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Growing Up, Growing Strong

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1. house

The boy hasn’t spoken since his father died arresting Kate and the other hunters responsible for setting the Hale house on fire in the middle of the night, gunned down without a fool’s hope of an ambulance taking him to the hospital in time.  Or even for Talia to bite him.

They take the man’s son in of course.  It’s the very least they can do, especially when it was the ten-year-old child – wandering the streets, worryingly enough – who saw the smoke first and called 911 just in time to get the firetrucks out to the Preserve and put out the fire before it could spread very far.

He’s poked and prodded and asked a million questions by police and Child Services alike, and the best responses any of them get are nods, headshakes, and shrugs.  Mostly shrugs.

They ask him if he wants the Hales to adopt him.  He shrugs and stares at the far wall with dead shadowed eyes.  He doesn’t respond when they ask again.

In the end, Talia makes the executive decision to whisk him home anyway.  Her family’s generally upstanding reputation and the sympathy they’ve garnered from the arson attack see to Child Services relenting more easily than they probably would have otherwise.  Joseph’s calm smile and quiet reassurances smooth away any remaining concerns.

She asks, in the car ride back, whether he’d like to be called Stiles or Miłosław, and she makes sure to pronounce the latter properly.  Cora told her everyone calls Stiles ‘Stiles’ at school but Talia thinks the boy might have a preference.  If he does, it’s evidently not Miłosław.  He doesn’t say anything, but his scent sours with even more grief, and his hands go white-knuckled around the hem of his sweater when she calls him by his given name.

She switches to Stiles after that.

They’re staying in the two guest houses on the Preserve while the main house is being rebuilt.  Talia considers rooming Stiles with one of her sons, but – coming up the driveway – Derek stares at Stiles like he’s terrified of the kid, and the scent of guilt still hangs heavy in the air.  Matty on the other hand looks out curiously from the window, but he’s only five and probably too young to pair with Stiles in one bedroom, especially when their newest addition currently doesn’t look anywhere near capable of dealing with someone as energetic as Matty can get.

Perhaps Stiles could bunk with Cora.  Talia knows they’re barely passing acquaintances at school, and she could just as easily shuffle Cora in with Laura and give Stiles a room of his own, but she doesn’t think the boy should be alone right now.

The entire Hale family is indebted to the Stilinskis.  They couldn’t save the Sheriff, but they’ll do their best to welcome Stiles into their home.

But it’s Peter who steps forward first, the moment Stiles stumbles unsteadily out of the car.

“Hello, Stiles,” Her brother says, crouching down in front of the boy, blue eyes intent on Stiles’ downturned face.  The burns on his cheek and down his neck, the rest disappearing underneath his shirt, are still fairly prominent and probably won’t heal for a long while, if they do at all, but at least the cut on his temple from the graze of a bullet is gone.

Talia knows they have Stiles to thank for that too.  Reckless child that he was, running on ahead of the firetrucks anyway and throwing a rock at the hunter who was taking aim at Peter’s head while Peter was occupied with doing his level best to tear through the mountain ash line circling the house and trapping the rest of the family inside.

Stiles doesn’t respond, but his gaze does flicker up briefly, which is already more than he’s done for anyone else since Talia laid eyes on him.

Peter doesn’t smile, but he offers Stiles a coaxing hand.  “How about you bunk with me tonight?  I’m sure you must be tired.”

It takes a moment, but eventually, Stiles’ hand jerks up and lets Peter wrap his own around it.  When he stands and gently tugs the boy in the direction of the house, Stiles follows.

Joseph comes to stand beside her, Stiles’ backpack and a single coat in his arms.

“We’ll need to see about bringing some more of his belongings here,” He murmurs as they watch Peter lead the boy into the house.  “Maybe when he’s feeling a little better.”

Talia nods briskly.  “Of course.  Nobody touches the Stilinski house until Stiles is ready to go back.  And… he’ll probably need a therapist.”

Joseph hums his agreement, but it’s a solemn sound, and Talia doesn’t even have to look to know her husband’s line of sight has switched to Derek, a hunched shell of his former self beside Laura.

She sighs.  She doesn’t know if getting Stiles the help he needs will be easier or harder than helping Derek.  But they still have to try.

Later, when almost everyone’s gone to bed, she peeks into her brother’s room on her way past it.  Stiles is curled up on the bed.  His heartbeat says he’s asleep even if the misery in his scent hasn’t faded.

On the floor, in a nest of blankets, Peter’s eyes flick open, blue to gold in a second.  Talia nods at him before shutting the door again.

They’re alive, all of them here.  That’s what counts.  Everything else will follow.


2. frail

Over the next week, Stiles is a silent ghost amongst them, frail in a way that has nothing to do with his age or humanity, brittle at the edges like he’s about to fall apart.  He comes downstairs when Peter asks, he eats when Joseph plates him some pancakes, he goes to school when Talia asks if he wants to on the fourth day after he starts living with them, and he comes home with a black eye and a split lip and a furious Cora at his shoulder because some idiot boy at school taunted Stiles about his dead parents.

But he doesn’t talk.  He doesn’t cry.  And he shuts himself away in the bedroom he and Peter share as soon as nobody tells him to do anything.

Peter goes after Stiles without another word.  Cora growls and threatens to rip Jackson’s throat out.  Talia sternly tells her she isn’t allowed but makes a mental note to look into the issue to see if she needs to have a… chat with David Whittemore.  Then she checks the time and feels a headache stirring.

“I’ll look in on Stiles,” Joseph interjects calmly, coming up from behind her.  “Although I think Peter will have more success with him.  Nathan and Charlotte can make the trip back to the main house again to see if anything can be salvaged.  You just pick up Derek.”

Talia rubs a hand over her forehead before shooting Joseph a grateful look.  She should be better than this, she’s Alpha, but she’s spent all morning and half the afternoon in court, as she has the past three days, the reporters haven’t stopped hounding her despite backing off because even the most ambitious have a hindbrain that tells them when they’re in the presence of a ticked off predator, she has a meeting with Victoria Argent at the end of the week to prepare for, and picking Derek up from therapy is never easy.  She’s wondered if perhaps it would be better if she or Joseph or even Laura went in with him, but Derek refuses every time, and the therapist advised against it for now.

