appearance. For all intents and purposes, she had lost her family in a tragic accident – one she blamed herself for – and now, she had lost the only other person that she felt like she belonged to. Her whole psyche, shaped by years of living in her were form, had to be in turmoil.
“No, you’re not,” Derek said quietly, gentler than Stiles had ever heard him. “You’re a Hale, a part of my family, of my pack. Peter may have told you that he was the only one you could trust, but didn’t Cora and Erica here show you that that wasn’t true?”
Eyes brimming with tears, Malia slowly shook her head. “They only helped me because they didn’t know what I had done.”
Grimacing, Derek sank to his knees beside the distraught girl. “That’s not true. They helped you, because they knew that you were a part of us, one that has been missing for a long time.”
“I killed them.” The words were barely more than a breath, but their emotional impact packed a punch. Stiles recoiled as he was pummeled by the raw pain she projected, and he had to work hard to shore up his shields against it.
“You didn’t.” It was Erica that spoke. She had disentangled herself from Lydia but didn’t quite leave her side. “You changed on a full moon, with no-one there to teach you how to do it right. What happened wasn’t your fault.”
Via the bond, Stiles could feel Scott poking him, trying him to get to answer. Stiles sent quick reassurances but didn’t dare to fully communicate. “Police will be here soon,” he warned quietly. He was loathe to break up what was obviously a desperately needed bonding moment, but the last thing Malia needed was to be subjected to Scott’s not-so-tender ministrations. “If you go now, I can take care of the preliminary statement on my own. It’ll give you a few hours to get settled.”
Derek nodded, sending him a grateful look. “We’re going home now, Malia,” he said as he slowly climbed to his feet. “All of us.”
It took a moment, but at last, she gave him a hesitant nod. Holding out his hand, Derek pulled her to her feet with a quiet grunt. “Good girl,” he praised.
Stiles breathed a sigh of relief when a shaky smile appeared on Malia’s face. She wasn’t quite out of the woods yet – pun intended – but it looked like Derek had established a connection with the traumatized girl.
Although it seemed to have cost him. When he turned to the car, Derek was distinctly paler than a few minutes before and Stiles studied him in concern. “Shouldn’t these have healed by now?”
Derek glanced down at himself, eyeing the open wounds. “They are healing. It just takes a bit longer than usual.”
“Uh-huh, right,” Stiles retorted. “If that bleeding doesn’t stop soon, I’m sending you to the hospital.”
“You and what army?” The comeback was weak at best, and judging by Derek’s slight grimace, he knew it.
Before he could say or do anything, Cora slipped under her brother’s right arm, Erica taking the other side. “I think we’re army enough to take you on right now, don’t you think, Malia?”
The girl looked startled at being addressed, but a pleased smile soon blossomed on her dirty face. It made her look even more than a Hale and although he couldn’t bring himself to resent her for finally finding her place, Stiles still looked on in envy as the odd little troop got under way and he was once again the one left behind.
They were almost at the car, when Derek’s voice rang out. “Dinner’s at eight.”
Startled, Stiles frowned. “Um. Okay?”
Derek turned his head, meeting his confused gaze. “Bring Scott. He can get our statements after we’ve discussed the unification.”
Stiles felt like he had missed an important part of the conversation. “Wha…? Unification?” He was more than a little confused when Lydia shook her head at him, looking disgusted.
“He definitely was smarter in high school,” she commented.
“He’ll get it,” Derek muttered. “Eventually.”
Bemused, Stiles watched as Lydia bullied Derek into the passenger seat and got in on the driver’s side. The girls opted to run the distance, changing all at the same time and taking off in that weird bent-forward way that always reminded him of leap-frogs.
He decided to get to the bottom of the strange conversation later, putting it out of his mind for the moment as sirens heralded the arrival of what sounded like half the state’s police force.
“Is anyone still patrolling the streets, or did you bring all the cops of Beacon County?” he greeted Scott, smiling when the Alpha took him by the shoulders and gave him a sniff. Behind him, his Dad was already taking charge of the crime scene, sending Parrish in first to get a lay of the land.
They worked well together, Stiles had to admit, although what they all could use was a little finesse. He winced when Parrish yelled “yup, dead as a doornail” after poking Peter with his boot.
“I’m okay, Scott, you can quit sniffing me know,” he protested when Scott showed no signs of stopping.
“I was worried when you didn’t answer.” Scott looked around, frowning when he finally noticed the lifeless body on the ground. “Is that…?”
“The one and only,” Stiles retorted. “This time, I suggest we burn him along with a lot of wolfsbane and store the remains in one of Deaton’s mountain ash boxes.”
“Yeah, the silver-lined ones with the mistletoe finish. I take it you didn’t have to, y’know,” Scott mimed slashing his throat.
