“I’m sorry; I really am.” Allison perches on the arm of the sofa, arms crossed over her chest. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Stiles, it’s just . . . okay, yeah, it is a little bit that I don’t trust you. Mostly I don’t trust your circle of acquaintances, and since the wards Scott and I have up around our house aren’t anywhere near as good as the ones Derek has here, I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of advertising where we live.”
“I get it. Really, I do. I mean.” Stiles looks down at the picture in his hand, a pair of sleeping infants curled up with their foreheads nearly touching. There’s loopy handwriting on the back that reads, Kara and Remy, 2 mo. “We don’t really know each other.”
“Yes you do,” Scott says earnestly, his hand coming to rest on Allison’s knee. He nods towards the box on the coffee table. “You saw the pictures, you know—”
“Yeah, we all used to be bosom buddies, I get that.” Stiles sighs. “But we’re not family; I didn’t get any of this back the other day,” he says, gesturing at the box of odds and ends on the coffee table. “And it’s not like I’ve been frozen in carbonite for the past two years; you guys don’t really know who I am, either. Not anymore.”
“But you said you remembered me.”
“Well, yeah,” Stiles laughs. “My dad’s got pictures of you in our family photo album, dude. You’re pretty much the closest thing to a brother I have.”
Scott has a look on his face that reminds Stiles of nothing so much as a puppy who’s just been praised, and god help, him Stiles can’t help but think that it’s adorable. That pleased affection stays in place even as his expression firms; Stiles has to restrain the urge to reach out and pinch his cheeks.
“We’re all family, though. I can’t really be the only one in the pack you remember.”
“The two of you grew up together, sweetie.” Allison uncrosses her arms to sift a soothing hand through her husband’s hair. “It’s not the same.”
“Yeah, but still. There isn’t anyone else you remember? No one else you maybe think of as family?” Scott presses, and Stiles frowns.
“I have sort of . . . I guess you could call them, like, almost-memories of everyone else? I’m guessing there’s gotta be a better word for it, but you get the idea. It’s like I know they’re there, just out of reach, and I can sort of . . . feel around the edges, maybe? But I don’t really remember any of it.” His eyes fall to the picture again. He doesn’t remember anything about these two; doesn’t even remember Allison being pregnant, though she must have been showing before he . . . left. “Boyd was saying yesterday that it’s not the same. You know, family and pack.”
“He’s right.” They all look up to see Derek leaning in the door to the hallway; Stiles catches himself just in time to keep his fingers from clenching around the photo. He drops it back into the box, just to be safe. “There are similarities. And people can be both, like Scott is for you. But it looks like there’s just enough of a distinction for the brand to differentiate between the two.”
“Still, I’d have thought—” Scott glances at Allision, then back at Derek, and his mouth snaps shut. “Um. I guess not. So.” He grins, a little sheepish and a little smug. “Just me, huh?”
“Makes sense,” Stiles says, summoning a grin as he plucks a wrinkled piece of paper out of the box. “After all, you and I were the only ones who ever signed a . . . seriously, a Best Friend Contract?”
Allison laughs, one hand darting up in front of her mouth. “Really?”
“I found it the other day, when I was looking for pictures and stuff,” Scott says sheepishly.
“I, Scott McCall, and I, Stiles Stilinski, do hereby officially declare that we will be Best Friends Forever.” Stiles glances down to the bottom of the page, then looks up at Scott. “You know, I’m pretty sure this isn’t a legally binding document if I didn’t sign my real name.”
Scott snorts. “I’m pretty sure it’s not a legally binding agreement when it’s written by two seven-year-olds on a piece of Spider-Man stationery, but we didn’t let that stop us.”
“Even if Stiles calls Scott a stupid poo-head,” Stiles goes back to reading, choking back laughter, “or Scott spills grape juice on any more of Stiles’s Batman co—dude!” Stiles looks up again, gaping in shock and betrayal. “You spilled grape juice on my Batman comics!”
“You said you already remembered us growing up together!” Scott protests.
“Apparently not everything! I can’t believe you—how the hell are we still friends?”
