Stiles chews on his thumbnail, gaze going shrewd as it tracks a passing mechanic, his grease-splotched hand gripping a wrench the size of Stiles’ ulna. He doesn’t so much as glance in Stiles’ direction before he’s pulling open the glass door to the office area. Stiles waits for the suck of air that comes right before it’s sealed closed again, only un-squinting once it’s come. His bruised cheek smarts as his face relaxes.
He resists poking at it, this time.
He slumps down in his seat all over again, legs akimbo and shoulders slipping under the back of his chair. All the better to watch the rafters, to make sure some Frankenstein-monster made up of misfit feelings and retaliatory magic isn’t preparing for an unwanted drop-in. He’s still staring up at the draft buffeting the cobwebs when his phone buzzes on his abdomen.
“If this is another freaking Rattata, I swear to Christ I’m coming for you Niantic.”
Stiles frowns down at Scott’s text, taps against the screen, but he doesn’t even have to lie today to blow him off as he types back: Car repairs, small-town greed and one man who stands alone against the corruption. Also filming the sequel: penniless high school student cries in parking lot. He senses more than sees that someone has stopped near him and is staring. Stiles locks his phone and glances up.
Chris Argent is watching him, assessing, like Stiles is a wild animal and needs to be approached cautiously. His eyes dart to the bruise on his jaw, the split lip, the raised abrasion on his cheek where Gerard had ground his face into cement.
Yeah, he still looks like ground beef thanks to a manic geriatric; it’s super dignified.
“Mr. Argent,” Stiles greets, with only a slight edge of suspicion to it, because he was sort of on their side at the end. At the very least, he wasn’t on Gerard’s. Not something all the Argents could boast.
“Stiles,” he says, with a slight nod, eyes narrow.
He’s still standing there and the silence is growing into this thick, cloudy thing and Stiles fidgets, lighting up his phone’s screen and darkening it over and over again. “How’s Allison?” he asks finally, because it seems like he’s supposed to.
Chris shifts his weight. Like maybe this was the question he was waiting for. “I sent her to stay with relatives in France for the summer. She could do with some time away from—this.”
Also some time away from Erica and Boyd and Isaac, all of whom had good reason to want to exact a little revenge. Organ-puncturing would do that for some people, though. Who knew, right? Scott had chosen to deal with that ostrich-style and Stiles, who had unfortunately looked at Scott when he was five-years-old, when he barely knew Bruce Banner from Bruce Wayne, and thought: this one, was stuck adopting Scott’s not-so-brilliant strategy of pretending everything was rainbows and fate was a thing. He shrugs. “Yeah, can’t fault you for that. I think we could all do with some French relatives, a swank maison or six and a sixteen-year-old drinking age.” He really isn’t kidding about any of that.
Stiles expects Chris to give him some weird half-condescending, half-comrade-y hunter-nod and be on his way but instead he keeps staring. He raises his eyebrows at Stiles’ face and says, “He did that, didn’t he?” It comes out sharp, because he’d been half-baring his teeth. Though Stiles knows it’s not any emotion for him; it has to do with this being another thing he can hate his father for.
“Your dear old dad?” Stiles confirms, popping the words, “Yep. Send him something special for me this father’s day, okay? Preferably special in that it explodes.”
Chris ignores him, puzzling out behind his grave expression, “A message for Scott.”
Stiles shrugs. It wasn’t a question but he still says, “Yeah.” He tongues at the split in his lip. “I’m not delivering it.” He lowers his phone, which he’s been bouncing slightly on his abdomen, to rest facedown against his t-shirt. His face will heal, Scott will forget it ever needed to, and Gerard can go find a ditch to die in. All’s well that ends well and all that. He lifts a shoulder again. “In my defense, he seemed super unreliable about payment. Lot on his mind, probably. With the whole ‘choking on his own gelatinous insides’ thing he had going on.”
“You certainly know how to paint a picture,” Chris says.
Stiles winks. He considers not asking Chris, then asks himself: why the hell not? They shared a common enemy once, and they still do as far as Stiles is concerned. Gerard, so far as Stiles knows, has never been found. And he wants that confirmed. “Have you found anything that might point to a hideout for Goopy Gramps, clues or a trail of black tar and overconfidence?”
Chris perks an eyebrow, says condescendingly, “This isn’t an episode of Scooby Doo.”
Stiles pulls a face. “Dude, it kind of is. All we’re missing is the ascot.” He points a finger gun at Chris, pulls his thumb. “Give Isaac some time.”
Chris rolls his eyes. He shifts back on his heels, like he’s considering making a break for it, before rocking forward again, planting his feet. “I’ve looked, but he shouldn’t have been able to leave in the first place.” His jaw flexes. “And you?”
Ah. This is why he stayed then. He wants answers too, wants to see if Stiles is only bringing this up to rub in his face that he has found something.
He shakes his head. “But I think you’re right, he can’t have gotten far.” He sits up, leans forward. Because he’s been thinking about this. And he has… ideas. “At least not without help, not in the condition he was in.” He pins Chris with his gaze. “So. Who would’ve helped him?” Chris seems to be taking him seriously. Doesn’t brush the question off and actually considers, behaves as though Stiles is an ally rather than a teenager playing at something he doesn’t understand. Stiles genuinely appreciates that.
It’s a weird feeling.
Both that Chris is actually treating him like an equal and that Stiles is having a genuine reaction about, well, anything.
“No one,” Chris says after a moment. “At least there was no one who knew we were there, or who would’ve helped if they’d known what he had planned.”
Right, hunters. They wouldn’t exactly have jumped on board the train of their leader-dude becoming the very thing they hunted, however: “Informed consent wasn’t exactly something I would note down as one of his defining qualities, and he was a guy who distrusted, like, socks. He came to every party with sixteen contingency plans up his sleeves.”
Chris concedes that with a dip of his chin, still looking thoughtful. He seems glad to be hashing this out finally, actually. Stiles is too. The board had reset after the warehouse, everyone licking their respective wounds in separate corners, which was all well and good for everyone else but Stiles’ curiosity had been slowly eating him alive ever since. He had questions upon questions and only a lovesick Scott that he was actively avoiding to shout them at.
That wasn’t exactly a formula for success or satisfaction.
“The other hunters he brought with him—most the hunting contacts I have, as it turns out—they were, are, loyal to him.”
Well that didn’t sound bitter at all.
Stiles leans forward, bites his lip and winces, the lower one still tender. “So, he could still be close, right? Staying with one of those families he brought with him.” He doesn’t wait for Chris to respond, offers, “He could continue his hundred-year tradition of lying and say Derek bit him unprovoked, that he’s rejecting his bite.” Stiles squints. “Can people survive that?”
“I don’t know,” Chris says carefully, uncertainly, like he doesn’t like that he doesn’t know.
Stiles drums on his knee, pulls in his shoulders and says finally, “We could each take half the list.”
“You and Scott?” Chris asks, clearly looking to confirm it.
Stiles looks away.
“This isn’t a game, Stiles,” Chris says, patronizing and cold. “These people are dangerous.”
Stiles juts out his chin, thrusts his mangled face in Chris’ direction because, seriously? He freaking knows that. He’s got the proof of it color-by-numbered into his skin. He clenches his jaw and says fiercely, “He shouldn’t just get away.” He adds, whipped cream on top of his I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong sundae, “And, besides, you know he won’t stay away.”
Chris lets out a heavy breath, squints at Stiles. “I’m not a hunter anymore. I don’t have the support system, and even if I did—I can’t keep bringing this into Allison’s life.”
He’s caving, almost visibly, and Stiles drops the cherry: “Funny thing, someone recently told me that she was in France for the summer.”
Chris eyes him, opens his mouth, but is interrupted by the glass door opening and someone in coveralls calling his name. Right, Stiles’ Jeep had gotten kanima-dented and Chris’ SUV had been bullet-riddled; he’s not actually here just to track Stiles down and powwow about how dead his dad should be.
Chris turns back at the door, flicks his eyes over Stiles and nods once.
Stiles smirks victoriously to himself, opens his app and groans. “I deserve more than a CP34 Rattata for this, my angry, Pokémon Gods.”
Stiles is done crying about the invoice for the Jeep’s repairs by the time he gets home. Mostly. And less due to pride and manliness than the fact that it hurt his face to scrunch it up like that. He takes a sack of peas out of the freezer and drapes it half on top of his head so it’s hanging down over his cheek, then goes hunting for the mini taquitos.
He deserves eight today, he decides, spreading them out on the baking sheet. He’d only caught three Rattata—one actually ran, the unfairness of the world regularly choked him, he was out a small fortune and the chair he’d been sitting in at the mechanic’s had had gum in the seat.
His dad appears behind him as he sloops the peas back into the freezer just as the oven dings. He’s leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed. He stares, eyebrows up and judging. “How’s the face today, kid?”
“It’ll be launching a thousand ships in no time,” Stiles assures him.
He’s uniformed and lingering. Like he thinks Stiles has more intense plans than inhaling these tiny tortilla sleeping bags full of meat and playing WoW until he passes out on his keyboard around five in the morning. “You need anything from the pharmacy while I’m out?”