Stiles rolled his eyes. “Nah. Derek did all the work, although I made sure that there would be no spontaneous resurrection.”
Scott grinned. “You double-tapped him?”
Stiles grinned back. “Twice.”
“Good for you.” Sobering, Scott checked the controlled activity around him. “Alright, let’s get back to the station, I want to take your statement when it’s still fresh. You let the others go?”
“For the moment. I told them we’d come get their statements later. Oh, and Derek invited us to dinner. Said something real cryptic about something called Unification. Ever heard of that?”
Scott looked stymied. “Not really, no. Maybe it’s got something to do with him being a Zeta?”
Stiles thought about that. There wasn’t much he knew about Derek’s status, so it was entirely possible that there was something that had to be done to get Malia settled into the bond. He shrugged. “Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”
Surprisingly, it didn’t take that long to pack everything up. He supposed it helped that an SDU agent had been there to witness the demise of a Creature, so he found himself back at the Sheriff’s station in no time.
He was sitting in their little office at the station, trying to get everything down into a coherent report, when something other than the blinking cursor got his attention.
There was a prod in his mind, the non-pack contact unfamiliar enough that Stiles winced, and so it took him a moment or two to recognize the source. When he did, he quickly relaxed his mental shields and Derek’s voice filled his head.
There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you about Sáirigh, he said, unprompted. I thought you’d come up with the information yourself, but... There was amusement leaking through the contact.
Rude Stiles replied, poking a little to find out how Derek was doing. Though still weak, Derek appeared to be well enough. There was a new sense of peace underlining the Zeta’s very core, and Stiles could only assume that it had something to do with finding Malia.
It’s something that I remember my Mom talking about once before she died. Derek continued, serious now. You got it wrong, you know. You’re not meant to be on the outside looking in.
Stiles heart began to beat faster. I’m not?
No. There was a lengthy pause. In fact, it’s the other way around. With that, Derek was gone.
Stiles sat, stunned. “Way to be cryptic, Hale,” he murmured, rubbing a hand over his face. Following a whim, he accessed the SDU’s database, typing in the words ‘unification’ and, after a moment’s hesitation, ‘Sáirigh’ – although he majorly butchered the spelling on that one.
He got exactly one result. It was a reference to an obscure book that had been added to the database about fifteen years ago. Stiles scanned over the entry, a little weirded out by the accuracy of the descriptions, and it took him longer than he liked to admit later on, to notice the author’s name. Talia Hale, he read. Of course.
When he came to the part in the short text about unification, Stiles felt giddy hope rise in his chest. This sounded too good to be true, and yet, everything about himself suddenly made sense in the face of this new information.
A smile spreading on his face, Stiles leaned back in his seat. So much had changed in so little time. He felt like a big weight had been lifted off his chest, and even though he knew there were still things he’d have to work through, somehow, he felt better about his life than he had in years.
And maybe, just maybe, the affection he’d felt in Derek’s mental voice earlier had a little to do with that. Huffing, Stiles pulled the welling emotions back into himself, loathe of the teasing he’d get from his pack-mates for them, and turned back to his work.
One thing was clear to him: he couldn’t wait for the rest of his life to begin.
One Year Later
The phone rang exactly three times before it was picked up. “Hey.”
Stiles grinned at the familiar greeting. “Hey back at’cha, Duke. How’s it hanging?”
“You do realize that we could just talk via pack-speak,” Deucalion answered, sounding amused.
“I know,” Stiles replied sheepishly. “But this seems more…”
“Traditional?” Deucalion finished.
Straightening up, Stiles looked down the porch at the huge garden bathed in the golden light of early sunset. “As always, you read my mind.”
Deucalion chuckled, the sound warm in his ear. “No easy feat, what with your rambling. So, how’s small-town life treating you? Are you regretting quitting the FBI yet?”
Listening to the sounds of laughter and good-natured complaints coming from behind him, Stiles felt a warm glow envelop him. “Not even a little bit. It’s Scott that does all the complaining, as usual. Says his new partner is a holy terror and a hotshot to boot.”
“I’m convinced that if anyone can teach young Liam some patience-“
“- it’s not Scott,” they finished together, laughing.
Still grinning, Stiles thought over all the changes that had happened in his life lately. He’d moved back to Beacon Hills and had gotten a job as Creature liaison at the station, something his hometown had been in desperate need for. And, just to make his life that much more complicated, he now had more pack-bonds than he could shake a stick at.
It had been strange at first, to implement the advice Derek had given him that day they saved Malia. Knowing that everyone could have one pack only was so deeply ingrained in Stiles’ being, that opening up to the others had been a real challenge.
But in the end, Derek’s mom had been right about his abilities. He no longer felt torn between the three different packs of his heart – now, he was part of all of them, their connection as deep and fulfilling as a singular one was supposed to be.