“That, um. Might’ve sort of been what prompted the contract in the first place.” Scott points to the paper. “Keep reading.”
Stiles shoots him a look, but he turns back to the stained and wrinkled paper. “As long as we apologize and we’re really, really sorry after. Wow.” He can’t help but smile. “We were sort of nauseatingly adorable. And nerdy as shit; I can’t believe no one kicked the crap out of us.”
“They did,” Scott assures him dryly. “Until, you know . . .” He pulls his lips back in an imitation snarl, curling his free hand into a goofy-looking claw.
“Oh my god, you should still be getting your ass kicked.” Stiles puts the paper back, fingers skimming over the picture he’d left on top. “I hope I can meet them. You know. Sometime soon.” His eyes meet Allison’s again. “But you’re right; now’s not the time.”
Her hand tightens for just a moment in Scott’s hair. “Stiles. What aren’t you telling us?”
He takes a deep breath, and his eyes linger on Derek for a long moment before he pulls them away again. “You guys know about the girl who got attacked the other night.” It’s not a question; there’s no way they haven’t been keeping track of that sort of things with the situation as it is. “You know there’s another alpha somewhere in or around town.”
“They’re sending more people, aren’t they?” Allison’s eyes have gone cold. “The hunters you were working with back in Boston; they’re sending in reinforcements.”
“They’d always planned to,” Stiles says with a shrug. “This has just pushed up their schedule. We’re not just talking about the possibility of some out-of-control omega anymore. There’s an alpha here trying to turn people, trying to make a pack, or maybe build on the one they already have. Hell, for all we know the guys who attacked me yesterday could be part of it. And if another pack has been here long enough to start turning people in the middle of your territory—”
“No.” Derek steps forward to loom behind the back of the couch. “Whoever’s behind this latest attack, they must be fairly new to town. We have omegas coming and going all the time, whether they join up with out pack for a while or not; but there’s no way there’s been another alpha in our territory for the past three months without us knowing about it.”
“Are you sure?” Scott twists around to ask. “Not to be negative, but we don’t exactly have the best track record with that sort of thing.”
“You’ve had trouble with other alphas in your territory before?”
Derek grits his teeth. “Yes.”
“But it’s not the pack again, right? The alpha pack? They were hard enough to deal with last time, I really don’t want to—”
“Wait, alpha pack? Like, a pack entirely composed of alpha werewolves?” Stiles glances between the three of them, waiting for the punchline. “But . . . you know how insane that sounds, right? I mean, how would that even work?”
“Oh, no,” Allison groans with a roll of her eyes, “I am not having this conversation again. I refuse.”
“It’s not the alpha pack,” Derek growls, actual honest-to-god growls. Stiles tries to pretend it doesn’t send a shiver down his spine. “This isn’t their style; they haven’t left their mark anywhere, and if they’d come because of the war they sure as hell wouldn’t have waited this long to make themselves known.”
“So it’s just one instead of a whole pack of them. You should still be able to sniff them out or something, right?” Derek and Scott exchange another glance, and Stiles stifles a sigh. “No.”
“There are ways for alphas to mask their scent,” Derek says shortly.
“It’s a pretty convenient trick when your people are the ones who need to hide, but a pain in the ass when someone else is doing it,” Allison adds.
“Well, if we want to avoid a whole new mess of hunters showing up, and any hopes of a peaceful resolution getting thrown out the freakin’ window, we’re going to have to get the alpha quick. So it’s a good thing at least one of us has experience tracking down rogues without the benefit of being able to smell them.”
“How long do we have?” Allison asks.
“I don’t know. I talked with them before I went to my dad’s house last night.” Stiles scrubs a hand over his mouth. “But they were being cagey about the whole thing; I don’t know if they still . . .” He can’t hold back the sigh this time. “They might not trust me anymore.”
“Have you told them about . . .” Scott makes an encompassing sort of gesture. “You know. All of this?”
“No,” Stiles says firmly. “No, I don’t know if they know about it, if they were a part of it, if—maybe it’s stupid. They might have answers; maybe I left myself a note or something, explaining things.” Even as he says it he knows it sounds ridiculous, but he can’t bring himself to let go of that last bit of hope, that last slender chance that this was his choice, his decision—something that he gave up instead of something that was I from him. He shrugs. “I guess I don’t really trust them anymore, either.”