And then there’s Stiles.  Talia hasn’t even suggested therapy to him yet.  Sometimes, for some people, it’s not the best option.  For Derek, it’s the only option left because her son certainly isn’t pouring his heart out to any of them.  The shame and self-loathing Talia always smells on him these days makes her want to kill Kate Argent, raise her from the dead, and kill her all over again.  Unfortunately, she’ll have to settle for reaping compensation from the rest of the Argents.

“Alright,” She shares a brief kiss with Joseph, combs fingers through Cora’s hair as the girl makes a face at them, and then heads for the door.  “Start dinner without me if I’m not back by then.”  Because sometimes, Derek doesn’t want to go home right away, and Talia doesn’t mind driving around aimlessly if that will help her son feel more comfortable around family again.  “And make sure Stiles eats!”

She gets back with Derek in time for dinner.  Peter doesn’t manage to convince Stiles to come down this time so he only appears long enough to grab two plates of pasta from Joseph before heading back upstairs again.  Cora looks like she’s still plotting Jackson Whittemore’s demise as she bites aggressively into her steak, while Matty pitches a tantrum because Derek once again says no to watching a movie with him, but Laura – bless her – whips out a new elephant plushie to replace the one her youngest brother lost in the fire, which distracts Matty from Derek’s sullen silence, at least for the time being.

Halfway through dinner, Talia gets called to the office because another two hunters tied to the arson have been arrested, and there’s new evidence in the case that can’t wait.

“Go,” Joseph sees her to the door.  “I’ll take care of things here.”

She doesn’t get back until midnight, and the house – and the one next door – is a grave of sleeping heartbeats, but she barely even gets to lie down before the sound of footsteps jolt both her and Joseph up again.

The last time they failed to get up in the dead of night, they were almost burned alive.

It’s Stiles, she realizes as she eases her bedroom door open.  The other kids are still asleep, but Peter’s already up as well, slipping out after Stiles, down the stairs and out the front door.  No car starts.  She thinks about stopping them, but this is the first time since he lost his father that Stiles has wanted to do something, and she doesn’t want to discourage it.

“I’ll go,” Joseph whispers, pulling on a pair of jeans.  “You get some sleep.  You need it.”

Right.  Early morning at court again tomorrow.  She heaves a sigh and turns to press her cheek against her husband’s, before stepping back to let him follow Peter out.

Joseph is as ruthless as he is level-headed in battle.  Slow to anger but in no way meek or passive.  And Peter’s the most underhanded fighter Talia knows, not to mention she’s seen Peter’s face when he looks at Stiles.  There’s something there that’s more than just an unexpectedly strong fledgling pack bond.  She has her suspicions but she won’t know for sure until Peter admits it.  Either way, with both her brother and Joseph guarding Stiles and each other, nothing should happen to any of them.

She still dozes fitfully until Joseph returns, grim in a weary sort of way.

“He went back to his house,” Joseph tells her softly, and Talia grimaces.  “Peter’s with him.  They’re staying the night.  I’ll go pick them up in the morning.”

He does, driving out shortly after dawn, and then coming back within twenty minutes.  Peter climbs out of the backseat with Stiles in his arms.

The boy’s asleep, with dried tearstains on his face and a pillow clutched in his arms.

“Did he say anything?”  Talia asks, absently smoothing back Stiles’ hair.  He’ll need a trim soon.

Peter shakes his head.  He watches her hand like he’s contemplating biting it.  Talia rolls her eyes but retracts her limb from her brother’s possessive tendencies.

“Don’t wake him up for school,” She decides instead.  “We can always try again tomorrow.”

Peter nods and moves towards the house.  Stiles is an average size for his age, but right now, he looks even smaller.

Talia feels her fangs itch.  She’s going to drag the Argents through hell before this case is closed.


3. cookie

Life moves on.  Derek goes to therapy and refuses to go to school, but at least he’s slowly responding to the rest of the family again.  When Matty asks him to play, he doesn’t always say no.  Same goes for when the twins come over.

Stiles on the other hand powers through school like he’s trying to prove something but still refuses to talk.  When he’s home, he’s mostly found wherever Peter is.  Or rather, Peter is found wherever Stiles is.  But when Peter can’t put off work any longer and has to go in to make sure nobody is making a mess of his latest clothing line, Stiles doesn’t come out of his and Peter’s bedroom until dinnertime.  Sometimes not even then.  And four nights out of seven, he wanders out in the middle of the night and walks all the way back to his empty childhood home, Peter keeping pace behind him every step of the way like a particularly persistent shadow.

It’s worrying, even though Peter assures her that Stiles just needs time.  Her brother is biased when it comes to Stiles so Talia can’t really tell how accurate he’s being.

And then Cora gets suspended for a week for punching Jackson in the face and breaking his nose because he was taunting Stiles again.

Talia scolded her but didn’t ground her, mostly because she doesn’t actually disapprove the confrontation, just the violence against a fragile human, but also because they wake up Sunday morning with six large trays of freshly baked, slightly wonky-shaped cookies on the counter, gooey on the inside with melted chocolate filling, which are Cora’s absolute favourite, and they usually have to buy them at the local bakery because even Joseph can’t make them quite right.  Stiles is nowhere to be seen – his heartbeat is up in his room again – but Peter is there, already snacking on one and smirking around it.

Cora shrieks and throws herself at the tray, all but shoving her uncle out of the way before cramming two into her mouth.  Matty follows her example and loudly clamours for his own share.

“Cora, manners,” Talia says with more than a little exasperation, but she also can’t suppress a smile, especially when she notices the slightly shaky lettering iced on top of each cookie.  There’s only one letter on each, but there’s also only ever four letters in all – A’s, C’s, O’s, and R’s, over and over, spread out across the counter.

Cora thunders up the stairs with a plate stacked high with cookies.  It takes a good ten minutes, but eventually, she comes back down, half the cookies gone, dragging Stiles behind her and jabbering away about the baked goods.

“I didn’t know you could bake!”  She finishes brightly.  “These are awesome!”

Stiles shrugs.  He has his oversized hoodie on, and his free hand tugs on one of the strings.  As soon as Cora lets him go, he migrates over to Peter, who tucks him under one arm.