Stiles tosses a taquito between his lips. He spits it back out on the floor, fanning his mouth. He points at it, says thickly, tongue still mostly hanging free, “I’m pressing charges, shoot it.” His dad shifts against the wall with a sigh and Stiles steps in front of it. “No, don’t though. It didn’t mean it. Also, I’m still going to eat it.”
“All this time and you still don’t really understand how the law works, do you, kid?” His brow’s furrowed and he looks genuinely worried about all things Stiles. He rubs his forehead, holds out a hand between them palm up, questioning. “Pharmacy?”
Stiles picks up the taquito, blows on it, pops it into his mouth and nearly spits it out again. He crunches once and swallows instead, eyes watering. “Just more Spider-man Band-aids.”
His dad is resolutely not watching his taquito recapture but looks back at him at the request. “So you know they’re Band-aids then?” he asks. “And not stickers.”
Stiles shrugs. “Tomato, to-mah-toe.”
His dad snorts, picks himself up off the doorframe. “I’m not encouraging your habit.”
“Fine,” Stiles says, pointing at him intimidatingly, “but that is going on your permanent record.”
“I’ll cope somehow.” His dad is stubbornly not sounding intimidated.
Stiles knows he’s feeling it on the inside. He even feels a bit bad for him and how he’s, most likely, internally cowering from the sick burn Stiles had just laid on him and says, “You know what I’d recommend for that?” His dad perks an eyebrow and Stiles winks. “Spider-man Band-aids.”
His dad brings a hand down over his face, stops to rub it over his mouth. “I wish I could send you to school,” he laments.
Stiles laughs. “Padre, it’s summer,” he checks the clock over the oven, “and seven o’clock at night.” His dad waves a hand over his shoulder and Stiles stops him before he can leave, crunching on another taquito and asking around the mush, “Any recommendations for getting gum out of jeans, by the way?”
His dad’s mouth pulls to the side. “Controlled burn?” he offers. “I’m recommending adult supervision for that also.”
Stiles glowers at him. “Go to work. You fail parenting tonight.”
His dad grins at him, calls a hearty goodbye from the front door and closes it behind him firmly.
Stiles eats more taquitos, takes off his pants and tries to peel off the gum with his thumbnail, then dish soap and warm water plus his thumbnail, then threats of violence and swearing. By the end of his efforts, he’s still got gum on his jeans, a bloody index finger from where he’d missed his pants and jabbed it with the nail of his thumb and no more taquitos.
“Everything is awful.” He throws his jeans into the mostly empty washer and pulls Doctor Who pajama pants out of the mostly full dryer. “I bet sonic screwdrivers remove gum but did my dad get me a sonic screwdriver when I asked for one when I was nine? I don’t even have to check his permanent record to know the answer to that is a resounding: no. I’m making him a report card tonight, this is getting out of hand.”
He takes the stairs two at a time up to his bedroom, closes the door behind himself and—“What do you know about Erica and Boyd?”
Stiles flails back against the door, half-falling over and banging his shoulder hard against the plywood. “Jesus-fuck, Derek, the heart goes inside the body—inside.” He places a hand over the pounding, escapist organ. “Stop trying to rearrange my cardiovascular parts into a newer, deadlier configuration.” He’s still working on breathing normally as he pants out, “Holy crap,” and sinks into his desk chair.
Derek is standing in front of his open window, not-quite-sitting on the sill, legs crossed at the ankles, clad in his leather jacket and overplayed bad attitude, holding Stiles’ Rubik’s Cube in his hands. He’s twisting it slowly between his fingers, staring down at it even as he reiterates, “Erica. Boyd.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “God, okay, um—blonde, a little psychotic, a lot dangerous, arousing against all better judgment. Inadequacy-inspiring levels of built, smart enough to place out of trig, dreamy brown eyes.” He shrugs, glances back at Derek, he’s already got the ‘T’ in the cube. “After that, I’m pretty much out.” He taps his fingers impatiently against his desk. “Why are we playing ‘name that attribute’ exactly? Did you misplace short, blonde and furious and tall, dark and handsome?”
Derek looks up at him. “Yes.”
Stiles gawps back. “What?”
“They’re missing,” he sets the Rubik’s Cube down on the sill next to him, “and I think you were the last person who saw them.”
Stiles swallows, thinking, then remembers, shaking his head. He lunges from his seat, digs his phone out of the smaller pocket of his backpack and fumbles with it as he stands, saying, “No. No, I don’t think I was.” He pulls up his contacts and thumbs at one he’s never used before.
Derek pushes off the sill and stands next to him, looking over his shoulder. His mouth purses distastefully. “Why do you have Argent’s phone number?”
Stiles scoffs. “It’s the information age, Derek. I have everyone’s phone number.” He punches the ‘Call’ button on his phone, pointing out, “Also, it’s listed.”
It rings twice on speaker before Chris answers with a short, terse, “Argent.”
“That night—” Stiles starts, forgetting to even say who it is, and he hears Chris make a dismissive sound that says he doesn’t need the introduction or the elucidation—Stiles wouldn’t be surprised if he’d acquired his number too, also ‘just in case,’ and he plows on, “did you see Erica and Boyd down in your dear old demented dad’s make-shift screw-your-dignity-with-something-hard-and-sandpapery basement?”
Chris sighs, like he doesn’t understand why Stiles needs hundreds of words when a mere handful will do. It’s a great and universal tragedy that he and Derek ended up on opposite sides of things. They would be braiding each other’s hair by now if they hadn’t, Stiles feels sure of it. “I did,” Chris says finally. “I let them go.”
“Why?” Derek barks, all suspicion and barely restrained violence.
Stiles mentally scoffs at him. What’s he gonna do, menace Stiles’ cellphone? That’ll show ‘em.
Chris doesn’t seem surprised to hear Derek’s voice and he says without inflection, “Because I was choosing a side.”
“Kudos on figuring out that the one torturing teenagers was the bad one,” Stiles tells him proudly.
“Why do you want to know, Stiles?” Chris asks, ignoring his other commentary.
“Derek hasn’t seen them since,” Stiles answers and Derek bends the hand with the phone in it back until it’s pointed at an awkward angle, painfully stretched and shooting daggers from his elbow up to his wrist. “What?” Stiles yelps, after a dignified(ish) howl. Derek lets him go and Stiles rubs at his shoulder, where the pain has decided to center, muttering, “Ow, crapbag.”
Chris interrupts Stiles’ very important mission of glaring Derek into feeling the worst about himself by saying, “I’ve been following a rash of strange reports. Unnatural animal behavior, heading west.”
Stiles frowns, redirecting his attention. “Let me guess, it’s not endgaming into a relaxing trip at Legoland?”
“Unnatural how?” Derek inserts himself between them.
Chris opts to answer Derek, even though Stiles’ question was obviously the more pressing of the two. “Violent, frightened, suicidal.”
Stiles rubs his thumb and forefinger over his eyebrows, exhausted suddenly. “Well that’s the world’s happiest trifecta. Any other good news?”
“It’s getting closer, fast,” Chris says, as though he was just waiting to be asked.
“Of course it is,” Stiles says, unsurprised. “You are a just a ray of sunshine, aren’t you?”
Derek’s gone tense, considering, and Stiles prods, “Derek?”
He doesn’t get a chance to do more than grunt back before Chris puts in, rather douchebaggily, “I’m sure you suspected they were coming, after Peter.”
Stiles frowns, not making the connection, but Derek clearly does, his eyes closing. Stiles glances between him and the phone but no one is elaborating. “Derek?” he tries. No reaction. “Okay, someone needs to give me a decoder ring and point me at the secret message already.”
Derek’s eyes snap open and he bares his teeth. “Stay out of it.”
Okay, yeah, but no. “Derek, whatever this is, you’re going to need help and—”
“Not yours,” he says with finality and then he’s gone. Because of course he is. He’s all bad decisions and isolation tactics, that one.
Chris waits a tactful minute before he says, “Did he backflip out of your window?”
“Somersault,” Stiles tell him.
Stiles shows up on Argent’s porch the next day around mid-afternoon, the indents from his keyboard still slowly fading from his cheek. He knocks, tosses three orange Tic Tacs into his mouth and adjusts the strap of his backpack on his shoulder.
Chris opens the door, face drawn with his complete lack of surprise.
Stiles hitches a smile up one side of his face. “So, about that phone call—”
Chris drops his head into his hand, like he already knows where this is going. “Stiles—”
Stiles grins. “Yeah, it gets a lot more annoying, the questions, and they never stop coming. I’m relentless.” His grin widens proudly. “And, I’ve been told, obnoxiously persistent.” He says it like it was a compliment. Because that was exactly how he took it.
Chris is smart enough to know he’s not bluffing. He opens the door wider for Stiles and steps aside. “An Alpha Pack,” he answers the question Stiles had asked last night. “They tend to… take notice, when a new Alpha is made.”
“Alpha Pack? Isn’t that an oxymoron?” Stiles follows Chris into his kitchen, glancing around at the wide-open space, the warm colors, the surprisingly… normal and family-oriented bunch of square feet. It’s not what he’s pictured. Chris thumbs over his shoulder at the depression in the fridge door that dispenses water and ice, eyebrows raised and Stiles shrugs back. He’s not really thirsty but he is interested in giving his hands something to do. Since they'd already reached for that fruit bowl twice, so he could practice his juggling. Which is a currently nonexistent talent. Chris bangs around in the cupboards for a glass and Stiles waits until he's filled it and set it in front of him to ask, “Okay, so how does the Jumbo Shrimp work?”