“Maybe I can stop it.” There isn’t much hope in Allison’s voice, but when Stiles looks up her face is set in determined lines. “According to the agreement my family signed, this is still my jurisdiction. They shouldn’t be able to send an official team in without my consent.”
“I doubt that’ll matter. As far as they’re concerned you’ve been shirking your responsibilities. You’re part of the pack here; your judgement and objectivity have been compromised. They don’t trust you, and if they think it’s necessary, they won’t hold back from using force to replace you.”
“Let them try,” she snaps, surging to her feet. She starts to pace the length of the room, hands clenched into fists at her sides. “Do they realize how much worse things will get if a hunting family establishes an active presence here again? The fact that I’ve kept any serious organization from forming is the only reason the body count in this war hasn’t gone through the roof!”
“You’re not wrong,” Derek says mildly, and Stiles shoots him a look that he hopes conveys how completely unhelpful he’s being. Derek gives him a small, quiet quirk of his lips in return; Stiles hopes that everyone will be considerate enough not to mention the way his heartbeat stutters when he sees it. Then Derek’s expression hardens, Stiles might as well have imagined the whole thing. “I’m not inclined to forgive and forget just yet. And Stiles hasn’t come through on his part of the bargain yet.”
“I know.” Stiles stands as well, hands shoved in his pockets as he tries to ignore the ache in his chest from what feels like his last ridiculous shred of hope being snuffed out. Stupid. “That spell is the only real lead I’ve gotten, and I’m just a little bit wary of trying again. You know, because of the searing pain last time.” He turns back to Allison. “So for now our best bet is still to get this alpha situation taken care of before they decide it’s time to take matters into their own hands.”
“Agreed.” Hands braced on her hips, a small, thoughtful frown crosses her face. “There’s no way we’ll be able to get into the hospital to question the victim.”
“What about your mom?” Stiles asks Scott. “She . . . your mom’s a nurse. Fuck.” He rubs at his head, feeling dizzy. “It’s weird, the way stuff comes back. Your mom, though. She could get us in, couldn’t she?”
“If she were here, probably,” Scott says morosely. “But she’s visiting my grandparents in Mexico.”
“Damn it,” Stiles sighs. “I was really hoping I could get out of being used as bait.”
“What?” Scott jumps to his feet as well at that, looking horrified, and Derek is glaring like he can set Stiles on fire using only the power of his mind. “No way, we’re not—besides, what makes you think that would even work?”
“Those two yesterday, they wanted me for something Monsters who just want to make a meal out of you don’t typically extend a cordial invitation to go with them.” He turns to Derek. “I’ll need the bow I left here yesterday. The knife, too.”
Stiles blinks. “What do you mean, no?”
“It’s a fairly common words used to signal a negative response. In this case, an unwillingness to acquiesce to a request or demand.”
“Oh, you’re hilarious. Really. So fucking funny. I want my bow back.”
“Guess you shouldn’t have left it here, then,” Derek says calmly. “Even if I were inclined to give it back now, it wouldn’t do you much good unless you think you can reassemble the pieces.”
“Oh my—you asshole.” Stiles fists his hands in his hair, just barely resisting the urge to yank it out. “You know, the more I get to know you the more plausible it seems that I got this tattoo just in the first place so that I wouldn’t have to remember knowing you.”
Derek’s jaw clenches. “I suppose anything is possible.”
“What are you even doing here, anyway? Just doing your part to spread a little bit of joy and news of personal property destruction?”
“This is my house,” Derek reminds him, and Stiles tosses up his hands.
“Great! There’s a huge remainder of rooms that we’re not in—go ahead and take your pick. But unless you actually have something useful to contribute here, I think we’d all appreciate it if you . . . um.” Stiles glances around. “Where’d they go?”
“Cleared out.” Derek looks suddenly tired, and lowers himself to the same arm of the sofa where Allison had been sitting earlier. “I guess old habits are still holding strong.”