Talia thanks him for the treats, and Laura proclaims they’re the best cookies she’s ever tasted.  Even Derek nibbles on one after another without being urged.  Matty has chocolate and crumbs on his face.  Joseph takes some over to Nathan and Charlotte and their kids before coming back and surreptitiously hoarding a half dozen more for himself.

Talia arches an eyebrow at him.  Joseph shrugs back shamelessly before catching Stiles’ eye and reaching over to ruffle his hair.

Stiles watches them all, silent as ever, but there’s a pleased flush to his cheeks, and for the first time since the fire, since they took him in, Talia smells something a little like embarrassed contentment on him.

He doesn’t smile.  He still doesn’t talk.  But he finally looks at them instead of through, like he’s finally seeing actual people instead of vague strangers in a washed out world.

Talia allows herself a breath of cautious relief before reaching for another cookie.  They really are very good, and she’s determined to eat a few more before everyone else devours them.


4. promise

Stiles is bundled in a blanket and sitting at the bay window again when Peter comes in, home from another meeting with the Argents.  He tosses some files on the desk and shrugs out of his jacket before coming over to sit next to Stiles.

“Hello, Stiles,” Peter leans forward to scent him, and it’s such a familiar thing to do these days because everyone does it that Stiles automatically turns into the touch.  Peter pulls back, smiling slightly.  “How was your day?  You didn’t spend all of it up here, did you?”

It’s Saturday.  Stiles usually does.  But he and Peter made a promise yesterday – Peter would stay civil and refrain from antagonizing Chris and Victoria Argent, and Stiles would go downstairs for a minimum of three hours and actually do things.

“I played video games with Cora,” He mumbles, picking at a loose thread on the blanket.  “And I taught Matty, Audrey, and Ty how to ice a cupcake.”

“Sounds messy,” Peter remarks dryly.

Stiles glances up at him.  “Which part?”

“Both,” Peter says in very duh tones, and yeah, Stiles has mouth twitches with a smile at that because Peter has a point – Cora threw popcorn at him when she lost three times in a row at Mario Kart, and then they had to spend the next half hour picking up all the kernels.

“What about you?”  Stiles asks.  He stretches his legs out, and then shuffles over to lean into Peter’s side.

He doesn’t remember a lot about the few weeks after the fire.  After Dad was killed.  All of it was a haze of people coming and going and moving Stiles around.  But he remembers blue eyes and a constant presence beside his, not always hugs but just someone sitting beside him, shoulder to shoulder.  And he remembers Peter’s warmth.  All werewolves have higher body temperatures but Peter felt special, maybe because Stiles spent the most time with him.  Either way, all of it became something familiar, and as much as he likes Cora and is slowly starting to get to know the rest of the Hales, Peter’s still his undisputed favourite.

“Well,” Peter slings an arm around his shoulders.  “I said nothing to Victoria that Talia didn’t want me to.  And I only made Christopher uncomfortable by staring at him very hard.  But I kept my promise.  And nobody even died.”

Stiles snorts quietly, hiding another smile in his blanket when Peter smirks conspiratorially at him.

They cuddle together like that for a while, until Stiles hears Joseph’s muffled voice calling from out back, and Peter tells him that the barbecue’s ready.

Stiles considers not going.  And Peter would let him because they didn’t make a promise about this.  But in the end he gets up and leaves his blanket behind and lets Peter lead him downstairs where Audrey runs up, braids bobbing, proudly presenting Stiles with a fresh burger on a paper plate.  He takes it and nods his thanks.  Audrey beams him her gap-toothed smile before scurrying away to get her own dinner.

Peter huffs his amusement before nudging Stiles.  “Apparently, I need to get my own burger.  Go find somewhere to sit.  I’ll only be a minute.”

Stiles ends up under a tree, a little ways away from the shouting children and the adults who are talking to each other.  Away from moody Derek too, who avoids Stiles like the plague most days.  Peter told him it’s because Derek still feels guilty, which is stupid because it’s not like it’s Derek’s fault, not really.  Stiles wishes he wasn’t tricked so badly, but Derek is also just a kid, an older kid but still a kid, and Kate was an adult.

Stiles’ hands tighten around the plate until it crumples between his fingers and almost topples his burger onto the grass.

He hates Kate.  Loathes her.  His father’s murderer.  She’s in jail now, and Peter says she’ll be there for the rest of her life, but Stiles thinks that isn’t enough.  He thinks that nothing will ever be enough.

He killed someone that night, the hunter who was about to shoot Peter, not that he knew it was Peter then.  But he still threw that rock, and it hit the hunter in the head, hard enough to drop him.  To kill him.

Stiles wishes it was Kate instead.  Then Dad wouldn’t be dead because Stiles would’ve already taken care of that problem.


Peter.  Stiles looks up.  Peter’s already moving to sit down, four burgers crammed on his own plate.  He looks sideways at Stiles but doesn’t say anything, even when Stiles realizes there’s a sting in his eyes and he has to swallow down tears.  Peter just leans back against the trunk of the tree and presses their arms together.

“Better eat that while it’s still hot,” Peter reminds him before biting into his first burger.

Stiles follows his example.  He didn’t think he had much of an appetite, but Joseph is a really good cook, and the burger is excellent.  Before Stiles knows it, he’s already polished off the whole thing.

Without a word, Peter holds out his plate and lets Stiles grab another one.

Their plates are cleared when Peter asks, “So what promises should we make for tomorrow?”

Stiles curls his legs underneath him and leans his head against Peter’s shoulder.  They make promises, the two of them.  Peter started it two weeks ago.  A promise a day, for each of them, and it can be for anything, even if it’s silly or small or simple.  Just yesterday, Stiles’ Friday promise was that he would finish his English essay instead of lying in bed the way he really felt like doing.  But promises are important, so he forced himself to get up anyway.  Peter kept his promise too, looking himself in the mirror while he brushed his teeth and combed his hair even though Stiles knows Peter really hates his scars.

“I promise… to help Joseph with the grocery shopping,” He finally decides.  At Peter’s enquiring look, he clarifies, “Joseph asked if I wanted to go, last week.  I didn’t want to, so he said maybe this week.  And I should…” He tenses a little but forges on.  “I should probably leave the house more.  More than just for school, I mean.”

Peter hums approvingly.  When Stiles peers up at him, he smiles.  “That’s a good promise.”  He tilts his head in thought.  “I think I’ll promise the same, this time.  If that’s alright?  Would you like me to come too?”