“I know another connection that’s deep and fulfilling.”
Stiles blushed hotly. “Christ, Duke. Stop doing that. Has nobody ever told you that it’s rude to snoop around in other people’s thoughts?”
Deucalion’s booming laugh filled the line. “Look who’s talking, Mr. man-of-all-bonds.”
“You’re just jealous,” Stiles countered, craning his neck to soak up the last rays of the day.
“Of having to listen to three pack’s worth of gibberish?” Deucalion retorted. “No, thanks. I’m busy enough with just my own.”
Smiling to himself, Stiles let the comment pass. He knew that Deucalion was an incorrigible busy-body and given the chance, the older man would take the chance to have Sáirigh powers in a heartbeat.
“Things are going well then?” Deucalion asked after a few moments of comfortable silence.
“Yeah,” Stiles sighed happily. “They are. Of course, I could always do with less parental intervention when it comes to child-rearing, but hey, at least Dad has stopped giving Derek the evil eye for what he calls ‘defiling my little boy’.”
“I told you he’d come around.”
“That you did,” Stiles acknowledged. The sound of footsteps behind him made him grin. Apparently, his allotted phone-time was over. “Hey, Duke, do you mind if we continue this another time?”
“Not at all.” Deucalion sent the mental equivalent of a poke. “I’m sorry we can’t be there.”
“It’s alright,” Stiles reassured. “I know it’s hard for Kali to travel right now. Give her and Ennis a kiss for me, will you?”
“Of course. Goodbye, sweetheart.”
The line went dead. Grinning at the other Alpha’s continued use of the endearment – something that drove Derek crazy – Stiles slipped the phone into his pocket.
A moment later, strong arms pulled him into a warm embrace, surrounding him from behind. Stiles sighed in pleasure, letting Derek support his weight.
“Did you say hi to Deucalion for me?”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “No, I did not. You know how he gets when I mention your name.”
Stiles could feel Derek’s lips stretch into a grin where they rested against his ear. “I can’t help it that the man has a crush on me.”
He snorted. “I wouldn’t exactly call it a crush.”
“What would you call it then?” Derek grumbled, snuffling into his neck to place a soft kiss on the sensitive skin there.
Stiles shivered. “Uh,” he fumbled. “Undeserved hero-worship?”
“It’s not undeserved.” Turning him in a swift move that made Stiles’ knees go weak, Derek pulled them close again, face to face. “Afterall,” he continued, his hands wandering down and around Stiles’ hips to come to rest on his lower back. “I did battle my way back from Zeta to Alpha status.”
“True,” Stiles breathed, licking his lips just to see Derek’s eyes go dark in desire. “And you did it all by yourself, didn’t you?”
“Maybe I had a little help.” Derek leaned in, letting their lips touch lightly. Stiles moaned, the touch still as electric as their first kiss had been. He tried to deepen it, but Derek pulled back. “Easy,” he murmured. “Don’t start something you can’t finish.”
Stiles sighed. “Can’t we just send them away?”
Derek grinned. “Not today. They’re all waiting for you. Isaac even has a special surprise for you – spoiler, he made it out to ‘Daddy’.”
Warmth of a different kind filled him. Of all the kids, only Erica had needed a while to warm up to him, but Isaac had been welcoming from the start. He’d jumped at the chance to have two parental figures instead of just one, and this final step had been a long time in the making.
Giving him another long kiss, Derek hesitantly stepped back. “I better get in there. From the sounds of it, Scott and Boyd are about to start a food fight and they’re roping Deaton into it.”
“I can’t believe they all came.”
Derek looked at him fondly. “Of course they came. It’s the anniversary of your unification; because of you, we’re all connected now. Besides, when have you known Scott to miss the chance to stuff himself with free food?”
Stiles grinned at his boyfriend. “Yeah, but Scott’s not the only one. Don’t think I haven’t smelled Allison’s brownies on your breath.”
Derek grinned. “Guilty as charged.” He turned to go, stopping when Stiles didn’t immediately follow. “You coming?”
“Yeah, give me a moment. I’ll be in shortly.”
Derek nodded, eyes alight with affection. “Don’t take too long. Between Parrish, Malia and your Dad, you’re lucky if there’s even a scrap of Melissa’s pie left.”
Stiles nodded. He wasn’t worried. He knew that Derek would save him a piece, defending it with all his Alpha power, if necessary.
Taking a deep breath, Stiles turned his attention inward. These days, his mind was alight with the distinct strands of the pack-bonds. They co-existed without interfering with each other, allowing him to be part of them all. There was no more sense of isolation, no struggle with loyalty; he knew who he was and who he belonged to. He’d found his home, in the very place he’d once been so desperate to leave behind.
Grinning wryly at the irony of it all, Stiles stepped into the house, yelling, “Hey! Some of that cake is mine!”