“What’s that supposed mean?”
Derek shrugs. “They always used to hate it when you and I fought. The whole pack did; there were a lot of stale jokes about minimum safe distance.”
“Sounds like a healthy dynamic,” Stiles says dryly.
“It was . . .” Derek sighs and looks away, like he might be able to find the words he’s looking for by tracing the pattern of the wallpaper. “You never backed down from what you believed,” he finally says, “which could make things . . . tense, sometimes.”
“Obnoxious,” Derek adds, quirking his eyebrows at him, and Stiles can’t help but snort out a laugh. “But good for the pack. You were always more practical than Scott, but you had priorities that I could never quite—it was a good balance. Erica likes to call those days our Golden Age.”
Stiles settles onto the arm of the chair he’d been sitting in, close enough to Derek that their knees are almost touching. “I’m still finding it kind of hard to believe,” he admits after a minute. “That I was a part of this, that we were—that all of us were—” He looks up to find Derek watching him warily. “I don’t really have a lot of experience with magic. Not that I can remember, anyway, and it’s just . . . even if that’s all real, how do you forget something this big?”
Derek stares at him for a moment, visibly searching for the words he wants. “Do you want to remember?”
“I don’t know.” Stiles leans forward, elbows braced on his thighs. “It almost feels too big. My life wasn’t perfect before I came here, but at least I knew who I was, you know. Or I thought I did, anyway. Going back to who I was before, whatever that means . . . how am I supposed to know if I want that, when I don’t know anything about it? Maybe I don’t. Maybe being part of a pack just isn’t what I want.”
“Maybe,” Derek says quietly. “But I think you know I have to ask: if you don’t want to be part of this pack, why are you helping us at all? Why bother taking out rival wolves for us when you can just sit back and let your friends from Boston take care of it? What makes us any better than them?”
For a long moment, Stiles doesn’t know how to answer. He can’t say what he’s thinking; can’t say that though Scott is the only one he’s remembered anywhere close to fully, he already has more memories of Derek than any of the others. That there’s a part of him that’s disappointed at every confirmation that he’s not the lover Derek lost—part of him that can’t help but crave the unswerving devotion that Stiles can see whenever Derek speaks of him. The thought of Scott being hurt makes him feel ill, but the thought of anything happening to Derek doesn’t leave him much better.
“I told you,” he says at last, “I believe in the code we’re meant to follow. From everything I’ve seen, none of you people are monsters; anyone who’s been attacking civilians doesn’t get the same consideration. Besides, everybody’s gotta live somewhere, right?” He shrugs. “The way I see it, this is your little scrap of nowhere; they can go find their own.”
Derek lifts an eyebrow. “You're quoting Captain Mal to me right now? Seriously?”
“Hey, Captain Mal is always relevant. More to the point: you've watched Firefly?” Stiles can't help the grin that spreads over his face. “I don't think I ever would've seen that coming.”
The hint of amusement fades from Derek's face, and Stiles wants to kick himself. Or Derek. Or maybe fate itself, if he can manage it, for the fact that he's falling for a man still pining for a lover who's two years in the grave.
“You didn’t really wreck my bow, did you?” he asks, more quietly than he’d intended. Derek raises an eyebrow at him.
“I really did.” He waits a beat. “If you’re waiting for me to apologize for destroying Argent property, you’re going to be waiting a long time.”
Stiles’s shoulders sag on a heavy sigh. “Yeah, I kind of figured.”
“Please.” Derek rolls his eyes so dramatically that Stiles can’t help but smile. “There’s no way that was the only one you have access to, anyway. Stop with the kicked-puppy look.” He sobers again, almost nervous this time. “Still. I’d thought, maybe . . .”
“Maybe?” Stiles prompts, and Derek sighs as he stands, crossing the room to the doorway again.
“I thought you might want to use this, instead.”
He steps into the hallway, and when he steps back into the room he’s carrying a scarred and stained wooden baseball bat. Stiles takes it when Derek holds it out, testing the weight of it against his palm.
“You thought I might want to use a bat instead of a bow.”
“Okay. Um. Why?”
Derek shrugs tightly. “It was yours. Before.”