Stiles slumps with relief.  “Yeah.  Yes, please.  If you have time.”

“Of course,” Peter nods.  He smirks, and it pulls at his scars, but Stiles has never found it scary.  “It’ll be a challenge for both of us.”

Stiles straightens a bit.  Peter doesn’t go out much either, unless it’s for work.

His hand finds Peter’s.  They sit in companionable silence until night falls and it’s time to go back in.


5. escape

One minute, Stiles and Cora are waiting at the front of the school for Laura – who’s running late today – to pick them up.  The next minute, a car pulls up, Cora goes down under a mist of wolfsbane, and Stiles doesn’t run so before he can even think to scream for help, a man leaps out of the car, claps a hand over Stiles’ mouth, and jabs something against his ribs.  A second later, all his nerves light up with pain, and he can’t seem to control his limbs.  It’s easy, after that, to stuff them in the trunk without anyone the wiser.

Trying to stop his twitching, and biting his lip raw from the pain still wracking his body, Stiles doesn’t know how many minutes pass by before the car stops again, and he and Cora are thrown into a metal cage.  The door clangs shut behind them, and when Stiles sits up, still clinging to Cora’s limp form, he finds himself staring up into the grinning face of an old man.

Stiles is pretty sure that’s what evil looks like, especially when the man introduces himself as Gerard Argent before going off on a tangent about how he’s going to make the Hales pay for getting his daughter locked up.  He mentions finishing what Kate started, he rants about monsters like the Hales and human traitors like Stiles, and then he leaves, shutting the door behind him and leaving them in silence and darkness.

Stiles shivers.  He opens his mouth once, twice, tries to say Cora, but the word doesn’t come.  He shakes his best friend instead, gently, and then harder.  Cora doesn’t wake.  But she’s still breathing, and she’s not puking up black goo either, which is what happens if a werewolf is dying from wolfsbane – Peter said so.  So, that’s something.

Stiles’ heart pounds in his chest.  He thinks about Peter.  About the other Hales.  About how sad they’ll be if they lose Cora.  Maybe even if they lose Stiles, even though Stiles has only lived with them for a few months, and he hasn’t even done all that much for them.  Hasn’t washed the dishes or vacuumed or cooked like he used to for his dad after Mom got sick.  And then after Mom died.  He’s just sort of… lived with the Hales, and he wonders – almost hopes – if they might miss him even just half as much as they’ll miss Cora if he and Cora die here.

Peter would, he thinks, Peter would miss Stiles just as much as he’d miss Cora, and Stiles doesn’t like that.  He never wants to make Peter sad, because Peter has nightmares too, and on occasion, the werewolf even wakes up with silent tears on his face, fighting a fire that’s no longer there, trying to save a family that’s already been saved.  Stiles doesn’t want to give Peter another reason to wake up terrified.

So, he has to get Cora out.  And he has to get himself out.

But how?

He fumbles for the cage door.  There’s a padlock keeping it shut.  Stiles stares for a moment.  Thinks of long days at the station when he was younger, fiddling with a pair of handcuffs because his dad got exasperated with Stiles’ inability to sit still, always poking into things he shouldn’t.

“Try to get out of those,” He’d said, cuffing one of Stiles’ wrist to his desk.  Stiles thought it was the coolest thing ever, at the time.  It took him exactly two hours and twenty-three minutes to turn picking a pair of handcuffs into a life skill.

He turns back to Cora and fumbles for her hair, plucking out the plain black bobby pin she likes to wear to keep her bangs out of her eyes.

Thirty seconds later, there’s a click, and Stiles successfully unhooks the padlock from the cage’s bars.  He can barely see anything, just a thin line of light under the door of whatever this place is, and – now that his eyes have adjusted – the outline of the cage’s bars, and the curve of Cora’s back.

He pats her clumsily and tries to tell her without words that he’ll be back real soon.  Then he eases the door open and slips out.  He’s on concrete floor so he takes his shoes off before tiptoeing over to the door and pressing his ear against it, trying to pick up any noise.

He can’t, but he doesn’t dare chance opening the door either, even if it were unlocked, and the crack underneath is too narrow for him to see anything through it.  He looks around instead, and then begins walking the perimeter.  It isn’t a huge room, and there are no windows, but…

He crouches down, using his hands to make sure he’s seeing what he’s seeing.  It is.  It’s one of those grate things, called… storm drains?  Yeah, storm drains.  Except it’s in this room, and it’s big enough for Stiles and Cora to go through.  He even hears rushing water below.  That’s a good sign, right?  The water has to come from somewhere.

…Stiles is pretty sure he’s seen this in a movie once.  And a movie is not reality.  But what other choice does he have?  He can’t sit around and wait for the crazy old guy to return.  He can’t let himself and Cora be used against the Hales.  At least alligators in the sewers is a myth.  He hopes.

Well, first thing’s first – he has to move the cover.  It takes him several long minutes but he finally manages to heave the grate aside.  He cringes when the thing screeches against concrete, and he waits – sweaty and petrified – for someone to come bursting in with a gun, but no one does.

Stiles doesn’t waste anytime hurrying back to Cora, toeing on his shoes before half-lifting, half-dragging Cora onto his back.

It’s a heart-stopping drop into the dark.  Thankfully, it’s only maybe a four-foot fall, and Stiles manages not to break anything.  More importantly, he doesn’t drop Cora.

Water laps uncomfortably at his ankles, and even without a werewolf nose, he can smell how much it stinks down here, but at least he can tell which way the water is running, and he moves opposite to that.  He’s not looking to come out at a river or a stream; he needs to find another storm drain, preferably one that opens out on a street.  That’s how drainage systems work, isn’t it?  There should be a series of them connected together.

He starts walking, as quickly as he can, sticking to one wall so he has something to guide him.  More than once, he hears scuttling sounds accompanying the slosh of water, and several times, something skitters over his shoes.

His hands would be shaking if they aren’t wrapped under Cora’s legs as he piggybacks her through the sewers.

It feels like hours before he finally sees a spot of light.  Twice, he comes across a four-way intersection. Both times he keeps walking straight ahead.  There should be grates along every tunnel, somewhere.  It shouldn’t matter which direction he takes.