Chris says, “They have a leader, a kind of hierarchy, I know that much. Not a lot else. They’re rare,” he offers as explanation for his lack of explanation.
“Luckily for you,” Stiles says, tapping the side of the glass, eyebrows up, “you have easy access to all kinds of supernatural mumbo jumbo.”
Chris starts, “Stiles—”
“Persistent. Relentless. Dogged,” he marks off on his fingers, “Those are synonyms.” Chris doesn’t look moved and Stiles huffs, rolling his eyes. “Come on, we’ve both seen up close and personal how incompetent Derek is at this whole Alpha shtick—” Chris seems willing to concede that at least, “and you can’t even really blame the guy. His last reinforcement of Alpha-dom was Peter. You remember that guy? He killed a bunch of people. A stump with a persistent mite problem could do a better job than that. So he probably thinks he’s acing it. While in reality, we know that he’s probably going to, at the very least, get himself killed trying to handle this with only a formerly dead guy and an artfully unhelpful teenager in his back pocket. And that’s if they even decide to sac up,” Stiles points out, frowning, he hadn’t even thought of that until right now, “neither one of them are particularly big on brand loyalty.”
Stiles isn’t really sure what gets Chris to agree—potentially making Beacon Hills safer for Allison’s return, trying to negate some of the psychological damage his sister had dealt Derek in the past or if he just wants to feel like he’s doing something productive with his time (Stiles can maybe relate to that one). All that matters is that his answer is: “Fine.”
He walks out of the room and comes back with a list on the back of a take-out menu for a barbecue place in town. There are maybe sixteen last names on it. Stiles reaches for it and Chris pulls it back. “I think you should stay here, help Derek look for Erica and Boyd. I’ll take care of these.”
Stiles frowns, watching the water condense on the side of the glass. “That wasn’t the deal.”
Chris raises an eyebrow. “This is a better one.” He prints out maps for the first hunting family on his list and Stiles gathers up the minimal research he’s been collecting on the animal disturbances, noting down the address and distance from Beacon Hills of Chris’ destination on a corner of one of the pages.
Chris locks the door behind them as they leave and Stiles troops off back home after shoving everything into his backpack.
His dad’s only been gone about twenty minutes and Stiles half-expects it’s him on the porch, having forgotten something, except for the fact that he wouldn’t knock. He opens the door cautiously and Jackson slaps his hand against it as though he’s afraid Stiles is going to slam it closed again.
Stiles isn’t going to lie, it crossed his mind even in those few seconds.
Jackson works his jaw diligently, glances off to the side, and closes his eyes as if reaching for strength. Finally he fixes his gaze on the mole near Stiles’ right cheek and chews the words, spits them out: “I need your help.”
Stiles blinks at him, taking the spoon out of the carton of Imagine Whirled Peace he’s cradling in the crook of his arm like a child and flicking it in Jackson’s direction. “That looked seriously painful,” he says. He licks the spoon clean of melted ice cream residue. “You might’ve just given yourself a tumor.”
Jackson’s jaw flexes again. “I’m serious.” He looks rough and sleepless and less than pristine.
Stiles mostly doesn’t care about any of that. He points at himself with the spoon. “And I’m Stiles.” He hears the toaster pop up and wags his spoon at Jackson, in the direction of… off his property. “Go commune with your freaking Alpha and let me eat my waffles in peace.” He turns to wheel back inside without checking in with Jackson again.
Which is a mistake.
Since he follows Stiles into his kitchen.
Stiles’ brow furrows heavily, dropping the three-quarters empty carton down on the counter and carefully pulling up his waffles. Still a little hot, and he juggles them slightly between fingers that don’t really want to catch them while Jackson growls, “I would do that, except for the part where Derek tried to kill me.”
“Yeah—” Stiles says. He takes a bite of waffle, “but—” he takes another, larger bite when he finds it’s not so hot that anything’s burnt, “You kind of deserved it.” Jackson sneers at him and Stiles sighs, wiping his hand pointlessly down the thigh of his jeans since he’s just going to handle his Eggo again. He shrugs. “What do you expect me to do then?”
“You helped McCall,” Jackson says, almost like an accusation.
“I pelted him with lacrosse balls and got him beat up by burly extras with my ‘help,’” Stiles points out. Then: “And I am fighting this, why? I’m totally in.”
Jackson glowers. “I’m not doing any of that.”
“Cool.” Stiles gestures back towards his front door. “Have fun destroying the town and murderously-rampaging. Again.”
Jackson glances back over his shoulder, like he’s considering it.
Baller. Stiles tries again: “Listen, what Scott and I couldn’t figure out, we supplemented with the very, remarkably little that Derek knew about it. You might as well cut out the middle man—” he points to himself, “who hates you, by the way—” he wiggles his fingers in a cheeky wave, “and deal with the other guy, who hates everyone.” He leans against the counter. “Don’t you prefer the more egalitarian approach?”
Something dark flickers in Jackson’s gaze and he swallows as he breaks eye contact.
Stiles’ jaw drops. “Are you—You’re afraid of him.”
Jackson looks back, gaze dismissive and cold. “Screw you, Stilinski,” he spits, turning on his heel and storming out.
Stiles unfreezes after a second or so and races after him, catching up to him out front, grass crunching under their feet and late afternoon sun more warmth than light this time of day. “No, okay, hey, whoa, wait up,” he starts, grabbing Jackson by the shoulder when he won’t stop, pulling him around. “I’ll help.” He sighs, offers unenthusiastically, “Your Yoda I will be.”
“I don’t need your pity,” Jackson says forcefully. His gaze drops over Stiles, all superior dislike. “Or your Star Wars references.”
“First of all,” Stiles flips him off, “fuck you, you slimy piece of worm-ridden filth. Second, and less importantly: yeah, you do, and you’ve got it. I pity you. You’re pitiful.” Jackson flinches and tries to pretend he didn’t and Stiles tightens up his fingers on Jackson’s shoulder. “But you did turn into a rabid lizard afraid of his own reflection, like, last month so… you kinda knew that already, right?”
Stiles smirks at Jackson’s scowl. He’s not going to handle Jackson with kid gloves because if Jackson wanted kid gloves he would’ve stuck with Lydia. And, for some reason, he hasn’t. Stiles thinks about condensing back down to the ten-year plan, maybe even dropping it down to an unprecedented nine since Jackson seems intent on fucking that up brutally, for the both of them. He means it though, even as he pushes Lydia to the back of his mind, he will help.
And he’s probably not even going to break any bones to kickstart his healing process either.
So there are better (worse?) bad decisions out there.
Chris is back by the next morning with a dead-end and a willingness to wait a day before he, potentially, chases down the next one. Stiles adds the various vet, animal control and local law enforcement reports he’s scoured off the internet to Chris’ lackluster pile and they spread it out over his dining room table, sorting them by latitude and longitude.
It takes roughly three hours to delineate a boundary and a trajectory. Stiles rolls up their map, messy with both of their chicken scratch and Stiles’ sweet and sour sauce. Chris grabs a short barrel shotgun full of wolfsbane bullets (despite Stiles’ intense eye-rolling) and they pile into his SUV.
“You told him we were coming?” Chris asks, mouth tight.
Stiles glances over at him. “Where would the fun in that be?” He taps his fingers against the heel of his shoe. “We should make a pit stop actually. I have a plan.”
Chris doesn’t look impressed by it but then—Chris, well, he's not very good at the whole monster-hunting thing. Like, he would’ve lasted maybe three seasons in the Winchester’s place. Tops.
Stiles, on the other hand, knows precisely how to trap werewolves into inaction.
Derek slides back the door to his loft after they knock and Stiles thrusts out both prizes. “Hello,” he says confidently, “we have a search area and Hot Pockets.”
Isaac appears seemingly from nowhere, clamps his fingers down around the Hot Pockets’ box and yanks it free from Stiles’ grip. He glances into the far edges of his periphery without turning his head and stealthily side-steps off towards the kitchen like a guilty, demented crab. Derek doesn’t make a move for the map, not so much as a twitch giving away his interest in it. Stiles will admit, that’s more self-control than he thought Derek was in possession of.
“Stiles. Argent.” Derek’s teeth are bared and this is a crap welcoming party, even for him. “What are you doing here?”
Stiles ignores the lack of hospitality. You kind of have to with Derek, otherwise you’d spend all your free time annoyed with him and his social stupidity. He strolls past, knocking into Derek’s shoulder, which distracts him long enough that Chris can slide the door closed again. “I was pretty sure I led with that actually,” Stiles says astutely.
“Five cheese?” Isaac breathes appreciatively, eyes wide, fingers even more greedily gripping the box. He’s dwarfed by the size of the kitchen, kind of giving the impression of—what, with the way he’s standing all hunched protectively around the box, the roof high overhead, almost disappearing into the shadows behind him and—well. He looks a little like Gollum actually.
Stiles tips an imaginary hat in his direction.
Isaac stares and the box makes a depressed ‘hew’ sound as he crushes it to his chest. “I could kiss you.”
“I would barf,” Stiles warns him, in the interest of fairness.
Speaking of barf, Peter chooses that moment to sidle up next to Stiles’ shoulder. He’s all smirks and displaced confidence when he says, “Stiles, how good to see you again.”