“I—” Stiles lifts startled eyes to find Derek staring somewhere just over his left shoulder. “Oh.”
“Scott gave it to you; some sort of running gag I never really understood, you’ll need to ask him about it. You were pretty good with it, though. Really good, actually.”
“Huh.” Stiles stands, takes a testing swing. The movement feels good; feels natural, even. Still, he’s skeptical. “So I went into battle against werewolves wielding a big stick. Did I possibly have some sort of a death wish?”
“It’s a theory I entertained more than once,” Derek says dryly.
Stiles laughs, swinging the bat again once, twice, again. He glances back over at Derek, considering. “Is this why you came in and rained all over our parade? To give me this?”
“It’s yours,” Derek says again. “It’s just been cluttering up the place.” He takes a careful step closer. “And I didn’t just come down for that.”
“No?” Stiles can feel his heartbeat trying to pick up speed, and he does his best to keep his breathing even, to tamp down the excited anticipation that’s trying to break loose. “So what else—”
There’s the sound of a car door slamming outside, and Stiles gets the feeling that the look on Derek’s face would be a wince if it were any less tightly controlled.
“We have reinforcements of our own coming,” is all he says, stepping back again. “I thought you should have a heads-up.”
“Some heads-up,” Stiles mutters.
There are already footsteps—at least two sets of heavy ones, and one set that’s quick and light, clad in what sounds like high heels—clattering loudly up the front steps and across the porch. Stiles, bat in hand, is already headed towards the door when it flies unceremoniously open and their guests storm inside.
Stiles is staring. He knows that. He figures he should get a pass, however, because the woman leading the way has stopped and is staring right back, and Stiles thinks, in an absent sort of way, that she might be the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Even in impressively high stilettos she’s nowhere near as tall as the two men behind her, though the force of her presence is so strong that she still manages to give the impression that she’s towering over them. Her long red hair falls in loose, shining curls over her shoulders, and Stiles has the sudden urge to bury his hands in it. She’s beautiful, radiant, and staring at him like she’s seen a ghost; it’s a look he’s been getting a lot lately.
She’s hesitant at first, almost unsteady as she starts walking towards him. Her hands are clenching and releasing uncertainly at her sides, and Stiles finds himself holding his breath, almost afraid to move. It feels like being approached by a wild doe: something gracefully delicate and cautious, something that’s always just on the edge of bolting.
Then her spine straightens, and her steps become a swift march. He has just enough time to think that he’s never seen anyone look actually regal before she reaches him, and her hand cracks across his cheek in an open-handed slap.
“OW!” Stiles stumbles back, hand clutched to his stinging face. The men who followed her in are laughing, clinging to each other’s shoulders for support. “What the hell?”
“Allison says you forgot me.” There are tears at the corners of her eyes—which Stiles thinks is hardly fair, considering he’s the one who got slapped—but she lifts her chin and brushes imperiously past him, into the living room. “That is completely unacceptable, Stiles.”
“Move it, Stilinski.” The shorter man, the one who looks like a pissy Calvin Klein model, shoves at his shoulder as he heads into the room. The other man follows close behind, dimples flashing as he offers Stiles something halfway between an apologetic smile and a smirk. “Figures you’d be the type to get in the way when people are trying to help your loser ass.”
“Why are you still standing there?” the woman snaps, pulling a sleek tablet computer out of her bag, hardly sparing him a second look. “Shirt off, Stiles, now.”
Stiles glances over at Derek and finds him leaning against the wall looking placidly amused. “Look,” he says slowly, “no offense or anything, but I don’t even know y—”
“Did they make you slow as well as an amnesiac? I’m well aware that you don’t know me; that’s the problem we’re going to solve as soon as you stop dragging your ass.” Her fingers are flying over the screen. “Boyd sent me the pictures of your freaky ink, since it turns out that actually living in the world means you have a greater variety of options when it comes to research resources.” She says that last with a pointed look in Derek’s direction and looks entirely unimpressed when he lets out a low growl.
“We have a war to fight here.”