Now he staggers forward towards the storm drain.  There’s even some metal bars that serve as a ladder.  It takes some manoeuvring, and he finally has to put Cora down before scaling the ladder again and putting all his strength into shoving the grate aside, but he does it.  Then it’s back down to fetch Cora again, and he ends up pushing her through first before hauling himself out as well.

They’re on some side street.  Still in Beacon Hills, he’s pretty sure.  By some miracle, the street is empty.  Houses, but no people.  On the ground, Cora groans but doesn’t wake.

Stiles does the only thing he can do.  He picks up Cora once more, and he sets off for the Preserve.  Calling 911 on a phone at any of these houses doesn’t occur to him.  Randomly accosting a stranger to get them to help doesn’t either.

It’s Derek who meets them as Stiles comes lurching up the path leading to the guest houses.  Or rather, Derek slams open the door, having already heard them coming, and his eyes are wild and bloodshot when he catches sight of them.  And then he’s sprinting forward and sweeping both of them – sewage water and all – into a desperate hug as soon as he’s within arm’s length, even Stiles, and Stiles promptly bursts into tears.

The next few hours are a blur.  Derek carries them inside to where Matty, Audrey, and Ty are all hiding in Derek’s bedroom, but they scramble out when they see who Derek brought back, faces unnaturally solemn because even as young as they are, they can tell that Stiles and Cora aren’t in the best shape.

Derek fusses over Cora, fusses over Stiles, and calls his mother at the same time, babbling frantically about how both Stiles and Cora are home and alive and – eyes flashing an enraged blue – to give the Argents hell.  And then he fusses some more and doesn’t stop until the front door downstairs is flung open again, and Charlotte and Laura and Peter stampede up the stairs and into the room, white-faced with worry but so very, very relieved.

Peter makes a beeline directly for Stiles, scooping him up and bundling him into a fierce hug that Stiles melts into.  He’s still crying, he can’t seem to stop, and he’s so tired his muscles are still trembling.

Or maybe that’s the fear.

Peter whisks him away as soon as Stiles finishes slurring out an explanation about the wolfsbane spray used on Cora, and telling them what Gerard said.  The werewolf fills a hot bath for him before stripping him out of his dirty clothes and sinking him into the water.  He washes Stiles’ hair and scrubs the rest of him down before drying him off with a fluffy towel and helping him into his pajamas.  He drains the last aches from Stiles’ body while he’s at it.  Then he tucks Stiles into bed before grabbing a quick shower himself, and then he’s back and crawling under the blankets with Stiles.

They sleep in the same room, but usually, Peter takes the makeshift bed on the floor.  Not this time, and Stiles can’t even really say it’s weird.  It feels normal, and having Peter curled protectively around him makes him feel safe.

And he thinks it makes Peter feel better too.  You scared me, his grip on Stiles says.  You can’t die, the press of his forehead in Stiles’ hair pleads.  And the burn of gold in his eyes promises, I will make every last one of them pay.

Stiles loops an arm around Peter and listens to the thump of Peter’s heartbeat under his ear, letting it lull him to sleep.


6. retaliate

Talia is on a rampage.  Two of her children – and yes, Stiles has only been with them for a handful of months but he’s still hers now, just as much family as the rest of them, especially after what he did for Cora – were kidnapped and almost killed, and it’s really just the last straw on a mountain of last straws.  Twice, the Argents have taken a shot at her pack for no reason other than their own fanatical prejudices.  By some miracle, they’ve only succeeded in killing the former Sheriff and two deputies, but that’s already three too many by Talia’s count.

Beacon Hills belongs to the Hales.  It’s their job to protect it.  And it’s her job to protect her pack.  Lying in bed and listening to Stiles thrash himself awake from another nightmare, or seeing Cora practically living in Stiles’ shadow and watching strangers’ hands with far more suspicion than a ten-year-old should always make her feel like she’s failed.

She’s been sitting down to peace talks with Victoria and Christopher for a good four months, and not once did either of them mention Gerard.  Talia brought him up once, having never trusted the old hunter, and while nothing has ever been proven, there are rumours that Talia has always been inclined to believe, but they assured her Gerard wasn’t even in the state, and they were in the process of cleaning house anyway, investigating every member, and they would turn Gerard in themselves if anything came up in their search.

Talia accepted this as a show of good faith.  She didn’t want to go to war against the Argents, and a little trust had to be shown on both sides for them to come to any sort of agreement.

Clearly, she was wrong.

So the next time she meets with Victoria Argent, Christopher a step behind the flinty-eyed matriarch and a few hunters assembled further back, Talia has Joseph on her right, Peter on her left, Laura at her back, and a mandate straight from the Tribunal already in her hands.  The Sheriff is there to mediate but even he’s eyeing the Argents like he would love nothing more than to drop-kick them all off a cliff.  The man was a deputy under John Stilinski, which means he knows Stiles, and Talia’s learned that most of the older officers in town have a soft spot for the former Sheriff’s son who spent half his childhood afternoons down at the station.  They’re constantly asking her how he’s doing.

“You’ve been exiled from every state on the west coast,” Talia begins without the usual opening courtesies as she tosses the file down on the table between them.  Her words are clipped and cold.  She has no more patience for compromise.  Her pack is not the one in the wrong.  It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t these Argents who tried to take her kids.  A leader who can’t control their own people shouldn’t be leading at all.  She’s given the Argents one chance; she won’t give them another.  She’s not that type of Alpha.

Besides, even if she was crazy enough to let them stay in Beacon Hills, in California, she would not be surprised if they all ended up dead within the month.  She’s seen the barely restrained violence in her brother’s prowling stride and the murderous gleam in his hooded eyes, persisting throughout the entire two weeks since the abduction, a look so cold and unforgiving that it sends a chill up her spine, a look that promises retribution if she doesn’t deliver, and she almost wants to unleash Peter on the Argents anyway.

The only thing that stays her hand is the trouble that would follow the slaughter and the fact that Victoria and Chris have a daughter Cora and Stiles’ age.  For all her family’s faults, the girl doesn’t deserve growing up without parents.  But she will grow up anywhere but here.  Talia’s Pack comes first, and if that means forcing an entire family to uproot their lives with barely a warning, she’s more than happy to do it.