Stiles purposefully rattles his backpack. “I have a can of hair spray, a utility lighter and zero qualms about lighting you up into the Human Torch again. That role still hasn’t been filled satisfactorily.”
A crease appears between Peter’s eyebrows and he offers helpfully, “Your greetings could use some work.”
Derek interrupts them with a snarled, “Get out.”
Seriously, worst host ever.
Stiles has never actually seen someone cut off their nose to spite their face but Derek is trying his damnedest to make that into a real thing. “You will just keep slamming your head into that concrete wall to your own detriment, won’t you?” Stiles says, half-awe, half-disbelief. He glances pointedly over at the crumbling wall in Derek’s loft. Derek huffs in response and Stiles points at him, with purpose. “You need help,” he gestures between himself and Chris, “we’re offering.” He shrugs. “We’re all looking for people, you for Erica and Boyd, us for Gerard, why not combine the search parties?”
He’s feeling pretty confident that even Derek can’t fight the logic of that and he takes off his backpack and sets it up on the desk in front of the grated windows, carefully shifting out his laptop from it with a mind for settling in.
Derek growls almost into his hair from over his shoulder, “Why are you working with Argent?”
A shiver that he’s unsuccessful in fighting off snakes down Stiles’ spine. Negative hosting ability, a life motto crafted for those committed to some serious self-destruction and no concept of personal space because, seriously, who the hell stands this close to someone? Freaking raised-by-wolves-weirdo. Derek’s breathing right up against his shoulder, the curve of Stiles’ neck, and it’s warm and damp and prickling his skin into goosebumps. Stiles successfully beats back the shiver this time and shoves roughly into his own neck with the heel of palm, smothering the sensation of Derek’s breath there. He takes a step to the side, away from his mouth-breathing shadow, and says, “Because it would be stupid not to?” Derek’s glaring at him and Stiles rolls his eyes. “I don’t have the Wade Wilson healing abilities so I tend to avoid the head-bashed-into-concrete pastime you’re so fond of.”
Derek glances back at Chris, then to Stiles. “You can’t trust him.” It’s half a question and half a demand.
Like Derek’s got a freaking right to any of that. He’s not Scott’s Alpha, which means he sure as heck isn’t Stiles’.
Stiles grinds his teeth. Just because Derek has decided to make everything harder for himself than necessary in order to avoid having to depend on a single other person, it didn’t mean Stiles was looking to emulate that. Or that anyone was. Apparently Derek hadn’t really noticed how that hadn’t exactly gotten him very far. “I trust him to want Gerard as dead as I want Gerard.” Stiles looks back over his shoulder and realizes the orientation of their positions with a frown. Derek’s playing defense somehow, blocking Stiles from as much of the rest of the room as possible, placing himself between him and everything else. His posture’s stiff and unyielding, the breadth of his shoulders squared and tensed, like he’s acting as a wall or a barrier and Stiles gapes at him, blurts—“Are you worried about me?”
Derek flinches back from him, almost like he hadn’t realized what he was doing himself. “Of course not,” he snaps, striding away.
Because that was convincing, Stiles thinks with a quiet snort.
“His heart skipped a beat. Or ten. In there. Before,” Isaac says, around melted cheese and crust, his shoulder jamming into Stiles’.
The balcony’s more than large enough for the two of them but somehow they’re still awkwardly squashed together. When Stiles looks over, he can guess why Isaac’s so ungainly, with a Hot Pocket in each hand, both of which he’s actively eating from.
He rubs his eyes, having retreated from LCD screens and towards fresh air after the lines on his computer screen had started to jut and capsize into each other.
It’d made reading into way more of an adventure than he was looking for. Stiles was kind of all adventure-d out for the moment; his face still healing from the last one.
He realizes Isaac is waiting for a response and offers with a shrug of one shoulder, “Uh, duh.”
Isaac blinks at him.
“I have this powerful fifth sense,” Stiles says covertly, “called ‘sight.’” Also, common sense. Stiles had held Derek up in a pool for two hours in the not-so-distant past. He worries about the guy too, if he’s being honest. You didn’t put that kind of time in just to write the other person off. It doesn’t mean he’s planning out the colors for their best friends’ bracelets but if there’s ever something he can do to keep Derek alive, then he’ll do that thing. It’s only surprising because it’s Derek, anyone else and Stiles would’ve expected it. Isaac is still looking at him, patiently, and Stiles shrugs. “Pinocchio lies more convincingly than that guy.”
“Oh,” Isaac says, unbothered. He bites down on one of the Hot Pockets and runaway cheese spurts into his hand, down his wrist. He chews slowly and says, “You know you have dried gum on the ass of your jeans, right?”
“All the cool kids are doing it. Thanks,” Stiles adds uncertainly after a moment, trying not to watch Isaac eat because it might ruin his appetite forever. It takes him another second to realize that Isaac just told him something that his actual Alpha probably didn’t want Stiles knowing. On the one hand: awesome. On the other: Derek really needs to lock this shit down. Especially since Stiles and Isaac don't even like each other. “I’m not sure what the protocol is here, considering before and possibly up to this moment we've hated each other but I'm down for a fist bump if you are.”
Isaac doubles up his Hot Pockets in a cupped palm, fingers death-gripped and clawed over the sides and holds his newly free, still-greasy fist out across the short, almost-nonexistent space between them.
They fist bump.
It probably shouldn’t feel like as much of a promise as it does.
Stiles wipes the grease transfer off on the knee of his jeans —as Isaac noted, they’ve still got gum on them, so he’s not exactly all that protective of them. He glances over, quickly looks away as Isaac has opened his mouth wide, supernaturally wide, around both Hot Pockets. Stiles waits long enough for him to succeed or fail then asks, “Not that I’m not appreciative for the solidarity and all, but you’re helping me out because?”
Isaac looks at him askance, mouth smeared with sauce and grease, holding up the hand filled with the mangled remains of his meat and cheese pastries. It’s dripping innards and oil. “Because Hot Pockets,” he says slowly, as though that’s obvious and Stiles is exceptionally stupid.
Stiles shrugs. Well. Okay then. “Fair enough,” he decides.
And Chris had thought that was a waste of their time. Showed him.
Maybe Stiles had been generous giving him three seasons earlier.
Stiles wakes up a little before one in the afternoon to find a text from Scott waiting for him.
mom’s giving me the car today. our sticks are already in the trunk.
Stiles groans and rubs at his face for the first time in a while without regretting it. He rolls out of bed and shuffles up to the mirror in his bathroom, flipping on the light. It flickers for a few seconds before the bulb catches, the light hospital-y and harsh, and Stiles probes at the still slightly discolored patches on his skin. He picks up his phone off his nightstand and texts back:
you always did know how to woo me – four wheels and physical activity.
Scott sends back a smiley face and the time he’ll stop by, which gives Stiles just enough time to shower and drown his mouth in toothpaste. Scott picks him up in his mom’s car, fifteen minutes late (which is impressive; Stiles had been budgeting for his usual thirty) and leans forward slightly, sniffing. He makes a face. “Are you all right? You smell—”
Stiles pokes him in the cheek warningly. “If you’re not finishing that with, ‘radiant,’ then I wouldn’t bother.”
The expression on Scott’s face slips away and he’s all smiles, asking, “Is radiant a smell?”
“I don’t know,” Stiles challenges, chin jutting forward, “is it?”
Scott laughs, says, “You radiate a scent of radiance.”
Stiles beams back at him and Scott’s not looking at the fading bruises and Stiles has missed the crap out of him and his smiley goodness. They practice for roughly an hour or so before they’re both collapsed back in the grass on the field and squinting against the sun.
Stiles sniffs, nose itching, and asks, “When does summer school start?” He knocks Scott in the shoulder with the back of his hand, adding, “By the way, you still should’ve told me we were flunking so I could keep you from being dumb and a loner.”
Scott snorts. “It’s your empathy that sustains us.”
Stiles grins to himself. “I try.”
“Not very hard,” Scott tells him, not seeming too put out by it. “It starts next week.” He frowns, tells Stiles, “I have to get serious about this, let some of the werewolf stuff go now that Jackson’s okay and Gerard is missing.” He sits up on his elbows. “You should’ve seen my mom when she found out. I don’t want to disappoint her like that again.”
Stiles sits up too, frowning. “I’m sorry, man.” He leans forward, holds onto Scott’s shoulder. “You’re not a disappointment though, you know that, right?” He squeezes, grins. “You’re the wind beneath my wings, the light of my life, the super to my natural. And I’m still up for making out whenever you are.”
Scott shoves him, grinning again. Like Stiles had wanted. He knocks Stiles with his shoulder. “What about you? What’s your summer look like?”
Stiles opens his mouth and lies. Because Scott is letting the werewolf stuff go and he should; he should get to. “Light on the Scott,” he says, dismayed, but buoyed by: “Heavy on the cheese and World of Warcraft.”
Scott laughs, not even listening for the lie because why would he?