“You have a pointless vendetta to carry out,” she snaps, and waves one perfectly manicured hand. “Whatever. I’m not here for this argument. I did my part, made my contribution. Excuse me for wanting to get on with my life.”
“Not that I’m not appreciating seeing you take Derek down a peg, because I really, really am,” Stiles cuts in, “but—”
Her glare turns on him. “I swear to god, if you don’t take your shirt off in the next thirty seconds, I’m going to have Danny take it off for you.”
Stiles just barely hears Derek muttering about turn-about being fair play, and the tall man with the dimples—Danny, he presumes—laughs again at that. The douchey model-looking guy starts groaning and complaining, and there’s general cacophony as a small argument breaks out while the woman and Stiles stare silently at each other in the middle.
“Stiles Stilinski,” she says quietly, stepping forward until they’re less than an arm’s length apart. “You told me when we were nine years old that you loved me. That you always would.” Her voice wavers just a bit, and she sets her jaw, glaring furiously up at him. “Don’t you dare go back on that promise now.”
Which still doesn’t really explain how he ends up braced against the back of the couch, his shirt discarded next to him and fresh blood sliding down his back. Jackson—whose name he caught while Lydia was directing him a moment ago—looks entirely too smug about the whole thing. Stiles wonders if anyone would really mind if he hit him with his bat.
“How are you feeling?” Danny asks, carefully cleaning the new cut.
“I’m okay.” Stiles takes a deep breath, focusing on the warm, wet slide of the towel against his skin instead of the way his head is spinning. “Hardly even hurt compared to the others.”
“I can always try again,” Jackson offers, and Stiles manages to summon the energy to flip him off.
“There’s really no reason to go as deep as the rest of these went,” Lydia says. She’s hovering nearby, looking belatedly worried. At some point the others had reappeared, and now Allison is standing with a hand resting on Lydia’s shoulder. “All it needs to do is break the skin. Draw blood.”
“Great, good to know.” Stiles straightens again and pulls his shirt back on, his hip still pressed against the back of the couch. “I’m just gonna.” He gestures vaguely. “Sit.”
To his surprise, Lydia is there immediately, lending him support as he makes his way to the closest seat. “You’re sure you’re okay?” she asks.
“Oh, yeah.” He offers her a weak grin as he settles into the corner of the couch. “Totally stoked to have those eight years of hopeless pining back in my head, thanks.”
“As well you should be. I am not someone that people forget.” Her eyes narrow. “You sort of look like you’re going to throw up, though.”
“No, I’m good,” he says as everyone takes an involuntary step back. “I’m just sort of . . . you know, lightheaded. Nothing major, I’ll be—oh, shit.” He buries his face in his hands, letting himself double over until his head is nearly between his legs.
“Stiles?” Scott, he thinks vaguely, though his voice has an oddly echoing quality, like he’s calling to Stiles through a tunnel. “What’s wrong?”
“Too much,” he manages to mumble. He’s struggling to breathe; he thinks he remembers how, pretty sure they didn’t take that away, at least. “Too fast. Shit. Wasn’t . . . wasn’t like this before.”
“He’ll be fine,” Lydia is saying. He thinks she sounds calm, despite the way her hand is digging desperately into his arm. “The coven I’ve been corresponding with said this might happen as more of the seals get broken. The fewer blocks there are, the faster things will start coming back; it might be a little overwhelming, but he’ll be fine. He will.”
“Really selling it there, Lydia,” Stiles mutters, sitting back up. “Next time, though, you might want to try—hey.” There are actual tears in her eyes now, tears that are suddenly horribly, sickeningly familiar. “What’s wrong? C’mon, you can’t go all drill sergeant about getting me my memories back and then get this upset when I start remembering you,” he tries, and she shakes her head.
“I didn’t know,” she whispers, eyes pleading. “I swear, Stiles, I—I thought you were dead. He told me you were dead, but I shouldn’t have believed him.”
“Lydia. No.” Allison lowers herself to the seat next to her, her hand as it rests on her friend’s back gentle despite the tightness in her face. “We all thought that. My dad—”
“Not your dad.” Lydia’s eyes are fixed on the floor now, her voice barely audible. “Peter.”