“You have three days to pack up and leave my territory,” She continues, meeting Victoria’s gaze evenly.  It’s a generous time limit.  Most other packs would’ve had them thrown out by sunset, with or without their belongings.  “And a week to clear every state from here to Alaska.  If you or yours ever come back, every pack on the west coast has the authority to use lethal force to remove you.  Permanently.”

The meeting doesn’t last much longer after that.  Victoria at least has the decency not to protest this decision.  Or she’s simply smart enough to know she can’t change anything by arguing.  She stalks off with the mandate and her hunters, and that’s that.  Peter stares after them, looking like he’s still contemplating the option of gutting them in their sleep, but when Talia turns to leave, Peter follows.

When they get home, they find Derek parked on the front steps, guarding the house, and if there’s one good thing that came out of all this, it’s that the ordeal seems to have knocked Derek out of his funk and into overprotective brother mode.  He still smells of guilt from time to time, but mostly, he watches over Stiles and Cora and the three younger ones whenever he can, and he’s started going to school again, if only so he can jog over to the elementary school as soon as the bell rings and wait with them for Laura, who’s more punctual these days than she’s ever been in the past.

The front door eases open.  Cora darts out first, demanding to know how the meeting went.  Stiles slinks out behind her, still so much like he isn’t certain of his welcome here, but he looks them over like he’s searching for injuries and making sure they’re all accounted for, and he visibly brightens when he sees Peter, who quickly makes his way over to the boy.

Talia still hasn’t heard him speak, nor has anyone who wasn’t in the room that day when Stiles told them about the – thankfully small – dosage of wolfsbane Cora inhaled, and about what Gerard wanted to do to them.  Peter’s the only one who gets to hear Stiles talk on a regular basis.

But he’s getting better, nightmares aside.  He spends a little more time with the rest of the family, even when Peter isn’t around.  And sometimes, he helps Joseph with the cooking, or he helps Talia when she does the laundry.  They make sure he doesn’t do too much – the boy is startlingly proficient with household chores – and as a pleasant side-effect, he manages to guilt all of Talia’s other children to pitch in as well without the usual grumbling.  Matty of course just thinks it’s fun, especially when Stiles bakes.  And Audrey and Tyler never fail to pop up whenever Stiles takes over the kitchen for an afternoon.

Talia flexes her hands, absently listening to Laura give an abridged recount of their latest werewolf-hunter meeting.

She personally took care of Gerard Argent the moment she got Derek’s phone call that Stiles and Cora escaped.  Peter and Joseph tore apart the rest.  And the remaining Argents will be gone by Wednesday.

Things finally seem to be looking up.


7. brave

Half a year later, Peter comes home from patrol – to the newly rebuilt pack house – to a pensively frowning Stiles, and he can instantly tell something isn’t right.  Even if couldn’t smell it, sense it, the fact that he is up in their bedroom alone would’ve tipped Peter off.  The boy hasn’t done that for a solid three months now.

“Stiles?”  Peter crouches down in front of him.  “Is something wrong?”

Stiles shrugs.  “No.  Yes.  I dunno.”

Peter arches an eyebrow.  Stiles huffs.  “…I helped Joseph with the groceries today.”

Peter blinks.  Okay.  That’s a relatively normal state of affairs at this point.

“And,” Stiles continues.  “We forgot to get the eggs but Joseph was already paying so I went to get them.”  He stops for a beat.  “And I got to the dairy aisle, and there was this bald guy.”

Peter tenses.  He’s already running through a list of places where he can bury a body.

“He already knew my name,” Stiles makes a face.  “Everybody knows my name.  But then he went all Hagrid on me and asked me if anything strange ever happened around me because he could sense my- my magic.  And if I wanted to learn more about it, I could always ask him.”

Peter’s lip curls.  He has a good idea where this is going.  “Did he leave a name?  An address?”

Stiles shakes his head.  “No.  He said I’d know where to find him.”  He looks at Peter curiously.  “Do you know him?”

Peter considers him for a long moment.  “It was probably Alan Deaton.  The local vet and druid.”

Stiles’ brow scrunches.  “The one who did our wards?  I mean before?”

Peter’s eyes flash.  “Yes.  The wards that the hunters got through in no time flat.  Talia’s pretty sure he didn’t mean for them to fail at such a critical time, but wards clearly aren’t his strongpoint, which is why we haven’t asked him to raise another set for us, and I’ve been looking into treaties with other druids.”

He pauses.  “Has anything strange happened around you?  I never knew you had magic.”

Stiles snorts.  “I didn’t either.  I still kinda don’t.  I’ve never turned my teacher’s hair blue, or teleported onto a roof.  But…” His eyes drop to his lap, and his expression shutters the way it always does when he’s thinking of his father.  Of the fire and Kate and the rest of it.

“He said I’d know where to find him,” He repeats softly, looking up again to meet Peter’s gaze.  “And I dunno if it’s what he means, but that night Kate set your house on fire, I… I knew where I had to be.  I left the house in the middle of the night, and I’d never done that before.  But I- I felt there was something wrong, and I knew where to find the- the wrongness, so that’s how I saw the smoke, and how I could call 911 in time, and.  Yeah.”

Peter stares for a long minute.  And then, just as Stiles is beginning to squirm, he pulls the boy into a hug.  Even now, he can’t quite believe how lucky they were that night.  He knows how narrowly they all escaped death, and it was all because of Stiles.

“So,” Stiles hugs him back and doesn’t seem inclined to stop anytime soon.  “So, I should stay away from the- from Mr. Deaton then?”

Peter reluctantly pulls back, not at all pleased by this development.  “Can I tell Talia?  It might be better to discuss this with her.  And even if she says you should go see him, you don’t have to.”

Stiles shrugs and nods.  Then he adds, “I’ll tell her.  I should- I’ll tell her.  It’s about the pack’s old emissary, right?  And she’s- she’s my Alpha too.”

Peter studies him for a moment before a proud smile tilts his lips.  “Okay.  Shall we go now?”

Both Talia and Joseph are sitting in the living room.  The former is reading, the latter is frowning over a word doc on his laptop.  Peter can’t wait until his brother-in-law wraps up that conclusion – the phone’s been ringing off the hook because Joseph’s editor is terrifyingly strict about deadlines and has been threatening to storm the Preserve.  Considering said editor is half-sasquatch and can literally give you frostbite with a glare, nobody wants to cross her.