He’s spent three nights in a row at Derek’s and finally feels he has enough data to confirm that his desk chair is indeed the most uncomfortable inanimate four-legged monstrosity in existence. Stiles really doesn’t know why he’s surprised. Of course even Derek’s furniture would be tailored to martyrdom specs. He leans back, jabbing the points of his fingers into the hollow at the small of his back and stretches out his torso, arching over the edge of the seat’s back. He lifts his arms above his head, reaching them as far as he can, trying to rotate the balls of his shoulder even, crosses them overhead and wriggles his fingers. He rolls his shoulders once he’s done with that, plops his chin down on his open palm and motorboats his lips as he looks over at Derek. He’s got a book on harbingers in his lap and is reading quietly, his socked feet up on the coffee table.
It’s frighteningly normal.
He hasn’t growled at anything in a good hour. He’s not even settled in with his regular leather jacket and scowl. Well. Okay. So the scowl seems pretty permanent but that’s just because that looks like it’s his resting the-world-is-cold-and-cruel face. Stiles closes his laptop, crosses his arms over the top of it and rests his chin where his forearms meet, staring at him.
Derek turns a page. His finger keeps twitching even after the action’s complete and his head snaps up, scowl deepening. “What?” His teeth bite on the word.
Stiles stares at the point of his sock over his big toe and yawns. “Do you think a rollerskating duck constitutes ‘unusual animal behavior?’”
Derek glares at him, but there’s a wryness twisting his lips that he quickly stifles. After another few seconds, he says, “Go home.”
Everyone else already had, or at least retreated to a mattress and the promise of sleep. Derek sets his book aside, marking his place, and stands up. “It was just a ques—” Stiles starts defensively, sentence falling off when Derek reaches him and drops his hand to curve over the base of Stiles’ neck, warm skin fitted to warm skin and aches and soreness oozing out of him. “Oh fuh,” he says eloquently, the words smoothing out into a contented humming sound.
Derek’s hand falters on him then he presses it back more firmly. He squeezes once. “You’re exhausted and sore,” he says, like he’s won some bet he had with himself. His hand slips away. “Go home, Stiles,” he says again.
Stiles yawns, stretches some more and picks up his head and his backpack. “Yeah, yeah, anal-Alpha-ass.”
Derek smirks, but amiably, and Stiles thinks maybe they shared a moment.
By the time he wakes up the next morning, he’s pretty sure he imagined the whole thing.
Chris drops a box of crullers on the kitchen counter the next morning and Stiles smacks Isaac’s hand away from it before he can try to sneak it out of the room to hide in a burrow somewhere or whatever weird squirrel-junk Isaac is always doing. Stiles had bought him the first issue of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl last week and pointedly left it on his pillow, as nonverbal commentary on his lifestyle choices. He didn’t think Isaac had picked up on the subtlety. Stiles flips back the lid, plucks up a chocolate one and already has it half-shoved into his mouth when Chris starts tapping the tip of his car key against the northern border of his California map. “Oregon’s not that far, in the grand scheme of things.”
Stiles considers. It’s what, a couple hours? He’d gone farther South within the state only last week. He shrugs, covertly watching Isaac as he picks up two pastries and tries to wear them as rings.
Because of course he does, he’s Isaac.
Chris settles into the stool across from Stiles, frowns thoughtfully down at his back-of-barbecue list. “The Lafayette hunters barely dealt with our family as it was, though.”
Stiles’ eyes light up around the glazed dough in his mouth and he swallows his dangerously huge mouthful, throat a little sore but worth it as he says slowly, carefully, not wanting to rush it, “Well they were very busy.” Chris glances up at him, brow furrowed. Isaac is grinning darkly, waiting. “In France.” Stiles smiles hugely. “Getting guns. And ships.” Chris just blinks at him and Stiles huffs in pure disbelief. “Seriously? Hamilton?” He motions towards his laptop. “You know, these things, not just ugly paper weights. You know that, right?”
Chris just shrugs.
Isaac, however, can no longer contain himself and bursts out, “We signed a treaty with a king whose head is now in a basket, would you like to take it out and ask it? Should we honor our treaty King Louis’ head?”
“Uh, do whatever you want, I’m super dead!” he and Stiles shout together, yet more enthusiastically. Stiles glares at Chris, then turns around to also glare at Peter and Derek who look just as lost and out of touch. “I love Isaac more than all of you.” He watches Isaac appraisingly and decides, “I’m knitting you six scarves.”
“Can you knit?” Isaac asks, around cruller and glaze.
Stiles shrugs. “Let’s find out.”
Chris shoves the box of crullers off the map and starts to roll it. “I’ll check it out tomorrow,” he decides.
Stiles nods agreeably and plucks up another cruller before Isaac tries to turn them all into edible jewelry. Derek leans over his shoulder once Chris has stepped away from the table and taken his Gerard-paraphernalia with him. “What do you have on Boyd and Erica?” he asks gruffly.
Stiles is impressed; he hasn’t asked recently.
Well, this week.
Okay, he hasn’t asked yet today. Because Chris caught him first and Derek and Chris both like to pretend the other is a particularly odoriferous and unwelcome plant, only with less Delta waves.
“Um.” Stiles picks up his highlighter, shuffling through the papers that are still left and chews on the cap. He shifts a few more things out of the way, pulls his notebook closer to his chest so it’s resting half on his laptop and taps it twice. He spits out the cap into his hand and Derek gives him a dubious look, crossing his arms over his chest. “A lot of question marks.” He looks up, grinning. “But, look, I made the dots of them into paw prints.”
Derek scowls at him, muttering, “I hate you.”
“Hah, like I buy that for a second,” Stiles says winningly. “You’d be lizard food without me, boo. Crickets? What do lizards eat?”
“Pistachios,” Isaac says, cheeks puffed up around cruller-bits and eyes wide and serious.
Stiles does his best to ignore him.
“Most are folivores,” Chris says, picking up his shotgun and heading towards the door. He pauses and says sympathetically, “You know you have gum on the back of your pants, right?”
Stiles holds up a righteous finger. “I’m trend-setting, you plebes!”
Chris wakes him up early the next morning with his regular text noting the time he got on the road. Stiles mentally does a few calculations on his drive time based on the maps they’d pored over yesterday at Derek’s and writes down on the inside of his forearm the time he should get back, given a few hours time to snoop around. He’s not about to pretend he’s not disappointed that it doesn’t come out to be ‘011.’ He’s barely fallen back into sweet, black oblivion, still half-in a Fraggle Rock-esque puppet hellscape, before there’s a banging at his door.
Stiles falls down the stairs. With grace.
Jackson’s already complaining by the time Stiles manages to blink for the first time, about idiot cashiers and how they made him want to eat them and if they just worked at being not-stupid he wouldn’t lose his cool and half-wolf out on them.
Stiles squints, yawns. “It’s too bad those, uh.” He mimes pressing a button with his finger. “Neuralyzer things don't actually exist, right?” He scrunches up his face. “See, that I can think of, but can I come up with ‘isotope’ when it matters? Nyet, sir, nyet.”
“Stilinski.” There are claws curling over either side of his doorframe. “You should stop being stupid too,” Jackson says, garbled around fangs and eyes a violent blue.
Stiles flicks him in the forehead, yawns again. “Don’t tell me what to do. I’ll be whatever I want to do.”
Jackson is still looking, helpfully, a little dazed and Stiles grabs his hoodie off the peg in the hallway, closing the door behind him. “I swear to Chris Hemsworth, you are the worst person ever to give Mario firepower to.” Stiles carefully picks his way over the grass, still barefoot. “You’re just such a ginormous asshole, with no understanding of working for things or not having a Porsche as your first car.” Jackson’s eyes grow even bluer, with a vengeance. Stiles narrows his eyes back at him. “Whoa, Scaly, with the eyes, can we get those under control?”
“Stop pissing me off,” Jackson suggests, with a snick-snacky grin.
Stiles snorts. “Well that’s not likely, is it?”
Jackson still follows him out to the backyard and says, “I don’t have to be poor and wear plaid and have no girlfriend just to build character.”
“No, you have to have character to build on first,” Stiles agrees. “You’re just entitlement and poor choices.”
Jackson tackles him. Stiles scrambles out from under him, avoiding the snap of his jaws. He kicks Jackson in the beanbags and he keels over with a pained ‘oof’ of breath. “So much for not shifting. You’re kind of a bigger failure than Derek even. Evaluate the scope of that, why don’t you.”
Jackson punches him in the ear, but he doesn’t have any claws when he does it.
Stiles knees him in the jaw, mostly accidentally. Jackson glares at him, but without the glow-y blue, and they get into another argument or ten, Jackson wolfs out twice more but he only draws blood only once. Though it’s in about six different places, all shallow scrapes from his claws. Stiles mocks him about it and Jackson roars and Stiles takes the opportunity to try to throw an acorn into his open mouth. Jackson dodges it, unnecessary-Matrix-style.
Stiles aims for his eye, yawns again, most of him aching and says, “You need an anchor, dumbass.” The violent blue fades from Jackson’s irises for the last time and Stiles twists his forearms around, checking out today’s damage. “And to stop scratching me.”
“I’m working on it,” he bites out.
“I told you,” Stiles covers his mouth with the back of his hand, “Scott uses Allison, you have—“
“I’m not using a person,” Jackson snaps. His fingers flex at his sides. “That’s not… reliable.” Stiles stares at him, and he looks away. “Too outside of my own control,” he mutters. Stiles stares at him, understanding flitting across his face, and Jackson takes that opportunity to fling an acorn back at him that hits him right above his nipple.
“Ow, motherfuck.” Stiles sits up, rubbing at his chest. “Okay,” he says, because he gets it. He understands why Jackson would be hesitant to trust that. “Okay,” he says again, offering, “I know Derek uses anger?”
Jackson’s head snaps up. “It can be an emotion?”
Stiles shrugs, lounging back on the porch steps, stretching out his leg from where Jackson had landed on it earlier. “If it’s strong enough, I guess. I think Scott’s works because it draws on the emotion he has for Allison. It might have to be one for all I know.” He rubs at his nose and says, “Remember when I told you I was not the best person to play Mr. Miyagi for you?”
Jackson waves him off. “Shut up, I’m thinking.”
Stiles yawns again. “Okay, well, while you’re doing that? Or we’re all pretending you are anyway?” He whips an acorn at Jackson’s head. “Wax on,” he says as it smacks him right between the eyes.
Stiles showers before he shows up at Derek’s but he still garners a weird look from him when he opens the door. Why was there no legitimate site about masking your scent from a werewolf? It’s not that he’s trying to hide the whole Jackson-thing from Derek per se; it’s just... he kind of thinks knowing about it might make Derek feel like crap.
And, weirdly, Stiles seems to have set up in the camp that’s firmly against that.
Isaac moves between them, distracting Derek from him just as his eyes had started to narrow curiously. And he is a distraction. He’s leaving with his shirt on inside-out and backwards, tag flopping against the base of his throat, and a shoelace tied around his wrist like a bracelet.
Stiles stares after him for a long while, bidding, “Adieu, you big Gumby weirdo, adieu.”
Derek snorts under his breath, sliding the door closed and Stiles gives a cursory look around. Chris is following a trail in Oregon still, keeping Stiles up to date via text, and Peter could be anywhere at any time doing anything but Stiles hasn’t actually seen him in a few days. He sinks down into his regular seat at the desk, sun coming in strong but more orange this morning. He doesn’t pull out his laptop. Instead he watches Derek only to find that Derek’s watching him.
He clears his throat. “Coffee?” He gestures behind him without breaking eye contact.
Stiles nods slowly, noting how carefully Derek’s moving, almost like he’s trying not to displace too much air at once. Stiles bites his lower lip and considers his next move, tapping softly against the seat of the chair. Derek isn’t stupid, which means if Stiles starts down this road of questions, he’s going to know why. He huffs out a breath and throws caution to the wind , going for nonchalant but his voice sticking to his throat like Gak, “Hypothetically—
Derek tenses, back to Stiles in the kitchen still. But it doesn't look annoyed, more preparatory – like he’s holding his breath.
Stiles swallows, determined. “Hypothetically, is it possible that Jackson could go dark side again and go back to wearing scales this season?”
Derek lets out the breath and doesn’t turn around. He clears his throat again. Even so, it takes him another minute or two to actually speak. “If similar emotional conditions and another master were to arise?” He turns around, clenches his jaw, flexes it. “Yes.”
Stiles’ mouth pulls to the side, and he chews on the inside of his cheek, asking genuinely, “That doesn’t worry you?”
Derek lifts his eyebrows. “I did try to kill him.”
“Right,” Stiles says slowly. He taps some more. “Why haven’t you followed up on that exactly?” Not that Stiles wants Derek killing Jackson, but, well. The impetus that was driving Derek to begin with hasn’t gone anywhere and someone needs to make sure he’s staying firmly on the side of the angels. Or, well, wolf-hybrids.
Derek is quiet for a long moment. He lifts and drops his shoulders slowly. His gaze skirts up towards Stiles but doesn’t touch him. He says finally, “I—I tried.” He squares his shoulders, body tight. “He wouldn’t see me.”
Stiles purses his lips. Drags in a deep breath and considers not saying it. But he kind of thinks Derek needs to hear it more than it might be awkward for him to say it. “You know that’s not your fault, right?” Derek stares at him, wide-eyed. “He’s—shooting the messenger or whatever.” Because, really, someone had to stop him and Stiles really does think Jackson knows that, on some level at least. Stiles leans back in his seat and offers, “No one who knew them would’ve thought Jackson and Lydia had a deep anything. They broke up over text. That was a legitimately real thing that actually happened. Your plan kept the most people safe and made the most sense, given the information available. It wasn’t pretty and it wouldn’t have qualified you for superhero status but it was the choice that needed to be made.” Scott, God love him, never would’ve made the choice Derek did. He would’ve tried to save everyone and if not for a completely out-of-character, last-minute 'love will save all' curve ball, he would’ve gotten a lot more people killed.
And Derek needs to know that at least someone sees that, even if it is just Stiles.
His smile is slight and Stiles turns back around, away from him, scrubbing at the base of his hair, the buzz growing out and soft against the heel of his palm. They settle in like that after a while, Stiles opening his laptop and getting lost in internet back channels and the soft hum of Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ album, and Derek reading on the couch again.
Stiles is leaning in, squinting at tiny text on his computer about electromagnetic pulses when a weight settles against his shoulder and he blinks up, small-eyed and blank, to find Derek standing there with café-bought to-go coffee. Stiles hadn’t even heard him leave. He’s bringing his own up to his lips and staring down at Stiles like he’s waiting for him to pick up their aborted conversation from a few hours ago.
Stiles sighs. Yeah, Derek isn’t stupid. He’d known exactly why Stiles was asking then, and he’s willing to help anyway. That’s actually pretty damn big of him. Stiles blows on the steam rising from the small circle in the lid and says, “How would you keep him firmly in the werewolf arena?”
“He needs an anchor,” Derek answers calmly.
Stiles grumbles, because he already knew that. He sets the cup down, popping the lid entirely and waiting for it to cool enough that he can drink from it. “How do you find one?”
Derek shakes his head. “You can’t do that for him.” No pretense now then. “You can teach him to track scents, heartbeats, that pain expedites healing.” He raises an eyebrow. “How to control the shift, despite... goading factors. But he’d do better with a pack.”
Stiles nods and says slowly, and more honestly than he would’ve thought, “I’m working on that.”
Because Stiles had thought Jackson had a choice between bad or badder but he might’ve been wrong about that actually.
Stiles leaves Chris at Derek’s, having had enough of listening to them argue—amiably enough, he guessed—about the purpose of Garden Monkshood. They were getting along now though. Ish. They were getting along a lot like two people who had never gotten along with anything or anyone before now and had no idea how it went. They were trying though and that counted for something.
Stiles isn’t really sure if it does or not but he’s tired enough to pretend the positive. He smacks into the couch on his way upstairs, removing his jacket having thrown him of course, and instead of redoubling his efforts, he just flops down there, defeated.
He crashes down off the couch the next afternoon and rolls/crawls his way to the kitchen for a waffle.
His dad watches him from where he’s standing over the kitchen sink, unfazed but judgmental. He points down at Stiles with a dishrag in his hand. “This a 007 mission, or a new level of personal failure?”
“Why not both? People in MI6 are haunted men.” He grapples for the freezer handle from his covert position on the floor but nothin’ doin’. “Go-Go Gadget Arms.” Nothing happens. “That was horribly disappointing.”
His dad elbows open the freezer for him and Stiles reluctantly push/groans his way into a standing position. He’s digging through the freezer, bleary-eyed, when he’s yanked back by his collar. Stiles wheels around, coming face to face with the red in his dad’s, not to mention the heavy-eyelid thing he does when he’s part-concerned and part-teary, and Stiles is immediately on full alert. His dad shakes him where his finger’s hooked in his t-shirt. “Those kids are still messing with you, aren’t they?” Stiles’ mouth yo-yos, like a fish out of water. “I want a straight answer, Stiles. Now.”
His dad lets go of his shirt, grabs him by the wrists and tilts Stiles’ arms up so that his forearms are right in his eyeline. Stiles blinks at them because god-fucking-shit-damn-mother— “There are scrape marks on your back and all down your arms,” his dad starts thickly, like he—like—shit. “If someone’s hurting you—”
Fucking Jackson and his inability to control his inner rage monster and not going to Derek when he should have in the first place and having stupid claws—“Whoa, no,” Stiles says quickly, pulling his arms out of his dad’s grasp so he can hold up his hands defensively. “No, okay, I swear. I, uh, I’ve been helping Scott out. Down at the clinic. Kitty.” Stiles blinks. He didn’t just say, ‘kitty,’ did he?
His dad confirms that he did by repeating blankly, “Kitty?”
“Well, no, not like Shadowcat. Kitty Pryde, y’know. Like, cats.” Yes, cats, that is what he meant. “You know. They’re dicks. So, they, uh, there’s a litter and they’re friendly but in really sharp, semi-painful ways.”
His dad looks at him disbelievingly, eyebrow raised. “All that is from a cat.”
“Multiple cats,” Stiles corrects. Then corrects again, “Kittens.” Then Latin, because why not, “Felis silvestris.”
His dad’s brow furrows. “You really do worry me, kid.” He doesn’t look totally convinced, but neither does he look like he did a minute ago. Which is good. Because Stiles so cannot handle that.
“Part of my charm, daddy-o,” he says with a wink.