Talia just thinks it’s hilarious.  There are perks to being the Alpha after all; Sharreni isn’t going to freeze her.  But Joseph has a bad habit of ditching Peter with the irritated woman while he runs away to finish up any last-minute corrections.  And people call Peter an asshole.

He glances at Stiles even as Talia and Joseph glance up at their entrance.  Stiles fiddles nervously with his sweater but shakes his head, so Peter doesn’t request a private audience with Talia alone.

“Stiles has something he wants to tell you,” Peter announces, and he’s relieved to see that while they focus on Stiles, they also wait patiently for him to speak instead of pressing.

Stiles opens his mouth, then closes it.  Then he takes a deep breath and curls his fingers into Peter’s sleeve before blurting out, “Shopping!”

He blushes at the non-sequitur, but it’s a word, and it’s verbal, and he’s voiced it to more than just Peter, and both Talia and Joseph are already beaming.  Peter gives Stiles’ shoulder an encouraging squeeze, and now that he’s started, the words seem to flow a little more easily, no longer dammed up in his throat.

“I- When we went shopping today,” Stiles tells them haltingly, gaze shifting anxiously between Joseph and Talia.  “When I went to get the eggs, I bumped into- or, he bumped into me, I think, and he talked about how he could sense I had magic.  Peter says it was probably, um, Alan Deaton?”

Talia’s lips immediately purse, and if she had any less control, Peter knows her eyes would be red.  She exchanges a look with Joseph, whose expression has gone flat, the only outward sign that he doesn’t appreciate druids accosting one of his kids in the middle of supermarkets, and it had to be deliberate because otherwise, Joseph would’ve smelled Deaton on Stiles in an instant, which means the druid must’ve been hiding his scent.

Why, Peter doesn’t know.  Did the man think Stiles wouldn’t tell them?  Or did he do something to Stiles so that Stiles wouldn’t tell them, except Stiles simply bulldozed right through the spell or enchantment without even noticing?  Peter’s never heard of magic – without any preparation or even training beforehand – that would go out of its way and inform its user about an impending danger the way Stiles’ magic did that night, and a danger that was completely unrelated to said user’s personal safety to boot.  That’s… That speaks of power, and a lot of it.

“Could you tell me exactly what he said, Stiles?”  Talia asks, leaning forward.  “Word for word?”

Stiles does.  Most of it is what he already told Peter, and Peter interjects with what Stiles told him about the night of the fire, but then Stiles tacks on, “Oh, and he-” His nose scrunches, and the hand that isn’t still holding onto Peter’s sleeve comes up to scratch at his opposite shoulder.  “He put his hand on my shoulder at the end.  I remember because I don’t like random people touching me, and also because it itched.”

Everybody goes still for a moment, and then Talia springs from her seat, and Joseph is half a step behind her, but Peter’s already got a hold of Stiles’ sweater and is tugging it and his shirt aside.

“Peter?”  Wide brown eyes stare bewilderedly up at him.

“Sorry, just checking,” Peter hurriedly explains, staring hard at pale smooth skin like he can glower a rune into sight.  “He could’ve put a rune on you, probably one to stop you from telling us about him approaching you.”

Stiles blinks.  “But I told you anyway,” He points out, easily baring his neck a bit more to let Talia and Joseph get a clearer look.

“You did,” Talia agrees, running a distracted hand through Stiles’ hair.  Her eyes are crimson as she scrutinizes Stiles’ shoulder.  “And I don’t smell any residue magic.  If he put a rune on you, even if he made it invisible, it’s long gone.  You said it itched?”

“Yeah,” Everybody backs off a little so Stiles tugs his clothes back into place.  “But just for a moment.  It didn’t itch anymore by the time I got back to Joseph.”

Peter stares at Stiles, and then shares similar looks of astonishment with Talia and Joseph.

That’s… not normal.  Shrugging off a rune like it’s nothing, especially one coming from as accomplished a druid as Deaton is, should at the very least require a counter rune or even a shield of some kind from a fellow druid with years of practice, much less a child who doesn’t even know he has magic.

“I wonder,” Talia muses.  “Inherent magic like that – a Spark perhaps?”

Stiles looks confused.  Joseph’s eyebrows shoot up.  Peter’s eyes widen.

“What’s a Spark?”

“Essentially, someone with lots of magic,” Talia explains.  “Druids and witches, seers and prophets – they’re all born with a bit of magic in them, but their magic has to be… magnified by tools, like staffs, or spells, or even crystal balls.  They need that conduit to use their magic, and they’re bound by certain laws, like nature.  They’ll never be stronger than the natural magic that already exists in the earth around them.  Sparks on the other hand are… unrestricted, you could say.  They’re born, and they’re rare.  I’ve never met one, and I know no one who has met one either.  Their only limits-” She pokes a gentle finger against Stiles’ forehead.  “-are their minds.  A druid could never compare.  Deaton probably mistook you for a regular magic user with large but untapped potential.  Not many would jump to the conclusion of a Spark right away.  Some even consider them a myth.”

Stiles is silent as he soaks this all in.  “But,” He says at last.  “But that can’t be me.  I can’t- I can’t float things with my mind or- or blast things apart.”

“Well, you’ve never had to, have you?”  Joseph reasons as he looks thoughtfully at Stiles.  “You’re smart, Stiles, and brave.  When have you ever really needed magic to solve your problems for you?”

“And you’re young and untrained,” Peter quickly adds because he knows how Stiles’ mind works by now.  Most of the time anyway.  “I think even Sparks need practice, and your magic won’t just manifest anytime you want it to.  It’s only just starting to show itself, and maybe that night of the fire was the first time.  Maybe it heard our need for it – for you – and decided to act.”  A mirthless smile flickers across his face.  “We were certainly screaming loud enough, and like tends to attract like when it comes to magic – werewolves are magical in our own right, and your Spark probably recognized that.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it was still untrained.  You couldn’t wield it consciously yet, and it wasn’t developed enough to go to everyone’s aid that night, especially when it was an ambush that killed him.  Nobody knew it was coming.”  He kneels down so they’re at eye-level.  “So it’s not your fault, you hear me, Stiles?  Your father’s death was nobody’s fault but Kate’s.”