It takes the combined mental efforts of Stiles and Chris to get their first solid lead on Erica and Boyd. Chris had been tracking ley lines, mainly in service of finding Gerard—though they’d all agreed it could be equally applicable across the board and he’d promised to keep an open mind while searching, and Stiles had been looking for convergences of unnusual animal behavior and his and Chris’ paths had finally crossed. They marked the map with an ‘x’ at the spot they met and Stiles pulls up the location on his laptop, Derek and Chris and Isaac breathing down his neck while the search pages seemed to take an extra .00006 seconds to load just to be spiteful.
An image of an abandoned clothing and homewares outlet store pops up, with an address in downtown Beacon Hills.
Stiles reaches behind him to grab his hoodie off the back of his chair when Derek’s hand closes around his wrist, making him go still. “You’re staying here,” he says gruffly.
Uh. Like fuck. Derek wouldn’t even have somewhere to run off to without him. He screws up his face, ready to argue and then some.
Derek cuts him off with a shake of his head and a curt, “No.”
Stiles yanks his wrist out of Derek’s fingers and snarls, “Like hell. I’m the one who found—”
“And I’m appreciative,” and the shock of that sentence out of Derek’s mouth freezes him long enough that Derek’s out the door, following behind Chris and Isaac, before Stiles can even call him an asshole for it.
He impatiently watches the clock for the first hour or so, then plays a few levels of Plants vs. Zombies, then falls into a Wikipedia hole that started because he’d made the mistake of looking up ‘flat top afros.’
“I hope you’re not looking at that as an option.”
Stiles half-falls out of his chair, heart ribbiting away in the base of his throat and he turns around to flip Peter off, still trying to catch his breath. Stiles has no idea how long he’s been sitting on the couch, watching him.
He looks comfortable enough certainly.
Stiles glowers at him, noting dryly, “My hell is complete. Of course you’re here.” He scrubs at his forehead, says, “I expected you to be on the super-secret, super-Stiles-exclusionary scouting mission.”
“No, you didn’t,” Peter says lazily.
And Stiles considers and guesses that, no, he didn't really. He shrugs. “Only because I honestly try to think of you as little as possible,” he admits. He flips up the pages of his notebook with his thumb and closes the Wiki page that’s now on Caesar haircuts. (It really isn’t flattering. And it hadn’t worked out for Caesar either.)
Peter promptly gives him a second heart-attack, tapping at the page under Stiles’ bored hand. Stiles hadn’t even seen him freaking move.
He says simply, “None of this is accurate.”
Stiles frowns down at where Peter’s pointing. The journal’s open to the notes he’s jotted down on the Jumbo Shrimp from the Argent’s bestiary. “What do you mean?”
Peter easily hefts the book out from under Stiles’ arm, picks up a pen and strikes through a few lines. Then a few more. Then he frowns and simply makes an ‘x’ across that entire page. “Leadership has changed hands since this was written. It’s a man in charge now; Deucalion.”
Stiles squints up at him. “How do you know that?”
“I listen and observe,” Peter says smartly.
“I really don’t like you,” Stiles tells him, snatching the notebook back and writing ‘Duke Alien’ in the margin. He shoves it back at Peter reluctantly. “What else have you got, Johnny Storm?”
Peter takes the notebook agreeably, flips through a few more pages, and scribbles out a few more pages. He sets the spine on the crown of Stiles’ hair and narrates as he writes on top of his head, “I know there are two among his number with either a polymorph or fusion ability, hard to get a straight answer about that since most people who see the parlor trick don’t live to tell about it.”
“Awesome,” Stiles says blandly. “How many?” He’s keeping his head still despite his annoyance at being used as a table.
Peter taps his pen against the page. “That, I don’t know,” he admits. It feels like he circles something. “The numbers have to stay small though, your information was right about that, the more Alphas you add the more unstable it gets.”
“Have you ever met one? A Jumbo Shrimp?” Stiles asks.
“Members,” says Peter carefully, “never a full pack.”
Stiles’ smirk is rueful. “And I’m betting it was in more of a tit-for-tat arrangement before or after you double-crossed someone.”
Peter sets the notebook back down in front of Stiles and looks all too gleeful when he says, “You know me too well.”
“Predict evil and work my way down from there,” Stiles says, “yeah, it’s not hard.”
Peter seems to be torn between pretending to be offended and actually being touched and leaves the room before he’s properly made up his mind, but not before calling over his shoulder, “By the way, there’s gum on your left ass cheek.”
“Stop staring at my ass!” Stiles retorts loudly.
Derek comes back a little after one, mouth pursed and heads upstairs without a word to anyone. Isaac says, grabbing a whole box of Hot Pockets out of the freezer, that Erica and Boyd had been there.
But they were long gone by the time they’d caught up.
It becomes a recurring theme over the next few weeks. Now that they have a good idea of the patterns they’re looking for, they’re better at identifying them, but not any quicker at getting to them.
Derek gets more withdrawn and combative, Chris gets less invested, and Stiles gets more pissed off.
He and Chris can't even glance across a dying old man with no resources and more than a few enemies and the Jumbo Shrimp is consistently at least eight steps ahead of them and, Stiles imagines, cackling about it.
Stiles doesn’t go back to Derek’s for a week because what the frick is the point? He and Chris had given up on Gerard before he’d even crossed the last name off the list because they knew enough to know a pointless mission when they saw one. He was going to get away with everything because that was apparently just a-okay with the Powers that Be, though Chris had offered that maybe they hadn’t been able to find him because he was already dead.
Stiles isn’t going to hold his breath on that. They had their very own Governor to look forward to popping up for some future finale. Great.
And looking for Erica and Boyd? Well. That was just getting fucking depressing. There were two people who actually needed them to find them and they still couldn’t do it.
Stiles isn’t too proud to say he’s straight-up wallowing when Jackson rounds into his backyard, eyes closed and head cocked. He’s been practicing finding him by scent and sound. He crouches down, picks up a rock, and whips it at Stiles with total accuracy.
It hits him in the shin.
“Well done, idiot.”
Jackson opens his eyes, victory shining from them. He sniffs twice more and his nose wrinkles in distaste. “You smell like…” he pauses, considering, rolling it around in his mouth, “defeat.”
Stiles squints at him and says, “You should talk to Derek.” He’s not entirely sure he’s talking to Jackson when he says it.
“I don’t need—” Jackson starts forcefully, shoulders bunching and Hulking up the way they do when he gets pissed.
Stiles rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I got that from the eighteen-thousand times you’ve said it,” he says. “But maybe you could stop being such a narcissistic piss-ant and recognize that maybe other people need? Like Erica and Boyd, maybe, who’ve been missing for months, who we can’t find no matter what we do and Derek just—he could use some good news. And you are the best I’ve fucking got, sad as that is.”
Jackson’s expression is still hostile and unrepentant but he doesn’t tell Stiles to ‘fuck off,’ so, that's something.
There’s a note waiting for them in the bank vault. A few of them make a grab for it but it’s Derek who gets to it first. Predictably, it’s childish and petty and makes Stiles’ blood boil.
I was going to write something about snoozing being for those who lose but I imagine that’s a lesson you’ve already learned quite well over the past few weeks. – D
No one speaks until they’re back at the loft. Isaac grabs three boxes of Hot Pockets out of the freezer and carries them to his room. Stiles isn’t sure why, considering there’s no microwave. Chris murmurs something about going home after passing a hand over his eyes and Stiles just stands there between Derek and Peter, numb.
“They left a note,” he says slowly. Because that’s got to mean something. “They know we’re tracking them.” He rubs at his eyes, the lids so heavy that it’s draining to keep them open. Constant failure is exhausting turns out. “There must be some way we can use that to our advantage,” he says, because there has to be. He groans, pressing palms over his eyelids, “but right now I’m too fried to think of anything other than Harry Potter sheets and glow-in-the-dark stars in the shape of a devil’s trap.” Both Derek and Peter turn to look at him and Stiles shrugs. “Just in case. Even a broken clock is right twice a day and all.”
Derek gestures towards the couch; he looks as exhausted as Stiles feels. “You should sleep here,” he says, eyes gauging Stiles carefully.
Stiles blinks at him, owlish and small. “Am I not already?”
Derek’s lips twitch slightly at the corners before he drags his feet down the hall. Stiles looks back at Peter because it feels important to address this before he forgets—not that he’s sure he ever could. His mind is still kind of blown. “You tried to save him.”
Peter watches him carefully, scrutinizing, waiting for Stiles to say what he means.
“Your hand, it reached for the note before Derek snatched it away.” Peter’s expression goes shrewd. “But you didn’t care what it said because why would you? It has nothing to do with you after all. So why reach for it? I couldn’t figure it out until I realized – you thought it was a trap, and you tried to spring it first. Or, more likely, you tried to stop Derek from springing it at all.”
“You sound shocked,” Peter says with mock-offense. He smiles sharply. “I can be altruistic.”
Stiles shakes his head. “Yeah, you can’t and I don’t think you wanted to reach your hand out either. But you give a shit about whether Derek lives or dies, against your better judgment even.” Peter’s gaze is calculating and Stiles waves it away, saying honestly, “Your secret’s safe with me.”
He plops down on the couch, gets one shoe halfway off and promptly falls asleep.
Stiles rolls over under a soft, thick blanket, listening to the sounds of the microwave tray rotate in the kitchen. He scrunches his eyes tight for a minute before peeling one open. Isaac’s murder-staring through the glass door of the microwave where his Hot Pocket is currently being held captive. Peter’s nowhere in sight.
Stiles rubs his nose against the arm of the couch and fish-flops awkwardly, tangled in the surprise-blanket, until he gets his head up on the hill of it, staring out the window at the bright, bright, stupid-bright morning sun. There's half a Derek-shaped hole in all the warm yellow.
It takes dedication and sheer grit to toga the blanket around himself and he yawns as he drags one socked and one shoe-d foot out onto the balcony.
Derek blinks up at him in soft pants, a threadbare t-shirt, and bare feet and says with recrimination, “Stop bribing Isaac with Hot Pockets.”
It takes Stiles a second to hear him, through all the staring. Derek’s hair is pushed over to one side and his eyes are all crinkly and Stiles should probably stop the staring. He shakes his head, scratches at his stomach, and says contrarily, “No.” He stifles another yawn. “I’m buying his affection with three hundred and fifty calories per pocket of cheese and you can’t stop me.” He frowns thoughtfully. “Werewolves can’t get clogged arteries, right?” Derek snorts and Stiles bumbles down into the spot next time on the ground. Derek’s legs are dangling under the railing but Stiles curls his legs up under him, draping the blanket over his knees. He rests his forehead against one of the bars, turns to look at Derek’s lazy ease and asks, “Did you put this blanket over me?” He holds out the blanket in question.
“No,” Derek says.
Seriously though, Pinocchio could do better. Stiles grins, soft and nearly fumbled off his face in his delight. “You totally did.” He wraps the blanket more tightly around his shoulders. “You blanketed me. You didn’t want me to be cold and so you used this blanket as a stand-in for the warmth of your regard. Affection,” he corrects. “The warmth of your affection.”
“I’m pretty sure it was Peter,” Derek says blandly.
Stiles doesn’t have to fake the shiver that shakes his shoulders at that mental image. He scowls at Derek. “That’s just cold. It’s sucking all the warmth out of your blanket-affection. Which is the opposite of what blanket-affection is even for. You’re moving backwards.”
“I didn’t put a blanket on you.” Derek’s starting to look annoyed, and rattled.
“Liar,” Stiles accuses, still smiling, fingers digging into the cloth on his arms. He looks at Derek half-lidded, the sky around them barely golden, still somewhat heavy with cloud cover near the trees and says, “I would’ve put a blanket on you. If the opportunity had presented itself.”
“Oh,” Derek says.
“Yeah,” Stiles says back.
Derek clears his throat and half-turns towards the loft. He’s almost smiling. “You got Jackson here.”
Stiles blinks in surprise and looks back through the glass windows. “I did?” Derek huffs, amused, and manually turns Stiles’ head, the side of his index finger pushing against the sudden thundering pulse in Stiles' jaw and, sure enough, there’s Jackson. Stiles swallows, dry-mouthed, watching him where he’s standing awkwardly in a corner of the kitchen with a forgotten mug of coffee in his hand while he stares at Isaac, who’s menacing the microwave. And Stiles knows why he didn’t notice him now, what with all Isaac’s regular and attention-absorbing oddity. His mouth hitches up on one side and he says smugly, “Of course I did.”
Derek rolls his eyes. Then reaches out his hand, curls it around Stiles’ forearm, and says stiffly, “Thank you,” like he’s not quite used to saying it these days.
And Stiles has to admit, he hasn’t had a lot of reason to. He nods once in acknowledgement but otherwise doesn’t harp on it, which comes as a shock to him too.
Derek stands after another few minutes, squints at the sky line and tells it, “I want my blanket back,” before heading inside.
Stiles’ grin is a huge, wild thing and he clicks his tongue and calls after him, “Not a chance, hot pants.”
Deucalion’s—if they can trust Peter on that anyhow, and Stiles is starting to think they actually can—next note comes from inside Derek’s loft. It’s only one word but then it doesn’t really have to do with the note as much as it does the location of it.
Gotcha! – D
Derek hasn’t stopped pacing since they came back from looking for the Jumbo Shrimp only to find they’d doubled back and left this. He’s gaining and losing claws and sideburns as he wears the shine away on his floorboards and Stiles doesn’t think he’s ever seen Derek this keyed up.
“They were here,” he spits.
Stiles glances around at Isaac and Chris and Peter but no one seems to have any plans for calming Derek the fuck down. Stiles isn’t really sure what goes into all this but he’s willing to bet there’s some werewolf-Alpha-junk at play here that goes hand in hand with having your territory encroached upon.
“Can you track them?” Isaac asks after the silence his dipped from awkward into downright painful.
Derek shakes his head, nostrils flaring repeatedly. “No. And I should be able to. It was recent.” He looks up at Stiles, red eyes seeking his out. “They’re covering their tracks.”
Stiles holds his gaze a moment, letting that sink in, then glances over at Chris. “Can they do that?”
Chris nods slowly, holding his shotgun aloft and by the barrel. “There are methods.”
“Can we counteract them?” Stiles asks, voice growing urgent despite himself. They’d been in Derek’s place after all.
“I don’t know,” he says uneasily.
Peter picks up the dropped question. “It won’t be cheap.”
“What do we need?” Isaac asks.
“What else?” Peter looks up, mouth curving steeply at the center. “Power.”
“They can have mine,” Derek offers instantly, stepping forward meaningfully.
Peter rolls his eyes. “Brilliant plan.”
“Dumbass,” Stiles says at the same time. He looks between the four of them and suggests hesitantly, “Jackson?” He’d told Stiles only two days ago that he was leaving Beacon Hills for good as, even with Derek’s help, he wasn’t getting any better at controlling himself for the simple fact that he couldn’t trust anyone—himself most of all—enough to have an anchor and he’s terrified, terrified, of becoming the kanima again.
It might actually be the best solution to a shit situation.
Stiles still feels like crap for suggesting it without talking to Jackson about it first. Which is bull, because Jackson’s a dick.
Peter and Chris catch each other’s eye. There’s a moment of silent communication and then Peter allows, “That might work.”
Isaac looks between them, asks, “How will we know if it does?”
Chris glances back at Peter again. “Give us some time.”
When they all part ways, it takes Stiles a moment to notice that Derek isn’t pacing anymore, he’s not intense and half-wild. Not only has he calmed down completely but—huh—he’s actually smiling as Stiles leaves.
It only takes Stiles a day or so to figure out why, to mentally ping-pong through the way they’d practically finished one another’s sentences, picked up where the last person left off seamlessly and easily kept each person in the loop. He finds Derek standing out on the balcony and Stiles climbs over the step outside and says, “I know what Scott said to you, that night, after Gerard.”
Derek turns around but his expression doesn’t give anything away.
And Stiles wants to say this. To have it out there. So Derek knows it rather than just suspects it. “You are mine—my Alpha. You are that.” Crap. That… was not exactly the eloquent and moving declaration he’d been going for. He winces, shoulders bundling up, and rubs a hand over his face. He pulls in a deep breath and, it’s fine, he can just try it again. Without getting tongue-tied this time. Granted, it won't be as momentous now, but he can still do it. Because, okay, right—“I mean that—”
Derek strides over, slips a hand around the back of his neck, and kisses him. And that first one is all stopping power and then Derek’s hand is slipping over the hill of his shoulder, up the slope of his neck, thumb coming to a rest behind Stiles’ ear and fingerpads brushing against the soft strands of hair at the base of his skull, drawing him closer as he opens his mouth. Then it’s not about stopping him at all. It’s about drawing him in, bringing him closer, making him move, sucking and tasting him and Derek’s tongue is in his mouth, sliding against Stiles’ own and Stiles pulls away to breathe then pushes back in to drown, dragging Derek’s lips into his mouth, between his teeth, scraping against soft skin, kissing and kissing and kissing him until his lips hurt, until his chin is raw with stubble burn and he still doesn’t want to stop.
He might not have, ever, if Derek hadn’t jerked back from him, worryingly alert, hands breaking all contact.
Chris finds them a step away from each other moments later, still breathing hard, mouths still swollen but he doesn’t notice because: “Isaac’s missing.”
Stiles feels the blood drain from his face, what little hadn’t been collecting in his dick anyway. And that’s dispersing all over again now too. “Fuck.”
Chris doesn’t linger, instead going to find Peter, and Derek doesn’t look back at Stiles as he says tightly, “This didn’t happen.”
Stiles opens his mouth because fuck that, and Derek says—
Derek says, “They’re taking my pack.” He stresses the word, willing Stiles to get it. He closes his eyes like they hurt. “Pack, which you just—” Which Stiles had just declared he was, which he'd only done after realizing they all were—that he and Chris and Isaac and Peter had been working frightfully well as one without even noticing it. Derek works a painful swallow down his throat and he still won’t meet Stiles’ gaze, even as he croaks out, “They can’t have you.”
Stiles swallows. “Okay,” he says, because he gets it. He doesn’t want to, but he gets it. Derek nods once and Stiles grabs his arm before he can step away from him. “Okay,” he says again, “but after this whole Jumbo Shrimp thing is un-oxymoroned,” he holds Derek’s gaze, gesturing around them, “I’m holding you to that. I’m holding you to every single solitary fucking bit of that.”
Derek presses a chaste, firm kiss to his mouth, eyes glittering, red dancing in the kaleidoscope of other colors, as he says fiercely, “Good.”