Stiles presses his lips together.  His scent sours a little but he doesn’t cry.  He rarely ever cries.  He leans against Peter instead and says nothing more.

Peter glances up in time to see Joseph retreat a few steps, reaching out to grab a coat that was draped over the back of an armchair.  When he turns back, his eyes are cut through with gold.

“I think I’ll have a word with Deaton,” Joseph murmurs in deceptively laidback tones.  He glances at Talia, who nods curtly, and then he cups a brief hand around the back of Stiles’ neck – apology and comfort in turn – before heading out.

“I need to contact the Tribunal,” Talia says briskly.  “Just in case.  Your magic isn’t out of control, Stiles, so I don’t think we need a tutor for you quite yet, and nobody else needs to know.  Think about it, and we’ll get you one if you decide you want to actively use it, alright?”

Stiles nods.  Talia crouches down for a moment and wraps him in a hug, scenting him like she would any of her children who needed reassurance.

“Joseph was right, Stiles,” She says quietly when she pulls back to catch his eye.  “You’re resourceful and clever, and you’ve never lacked courage.  Maybe that’s why your magic has stayed so dormant.  You don’t need it to be your best.”

She presses a kiss to his forehead before following Joseph out and leaving Peter to usher Stiles back upstairs.

“They’re both right,” Peter tells him when they’re lounging back in bed, Stiles curled up at his side.  “You’ve always been amazing.  Magic had nothing to do with it.”

He gets pinched for the embarrassment that heats up Stiles’ face.  But Stiles’ scent also smooths out to something more wistful than full of self-blame, and for now, that’s enough.


8. pursue

Stiles is sixteen and setting off magical fireworks in the backyard.  Lights explode and form a string of multi-coloured elephants in the night sky.  Matty’s birthday is coming up, and Stiles is in charge of the lightshow, so he wants it to be perfect.  The kid’s as obsessed with animals now as he was six years ago, especially elephants.  Everyone’s betting he’ll work with them when he grows up.

“Cute,” A voice behind him remarks, and Stiles turns to smile at the man descending the porch steps.

“I was aiming for ‘cool’, actually,” Stiles corrects him, rocking his weight back when Peter moulds himself against his back, one arm coming up to wrap around Stiles’ waist.  “Matty’s eleven; he doesn’t want cute anymore.”

“Hmm,” Peter flicks an amused eye up at the fading elephants.  “Best make them less cartoonish then.”

Stiles sulks.  “But cartoonish is cool!”

“But also cute, darling.”

Stiles half-heartedly elbows him in the stomach but sighs.  “Well, maybe I’ll graffiti-style it.”

He waves a hand, and the rest of the sparks disappear in a shower of snow-coloured lights.  Then he turns, and the two of them just lean into each other for a moment.  Stiles is so much more wolf than human these days that Peter’s scent is unmistakeably familiar and equally soothing to him.

“Welcome home,” Stiles finally murmurs.  “How was the show?”

Peter scoffs before going back to inhaling deeply against Stiles’ throat.  “Same as always.  One of the models broke a heel.  Another couldn’t get her jewelry to match and refused to go on stage.  And there was a pileup on the highway so I almost missed my own opening.  I hate New York.”

Stiles snickers into Peter’s shoulder.  Werewolves in general don’t like busy cities much.

“Well I’m glad you’re back,” Stiles says, finally stepping back and rolling his eyes when Peter pouts.  “I’ve missed you.”

Peter’s expression relaxes into something soft.  “I’ve missed you too.  Did anything happen while I was away?”

Stiles shrugs, idly rubbing his thumb along the neckline of Peter’s shirt and leaving a trail of dancing cartoon wolves in its wake.  It's Peter’s turn to roll his eyes.  Stiles just grins.  “Nothing I haven’t told you over Skype.  Went to school, yelled at Coach, got yelled at by Coach, yelled at the team with Coach, acted as Cora’s getaway driver after she paint-ballooned the Whittemores’ entire front lawn, and took the kids to Joseph’s book signing.  That’s about it.”

Peter snorts.  “An average week then.  What about Derek’s new girlfriend?”

“Well, she isn’t a Darach,” Stiles mutters.  He still remembers what a bitch Jennifer was to deal with.  “Talia ran a background check, I ran a soul check, Cora ran a badassery check, Laura ran an intentions check, and the woman still got top marks.  As far as all of us can tell, Braeden’s a pretty awesome lady, so here’s hoping.”

Peter shakes his head.  “Derek better hang on to her then.  If I have to chop up another psychopath, I might just castrate the idiot once and for all.  Or send him to a convent.”

Stiles rolls his eyes again before stepping away but snagging Peter’s wrist and tugging him towards the house.  “Enough about Derek.  Didn’t you promise me a date when you got home?”

Peter sighs dramatically.  “Yes I did.  In exchange for a single kiss, even though we both already know-”

“Uh-huh, yeah, no,” Stiles cuts him off, tossing a smirk over his shoulder.  “You don’t get me that easily, wolfy.”

Peter just smirks back lazily.  “I already have you, sweetheart.  You’ve been mine since we met.  And I’ve been yours of course.”

Stiles stomps down hard on a blush.  “True, but I still demand to be wooed, romanced, pursued to the ends of the earth-”

In the blink of an eye, Peter’s drawn level to him and swung him up into a bridal carry.  Stiles squawks indignantly before dissolving into laughter, bright and full of life.

“Ends of the earth, hm?”  Peter’s smirk softens into a smile.  He still has a trace of scarring that mars his right cheek, but it doesn’t detract from how gorgeous he is anyway, and he’s beautiful when he’s genuinely happy.  Like now, looking at Stiles like he hung the moon and stars.  “Always, sweetheart.”

Stiles grumbles wordlessly but drops his head to Peter’s shoulder.  “You’re a fucking sap, Peter.  I don’t know what people’s talking about when they say you’re a heartless terrifying bastard.”  He pauses.  “And you can’t distract me; I still want my date!”

“I’ll give you as many dates as you want, Stiles,” Peter promises, finally letting him down again when they get to the porch doors.  “Just as long as you give me the rest of your life.”

Stiles doesn’t even blush this time.  He tilts his head back and smiles.  His fingers thread with Peter’s.

“It’s a promise.”